Michaela DePrince | Photo by Rachel Neville
Michaela DePrince | Photo by Rachel Neville
I’m afraid this will be the last post from The Acorn and Thimble. Not because I’m stopping blogging, but because sadly I think this blog has stagnated a little. I think the posts I like to write are a little too long for here, and I’ve also felt restricted in what I can write about. My new blog, wordurchin.com, will have a mix of reviews, children’s lit and YA lit commentary, but also anything else I feel like.
For those of you who are tumblr lovers, I will sometimes post things on the new Wordurchin tumblr.
Thank you for following TAAT :)
This blog is actually closing down - I’m heading over to www.wordurchin.com, as I’ll be doing a mix of reviews/posts etc and wanted to start afresh. Check out my review policy there, and if you’re still interested you can get in touch via the email address suggested there!
The Macavity picture book is in! Making Eliot’s poetry fun and exciting for a whole new generation, this lovely picture book has illustrations from the wonderful Arthur Robins.
Earlier this year, whilst arranging which authors from my publisher would be appearing at a major literary festival, I casually mentioned to the organiser that I’d be very happy to chair some children’s events if she was running short of people.
Eventually, I was asked to do two. My whimsical idea of ‘it’ll be fun to have an in depth chat about some books with the authors, and a discussion with a much wider group,’ swiftly turned into abject terror. I now actually had to do it, and work out the best way to be as prepared as possible.
Which meant a lot of reading. To chair my two events, I had to read 7 books, just to cover what the authors had written. On top of this there were a few eshorts and even a little bit of critical reading. It was intense but I was privileged to be chairing some truly fantastic writers.
Other prep that I thought was vital was meeting with the authors. Having worked in the industry for approaching 2 years, I’ve seen a lot of panels where clearly the authors and chair have just met. With a well prepared chair this doesn’t mean a bad event, but on occasion you do watch that gradual settling as everyone gets used to each other. I’ve also heard horror stories of chairs who turn up having no knowledge of the authors, or even their books, which can make for an excruciating event. Nervous as I was, and with a debut speaker in each event, meeting up to discuss ideas seemed sensible. I was lucky, all authors were either local, or able to commute a short distance. Both meetings were a lot of fun and useful for establishing the lay of the land. One event would be on quite a serious topic and would last an hour - we had to make sure we had enough material to discuss, and yet get the balance right so the event wasn’t too dry or macabre. It was still for teenagers, after all. The other event was a lot more humour focussed and we were limited to 45 minutes, meaning we were going to have to be careful to stay on track to get everything in.
Whilst each meet up was more of a chat and throw around of ideas, I had to make sure I knew where I and the authors wanted the event to go, and so had to draw out a rough plan. But I didn’t want all the questions set in stone, which would leave no room for interesting tangents. I’ve seen chairs who literally went into events with about 4 words on a sheet of paper for inspiration. I wasn’t that confident, but I did pick 4/5 areas per event and then a couple of possible questions under each heading. After a chat with a more experienced chair about how to handle my nervousness, I was ready to go.
Both went well, and everyone involved enjoyed themselves. Looking back, I should probably do less moving about of my hands; I think I looked like a puppeteer with an invisible Pinocchio, which could be distracting, and somewhat sinister. There were ways I could have introduced more free discussion, and there were certainly enough questions to fill a greater part of the event than I allowed. But for a first couple of goes, both events threw up some fascinating ideas and I’m eager to repeat the experience - it’s great to really get your teeth into some books from a critical and yet fun perspective every now and then. Added to the fact that the young audiences were full of brilliant questions and were eager to get involved, I’d definitely advise people going to children’s and teen’s events.
So I decided to collate all the blogs I’ve been doing recently, that haven’t been up on here, but with the lovely bloggers who make my job at Walker so much more fun. They’re as excitable as I am about books and regularly review our books and host our authors. So I like to give a little something back. So here’s the four I’ve done in 2013
First up, early on in the year I wrote a post on organisation for the lovely Emma at Book Angel Booktopia. I restrained it to how I organise desk, as that’s a herculean task in itself.
Then Carolyn at Book Chick City kindly let me ramble on about all the books we have coming out this year with a paranormal slant, and was even interested in how I ended up working where I do.
The wonderful Viv at Serendipity Reviews has a new meme, asking authors, bloggers etc about 5 important books from their teens. So my gamechangers and deep loves are all on there.
Finally, the brilliant Clover over at Fluttering Butterflies let me loose on her blog to talk about what I need on my bookcase wherever I’m living. Other than children’s literature, my great loves are Victorian literature and Arthurian Literature. There’s a lot of photos of my precious Arthurian collection.
I also had a lot of reading to do for my first ever literary chairing events at Hay festival. There’s a post to come on that soon for anyone who’s ever wondered what that involves!
Geek is an interesting word that has a new look, and new associations. But the look and associations are not necessarily the same, and sometimes seem as to relate to different words. The look would be the new fashion – the GEEK t-shirts, the glassless glasses, the geeks from Glee who are really attractive and fashionable, and passionate about being in a fun version of the otherwise desperately uncool school choir.
Because that, really, is sort of the new association. Geek is gradually becoming a term to mean ‘enthusiastic and knowledgeable about’ rather than ‘annoyingly intelligent and socially awkward.’ Which is great, in a way, and something for which I’d like to buy the internet a drink.
Because the internet allows you to talk to other people who are ‘geeky’ about the same thing. When I was 15, if I’d got really into the Hunger Games (for example) there are few people who would have understood why I might want to wear a mockingjay pin. I was definitely the only person my age with Harry Potter merchandise. I luckily went to a school where, whilst there weren’t people who ‘got geeky’ about things the way I did, were pretty tolerant about it. In my adult life I’ve met many people who weren’t so lucky and were bullied for it. But the people I knew and could talk to about my interests were still limited to those at school, Duke of Edinburgh, and my drama group.
Now it would be a different story. With twitter, chat forums and blogging, I’d have been spoilt for choice on who to ask ‘Hey, if Fred and George had the Marauders Map, how come they never noticed a man called Peter hanging out at the end of their brother’s bed every night?’ I could have blogged about how much I did actually like Wuthering Heights, my set GCSE text. Teenagers today are almost guaranteed to be able to find someone who enthuses about their interest in the same way. Now, book fans have ‘fandoms,’ which are named. There are the Shadowhunters (The Mortal Instruments), Potterheads (Harry Potter) and even the recent formation of ‘Whirlers’ (Chaos Walking). There’s an ownership of enthusiasm and less of a need to hide it. Entire self-proclaimed communities of people with similar interests form on the internet. Which is fantastic.
But don’t get me wrong – those perceived as ‘geeks’ can still have it bad offline, and we all know that the internet can be a vicious weapon in some people’s hands. Which is why the GEEK fashion is so baffling – it’s claimed as fashion as well as being used to hurt people. Now it seems, you can be a geek and be cool, as long as you are being a geek about something that is perceived as being cool. Complicated
So ‘geek’ has come a long way, and the connotation has stretched – it’s no longer just someone who doesn’t fit the mould. It can be someone who isbreaking or even making the mould – using their enthusiasm to find a community of people. Intelligence and excitement isn’t always something you need to hide, and you can enjoy something without even having to be particularly clever about it. But it’s got to go further, and it can’t be a weapon as the same time as being a fashion statement.
Really, we shouldn’t need the word geek. People should just be able to enjoy what they’re interested in.
This is an old post I wrote for the lovely Jesse at Books4Teens back in November, but I figured it would still be interesting now for anyone interested in the publishing industry.
The original, beautifully formatted post complete with pictures, can be found over in the original post, here
This is one of the busiest weeks of the year, and whilst normally I would be heading into work and checking over the press coverage our books received over the weekend, I head instead to the British Museum where one of our authors, Jamila Gavin, is giving a talk. I first went to set this up in the summer and have been looking forward to it. Jamila has written a book on Alexander the Great, but it brilliantly involves summaries of all the legends that inspired Alexander himself, so there’s a good smattering of Achilles and Hercules too. Today she’s giving a presentation to some year six students who have been studying the ancient Greeks and will be coming on to Alexander next year. Jamila and the children discuss what it means to be a hero, and look at a map that shows just what an astonishing proportion of the ancient world Alexander covered.
Back in the office, last minute details are being checked for various festivals. Both Bath and Cheltenham festivals are on at the moment and it means our PR team of three (me, the Junior Press Officer; Paul, the Senior Press Officer and Sarah, our publicity manager) are quite stretched. Add to that the fact that it’s the launch week for Anthony Horowitz’s (and Walker’s) longest ever novel, the fantastic Oblivion, and it’s a struggle to do day to-day-admin like mail outs and press clippings.
This is going to be my one full day in the office this week so I have to make it count. I spend some of this time checking our authors have all they need for events at Cheltenham this weekend, such as the workshop materials that picture book creator Petr Horacek needs for his breakfast workshop. Not only is Petr helping children make their own picture book inspired by his book Puffin Peter, but there will be a buffet breakfast, plus the Walker Bear (an incredibly cuddly costume) will be making an appearance and we have to work out a new order for Petr’s usual workshop. I also work on details for a dinner that we’re throwing for Quentin Blake in two weeks to celebrate the release of Rosie’s Magic Horse. Quentin illustrated the (absolutely stunning) book for Russell Hoban, who sadly died last year, and we want to commemorate the release properly, so I spend time discussing guests and venues. It’s a lovely book, about some discarded ice lolly sticks that decide they want to be something bigger, and form a horse that takes young Rosie on a magic adventure.
I’m up early to head out to a London secondary school where our author Atinuke is appearing. It’s Black History Month and Atinuke has been booked for the entire day, to work with groups at the school and perform for children from the school’s feeder primaries. This includes African folklore and readings from her own Anna Hibiscus and The Number One Car Spotter books, both set in different places in Africa. I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve heard Atinuke story tell before and it’s a treat. We have a slight moment of consternation as I arrive as we had expected 400 children. However, an unanticipated (by us and the school) extra 200 have also turned up, meaning there needs to be a slight reshuffle of seating and general organisation. As Atinuke and I point out though, once you get past 400 children, what’s another 200? As ever, she does wonderfully and every child is absolutely entranced all the way through.
Normally I’d stay with Atinuke for the rest of the day as she has sessions with smaller groups of children, but we have a lot of getting ready to do for Anthony Horowitz’s launch that night, and I have to leave and run into the city centre to get wrapping paper for his launch gift.
Back in the office I have the unenviable task of wrapping an enormous (but beautiful) map of Antarctica, the setting of the novel’s climax and which Anthony visited for research. Once this is done, we have to run to The Ivy, where the launch is being held. When we arrive, Paul and I arrange over 100 copies of the 668 page book into a book fort (which, let’s face it, you’ve always wanted to do) and we wait for the ice sculpture to arrive. As a surprise for Anthony, we’ve had a copy of Oblivion frozen into a block of ice, along with the Power of Five Logo and the tag line of the book ‘One Chance to Save Mankind.’ It’s brilliant, and impressively doesn’t melt everywhere during the evening.
The party is a great success, with Anthony and his editor Jane making brilliant speeches and everyone having a fabulous time.
The next morning I head off to Paddington as I’m attending the Oxfordshire Book Award, where our author Patrick Ness is headed to pick up the secondary school award for A Monster Calls. Jim Kay, the illustrator, sadly isn’t able to make it but Patrick and I head out for the award ceremony, which is being attended by several hundred school children. This is by no means the first award that A Monster Calls has won (think Carnegie, Kate Greenaway, Costa, UKLA, Red House) but as ever it’s always really exciting to win an award like this one as the winner was chosen by children. When we arrive, we meet up with the winners of the other categories, Nadia Shireen and Tony Ross, and see the amazing hand frosted cakes depicting the covers of the winning books. All authors/illustrators do amazingly and answer a great range of questions from a lot of incredibly enthusiastic children. After the ceremony we have a book signing. I sadly endure children looking at me like I’ve personally stabbed them when I say that I’ve been told by the event staff that Patrick is only able to sign books, not their programmes. Luckily, Patrick’s queue finishes more quickly that the others’ (the perks of writing, not illustrating) and I’m allowed to heal some of my wrong by letting some kids come back. We then head back to London and I hurry home to pack for Cheltenham the next day.
I only have the morning in the office – checking up on queries from the day before as well as dealing with some admin for Sarah and Paul, neither of whom are in the office. Then I get my stuff together and travel back to Paddington to get the train for Cheltenham, ready for the 4 events I’m working over the weekend.
Today I have two events with the lovely Polly Dunbar, who I’ve helped as festivals before. Her books about Tilly and Friends have just been launched as a television series and it’s sweet seeing how many children already know that it’s Hector the pig who favours the maracas whilst Pru the chicken has a handbag. Polly does lovely events where she narrates a story and draws it at the same time, letting children get on stage and help her out. She also tells us the story of Penguin, complete with puppet.
After the event we have a signing queue, where Polly kindly draws a picture in every book, and then we have time for a quick lunch before heading to her second event, a workshop about creating ideas. It’s very hands on, and I get involved, hearing one child’s story about a giant with a nose that gets made into a church steeple, and another about a bird and a cat who don’t want to live together but unite when a pig moves in. These are all generated from random shapes and pieces of paper that Polly has given them as a starting point. It’s a lot of fun.
Afterwards, I spend my evening making up party bags for the children attending the Book It Breakfast with Petr the next day, which promises a good bag for each child.
The breakfast event is lovely. The breakfast itself looks lovely, but I don’t actually get to eat any because I’m busy laying out pencils, gluesticks, workshop materials and extra activity sheets. Petr reads from his books, and as we get to the moment when everyone needs to come and get workshop materials, the Walker Bear appears. He is mobbed, and it’s adorable. Eventually the children settle to the workshop and some lovely mini picture books. Another few stories and a return from the Walker Bear later, and I have to run to my next event.
Allan and Jessica Ahlberg have created a lovely new book called Goldilocks, which doesn’t just tell about the three bears, but the 33 bears, the aliens, and the furniture. It’s an absolute delight and a wonderful event, complete with Allan and Jessica’s own bears, an opportunity for children to help draw the 33 bears, and the classical music that inspired the book in the first place. After a long signing queue for the two of them, I get my stuff together and sleep all the way back to London. I have work tomorrow.
One thing that has always entranced me in books, is those that contain another, totally fictional book within them. I don’t mean Matilda talking about Charles Dickens, or even Bella ruining the good names of Austen and Shakespeare, but a book that uses another, equally imaginary text with an imaginary author as a plot point. I would argue that the success of these real books very much rests upon the desirability of your meta book (for ease of reading, let’s say the story you are reading is a ‘real’ book, and for want of a better word their internal stories are your 'meta' books). This is quite different from one book inspiring you read another, such as the legions of Twilight fans that decided that Wuthering Heights might be a similar read…
For example, when I read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series, I wanted to read the poet Rilke. Much of the protagonists’ relationship develops around this poetry and their growing understanding of one another’s desires. It was a great way to nudge me on to new material.
But books can, almost cruelly, offer you a book that you can never read. I was most struck by this recently by reading John Green’s fabulous A Fault in Our Stars. Once I was done crying, all I could think was that I wanted to read An Imperial Affliction, the book that not only brought the protagonists together and gave them a shared experience, but accelerated the adventures, and arguably, the climax of the book. There are quotations from the meta book all the way through the real one, and yet it is as fictional as the characters who read it. Green was inventing necessary plot points within the meta book to direct his overall plot - the book fulfilled many functions, and was still as believable a book as Dickens was to me when I first read Matilda at a young age.
What makes this even more impressive is knowing that it can be done badly. In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I had recently read Inkheart and that the main reason I hadn’t enjoyed it was that I simply didn’t believe in the plot’s book, Inkheart (confusingly, the real and meta books have the same title). This imaginary text was stretched too far, and I felt that the fantasy element was used to make the book fit into the story in any way it was needed, and create characters and locations on demand rather than exist in its own right. Because of that, the plot that hung around it was weakened. The beauty of An Imperial Affliction is that I utterly believed it could be a real book, to the point that I wanted to read it. Other people clearly do too. Type ‘an imperial affliction’ into amazon and ‘peter,’ the name of the fictional author, also crops up with autofill.
I would argue that these books are so integral to the validity of the plot that they become characters in and of themselves. Much like James Bond would fall apart if you added a unicorn; if a fictional book isn’t up to standard, the whole book rather flops, regardless of whether the meta book could ever be read or not.
One could argue that JK Rowling has negated this idea with the publication of Quidditch Through The Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. These are all believable books within the Harry Potter world, and all of them are mentioned in the text and used by the characters. The third, admittedly, is important in the last book. But they are still tools being used by characters in the plot, rather than functioning as an important plot point themselves, and so the story does not rest on their quality.
So my moral of this mental rambling is that if you want a good book that has another fictional book within it that the plot rests upon, you have to invent two very solid stories, and not just include quotes or ideas and pretend they all come from one cohesive whole. Books should not be a Deus Ex Machina in a novel, they should stand as a hero, or at the very least as a trusty sidekick.
This post was originally written for the lovely Emma at Book Angel Booktopia as part of her Classics Carnival for August. Now it’s appearing on my own blog.
Every Book Is A Classic
I’m always slightly baffled by the idea that people, particularly children, dont read the classics. Not that in some sneeringly educated way I believe that those who don’t are in some way desperately culturally deprived and thus lower human beings. But because I think everyone who does read, reads a classic.
There’s a wonderful vogue at the moment for rewriting and adapting classics. I’ve read two lovely adaptations of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view: Ophelia by Lisa Klein, and Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray. My publisher is bringing out a fabulous Wuthering Heights rewrite by Alison Croggon, where witchcraft and curses twist the story, Black Spring into a fantasy narrative. These freshen and morph the stories, creating fabulous new ways of reading older tales.
But I would argue that its not just rewrites with an obvious source that do this; its most stories ever written. It’s really important to remember that hardly any of Shakespeare’s ideas were his. I sat through a lecture at university which I think was called Shakespeare’s influences but was actually where Shakespeare stole from. Romeo and Juliet was not his idea, the Roman plays and the Histories were just that: history. That continued throughout literary history. I have two Frankenstein rewrites in front of me, and yet the alternative name for the original was The Modern Prometheus. It was an adaptation of a Greek tragedy.
It continues right up to modern day as well. I was listening to our author Peter Cocks speak at the Edinburgh festival about his gritty teen crime novel, and how he realised half way through it was heavily influenced by Dickens’ Great Expectations. The Dementors of Harry Potter are suspiciously like the Ring Wraiths of Lord of the Rings, which in turn looked very much borrowed from the Bible. You will be hard pushed to name a modern author who can’t list their literary influences. The classics are all around us because the classics are enduring, classical themes and ideas that humans like to read about.
Thus it is only the format that has really changed I think, and that perhaps, is where the issue lies. The problem is not forcing children to read classics whether they want to or not (sadly Jane Austen and I have an irreparable and unfriendly relationship) but helping them see where these great ideas have come from and encouraging them to look around, and risk attempting old fashioned narrative and speech. Rick Riordan does a good job of this in Percy Jackson; when I was doing work experience with Puffin a few years ago I great through reams of comments from parents thanking the books for getting their children reading Greek history and legends voluntarily. So too do these modern adaptations of older stories, but I think its important to remember that the classics can be found everywhere, if you just look at the writing, plot and characters a little more closely.