Blog move

I’ve moved this blog to a locally hosted version on my site. You can now find it at

Go there for all new posts including some exciting news about the Hex trilogy!

Clarke award: Our revels now are ended

After two years my duties as a Science Fiction Foundation judge for the Arthur C. Clarke award have come to an end. Last Wednesday we gave China Miéville the award for The City and The City: an unprecedent third win for the author who has already receieved the award twice before for Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005.

The City and The City is the kind of book I would like to write myself. It has depth and intricacy but is also accessible and action-packed, well paced and thoughtfully plotted. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to put it on your reading list. The same goes for the rest of this year’s Clarke shortlist: Spirit by Gwyneth Jones, Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts, Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson, Far North by Marcel Theroux and Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding.

This award doesn’t have an official ‘meet and greet’ so I haven’t actually met China – there was a scrum of reporters 3 foot deep and I am too short to tangle with excited journalists – instead I shall wing him these virtual congratulations via the internet. I did however meet Gwyneth Jones who I attempted to praise without terrifying her with the extent of my fannishness. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded. But she freaked me out by saying she knew who I was and reads my blog. Gwyneth is a wonderful writer and well on her way to supplanting Ursula Le Guin from the very top of my top ten.

Judges go for ice cream

Thank you to everyone else who has made the Clarke award so much fun. I’ve made friends among both judging teams and met all sorts of cool people at the award ceremonies. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

You can see how much fun we’ve had in this picture of the judging team going out for ice cream after a tough meeting to decide the winner. From left to right we are: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Chris Hill, Francis Spufford, Rhiannon Lassiter and Paul Skevington

Bologna videos

I’ve uploaded two Bologna videos to my You Tube account, one still to come.

So far I’ve uploaded some video of the illustrators wall and a video of the launch party for the Great Big Book of Families, written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Ros Asquith and published by Frances Lincoln.

Bologna 2010

Bologna 2010

Last week I was in Italy for the Bologna book fair. This is the biggest trade fair for the childrens books industry and a great opportunity for me to meet my overseas publishers.

I went with my mother, Mary Hoffman, who was wearing two hats for the fair (no, not literally). She was visiting her publishers as an author but also writing about the fair for Carousel magazine. She’s written about the fair on her Book Maven blog.

As you can see from the photo to the left, this was not a sunny Italian holiday. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the sun shines, it’s even been known to snow. This was warm but grey weather. But inside the fair was as colourful as ever. I’ll try and give you a flavour of that in words and pictures…

Illustrators wall at Bologna 2010

The most colourful part of all is the illustrator’s wall. Last year this was a cube in the entrance area but this time it hall spilled out along one wall of the central atrium area. This is where aspiring illustrators come to post their wares. It carries posters, flyers, brochures and business cards, overlapping and spilling out form the wall itself on to the floor. I took a video when it was still in creation. By the end of the fair there wasn’t a spare bit of wall to be seen. (I was hoping to be able to embed the video into this post but YouTube is still processing it as I write this, so I’ll add the link later.)

You don’t get a lot of authors at Bologna, only a scattering from across the world. But there are illustrators aplenty from local universities and art schools and some do travel from other countries to show their wares at the fair. It’s tough for them to get noticed on the wall or get appointments at the stand and this is a rough market for all unpublished creative people. I asked some publishers if they look at unsolicited art and the consensus seems to be (as with writing right now) that if your stuff is amazing, it will get noticed, but it does need to be amazing to sell.

Not a lot of art directors visit Bologna either. You’re much more likely to find people from rights, sales, and marketing. Publishing directors, art directors and MDs do visit but not necessarily and it’s difficult to get appointments with these worthies. If you’re an illustrator, Bologna is a wonderful place to see the market and get to know the styles used by different publishing houses but it’s not the best place to try and sell your work.

Cookery book publishers

Cookery book publishers stand @ Bologna 2010

The exhibition centre has many halls, and the book fair uses four of these in addition to the central atrium. This means four halls of publishers’ stands, clustered roughly in country groupings. Some stands are three walls with bookshelves, others are huge fortresses with crenellations, shields and tabards. See some of them on my Flickr events page.

There’s an obvious hierarchy. Big rich publishing houses have big colourful stands. Small houses have hopeful little stands. Of course it’s possible to spend a lot badly or a little well. I’ve seen giant boxes with no display space at all and tiny cubicles full of cunningly worked displays. As with the illustrators’ wall the publishers are here to sell themselves and some do with with real panache. Selling and buying is the order of the day and big deals are being done. The most talked about book at the fair this year was The Emerald Atlas, a junior title which has already sold to the USA, Germany, Italy, Holland and Norway. Rumours abounded that each deal was for a million euros plus.

Meanwhile the other 95% of the fair was getting on with the daily business of more earthbound deals. It’s a privilege for me to be able to meet overseas publishers in person and talk about the market in their country.

The good news for me is that Bad Blood is still selling well abroad. German sales of the hardback alone are very encouraging and the book is paperbacked this year. I met my German editor, Antje Keil of Fischer Verlage, for the second time and sat in a brief splash of sunshine to talk about the book. It’s reassuring to know that such an English book with a Lake District setting, can be popular with German readers. I do feel though that I should try to write some more international settings. That won’t be true of my next book though: Ghost of a Chance is set in an English stately home.

Rhiannon Lassiter and Natalia Sikora

Rhiannon Lassiter and Natalia Sikora @ Bologna 2010

Rhiannon Lassiter and Lucie Šavlíková

Rhiannon Lassiter and Lucie Šavlíková

I also met Lucie Šavlíková, from my Czech publishers Mlada Fronta, and Natalia Sikora from my Polish publishers Wydawnictwo WAB. I am ashamed to admit that my foreign language skills are not especially impressive (a smattering of restaurant Italian, unconvincing French, GCSE German, surprisingly helpful Latin and the ever useful Anglo Saxon) but fortunately for me everyone I met spoke English with a fluidity that made it hard to believe it was a second language for any of them. They all made me welcome at their stands and talked very positively about Bad Blood. I also caught up with some of my previous publishers of earlier books abd was flattered that they remembered me with so many books frothing and crashing into publication each year like the battering of tidal waves.

I can’t write about Bologna without a shoutout to multicultural British publishers Frances Lincoln who have only published one book of mine and that the non-profit Lines in the Sand. But although I’ve not made them one red cent they kindly sponsored me at the fair, allowed me the use of their stand and took me out to a delicious meal at one of the best restaurants in Bologna. Thank you once again, Frances Lincoln people! I tried to repay them a tiny bit by acting as a photojournalist at the launch party for my mother’s new title, illustrated by Ros Asquith, the Great Big Book of Families. I’ll upload some video and photos from the party soon. Unfortunately my trusty digital camera, all of three years old, is no match for the SLR I use at university. I fear an SLR will be an expensive piece of kit not only to buy but to travel with but it’s racking up points on my list of things I wish I owned.

Kidnapped by moomins

Kidnapped by moomins @ Bologna 2010

Another shoutout to the SCBWI people who had their conference the week before Bologna and were kind enough to invite me to their closing party (and Bologna opening for me) at which I met old friends and contacts, internet buddies, Lines in the Sand contributors and new writers fizzing with enthusiasm and not nearly vain enough of their success in getting deals in this difficult climate.

At the events I went to and at the fair I met more lovely people than I have time or space to mention and I’ll spare you the story of our travel adventures in the face of union action and the longest taxi queues in the world. Stay tuned to my YouTube for some attempts at videobloggery of some more book fair experience.

We stayed three days at the fair and although it was a near thing I was not kidnapped by moomins. I also managed to tear myself away from an Italy in which the sun had escaped from its prison and conjured up a emerald atlas of its own sweeping skies. I’ll be back in Italy in June for my first real holiday since Rhodes in 2008, so the sunshine will have to save itself up for me then.

Look out for Mary’s articles on the fair in Carousel magazine and Armadillo online. And, if you’re thinking of coming to Bologna in 2011, drop me a line. I’ve got several projects in pre pre production but one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll be launching Ghost of a Chance next year. If enough people I know are about I might even have a party of my own!

Abingdon book signing 13 March 2010

I would have written this up earlier but I was in a tearing hurry to leave for Bologna! However we had the first Children’s Author Roadshow event in Abingdon on the 13th of March at The Bookstore in Abingdon.

The event was organised by the Oxfordshire branch of the Children’s Author Roadshow which is a new project of the scattered Authors Society to link groups of local authors for visits. Our group of authors were: Leslie Wilson, Joanna Kenrick, Mary Hoffman, Kath Langrish, Rhiannon Lassiter, Dennis Hamley and Mary Hooper.

With so many authors I was a bit worried we’d fill up the whole shop so customers couldn’t get in. But The Bookstore turned out to be surprisingly spacious almost Tardis-like in its ability to cram in so many of us and still keep plenty of room for people having books signed, people buying books and people simply browsing the shelves. We took up two tables with our books and the authors took turns behind the tables, meeting and greeting and handing out free postcards and bookmarks inside and outside the store. The staff members were very friendly and supportive and had put together a beautiful window display of all of our books and a swingstand outside the shop.

At this event I was promoting Bad Blood and the reissued Rights of Passage sequence, of which Borderland and Outland have been published so far. I handed out competition flyers with the opportunity to win a free copy of Borderland or Outland by answering the question “If you discovered a secret doorway into another world, what would you do?”

We had a number of entrants and almost everyone who answered included having adventures in their reply. Quite a few people would take a friend or family member with them and an honorable mention to the contestant who wanted to fill her world with music.

I chose the winner later that evening and can now announce the winner was Kathlyn, from Abingdon, UK with the answer: “Bring a friend with me so we could discover the world together and hopefully have adventures. And also meet interesting characters in the other world to be my friends.” Congratulations, Kathlyn! A copy of Borderland is on its way and should reach you by the end of the month.

The photos you see in this entry were taken by Sara Wallcraft, Monkeyflower Designs, who kindly helped me out at this event. She’s one of my cloest friends and if I ever do discover a door into another world I’m sure she’ll be close behind me. Thanks also to Jo Kenrick who did the lioness’ share of the organising (all the hard work of tracking down suitable prey and organising the pride of authors) and to Mary Hoffman for transporting me to Abingdon. Thank you as well to the rest of the CAR team who were a joy to work with. I hope to do more signings with the group this year.

Book signing in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Saturday 13th March 2010 – The Oxford branch of the Children’s Authors’ Roadshow, including Leslie Wilson, Joanna Kenrick, Mary Hoffman, Kath Langrish, Rhiannon Lassiter, Dennis Hamley and Mary Hooper will be talking to customers and signing books between 11am and 2pm at The Book Store in the Abingdon shopping precinct – come along and say hello!

Rhiannon will also be judging a competition to win copies of her books. For a chance to win, entrants must answer the question “if you discovered a secret doorway into another world… what would you do?”

Gender traditionalism leaves so little for girls

The other day I posted about Disney’s worries that fairytale princesses are unappealing to boys. Another reminder came today that they are also unappealing to girls.

Viv Groskop writes in the Guardian about trying to take her 3-year-old daughter on a feminist journey:
Despite my best efforts, my three-year-old daughter Vera hasn’t exactly been celebrating her girlhood of late. In fact, influenced by her six-year-old brother, she can frequently be heard muttering, “Girls are boring. I want to do boys’ things.” I can see her point. Her brother’s life is full of Star Wars, pirates, football and other action-packed phenomena. Vera gets Hello Kitty. She clearly finds this unsatisfying, and the situation is coming to a head. “I am not a girl, Mummy, I am a boy,” she told me recently. “My name is Peter.”

While I don’t think the idea of taking a toddler on a three hour walking tour of London’s East End focusing on areas important to feminism is the ideal solution (I’m an adult feminist and I think I would view the idea with trepidation), I think it is important to recognise the problem.

Toys are becoming more segregated, not less so. An acquaintance of mine reported a trip recently to a popular chain store where ‘boys costumes’ includes doctors outfits and ‘girls costumes’ included nurses outfits. This in 2010, not 1950. My recent purchase of a mini fridge for my office came with a large label declaring it to be a ‘man’s gift’. I’m sure a full sized fridge would be a woman’s gift – after all, who is it who spends all their time in the kitchen.

Marketing is often not ambitious, it doesn’t aim to challenge preconceptions, it plays to cliches and stereotypes. Is it any wonder the little girls flock to the pink fairy wings and the boys to the blue footballs when every message projected at children is that this is what they should like. I think it’s harder to avoid gender segregation in toys now than it was when I was a child in the 1980s.

I don’t know what we do about it. I don’t have a daughter to dress as a pirate and play light sabres with. But those of you who do, please go out and get a tricorne hat and a light up sword today.

Tangled up in Disney

Disney is to rename ‘Rapunzel’ because the name doesn’t appeal to boys. After a disappointing box office performance of The Princess and the Frog, the Disney corporation have conducted market research that has convinced them that ‘boys do not like films with girls’ names in the title’. A forthcoming adaptation of The Snow Queen has been shelved and the forthcoming version of Rapunzel (scheduled for November release) will be renamed Tangled.

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, said: “We did not want to be put in a box. Some people might assume it’s a fairytale for girls when it’s not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.”

It’s hardly surprising that after so much marketing of fairytales to girls that boys might feel included. The softening of fairytales to make them more appealing to the Disney market with changes such as a happy ending for The Little Mermaid has inevitably removed some of the gruesomeness of fairytales that might appeal to a more boisterous audience. With so much emphasis on Princesses and fairies, wings and glitter and a sea of pink is it surprising that boys, and undoubtedly a number of girls too, are turned off? Children are sensitive to marketing and boys can perfectly well see that pink products are not aimed at them. Wearing pink is now something that only the really ‘masculine’ man can get away with, a daring gesture of unconventionality. While for girls pink is de rigueur, and an eight-year-old girl must struggle to find an alternative colour in anything and everything from pencilcases to book covers.

Princesses are wet. They wear pretty dresses and have elaborate hairstyles and they play with golden spheres in their immaculate palace gardens, waiting for the day when they will be cursed by an evil witch (who will not wear pink) and then rescued by a Prince (who will be carrying a  sword even if he doesn’t use it). Even with Disney’s musical pizazz and Pixar’s animation genius, the story of a Princess is not an empowering one – especially when a combination of watering stories down to make them U or PG and the anti-feminist backlash have turned any story about a Princess into a wishy-washy mishmash of modern feelgood buzzwords hung on a blandly and unquestioningly misogynist framework. In Disneyland ethnicity is flavour text and gender immutable.

Personally I have no problem with the title change. Fairytales don’t have titles in the same way that modern works of fiction do. The title is a shorthand for the story. Tangled is a good title. It’s full of possibility and mystery. Rapunzel is just some girl’s name (although hardly a classic ‘girly’ name, it doesn’t even end with an -a.)

But if Disney/Pixar wants to make stories more universal then they, and the publishing industry as a whole, need to move away from the identification of the audience with certain gender-defined roles. Princesses are passive creatures even at the best of times. The fairytale is not a positive model for girls: choice is essentially limited to Princess, Witch or serving woman. Throw away the easy cliches and find the more subtle evolutions of fairytales or use contempory fiction ideas instead.

Suggestions welcomed for what would make a really excellent Disney movie with all the essential Disney ingredients (jolly singalong songs, settings with international ‘flavour’, zany mayhem, adolescent characters having adventures and forming friendships) but without the blatant misogyny or gender traditionalism.

I’ll start you off with Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City, Margaret Mahy’s The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak or Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

Bologna 2010

Bologna2010 logo


From the 23rd to the 26th of March I’ll be at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy. Bologna is the biggest children’s rights fair and has over a thousand exhibitors from publishing companies, agencies and production companies around the world. I’ve been going to Bologna every other year for the last decade and am now attending every year to meet my international publishing companies, find out about the current trends in publishing and surround myself with children’s books and book people.

I’ll be there with my mother, the children’s author Mary Hoffman. If you’re attending the fair let me know and perhaps we can meet.

Things I read on the internet

The Guardian asked writers for their ten rules for writing (part one and part two available here). I like lots of bit and pieces of advice and might take one rule from each author. But overall I liked this advice the best:

Ian Rankin

1 Read lots.
2 Write lots.
3 Learn to be self-critical.
4 Learn what criticism to accept.
5 Be persistent.
6 Have a story worth telling.
7 Don’t give up.
8 Know the market.
9 Get lucky.
10 Stay lucky.

Other things I read on the internet suggest a couple of addendums:

Additional rule a) If a reviewer critiques your book don’t take it personally. Especially don’t declare internet war on the reviewer, abuse them by email and in comments to forums and create sock puppets to praise your book and star rate it. That makes you look crazy – and desperate.

Additional rule b) Even if your dad is a rock star that doesn’t mean you can trace the art from other people’s manga and publish it under your own name without the entire fannish interwebs calling you out on it. And then CNN will notice. That makes you look stupid – and a plagiarist.