Category Archives: General

The Italian job

I’ve taught creative writing in a fair few places over the years – from the Scottish Highlands to Melbourne, Australia, and most corners of England – but I’m especially excited to have been invited to tutor a residential course in Tuscany next year.

art-of-writing-gazeboThe week-long course is hosted by The Art of Writing, founded by Lisa Clifford, an Australian ex-pat writer who has lived in Italy for many years. Lisa runs two “retreats” a year at a small hotel in Casentino, in the beautiful upper Arno Valley, less than an hour’s drive from Florence. I’ll be the guest tutor for the autumn retreat in 2017 – from September 10 to 16 – when a group of ten writers from around the English-speaking world will converge on the Tuscan mountains for six days of creative indulgence.

The mornings will be taken up with workshops in the hotel’s garden gazebo – covering a range of topics such as characterization, plot, setting and voice – with writing time and individual tutorials in the afternoons, followed by early evening sessions with literary agents, editors and other publishing professionals. The week will also include a trip to a medieval castle and a chance to make cheese. (I WON’T be leading that class!) There’ll be plenty of wining and dining, too. What’s not to like?

art-of-writing-sceneryTo visit the Art of Writing website and find out more please click here.

And here’s a link to a Q&A I’ve done for their blog.

Good day for YA

It was a long but enjoyable trip down to London on Saturday for YA Shot 2016, one of the highlights of the teenage-books festivals calendar. I left home at 8.30am and arrived back at 8.30pm, in the midst of which was a 55-minute panel session on young-adult crime fiction: There Will Be Blood.

ya-shot-logoI arrived at the Civic Centre, in Uxbridge, to discover that one of the panellists – Tanya Byrne – had suffered an accident en route and wouldn’t be able to make it (nothing too serious, I hope, although I’m still waiting to hear how she is.) It was a real shame because I’d read and enjoyed her three YA novels – Heart-Shaped Bruise, Follow Me Down and For Holly – and was looking forward to meeting and working with her.

Thankfully, the other panel member was there – Simon Mason, a successful author of fiction for adults and younger children who has recently turned his hand to YA, with the first two novels in the Garvie Smith detective series: Running Girl and Kid Got Shot. Simon is also managing director of the excellent independent press, David Fickling Books, publishers of some of the best teen fiction in recent years.

He was great to work with, and a knowledgeable and eloquent speaker, making my job as chair very easy. Between the two of us, we managed to compensate for Tanya’s absence by doing enough talking for three people and an appreciative audience chipped in with some interesting questions at the end. Our event was one of more than 30 sessions during the day – from talks, readings and book signings, to panel discussions, workshops and on-stage interviews.

ya-shot-logoThere were 70 authors taking part, including some leading names from the world of YA: Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Keren David, Jenny Downham, Kathryn Evans, Natasha Farrant, Clare Furniss, Lisa Heathfiled, Rhian Ivory, Lauren James, Catherine Johnson, Tanya Landman, Patrice Lawrence, Hayley Long, Zoe Marriott, Andy Robb, S.F. Said and Holly Smale.

YA Shot 2016, brilliantly organised and run by Alexia Casale and her team, was part of Culture Bite, Hillingdon Borough Council’s month-long arts, theatre, music and literature festival , which runs to the end of October. The day culminated in the annual YA Bloggers Awards.

YA Shot blog

I’m grateful to Nazy at The Enchanted Bookcase for hosting my visit to her excellent website as part of the YA Shot 2016 blog tour.

YA Shot is an annual all-day festival for young-adult and middle-grade readers, bloggers, vloggers and aspiring writers, which is being held this year in Uxbridge, West London, on Saturday October 22nd, with more than 70 authors taking part in panel and in-conversation events, workshops and book signings. For my part, I’ll be chairing a panel discussion – “There Will Be Blood: murder and other crimes in YA” – with fellow YA writers Tanya Byrne (Heart-Shaped Bruise; Follow Me Down; For Holly) and Simon Mason (Running Girl).

ya-shot-tour-logoThe build-up to this year’s festival includes a blog tour by participating authors. My stopping-off point on the tour was The Enchanted Bookcase, a YA book reviews site, which invited me to post a blog on my switch from adult fiction to writing for teenagers. To whet your appetite, here’s the opening of the piece:

I have a former editor to thank for my first novel for teenagers – I wrote it because he advised me not to. After more than 12 years writing fiction for adults I had an idea for a story more suited to a younger audience. When I mentioned it over a pizza one day, the editor shook his head.
“You don’t want to write one of those.”
“Why not?” I asked.
He didn’t really give a reason, just shook his head again. With the teen market so buoyant, perhaps he thought I was jumping on the bandwagon, or that I wouldn’t be able to write well for that readership. Maybe he foresaw a “re-branding” problem. Whatever, I came away from that lunch feeling cross. Like any author, I resented being told what to write – or what not to write (he hadn’t even asked what the story was about!) I decided to go ahead with my YA novel and to hell with him, even if he had just paid for my pizza
.

To read the full post, and to visit the rest of The Enchanted Bookcase site, please click on this link.

And follow this link for full details of the YA Shot 2016 programme.

Festival gig

Deershed flyerNorth Yorkshire beckons this weekend with a trip to the wonderfully named Deer Shed Festival, where I’ll be rubbing shoulders with a whole host of musicians, singers, actors, comedians, storytellers, artists and other writers.

The family-focused festival, now in its seventh year, is expected to draw a crowd of up to ten thousand over three days of events in the lovely setting of Baldersby Park, between Thirsk and Ripon – 90 acres of parkland whose features include a lake, an obelisk . . . and a historic deer shed. I’ll be giving a talk and reading at 11.30am on Saturday on the Obelisk Stage, which has a capacity of 500 (eek!), followed by a book-signing.

For full details of the festival click to visit the Deer Shed website.

Highland fling

I’ll be heading up into the Highlands of Scotland later this summer to co-tutor a six-day residential course on writing for teenagers and young adults. Having taught numerous similar courses over the years for the Arvon Foundation at their centres in West Yorkshire, Shropshire and Devon, I’m very much looking forward to my first visit to Moniack Mhor, near Inverness.

My fellow tutor for the week is the excellent, edgy YA novelist Cat Clarke – author of Torn, Entangled, Undone and, most recently, The Lost and the Found – and we’re honoured to have the former Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine, as guest speaker during the week.

Young Adult Fiction Flyer
There are still a few places left on the course, which runs from August 1st-6th, so if you fancy spending a week writing YA fiction, attending workshops, readings and one-to-one tutorials – not to mention wining and dining with other aspiring writers in a beautiful part of Scotland – then please check out the details on the flyer, above, or click on this link to the Moniack Mhor website to make a booking.

In Leeds, united

I’ll be sharing a stage in Leeds tomorrow (Sun 5th) with colleagues and students from Leeds Trinity University as we join forces to put on a showcase of our creative writing.Leeds Trinity logo No fewer than thirteen of us will be reading at the event – five students from the current Creative Writing MA cohort (Lucy Brighton, Sophie Joelle, Lewis King, Rebecca Leeming and Liz Mistry), five recent graduates (Lynn Bauman-Milner, Caroline Bond, Gill Lambert, Maria Stephenson and Hannah Stone) and the MA’s three tutors (me, Amina Alyal and Oz Hardwick).

big-bookend1-e1398617085807The readings will be mix of prose and poetry – I’ll be reading my latest short story, “The Wrong Coat”, which is included in the newly launched 2016 Leeds Trinity anthology Journeys: A Space for Words, published in May by Indigo Dreams Publishing. The event will be a celebration of the writing to have emerged from the course, which was only established in 2013 but has already seen a number of its students enjoy publication success for their poetry and short-story collections and novels.

Tomorrow’s event is part of the 2016 Leeds Big Bookend Festival: “Crossing City Limits”, and is taking place at 3.30pm at the Outlaws Yacht Club, 38 New York Street, Leeds, LS2 7DY (just behind the bus station.) Admission is free. For the full Big Bookend programme please follow this link to the festival website.

From Hay to Horsforth

Fresh back from a long round-trip to the Hay Festival, I’m gearing up for my next gig (much closer to home) in Horsforth.

The session at the Starlight Stage, in Hay, on Saturday morning was hugely enjoyable – a panel discussion on young adult fiction, expertlyHay event pic chaired by the writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn, in which I shared a platform with the novelists Eve Ainsworth, Juno Dawson and Patrice Lawrence. There were around 170 in the audience and we were busy in the book-signing tent afterwards, before being whisked to the Green Room for lunch, where we rubbed shoulders with none other than . . . Benedict Cumberbatch!

My next appearance may not be as well-attended, or star-studded, but I’m very much looking forward to headlining at Wordspace, at The Sandbar, Horsforth, on Wednesday – the monthly open-mic event run by Leeds Trinity University, where I teach creative writing. In amongst the poetry and prose performances from colleagues, students and members of the pubic, I’ll be reading extracts from my latest YA novel, Twenty Questions for Gloria. No doubt I’ll bump into Martin Freeman in the gents.

Workshops for teens

My promotional tour for Twenty Questions for Gloria has swung into action this week. Yesterday, I visited Garforth Academy, in Leeds, to run a creative writing workshop for a very engaged and imaginative group from Year 10 and Year 11. The students will now be developing their stories over the coming weeks and entering them into a competition which I’ll be judging.

Library festAnd on Saturday afternoon (Feb 13th) I’m looking forward to leading a two-hour workshop at Moor Allerton Library for 11 to 19-year-olds as part of Leeds City Council’s Library Fest. For more details of this event and how to book a place please click on this link. And click here to visit the Library Fest website, with full details of the programme of events taking place across the city from February 13th to 21st.

Costa in pictures

Here are some photos from the Costa Book of the Year event in London earlier this week, courtesy of the good people at Costa. (Picture credit: Richard Kendal/Barcroft Media.)

Me with the rest of the Costa judges.

Me with the rest of the Costa judges.

Each judge had to pose for a photocall on arrival at Quaglino's. Here's mine.

Each judge had to pose for a photocall on arrival at Quaglino’s. Here’s mine.

Here, I'm presenting Frances Hardinge with her prize for winning the children's category.

Here, I’m presenting Frances Hardinge with her prize for winning the children’s category.

Hooray for Frances!

What a fabulous night at the Costa Book Awards . . . and what a brilliant result! Many congratulations to Frances Hardinge for winning the overall prize with her superb teenage novel, The Lie Tree – only the second time in 31 years that the winner of the children’s category has claimed the main award.

Frances Hardinge picAs one of the judges at yesterday afternoon’s meeting in the library of the St James’s Hotel, in London’s West End, I went into the room expecting to be in a minority of one, championing Ms Hardinge’s book. I knew it was an exceptional novel but it was up against some very strong candidates from the other four categories, never mind the weight of history being stacked against it. Would enough of the other judges sign up to the notion of a book for teenagers winning one of the UK’s biggest literary prizes?

As the meeting unfolded, though, it became apparent that The Lie Tree was in with a serious chance of winning. We discussed the category winners in turn, with each judge given time to comment on each book. There was dissent – one book, in particular, produced a clear split between those who loved it and those who really didn’t like it. But, for the most part – and despite strongly held and clearly articulated views – the differences of opinion were much less stark, and less bluntly expressed, than might have been expected.

Costa-Book-Awards-logoIndeed, the meeting was surprisingly convivial. Once the talking was done, the chair of judges, James Heneage – historical novelist and founder of the Ottakars chain of bookshops – asked each of us to write down our first and second choices. To give an indication of what a close-run thing it was, four of the five books secured at least one first-choice vote.

After the votes were totted up (two points for a first choice, one point for a second choice), The Lie Tree emerged out in front, both in terms of the total number of points and the number of judges who placed it in their first two. As James said later, in his announcement speech, dissent had yielded to consensus. It was the one book that was enjoyed and admired all round the table, even by those who didn’t vote for it. It was the right choice. The judges whose favourites missed out were generous-spirited in their endorsement of the result and in expressing their pleasure at conferring such an accolade on an author who is already highly regarded (and prize-winning) in the realm of children’s fiction but little known outside of it. Until now!

The lie treeI don’t mind admitting, I was thrilled to bits when we all decamped around the corner to Quaglino’s restaurant for the awards ceremony and the winner was announced. I was delighted for Frances Hardinge and her marvellous novel but, as an author of young-adult fiction, I was fully aware of what a momentous decision this was for UKYA more generally.

Teenage fiction has been the success story of British publishing for the past 25 years, producing scores of talented writers and so many brilliantly written books. The sales have reflected this and yet it has never really received the critical and media attention it deserves. So, a Costa win for a teenage novel was long overdue (it’s been 15 years since Philip Pullman won with The Amber Spyglass).

I am immensely proud to have been a part of the Costa judging process – first, in working alongside Melissa Cox and Andrea Reece to select the shortlist and winner of the children’s category, then as part of the final judging panel, with Jane Asher, Katy Brand, Julia Copus, Louise Doughty, Janet Ellis, Matt Haig, Penny Junor and our excellent chair, James Heneage. It was a pleasure to meet and work with them.

Costa-Book-Awards-logoCommiserations to the four category winners who missed out: Kate Atkinson (Novel – A God in Ruins); Andrew Michael Hurley (First Novel – The Loney); Don Paterson (Poetry – 40 Sonnets); and Andrea Wulf (Biography – The Invention of Nature: the Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt). I enjoyed all four books . . . but it was The Lie Tree that blew me away.

← Older posts