Lemons in foreign languages, and encouraging teens to write bad language

I have been in full-on ‘Get Through To Do List’ mode recently! Latest crucial things have been edits on Electrigirl 2 (Electrigirl and the Deadly Swarm, out next Aug) and trying to come up with an idea for 5-7 year-olds as I’d been asked to pitch for a specific range by a publisher. Also I made a speech at Burford School’s Annual Charter Day (senior prizegiving, to me and you) which went really well, and I ran some school workshops for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival with my good friend John Dougherty.

Last week was quite busy and tiring, so I was really over the moon to get some great news on Friday afternoon – A LIBRARY OF LEMONS had gone to auction in Germany! For those who go, ‘huh?’ at this, let me explain. ALOL is being published by Piccadilly Press next May. They have world rights to the text, which means that they can publish it here in the UK and also sell it to publishers in other countries to be translated. On Friday, three German publishers bid against each other in an auction because they all wanted the book so much! I can’t tell you how exciting it was, or how thrilled I was. ALOL has been a very difficult book to get right, and there were times that I really wasn’t sure I’d ever manage to satisfy my agent or my editors!

I was so, so delighted by the outcome of the auction that on Saturday I went into Oxford to Blackwells bookshop and bought twelve books for disadvantaged children on their Giving Tree. The Giving Tree makes me cry just thinking about it. It’s very simple – kids in care, or in poverty, those who are being supported by charities like Barnados. These kids might not get any presents this year. But you can buy them a book, which might actually (given then stats) be the first book they’ve ever owned.

Blackwells has a Christmas tree set up in the store, decorated with red tags. Each tag represents a child. They say things like, ‘9 year old boy likes books about space’ or ‘2 year old girl would like a sticker book’. Last year I helped to launch the Giving Tree, and I had to limit myself severely to buying four books. I wanted to buy a book for every child on the tree, but an author’s earnings really don’t stretch to that… However, the German deal means I have some money coming to me that I didn’t expect, and so what better way to spend it than to buy books for kids who don’t have any?

When I’d spent a lot of money on books, I went to the shoe shop and bought something for myself too, to celebrate. I’ve been hankering after these for a while…aren’t they beautiful?

Wonder Woman onverses!
Wonder Woman converses!

And then on Sunday I did something completely different again. This is my third appearance at Banbury Literary Live, the lit festival held at the North Oxfordshire Academy in Banbury. It’s a brilliant concept – you buy one ticket for the whole day and go to whichever events take your fancy. Such a good way of running a one-day festival! This year the organisers had asked me to run a workshop for teenagers as my alter ego Joanna Kenrick. I took along copies of Red Tears and Screwed (my teenage novels for Faber, now, sadly, out of print, but I’m hoping to release them as ebooks soon) and encouraged them to write a scene that felt REAL and covered at least one issue eg depression, self-harm, violence, pornography, gender confusion, sexuality etc. I had a small audience but goodness me, they were BRILLIANT. Got straight down to writing – none of this, ‘I don’t know what to write’ business that I usually get from kids in writing workshops. I said they could put in as many swear words as they liked, or as much violence or sex – and it was hard to STOP them writing! Two of them even volunteered to read out their work at the end, which was incredibly brave of them. Their pieces were really powerful, and I think everyone there was so impressed.

It made me wish I did more workshops like that, with older teens. This is something that’s hard to do in schools because from the age of 14, students are locked into a severely restrictive timetable. Such a shame, because those young people had talent and ideas and more than that – a desire to write.

Thanks to the organisers of Banbury Literary Live for inviting me along again, and I look forward to next year!

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