Monthly Archives: December 2018

An interview with… Jon Mayhew

Featured in my Research Secrets column this December is YA writer Jon Mayhew. He told me about the research that went into writing his supernatural adventure, Mortlock.

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His initial idea came from a school production of Oliver.

I was watching the scene in which Oliver is ‘sold’ to Mr Sowerberry the undertaker and the phrase ‘undertaker’s mute’ was used. The idea of a child trudging behind funeral carriages all day intrigued me and I began to wonder what would happen if that child found that he could wake the dead. Alfie Wiggins was born and so the story began.

He spent time researching the streets of the Seven Dials in London to observe the Victorian architecture and recreate the atmosphere in his novel. A trip to Bamburgh Castle where he had the opportunity to view a funeral carriage, the Dee estuary and childhood memories of Liverpool all helped to create a realistic and evocative Victorian London backdrop.

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His publisher, Bloomsbury needed Jon to check all the extracts from traditional ballads that preface each chapter were out of copyright. Even though Jon is well-versed in traditional music he was able to check the songs were in the public domain with a trip to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.

Jon’s advice to other writers is to enjoy your research but enjoy your writing more and don’t let any of those fiddly details get in the way of a good story. He said:

The research is important because it does give the book a sense of realism and it is easier to visualise characters and settings. I like to think of the research used in a book as the tip of an iceberg. Only a little of the research is actually relayed in the book but it’s there, lurking beneath the surface.

This particular interview was first published in Writers Forum in May 2010. You can read the full interview in the Dec 2018 #206 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Jon Mayhew and his books on his website: www.jonmayhew.co.uk of follow him on Twitter @MayhewJ 

What if…

We have just finished Christmas and I have been watching Christmas movies since early November. I love all the old favourites, especially the different renditions of A Christmas Carol.

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The man who inspired Charles Dickens’, Ebeneezer Scrooge, real name was Ebeneezer Scroggie, a Scottish merchant who died in 1836. Scroggie’s tombstone was moved during redevelopment work and his real identity was temporarily lost and forgotten. His grave, lay unmarked just off the city’s Royal Mile for many years until Edinburgh authorities put up a memorial statue in his memory.

Dickens stumbled upon Scroggie’s tombstone in Canongate Cemetery in 1842, whilst visiting Edinburgh for a lecture. It was the inscription on this tombstone that gave birth to the mean, miserly Scrooge in Dickens’ brilliant novel, A Christmas Carol.

But, in reality, the tombstone read ‘meal man’ rather than ‘mean man’, which referred to Scroggie’s job as a successful corn merchant. The real Ebeneezer was well-known for his generous nature and often enjoyed a good party.

So why was the name and personality of the now most famous Christmas character in history, changed in this way? Maybe, Dickens wanted to protect himself from possible litigation by purposely changing his antagonist’s name, or maybe he simply misread the name on the tomb. We will never know. What we do know is, Dickens wrote in his notebook:

“To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted.”

So, was Ebeneezer a victim of Dicken’s poor research? Or were the changes more to do with the wild imaginations of a great writer who thought, ‘What if…’?

Merry Christmas

I would like to wish all the readers of my blog a very merry Christmas. I started writing this blog hoping to share my thoughts with people world wide. I have a long way to go. But thank you to everyone who is supporting me on this endeavour.

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If there is anything you would like me to write about, any books you would love to see me review or any of my interviews you would like me to share, please let me know.

Here is some sparkling wine and mince pies for you.

 

An interview with… Miriam Halahmy

In May 2016, I interviewed Miriam Halahmy for the Papers Pens Poets blog – the place where writers and illustrators come together to share their love of stationery.

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Miriam explained she always writes in pen because she worries pencil will rub out and she’ll lose something important. She prefers fibre tip pens and the Muji range are her favourite. Miriam told me:

I usually write in black or blue but sometimes I enjoy writing in green or purple. The pen has to flow easily for me and have a reasonable grip.

Miriam also likes small, lined notebooks and insists the lines can’t be too far apart. She  starts a new notebook for each novel. One of her favourite gifts is a fancy notebooks with heavy cover. She uses them as diaries when she is on holiday.

She uses a lot of plastic folders and plastic pockets to keep things in order during her writing process.

I need files for my filing cabinet to keep things in some kind of order, but when I’m working away my desk literally becomes a rising mound of books, papers, slippery slidy plastic pockets, and pens which have been discarded.

You can read the whole Papers Pens Poets interview here.

Miriam COVER HIGH RESWhen I interviewed Miriam for the blog she had just launched The Emergency Zoo, a novel which  focuses on a little known fact that during WWII there was a huge culling of the pets. Her book asks:

When war breaks out, who will save the animals?

In The Emergency Zoo the children spirit their pets away from the grownups and even end up caring for a baby cobra.

Hidden book cover

I have also previously interviewed Miriam for my columns in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum. The first time was in 2011 about her research secrets for her first novel Hidden, which is about racial bullying and set on Hayling Island. Hidden, has been the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2016.

 

Miriam told me how her Hayling archive fills a whole bookshelf at home in her study. She also said she found lots of interesting snippets of inspiration by talking to the local sailors, coastguards and lifeboat men. This also helped to develop her understanding of the beaches, tides, currents and waters around Hayling.

I have swum in the sea in summer and winter and paddled in all seasons and I have walked all over the Island, taking photos, writing notes and talking to anyone who has a moment, from birdwatchers to houseboat owners, to teenagers in the skate park near the funfair.

In the April 2018 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Miriam for my Writing 4 Children column and she told me how her YA novel, Hidden, has been adapted for the stage by playwright Vickie Donoghue.

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Find out more about Miriam on her website: www.miriamhalahmy.com Facebook author page : Miriam Halahmy – Writer and Twitter: @miriamhalahmy

Writing for Children

I don’t believe writing is easy and I do believe writing for children is the most difficult of all. I have often wondered why I want to write for children. Why this market above any other?

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The reason I am writing for children is partly I want to have a lasting effect on children’s lives. Yes, I remember reading the Narnia books and Enid Blyton stories when I was younger and I loved them. I look fondly back at these stories, which remind me of my childhood. But, this is only part of the reason why I want to write for children.

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It is also partly the immense satisfaction I get from seeing myself published. I get a thrill when I see my words in print and I love to hear feedback that shows all my hard work is appreciated by others.

A big chunk of the reason I want to write for children is because I believe I understand children and how their minds work. I’ve always had an interest in Psychology. I did a degree with honours in Behavioural Sciences, which means I have a basic understanding of developmental stages, but it is more than this. I think I am more in tune with children’s emotions and imaginations than I am with adults.

Maybe, I have never grown up and I am still very child-like or childish myself. It is true; I’ve had my fair share of tantrums and setbacks. Again, I think it is more than this. I don’t like long flowery language and long descriptions. I find them boring. So the vocabulary I use naturally leans towards being punchy, attention grabbing and exciting, which is more suited for the younger reader. I love short paragraphs and lots of dialogue and definitely feel that dialogue is my strength.

Also, I have a very short attention span so tend to write in short, sharp bursts, which I think is more suited to writing for the younger age range. However, the most important reason I want to write novel for children is I love the challenge.

So, if you know why you have chosen to write in your particular genre or age group, whether it is for children or adults, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Book Review – Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Title: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Retold and illustrated by: Marcia Williams

Published by: Walker Books

Chaucer_s Canterbury Tales

This is an innovative picture book that deserves a mention in the book review slot of my blog. Geoffrey Chaucer’s colourful characters are bought magically to life by Marcia William’s witty comic-book style. She transports the reader back to Medieval England to join Chaucer and his merry band of pilgrims on their journey back to Canterbury. Enjoy their amazing tales and judge for yourself who should win the best story competition.

The tales have been captured by Marcia William’s ingenious comic-strips, which are full of action and humour. This re-telling of a great classic in picture book format, is best suited for the older KS2 child and would be a great asset for those studying Chaucer up to GCSE level.

This fantastic picture book includes all nine of Chaucer’s tales in the correct order – the knight, the miller, the reeve, the wife of Bath, the summoner, the clerk, the franklin, the pardoner and the nun’s priest. Even the most reluctant reader wouldn’t be able to resist exploring the pictures and reading aloud the olde English to gain a fuller understanding of the story’s meaning.

An Interview with… Skylark Literary Agency

For the December #206 issue of Writers’ Forum I interviewed Amber Caraveo and Joanna Moult of the Skylark Literary Agency about their submission process.

Unlike most literary agents Amber and Jo prefer to receive the whole manuscript in the first instance. this way if they are gripped by the opening they can carry on reading. They are looking for stories that are so compelling they don’t want to put the manuscript down until they have reached the end.

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They explained that sometimes it is the voice, sometimes it is beautiful lyrical writing, sometimes it is the humour and sometimes it is being transported to a beautiful world that makes a manuscript stand out.

Amber’s tip for writers who are thinking about submitting to them is:

Don’t be nervous – we want to see your manuscripts. The success of our business depends on authors like you sharing your work with us! And please tell us a little about yourself. It’s much more engaging when we have a sense of the person behind the novel.

Jo says:

Please don’t feel that you can get anything ‘wrong’ in a covering letter. As long as you’re not rude, the most important thing for us is the quality of your story, so please don’t panic too much about making sure your pitch is flawless or your synopsis is snappy.

You can read the full interview in the Dec 2018 #206 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about the Skylark Literary Agency and the writers they represent on their website: www.skylark-literary.com or follow them on Twitter @AmberCaraveo