Books and Films for January

Apart from a chapter of my WIP, I have done little writing this month other than responding to my granddaughter’s helpful comments on my children’s book, Ella Midnight. We had an amazing video conference where she went through the book like an experienced editor, such confidence at nine-years-old. She thinks the book should be published and so it will be, on March 29th. ellaMidnight

My book sales are reasonable this month with all funds being split between the Australian firemen and those who have lost everything in the fires. Amazon Prime have also selected my first two books to go into their February deals in Australia. I won’t get too much money as they put the price down, but I will get more exposure, which is worth it. The last time this happened, my sales shot up. Here’s hoping.

This month with the cold, wet weather I have binged on some box sets and read rather sparingly. For crime lovers, I can recommend the Spanish Crime series on Channel Four catch up, Night and Day. The protagonist is a female forensic pathologist and this was so much better than Silent Witness because, like so many European dramas, they take time to develop the story over several episodes (12, in fact). I also watched Bonfire of Destiny, dubbed from the French Le Bazar de la Charité on Netflix. This was based on a true story of a charity bazaar in 1880s Paris. The building caught fire and 120 society women died, no men. Find out why by watching it.The first episode horrific and  something that will stay with me. It becomes rather predictable after that, but if you like Downton Abbey type stories it’s worth watching.

I have read three connected books. Two set in World War 2 and two set partly in Paris, while 2 were set partly in Czechoslovakia.  Two I would recommend.

My favourite was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah  a novel of the French Resistance. It tells the story of two very different sisters. One young, naïve and utterly courageous, the older sister, dismissive of her sibling, set in her ways, judgemental and determined to keep her head down until a German officer is billeted in her house. The characters are so well drawn, so believable and as the story progresses, their development is convincing. Focussed mainly on a small village, the effects of the war creep into a every aspect of life and you are drawn into the older sister’s struggle to survive and the decisions she makes. What would I do in those circumstances? You can only find out by living through it. It’s a tearjerker in the end. How could it not be?

In contrast The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story. It tells the story of a young Slovakian man, Lale, who is sent to Birkenau in early 1942. The author spent three years talking to this man about his story before he died. She wrote it first as a screenplay before turning it into a book and it became a bestseller. I skim read it in a day. It’s a difficult book to assess. I can’t help feeling there is a measure of bravado about the book which doesn’t altogether ring true. Little things take you out of the story like him being in a position to swap pilfered jewels from dead Jews  for food and medicine. At one point he asks for penicillin from two Polish builders to treat his girlfriend for typhus. As penicillin wasn’t used to treat any infection until 1942, I can’t think how he would have known about penicillin.

The book is written in the present tense, in short sentences, with little character development. It’s an easy read but easily forgettable. Something one should not be able to say about a book written in this setting. Disappointing.

My third book, The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan has all the depth of writing which the previous book lacked. Set in Paris and Prague, it tells the story of a middle-aged woman looking back on her life. She is English, was an au-pair in Paris but then went to Prague with the Czech family before the revolution which swept away the communist regime. There she fell in love with a musician and what happened damaged her life. After her divorce from a Frenchman she sets up a Museum dedicated to Broken Promises. How bizarre, I first thought, but I loved the vignettes where people offered exhibits and explained how they had been let down. A lace nightgown given by an old lady on her deathbed, an expensive chess set – these stories are poignant, full of feeling. In contrast is the starkness of life in Prague under the watchful eyes and ears of a system of utmost control. People still tried to find joy, love and music but never without danger. I finished this book, knowing that it was brilliant, however, maybe I was not in the mood for something so dark, so impersonal as Prague in those days.

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Inspiration out of Devastation

I have been glued to the news coming out of Australia, hating and fearing every news story about burning forests and communities losing everything. This morning, I had a message from a cousin, ‘Pray for us as we are being evacuated now.’ They had to leave their beautiful home and their business to head up to safety from the south. Thank goodness we heard later that they had made it to Merimbula.

It’s barely a year since we tMerimbula House2ravelled from Melbourne to Sydney via the Princes Highway, so I can see that route in my mind, remember the countryside, recall all those Airbnb’s we stayed in. The best was in Merimbula. A gloriously, beautiful place, where kangaroos grazed on the golf course. It felt like a town should be, polite, caring, community minded. I could have stayed longer but we had a plane to catch. After two nights we set off for Malua Bay. No reason, it had a pleasant looking Airbnb – that’s all. We drove north passing peaceful inlets and picnicked on the one leading to Bateman’s Bay. We arrived in mid afternoon and stood on the beach admiring the pretty cove. Quiet scarcely describes it – it was too early in the season. After we had cheMelua Beachcked into our accommodation we drove up to the next cove, Lilli Pilli, because my sister-in law used to call her granddaughter, Lily that, as a nickname. We asked where to eat and was recommended the sports club. Nothing more than that. I wouldn’t have remembered it until I saw a tweet three days ago. One thousand people sheltered on that beach on New Year’s Eve as the fires came as far as the town. The image is like a scene from hell, a mMalua2odern Dante’s Inferno. This kind of scene is replicated at Mallacoota and Kangaroo Island. Vast swathes are burning, half a billion animals lost. Today I read that the sports club burned down. It wasn’t just a sports club, I’m guessing it was the heart of the community. Suddenly, I knew what I had to write. The book I have been playing around with for a year and not getting very far into began to take shape. I started writing almost the final chapter and can work backwards from that. I don’t want to make hay out of people’s misery, rather honour the experience and their bravery. I hope it works. More than that, I hope Australia can recover from this catastrophe. It has to. Please.

 

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Has the World Gone to Pot?

2019 was not my favourite year. It was busy which was a good thing, however, at the end of it I feel rootless – discombobulated – a word I have never used before but sums me up. I passionately believe in the EU as a force for good and the thought of being torn away, having my citizenship removed without my permission is horrifying. img-20191021-wa0005I along with many millions will never feel the same way about my country of birth. It has let me down. We are reduced as a nation and we have betrayed all the young people for no gain. No one has offered a justification for it after three years.

At the same time, I watch what is happening to the climate and the fires in Australia, all along the roads I travelled last year, with mounting horror. How on earth can people not believe what science is telling us? We have to change and we have to act globally and yet – nothing is being done. Politicians and fossil fuel producers are hand in glove. How can our generation not care about our grandchildren’s future? We need to be marching on the streets as well as changing our habits. Eat less meat, fly less, drive less, don’t buy unnecessary items, especially throw-away fashion clothing, reuse plastics or avoid them as much as possible. This Christmas we agreed no presents for the adults in our immediate family and it was a relief. It reduced the stress of shopping and we gained far more pleasure from just watching the children enjoy their gifts.

Now we have begin decluttering the house. We aim to keep only what we use and the rest can go to charity. Why, I ask myself, did I ever buy a china tea service, which has only sat in a cupboard for thirty years? I even cleared out all the coloured cottons and buttons I have saved from my pitiful attempts at dressmaking. Someone may have a use for them but I have not touched my sewing machine in years. That also can go. It’s something to concentrate on for now. Something to make me feel better about what I can’t change – a deep sense of unhappiness for the way this world is going. Will things get better in 2020? I can only hope.

 

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End of a Busy Year

Although I haven’t written a new historical novel and am progressing slowly with my current WIP, this year has been busy. I took on being a Director of Chindi Authors Network. because it had helped me enormously and I wanted its work in supporting authors to continue. The highlight for me was producing our Christmas book, A Feast of Christmas Stories, which has proved to be a great success. Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00025]Arundel Museum sold out and reordered and last night we found out that the Swan Hotel in Arundel, where we held our Christmas meal, have also sold out and have reordered. We have had great support this year from two local hotels, the other being the Dolphin in Littlehampton. I love that local businesses want to get involved and mutually support each other.

I have also been writing a children’s book for and with my granddaughter, Hannah. Today I am expecting copies to arrive. I’m not publishing it yet. I need to find out whether it’s of any interest to children other than my granddaughters. A few trials are called for. It’s special in more than one way because it has been illustrated by the granddaughter of my dear friend, June, who died in July. The cover has beellaMidnighten designed by another friend, Kate, who I am pleased to say, is enjoying her retirement by growing older as disgracefully as always. Shouldn’t we all. I love how the cover has turned out.

Plans for next year? I may try and kick my WIP into shape or into the long grass. The jury is out. I may also try and get the two other books in the Currency Girls Series onto audiobooks.

Apart from that, I would like to explore more of Scotland and also Ireland. We have been further afield these last few years and now it’s time to give up some of those air flights. It’s time to think of our grandchildren’s future. Now I must go and vote with them in mind.

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Writing Books for Children

I’m in conversation today with Lexi Rees about writing for children. As my book – working title, Ella Midnight and the Mystery of the Missing Nose,  has been my main focus this year, I am interested in finding out what got Lexi into writing for children.image1 (5)

Welcome Lexi.

Hi Rosemary, thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog today.

It’s an absolute pleasure. Can I ask you first:

What age group do you write for and is there a particular genre that attracts you?

I write what’s called “middle grade fiction” which is a really strange term as it seems to bear no resemblance to the US “Middle Grade” age in school, nor any UK terminology so I have no idea where it came from. Basically it’s ages 7-12, or what we would consider Key Stage 2 (KS2) in the UK. Everyone remembers their favourite childhood books from when they were this age so it’s such an exciting stage.

That’s a fairly wide range. I’m writing my first book for children aged 7-9 having written four adult novels, so I am interested in what made you wish to write for children.

I read a lot of middle grade fiction, so it felt entirely natural to write for that age group. I was honoured to be described by LoveReading4Kids as “an ambassador of children’s literature” and it means a lot to me. Previously, I was also a trustee for a children’s charity and I also run a free #kidsclub designed to encourage a love of reading and writing. It’s just an area I’m truly passionate about.

That said, I do write short series for grown-ups and am working on a non-fiction book, so like you I may be multi-genred!

Yes , we were delighted to include your short story, Pudding into The Chindi Christmas Book, A Feast of Christmas Stories. My children’s book was written at the request of my granddaughter, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have ventured into it. However, I have found it interesting in the way it changes your writing. What differences would you say are paramount when writing for young people?

Having not written a full length grown-up novel, I can’t really say how it would change my style, but I don’t simplify my language for my younger readers. I guess I probably add more dialogue tags then when I write grown-up short fiction though.

I agree about not simplifying language although because my book is set in the past, it was imperative to see what my granddaughter didn’t understand in terms of terminology and context, for example she had no idea what a rag and bone man was. It was vital to get her input. Do you trial your books on young people? Does it make you change aspects?

Absolutely! I have a fab team of beta readers. I have a Facebook group (for their parents obviously) where I get their input on covers, book titles and character names as well as keeping in touch with them for beta reading. They all get acknowledged in the books (with parental permission of course) which is super exciting for them! You get different feedback from younger readers so it sometimes takes a bit of deciphering – I had one fabulous beta reader who was determined only to say really nice things. Her mother was worried this wouldn’t be useful, but it really was, as every time the wow’s and love it’s vanished, I knew the section needed attention!

Despite Peter Pan’s best efforts, they do grow up though so, unlike grown-up beta readers who, once they fall in love with an author will remain readers of anything that author produces, I need to keep adding new recruits!

There’s a lot there for me to consider and take on board. Children lead more restricted lives in many ways than my generation. I walked to school on my own from age six, played for hours in the park with friends and was far less supervised. Do you see children’s literature as a way of reintroducing elements of danger that they miss in real life?

Definitely! I remember hearing Katherine Rundell speak at a writers conference and she started off with commenting that “there is nothing so endangered in fiction than a mother in a children’s book.” The old mantra that you need to ditch the parents at the first opportunity does still exist. I actually have the parents lightly present in my books although they are a bit accident prone which gives the children opportunities to stretch their wings and take on responsibilities.

That’s so true. I lost both parents fairly quickly in my book because the children are evacuated from London. It’s liberating for them and for me as the writer.

My granddaughter is bored rigid with the Level 2 SAT work on spelling and grammar but she loves to write. I want to buy your book on creative writing for children for her as a Christmas present. Do you write it to counterbalance the narrowing of the primary curfullsizeoutput_18riculum?

Thanks! I hope she enjoys it!

I do specifically state at the start that it is not a book about spelling or grammar, it’s about creative writing. I really want the creative process to feel accessible to everyone. It’s not that grammar and spelling aren’t important, but I want children to just enjoy writing without getting bogged down. In school visits I always explain how I’m not a fast writer, but that doesn’t stop me being an author.

The actual inspiration was because, like every author, I have shelves of “How to” guides which I’ve used to improve my writing skills and I noticed that for children there were either educational guides focussing on grammar or comprehension skills, or books filled with story prompts but no development of skills. Given the world is full of budding young authors, this struck me as bizarre, and so Creative Writing Skills was born.

I’m sure she’ll love it. I love to read my granddaughter’s stories and she is beginning to accept when I start to critique and talk through how she can improve it. She is a great reader and I always try to buy books as presents. The last one was by Katherine Rundall so I am interested that you heard her talk.

Are there any particular children’s authors who you admire and would like to emulate?

Them all! Actually, I would love to write comedy so if I could have got a few tips from Terry Pratchett that would have been amazing.

I read that selling books aimed at children is far more difficult than for adults. How do you find your audience?

Different rather than difficult. You don’t have much of an ebook audience but they devour paperbacks so the focus of activity changes. I love visiting schools and have a busy programme which definitely brings a platform. I’m also very chatty on social media and have connected with a lot of bloggers, parents and teachers there.

That’s interesting about the low ebook market. I need to spread my wings more. I’ve loved our conversation today. Good luck with the book.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog. Great questions!

Buying links

http://viewbook.at/CreativeWritingSkills

http://viewbook.at/EternalSeas

http://viewbook.at/WildSky

Giveaway

 To celebrate the publication of Wild Sky on 28th November, Lexi is running a competition to win The Relic Hunters series. You can enter here


https://kingsumo.com/g/dpaovz/the-relic-hunters-giveaway

Author bio:

 Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures and workbooks for children.

The Relic Hunters #1, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids and is currently long-listed for a Chanticleer award. The sequel, Wild Sky, is out on the 28th November.

She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.

In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.

Social media links:

Website https://lexirees.co.uk/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LexiAuthor/

Twitter https://twitter.com/lexi_rees

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lexi.rees/

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Koalas Become Effectively Extinct

That headline hit me first thing this morning. It was a  blow to the stomach. You may all have seen the footage last week of the woman saving a koala from the bush fires. Hearing it squeal with pain or fright was heartrending. One lucky animal, but thousands weren’t. Eighty per cent of their habitat has been destroyed in the current bush fires. What on earth are we doing to our planet?

Last year, I w2018 11 17_0443as so excited to visit the Healesville Animal Sanctuary in my favourite Yarra Valley. I have never had the time before but was determined to make it. It’s a great place to spend a day seeing the wonderful fauna of Australia.  It will be horrific if we can only see it in places like Healesville in the future. How many other animals died in those bushfires? While the koala is iconic, it’s just one species and all of them are special, because they exist nowhere else on earth.

No one can tell me that man is not responsible. Yes, there have been bushfires over millennia, but not on this scale and not so early in the season. The indigenous Australians lived there for 60,000 years, caring for the land, in tune with nature. EurDark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture by [Pascoe, Bruce]opeans have been there for 230 years. If you read the book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe it shows how well the First Peoples were managing and sustaining the land and using sustainable methods of cultivation. The introduction of sheep and cattle by the incoming white man and the clearing of the forests, which is still going on, has destroyed the delicate ecosystem. Rice and cotton take the much needed water from the Murray /Darling river sustem. More and more land is becoming desert.

Mildura is not in the outback. I was there again last year. I saw how there was no water in any of the gullies in springtime, how the ground looked bone dry but it was still green and the land south is beautiful farmland. This was the Murray river a year ago.2018 11 17_0694 Now imagine this beautiful river burning in temperature of over 40 degrees and the sky orange with thick dust from the desert. Air so thick that it makes it dangerous to breathe. Now read this article from the Guardian this week.

I wrote about the drought a hundred years ago in Sadie’s Wars. Yes, there has always been drought in the outback. That’s no excuse. The land cannot sustain the demands being put on it. Sheep farming has been disastrous for the native flora. After only three or four years of grazing the native grasses and yams began to die out. The aboriginals lost both land and their food sources as they were displaced. Their population dwindled though disease and. starvation and still no one has an answer to the problems created by the British invasion.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no political will to do anything. The economy is too dependent on coal and mining. The farmers and tourism industries are suffering but even their voices are being drowned out by the coal lobby. I despair for a country I have grown to love, for the wonderful people and the animal life being destroyed. Please wake up and do something.

 

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Chindi Celebrates its New Book

Our launch at The Swan Hotel in Arundel was a whopping success. We almost sold out of books and had a lovely time catching up with those who had contributed stories. The Swan made a fab’ cake with the book cover printed in icing and Beryl Kingston, our Chindi patron, said a fewCutting the cake encouraging words before cutting the cake with the editors of the book.  Beryl myself & Patricia Feinberg Stoner in front, with Julia Macfarlane and Angela Petch behind.

We are delighted that a Feast of Christmas Stories is now stocked in Heygate Books in Bognor Regis and Felpham Post Office. Next week it will be in Arundel Museum and shortly after at the Pier Road Gallery in Littlehampton where we have a reading and book signing planned for Saturday Nov 16th after 12.30.  One Tree Books in Petersfield have also taken some.

It’s great that this project has come to fruition after six months of hard work. Wimg_20191106_184042e are delighted that the review in Ingenue Magazine commended the book for the consistent high standard of writing in its recent review.

 

 

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