Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Death of a slush pile?

Over a year ago Catnip stopped accepting submissions. There were a number of reasons why:

  • A member of staff had just left
  • I was pregnant and had to prepare for maternity leave
  • There were too many coming in
Obviously all those reasons are, in fact, one reason: I didn't have time. My excuse is that we're a small company of, erm, one. Larger publishing houses rarely accept unsolicited submissions either, but they do get offered those budget-busting Next Big Things before the agents look to us little ’uns.

With that in mind, perhaps the indies should keep the back door open for unsoliciteds to wander in off the street?

The thing is, so many are unsuitable that it can be disheartening. Not only did I find myself spending hours reading wholly unsuitable material (even rejecting takes time), I felt like I was brutally dashing hopes with every polite but impersonal rejection I sent out. Dream stomping leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because I’m firmly of the opinion that if you love writing, you should keep doing it. (There’s a subtext there, but in case you missed it: do not write because you want to get published.)

In spite of the practicalities, I do believe in the dream. Only a few days after we changed the website to say that Catnip no longer accepted submissions, I picked up a manuscript from the backlog that I promised myself I’d clear…

The Court Painter’s Apprentice by Richard Knight will be published early 2012 and despite being commissioned right off the slush pile, it’s needed minimal editing.

So, although it’s not perceived as being financially viable, and despite the fact that at least 99% of submissions are unsuitable, I do intend, one (far distant) day, to re-open Catnip to submissions, if only to keep a flicker of that dream alive.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Books I Could Eat for Breakfast

The Ask and the Answer (trade PB edition) Walker Books

Anyone who has ever met me knows that I adore The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I am being literal when I say this; I tell everyone to buy it. Sometimes I buy it for them. I actually have two copies of the book so that I have one I can lend out. I carry it about my person just in case…

So why isn’t this entry about that book? Well, it seems fitting to open this feature with the first book that I actually tried to eat the second I laid eyes on it. To me, this book is the perfect package.

It represents a world where money is no object and designers, editors, sales team and author work in harmony. The white background leaps off the shelf and the embossed typography set against that edible matt silver foiling make holding the volume a tactile joy.

Then there’s the dual ‘A’ on the spine that nods to images imbedded within the story and the spot UV (“It’s like these words aren’t there to be read but to be heard…”). These are both clever design details, jokes to be shared with the reader after they finish the book, like a secret track at the end of an album.

Contained within (stunning coloured verso front and back, noted) the dual narrative caught me by surprise as I never look at reviews of a book I already intend to read. Yet as with the first in the trilogy, whoever typeset this was a genius. The two body fonts are as distinct and fitting as the voices themselves.

Five paragraphs in and I haven’t mentioned the writing. Honestly, I don’t think I need to, do I? If you want a review I’d read this at The Mountains of Instead. But I would like to say one thing:

The Ask and the Answer contains a chapter heading that reduced me to tears (heart-rending, uncontrollable sobs – I was inconsolable for a good twenty minutes before reading on). A. Chapter. Heading. If Ness can do that with five words, imagine what he did with a whole book of them.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Why I commissioned...GHOULS RULE

Twitter-style summary: Tumbledown B&B/ancestral hall is threatened by devious investors and destructive guests. Cue the Bogey-Mandeville ghosts to the rescue!

There's always room for humour on a children's list and
The Ghosts of Creakie Hall series, of which Ghouls Rule is the second book, delivers just the right amount of bonkers to engage a young audience (and any parents reading along).

Karen Wallace is an experienced author whose characters exist in that wonderful parallel universe populated by goodies and baddies, where unlikely alliances (in this case between sensible children and long-dead, irresponsible ancestors) are forged to save something precious (i.e. a tumbledown B&B/ancestral hall). Karen simultaneously excites and educates the reader with wonderfully phrased descriptions:
His face had the hard, determined look of a questing weasel is my personal favourite, although there are many to choose from.

We chose to keep the original illustrations by the talented Tony Ross (best known for bringing Horrid Henry to life). There's no improving on his interpretation of the spooky but kooky Bogey-Mandevilles and their modern-day misunderstandings.

Why I commissioned… CLASH

Twitter-style summary: Two boys’ lives driven together by unfortunate circumstances. One disastrous event changes everything, forcing them to face their demons.

The YA market is here to stay and I was on the lookout for a home-grown author who I could work with for years to come when this manuscript arrived.

My throat clenched in excitement within the first page. The writing delivers uncomfortably believable school scenes and home lives so vivid you could be watching them in next door’s window. I was struck by Colin’s ability to convey so much with so little – his writing is concise, direct and unapologetic, yet rich enough to depict two characters with distinct voices.

There’s a raw, emotional thread running throughout and it’s not apparent how things will work out - I remember pleading with the characters under my breath on the tube home. Despite realism so tangible you can smell the sweat and taste the blood during a cage fighting sequence, the narrative is shot-through with a subtly uplifting kernel of hope; a possible path of redemption…

I had to have this book.

Meeting Colin confirmed he was the writer for me. He has the commitment, energy and enthusiasm that every author needs to see them through the process, but on top of that his passion for the genre will make him a great advocate for teen books written for real teen readers.

And, and, as an extra-special-bonus-ball, he’s from the North East. I have a soft spot for anything that reminds me of home.

If you want to know more, you can see Colin introduce Clash here - listen out for the backing track written by the rather excellent Massive Dog.