awards · Chat · Uncategorized

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

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Looking for a great way to celebrate children’s literature? Get yourself behind the Carnegie awards.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are judged by children’s librarians. What makes them unique is that this never changes. The only people who have ever judged them are qualified librarians. Those magical people who work with books on a daily basis and put them into children’s hands. They have the double-expertise of qualifications and regular contact with young readers.

The medal is also uniquely brilliant at identifying books which we will still be reading in 50 years time.

Look at the list of past winners. The Little White Horse, The Borrowers, Tom’s  Midnight Garden. Many of the earliest winners are still beloved reads. Still in circulation and read by the current generation of children. The medal has spotted debut authors who have gone on to be some of the biggest names in children’s storytelling (David Almond’s Skellig, for example, was awarded the medal). 

Every year people in my Twittersphere debate whether children should have a say in the judging process. This conversation can get heated because there are people who are rightly passionate about children having a say in their own literature. 

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It is also important to recognise children’s writing as a craft. An art. Too often children’s literature loses press space and attention and literary critics have made comments which dismiss children’s fiction as something inferior to the adult literary canon. To stand against this and say we recognise the artists at work in children’s literature today, we need awards run by professionals. That’s not to dismiss children’s voices. In fact, the awards feature a very popular shadowing scheme, where school and library groups work their way through the shortlist, and for the first time this year has introduced the Shadowers’ Choice Award to celebrate the shortlisted book most popular with young people.

I support the Carnegie then because it champions children’s literature as an art, it has a great track record of picking future classics and it gives dedicated authors and illustrators the recognition they deserve.

With this year’s list on my bookshelf, I am already exploring a great range of literature and illustration and making notes about the merits and qualities of every book.

I look forward to reviewing the shortlisted titles and sharing my thoughts over the coming weeks. Join in the discussion: let me know your predictions on this year’s medal, your favourite past winner or who you would like to see nominated in the future.

The most wonderful thing about the Carnegie of all is it gets us talking about books.

 

(Images from CILIP Carenegie and Kate Greenaway website.)

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Chat · Reflection

Two years of blogging – reflections

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Happy blog day to me.

Two years ago I came home from a book event and typed up my thoughts. It seemed as good a moment as any to start that blog. It feels like minutes since I hit ‘publish’ on my first post and watched my stats until I saw activity which didn’t actually come from my Mum. 

Two years is a strange mark in blogging. In one way I have learned so much, but I also have so much still to learn. Last year I was determined to make the move to self-hosting, but now I am glad I waited. Free WordPress may not be glamorous but it has given me space to test out content from different niches and work on different skills before making the jump. 

So what have I been up to in my second year of blogging? 

Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to attend several bookish events, listen to established authors and meet other bloggers. I am already booked in for the NYA Literary Festival this March and can’t wait to see you all again. Twitter chats are brilliant, but there is nothing like meeting in person. 

I was particularly motivated by Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh Book Festival, who spoke about using her own strengths to plot stories and sticking out rejection to reach success. 

It was also a pleasure to meet Robin Stevens in December. The Murder Most Unladylike series is one of my favourite middle-grade mystery series, and Robin Stevens gave some brilliant advice about creating believable characters.

Over the past twelve months, I have written a novel manuscript. I had attempted this before and it had ended in ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ (did I steal that? It is the perfect description of those early projects. The ones which had some good stuff in them. The odd scene or character or brilliant bit of dialogue. A couple even had a soul, but they just didn’t hold together as a story. Calling them nothing belies the effort which went into them, but calling them novel manuscripts would be like calling Frankenstein’s monster human.) 

This year I finished a 40,000-word middle-grade mystery. With the average number of manuscripts ahead of publication stated as four, I am looking ahead to my next plots, but it is encouraging to finally have something in the drawer . I know blogging played a big part in getting me to this stage. Networking with writers at all stages of their career has been invaluable, and I have friends who have cheered me on through every scrap of writing over the past two years. Thanks to you all. 

If you are thinking about starting a book blog, do it.  Take time to find out what sort of book-blogger you are. There are promoters and there are people who want to build a network of bookish friends and there are people looking to develop their reading as part of a professional goal (eg teachers looking to improve the way they use texts in the classroom). Some bloggers are social-bunnies while others are introverts. Some bloggers want to create dazzling content while others slip it into a very hectic timetable. Everyone’s approach is valid and that variety makes the blogosphere a more interesting place. 

In my first two years, I have tried content from different niches. I have tried sticking to schedule and I have tried going with the flow. I almost expanded to include literary fiction, then dropped that in favour of picture books and illustrated non-fiction. I have dabbled with lifestyle content as a way of expanding my audience. There can be immense pressure when everything is quantified in likes and stats. My advice? Enjoy playing.

What do I want to take forward over the coming year? 

If I want to keep anything from my first two years, it is my commitment to be kind. Social media can be exhausting, and nothing depresses me more than when new bloggers join in a chat or an event and get totally overlooked. If I keep anything from my earliest years of blogging, I want to remember to be the person who says ‘hi’. The person who likes a post even though the photograph is wonky. Remember always that there are real people behind those posts. 

Reviewing picture books and younger middle-grade has not only helped me to find books which I love promoting, it has also helped me to find whole different networks. The people who talk about these formats on Twitter are some of the most dedicated and insightful readers I have had the pleasure of engaging with. From librarians and teachers to parents and content-creators and aspiring authors and illustrators, their approaches to these texts may be different but they share a dedication and interest. 

Reviewing picture books has also shown me how much I love considering theme and ways of using books to promote empathy. Maybe that is partly to do with the climate we are currently living in, but I don’t think there has ever been a better time for reading deeper. Look out for more in the coming year. 

I would also love to do more collaborations with lifestyle bloggers. Doing these really pushes me out of my ‘comfort’ niches and makes for a more rounded and interesting blog. 

Finally, I want to hear from you all. Share your thoughts, post your blog links and tell me what you are loving. My readers are the reason I keep typing. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported BookMurmuration over the past two years. Here’s to the next two. 

Chat · Lifestyle

Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

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Meet my middle-grade shelves. 

One name has been all over my Twittersphere of late: Marie Kondo.

 Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is the latest hit on Netflix. Every episode follows a household as they de-clutter their home according to Kondo’s principles. We are in the age of Instagram where everyone is conscious of how they look and how their homes look and basically about the image they are putting across, so maybe it is no surprise that the programme has been a hit. What is surprising is how so many people seem to have been affected by it on a deeper level. Kondo’s basic principle, that every item you own should spark joy inside you, has been revelatory.

It is like one woman has given us permission to clear stuff out.

As a lover of objects and collections, I was certain the programme wouldn’t be for me. Ten minutes in and I was hooked. What sold it to me was Kondo’s respect for every object. She encourages her clients to take time to acknowledge the function every object has played in their lives, and to be grateful for what they have. Tidying out doesn’t have to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be a sad parting. It can be about letting things go to a person who can use them better.

Even with my acceptance of Kondo’s central principle, I wondered how her methods would go down in the book community. The fact that she owns no more than thirty books at any one time particularly seemed to go against the values of many of my bookish friends. When I logged on to Twitter, I expected riots. I expected full-scale rebellion.

Everyone was having a tidy out. Myself included.

So what’s different about sorting books?

I didn’t apply Kondo’s rules to the letter and that was what inspired this post. Maybe they need tweaking for bookworms. Sparking joy is a dubious principle when you spend more time with books than you do with actual humans. You learn to value books for different reasons. Books may be objects, but we need to respect them as tools of communication, art forms and gateways to empathising with whole new sets of people. By tweaking the rules to recognise this, you will make the job less of a battle.

Here are some of the reasons I came up with for keeping a book:

 

It is a great example of a genre or writing technique:

the work that goes into constructing a piece of fiction is vast. Behind every book is years of practice, years of trial and error and pieces of writing scribbled in notebooks. An author’s first book might be their fifth manuscript. Over this time the author accumulates knowledge of writing, and this makes existing texts the best teachers an aspiring writer can have. I am forever looking for strong examples to emulate. From genre conventions to character development, I could never improve my writing without learning from other people’s work. This is a valid and totally acceptable reason to keep a book. It is another way of accessing and appreciating the author’s work.

 

There is a specific memory attached to the book:

As I was sorting my adult mass-market fiction, I realised there was a specific sub-group of books to consider. The books which had a specific memory attached to them. The characters and worlds we read don’t end when we close the book. We can spend weeks, months or lifetimes thinking about them. Maybe a certain book helped you through a hard time. Maybe a book gave you the courage to confront your feelings and move forward. When I was sorting my shelves, I piled these books together and tackled them as a separate group. Certain books just couldn’t go because they are part of my make-up. Part of my human experience.

 

You may yet read it:

Many of us can name a book which has sat unread for too long. Those books become a running joke among book bloggers. Book blogging is so heavily about promotion that, consciously or not, we are often keen to move on to the newest thing.

My advice? This is the point at which to take Marie Kondo’s advice. Instead of holding the book to see whether it sparks joy, open it up. Read the first page, then read a couple of random pages from about a quarter of the way into the book. Do you like the prose style? Did the subject hook you? Are you intrigued by the characters? Personally, I think we have a strong intuitive feeling for whether or not a book is for us. Take time to try these books out and don’t feel guilty for hanging on to something which has been unread for too long.

 

There are currently stacks of books on the landing awaiting my final verdict. One last look over is fair because distance gives you time to feel the absence of the books you have sorted. My tip – before you have that final look, close your eyes and name any of the sorted books which stand out in your memory. This will give you a good indication of anything you may not be ready to part with.

I am still sorting my books, but my newly tidied picture-book shelf and middle-grade fiction bring me nothing but delight. I can find the books I want, access my collection to browse and most importantly there is room for growth as I choose to keep books from my review pile. It is easier to dust, the #shelfies make better pictures and it is once again a pleasure to sit in the study and read.  

 

Have you been watching Marie Kondo? Can you think of any great reasons to keep a book? How does tidying-up enhance your life? I’m here to chat in the comments below.

Blogmas 2018 · Chat · christmas

Blogger guest post: Cora from Tea Party Princess tackles the Christmas shake-up

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Christmas shake-up Q&A:

What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another. 

Today’s answers come from Cora from Tea Party Princess.

Cora is one of those lovely people who cheers everyone on. She’s also a brilliant person to consult on creative projects – from writing to blogging, her advice always improves my work. 

I adore Cora’s blog. It mixes all things bookish with lifestyle content, something which I think book bloggers generally could be more open to. This Christmas, she has written fantasy shopping lists and to-do posts and book and film reviews. 

Thanks to Cora for your time. 

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Gift an object from book to a character from another and explain why. 
I would give Cassandra from I Capture the Castle a One Line a Day five year journal, so that every day she could write something new and watch how she changes from year to year.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together. 
I’d keep it intimate, inviting only a few, and we’d drink cocktails and just talk about anything and everything. I think they’d all have some stories and despite being so different, and from different times and worlds, I think they’d get on famously.
Abi from Gilded Cage by Vic James
Hadley from Fashionistas by Sarra Manning
Daisy from Royals by Rachel Hawkins
Mary from Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
Sasha from Floored

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be? 
While not a tradition, I’d love to try Kayla’s Christmas when she first visits Snow Crystal in Sleigh Bells In The Snow by Sarah Morgan. Staying in a cabin in the woods, with a hot tub on deck and starry skies above? It sounds heavenly.

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting? 
I’d take the private club from Royals by Rachel Hawkins, and bring the characters from The Fallen Children by David Owen there. Mostly because they deserve a freaking break, somewhere to be themselves and not be afraid of what other people would do to them.

If you could wish for resolutions from three books for 2019, what would they be? 
I can’t think of resolutions from books, but these are my three inspired by books: 
  1. Be there when people need it, inspired by Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
  2. Learn more about dinosaurs, inspired by The Extinction Trials by SM Wilson
  3. Speak out against sexism, inspired by The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books.

Sorrow’s dress from A State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, Lexi’s shoes from Clean by Juno Dawson, Eelyn’s hair style from Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young, Feyre’s crown from A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maa. I would be a dressed like a princess for a day.
Blogmas 2018 · Chat

Nailing New Year Organisation

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Nail your blog organisation in 2019 

When it comes to blog organisation I’m a total Mary Poppins – practically perfect. Take BookMurmuration. I have books to review from picture books through to YA fiction. I have author interviews and guest-bloggers to coordinate and lifestyle content to write. Without a system, it just wouldn’t happen.

Take my advice – where there’s a system, there is stationary.

img_7855Great stationery lifts our mood and makes tasks a pleasure. It can also help us to keep on top of things. The right diary or calendar layout is the first key to good organisation. That’s why I was so excited when I was offered some products from Danilo. As well as being Europe’s number one supplier of licensed calendars (so you can guarantee there will be a brand you love) they have a range of styles available. From family planners to desk calendars to calenders just for children, there will be something in their range to suit your needs.

That’s my first piece of advice for New Year organising – figure out what you want.

When it comes to my blog organisation, I need to see which posts are due up, which posts have been published and which days are still available. I also need space to change my mind, or to write in additional notes as other social media engagements (such as cover reveals and giveaways) come up. I love my new diary from Danilo for its generous boxes and for the lines which made it easier to keep things neat. 

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How I organise my blog:

  1. Begin with commitments. I use a different colour pen for blog tours, brand collaborations and collaborations with other bloggers. This is because, where other content is flexible, commitments have to be fulfilled for a specific date.
  2. For the first six weeks of 2019, I am reverting to Middle-Grade Mondays and YA on Thursday. I write middle-grade fiction, and could spend my life reading it, but I worry this comes at a cost to the YA-content on my blog and to my YA readership. Looking at my review pile, it works out nicely for the first weeks of the year, so this will give me a chance to try it out.
  3. When a blog post is scheduled, I highlight my diary entry. This way I know at a glance what still needs to be done. The at-a-glance planners in this diary will make this even easier. There is one for 2019 at the front of the diary and one for 2020 at the end.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do jobs out of order – I work roughly by the week, but sometimes a spare twenty-minutes before going out is just the right time to write another Waiting On Wednesday. Ticking something off the list is always a win.
  5. Just copy that over to a slimline calendar – diaries are easy to put away. A slimline calendar like my Winnie The Pooh calendar for 2019 keeps my jobs at the front of my mind.

 

Diary available from danilo.com, Waterstones, John Lewis and Disney Online.

Calendars available from WH Smith, ASDA, Tesco and danilo.com. 

Thanks to Kirsty from Grapevine Global PR for my diary and calendars. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

Blogmas 2018 · Chat · Guest Post

Guest Post: Amy from Golden Books Girl tackles the Christmas shake-up Q&A.

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Christmas shake-up Q&A:

What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another. 

Today’s answers come from Amy from Golden Books Girl

Amy is one of my earliest blogging friends. She’s the one who keeps me sane when I have 460 blog posts to write on a Friday evening. Her knowledge of middle-grade fiction is second-to-none and she has cheered on my writing from the early, shapeless stories through to the third edits of a 45,000-word manuscript. 

I love Amy’s blog too – it’s a mash-up of Disney and middle-grade fiction and exceptionally cute dogs. 

Thanks to Amy for your time. 

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Gift an object from one book to a character from another and explain why.

Oooh this one is definitely the hardest! I think I’d give a certain very expensive spoilery object from the Children of Castle Rock to Joni’s family from Skylarks so that they could sell it and have a really special Christmas with the proceeds.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together.

I want a party with basically all the Geek Girl characters, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells from the Murder  Most Unladylike books because I think they’s be brilliant company and Ade and everyone else who lives in his tower because they deserve a really special Christmas because they go through so much in the book!

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be?

I loved the sound of the royal Christmas in Maradova, and I’d love to give those a go! We see them in Princess in Practice, and they sounded wonderful! Or some of the Covey family’s from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting?

Much like Fergus from the Children of Castle Rock’s decision to sabotage Alice when she first arrives at Stormy Loch, my choice for this question is inspired by literally nothing other than to see what would happen: I want to move Daisy and Hazel’s present opening scene from the end of Mistletoe and Murder to a fantasy world. Really any, but I think something where the animals speak like in Narnia, would be HILARIOUS to see Daisy especially navigate. I can’t imagine her putting up with the White Witch for long!

Make your New Year’s resolutions with messages from three books. 

I need to embrace what Gracie learns throughout You Only Live Once- you need to have a healthy balance between doing school work and other things you love.

‘Nobody ever really metamorphoses’- this is from Geek Girl (I’ve mentioned them SO many times in this post alone, but they’re such faves so why not?!). It’s something I try to remember constantly- you can’t really change yourself that much, and as such you really should like yourself.

I also liked the Great Diamond Chase’s message of trying your best to be good to the people around them and do the best thing for them, so I’ll go for that as my last one I think.

Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books. 

I think for a dress I’d go for the polka dot dress from the Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington, or perhaps one of the party outfits from A Sky Painted Gold- which all sounded gorgeous! For jewellery, I seem to recall Harriet wearing lovely expensive earrings in one of the Geek Girl books, so I’d have those too, and for shoes I’d probably go for strappy sandals (which are mentioned in loads of books, and I’m almost certain they pop up in several of Cathy Hopkins’) even though it’s December, because I can’t wear high heels. I can’t think of any characters off the top of my head who wear red lipstick, even though there are probably loads and I just can’t remember them, but I’d finish off the look with that because I wear it with just about any outfit it even vaguely goes with!

 

Do you have a great answer for one of these questions? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat

Chat: Hibernation urge – how to go forward when all you want to do is crawl under a blanket.

Hibernation urge – five simple ways to feel better. 

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Adapt your routine as the days get colder.

September: Even those of us past our uni days invest in planners and highlighters.

January: Reading trackers, fitness monitors and every other type of goal setting under the sun.

What falls between is November. If you are currently huddled under a fleece-blanket and wishing you could lock yourself away from the rest of the world, know you are not alone. Welcome to the November-slump.

It hit me as Halloween approached.

Regular readers know I am editing a middle-grade manuscript. Since I returned from my trip South, I have been thinking about my writing beyond this project. The average number of manuscripts written ahead of publication is four. There won’t be any need for me to set resolutions in 2019 – the year will be about working through as many novel-sized stories as possible.

In the week of Halloween, I sat down to develop some ideas. Ten minutes later I was hit by the strangest feeling – I wanted a plot then and there or I was crawling under the covers with a family-sized box of Quality Streets and staying there until mid-April.

This attitude does not a story write.

 It was only when I returned to my social media that I figured it out. There was a prevalent mood across my Twitter feed. The wording of each tweet was slightly different – some said demotivated, others tired or in a slump but they were saying very nearly the same thing. The sky is darker, the nights colder and it is too early to put up the fairy-lights.

When I realised I was not alone, I changed my approach. November-slump would be better known as the hibernation-urge. It comes as surely as the desire to buy a box-file comes in September. Instead of working against hibernation-urge, I chose to embrace it.

That’s not to say I put on a onesie and locked the door. The Quality-Street-and-a-blanket plan could only be healthy as a short-term solution. What this mood tells us is it is time to pull out the fleece-lined boots, cook porridge for breakfast and take care of ourselves. It sounds indulgent but putting these changes in place now might mean a more productive and happier winter.

Here are five ways to embrace hibernation urge and take care of yourself this winter.

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Eat a warm breakfast:

Start the day as you mean to go on. My hot breakfast of choice is porridge – cook a batch at the weekend and you can microwave it each morning. Porridge can be dressed up with cinnamon, honey and raisins. Those flavours combined give me an instant boost and I am warmed to the tip.

 

Dress for the weather:

Fleece-lined boots, thermal leggings and winter-tights are my go-to clothes for keeping wrapped up outside the house. Evenings are about winter pyjamas and warm socks. Sort your wardrobe so you are wearing the right gear.

 

Keep hydrated:

As we crave sugary chocolate-drinks it can be easy to forget the most important thing – water. To keep motivated we need to drink enough water. Carry a bottle and aim to refill it several times a day.

 

Light the room:

String-lights. Candles. Sparkly lamps. Our spirits lift at Christmas and it is not all to do with the joy and goodwill. We add light to our homes and hang decorations like tinsel which sparkle as they reflect the light.

It may be too early for the tree but now is a good time to put out extra light. My friend bought me some kitty-shaped string lights for my birthday. I’m going to put them in a jar for some instant sparkle. 

Use scented products:

Scent is the sense we neglect most often despite the fact that smells we associate with particular things have the power to affect our mood. Smelling basil reminds me of holidays in the sun, while ginger and cinnamon remind me of making gingerbread ahead of Christmas.

Using ginger bath products or lighting a scented candle is an easy way to lift my mood.

Make a list of scents which remind you of a time when you felt comfortable then make a shopping list. Whether it is bath bombs, essential oils or scented candles, this could be a simple way to make yourself feel cosy and warm.

 

Have you experienced hibernation urge? What little things help you to keep on track in the winter? Let me know in the comments below.