The BookCrossing Experience

My apologies for the long gap between the last blog post and this one; I resolve to be a  better blogger over the remainder of the summer months. I enjoyed tackling my #PoetryinJune challenge but it has been nice to take a breather afterwards. Perhaps I will see if I can come up with another ‘Month of…’ in the future. Any ideas and suggestions will be more than welcome.

With the advent of the summer holidays, a blog topic has obligingly suggested itself to me as we start to think about books to take on  various journeys. You might hazard a guess from that last sentence that we are not an e-reader owning family, and you’d be right. But it isn’t only recalcitrant readers like us who still pack paperbacks; dedicated BookCrossers will also be packing assorted volumes to leave in hotel rooms, cafes, departure lounges and railway carriages. I joined the BookCrossing fraternity in 2007 and have ventured intermittently into the delights of BookCrossing ever since.

I wrote a piece about my not-so-successful experiences a couple of years ago for Hackwriters and I have now posted the article up here under The Blurb section and an extract from it below. My inspiration for digging out the article was that He Who Put the Shelves Up found a BookCrossing release at Trinity College one Saturday in May. I registered the find on my account and the book is due to be re-released back into the wild any day now, in a location in Shetland. The book that we found and registered was Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen and it had originally been released in Dublin in 2009. This is actually the first find I have ever registered and strictly speaking I can’t even really claim the glory for the achievement. I didn’t get around to reading Black and Blue before it set off on its next journey but it seems to have been well reviewed on Goodreads so I hope that whoever finds it agrees.

The Curse of the Pharaohs

An Amelia Peabody Murder Mystery

All this has inspired me to choose a book or two from my own shelves (but not The Landing ones) that I will register and send out into the world over the next few weeks. After much deliberation I’ve picked the first book; a re-read that I recently bought from Oxfam in Dundrum, Dublin. So, Amelia Peabody in The Curse of the Pharaohs (Elizabeth Peters) will be scheduled for departure in a few days time. I’ve read several of these historical murder mysteries but not in the right order. With this one I found myself almost back in the beginning of the action as this is only the second adventure for the spirited Egyptologist and her husband Radcliffe Emerson. I was fooled by the jacket of this newish edition (2006) and didn’t at first realise that it was one I had read several years ago.

Curse of the Pharaohs sees Amelia, now a wife and mother (to Walter aka Ramses) settled in a mansion in Kent. Peabody and Emerson (as they address each other) are unutterably bored by elegant domesticity and neither of them are cut out for socialising with their neighbours. Amelia bemoans that ‘They cannot tell a Kamares pot from a piece of prehistoric painted ware , and they have no idea who Seti the First was’.  With these exacting standards perhaps it’s not surprising that the Emersons take the first opportunity that presents itself to travel back to the Valley of the Kings. Deadly danger is preferable to tea parties. As the author points out, ‘Amelia is planning to draw her last breath holding a trowel in one hand and her deadly parasol in the other’. If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of the duo of dedicated Egyptologists, then give the books a try. Elizabeth Peters’ historical detail is good and the books are lively and entertaining reads. Read up the background on the Amelia Peabody website.

BookCrossing for beginners: how not to do it if you want to be successful

Recently I decided to log on to the BookCrossing site again and take a look to see if anyone had by any lucky chance registered a copy of a children’s book that I’d love get my mitts on. (It’s called Holiday at the Dewdrop Inn by Eve Garnett in case anyone was wondering). I’ll explain the web site briefly for those BookCrossing virgins out there. This is how it works: you just register the book/s that you no longer want, write some blurb if you choose and give the book a star rating. The system automatically generates a BookCrossing Identification Code (BCID) for each book. When you decide to release your book you can either print off a label to fix in the book or simply write a note to attach. You post release notes online about the location and the time at which you will send your book into the wild blue yonder. In theory eager readers could be on the spot to nab just the volume they’ve been waiting for by using the advance information. On the other hand a passer-by may have a delightfully serendipitous find. You may also choose to leave a registered book somewhere and post the details later. If the finder then logs the BCID on the home page, the original owner can track the book’s journey. If you are looking for a particular title you can also do a search of the registered books and arrange a book swap through BC’s message system (a controlled release).

The BC site looked a bit different since the last time I visited; there’d obviously been a revamp, but imagine my amazement when I realised that the last time I had released a book into the wild was in July 2008. Where had all that time gone? What had I released? Why had I stopped doing it? And more to the point, where had all those books gone that I had so trustingly let go? I should have guessed that it had been some time since I last logged on by the fact that I had trouble remembering my password. Mind you at one point I was also misspelling my own name which didn’t help the situation. But I digress. The point is this: I put the children’s book title on my wish list (actually the only item on it) and bravely resolved to give the BookCrossing thingy another go.

To read this piece in its entirety, please click on the BookCrossing article in The Blurb section of this website.

Now, I’m off to do a little more BookCrossing…if anyone else has any BookCrossing experiences please drop a line in the comment box!

Landing Author: Sam Hawksmoor

Today’s post is given over to a guest blog spot, this time featuring YA author Sam Hawksmoor. I have known Sam (in a virtual sense) since long before I ever had a Twitter persona or a blog to call my own. As well as writing teen fiction, Sam has edited a great writer’s website called Hackwriters since 1999 and he has kindly published several of my pieces on books and bookselling over the last few years.

Sam HawksmoorAccording to his author website, Sam has taught creative writing, he wrote for radio and screen, travelled widely and has even done the odd bit of gold prospecting in British Colombia. All of this experience led up to  becoming a fully fledged kids’ writer, with two brilliant sci-fi thrillers  The Repossession and its sequel The Hunting being published by Hodder last year. The two main protagonists, Genie and Rian weathered many storms together and I’m sure that I’m not the only reader to hope for the ending they deserve in the final volume of their adventure. I was pleased to see that The Repossession has been shortlisted for two book awards, The Leeds Book Awards (May 2013) and the Amazing Book Awards (July 2013).

Sam has gone on to publish a time travel adventure this year, The Repercussions of Tomas D which is as yet only available as an ebook (thus challenging my technological skills). It was worth grappling with the Kindle app, to follow Tomas’ experiences as he inexplicably finds himself in the middle of World War II as Britain struggles to keep going during The Blitz. We may have fantasies about being able to time travel, but what might the consequences be if we could travel in time? Tomas and his not-exactly-girlfriend Gabriella are plunged into a whole new world as a result.

I asked Sam if he would write a piece for The Landing about how he got started writing for teens, how he chooses what to write, what approach he takes to the subjects.

In other words: The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ about writing for a YA audience:

I can say precisely when I decided to write young fiction.  It happened the very day that a friend and I were held up at gunpoint at his apartment in Hollywood.  They tied us up as they robbed everything he had.  I was only visiting, so they had nothing to steal from me.  Remember dial phones?  Try dialling 911 with the tip of your tongue.  A SWAT team arrived real fast but of course the baddies were long gone.   But that very evening I had the sudden inspiration to write The Bears You love – a girl, her robot bear, an evil relative who wanted her money and her flight into a desolate climate changed America.  That was a long time ago.  I wrote it.  Couldn’t find a single publisher who’d read it, let alone reject it.  Lot of heartache in that book, lying in a suitcase somewhere rotting.  Writing for kids wasn’t fashionable back then.  And don’t think I was an amateur just having a go.  At the time I had two adult novels in print and was working on a third.  Just the very idea of writing ‘for kids’ was not really on the radar and a tough story about mega cities of the rich surrounded by scavengers surviving by diving into the city dumpsters wasn’t ‘cute’.  ‘Completely wasting your time writing juvenile fiction.’ Said my then publisher at Sphere.

Cover of The Repossession

Every writer has tales like these.  I have a lot of ‘as yet to sell’ novels awaiting daylight.  Who’d be a writer anyway huh?  Yet, once you have the idea, you have to put it down and if you’re going to put it down you have to get the end and then… what stick it on Smashwords?   Hmmm.  After the Bear episode, I was distracted by writing screenplays.  If you think selling kids books is hard, trying getting a script made.  Yes I had a few optioned, but after knocking my head on many walls I finally realised, hell I need a real job.  A salary – a life – before it’s too late.  Nothing like teaching students to put you off writing forever it seems.  I had to begin at the bottom.  No one was interested that I had published anything, especially fiction, (which is sneered at in academic circles I discovered). Real writing was what they did for obscure academic journals peer-reviewed by similar narrow-minded obscurists and the less readable it was the higher the esteem it gained.  Anything remotely accessible was clearly garbage.   When I finally got to run something (Falmouth Post Grad) I brought my enthusiasm for children’s writing to it.

Times had changed.  Someone called J K Rowling was gaining attention.  Philip Pullman was respectable and brilliantly written.  It was OK to talk about literary values in children’s fiction, study it even.  Later I was running courses in Children’s Writing at Portsmouth University and they were massively oversubscribed.  Everyone wanted to write for kids and there was a lot of talent there (if not the necessary staying power).  I took it further into the MA that I ran there.   I decided that here I was discussing all this exciting material, but I wasn’t writing it.  My first attempt was something called Mean Tide set in Greenwich, written under a pseudonym and although it was mentored by Beverley Birch at Hodder, it didn’t get through the hoops there.  I learned something important though; keep it focussed on the kids.  My adults got a lot of equal time in that book, a mistake it seems.  I still have a fondness for it, so I put it out on Lulu as a calling card.  The Repossession and The Hunting came out of my screenwriting days.  I had been working in Vancouver at the time and a number of incidences that my wayward niece and her friends would get up to was kind of shocking to me.  How little they thought of their own safety and just how many kids disappeared and how little their families seemed to care.

cover of The Hunting

The central character Genie is based on someone I know.  In fact I wrote it for her and she would await each chapter and give me quite harsh notes that I had to take on board.  (Yes someone really was forced to live behind bars at home when they came back from school each day – I saw it with my own eyes).  The mother was a teacher! Did it turn out all right?  No.   What happens in those two books and the concerns the kids have follows from observations and talks with Canadian teens.  The schools they go to are huge, it’s hard to stand out.  Kids work to pay bills.  It’s very different to the UK.  My nephew’s best friend was blown away – shot at point-blank range – they were just walking from a coffee shop and wham.  No reason.  Social media is like viral poison.  Huge numbers can gang up on you, destroy lives.  There is no restraint.  I don’t try to adopt their language.  Couldn’t even if I tried. It moves on too swiftly.  But issues such as love, doubt, fear, peer pressure are universal and tapping into that puts me back in my own school days.  It was harsh, yet somehow I survived – and if I could survive, then today’s kids can.  That’s how I see it.  So when I write fiction for teens I put myself in their shoes.  The world doesn’t make sense.  Yet more often than not the kids are good, ambitious, want to be something and usually the opposite of whatever is happening at home.

Is the subject difficult?  Well putting a kid through teleportation experiments isn’t pretty, especially when you know it’s not going to work.  It’s fantastical, but rooted in the tradition of experimental science.  I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground, rather than write something that couldn’t be believed.  In Repercussions of Tomas D, I’m playing with time travel.  In time stories you can spend a lot of time building a machine and all that.  But I rather liked what happened in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and for my ‘hero’ Tomas D it’s something that happens to him, not a choice.  I like the idea too that in creating a ‘hero’ that stops the war, he automatically becomes the greatest traitor that ever lived.  The fun in writing comes with the consequences of the situations you create.  Tomas D’s girlfriend is left behind and discovers the day after Tomas disappears that she is the only person in her school who remembers that Germany didn’t win the war.

To be honest that’s the fun part of writing, inventing a new present for young Gabriella to live in.  Dealing with the past is about research. But here again I draw upon two personal experiences.  One is the beach I frequent each year in France where the German gun emplacements are still intact. 70 plus years on, there is a visible reminder of war every hundred yards or so along the French coast.  That and finding a picture of my grandfather buried up to his neck in rubble – still alive – from a German air raid on Lincolnshire.  This was the second time he had been bombed.  The first time was in 1914 when a German Zeppelin dropped a bomb on his home killing his brother and parents.  There’s a photo of him in his pyjamas standing in his bedroom with the front of the house blown off.   So for Tomas D to have this nightmare about being buried alive by German bombs  – it comes from a reality.

cover of The RepercussionsHow will this appeal to teens or young readers?  Hmm.  In doing my talks to schools, I am acutely aware of how little history is taught and how varied.   Increasingly the names Hitler and Churchill mean nothing (unless it is a nodding dog on TV) so the story of a boy going back in time and altering everything really only appeals to a kid who knows something about our Island story. (I should send a copy to Michael Gove).  This is why publishers increasingly are wary of publishing ‘historical fiction’ I guess.  I would argue that history – especially ‘economic’ history should be a much bigger part of curriculum’s to provide a better understanding of how society works and where it is going.  I am but a straw in the wind on this.  I am in progress on a number of works.  All YA fiction.  One survival story set again in Canada, the second in a parallel London at war with the French.  I live in hopes they will see the light of day.

I take the business of writing for kids very seriously.  Some of the best fiction ever written is I would argue for kids.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher for example. Clever on so many levels and stretches the imagination.  Never dumbed down and it’s inspirational.  Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi one of the most vivid and yet plausible visions of our future on this planet. Hopefully one day I’ll find a way to do that myself.

Sam Hawksmoor 2013

Sam Hawksmoor … until recently was the Course Leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University and a similar programme in Falmouth, Cornwall. He is the joint-editor of Hackwriters.com. Sam is the author of ‘The Repossession’ and ‘The Hunting’ with Hodder Children’s Books.  Sam currently lives in windswept Lincolnshire but misses Vancouver, the mountains and the coffee bars, the setting for several of his YA novels.

Credits: author photo and bio taken from Leeds Book Awards site; other pictures from author’s own site.