Friday, 29 January 2010

Thoughts on Surviving This Digital Revolution

On the launch of the iPad, some thoughts on how tools are driving content and an interview with Melvin Burgess about his Twitter Tales

If you can't see this video, watch it on YouTube.Thanks Jeannette Towey for posting this on FB

"Over 10 years we have lived through a revolution." Ed King head of the British Library's newspaper archive
When Ed King said this, he was referring to the digitisation of his archives. But it's so true in everything that we do - from reading a book to booking a plane ticket. Our lives have been transformed by technology.

With the launch of the iPad, the blogosphere is buzzing with people who want to declare how much they love it or hate it.

The iPad is yet another step into a Tomorrow that we are only just beginning to imagine.

It fascinates me that a gadget like the iPad is predicted to transform the world of story and reading.

Through the ages, tools have dictated the development of content: the printing press led to books, the zoopraxiscope led to movies, the camera to photography, and so on.

From Wikipedia under Creative Commons License

But it's important to remember that the tool is nothing without the content it provides. And as authors, who are the creators of content, it is our role to shape the future that these tools are set to deliver.

Some are already experimenting with the new media available - the Japanese download text novels on their mobile phones, today I heard about augmented reality picture books, and authors like Kathleen Duey are experimenting with twitter novels and short stories (an aside: this is not new media, but has anyone listened to the BBC's Out Loud archive of poets performing their own work? Brilliant!) ...

Deep Love, the first ever cell phone novel

I've been following the Twitter short stories that author Melvin Burgess (my review of his book Nicholas Dane here) has been posting.

Melvin Burgess. Photo by John Coombes

They are odd, poetic and strangely affecting. Melvin says they are "not to everyone's taste" but there's something compelling about them.
I was just mucking around – trying out Twitter and wondering what tweets were. Of course, all a tweet is, is a not-too-long sentence – but I was thinking of them of having some particular quality to them. Then one day I came up with the sentence – You're pushing a pram down the road. An old lady looks inside and says fearfully, "Your babies are not human."

It reminded me of something I used to do years ago, while I was learning how to write – I’d sit down in the morning and just launch off with a sentence – anything, like they used to make us do in school – and just see how it went. So I thought I’d try the same thing here. That was the first twitter story, The Dancer. I’ve kept it up because the results are surprising and interesting – and because after writing novels for so many years, it’s a real reliefe to do something that can just take me wherever it wants to go. It’s fun.
I think the Twitter Tales are exciting (and surprising is a really good word for it)... but since I don't like to stay connected to Twitter all the time, I have to go back to his website to catch up. Says Melvin:
Twitter is bad place to post stories because they go up backwards and people find it difficult to keep up with them. I think a lot of people, like you, went to the website to catch up, so lately I’ve been trying posting links on my website. It makes them easier to read, but I don’t think it gets so many people’s attention.
Indeed it's very tempting to explore these new forms. When I first heard about Japanese text novels I was sorely tempted to try and write one. It's funny how the limitations of a form seems to promise endless possibility! It would be, as Melvin says, Good Fun (if, that is, you like to write).
Various people do story telling on twitter – many try to make a story out of a single tweet, which is another thing altogether. I’m not aware of anyone doing exactly the same thing though. And yes, it certainly is satisfying – I love it. I’d really recommend it to anyone who likes to write – it’s a really liberating way to work. So far, most of them have turned out kind of OK, but I’d be quite happy to ditch one if it turned out duff. No pressure – good fun. And the fact that you do it one sentence at a time makes it easy to write, somehow.
There is a poetic quality to the stories ... like a novel in Haiku form. Says Melvin:
I do like the final product, although I think they still need a bit more work. One day I’ll go through the best of them and polish them up, As for story I  like this as a form – well, maybe it’ll turn out to be something, I’m not sure. It is, as you say, poetic – a kind of free form narrative poetry, in a way. Whether or not it’ll catch on is another matter, but one, day, I’m sure I’ll use them for something. Maybe I’ll get them set up as Apps for iPhone or something like that …
Funny, that. I've been researching how to produce freebies for punters to download on my site ... all those picture books I've written that nobody seems to want to publish - I want to produce little e-books to give away to be read on mobile phones and Gameboys. But it's a bit beyond my technical ability (for now).

I asked Melvin what his Twitter short stories are telling us about technology and its impact on culture.
It isn’t just Twitter – everyone is running around trying to find out how they can use new media to tell stories. It’s an exciting area because no one knows how it will turn out. I did a TV and online project for BBC Switch a while ago called The Well, that had a big online element – a game in which new areas of drama were hidden. That was interesting too. The programme maker, Conker Media, is very much at the forefront of using new media for broadcast and online and I hope to do more with them. It’s something every writer should keep an eye on.
Still from The Well

Screenshot from The Well game

It's a brave new world out there for authors. What's next?
Who knows? I hav a couple of online projects I’m having meetings to develop next month. There’s possibility as well that we might try to film one or two of the twitter tales. Interesting times we live in!
Interesting times indeed.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Undiscovered Voices 2010: the beginning of an awfully wonderful adventure

Got this in the post on Saturday!

It's the 2010 Undiscovered Voices anthology ... omg. I remember when ...

Congrats once again to all the winners, and those who made it to the shortlist. You are at the beginning of a brilliant adventure. I should know!

ADELE by Anne M Leone (Anne ML Anderson)
ONE OF A KIND by Jude Ensaff (Najoud Ensaff)
FROM DARKNESS by Emily George
AT YELLOW LAKE by Jane McLoughlin
NOT JUST THE BLUES by Claire O'Brien

And here are the honorary mentions:

LOW LIGHT by Judith Bunting
VINDALOO VICTOR by Alastair Caygill
WIND-UP WORLD by Julienne Durber
SHADOW OF THE OAK by Sharon Jones
THE POCKET WATCH by Gareth Middleton
TREE by Mike Pringle
THE VESPERTINE HOUR by Paul Romeo (Paolo Romeo)

And of course, thank you to SCBWI and Working Partners for making our dreams come true.

Read more at the Undiscovered Voices website

Friday, 22 January 2010

Guest Blogger Keren David: rewinding the path to publication

Guest blogger Keren David is a writer and journalist. Her debut YA novel When I Was Joe is published in the UK by Frances Lincoln books. The sequel Almost True will follow in August. Both books will be published by dTV in Germany, Walker Books in Australia and Frances Lincoln in the US. She lived in Amsterdam for eight years and Glasgow for two but it is London that feels like home. Connect with Keren on Twitter @kerensd or on her blog Almost True

I get a little embarrassed when I tell my story of how I got published. It is far from the usual lengthy saga of years of hope and struggle.

In fact I went from starting to write the book to publication in around 21 months. A plot-planning exercise at my evening class in March 2008 turned into a first chapter by April. Three months later I had an 80,000 word first draft of a novel.

July 2007 Australia Cambodia Thailand 043
2007, in Cambodia
I had an agent in November, a publishing deal the following February and When I Was Joe, a thriller for teenage readers about a boy in witness protection was published on January 7 2010. Oh and in the meantime I’ve been working on a sequel Almost True, which is going to be published in August.

Sickening, I know. If you’re a struggling writer with numerous manuscripts stuffed into drawers then I bet you hate me right now. Jammy cow. How come she had it so easy?

Well, now I come to think about it, maybe I’m exaggerating the speed of the whole process. Maybe my path to publication actually started in September 2007, when my family stopped being expats after eight years in Amsterdam and arrived back in London.

Adjusting to a very different way of life was traumatic and exciting at the same time. Watching my children start at new schools and make new friends helped me imagine my way into the head of a boy who has to change everything about his life, including his name and the colour of his eyes.

Keren David :Keren David
Family life

Or perhaps the starting point was actually March 1999, when my husband got a job in Amsterdam. Moving there with no friends, no extended family, I struggled with depression and loneliness. These were pre-internet days. Without that alienating experience of feeling utterly isolated, could I have understood how lost and angry the boy’s mother might feel?

Or maybe the novel was born along with my son Daniel in February 1998. Daniel never got to go out into the world, as my fictional characters will. He was stillborn, at full term, a terrible, inexplicable tragedy.

Losing Daniel gave me a far greater understanding of suffering - a dreadful thing to live through, a bittersweet gift to a writer. Losing him made me determined that some day I would do something worthy of his memory, something that might make a difference to others. It took ten years to realise what that might be.

Keren David
Working at the Independent

Learning how to write a novel went back earlier though. Rewind to August 1981, when I screwed up my A levels and found myself unexpectedly lacking a place at university. Instead I landed a job as a messenger girl on a national newspaper, and even when I’d retaken the exams and got my college place, I couldn’t bear to leave. Decades of reporting, writing, and editing didn’t make a novelist, but they did give me essential skills to enable me to write - and write quickly. Write about what you know, they say, well, my training and experience is in news. I know about crime and justice and politics. And so that’s what I wrote about.

Let’s go back further - to the late 1960s. At infant school I met a girl called Hilary, who became my Best Friend. We’d invent whole schools of children, drawing them, naming them, making up stories about them. We played with Barbies and Sindys, acting out lurid adventures. We convinced ourselves that there was buried treasure in the school playground and planned to meet in the dead of night to dig it up.

Our friendship nurtured our imaginations - and we were lucky enough to be at a primary school which valued creativity. At 11 we wrote a play and performed it to the whole school – and I experienced the joy of making an audience laugh. Even when I was terminally bored at secondary school, even when I was busily building a career or buried in motherhood I never quite forgot the sheer fun to be had from losing yourself in a made-up world.

scan0002 (1)Or take it right back to the beginning. Somehow my scientist parents had a little girl who liked to watch and write and weave stories. Who knows where that comes from? Who knows when it started?

So, 21 months is just one measure of my path to publication. And it was fast, and it did feel urgent and during those months I had my share of luck and desperation, determination, rejection, dejection and complete elation. But the real story is longer and deeper, and I’ve hardly told you any of it at all.

I just hope that I can keep on writing, because now I’ve discovered that I can write books, it feels like it’s what I was always meant to do.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Writing Advice from 28 YA Authors

If you can't see the video, go directly to YouTube

This suggested by Liz Kessler (of kickass mermaid fame) from the Scattered Authors Society message board: a video from YA author Jackson Pearce in which 28 YA authors give you advice on writing, publishing, and everything in-between. And they do it TO SONG.

Authors, in order of appearance:
Kristina Springer (THE ESPRESSOLOGIST)
Aimee Friedman (SEA CHANGE)
Aprilynne Pike (WINGS, SPELLS)
Shani Petroff (BEDEVILED)
Neesha Meminger (SHINE COCONUT MOON)
Jaclyn Dolamore (MAGIC UNDER GLASS)
Brenna Yovanoff (THE REPLACEMENT)
Maggie Stiefvater (SHIVER)
Jennifer Jabaley (LIPSTICK APOLOGY)
Jessica Burkhart (CANTERWOOD CREST series)
R.J. Anderson (KNIFE, REBEL)
Tessa Gratton (BLOOD MAGIC)
Lauren Bjorkman (MY INVENTED LIFE)
Becca Fitzpatrick (HUSH HUSH)
Sarah Prineas (THE MAGIC THIEF series)
Saundra Mitchell (SHADOWED SUMMER)
Javier Ruescas (CUENTOS DE BERETH)

Original song performed by Baz Luhrman, written by Timothy John Cox and Nigel Andrew Swanston.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Online Marketing for Authors: it's about Joy and Luck

I just read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and what an amazing book it is. I am quite overcome. It's not just the magical writing - it's the story of my life!

Near the end one the characters talks about being born in the Year of the Tiger. I paid close attention because I was born in the Year of the Tiger. As was my mother. And my daughter.
...Then she told me why a tiger is gold and black. It has two ways. The gold side leaps with its fierce heart. The black side stands still with cunning, hiding its gold between trees, seeing and not being seen, waiting patiently for things to come.
It is five months till the publication of Tall Story and my gold side is leaping.

So little time, so much marketing to do. Not to mention another novel to write.

At the same time, my black side is cringing in the shadows. Is it too soon to begin trumpeting my book? Isn't it too crushingly embarrassing to tell people yes, it's really good? What if I set up a Facebook page and nobody becomes a fan? What if I come across as vain and annoying? Whatifwhatifwhatifwhatif?

Chatting about the business of networking with my nephew, who is an aspiring conductor,  - he told me something that really brought home what an enormous task I have ahead. I paraphrase:
Our instinct is to be self deprecating. We don't want to shout about how good we are because we don't want people to dislike us. But there comes a point when this becomes a real problem. We actually have to get better at telling people that we are good at what we do.
Get over yourself, I tell myself sternly. Just get on with it.

So in the mornings, I write a few hundred words towards my new novel. And in the afternoons I work on a list of Things to Do to promote my book.

I'm sure I've missed a zillion other things that authors can do to promote their wares on the net. Any of you readers have other items, hints, tips to add to my list? Please feel free to add to the comments.

Lucky for me, I have managed to appear on some lists without having to beg too hard or at all - the Happy Nappy Bookseller (probably the best blog name in the world!) put me on a list of authors of colour

Becky at beautifully designed blog The Bookette put me on her debut authors list

My good buddy photographer/columnist Mandy Navasero (who once taught me how to eat a pineapple with one hand while driving with the other) added me to her new year's defining moments column

Neni Sta Romana Cruz, a fantastic children's writer from the Philippines, wrote a Sunday magazine piece complete with uncombed pictures of me and my kids (haven't seen it yet but my Mom bought hundreds of copies)

Fiona Dunbar, author of the utterly brilliant, smart and hilarious Silk Sisters and Lulu Baker trilogies, who not only introduced me to my agent but in the new year gave me an utterly luscious plug in her blog.

Gillian Philip, whose book Crossing the Line, had me raging and weeping and upset for days (it's a really good read .. but be strong) picked Tall Story for her list of books she's looking forward to in 2010

MC Rogerson of the Life Beyond blog put me on her reading list for 2010

Even my old high school, St Theresa's College put me on their website (oh my, the memories!)

The Noisy Dog Blog (Sue Eves is the author of the whimsical Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog, now out in paperback) picked my short story as a bedtime read

And WikiPilipinas added me to their list of Ten Pinay Pride of 2009.

Wow. I am quite overcome by the kindness of friends and strangers.

Thank you so much.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Beware of Illustrators and Other Tips for Authors

My friend Jeremy is nine and is DEFINITELY going to be an author when he grows up ... or when he gets published, whichever comes first.

His idea of a cool website is and I managed to score some points with him by showing him how to access the thesaurus on Microsoft Word. Write Your Own Fantasy Stories (by SCBWI's own Tish Farrell) is his current bible, although he is quick to tell me that there are other genres available in the series.

He agreed to make this video with me in exchange for my revealing the ending of my unpublished adventure book Ugly City. I think I got the better half of the deal, don't you?

If you can't see the video because you're viewing this on a reader or on Facebook, go straight to YouTube

I was awarded the One Lovely Blog Award by Lucy Coats over at Scribble Central and by Mary Hoffman at Book Maven. For which, thank you so much!

Now I must pass on the lovely happy feelings to other blogs - I don't think I'm allowed to repeat those on Lucy and Mary's lists but no worries, there are so many great blogs out there and here are some of them!

1. The Book Thunker by 10 Year Old Boy Living in London

2. The Noisy Dog Blog by Sue Eves

3. Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish

4. Asia in the Heart by Tarie Sabido

5. Tall Tales and Short Stories by Tracy Ann Baines

6. Bewildered by Margaret Carey

7. Almost True by Keren David

8. The Bookette by Becky

9. Shoo Rayner's Blog

10. Sue Hyams' Blog

Oh! I forgot to mention I just discovered this cool blog The First Novels Club - what a great idea for a blog! I wish I got it first!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Notes from the Slushpile's Year That Was

If 2009 were a story arc, it would be one with a happy but tension-filled cliff hanger.

This is the year I officially moved off the Slushpile into The Beyond. Or have I? Will getting published fulfil my dreams or create new miseries? Will life as I know it change for the better? Or for the worse? Will readers like my book or hate it?

My first post in January 2009 was filled with hope and happiness, I surveyed what kids in my neighbourhood read in 2008. Here's the video I made:

I celebrated my friend Sue Eves' new book The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog with an interview. I hear it's doing very well indeed!

In February, as the screws of the credit crunch tightened, I advised authors building an online presence not to go wide but go deep.

Let me quote myself:
If you are a children's author writing about aliens, you don't want someone searching for "book" to find you. You want someone searching for "children's book about aliens". It's the quality of the traffic that counts, not the number. You don't want to be found by just anyone. You want people who are actually likely to reach into their wallets
...If you are trying to use social networking sites to raise your profile ... it's better to have one social network that really works for you than half a dozen that don't. It's the quality of the network, not the quantity (ie. You don't want to friend 3,000 people who will never buy your book) ...

March was the month I read the wonderful Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd, who died in the summer of 2007. It made me so sad to think there would be no more Siobhan Dowd books to come.

April was busy, busy, busy!

There was the launch of the second Undiscovered Voices competition - the very same competition that gave me a leg up, helping persuade my agent to take me on.

Then I discovered that Kathleen Duey, author of the amazing Skin Hunger, was writing a novel on Twitter!

Then I posted a whole bunch of stuff from the London Book Fair including this piece on what UK editors were looking for. If you're my friend on Facebook, you might have also noticed me updating my status with LBF facts Twitter-fashion (that was fun because each update launched hilarious conversations amongst my FB pals).

Then I participated in a monsters and zombies Comics Jam (my lovely friend Sarah "The Mankiest" McIntyre was one of the cartoonists there) at the Crystal Palace Children's Book Festival organized by author illustrator Alex Milway (of Mousehunter fame). On the right is my drawing of the kids I took to the festival (as zombies ... they didn't really have leaky brains).

Whew. April. Come she will.

May blew in - it was sunny, remember? I helped my friend Fiona Dunbar (Pink Chameleon) edit her video, found out what a textonym was (the textonym for book is cool, isn't that cool?), drove cross country from Sarwat Chadda's magnificent book launch to the SCBWI retreat.

The coolest thing about the launch of Devil's Kiss, the dark un-putdownable novel by Sarwat Chadda (pictured with spear), was this:

One of the younger guests at the launch was so engrossed in the book he ignored all the proceedings. What a compliment!

Then I discovered the text to movie website Xtranormal via uber-blogging author Nicola Morgan (Deathwatch), whose DIY video had me rolling around under my desk.

For most of June  I was busy with my day job and barely managed to post. Sorry about that.

I was still terribly busy designing websites in July and was shocked to receive some mail from the Vogon Postal Service ... as well as proofs of my very first little book, Animal Tricksters for Oxford University (Daughter is pictured holding it at right).

In August, I blogged about attending Arvon's Writing for Teenagers Course with Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess. Melvin kindly sent me off with this message of hope:

My friend Mark Hudson's book Titian: the Last Days came out and I helpfully made this video with his daughter -  titled 'My Dad Wrote a Book' and scored to the tune of  Bing Crosby's version of Yessir That's My Baby, the video was mentioned by the Guardian when it picked Mark's book as one of the best travel books for 2009:

In September, I attended a workshop on writing Fantasy led by Working Partners editor Sara O'Connor, who basically told us to slash and slash again. "KILL those darlings," she cried! "KILL KILL KILL!" Sara is pictured right, kindly advising attendees during the manuscript review session.

There was also a radio programme about how street performers built and kept their audiences and I was struck by the painful similarities to authors.

September ended happily with the launch of The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by fellow Undiscovered Voices author Harriet Goodwin. After the launch, we took pictures of each other posing with random books. That's Sarwat with Twilight, Margaret with When Cats Turn Bad, and me with Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country.

With October, came Blog Action Day - the day bloggers get together and try to effect change. This year's topic was Climate Change which would have been a perfect time to plug the fact that I had a story in the new climate change anthology Under the Weather edited by Tony Bradman ...but there were more serious things going on. The terrible issue of Climate Change was horrifically brought home by a deluge of biblical proportions in my native Philippines. Thousands were left homeless and several hundred people died.

And then November came and with it, life-changing news.

Tall Story, my novel about a boy with gigantism, sold to David Fickling Books, of Random House. It felt like I was moving from one scary fairground ride to another.

From trying to get published:

To trying to succeed as a published author:

With all the possibilities ... good and bad.

The bad news that the Publishing industry endured in December ...

... gave us all a lot to think about.

All the good reasons why we do what we do as writers. And all the reasons why we should keep going.

For me personally, now that I'm on the cusp of becoming a published author, I've got to change mindsets -  I've been blogging for an audience of writers, how do I reach the readers? Suddenly I've got to practice what I've been preaching on this blog! It's exhilirating and scary at the same time.

A graphic from the Facebook page I made for Tall Story:

One can only do one's best.

So farewell, 2009 - what a year that was!


Here we go.

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