Psychedelic children’s stories and Stormzy’s new publishing imprint, Getintothis’ Cath Bore has it all in this month’s look at the book world and insists yes she has a life thanks very much.
July and August are strange months, we can agree on that. It’s not called the annual silly season for nothing, and this year has proved no exception, with the chat en masse being around football and/or Love Island.
I’m a fan of neither but hold nothing against those whose heart beats passionately along with the ups and downs of such things. Each to their own, I say. But the summer got weirder at the weekend just gone when one football pundit got over excited on national telly during the England-Sweden game.
‘There might be someone back home reading a book,’ he gnashed, his upper lip all moist with the thrill of it all. ‘They need to get a life.’
Woah! Steady on there, fella. No need, lad. No need. Did some who reads a lot dump you at some point? What’s your issue, matey? There’s far worse folk to have a pop at than those who enjoy an improving read of a weekend.
Still, it’s all over now, football’s not coming home for some time so we’ll let it lie. But somewhat in keeping with the peculiarity of the season, there’s a mixed bag of delights to enjoy in Wrapped Up in Books this month.
Children’s author Hayley Scott reveals about how she discovered the joy of reading as a youngster herself and why she thinks books for kids are decidedly trippy at times; thriller author Jane Holland shares news of her radio station for writers and readers alike; and in time for the 45th President of the United States’ visit to our shores, I chat to the editor and a contributor to a new book imagining a post-Trump world. There’s Stormzy publishing news as well, and lots more booky treats to enjoy.
- Stormzy launches publishing imprint #Merky Books
Stormzy has announced a new venture to help young writers become published authors via #Merky Books, in collaboration with Penguin Random House.
He revealed via Instagram that he knew “too many talented writers that don’t always have an outlet or a means to get their work seen”, adding: “Reading and writing as a kid was integral to where I am today and I from the bottom of my heart can not wait to hear your stories, your poems, your novels, your sci-fis and then getting them out into the big wide world.”
Stormzy publishes his own book Rise Up this November, and next year is to announce details of a competition for new works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, with the winner receiving a publishing contract with #Merky Books. There will also be a paid internship up for grabs.
#Merky Books aim to publish two to three books each year, and provide a home for a new generation of voices.
Penguin Random House also run the annual WriteNow scheme. Now in its third year, it encourages and mentors writers from under represented backgrounds.
- HAYLEY SCOTT
Hayley Scott is the author of the Twitches books for children. They cover the adventures of a family of toy rabbits and their owner, a little girl called Stevie. The first two published in the series so far are Meet The Twitches and The Twitches Bake a Cake. She spoke to us about her books, and the value of reading for children.
What age range are the Twitches books aimed at?
‘They’re for emerging readers, so 5-8. They’re chapter books, but highly illustrated, so they can be read with or to younger children, but are also accessible as the first step for children to independently read longer books.’
Why do you think it’s important or children to read and be read to? (huge question, I know)
‘I think stories are even more important than books. I’ve had a turn around on that because I’ve always felt books are so important, and they ARE, but for me allowing children to tell and hear stories is vital because it helps them make sense of the world, imagine other lives, and see a place to make sense of their own thoughts and experiences.
I think reading is the biggest gift you can give a child, but not all people are in a position to do this, for lots of reasons. My mum read to me when I was young, and taught me to read before I started school. All the opportunities I’ve had, and all the ways my life has developed professionally have been a step from there. I never realised what a privilege it was because I’ve never been without it, but it was a privilege.
I’d like to do more work around adult literacy, and bringing stories and books into the home where books haven’t been the norm – with no judgement, just making it all more accessible and less about shame or other things like that.’
Children’s books are often quite trippy and a bit psychedelic, I think. For example the Twitches books are about toy rabbits living in a Teacup house…why do you think children engage with and are stimulated by other worldly characters and stories?
‘I think because everything is still new when you are a child, and you’re still walking the line between knowing how the world works and wondering about it. Also adults are quite confusing when it comes to what they tell children about… they choose when they think children are reading for certain pieces of information, and don’t realise children are there, watching and looking and trying to put the pieces together.
Alice in Wonderland is hugely trippy, and it doesn’t follow a logical narrative, but there are characters in it who are really realistic to children – looming, obscure, bizarre, cruel, silly. I think these stories last because children understand that the world is multi-faceted and odd and magic is always the fine line between how things are and what we tell ourselves they are.’
How did the Twitches books come about? Where did you get the idea from?
‘I wanted to write a book about a mum and daughter living together because that’s how my daughter and I lived and she’d asked why there wern’t many books with families like that in it. And I’ve always promised myself I’d write a dolls house kind of story, with miniature things in it. And I love rabbits. Always have done. It was a natural pairing.’
How closely do you work with the illustrator, Pippa Curnick?
‘I was really clear about how I wanted all the characters to look, including things like having Eshe’s mum being taller than her dad, having Stevie’s mum being larger, or Stevie’s stepdad Stuart having a visible disability that’s not mentioned in the text. I wrote quite a lot of descriptions for the illustrations for book one, but having said that, after seeing the first, and working that way, Pippa’s illustrations took on a life of their own and she really did bring something to the stories that I could never have written in a description, and they really do feel like ‘our’ stories now. I love her pictures of the natural world, and the garden especially. And the Twitches. I imagined them differently – although I described their outfits and everything quite carefully – but Pippa made them her own and I wiill be eternally grateful for her talent, skill and care she’s taken over these books.’
How do you think we can help children from less well-off families or who live in deprived areas gain more access to book and encourage them to read?
‘I think we really need to have more variety of who stories are about… and to start with oral tradition and telling and listening to stories first. I think it can be quite intimidating if you are an adult who has not had a close relationship with books to suddenly be in a world with people who’ve always been around them.
I think, funnily enough, there is a lot of storytelling and reading going on in less well-off families, but it’s not always seen. I’d love to see more reading clubs in schools. Schools do an amazing job! I know so many teachers who are always bringing stories to children that otherwise might not be getting them.’
How did you discover books as a child?
‘My mum. She read me stories and put on the voices. My favourite memories are of her reading Noddy and, conversely, Grimms’ fairytales which remain some of my favourite stories and influence my writing for children and adults.
She left home when I was eight, but she gave me a gift that seems to have led most of the best experiences of my life. And nobody can ever take away the gift of stories once it’s been given.’
What’s your favourite children’s book? Either from your own childhood or one you’ve discovered more recently.
‘Watership Down. It’s amazing. It doesn’t matter how many times I reread it. I also loved Charlotte’s Web so much that I changed my name on my school books to add Fern as an extra middle name! Recently I’ve loved all the books by Emma Carroll and The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange was brilliant. I’m loving seeing my daughter start to have her own favourites too, and seeing her taste in books grow differently to mine.’
Are there anymore Twitches books due?
‘There are! Another in October, The Twitches Meet a Puppy – Stevie’s dad and his husband come to stay when Stevie’s mum goes away for work, and they bring their puppy with them… .needless to say the Puppy causes havoc for the inhabitants of the teacup house!’
Meet The Twitches and The Twitches Bake a Cake are published by Usborne.
- Initiatives to get children to read more this summer…and beyond
The National Literacy Trust’s research reveals of over 42,000 children aged 8 – 18, almost one child in ten does not own a book of their own, rising to one in eight children from disadvantaged backgrounds. A new study by easyJet found that almost four in ten parents said that their child owned fewer than 10 books at home .A fifth (22%) of parents said their child had not visited a library in over twelve months.
The good news is that there’s lots of activities from schools, and over the summer holidays grassroots community organisations, libraries and beyond are helping children read more..
The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged between 4 to 11 to read books from the local library during the long summer holiday. Children’s reading can take a dip during the summer break. The annual Challenge helps get three quarters of a million children into libraries each year to keep up their reading skills and confidence. More information here.
In response to the easyJet survey, the airline has launched 300 Flybraries (flying libraries) stocked with over 17,500 copies of children’s books translated in seven European languages to encourage youngsters to read. The initiative is being supported by the National Literacy Trust. The partnership means that parents can download fun activities for the family over the summer to encourage literacy.
Grassroots and community groups around the UK work hard to ensure children get access to books. The Hive, Wirral Youth Zone in Birkenhead is running a Summer Reading Project. They ask for donations of books suitable for those aged 8 or over. Bright street, Birkenhead, CH41 4EA.
- Harry Potter 20th anniversary spider at Waterstones Liverpool ONE
To mark 20 years since JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published, seven unique models of the spider from the book have been made, and one of them is on display in the window of at Liverpool ONE Waterstones.
The remaining spiders are at Waterstones stores in Leeds, Edinburgh, London Piccadilly and Nottingham, The Book Nook in Hove, and at the publisher Bloomsbury’s offices, although that spider will then be forwarded to Seven Stories in Newcastle.
Each spider has a ‘skin’ created from pages of the House Edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was published with cover art by Levi Penfold on 29th June.
The original edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has sold 2.81 million copies, with all editions (including the illustrated one) selling an incredible 4.25 million copies in total.
- After The Orange: Ruin and Recovery
After The Orange: Ruin and Recovery is a forthcoming collection of speculative fiction imagining life after Donald Trump leaves the White House. What the world will be like and how – if – the human race has survived. Commissioned by US publisher B Cubed Press, stories are from all over the world.
Writers were asked to let themselves wonder what a post-Trump future might hold.
‘First and foremost, I wanted to produce a great book of short stories. Given the quality of the submissions from around the world, that was the easy part,’ says After The Orange editor Manny Frishberg.
‘One of the main types of Science Fiction stories is known as, “If Things Go On as They Are,” which is where the reputation for predicting the future comes from. Every historical event reverberates across time, so I asked the authors to imagine the ripples in the global pond, expanding outward from the Trump presidency.’
London based author Paula Hammond contributed two stories to the book. She responded to the publisher’s call for submissions because ‘here was an indie publisher and a group of talented authors who were saying no (to Trump). Trump’s narrative isn’t the only one. The right-wing narrative isn’t the only one. I wanted to get my thoughts out there and maybe change a few minds. It’s not much on the scale of things, but I’d be rubbish on the barricades!
I think Bob Brown and Phyllis Irene Radford (from B Cubed Press) said it best. When asked, with a few friends, what they could do in response to Donald J Trump becoming America’s 45th President “We decided that what we could do was write…”. Plus, of course, it’s great to tell stories, and even better if those stories touch a cord.’
Paula’s story Ghosts and Glory is focussed around the themes of children and the environment. Why did she choose those two aspects as a kick off point?
‘The single biggest challenge our planet faces, right now, is climate change and no one—certainly not big business— wants to tackle it. When Trump walked away from the Paris Climate Accord, he made a deliberate choice to put business and profits before the future of the entire planet. That sounds dramatic, but the clock is ticking. There are already island communities drowning, nations running out of water and food. And what’s horrifying is that the world’s biggest polluters—the developed world—-seem unwilling to do anything significant to combat it. (America may have only have around 4 percent of the world’s population, but they’re responsible for almost a third of the excess carbon dioxide heating the planet.) We’re happy to make the rest of the planet pay for the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. But… eventually this will bite us in the ass. And it’s our children, the next generation, who will have to live with the fall out.’
After The Orange: Ruin and Recovery is published on 16 July.
- Write Radio
Author Jane Holland is the wearer of many hats. She writes contemporary thrillers as Jane Holland – her novel Girl Number One has sold over 100, 000 copies to date; as Beth Good she pens romantic fiction; historical romance as Elizabeth Moss; historical fiction as Victoria Lamb; and feel-good fiction as Hannah Coates.
If that isn’t enough, she has launched Write Radio, a online radios station for authors, readers and anyone who loves books. She took time out from her life at the keyboard – and microphone – to tell us about the new venture.
How did you come up with the idea of Write Radio? A blog for writers that you can listen to ties in perfectly with the increase in popularity of podcasting…
‘When my career as a novelist took off, I tried podcasting, but rapidly grew bored; it was too small-scale and insular for me. I wanted to create a radio station, but what would I broadcast? I love music, but there was no point reinventing the wheel there. And the only other thing I know about is writing…. I wanted WR to be a kind of freestyle blogging for the ears. And one where I have the final say on what gets broadcast and how.
Control freaks may be frowned upon these days, but we actually make great arts editors, because arts projects run by committees or oppressed by funding considerations are rarely free to follow one single, powerful, undiluted vision. I’m known for relentless self-promotion but in fact I’ve always found working with other writers more exciting than studying my own navel. So I wanted to involve other people in the project from the beginning, like a magazine format, and eventually to get others to generate content, while I edit and facilitate them. And that’s my basic vision for Write Radio.’
What do you think authors and readers will get from it?
‘Writers who go into it thinking, I want to promote my books, will get their books promoted. Writers who are slightly more daring have a broader scope, and can be as ambitious as they like, frankly. I’m open to ideas and won’t be put off by something unusual or large-scale. Readers will find a range of interesting writers they might not otherwise have heard of.’
What will it offer that a written blog doesn’t?
And there are hundreds of thousands of written blogs out there. Write Radio is a space where something different can happen. A blog is aimed at readers en masse. It has a generic style of address, usually aimed at an idealised reader. Radio is where a writer can be intimate with each reader in a curiously one-to-one way, can speak with their own voice, with intonation and nuance, and perform out loud rather than merely write down the words that are their stock-in-trade. To my mind, that’s a difference worth pursuing.’
What plans do you have for Write Radio?
‘I’m an impulsive seat-of-my-pants person. I dislike planning too far ahead. It’s not a pop-up, but WR will exist only as long as people are interested in listening and contributing, and in making it their own space rather than being passive consumers. I don’t want passivity. I want engagement, I want to challenge people. So I hope writers – and readers and librarians and bloggers – will listen and contribute content that does exactly that, that engages and challenges. That’s how it will thrive. As a community. Not as something I made alone.’
You can listen to Write Radio and find out more here
- Harlan Ellison
Award winning American writer Harlan Ellison died last month at the age of 84.
Ellison wrote over 1800 short stories, screenplays, novellas, essays, critiques and teleplays, and won eight Hugo awards.
A survey for the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) revealed at the end of June that median earnings for professional authors had dropped to below £10,500 a year. Canvassing 5000 writers, they found that the average full-time writer earns £5.73 an hour; the UK minimum wage for those over 25 is £7.85, £9.15 in London.
It seems timely, then, to share this clip from the documentary about Ellison’s life and career, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. Made ten years ago, the sentiments ring ever truer here in 2018.
What’s on and dates for the diary:
- 23 July: Shari Lapena and Mary Torjussen Talk Twisty Thrillers with Sarah Ward: Waterstones Liverpool ONE
- 26 July: Matt Haig Discusses Notes From A Nervous Planet at Oh Me Oh My, Water Street Liverpool
- 17 Aug Into The Void by The Coral’s Nick Power is published, an insightful, amusing and evocative firsthand account of the recording, release and touring of the band’s new album Distance Inbetween.
- 3 November Edge Hill Short Story Prize winner is announced revealed. More info here.
- 8 November Joni Mitchell: The Norman Seeff Sessions is published through Insight Editions. An extraordinary collection of photographs of the legendary singer and songwriter, captured by celebrated rock-and-roll photographer Seeff.