Thursday, 28 October 2010

Dear Rick Riordan (plus book giveaway)

The Bonkers House

29th October 2010

Dear Rick Riordan

You haven’t the foggiest idea who I am but can I just say – thank you, thank you, THANK YOU from the bottom of my weary heart. We went to North Wales for part of half-term, to visit family and you – quite honestly and quite single-handedly - saved our bacon.  We all love going to Llandudno; we just don't like the drive. Whichever way we pick, we pick badly and I swear it's like battling the labyrinth (with all its attendant monsters) to get there in under six hours. 

Anyhow, disaster struck.  James’ PSP died. No struggle, no long drawn-out hand held to the heart staggering. One moment it was happily (or stoically – who knows?) playing Gears of War or FIFA 10 or whatever; the next it was pushing up the daisies. I ask you, is it too much to ask for a console to last for more than a year? Oh, silly me, built-in obsolescence. Yes, I know you can send it back to be mended but they charge such a ridiculous amount of money you may as well buy a new one (which, doubtless, is what Sony want you to do). James isn’t wedded to games but, by heck, on a long journey the PSP is a godsend.

Anyhow, talking of gods, it’s back to you, Rick, or rather to your creation Percy Jackson – half boy, half Greek god, battling monsters all over the place. Classic quest novels, based on the original, er, quests (which is such an obvious idea I’m kicking myself for not thinking about it). Well-drawn characters, nice dose of street-cool, clever droplets of humour and, above all, action, action, action. Let’s just say that James inhaled the first book on the way up and then hauled me into town to track down the next two. Then back to get the next three. Over the next four days he read five books. Not a single moan that his cousin wasn’t around for most of the break. Not a whinge when we went into shops – he just stuck his nose back into his book.

James does love reading and I’m not saying these are the only books he’s adored – he is a huge fan of  Sophie McKenzie, Malorie Blackman, Robert Muchamore, Anthony Horowitz and those ghastly Wimpy Kid books. But I’ve never known him devour books in such a greedy bone-sucking way.

I get the biggest kick in the world when my son says those magical words 'just one more chapter - please!'  I love it even more that he's getting pally with Zeus and Athena and Persephone and Hades (particularly Hades - but then I'm a bit weird like that). I adored the Greek myths when I was his age and I would probably have dipped both toes in the Styx to read thrilling adventures featuring demi-gods.  Of course James reckons he'd like to be the son of Poseidon.  And we have an obvious candidate for a hellhound.  'So who d'you think I'd be?' I asked, fully expecting him to say 'daughter of Hecate' or 'a fury'.  'Daughter of Athena,' he said.  Now, how wise was that? 
So, there it is. You don’t know me and I don’t know you but, for what it’s worth, a big fat smacker from me for keeping us all very happy.

Lots of love


While we’re on the subject of books, a nice parcel dropped on my desk yesterday. Three big fat bars of Galaxy chocolate and The Truth about Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell. Chocolate and books? Oh, these PRs know me way too well. Now I’ve never read Lisa Jewell and I confess this wouldn’t be a book which would usually scream ‘read me’ to me (the cover is decidedly chick-lit-ish) but apparently it’s a darn good read so I’m more than happy to give it a go. I’ll let you know what I think.
But, because I’m a bit out of my depth here, I asked the nice Galaxy people if I could give away another copy (along with a big bar of chocolate, natch). Idea being, we could both give our thoughts on the book on a later blog here. So, if you fancy turning book reviewer for me, say so in your comment and I’ll pluck a name out of the proverbial hat. I was going to say that I’d inscribe names on pieces of chocolate but (oops) too late.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Casting horses

One night, over the summer, we were down at The Bridge Inn, necking pear cider (well, I was) at a ferocious rate. At some point in the evening I recall talking to a local lad who had just finished his A levels. He was going to take a gap year before going to film college (though he was so talented he’d already been offered jobs).

‘Hey, Conor,’ I slurred. ‘You know what? You could do a film trailer for my book, Samael.’ I vaguely remembered foisting my email and the URL of my blog onto him and, come the next morning, I was wincing at the memory.
‘God, what must he think of me?’ I wailed to Adrian. ‘I’m sure he’s got much better things to do.’
‘I wouldn’t worry,’ Adrian replied. ‘You were so wrecked, he probably didn’t take you seriously anyhow.’

But he did. He had researched the book trailers that are already ‘out there’ and gave them all a distinct thumbs down. ‘Rubbish,’ he said, decisively. ‘We can do much better than that. How about I and my mate Guy come over and talk it through?

So there we were, around my kitchen table, discussing actors and locations and key scenes from the book. ‘It’s so cinematic,’ said Conor. ‘I could see every scene as I read it,’ agreed Guy. ‘The problem is going to be choosing which scenes to leave out.’

They quizzed me minutely. Did I have a specific house in mind for Borthwelm? Was the ford at Shadowcombe based on a particular place? Exactly what colour hair does Gen have? What kind of motorbike does Samael ride? Which part of the moor would Gen and Zeke be galloping over? Did I reckon Guy would work for my vision of Samael, the demon/angel? With contact lenses, of course. Oh yes, absolutely.

Conor seemed particularly keen on putting poor Guy through the mill. ‘That scene where Samael flings himself at Gen’s window in the storm,’ he said. ‘That would be amazing, with water pouring down your face  of course,’ he grinned at Guy who looked, bizarrely, totally enthusiastic. ‘Oooh, and the bit where the hand comes up through the water at the’d do that, wouldn’t you?’
Guy nodded happily and, much as I hated to rain (ahem) on their parade, I had to remind them that, actually, it’s a female hand that does the coming up through the flood waters. And a female head that is hacked off with a spade.  They looked vaguely disappointed.  

But, undeterred they discussed the mad gallop across the moor. I could feel myself starting to get the bit between my teeth (sorry) – it had to be a large bay gelding and a neat chestnut mare. Ye gods, was I really starting to cast the horses? For a book that hasn’t even got a publishing deal yet?  This had to be the most insane case of putting the cart before the (last pun, I promise) horse.

Yet, as we discussed it, it started taking on a life of its own. The wonderful thing was that, listening to them, I remembered that (despite the rejections it’s had so far) it IS a darn good book. More than 100 teen readers (and several hundred adults) can’t all be wrong surely? But I felt honour-bound to warn the boys that there was no deal in sight as yet.

They didn’t seem remotely fazed. ‘It’ll happen,’ said Conor cheerily, scribbling down more key scenes on his pad. ‘If it doesn’t – we’ll just have to make the full-length film instead.’

Can’t argue with that.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Three in the bed

I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night, not a wink. Consequently I’m in a seriously grumpy mood.
I mean, how dare all these people invade MY bed? Trouble is, over the summer, I’ve become used to sleeping solo and confess I absolutely love it. I am one of those princess and the pea type sleepers – the tiniest, teeniest, slightest thing will wake me up. The merest movement. The most stifled cough. I suppose it’s a legacy of motherhood, a genetic imprint (though some mothers seem to have the handy habit of being able to sleep through gale force screaming – a smart move as means someone else has to deal with the baby).

I also consider myself the perfect nocturnal companion. I may not be good in many social situations but I am a considerate sleeper with perfect manners. I turn over twice (occasionally four times – has to be even number so end up on left side) and then Do Not Move until dawn. Not one inch. Seriously, I’m positively corpse-like. I’ve watched those films of normal people sleeping and I flinch. They’re so busy. Like Adrian in fact. Adrian is a thrasher, a thresher, a snorer and shouter. I’ve asked him what he dreams about and he says it’s usually about beer – and from where I’m (not) sleeping, he’s obviously having trouble getting his order in as he wrestles and turns and shouts meaningless things (probably trying to get his point across in Czech or Polish). The shouting and thrashing becomes worse when he has a) drunk a lot and b) eaten cheese. So, over the summer (when a lot of beer and cheese was consumed), he decamped to the spare room.

But nature abhors a vacuum and a certain small dog snuck up onto the bed one night. I was sceptical but the SP is my soul sleep mate. He stretches himself down along my back like a long meercat-shaped hot water bottle. Like me, he doesn’t move. We lie in perfect harmony until morning when we both stretch. He gives me a companionable lick on the arm; I stroke him. We are both happy. Until...

‘That dog’s taken my place,’ harrumphed Adrian. ‘I’m coming back.’ Ye gods, do you think he’s jealous?

So we settled down, the SP between us like a chaste bolster (reminding me of childhood holidays with my grandmother who would put a bolster down the bed between me and my friend). What was she worried about? Nine year old lesbian romps?

Anyhow, back to the present. Needless to say, Adrian thrashed, even more than usual. I read two novels through sore eyes. The SP did move – obviously trying desperately hard to shove out the interloper – and, come morning, Adrian was teetering on the edge of the bed with no cover whatsoever – all four puppy paws pushed firmly into his back.

‘Looks like it’s back to separate beds,’ said Adrian grumpily. The SP and I exchanged a look and, quietly, bumped fists.

PS. Actually, since writing this, I have cheered up a little. The postman arrived with a neat little parcel containing THE most gorgeous Xmas bauble from glassmaker Will Shakspeare – (I know, I know and, before you point out, no, there isn't an e missing).  Will was the chap who tried to teach me glassblowing last year (still makes me giggle thinking about it). DO have a look at his website – everything is heavenly but the baubles (£9.50-£21) are affordable heirlooms. I’m planning on buying one each year and building up a collection. Even Adrian (Mr “I don’t get craft” Jones) was impressed.

See?  Isn't it gorgeous?  Looks even lovelier in the "flesh" (um, glass?) actually...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Is this the twilight of the supernatural romance?

Is the end in sight for teen supernatural romance? Are we really all vampired and ghosted and demoned out? I will freely confess it’s a genre that I love – I’m a sucker (sorry) for books like Beautiful Creatures, Glass Houses, Shiver, Need and so on. Yes, I liked Twilight – I’ll freely admit it.

I love the genre because it encapsulates perfectly the teen experience – that heady mix of intense yearning for love coupled with the almost inevitable existential angst. Who am I? Who is the mysterious other? What is the meaning of my life? It’s a time of poetry and passion – head, heart, body and soul. How can a human boy ever be enough for the passionate heart of a young girl?

The otherworldly demon lover however is much, much more than the perfect bad boy. He is as much an exploration of a young girl’s counter-sexual self, the animus, as he is a real (or idealised) being. He is her creative soul.

As many of you know, I have written my own dark romance novel – Samael – which is now doing the rounds of publishers. Today I received an email from a major New York publishing house. It said:

“It’s a cracking good read, full of dark secrets and thrilling twists. Alexander writes clearly and eloquently with an authentic teen voice. Genevieve is a compelling and sympathetic character; her anguish, and her skepticism, are convincing. Her cynical references to popular culture are witty and grounding. The supporting cast of characters are similarly well-crafted and multi-faceted. We thought Gen’s relationship with her aging-rock star father was actually quite interesting, too, with Gen feeling like she had to act as his parent, sometimes, instead of the other way around. We also appreciated the real-world themes of intolerance and depravity. Alexander reveals that supernatural beings are not the only ones with immoral tendencies: the malicious racism that affect Zeke and his mother and the licentious cruelty that leads to Star’s rape are poignant and pressing issues.”

Have to confess I had a broad smile on my face at that point. But then it went on to say this:

“Unfortunately books that play to the same audience as the TWILIGHT SAGA have been furiously published with more in the works all over town, and by the time we’d be able to release a book like this (in 2012) we have serious concerns about the genre being past its prime.”

So that’s it? Supernatural romance has a sell-by date? I can see that nobody wants an oversaturated marketplace but is the desire for the market really waning? When I look on teen reading websites or the teen author site, inkpop, there seems to be a pretty solid hunger (will stop now, I promise) for this kind of tale.

It’s not sour grapes, I promise. It’s just genuine puzzlement. Is that really it?

It's also left me wondering about publishing.  Today I read in The Times more about the rise of the e-book and the confusion of traditional publishers.  Is print publishing - with its two-year lead times - just too lumbering a beast for today's tastes and market?  Teens certainly want to read more supernatural romance right now.  Whether they will in two years' time is another question entirely. I hope so, but who knows?  Maybe I should put out Samael as an e-book, before it's 'past its prime'.

What do you think? Are we going to see the return of gritty realism to teen fiction? Or something new entirely? If you have teenage daughters how would they feel about the death of the vampire, the demon, the fallen angel? Relieved or sad? How would you feel? It’s okay, you can be honest :-)
And what do you think about how books are published?  Are your teens reading on Kindle, iPad, Sony e-reader? 

PS – on a lighter note, I’m talking about How to Bag a Man over on The Lady blog.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Should children play rugby?

So, look at the picture and three guesses where I spent my Sunday morning? Bondage fashion show? Outdoor shopfitting workshop? Oh, alright, so we were at Sandyway, the rugby ground of the Exeter Chiefs.

Yup, it’s rugger season again and I’m resigned to giving up large chunks of my life to stand, shivering, at the side of the pitch, while my son hurls boys into the mud and is then duly hurled into the mud in return.

I have a love-hate relationship with rugby. It’s one thing when vast man mountain strangers brawl in gladiatorial fashion; quite another when it’s your own precious breakable eleven-year old who is somewhere at the bottom of a melee of writhing limbs and kicking boots.

I do sometimes wonder: should children really play rugby? Every atom of my mothering heart screams Nooooooo, don’t be so bloody stupid; of course they shouldn’t. Let me count the reasons.
#1 = visit to A&E for suspected concussion.
#2 = suspected broken wrist.
#3 = other wrist being fractured.
#4 = neck injury.
There may have been #5 and #6 but I have started losing track really.

Bottom line: it’s brutal and downright dangerous.

I’m the kind of mother refs dread. The kind who watches beadily, narrows her eyes and reproves: ‘That tackle was way too high, ref’ or who glares at small boys and mutters ‘get off his neck, you little toad.’ Yet, curiously, I’m also the one shouting ‘Rip it out’ or ‘Heave!’ or ‘Down the line!’ Jumping up and down with glee as James makes a break or fells some boy-tree hybrid. Punching the air in triumph when he makes a try.

It’s a game of strategy and speed as much as brute force and when the team works together, it’s a joy to watch, like quick-moving chess. I also love the fact that it’s a sport in which the most unlikely boys can shine. For once it’s not just the slim and speedy who get the breaks – there are roles for the solid and chunky too. When you want to move a maul, you need a bit of weight. Truly, I missed my calling.

Yesterday I was chatting to one mum who said she was over-the-moon when her son took to rugby. ‘He’s a solid child,’ she said. ‘The type who normally gets labelled as ‘non-sporty’. Yet he really loves that he can make a difference in the scrum, and be one of the team. It’s getting him fitter and healthier too.’

I once talked about it with the headmaster of James’ old school and he said that there are good psychological reasons for promoting rugby too. It doesn’t just get boys fit, strong and agile; it also gives them a safe outlet for their natural thuggishness; lets them burn off a bit of the excess testosterone.

‘Do you really enjoy tackling?’ I asked James after one match, genuinely puzzled.
‘Heck yes, I love it,’ he replied, eyes shining. ‘Sometimes you feel like you just want to thump someone but if you did that normally you’d get told off. In rugby, you bring ‘em down and get praised to the sky.’

I tell you, boys are an alien species sometimes.

There’s this weird preconception that rugby is some kind of ‘posh boy’ game but, actually it’s played in around 10,000 state schools and local clubs up and down the country teach rugby to children from all walks of life.  Discipline is tight on the pitch and in the club-house afterwards when the children change into shirts and club ties for their after-match tea. It’s a far cry from football’s yob culture and you have to wonder whether, if rugby were played in every school, we might have less problems on the streets?

Would be interested to see what you think. Is rugby the Right Stuff or Total Insanity (or maybe a bit of both?)

Totally changing the subject, I was deeply chuffed to read a lovely review of this have a read by clicking here.

And please don't forget that I also blog for The Lady as Mrs Muck (get me!) - have a butcher's here (and do leave comments if you feel so inclined.  Or, indeed, write to that august publication and demand more of Mrs Muck (that would be fab!).  Latest post is Mrs Muck's Guide for Lonely Hearts..  :)