Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Group Dynamic

 Guinea pigs and  gunmen, communists and criminal cats. Etiquette, incest, drug-taking and blood -  lots of it. Careers, children and choir-singing. Yiddish, Norwegian, Spanish and Cockney.
I'm just trying to give you a flavour of one of our Writing Group meetings, where, with a rough brief of discussing our attempts to write for children -  a brief that's constantly breached - we critique work, discuss our lives, and provide mutual comfort and support.
We've been meeting for a few years now, and we've seen eachother through setbacks and successes. Some ideas take shape, others get abandoned. Some are on slow-burn, others get written in a matter of weeks.
Sometimes one of us will get a job, or start a blog or do something exciting like move to Norway for a year. Sometimes people sign up with agents. But the most exciting thing is when a publisher likes one of the projects we've discussed. And that's been happening quite a lot recently.
This year our group leader Amanda Swift and group member Jennifer Gray worked together to create Guinea Pigs Online, a fabulously funny new series for the 5 plus age group. They signed a two-book deal with Quercus and both books will come out next year -  Guinea Pigs Online in April and Guinea Pigs Online 2 -  Furry Towers in November.  
Do Amanda and Jennifer own guinea pigs? Well, no, they don't. But I do, and so did group member Becky Jones. So we were expert advisers for this project, although their fictional piggies are a little more...hmmm...active than real ones.
Here's the blurb for Guinea Pigs Online:
Fuzzy the guinea pig loves the Internet. He loves to cook too – ketchup and washing-up liquid soup … yum! Hutch-mate Coco is incredibly posh, and she does not care for computers.
But when Fuzzy goes missing and Micespace reveals that he could be in terrible danger, Coco has to get online to find out where he’s gone! Luckily, she’s got help from a crack team of fellow guinea-pigs: Terry the techno-whizz, Banoffee, mum of fourteen guinea-piglets and Eduardo, the heroic, handsome, freedom-fighting Peruvian!

Will the guinea pigs save Fuzzy and make it home alive?

What's more, Jennifer has also signed a contract with Faber for a three-book comedy series for 7 +  about Atticus Claw - the world's greatest cat burglar.  The first - Atticus Claw Breaks the Law - will be published in September 2012 with the others to follow in 2013.  

While Amanda and Jennifer entertained us, Lydia Syson made us cry with her heart-stopping historical romance A Darker Shade of Red, which has been bought by new publisher Hot Key Books.  Editor Sarah Odedina calls it "a fantastic, sweeping romance…  With hints of Charlotte Gray and Atonement this is a novel that will thrill and satisfy any YA reader who likes adventure and big themes with their romance…."  The setting is the Spanish Civil War, so the themes couldn't be much bigger. A Darker Shade of Red will be published in Autumn 2012, and I'd bet it'll end up on quite a few award shortlists.

Becky Jones, along with writing partner Clare Lewis, has already published two fabulous non-fiction books of adventure walks for families in and around London - details here.
Their next book, The Bumper Book of London, is coming out 7th April 2012, from Frances Lincoln, who are also my publishers, and it's certainly going to be my gift of choice for children for quite some time. 
Here's the blurb: This entertaining and informative book includes every fact, figure, statistic and hidden secret of London that will be of interest to children. Mixing history with literature, listings with trivia, it opens windows on all areas of London's rich past and present. Here children will learn about London's art and architecture, landmarks, hidden places, ghosts, pearly kings and queens, festivals, street names, games, traditions, markets, football teams, and much, much more. Discover the oldest, the tallest, the silliest, the scariest and the smallest things in London. Shop till you drop at the Queen's favourite stores. Delve into London's murky past, see where notorious criminals were hanged, drawn and quartered, pirates were strung out to rot, heads were mounted on spikes and prisoners were tortured. Peer down London's oldest loo, chant with the crowds at London's first football club, and walk under the River Thames without getting wet. The Bumper Book of London will satisfy every child's appetite for facts and figures - as well as providing fodder for desperate parents who have run out of answers. 
 Add to that my book Another Life, which is nearly at the bound proof stage, and should be out in August. Our other two members Anna and Fenella, have both got new jobs.
So, one group, six books out in 2012 (admittedly, most of them written by Jennifer who has more ideas in an afternoon than I have in a year). We're virtually the Bloomsbury set!