Friday, 31 January 2014

Battling the Beast by Savita Kalhan

Writing a synopsis of a book is very different to writing an outline. An outline is something a writer might write as an overview of their manuscript, usually for his or her own benefit. He or she might write it before beginning their manuscript as a plan, or after the first draft to delineate the story arc, to check for inconsistencies, and to ensure all the loose ends are tied up.

A synopsis is a different beast – a beast I’ve been battling with over the last few weeks. I’ve been in the process of finishing a manuscript and rewriting two other novels, which has meant writing three synopses. It has to be my least favourite part of the writing process – I’d rather clean the house top to bottom, or, given the choice, work on a short story instead. But writing a synopsis is a necessary evil and essential when submitting a manuscript to a publisher or to a literary agent. They will read, hopefully, the three sample chapters and when they finish those the synopsis will tell them what happens in the rest of the book.

So, where to start? I’ve said before that when I finish a manuscript I stick it in a drawer and try to forget about it for a while, so that when I take it out to read and edit, I’m seeing it with fresh-ish eyes. The time before you take your manuscript out of the drawer is probably the best time to write the synopsis as you’re not too close to it. The main story-line is still in your head, but not all the little ins and outs of the plot, or all the little details you might be tempted to include that will make it harder to get the synopsis down to a page or two.

A synopsis has to include the story line, the emotional or psychological journey of the main characters, the story arc, the genre, the tone, and it must also include the ending. Everything must be shown to be resolved by the end of the synopsis.

So, it’s a tricky thing to write and there are lots of things to think about when writing it. There is help at hand, though. Nicola Morgan’s book Write a Great Synopsis is excellent. There is lots of advice available online too. I read all the books and took all the advice because it’s so important that each element of the submission package is the best it can be.

I’ve finished my synopses-fest now, and turned my hand to writing a blurb, a pitch and even a tweet for each novel. It’s a very interesting exercise to do, as well as being useful. But it’s also quite a challenge – particularly the tweet, which only allows you 140 characters! If you can get the essence of your novel into 140 characters, then writing a synopsis should be a doddle. 

Twitter @savitakalhan

Friday, 24 January 2014

Edward Thomas on The Somme ...... by Miriam Halahmy

This is my first blog post of 2014 and it is the year which marks the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. So it seems both apt and edgy to write a post about my visit to the Somme last summer and my pilgrimage to the grave of one of our greatest poets, Edward Thomas.
 My brother Louis, a keen photographer and also with a great interest in  WW1, drove us to stay in Arras as our base for visiting the battlefields. 

I knew that Edward Thomas was buried nearby. I had been reading about Thomas almost obsessively for two years; biographies, books by Eleanor Farjeon who was in love with him, poetry by Thomas and Robert Frost with whom he had a great and influential friendship and I had seen a play about them all at the Almeida Theatre. Thomas is thought to have walked more than any poet since Wordsworth and he went to war to save the countryside of England which he covered inch by inch during his too brief lifetime.

 It was a beautiful July morning when we drove to Agny Cemetery where Thomas is buried. The cemetery is just a few miles south of Arras, and probably only a few hundred yards from the trench where he was killed by a stray bullet on April 9th 1917, on the first day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday.

 In his notebook the day before he was killed, Thomas wrote a few notes :-

The light of the new moon and every star

And no more singing for the bird...

I have never understood quite what was meant by God

The morning chill and clear hurts my skin while it delights my mind

As we walked along a path towards the graves, poppies were nodding bright red amongst the high green corn and tears were welling in my eyes.

Thomas’s grave is well cared for as are all the graves in all the British cemeteries we visited. The War Graves Commission has honoured our dead as we should wish it.

I stood in front of the stone and read the last three stanzas of Thomas' two page long poem,

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road bring
To me or take from me,
They keep me company
With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude
Of the loops over the downs,
Hushing the roar of towns
And their brief multitude

Edward Thomas

Over the next two days as we drove and walked around the Somme and saw the cemeteries, memorials, craters and trenches and collected pieces of ordnance which still surface in the fields, I wrote in my notebook, as a writer must do.

Here is my poem: :-

Agny Cemetery  early morning  July

The corn is high and green
poppies blare their old familiar red.
Today I am a poet on the Somme.

I find your grave and choke back tears
read aloud the lines which open,
... Now all roads lead to France...

We know you Thomas, your beauty,
your black mood, striding step across the Downs.
We know who loved you, Helen, Eleanor, Robert.

But to your left lies Soldier of the Great War
the white stone empty except for Kipling’s line
Known Only to God.

No-one comes to weep for him
read poetry and sigh
wish that he had lived.

I close my book to silence;
only the wind in the pine
and the quiet grass nestling at your feet.

© Miriam Halahmy

Friday, 17 January 2014

Salute to Librarians! A Q&A with Librarian Matt Imrie

For our final Salute to Librarians! post, we welcome Matt Imrie, librarian for Farringtons School in Kent. 

What's your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
My favourite aspect of being a Librarian is that I have not worked a day for years!  I come in to work, spend my day surrounded by books and introduce students to the joys of reading - there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you see a spark in someone’s eye and you know they have discovered a book that will echo forever in their memories. 

I also get to indulge my geeky side with running Doctor Who clubs, table-top gaming groups along with the usual reading groups and school activities.

Have you ever banned a book from your library and why?
God no – I am a firm believer in the adage that states that unless a library holds books in it to offend just about everybody it is not doing its job.  I have had a book banned in my library by the branch manager but that was because she and another colleague found a book that had been ordered and purchased in for a member of the public to be distasteful and did not want it on their shelves (I managed to get the book diverted to another branch rather than be withdrawn completely but I am more vocal these days).  Now that I am working in a school library I am aware that the rules are slightly different – there are books that would be unsuitable for a school library but I maintain a staff/sixth form collection for staff and older students, younger students can borrow from that collection provided they have parental permission.

What message would you give to Michael Gove?
If you want children to read 50 books a year make school libraries and librarians statutory.
I could go on to say many other things but others have covered a lot of what is on my mind, often very eloquently, sometimes with the expletives left in so I will not go there. 

You have the power to help children discover a love of literacy, literature and learning by making sure that there was at least one person in each school that could introduce them to books that can make them fall in love with the written word!  Use your powers for good for once!

What was your favourite book when you were a teen and why?
My favourite book as a teen reader was Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett – I was around 13 years of age and I can still remember the thrill it gave me – it was funny (mostly punny but hey I was 13 I loved it and still do).  To this day it is the only book that I have ever said Wow I wish he would write more books this one was so good! – I said that to my mother right after I had put the book down, and to my unending joy I found out later that it was the third book in the Discworld series and started a love story with the series that continues to this very day.  I cannot say why exactly I love it so much, it was probably the first book that I had read that was consistently funny from beginning to end, it hit all the right notes for me to enjoy as if the author had written it explicitly for me. 

What's the best thing authors can do to support libraries?
The best thing that authors can do is continue doing what they do best – writing and being passionate about stories and communicating their love of libraries ok that is more than one thing but so many authors I know (either personally or via social media sites) seem to do these things effortlessly often at the same time – or so it appears, well apart from Terry Deary.

What do you hope for from an author visit to the school?

What I generally hope for is for authors to bring the magic that they pour into their books that capture readers’ attentions.  So far I have not been disappointed; I have watched entire classes hypnotised by authors speaking about their books, themselves and their inspiration.  At the end I hope the students will spend time talking to the author, asking questions, possibly buying a book and be inspired to want to read more.

Thanks for joining us, Matt! And a huge thanks to all the librarians out there who share our passion for books and a goal of helping teens develop a love of reading!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Salute to Librarians! The EDGE Welcomes Librarian John Iona

This week we head to Enfield for a chat with one of last year's school librarians of the year. John Iona is the librarian for the Oasis Academy.  

What is your favourite aspect of being a
I would spend the rest of my life studying if I could, but to work in a school Library is to be immersed in an environment where learning can happen at any moment, where learning is happening all around you both within the Library and within the walls of the institution I work in.  I love to be a part of that opportunity for young adults to learn something new, to feel inspired or to discover someone else’s story that resonates with them.

Another great part of being a school Librarian are those small discussions with pupils, while they are browsing for their next book, where you get to elicit from them what it is they have enjoyed reading recently, and you can hear the passion in their voice as they describe the story and what they loved about it.  Then, being able to guide them on to a new discovery, with a different author, whom you hope will have just as big an impact.

Do you think book awards are helpful guides for teen readers?
I think that they are very helpful!  The key, I believe, is increasing awareness of these awards and the books that are nominated as without the right exposure through key channels of communication, the information does not reach as many teenagers as they should.  From this perspective, I think that schools are in a hugely powerful position when it comes to raising awareness of the fantastic books that are on award shortlists, and I think more should be done by the sponsors and organisations running the awards to help school Librarians and teachers raise their profile.  For example, they make great schemes for extra-curricular clubs and reading groups to use as a hook, and so good quality materials to support these initiatives would be fantastic.
This year, I am using the Booktrust schools pack with my key stage three book club, and these have been a hit with the kids taking part.  I have found the materials really useful too, and will continue to use them to facilitate the group activities.  I am also really looking forward to challenging my group with the CILIP Carnegie award in 2014, as I know this will provide a range of high-quality books to extend the reading palette of the students.

What message would you give Michael Gove?
The message I would give any secretary of state for Education, particularly the current one, is that with reading for pleasure and literacy so high on the national agenda, there should be a lot more thought going in to how the provision of a school Library with a qualified Librarian can be made a statutory requirement for schools. 

If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
I loved reading A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness.  I just felt that it was full of compassion, and forces you, as a reader to feel a real connection to the main character.  I think that one of the things that great books do are elicit some real emotion in you, as a reader, and the subject-matter along with the powerful story-telling wrap themselves around you to give a real cathartic edge to the ending of the book.  Every pupil should read this book!

What was your favourite book as a teen and why?
I loved to read in my teenage years, and devoured books by James Herbert, Stephen King and Dean Koontz etc.  I was also lucky in that teachers at school helped to guide my reading habits, and it was during A-levels that I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  It was with this book that I discovered an author that resonated with me, and a book that did more than tell a story.  I think it was this book that introduced me to what great modern fiction could do.

What do you hope for from an author visit to the school?
When authors visit, I need them to be dynamic, engaging and enthusiastic.  This is particularly important when delivering a talk to a whole year group of 180 pupils, some of which are waiting to be impressed within the first two minutes.

The best authors will invite empathy from the students, and invite them to relate to them and their experience.  From that point, they are then in the strongest position from which to talk to them about their work, the books that they have written, and why the pupils should have a go at reading their work.  In the end, I want the students to leave the talk with their interest sparked, wanting to find out more about the author and hopefully leave the session wanting to read something.

This is no mean feat, but this is what the best author visit will do!

Thanks for joining us, John, and for all you do to help get teens reading! 

John Iona is a secondary school Librarian, working at Oasis Academy Enfield, London. He has worked at Oasis for five years. He graduated with his professional qualification in 2009 and recently gained Chartership with MCLIP, as well as received the honour of SLA School Librarian of the Year 2013.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Salute to Librarians! Featuring Wokingham Librarian Barbara Band

What better way to kick off 2014 than with a guest blog from another amazing librarian? We asked CILIP Vice President Barbara Band a few questions about being a teen librarian. 

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
My job is extremely varied; no day is the same which can make life a bit busy and stressful but also interesting and challenging. I think one of my favourite aspects has to be when I manage to find a book for a reluctant reader, one that they engage with, that they bring back and say “I really enjoyed that, have you got another one like it?” I also love seeing students develop as readers, watching them grow in their understanding of stories, to see them lost in a book at break time, and to listen to them getting into rather animated and fervent discussions about characters and plots.

Are there any taboos left in children’s fiction?
I don’t think so. Children’s fiction deals with some quite contentious issues such as homophobia, incest, suicide … but the difference is in the level of detail in them compared with adult books. I know some people worry about the content of children’s books (and I’m talking teen and young adult here) but what they don’t realise is that children self-censor. If they are uncomfortable with what they are reading, they’ll either skim over it or stop reading. It’s also important to remember that everyone brings their own personal experiences to what they read thus, if I read a story about a missing child, I will do so as a mother whereas a teen will have a totally different perspective. And then there’s reading maturity, the ability to make inferences and read between the lines. A good writer will know how to create a story appeals on several levels and that they don’t have to put in every single detail.
Barbara's library at The Emmbrook School, Wokingham, Berks.

Can teen fiction change lives?
Yes, definitely! And not always in a direct and obvious way. I know people are often asked if there was a book that changed their life and I’m sure that many have read something that has had an immediate impact but reading fiction changes people over time. Research shows reading reduces stress, improves your memory, thinking and writing skills, increases your vocabulary, makes you more tolerant towards other cultures – students who read fiction for pleasure have increased attainment in every subject. There are so many benefits that it’s impossible to list them all …

If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
 Oh, this is an impossible question! Because every reader is different … they’ll like a variety of genres, they’ll be at different stages in their reading journey so will want a book at varying levels of ability, their mood will determine whether they want something challenging or easy to read and, of course, there’s such a fantastic range of books available that it’s hard to single out just one. I think, possibly, if I was pushed I would say Patrick Ness’s “A Monster Calls” comes close because of the visual element and the layers of the story.

How do you entice your teen students to read?
To begin with you need the support of your school, and an ethos that recognises the benefits of reading and encourages reading for pleasure. This attitude will then filter down through the staff so that any strategies and promotions you organise will be supported, and these need to be a wide range of techniques from library lessons, book boxes in tutor groups, subtle messages around the school about reading, active encourage from all staff in all subjects, displays, author visits, etc. If a school supports reading then they are also like to have a well-stocked library staffed by a professional librarian; you cannot entice students to read without these elements! The next step is to ensure that there is a wide range of varied material for them to choose from, this includes fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, journals and newspapers. Free voluntary reading, where the student chooses what to read, is the major way to encourage reading but this can’t happen without stock to support it. You also have to accept where that student is with regards to their attitude to reading, forcing a reluctant reader to select a book and sit reading it silently will alienate them. Find out what they enjoy doing, what they’re interested in and tempted them with something relevant. It’s also important to show a genuine interest in what they’re reading (something that is quite natural to librarians as we do tend to be obsessed with any sort of reading material), share what you’re reading with them, be enthusiastic! And you have to know your stock which gives us a perfect excuse to read … as if we need one!

What do you hope for from an author visit to the school?
Firstly I want everyone involved in the visit - students, author, teachers - to enjoy it and get something out of it. I try to make sure things run as smoothly as possible by preparing in advance so that the author is happy and relaxed. No one can work well with chaos and confusion going on around them! I guess what I am really hoping for is that the students will be inspired, that teachers and other staff see the benefits of having such activities, and that the whole event creates a buzz, an impact, not only on the day of the visit but afterwards. This might seem like quite a tall order but this is what happens with successful author visits, I’ve experienced this time and time again. Students remember them for years afterwards … and this is why they are so important.

Barbara Band
CILIP Vice President
Head of Library & Resources
The Emmbrook School, Wokingham, Berks.

Thanks for joining us, Barbara! And thanks for all you do to inspire teens with books!