Thursday, 30 June 2016

A Europe of shared stories - Lari Don

Warning: this blog contains politics. No apologies for that, just a warning!

I thought I might be over it by now, but honestly, I’m still too shell-shocked and upset about the vote a week ago to write about anything else.

Also, at exactly the time I should have been drafting a coherent Awfully Big Blog post about books and writing yesterday, I was standing in the drizzle outside the Scottish Parliament, showing my support for EU citizens living in this country and my support for Scotland’s place in Europe. Sorry. It seemed more important.

So here, because stories are how I deal with things, are a few of my favourite European traditional tales. Stories I share with children in schools and libraries, stories I share with children from all over Scotland, and with children living here whose families hail from the rest of the UK, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

England – a story about a girl turned to a dragon by her jealous stepmother, who is rescued by her brother’s kiss

Wales – the story of Ceridwen, who tries to give her son the gift of wisdom using a magic potion

Northern Ireland – the battle between an Irish giant and a Scottish giant, featuring the wonderful Giant’s Causeway and a bitten thumb

The Republic of Ireland – the story of Caoilte, who can run so fast that he rounds up a pair of every animal and bird in one night, as a ransom to free his uncle Finn McCoul

France – a story of a rather lovely werewolf who is betrayed when his wife steals his clothes

Denmark – the legend of Bodvar, a principled hero who gives a young boy confidence by letting him ‘kill’ a monster who is already dead

Germany – a story about a little boy who accidentally becomes a clumsy werewolf cub

Sweden – a girl who tries to save her warrior boyfriend by turning into a swan and flying above a battle to protect him

Italy – a horse who escapes a wolf by tricking him into trying to read words on her horseshoe and kicking him hard on the nose (owowowowow!)

Greece – a boy who befriends a baby dragon, and is later saved from robbers by his friend when he’s all grown up. (Oh, and ALL the myths)

Poland – how the dragon of Warsaw is defeated by a booby-trapped sheep

Netherlands – the story of an archer who discovers his neighbour is a werewolf when he shoots a marauding wolf with an arrow
(Yes, I do know a lot of werewolf stories. What can I say? I like shapeshifters!)

Finland – A hero who breaks a promise to a fiery horse, and is killed (temporarily) by a swan.

Germany – the story of how spiders playing on a Christmas tree invented tinsel...

And a pan-European legend I’ve been working with recently – The Emperor Charlemagne’s female knight and champion, Bradamante, who defeats a magician and wins herself a hippogriff

These are all stories I tell regularly, stories that are part of my imaginative and creative life. I haven’t artificially added in ones that I don’t tell regularly, just so that I can tick all 27 boxes. But please, if you know any fabulous traditional tales from other EU countries, let me know! Perhaps finding more European stories to tell, and deepening my cultural European identity, is my project for the next few months... Because I believe stories can achieve anything, but they are particularly good at bringing us together.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Yay for PLR!!! - John Dougherty

In all probability, either you'll know pretty well exactly what PLR stands for, or you won't have a clue. If you're a writer - even an as-yet unpublished one - I hope you'll be in the first camp, but if you're not, let me take a moment to explain what is it and why it makes me go "Yay!"

PLR stands for Public Lending Right. It's basically the right of authors to be rewarded when their books are publicly lent. In other words, if people are borrowing your books from libraries, you ought to get paid.

Before my first book came out, I had no idea this existed. It was only when my unusually on-the-ball first editor said, "You must look into PLR - No, you must... No, you MUST!!!" that I did. To be honest, even when I looked into it, it didn't seem worth doing. Five pence (as it was then; now it's more like seven) per loan... But actually, it's been a very handy little stream of income. I've never got anywhere near the maximum you can get - £6,000, I believe - but every time the PLR statement has arrived, it's been most welcome.

I'm choosing today's post to talk about this for one very good reason. If you've had a book (or audiobook) out in the last year, tomorrow is the closing date for registration. That is, you can register your book the day after tomorrow if you like, but you'll have missed out on up to a year's payment. So let me repeat:

Tomorrow is the closing day for this year's PLR registration!

The website is here: If you're a published writer or illustrator and you haven't signed up for it - or you've got a new book you haven't registered - then go! Do it now!

And if you aren't a published author, I hope you'll still join me in thanking the team who administer PLR. They make a big difference to the lives of authors in the UK.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickersillustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is the latest in John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series.

His other new books in 2016 will include the sixth Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face title, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The proposal - Clementine Beauvais

This week I submitted another proposal to my editor, and it got me thinking again about that strange art.

The kind of proposal I mean here is the one that already-published authors submit to their editor; often, though not always, it’s in response to a request or suggestion by the editor. It’s generally composed of a pitch and summary, the first few completed chapters of the first book, and, if it’s a series proposal, some sense of what the next books might be.

As such, that kind of proposal is not unlike the book proposals unpublished authors address to agents or editors too; except that the book isn’t finished. In fact, the ‘luxury’ of the exercise, on the already-published author’s part, is that the book doesn’t need to be finished at the stage when it’s pitched.

Another difference is that you’re talking to someone who knows you very well, so you don’t need to be overly formal in the pitch and the explanations of the next few books; you can also refer to your own previous books to make it clear where it stands in relation to the rest of your writing (if you’re still fooling yourself that your overall oeuvre is a miracle of coherence and forward planning.)

The proposal is an odd mixture of pragmatism and passion. Generally, you’re writing it in response to a suggestion by your editor; whether it’s very specific (‘I urgently need a 5-7 steampunk series involving mermaid hedgehogs’) or rather vague (‘I’m thinking of, like, some kind of animal story? Quirky maybe?’), you will have in mind at least some parameters and you will structure and strategise the writing and pitch accordingly.

In that sense, the proposal asks for your cold and calculating superego to control quite strictly the writing-splurge ambitions of your writerly id. You can’t get too attached to the budding project, because it might well get rejected (it often is) or require drastic rethinking; in which case you might not agree with the suggested changes, and choose to withdraw the proposal.

At the same time, you do need to develop with your embryonic project at least some promise of future love, or else your few chapters will lack enthusiasm - and you will lack the motivation to carry on, should it be accepted. I have started, and scrapped, very many book proposals that I felt did the job correctly, but which would be an absolute chore to write, because they would have been written ‘as proposals’, not ‘as books’.

My writing folder is full of rejected proposals, forever deprived of middles and endings. Some had good pitches (I thought), but the writing didn’t seduce. For others, the writing pleased, but the pitch was limp. Rejection at proposal stage happens very often in the life of a writer.

It’s a strange kind of mourning, because the emotional investment hasn’t been quite strong enough to really deplore the non-existence of the finished books. After being rejected, proposals get forgotten quite easily. I’m not particularly keen to resuscitate any of them.

They’re a different kind of writing to the other kind of unpublished work, the full manuscripts, revised, rewritten and edited so many times, whose failures still sting. You know, when you’re writing a proposal, that it’s more likely than not to remain bodiless. 

People outside publishing don’t generally know about that kind of proposal, and when they hear about it they tend to be horrified at how dry and cold it is. But there’s always something to be gained from a proposal, even if it ends up being rejected. You’ve inhabited a world for a little while, thought up an idea, invented characters. They’ll come back in a different form, some day, somewhere else.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Words from the Woods Lynn Huggins-Cooper

Do you have a special place that inspires you? I am running a writing project in my 'special' place - the 360 hectares of woodland behind our house. I go there most days for at least a short walk to clear my head and to give my writing projects composting time. I solve plotting problems as I walk. 

Words from the Woods is a year long writing project, where I am inviting people to walk and write with me, inspired by the beauty of the forest.

We are adding our writing to altered books made with natural found objects such as dried leaves and seeds, and making sculptures of pods and other organic shapes woven with words and phrases to create an exhibition.

If you are local to the Newcastle area, you might like to join us - we'll be holding special participation days. If you'd like to get involved but don't live locally, we'll be running online sessions and creating a collaborative piece. Find out more from our new project Facebook group.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Now that's magic!



This week J.K. Rowling is quoted as saying ‘I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more’ and I know there are many people who are in agreement.

So for those of you despairing this week I thought I’d bring you some magic.

We are celebrating one hundred years since Roald Dahl was born here in Wales and I’ve been running events all over the place with some very excellent children who given me hope for the future with their brilliance and their imaginations.

Basing their work on ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ they have come up with some magical recipes of their own.

Running these workshops has filled my days with magic and I wanted to share a bit of it with you if you are feeling a distinct lack of sparkle at the moment.
And if that’s not enough magic for you Sharon Marie Jones’ book 'Grace- Ella Spells for Beginners' is out on September 15th from Firefly Press and has a whole bundle of magical things happening in it.




Grace-Ella is thrilled when a black cat walks through their door. She’s always wanted a pet. But Mr Whiskins has a secret. On the ninth day of the ninth month of her ninth year, he tells Grace-Ella that she is a witch and can start learning magic with the Witches’ Council. Grace-Ella has never been good at school — can she learn to be a good witch? As well as struggling with lessons, Grace-Ella and her best friend Fflur are bullied by star pupil Amelia. The Witches’ Council forbids using magic against anyone. But how else can Grace-Ella protect her friends?


To find out more about Sharon Marie Jones and her writing visit her BLOG or follow her on twitter @sharonmariej
I've been lucky enough to read Grace-Ella's first adventure and I can tell you that it isn't only a magical whirlwind it is also EXTREMELY BRILLIANT!


Saturday, 25 June 2016

A Light in the Darkness by Tamsyn Murray


Here we are.

What I had in mind for today's post was an interesting rumination on Imposter Syndrome - how and why it got its grubby little claws into me, how affects almost all of us. What I didn't expect was how monstrously sickened I'd feel about the events of Thursday 23rd June 2016, so I think that post will have to wait for another time.

At the start of this week, I started to realise just how much of a bubble I live in. My Facebook friends (at least the ones that talk to me) were all voting IN for the EU referendum. All of them - every single lovely, creative, clever person I knew and interacted with each day was open to an inclusive UK in partnership with the EU. Yet the external opinion polls were suggesting a different picture. So either they were lying or Facebook was.

I did an almost unprecedented thing, then: I spoke to a friend who was not a writer or an illustrator or somehow involved in publishing. And she said, "Everyone I know is voting out."

Which kind of suggested I was right about the bubble. And *that* got me thinking about a dystopian story where the population was split into 'Creatives' and 'Non-creatives' - the Creatives being the ostracised underclass and the Non-creatives being the oppressors. In this world, reading and storytelling are crimes, as are painting and music. It seemed pretty apocalyptic to me. But the more I started to think about how hard it would be to live in a world without the arts, the more I realised their importance.

Now - I must stress that this was just me following a story idea (as I am liable to do all the time) and I am not making any kind of comments about people who voted Leave or Remain and their relative creativity - but it occurred to me that the arts have never been more important. They are being denigrated and erased in our schools. They are having their funding cut. They are sneered at by government ministers, who are doing their best to snuff them out entirely. But they are important and those of us who make them need to ensure that we are not discouraged, that we continue with our creative work to shine a light in the darkness. Because two things are certain for the coming months and years:

1) We're going to need a lot of tea,


2) We're going to need art to feed our souls.

Tamsyn's latest book is Tanglewood Animal Park: Baby Zebra Rescue - out 1st July NOW!
Catch her on Twitter: @tamsyntweetie

Friday, 24 June 2016

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Down (Reality Bites: Part Two) – Liz Kessler

After a night of disbelief and a morning of despair, I am picking myself up and blinking against the sunlight that is poking out from dark clouds after hours of rain.

And, cheeky as it might be, I am taking advantage of this still being my ‘day’ on the ABBA blog to post a Part Two.

There are things I need to say, and I want to say them very clearly.

When more or less half of our country votes one way and half votes the opposite way, neither side can categorise the other with generalised labels or blanket descriptions.

No one will benefit from accusing 17 million or so people of being either ignorant and easily duped or being racist xenophobes. That simply isn’t true and isn’t helpful as a means of going forward. Equally, to gloat in the faces of 16 million or so people who are suffering and despairing is not going to take our country anywhere good.

I personally believe that Nigel Farage is an extremely dangerous man who has somehow been elevated to a position of power and influence by national media outlets that have granted him a generous and comfortable platform which he did nothing to earn. But this does not mean that everyone on the ‘Leave’ side of the vote agrees with or supports him.

His image, as an affable chap who’s in it together with the good, honest, working folk, has been cleverly orchestrated, and he has used scapegoat politics to give people a focus for their dissatisfaction with the status quo. ‘Don’t like what those out of touch politicians are telling you to do? Stand up for yourself – and while you’re at it, here’s some immigrants to blame.’

Yes it sounds simplistic – but it works. It’s worked before and it’s worked here. But we have to recognise that NOT EVERYONE who voted ‘Leave’ agrees with his stance or supports those politics. 

So here’s a challenge.

To those who voted ‘Remain’, let’s shrug off our sadness and shock, and ditch our despair and depression. The vote has happened, and this is where we are. So let’s look around and see how to deal with it. Find allies, keep conversations going, shake hands with people whose arguments we have been opposing for these last few months and let's prepare to work with as many people as we can in order to be part of rebuilding our country - and thus still have some influence in how that rebuilding takes place.

There is nothing we can do to change what has happened, so let’s turn our thoughts to positive action.

And to those of you who voted ‘Leave’ for your own, deeply held reasons and beliefs, and have been angry at being castigated as racist and xenophobic – now is your chance to get out from under that label. Join with those of us on the other side in letting Farage and the rest of them know that you don’t support him. Work with your communities, support the immigrants you say you are not opposed to, and please, please, whatever you do, try not to gloat over your victory.

And yes, even those who are UKIP supporters - I am utterly, utterly opposed to your politics - but the country has taken a vote and it has led us here, and I would rather have conversations in a reasonable and measured way than sling mud at each other across a wall that is so high neither side can see over the top of it.

We are here now. We have to work with what we’ve got, so let’s do it with dignity, compassion, optimism and kindness. 

And maybe when our children grow up and take our world into their hands, there is still a chance that they will look back on these days and be proud – of all of us.

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Reality bites, and it hurts - Liz Kessler

I wrote a post a week ago, which I scheduled for today.

It was about how, whatever happened in yesterday’s vote, I was putting my faith in the future, in children. It was a call to all of us to stand up for goodness and humanity. It was about my belief in the phrase that has been growing in popularity over the last few weeks: ‘Love Wins.’

The only trouble is, love didn’t win. What won was bigotry, intolerance, hatred, racism, ignorance, fear and xenophobia.

And having stayed up half the night watching it all unfold, and having then slept for a few hours and woken up to the results, I am finding it hard to stand by the optimism of that blog, and so this is a very hastily-written post that reflects how I do feel this morning.

I feel upset, horrified, aghast, ashamed, blank, empty, anxious, terrified.

I imagine most – if not all – of what we read, watch on television and talk about today will be about yesterday’s result. It is hard to think about anything else today. And most – if not all – of what we do is going to be about making predictions about the future. It’s going to be a very tough time. Friendships are going to be tested to their limit. Families are waking up to new divisions. Towns torn in half, and a country not only split almost 50:50 down the middle by a vote that in my opinion should never have been put into our hands, but thrown into a level of uncertainty that people of my generation and younger have never seen.

It’s tempting – SO tempting – to express anger towards those who voted ‘Leave’ this morning. Some of us are finding it impossible to resist. I am trying my hardest not to go there. The one bit of the post I’ve deleted that I do stand by is that we must try our hardest to cling to mutual respect, dignity and compassion.

It’s very hard though, because those are the values that ‘Great’ Britain voted against yesterday.

The ‘Leave’ campaign was based on two main strands. One was to do with money. The main point of this strand was a bizarre claim that the UK would somehow magically produce huge amounts of money to put into the NHS if we left Europe.  It’s not even 9am on the morning after as I write this, and ‘Leave’ leaders are already telling us this was a mistake and should not have been said.

Really? You don’t say.

The other main strand to the campaign was around immigration. It would be wrong, dangerous and untrue to say that all those who voted to leave are racist and xenophobic. What is true, though, is that the campaign to leave was focussed hugely on racist and xenophobic principles.

The thing that scares me the most is not the thought of what happens to our trade relations with Europe, scary as that is. It’s not even about financial concerns, scary as they are: the pound has already dropped to its lowest level since 1985.

The thing that scares me so much that this morning that I can barely stop crying is the message that this result has given to Nigel Farage and his ilk.

We have told Farage that he can stand in front of a poster that echoes Nazi propaganda, and get away with it. We have told him that he can stand in front of a camera and say, ‘We will get our borders back. We will get our country back,’ and our national television broadcasters will play his words over and over again without argument. We have legitimised words, actions and ideas that a decade ago would not have been acceptable to say in public.

I am terrified that the historians of the future will look back on these days, and they will be able to plot very clearly, very easily – shamefully plainly – how the UK moved, step by step, into a period of darkness and horror and extreme right wing rule that most of us have not seen.

My dad saw it. He escaped from it in 1938 as an eight-year-old boy. He came to the UK and was given safety; he was given his life. And now his generation were amongst the ones who voted most heavily in favour of leaving. But they weren’t the only ones. Over half the country agreed with them.

So now what do the rest of us do?

Do we just stand by as our country descends into a place divided by bigotry and ignorance? Do we paper over the cracks and do our best to heal the wounds of the last few weeks? Do we suffer on in silence, our heads in our hands, failing to see a way out?

I don’t think we can do that. I don’t think I can.

At this moment, I – like many of us – feel so stunned and shocked that I have no idea what we do, how we bear this, how we move on, how we tackle the coming weeks, months, years. I just know that we have to find a way. We have to stand up, be brave, be proud, be vocal, and ensure that when those historians of the future look back on these days, my fears are proved wrong. We have the responsibility now to ensure that they look at these days, at yesterday’s results, and they note that it was the point where the UK went up to the edge of a cliff – but where the voices of decency, humanity and compassion would not let us take a step over that chasm into the darkness that lay beyond it.

And I’ll tell you where I am managing to find a shred of optimism.

In the statistics that show that it was the younger voters who mostly stood up against the politics of scapegoating, fear-mongering and xenophobia. The ones who mostly voted to remain.

My shred of optimism comes from the fact that these voters are the UK’s future.

Today’s young people are tomorrow’s authors, doctors, teachers, politicians, scientists. They are tomorrow’s world leaders.

And whilst I ponder on that for a moment, ponder on this too: what a privilege to be a writer for children and for young adults.

So yes. Maybe that’s what I can do for now, whilst I work out where else to find a shred of hope. I can keep on writing my books about mermaids who, yes, go on some crazy-ass adventures but who also fight for opposing communities to unite and make peace.

I can continue to write about fairy godsisters who help others to have the confidence to stand up for themselves and not be afraid of who they are. I’ll carry on writing about girls coming out, about teenagers overcoming bullying, pirate dogs making friends with kittens, ponies looking after the chickens. I’ll keep writing my stories, and the underlying messages – of love, tolerance, compassion and unity – will find their way of sneaking into each one.

I will put my faith in young people and continue the privilege of working with and for those who have the future in their hands.

And I’ll hope that these young people will one day realise that this broken world that we are giving them to inherit is a world that they have the power to change, to bring back from the brink, to heal. And that they can do this safe in the knowledge that, whatever happened yesterday, there are plenty of us who will support, help and nurture them every step of the way.

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