Wednesday, 23 April 2014

In search of male humans on World Book Night

23 April 2014 would have been William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, is our dog’s 7th birthday, and is the first time I’ve been a World Book Night giver!

World Book Night is one of The Reading Agency charity’s programmes that aims to inspire a love of reading. Twenty books are selected for special edition World Book Night titles because they are brilliant reads. Thousands of volunteers apply to give one of these titles to people on World Book Night who are not regular readers or don’t own books. I chose The Humans by Matt Haig because it is hilarious and heartwarming, and Haig is a Yorkshire based author – and I’m giving in Yorkshire.

This special World Book Night  postcard was delivered with every copy of The Humans

It may not be night yet but my copies of The Humans have been given! Little M and I took a tote bag, a rucksack and a dog on a sunny trail around our local village and town in search of ‘non-readers’. After seeing this research that suggests 30% of men don’t read books, I went in search of men. Books were given (and turned down!) by men working on construction sites, in builders’ merchants and hardware stores, in garages, in bike shops, in pubs, and in their own homes. Four copies went to women (who were more regular though not prolific readers): a female plumber, a charity worker, a shopkeeper, and a receptionist.

Many of the recipients were gracious and excited, and at least one copy is set to go on holiday and be read by the pool. Some recipients were reluctant because they didn’t read and thought they would be more likely to pass it on to someone else. Some people turned the offer down outright because they didn’t want to read and a few were ineligible because their lives were already surrounded by books and the pleasure of reading (they weren’t sure if this response would delight or sadden me!!). We also met another Giver on our route who was giving Peter James’ The Perfect Murder and it was lovely to chat with him (he also loves The Humans!).

It was great fun chatting along the way with people who loved reading, or were delighted (and surprised) to give it a go (if they can find the time!). I hope they really enjoy The Humans!

World Book Night special edition of The Humans, front and back cover

You can read my review of The Humans here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Bone Jack - Sara Crowe

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Review by M

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Bone Jack is wonderful storytelling: an engaging plot, lifelike characters and absorbingly atmospheric settings and language. I had Saturday morning breakfast in bed so that I could finish it.
Ash is fifteen and has outrun all the other local boys to become the ‘stag’ in the upcoming stage chase, where he must race across the hills and return uncaptured by the ‘hound boys’ who will chase him. There are lots of local myths and folklore about the stag chase, and when Ash starts to ‘see’ dark things out on the hills and in the woods, he feels threatened and can’t decide what he should do.

This debut is a compelling and atmospheric read about a teen boy who takes on something bigger and darker than just being the ‘stag’ in the local Stag Chase. Bone Jack shows great care for the living land that we inhabit and pass through.
Likeable and complex characters, thrilling suspense, chilling scenes and thoughtfully intriguing subplots boost this novel. Alongside the main plot, different kinds of absent (but loving) fatherhood; conflicting loyalties between friendships and foot-and-mouth ravaged farmlands; and post-traumatic stress disorder, are all easily woven through the novel.

Genrewise, Bone Jack is light fantasy or perhaps magical realism, where the story takes place in a real, recognisable world but the characters can’t figure out if they’re ‘seeing things’ or not. If you’ve read Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, it’s a similar mix to that novel (but the stories are not alike at all).
The publisher’s age guidance for this novel is 12+. I suspect slightly younger readers, who’re emotionally mature enough to deal with questions about the taking of life, may enjoy this novel too.

As a debut, Bone Jack has set the bar high for Sara Crowe’s second novel.

Publication details: Andersen Press, April 2014, London, paperback.
This copy: review copy from the publisher


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.