Shirley Hughes turns 90 this week, and Dogger – the touching story of a toy dog lost (and, of course, eventually found) – is 40. The real Dogger, whose story first made Hughes’s name, sits comfortably on a box in the sitting room. A much-loved childhood companion of Shirley’s oldest son Ed (the journalist, Ed Vulliamy), Dogger has a few bald patches, but is as bright-eyed as Hughes herself. “He’s been on show in several museums,” she smiles, “but he has retired from the celebrity circuit now.”
Feature piece on Lauren Child…
As the final instalment of her Ruby Redfort series is released, Lauren Child reflects on the quirky kids and teen detectives that have made her so popular,
A lot of writers peak early, and not many are still flourishing in their 80s. Lively’s productivity has been so steady and reliable that she is sometimes taken a little for granted. In this country she is not nearly as well-known as she ought to be, and even in her own — although she has won both the Booker Prize and the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature, the equivalent of our Newbery award — she is not as big a name as, say, her contemporaries Margaret Drabble or A. S. Byatt. She has a fervent following and regularly sells out at literary festivals, but has remained just on the edge of the radar.
Books written by the author in her London home. Credit Photographs: Left, Tom Jamieson for The New York Times; right, New York Review Books
Lively’s prose is sharp, precise, perfectly pitched, but shrinks from flashiness in a way that has sometimes been mistaken for cozy or middlebrow. The novel that put her on the map, the 1987 Booker-winning “Moon Tiger,” formally quite daring, was even criticized for being a “housewife’s” book. Lively writes mainly about the English middle class, and for a while, anyway — when much of the energy in British fiction was coming from writers born outside of England like Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey and Kazuo Ishiguro — this made her seem stodgy and old-fashioned to some. She has also overlapped with a younger generation of male writers — Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan — who grabbed so much attention it was sometimes hard for a female novelist to get a word in edgewise, especially one whose personal life, like hers, was sedate and headline-resistant: no scandals, no feuds, just one marriage. Her only vice, aside from a glass or two of wine in the evening, is that peculiarly English addiction, gardening. A little terrace at the back of the house is crammed with rosebushes, pots and pots of tulips, and an abundance of plants and bushes whose names most people have never heard of.
By now, though, her body of work proves that certain themes never go out of fashion: One of her great subjects turns out to be the way the English middle class, always insecure, is always reinventing itself. Lively, reinventing a life of her own, didn’t begin writing until she was in her late 30s. She was married — to Jack Lively, a political theorist she met at Oxford — and had two children, and was casting about for something to do. “I’m one of those people for whom reading became writing,” she said. “Because of my odd childhood, I’ve always been an obsessive, avid reader, and that went on and on and on. Not every obsessive reader feels the need to turn into a writer, but a few do, and I’ve never met any writer worth his salt who wasn’t an obsessive reader.” Her early reading was mostly indiscriminate, she added, but by the time she was in her 20s she began paying attention to writers like Henry Green, Elizabeth Bowen and William Golding, who displayed a particular precision and elegance of language.
She started writing children’s books — her first, “Astercote,” was published in 1970. The best of them, the Carnegie-winning “The Ghost of Thomas Kempe” (1973), is in some ways a grown-up book in disguise: The ghost is really a metaphor for the persistence of the past, the way some things never vanish, or else the way the past shapes the future, which has become Lively’s signature theme.
‘Talking to kids about books knocks the edges off you’ – Dave Rudden
As the second instalment of his YA trilogy hits the shops, Dave Rudden tells the Irish Independent about meeting his young fans, trying to bring his first book to the big screen and why he wouldn’t rule out writing a romance, with a few dragons thrown in…
There is no shortage of Jacqueline Wilson profiles, but this is a good feature:
“We lived in a very small flat, I’m an only child so it was just my parents and me. I remember I locked myself in the loo, and was having some long involved imaginary game.
“I heard giggling outside, I opened the door and there were both my parents, listening, absolutely spluttering with laughter because I’d been muttering in different voices. I felt so humiliated and embarrassed. That was very clever because it taught me to play it in my head.
“Afterwards I’d be sitting there, looking gormless but actually playing the game inside my head. And in a way, that is what a writer does. Certainly by the time I was six, I knew very much that I wanted to be a writer,” says the 71-year-old who was raised in Bath, Somerset.
She has been creating stories ever since, becoming one of the most-read in children’s literature. Her books, often dealing in subjects like adoption, illness or family strife, are passed on by generations because they feel real.
Announced today, Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud will be released Sept. 5 by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
Edgy and inventive, Genuine Fraud is an instantly memorable story of love, betrayal and entangled relationships that are not what they seem. Lockhart introduces readers to the story of Imogen and Jule—Imogen, a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook and a cheat; Jule, a fighter, a social chameleon and an athlete. This is a novel about intense friendship, a disappearance, murder, bad romance, a girl who refuses to give people what they want from her and a girl who refuses to be the person she once was. Who is genuine? And who is a fraud? You be the judge.
Lockhart is a staple in the YA world, and she’s perhaps best known for her haunting We Were Liars, a deluxe edition of which will be published this May.
MashReads spoke to Lockhart about Genuine Fraud, her career, and her advice for 2017.
read the interview via Exclusive: E. Lockhart to publish a new YA novel.
“I’ve never been particularly interested in children at all, as such. Don’t particularly dislike them. But I’m not,” and his tone turns crisply disdainful, “a ‘child lover’.”
The bestselling children’s author was appalled to be considered a potential children’s laureate some years ago. “I didn’t see the point of that. It sounded awful. You go all over the country. Imagine it! The hotels and bed-and-breakfasts and taxis and trains, and really you just think: for God’s sake, what for? I suppose if you like that kind of public appearance, it’s alright, but I’d hate it.” He isn’t keen on lifetime achievement awards, either. “I’ve had one or two of those, and it’s a rather funny title, because come on, my lifetime hasn’t ended yet. But if you say you’ve got a lifetime achievement award, it’s like – well come on, get dead, man!” And he famously, of course, “hates Christmas”.
I ask Briggs why he thinks Ethel & Ernest feels so ominously resonant now.
“Ah, because now that dread’s coming back.” He reels off a few current trigger points – China and Taiwan, eastern Ukraine, Russian warships cruising the English channel – “and you think, my God, it could all be seen as utterly trivial – or it could be seen as something immensely serious. You just don’t know what’s going to happen, with a lunatic like Trump. And when we left that Europe thing, that Brexit nonsense, I was just so horrified. Crazy. When Nato and the UN were created, we thought it meant there could never be another world war. Well, there bloody well could be. Terrifying, isn’t it? Can’t believe it.”
feature profile of Chris Riddell in Times Saturday Review by Alex O’Connell
Riddell, 54, has become one of the most successful and sought-after children’s book illustrators of his generation, as well as an accomplished children’s writer and The Observer’s spiky political cartoonist. His two series for 7 to 11-year-olds — the Ottoline and Goth Girl books, in which he creates words and pictures — are immensely popular and it’s impossible to walk into even the smallest bookshop and not find at least ten examples of his work on the shelves.
“I only ever write to give myself something to illustrate,” he says, speaking on the phone from his studio in Norfolk, his working retreat from his main home in Brighton, where he lives with his wife, the printmaker Jo Burroughes. “It sounds facetious but it’s true. I love words, I am a reader and the reading will sometimes inspire me to draw something. When I read on my own I have to collaborate with myself.”
His inimitable graphic style is one reason for his popularity. But the purchase he achieves on young imaginations comes from somewhere else: the sense of oddness, otherness, isolation and melancholy that suffuse his stories.
“I grew up with three brothers so maybe it’s wishful thinking that I lived in an isolated world,” he laughs. “But I’ve never really dug that deep to figure out where it comes from.”
He admits, however, that growing up in Belfast during the Troubles did have an effect on his world view. “I had a very happy, normal upbringing but there was a backdrop of violence, a sort of dichotomy of two different perspectives, two different sides effectively. Maybe there’s a lack of sweetness in the books because it never sat right, it felt unnatural.”
But, rare among those who achieve ubiquity in their field, Jeffers continues to push in directions both expected and unexpected. He maintains a parallel career as a painter, has dipped into film and video work and, though his latest project is aimed at children, it has seen him collaborate with an artist whose work is very much outside the genre: typographical artist Sam Winston.
Together he and Jeffers have created A Child Of Books. Five years in the making, its publisher Walker Books calls it a manifesto for reading, though Jeffers is quick to disavow any political intent.
Excellent feature profile of the Babysitters Club series author:
The painfully shy 61-year-old children’s-book titan is leading me through the front hall and explains that her pet was the reason she stopped living in Manhattan full time in 1998. “Sadie was just beside herself in the city,” Martin says softly. “Everything scared her.” (Martin grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and went to Smith, so her voice has a slight Waspy affect.) The two decamped to Martin’s house in Shokan, a hamlet just outside Woodstock, and now she comes to the city about once a month: “I feel a bit like a tourist whenever I’m here,” she says as we take a seat in the living room. “Every now and then, I’ll go out looking for a restaurant I liked and it’s gone.”
Martin is wearing a pink knit polo under which an undershirt daintily peeks out just below her collarbone. Her sandy-gray shoulder-length hair matches the sandy-gray living room: Years of direct sunlight have given the couch, chairs, and carpet a somewhat faded quality. Martin tells me that though she likes her “aloneness” upstate, she’s been taking in foster kittens through the ASPCA. “I’ve probably fostered hundreds of cats,” she says. “Right now I have five kittens, and their default setting is making the tiniest little hisses you can imagine,” she says. “Taking care of them is like my version of babysitting.”
And suddenly that word jolts me into remembering why I’m here: The demure woman sitting across from me is the almost-mythical author whose name my friends and I would utter excitedly in between mouthfuls of our Lunchables ham-and-cracker sandwiches.
The Essential Ann M. Martin: Kristy’s Great Idea, 1986; Super Special No. 1: Baby-sitters on Board!, 1988.
Ann M. Martin is, of course (if you are a young woman who was in grade school in the early ’90s), the author of the Baby-sitters Club series, which she launched almost exactly 30 years ago with Kristy’s Great Idea. (She’s also the author of Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, out September 6, the first of three books that will attempt to reboot an earlier children’s series, Betty MacDonald’s 1950s-era Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.) Kristy’s great idea was to start the Baby-sitters Club, a group of four middle schoolers who’d get together three times a week to field phone calls from local Stoneybrook, Connecticut, parents looking for babysitters. Before Martin ended the series in 2000, her premise spawned over 300 middle-grade books, including spinoff series, with some 178 million copies in print today.
It’s hard to overstate the ravenousness with which young girls would devour these $3.99 tomes. At the time, a Baby-sitters Club book was about as close as we could get to a Snapchat-style look into the life of an early-’90s 13-year-old. The books were where a lot of young women first learned what it was like to experience divorce, the death of a grandparent, a first boyfriend, or a lost kitten. (If the concurrent Sweet Valley High series was a soap opera, the Baby-sitters Club was a family sitcom — Growing Pains, say.) Today, the books still resonate; BuzzFeed regularly churns out BSC-related nostalgia posts, and Martin’s own Facebook page has become a popular place for former readers to convene. A recent post she wrote on the series’ 30th anniversary was viewed, she says, 12 million times.
The idea for the series wasn’t actually Martin’s. The young writer (she was 30 when the first one came out) had penned three rather under-the-radar children’s books when Jean Feiwel, her editor at Scholastic, approached her with the idea for a short series about a babysitters’ club. Together, they developed what this vague concept might look like, and the first four books, each focused on a different member of the club, were released over the course of 1986 and early 1987. They did relatively well, and Scholastic asked for two more. By the sixth, which came out in July 1987, Martin says, “everything exploded.” Scholastic started ordering up 12 books at a time, at which point Martin and her editor David Levithan hand-selected a crew of writers to help keep up with the grueling pace. “But I outlined each and every book, figured out the plot, and line-edited them afterward,” she says.
All these years later, Martin still seems baffled by her success. “Kids just attached themselves to the characters,” she says. Among the most attachable were Kristy Thomas (the club’s tomboy founder), Claudia Kishi (the artistic one), Stacey McGill (a “boy-crazy” former New Yorker), and Dawn Schafer (a laid-back California transplant), and, the most Martin-like, Mary Anne Spier (the club’s introverted secretary).