Buy it here http://www.glue-publishing.co.uk/bookshop.html or from other online retailers, you know who I mean.
The new Drippy Face cover designed by the very talented Shirley Sharp. She also did some gorgeous internal illustrations.
Buy it here http://www.glue-publishing.co.uk/bookshop.html or from other online retailers, you know who I mean.
GLUE had a wonderful time at Thornbury Christmas market yesterday, despite almost getting blown away. It was blustery and banner wrecking, and all around people were clutching their heads, grabbing at their airborne stock. Quite a lot of shattering glass sounds nearby, I hope they didn't lose too much stock.
I had some excellent sales for the re-launch of Drippy Face and best of all was joined by my lovely illustrator Shirley Sharp, wearing surely, the best Winter hat ever, and fellow author Leyland Perree, sporting an impressive beard and tartan hat.
Being in beautiful Thornbury made it a very special event, as it's my home town and I saw loads of friends and people I know...so much easier to bribe them with sweets than total strangers....I mean lure them in....I mean hand out free pebble shaped bon bons. I'm not sure anyone got the pebble reference, but they were mighty delicious and chewy. Pebbles? I hear you cry...yes, pebbles to link in to Drippy Face, which is set in a crumbling subterranean world filled with bogginess, drippiness, rockiness and pebble patrols. Geddit?
All the festivities took my mind off the computer traumas I've been enduring the last few days following an 'update' by the company that shall remain nameless lest they sue me for expressing my disgust and horror at their 'update' cleverly erasing, moving, changing everything on my computer. I, with the help of a kind friend, have been searching for my documents, including all my books and current WIP. Just when I thought I'd cracked the 'new version', they updated it while I was asleep and I woke to find myself feeling like an 85 year old trying to catch up with technology. Not amused. Yes, I have backups, just annoyed that after setting everything up the way I wanted it, I now have to start all over again. Grrr.
This week I was reminded more than once about my previous life as a teacher, a time I remember with both fondness and horror.
A couple of nights ago I had a nightmare about being sent back to the first school I taught at, in a small industrial town in South Africa. Secunda. The very name gives me shivers. I spotted it on a map while doing some research and to my amazement it isn't where I always thought it was. No doubt the reason I dreamed about it. How did I live there for two years and not know where it was? Memories came rushing back, made even stronger by the contact from an ex-pupil this week.
I was a newly qualified teacher, had bought my first car- a green 1969 Beetle with a starter button. My first posting was to a newly built town where they converted coal to petrol, with accompanying smells and the famous Secunda Flame, a constantly burning flame spurting from one of the tall chimney stacks. I decided it would be an adventure and I was so excited to finally be starting the career I'd wanted since I was little, that I saw everything as a challenge. Ah, youth.
Secunda back then had a few trees, rows and rows of newly built homes, many immigrant workers from all over the world, entire suburbs consisting of randomly placed static caravans, a deathly odour and Panorama Hostel - the only place in the world that's perfected the art of serving up pork chops that are burnt on the outside and still frozen in the middle.
Now, you'd suppose that being one of only ten females sharing a hostel with five hundred men would be exciting and full of possibilities. No. New female teachers were boarded there for a very cheap rate along with the men, most of whom were miners and a bit rough. Okay, a lot rough. I was also the only English speaking person in the hostel - there may have been others but I never found them and my Afrikaans improved dramatically. I spent a lot of time trying to persuade them that I wasn't called 'Kaffy' - Katy with a T not Kaffy wiff an F. With my 'liberal' political views about apartheid and the state of the country, I learned very quickly not to be too outspoken, as the place seemed to be populated by ultra conservative, right-wing supporters, with a strong Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging presence, swastika-style flags on their cars and all.
For those who don't know, the AWB, under the leadership of Eugene Terreblanche, was a right wing, violent neo-nazi political group determined to keep power in white hands. I managed to steer clear of the most vocal members and to avoid confrontations. I was outnumbered. I recall one day telling my class of 9 year olds that South Africa was about to change and that one day they might be going to school with black children, and got into serious trouble. I was called before the headmaster and given a severe dressing down as I'd caused one child 'terrible trauma'. Five years later Mandela was released, schools were opened to all and I'd moved on. I often think of the particular little boy that complained and wonder what happened to him when things changed exactly the way I said they would.
Panorama Hostel not only provided men that threw the previously mentioned pork chops at the women when we entered the dining room while making 'here kitty kitty' noises, it also taught me how to hold a disco in a parking lot. First, you take your car with its nodding dog head, fuzzy dice and un-muffled exhaust and you park it in a circle with similar vehicles - preferably underneath the only English teacher's bedroom window. Next you tune all your radios to the same station, open the doors and crank up the volume. To get the true disco vibe, you then turn on your hazard lights, which give a lovely strobe effect. And finally you drink as much beer as the town can provide and boogie into the night, with breaks between dancing to shoot at beer bottles lined up against the wall. Underneath the teacher's window. Occasionally I would get invitations from drunken, non-English speaking miners to join them. Sadly these types of gatherings were stopped after one of said miners fell out of the window while trying to climb into a teacher's bedroom. On the third floor.
One of the other highlights of my time in the hostel, was the woman in the room on the floor above mine. She entertained men. Many, many men. Every hour on the hour. Every night. And got paid for it. Unfortunately her bed squeaked and sound travelled, so my friend and I would listen to 'activities' above us over the crackly sound of my black and white TV, banging on the roof with a broom when things got too loud. She seemed like a very friendly and popular lady who was asked to leave half way through my second year there. I regret not getting to know her a bit better.
My school had forty four different nationalities, and in my class of thirty seven I had twenty four, half of whom didn't speak English. Communicating with Polish, Czech, assorted English, Welsh and Scottish, one of whom had such a strong accent I never understood him, wasn't exactly the challenge I'd hoped for, but we did have fun and I made some good friends. Apart from the mother of one little boy who stormed into the classroom ready for a fight because her son thought I was more important than she was and loved me more.
I suppose a teacher's first class will always be special and mine certainly was. I remember them all fondly, even the little boy who was part of a Fagin-type gang that went around robbing houses and the shops in the one and only mall. When they were caught the police called round at his parents and sent him outside while they discussed his future. When they came out, he'd stolen the light off the top of the police car. Yes, I have put that in a book along with some of the characters I met. I doubt I'll ever expunge the memory of the mother who arrived to see me about a missing eraser without teeth, bra, underwear of any kind, a 'boob tube' dress three sizes to small and the hairiest armpits and legs I've ever seen. I had to give the children a severe talking to afterwards.
I left Secunda after two years, but I have fond, funny and sad memories of my time there. And now I know exactly where it is too. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was there that I first started writing. I moved to a school in Pretoria and stayed there for the next eight years until I left to become a full time television script writer. But that's another story. I often dream about being back in the classroom, usually I'm under attack by rabid pupils wielding snot sandwiches and lethal pencils and can only escape by waking up.
Nowadays I'm back in the classroom, but this time I'm the visiting author and it's a whole different type of experience. Those years of preparation have stood me in good stead, and I suppose I'll always be a teacher deep down. The internet has reconnected me with many of my past pupils, and I'm happy to report that they remember the weirdness and funny songs and don't seem too traumatised by the experience. Some of them have gone on to become teachers too, so hopefully I did something right.
I'm working on a new book and have been reflecting on the issues that influence my writing. I realise now how much my past still informs almost everything I write. I suppose it's like that for most writers.
I grew up during apartheid in South Africa and was greatly influenced by how it affected the lives of all South Africans. As I grew older and the armed struggle intensified, I was forced to confront the things I'd been taught and came to the realisation that the constant propaganda school children were fed was nothing but the attempt of the government to indoctrinate and control us. As an English South African I was confused about my role in the country, as historically the 'English' were the enemy.
My father and brother both served in the armed forces and a number of my friends died while serving on the 'border' - either South West Africa (now Namibia) , Angola or Mozambique, despite the government's constant assertion that South Africa was not involved in the Angolan conflict. Others have still not recovered from their time in the Defence Force. I witnessed first hand the effect that National Service had on families and friends.
I trained as a teacher and taught in a white-only school, but as the political landscape changed was personally involved in the integration of schools. A song I wrote was performed for the United Nations Observers before the first democratic elections in 1994, an event few ever expected to happen, let alone peacefully. Part of my struggle in the classroom was dealing with children whose parents were in the Defence Force and who'd been taught their whole lives that blacks are inferior. This spilled into the classroom and playground and was hard to handle, but it gave me insight into how the change in the country was affecting all of us.
I left teaching to become a television scriptwriter and worked on the Prix Jeuneux winning Kideo, only to find myself made 'redundant' due to the colour of my skin. During a national script writing competition I was selected to be on the team of Generations, a multi-lingual soap. Again, as a white writer I wasn't 'allowed' to be in the public eye and for the first time experienced apartheid from the 'other side'.
I moved into writing industry specific literacy programmes for illiterate adults, and saw the results of the apartheid policies on education over the past decades. Black learners suffered greatly under the previous regime and this has impacted my writing.
When Killers Cry is based on my own experiences of life during apartheid, although it is fictional, inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings set up after Nelson Mandela's election as the country's first black president. It's important to mention that as I grew up Mandela was considered a terrorist and it was forbidden to speak or write his name. Censorship effectively strangled the truth and very little of what actually went on was revealed to the average white man in the street. One of the greatest influences on my writing this book, was the research I did into the death squads operated by the government.
I also write YA and children's fantasy and scifi under the pen name Katy Krump.
I regularly speak as an after dinner speaker to businessmen's clubs, the Women's Institute and other organisations and am the 'Voice of South Africa' at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum.
If you're interested in having me visit your school or club, please get in touch via my website or publisher.
I love many things about being an author. The list is endless, and right up there at the top is the opportunity to get involved in some amazing charity events. This weekend I was was very privileged to be invited to be part of the Project Brailler LitFest, in Thornbury.
I'll be honest, I've never thought much about how blind and visually impaired children learn to read. I've always loved the story of Helen Keller, but the nitty gritty of it is all slightly vague. So when I was told about Kristy and her daughter Lily-Grace, I knew I had to say yes. Kristy started the charity after winning a Smart Brailler for Lily-Grace, who is 6 years old and has been registered partially sighted since she was 10 months old. Kristy entered a competition to win Lily-Grace a Smart Brailler. When she won one, Kristy set up the Project Brailler charity in order to provide other blind and visually impaired children with a Smart Brailler too. She raised £7K in just 3 weeks. How wonderful it would be if each blind or visually impaired child in the UK could have their own Smart Brailler to help them discover the joy of books.
It was fascinating and truly inspirational to see the braillers, which talk in an American accent, and watch Lily-Grace writing braille. Kristy also explained how they use six polystyrene balls, golf ball size, to start teaching the braille letter configurations. I also saw some children's books that have been written into braille, with a transparency film laid over the book pages. Easy for the children to feel.
I admire the dedication, commitment, enthusiasm and pink hair so much. After meeting Lily-Grace and some of her school friends, I felt very humbled and blessed to have all my faculties and it has seriously made me think about the impact these Smart Braillers could have on children's lives.
Please support them if you can, have a look at their Facebook page or connect with them on twitter @Pbrailler or go to their website to find out more. Thanks and well done to Kristy and Caz and everyone else that organised the day.
Someone asked me yesterday why I write YA fiction. Good question, which I'll try to answer.
I suppose it’s because basically I’m a teenage girl masquerading as a middle-aged woman. I once asked my mother what it felt like to ‘be old’ and she said, ‘I don’t feel any different now from how I felt when I was sixteen.’ I did the required eye-rolling and snorting and thought, ‘Pshaw, rubbish,’ or words not as complimentary, and continued with my happy, uncluttered teenage life, boiling with fury when I was dismissed or treated as insignificant because of my youth. Now, of course, I know she was right.
I still feel sixteen in my head, though of course I’m much wiser. I am, really I am. I remember the feeling of disempowerment and in direct contrast to that, the rush of knowing I was invincible and would never get as old as my mother. Those moments of pushing the boundaries just to see what would happen are as clear now as they were back then. I was often treated as if I was too young to have valid opinions or thoughts and constantly told that I’d ‘understand’ when I was older. To my intense irritation, I now find myself saying those exact words to youngsters.
Those feelings have influenced my writing and are a major motivation for my choosing to write young adult fiction. I clearly recall the muddle in my head as I tried to find my true self, the surging hormones that made me feel out of control and dangerous, and Qea, the heroine in the Blue Dust Series: Forbidden, Destiny and Insurrection, reflects these emotions.
I have such clear memories of my childhood and teenage years and the uncontrollable passions that could swamp me in an instant. I was a bit of a loner, but I spent a lot of time observing others, in a non-stalker way of course, and it was through these observations that my writing began. Times have changed so much with all the technology and social media that young adults are involved in, and yet the essence of growing up, discovering your true persona, parental and sibling relationships, negotiating the quagmires of friendship and love, remain constant, and I hope that through my writing I make sense of this and offer some hope for the teenagers (and others) that read my work.
I’ve always had an over-active imagination, something my teachers didn’t always appreciate, so writing for the YA market helps me excise and share some of the weirdness in my head. I loved sci fi television programmes, which back then were filled with dodgy special effects and cardboard rocks, because they made me realise I wasn’t the only one with thoughts about other worlds. I still love scifi and the weirder the better. After all, I myself am an alien.
There has to be a story and strong characters who undergo challenges and face terrible dangers, though YA writing is a rapidly expanding genre and I’m delighted to finally be able to share my inner stories with a receptive and intelligent audience, an audience that is a whole lot more savvy and mature than I was at that age. Despite the Facebooking and the Tweeting and Tumbl’ng and You-tubing that seems to consume an inordinate amount of time, young adults today face the same challenges I did and a whole lot more besides. Nowadays everyone seems to be under a lot more pressure to look a certain way, wear the right clothes, go to the right places, and that can make for a difficult time. Teenagers and young adults are a fantastic audience who I hope will understand that they do matter and that their opinions are valid and important, no matter what their age.
I've been home for a week or so now and I have to say that Summer in the UK is a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I love being home but my lovely tan is fading rapidly and I'm back under the blanket. During the day. They keep threatening us with the 'hottest June on record'. Hmm. When, I ask you? When? I'd much rather be swimming in the deep blue sea. But life has to continue and so I find myself back at the keyboard following my other dream.
Returning from a holiday is always disappointing, isn't it? Luckily for me though, they scheduled the French Open to coincide with my return, so I've been able to get my first fix of tennis. I love the tennis season, watching fit young men and women dashing about the court, whacking balls at one another, chucking their racquets in the air in frustration, swearing and shouting, grunting and groaning and cheering. I enjoy the fashion too - what? The fashion's important too. I must say that the pyjama pants the men seem to be wearing this year really doesn't do it for me. A year or so ago it was Serena Williams' 'non-underwear' that raised eyebrows and to be fair, the multi-coloured shorts the men are wearing this year is an improvement on that.
Marion Bartoli, glamorous (and very funny) ex champion, did a little tour though the tennis museum, with some fascinating insights into the way fashions, particularly women's fashion, has changed over the years. From floating dresses to frilly knickers to today's scientifically designed fabrics, tennis styles change constantly. Lest you wonder why I'm watching tennis instead of writing the next best seller, I have a sore foot. Yes, really.
What hasn't changed, however, is the burning desire the players have to win, and I always wonder how those players that never make it past round one keep coming back. I've heard that even the lower ranked players make a relatively good living from travelling to tournaments. I heard a story of a male player who slept in bus and train stations because he couldn't afford a hotel. Yet he continued year after year until finally he found sponsorship and hit the big time. Some of the players we think have 'perfect' lives, have made huge sacrifices to follow their dream of being a Grand Slam winner.
Many will never fulfill that dream, but we know who they are and I admire their steadfastness. The ones that left home as children to train in a foreign country or the one whose parents fled their homeland on foot to escape an awful war, they're the ones I admire most. The ones that refused to give up simply because someone else thought they should. How many of us are like them in our own small way?
It takes sacrifice and patience and a whole lot of commitment to 'make it'. And that's true for every one of us who is driven to succeed at our chosen passion. Whether it's tennis or writing or fashion design, the decision to sacrifice, to never give up and to press on despite the defeats or many (many!) rejection slips, is what makes us succeed, no matter how small that success might seem to others. Surrendering a dream isn't an option. Not for the tennis players, not for the writers and dreamers and thinkers. What about you?
Even authors need a break from time to time, and following the amazing launch of GLUE Publishing, I was ready for some time in the sun. Nothing to do with the truly awful weather we'd been having in the UK. Really. My friend and I hopped on a plane and took off to Kefalonia, a small Greek island in the Ionian Sea.
When I say 'hopped' on a plane, I actually mean staggered, sweating and panting , occasionally swearing, down miles of airport corridors and across wet and windy tarmac to the plane. Fortunately I have a very understanding and patient friend. Generally, when travelling, I like to take both my hips with me, so a heartfelt thank you to the anonymous and patient man who put up with my left hip encroaching on his seat.
Kefalonia is a beautiful island and our hotel was a mere stone's throw from the beach. So close in fact that the swimming pool overlooked the sea. Perfection. Swimming in clear blue seas with fish nibbling my toes is a delight that soothes my soul and makes the mermaid part of me whole again. I had to make sure I stayed out of fishing lanes for fear of being harpooned accidentally, but managed to swim across the bay and also did some form of snorkelling...okay, I didn't have an actual snorkel and only the goggles I use for swimming in the pool, but nonetheless had a lovely time diving under to explore. I'm a lot more buoyant than I used to be and losing an ear plug in the swimming pool proved annoying as I kept diving under to find it, with said earplug irritatingly drifting away from my grasping fingers for what felt like hours. It was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like hours and I like to think I entertained the glamorous grannies lying around the pool. Happily I love being in the water and rather enjoyed this little adventure.
The thing with islands though, is that they're mountainous and getting anywhere on Kefalonia involves driving up and down tortuous roads with horrible hair pin bends, often without any barrier to stop you from plummeting over the edge. I spent some time while heading up and up and up, deciding if I should a) jump as we went over the edge, b) jump as we hit the trees or c) wait until we sank to the sea floor and then swim out. Happily, I didn't have to make any decision as my friend drove exceedingly well and we reached all destinations white-faced, sweating and with heart palpitations...I mean, we reached our destinations safely and serenely. Pass the ouzo.
Driving through the tiny villages dotted around the island was fascinating. We met many goats, sat in a 'traffic jam' (four cars) behind a flock of raggedy sheep while their female shepherd tried to persuade them that a field was a better option than a dusty road and more than once came upon old men or women sitting on dilapidated plastic chairs on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The sights of the locals, be it on plastic chairs or tiny fishing boats with a beach umbrella the only protection from the sun, or on the steps of the village church surrounded by cats and pigeons, was fodder for me and my future writing. I began writing a new book having been so inspired by all I'd seen.
I noticed many dollhouse-sized 'churches' beside the roads and asked our ever helpful hotel manager, Yiannis, about them. Many had bottles of water, burning candles, rosary beads and sometimes prayer cards inside them, so I figured they're some kind of shrine. Turns out they're memorials to people that had died on that exact spot -not in the hospital or at home - in that exact place on the road. he said it's a bit of a dark joke that Kefalonia has no warning signs, just these, what I call 'death houses', in dangerous spots. The family is then obliged to care for them, replace the oil and burning candles - placed there to light the departed soul's way to Heaven, for perpetuity. Those that are uncared for and have fallen into disrepair shows that the family line has died out and that no one is left to care for the shrine. I found this all very moving and a little bit ghoulish, to be honest.
I learned a number of things on my holiday that will help me, and perhaps you, in the future. Very few people actually look amazing in a swimming costume. Getting on and off a sun lounger elegantly is impossible. No one cares about my jiggly thighs. Middle-aged men should not wear psychedelic purple speedos. Especially when said speedos have lost their supportive qualities. No. Just. No. Anyone, of any age, size or shape should jump off a boat into the deep blue sea at least once in their life (happily I had plenty of young, strong, sailors to haul me back on board afterwards). Handsome young Greek men turn into fat old Greek papas. Nothing wrong with that of course, merely an observation.
I've returned exhausted and shall now spend the next few weeks recovering and wishing I was back in the deep blue sea. Sadly I'll have to be content with the local leisure centre for the next year or so, until I am able to once again take off on some kind of new idyll. Perhaps Greece, perhaps Turkey, maybe Croatia. The world is getting smaller and easier to explore but as long as there's good company and the deep blue sea, I will be content.
As a child I discovered the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maud Montgomery and read them voraciously, cover to cover, even the oft forgotten Chronicles of Avonlea. I read every single one and they took me to a magical place with characters that resonated in a way no others have done over the years. I identified with Anne, hated Gil, wished I had a grandfather like Matthew and a best friend like Diana.
Like Anne, I often found myself in the 'depths of despair' during my growing up years, like most of us, but there was something about her and the setting on Prince Edward Island that stayed with me for a very long time afterwards. Nowadays I suppose she'd be termed a 'drama queen', but to me she embodied the hardships of getting older while being slightly different from everyone else. But it was her imagination that I identified with most of all, and for many years tried to find a river and a wooden rowing boat that I could use to perform my own version of The Lady of Shalott. Somehow a plastic chair in a swimming pool didn't quite feel the same and sadly, there was no Gilbert to rush to my rescue.
When the TV series came out I was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the books, but the series starring Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie was beyond beautiful, and I'm sure I'm not the only girl who developed a little crush on Gilbert Blythe. I even forgave him for calling Anne 'Carrots'.
Yesterday I saw that Jonathan Crombie has died and I'm sad. Ridiculously sad and I don't really know why. I never knew him, but I did know Gilbert, who, I'm not ashamed to say, coloured how I saw boys and also, I now discover, the character of Adam in my Blue Dust Trilogy. I didn't do it consciously, but since hearing of Jonathan Crombie's death I've been revisiting the books and the stories and realise that Adam has many of Gilbert's qualities about him. I suppose that's normal, seeing someone reflected in another, even in a 'made-up' boy.
Death is always sad, especially when someone dies young and there's really no reason at all that I should be sadder about the death 'Gilbert' than anyone else, like Heath Ledger, for instance. But I am. And it's all because of those beautiful books and the resulting TV series. Like all authors, I hope to one day touch people with my books too, but no matter how hard we authors try to create a character that will touch the hearts of our readers and live with them into adulthood, but there'll only ever be one Gilbert Blythe. And for millions of us Jonathan Crombie will always be the only Gilbert that matters. RIP.
The sticky takeoff is approaching rapidly now. GLUE will launch on Friday 24 April on Facebook. You're all invited for some chat, questions and freebies. It's a bit scary, actually, but after months and months of hard work and a learning curve that has hit the stratosphere, we're finally ready to share our brand with the world.
It's very exciting, seeing the work in real life, as it were. and I feeling especially blessed to have a publishing partner like LEYLAND PERREE, whose expertise in publishing matters is not only very welcome, but amazing. We're on the same trajectory now and are hoping GLUE will explode into a massive shower of talent and amazing books.
GLUE - alliance-fuelled publishing. Our Books are our bond.
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you'll go. Dr Seuss
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons