UKMGExtravaganza…coming soon. Very soon.

UKMGExtravaganza October 2015 Nottingham

It’s only a couple of days now until UKMGExtravaganza in Nottingham. Thirty-five  – yes, 35 – UK middle grade authors all in one place, perhaps the most ever seen in captivity! It follows on from UKYAX last week and is organised by the amazing Kerry Drewery, Emma Pass and Jo Cotterill. Authors will be talking, mingling, signing books, and eating cake.

I will be in Nottingham Central Library on Saturday afternoon, waving my books about, and giving away the gorgeous bookmarks for my new title, Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection, which isn’t actually out until next year.

Julia Lee's books UKMGExtravaganza 2015

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BRIGHTON ROCKS BOOKS

Last minute reminder of this event tomorrow – and an update: Chris Riddell, the new Children’s Laureate, author of Goth Girl and much more, will be there!

GirlsHeartBooks

Do you fancy a summer’s day by the seaside with BOOKS? (Let’s face it, who doesn’t?) Do you live in the South East of England? Or have you got super-powers that enable you to travel huge distances in the blink of an eye? Because…

Brighton beach and Brighton PierOn Saturday July 11th at the Jubilee Library, in central Brighton, you can join a whole host of writers – including me – for an amazing day all about books. And what’s more, this is a free event. Woohoo!

The day pans out as follows:

11am: Action! Adventure! How writers keep stories exciting for younger readers, Middle Grade panel (suitable for ages 8+) featuring AF Harrold (THE IMAGINARY), Julia Lee (THE DANGEROUS DISCOVERIES OF GULLY POTCHARD), Tatum Flynn (THE D’EVIL DIARIES)
Noon: A World of Pure Imagination: Middle Grade (8+) workshop run by Cameron McAllister (THE TIN SNAIL)
Noon: Writing It…

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From inspiration to publication

An invitation from Lewes Children’s Book Group –

Jlewes childrens book groupoin us at our AGM on 28th January to find out more about writing for children and getting published.

 

 

Author Miriam Moss will be in discussion with a group of children’s writers talking about their journey from Inspiration to Publication. Dawn Casey and Leigh Hodgkinson write picture books and Leigh is also an illustrator. Julia Lee writes adventure stories aimed at 8-12 year olds and Jon Walter had his first teenage novel published last year.

The talk is on Wednesday 28th January, 7.30 for 8 p.m. start in the Lecture Room, upstairs in Lewes Town Hall, Lewes, East Sussex. There will be a chance to ask questions, chat to the authors and buy a book to get signed. Everyone is welcome – entrance is free.

My inspiration: blizzards and baddies, amongst other things…

 

It started with a comic. A whole bag of them, in fact. I was 8 or 9 years old and a friend passed on a heap of back numbers so that, instead reading one issue and having to wait a week for the next, I could feast. It was there I found The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the incomparable Joan Aiken…

 

I recently wrote about this book for The Guardian, and why it – and its utterly glorious sequels – really inspire my writing. You can read the whole piece here.

Summer Reading 3: Islands of adventure…and growing up.

seaweed and limpets, Cornish beach

Recently I’ve been thinking, and blogging, about what kind of reading fits with summer days and I’ve finally got round to some children’s books. There’s still time! The weather may not be so summery right now but there are still weeks to go until…but let’s not think about that.

I’ve never been to the Scilly Isles but have long wanted to visit. Even more so now, after reading Breathing Underwater by Julia Green (2009), based on a fictionalised version of this archipelago off the tip of Cornwall. 14-year-old Freya returns for the first time in a year to the tiny island where her grandparents live and where her big brother drowned the summer before. It’s sad, but story and setting are beautifully evoked, as are the things that have changed and those which stay the same. I hate that lazy phrase ‘coming to terms with’, but I guess this is what the book is all about, and yet much more. Freya is growing up and stretching her wings. It also sums up wonderfully the way a holiday place can be somewhere you think of as your very own, more you than where you live most of your life – even when that’s painful, too.

Cornish cove

Cornish cove

 

Somewhere I have spent a lot of summertime in is mainland Cornwall, since my grandparents lived there and my mum grew up there. Also beautifully evoked, Helen Dunmore’s Ingo series (2006 onwards) mixes very convincing rocky coves, sandy beaches, caves, sun and sea-fog of the real Cornwall with a more mythical underwater strand which begins with a carved mermaid in Zennor church. Ingo is also about loss and longing; a little, too, about the economic difficulties of living in a remote, rural and seasonal county – but I expect grown-up readers will pick up more on this.  I’ve only read the first volume but have the second – The Tide Knot – lined up and can’t wait. Dunmore writes amazing novels for adults and is a poet, too – it shows.

In both these books children and young teens are testing their independence, and I love reading about their freedom to take risks and weigh up consequences.

For less nuanced reading, here are a couple of other ideas.

islands of adventure

More islands, swimming, sailing, picnics, camping out and building fires feature in my next suggestion. A much more traditional one: Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome (1929). I confess I haven’t reread this since childhood and there may be some very uncomfortable attitudes lurking in it for modern-day readers. I know one of the characters has an embarrassing name that has not really stood the test of time. But there are ‘pirates’, intrepid and skilful girls, and plenty of adventures. It was in this book that I first came across a reference to pemmican – some kind of convenience-meal canned meat that, as a squeamish eater, I felt very nervous about – and because of my very literal young mind I just made the connection: pelican in a can. Obviously!

I’ve written elsewhere that I never read much Enid Blyton as a child, but I did enjoy a couple of the titles in the

The Island of Adventure by Enid BlytonAdventure’ seriesThe Island of Adventure being the only one I remember anything about! But Blyton is never short of picnics, boats, beaches and islands, and the kind of adventures that can only be had when responsible adults are right out of the picture and only the wicked, but easily outwitted by a handful of kids and a dog (or, in this instance, a parrot) type, are left.

 

Happy holidays (if only inside the pages of a book)!

Reading Heaven?

This is such a wonderful letter, so atmospheric and full of love for that kind fall-into-a-book reading that I remember from childhood and long school holidays (and days when I was lying ill in bed or on the settee, but not too ill to read). And it brought back memories of miniature moss gardens, too! And of drawing pictures to go with the pictures in my head that reading conjured up – or at least trying to draw something that could come close what I pictured. And cats keeping you company while you read! (How many ‘ands’ can I include here??)

I think Joan Aiken had a very sympathetic style in writing to fans and readers of her books, if I’m to judge from this letter. It’s warm and personal, a great piece of writing in itself, and doesn’t talk down to the reader.

Joan Aiken

Reading Holiday

This was Joan’s idea of a Perfect Holiday… what about you?

Dear Person

*********

Read the full letter from Joan at The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken

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The Stockport Children’s Book Award 2014

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth has been shortlisted for another children’s book award, in Stockport this time. The lovely people who organise the awards sent out questions to all the authors on the list so that they could post the answers on their website.

I don’t know about other authors, but I always enjoy being interviewed about books and writing (especially if I’ve got time to work on the answers!) and the questions asked of children’s writers are generally much more fun than those asked about writing for grown-ups.

Here is what they asked, and what I replied:

What was your inspiration for this book?

The names Gully Potchard and Clemency Wrigglesworth popped into my head from nowhere and I had to explore who they were. They sounded like characters from a children’s book (I was writing for adults at the time) and old fashioned and slightly comical, so that gave me the tone and setting. After that it was fun all the way!

What was your favourite book as a child?

So many but I will opt for the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, because they still make me laugh, and Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty, which I read over and over, although it still makes me cry!

What were you like at school?

Very well-behaved and responsible at junior school (a prefect, always in choir and orchestra, dance clubs etc) but this tailed off soon after I went up to ‘big’ school and I was more of a rebel and class comedian.

What advice would you offer to budding writers?

You’re only a writer if you write – having great ideas is the easy bit! Getting them down, shaping them, and finishing is much harder. Daydreaming is good, and so is being bored – believe it or not – it makes you use your imagination. Look at the world around you like an anthropologist, or an alien, and see what you see. Read lots, including books outside your usual comfort zone. I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on?

My next book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, is complete and will be out this August. Now I’m writing a detective story with an unlikely comic heroine, set in the 1920’s, and a historical novel that isn’t funny at all.

What has been your favourite children’s book this year?

Again, so hard to choose. Um…Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll, and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans, although the last one is not brand-new.

 

The Stockport Children’s Book Award was launched in 1995. The aims of the project are:

  • to raise the profile of reading for pleasure
  • to offer children access to some of the best new fiction
  • to increase parents’, teachers’ and school librarians’ awareness of new fiction
  • to create a community of readers in Stockport by:
  • providing opportunities for children to meet authors
  • providing a forum for reading and an opportunity to share books

The Country Child – Alison Uttley

‘There are some happy books that are neither “children’s books” nor “adult books”,’ says Nina Bawden in her introduction to A Country Child, and this is one of them.

I have had this on my To Read list since I wrote about rediscovering Alison Uttley’s time-slip novel A Traveller In Time last year. I didn’t know until this week, when I stumbled upon it on the children’s classics table in a bookshop, that it has been reissued. It is published by Jane Nissen Books with this gorgeous cover in translucent blues and greens that sing like sun through stained glass.

 

The Country Child by Alison Uttley, published by Jane Nissen Books

Inside there are the original illustrations by C F Tunnicliffe – they are beautiful and plentiful!

Alison Uttley is best known for her delightful and nostalgic Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig books for young children.

Little Grey Rabbit by Alison Uttley children's books

She was born and bred in the Derbyshire countryside at the remote Castle Top Farm in what are still breathtaking surroundings, and writes superbly about country customs and the rhythm of the seasons. I’ve yet to check this area out for myself but would love to visit.

First published in 1931 by Faber & Faber,  A Country Child follows Susan Garland through a year in the life of her family’s farm. Uttley was born in 1884 and bases the story on her own childhood, but Nina Bawden had largely similar experiences on a farm in the Welsh Marches during World War 2. She says that ‘for anyone who loves the countryside, or wants to understand our rural past, it is a perfect book’.

It’s also a beautiful book to hold and look at and I’m so pleased I’ve found it. It might be nostalgia but it’s quality nostalgia! Whether it would appeal as much to young readers these days is another matter.

The young Alison Uttley, author

 

What kind of writer are you? Part Deux

 

Here’s another idea about contrasting writing methods posted by Cavan Scott on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure –Planners or Pantsters?

I think it’s basically the Architects vs Gardeners argument again – control versus less control – but flying by the seat of your pants sounds potentially chaotic and very scary to me, while gardening sounds gentle and wise.

 

Bridget Jones big pants

A solution, thanks to Bridget Jones?

 

Not so gentle, of course when it comes to ripping out the weeds, squashing the snails, and hard pruning. Or editing, as it’s called.

What kind of writer are you? Gardener or architect?

I’m always interested in how other people write, so I loved this analogy from Ian Beck, illustrator and children’s author.  He was speaking at last weekend’s Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference and I was lucky enough to be in the audience.

Ian Beck, author and illustrator, image David Bartlett/FCBG.

Ian Beck, image by David Bartlett/FCBG.

He spoke of writers as either gardeners or architects. An architect makes blueprints and models, and work proceeds from these. Everything is planned in advance, and in detail. The finished building is (fore)seen before construction begins.

A gardener, on the other hands, plants a seed, waters it and waits to see what happens. The seed grows, and changes as it does so. Hopefully, it flourishes.

Ian said that he is gardener, and only discovers what a book is about when he has written a draft.

I’m a writer and a gardener, literally. I’ve been doing both for most of my life, and learning all the time. I tend to think of the imagination as a compost heap. Stuff goes into my brain – all kinds of experience, first-hand and second-hand – and sinks down slowly, mixing and mulching away, turning into something rich and strange. When it’s ready, I can use it. But what comes out will not be easily recognisable as what went in.

Now I have another horticultural metaphor to use, thanks to Ian Beck. As a writer, I am definitely a gardener. I wouldn’t want to read a book where I knew exactly what was going to happen, chapter by chapter, so I wouldn’t be keen to write one either. It would take out much of the fun and all the mystery.

Getting a story idea is like planting a seed. You have to nurture it, but also give it time. What grows may surprise you. You certainly can’t guarantee the outcome from the start, irrespective of the picture on the seed packet.

Pansies vintage seed packet

‘There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts.’