Tuesday 28 April 2009

I wanna be an illustrator

That's right. I've always wanted to be an illustrator. But there are always too many practical things in the way. For now I content myself with watching wonderful videos like this. 

The first artist featured is Moebius a.k.a. Jean Giraud, a favourite from my teenhood.

Psst. I want one of those drawing gadgets too!

Monday 27 April 2009

Looking for Inspiration in Transformation, the Ultimate Procrastination

It's been a hard morning. Trying to get into the groove. I might give up in a moment.

But then I get my usual update from marketing guru Seth Godin's blog. This one is about how to use new media to grab attention and he cites the Dove commercial as an example. Here it is:
Which led me to this "tribute" video:
And then to this Michael Jackson transformation video:
By which time I had to go on and do other things. Ah well. Let's see how much I can write tomorrow.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Undercover at Crystal Palace Children's Book Festival

I took four accomplished cartoonists from my neighbourhood to the Crystal Palace Children's Book Festival organised by Alex 'Mousehunter' Milway - ostensibly to accompany them to the comics workshops.

But when I got there I couldn't resist joining the workshop.

First we attended the Zombie and Monster Art workshop hosted by Tom Percival - he who designed the Skulduggery Pleasant books.

Tom showed us how to draw exposed brains, missing limbs, uneven eyeballs, shadows.

I did this zombie picture starring my daughter Mia and her friend, Hugo.

Then we went to see the exhibition at Smash Bang Wallop, a funky gift shop in its normal incarnation.

It was only a short walk to the Bookseller Crow where I spent a lot of money and walked off with a book by my friend Sue Eves by mistake (Sue kindly returned it for me). I took a photo of Sue with her famous dog puppet Woofy but unfortunately it vanished from my camera, no doubt deleted by a zombie.

After lunch at the deli next door to the Crow, we headed back to the Upper Norwood Joint Library ("Wot a posh library!" one of the kids said) to attend the comics workshop run by the DFC comics guys.

There was a workshop on designing characters ... here's a 'Ninja Pie' designed by my pal Hugo:

We learned how to measure how many heads tall a character was:

- followed by a Comics Jam - which is kind of like taking turns drawing a comic strip with hilarious results! Here are some examples:

I think if you click on the image, you can see it in bigger mode.

... if the above one looks suspiciously as if it was drawn entirely by cartoonists it probably was. There were a lot of professional artists in the room - even apart from the DFC (Mine was the first frame).

Some were hilariously strange.I had to do this frame (number 3) for a strip that started off with an animal in a cage and an odd looking character in a long nightgown. In the second frame a mysterious little elephant joins them?!!! It was hard to think what to draw.

We had a great time (and nobody threw me out of the workshop for being old).

Alex Milway, interviewed by the Bookseller, said:
It’s very easy for us writers to sit back and expect the world to come to us. I wanted to see what might happen if we got did something like this for ourselves. Why wait to be asked to take part in a festival or event, when you can set one up for yourself?
A fantastic idea. Well done guys!

Thursday 23 April 2009

London Book Fair: What UK Editors want (apparently)

More of this?

So ... since a wannabe like me can't rub shoulders with the great and good of children's publishing (more like sneak a look at their notebooks) - here's a list compiled by one US agent of what UK children's book editors at the LBF told her they wanted:
--More boy adventure books (although one publisher specifically said their list is full in this arena so not as high on their list)

--YA historical

--would love a prize-winning new teen voice along the lines of HOW I LIVE NOW

--Funny with beautiful writing (so a blend of literary with a really fun story line)

--a modern Anne of Green Gables

--middle grade fantasy that is a girl-driven narrative

--humorous girl stuff that is more than just boys and relationships but is warm, and character driven. Not necessarily issue driven

--high concept middle grade with a really original voice so it can stand out.

--anything that can crossover solidly to the adult market (ie. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF A DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME)


--a contemporary author with a literary, classic voice. (hum.. that seems to tie in with the modern Anne of Green Gables example above) Read the whole post
Meanwhile over at Publishers Weekly, an article titled 12 Steps to Better Publishing - included the following advice:
Stop the copycat books: They are the equivalent of pack journalism, and most of the time, we wind up looking like a bunch of rats chasing a chunk of stale cheese.
Edit: I struck those last lines out because I thought I was being unfair to jump to conclusions. Any thoughts?

Tuesday 21 April 2009

London Book Fair: The digital dilemma - obsessed or overwhelmed ?

Is it just geeky me or was the London Book Fair rather preoccupied with the challenge - threat? - of the digital life?

"Waiting for the iPod moment" was the headline of a Media Guardian interview of Harper Collins chief exec Victoria Barnsley to mark the opening of the London Book Fair.

The word "digital" "e books" "e publishing" "e reading" figured oftentimes repeatedly on the titles of the seminar list.

In the free London Book Fair Daily supplied by the Bookseller, an article by Chris Meade argued that though printed books "may have already had their day", it was not yet the end of reading "as long as publishers fully embrace the multimedia possibilities of the digital age".

A keynote seminar with the title "Digital Publishing: Where is the money?" resulted in a heated discussion that ranged from ebooks to piracy. The answer? Nobody knows. Read reports from Publishers Weekly and Book Brunch

A panel on the subject of "Online Publicity: Making the Most of the Digital Media" scheduled for one of the smaller seminar rooms ended up totally oversubscribed. And even as audience members were hunkering down in the aisles and spilling out the doorways, Bloomsbury was announcing that shortlisted Orange Prize title Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie will be made available for iPhone users as a free download for 24 hours from 12 noon, 22 April.

At a discussion comparing book trends in the US and the UK, Kelly Gallagher, VP of publishing services at Bowker, summed up the radical changes confronting publishers today:
Mass change is going on in the industry today, no one can deny that ... change is happening at an exponential rate ... and many times we are playing catch up and often it is from the rear view mirror that we discover the book market has moved on.

We have a lot of motivation for change – no denying economic marketplace – if ever there was a reason to engage in changing your strategy for publishing, today is the day.

London Book Fair: Posters of Our Time

London, 21 April 2009. Someone at the London Weather Control Centre must have screwed up. It was summer today!

Ben S pointed out this display of educational posters at a stand in the children's books area as we were walking around the London Book Fair today. Tuberculosis, rape, AIDS - school posters of our time.

London Book Fair: The Espresso Book Machine

Anyone for an Espresso? The Espresso Book Machine was drawing crowds at the London Book Fair. Who isn't tempted to have one's manuscript churned out in five minutes? Blackwell's unveiled one at its flagship Charing Cross store last week.

The books fly out of a slot on the side of the machine:

Here's a video U took with my mobile phone of the Espresso Book Machine at work:

London Book Fair: "There is only text, there is no subtext." Patrick Ness

London (20 April 2008). I was keen to catch Patrick Ness' early morning talk at the London Book Fair yesterday. Patrick is the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking), the first of the Chaos Walking trilogy.

Chaos Walking would have been the perfect title for the opening of the London Book Fair, all those editors and publishers running over each other's toes with their trolley bags. This year, the line-up had a lot to interest an author with a blog to fill, so I got to Earls Court bright and early enough to lose my way looking for the Level One seminar rooms which were labled Level Two and Three.

Which is why my notes are sketchy (I also forgot my pen so I took notes with my mobile phone) and I didn't get close enough to take a photo of the rather cute and personable Ness, who declared on the outset that he wasn't touching anyone anyway - not even a handshake - because he was training for a marathon and didn't want to catch any publishing diseases before the big day.

Ness was in conversation with his editor from Walker, Denise Johnstone-Burt, about the author-editor process of creating the Knife of Never Letting Go. It didn't do any harm that the second of the series, The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking) will be out very soon, 10 copies of which was available for sale at the Walker Books stall!

For the past month, Ness has been blogger in residence over at Booktrust - I love his latest tranch of tips for the writer in which he tells the story of spending three years on a novel, chunks of which were told from the point of view of a rhinoceros:
I spent three very hard years working on my first novel, The Crash of Hennington, in which key portions are told from the point of view of a rhinoceros (it makes perfect sense in context). Only to see the wonderful Barbara Gowdy publish The White Bone, a novel told from the point of view of an elephant.

I could have cried. Read You're a Singer, You're Not a Song

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a work of breathtaking ambition on many levels - the voice is of an illiterate boy on the brink of manhood, written in odd spellings that required the services of a talented copyeditor to maintain consistency. But the boy also reported the stories of other characers in straight and sometimes complex language. And then there was Manchee the dog - the conceit of the book is that men and animals could always hear each other's thoughts - whose thoughts can be heard throughout the book. "Poo, Tod? Poo!" It was a winner of an idea (clearly animal voice is a recurring thing in his writing!).

The plot is moved along by a chase and the writing - which Ness says he designed as "a thumping good read" - is so compulsive and pacey that editor Johnstone-Burt urged Ness to insert bits where the reader could pause and gather their thoughts before plunging back into the action again.

Ness describes himself as a finicky writer who refuses to show his work to anyone until it's absolutely primed and shined to his satisfaction. Indeed, Johnstone-Burt says, "When I first read the manuscript, it definitely wasn't a first draught."

Once his editor and agent have seen the script, he allows in other eyes for a test drive. "A book has to be challenged," he said. "It has to withstand the challenge of a reader." But he has been known to "wrangle" with editor and agent over points of disagreement - famously described during one big 'discussion' as "like talking to a fucking brick wall".

But he does listen when it matters, he says. He cites a well known author whose quality dipped as time and fame moved on. "What frightens me most is that I would become so arrogant that I stop listening."

He is often asked if his intention with The Knife of Never Letting Go was to put forward a message about the themes of manhood and fundamentalism.

"I just wanted to write a thumping good read," he says. "I always say there is only text. There is no subtext."

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Novel writing on Twitter!

A few people have expressed shock that I haven't gone on Twitter yet. I don't think I'm ready. I don't understand how it works.That said, I've been hugely tempted especially after the #queryfail, #agentfail, #writerfail debacle.

Then along comes Kathleen Duey (Skin Hunger)

Kathleen is tweeting a novel!

Okay, to those who don't get Twitter it's micro-blogging (tweets are your postings) - as in, blogging but only at 140 characters at a time. Some blogging friends of mine are totally sold. It's concise, you say what you want to say, then you move on. No hours spent planning, sourcing images, researching links.

But a novel?

I think it's a stunning new think on storytelling. Says Kathleen:
It is HUGE, terrifying, fun writing!
Check out Kathleen's Twitter novel in progress. You can read it chronologically on her Myspace page.If you decide to follow Kathleen on Twitter, you will only get the novel. Here's why Kathleen does it:
After years of being a craft sponge who wrote good (I hope) books for specific market slots, I am writing art-driven books. Skin Hunger was the first of these. Sacred Scars will be out August 2009. I am lately chasing artistic experiments. This one is public, terrifying, and seems to be working so far. I am not plotting the story. I am channeling a single character. Russet talks, I type. My central task is to stay out of his way. He has spent a lifetime not talking, brevity comes naturally to him so the twitter format works well. The plot that is emerging astounds me.
You can't comment like you do on a normal blog. Unless of course you are on Twitter. If you want to comment or ask a question, Kathleen set up this comments page on MySpace.
The rules:
Russet talks, I listen and type.
Once written, no revision.
When he stops talking, I post the Tweets. Then I add them to the MySpace archive.
Then I do other work.

I don't know what I expected but it's an amazing experience so far. Russet is absolutely real for me. So is the man with one wing.
So my writerly friends. How about it?

Thursday 2 April 2009

Peter J Murray's inspiring story

Someone mentioned Peter J Murray's website on one of the message boards I follow and I casually followed the links to this video which tells how Murray went from being self published to a three book deal. The most impressive thing in this video is Murray performing during at schools. The man is an inspiration!

If you can't see the video, view it here

Wednesday 1 April 2009

An 'Overnight Success' after 20 years

The excellent Undiscovered Voices website was launched yesterday and I urge all you hopefuls to read David Almond's essay about his struggle to be discovered:
All writers, unless they’re very fortunate, know how difficult it is to get noticed, to become ‘discovered’. I became an ‘overnight success’ (I clapped when I read the review that said it) after almost twenty years: stories in obscure little magazines; a couple of story collections published by a tiny northeastern press; a novel rejected by every single UK publisher; a couple of dozen readers who loved my work; a part of me that said it all would work out well; and another part that simply didn’t give a damn. I wrote because I loved to write, and I’d keep on writing no matter how much recognition I received. Read it all
Last night, winners of last year's ground-breaking Undiscovered Voices competition rubbed shoulders with hopefuls for the next one, which will be published in 2010. The deadline for entries is June 1 2009. Winners will be announced in the fall of 2009.

The previous competition has been a big learning curve, say organisers Sara O Connor and Sara Grant, as a result of which the rules have changed. The biggest change is that agented authors cannot enter while non-fiction authors can. Read the submission rules here.

Apart from Lindsay Heaven, commissioning editor of Puffin, 2010's panel of judges are brand spanking new. The judges are:
JULIA CHURCHILL, The Greenhouse Literary Agency
SARAH MANSON, Literary Agent
JO UNWIN, Conville and Walsh
EMMA YOUNG, Macmillan Children’s Books
ZOE DUNCAN, Scholastic Children’s Books
Undiscovered Voices judging panel
Left to right,Sarah Manson, Zoe Duncan, Jo Unwin, Emma Young, and Julia Churchill

Several people have asked me if my writing life has been happily ever after since I made it into the first anthology.

The answer is: winning the anthology was like getting fast-tracked to the next level. You bypass the slushpile. Which is fabulous. Yes, it has changed my life and yes, the future is bright.

The thing is, you get up to the next level and you realise that you have entered another battle. And you wonder when you will ever win the war?

I am writing my fourth novel now and I still don't know which one will be my first published novel. At last night's event, people were still congratulating me for that  glorious moment two years (!) ago now. A moment that now seems all too fleeting. 

I take heart from David Almond's words:
And through it all, through all the doubts and humiliations, we have to open up a little space inside ourselves in which a little fragment of ourselves can sit still and whisper, ‘It’s OK.’

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