Books. What are they good for?

How people treat books can say a lot about them.

I'm not talking about some sort of metaphysical, spiritual appreciation of 'books' as a whole. I mean physical, right-there-in-your-hands books. Pages, paper, ink, cover. Damageable. Carryable. Loanable. Other -able words.

A person's books are their own, of course. They're just property, protected by law. How they want them to be treated is up to them, and they're free to tell you so.

'Don't bend the pages.'
'Try not to crack the spine.'
'Just ... take off the dust cover if you keep it in your bag ..'

So how do you treat yours? Do you care? Are you - and this is certainly blasphemous in certain circles - a scribbler? Do you jot down notes on the pages? Are those notes even about the text?

'Remember to call Aunt Gertrude!' 
'I banana. 4 apples. Sugar. Bacon. Juice. Soy milk.'

Would you dare write those in your copies?

Me, I'm a batterer. I'm a scribbler, though not quite as much -  I normally have enough paper around the place and I rarely have to resort to books. I'm a page-bender and a spine-cracker. I use my books, but I don't use them up. I've yet to completely destroy a book by mistake. It gives 'em character, makes them more mine, and can be a great way of remembering a book's history. If I read certain lines in a certain place, sometimes I jot down the date and the location. With every re-read, the memory is fresh. 

I carry books all over the place. Bus journeys, plane rides, travelling, going out for coffee. They get battered, oh yes, and dented, and sometimes stained. I don't like it when they get soaked, and the pages all get ever so slightly thicker, but that's exactly what happened to my copy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and now that's part of the book, to me.

My own American Gods. My precious ...

I love this site - The Book inscription Project - though there's a slight sadness that the books have lost their owners. Messages are great. They personalise, they add meaning, they show thought. I own quite  few second hand books with inscriptions, some almost a hundred years old, and there's enough material there for an entire novel, if I ever wanted. Amazing, faux-nostalgia.

So where do you stand? Should books be more sacred? Do we treat them too much like they're anything other than paper and ink? Or should I be more careful in how I treat the authors I love?


Real life would make a terrible novel

First things first - yup, I missed posting on Friday. It's a fair cop. My bad. I was babysitting some friends' kids with m'wife, and time just sort of ran away with me. Also, I was doing a pretty awesome fish impression. So ...

It's a friend's 30th birthday today. And you know what happened first thing, before m'wife was even up, while I was typing away on my laptop? A massive, world-shattering thunderstorm. Hail. Lightening. Thunder that made the lights flicker. Torrential rain. The trees bending and creaking. A building near us was set on fire when it was struck.

Pathetic fallacy, thought the author in me. Literary device. Foreshadowing. Portentous. And then I thought. in a smaller voice, well, that's not how I would have done it.

Opening with weather? A storm, seriously? Come on. Bad writing. I mean, bad, bad writing. There might as well have been a woman in black cackling on top of a nearby hill. Maybe an anonymous letter from a long lost twin. Cliche! said inner-author. This needs editing! Rewrite the morning!

Except, of course, it was just life. We don't live in the world of fiction, like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next. I'm sure the storm was nothing more than ... well, a storm.

You should all read these books. 

When we write stories, we know they're not real, and so every action, every seemingly random event, is imbued with a meaning derived from its very existence. Why would there be a storm, described and created by the author, if it doesn't mean anything? In the constraints of fiction, everything is something.

But in the real world almost everything is just nothing. That's why fiction works. Readers enjoy the extreme, the impossible, the magical, the fantastic, the horrendous, the improbable ... and they enjoy how it all works. In books, there really are long lost twins, and meaningful glances that lead to the downfall of a kingdom, and storms sent by gods, and people who can tell your profession by looking at your hands. In real life these things can't exist, which is probably why we want them to in books.

The average day would be a rather dull book. I'm not saying life isn't beautiful and amazing and full of wonder, because it is. Check out Life in a Day as proof. But novels - stories - fiction - are meant to take us out of what we already have and already know, and offer something else; another world, another possibility, another viewpoint. The prince gets the girl. The prince is killed for treason. The prince actually is a girl. The prince is actually a frog. It doesn't matter. The point is, there's a prince.

It's worth thinking about why certain things happen in your stories. 'They just do,' is not a good enough answer. That's real life. That's what you're writing to get away from. As an author, you get to be a mini-god, and everything you write is your own responsibility. Don't be a meaningless and arbitrary deity. Make sure actions and events and - well, yes, storms, if you really have to - are there for some reason, even if that reason isn't a very big one.

Now I'm going to go and enjoy life. If fiction has taught me anything, today is going to be pretty dramatic. It started with a storm, after all ...


Wednesday's Inspiring Book ... if I'd actually read it.

Good morning / afternoon to you all. A fire alarm in our building had me up at 6 a.m. this morning - but since I'd set my alarm for 6.30 anyway, it's hardly a bother. Every now and then I like to get up earlier than usual - especially in the summer, when the light is good, the bird song is fine company, and there's enough of a breeze to move the curtains. Perfect.

Today's post is inspired by m'wife - and not inspired by Tolkien. More specifically, it might be, but I wouldn't know. Why? Well ...  I haven't read Lord of the Rings.

File:Jrrt lotr cover design.jpg
Beautiful, beautiful art, and a rare example of an author designing their own cover.

Wednesday's Inspiring Book? A book that made me a writer which I haven't read? Well, yes. Let me explain ...

There are books we haven't read. This is a universal truth. For some, the list is big. For others, small. Some avoid classics. Some avoid contemporary works. Some avoid whole genres (I can't get into sci-fi, for all its genius). Some individual books are just a slog. War and Peace, perhaps? Bronte's Villette gets me every time. I've never got more than halfway. Murakami's The Windup Bird Chronicle sits half-finished on my shelf, and has for two years. Even Tolkien fans must admit that The Silmarillion is a challenge.

Ah. Tolkien.

I love Old English. I elected to study it at university, which put me in a vast minority, and Tolkien's essays on that language, and on Middle English poetry, are some of my most prized possessions. I can still hold my own in any discussion on Anglo-Saxon poetry, its meter, its allusion and influence, etc. Dream of the Rood? I can recognize the Ruthwell Cross from across the room, and recite the lines of the runic inscription by heart.

In fact, I did that, just last month. Many geek points with the wife there, I think.

But Lord of the Rings? I don't know. I'm not opposed, at all. I'm sure I'll love it when I get round to reading it. Love the movies. Love Tolkien. Love fantasy and children's books and adults book. I just ... haven't read it yet.

Does it seem like a big oversight? It's a strange confession to make, as an author.

But we all have books we haven't read, and that's OK. Know why? 'Cause it means you can read them in the future.

So I will, in time, correct this oversight. And I'll power through Villette. Ulysses? One day. War and Peace? Anna Karenina? Stranger things happen at sea.

Tolkien inspired so many of the writers and readers who inspire me today. His influence on the entire sphere of fantasy and children's writing might be unmatched. He matters to my wife - the single most important person in the world to me - and so he's influenced and inspired me there, too. I will read him. And then I'll let you know what I think. For now, though ...

What's on your long-term to-read list? And have you read LotR?


Story time exercises

Isn't this picture brilliant? When I saw it this morning on a tumblr I follow (called - ahem - f**kyeahvictorians) I knew I'd share it with you guys. It's The Brighton Swimming Club, 1863. They're wearing hats. I think possibly my favorite character is the man peeking out at the back, from behind the man with the excessively large head gear. Wonderful stuff. They're wearing hats.

The reason I'm sharing it is simple. I wanted to blog a bit today about writing exercises and story inspiration. Specifically, short, instant, real-time props that writers can use to practice style and prose and flex their literary muscle.

Walking along the beach this weekend with a friend, I overheard several snippets of conversation from passers by / people sat in cafes / etc. Single lines, mostly, about situations and people that I'll never see or meet.

'And I knew right then we'd be late.'

'I can't believe you'd want it smaller.'

'It would take two hours, Jean. Two hours! And what about the bags?'

In any public space, you can overhear lives without eavesdropping. And writers have a right to listen to what others say, if they ever want others to listen to what they say.

My sister Sarah once shared a truly astounding argument she'd overheard, which came to a head, it seems, with -  'It's not about the vol-au-vents, Caroline!'

But what if it was? Oh, Caroline. We'll never know.

So here's my suggestion. As an exercise, as practice to hone your imagination and plotting skills, write a series of short stories based solely off the lines you hear when you're about. Of course, by the very nature of this, you still have complete control. You can make the story any genre. You could just take a story you already have and awkwardly force in the line of speech. But why? Why not let a new story, no more than a couple of pages, grow organically from the random, real lines you're fed by life?

Could be fun.

Back to the Victorians. There's got to be a story here. What's the deal with this photograph? You could write one. You could write the story of the photographer, or the hat-maker, or the swimming club owner, or the women who presumably aren't around at the moment 'cause the men don't have all their clothes on. Or are they? There's a story there, too. Writers don't need real life to write, but it'd be dumb to ignore it completely when there's more material out there than in any library.

You could use my brother-in-law's photographs (here and here) as inspiration. You can use any photographs. Or a song. Or a dream, of course. Always a dream.

I'll leave you with another favorite:

That's right. Knife throwers

I hope to share some stories here soon, when I've had a chance to sit and listen and to write what I find.


On keeping books

Books. They're pretty involved in my life. I'm pretty involved in books, I like to think. Whether reading, writing, talking about or buying, I have chosen to make my living - hopefully - through books. I like them.

A lot of book people - all? - have a thing for the physical aspects of a book. Touch, design, layout, smell, feel - they all matter. They're all good. How you choose to display books is up to you. There are plenty of bookshelves in the world, and plenty of amazing, quirky, brilliant designs (you can see some great ones I found recently over on my tumblr - just scroll down a bit).

Part of one of my own shelves, avec Gollum.

When I lived in Japan, I had no books. Then I had a couple. Then over the years I got more and more, whether buying them in the few English bookshops I could find, or getting them over, one by one, from England. Eventually - happy day - I bought a bookshelf, and my bedroom was complete again.

Then I moved to the U.S. Moving is hard. Moving books? Harder. They're so flippin' heavy. And somehow two books are three times heavier than one book. How's that work? I don't know. Terry Pratchett does, I suspect, and it's probably quantum.

So I left a lot behind. I left a lot in England, too. It's sad. They're still there, waiting for a new friend to find them.

E-readers, then, can be an interesting topic. They make books cheaper, easier to carry, instantly accessible and quicker to publish. Great! And it is. I mean that. So where does all of that meet with the years and years and decades and centuries of people loving physical, real world books, and still wanting to own them?

I don't know. Sorry if you wanted an answer. I own a Kindle, and think it's brilliant. I have bookshelves, and think they're brilliant too. Probably they do two different things. When I move around, when I fly, when I suddenly want a book that I don't own yet - that's a Kindle moment. When I want to sit for hours in comfort and read and forget the world, forget everything that's not the story - that's a book moment.

There's never going to be a time when physical books go away. They're too ingrained in our culture. They're almost sacrosanct. Burning books is a powerful thing. Burning e-readers isn't quite that bad, yet (I'd be impressed, really, if anyone managed it).

So physical bookshelves, to store and keep physical books, are a great thing. I hope one day to be able to put a copy of EREN on mine. That'd be lovely.

What are your shelves like? Where do you keep your books?


A MONSTER CALLS Carnegie / Kate Greenaway Medals

A quick, rarer Thursday post today, to celebrate the fantastic news that Patrick Ness has won the Carnegie Medal for A MONSTER CALLS - which also won the Kate Greenaway Medal for its illustrations.

The Guardian Books Announcement

You can see the book trailer just a few posts down (Or here if you're that lazy!). My wife and I are working through the audio book, as read by Jason Issacs, whenever we're in the car together - which, as it so happens, we will be today. A lot. I am so glad for this, and find myself suddenly wishing for heavy traffic jams / perhaps some roadworks, to help us get through more of the story.

Congratulations to Patrick and Jim Kay for this great, great book.


Wednesday's Inspiring Books

It's that time of the week again, kids - time to share a book that inspired or influenced me to become an author.  They've been a mixed bunch so far. Shall we recap? Let's recap.

So far we've had:

You can make of that what you will, dear readers.

Today's book is another older one, and not necessarily (or at all) a children's book. Today is a sunny, hot, beautiful summer Sunday [at the time of writing!] in New Jersey. So let's talk about Frankenstein. Yeah, that works.

I read this version. I liked it so much I bought a cloth-bound version for keepsies. 

Strangely, even today, Frankenstein makes me think of buses. Specifically, the 139 from Bearwood Junction to Haybridge Sixth Form, Birmingham, UK. Why? 'Cause that's the bus I read it on. Or at least, the bus I kept reading it on.

Frankenstein is one of those books - Dracula is another - that created a monster in its own right, and sometimes gets lost in all the forms and variations that exist. Yes, Frankenstein is the name of the man, not the monster, but common misconceptions go far beyond that. Why? Because you don't have to read the book to know what it's about. It's entered into our cultural consciousness, so that, like Loch Ness's Nessie or who Jesus is, you don't have to be explicitly taught. You just pick it up. You just know this sort of thing.

Wrong, though. The major parts of the book are pretty standard Hollywood fair, but the book itself - again, like Dracula - is incredibly different, and much more complicated, than many might think.

I started reading it because it was one of those books - you know, the types you've never actually read, but feel, in some vague way, you probably should have. I loved it. Not just the story, but the literary devices Shelley uses, the way she tells it, and her lightening-sharp dialogue. So, I read it on the bus, 'cause I wasn't finished yet, but it was time to go off to college. I did feel awkward, a bit. It's not a cool thing to do. Especially not since it was an old book. But the story was good enough and the writing clear enough that I didn't care. I wanted to read.

So how was I inspired? 

This book is so good that it's not only famous among people who choose not to read it, it's good enough that I wouldn't put it down on the bus.

Imagine writing a story like that. One that passes the bus test. Or the elevator test. Or the walking to your car and you're late for work test. The stay up all night test. The read this book till it's finished, then I'll eat dinner test. The yes love, in a minute test. The flippin' heck, how is it midnight?! test

A book good enough to be read. 

That's the dream.


Writers Advice to Themselves, or, Things I'd Tell Young Me Pt. 2

Back in April I blogged about things I would tell a younger me. The idea was to highlight how writers change and learn and grow and get better by seeing what we used to be like -  specifically by offering advice, sharing things we know we've learnt, admitting to habits we know needed breaking, etc.

It's a great thing, hindsight, and it's always 20/20.

Of course, mistakes make us who we are. Getting things wrong, messing up, breaking a story ... these are all important things to do if you're going to learn how to get things right. Even if I could tell myself certain things, perhaps, in reality, I wouldn't.

But it's still a fantastic question. What would you say to yourself, as a writer, if you could pop back a few years and leave just one quick message?

Being able to go back now would save me so much wasted editing and silly, pointless rewriting

My first post hasn't come close to exhausting this area. Hasn't even scratched the surface. There's probably too much to say, too much to learn. Still...

I've asked around among other writers, with just this one, simple question, and with their permission I'll share a few of their answers.

Leah Raeder (who blogs about books and writing here) was brilliantly direct with herself:

Be consistent.
Creativity is not neat and tidy. It's messy. Deal.

 Grace Wen (who blogs here) is pretty encouraging:

Dear younger self:  
You know those books you love so much? They're written by people. No, really. You can do it too, and get paid for it. Don't listen to the stupid people around you who say fiction is useless in the "real world." They're wrong.

Author Al Stevens (http://www.alstevens.com/) has some pretty practical advise for his Younger Self:

Dear YS,
Learn to type better and sooner.

A. M. Schilling (blogging here) speaks from real experience:

I would tell my younger self to stop trying to be a wunderkind and dump the pressure. I spent a good chunk of my 20's with an enormous amount of self-imposed expectations. I was going to be the next Anne Rice or Stephen King before I was 25, dang it! That's what all my teachers and friends said, anyway. And who was I to tell them they were wrong? 
Trouble is, by putting that kind of pressure on myself I crashed and burned. I had a major publisher interested in my book but I was so focused on making it perfect that I couldn't finish the dang thing. I freaked out, and had to step away from writing anything for a while. It took me more than ten years to feel like I was ready to try again.  
This time there's no pressure and it's a lot more fun. Revisions no longer give me cold sweats, and I know to never, EVER query anything that's not done! Most important, I no longer care if I'm the next Stephen King. I just want to write stories that entertain people. 

Anna Krentz (who also runs a fantastic photography blog, The Passion of Former Days) has different advice for different times:

To very young me, no, other ways to say "said" are not better than "said". And, ya know, a first draft is only the start. Write more than one draft, seriously.  
Getting to slightly older younger me... Don't stress about not being able to write something as good as x or y. You're very young; it does take life experience to even begin to write like that. Read a lot and experiment and LIVE, and then you'll start to get there.

Dechef (sharing a great range of writing here) is both tongue-in-cheek and practical when dealing with the past:

Dear younger self:
I've enough trouble listening to myself in the future, so I'm not gonna pretend a younger, less educated version of me would! You little brat.
But no seriously, I'd tell myself to try and get in the habit of writing and/or reading just for fun more. Get a jump start on the whole deal here.
Seems like a lot of people wish they'd just written more and read more. The worrying and the editing and the perfecting and the reaching for pointless goals? Could have been dropped, if we read more, and wrote more.

Randi.Lee, of The Emotional Process of Writing a Novel, phrased it well, I think:

Don't try too hard to 'write originally.' I always wanted to have a special 'tone' to my writing- something that would distinguish me from everyone else. Because of this desire I would often get stuck re-writing a single sentence for 15-20 minutes at a time. Sometimes I'd circle back and do it again! A good chunk of energy and time was wasted. I could have written so much more than I did. 

It's that last sentence I love. I could have written so much more than I did. That's the tragic problem of so many great writers.

Finally (I know! Long post, huh?) Kelsey, of Kelsey is Writing has some great philosophy to lay down on her former self:

I'd tell my younger self to keep creating and to cultivate that no-fear way of life.
The biggest, brashest, boldest decisions have been the most exciting and the most rewarding.

Pretty good, right? The biggest, brashest, boldest decisions! It alliterates and everything.

So what was my point here? Simply that writing is an art and it is always changing and being reshaped and getting better. Writers have to try, and work, and - perhaps hardest - accept that there's no magic formula to brilliance and success. We just have to write, and read, and write some more, and stop the worrying, and keep the words flowing.

But it's nice to see progress. To know that now, as our older selves, we have moved on from old habits and old problems. Of course, we're making all the mistakes now that our future-future selves will rue. That's probably a good thing. Let those guys worry about that.

[If any one would like to read it, these authors' comments, and many more, are in a thread I started on the Absolute Write forums, found here]


A Monster Calls - Book Trailer

I've just had this book recommended to me, and had to share its trailer - a beautiful, really well-balanced video, that only makes me want to read the book even more.

[Edited to say - I actually am reading this now. It's very impressive. And Jason Isaacs reads the audio books. So, y'know, that's cool.]


The Query Letter You SHOULDN'T WRITE

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to offer you my fictional novel. Although I may not be following your website's guidelines, rest assured, I'm only sending this e-amil to agents who represent fiction books like mine. This makes you pretty lucky - the book is almost guaranteed to make a LOT of money.
Even though self-publishing and independant publishing is growing ever day, and making "traditional" publishers pretty obselete, I think it would be best to use one since they still have the reach and - more important! - their marketing deparments pretty much CONTROL what the public reads nowadays. You're a clever, book person - do you really thinkg 'Twilight' is good? Of course not, but THEY still made millions.But now its time for good literature to have the same treatment

My novel is 200 pages long, and is an allegory of modern society, with the same kind of political / fictional mix as George Orwell's 1984, so I think a similar audience will like it. The title, 'Avec Mon Frere', is french for 'With My Brother', and tells you the main plot - the story of two brothers, one of who represents society as it is, and one represents society as it SHOULD be. The winner is a statement on our futures.

I have included a details synopsis as an attachment for you to read. If you are interested, please send me a request for the first three chapters. I'd rather not send them out to all agents blindly, since I think the writing is really what grabs attention and might be ... well, a little tempting to people if they don't have persmission! 

Thank you for your time. I have wanted to be a writer for a long time, and now that the book is almost finished, it's time to set it loose into the word, and I think as an agent you could really reach the publishers. Imagine - literary lunches as newspapers ask for interviews, and you getting a percentage of all the payments just for hooking me up with the editor you know would like the book! So do ask for the three chapters if you like the synopsis - but only if you do. The story is important and not really able to change without the meaning being diluted. Another 'Twilight'? NOT this author!

If you would like to phone, and not e-amil, I can also do this. 

Thank you

Simon Clark

[It's like a game! Points for every mistake you see! The prize is knowing you're a normal human being, and not being hunted down by all the agents in the world.]


Hiding My Writing, or, Why Don't We Have Writers Fairs?

This blog got started (with THIS post!) specifically because of a problem I was having - and one that's probably not that uncommon. I wanted to be an author with all my heart, but I wouldn't tell anybody.

It's an interesting thing, to be embarrassed by your own work. I think in part it was to do with the lack of any clear-cut parameters. If someone's an artist, you can look at their work, and see if it's good - it doesn't matter if it's selling or if it's not their day job. My brother-in-law is a graphic designer-cum-photographer, and though he might not tell people he's a photographer if asked 'What do you do?', his stuff is blindingly good - check it out both on his site, http://brandonrechten.com/, and on his Facebook page here. Go on, take a look. Good art'll make you happy.

But writing can be different. I would never feel OK telling someone I was an author without being published - it seems like such a hollow title, one that I'd just decided to award myself. I'd probably give myself a hat, too. 

So I started blogging to break down my own limitations and cautions.

One of Brandon's, and one of my favourites. Looks about right for my editing process...

I have a lot of respect for writers who get their work out there and show it off, welcoming criticism, wanting to improve. In fact, my other brother-in-law (they do both exist, I promise. I'm not making them up as useful blog tools. Though that could be fun. Bloggers-in-law?) has a blog / website called Ambiguous Tales where he's writing a weekly story and setting it free on the Internet, to be read and commented upon. That takes balls, and I remain impressed. 

Letting other people read my work always seemed a bit cringe-worthy if they actually had any sort of relationship to me. M'wife couldn't read EREN until I had interest from a literary agency, and m'parents still haven't read it (Hi Mum! Hi Dad! Sorry!). C'est strange, non?  

This Saturday, I was lucky enough to go with Brandon to the Montclair Art Museum's Affordable Art Fair, where he was showing / selling prints of some of his photographs. It was fun, and we did quite well, I think - certainly even those who didn't buy were highly complimentary of his stuff. 

And that got me thinking. Why don't we have these things for writers? Writing's a type of art. It's a type of creativity, at least. Judging by - ahem - some of the others artists' work, you don't have to be traditional (or talented? Ooooh) to find a niche and to present your art.

Imagine a Writer's Short Story Fair. Twenty or so booths of writers, with their best short stories printed out, or painted, or presented however they wanted. People can go around, talking to them, looking at the stories, reading them - and if they like them, they buy them. Simple. 

It's basically like art shows already, expect what's for sales focuses more on the words, and less on the way they look. Wouldn't that be fun? I'd go, for one. Who's with me? Writers of the world, unite, and then sell stuff.

It might already exist. If it does, let me know. It feels like a great new way of sharing stories and selling them around. Stories as posters. Stories as paintings. Stories as woodblock? Stories just printed off and read and loved and bought. Writers could work in community - and they're famously solitary creatures. Who'd choose a profession that means mostly staying in alone all day, writing and typing away? Well...

So, yes. Presenting work is awkward, sometimes, but it's always a Good Thing, and normally leads to happy-making fun-times. What more to say?

The End.

P.S. I did actually share one of my own stories here on the blog back in March. For those who would like, the post and the link to download it are here.


CORALINE and Darker Thoughts

I've been busy writing a lot for work these last few days, but in the evenings I've made sure I had time to sit on the balcony and read. My choice was Neil Gaiman's CORALINE - a great, dark book.

CORALINE taps into the basic fears and desires of children - of being ignored, and of finding adventure / excitement / being special. This last one a double edged sword.

The world of adults is boring, confusing, unpredictable ... and often refuses to give children recognition without condescension. For a children's writer, it can be vitally important to recognise this last point.

Children's writers must tread a fine line. Context and language do have to be adjusted if your book is for children, and not adults. This is a fact. Topics, to a point, are dictated by reading age (some content isn't appropriate, and some will just confuse or mean nothing to kids).

But, any assumptions made by the author - any assumptions at all, about world views or opinions or reactions or what's cool or what's scary or what's difficult or about how the adult world works - can turn sour.

In some ways, it might come down to this: the important thing for authors to get isn't what children don't understand, but what they do understand, but don't agree with. Or, seeing children as clever, thinking, discerning readers with opinions and world-views that aren't wrong, just different, will make you a better writer.

Back to CORALINE. Why do I like it so much? Because for all its darkness and all its light, it makes a much more basic point. Adults and their world can be so wrapped up in itself that they fail to pay attention or listen to children.

Aren't so many good kids books basically about children a) taking things into their own hands when adults won't listen b) finally being listened to because of some action or event.

It's the subversion of who has power, the grown-ups or the kids.

I want my books - I hope they do - to entertain but not patronize. Kids are smart and canny readers, and from that everything else flows