Friday, 29 March 2013

Looking Stupid

EDGE Author Sara Grant extols the virtues of 'bad' ideas
When I was in elementary school, I was the kid who would sit on her hands and pin her lips shut tightly when the teacher would ask a question. I’d repeat my answer over and over in my head, but I didn’t dare raise my hand. What if I was wrong? I didn’t want to look stupid.

When I talk to children and teens about becoming a writer, I always tell them that I found success as a writer when I stopped worrying about looking stupid. Some of the best ideas evolve from stupid, silly and downright bad ideas.

I love creating stories with students. I often use a story starter – like this illustration from my Magic Trix series. What’s behind this obviously magical door? I’ve had young students ask me if it’s okay if the door opens into a fairy world with dragons or triggers a trap door into a pile of skeletons. Yes and Yes! is always my answer, but I’m sad that they have to ask me if their wild ideas are acceptable. I think they have the impression that there is a right and a wrong answer.

I did a little tally of the fiction that is saved on my computer. In the past nine years – since I moved to the UK – I’ve started eleven novels and more than forty short stories. Only a handful of those have been published. One of my tutors called these personal slushpiles – apprentice pieces. I learned something from writing each one. And, maybe I had to work through these bad ideas to find the one that would eventually sell. No writing is ever wasted.

I still find that, from time to time, at grown-up cocktail parties when someone asks what my books are about…I pause just a moment before telling them about a country trapped under an electrified dome, cults that worship mountains, a beauty queen destined to save the world, and a witch training to be a fairy godmother. These might sounds like strange ideas but I hope they’ve grown into engaging stories. And I’m no longer afraid of looking stupid – maybe I’m just used to it.

Fellow EDGE author Dave Cousins recently directed me to a quote from the American jazz musician Miles Davis: If you hit a wrong note, it's the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.

And if you want to be a published writer, the important part is that you just keep playing. There’s no such thing as a bad idea because stupid and crazy and silly are often gateways to great stories

Sara Grant's first teen novel Dark Parties – a dystopian thriller for teens – was published last year on Orion’s Indigo imprint (Follow Indigo on Twitter @fiercefiction). Half Lives will be published in May in the UK and July in the US. Learn more about Sara and her books at or follow her on twitter @authorsaragrant.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Paula Rawsthorne discusses how regional book awards are enthusing students to read for pleasure.

I’m a big fan of regional book awards because I’ve seen, first- hand, how successful they are in getting young adults reading.  Over the past year I’ve attended award ceremonies in Leeds and Sefton, been a guest speaker at the St.Helen’s Book Award  and done events with schools involved with the Nottingham Book Award.  I’ve seen the buzz about books that they create when numerous schools across a region come together to  discuss, debate and decide their winner. 

Library Services, school librarians and councils work hard to organise their region’s awards because they can see the benefits.  I’ve been told by several organisers that an important reason for instigating this type of award is because it was clear that the pupils wanted to have a say in what books were nominated and they definitely wanted their vote to decide the winner.   This seems understandable; after all, the books are written for them.

By giving pupils the power to influence the shortlist  and decide the winner the librarians have found that more pupils want to get involved.   It’s a lot less appealing to young people  to invest their  time and enthusiasm in book award processes were they know that their participation and vote has no impact on the outcome


The aim of the regional awards tends to be to encourage reading for pleasure, debate and critical appreciation They want to involve young people in decision making and encourage  cross-school collaboration. 

From what I’ve witnessed, all these aims are being admirably met.  The pupils post their thoughtful reviews on the award website.  The workshops bring schools together from all over the region to debate the shortlist and, in some areas the pupils produce videos, artwork and pieces of drama inspired by the books.  And, after they ‘ve cast their votes, the winner is announced at an award ceremony. 

The organisers go to a great deal of effort to give these ceremonies a real sense of occasion. The participating schools gather together in theatres, civic centres and central libraries .The local press are present, sometimes even the Mayor!  Shortlisted authors are invited and often a  guest of honour is in attendance.  There are, talks, presentations, speeches and a chance for the pupils to meet and question the authors.  There’s a real build-up of excitement leading to the moment when the sealed envelope is opened and the winner announced (Oscar-style).  When the ceremony (which importantly, is never overlong) ends, everyone  seems to be buzzing about books.

So I’d like to say a big thank you to all the librarians and councils who enable the regional book awards to happen and, of course, to all the kids who get involved.  Power to the pupils!  May the regional awards  go from strength to strength.
Paula Rawsthorne is the author of the award winning, The Truth About Celia
Her new novel Blood Tracks will be published in June 2013.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The P*** Word by Keren David

Trying to research this blog post was not easy. Just typing the words 'porn' and 'children' into Google felt a little bit dodgy. It was research, officer, honestly it was.
However this is what I found (thank you 

 - In 2010, a Home Office report warned the "drip-drip" exposure to sexual imagery - which included pornography, "lads' mags" and sexual imagery in advertising - was distorting young people's perceptions of themselves, encouraging boys to become fixated on being macho and dominant, and girls to present themselves as sexually available and permissive.  

 - A survey of 16-24 year olds by the University of Plymouth and the UK Safer Internet Centre found that one in three admitted porn had affected their relationships.

 - Almost a third of 16-18-year-olds have seen sexual pictures on mobile phones at school at least a few times a month, a 2010 YouGov survey suggested.

I suspect that the figures quoted here underestimate the number of children accessing porn on their phones and the (all too suitably named) iTouch. And we're not talking soft porn. Kids are able to access the sort of stuff that was, only a few years ago, pretty specialist stuff. The Home Office fears about gender stereotyping are just the beginning. How about the kids who are so desensitised that they can't form actual sexual relationships? How about the kids who get their ideas about normal from the fantasies of pornographers?

Very few YA writers are tackling or even acknowledging this subject, and who can blame us? How easy would it be to get such a book through the gate-keepers? How controversial would such a book be? Remember the fuss over Melvin Burgess's Doing It which accurately reflected how teenage boys talk and think about sex (surprise, not aways in the most politically correct way).  I did sneak a mention of porn into Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, but I didn't elaborate on it. Too much risk that a likeable character would seem revolting and sleazey.

 But by ignoring it,  are we doing both boys and girls a disservice? Are we ignoring one of the biggest changes to teenage life since rock and roll? By peddling romance to girls and failing to reflect reality, are YA books becoming part of the problem? And are there books out there which talk about porn?

I don't have any answers. I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Committing Miriam Halahmy

I like writing gritty teen fiction with a romantic thread. I don’t see myself as an author who writes murder/mysteries. However, last month I was approached by Mayville High School in Southsea to run murder/mystery workshops which was their Book Week theme.

I asked on Facebook for a reading list because I was intrigued to see what might come up for teens under such a heading. The ideas came in thick and fast including Anne Cassidy’s entire back list; When I was Joe, by Edge Author, Keren David; and the Crime Central blog. There was also the puzzled response, “Mystery I can understand but why would any school want to run a workshop on murder?” I must admit I’d been thinking the same thing.

Then I put up on Facebook, “I'm going to start by asking how many people have committed a murder.”
Interesting comments came back, “What if one of them says yes?” and, “Worse still, what if one them says they’re about to.”
Yeah, well, that’s Facebook for you... all cuddly and lots of fun.

A few days later I found myself in Baker Street and took some photos of the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b. I had by this time realised that Conan Doyle was at the heart of this workshop.

Mayville High School is situated right near the biggest Conan Doyle collection in a museum in the world – in Portsmouth. Doyle wrote the first two Holmes books in Portsmouth and he modelled 221b Baker Street on the Kings Road, Portsmouth. I realised finally this was the reason for their Book Week theme – and what a great idea.

The icing on the cake came when lovely Edge Author, Bryony Pearce, sent me a mass of stuff she had prepared on exactly the same subject. Many thanks Bryony!

So weighed down with books lists, Facebook quips, pages of notes, photos and a controversial question, I set off for Southsea to meet the kids.

The first group was a mixed Y7/8 group and when I asked if anyone had committed a murder, 10 hands shot up! All those quips on Facebook were coming true after all. What a nightmare! When challenged, the kids said things like, “I killed an ant,” and, “Does a teddy bear count.” These kids were really up for it – lucky me.

So we talked all round the subject of why murder, do you need a detective and what about the motives for murder? This last one was great because it allowed me to fool around. For example I pointed to a boy and said, “He is my brother.” Loud jeers from his classmates, which I ignored and continued with the fantasy ; “We have inherited a large amount of cash and a yacht from Daddy. I want it all. What do I do?” and then I stabbed him in the back (well, not literally, but you can see where I’m coming from.) The kids loved it.

Miriam’s Big Tip for a Successful School Visit:  Catch them out; do something surprising/weird/ totally out of character.

Bryony had given me an excellent idea for some writing – get them to think of someone who would NEVER commit a murder. The kids came up with some great examples, including The Queen, Noo Noo ( who is apparently a TeleTubby) and Birdy ( I didn’t have a clue about this one – she’s an amazing 14 year old singer songwriter.) All the kids wrote at least half a page in 10 minutes and the next group, Y8/9 ( none of whom put their hands up to admit committing murder, incidentally) wrote even more in about 15 minutes. I heard the first line of everyone’s work and then two or three brave people read out their whole piece.

I had a great day – the kids loved it  – oh – and no-one died.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Edge author Katie Dale tries to find out...

This is possibly the most frequently asked question authors get, and often one of the most difficult to answer. You can be the most skilled writer in the world, but if you've got writer's block, and can't think of any ideas, you're stuck. If only there was some magical place you could go to get a fantastic idea for the next best-seller...actually, for some lucky writers, there is...

"I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately."

Lucky Stephanie Meyer - the idea for one of the most successful book series in recent years came to her in a dream. Likewise, JK Rowling claims that the idea for Harry Potter just came to her one day while she was sitting on a train at King's Cross station. Accounts like this can be extremely frustrating - why won't inspiration strike me? (My dreams, while often very vivid at the time, make absolutely NO sense in the morning, and I've sat on a lot of trains and am yet to write the next Harry Potter!). 
Luckily, most authors don't have to rely on a muse, and have discovered that inspiration is actually all around us, if only we keep our eyes and ears open. Here are some examples of where authors got their ideas...
The news is a great resource, because it's about real people and real events, and authors such as Emma Donaghue (ROOM); Jodi Picoult (NINETEEN MINUTES) and Keren David (WHEN I WAS JOE) have used topical, current issues as a basis for fiction. My first YA novel, SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE was originally inspired by an item on the news about two babies who had been swapped at birth, and the idea for my second, LITTLE WHITE LIES, came from the case of the notorious Maxine Carr, who was vilified in the press for giving her boyfriend, Ian Huntley an alibi when he was charged with the murder of two schoolgirls.

Dickens, CS Lewis, George Orwell and many others used fiction as a means of commentary on issues that were important to them, and authors still do so today. Here's Suzanne Collins talking about her inspiration for the mega-hit THE HUNGER GAMES.

Christopher Robin is A.A. Milne's son, and the 100 Acre Wood was based on their nearby Ashdown Forest; Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical professor from college had some very eccentric habits and mannerisms, which he used for the basis for Sherlock Holmes, and JM Barrie's PETER PAN was inspired by the Llewellyn-davies boys.
Have you ever known somewhere that'd make a great setting, or someone with a standout personality, who'd make a great character? A painting you wished you could live in, or an object with a past...?
What about people you pass on the street? Everyone has a story - be a detective and see if you can find clues about them - What are they wearing? Why? Where are they going to/coming from? Who do they live with? How are they feeling today? What might be in their bag? BE NOSY - Eavesdrop (subtly!) on strangers' conversations (changing rooms, trains, and people on mobile phones are great for this) Who knows what you'll hear...?
Greek myths (PERCY JACKSON), Arthurian legends (MERLIN), Fairy Tales (SISTERS RED), and even the Classics (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) are finding new incarnations all over the place - can you revamp familiar tales/characters with a new spin?

What if you woke up with  a tail? What if the Nazi’s won World War 2? What if the Polar Ice caps flooded the world? What if you found out your parents weren’t really your parents? What if our toys come alive when we can’t see them?

Whenever you spot a newspaper article, a phrase, or any other item that sparks a possible book subject, put the idea in a box. When you need an idea, have a rummage through and see what you find - who knows which ideas might go together to make something new and exciting?
And most importantly, once you find an idea, nurture it, develop it, let it grow. An idea is the seed, but imagination is the fertiliser.
Good luck!
Where do you get your ideas from?

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman