Monday, 31 January 2011

How to Use Myths and Legends in Fiction - Some Handy Writing Tips

Here I am on  @TabWrite's excellent bookie blog Tall Tales and Short Stories, talking about how to use all the amazing Myths and Legends there are out there to inspire your own writing.  Do go and have a read!
tall tales & short stories: MYTHS AND LEGEND: Lucy Coats' Guide to Using Myths and Legend in Children's Fiction.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The British Books Challenge 2011 - Review of Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling

The British Books Challenge 2011 is up and running--and I'm late to the January party.  So, with no further ado, here's Scribble City Central's first review of the year, together with a little 'added extra'.

To be honest, when I first heard about it, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Curtis Jobling's Rise of the Wolf--the first book in his brand-newWereworld series.  I knew little about Curtis himself except that (as he says on his website) he is 'possibly most (in)famously known as the designer of the BAFTA winning BBC show Bob the Builder', and that Wereworld was his first novel.  There was a positive buzz about it on Twitter, though, so I decided to buy it.  Were-beasts, a fantasy world--just my sort of thing, I thought.  How right I was.  It's a tightly plotted gripper of a novel with some interesting and original twists to it. 

Drew is the odd one out in his family--and on the night of the full moon he finds out why.  A nightmare time ensues for him, and he seeks refuge in the Dyrewood.  But Drew is not destined for a hidden life in the forest.  Soon he is enmeshed in a net of dangerous royal politics and prophecy--however hard he tries to run away from himself and his inner were-beast, he is always brought back to the centre of the action.  It's been some time since I stayed up till 2am reading--I need my beauty sleep too much nowadays.  But I found Wereworld just too fascinating to put down easily, and I shall certainly buy the next in the series as soon as it's out. All in all Drew is a great new addition to the ranks of YA fantasy heroes--and I recommend him to you most highly. 

Because of my all night marathon, I'm blaming Curtis for any new wrinkles--although I think they were probably worth it!  Talking of Curtis, he kindly agreed to answer what I hope is going to be an extra feature of these BBC 2011 reviews...cue atmospheric music:

The Burning Question
Warning: There may be the tiniest of Spoilers! 

SCC: “So, Curtis.  Were creatures have a long history stretching right back to ancient times when storytellers huddled round the fires and tried to make sense of a world full of scary ferocious beasts. Which myths or stories about weres did you first come across, and what in particular made you want to write about a were-shark?”

CJ: I've always loved the idea of the old storytellers rustling up tales that were meant to scare rather than soothe children to sleep. The Brothers Grimm are a fine example of cautionary tales that warn us to 'stay away from the woods', the wolf being the choice villain in many of their writings. It's not surprising that every culture around the world has their own variant of the lycanthrope myth, there's something universally terrifying about the werewolf that translates into every tongue. Fear has always been a healthy emotion to me, certainly in literature. When one reads a horror tale late at night and those telltale signs appear - a quickening heartrate, wary glances at the window and a reluctance to turn the page - it gives us a vicarious thrill, a reminder that we're still alive from the comfort of our dressing gowns, slippers and living rooms!

My first encounter with werewolves was through cinema - Lon Chaney Jr's "Wolfman", specifically - and he's still a timeless monster in the Universal Studios pantheon. Then it was on to "An American Werewolf in London" as I grew older, a huge pull for me with its marriage of horror and comedy. I love browsing through myths and legends on the subject, inevitably drawn back repeatedly to the French Beast of Gevaudan, as featured in the splendid movie "Le Pacte des Loups" (AKA "Brotherhood of the Wolf"). Also, the Welsh legend of Bedd Gelert has fascinated me since my childhood, a tragic tale that features a Prince making a grievous assumption and slaying his faithful wolfhound. Upon returning to his home he finds the dog standing over his baby's upturned crib, gore flecked about the room and blood covering the beast's jaws. He runs it through with his sword, stepping by to discover a wolf, slain by the dog, and when he turns the crib over he finds the child safely sheltered within. I love that kind of awful mistake, and that carries through into Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf.

Are we allowed to talk about Wereshark without a Spoiler Alert? ;-D [SCC: Don't worry, I've put one in!] Yes, the wider mythos of Wereworld allows me to play with just about any kind of creature, transforming it into a therianthrope according to the locale and the story. Setting a portion of the novel at sea meant that A Certain Shark Gentleman's delicious background wrote itself, although he isn't the only Sealord out there, as we'll discover in later books. There's something primal and monstrous about the shark, possibly more so than the wolf. Ask me which I'd rather take on in a scrap and the pooch would win paws down every time!

SCC: Thanks so much for visiting Scribble City Central, Curtis, and for giving such a full and fab answer to my Burning Question.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Remembering Dick King Smith

In the long-ago and far-off days when I was editor of the new and shiny Banana Books series for Heinemann, I met a tall countryman with a shock of greyish hair, a twinkly eye and a tweedy jacket.  I liked him at once, and he, being fond of anagrams, christened me the Lacy Scout, which is how he addressed me during the short time we worked together on his book, Lightning Fred

The tall man was, of course, the wonderful Dick King Smith, who died last Tuesday at the grand old age of 88.  I remember Dick telling me, during one of the long and slightly boozy lunches editors were allowed to take authors to in those days, of the fight he had to get his first book, The Fox Busters, published.
He said, laughing, that Heinemann was one of the publishers which had rejected him, at which I felt very embarrassed (though of course it was long before I arrived there).  At that time, all unsolicited manuscripts received were logged in large red books, with columns for date received and reply. In a quiet moment I trawled through these, and there indeed, in large letters, were the words, Dick King Smith |The Fox Busters | Rejected. In later years I told him how much my own children had enjoyed his writing, and, as always, he sent a lovely letter back to the Lacy Scout.  I salute him and know that his animal creations, all, in his own words 'speaking The Queen's English', will live on for a very long time as a magnificent memorial to a writer who, in his own quiet way, was one of the best.

Monday, 3 January 2011

2011 - Scribble City Central's Predictions

Happy New Year, Lovely Blog Readers.  It's 2011, and I've been peering into my scrying glass and my crystal ball to bring you
Scribble City Central's Predictions for the Writing Year
Some of them may be mildly eccentric--but then you wouldn't expect anything else, would you? Here goes...

Writing and Politics:
Not a very hard prediction, this.  There will be increasing anger about library cuts, and there will be much writing by writers to MPs, councils, newspapers and on blogs. On Feb 5th we will be sitting-in in various libraries around the country, and I forecast that many of us will march through the streets.  PLR will be cut again in the next budget, and reading and literacy programmes will be quietly axed with politicians hoping we won't notice.  We will though, won't we?

Writing and Social Media:
I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I predict that social media will become increasingly important to the writing community as a whole, and writers who don't engage with it will be left behind. Publishers' publicity departments will have their publicity budgets slashed as never before, so it will be up to authors to find ever more creative ways of getting their books out to the reading public.  I'm absolutely sure that authors on YouTube will be the Next Big Thing--look out for a rash of discussions on where to get a cheap but good video camera on author blogs!

Writing and Technology:
Keep up! This will be the year when e-books rock the public perception of reading even more than they have done already, and it's an easy prediction to say that publishers will be putting more money behind this than anything else--to the detriment of paper books.  The Kindle will be everywhere, and if the next generation iPad doesn't have a better version of e-ink than the Kindle now does, I'll be very surprised.  I also predict that the first proper versions of Smart Paper will be on the market before then end of the year. NB: On the Smart Paper front--Samsung have just unveiled a prototype touch sensitive screen at around 0.03mm thick at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Source: Daily Telegraph 07/01/11)'s definitely coming! 

Writing and Publisher Deals:
Of course, there will be a huge new 'debut novel of the year' for someone, and deals will still be being done at the London Book Fair, and at Bologna and Frankfurt.  But I am not predicting a great year for writers in general, even if they are already established.  All bets are going to be off as far as huge advances are concerned--especially for children's and YA books.  It'll be harder than ever to get published this year, and harder still to get an agent.  Sorry if this is depressing, but it's what seems to be floating around in the aether of prediction.  This is the one I'd REALLY like to be wrong about. 

I'm writing a series for younger readers and a YA novel.  Who knows what will happen?  Certainly not me, and I'm not going to make any predictions about my own 2011 future for fear of jinxes!  But what I can tell you is that I will be writing my socks off, being super-critical of and ruthless about my own work before it goes anywhere and keeping my fingers and toes crossed that I'll beat my own gloomy forecast (see above). This blog will shortly be getting a major redesign, so look out for that, as well as the forthcoming reviews for the 2011 British Books Challenge.  I'll carry on with my mad tweeting and hope to reach 1000 Twitter followers before the end of February.  I will also be one of those authors on YouTube--watch this space for news.  And my final prediction is that I'll be grateful, as always, for the support I receive throughout the year from all of you, and from my lovely bookish and authory friends around the world. I couldn't do it without you, so thanks in advance!

Have a wonderful start to 2011 and let me know what YOUR predictions are!
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