Friday, 20 December 2013


We're delighted to welcome another wonderful librarian to The Edge.  Today we have Melanie Webster who is the librarian at The Becket School in Nottingham.
Mel Webster

Hi Mel, tell us about your path to becoming a school librarian.    
Well, I studied Librarianship at Birmingham City University, qualifying in 1986. I have worked in public libraries, for a school library service, a college in the Middle East, a university library and three Nottinghamshire schools. My current post is that of Leader of the Learning Resource Centre at The Becket School, Nottingham. I really value being part of a school community and it makes me happy to see how enthusiastic young people can be about reading given the right opportunities.

What's your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
The aspect of the role that I enjoy the most is the same now as it was when I first qualified as a librarian in 1986. I relish the opportunity that it gives me encourage others to discover both the joy of reading and the importance of effectively accessing information. Both can make a huge and real difference to our lives. The appeal of working in a school is that I am able to built a productive working relationship with individuals and hopefully make a positive impact on their ability to learn.  It is wonderful to witness young people developing their ability and confidence. It is a privilege to have this role and support pupils in reaching their full potential. I hope that in some small way I am able to change the misconceptions that young people may have about what libraries can do for them.

How can schools encourage a reading culture?
This encouragement starts with the nursery and primary schools and relies on them having the funding to buy the resources they need to foster a love of reading. I know so many primary schools with wonderful, committed classroom teachers and Literacy Coordinators who struggle to buy the books that they recognise as the best available for their pupils. If they are able to fund a good school library, make time for daily reading and invite writers, poets, storytellers and book illustrators into school then they will be able to inspire even the most reluctant of readers. The School Library/Education Library Services around the UK (that are still in existence) play a key role in supporting both primary and secondary schools in promoting a reading culture. The employment of qualified, and ideally chartered, librarians in secondary schools who can effectively manage a collection of reviewed and carefully selected resources is crucial. These professionals lead promotional activities such as The Carnegie Shadowing Scheme and The Brilliant Book Award as well as organise book events on a regular basis which can facilitate a healthy reading culture. The annual Book Week at my school has proved to have a lasting impact in many ways e.g. reluctant readers discovering an author that they like or a genre that had never appealed to them before.

If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
I would recommend a book that is already extremely popular with the young people in my school – ‘Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio. This is a book that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. The story of a 10 year old boy who was born with a facial disfigurement, it is told using a first person narrative by several different characters including Auggie himself. Auggie has to deal with how others react to how he looks and this ranges from fear and some unkindness to acceptance and friendship. I was engrossed in this book from the first page. It really made me think about how often people are judged by how they look but also the importance of kindness in the world. My favourite quote from the book is as follows:
“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
The Becket School
What was your favourite book when you were a teen and why?
I had a favourite series of books when I was a teenager that I read and reread. It was the ‘Flambards’ series by K. M. Peyton. It comprised of four books ‘Flambards’, ‘The Edge of the Cloud’, ‘Flambards in Summer’ and ‘Flambards Divided’. They were adapted for television about ten years after the first book was published. The books are set before, during and after the Second World War. Christina is an orphan and has been sent to live with her tyrannical uncle and her two male cousins. Their estate, Flambards, is impoverished and, since Christina will inherit a fortune when she is twenty-one, the uncle intends to marry her off to his oldest son in order to restore Flambards to its former glory. I enjoyed reading about this feisty, teenage heroine and her friendship with the younger of her two cousins. There is a love triangle involved in the second book which has an impact throughout the series.

What has been your favourite book published in the last 3 years?
When the pupils ask me this question I find it really hard to think of just one because I am lucky enough to have access to so many great books. Last year I read ‘When I was Joe’ by Keren David. I had not heard of it but spotted it on the shelves at ‘The Education Library Service’. Its front cover was so striking that I just had to pick it up.
The blurb promised a compelling thriller and this certainly proved to be the case. The main character, fourteen year old Ty, witnesses a fatal stabbing and as a result he and his mother are taken into police protection. Ty has to leave behind all that he knows including his friends. He has to change his identity, becoming Joe which results in a cool new image. The author has said that she what she did was to have “Ty living a lie just so that he can tell the truth” which is ironic and I found myself stopping and thinking about this several times during the book. It did not take me long to read due to the plot’s fast pace. I have recommended this book to older readers (both boys and girls) who have lost interest in reading and had fantastic feedback from them. This was Keren David’s debut novel and she has gone on to write two thrilling sequels.
Thanks, Mel for this this great Q&A.  Have a wonderful Christmas!


Friday, 13 December 2013


Last week we heard from Ingrid, a school librarian.  Today we have a Q&A from a librarian in a different role - Andrea Lowe is a Principal Librarian for Children and Community Services for Nottinghamshire County Council.

Welcome to The Edge, Andrea.  Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Andrea Lowe

Well, I have been working as a professional librarian for 32 years, all of which has been spent working in the public library sector for Nottinghamshire Libraries.  As you can imagine, in that time I have occupied a number of roles, and have developed a diverse range and wealth of experience. My current role is Principal Librarian, Children & Community Services.      

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?

These days I don’t really feel much like a librarian. I don’t really do many of the things that most people associate with being a librarian, like buying, organising and recommending books to customers; or indeed, answering complex queries. I do some of that, but in a much more subtle way. My current role is a strategic one, so I spend a lot of my time service and programme planning, and focusing the work of Team Librarians, to meet library development performance targets and standards. Its good fun, and I can see the impact of what our team does on the people using our libraries, but it is a far cry from staffing a busy enquiry desk in a city centre library.

I used to enjoy enquiry work, and the challenging research opportunities this presented. I especially used to like local studies and historical research. However, the real joy of being a librarian, is having the opportunity to enthuse about books and reading. It’s great to be working in a service which has reading for pleasure at the very heart of everything it does. Libraries may have re-invented themselves to some degree over the past couple of decades, not least to embrace the digital age, but at the core of our vision is still a desire to promote books and reading. It’s our raison d’etre, our reason for being, and it’s still the best part of the job!

Of course, linked to this, is the opportunity to meet authors and poets. Over the last twelve months I have been responsible for arranging a number of author/poet visits to libraries, either as open events or for invited schools. It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to meet the people who write the books that children and young people are reading, and to see them inspired and enthused by the experience (that is, the children and young people are inspired – but I guess so are the authors – it’s a two-way thing). This is a fab part of the job!


Is it true that boys are more reluctant to read than girls?

In my experience, boys seem to take more convincing that reading for pleasure is a fun thing to do.  They don’t take the same ‘risks’ with reading that girls do, and it takes a lot of energy to find something that will hook them in to reading. This isn’t surprising – there have been a number of studies in recent years, not least research undertaken by the National Literacy Trust, which has found that girls are much more engaged with reading and enjoy reading more than boys. It is a deep –seated issue. Many schools have developed strategies to tackle the problem, and of course, public libraries have been working hard to underpin these strategies with initiatives such as ‘Boys into Books’ and of course, the Summer Reading Challenge.

As far as the Summer Reading Challenge is concerned, it is one of the best things we do for children and young people in the year. It provides us with the opportunity to make a concerted effort to keep children, and especially boys, reading over the long summer holiday. At the end of the summer, it is always interesting to evaluate the Challenge to see how many boys signed up to take part, and importantly, how many went on to finish it. This year boys accounted for 40% of children completing the Challenge in Nottinghamshire, which is close to the national figure of 42%. Of course the real impact is how they progress from there and whether or not they continue to read regularly when they go back to school.


Can teen fiction change lives?

I’m sure it can! I think that any fiction, whether targeted at children, teens or adults can potentially be life changing. This is one of the reasons that I find the opinion that fiction has no true value irksome. I believe that fiction can give us a sense of who we are, and help us to understand how the world works. I think it can be especially important for teens, who by their very nature are at a formative and in some cases, difficult period of life.   

What’s the best thing authors can do to support libraries?   

Maintain a relationship with libraries and use every opportunity to promote the value of libraries personally and professionally. Its increasingly important at the moment to reinforce the message, as almost daily there is more news in the professional press of libraries threatened with closure. Also, the message about the value of reading for pleasure needs hammering home, especially in ministerial circles (A message for Mr. Gove)? It seems so obvious to us, but clearly there are still those who don’t get it. Please help us beat the drum!

The fantastic, refurbished West Bridgford Library. Nottingham


Friday, 6 December 2013


Here at The Edge we cherish librarians.  Through their hard work, skills and  professionalism they pass on their love of books to all. Over the next few weeks we're dedicating our blog to Q&A posts by librarians to gain an insight into their work and learn from them.
Our first guest is Ingrid Broomfield from Nottingham Girls' High. 

Tell us about yourself, Ingrid!

After a (very) short career as a Sainsbury’s manager, I got a job as a trainee in a University library and then a place at library school in Manchester. During my postgrad year I rediscovered children’s literature, remembered vividly the delight in books that I had felt as a child and decided that passing on some of that joy would be a good way to earn a living. Suddenly it’s 30 years later (where did the time go?) and having worked in public libraries in London and Derbyshire and three different school libraries, I’m now at Nottingham Girls’ High and still loving reading and sharing literature with each new generation.

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?

Oh dear, there’s lots! Working in a school you get direct contact with your readers – and as I look after two libraries I work with tiny tots just learning to read; excitable chattering juniors; gawky, awkward, teenagers and finally self-possessed sixth formers ready to move on to the next phase in their life. I have the absolute pleasure of buying and reading shiny new books and sharing them directly with their intended audience – equally I can introduce treasured classics from my childhood to a new generation.  Within the constraints of the school’s development plan, I can pick and choose the library’s focus for the year ahead without worrying about attainment targets and of course, I get to meet lots of fabulous authors!

 Have you ever banned a book from your library and why?

As a lifelong advocate of free speech I’m not a great fan of banning anything. That said, I would always tailor my stock to my clientele so of course there are books I choose not to buy – but that’s not quite as strong as banning.

Confession time: Wherever I have worked over the years I have always had an absolute policy of binning any Jeffry Archer books – can’t stand the man (but I realise that is outright prejudice and not to be condoned)

  How can school encourage a reading culture?

Employ a qualified librarian, give that person management support and a half-decent budget and then leave them to do what they do best – all the studies show that this will make a difference. Then when they’ve worked their socks off and got everything running smoothly so it all looks fairly straightforward to the untutored outsider, DON’T replace them with a clerical assistant because it’s easier on the budget. I’ve seen this happen too many times.

 Do you think Book Awards are helpful guides for teen readers?

Yes! They introduce authors we’ve never heard of, provoke discussion (always a good thing), and provide guidelines to parents for present buying. Some teens will never progress beyond comfortable, easy reads (and that is fine with me) but there is a sizable minority of the age group who enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to try something new. And they will talk to their friends about the new titles and word will spread ….. this happened with ‘Wonder’ on the 2013 Carnegie list.

 If you could recommend one book for every child to read what would it be?

I would never do this – it smacks too much of government guidelines about ‘worthy’ literature – I’d much rather recommend books depending on an individual’s taste. However, if you forced me to name a title I’d go for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – it has a message for all time and all generations.

                                                The school library at Nottingham Girls' High
 How do you entice your teen students to read?   

At this school they have regular contact with the library right through junior school and as part of the English curriculum in Year 7 and Year 8. During those years we buy the books they ask for (even if we think they’re rubbish) we run lunchtime clubs, competitions, activities, author visits and book weeks. So we hope to have laid strong foundations. In their teens they have so many other pressures in their lives – hormones, exams, friendships, relationships – that I am not surprised that reading and library use drops off and I feel forcing teens to do stuff can be counterproductive. So I keep close contact with our regulars and stay friendly with the rest. Hopefully they’ll come back to reading in due course.

Who would you cast in the lead three roles in a film of one of your favourite books?

I wouldn’t! If I love a book I hardly ever go to see the film – I much prefer the pictures in my head. Just a dyed-in-the-wool bookworm I suppose. Sorry.



Friday, 22 November 2013


by Paula Rawsthorne
In August Bryony Pearce blogged on The Edge about the need to ‘switch off to switch back on’.   I couldn’t agree more, sometimes you need to allow your brain to switch off to give it time to brew ideas in your subconscious.  However sometimes, when I’ve been writing for long periods , or I’m frustrated over some plot point I can’t work out, what I really need to do is go to a literary event and be switched on.

 It may seem counter intuitive to attend an evening of book talk when you need a mental break from writing but, in fact, it can be a great way to get reenergised and excited about tackling your own work. It reminds you why you love writing. It often readjusts your mind set and can change a problem that was driving you insane into a challenge that you won’t let defeat you.

Just being in a room full of people who love similar books means that straight away you feel solidarity.  Then listening to a writer that you admire talking about their writing process and struggles with their own work makes you feel reassured.  Q&A sessions at the end of an author talk can throw up all kinds of inspiring insights and can remind you of the triumphs and pitfalls of writing.

If you live in London the hardest decision must be deciding what event to attend as the choice is so wide; however, we don’t do so badly here in Nottingham and I’d bet that most cities in the UK have a lively literary scene.  Although in some cities you may have to be quite proactive about finding out what’s going on, it’s easy to get yourself on the appropriate mailing lists to be kept up to date with events.

Library services often run programmes of inexpensive literary events throughout the year.  The other weekend I went to a fabulous ‘Readers’ Day’ run by Notts Libraries.  The venue was packed with people who loved books and we were treated to talks from, amongst others, the immensely talented William Ivory (Made in Dagenham, Burton and Taylor.)  Bernardine Evariso who gave a wonderful reading from Mr Loverman and the very entertaining  and lovely Dorothy Koomson (The Ice Cream Girls).  I also went to a talk by a librarian who was so passionate about crime fiction that he could take us on a tour around the UK based of where fictional detectives lived.  It was fascinating.  During the day people got to discuss ‘Bad Writing’, ‘Researching Historical Fiction’ and whether life is too short to reread a novel? Everyone had a great time.

Bookshops often host author talks and a couple of the most memorable ones for me this year have been Rachel Joyce (The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and David Almond.  I saw the legendary Roger McGough recite his poetry in my local library. I went to the bar of my local cinema for a great night of ‘spoken word’ where I listened to writers from the Nottingham Writers’ Studio narrate spooky Halloween stories.  

The other week I went along to see a writer friend, Andy Kells, run his ‘creating your hero’ workshop for primary aged children.  I found myself completely absorbed in the process along with the little kids (and their parents).

Every summer I go to a fantastic local festival in Lowdham (this year I was lucky enough to do an author event there). I got to listen to Simon Mayo discuss his radio career and his new novel ‘Itch’, I felt queasy listening to a crime writer (whose love of gory detail was a bit too much for me).  On a whim I went to a talk by Gordon Stainforth, a mountaineer, writer and first assistant director on Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’!  As I sat in the village hall it became apparent that the numerous older men in the audience were also hard bitten mountaineers, each with fantastic stories to tell, all here to see one of their own.  It made me think that you never know what incredible stories the stranger sitting next to you may have.

Nottingham had its very first ‘Festival of Words’ this year which took place all over the county.  The array of author talks, workshops, discussions and ‘literary street tours’ got the city buzzing about books .

 Being at an event with people who write or simply love reading is like drinking a few cans of an energy drink.  You remember why you love creating stories so much and why you need to get on with it

Which brings me to today when I’ll be travelling to Winchester University for the 6th Annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference.  As you’d expect, the conference is significantly more expensive than local literary events however, it’s worth every penny.  The jam packed weekend includes (amongst many other events) a keynote speech by Malorie Blackman and Catherine Rayner.   I’ll get to learn from an expert how to navigate Social Media (boy, do I need that) and I’ll have a whole day intensive on how to make the most out of a book tour.  There’ll be fascinating panels of industry professionals and a mass book launch party celebrating all the books published by SCBWI members this year (so I’ll be there with Blood Tracks).  Best of all I get to spend time with writer friends I haven’t seen for ages and meet loads of other SCBWI members who are always a friendly lot.  If it’s anything like previous SCBWI conferences I know that I’ll return home exhausted but inspired to get on with creating my stories.

So what gets you reinvigorated about writing?  What events have you been to, as a reader or writer, that have left you buzzing?

Paula Rawsthorne is the author of the multi award winning ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’. Her second novel ‘Blood Tracks’ was published by Usborne in June 2013 and has been shortlisted for several book awards. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

What Do Authors Owe Their Readers? By Sara Grant

I watched with interest the recent controversy around the final installment of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. When Allegiant was published, readers lashed out. Of the more than 2,000 reviews on* two weeks after the book was published, nearly 35 per cent were one-star reviews. (The first two books in the series overwhelmingly received five-stars.) One reviewer even demanded that ‘you’ve got to give them hope.’

This comment gave me pause. What do authors owe their readers?

Today’s authors are inundated with reader response – Amazon and Good Reads reviews, book blogs, fan fiction, not to mention personal contact on email and various types of social media. First and foremost I feel privileged that someone has read and taken the time to respond to my novel – whether it’s a glowing review or honest criticism. But I’ve also had young readers ask for friendship and family advice. I never expected that this level of personal engagement would be part of my role as a published author.

Readers have always reached out to authors. When I was eleven, I wrote a letter to Johanna Reiss, author of The Upstairs Room. The book is her autobiographical account of surviving the Holocaust. She responded with a lovely hand-written letter, which I still cherish. (I’m not sure an email response will ever have the same charm as something penned on personal stationary.)

The beauty of books is that you can find and lose yourself in stories. Unlike movies and television – books are personal. No two people read exactly the same book. I’m amazed and delighted by what people find in my stories – some things I intended and others from readers’ individual experiences.

Roth crafted a well-reasoned response to the reader criticism on the finale of her series. “I don’t want to tell you how to read these books or even to tell you there’s one right way to read them,” Roth wrote in a blog on her web site. “I just want to offer you some insights into how I personally found my way to this ending…I’m the author, yes, but this book is yours as well as mine now, and our voices are equal in this conversation.”

What do authors owe readers?                                                                 
I believe I owe my readers an engaging and authentic story with a satisfying – but not necessarily happy – ending. I promise to be thoughtful, not flippant. Any quirks or twists and turns will be relevant to the story – not random musings or showing off. I like to read and write books that feel as if they have life beyond the final page. I don’t mind when loose ends aren't tied up in a tidy bow. I write endings that are hopeful, but not always fairy-tale happy – but I don’t feel authors owe readers hope. We do owe them integrity.

So what are your thoughts?
Readers, what do authors owe you?
And authors, what do you owe your readers?

*Interestingly UK Amazon reviewers were much more positive – with only 13 per cent giving one-starred reviews – and proclaiming ‘brave conclusion to the series’ and ‘going out with a bang’.

About Sara Grant

Sara writes books for both children and teens. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her second novel for teens – Half Lives – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Find out more about Sara at

Friday, 8 November 2013

Stockport's Mad About Books

Last week I was incredibly thrilled and honoured to be awarded the Stockport Mad About Books Award for Key Stage 4 for my novel Someone Else's Life. It's my first award, and my first novel, and the result was strictly embargoed until the night - then announced at the most glitzy Oscar-like ceremony I've ever seen. It was truly incredible, with prizes awarded to pupils whose reading had improved the most, as well as authors and illustrators. 
A red carpet led up to the entrance of the gorgeous Plaza Theatre in Stockport, which was soon filled with hundreds of pupils from surrounding schools, their teachers and librarians, members of the council, and even the mayor, all dressed to the nines, so of COURSE I had to buy a new dress too (When else am I going to get to wear a dress like that?), coming together to celebrate the joy of reading. 
It was breath-taking, and made all the more special by the fact that the winning books were voted for by the pupils themselves - and the prizes were a works of art created by the pupils, inspired by the winning books. 
It was clear that the real champions of the evening were books and reading - and what a thrill that was, in contrast to the library closures happening in so many towns around the country. I am in awe of Stockport council, schools and librarians, for valuing books so highly, for engaging pupils with them so creatively, and for orchestrating a truly special evening - one I'll remember for the rest of my life.

I've been asked to share my acceptance speech, so here it is:

"I feel incredibly honoured just to be shortlisted alongside the amazing Caroline Green and Colin Mulhern, and this award in particular means so much to me because it was judged by you, teenagers, the people it was written for. When it comes to YA fiction, you’re the most important people of all – your opinion means everything.
With Winners: Thomas Taylor (The Pets You Get),
Christopher Edge (Twelve Minutes to Midnight),
the ever-glamorous legend, Jeanne Willis (Hippospotamus,
 with Tony Ross not pictured) & Matt Dickinson (Mortal Chaos)
I love writing for teens, partly because I’m not sure I’ve ever grown up, and partly because it’s such an exciting time.
You’re not a child anymore, you have more control over your life, and everything’s new and exciting and scary. So many choices and opportunities and adventures lie ahead of you, and nothing is set in stone – you are the authors of your own story.
And if you want to be an author, just go for it! One of the best things about writing is that unlike most careers, there’s no age restriction, there are no required grades or qualifications, and you are already the experts in your field. You know better than anyone exactly how teens feel, think, talk, and see the world;  what they go through, love, hate and are passionate about – and you know what you like to read about.
All you need is imagination and determination.
With Rit McErlean, who announced the award, and Natasha Brierley,
 the artist who created the prize artwork for Someone Else's Life.
Writing a book is like climbing a mountain - without a map, always hoping but never sure you’ll reach the top. Often you’re not even sure where the top is – it’s hidden by dense cloud somewhere far above you, you sometimes need to try out lots of different pathways on the way up, and you’ll almost certainly get lost, hit dead ends, and have to start again – many times.
But it’s an adventure. You’ll meet weird and wonderful characters you never expected, take pathways you never intended and wind up in places you never planned as the story takes over, leading you step by step, page by page. Only you can climb the mountain, and it can feel very lonely during the journey, but the truth is, there are lots of people helping to carry your bags, and I’d like to thank my family and friends for always believing in me, encouraging me, and inspiring me every day of my life.
Finally, I’d just like to say a huge thank you to all those affected by Huntington’s disease, who generously gave me their time, patience and advice when I was researching Someone Else’s Life. Without them – some of the most inspiring and courageous people I’ve ever met – I couldn’t have written this book, and I hope that if understanding and awareness of Huntington’s Disease grows, hopefully so too will support and funding, and the search for a cure."

Friday, 1 November 2013

Write a novel in a month...starting now! by Keren David

Ever wanted to write a novel?  Today's the day to start.         

The NaNoWriMo crest
Just get yourself along to NaNoWriMo - which stands for national novel-writing month - it should actually be international, but that's less snappy. It's a website with one aim -  to get as many people as possible writing their novel in November. Just write 1,650 words a day and you'll have a first draft of 60,000 words by the end of the month. The website helps you track your progress, sends you tips, connects you to a community of people all doing the same thing.

It can't be that simple, can it? Surely you need to plan your book before plunging in?


It can be done. A little planning helps, but NaNoWriMo helps you with a lot of things that aren't immediately obvious when you think about wriitng a book.

If you've got a target it helps you find time to write.
If you've got a target then you learn to forget about quality of writing and concentrate on just writing hit that wordcount
If you write every day your story starts to grow in your head.
You don't have to tell your story chronologically. You can write a patchwork of short chapters and then rearrange them
Editing can take place after you've written your first draft.
You CAN find the time
You CAN think of plot twists as you go along
You CAN write a novel in a month.

I didn't know about NaNoWriMo when I wrote my first book. But I set myself the target of writing a book in 12 weeks and it took me 16 -  and that includes quite a bit of editing and rewriting. I pretended I was writing a newspaper column which told a story in episodes. I only planned ahead little by little. I was fierce about my time (I was sharing a computer) and sometimes I had to write at midnight or 6am. I was determined to finish the story.
If I hadn't set targets I should think I'd still be faffing with that book now. But I finished it and it was published and I've written four more since.

I've got a deadline of January 17 for my next book.
So far I've written 2,000 words that I'm happy with.

NaNoWriMo, here I come!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Pop Up and Sit Down with a Book! (or, How Pop Up gets Young People Reading.)

by Edge Author
Dave Cousins
Why pick up a book? I mean, there are so many other things you could be doing: watching TV, hanging out with your mates, playing a game, tweeting, texting, sharing pictures on Instagram, surfing YouTube … Why switch off all that multicoloured, moving, bleeping, tweeting interactive fun and sit down quietly with a book? 

Tricky one that. It’s a question parents, teachers, librarians, book-sellers, writers and publishers have been wrestling with for years. 

One of the tenets of writing is “SHOW, don’t TELL” and that could also apply in this case. When I visit schools, I try to avoid telling young people that they SHOULD be reading. Sure, I’ll explain how important books have been to me, share my enthusiasm for some of my favourites, but then I read something—SHOW them what I mean—in the hope they’ll be inspired to give books another go themselves. 

The programme of literature festivals and events offered by London's Pop Up organisation takes this idea even further. Pop Up Director Dylan Calder explains: “The children read a book, meet the author of the book, then experience a workshop around that book to create creative responses.”

Earlier in the year, I took part in a number of Pop Up Booklinks events. When I arrived at the schools, the entire class had already read 15 Days Without a Head and produced work based on the story, including hot-seating, where students would take it in turns to interview each other as one of the characters. The teachers said the pupils’ enthusiasm for the project was evident in the way they had approached the tasks and the quality of work produced. The video below shows a small sample of film posters students produced having been tasked with casting and promoting a movie of the book.

The fact that pupils know they are going to be meeting the author creates an extra dimension to their reading experience and associated work. The opportunity to both question the author, and share their own responses, brings them closer to the book and makes reading a much more inclusive process. Working with the author on the students’ own creative project further breaks down barriers between reader and creator, and provides an important channel for self-expression. 

My overriding impression from the classrooms I visited was one of great enthusiasm. Dylan Calder sums it up perfectly: “Children should come away from Pop Up wanting to read more because they had such a great experience.” Maybe that answers our question.

If you’d like a Pop Up Education programme in your learning community email:

Below are links to a couple of short films showcasing recent Pop Up events in June 2013, run in partnership with London museums and galleries.

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins is out now in paperback, audiobook and kindle, published by Oxford University Press. A soundtrack of original music inspired by the book is also available. To find out more, please visit 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Is Job Satisfaction Enough? By Bryony Pearce

There has been some debate in the last couple of weeks about the way in which authors earn a living.  This was kicked off by the Cambridge Professor who objected to a famous author refusing to write an introduction to his academic book for free.  

All over the internet people are saying that they should be able to download books for free, because ‘art should be free to all’.

Another author friend took to Facebook to decry the fact that the English teacher at a school which was about to attend had sent him a ‘very snippy’ email deploring the fact that he was expecting to sell copies of his own books after his event.  

Still more authors have raised their voices about school visits where they have been refused the chance to sell books, have had invoices go unpaid (or unpaid for months at a time), have done two days of a three day event, only to be told on the morning of day three that the school wasn’t happy with their presentation as it did not fit in with the syllabus and that they would therefore not be paying them the full price,  or have simply encountered children who were not warned in advance that they would need to bring money on the day of the author visit (who hasn’t had that one?).

Are these authors being unreasonable?  Greedy?  Mercenary even?

Time for the Edge to weigh-in.

It is a well known fact that jobs which offer the highest ‘job satisfaction’ are also the lowest paid: teachers, nurses, social workers, firemen, policeman, jobs in publishing, in the creative arts, roles working for charities … the list goes on.  Jobs that feed the soul, that make you feel as if you are contributing to society, that make you happy to go to work, these are the jobs that offer the least in the way of material compensation, as if job satisfaction is enough for people to live on.  

The fact is that job satisfaction is valued and employers in these industries can offer low salaries, simply because if someone walks out, there will be a hundred more, desperate to take their place.  

And in the publishing industry it is the authors (excluding the A-list: King, Rowling etc.) who are the least well paid.  I earn much less per year than the person who empties the bins at my publishing house.  Yes, I love what I do.  Yes, I would do it regardless of whether or not I was published (and therefore paid), because the muse is a demanding mistress.  And yet … how many world-changing novels are not being written because frankly one cannot live on job satisfaction alone and aspiring authors must also have day jobs to put food on the table?

Shouldn’t we, as a culture value art enough to pay the artist?  All those people demanding their free downloads will be pretty hacked off when the quality deteriorates (because publishers can no longer pay for editors and authors no longer spend time doing rewrites).  When eventually the artists give up altogether and get jobs in the financial sector then they might come up with the revolutionary idea, of perhaps, paying artists to create art.

We’ve all heard of insanely high advances for book deals and yes, we all hope that our next book will go out at auction for a decent sum, in the same way that struggling actors hope to be cast as the lead in the next Hollywood blockbuster.  But the fact is most of us have four-figure advances, some even lower.  Royalties earn us literally pennies per book (and only once you pay off your advance – it is called an advance for a reason: we have to pay it back using our first royalty cheques).  

The fact is that most of us cannot earn a living from the money that our publisher pays us for our years of work.  So we subsidise this through events, school visits, creative writing workshops, festivals and so on.  Schools love to have authors in.  It is brilliant for the students to listen to someone talk enthusiastically about reading and writing.  Author visits are generally greatly valued.  The Society of Authors suggests that we should be asking for £250-£350 for a full day or £150 for a talk lasting no longer than an hour.  Plus expenses.

Yet many authors are reluctant to charge the full whack for school visits.  In the main we are a self-effacing breed.  The years of rejection before eventual publication is perhaps the reason that we are backwards about coming forwards.  We are surprised when we are told ‘well done’ and are therefore poor at valuing what we do properly.  

So many venues expect authors to work for free - for the publicity and the job satisfaction.  Hay pays in wine, many other festivals not at all, some even expect us to buy our own tickets.  Some schools object to us asking for money, or selling our books.  They don’t realise that the amount we earn from their school visit may be the only income we are getting in that whole month.  They don’t realise that only if we sell lots of books will our publisher commission another one from us and that each school visit contributes to the possibility of us getting another book deal.  But not if the students are not warned that they will be able to buy a book that day.   

What is the solution?  Perhaps some kind of communist contract that all authors should be paid the same advance, the same amount for school visits, festivals events and so on? 

It won’t happen, art is so subjective.  But can we at least agree that authors do a great job?  That authors have a talent that is unusual: vast imaginations combined with wordsmithery and the determination and perseverance to get all of our words onto paper.  We slave nights to meet deadlines, give up weekends with our families to deliver our story to the reader, give up our days to visit schools in order to inspire the young.  And that we are not therefore unreasonable, greedy or mercenary when we ask for the chance to sell our books.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A People's Palace in Every Town Savita Kalhan

The Edge are going to be running a great feature with those very important people who know more about children’s literature than probably anyone else – librarians! So in the spirit of celebrating libraries and the amazing people who run them, my blog today is about what libraries have meant to me.

I’m not sure whether I would have dared to pursue the dream of being a writer if I hadn’t spent most of my time in a library when I was growing up.

I came to live in England with my parents just before I was one, and I was brought up in a very traditional Indian environment, so my childhood was completely dominated by school and homework and books, the key to knowledge. Both my parents were in complete agreement about this. They shared a reverence for books, holding them in awe and respect. Books were cherished. They were the means to knowledge. A book was never allowed to be put on the floor or anywhere else it might get damaged.
 We couldn’t afford to buy any books. So we joined the library, which became my second home. Wycombe Library had an amazing children’s library, where my sisters and I used to max out our library cards. It was also very much a sanctuary and refuge during more troubled times. We devoured every book in the children’s library, and lost ourselves in a thousand different worlds. I found my voice there.

The Old Wycombe Library
Before I was old enough, the librarian at the adult library, worn down by my entreaties, allowed me to have a library card for it at twelve. Amongst other books, I really wanted to read more John Wyndham as The Kraken Wakes wasn’t in the children’s library. For a while she vetted what I took out, but after a while left me to my own devices. I wish I could remember her name, but I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

New Children's Section

High Wycombe has a brand new library building now. It's right in the middle of town and is part of the new Eden Shopping Centre.

It’s big but far from being one of the new ‘super-libraries’.

These new super-libraries are more like mega-complexes, housing thousands of books as well as having music rooms, exhibition galleries, theatres etc  Birmingham has one such super library, or in the words of the Dutch architect, ‘a people’s palace’.

Well, not everyone can get to the palace. There are people everywhere, most of whom live miles away from a super library. They would be happy enough with a smaller local library, and it is the local library that is under threat. We need a people's palace in every town, one that everyone can get to.
I firmly believe that libraries are precious and should be placed under a protection order. And as for the school library closures that have happened in many schools, well they need all the help they can get. An IT department obviously has a place in the modern world, but not at the cost of a library stocked with real books.

So hooray for librarians and long may they have a library to reign over!