Friday, 21 August 2009

Hazel Allan: A Dream Come True

Hazel Allan has just had her debut novel Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket published. Last week saw the book's launch night and every single copy was sold and signed! Hazel has every reason to be thrilled. She tells us more about what becoming a published author means to her...

In 1979, when I was eight years old I wrote to “Jim’ll Fix It” to ask if it would be possible to make my dream come true and lock me in a book shop late at night when everyone else had gone home. Now, for anyone under the age of 25 “Jim’ll Fix It” was a television show hosted by Jimmy Saville - a man who made the dreams of thousands of children come true every Saturday teatime. Sadly, my letter was never answered and I didn’t get my “Jim Fixed It For Me” shiny medallion to show off at school.

Fast forward thirty years… I am standing alone in Waterstone’s book shop on George Street at the end of the launch party for my debut novel Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket. All is quiet, the lights are dim and it’s just me surrounded by row upon row of books. It wasn’t quite how I imagined the scene when I penned my letter to Sir Jimmy but it was as close as I could imagine to perfection.

August 13th 2009 was without a doubt the best night of my life. It’s not every day you get to have all your friends and family in the same room celebrating something as amazing as the publication of your first book! I signed so many copies of Bree McCready that by the end of the night my signature had gone from the usual legible loops to a sloping, spidery scrawl. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my mouth was as dry as an astronaut’s slipper. But I was floating around on cloud nine and nothing was going to get me off!

It’s taken me quite some time to get to this point you see, so it really is quite a big deal. When I was younger and I was asked that question - “What do you want to be when you grow up?“ I always had the same answer. A writer. However, having been brought up in a family that valued the old-fashioned work ethic, writing was never encouraged as a career. I was told repeatedly that only the very best get to earn a living doing something they actually enjoy! At school I was complimented for my colourful imagination (or scolded for my daydreaming!) but on the whole my talent seemed to go unnoticed. Despite this I always knew I had a novel in me somewhere.

When I did eventually “grow up” my love of writing never left me. I tried my best to bring my passion for words into my work as a nursery nurse. Literacy levels in the area where I worked were unbelievably low and I found this depressing. I very much wanted the children in my care to have a tool that might help them cope with the more difficult aspects of their lives - to broaden their horizons and to make them aware that there was more out there for them. I desperately hoped that it might be possible for them to make their own escapes with the sweep of a pen.
All my life (much like Bree, the heroine in my novel) I seem to have been searching for something to fill a void in my life. I thought I might have found what I was looking for when I embarked upon my degree in Community Education in 2000. Working with illiterate adults made me all the more appreciative of my gift and more determined than ever to use it in a positive way. During a particularly challenging time in 2006, when I found myself thrust into the unexpected world of single parenthood, writing seemed to organise the chaos in my life and helped to make me feel whole again. Suddenly I was grabbing every spare second I had to scribble down a few paragraphs here and there. I took to carrying a notebook with me for those flashes of inspiration that inevitably occurred in the oddest and most inconvenient places. I began to take my writing seriously and within two years I had a manuscript that was worthy of sending to publishers. It was certainly far from easy getting accepted. I have a head full of grey hairs and a drawer full of rejection letters to prove that! But I would never have given up on my dream. No matter how often I doubted myself I never stopped believing in my book.

I have never been motivated by the thought of fame and fortune and quite honestly I don’t expect it. I am just delighted to see my story in print. It gives me such a thrill to think that young people are reading my book and perhaps escaping some difficult times by immersing themselves in Bree’s story. My greatest pleasure comes from thinking that some may even feel inspired to write down their own thoughts and feelings as a result of reading my work. As a deep-thinking and misunderstood youngster I was always on the lookout for books that contained real characters, ones that I could identify with and who had a story that struck a chord in me. I remember falling in love with Holden Caulfield as I read The Catcher in the Rye. Completely immersed in the story about the young boy who was so achingly familiar to me I drank in the beauty and intensity of the words and basked in the knowledge that somebody understood me at last. Right from the beginning I really wanted Bree to have that affect on her readers.

I would greatly love for my book to transcend its categorisation as a children’s book and appeal to the adult imagination too. I feel passionately about the need to bring back storytelling at home and I am forever striving to encourage this dying activity throughout my work with children and parents. It took me until I reached the age of 34 to even consider trying to write the novel that I knew was inside me from an early age. This has been a most important journey, pursuing the one thing that has always mattered to me. On that humid Thursday evening, as I stood in the deserted Waterstone’s book store I had the chance to reflect upon the journey that has brought me to this point in my life. A shiver ran up my spine as I imagined my dog-eared, yellowing letter still lying, unread under a pile of thousands more like it in the archive boxes at the BBC. And it occurred to me in that moment that some dreams are worth waiting for…
Launch photographs: Caroline Harvey.
Other News:
Next week Scottish Book Trust & EIBF's Outreach Tour begins! Keep an eye on the website for photographs, blogs and more!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Malorie Blackman: A Week In The Life Of...

Malorie Blackman is an author who needs little introduction. She has written over fifty novels, many of which have won literary prizes, and has also written many things for T.V. On Saturday 22nd August Malorie will be doing a sell-out event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For the past week she has been writing a daily blog for us to give us a taste of what it's like to be a successful author. We were amazed she'd had time to fit this in when we read about how busy she'd been...

Day One
I had a great time co-tutoring on a ‘Writing Books for Young Adults’ Arvon course at Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge with my friend Melvin Burgess. It was such fun but goodness me, it was hard work. Not just for me and Melvin, but also for the other writers who attended the course. We started each morning at 9.30am and didn’t stop most nights until around 11pm. We wrote, we read what we’d written, we wrote some more and we discussed all aspects of publishing. On Wednesday, the author Catherine Fisher came to read to us from her book Incarceron and she answered loads of questions. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my week but when I got back home, I was absolutely knackered! Can’t wait to do it again!

Day Two
Laura Kelly from the Scottish Big Issue interviewed me over the phone today about my writing in general and my latest book Double Cross in particular. I think I began each sentence with either ‘Er…’ or ‘You know…’ and I waffled horribly. I sounded just like Misty at the beginning of chapter one in Double Cross. I put the phone down wondering if it was possible for a person to sound any more inarticulate. I hope Laura manages to get something reasonably coherent out of what I said. Damn, but I’m useless at interviews. She made me laugh though when she said that some people (presumably those who have never bothered to read the Scottish Big Issue), assume that every article is going to be about homelessness. Some people have started to refer to me as the ‘Issues writer’ with a capital ‘I’ - which makes me smile. I’ve written close to sixty books, only a handful tackle ‘Issues’. But, ah well.

Day Three
Did a webchat for today. People sent in questions and comments and I did my best to answer as many of them as I could in the hour I had. It’s a shame you can’t see the faces of the people who ask the questions. I like faces. But if you can’t chat in person, answering questions via the Internet is a great way to communicate with more people. It never ceases to amaze me that I get emails from Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, America and all points in between. Our world is definitely getting smaller and smaller. And the great thing about answering questions over the Internet is that I can sit at my computer with my hair a mess and wearing no make-up and I won’t frighten the questioners away. Let’s hear it for webchats!

Day Four
I’ll be in Edinburgh soon, doing my thing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I’ve decided to talk about how and why I became a writer and I’ll read a short extract or two from Double Cross. I do hope those in the audience come with lots of questions for me as that is the part I enjoy the most. Before any festival event I always get so nervous. I mentally kick myself for agreeing to do them but once I’m on stage and chatting away, I really enjoy it. But it’s the five minutes before I go on stage which is a killer! My heart is racing away and I tend to feel like I’m going to be sick, I’m that nervous. But it tends to be worth it – and the Edinburgh Festival is definitely one of my favourites. Plus my hubby Neil is from Edinburgh so that’s another reason why I love the place. (I have to write that ‘cause my hubby is currently looking over my shoulder as I type!)

Day Five
Today is my day for reworking a short story I wrote recently. I put it away and read it a couple of weeks afterwards and discovered the voice of the young adult telling the story was all wrong. I hate it when that happens. So I’m practically rewriting the story, in the first person this time as opposed to the third person. And already it’s working so much better. I’ve done that a number of times actually. When I started writing my book Noughts and Crosses, it was originally going to be Sephy’s story for the first half of the book and Callum’s story for the second half, but when a story of mine isn’t working, it’s like fingernails scratching up and down a mouse pad – only inside my head. That’s when I tried alternating the chapters between Sephy and Callum and the fingernails stopped scratching. When I wrote my book Cloud Busting, I tried it first of all as a prose story but the fingernails came back. And then I tried it in verse and the fingernails relaxed. Now I’m reworking my current short story, the fingernails are quiet – but I sense they are poised, so I’d better get it right!

If you're not one of the lucky people with a ticket to Malorie's EIBF event on Saturday, here's a video of her talking about Double Cross.

Other News:

PanMacmillan and Penguin are joining forces to stage a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy convention - "Hitchcon 2009" - in October to mark the 30th anniversary of Douglas Adams' series, and the publication of Eoin Colfer's authorised sequel And Another Thing...

Audiences now have another opportunity to hear Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, speak at the Book Festival. Following the early sell-out of her first event, a second has been added to the programme on Tuesday 18 August at 6.30pm offering a magical celebration of her poetry accompanied by the music of John Sampson.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Take me to the beach!

Heather from the children's team takes over the blog to tell us a bit about what's coming up in the Children's Programme, and recommends some books to bring a little sunshine to our summer.

It’s been an odd few weeks for the children’s team here in the SBT office. With students off enjoying their rainy summer holidays we’ve been catching up on “house-keeping”, amongst other things – a big change from the usual routine of events, events and events!

It would be wrong to let you all think that we’d been lazing around though. We’ve been making improvements to the children and young people’s section of our website, starting with some fantastic recommended reads in our 'Hit List' section, and the introduction of a new weekly book quiz. Still to come is the 'Your Writing' section to display all your masterpieces, and a new and improved 'Authors and Illustrators' section where you can read Q&As or listen to interviews.

As well as that we’re all looking forward to our Outreach Programme at the end of the month. We’ll be taking six authors and illustrators to various schools in Scotland so that those who can’t make it to the Edinburgh International Book Festival get a taste of what it’s like.

I’m particularly looking forward to Lili Wilkinson’s Outreach events. I’m reading her novel Scatterheart at the moment and can’t put it down. The story centres on Hannah Cheshire a ‘young lady of Quality’ living in London in 1814, who has her riches taken from her and suddenly finds herself sentenced to transportation. It’s a tale of brutality, love and self-discovery, full of feisty females and dangerous sailors.
Sailing the seas with a group of salty seadogs would be an adventure but not the relaxation the summer calls for. If the journey were to end on a beautiful beach then that would be a different matter entirely. But what would we read when we got there? Jasmine from the children's team came up with a few books perfectly suited to sun, sea and sand...

Flush by Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen is very well known for his humorous adult crime novels, though his first children’s book, Hoot, has been made into a movie (as have some of his adult books). He has a new book out in September called Scat (I can’t wait to read it!). All of the author’s books are set in Florida, all of them contain some eco or wildlife issues and they are all very funny. Even just thinking about them makes me smile and feel the (phantom) Florida sun on my skin.
Flush tells the story of Noah’s dad who takes the illegal sewage dumping of the Coral Queen in his own hands – and lands in jail for it. With him out of the way, the practice goes on – but then Noah and his sister Shelly take it onto themselves to not only fight for their father’s justice, but also for the marine life of Florida. Brilliant, crazy and very funny.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E L Konigsburg
A different kind of summer read – one without a beach. E L Konigsburg is one of my favourite American children’s writers, books like The View from Saturday and Silent to the Bone are my all-time favourites. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is about Margaret Rose who does politely ‘prefer not to’ and in an American summer camp that’s a position to make any camp councillor to have a nervous breakdown. Fortunately her favourite uncles decide to take her in while her parents are away and there, at 19 Schuyler Place, she finds something worth fighting for – with the most surprising help she can imagine. Outstanding characters and a powerful summer story.

And because picture books aren’t just for the wee ones...

To The Beach – Thomas Docherty
A little boy looks out of his window on a rainy day and imagines his journey to the beach, as well as his friendship with the camel he meets there. The book reminds us all to use our imaginations and gives us some beautiful illustrations to inspire.

If you can think of any other catergories of books which we should be reading and sharing with everyone else then tell us about them on our Hit List pages. Leave us a comment, or tell us your opinions of the books already listed.

Now back to more website tweeking. Keep watching this space...

Other news:
The Edinburgh International Book Festival kicks off on Saturday, with a list of events for you, your mum, your brother, your sister's boyfriend's uncle, the get the picture...see the website for listings.

Calling all Shan fans! Check out the trailer for The Vampire's Assistant, released in the autumn.

Twilight won 11 awards at America's Teen Choice Awards including choice movie drama, rumble and liplock!
Carmen Reid has been nominated for the Scottish Woman of the Year Award in the 'Wit' category. To vote for Carmen please click here.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Nick Ward: A brand new Charlie Small discovery!

Last December Scottish Book Trust had the pleasure of taking author Nick Ward on tour to Perthshire. This week a new Charlie Small Journal has been published - ideal summer reading for 6-10yr olds. Read on to find out more...

Nick Ward, custodian of the Charlie Small Journals, is pleased to announce that a new Charlie Small journal has been found and will be published on 6 August! It is called The Mummy’s Tomb, and was discovered by a boy deep in a cave on a lonely beach in Cornwall.

In this journal, Charlie is captured by a dandified fop called Tristram Twitch who sends our hero on a dangerous expedition to retrieve three priceless presents from the land of legends!

Charlie has to find a massive pearl from the giant oyster beds of Broomania; the diamond encrusted tiara from the head of the mummified Princess of Purh, and a solid gold spine from the last remaining golden porcupine in existence – which lives in the menagerie of the crazy Potentate of Mayazapan! Charlie’s scary and hilarious adventures are filled with deadly danger and electrifying thrills. He makes terrible enemies and great friends along the way.

At the same time all of Charlie’s other journals are being republished with exciting new covers (some of the titles have been changed slightly, as some people thought they were too long!) All the new books have fantastic cutout, full colour pictures inside that can be stuck in a special, free Charlie Small scrapbook.

To get your free scrapbook, visit Charlie’s website at and follow the links.

Other news

Check out this brilliant trailer for Charlie Higson's The Enemy. You'll be dying to read the book if you do, but you'll have to wait until September.

Film writer and director John Hughes, who created some of our favourite comedies such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uncle Buck, Home Alone and Sixteen Candles, has sadly died of a heart attack, aged 59. Here's a montage of Harry and Marv - everyone's favourite childhood baddies.

The Ullapool Book Festival 2010 is to be held Friday 7th - Sunday 9th May. Keep your eye on the website for more information.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Keith Charters: Landing on the Sand

We welcome author and publisher Keith Charters to the blog. Keith tells us about the odd, far-flug and often perilous locations that being a writer takes him to.

As some of you will know, I’m both the author of the LEE series of humorous novels and the MD of Strident Publishing. But today, I want to wear my author hat and I want to talk about travel.
You see, I do a lot of it, dashing around the country presenting in schools and libraries and at festivals.. Happily I love going places (and coming back from them). And every so often I get to go somewhere…well, if not exactly exotic, certainly far flung.

This coming school year will begin with me boarding a disturbingly small plane of the bring-your-own-elastic-band variety as I head off to Barra (where you land on the beach – yikes!), Benbecula, Orkney and Shetland. I was invited to the first two; I invited myself to the latter two, precisely because I have never been to them before.

Why do I love this sort of travel when I could just as easily stay at home in front of my computer? Well, we have 6-month-old twins and a 3-year-old in our house. Happily the twins have yet to work out how to open my study door. Unhappily the 3-year-old learned that trick a long time ago and now only the lure of chocolate raisins in the kitchen keeps him out of the room.

As a result, these days I write almost exclusively when I am travelling. And since I love writing I have to love travelling. So I can’t wait to get on those flights to the isles. I have tightened my elastic bands to breaking point, so we should be able to get off the ground. It’s just that landing on the sands of Barra that I have some misgivings about.

Other News

We have two fantastic book trailers for you. First up, Catching Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Followed by a stunning piece of Play-Doh animantion for Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.

Room on the Broom, the best-selling children's book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is going to be available as an "ePlayBook" later this year. It will feature the original story along with animation, audio tracks and activity sheets.

Louise Reid, 91, is certainly an avid reader: she has just taken out her 25,000th book from the Castle Douglas library, surely this must be a world record?

John Ryan, who was the creator of the Pugwash books which were subsequently turned into a cartoon has died at the age of 88.

Don't forget to test your knowlegde of all things booky in our Quiz.