Sunday 20 January 2013


The view from my front door
I have a love/hate relationship with snow. I love the beauty of it and the inspiration it can provide. I hate the way the UK grinds to a halt with a bit of snow. I hate it even more this year as I can't risk falling and it is making me feel very old and trapped in my home.

Many years ago if it snowed when you were at primary school suddenly all classes were adapted. Everything was changed to accommodate snow related exercises. You would be given the chance to write about it. Now as we are older I think sometimes we forget about that joy, so for my students, who couldn't get to class on Friday as the university was closed and the snow fell out of the sky, I sent them an email asking them to write about the snow. I wonder what they will come up with. Maybe today I will write about it too.

In the meantime a good friend sent me this poem via her over heated environment and it is just so beautiful I had to share. It is 'Snow' by Gillian Clarke:

We're brought to our senses, awake
to the black and whiteness of world.
Snow's sensational. It tastes
of ice and fire. Hold a handful of cold.

Ball it between your palms
to throw at the moon. Relish its plushy creak.
Shake blossoms from chestnut and beech,
gather its laundered linen in your arms.

A twig of witch hazel from the ghost-garden
burns like myrrh in this room. Listen!
ice is whispering. Night darkens,
the mercury falls in the glass, glistening.

Motorways muffled in silence, lorries stranded
like dead birds, airports closed, trains trackless.
White paws lope the river on plates of ice
in the city's bewildered wilderness.

It appears in her collection Ice which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, 2013. How fabulous are some of those images - 'ice is whispering' for example?

This post serves no purpose other than to celebrate wonderful writing and snow.

A former student posted this piece of music and suggested you looked out of the window at the snow as you listened to it and then try and write something. Be inspired. A good exercise I think. The music is Balmorhea's Winter Circle

Saturday 19 January 2013

Writers need support

Surrounded by amazing supportive friends
Last week at the launch of The Golden Egg Academy we spoke about the importance of support for writers. Writing is not easy and you spend an awful lot of time on your own so having others to talk to about it is invaluable. This week has been a tough one for me what with starting teaching again, trying to write a whole ream of new modules and prepare a revalidation document AND write a book proposal was leaving me feeling totally exhausted and fairly deflated. But then the wonderful Candy Gourlay set up the 7 meme on Facebook. She told us we had to go to the seventh  or seventy seventh page of our current work in progress, go seven lines down and post the next seven lines.

Firstly, it was wonderful to see brief and tantalizing snippets from so many people. But then it was the comments I got on my few lines by friends who I respect and admire - they were so enthusiastic - all wanting more. The way Trafficking is set out it wasn't feasible for me to use that so I used my new work in progress which currently only has two chapters written - Persephone's Pegasus - so it is very raw and I don't often share this early on. But it reminded me of how good it felt to have feedback on your work. It gave me a new impetus and thanks to a snow day the uni was closed and I was able to do a bit of my own writing when I had finished what I needed to. It felt good. I realised how much I miss writing when I can't get to it. It makes me feel whole again and lifted my spirit enormously.

I have watched a good friend, who has been through a difficult year which has impacted on her time and ability to write, find her writing mojo again and the work she is producing is outstanding.  It is something that I have come to accept, if you are a writer you have to write to feel well and good about the world. Matt Haig spoke about his battle with depression and how writing helped him in a post he did for the Book Trust. It was powerful and humbling piece to read.

Never underestimate the importance of support when you are writing. It can come in all sorts of forms. I know some will disagree but Facebook and Twitter can be a great support. I have made some fantastic friendships through Facebook and keep in contact with many, many writers from all over the world. I had the joy of a fascinating conversation about metafiction in children's literature with the inimitable Philip Ardargh earlier this week. It wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Facebook. Critique groups are another great source of support whether face to face or online. And of course there are groups like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators who provide support too. (Also look at the Golden Egg website to see what support you can get there) Just remember to keep writing and keep talking about it. And if you have friends who write remember they need support too.

As all writers love cake and I am midlife (sort of) here's My Friend the Chocolate Cake with A Midlife's Tale

Sunday 13 January 2013

The Golden Egg Academy Launch

Scary Ladies!
A couple of years ago Imogen Cooper, senior editor with Chicken House, came to the university to talk to our MA students and it was one of those instances when you meet someone and you feel like you have known them for years. We become instant friends. The more we talked the more we realised we felt the same about books and writing (she even liked my own writing - big plus!). She is the most wonderful and inspirational person I know. Her passion and her ability to edit books is outstanding so you can imagine how thrilled I was when earlier this year she approached me to see if I would be interested in joining her in a new venture - The Golden Egg Academy. I didn't need to think twice, my answer was an immediate 'yes'.The chance to work with the likes of Imogen, Christine O'Brien (editor at Chicken House, OUP and Frances Lincoln) and Beverley Birch (editor at Hodder) was not something to be missed.

Yesterday was the hatching of The Golden Egg Academy down at Bath and it was a glorious afternoon surrounded by friends, authors, would be writers, agents and publishers. So much laughter and a glorious cake. The event was 'hatched' by the inimitable Barry Cunningham of Chicken House who called us all a panel of scary ladies - I have never been called that, it was quite an empowering moment! He then went on to speak about the importance of readers and having great books to inspire them. We all then spoke a bit about our thoughts regarding children's books. I mentioned how important children's literature is and what The Golden Academy can do for you; Imogen spoke about how you must know what your novel is about; Beverley followed her by talking about 'understanding your voice,' and then Christine finished off with discussing finding your inner child again. Following a brief respite for cake, actor and team member, Suzanne Cave, read out excerpts of work from Kay Varley, Christina Vinall and Claire Difazio, all of whom went on to discuss how they had been working with Imogen and the difference it had made to their work. All this was achieved with the help of Nicki Marshall and Zoe Taylor. (Huge thanks has to go to everyone for such an amazing day)
So much laughter!

The Golden Egg Academy is all about the holistic approach. It is about working with you as a writer and building relationships as well as working on your manuscript so it is the best it can possibly be. There will be editorial surgeries, workshops and one to ones available. We are all looking forward to working with you. Please do check out the website and see what a difference it could make for you.

In the meantime this is what all writers do: Sitting, Wishing, Waiting....

Saturday 5 January 2013

The 'sick lit' debate

Feeling infuriated!
On Thursday the Daily Mail published an article by Tanith Carey entitled 'The 'sick-lit' books aimed at children: It's a disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, self-harm and suicide...' It has caused quite a stir and not just with me. To me this is typical sensationalist reporting that hasn't really thought through what is being said. There is the odd academic reference to offer credibility and a single quote from an author offering a defence. (I suggest you read Phil Earle's books - they are brilliant) But there is a lot more out there that counters what Ms Carey says, which she has very carefully avoided.

For a start, sick children in books are not new. Just think of Heidi, Little Women, The Secret Garden and What Katy Did. In some of these books, steps back in mock horror, someone dies! Did it stop people reading them? No! There is a reason for this, sometimes children want to read about the reality of their lives and many of them don't live perfect lives. This is not going to change and neither should it. I am not saying that all books should include teenage cancer and self-harm but I do believe if they are relevant to the story and are well told they should remain. I feel the same about sex, drugs and alcohol.  I should also admit I am not truly convinced by suicide story lines and whether they fit in at the moment but that in the main is based on the fact that I have not read any of the books mentioned that deal with suicide so don't feel I can comment.

I am an academic as well as a writer and my PhD looked at the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in British young adult fiction. Yes, I admit the representation has changed and become more graphic but I feel this is only a reflection of what children are able to access via the TV and the Internet. I do not (and neither does my research) see it as a reflection of what children are actually up to. For me, and backed up by my research, books are all about the vicarious experience. The children may never intend to take drugs etc but they want to know how to react in any given situation. This is what books can do, they can provide the vicarious experience between the safe page turning of a good book. It should not be knocked nor should it be dismissed. Books that deal with contentious issues need to remain. They need to offer children a chance to escape and ask questions of themselves and the text in safety. A book also means you can go back to certain bits whenever you want to if you are still unsure. No one is going to know because reading is a private matter.

Reading as a child/teenager is all part of working out who you are. It is all part of the search for an identity. Books are a chance to try on different voices and identities to see how they fit in the safe environment of between the pages.

The article says that there is a risk that it will encourage people to self harm etc if they read these books. Well on a simplistic level, if you read lots of crime stories do you go out there and commit a crime? Yes, there may be a minority that will do something wrong but that is the case for everything and you can't assume that they wouldn't have done it anyway. I also note she mentions Twilight but fails to mention how it shows an abusive relationship as being acceptable. I can only assume she doesn't see that as a problem.

Yes, I am passionate about this as I feel it is important to give children chances to read about life. They may never chose to do that. They may only ever read fantasy but it should not be up to us. I am confident that the gatekeepers that are in place like publishers, editors, booksellers and librarians will protect children from unsuitable books (this could be an issue with self published books but that is for another post and not for today). The most important thing for me as a writer is to provide stories that are well written and that children want to read. I am not all about shock tactics but will use contentious issues if they fit into my story and that is never going to change. The most important thing to me is that we offer books that children can escape into and, as I said earlier, to ask questions of.

Here is a bit of Teenage Dirtbag because it seems appropriate as I used to listen to it with my, then, teenage children and who are now delightful adults despite having lived 'interesting' lives...I know how lucky I am that they have turned out how they have.