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!