Book tour! First stop with the Lost and Founders

The debut of the debutantes – five writers, five books, an appreciative audience and a statue of a bull.

Kathryn Evans Author & Public Speaker

The Lost and Found tour kicked off in the ENORMOUS Birmingham Waterstones – that’s it below, the tall building being faced down by the famous Birmingham Bull of The Bull Ring.

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It was busy, first they moved our room to a bigger space, then they had to bring in more chairs – Thanks Midlands , you rock ( and thanks Cousin Clare whose photo’s I have stolen)!

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Michelle Toy was a brilliant chair but then, she knows her books being a brilliant book blogger on Tales of Yesterday

We had so much fun!

All credit to our awesome audience who asked some fantastic questions – a real mix of readers and writers. I think it went pretty well!   Author Juliet Clare Bell said:

I genuinely thought that was one of the best authors-talking-at-an-event I’ve ever been to. Just great.

Come and see us at our next stop!

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And don’t…

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Whose World? World Book Day and the £1 selections for 2017

Beautifully written, though it feels like a never win.

theracetoread

an_eye_for_an_eye_by_malorie_blackman Blackman’s Eye for an Eye was a World Book Day selection in 2003, but there are no BAME authors on the 2017 list.

Last week, the World Book Day selection committee in the UK announced their titles for 2017—and they have spent this week defending them.

The event, for those who don’t know, is held yearly in the UK, and originally started as a parallel event to UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, held annually on Shakespeare’s birthday (23rd April). The UK event has since been moved to March, but it continues to promote reading through offering several choices of £1 books (for which most school children are given a book token anyway, making the books free for many). The choices are at various reading levels (so, this year there are pre-school choices and choices for KS1, KS2 and KS3 level readers) but otherwise are quite random; one of…

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Orangeboy – the cover design

I’ve been lucky. My debut novel, ‘Orangeboy’, has often been found with its cover facing out on tables and shelves in bookshops, from the Foyles on the London Southbank to Waterstones, in Bath. This is down to the splendid cover by Michelle Rochford, an in-house designer at my publishers, Hachette.

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How did Michelle create such a striking image?

Firstly, the designers read the book. We can all read the same story but settle on different details. Likewise, with designers. This is Michelle’s crib sheet – and one, there are spoilers and two, I was immensely flattered by the comparison!

Orangeboy cover designer's notes

Orangeboy cover designer’s notes

Michelle was particularly caught by the references to the brain.  My protagonist, Marlon, has a brother with a brain injury and is, himself, fascinated by how the brain works.  Marlon’s brain is also full of music, shaped by the records his father used to play.  I write about the soundtrack to ‘Orangeboy’ in my blog for WHSmith.

The next stage, was scooping up the inspiration.  The book was originally called ‘Last Man Standing’, but the publishers felt that the title didn’t do justice to the YA genre.  Once it had flipped to ‘Orangeboy’, it freed up ideas.  The mood boards below show the gathering of visual ideas, some more obvious, some tangential.  It’s like putting together a novel from fragments of conversation and half-formed plots.

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The challenge was to design a cover that was attractive across gender. Although the main protagonist is male, this is also a story about women – Sonia, D-Ice’s mum, Marlon’s mum -whose lives are devastated by others’ destructive choices.  There was one other worry for me.  Marlon is a young man of Caribbean heritage who ends up carrying a knife – but – this is a story about families, how we can end up hurting each other even while we try and protect each other.  It was incredibly important for me that the cover stayed clear of potentially stereotypical images.

Some more ideas…

In the mood boards, orange features, but other primary colours dominate too, with strong, stylised imagery and distinct text.  Can you spot the most obvious influence?

What did the research spark off?  I didn’t see these at the time, so I’m quite intrigued. Lemon, orange, silhouettes, the shape of thoughts.Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 16.59.57

Which led to these…

Orangeboy_VisualsBack in October 2015, came the cover reveal.  Emma, my editor, said: ‘I think it’s arresting, and intriguing, and beautiful, but has an urban edge’. It takes the craziness inspired by Gnarls Barkley  and the street art of Banksy which had popped up across the walls of east London.  She also pointed out the importance of its impact not only on the shelf, but at thumbnail size for internet shoppers.  Orangeboy_B_PB[1]

And finally, the finishes.  Emma said:  ‘Michelle and I are proposing adding a gloss varnish on the titling and the image, possibly on that ‘soft touch’ matt background, which will make the gloss pop.’  This has meant a very tactile cover where the main image and title catches the light.  There were a few other decisions to make too – where to add the generous quote from Jenny Downham, imagery for the back and inside covers (me in full scowl mode), the blurb at the back…

Other than that, there was one other thing.  Music is important to Marlon’s life.  My partner suggested an important addition to Marlon’s explosion of thoughts.  Spot the (vinyl) difference!

Are you a proper writer?

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Yesterday, I felt like a proper writer.  I felt so proper that I sent a text to a good friend about it, just so it was recorded for posterity.  There are certain things that should generally enhance your writer status.  These include:

Writing stuff.

I’ve been writing stuff since I was about six.  Tellingly, I only have one friend left from childhood.  I wonder if the others fell away under the weight of having to endure endless rhyming couplets about my dog, Jai.  Or the time the coffee percolator exploded.  Or even that special moment when a really big worm slopped on to my mum’s bare foot in Italy.  (Oh, happy days.)

There are other reasons why I could have claimed proper writerliness.  I read out my poem about Romans in Fishbourne at a parents’ evening.  (And believe me, my school was hot on quality control.)  And another poem – is there a pattern here? – won an award at a local arts festival and was read aloud by the only Doctor Who companion who died in situ.   There were the stories published in ‘True Romance’ and the constructive, encouraging rejection from ‘Black Lace’, ‘the first erotic imprint in the UK written for women’.  Apparently, kinky politicians were a bit of a cliché.

Come sixth form, come my crowning achievement –  a reworked pantomime version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  Not only did my head of house agree to be a witch and her deputy, rock the stage as Toto, but the production team featured future stars including a model and ‘Emmerdale’ actor and the bass player of a world famous indie band.  Us Haywards Heath folk punch way above our weight.  Or sometimes just punch.  Entertaining nightlife is a bit sparse there.

But did that make me a proper writer?  No.  My rich earnings of £60 and a poem published in the ‘Evening Argus’, did not turn my head.  (I must have had a rich store of poems, though.  I wonder where they are now.  Along with my childhood friends.)

Many years later, I’m preparing for the debut of ‘Orangeboy’, my first novel for young adults.  I’ve arrived here via short stories, screenwriting, comedy writing and a go at radio scripts.  All languishing in a forgotten folder in a forgotten hard drive with ports for cable types that have long been extinct.

I was lucky enough to gain Caroline Sheldon as my agent.  She saw my potential (but thankfully, no poems) and encouraged me to write for a younger audience.  A couple of paying gigs followed – children’s short stories and educational publishers – then by pure accident I was at an Arvon crime writing course and found myself chatting to a 16-year-old protagonist called Marlon.  Orangeboy.

But still… proper writer?  Ummm.

Then yesterday, something changed.  I went in to Hodder to talk publicity, proofs and literary festival panels.  We chatted school events and people of influence. Coming out into the Blackfriars’ sunshine, I thought – goddamn, this is real!  I then whizzed up the District Line for a lunchtime catch up with Caroline.  A lovely hour or so that also happened to feature some rather splendid butternut squash and apple crumble.

So what was it that made me feel like a proper writer?

Was it the lightheaded shock from getting a seat on the Underground for most of the journey from Blackfriars to Notting Hill?  Definitely a contributing factor.

Was it the lunchtime glass of wine?  As, if!

But perhaps it’s finally sunk in – I can do this!  I can write stuff that people want to read.  I can write stuff that people want to sell.  Without a rhyming couplet in sight.

So posh, so white: publishing 2014

An honest, impressive and thought provoking blog about the absence of diversity at the London Book Fair 2014.

Random Pen

My friend @LawrencePatrice nudged me during the seminar by Children’s Laureate @malorieblackman: “First non-white face I’ve seen on a panel.”

Fair point. I had seen one other, but I’d been to the full three days of #lbf14, dozens of seminars, averaging 4 speakers per panel. That’s not a pretty statistic. Of course, there were black faces to be seen. Picking up our dirty coffee cups, cleaning our toilets, but they were silent, largely invisible. What is going on? This is 2014.

Race is a visible marker of class. Where there are no black people, generally the white people will not be working class. Certainly that’s the case here. Publishing is an overwhelmingly upper middle class profession. Patrice’s comment crystalised a feeling I’d had all week, that new-kid outsider sensibility that makes me want to write for Young Adults: I don’t belong here, this is not my place.

How…

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Hackney hood rat tells it like it is – but do I want to hear? Book review.

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I thought I’d struck gold with Robyn Travis’s ‘Prisoner to the Streets’, and in some ways, I had.  I’ve been researching for a late draft of the young adult novel I’m finishing and I wanted to get in to the mind of the protagonist.  My book is set in Hackney – I’ve lived there since 1997 and know the terrain well.  As I was doing the slightly lazy Amazon search thing, I found this book, an ‘ex-bad bwoy’ memoir set in these very streets.  Thanks, Amazon algorithms.  Just what I needed.

The author, Robyn Travis, promises ‘NO FRONTING. Just honesty’.  And to some extent, this is true.  Travis doesn’t try and make himself look good in this.

‘Prisoner’ starts with a chase – Travis and his mate, Darker, pursued through the streets by ‘Boi-dem’, the police.  Both boys are carrying guns.  He wonders how he gets himself into this – again.  We then head back to his early childhood on the borders of Hackney and Tottenham.  These time seem relatively happy in spite of extreme poverty, his father disappearing and apparently faking his own death and harassment from racists.  His mother toughens him and his older brother up by insisting they fight with anyone that wrongs them and ‘she would ‘dish out’ beatings like it was slavery times’.  Along with shoes and a belt called ‘johnny’, a curtain wire with a hook and eye was also a handy weapon of chastisement.  As Travis says, ‘Mum didn’t ramp when it comes to licks’.

Throughout the book, Travis talks about ‘the switch’, the blind anger that surrounds his violence, but rather frustrating for me, this feels like the only insight he has into his behaviour.  He and his brother are both eventually permanently excluded from school; his brother becomes a ‘dream chaser’ – a drug dealer – while Travis refuses that route.  At various times he tries different manual jobs to earn money, but always with the fierce allegiance to his friends.  He carries a knife and is stabbed and hospitalised.  He starts carrying a gun.  His mum is evicted and the vulnerable fifteen-year-old is rehoused in adult homeless hostels amongst drug addicts and those with serious mental health difficulties.  He sleeps with a gun under his pillow and people he knows are killed.  His mother marries a crack smoker.  His beloved grandmother dies from a heart attack shortly after Travis is involved in a knife fight by her house…

Yes.  It is a difficult read. Much of the tale supports the findings of some of the more sensitive and thoughtful gang journalists and commentators – these are not the organised gangs beloved of the sensational press.  These are loose and constantly changing allegiances of young men whose lives are shaped by ‘beefs’, ‘ride or die’, revenge and reputation.  Surprisingly quickly, life becomes cheap.

One touch I enjoyed was the occasional voices from other people.   Travis’s mother has a section, likewise a couple of primary school teachers.  The most emotional contribution is from the mother of a young man that Travis stabs.

I wanted more of this.  I am pretty liberal, but I spent so much time yelling at this book ‘ Take responsibility!’  (Best not do that in a crowded bus.)  ‘How can you complain that the police harass you when you behave that way?’  ‘Do you know what it’s like sitting in a bus with your young child, adrenalin revving because you think something’s going to kick off with the boys who’ve just got on?’  ‘Do you know how many London mothers are terrified that their sons are getting drawn into that crap or they’re going to get shot?’   There are no descriptions of the times he spent in a police cell.  What was the first time like – was a line crossed?  Or much acknowledgement of the people who tried to intervene – the school coach, the solicitor and maybe others who would have been constantly let down.

And what about other people trying to live their lives without all that random violence and aggression going on?  The people in Holly Street and London Fields, terrified of getting caught in the crossfire.  Last year, I was walking through London Fields early on a winter’s evening.  The woman walking in front of me stopped dead so quickly I almost slapped in to her back.  A group of young black guys on bikes were riding towards her.  They rode straight past – but just the possibility of them being local gang boys made her freeze solid.  In 2007, Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba was stabbed to death outside his home in Holly Street after asking ‘gang’ members to quieten down.  Is that what it’s all about?

Travis is a father, son, brother, neighbour.  He has turned his life round and is trying to stop others following path.  But after reading 254 pages, I still didn’t understand Travis’s choices, or why it was so easy to go back to your room, change into your tracksuit, pick up your weapon and get ready to kill a man.

Prisoner to the Streets is published by The X Press http://www.prisonerofthestreets.com