Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Question of Money by Chitra Soundar

 I’m still wrapping up the last of the World Book Day events across the whole month. I visit primary schools and spend time with children across Reception to Y5.

This year when I was visiting a school, I had two Q&A sessions with two Y4 classes that had read my books as part of their lessons. The usual questions came up:

a)    How old are you?
b)    Did you come from India to our school today?
c)     Where do you get your ideas from?

Then came the question that I get once every 5-6 schools, “Do you make a lot of money?”

This boy was immediately cut short by another one who said, “That’s not a proper question to ask.”
 Normally I would smile, and say not a lot and tell them I do my own dishes, took the tube to their school etc.

But I wanted to answer this time (and I’ve been since that day, answering this question seriously).
Doing what I love - 2016

A job to support myself while writing - 2004
I explained how sometimes you might have to do your art alongside other things. I explained how difficult it can be sometimes and how many writers do have another job. I iterated to them a few times that do not give up on writing or any other artistic pursuit because you can’t make a lot of money. There will always be a way to find an opportunity or avenue if you work hard at it. I told them it was hard work but it was also worth it because I enjoy what I do.

The vigorous nod of heads and big smiles told me they would want to become writers and of course they’d have to become engineers, doctors, teachers, firemen, accountants as well. That is fine, I am one of those people who never gave up writing through my life as a teacher and then as a bookworm stuck in corporate plumbing.

Since then whenever the question of money comes up in Junior School I’ve not been evasive or even embarrassed about how little we make. The school is not the place to discuss what Nicola Solomon has written about in last week’s The Bookseller.

But then I do get a series of questions, which after discussions with fellow authors, I’ve concluded has come from celebrity publishing thrust under their noses.
a)    Do you get fans coming up to you in supermarkets?
b)    Do you have a limo?
c)     Are you a celebrity?
d)    Are you famous?
e)    Do you live in a castle?

f)      Do you have a Ferrari?

And that I worry about. When the majority of books they see in a WBD line-up or in bookshops are from celebrities on TV, then it does create an expectation that only celebrities write books or if you write books, you must be a celebrity.

I’m wondering if a part of my presentation now should include photos of me cleaning the house, taking the rubbish out and being squished in a bus with my WBD gig bag to bring the glamour of being a writer down.

I do take my notebooks into schools and then I show them the ones that I’ve been writing for years without any success. When they see my Work in Progress scrap-books and research notes, my multiple drafts of the same story, they hopefully will realise hard work will get the books on the shelves. 

If I also get a TV show before or after, fantastic! I’d love to buy that Ferrari.  

While writing this blog, I wanted to provide some resources for those young people who are interested in arts. Here are a few. If you are sharing this with young people in your life, please do research them thoroughly before taking it further.

YPIA - Young People in Arts -
The Roundhouse Trust -

Impact Arts - Cashback to the Future -

And finally a teenager's view on how to engage young people in the arts -

Chitra Soundar never knew arts was an option as a teenager. She graduated from university with a degree in commerce and accountancy and a diploma in computer science. As an adult, while working 12-hour shifts, she pursued her writing and she's hoping the day will come when she didn't have to work in a corporate firm for sustaining her arts. Follow her on Twitter @csoundar and on Instagram @chitrasoundar

Friday, 16 March 2018

A Little Light Relief by Claire Fayers

We’re halfway through World Book Month. Halfway through school visits, through travel, admin, preparation and loads of exhausting fun with kids. It’s time we gave ourselves a break and as I’m a keen game player, I thought I’d suggest a few games that should appeal to authors. 

Atlas Games

This classic storytelling game was released in 1994 and it’s still going strong - especially in my house where visitors are routinely compelled to navigate a narrative of evil step-mothers, lost princes and talking frogs.

The players all receive one story ending card and a hand of cards depicting common fairytale elements.

The first player launches into a story ‘Once upon a time…’ The idea is to spin a tale, weaving in all the elements on your cards and ending with your secret ending card. But the other players have their own cards and are waiting to leap in and drag the story off to their own ending. Mention something that’s on one of their cards and they can interrupt and take over the narrative.

The winner is the player who reaches their secret ending, but the real fun lies in telling a good story. The best ones go on and on, taking all sorts of twists and turns as cards are slapped down to interrupt and players tug the narrative back and forth. It helps to have a basic knowledge of fairytales, a quick wit and the ability to improvise.

Atlas Games

If the thought of racing multiple storytellers to your own happy ending is too much, you may prefer Gloom. Another storytelling card game, this one is for two to four players, with expansions that will take it up to seven people, and the aim of the game is to make your characters as miserable as possible. And then kill them. 

The cards themselves are semi-transparent, so as you heap tragedy upon tragedy, the earlier modifiers are still visible and their terrible effects can still be felt. I like to play this game with my husband at the end of a long day.

Oxford Games

This is a game for any number of book-lovers, though it works best with groups of six or more. The game consists of a set of cards, each on containing a book title, the author, and a brief description of the book.

One player is the librarian, who reads out the title, author and blurb. Each player then writes a suitable first or last line for the book, and the librarian writes the actual line. The librarian collects all lines and reads them out, and everyone votes for which they think is the real one. You score a point for guessing correctly and get a bonus point for anyone who votes for your line. A great way to show off your literary knowledge!

Formal Ferret Games

Only got a few minutes between book events? Wordsy is a quick and elegant word game that you can play on your own, though it will also accommodate up to 6 players, and it takes around 20 minutes to play.

Eight consonant cards are laid out in a grid. The players compete to come up with a word that contains some of those letters. (You’re allowed to use other letters too, though you only score the ones in the grid.)

If you’re playing on your own, the aim is to get the highest score you can. With multiple players, the first player to write down a word flips a timer giving everyone else 30 seconds to decide on their own words. Words are scored according to the position of the letters in the grid plus various bonuses. At the end of seven rounds, you add up your five best-scoring words and see who wins.

You can even play it on twitter @wordsybot

Thanks to my friend and game designer, Rob Harper, for suggesting this one!

That's it from me. I'm off to prepare for my next set of author events. I hope all your school visits go well this month.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Feminists & debutants: Yay! for the Class of '18 - Rowena House

By this time next month I’ll be a published novelist. What an amazing thing to be able to say! It’s a lifetime’s achievement and a temporary licence to swamp my Twitter feed with stuff about me and my book.

The Goose Road shares a book birthday with Elaine Wickson’s Planet Stan: My Life in Pie-charts. (Who knew pie-charts were comedy gold?) Since I met her at SCBWI-BI’s fantastic debut author boot camp, I’ve drooled over her exuberant website and laughed out loud at her humour. Planet Stan is going to be fantastic fun.

Ally Sherrick’s The Buried Crown also hits the bookshops on April 5 – a World War II adventure with Anglo-Saxon treasure. What’s not to love? Ally and I met through Histeria, a band of intrepid kids & YA historical novelists raising the profile of our genre to librarians, publishers and anyone who’ll listen. Ally also pointed me in the direction of an opportunity to teach a session on historical fiction at the Winchester Writers’ Festival in June – which I’m doing. Hurrah! It’s my all-time favourite writing conference (soz, Scooby). Ally, I owe you a big bottle of fizz as well as sincerest thanks.
April 5 is also publication day for Jess Butterworth’s When the Mountains Roared, another exquisite MG title in the mould of her debut, Running of the Roof of the World. Jess graduated from Bath Spa’s MA in writing for young people the same year as me. Our year – like every other – is an invaluable support network, sometimes called Team MAWYP, at other times the Bath Spa Mafia. Be warned. We’re out there. A lot of us – including two Bath Spa lecturers publishing novels on April 5 – Lucy Christopher, with Storm-wake, and To the Edge of the World by Julia Green, director and guiding light in the creative hothouse that is this MA.
This week I’m in London to raise a glass to the success of fellow Scooby boot-camper, Matt Killeen, and meet a lots of writing friends at the same party. Ye-ha! Orphan Monster Spy boasts a stonking premise: Jewish girl spy infiltrates elite Nazi high school for girls. Awe. Sum.
Salutations, too, to Walker stable-mate Kelly McCaughrain, author of Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, who deserves a massive readership for both her book, also launched this month, and her honest, wise, charming blog, Thank you, Kelly. Your words buoyed me no end through a recent patch of the blues.
I could go on. There are so many dedicated, determined, professional authors celebrating debuts this year, like Lucy Van Smit, whose Nordic noir YA thriller, The Hurting, is a lead title for Chicken House at the Bologna Book Fair. Vanessa Harbour’s wonderful horses in Flight. Tracey Mathais, with her UK trade debut, Night of the Party, a dystopian YA political thriller which I think judges the zeitgeist just right. And Liz MacWhirter, whose Black Snow Falling promises themes of feminism, monsters and power seen through the prism of 16th century magical realism. Talk about tantalizing!
And just behind those of us lucky enough to have got our book deals are excellent writers working with their agents on amazing manuscripts, like MA bestie Eden Enfield and multi-talented creator of #UKTeenChat, Emma Finlayson-Palmer. And tenacious writers who just got their agent. Here’s looking at you, Kathryn Kettle MacDonald. Well done!
The next rung of the ladder is so close, people.
So very best of luck to everyone honing their craft with critique groups, mentors or alone, and still finding time to take part in the super-supportive, informative, kick-up-the-butting, thriving, teeming, healing, online community of writers for young people. You rock. We rock. Being part of this tribe is amazing.
The Goose Road, a First World War coming-0f-age quest set in France, is available now for pre-order now on Amazon, via high street bookshops or through my website:

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Some Knockout K's by Lynne Benton

First in my list of knockout K’s has to be

RUDYARD KIPLING.  Born in 1865, he was born in Bombay to British parents, but at the age of 5 was sent “home” to Britain for his education, as was the custom with colonial children at the time.  He became a prolific writer of books and poems for adults as well as children, but perhaps his best-known works for children are “The Jungle Book” (published 1894) and the “Just So Stories” (published 1902).  He died in 1936.

CLIVE KING is mainly famous for one book, “Stig of the Dump”, published in 1963, which has now become a children’s classic.  It is the story of Barney, a modern boy, who discovers a Stone-Age cave-dweller called Stig living at the bottom of a disused chalk pit in Kent.  The two become great friends, though of course nobody believes Barney when he tells them Stig is a caveman.  It has been reprinted many times, and has been adapted for television twice (though I can’t help feeling that, particularly with a subject like this, the imagination paints better pictures if you read it in a book!)  Clive King lives in Norfolk.

JUDITH KERR was born in Berlin in 1923, but her family escaped from Germany just before the Nazis took power.  They settled in England, where she now lives, and has written and illustrated many books for children, including the delightful series about Mog the cat, and the semi-autobiographical “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”.  Rather to her surprise her earliest book, “The Tiger who Came to Tea,” remains one of her most popular.  In 2012 she was awarded the OBE for services to children’s literature and Holocaust education.

CHARLES KINGSLEY was born in Devon in 1819, the son of a clergyman, and he went on to become a clergyman himself.  He was very interested in history, and greatly concerned for social reform.  Although he wrote many books, including “Westward Ho!” and “Hereward the Wake”, possibly his most well-known today remains his “The Water Babies”, a strange, rather sinister tale about a little chimney sweep, first published in 1863.  It was written as part satire in support of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” and for many years it was counted as a children’s classic.  Eventually, however, it fell out of favour, mainly because of its prejudices against Irish, Jews, Americans, and the poor, though these prejudices were common at the time.  He died in 1875.

GENE KEMP was a British author best known for her children’s books. Her first novel, The Pride of Tamworth Pig was published in 1972, but her best-known, and the book for which she won the Carnegie Medal in 1977, was “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler.”  She died in 2015, aged 88.

DICK KING-SMITH, who lived and worked in the West Country all his life, is a great favourite with children, especially those who love animals.  His book, “The Sheep Pig”, published in 1983, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1984, and in 1995 became a very popular film as “Babe”.  Several of his other books have been televised or made into films, and he also presented a feature on animals on TV-AM’s children's programme “Rub a Dub Dub.”  He was a teacher for many years and wrote over a hundred books.  He died in Bath in 2011, aged 88.

JEFF KINNEY, born 1971, is an American cartoonist, producer and author of children's books, his most famous being his “Wimpy Kid” series.  In January 1998, he came up with the idea of a middle-school weakling named Greg Heffley, who writes illustrated stories about his personal life. In May 2004 he released an online version of the story, titled Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  It became an immediate hit, and the website made daily entries until June 2005, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he signed a multi-book deal with a New York Publisher to turn “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” into a print series.  The first printed version was published in 2007, and since then thirteen further Wimpy Kid books have been released.  He is also a writer and designer of online games.

Next month I'll be talking about the L's.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Bold Girls by Sheena Wilkinson

As a young woman, I never hesitated to say I was a feminist. I had a very consciousness-raising sort of aunt who used to take me on International Women’s Day marches before such things were cool and mainstream. None of my friends ever even knew that it was IWD, and I certainly couldn't have persuaded them to join me. I remember, in eighties Belfast, as a young teen, being shouted at in the street on such a march: ‘Get back to Greenham Common, ya pack of lezzies.’ It was all a bit wearing, but it helped inspire Star By Star, my suffrage novel with its determined feminist heroine, Stella. 

In some ways I'm not very far removed my younger bolshy teenage self who braved ridicule to march the streets of Belfast. That's why I was so thrilled to be included in Children’s Books Ireland’s new initiative, Bold Girls, a celebration of girls and women in children’s books. 

Here is what CBI has to say about their  project:

BOLD GIRLS' aim is to break down societal barriers and to instil confidence in girls and young women by showing them female characters in children’s books with agency, power and opinions, addressing at a young age some of the issues that stand in the way of women achieving their ambitions, whether that be in leadership, in government, in the arts. BOLD GIRLS will highlight and review books that feature strong, intelligent, self-possessed female protagonists in children’s books, as well as celebrating twenty female Irish authors and illustrators, both emerging and established, who have made an exceptional contribution to the canon of Irish children’s literature.
We’re delighted to be presenting Bold Girls with our partners Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, KPMG Families for Literacy Program, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University and the G-Book Project and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
For the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland in 2018, Children’s Books Ireland’s BOLD GIRLS project celebrates strong, confident, intelligent, brave women and girls in children’s books, giving them much-needed visibility alongside their male counterparts.
The Bold Girls Reading Guide

This is the short essay I wrote for inclusion in the Bold Girls Reading Guide: 

Sometimes I was a tomboy; sometimes I played with dolls. Sometimes I had plaits; sometimes I wore my hair cropped short like George in the Famous Five. I owned nothing pink, but as everything in the 1970s was swathed in brown-and-orange paisley swirls, that wasn’t a political statement. At my girls’ school, it was fine to be good at maths and science, though I wasn’t, and I always knew I could grow up whatever way I chose to.

I was a bold, confident girl – the first hand up in class; the first one on to the stage; always ready with an opinion. I loved writing stories and music and books, and I called myself a feminist as soon as I was old enough to spell it. For me, feminism has always meant fairness.

The estate I lived on was quite rough, and I was the kind of bold girl who easily got into fights, so I was encouraged to spend most of my spare time in the local library. This wonderland was where I first fell in love with the world of books and stories, a world I’ve never left. I used to look at the books on the shelves and imagine seeing one – or two, or a whole row – with Sheena Wilkinson on them.
a bolder girl than she looks...

At school and in books I was used to seeing women in positions of leadership, but growing up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles, it seemed to me that men made conflict and women tried to stop it, but men were in charge. Mrs Thatcher was a bold girl, right enough, and a leader, but even as a teenager I could see that she didn’t stand up for other women.

Studying books set in girls’ schools for my PhD deepened my feminism because it allowed me to read women’s history in much more depth than the wars-and-rebellions history we’d done at school. I learned that this history wasn’t considered as important as “real” history. This is changing now, as we celebrate the role women played in shaping our present, the battles they fought for votes and equality and respect.
Now I write those books I dreamed of in my orange-and-brown paisley-patterned library-haunting days. I write about girls and boys and horses and wars and rebellions and music and suffragettes and schools and stars and friendship.

I visit a lot of schools and I see plenty of bold girls, but I also see girls who don’t like to speak up, girls who are worried about not being “nice”, girls who let themselves be defined by how they think society wants them to be. And even though in some ways there are so many more choices now, and society is so much freer, I often feel that it was easier for me to be my own kind of girl back then.

I’ll always write about bold girls, and I’ll be a bold girl even when I’m an old woman. Being a bold old woman sounds like fun.

In the company of some other Bold Girls at TCD

Last week I was in the magnificent Long Room of Trinity College Dublin, seeing the project launched in the company of other writers and book enthusiasts, many of them now friends. I can't wait to get involved in whatever the project has to offer and to spread the boldness!