I’m really pleased with Map Pad. Writing stories for early stage phonics books is a bit like playing a game of Sudoku. You let the letters you are allowed to use swim about in front of you,until they coalesce into groups of words that can be connected in some way. With luck, and a bit of perspicacity, in an interesting and entertaining way too.
Map Pad is written with only the letters S-A-T-P-I-N-M-D. I was only allowed to use three-lettered words plus four-lettered words with an S on the end.
I recently had an email complaining that I’d used slang in a phonics book – I’d used the word till instead of until. Apart from the fact that till is the older, and original word, which means that until could be thought of as the slang version. Anyway, I didn’t have the letter U available to me when writing. I thought I’d been really clever!
I love my simple books for the Big Cat series. When I write them I remember what it was like, all those years ago, being bored to death with Janet and John and then LOOK!- as my children began learning to read. I really try hard to entertain and make these little stories fun. Learning to read is hard enough without having to read boring stories too!
You can get you copy from Amazon here:
I was watching a TV programme last night, charting the rise of punk. While fascinating, it talked about some stuff that did not concern me at the time. It suggested that the punk roots were in pub rock and bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Dux Deluxe. They held no interest for me at the time.
Punk was certainly a reaction to the pomp rockers like Yes, but then I loved Yes at the time. I remember being fascinated by all sorts of music back then. Playing and listening to music was pretty much my life. Top of the Pops was a weekly cultural watering hole – a sort of pop music soap opera that has now been formalised into X Factor and the tabloid newspapers. I never knew who bought all those singles, but they were the stuff that got played in discos where the girls were to be found on a Saturday night. I never understood why the DJs never played my requests. (They’d probably never heard of them!)
I discovered the Wailers by accident when I was about thirteen and that early 60′s Ska sound really got inside me. When I began playing guitar, I did everything I could to get the treble up high and make a nasty, raspy chang-ing sound, dampening the bridge to get a better, clicky attack to the notes. One of my very first songs was called The Mombassa Express – a tribute to the Wailers, Last Train to Skaville. Mombassa was the holiday place for the British Army in Aden in the 60s. We flew out there on an old RAF Argosy transport plane for a fabulous two week holiday in the 1965. I could still remember the infectious African music we heard, that would not get to the UK for another 10 years or so with bands like Osibissa.
Then I somehow got a Bo Diddly album when I was about 16. I learned last night he’d been here about the same time at a big rock revival gig in Wembley. If only I had known! That Bo Diddly-diddly-dee rhythm got me going – and I found his lyrics quite shocking! He really was a punk!
Then there was all the political rubbish going on around us. I didn’t know at the time, but my father was dying. He was planning for the revolution. He was actually asked to join a group of ex-army officers who were preparing to take over the country when the flag went up. We had stocks of food in the cellar which he religiously dated and rotaed so they wer always fresh. The lights were going out everywhere. There was a three day working week, the tv finished at 10.00pm, 50 was the top speed limit, everything was going short on the shelves, the reds were under the beds, the Russians were going to be here for tea at any day, if they hadn’t blown us off the map. We were ripe for change. Top of the Tops was just there to cheer us up with a bit of glam rock on Thursday evenings and make us look the other way for a moment.
Looking back I can see that there really wasn’t much future for my age group.The British Empire had collapsed. Our older brothers and sisters had had a lot of fun in the sixties and promised us a revolution. All thy had done was to start pulling up the ladders behind them. Now they’d got their peace and love, they were going to hang on to it and not let anyone else have a piece. That generation has never changed.
So I started writing angry songs in my bedroom. I knew the world needed shaking up. I wrote a manifesto. I called it Ug Rock. Ug for ugly. Ug for stone-age grunting, because that’s how basic I wanted it to be. Basic Rhythms. I even got the artwork right, photocopied ransom-note style!
Then I heard the German band Neu, not mentioned at all in last night’s program. There was the sound! Michael Rother invented that thrash guitar sound – and that wonderful monotonous beat, the forerunner to all modern dance music. Neu had all the ingredients, all that was required was the political anger, the sense of it being a time for revolution. I was there, I was ready, I raised my Ug Rock standard… and no one followed! Timing is everything.
When the Sex Pistols finally came along I felt I’d kind of done it already. I joined in the fun though and got rid of my flares and changed my style overnight.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that ideas float around in the air, waiting for the right person to work with. I wonder how many other angry young men and women had similar ideas as I did and those who eventually became Punk Rock stars. I suppose I was just too flighty, the idea moved on. They stuck to their principles and persisted with the one idea. Those who survived are often to be found still doing it today stuck in a 1977 time warp.
I left school and went to work in a print shop where I designed posters for a reggae promoter. Bedford, where I lived had a large west indian community, so reggae was to be heard around the place. I remember making him laugh when I said I was going to play white reggae – “White boys can’t play reggae!” he told me, and then, a couple of years later along came The Police… Duh, I’d missed it again!
But I look back on that summer of punk with fondness. The energy that was flowing was amazing. I hope the kids these days have something similar to fire them, but from where I look, life is all a bit homogenised now. Health and safety wouldn’t put up with it any more. All those hot, sweaty bodies packed into fire hazard venues. I guess that’s what Bungee jumping and extreme sports are all about – trying to get back to that visceral, animal adrenaline that was punk and rock and roll before it. A feeling that maybe you are doing something to change the world.
I rarely pick up my guitar these days, but I still feel like I need to light a fuse and shake things up a bit… Set a fire under the old order.
Then a wicked little thought enters my brain. Publishing has just reached the point that the record business did back in 1977, when you could make your own records and start up your own label and photocopy your own fanzines… do all those things you’d been told you couldn’t do because the corporations need to tread a politically correct line and an not upset their mass customers. Punk was about getting marketing to a niche market.
I think it’s kind of happening in the comics world, but could it be time to start making politically incorrect children’s books, unhindered by corporate editorial committees?!
And as for the art world… well, that certainly needs a rocket up it’s bloated, self-satisfied backside!
What a strange word is Author. When I go to a meeting of the Society of Authors, I always expect to find people like me. But I don’t. Every one of them is different. Having found myself caught up in a conversation with someone who writes about bees and pollination, a chic lit writer,or an academic who writes sadistic thrillers in Old Norse, I think, “I am nothing like these people at all!” So I huddle in the corner with my pals, the children’s authors.
But we have very little in common too. We use words and maybe pictures to express ourselves. When ever there is a discussion about children’s books, it’s hopeless. We all imagine that the thing we do defines the world of children’s books. But it doesn’t. If we are lucky, we find a tiny niche and stay there as long as possible before others notice and pile in.
Then I think, at least I’m the same as those in my niche – but I am not. Even within our little niche or genre, we have different ideas about what it is and how it should be done.
I remember being part of a group of writers brought together to write stories for a new reading scheme. You could see every one itching to get in first and claim the best books for themselves. I was amazed! No one wanted to do the beginner books – the ones with ten words or so – such a challenge! They others looked at me blankly. Why would I want to do that when I could write the older books? It would never occur to me to want to write them. It’s just not what I do.
And that’s the trouble with the little controversy I started a couple of days ago.
I see there is a prize for Children’s books. I know exactly what a children’s book is and do not understand why Young Adult books keep winning – the Carnegie WorkingParty have now explained to me that it’s all because of the The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and as the shadowing process takes place mainly in secondary schools the whole process is skewed to Young Adult books. I’d say the rights of the child would mean that primary schools should get an equal look in. But that’s me. My readers are children. They go to primary (elementary) school. That’s how I define children’s books.
I think if you have a prize that is really a prize for writers of books for older children, you should say so. Children have a right to know what is being promoted in their name.
However. Let me crystallise what I thought I said yesterday and add a bit from the Twitter discussion last night.
1. What is a child for the sake of book marketing and prize giving? Ask any primary school teacher and they will tell you something strange happens to their children midway through year six – that’s between eleven and twelve. They sprout! Quite literally, they sprout in all directions, their moods change, and they start itching to get to secondary school and begin their new, Young Adult life. They close ranks with their age group and become obsessed with hair and fashion. That’s when they start being ready for Young Adult books that lead them into the adult world.
So, I would say a child is probably eleven or under.
YA books used not to exist. Children used to go from children’s books to adult books. Now those years are carefully managed by the marketing department, such is progress. YA is a marketing strategy that has worked very well. As adults have become more and more infantilised, they read YA books – often with an adult cover and a hike in price, because these are the books that adults crave. They have a beginning, a middle and an end – and they deal with exciting and meaty themes, unlike literary fiction that gets all the attention but does not satisfy the general reader. This kind of book used to be published by adult publishers. This is why Hollywood loves YA books. And because Hollywood loves YA, YA Authors love writing them.
Young Adult books need their own big prize to inspire authors to write their amazing books. but…
The Carnegie is for Writers of Books for Children.
2. What is a children’s book? I’d say it was a book a parent would be happy to share with a child at bedtime. I remember reading and sharing the Hobbit, Roald Dahl, and Alice in Wonderland quite happily. These have been quoted to me as being full of violence. Yes, but it’s a kind of violence that is easy to answer questions about when children ask. It’s play violence in a make-believe world – that’s what children do, remember? Children play – it’s how they learn, although as adults we seem to have forgotten that. It’s training violence. Yes, the world is cruel, but you don’t need to leap straight into the dark brutality of the current trend in YA novels.
You don’t start children off with a book on particle physics. You start give them a book about the wonders of the Universe.
We all instinctively know what a children’s book is.
The trouble with the Carnegie prize being given to YA books is that it sends a message out that children’s books don’t matter anymore. I know many, well-respected children’s book writers who have given up and gone into YA writing because that’s where it at. No one wants to write for children any more. Any glamour in the business has been stolen by the YA marketing machine.
Ask any children’s publisher, they’ll tell you they can’t get proper children’s books anymore. Nobody writes them because they get no recognition.
Would it be so difficult to set up an award for YA novels? All those bankers with bulging pockets could start easing their consciences by setting up a prize for YA and then, maybe we can get back to the business of writing books for children.
3. Violence. What I hoped to say was that the more violence we let children be exposed to, the more we come to accept that violence and so expose them to even more. This is the basic rule of marketing and social control. When the dads themselves are still playing violent video games, shooting, killing, maiming and having fun on the living room screen, then what signal does that give to the children? What are we to do? We write books that are increasingly dark and violent, of course. If you can’t beat them, join them. And so our threshold of acceptance lowers. The Carnegie prize says dark, brutal, violence is good for children. We shrug our shoulders and say, “well, they must know what’s best for kids – they are librarians after all.” And so it goes. Drip, drip, drip.
Oh, and please don’t tell me video game violence has not been proved to cause real world violence. Any data you have was paid for either by the NRA or the video games industry. Constant exposure to violence and the sadistic role-playing of video games lowers one’s tolerance to violence and will make that jump into real-world violence easier.
You will no doubt want to tell me all the violent adult books you read at the age of six and how you are now a University Professor at the age of 16 and how violent books never harmed you. You are unusual. You are unusual in that you read books in the first place.
Caring parents will look after their children and give them what is good for them. But not all are caring – many are really quite careless. At least let some fun, fantasy and entertainment lighten the lives of those children when, and if, they get to read a proper children’s book.
The Carnegie Prize needs to be given back to children’s book writers to encourage the Writing of Books for Children
There – and no more on the subject – there’s drawing to be done!
Here is a wonderful infographic I came across that explains everything about making art for other people, either as a professional or as someone who wants to have their work seen and appreciated by others.
What EVERY Creative Person with a Product or Service Absolutely NEEDS to Know – A graphic by Alex Mathers at www.redlemonclub.com
© 2013 Red Lemon Club. All rights reserved
But the nature of copyright is changing. When reproduction was difficult and expensive, copyright was easy to police. Now it is easy to and cheap to copy and almost impossible to police. Law is no use if it cannot be applied. What will creators do in the future?
I am most concerned by the downgrading of creative subjects in the educational proposals. Creative subjects have already been turned into academic subjects, to make marking easier for the objectively minded assessors. Children are now encouraged to study the creative work of others, so they can be tested on their knowledge, rather than be creative themselves. If creative subjects themselves are downgraded this country is doomed.
It is the creative industries that keep this island afloat and our heads just above water. If we kill the geese that lay the golden eggs, then our future impoverishment in a global market will be entirely the fault of those making decisions to downgrade creative subjects now.
The future wealth of this country rests in your hands. Downgrading creativity is tantamount to treason.
I hope your consciences let you sleep at night.
with best wishes
Click here to take survey Since I have been making drawing videos on YouTube, I have come to realise that visual-thinkers around the world are not completely catered for by the education system. More than that, there are many confused older visual-thinkers who feel that they didn’t get what they wished they had from the education system. They now watch drawing videos to be part of something bigger, something they recognise in themselves.
I’ve also discovered that artists with a pencil in their hand transcend age barriers. The old can learn as much from the young and vice versa. That’s why I don’t dumb-down my videos or “talk down to the kids”. I find seven year old artists are just as intelligent and inquiring as those aged seventy.
That’s why I’ve started www.TheWednesdayDrawingShow.com Each week I follow a theme and viewers join in by uploading their drawings to the website. It’s early days. I’m finding my feet and learning what works and what doesn’t. You can see some great drawings here : Snake Gallery
However, I think the show and website could grow into a monster, which would be terrific! But in the meantime I need support to get established. I’ve thought of a few ideas that might raise cash for the project and would like your views. I’ve made an anonymous survey with some ideas I’d like your views on which you can fill in here.
I’m not asking for money, just to get an idea of how people might help, if they want to and attitudes to supporting such a venture. I could become a commercial operation, but I like the idea of everybody learning for free at the point of service – but this needs backing. Please have a look at the video below for more explanation and please take the survey to help me clarify my thinking.
Many thanks :)
My Illustrator friend, Kate Sheppard, came round this week to show me the dummy of a picture book she’s been working on. It’s wonderful! But I would say that… is a synthesis of two ideas I played about with a while back. I couldn’t get the ideas to work because they obviously needed to come together to make sense.
I didn’t or couldn’t make that connection, but Kate did – But How come we both had the same-ish ideas? And why am I not bothered that Kate got it right and I didn’t?
I was thrilled to see the book and add my thoughts to it because I’ve finally seen the idea come to fruition and can close that chapter in my head.
If I thought that was the last idea I’d ever have, then that would be a sorry day. I played with the ideas – learned a whole load of stuff and have moved on to other things. Luckily, those ideas found Kate, who has done a fabulous job and has created what I think will become a classic. Any picture book editor who doesn’t make an offer on the spot should… drink four pints of blue, fizzy soda, eat a pound of jelly babies and think again!