Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Three authors, one writer, many stories: five questions with Eve Edwards aka Joss Stirling aka Julia Golding

If you are an author in this day and age, keeping up with the requirements of social media, promotion, events - oh, and writing - is difficult enough under one name. Imagine doing all that with three?

Over the years we have done several events with Julia Golding - possibly the hardest-working children's author we know - and on April 24th we were at Didcot Girl's School to hear her talk the year 9 girls about how she writes, her inspirations and methods - and what on earth possessed her to write under three different names...

Julia's latest books are the 'Young Knights of the Round Table series' (as Julia Golding, her books aimed at middle-grade or confident readers) and 'Storm and Stone' (as Joss Stirling, writing more for teens). She also writes historical romance novels under the name Eve Edwards - andit's probably easier to let Julia herself explain *why* she writes with three different hats...

During the event she answered questions about how she became a writer, the big influence made on her by a wonderful remark from an English teacher - and how music is key to setting the 'soundscape' for when she writes. In fact, pumping snippets of music through the hall's PA system (which wasn't up to the job of some of the bass) we had a 'name that tune' quiz linked in with some of the characters.

Sitting in the library afterwards (and feeling extremely privileged and powerful behind the librarians desk!) we asked Julia a few questions about what makes her (writing) tick...

Five questions with...Julia Golding's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

Wow, so much stuff. But at the moment I'm working on the next 'Storm and Stone' book, it's going to be called 'Stung' (at the moment) but, with it being a book I write as Joss Stirling, the cover is beng reworked to align it more with my Finding Sky books. The design is a filigree-like scorpion and it'll look amazing!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given? 

Can I have two? The first is the 'kill your darlings' tip, it's so true. But I remember listening to Marcus Sedgwick talk about the writing process (we were both teaching on an Arvon course). He's much more of a plot-driven writer, I like to start with character. And he described the plotting aspect of writing as creating 'stepping stones' that can be pinned up or drawn on a board. It really influenced me, and I have definitely tried to write more in that way.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The best is just the joy of writing, and the reaction of readers - it happened here today where some of the girls came up and described themselves as real fans. To be part of someone's life like that, it's a privilege. The worst aspect - I think it's the requirement to think commercially. The path to being published is a hard one, and getting harder - even for established authors (one big change is the requirement for established authors to submit full manuscripts, there is less trust from publishers to rely on an author's past performance and reputation, which was the way things used to be done).

I guess to some extent I had it easy at the start, roughing out the first books wasn't that much of an issue for me, but the way that I have approached this problem is to constantly reinvent myself - hence writing under different names.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work? 

I'm not sure I need to have anything in place, but I definitely need a place 'in my head' to start writing. Even if I'm in a public place, I use music to shut myself off <thinks for a bit> I guess I need to create some privacy, wherever I am, does that makes sense?

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

My first book. Simple as that. I went from unknown debut to established writer in a very short space of time, I appreciate how lucky I am.

Friday, April 25, 2014

3 4 Friday - Remarkable journeys across time, across oceans, and into the mind of an autistic boy

Some of our favourite books of last year - and favourite authors - have been coming out in paperback over the last few weeks, so for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads we've three books that have as their central themes remarkable journeys - whether it's across time, across oceans, or just into the mind of one extraordinary boy...

'The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism' by Naoki Higashida is one of the most remarkable books ever published, not just for its subject matter but how it came to be available, as a book, in English. In the form of a series of questions and answers, Naoki - a confident, sparky thirteen year old Japanese boy - describes what it is like to have autism. Out of this relatively straightforward format, however, emerges a sometimes heart-breaking, but brilliantly inspiring story of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who has the imagination, the intelligence and dreams of every child - but yet deserving of our patience and understanding.

Unable to speak, Naoki wrote the book using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts which were collected and edited together. The book was then translated - equally painstakingly - by bestselling novelist David Mitchell (author of The Cloud Atlas) and his wife Keiko Yoshida, who themselves have an autistic child. In doing so, it is a unique and powerful door into the autistic mind. It's a truly amazing book, and deserves the widest possible readership.

Starting with Alcock and Brown's, first non-stop, near-fatal transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland, Dublin-born Colum McCann explores the relationship between Ireland and America across the generations in 'TransAtlantic'. The story is told in a series of ambitious, interlocking stories, with relationships and consequences tracked back and forward across the Atlantic.

Whether it's the quiet, terrifying beginnings of the potato famine seen through the eyes of a freed American slave, or the peace process observed by an immigrant Ulster widow, McCann weaves chronology, viewpoint and real lives to explore connections and consequences of choices craven and brave, planned or random that define the Irish-American bond. This is powerful, ambitious storytelling and one of my favourite books from 2013.

Finally, the story of 'The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared' was one of the blockbusters of 2013 across Europe, a feel-good, gloriously no-holds-barred romp through history in the company of centenarian Allan Karlsson, his ragtag band of fugitives and his attitude of not going 'quietly into the night',

'The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden' is author Jonas Jonasson's follow-up, and it's another quirky, funny, on-the-run adventure featuring another cast of the damaged, deranged and dispossessed (including a nerve-damaged American Vietnam deserter, twin brothers who are officially only one person and a potato-growing Baroness). Only this time there's a missing atomic bomb to contend with...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

From page to pane: creating a bookshop window, with a little help from Suzanne Barton, The Dawn Chorus, and Peep

Ah Spring. Season of new life and fresh starts, so when we were offered the chance of a window make-over by a talented new author and illustrator by publisher Bloomsbury - we jumped at the chance.

So on Tuesday, we welcomed Suzanne Barton (and just a few family and friends 'helpers'!) who set out to transform the shop...

Suzanne Barton is an Oxford-based author and illustrator, who began making picture books after finishing an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.

Her first picture book is the story of a small bird called Peep, and what happens when he endeavours to join the wonderful 'dawn chorus'...

Mark appeared on BBC Radio Oxford on Monday talking about the book with broadcasting legend Sybil Ruscoe as part of the Afternoon Bookclub - click on the link and fast-forward to 1 hour 10 minutes to get a feel for the how special the book is.

We wanted to involve as many of our customers as possible, so for the past few weeks, we'd been handing out some custom-made bird templates for children to decorate - and on Tuesday, children brought them in or made them in the shop... 

They were able to meet the author and get copies signed...

...whilst all the time we were adding their creations to an impressive growing flock in the window:

The finished result is - we have to say - breathtaking and delightful...

Huge thanks to Suzanne - and her team - for working incredibly hard the whole day on Tuesday.

Thanks also to Bloomsbury for making it happen - and being so supportive throughout the day.

We took the opportunity to ask Suzanne a few quick questions about her writing life. So we'll leave you with these, and a few more stunning pictures...

Five questions with...Suzanne Barton's Writing (and Drawing) Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on my next book for Bloomsbury. (on being pressed for more details) Can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it might feature another bird character…

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given? 

Can I do an illustration tip? When I first started out as an illustrator, I thought ‘I can’t be an illustrator because I can’t draw everything from memory’. And then I learned that to draw things you need to observe things from real-life, you need to absorb information and get inspiration from things around you to be able to get your ‘version’ of whatever it is you are drawing. And that version may not bear any resemblance to the things you’ve seen. I learned that you need to put something in to get something out – does that make sense?

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The best thing is doing what I love. I can't believe I get to do a job where you stick and draw. The worst thing? Nope, can't think of one...

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work? 

My cat! She’s usually there, drinking out of the water, often sitting in a drawer. Once she’s there, I can begin work!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

Doing my MA in children’s illustration at Cambridge – lots of breakthroughs came after that. Then it was having my first book at Bologna. 

Discover much more about Suzanne, the book - and have a chance of winning one of her drawings - over on the Space On The Bookshelf blog...

Friday, April 04, 2014

Help create a 'Dawn Chorus' window at Mostly Books

We reckon it’s about time our window had a make-over – so we’ve asked artist, children’s author and illustrator Suzanne Barton – author of the beautiful new picture book ‘The Dawn Chorus’ – to design a 'Dawn Chorus' window – and she needs some help!

The 'Dawn Chorus' is a wonderful debut by Oxford-based Suzanne. It's the story of Peep, desperate to find out where the beautiful song is coming from one morning. The illustrations just make this book particularly special.

If you’d like one of your creations to feature in our stunning window display for ‘the Dawn Chorus’ call in to pick up a bird template – decorate it and bring it back to us for a chance to win a prize. Or call in on the day – Tuesday April 8 – as we’ll all be making bird collages to hang in our window.

See the finished results at the end of the day – and meet the author herself!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

"Books can help us remember what we have in common" - Five Questions with Deborah Ellis

On March 20, we were involved in a series of events with author and peace activist Deborah Ellis.

Deborah was on a UK tour from her home in Ontario, Canada - and if there is a single word which comes to mind about the visit, it's 'privileged' - because it was a word we have heard a lot from those that met her and heard her speak. Privileged and inspired to listen to this humble, softly spoken but powerful individual talk about her books and her life.

Deborah has written over twenty books, and is probably best-known for her international bestseller The Breadwinner, as well as many other works of fiction and non-fiction about children all over the world. She has won numerous book awards, including Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (for promoting peace and social justice).

Deborah first visited Didcot Girl's School, where she spoke to the girls about some of the themes which she weaves into her books. The Breadwinner is the story of Pervana, a girl in Afghanistan forced to pretend to be a boy in order to earn money to help her family survive when her father is taken away by Taliban soldiers.

The story was inspired by conversations that she had had with girls whilst visiting Afghan refugee camps, and she was very careful to explain to the girls in the audience about these themes: of suffering, inequality and cruelty of course - but most of all courage that she encountered, the thing that most inspires her.

In her most recent book, 'My Name Is Parvana', Parvana her self is now fifteen and dealing with the consequences of foreign soldiers in her country. When she is taken away by American soldiers and accused of terrorism, everything that Parvana has worked for in building a new life for her and her family threatens to come crashing down...

Her talk was genuinely inspirational, if difficult at times to listen to - particularly when she was reading from another of her most recent books, based on interviews with 'Kids of Kabul' and the daily realities of struggling to go to school in the face of uncertainty and the economic hardships they face. 

Deborah is above all an advocate for the disenfranchised and oppressed, talking calmly but passionately about the capacity money and power have to make people's lives better - or much, much worse. She donates much of her royalties to charities such as UNICEF and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (more than a million dollars in royalties from her Breadwinner books alone).

After speaking at Didcot, and answering lots of questions about how she writes, and the children she has met, we brought her to Abingdon (where she spent some time exploring the town), and from there she spoke to children at Our Lady's Senior School, and the Oxford Children's Book Group in the evening.

We are extremely grateful to OUP for offering us the chance to be part of Deborah's tour, and huge thanks to Deborah for spending time talking to children around Oxfordshire.

Whilst at Mostly Books, we got the chance to ask Deborah a few questions about her writing life...

Five questions with...Deborah Ellis' Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment? 

"The Cat At The Wall" due for publication in the Autumn. It's a book set in Israel's West Bank.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given? 

If you really want to do it, keep doing it, don't give up, even if people tell you what you are writing is 'crap'.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The best thing about writing is getting to meet kids from all over the world. There is no bad thing about writing for children (or nothing I would go 'on the record' for!)

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work? 

No - just a pen and notebook.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

When I published my first book. It was called 'Looking for X' and published by OUP. This changed everything for me, because there is a whole universe of difference between being an unpublished and published writer.