Who am I?

My photo
Mmm books - they taste good in my brain. So I decided to work in publishing and feed my habit. So now for a living I read wonderful children's books and tell everyone how great they are. It's called publicity! Many thanks to Oliver Jeffers for the name inspiration and header image.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Carnegie read number 4 - Flip by Martyn Bedford

First of all - sorry about the photo. But I'm running out of creative photographic ways to symbolise me eating the books. I need more utensils.

Next on my reading pile for the Carnegie longlist challenge I've set myself was Flip by Martyn Bedford. My chosen book purchasing method this time was to visit Casey from Dark Readers at Waterstones Camden, my local and her place of work now! It was lovely to see her smiley face and lo and behold, Flip was there, ready and waiting to be purchased. EXCELLENT SERVICE, PROMOTE CASEY, WOOO! Ahem.

Having just seen a Misfits episode that involved a body swap (no spoilers I promise) I was reminded of their discussion of whether it was more like Face-Off or Freaky Friday. Which just goes to show the whole body swap thing has been done before - so this was my first fear jumping in to reading the book. It also made me expect that there would be some kind of extra twist which never really came, but that's not to say it wasn't a good read. Also Martyn Bedford went to UEA, just like myself (and Steve Cole. And that man who wants to marry Elizabeth Swan in Pirates of the Caribbean) so he must be a dude.

Alex wakes up in another boy's body, miles from his own home and family, with no idea what has happened to his own body. His reaction is unsettlingly realistic as his initial attempts to explain that he is not in fact Philip or "Flip" are met with disbelief, and he is forced to settle in to life in Flip's body. At least for the time being. His inner turmoil at whether he can continue to be himself in another body leaves him conflicted and desperate to find a way out, and he soon discovers he is not the only one this phenomenon has happened to...

I think the thing I found odd about this story was just how realistic it was. I felt like I was reading a gritty emotional account of something that could really happen and affect people. The issue under the skin here is about Alex feeling comfortable with his identity which is a genuine worry for many teens, yet set within this story framework it doesn't feel patronising or heavy handed. I wouldn't agree with its description as a "thriller" though as the storyline is more emotional and slow building than high speed action. Alex doesn't start leaping cars to find the government agency that hijacked his body or anything like that - the impetus to keep reading is intrigue at how Alex will chose to deal with events, and of course how you would deal with it yourself.

This book surprised me by popping up on a lot of big awards lists when I hadn't heard much about it before - not for the first time, a book from Walker that sneaks up on you due to its quality rather than hype. I would be really keen to see where Martin Bedford goes next as this book is clearly very good, but I'd like to see what he would do coming with a slightly more original plotline.

Flip by Martyn Bedford is out now in a sort of paperbacky/hardback thingy (?) and published by Walker Books. It is longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie medal and UKLA Book award and shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Book Award for Children.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Off Topic... Dream Christmas Gifts

Ok rather off topic. But I'm one of those people it's easy to find gifts for - you know things that have been created with no purpose other than TO BE A GIFT? Yeh, I love that stuff. Oh my god, a toast stamper! A flannel printed with lovehearts! Nun chuck chop sticks!! I have been known to tell people when prompted for birthday gift suggestions that I'd be happy with an empty box. I then received an empty one of these on the day - and I still have it today, filled with cotton reels and beads and such useful items.

In my hunting for presents - for other people! I am caring, honest! - I just keep coming across things my life absolutely will not be complete without. So here in its glory are my 100% greedylicious self Christmas shopping wishes. In my dreams... ah! Oh yes, and so they fit in here on a book blog, they are all book based! Well, sort of...

1. Top item would definitely have to be the painfully amazing Oliver Jeffers jewelry. Someone sub book boy an extra £100 on the gift budget! Quick!*
*I actually think for this particularly beautiful piece of craft the price is not that bad. Well worth the love and labour going into them - but sadly still out of my price range...

2. Moomin tea flask. Itsh schoo cute!!! I don't even drink tea but I might need to transport some hot squash on a winter picnic one day...

3. Oh how I really should have my own Personal Library Kit. I'm a bit too happy with the lending and not stern enough of the demands for return of borrowed books. I have many a pair of fake nerd glasses I could wear whilst issuing my books... sigh.
4. So... the Muppets probably had books at some point right?* Regardless, I really, REALLY want all the Muppet themed Opi nail varnishes. Whilst the pictured "Fresh Frog of Bel Air" has a special place in my heart and "Divine Swine" is full of googly sparkles, I think "Rainbow Connection" is just too glittery to resist... but so much harder to get hold of!

* Look, The Muppet Babies Annual 1987 was a literary classic, ok?

5. Oh how I loved The Little Prince when I was younger. I have vague cloudy memories joy over an animated video bought at a car boot sale (as with most amazing nostalgia, you can find examples here on youtube!) and to this day it still has an air of mysterious Frenchness to me. So what more classy garment to give me than this snazzy t-shirt?

6. I don't know about you, but I often fall asleep face down on the sofa... with all the lights on, still wearing my clothes... in the shower... in the middle of reading a literary classic. When I wake up to peel the pages from my face, I can't help but think there should be some way to combine falling asleep and reading into some kind of convenient bedside lamp. Well obviously someone out there is listening and created this cute little piece of lighting equipage.

The only bad thing about this bedside genius is that the book is not included. And I imagine if, like me, you forget to turn the light off, you might end up setting fire to your book, and ironically burning the house down. Not recommended...

7. Ever since I sat next to someone at an Oliver Jeffers event (actually in Cambridge) who had one of these, I have needed one. Once again, just sub me £70 odd and it's mine! I mean, I need it to put all my books into. It's academic.

Plus, it's available in ultra barbie neon pink! From the Cambridge Satchel Company. Mmm... Satchels.

Thus concludes my gift buying procrastination... I'll get on with other people's presents now - what's on your dream gift list??

Monday, 28 November 2011

Carnegie Meal Number 3 - One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

Positively speeding through now. I'll have finished this lot before you can say pneumonoultrasilicovolcanoconiosis... Soon after finishing Shadow I popped by book boy's house as I knew he had some of the books on my hit list. Being a bookseller, he is one of these lucky people who get sent proofs and one such example was One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. When I worked in a library, I shelved a helluva lot of Eva Ibbotson books as they were always flying in and out. So when this book proof was released, it clocked on my radar, but tragically even more so due to the sad news that Eva had passed away at the age of 85. I knew I just needed an opportunity to steal borrow this and get reading - so thank you Carnegie folk for nominating this one!

From One Dog and His Boy, it seems very obvious that Ibbotson was indeed a master of children's storytelling. I don't specify "children's" to in any way belittle her writing - I think when you write for children in the best way, you have created something that does not speak down to children but is still most definitely created with them in mind. With the dreams and beliefs that you hold as a child at the forefront.

This story has at its centre a young boy called Hal, who lives a privileged life with all the toys and gadgets he could ever want. With a wealthy businessman for a father and a prim shopaholic for a mother, the only thing Hal yearns for is a dog. But he has never been allowed one. In a cruelly thoughtless move, his parents rent him a dog for the weekend, but let Hal believe it's for life. Hal and the dog he rents, Fleck, find a strong connection straight away and their separation is heart breaking. Back at Easy Pets, the dog rental agency, there are a whole room of cell mates to Fleck who have their own tragic stories that have led them to their ownerless existence. The dogs' back stories were revealed in effortlessly natural narration, with delightful details set up for later heart wrenching moments. A whole host of other characters come into the story and every one is just perfectly woven in to create a classic adventure tale with a really simple but lovely emotional core. This really was pretty much perfect - funny, sad, emotional, exciting and filled with a kind of magic that needs no wands or sorcery.

I will place this book very high up on my recommendation list for any children aged 9 and up, and any adult with a young soul!

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson is out now in hardback, and will be released in paperback in March 2012. It is long listed for the Carnegie Medal 2012.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lunchtime Review - Shadow by Michael Morpurgo

The Carnegie Challenge continues! At quite high speed this week as I pilfered Shadow from the shelf at HC headquarters (book.. err obtaining method number 2. Can't really call that purchasing) on Friday night and got reading on my Monday morning commute. Then finished it on my Monday evening commute! I just had to know how it was going to end... It's hard to stop reading a Morpurgo!

So here I am at lunch time blogging my review, which I think is wholly acceptable considering it's one of our titles :) I'm just WORKING right now..

Shadow is the story of a teenage boy from Afghanistan who is seeking asylum in the UK. He and his mother have lived in the country for 6 years but are suddenly being deported. But first they are being held in the Yarl's Wood detention centre, essentially a prison which holds families including young children before they are sent out of the country. Morpurgo, in his wonderfully characteristic way, took inspiration from real life in two ways with this story. Both that Yarl's Wood was a real place and that it was wrongly detaining families and children, but also the story of Shadow the dog.

During the book we hear the story of how Aman made it to the UK from his troubled home country. During their journey to escape, Aman and his mother found themselves accompanied by a foreign looking dog, which Aman names Shadow. Although they don't know it, Shadow is in fact a trained bomb sniffer dog from the English army who is missing and presumed dead by his squadron. This was inspired by the story of Sabi, a black labrador who disappeared from battle only to be found a year later, cared for by an unknown person in the desert.

This weaving together of true life elements is characteristic of Morpurgo and serves to create a story that is all the more touching. It's satisfyingly based in reality and I'm sure will be a valuable book to many children who read it and think a little more about those who seek asylum in the UK. It reminded me of the brilliant account of Enaiatollah in In the Sea There are Crocodiles in the way that the story was sad, but maintained an air of hope. I think this is incredibly important when telling stories with this much emotional pain for children. Whilst it is important to keep their eyes open to hard things that happen around them, we mustn't damage them too early on with thoughts of desperation and hopelessness.

To hear Michael talking about the book himself, click here.

Shadow by Michael Morpurgo is out now in paperback, and is long listed for the 2012 Carnegie Medal.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

My first Carnegie bite - My Name is Mina by David Almond

A couple of weeks ago I decided I would set myself a little challenge - to read all the Carnegie long listed titles before the winner is announced next year. This is no mean feat, as although I've read 11 of them already - there are 52 in total! Well I would have started my challenge immediately but I was part way through reading the second Department 19 book, The Rising. I will refrain from talking too much about that as I know it will make many of you painfully jealous and there are SO MANY AWESOME plot points I don't want to give any away!

So once I finished that I finally got myself down to Daunt books to visit my friendly book boy and request he buy me a book with his discount (book purchasing method 1 - let's call it supporting a friendly Indie) and that book was My Name is Mina by David Almond. This book is a prequel to David Almond's first book, the Carnegie winning Skellig. Ashamedly I have never read Skellig, so found myself coming to this book as a fresh standalone. Which, for any of you in the same position, is absolutely fine, aside from you may get slightly less satisfaction from the ending.

I have to say when I first started reading this I couldn't get my head into it. I couldn't work out why - perhaps coming to it from such a high action thriller? Perhaps because all my reading is done on my commute and I'm largely standing and feeling rushed? The book reminded me a lot of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli which I just adored so I just couldn't understand why I was less interested in this. I stopped and thought about it, quite literally as I was walking along the street in a rush. I had a slightly obvious epiphany - I am a grown up, in a sometimes stressful and always busy profession. I live in a city thats always rushing and jostling me around and often surrounded by people huffing and sighing and grumping about like we grown ups do. When I read Stargirl I was a teenager with plenty of free time, less cynicism, and more belief in everything being just wonderful. I was quite whimsical! But wait! I still am whimsical and childish and I got really cross at myself for not letting this story carry me away just because I was having a busy week.

So I came back to the story and paid attention - I looked around me on the tube and felt sad for anyone else who wasn't using their journey to have a little escape like me. An escape back into the mind of a child, where the world is full of completely amazing things - in Mina's journal she writes words she thinks are particularly delicious over and over, or really big across the page. She writes mini stories and poems and spends lots of time sitting in a tree, watching the world and waiting for the eggs in the nest above her to hatch. She's by no means always happy, as she finds the process of being a child and growing up quite painful, and philosophizes on this transition throughout. She has perhaps clung to her more "childish" ways longer than most others her age, but this only means she still knows how to take notice of all the little things and take delight in them.

I was just enchanted by the book once I got my brain in the right mode. Everyone should be a little bit like Mina - her "strangeness" is to me what makes her more sensible than most - I think as we grow up, we lose the strangeness of being a child, where we create magical worlds and imaginings in our head, and question things that grown ups accept. I think that's something to lament - which is of course really why I work in the world of children's books!

Most appropriately, Mina does seem to have something quite apt to say on this, so I will leave you with a lovely quote from the book:

"It's so strange: grown ups trying to become young, young ones trying to grow up and all the time, whatever people want, time moves forward, forward."

My Name is Mina by David Almond is available now in paperback, and is longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal - see the full longlist here

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Carnegie Longlist - My Challenge!

On Friday, the longlists for the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Awards were announced. If you don't know, these are two of the most prestigious awards for children's fiction and picture books you can win in the UK. For someone in publishing it's a very exciting day, but inevitably you'll be disappointed too - you work on so many books in a year and not every one makes it to the list, which is always sad. Titles are nominated and judged by librarians across the country, and there's also a fantastic shadowing scheme which gets kids involved in reading the titles on the shortlist and voting for their favourites.

Having just moved to HarperCollins, there were some titles from Random House I had been working on over the previous year that I was really desperate to see on the list and so when I loaded up the page on Friday, I did end up wooping out loud and doing a little dance in my seat (alone in a corner, nice and embarrassing)! In particular, two books that I worked on made it - Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans. Hooray! Congratulations ladies! But there were plenty more I've already read and loved or heard about and been intrigued to read. So this led me to set myself...

My challenge, should I choose to accept it (from myself) is to read EVERY BOOK on the longlist*. There are 52, and I've already read 11. So this means reading 41 books. If I wanted to finish reading by the shortlist announcement at the end of March 2012, I'd have approximately 20 weeks and I guess I'd have to read two books a week. Now I am quite realistic and much as I'm a fast-ish reader, I'm going to get distracted by reading the books I'm working on and other things that just catch my eye. But as long as I've read them all by the announcement of the winner in June 2012 I think that's acceptable. Right??

I also want to use this exercise as an adventure in book buying. I'm going to try and obtain the books from as many sources as possible, for example HEY MUM CAN I HAVE THIS FOR CHRISTMAS? Or, more exactly from as many retailers, online sources, first hand, second hand, hardback, paperback, and maybe even blagging a few from booky friends.

In the mean time, as I've read 11 already I'll do some posts reviewing about two or three at once, partly just to show off how many of them I just happen to have signed copies of (ahem, humblebrag).

So, just to recap, I'm going to:

  • Obtain ALL the Carnegie longlisted titles from various amazing book selling sources
  • Read 'em (and occasionally weep)
  • Tell y'all about them
  • Accurately predict the winner and win all of your respect 
Just you wait...

*I can hear you real book bloggers snorting into your keyboards. HA I'VE READ THEM ALL ALREADY! Well, you guys had a head start! No fair!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

You probably won't find me giving too many in depth reviews here, because I suppose as a book publicist I generally have ulterior motives for recommending books! I know I won't be able to help myself sometimes, but in this instance as it's a book for grown ups and published by Vintage, I figured I could get away with it!

I received a proof of this book when I was still working at RHCB - it arrived in the internal post wrapped in black paper and shiny white ribbon, which prompted much excitement! Tucked into the book was a small business card, printed with the following:

"The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it.
It is simply there,
when yesterday it was not."

Vintage do an absolutely beautiful job of everything they do - their books are beautifully published, so I was already very aware of the hype and creative marketing that was going into promoting this book. This particular proof was offered to encourage in house staff to photograph themselves with the book, wearing something red, to be posted on the intranet homepage - sadly I never got the chance to do this before I left!

The book tells the story of a mysterious travelling circus that appears from nowhere and opens only at night. Its illusions and entertainments are so enchanting that people lose themselves in amongst the black and white striped tents until dawn. But behind the glittering fairy lights and spinning acrobats, there is something keeping the circus together beyond any of its patron's imaginations. Two figures are locked in a dangerous wager, keeping the circus balanced as they discover the rules of their game.

I found this book impossible to walk away from. The descriptions were so sumptuous and detailed that I found myself desperate to visit the circus for myself. Every time I closed the book and stepped back into my carriage on the tube everything looked far too dull and muted compared to the dazzling world of the story. The plot itself weaves through time, cleverly moving back and forth to reveal the fates of the characters piece by piece. I was a little disappointed by the ending as I was anticipating something  little more dramatic. I also think it was probably too long - however if I had been editing this book I would have been loath to remove any one of the tempting scenes of caramel apples by the bonfire or glittering snow gardens, permanently frozen.

There is so much beauty in this book that perhaps it would be easy to overlook issues with the plot, or excuse them. Morgenstern is clearly a hugely talented writer and has plenty of respect for the real magic of storytelling. However, I think that someone even a smidgen less whimsical than I may have found the fantasy of the circus too insubstantial to cover the slow pace of the plot. There weren't many surprises in the direction of the story, as the reader seems to be aware of things that seem blindingly obvious but only become apparent to the characters some time later. In fact, the characters are generally rather thinly described compared to the lushness of their world. I think this is where the book really falls down unfortunately.

However - I am a girl on the high end of the whimsical scale. I do believe that within books, films, music and art we can really lose ourselves and it is a kind of magic. I think this is why I'm so drawn to children's books, because all those possibilities of fantastical worlds and events are still present. I am clearly the sort of person this book is therefore aimed straight for! I found reading The Night Circus immensely enjoyable. It is truly beguiling and sensory, drawing you into a world that would be so incredible to witness. For that reason I would still strongly recommend it to read - curl up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate as the cold winter nights draw in and read it for the joy of it. In the meantime I will be looking forward to the arrival of Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland in the hope it will at least half way satisfy my craving for a magical circus!

The Night Circus is out now, published by Harvill Secker.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Life so far in the new job!

Life in children's book publicity is many things - the one thing you can count on, however, is the variety! If you really want to test this theory, start a new job in September! It's one of the busiest times of the year, with all the big Autumn blockbusters being published in time to get on the Christmas present lists. With big books, come big tours and public appearances. So I pretty much guaranteed myself a start in the deep end! So here, in photographic form, here is a brief catalogue of my first few weeks as a press officer:
Ok so technically this happened before I started - just wanted some photographic evidence that I had REAL CHAMPAGNE bought for me. Thanks bookboy :)
Day 1 at work - sneakily took a photo of the huuuge stack of the new Oliver Jeffers book Stuck - I am a huge fan and working at his publishers is WIIICKEDDD! Then of course, the next thing I did on day 1...
Oh who's that? Oh yes it's Oliver Jeffers, signing in Cambridge Waterstones. HC knows how to draw me in...

The on day... 3 I think it was, I was at the YLG conference a Goldsmith's college, setting up my stand next to the lovely Random House stand coincidentally! Mmm... look at all the books... tasty!
I was with the lovely Harriet Wilson from editorial, who also used to work for RH so we had a lovely old catch up and gossip with those on the RHCB stand next to us (I mean, it had been at least a week since I'd left).

 One day in my first week the post man came around looking confused at where exactly this mysterious Rosi was sitting - after waving my arms around frantically I found myself presented with these lovely flowers! These were a really sweet good luck present from Vogler and Burchett, the lovely Gargoylz authors - sooooo sweet! 

I have been really lucky so far in that I've been hanging out with several LEGENDARY kids' book people -  I spent one sunny morning in the super swanky St Pancras hotel with illustration royalty Judith Kerr and Tomi Ungerer.
They had some shared history in their experiences during the war which was fascinating to listen to. You can still hear the extended version online here.

I could go on and on but I think this blog post is already majorly long!!! The last thing I have photographic evidence of is the bizarre day I spent pretending to be Michael Morpurgo. I don't mean I actually donned a dusky pink suit and became an amazing author - in fact I was just accepting the Oxfordshire Children's Book Award on Michael's behalf. It was a lovely ceremony although I was very scared I had to stand on stage in front of 300 people, even if they were tiny children... Later though, I accepted my place a prize winner...
Ok... I'll give it back in the morning...

Monday, 10 October 2011

New Reading!

(OK I wrote this a week and a half ago, so imagine I know how to back date posts...)

It's been a week and a half since I started at a different publishing house - I've been reading through a mountain of recent and upcoming titles to try and get my head around a whole new list and it's been SO MUCH FUN. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on what I've read so far...

by Candace Bushnell

I snatched this one up as soon as I could - The Carrie Diaries was the first ever book I owned in proof form and I am a SATC nerd so I couldn't wait to read this one. This book was just as fun as the first prequel, with the added bonus of being set in NYC and all the glamour that brings! The storyline gives one or two satisfying references to Carrie's future in the city, but it's clear Bushnell wants to provide her own ideas of the characters' past. However, Carrie is very much the girl she becomes later - she's high maintenance and naive in her relationships, keen to seek advice from friends, and definitely after the best party invites. But she's also incredibly bubbly and has her particular morals and ideals.

by Will Hill

I had been seeing this book LITERALLY everywhere earlier in the year and had been super jealous of the campaign surrounding it. I'd heard it billed as a hyper-violent weapon fest, which I wasn't too sure about, but as soon as I started reading it I was totally hooked. As a major Buffy/True Blood fan I could see this was was bringing vampires back from the current sparkly incarnations and there was a real minimal focus on romance. It draws you in right away and despite how gory it is, I couldn't stop reading. There are several links with literary monsters and vampires which I loved and hinted at so much more back story yet to come from this series. I'm so excited that I get to work on this book and read more in the series!

By Maureen Johnson

This is another really fun YA title - super chilling and creepy! After reading D19 and then this straight away I was slightly worried for my life on the streets of London though! This book focuses on Rory, who has just moved to London to attend a slightly eccentric boarding school (and who doesn't love a boarding school story?) but as she arrives, she finds herself witness to a media frenzy. Around London, grizzly murders seem to be mirroring those of Jack the Ripper. Rory is drawn in by the story but soon finds herself closer than she would like to the murders. The story keeps you guessing with the supernatural elements and had a real Scooby Doo side to it. The best news is that's there's more to come from Maureen in the Shades of London series!

By Barry Hutchison

I won't say too much on the plot for this one as it's not out until next March, but sufficed to say this is exactly my kind of book. I'm a huge fan of the kind of dry British humour Barry uses in this book and the storyline is completely genius! I always used to hand my Terry Pratchett books on to my dad and I'm definitely going to be posting him this one back home for him to enjoy. It's one of those books you instantly want to pass on to someone to give them a good laugh - and believe me for the next 5 months I'm going to be telling a LOT of people to read it!

So that's all my reading so far - I'm onto Slide By Jill Hathaway now - only a few pages in, but love the concept of an American high school girl who has narcolepsy - but when she falls asleep she "slides" into other people and can see what they see - lots of potential for Goosebumps style murder mysteries! Hm.. Must stop using references to my teenage reading as a way of understanding modern YA books!!

Thanks for reading - and I'll try and keep the posting up here on my new shiny blog!!