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.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Accepting Achievements and Celebrating the Small Things.

Lately there have been a lot of discussions about looking after yourself as a writer. From Kate Mallinder's SCBWI-BI’s Words and Pictures series on resilience, to The Golden Egg Academy’s Mental Health Month, (accessible to non-egg’s via twitter) it seems like everyone is talking about how keep yourself well… sane.

I like most writers find aspects of the process difficult. The bundles of ‘No’s’ when on submission is hard. But the thing that really knocks me is the nagging notion that I’m not progressing. I am hard on myself and looking at it objectively I know I’m getting ‘progress’ confused with ‘published.’

With the rest of the Short Pitchers at the Golden Egg Big Honk

Progress can be small and therefore can go easily unnoticed.

In my last crit group meeting, one of my writer friends showed me a scrapbook she is compiling, where she prints off all the feedback she gets, sticks it in and highlights all the positive remarks so she can read it when she need a boost. This got me thinking. I have every submission I’ve ever made logged in a spreadsheet, (I can produce statistics or graphs if I desired) and I have virtual copies of feedback, BUT nothing in hard copy. Nothing easy to access. Nothing that is a log of achievements, successes and progress.

Finishing a new WIP in the first time ins forever!

I remembered that I did once celebrate the small successes and see them as progression. I’d celebrate that long listing. Raise a glass of wine to a request for a full manuscript, maybe even mention it on my blog. I’d even be over the moon at feedback, even rejections as it were an endorsement that I was living the dream – that I was pursuing publication. But somewhere along the way I stopped.

My Treasured prize for winning the SCBWI Conference 10 Word Pitch! 

Maybe I was embarrassed that after almost a decade I’m still not in print. Maybe it was because I was paranoid I’d be perceived as being a bit boasty. But mostly it was because I’d forgotten the importance of accepting the small achievements as progress and cause for celebration

Special Mention in the Slushpile Challenge - Thanks to Rachel Mann for liking Snowballs!

So here are a few little things I have to celebrate for this year… so far…

  • I won the 10 word pitch at the SCBWI conference in November.
  • I was one of the runner-up'ers in the Golden Egg Academy Big Honk Sentence Pitch competition in January.
  • I completed my first new manuscript (in a very long time) this year.
  • I started writing out of my comfort zone, breaking out into Middle Grade.
  • I was one of the twenty short listed authors for the David Higham Open Day.
  • I’m on active submission for the first time in a long long time.
  • I got a special mention for my new book, ‘Snowballs from Hell’ in the SCBWI Words and Pictures April Slushpile Challenge judged my Rachel Mann, Agent at Jo Unwin Literary Agency
  • I’ve entered eight writing competitions already this year
  • I’m writing a new Middle Grade novel.

All little things, but put together it instantly makes me feel more confident about my writing.

So please remember. As a writer don’t forget to accept small achievements as progress and don’t be embarrassed to celebrate the small things, because without the small successes they’ll never be big successes.

Starting a new WIP