Saturday, 26 February 2011

The classic quest story?

This weekend finds an unexpected sense of excitement crackling through our house. On Sunday afternoon, I'll be walking my son down Wembley way to his first cup final. We'll be setting off early to soak up the atmosphere, making the most of the occasion and the hours of pre-match optimism while we can still dream, before the game kicks-off, and reality kicks-in.
A first cup final beckons
I did wonder if I should even mention the match here – this is, after all, a blog about stories. But then it occurred to me that football and fiction might have more in common than we think. I mean, what is a cup final if not the classic quest story? All the ingredients are there: a closely knit band of brothers (a fellowship if you will) in search of a mythical trophy (believe me, if you're a Blues fan, such trophies are indeed the stuff of legend). These protagonists are watched over by an older, slightly enigmatic figure, guiding them with words of wisdom from the sidelines. We have conflict, an adversary – larger, more powerful than our plucky heroes. There is a beginning, a middle and an end; a repeating series of try/fail cycles where our players attempt to use what skills they have to achieve their aims; we have characters, heroes and villains: the angry one; a young hopeful; the mercurial maverick; the legendary almost magical one; the unlikely hero waiting on the bench. As for the setting – what could be more dramatic and evocative than a full football stadium? That palpable sense of anticipation, hope and fear, carried across the floodlit field by a hundred thousand voices raised in song. If you want a story of adventure, a struggle against the odds, containing heroism, deceit, glory and failure … a cup final might not be a bad place to start.

Save our libraries – doing it for the kids.

I thought I'd share these posts, written in support of the ongoing Save Libraries campaign. Well worth a read.
What my library means to me, by Shamila Akhtar
Won't somebody please think of the children? by Bryony Pearce

For further information please visit the following:
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
Voices for the Library
Alan Gibbons' Campaign for the Book
The Bookseller Fight for Libraries Facebook page

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Writing with words and pictures

Yesterday evening I climbed up to the loft to continue work on the new book I’m writing. I ended up spending three hours drawing maps and floor plans.

The scene I was drafting takes place in a house. I could see the location vividly, the colour of the walls and the carpet, the picture hanging above the TV. I knew what it smelt like inside and could hear the noises coming from the kitchen – it felt as real as the house I’m sitting in now. But when I started moving my characters around, I realised I wasn’t as familiar with the layout as I thought. I needed to understand sightlines – what could be seen though the half open bedroom door; where the stairs were in relation to the kitchen; how long it would take to get from one room to another. I realised the picture in my head was just a jumble of jigsaw fragments I hadn’t put together. So I reached for a pencil and started to draw.

Sometimes a quick sketch can unlock a scene

The best thing was, that once I started sketching a floorplan, story events began to materialize. Halfway through marking out the upper floor I abandoned my pencil and started typing. The process of drawing the plan not only unlocked the scene, but provided new and better options for what took place.

Of course, I don’t always need this level of detail, sometimes a mind’s eye impression is enough, but maps and sketches can be a great way to generate ideas. I find it forces me to be specific. If there are four people in the room, where are they all sitting? If character A is beside the door when character B comes in, he'll be behind him, out of sight. I can imagine this in my head, but drawing a quick sketch often throws up further questions: Where is the window? Would they have seen him go past? Where does the other door lead? Suddenly the possibilities are endless, and possibilities are good. The stuff stories are made of.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Stories with an edge

Today I took a trip into London, to meet my fellow Edge authors.

(May I introduce, from left to right) Paula Rawsthorne, Katie Dale, Sara Grant, Bryony Pearce and Miriam Halahmy. Missing from the picture, but present in spirit are Keren David and Savita Kalhan.

But what is the Edge, you ask? Well, imagine a writers' equivalent of a superhero team-up – or a gang, if you prefer – because even children's book writers need back-up from time to time. Today's was an informal gathering, putting plans into place, deciding what outfits we would wear, that sort of thing (After much deliberation I opted out on a cape – too much of a snag hazard). To put it another way, the Edge is a group of like minded authors, all with stories to tell. Stories that tackle difficult subjects, raise questions and ideas. Stories … if you'll pardon the expression … with an edge.

The Edge will be touring schools, libraries and literary festivals towards the end of the year and launching a website in the next few months. For a taste of the Edge right now, check out The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan, or When I Was Joe by Keren David. And available from March 24th, Hidden by Miriam Halahmy.

Oh, and just to prove I was actually there – here's a picture of me – at the edge …

Saturday, 5 February 2011

National Save Libraries Day

Today my family and I went to the library.

Three libraries actually.

We met up with friends and borrowed some books.

And DVDs, and stories on CD, and magazines … 

and went on the internet, and talked to the librarians and other visitors about what libraries mean to them.

"Going to the library is a three weekly must for me to have time with my daughter, which has led to her absolute passion for books, despite being dyslexic.  We go right up until 8pm if we haven't managed to fit it in earlier, a special mother and daughter time I would hate to see end."

"Since my dad died, my mum comes to the library three times a week. She's 83, but she can walk here from where she lives. She knows all the librarians. She reads the newspaper and chats to people. She knows more about what's going on than I do!"

"Story CDs from the library got my boys into reading. And stopped me throttling them on long car journeys!"

"I used the computers here when I lost my job, and the papers. I probably wouldn't have a job now if it wasn't for the library."

All over the country today, people have been visiting their libraries to borrow books, attend read-ins and protest against 450 planned library closures and reduction in opening hours for many others. The national library day of action is just the beginning. Keep using your library and spread the word.

For further information visit the following:

Special thanks to my wife who came with us and took the photos 
which is why she isn't in any of them.