November 5, 2014

Space Cadets – recommended reading

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 12:19 pm

Books about teenagers in space.

  • Rites of Passage by Alexei Panshin
    In 2198, one hundred and fifty years after the desperate wars that destroyed an overpopulated Earth, Mia Havero’s Ship is a small closed society. It tests its children by casting them out to live or die in a month of Trial in the hostile wilds of a colony world.
  • Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
    2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets.
  • Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
    Ship hurtles through space. Deep within its core, it carries the seed of humankind. Launched by the people of a dying Earth over a century ago, its mission is to find a habitable world for the children – fifteen-year-old Zoheret and her shipmates – whom it has created from its genetic banks.
  • The Dancing Meteorite by Anne Mason
    On her space station Kira Warden is the only earthbound teenager – with the same emotions as humans had thousands of years ago. Her only friend is an alien teenager living in a sealed environment on the station whose own home planet has been destroyed.
  • Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold
    When Miles Vorkorsigan washes out of the Barrayaran Military Academy for being overly fragile he thinks his life is over but then Miles’s natural (if unorthodox) leadership qualities lead to a series of adventures.
  • This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger
    When Aurora’s parents decide to move to the Moon she doesn’t want to say goodbye to all the places and people she loves.
  • Paradises Lost by Ursula Le Guin
    A generation ship is half way through its voyage from Earth to a new planet.
  • Deepwater Black by Ken Catran
    In a desperate attempt before the end, all humanity’s resources are dedicated to a crash program to produce a deep space ark, capable of seeding humanity on a new world. The ship is crewed by six clones; teenage versions of people who achieved great works during the ark project and equipped with the memories of their donors.
  • The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
    The story of a young orphan who is discovered to have telepathic talents when her community is wiped out in a mudslide.
  • Earthsearch by James Follett
    Some years before the story opens, the huge Earth starship Challenger, on a mission to find Earth-like planets for colonization, encountered a meteoroid shower that killed all of the adult crew and seriously damaged the ship. The only human survivors were four babies – two boys, Telson and Darv, and two girls, Sharna and Astra. The four have been raised from childhood by androids and tutored by two disembodied voices called Angel One and Angel Two. Most of the humans believe the voices are real angels, but Darv is more suspicious and believes they are actually computers.

October 26, 2014

Spooky books for Halloween

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:55 pm

HalloweenCelebrating Halloween, here’s a list of spooky books for readers of various ages, to read under the covers with the lights turned up high. These are listed in rough order of the age range that I’d recommend these for, from juniors to middle grade, YA and adult.

  • Which Witch? by Eva ibbotson
    Arriman the Awful, feared Wizard of the North, has decided to marry. But his wife must be a wicked witch skilled in black magic. Belladonna desperately wants to be a wicked enchantress but her magic is hopelessly white. Terrence Mugg is an unattractive orphan with a worm for a pet. This lighthearted read is intended for junior shut has enough humour to keep adult readers engaged as well.
  • The Haunting of Cassie Palmer by Vivien Alcock
    Cassie is the seventh child of a seventh child and her medium mother expects supernatural powers from her. When Cassie experimentally tries to raise a spirit she accidentally raised the wrong one: a sinister man named Deverill.
  • Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr
    This was read to me when I was eight by by class teacher. Perhaps a bit spooky for some eight-year-olds but I loved it. Whatever Marianne draws with a magic pencil she visits in her dreams: a house, a boy, food and toys. But when, in fit of temper, she draws eyes on the stones surrounding the house, her dreams enter a new and terrifying phase.
  • Why Weeps the Brogan? by Hugh Scott
    Wed 4 Years 81 days from hostilities… so reads the clock in Central Hall. For Saxon and Gilbert, though, it is just another day in their ritualized indoor existence. Together they visit the Irradiated Food Store, guarding against spiders. Among the dusty display cases, however, a far more disturbing creature moves. What is the Brogan… and why does it weep? This book works a dark and mysterious way to a dark and devastating conclusion.
  • The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
    I fell in love this book when I was ten and dressed in black and called myself “Arha the Eaten One”. Arha is a child priestess serving the Nameless Ones in tombs under the earth. When a wizard arrives in the catacombs she confronts everything she had learned about herself, the gods and magic. This is an Earthsea novel but it stands alone.
  • The Owl Service by Alan Garner
    Alison and her brother Roger are spending their summer holidays in Wales. While ill in bed Alison hears noises from the attic above. Gwyn, a local boy, is sent to investigate and discovers a set of plates with a complex floral design around the edge of each piece. Alison discovers that when she traces the design and cuts it out, it can be folded into the shape of an owl. But each new paper owl disappears and so does the design from the plates. This novel builds the tension slowly but surely and its mystery has stayed with me since I first read it as a young preteen.
  • The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones
    The ghost knows she is one of four sisters, but which one? She also knows there’s been an accident. As she struggles to find her identity, she becomes aware of a malevolent force stirring around her. Something terrible is about to happen. One of the sisters will die – unless the ghost can use the future to reshape the past. But how can she warn them, when they don’t even know she exists? This is the Diana Wynne Jones book based the most closely on the author’s own peculiar family and is full of haunted echoes of her own past.
  • Transformations by Anne Halam
    This is the second book of a trilogy but it stands alone. Sirato, a child of a mining family, is endlessly criticised by her strict family. Her older teenage brother Holm is indulged in all sorts of whims. Then Zanne of Garth, a Covenanter known for her work to end the poisoned machines of the past, arrives in Minith she begins to uncover a twisted secret beneath the town’s stony exterior.
  • Del Del by Victor Kelleher
    This terrifying story of a child’s personality unravelling, told by his older sister, is one of the most sinister YA novels I have read.
  • Fade by Robert Cormier
    A story about a power of invisibility inherited through the generations and the malign effects it has on its possessors.

Little Witches Bewitched on KindleSpecial offer! Halloween 2014: Little Witches Bewitched, Rhiannon Lassiter’s novel for juniors is discounted by 80% on Kindle in the UK and the US. From 27 October to 3 November this set of short stories for junior and middle grade readers is discounted to £0.99 in the UK and $1.99 in the US.

Small, but brave.” – Ann Giles, The Book Witch

These stories are ideal for children who love dressing up, imagining curious castles and dreaming up magical shops.” – KM Lockwood, Serendipity Reviews

In the first story, Little Witches and the Trick-or-Treat-Trick, the heroines meet each other for the first time on Halloween. Dulcie’s au pair is a fashion student who has dressed her up as a modern witch – “occult casual” she calls it. Verity has lost the battle with her sisters for first choice from the dressing up box and ended up with pirate boots and a witches hat and broom. While out trick-or-treating they accidentally annoy a mysterious old woman who casts a spell on them Dulcie and Verity gain magic powers for real. In Little Witches and the Wandering Shop they work together to find a way to reverse the spell.

There are three more Little Witches stories in this collection. Little Witches and the Family Ghost is a ghost story which takes place in Dulcie’s grandfather’s stately home. Little Witches and the Cat Burglar is a crime story in which they meet a strange black cat. Little Witches Back in Time is a time-travel adventure in which they meet Shakespeare.

For more about the book visit the Little Witches book page.

October 22, 2014

Reading the reviews – a writer’s POV

Filed under: Advice for writers,things I read on the internet — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:35 am

I remember the first bad review I got. It was lengthy, completely negative but I don’t recall any specific critique of the book. it ended with the advice “Don’t read this book until you want a bad time with a bad book that you will hate”. Or words to that effect. It’s been a long time now and didn’t save the link. I remember thinking the tone was so vituperative that I wondered if the reviewer had something against me personally. Was it someone who I’d annoyed in some way?

And then I moved on. My books had got plenty of good reviews and there wasn’t much to be gained from this one. It never occurred to me to stalk the reviewer and demand an explanation. They didn’t like my book and had said so with gusto. When I don’t like a book I’m much the same. in book group, on my blog, in my reviews for Strange Horizons – I to explain why I don’t like a book, exactly what I felt didn’t work and why. For the more professional pieces I try to cut back on the hyperbole and stick to the facts, in venues like book group we compete to find the most scathing critique. But in any venue my reviews are only as good as my opinion. If you like the books I like you’ll love ‘We Were Liars‘ and loathe ‘Twilight’. Probably. There are exceptions to every rule.

I still read reviews of my books. Sometimes they’re helpful. I’ve found comments that point out there’s a curiously dated quality to some of my contemporary fiction which may come from the fact my great influences include Mahy and Wynne Jones who I read in the 80s. Reviewers are also furiously divided on whether Bad Blood is frightening. Some readers can’t read it at night. Others are bewildered by what’s supposed to be scary. Reviewers have pulled me up for problems with pace, for naming of characters, for too much exposition and muddled action. I’ve also had praise but this isn’t about that.

I try to respect those reviewers and to learn from their critique. Some comments I can discard, confident that the reviewer didn’t get what I was going for or has made a mistake. One book was criticised as too derivative of one of my mother’s works – a book published five years after mine! Others I have to ponder. Was the action muddled? Could it have been improved? Almost certainly.

The thing is that you don’t get to rewrite an existing book. Love it or hate it, that book is done. The only possible response to critique is to address it in your next work. To work on your pacing or your endings or your sense of place and space. This is called honing your craft.

And although every writer knows the lure of procrastination and the terror of the empty page, obsessing over the personalities and identities of your reviewers is not a useful way to spend your time. If you find yourself being sucked into a dark place in response to critique use that in your fiction (Tim Dowling’s The Giles Wareing’s Haters’ Club is a good example of this) but back away from the internet for your own sake and sanity.

September 13, 2014

Mysteries, secrets and lies – recommended reading

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 10:27 am

We Were Liars is the best book I’ve read this year. I have been recommending it all this week and it’s also made me think about how many books I enjoy are mysteries. In its honour, here are ten recommended mystery novels.

  • We Were Liars by E Lockhart
    Could be read as YA or an adult novel. The heroine knows something terrible has happened but can’t grasp what or why, the answer must lie in at the summer vacation home where she lost her memory two summers ago.
  • Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
    Intensely creepy thriller about a women with a rare form of amnesia which has erased her short term memory and she has to rebuild her identity each day, but can she trust what she learns?
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    Margaret goes visits bestselling author Vida Winter, intrigued by her collection of twelve stories confusing named ‘Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation’. The thirteenth tale is wrapped around the mystery of Vida’s own life and the disturbed twins Emmeline and Adeline March. Vida must be one of the twins to know their family secrets so well – but which one? Is she protecting someone else or her own deeds.
  • Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine
    This is one of my favourite Barbara Vine novels. Asta’s book is a diary bequeathed ultimately to Asta’s granddaughter Ann after the death if her aunt Swanny. The diary is well known by that stage, a bestseller translated into multiple languages, but could it hold the key to a mysterious murder and a lost child? As Ann unravels the mystery of the diary and the murder together, she learns surprising and uncomfortable facts about herself and her family.
  • Dead Famous by Ben Elton
    Ben Elton is very clever in the way he weaves his plots. In this novel, set on the stage of a Big Brother style reality TV show, you don’t even know who has been killed until a third of the way through the book – and there remain the mysteries of how a murder could have been committed in full view of the public and the identity of the killer.
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
    The beginning of this novel is one of the most sinister and mysterious I’ve read. At doesn’t seem like a detective story but a supernatural one and that mood is retained throughout the novel.
  • The Dark Room by Minette Walters
    Heiress Jane “Jinx” Kingsley wakes up from a coma after what appears to be a suicide attempt. She’s been jilted by her fiancé, who has since disappeared together with Jinx’s best friend Meg. With the help of Dr Alan Protheroe of the Nightingale Clinic she tries to recover the truth from her shattered memories and night time terrors.
  • The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    This narrative is told in the sequence that makes sense for parts – but not all- of the story. Throughout it is a sense of lurking danger and dread. Henry’s time travel leaves him so very vulnerable and we know that a tragedy is coming while the details remain obscure.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tart
    Long before The Goldfinch we all knew Donna Tart for this novel. Richard arrives at Hampden College, a poor Californian student who is quickly seduced by the charismatic classics students and their Professor. Desperate to be a part of the group, he misses the signs that will lead to more than one a brutal murder.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    Laura Chase is dead and her one novel ‘The Blind Assassin’ has a huge cult following. Only her sister Iris knows what really happened when she and Laura were children and how the novel came to be.

September 8, 2014

Influences

Filed under: growing up,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:28 am

There’s a “10 books that have influenced me” meme going around on Facebook at the moment. I feel that I’ve done this before but possibly at live events rather than online, so for posterity, here are mine.

The Changeover, Margaret Mahy
This book is in the genre I like best, “realist magicism” as I call it, set in the real world but with the supernatural creeping in around the edges. Its mixture of magic, romance, and horror was exactly what I loved as a teenager and I still love it today.

Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones
I could have picked over half Diana’s books as influences but I’ve chosen this one because of how very funny it is. Seven sorcerer megalomaniacs are secretly running the town and using Howard’s family in their plots and schemes. But the joy of it is in the comedic chaos of the story.

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
All the romance of living in a castle tempered with the realism of its discomforts, together with a plot about books, about realism, loyalty and betrayal.

The Dancing Meteorite, Anne Mason
I loved this book so much, I must have read it a hundred times, but no one ever name checks it except me. An SF novel with a heart, reminiscent of Louise Lawrence.

DragonSong, Anne McCaffrey
As an adult I am less attached to Anne McCaffrey but I still think that the three Menoly novels are her best Pern fiction, perhaps because they are at one remove from the dragons at the centre of the series and deal with characters who are less powerful and influential than the dragon riders.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
There’s something about the family domesticity of this book, dated as it is, that rings completely true. Jo’s fury with Amy when her sister wrecks her book, Meg’s overdoing the makeup and borrowed clothes, Amy’s contraband limes. I still reread this and its sequels and find things I didn’t notice as a child and a teenage reader. Now I understand why Jo chose to marry as she did.

The Weathermonger, Peter Dickenson
Post apocalyptic before it was trendy, I loved this book so much that I said when I grew old enough to have my own cats I’d name them Shadow and Ghost after the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and Ghost that appear only briefly in this plot.

Sister Light Sister Dark, Jane Yolen
A clever format which casts doubt upon the story’s reliability, an invented mythology and world, and an original and inventive magic system.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
At age ten I was obsessed with this book. I identified more with Tom than Huck who is only a cameo character int his book. Tom’s world with its litter of treasured items is seductive: the doorknob he gives a s a love token, the marbles he trades for coloured tickets, the miscellaneous found treasures and trash – that’s what I loved about this book. I even had my own hoard of similar items kept in a cigar box in true Sawyer style.

Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt
A more modern family narrative than Little Women and a much more powerful drama. This book and its many sequels are contemporary writing at its best. The characters are contradictory, not falling neatly into any stereotype, and committed to each other with a strong family bond.

August 29, 2014

Discounted eBook of Roundabout

Filed under: eBooks,Roundabout,special offer — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 9:30 am

Roundabout

Roundabout

Starting today the eBook of Roundabout has been discounted to just £2.99 That’s 41% off!

Buy it here from Amazon.

When a secret deal is made to turn Traveller land into a roundabout, tensions run high. Gwen, Carly, Magda, Tess and Jo each have a piece of the puzzle and as their stories intertwine they learn more than they expect about themselves and their community.

What secret is Magda’s boyfriend hiding? Why does Tess keep getting into fights? Is Gwen’s boss really flirting with her? How can Carly get the others to listen? Where does Jo go when she can’t be found?

As the plot thickens and tempers fray, the girls are swayed by bonds of love and hate; ties of envy and admiration; and divided loyalties between where they come from and where they wish to go.

“This is a beautiful book that you’ll remember forever”
– Mizz magazine 2006

April 12, 2014

Fascinating families

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:05 am

Earlier this year I read Brideshead Revisited for the first time and to be honest, I was disappointed. I’d heard it was a classic story about someone falling in love with a family. Perhaps the problem was that I didn’t fall in love with the characters or find them fascinating at all. Here are some recommended books which made fall in love with the fascinating family portrayed.

  • The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
    Based on Mitford’s own eccentric upbringing and full of her quick wit and laconic style. After reading this I read everything Mitford I could get my hands on.
  • The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
    Set during the Second World War, this follows the stories of five cousins who we meet on holiday at their aunt and uncle’s house, known for its camomile lawn, about to take part in ‘The Terror Run’, a night time race along a cliff path. Oliver, Calypso, Polly, Walter and Sophy and their friends and relations are followed through the course of the war as they grow in unexpected directions.
  • Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido
    The first of a multi branching narrative but it entirely stands alone. Katherine is introduced by her Professor Jacob Goldman to his family and falls for the beautiful slim and serious Roger with an embroidered butterfly on the back pocket of his jeans. But the whole family fascinates Katherine and she becomes over invested in their lives and struggles to find her own independent self.
  • A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh
    An Inspector Alleyn detective story but one in which Alleyen falls into the background behind the brilliant and eccentric Lampreys who treat murder like a parlour game and admit openly how ridiculous they are.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
    An artistic family rents a dilapidated castle and when new neighbours move, Cassandra’s sister Rose is ready to fall in love with the eligible older son. As Cassandra narrates the budding romance she tries to ignore her own worries. But is Rose really in love or just pretending because she wants what love will bring her.
  • The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy
    Ariadne “Harry” Hamilton is quiet and owlish, a quiet seventeen-year-old, overshadowed by glamourous older sister Christabel. Christmas in New Zeland is a beach holiday for the family at Carnivale’s Hide: one with unexpected guests, three of whom resemble characters from Harry’s novel. This magical realist novel is firmly rooted in the story of family relationships.
  • Wise Children by Angela Carter
    The dancing Chance sisters are illegitimate children of the theatrical royalty Hazard family. The song-and-dance girls tap dance their way through the family’s fortunes and disasters.
  • The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones
    This is the one of Diana’s novels based the most closely on her wn eccentric family. But which of the four girls we meet is the ghost? Unravelling the mystery is essential to surving their childhood.
  • Ballet Shoes by Noël Streatfeild
    The three adopted Fossil sisters have to train for the stage in order to make a living and vow to revive the family fortunes. Pauline is an actress and Posy is a dancer’s daughter but Petrova the middle sister only just tolerates her dancing for the sake of the family.
  • Out of the Ordinary by Annie Dalton
    Molly writes a mock advert for ‘Quests Undertaken’ and finds herself and the family foster children drawn into the magical mystery of a very strange child.

March 27, 2014

Bologna 2014

Filed under: Bologna — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:03 pm
Bologna entrance

Rhiannon at the entrance to the Bologna book fair 2014

In March 2014 an invincible team was formed. Four authors embarked on a journey to Italy and the Bologna children’s book fair. Lucy Coats, Frances Hardinge, Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter teamed up to travel together and explore the fair, sharing news of the hot new titles, the road to Moomin Land, delicious meals and dazzling parties.

Fairy Tales for Writers

Fairy Tales for Writers

We arrived, as usual, on a flight crammed full of publishing people. Everyone had a book or an eReader – of course. What proof copies and MS drafts were they catching up on? We were recognised at once as authors because of the infamous Hardinge hat – spotted between the seat backs. At Bologna airport we claimed our luggage with Lucy’s awesome powers of luggage summoning and detached ourselves from the crowd swarming towards the taxi queue to take the much cheaper bus direct to our hotel. There we ran into fellow traveller Lawrence Schimel (one of the talented contributors from Lines in the Sand) who gave us our first (and best) fair freebie: copies of the newest title from A Midsummer Night’s Press: Fairy Tales for Writers.

At the hotel we checked in and then went at once for dinner at Trattoria Del Rosso – a restaurant Mary and I found years ago and is now our go to place for dinner at the fair. While we were there we picked up a brilliant guide to more restaurants complete with which ones had vegetarian options – perfect for our group since 3/4 of us are veggie. I always have the gnocchi. Delizioso!

The next morning we bought our bus tickets and headed on the bus to the fair. There was the obligatory pause on arrival for each writer/blogger to take the photo that proves we were there. Every author knows if you don’t take your own camera you can’t be sure you’ve got the shot so we rotated in turn to capture each other on our different devices. Then we headed in.

Bee ware!

Bee ware!

There’s always so much to see and do at Bologna. There are familiar faces and sudden surprises – like the moment that Frances and I met a live size bee. I’d told Frances of a previous fair’s encounter with a Moomin so was pleased to see the fair was well on form in this respect. Over the next few days we wandered the halls between our appointments and visited a Moomin exhibition, listened to talks in the Authors’ Cafe, and ran into people we recognised or who recognised us. David Fickling didn’t have a stand but he had an impressive new catalogue of titles which he talked us through at a coffee bar, we caught up with Gili Bar-Hillel just after having captured three seats at the bottom of an escalator and talked Diana Wynne Jones together, we saw Rebecca Nally for a chat about digital media and listened to Julia Eccleshire interviewing a digital media honcho in the Digital Cafe.

Barringtonstoke Party

Rhiannon Lassiter, Lucy Coats, Fiona Bradbury, Linda Newbery and Mary Hoffman

Later we caught up with the publishing students of Oxford Brookes University who got a run down of the fair from Mary and I met up with my publishing assistant Fiona and took her along to the Barrington Stoke party where we were welcomed with Prosecco and nibbles by our lovely hosts. Within instants authors were appearing on all sides and we took a picture with Linda Newbery while discussing Armadillo articles.

Another notable meetings was with Sarah Towle who was touting her “Time Traveler Tours & Tales” digital media initiative and with whom we spent a great time at a dinner full of more delicious vegetarian food. We paid another visit to the Digital Café to watch the Brookes student presentation and met Frances’ delightful editor who turned out to be another vegetarian and who joined us for dinner at a vegetarian meatball restaurant. I lunched with Fiona Kenshole formerly of Laika and now representing the Transatlantic Agency and a meeting with Bethany Buck of my US publishers where we talked about the eBook of VOID (the republished Hex trilogy bindup) – hopefully releasing soon.

The Boy with the Tiger's Heart

The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart

I’m probably forgetting other encounters and meetings, Bologna is always such a mad rush around the place. Lucy was worn out by her partying and had to be fed the breakfast of champions to revive her. She and Mary were writing up the fair for different publications as well as selling their own books. Unlike some previous fairs I was not a dedicated party crasher – besides I had a book to read: Slated by Teri Terry -catching up here on the first of a successful trilogy. Lucy and I also had a chat about the posthumous Diana Wynne Jones novel and whether one can see the join where her sister finished the text. We’d both bought it as eBook rather than physical copies for the first time ever because we weren’t quite sure we’d like it. I’m still not sure, my feelings about Diana’s later work are complex.

Everyone was talking about their book of the fair. My favourite book cover of the fair was The Boy with The Tiger’s Heart. I also noted some books to check out later: The Case of the Missing Moonstone: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency by Jordan Stratford, Hacked by Tracy Alexander and bemoaned yet again that Licia Troisi’s books still don’t have english translations.

As always Bologna is over in a flash, and all the publishing people pack themselves back on to the plane home. I’d travel with Lucy every time since her luggage karma is awesome. Now to follow up on the meetings, contacts, plots and plans of the fair…

February 7, 2014

§¥<@¶!ñ& in YA fiction

Filed under: bloggery,things I read on the internet — Tags: — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:24 pm

I was absolutely sure I’d written about this before but the closest I seem to have come is a post on Banned Books Week. That time, in a metatextual sort of moment, I got a comment from someone saying “great post but I can’t link to it because you used the f-word”. So, prompted by this article in the Telegraph, here’s some new thoughts on swearing.

Firstly, I’m going to note that personally really dislike the term “potty-mouthed” which I find more viscerally unappealing than many more pleasantly evocative profanities. There’s something very juvenile about the term, associating swearing with the sort of term you’d use to rebuke a toddler. “Foul-mouthed” would annoy me less and even better would have been a title that referred to the more neutral “swearing”.

So, on to the subject matter, Martin Chilton thinks the swearing in When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan is “overwhelming… and troubling”. Chilton describes Conaghan as “a Dublin-based teacher” which may well be true but in his production of this book Conaghan is a writer – was the use of the word teacher intended to indicate that the author has an educational duty not to include swear words in his fiction? I’d imagine teachers know better than most people what words are current on the playground.

Having said “swearing in Young Adult fiction is a controversial and complex issue” I felt Chilton didn’t really engage with that issue at all. Let’s be clear, the vast majority of children’s and YA fiction have nothing that even approaches a swearword. I will have to dig out the list of replacements for swear words in my most recent book but they included instances of “bloody”, “arse” and “hell”. These are not the high ticket items in the world of profanity but every one of them was queried by the publishing company who, as always, use the argument that you won’t sell to book clubs or to the US if you have swear words in your novel.

Some authors are allowed to swear. (If you’re one of them, please comment!) Melvin Burgess is one of them. And if you are a gritty realist author writing about urban youth then if your book gets published you’ll probably be allowed to swear in it. But for the vast majority of authors, swearing is off the table. Chilton’s right that Bloomsbury’s decision to keep swearing an integral part of When Mr Dog Bites is a “marketing gimmick” – but marketing, rights and sales will have discussed this very thoroughly with editorial before positioning the book as one of the few in which swearing is permitted.

Any debate about swearing in YA needs to take account of the fact that there are comparatively few books in the market which include swearing, even though this forms a part of British teen argot. We need to avoid a suggestion that swearing automatically equals a bad book and the lack of it a good book.

You shouldn’t view the language as separate from the theme or setting of the book. JK Rowling used a rather dated private schoolboy slang in her bestselling Harry Potter series, which worked because of the quasi 19th century setting of much of the wizarding world and because it had its own internal consistency. Although the use of the word “git” did become somewhat monotonous.

Chilton admits that “sanitised fiction is not the answer”, that there are many fine YA titles without swearing and recommends Anne Cassidy’s latest work which I haven’t read yet but is a sequel to Looking for JJ which I have read and would recommend. But he disrecommends When Mr Dog Bites and, aside from the swearing, in approximately a thousand words of text doesn’t explain why – apart from the fact it has a lot of swearing. Which, by the way, the article also has – and the Telegraph have slapped a “frequent use of strong language” notice on it.

Chilton says age banding is subject on which “authors, publishers and librarians have not been able to agree” and proposes a parental advisory certificate system instead. But he doesn’t give any detail on controversies of 2008 when age banding was first proposed for children’s fiction and librarians and authors including Philip Pullman came out together as against the plan. Two years ago GP Taylor suggested that parental advisories might be needed and that YA fiction had gone too far in its exploration of darker themes but Patrick Ness and Charlie Higson strongly disagreed in a debate that spread from BBC breakfast news to Twitter.

Swearing, dark themes, explicit content and illegal activities all need to be seen within the context of the text. One publishing company gradually removed first the use of drugs by teenagers, then underage smoking, then finally underage drinking from a scene in one of my books. Given that the scene in question was a party that got out of control and for which the attendees were punished, removal of these elements created knock-on effects for the rest of the narrative. Not that I’m saying all use of these elements in a work of fiction should be moralistic and result in punishment for those involved. But given that teen readers don’t inhabit a physical world in which they can or should be shielded from the realities of 21st century life, it’s important that some fiction is available to them that reflects the world in which we live.

As a sheltered eleven-year-old it was a shock for me to arrive in a large and alarming secondary school in which my contemporaries used language and expressions which even now as an adult I would not feel comfortable repeating. As an avid reader, more realism in my YA fiction would have helped me bridge that gap. As a new minted university student I embraced some swear words and rejected others. Now as a late 30s professional I try to avoid profanity with mixed success (especially when cycling!).

But as an author, I would like to be able to include swearing in my contemporary fiction and let my readers decide themselves what they think. At present gatekeepers like bookshop and book club buyers and the unpopularity of swearing in the US (and by extension commissioning editors who must consider this market) all mean that it’s rare to find YA fiction that includes any profanity. If parents really feel they need to introduce gatekeepers into the process then I recommend reading the (increasingly dwindling) reviews of YA in the press or – better yet – read the books themselves and then use any contentious issue to start a discussion. You don’t need to read everything your child or teenager reads – but books aren’t objects smuggled in and out of the house unless you’ve created a climate of censorship and distrust.

And it doesn’t take a book to start a discussion – although they are great jumping off points for one. If you have a teen, try asking them how much the kids at their school swear and what they think of it. Does it make them uncomfortable or envy the bravery or insouciance of those that do? Do they think it makes a difference if you are using swearing as punctuation among your friendship group or letting rip in anger to someone who’s dissed you? Would they swear to you? Perhaps you belong to a household that swears broadly and freely and these questions seem amazingly out of touch…

But, while you’re at it, please also ask them if they think swearing in books is stronger content than zombies eating your face or the sexual dalliances of vampires?

(I’d like to hear from any YA authors who use swearing in their books and what they use so if you care about such things please note that could be explicit content and reference to adult themes in the comments to this post.)

February 4, 2014

Designing your own book covers

Filed under: self publishing,things I read on the internet — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:00 pm

Self-designed front cover for Roundabout

Self-designed front cover for Roundabout

Publishers Weekly has a post on How to Design an Indie Book Cover. Ron Pramschufer, owner of author consulting service Self Publishing Inc, recommends hiring a professional designer and that you should pay no more than a couple of hundred pounds.

Ron’s point about the value of professional expertise shouldn’t be under-estimated. Producing your own self-published book requires a wide set of skills and you may simply not have any design expertise.

But one of the big issues of self-publishing is Return On Investment (ROI). When you don’t know what the likely returns are a few hundred pounds on design may be more than you feel able to invest in design. So for those who are doing it themselves: here’s my advice about how to do that.

Copyright free images

There is a vast bank of free images available on the internet. You can search for these via the creative commons portal. Or you can search by going to google image search and clicking on the “search tools” tab and then “usage rights” which allows you to search by the various categories of copyright.

You can use these search functions to find strong images that relate to the themes of your book. Always click through to the high resolution version of the image and check what the creator has said explicitly about use. It’s also courteous to let an artist or photographer know how they have used the image how.

Image placement and bleed

You need a cover image that will fill the exact space on the front of a print-on-demand or kindle book. When designing your cover there are templates you can download for standard sizes of books. You need an image that is high resolution (at the very least 300dpi) and so will reproduce well in print. You also need to place that image on your cover template so that it has space and more to fit. The ideal image will overlap the edges of your template a bit – this is called “bleed”. If your image isn’t large enough for the front cover some indie authors fill up the empty space with a border or a black section (particularly common in space covers on SF books). Avoid doing this. It looks as though you couldn’t find a big enough image and people will be able to tell – especially in series fiction if some books have a full page front cover and others have a smaller one.

Self-designed cover for Waking Dream

Self-designed cover for Waking Dream

Fonts and placement of title and author name text

If you visit the Amazon website and look at Kindle books online, you’ll find a lot of self created book covers. The science fiction and fantasy section is full of them. I can always tell the self published books straight away and one reason is the fonts. You don’t have to be a designer to memorise and keep to a few simple rules about fonting and the placement of the title and author text on your book cover.

  • Use rulers to place the text, all professional graphics programmes have them. Give yourself adequate margins and centre the text between them. If you’re not centering the text take extra care to place it somewhere that makes sense visually.
  • Sans serif fonts are more typical for book covers. If you have a reason to use a decorated font or one with serifs avoid Times New Roman which looks amateurish. Also, avoid popular sans serif font Comic Sans which also looks amateur.
  • Provide a good colour contrast. The ideal is black text on a white background. If your text overlaps the image then you need to place it in a colour-consistent area so it can be read easily. If you’re using black text on a part white and park grey background half of it will not show up well.
  • Don’t use the word “by”, professional books just have the title and author
  • Keep series looking the same, keep the series over title, the individual book title and the author name in the same place throughout the series

General comments

It’s hard for me to say every aspect that makes a cover look amateur although I have a good hit rate of identifying them. If you’d like some savage critique of your own cover design feel free to post a link in the comments but be advised that I don’t soft peddle my opinions! I’m still working on my own designs and I seek feedback myself. For any professional work you need to be able to take criticism especially in any element that could make you look amateur.

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