Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

2017, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, upper primary, ages 9-11    

This is a proper book.  It has a thick spine.  It is 243 pages long. The text is blocked .  It uses a serif font and has difficult ‘a’s  and ‘g’s.   However, it does make a few concessions to the fairly new  reader:  it has short chapters,  it uses double spacing and includes some different fonts for different types of text.  The chapters are short. 

Fidge is thrown into a bizarre fantasy world with her awful cousin Graham shortly after her sister Minnie has been run over. Thus  Lissa Evans cleverly gets the adults out of the way.  Fidge grows in the other world:  she takes responsibility for Minnie’s accident.

We have a recognisable story arc: Fidge crosses the threshold, refuses the call and faces trials and enemies. 

The novel may remind us of other stories. Fidge and Graham are perhaps like Mary and Colin in Secret Garden.  It may also remind us of the Alice book; toys come to life and there is some nonsense verse. 

Pace is maintained through the short chapters, a quick exchange of dialogue, cliff hangers at the end of many chapters and plenty of action. 

It is certainly quirky.     

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Today's Specials: A Selection Of Literary Delights

Today's Specials: A Selection Of Literary DelightsToday's Specials: A Selection Of Literary Delights by Oldham Writing Cafe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This anthology is produced by the writing group that call themselves the Oldham Writing Café. They meet twice a month in Oldham. See their Facebook page here .
As a publisher who produces anthologies I know how difficult it can be putting together a cohesive book where every piece pleases the reader. This can be even more difficult when it is a collection by diverse connected writers rather than something where all pieces revolve around a central theme.
However, this one succeeds in keeping the reader engaged throughout. Whilst I liked some pieces more than others there was nothing I disliked and I enjoyed reading some fine writing.
The stories and poems are grouped in to Starters, Main Courses and Deserts. The final section of the book is called Speciality Coffees and gives information about the writers and the group. This section also includes acknowledgements.
Worth a look.

View all my reviews

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Tracey Beaker Trilogy by Jacqueline Wilson

2006, Key Stage 2, ages 9-11, fluent reader, upper primary  
For all Tracy Beaker fans this volume combines three of Tracy’s best-loved stories:  The Story of Tracy Beaker, Starring Tracy  Beaker and The Dare Game.  
Tracy Beaker has become one of Wilson’s iconic characters. A television series arose from the books and another one, The Dumping Ground, followed on. The concept of The Dumping Ground is important to Tracey. It is a home for children whose parents cannot look after them. Though they are supported by caring adults, and they also support each other, the children lack the attention they would be given if they lived with their own well-functioning parents. Many of the children in the Dumping Ground are damaged and are gradually working through their issues. Tracey herself is no exception and her problems are quite severe.
At times she is exceptionally naughty and shocking to normal parents. Some Mumsnet subscribers decided to ban the TV series and the books (Mumsnet 2013). We see Tracy make many mistakes but she gradually learns to take responsibility for her actions and to control herself to the extent that in the TV series, when she grows up, she actually takes on a role as a carer at The Dumping Ground.
Tracy horrifies us at times and we may understand the Mumsnet stance. She “borrows” £10 form Cam and doesn’t see it as stealing. She also “borrows” a good pen from Cam. She fiddles with Cam’s locket that has a picture of Cam’s mother inside it. Tracy wants to put a picture of her own mother there. She manages to damage the locket in the attempt. Even worse, Tracy cannot see that she is wrong in her attitude here. She also thinks that Cam should be spending more money on her. Sadly, when Tracy’s mum does actually come back on the scene, Tracy interprets Cam’s reasoned reaction as indifference.
As Tracy packs at Cam’s place to go and spend time with her real mum, her insecurity makes her quite cruel towards Cam. However, the good life is soon over. Mum is pale and the curtains must stay shut. The house smells of cigarettes and alcohol. Though Mum has a present for Tracy she claims she is not made of money. The dream begins to break. Mum become irritated with Tracy and leaves her home alone. Later she comes back with a strange man, forgetting Tracy will be on the sofa. Tracy overhears her mum say that she is funny looking. At breakfast Mum tells her she has the chance to meet a film producer. Tracy understands that she is lying. She steals some money and runs away.              
Football dares her to take her knickers off and hang them on the fir tree outside. Sometimes the naughtiness gets out of hand.  She, Alexander and Football almost set fire to an abandoned house because they get mad as their parents don’t want them. Alexander gets hurt.                         
Tracy is frequently antagonistic towards the other children. Fellow resident Justine helps with interviewing children who live at the Dumping Ground but finds operating the tape-recorder difficult. She is scathing. She admits that she can become violent when the others tease her if she says her mum is a Hollywood star.
Tracy is acutely self-aware and presents the readers with truths that may be difficult to accommodate. Yet she continues to dream about her mum becoming rich and famous and that she will come to fetch her. She becomes so obsessive about this dream that she almost gives up good reality e.g. a trip to MacDonald’s with journalist Cam. Is Wilson warning her readers off grandiose dreams or is she suggesting a practical means of being happy? However, when Tracy “downsizes” her dream to that of Cam fostering her she encounters other obstacles. Cam claims her flat would be too small and we sense that she is not too keen on this idea.                           
There is some mitigation. When Tracy’s punishment for fighting with Justine is to clean the whole of the Dumping Ground, the others rally round had help her. She gives a marvellous interpretation of Scrooge in the Christmas play. However this is spoilt; her mother is not there. A bouquet arrives- supposedly from her mum.  Tracy complains that the writing on the card isn’t her mother’s but Cam explains how flower deliveries work. We suspect that Cam may have sent it all up. Tracy describes the miserable Christmas she would have in the Dumping Ground. She and Cam decide to join forces. Tracy does not yet realise that this is a solution that could lead to happiness. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Endings – getting them right

I’m currently working on my second edit of my fourth Peace Child novel. I call this edit “Is the resolution satisfying?”  The Peace Child novels are YA or new Adult so a somewhat open ending is possible and actually desirable. But “open” doesn’t mean dissatisfying.

A common fault

I note that new writers often do not make their endings satisfying. This is in fact one of the most commonly occurring faults in new writing.  I notice this often as a publisher and as a creative writing teacher in higher education.
If the ending isn’t right the story isn’t right. As a publisher I reject most often because the story is not well-formed. My students get lower marks when their ending is poor as they are not showing that they understand story. 

What constitutes a poor ending

I’ve established three main faults:
1.      Nothing much happens
2.      The ending is melodramatic and improbable
3.      The writer has used a ‘deus ex machina’. This is another improbable ending. This expression refers to Greek drama when a god appears in the story and is whisked on to stage through some clever contraption. The god makes everything all right.  In the 21st century this often translates as a hurried ending with an unlikely set of circumstances solving all of the issues.  

Where an how open-ended can be fine

Indeed young adults like to have some control over the ending. They like to interpret what has actually happened and what will happen to the protagonist after the story has ended.  Endings for this reader tend to be upbeat but inconclusive.
If the work is part of a trilogy or series, the ending of one book may point to the beginning of the next. Even if some matters are resolved news issues may be raised at this point.
At a book reading of a so-called literary novel, tongue in cheek, I asked the author how one defined a literary novel. He explained that if you turned to the last page before you’d finished the book you didn’t get a spoiler. Well, well. Let’s see.   

How to avoid poor endings

Make sure there is growth in your protagonist. Are they different at the end of the novel / story from how they were at the beginning?

Make sure that throughout the story there is cause and effect and that this is logical.

If you’re a planner, you should know how your story is going to end.  Make sure you work towards that ending all the time.

If you are a panster you should at least know what your story is about.  Keep that in mind all the time.  Maybe have a post-it note stick to your computer screen.

Some examples

The second book of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses trilogy ends with us not sure whether someone has died or not. Actually though you only have to read the blurb for book three to find out the answer.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has a surprise ending. We don’t see it coming and we wouldn’t have thought it of the protagonist.  However, you soon realise that all the clues were there. The has been cause and effect.  

Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has a surprising premise; Virginia Wolfe comes back to life and must learn to live in the 21st Century. The ending provides a plausible explanation for why and how this has happened.        


Monday, 12 November 2018

Author Anne Goodwin has a new book out

Today  I welcome Anne Goodwin to my blog. We have published Ann in Bridge House anthologies and have been in touch with her for sometime. Make sure you get a copy of her fabulous book released on 23 November and do join her online launch party (details below) . I'll be there!    

About my new book, its focus and inspiration
At the time of writing, I’ve published two novels and around eighty short stories, the latter in various anthologies (including a couple from Bridge House), and in online and print magazines. I’m now about to publish my first short story collection with micro-press Inspired Quill. As with my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, the unifying theme is identity, and particularly the process of developing, losing and reclaiming one’s identity encapsulated in the title Becoming Someone.

Many writers are curious about identity. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? The way I’ve explored – and occasionally answered – these questions in my fiction is informed by my own identities, including my professional background as a clinical psychologist.

Like a satisfying story, the journey to selfhood often entails working through conflict. Sometimes, it’s only through opposition that we begin to discover what really matters to us. I also believe identity develops in the context of a relationship, even if only with oneself. Furthermore, we have multiple roles and identities, and the tensions between them can cause real-life difficulties – or a satisfying fictional narrative arc. Then there’s the conflict that ensues when someone close to us changes how they present themselves, forcing us to change too. Although none of the forty-two stories were written with a theme in mind, I could probably spin a tale to suggest I’d been working towards this collection since my first short-fiction publication over ten years ago.

Nevertheless, I found it challenging, in assembling the collection, to ensure the individual stories were sufficiently different, while the whole would be more than the sum of its parts. In an attempt to illustrate the process of becoming someone, we’ve arranged the stories in order of the central character’s increasing confidence with who they are. In the first section, a struggling teenage mother is followed by a man who identifies more with birds than people. At the end, a jaded wife finding a new impetus precedes a widow marking her husband’s passing in style. In between, there’s a Holocaust survivor, an amputee high on morphine, a sex tourist, an adoptee with a secret, an overworked doctor and a girl who can’t smile – although they probably wouldn’t choose to introduce themselves that way.

How can we get a copy?
Becoming Someone is published in paperback and e-book formats on 23rd November, 2018, by Inspired Quill. Generally, my books are most easily accessed through online retailers, through my publisher’s website or at author events:
Amazon author page
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers
Also, anyone subscribing to my author newsletter before 19th November, has the chance of winning a signed copy.

Do you have any events planned?
For the first time, I’m hosting a Facebook launch party on publication day, 23rd November, 2018 (and found your post on how to go about it extremely useful, Gill).
My book is dedicated to a couple of online friends who have been especially supportive of my writing and I’m excited that they will be able to celebrate with me from Australia and the USA. I’m also using this event to support Book Aid: the more people participate, the more I’ll donate to this charity getting books into the hands of disadvantaged readers around the world.
I’m also having a live launch along with a few other local writers at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on 9th December.