Wednesday, 21 December 2011
The book: Milicent's Book by Charlotte Moore is a lyrical coming-of-age tale written from the point of view of fourteen-year-old orphan, Milicent Ludlow. Milicent's innocence is tempered by a keen eye and a sharp mind, creating fantastic insight into an unorthodox family life in Victorian England.
Why it deserved better: Charlotte's writing is sublime and this book picked up some fantastic reviews, as well as a mention in the Guardian sandwiched between literary giants, Meg Rosoff and Patrick Ness. This is a book that should make its way into more readers' hands - and minds.
I wish I'd published: If I had a *slightly* bigger budget, then I wish I could have published Divergent (HarperCollins). This is pacey, exciting and deeply absorbing - everything you want from a teen read and I hope it does better as the brand builds in the UK over the course of the trilogy. But thinking more realistically, I wish I'd published Cold Hands, Warm Heart (Walker) this is a story that explores the issues surrounding organ donation on a personal, deeply touching level. As someone who screams 'SIGN THE FORM' at episodes of ER, I really loved this humanising tale of loss and life. It's the sort of book that I imagine with a fair wind, a sharp eye and a quick-off-the-mark offer Catnip could pick up in the future...
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Thursday, 17 November 2011
This book was bought for its cover, and what a cover it is. I’ve tried to give you a sense of its full awesomeness in this photo. (I’m not sure I’m really doing it justice, but hey ho.) You can see that the idea of the Kinder-surprise-style model assembly kit is carried right around the book from front, around the spine and even around the barcode. I love a fully designed cover. It gives me goosebumps. This book was bought as a present by someone else, so imagine the joy when I found out it was a Nick Stearn creation – he who designed Clash and The Deeping Secrets.
Anyhoo, design-drooling aside, Neal Shusterman's Unwind (Simon & Schuster) is a gem. It examines the idea of children being ‘unwound’ for their body parts – harvested for their organs if their parents sign them off before they’re eighteen. It’s written in the third person present tense and you’re kept at a certain distance by the narrative moving between three characters, but this allows for the fringe characters to gain a certain level of importance. In doing so the reader’s mind is left turning in and around and about, questioning fundamental issues about identity, value and medical science.
I rarely wish a book was longer, but this book... ah. It’s something else.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Twitter-style summary: A network of paths across the country is all that’s keeping this world from the next but the government plans to eliminate them – and unleash hell on earth.
When I say non-stop, I mean it, this is breath-takingly paced and the reader is left with no option but to turn the page. There’s a multi-layered conspiracy to be uncovered, where the police, the government and even the undead are united in preventing Scott from finding out the truth. Action scenes pelt through hospital morgues, abandoned motorways and across the streets of
Despite being the first of a trilogy, this book answers the questions it raises, whilst leaving plenty of room for ‘But what if…?’ once you’re done. This is a fantastically escapist read for anyone 10+ where young Scott really rises to the occasion of having the weight of the world land squarely on his shoulders. He’s more charismatic than Jason, who just can’t seem to get anyone to do what he says, bless him, and but it’s when he teams up with slightly gothy Avalon, daughter of an antiquarian bookdealer that Scott really comes into his own. If you want someone to be saving you from being dismembered by the undead, you could do worse than having Scott on your side. He’s no Buffy, he’s not as pun-based, nor has he supernatural powers of his own, but he’s tough and he's sensible in the way I think we'd all like to be if we had to save the world.
So, this book is fantastically pacey, has a sound premise for a trilogy, and is bang on-trend within the industry (zombies are, like, so hot right now... OK, so they're probably cold, sans beating heart, but you get the drift), but that's not all. It's also written by a really lovely bloke. If you’re a debut author and you come to the table full of energy and inspiration for how to promote your book then we publishers tend to sit up and pay attention. Chris is the kind of author we all want on our list, after we had a discussion about twitter, blogging and facebook, Chris took to is so naturally that I actually did an air punch of joy. He’s as lovely in real life as he is online and he’s an author for whom good things will happen.
Hopefully none of these good things will involve the undead…
Monday, 7 November 2011
What I did instead:
I worked silly hours in preparation for going on holiday. The downside of being the go-to person for Catnip biz is that I am lured into a false sense of responsibility. I start thinking that the company cannot possibly manage without me for two weeks. TWO WEEKS? I may as well just hand in my notice considering the disasters that will kick off as a consequence of my absence.
I went on holiday where I saw a bit of this:
Go Aggies! (I am referring to the college football team you see in this pic. The one with the 90,000 strong crowd and the army doing the cheerleading. Crazy – and amazing.)
I also ate a bit of this:
And indulged in a bit of that:
(If you haven’t listened to Jack’s Mannequin, you probably should. This one’s one of my favourites.)
All in Texas, which involved a couple of long flights in which the Catnipper proceeded to prove all my fears about travelling with a small thing entirely unfounded. After giggling on take off she then proceeded to cruise up and down the aisle high fiving and hugging fellow passengers. Basically she is:
When I got back and discovered that the publishing world kept turning without me, I went here there and everywhere on editing business. (I say "here there and everywhere" when I mean, erm, the North East and the British Library.) I am beyond excited about the projects I’ve been working on with Colin Mulhern, who has made a teaser trailer for his thriller Arabesque which will be out next September and Victor Watson, whose third Paradise Barn book is (I exaggerate not) the best yet. We’re just finalising the title for May publication. I also met up with a yet-to-be Catnip author whose idea for a novel for the 8-11 market makes me grin from ear to ear and think very big, very exciting things. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
Amongst all that there was an undead book launch to attend, a birthday to be a-partied over and an anniversary to be acknowledged and…and…and…
So maybe I’m the one that’s about to explode?
Friday, 30 September 2011
Twitter-style summary: Everyone's favourite socially awkward squirrel looks forward to celebrating his birhtday just the way he likes it: on his own. Fat chance!
Ah, Scaredy, my old friend. Are you worried by me popping by unexpectedly? You thinking I should squirt a blob of antibacterial handwash across my palms before we shake hands? Are you freaked out that I just hugged you and a-kissed both your cheeks in a
Of course you are.
Old friend, how I love thee.
Scaredy Squirrel is our most popular character. A Canadian creation from artist and illustrator, Melanie Watt, we issue a new title every other year, first publishing in hardback (as with this one) and then, a year later, we bring out the paperback edition for those readers who are a little more gentle with the their books (not the Catnipper, then, who has already trashed her two-week old copy of Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell)
Scaredy first blazed into glory in 2006 when the eponymous first title was a Richard and Judy Book Party Choice back in their previous bookclub incarnation. Scaredy turns the popular perceptions of OCD and social paranoia on their heads by being both endearing and funny in his reluctance to leave his tree, make friends or face his fear of nightmares – or in the case of this latest addition to the collection, his dislike of karaoke and unexpected presents (sound familiar?). There are many children out there who can identify with his cautious nature, who enjoy staying at home and doing their own thing rather than put themselves out there – but like every good picture book, Scaredy develops. Somehow, something goes wrong and inevitably, he ends up in exactly the kind of situation he was hoping to avoid… and do you know what? It’s not as bad as he thought.
Funny and familiar, the Scaredy Squirrel books are modern-day parables for anyone who sometimes finds themselves making excuses to stay at home instead of go out and make new friends. And yes, I might be talking about me...
If you fancy making Scaredy's day, you're always welcome to pop to his fanpage on facebook where you can become a bona fide squirrel lover, check out book trailers and competitions and the like.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
As you can see, the paler cover is just starting to edge away with it (ahead by only 7 votes - eek) so if you take one look at the pale one and think NOOOOOOOO! Well then, you'd better place a vote for the black, hadn't you? Or maybe you want to seal the deal for the paler one...
Friday, 9 September 2011
Hello. Why don’t you mosey on over to The Bookette’s blog and check out this rather amazing cover reveal where we show you not one but TWO possible covers for Song Quest by Katherine Roberts – winner of the inaugural Branford Boase award for new fiction in 2000 and soon to be published by Catnip thanks to Becky the Bookette who campaigned for its revival. (You can see her post about why here.)
Why two covers? You ask. Well, because we respect your opinion and we’d like you to choose your favourite by going to our facebook page and ‘Liking’ the cover you think looks the best. The winner of the online vote, which runs from 9th September until 6pm Friday 16th September, will be the cover that we print for the book.
We’re kinda making publishing history here, so why don’t you too? Go on, you know you want to…
Click here to vote. Yeah! Do it!
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Twitter-style summary: Edwin and Perpetua are summoned to Hysteria to find themselves neck-deep in dangerous conspiracies, dark magic and, erm, orienteering...
This is J. D. Irwin’s second novel, the first being Edwin Spencer Mission Improbable. Like the first novel featuring hapless loser Edwin, this book marries real-world humour and parallel-worldly adventure with aplomb. J. D. who also answers to Julie, is a regular on the schools and events circuit, engaging kids and adults alike with her understanding of how to deliver a believable parallel universe that we all wish existed.
The story, whilst anchored by real-world protagonists, Edwin and Perpetua, is based in Hysteria, a parallel world to ours in which magic and science work hand in hand, where rival kingdoms use White (good) and Shadow (evil) magic to wrestle power from each other. The strength of Julie’s writing lies in the humour derived from the clash between our world and Hysteria. She has a composed command of dialogue which she uses to great effect throughout the story, and her action scenes will leave you breathless.
The combination of humour and fantasy in these novels is spot-on for the target audience. Every reader can appreciate the confusion Edwin feels at being called upon to act the part of Prince Auvlin, his former Hysterian doppelganger: whilst in one breath he wants to help the cause that the first book wedded him too, he is yet again called upon to lay his life on the line for a country that most of his friends, family and teachers don't even know exists.
Delightfully escapist, deliciously funny – and not without its darker moments in the midst of dangerous magicks – this is a book that knows its audience like the back its hand.
Twitter-style summary: When Rosalind is kidnapped, her sister, Elfie and Joe must uncover the mystery of her disappearance before the family falls apart.
Joan Lingard is a Writer. She writes a novel a year and she is one of Catnip’s most prestigious authors. Many people know of the Kevin and Sadie books based on love across the barricades of a divided
Like the first two books featuring the irrepressible Elfie, The Stolen Sister’s appeal lies in Joan’s instinctive understanding of her audience. Her skill is subtle and hard to pin down and this is exactly why I think these books work so well. The Stolen Sister cleverly weaves together historical truths with vividly imagined characters so that you become immersed in Elfie’s turn-of-the-century Victorian world. Joan doesn’t go straight for the populist Victoriana you might be familiar with – instead she focuses her attention on an unusual family set up. Elfie lives with the Bigsbys and ten other orphans at The Pig and Whistle pub on Green Lanes in Stoke Newington. Only Elfie is not like the others, for she has family too. And so we are lead to Elfie’s (half) sister Rosalind, daughter to Elfie’s once well-to-do father (you’ll have to read the others to find out what happened) – a child given the privileged upbringing that Elfie lacked and whose kidnap is the focus of the novel.
The plot twists and turns but Elfie and her best friend Joe are there at every turn to guide us, navigating the bigger stuff such as racism (Joe is black) and social depravity, and the smaller stuff, such as old feuds with former friends, and villainous rich grandparents...
The longer I spend writing this post the more aware I become of Joan’s skill. She covers an amazing amount in such an accomplished, entirely comfortable manner that it’s hard to even begin to convey the level of her ability as a writer – sorry – Writer.
The skill is in the writing, not my analysis of it. Go read the book(s).
Thursday, 18 August 2011
The Catnip list features some of Lesley Howarth’s original fiction in the form of Bodyswap: The Boy who was 84 and Swarf as well as re-issued collections of short stories, Tales from the Sick Bed, but it is this former Guardian Prize winner for which she is perhaps best known.
This is quintessential Lesley. Her writing is unlike any I’ve ever encountered; it’s as if she’s sees the world in a different way from everyone else yet, somehow, sees the real truth of it. It is this gap between the easily accessible and the harder-to-reach reality on which Lesley thrives.
MapHead is a young boy like any other, searching for his place in a world that he hasn’t quite come to terms with. In this instance this could be because he is a visitor from another world – the Subtle World – and the fact that his father Powers Boothe has been solely responsible for his upbringing. Powers is a strong and intelligent father who tries to demonstrate the truth of everything, for example a Catshake is a perfectly balanced nutritional meal, (yes, you’ve got it: a milkshake made of cat) and one that MapHead should not be emotional about consuming. Yet as the story evolves, we come to see that Powers’ love of facts does not stop him from shying away from the truth of things when it comes to MapHead’s human mother.
MapHead is a wonderfully sweet and sympathetic main character and it won’t matter to you that his grasp of language is slightly shaky at times, nor that he has the power to flash images of maps across the skin of his head (I imagine it a lot like a projection on silk, but that could just be me…). You will be drawn in to empathising with him as he tries to fit in at school; when he finds his mother and yet can’t convince his father to visit her; and when he must make a heartbreaking choice.
This is not just a novel about a visitor from another world – it is so much more than that. It could be an allegory for any child’s entry into the real world, for anyone whose faith in their parents has been shaken when they discover they have been told half-truths to protect them from the full force of the whole truth.
And so we are led back to my belief in the power Lesley wields as an author – her ability to show us more than we see on the written page. Her command of language is subtle and clever, using it as she does to distance us and drawn us in; to make us cry and to smile; to keep us turning the page. Her work is not always easy to read, but like so many things that one has to work for – when you get there, the reward is that little bit sweeter.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Everyone has an opinion on the riots and I’m no different. I’ve been listening to LBC (London’s talk radio in case you don’t know) and although these events seem to bring out the right-wing in even Lefty Lefterson of Liberal Town, there were also a few callers who expressed views closer to those of the rioters, trying to convey their feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. But it’s hard to sympathise with them. Very.
There’s a void between those affected by the riots (even just by association) and those instigating, which is so huge that it’s hard to see how it can be bridged. Not least because it’s hard to want to; on our side, we’re hurt, horrified and angry and on theirs, they appear to just be angry, I think (evidence of that void right there). Some of the more measured responses I’ve seen have demonstrated the distance between us and them – it would never occur to us to act like this no matter how angered we were by injustice. We just don’t get it.
There isn’t just one cause, obviously, but the one thing that keeps popping up in my mind is the amorality of the rioters, their lack of empathy. (And also their lack of comprehension of capitalism – if you want expensive stuff, you have to pay for it, if you don’t, the expensive stuff will cease to exist and we’ll all have to make do with cheap non-branded trainers from the supermarket.) Sorry, enough about capitalism, it’s the empathy I’m concerned with.
I reckon books are a very important way of getting children to think what it might be like to be someone else. You read a first person narrative and for a while you are that person. Many writers (especially in YA) are outstanding at getting you to feel things, or thinking about things, that you might otherwise have a callous disregard for. One such book for me is the amazing Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy. At the time of the Jamie Bulger incident I was an angry teen saying they should lock them in jail and throw away the key. I never thought about the kids that committed the crime as people until I read Looking for JJ. That book changed my view entirely.
But these kids probably don’t read so much (sweeping judgement there, yet again proving my void theory), so these amazing books that help promote empathy just aren’t going to reach them. Instead they have instant gratification in films, TV and music that doesn’t necessarily give them the time to feel what it’s like to be someone else.
I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking poor literacy is a contributing factor towards creating a group of people who felt no qualms about rioting and looting, but I do feel as someone working in publishing I should do something about it, somehow. I’ve contacted a few teen authors and I’m in touch with The National Literacy Trust and I’m just trying to get a few ideas going... I’d really appreciate yours too.
Basically, I want to help build a bridge over that void. I want them to understand how we feel, and maybe I want to understand how they feel. Key word “understand” – I can’t do that if you’re kicking in my high street and scaring my neighbours.
Because reading books doesn’t just make our speaking English good*. Maybe it can make us good too.
*That’s a misquote from Buffy, in case you don’t know.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
Written in the first person, experienced writer Caroline Plaisted brings fresh perspective to the ever-popular pink and sparkly ballet genre. As someone whose parents danced with The Royal Ballet and who spent many hours backstage helping out, Caroline is perfectly placed to bring life behind the curtain to light.
This was a series bought ‘on spec’. This means that we saw sample chapters and proposals for the first few books and contracted the series based on these. What I loved about Tilly was the voice (as always - it's all about the voice, people). Many ballet books for this age group are written in the third person, but in this instance the first-person perspective really animated the activities for me. The narrative is infused with Tilly’s infectious enthusiasm and helter-skelter approach to life, and the stories really sizzle as a consequence. We chose to add illustrations by Hollie Jacobs to bring out certain aspects of the text and her simple, slightly naïve line drawings match the tone of the book perfectly.
Tilly Tiptoes and the Grand Surprise is the first in the series, where we encounter vile Veronica – Tilly’s nemesis in her ballet Extras class, held on site at the fictional Grand Ballet – and Jessie the wardrobe mistress with whom Tilly spends most of her time, marvelling at the stunning costumes and lending a helping hand where she can. Plus we are introduced to SPOILER ALERT Giselle the cat who has been stealing clothes in order to nest with her newborn kittens. Guess who ends up taking a kitten home at the end of the book…?
There are plenty of deft touches that ballet fans will appreciate – not only are we given insight into how the ballet actually works on a day-to-day basis but each book in the series is set around a particular ballet, the ‘poster’ for which is featured on the front cover. Throw in some sparky scenes in which Tilly can provide wish-fulfilment for the reader (I’m fond of Veronica’s public shame when she professes to think that the lead male dancer is very handsome only to discover he’s none other than Tilly’s dad – totally mortifying for Veronica and totally gratifying for Tilly) and you’ve a charming, enjoyable read.
Monday, 11 July 2011
Argh! Last week wasn’t the smoothest ever – the weekend led in with a sick Catnipper, then family visits meant I took a couple of days holiday with a return to work that perfectly co-incided with me catching whatever terrifyingly virulent flu-bug the Catnipper had just recovered from.
You may have noticed that this added up to a week of almost no tweeting and absolutely no blogging. But the upshot of me taking holiday and getting sick isn’t just a quiet patch on the social media front. It’s a hiatus of all things Catnip.
As Catnip’s only employee I have an amazing amount of freedom and responsibility (I don’t think you really get one without the other). Most of what I love about my job arises from this freedom, but the downside is that because it’s about how much work I put in to keep things running, if something gets in the way of me doing my job, then there’s no one else there to fill in.
So this means there’s no one to do simple things like…
- Change my Out of Office to say that I’m DYING of flu
- Answer the phone
- Send polite apologies to people who are chasing me for something I said I’d get done that week
- Find those uber-urgent files needed for a key presentation TOMORROW
- Tell a poor author that OF COURSE I can have a chat with them next week
- Reply to an agent saying I’ll read that submission/approve those terms/sign that contract as soon as I can see straight
- Chase a printer on books that were due to be delivered YESTERDAY
Basically, there’s no one there to be polite or to fire-fight and by the time I’m back at the desk, people are starting to get annoyed/let down by my radio silence.
At least here I can say I’m sorry that I missed y’all and that I wished I’d not had such a stupidly rubbish week that my weekend was too busy for me to check in to the rather awesome ABBA lit fest… or write any proper blog posts.
Now, there are some emails with my name on (and a red exclamation mark).
Thursday, 30 June 2011
I bought it after seeing the Maps of the World exhibition at The British Library with Massive Dog (who is a Massive map fan). It has a map on it (funny that) and the banner says TEA REVIVES THE WORLD. (Yes, I know I could only get a good pic of the first part of the banner.)
This mug is reserved for real tea only. You can see why.
So if I could only choose one mug for the rest of my life and it would be this one, I am committing myself to a lifetime of real tea drinking only. No hot chocolate, no coffee, no camomile and spearmint...
Nope. Still this one. BEST. MUG. EVER.
Friday, 24 June 2011
I’m talking of course about the build up and reveal of
I loved reading Helen Boyle @tbktweet’s feed and seeing how many of the people I follow were waiting, like me, with baited breath simply because like me, bloggers, bookshoppers, publishers are all the same: readers.
So congratulations to the winners, Templar and Grahame Baker-Smith for winning the Greenaway with Farther and Patrick Ness with Walker for the third book in the thrilling Chaos Walking series, Monsters of Men.
And congratulations to all those who shortlisted, for without equally worthy competition it wouldn't have been nearly so exciting waiting for the results.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Out this month is Gallop to the Hills, the fifth in the series (of which there are twelve), featuring wild, wilful Jinny and her beautiful Arab mare Shantih. There are many layers to my love of this series:
1) I read these as a child and loved them so much that I never forgot about them.
2) When I started at Catnip this was the first series I suggested we publish - the day before Lauren St John emailed Andrea to recommend we do just that. In the end it was Lauren who did an amazing amount of detective work to make her (and my) dream come true.
3) The story of how we came to publish them makes me happy - Lauren's championing of the series, Patricia's joy and delight at the idea of Jinny and Shantih running free once more, the members of pony forums who contacted me when they heard these were coming out once more...
4) The story of the cover star. You may notice that we feature the same horse on all the covers. Her name is Shantih and she belongs to the photographer, Karen Budkiewicz. Like me, Karen read the books obsessively as a child and fell for the fictional Shantih's charms – so much so that she made it her mission to find her very own fiery chestnut Arab. To have a real-life Shantih pose for the series of books after which she was named just seems too perfect to be true. But it is.
5) The writing. These books are littered with social commentaries that are as relevant today as they were when they were penned – touching upon inner city poverty, animal cruelty and perceptions of traveller community amongst other things – and Jinny is a perfectly flawed heroine who is locked in a perpetual struggle with doing what she knows to be right and what she knows to be easy. You can tell that this isn't a Pony Club romp, nor a series written for commercial value, but one written from the very soul of a woman who not only loves horses but language too. These books contain sentences so perfect that that they make me want to cry with love for the words, here's one of my favourite paragraphs:
“The afterglow of sunset turned sky, sea and wet sands into a glowing sapphire. We must be breathing blue air, Jinny thought. Sue and Marlene were walking the horses at the water’s edge and the spray from their horses’ hooves glittered ice blue, diamond, aquamarine. They were held in a jewelled paperweight of sky and sea.”
These are all the reasons why I love this series, but don't just take my word for it, have a look yourself. Buy a copy and, as Ken, the insightful young drifter who lives with Jinny's family would say, 'Take joy.'