24 November 2011

Welcome to Beachy Books!

I met Philip on Twitter - his tweets made me laugh, I looked at his website and his books - and was so impressed I asked him to be a guest: 
So please welcome Philip Bell Of Beachy Books

Pick a category: How would you describe your book?

I was asked the other day how I would describe our Jack and Boo children’s books. I answered by saying they were nature-led stories for children that combined fact and fiction, with spotter guides! Not exactly as catchy as Don Draper from Mad Men would have come up with, but it did start me thinking, was it an accurate description of the book? Just what category or genre does my writing fit? Do categories matter anymore? How would you describe your book? I don’t have definitive answers, but these are my musings...
I’m going to start by defining what I mean by category. I’m basically talking about the genre, the subject I guess. I didn’t use genre as it tends to only refer to fiction and most booksellers define it as category anyway.
The wonderful thing about being independent is you don’t have to fit into any particular category, genre or adhere to a publisher’s list. You can write the most unfashionable book ever if you so desire, you can splice up the genres, you can even mix fiction with non-fiction – shock horror! However, from a booksellers point of view, this can be a nightmare, as you may find retailers scratch their heads over where to place your book. My books have been found in various locations around the bookshop, from Local Interest to Nature sections, to Activity Books, and, only very occasionally, in the actual main children’s book section! But then, what sub section to put Jack and Boo in? Children’s picture books, early readers, spotter guides? And they are written in a poetic style – part free verse, part prose poetry, part my style – so why not the Poetry section then?
And don’t get me started on what age range they are for. I’m not a fan of age guides printed on the back of a book. As a child, I’d not want to be deterred from reading a book that a publisher thought wasn’t age appropriate for me or, worse, be put off a book that might turn out to be a gem, just because I thought it might be too childish for me. I came across this problem the other day when my 7 year old son frowned at me when I suggested we read (the original) Winnie The Pooh by A.A Milne for bedtime reading, saying he thought it was a “baby book”. Fortunately I insisted we read on and he soon found he was chuckling away. In many cases the sub text went way over his head (and mine at times!) making me laugh and prompting questions from him – all great food for the mind. I must admit this edition dared not to have a reading age on the back, but it was more his perception of the book, from a time when he was younger when I’d tried to introduce him to it. Only you know what level your children are at. And anyway, sometimes it’s nice to blow their minds – in a literary sense.
Of course, as a parent myself, I can see the benefit of being able to quickly choose a book for your child by going to a handy category or age range, and especially when trying to buy a present for another child, but it all depends on the child – we are all individuals, with our own needs, desires and interests. I’m not a number, I’m a free man!
A category can be a straitjacket. It can narrow down the topics that writers think they can write within. How many ideas have you disregarded just because you thought your subject wouldn’t fit neatly into a category? It’s a publisher and bookseller controlled model of the world, which I’m glad to see, with the advent of independent publishing, eBooks and online bookshops, is fast disappearing. Of course, as has always been the case, any good, independent bookshop will steer you towards the more interesting books that sit in the blend between hard categories. For the writer too categories or genres can also soon typecast you. You become known as one type of writer. It’s no wonder many authors have pseudonyms when they publish books different from the genre they’ve become known for. And some authors (or is it their publishers?) keep strictly within their category, even though their books are ostensibly in another, and in turn, would attract a different set of readers if they were. An example is the brilliant and diverse, Margaret Atwood, who is known as a “literary” author but who writes many speculative books, like The Handmaid’s Tale, that some would classify as “science fiction”.
I do think search engines have helped liberate readers (and writers). There’s no excuse now not to write the book you want to write, for the audience you want to write for. All that book buyers have to do now is use a search box to type in the subject they are interested in, and they can even get recommendations based on their previous searches and purchases.
I find it difficult to categorize my books, which is no surprise because, when I conceive them, I just write what I enjoy. It’s only when I come to redraft that I think about how a child or parent would perceive it, or where it may be stocked, and then decide if I should make any appropriate changes.

I’m about to publish the third Jack and Boo book in the series, a winter book called Jack and Boo’s Snowy Day. By now, I have a good idea of the audience, as I’ve had a chance to speak directly with parents and children who have bought our previous books. One thing I’ve learned is our books cross a wide spectrum of ages and subjects. They have been chosen by parents and grandparents of toddlers and young children for bedtime reading, as well as, teachers of reception to year 3 classes, who use our books across a range of curriculum topics including, nature, wildlife, conservation, the seasons, literacy and poetry. The feedback I’ve received has helped me shape this new book, and in turn, broadened the subject matter. As a result, it’s probably even harder to find a definitive category for our books, and for that I’m glad – at least we’re different and diverse! So, I now ask you to pick a category: How would you describe your book?
Helen has asked me to choose 10 guests of my choice – alive, dead, or fictional, with reasons, if I were having a dinner party. I was daunted by this, as I do agree that, as a general rule, you should never meet your “heroes”. But, just for fun, here is my list...

Chris Packham – I’ve briefly met Chris Packham at IOW Zoo, where he does much fundraising work, and he was kind enough to endorse our Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood book with lovely words. He’s always been a passionate environmentalist and communicator of conservation and wildlife knowledge, starting when I was a child on the Really Wild Show to Autumn Watch today. He’s also a great photographer and has brilliant music taste too – so he could supply the sounds!

Caroline Lucas – I’d love to meet Caroline Lucas as I have total respect for her in becoming the first green MP in the 2010 UK elections. I think she’d have many interesting things to say about how we could run the country in a more sustainable way.

Brian Cox – Brilliant physicist and intelligent communicator. I think it would be fascinating to chat to him about the universe, but please don’t bring any D:Ream Brian!
(HH: ooh can I come - I like him!)

Micky Flanagan – His London accent, jaunty comedy and brilliant stories would have us all in stitches.

Adam and Joe – They really count as one, so they can share a chair. Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, comedians, actors, film directors, and creators of the funniest radio show ever. Intelligent and hilarious conversation, or just idiocy.

Hunter S Thompson – Late, writer of one of the funniest books on the planet, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and creator of gonzo journalism. He was supposed to be a bit unhinged at parties, so perhaps it would be best to leave him outside?

Roger Deakin – The late, founder member of Friends of the Earth and nature writer. I’ve just discovered him from reading one of his books, Waterlog, where he swims the lakes, rivers and seas of the UK, ruminating on wildlife and conservation issues. It’s comforting to know there are other people out there who care.

Father Christmas – Errr, I’d just like to ask him how he does it all.

Jamie Oliver – He gets a lot of stick, but he also uses his fame to try and spread a positive message about good food and healthy eating. I’d rather he cooked dinner though!

David Cameron – I should start by saying he is not a hero. I’d like our PM at the dinner party so I could look him square in the eye and ask him why he isn’t doing much to protect the environment? Oh and I’d get all the other guests to educate him and grill him on the subject!

Thank you Philip - that was interesting and entertaining.
Buy the books my dear readers - ideal Christmas presents for putting in those stockings!
(I've bought them for my step-great-grandson....ssshhh! Don't tell him!)

Philip Bell is a writer, publisher and dad of two. He and his illustrator wife’s latest book, Jack and Boo’s Snowy Day, is out now, priced at £5.99 and published by Beachy Books – the perfect winter book for nature loving children everywhere! 

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Next time:  Karen Charlton author of Catching the Eagle

10 November 2011

My guest this week: Christina Courteney

Thank you, Helen, for having me as your guest as part of the blog tour for my latest novel Highland Storms. As we share a love of history, I thought I’d talk a little bit about that, and in particular about doomed causes. 
 I don’t know about you, but I’ve been fascinated by history ever since I was a child. I still remember my very first history lesson at school, when the teacher told us about Stone Age cultures and we were taken to see a sort of canoe or boat made out of a hollowed out tree trunk. I couldn’t believe someone had made that using only stone tools and from then on I was hooked.
As I was always a voracious reader, my father pointed me in the direction of things like the Norse sagas, the Odyssey and Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.  I think at first I took them as real history, until I learned to distinguish between fact and fiction.  But they were the basis for my love of historical fiction and when it came to writing my own novels, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was the sort of thing I wanted to write myself.
Certain times in history seem more interesting than others, and also specific events. Personally, I love reading about doomed causes, the ones that in my opinion were just or right and should have succeeded.  Throughout history, there seem to be so many of these doomed causes, which could have turned out well, but for one reason or another didn’t.  These absolutely fascinate me.
I know you’ve written about King Harold and his doomed attempt to keep the throne of England. He came so very close to succeeding, and I have to admit I would very much have liked him to. It’s the same with the English Civil War – I so wish the Cavaliers had won and by rights they should have done!  It’s only small consolation that they triumphed in the end through the restoration of Charles II.  Most of all, however, I’m fascinated by the Jacobites, which is why I couldn’t resist setting my latest novel in the Highlands (although some time after the defeat at Culloden).It seems Bonnie Prince Charlie could definitely have achieved a free Scottish kingdom, but he’d set his heart on the throne of England as well and so he failed. 

These “if only” moments stir up your emotions and you can’t help but take sides, I think. You ask yourself what if Harold hadn’t had to fight the Vikings first? What if King Charles I hadn’t been quite so unwilling to listen to good counsel? What if Bonnie Prince Charlie had been content with his Highland domains?  But you know you can’t change history, you can only lament what happened and weave your own stories out of what occurred.
But that, in itself, is the fun part of being an author, because even if your fictional characters take part in doomed uprisings or whatever, you can let them survive and live a long and happy life, unlike the real protagonists.  And apart from doomed causes, I love a happy ever after ending, so for me perhaps it’s best to stay in the world of make-believe I create myself.

Dinner guests 

I’d like to invite (I’m sure there are lots I’ve forgotten, but these were the ones that sprang to mind right away):-

Jesus – I’m not religious, but I’d really like to meet the real historical figure and find out what it was about him that was so charismatic. I’d also like to clear up a few things that a lot of people seem to have misunderstood with regard to what he said/didn’t say, like the role of women within the church and so on.
Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar – I’d try to persuade him to tell me what secrets they were really hiding.  I know people laugh at all these conspiracy theories, but those guys were definitely onto something or they wouldn’t have become so rich so quickly, or flourished for so long. I hate unsolved mysteries, I want to know what it was! 
Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – I have a thing about Cavaliers,  as I mentioned, and he sounds like a fascinating man, not just handsome (and a renowned ladies’ man), but also intelligent and inquisitive. I think he’d be fun to talk to. If only King Charles had listened to him before the battle of Naseby, he may not have lost! 
Bonnie Prince Charlie – here’s a man I’d like to talk some sense into!  If only he’d been happy with being king of the Scots and not insisted on the throne of the whole United Kingdom, he could have been king, lived happily ever after and Scotland would have been its own country again.  I would love to debate this with him! 
Jared Leto – at last someone who’s not a historical figure, I hear you say, although his performance as Hephaistion in the film Alexander often makes me see him that way.  Jared seems like a really interesting guy, a very complex character, and I’d love to chat to him about his various personas as an actor, singer, songwriter and film producer.  And if that fails, well, I could just look at him … :D
The Queen – I think she’d hold her own in any conversation and she looks like she has a great sense of humour.  It would be fascinating to hear her real views on the world.
Joe Elliott (lead singer of the band Def Leppard) – a bit of northern charm and down to earth attitudes would add spice to the table I think. Not sure he fits in with any of the other guests, apart from maybe Jared, but sometimes it’s good to have a mixture. And hopefully he could be persuaded to sing for us as well.
Roger Moore – I think he personifies the “English Gentleman” and he seems to have a great sense of humour too. I used to watch him as “The Saint” when I was a little girl and have liked him ever since – he’s my favourite James Bond of course.
Georgette Heyer – a very forthright lady, from all accounts, and one who could be counted on to stir up the conversation.  I think she was very sharp, very intelligent, and it would be fascinating to talk to her about her books.
You Helen – as a previous blog guest said, it would be rude to leave out the hostess!  We could debate lost causes between us and you can help me talk sense into Prince Charles Edward.

Thank you for the invite Christina -
can I sit next to him please? :-D

Many thanks for having me here!
 It was a pleasure Christina - I am reading Highland Storm at the moment - love it! My next Sea Witch Voyage (Ripples In The Sand) is connected to the Jacobite Rebellion, although a little earlier than Bonnie Prince Charles - a bit part will be his father James III and the failed attempt to launch an armada in 1719.

Christina's website

Highland Storms
ISBN: 978-1-906931-71-1
published by Choc Lit 
1st November 2011

Who can you trust?
Betrayed by his brother and his childhood love, Brice Kinross needs a fresh start. So he welcomes the opportunity to leave Sweden for the Scottish Highlands to take over the family estate.
But there’s trouble afoot at Rosyth in 1754 and Brice finds himself unwelcome. The estate is in ruin and money is disappearing. He discovers an ally in Marsaili Buchanan, the beautiful redheaded housekeeper, but can he trust her?
Marsaili is determined to build a good life. She works hard at being housekeeper and harder still at avoiding men who want to take advantage of her. But she’s irresistibly drawn to the new clan chief, even though he’s made it plain he doesn’t want to be shackled to anyone.
And the young laird has more than romance on his mind. His investigations are stirring up an enemy.  Someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – including Marsaili – even if that means destroying Brice’s life forever …

Note from Helen:
 I have just finished reading Highland Storms.
 I suppose there are a few stereotypical characters - the bad man, the beautiful girl, the handsome, well muscled hero who can ignore any injury, no matter how painful.
There's the boy meets girl but neither of them are willing to admit they have fallen instantly in love... boy thinks he's lost his girl; girl thinks boy doesn't love her anyway..... bad man ends up..... (well I'm not divulging that bit!)
But to bake a quality cake you need a favourite recipe, and I can assure you, Highland Storms is fit for a Baker's Masterclass.
It has all the right ingredients required for a scrumptious read  - and the icing on the cake is Christina Courtenay's wonderful ability as a writer of historical romance.
Highland Storms - highly recommended!

my next guest Beachy Books - fun books for children