Thursday, 17 October 2019

Twelve years of Writing – So much more that the pursuit of publication.

The other day I was talking to one of my bestet-writrey friends, who said she’d read somewhere that it takes writers ten years to really hone their writing skills. Then she asks how long I’ve been writing for. This inspired me to find out, so I went back and looked in my archived files on my external hard drive, and unearthed the first piece of writing I ever did. The 351 word extract, which went on to become my first novel. The date the file was created; 28th April 2007.

Which means I‘ve been writing for over twelve years. Just over a quarter of my life. This realisation hit with a much more depressing thought, that I’m STILL NOT PUBLISHED YET! But then it got me thinking about writing has changed my life and the positive impact it has had on not just me but my whole family.

When I started writing we had ONE bookcase with only TWO shelves of books, and I hardly read anything at all, as I was too deterred by the difficulties caused by my dyslexia. Writing is intractability linked with reading, so I became a reader, but don’t ask me how many bookcases I’ve got now as it’d morph into a blog of its own! This new found love of reading has had a huge impact on my children who were only approaching their 3rd and 1st birthdays when I first picked up a pen. As a result of my rekindled love of reading, and stuffing the house full of books, by kids children who were on the schools dyslexia watch list became avid readers with reading ages well above their actual ages.

Another positive influence in the children which helped them foster a love of reading is being exposed to writers and illustrators. By attending author events, meeting their literary icons, and being able to contact them via social media, it’s made the children feel as if they have a personal relationship with the creators of their favourite books, and that they are championing them. This is something that would never have happened prior to me writing as I was totally against social media and only ever set up the accounts for writing.

However I think one of the most positive things my writing has had, is that my children have grown up watching me work every day, striving to get my writing the best it can be and to get published. Over the years they’ve seen the highs; the competitions, long-listings, short-listings, wins, the signing with an agent, and getting a contact with a publisher. But they’ve seen the lows, the rejections, the losing the agent and contact through no fault of my own. But they’ve witnessed me, dusting myself off and getting up and continuing, to improve my writing, doing courses, and continuing to submit. In an age of sticker charts, numerous certificates from school for the smallest achievements, I believe that my kids watching me struggle, getting knocked back and trying gain is good for them, as it shows not everything gets instant gratification.

Writing effects every aspect of my family’s life, from the places we visit on holidays and trips out, to how we build our chicken house (a cross between Baba Yagga’s house and David Melling’s bird house doodles) , to what scarecrows we make for the allotment (The Gruffalo and half the cast of The Wizard of Oz).

However the by far the most unexpected and by-product of writing is the people I’ve met. Children’s writers, illustrators, and professionals; booksellers, agents and editors are some of the loveliest people you are ever likely to meet. In the eleven years since I first picked up a pen, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many like minded p[people, who all help one another and are generous with their time, empathy and honesty. I really think I’ve found not only my tribe but some of my closest friends.

So pushing the pursuit to publication to one side, I can definite say that writing has been and still is a very positive experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Losing you literary Hero’s

They say that if you were alive when JFK was assassinated that you remember exactly where you were when you found out. For my generation our JFK is probably Princess Diana. Where was I when I found out? In Bed. The night before I was out celebrating my nineteenth birthday and I got woken by the shocked yelling of my Dad. We spent the whole day in front of the television hoping for news. Not just any news, but wishing for the news that it was a mistake and that she had miraculously survived.

But this wasn’t the first death of someone famous that the learning of their passing is engraved onto my mind. A few years before, upon getting to my form room to register for the day of school, I found several of my friends crying. Why? Roald Dahl had died. They were mourning the passing of a hero, and grieving not just at the loss of the author himself but at the fact that he’d write no more books. I didn’t cry. But I was sad, and I re-read all his books in my own little grieving process.

Out of all the deaths of famous people, it’s the passing of the authors of beloved childhood books that has the most profound affect on me. The 2014 passing of Jeremy Lloyd hardly caused a stir in the media, and his obituaries listed his main achievement as once being married to Joanna Lumley. I was devastated that there was no mention of his kid’s books, LP’s and cartoon adaptations of his creation, Captain Beaky and his band. This was the soundtrack to my early childhood, and I even performed one of the poems, Jock the Scottish Circus Flee in a school talent contest.

Jill Barklem, the creator of the exquisite Brambly Hedge died in 2017 it brought on another bout of grief and confusion for me, I couldn’t understand why other people didn’t seem to care or even notice. I discovered Brambly Hedge in my tween years and was obsessed my it’s intricate beauty. 

As a kid who aspired to be a writer illustrator, her books fascinated me, I tried to become her. In one of my anthologies of the series was an interview with Jill and a photograph of her studio – well bureau –which I tried to emulate. I brought myself an old wooden bureau from a junk shop and set it up like the photograph in the hope, that if I copied her working method, then I might gain an iota of her talent. 


Forward a couple of years and I’m in bed one morning, scanning through the headlines before starting the day, to find out Judith Kerr has died. Another author whose work so important and inextricably entwined with my childhood. I LOVED ‘The Tiger that Came to Tea.’ 

I got my Mum and younger sister to read it to me over and over. I was fascinated by thought that an adventure could come knocking at my door in the form of a wild creature. I read it for my Brownie reading badge (well actually I cheated, I had it committed to memory – so no reading required!) I even searched the shelves of our local supermarket for large tins of tiger food every week, just in case a big cat should call on us. ***ACTUALLY ONE DID! A LION which escaped from a circus that was in the park opposite my house, and was found in the next door neighbour’s garage! *** 

Since the passing of Judith, there’s been an initiative for a group reading of ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ #PinkRabbitReadalong started by the lovely and talented author Lorraine Gregory and the awesome Annaliese Avery  over on twitter.

I’m a bit late for the party (it took a while to find my copy of the book after several house moves) and a bit slow (dyslexia) but I’m participating and finding it a poignant and lovely experience. For the first time since the passing of Roald Dahl, I feel that other people are feeling the pull of the loss of a talented author (illustrator) as much as me, and that we are together commemorating and celebrating the life of an extraordinary woman, brilliant storyteller and talented artist. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

Pan’s Labyrinth – Novel – Review and Musings about Anticipation of Adaptations - Guillermo Del Toro - Cornelia Funke

Many people experience excitement and a certain amount of anxiety when they hear that one of their favourite books is coming to the silver screen. Concern whether the adaptation is sympathetic and close to the source text. Worry that they may get the characters wrong. Anxiety that the image on the screen won’t marry with the image you have carried in your mind since reading the book.

This phenomenon has been played out in Armageddon-esk proportions with the recent release of the TV adaption of Pratchett and Gaiman’s ‘Good Omens.’ After almost thirty years in print, with an army of devoted fan’s the anticipation and anxiety was at a max, with one question very much on everyone’s twitter feeds – would it work? In fact one of my friends tweeted comments ahead of its release on the small screen saying that one character ‘didn’t look right’.

I have to confess, I didn’t quite have the same reservations about Good Omens, as I only read the novel in January AFTER the character publicity photos had already hit the web, so I wasn’t quite as invested as other fans who’ve loved the book for decades.

However, I know exactly how they felt. As this is what I experienced when I heard that a novelised version of one of my all-time favourite films, Pan’s Labyrinth was in the works. The excitement was there, after all I love fairy tales, I love books and I adore the movie. However there were bucket loads of anxiety too. Some of the worries included…

Concerns that with the film such an exquisite visual feast, and with a picture worth a thousand words then surely the novel would become a monster rivalling War and Peace just to stand a chance of evoking the same imaginary in the readers mind that the movie does with its cinematography.

Worries about whether it would emulate the same excitement reading the story as it did watching it the first time? After all you can only experience the same story once for a first time. Will it retain the same poignant messages or will they be lost in translation?

All in all I was worried. The Pan’s Labyrinth film is the ultimate fairy tale movie, the benchmark that others are compared; it is not a far cry from perfection. So how could the novel ever live up to the movie?

My concerns, however, were totally unfounded, and with Guillermo Del Toro the visionary director behind the original movie and master wordsmith Cornelia Funke author of the Inkheart series at the helm the novel is quite simply; beautiful.

It delivers a true adaptation of the film and yet adds layers that make it an even more intricate tapestry if storytelling. In the novel you get to delve into the minds of the key characters, their innermost thoughts and physiques laid bare, making the line between good and evil blur. As for imaginary, I can honestly say I have never before read a book where I’ve stopped reading so many times just to admire and dwell on a sentence or description. Funke’s penmanship is awe inspiring and economic. With minimum words she evokes intricate images and complex emotions, that really does rival the film.

In addition this book is scattered with beautiful illustrations by Andy Williams, which both capture the story in the novel and replicate the imagery of the film. The spacing of the illustrations throughout the book and the monotone style emulates the style of traditional fairy tale anthologies further endorsing its fairy-tale credentials. 

All in all the Pan’s Labyrinth novel is a beautiful and poignant fairy tale which is exquisitely told and produced. So I urge any fan of film, fairy tale enthusiasts, of lover of fantasy to go read the book.