Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Hugless...

When you come into Mostly Books, there are a few 'signature' books, ranges and authors that people have got to know us for over the years. Our Persephone Books have been a feature of the shop since we opened, and favourite authors of the staff tend to do well on the shelves too: Reginald Hill, Neal Stephenson, Brandon Sanderson and a few others we have more than a soft spot for.

Amongst shrines to authors in the children's room, you'll find Catherine Rayner, Julia Donaldson - and local children's author David Melling.

We've known David for many years, and recent events with him have seen a drawing masterclass at the local library, and also a splendid make-your-own-Douglas event that took place in the courtyard garden. But what has been really exciting is to see how 'Douglas' has really taken off and quickly won a place as a modern classic, shortlisted for plenty of awards, even spawning a hugely popular and pioneering smartphone app (itself up for awards).

Douglas has featured rather largely in the shop window for the last few months:

Hodder have done a great job turning Hugless into a very cute plush together with the book. Just look at his little nose and scarf:

David recently came into the shop to kindly sign copies of his books for us, and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his writing (and drawing) life...

Five questions with . . . David Melling's writing life
1.    What are you working on at the moment?
'We love you Douglas' the fourth Douglas book, then I’m taking a break from Douglas. I’m then working on a new character, not entirely sure of his name, but probably called ‘Warren’. It’s going to bit more slapstick humour than Douglas, a bit of a change of pace. The feedback from my publisher in terms of what they like about my work is my characters: they like the pathos, humour and the strength of character – and Warren will focus on all of these elements.

2.    What is the best writing tip you've ever been given?
I think my knee-jerk response to that question is: do a little each day. It’s very important. Kids often ask me ‘how do you do that?’ when I draw, and it all comes down to a little each day. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport. You don’t pick up your tennis racquet one day and be volleying, hitting winning shots the next. The more you practice the better you get, and that’s the same with drawing and writing.

3.    What's the best and worst thing about being a children's writer?
The best thing is to be able to sit down and write and draw all day long. I’m very lucky, and there is nothing better. The worst aspect is towards the end of a project however, you do long and unusual hours, you neglect your family. That can be tough.

4.    Do you have a writer's survival kit?
Well, I did hear that Andrew Motion finds Lemsip gets him all creative, and Agatha Christie apparently used to bathe in a hot bath with apples, and the aroma inspired her! If I’m stuck, I’ll go for a walk, or drive, in fact – just get moving. I find train journeys are very useful in that regard. I do a lot of work in coffee shops, just doodling when ideas come. I always have a sketchbook on me, and so can always write stuff down.

The cartoonist James Thurber once said the hardest part of his job was convincing his wife that when he was standing and staring out the window he was actually hard at work. And that’s true. When I’m sitting and staring out of the window, having a meditative moment, that’s when ideas come. It links back to the joy of the job, at any point – whatever I’m doing – I can pull back from reality a little, and dip into the writing well.

5.    What was your big breakthrough?
I had two big breakthroughs. The first was in my 20s, when I was introduced to an illustrator who lived a couple of streets away. I was very lucky, and for a year I apprenticed to him, and was able to build up a portfolio. If you have the opportunity to apprentice to someone great, it’s very fortunate, and a wonderful opportunity - but to find someone nearby in the same town was incredibly lucky.

Breakthrough number two was whilst working at an animation studio. I had been building my portfolio up, and realised that my big passion was children’s books. At the time I made this decision and starting to look around, I was introduced to someone who had just set up on her own as an agent, and was looking for clients. It was perfect timing, and although it took almost two years to get published, having guidance within the industry was incredibly useful. I’m happy to say that – nearly twenty years later – she is still my agent!


For more insights into David's writing life, visit his rather splendid website here. And if you are a young fan of Douglas, you can vote for him in the Red House Children's Book Awards here. And of course, we have signed copies of Douglas (including rarely signed copies with the plush) in the shop. Just email if we can send you a last minute, rather special Christmas present...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fake penguins

At Mostly Books we pride ourselves on our stock selection - and more importantly, that what we sell is up to our high quality threshold (particularly at this time of the year). What we would hate to happen is to recommend a book to a customer that turned out to be not quite what they were expecting.

So all the fuss about the BBC's Frozen Planet and possible faking of scenes is a bit of a concern. We have copies of Frozen Planet in the shop, and so this morning I went and inspected a copy to see if I could make out any hint that photographs in this gorgeously produced book have in any way been faked.

However, after taking it off the shelf and inspecting it more closely, I found this picture on pages 57-58). On the face of it - a touching encounter between the baby polar bears, their Mum - and a penguin. But look more closely:

Real or fake? The BBC need to be asked some very searching be the judge...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Turning Real-Life Stories into Books - with added imagination from Frank Cottrell Boyce

What if you had a car that could fly? What would you do if you found a bag full of money?

The imaginations of more than 200 schoolchildren from more than five Abingdon schools were given a jump start on Wednesday Nov 30 as they listened to multi award-winning children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce talk about the inspiration behind his books.

Frank read from his latest novel ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again’ and told how the roots of the story grew from real life.

Ian Fleming is well known as being the creator of James Bond, but fewer people know that he was the creator of the original children’s story ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ . Even fewer would have known that the story was inspired by a real car.

Ian Fleming saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang race when he was a young boy – and that memory came back to him when - convalescing from a heart attack - it formed the inspiration behind his only children’s book.

Frank Cottrell Boyce told the amazing story of a rich count who came into his money very young and spent his money on things most children couldn’t even dream of. Things like a full-size train track in his grounds to race trains, and putting a zeppelin engine in a car - the original Chitty - to race it at Brooklands (it could go over 100mph).

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s first books are all based on what children would do when placed in extraordinary situations. ‘Millions’ is about what a couple of boys decide to do when they find a huge amount of money. And ‘Cosmic’ is about a 12-year-old boy who looks much older and gets mistaken for an adult.

These stories have been loved by children, turned into films, and means Frank Cottrell Boyce has been on every major award for children’s writing.

In Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again’ – the original Chitty’s engine is reassembled (without the family’s knowledge) inside a camper van. So when they set off, their trip around the world is like no other.

Frank also shared loads of stories and advice about how simple things can become stories if you add a lot of imagination and a little magic – and talked about all the things that inspired him to become a children’s writer.

He knew he wanted to be a writer from when he was at school and a teacher read out something he’d written to make a friend laugh – and he made the whole class laugh.

‘I learned that if you choose words in the right order people will laugh even if you’re not there in person. Someone could be laughing at the same thing even all the way in China. Writing is like having a superpower.’

His incredible talk ended with so many hands bristling with energetic questions for the author he could have been there all day.

Note to other booksellers: If you’re going to organise a big author event involving lots of schools – don’t organise it on a day when there is a big strike on and lots of schools are going to be closed.

But do organise it with author Frank Cottrell Boyce. Because even if the whole event has hung in the balance – it can still turn out to be a tremendous day that makes several sleepless nights truly worthwhile.

A huge thank you for all the schools and teachers who turned out in force to keep the event going.

And a big thank you to everyone who came to the shop to meet Frank at Mostly Books afterwards. Particularly to Jo and Rosie Caulkin who travelled from Birmingham to meet him.

Five questions with . . . Frank Cottrell Boyce's writing life
1.    What are you working on at the moment
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 2' (looks nervously at his editor sitting across the table from us). No, of course, that's finished. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 3!

2.    What is the best writing tip you've ever been given?
Read, read, read.

3.    What's the best and worst thing about being a children's writer?
The best thing is the contact with children. Watching them meeting an author, getting questions. It's very real, very visceral. The worst thing is that, you do so many events that you end up having no time to write. You can't do events half-heartedly, every event I do I put everything into, I don't want to let anyone down.

4.    Do you have a writer's survival kit?
No - nothing. My house is so busy, and I am so busy, I write anywhere, at any opportunity. Edith Nesbit (and also PG Wodehouse) used to write at parties. In fact, that's a great tip for writers: learn to write at parties!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
I had written the script for ‘Millions’, and Danny Boyle told me "I'll do the film, but you must write the book". And that was the nudge I needed. I think writers need to have other people give them a shove to get a book out there.