Stopping to Look Around

One of the challenges of being self-employed is maintaining all the stuff you have to manage day-to-day, while still making time to stand back and take stock, planning for the future. I’ve been doing a lot of reacting to stuff lately, and getting pretty wound up about it, so I needed to stop and catch my breath a bit. I needed to take a look around at where I was and figure out what was coming next.

As it happened, I ended up with some time to kill in Edinburgh. I was over there for a meeting of the panel deciding the shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards; I was helping pick the contenders among the books for 12-16 year-olds. The gang at the Scottish Book Trust haven’t released the shortlists yet, so my lips are zipped for the moment. This trip did mean I missed the CBI Book Awards Ceremony, but I still (heavy, reluctant sigh) managed to enjoy my visit to Edinburgh. Big congrats to Celine Kiernan on her win, for her novel ‘Into the Grey’. It also won the Junior Jury prize, so a popular choice all round. Congrats also to Paula Leyden, Mark O’Sullivan, Oliver Jeffers (again!), and our former Laureate na nÓg, Siobhán Parkinson, for scooping the category awards.

Edinburgh is a fantastic city. It’s the third time I’ve been, although they’ve all been short visits. It was hot when I arrived on Sunday, walking through the streets in the final hours of a big marathon event. This was actually quite handy, as my back’s been a bit knackered lately, but now I wasn’t the only one in the crowd walking like I’d two wooden legs. They all had a better excuse, that’s all. And they had t-shirts with ‘Marathon’ on them to make that excuse clear. Fair play to them, it must have been some struggle in that heat.

The meeting took slightly less than two hours on Monday morning, so I had Sunday afternoon and evening and Monday afternoon to kick about town. Walking actually helped my loosen up my back, so I spent a fair bit of time on my feet. Normally, when I’m away, I’ll do a lot of work in the notebook in the downtime, or sometimes bring my laptop. Instead, I tried to take my brain out of gear for a while, and figure out where I was going next.

I’m working on a couple of new things, including a kind of online prequel for my next novel ‘Rat-Runners’. I’ve just come back to the editing on ‘Rat-Runners’ too – we’re on the copy edits now, and the cover design is well underway. I’ve started planning the next novel too. But there have been a load of other bits and pieces demanding my time lately, and I’ve found myself reacting constantly, rather than planning any particular path – and that’s no way to go about things.

I’m not great at relaxing, but you just can’t push things all the time. I spent nearly three hours on Monday sitting in a park near the railway station in Edinburgh, making the odd note in my notebook, reading a bit, but mostly just looking around and thinking, letting my thoughts wander. When it came time to make my way towards the bus for the airport, I felt my thoughts were more ordered, I was a little more focused. I’m in Listowel for a few days later this week. I haven’t done any hillwalking in a long time, what with the kids and the workload, but I think I’ll try and get one in while I’m down there. I need to clear my head of all the complicated rubbish, and get some proper ground under my feet.

If you want to get an idea of the kind of stuff that’s been occupying my mind lately, check out my guest blog for Listowel Writers’ Week. I’ve written a longer article for Inis magazine on the topic, which will be in the November issue. I also came across a couple of other interesting titbits, one an ‘infographic’ on how a book is born (cynical, but pretty accurate) and a post on the ongoing push-and-pull between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction, and how those lines are blurring. Catch you later.

Ireland’s New Children’s Laureate

Congratulations to Niamh Sharkey, on becoming our new Children’s Laureate. The announcement was made by President Michael D Higgins at a ceremony in the headquarters of the Arts Council this morning. To my great disappointment, I couldn’t attend because I knackered my back over the weekend, and am currently walking around like some lop-sided zombie, but I wish Niamh lots of success in the role. She will be a great ambassador for children’s books, while having a very different approach to Siobhan Parkinson, our first Laureate.

Niamh is the author and illustrator of numerous beautiful picture books, including ‘The Ravenous Beast’, ‘Santasaurus’ and ‘I’m a Happy Hugglewug’. The Hugglewugs are soon to star in their own new animated series, produced by Brown Bag Films and broadcasted worldwide on the Disney Channel, so Niamh’s going to be run off her feet for the next couple of years, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does as Laureate, and in what new directions she chooses to take it. One can assume that some focus on illustration will be on the cards, but beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

Congratulations again, Niamh.

Book design is one of Niamh’s passions, so I thought I’d post this link to an excellent TED talk I found recently on David Maybury’s blog. Here’s book designer Chip Kidd discussing his art. Enjoy.

Valuable Intelligence

Here are a few really useful articles I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks, all of which have to do with developments in the business. I’ll stick them in here in the order of the events they refer to:

Eoin Purcell’s written an interesting article on who he sees as the winners and losers in the ongoing relationship wrangles between the publishers, Apple and Amazon, as the nature of publishing changes.

Charlie Stross predicts the end of Digital Rights Management and explains quite clearly why by giving us a rundown of how Amazon do business – which is quite frankly, astonishing (and disturbing) in its ambition.

Not long after Charlie posted his article, Tor announced it’s ditching DRM. For those who don’t know, Tor (Tom Doherty’s imprint, along with Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen) are one of the world’s biggest sci-fi/fantasy publishers. They also published ‘The Gods and Their Machines’ in the States.

Basically, this is the first move by a major publisher away from trying to cement readers into using a certain type or brand of reading device, or to stop them from copying their books from one device to another. It’s a realization that the main defence against piracy is not to restrict the readers who buy the real books, but to make it as easy as possible for them to get hold of them, and use them the way they want to. A positive move, one that gives people less reason to buy pirated material while also reducing Amazon’s (or Apple’s) attempts to create a monopoly.