Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

Usually at this time we reflect on the passing year. Our achievements, our failures and what we want to achieve for the coming new year.

I've been involved in various campaigns over the years; Friern Barnet Library, Every Child Leaving Care Matters and others along the way.
I will of course continue to support libraries and care leavers - they are part of my heart. I am like everyone else throughout the UK disgusted at this governments treatment of libraries and library staff.

We musn't forget that hundreds of librarians have also lost their jobs. I am sickened at the way this government have treated the mentally incapacitated, the jobless, the homeless, the children in care; in effect the most vulnerable people in this country of ours that was once Great. Now we have to hang our heads in shame. All we can do is vote these evil people out of power this coming May and begin the road to achieving greatness once again.

I was about to say, I'm taking a break from campaigns! In 2015, I want to pursue my PhD Hiraeth - Finding a Fictional Home. I am under no illusion that somebody like me who didn't do very well at school, and moved around a lot as a child, and didn't achieve a 1st or even a 2:1 has very little chance of getting funded. But it doesn't matter, the journey so far has been so interesting, and one of my 2014 highlights was presenting the research to date at the Brathay Trust up in the Lake District. A truly inspiring setting where I met some fabulously kind people working with care leavers to improve their lives. So it doesn't matter if I don't get funded. My little pot Help Fund my PhD (thanks to friends, family and people inspired by a chance to help change outcomes for those in care) is growing little by little and I will get there eventually.
I met a very kind potential supervisor Rebecca Smith, at Southampton University. I want to record my thanks as she has supported me continuously over the last year. Whatever happens as Rebecca and Dr Josie Pearse (another supporter) said, you are already doing the PhD. I will continue. I've just discovered a brand new book which may possibly have the root cause as to why Care Leavers are stereotyped and am looking forward to my next trip to that wonderful establishment, The British Library. 

2015 for me will be about getting back to my roots, writing, painting and generally leading a more creative life. I miss me! I will be doing a lot less social media, although I will still post blogs and occasionally be a Twit-to-Tweet.

So, all that is left for me to do is wish you all a very Healthy, Happy, and 
Creative New Year.

Monday, 1 December 2014

An Interview with Alex Wheatle

I was lucky enough recently to win a proof copy of Alex Wheatle's new novel Liccle Bit. I've read other novels by Alex and enjoyed them all. This book is aimed at the YA market. I was intrigued to see how he would write for teenagers. Almost from the very first sentence, I found myself hooked. The more I read, the more I cared about what happened to Lemar called Liccle Bit because of his height. The whole time I was reading, I felt like a mother does for her child, worry, worry, worry, and hoped I wasn't headed for an unhappy ending. It wasn't all edge of the seat reading though, the young  characters have their own language and boy is it funny, the humour is relentless and had me falling off my chair. No spoilers from me, you will have to read it yourself. What I will say is that this is possibly Alex's best book yet (though I am a bit biased), and it is a masterpiece of emotion, comedy and language.

Bookblurb: What's worse than hiding a secret? Liccle Bit's about to find out...Venetia King is the hottest girl at school. Too bad Lemar is the second shortest guy in his year. Everyone calls him Liccle Bit, and his two best friends, McKay and Jonah, never tire of telling him he has no chance with girls. Things aren't much better at home. His mum is permanently hassled, his sister a frustrated single mum and his dad moved out years ago. Liccle Bit wishes he could do something - anything! - to make life better. A new phone would be a start...When Venetia starts paying Liccle Bit attention, he secretly hopes he's on a fast track to a first date. Unfortunately, as a new gang war breaks out, he finds himself on a fast track to something much more sinister. South Crongton's notorious gang leader has taken an interest in Liccle Bit. Before he knows what's happening, he finds himself running errands. But when he hears about a killing on the estate, Liccle Bit is forced to question his choices. How can he possibly put things right?

Alex kindly agreed to be interrogated by me and here is what he said:

Can you sum up the novel in one sentence?

One line to describe the novel?  Gosh!  That's difficult.
Hope, friendship, adventurous, funny, dangerous, family, friends, loyalty, thrilling and readable!

Was it difficult writing a novel for the YA market? How did you manage the switch from adult to teenager?

I think the main difference from adult fiction to Y/A teen fiction is that the plot has to keep on rattling along - something is always happening.

Do you have children? Have they read the Liccle Bit yet?
No, my children haven't read LICCLE BIT yet but I'm sure they will do when it is officially published.

South Crongton where Lemar lives, is a fabulous dingy name; is it based on a real place?

I guess South Crongton was inspired by many places I have visited in my work as a writer including Portsmouth, Manchester, Birminham, Leicester and of course Brixton.

At the heart of the novel is the real life problem of gangs, knife and gun culture. What made you choose this subject?

Yes, the story is about the issues living on an inner-city estate but the spine of the narrative is about the dynamics within a family under strain, first love and friendship - and for me those themes are universal.

The language used by Lemar and his friends is very, very funny in places. Did you eavesdrop on real teenagers?
I did eavesdrop on teenagers a bit but also I invented some terms and new phrases.

Did you have an alternative ending?

I think most writers have alternative endings and I can reveal I had a number of discussions about the ending with my brilliant editor.

What advice do you have for would-be-novelists?
Advice?  Never be satisfied with a first draft - always look to improve a chapter, a paragraph and a sentence.  If you have thought of a good metaphor, try and think of a better one.  Be bold, be creative, be daring.  Try not to write like your favourite writer or another writer who you admire.  Develop your own style.  If you can, try and get someone professional to look over your manuscript before submitting it to a literary agent or publisher.  Write the book you would like to buy.  Make those first 10 pages compelling.  Never say in your synopsis, 'the action really gets going in the middle of the story.'

As part of the Finchley Literary Festival, Alex Wheatle talks about his acclaimed new YA novel Liccle Bit. He is joined by local authors Savita Kalhan and Ellie Daines. Turn up to meet the authors and hear some extracts from their books.

Waterstones hosts the 'Meet the Young Adult writers'
Waterstones, 782 High Road, Finchley N12 8JY
Saturday 23rd May at 12.30 - 1.30pm

Liccle Bit is due for release 5th March 2015. You can pre-order here
You can follow Alex on Twitter @BrixtonBard