Friday, 8 November 2019

Barking up the Wrong Tree by Philip Ardagh, illustrated Elissa Elwick




Sally Stick has a dog called Fetch. He understands what she says and she knows what his barks mean.  Other people simply hear him bark. They set up a detective agency, Stick and Fetch – in Sally’s granny’s kitchen.  
This volume includes three separate stories – Telly Trouble, No Clowning Around and Up, UP and Away. As the overall title of the book suggests, there are misunderstandings. Yet all works out well: Sally and Fetch get to enjoy some of Granny’s celebration cake, they manage the cheer up a very sad little boy who is not enjoying his birthday and they enable children at the local library to have a very exciting story time.
There is also much to amuse any adult who reads with a child: the adult will probably realise that Sally has misunderstood something every time.  
However, Philip Ardagh remains on the child’s side and any reader will empathise with Sally.
This book is 142 pages long so it has a respectable spine.  There is only a small amount of text on each page and amusing images illustrate this well. The text is formatted ragged right and is double-spaced. The font is Anka Sans, one that is easy to read.   

Monday, 4 November 2019

Stage of revision 3: Check format and length against target market / reader




This isn’t really quite as commercial as it sounds though it’s obviously sensible not to send a 100,000 word novel to a publisher that states that they won’t look at anything over 70,000 words.  There may not be anything wrong with your 100,000 word novel – it’s just that that particular publisher isn’t right for your work. 

However, do be aware that one of the first things that often happens when you work with a professional editor is that they ask you to shorten your carefully edited text. 

Here, really, I’m talking about making sure you’re always speaking to the same reader. This anyway is where voice comes from.  Voice exists in the gap between the reader and the writer. Your reader is another character.

Format, then, defines what is contained in the novel. Format may address items such as length of chapter, the amount of pace and tension required and the narrative balance. 

You do also have the option of deliberately writing for a particular publishing house. You turn their guidelines into a template. You may also create templates for different readers. 

As many of you probably know, I often write for young adults. Here is a template I use for that. The novel should include:
1)      Mixed genre
2)      Emotional closeness
3)      Leaving reader to decide
4)      Pushing boundaries
5)      Fast paced / high stakes
6)      Characters resemble young adults
7)      Bildungsroman 

The mixed genre element is a godsend. So often work is rejected because publishers can’t work out where a book would fit on the shelf in a bookshop. Is your work fantasy or real life? The beauty of young adult texts is that the points above define it rather than a particular genre. 

The voice is important here too and should normally be of one young adult telling one another what has happened to them but before they’ve managed to rationalise it. The reader does the rationalisation and this is one of the decisions they make. 

Can you create a similar checklist for the genre you are working in?         

Friday, 1 November 2019

News 1 November 2019



 

Image by Oli Lynch from Pixabay

Course at MMU

That’s Manchester Metropolitan University. I attended a two day playwriting course there this week.  We also dabbled in some virtual reality and wrote a few short stories. This was held at the Writing School, now housed in what used to be The Corner House (now moved to Home) but soon to move to a brand new building. The room we worked in was cold but it had a delightfully high ceiling. I’m told this aids creativity. Certainly ideas flew around and the critiques were helpful. I managed to write most of a twenty-minute play script, first draft, and I’ve also almost got the first draft of four short stories. The course director has said he will read and critique our completed play scripts if we send them to him.  I shall certainly send him mine.             

News about my writing

I’m still working 240 X 70, Peace Child 4 (The House of Clementine) and Not Just Fluffy Bunnies, my non-fiction text about the darker side of children’s literature. I’m also now spending quite a bit of time working on the book of 366 writing prompts. I’m going to give this book to all the people who have contributed to it and to all the people I’ve published. I’m confident I’ll get it finished in time for Christmas. Would you like to contribute? Do you have any writing prompts?
Here are a few examples of the sort of thing:

5 February  Birth Choices?


The body is an amazing thing, but older women are at risk in childbirth of having babies with health problems. Can you tell a tale of the effects of older women having children may bring? Highlight the positives and the change in mindset your character will go through. Maybe a highflying business woman who didn’t employ people with disabilities suddenly realises they have the same dreams as us to have successful careers, when she gives birth to a disabled child late in life.

Paula Readman  

6 February Story Cubes

Try out the APP Story Cubes.  At the time of writing it costs £1.99.
But if you don’t want to buy I’ve “rolled my dice” for you.  I got: a cat, a fountain, an L plate, a book, an apple, someone sleeping and an open eye. Pick at least three to build into your story
Gill James

 

7 February Chocolate 

Can you say it with chocolate đŸ«? Write a chocolate tale with a twist. Remember, Chocolate can be Dark, Milk or White? What shade will your tale be? 

Paula Readman

18 February 2019 Drink Wine Day

As today is Drink Wine Day write a short story where a glass or a bottle of wine is the catalyst to something going well or badly.
Gill James

 

19 February 2019 The Mysterious Package

Two people meet on a bridge. One hands the other a mysterious package.  Who are the people? What is in the package?  What will happen next?
Gill James

Note, the book will also be available on Amazon as an e-book and all contributors will get a pro-rata 50% share of net sales.  If you have ideas, send them to me.

On the short story front I’ve written Theme Park, about an older lady spending a birthday at a theme park, Setting the Right Tone about how a teacher’s stress is alleviated when she helps the music teacher with the choir and On The Island, a spooky story about a couple of tourists trapped on an island.   
My short story collection Other Ways of Being is now out. You can find it on Amazon here.
         

Catalogue of books for children

I’ve added two books in October:
  • The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond, suitable for Key Stage 2, fluent readers.  It is quite quirky and as usual David Almond is a great story teller.
  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne  This is the story of a young boy who goes to live at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain top retreat, and who becomes a Nazi. I have a few problems with this book, just as I did with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  Who should the reader actually be?
You can read my full comments here and here.     

Current reading recommendation

Despite my comments above about John Boyne’s book above, this is the one I’m recommending this month, perhaps because I welcome other views on what I consider controversial. I found it a fascinating and a relatively quick read in any case, despite my misgivings.  
It is difficult to really pinpoint a reader. Pierrot is seven at the beginning of the story and at the end we see Pierrot / Pieter as a gown man.  Before the epilogue he is eighteen and wears a soldier’s uniform but isn’t ever involved in active combat. There is a scene near the end of the story where he almost rapes the girl he would like to have as a girlfriend.  Yet this would not be too startling for the younger reader as the scene is quite subtle. Clearer is his sense of entitlement that his Nazi upbringing has created. 
Adults reading the text know what is happening. Boyne writes very much form Pierrot’s / Pieter’s point of view and we see everything through an innocent boy’s eyes. When he is transcribing for Hitler what some important Nazi figures discuss in a meeting, he queries why the showers in the new camps will not have water. However, once we get to the end of the story Pieter refers to Buchenwald, Dachau, Auschwitz and the Geneva Convention as though the readers would perfectly understand this.  
Find it on Amazon here.             

Giveaway

This month I’m giving away a PDF of my short story collection Our Daily Bread. This seems to have disappeared from Amazon so I shall republish it there, perhaps under a different title, in the not too distant future.   
Get your free PDF and lots of other goodies here.
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   
Naturally I welcome reviews.

 

The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.
This month I’ve added posts about Hani GƑdde: about her childhood in Germany and about the BDM.
 You can read the posts here and here.      

 

School visits

I’m still promoting my school visits associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’ve now developed a whole workshop for this. It starts off with a board game, includes some role play and creative writing and ends with a discussion.
It is now possible to purchase the kit to work on on your own. Find details here.
Costs for my workshops = travel expenses plus £400 for a full day and £200 for a half day. This includes all materials and some freebies. Two schools near to each other might consider splitting the day and halving the travel expenses and fees. This is open to negotiation in any case.       
I also offer a free half day visit, though you pay my travel expenses, if you allow me to promote my books.      
I’m continuously adding materials for schools to the site that are different from the ones I use for the workshops. I’ve recently added in resources and books to do with the topic. See them here:      
Query for a school visit here.
I’m also happy to tailor a visit for your agreed donation. This can be for either a Schellberg Cycle visit or a creative writing workshop. Any monies raised this way will go specifically to a project I have for a non-fiction book about a journey that will follow the footsteps of Clara Lehrs. I’m hoping to do the whole journey by train, including departing via my nearest Metrolink station. It’s important to feel the rails beneath my feet.       
I offer as well standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Please remember, with these as well, I’m open to negotiation if you can’t afford the full price.

 

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative CafĂ© Project News about the project and CafĂ©Lit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Find it here.   

Opportunities List Remember I keep a full list of vetted opportunities on my writing blog. See them here. New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative CafĂ© Project Listings and reviews of creative cafĂ©s. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head.   

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

Happy reading and writing.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Click on image to view on Amazon


Pierrot Fischer, later Pieter, is half French and half German and spends the first part of his childhood in Paris.  He has a best friend who is Jewish, but doesn’t realise this and the significance of it.  His father, a great War veteran, commits suicide and his mother dies of TB. The Jewish family will not take him in – partly because they can’t afford to and partly because they think it will be dangerous for him. He goes first to an orphanage in Orleans and then his German aunt finds out about him. She happens to work at Hitler’s retreat, the Berghof in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden.  Pieter becomes a Nazi and is quite nasty with it. His Aunt Beatrix and her lover, Ernst, the chauffeur are executed when they try to poison Hitler. Pieter begins to see that what he has become is wrong but only when the Germans are losing World War II and Hitler and the others with him in the bunker in Berlin kill themselves and when he himself is taken prisoner by the liberating soldiers. He eventually finds his old school friend from Paris, Anshel Bronstein, who has become a writer. Bizarrely at this point John Boyne switches from a close third person narrative to first person.   

As with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, (the BBC film of which was first broadcast after the watershed) it is difficult to really pinpoint a reader. Pierrot is seven at the beginning of the story and at the end we see Pierrot / Pieter as a gown man.  Before the epilogue he is eighteen and wears a soldier’s uniform but isn’t ever involved in active combat. There is a scene near the end of the story where he almost rapes the girl he would like to have as a girlfriend.  Yet this would not be too startling for the younger reader as the scene is quite subtle. Clearer is his sense of entitlement that his Nazi upbringing has created. 

It’s quite hard also to assess the impact on a reader, again as is the case with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas;   adults reading the text know what is happening. Boyne writes very much form Pierrot’s / Pieter’s point of view and we see everything through an innocent boy’s eyes. When he is transcribing for Hitler what some important Nazi figures discuss in a meeting, he queries why the showers in the new camps will not have water. However, once we get to the end of the story Pieter refers to Buchenwald, Dachau, Auschwitz and the Geneva Convention as though the readers would perfectly understand this.            
     
Pierrot changes rather too quickly perhaps into a Nazi and then rather too quickly away from these dangerous ideals. 

Nevertheless, the book is well written, engaging and gives the opportunity for some meaningful discussion of many important issues.
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