Our blog brings you Young Writers news and competitions, workshops, interviews, literary news and much, much more! Why not sign up to our blog so you never miss a post!
Guest Blog Post by Glenda Millard
Author of 'The Stars At Oktober Bend'
Monday 22nd August 2016
What is the significance of the title ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’?
I can’t be absolutely certain about why I gave the book this title. But the following might help explain it: I don’t live near any major cities which means the night sky is black and vast, all-encompassing and generally starlit. Such skies seem to me, to emphasise the smallness of man and his concerns and the bigness of the universe. In many ways, ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’ is about light and dark, good and evil. Despite what has happened to her, Alice is not afraid of the dark. This is clear from her poem about colour;
‘...on the other hand if black
is only wicked
shouldn’t someone change the colour
of midnight or
is that what
stars are for?’
As I grew to know more about Alice and as she developed in the story, I sensed she could see or was seeking to find a bigger picture than was her immediate reality. She intuited that what had befallen her was small in comparison to what might lie ahead. You might notice that it is most often the stars that Alice sees, not the darkness. When she takes Manny onto the roof of her house at night, she describes what she can see this way,
‘...the many windowed
homes and all
the other glories of
men glowing small
as worms in the mouth
I think this passage indicates that Alice has an inkling of her place in the world.
And when Manny first sees Alice standing on the roof of her house at night, he is reminded of a figurehead on a ship,
‘sailing through the stars’.
I think Manny’s description of Alice, on that first sighting, was more apt than he realised.
How unlikely or perfect is the match between Alice and Manny?
Most of us are probably aware of that old saying that opposites attract, but between Alice and Manny this is not the case. Two people who don’t quite fit in. Both have a history of loss and violence. Perhaps only someone who has been exposed to those things could entirely understand the other. Perhaps it would have been an unequal relationship if only one of them was damaged. One who was weak, the other who was strong.
Manny was a boy who listened, who came back even after he had seen Alice at her most vulnerable and painfully embarrassing state. He wanted to speak to her - wanted her to speak to him. How wonderful that must have been when all she had experienced before was ridicule.
Alice was so moved by Manny’s desire to hear her speak again - even after he knew that her speech was impaired, that she wrote in her ‘Book of Flying’
‘once upon a time, a boy with no yesterdays asked a girl with no tomorrows for something no one else wanted....not knowing it was the hardest thing of all to give. he wanted the sound of her.
As Manny says, ‘Alice Nightingale was trusting me to understand. That is what she was doing.’
Regarding the voices of Manny and Alice;
Once I had decided to give each of them a voice, I had to ensure the voices were distinctly different.
Manny’s voice, is very correct and at times a little stilted, the way English learned as a second language can sometimes be. Manny also has a habit of repeating things as though to reinforce or reiterate his meaning, perhaps to the listener/reader or perhaps to himself. The passage above is an example of this.
Although it took many drafts before I was certain of Alice’s voice, it was much easier for me to write than Manny’s. Verbally her expression is halting, awkward and self-conscious. But her inner thoughts are fluid and intelligent.
Some of the symbols I’ve used and how have I crafted them into the story
Birds, including wrens, ravens and nightingales, flight and feathers all feature predominantly as symbols in my story. Oscar Wilde’s sad tale, ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ is a story of love and sacrifice. In my story, Old Charlie Nightingale, Alice’s grandfather might be seen as one who sacrificed his freedom in order to avenge the granddaughter he loved.
Percy Shelley, in his essay ‘A Defense of Poetry’, says;
‘A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.’
The image of Alice sitting on the roof of her house, writing poems at night, is a response to this. Alice, whose vocal ability is compromised, has the capacity to make words on paper sing.
From Greek Mythology comes the tale of sisters Philomena and Procne, one of whom was turned into a nightingale. It is said that, because of the violence associated with the myth, the nightingale's song is sometimes interpreted as a lament.
Here Alice refers to Joey and her Papa, Old Charlie.
‘i wrote a poem for them. an utterance of grief. a lamentation.
is letting go
is a ball and chain
what poor birds are we
he won't fly and
i can't sing and
no one listens
when a caged nightingale cries
Then there is Manny who remembers when the nightingales stopped singing when war came to Sierra Leone. For him, perhaps finding Alice, the girl who sits in darkness, the Nightingale, the poet, restores some of the sweet sounds he has lost.
The first of Alice’s poems that Manny finds refers to flight.
Here she tells us about how her ability to write makes her feel.
‘....giving wings to
words giving wings to me
together we fly
my milky-way words
The ravens I have used to represent fear, terror or dread. My maternal grandmother suffered from undiagnosed post-natal depression and the only way she could describe the feeling was to say that it was like crows were flying all around her, flapping their wings and blocking out the light.
Some of my favourite words and how I used them in ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’
Rather than having favourite words, I think I’m more interested in using ordinary words in unusual ways. I also like to listen to the way words sound together - which words make good companions in the oral and aural sense and also rhythmically. But here are a few perfectly ordinary words that I particularly enjoy;
How I used poetry,prose and song in this novel.
I used prose, verse, lower case letters and minimal punctuation as an acknowledgement of the difficulty Alice had in explaining longer, more complex thoughts in single sentences. As Alice herself says, she began by writing lists, these developed into verse and then, as the story progresses, so too does Alice's ability to communicate more complex, cohesive thoughts. One of the things Alice loves about verse is that each line can give a small foretaste of what is to come - a kind of prompt or reminder. So for Alice, verse became an aide to expression, something that helped her string longer passages of thought together.
And yes, I think there is an element of song in this book; when I write, I am always listening for rhythm. One of the things I use as an editing tool is to read aloud. I get a feel for how the words flow. Several people have commented after reading this book, that they, too, read it aloud. Rhythm, I believe is a great aide to remembering. Thinking of all the poems, skipping games etc I still recall from childhood, most of them have rhythm. For a person like Alice, who used cues to help her form fluent sentences, rhythm would also, I think, be very helpful.
What else I am enjoying reading?
Here are some of the titles (old and new) that I’ve read recently and loved best:
‘Teacup’ - a most amazing picturebook by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley.
‘The Reader on the 6.27’ - Jean-Paul Didier Laurent
‘All the Light we Cannot See’ - Anthony Doerr
‘The Golden Age’ - Joan London
‘My Family and other Animals’ - Gerald Durrell
‘Fortune’s Rocks’ - Anita Shreve
‘The Outsiders’ - S E Hinton
‘The Death of a Wombat’ - Ivan Smith Illustrated by Clifton Pugh
‘The Killer’s Tears’ - Anne-Laure Bondoux
‘The Kitchen Diaries III’ Nigel Slater - ‘A Year of Good Eating’ - beautifully written in diary form with the added bonus of recipes.
‘Eleanor & Park’ - YA Novel by Rainbow Rowell
Riddles are tricky things, which is exactly as they are meant to be. I'll admit, I'm not great when it comes to solving them, but when I decided to include riddles in my latest book, The Other Alice, I discovered that they're much easier to create than to figure out.
1. The key to creating a riddle is working backwards. You have the answer before you begin. You start by making a list of words that you like or might have special meaning to you. For example:
2. Choose one or two of the words and make brainstorms or lists of everything you can think of to do with that word. Try to think about opposites linked to this word. For instance, snow can be dangerous or even deadly in driving conditions, but it can also be beautiful and you can do fun things like build snow men and go sledding. Also think of ways it can be described without giving away the answer.
- A thick blanket that holds no warmth
- can cover a country in minutes or hours
- starts above (in the sky) and ends below (settling on the ground or melting into the earth).
- transforms a familiar view into something new
- can be a single speck, a light scatter, or too deep to walk through.
3. Put your riddle together. Make it as short or long as you like, but remember to include enough clues that the answer can't be confused with something else. It's a good idea at this point to test it out on a couple of guinea pigs to see if it's too easy or impossible. If you can make your riddle rhyme, even better. This adds a little more charm and also helps to befuddle and impress the reader, and you can get help from online dictionaries with this. If you like, try a couple of different ways of phrasing your riddle to see which you prefer.
I come from above and end below
A blanket that holds no warmth
I can be chaos, dangerous and deadly
Or the most fun you've ever known.
What am I?
I can be dangerous, deadly and cruel
A thing of beauty, a glittering jewel
A blanket which won't keep you warm
Or moulded to another form
I'll stick around for weeks or days
Or before I've settled gone away
I'll change a once familiar view
Into something fresh and new.
You can also use other ways such as wordplay to create riddles. Here's a fairly simple one that I made for The Other Alice:
Take half of free and all of end,
With I in the middle, on me you depend.
And another one I created but didn't use:
I can be ancient, or yesterday
Sometimes kept and sometimes lost
Buried deep but brought alive
By as little as a scent or a melody.
You should now have a good insight into how to go about making up your own riddle. It might take you a couple of attempts before you get the hang of it, so stick with it and change the word if you're struggling. Remember, simpler riddles are usually more effective than longer ones. Happy riddling!
Congratulations to Josie who is our winner for the best riddle! Josie has won a selection of signed books by Michelle Harrison.
Michael Rosen and Sarah Crossan crowned CLiPPA 2016 winners!
Thursday 14th July 2016
Former Children's Laureate, poet, performer and broadcaster Michael Rosen wins for his collection 'A Great Big Cuddle', illustrated by Chris Riddell. He is joined by author and previous CLiPPA shortlisted poet Sarah Crossan for her verse novel, 'One'.
John Hegley, Poet and Chair of the CLiPPA 2016 judges praised the winning books: “The five shortlisted titles are an exemplary spread of what poetry can be. The winning poets both have their very different inspirations so meticulously architected on the page. As one of the judging panel remarked, together the books proclaim,' it doesn't matter if you're 3 or 16, poetry, is for you!'”
Run by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, the annual Poetry Award is the only one of its kind in the UK, encouraging and celebrating outstanding poetry published for children. The winner’s announcement was made at the finale of The Poetry Show at the National Theatre, a lively celebration of poetry with children at its heart. All of the CLiPPA 2016 shortlisted poets alongside poet and chair of judges John Hegley and winners of the children’s Shadowing Scheme performed to a packed house of poets, educators, publishers, media and schools. Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell brought the ceremony to life, live-drawing the whole event from the stage.
Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive, CLPE said: “At CLPE we are committed to ensuring that poetry is central to children’s learning. Reading, writing, creating and performing poetry is integral to all aspects of developing literacy. The judges have chosen two winners who demonstrate the variety of the poetic form and its wide appeal to all ages. The winning works, and all the shortlisted books, show how important and diverse this art form is and together show just what an accessible and significant contribution poetry can make as children build a love of literature. ”
More than 1000 children from 80 schools took part in the Shadowing Scheme submitting between them nearly 130 films of children performing their favourite poems from the shortlist. The winning performers were invited to the National Theatre to meet the shortlisted poets and take part in specially planned theatre workshops. The winning children then performed on stage alongside the shortlisted poets before the winner announcement.
National Poetry Day’s 2016 theme of ‘messages’ was also announced today with CLiPPA award-winning poets Michael Rosen and Sarah Crossan calling on schools and children to ‘Say it with a Poem.’ Balloons featuring poems from the winning Shadowing Schools and the CLiPPA poets were released into the sky from the National Theatre from a spectacular poetic machine. Conceived by designer David Colombini, “Attachment” allows people to send digital messages, images or videos into the air attached to biodegradable balloons and highlights the power of poetry to convey a message.
Susannah Herbert, Executive Director, Forward Arts Foundation said: “On National Poetry Day, poetry takes centre stage, elbowing boring old prose aside. Children are instinctive poets: they love wordplay, rhythm, rhyme, breaking the rules and inventing joyful new combinations of sound and meaning. They know that anything you say with a poem will be remembered. So we’re thrilled to be launching this year’s NPD theme – Messages - here at the CLiPPA, which celebrates poetry written for children to enjoy, discover and, above all, to share.“
The 2016 Wicked Young Writer Awards announced its winners during a ceremony involving over 100 shortlisted finalists and their families and teachers at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, home of the multi award-winning musical Wicked.
Now in its 6th year, the awards encourage young people aged 5-25 years to use writing as a way of expressing themselves, producing unique and original pieces of prose and poetry. This year the standard of entries was higher than ever, revealing young people who are engaged in their communities and the world through their writing. The awards celebrate originality and the unique voice of the young writer.
Each year, thousands of entries are received across five age categories, with the addition in 2016, of the WICKED: FOR GOOD Award, encouraging 15–25 year olds to write essays or articles that recognise the positive impact that people can have on each other, their communities and the world in general. The new award celebrates the WICKED: FOR GOOD programme, which supports the charitable causes at the heart of the stage musical.
The ceremony was hosted by Gaby Roslin, TV and radio presenter, with prizes presented by Head Judge Cressida Cowell, bestselling author of the How to Train Your Dragon series of books.
Wicked cast members also performed songs from the hit musical, as well as readings of the winning entries, which were revealed as:
Joint winner: Aoife Stewart, 6, from Ealing London for ‘Problems in Potland’
Joint winner: George McGivern, 6 from Kent for ‘The King Who Hated Christmas’
Joint winner: Isla Whitford, 6 Kent for ‘William and the Dog Catcher’
Joint winner: Angelina Thakrar, 8 from Lewes for ‘The Day of the Dead’
Joint winner: Matilda Collins, 11 from Eastbourne for ‘Night Step’
Matilda said: “I wrote 'Night-Step' during one of my English lessons at school. We had been reading some fabulous description of settings from 'Skellig' by David Almond and I wanted to see if I could invent my own description of the night. I particularly like the night-time because it is very peaceful and, in the dark, when you can't see so much, all of your other senses come alive. I was able to write more about what I could hear, feel, and experience with my 'sixth sense'.
I love writing stories and descriptions because I feel that I can set free my imagination. I get a lot of my inspiration from my English lessons, with my teacher; from other great books that I have read, and from places that I have been to.”
Joint winner: Eilidh Laurie 12 from Stirling, Scotland for ‘As White as Snow’
Joint winner: Harry Watson, 14 from Enfield, London for ‘Prison Life: A Teenage Convict’s Perspective
Joint winner: Amber Marino, 15 from Sutton, Surrey for ‘The Journalist’
Joint winner: Charlotte Morgan, 16 from Bridport, Dorset for ‘Desire of the Soul’
Amber said: “The Journalist was inspired by two contrasting types of conflict, the brutality of war and barbaric nature of discrimination, which are implemented to highlight the true horror and mercilessness of the other. In History lessons, we’ve learned about the soldiers of WWI and WWII but the death toll and casualty numbers are so large they’re incomprehensible. However, during a trip to France and Belgium to visit the battlefields and memorials, these large figures dwindled to more personal and individual stories. This experience, coupled with influences from literature, compelled me to write about a soldier so the unsung heroes are made real and vivid in a fashion that statistics could never replicate. For example, War Poetry such as ‘Bayonet Charge’ and ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ illustrate the suffering and dispensable nature of young soldiers. Additionally, the novel ‘Private Peaceful’ plays a large role in my fascination of soldiers. Having a seventeen-year-old brother, I felt a connection to Tommo and the devastating impact war had on family and relationships.
Equally, homophobia and discrimination tore apart families and relationships in the same barbaric way that WWI and WWII did. During debates and discussions at school, I always felt passionate and strongly believed in equality so it is a theme I decided to include in my writing. Lots of progress has been made in modern day society since in 2013 same sex couples were allowed to marry. However, more subtle, even unconscious, forms of prejudice still exist in this country. In the media, somebody’s sexual orientation usually appears relevant and as a dominant trait if it is not heterosexual. When really, that is a part of somebody’s personal and private life and should be no more relevant than their shoe size. Gay characters in films and TV programmes can often fit a stereotype but I didn’t want my leading character to fall into that category, inspiring me to tell the story of somebody detailed and realistic who suffered two types of conflict equally as devastating as the other."
Winner: Fabiana Conte Luque, 25 from London for ‘Unforgettable Sounds’
For Good Category:
Joint winner: Isabelle Emma Stokes, 21 from Brighton
Joint winner: Sophie Arthur, 19 from Cheltenham, Glos
Amongst this year’s finalists were stories, poems and non-fiction writing showing the beginnings of real social awareness and conscience. Highlighted concerns included environmental disasters, the rights of women, arranged marriages, the plight of refugees around the world and more immediately, the homeless. A powerful and realistic cautionary tale showed the dangers and difficulties of life in a young offender’s prison. Fantastical ghost stories, wildly funny pet stories and great flights of imagination made the younger entries a joy to read.
Cressida Cowell said of the winners, “This year, my fellow judges and I read poems and stories that are poignant, amusing and captivating. They addressed really big issues, war, homelessness, prejudice, and abuse. There was an incredible range of styles and an array of brilliantly original voices, but they all had this in common: they made us judges feel something. ”
Horatio Clare and his editor Penny Thomas have won the 2016 Branford Boase Award given annually to the author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children, for Horatio and the Terrible Yoot published by tiny independent Firefly Press.
Horatio Clare has won awards for his books for adults and was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Of writing for children he said: ‘I am absolutely lit up about writing for children. I feel there are no limits, their imaginations are so powerful, and I love being in dialogue with an imagined child reader. It is the most exciting writing I have yet discovered.’
On winning the award he said: ‘Winning this wonderful award means the world to me for three reasons. This is the book I am most proud of: it was written with heart and soul about something painful and important, but meant to read as a joy and an adventure.
It was not even given a chance at London publishers because it was not thought 'commercial', but the brilliant Firefly, run by Penny Thomas, grabbed it and made it happen.
It was funded by the Welsh Books Council: state support for writers in Wales is exemplary; I and many other Welsh writers are working to repay the support and faith placed in us by the executive and the people of Wales, with books which will travel and last. This award is theirs as much as mine.’
Founded in 2000 the Branford Boase Award has an impressive record in picking out future stars. Frances Hardinge, winner of this year’s Costa Book of the Year won the Branford Boase in 2006 while Meg Rosoff, recent recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, is also a previous winner, as are Marcus Sedgwick, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd and Kevin Brooks.
Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot describes how Aubrey, a ‘rambunctious’ boy, receives help from the wild animals in the woods around his home to break the depression that is weighing down his father. The source of the depression is a beetle, the Terrible Yoot, and through their encounter with it, Aubrey and his father discover the infinite wonder of the world.
Chair of the judges, children’s literature expert and children’s books editor of The Guardian Julia Eccleshare said, ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot is beautifully written and highly original, proof that children’s books is a very exciting place in which to write. Clare describes both the natural world and the misery of depression with extraordinary accuracy, and acknowledges a child’s power to imagine a better world. This year’s shortlist was particularly strong, a great representation of what authors are writing today. It is very exciting to think about what is to come from all the shortlisted authors.’
The Branford Boase Award is the only award to recognise the role of the editor in nurturing new talent.
Winning editor Penny Thomas said, 'I was bowled over by Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot from the minute I read it and so delighted to sign Horatio for Firefly. The book is funny, big-hearted and original and derives its brilliance from a superb use of language, an empathy for people and nature and a refusal to patronise the reader. It also has one of the best visionary endings I’ve ever read. I’m overjoyed for Horatio and for Firefly that the Branford Boase judges loved Aubrey too. It means an enormous amount to all of us at Firefly to win this unique award.’
Horatio Clare’s first book Running for the Hills, an acclaimed account of a Welsh childhood, won a Somerset Maugham Award, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and saw Horatio shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. His subsequent books included Truant, A Single Swallow, The Prince’s Pen and most recently the travelogue Down to the Sea in Ships, shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Award 2015. Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot is his first book for children.
Penny Thomas has a BA in English Language and Literature from Keble College Oxford and a lifelong passion for children’s books. She has worked as fiction editor for literary publisher Seren for ten years, where she has edited a number of award-winning titles. She and co-founder Janet Thomas set up Firefly Press in 2013 to publish quality fiction for 5-19 year olds. To date the press has published 20 titles including books by Shoo Rayner, Heather Dyer, Malachy Doyle, Wendy Meddour, Paul Magrs and Rhian Ivory, several of which have been listed for regional and Wales awards. Penny lives in Cardiff with her two teenage children.
Firefly Press is an independent children’s and YA publisher based in Cardiff and Aberystwyth. Set up in 2013, Firefly is the only dedicated children’s publisher in Wales and publishes quality fiction for 5-19 years olds. Their aim is to publish books by great authors and illustrators wherever they are from.
The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, editorial director and one of the founders of Walker Books. Both Henrietta and Wendy died of cancer in 1999. The award is specifically to encourage new writers and to highlight the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. It has an excellent record in identifying talented authors.
This year the judges are Russell Allen team leader for children’s services across the West Sussex Library Service, recently awarded Public Librarian of the Year; Simon Key, bookseller from the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green; Marion Lloyd, former children’s editor; and Rosie Rowell, author of Leopold Blue, winner of the 2015 Branford Boase Award. The panel is chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor of the Guardian.
The 2016 winners of the Award were announced on Thursday 7th July at a ceremony at Walker Books in London. Former Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson OBE presented Horatio Clare with a cheque for £1,000 and both Horatio and Penny Thomas received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.
Bonacia Ltd is a Limited Liability company incorporated in England and Wales with registered number 05368980.
Young Writers, Remus House, Coltsfoot Drive, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, PE2 9BF