Friday, 27 February 2015

Who do I write for?

"You need to know exactly who your reader is."
I said this to a group of people yesterday and I was emphatic, but this morning I am less so. Lots of questions have been chasing each other around my head overnight. Who ARE my readers? Do they change with each book? And if not, am I stuck writing for them and only them for all eternity? can I switch genre or age group whenever I wish? Is genre just something made up by marketing departments to make it easier to find what you want in a bookshop?
My emphatic statement about knowing your reader was directed at a group of students at a local school. I visit schools all the time and this one in particular has played host to my workshops more often than most (as well as having characters, like Hamlet above, painted all along the corridor of their English department!). But yesterday was different, because I got to spend 2 hours in the company of A Level students instead of my core readership of years 7 and 8.
I love years 7 and 8, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I crave a more challenging audience and more sophisticated questions than "do you earn lots of money?" or "are you famous?".
The first hour with my sophisticated audience was mostly me 'performing', telling my story, explaining my journey to publication, while they sat in rigid rows. But after a short break I insisted we arranged the chairs more informally. My experience of teaching in art schools has given me a preference for discussion lesson formats, where everyone's opinions are valued, not just the 'performer' standing at the front.
In this new configuration their question became more informal too, which was great. I really had to think about my answers, what I honestly thought about writing routines and how to edit and actually get work published. Then someone asked whether editors ever ask me to write for a different or wider audience.
"No," I said. "It doesn't really work that way. You need to know exactly who your reader is," I said. "You write for that reader and if the book appeals to a wider audience, that's a bonus."
I had assumed the question was naive, a question from someone who doesn't quite understand how publishing works. But now I'm not so sure. It was a question that actually required a more considered response.
This brilliant blog post from Marcus Sedgwick 

got me thinking about genre and why I write the books I write. Now I'd like to go back to that student and change my answer. (Perhaps she'll find her way to this blog and read it) my new answer is
I WRITE THE BOOKS THAT I WANT TO READ.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Some Thoughts About Sharing

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I've been thinking a lot about sharing. Not just the boasting FB status update variety, nor those ubiquitous AfterEight Challenge Instagram pics. And I'm not talking about Chrissy prezzies either. That's not sharing, it's shopping. No, what I'm banging on about is something more emo, more philosophical and a bit... well, cheesy.

Last week I was in Oxford for a lunch meeting with some publishers about the collaborative project I'm doing with Jo Cotterill, called ELECTRIGIRL (see previous post). As Jo and I said goodbye to our OUP team, the two of us walked away down the street arm-in-arm, beaming from ear to ear. It was a 'that was great' tingle moment, a stomach flipper. We almost skipped (but we are middle-aged and erm, sensible, so didn't!)  I'll be honest and say I've not walked arm-in-arm with anyone (except perhaps my nieces or my Mum after her hip op!) for absolutely years. Not since I was a teenager. And that's how it felt, like I was a teenager, sharing a triumph with my Bestie. It was the perfect end to the perfect day, a gesture that summed up exactly what was happening to our insides.

We were sharing something that nobody else could understand. With that gesture we were acknowledging all the ups (inspiration and hilarity) and all the downs (re-writes, rejections, tantrums and tears) of a project we had shared for almost 2 years. We, and only we, knew how hard it had been to finally get to that meeting on that day on that street, so we expressed all of it in that shared gesture.

You see, I told you it would be cheesy!

So why have I been thinking about sharing and why am I posting it today?

Well, I'm an atheist (or an agnostic) and I've long believed we atheists/agnostics should shift our mid-winter festivities to coincide with the Solstice, which is today. And, as I'm broke this year (2014 will be an Austerity Christmas for the majority of us, I think) I'm looking for ways to enjoy the festive season without spending money I don't have. So, I'll be doing it by sharing. I'll spend time with friends (in the same room or online). I'll share memories and triumphs and news (trying not to boast). I'll share by listening and commiserating and empathising, because I've been there and I know how much it hurts. Oh, and I'll share some of the cakes and biscuits I've made.

Here is my first share...

MERRY WINTER SOLSTICE EVERYONE!
Love and hugs
from Cathy
xxxxx

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sparky New Project


Yesterday I travelled up to Oxford to meet up with the team who are shaping my new collaborative project, ELECTRIGIRL. Jo Cotterill was there, of course. She's the writing genius who came up with the original idea and has written all the text (many times over!) You could say I'm a sort of illustrator Robin to her writer Batman. Or something like that. Anyway. I digress.
got to meet our OUP team for the first time including our editor, Kathy, and art editor, Holly. I was particularly eager to show them all my artwork ideas so I spread them out across the meeting room table. In fact, there was so much of it (Jo and I have been working on this for over a year) that it covered the table almost entirely! That meeting room instantly resembled my chaotic studio.
The plan was to discuss all the illustrations I'll be doing for a couple of hours and then pop out for lunch but we got so involved and kept adding more pages so, four and a half hours later we were finishing the last page over pudding in the restaurant!!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Questions and Artwork

I was asked a very interesting question last week. I was visiting the Saint Joan of Arc School in Rickmansworth, which I was astonished a delighted to discover has an actual moat, like a castle or something, and a literary claim to fame (George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda there). I was also delighted by the pupils and their questions.
"Do you design your own covers and is it different when you are designing a cover for someone else's book?"
"Yes," I replied. "I am lucky enough to design my own, with the help of an art editor. And yes, it's quite different when I'm designing one for somebody else."
This started a whole discussion about the publishing process, how brilliant art editors are, how I get inside the head of an author and how publishers often need a cover finished before the author has even finished writing the book!
I am in the fortunate position of having a commission to illustrate a second book by an author I both admire and like very much, Karen McCombie. Today I had the rough artwork approved for the cover of the lovely Karen's new title, Honey and Me. Minutes later another emailed pinged onto my screen - the finished first draft, hot from Karen's writing desk. You see, I wasn't lying!


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

I Heart Year Sevens!!

I'm just back from doing a talk and mini workshop at a school not far from my home. I've not been there before and it's always a bit exciting visiting a new school, seeing their library and checking out their lunches!! (It was roast day today! Yum!)
My talk was just an hour with Year Seven and, as usual, I got carried away and over ran. Oops! (Nobody wanted to go to maths anyway) My excuse is that I was loving the task I'd set (based around the letters sent by soldiers during the First World War) and also the task that the pupils had set for me - live drawing. It's a fun challenge for an illustrator, to draw whatever the pupils shout out and I'm starting to get good at it. Today it was a werewolf teacher (easy-peasy) and a zombie baby (rather disturbing but hilarious). I got a round of applause for the baby!
Here is a drawing one of the pupils gave to me before I left. I love it. Especially the 'fun' hashtag and the curly eyelashes. I THINK it's a zombie but I could be wrong. It might actually be a portrait of their visiting author!!!
Thank you Danes Hill School for an awesome day. #FUN
Cx


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Letters from the Trenches

This week I did a school workshop at the amazing British Postal Museum and Archive in London after a fascinating tour and talks by the archive staff where we were able to look at actual letters sent during WW1. I found out from the experts all the things I got wrong in EVERYTHING IS FINE AND OTHER LIES I TELL MYSELF, i.e. Freddie's letters would probably have been sent in 'honour' envelopes and been censored, or were not letters at all but postcards!!! I know where to do my research next time!  :)

Friday, 11 July 2014

London Film & Comic Con

It's the first ever Young Adult Literture Convention (YALC) this weekend, part of London Film & Comic Con. It starts TODAY! I'll be there tomorrow and can't wait to find out if it's anything like the Comics Convention I described in my book VERITY FIBBS. Life imitating art, or what?!