High School Hi-Jinx

I’ve been asked into this particular High School on a yearly basis for the last 3 (4?) years, and every time I leave they ask if I’ll come back the next year. (And the answer is always “Yes!”)

It’s always terrifying to stand in front of an audience of 12-13 year olds, especially when I don’t have the Viking guise of Jøsef Lambsen to hide behind!

When there’s only you, a few pages, and a lot of curious faces peering at you… it can be difficult. But my word isn’t it satisfying when it’s done!?

Moreso this one above… which is why I am writing.

Last year, after I had done my 45 minutes (probably longer), a young boy who had asked a couple of questions during the talk, hung about at the back of the library waiting for all the rest of the pupils to leave. One of the teachers asked if he was looking for something and he shyly asked them if he could ask me something.

(I was tidying up my stuff at the time and readying to leave.)

The teachers weren’t sure about ‘taking up more of my time’ but when is that ever a problem on a day off? 🙂

So the wee guy comes over and starts asking me about writing. At first he’s a bit timid, but as he talks he becomes more and more animated describing a story he had thought of and what to do with it. His biggest concern…?

“What if it’s not very good?”

So I told him… “Every writer thinks that. So, write it anyway. Get some paper (“I’m sure your teacher would help you with that!” – I said, a little louder!) and just write it down. The only way to get better, is to keep doing it.”

I gave him the brief version of how – when I started writing – I had no idea it was something ordinary people were allowed to do, and that I wished I had known for about 20-odd years that people might actually want to see the things you wrote.

He went off beaming. And I thought, “Groovy. Someone got it.”

So… this year.

I am standing in front of two classes of pupils (above) and I see a familiar face. It’s the same wee guy, only a little less wee! I do my bit and a few questions are asked, but he doesn’t raise his hand this time. I felt a bit disappointed about that, but many others were asking questions about the craft and the way it works, and I was able to give a fuller response to the same question he had asked me the previous year.

So I finish. Everyone leaves. I pack up the stuff… except this time the teachers are standing with the same wee guy and waiting for me.

He’d only gone and written a small novella!

He had written, illustrated and stapled it all up and I was presented with a hand-written copy of it. After he had gone, all smiles and blushes, the teachers told me that since I had  spoken to him  his attitude at school had altered drastically.

He had been a ‘problem’ for a while, but for the last year he had focused more on his work and was always talking about ‘writing his book’. His handwriting had improved, and even his language skills seemed better.
(He hadn’t turned into a total angel, but was far, far better than he apparently had been.)

I was stunned!  But the best part was, just as I was leaving, one of the teachers said…

“Did he tell you he’s writing another one?”

: )

I’m taking that as a win!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gone a-viking !

April 2017
What a superb day.

It’s always amazing when I’m asked to go into schools and ‘do the Viking thang!’, and I do always ask for pics… and this time I got some!

It’s not unusual for the class to totally get into things, but this class sang louder than ANY I have ever had before.

Their cries of “ODIN!” were a joy, and behaviour during ‘weapon’s training’ was impeccable.

 

Well done all you lassies and laddies! Splendid viking warriors, each and every one of you!

OOOOODIIIINNNN!”

 

(I know I asked at the time, but if any of the children’s parents want these taken down then please let me know and I will do so immediately.)

School not named for a touch of anonymity.
(edited, September to change picture names…),

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Newer Night Before Christmas

I wrote this in part because Amazon were doing a contest and it gave me this idea…

If you’ve come here from seeing my links on FB or Twitter, Thank You!
(Feel free to big yourself up in the comments section!) 🙂

So – The Night Before Christmas… for the 21st Century! (And Beyond!)

A Newer Night Before Christmas

T’was the Night Before Christmas – The moon was aglow –
But it seemed that this year, it would come with no snow.
Our Sam and Samantha had climbed up the stairs
with their hot water bottles, and blankets and bears.

Their stockings were hung at the end of their beds,
and they snuggled down tight as they rested their heads
“But we’re far too excited! Can’t we stay awake?”
“Oh no, Sam!” I said. “That would be a mistake!

And if you don’t feel tired, they try counting sheep,
because Santa can’t come, ‘til you’re both fast asleep.”
And so Mother and I went to watch some TV,
but I suddenly woke, lying on our settee.

The screen had gone dark, and dear Mama was snoozing.
My head felt all fuzzy, t’was very confusing.
When out of the kitchen there came a loud clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter.

“Hello there! I really must apologise!”
Said a deep, booming voice, sounding jolly and Wise.
“I’ve laid out the presents for your little girl,
But it seems that you have a young boy child, as well?”

“Oh yes, we have Sam.” I said, after a pause,
as I spoke to none other than Dear Santa Claus!
“Well I must say, I’m shocked at this silly mistake.
I must clear this up now, for your little boy’s sake!”
Then he flipped out a tablet and turned on the screen
and I could not believe what my eyes had just seen.
The Jolly Old Elf saw my look of surprise
and a hint of a twinkle appeared in his eyes.

“Every one of the notes children send off to me,
are stored by my elves on the North Pole PC!
—and I don’t think in all of my years I have missed
even ONE single child! I must re-check my list!”

So scratching his head, through his mane of white hair,
Santa looked for our Sam—But our Sam was not there!
He was not on the Naughty, and not on the Nice.
Santa wrinkled his nose, and he checked the list TWICE!

So screen after screen he swiped through, as he read.
“This is hard to believe!” Santa finally said.
“I’m a little embarrassed! I honestly am!
It seems that his email has been marked as spam!”

The red-suited man’s fingers flew in a dance
as they swiped and selected and pointed and jabbed.
And onto the screen (after changing some settings)
Came all of the presents Sam hoped he’d be getting.

Then Santa dug deep into his bulging sack
as one after another the gifts were unpacked.
“Oh Santa!” I said. “I had not the first clue
that this was the way that you do what you do,
by checking your lists on a small glowing screen,
for I had no idea Christmas came by machine!”
He looked at me then, as if I were a child,
and shook his head gently, and winked as he smiled.
“Christmas day doesn’t come in the way you perceive!
Christmas day only comes when you truly believe:

—that each man, in time, will be every man’s brother
—that people can learn to forgive one another
—and maybe someday you will see that it’s true,
there’s a magic which lives deep inside all of you!”

Then he picked up his sack, and he gave me a bow,
and before I could blink (though I can’t recall how)
he was sitting outside on a wondrous sleigh,
and he called to his reindeer, who whisked him away.

They danced through the air and flew into the sky.
Santa waved as they went and he called out. “Goodbye!
I will leave you tonight, with a gift for you all!”
And just as they vanished, snow started to fall.

As the sparkling flakes settled over the grass
I stood and I watched them, until, at long last
Mama gave a loud yawn, and she came to my side
and we smiled as the snow settled deeply, outside.
And we hugged while we watched the sun rise, with a grin,
as we waited for Christmas to truly begin.

J. Lamb Dec. 2016

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Stumbling at that last hurdle

Well, needless to say, with the lack of movement on here recently, it’s easy to surmise that something went awry.

There’s a long version, but it would probably bore the bum off you: Suffice it to say that The God of All Small Boys won’t be released just yet. The publishing world being what it is… s’just not happening (yet).

Ooohhh yes, I was upset. Not particularly, angry, to be honest. But very confused and desperately dis-heartened.

I did, however, get a follow up email recognising my mindset, and suggesting I work on the draft of the book I had previously discussed with Cranachan (The MG re-write of Skald – now known as “Odin’s Children”) and send it in to them once it was done. It also suggested the time off might give me a chance to put TGoASB aside, and then revisit it with “new eyes”. (A piece of advice I had seen often, but had no real distraction to enable me to do so.)

The “Help! The Professor is…” trilogy first drafts were done, and so I set to “Odin’s Children” thinking it would be a breeze to re-write.

WRONG!

It’s ended up as an almost entirely different book! And one which I think works on an upper MG level. It took a good few months to get the first draft down, and I’ve worked on it a little more since. It’s not quite ready for pitching, but it’s in a good place.

S0, about 3 weeks (maybe more) ago, I picked up TGoASB again.
And it was almost like reading it for the first time.
I’ve deleted large chunks, re-written others, edited away a lot of passive voice and have been trying my damnedest to remove most of the ‘telling’.

I think it’s looking pretty good – and, I believe better than the book I had originally submitted!

Truth be told, I thought it would be a LONG time before I took up TGoASB again. But I think I have a bit of confidence back. And if the Pitch Wars pitches come to nothing, then I have “Odin’s Children” to polish up, or indeed the “Help! The Professor is…” books to start editing…

As I may have said before… “Onwards and upwards!”  🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Library Memories

Libraries:
A fairly innocuous word for a fairly groovy place.

If you have any interest at all in “The World of Books“™  then you’ll probably be aware that there has just been a Worldwide Libraries Day.

Whether this has been required due to recent developments in the fates of libraries, or whether it was simply happenstance, the fact remains: Libraries are being closed down all over the place!

As a writer, I think this is pretty bad form.
But as a reader I think this is appalling.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about libraries losing funding, closing down, having to suffer the indignities of fund-raising, and even being disallowed permissions to raise funds which could keep them open. And the usual excuse given is “We cannot afford to keep them open.”

At a time when child literacy in Scotland suggests that 1 in 6 children cannot read to a standard level, when gaming devices proliferate (as sales of e-books drop), and yet—where the education system has become an even bigger pawn in the interminable political morass—libraries are being closed down.

To put it bluntly… this is a disgrace.

As a child the library was almost my second home.
I became well known to all the cheerful and helpful people (mostly women) who ran my local library (Was Ardler Library, then it was a Part of the Ardler Community Centre, and now it is a part of the Ardler Complex.)

The building itself is the same, although the inside has altered dramatically.
One section is given over to a few PCs, the massive banks of books have dwindled quite a bit, and the worst thing of all – the WONDERFUL banks of Card Index drawers have given way to a PC database.

card index

 

But the most important thing about it is… it still exists.

In that library I read everything I ever found interesting.
My parent’s house was far from bookless, but I’d read them all, and books were not something one generally purchased. Living on the slightly poorer side of the societal norms, that’s what libraries were for!

My Father and I shared a love of Asimov, Bradbury, Ellison and even Charles Schulz’ Peanuts! (Although the Library never had any of them.)
I devoured every book I could find by Bradbury and Asimov, and the librarians were always keen to help me find them. Eventually, my Father let me bring him back whatever I chose for him. And I was known enough at the Library to be allowed to take out… “Adult Section Books” (always on the look-out for more of Asimov’s “Black Widowers” mysteries!)

It was thanks to that that I was introduced to the Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels (an ADULT book!) by an old woman who was browsing at the same time as me.

“Hello son,” she said. “Lookin’ for anythin’ special?”
I explained that I was looking for a crime book for my dad, and that he liked Sherlock Holmes stories.
“Well, it isnae Sherlock Holmes, but he might like this!” she pointed to a small paperback novel.
‘Axe,’ it read. ‘Ed McBain.’
With a cover showing a neat shirt.
With a log of wood in place of the neck and head.
With small hatchet buried into the top of it.

axe

I was hypnotised by the cover. It was unlike any I had ever seen before.
I had it checked out in minutes. And thus began my, and my Father’s, life-long appreciation for Ed McBain. Whether my father guided my taste in literature, or we simply found the same things enthralling (I go with the latter, as I’ve never really been able to get into Arthur Conan Doyle) I don;t know for certain.

But, as my tastes matured, I realised that Bradbury had written for all ages (although The Hallowe’en Tree is still something I read at least once every couple of years) and Asimov’s more expansive works (Like the Foundation Trilogy – later ‘Series’) slotted in well to those tastes.

I slowly began to find my own authors; C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, and of course I had always been a fan of Lewis Carroll. Then names like Stephen King and James Herbert began to creep into my borrowing record. By the time I had my first part-time job, at age 16, I was buying more books than I borrowed. But I still used the library for researching some of my own scribblings.

Now, some 36 years… (THIRTY SIX!?) …on from that time, I am still visiting (though, admittedly not as often.) I pored through histories and newspapers articles etc (The joys of microfiche!) while writing my first real Children’s novel “The God of All Small Boys“, and I also ensure that the two small boys – Whom I have inherited from my partner  🙂  – regularly visit.

Libraries have had to change with the times, no doubt, in an age of cheap e-books and electronic distraction – but to see graphic novels by Miller and Grant and yes, even Gaiman, sitting alongside more mainstream children’s books, gives me hope that the journey is only beginning for the boys.
I hate to think that the day would ever come when—in an effort to ensure the world still has more nuclear bombs to wipe us all out ten times over—libraries are nothing more than another dimly recalled memory.

So, it’s up to us to make sure than never happens:

Use your local library.
Force Encourage your children, or nephews and nieces to do the same.
And DEMAND that local politicians champion their cause.

Let’s try to make Library Day far more regular than once a year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What A Difference A Day Makes…

Excuse the cliché, but, What a difference a day makes!

I know, right? I just posted in here yesterday! What could possibly have happened in that time?

Well…

Those increasingly wonderful people at Cranachan have been in touch.
To make a medium story shorter – They want to meet me.

(breathe, Joe, breathe)

Suffice it to say, the Lamb household was bouncing last night (and the boys were this morning when they heard).

But still, to re-hash an old favourite of mine… I know it’s not a guarantee!
Nothing has been set in stone, or even agreed as yet. But the interest is there, at least.

Of course, that didn’t stop my optimism meter from bouncing in the red, when Anne from Cranachan described their reading of the book to have “convinced and captivated” them (as well as saying some very nice things about my writing)!

The fact that they are willing to come the 7 hour, 250+ mile trip (including a Ferry) to meet me, is also hinting at very good things.

Guys/Gals, this could be it… this could be it.

(Keep Repeating, “Wait and See!”)

🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No Guarantees… but…

Okay, so it’s not a guarantee.

I know it’s not a guarantee.

I’m sure anyone involved in this writing malarkey will agree, that it is not a guarantee…

But the thing is…

A new Scottish Publisher, Cranachan Publishing, has asked me to send them the full manuscript for The God of All Small Boys.

(I KNOW it’s not a guarantee!)

Their response to my submission began much the same as others I have received; saying that the company were “delighted, and surprised, to be inundated with submissions…” which, of course, steeled me for the inevitable, “however, after careful consideration…” etc etc etc.

But, reading further, the email then stated, “…the concept, as a novel in particular, for school study is super – and would lend itself to creating educational materials for reading (and project work) around it…

“Hmmm…” thought I. “This isn’t the usual ‘thanks, but no thanks’ response!”

Then, I read a line which I have heard from quite a few of those who have read the entire MS (Comp. Judges, other authors etc) “We also really enjoyed the very clear scenes in each chapter which are very filmic in nature – and this pulled us into the narrative.
And then ending with… “…and it explains well how the title is appropriate.

Now, if you know anything about my struggles with this book o’ mine, it’s that I keep second guessing what could perhaps hinder its publication. And, whereas I *love* the title, I was also aware that any suggestion of being in any way “Theist” (which it isn’t really) could put some people off.
(If you see my previous post about the “Pitchin” event, I was really pleased to hear one particular agent’s take on it!)

So, at this point I was thinking… “Umm… Is this…?”
And then the next line walloped me between the eyes.

Anyway, needless to say, we would like to read the full MS please.

!!!

I have to admit, even though the email continued for a little after that, I stopped reading at this point. I had to re-read what I had already read, and get to that sentence again, before I could fully accept it. Just in case I had missed something which meant that – “Anyway, needless to say, we would like to read the full MS please” – didn’t actually mean what it seemed to.

But no. They want to read the whole thing.
I KNOW it’s NOT a guarantee!

However…
I have not yet had anyone read the whole of the book, who has come back and said “Meh…”
I know, that among a few published author’s and other respected people in the children’s author sphere, the book has been quite well received. I always felt that actually finding an agent/publisher, who would take the time to read the full thing, might *just* see what everyone else who has read it feels… it deserves publication no less than some books already out there.
Since the end of last year I’ve put my rejections down to my own shortcomings in blurb-ing and synopsis-ing! But it may just be that I’ve finally got it right!

Now, yes, I realise that people will usually not usually look to hurt other people’s feelings when it comes to critiquing something as personal as their own creation, but business is business – and I get that! So, to read the same kind of praises, which led to my shortlisting last year, from an actual publisher… was nice – to say the least.

The intimation that it could lend itself to school work/projects etc has got me in such a place that I can hardly bear it. Getting The God of All Small Boys into schools would be astounding!

So here’s the thing. Even though the sky is truly the limit, it is only a read request.
I KNOW IT IS NOT A GUARANTEE…

Still…
Even if it is not taken on, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
I would also hope to get a little feedback on why it wasn’t accepted if that ends up being the case (?)
But, let’s not focus on the negative. Because, if nothing else, it has given me a nod that publication really is something which is at least a possibility.

As always, I’ll have to wait and see…
As a certain publisher puts it… “The proof of the pudding is in the reading.

Excelsior! 🙂

 

(E.T.A. the word ‘guarantee’ loses all context and recognition, after typing it out about 200 times!)  🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pitchin’

Very interesting day yesterday.

Thanks to Literary Dundee, I had small sessions with Prof. Kirsty Gunn (Dundee Uni.) and Ed Wilson (literary Agent).
One of the most important questions I had was answered quite succinctly by Ed.

Me at Pitchin'

The God of all Small Boys, “… is a wonderful title. It has a good ring, it is a little fun, but hints at more. More importantly it is an ‘eye-catching’ title. And besides, if anyone is interested in the book, but have a problem with the title, they will simply suggest you think about changing it!

This saves me the time I was worrying about the possibility of the ‘theistic’ nature of the title, and the fact that it openly focuses on ‘boys’ (in the title at least!)

Kirsty gave me the advice of contacts. I.E. – don’t be afraid to use them, or at least ask the questions you might want to ask of them. Mainly because (as she said) all authors started the same way. Some may not want to for personal reasons, some may be too busy (which is understandable), BUT some might say, “Of course! I’d LOVE to!”

And you never know unless you ask!

Looks like I’ll have to start networking a little more than I already am! 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ironic Time-Shifting

Well,
That’s been a whirlwind of a week…

I fully expected the last week before the Cargo Publishing / Dundee Libraries Great War Children’s Book prize to DRAG out interminably.
And, no matter that I wanted it to pass quickly, as it turned out – very sadly – events ensured that this actually was the case.

Ash’s mum, Ann, was admitted to hospital late last week, and after three days of struggling, died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Since then it’s been very difficult for Ash, as an only child, to try and pull things together regarding this.
People have been great. My family have rallied around so well, I am very proud of them. It’s odd though, although we’ve been living with death since we first crawled out of the oceans and took residence in the trees, we’re still never able to find just the right thing to say at times like this…

Work has been missed (on both sides) and unfortunately it’s taken a little of the joy out of my judging of the book-covers (created by Dundee schoolchildren) for The God of All Small Boys.

As things have panned out, I’m now finding that; today is Friday, then there’s the weekend to go (which will be hectic, what with one thing and another) then Monday will pass as it always does, Tuesday I’m off for another round of Blood Tests (joy!) and then it’s the big day itself.

Right now, my confidence is even Rock Bottom-er than it was last time I wrote; that might just be a hangover from the awful week we’ve been through in Chez Lamb, but… that’s how things are. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be a hugely willing resident of Cloud Nine if the best possible outcome (for me) should occur… it’s just that-right now-I’m finding it hard to even envisage that happening.

BUT, No matter what happens with the prize-giving, I’d really like to have all three of us shortlistees – (I know, it’s not a word – but it SHOULD be!) – to be passing round our manuscripts between each other… just to see what the competition was like, regardless of who ultimately takes the cake.

(I hope you are reading this Lindsay and John!)

So, there we go… it’s a terrible way for it to happen, but, out of the blue, I’m now finding myself thinking that there’s no time at all to go ’til the Big Day.

“Only time will tell…”

(and, ultimately, Facebook and Twitter!) 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I Can Haz Writing Skillz?

So…
Just over 2 weeks until the winner of the Cargo Publishing and Dundee Libraries Great War Children’s Book Prize is announced. And things are getting worse and worse!

I’ve been peaking and troughing as regards my optimism/pessimism about the result, and right now my confidence is rock-bottom. To be honest, I think at this stage of the game I’d rather it stayed there! (And to be equally as honest, it probably will!)

It doesn’t stop me from having the occasional moment of “What If”-ness… Such as knowing I would have to have the name of the pub “Nicholl’s” changed to “Nicoll’s” because I think MSWord may have auto corrected the name in the MSS…
(But maybe it was just my fault, as it hasn’t changed it in the above!)

I’ve also had a nice little idea for a wee publicity ‘give-away’ for the first few books… but that would obviously rely on me winning, or at least being published, so I won’t go into in case it jinxes anything!

SIGH! ( Geçmiş olsun!)

Anyway,
On the writing front, things have actually been rather productive.

    I have completed my second children’s book!


It’s a bit of a departure from The God of all Small Boys and was specifically written for another competition (I know, I never learn!). This one is for “ Floris Books’ Kelpies Prize”.

I think the difference in tone is easily illustrated by its title… “HELP! The Professor is a Chicken!” It is left open for a direct sequel, which will be called “HELP! The Professor is a Robot!”

This contest is a bit more open, as there is only one award given across three different age ranges. So, that basically means a lot more entries for only one prize!

There’s an odd correlation between this award and the Cargo Publishing one, insofar as Lindsay Littleson (one of the other ‘Great War’ shortlist-ers) won the Kelpies award last year, and John Fulton (the other shortlist-er) has also entered the Kelpies this year!

That said, I really hope I don’t fall into the mind-set of, “Well, I’ve been shortlisted once, so why wouldn’t I be again?”
(If only it were that easy!)

Also… (enormous update today!)
The cutting-to-the-bone of SKALD is finally complete!

I don’t know why (I really don’t) but, for some reason, I hadn’t put together two facts of which I was actually perfectly aware. Those being;
a) Outside Dundee/Various Historical Theatrical Events, I am basically an unknown author, and
b) Agents will rarely look at manuscripts by unknown authors which are over 90,000 words.

Now, even though I knew these two facts, I kept wondering why I was receiving really good feedback about having a “good voice” and my submissions “standing out from the others received”, but then ultimately ending with “I just don’t know what to do with it” etc…

And then I realised… SKALD is 137,000 words long.
And then I had a bit of an epiphany…

I knew that SKALD had to lose 47,000+ words (more than half of a regular first novel’s maximum…) and I was dreading looking at it as, on the face of it, it was a huge task.

I was plagued with questions:
Should I totally re-write? Should I just break it into two books? Was it possible to tell the same tale in so few words?

Then I realised I had a whole sub-plot which (although I like it a LOT) was not actually required to move the story along – so, out came all of the narrated sections regarding the flip-side of the story (King Eadred, Lord Daigh, Dominic the Burned Monk etc) in one fell swoop… That took me down to about 97,500!

From there, it was a case of judicious editing and removing any references to things which happened in the cut scenes. At the end of last week, and in the last chapter of the book, I got the word count down to 89,990 exactly! Now, of course, I have to read through it all again to make sure it doesn’t have any random names or events still in place… but other than that, I think it’s good to go.
(And I have 47,000 words I can use in the first sequel… which is about a third written already, so maths says it should be almost done! 🙂 !)

As regards what happens with SKALD now; well… I think I’ll initially send query letters to the agents who have previously given me the best feedback, and explain to them what I have done with the book, and ask if they would maybe like to read the samples again…

The worst they could do would be to say no, which they already have, so… 🙂

I am also, (I know, I know) going to holding off from sending these queries until after the 25th March…

Reason being… for as much as being shortlisted for the Great War Book Prize is an amazing achievement for me (it is the nearest thing to ‘validation’ that I feel I have had as a writer of literary fiction—as opposed to Theatrical/Historical fiction – because my plays etc which were mostly commissioned) and, undeniably, it would be brilliant to be able add ‘Shortlisted author for the Dundee Great War Book Prize’ to my introductory letters…

…there is something which I think would read a little bit better than that…

SIGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These next two weeks are gonna be torturous! But at least I know I’m not suffering alone…

Hi Lindsay! Hi John!) 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments