Friday, 27 July 2012

Learning the Craft by Bryony Pearce

Much as I like stories about witchcraft and magic, this post isn’t about that sort of craft.  It’s about writing and whether it has to be learned or if it just comes naturally.

I’m one of the first of a generation to "benefit" from a Government policy that dictated that grammar should no longer be taught in state schools.  As a result I never learned grammar beyond the very basics (e.g. you don’t start a sentence with ‘and’) and, although I’m a writer, the technical jargon remains shrouded in mystery. 

Yet despite being at a loss when it comes to the rules of grammar, I can somehow write coherent sentences.  My husband, who did in fact go to a grammar school and is the world's greatest pedant, becomes apoplectic at the sight of "text speak" but has been known to read a whole chapter of mine without going pale and falling over.

Somehow, I’ve managed to absorb the rules of grammar without actually learning them.  I know if a sentence isn’t correctly structured because to me it just feels wrong.  How is that possible?

It seems obvious really; as babies we learn the rules of language and sentence structure (adding "ed" to the end of words to make them past tense for example), not by hearing a set of rules, but by hearing our parents talk.

In just the same way I learned to write by reading what other people had written.  I have always been an avid reader and by the time I was at middle school had probably absorbed all I needed to know about sentence structure.  So I don’t know the technical terminology – does it matter?

My school did not teach creative writing, (it was much less a part of the curriculum then than it is now) and when I left university (also without any creative writing tutoring), desperate to become a writer, it never occurred to me to actually do a course in it.  The message that had infiltrated my subconscious was that writing was not something you learned from a teacher, it was something you just knew how to do.

So I started writing.  I spent a year scribbling down ideas and stories.  I naively even sent the first part of one to a few publishers.  Finally, after the inevitable rejection (it hadn’t even crossed my mind to approach an agent), I gave up and went into Market Research.  

In the course of my job I had to write PowerPoint presentations for clients, which pruned my proclivity towards excessive verbosity (or did it?).  Then after a few years I realised my ideas had dried up.

So I finally considered a course.  I wasn’t looking for someone to tell me how to write, I just wanted to be forced to put pen to paper again in order to unclog my idea blockage.  In the end I chose to do a distance learning course with the London School of Journalism, in short story writing.

Techniques for writing short stories are not the same as those for writing a novel but still, I felt I had what I wanted from the course – the ideas were flowing again.  So in 2004 I took one of those ideas, ran away from London and wrote a novel.

This novel has been rewritten around 14 times (literally deleted and rewritten with only the idea left over each time).  Each time I rewrote, I learned more.  I paid for feedback from a consultancy and I learned more.  I got an agent and I learned more.  During the course of writing and rewriting my first novel, I learned how to be a writer.

It took me four years of writing and working out where I went wrong and rewriting and doing it again but when I sat down with a new idea and wrote another novel, I had learned enough to win that coveted book deal.  

Almost two years of working with a brilliant editor on Angel’s Fury taught me yet more.  I know I’m still learning and I still don’t know all the technical terminology (I live in fear of a teenager asking me the difference between first person present tense and third person past participle …shudder) but I think on the whole, I’ve learned my craft.

It was, perhaps, a long and tortuous way around.  I’d love to know if things would be different for me if I’d done a proper creative writing course.  Perhaps I’d be on my tenth book deal by now (perhaps not).  But for me, the best teachers are my own mistakes.  As long as they don’t hurt anyone I like to make them, to learn from them, to move on and get better. 

So, in conclusion, the craft of writing does have to be learned.  And there are two ways of learning: the ‘school of life’ method and the ‘school of school’ method.

Not everyone likes to learn the way I did.  Others prefer to have the support of a group of people all doing the same thing and benefit from (metaphorically or literally) sitting at the feet of a tutor willing to impart industry knowledge such as techniques (dialogue and POV), how to pitch and insider information (actually that sounds eminently sensible now I come to think of it).  

For an aspiring writer there are many possible options ranging in price and almost every possible option has been explored by the Edge.  

Some of us have been part of creative writing groups (one place you can find these is your local library)
Some of us have been part of critique groups (you can find these through organisations such as SCBWI)
Some of us have been to workshops (one of us actually runs these)
Some of us have done short courses, others have done long ones (Degrees, MAs)

All of us have come to the same place. 

If you want to learn to write (and you do need to learn) there will be a way that will suit you. 

Details of Miriam Halahmy’s popular workshops are as follows:

A workshop in the Ham and High Festival in September on Writing for Children and Teens: 

Good luck.

Friday, 20 July 2012

How Book Blogging Changed My Life by Guest Blogger Beth Cohen

This week we welcome guest blogger Beth Cohen to the Edge. Beth started her "tween-teen book blog" Page-Turner in 2011 and posts regular book reviews, news and interviews. Find out below how blogging has changed Beth's life …

Book blogging changed how I saw authors, how I saw books and most importantly, what a community really was.

Blogging has given me a huge sense of responsibility, and it has made me truly realise – if you give up on something it will never work. I was disappointed when I didn’t immediately start getting loads of author interviews and ARC’s, but I soon realised that is not what blogging is about.

When I first started book blogging, almost a year ago, I was really frightened at the idea of putting my own thoughts live onto the internet. For a short space of time between the 25th of July until around the middle of August, I didn’t really post properly. However, I started looking at the amazing book blogs out there and really wanted to create something special like that. So, could I have made my blog all on my own? No, definitely not! I really wanted to make a blog to share my thoughts and it was how amazing all of the other blogs were that made me want to do something like that. Now, blogging has really turned into a part in my life and has made me LOVE, LOVE, LOVE reading even more. (I have an addiction!!) 

Before I started blogging, I used to give up on a book easily when I didn’t like it, but now I hardly ever give up on books. I never even dreamt I could ever get in contact with an author, but when I started blogging I quickly realised just how awesome and kind authors and bloggers are; they have made my blog what it is today.

There is a wide age-range of book bloggers out there, but whatever the age difference, there is always something in common: a love for reading, and a love for blogging which will tie us all together and create the community that we have. I am so proud to be a book blogger and am honoured to be part of the community. I’ve learnt so much and am so grateful to all my fellow bloggers and the authors who have kindly taught me throughout the length of time my blog has been set up. I have made a lot of friends through the blogosphere and I hope I will stay friends with them forever.

I want to keep on blogging for years and years and years. I’m so thankful that blogging will have always been apart of me, and the experience has been amazing.

If you love to read, and love to share your thoughts on books, and are thinking about doing a book blog. I really, really encourage you to do so. If I had completely given up between that short space of time, I would have not started blogging properly, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it! I was scared about not being accepted when I started book blogging, but authors, publishers and fellow bloggers are so welcoming and kind, and were so amazing to me when I first started blogging.

So, fast forward almost exactly a year since I started blogging on the 25th of July, and book blogging has become a huge part in my life.

And it has also changed it.

Thanks to Beth for guesting here at the Edge. Keep up the good work at Page-Turner.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Edge Authors meet Hounslow Library Summer Reading Challenge Team at Paul Robeson Theatre

On Saturday afternoon, four Edge authors joined the Summer Reading Team based at Hounslow Library for an event at nearby Paul Robeson Theatre. Throughout the summer, the group, led by librarians Rachel and Navi, will be working with young readers in libraries across West London as part of The Reading Agency Summer Reading Challenge.

Organised by The Reading Agency and the UK public library network since 1999, the Summer Reading Challenge is the UK's biggest annual reading promotion for four to eleven year olds and last year 780,000 children took part (43% of which were boys).

Research shows that reading for pleasure is central for children's life chances, * yet children in England do not read as independently or enjoy reading as much as their international peers.**

Here are a few highlights from the day …

Louis, Rachel, Niki, Navi, Abigail, Sarah, Miriam, Monica,
Sara, Dalia, Anika and Zab.

The Edge make their first appearance in a theatre!

The group made their own graffiti wall
with some (really) tough questions!

Edge authors Sara Grant, Bryony Pearce, Dave Cousins and Miriam Halahmy

Another first for the Edge – an audience of guinea pigs – literally!
Introducing Snow White and Rapunzel.

A huge thanks to Rachel and the team at Hounslow Library for a great event and for making us so welcome. Wishing them all the best for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Don't forget, if you'd like to get involved in the Summer Reading Challenge, visit your local library or the Story Lab website here.

* Reading for Change, OECD, 2002
** Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS), 2006

Friday, 13 July 2012

Edge Authors visit Blackheath Bluecoat School

On Thursday three-eighths of the Edge were at Blackheath Bluecoat School. Sara, Katie and Dave had a great afternoon with Year Ten students talking about how and why they write, what's involved in getting a book published, as well as sharing a few secrets about what they did before they were authors. 

Here are a few pictures from the event … 

Edge Authors Katie Dale, Sara Grant and Dave Cousins

Dave introduces The Silver Skull of Silence … 

There were lots of great questions from the Year Ten audience and staff …

… some of which had our panel momentarily lost for words!

Lynn and Caroline next to the gallery of librarian portraits
produced by the students

A huge thanks to all the staff and students at the school for making our Edge authors so welcome, especially Caroline and Lynn in the library.
(Additional thanks to Caroline for taking the photos)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Young Adult Books Interrogation with Guest Book Blogger Paula Hardman from PaulaSHx

This week our guest at the Edge is Paula Hardman who has been blogging about books at PaulaSHx since the start of January 2011. On the blog Paula describes herself as a blogger, book reviewer, social media addict, beta reader, aspiring writer and Harley Davidson lover – amongst other things!

Originally from Brazil, Paula came to the UK aged seventeen, intending to study English and Photography for three years and then return home to finish a degree in Journalism. Needless to say, it didn't quite go according to plan. She blames her husband for the fact she is still here. "I had no plans of having a beautiful little girl in this trip either, but I like it better this way. Life's curves made my life complete!"

Over the coming months we will be inviting a number of book bloggers to guest here at the Edge. Huge thanks to Paula for volunteering to be the first to undergo the Edge interrogation. So, without further ado, lets shine that light and let the questions begin … 

Paula, WHY do you read and write about Young Adult books? 
I love YA Books! Your teens might be a little traumatic, but they are also the years when you start finding out about adult life - falling in love, discovering who you are and what you can do - without the responsibilities of actually being an adult. When I read YA it evokes all those feelings and memories in me and I enjoy reminiscing about my younger years when things were more dramatic, but simpler.

What are the most ORIGINAL YA books that you have read?
Oh! This is a hard one as most of the books I have read recently are following trends while giving it their own twist. I would have to say: The Mortal Instrument Series by Cassandra Clare – she walks the fine line in between all fairy tales and different religions while creating her own very different world; Mercy series by Rebecca Lim – a very interesting take on angels and a double story as in every book Mercy must discover who she is as well as help the life she’s inhabiting for the moment; and Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr – a very political take on fairy courts and love.

What is a TURN OFF in YA fiction?
A very slow pace or events that are so unrealistic you are left scratching your head and asking: “seriously?”

What makes for a GREAT YA book?
Convincing tension, romance, characters and action. I like when an author tells me there are cats raining from the sky, but he/she does it so convincingly, that I actually believe it’s plausible. I also like finding out the backstory while the action in the present plot is still going on - when the pace slows too much to fill you in I usually lose interest.

Which YA characters would you most like to take OUT TO DINNER and why?
I am a girl, so I will have to say Seth Morgan from Wicked Lovely – the alternative but extremely clever and wise sort – and Cole St.Clair from Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls – the bad boy with brains.

Who is your ideal YA HERO / HEROINE and why?
I like strong female leads, girls who can hold their own and kick butt, so I adore Isabel Culpeper from Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls and Isabelle Lightwood from The Mortal Instrument series by Cassandra Clare. They are not the main characters on any of these books, but I sympathise with them as we have the same attitude and way of thinking. I’m a little sceptical, sarcastic and straight to the point like they are.

What is your dream YA ROMANTIC PAIRING and why?
Cole St.Clair and Isabel Culpeper (Wolves of Mercy Falls) – they are both fighting their demons and finding their feet. And while they are both really messed up, their dramatic and complicated relationship actually helps them work through their issues. It’s realistic, you know? Real relationships are not perfect and this one isn’t either.

What makes you uncomfortable or question THE BOUNDARIES of YA?
When things become too graphic. And it’s not just YA, this could also apply to adult books. I think the magic of a book lays on letting the reader imagine half of the scene themselves, so they ride the book with you. When you are a teen, you are discovering all sorts of things about yourself - that includes principals, sexuality, beliefs and boundaries- and it would be unrealistic of a book talking about teens not to tackle that to some extent. That is not to say that it can’t be done with taste and touch. Swearing, for example - if added at the right scene, it enhances the mood or the character’s reaction. If dropped in constantly to replace another word, it’s just rude. A heavy making-out session in between characters is another one – we all know the chase is a lot more interesting than actually winning the game. It’s the tension of flirting that gives you the butterflies, not characters that can’t leave each other’s faces alone.

What would you LIKE to see happening in YA fiction over the next five years?
I would love to see YA treated with a little more respect. It’s a genre like many others. It annoys me when you tell people you read YA and they say: “Oh, I read proper fiction.” You have to read what rocks your boat, and YA rocks mine.

What do you think will ACTUALLY BE the next big thing in YA?
It sounds like there is a whole undead thing going on at the moment. Historical Fiction also seems to be getting stronger, but I really like the ones about real life issues (Edge Authors), if done properly, they can be really interesting, helpful and raise awareness for the issues.

Give us your TOP FIVE YA/Teen books.
In no particular order: Mercy series by Rebecca Lim, The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, 15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins, and Sabado a Noite by Babi Dewet (this is a Brazilian author and the book is so far only written in Portuguese).
(And no, we didn't bribe Paula to include one of our Edge authors in her list!)

If you read one book this year, read THIS … 
This is not actually a new book, but The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. It works on two levels: If you read it to a child, it’s about the adventures of an alien prince. If you read in between the lines, it’s a serious critique on society and its priorities. My favourite quotes are:

“Grown-ups like numbers… If you tell grown-ups, ‘I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,’ they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, ‘I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.’ Then they exclaim, ‘What a pretty house!’”

“In those days, I didn’t understand anything. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. She perfumed my planet and lit up my life. I should never have run away! I ought to have realised the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her.”

Thanks very much to Paula for being our guest and providing some great answers to our questions. Be sure to take a trip over to PaulaSHx for some great reviews and much more besides.

You can also follow Paula on Twitter @PaulaSHx

If you would be interested in submitting to interrogation, or have something you'd like to say about teen and young adult books, send an email to edgewritersATyahooDOTcoDOTuk. Thanks.