Monday, 29 July 2019

Getting the Most Out of Conferences

I was recently able to attend one day of the Mslexicon Conference in Leeds. This was of course organised by the wonderful Mslexia, my favourite writers’ magazine. 

Now, I’m not going to give you a full report on the sessions I attended.  That wouldn’t be fair to those who have paid a lot of money to be there, myself included, and indeed to the speakers who make part of their livelihood from providing content at such events but I will share with you what I came away with. 

It’s always important when you go on a course or attend a conference that you resolve to act on what you’ve learnt and you put in some mechanism for making sure that it happens. 

So, I’m kind of doing that here. I’m stating in public what I will do next as a result of having attended the event. I expect you to hold me to account. 

I was very pleased to hear Claire Malcolm speak. She is from New Writing North.  Now, I still have a few problems with this organisation. It often seems more like it ought to be named New Writing North East and we need a New Writing North West. Those darn Pennines! But her enthusiasm was very convincing and I’m now resolved to use the site more often.   

She also gave a new template for writing bios which I’ll now consider using. 

A plenary included an interview with Sophie Hannah  My goodness, she is enthusiastic. She has instigated The Dream Author Coaching Programme  and I’ve signed up for that. 

The final session was “Find Your Tribe” which formalised the networking that is always so useful at conferences. I’ve now found another group of local people with whom to share critiques, another group with whom to work on events and I’ve also volunteered to do some editorial work. 

There was a glorious pop-up book shop: I’m keen to use them for some of my own events.  I picked up a fascinating book by Steven Pinker: A Sense of  Style.  I always like Pinker’s work and this seems to address writing particularly. Yes, treating yourself to a book at a conference is absolutely justified. You’ve paid a lot already and you’re probably attending at a weekend between two working weeks. You deserve a treat. 

As always at these events, you get a few interesting freebies.  This time there was a handy clipboard, a pen, the usual useful canvas tote bag, a copy of the mag and one of Shaun Levins Writing Maps How to Write a Story There was also a very useful Do Not Disturb Sign. One side had “I’m thinking” on it and the other “I’m reading”.  I’ve made use of this for our downstairs loo that doesn‘t have a bolt on the door. It also offers a discount for the Literary Gift Company Also in the bag, and also form the Literary Gift Company was a little yellow duck who was reading a book.  Did someone slip that in whilst we were networking? I only discovered him when I got home. Anyway, it looks great in my new bathroom.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Tulip Taylor Take Another Look by Anna Mainwaring

Tulip is obsessed with make-up. She is a competent well-followed vlogger. As in many texts for this age group she has dysfunctional parents.  She adores her younger brother and sister yet they also irritate her at times.  She has her supportive girlfriends and there is the usual love-interest.  

This text, however, rises above the normal real-life story for this reader. Tulip is challenged to appear on a TV survival show. She seems to be the least likely to succeed in the whole group.   There are other challenges in the rest of her life and she meets them all head on. 

Anna Mainwaring has created rounded believable characters about whom we care.

Tulip finds solutions to all the problems she faces.  She dispels the myth that her generation are snowflakes.    

OIlivia Levez describes it as “A Pride and Prejudice of Our Times’. Maybe.  There is so much more to it than that, though. 

The book offers a solid read.  It is some 292 pages long. The chapters are reasonably short.  

Monday, 22 July 2019

Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

This is the sequel to Cecelia Ahern’s Flawed.
Those that are less than perfect are branded and labelled flawed  in this dystopian near-future.  Yet the whole system itself is flawed: there is corruption and power-seeking and the judgement about who is and who isn’t flawed is very subjective. Horrifically babies can be designated as flawed at birth.  F.A.B.  

Protagonist Celestine North complicates her situation by becoming an evader, one who hides from the law. 

Many know that this is wrong but lack the courage to speak out. Eventually they do and it is in part thanks to Celestine finding and showing the footage of Judge Crevan himself branding her spine without anaesthetic.  She already has five brands.  

There are two love interests for Cecelia. She hooks up with Carrick, another evader. She also still has some feelings for her former boyfriend, Art, who is also Crevan’s son. 

This novel is powerful in that all is not back and white. Art becomes a Whistleblower  - one of the guards who supervises the correct containment of the Flawed. He rejects this role when he realises what his father has done.  There is a moment when Celestine almost feels sorry for Crevan: he is now stripped of his fine robes and his role and she remembers how he just used to be Art’s dad. 

The ending is upbeat.  The Guild is overthrown but we realise that this society will have to work hard to build something humane and effective. The work is only just beginning. 

The stakes are high and pace is fast throughout.  There are plenty of cliff-hangers and twists.
This is a long book – 426 pages and the format is 9 x 6 inches. The font is adobe Thai point 13 so the text resembles a book for adults.  However, the chapters are very short with a few of them being just one page long.               

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent Dyer

This story brings at once the familiar and the exotic.  1920s’ readers will be familiar with school and relationships between school girls. Some aspects of school life will also be familiar to the 21st century reader. We have the story lines of several differently aged girls but as children like to read “up” – often reading about youngsters aged about two years older than themselves, this will appeal to the upper primary reader. Few of them ’ however, will be familiar with boarding school and even those that are and who are 1920s’ middle class or even upper middle class will be less familiar with Austria and the Alps.

For the 21st century reader the exoticism comes in another way.  There is perhaps nothing so exciting about the Tyrol anymore.  Yet the way of life will be alien to them – shared dorms, cold baths and a strange language. Even the young reader may marvel at the relatively young headteacher Madge.  She is only in her twenties.      

There is plenty of tension and pace.  There are complex relationships between the girls. Headteacher Madge Bettany perhaps offers a role-model for the readers to aspire to, offering food for thought as they transit form primary school to secondary school.
The text is 204 pages long, blocked and in a tight font.  A real book, but not too long.   

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

There are actually three stories about the Ruggles family: 

The Family from One End Street   (first published 1937) 2014
Further Adventures of the Family form One End Street (first published 1956) 2019
Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn (first published 1962) 2019    

The Ruggles are an interesting family.  Dad is a dustman and Mum takes in washing. I remember the first book being read to us in the second year at junior school and I was delighted that here at last was a family a little like my own.  Not that my father was a dustman, nor did my mother take in washing and I was an only child: there are seven children in the Ruggles family.  However, the day to day concerns were the same as the ones that my family had and these characters offered something more familiar than the usual middle class ones we read about in domestic and school stories.     

I suspect the Ruggles will be a bit of a puzzle to the 21st century child. However, the stories do give some insight into a different Britain and in particular one without a National Health Service.
If town-dwellers living in the same era as the Ruggles had read the book they would have been introduced to the country side in the two sequels. This would be exotic and interesting for them. The 21st century reader is more likely to have travelled more.  

The stories certainly grabbed my attention. 

I do have a slight concern that Eve Garnett was not working-class. But then was Charles Dickens? Is any serious writer or reader, in fact?  Do we become middle class when we take on solid literacy?
All three books have satisfying spines and are illustrated with attractive line drawings.  Note the nineteen-year gap between the publication of the first book and the two subsequent titles.  All use a blocked text and a sophisticated font with difficult as and gs. The first book in the series uses a larger font.