Posted By Jacob Hope,
30 July 2019
Updated: 01 August 2019
We are delighted to welcome Tariq Mehmood to guest blog about his latest young adult novel, You're Not Here and to discuss the gaps in the publishing market and how he came to write this.
'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.' Maya Angelou,
When I was in my teens, I was homeless in Bradford and always hungry. In those days the Central Library opened 9am-9pm. It had a cafe where my friends often fed me. I spent all day in the library browsing through all sorts of books. I read John Locke and David Hulme, and many other writers who often I didn't even understand. I usually found comfort in the world of fiction of Tolstoy, Harding and others, but felt something amiss in this. It would take me 30 years to realise what this really was: I was fictionally invisible, as were my stories and those of my friends.
In 1981, along with eleven others, I was imprisoned falsely on charges of terrorism in a case that was known as the Bradford 12. We were all acquitted.
If convicted I was looking at two life sentences, plus 14 years. I desperately wanted to leave a record of my story behind, and started write my first novel, Hand On The Sun, whilst in prison. I completed it whilst on bail and sent it to Penguin who published it in 1983. At the time of writing the novel, I didn't understand anything about the tools of fiction, such as character, tension or pacing. I didn't even have an 'O' level in English, and besides I am dyslexic.
Three decades later, I'd had children of my own and as they were growing up, I realised that the world of children's literature was all but white . I began to publish some illustrated books for them, which would eventually lead to me publishing my first YA novel You're Not Proper. Most of us writers don't really know what will happen with our novel if ever we actually finish it. I was lucky and entered the manuscript for the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices in Children's Fiction Award, which the novel won in 2013. This is set in a Northern English town seething with Islamophobia, where two young girls struggle to find out who they are. I tried to address issues of love, loss, war, racism, tolerance and Identity all with a generous sprinkling of Northern English humour.
Some time after the publication of You're Not Proper, I met a white woman in Manchester, who was vociferously opposed to the 'War On Terror' and had campaigned against it. She was distraught. Her son had joined the British Army and was due to go to Afghanistan. My next novel, You're Not Here, is a squeal to You're Not Proper. In this novel the characters are older, and looks at how the effect of the never ending war working class communities. In this story, one brother goes missing in action in Afghanistan, whilst the other falls in love with an Afghan girl in England. The story is told through Jake, a white boy, the son of an ex-soldier. Jake's love, Leila comes from the same village in Afghanistan where his brother goes missing. This novel tries to bring the war out there, is connected to the strife back home. I really enjoyed writing this novel, as it allowed me not only to deal with complex issues of the infiltration of the British Army by Far Right groups, but also into new depth of working class humour – something I grew up with, and continues to put a smile on my faces in the dark and dreary times.
I thought I would tell you about the Celebration Event that we had last week for the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. This was held at the Ricoh Arena with thanks to the Wasps Rugby Club whose sponsorship makes this possible. It is a great afternoon when the schools who have taken part get to meet the winning authors. and illustrators and present them with their awards. There are 5 categories, each starting off with 8 shortlisted books that get whittled down week by week as the books with the least votes get knocked out until we have our winner. What's the Story (ages 4-7) was won by Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins for the hilarious picture book Baby’s first Bank Heist. Telling Tales (ages 7-9) was won by the brilliantly comic Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith. Next was out transition category, Hooked on Books (ages 9-12), which crosses over from the top end of Primary into the first couple of years of Secondary was won by the fantastic House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Our final 2 categories are for Secondary Schools only with the winner of the Simply the Book category (13+) being the amazing Sycthe by Neal Shusterman. lthough Neal couldn’t be here for the celebration event as he lives in America many of our students were lucky enough to meet him back in December when he came to Coventry as part of a very short UK visit. Our final category is for all those teenagers who are short on time, Rapid Reads, quick read books for ages 11-16. This was won by Ann Evans for her scary book A Little Secret. It was a brilliant afternoon with a wonderful buzz of excitement and enthusiasm as a room full of students of all ages talked about their favourite books and checked out new recommendations.
It is hard work running the book awards on top of all our usual School Library Service work and we have already announced out shortlists for next year so it is a year round operation! However, it is all worth it when you read the comments left by the students at the Celebration Event. Here are a couple of my favourites; “Every Book was amazing and has inspired me to read”, “I loved this event and look forward to more in other years” and “The Book Awards has drawn me more into reading”. As children's librarians it is important to remember that what we do is important and can have a real impact on children's lives so we should shout about it more often and loudly. If you are lucky enough to have a local children's book awards then find out how you can get involved as together with National Book Awards like the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals they are a wonderful way of introducing children and young people to a wide range of wonderful books which they might not come across on their own. By doing so you increase the chances of them finding the book that speaks to them and switches them on to reading with pleasure. This is how you help to create lifelong readers which is something all librarians aspire to.
Discovering that Narinder was a devoted fan of Enid Blyton was a thrill. Narinder has a fantastic knack of introducing humour into unlikely situations, which I knew would be perfect in a Malory Towers story. I wanted to see girls from diverse backgrounds created by authors from an ‘own voices’ perspective in our new book, and Narinder has incorporated this in a brilliant way. Alex Antscherl
When I was asked to contribute a story to New Class at Malory Towers, I said yes straightaway. I didn’t even have to think about it. Enid Blyton was one of my childhood favourites, although being a precocious reader – like many authors – I’d raced through pretty much all of her books by age eight. I hadn’t re-read the books since then, but I’d lived through the Blyton controversy when her literary merits – or lack of them – and her attitudes to class, race and sex were endlessly debated. Whether she was in favour or not, I’d always had a sneaky admiration for just how very prolific she was, the way she handled different genres of fiction with ease.
Maybe I should have thought more about how to approach writing a new Blyton story. I didn’t. I simply re-read the original six Malory Towers books, then plunged straight in. I’d absolutely forgotten just how laugh-out-loud funny they are, and that was a feature I definitely wanted to keep. I had no particular qualms about recreating Blyton’s style. It’s spare and clear – OK, perhaps a little too spare at times as details are glossed over to keep up the pace – but my main concern was to maintain the integrity of iconic characters such as Darrell, Alicia and Mam’zelle Dupont. I think the characters are the backbone of these stories. All of them are flawed in some way – for example, Darrell and her hot temper – and although the portrayal of Mam’zelle sometimes threatens to tip over into caricature, it’s her warm, upbeat, kindly character that keeps her real.
The plots of the original stories are often very much of their time, and I wanted my story to be something that Blyton herself might have considered writing – an Indian princess in disguise becomes a pupil at Malory Towers! The postmodern, feminist twist on this scenario is my own. Whether Enid Blyton would approve, I don’t know, but it was a joy to breathe new life into these well-loved characters.
With a new collection of four stories from Enid Blyton's popular Malory Towers series, we are delighted that editorial director of Enid Blyton Entertainment has written a guest blog about the series. Look out for upcoming features with authors Rebecca Westcott and Narinder Dhami about their stories in the book.
Boarding-school stories are an enduringly popular genre. The absence of parents and the close-knit communities created in dorms, classrooms and sports fields make it a perfect setting for children’s authors to explore. The Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer were a success from their first publication in 1925 and Angela Brazil’s books had been popular for two decades by then. Enid Blyton had already written The Naughtiest Girl in the School in the early years of the Second World War when her publisher at Methuen suggested she write other stories in the genre, set in a more conventional girls’ school. Enid Blyton’s First Term at Malory Towers was published in 1946 and she wrote five further books about the school, with the last one being published in 1951. Enid drew on events related to her by her then teenaged daughters, who were boarders at Benenden School, as well as recollections of her own schooldays. Knowing her (second) husband was called Kenneth Darrell Waters and was a doctor, we can see the origins of Darrell Rivers’ name and her father’s profession.
Malory Towers books sold 350,000 copies in English alone in 2018, so we know they still have huge numbers of fans. With a theatre production and a major children’s TV adaptation on the way, Malory Towers is about to be introduced to an even wider audience. When these potential new readers turn to the books, I want them to be instantly drawn in by covers that will appeal to the savvy young girls of 2019. Our brief to the illustrator Pippa Curnick was to use her bright, distinctive style to illustrate girls from the 1940s and ’50s. There’s no pretence that these are contemporary books – no mobile phones or trendy rucksacks. But the new covers are as appealing and relatable now as the friendships and dramas in the plots.
And I felt that today’s readers deserved not just new covers but new stories too. It’s ten years since six extension titles were introduced to the series, following Darrell’s younger sister Felicity through her Malory Towers years. A new book would give journalists and bloggers a talking point, booksellers and librarians a reason to restock, and fans some irresistible new content. I wanted authors who would honour the atmosphere of the original books, introduce new characters from diverse backgrounds who would interact with the original characters, and give us something unique based on their own take on the world. In the next four blogs I look forward to introducing these authors to you as they tell you how they approached this unusual commission.
Remembering and celebrating the life and work of Jan Mark
Earlier this year I noticed a flurry of activity on Twitter from admirers of the late, great Jan Mark. She twice won the Carnegie Medal, for Thunder and Lightnings (recently reissued by its original publisher, Penguin Books) and Handles, and was shortlisted or runner-up for many other awards with a host of wonderful titles including Trouble Half-Way, The Eclipse of the Century, They Do Things Differently There and Turbulence. I could go on. Jan wrote over 70 books, after all.
Now, I think about Jan Mark all the time. As well as being a favourite author, she was a good friend. (She did friendship as well as she wrote, which is to say, exceptionally.) I’ve always dipped back into her work for a shot of laughter or a gasp of truth about human nature in her typically sardonic, laconic way. She viewed her short stories as her best work and perhaps they were. It takes no time to read one of the ten tales in the classic collection Nothing to Be Afraid Of but the effect of each short story stays with you long after you’ve finished it.
Not every book can remain in print; not every writer can be remembered. So it was deeply satisfying to know that other people were reading Jan, too, and that she means as much to them as she does to me.
A lot of them had met her. In addition to publishing two novels a year (plus picture books and young readers), she’d criss-cross the country, armed with the National Rail Timetable, visiting schools and teaching colleges, encouraging a love for reading and writing in the young and not-so-young. There are a lot of writers out there today who wouldn’t be practising their craft if it hadn’t been for Jan. They’ll be on prize shortlists for years to come.
Jan spent six years as a teacher before stopping to have a family. She probably would have started teaching again if she hadn’t won a one-off competition to find new writing talent in 1974. Instant, early success with Thunder and Lightnings (1976) led to readers’ hunger for more books so she spent the next six years solidly writing to generate a formidable backlist. She escaped her home office from 1982-84 to become writer-in-residence at Oxford Polytechnic – teaching, again – but didn’t stop writing, and continued with both right up until her sudden death, far too young, at the age of 62 in 2006. Jan was also active as a prominent book reviewer and judge for literary awards (for adults and children).
It’s true that there’s very little of her work in print now, but every year, as Jan’s literary executor, I’m notified by her committed agents at David Higham that someone, somewhere in the world wants to publish a new edition of one of her stories. And people are snapping up second-hand editions wherever they find them. I firmly believe there will more new publications to come in the future.
I wanted a place to bring these readers together – and to help new fans discover Jan’s work – which is why I’ve launched a website, janmark.net. To start with, I’ve published Jan’s own accounts of her writing experience. Not all writers like to talk about the inspirations behind their books or their processes, but Jan did, I know it helps to share them with readers, students and writers. But the website also contains memories of her fans and friends, who are spread throughout the world. There’s room for everyone to have a voice so if you’re a fan – or a new reader – so I really hope you will get in touch.
The Youth Libraries Group blog is delighted to be part of 'The Tunnels Below' blog tour. Celebrating the publication of a compelling new fantasy, here author Nadine Wild-Palmer talks about how a passion for libraries and working with children influenced her debut.
I discovered I had a real passion for working with children after university when I was hired by The House of Fairy Tales to travel around festivals with a caravan of creatives, running workshops that focused on creative storytelling, singing songs and immersive play. However, like so much of life this job was seasonal and I found myself needing and wanting to develop my skills in a more concrete way. I did a lot of soul searching and discovered I was missing a connection – Books! This was very much a eureka moment for me, I had spent my childhood writing and reciting poetry and making up languages so it made perfect sense to literally hit the books. I was going to embark on a mission to become a Children’s Librarian and that, is just what I did.
I applied for a part time job at St Nicholas Preparatory school (Part time because I still needed time off for writing) and the head teacher at the time - Jill Aisher – Invited me in for an interview. I remember discussing my love of books and children with her during the interview and that I was very keen to start writing my own books. I landed the job and I believe it was at this point that The Tunnels Below, although already deeply seeded in my mind began take roots. I was in an environment that was filled with thousands of doorways to different worlds all aimed at the people I was working with: Children. It was magical. I know now, that when you are conscious you are being given an opportunity, even though you don’t know where it might lead it is full of anticipation and this excited energy is what I used to create the world of The Tunnels Below.
However, once I actually started working with the children I discovered that what I thought about what made a good book, was more often than not at odds with what the children I was working with actually wanted to read. Despite already having a masters in Creative and Critical writing there is nothing like hands on experience to really highlight what you don’t know about your chosen field of study or your profession! I learnt a lot about language, illustration, style and subject matters from the children and the librarians I worked with. A big thank you to: Mrs Skipworth, Ms Pepper and Mr Bruce is deserved here, a trio of kind intelligent people who generously shared their wealth of knowledge with me and which, I have never forgotten.
Working in the library brought me back to the feeling of reverent calm that I had as a child walking to the local library in Balham. I’m grateful for that, especially when so many of our local Libraries are under threat.
After a year or so working in the Library the school and parents of St Nicholas presented me with an opportunity I could not refuse. I was commissioned me to write and illustrate my first children’s book for the Library and Chicken & Egg was born. The process of creating this book made me realise that I had more to say than a picture book would allow and that, although I was alright at drawing I was no illustrator. So I kept going back to The Tunnels Below, flashes of inspiration followed me around London until I had written the first four chapters at which time a chance meeting with my editor Sarah Odedina, flung the doors wide open.
However, I know, in my heart of hearts, that had I never spent the hours I did in the Library, I may never have been brave enough to write a book. I am dyslexic and dyspraxic and as a child I was a painfully slow reader (I am still pretty slow but I remember books in a lot of detail). Being back in a children’s library gave me a chance to catch up on the titles I couldn’t keep up with as a child, which gave me a chance to reconcile some of the negative feelings I harboured about books. Libraries have always evoked a sense of wonder in me but working as a Librarian in one showed me how much healing they can provide as well as how much magic they can work on a non-believer who needs reminding that they have the power within them too!
Many of you will know that the Youth Libraries Group has been looking at its governance and communication over the past year. We want to make sure that the group is best positioned to serve the needs of its members and has a stable future. As part of this, we have worked with multi award-winning illustrator Yu Rong in creating a new logo that reflects the work of the group and also includes our name in order that the role of the group can easily be acknowledged when working with partner organisations and on collaborative projects and events.
We are very excited to have had the chance to partner with Yu Rong. She was winner of the Quentin Blake Award for Narrative Illustration, Yu Rong's techniques combines the traditional craft of papercut from the Shaanxi Province of China, together with pencil sketches to create an immediately distinctive style that brings both depth and detail to her illustration. Yu Rong taught in a primary school and went on to study a BA in Chinese Painting and Contemporary Design before moving to the UK in 1997. Yu Rong has worked with the Youth Libraries Group to create a new logo that more directly eflects the aims of the group. We were delighted to work with an llustrator whose artistic style offers readers such a rich visual experience. We are also pleased that Yu Rong involved her ten year-old son in creating the lettering. This feels very much in keeping with the focus of the group. Yu Rong is currently illustrating 'Shu Lin's Grandpa' which will be published by Otter Barry Books in 2020.
"I become an illustrator, as a way to create an imaginative world based on the understanding and passion of the real world. I love children, I was a primary school teacher and was influenced by Quentin Blake when I studied at Royal College of Art. Working with Chinese publishers and publishers in West, gives the variety of the taste of different culture and of team spirit. Often I think people's life experience can easily be reflected in their art work, I do hope the readers can see the integration of my observation of West and East and that we are a big family living on the earth together."
The new YLG logo has been used for the first time in CILIP's new children's supplement 'Pen & Inc' the magazine and listing guide to promote diversity and inclusion in children's publishing. For more information and to see Yu Rong's stunning cover illustration please visit https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/penandinc
To mark National Libraries Week, Samantha Lockett recounts her experiences at the Youth Libraries Group conference. Samantha won the bursary kindly sponsored by Browns Books for Students. Her account is a powerful reminder of the importance of training and development within the profession.
The theme of this year’s Youth Libraries Group conference was Reading the Future. Sponsored by Enid Blyton Entertainment, it was a celebration of the old and new, looking back on childhood favourites – such as Blyton – while discussing how these can be reimagined for modern audiences. Alongside the nostalgia, there was a sense of immediacy, an awareness that children’s fiction, literacy and libraries must be fought for. The conference explored many of the key issues in contemporary children’s fiction – such as the rights and representation of women, the need for diverse and inclusive books and the promotion of empathy. Throughout the conference, authors, panelists, poets and publishers stressed the importance of reading for pleasure. Reading may not be an instant joy to all children, but with enough support it can become one.
Within minutes of arriving at the Mercure hotel, I found myself part of a group marching towards Central Library in the torrential Manchester rain. As a visitor to the city, I had only ever ducked into the library, too intimidated by the grand architecture and swish café to do more than browse the gift shop. The tour was an eye-opening experience, giving us backstage (backstacks?) access to the many hidden wonders of the library, including the restoration room and archives. As you might expect from a collective of children’s librarians, we were reluctant to move on from the Children’s Library with its delightful Secret Garden theme, but with lunch imminent we said goodbye to Central Library and headed back. The conference was about to begin.
That first day, I overheard somebody say, ‘Only the YLG!’. As I watched the opening courtroom skit – three librarians dressed in wigs and gowns, interrogating a series of witnesses, including Anthony McGowan and Non Pratt, about what makes a reader, I could understand why. Only at the YLG Conference. As the weekend went on, it became my internal refrain. Ginger beer cocktails? Only the YLG. A midnight feast? Only the YLG. A lollipop shaped like the decapitated head of Frankenstein’s monster? Only the YLG! One of the things I most enjoyed about the conference was that it encouraged people to have fun, to be a little silly. The poet Matt Goodfellow got an entire room of bookish people to act out his poem Chicken on the Roof. Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre had us in hysterics as they led a group drawing session of Kevin, the flying pony hero of their new book. Audience participation – one of the most feared phrases in the English language – was met with applause. What wizardry was this?!
With such a jam-packed programme, I was worried about sensory overload. However, the programming worked extremely well, mixing formats – a panel followed by a poetry performance followed by a publisher roadshow – to great effect. I particularly enjoyed the tea break sessions; thirty minutes of listening to brilliant authors while eating themed-snacks may be my new favourite thing in life. On the second day, delegates were given a choice of breakout sessions to attend. I chose ‘Literacy by Stealth’ – a discussion of how the Book Bench project and Read Manchester initiatives have engaged disadvantaged communities in Manchester, increasing tourism and library visits – and ‘Life Online’ – a two-part session delivered by CILIP’s Andrew Walsh and the author Nicola Morgan about information literacy and the preconceptions we hold about teenagers and technology. I found both sessions to be hugely informative, giving practical advice, such as how to reach underrepresented groups and forge connections with partner organisations, that I have since followed in my own library. Another session that I thoroughly enjoyed detailed the painstaking creation of the children’s poetry book, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year. The book’s illustrator, Frann Preston Gannon, and its publisher, Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, took us through the stages of its creation, from early sketches to the final cover art. It was astonishing to see how much work – and passion – went into producing the book. As I walked around the Exhibition Room, where publishers showcased their new and upcoming releases, I had a greater appreciation for… books. For everyone who plays a part in making them. I was so excited that children and young adults would soon be reading these incredible titles, and, as a public library, we would be doing our part in providing them.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce made me cry. He may also have made a nun cry, if his opening anecdote was anything to go by. His keynote speech was so full of sincerity, humour and wild, unrepentant bookish love, that my notes became a scribbled explosion of his quotes. My favourite is this: ‘only books catch all the voices’. Books, according to Cottrell-Boyce, stand for complication. There is a democracy to books. This, I believe, is one of the key themes of the conference. Reading the Future does not mean forgetting the past. In his closing speech, YLG Chair Jake Hope mentioned that he always intended for illustrator and author, Jackie Morris, to be the final act of the conference. Co-created with Robert Macfarlane, her book – The Lost Words – brings lost words back into being. It is a beautiful book, full of Macfarlane’s “spells” and Morris’ uncanny illustrations. Watching Morris paint an otter into life was an experience I will never forget. It showed how books, as tangible, living things, can bring people together. Not just a conference room of strangers, but families and classrooms and communities. What wizardry indeed.
I would need another thousand words to write about all the other wonderful things I saw at the YLG Conference. Or maybe ten thousand words, including the words I SAW MALORIE BLACKMAN AND SHE SPOKE KLINGON. As it is, I will just say thank you to Browns Books for Students for the bursary, and to the YLG committee for organising it all. It was absolutely brilliant.
Samantha Lockett is a Library Assistant at Holmes Chapel Library in Cheshire East. She is currently studying for an MA in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University.
Posted By Jacob Hope,
18 September 2018
Updated: 18 September 2018
At the Youth Libraries Group Conference, Miriam Halahmy will be speaking on a panel with Candy Gourlay in discussion with Chloe Germaine Buckley from Manchester Metropolitan University talking about unconscious bias, cultural appropriation and colonial influences in children's literature and collections of these. Here Miriam talks about her time as Head of Special Needs at a school in Camden.
In 1981 I was Head of Special Needs in a Camden secondary school and The Rampton Report on the education of children from ethnic minorities was published. The recommendations of that report had a huge impact. Our school had many children of Asian and African Caribbean descent as well as many other cultural backgrounds. As a staff we were concerned to promote a multicultural society and the classroom as a microcosm of that society.
One of Rampton’s recommendations was that teachers review all books and materials and assess them for appropriateness in today’s multicultural society. I remember so well the day I went back to my classroom, looked through my tiny library and threw away those books which presented a negative view of children from a different culture. It was a painful process as we had no money to replace them but there was no way I would have left such books on my shelves anymore.
A recent report stated that only 1% of children’s books have a BAME main character and only 4% have any BAME characters. Is that because we threw our books away 30 years ago?
No, of course not.
But our work embracing the multicultural society – valuing each child and the cultural background they brought with them, displaying world maps to showing where everyone came from, etc, – often feels today as though it is being ridiculed. There are claims that the multicultural concept of society has undermined our Britishness.
Rubbish! is my answer. We were the bedrock of creating a more tolerant society and it seems the job has hardly begun in the world of children’s books. I would urge anyone providing books to children and young people to scan carefully through your collections as we did and literally throw out the less enlightened books and materials.
Meanwhile my job as a writer is to ensure that all characters in my books represent the multicultural world I come from, have lived in and worked in all my life. But then I have always found that quite a natural part of my writing.