A Comic on How to Skype an Author

By Candy Gourlay

I've met many teachers who would love to do author visits on Skype or Google Hangouts but are daunted by the logistics. So I helpfully made this comic using the amazing BitStrips comic-making website. I am offering one free Skype or Google Hangout Q&A session a month to any classes reading Tall Story or Shine. If you're interested, do get in touch using the contact form below.
Where in the world are you?
candygourlay.coma microphone will help. And don't forget I can see you.It helps if you've got your questions ready. candygourlay.comI love seeing your projects. I love the fact I can show you stuff from my workplaceIsn't it cool we can meet each other no matter where in the world we are?See you very, very soon!
If you're not sure how Google Hangout and Skype work, here's a piece I wrote on How to do a Google Hangout and here are details of How to Plan a Skype Visit.

So ... where in the world are YOU?

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Dismaland takes the 'escape' out of 'escapist'

By Candy Gourlay

If you're planning to see Dismaland before it closes on 27 September, look away now.

Dismaland. Photo © Candy Gourlay
The night before my ticket entry I went for a walk and took this photo of the Dismaland sign. There were about a thousand people waiting to get in and strange thumping music played from the derelict lido hosting Banksy's installation

So a friend suddenly had a spare Dismaland ticket and there I was, waiting to worship at the altar of Banksy by the shore of Weston-Super-Mare.

If you haven't heard of Banksy or Dismaland, you can read this to get the gist. Suffice to say: it's an event they'll be talking about for years whether the reviews are good or bad. (I tend to agree with the good reviews, it was definitely unmissable)

The newspapers had already warned us about the surly, sneering fairground team and it was true. Guests were welcomed with open hatred and disgust.

Photo © Candy Gourlay

Photo © Candy Gourlay

Photo © Candy Gourlay

I could see a lot of people grinning like they were enjoying the unpleasantness. Marshmallow that I am, I found it a bit frightening. I couldn't meet  their glares.

As we surveyed the raggedy castle, the armoured police van crashed in the moat, the oil daubed crazy, Crazy Golf, twisted, twisting structures, and piles of garbage that were saying something about something, I said, 'So what's it about?'

'It's a dystopian vision of an amusement park, isn't it?' one of my friends replied.

It was all too familiar to be dystopian. More like hyper-real. The installation underscored the most unpleasant elements of a bad English holiday.  The contrast between heavy skies and the bright stripes of sun loungers, the grinning holidaymakers determined to endure, the grim wage makers at their grim jobs, the long queues to everything. The weather even obliged with a flurry of rain and gusty winds that turned umbrellas inside out.

Vulture.com called it "the most ironic place on earth" ... and irony was there in buckets and spades, intended and unintended. The constant queuing, the gormless guests carrying black helium balloons with the blurb 'I am an Imbecile', the exit through the gift shop (evoking Banksy's 2010 film). Banksy's jokes are always on us, why do we love him so much?

But I didn't sense any irony in the (delicious) popcorn priced at a reasonable £2, tickets at £3 apiece, souvenir photo for just £5 (a fraction of the normal pricing in a typical British theme park).

And though the workers on site were nasty, the opinions on offer from the artists on display in the exhibition spaces (there were four) were on the side of the idealistic, ranting against the gamut of injustice - the current refugee disaster, capitalist outrages, imperialism, police brutality, militarisation, David Cameron, war, the rape of the environment, you name it, the art raged against it.

It reminded me of my Facebook feed.

There is an intensity of like-mindedness amongst the people I have chosen to follow on Facebook. It's a constant reminder that Facebook is not the real world ... in the real world people don't agree with each other all the time.

An amusement park is designed to be a place to escape the cares of the world.

Dismaland takes the 'escape' out of 'escapist'. At Dismaland, the relentlessness of identical outrage made me feel a bit ... trapped.

Oh and here are a couple of shots of Weston Super Mare's beach. Which was beautiful. As I checked out, my bed and breakfast host said, "Hope to see you again." She just might.

As time permits, I will be uploading more of my photos on Instagram #dismalandbycandygourlay and on Facebook.

Photos © Candy Gourlay

Francesca Simon: Things I Wish I'd Known

By Candy Gourlay

Francesca Simon spoke at the New Visions Conference on 5 September 2015. You can also read my report on the conference What is the Future of Children's Books? Tweets about the conference were storified by the SOA here.

One of my favourite books to read aloud when my children were babies was Papa Forgot, written by a pre-Horrid Henry Francisca Simon. I must have read that book hundreds of times. 

Another family favourite was Spider School - featuring a gorilla taking over a classroom. Local rumour has it that Simon based the book on true events at my children's primary school.

And yet Horrid Henry, with its enormous success, easily obscures the fact that the series constitutes less than half of Simon's body of work over more than two decades.

"Mistakes or Things I Wish I'd Known" was the title Simon chose for her keynote before the New Visions Conference. With an audience of grizzled and not-so-grizzled veterans of children's publishing, the bar was high in the department of regret and self reproach.

Simon used a list of things she wished she'd known about being an author as the framework for telling the story of her authorial journey. Thing Number One was "I wish I'd known that Edward Ardizzone died in 1979" - telling the story of her naivete at an early editorial meeting when, invited by her editor to suggest an artist, she named the late illustrator.

Things Two and Three ("You don't have to listen to your American editor" and "Your publisher / agent are not always right.") involved regrets about succumbing to unwanted edits.

Thing Number Four was about not thinking long term. Simon said she never dreamed that Horrid Henry would be more than a one-off story. Her first attempt had been to write it as an early reader. Her editor suggested she turn it into a book for newly-confident readers - which meant writing several more stories. Twenty-four years later, Horrid Henry continues to follow the format.

Thing Number Five has to be my favourite: "If a publisher wants you to rewrite the beginning, the middle and the end of the book ... they want a different book." She said: "There's a big difference between rewriting and improving a text ... you might as well write the one you want to write!"

If a publisher wants you to rewrite the beginning, middle and end - they want a different book

Things Six, Seven and Eight all involved time management and self promotion.

"You are not a bad person if you say no," she was quoting Philip Pullman (who happened to be in the audience). We all nodded. We were all familiar with the polite terror of refusing an invitation to appear at a local festival for free or saying no to a cousin clutching the first draft of a manuscript. 

"It's not all about marketing," she warned -- as in: remember that your real job is not the Tweeting and the Facebooking. We must always think hard whenever someone invites us to speak to their book club of four members in the name of promotion. "It is easy for writing time to dwindle away."

She cited some good advice from Julia Eccleshare, the children's editor at the Guardian: "Julia asks herself if she would say yes if the event she was being invited to was happening tomorrow." Nice.

"Life is short," she said. "All you can do is enjoy the process of having a book accepted for publication, when everything is golden and glorious ... which might in fact be the only good time (in the process)" Cue hollow laughter.

Of all the things she wished she'd known, Number Nine was her most specific -- and painful: "Subsidiary rights are valuable. Don't give them away."

What she revealed next was chilling. Despite the Horrid Henry TV series being broadcast to dozens of countries and over a million DVDs of the movie sold, she said, "I have not received a penny in royalties (from the company that bought the rights)".

The rights had been sold quite early on by her publisher. "Not understanding their proper value was the worst mistake I ever made."

Not understanding the proper value of subsidiary rights was the worst mistake I ever made

Before the now worried audience could rush out the door to check their contracts, she declared Thing Number Ten: "Not joining the Society of Authors." Had she been a member of the Society of Authors at the time the rights were sold, the mistake would have been spotted. 

The SOA is pledged to "help members with any query, however trivial or obscure, relating to the business of writing" - this is not me promoting the SOA but underlining its indispensability. So dear reader if you are a published author in the UK, I urge you to join the SOA now. 

There was a Thing Number Eleven - "Don't allow yourself to be pigeon-holed." 

This September, Francesca Simon will be publishing the final book of her middle grade trilogy which is deliciously pitched as  "Norse Gods meet the X-Factor".  

A nice way to remind Horrid Henry that he's not an only child.

Additional note:
Over on Facebook, I've had some interesting discussions about the vexed sale of rights by clueless writers. I thought readers of this piece might be interested in more cautionary tales:

I also blog on Notes from the Slushpile. Do check out my most recent post: What We Authors Can Learn From Jackie Chan

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What is the Future of Children's Books?

By Candy Gourlay

I've  just returned from a weekend in Bath attending the New Visions Conference (organised by CWIG - the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group of the Society of Authors). The title said it all. This was a conference about the future. [Read my post about keynote Francesca Simon here and the SOA storified the hashtag here]


The conference even featured a professional futurist -- Christopher Barnatt of Explaining the Future


To be clear: Christopher warned on the outset that the future would be impossible to predict. He could only surmise "a range of futures", a menu of possibility that may or may not happen.

It's all about looking at the "things that go on in the world" and speculating on how these will create change.

Chris told the story of a conversation he had with someone working at the Boots Photolab in the 1990s. He asked how the lab thought the new fangled digital cameras were going to affect their photo processing business. "No impact," was the blithe reply. We all know what happened next.

Still. It's not easy to stare into that crystal ball. The "things that go on" in our world of children's books are still in ferment. 

Remember thinking that the e-reader was going to bring about the demise of the book? Well these days, the talk focuses on the demise of the e-reader. But the reality is never that simple - especially in the children's book industry where some experts predict children are most likely to continue to read and write through print and paper rather than screen based technologies.  

Indeed according to the conference's very excellent Picture Book Panel there has been some fightback. 


Picture book panel. It was called 'More than this: the bigger picture' and featured from left to right: Martin Salisbury, head of the MA Children's Book Illustration programme at the Cambridge School of Art; Elizabeth Roy, seasoned Hodder editor turned literary agent; and Louise Bolongaro,former editorial director at Puffin now head of picture books and non-fiction at independent publisher Nosy Crow. The panel was chaired by Dawn Finch, author and VP of the librarian body CILIP .

Dawn Finch, swapping her author hat for her librarian hat, said: "Is it all going to be about apps? There will always be a need for the printed form in school libraries. Douglas Adams said 'Nothing on earth is better at being a shark than a shark' ... and nothing is better at being a book than a book."

"With developments in publishing, the picture book has had to work harder," explained Martin Salisbury. "Books are becoming more beautiful, more tactile." 

'The picture book has to work harder.'

The ephemerality of digital means the book as object has increased desirability - and what is more desirable than a gorgeous picture book?

Elizabeth Roy remembers falling out of love with picture books when digital illustration first emerged. "They lacked personality and warmth," she said. "But to be fair illustrators were still experimenting. Now ... we've gone back to seeing picture books as works of art in their own right and we are producing works of beauty and imagination."

Roy added: "The crux of a picture book's purpose is the power of the story - the value we attach to a story can be lost in a tablet."

"We don't squash books into screens!" was the response of Louise Bolongaro, speaking for Nosy Crow, which has made its mark as much with award winning apps as bestselling children's fiction. "It's not all bad!"

Bolongaro - who in her bio called picture books "her one true love"- said apps are not books but another way for children to engage in story. A story app is more like "making of a film than anything else" with a non-linear process -- it's a collaborative work rather than the work of a single creator. 

By the looks of Bolongaro's statistics, the screen is here to stay. 

97 per cent of five to fifteen year olds have access to internet connected devices and 52.4 per cent prefer reading using electronic devices.

The point was: apps are not about adding bells and whistles to books - they're a new reading experience  in their own right.


The Oxygen of Publicity. A panel on promotion - left to right: Julia Eccleshare, children's book editor at the Guardian; Harriet Bayly, PR and communications manager at Oxford University Press; Catherine Alport, publicity manager at Macmillan Children's Books.

In this brave new world it is not just the industry and the medium that is changing but the readers themselves. Readers want more from the book world. They want to read the books, yes. But they also want to engage with the authors through the many social channels available to them. 

Publicists Harriet Bayly and Catherine Alport agreed that events were the key to a publicity campaign and discussed timing, courage, diversity and impact.  'The world has really changed ... publishers expect you to have a gamut of skills,' Harriet said. 'But has the world changed? Remember that Charles Dickens had to promote his books.'

'Even Charles Dickens had to promote his books.'


1. Make sure you're comfortable with how you decide to deliver your events.

2. Be prepared. Plan it, practice it.

3. Don't worry if it doesn't go right the first time.

4. Make sure you communicate well with everyone involved - booksellers and schools. Tell them honestly what you are prepared to do

5. Think local, go global. Local libraries, local festivals, regional awards. 

6. Make yourself accessible through social media.

7. Talk to your publicity team. Work with your publisher.

8. Build a community
Julia Eccleshare recalled her start as children's book editor of the Times Literary Supplement which annually had four supplements devoted to children's books. Today, as children's book editor at The Guardian, she has 600 words a week in the Saturday Guardian - which "reflects the relative attention given to children's books" in today's media.

Today's authors struggle to get a review in national periodicals. Julia, tasked with commissioning one review a week for an industry that produces 10,000 books a year, says publishers desperate for reviews have become more and more creative  ... "they can be annoying" (no more glitter please!).

This leaves Julia with a conundrum: is it her job to highlight deserving books that will otherwise have no visibility in the media at all? Or is it her job to cover the books that are newsmakers anyway - the ones that will appear on Front Row and other broadsheets?

Perhaps a bit of both?


At conferences, the parallel sessions always present a conundrum and this one was particularly acute. I had to choose between a session with Shoo Rayner on how he became a YouTube star, publisher Janetta Otter Barry in conversation with the twinkling John Dougherty, and comics.

What goes in the speech balloons? A panel on how words work with images in comics. John Aggs, Emma Vieceli, Cavan Scott, Paul Duffield. Chaired by Patrice Aggs 

I went to the comics session - which was very bouncy, the screen above the panel's heads whizzing with image after image.

The panel began by declaring that comics were here to stay and then raced on with the task of explaining how to write them. I wanted to ask, 'Are they really here to stay? How did it happen? When?' But that was not the topic of the panel of course.

Despite the great influence the new digital reality has had on the creation of comics, I was struck by the thought that here (like picture books) was one more 2D way into story that is on the rise.

(I've helpfully digested the panel's learning points below)

1. A graphic novel is not a novel with pictures or a film with dialogue. The comic camera does not move eg. a character in a comic cannot roll his eyes

2. Remember that the artist has to interpret what you're saying so think in Action Points.

3. Do not carry all the plot with words

4. Comics is about pacing. Your reader will read faster or slower depending on how you plan your panels. Eg. Beano comics move quickly with small panels. Some graphic novels have big splashes every few pages. The larger the panel, the longer you look at it.

5. Ask yourself: What is the point of this comic panel?

6. Think of what has to be drawn. Eg. "Don't say: '10,000 soldiers swept over the hill' ... that will take weeks to draw!"

7. Think about page turns - if you have big moments and reveals, make sure they appear at a page turn. Don't allow them to land on the right hand page.

One of the discussions that emerged from the comics panel was the idea of visual literacy and comics literacy. Despite the range, sophistication and diversity of comics in the market today, there are still plenty of adults who see pictures and comics as bad for you. (I speak from bitter experience, as a 12 year old I went home one day to find that my mum had made a bonfire of my comics collection).

One of the images shown by the panel. Read the whole comic here ... and you might also be interested in this humongous and excellent piece about visual literacy and comics - Comics and the Value of Language by Paul Duffield. Well worth reading.

Was the current popularity of comics a sign of change? Does the future hold a greater respect for images as a way into literacy?


I have to admit that the panel title The rise and rise of UKYA - Proper Phenomenon or Flash in the Pan? worried me a bit. I've attended so many panels on YA and after a while these panels all sound alike. But I was wrong - this one (chaired by author Lucy Coats) was fascinating.

Do readers even know that they are reading YA?

"We are all talking about it from a book-engaged place," said Ruth Knowles, editorial director for Penguin Random House. The children's book world blithely use the marketing term - meaning 'Young Adult' - but there are plenty of readers who do not know what it means.

Indeed, teen author James Dawson declared that the panel title was wrong, period. All the rising has had been done in the US  where YA sales are going through the roof. "I don't think that there has been a rise and rise of UKYA. We haven't had a break-out UKYA title. We are still waiting."

'We haven't had a break-out UKYA title. We are still waiting.'

Even so in the UK, YA sales are fifty per cent up, according to Charlotte Eyre, children's book correspondent of the Bookseller. "It is the fastest growing area of publishing."

What is UKYA anyway?

James' definition made me laugh: "It's like American YA without the soft focus - we are writing for UK teenagers about life the way we know it without the vaseline smeared lens of American young adult books."

Literary agent Carol Walsh made the point that the label gave the unintended signal that the genre was YA "for UK readers only" when UKYA can be read by the world.

Success is tough when the author lives across the Atlantic. Publishers here are unlikely to budget for a trans-American book tour.

While UKYA is still an unknown continent to US readers, readers in the UK have wholeheartedly turned American YA into bestselling franchises.

"Culturally, contemporary UK teenagers are used to American culture," says Julia Green, author and course director of the acclaimed Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People. "They are saturated in American culture ... it is easier for things to cross from the US than the other way."

And then there's the vexed question of who is reading YA. According to Ruth Knowles, sixty five per cent of YA is read by 19 to 23 year olds. British booksellers are only just beginning to shelf YA separately from the baby board books and middle grade series. According to the panel,  in America, YA moved out of the kiddy department a long time ago.


At the end of his fascinating talk, the futurist Chris Barnatt showed us this slide:

Chris says the current industry model of author > publisher > distributor >retailer > reader will be upended by the above model - the absence of publisher and agent in his model had some people spluttering in the audience. 

And yet, and yet. At the conference, I bumped into an award-winning author friend who's been self publishing these past few years. When asked how things were going, she said she was giving up self publishing because of the stigma. Sales, prizes, discovery was impossible and she had had enough.  She was returning to traditional publishing. 

While self published books have boomed in some sectors, there are few examples of success in the markets for younger readers.

The absence of publisher and agent in the model had some people spluttering in the audience

Chris said in the future, discoverability will somehow be transformed, speculating that it will be a model similar to SEO -- Search Engine Optimisation -- the search strategies, tools and algorithms that make it possible for us to easily find anything on internet browsers. 

Discoverability is something we authors understand - with ten thousand books being published in the UK every year, everyone's looking for the silver bullet that would get your book found by readers. 

A relevant aside: I got tweeted by @_Artifact recently, an app firm that had used my novel as an example of its Artifact App - their motto: "Find books by Artifact rather than by accident" - if it works, is this the answer to our book search needs? Perhaps it's the beginning of the answer? You can check out their website: Unbound Concepts

During the publicity panel, Julia Eccleshare talked about how she saw the window of book discovery shrink in her long career as a journalist. In the olden days, it took ten years for a book to reach its young audience via a long chain of adult gatekeepers. Today, books get to the public fast. Success and failure are decided within months instead of years.

"Today, you the author are at the heart of the selling picture," Julia told the conference. "It is the author who has to make the connection with the reader."

After dinner that night, we were treated to His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman in conversation with Daniel Hahn, chair of the Society of Authors and author of The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature.

It was an inspiring session. But Pullman's advice to us authors was very simple. 

How do you make a future in this business?

You need three things, he said: hard work, talent and luck. 

The New Visions Conference was held in Bath University, 5 to 6 September 2015. You might want to read my previous post about how I tried to write a vampire novel

A Tale of the Unexpected: how I tried to write a vampire novel

I am archiving posts I wrote for other blogs. Here is a real throwback - a post I wrote for the StoryBlog in anticipation of Shine's publication back in August 2012

The other day a nine year old critic asked me what my second book was going to be about.

‘Well,’ I said, trying to be as mysterious as possible. ‘It’s set on an island where it never stops raining.’

I jumped when he exploded into a loud ‘HAH!’

‘What? What?’

His face was smug with inside knowledge. Had I done something right without realizing it?

‘An island where it never stops raining,’ he replied triumphantly. ‘ENGLAND.’

Oh. He thought my book was based on the recent out-of-kilter, out-of-season, out-of-everything monsoon we’ve been experiencing in the United Kingdom.

My Olympic Experience

Slow. Me.

I had to explain that no, any similarity to the bad weather we’d been having was purely coincidental. It had been pouring on my fictional island way before the rain decided to hang around all Summer. I’ve been writing this novel for the past two and a half years.

Two and a half years.

Life was different when I started roughing out my story. I had yet to get a book deal and was desperate to get published. Meanwhile, Stephenie Meyer’s humongous hit Twilight was sinking its pointy teeth into the imaginations of the book-reading public.
I wanted a piece of that action, I thought. So I set out to write my own vampire novel.

Of course, like all writers trying to get into the vampire genre, I had to develop my own twist on the regulation blood-sucking but gorgeous hero (or heroine).

I found my own clever twist on vampires in my native Philippines – the manananggal: beautiful maiden by day who at night morphs into a horrible thing.

Leathery wings sprout from her shoulders and she is consumed by a powerful urge to feed on human blood. She fights the change but it’s no use, and a dark horror takes over, the wings flap, forcing her up, up. And then there’s a sickening tearing and separating as her body is ripped in two and she finds herself aloft on a hunt for prey, leaving the lower half of her body on the ground (pictured below is a manananggal figure from a Filipino theme park).

Surely a monster like that would give Stephenie Meyer a run for her money?

It was a great idea, if I might say so myself. Not original – because there were plenty of manananggal stories in the Philippines – but the rest of the world hadn’t experienced our monster yet.

A manananggal movie from the Philippines
I  didn’t have a plot as such, just an idea. And I trusted – I HOPED – that the idea would somehow grow its own plot and give birth to its own characters.

So I lined up some characters:

A boy in trouble.

A girl with a secret.

A good baddy.

And then, for my setting: an island where it never stopped raining.

With all my ducks in a row, writing the story would be a cinch. Keep calm. Just write it, and three months later, voila, before you know it I should have that novel on my editor’s desk.

May I take a few minutes to indulge in hysterical laughter.

One of my writing heroes Ray Bradbury wrote in the foreword of his autobiographical novel Dandelion Wine:

Like every beginner I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity and dies.’

Which is exactly what happened to my original idea. I tried, believe me, to lead the characters in the direction I’d planned for them, to follow my master plan, design a framework on which I could hang the emotions of my characters.

But the story just didn’t want to go there. My boy character became irrelevant to the story. My girl with a secret lost her secret. My baddy just kept making me feel sorry for her. As for the manananggal

I wrote (I thought) a brilliant reveal scene in which the monster flies into upper deck of a London bus. I promised myself that everything I wrote from there would lead to this big moment because this was what my book was all about.

But every path I forged withered to nothing. My characters didn’t want to go where I wanted them to go, straining and pulling, resisting my every attempt to direct them. The rain fell even harder on my fictional island, harder and harder, and a mountain rose, rain dripping from its crown, shadows on its slopes like eyes looking heavenward, tears streaming.

Secrets whispered in my dreams and words appeared on the page that I had never intended.

And as for writing a vampire story – I managed to use the word vampire once in the whole book … but no, the manananggal didn’t make it into the story. Sorry.

My recalcitrant characters went their own way. And I realized that I had no choice but to follow.

And then I found the pursuit increasingly urgent because, well, I couldn’t wait to see what they were going to do next.

Ray Bradbury wrote that his stories always came as a complete surprise. His described his writing process as a kind of word-association:

I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head. I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.

Sounds like this book came about in a similar haphazard way. I thought I had an idea, but my characters knew better. It took me more than a couple of years to finish and the final result… well, it’s totally unexpected.

I guess the surprise is on me. And Ray Bradbury is right, it’s kind of lovely.

Shine by Candy Gourlay