Writing

Loving writing creative writing opportunities to go with Malkin, in the Bank Holiday sunshine.

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The class book review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

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Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark
Author: Dave Rudden

Publisher: Puffin

Teacher review

Dave Rudden writes brilliantly: his sentences are full of surprises, his ideas are shiny and fluid or sharp and shocking. He jabs at you with his language choices and makes you sit up and think, “Crikey!” He puts you deep inside the characters.

This book reads beautifully: it keeps moving quickly between places, people, events, strangeness. You get thrown around and left a bit dizzy – in a good way.

I love how much Rudden cares about Denizen, his protagonist, whose name fits because he is always somewhere between alien and belonging. This 13-year-old is unassuming, and considers that he is not special. But, of course, he is.

So much humour sits in the bits between his courage and his throwaway, modest lines. The dialogue is brilliantly written, as you would expect from a writer from Dublin, a city full of the very best conversation.

Denizen sets off, the car driving into silence, driving into questions, leaving behind the orphanage where he has lived since the age of 3, and his best friend Simon. The reader is keen to travel with him. We zoom along in the darkness. This book has pace.

Rudden is brave with words and constructs original similes. When Denizen is hurt, or in a car crash, or feels sick or the pull of violence, it’s evoked brilliantly. Rudden takes you inside Denizen’s body, so you can feel the surge of fire too. Magic (and its ensuing pain) travels through an iron palm, creates phantom aches, scalds the mind, and crackles as comfort.

The reader is shown how it is to live with magic: at once a power, a source of the authentic self, and a potential disability. Holding spells in the head without burning your brain out is a brilliant idea. When Denizen says his first spell, leaving him close to death, you feel it as he hits the pavement. You fall down with him.

The chapter where we meet the Emissary of the Endless King is very cool. I liked this chapter a lot. The slightly creepy sea setting took me back to The Ancient Mariner; the empty armour made me see the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

This is a great book. There are surreal bits and magical bits and clockwork bits. The knights live on Seraphim Row and are armed like archangels. There is a great amount that is biblical in their self-sacrifice against the Dark. And then everything is made lighter by the humour, which makes the characters breathe real air, jump off the page, use their gifts, and move.

Boys and girls (aged 11+) are going to love this book, but boys are really going to love this book – and that is just great. It will set them off on the trilogy (two books follow this one) and we all know how wonderful it is to see the flame of reading ignited and continuing to burn.

“You said this was a war, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, who’s winning?”

What child or young adult isn’t going to want to be fighting on the right side of this war?

Pupil reviews

Please see the TES page for the video reviews.

“This book represents the 1 per cent of teenage fiction that is not overwhelmingly preoccupied with death and inappropriate love affairs,” says Year 8 pupil Eleanor. “Finally, a real writer who isn’t dead.”

“A brilliant work of literature,” says Year 8 pupil Henry.

An article for bookaid.org

World Book Day 2016 favourite characters #12

 

Happy World Book Day! We hope you have lots of fun booky activities planned to celebrate!

Today we’re continuing to remember all the brilliant characters there are in children’s literature and to kick us off this World Book Day, we are delighted to welcome children’s author Emma Cox to tell us about her favourite fictional character.

I love Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

 

I love her because she runs through the pages of her books as an unstoppable force. I love that she is such a great liar and she delights in using this skill. When she sees it is possible, Lyra is ready to leave the world she was born in and she is not afraid to do so. Lyra falls in love with Will and she’s not afraid of that, either. I love that the universe has chosen her – I am very fond of prophecy in literature. Lyra says the greatest lines. When asked (by a threatening sort of dark-alleyway man) who her father is she replies, ‘He’s a murderer.’ (And he is – it’s no lie.) Lyra believes in magic and beauty and anything that falls from the sky. Her sense of justice is compelling. I love that she’s female in the toughest, best of ways. She is unique and strong and she just wants adventure: high up, down low, this world, that world, doesn’t matter. You know that her knees are always going to be muddy and grazed and her fingernails dirty and broken. Her motivation is always love and friendship, and helping others, and those are things worth lying for. Once I met Philip Pullman. It was in Marks and Spencer at Paddington station. The children I teach have always asked the If you could meet one person question. It’s always been him. And there he was! I had one of those That looks like… That is! moments. And I knew I was going to be my most embarrassing self, and already I was shaking, but I had to speak to him. He was possibly a little afraid, but his wife was so kind and calming and understanding and I got him to sign a Paddington Bear postcard for me. I bought wine, got on the train, and felt ecstatic all the way home.


Find out more about World Book Day here.

Editing And The Publishing Process

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14 July 2016-publication day!

Here is the third step on my journey for Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

Emma Cox – children’s author and winner of the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 – continues to share her experiences of working with a publishing house for the first time as her debut, Malkin Moonlight, edges closer to publication.

So many exciting things have happened in the life of my book since my last post for Writers & Artists: I have learned lots about the publishing process and about editing and writing. I’ve also had many happy surprises, and I intend to keep these posts coming so those of you who are going to have books published this year, or next, have a bit more of an insight into some of the things you can expect and look forward to.

There was a quiet couple of months at the start of summer. I think it’s important to mention that, because if your default position, like mine, is to worry when you’ve heard no news, it’s good to know that quiet periods are normal and to be expected. Then, towards the end of August when I was away on holiday with my friend Katherine, I had my first lovely surprise. I received an email attachment with the rough copy of the front cover forMalkin Moonlight. Seeing my own name on the front cover of a book was the strangest thing. I wish this moment for you too – whether you are an author, an illustrator, or both – as it’s a wonderful feeling. Within the same email was also the news that my book was going to be in Bloomsbury’s catalogue (page 63) for the Frankfurt Book Fair. This wasn’t something I had even considered, so I was delighted and surprised by this. It felt a little as if my book was off on holiday as well.

At the start of October half term I received my manuscript back with notes from my editor Zoe. I still love getting envelopes from Bloomsbury, and this was the edit to do with structure and plot (so quite a long edit, but I had a two week holiday to do it in!) I sent it back almost a year to the day that I had sent the original manuscript to the competition. [Emma won the New Children’s Author Prize 2015, which you can read more about here]

The tracked edit was tightening everything up: this took a weekend in November. I’d never used or seen tracked edits, so this was something new. You click on a little coloured box and comments pop up on that word or sentence. Zoe wrote helpful or complimentary or just cheerful comments all the way through, and often I’d click on the box and laugh out loud. I enjoyed the process and it made my brain think about writing in a completely different way. In November I also received the suggested back cover copy and the latest front cover with the strap line. It felt as if the outside of the book was wrapping itself safely around the words it was to contain. So many people were working on the book in different ways by now and I felt very honoured that all this hard work and expertise was to help me, and to make my story the best it could be.

Just before Christmas I was asked to write my Acknowledgements Page. I was very excited to be able to thank the people I love and who have supported me. I always enjoy reading Acknowledgements Pages and getting an insight into authors’ lives. I was also asked to write my letter of introduction to booksellers which is to accompany the bound proof.

It was lovely to receive the Bloomsbury Christmas card – a beautiful illustration from The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. I read this book over the holidays and it was a magical, tingly book to read at Christmastime. I also got some chocolates which I sat and ate with my friend James while having a celebratory drink and feeling really excited about what 2016 was going to bring! One of the first things it did bring was a bouncing baby boy for my editor Zoe, which was lovely news to receive.

Now it’s February and this week I have finished the copyedit: my deadline was Thursday. I love deadlines: I love the feeling of them and the structure they provide when you have an important edit to do. It’s half term again, so things fell just perfectly as I love to have the clear space of a day in front of me to really concentrate without interruption. The writers and artists reading this will know that fantastic feeling of utter absorption; those lovely days when things go well and you’ve transported yourself, not noticing how much time has passed and how far away you’ve been.

The copyedit, however, doesn’t quite promote this feeling of pure creativity, so it was a brand new discipline for me! This is the edit where you are looking for continuity errors, or the repetition of a word on a page, or questioning the choice of a particular word, or considering whether the meaning of the sentence has come across as you meant it, or whether it could be improved in terms of clarity or flow.

Your mind really lifts away from the story and gets quite clinical: you become a surgeon of words in a way – precise, methodical, and looking at the tiniest things. It was very interesting to click on the tracking boxes – this time by two editors – to see the things they are looking out for.

The next step will be the manuscript going into production – hopefully next week – and then the first proofs will come out. Some of these I think will go to book critics, so I’m now bracing myself for my first criticism, but also so excited to hold my own book in my hand.

Just quickly before I sign off, one more exciting surprise happened this week, in that the illustrations for inside the book were emailed to me for my comments. They are by a wonderfully talented artist called Rohan Eason and it was very exciting to see my characters brought to life through his pictures.

So there I am. The proof copies will be next and, fingers crossed, the actual book will be published in July this year. (This year!)  I hope you’ve found this useful I wish you all every success on your journey to publication. If I can do it, so can you!
Read the first piece in Emma’s series of articles for Writers & Artists.

Read the second piece in Emma’s series of articles for Writers & Artists.
Malkin Moonlight by Emma Cox is published by Bloomsbury later this year. Find out more about titles and buy the latest releases from Emma Cox at Bloomsbury.com.

Editing

Here is the second step on my journey for Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

Emma Cox – children’s author and winner of the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 – continues to share her experiences of going through the publishing processes in the run-up to her debut novel being published. Here, she discusses the process of editing. 

It is through this first editing process that I’ve realised how much all the thrown away words matter. All those words that got highlighted then deleted. Poor words. It’s so instant. They fall so that the ones that remain are stronger, work harder, shake themselves off and think, ‘We’re not so bad after all.’

It wasn’t that I didn’t love the words that got cut: I did. I lost some favourites. It’s just – they had to go. Some of the ones I didn’t like so much remain. But they look better now, on their own, without their clever friends around them, shouting out, drawing attention.

Editing is so strange.

The right combination is the thing isn’t it? This I would love to master, one day. Like great guitar players can combine a few chords that have always existed, that any amateur could play, but they make a tune that is so recognisable it survives forever. The start of Smells Like Teen Spirit: so rough, so rude, so great. Dylan can put a harmonica to his mouth and now we all recognise Once upon a time you dressed so fine… Yeats said to us A terrible beauty is born and in five words defined a time and a country, and the young men who died for it.

It’s the combination: the complexity and the simplicity.

And it’s the cut. Cut, cut, cut and let what remains standing seem simple and yet be so hard.

This is what I’ve been trying to learn. But I’m me. I’m brand new to this and I’m not very good. But I’m going to carry on because I love learning and I’m so grateful for my mind to be even thinking in these terms. My brain enjoys it.

Let me tell you about this process, now I’ve finished my first edit. Now I’m back to me, and the MS back to my lovely editor who has to think of polite ways to say Change This.

Every morning during the edit I got up at 5am because I am a teacher and these last five weeks of term are our busiest. I wanted my book to get the best of me, and not my reports, so it got the five to seven slot when I was half asleep and my fingers raced ahead of my mind, and my coffee went cold.

Boiling the early morning kettle for the second time and wondering at the sky I kept thinking about this shop in Dublin, this pen shop. I love this shop. It is all dark wood and beautiful ink pens beneath the glass and you really don’t have to buy anything, the shop is just happy for you to be in it, the person is kind, tries to give you free things, if you leave with a bookmark and a black pencil with a quotation from Joyce he puts an extra one in the paper bag. It kept making me think about editing, and here was my first Dublin thought:

How did they do it in the olden days? The people who wrote with ink pens or quills, dipping and thinking. Did they think a lot between sentences? How about back in the day when paper was so expensive, long before Find and Replace. Have we evolved? Have our brains changed? Are we now fast and furious because we’ve got to have a shower and get to school looking halfway decent, with no midnight hours printed on our brows? Did those quiet writers of the great past think about every letter, suck on their quills, while we just tap away and delete? How have writers changed?

I hate sentences that end in question marks, over and over. But that is my five am mind. Prodding; nasty mind, asking, and asking. No space to think, and then it shuts up all of a sudden, and then I write.

I fear I am just crass and rubbish. A bit of me, perhaps a lot of me, wants to sit in a room lined with dark wood, listening to cathedral music drifting up, with a bottle of something cellar-worthy (not from Tesco Metro) wearing a very long skirt that rustles along the floor in a pleasing way. A bit of me wants to be a contemplative ink-dipper, not a teacher with reports to write and time ticking on, and Sports Day and the Marquee Concert and these horrible broken fingernails and my father coming to my flat and looking at what I like to think of as ‘Writer’s Corner’ and saying ‘You need another bookcase.’

Yes, my flat got messy and books spilt over and everything was untidy. The food I ate was not always healthy. But I was throwing away words, and that matters. Bigger than that, it’s the books I wrote before Malkin Moonlight: all the thousands upon thousands of words that I stuck in certain combinations that were fated to never see the light of day together. Those careless words that real authors have placed together perfectly, carefully and just so; that they have used to define people and countries and times. All the words I’ve thrown away perhaps have made me capable of being an author now, albeit a new one, one who is learning.

Thing is, since I started to want to reduce the word count, not increase it, I’ve learned a lot about the craft. And now my book is with my editor, and my reports are written, and I’ve two months off school.

What do I see in that time, what do I do? I have two lovely holidays booked – hooray, but what else? What about all those other days? Easy answer: I see me writing. In that wonderful, secretive, no one can see me state, whatever hour of the day or night it might take place. When an idea wakes you up and you think, Oh good, I can get up. That lovely state of creativity, when you tot up your day or night, by the number of words that exist; not the ones who are lost. I’m looking forward to this.

The other Dublin thing:

Last September, on my birthday, I was outside a pub. Brilliant people talk to you in Dublin, everyone talks, and it is one of the lovely things about the city. A man in a raincoat started to talk about Samuel Beckett. He said a lot of things in that Irish accent I love so much, and then, in a moment, he said: “When Love walked in I didn’t recognise him, it must have been the hat.”

I’ve had that sentence stored in my head for nine months. In that time it’s been growing. I can see a story all around it, but I haven’t had the space to start. Now time is here. I can’t wait. I’ve done words like axes, and now I want to stop chopping and start creating.

This is what summer is for.

I can’t wait.

My journey begins

I will be writing about the publishing process and my own journey towards being a published author. These articles will also appear on the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook website. Here is the first one.

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19 May 2015-WAYB #1

On Monday 11 May I won the New Children’s Author Prize 2015. If you have a copy of this year’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook you can see a drawing by Liz Pichon in the Foreword which shows her lovely, spotty, ribbony shoes not touching the ground since Tom Gates was published in 2011. These floating, happy shoes are a visual metaphor for my week.
Just like my protagonist, Malkin Moonlight (he’s a cat who executes splendid leaps that cut off his deal with gravity), I haven’t touched the ground since the award ceremony on
Monday night. I am a few inches above the ground as I write this. It’s at once a wonderful
and utterly surreal feeling.

I’ve been asked to write a blog for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. There’s something inside out about that. How can I be a part of it? I’m one of the people who hold it and wonder and pray. Now I’m going to be a small part of it. I am going to talk about becoming a children’s writer, about the process that is just, right now, beginning all around me. The steps, the stages, the things to do, and how it changes you. That may be the most important bit: how your definition of yourself alters. You’re reading this so you understand that. You’re a writer, or an artist, and, as I tell the children I teach, the two occupations hold hands: you look at a picture and get words inside your head, you read a book and get pictures. We’re the same: we have to create. What else can we do?

In ‘On Writing’ Stephen King says to write with the door closed and edit with the door
open. You’ll know this book: it’s on the dietary plan of any writer. I took this advice literally. I wrote Malkin Moonlight with the blinds drawn, the door closed, my hoodie and jogging
bottoms on and I showed no one, told no one, just did it. I am a door closed writer most
definitely. On Monday night that door was blasted wide open with a fantastic and brilliant
boom. People had read my book: important people. Rebecca McNally – Publishing Director at Bloomsbury – spoke about what the prize would mean. It sounded amazing. There were words like published and future and nurture and writer in it. I can’t remember more – my brain was blasted too.

Then Jonathan Douglas – who is the Director of the National Literacy Trust – a natural
raconteur – stood on the stage and read excerpts from my book. He brought my cats to life. He gave them accents and gestures. He made them real. I was wearing boots. They
moved a few inches above the ground.

I won the prize: a publishing contract with Bloomsbury. My own book, a real book, with an
ISBN number and a cover and a spine with my name on it, and perhaps – who knows at
this stage – but perhaps beautiful endpapers (I love endpapers). I am going to be a writer;
not a secret writer but a real one. I’ve had confirmation: yes, you can write, we’re not
laughing, here is your new definition, hold it in both hands, it’s precious. The change in
temperature, walking through to the other side of the door, was extreme.

On Tuesday I met my editor, Zoe Griffiths, Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury.
She has a tattoo on her wrist that says Love Wins. This is a theme in my book. This is
meant to be (although on first glance I thought it said Love Wine, which was quite exciting
too). Zoe has a mind full of ideas, blood full of books, and a heart full of kindness.

Yesterday when I got home from boarding duty at school I had a Bloomsbury envelope
(that is exciting in itself – I will keep every one) and the manuscript of my book with all
Zoe’s notes and a long, encouraging letter about the rewrite. As she said to me, “It’s really
real.”

It is. I entered a competition because my best friend Katherine sent me an email from the
National Literacy Trust. On Friday she sent me another one from the NLT – ‘Dear, you’re
mentioned in this’, and there I was with a photo from Monday night. Now my foot is in the
door. Next July I hope to hold my book in my hands. The children I teach have been so
amazing. Putting an article on the whiteboard from the TES and asking my Year Five tutor
group to sit on the carpet and read it while I watched their eyes change – that was pure
magic. Tamby in Year Seven told me I was being authentically myself. My friends and
family have been just wonderful. Who knew people could be so happy for me?

And you know all of this lies in wait for you. You know it. If you’re a bit too friendly with
midnight. If you write or draw in the strangled time between the dictates of work and the
dark, quiet time of solitary you: that bit of time that is perfectly yourself, when you are
finally alone and can entertain the feeling (Oh, I can write now, or paint, or draw, or take
photos or animate – whatever it is you do, that moment, that little humming light inside that
is always there and is the truest part of you and cannot be extinguished because it is you);
and then you are absorbed till you come out the other side. If you live in the shadowy
world of self doubt till a publishing contract breaks the cycle and all that pretending, all of
it, becomes a reality and you want to shake hands with the person who did all the work
and kept going, kept thinking I’m deluding myself, but I’ll do it anyway, I won’t put my head
through this computer screen. If that’s you, like it is me, then keep going. Smash open
doors. Take what life can give you with both hands and hold on tight. Make your pictures
real.

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I was born in Clifton in Bristol. I studied English at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. I taught in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, then moved to Rome where I taught in an international school for three years. I now live in Exeter and am Head of English and Drama at Exeter Cathedral School – a job I love. I have been writing since I was four years old. I’ve always written for children and young adults. Malkin Moonlight will be my first published book – hopefully in July 2016 – I am very, very excited to have joined Bloomsbury’s list of children’s authors. I think the year ahead is going to be the most exciting of my life. I can’t wait for all it will bring.