Thursday, 17 April 2014

Virago Modern Classics Children’s 1st Anniversary

Virago Modern Classics celebrates its first anniversary of publishing children’s books this month and adds two more titles to its list. Virago’s editor, Donna Coonan, also speaks to us about children and classic books.

Virago “is the outstanding international publisher of books by women” and aims to put “women centre stage”. So says Virago's website. That, and it's classics list which focuses on rediscoveries and redefinitions pretty much sums up why my heart does a whooping flippety flop every time I see the apple of its logo on a book’s spine.

Oh, those covers!
I’m sincerely delighted that they’ve added children’s literature to the Virago Modern Classics (VMC) list. The first I knew of it was from the 'Emily' trilogy by LM Montgomery that they published last November. Anyone who’s a childhood fan of Anne of Green Gables will know that these are winners and the cover illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini are an extra excuse to buy these editions.  Plus, one of our teen book group reviewers attests that Emily of New Moon is excellent and are there any more?!! (Yes, there are  - two!). Here’s a link to a review from one of the Classics Club’s readers.

Published today are two more titles from Rumer Godden. An Episode of Sparrows and The Dark Horse. I’ve read the opening pages and therein lies the promise of something richly deep and slightly different for today’s readers, both children and adults alike. Godden’s ballet novels, Thursday’s Children and Listen to the Nightingale, launched the VMC list last year.

I asked Donna Coonan, the VMC editor, a couple of questions about the children’s list.

WSD: What do you think makes a children's classic for today's readers?

Donna Coonan: Children are discerning readers and if a book is written in a didactic manner or seems patronising in any way, they will see it a mile off. You can’t write down to a child, just as you can’t speak down to them. Rumer was a writer who could write as eloquently and as feelingly for children as she could for adults, and her characters are always beautifully realised, and you care deeply for them. Her children are never two dimensional, but fully formed and recognisable. There is humour and there is heartbreak, and she doesn’t shirk away from difficult subjects. Rumer relished the challenge of writing for children and said that her children’s books were just as important as her books for adults: after every novel she wrote a children’s book ‘because of the discipline, and the smaller the child, the greater the discipline’. It is the quality of her writing that shines through, and they speak as much to children today as they did to her first readers. They may be set in a different time, but the stories are universal. That is the mark of a classic.

WSD: What are your visions for the VMC children's list; what will distinguish it from other modern children's classics lists? 

Donna Coonan: The reason that the Virago Modern Classics list exists is to bring back into print wonderful books that have been neglected or overlooked but will be enjoyable to readers today, and we are expanding this ethos for another generation by publishing classics for children. So many of our books – from Rosamond Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca – were discovered by our readers as teenagers that it seems logical to move into publishing for a wider age range.


For LM Montgomery fans, there is more good news for June: Jane of Lintern Hill and Rilla of Ingleside will be published.

Now, where’s my apple…….(currently reading Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn before its BBC televising next Monday).


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

WoMentoring Project for aspiring women writers launches today

A new scheme offering free peer mentoring to aspiring women writers launches today.  The WoMentoring Project aims to offer insight, knowledge and support to women writers at the beginning of their careers. Mentoring is voluntarily offered from a pool of over 60 women working in publishing as authors, editors, literary agents and illustrators.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson. Without a budget, the entire project is currently dependent on volunteered time and skills. Individual mentors will determine what they can offer with their mentee, and mentorships are likely to differ. Organisers of the project said that, “In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we want to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.”
WoMentoring Project mentor, Shelley Harris (author of Jubilee), said that “mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project”.
Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker, said she knows from her own authors “how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work”.

Francesca Main, Editorial Director at Picador, said her career “has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it”.
Mentors also include authors Peggy Riley (Amity &Sorrow), Julie Mayhew (Red Ink), Keris Stainton (Emma Hearts LA)  previously reviewed and interviewed by We Sat Down; and children’s literary agent, Louise Lamont (agent for Red Ink).

Applicant writers (mentees) should submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications must be made for a specific mentor. Mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. 


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Hot Key Young Writers Prize 2013 winner, Abigail Slater

Alaskan-based Abigail Slater is the Young Adult section winner of the Hot Key Prize Young Writers Prize 2013, announced earlier today at the London Book Fair. Abigail has won a year’s mentoring with Hot Key Books’ publisher, Emily Thomas. Being a judge on this year’s prize panel, I read Abigail’s winning manuscript, The Lucky Bones, which is essentially about Sarah, a teenage girl who is battling a gang and seeking justice for a massacre that decimated her community and their land. Of course, we sat down for a chat and asked Abigail a bit more about herself (and left all the American spellings as is!). 

WSD: You’re interested in female superheroes. Which females have inspired you?

Abigail Slater: A lot of the females who have inspired me on a personal level are right here in my community. Katie John, an indigenous rights activist here in Alaska, has always managed to worm her way into my heart when it comes to fantastic ladies. As far as female superheroes go, I have to say that Batgirl and Wonder Woman had a lot to do with my desire to create a superhero of my own. They're strong and cool, and I've always wanted to add to the list of strong, cool women.

WSD: Your descent is Unangax, Irish, and Norwegian. Does this influence your writing?

Abigail Slater: I think being raised in several very different cultures has allowed me to pull from each for inspiration. Heritage is such an important thing for all human beings no matter where we are in the world, so I do have a tendency to draw from my own, especially when I'm working on a science fiction or fantasy story.

As far as my Unangax heritage goes, it is the one I am closest to because I was raised in my homeland. The Unangax are originally from the Aleutian Islands here in Alaska, and parts of our history (including the Aleutian Island Evacuations and the boarding schools) served as inspiration for Sarah's story in The Lucky Bones.  

Here is a link to a website that explains the Aleutian Island Evacuations way better than I ever could: . It's a long article, but if you scroll way down to the bottom and skim Chapter X, you'll have the inspirational context for my novel.

Abigail (right) with her sister, ReBecca, at an ice sculpture exhibit in downtown Anchorage

WSD: What is the most interesting thing about Anchorage (Alaska), where you live?

Abigail Slater: I'm torn on this one, because Alaska is a very weird place. I'd say it's a tie, because that's the cheater's way of not having to choose.

The first most interesting thing about where I live is that once you leave the main city of Anchorage, you can drive and drive and drive and never get anywhere substantial. In other words, you could drive from sun up to sun down and still be in the middle of nowhere.

The second most interesting thing is being able to see moose all over the place here, especially in the summer when they come into neighborhoods and start eating people's trees and garbage. It's not a sight that I've ever gotten anywhere else!

Moose at the side of the road. Photo credit: Eric van Thiel, A friend of Abigail's.

Cuteness! Bears playing around. Photo credit: Eric van Thiel

WSD: Have you ever eaten Baked Alaska?

Abigail Slater: I have! Strangely enough, it's not as popular here as it is in other places. My father made it once a few years ago and it was very good, but I've never seen it on a menu before. We must be behind the times.

WSD: What are your favourite novels?

Abigail Slater: My favorite novels are definitely anything written by Libba Bray, whose wonderful books I've only recently discovered, and the books of Sarah Dessen (Just Listen is my favorite). Both of these authors write in very clear, distinct voices for their characters, and you can tell that they are having fun with their stories. That is the kind of author I aspire to be.

WSD: Is there anything else that you're bursting to say?

Abigail Slater: I just want to say that I'm grateful to Hot Key Books and all of the judges who volunteered their time to pick a winner. I never thought I'd make it this far, not even in my wildest dreams, and I owe it completely to you guys and to my amazing Native community here in Alaska, who have all supported me through the writing process. Quyana, and thank you all!

Best wishes to everyone over on your side of the world!

WSD: You’re welcome and congratulations. I’m looking forward to seeing where your mentoring prize takes you.

View from Point Woronzof in Anchorage.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dead Ends - Erin Lange

Dead Ends by Erin Lange
Review by M

Dead Ends by Erin LangeDead Ends is a story that is as much about bullying, friendship and family as it is an unusual teen road trip adventure with plot threads and themes aplenty.

An unusual and forced relationship is at the heart of the story. Dane (the violent bully with a single mum who frames winning Lottery cards), is wisely chosen by Billy D (the new kid on the block who also has Down syndrome) to be his protector in school. As Billy D holds all the cards, a heartwarming (and frequently comic) friendship develops as he reels Dane in on a journey to find both their dads.

The novel cleverly intertwines an exploration of different relationships (and power). The obvious relationship is that of bully and bullied but teenage friendship and being a good and ‘real’ parent are also prominent. Both Billy D and Dane live with their mothers but their fathers are curiously absent. Another character, however, has two fathers who are gay - and neither one is her biological father.

While Dane is a bully and a very violent one, the novel’s tone is fiercely warm. Lange manages to paint Dane as a sympathetic and believable character - but she doesn’t let him entirely off the hook. She paints a very interesting view of bullying.

While friendship and family are at this novel’s heart, Dead Ends will also likely appeal to clue-finding road trip fans. These elements add charm and action but neither of them dominate the novel. What could have become a ludicrous storyline actually works out to be enjoyable, believable, and quite moving.

Publication details: 6 January 2014, Faber and Faber, London, hardback
This copy: uncorrected proof from the publisher