Monday, 27 September 2010

We All Have a Bottom (Even When It's an Ass)

It's Banned Books Week, and time to remind censors, gatekeepers, and self-appointed moralists that some people hold different views to theirs, and that the young deserve to grow up fully informed and not hoodwinked and mollycoddled. The most interesting article I've read so far has to be this by Anne Rooney, perhaps because it gives a non-American perspective on the far reaching implications of decisions taken in places like Texas and Beijing.

I have frequently had to make small changes to picture book texts and illustrations to boost a book's chances of securing a US co-edition, and some rather big ones too, but the real issue here is much more serious than avoiding hedgehogs and the word 'trousers'. Let's celebrate today by reading something that someone doesn't want us to read, and revel in the extra publicity a ban brings a book while we're about it. And let's all laugh at the idea that banning Harry Potter or photoshopping out genitalia ever made any sense whatsoever.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Drawing Out a Character

It's a long time since I last posted a sketchbook page. This is from a pocket book, showing a primary character (more ghosts, I'm afraid) from something speculative I'm working on for 10+. They're humorous short stories, so my more cartoony style is for once quite appropriate. Looks a bit peaky, doesn't he, my gentleman ghost? But then I doubt death does anyone any favours.

Click for closer look.

I've noticed on my travels around the internet that a lot of writers draw their characters, regardless of whether or not they have any expectation or intention of illustrating a text. I find this fascinating and always enjoy seeing such pictures. It doesn't matter if they're little more than biro sketches on the back of an envelope -- you never know what might emerge from the act of sketching that can be folded back in to enrich a character with some unexpected detail. Even if it is a hole in the head!

Do you do this? I'd love to know, and all links to posted sketches are welcome.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Open Day at Ivory Towers

People occasionally write to me. I call this my ‘fan mail’, but I’m not really as deluded as that sounds. Okay, some of it actually is quite complimentary, but often it’s requests for advice on being an illustrator (which I’m happy to give, for what it’s worth), letters helpfully pointing out mistakes I have made in one of my picture books (thank you!), and very rarely – but rather wonderfully – drawings from children who have liked a story. Inevitably a lot of it is Harry Potter related, though that’s dying off a bit now (and I’m always a bit wary of any HP requests, especially after someone asked for a signed book cover for a sick child only to put it straight onto e-bay!).

Anyway, why am I telling you this? Well, to make the point that unless you live in a cave and shoot would-be readers, writing really isn’t as solitary as it’s often made out to be. Readers and writers go together like crackers and cheese.

I won’t say which is which.

Everyone who keeps a blog knows all this already, but there’s nothing wrong with being reminded, as I was a few days ago when my agent forwarded an e-mail from a confused parent. Could I please explain how something in one of my early picture books was possible? What was “the author’s intention”? There were two small children waiting for an answer.

Wasn’t it clear from the story? Apparently not, and who’s fault is that?

I wrote back and apologised (and I hope my explanation satisfied those two boys) but as I spend my days wrangling with a half-fossilised ms, trying to make time travel sound plausible, it’s useful to be reminded that readers will be the ones to decide if I’ve succeeded or not, not me. And even the loftiest ivory tower has a letter box.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rejection, Indigestion, and Unfinished Business

I keep seeing this Bernard Black clip around and it always cracks me up. We've all been there, and as long as we keep on writing we'll all go there again. Thank goodness for Laughter! And wine.

Of course, following my recent good news (blah blah, etc.), I’m feeling slightly braver about the dreaded R word right now, though only slightly. I can’t stop thinking about the many editors who said NO. But before you roll your eyes at this (and in keeping with my new warts-n-all approach to blogging), please hear me out. The fact is, having had time to mull over the whole submission process for my novel, I now see that I did something very stupid. So, Writer, let what follows be a warning to you.

My agent sent my ms out to nineteen individual editors. Some simply weren’t interested, and some didn’t even respond, but a good dozen or so gave thoughtful and informative responses to read while I fumbled with the corkscrew. Looking through those again I have spotted a theme, and I now finally understand something that people have been saying to me for a long time. Namely that you really can’t afford to submit work that isn’t as strong as you can possibly make it. Or in other words, if you feel that something could be improved in your own ms, for heartburn’s sake do something about it before you screw up your chance with an editor!

Several editors came close to actually spelling that out to me in their rejections, with comments such as “positive, positive, positive …but I just don’t have the time to work with the author on… example, example, example”. It’s the reference to lack of time that says it all. Why submit something that an editor thinks they’ll have to spend loads of time on?

Of course, it’s one thing to do this if you don’t realise you are doing it, but the point is I knew there was room for improvement and went ahead anyway. Why? Well, because I suppose my head had never really left 2006, when showing strong potential was still sufficient to interest a publisher. This was back when publishing was still confident and bullish (and solvent!) and when mid-listers could still be regarded as bestsellers waiting to happen. You know, back before hundreds of editors were made redundant and when bookshops could still paper over the cracks and smile.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2010 is a rubbish time to approach publishers, but it can’t hurt for me to say this: it’s never been easier for an editor (or, by extension, an agent) to say no. Therefore, it’s never been more important to avoid giving them obvious excuses to say it! Even if this does mean many months of extra work.

And after all, 2011 might just be better. Let's drink to that.

Friday, 3 September 2010

To Be Read in Tooth and Claw

The deadline for my latest picture book give away has passed, and it's more than high time I picked a winner. There were a few late entries, but that's okay – they're all in the magic hat now. So if you'll just bear with me while I slip into my sequins...


Here we go...

Drum roll

The winner is...


… Loodles!

Congratulations, Loo. Just send an address to ***@***.fr with any names you would like me to dedicate this book to, and I'll get it in the post ASAP. And I hope you enjoy this fine -- and now very rare and collectible -- Book and CD bind-up.