Category Archives: Blogging

The CILIP Carnegie Medal: is it time for a discussion about splitting the medal?

The short-list for the 81st CILIP Carnegie Medal was announced yesterday and it started up the discussion about splitting the Medal into a YA and younger fiction award due to a number of YA titles containing unsuitable content for younger readers.

I set up a 24 hour poll on Twitter to gauge how people feel about the idea of splitting the medal.

I must admit that in past discussions with friends and colleagues the majority of people I have spoken to have favoured the one medal for all approach as it is currently run. The results of the poll surprised me, I honestly expected them to be more evenly matched.

You can see the results below, if you click on the tweet you can read the entire, fascinating conversation that it spawned.

One of the major successes of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards has been the Shadowing Scheme allowing thousands of students in schools across the country and the world to follow the judging process, read along with the judges and have the opportunity to speak to members of the judging panel about the judging process. This is one of the positive extras that the Medals offer; but when younger readers are excluded due to the mature content of many of the short-listed titles it starts becoming of limited value to primary schools and the lower years of senior school.

The Shadowing Scheme is not the main purpose of the awards nor is it to recognise an ideal book for all readers. The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people. This most outstanding book is chosen through a rigorous judging process and I do not want that to change.

However the strength of feeling engendered by the question among librarians, authors, publishers and other interested parties plus the growing ease of identifying YA books and other children’s books may make splitting the award less onerous than it may have been in the past.

Speaking personally, I am, at present, in favour of the one award for all but I am not against participating in a discussion about the future of the awards and recognising outstanding works for young people. Are new medals required to recognise age-specific books for young readers or will the Carnegie (and possibly the Kate Greenaway) survive in multiple incarnations?

This decision is, fortunately, not one that I can make, the only people able to do that are CILIP and the CKG Working Party who administer the medals.

One of the strengths of the Awards is that the decision-makers do listen to outside voices, and if the suggestions made have merit then changes are effected to make them more inclusive, relevant and open.

As I stated in my initial tweet, the poll was informal, but the message it sends is that perhaps it is time to revisit to conversation about splitting the medals, as the voices of dissent are only going to get louder.

My last post about World Book Day

As anyone who knows me or follows my blog and twitter account will know, I have had a bit of a problem with World Book Day – not the celebration of books, bookshops and reading but what I perceived as missteps in their organisation of WBD 2018 (and also some issues with WBD 2017). Rather than rehashing what I have already written, you can read my thoughts here and here.

I did try and engage with the organisation on social media in an attempt to have a public discussion about my concerns but to no avail, so on the 19th February I sent them an e-mail. You can read it below.

To whom it may concern

I have a number of conflicted feelings about World Book Day, on one hand I am a massive supporter of getting young people reading and into bookstores but on the other hand I feel that World Book Day ltd has made a number of missteps recently, some of which which I have publicly criticised on TeenLibrarian and via social media.

I dislike the idea of criticism without allowing a response and not having been able to engage with you via social media I wondered if a representative from WBD would be able to answer some questions regarding the issues I feel have arisen?

My questions are below.

Firstly, the YA offer this year

Why did it take three months for the YA titles to be announced instead of during “the coming weeks” as reported in the Guardian? (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/02/childrens-authors-slam-celebrity-heavy-world-book-day-lineup)

Regarding the £1.50 YA premium on top of the WBD voucher, I am aware that they are full novels and are still considerably cheaper than a non-WBD branded copy book would cost; but do you not think that this will further alienate young people from impoverished backgrounds*; not to mention the young people go to a participating bookshop or supermarket to pick up a book with their voucher and find out when they get to the till that they have to pay.

I also note on your website that the YA ‘special editions’ will be available in participating retailers only – will these retailers be listed to help shoppers find the books they are looking for? Are you not concerned that this will exclude older readers who wish to participate in World Book Day but do not live near a participating store?

Secondly the proliferation of the World Book Day logo on advertising costumes on posters in malls and in supermarkets. Contrary to popular belief I am not against dressing up to celebrate one’s favourite books for World Book Day, but is not using your logo to sell costumes a contravention of the style guide usage policy which states that the logo should only be used on materials promoting books?

I also fear that the dress-up aspect of the day is occluding the celebration of reading which forms a central part of World Book Day. An online search for “World Book Day” returns mostly news articles on where to find the most affordable costumes and news that a Welsh language book will be available for the first time.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions

Matt Imrie
Editor: Teen Librarian

*There were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15. That’s 28 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30 and this number is projected to rise by 2020 [source: http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures]

I received a response on Friday the 9th but owing to a school trip and family obligations over the weekend I only received it today. You can read it in full below

Download (PDF, Unknown)

I appreciate the Director Kirsten Grant taking the time to personally respond to my questions, it made for interesting reading and while my fears have not been completely allayed (or answered fully) I look forward to seeing what happens with WBD in the future.

Blog Tour: A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Claire Cock-Starkey will be speaking about A Library Miscellany (and The Book Lovers’ Miscellany) at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm

Visit Claire’s website www.nonfictioness.com and follow her on Twitter @nonfictioness

A Library Miscellany FRONT ONLY

Opinion: #WorldBookDay YA Book Selection

Well the World Book Day YA books have been announced on the WBD site and via their twitter account. I was rather excited at the news until I read that the five full-length novels have a price of £2.50, or £1.50 with a World Book Day token.

What I have loved about World Book Day in the past is that it has offered all young people the opportunity to visit a book shop and choose a book that they can take home and keep forever. It feels discriminatory requiring older readers to pay anything when the younger ones are able to choose a WBD Book for free.

It will also limit the celebration of reading to those young people who can afford to go the bookshop or have parents/guardians that are proactive in getting them to read or at the very least to own books of their own.

I may be completely off-base here, but it appears (to me) that the organisers of World Book Day omitted the YA selection when they were putting the 2018 WBD selection together, were blind-sided by the outcry and cut a deal with publishers to offer some (truly excellent) YA novels as World Book Day books at as low a cost as they were able.

I know that the YA titles are fantastic, full novels, but many young people will balk at going in to a bookshop knowing that they will have to pay, either from the shame of being unable to afford even the nominal £1.50 or at the thought of having to pay at all.

In the past I have always considered the World Book Day tokens and celebrations on and around the day as one of the key weapons in my arsenal in the fight to get and keep young people reading. This year it appears that WBD will be of limited use with my older reluctant readers – and that is a crying shame!

l’bibliothèque, ç’est moi

Paraphrasing the Sun King there although there is a bit of a dispute as to whether or not he actually said L’Etat, ç’est moi! (I am the State)

I am stealing it and re-purposing it for the 21st century and for Librarians.

So L’Bibliothèque, ç’est moi! – I am the Library!

While a Librarian without a Library is still a Librarian, the opposite is not true – a Library without a Librarian becomes a room or building full of books and other resources that people without the requisite know-how are unable to access fully. So yes the Librarian makes the Library and can be said to actually be the Library.; at the very least the Librarian is the interface through which many people can access the services on offer.

This train of thought led me to consider why so many schools have re-branded their Libraries as ‘Learning Resource Centres’, many are still run by Librarians, some are managed by Resource Centre Managers and still others are unstaffed; after all who needs a Librarian if you no longer have a Library?

‘Reading Russia’ while researching The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

In 2012, when I was just beginning to have vague thoughts that I might write an historical novel set in Russia during the Revolution, an email appeared in my Inbox. Edinburgh International Book Festival was celebrating 50 years and, supported by the British Council, invited 50 writers to do a cultural exchange with different locations world-wide. So, while other writers ended up shopping in New York or sunning themselves in the Caribbean I was one of a group who were asked to speak at a Cultural Fair in… Siberia!

A stop-off in Moscow provided the opportunity to speak with librarians, teachers and students of English literature and see some of Russia’s literary treasures. In addition to their pre-printing press beautifully illuminated manuscripts, there were originals manuscripts of famous Russian writers, such as Dostoevsky and, thrillingly, the handwritten title page of Mikhail Bulgakov’s original manuscript for The Master and Margarita.

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

We discussed the transformative power of good fiction and in the evening attended an ‘open mike’ literature session in a night club. Seriously. In a night club. During the music breaks anyone could come up and talk about reading. And they did. Amazing! Young people spoke about the influence of Gogol and quoted favourite bits of Turgenev. And I learned so much about modern Russian writers. We were challenged to name a ‘hero for our times’ I chose Katniss Everdeen – who else?

Russia has enormously influential writers, with Alexander Pushkin rated as the funder of modern Russian literature. In Eugene Onegin Pushkin speaks on writing saying: “… weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound; I write, …”

Pushkin supported the 1825 uprising and his writings were considered so dangerous by the Tsar that he was banished from St Petersburg and barred from any government post. When he died he was buried without ceremony in case the occasion of his funeral would cause unrest. I’m intrigued by Pushkin for he used language in a new way, melding traditional tongues with the words of the common people. He proved a big inspiration for the character of Nina’s father, Ivan, the Storyteller, in The Rasputin Dagger.

Then on to Siberia. I was soooooo excited. It was late October / early November and they said “Oh, it’s not that cold, yet…” Really? I was glad I’d packed my grey-goose down-filled parka with the fur-lined hood. I have to say that Melvin Burgess looked fetching in his dark green wool overcoat and was a particular draw for our teen audiences.

As I’m a former Young People’s Services librarian the organisers were keen that I speak on the subject of Youth Library Services. Despite the remote venue the session was full and I was proud to share examples of British ‘best practice’. Like ravenous wolves the librarians fell upon the material I’d brought with me.

 Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

Then Melvin and I had events with articulate and engaging young teenagers, organised and moderated by the pupils themselves.

 Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

It was an absolute joy to talk to these young Russians. Although desperately keen for modern teen fiction from the West, their own reading included Tolstoy and Chekhov, and a wide range of classic Russian books.

And a final interesting fact – schools in Siberia only close if the temperature drops below 26 degrees centigrade!

©Theresa Breslin 2017
Twitter: @TheresaBreslin1

Rook, and the sense of place by Anthony McGowan

I like to think that if the world were destroyed in some apocalypse, and a future race – perhaps descended from ants or koala bears or mung beans – tried to rebuild our world from literary sources, my books Brock, Pike, and Rook would enable a pretty accurate recreation of the Yorkshire village of Sherburn in Elmet.

Although, in writing for young adults, I’ve invested most of my energies into characterisation and narrative, I’ve always known exactly where my books were set. It’s almost always been a version of my old school – Corpus Christi, in Leeds. The stained concrete and glass of the building, the polluted beck running past it, the tussocky field beyond where travellers would come and go in mysterious patterns, the surrounding Halton Moor council estate – these were where my characters worked through the dangers and joys of teenage life.

Although I went to school in Leeds, I was actually brought up ten miles outside, in Sherburn. It’s an odd sort of place – once split between farming and mining – with the old village centre topped and tailed by large council estates, but now swollen with private housing, serving commuters to Leeds and York. As kids, it was glorious. The countryside was a short bike-ride away, and the building sites for the new estates were the perfect playground, in those pre-health and safety days. We built elaborate dens and fought huge wars against rival gangs of urchins. We played football all Winter, and cricket all Summer.

It’s a place I can still see clearly, whenever I close my eyes. The high street with its four pubs, ranging from rough to dead rough. The Spa. The Co-op. Two fish and chip shops. There’s a joke about a Jewish man who washes up on a desert island. The first thing he does is to build two synagogues – the one he goes to and the one he wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was like that with the fish and chip shops. We went to Kirkgate, but wouldn’t dream of getting our chips from Huggan’s. The beautiful old church on the hill. The Methodist chapel down in the village. The old cinema converted into a Catholic church, where I served as an altar boy all through my childhood. Then, just out of the village, the Bacon factory – a huge meat processing plant. And next to it, the Bacon pond, where monstrous pike lurked, fattened, we were told, on rotten meat from the factory.

I populated this remembered microverse with kids I knew or half knew. Nicky and Kenny live up on the Highfields council estate. At the beginning of the series, their world was falling apart, their family split, money short, hope all but gone. What saves them is love: the love of Nicky for his older but simpler brother, Kenny. Kenny’s own wide-beam love, which encompasses not only his family, but anything helpless and vulnerable they encounter. And so, over the first two books, things get better. Their dad begins to sort out his life. They move on.

In Rook, the last (I think …) in the series, their problems change. Rather than survival, the issues are more typical teenage ones. Kenny has made new friends – one of who appears to be Doctor Who – and Nicky no longer feels quite so needed, quite so central to his brother’s being. And he’s fallen for a pretty girl at school, with the horrible complication that her brother is a vicious bully. There are twists, which follow, I trust, the organic patterns of life, rather than the artificial needs of plot. In the end things work out … OK.

But I hope that I’ve been true both to my characters, and to that place – that particular small town in North Yorkshire, typical, and yet unique, seemingly ordinary, and yet overflowing with stories, with eccentrics, with danger and joy, with life.

BrockPike and Rook are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now

Get Ahead as an Author – Get a Dog

Dogs make the very best muses. I know because I wrote a book about a boy and a dog, with two of my own fur babies constantly by my side. Goodnight, Boy is written to and about a dog, and it explores how, even in the very worst circumstances, a dog will keep you going. Any authors reading this will know that I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that the badlands of 20,000 words into a first draft is a pretty bad place to find yourself. As is sitting down to the smell of freshly-sent editorial notes.

So here is a rundown of why, if you want to get ahead in publishing, you should most definitely get a dog.

  1. Basics

The only indispensable rule I know for writing is that you must have your bum on a seat, and your fingers on the keyboard to produce anything. So, if, as a dog owner, you’re forced to spend more time at home, this is a good start. If you also have a dog keeping your toes warm (as Edith Wharton put it, ‘a heartbeat at my feet’), it really does discourage you from wandering off and doing housework.

  1. Distractions

Talking of housework, once you’re a dog owner, I can guarantee you’ll spend less time on housework, redecorating and the general maintenance of what is normally seen as an acceptable standard of hygiene because keeping up with the mess dogs create is pretty much futile. One of my dogs sheds like a dandelion clock mid blow, 24 hours a day. This may sound like a negative, but actually time spent not hoovering can be diverted into words, paragraphs, chapters, and head stroking.

 

  1. Hobbies

Forget hobbies. Writing takes time; for thinking, drafting, editing, and Twitter stalking writers more successful than yourself. So the last thing you need is an interesting pastime, such as badminton or medieval battle enactment. It won’t matter though, because, as a writer you get to experience any number of strange locations and events in your head. And, if you’re ever asked at a publishing party what else you do, just say you have a dog because a dog is a hobby, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees.

 

  1. Health and fitness

There’s a syndrome, coined by the incomparable author Pip Jones, known as SAAD: Spreading Author Arse Disorder. Sedentary hours make SAAD pretty much inevitable, so you’re going to have to get some exercise in somehow. Dogs like walks even though they don’t have Fitbit buddies to impress. The longer and more frequent the better, and in absolutely any weather (unless they’re like one of mine, who is half cat, and won’t go out if showers are forecast). On walkies your dog will meet up with their mates and you’ll make friends with their owners too (think, park scene in 101 Dalmations, but, in my experience, less romantic). If you’re lucky, these humans will be the sort who don’t mind you bouncing book ideas off them or moaning about writing. Even if they do, they’re a lot more polite about it than your family are. And when you’re not exploiting the personal generosity of strangers, you get to spend time walking alone listening to music and audio books (consuming other people’s books is part of the job) or just walking in silence, which sometimes allows you hear those really shy, difficult voices that lurk at the back of your brain.

 

  1. Mental health

Being a writer can be wonderful but, contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not the way to

everlasting happiness. Granted, writing can be cathartic at times, but once you’ve catharted you have to live with the fact that other people, thousands of them, will be reading, judging, maybe even hurling across the room in disgust, the product of said catharsis. Fortunately, dogs probably can’t read – though, as the first draft of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Max, you have to wonder. Generally speaking, however, your dog will not mind how bad your first draft is. They equally won’t care about reviews, prizes, foreign rights sales, or if you’re even any good or hopelessly derivative and commercially out of kilter. Dogs are all about here and now. And, as writers, if we can try to be more dog, and concentrate on the process rather than the product, I have a feeling that we’d not only be a lot happier, but better writers too.

 

  1. Love

People worry about being lonely if they work from home, but I never feel alone. I work with fantastic colleagues who can’t talk to me. This means they can’t discuss the project they’re working on, ask what’s for dinner, or chat about school. They never disagree with me, or storm off to their bedroom, and they don’t judge me when I get in a strop because Scrivener is stupid. (It is – fact). Dogs take tolerance and unconditional love to saintly levels, and like nothing better than to soothe the furrowed brow of the needy writer with a lick, a well-placed head on the lap, or a paw in the hand. They’re philosophers, therapists, personal trainers, and friends. And that’s why authors need dogs.

 

One last historical note; George Eliot’s publisher sent her a pug as part payment for one of her novels. A practice that, I hope my publisher will agree, should definitely be revived for 2017.

 

 

Mother and daughter Labradoodles, Tinker (left) and Coco

 

Nikki and Tinker


Coco and Tinker playing with their friend, Snowy, at Brighton Beach

The Inspiration Behind When Dimple Met Rishi By Sandhya Menon


I firmly believe that marginalised teens need more books where they’re allowed to be happy, to make friends, to fall in love, to chase their dreams, and to have that perfect ending. When the opportunity to write When Dimple Met Rishi, a light YA rom-com, presented itself, I couldn’t believe my luck!

I’ve always been a huge fan of writers like Sophie Kinsella and Jenny Han, and although I’d never written a light YA before, I knew that that reading experience would help immensely. While I wanted to show that Indian-American teens have many of the same hopes and fears as the rest of the population—and to make people laugh and swoon, of course!—I also wanted to give the culture the space and respect it deserved on the page. That’s why I put in nuances and experiences that would (hopefully!) ring true for other teens living in the diaspora.

But above all, I wanted When Dimple Met Rishi to resonate with teens who’ve ever felt like they don’t belong or that their families simply don’t get them. That’s a very universal experience, I think, and you don’t have to be Indian-American to experience it!

My Concerns with Book Lender

I saw a tweet by Barbara Band last night that got my hackles up:

I started mentally composing this post then fell asleep as it was rather late and woke up this morning still annoyed. I feel (as do many of my colleagues) that this service is not necessarily a bad thing for areas that do not have Schools Library Services or possibly for schools that lack professional input into their library but the way they are going about belittling the work of librarians and teachers is really beyond the pale, I know of no professionals that would put out-of-date materials into a collection just to have something, we are better than that

Upon closer inspection, Book Lender is currently aimed at Primary Schools – this is a smart business move as Primary School Libraries are often run without a professional librarian and sometimes with limited teacher input.

Once this service has become established it is only a matter of time until it is extended to secondary schools which may put even more librarian jobs at risk, as with school budgets becoming ever tighter and the offer of targeted stock to fit in with lesson plans, head teachers may well decide that a professional librarian is a luxury that can be done away with.

It also appears that BookLender is a business run by Carillion, a company that is making inroads into running public library services for a number of local authorities. In the past Carillion has been criticised for running a blacklist against unionised workers, and colleagues who have worked in libraries taken over by this company have mentioned less than satisfactory working conditions.

Carillion were also in the running to take over my local authority’s library service but last I heard they had pulled out.

The privatisation of public library services has long been a major concern of mine and now corporate tentacles winding their way into school library services is widening my concern.