Friday, 24 February 2012

ILLEGAL : the Miriam Halahmy

Every novel has its own soundtrack. In Lord of the Flies by William Golding there is the roar of the ocean and the buzz of incessant flies. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett moves from the miserable sound of winter rain against the windows to rising birdsong as spring unfolds.

My new novel Illegal (Meadowside Books, March 2012) is the second book in my cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island. So the soundtrack includes the sounds of the Island – the tide pulling over the pebbles on the beach, the wind in the pines, the rattle of the shrouds from the boats moored in the channels. But each of the three books in the cycle has its own particular soundtrack.

Illegal has a soundtrack to match the mood and action of the book. Fifteen year old Lindy’s family have been rocked by the death of two year old Jemma. Mum doesn’t get dressed anymore and sits round all day drinking, Dad spends his time in the bookies, the two older brothers are in prison and nine year old Sean nags for food. Vulnerable and lonely, Lindy thinks her cousin Colin has come to rescue her. But she soon realises he has trapped her into the shadowy and dangerous world of international drug dealing. Lindy is terrified she will end up in prison like her brothers. Support comes from a surprising quarter, fellow misfit fifteen year old Karl, who is mute. But Karl is resourceful and intelligent. Together they embark on a desperate path to ensure Lindy’s freedom.

There are lots of illegal things in this book. Karl rides around on a motorbike, underage.  The soundtrack fills up with a variety of effects from roars to putters to the squeal of brakes. Karl's friend Jimmy, who is deaf and communicates only with sign language, rides a 1953 Triumph with a side car. The volume of motorbike noise goes through the roof when a group of Hells Angel wrinklies on Harley Davidsons rush past them near the pier.

Lindy’s job is to look after cousin Colin’s cannabis farm in a house down the back lanes on Hayling Island. But Lindy is spooked by all sorts of noises in the house, creaking and scraping, thuds on the floor upstairs, with the sound of the motorbike in the lane outside. Lindy half thinks the house is haunted and has a very nasty experience one evening. 

Part of the soundtrack of this novel is silence. Karl doesn't speak at all and Lindy finds herself very drawn to Karl’s silent world.  Why waste words? Lindy wonders. Probably helps the environment if we breathe out less. The problems both Lindy and Karl experience from their difficult home backgrounds reflect my experience as a special needs teacher for 25 years. I worked with young people who were mute for all sorts of psychological reasons. Mutism isolates young people from their peers, holds back their education and is a difficult condition to treat and overcome. But I was also interested in the whole issue of communication and young people. Lindy enjoys Karl’s silence. Most of her verbal exchanges with her family, her teachers, the other kids at school, the drug dealers, are negative, In Karl’s silent world she feels that they can almost read each other’s minds and this helps to strengthen the growing bond between them.

My soundtrack flows between the engine sounds of bikes and motorboats, the cries of seagulls and the rush of the waves over the beach.  There is the spitting of eggs frying, mobile ringtones and laptop start-up sounds, the crack of gunfire and the gloop gloop of mud in the harbour. And in the third novel, Stuffed, Ian Dury and the Blockheads play in the background.

What is the soundtrack to your novel?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Amsterdam to London by Keren David

Heron in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam
It's a very odd thing, reading a book set in a place you know well.  It can suck you into a book and make everything seem even more real and true -  or it can gently remind you that you're reading fiction.
Take John Green's latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars. I enjoyed the beginning, where we are introduced to teens Hazel (who has terminal cancer)and Augustus (who has had a leg amputated after suffering bone cancer), but I thought their conversations were just a little too pretentious to  ring true. Then they went to Amsterdam. At first  I had  little quibbles ('the taxi driver wouldn't have driven through the city centre, if he's going from the airport to the Overtoom') but soon forgot them, as I was sucked in, more and more to the idea of these two in this place I knew so well. I could see them on the canals and in the streets. My imagination and memories filled in the gaps that John Green had left. Eventually there was a description of a particular corner of the  Vondel Park  that  made my heart lurch.

Here it is: 'Before us, hundreds of people passed, jogging and biking and Rollerblading. Amsterdam was a city designed for movement and activity, a city that would rather not travel by car, and so inevitably I felt excluded from it. But God it was beautiful, the creek carving a path around the huge tree, a heron stading still at the water's edge, searching for breakfast amid the millions of elm petals floating in the water.

 I read that, I recognised the  deep-down truth of it, I fell in love with the book, and I forgot my doubts about Hazel and Augustus. They were as real to me as the herons and the skaters in the park that I'd seen so often and knew so well.
 In contrast, the depiction of London in  Jennifer E Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight kept on jolting me, because I knew more than the author. I kept on wanting to tell her things. For example, British weddings tend not to feature loads of adult bridesmaids all dressed the same, and they don't go down the aisle before the bride. Clinking a glass at a British wedding means a speech, not a kiss. Middle-class families with lots of children don't tend to live in Paddington - just three examples, but I could go on and on. 'Everything in this city seems old, but charmingly so, like something out of a movie.' is not a meaningful description  to a Londoner.
I concluded that  Jennifer E Smith's research had mostly been conducted by watching Richard Curtis films, and to be fair, none of the above would put off most readers of this soft-centred romance. But they put me off, and meant that I didn't take the love story or the main character's angst over her father's remarriage all that seriously.
When you don't know a setting, the details don't matter. But when you do - they matter more than you realise.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Undiscovered Voices 2012!

Last night was the launch party for this year’s Undiscovered Voices anthology, organized by the SCBWI and Working Partners. I caught up with winners old and new for dinner, chat, and sneaky autographs (something the new UVs are going to have to get used to!)  before the "SCBWI-DO"(!) kicked off at beautiful St. Chad's Place.
Class of 2010! Jane McLoughlin (At Yellow Lake) and Anne M. Leone (Adele)
And what a turn-out! Ninety-six industry professionals came along, along with eighteen winners, two years’ worth of alumni and a partridge in a pear tree, all crowded into the beautiful restaurant where there was bubbly, laughter, and congratulations for all as outside the snow began to fall.
It was so lovely to be able to go along and enjoy the evening, celebrating the success of the new Undiscovered Voices, and indeed the competition itself, which has propelled thirteen of the previous twenty-four winners into becoming published authors – including five members of The Edge!
All these authors started as Undiscovered Voices!
2010 winner and Edge author Dave Cousins signs
copies of his new book "15 Days Without A Head"
Lovely Natascha Biebow welcomes everyone
Chris Snowdon (Working Partners)
It’s no overstatement to say I owe my career to Undiscovered Voices, and I remember so well standing in their shoes, feeling so excited and thrilled but also equally so nervous and terrified of introducing myself to all the scary and important editors and agents, so it was especially lovely to enjoy the party this year without any of the pressure and nerves – chatting to editors and agents I’ve gotten to know over the past four years, and helping to “match-make” the new UVs with the (really quite lovely) editors and agents.
Lovely Catherine Coe, judge of UV2008, who gave me my first contract!
With Ben Horslan (Egmont Books)
Malorie Blackman,
Co-founder of UV, author of Dark Parties and Edge author Sara Grant (busy lady!)
And the lovely Nick Sharratt
This year’s competition is unique in that for the first time ever, it was open to illustrators too – and the six winning pictures are such an asset to the anthology, each so bold, so beautiful and so varied! It also meant that the incredibly talented and ever-so-lovely Nick Sharratt (who wrote a foreword to this year’s anthology) was at the party (I nearly had a fangirl meltdown when I met him – v.embarrassing!) and regaled us with stories of his journey to publication – and how difficult it is to draw shopping trolleys!

Also providing a foreword in the anthology and inspiring and encouraging all the writers in the room was the wonderfully talented and vivacious Malorie Blackman. Here she is, describing the moment she received her first acceptance letter after two years on the slushpile!

This was a feeling I remember so well – from first being told I’d been chosen for inclusion in the anthology back in 2007, to receiving my first publication contract!
A feeling these Now-Discovered Voices will remember and enjoy for many years to come.
The winners! Authors: Veronica Cossanteli (Dragons Do, Dodos Don't), Jo Wyton (Magpie),
Jane Hardstaff (The Executioner's Child), Rosie Best (Skulk), David Hofmeyr (Kalahari),
Sandra Greaves (Gabbleratchet), Zoe Crookes (Kalahari), Sharon Jones (Dead Jealous),
Maureen Lynas (To Destiny or Death!), Richard Masson (Boonie)
Illustrators: Nicola Patten (Viking Makes a Discovery), Shana Nieberg-Suschitzky (Isolya),
Amber Hsu (And so Chirogo brought forth the stolen voice...), Julia Groves (Birdsong),
Rachel Quarry (By the Light of The Moon), Heather Kilgour (Talking with Birds)
Sandra Greaves (Gabbleratchet) wins best hat of the night!
Winners! David "The Hoff" Hofmeyr (Kalahari)
with Maureen Lynas (To Destiny or Death!)
Jane McLoughlin (UV10, At Yellow Lake), Lisa Joy Smith (UV10, Slugs in the Toilet) and me!
Candy Gourlay (UV08, Tall Story!) - caught with camera!
Sarwat Chadda (UV08, Devil's Kiss) with UV12 Judge Jo Anne Cocadiz
with  Jo Wyton (UV12, Magpie) and  Abbie Todd (UV10, Blinding Darkness) behind
UV12 Winners Jo Wyton (Magpie) with Rosie Best (Skulk)
Judge & Literary scout Dagmar Gleditzsch
with co-founder, the lovely Sara O'Connor
For more information about the wonderful Undiscovered Voices, visit
Special thanks to Candy Gourlay for letting me use some of her photos xx

Friday, 3 February 2012

National Libraries Day 2012 – Why are libraries so important?

Saturday 4th February is National Libraries Day in the UK. A day to show support and solidarity for our public library service – a day to visit your local library and take out some books. It doesn’t matter if you’re no longer a member or have lost your card. Go down and rejoin – it’s free! Take the family and friends and see what your local library has to offer, you could well be pleasantly surprised.

There are over two hundred events being held at libraries across the country. Click here to find out what's happening near you.

In the last twelve months my local library opening hours have been reduced. It's a trend affecting branches across the country. In addition many libraries have been closed and many more are under threat. So what? You might say. In the current times of austerity, everyone is feeling the pinch. Funding is being taken from the police service, hospitals and schools. Why are libraries so important?

Is a fair question. Voices for the Library provide some answers here.

But I thought I’d ask my fellow authors at the Edge, what libraries mean to them:

"We went to the library every week when I was a child. I had access to books that I never would have found in the shops, or been able to afford. I read my favourite books again and again – discovered new authors, read everything they'd written. The library made me who I am today." – Keren David

"Apart from school, my town library was the only place we were allowed to go out of the house to when we were growing up. For my sisters and I, the library became a place of endless entertainment … Every week we maxxed out our library cards in search of new voices and stories of different lands, different times. It was also place of refuge and sanctuary through our own difficult times.  Quite simply, the library opened up the whole world to us." – Savita Kalhan

"I'm from a small town where there were no book stores - and no Amazon - when I was growing up. I have fond memories of my school and community libraries. I would check out the same books over and over - The Secret Garden and The Boxcar Children. I loved being surrounded by stories where laughter, adventure, romance and tears were only a page turn away. It made my small town seem not so small." – Sara Grant

"My family were voracious readers when I was growing up but my parents couldn't afford to buy books. We walked to the local library as a regular weekly outing. I remember us passing books round as we entered our teens, such as The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, renewing it on a weekly basis as there were five of us. My mother … was a great fan of Emil Zola and there were dozens of those to get through, every single copy borrowed from our little local library. I continued the tradition with my own children. The library should be at the heart of every community." – Miriam Halahmy

"I have many happy memories of time spent in the library with my kids when they were all preschoolers.  I had the three of them at home and it was always a joy to visit the library and sit in the kids' section, full of toys, beautiful illustrations on the walls and, most importantly, boxes of wonderful books.  We'd all scrunch up on the bean bags and read story after story. Magical worlds opened up in that welcoming space and helped instill in them a love of books." – Paula Rawsthorne

"Libraries for me are an essential part of the way I raise my children and spend my time. I’m in my local library at least once a week. They have a children’s Rhymetime on Friday mornings, and it’s free – how many other children’s indoor social activities in this day and age are actually free? It’s a great place to go when it rains, where I can sit and read to my son, books that he doesn’t have at home. I can get out enough books to keep me reading (which otherwise would be beyond our financial means) and not just old books either – I can order in new books and get them pretty fast at the cost of just £1. And because it’s free I read things I otherwise wouldn’t.
        I can meet friends there, I can use the computer and I see many old age pensioners (with no computer of their own at home) using the facility for free (my uncle has just been told if he wants to collect his pension he has to have an email address – how else is he to get one?).
        The children see the library as a magical place and they love to browse the books. They can get out a DVD, or a game for their wii without it costing all their pocket money." – Bryony Pearce

And here's a final thought from me:

For the want of a library, a book was lost.
For the want of a book, a reader was lost.
For the want of a reader, a story was lost.
For the want of a story, empathy was lost.
For the want of empathy, understanding was lost.
For the want of understanding, an idea was lost.
For the want of an idea, a future was lost.
For the want of a future, everything was lost.
And all for the want of a library.

For further information, please visit the following:

You can tweet your support using the #NLD12 hashtag.

See you down the library! 
Cheers, Dave.