Sunday, 25 April 2010

Watch this space on 1st May!

On 1st May there will be a guest post here from Nicola Morgan, whose latest book Wasted is garnering good reviews everywhere online. Nicola is a champion and marathon blogger, who in addition to running the marvellous Help I Need a Publisher blog (link on the right hand side) and the Pen2Publication critiquing site, has started a new blog for her new book: http://www.talkaboutwasted.blogspot.com

In spite of all this time this must take, Nicola is doing various guest blogs as part of a virtual book tour to launch Wasted and, on The Book Maven, she will be talking about points in the year, such as May 1st (or Beltane or Walpurgis Night) when we might realise how superstitious many of us are.

This is very relevant topic in relation to Wasted where hero Jack believes very much in deciding one's fate by the toss of a coin. Most of the time he does this by "making sacrifices" to ward off bad luck.

So don't miss it. Drop by on 1st May. It's a Saturday and I'll post it as soon as I get up. And I won't toss a coin about whether to or not. It would be really bad luck to miss this one.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Nosy Crow goes digital

Nosy Crow is the name of the new children's publishing house set up by Kate Wilson and Camilla Reid. I met Kate in Bologna to talk about the new venture, an ambitious one in the current climate and she was full of enthusiasm for the content of the new list and the innovations they were planning about getting that content to readers.

It was too soon to talk about details then but Nosy Crow have just  appointed a Digital Product Director, Deb Gaffin, who says she's excited to be in at the beginning of a company that's "thinking of digital from the beginning."

She has recently moved to London from New York and has 19 years' experience of interactive media. Nosy Crow hopes to make many of its books available as Apps, something I'm keen to find out about as the new owner of an iPhone.

They've acquired rights to 3 interactive games "with embedded stories" by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson; the first, Animal SnApp: Farm, will be available in September of this year. Also in September will come the first of three inteactive fairy tales: The Three Little Pigs by Edward Bryan.

So watch this space.





You can see why Kate and Camilla were looking so happy at the Book Fair!

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Triumph of Athene



Well the results of my “Favourite Olympians” poll are now in and I asked Lucy Coats to comment on them. Lucy is as much of a mythographer as I am and her books of Greek myths re-told as by the storyteller Atticus are coming out all this year from Orion in a positively Olympian dozen. The first four came out in February and the second four will be out in May. The Greek Beasts and Heroes set will be completed in August. That’s a lot of books and stories in one year.

Here’s a bit about Lucy: She was brought up in Hampshire on a wild strawberry farm, overrun by dogs, pheasants, and wildlife. She also had a pet bantam which rode to school on the back of the car seat. After surviving a boarding school education and a Scottish university degree course in English and Ancient History, Lucy started work as a publisher’s editor, latterly working in New York.
She married Richard in 1989, and retired from publishing to have babies and write. Her first picture book was published in 1992 and in 2004 she was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award. Lucy has now written more than 25 books, including the Greek Beasts and Heroes series, and she blogs at http://scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com, which has just been shortlisted for the Author Blog Awards. She lives with her husband deep in the Northamptonshire countryside, surrounded by cows, sheep, horses, owls, foxes, three lunatic dogs, two wonderful children and a large and demanding garden.


Book Maven: What did you think of the poll results, Lucy?

Lucy Coats: I found the results of the Olympians poll fascinating, and it’s set me thinking about why I like or dislike certain gods and goddesses. Zeus and Hera are bottom of the poll with 1 vote each—and yet they are King and Queen of the gods. Perhaps it’s that aura of untouchable all-powerfulness which people find offputting. Why vote for someone who has it all anyway? And yet, as you said youirself, Mary, they are necessary underpinnings for the whole canon of Greek myth.

Zeus’s serial philandering (morally reprehensible, maybe) has given us both his immortal and demi-god children. Would I truly wish him to be a faithful husband, and thus be without, say, Aphrodite (no lovers or Trojan War stories, then) or Perseus (no Medusa tales) or Heracles (no Tasks)? Hera’s vindictiveness towards Zeus’s conquests (and to his offspring) is unpleasant—but can I say that, in the same situation, I might not have had a vengeful thought or two? Definitely no to both.

BM: I know; it’s like the eternal conundrum of whether writers would have given us such masterpieces if they had lived happier lives. Should we wish that Dickens hadn’t worked in the blacking factory or should we just be grateful for David Copperfield? Any surprises in the votes?

LC: I was surprised that Aphrodite languished beside Hephaestus and Ares until the very last minute. Are we all jealous of her beauty? Or is it perhaps that her meddling in the lives of Paris and Helen—leading to the Trojan War—is unforgiveable? I feel that in that case she was only true to her nature, and really, the whole thing was set off by discontented Eris and her wretched apple anyway. As for Hephaestus, well, I rather like him. At least he got his hands properly dirty with all that smith work—and he had a pretty rotten start in life (Hera again, chucking him down to earth and crippling him). His inventions were amazing—and I’ve always wanted one of his trundling magical food trolleys. Ares—well, personally I would have put him lowest of the low. Apart from the problem I have with war anyway, he was a coward who whimpered with fear when he had even the smallest wound. If you’re going to set heroes fighting—let alone the rank and file troops—then at least have the decency to set them a heroic example.

BM: So those were the ones with the fewest votes. What about the good solid middle-rankers?

LC: Demeter, Apollo and Hermes are the mid-rankers. Demeter lost her daughter—as a mother I have to sympathise with that, and as one who suffers with depression, I can understand that long slide into a cheerless winter. As a gardener and cook I also identify with her as goddess of plenty. I am subliminally grateful to her every time I pick a bean or a tomato—or currently my exquisite purple sprouting broccoli.
The thing I find hardest to stomach about Apollo is his murder of the original priestesses of Delphi, and his wholesale stealing of their cult. Because that’s what the ‘Arrows of the Sun’ story is all about. I don’t like it when matriarchal societies are trampled—that’s the feminist in me coming out. Hermes was the one I voted for. It’s that pure cheekiness and effrontery about him which I love—and the story where he steals Apollo’s cows when he is only a baby makes me laugh every time. I just think he’d be the most fun to be with—but then I’ve always been on the side of the bad boys and the rebels!

BM: I love that: the rebel who grows broccoli! Now what about winners?

LC: The top four are a less surprising mix, though I would not necessarily have guessed that Poseidon would be up there. He was beastly to Odysseus because of Troy, but really, it wasn’t just Odysseus who brought about its downfall. I’ve always thought that Poseidon was over harsh in that particular case. I am also scared of the sea—I don’t want to go out further than I can touch—so he was never going to be my favourite.

BM: You learn on sorts of things in the blogosphere! So the intrepid Lucy is scared of deep water. Me, I have vertigo, so would not do well on Olympus.

LC: I should be fond of Dionysus—he invented red wine, which is a thing without which I would find life a lot less pleasurable. But somehow all those maenads put me off. I’ve just read Philip Womack’s The Liberators which brings them rather terrifyingly into the modern world, and I hate what they did to poor Orpheus in Dionysus’s name—hadn’t the man suffered enough already?

BM: You know in the end I voted for Dionysus, even though he did get 8 other votes. I thought no-one would choose him and I have a soft spot for him because he rescued Ariadne after Theseus was so vile to her.

LC: Being subject to the moon as all women are gives second-placed Artemis a special spot in my heart. She is mystery incarnate, the virgin huntress, and in her are echoed Kerridwen and Astarte and all the other goddesses of the night. Pure, simple, direct—and I have no problem with her hunting, which seems to me to be a responsible act and not at all a thing of bloodlust and savagery. Apologies to you as a vegetarian here, Mary, but I think that if we carnivores took the same responsibility for our food today—acknowledged, honoured and gave thanks that a breathing creature has given its life to feed us—then there might be a lot less cruelty to and ignorance about animals in the world. I also like the eternal rebirth of Artemis’s quarry—there is something very beautiful to me in the stories where, at that awful moment of the arrow in the throat, the silver spirit of the stag rises up and lives again.

BM: I love Artemis too and nearly voted for her. I question slightly that “has given its life,” though I think “has had its life taken away” would be more accurate, unless ione is thinking of the obliging cow in The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, but I take your point.

And now, big drum roll ... the winner!

LC: So, finally, to Athene, whom everyone apparently loves. I was torn, I must confess, between her and Hermes. I do find it interesting that the top two are virgin goddesses. What does that say about us? Do we like the ‘good girls’ better than the ‘good-time girls’? As a writer, of course, the goddess of wisdom is always going to be high up in my pantheon. But what I really like about Athene is her calm. She is very restful in my opinion—which the quicksilver, darting Artemis is not. I feel that she is a goddess I could sit down and have a long conversation with—that she could be a friend.

BM: So that’s an invitation to Athene to pop round for a cup of coffee with us and one of Lucy’s famous raspberry and cream shortbreads. She can prop her spear in my umbrella stand.

LC: In the end, what I love about all the Greek gods is, paradoxically, their humanity. The Olympian stage they act on is bigger and more magical than our own, but their emotional reactions to events are entirely recognisable to me. They are ourselves, writ large on the heavens.

BM: Thanks Lucy, for dropping by and sharing your insights with us.

Lucy's website is at http://www.lucycoats.com
Lucy blogs at http://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com and sometimes at http://www.awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com
Lucy's Facebook Fanpage is at http://tinyurl.com/lucycoatsfacebook
Lucy's Twitter page is at http://www.twitter.com/lucycoats

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Ye gods!



I went to see Clash of the Titans yesterday, in 3D - the remake of the 1981 staple of Sunday afternoon TV re-runs, with Laurence Olivier and Tim Pigott-Smith. And bowled over I was not. Where to begin?

For a start it is not a clash of Titans, any more than the first film was - more of a boundary dispute between Olympians. It is mainly about Perseus, a demi-god or hero whose story has many variants. This however did not count as one of them. You can't say just because it's mythology anything goes. There are some changes which maybe you can justify because of the demands of the medium but some are just wrong.

For example, Perseus was the son of Danae and Zeus. Fine. So far so good. But the god did not come to her in the likeness of her husband Acrisius. Firstly because Acrisius was her FATHER (she did not have a husband)and secondly because Zeus CAME TO HER AS A SHOWER OF GOLD!

Sorry to shout, but if you change that, you miss firstly one of the most beautiful images in all mythology and secondly will not understand one of the most marvellous lines in all English poetry - Tennyson's "Now lies the earth all Danae to the stars." And that really matters to me.

OK, calm down and breathe.

In the film Perseus was rescued as a baby by a fisherman called Spyros. I can live with that even though in the sources he was Dictys. I can just imagine the movie mogul in Hollywood saying "Sounds to much like a dick - lets change it to some other Greek-sounding name - I know, how about Spiro or something?" as he chomped on his cigar.

Danae is dead in the film - OK, can live with that too. Parents can clog up the action. But the adult Perseus is apparently an American soldier with a buzzcut. In fact, he is Sam Worthington AGAIN, he of the Dances with Smurfs movie, Avatar (which I enjoyed far more). Is he going to be there every time I don those special glasses?

A less charismatic actor I have yet to see - he didn't even turn blue and have cat ears in this one. The introduction of the Kraken, a Norwegian myth, was there in the '81 movie so can't be blamed on the new script, but to have it be a child of Hades "born of his flesh"? Say what? In the film it is the sea-monster who is going to eat Andromeda, whom (SPOILER alert!) Perseus does not wed in this version because he wants to go off and prove himself a man or something.

This he does with the completely delicious Gemma Atherton playing an immortal called Io. Why, FFS? I mean why give her the name of the woman who was turned into a white cow? She says herself that she was being propositioned by a god who, when she rebuffed him, cursed her with agelessness. Don't know who that was but it sure wasn't poor old bewitched and be-uddered Io. Why didn't Mr Movie Mogul ask for her to be given a all-purpose Greek-sounding name? Chloe, say, or Zoe?

I can understand wanting to give Pegasus to Perseus to help him complete his mission even though in fact (yes fact even though it's a myth) what he was given was winged sandals and Pegasus didn't appear till after he had killed Medusa. (Pegasus springing from her neck after her head was severed). It makes a better image to have Perseus ride through the air on a winged horse.

But it creates confusion - it was Bellerophon who was the hero who rode Pegasus to slay another monster, the chimaera.

What about the stunning visuals? you ask. Well, actually, meh. The howdahs on the giant scorpions were surely something picked up from Weta Workshop's dustbins after Peter Jackson's oliphaunts (mumakil) had finished with them?

The many and tedious fight sequences were confused blurs of slash and kill, with no tension, suspense or finesse. The ?priest/rabble-rouser on Argos seemed to have wandered in from the set of The Life of Brian, cockney accent and all.

It really was dire. But the woeful miscasting of Sam Worthington as Perseus was what made it GI meets CGI.

If kids are going to get a revival of interest in Greek mythology, which is what Percy Jackson and this seem to be about and why we are having a "favourite Olympian" poll here at the Book Maven, please let's give them something better than this travesty.

There is only one joke. At least the earlier version gave you something to laugh at, even it was only the shaky sets.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Who is your favourite Olympian?



We're talking Greek gods and goddesses here, not athletes. Above if I have done this right is a poll. You have to choose just one. Lucy Coats will be here later in the month to talk about the poll results, her own favourites and why the Greek gods are back with a vengeance.

So get voting!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Publication day +1





I almost forgot that yesterday was also a publication day for me, in all the excitement about the Book Maven birthday bash. The Great Big Book of Families was published by Janetta Otter-Barry Books, a new imprint of Frances Lincoln. I've had the foreign editions (now up to 12)for ages and we had a very nice launch at the fair (see Bookbrunch http://tinyurl.com/bqtlml and the Bookseller http://bit.ly/9TCjj7). So I suppose it seemed as if it was already out.

And while I'm being forgetful, there was Stravaganza: City of Ships too on 1st March. It's the fifth book in the sequence and has already had a nice offer from Holland.

There now, I shall stop blowing my trumpet for this year! No more new titles apart from paperbacks and reprints, so it will be October next year before I post another cover and that will be my David, the novel about Michelangelo sculpting the statue.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Party!
















Well, we're all set up here and ready to welcome you to the Book Maven's 1st birthday party, the only place in town where you can eat delicious snacks without piling on calories and drink lots of prosecco without losing your licence.

I'll be here all day and evening so just drop by and say high.

The speech

I won't thank everyone I've ever known but just say that I started the Book Maven blog when I handed over the magazine Armadillo to a new editor after running it for ten years. Rhiannon Lassiter was first my Quark-editor and then my online editor when we moved from paper copies to the Internet.

I wanted to stay involved with trends in children's publishing and also to be able to read the latest books, preferably before publication. But as you know, as Maven I don't just do reviews. The first year has been been bracketed by two trips to the Bologna Book Fair, which gives good opportunities for Mavening - scouting almost.

So that's it. Enjoy the party, spread the word, and if you feel like giving a birthday present, become a Follower!

(My publishers have kindly nominated me for a Blog award and want me to encourage you to vote here:
http://tinyurl.com/yfnpjc4 - there are prizes to be won)