Prehistory in fiction 

This is not a normal blog post. In fact it’s not a blog post at all but is instead a request. I am working on a large project gathering fiction and poetry titles for young people set in specific historical periods. As you can imagine I already have a long list, but I can’t do it all without the wonderful input of the hive mind – that’s where you come in. 

This is the first of ten posts designed to gather your input in the comments field. This thread is for children’s and YA fiction and poetry set in prehistory. Please add your favourite titles below (and feel free to chat with each other) I won’t be able to reply to everyone, but massive thanks in advance for all your help.

Remember – children’s and YA fiction and poetry set in prehistory (from any country) but as historical as it can possibly be. 

Thanks! 

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Tardis Destinations – Companion’s post by author Helen Grant

Helen Grant

Helen Grant

For this post we welcome aboard our Tardis YA author Helen Grant. Helen writes the most wonderfully scary and atmospheric books and her latest (Demons of Ghent) is due out today. It is the second book in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy, the first being Silent Saturday, and the latest in a rake of fabulously scary books. I am a great fan of Helen’s work and so am thrilled to read her choice for a Tardis Destination, and a tale of a delicious mystery…. over to Helen!

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Tardis Destinations from Helen Grant

 If I had a Tardis, I know exactly when and where I would go: the city of Ghent in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium), 1426.

 Although I spent every summer in Belgium as a teenager, I never visited Ghent until 2011, when we were living in Flanders. I fell in love with the city instantly. It has such a strong sense of times past: there are many beautiful old guild houses, magnificent churches and even castles. If you stand at the top of the keep of the Gravensteen castle, you can see the three famous towers of Sint-Baafs cathedral, the Sint-Niklaaskerk and the Belfort (city belfry).

Sint-Baafs from the Belfort

Sint-Baafs from the Belfort


It’s amazing to think that if you had stood there five centuries ago, you would have been able to see that same view.

 Ghent is also intersected with canals. There is one particularly beautiful waterfront area called the Graslei where the gorgeous old buildings are reflected in the glossy water.

Graslei, Ghent

Graslei, Ghent


Altogether, it is an enchanting city.

 When we visited it in 2011 I was working on the first of three books set in Flanders, and I decided there and then to set the second one in Ghent. It is hard to write convincingly about a place when you have only spent four hours there, so I went back for a week in December 2012, and spent days walking about, taking photographs, writing notes and asking questions.

 I loved everything I visited in Ghent, but the place that spoke to me most of all was Sint-Baafs Cathedral. Built in the 14th-16th centuries, it is a massive Gothic church with a huge square tower, a vaulted crypt and lots of interesting side chapels. Best of it, it houses the Ghent Altarpiece, the enormous panelled painting sometimes called ˝The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.“ It was largely this painting that convinced me that I wanted to set a book in Ghent, and indeed it features in my new thriller Demons of Ghent.

 
Demons of Ghent
I’d like to go back to Ghent in 1426 because I would love to satisfy my absolutely raging curiosity about the Ghent Altarpiece! There are so many unanswered questions about it. It is described as being by ˝Van Eyck“ but there were two Van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan, and nobody seems to know for certain who contributed what to its creation.

 Hubert Van Eyck was the elder brother and he is thought to have been commissioned to create the Altarpiece around 1420. However, he died in 1426 and the work was apparently taken over by his younger brother, Jan. It was evidently completed by 1432 because that year it was installed in the Vijdt chapel in Sint-Baafs.

 Over the years there have been many theories about who was responsible for what part of the painting. It has been made much harder by the fact that there is virtually no other surviving work by Hubert for comparison. He is thought to have started a painting called The Three Marys at the Tomb but someone else finished it – perhaps Jan. There is  a latin verse on the painting’s frame that praises Hubert and describes Jan as ˝second in art“, but this might be a piece of brotherly generosity. In the past, Hubert’s very existence has actually been questioned, because of the lack of evidence of his work.

 There is also a weird story that Hubert Van Eyck’s right arm – presumably his painting arm – was cut off after his death and preserved in a casket over the cathedral door. The rest of him is buried somewhere else in the cathedral. How strange is that?!

 I think writers, with our overactive imaginations, make great conspiracy theorists. I heard all of these disparate details – the confusion over who painted what, the death of Hubert before the painting was finished, the severed arm thing – and some truly wild explanations suggested themselves to me. Some of those ideas became the backdrop to Demons of Ghent.

 I’d love to travel back to 1426, just before Hubert Van Eyck died, and see what was happening. Did Hubert hand over the brushes and the pots of oil paint to Jan when 95% of the painting was finished, or did he leave his younger brother with little more than sketches? If I could ask Hubert about the rest of his now vanished oeuvre, what would he tell me – perhaps even show me? Did his contemporaries really think that Hubert was the greatest and Jan was second best – or was that a piece of humblebragging from Jan? Did they really cut Hubert’s arm off his cooling corpse and stick it in a box over the door, like a particularly grotesque bit of interior decor?

 Maybe Jan stood there watching while they sawed the arm off, thinking, “Ha, that will serve you right for leaving me with a handful of sketches and six years’ work on your blimmin’ design.”

 That’s the main reason I’d go back, to find out what really happened. But there’s one other thing about the Ghent Altarpiece that fascinates me.

 The central focus of the painting is the Mystic Lamb on its red-and-gold altar. On either side of it are crowds of saints, prophets, pilgrims, hermits and so on. In total the painting has 170 figures gazing into the central panel at the Lamb, or casting their eyes down, sometimes to read holy books. Amongst the red-robed clerics at on the right, a single bishop stares out of the painting at the viewer, his head inclined, a challenging expression in his eyes.

 When I first noticed this figure, I found him distinctly creepy. Are we, the viewers, meant to notice him? Why does he, alone, attempt to connect with us? Is there some significance to his challenging gaze? I’ve often wondered – all the figures must have had models, so was there something special about that one? Did Hubert, for example, put himself into the painting? Since the only portrait of Hubert I’ve been able to find was a woodcut made long after his death, there is no way to know now. Unless….I had a Tardis.

Useful links:

 http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be   A website showing the Ghent Altarpiece, with the ability to zoom in on any part of it.

 http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/the-demons-of-ghent-forbidden-spaces-trilogy-book-two/9780552566766   Random House website entry for Demons of Ghent, including click function to read a sample of the book.

 http://www.helengrantbooks.com   My author website.

All aboard the Blog Tour!

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So, it’s all aboard the Blog Tour as part of #mywritingprocess!

We have chugged along the line and stopped at some fantastic places and have now arrived at my little station in the woods thanks to an invite from the ever charming Sally Poyton and you pop over to visit her wonderful blog about books, reading, writing and dyslexia here!

Ok, on platform one we have the ever popular question – What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m currently working on a YA project about a serial killer, as well as the sequel to my book Brotherhood of Shades. I’m usually working on two or three projects at a time, and a few other side projects as well. I like to keep busy but I think I could do with a holiday at the moment.

My favourite project at the moment is not one of my own. I am Author in Residence at a school in Hertfordshire and there is a ten year old girl there who is currently working on an amazing novel and we spend time every week sitting in the school library sounding out her ideas. She is quite remarkable and it is great fun working with her and one day I expect her to say thanks to me by sending her private jet out to fly me to her private island when she is rich and famous.

Over to platform two and it’s – How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Errr, ummm, it’s written by me?

Ok, that’s a bit of a cop out, so let me think…. Ah, I have been told that it is unusual to have your main character die in the opening chapters. He does come back as a ghost so obviously he does need to die first. I’ve always loved ghost stories and really wanted to write a classic ghost story but in a modern setting. Mine is unusual because it does move from the past to the present day, and has a modern feel but touches on historical events like the Great Fire of London.

The locations in my book are all real and can be found in London, and there is soon to be a map of the locations so that readers can see if they can find all the places mentioned.

Platform three is ready to leave with – Why do you write what you do?

Although I write contemporary fantasy, I feel that what I’m actually writing is all about real life (and death!) experiences. When I was a small person I wanted so much to believe that there was more to the world than that which you can see. I wanted to believe that there was another world that operated just outside our reach and that has heavily influenced my writing. I always say that it’s all about the world out of the corner of your eye.

I’m sure it’s there, we just need to find a way to see it.

 Standing room only on platform four as the Blog Tour is almost ready to leave with – How does your writing process work?

Well, nothing like ending on a biggie!

I know that there is this whole Planner vs Pantster thing, but I’m honestly a bit of both. I don’t have a strict plan but I do rough a lot of the story out and know where it’s going. I often rough out dialogue and even pace out some of the scenes to be sure that they will work. I keep a timeline of events, and a whole mass of post-its with ideas that have popped into my head.

A writing day tends to start with me doing my emails and clearing the mental clutter that might rattle around in my head and stop me from concentrating. I do a bit of social networking and read the papers online in this time too, and drink tea. All of this is often done from bed with a biscuit accompaniment as I find this is a good time for consume something for energy (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) I get to my desk by ten (which is not tricky as it’s only on the other side of the bedroom) and I get on with my work.

My desk is in a funny little wardrobe so that I can a) shut it all away at night without having to tidy it up and b)not stare out of the window. I live overlooking a street where something is always happening so it’s not wise to be facing it. When I’m stuck on something I’ll go for a walk, or I’ll get a good long chunk of vital Staring Into Space time in. I do think that a good amount of daydreaming is essential to plot development and so I feel no guilt about sitting in front of a nice breeze watching clouds and trees.

I try not to write past eight in the evening, but that’s not always possible if my characters (or deadlines) decide otherwise. I’m just a puppet in their hands and so if they are really nagging me then it is just easier to give them the attention they require rather than fight them.

I do write seven days a week, 365 a year. I’m quite bad at taking days off but I’m working on it!

Ok, as the last train of the Blog Tour chuffs out of the station with a lonesome whistle and an enigmatic whirl of steam we jump quickly on board and look forward to the next destination.

I’m passing my Blog Tour ticket on to one of my favourite writers and illustrators – the completely fantastic Thomas Taylor. Visit his blog and he’ll tell you all about himself, and his latest projects, including (and I’m so excited about this that I can hardly say it…) a collaboration with Marcus Sedgwick. Click on the Scarlett Hart link to find out more.

Fantasy In Motion interview.

Recently I was interviewed by Fantasy In Motion and thought I’d share it over here too. It’s a great site, go and have a look at his beautiful fantasy maps! He takes commissions too if you are looking for one.

Dawn, welcome to Fantasy In Motion. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you very much for inviting me, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog a great deal and I’m a huge fan of fantasy maps. I have a designer working on a map of Brotherhood locations at the moment so I’m looking forward to sharing that before the end of the year.

Could you start by telling us a little about your novel, Brotherhood of Shades?
Brotherhood is a contemporary ghost story with roots in the sixteenth century. Adam, a streetwise homeless teenager, dies of cold and starvation on the streets of London and after death is recruited into a clandestine organisation called the Brotherhood of Shades. The Brotherhood is an organisation of ghosts set up after the Dissolution of the Monasteries to oversee the passage of the living through the World Between.
The book details Adam’s transition into the Brotherhood, and their battles with demonic forces as they attempt to retrieve a coded manuscript, and protect the world of the living, from the world of the dead.

How did the idea/inspiration for the story come to you?
One of my first jobs was at the education office of a Cathedral and I used to dress as a monk to take children on guided tours. I was aware that young children worked in monasteries and had a brutal and harsh life there, and I felt that it was an untold story. Brotherhood started off as a short story but I liked the central character and knew that he had more to say and it grew from there. I’ve always loved ghost stories and felt that I wanted to bring classic ghost stories to a modern audience.

I was interested to see that you've previously worked in publishing and in libraries. Do you think that working with books has helped you as a writer?
I have always worked with books, but my first job in publishing was hardly what I’d call “in” publishing. I worked in the post room and one of my jobs was sorting the slush pile and making sure the unsolicited manuscripts reached the right desk – or not! Some of the manuscripts were, well, shall we say, odd! I certainly learned how not to submit a manuscript after wading through manuscripts that were sometimes barely legible. I think my favourite was one written on serviettes that had clearly been written whilst very drunk and made no sense whatsoever but became increasingly angry as the pile of tissue went on. The writer ended up ranting about how the publisher would be insane to reject them, but never actually got the point about the subject matter.
I have worked for over twenty five years in libraries and I am the current vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group. I campaign hard for all schools to have a library and a librarian as I see this as essential to the literacy of our children, and our adults. Working in libraries has taught me so very much about books, and I read constantly. I always say to young people that if you want to write, first you must read!

Who would you say are your favourite authors/books?
That’s an impossible question! My favourite author is always the author of the book that I’m currently hooked on. When I find a book that I really enjoy my immediate response is to buy the entire back catalogue and read everything. I have so many favourites so it wouldn’t be fair to pick one out.

What was your first encounter with fantasy fiction? Have you always wanted to write in the genre?
I’ve always loved fantasy. I grew up in a hard-up area and the future did not seem promising for any of us kids. For me fantasy was the perfect escape and it remained that way and so when I came to write myself it was fantasy that drew me. I was never really interested in reading about the real world, and was far more interested in the world out of the corner of your eye.
I read Ray Bradbury, Susan Cooper, Ursula K LeGuin, Alan Garner, Brian Aldiss, Joan Aiken, the list is very long, shelves full of doorways to different worlds. I wanted to be somewhere else, I wanted to be chased across moorland by ancient spirits, battling my way out of dark houses in whirling snowstorms, fleeing scarlet-eyed wolves across wild moorland, conjuring spells to hold back demons, escaping dark forces hell bent on destroying me… basically anywhere other than a tatty and cold school heading for a job in a factory.
When I came to write myself it was not as if I had a choice. I think that all writers need to find their voice and the story will roll out. I didn’t really choose my genre, it chose me.

What was your route towards publishing your first novel like? Any advice you would give to any of our readers who are looking to publish their first book?
Oh dear, my route was very long and complicated! This book was almost published a number of years ago and then the imprint went under and I was left without a publisher. I was lucky in that I did have an agent and he supported me and encouraged me to keep going. My book still didn’t sell (the public seemed to have moved on to an obsessive desire for sparkly vampires and ghosts were not deemed fashionable) and so I focussed on my other work in school libraries.
Writing is a very isolating business and a friend encouraged me to upload my work to the writer’s site – authonomy. I wanted some feedback and it was nice to have the opinion of other writers. My book was very quickly spotted on there by the man who almost took it to print the previous time! He remembered Brotherhood and recommended it to the rest of the team and they enjoyed it so much that they took it to print. These days it’s not about pleasing one person of course, your work has to be enjoyed by a team of people including the marketing team.

My advice would be to be prepared and get some professional editing if you can afford it. I’d buy the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and try to get an agent first. There are a few writer’s conferences throughout the year where you can meet agents and publishers and those are a sensible investment. Work on your pitch though! If you can nail your plot down to a sharp thirty second pitch, and then hand over a card with your details on, that can do it. I know a good number of people who have secured agents on a “could I ask for thirty seconds to pitch my work to you?” Agents are used to this approach, and a good one won’t mind. If they do mind and react badly, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with them anyway!

Where do you stand in the print vs. e-book debate? Do you think paper novels have had their day or is there room for both formats?
Video did not kill the radio star! I think there is more than enough room for both formats, and we need both. I love my e-reader as I travel a lot and can’t possibly carry hundreds of books around with me in any other format, but I also love print books. A recent survey suggested that people often read the book first on e-reader, and then buy the print copy to keep if they enjoy it – I know I’ve done this! There will always be books that simply do not work in e format, academic and study books for example. Students need to be able to annotate several texts and compare them all at once using several indices, that’s just not possible in e-book form. You simply can’t lay six kindles out in front of you and jot down notes on the pages!
I think that print publishers need to start to be more creative and to offer more for the print version to encourage people to buy it. Maps work so well in printed books, and extra material only available in the print version, or beautiful binding and covers, and maybe offering a free e-version if you buy the print version?
There is a good reason that books will last, they are the best at doing what they do – carrying words. The main thing is that they do not become unreadable. Twenty years ago I remember working with floppy discs and microfiche but now these formats are virtually unreadable, whilst books hundreds of years older are still perfectly accessible.
I think there is space in the market for all formats and we need to remember that it’s the story that counts, not the object that carries it.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors out there?
Don’t give up, and don’t be precious – get advice and share and grow a very thick skin! I know so many people who say they want to write a book and seem to think it is easy, and that’s why people quit. The first time they get a knock-back, or hear something negative, or actually can’t stick at it to get those words on paper, people quit. If you really want to write a book you need to first accept that it is incredibly hard and time consuming work. It is not something to take lightly and dip into now and again, it takes time and dedication to get over a hundred thousand words down! Once you’ve accepted that it is hard work, and that you will have to make sacrifices to achieve it, then you can do it.
Young people ask me all the time how to become a writer and I always say – write down all the things, and then write down some more!

Are you able to share with us what you are working on at the moment?
I am currently working on the sequel to Brotherhood which is set in some stunning locations from nineteenth century Paris, to London and on to a remote Scottish island. The sequel is very Steampunk as I have a bit of an obsession for automata and machines. I’ve had this idea churning away for some time and am hugely enjoying writing my machines, and avoiding all jokes about the ghost in the machine!

Dawn, thank you very much for your time!
Thanks again for inviting me on board, and I very much look forward to reading more!

I do love a good Bath.

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I’m having a little break in Bath and so (obviously) the first thing to do is head out in search of a good bookshop, and I found real gem. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights lives up to its name completely. This is gorgeous bookshop is three floors of pure literary pleasure. The bookshop has […]

Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?

When my book was first picked up from the Harper Collins site authonomy, I unwittingly discovered the world of the Internet troll. It was true that the person who spotted my book had seen it before, but there was never any secret about that. Unfortunately my troll seemed to think they were a latter day Sherlock when they discovered a five year old post about it, and used this to accuse me of all manner of things. I could (partially) understand if they accused me of nepotism – after all if someone didn’t understand the business, and didn’t understand that it takes more than one person to like your work to get published, then it may (at a very cursory glance) have appeared a little odd. But five minutes of thinking about it would have allowed anyone with even basic intelligence to see that it takes a whole lot more than one person supporting your work to get published. It actually has to be good. No publisher worth its salt is going to throw money at a bad book as a favour – it just doesn’t make sense.
That didn’t matter to my troll. I was accused of doing all sorts of things to get my book published, including “whoring” myself out in return for a contract. This was (of course) by someone who had never read my book or anything about it. That one troll lead to a small number of others who seemed to be more along the jealous haters track. By these I was accused of “thick as sh-t high school French” (one of my characters is called D’Scover – he’s not French and there is a reason for his unusual name, but you’d have to read the book to find out) and even accusations of being “totally mentally sick” as I was “glorifying teenage suicide” This baffling accusation apparently came from the name of my character – Edie Freedom. The hater said “come on, e- die freedom, like saying death is freedom?” Actually the character is named after my daughter, and her surname is from the commune on which the character lives. Edie is very much alive and takes great pains throughout the book to remain so!
The point of this is that none of them had actually bothered to read the book. They had bothered to troll around the net, stamping angrily under their shabby bridges and roaring at anyone attempting to quietly pass by, but they couldn’t be bothered to read my story.
I was advised to ignore them, and I did, and they went away, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Today a positive online presence is essential to marketing your “brand” (yes, I know, but that’s another issue!) and people hurling crap about can grubby-up your image pretty quickly. We rely on good feedback and good reviews, and trolls drag behind them a bandwagon that is very easy to jump on. All it takes is one to get it started and soon others will follow like flies on a carcass.
Hugely talented writer and illustrator Debi Gliori experienced this in a horrible way, an escalation that almost threatened her career and had misguided people bandwagon jumping with only the flimsiest bits of information.
One thing that always startles me is just how much hate some people allow into their lives. My case was very minor, and I’m thick-skinned, but some of the well reported cases such as the Caroline Criado-Perez case, were truly horrific. How you you laugh off death threats? How you you laugh off threats of such incredible violence and brutality? Surely that’s not possible? I am stunned that people have such hatred in them and are prepared to direct it at real people.
Maybe that’s it, maybe their social disengagement has reached such a profound level of isolation that they can no longer see us as “real” people.
Well, we are. We all are, every single time someone writes something it is from the mind of a real person. Flesh and blood, and with real feelings and real family too. If you choose to voice a strong and balanced negative opinion, then that is your right. If you wish to express your dislike of something then it should express why you feel this, and why you feel the need to tell others. If, however, you feel the need to express the desire to “rape her in the eyes” – it’s genuinely time to seek some form of counselling or intensive anger therapy for your own sake. It’s simply not healthy to allow that level of hatred and anger to dominate your life. How can people live like that?

So get back under your bridge, get some help, live happy, enjoy the world, and let us all trip-trap over to the quieter pastures beyond.

On NOT writing a grown-up book…

On Not Writing a “Grown-Up” Book

As I child I grew up in an area where money was generally in short supply and books were luxuries that most could not afford. Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones; my parents considered books to be essentials, and as a result I grew up in a house that was full of reading material. On top of this, the local library was one of our most frequent destinations on trips out, and the school library became my playground – I much preferred being there to being outside.

My school library was a gateway to a world beyond the grey walls of my cold and shabby school. It allowed me to step into worlds of fantasy and wonder. I was never drawn to books based in the real world, and had no desire to sink into stories of high-school drama or teen romance. Instead, I craved a world of mystery and the macabre. I worked my way through everything that my poorly funded school library offered in the way of children’s books, and then started on works of classic gothic fiction. The librarian would not let me borrow these (she considered me too young) and so I had to return to the library day after day to read through them.

Jumping forward a few years (OK, decades), I finally have a library of my own to run and, needless to say, I run it a little differently from the freezing mausoleum that I used to frequent. My school library is warm and welcoming, with comfy corners in which to settle with a story. However, that is not the biggest change. I am lucky to be both a writer and a children’s librarian in a new golden age of fiction for our younger readers. In the twenty-five years that I have worked with children’s books I have watched with glee the rise in the quality of books for younger readers.

The shelves are no longer are full of stories that adults consider ’worthy‘. I don’t have to stock them with books that are designed only to teach. Now more than ever, children’s and young adult books are written for enjoyment and pleasure. These books allow younger readers to indulge their own tastes for fiction without the sole purpose being the vehicle of a concealed moral message.

Adults will perhaps tolerate a book heavy on description and slower moving, they might even put up with a few plot holes, but children will not. If a book is too long-winded on description, or too scene-led, a child will generally not finish it, or skip large chunks to get to the action. For a children’s book to be successful it has to be a roller-coaster of events that tightly link to a satisfying conclusion. Children’s books need to be able cut to the quick in a way that brings each scene to life with tight yet detailed descriptions – a hugely challenging task.

Thankfully we are lucky enough to have writers of outstanding calibre seizing that challenge and publishing superb books that create addicted readers. These books will set in place a pattern of reading that will last readers their whole lives, and give them endless pleasure. We have writers like Marcus Sedgwick, Chris Priestley, Jon Mayhew, Malorie Blackman, Jonathan Stroud, Cliff McNish, Cornelia Funke, David Almond, Patrick Ness . . . and the list is increasing all the time! I would be honoured to join their ranks, but I’ve some big shoes to fill. We have writers who deliver work that is scalpel sharp and diamond bright, and which renders the reader breathless and hungry for more.

For a librarian this is a joy, and for a writer it is inspiration.