Monday, 20 December 2010

Guest Blogger Maureen Lynas: If You’re Incompetent And You Know It Clap Your Hands.

Part Two of a series
Read Part One - Writerly Incompetence Can Be Cured

Noooo! by Fabbio
David Attenborough would probably describe the cry of the Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author as a wail, commonly preceded by a thump on the doormat or a ping in the inbox. It goes something like this –


Two types of behaviour have been noted following this cry. It isn't known why some Authors exhibit the first and some the second. It could be nature. It could be nurture.

The first is a slump, possibly involving a wall to slide down and a floor to land on.
Thanks to Zygman for the image

The second is more violent involving throwing, thumping, stamping and usually punctuated with expletives.

At an early stage in their development, Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors begin to flock together, forming

Collectives of Conscious Incompetence.

These authors know what it is that they don't know.

Or they think they do (they may only have scratched the surface of what they don't know. They may not have read How Not to write a Novel yet.)

At this point the cries of the Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author changes. The cries become longer, they contain words but often spoken so quickly as to be almost unintelligible.

I have to learn WHAT? HOWMUCH? REALLY?!?

But won't the editor check the spelling/grammar/punctuation? Isn't that their job? What do they do for their money?

Is the protagonist the goody or the baddy or is that the antagonist and what's an archetype?

What's a metaphor/simile/analogy and how do I know if I've mixed them?

What's wrong with stereotypes because isn't everyone a bit of a stereotype really, you know, like, whatever?

But why can't I use adverbs sneakily.

What do you mean, pace? What do you mean, structure? What do you mean, plot?

Sew speling is importent? Reely?
Eventually, as the Authors tire they often sob, 'Why won't someone just tell me how to do it and I'll do it!'

This is the moment in their development when Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author's can often be observed clustering together on courses. A flock of wannabes, a swarm of hopefuls - A pride before the fall.

Or they frequent the local bookshop or library (we don't have time for the destruction of habitat discussion here, unfortunately.) searching for the short cut to publication -

The How To Book!
The Writers Journey, Seven basic Plots, On Writing etc etc etc.

OR they scour the internet for

The How To Video!

See - Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Now, instead of writing, the hungry Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors devour the hints, the tips, the gems that drop from the pens of that rare breed - the masters – the Greater-spotted Authors.

They learn how these superior beings plot, structure, create huggable protagonists and antagonists worth boooooing. They are in awe of their ability to create laughter and tears, to tell a gripping tale, to leave the ideas of their books in the minds of readers, long after the book has been closed.

'Ah!' they cry, 'Almond does it this way! Then I shall do it this way, for this is the way!'


'But no! Rowling does it this way,' they cry. 'I must follow the path of Rowling. For indeed this must be the way.'

'But lo! What is this I see? Donaldson does it this way and it is neither the Almond Way nor the Rowling Way. It is – ANOTHER WAY!'

And the cry now becomes, 'Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!'

But as the sound dies away a whisper can heard, a scary whisper, a challenge of a whisper. It goes like this- 'Maybe, just maybe, in order for each Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author to transform into a Greater-spotted Author they have to find – THEIR OWN WAY!

Some Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors never recover from hearing this whisper. The challenge is too great. They've invested years in being a Lesser-spotted Red-faced Author, but they turn away from all of the paths and take up knitting fingerless gloves for nanowrimo victims. They vow never to pick up a keyboard again. The work goes in the drawer, the cupboard, the attic where it lurks.

The few who remain often experience shock, indecision, nightmares. They worry over their writing, they pull it to bits, pay for critiques, join crit groups, analyse, analyse, analyse. They despair of ever finding THEIR OWN WAY. They hate having to find THEIR OWN WAY. They peck and peck and peck at their work until they have lost sight of why they were writing in the first place.

And then, they get a bit of feedback. From a Plumed Publisher or a Masked Agent.

On the twelfth day of Christmas an agent said to me-

My, you have potential
Twelve tales of telling!
Eleven kids a-cursing!
Ten metaphors mixing
Nine drafts is nothing
Eight edits later
Seven plots a-pacing
Six super similies
Five stereotypes!
Tut tut.
Four pigs - too many
Three's just right
Two's not enough
and your hero should solve his own problems.

Encouraged by this show of interest our desperate Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors check their abilities against How Not to Write Novel and discover that, joy of joys, they have actually learnt something about writing, because they can go, I don't do that, don't do that, don't do that, definitely don't do that, oops, maybe I do that, don’t do that. Yay!

This is a time of celebration for the persistent Lesser-spotted Red-faced Authors. The cry goes up, 'I'm not as incompetent as I thought I was!!!!! Hurrah!'

They have realised they have created Stephen King's writer's toolbox. And having a full toolbox is excellent. It should be celebrated, polished, exhibited.

But a chisel is just a chisel. A hammer is just a hammer. A Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw is just a Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw. As every worker probably gets sick of being reminded, it's what you do with your Black and Decker Cordless Compact Chainsaw that matters.

Coming soon – I’m so flippin' competent, I'm not even thinking about it!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Maureen Lynas is an ex-teacher and literacy consultant who believes that with a bit more work and a load more willpower, resolve, fortitude, doggedness, tenacity, persistence, diligence, grit and determination, she will eventually win a publishing deal for Boggarty Bog’s Tasty Teeth. Or Kissy Wissy. Or Hatty’s Splendiferous Hats. Or one of the many other stories in her ‘finished’ folder. Maureen is currently feeding her writing obsession by associating with members of SCBWI British Isles and has taken on the role of North East Regional Advisor. You can see Maureen’s reading scheme at the Action Words website

Read part 3 - Happy New Competence 

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Fine Art of Procrastination

By Teri Terry
DELAY, put off doing something, postpone action, defer action, be dilatory, use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, drag’s one feet/heels, take one’s time, play for time, play a waiting game…
(Mac desktop Thesaurus)
I once bought a book called ‘The Procrastinator’s Guide to Success’, but I never got around to reading it. This sounds a good opening line, but it is actually true! After many dusty years, ignored on my book shelf, it was sold in a garage sale (UK translation: like a car boot, but it takes place, surprisingly enough, in your garage).
So you might think that this writing game might be tricky for me. There are no deadlines, other than self-imposed; no demanding boss, other than my conscience; no co-workers watching if I spend the day on social networking sites instead of MS Word, though Facebook friends sometimes help with a welcome kick.
And it is true that some days I will go to lengths to keep away from the blank page.
Like polishing my collection of ducks:

Or cleaning lime scale off all the pots and pans (with a heated solution of vinegar – it works a treat, just don’t breathe in):

Once, I even gave Banrock a bath:

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Everyone who writes has days when they stare at a blank page for hours, and the list of reasons why can be individual, and longer than a novel.
In the past I was very hard on myself when I didn’t get on with it. I’d lecture myself about how lucky I was to be able to work part time so I could write, and write I was going to… whether I wanted to, or not.
But somewhere along the way: I had a light-bulb moment! Procrastination isn’t always what it appears to be….
Much of the time when I can’t convince myself to get on with it, there is a reason. Something is wrong with what I am writing, and if I ignore this and push on regardless, it is a bad idea.
It is usually due to one of these:
  • I haven't been listening to one of my characters, and they're getting stroppy
  • I've started off on some tangent that has nothing to do with my story
  • there is something seriously wrong with my plot, and surgery is required
Or even:
  • I've gone off on a tangent, and it is better! And I need to stop, reassess, and rewrite the rest to match
And taking time to polish the ducks, scrub the pots, or even put an unfortunate bunny through the delicate cycle while I think about it, is time well spent. Otherwise it may not be just a few pages or chapters that are heading for my ‘cut’ file, but much, much more. And who needs that kind of pain?
Taking time to think is not procrastination.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Scott Westerfeld on what Steampunk is and why it would be cool to have illustrated novels

Illustration from Leviathan
by Keith Thompson - view
more art from the books
or buy artwork
By Candy Gourlay

I'm kinda late to this Ustream discussion with YA/sci fi author Scott Westerfield answering questions live but I found the discussion so fascinating I thought I should share it on the blog.

I've been following Scott Westerfeld since I read his Uglies  trilogy (which has four books) and the Midnighters (my all time favourite Scott Westerfeld trilogy). Recently he came up with Leviathan, a new trilogy in the burgeoning Steampunk genre. Here's a video of Scott explaining why he thought it would be cool to get Leviathan illustrated ... and what Steampunk is all about.

If you're reading this blog post on Facebook and can't see the video. View it here

It's an hour long - but the first bit is all about why he wanted Leviathan to be illustrated - with a fascinating mini history of how illustrated novels used to be the default. Personally, I would have wanted even MORE illustrations in Leviathan ... but then I'm greedy like that. Anyway - the video is worth watching if you're writing fantasy and need something inspirational about world-building.

Take away quote from Scott Westerfeld:
People are always saying they want something new. What they really mean is they want something that looks familiar but with a twist that they hadn't thought of before.
Sorry the quote might not be precise because I couldn't get the video to replay it!

Speaking of Steampunk and illustration: I would love, love, LOVE it if Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve were re-issued as illustrated books (not graphic novels - proper illustrations please!) ... and as a hardback set (I borrow Mortal Engines from the library ... but I'd like to own it in hardback). Are you listening, Mortal Engines publishers?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

These books deserve your undivided attention

By Candy Gourlay

I visited my dentist the other day and had one of those inadvertent fillings.

Lovely Chris the Dentist, as dentists are wont, plied me for the latest information about my book sales as he dug around, searching for my tonsils.

He was rather shocked to hear that since I visited him last (to have an inlay reseated), I had failed to inform the little bookshop next door to his clinic that I am an author and that they should stock my books.

Jon Mayhew doing a drive by signing
Photo from Bookabook
You see, I've been a bit shy around bookshops, unlike Mortlock author Jonathan Mayhew who is known the world over for his drive-by signings (indy bookshops watch out - he's the guy always followed by a couple of scary oversized crows).

I just didn't feel I could walk in and say I was an author and be welcomed with open arms. Besides, anyone could see that the bookshop didn't have Tall Story on its shelves.

But Chris wouldn't hear of it. He said I  had to go. He said I could use Tall Story's nominations and shortlistings as an excuse to introduce myself. And because I make it a policy never to argue with men holding dental drills, I went.

And the bookshop lady didn't bite me or spit on me. She said she would order one hardback to have in the shop, and more when the paperback comes out in January. And I politely bought a packet of Christmas cards and promised to return with a poster.

There's nothing wong with visiting your local book store.
There. Done. It didn't hurt really. And I might even get up the courage to visit the other bookshops in my North London neighbourhood.


Which brings me to the purpose of this post. The other thing I do when I'm slinking around a bookshop wondering whether I should reveal I am an author, is check to see if the books of my favourite authors and my author friends are in stock.

Most of the time, they aren't.

One of the first things I learned when i became a published author was that writing the darn book isn't going to be the hardest thing you've ever done. It's getting the darn book noticed.

So this post is about all the books I want you readers to notice. You may have noticed them already, but it never hurts to look again.

These are really GOOD books. And it's CHRISTMAS. A time of good cheer and charity towards AUTHORS (I'm sure I read it in Dickens somewhere).

And if you are really feeling the good cheer, why not pass the list of books on to your friends, neighbours and countrymen? You won't regret it.

My pal Jan Markley (she's an author in CANADA!) says we authors can 
help each other by the simple act of talking to someone else about each other's books - just like Heather Locklear says in this commercial. So today, I'm talking 

So why not start with Jan Markley, since she brought up the idea.

Jan writes mysteries for 8 to 12s - she calls them "Nancy Drew for the ipod generation" - super cool! Her book Dead Bird Through a Cat Door, the second of her Megabyte series (the first was called Dead Frog on the Porch) has just become available on the Amazons (as in .com, .ca, and - although there's a lying glitch on .ca which says it's not available - it is!) 

These books are cool and funny like Jan herself - and are based on Jan's terrible penchant for dragging dead animals around wherever she goes (that might be a lie, but you'll have to check it out to find out).

And what about the famous Jon Mayhew of drive-by signingdom? Jon's gothic horror Mortlock is gorgeously produced by Bloomsbury with BLACK endpapers. I went to his amazing book launch in March. But I'm not recommending it just because I went to the book launch. 

Mortlock has been shortlisted to book prizes galore - the Warwickshire Book Prize, the Worcestershie Prize, the Chester, and the Nobel Peace Prize. So if you know any young horror fans - this is a really good one. 

And Jon plays the mandolin. (thought I'd throw that in).

Speaking of horror, my other favourite scary author is Sarwat Chadda, though when I hear about his US publishers (they happen to be Disney Hyperion) flying him to the States to visit Harry Potter world, my envy runneth over. 

The sequel to his dark thriller Devil's Kiss came out this year - it's called Dark Goddess. Sarwat's high concept is injecting Islamic mythology into the Knights Templar theme of his book - coupled with his brilliant writing, it's a rich seam. 

Sarah McIntyre must be one of my coolest and most prolific friends. Looking her up in Amazon is totally exhausting because this year she has produced not one not two not three but four beautiful books! And yet she has time to do kind things for her friends - if you check out the Facebook page of Tall Story - that profile pic is a Sarah McIntyre. I used to stalk her blog way back when and despite that, we've become friends! Woo hoo! (Morris has just won the coveted Sheffield Book Prize - coveted not just by me btw)

I am told on good authority that my friend Ellen Renner lives in a castle. So it's probably not surprising that her adventure books for 8-12s are set in castles. Ellen's had rave reviews - Castle of Shadows was picked for the Independent's 50 Best Summer Reads ... City of Thieves came out this summer and both books have been chosen for the Times Recommended Children's Books for Christmas. If that's not endorsement enough, what else is?


One of the absolutely outstanding debuts last year was Keren David with her book When I Was Joe. It's been nominated for everything that's going and for any prize to do with teen readers, so you can't go wrong with this book.

But if you're planning to give it to a teen reader this Christmas you might as well save time by getting both When I Was Joe and its sequel Almost True - because these are unputdownables and your teenager won't be able to wait while you try to figure out how to fire up the browser to order the next book.

Okay. Maybe this blog post is getting a bit long. I've got to go do Mum things like watch my daughter's play. I will just have to apologize to other author friends who I didn't manage to mention - but you folks can see this is already a mighty long post.

I have one more book though. And it's not something for you to buy anyone else.

It's a book I keep hearing about on the internet, on Facebook, on Twitter. I've got to have it - and not just because it's Mary Hoffman's choice for YA Book of the year (read her glowing Guardian review).

It's by Gillian Phillip and it's called Firebrand.

If you know my husband or children, please tell them to get it for me.


Finally .... Shhhh!

I've just visited Kathleen Duey's facebook profile and her status is: 
"I am writing writing writing and it is going really WELL"
Which is FANTASTIC for me and my kids because we can't wait to read the final installment of the Resurrection and Magic trilogy. I am in awe of Kathleen Duey's writing. If you are writing fantasy, these books are a requirement.

If you live in the UK, you'll have to order them though, you won't get them in the shops, nor will you be able to borrow them from me.

And this just in: Tall Story has been shortlisted (it's a very short shortlist) for the Blue Peter Favourite Story Prize. This is turning out to be a brilliant year. Sigh.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Open Book and Mariella Frostrup Interview YA authors

by Teri Terry
Is a bit of your brain still a teenager? If so, YA may be just the thing…
I’d like to think that one day, Mariella Frostrup might interview me on my latest best seller.
There is one flaw with this, though: she is just way too scary. That could turn from dream to nightmare in seconds.
She’d probably have me quivering in the corner with insightful questions, spot every flaw in my writing from beginning to end, and make me realize that I’m just playing at this writing malarkey and should go home and knit.
And she would do it nicely, too.

Mariella Frostrup: Book Goddess

On 21 November, Mariella presented a special edition of Open Book on BBC radio 4, exploring the recent boom in fiction for young adults. She spoke to authors Marcus Sedgwick, Malorie Blackman and Gemma Malley.
How could I resist, with the divine Mr M involved?

The Divine Mr M (Marcus Sedgwick)
And she didn’t shy away from the big questions. Is the YA boom a construction of the publishing industry, or does it fill a needed gap? In years past, children went straight from reading children’s to adult books: did stretching in our formative years do previous generations any harm?

Mariella began by putting them in the spotlight: what did they read as teens?
Mariella started them off: she went to Georgette Heyer and DH Lawrence. Marlorie Blackman impressed with Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca. Oh, and Jacqueline Susann. Marcus Sedgewick admitted he read good, and bad: lots of science fiction and fantasy – just like me! – though no names admitted to, except that Merlin Peak was a big thing that grabbed him at age 14 or 15. Gemma Malley read Judy Blume, Virginia Andrews and… Dostoevsky. Really?!

Is one of the hallmarks of teen fiction that the central protagonist is almost always a teenager themselves?
Marcus noted this isn’t essential, though Malorie said it is easier for readers to empathize and identify with protagonists of similar age. She writes for the teenager inside herself: books she would have loved to read at that age. Gemma, on the other hand, didn’t set out to write a YA book; her protagonist was a teenager as this was needed for her story.

An extract from Boys Don’t Cry, Marlorie’s latest, was read. This novel tackles issues of teenage pregnancy, homosexuality and attempted suicide. How is responsibility to young readers balanced with responsibility as a story teller?
Malorie noted endings in her books may not be happy, but they are hopeful; and teens don’t always believe there is a happy ending. In writing this particular book she set out to give teenage dads a say.
Malorie Blackman

Is it a hallmark of YA that endings aren’t neat and happily ever after, but are often bleak or enigmatic?
Gemma noted that teens are in transition from the black and white world of the child, to an adult shades-of-grey world; they are starting to realize their parents aren’t necessarily always right, and that they have to think things through for themselves.
Marcus says he tries to do two things: to not be boring, and – like Gemma – to suggest that life is not black and white.

Mariella noted that girls read more than boys: does Malorie’s Noughts and Crosses appeal to black boys?
Malorie hopes so. She said when she was growing up, books did not feature black characters, and that fiction engenders empathy, and gives an emotional vocabulary.

And now for the big issue: YA is the space between children’s and adult books. Was it created by a marketing push? Does YA really exist?
Marcus mentioned Catcher in the Rye, and that SF and Fantasy were there for YA readers: YA has always existed, but it is now a recognized genre that is published into by publishers. Gemma agreed there have always been books that tap into teens.

BUT are we holding kids back by the idea of teen books instead of going straight to adult books?
Malorie noted that some teens get disaffected by reading adult books, and Marcus that the idea that teens should always be stretched to the limit of their reading ability is false. We don’t do that as adults: we might want to read a trashy novel on holiday. He said ‘why not just feel free to read what you want to read at any time.’ Brilliant advice.

Mariella notes that Marcus’s White Crow doesn’t shy away from posing difficult questions about life after death: would have been different if written for adults?
Marcus said probably not, though noted publishing decisions affect editing, and there is a responsibility to have some notion of hope and optimism. But more to have an engaging story.

Can you tackle more when writing for children than adults?
Gemma said yes: teens can accept all sorts of things, and don’t have the same parameters. Marcus said it is exciting writing for children as you can write about anything; with adults, you are constrained by genre, trends, and what is and isn’t acceptable.

Mariella discussed Gemma’s dystopian world in The Declaration, in which she critiques the very premise of children.
Gemma was interested in developments in science: do we want to live forever? If so, we can’t have children. Using a future setting gives more freedom in the plot as can expand reality, and, no research is necessary.

Mariella quoted Nicholas Tuckers’ Rough Guide to Books for Teenagers, where he criticizes upping the tragedy in books for teens.
Malorie noted her books have both humour and angst. Marcus said Tucker missed the point. There are two types of books: good, and bad. And those about issues with a capital ‘I’ can do it badly, or well; you shouldn’t sweep away the whole genre or approach.

Why write YA?
Marcus said honest children’s writers all admit, there is a bit of their brain that is still a teenager.

Finally: what are the themes of the future in YA? Are there different genres within?
Marcus says publishers hate the label SF; Malorie notes that if you want to write innovative fiction, YA is the place to be; and Gemma that YA doesn’t seem to be subdivided too much – there is a huge amount of freedom.

My Conclusions?
Since I am mentally 14, still trying to work out shades of grey, don’t like doing research and am writing an innovative dystopia set in the future without calling it SF… I guess I’m in the right place.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Guest Blogger Maureen Lynas: Writerly Incompetence Can Be Cured

Part One of a Series
Read Part Two - If You're Incompetent and You Know It Clap Your Hands
Maureen Lynas is an ex-teacher and literacy consultant who believes that with a bit more work and a load more willpower, resolve, fortitude, doggedness, tenacity, persistence, diligence, grit and determination, she will eventually win a publishing deal for Boggarty Bog’s Tasty Teeth. Or Kissy Wissy. Or Hatty’s Splendiferous Hats. Or one of the many other stories in her ‘finished’ folder.

Maureen is currently feeding her writing obsession by associating with members of SCBWI British Isles and has taken on the role of North East Regional Advisor. You can see Maureen’s reading scheme at the Action Words website 

Incompetent – moi? No!

Tick if you have ever done any of the following:

 Slumped in an emotional heap crying, ‘Do I really have to know the difference between an idiom and an idiolect – what sort of an idiot would think that was reasonable?’


 Thrown the laptop with frustration - or wanted to, but thrown a cushion instead. Laptops don’t bounce.


 Chosen to show your nearest and dearest exactly why they shouldn’t have said, ‘Yes, but what’s his motivation?’ Instead of merely telling him.

Do not despair if you have ticked any boxes.

You are merely suffering from incompetence. It can be cured.

The first step is to identify exactly how incompetent you are and from then on you must be treated with care.

There are four stages of incompetence, no matter what the subject or activity. But as we are all authors I thought I’d focus on writing, if anyone wants to contact me on how to be a brain surgeon then – you need to have your head examined.

Cartoon copyright Mike Luckovich from Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Stage One is Unconscious Incompetence.

Ah, bliss. A wonderful stage to be in. We do not know what it is that we do not know.

You could say we are delusional at this stage because we actually say things like – I have an idea! For a book! Wow, I’m going to write a book! I’ll be rich. I’ve read lots of books therefore I can write a book. I used to write a lot a school and it was good. I’ll be rich. I can use a pen. I have paper. I’ll be rich. I can use Word. I’ll type it. I’ll be rich. And it shall be a great book, and it shall wow the world with its uniqueness. AND I’LL BE RICH! After all, how hard can it be? It’s not brain surgery, is it?

Poor us. We have no idea. No idea of what is involved in the process of writing a book, how to approach a publisher, or what a writer’s life consists of. Ignorance is bliss! But not for long.

At his stage we also do things that demonstrate our ignorance.

We write the book. It may take as long as a couple of months (Phew! That was hard!), or if we write quickly (picture books are short) a night.

We stick a pin in a list of publishers and cry – He’ll do!

We kiss the book, printed off in Gigi (such a pretty font), single-spaced with COPYRIGHT 2010 on every page, and send it off to the publisher recommended by a friend who’s had a book published called History of the Railways 1898-1899 Vol 1.

And we wait.

And we wait.

And we wait.

Then we cry. Literally. Then we cry a different cry of – ‘Why!!!! Why have they rejected me! Why do they not love my book?’

I shudder when I recall myself at this stage. I want to curl up and die when I remember the first submission letter I sent out. Forty pages long. No, that’s an exaggeration for comic effect; it’s just grown that big in my head over the years. But it was about six pages. I even seem to remember, and how I wish this was not true, I even seem to remember calculating (with an actual calculator) how many picture books I’d read over the years as a reception teacher, and quoting this number as evidence that I knew my subject and was an author worth publishing. They were so kind, they did reply. It was a no. But it was a very supportive no. However, I was too busy crying the, ‘Why!!!!’ cry that I didn’t recognise it as supportive for many years.

Maureen cuddling up to the
lovely David Almond,
author of Skellig
This stage is the beginning of the writer’s journey. The idea has been planted. We begin to write a book not realising that we have started on an exploration of what it is to be a writer of many books, not an author of one book.

The next stage is a little bit more complex and will require another article.

Coming to you soon.

Help, I’m Consciously Incompetent!

Read Part Two of this series - If You're Incompetent and You Know It Clap Your Hands

Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas

Friday, 3 December 2010

Fight for Our Libraries

Tweet to Save Libraries on this Hashtag #CFTB

My school library rescued me. It gave me companionship at a lonely time in my life. And it transformed my future.

Reading the dismissive comments left by readers on Catherine Bennett's piece about library closures in the Guardian made me sick to my stomach.

There is another discussion to be had about how libraries should change because times certainly are a-changing. But close them down? "They might as well start book burning," writes Bryony Pearce, author of Incarnation.

If you care about libraries, join The Campaign for the Book founded and led by author Alan Gibbons.

If you blog, blog about libraries. Make a fuss. Name names. Here are a few:

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP - Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport
John Penrose MP - Minister for Tourism and Heritage
Hugh Robertson MP - Minister for Sport and the Olympics
Ed Vaizey MP - Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries (joint Minister with Department of Business, Innovation and Skills)

Highlight these names, mention them in your blog posts. These people have the power to change things and they should know it. Their Google Alerts on their names will be crammed with our anger.

Already, the blogosphere is buzzing:

Lucy Coats decries culture minister Ed Vaizey's fair weather support for libraries. "Where is his passion for libraries now?" she asks on her blog Scribble City Central. (I have enlarged Mr. Vaizey's name so that he knows we are laying a lot of this at his feet)

Thanks to Tracy Baines who reposted my piece on the Tall Tales and Short Stories blog.

And Philip Ardagh, author of the Grubtown Tales, who started out being funny and ended with an impassioned plea.:
LIBRARIES MATTER. HELPING TO STOP LIBRARY CLOSURES MATTERS. As for Mr Spock with a goatee beard? That has something to do with ANTIMATTER, but there's no room for that here. We all have to act NOW before it's too late, so what are you waiting for? He also posted this on Facebook and got amazing comments
Here's Nick Cross from Who Ate My Brain, who despite admitting that he doesn't get to his library much, says:
I don't know what the answer is to saving our libraries. But I do know that they are a vital public service and we need to make a hell of a lot of noise about their potential demise. Read the whole essay
And Jon Mayhew, author of Mortlock:
... if it weren't for this humble building, its contents and staff, I wouldn't be a writer now. Next year 250 libraries are set to close.

Don't let them close your library down. Read Jon's piece
And Nicky Schmidt, who lives in South Africa, contributed this on the Absolute Vanilla blog:
...  It strikes me as the most short-sighted move imaginable. It strikes me doubly, living in a place where libraries are in short supply and books are not a priority for children because they're too expensive. The UK has something we do not. It has a cultural love of books and it has produced some of the most remarkable storytellers and fiction writers in the world. It has something which has shaped the both the British and Commonwealth cultural landscape and continues to do so. The UK has, through its library system, something so precious to give its young people, something we do not have. It has a culture of reading, where we do not. UK libraries serve the entire populace, we have considerably fewer libraries and ours serve only a minority. So when I read that the UK is planning on cutting its libraries, I want to smack my forehead, bang several heads together and ask if the UK government has taken leave of its senses. Read Nicky's post (I so get where Nicky is coming from - In my native Philippines where libraries are an unaffordable luxury, people would be shocked at how casually the UK government can throw away something the rest of the world can only dream of) 
And Philippa Francis on the KM Lockwood Blog, wrote an open letter to people like Ed Vaizey who can actually influence policy - warning them that NOT doing anything about library closures shows that  ...
  • you don’t care about children who have no books at home, in fact, you don’t care about anyone who has no other access to books
  • you think the excitement and specialness of entering a physical world of ideas isn’t important for lots of children or adults
  • you want children to see reading as only something you do to fill in worksheets at school Read Philippa's letter
Keren David, YA author, blogged this brilliant piece (which is almost a poem) about Who Uses Libraries

And Kathryn Evans wrote about Why You Should Care About Libraries

And Nina Killham was enraged when someone told her libraries were old fashioned.

Keep blogging, keep shouting. 

Sometimes it's the only way to make people listen.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bye Bye Libraries. Bye Bye Civilization.

That's the gist of Catherine Bennett's piece for the Guardian, listing all the closures expected in the coming government cost-cutting exercise.

THINK! Kill a library and live with the consequences.

Anyone who loves reading (or writing) will want to bang their heads on the wall if they read the comments below the piece, such as this one from someone calling themselves Taxpayer555:

Close all public libraries ASAP . University and schools already have library. With the internet and ebook readers, ipads, cheap second hand books online and in charity shops, their is no need for libraries. Libraries are nothing more than glorified internet cafes and DVD rental shops. You have to move with the times, Whether librarians like it or not. Shut them all down and use the money for something more useful.

Somewhere down below all the trolls was a comment from Michael Rosen, our Children's Laureate for 2007 to 2009. And I thought it would be a public service to highlight it here.

Readers, if you care and if you blog, or have an online profile, please repost this!

I hope Margaret Hodge, Ed Vaizey, Ed Balls, and Vernon Cloaker have google alerts on their names so that they can read this and blush (I enlarge your names in case you're as short-sighted as your policies). Shame on you.

Here is Michael Rosen's comment:

Michael Rosen
Books have become optional extras in schools. They've been sidelined by ITC and worksheets. There is now a generation of young teachers who have been through teacher training with no more than a few minutes of training in children's literature and little or no work on why it's important for all children to read widely and often and for pleasure.

So, what we have is the notion that there isn't time to read whole books, there isn't time to help all children browse and read and keep reading - but there is time to do worksheets on different aspects of 'literacy'. And yet, the people running education know full well that children who read widely and often and for pleasure find it much easier to grasp the curriculum as a whole. There is an international study showing this.

What does this have to do with libraries? If the government (or the last one) had felt willing, all they needed to do was formalise the link between schools and libraries. They could have required every school and every library to lay down some fixed, timetabled sharing of time and resources, which would involve turning the present voluntary arrangements into certain ones. In one fell swoop it would guarantee library-use and massively enhance the children's progress.

I put all this in a document in Margaret Hodge's library review where it was immediately ignored. I sent it to Ed Vaizey (because he asked me to), and he too has promptly ignored it.

Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker both refused to ask schools to develop their own policies on the provision and reading of books. Neither Ofsted nor schools' 'Self Assessment forms' require schools to make the provision and reading of whole books something that they monitor.

In short, education and library ministers aren't really very interested in the idea of everyone reading whole books, and they're certainly not very interested in the idea of every child reading whole books. I even gave them a 20-point blueprint or outline on how to turn every school into what I called a 'book-loving school' (based largely on the TV programme I did 'Just Read'. And that' blueprint is now available on various websites. The ministers I met weren't interested in sending it out, either as it is, or in any adapted form.

It's clear that they think 'reading' is about 'doing literacy' ie learning how to 'decode' print. What they don't seem to understand is that literature is one of the main ways in which we can engage with difficult and important ideas in an accessible way. It offers children a ladder between their own personal experience, the apparently 'personal' experience of the protagonists in any given text, and the ideas that are thrown up during the adventures, scenes and feelings that the protagonists go through. So, the reader encounters the protagonists' feelings of, say, pity, anger, fear, guilt, envy and the like but in a school context (or indeed many social contexts) those feelings become talk about those feelings as what is 'pity'? what is 'guilt'? ie through reading, the young reader starts to generalise the particular or put another way, discover abstract thought.

Children who read widely, often and for pleasure are the ones who can make the transition between particular experience to abstract thought that all education asks of children between the ages of 8 and 13. The more you read, the easier that transition is. The kids who fall behind don't fall behind because they haven't done enough worksheets. It's because the education curricula haven't helped them discover a wide range of texts through being regular readers.

Michael Rosen's message:
It's about READING, stupid (not 'doing literacy).

Thanks to Teri for the heads up

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