Friday, 30 January 2009

Spring is Poetry Season at the BBC

Spring 2009 sees the launch of a UK landmark commitment to literature with a pan-BBC season dedicated to poetry.

Some of the nation's best loved poets and celebrities will take part in a season of content across television, radio and online exploring the far reaching and compelling world of poetry.

Griff Rhys Jones launches the Poetry Season on BBC Two with a passionate plea about Why Poetry Matters – how verse has the power to move and why everybody needs it.

Also on BBC Two, Lifelines explores the rich terrain of British poetry from Milton to Shakespeare through the eyes of Malorie Blackman, Shelia Hancock, Cerys Mathews and Robert Webb; and Off By Heart follows primary school children across the country as they take part in a nationwide recitation competition, culminating in a grand final, compered by Jeremy Paxman.

BBC Four will feature a groundbreaking series A Poet's Guide To Britain presented by Owen Sheers, on the importance of poetry to British culture; and Ian Hislop welcomes the new Poet Laureate with an entertaining history of one of the oldest and, he argues, oddest offices in the British establishment.

Radio 3 and Radio 4 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alfred Lord Tennyson, while The Essay – A Laureate's Life, also on Radio 3, offers five personal takes on the role of Poet Laureate from around the world and Radio 4 will showcase its second Poetry Slam competition following on from its hit 2007 contest.

Online activity will include a competition to elect the Nation's Favourite Poet which will be announced on National Poetry Day in early October; plus the Poetry Season's dedicated website will feature a poetry search engine to find poems for any occasion or mood.

George Entwistle, Controller Knowledge Commissioning, BBC Vision, says:

"The Poetry Season offers viewers an accessible and fascinating insight into verse; there really is something for everyone. The UK has a fine poetic tradition. We hope this season, the BBC's fantastic accompanying online offering, and the other initiatives with the likes of the Poetry Society will inspire and motivate people to reacquaint themselves with the poetry greats. In addition it may also inspire them to discover their own poetic voice."
The BBC is working closely with external partners on the season including the Poetry Society, the Poetry Archive and National Poetry Day.

The BBC Poetry Season will transmit from spring 2009. Further commissions to be announced at a later date and all titles may be subject to change. Highlights below and full programme information available nearer to transmission.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sebastian Barry wins the 2008 Costa Book of the Year Award

Irish author Sebastian Barry has won the 2008 Costa Book of the Year award for The Secret Scripture, a moving account of one woman’s stolen life and her journey to reclaim the past. The announcement was made this evening (Tuesday 27th January) at an awards ceremony held at the InterContinental Hotel in central London.

The Costa Book Awards recognise the most enjoyable books of the last year by writers based in the UK and Ireland. Originally established by Whitbread PLC in 1971, Costa announced its takeover of the sponsorship of the UK’s prestigious and popular book prize in 2006.

Barry, the bookmaker’s odds-on favourite, won against one of the most acclaimed collections of finalists in the Book Awards history beating 91 year-old author Diana Athill for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, bestselling first-time novelist Sadie Jones for The Outcast, poet and writer Adam Foulds for The Broken Word and popular children’s writer Michelle Magorian for Just Henry, to win the overall prize and a cheque for £25,000 at the glittering awards ceremony.

Following the judging, Matthew Parris, chair of the final judges, said: ”Sebastian Barry has created one of the great narrative voices in contemporary fiction in The Secret Scripture. It is a book of great brilliance, powerfully and beautifully written.”

The Secret Scripture, published by Faber and Faber, is the ninth novel to take the overall prize. A. L. Kennedy was the last author to win the Book of the Year with a novel taking the prize in 2007 for Day.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won eight times by a novel, four times by a first novel, five times by a biography, five times by a collection of poetry and once by a children’s book.

John Updike died

The website of the Knopf Publishing Group of Random House, carries this announcement today:

"It is with great sadness that we report that John Updike died this morning at the age of 76, after a battle with lung cancer.

John Updike was one of our greatest writers. He was a part of the Knopf family for over fifty years. We will all miss him terribly.

Mr. Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal."

"To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives."
John Updike 1932 - 2009

Neil Gaiman wins the 2009 Newbery Medal

The 2009 Newbery Medal winner is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, and published by HarperCollins Children's Books.

A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.

"A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising," said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott and is also awarded annually by the ALSC, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The 2009 Caldecott Medal winner is The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson (Houghton Mifflin Company)

Richly detailed black-and-white scratchboard illustrations expand this timeless bedtime verse, offering reassurance to young children that there is always light in the darkness. Krommes' elegant line, illuminated with touches of golden watercolor, evoke the warmth and comfort of home and family, as well as the joys of exploring the wider world.

The Odyssey Award was won by "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," written and narrated by Sherman Alexie, produced by Recorded Books, LLC. The Odyssey Award is an annual award given to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke - Currently in the Cinema

Worried that there are no more Harry Potter books or films to come? Fear not. If you have not already discovered Cornelia Funke's trilogy, Inkheart, Inkspell and Inkdawn, it's time to read them. And perhaps you see the film.

Based on the international bestselling novel by Cornelia Funke, Inkheart is the story of Meggie, a young girl whose father (Mo, but often called Silvertongue) has a secret ability to bring characters from books to life when he reads them aloud. The main problem is that someone from the place and time in which the book is read, is sent into the book. Essentially the story really starts when a power-hungry villain from a rare children’s fable (the 'Inkheart' of the title) kidnaps Meggie’s father to bring others out of the boundaries of fiction, then destroys the book which Mo had so long sought. Meggie embarks on an adventure together with her Great Aunt Elinor and various 'read-out' characters to find the author, the original manuscript and put things back in their right place.

Inkheart, the first book of the trilogy which includes Inkspell (released in 2005) and the upcoming Inkdawn, debuted at number nine on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to be translated into 20 languages. Cornelia Funke, has written more than 40 books in 15 years including the international bestseller The Thief Lord. She was named one of Time magazine’s “Most Influential People of the Year” in 2005.

Unfortunately the film met my usual expectation that the film was not as good as the book. (With notable exceptions, including the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, and PS. I Love You). Several notable changes meant that certain details or twists were rather unexpected, but overall, it is an enjoyable film, and it is fun to spot the references to many other books and classics, incorporated in the story. The book however, plays with language in a way, that the film cannot. And that is the true beauty behind this lengthy German masterpiece.

"Schmeck jedes Wort, Meggie, flüsterte Mos Stimme in ihr, lass es Dir auf der Zunge zergehen. Schmeckst Du die Farben? Schmeckst Du den Wind und die Nacht? Die Angst und die Freude? Und die Liebe. Schmeck sie, Meggie, und alles erwacht zum Leben." (Tintenherz)

"Taste every word Meggie, Mo's voice whispered in her ear, let it melt on your tongue. Can you taste the colours? Can you taste the wind and the night? Fear and Joy? And love. Taste them, Meggie, and everything comes to life."


by Cornelia Funke, translated by Anthea Bell
544 pages, Chicken House, £12.99

See the trailer here.

International Release Dates
Germany,UK, Brazil, December 2008
Taiwan, Turkey, USA 23 January 2009
Argentina 5 February 2009
Netherlands 12 February 2009
Italy 23 February 2009
Russia 19 March 2009
Finland 3 April 2009

Monday, 19 January 2009

Barack Obama's Inauguration Day Poetry

Professor Elizabeth Alexander, Poet, Playwright, Essayist and Teacher, will deliver a poem at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration at the United States Capitol on January, 20, 2009. She is the fourth poet in history to be so honored. She will deliver her poem after president-elect Obama’s inaugural address.

She tells best on her website in her own words, what this will mean to her.

“Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community. President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward. And as his campaign was a movement much larger than the man himself, I understand that as a country we stand poised to make tremendous choices about our collective future. The distillation of language in poetry, its precision, can help us see sharply in the midst of many conundrums. This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the world views – we live in. This is only the fourth time in history that a President has featured a poet at his inaugural. I hope that this portends well for the future of the arts in our everyday and civic life.”

The poem will be made available from February 10th, as a chapbook from Graywolf Press. Price: $8.00 USD

Poetry 978-1-55597-545-6, 28 pages.

Friday, 16 January 2009

British writer John Mortimer Died

British writer John Mortimer, creator of the criminal lawyer Rumpole of the Bailey, has died aged 85, Mortimer's literary representatives, United Agents, announced today.

Mortimer was both a lawyer and a prolific writer. During the war he worked for the Crown Film Unit and published a number of novels before turning to the theatre. He created screen and stage plays, including the adapted autobiographical, 'A Voyage Round my Father', His film work included 'Tea with Mussolini' starring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, based on Zeffirelli’s Memoirs. His well known TV dramas and mini-series included Paradise Postponed (1986), a satirical vision of Thatcher's Britain. But his most famous creation was Horace Rumpole, the wine-loving barrister who appeared in a TV series and a series of novels and stories.

As a barrister, he was noted for his defence of freedom of expression and work in literary related cases, notably that involving Hubert Selby's novel Last Exit to Brooklyn and the magazine Oz. He won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 British Book Awards.

Of the many and varied obituaries, this at The Australian, is one of the most intimate. And funny.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Robert Burns 250th Anniversary - Storytelling Events in Scotland

BurnsFest 2009
Friday 16th - Saturday 31st January

The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh takes a fresh look at Burns this January, in the year of the 250th anniversary of his birth (25 January 1759). Two weeks of events for all ages celebrate the language and legacy of Scotland’s great bard from nursery songs to poetic epics.

There are Scots stories for the wee ones in Burns for Bairns; and an evocative night of entertaining tales, food and poetry in Supper with Burns, with a storytelling twist on Burns’s well-known wo
rk. 'Oor Rabbie', an energetic storytelling performance by Andy Cannon, of acclaimed Wee Stories Theatre, adds dramatic sparkle; while a tribute to Tam O’Shanter proves that Scotland’s master tale-teller is a vivid inspiration 250 years on.

The Centre’s BurnsFest programme is all about seeing anew and taking part.


i 16 - Sat 31 Jan (Not Sun), 10am-6pm, Free
Burns in the Bothy: Tam O'Shanter
Puppeteer and artist Ian Turbitt turns the Centre's Bothy into a tribute to Burns' famous Tam O'Shanter, with an interactive display of puppets and original artwork. Experience Ian's staged version on Jan 21.

Sat 17 Jan, 2.30pm (90mins), £3, family ticket £10 (4 people)
Family Story Circle
Ward off the January winds with some warm tales and energetic story-making! Join storyteller Jean Edmiston in the Tam O'Shanter Bothy to hear some favourite stories and have help making and telling your own.

Tue 20 Jan, 10am & 11.30am (45mins), £3 per child (accompanying adult free)
Tiny Tales: Scots
Get singing, clapping with Scots stories and songs for wee ones (and grown-ups!) to join in with. With storyteller Senga Munro. For children aged 6 months – 3 years. Please book in advance.

Wed 21 Jan, 7.30pm (60mins), £6/£4
Tam O'Shanter
Storyteller Donald Smith introduces Burns' famous Tam O'Shanter, and artist, actor and puppeteer Ian Turbitt unfolds a new take on Tam. Witty character acting and energetic storytelling theatre combine with handmade puppets and props for a dazzling tribute to Burns' well-loved poem. Adults and over 12s.

Fri 23 (7pm), Sat 24 (3pm & 7pm) & Fri 30 (7pm), Sat 31 Jan (7pm)
60mins, £8/£6 Family ticket £24 (4 people), Age 8-adult
Oor Rabbie / Foolish Notion
Join Foolish Notion for the perfect introduction (or refresher!) to the life and work of Robert Burns. With live music and witty storytelling theatre, discover the history of Scotland's famous bard through his best-known work – including Tam O'Shanter, Tae a Mouse, Tae a Louse and Address to a Haggis. Foolish Notion is Wendy Weatherby (cello) and Andy Cannon (Wee Stories Theatre) – one of Scotland's most acclaimed folk musicians and one of Scotland's most acclaimed storytellers working together to create a unique theatrical experience.

Sat 24 Jan, 2.30pm (60mins), £4/£3, Age 5+
Burns for Bairns
Fun family Scots stories, rhymes and songs for the season of Burns, with storyteller Robbie Fotheringham. Plus make your own timorous beastie finger puppet to take home.

Mon 26, Tue 27 & Wed 28 Jan, 7pm (2hrs), £17
Supper with Burns
A seasonal favourite - an alternative Burns supper at Edinburgh's famous Burns pub, hosted by storytellers David Campbell, Donald Smith and Linda Bandelier. Book early to avoid disappointment!
Storytelling / Days out

Sat 31 Jan, 2.30pm (60mins), £4/£3, Age 5+
Burns for Bairns
Join storyteller Liz Wilson for Scots stories and rhymes to celebrate Scotland's famous poet - have fun with some Scots words!

Box office 0131 556 9579 or

Denotes especially family friendly events

Donald Smith, The Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre will join us at The View From Here at the end of next week in time for Burns' Night, to talk about his new books, `Between Ourselves' (Luath Press, Jan 2009) and 'God, the Poet and the Devil: Robert Burns and Religion.' (Saint Andrew Press, Dec 2008)


About the SSC: The Scottish Storytelling Centre is proud to present a seasonal programme of live storytelling, theatre and literature, supported by exciting visual arts, craft and multi-media events. The programme aims to promote storytelling as a vibrant contemporary artform and celebrate Scotland’s rich storytelling heritage.

Experience the delights of folk traditions, theatre and literature from across the globe with day, evening and weekend events. For daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, search the Events section.

Whether you’re looking for an entertaining evening out, family activities or the chance to discover more about Scotland’s Stories and the art of storytelling, the Scottish Storytelling centre is the place to start.

If you are interested in bringing an event to the Storytelling Centre, contact Esther Kent on:

The Scottish Storytelling Centre is open to the public from 10am to 6pm Mon - Sat all year. Sundays 12noon - 6pm in July and August.

You may also be interested to visit the associated '
Scotland’s Stories Permanent exhibition.' From folktales round the fire to inspiring legends and international bestsellers, the free exhibition explores Scottish stories and storytelling from William Wallace to Katie Morag, not to mention Long John Silver, Finn McCool and Oor Wullie, Rob Roy McGregor, Ossian and Columba – Scotland is a nation of storytellers.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The View From Here Round Up - January 2009

Book & Author News
New Book from Penguin in time for the inauguration of the USA's 44th President on January 20th.

AMERICA: Empire of Liberty, By David Reynolds
Published by Allen Lane, £30, 19th January 2009

'In the first new one-volume history in two decades, Reynolds unlocks the grandeur and paradoxes of what Jefferson called the Empire of Liberty. The anti-empire of 1776 became the great superpower. The country that offered liberty prospered on the labour of black slaves. He explains how faith - in evangelical Protestantism and in America itself - has been used to resolve these contradictions. We hear the words of presidents from Washington to Bush and ordinary men and women to tell the story of a country that has derived much of its energy - even its identity - from a perpetual struggle against enemies, real or imagined.'

David Reynolds is the Professor of International History at Cambridge and a Fellow of Christ's College, where he has taught American history for more than thirty years, with visiting posts at Harvard, Nebraska and Oklahoma.


Cinnamon Press has a forward list of 25 books for 2009. January releases include a collection of poetry from John Gimblett, Monkey: selected India poems with new collections from John Powell Ward, Wendy Klein and Bryan Walpert in February. The 2009 list includes three novels and two novellas, poetry in translation from Finland, their first combined poetry and art collection from Philip Gross and Simon Denison, I Spy Pinhole Eye, nine poetry collections, including the already highly acclaimed debut by Kevin Mills, Fool, three anthologies, and the eagerly awaited sequel to Three-three, two-two, five-six, Ann Drysdale’s Discussing Wittgenstein.



On Tuesday 20th January the Instituto Cervantes in London will be holding a launch event for Alberto Mendez’s Blind Sunflowers, a Writers in Translation supported title. Translated by Nick Caistor, the book won the National Prize for Literature in 2005 and was serialised in the New Yorker in 2006. Full details are available from the Instituto Cervantes website.

2009 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. In this, the 'Year of Homecoming', there will be many celebrations of the works of Robert Burns through music and verse. Even British Royal Mail is joining in the celebration by issuing two new Special Stamps in a Miniature Sheet to coincide with the annual Burn's Night celebrations on January 25th. You can test your knowledge of Scotland as part of the fun in the "Think you know Scotland Quiz?" in which the questions are taken from The Scottish Quiz Book, published by Geddes & Grosset.

Other Book related news

Canongate invites you to join them for a Literature World Tour in the coming months. Writers can submit their reviews of books related to the country of Canongate's choice for each leg of the tour. See their website for details. January's location is Scotland.

*** has teamed up with METRO to create the Metro Book Club. This month's Book Club title is 'Monster Love', by author Carol Topolski.

Competition: 'The 3rd Annual Ted Walters International Short Story and Poetry Competition 2009' is open. The University of Liverpool Creative Writing Society for Lifelong Learning will donate £1 from each and every poem and short story entered to the Macmillan Cancer Support, which is once again our chosen charity for the second year running. Deadline: Entries must arrive before or on the 31st May 2009.


International Short Story Competition - closing deadline 14th January
Last call for original story submissions for the Chapter One annual International Short Story Competition. The prizes are £2,500, £1,000 and £500, plus the winners, ten runners up and five highly recommended will be published in Chapter One Promotions anthology. The entry fee is £10 per story and the maximum story limit is 2500 words. All entries must be received by midnight on Wednesday 14 January 2009. You can submit and pay online or use the more traditional postal method. Our mailing address is Chapter One Promotions, 19 - 35 Sylvan Grove, London, SE15 1PD, England. Please ensure that your contact details are placed on a separate sheet. All online submissions will receive an acknowledgment receipt. Contact us at or view our website at


Saturday, 10 January 2009

2009 Kicks off with a Fireworks Display

Bangers: Jobs, Bertrams and Angel Girl

McGraw-Hill announced they laid off 375 employees in the fourth quarter of 2008. In all, the company reduced its workforce by 1,045 employees last year. According to the company's release, the educational division was hit hardest, losing 215 jobs. Before taxes, the restructuring charges for the company's 2008 consolidation totaled more than $73.4 million.

The sale of Bertrams is expected to take place by the end of January. The book distributor is owned by Entertainment UK (EUK), which is part of the Woolworths organisation.

After it was announced that Berkley Books is cancelling publication of 'Angel at the Fence' Lerner Publishing Group has also cancelled all pending reprints of its children's picture book based on the same story, titled 'Angel Girl.' Lerner is issuing refunds on all returned books. The company is no longer offering the book for sale and is recalling the book from the market. The story is based on the true Holocaust survival story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat, but although Mr. Rosenblat's stories from the concentration camps are true, "(he) invented the crux of this amazing love story—about the girl at the fence who threw him an apple." Mr. Rosenblat also revealed that he made up the chance reunion with this girl on the blind date. The fictional additions to his story were revealed after investigation by The New Republic. Mr. Rosenblat and his agent, Andrea Hurst, released statements on December 27, 2008, confirming parts of his story were fabricated. There are now rumours of a possible publishing deal with the story retitled and branded as 'fiction.'

Rockets of Success: Costa Book Awards, Laura Bush and Leona Lewis

Sebastian Barry, Sadie Jones and Diana Athill are all category winners in the Costa Book Awards 2008, which took place on January 5th. Diana Athill, who wins the Costa Biography Award for her memoir, Somewhere Towards the End is the oldest-ever category-winning author in the history of the Book Awards. She is 91. Each winner receives £5,000, and will go on to compete for the £25,000 2008 Costa Book of the Year award, which will be announced on 27th January. Last year's winner was A L Kennedy's Day (Vintage). Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won eight times by a novel, four times by a first novel, five times by a biography, five times by a collection of poetry and once by a children’s book.

Laura Bush will write her memoirs, including her experiences in the White House. The publisher Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, said in a release that it had acquired Mrs. Bush’s not-yet-titled book and planned to publish it in 2010.

Pop singer Leona Lewis has signed a book deal with Hodder & Stoughton to tell the story of her journey from pizza waitress to X Factor winner and international star. The book will include more than 100 behind-the-scenes photographs taken by photographer Dean Freeman, who has previously worked with David Beckham. Since winning The X Factor in 2006, Lewis has sold more than five million copies of her album, Spirit, while her single Bleeding Love was iTunes' biggest seller of 2008.

Blazing a new trail: Ian Rankin Launches Campaign, E-books for a Dollar and UK's Reading Heroes announced

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Braille's inventor, bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin has launched a campaign calling on writers, publishers and booksellers to make more books available to the visually impaired, and backing an appeal to raise £2m to rehouse the UK's leading Braille printing press, the Scottish Braille Press, which is struggling to meet demand with its current premises. Just 4% of books published in the UK currently make it into Braille, large print or audio formats, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and Rankin - whose son attends the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh - hopes the campaign will unite the books world in improving access to fiction and non-fiction for the visually impaired.

As Apple has announced a new iTunes pricing structure, so too has Hachette Book Group's science fiction and fantasy publisher, Orbit Books. It will offer selected titles for one dollar for a month. At the end of the month, the price returns to normal, replaced by a new sale book. Over the next few months, offers will include The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, Empress by Karen Miller, and Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks.

In the UK, The National Year of Reading announced its Reading Heroes campaign final winners. The National Year of Reading awards celebrate the difference reading can make to individual lives. Thirty Four ‘Reading Heroes’ were selected by public nomination. They are individuals from across the country whose personal effort to support reading has made a real difference to others, or whose acquisition of reading skills in challenging circumstances has transformed their own lives. Sue Torr, from Devonport, won the third place in a category for Individual Achievers. The former school dinner lady, now aged 49, first learned to read when she was 38 and there has been no stopping her since.

In 2008 she wrote award-winning drama Shout It Out! and has been given an MBE for her tireless work promoting adult literacy. The overall celebrity winner is Katie Price. The selected Reading Heroes will be acknowledged and received as guests of honour at a private reception with the Prime Minister's wife Sarah Brown at Number 10 Downing Street in early 2009.

(flickr photo courtesy of Shermee)

Friday, 9 January 2009

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my True Love gave to me ... Twelve Drummers Drumming.

I was first intrigued and inspired by Bernard Cornwell when I participated in a workshop at the London Book Fair in 2005, and he was on the panel. I'm not sure whether it was his wit, impressive career writing style or his association with Sean Bean, the actor who plays his protaganist Sharpe, in the televised series of his adventure stories, which appealed to me most, but certainly he knows how to write about battles. And 'Twelve drummers drumming', made me think of him.

His most recent book, Agincourt, has just been published in the UK and due for release by Harper on January 20th 2009, in the US.

Agincourt (Azincourt in French) is one of the most famous battles ever fought; the victory of a small, despised, sick and hungry army over an enemy that massively outnumbered it. Azincourt, the novel coming soon, tells the story of that small army; how it embarked from England confident of victory, but was beaten down and horribly weakened by the stubborn French defence of Harfleur. By the end of that siege common-sense dictated that the army sail for home, but Henry V was stubbornly convinced that God was on his side and insisted on marching from Harfleur to Calais to prove that he could defy the great French army that was gathering to crush him. He believed he could evade that army, but the march, like the siege, went disastrously wrong and the English were trapped and so forced to fight against an enemy that outnumbered them six to one. Azincourt is the tale of Nicholas Hook, an archer, who begins the novel by joining the garrison of Soissons, a city whose patron saints were Crispin and Crispinian. What happened at Soissons shocked all Christendom, but in the following year, on the feast day of Crispin and Crispinian, Hook finds himself in that small army trapped at Azincourt. The novel is the story of the archers who helped win a battle that has entered legend, but in truth is a tale, as Sir John Keegan says, 'of slaughter-yard behaviour and outright atrocity'.

About the Author
Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 - a 'war baby' - whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years. He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government - and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars - and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

A more impressive bibliography of a contemporary writer, may be hard to find.
Bernard Cornwell publishes the Sharpe series and the Arthur Series regularly, and other books intermittently.

Sharpe series:

the first was published in 1981, Sharpe's Gold, but in fact it is number nine in teh Sharpe series. There are 21 Sharpe stories, the last of which was published in 2007, plus two short stories, featuring Sharpe.

Arthur series:
The Winter King 1995
Enemy of God 1996
Excalibur 1997

The Thrillers Wildtrack 1988
The Thrillers Sea Lord 1989
The Thrillers Crackdown 1990
The Thrillers Stormchild 1991
The Thrillers Scoundrel 1992

Other books
include The Starbuck Chronicles, The Saxon Stories, The Grail Quest, Stonehenge and other one off books.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to me...Eleven Pipers Piping.

When I attended the book launch of Diana Gabaldon's most recently published book in her Highlander series, "A Breath of Snow and Ashes", held in Munich, she was piped in by at least eleven pipers, with bagpipes and drums, attired in full Scottish dress.

It was September 12th, 2005. Barbara Schnell, her German translator (coincidentally whose last name translates as 'quick') had worked so well with her, the German version was in print before the English one - it was a German worldwide premiere event!

Thankfully it was a large venue. It was quite appropriate to be accompanied by pipers, since the books are based around the adventures of Claire and her Highlander Jamie, and some plots are set in Scotland. I was delightedly in the third row, my lucky number. Coincidentally, one of the pipers in the band had played at my wedding. It was a sign, I was sure. I could follow my dream and become a writer too.

The next book 'An Echo in the Bone' is one that I am most looking forward to of 2009. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2008 and released in late summer 2009, published by ORION in the UK . Excerpts are available on her website, (see the excerpts tab). She has also just released the UK proof cover on her blog.

A toast to Diana Gabaldon who lives on the other side of the Atlantic from my birthland of Scotland, may your laughter be as deep as the ocean, and your troubles be as light as foam. Happy New Year!

About the author:
Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, NYT-bestselling Outlander novels, described by Salon magazine as "the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting "Scrooge McDuck" comics."

Her books are difficult to classify by genre, since they contain elements of romantic fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction (in the form of time travel). Her books have so far been sold in 23 countries, and translated into 19 languages besides English.

The adventure began in 1991 with the classic Outlander ("historical fiction with a Moebius twist"), continued through five more New York Times-bestselling novels--Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes--and a nonfiction (well, relatively) companion volume, The Outlandish Companion, which provides copious details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Gabaldon (it's pronounced "GAH-bull-dohn"-rhymes with "stone") has also written two historical mysteries, Lord John and the Private Matter, and Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, as well as several novellas featuring Lord John Grey.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the most recent novel in the main Outlander series, opened simultaneously at #1 on the bestseller lists of four countries, and won both a Quill Award and the Corine interntational literary prize for fiction.

Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, (plus an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters (though no one has yet explained to her just what a humane letter is) and spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation before beginning to write fiction. She has written scientific articles and textbooks, worked as an editor on the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Computers, founded the scientific-computation journal Science Software Quarterly, and has written numerous comic-book scripts for Walt Disney.

The Outlander Series
Outlander (Cross Stitch in UK) (1991)
Dragonfly in Amber (1992)
Voyager (1994)
Drums of Autumn (1997)
The Fiery Cross (2001)
A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005)
An Echo in the Bone (Release date TBC)

Lord John Series
Lord John and the Hellfire Club (novella) (1998, initially an audio only release)
Lord John and the Private Matter (novel) (September 2003)
Lord John and the Succubus (novella) in Legends II (book), edited by Robert Silverberg (September 2003)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (novel) (August 2007)
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (novella) (November 2007)
Lord John and the Hand of Devils (collection) (November 2007, a collection of three novellas)
Lord John and the Hellfire Club (novella)
Lord John and the Succubus (novella)
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (novella)
Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner (novel) (Forthcoming)

Other Books:

The Outlandish Companion (Through The Stones in the UK.) (1999), A guide to the Outlander series containing synopses, a character guide, and other notes and information.
Naked Came the Phoenix (2001), a collaboration with twelve other authors.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

On the Tenth Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to me...Ten Lords-a-leaping.

Lord Jeffrey Archer, has just announced plans for a tour of Australia in April 2009 to promote his latest book, "A Prisoner of Birth", which was released in the UK as a paperback on 17 October 2008.

"If Danny Cartwright had proposed to Beth Wilson the day before, or the day after, he would not have been arrested and charged with the murder of his best friend. And when the four prosecution witnesses are a barrister, a popular actor, an aristocrat and the youngest partner in an established firm's history, who is going to believe his side of the story?

Danny is sentenced to 22 years and sent to Belmarsh prison, the highest security jail in the land, from where no inmate has ever escaped. But Spencer Craig, Lawrence Davenport, Gerald Payne and Toby Mortimer all underestimate Danny's determination to seek revenge and Beth's relentless quest to win justice, which forces all four protagonists to fight for their lives."

So begins A Prisoner of Birth, Jeffrey Archer's most powerful novel since Kane and Abel, with a cast of characters who will remain with you long after you've turned the last page.

Full details of his Australian Tour including Radio appearances, can be found at his website.

He will be signing books in Australia on the following dates:
Tuesday 8th April, Sydney
4.00pm - Constant Reader Bookshop, 27 Willoughby Road
5.00pm - Dymocks – 424 George Street, City, followed by ‘The Meet The Author’ Wednesday 9th April, Sydney
4.30pm – at the airport
Friday 11th April, Melbourne
12.45pm - Angus & Robertson, 360 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Saturday 12th April, Melbourne
11.00am – Angus & Robertson, Shop 1014, Coles/Kmart Mall Area, Southland
Sunday 13th April, Melbourne
12 noon – at the airport
Tuesday 15th April, Adelaide
9.30am – at the airport

Jeffrey Archer's books can be bought here.


2008 - A Prisoner of Birth (Novel)
2007 - The Gospel According to Judas (Novel)
2006 - Cat O' Nine Tales (Short stories)
2006 - False Impression (Novel)
2004 - A Prison Diary, Heaven, Volume III (Non-Fiction)
2003 - A Prison Diary, Purgatory, Volume II (Non-Fiction)
2002 - Sons of Fortune (Novel)
2002 - A Prison Diary, Hell, Volume I (Non-Fiction)
2000 - The Accused (Play)
2000 - To Cut a Long Story Short (Short Stories)
1998 - The Eleventh Commandment (Novel)
1997 - The Collected Short Stories
1996 - The Fourth Estate (Novel)
1994 - Twelve Red Herrings (Short Stories)
1993 - Honour Among Thieves (Novel)
1991 - As The Crow Flies (Novel)
1989 - A Twist in the Tale (Short Stories)
1989 - Exclusive (Play)
1987 - Beyond Reasonable Doubt (Novel)
1986 - A Matter of Honour (Novel)
1984 - First Among Equals (Novel)
1982 - The Prodigal Daughter (Novel)
1980 - The First Miracle (Children's story, with illustrations by Craigie Aitchison)
1980 - A Quiver Full of Arrows (Short Stories)
1979 - Kane and Abel (Novel)
1977 - Shall We Tell The President? (Novel)
1976 - Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less (Novel)

Televised Adaptations
1986 - First Among Equals
1985 - Kane and Abel
1990 - Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less

Stage Premieres

2000 – The Accused, Theatre Royal, Windsor
1989 – Exclusive – Strand Theatre, London
1987 – Beyond Reasonable Doubt –Queen's Theatre, London

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

On the Ninth Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to me...Nine Ladies Dancing.

Nine Ladies dancing makes me think of ballet. Particularly at Christmas I am drawn to images of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. So I have selected "Bloomsbury Ballerina" by Judith Mackrell for this post. Available already in hardback, it will be published in paperback in April 2009.

Judith Mackrell is a writer and dance critic for the Guardian. She was the ghostwriter for Darcey Bussell's 'Life in Dance'. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Born in 1891 in St Petersburg, Lydia Lopokova lived a long and remarkable life. Her vivacious personality and the sheer force of her charm propelled her to the top of Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. Through a combination of luck, determination and talent, Lydia became a star in Paris, a vaudeville favourite in America, the toast of Britain and then married the world-renowned economist, and formerly homosexual, John Maynard Keynes.

Lydia's story links ballet and the Bloomsbury group, war, revolution and the economic policies of the super-powers. She was an immensely captivating, eccentric and irreverent personality: a bolter, a true bohemian and, eventually, an utterly devoted wife.

With what Virginia Woolf termed her "genius of personality", Lydia inspired the character of Rezia in Mrs Dalloway.

"Mackrell shows us exactly what made Lopokova one the last century's 'true originals." said Frances Wilson in the Sunday Times.

Paperback RRP £8.99
496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780753825785
Publication: April 2009

Monday, 5 January 2009

On the Eighth Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to me...Eight Maids a-Milking.

Not to forget the role of writing for television, here is a classic from the BBC. They don't make them like this any more.

Peter Cook
was an English satirist, writer, comedian, television host and supporter of Private Eye. He is widely regarded as the leading figure in the British satire boom of the 1960s. He has been described by Stephen Fry as 'the funniest man who ever drew breath'.

Friday, 2 January 2009

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to me...Seven Swans-a-swimming

On the seventh day of Christmas, I considered the Hindu Goddess Saraswati who is sometimes depicted riding a swan, and who is associated with creativity, especially in the context of communication, literary and verbal skills. I invited poet John Siddique, to write about the Twelve Days of Christmas, who recently attended a poetry festival in India. He was drawn to the theme, "My True Love Gave to Me."

by Guest Writer, John Siddique

I fell in love with poetry when I was 27, it was E.E. Cummings‘Somewhere I Never Travelled’ that did it for me. It was as if I was being filled with love and colour beyond my experience, I had no idea poetry could do this. Since then poetry has taken me on so many journeys, as a reader and as a writer. Poetry for me at its best is the purest vehicle for the human spirit, and putting my trust in that has shown me so many aspects of life different to my own. I’ve been so lucky to meet people from all over the world, and read and talk about poetry in places I could never have imagined I would end up. Most recently poetry took me to India to read at The Kritya Poetry Festival, run by the marvellous Rati Saxena. Here were poets from so many places, Norway, Estonia, Lebanon, Austria, Mexico, and all over India – for three days we were immersed in the beauty of other languages. We were exposed to poetry’s sensibilities on a global scale, and there it was again, after five thousand miles of travel, there was poetry’s ability to show our humanity and spirit. Poetry being stronger than war, death, love and politics, it being valueless in economic terms as a poem has no monetary use, and therefore priceless because it can contain all that we are, and lift our eyes to take us to places we have never travelled.

John Siddique's writing is playful and poignant. It explores the complexities of a fragmented world - of sex, family, loss and dream-life - with such clear-eyed, unsentimental candour. He's not afraid of writing about love, its pain and rewards, its sudden, shocking forces and darkly funny epiphanies - and his poems demonstrate a generosity and humanity so often lacking in more brittle, defensive writers.' He is the author of ‘The Prize’ (Rialto,) ‘Poems from a Northern Soul’ (Crocus Books,) editor of ‘Transparency’ (Crocus Books,) and co-author of ‘Four Fathers’ (ROUTE.) His children’s book ‘Don’t Wear it on Your Head,’(Peepal Tree,) was shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Award. His new book 'Recital - An Almanac' will be published in March 2009 by SALT. John also gives readings, mentors and teaches creative writing in the UK and abroad.

Read more about John, his work and events at his website or follow his blog.

John Siddique Portrait by Daniel Connell