This is the latest instalment in an occasional series of blogposts, in which some of our authors and illustrators share their favourite writing spots. Today G. R. Gemin, whose debut novel Cowgirl came out this month, shares his favourite methods of procrastination…
My ruses to avoid writing are as follows:
1) As you can see I have a wonderful view overlooking a lovely park, but it doesn’t help. Yes I know that sounds really miserable, but it’s true. You will also note the many CDs on the shelves (there’s more on the other wall too!). These are in alphabetical order, and a constant, stimulating musical distraction. (Some say I have OCD – Obsessive Compact Disc-order).
This is a ruse to avoid writing, and it works wonderfully well.
2) You will also notice how neat everything is. I want to assure you this was not because a photo was going to be taken. It’s always this neat. If I have to pull out books, or things from draws I then need a period of time making it all neat again.
This is another ruse to avoid writing, and it works wonderfully well.
3) You may just be able to see a bird feeder out of the left window. I like birds, I get visits from Great Tits and Blue Tits (see close up) and Robins, and I was once fortunate enough to have visit from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker – it was extremely impressive. The birds are very close when they mount the feeder, consequently I keep very still and watch them (no sudden movements, like typing on the keyboard, is allowed).
This is my favourite ruse to avoid writing, and it works wonderfully well.
4) You Tube is a tempting resource for a variety of reasons. I often reward my inactivity by viewing a Laurel & Hardy film (“Towed in a Hole” is SO funny), or I look up some of my favourite operatic tenors and jazz musicians like Jussi Bjorling or Franco Corelli or Oscar Peterson or Jimmy Smith (and there’s more I could mention).
This is the most distracting ruse to avoid writing, I feel very guilty because I have so little to show for it – at least the birds get fed in ruse 3.
Now I really must crack on with some proper writing (he said unconvincingly). On the other hand, it just struck me that I haven’t dusted the ceiling in ages…
You can read the first three chapters of Cowgirl below, or order the bookonline here.
Last week I came back from a trip to the US. I was joined half-way through by Deb, who’ll herself be writing about the Dust or Magic Conference we went to last weekend.
Arriving on the afternoon of Hallowe’en (but with a dinner appointment and jetlag that precluded going to the parade, in case you were wondering), I was in the US to see publishers. The key visit was to Candlewick Press in Somerville near Boston. They are about to launch their second season of illustrated books under the Nosy Crow imprint, and have already reprinted two of the first ten launch titles.
We were finalising the Fall 2012 programme.
I like talking about our books to Candlewick. Their comments about projects in their early stages are insightful and interesting, and provide a different editorial and design perspective, as well as a different culture perspective, that can help us refine books. Sometimes they even put their finger on some small detail that has been niggling us but that, in the rush of getting books to Frankfurt or some other deadline, we’ve managed to suppress. I find this process of refining through feedback is one of the great joys of rights selling… though, of course, we are talking about refinement here, not wholesale ripping apart and starting again.
I found them feeling confident about illustrated books and their ability to bring them to market. They were particularly excited by I Want My Hat Back by newcomer Jon Klassen, which has had excellent reviews from The New York Times among others. I brought back a copy for Axel Scheffler it has a dark and grown-up sophistication (though it looks very simple) that I thought would appeal to him.
I spent the rest of the time in New York, with a packed schedule of fiction appointments (Candlewick’s Nosy Crow imprint is just for illustrated books). On my busiest day, I saw 13 publishers… though actually what I mean is that I saw the heads of 13 imprints at four different big publishers. While there was interest in our titles to follow up with pretty much all of the publishers that I saw, I found many of them focused on Young Adult fiction, with an emphasis on dystopian fantasies in particular (the halo effect of The Hunger Games and the forthcoming film is much in evidence) and fantasies in general. Many of the children’s publishers I spoke to acknowledged that they were acquiring and shaping books for an adult audience. This is a dance that Nosy Crow, with our emphasis on books for children under 12, has decided to sit out.
It’s also interesting to be be reminded of what titles, series and authors are selling in the US. Many, many books work on both sides of the Atlantic. Recent years have seen a reversal of the “Harry Potter tide” of books flowing from the UK to the US as US-originated books and series – Twilight and Wimpy Kid in particular – have dominated the UK market as well as the US market. But it’s always interesting to be reminded of the differences between the two markets, which this list of children’s bestsellers indicates. Some of these titles are familiar to the UK market, but many won’t be familiar to many people here at all. I remember buying rights to Goodnight Moon for – let’s be honest here – a ridiculously small advance because it wasn’t known here and had been out of print for years. The same is true of UK titles travelling to the US: Jacqueline Wilson books have never really sold in the US, for example and The Gruffalo isn’t a fixture of as many hundreds of thousands of children’s bookcases there either.
The Jacqueline Wilson phenomenon illustrates something that I’ve found throughout my time selling rights: with a few exceptions, often for older readers (Louise Rennison’s books, for example), “real-life” fictional stories that are set in the UK with a UK vernacular do not often sell well in the US. By contrast, stories rooted in real life from Judy Blume’s books to Wimpy Kid do often travel well from the US to the UK, though real-life books for younger readers often struggle to cross the Atlantic in either direction: it’s a source of real amazement to US publishers that Junie B Jones and Ramona are little known in the UK. It used to be the case that UK originated fantasy sold well in the US, but arguably there’s less need for it now that the US is home-growing and exporting series by Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins among others.
Other recurring topics of conversation when I was in those New York offices were the impact of the loss of Borders and the growth of e-reading. There were many references to the prominence of the Nook in Barnes and Noble stores, and an expectation that the launch of the Amazon Fire would impact on children’s e-reader reading, not only directly as children get Amazon Fires as Holiday gifts, but also indirectly, as older devices are handed down the family.
Packing clothes for a holiday is for me, secondary to packing non-clothes or not-really-clothes: suncream in a range of factors (all high); a bulging first-aid kit (so many of the accidents that have happened to my children, including the fractured skull that I can still only bear to think about sort of side-on, have happened on holiday); cagoules; walking boots; Smartwool socks; Earl Grey teabags; laptop cables; adapters; and, requiring most thought of all, books.
I feel quite panicked at the thought of being without a book, or of running out of things to read.
The photograph above is of the library of 33 print books that four of us in my family took between us on the two-week holiday (our first more-or-less real one in two years) from which we’ve just returned. There are a couple of guidebooks, walking books and wildlife books. But mainly they’re fiction. We didn’t read all of them, but we read a lot of them. I even read one of them aloud to the children, who are, other than on holiday, pretty sniffy about being read to these days.
In addition to the print titles, the sharp-eyed among you will spot an iPad (with iBooks) and two Kindles at the front of the frame. All of us used both the iPad as a reading device and the Kindles in the course of the fortnight.
I try to catch up on “grown-up” reading when I am on holiday or travelling on business, and so I keep a pile of books that I haven’t got round to reading to sweep into a suitcase. The collection here, then, wasn’t the result of a crazy pre-holiday splurge-buy. Yes, we did succumb to a book purchase each before we went on holiday, but mainly these are books that we’ve lined up for our holiday reading for months before we were due to depart. The copies of Gillespie and I and of The Tiger’s Wife were, for example, both given to me for my birthday three months ago.
Or they’re books that we want to reread.
One of the books I brought to reread on this holiday is in the foreground to the left of the hardware. It’s The Child That Books Built by Frances Spufford, who records an experience of childhood reading that is, at least until he becomes a teenager, remarkably similar to my own. Born in the same year as me, and the elder sibling of an ailing child (his seriously and, ultimately, terminally; mine, happily, neither), he came of reading age in the children’s-fiction-rich seventies, and describes an immersion in reading – as a route to escape, intensity and discovery; as a way to fill spaces in his mind and heart that his own life didn’t fill; and, later, as a part of an identity – that led to a fiction addiction in a way that speaks to me:
“I need fiction. I am an addict. This is not a figure of speech. I don’t quite read a novel a day, but I certainly read some of a novel every day, and usually some of several. There is always a heap of opened paperbacks face down near the bed, always something current on the kitchen table to reach for over coffee when I wake up. Colonies of prose have formed in the bathroom and in the dimness of the upstairs landing, so that I don’t go without text even in the leftover spaces of the house where I spend least time… I can be happy with an essay or a history if it interlaces like a narrative, if its author uses fact or impression to make a story[like sense, but fiction is kind, fiction is the true stuff…
… I don’t give it up. It is entwined too deeply within my history, it has been forming the way I see for too long.”
Bits of The Child That Books Built are a bit dense and over-argued for my taste, and it is a book that reflects the age and class of its author, but Francis Spufford does capture the joys of particular books – Where the Wild Things Are, The Hobbit the Narnia books, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Story of the Amulet, The Little House on the Prarie books – in a way that reminds me clearly of my own reading evolution.
Francis Spufford seems also to have a particularly clear recollection of the process of childhood reading.
Here he is on the a child’s first exposure to story through the experience of being read to aloud and of hearing fairy stories:
“What first teaches us the nature of story is not the fixed form of writing on a page. It isn’t the page that teaches us that story is language miraculously fixed into an unvarying shape which makes absent things present… That comes after. The medium of the first encounter is an adult voice speaking, and saying the same words in the same order each time the story comes around. Once a small child grasps the principle, no one is more eager for the repetition is to be exact. The words have to be right, or they aren’t the story. ‘Don’t say, “The fox met a family of ducks.” Say, “The fox met Mr and Mrs Duck and all their duckling children” The invariability of a story is what gives it a secure existence. It adds it to the expanding sphere of what is known for sure… such as the fact that morning always comes. Or that the third little pig’s house will never blow down in any telling of the story, no matter how hard the wolf huffs and puffs. Stories are so.”
LEARNING TO DECODE
Honestly, I don’t remember being read to, and I don’t remember the process of learning to read, however clear and important my later memories of being a fluent child reader were. I wish I did remember the process of becoming a reader with the vividness that Francis Spufford describes here:
“When I caught the mumps, I couldn’t read; when I went back to school again, I could. The first page of The Hobbit was a thicket of symbols, to be decoded one at a time and joined hesitantly together… By the time I reached The Hobbit’s last page, though, writing had softened, and lost the outlines of the printed alphabet, and become a transparent liquid, first viscous and sluggish, like a jelly of meaning, then ever thinner and more mobile, flowing faster and faster, until it reached me at the speed of thinking and I could not entirely distinguish the suggestions it was making from my own thoughts… In fact, writing had ceased to be a thing – an object in the world – and become a medium, a substance you look through… So the reading flowed, when I was six with the yellow hardback copy of The Hobbit in my hands; and the pictures came.”
FILLING IN THEGAPS
Francis Spufford describes brilliantly the way that children can read – and this is something that I certainly remember – without being able to understand every single word on the page:
“At the same time, I couldn’t read quite a lot of the words in The Hobbit. I had accelerated into reading faster than my understanding had grown. If I press my memory for the sensation of reading the second half of the book, when I was flying through the story, I remember, simultaneous with the new liquid smoothness, a constant flicker of incomprehensibility. There were holes in the text corresponding to the parts I couldn’t understand. Words like prophesying, rekindled and adornment… I could say these words over, and shape my mouth around their big sounds. I could enjoy their heft in the sentences. They were obviously the special vocabulary that was apt for the slaying of dragons… But for all the meaning I obtained from them, they might as well not have been printed. When I speeded up, and up, and my reading became fluent, it was partly because I had learned how to ignore such words efficiently…
I found that the gaps in the text where I did not know words began to fill themselves in from the edges, as if by magic. It was not magic. I was beginning to acquire the refined and specialised sense of probability that a reader gets from frequent encounters with the texture of prose…
I remember there was an intermediate stage when strange words did not yet quite have a definite meaning of their own, but possessed a kind of atmosphere of meaning, which was a compromise between the meanings of all the other words which seemed to come up in conjunction with the unknown one, and which I had decided had a bearing on it. The holes in the text grew over… The empty spaces thickened, took on qualities which at first were not their own, then became known in their own right.”
WORDS WE NEVERSAY
Francis Spufford talks about those words that readers have in their internal vocabularies that, even as adults, we have no knowledge of how to pronounce, though we know what they mean:
“Such words demonstrated the autonomy of stories. In stories, words you never heard spoken nonetheless existed. They had another kind of existence.”
I have experience of this more often than I would like. I had a conversation with Adrian, just days before re-reading this book, and we were talking about whale-and-dolphin-like things (as you do). And I used the word “cetaceans” (as you do), which I pronounced, “seh-TAY-shuns”. Adrian looked momentarily puzzled. “Oh, you mean ‘set-ah-CEE-uns’,” he said. For anyone who cares, I was right in this instance, but I am often wrong.
Francis Spufford not only writes about the mechanics of childhood reading, but about how we ingest values from our reading of children’s books. He writes about learning about social obligations, about the way people ought to behave to one another, through books and, in particular, through American literature, focussing on the moral assumptions behind The Long Winter and To Kill a Mocking Bird:
“I even began to understand what was not said on the page. This was the kind of reading that can magnify your curiosity about real people, and send you back to the world better equipped to observe and comprehend… Ought ran very close below the surface of is… For me, pattern-minded child that I was, ought was the key that opened the folds and tucks of human behavior and spread it out and made it knowable.”
For me, who is, like Francis Spufford, someone unable to read (or watch) horror, he is funny and accurate on the power of the word to get stuck in your mind, so you can’t rid yourself of the images it conjures, as he describes his reaction to a story about cannibalism in The Fifteenth Pan Book of Horror Stories:
“Sometimes, when something is going to prey on your mind, you know it there and then. Some things your mind swallows, with a helpless alacrity, just so that they can be regurgitated when you least want to pay attention to them…
Maybe none of this is comprehensible to you, and my adrenalised panic in the dormitory corresponds to nothing in your experience. If so, you’re lucky. You’re part of the horror genre’s intended audience. You’re one of those people whose minds contain little or no fear they can’t bear to look at; none or little, therefore, that you can’t bring to a film or to a novel, and have it roused, coaxed expertly to a crisis, and then discharged, leaving nothing behind except the pleasant afterglow of successful catharsis. You leave the cinema and think, Hmm, time for a Chicken Korma. You lay down the Stephen King, give a comfortable shrug, and never think about it again unless you want to, you lucky bastard”.
In fact, I find that sometimes I don’t know that the words that get stuck, uninvited and unwanted, in my brain are lurking in a book until I have read them inadvertently. Sometimes I stumble upon them in a book that isn’t a genre book that clearly announces its unsettling contents.I found myself unable to finish The Slap, for example, because there was one sentence in it that ambushed me, and disturbed me to the point that I just didn’t want to pick the book up ever again.
Francis Spufford speaks about his mother noticing “a special silence, a reading silence” when the young Francis is reading in the house. He talks powerfully about the way that the silence went both ways:
“As my concentration on the story in my hands took hold, all sounds faded away. My ears closed… There was an airlock in there. It sealed to the outside so that it could open to the inside… There was a brief stage of transition in between, when I’d hear the text’s soundtrack poking through the fabric of the house’s real murmur… Then, flat on my front, with my chin on my hands, or curled in a chair like a prawn, I’d be gone.”
To the annoyance of many around me, I still do this, still become oblivious to my surroundings when I am reading. It’s something that one of my children has inherited completely, and that my other child experiences in relation to those books that she particularly enjoys.
But as a child – and and an adult – built by books myself, I think there are worse things to pass on.
Now that Summer is most certainly upon us (evidenced at Nosy Crow by the fact that almost everyone is on holiday), the ritual of reading round-ups has been getting its yearly airing in the press. Without wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth – we’ve been very pleased with the inclusion of our books in so many round-ups – there seems to me to be something a little… unsatisfactory about the criteria for these lists. Surely, in order to qualify as a great Summer read, a book ought to have more going for it than a recent publication date.
There is, of course, all kinds of ways one could choose to define a good Summer book. Some – like our Mega Mash-Up series – are brilliant for keeping children occupied on long journeys or during days at home. Others, like Noodle Loves the Beach and Bizzy Bear: Off We Go!, evoke Summer quite literally. And stories like Dinosaur Dig! somehow encapsulate the outdoorsy, spirit-of-adventure feeling that Summer represents when you’re young – or, as Camilla put it to me in an email from the road, “Summer is about liberation isn’t it – from school, parents and routine, and in theory, the weather.”
When I asked for everyone’s suggestions here (before they all left), we decided to restrict ourselves to books that actually take place over the Summer. Needless to say, as with every previous discussion on the subject of favourite books of one sort or another, the debate swiftly dissolved into endless one-upmanship, but out of this, I’m pleased to say, came some truly excellent suggestions.
As ever, we’d love to hear your favourites, so please leave your comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter.
Dom, pipped to the post for The Wind in the Willows, chose Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, saying that, “Some of the scenes from that book were so vivid, they’ve become practically my own memories. It’s the book equivalent of Inception!”
Camilla’s first suggestion is The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton – and she has exactly the measure of a lot of Blyton’s books:
“Ginger beer, doorstep sandwiches and smugglers coves – in fact the very holiday I am just embarking on, though of course it never seemed to rain and I bet they didn’t spend hours sitting in a traffic jam on the A30.”
My choices are, for much the same reason as Camilla, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, as well as A Spoonful of Jam by Michelle Magorian and Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, both of which have sort-of magical qualities about them. And finally, I believe I would be remiss not to mention the summer strips of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoons (pictured above), which, like all of our choices, cannot capture everything that’s wonderful about Summer, but certainly go a long way towards trying.
Now – over to you!
We’ve had some Twitter recommendations with the hashtag #summerreads:
@rogue_eight suggested The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner
Dom Kingston recently joined us as our “attached freelance” one-stop PR man, and he’s getting to know our authors. This week, he met Helen Peters, pictured above at a cafe in Muswell Hill, author of debut novel for 8 – 12 year olds (particularly 8 – 12 year old girls) The Secret Hen House Theatre, which Nosy Crow is publishing in April 2012.
This is what he said:
“Meeting new authors is always an exciting part of a publicist’s job.
Often, especially if the book in question is their first book, meeting their publicist is an author’s first insight into life after the editorial process. And publicity is often a relative mystery to many new authors. Most aspiring writers know that they will have their book edited, but not so many think, when they’re writing, about what they’ll say about themselves, their book, and the process of writing it to a class of school children, a librarian, a bookseller, a journalist or a conference audience.
For some, the word and the idea of a ‘publicist’ has scary connotations – think Entourage. Or Ab Fab. Or the bit in Phonebooth before Colin Farrell actually gets into the phonebooth…
Luckily, publicists in the children’s publishing industry are always a four-day-drive-and-a-boat-trip away from this stereotype. Authors often seem to be relieved when you don’t arrive Gucci-ed up to the eyeballs, in a cloud of Kouros, and barking into the four mobile ‘phones permanently clamped to your ears.
As publicists, we just want to get to know and understand… The Author. It’s important that an author is totally comfortable with any promotional activity they’ll be doing.
So… how was Helen?
Well, she’s an English and drama teacher, so she’s totally at home when she’s talking to a room full of children and engaging them creatively with a subject.
Music to my ears!
She also kicks off our meeting with some excellent event ideas that will work beautifully for the age-group that she writes for.
The icing on the cake is that Helen’s obviously going to be a dream interviewee. She’s eloquent, focused, funny and charming. And she has a story to tell. Couple these qualities with the autobiographical, made-with-love aspects of her novel (the farm setting, the characters drawn from her own family), and we’re soon bandying around possible feature ideas for both adult and children’s media.
She’s also connected to, or connecting with, with lots of our world’s brilliant – and deliciously vocal – bloggers and tweeters. (Kate says, “speaking of this, you can read about Helen’s experiences as a first time author in this terrific blog post.”)
By this time I’m practically pinching myself.
So… Helen Peters – a lovely person, author of a lovely book and a publicist’s lovely dream . I CANNOTWAIT for curtain-up at The Secret Hen House Theatre…
There’s been a fair bit of speculation as to what the site will be, with at the time of writing, many thinking it’s there to announce new book, judging by the mashable.com vote. There’s been excitement too, over some images, supposedly leaked from the website, which suggest it’s an online game or a fansite.
A key question might be who has what rights… and what rights are left to exploit? This is a J K Rowling announcement and property, not one from her publishers or from Warner Bros.
Sadly, at the time of writing (an hour or so before the announcement), I don’t know what Pottermore is, so I can’t tell you, but as we (well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll be going) anticipate the release of the final film in the Harry Potter sequence, it’s good to have this reminder of the author behind this extraordinary brand. I rather liked this timeline of the rise of Potter.
The picture above is of young women who’d grown up with the Harry Potter books with their copies at the Scholastic street party in NY in 2007 for the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic publishes the books in the US, and Bloomsbury does so in the UK). It was taken within hours after the of the release of the book, but these readers had only just got to the front of the queue to get their copies. I was Group MD of Scholastic UK at the time, and lucky enough to be there. It was a very happy experience to be at a book event that drew so many people and created such palpable excitement.
Since Harry Potter, widely described as the exception that proved the rule that children were not excited about reading and that the book industry was in dire straits, we have, of course, seen another – very different – phenomenon emerge from the world of children’s and YA writing: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight sequence.
Whether these are just two black swans remarkably close together or indicative of the ability of creators – and, I would hope, publishers – to make, shape and present children’s and YA reading experiences that surprise and delight children and teenagers (and adults too) and to do so more than twice remains to be seen.
I look forward to the next phenomenon.
Well, we know what Pottermore is now. It is, essentially, a shop for digital content.
The site will be the only source of digital book versions of the seven Harry Potter titles and this is interesting in relation to her publishers and eBookselling, as it appears to establish some unusual precedents, as The Bookseller outlines here)
There’ll be audio downloads too.
There’s 18,000 new words by J K Rowling (not a huge amount, really, given that Philosopher’s stone is 77,000 words long) but perhaps there’s more to come.
There’ll be talking head video of J K Rowling.
There will be, it seems, opportunities for fans to post their own content.
This Wired article and this Guardian article give some more information, and this “Futurebook article” is more reflective: http://futurebook.net/content/pottermore-worlds-biggest-enhanced-e-book. The Bookseller reports on this UK retailer response too.
On the question of the relationship with publishers, The Bookseller spoke Pottermore c.e.o Rod Henwood. Henwood who said: “[The physical publishers] are partners in this. You will see their presence prominent in the shop when it is launched, and they are involved in marketing the site. It is a very collaborative project, all contributing to the marketing and the activity. Their interests are aligned with ours.” He added: “We won’t sell physical books directly, certainly not on the site, but we will be providing links to publishers websites and if they sell the [physical] books there, people can obviously buy them.”
It may well be true that Father’s Day is without a jot of authentic tradition to its name, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to celebrate. At Nosy Crow we’ve been listing our favourite dads in children’s literature all week, and what started out as a harmless pub game between Kate, Camilla and me has spiralled rather dramatically into a mammoth collection of categories, sub-categories and clauses.
Being a bit of a purist about these things, I initially protested to Kate that our list should be comprised only of nice dads, and that bad dads would go against the spirit of the exercise somewhat – this is for father’s day after all! – but we all realised pretty quickly that a lot of the best characters are really awful fathers.
This initial concession led to a proliferation of different categories.
Here are our best categories and our strongest nominations, with, where I felt it necessary, some context or justification. Please add your own categories or nominations in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #kidsbookdads or Facebook!
William from Danny, the Champion of the World (written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, see the picture above). This is a pretty uncomplicated one – I think we can all agree that William is an amazing and exciting dad (even if he does lead his son into a life of crime). The opening chapter is a really lovely and quite moving tribute to the relationship between father and son.
The dad in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming is another good example of an exciting dad.
The dad in Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a favourite of Kate’s.
Big Nutbrown Hare from Guess How Much I Love You (written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram). Big Nutbrown Hare is never specifically referred to as Little Nutbrown Hare’s father, but I think we’re invited to assume as much.
Gorilla from Gorilla and the dad in My Dad by Anthony Browne are pretty good entries from the outgoing Children’s Laureate…
… And we have two from the incoming one: Stick Man from Stick Man whose quest is to get back to his family tree, and the gruffalo, from The Gruffalo’s Child, who tries to warn his adventurous child against the mouse. Both are written by Julie Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
John Arable from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, is an inspired choice by Camilla – the true story of the two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin together.
Two excellent suggestions by Kate B were Mr. Brown from Paddington (by Michael Bond) and Pongo from 101 Dalmations (by Dodie Smith).
Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee). I have had to lobby quite hard for inclusion of Atticus Finch: on the one hand, he is, of course, the greatest father in any book, but is To Kill A Mockingbird really children’s literature? Well, it was treated as such on its release in 1960, and it’s taught all over the world in schools, so I think that makes it not not children’s literature.
Kate made the very interesting suggestion of Anne Frank’s father, “especially in contrast to how she portrayed her mother”.
My contribution to the sub-category of real-life good dads is Michael Rosen in his poems about his son Eddie, which reach their heartbreaking conclusion in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.
Kate B also suggested James Potter from the Harry Potter books, which to begin with seemed like a silly suggestion to me; certainly not worthy of the Pongo/ Mr. Brown company in which it stood – James isn’t even alive in the books! – but it is, of course, actually an excellent choice. James dies protecting his family from Voldemort – a powerful symbol of fatherly love, and he’s there in Harry’s mind throughout the books.
James Potter segues seamlessly into our next category…
There are quite a lot of these in children’s books, ranging from dads who’ve abandoned their children to dads who are absent through no fault of their own.
The father in The Railway Children. I can’t remember his name, but it doesn’t matter – he’ll always be “Daddy, my daddy!” to me, in the manner of Dead Poets Society and “Captain, my captain”.
The fathers in Jacqueline Wilson’s The Illustrated Mum and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women were both examples of Kate’s category of “Absent Dads who are the Deus Ex Machina, resolving things at the end or making the ending happy”, as is the dad in The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr.
Interestingly, a lot of bad fathers are defined in terms of their absence (in another blog post I’m sure there’d be a lot to say about that…) Some literary dads, however, would leave their offspring a lot better off if they did disappear.
Surely the absolute worst dad ever is Huck Finn’s; the violent town drunk who locks his son in a cabin and leaves him to starve. If we can have To Kill A Mockingbird then we can probably sneak in Huck Finn.
An excellent contender for the same title must be Matilda’s dad (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda)
Kate B points out that many fairy tale dads, such as the fathers in Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Cinderella, behave shockingly badly towards their offsping, though they’re often under the influence of wicked stepmothers.
Bad dads who become good:
This is a more heartwarming category and it seems to be an popular archetype in children’s books:
The father in our very own Olivia’s First Term, by Lyn Gardner is viewed by some of us as a bit of a bad dad, but others of us felt this was harsh, and that he really was doing his best in difficult circumstances.
Other complicated and difficult dads who are more or less redeemed at the end of the book or books include Lord Asriel, from the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman; Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Mr. Darling from Peter Pan; and Colin’s dad in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden
Tom Oakley from Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.
Joe Gargery in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The magnificent Akela from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Finally (!), here are a few that didn’t quite fit anywhere:
Kirsty called the dad in Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging “the best comedy dad”, and nominated the dads in Big Red Bath and Peepo“ for the title of “Best at giving baths dad”. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory demonstrates the “Dad upstaged by grandfather” genre rather well…
As you can see, once you’ve started, it is hard to stop.
Last week (ahem – apologies, but life has got in the way of this post) we published two great new novels in print and ebook formats.
The first is Olivia’s First Term by Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper. This is Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers meets Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes with a bit of Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain thrown in for deliciously good measure. It’s about friendship, family and performing, and its target audience is girls of 9+.
Parents in Touch says it’s “the first in a very promising new series from Nosy Crow – a relatively new publisher. I can see the series being an instant hit with girls, who will love the thought of the glamour of stage school – or is it glamorous?”
The School Run says “Girls will love this book, it is a great story, with many messages within the story about friendship… I am sure this series could become as popular as Enid Blytons Malory towers and St Clare’s series! I for one am looking forward to the next in the series to be released.”
The second is Perfectly Reflected by S C Ransom, and is the sequel to Small Blue Thing. A paranormal romance for young teens and pre-teens with an iconic London setting – the focus of the action is the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s about teenage schoolgirl Alex, and her battle with the evil Catherine, who has managed to cross over to our world from the world of the ghostly Dirges, who are doomed to steal the happiness of others in order to survive. Catherine has a grudge, and is determined to make Alex’s life misterable, and what better way to do that than to keep Alex apart from Callum, who is trapped in the world of the Dirges? You can find out more about the books on the series website.
Networked Blogs says, “If Small Blue Thing was a paranormal romance, Perfectly Reflected is a paranormal thriller … There’s always a worry that the second of a series may not live up to the expectations created by the first – happily this is not the case here and the twists and turns will keep you hooked to the last page.”
Congratulations to Lyn Gardner and S C Ransom on publication!
These books bring our total number of print/ebook publications to (drumroll) 12.
Honestly, I’d have gone even if he hadn’t been a Nosy Crow author (we’re publishing the first in his new series, The Grunts, next year, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler). His events are masterclasses in high-energy, interactive, stand-up comedy and for a child-and-parent audience, that weave together the story of how Philip became an author with lots of great scatalogical and tongue-in-cheek self-aggrandising material that had the child one along from me actually falling off her chair she was laughing so much.
However professional and brilliantly prepared Philip is, he can’t predict everything, and a high-point of the event was him putting his foot (clad, as everyone in the audience knows, in size 16) through the set of one of Hay’s two swankiest event spaces:
Philip worked the incident into the event so brilliantly that even the technicians in charge of the venue were laughing in the aisles. Here he is with a triangle of broken stage after the event:
I, for one, can’t wait for the Philip–Axel The Grunts double-act.
This week’s Stylist magazine (free outside the tube station, thank you very much) has a very good cover story on the children’s books we never outgrow, complete with rather marvellous illustrations by Quentin Blake. The article fudges a little towards the end, giving a list only of ‘Top 10 Children’s Books’, which is, of course, practically meaningless, but the core idea of un-outgrow-able books is a lovely one.
Stylist includes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web and Matilda in its list (all favourites of mine), and the second Kate saw it lying open on my desk she pounced, conducting the fastest straw poll I believe I have ever seen. Well, I am pleased to say that ours is a suitably eclectic list, spanning most of the twentieth century, picture books and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, blockbuster names and forgotten gems. Helpfully, we’ve had quite a number of visitors this morning, so this is also a more comprehensive collection than it might otherwise have been. And without further ado, here it is – Nosy Crow’s list of the books we never outgrow:
Kirsty chose Autumn Term by Antonia Forest, the first in the Marlow family series of novels, originally published in 1948.
Dom named Going Solo, the second installment of autobiography by Roald Dahl and the sequel to Boy.
Deb initially wanted Charlotte’s Web but, at the time of writing, had settled on The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.
Adrian picked, without a second’s hesitation, The Land of Green Ginger, a choice that caused a lot of blank stares amongst the rest of us. A little Wikipedia-ing later and I now know that it was written in 1936 by Noel Langley, who went on to be one of the (many) responsible for the screenplay of The Wizard of Oz.
Steph, insisting that she didn’t want to go for a picture book, and after much deliberation, has gone for Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women.
Kate Shaw fought off stiff competition from Camilla to be the one who gets to name another Roald Dahl, Danny Champion of the World, as their own (personally I always found the novel’s gritty social realism a little disturbing).
Imogen, remarkably unfazed by my ambushing of her the moment she crossed the threshold, selected Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s absolutely wonderful Jolly Christmas Postman.
Despite this being her idea, Kate W simply could not make a final decision, and seemed visibly pained by my insistence that she only be allowed one choice. However, after much cajoling from me and soul-searching from her, she’s plumped for Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House.
Kate B, after considerable thought, has picked Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz.
Camilla, once her first instinct had been nixed by my increasingly dictatorial approach to rules, chose A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.
And, because I’m the one writing this blog, I’m going to allow myself two choices. The first is Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts, a criminally overlooked picture book and one of the most moving treatments of grief I have ever read. And the second is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, from 1876, about which nothing new can be said, but which still seems fresh and exciting and funny to me on every re-reading.
So, there they are! Between Nosy Crow and Stylist, Roald Dahl gets an excellent showing, as does American literature. But what have we missed? What books have you never outgrown?
Here’s what some of @nosycrow’s Twitter followers have said:
@rachelisking: Mine would be Matilda, although I also love Ursula Bear by Sheila Lavelle (sadly no longer in print)
@LizzyCampbell: Mine would have to be Anne of Green Gables
@Girl___Friday: I third Danny! :) Also Narnia.
@Rebecca Berry: I’ll never outgrow Cobwebs and Creepers. It isn’t in print anymore but I loved it!
I went up to Lincoln on Saturday to talk to a group of children’s authors and illustrators (and agent Elizabeth Roy, many of them aspiring to be published. The event was organised by writer and blogger Addy Farmer (pictured here with me) for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
It was hard to know what to cover (and Kate had a scary 90 minutes to fill), other than pointing people in the direction of our “submissions guidelines” and to telling them we prefer to receive submissions digitally, which is the work of a minute. But I talked about how Nosy Crow got started, and what’s important to us: identifying the core audience for each book or app that we do and trying to ensure that every aspect of that book or app is right for that audience; bringing our own creative energies and skill to projects as we work with authors and illustrators to shape and make books and apps; embracing digital technology both as a means of creating new reading experiences and communicating with people about them; and thinking internationally, and accessing international markets through our partners in key countries.
Of course, most of the people there really wanted to know what Nosy Crow was “looking for” and that’s a hugely difficult thing to define.
But here’s a shot at it:
Fiction for 0 – 12, bearing in mind that a lot of the texts for board and novelty books are are produced in-house.
“Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence.
Strong commercial concept-driven or character-led series novels and picture books.
Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books, but nothing too intensely high-brow.
Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty.
While some of our future apps may be based on our books, Nosy Crow is currently focused on commissioning apps that start as apps, not as books. We are interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and really understand how, touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story experience. As we have engineers on staff, we don’t need people who can code apps, and we don’t need to see a ready-made app. Instead, we want to see really great ideas and really great art (and need art that is created digitally in layers for this medium).
I got to visit glorious Lincoln Cathedral:
And I even saw a little of the top part of the city (here are Addy and Elizabeth Roy in front of something lovely and half timbered) before leaving.
I got a couple of nice comments on Twitter, and Addy blogged about it.
This is a series of four books by award-winning author Philip Ardagh. The books, which feature the eponymous and disgusting Grunt family, will be illustrated in black and white by Axel Scheffler and the first book, The Grunts in Trouble, will be published in May 2012.
Philip makes me laugh – as a person and as an author. Always has done, always will. His combination of professionalism and irreverence make him the perfect Nosy Crow author, and we are pleased and flattered that he’s chosen to publish with us. Pairing him with Axel Scheffler is going to make this an utterly irresistible series for children of 9 and up.
“I’m delighted that The Grunts, my latest series of (very silly) novels, is to be published by Nosy Crow with the crow so fresh from the egg, and still slightly yolky. For Axel Scheffler to have agreed to illustrate it — without my having to resort to threats of any kind — is the real icing on the metaphorical cake. I very much look forward to working with him, Kate Wilson, and the rest of the Nosy Crow team on what I hope will be some of my most outrageous books to date. These are exciting times! FUN just doesn’t express it.
And Axel says:
“It’s been several years since I’ve illustrated fiction, but there was an anarchy and humour in the outrageous Grunt characters that really appealed to me, and I look forward to working with Philip on his series with Nosy Crow.”
This is the most high-profile of several recent great fiction acquisitions, including a series of four titles by best-seller Holly Webb, that make it clear how serious Nosy Crow is about fiction publishing as well as full-colour publishing. We’ve got world rights in all languages for all of them, so there’ll be lots to talk about at the Bologna Book Fair next week.
Today, as well as announcing this acquisition, we have added our 2012 titles to the Books section of our website. We will publish 25 new titles this year, and at least 35 next year. This year we’ll launch 5 apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and we’re planning to make at least 8 new apps in 2012.
Romasauria is the glass-domed city in Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars which Romans and Dinosaurs bicker and co-exist until their civilisation is threatened by an asteroid spotted heading towards Mars by Augustus Astronomus.
Food for the feast included mooncow and poogoid stew (no poogoids, were, however, harmed in the making of this stew, as, not being on Mars, Nikalas was forced to substitute chorizo), and the tablecloth was printed out spreads of the book. We were equipped with pens so that we could do what everyone should do when faced with a page of Mega Mash-up: read the story, and complete the illustration and fill in the speech-bubbles. I am happy to say that my camel, in the desert that the Robots and Gorillas race across to settle scores, drew particular compliments.
The books have been out for a week or so, and are being promoted in Sainsbury’s and Waterstones. They are quite unique in their combination of fiction and doodling.
We’ve had a couple of reviews so far:
Parents in Touch said: “This new series from Nosy Crow is an innovative and clever combination of novel and doodle book and I think is an absolutely brilliant idea for reluctant or struggling readers, especially that notoriously hard market – boys… Zany stories and quirky illustrations make these books great fun.”
Sarah’s Book Reviews wrote: “There is plenty of room for a child’s own imagination… I will be recommending it to friends as a great idea for their children.”
There’s a fun, interactive dedicated website, too.
Each book is a really innovative combination of a novel and a doodle-book. They’re proper – and very funny – stories, divided into chapters and with relatively little text per page. Each page is illustrated in an accessible but zany style, and the reader is invited to complete the pictures, add to the speech-bubbles, and draw their own additional characters.
It’s fiction, Jim, but not as we know it… and there’s nothing else like it.
The first two books are being promoted by Waterstones and Sainsbury’s and we’ve sold the rights to translate the books to several countries already.
It’s early days, so we’ve had just a couple of reviews… but they’re really positive:
The Library Mice review said, “Seriously, check this out this series, whether your little readers at home are reluctant, struggling or more than willing! This is exactly the kind of books us parents need to be able to hand in to our offspring in school holidays or on long car journey!”
The Parents in Touch review said of Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars, “In this hilarious story, imagine Romans and dinosaurs harmoniously living together on Mars – and a gigantic asteroid about to crash into the planet. Readers, especially boys, will revel in the funny story while having fun completing the pictures. Ideas are given to help creativity, making this fun for everyone.”
And now there’s a lively reader-orientated website up and running, with videos and printables as well as information about the series.
Nikalas and Tim, the creators of the series, have events lined up at Chelmsford and at the Big Write festival at Discover, in Stratford, East London and then later at the Hay and Edinburgh Literary Festivals.
And we’re still really keen to find reviewers for the books – so far, we haven’t shown them to anyone who hasn’t really liked them – so if you’re a children’s book reviewer or blogger and would like a copy, we’d love to hear from you, so do contact us.
We worked with the wonderful team (David, Ed and Jade) at Fancy. Their brief was to pull together something that felt truly cinematic – the book itself feels very filmable! – instead of the nice-but-basic “slideshow of stills” approach that we see more usually.
Our key visual starting points were flowing water and flowing hair: the Thames river and the Fleet river play a key part in the book, and her long, blond hair is one of Alex’s defining features.
On a December afternoon, the team, who’d shot another forthcoming video for us in the morning (stay tuned!), filmed in London and then went back to Somerset, where they supplemented the footage, by, for example, dropping the bracelet that we had made to feature on the book covers into water.
It’s the first week of 2011 and we’ve just launched our first website for our debut publication, Small Blue Thing, which is S.C. Ransom’s first novel and the first book in the Small Blue Thing trilogy. Lots of firsts!
Kate had somehow managed to miss a piece of sad news until Marion Lloyd, of Marion Lloyd Books (with whom Kate worked for ages both at Macmillan and Scholastic, of which Marion Lloyd Books is an imprint), rang up today: Eva Ibbotson died on Wednesday aged 85.
Eva wrote books that are spooky, books that are funny, books that are historical and books that are moving. Kate ran Macmillan for 10 years and so had the privilege of being responsible for managing her backlist and publishing many of her books, including the one she is perhaps best known for: Journey to the River Sea.
Twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, shortlisted for the Roald Dahl funny prize and the Guardian children’s fiction prize, and winner of the Nestle prize, her wide-ranging imagination, wit and writing brilliance were acknowledged by librarians and critics, but she was very much a writer that children respond to: Kate, co-incidentally, listed The Secret of Platform 13 and Journey to the River Sea in her recent blog about best books for 10 year-old girls.
A mother of four and grandmother, Eva was born in Vienna (a city beautifully evoked in The Star of Kazan), and her childhood was split between pre-war Germany, Austria, Scotland and England. She came to call the North-East of England her home. She was droll, sharp (in a good way) and self-deprecating. Kate is very happy to have known her, and very sad that she has died.
Her final book, One Dog and His Boy, will be published by Marion Lloyd books in May 2011.
This is a big day for Imogen who is becoming our Queen of Production, for Imago, with whom we are working on all of our full-colour printing, for Kirsty, the editor on the books and, of course, for Nikalas and Tim, the brilliant creators of the series.
The books, which are an innovative fusion of fiction and doodle-books, are short and hilarious novels with quirky, funny illustrations, and space for the reader to add to the pictures. They publish in February 2011.
The trade response has been great: they’ll be promoted on the high street in the UK and have been taken by a number of book club and other “special” customers, and were a hit at Frankfurt.
Having written a post on best books for ten year-old girls, Kate felt that she couldn’t not write the companion post on best books for ten year-old boys, not least because it’s another rich seam of terrific writing. Of course, there are many overlaps between books ‘for’ boys and books ‘for’ girls (and the gender divide was really driven by the twitter enquiry that prompted the list of best books for girls), but there are differences too. However much of an old-style Doc-Marten-wearing feminist Kate was (is…), and however much she swore that she would not encourage her own children into gender stereotypes, she’s come to accept differences, whether innate or cultural. in boys’ and girls’ reading and playing preferences. It is better, she thinks, for children to read things that appeal to them, than to try to push them into “appreciating” things that they don’t really respond to.
Once again, the reading levels vary and these are not all literary books. Kate thinks children should be encouraged to read widely.
The Narnia stories by C S Lewis
The Just William books by Richmal Crompton
The Tintin books
The Asterix books
The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Eddie Dickens books by Philip Ardagh
The Larklight books by Philip Reeve
The Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton
The Rover books by Roddy Doyle (especially The Meanwhile Adventures)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The Jiggy McCue books by Michael Lawrence
Our forthcoming Mega Mash-up books
(And, since this blog post was first published, The Grunts seriesPhilip Ardagh and our Danny Danger books by Adam Frost.)
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian
The Wolves of Willougby Chase by Joan Aitken
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Legendeer Trilogy by Alan Gibbons
Gladiator by Simon Scarrow and Richard Jones is likely to appeal, and publishes in February 2011
The Eagle of the Ninth and other historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Cue for Treason and other historical fiction by Geoffrey Treese
The Machine Gunners and other historical fiction by Robert Westall
Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
“Ordinary boy”/school stories:
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman
Three Weeks with the Queen by Maurice Gleitzman
Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout
Goal by Michael Morpurgo
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
The Jamie Johnson football books by Dan Freedman
The Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz
The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer
The Cherub books by Robert Muchamore
The Young Bond books by Charlie Higson
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Charlie Bone books by Jenny Nimmo
Harry Potter books by J K Rowling
Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (a bit top-end of the age-group, this)
No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (a bit top-end of the age-group, this)
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Our forthcoming Danny Danger books
Varjak Paw by S F Said
Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo
Arthur, High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo
The My Story books (actually fictionalised, but still based on real historical events)
The Horrible Histories books
The Horrible Science books
The Horrible Geography books
Boy by Roald Dahl