Ness dismisses any snobbery about YA fiction. “Writing for teenagers requires no less effort or emotional investment than any other writing. The same practical work is involved. And writing for teenagers actually has huge benefits. They are totally open-minded readers, and that allows you to take risks as a writer that you might not get away with otherwise.” They are more than happy to accept his genre-bending thrillers and his celebration of difference.
fabulous feature/profile of Lauren Child in The Times – shame about the paywall
Child, 49, long-limbed and chic in a pencil skirt and sleeveless white shirt (rather how I imagine Charlie and Lola’s mother) explains why she went back to the characters after all these years. She had five semi-finished stories which she wrote long before the television version of Charlie and Lola began, she says. “Then the TV thing happened and I just felt so Charlie and Lola-ed out” she sighs. “I can’t deal with those children any more, they have taken over everything!” Three series were commissioned by the BBC and shown between 2005 and 2008, although the DVDs and repeats live on.
Did she start to positively dislike Charlie and Lola? She laughs. “It’s partly — and this is no criticism of the television — but they are slightly different on the TV. We had to age them up a bit and Lola becomes more knowing and manipulative. I imagined her wide-eyed and innocent, asking blank questions which lead her to places, rather than her trying to get her own way. In my head she is three-and-a-half and she comes across as more of a five-year-old on TV. As much as I wanted to illustrate those stories I had written, the voice from the TV was too strong to disconnect from that. I just wanted to do something different, I’m not good at staying with one thing.”
Although a star in her own country, [Tonke Dragt] is virtually unknown in the UK. But that’s slowly changing with last year’s English translation, the first ever, of her 1962 adventure story The Letter for the King (De Brief Voor de Koning) and, this month, the appearance of its sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood. The Letter for the King is a Dutch classic, winning the country’s children’s book of the year award in 1963 and, in 2004, the “Griffel der Griffels” for best children’s novel of the past 50 years. Translated into many languages, it has sold over a million copies worldwide.
Tonke Dragt’s The Secrets of the Wild Wood, translated by Laura Watkinson, is published by Pushkin Press.
Cathy Cassidy featurette in the Telegraph:
Cathy Cassidy: ‘There is a huge responsibility in being an agony aunt’
The children’s author on being an agony aunt on Shout magazine, being pushed into writing her first book, and why Alice in Wonderland is a style icon
Cathy Cassidy worked on the teenage magazine Jackie and was an agony aunt on Shout for 12 years, before publishing her book Dizzy in 2004. Since then she has written 13 books for girls aged nine to 12, which have sold more than two million copies worldwide; her latest, Looking Glass Girl, a re-telling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is out now. Cassidy, 52, lives in Merseyside with her husband, Liam, with whom she has two grown-up children, Calum and Caitlin.
Routine The day starts off with a cup of tea before Liam and I take the dogs around the park. We lived in rural Scotland before we moved here two years ago, so it’s nice to have a bit of greenery nearby. If I’m writing I’m stuck to my laptop all day. When a new book comes out I will go on tour – it’s the perfect antidote to sitting quietly on my own. At the end of the day I’ll be in the living room, still glued to my laptop, and Liam will be watching television. It’s just nice to be in the same room.
Meeting Liam I met Liam when I was about 19 and an art student in Liverpool. One night my housemate dragged us all into town where the worst band in the universe was playing. In those days I took my sketchbook everywhere. There was quite a cool-looking boy in the band. He had only a tambourine, which was a bit odd, but I drew him anyway. Afterwards we all went to a club, which was a little hole in the ground with very cave-like walls. The boy I’d been drawing came and started talking to me about all sorts of odd things. He turned out to be Liam.
Highly recommended Guardian Review profile:
There is a simple test to see whether a child will like reading Lemony Snicket books, says the man who wrote them over tea at a Dublin hotel: “If there was a small child here who said, ‘Can I have one of those cookies?’, I might say, ‘One of those cookies is poisoned. We have no idea which one.’” And, adds Daniel Handler, who wrote the bestselling, 13-volume series A Series of Unfortunate Events, under the pen name Lemony Snicket, “there’s the sort of child who is alarmed by that and the sort of child who delights in it.”
So the latter would enjoy the bittersweet adventures of the tragically orphaned Baudelaire twins and their travails with venal uncle Count Olaf and his unpleasant henchpersons? “That’s right,” laughs Handler, joined by his wife, graphic artist Lisa Brown, who is sketching on a nearby sofa. “People say, ‘How old does a child need to be to appreciate Lemony Snicket?’ And I say, ‘It’s not how old, it’s the arrival of irony.’”
Before he leaves, I ask Handler to sign a copy of the third Lemony Snicket book, The Wide Window, for my daughter, who liked that volume most of all. “To Juliet, a future orphan. DH (allegedly LS)”, he writes. Bloody cheek, I think, as I read the inscription on the flight back to London. I still haven’t given her the signed copy. My daughter likes irony, but I don’t think she – or I – are quite ready for that sentiment.
In the first of a new series of features on prominent figures in UK publishing, ACHUKA recently met up with David Maybury, the new commissioning editor at Scholastic…
The day’s must-read piece: this marvellous Guardian profile of Chris Riddell by Susanna Rustin:
No extract given because you should read it in its entirety!
Highly enlightening Guardian feature on Charlie Higson”
“There isn’t a set of rules about how scary you can make it,” says Higson, looking characteristically nice and respectable in his north London home (just down the road from the Waitrose). “So I used my youngest boy as a guinea pig. He was just 10, or maybe even nine, so he was a bit young. But I thought ‘I’ll see how scared he gets.’ ”
Higson read The Enemy to Sidney as a bedtime story, chapter by chapter as he wrote it. “And it was quite clear that he wasn’t getting scared at all. He was really enjoying it, and was saying ‘I love a bit of gore, but it’s not scary’ … Modern kids have been exposed to so much more. They watch all these DVDs they’re not supposed to, they look at stuff online particularly, and certainly when it comes to gore they’ve seen it all.” So Higson responded by “pushing it, making it grimmer and more violent and nastier, with more children getting killed and eaten”.
Eventually, he recalls, they were about halfway into the book and he’d gone to sleep, “defeated again”. But then, “at about four in the morning, there was a hammering on the door and Sidney came bursting in, floods of tears, shaking, sweaty, pyjamas stuck to his body, he’d had this really awful nightmare based on the book, and I thought ‘Woohoo!’ ”
A century after the real Moominmamma’s birth, Tuula Karjalainen explores the beginnings of the Moomin saga…
Why did Tove Jansson, a gifted and dedicated artist who was born in Helsinki in 1914, start writing the Moomin books, a series that went on to sell in their millions, and be translated into 44 languages? Not for financial reasons, for she certainly did not envisage making much money from them. At least to begin with, she wrote them for herself. Through them she escaped from the war and the harshness of the world, at a time when many Finns were numbing their senses with drugs and alcohol. Writing about Moominvalley offered Tove an alternative escape from a life that was too cruel.
A highly recommended Guardin feature on Ursul Le Guin and an extract from her acceptance speech:
As Ursula Le Guin receives the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards, she talks to Hari Kunzru about alternative fictional worlds
Ursula Le Guin speaking at the National Book Awards presentations:
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.
Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.