Category Archives: Blogging

I Predict a Riot Blog Tour: Why teaching makes me a better writer by Catherine Bruton

iparWhen I was thirteen and subsisting on a literary diet of ballet books, pony stories and Jackie Collins, my English teacher, Mr Scott, handed me a copy of The Outsiders by S E Hinton.

I felt as if a lightbulb had been turned on in my head: the world suddenly looked brighter, bolder, brasher, more complicated – more brilliant than before.

Now, it’s probably time to confess that I live a secret double life! I’m actually an undercover Hannah Montana (or my hubby might say Jekyll and Hyde!) Some days I’m Mrs Bruton, teaching English to teenagers in a local secondary school; others I’m an author writing hilarious but heartbreaking contemporary crossover fiction! Some days I get to be both at once – which can get a little complicated!

As a teacher, I have the great privilege to introduce young people to some of those ‘lightbulb’ books – the stories that open their eyes, enlarge their sympathies, expand their horizons, enrich their lives, rock their world and leave a fossil print on their souls.

And as an author those are the books I aspire to write: the lightbulb books. Which is why I don’t shy away from controversial topics. My first book, We Can be Heroes explores 9/11, suicide bombers, and Islamophobisa in my 21st Century take on To Kill a Mockingbird (via Alex Rider, Manga and Strawberry Laces!). It was nominated for the Carnegie and described by The Sunday Times as ‘witty, wise and compelling’ (which I may have engraved on my tombstone!.

After my second book, Pop! I was described by the The Guardian as ‘One of the finest teen writers of recent years.’ (Can we fit that on the headstone too?) It is Billy Elliot meets The X Factor via Shameless and it explores strikes, recession and the X Factor phenomenon – broken home and parental neglect via Simon Cowell and David Walliams.

caronfireAnd in I Predict a Riot I focus on the UK riots of 2011 with the story of three kids from very different backgrounds who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot in a summer that will change their lives forever.

And the thing is that I am constantly inspired by the many amazing kids I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years: teenage gang members from South London; street kids in South Africa; as well as the children of politicians and pop stars. Their stories, their voices inspire what I write, but also remind me of the responsibility I have when I write.

I first conceived the idea for I Predict a Riot when I was living in Peckham, teaching in a top independent girls’ school and helping out in a youth group with kids from some of the most deprived estates in London. That was where I conceived my the three main characters – Maggie, the white middle class politician’s daughter dealing with her parents’ divorce by hiding behind the lens of a video camera; Tokes the son of a notorious gang member who is running from trouble; and Little Pea, the kid who everyone has given up on – abused by his mum, neglected by society and pushed around by the ruthless Starfish Gang, he is devious, immoral, funny, clever, lawless, brave, maddening, tragic and ultimately heroic.

caronfire2Little Pea is my Artful Dodger. Inspired by many kids but particularly a boy called C, the naughtiest boy in my first ever class in Africa when I was just 21. Looking back, I suspect he had ADHD; he used to boast that his mum had sent him to the witchdoctor to have the devil driven out of him (something I also encountered years later in South London, incidentally). He couldn’t sit still and he drove me insane. One day, at my wits end, I sent him to the headmaster, not realizing he would be caned. Of all the mistakes I have made as a teacher, that is the one I am most ashamed of.

So, Maggie is me, I suppose. The white middle class outsider. Naïve and flawed, ultimately compromised by her role in the death of her friend. She’s every ‘poor little rich kid’ I’ve ever taught – materially rich but emotionally neglected – and believe me there are far too many of those.

policeenfieldFor Tokes I drew on the very best of every young person I have ever taught. He is a symbol of my belief in the potential for good in every kid; my belief that all children – no matter what their background – with the right support, the right help – one teacher who says, ‘I believe in you,’ or a parent who fights for them – can come good, have a second chance – be a hero.

So I had my three characters, but I didn’t really have a story until a few years later when I turned on the TV and saw Peckham on fire: kids as young as ten running wild and lawless, gleefully looting, smashing, destroying their own neighbourhood. I knew right away that I had found my story and it wouldn’t let me have any peace until I’d told it.

policeenfield1Ultimately it was my current pupils who determined the story I wrote. We were studying Lord of the Flies and, struck by the parallels with the recent riots, I asked them whether there were any circumstances under which they could have seen themselves getting drawn into the rioting. The discussion that followed was formative in shaping the book I wrote.

And so I Predict a Riot became my Lord of the Flies – but mixed with Made in Chelsea and Meg Rosoff; Top Boy and The Tempest; Pigeon English and Charles Dickens; The Knife that Killed Me and Son of Rambow; The Outsiders and The Only Way is Essex.

In the end I set out to write a book to make my students ask questions, challenge stereotypes, to flip assumptions about class and race on their heads … make them laugh, make them cry … break their hearts … make them angry … make them think! Switch lightbulbs on in their heads.

But I guess it’s not just for them. The Evening Standard observed that my books are ‘aimed at young people but beautifully written and sophisticated enough to appeal to grey haired cynics too.’ The thing is that I firmly believe young readers are more sophisticated, more open-minded and more receptive than their wrinkly older counterparts.

So, yes, I Predict a Riot is aimed at teens but I hope everyone parents, grandparents even, will enjoy it too!
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I took the photographs in Enfield Town on Sunday 7th August after the police came out in force to break up the riots, a number of rioters escaped the police blockade into the side and back streets where several cars were torched. – Matt

Beyond the Door by Maureen McQuerry Blog Tour

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What have I learned about the world from myth as a writer and a reader? Since writing Beyond the Door and The Peculiars I’ve been thinking about why myth matters. Over the next week I’ll be blogging in the U.S and U.K. about six things I’ve learned from mythic stories that have inspired me. Plus there will be fun giveaways and a post by cover artist Victo Ngai! Follow the thread…

What I’ve Learned from Myth Part 1 (with a little help from Mr. Tolkien)

The World is not a Safe Place
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Fellowship of the Ring
Go down any road in myth and you are likely to encounter…dark woods with no way out, labyrinths with monsters at the center, fairy mounds thick with enchantment, shapeshifters and on wind torn nights, the Wild Hunt. The mythic world is not a tame place. Don’t we know this already? And yet our culture tells us logic will prevail. If we do x, then y will follow. Myth reminds us that the world can be as wild and unpredictable as “an old wives’ tale,” at one moment full of heartbreaking joy and the next as dark as dragon’s lair. Myth never denies the existence of evil. Evil is real, horrific and evil is never good. To dismiss evil easily, is to diminish goodness. The unpredictable and fantastic are just around the corner. We are separated from the impossible by the thinnest of veils.

There is No Easy Way Out of the Maze
When Theseus finds his way to the heart of the maze, he must battle the Minotaur. When Hansel & Gretel get lost in the woods, the birds eat their breadcrumbs. Struggle and conflict will always be part of the journey. We shouldn’t be surprised when the dragons sweep in. In fact, dragons are essential because struggle and conflict, change us, create our arc. Every story is propelled by conflict. Readers want conflict and tension. Myth reminds us that conflict and tension are part of a full life and help make us who we are.
“Do we really have to go through [Mirkwod]?” groaned the hobbit. “Yes, you do!” said the wizard, “if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. There are no safe paths in this part of the world.” The Hobbit

We Fear the Wrong Things
When King Arthur created the round table, with his brilliant vision of right over might, he was prepared for the enemy without. He was undone by Mordred. Time and again we find the hero’s fatal flaw bringing about his downfall. Think of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. Our heel may be pride or greed or even the dailiness of life that consumes us. We fall in love with Selkies, who will always return to the sea. We fear risk and adventures and looking like fools when the greatest battles rage in our own hearts.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. The Hobbit

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That’s it for today. Tomorrow 3 more lessons from myth for writers, for readers, for living at Making it Up Follow the thread…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Maureen Doyle McQuerry

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Libraries a Celebration by Nerine Dorman

Libraries started it all for me. When I was little, and could barely read, I’d go help out at the Hout Bay library down the road from where I lived. At first I packed away children’s picture books but soon I had an inkling of how the Dewey system worked. I have lost myself in bookish things ever since.

Recently I have come full circle – libraries in South Africa now carry books I’ve written and edited. This, more than anything, makes me feel like I’ve “made it” – if there ever is such a thing.

Nowadays we have so much information at our fingertips, at the click of a mouse. But it is often a challenge to wade through this morass of resources. It’s not so much being able to find what we need, but how to select what we need. What is useful? What is utter rubbish? We must, in a sense, take on the skills of a librarian and become our own curators of knowledge.
I learnt those mad skills at the library. And, with all the changes and challenges facing how we access information, librarians as curators have become even more important as custodians and gatekeepers.

It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I no longer visit the library as much as I used to before the advent of tablets and smartphones. My visit to the library was the highlight of my week, and I spent hours wandering between the shelves.

The central library in Cape Town used to be housed in the historical City Hall, for goodness knows how many years. How many of us remember that rickety elevator? Or the worn steps in that narrow stairwell that twisted up and up? One room would open into another, and I never really fully explored all of them.

The library was always a place of discovery, and I suspect if I could take the time out of my busy work schedule it probably still would be.

For all the convenience of ebooks and websites, libraries are still, in my mind, valuable. Many wonderful books are simply out of reach to youngsters and students—be this a financial consideration or access to the technology that allows for a digital environment.

I feel here, in Africa especially, the role of the library as not only a repository of knowledge, but a temple dedicated to learning, is as important as ever, and we must do all that we can in our power to ensure that these doors remain open.

If I think back to what sparked my love of fiction and started me on my journey as an author, it was the fact that I had such a range of authors I could sample at whim: Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Poppy Z Brite, Storm Constantine, Jacqueline Carey, David Brin, Kate Elliott, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Kerr, Mary Gentle, Robin Hobb, CJ Cherryh… The list goes on and on.

That sense when pulling a book off a shelf knowing that “Yes! This book looks like one I’ll enjoy reading” enriches my often dreary day-to-day routine. For a short while I can escape to other realities and meet a cast of fantastical characters who’ll often linger in my thoughts long after I’ve reached the end.

I’d not have known many of these authors if it had not been for my local library. Even better now is that thrill of knowing that my own books are now waiting on library shelves for a new generation of authors to be inspired.

Perhaps the greatest change I’ve seen in libraries now since the old days is the spirit of inclusiveness. The library opens its doors for all South Africans, no matter their background. And, for those who hunger for learning, they have the opportunity to discover entire new worlds.

Nerine Dorman
Editor, author
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Some thoughts on the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards Longlists

The 2014 CILIP CKG Awards mark the first time that a longlist has been compiled from all the books nominated by members of CILIP. The words inaugural and prestigious were used in the CILIP press release – they are good words although ones that I seldom use on a daily basis so I get a thrill when I see them in print (I am a bit of a word nerd).

From the press release:

Traditionally an extensive list of nominated books, comprised of titles which have received one or more votes from member librarians, is made public, followed by a shortlist announcement, before the overall winners are crowned. CILIP, the organisers of the Medals, took the decision to judge and announce longlists in order to shine a spotlight on some of the brightest authors and illustrators in the running for the esteemed awards, to reflect the high number of quality children’s books being published.

Read the full press release here

The books are chosen by the judges using the same rigorous criteria they use for the shortlisting and eventual winning titles.

Over the past few years due to the increase in quality writing for children and young people longlists had been growing ever larger; this has caused suggestion from some sectors about splitting the Carnegie Award at least into a teen and young reader award (that suggestion was shot down in flames and buried at several unnamed crossroads to prevent it ever rearing its head again). Large longlists also adversely affect the judges who have to juggle work, life and reading up to 120 books several times to adequately judge the merits of each according to the criteria for each of the awards. I will just say that the judges still have to read every title nominated to assess eligibility so the integrity of the awards is not affected in any way.

I am going to be on the CKG Judging Panel next year and am looking forward to the honour (there is a smidgen of dread as well but mostly excitement).

A small part of me is upset as some of the books I was hoping would make it through to the shortlists did not make it, I wholeheartedly support the longlisting as it will bring more books to the attention of the greater public as well as stimulating debate in the literary merits of fiction for children.

Adding a longlist to the steps leading up to the announcement of the winning titles will allow shadowing groups to follow the process more closely; previously by some arcane and unknown process the judges were able to whittle down 60+ books into a 6 book shortlist. Working with 20 titles is more manageable and if schools are able to carry the full longlist students will be able to start discussing the awards process sooner and will have the opportunity to compile their own lists of potential winners and discuss the titles in the run up to the shortlisting when the official shadowing scheme begins,

The books on the longlist that I have read are fantastic and deserve to be there, I will be reading as many of the other longlisted titles as I can before the shortlisting on the 18th March. I will hopefully post my favourites here during the week before the shortlists are announced.

Stories, Reading and Me

I have always loved stories, before I could read books I still had stories; I was lucky enough to have parents who read to my brothers and I in the evenings and on rainy afternoons when we were very young.

I can still recall the times my mother took me to Muizenberg Public Library for the story-time in the Children’s Library; the curtains would be drawn and the Librarian would light a candle for the duration of the story-time and while the candle was burning we would sit in silence while she read to us.

I do not remember when exactly I learned to read, at times I am still surprised that I am a reader as my primary school used Dick & Dora and Nip & Fluff – books that were created in the 1950’s & ‘60’s to teach us to read.

My younger brother went to a different school for sub-A & sub-B (grades 1 & 2 in modern schooling) and he regularly brought home books on world myths. I have vivid memories of the boojks with Jamaican and West Indian myths about Anansi the Spider-Man and ghost stories about Duppies and all manner of new and interesting stories that I had never come across before. I regularly nicked the books to read them (I always gave them back when he needed them).

One of the highlights of my week when I was a young child was my mother walking my brother and I down to Kalk Bay Library to borrow books. It was a relatively small library, but through the eyes of a child it seemed to loom massively with rows of shelves and high windows. The library was closed in the early ‘90’s and the only memories I have are of the smell of wood polish, rows of bookshelves, colourful carpets and bright books in the Children’s Library and the sound of windows slamming as the Librarian closed them; it was this sound that signalled that the library would soon be closing foro the day so we would have to hurry up and choose our books.

The last time a teacher read to me and my class I was 11 going on 12, I was in Standard 4 – Grade 6 in modern teaching terms. Our teacher Mr Paul would, for the last 30 minutes or so every Friday, read us a story. If it was a hot summer’s day we would be taken out to sit under the trees on the school field, but mostly it would be in our classroom, which was a prefab room that had been constructed as the school (Kalk Bay Primary) had become too small for its students. The only story I can remember with any clarity is The Monkey’s Paw – a brilliant short horror story. Then from Standard 5 and on through secondary school I have been reading stories on my own.

I have worked with several storytellers in Libraries over the past few years and they held their (mostly teen) audiences and me spellbound. Anyone who claims that young people are incapable of sitting still and concentrating has never witnessed a storyteller plying their trade with a group of young people.

For me being a reader does not mean I love books (I do) but rather that I love stories. Being able to read allows me to choose the stories that I want to experience, either in written form, listening to audiobooks or someone telling or reading a story.

Before there were books, scrolls or clay tablets there were stories; in times before literacy was widespread skalds, scops, griots, minstrels and troubadours roamed their lands telling tales, poems and histories to kings and commoners alike.
In my current role as a school librarian I read a story to my year 7s, 8s and 9s during at least one library lesson per term. All the students love being read to – even those that profess to hating books, a love of stories is present in everyone.

In 2014 I am going to try something new with reluctant readers in my library; instead of trying to get them to focus on reading books or e-readers as physical artefacts I will try to engage them with stories using audiobooks, audio lead-ins to stories and short stories to kick-start their interest in reading to and for themselves.