Friday, 23 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

Last week, fellow American transplant (such an unlovely term for such a lovely person!) Teresa Flavin, author of the Blackhope Enigma trilogy, tagged me in the series "The Next Big Thing," which started with Lari Don's blog and involves "tagging" five fellow UK based children's writers and having them answer questions about their latest work in progress. I met Teresa at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer, and am delighted to take part.


I have been unable to find five writers to tag. Writers I contacted had already been tagged or weren't bloggers, or didn't feel comfortable writing about their latest WIP.

So, I have broken the chain--and we all know what that means! Fortunately, I broke every chain letter I ever received as a child and didn't suffer any adverse effects (despite all the warnings about "BREAKING THE CHAIN!!"). Hopefully, I've built up some chain-breaking hex immunity.

I'm also going to be a little tongue in cheek about my answers to most of the questions. Due to the closing of the Frances Lincoln children's fiction list, I have a novel that is on submission at the moment and the "next big thing" that I'm writing about today hasn't been seen by my agent yet!

What is the working title of your latest book?

That School Thingy

Where did the idea for the story come from?

I've always thought of schools as evil places.

What genre does your book fall under?

A MG (11+) mystery.

What actors would you choose to cast in a movie version of your book?

Can't decide between Rufus Sewell or Javier Bardem for the male lead (OK, if Teresa wants Javier, I'll graciously accept Rufus). Adult female characters? Helen McCrory, Frances Barber, Jodie Whittaker. Most of the parts would be played by children, though...

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 

A lonely girl discovers the horrifying truth about Javier Bardem (or Rufus Sewell) and other stuff. (How's that for an amazing pitch?)  

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The idea for this story has taken several was actually a screenplay at one time, with the focus on the adult characters. This draft has taken about 6 months, but a lot of the basic planning had been done before. My first draft of At Yellow Lake took over 2 years!

Will your book be self-published or are you represented by an agent? 

I am very lucky to be represented by Sallyanne Sweeney at Watson, Little.

Again, thanks to Teresa and all the other writers who have taken part. Hopefully, I'll be able to include clearer details on this (and other) work in the near future.

In the meantime....Javier, if you're reading this, I'm more than happy to write in a part for Penelope, too!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Good News Week: Holy Trinity College, Carnegie, and YLG/SLANI Ireland Book Day

A lovely week....

On Friday I found out that At Yellow Lake has been longlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie award! A great surprise, and a wonderful honour.

On Tuesday, I travelled to County Antrim for the CILIP YLG/SLANI Wendy Drewett Ireland Book Day conference.  I appeared on a panel for debut writers, with Dave Cousins and Sarah Hammond and met other writers, including Diana Hendry, Paul Howard, Liz Pinchon and Katherine Roberts.
Sarah Hammond, Dave Cousins and I on the debut novelists  panel moderated by Rachel Levy

Joy Court moderating the New Directions panel with Paul Howard, Diana  Hendry and Katherine Roberts 

The day before, I had the pleasure of doing a workshop at Holy Trinity College, in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Here are some photos of the workshop and of two of the classes I had the pleasure to work with.

A great group--enthusiastic and creative

I loved the Q & A session with Year 8. Very insightful questions!

The loveliest group of Year 8s I've ever met!
Thanks to staff and students for a wonderful day!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Which Side Are You On?

There's an election in the US tomorrow and, although I do my best to steer clear of party political American shenanigans, I've not been able to distance myself from it completely.

Sorry, wrong Romney! This is Mitt's dad, politician and chairman of the American Motors Car Company. who  ran for president in 1968. No wonder Mitt loves "family values"! 

America is very polarised country. Mitt Romney famously poured scorn on the 49% of Americans who don't pay taxes and were therefore worthy of his derision and contempt. The divides in the US are not just economic--political difference also means a profound diversion on issues that are ostensibly "religious" such as reproductive rights, gay marriage, the teaching of non-scientific creation stories, etc. However, for all conservatives, even those of a more libertarian bent, being poor, and particularly having to rely on any kind of government assistance is also "moral" issue. It's just wrong, dammit. It's a sin. It's taking money from the pockets of hard-working, decent, honest American taxpayers.

Mitt Romney and other hard-working taxpayers at Bain Capital 
This attitude has not softened in my lifetime. It has hardened considerably, in fact. It is also, to some extent, crossing the Atlantic. Emotive or  pejorative terms such as "taxpayer" (good) and "welfare" (bad) are now used regularly in the UK.

Well, what does that have to do with writing for young people, you may ask?

A lot, in my opinion.

I think that as writers we must be advocates for our readers. Here in the UK, cuts in education, in library services, the dropping of EMA and the rise of tuition fees, have had a profound implications for virtually all young people. The cuts that are directed specifically at the poor or vulnerable--for example, the forced displacement of inner London families due to draconian cuts in housing benefit, the axing of benefits and programmes for young people with disabilities--have even more impact.

This doesn't mean, of course, that our writing should be "political", or we should only write about the poor and dispossessed, or make rich people the bad guys. My own writing isn't particularly political and in "At Yellow Lake" the bad guys are as poor, if not poorer, than the "goodies." It also doesn't mean that well-off people don't have problems. Many issues that affect young people--depression, eating disorders, family break-up, neglectful parenting, drug or alcohol abuse--don't discriminate between rich or poor.

But I do think it's important to keep our eyes open and think about the many political decisions that affect young people. We can do this actively. Many writers have worked tirelessly against UK library cuts. Others may blog about education. I know writers who work with Amnesty and refugee organisations.

We can also reflect this in our own practice. I don't mean we have to be joylessly "worthy" but I think somewhere, in our subconscious writing minds, we have to be aware that while life for all young people is full of challenges, there are others for whom life is even more daunting. When a government or political party  disregards or disrespects the needs of some groups of  people, while privileging the desires and wants of other groups, I think writers should take sides.

And the side we should be on is the side of the disregarded or disrespected. The privileged can take care of themselves.

They usually do.