Saturday 30 June 2012

What is Young Adult fiction for?

by Jo Wyton

YA fiction is something often debated - the whats, the whys and the well-surely-that's-a-bit-too-dark-for-teenagers. There was a nice post by Celia Rees on the subject last week, and after reading Code Name Verity, the new novel by Elizabeth Wein, I started thinking about it a lot myself.

So, for those interested, here's what I think on the subject of YA fiction - what is it for, and why is it so important?

Monday 25 June 2012

Yesterday the Slushpile, today the film, the theme park and the studio tour!

by Addy Farmer 

Indulge me on this Monday morning whilst I take you on a lightning scar whizz round the Harry Potter Leavesden studio tour!

  Just to think it all started with words. Words become a world and the world was Harry Potter.

Together with assorted fellow muggle parents and a good few over-excited children we queued and jumped about as we waited for the magic to begin.
See what can happen when you write a children's story!

Open the door already!
Strangely, The Great Hall looks smaller in real life. The candles were real in the beginning but they reverted to CGI when the wax kept falling on the actors
The gates looked real even close up!

Harry's bed is on the right. By the end of the films the boys' legs hung over the ends of the beds!
The Mirror of Erised - what's that I see? A best selling series of books and films...
The potions cellar grew bigger for the Half Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn taught in there
ah - magical
This door is a fully working mechanical wonder and not CGI as I thought
The Firebolt is very heavy and takes an amount of actorly skill to make it look effortless!
There we are, grinning like lunatics inside the 1959 Ford Anglia. It was Rupert Grint's favourite prop apparently. 

Here be dragons...

...and spiders...

...and mandrake plants
A Butterbeer break in Privet Drive.
The fabulous Diagon Alley
From word to small scale model to...
...large scale model to...
...the real thing? Well, why not? Write it and it could happen!
Your turn!

Friday 15 June 2012

Congratulations to Patrick Ness and Jim Kay

By Candy Gourlay

A Monster Calls
My favourite image from this amazing novel.

A Monster Calls combines an extraordinary idea, a powerful story, and truly terrific illustration to create a winner. When I saw it listed for both the Carnegie AND the Greenaway, it obviously deserved both prizes and I wondered how CILIP where going to deal with it. Well they have - it's a double win for the book, and a second Carnegie in a row for Patrick. Patrick greeted the news with genuine disbelief.

Jealous? Well maybe I immediately had thoughts of putting illustration into my own forthcoming novel. But no other book so deserves both prizes. Congratulations, you two. I love A Monster Calls and weirdly feel like it was ME the reader who won! Additional bittersweet celebrations that yet again the wonderful Siobhan Dowd's voice sends echoes to us from the beyond.  And congratulations to Walker's Denise Johnson Burt, the editor who wouldn't let a good story go to waste.

To celebrate, here is some footage of Patrick Ness's recent appearance at the London Book Fair - I've been holding onto it for a future discussion of Young Adult writing. But there's no time like the present! You can also read this brilliant Guardian article on how they made the book.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Taxing Matters: things I wish I knew before publication

by Teri Terry
"But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Benjamin Franklin, 1789.
In my closet. Quick - shut the door!
Yesterday I went to one of the Society of AuthorsTax Talks for Authors’ run by Barry Kernon and Andrew Subramaniam, senior accountants in HW Fisher & Company's Authors and Journalists Team. Yes, that’s right: they have an actual team for authors! So they know what they are about. And for me it was definitely about time to stop avoiding the subject. To take a peek in the closet of financial fear, and face what scares me. 

Afterwards I felt a little like Linda Blair in the Exorcist: so much spinning around in my brain that my head might possibly fly off. Luckily there was a good sprinkle of Scoobies in attendance to de-stress with over lunch: fellow Slushie Candy Gourlay, who was reminded often enough to remember to go this year; Sarah McIntyre, who picked a very rainy, miserable day to go to the wrong venue across London and arrive soggy and late; Paula Harrison, Sue Eves and myself, as well as new writing pal Rachel Ward

Stuff I learned? 
Proviso: I am not any sort of tax genius. I may have got something wrong. Don’t rely on any of this, except possibly points no. 4 and 9. Seek advice. 
OK, here goes: 

1. This bit I already knew: once you are earning from your writing, you must register as self employed, and start paying NI contributions (class 2), currently £2.65/week – unless you earn less than a threshold (currently £5595). You can find out more about this here. It may be wise to pay class 2 even if you are under the threshold – to keep your record of NI contributions for getting state pension, and so you can get things like maternity allowance. You also have to pay NI class 4 contributions as a percentage of your taxable profits when you pay your income tax - more here. So whatever your tax bracket is, add this on top. Ouch.

2. It is a good idea to keep records of writing expenses before getting published. Oops. Once you are treating your writing as a business – evidenced by things like agent submissions etc – you can carry these forwards as losses for four whole years. Though possibly you should have been registered as self employed over these years to do so – you can do this after the fact, though may get knuckles rapped by NI for not paying or claiming an exemption from NI contributions. 

3. Failing no. 2, it is a very good idea to start keeping records once earning writing income. Oops. I’m hopeful my shoebox of receipts will magically organize themselves. And apparently Revenue rather like handwritten diary notes over computer ones: eg. entry on June 11: "train fare to London for Tax talk for Authors."

4. Local knowledge is important, particularly when it is raining very, very hard: Candy knows the secret ways, and should be followed.

5. You can’t claim costs of building a Writing Shack in your garden! SO unfair, that one.

If I don't look, it'll go away. Right?
6. It would be wise to consider voluntarily registering for VAT once you start earning, even though you don’t earn enough to have to do it. Oops. The numbers baffled me a bit on this one, but you can actually make a profit out of being registered. Plus if you have an agent you have to kiss goodbye the VAT on their commission if you’re not registered for VAT. In fact I’m pretty much convinced I should have done it, and still should: I’m just blocked by my fear of filling out even more forms.

7. Ignoring halls and bathrooms, if you have one room in your house set up as your writing space, you can claim household expenses like gas, electricity, council tax etc in proportion to the number of rooms in your house – eg. in a house with 5 rooms, you can claim 20% of these bills. Cool. But make sure there is a non-writing incidental use in the space – a birdcage, a tumble dryer, a record collection, you name it – or if you sell the house you may lose your capital gains exemption.

8. I’ll never get a full state pension, because I can’t fit in enough years of work (30) with NI contributions in the UK before hitting retirement age. Yet I still have to pay them. Bummer.

9. It is good to go out for lunch with Scoobie pals to recover after more than two hours of concentrating on tax; but it is bad to go for an all you can eat yummy Indian buffet when you already have a dodgy tummy. Really bad.

10. And, overall...? 
"The hardest thing to understand in this world is income taxes." Albert Einstein.
If he needed an accountant, then maybe, so do I.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Seven Steps for Plotting and Pacing

by Maureen Lynas

WARNING! If you follow these steps you may never enjoy a book or film ever again. You may even experience marital and family discord. Now read on.

Candy's post on the First Page Panel in Singapore reminded of an activity I attempted (and failed) years ago. I'd just bought my very first 'how to' book - James Scott Bell's fabulous and essential Plot and Structure. The activity was:

Read four of your absolutely favourite novels and analyse them, pull them apart, because these books probably reflect the way you want to write and will give you a structure to follow.

I'm paraphrasing because I keep buying this book, lending this book and not getting this book back!

Great, fantastic advice, except – analyse them for what? For me this was a catch 22 situation. I couldn't analyse them until I understood story and I couldn't understand story until I'd analysed the books. So began a long journey to find out what makes a book tick. The other problem was – which four books? Because the books I loved to read for myself were not the books I wanted to write. I read adult books, but I wanted to write children's books, so analysing The Lord of the Rings, The Time Traveller's Wife or The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency was unlikely to help unless I was about to write about a young Orc detective called Sarumantha who can time hop. Gosh, there's an idea everywhere!

So, one thing I had to discover was – which children's books should I analyse. Which children's books did I want to read? And why? This took quite a bit of time but I eventually landed on - 
'I want to write the children's books I would have loved to read to my children (when they were children) and to the kids in my class (when I still had a class).' And 'It's my job to make kids laugh.'
Having these two statements to keep me focused was a huge help. So now I had some idea on what to analyse and once I started I couldn't stop. I became obsessed with getting to the nitty gritty of an author's skills and would jump with excitement when I'd 'cracked' another one. I would bore anyone who would listen, describing the techniques they'd used to make me laugh, cry, think, in minute detail – as if all of my friends, family and acquaintances were actually interested. Thank you for your patience! 

Eventually I had to accept that not everyone was as nuts as I was about writing and so I grabbed the chance to run the North East SCBWI in York, just so that I had the opportunity to share my obsession through chat, workshops and critiquing together. One day I found myself running a workshop on analysing Horrid Henry. I'm now sharing the notes from that workshop with you; they can be used to analyse any book or film, or used as a planning tool.

Analysing Horrid Henry


Identify the goal

  • Henry's attempt to achieve his goal provides the major event of each book.
  • The goal may be achieved during the event and the result will be positive for Henry.
  • The goal may be achieved during he event but the result may be negative for Henry.

Identify Act one, two, three.
  • Look for the inciting incident – the action that triggers the story. Because Horrid Henry is for young children this may be as simple as Mum saying, 'Bath-time!'
  • The doorway in to act two – Henry engages with the story as a reaction to the inciting incident. In adult crime stories it can be as simple as being given a case to solve and the detective starts solving. In other stories there is more of an emotional involvement to the trigger. Do a bit of research – What is it in HH? Is it the same type of incident and doorway in each book? Is HH propelled into the story by outside forces or does he jump in?
  • Look for the doorway out of act two and into act three. Does HH always solve his own problems in order to get into act three?
  • Cut/mark the book into the three acts.
Now for the real fun 

The Seven Steps of Plotting

These are the seven steps to pacing and plotting that I use in my own writing because they do away with the annoying muddle in the middle. Five steps were found in an article in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing by Meg Leader and Jack Heffron (thanks Geoff) and I've broken down the last one to include some steps from Revision and Editing by James Scott Bell.

The Seven Steps are 

Name. Preview. Contrast. The Event. Reflect. Reveal. React.

It's best to analyse in the following order.

Using coloured pens, identify the following (Just put one straight line from the top to the bottom of each section)
  • Highlight the main event of the book (achievement of the goal) in red.
  • Highlight the contrast scene (immediately before the event) in yellow.
    • What makes a contrast scene? A contrast scene is the argument before the kiss, the campfire before the battle, the success before the failure, or the failure before the success depending on the tone and genre of the work.
  • Highlight Henry's reflection (immediately after the event) in dark green.
  • Highlight what has been revealed (immediately after the reflection) in mid green.
  • Highlight Henry's reaction/action (immediately after the revelation) in light green.
  • Now go to earlier in the story and highlight any previewing of the event in blue.
    • Is the main event (achievement of the goal) shown in another way earlier in the story? Does a similar event happen to another person earlier in the story? Does a similar event go wrong for the protagonist earlier in the story. e.g in the book about the visit to the dentist, Moody Margaret goes into the treatment room just before Henry.
  • Highlight any naming that takes place before the previewing. in orange.
    • Naming is very short, e.g. 'Horrid Henry sat in the dentists waiting room' is naming this event will be about HH having a battle with the dentist.
    • Other naming – Mentioning a catapult on the mantelpiece as part of early description means that you can use the catapult later. Or, you can use opposites to name things e.g. 'This won't hurt,' is naming 'This will hurt.' Or in a romantic comedy – 'I'll never kiss him' is naming – 'I will end up kissing him.'

 Of course you will have more than one event in a longer book so the steps can be intertwined. 

You should also analyse for

Cause and effect.
  • What triggers movement between the steps. How does the story move on logically.
  • What is expected? What would be obvious? What actually happens?
Each scene's emotional dynamic for each character.
  • Up – down (happy to sad, excited to boring)
  • Down – up (confusion to clarity, failure to success)
And there you have it. For now. Have you noticed - None of the above deals with the words, the language. I'll delve deeper into Horrid Henry horrendous world in my next blog on:
  • Conflict
  • Tone
  • Escalation
  • Rhetoric
  • Opinion
Back to the apology mentioned at the beginning. If you do this properly – you will irritate people. They don't seem to like it if you watch a film pointing out the seven steps. I have no idea why. After all, what's wrong with a running commentary of , 'Ayup, it's a contrast scene.', 'Nice bit of naming there.', 'Did you see that gun on the mantlepiece? You know what that means, don't you? Don't you, eh?', 'Where was the preview! I can't believe there was no preview! How rubbish is that!' or 'Yay! I know what the event's going to be!'

Good luck.


Maureen Lynas blogs intermittently on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas
Maureen is the author of
The Action Words Reading Scheme
Florence and the Meanies
The Funeverse poetry site.

Friday 1 June 2012

Singapore Fling - in which I make a video

Just threw together my videos and photos to give a flavour of the Asian Festival of Children's Content. Hope you like it!

More posts about the Asian Festival of Children's Content

Boys will be boys - Guys in UK YA

by Jo Wyton

It's a busy Friday, what with Candy slinging her Singapore and all, but I'm going to bustle her out of the way for a minute to highlight some of the top guys in UK YA today. A lot of the YA people hear about right now is big, commercial fiction written by women, and more often than not, it's girly enough to make any boy worth his grimy underpants throw up. But go into the children's department of any bookshop and you'll see a huge number of male authors, and they're writing some of the most brilliant books. Here are four of them:

Singapore Fling – What makes an editor read on? First Pages

By Candy Gourlay

Notes from the Slushpile suffered the slings and arrows of a trip to Singapore to bring you reportage from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. This is the second of a series covering the First Page Panel organized by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. With many thanks to the deathless efforts of the organizers of a superb Festival.
(left to right) Sohini Mitra, Commissiong Editor, Penguin India, Vatsala Kaul-Banerjee, Publishing Director, Hachette India, Alvina Ling, Editorial Director, Little Brown Books, USA,  and Sarah Odedina, Managing Director, Hot Key Books

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