Monday, 30 December 2013
The website Lifehacker has lots of useful tips on everything from how to make better small talk to eating asparagus as a hangover cure. I was particularly interested in this article about The Fussy Librarian, a great idea I've featured here earlier in an interview with its creator, Jeffrey Brunner. If you'd like to know more (or want to improve your small talk in time for New Year's Eve) go to http://lifehacker.com/the-fussy-librarian-recommends-books-in-daily-emails-1487359897
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
I’m delighted to welcome Beth Webb, to my blog. Among other things, Beth is the critically acclaimed author of many books for children, teens and adults. Beth, do tell readers something about yourself and what decided you to be a writer.
My Dad always wanted to be a writer and he used to make up stories for me when I was little. He taught me that stories came out of heads as well as books. Before I went to school I used to scribble on bits of paper and sew them between cardboard covers to make books, I guess the urge to be an author was with me even then!
My first published piece was in a pop magazine when I was about 15. I met a brilliant blues group and wrote about them and was paid three guineas (about £25 in todays money).
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school – there was no advice on ‘how to be a writer’ in those days and my English teacher put me off being a journalist, so I read sociology and psychology. After uni I travelled around Europe, and lived with a hippie commune in a houseboat in Amsterdam and a mediaeval Bavarian castle, I also stayed for a while in an ex-leprosy hospital, then an attic in Rotterdam. I earned money cooking, cleaning, teaching English and selling paintings. I still love the Dutch language and people.
When I was about 27 I thought I ought to grow up and come home, so I worked for an independent radio station, then a national newspaper where I met my husband. I started writing stories for my four kids as Dad had done for me, and in 1993 I published my first children’s novel.
In 2000 I did an MA in Creative Writing at
Spa, then I became a tutor for the of the Arts. I
designed and wrote their course on writing for children. In about 2003 I became
a tutor for the University of Lancaster and the British Council’s ‘Crossing
Borders’ programme, mentoring emerging African writers. Open
Whew! That’s quite a biography. Tell me, how do you find inspiration for your writing?
Usually things people say get me thinking. For example, with Star Dancer, I met a lady at a picnic who wanted to be a minister, but her church didn’t approve or women priests. I began to think about all the people who can’t be who they are meant to be because of colour, creed, sex or disability – and Star Dancer began to grow.
When I get an idea I write it down, then from time to time I flip back through my notebooks. I’m often amazed at some of the ideas I’ve come up with. They aren’t bad.
Who are the authors who have most influenced you?
Where do I begin? Ursula le Guin, Susan Cooper, Terry Pratchett, Philip Reeve, David Almond, Philip Gross. I couldn’t have written my historical work without the inimitable Prof Ron Hutton and every collector of fairy stories and folk tales.
Do you base any of your characters on real people?
How do you develop your ideas into books?
How do you write? Do you have routines and rituals you like to stick to?
I’m at my computer every day from 8 or 9 am, usually with tea and breakfast next to the mouse, and I work until about 4, when my brain seizes up, then I go for a long walk to think through what I’m going to do next.
The Star Dancer quartet, set in the Iron Age, was originally written for teenagers but it crossed over into the adult market. Did that surprise you?
You also write for young children with your entertaining series about Fleabag the cat.
(Beth takes a deep breath…) I could go on far ages about this. How long have you got? In short, children like to be entertained and to explore emotions and the difficulties of life from a safe place they can return to when they close the book.
YA readers like to be thrown in the deep end with all the rolling, terrifying dangers of high action writing with fantasy creatures like dragons and vampires, danger, death and sex (sex is a sticky question for another day).
Teen readers know the world is a deadly place, they are longing to find a path through – however risky. Watch them play computer games and you’ll see what I mean. Teens don’t like being protected.
Apart from writing, you work with schoolchildren on a variety of projects. Can you tell me more about that?
I run workshops and courses for young writers at schools up and down the country, and especially at a place called
Kilve Court near Minehead in http://www.kilvecourt.co.uk/enrichment/
I’m also a professional storyteller and run storytelling workshops and events.
I used to tell regularly at Somerset
Festival, but gave up because of the mud! Glastonbury
So what’s next? Will there be new stories for Fleabag and Tegen?
Fleabag is getting a BIG makeover - Fleabag and the Fire cat is being revamped this winter for publication next year. I’m also planning a prequel. As for Tegen? I’ve been asked if I’ll write what happens to her daughter Gilda, growing up in ancient Ireland, and others have asked for the stories of Sabrina and Owein – and how their ancestors become – well, it’d be a spoiler if I told you who. But I’m not sure. I’ll see what my publisher says when I’ve finished everything else I have in hand at the moment.
Beth, thank you so much for coming, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you.
Find out more about Beth at her website, www.bethwebb.co.uk. It includes her top tips on writing as well as a ‘contact me’ button if anyone has more questions. She’s also on Twitter as @bethwebbauthor and https://www.facebook.com/bethwebbauthor.
Below: one of Beth's illustrations for Fleabag and the Ring of Fire.
Below: one of Beth's illustrations for Fleabag and the Ring of Fire.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
In November I was lucky enough to spend a few days in
. It’s a
fascinating country and hard not to fall for with its beautiful temples, miles and miles of the spectacular Mekong River
and fabulous mountain scenery, mostly clad in deep jungle green. The population
is young – 41% are under 14 and everyone we met was warm and friendly.
Tragically, the country’s strategic importance in Laos Indochina
has caused it great suffering in recent history – at one time it had the
terrible distinction of being one of the most bombed countries on Earth. Inevitably,
recovery takes time.
Little Girl in Traditional Hmong Costume
Consumerism hasn’t really caught up on
yet which makes it attractive in many ways. Most shopping is still done in local markets on a daily basis. The colours and smells of these markets are amazing with lots of exotic fruits and vegetables on offer as well as those more familiar to us. There's also a lot of tempting street food made from very fresh and tasty ingredients. Laos
The situation is less good where literacy is concerned; the rate has much improved in the last decade or so but it’s still only around 60%. It’s hard to find books anyway outside the capital,
, so Etranger Books and Tea in World Heritage city, Luang Prabang, is an oasis for book lovers. Founded by a French woman, it sells mainly second-hand books in a plethora of language as well as great cakes! Vientiane
If you’d like to know more about what’s being done to promote literacy in
why not take a look at http://www.thelanguageproject.org?
They also have a wish list on amazon.com.