Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Check out your writing style

Cory Doctorow
If I had £1 for every new writing student who tells me they want to be the next JK Rowling, I'd have finished the house renovations long ago and be basking under a Seychelles sun. The basis of creativity is originality and who would want to be the second anything? Then I fell on http://www.iwl.me/ and curiosity took over. I Write Like... tells you whose writing yours resembles and I just couldn't resist it could I? (Please God it's not JK Rowling, I thought.) I pasted in a few paragraphs of prose, pressed Analyse and hey presto, my writing most resembles the style of David Foster Wallace. Well...that isn't so bad; David Ullin, book editor of The Los Angeles Times dubbed him 'one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years' and his great 1996 novel, Infinite Jest was included in Time magazine's All-Time List of 100 Greatest Novels (1923-2006). (Info from Wikipedia, what would I do without it?) Sadly, the author came to a tragic end two years later so I had another go with a different couple of paragraphs and hey presto for the second time, my writing emerged in the style of Cory Doctorow. OK, I buy that, publishers please note.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Special Days and Writing

We have special days for all sorts of things now, including Talk Like A Pirate Day (19 September), World Frog Day (20 March), Towel Day (25 May) and the one I heartily approve of - International Chocolate Day (13 September) so it's good to know that schools are devoting a special day to celebrate writing. Everybody Writes Day takes place this year on Thursday, 21 October when primary and secondary schools leave off the curriculum to indulge in writing activities of one sort or another. Everyone has to participate, not just the pupils and staff but site manager, catering staff and parent volunteers too. This is a Booktrust project (Booktrust, for those who don't know, is an independent national charity based in London for the promotion of reading for pleasure) in partnership with The National Literacy Trust (also a London-based indy charity that changes lives through literacy). http://www.booktrust.org.uk/ and http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/

Planning your own Everybody Writes Day

You can begin planning your own day by logging onto the site at http://www.everybodywrites.org.uk/ and downloading some PDFs of guides for both primary and secondary schools or ask for hard copies. You can also download the logo and find some advice on publicising your Day. If you want to know what schools have done in the past, watch a video clip of Macaulay Primary School's Everybody Writes Day (I tried to download it but you can't be good at everything) or check on activities in other schools suggested on the site. Your project could involve staging an alien spaceship crash landing in the playground to trigger a school newspaper project, a series of after-school workshops for parents and children to write a family history, or even working with a graphic designer and your local authority to make some leaflets promoting recycling to teenagers. Imagination is everything in the writing world and without that writers would have nothing to write about.

The University of Sheffield evaluated Everything Writes in 2009 to see what effect it had on pupils' attitudes to writing and on their standard of work. The report can be downloaded from www.everybodywrites.org.uk/download.php?file=/downloads/EW_final_evaluation_2009.pdf  Their research found that the project had a positive impact on:
  • pupils, teachers and schools;
  • boys' attitudes to writing;
  • children who are reluctant writers and those at risk of underachieving.
Other literary days worth noting in the diary:
  • World Literary Day (8 January)
  • World Book Day (14 March)
  • International Children's Book Day (2 April)
  • International Special Librarian's Day (13 April)
  • International Creativity and Innovation Day (21 April)
  • World Copyright Day (23 April)
  • World Press Freedom Day (3 May) and
  • International Literacy Day (8 September)
Maybe someone will think about launching an International Blogging (or Stop Blogging) Day soon...or even a Month - ever heard of Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month? I'll stop now before it becomes obsessive.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Boots on the Ground by Dusk - tribute to Pat Tillman

Boots on the Ground by Dusk is a poignant, impassioned tribute to former professional footballer, Pat Tillman from his mother, Mary Tillman who wrote it along with journalist Narda Zacchino. A relentless seeker of truth, Mary obsessively overturned every stone to see what would crawl out after her son's death in Afghanistan two years after he gave up the job he loved to join the US Army with his brother. Pat sadly lost his life in more than suspicious circumstances during an enemy ambush. She unearthed more questions than answers when she was told Pat had died by friendly fire. Did he fall or was he pushed? The Tillman story eventually made headlines in the USA when she uncovered what the White House and Pentagon were concealing. A film documentary about Pat's life and death by director Amir Bar-Lev is doing the rounds too.

It's a powerful read when you get to the nub but some of the earlier account is repetitive and it doesn't really get going with the investigation in earnest until three quarters of the way through. From then, the shocking revelations can't fail to have their effect. The earlier part was Mary's more personal tribute to her son, dipping in and out of anecdotal information about his childhood and how he progressed to footballer and into the army, some of it necessary to the development of the plot but it lost a bit of the bite by beginning at the beginning and not hooking me with a more immediate and exciting opening.

Learn more at http://www.bootsonthegroundbydusk.com/ The Pat Tillman Foundation has been set up to support people who have left the the army and are following other courses into new careers. Mary Tillman is donating all the profits to the Foundation and the publishers are giving a $1 donation for every Tillman book they sell. To buy the book, contact www.blurb.com/bookstall/detail/1500065

Monday, 20 September 2010

ADHD Awareness Week and where to find information

A cute new idea for helping children understand where they're coming from has been launched in time for ADHD Awareness Week - that's this week, 19-25 September. It's all about raising awareness of this confusing condition and it's aimed at reaching children themselves. While parents and other adults find it hard enough to comprehend Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with all its co-morbid connections and the accusations flying around that they don't know how to bring up their children, ADHD children themselves must be even more in the dark about what's wrong with their 'norm'.

What's Up With Astra?

Medikidz explain ADHD

Now Medikidz, who publish a range of graphic novels to explain childhood illness imaginatively in comic form, have come up with a great ADHD comic book, beautifully produced in bright primary colours to explain ADHD to the kids that suffer from it. It's authored by Dr Kim Chilman-Blair and Marvel Comics expert, John Taddeo, who contributed to the drawings; and it's peer reviewed by Professor Peter D Hill. In it, Medikidz, a team of five super-heroes from planet Mediland are on a mission to explain clearly the medical background to ADHD; each of them is an expert on a different part of the body. I found it great fun and enjoyed reading it - it's a lot clearer than some of the ADHD websites I've come across so maybe adults should read it too. It explains how the brain works in the case of ADHD sufferers and outlines the main symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Where we parted company was the recommendation of drugs as the main antidote, followed by therapy and that side effects were mild. I wouldn't want my child to be pumped full of chemicals, certainly not in the long term, if other solutions were out there, not to mention the millions, yes the steadily risiing millions of £s these stimulants cost the NHS each year. I wondered if Medikidz was backed by a drugs company as we see their adverts so often on school wall charts and info packs under the guise of educational resources but it seems the series is put together by a medical team with a bright idea. However, in the UK, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines stress that medication should be used in extreme cases only and that side effects should be monitored regularly as some can be more severe than others. A good site to check out is http://www.handle.org/ based in the USA where alternative drug-free methods are used to help control ADHD symptoms with a high success rate. Dr Chilman-Blair said: 'There is a great amount of confusion about what ADHD is and why it occurs and while this information is often explained to parents, the children themselves are often overlooked.' Log on to http://www.medikidz.com/ to find out more and buy a copy of the book (or get it from http://www.amazon.co.uk/).

ADHD: The Essential Guide

by Diane Paul

While we're on the subject of ADHD information and it's ADHD Awareness Week, I might as well throw in a plug for my own book, launched at the end of 2008. This is a guide for parents and carers of ADHD children and it pulls together all the disparate info parents need in one place. This includes ADHD's definition, the signs and symptoms, causes, what parents should do, the drugs controversy, talking and alternative therapies, nutrition, support from schools and families and transition to adulthood as yes, it may get less of a nuisance but it doesn't necessarily go away. There's a big help list so you can find all the organisations to contact and a long list of recommended books and research material. It can be obtained from bookshops, amazon and the publisher at http://www.need2knowbooks.co.uk/

Seven Myths about ADHD Debunked

You can download a free version of the Seven Myths and full explanations from www.additudemag.com/resources/printables.html What are they? I'll give you a clue:
  • 1: ADHD isn't a proper medical disorder
  • 2: ADHD children are unfairly advantaged because they're given special considerations
  • 3: ADHD children will outgrow their condition
  • 4: ADHD is for boys only
  • 5: ADHD is about bad parenting
  • 6: ADHD children on medication can become drug addicts later
  • 7: ADHD sufferers are just stupid or lazy and never make anything of their lives

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Children's Bookshow tour

Children's Laureate Michael Rosen
 My earlier children's post on reading has aroused more interest than any other, so you might like to know that The Children's Bookshow is going on tour beginning on 22 September at the Oxford Playhouse. This is an annual event designed to coincide with Children's Book Week and the idea is to introduce children to the top authors, illustrators, storytellers and poets to inspire them to foster a lasting love of books. The tour was launched in 2003 to celebrate books and authors featured in Simply the Best Books for Children, published by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and it has grown from there. During the next two months, it will visit 17 theatres and is expected to attract thousands of children. At each venue, an author will take the stage for an hour and enthrall children with their storytelling. At Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, for example, Children's Laureate Michael Rosen will be centre stage on Thursday 21 October at 10.30am. Schools can hold free workshops attended by an author or illustrator too, giving the pupils a chance to work on their own writing and receive a published book. Promoting books to children from an early age in this way is a great idea and let's hope future generations who've had this experience will  help to ensure that book publishing and reading continue, given that the book world is experiencing so many threats of annihilation from new technology, lack of funding and other drawbacks.

Call 07789 853142 or email thechildrensbookshow@gmail.com for tickets for Michael Rosen's performance and the other venues across the country. You could claim a free school workshop with one of the authors. Visit Michael's website at http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/ to read more about his writing. The Children's Bookshow can be contacted at 9a Peploe Road, London NW6 6EB or phone Kate Tull 07740 256330 or Sian Hardy 07789 853142, email as above, website http://www.thechildrensbookshow.com/

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Read and Write Fest in Sheffield

A few weeks ago, I trained it to Sheffield and walked straight into a wonderland of water fountains as I left the station. I don't hear a lot about Sheffield, living in Manchester but I didn't imagine it would sweep me off my feet the moment I left the station. On my right gleamed a huge metal water wall which accompanied me all the way down to the road and put me in a good mood. Clever. I wished the boffins at Manchester's Piccadilly Station would come up with something as creative, inspiring, innovative and welcoming to visitors after a long train journey. I didn't see a great deal more of Sheffield as I was heading for a meeting opposite the station for creative writing tutors of the Open College of the Arts and remained there all day but I'm assured the city centre is just as original.

Off the Shelf

So I lift my hat (or would do if I could find one to fit my little head) once again to their annual writing and reading festival, Off the Shelf which happens this year from 9-30 October all over Sheffield. The activities they've put together are too numerous to go into in this small space but it's worth sending for a brochure to see what's on among the author visits, workshops, poetry, storytelling, talks, exhibitions, competitions and more...whew, I'm fair out of breath now. You can get one by emailing offtheshelf@sheffield.gov.uk or phone 0114 273 4400 or you can download one from the Off the Shelf website.

What's On?

Let's have a cherry pick..
  • Crime writer Val McDermid discusses her latest novel Trick of the Dark set in Oxford's colleges on 9 October at the Showroom Cinema;
  • Jenny Eclair is at the Pennine Theatre on 13 October with her new book, Chin Up Britain! based on her successful stage show Grumpy Old Women;
  • an interesting event at the Sheffield City Hall Ballroom on 27 October with Manchester Camerata, is themed around 'letters'. 'The Yiddishbukk by Osvaldo Golijov was written in 1992 based on remnants of verses quoted in a letter from Kafka to Milena. The music commemorates three children interned by the Nazis, the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leonard Bernstein. An extract from The Diary of Anne Frank will be included';
  • Alastair Campbell will be at The Octagon on 28 October reading from his political memoirs Prelude to Power, answering questions and explaining why, being a Yorkshireman, he supports Burnley FC;
  • You can attend a first rate Masterclass with poet John McAuliffe on 24 October;
  • Or attend Write Down Your Street Free Workshops working with professionals, creating your own story or poem saying what's good about where you live; free writing workshops go on until February all over the city ending with a showcase, open mic and exhibition of work;
  • Finally, as I've no more space, Sheffield Readers' Day 2010 is worth attending. It takes place in the Town Hall with special guest, Jack Sheffield and books offered by Bloomsbury, so this sounds like the big one. The authors will all be there: Howard Jacobson, just short listed for the 2010 Man Booker with The Finkler Question; Jane Rusbridge with her first novel, Devil's Music; Anne Zouroudi, a local writer with The Lady of Sorrows, Louise Levene, the Sunday Telegraph critic and Radio 4 presenter introducing her first novel, A Vision of Loveliness and Marika Cobbold, Swedish author with Aphrodite's Workshop for Reluctant Lovers, love, angst and divine intervention and we all need a bit of that.

You can follow the festival on Facebook - Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading,
also on Twitter - otsfestival or checkout the website on http://www.offtheshelf.org.uk/

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Puss in Books

Superpuss Bootsy Adelman
Harry the Cat
'Oprah Schmopra'
Washington superpuss, Bootsy Adelman thinks she's a cat above the rest when it comes to celebrity status. For Bootsy has been featured in a book along with her person, PR supremo Marc Adelman; and her English cousin, Harry the Cat from Manchester (aged 20) is quietly gnashing his teeth - at least, the ones he has left. So what's all this about? When Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former US Democratic Senator John Edwards wrote her best-selling book, Saving Graces (Broadway Books 2006), she included Bootsy among the many stories she told about her experiences on the campaign trail with John, who was the VP nominee with John Kerry in 2004. Said Marc, who worked very closely with the couple from 2002-05, 'I used to bring Bootsy up to the Edwards' children all the time, so we were both mentioned in the book. It was a New York Times best seller and when Oprah had Elizabeth on the show, she told her that she'd read every word of it.' So Oprah knows about Bootsy too huh? Harry the Cat is now gnawing his left paw. Elizabeth's second book, Resilience (Broadway Books 2009) was also a best seller and she's become a high profile speaker with the media in her own right. Saving Graces describes her life growing up in a military family; her years as a mother, when she had a child every decade from the 1970s to the 2000s; the tragic death of her teenage son Wade in 1996; her support of her husbands' campaigns for Senate, the Presidency and Vice Presidency and her fight with breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2004. What's significant is the value of support she received from the people around her in the community and the strength she drew from strangers. Think about that, Harry!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Blair versus Brown

Predictably, given the media hype, Tony Blair's memoirs, A Journey are outstripping sales of some of the top fiction blockbusters written by authors like Dan Brown and JK Rowling, according to Waterstone's and it's already tops at Amazon.co.uk. Sales have apparently left Lord Mandelson's book, The Third Man standing. The profits from the book are being donated to the Royal British Legion for a new sports centre for injured troops. We won't go into that...but much of the gories have been extracted from the text by the media already, including Mr Blair's drinking habits and his tottering relationship with Gordon Brown, so as this looks like another political rubber-necking exercise for the curious, I'll give it a miss. What does interest me now that I've mentioned author Dan Brown, is The Daily Telegraph's article on Oxfam's most received and best selling books list where Brown's (not Gordon's) books are top of the most donated and he is their 10th best-selling author, reputed to be the highest paid author in the world (although the charity's best-seller is Ian Rankin). Sorry? I'll just check that. I'm aware the Da Vinci Code sold phenominally well at 81 million copies worldwide so when did quality of writing cease taking precedence over media hype? Some popular authors don't write that well, even with the help of editors but they are often great storytellers. (I have names.) Having read the controversial book, (Brown's, not Blair's) I hoped that creative writing students would avert their eyes and look for a more instructive example of how to structure a novel, create a convincing plot that you couldn't drive an amphibian truck through, believable characters who you could root for and prose worthy of the legacy left by Dickens and Austen. Why am I teaching people how to write?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows

The originator of this book, Mary Ann Shaffer, from West Virginia became fascinated with the island of Guernsey when in London in 1980. She flew there and, while stranded by a fog, she found a book to read called Jersey Under the Jack-Boot. Years later, she decided to write a book about Guernsey under the jack-boot and its repercussions on the islanders' lives immediately after the war. Sadly, Mary Ann died in 2008 but before she did and knowing the book had been sold worldwide, she asked her niece, Annie Barrows to help her finish it. It's a light-hearted little confection, written in letter form, something that I normally find hard to digest. However, my irritation at the flurry of letters back and forth between the protagonist, Juliet, her publisher and the disparate group of islanders, who reminded me of some of the cast of Last of the Summer Wine, influenced my judgment only for a short while. I was soon captivated by the group of oddball but charming characters who verge on the caricature, though they don't go quite over the edge and in some ways it reminded me of Wodehouse; the Sunday Telegraph likened it to Nancy Mitford. When writer Juliet gets a letter from Dawsey Adams in Guernsey after the war because he owns a book that once belonged to her, it opens up a can of letters from some of the other islanders, all members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and quite why they adopted this bizarre title is made clear in the book so I won't spoil it. From them, she learns about their lives under the German Occupation and a tragic love story begins to emerge. Once she goes over there, her life changes forever. Somehow the author manages to balance the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis with a light-hearted insight into the human condition. And from under the froth emerges the theme  that there is good and bad in every group of people, whether nationality, race, religion or the residents of a small island. I keep falling upon this theme of how people behave in times of duress and novels about the second world war. It must be something in the air. You might be interested to know that Annie Barrows, whose background is in libraries, bookstores and publishing has authored the Ivy and Bean children's series and The Magic Half. Log onto http://www.anniebarrows.com/ if you would like to visit her. The book is published by Bloomsbury Publishing, who published the first book I ever wrote.