Tag Archives: Andy Stanton

And the Beat Goes On

This week has shown some of the best and worst aspects of the human race – just like every week.

We lost a beloved performer on Monday, and the world wept; that was touching, and unifying, and we shared one another’s grief. But, of course, there had to be some people who felt it was their right and privilege to harass the family of the deceased online, posting mocked-up autopsy pictures to Twitter (one of which I inadvertently came across yesterday morning, and which almost made me physically sick) and seeming to enjoy the notoriety – because notoriety equals fame which equals status, in their eyes – which came with it.

I personally cannot understand what would drive a person to create a mocked-up autopsy picture, the single most gruesome thing I have ever had to see, and put it up online. I cannot. But I share my humanity with the person or people who did it, and so I have to conclude that they have cauterised whatever compassion or kindness they may once have had; I cannot accept that I have anything, besides my mortality, in common with someone who could cause such deliberate agony.

All the love the world shared, and all the remembrances, and all the shock, and all the beautiful tributes, may as well never have happened now.

Photo Credit: tanakawho via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tanakawho via Compfight cc

For me, it’s not enough to simply shrug and say ‘well, that’s life. That’s human nature.’ I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. It’s not human nature. It’s very much a human construct, and one which we’ve created. There has always been cruelty, of course, but now it has legitimacy, and a platform, and it confers infamy and gets people talking – and yes, I appreciate the irony of this, even as I post about it – and that, somehow, makes it seem less heinous. It makes cruelty seem like a career path.

What has happened to make us this way?

My mind has been swirling with thoughts like these for the past few days, and that’s not a good thing. My thoughts tend towards Worst Case Scenarios even at the best of times, and I find it all too easy to get lost down all the dark paths. So, I knew I had to do something to divert my thinking and make things seem better, even if the only person it benefited was myself.

So.

Earlier in the week I finished (after a marathon, power-through-it day) the edits on the book I’ve been calling ‘Web’; I’m not saying it’s done, just done enough for me to put it aside for a while. The end still isn’t strong enough, but overall I’m happy with the story arc, and I think I’ve fixed glaring plot holes and issues with characterisation. One of the main things I feel I had mis-handled with this book was its scariness – you may recall it features a ghost, and not one who is happy to sit in a corner and rattle its chains. This is a ghost set on revenge, and so it had to be scary. It had to have reasons for what it was doing, as well as a method. Giving it reasons and method was the easy bit. I mentioned a while back that I don’t really know the ‘horror’ genre as well as I could, not being a person who likes scary films and whatnot, and I had been spending too long forcing the ghost into a box marked ‘Wooo!’ by giving it a shark’s head, and talking about it screaming all the time, raising goosebumps and hackles alike. I reread those bits a few days after I’d first written them, and I rolled my own eyes in boredom.

Stop trying to make it scary, I told myself, by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. Stop and think about what makes you scared, and use that instead.

Well. I scare easily. Things like weird shadows where shadows shouldn’t, at first glance, be can make my blood run cold. The idea of a whisper in my ear in an empty room makes me lose my reason. A stifled sob from an invisible throat would freak me out more than a maniacal laugh. So, I went with that. It was out with the shark’s head (which, on reread, was ridiculous), and I toned down the screaming. And it was much better.

Then, I revisited Eldritch. It’s been so long since I worked on this book that I’d forgotten what state it was in, and that was brilliant – it was like reading someone else’s work. Polly – who, when I first submitted this book to her, wasn’t yet my agent but just a dream, a long shot – had recommended that I shelve my idea of having Eldritch as the first part of a trilogy and instead write it as a standalone book, and so I’d started the process of doing that, months ago.

But the best part is, I hadn’t realised quite how far into the work of rejigging the book I’d managed to get before something else – no doubt another story – had dragged me away from it. I was over 45,000 words into it, which felt like being given a present. That’s about three-quarters of the way through what will become a new first draft.

So, I began to read Eldritch, and it made me laugh.

It’s not David Walliams funny, or Andy Stanton funny, but some of the dialogue between the protagonist Jeff and his friend Joe pleases me hugely, and the chemistry between the two boys – their obvious long-standing friendship, and the comfort with which they poke fun at one another, fun which conceals a deep affection – made me happy. I am in the throes of writing a new ending to this story, which promises more fun ahead (as well as Peril and Danger and Derring-Do and Magic), and it was the best thing I could have done to lift my mind out of the mire of the world I have no choice but to live in. I have made a hurried, scribbled, general outline of what I want to happen, and ideas are drip-dropping into my mind all the time, slowly but with great richness, like balm falling onto wizened skin.

Revisiting Eldritch reminded me why I want to write stories. I want to create a little bit of magic, and stimulate wonder. I want to leave a little fairy-dust behind me so that when I’m gone, people will know I tried to help. I tried to encourage compassion and fellow-feeling and laughter, because in the end they have to win out over cruelty. Otherwise, what are any of us doing here?

Reality Check

I’ve written before on this blog of my passion for encouraging literacy, particularly among children; if I had my way, every child on this planet would be exposed to books at as early an age as possible. If there was one thing I could do – given unlimited power and funds – it would be to equip every child in the world with their own mini-library, and with the skills to read it. I truly feel that one of the most useful things we can do for our future generations is to ensure they can read as well as they are able, and that they read as widely as possible.

Of course, there are children who just don’t like to read – that’s sad, but it’s a fact. However, they should, at least, be given the opportunity to read, and encouraged to try, and exposed to as many different types of book as possible, just in case something might engage their imagination and spark off their interest. I have a belief – and it may be a naive and silly belief, but it’s mine just the same – that there is a book for every child.

A sight that gladdens my heart... Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

A sight that gladdens my heart…
Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to put this belief into practice. I was in a bookshop – one with which I’m long familiar, and which I can never resist dipping into if I’m close enough to visit it – and I was, of course, browsing intently in the children’s section. A young mother approached me, her six-year-old daughter in tow, and asked me my opinion on what she should purchase for her little girl to read.

I’m not sure if she thought I was a staff member, or if it was a case of ‘once a bookseller, always a bookseller’ and she caught the whiff of enthusiastic knowledge from me, but whatever the reason for her question, I was happy to help. I learned this lady was the mother of a ten-year-old, the six-year-old I had the pleasure of meeting, and a four-year-old, all girls. The eldest child was a strong and enthusiastic reader, she told me, but the others struggled. They found it hard to emulate their sister, and found themselves bored by a lot of the books they’d tried in the past. They liked ‘funny’ books, and were growing tired of the princessy-type, pink and glitter books that they had once loved.

I threw my eyes around the shelves, and came up with a few ideas. Andy Stanton’s ‘Mr Gum’ books were my first suggestion, followed by Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ series (enthusiastically grabbed by the six-year-old); for the older girls, I thought of Jeremy Strong’s ‘There’s a Viking in my Bed!’ and the wonderful books of David Walliams, which are funny but also sweet and uplifting, with a comforting focus on love and friendship and family, so important to young readers. I think the lady was touched by my efforts and glad of the suggestions, and I certainly appreciated being asked for help.

Image: waterstones.com

Image: waterstones.com

However, as pleased as I was to have helped these young readers to find something good to exercise their brains, there was one aspect of the situation that has been on my mind ever since, and it centres on the fact that the bookshop we happened to be in was one that deals exclusively in second-hand books. The reason I like to go there so often is because I always find new authors to follow and new series to start collecting, and it’s fantastic to dig around in the piles of books and uncover some lost classics and rarities. It’s also wonderful to be able to pick up a book for less money than it would be if I bought it new – but with a view, always, to purchasing the writer’s back catalogue in a ‘proper’ bookshop if I like what I buy second-hand. I discovered Catherine Fisher this way; I got heavily into Kate Thompson by browsing the shelves of this very shop. The same thing applies to Jenny Nimmo, who I adore, and most of whose books I have subsequently purchased new. Sometimes, I don’t mind buying books second-hand if the author is deceased, or if their work is out of copyright – then, I don’t feel like I’m dipping my hand into a fellow writer’s pocket and taking their earnings from them – but normally I try to purchase books new as often as I can. Not everyone feels this way, for a variety of reasons – some of them excellent, unassailably logical reasons.

The mother of these young readers, for instance, was enthusiastic about second-hand books not because they were a gateway to new writers and their back catalogues, but because of their cheapness and relative ‘disposability’; it’s always easier to give a book away, or not to mind if it gets wet or torn or dirty, if you didn’t buy it ‘new’. I can’t blame the lady for thinking this way – as important as it is for children to read, it’s also important for them to have shoes and clothes and school uniforms and food, of course, and I can completely understand why new books would slide down a parent’s list of priorities. But, as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought.

Every book bought second-hand benefits, in financial terms, nobody but the person selling it; the author gets nothing. If a book is borrowed in a library, at least the author gets a tiny fraction of a payment for it. It’s tough, realising that something which benefits readers so much (i.e. second-hand book purchasing) can be such a bad thing from a writer’s point of view, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I do not judge the lady I helped for her choice, particularly because I also frequent second-hand bookshops (though I do try to support the authors I love as much as I can); I just hope that, perhaps, encouraging children to read when they’re young will turn them into not only enthusiastic consumers of books, but also enthusiastic supporters of writers when they grow older, thereby ensuring there will always be a flow of new books to read. I also hate reducing the whole ‘book creation-book consumption’ thing to crass economic terms, but that’s a reality, too. Writers need to earn a living, however meagre, and that’s becoming harder and harder with every passing year.

It’s important to clearly state that of course I believe it’s more important to encourage children to read than it is to ensure they only read from brand-new books – literacy concerns trump all else – but thoughts of ‘what will become of writers?’ have been playing on my mind since my encounter with this lady, nonetheless. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, if you have any. If you buy your books in hard copy, do you like to browse in second-hand shops? What’s your thinking on the economic issues I’ve laid out here? Do tell.

Happy Tuesday! And, naturally, I hope you’re reading, no matter where you bought your book.