Friday, 23 March 2012

A heady mixture ...

Last year, at the IATEFL conference in Brighton, I was one of four speakers at a symposium on Extensive Reading for learners of English as a Foreign Language. I had prepared a talk with a Power Point Presentation and I was nervous. I hadn't spoken at a conference for years. 

This year, however, at IATEFL in Glasgow, I was at the conference to receive my Extensive Reading Foundation Language Learner Literature award for Dragon's Eggs. So it was a heady mixture of congratulations and reminiscence with ex-colleagues. The ceremony was in a huge auditorium, with podium, banners and spotlights on stage.  

While we waited for it to begin, I discussed creative writing with a colleague from Nepal in a wonderful pale pink sari. On my other side, a complete stranger agreed to take photographs as I was given my certificate. Thank goodness I had prepared a tiny 'Oscar speech' to thank everyone involved. Our enthusiastic and revered MC, Jeremy Harmer, ushered each of us to the microphone to say 'a few words'.

There was a riotous party hosted by Macmillan on a boat on the Clyde later. People from all over the world were learning to dance the Gay Gordons and music and voices rose to incalculable decibels. I and four others left to look for food. We were all of a certain age, and so happy to pass up the younger people's habit of dancing until the wee hours. We found a delicious Indian curry house 20 metres from my hotel where we celebrated my award and the election of the new vice-chair of the IATEFL committee who was also with us. Everyone was interested in The Boy with Two Heads, who came up in conversation, of course. Two or three of the other award winners also write main-stream fiction.

Next morning, the only uncomfortable moment arrived. I was to be interviewed on the British Council's IATEFL channel. 

However, both my interviewers were relaxed and easy to talk to. I read three pages of Dragon's Eggs, about a football match that ends in tragedy when six-year-old Amos treads on an unmarked landmine. This happens near the beginning of the story, which is set in Zimbabwe. It led us into discussing serious issues in language learner literature, and how I came to live in Zimbabwe for three years (my husband was posted there). 

And then it was all over. Phew! 

I had a sandwich with some colleagues from Chile, and then set off to enjoy a few hours in Glasgow in the unexpected sunshine.

Monday, 19 March 2012

I salute Cumbria Libraries

I heard today from the Cumbria County Library Reader Development and Stock Manager that she had been responsible for the purchase of 12 sets of Cambridge English Readers now available throughout the country. She says that 'whilst they are clearly written for ESOL students, I felt that they also had a purpose to serve in relation to the wider basic skills agenda ... The series fills a very important gap in our provision.' 

So good for her! for realising that the series can be used in support of literacy and Life Skills programmes. And good for us that all our efforts are appreciated by our own UK libraries, as well as language schools all over the world. 

Cambridge English Readers have never included the kind of exercises that make controlled language fiction so obviously part of a school curriculum. The idea has always been that they are simply novels that can be read in the same way as novels in the reader's first language. What with that, their genre specific stories, and their full-colour covers, they are easy and attractive, even to people who are not habitual readers.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Flyers at the table

Because I was so excited yesterday about finding the Cambridge English Readers in the library, I forgot to mention that I took some flyers for The Boy with Two Heads to the only remaining bookshop selling new books (that I know of) in Penrith. 

Called the Wordsworth Bookshop and Coffee House, it is in an old cottage on a pedestrian street beside the churchyard of St Andrews. The proprietors are Andrea and John Dennison and they welcomed me warmly although I had not contacted them beforehand. Andrea led me upstairs from the cafe area to the bookshop for a chat. The walls are lined with bookshelves and there are easy chairs dotted around on the dark wood floor. The ceiling is low but the windows let in plenty of light and the whole atmosphere is cosy but airy, inviting you to sit and read and discover new worlds. They hold regular poetry readings and other events so that readers can do just that.

When I came back at midday for lunch downstairs with a friend, I found my flyers standing propped up between the salt and pepper! A bit like this photo I took at home later ...

So, in spite of the rather iffy weather, yesterday in Penrith was a very good day for me and The Boy.

And today I have been to Maryport Library and found the same whole series of CERs and Quick Reads (see yesterday's posting). The series editor and I are investigating how this wonder has come about. Surely they are not in every library in Cumbria? Imagine the budget  provision for that!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Luck at the Library!

Today I went to Penrith to start my library visits in the place where Suzanne in The Boy with Two Heads lives and almost dies. It turns out that the county leader of Young People's Services is based there, so we had a long chat about the kind of library event she might be able to slot The Boy into. 

And during that chat I discovered that the Cambridge English Reader (CER) series has been installed in some of the libraries in Cumbria! The editors and authors of CERs have been trying to persuade the powers that be that these short but pithy novels would be good for UK readers (as well as for EFL students all over the world) for years.

Some of the 90 or so CER titles in 7 levels of language
In Penrith, they are in the section that helps people with literacy, whether they are native English speakers or people for whom English is a second or foreign language (EFL).  I found Nelson's Dream among them!! And they told me that Dragons' Eggs was out on loan (even more exclamation marks!). On the same shelves were a plethora of Quick Reads, too.

I was thrilled that in fact the whole series of CER titles are now available from a library. I had a short chat with two librarians about them and dashed home to write a mail to the central office of Cumbria's libraries to find out how this came about and thank them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Two Robins at Words by the Water

We were at Words by the Water again today. I spent the morning in the car on the phone with Connie finalising a Press Release. Yesterday the photographer from the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, Fred Wilson, nobbled me near the bookshop and took some photos of Brian and me and The Boy with Two Heads down by the lake. So we wanted to provide some copy in case one of them is used in this week's paper.

Derwent Water near the Theatre by the Lake 
Then I walked along into the wood by the lake. I met walkers and dogs and, to my amazement, a robin. It flew onto a twig at my eye level about two metres in front of me. It sat there and cocked its head at me and chattered musically. We must have 'conversed' for two or three minutes. No one disturbed us and we discussed the weather, and the lack of berries, and cheese on birdtables, and my excitement about The Boy. In the end, I bid the robin good afternoon and moved off with care. S/he flew a tree or two further on and perched again, watching me.

I took the path through the gate onto the shore and enjoyed the damp but cobweb-shredding breeze. This photo is from a few years ago, but the time of year and the lighting are similar.

On Monday I went to a talk by a human Robin, Robin Harvie. He has written a book called Why We Run. I was interested in this question as my Boy with Two Heads does a lot of running. And it turned out that Robin Harvie has been a participant in the Spartathlon! I was living in Athens when this race was set up in the 1980s, and people I knew were involved in the organisation.

Spartan king Leonidas I, died 490BC
at Thermopylae
(photo from Wikipedia)
For those who haven't heard of it, the Spartathlon is a foot race from Athens to Sparta, in emulation of Pheidipiddes in 490 BC. It is approximately 150 miles and includes two mountain ranges, at least one of which is crossed during the night. Pheidipiddes arrived in Sparta the day after he left Athens, according to Herodotos, so the modern race has to be completed in that time frame, contestants arriving at the foot of the statue of Leonidas of Sparta.

I was enthralled and enchanted by Robin's talk, partly because I met some of the runners one year and was, and still am, completely in awe of their achievements. Also he is a good speaker, though not as tuneful as the robin I met this morning.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Boy comes home ...

... in a cardboard box ...

... and makes himself comfortable.

I have watched other authors whose books I  commissioned as an editor, when they first see multiple copies of their creations. They touch them and open them, flip the pages and slap them shut. And now, with a bemused and insuppressible grin, I'm doing the same. 

I have written other books, of course. I've received my statutory six copies from my publisher each time. And that has given me a thrill and made all the time and effort worth while. I sometimes see them, old friends now, on the shelves in book shops in ones and twos. 

But I have never had a whole box full of copies to stack up and sort into piles before. 'One for Brian, one for Alexandra, one for my son, one for my sister, one for ...' and so on. I stroke each one and set it aside. It is thirty-one months since I started on this project. This is a moment to savour.

Thank you, Connie and all at Trifolium Books UK. And thank you to my family, and the friends and colleagues who have helped me and supported me during these two years and seven months. 

(If anyone reading this would like a copy, they can order one through their local bookshop or on-line at Amazon. ISBN 978-0-9568104-4-1)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ballet and bridges

At Words by the Water today I went to the session where Deborah Bull talked about her book, The Everyday Dancer. I learned that ballet dancers find it difficult to know when to eat during their busy days because they are supposed to leave four hours between their last meal and class, rehearsal or performance. As their day consists of all three, the only time when they have four hours after a meal is last thing at night.

Deborah Bull is impressive. She is bright and fun and intelligent. She starts this month as Director of King’s College Partners. According to the Royal Opera House's website, she "will continue to work closely with the Royal Opera House ... to deliver the ROH’s Olympic activities, including the free exhibition, The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games." This exhibition will be staged at the ROH during the London Olympics and will include many artifacts and much material from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It will trace the history of the Games from Ancient Greece to the present day. 

Which was one reason I wanted to see Ms Bull's session. As it turned out, the Olympics were not mentioned, but I learned yet more about looking after your body if you want it to perform for you every day, all day. Not that that is something I can ask of mine at this stage in my life ...

However, I did go for a lovely walk between talks - and showers. And the sun did come out later. But I heard a complaint that there weren't many daffodils yet. William Wordsworth has a lot to answer for! 
Here are some of the things I saw as I walked through Keswick:

Derwent Water in the distance

Penrith Road and crocuses

Stone road bridge over River Greta

Spring flowers in the municipal gardens
Causey Pike from an
old railway bridge

Skiddaw from Borrowdale Road

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day

Today, the publishing world celebrates World Book Day. 

These are quotes from the World Book Day website.

"World Book Day is a celebration! It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the 
world …"

"Thanks to the generosity of National Book Tokens Ltd, publishers and booksellers, we can send millions of book vouchers to children and young people (more than 14 million, in fact: that’s one for nearly every child aged under eighteen in the country)."

The organisers of the events on this Day in UK have emphasized celebrating and supporting reading amongst school children. The contrast between this and how my other publisher, Cambridge University Press (CUP), is celebrating amuses me.

CUP is giving 10% off certain academic and professional books for one week to mark World Book Day. I am sure the titles are all exciting to the professionals who work in their fields, but I doubt they are of much interest to school children.

One discounted book is the British Medical Association 2011 award winner, Core Topics in Airway Management. Others are Plant Microevolution and Conservation in Human-influenced Ecosystems and Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older.

Looking at the list from the point of view of a school-based reader, I thought perhaps Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution might stir some interest. Also the three expensive but beautiful books on wildlife and climate change. The ones that my own contemporary 'young adult readers' might have considered putting their World Book Day vouchers towards (had there been such a thing in my schooldays), seem to me to be Sex Before the Sexual Revolution, (Volcanic) Eruptions that Shook the World and perhaps, out of curiosity, Marijuana and Madness. (But the price of this last is usually £55, so our £1 book tokens would not have helped much.) The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Government versus Markets would probably not have meant much to us, however racey or topical.