My first time at Dundee Literary Festival

Last week, on the 19th-23rd October 2016, my home town welcomed back the Dundee Literary Festival.  This year it was special for three reasons:

  1. It was the festival’s tenth year in operation;
  2. It was the first time I had managed to attend as it falls during the October school holidays and we are normally away;
  3. My friend, Sandra Ireland, was featured talking about her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Skin’, alongside Shelley Day and her debut, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’.

first-writes

sandra-shelley-and-zoebeneath-the-skin-cover

The Literary Dundee website says the following:

Literary Dundee is a cultural organisation, part of the University of Dundee, which celebrates readers and writers, and brings the best writers in the world to Dundee.

We support the literary community in Dundee through the Dundee Literary Festival (October), publications such as New Writing Dundee, projects such as the Dundee International Book Prize, and a series of year round events, including our Literary Lock-Ins, produced in partnership with bright sparks within the University and outside it.

What’s not to like?

I feel lucky to live in a place that is so supportive of literary pursuits and am embarrassed that it has taken so long to be able to attend some of the fantastic and varied talks and events over the period of the festival, some with fellow writers and some with my young children.

As well as Sandra’s event I also managed to attend a lecture on The Fall of the Tay Bridge with David Swinfen; a Memoir and the Art of Life Writing showcase with writers from the University of Dundee’s Continuing Life Writing course and their course tutor, Josie Jules Andrews; a talk by Scotland’s Booker Prize winner James Kelman about his new novel, ‘Dirt Road’; a fascinating discussion about Shirley Jackson (of ‘The Lottery’ fame) and Josephine Tey; and two events for younger people – a ‘Rock and Roald Dahl party’ with Matthew Fitt, who has translated some of Dahl’s books into Scots, and a ‘Create a Comic workshop with Jim Glen.  My two eight year olds had a blast.  Here’s a picture of Georgia with a certain recognisable DC Thomson character…

georgia-with-jim-glen

I can’t sign off without mention of the Ex Libris Book Fair on the last day, which was a treasure trove for anyone with a love of the arts.  As an added bonus I met a fellow SCBWI member, Elizabeth Wein, who I only previously knew through the Society’s Facebook page, and it was lovely, as always, to put a face to a name.

All in all it was a fantastic few days and a new highlight of my year.  I think I have a bit of reading to do judging by my literary haul!

books-from-literary-festival

WHAT EDITORS WANT

what-editors-want-panel

 

WHAT EDITORS WANT

A SOCIETY OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS (SCBWI) PANEL AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL, 18 AUGUST 2016.

 Panel   –      Barry Cunningham, Chicken House Publishing

                        Lauren Fortune, Scholastic

                        Sally Polson, Floris Books  

 Chaired By Louise Kelly and Sheila M Averbuch

I was lucky enough to attend an interesting and lively panel event at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival in the esteemed company of an amazing panel of children’s/YA book industry heavyweights, so I thought I would share some of their comments and advice here.

Q. What does editing entail? 

Lauren          

How much work we do completely varies from author to author.  We are looking for something to identify with, or to be transported to a fantastic land, but the kernel is to find something you love and something similar to the feeling you had as a child when discovering your favourite books.

Barry             

Editors are far more engaged in the process now and think we look for a manuscript in all its possibilities and for how it works in its broader sense.  We could perhaps be seen as a ‘midwife for books’ but ultimately represent our readers and must look at how it will work around the world and in the context of how our other books work.

With debut authors we can tell if something has been worked on so much that the voice has been lost and so it is a case of having to go back to the beginning to re-establish that unique thing.

Have you got a good villain/problem/disadvantage?  Children’s books tend to be about struggle. Maybe change the POV?

Q. What personality traits do you like in your authors and book characters?

Sally               

I enjoy working with writers that like receiving feedback and are quite open minded in receiving criticism and are then able to go off and find their own way.  For example, Ross McKenzie of ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ and ‘Shadowsmith’ is good to work with as he takes feedback well and writes excellent villains.

Characters – are they memorable and will they stay with me?

A general comment would be that if we commission a book, the position in the schedule can determine how much/how quickly it is worked on.  We tend to do one structural edit – i.e. plot, beginning/end, characters, pacing…

Lauren          

Monsters and villains are so important.  An example would be ‘Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes’ by Paula Harrison.

Things that are not so good: are writers reluctant to make their characters suffer?  Would always encourage writers to put their characters in difficult situations.

Barry             

We have to see the main character change.  Linking back to the last question, ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was originally written in 3rd person, but when Kiran changed it into 1st person it brought it to life.

Also, it’s important for characters to have some loss as well as victory.

Q. Would you encourage reading as ‘writers’ as well as simply for enjoyment?

Lauren          

Reading is an enormous part of writing, you absorb a lot, sometimes without realising.  Dialogue, for example, is hugely important and difficult to do.

Sally               

Reading also helps writers to understand the market.

Q. What are the new trends in illustration?

Lauren

MG illustrated fiction (black and white line pictures) is having a moment.   It is good for more reluctant readers and we are very keen on this at Scholastic.  David Baddiel and Jim Field are a great example of when an author and illustrator work well together.

Sally   

Floris are keen on it too, but don’t have an author/illustrator in that field at present.

Barry             

Chicken House don’t do picture books any more as are not keen on them and find a lot don’t have much story and leave the art to do all the work.

However, we are now seeing more illustrated content even in older books, including YA, which sit somewhere between the more traditional books and graphic novels.

Q. What about age banding?  Are there any issues/shifts occurring?

Barry

Older MG is different in America where it is up to 14 years of age instead of 12 here, but a lot of books are being bought by a wide range of ages.  For overseas markets we sometimes get advice to bring content down or similar and YA is fracturing into older and younger YA.

Age banding is more for publishing categories though rather than reader categories.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to see?

Sally   

More diverse, ethnic, disabilities, plus a series for 6-8 year olds, e.g. ‘Thorfinn the Nicest Viking’.  Are also looking for author/illustrators as don’t have a lot of these.

Lauren          

This can be influenced by the demands of the list.  Scholastic is strong on series fiction, so are more looking for standalone stories, and would also like to see a YA fantasy.  Anything page turning, cinematic, high concept.

For non-fiction we publish the ‘Horrible Histories’ books and would look at others to tie around an historical event or similar.

Q. What do you look for in a book?

Barry 

Humour, superlative villain or dark force, great dialogue.

Would recommend that authors write complete character studies even though a lot doesn’t end up in the book as you will get to know the character better.

Q. What would be the main reason(s) to reject a ‘nearly there’ manuscript?

Sally

It could be to do with other factors, e.g. the existing list, or it doesn’t quite fit, or may need author to be in Scotland…

Lauren          

Can always work on plot, but is looking for an original voice and that bit of ‘magic’.  It has to stay with her.  Can pick up one page and recognise the author.

Barry 

Whether he thinks he can work with the author and share the same vision.  Mostly if don’t think they can work with the author to make it better.

Audience Questions

  • Should we use dialect or not?

Barry

Could use an element, but sustaining it for a whole book may be hard.

Lauren          

If it fits into a broader narrative would welcome it, but should always read dialogue aloud when writing it.

Sally               

Plus a child must be able to understand it.

 

  • What do you not want? 

Lauren          

Something you’ve seen before told in a fairly familiar voice.

Sally   

A misunderstanding of being unique, where people might think they need to be completely wacky and all over the place.

Barry

Would be scared of multi volume fantasy where the synopsis is longer than the first book.

Lauren          

“I’d quite like that!”

 

  • Should writers look at current themes?

Barry

There’s no point as publishers and agents tend to be inundated with these and they would be likely to be over too soon by the time any book was ready for publication.

Lauren          

Perhaps look at themes but then strip out the actual theme and see what’s left that works and has the broad appeal.

 

  • Would you advise authors to use freelance editorial services?

Sally               

Not sure you can tell which manuscripts have or haven’t used one.

Lauren          

If we see something that has come from Golden Egg then ears immediately prick up.

*****

So there you have it!  I found the event to be very useful and hope my notes are of some interest to you too.

 

 

 

Why Are Book Titles Important?

Does your book / work in progress have a title that makes it stand out from the slushpile?..

By Jasmine

There are many factors that will influence whether or not you get a book deal [including a good bit of luck that your book will land on the right desk at the right time].

Without a doubt, the most important factor is telling a compelling story as well as you possibly can but there is also a need to think about whether you are giving your book its best chance to be noticed with the title you have chosen.

Your book title is your calling card.  In a sea of submissions on an editor’s or agent’s desk it can help you stand out.

sub pile

It is surprising then how often I see titles that perhaps seem a little flat or generic—or maybe haven’t had as much thought put into them as might be expected.

Sometimes, you might luck out and the title will come to you easily—a sweet gift…

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