Saturday 2 August 2008

When Reality Suffers in Translation, Try Fantasy

Sweating profusely in the tube the other day, I reached for a copy of the Metro freesheet to use as a fan. An interview with poet Bernardine Evaristo caught my eye. Her debut prose novel Blonde Roots has only just come out. Bernardine uses reversal similar to that employed by my hero Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses. Says Bernardine:
I wanted people to look at the slave trade differently and the reversal was the vehicle for me to do that ... I wondered whether if I turned the slave/master roles around, people would have a different response to the issues ... Read the interview here
The white heroine is a farm girl taken away to be a slave in 'Aphrika'. The cover is very striking and it would be interesting to see how Evaristo builds her world. The Noughts and Crosses franchise is on its fourth book - Double Cross is out in November.

My fascination is partly out of self-interest - last year I started a novel based around some reporting I'd done on children left behind by the migration phenomenon in the Philippines.

The writing was bogged down by the weight and complexity of the reality I was trying to paint and I found myself turning to fantasy. The result was Ugly City, a 9+ novel about a city where parents have to leave and children stay behind.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever write a fantasy, I would have said of course not (I haven't even read Lord of the Rings, shock, horror!). But fantasy lends itself to turning unpalatable truths into roaring drama and with the layers pared away, I gained a lot of insight into the immigration situation I was trying to reflect on.

My friend Elizabeth emailed me this Rant-Not-To-Be-Missed by Mark Hurst over at the Good Experience blog. Here are the first two bullet points about "how most - not all - publishers work":

They're not doing it for the love of books. Publishers want something that sells. Similarly, bookstores want something that sells. Publishers and bookstores want a book that sells early, sells often, and sells for a long, long time. If they don't think your book will sell, they won't pay much attention.

• Conversely, if your book will sell, it doesn't matter what you're writing about. You could write something boring, or irrelevant, or nothing at all - just a blank set of pages with a coffee stain on them will work fine, if the book sells. Do you get the picture? It's not about any high-minded ideals of literature, or craft, or changing the world - publishers and bookstores want something that sells. Drop any illusions about spending time with book lovers; this is business.

Read Secrets of Book Publishing I Wish I'd Known

For the record, I am told that it is not really that bad ... but not far off.

Being a rabid member of SCBWI, I'd just like to take this opportunity to point out to members that SCBWI's annual summer conference is now ongoing in Los Angeles. If you want to follow events, Alice Pope, editor of the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, is blogging extensively about it. Thanks, Alice!


I met Mark Robson, uber prolific author of YA fantasy series like Imperial Spy and Dragon Orb, when I appeared before the Scattered Authors Society to tell them the Internet doesn't bite.

Mark was one of the authors who didn't really need my advice, since he already had an excellent website, blogged regularly and spent a lot of time meeting readers at bookstore events. He emailed me today to let me know he'd invested in a game on his website and do I know any youngsters who would like to check it out.

Youngsters (and Oldsters if you so feel the need)! Go slay some dragons! Here's the link to Mark's game page, see how you do.


  1. That's why I love fantasy, because you can take really hard, emotionally laden issues and treat them in a way that doesn't get bogged down. I've worked on two mss now where I've picked tough issues, without the fantasy genre I think they'd have ended up hard, dry and far too intense. Fantasy allows you to soften reality, but without losing the essence of the issue.

    As for publishing - well, let's face it, it is about profit ultimately - no profit, no business for publisher to be in. It's a simple bottom line reality - for all of us - and it applies as much to writers as it does to publishers. No sale of book, no bread on the table for anyone - neither writer nor publisher.

  2. I agree, it's one of the reasons why I like fantasy - parallels can be drawn with reality. The novel I'm rewriting at the moment is an historical fantasy yet I'm also using certain aspects as an analogy for some events of modern times. I think it's a good way of bringing important issues to the attention of readers with a subtle approach, even if it does include demons, alternate worlds, dragons etc.

    Re publishing. I've never been under any illusion about a book needing to sell. I've worked in the film industry for many years and ultimately its the money men with the power. The film needs to make money, artistic integrity isn't very often of any importance - hence the churning out of sequels and prequels and jumping on bandwagons.

  3. Someone in the industry who shall remain nameless told me the other day that editors are keen on historical rather than fantasy at the moment. having said that, things seem to swing from one thing or the other. fantasy was so hot last year. and now it's so last year. but trends seem to go in round and round ... hopefully it will come round to whatever one has written eventually!

  4. If that's true about the historical, I'd better pull my finger out and jump on that bandwagon before it hurries by.

  5. Candy;
    I love your write everything about everything!


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