29 January 2009

Twilight and A Great and Terrible Beauty

Well, it seems that eveyone I know is obsessed by Twilight. Guess I'll have to read it after all...

The book I have actually just finished is Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty, which I enjoyed very much. However, I have a question regarding the sequel, so if anyone's read it, please do comment!

26 January 2009

The Times Online - School Gate 2

Following on to my recommendations in last week's The Times Online's schools section, School Gate, Sarah Ebner quizzed me again, this time regarding books for the top end of Primary. You can what I had to say here.

If you are in any way interested in schools the site is well worth keeping an eye on. Just click on here for the main link...

25 January 2009


I've been writing a lot this past year or so about translation, and in particular about the rather paltry amount of fiction that's published in the UK and US in translation. The arguments are in part due to finances - publishers say it's too expensive if they have to pay for the translator's work, as well as the rights in the original book (which is perhaps partly true, but there are lots of sources of funding for this...); the other explanation is that people (whoever these 'people' are) just don't like to buy books in translation. They are scared, or intimidated, or suspicious, or something like that.

The world of children's books in particular should know better. When I was a child I read Andersen and Grimm, I read Asterix and Tintin, I read The Swiss Family Robinson, Aesop's Fables, Astrid Lindgren. I enjoyed the Nicolas books, I loved Emil and the Detectives. None of these did me any lasting damage for having read them in English translation. I was somehow unscathed by the rigours of the Moomins too. And I'd have been pretty sorry to have missed The Diary of Anne Frank.

I wasn't scared of these books, I wasn't intimidated by them, nor did I think they were in any way peculiar for being translated. (Did I even know they were translated?) People all over the non-Anglophone world manage somehow to struggle through Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland; Harry Potter isn't finding it hard to shift outside the UK and US either, for that matter.

So why do we think this should be a problem for readers (young or adult) here today?

(Do you know anyone who's started reading a Cornelia Funke book and not loved it simply because it wasn't originally written in English?)

There is, I'm pleased to say, an award for the best children's book in translation - the Marsh Award - and it was announced this week. The winner was Sarah Ardizzone for her translation of Timothée de Fombelle's Toby Alone (about which I've posted in the past, and which I've recommended most enthusiastically in the new UBG) - a very worthy winner, among what I must admit is a hearteningly rich shortlist.

It seems daft to have to say this, but there is obviously,
obviously, some wonderful writing happening in other languages that we don't get to see (and often how much better than certain things in our own language that we do...); the book world in the UK is impoverished as a result, and so are we all.

PS One new initiative to combat this sorry state of affairs is Outside In (linked to the book of the same name) which I heartily recommend - have a look here.
If all the new hot books for teen girls are first-person and hence wish-fulfillment, then what are all the hot boys' books which are third-person and all about guns / spies / danger?


23 January 2009

fanfiction, e-readers and cellphonefic

Forwarded to me by an agent friend (and who else to be concerned about the future of publishing...), this article in TIME magazine. Go read it, it's fascinating - and for those who have been into web-based reading for years, simply spot on!

21 January 2009

Puffin's 2009 Treasure Chest

Well, Puffin’s 2009 looks as if it’s going to be great! Continuing their trend for concentrating on high profile authors, brand new talent and their back-catalogue of classics the year includes: a new Kevin Brooks (Killing God, which sounds not just controversial but amazingly good too); Morris Gelitzman’s sequel to Once – Then; The Bride’s Farewell, an historical romance from Meg Rosoff, which sounds like quite a departure but I trust her to write anything and make it really readable; Charlie Higson is departing from Young Bond to produce what might be the scariest series ever, all about zombies in London (we watched a promo movie for it which was probably the most sickening and hilarious piece of film I’ve watched in ages) with Fourteen: The Enemy; The Gadget Show’s Jason Bradbury’s up-to-the-minute Dot.Robot looks like it might be perfect for the gamers and there’s even a new Percy Jackson: The Last Olympian out in May.

More? Much more… Gauntanamo Boy by Anna Perera is a fictional look at real-life horrors; Ross Kemp gives teens a taste of why gangs are a bad idea in Ganglands: Brazil; Cathy Cassidy tells the story of a Polish girl in England in Angel Cake; there’s a sequel to Luxe in Envy; a new Young Samurai in The Way of the Sword and an astonishing novel straight from America, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, which deals with the tricky subject of teen suicide.

There’s lighter stuff too – a new Jeremy Strong; You Don’t Want to be a Poodle, which is a great picture book from Lauren Child and Chick, a great baby book from Ed Vere.

All in all it looks like a great year – and there are so many books in amongst all these that I really want to read. Top of my list? Probably Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – a books that promises to mix the biblical Angel of Death, Templars, psychics and the slaying of the first-born. Can’t wait!

19 January 2009

Puffin pt1

What a lovely day! I spent a LARGE chunk of it at work, but managed to escape for lunch at Puffin Books, which was actually lunch plus an hour's worth of great info about their forthcoming books for 2009. I'll post about it tomorrow, as there was a huge amount to be excited about. Except right now I'm just a little too tired to do it justice...

night night!

Getting published

Well, thank God for the wonderful Nicola Morgan.

She's just launched a site - well, a blog, properly speaking - with answers to all those questions people always have about getting published, getting an agent, what to do and not to do.

It's honest and it's practical and sensible (and a good read too, as it happens...) and everyone in this business (or wanting to be in this business) should read it.

Now I don't know how we've managed without it all these years.

It's here. Enjoy.

13 January 2009

And a quick update on UBG business

After a quiet spell, a quick update on what's up in the UBG world:


The first book we produced, the Ultimate Book Guide for 8-12s (first published in 2004), is just about to be reborn in a new edition, officially seeing publication in February. A new design, about a hundred new entries, a new introduction from Anne Fine and more. We’re all very proud of it. Of course, one of the nicest things is that it’s now the same shape and size and the same sort of design as the other two in the series, which means the whole set can now be lined up nicely together on a bookcase in a very pleasing way. Worth the cover price just for that satisfaction, if you ask me.

And we’re now just about to put the second edition of the Ultimate Teen Book Guide (first published in 2006) to bed too. The big manuscript will be ready to go to our editor before the end of this month. We’re now at the stage of can’t-wait-to-be-rid-of-the-damned-thing (the beast is 170,000 words long and all very fiddly), but once this annoying stage is over we’ll be pleased with this one too, I’m sure. Publication scheduled for a year from now.


Pretty quiet on the events front since October. Susan and I enjoyed doing a talk and a Q&A shortly before Christmas at Worthing Library for staff in libraries, early years, children/family centres etc. Next I’m going to be speaking to the Lewes Children’s Book Group on the 28th of this month about the UBGs, which I’m looking forward to. And then as far as I know nothing event-ish scheduled for a couple of months, till the FCBG conference in the first weekend of April, which will be at Worth Abbey and, if last year’s is anything to go by, will be great.

Nice things to look forward to.

Happy 2009!

Some new enthusiasms

Not having posted for ages (sorry - have been writing and translating A LOT and not much room in my brain for other things...), I thought I’d use my return to mention a few of the things I’ve read recently that have felt like interesting discoveries I wanted to tell people about… I can’t remember most of what I’ve read in the last couple of months, but a few things really stick in my memory:

Frozen Fire (Tim Bowler) – I started reading this when I was preparing for an event with Tim at Cheltenham in October (reported in a post below). And for much of the way it seemed like a regularly good thriller – interesting enough and effective, if perhaps unremarkable. A strange, half-hidden figure seen walking on the snowy fells, mysterious phone calls, etc. But as it moved closer towards the end it became more and more peculiar (I mean that in a good way) – more and more unusual, more and more daring. I don’t know quite whether he pulls it off altogether, but the ambition of the thing is impressive. The ideas that swirl around the ending aren’t tidily resolved, but again, this is a positive thing in this case, I think. Really very odd, but it’s stayed with me, and I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

Various things by Joel Stewart – I was only half-aware of Joel Stewart till last year. I knew of some of his work (at least one featured in the UFBG, for instance) but somehow never stopped to pay much attention. And then recommending Dexter Bexley in a Guardian supplement last spring I started noticing him... In the last couple of months I’ve been buying up various things, some of them sadly out of print, and the more I look the more excited I am by what he does. I’m thinking of him today particularly as I’ve just received a copy of his illustrated Jabberwocky which is beautiful and mad in just the ways should be. I love it. Look out for him.

Leaping to adult non-fiction (but relevant here too) I’ve lately started a book my friend Chester sent me for my birthday called Proust and the Squid, which is a scientific explanation of the processes of reading. Comprehensible even to a completely-non-scientist like myself it’s a fascinating study of a subject I assumed I knew something about and, well, it turns out I didn’t at all. Engaging, insightful, clearly written, and full of things all those of us interested in reading should be thinking about – highly recommended. I'm looking forward to the long train journeys I have in the next week when I'll be able to bury myself in it again.

And another one of the moment: The Pretender (David Belbin) – I can’t pass full comment on this as I’m half way through reading it now, but so far it’s terrific. It’s about a young man who discovers a gift for literary forgery and it’s a great read. I've only read a couple of David's books before and enjoyed them; but this is a subject I’m particularly interested in, and it’s very pleasing to find it handled so well. Will be getting back to it as soon as I’m done with this post, and can’t wait…

When I've finished that (sometime between now and dawn) I've got things lined up waiting to take its place. Beginning with some books I absolutely must get to for the new UTBGSeventh Tide (of which I’ve heard very good things), Un Lun Dun and Triskellion have all been waiting for ages, and I’m glad to say I’m looking forward to them all, which helps! I’ve never read any Farrukh Dhondy, and I should have, so Run! is on the must-read-it-NOW pile, too.

And then a return to a couple of things I’ve read before, the unlikely duo of Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone and some early Ian Rankin Rebus novels; both are things we didn’t include in the first edition of the UTBG and I think we should have, so I feel I ought to re-read them now. Any excuse. Tough job...

08 January 2009

What a week! Freezing weather, a new term at school and about 800 books that I feel I must read NOW! Well, perhaps not 800... 798 maybe. All because I've been reading some really good stuff; ending 2008 with West Coast by Kate Muir and starting 2009 with Me and Mickie James by Drew Gummerson. The books are chalk and cheese, but both really came alive for me, the Muir from its gloriously easy writing-style and brilliant characterisation, and the Gummerson from its laugh-out-loud rollercoaster of a story!

I've also been contacted by the wonderful Sarah Ebner who blogs for The Times newspaper on schools and reading. She was interested in the current interest (yep, again) in boys' reading. Go here to see what she had to say, and what I had to add!