Category Archives: Books

Taken

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A bit of delay in announcing this as I’ve been in hospital, but my new YA book for Ransom was published a couple of weeks ago.

Called ‘Taken’ it is a story about loss, love and growing up.

Four years ago, Kelly’s dad disappeared, apparently having taken his own life.  His family are left devastated and are only just beginning to move on.  Then one day Kelly thinks she sees him again.  It is only a glimpse – and it can’t have been him – but it is enough to bring back all the painful memories.

Why did he kill himself? What was so terrible that he couldn’t go on?

The thoughts won’t leave her alone.  Kelly confides in her friend Jack and as they try to find out more about Dad’s past they unearth a confusing mass of inconsistencies and unanswered questions.

Gradually they are sucked into a murky world where nothing is as it seems.  They are out of their depth; someone is trying to stop them finding out more and they are in real danger.

Who is following them? Who can they trust? And why does Gran refuse to talk about Dad?

 

A straightforward mystery, this one, with none of the supernatural elements present in my last two books, ‘Loose Connections’ and ‘The Mark’.

 

Storm Doris Intervenes

It was all set up.  A panel discussion as part of a local literary festival all about – you’ve guessed – children’s books, past and present and why they are so important, why libraries are so important, why getting children to love reading is so important.

There was an enthusiastic take up for the event and, apart from me, the panelists were Isabel Thomas, James Nicol, Helen Moss and the chair was to be Candy Gourlay.

Should have been a great evening but then Storm Doris intervened.  Two panelists stuck in London and no trains running, trees all over the road and an electricity blackout so it all had to be cancelled.

Never mind, it will be reconvened and surely lightning (or storm) can’t strike twice – can it?!

Authors’ Lunch

 

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A bright interlude at the end of a dreary January was an authors’ lunch held here.  Nine of us, all children’s writers and all Cambridge based, got together to discuss all things bookish – and a lot else, too, over a warming curry.

So good to be among like minded friends who understand the ups and downs of the life of a writer.  We spend a lot of time on our own so it is good to exchange stories of both success and failure.  None of us is immune to failure – it comes with the territory – but we all agree that we are doing something we love and there aren’t so many people out there who can say the same.

But there is no doubt that having a good dose of understanding companionship from time to time really lifts the spirit.

My Sister’s Perfect Husband

 

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There’s always a lurch of excitement when a new book arrives in the post, all shiny, with your name on the cover.

‘My Sister’s Perfect Husband’ is part of the new series by Ransom Publishing called ‘Promises’ aimed at reluctant teen readers. The brief was to write a short story (around 3,000 words) on a subject which would engage teenagers but in language which they would find accessible.

Not easy!

I’ve written stories about young British Muslims in the past (‘Mixing It’ and ‘Payback’) and when I suggested writing about a Pashtun family living in Britain and trying to marry off their daughter Mina, the publishers were enthusiastic.

‘My Sister’s Perfect Husband’ is very light hearted. Mina’s parents have completely failed to find her a suitable husband, so her younger sister, Laila, decides to try. She and her best friend hatch a complicated and secret plot to bring Mina together with a boy they think would be ideal.

But their brilliant plan goes drastically wrong and the ending is VERY unexpected!

‘Promises’ is a series with an imaginative and varied collection of stories. Like me, most of the authors are used to writing much longer and more complex books for young people – authors such as Jo Cotterill, Miriam Halahmy, Kathryn White, Anne Rooney and Sue Purkiss – but they took up the challenge and the results are brilliant.

Here’s what Sue Purkiss says about the term reluctant readers.

‘I think ‘reluctant’ is actually a bit of a misnomer; they’re only reluctant because they find reading so hard – and so then they pretend to scorn it, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? If there’s a club you can’t join, you shrug your shoulders and say that you never wanted to belong to it anyway.’

Hopefully, these ‘reluctant’ readers will discover, through these stories, that books aren’t always daunting. They can even be fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many times? Captain Cook was NOT the first European to set foot in Australia!

Back in the UK now, after a month long trip promoting my shipwreck books in Western Australia and taking part in the 400th anniversary celebrations of the landing of the Dutch mariner, Dirk Hartog, in Shark Bay, in October 2016.

My fascination with the 17th and 18th century Dutch shipwrecks began eight years ago when I visited the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle for the first time.

I was aware of the powerful Dutch East India Company (the VOC), its establishment of headquarters throughout Asian countries and, in particular, its hugely profitable trade in spices; but what I didn’t know was that, by 1617, its great ‘retourships’ were required to adopt the new Brouwer route, sailing South from the Cape in South Africa before turning West to pick up the ‘Roaring Forties’ winds and then North towards the East Indies, parallel with the coast of Western Australia or, as it was called at the time, ‘The Unknown Southland’.

As I stared at the great hull of the ship Batavia, at the replica stone blocks destined for the castle gate in Java and all the artifacts salvaged from the ship and read about the mutiny, the shipwreck, the massacre on the Abrolhos Islands, the eventual retribution and then the marooning of the two young mutineers, I was intrigued.

Why had I never heard of this appalling event in Australia’s history? What if those two young men, Pelgrom and Loos, had survived and integrated with the coastal aborigines? If they had, then they would have been the very first European settlers in Australia, nearly 150 years before Cook sailed into Botany Bay!

Since then, I’ve been on quite a journey. I have written two books about the early Dutch shipwrecks off the West Australian coast, ‘The Blue Eyed Aborigine’ and the new ‘Forgotten Footprints’, have visited the Abrolhos Islands where all the Batavia horrors occurred, toured schools in the Eastern States, flown over the Zuytdorp cliffs, travelled by boat parallel with Red Bluff, South of Kalbarri, from which so many early Dutch mariners took their bearings, given the Batavia lecture at the Maritime Museum and, most recently, had a wonderful trip from Yallingup up to Shark Bay, speaking to schools and other groups about my books and about the rich maritime history of the State.

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And what a privilege it was to be part of the celebrations in Denham to mark the 400th anniversary of the landing of Dirk Hartog at Cape Inscription in October 1616, to attend the moving opening ceremony, watch the procession of cardboard boats, admire the costumes for the 17th century ball, crawl over the replica ship ‘Duyfken’ and travel across to Dirk Hartog Island and see the new commemorative plaques and the cleft in the rock into which the original post, plate attached, was rammed.

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The day I left WA to return to the UK, I was able to fit in a visit to the newly opened exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle – ‘Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean’ and see the originals of both the Dirk Hartog plate and the Vlamingh plate and to learn that the very latest research will soon be available into whether Western European DNA found in some Aboriginal coastal tribes can be traced to pre-settlement days.

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And yet, whenever I go into Australian schools and ask the question: ‘Who was the first European to set foot on Australian soil?’ nine times out of ten the answer is still ‘Captain Cook.’

 

 

Knowing Me, Knowing You

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Creating characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of story writing and not always easy to get right. No hero is all good, no villain all bad, so it’s important to avoid stereotypes. If readers can relate to real characters then they will care about them and want to know what happens to them.

I helped run a session recently at a Writers’ retreat where we were thinking of ways in which to bring our characters to life. Here are some of the ideas which came out of the session – some mine, some from other writers – which I thought I’d share.
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  1. Choose a character and then describe a room in the house where he or she lives, indicating, through your description, all the aspects of the character but without the character actually appearing in the piece. It’s surprising how much you can learn about the person who inhabits the room through the state of the room and the objects within in.

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  1. Imagine you are on a wide, flat beach. In the distance, you see a figure. This is your character. Slowly, you begin to see them better. You begin to see their body, their clothes, their face. Watch them walking towards you. Take a good look. They are close now and you can see every detail of their features. What does their hair look like? Is it long or short? What colour is it? Is it neat/messy? What about their eyes? What colour? And their face? Is there any feature which stands out? What are they wearing? What kind of clothes? What colour? Are they normal/exotic? Are they in a uniform of some sort or in their own clothes? How old are they? You can tell by the way they are walking that they are feeling something. What are they feeling? Are they afraid/happy/angry/sad/scared? Do they have a secret?

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  1. Show don’t tell (yes, I know it’s an old chestnut but it’s worth repeating). Describe someone you know well. Make a list of some of the person’s traits then show examples of these traits in your writing. For instance, here are some ways you could describe someone’s gran. Big busted: used to brush the crumbs off her chest with her hand. Fun: used to cheat at Snap by shouting loudest and laughed until no sound came out and she had to wipe the tears away with a cotton hankie she tucked under her bra strap. Feisty: A man threw his empty cigarette packet out of his car window. She picked it up and threw it right back!

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  1. Have a go at interviewing your character to find out more about him or her. For example, what football team does he/she support? What does he/she like to eat – and when? What
    music does he/she enjoy? By asking lots of ordinary questions you can really begin to get inside that character.

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  1. Write a few pages of a diary in the voice of one of your main characters.

The session certainly gave me some new ideas of ways in which to get to know the characters in my stories and flesh them out for my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Tea Party

Lovely literary party this afternoon at Pippa Goodhart’s house in Granchester.  So good to be able to catch up over a cream tea with other Cambridge authors – Adele, June, Annemarie, Anne and Gillian. Nourishment for both body and mind!

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Visit to London Book Fair

Being at the London Book Fair at Olympia can be overwhelming.  Publishers from across the globe, so many people, so many books, so many genres, to say nothing of the digital content. Some good seminars too, though this year I didn’t attend any but focussed on the children’s books area on the first floor – and that was huge enough.  Good to catch up with old friends (my current publishers and ex colleagues) and meet new (coffee at Pizza Express with members of Scattered Authors’ Society).

A stimulating day in all sorts of ways – seeing new books and new ways in which to inspire children and, quite unexpectedly, eliciting interest in my current work-in-progress.

Definitely a worthwhile visit – and it is reassuring to have evidence that the physical book is not on its way out.  It is alive and kicking vigorously!

 

 

A blog I wrote for inclusion in Australia’s Women’s History Month

The Highs, Lows and Bits in Between for a Writer of Historical Fiction

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I’m not by nature a joiner of groups but I am very glad I overcame my reluctance and signed up to two or three authors’ societies. One of the best things about being part of a network of writers is the support, encouragement and advice you get from colleagues when things aren’t going so well.

Yes, it is great to share successes, but in my view, even more valuable to share the failures, the bad times, when your confidence is so shattered that you can’t believe you were ever arrogant enough to call yourself a writer.

Knowing that you are not alone, that all writers, however apparently successful, have been through these experiences, can be the only thing that keeps you going and spurs you on to dig yourself out of that deep hole of waning self confidence.

There have always been blips in my writing life. It had begun so well and, initially, been so easy. I had written an historical novel with a twist of fantasy; a story I really wanted to tell and believed in, which had been brewing in my imagination for years. I’d put it away for long periods and then taken out again, tinkered with it, asked others to read it, incorporated their advice. And then, finally, entered it in a national competition here in the UK, after which I forgot about it again and got on with my life, looking after my three children and an assortment of animals, working part time, doing voluntary stuff, visiting aging parents, coping for long periods on my own while my husband worked abroad.

Okay, so that’s what women do at these busy times in our lives. We multitask, switching priorities when we have to, juggling, keeping all the balls in the air and, if we are lucky, managing to fit a little time into our lives to indulge in our hobbies. And, back then, I did see writing as no more than a hobby. Having written my novel I felt that I had, at least, achieved what I set out to do and if it never saw the light of day, never got to be read by anyone except family and friends, then too bad. At the time, I knew nothing about the publishing process, about agents or editors. I was impossibly green. It was only much later, when I went to work for a large publisher, that I realized how lucky I had been.

The national competition was run jointly by a well known publisher and the Book Trust and the results weren’t announced until months later. I had genuinely forgotten about it when, to my astonishment, I heard that my story was runner up in the competition and that it would be published.

These were the good times. I worked with a brilliant editor who taught me so much and helped me fine tune my work. Four more books were commissioned and I began to believe that I was a ‘proper’ writer. But then the editor in question went on to higher things and, as so often happens, the new editor didn’t particularly like my work, was looking for new voices, and no more commissions came my way.

That was my first time in the wilderness and there was a long gap before I was taken on by Penguin Australia and had a very happy relationship with them, writing many books over a period of about eight years. Three of these were historical novels, all based on events in Australia’s history, with which I have a particular fascination (more of this later). Then again, the wonderful editor with whom I had worked moved on, my ideas for new books weren’t accepted, the work dried up and no other publisher showed any inclination to take me on.

At these points in your writing life, unless you have incredible self-belief, it is very easy to lose faith in yourself as a writer. Even though, by that time, I had a bunch of published books to my name, it made no difference. A lot of navel searching went on. I had no background as an historian, so maybe I should never have attempted to write historical novels. But even at this low point, some of these events from the past just wouldn’t let me go and I continued to mull over ideas, do research, jot down plot structures.

A couple of years went by when neither agents nor publishers seemed interested in my proposals and then, just at the point when I was ready to abandon my writing, a commission came from Hachette for a trilogy of historical novels – a family saga, this time, from early Victorian times to the second World War. Although the stories were essentially about an English family and their triumphs and tragedies, an Australian thread sneaked into them (transportation for a petty crime, the gold rush). But they didn’t sell particularly well and, although the editorial team wanted more from me, marketing and sales felt the books’ sales didn’t justify further commissions.

This was when I became aware of a shift in emphasis from publishers. Editors’ enthusiasm for a wonderful story, a great idea, frequently had cold water poured upon them by the sales and marketing departments and by the accountants who, as larger publishers gobbled up the smaller publishers, became more and more influential, their eyes always on the bottom line of the balance sheet. Editorial had to go through endless hoops to commission books and often a quirky, original idea that had so grabbed an editor, failed to pass the scrutiny of those looking for a ready market and guaranteed sales. Or, if it did, it became so diluted as to be unrecognizable.

Those Hachette books were the last ones for which I received an advance based on a first chapter and a synopsis. After that everything changed. Now you have to do all the research, write the full story and submit it and, if you are very lucky, it is accepted. Admittedly, this is not true for high profile authors but if, like me, you are ‘mid-list’ this is how it seems to be.

Post Hachette there were more fruitless years, then a new publisher and four more books; and just when I felt I had got my feet under the table there, the company was bought by a larger publisher, the Young Adult list was axed and all the YA editorial team were out of a job and their writers abandoned. But at least I was not alone on this occasion; there were so many of us that we staged a wonderful party – a wake to mark the burial of the YA list!

Since then, I’ve been taken on by a small independent publisher – set up by an editor, as it happens, who was involved in publishing my first novel, so I have come full circle. But who knows where this will lead, how many more books I shall have accepted? There is absolutely no certainly in this game.

I’ve been in the business for a long time now and seen a lot of changes. From being nurtured as a newbie, having long and wonderful associations with talented editors, having launches and promotion all done for me by publicity departments, to this new and scary time for writers when editors are either over stretched or inexperienced (or both) and an author is expected to do most of his or her own marketing and publicity.

Of course there are authors who actively enjoy putting themselves out there on social media, setting up school visits, turning every possible marketing opportunity to their advantage, but what of those of us who do not? I am essentially a private person, at my happiest being left on my own to research and read, dream up stories to flesh out historical facts and write them as well as I possibly can. I don’t mind sharing my professional life with those who are interested (like you!) but I want to keep my private life private. Of course, I do the social media stuff, but not regularly and usually reluctantly – and I resent its banality. It is not what I am and I don’t really enjoy engaging with total strangers just to blow my own trumpet. And yes, I know I’m missing out in terms of sales – but ideally I’d prefer that my books spoke for me.

Back, then, to what I mentioned earlier – to my fascination with Australia’s past. I have spent most of my life living in the UK, so why this urge to write about Australian history? Why does it hold such appeal for me? Well I suspect it is because I came to it afresh when I lived there. In particular, learning about the voyages of the early Dutch mariners, ploughing their way up the coast of Western Australia en route to the East Indies, years before Captain Cook landed on the Eastern side of the country in 1770, and discovering that the first European settlers in Australia were two young men involved in the infamous Batavia mutiny and massacre, marooned on the West Australian coast in 1629. Other shipwrecks followed with more survivors, no trace of whom was found. What happened to these people? Did they integrate with the coastal aboriginal tribes? DNA evidence suggests that they did. There are so many untold stories – extraordinary stories of hardship, endurance and bravery. A rich vein indeed, which I shall continue to tap, whether for my own interest or for a broader audience of young people.

 

 

Article about ‘The Travellers’ up on SCBWI UK’s website

Have a look at the article up today on the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators ‘Words and Pictures’ blog  http://www.wordsandpics.org/2016/03/UK-travellers-YA-book-Rosemary-Hayes.html

Also worth reading is an article from the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers – which talks about cuts to Traveller education in Cambridgeshire  http://acert.org.uk/blog/2016/01/14/acert-campaigns-to-preserve-cambridgeshire-traveller-education/

All the families I interviewed for my series of stories were based in Cambridgeshire where, currently, they have excellent support from staff in traveller education. So many would lose out if this was taken away from them.