Showing posts with label author. Show all posts
Showing posts with label author. Show all posts

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Showing Instead of Telling in The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

 Kirsty Applebaum, the author of one my current favourite reads 'The Middler' (definitely a 5 star rated book - read my review here), give this advice to young writers:

One of the most amazing things about story is that it has the power to skip past the time-consuming ‘learning and memorising’ part of our brain and go straight to the ‘just knowing’ part. We don’t need to pause and rewind halfway through Toy Story, for example, to work out whether Buzz Lightyear is over-confident in his flying ability, or remind ourselves that Woody is jealous of this dashing interloper. We just know. And the reason we just know is that we’ve been skilfully shown.

‘Show don’t tell’ (i.e., demonstrate rather than explain) is a rule often cited in the writing world. I don’t 100% agree - a writer should show or tell, I think, according to the effect they wish to achieve. In The Middler, however, I did try to show rather than tell, because I wanted to achieve an immediate, plunged-into-Maggie’s-world sensation for the reader. I wanted them to just know.

Take Maggie’s dad. If I was to tell you about him, I’d say he was a family man - clean, tidy and prone to becoming slightly overwhelmed in stressful situations. But I don’t say any of those things in The Middler. Instead, I show him - cooking dinner for his children, wiping the table, and stumbling over his words when confronted with difficult issues.

Middle grade readers can learn to spot this technique. For example, ask them to focus on chapter one of The Middler, where Maggie, Jed and Trig leave the house and go to school (available here: Can they answer some questions about the differences between the three siblings? For example: who is the least organised? Who is more careful with their possessions? Who is the most outspoken? Who is the quietest?

Next, ask them to identify exactly which parts of the text enabled them to answer to these questions. They might reply, for example, that Trig speaks up in assembly, while Maggie hardly says a word out loud through the whole chapter.

Students can then go on to show in their own writing. Ask them to make up a character of their own (or perhaps choose a character from a fairy tale) and jot down a few words to describe (or tell) what their character is like. Friendly? Mean? Easy-going? A worrier? Next, ask them to write a short piece about this character leaving the house and going to school/work, just like Maggie, Jed and Trig. BUT – no one is allowed to use the describing words they jotted down. Can they show these things, rather than tell them?

Soon they will have a deeply powerful writing technique under their belts, plunging their own readers into a whole story-world of just knowing. To infinity … and beyond!

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Guest Post: Changing Personalities by Dr. Gary Haq

In my new children’s book 'My Dad, the Earth Warrior', Hero Trough’s dad has a bump to the head and then wakes claiming to be Terra Firma, son of Mother Earth, sent to protect her.

The notion of a person changing their character and behavioural traits is not new in literature. Miguel de Cervantes’ 'Don Quixote' (1605) is a story of an old nobleman who after reading stories about knights, decides to become a knight-errant and goes off in search of adventures. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' (1886) explores the interplay of good and evil in human personalities with two contrasting characters.

From Marvel Comics the journalist Clark Kent, wealthy industrialist Bruce Wayne and science student Peter Parker are the alter egos of Superman, Batman and Spiderman respectively.

When Mr Benn visited a fancy-dress shop and traded in his black bowler hat and suit for a new costume, he then entered a new world appropriate to his costume and a new adventure via a magical door.

In 'My Dad the Earth Warrior', Dad has become boring to Hero - having taken on the task of updating Cuthbert’s encyclopaedia collection. Fed up with an increasingly distant father, Hero yearns for change. Then one day, Dad has this freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an earth warrior.

In his new persona, Dad is strong and charismatic - determined to achieve his goal of gathering a tribe, becoming a chief and protecting Mother Earth. Hero struggles to deal with Dad as an earth warrior and all the ensuing consequences. However, there are times when he actually is intrigued that Dad is different.

I have always liked the idea of changing personality and have enjoyed dressing up in fancy dress. As you, can see from these photos on the left! Changing from Mr Average to someone different provides the opportunity for many wonderful adventures as Hero and his Dad experience in the book.

Gary Haq is an earth warrior whose day job is saving the planet. He is an associate researcher at a prestigious global environmental think tank and a research scientist at a European research centre. He tries his best to be the change he wants to see in the world and hopes to inspire others with his stories. When he’s not involved in his own eco-adventures, he likes to write, read, learn languages and explore new cultures. Gary lives with his wife and young daughter, and spends his time between York, England and Laveno, Italy. My Dad, the Earth Warrior is his debut novel - available now.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Guest Post: Reading In My Dad’s Bookshop by Ewa Jozefkowicz

 Many adults have one or two characters in a book that they read as a child - their ultimate hero or heroine - who stays with them through the years. But whenever anybody asks me who mine is, I find it difficult to make a shortlist of ten, let alone to carefully select one or two. I was extremely lucky to grow up surrounded by books meaning that I could browse, peruse and devour them at every available moment.

My dad was a bookseller, and when I was at primary school, I would spend every half term and many a weekend in his bookshops, reading in the children's section. I was so fascinated by books that I would read anything and everything, from Point Horror classics, through Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, all the way to The Moomins. Looking back now on the characters that I loved, there was only one thing that linked them. They could be any gender, background, age or period, but they had to overcome their fears and to be brave. So whether it was Lyra meeting the king of the Gyptians, Charlie stepping into the Chocolate Factory, or Tracy Beaker setting out to find her real mum, they had to be bold in everything they did. It was characters like them who made me believe that anything was possible as long as you put your mind to it.

When I'd thoroughly read my way through the shelves of children's literature, I started on the adult sections - my tastes here also varied dramatically. I loved nature books with all the illustrations of different animal species, but I was also fascinated by travel stories, and even big coffee table books about fashion through the ages.

I was hugely fascinated by books in other languages. There was a foreign literature children’s section in our bookshop, which was really the only part which was out of bounds for me, because I didn’t understand the words. The only other language that I could read in was Polish, and I felt envious of other kids who could read in French, Mandarin, Swedish and so on… I remember always searching for the most interesting looking stories in their English versions.

My dad often had to visit warehouses to put in new orders for books and I was always so excited to be one of the first people who would see the new releases. Some of the warehouse team got to know me, and I was allowed to carefully read a few of the children's books that had just come in (if I promised not to bend the spine or leave any fingerprints). Sometimes, I even got to help out with
suggestions of which titles to order.

My dad passed away when I was sixteen and I still think about him every day. Unsurprisingly, he crops up in my thoughts usually when I've opened a new book. I wonder what he would have thought of this one, I say to myself when I've finished it, and a part of me is sad that we can't discuss what we'd just read. I hope he would have been proud of me writing 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief'. He certainly played a big part in making it happen.

'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' by Ewa Jozefkowicz is available not in hardback, £10.99 from Zephyr

You can follow Ewa on Twitter: @EwaJozefkowicz

Click here to read my review of 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' 

Thursday 26 April 2018

Guest Post: Vasilisa the Beautiful (on ambiguous villains) by Sophie Anderson

In which Sophie Anderson, author of the wonderful 'The House With Chicken Legs' (read my review here), writes about how in some stories, particularly where villains and heroes are concerned, things might not always be as they seem. In children's books I think it is particularly important that the concept of 3-dimensional characters and events are explored in this way, especially as it is more true to life. I'll let Sophie explain it better, with the help of a Russian fairy tale:

‘In a certain kingdom there lived a merchant …’

In this Russian fairy tale, collected and published by Alexander Afanasyev in 1855, a merchant has one daughter, Vasilisa the Beautiful.

When she is eight-years-old Vasilisa’s mother gives her a magic doll and says,

‘Remember and heed my words. I am dying, and together with my maternal blessing I leave you this doll. Always keep it with you and do not show it to anyone; if you get into trouble, give the doll food, and ask its advice.’

Then Vasilisa’s mother kisses her and dies. After some time, Vasilisa’s father remarries – a widow with two daughters of her own. Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters are jealous of her beauty. They torment her and give her endless work to do. But, Vasilisa’s magic doll comforts her and helps her do the work.

Then one day, the merchant leaves on business and Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters plot to get rid of Vasilisa. They snuff out all the candles in the house and send Vasilisa to Baba Yaga’s hut to ask for a light.

Vasilisa is scared that Baba Yaga will eat her, but the magic doll says it will keep her safe. So, Vasilisa travels through the forest to Baba Yaga’s hut, which is surrounded by a fence of skulls and bones.

Baba Yaga agrees to give Vasilisa a light on the condition she stays and works for her – and threatens to eat her if she does not. Then Baba Yaga makes Vasilisa serve her an enormous meal, and goes to bed, leaving Vasilisa with a seemingly impossible number of chores to do; including sorting a bushel of wheat.

Vasilisa feeds her doll a few crumbs and explains her troubles. The doll replies,

‘Fear not, Vasilisa the Beautiful! Eat your supper, say your prayers, and go to sleep; the morning is wiser than the evening.’

And in the morning, all the work is done. The next day, Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa another seemingly impossible number of chores to do; including sorting poppy seeds from dust. Once again, Vasilisa’s doll does the work for her.

Baba Yaga asks Vasilisa how she managed to do all this work, and Vasilisa replies, ‘I am helped by the blessing of my mother.’

‘So that is what it is,’ shrieks Baba Yaga. ‘Get you gone, blessed daughter! I want no blessed ones in my house!’ And Baba Yaga send Vasilisa on her way – but before she leaves she gives her a skull with burning eyes from her fence, saying, ‘Here is the light for your stepsisters.’

Vasilisa returns home, and is about to throw away the skull, thinking her stepfamily will not need it anymore, but a voice from the skull says, ‘Do not throw me away, take me to your stepmother.’ Inside the house, the skull stares at the stepmother and stepdaughters and burns them. They try to hide but the eyes follow them, and by morning they are burned to ashes.

The tale continues with Vasilisa moving to town, completing more difficult tasks with the help of her doll, and eventually marrying the tsar, but Baba Yaga does not feature again.

I love the Baba Yaga in this tale, as it is one of the first times I glimpsed the wise woman behind the evil old crone archetype. Baba Yaga’s role in this story is ambiguous, as she could be considered a villain, or a helper.

Although Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa seemingly impossible tasks to do and threatens to eat her if she does not complete them, ultimately Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa the burning skull that frees her from her evil stepfamily – the real villains in the tale.

In ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés there is a thorough and fascinating analysis of this tale, which Estés believes is rich in symbolism and metaphor.

Estés writes Vasilisa is ‘about the realization that most things are not as they seem’ and that ‘Vasilisa is a story of handing down the blessing on women’s power of intuition from mother to daughter.’

Estés describes how Vasilisa’s journey takes her from subservience to strength and independence, through facing fear and by learning from Baba Yaga, who represents the wild feminine nature.

This tale was the start of a long journey for me, which began with the realisation that Baba Yaga is not just the cannibalistic villain she is so often depicted as. She is a fascinating, complex character; a wild woman of folklore, fierce and formidable, watchful and wise. She can be a maternal benefactress or a dangerous witch and decides on a case by case basis how she will treat the visitors to her hut.

Her origins are ancient; linked to Pagan Goddesses associated with life, death, the forest and Earth itself; and the history of her portrayal reflects societies’ attitudes to woman and paganism. I am still fascinated by Baba Yaga and have found no matter how much I read, there is always more to learn about her, and from her.

Vasilisa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga, written by Alexander Afanasyev, is available in a gorgeous edition with Ivan Bilibin’s iconic illustrations from 1899, published by The Planet.

There is also a beautiful picture book of this tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful, written by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Anna Morgunova, published by Minedition.

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson publishes in paperback, 3 May, £6.99 from Usborne. Cover art by Melissa Castrillón and inside black and white illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Book Review: 'Night Speakers: Sleepless' by Ali Sparkes

The Breakfast Club meets The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, but for a slightly younger audience. An unlikely trio of youngsters are drawn together by a mysterious commonality: they all wake up at exactly 1:34 am every night. Something strange is going on, and they're desperate to discover exactly what. Together, meeting secretly in the dead of night whenever they can, they are drawn into an adventure as supernatural elements of the world around them are revealed.

A heady mix of the regular teenager's everyday struggles - problems with parents, troubles at school, awkward friendships - and ancient superstitions, beliefs and beings, Night Speakers: Sleepless is an incredibly moreish book. Ali Sparkes expertly tantalises the reader with a gradual release of information that often allows the reader to feel like they are just one tiny step ahead of the book's protagonists. Sparkes lets the reader believe the reality of what is happening before the characters do, making for a very satisfying read. Although this is true, there is enough suspense left too - not every event can be expected; a perfect mixture from a skilful author.

The beauty of nature is brought alongside the clamour of urban life as the three young people discover they have powers and abilities which allow them to communicate with nature. Although pegged as appealing to animal lovers, this is not your typical animal story. In fact, the fauna concerned in this story act quite as they should where other books might have had them too anthropomorphised; this treatment of the animals in the story makes for an almost believable fantasy. 

With the classroom in mind, Night Speakers: Sleepless would be a fantastic book for character study, setting description and creating tension. There are excellent passages which would stand alone as short texts for a variety of different teaching purposes. Year 6, 7 and 8 children and their teachers would enjoy making comparisons between this and other fantasy adventures set in the real world.

A hugely climactic, cinematic ending brings brief calm before a nosedive into an unsettling cliffhanger as the book's surprise fourth main character speaks menacingly, suggesting that the business of this book, the first in a series of five, is not yet done. Sparkes has certainly created an intriguing enough world for the follow-up tome to be highly anticipated by readers of Night Speakers: Sleepless.