ewein2412: (osprey hair)
Sometime last year, Sheila Averbuch and Louise Kelly, in their role as organizers for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) SE Scotland Network of the SCBWI British Isles Region, asked me to represent the SCBWI at an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF). I was flattered and pleased and of course I blithely accepted, with absolutely no idea of what I was getting myself into.

The event, chaired by Daniel Hahn, was premised on Anthony McGowan (author of The Knife that Killed Me, Hellbent, and Henry Tumour among others) saying controversial things about young adult literature and me responding in my role of ruling “middle-aged white woman who writes YA” – while waving a sheaf of oft-misquoted and under-interpreted statistics.

The floor was then opened to the opinions of a truly glittering array of YA and Middle Grade writers including Jenny Downham, Christopher Edge, Patrice Laurence, Annabel Pitcher, and Philip Womack (who gate-crashed the event but was a very welcome addition). This phenomenal crew was seated, rather unfortunately, in the front row with their backs to the audience rather than on the stage – however, the arrangement was set up to allow anyone who was participating in the Festival’s children’s programming to attend and participate (the five authors lined up there featured in other events as well).

So Anthony McGowan got up and ranted for ten minutes and I responded with a counter-rant, after which we had mini-rants from the other authors, and then the audience was allowed to throw in a few rants of their own. I don’t believe anything new and exciting was revealed, but everyone enjoyed ranting. Many teens were given a voice, which was wonderfully welcome, as they’re clearly the readers on the front lines here.

Here are some interpretations of the event:

Ann Giles (Bookwitch)

Sophie Cameron

Anthony McGowan’s own take

Barrington Stoke blog

Barrington Stoke’s blog entry… Well, gosh, I think it was me who said the “YA Debate” was getting old, which seems to be their sum total of my counter-rant! Of all the quotables to be picked up on. Their response “well we're still interested” feels like yet another misinterpretation. I didn’t mean YA isn’t worth talking about. Yes, yes, of COURSE we want to talk about it. But do we really need to continue to perpetuate these myths about it?


Myth 1): Most readers of YA are not teens.

I’ve written about this before.

That post is a bit outdated now, but people are still quoting numbers from the articles I’ve referenced in it, and other numbers such as the Publishers Weekly article referenced below. I cannot believe how often I hear people chirp “80 percent of people reading YA are not teens” when the statistic they are actually quoting is “80 percent of people buying YA are not teens.” You can draw your own conclusions by going to the source. (It doesn’t convince the MMR vaccine naysayers to go to the source, so if you’re convinced that more adults than teens read YA, no amount of arguing from me is going to change your mind.)

Publishers Weekly report on last year's Nielsen Summit

Bear in mind that most teens DON’T SPEND THEIR MONEY ON BOOKS. Ask a teen if you don’t believe me! They get books from the library, from educators, from parents, as gifts, and they do a LOT of borrowing from friends. I don’t hear anyone complaining that “100 percent of people buying board books are not babies.”

Basing your assumption of who reads YA on con attendance is simply and obviously erroneous. Most teens do not have the wherewithal to travel to London or wherever and stay in a hotel for three nights.

Also, WHO CARES if adults are reading YA? Really… who the heck CARES? I’ll read what I feel like reading.

Myth 2) YA is tripe, lacks depth and beauty, and always has a happy ending.

It’s lame, I guess, to counter every argument with your own books, but I do feel I have some modicum of legitimacy in responding with three words:

Code Name Verity.

“A part of me is broken off forever. A part of me lies buried in lace and roses on a river bank in France. A part of me will always be unflyable, stuck in the climb.”

Just… whatever.

Myth 3) (MYTH DU JOUR!) YA is stopping readers from moving on to adult [ie, worthwhile] fiction.

Yeah… whatever. Keep kicking the anthill, peeps.

Myth 4) YA has only been around for 20 years.

I actually spent quite of a bit of time researching this before the event, with the help of Jenny Kristine Thurman (@jennygadget on twitter), and can link you to some interesting articles tracing the history of YA from its origins 200 years ago to its acknowledged existence and value in the early 20th century:

“200 Years of Young Adult Library Services History” complied by VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

A useful chronology of Young Adult Literature by Ernie Bond of Salisbury University.

“The Value of Young Adult Literature” by Michael Cart, a white paper issued by YALSA (the Young Adult division of the American Library Association), January 2008. Also contains useful historical context.

“What Does Young Adult Mean?” by Jen Doll in The Wire

“The Surprising, Short History of Young Adult Fiction” by N. Jamiyla Chisholm in Real Simple

“A Brief History of the Young Adult Services Division” by Carol Starr on the YALSA website

Yada yada yada.


I think the reason I feel this so-called “debate” is getting old is because people just seem to be so. damn. eager. to ignore the facts, to skip the research that would back or disprove their arguments, or to read ANYTHING in the oeuvre other than the current bestselling titles.* So we have John Green held up or reviled as the single example of a literary luminary in the field. Sally Gardner’s name did not come up in our debate; nor did those of Francesca Lia Block, Cornelia Funke, Virginia Hamilton, W.E. Johns, Katherine Paterson, Gene Stratton Porter, Jason Reynolds, Marcus Sedgwick, Steve Sheinkin, Rosemary Sutcliff, Robert Westall, or Jacqueline Woodson, to name a few at random off the top of my head – over a century’s worth of male and female, black and white prolific authors of fabulously readable fiction and non-fiction and poetry, accessibly told with intelligence and elegance.

It’s an exciting time to be writing for young adults, that’s for sure. I guess that my ennui regarding the “debate” and my lack of ennui in the field is based on the incredible feedback I continue to get from teen readers. During the signing after the EIBF event, I was told twice by readers that “Code Name Verity is my favorite book of all time.” I’ve lost track of how many teens have told me this. Honestly, an author can get no higher praise or greater incentive to keep going – whatever the media says.

Incidentally, all my major breaks in children’s publishing came about through connections made because of the volunteer work I’ve done for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you’ve any intention of writing for children, I urge you to join.

SCBWI website

SCBWI British Isles website

*(This is where I feel the YA Debate resembles the MMR vaccine debate. Why are we still debating it? THERE IS NO DEBATE. YA is worth reading, is read and loved by teens, has been around for 200 years, and is not going anywhere. Get your kids vaccinated and give them a book and stop listening to the anthill-kickers.)
ewein2412: (osprey hair)
For the past 18 years, Scottish Friendly Assurance have sponsored a series of week-long book tours in cooperation with the Scottish Book Trust, bringing authors and illustrators directly into schools: four per year in Scotland and two each year throughout the rest of the UK. I was lucky enough to be asked to tour as a Scottish author in Norfolk, England, this year.

Old school selfie – camera on timer! Beth, E Wein & Tom in King’s Lynn

With a pair of phenomenal representatives from the Scottish Book Trust, Beth Goodyear and Thomas Jefferson, I visited nine schools throughout Norfolk and managed to squeeze in a presentation to three more at the University of East Anglia’s FLY Festival of Literature for Young People in Norwich in the middle of the tour.

To start with, though, I got to meet with and enjoy a relaxed meal with Calum Bennie, the communications manager with the tour’s sponsor, Scottish Friendly. He is a dedicated supporter of the tour himself and stayed on to attend my first event. Later in the week we shared another evening and much book talk with the vibrant Mandy Steel of the Norfolk School Library Services, who was responsible for organizing and coordinating the events. It is fantastic to see so much enthusiasm and effort made to encourage young readers in these VERY TRYING TIMES. I was hugely impressed with Norfolk’s libraries – the old one at King’s Lynn is grand. But the
Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library
, where the FLY Festival was held – WOW! So many events and services, including a Polish club for children and being home to the 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Library – a beautiful working space well used.

King’s Lynn Public Library

Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

Our Monday visits included a virtual tour of Ethiopia for enthusiastic participants at Cottenham Village College and a workshop on structure for the eager and diligent writing students at Downham Market Academy; Tuesday’s visit to Iceni Academy’s keen readers in Thetford combined aspects of both. I was so pleased with the students’ interest, their intelligent questions, and their hunger for books! This enthusiasm couldn’t have manifested itself more appropriately than it did on Tuesday afternoon, when we were surprised to see a familiar cover featured in the promotional banner for St. Clement’s High School:

St. Clement’s High School banner

Close-up of that banner… presumably taken during the Carnegie Shadowing 2013!

Beth and Tom had researched venues for both lunch and the evening meal each day, and on the drive between schools I basically sat in the front passenger seat taking pictures of windmills, pointing out items of interest with the aid of 25-year-old Ordnance Survey maps, demanding side-trips to places like Oxburgh Hall and Norfolk Lavender, and being stuffed with an apparently limitless assortment of comfort food that Beth had stashed in the back of the Scottish Book Trust minivan.

Lunch in King’s Lynn

Alderman Peel High School in Wells-next-the-Sea was a large group – ninety strong - who were focusing on heroism and its ramifications, and clearly just as eager to get stuck into a story of spies and pilots as the more intimate gathering in the lovely bright library at Dereham Neatherd High School in East Dereham. We couldn’t believe how many copies of Code Name Verity got snapped up that day. They were all gone by the end of the trip.

This bucket was full of books before our visit to Sprowston!

It was at Sprowston Community High School on Thursday morning where I learned that Edith Cavell, one of the heroic women mentioned in Code Name Verity, is a Norfolk native. The ensuing discussion of “famous last words” turned about to be an unusual way to hook new readers.

After the FLY Festival Event at the fabulous Millennium Library on Thursday afternoon, we finished the week with a visit to Caister Academy in Great Yarmouth, and had an entertaining and animated discussion with the year 9 English students at Thorpe St. Andrew School (I made the mistake of telling them not to blow their noses in my silk escape map. A lot of fake sneezing ensued). The Caister year 7s had all done amazing research projects on the women of the Special Operations Executive and put together a fantastic display of the results. I was disappointed I didn’t have time to read them all.

Caister Academy SOE project

Caister Academy readers

I ended up the week by myself in Peterborough, overflowing with images, names, faces, scenery, libraries, and youthful enthusiasm as I waited for my train home the following morning. What a lot of preparation went into this tour by so many different people, and how lucky I am to have been able to participate in it! It was hard not to feel a bit blue now that it was all over. I spent the evening glued to the BBC and Twitter as the results of the EU referendum were discussed all around the world.

I had one last outing before catching my train: Peterborough Cathedral. It turns out to be the first burial place of Mary Queen of Scots, before her body was moved to Westminster Abbey by her son James I (James VI of Scotland). It made me feel curiously at home to see the Saltire hanging there so unexpectedly after a week in deepest England.

Former burial place of Mary Queen of Scots in Peterborough Cathedral

What we didn't indulge in:

ONLY because it was closed.

And this is probably the best of the 420 pictures of the moon I took early in the week. Unretouched!

Note to Americans: almost all British kids wear school uniforms.
ewein2412: (osprey hair)
25 June 2014 is the release date for Nome in Codice Verity!

There have been quite a few foreign language editions of Code Name Verity released in the last year or so, and often as not I know nothing about their distant existence after I sign the contract. Sometimes I sneakily buy myself copies through some continental bookseller in Euros. I haven’t figured out how to find a copy of the Chinese editions (the publisher will some day send me a few, I hope.)

However, sometimes there is a little more fanfare. As part of the Mare de Libri (Sea of Books) Festival of Young Readers held this year in Rimini 13-15 June 2014, there is an annual competition for students to create a book trailer for forthcoming books in Italian. The competition is organized by three major Italian publishers including Rizzoli, the publisher of Nome in Codice Verity, who invite participation from readers in all the schools of Italy.

By happy coincidence, the winning video for this year’s competition, by Sofia Rivolta, is for Nome in Codice Verity. It is beautiful and utterly haunting.

The 6th place video, by the Sagrado school group, is also a CNV trailer. It looks like this one is accompanied by original music – “Tango Verity”! I am so amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of these kids, though I probably shouldn’t be!

Another cool thing about the Italian edition of CNV is that the kind and conscientious translator, Giulia Bertoldo, got in touch with me regarding a number of subtle queries about the nuance of words used in the book. We talked a lot about the faint difference between “radio operator” (radiotelegrafista) and “wireless operator” (marconista), in addition to “radio” and “wireless set”. Giulia ended up consulting a blogger named Andrea Lawrendel on the site Radiopassioni (“Radio Passions”), who suggested the term “sanfilista” (from sans fils, without wire), and also recommended some relevant reading material for her. She finally went with “operatrice radio” for Verity, noting that “the term operatrice leads to the idea that she was in a way a sort of ‘puppet master,’” and “controllore di volo” (air traffic controller) for Maddie, which is a more modern term but an accurate description of her job.

Andrea Lawrendel has now published a kind review of Nome in Codice Verity on Radiopassioni, as well as wishing the best of luck to both translator and author.

What a great way to celebrate my debut in Italian!
ewein2412: (harriet writing (text))
I have always been pretty jealous of debut writers' groups who get together and sing each other's praises and find solidarity in a communal marketing plan for their first books - and then continue to support each other as their careers build. I made my publishing debut in 1993, not quite before the internet (remember Genie, anyone?) - but, yeah. Not the same.

But now! The internet is my friend. And at the moment there's a great meme going around among authors' blogs called 'The Next Big Thing,' where everybody promotes everybody else. You Reveal All (or a bit, anyway!) about your next book, and then you tag five other authors (whose work you like, and whom you think might be The Next Big Thing) to Reveal All about their own WIP the following week.

Teresa Flavin tagged me. We met at a reception given by Teen Titles during the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. I was delighted to meet her because she'd designed the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators British Isles (SCBWI BI) logo:

uk logo small

We originally requested it for our masthead for Words & Pictures, the SCBWI BI newsletter which was my baby and brainchild in 1996. Teresa, like me, is an American ex-pat living in Scotland. She's the illustrator of a number of picture books, but now has headed into YA territory - her second novel, The Crimson Shard, is just out from Candlewick Press in the US. Here's her website; and here’s her 'Next Big Thing' post.

And now, my own 'Next Big Thing' question time!

• 1) What is the working title of your next book?

It didn't have a title for a long time and everybody just called it 'Rose's book.' But the real title will probably be Rose Under Fire.

• 2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book is about a young American Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, Rose Justice, who is delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK just after D-Day (summer 1944). For one reason and another she ends up 'uncertain of position' over enemy lines and is forced to land at a German airfield - she's then sent to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück.

I give this background before answering the question because the answer is, a book about Ravensbrück has been simmering in me for most of my life. Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place was my first introduction to World War II, when I was about eight. I had a Ravensbrück plot line going when I was 12. When I read Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the memory of what I knew about Ravensbrück rose to the surface and grabbed me by the throat.

Nabokov talks about how a short story can grow 'the wings and fangs of a novel.' I think it is fair to say that my early story (what might be called 'juvenilia') has 'grown wings.'

• 3) What genre does your book fall under?

'Historical Fiction.' Ptbbbb ptbbb ptbbbb :P

• 4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ohhhh…. Who could play Rose?

Katharine Hepburn, maybe? Rose is supposed to look a little like Katharine Hepburn, a cross between Hepburn and Amelia Earhart, tall and freckled and wholesome, well-heeled but from a small town in Pennsylvania.

• 5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

See question 2, above? 'Young American ATA pilot Rose Justice ends up in a concentration camp in Germany.' Hmm, I might have to work on that - it sounds dire. And Rose is very resilient and determined.

• 6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My awesome agent, Ginger Clark, has placed this book under contract with the same editors who published Code Name Verity, namely Stella Paskins at Egmont UK (with the Electric Monkey imprint), Catherine Onder at Disney Hyperion in the US, and Janice Weaver (filling in for Amy Black on maternity leave) at Doubleday in Canada.

• 7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two years. One thing I haven't mentioned is that Rose is a budding poet - so the manuscript includes several of her poems. These actually stalled me quite a bit and were the hardest part of the book to write.

They were also wonderful to write, because they were such hard work. Rose is not as accomplished a poet as me, not as experienced a reader as me, and has a different writing style to mine anyway. So I had to make Rose's poems sound like Rose's poems, not E. Wein's, and this was a real challenge.

I actually wrote several of her Ravensbrück poems on site at Ravensbrück. I would go back in a minute just to be able to be that productive again.

• 8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Dudes. I am unique.

Haha. I am only half kidding. I don't know any other books about girl pilots in concentration camps. I don't know any other books, other than non-fiction, about a women's concentration camp. I confess that most of my concentration camp reading has been non-fiction, so I can't really compare Rose's book to other books within my 'genre.' It's probably more like Micheline Maurel's An Ordinary Camp than anything else ('An Ordinary Camp' is a title I really, really like - it means, 'not a death camp'), right down to the poetry she includes. I am pretty sure Rose's book is not like The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne or Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, but I have not read those, so I may be wrong. It is nothing like Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic, which I have read.

Remember I said the sort-of working title was 'Rose's book'? Not 'the Ravensbrück book,' but 'Rose's book.' Like everything I write, it is character driven. How this character, how Rose deals with the setting is what I'm interested in.

• 9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It was partly because while I was researching Code Name Verity I discovered that about 20 per cent of the female Special Operations Executive agents sent into occupied France ended up in Ravensbrück. It was partly that the Shaffer book reawakened my interest in Ravensbrück. But if I had to name one person, I think it would have to be Wanda Półtawska. Her book, And I Am Afraid of My Dreams, chronicles her own imprisonment in Ravensbrück. She was subjected to horrific experimentation and eventually, she, along with her fellow experimental 'Rabbits,' staged a quiet revolt against the camp administration which I've attempted to recreate in fictional form.

Wanda Półtawska's Wikipedia page, translated from Polish)

Wanda Półtawska speaking in a report about Pope John Paul II

• 10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

EXPLOSIONS. Because, seriously, what thriller doesn't have explosions?

There are a couple of themes that weave throughout the text of Rose's book, and one of these is the flying bomb - otherwise known as buzz bomb, doodlebug, pilotless plane, or V-1 retaliation weapon. These were essentially the first 'guided missiles' and were launched at London throughout the summer of 1944. They figure significantly in the plot - first because they are a threat to Rose on the ground in England, later as a threat to her in the air over France, and finally because as a prisoner she finds herself put to work making flying bomb fuses.

So, the book has a lot of flying in it, too (and seriously, the miracle of flight ought to rock your world a little).



And now, in alphabetical order, here are five other writers you should check out, who are going to answer the same questions NEXT week. Check back and see what they have to say about The Next Big Thing.

Erin Bow (blog here) is the lyrical author of the young adult novel Plain Kate, which won the Canadian Children's Literature Award in 2011. Her eagerly awaited second YA novel, Sorrow's Knot, is due out any moment now, and she's got a truly tantalizing list of works-in-progress. Erin has also published collections of poetry for adults.

Jeanette Cheney (who is exactly 17 days younger than me) has an impressive list of short fiction to her name in various science fiction and fantasy publications - her persistence is about to pay off, with novels Of Blood and Brandy and The Seat of Magic to be published by Penguin Books in Autumn 2013 and Spring 2014. We met at Worldcon in Glasgow in 2005 and clicked on a writerly and emotional level. She has Airedales.

Tanita Davis and I met through Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Blog, which Tanita writes in conjuction with two other bloggers, aquafortis and citysmartgirl. I'm pretty sure [livejournal.com profile] sdn (Viking and Firebirds editor Sharyn November) introduced us. When Tanita and I discovered we were both ex-pats living in Scotland (do you sense a theme?), we became friends, and remain a Mutual Admiration Society in terms of books. My favorite of Tanita's is still her Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book Mare's War, about the only black women's regiment to be stationed in Europe during World War II. Her most recent young adult book is Happy Families.

Sarah Hilary and I met online because I commented on an achingly lovely Rebecca fanfic she'd written. It turned out that we both started school in Wilmslow, Cheshire, within a couple of years of each other, and were both lifetime Alan Garner fans. Sarah is a virtuoso flash fiction and short story writer, hugely versatile and prolific, with a singing prose style which is quirky and gritty and brilliant all at the same time. She won the Sense Creative Award in 2010 and was the Most Read Author at Every Day Fiction during their inaugural year. I am pretty well convinced she has a runaway hit crime novel waiting in the wings.

Rosanne Rivers is a fellow SCBWI BI member and the author of the Young Adult romance/thriller After the Fear, which debuts in December 2012. She's also got a blog focused on topics of interest to writers and readers. We met via the SCBWI BI online discussion group where 'The Next Big Thing' has been doing the rounds like a game of tag!

If you want to click around and read what other writers' 'Next Big Thing' entries are NOW, check back to Teresa's blog - or do a google search and see what turns up! The nice thing about this meme is that you don't need to be tagged to start your own chain, so get to work, kids!


And finally, I thot I'd stick these in for color. Um, pun intended. Taken yesterday about 3.30 pm. Can't possibly do this rainbow justice, as I couldn't fit the whole thing in the picture - two complete arches. Also, I am not good at adjusting the light on my camera. It was all MUCH MORE INTENSE in reality.

The first two pics were taken at the back of our house, and the last two in the front garden.

back of house rainbow 121120

back of house rainbow 2 121120

front garden rainbow 2 121120

front garden rainbow 121120

ewein2412: (e Wein)
I thought what I’d do for World Book Day is a My Favorite Books post; but to make it a little different, instead of a list of my all-time favorites, I’ve tried to pick really off-the-wall favorites and near-favorites in Ten Random Genres. Because I read in a lot of different genres.

Apologies for the lack of pictures. By the time I’d included all the links I’d run out of energy. This might be the longest book post I’ve ever made!

Urban Archaeology, for example!

Hands down, it’s got to be The Lincoln Highway by Drake Hokanson. A customer ordered this book when I was working in B Dalton Bookseller in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, in 1987. He’d heard about it on NPR. It sat on the customer order shelf for three days before he came in to pick it up and I couldn’t keep my paws off it. I think it was the photographs. The book sparked an obsession with early 20th century auto travel that I have never really outgrown. (I am a charter member of the Lincoln Highway Association and have got a small academic acknowledgement in A Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide to the Lincoln Highway by Brian Butko, of which I am very proud.)

Middle Grade Horror

Again, NO QUESTION. It’s got to be The House with the Clock in its Walls by John Bellair. OMG this is the creepiest book I have ever read. I still have to put it down when I get to the chapter where his dead Aunt Mattie cranks the mechanical doorbell in the middle of the night. I love the depiction of small-town 1950s Michigan (I am actually a fan of all the books in this series). The magic tricks are off-the-wall and some of it is just fantastically atmospheric. The platonic partnership, or friendship, or what-the-heck-is-it between Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, who has a doctorate in magic from a German university! It’s just a fabulous spooky magical adventure with a very sympathetic small bereaved nerd for a hero and loads of quirky supporting characters.


My mainstay is the 1963 edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (which edition I can’t find on Goodreads and am too lazy to add), and I’m probably personally responsible for the global success of Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell, so for this entry I’m going to plug the Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book by J. George Frederick - originally published in 1935 as The Pennsylvania Dutch and Their Cookery. Most of the recipes in here are uncookable (I do try from time to time) but they’re great reading. I have dog-eared ‘Dutch Festival Doughnuts (Fastnachts)’ and reproduce the recipe in whole under the cut for those of you who are really very ambitious.

One to plan for next year )

Also includes such delights as Pea-Pod Soup; Dandelion Eggs (essentially eggs Florentine only with dandelion in place of spinach); Tangled Jackets (here’s the recipe in its entirety: ‘1 pint of sour milk, 3 eggs, 1/2 teaspoonful soda, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1 pound flour. Mix and cook in deep fat.’); Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup (The ingredients begin: ‘1 veal joint, 4 pounds tripe…’ The recipe begins, ‘This is a two-day job of cookery.’ You have to boil the tripe for ‘7 or 8 hours.’); and Dutch Pretzel Soup.

Now I am really hungry for Pepper Pot. If only someone else would make it for me.

Poetry for Small Children

All Join In by Quentin Blake is probably the most memorable poetry book of my children’s toddlerhood. This book isn’t very long, but Sara and Mark, who are now an oh-so-mature teen and preteen, can still recite ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ and ‘Bed Time Song’:”

We don’t want a lullabye,


Toddler Picture Book

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a CUNNINGLY DISGUISED window into life on the Home Front in urban Britain during World War II. OMG this book kills me. It’s a peekaboo book aimed at kids who can barely speak and takes you through the daily routine, from waking up till bedtime, of a tiny tot in a pushchair. But the discerning reader will spot Spitfires and barrage balloons and bomb damage in the background throughout the book. It doesn’t at all detract from the casual everyday cheeriness of the story. The picture of the baby being carried up to bed by his harassed mum and his Air Raid Warden dad, reflected as a very cozy and safe happy threesome in a hall mirror, has ALWAYS made me teary. It makes me teary writing about it.

One of the other things I have always really, really liked about this book is the slovenliness of this family. Their kitchen is chaotic. The mother of three is clearly exhausted. It’s not a big house and the granny lives there too. Bathwater has to be heated on the stovetop and poured into a washtub. There is drying laundry hanging everywhere. They are clearly battling entropy as far as cleanliness is concerned - in every picture someone is washing windows or dishes or children.

Everything I’ve just described to you is subtext I’ve extracted over many years of studying the pictures. The text is a simple riff on the couplet, ‘Here’s a little baby, one-two-three… sits in his cot, what does he see?’


I’ve been plugging A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller so much lately that I’m going to take a more modern and more personal tack here and recommend Jessica Handler’s Invisible Sisters. This is the wrenching story of the life and death of Jessica’s two younger sisters, Susie and Sarah, stricken with ‘diametrically opposed illnesses’ — leukaemia and Kostmann's Syndrome (it's a white blood cell deficit). The nuclear family didn’t survive the blasts. It’s a witty, heartbreaking read from a talented writer who’s keeping alive a family tradition of crystalline prose.

The personal interest I mentioned is that Sarah — the baby of the three sisters and the one with Kostmann’s — was one of my best friends in high school. She died when we were 27. Part of my love for this book is that, 20 years after her death, it gives me a little bit of Sarah back, in a tantalizing filling-in-some-gaps-but-not-others way.


I don’t think I’ve reviewed or recommended Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Listen! The Wind lately. It’s the very first of AML’s books that I ever read and (the genius of Gift from the Sea notwithstanding), I think it’s probably the most masterful. It documents ten days in the middle of an attempted flight across the South Atlantic in the 1930s on a route-finding trip with Charles Lindbergh. Anne was along as the radio operator and co-pilot. They got stuck in the Cape Verde islands because of the wind, and then had to backtrack to Bathurst in Gambia to wait for a favourable wind for the 16-hour-flight to Natal, Brazil. Loneliness and isolation and the desperate need for communication is an underlying theme of this book, and it’s dealt with so gently. Two incidents stand out in my mind — the decoded Morse radio message from the airbase at Porto Praia in the Cape Verde islands, where they’d been stuck the week before, as they pass over on their final trip out — ‘We listen you all time’ (they never heard from them again) - and how, in the morning after a long night of solitary flight while sending Morse messages to a radio operator on the German ship Westfalen, their flypast over the Westfalen the following morning - with the entire crew standing on the deck waving.

Roaring over her, for one second we were in her world. She there, we here; separated from each other by days of slow sea-travel but for this second together, sharing the time, the place…

I held up my arm and waved frantically, conscious of that supreme thrill of communication. It is the most exciting thing in life anyway, whether you find it in a book or in conversation or in the understanding of two minds. But this, the momentary synthesis of two kinds of communication, was almost unbearable in its intensity. All night and all day I had been struggling to speak over a radio. I had been able to contact people only through my fingers, and my ears, like someone who is blind. But now, suddenly, I could see. A veil had dropped away. I could see, face to face. One of those men waving on deck was the radio operator I had been talking to. I raised my arm again — wonderful!

They climb away. She signals to them in Morse, Many thanks all help.

Mainstream Fiction

Probably my favorite ‘adult’ fiction read of the past ten years is Ian McEwan’s Atonement, but one of the also-rans has got to be Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In some very mysterious mystic way this book was written for me. It may be the only book that I ever saw in a bookstore window and walked in and bought just because of the title.

While it is true that half my novel The Lion Hunter and all of The Empty Kingdom are set in ancient Yemen, and also true that the dream of Fishing in the Desert features in the latter, it is not obvious (I don’t believe) that in my books this is a reference to the Grail Legend. But the title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen just screamed ‘Fisher King Parable’ to me and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s about two men whose lives cross - one a British civil servant, one an Arabian prince - who both share a vision of fishing as a means to break down cultural barriers. The prince is convinced that if he seeds the dry wadi valleys of South Arabia with salmon during the rainy season, the fish will run, and warring nations will flock to catch salmon there together. The two men make the dream come true. It doesn’t end well in one sense; it does in another. It’s a goofy, surreal book, driven by the earnest but somewhat cracked characters, and honestly, it is the only book that has ever made me cry over FISH.

I gave it to a dear friend whose brother used to write for one of the big angling magazines under the pseudonym Kingfisher - and he actually recognized obscure references in this book to people he knew.

Graphic Novel

Technically I suppose Literary Life by Posy Simmonds is more of a graphic collection of short stories than a graphic novel, but in many ways it is the bridge leading to her masterpieces Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe. Worth the read if only for the glorious ‘Cinderella,’ where the residents of the retirement home get turned into a collection of tearaway youth, splendidly outfitted in the fashion and accessories (smoking like chimneys) of 65 years ago. And any writers who read it will laugh and cry at the horrible book launches and wasted ink.

…Something a bit more multicultural, since it is World book day, after all

The book is called The Children of Ananse and it’s by Peggy Appiah. It was given to me by an Oxford-raised woman of Indian descent, married to a Jamaican, who happened to be the parents of my best friend when we lived in Jamaica in the 1970s. Ananse is a Jamaican national hero so we were all familiar with him as kids, and this book tells the story of his real Ghanaian roots. It was one of my favorite books as a beginning reader, read and re-read, and it remains pretty clear in my mind. It frames all the standard Ananse tales within a modern story of a child who is a descendant of the first Kwaku Ananse, his strange life in the hidden jungle village where animals can talk, and how he assimilates into modern culture by going to school and learning to read SO THAT, as the headman agrees, he will be able to RECORD the fabulous history of his village. I got all my knowledge of Ashanti culture from this book and made reference to it in a short story published some time ago in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine

You’ll notice I haven’t linked you to the book. It hasn’t got much of an internet footprint, so instead I’ll link you to the author’s Wikipedia entry: meet Peggy Appiah. An English society girl, she married Ghanaian statesman Joe Appiah in 1953. This is the first time I’ve ever found out anything about her and I am overwhelmed by this fabulous woman and her fabulous husband.

Hope some of these are tempting - good luck tracking them down - and happy reading.
ewein2412: (verity text)
6 Feb 2012 Code Name Verity goes OPERATIONAL, so I'm posting a few pertinent Public Service Announcements.


"This bloody radio interview. All lies, lies and damned lies."

I'm going to be on speaking live on Bookcafe, hosted by Clare English, on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, 6 Feb. 2012 at 13.15 GMT. I'm not planning to lie but I MIGHT make a fool of myself. The programme is repeated on Sunday, 12 Feb. 2012 at 15.00 and is also available on Listen Again throughout the week. You can't listen on iPlayer from outside the UK, but I am told by a reliable source that you can download the podcast.

Monday's programme information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bmm32

Podcast downloads: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/bookcafe

Bookcafe home page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0079gb9


"I have told the truth. Isn't that ironic?"

It begins today at the Booktrust website, with me talking about the theme of 'friendship' in CNV. (Oh, how it tickles me to have the most mature and complex book of my 25 year career as a writer be called my "debut book". I only wish I'd made a debut like this. In a blue silk ball gown. Whatever it takes! It is my debut in the UK, at any rate.)


[livejournal.com profile] chachic's Book Nook over at Wordpress isn't officially part of the tour, but she's written a great review and has a fantastic blog. Check out the posts for her Queen's Thief Week celebration of the books of Megan Whalen Turner while you're over there!


"You ignorant quisling b******, I am Scottish."

Yep, it's official... Books for Scotland called me (in a tweet) "American-born Scottish writer Elizabeth Wein." Delightfully, they've chosen CNV as their Children's Choice book for February 2012:



"It is a BRILLIANT photograph - totally convincing."

My friend Helen, aka the Best Roommate Ever, spotted this in an independent bookseller's in Dulwich, South London:


And away we go! Watch this space, because I really really want to make a post about Mark's Year 7 class and their AMAZING BURNS SUPPER last week. At the moment I have rather too many balls in the air to do it justice.
ewein2412: (harriet writing (text))
I have an an essay on disability in the Percy Jackson series up at Smart Pop Books, here:


It'll be there till Tuesday 11 Oct 2011, when it'll revert to excerpt mode. I am feeling smug about having had the foresight to update my Smart Pop bio to include CNV at least a year before I'd sold it.


There is a funny story behind my work for Smart Pop. When Benbella asked me if I'd like to write for them, I chose Percy Jackson because I'd heard rave reviews about The Lightning Thief and was curious. I'd never heard of the other series they invited me to write about, and when I checked it out I decided (with an eyeroll) that I didn't have the strength to be witty and intelligent about a high school vampire love story I was very likely to detest.


From a strictly financial viewpoint, I SO REGRET this decision.
ewein2412: (sheepskin)
I mean, Eagle of the Ninth, the movie.

I think I posted a link about this film when I first heard they were making it. Apparently they changed the name because people thought it was about golf.


For you film/history/sutcliff buffs out there, the wikipedia entry has some interesting factoids about various [in]accuracies... (I especially like the symbolism of the Romans being played by Americans):

Eagle on Wikipedia
ewein2412: (harriet writing (text))
1) Any professional YA authors out there who have the time and energy to write an essay on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and/or Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy?  Borders are commissioning a couple of anthologies of critical essays aimed at young readers.  The deadlines are quite soon (the Riordan essays are due 1 Dec 07); pay is $500 plus royalties for a 3000-5000 word essay.  If you're interested let me know and I'll pass your details on to the Powers That Be.

2) Anyone know of an agent who deals with manga or graphic novels in general?  IT'S FOR A FRIEND, HONEST.  Well actually it's for my husband, whose company is considering turning a game into a graphic novel.

that's it for the moment
ewein2412: (harriet writing (no text))
My aunt gave me a pair of Hee!ies for my birthday. (Best birthday present ever! I wanted them very much.) It is amazing how NOT like skating it is to skate on your heels--I am also amazed that I ever managed to work out how to use them, which involved a lot of being pulled up and down the Promenade on the Deal seafront by my husband and children. Today I seriously brained myself with them for the first time. Skinned knees again at 42!

This is what I did this summer:

1) Flew small planes in NJ/PA/VT and got a US pilot's license. I can now fly planes registered in the US as well as those of 23 European member states. Or something like that.

2) Attended the 20th and final Children's Literature New England (CLNE) institute.

As a direct result of schmoozing at CLNE, I have been asked to speak at Children's Literature Midwest, the infant offspring of Children's Literature New England. If it goes ahead as planned, it will be held sometime next August, possibly in Ohio. The theme is "Conflict and Resolution." I have to come up with a reading list of relevant children's books to talk about. Suggestions are VERY, VERY WELCOME.

On the home front:

1) My grandmother (who is 90, remember?) visited us for 3 weeks in October. We took her to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne and Hadrian's Wall and Dover and the Lake District… everywhere, really. I did not manage to take her flying.

2) The bunny died while we were in the States in July--of old age, apparently, but it was very traumatic for Sara especially. She did such a stellar job of taking care of Bru while he was around that we let her choose a new pet. So now we have Laura [Ingalls Wilder] (….), a black and white female kitten, 11 weeks old.

3) A friend's child (the little brother of Sara's best friend) had a malignant brain tumor "the size of a tennis ball" removed ten days ago. He appears to be making a remarkable recovery, much to everyone's relief, but it has thrown the neighborhood into a state of high-strung emotion.

4) There are BABY DOLPHINS in the Tay. We went to see them on a boat.

Work-related bad news:

Both The Winter Prince and A Coalition of Lions are now officially out of print. The headache I am getting over trying to purchase remaindered copies of Coalition in paperback would make your eyes cross. None of MY children have brain tumors that I know of, so I am mellower about the fantastic administrative snarls that dog my books than I perhaps ought to be.

Work-related good news:

The Lion Hunter is scheduled for publication in summer 2007 (14 June 2007, if the crystal globe that is Amazon.com is to be believed--they also appear to know that it is going to be 208 pages, although we have not finished editing it yet!). The Empty Kingdom is set to follow in spring 2008. Together the books are parts 1 and 2 of a thing called The Mark of Solomon, which in my brain I always refer to as "The Adolescence of Telemakos." "The Mark of Solomon" is probably a better title.

I have seen lovely cover sketches for Lion Hunter, by the fabulous Cliff Nielsen.


A very funny link (ok, my sense of humor is a maybe a little warped). This is what happens when you get Google to translate the entry for "Mordred" on the German Wikipedia site:

In which Plumb Bob is married to Mrs. Morgause, and Guinevere takes Lance Plumb Bob as a lover!


and apologies to all for being such an inconsistent correspondent.
ewein2412: (Default)
From my Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators Newsletter, May-June 2006:

"The children's book department of G.P. Putnam's Sons...on June 1st...will no longer respond to or return an unsolicited submission unless there is interest in publishing it. Submissions that are of interest should have a reply within approximately four months. Accordingly, writers are advised to retain a copy of their manuscript and not to enclose an SASE."

"Dial Books and Philomel Books, two other imprints in the Penguin Young Readers Group, are also now following this same submission policy..."


You thought that manuscript seemed to have dropped into a black hole? Well, NOW IT REALLY HAS. Wait four months and send it somewhere else. At least that's definitive!

I haven't got the WORDS to describe what's wrong with the publishing industry. Who would be a writer.


May. 12th, 2006 12:19 pm
ewein2412: (Default)
Saw the National Theatre of Scotland's co-production with Improbable of The Wolves in the Walls. Yes, it is based, text and set, on the picture book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. It was very good, and the children were riveted; they have been going around all week singing the songs from it, which I find very impressive as I instantly forgot them all.

(My only complaint would be that they maybe chose the wrong Neil Gaiman work to dramatize… there's really only so much s-t-r-e-t-c-c-c-c-h-h-h-h-i-n-g you can do to turn a 32 page picture book into a musical. Actually I think it is a little longer than 32 pages, but it's still got a 32-page picture book's text and plot.)

My recorder group gave a CONCERT! A real public performance (we have done a couple of private performances), in a church with an audience of about 150 people. I suspect it was the first public performance for more than half of us. Thanks to advice from my bass recorder's former owner, I now know how to make it behave itself and produce consistent and lovely sound. When he read my recorder group post here he pointed out that he gave me my bass recorder not because there was anything wrong with it, but because he was downsizing his belongings to fit in a backpack. I have even greater respect for it now (and am waiting for him to ask for it back…)

[livejournal.com profile] katranides asked me the other day how come I hadn't posted here for a while. "Hasn't a bird done something unexpected in the garden that made you stop to think and give you the urge to share the experience?"

Am I really that… ummm… flighty? Or are we all?

Actually I write LJ entries in my head all the time. I wrote one in my head on Monday while I was bicycling (with the recorder group/babysitting circle/badminton/book group people). We have had a couple of weeks of utterly GLORIOUS weather--yesterday it even hit "the sizzling seventies" (I have got an ancient Manchester Guardian clipping in my possession that actually uses this phrase). We cycled past lambs and narcissi and blossoming thorn and sand martins along the Tay, and saw a lapwing and a heron, and at one point my friend Sarah exclaimed, "God, we are SO lucky to live here." And she is right. I saw a GOLDEN EAGLE the other day, on my way to Sunday morning ringing at Dunkeld--and a herd of deer. Seals come up the river sometimes, right into the city of Perth, chasing salmon.

I have been in Scotland 6 years now and I am starting to take it for granted, I think. It really is a lovely place to be.


ewein2412: (Default)

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