Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Day of the Triffids

What can I say about the BBC's adaptation of The Day of the Triffids? Eddie Izzard was good in a silly role. Apart from that I can't think of many positives. It had clearly had a fair amount of money thrown at it. It certainly didn't fail through lack of effort or seriousness.

Maybe the fault lies with the book. Don't get me wrong, John Wyndham was one of my favourite writers when I was in my teens and The Day of the Triffids is a good book. But maybe it shows that whilst some things work perfectly well on the page, they don't when realised as moving images.

When I say that it's the fault of the book, I don't mean 'fault' at all. What I mean is that maybe the notion of filming The Day of the Triffids is doomed from the start. It seems a cinematic concept, but it is essentially flawed. Creeping carnivorous plants are a creepy concept in a book, but just plain silly on screen. Dressing the film up like 28 Days Later ( film that based its opening on The Day of the Triffids) did not make any difference. This was a zombie movie without zombies.

Does that mean that the book is flawed? No, I don't think it does. John Wyndham was not writing a screenplay, he was writing a novel. It should not have to work in any other format. What it shows is that the way we imagine when reading is different from the way things are shown in cinema and television (and so it should be). Film is limiting and pedantic. It has to show and depict in a way our imaginations do not (unless they choose to).

Literature is - I think - more tuned in to that way of thinking. It is a direct link from the imagination of the writer to the imagination of the reader.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Footballer's thumb

I have spent far too long playing FIFA 2010 on my son's xbox 360. The game was a Christmas present (to him, not me) and it has been driving me crazy ever since he opened it.

These games all follow the same pattern. We both play the game when it first arrives and we laugh at our incompetence and the weird quirks (in this case the deranged commentary). I go about my normal life. My son plays the game over and over again, gaining an intuitive grasp of all the many button and lever combinations. He becomes unbeatable.

I was sure that this would be different. He could use the buttons better than me, but I could play a tactical game. I could pass the ball. I could bide my time. Football isn't all about running down the pitch and going for goal every time.

We play again. I get thrashed. We play again. I get thrashed again. My thumb hurts. I launch into a long diatribe about the randomness of the whole game play, hinting strongly that the computer is somehow favouring my son. He gets upset. We play again. My son toys with me, using his goalkeeper as a centre forward and passing the ball back and forth in front of my goal before scoring. I sulk. I insist on being someone other than Tottenham just in case their infuriating ability to lose to just about anyone has been factored into the game. I play as Chelsea. I get thrashed.

I refuse to play any more.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone and happy St Stephen's Day. Hope you had a good time yesterday and that you at least got some of the things you wished for.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I'm ready for my close-up now Mr Downie

I had a meeting with Sarah Odedina today. We had a 'what's next' meeting, and I was very pleased that she seemed to be so enthusiastic about my new book proposal. This will have to jump through a few hoops yet before it becomes a definite thing, so I won't say any more about it now.

Sarah caught me on the hop a little, as I had really come in to talk about the possibility of doing a graphic novel at Bloomsbury. This idea had come up at a meeting and Sarah contacted me to see what I thought.

I have wanted to do a graphic novel ever since I was a teenager (though I would have called it a comic then). I love that form of storytelling. Or at least I do when it is done well. In this country - for reasons I am never very clear on - it rarely is. The graphic novels produced by children's publishers are particularly duff.

Graphic novels also do not tend to do good business here. Booksellers don't know what to do with them and there is still a culture that says comic books are for kids. Although there is an understanding that novels for children have to be well-written, for some reason publishers think they can get any old nonsense past children when its in comic form (when those children can go and buy the best of Marvel or DC or Dark Horse).

But this is a put up or shut up business. Will what I do be any better? I think it will - I certainly hope it will. But it may not even happen.

After my meeting with Sarah, I met up with the collectively wonderful Adrian Downie, Ian Lamb and Susannah Nuckey to do a promo video for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. Adrian shot the whole thing on several HD cameras against a green screen. Ian operated a complex arrangement of lighting and Susannah did wonders with props and make up (I looked twenty years older by the time she'd finished!)

A backdrop resembling a cross between a cupboard and a cellar will be added later apparently.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Inbali's books

A light icing sugar dusting of snow this morning in Cambridge, followed by sleet and then drizzle. I spent the day doing various pre-Christmas jobs, one of which was to pick up a couple of books sent by Inbali Iserles.

She sent these for the Cumbria Books appeal because she was going on holiday and we were still hoping to gather all the books in by Christmas. I was out when the postman arrived - of course - and I have just got round to dragging myself across Cambridge to pick them up from the sorting office.

It does make the scheme seem real though - having another author's books sitting here, ready to go.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

De verschrikkelijke verhalen van het zwarte schip

A big parcel of books arrived the other day containing the Dutch editions of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. I have been so busy blogging about Cumbria that I haven't had a chance to acknowledge their arrival.

It is always a thrill when another country decides to take your book, and always a little disappointing if they do not take the next in the series - so I'm very pleased that Pimento has taken The Black Ship.

And I love all those jagged Vs and Ks in that title.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Good news

I have emailed everyone (hopefully) who contacted me and Facebooked myself senseless, telling everyone that the Cumbrian Book Appeal is postponed until the new year. This will allow the council to recover a little from the devastation and allow for a more considered approach to the distribution of books.

I am moving towards thinking that the fairest way to give books would be to schools and school libraries rather than to individual children. We simply do not have enough books to make that viable at the moment (although authors are still coming in).

But we have had a bit of good news this morning. Hills Bookshop in Workington in Cumbria has very generously offered to store and distribute the books in the new year on a date yet to be decided. So now there is simply no reason for it not to happen. Hills Bookshop visit all the schools in the area on a regular basis.

I had a very similar generous offer from Kate Johnson at Heffers Bookshop here in Cambridge, but obviously it makes more sense for the books to go direct to Cumbria. I will let all contributing authors know well in advance when the books are required.

As well as thanking all the authors and illustrators, I must also thank Heffers Bookshop, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Random House, Piccadilly Press and Usborne. And I'm going to thank Usborne again because I keep forgetting to mention them. Twit.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Postpone or cancel?

Chris Little - the media officer with Cumbria County Council - got back to me today and said, perfectly reasonably, that the council simply does not have any spare resources or manpower to assist this scheme. And the last thing I want to do is cause them problems.

His suggestion is to postpone until after Christmas when they will hopefully be a bit more sorted out and able to help with distribution and so on. This obviously destroys the idea of the books being Christmas presents, but it does have several things going for it.

The council will be able to get behind the scheme - and I personally think that without their support the thing is unworkable. The schools or libraries will be in a better position to act as collection/distribution points. It will be easier to get around the county.

But also, with the amount of authors we have - even with generous additional offers from publishers and booksellers, we would struggle to be able to supply children with books. At the moment it is schools and school libraries that seems a more achievable goal.

Maybe with a bit more time, we might be able to get more authors and illustrators involved and maybe more publishers and booksellers too. With a bit more time, maybe we might get hundreds of us involved. I have always believed that is possible.

Or we could simply decide that it was a nice, but unworkable, idea and call it a day. I will try and email everybody involved tomorrow and see what you all think.

What do you call a crowd of authors?

I no particular order, here are the authors so far:

Mary Hoffman, Sally Nicholls, Fiona Dunbar, Anthony McGowan, Jim Eldridge, Peter Bailey, Narinder Dhami, Josh Lacey, Tony Bradman, Paul Stewart, Celine Kiernan, Saviour Pirotta, Marie-Louise Jenson, Inbali Iserles, Meg Rossoff, Jonathan Mayhew, Joe Craig, Kath Langrish, Sam Enthoven, Sally Grindley, Sandra Glovers, Alan Cliff, Damian Kelleher, Tony De Saulles, Philip Reeve, Tracey Alexander, Pauline Chandler, Paul May, Leila Rasheed, Valerie Wilding, Adele Geras, Rosie Rushton, Brenda Williams, Rob Jones, Sue Eves, Andy Seed, Enid Richmont, Chris Mould, Chris Riddell, Cathy Cassidy, Jane Clarke, Cathy Hopkins, Philip Ardagh, Helen Bonney, Anna Wilson, Sarah Webb, Lynn Breeze, Mariam Vossough, Sue Reid, Francis Mosley, Anita Ganeri, Nicola Davies, Gillian McClure, Lee Weatherly, Lynn Huggins Cooper, Andrew Solway, Amanda Lees, Damian Harvey, Kjartan Poskitt, Philip Wilkinson, Dave Smith, Tommy Donbavand, Brian Lux, Val Rutt, Mark Walden, Ann Turnbull, Tracey Turner, Mike Jubb, Jan Dean, Michelle Harrison, Laura Kennedy, Pippa Goodhart, Lynne Chapman, Kay Woodward, Jenny Vaughan, Cindy Jefferies, James Mayhew, Sandra Horn, Gillian Philip.

This was hurriedly written - so I apologise for any spelling mistakes and if you have offered and can't see your name there then let me know, just in case I haven't got you on my list (though it may simply be an oversight - and I apologise in advance). If you know someone who you think ought to be on that list and are in a position to give them a prod, then please do so.

Thank you all so much.

A new day

OK - it's a new dawn, it's a new day etc etc. Where do we go from here? Today - in between doing some work, some Christmas shopping and sorting out my tax return - I will try one more time to see if I can't get some more positive feedback from Cumbria Council in terms of numbers of children and ideas about the best way for the books to reach them.

Failing that I will try and contact schools direct. Secondary school heads know their feeder school counterparts and hopefully they will be able to give me some idea of how we might crack this problem of where the books might go. I think we may have to concentrate our efforts on particular schools if the Council cannot come up with anything better.

I have had very generous offers of books from Scholastic and Random House, which though it strays a little from the idea as I originally saw it, it will increase the number of books we can offer. Though I have managed to gather a lot of authors and illustrators together, I would be happier if we had four times as many at this stage.

I would ask anyone who has hesitated thus far, to please join in. If you think it won't work, your contribution might well make the difference. If you feel you are already committed to other charitable giving, I am not asking for money - only half an hour of your time.

Over the weekend I also had word from Kate Johnson at Heffers here in Cambridge offering all kinds of practical help, support and enthusiasm. It makes me all the more determined to make this thing work.

As well as Kate, I want to thank Nikki Gamble of Write Away, Philippa Dickinson of Random House, Susannah Nuckey of Bloomsbury, Anne Clark of Piccadilly Press and Lisa Edwards of Scholastic for their offers of help and advice and for spreading the word. Thank you all so much.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Weekend news

I have had a few distractions from trying to sort out the books for Cumbria appeal. On Friday evening we all went to a Private View of arts and crafts and had mulled wine and minced pies whilst chatting to painters and admiring some very nice driftwood boats.

On Saturday morning I went to hospital and had a small camera on a long flexibly stalk put up one nostril until it went down the back of my throat. A very strange sensation.

I spent much of the rest of the weekend taxiing my son from school concert rehearsals and back, to football and back and so on. All of which gave me a chance to feel a bit less frustrated with how the project is going.

More authors joined over the weekend and I hope very much that I have replied to you all - but if I haven't then I will do so today. There is still scope for many, many more authors and illustrators to get on board having said that.

If you are already signed up but you know someone who isn't, give them a prod. If you are an editor then please spread the word among your writers. I am not asking for money (apart from postage), only the time it takes to sign, wrap and post a book (or four). I see this as a team effort - a show of solidarity by authors and illustrators with our readers, but having said that, the more household names we have in the scheme the easier it will be to get publicity and logistical help if needed.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Where do I send the books?

Authors continue to come in to the scheme to give signed books to the children affected by flooding in Cumbria. I hope more will join over the weekend, and I hope that Monday will produce some definite solutions to the problems I have already mentioned. A huge thank you to all the people who have been in touch, both with offers of books and with support and thoughtful comments.

Mostly the response from authors has been a simple, 'I'm in - where do I send the books?' I wish I could answer that question (apart from the obvious, 'Not to me!!)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Where are we?

OK - so where are we on the books for Cumbria front. Well authors are starting to come into the scheme in numbers. As fast as I can reply to one, I get another offer in the inbox. I want to thank all the authors and illustrators who have offered books and I want to thank all the editors and publicity people at Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Random House & Picaddilly Press who have taken time to make suggestions, offer help and pass on details to their authors. It warms the cockles of my heart.

This is how I see things at the moment. The books will hopefully be sent to one address in Cumbria - I think a library is probably the best place. I would like to avoid making families trek for miles to get the books and it would seem better to take the books to them. Cumbria Library service is using a mobile library to reach Cockermouth. That might be the answer. But of course that isn't for me to say.

I don't think this is difficult. But it becomes more difficult with each passing day. I need the same sense of enthusiasm from Cumbria Council as I've had from authors and publishers. I'm sure I'll get that.

Publicity is another issue. The children will have to know its happening and I would like Cumbria's plight to get some more airtime from the media. Blue Peter have been contacted - thank you Susannah Nuckey of Bloomsbury - but they can't do it in the time. Oh yes they can! No - they can't apparently.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Just a quick one for those who are not on Facebook and want to know how things are going. Well - there is still no firm plan for distribution but I have had an offer of help there. I am in contact with Cumbria County Council's media department and I hope to hear from them tomorrow about numbers of children. I am also hoping to hear from the Libraries department to see if a library in the area might not be the best address for sending the books to.

I have had lots of offers of books from authors and illustrators today and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch. But I need more. We can not have too many authors. Please, please, please spread the word. Hope to have more concrete news tomorrow.

Thanks again

Cumbria Q&A

I've just had this email from Josh Lacey. He raises some very good questions

Hi Chris

A couple of thoughts about logistics:

First, how about getting a publisher or publicist to organise it? They're so good at that sort of thing... I'm sure publishers would be happy to donate some books and some time in exchange for a bit of publicity...

Good point - anyone fancy taking that on? A helping hand from anyone involved in publicity would be great.

If not, do you know anyone who lives in the area who could distribute books?

I heard from author Jim Eldridge today. Jim lives in the area and whilst he can't be expected to distribute what I hope might be hundreds or even thousands of books, he is full of useful local contacts.

Second, do you have a list of schools? How many kids are involved? How many writers? How many books would each writer provide?

I am still waiting for accurate numbers from Cumbria County Council. I think we need to have as many writers as possible giving at least one book. I would like to a a couple of hundred (or more) writers and illustrators getting involved

Third, would you ask writers to send books directly to schools? To a distributor? Would someone collect the books and drive them there? Could some of the writers visit the schools to hand out books?

Many of the schools are still closed. The County Council will have to provide collection points and advertise it through the media. Big names among the authors will help this. If I get enough pledges from authors for books I will then certainly ask if some people could actually go up there and be there when the books are handed out. But that is a long way down the line. Without storage, transport and distribution, it won't work.

I just seem to be bombarding you with questions... sorry.


No problem Josh - they are questions that need to be asked (and answered)

Cumbrian Book Appeal

I am interrupting the normal broadcast of blithering on this blog by telling about something a bit more serious and urgent.

As people in the UK will know, Cumbria has suffered terrible flooding recently. Already it seems as though this is no longer newsworthy and yet clearly, it remains a devastating reality for those affected.

It struck me that children's authors have a chance to inject a little bit of good cheer into the lives of children in Cumbria. I thought that we could sign and wrap one (or more) of our books and send them as gifts to those affected.

So far so good. But I also wanted this to happen before Christmas. The books have to be collected, transported and distributed. There are huge problems and I have to confess I don't know that it will work. I just think that it can.

But - I will say that there has been an incredible enthusiasm from authors for the project. I have many, many firm offers. I have been in touch with Cumbria Council and they are keen. The issue of how books get from author to child is still the thing that will potentially scupper the whole thing, but I remain hopeful that someone more practically minded than me will come forward and solve that.

Meanwhile, if you can help in any way or simply have some thoughts, please get in touch via the comment feature on this blog.