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/

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Scary short stories from top Russian writer

'There once lived a woman who had a tiny little (sic) daughter named Droplet.' The baby never grew, which wasn't surprising, as the woman found her in the head of a cabbage.

'There once lived a woman who was so fat, she couldn't fit in a taxi, and when going into the subway she took up the whole width of the escalator.' She was really twin ballerinas who became victims of a magician.

Children's fairy tales? There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbour's Baby is a most unusual collection of urban folk tales, dark and creepy with extraordinary plots and here and there a hint of humour. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's stories are published under Penguin's Modern Classics list and she is said to be one of Russia's most acclaimed authors. She has written 15 collections of prose and her novel, The Time: Night was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize in 1992.

Her short story collection pulls you into forests, empty rooms in derelict buildings, hospitals, death, decay and other such dimensions, the stuff that nightmares, or scary paintings, are made of. If you need cheering up, they're not for you. They contain a strong scent of sadness, lost moments, missing children, neglect and distorted images. They trickle off at the end without satisfactory closure, open-ended so that readers can draw their own conclusions. They left me asking 'So what? What was all that about?' The trouble with an open end is that readers can feel cheated and unfulfilled.

What pulled me into them and eventually hooked me in the final section was the author's astonishing imagination, her flair for pacing and strong sense of place; but above all, her originality of plot and diversity of conflict. Like Alice's adventures, they contain one twist and turn after another. There are only so many stories to be told - seven it's said - and though they are re-told in many different ways, so often aspects and incidents seem undeniably familiar; here, we are presented with new and original ideas that aren't.

Themes cover loss, death, homelessness and poverty and loss of identity. They feature grotesques, bundles of clothing, rags, cloaks with hooded faces. Stories are told in a surreal world of unconsciousness, dreams or through near death experiences. As for fairy stories, we don't know what happens to Snow White in her coma but these stories unfold in that twilight state. It was almost a psycho-analytical experience of activity in the author's mind, like troubling dream sequences in need of interpretation.

It was therefore no surprise to learn from the translators' introduction that Petrushevskaya's writing had been banned in Russia. Her stories about Russian women were too dark and direct for Russian taste. Her plays were shut down. It was only with the breakdown of the Soviet Union that she was able to publish her work and become the national literary figure that she is today.

The stories are divided into four sections. To read the story Revenge from the first section: Songs of the Eastern Slavs, follow this link at Penguin Classics: http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780718192075,00.html 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Campaigns for books and World Book Night give-away

Listed on the Society of Authors' website are a number of campaigns on the lookout for supporters to uphold the rights of writers and the future of books; some are under threat from lack of funding and others from annhilation by new technology or overzealous political correctors.

To help prevent our libraries from cuts and closures:
If you're against vetting in schools and visa restrictions on visiting artists and academics, try the Manifesto Club - http://www.manifestoclub.com/

To join the campaign for all UK children  to become readers, log on to the Just Read Campaign - http://www.justreadcampaign.co.uk/ and if you truly believe that e-books and readers are likely to sound the death knell for the printed book, join The Campaign for Real Books - http://www.campaignforrealbooks.org/

If you're a writer, you might want to sign the petition of the Libel Reform Campaign - http://www.libelreform.org/ or any of the following:

The Largest Book Give-away Ever

You have until 4 January 2011 to become a book giver for World Book Night (WBN), which will be inaugurated on Saturday, 5 March, just two days after World Book Day, the national reading campaign. A million books will be given away by 20,000 dedicated readers to the public in the UK and Ireland and the event will be broadcast by BBC2.

One of the 25 chosen titles
If you would like to participate, you will be expected to say in about 100 words why you want to give away 48 copies of your favourite book chosen from a selected list of 25 titles. Recipients may be reluctant readers or people who don't have easy access to books, bookshops and libraries. To enter, log onto http://www.worldbooknight.org/

Alan Yentob, Creative Director BBC and member of WBN editorial committee said: 'BBC2 will host World Book Night from its inception on December 2 through to the event itself on 5 March. Whether as a giver, recipient or viewer, we hope that BBC audiences will be inspired to get involved with this groundbreaking project.'

Author Margaret Atwood said: 'When Jamie Byng told me about World Book Night, I was amazed not only by its magnitude but by its simplicity. The love of writing, the love of reading - these are huge gifts. To be able to give someone else a book you treasure widens the gift circle. I was thrilled to be asked to support World Book Night, and doubly thrilled that The Blind Assassin was chosen to help launch it. Long may its voyage be!' 

The campaign is supported by such high profile people as Colin Firth, Antony Gormley, Seamus Heaney, Damien Hirst, Nigella Lawson, JK Rowling and many others and is backed by The Booksellers Association, The Publishers Association, Independent Publishers Guild, The Reading Agency, libraries, charities and other organisations.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Write a film review for Christmas and win £100

Fancy yourself as a film reviewer? Classical narrative structure works as well for movies as it does for novels but you'll be looking at image and action a little more closely. You only have until 24 December to come up with a film review of the greatest Christmas film never made.

Best for Film have launched a Christmas writing competition called Write Christmas to combat the Hollywood tat that turns up every year at this time. Invent the 'most ridiculous, potentially iconic Christmas film' that has never been made and you could win £100, publication on http://www.bestforfilm.com/ and an A1 poster of your movie by OTM Entertain, the team that designed posters for The Hurt Locker, In the Loop, Splice and The Losers.

Judges are Metro film editor, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh; actress, author, film critic for The Danny Baker Show, Emma Kennedy and parody film critic, author, blogger, Cleolinda Jones.

To enter, email your review before the deadline to info@bestforfilm.com with 'write Christmas' in the subject line. And you can read more about it on http://bestforfilm.com/community/write-christmas-competition  Good luck!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Mabel Lucie Attwell's story

Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964)

Rummaging round a second-hand book sale, I found an old quarto size Lucie Attwell's Annual, gifted to Nancy Brindle by her aunt for Christmas 1934. So, if you're wondering what happened to that chunky children's tome, Nancy, wherever you are, I've got it. These children's books were published by Dean & Son, Ltd of 6 La Belle Sauvage, Ludgate Hill, London EC4 and they were beautifully illustrated with colour plates mounted on the pages and glossy coloured prints of cherub-cheeked children, pixies and elves.

Attwell was a book illustrator in the early part of the 20th century, having studied at the Regent School of Art and Heatherley's School of Art but failed to complete her courses because she liked to have free rein over what she drew. The chubby-cheeked children with the chunky legs were modelled on her little daughter, Peggy Wickham who became an illustrator herself. Attwell also illustrated a Hodder & Stoughton edition of Peter Pan and Wendy by J M Barrie, among many that she drew for books, magazines, advertisements, postcards and greeting cards.

She was born in Mile End, London in 1879 and she rose to popularity during the 1930s and 40s. She married the artist Harold Earnshaw in 1908. They met at the St Martin's School of Art and both contributed to the ILN Group of magazines, such as Britannia & Eve. She moved to Cornwall to live with her son, Peter in 1945 and died there on 5 November 1964.

I remember these annuals well, if only for the large black typography on the lovely thick pages that I used to tear into pieces, screw up into balls and chew as a toddler, just to annoy The Sister, who thought I was mad.

The characters in them had names like Bertie Bunnie, Babs and Bunty (she seems to have favoured the 'B's). Bunty goes for a visit to London Town with her imaginary elves, the Boo Boos, smartening them up first with baths and new suits. Bunty has an argument at the station as the clerk doesn't know how many Boo Boos go to one ticket. Nothing changed there then...It contains lots of twee poems about going to jolly parties or gathering flowers gay and various activity pages for cutting out, like Billum B Boo who couldn't make up his mind whether to be a bobbie or a sailor. Readers are urged to help 'this queer Billy B Boo' by painting him a suit in blue. It all seems so innocent compared to what kids get up to these days.

But I doubt if the story, Betty's Black Brother would pass muster these days and rightly so. Betty, aged five receives a letter from Africa. Her parents live there apparently and they're on their way home with a baby brother for her. Betty loves her little black doll, Yao Yao best, so she's looking forward to a brother who looks just like him. When her parents arrive with the new bundle, Betty is very upset to find he is white. Mother gives her a paint box to calm her down. Seems she didn't want a little white brother...'He did look rather a pet although he was white...', but she thinks he would be 'prettier' if he were black. So she takes her paintbox and sets to work on him with the black paint. Mum, after the initial shock, understands how she feels but explains genteelly that when baby grows up, 'he would just hate to be different to other English boys.' She illustrates this by a bed of roses of various hues and compares them to children, saying they are all beautiful but every tree 'has its own special shade...' and that each country has 'its own special colour too,' white for England, black for Africa and brown for India. She explains that it wouldn't be right to 'rob another country's colour for our Baby...' My goodness, words fail me. I wasn't expecting to find such blinkered thinking among the pixies and elves. I'll stick to Pop and Mop, the twin Weemen who live on the borders of Goosey Glen. Heaven knows what they're going to get up to...

There's a Mabel Lucie Attwell club anyone can join on http://www.mabellucieattwellclub.com/

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Working with schools when your child has ADHD

Writer Camilla Chafer edits a great little education and parenting website at http://www.theschoolrun.com/ which is full of good advice, free worksheets, resources and competitions. Camilla and I are both authors of books published by Need2Know Books so when she asked to interview me for an article she was writing, to include in an ADHD pack, I readily agreed. The article highlights how parents and schools could work together to ensure ADHD children get the best from their education. The article is reproduced below by kind permission of The School Run and packs are available from their website by pressing the 'Subscribers' tab at the top.

ADHD: The Essential Guide
by Diane Paul (pub. Need2Know Books, 2008)

Working with schools when your child has ADHD

Many schools struggle to understand the complexities of ADHD which leaves parents feeling unsupported.

TheSchoolRun spoke to expert Diane Paul, author of ADHD – The Essential Guide for her advice on how to help parents work with their school to help their child.

Diane explained that ADHD is complex and where strategies might work for one child, they won’t for another. “ADHD isn’t the sort of thing that will go away, although symptoms can improve as they grow older. These children can cause huge disruption in a classroom and disturb teachers and other children; that is why, in extreme cases, drugs are used to calm them down.

These are all available strategies but there is no guarantee that they work for everyone, as there are so many variations of ADHD which can be combined with other issues. Teachers aren’t always sympathetic so there is no guarantee a parent can work with them or that the strategies mentioned will work. Some parents find moving to other areas to find sympathetic schools, or where LEAs who don’t have financial restraints for special needs, can help

For parents, who need support too, the best suggestion is to join a local support group. There they will find other parents of ADHD children, can network, compare notes, join in activities and learn how to cope.”

How should parents approach their school about concerns that their child has ADHD?

Most young children go through a stage of being boisterous and energetic and with classes of up to 30, teachers may not be aware that some of them may be showing signs of ADHD. Other children may stare out of the window and daydream a lot and, although it can be a symptom of ADD, there’s no reason for teachers to suppose they are any different from any other child. So parents need to impress upon teachers that, if they suspect or know their child has ADHD, it is because this negative behaviour is ongoing, consistent and repetitive, whereas the other children will mature and grow out of it.

About half of ADHD children may also have specific learning difficulties, like dyslexia, dyspraxia coupled with other conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety or depression and these need to be addressed separately. It’s important to talk to the teacher, head teacher or SENCO about it, so that teachers can keep an eye on the child and work out a strategy for helping them. ADHD children are likely to display the same types of behaviour at home, at school and in social settings.

Parents need to work with the school, wherever possible but neither parents nor teachers are qualified to diagnose ADHD. That needs to be done by a team of medical professionals.

What can parents do to ensure schools support their ADHD child?

Some schools, teachers and doctors don’t always recognise ADHD and put the behaviours down to the ‘terrible twos’ or poor parenting. ADHD is a universally recognised condition and diagnostic guidelines are available from the World Health Organisation.

Parents need to be assertive with authority figures like teachers and doctors and to find out as much as they can about ADHD so they can discuss it knowledgeably. Some internet sites contain useful information, like NHS Direct or ADHD support groups, whose information packs would be useful for schools and parents.

Any meetings or phone conversations with the school need to be minuted as it’s important to keep records of what is said and copies of all correspondence and keep a diary to record incidents, meetings and action taken. Schools have to recognise the situation and the SENCO can make a referral for a statutory assessment. They will visit parents and submit forms to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and the teacher will form part of the diagnostic team.

What can schools do to support ADHD children?

Medical and behavioural treatments work alongside support at school and home. Drugs work in the short-term but are only prescribed in extreme cases. This may mean taking them at school as they help to calm down the child; so teachers need to be aware that they have to take them, though many are on slow release tablets these days.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend behavioural interventions at school among other strategies and it’s useful for schools to be familiar with their guidelines.

Educational psychologists should deal with any behavioural issues or educational difficulties like reading, writing, spelling, language disorders and specific learning difficulties. Behavioural therapists can show teachers how to plan activities and give praise when the child succeeds. Teachers should be aware of the many strategies to help control poor behaviour.

What sort of help is accessible by schools to support ADHD children?

Schools are legally obliged to identify pupils with educational or behavioural difficulties and can make a referral to CAMHS for special needs assessment. They will give their opinions, answer questionnaires and comment on your child’s behaviour.

If the school disagrees that there should be a referral for assessment to obtain a Statement of SEN for special support, you can apply for one yourself by contacting your local LEA’s SEN section. Authorities vary and many teachers lack training to deal with ADHD and don’t employ appropriate strategies, or financial constraints could hold them back.

The school’s SENCO should help if your child isn’t progressing or developing skills, if they display poor behaviour, find it hard to communicate with friends and teachers or have speech or language issues.

Are there strategies parents can use to ensure their child keeps on top of homework?

  • Teachers could give them homework task charts to ensure that they’re organised and they know what they need to do.
  • Ask your child to say out loud what they need to do, then let them repeat it silently to themselves.
  • Being organised is important, so they need clear rules.
  • If punishments are used, they need to be given right away.
  • When tackling big tasks, do them a bit at a time so they won’t be too daunting.
How far does criticism affect ADHD children and their education?

It’s hard to say. Every ADHD child is different and has different degrees of the condition with a variety of co-morbid symptoms.

They can have poor self esteem generally and need building up, not putting down but this is true for everyone.

Do teachers need to consider the language they use when talking to an ADHD child and whether it is positive or negative?

Positive feedback for ADHD children, who tend to suffer from low self-esteem, is essential. Punishment is less effective. Teachers could make them monitors or give them special tasks so that other pupils will view them positively too.

They could be encouraged to approach the board and write words on it.

How can teachers and parents help their child get organised and not become distracted in class?

  • ADD children who gaze out of the window should be placed away from them and nearer to the teacher at the front of the class.
  • Ensure classroom rules are clear and easy to understand.
  • Directions should be specific.
  • A checklist for each subject is useful.
  • Vary activities so that the child doesn’t get bored doing the same thing for too long; alternate sitting down and physical activities.
  • They will respond better to specific tasks with goals and rewards.
  • Try to use books with large fonts but illustrations need to be tied up to the content on the page so they relate to them.
  • Pages shouldn’t contain too many activities.
What are your top tips for ensuring ADHD children get a good experience from school?

  • Be lavish with praise and ensure others can hear when you mention their achievements.
  • Keep calm so you don’t reflect any negative reactions to the child.
  • Make eye contact when addressing them.
  • Give instructions in one sentence.
  • Structure projects so they use lists and charts.
A useful book for parents is 1-2-3 Magic to help control poor behaviour, encouraging good behaviour and strengthening relationships. There is a teachers’ version called 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers. The latter explains effective classroom disciplines and means of productive communication with parents.