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Hi all! Stacey here with Lizzy Mason, Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. This is the second of our two-part series on How and When to Catch The Elusive Publicity Department. Last month, Lizzy provided a typical publicist’s timeline. Today, she gives us her thoughts on everything from swag to freelance publicists. Lizzy, take it away.
Swag—Fact #1: people like free stuff. Fact #2: it doesn’t really help to give people free stuff that they won’t use and that people won’t see. So even if your book is about, say, bird watching, are you really going to get sales of your book by handing out expensive swag like binoculars with your book’s title on it? (Hint: no.) The best swag is simple. Bookmarks, pins/buttons, postcards, tote bags, and posters. If you want to make a few more expensive items for giveaways closer to on-sale, that’s cool too, but make sure it’s something people will use. I have a dozen sticky note pads, lanyards, and bracelets (even suntan lotion and a manicure kit) that will never see the light outside my cubicle walls.
Blogger Requests—Do not forward blogger requests piecemeal to your publicist. Yes, we’re known for being organized, but we’re also dealing with massive amounts of email. (Currently, I have more than 24,000 emails in my inbox. Not including the ones I’ve filed.) Keep an excel spreadsheet of requests (include name, blog name, address, email, and stats) and send them all at once about 5 months before on-sale. If someone requests an ARC after that, start a new list or refer them to your publicist (check with them first to be sure that’s okay). Also, please don’t put your publicist’s email address on your website. There should be a general email you can use for the publicity department or publisher.
Events—I don’t recommend doing events before on-sale unless you have backlist you can promote. In that case, bring your fancy swag for the new book! But if you don’t have a book to sell, it’s really just not worth it. People have short memories, even if they take your bookmark with them to “pre-order when they get home.” Save your time, money, and energy for when you have a book you can sell.
If you want to do events locally, check with your publicist for help arranging them. It’s best if we know what you’re doing. For several reasons, but mostly because if we know about an event, we can be sure the store orders books and gets them on time. Local bookstore events can be a great way to support the book, but don’t expect that the bookstore will bring a crowd for you. They’ll do their part with promotion, but you should be inviting your friends and family.
Are you traveling anywhere within the US around your publication date? Let your publicist know and they may be able to arrange an event. Especially if you’re going somewhere where you know a lot of people who may come out to see you.
Regional trade shows are another great way to meet the booksellers at bookstores in your general region. There are eight indie bookseller fall trade shows: NAIBA, NEIBA, SIBA, MPIBA, Heartland Fall Forum (for MIBA and GLIBA), SCIBA, NCIBA, and PNBA. (Google those acronyms!) Ask your publicist if you could be pitched for a signing, especially if it’s within driving distance. Your publisher may be willing to cover travel costs if it’s further away, but don’t expect that they will.
Announcements—Don’t announce anything without telling your publicist and marketing team. Sign a new deal? Going to a festival? Got a blurb? We can help with these announcements and determine the best time to make them. And, even just from a bandwidth perspective, it’s worth combining efforts.
Balance—Yes, the squeaky wheel gets grease. It’s true. But it’s all about balance. You want to walk the fine line between being a squeaky wheel and being overly persistent. So don’t email your publicist every time you have an idea. Gather your thoughts and put them into one email, then give him/her at least a few days to get back to you. Sometimes we have to research something or get an answer from another department. Silence does not mean we aren’t thinking about you. Also, anything you can do on your own, especially research, do it!
Freelance publicists—There are some amazing freelance publicists, but some are better than others, and some are better at working with your publisher than others. If you want to see what else a freelance can do to supplement your publisher’s plans, by all means, check into it. Some agents work with freelancers regularly and can suggest a few, some of your author friends might have recommendations (or warnings), and your publicist might even have some thoughts. I don’t always think it’s necessary, but it depends on what the publisher is doing. Definitely talk to your publicist, your agent, and your editor before hiring a freelancer.
Also, one last thing to know: I hate saying no. I hate it in my personal life, I hate in my professional life. I have trouble even saying no to my cat. Seriously, that’s why she’s so fat. So please respect the “No.” When I say we can’t cover your travel costs or pitch you for something, there is a reason. And I hated saying “No” just as much as you hated hearing it. Please don’t make me say it twice.
Congratulations on being published and good luck! I hope to see you at an event, conference, trade show, or festival one of these days!
LIZZY MASON is the Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. She previously worked in publicity at Disney, Macmillan Children’s, and Simon & Schuster, and graduated from Manhattan College (which is in the Bronx) with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. Lizzy dedicates whatever spare time she can to reading and writing YA fiction. She lives with her husband (and his comic collection) and their cat Moxie (who was named after a cat in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials) in Queens, NY. Follow her @LizzyMason21.
The UK’s 2016 Little Rebels Award shortlist has been announced – and once again it sets a challenge for the judges… It presents a good mix of books for all ages. There are some big names among the books’ creators – and notable is Gill Lewis’s Gorilla Dawn, … Continue reading ... →
BuzzFeed exclusively revealed a first look at Jim Kay’s new work on the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The pop-culture news site revealed the cover art, as well as one beautiful diagrammed image of a Phoenix.
The Plot: Pram Bellamy has been raised by her two aunts, Aunt Nan and Aunt Dee, in the Halfway to Heaven Home for the Aging. Pram has been homeschooled, which means she has been able to keep her secret -- she talks to ghosts. Oh, it's not scary or creepy; her best friend, Felix, is a ghost. But it is something she knows she has to keep secret.
But a person cannot hide forever: and when Pram is sent to school, she meets Clarence. Like Pram, Clarence's mother is dead. As Clarence and Pram's friendship grows, he shares with her his own secret: his desperate need to find his mother -- his mother's ghost. Clarence is unaware of Pram's secret, but she couldn't help him anyway. Sometimes ghosts come to her, sometimes they don't. She doesn't see Clarence's mother; she's never seen her own mother.
Lady Savant is one of the spiritualists a searching Clarence goes to. She doesn't give Clarence any answers, but she does recognize Pram's power. And she wants it for her own.
The Good: A wonderfully creepy book -- not creepy because ghosts. To Pram, ghosts are not much different from humans. Felix is her best friend, even if she's the only one who can see him.
A Curious Tale of the In-Between starts as an exploration of Pram: telling us a bit about her distraught mother, who took her own life while pregnant with Pram. Telling us a bit about the strange home Pram has been raised in.
And then it turns to creepy and to terror, not because of ghosts or the supernatural, but because of one person who craves the power Pram has. Lady Savant, who is willing to say anything and do anything. People, not what lurks between life and death, or what happens after life, are the threat. But people are also what can save us.
This is a great middle grade book: it's about Pram learning more about herself and her world while making closer connections with friends and family, living and dead. It's also got a sense of place I found delightful even while being scared. Pram's aunts and the home they run are almost like something out of Dickens; the mystery of Pram's parents, even the names used (Pram, Clarence, Felix) make this reminiscent of older stories. Yet it's more that it's a timeless story, not a historical story. And the horror is just enough -- just enough to scare the reader, to make one turn the pages even faster, even, perhaps, to make one skip to the last page just to make sure it ends well.
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Today, October 6, Bloomsbury is publishing the first illustrated edition of the Harry Potter books–Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is hitting shelves in stores near you. As a part of publication celebrations, illustrator Jim Kay agreed to participate in Q&A sessions with major Harry Potter news sites, calling it The Great Big Harry Potter Fansite Interview. The Leaky Cauldron was honored with the opportunity to be apart of this event.
The Leaky staff came together to create and ask Kay four specific questions that we thought fans might like answered, and questions that Kay had not yet answered in previous interviews or Q&As. Jim Kay took the time, between drawing illustrations for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to answer two of each site’s questions, and send never-before-seen images from Philosopher’s Stone. Please see the images and the interview below!
The Great Big Harry Potter Fansite Interview
Were you influenced by previous Harry Potter illustrators/the films or did you veer away from both?(Alwaysjkrowling.com)
I’m a huge fan of both the books and the films. I thought the screen adaptations were a wonderful showcase of the best set design, product design, costume, casting, directing and acting their disciplines had to offer. I knew from the start that I’m competing to some degree with the hundreds of people involved in the visuals of the film. I remember watching the extras that come with the movie DVDs a few years back, and wondering how on earth you’d get to be lucky enough to work on the visuals for such a great project. To be offered the opportunity to design the whole world again from scratch was fantastic, but very daunting. I’d like to think that over the years lots of illustrators will have a crack at Potter, in the same way that Alice in Wonderland has seen generations of artists offer their own take on Lewis Carroll’s novel. I had to make it my version though, and so from the start I needed to set it apart from the films. I’ll be honest I’ve only seen a few illustrations from other Potter books, so that’s not been so much of a problem. I love Jonny Duddle’s covers, and everyone should see Andrew Davidson’s engravings – they are incredible!
What was the most important detail for you to get right with your illustrations? (Magical Menagerie)
To try and stay faithful to the book. It’s very easy when you are scribbling away to start wandering off in different directions, so you must remind yourself to keep reading Jo’s text. Technically speaking though, I think composition is important –the way the movement and characters arrange themselves on the page – this dictates the feel of the book.
What medium do you use to create your illustrations? (Snitchseeker)
I use anything that makes a mark –I am not fussy. So I don’t rely on expensive watercolour or paints, although I do occasionally use them – I like to mix them up with cheap house paint, or wax crayons. Sometimes in a local DIY store I’ll see those small tester pots of wall paint going cheap in a clear-out sale, and I’ll buy stacks of them, and experiment with painting in layers and sanding the paint back to get nice textures. The line is almost always pencil, 4B or darker, but the colour can be a mixture of any old paint, watercolour, acrylic, and oil. Diagon Alley was unusual in that I digitally coloured the whole illustration in order to preserve the pencil line drawing. I’d recommend experimenting; there is no right or wrong way to make an illustration, just do what works for you!
Because each book is so rich in detail, what is your personal process when choosing specific images?(The Daily Snitcher)
I read the book, then read it again and again, making notes. You start off with lots of little ideas, and draw a tiny thumbnail illustration, about the size of a postage stamp, to remind you of the idea for an illustration you had while reading the book. I then start to draw them a little bigger, about postcard size, and show them to Bloomsbury. We then think about how many illustrations will appear in each chapter, and try to get the balance of the book right by moving pictures around, dropping or adding these rough drawings as we go. With Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Bloomsbury were great in that they let me try all sorts of things out, different styles, concepts. Some I didn’t think would get into the final book, but everyone was very open to new ideas. There was no definite plan with regards to how the book would look; we just experimented and let it evolve.
Given the distinct split of younger vs. more mature readers of the series, how do you construct your illustrations so that they can appeal to both audiences at once? (Mugglenet)
The simple answer is I don’t try. I think only about the author and myself. You can’t please everyone, particularly when you know how many people have read the book. I don’t think good books are made by trying to appeal to a wide audience. You just try to do the best work you can in the time given, and respect the author’s work. Most illustrators are never happy with their own work. You always feel you want to try more combinations or alternative compositions. You are forever in search of that golden illustration that just ‘works’, but of course it’s impossible to achieve –there will always be another way of representing the text. Effectively you chase rainbows until you run out of time! You get a gut feeling if an image is working. I remember what I liked as a child (Richard Scarry books!). Detail and humour grabbed me as a nipper, and it’s the same now I’m in my forties.
Did you base any characters or items in the book on real people or things? (Leaky Cauldron)
Lots of the book is based on real places, people and experiences. It helps to make the book personal to me, and therefore important. The main characters of the books are based on real people, partly for practical reasons, because I need to see how the pupils age over seven years. In Diagon Alley in particular, some of the shop names are personal to me. As a child we had a toad in the garden called Bufo (from the latin Bufo bufo), Noltie’s Botanical Novelties is named after a very clever friend of mine who works at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. The shop called ‘Tut’s Nuts’ is a little joke from my days working at Kew Gardens; they had in their collections some seeds from the tomb of Tutankhamun, which were affectionately known as ‘Tut’s Nuts’. The imprisoned boy reaching for an apple in Brigg’s Brooms is from a drawing my friend did when we were about 9 years old –that’s thirty two years ago!
Which character was the most difficult to draw? (Harry Potter’s Page)
Harry, without a doubt. Children are difficult to draw because you can’t use too many lines around the eyes and face, otherwise they look old. One misplaced pencil line can age a child by years, so you have to get it just right. Also Harry’s glasses are supposed to look repaired and bent out of shape, which I’ve found tricky to get right.
What is your favourite scene you have illustrated? (Alwaysjkrowling.com)
That’s a difficult one. I’m fond of the ghosts. I paint them in reverse (almost like a photographic negative) and layer several paintings to make them translucent. I enjoyed Nearly Headless Nick. I really enjoyed illustrating the trolls too. Your favourite illustrations tend to be the ones that gave you the least amount of difficulties and I think Diagon Alley was nice for this reason. It was more like a brainstorming exercise, slowly working from left to right. My favourite character to illustrate is Hagrid – I love big things!
Are there any hidden messages/items in your drawings for the Harry Potter series? (Magical Menagerie)
There are, but they are little things that relate to my life, so I’m not sure how much sense they’d make to other people. I like to include my dog in illustrations if I can (he’s in Diagon Alley). I also put a hare in my work, for good luck. There’s a hare in A Monster Calls, and in Harry Potter. My friends appear as models for the characters in book one, and some of their names too can be seen carved on a door, and on Diagon Alley. There are little references to later books too, such as on the wrought-iron sign of the Leaky Cauldron. I do it to keep things interesting for me while I’m drawing.
How did you approach illustrating the Hogwarts Castle and grounds? (Harry Potter Fan Zone)
I really enjoyed doing this. You have to go through all seven books looking for mentions of the individual rooms, turrets, doors and walls of the castle, and make lots of notes. Then you check for mentions of its position, for example if you can see the sun set from a certain window, to find out which way the castle is facing. I then built a small model out of scrap card and Plasticine and tried lighting it from different directions. It was important to see how it would look in full light, or as a silhouette. Then it was a long process of designing the Great Hall, and individual towers. I have a huge number of drawings just experimenting with different doorways, roofs. Some early compositions were quite radical, then I hit upon the idea of trees growing under, through and over the whole castle, as if the castle had grown out of the landscape. This also gives me the opportunity to show trees growing through the inside of some rooms in future illustrations.
What illustrations in the book are you most proud of? (Leaky Cauldron)
Usually it’s the ones that took the least amount of effort! It takes me so many attempts to get an illustration to work, that if one works on the second or third attempt, it’s a big relief. There is one illustration in the book that worked first time (a chapter opener of Hogwarts architecture, with birds nesting on the chimney pots). It kind of felt wrong that the illustration was done without agonising over it for days, it didn’t feel real somehow, so I’m proud of that one because it’s so rare that I get an image to work first time! The only other illustration that was relatively straightforward was the Sorting Hat. Illustrations that come a little easier tend to have a freshness about them, and I think those two feel a little bit looser than others in the book.
Which book do you think will be the most challenging one to illustrate? (Harry Potter’s Page)
At the minute it’s book two! I think book one I was full of adrenaline, driven by sheer terror! Book two I want to have a different feel, and that makes it challenging to start again and rethink the process.
Is there a particular scene in the future Harry Potter books you’re excited to illustrate? (Harry Potter Fan Zone)
I’m really looking forward to painting Aragog in book two. I’m really fond of spiders – there are lots in my studio – so it’s great having reference close to hand! I’m hoping that by the Deathly Hallows we will be fully into a darker and more adult style of illustration, to reflect the perils facing Potter!
How many illustrations did you initially do for the book, and how many of those appeared in the final edition? (Snitchseeker)
There are stacks of concept drawings that no one will ever see, such as the Hogwarts sketches, which I needed to do in order to get my head around the book. Then there are rough drawings, then rough drawings that are worked up a little more, and then it might take five or six attempts for each illustration to get it right.
What house do you think you may have been placed in, aged 11, and would it be the same now? (Mugglenet)
I’d like to think it was Ravenclaw as a child. I was much more confident back then, and creative, plus they have an interesting house ghost in the form of the Grey Lady. These days I work hard and am loyal, so probably Hufflepuff.
Illustrating aside, what is one thing that you love doing to express your creativity? (The Daily Snitcher)
It’s difficult to say because for the past 5 years I have worked on illustration seven days a week, every hour of the day. A few years back I started to write, and I really enjoyed that, it’s far more intimate than illustrating, and I love going over the same line and trying to hone it down to the core of what you are trying to express. My partner makes hats, and I’m very envious. It looks like wonderful fun. We have lots of designs for hats in sketchbooks. I really want to get some time to make some. I’ve always been slightly torn that I didn’t go into fashion, but my sewing is terrible. I used to play guitar a lot and write little bits of music, but that’s difficult now because my hand gets very stiff from drawing all day! The funny thing is, if I did ever get a day off, I’d just want to draw!
This morning, J.K. Rowling invited all to check out the book and “see Harry Potter through Jim Kay’s extraordinary eyes,” and Pottermore also released their exclusive interview.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone–Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay, is now available from any book retailer near you (or online)! Happy reading and please let us know your impressions of the new version of the Harry Potter books–our favorite books!
The Plot: A Robin Hood retelling, with Robyn Loxley as a twelve year old girl who seeks her imprisoned parents and allies herself with the have-nots of her world.
The Good: I love retellings, I love seeing what is kept, what is changed, how it's updated.
Confession: this is one of those books that while I'd heard a bunch of buzz, I'd avoided most reviews, wanting to read it fresh. The cover told me that the retelling was also updating the setting, putting Robyn in a modern world.
Well, I was wrong. And right. Yes, it's a modern world but it's not our modern world. The technology seems about fifty years in the future; the city is Nott City, and the discussion of the city and its surroundings, while matching the Robin Hood tales, doesn't match our own geography. So it's not just a retelling; it's a fantasy, in that it's not our world. But it's so close to our world, that even non-fantasy readers will enjoy it. And the names of places and people will make those familiar with Robin Hood smile: Loxley Manor, the Castle District, people named Tucker and Scarlet and Merryan.
Robyn is amazing. Awesome. Courageous, stubborn, smart -- and a bit spoiled. She's the child of privilege who likes to sneak out at night. It's the sneaking out that saves her, when her politically involved parents are taken as part of a coup. Suddenly, she's without anything or anyone and is forced beyond the borders of her comfortable life. For example: Robyn isn't even familiar with money or trading, because chips and credit have always covered her needs. But as she meets others -- a young girl living on her own, a boy who is hiding something -- she adjusts. Forced to be an enemy of those in charge, she quickly sides with the others who are enemies of those in power: the poor, those without connections, those living hand to mouth.
Robyn is biracial; her parents, and their backgrounds, are part of the story and even mystery Robyn is trying to uncover. Mystery may be the wrong word; but while her parents now have powerful connections and jobs, allowing for Robyn's very upper class upbringing, Shadows of Sherwood quickly sketches in the background of their lives and world. And their background is what targeted them during the current coup, and their lives before Robyn's birth is part of what she needs to learn more about to figure out her own present and future. Robyn's hair is braided, and it turns out it's a distinctive style taught to her by her father. It's unique; and when she is alone, seeing another with the same style of braid is one of those clues. While this is not our world, it's a world where skin color and money matter, just in different ways. So while there is the adventure of survival, and helping others, there is also the mystery of the past and the future and finding her parents.
This is the start of a series, and so it's Robyn's origin story. Who she was. How she becomes Robyn Hoodlum, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. With that told; and with the start of her "merry band" coming together, I look forward to what Robyn and her crew will do next.
Because Robyn is terrific. Because the world building is so full. Because it's an inventive retelling that is also true to the source. Because I want more. Shadows of Sherwood is a Favorite Book of 2015.
Meanwhile, while waiting for more Robyn, over at Nerdy Book Club the author, Kekla Magoon, shares a bit about writing this book.
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Yesterday, the Deluxe Edition of the new illustrated Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, illustrated by Jim Kay and written by J.K. Rowling, was released. Bloomsbury anticipated to release this £150 along side the beautiful, and much anticipated £30 edition. With the high price tag comes new features that enhance the beauty of the illustrated editions of Jim Kay’s Philosopher Stone.
Bloomsbury describes the Deluxe Editions enhancements and features, saying:
“The deluxe illustrated edition of J.K. Rowling’s timeless classic will feature an exclusive pull-out double gatefold of Diagon Alley; intricate foiled line art by Jim Kay on a real cloth cover and slipcase; gilt edges on premium grade paper; head and tail bands and two ribbon markers. It is the ultimate must-have edition for any fan, collector or bibliophile.“
“This special edition is an utterly enchanting feast of a book and something to treasure for a lifetime. Brimming with rich detail and humour, Jim Kay’s dazzling depiction of the wizarding world and much loved characters will captivate fans and new readers alike. In oil, pastel, pencil, watercolour, pixels and a myriad of other techniques, Jim Kay has created over 115 astonishing illustrations.“
The Deluxe Edition of Philosopher’s Stone will only be available through Bloomsbury’s website until March 2016. Next spring, the Deluxe Edition will be released to other retailers.
Bloomsbury has announced the date and theme of it’s Harry Potter Book Night in 2016.
The first annual Harry Potter Book Night was held this past February, and saw over 10,500 parties organized in the UK, with the Twitter #HarryPotterBookNight trending for most of the day. When Harry Potter Book Night returns, Thursday, February 4th, 2016, even more excitement and more parties are expected. It will be bigger and better. Because of it’s success, international publishers have decided to join in and bring Harry Potter Book Night to fans all over the world.
Bloomsbury explains their choice in theme for Harry Potter Book Night 2016, saying:
Whether it is the disarming Expelliarmus or the dreaded Avada Kedavra, spells are at the very heart of all of the Harry Potter books, making them a perfect focus for the second Harry Potter Book Night.
With an updated event kit themed around spells and lots more exciting elements yet to be announced, once again fans of all ages will have the chance to celebrate J.K. Rowling’s wonderful novels – and pass the magic on to young readers who haven’t yet discovered these unforgettable books.
To get the latest news on Harry Potter Book Night 2016, have access to kits, and more, visit the Harry Potter Book Night webpage. Those who registered for exclusive news letters last February should still be on the list to receive them. Mark your calendars, spread the word, get excited and get ready for HARRY POTTER BOOK NIGHT 2016: NIGHT OF SPELLS! (Capitalization 100% necessary.)
I was scrolling through my blogposts on this here blog because I was SURE that I had blogged Tuesdays at the Castle back when I read it. No dice. I really enjoyed that one, and you can get Jen Robinson's take on it over here.
Wednesdays in the Tower starts with an egg. Celie is surprised because Castle Glower doesn't change on Wednesdays, but all of a sudden the school room isn't at the top of the spiral staircase. Celie follows all the way up to a new outdoor room that slopes toward the center where there is a nest with a huge orange egg. Celie cannot believe her eyes, and quickly heads over and lays her hands on the egg. She is surprised to find it hot to the touch. When Celie runs down the stairs to spread the news of the egg, she finds she can't. Nobody is listening to her, and what's more, only she can find that extra staircase!
The nest room isn't the only change that is coming over Castle Glower. There is that mysterious armor gallery that appeared along with its magical tendencies. The fabric room is another new one. Before this, Celie and her family just accepted the castle's changes without really thinking about them, but some of these new changes have them thinking more deeply. Where do the rooms go when they disappear? Why is the castle suddenly becoming more fortress like?
In this installment, readers are treated to the real history of Castle Glower and Sleyne. We learn in real time just as Celie and her family are learning. Maybe some of the tapestries in the castle are more than just decorative. Perhaps they are telling the stories of the castle.
Wednesdays in the Tower really should be read after reading Tuesdays at the Castle. Jessica Day George doesn't fill in the blanks with backstory, and if you haven't read the first book, you will be slightly off kilter. That said, I really enjoyed the character and world building - Prince Lulath is a favorite of mine. The cliff hanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.
[Manga Maniac Café] Please welcome Kelly Fiore to the virtual offices this morning!
[Kelly Fiore] Thanks so much for having me!
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Kelly Fiore] I’m an author, mother & former high school teacher. I love Hair Metal (think Def Leppard) & baking. I’m obsessed w/my Fiat 500 & I’m a sucker for movies with James McAvoy.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Taste Test?
[Kelly Fiore] Sure – TASTE TEST is about a high school senior named Nora who applies to be a contestant on Taste Test, which is a show like Top Chef but for teenagers. Nora gets on the show, but has to leave her best-friend-and-maybe-more, Billy, behind, along with her dad and the barbecue business she loves. When she gets to the set of the show, Nora’s faced with a snotty roommate named Joy and an infuriating fellow contestant named Christian. Christian is super-competitive and, of course, super-hot – and that only makes Nora dislike him even more. As Nora gets further into the competition, secrets and mysteries begin to surface – there is a huge scandal bubbling just below the surface, a scandal that could bring down another contestant and maybe even a judge. Nora is determined to reveal this dramatic twist to the producers of the show, but when accidents start happening in the kitchen, she realizes she’s got bigger problems after all. Nora needs to dig a little deeper to find out the truth about what’s happening on the Taste Test set – before she becomes a victim, too.
[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Kelly Fiore] There are certain shows that have characters with great chemistry and sexual tension – the Pacey/Joey factor is what I like to call it (for those of you who don’t know, Pacey and Joey were two of the characters on the 1990’s show Dawson’s Creek.) Blair and Chuck from Gossip Girl are another great example. I really tried to emulate that frustrating but satisfying relationship between Nora and Christian.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Nora?
[Kelly Fiore] Competitive, Sassy, and Loyal
[Manga Maniac Café] If Christian had a theme song, what would it be?
[Kelly Fiore] That is a GREAT question! That might be the best one I’ve been asked!
I think Christian is the type of guy who would have a playlist, like in the locker room – how athletes play certain songs to psych themselves up. I feel like AC/DC “Back in Black” would be a good bet, but also something like “Can’t Deny It” by Fabolous. Something with a lot of “smack talk” to it.
[Manga Maniac Café] Name one thing Nora is never without.
[Kelly Fiore] She has two pictures that she brings with her from home – one of her and her dad and one of her with her best friend, Billy. In some ways, she’s never without those two people, even though they’re far away from her. She learns to respect her roots and the culture she grew up in – I know that’s not really a tangible thing, but it’s definitely something she carries with her.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things will you never find in Nora’s kitchen?
[Kelly Fiore] Another fantastic question! In Nora’s kitchen, you’ll never find something fancy taking the place of something simple. No lobster, no caviar, no fois gras – she’d much rather cook ribs, potatoes, and corn on the cob!
[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Kelly Fiore] In terms of YA, my greatest writing influences are YA authors I admire – there are so many great writers out there. Some of the books that I find most inspiring are Liar by Justine Larbeleister, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King, and Teach Me by RA Nelson. As a writer in general, poetry is what helped me establish my writing style and my voice. I have an MFA in poetry and it was my first love – I feel like poetry taught me how to tighten my prose and be more expressive in an abbreviated space.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Kelly Fiore] Coffee, noise in the background (usually the TV), and natural light. I work best around lots of windows!
[Manga Maniac Café] What was your biggest distraction while working on Taste Test?
[Kelly Fiore] The internet. Ugh – social networking is SO my downfall. It’s far too easy to get sucked into the lives of other people instead of creating the lives on the page.
[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Kelly Fiore] The Fault of our Stars by John Green is absolutely as good as everyone says it is, and it was probably the last book I read that really blew me away.
[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Kelly Fiore] The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It was such a clever, magical world and I was totally enamored with the way Juster described his characters and settings. It’s such a great story – so creative.
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Kelly Fiore] I spend most of my time with my husband and son – we love going on road trips and going hiking. I love to cook and try to do it as much as possible, although it’s admittedly less often when I’m working on a book!
[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?
If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.
With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.
Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann is the start of a new series featuring an older sister (5th grade) and a younger sister (1st grade), with an amped-up level of sibling rivarly. There are Beezus and Ramona references on the cover, and I can see the comparison, but I found Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry to be more over-the-top than Cleary's books. Fun, to be sure, but not the most realistic of realistic fiction.
Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry begins as older sister Masha (the first-person narrator) wakes up to find her head glued to the pillow, and a bunch of plastic flowers glued to her head/hair. Way up at the root, where they can't be cut out. She learns that her genius of a younger sister, Sunny, has invented a new, and basicallly impossible to unstick, glue. Needless to say, Masha is not happy. What follows are a series of escapades over the course of the day involving Masha and Sunny, their elderly Chinese neighbor, the local hospital, and Masha's problematic hair.
Things I liked about this book:
Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry could actually work for a fairly broad age range. Masha is in 5th grade, but she's kind of a young fifth grader, and this book is accessible to 7 and 8 year olds. There are a few illustrations, perhaps one per chapter, but not so many as you would find in Clementine or the like. Masha does have social problems fitting in at school, too. This means that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry is ok for younger kids, but should also work for 10 year old readers who want something light.
Although there are modern touches, like cell phones, Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry has an old-fashioned feel, particularly in the relative freedom that Masha and Sunny experience throughout the day (though it's not that their mother intended this freedom). Sunny is a particularly competent (if annoying to her sister) six-year-old.
Sunny and Masha live with their single mother, but any mentions of their dad indicate that he's an upstanding member of society, not some deadbeat. It's apparently not clear to Masha why her mother divorced her father, but I thought it was a realistic single-parent situation.
Later in the book, Masha meets a number of hospitalized children, and becomes friends with one of them. The descriptions of the children's ailments are realistic, but not overly scary. It's nice to see disabled or sick children as regular kids.
I did, knowing a bit about hospitals, find some of the hospital dynamics a bit implausible. For instance, the hospital staff goes to quite a bit of trouble to try to remove the plastic flowers from Masha's head, when it's not really clear that there's any medical issue (let alone discussion of insurance or payment). Actually, this all added to the old-fashioned feel of the book for me. I can imagine a community hospital of years gone by working this way, perhaps... This didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it certainly contributed to my impression of it as over-the-top vs. strictly realistic fiction.
Anyway, I did like Masha. She's plausible as the put-upon older sibling of a child who is not normal (Sunny's over-sized IQ). Here's Masha's voice:
"Sunny had to go to school, and my mom had to go to work. She had some huge meeting that she was stressed about. She always had some huge meeting she was stressed about. you could never say this to her, though. If you did, she'd remind you about how she's got a lot on her plate, blah, blah, blah, and make you feel all guilty--like it was my big idea to divorce my dad and move to another state." (Page 24, ARC)
"An ER waiting room is such a weird place. All the people are quiet, as if they're in a library, but they aren't working or reading, they're just slumped in chairs. It's like some kind of misery library." (Page 47, ARC)
Masha is not popular. She's actually pretty much invisible at school. But she maintains a healthy sense of self. And Sunny... Sunny is an "evil genius", but she's also a six year old who cries if her sister hurts her feelings. She figures things out, and has reasons (even if they are unusual) for the things that she does. I look forward to seeing what she's going to come up with next. Book 2 is due out in May, and appears to take up immediately where Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry leaves off.
I think that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry will be a welcome addition to the ranks of early chapter books, bridging the gap between Clementine and The Penderwicks. Masha and Sunny's adventures are funny, and they are both strong-willed and independent. Recommended in particular for elementary school libraries.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher, picked up at KidLitCon
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
Titles--heartache city! The title must do everything a synopsis or query does: grab the reader, provide a summary, and hint at the action yet to come. A lot of time goes into working up a good title, and it's not just the author's work, either. The editor, the editor's coworkers, and sales and marketing all have their say; everyone's input must be considered.
Titles cooked up and rejected for A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY:
Two Flavors of Lucky
The Year of My Magnificent Luckiness
Three Million Dollar Girl
The Duplicitous Luckiness of Hailee Richardson
Impossibly Possibly Lucky
Hailee Richardson, Girl Millionaire
My editor and I brainstormed pages of titles and promptly rejected most of them. The problem lies in the word "lucky:" phrases involving "getting lucky" are imbued with the wrong kind of nuance! Also, we wanted to avoid words like jackpot or other buzzwords that are too close too gambling. (This was hard, because even the buying of a lottery ticket is gambling.)
My sister suggested "A Whole Lotto Lucky," and the powers that be loved her suggestion! With a bit of morphing, my sister's words became A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY.
Now you can try your luck without all the heartache my editor and I went through! For a free, signed hardcover of A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY, just enter the Goodreads contest!
I want to thank Jenna Porcius from Bloomsbury for sharing her expertise and donating her time to help all of us.
Below are the results for the four first pages critiqued by editor Jenna Porcius from Bloomsbury.
Next FridayMay 16th Agent Marie Lamba from Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency will critique 4 first pages.
QUINLAN LEE, Agent, Adams Literary will end MAY with her four critiques posted on May 30th. Deadline to submit: May 22nd.
Here are the Results:
Carolyn Clark, MG Fantasy: MISSION TO THE SKY: THE ODIN EXPEDITION
Tiny Mitchell of 18 Hummingbird Lane was the only one in her family with any sense of magic and wonder. Her parents were scientists, and they only believed in things they could see, touch, and count.
No matter how much they insisted magic didn’t exist, Tiny knew they were wrong. She knew that her great-great-great grandmother Petunia Wilson put spells on people and animals to make them behave. Once, she even worked for the President of the United States and helped him catch thieves trying to steal all the gold in Ft. Knox. Tiny admired her great-great-great grandmother and wanted to be just like her, maybe even help the President. She just didn’t know how to go about it.
Tiny’s older brother, Jamie, didn’t believe in magic either, although he did believe he ran the universe, especially her small corner of it. She knew that wasn’t true either, despite the fact he kept trying to prove he did.
“Okay, shrimp, where do you think you’re going?” Jeans full of holes and covered with ballpoint pen drawings of everything from cars to trees and flowers, Jamie stood in the front doorway, sneakered feet ready to pounce. He grabbed for her arm, but missed when she ducked around him.
Being fast and small helped Tiny a lot in the big brother department.” None of your beeswax where I’m going, toad breath, and my name’s Tiny.” Well, her name wasn’t really Tiny. Her parents named her Theresa, but Tiny suited her just fine.
She raced down the steps, jumped on her bike, and pedaled as fast as her legs could go, because she knew Jamie didn’t give up that easily. And, she was right. Paper clips bounced off the thick rubber band in his fingers and whirred around her head, but she couldn’t let them stop her.
HERE IS JENNA’s Comment for MISSION TO THE SKY:
I love the idea of this little girl who believes in magic even though no one else does—it’s a sweet notion that feels perfect for young middle grade. I also really like the family element, and the mention of her great-great-great grandmother has me curious to find out more about the nature of this family magic. But the introduction of her brother and their fighting shifts the focus a bit in a way that is not quite as engaging. I’d love to see more focus on Tiny in these first pages to help set up the plot and give the reader a better sense of where the story is going.
“…Our final announcement this Monday morning comes from Mr. Bennett. All science fair forms are due today by noon. A reminder to all scientists: There is a strict ban on explosive demonstrations this year.” My face grows so hot I’m sure I’m turning red. The announcer didn’t need to say, “We’re talking to you Felix Mathew,” for the whole school knows those last few words are aimed at me. We all just know it. You’d think that they’d be over it — that I’d be over it –I mean, it’s been a year already. Come on, my right eyebrow grew back three months ago.
I should probably tell you what happened. Last year, specifically, on the one day a year that the athletic teams of Einstein Scientific Junior Academy give up their precious gym for the school science fair I, Felix Mathews, rocketed a potato across the gym at 236 miles per hour. I imagined it would be one of those awesome moments where everyone would stop and be wowed by my brilliance. I was even prepared. I had practiced outside once before the fair.
It was a stunning moment at the fair last year. Everyone was stopped by my demonstration. It was just the screams that I hadn’t expected.
My launch pad was stable and strong, my practice run went well, and my confidence was high. But a small nudge by one of the judges a split-second before lift off changed the projectile. With a loud bang, the potato shot out its adjusted path at stunning speed and completely destroyed the gymnasium’s scoreboard. While everyone else watched the scoreboard shatter and fall, I smacked my right eyebrow, extinguishing the flaming hairs lit by the launch.
After the shower of plexiglass stopped, the judges showed no interest in my poster explaining combustion theory. I had labored over it for hours. And standing alone with my poster, at rocket speed I was hit with the certainty that I wasn’t going to be invited to the Monday morning school assembly to show off my prize-winning demonstration. Another attempt at greatness dashed – by just one potato.
HERE IS JENNA’S Comment for THE EDGE:
I really like the classic boy middle-grade humor here, and I laughed out loud when I read “Come on, my right eyebrow grew back three months ago.” But I do think the opener would be stronger if it didn’t lead with the announcement. Situating Felix in the school first (maybe he’s walking to class, sitting at his desk, etc. doing something characteristically Felix) and then bringing in the announcement, for example, could help with pacing and build. Also, there’s some repetition here of information about the fair and what happened last year, so tightening that up will help make sure that the story is packing a tight, funny punch.
THE RIGHT STUFFING by Margo Sorenson - Picture Book
Jared picked up Carrots and his baseball glove.
Jared’s big sister Sarah frowned. “Don’t take that old stuffed bunny outside,” she said. “Aren’t you too old for him, anyway?”
Jared whisked Carrots out the door quick as a bunny.
“Good catch, Carrots!” he shouted.
Next, it was time to go to the grocery store. Jared sneaked Carrots into his car seat in the car.
“You shouldn’t bring that old stuffed bunny inside,” Sarah scolded. “Ick!”
But Jared raced up and down the aisles with Carrots tucked safely under his arm.
He stopped in front of the vegetables bin. “Look, Carrots!” he said, pointing. “There’s your name!”
At dinner, Jared squeezed Carrots next to him in his booster seat at the table.
“You’re not bringing that old stuffed bunny to dinner again, are you?” asked Sarah. “If you really have to have a bunny around, I’m going to tell Mom and Dad to get you a nice, new one.”
Jared scrunched Carrots down behind him. Only Carrots’ ears stuck up.
“Lettuce decide what dressing you want,” Jared whispered.
Next, Jared got in his pajamas, grabbing Carrots’ paw.
Sarah sighed, “You can’t take that old, dirty bunny to bed! Oh, my gosh. You’re too old for this bunny stuff.”
Jared snuggled Carrots under the covers next to him.
HERE IS JENNA’S comment for THE RIGHT STUFFING:
Myself and my stuffed animal dog, Doggy (who I’ve had since I was three) thank this author for understanding the importance of the child-stuffed animal relationship. J In all seriousness, though, this is definitely something kids and parents can relate to, and Jared and Carrots are an adorable pair. But the action here feels rushed, and the arc not fully fleshed out. I’d love to get to know Jared and Carrots a little more, and it’d be great to see them have a moment where they do something that gets them a positive response from the people around them to make the story a little more dynamic.
I think this is a creative idea, but the repetition is making it hard for me to get into the story. I’m not sure where the story’s going, and more importantly I’m not sure why I should care about Bentley and this fly. Widening the focus beyond following the fly—maybe establishing why Bentley is so focused on following the fly, for example—could help to develop the story.
Here are the submission guidelines for submitting a First Page in May: Please “May First Page Critique” or “May First Page Picture Prompt Critique” in the subject line. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.
Attach your first page submission using one inch margins and 12 point font – double spaced, no more than 23 lines to an e-mail and send it to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com. Also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail and then also attach it in a Word document to the email.
DEADLINE: May 22nd.
RESULTS: May 30th.
Use inch margins – double space your text – 12 pt. New Times Roman font – no more than 23 lines – paste into body of the email and attach.
PÓM: A few other things… Yes, now. Have you been following any of the latest revelations on Jack the Ripper? Do you keep an eye on that?
AM: [Laughs] No, because it’s all going to be bollocks.
PÓM: Oh yeah.
AM: Alright, I stand to be corrected, but what are the latest revelations on Jack the Ripper?
PÓM: Somebody claimed to have bought a scarf, a very expensive scarf…1
AM: Oh yeah, I read about that. And obviously at the time, that’s bollocks…
PÓM: Oh yes, absolutely and complete bollocks!
AM: And they’ve since proved that it’s bollocks – I think that they’ve just said that, no, there’s no connection at all between Catherine Eddowes and the stain on this scarf.
PÓM: I do remember thinking that they seemed to be in possession of an awful lot of information about DNA and all of that that seemed… unlikely.
AM: Unlikely at the time, yes. No no, that – these are always going to be non-starters. Alright, unless there is some brilliant piece of evidence waiting to be discovered that – how likely is that?
PÓM: I know. I just wondered if – ‘cause you did From Hell, I presume you still have some interest in the subject.
AM: Well, with From Hell, at the end of it, in The Dance of the Gull Catchers, there is that statement about – Look, how long can this go on? About Koch’s Snowflake2, about the increasing trivia applied around the crinkly edges of this case, but the area of the case cannot exceed the original events and consequently, new books about Jack the Ripper, they’re less about Jack the Ripper than they are about keeping the Jack the Ripper industry going, because it’s been quite lucrative for a few years, you know? And I honestly think that that is the truth.
So, no, I tend to be dismissive of – every four or five years there will be ‘At last, the final truth!’ And it never is. And it’s very often preposterous, or a deliberate hoax. Or you’ll get, say, Patricia Cornwell, with her vandalisation of a Walter Sickert painting in the ridiculous hope that she could match the DNA to that on the letters received the police, which were not from the killer anyway.3
PÓM: I remember when the documentary was on the telly, I saw it was coming up…
AM: Yeah, I saw that, and I saw at the end of it, all she’d got was some footage of Walter Sickert being led out, probably in his eighties, to be filmed in a garden somewhere, and she said, ‘Yes, look at those eyes – pure evil.’ Ignorant woman.
PÓM: I remember she said something like ‘I knew as soon as I looked into his eyes that it had to be him.’4 And this is a woman who…
AM: That was all the evidence that she’d got, and – the thing is, that Patricia Cornwell is apparently supposed to be an actual real-life pathologist…5
AM: …apparently cases in the American legal system have presumably depended upon her evidence – I hope she was doing a little bit more than looking in people’s eyes.
PÓM: I know! I have never been so disappointed with something on the television – in my life! Because I expected – because of who she was, and what she was, I expected this was going to be really incisive and good and interesting.
AM: I had read some of her books, so perhaps I wasn’t expecting quite as much as you were.
PÓM: [Laughs] Fair enough!
AM: I read a few of her books with the beautiful woman pathologist…6
PÓM: Oh, I know who you mean…
AM: …who somehow always ends up at the centre of every case. She’s always the one that the serial killer gets an obsession with, even though there’s no way in the real world that he would ever know who she was. She’s always smarter than the police. And then when I found out that Patricia Cornwell was herself a pathologist at some point I thought, ‘Yes, I think I can see where this is going.’
PÓM: Yes. It did seem as well the whole Jack the Ripper thing was kind of because her father had left home when she was five, and there were some elements of that in there, which is where it started getting strange.
AM: Yeah, well a lot of these people who get obsessed with true crimes, they’re – sometimes, they can be working out something in their own psychology, rather than anything to actually do with the crime that they are officially dealing with. I haven’t really taken a great deal of interest in Jack the Ripper since finishing From Hell – probably more in Psychogeography and London.
PÓM: I must say, we’ve been spending a fair bit of time in London, Deirdre and myself. We were over there last week. We went to see – do you know the Reverend Richard Coles?7
AM: Oh yes, I met him once. I met him with Robin Ince.8
PÓM: Yeah. He was doing a thing in the British Library, he was doing – because he’s got a first volume of his autobiography out – another good Northampton lad!
AM: Is he? Yeah, he’s from out in the outskirts, I think he’s from one of the villages.
PÓM: That’s where he’s being a Rev these days. A thoroughly lovely man.
AM: He seemed really nice when I met him, and of course he was great in The Communards.
PÓM: Well, he was. He was. Not a great dancer, but a charming human being. But, yeah, I’ve recently joined the British Library, which is completely fantastic.9 I’m doing research into Flann O’Brien, and The Cardinal and the Corpse, all of that.
[There’s actually a part of the interview missing here, because I felt it was so far removed from having even the slightest relevance to this particular site that it was best elsewhere. It concerns English writerIain Sinclair‘s 1992 documentary film The Cardinal and the Corpse, which almost no-one has seen besides Alan and myself. It also peripherally concerns Irish writerFlann O’Brien, about whom I have been spending quite a lot of time reading and researching of late. The interview is here, on the gorse website. By absolutely no coincidence whatsoever I have an essay on Flann O’Brien in gorse #3, entitled The Cardinal & the Corpse, A Flanntasy in Several Parts, which I commend to you all. End of outrageous and gratuitious self-promotion.]
PÓM: Are you doing some series of things with Joyce Brabner?10
AM: There is a work that I’m – I’m doing a work with Joyce, but I’m starting that at the moment. I can’t tell you much about that, because it will be sometime this year – I’m more or less starting work on it now, over the next – probably over the weekend, and it’s likely to be something to do with identity, but I really can’t tell you much more than that – I’ve got my ideas, but they’re not really well formed enough yet, but later in the year I’ll be able to fill you in more with that.
A 4-seater swan pedalo
PÓM: Ok, cool. Sure, we’ll talk again, undoubtedly. And I think I’m going to wrap it up – I must say, when you’re talking about doing Swandown, and things like that – that’s the thing with the pedalo, isn’t it? With the swan-shaped pedalo?11
AM: That is one of the sweetest films I’ve ever seen, and not just because I’m in it. In fact, I think that my contribution is one of the more negligible aspects of it. It’s English poetry. It shows you that there is no landscape that cannot be made poetic with the addition of a big plastic swan. And in fact, since then I also earlier this year – no, last year, last year. Spring or Summer, I went and filmed a bit with Andrew and Iain for their next project, which is called By Our Selves, and it’s all about John Clare12, and it’s got Andrew mucking about dressed as a straw bear, and recreating John Clare’s limping walk from Epping Forest and Matthew Arnold’s mental asylum back to Helpston in Northampton. Eighty miles or something, where he was eating grass and hallucinating. Yeah, so Andrew and Iain came up to Northampton, I spent a lovely afternoon sitting pretending to be a version of John Clare. They’ve got Toby Jones
13 doing all the heavy lifting in terms of being John Clare, so that should be – ‘cause he’s an incredible actor…
PÓM: What I was going to say about that is, you do really seem to be having far too much fun, still – you’re doing everything you want to.
AM: That stuff is the best. Things like that that just come out of the blue. I still enjoy me comics work, I still enjoy the ordinary writing that I do, but – the little surprising things like that, that I’ve not done before, that are a great afternoon out, seeing lovely people, and knowing that it’s going to end up as a really poetic cinematic document, yeah, I am having a lot of fun with that, when it happens. It’s irregular, but charming when it does.
PÓM: Well, good. And I think that’s it. Is there anything that you’re doing that I should know about that I don’t know about?
AM: Yeah, probably. Whether I actually consciously know about it, is the big question. There must be some – did you hear about The Dying Fire?
AM: This was a book that I’ve just brought out from Mad Love Publishing, it’s the collected poetry of Dominic Allard…14
PÓM: Yes, I did, because I have a copy inside. Yes, of course.
AM: Ah right. With the big introduction. That seems to be going quite well, and Dominic seems a bit stupefied by the sudden exposure – mind you, Dominic seems a bit stupefied by most things, it has to be said. But, no, that was really good, taking the books down to him, and giving him a load of copies, so there’s that. What else have I been doing? I’ve been reading through Steve Moore’s journals, which I collected from his house, and that’s bittersweet. There’s some incredible information in there, things that I’d forgotten about. Just day-by-day stuff in Steve’s life, but he was meticulous about listing it all.
PÓM: Do you do that? Do you keep a journal, or anything like that?
AM: No I don’t. And Steve’s journals are part of the reason why I don’t.
PÓM: Oh yes, one other thing I did want to ask you. Do you remember our last interview? That was the written interview.15
PÓM: Did you ever get any feedback on that, or did you hear – there was a certain amount of…
AM: I don’t know if I did or not, Pádraig. Where would I have got it from?
AM: Well, indeed. There was huge amounts of hoopla on the internet about it, which – it was interesting. It was…
AM: Oh, that was the stuff about the Golliwogg?
PÓM: Yes, the Golliwogg, and…
AM: Yes, that was when I wrote my – Yes, I remember – that was when I spent the Christmas writing the rejoinder?
PÓM: Yes, yes!
AM: Yeah, I didn’t hear much about it, to tell the truth, once I’d got it out of me system, and I thought that the issues had been addressed, I just kind of let it go. Why, did – you say that there was a lot of furore?
PÓM: Oh, I had – when I put it up on my blog, and it just spread out everywhere, and I was getting hundreds of comments and replies. It was all quite fascinating – it genuinely didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. The people who said rude things, I just deleted them, because people have strange notions about what the right to free speech actually means. And it was just – it was interesting – it was great. It was a fantastic piece of, em…
PÓM: I was going to say a fantastic piece of writing, of a thing to put out there, and I was delighted to be in that way involved with it but, yes, a fine piece of invective, and all the better for it.
AM: I was talking with somebody who read it, and he was saying ‘I think you might have revived a kind of literary form, that has not been really practiced since the eighteenth century,’ the really crushing, bitter, stinging satire, if you will. Yeah, I was quite pleased with it. After doing it, I tended to put it out of me mind.
PÓM: No harm in that. I must say…
AM: Was any of the response positive?
PÓM: Oh yeah! Oh Christ, yes! Plenty of it. There was lots of people who are just happy to do down anything that turns up, but there was a lot of people that thought you gave someone a kickin’ that deserved a kickin’.
AM: Well, that’s good. I had a very nice comment from Ramsey Campbell16. He said, pretty much, ‘Right on, Alan,’ so that was nice. I did see, in the Michael Moorcock issue of Locus that came out recently that Mike, he was talking a little bit about Grant Morrison as well, just because he was asked some question about why he doesn’t encourage other people to do Jerry Cornelius stories these days, which apparently does rather connect up with some of Morrison’s work. Ah, I thought it needed saying, and it was better out than in.
PÓM: Well, indeed. Sure, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.
PÓM: How’s Melinda?17
AM: Mel’s fine – oh, yes, that’s something that I should probably tell you about. Mel is preparing for her first spectacular exhibition. This will be at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
PÓM: Oh, I love Bloomsbury, I have to say. I could live in Bloomsbury.18
AM: Have you been to the Horse Hospital?
PÓM: I don’t think we have, no.
AM: Well, I did a gig there with the lovely Kirsten Norrie19 – which also, she appears with me in that, By Our Selves, the John Clare film. But I did a gig where Kirstin was singing, and I was reading a part of Jerusalem, so I went to the Horse Hospital, and in there, I knew that our gig was underground, in the basement, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is a bit weird, there’s no stairs, there’s just these ramps.’ And then I thought ‘Horse Hospital!’
But it’s a lovely little space, and I believe that Mel will be doing her exhibition there on April the 10th, and there’s tons and tons of drawings, there’s seven or eight of her paintings, and I believe that there might be some bronze busts that she’s done of the three main characters from Lost Girls. So, if anyone reading this happens to be in the Bloomsbury area around April 10th this year, they could do worse than to drop in.
PÓM: I shall be sure to tell people.
AM: OK, you take care, like I say, Pádraig, and love to Deirdre – and that’s what Mel’s doing, she’s preparing that.
1On the 6th of September 2014 the Daily Mail carried a story that DNA evidence had been found on a scarf – allegedly once the property of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth of the five ‘canonical’ victims of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, whose exploits set Victorian London into a frenzy of speculation which has still not died away – which proved that the killer was actually Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. The story is here, although you really also need to read the refutation, here, as well.
2I refer you to the Koch’s Snowflake page on Wikipedia, because they explain it better than I ever will.
3Crime writer Patricia Cornwell wrote a book called Portrait of a Killer — Jack the Ripper: Case Closed, published in 2002, where she claimed that British painter Walter Sickert was the Whitechapel murderer, and went to extraordinary – and, frankly, borderline insane – lengths to prove it, including supposedly cutting up one of his paintings in an effort to find clues of some kind. There’s an excellent piece about it on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, here. In the meantime, Cornell has written more on the subject, a Kindle Single called Chasing the Ripper, published in 2014, and available here, if you’re feeling brave.
4 Yes, she really says something almost exactly like that. Here‘s the relevant bit from the documentary, courtesy of those nice people over at YouTube.
5Patricia Cornwell isn’t actually a ‘real-life pathologist,’ although she did work in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia for six years, first as a technical writer and then as a computer analyst, so had at least some input into their findings, one imagines.
6Dr Kay Scarpetta, the protagonist of twenty-two Cornwell novels thus far.
7The Reverend Richard Coles is a Church of England priest, currently working as the parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon, Northampton, in the Diocese of Peterborough. He was previously in The Communards with Jimmy Somerville, formerly of The Bronsky Beat, with whom Coles had also occasionally played. He is openly gay and lives with his civil partner in a celibate relationship, although they have four dachshunds, and he remains the only vicar in Britain to have had a Number 1 hit single. Above and beyond all that, he does regular appearances on the television and radio in Britain, and is a thoroughly lovely human being. He did an appearance in the British Library on Friday the 20th of February 2015 to publicise his autobiography, Fathomless Riches, which I attended with my wife Deirdre.
8Robin Ince is an English Science-Comedian and renowned Atheist. He is involved with the occasionally annual Christmastime event Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, as well as the radio programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, both of which have included Alan Moore on occasion.
9If you think I’m being overly mean in describing the Rev. Coles as a bad dancer, I suggest you go look at this video of The Communards performing Never Can Say Goodbye
, and make up your own mind. The British Library, by the way, is one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. If Heaven is not very like it, I shall be very disappointed.
10Joyce Brabner is an American comics writer, and the widow of the late Harvey Pekar. She has collaborated with Moore before, on Brought to Light, and on Real War Comics. Most recently she has written the non-fiction graphic novel Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, about the real-life efforts of people caught up in the AIDS epidemic in New York in the early 1980s. It’s good stuff, and you all need to go read it.
11Swandown is a 2012 film in which Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair pedaled a swan pedalo down the Thames from the Hastings, on the sea, to Hackney, in London, occasionally joined by people like Alan Moore and comedian Stewart Lee. Look, I promise I’m not making this stuff up, and there’s a photograph to prove it. From left to right we have Lee, Moore, Kötting, and Sinclair.
12John Clare, known as The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet, was the writer of collections like Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery and Village Minstrel and other Poems. The film By Our Selves is in part based on Iain Sinclair’s book The Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey Out of Essex’. More information can be found on the By Our SelvesKickstarter page. It was successfully funded, and the project is ongoing.
13Toby Jones is an excellent English actor. Amongst other things, he has done the voice of Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter films, appeared in an episode of Doctor Who, and had parts in films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and many many more.
14Mad Love Publishing is a publishing company Moore set up in the late 1980s with others, originally to publish AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), and subsequently the first two issues of Big Numbers. The company had a long hiatus, but has reappeared recently as the publisher of Dodgem Logic, and most recently of The Dying Fire, a poetry collection by Moore’s old school friend Dominic Allard. The Northants Herald & Post reported on the story here.
15The interview referred to hear, which Alan doesn’t at first realise I’m referring to, is the infamous Last Alan Moore Interview?, which some of you may have already read, or at least read about. It has, to date, a bit over 100,000 views, and 350 replies, which is not too bad for the first post on a new blog!
16Ramsey Campbell is an English horror writer who has written numerous novels, including The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Face That Must Die, and The House on Nazareth Hill, as well as numerous collections of short stories. He has a list of awards for his work as long as your arm, including the British Fantasy Award, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Bram Stoker Award.
17Melinda Gebbie is an American comics creator, now settled with her husband, Alan Moore, in the heart of England. They’ve worked together on various things, including Lost Girls.
18Bloomsbury is the bit of London that contains the British Museum, occasional headquarters of the Victorian version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the British Library. It’s full of culturally wonderfully stuff, parks with friendly squirrels in, and lots of Blue Plaques to all sorts of writers and the like. I recommend you go visit, at least once in your life. The exhibition in the Horse Hospital runs until the 9th of May, so there’s time to see it yet.
19Kirsten Norrie is a Scottish artist and musician, and a member of Wolf in the Winter, an international performance collective.
I bet whoever assembled that issue of the PW newsletter got a little chuckle out of how my author photo and Ashley’s illustrator photo fit together:
It looks like I was mooning on one side of a wall and Ashley on the other, each of us thinking, “If only there were someone nearby that I could collaborate with on a picture book.”
That origin story for this project would have been a lot simpler than how things actually came about, which involves a YA nonfiction project that fell apart after the contract was signed and an entirely unrelated (or so I thought) picture book manuscript with a first draft that I saved on leap day in 2008.
It’s bonkers, really, but also sweet — sort of like the tale we tell in Book or Bell, about a schoolboy’s disruptive refusal to put down a captivating book, the outlandish means that the authorities resort to as they try to restore order, and the teacher who understands what’s really going on.
I can’t wait for you to be able to pick this book up. Maybe you’ll even refuse to put it down.
Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings. A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.
But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible. She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.
Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.
As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.
What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories. Gorgeous.Add a Comment
The universe has conspired to turn my research work this summer into mass culture — while I've been toiling away on a fellowship that has me investigating Virginia Woolf's reading in the 1930s and the literary culture of the decade, the mini-series Life in Squares, about the Bloomsbury group and Woolf's family, played on the BBC and the film Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain's 1933 memoir of her experiences during World War One, played in cinemas.
I've now seen both and have mixed feelings about them, though I enjoyed watching each. Life in Squares offers some good acting and excellent production design, though it never really adds up to much; Testament of Youth is powerful and well constructed, even as it falls into some clichés of the WWI movie genre, and it's well worth seeing for its lead performance.
The two productions got me thinking about what we want from biographical movies and tv shows, how we evaluate them, and how they're almost always destined to fail. (Of course, "what we want" is a rhetorical flourish, a bit of fiction that would more accurately be expressed as "what I think, on reflection, that I want, at least now, and what I imagine, which is to say guess, what somebody other than myself might want". For the sake of brevity, I shall continue occasionally to use the phrase "what we want".)
Testament of Youth is easier to discuss in this context, partly because it's a single feature film based (mostly) on one text and not a three-part mini-series depicting the lives of people about whom there are shelves and shelves of books. Though the filmmakers clearly read some of the biographies of Vera Brittain, as well as her diaries, and occasionally incorporate (or at least allude to) some of this material, the structure of the film of Testament of Youth is pretty much the structure of the book, even though the screenplay takes some massive liberties. (I expect the 1979 mini-series was able to be more faithful, since it had more time, but I haven't gotten around to watching it on YouTube, which is pretty much the only place it seems still to be available, never having been released on DVD.)
For any 2-hour movie of Brittain's memoir, massive liberties are unavoidable, and overall I think the filmmakers found good choices for ways to streamline an unwieldy text — 650 pages or so, with countless characters who constantly bounce from one locale to another.
I should admit here that I don't much like Brittain's book. Some of the war parts are compelling, and it's certainly important as a historical document, but it seems to me at least twice as long as it needs to be, and Brittain simplified the main characters to such an extent that I find it hard to care about any of them. For instance, when Roland, the great love of her life, dies, it's all supposed to be terribly sad and devastating and I just thought, "Finally! No more of that insipid pining and those godawful letters back and forth and that hideous poetry!" (Which is not to say that I wanted more of the slog of the first 100+ pages of the book with all the details of Oxford University's entrance exams.) Someone could create an abridgement of Testament of Youth, maybe reducing the book to 150 or 200 pages, and it would be vastly more interesting and compelling, because there really is some excellent material buried amidst it all. Concision was not among Brittain's writerly skills.
I am not the right reader for Testament of Youth, however. None of us are, really. The book became a bestseller for a number of reasons, but one of them was that readers could fill in its thin parts with their own memories, experiences, and griefs. What the film of Testament of Youth achieves is to evoke some semblance of the emotion that was, I expect, present in the book for its first readers, most of whom would have had memories of the war years, and many of whom would have suffered similar losses as those described by Brittain — losses both of loved ones and of a certain, more innocent, worldview.
The deaths in the film were, for me at least, far more powerful than the deaths in the book. One reason is the change in medium: the move from the words on a page to actors embodying roles. Deaths in books can be hugely powerful, of course (see A Little Life for a recent example), but Brittain's ability as a writer was not up to the task, at least in a way that would transfer beyond the experiences of people for whom the First World War was still an event that had defined important portions of their lives. The characters in the film are less idealized than in the book, more human. The screenplay by Juliette Towhidi creates situations, moments, and dialogue that allow the characters to live a bit more than they do in Brittain's narrative, where the characters are more asserted by the writer than dramatized. The acting by the men is generally good, and Taron Egerton is especially effective as Brittain's brother Edward. (Kit Harrington struggles a bit in the role of Roland, but it's a nearly impossible role, since its primary requirement is for the actor to make poetic mooning somehow alluring.) But I think the real reason this film of Testament of Youth ultimately succeeds at evoking some emotion and making us care about what we watch is that Alicia Vikander is a truly extraordinary actor. Her portrayal of Brittain manages to convey the important overall arc of the character: from naive, idealistic girl to war-hardened woman shattered not only by the events of the war but also by the deaths of all the men she most loved.
Life in Squares might have been saved by its performances as well, given the talent of the actors in the show, but they never get a chance to do much. Writer Amanda Coe tries hard to give focus to the story she wants to tell, but she was unfortunately undone by the limitations of time — three episodes of not quite an hour in length is simply too little for what Coe and the other filmmakers attempt, and the result is mostly thin and unaffecting. Coe does some great things with the material, but there's just not much for the actors to work with, because the scenes move forward so quickly that there's no chance to build up anything. It's a real waste, unfortunately, because the lead actors in the first two episodes, James Norton (as Duncan Grant) and Phoebe Fox (as Vanessa Bell), capture some of the energy, attraction, and personality of young Bloomsbury in ways I've never seen before. The mise-en-scene is important, too, and marvelously rendered, giving a sense of the physical world through careful attention to the detail of sets, props, and, especially, costumes. But it's a mise-en-scene in service to ... well, not much.
For anyone who doesn't know the intricacies of the personal relationships among the "Bloomsberries", Life in Squares must be terribly confusing, especially given the choice to have two sets of actors play the main characters: a younger group and an older one, with the older group seen in quick flashbacks in the first two episodes, then dominant in the third, which is set in the 1930s. (The BBC has a helpful guide to the characters on their website.) With so many people coming and going through the show, and only a handful of characters given more than a few lines, it's difficult even for a knowledgeable viewer to know who is who.
The best decision the show makes is to focus primarily on Vanessa Bell, a fascinating person who has too often been invisible in the pop culture shadow of her sister, Virginia Woolf, but who was really much more at the core of the Bloomsbury group than either Virginia or Leonard Woolf. Her life also exemplified the ideals and aspirations of the group — she was an artist, had an open marriage to Clive Bell (with whom she had two children), and had a child with Duncan Grant, who preferred sex with men but for whom Vanessa was about as close as a person can get to what might be thought of as a soul mate. Their lives included mistakes, prejudices, jealousies, and great grief, but nonetheless seem to me to have been quite beautiful.
The problem Life in Squares fails to solve is the problem of showing entire lives over a long period of time. This was a problem Virginia Woolf knew well, and tackled again and again in her novels. But the problem of narrative time in a movie is very different from the problem of narrative time in a novel, because cinema's relationship to time is different from that of prose narratives, as lots of filmmakers and film theorists have known (Deleuze's second Cinema book is subtitled "The Time-Image"). This is one of the big perils of biopics, since they seek to show the progression of a life, and yet cinema is usually at its best when taking a more focused, less expansive view. Some wonderful films have covered entire lives — Citizen Kane comes to mind, as does 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould — but most history-minded movies that take on such a large expanse end up feeling thin, especially if they try to tell the story in a fairly conventional way, as Life in Squares does. (For comparison: The Imitation Game can thrive in its utterly conventional, audience-pleasing form because its narrative is relentlessly straightforward and the history is simplified to fit the linear movement of the plot and the characters' desires. Life in Squares doesn't simplify the historical figures or events nearly so much, but it also doesn't find a form that fits what it seeks to depict.)
Actually, the problem for Life in Squares is that it can't decide quite what approach it wants to take — will it be fragmentary and impressionistic, or will it try to string events together in a more linear structure? Linear becomes impossible because there's just so much material, and thus the show has to skip over all sorts of things, but it still retains an urge for linearity that sinks it. (How much better it would have been to, for instance, show us just three days in the lives of the characters. Or to take a page from Four Weddings and a Funeral and base it on the weddings of Vanessa, Virginia, and Angelica and the days of the deaths of of Thoby Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Julian Bell, and Virginia. Or base it on particular art works. Or ... well, there are any number of possibilities.) Coe structures the story around the love lives of the characters, but there's too much else that she wants to throw in, and it all ends up a muddle that, sadly, too often domesticates people who, in reality, very much did not want to be domesticated.
What's worse, Life in Squares ultimately fails to show anything much of what's important about Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and the people around them — their contributions to culture. We see paintings around, we see the artists working now and then, and there are a few brief moments when we hear talk of books (Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, is, if I remember correctly, the only one we actually see, though there's some brief mention of The Years being a bestseller in the third episode). If not for the significant contributions to art, literature, and politics (hello there John Maynard Keynes, who gets maybe three lines in the whole show), these would not be especially noteworthy people, nor would there be much historical record of them. But more importantly, it's impossible to think of these people without their contributions to art, literature, and politics, because they lived for art, literature, and politics. (Well, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were less politically inclined than many of the others, but that's relative — the first biography of Leonard Woolf, for instance, was a political study.) Life in Squares does an admirable job of showing the truly radical sexual politics of the group, but it subordinates everything else to the personal relationships, which of course makes for easier drama, even if that drama is, as here, unfulfilling. But what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to devote your life to the things the Bloomsbury Group devoted their life to ... that isn't really here in a meaningful way.
(Is there a movie about a writer that gives a real sense of the writing life? Nothing comes immediately to mind. For artists, yes — Mr. Turner, Vincent & Theo — but the making of art is itself visual action. Carrington, which could almost be Life in Squares Episode 2.5, was better because it focused very closely on its two protagonists and allowed Lytton Strachey to talk to Carrington about books and Carrington to work on, and discuss, her art. It's still pretty flat as a movie, but it's earnest and Jonathan Pryce and Emma Thompson are quite good in their roles.)
Which brings me back to the original question: What do we want from biopics? Why was I excited to see a new film of Testament of Youth and a mini-series about the Bloomsbury Group? Why, even now, given all I've said especially about Life in Squares, am I glad these exist?
Partly, there's a sense of validation. It's a powerful feeling when mass culture recognizes the perhaps strange or esoteric thing you yourself obsess over. I watched the first episode of Life in Squares with a friend who only knows Virginia Woolf's name because he's seen her books around my house. He was bored by the show, but seemed amused by my ability to expound on the various relationships and histories of the characters flitting across the screen (and indistinguishable to him) — and in that moment, suddenly all of the work I've done this summer (not to mention the past twenty years of sometimes casually, sometimes obsessively reading in and around Woolf and her circle) felt somehow less ... hermetic. This, I could say, is something the wider world cares about, too, at least a little, at least superficially, at least... It's possible that Life in Squares was a more fulfilling experience for me than for most viewers who know less about the characters and era. Not only could I figure out who was who, but I could also fill in the blanks that the show didn't have time or ability to dramatize. In that way, the show was, for me, pointillistic: my mind's eye filled in the space between the dots and extrapolated form from the individual moments of color.
Knowledge of the book of Testament of Youth is not necessarily helpful for the movie, because the film takes so many (mostly necessary) liberties that it's likely the knowledgeable viewer will become distracted by thinking about where the book and movie diverge. Both Testament and Life in Squares suffer from common problems of biopics, particularly name-dropping and random, obligatory cameos. Characters in Life in Squares constantly have to say each other's names because there are so many of them and they're all so quickly dealt with. Large historical moments must of course be alluded to in dialogue. And then important people must at least show up — there's a pointless moment with Vita Sackville-West in Life in Squares, for instance, and the presence of Winifred Holtby in Testament of Youth is only explicable because Holtby was so important in Brittain's life; but she gets so little time in the movie that she feels like she's been airdropped in at the last moment, and the portentousness of her announcing herself is never really dealt with. This brings me back, as ever, to the wonder that is Mr. Turner — director/writer Mike Leigh in that film and in his other historical movie, Topsy Turvy, avoids this sort of thing, because he knows that a movie is not a history book, and that what matters is not so much who people are as what they do and how they behave with each other.
What do we want to be accurate in our biopics ... and why? Does it matter if three minor characters are melded into one? Does it matter if chronologies are rearranged or simplified? Does it matter if people are put into places where they never were? "Well, it depends..." you say. Depends on what, though? I want to say that it depends on the ultimate goal, the effect, the meaning.
For me, the only changes that feel like betrayals are ones that distort the personality of characters I care about. Both Testament of Youth and Life in Squares do pretty well on that count, which is why, for all my grumbling, I was overall able to enjoy them and feel not great animosity toward them. I wish that the makers of each had been more imaginative, certainly — Life in Squares needed more imagination in order to come alive and feel vital, while Testament falls into too many clichés of the WWI story (plenty of which are directly from Brittain's text, which is why circumventing them requires significant imagination) and adds a couple of credibility-straining coincidences (particularly with Edward in France). If the Vera Brittain of the movie is a bit less naive and jingoistic at first than the real Vera Brittain was as a girl and the textual Vera Brittain is in the book, there is still a strong sense of her development in the film and, especially, in Vikander's performance, which begins with idealistic energy and ends with something far more profound.
In the end, I suppose what I want from biopics is a sense of the ordinary moments of extraordinary lives and the emotional realities of worlds gone by. This is something that drama in general can give us, and that cinema can give us especially well, with the camera-eye's ability to zoom and focus and linger and look. I got a sense of all that now and then in Life in Squares, especially when it calmed down and didn't try to squeeze so much in — I got a sense (imaginary, of course, but real in the way only the imaginary can be) of why everybody who ever met him seems to have fallen in love with Duncan Grant, and why Vanessa Bell was such a bedrock of the group, and what, in some way, it maybe felt like to wander those rooms and landscapes when they were not museums but just the places these people lived. Testament of Youth offers a bit more, and also shows some other virtues of the historical or biographical film — it enlivened the material for me, and I returned to the book with a certain new appreciation, a new ability to find my way into it, to care about it and to imagine how its first readers cared about it.
The cinema fell upon its prey with immense rapacity, and to this moment largely subsists upon the body of its unfortunate victim. But the results are disastrous to both. The alliance is unnatural. Eye and brain are torn asunder ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples. The eye says: 'Here is Anna Karenina.' A voluptuous lady in black velvet wearing pearls comes before us. But the brain says: 'That is no more Anna Karenina than it is Queen Victoria.' For the brain knows Anna almost entirely by the inside of her mind -- her charm, her passion, her despair. All the emphasis is laid by the cinema upon her teeth, her pearls, and her velvet. Then 'Anna falls in love with Vronsky' -- that is to say, the lady in black velvet falls into the arms of a gentleman in uniform, and they kiss with enormous succulence, great deliberation, and infinite gesticulation on a sofa in an extremely well-appointed library, while a gardener incidentally mows the lawn. So we lurch and lumber through the most famous novels of the world. So we spell them out in words of one syllable written, too, in the scrawl of an illiterate schoolboy. A kiss is love. A broken cup is jealousy. A grin is happiness. Death is a hearse. None of these things has the least connection with the novel that Tolstoy wrote, and it is only when we give up trying to connect the pictures with the book that we guess from some accidental scene -- like the gardener mowing the lawn -- what the cinema might do if is were left to its own devices.
The U.S and UK illustrated editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are hitting the shelves on October 6th, 2015. In January 2015, Scholastic and Bloomsbury released the first images from the book illustrated by British artist Jim Kay. Now, just a couple of weeks before the release of the book, Buzzfeed has released two new illustrations, one of them being a sketch of Harry Potter’s character.
According to Bloomsbury, the full-color illustrated edition of Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone is filled with “rich detail and humour that perfectly complements J.K. Rowling’s timeless classic”. Rowling herself has endorsed the book, saying:
“Seeing Jim Kay’s illustrations moved me profoundly. I love his interpretation of Harry Potter’s world, and I feel honoured and grateful that he has lent his talent to it.”
Buzzfeed has also released an exclusive video in which Kay talks about his artistic process and creation of his illustrations. To see that video and all of the illustrations released so far, visit the Buzzfeed article from here. More information can also be found from the Bloomsbury website.
The release of the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone is nigh–in fact, it’s tomorrow (October 6th)! Four glorious new illustrations have been bestowed upon us ahead of the book’s release, thanks to an exclusive post made by EW. Steady yourselves:
There’s this striking illustration of the quidditch hoops, set against a backdrop of Hogwarts, with some very dramatic, Halloween-y colouring:
A drawing of Harry, presumably at platform 9 3/4:
along with this fascinating glimpse into the birth of Kay’s depiction of Harry:
“I was looking at all these photographs of evacuee children from the 1940s — in England, you’d call them ‘blitz kids’ — who have been taken away from their home during the blitz. They had sort of thick, scruffy hair, and round glasses, and looked sort of underfed and malnourished, from really tough East End parts of London as well. I wanted that real character coming through, some adversity. But also slightly fragile, because he’s thin, and he’s smaller than usual.”
Luckily, Kay spotted the perfect young model while riding the London Underground, and told the boy’s mother he’d like to photograph her son as a character to work from. The boy, Clay, is a stage performer, so he’s fantastically skilled at interpreting the spectrum of emotions Kay asks him to project.
This illustration and discussion of Dumbledore, which reveals that Kay has strewn easter eggs throughout his artwork (another thing to look forward to!):
“What I like about early portrait painting,” Kay says, “is that you have objects in them that are representative of that person. So the dried plant there is honesty — but on the honesty is also a little camouflaged praying mantis. It’s sort of saying, there is honesty with Dumbledore, but with a catch. There’s also a little bottle of dragon’s blood because he wrote a book on dragon’s blood. And knitting because, of course, he likes to knit.”
Dumbledore’s likeness has a special place in Kay’s heart: “He’s based on an amazing illustrator I know, who I absolutely idolize. He’s been an inspiration for years for me, so it’s a huge deal that he’s lent his face to Dumbledore.”
And his portrayal of the perilous wizard’s chess game:
And there’s yet another thing to marvel at: Pottermore has released a video of Kay discussing his creative process, along with a peek into his studio! Click here to watch it, or see it below!
ME is Evelyn Jones, 16, a valedictorian hopeful who’s been playing bad girl to piss off THEM, her cold, distant parents. HIM is Todd, Evelyn’s secret un-boyfriend, who she thought she was just using for sex – until she accidentally fell in love with him. But before Evelyn gets a chance to tell Todd how she feels, something much more important comes up. IT. IT is a fetus. Evelyn is pregnant – and when Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn has no idea who to turn to. Can a cheating father, a stiff, cold mother, a pissed-off BFF, and a (thankfully!) loving aunt with adopted girls of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?
Wow, at times Me, Him, Them, And It is a hard book to read. Evelyn is a self-destructive teen, who is crying out for attention from her parents. Because her home life is so dysfunctional, nothing she does makes them bat an eye. Her mother is emotionally stunted, unable to communicate her feelings, and her father has been caught cheating, so he is struggling with guilt. He leaves for a time, but then comes back home, and everything is changed. The house is silent, nobody talks, and Evelyn is spiraling in a black depression she can’t escape. She is like her mother; unable to adequately communicate her feelings, even to her best friend. The words she longs to speak stick in her throat, trapped and suffocating her. There are times I was so frustrated with her, because if she would only SAY something, anything, she wouldn’t have to feel as though she’s carrying the burden of the world on her shoulders.
Evelyn has set a high bar for herself. She wants to be the class valedictorian, and she wants to attend an Ivy League university. It is so sad that neither of her parents has any clue how well she’s doing in school, or what her college ambitions are. Then she decides to punish her parents. She doesn’t want to be Good Evelyn anymore, and who can blame her. She received no credit at all from her distant parents, and she desperately wants their attention. Any kind of attention. The sad thing is, even as she begins indulging in dangerous behavior, they still don’t acknowledge her desperate cries for help. Then she discovers that the risks she has been taking have come home to roost. She’s pregnant, and she doesn’t know what to do.
This book is all about consequences. Evelyn has made a mistake, and now she has to face it. She has to decide what to do about the bean growing in her belly. Todd, the father, turns his back on her, and no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t tell her BFF what’s wrong with her. The only compassionate adult in her life is Mary, a counselor at the local planned parenthood. Because she can’t have a discussion with her mother, Evelyn makes Mary tell her mom that she’s pregnant. Ouch!
I didn’t want to like any of the characters in this book. Everyone is so absorbed in their own drama and agendas that nobody seems to care about anybody else. Evelyn irritated me at times, but then I stopped and realized that there were so many grown up decisions that she had to make, without much input from the adults in her life, and that she had every reason to be confused, angry, and hurt. Overwhelmed. Few of the adults in her life gave her any credit, yet they all demanded that she make a plan. Now. It’s not even like she had a good example of what a real family should be like to base her decisions on.
When she’s sent to live with her Aunt Linda and her family in Chicago, Evelyn is understandably upset. In her hour of need, her parents send her away. Once she falls into a routine at Linda’s, though, she does start to feel like she belongs. She slowly begins to learn how to express herself, though it is a painful and awkward process. And just when I think she is beginning to heal, and she will make a rational decision about what to do about the bean that she blames for ruining her life, she makes yet another impulsive, life altering choice. While the ending is upbeat, Me, Him, Them, and It had me feeling a bit out of sorts. The magnitude of Evelyn’s problem is staggering and her rage at her parents is all-consuming. The choice she must make will alter the lives of almost everyone she knows, and yet all of them leave her to make it on her own. The thought of an angry, resentful, and scared teen making of decision like this on her own just left me depressed.
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Where does fantasy stop and science fiction begin? Is it possible to ever draw a distinct line in the sand between the two? A book with a name like The Water Castle (mistakenly read by my library’s security guard as “White Castle”) could fall on either side of the equation, though castles generally are the stuff of fantastical fare. In this particular case, however, what we have here is a smart little bit of middle grade chapter book science fiction, complete with arson, obsession, genetic mutation, and a house any kid would kill to live in. Smarter than your average bear, this is one book that rewards its curious readers. It’s a pleasure through and through.
Welcome to Crystal Springs, Maine where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. That last part seems to be true, anyway. When Ephraim Appledore, his two siblings, his mom, and his father (suffering from the after effects of a stroke) move to town he’s shocked to find that not only does everyone seem to know more about his family history than he does, they’re all geniuses to boot. The Appledores have taken over the old Water Castle built by their ancestors and harboring untold secrets. When he’s not exploring it with his siblings Ephraim finds two unlikely friends in fellow outcast Mallory Green and would-be family feuder Will Wylie. Together they discover that the regional obsession with the fountain of youth may have some basis in reality. A reality that the three of them are having trouble facing, for individual reasons.
When one encounters an old dusty castle hiding trapdoors and secret passageways around every corner, that usually means your feet are planted firm in fantasy soil. All the elements are in place with Ephraim akin to Edwin in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and a dusty old wardrobe even making a cheeky cameo at one point. What surprised me particularly was the book’s grounding instead in science fiction. That said, how far away from fantasy is science fiction in children’s literature? In both cases the fantastical is toyed with. In this particular case, eternal life finds its basis in discussions of mutant genes, electricity, radiation, and any number of other science-based theories. Interestingly, it’s actually hard to come up with many children’s books that even dwell on the fountain of youth. There’s Tuck Everlasting of course, but that’s about as far as it goes. One gets the impression that Babbitt did such a good job with the idea that no one’s had the guts to take it any farther since. Kudos to Blakemore then for rising to the challenge.
I’m very partial to children’s books that are magical if you want them to be and realistic if that’s what you’d prefer. This year’s Doll Bones by Holly Black, for example, could be an uber-creepy horror story or it could just be a tale of letting your imagination run away with you. Similarly The Water Castle could be about the true ramifications of eternal life, or it could be explained with logic and reason every step of the way. I was also rather interested in how Ms. Blakemore tackled that age-old question of how to allow your child heroes the freedom to come and go as they please without a droplet of parental supervision. In this case her solution (father with a stroke and a mother as his sole caretaker) not only worked effectively but also tied in swimmingly into our hero’s personal motivations.
In the midst of a review like this I sometimes have a bad habit of failing to praise the writing of a book. That would be a particular pity in this case since Ms. Blakemore sucked me in fairly early on. When Ephraim and his family drive into town for the first time we get some beautiful descriptions of the small town itself. “They rolled past the Wylie Five and Dime, which was advertising a sale on gourds, Ouija boards, and pumpkin-pie filling.” She also has a fine ear for antiquated formal speech, though the physical appearances of various characters are not of particular importance to her (example: we don’t learn that Ephraim’s little sister Brynn is blond until page 183).
An interesting aspect of the writing is its tackling of race, racism, and historical figures done wrong by their times. I was happy from the get-go that Ms. Blakemore chose to make her cast a multi-cultural one. Mallory is African-American, one of the few in town, and is constantly being offered subjects like Matthew Henson for class reports because . . . y’know. Henson himself plays nicely into a little subplot in the book. Deftly Ms. Blakemore draws some similarities between his work with Robert Peary and Tesla’s attitude towards Edison. Nothing too direct. Just enough information where kids can connect the dots themselves. For all this, I was a bit disappointed that when we read some flashbacks into the past there doesn’t seem to be ANY racism in sight. We follow the day-to-day activities of an African-American girl and the various rich white people she encounters and yet only ONE mention is made of their different races in a vague reference to the fact that our heroine’s family has never been slaves. This seemed well-intentioned but hugely misleading. Strange to discuss Henson and Peary in one breath and then ignore everyday realities on the other.
If the book has any other problems there is the fact that the author leaves the essential question about the mysterious water everyone searches for in this story just that. Mysterious. There are also some pretty heady clues dropped about Mallory’s own parents that remain unanswered by the tale’s end. Personally, I am of the opinion that Ms. Blakemore did this on purpose for the more intelligent of her child readers. I can already envision children’s bookgroups discussing this title at length, getting into arguments about what exactly it means that Mallory’s mom had that key around her neck.
In the end, The Water Castle is less about the search for eternal life and youth than it is about letting go of childhood and stories. Age can come when you put those things away. As Ephraim ponders late in the game, “No one back in Cambridge would believe that he’d been crawling around in dark tunnels, or climbing up steps with no destination. Maybe, he decided, growing up meant letting go of the stories, letting go in general, letting yourself fall just to see if you could catch yourself. And he had.” Whether or not Ms. Blakemore chooses to continue this book with the further adventures of Ephraim, Mallory and Will, she’s come up with a heckuva smart little creation. Equally pleasing to science fiction and fantasy fans alike, there’s enough meat in this puppy for any smart child reader or bored kid bookgroup. I hope whole droves of them find it on their own. And I hope they enjoy it thoroughly. A book that deserves love.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Notes on the Cover: Is that or is that not a fantasy cover? The ivy strangled stone gargoyles and castle in the background all hint at it. I wasn’t overly in love with this jacket at first, but in time I’ve discovered that kids are actually quite drawn to it. Whether or not they find it misleading, time will tell. Not having read the bookflap description of this title, I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time trying to turn the kids on the cover into Ephraim and his siblings. It was quite a while before I realized my mistake.
It’s finally May—the flowers are pushing through the dirt, the sun is ablaze with warm promises…and, well, it’s time to take a break!
I thought I’d consult with someone who knows vacationing very well. No, not my Aunt Myrna, the Long Island travel agent queen. Salina Yoon’s Penguin!
He’s a cute, chubby fellow with an itch for adventure. Let’s scratch it, shall we?
Penguin, thanks so much for joining me today. Tell me, what’s been happening at home that you decided a vacation was in order?
Hi Ms. Tara! I was just bored of the snow and ice. I can only count to 99, and after I counted my 99th snowball, I didn’t know what else to do.
You could make 33 miniature snowmen, but ya know, I like the vacation idea better.
What did Grandpa say when you packed your bag?
33 miniature snowmen…I never thought of that!
Grandpa always says to me that I should go and explore the world—and I will come back a wiser penguin. I think he is right. Grandpa is very wise, and he has traveled very far. In fact, he has been to the beach once long ago. He gave me his old swim suit for my trip. It fit perfectly.
I hope you sent him a postcard. He probably missed you very much.
I did better than that, Ms. Tara! I met a lovely seagull on the beach, and she had a camera. It went, “click! click! click!” and pretty pictures came out of a box. She took some photos of me and Crab, and Seagull delivered the photos to Grandpa because she can fly! It was very nice of Seagull. It turns out that we are distant relatives!
Speaking of Crab, you did some fun things together. What other places did you two visit on your vacation?
Crab took me caving, snorkeling, and even cliff diving on the island! I am a very good swimmer, so it was very fun. But the caves were nothing like the ice caves back at home. It was fun to see and try new things.
What advice do you have for kids heading away on vacation to someplace new and different?
My advice is to make new friends on vacation, because they will know how to have fun there even if you don’t! Also, I would say to be open to trying new things because you can do what you always do and eat the foods you always eat when you get back home. And take sunscreen…if you are going someplace sunny!
Where would you like to vacation next?
I would love to visit the Grand Canyon one day, even though I would have to pack a lot of ice with me to stay comfortable. I would also like to visit Mount Everest and see the world from the highest point on Earth! And then of course, Disneyland!
That sounds perfect. I can hear the television announcer booming, “Penguin, you just had your book published, what are you going to do now?!”
Thanks for waddling by today, Penguin. And thanks for leaving behind your adorable book signed by Salina, plus a beach ball to boot! Or throw. Or float in the pool with. Whatever the winner prefers!
Thank you for inviting me to talk with you, Ms. Tara. And happy vacationing, friends!
Please leave a comment below telling Penguin about your favorite vacation spot.
A winner of the book and ball will be randomly selected in one week!
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Bloomsbury Spark is a one-of-a-kind, global, digital imprint from Bloomsbury Publishing dedicated to publishing a wide array of exciting fiction eBooks to teen, YA and new adult readers.
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