Sunday, 29 June 2008

Moving forward

The w-i-p moves on apace. You may have noticed I have revised the word total from 120,000 to 110,000. Now I am closer to the end and can see more clearly the content of the coming chapters, I have been able to make a more accurate assessment of length. In addition, I am writing more tightly at present. Perhaps because the end is in sight I am chucking more ballast over the side; I might even be getting better at the job the more I do it.

Mind you, there is still a great deal to do and plenty more research needs to be done. It's a hard life.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

What a week

You can tell how exciting my life is when a trip to the cinema is an event. Round here it is. A sixty mile round trip, to start with. Then a small fortune to get in. I was going with Barbara (her birthday treat) to see Prince Caspian.

Thank you Odeon cinemas for screwing that up. The volume was so loud, and the bass frequencies so intense, we didn't last beyond the third trailer. Six minutes to give me a migraine and induce a panic attack. For goodness sake people. That level of noise, those frequencies, are used as a means of torture. What makes you think we want to sit through a couple of hours of it on a voluntary basis? God knows what it does to kids' ears.

Then I discover today (shows how in touch I am with events) that Michael de Larrabeiti died on 18 April. How could I have missed that? The man was a genius, a unique voice, and author of three of the best kids books ever written. Bless you. They can't catch you now. Not ever.

Friday, 20 June 2008

On reflection

Not only has the word cloud sparked new ideas, it made me do some research. 'Back' features so prominently because it is the 81st most used word in the English language. Given that the word cloud creator strips out commonly used words (perhaps the top 50? - must find out), it is no surprise that 'back' is there. Of course, I should have known this. I trained to be a teacher. I trained how to teach youngsters to read. My excuse is that it was a long time ago. A very long time ago.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Word cloud

I was directed to a wonderful site today, which allows you to create word clouds. Here is my work in progress. I can see one word that's going to see the red pen come re-write time.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Minor celebration

Well, I've just passed the two-thirds mark of the w-i-p. Charlie is pleased with the progress and, I have to say, I am as well. No time to rest on any laurels, however. Chapter 37 beckons.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Amazon. Bullies.

I see Amazon is at it again.

Instead of ranting I have, with permission, copied the following from the lovely Clare, which expresses the whole thing succinctly and gives us all something we can do to make our feelings known.

"The suggestion has been made that bloggers could stand together and campaign over the issue of Amazon's dodgy commercial tactics. Scroll to the bottom of this post for things you might be able to do. Meanwhile here's an update on the Amazon thing (full details here:

Amazon have removed Pay Now and Pre-Order buttons from selected titles published by Hachette Livre, in an attempt to force the publisher to sell stock to Amazon at even lower rates than they already do. They've also removed HL stock from Recommended Reads lists and various other (obviously not as impartial as you might think) sections of the site.

Hachette Livre is a large umbrella organisation, which encompasses the following publishers:
Little, Brown Book Group (includes Abacus, Virago, Sphere, Piatkus, Orbit, Atom)
Orion Publishing Group (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Gollancz)
Headline Publishing Group
Hodder & Stoughton (includes Sceptre)
Hachette Children's Books (includes Franklin Watts, Orchard, Hodder, Wayland)
Hodder Education Group
John Murray
Octopus Publishing Group (includes Bounty, Cassell, Conran Octopus, Hamlyn, Gaia, Mitchell Beazley, Miller, Philips)
They also have subsidiaries in India, Aus, NZ...

This isn't the first time Amazon has used this tactic. Earlier this year removed Buy buttons from selected books of publishers who refused to switch their Print-on-demand publishing to Amazon's newly bought POD company (see Bookseller story here: They really are bullies.

Amazon and the supermarkets have consistently been putting the squeeze on publishers in this way, making it harder and harder for independent publishers to operate, not to mention small bookshops (who don't have the same muscle and can't compete). The ultimate losers are the authors, who get a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. When books are sold at a discount, the author gets significantly less than that (percentages vary according to contract, but they're typically less than 10% of cover price).

Things you can do to help:
Contact Amazon (
Copy this post, or write your own, on your blog/website/via email
Boycott Amazon (alternative book sources:,,,,, actual physical bookshops, or where possible buy through authors' and publishers' own websites).
Write to newspapers
Contact the competition commission (email:"

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Publishing has enough problems, you would have thought, without creating one of its very own. But, yes, they have gone and done it. Age-banding of books. This is a half-arsed idea of truly monumental proportions. Quite aside from all the well-rehearsed arguments against it, some of which can be found at No To Age Banding, it demonstrates how little publishers seem to understand about their products and the people who buy them.

And where did such an idea come from? Who sat down and thought this one up? Who sold it to publishers? I really think we should be told. I would love to know the thinking behind it, because it has me stumped. I used to teach English. Got good marks at college and spent a lot of time working with children of all ages and abilities. Confident readers would pick up anything and try it. If they enjoyed it they would look for more like that. If not they would look elsewhere. Age banding would be wasted on them. Those with less confidence in their ability have a twofold problem. They need books that are suitable to their reading ability. They also need books with content relevant to their age and experience of life. These books exist (although probably not in enough numbers), but can you imagine giving a fifteen year old boy with a reading age of seven a book that is age-banded? It would be hard enough getting someone like that in the same room as a book in the first place. Add this stigma and you have lost them forever.

This is a crime. Nobody in the UK should be leaving primary education without have a reading age the same as their physical age. Bugger the fancy curriculum, the quart squeezed into the proverbial pint pot. They should be able to read fluently. Write cogently and creatively. Be numerate. Be able to converse in more than grunt and ‘yer-knows’. The rest is dressing, because without those the rest cannot be achieved.

Publishers should be assisting in this, producing quality books for all ages and abilities in cheap editions – trusting that teachers (and parents) will teach children to read but also enthuse them to explore the world of books. They shouldn’t be throwing vast sums of money away chasing the next big publishing phenomenon. They should be investing in their own future and the future of authors. They won’t do that but throwing up further barriers to reading for those who need most encouragement.

Age-banding does not make economic sense from a publishing point of view. Well, let us put it this way. It doesn’t make long term economic sense. But I suspect this has a lot to do with short term economics. That is, I believe it is driven by a relatively new market for books – supermarkets. There are already instances of supermarkets dictating to publishers, not just in terms of discount, but also in the design and content of books. I wonder if they have not also had a hand in this, suggesting that they want children’s books age-banded to make life easier for their customers. A bookshop will have a member of staff who can be asked about whether a book would be suitable for a particular child – although goodness alone knows why (a) any adults don’t do a bit of basic research and (b) why children aren’t being allowed to choose.

I hope it isn’t the case that the sticky fingerprints on this are those of the supermarkets. If they are, it is yet more craven behaviour by publishers. Either way, I hope that publishers have the sense to drop the idea, show a little backbone, and start taking back control of the market.