Author Archives: lindseymountford

Kittens Ready for Adoption!

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Two months ago, I decided to use my last few months in the UK doing a GOOD DEED. Okay, the good deed was also completely selfish in that I got to fulfil a lifelong dream of taking care of baby kittens, watching them grow up and teach them to love humans. I called up Croydon Animal Samaritans and and a week later they dropped off a cold and hungry kitten family that had been found living rough in a carpet factory in Croydon. The mum was incredibly skinny, the kittens were just furry little milk-filled slugs, and I immediately fell madly in love with them all.

*sob* it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done, *sob*, but now they are 8 weeks old, ready to leave their mum, and I am going to be leaving the country very soon. They need homes. They need cat-loving homes with owners who will be as besotted by them as I am. Preferably with a garden, and if they can go in pairs then this would make them very happy little kitties, they are too small to be all alone! Plus they look awesome when they sleep in little piles like this:

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I have four baby kittens ready to go:

1. Completely black (girl)

2. Black with a bit of grey belly and a tiny bit of white on the tip of one back paw (boy)

3. Black with a small white patch on tummy (girl)

4. Black with a tiny white patch on tummy (boy)

Also I have their mum, who is an elegant, sleek black lady with the glossiest coat you’ve ever seen. She’s small and we think she’s still a young cat, probably only around two years old. She loves having her head rubbed, she purrs lots and is very patient and calm.

Finally, I have the kittens’ big brother, the mum’s boy from a previous batch of kittens, who again is all black but for six white hairs on his chest, we think he’s around 8 months old. He arrived very shy and unused to attention, but has blossomed into one of the most affectionate and adoring cats I’ve ever met, who constantly follows me, climbs on me and headbutts my hand for a stroke.

It would be wonderful if the mum and her big boy kitten could be homed together, as they are very close.

Here are lots of kitten pics for your viewing pleasure:

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These kittens are well trained in the art of cuddles:

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Big brother using grey-belly-fur kitten as a footrest:

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The big brother, looking adorable cuddled up on my bed:

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This is the lovely patient mummy:

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I live in Crystal Palace, and the cat shelter I’m looking after them for is Croydon Animal Samaritans, so you can either email me at lindseymountford@gmail.com or call Anna-the-cat-shelter-lady on 020 8698 6813 or 07790 337119.

Thank you!

 

 

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Led Astray – Longlisted for Write Now! Prize

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I’m overjoyed to say that my first book, Led Astray, has been longlisted for Macmillan’s competition to find an unpublished/unagented children’s author.

Progress. Wow. It feels good.

Cool things about this:

1. Macmillan publish three of my all-time favourite children’s authors: Eva Ibbotson (*sob), Frances Hardinge (goddess of magical worlds in my head) and Richmal Crompton (no words needed).

2. Somebody in at Macmillan read my book and liked it. That person also wrote their own description of my book. This amazes me. So this means other people are now sharing in my little cat world of handsome but lazy danglepaws, Eyelight, sky-battles, the clumsy, oafish Bluntpaw humans, wildcat kittens, Ruficul the Demon Cat,  dangerous slavehounds – a world ruled by claws, teeth, fur, scars and cat gods, purrs and hisses.  I loved writing this book. I’m so glad somebody else enjoyed reading it, and had their own interpretation.

3. MY NAME appeared in The Bookseller magazine. In black and white print, on the same page as other author’s names. Look, here is proof:

Write Now

So, along with my fellow-blogging longlisters Lorna Fergusson and Daniel Whelan who have written blurbs of their books on their blogs, here’s a taster of Led Astray:

Feral kitten Hattie is born into poverty in a family ruled by evil tomcat Scarab Razorclaw, destined to fulfil his dream of returning to her wildcat roots by shunning humans.

When Hattie is banished for falling in love with a despised ‘danglepaw’ housecat she struggles to survive, but using knowledge from both the wildcat and danglepaw worlds she eventually becomes queen of a vast colony of stray cats… only for everything to unravel when Hattie realises the truth about the true destiny of her species.

Here’s the first paragraph:

Hundreds of pairs of eyes glowed, unblinking, all directed to their queen. The Daughter’s Eye shone brightly, fully open, her reflection rippling in the waves. The sea was calm tonight, the air hot and still, the sand dry under their paws. Mice scuttled in the shadows, but the cats made no move to catch them. It was a perfect time to hunt, but tonight they would all go hungry.

Thank you for reading! You can find out more about the Write Now! Prize on their website.

Book Review: Stitch Head by Guy Bass

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Their description:

In the maze-like dungeons of Castle Grotteskew, the frightfully insane Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first creation has been long forgotten – a small, almost-human creature, known only as Stitch Head. Poor Stitch Head has spent years vying for attention amongst a menagerie of freakish monsters. When a travelling circus ringmaster, Fulbert Freakfinder, promises to make him a star, Stitch Head wonders whether there is another life for him. But first he has to catch the professor’s latest creation – a monstrous three-armed creature that’s just smashed its way to freedom . . .

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My thoughts:

I loved this book. The beautiful, creepy, detailed illustrations in the first few pages gave me a very good feeling – then when I was immediately gripped at the first page, and I warmed to lonely Stitch Head straight away, I knew I’d found something special.

The monster characters are fantastic, scary-funny like a Tim Burton film. The story is fast-paced and action-packed, and has depth and a heart, witty language and snappy dialogue.

If you like the sound of mad scientists, magic potions, spooky castles, friendly monsters, circuses and fearless heroines and “curtain-covered carriages trundle-clopping across lamplit cobbles,” then this book is for you.

Aside: I read this at the same time I was reading my mum’s new book ‘Brilliant Psychology,’ so I kept thinking that Stitch Head is suffering from anxious-avoidant attachment issues caused by neglectful parenting.

I will be reading more of Guy Bass’s books!  Am going to his website now to find more…

http://www.guybass.com

Marion Lloyd’s Patrick Hardy Lecture at the Children’s Book Circle

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Last night I fortified myself with Hotel Chocolat products for courage, then popped next door to the 10th floor of Penguin’s office for Marion Lloyd’s Patrick Hardy Lecture, set up for the 50th anniversary of the Children’s Book Circle.

I didn’t know anything about Marion Lloyd before, but I learned that she started her first job in publishing on the strength of speedy typing skills in the early seventies; was made a children’s book editor when she was twenty; and retires this year, having finished her career having set up her own imprint (Marion Lloyd Books) with Scholastic in 2005. On the way, she’s played a part in the careers of many wonderful authors such as Philip Pullman, Peter Dickinson, Sharon Creech, Celia Rees, Eva Ibbotson, Frances Hardinge and Sally Nicholls.

She talked about how much publishing has changed. In the beginning, she worked on paperbacks, and they were looked down on by the more highbrow, literary hardback publishers, who had proper offices with fireplaces. At that time, her mission was to find and create books that kids wanted to buy, and they had a lot of creative freedom to publish what they wanted. In the early eighties, she remembers book clubs being much more important sales-wise, and they sent out a leaflet to kids asking them to name their favourite celebrities in lots of categories – their ‘ultimate celebrity’ for kids at that time turned out to be Big Daddy, so they created a Big Daddy book. It was sneered at by everyone, but became a bestseller! Coincidentally, Gideon Defoe (author of Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) posted this picture of Big Daddy in Crystal Palace swimming pool a couple of weeks ago, scanned from his beloved 1983 Big Daddy annual:

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Gideon, did your love of your Big Daddy annuals transform you into a book-lover? Hurrah for books which are written just for kids – look what good comes of it!

Then in the late eighties, teen fiction exploded and she worked on many US authors like Paula Danziger and Judy Blume – books that influenced me hugely, I was definitely an addict.

I was incredibly happy to learn that Marion Lloyd was Eva Ibbotson’s editor at Macmillan for years. Eva is my goddess of children’s books (a post about that another time, I think) so I feel extremely privileged to have heard a few stories about her. Marion said her books needed very little editing, as Eva put it “by the time they get to you, they’ve been through about four stomachs, like a cow.” Marion mentioned one time she was able to put in an editorial comment – she said ‘aha! you have a bittern nesting up an oak tree, when it should be a reed bed!’ I deduce this must be from ‘A Company of Swans,’ one of my favourites. Marion always knew Eva was special, and when the Harry Potter books started really taking off, Marion sent a memo round the Macmillan office telling everyone that they had their own author who was destined to be immortalised in children’s fiction and they needed to act fast to give her more exposure – and as a result, Eva’s books received a lot more attention and marketing budget. I love this story – I immediately imagined Marion charging round the office Jerry Maguire-style, shouting about how much more attention Eva deserved. I’m so glad she did!


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‘One Dog and His Boy’ was the book Eva finished just a few weeks before she died, and is another of my favourites, so I was fascinated to learn that the working title for months was ‘The Everydog.’ At the end of the lecture when Marion was thanking her family for help with the speech, she said four pages of Eva Ibbotson anecdotes were edited out – please Marion, put the Patrick Hardy Lecture 2012: The Director’s Cut online for me!

Another section that stuck out for me was how heartbroken Marion was to have lost out on Frances Hardinge’s novels for her own imprint – Macmillan were too quick to sign her up for further books after Fly By Night. Frances Hardinge is another of my favourite writers, so this comment along with her impassioned speech about Eva made me take careful note of the other books she loved. These are some she talked about which I’ll be buying ASAP:

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Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

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Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

As an aspiring author, it was heartening to hear about Marion falling in love with books, caring deeply and passionately about acquiring and editing them. She was so upset after reading ‘Ways to Live Forever’ that she left her handbag on a park bench, and went to crazy lengths working to persuade Sally and her agent that she was the best person to publish the book. It was also very grounding to hear about the hundreds of applications she receives for each job – all from people with impressive CVs and relevant experience – she said she doubted she would have made the cut if there had been as much competition when she was job-hunting.

On my way out, I passed a few glamorous young publishing ladies (leather satchels, important thick-rimmed glasses, silk scarves) who were falling over each other squealing ‘Marion! Marion! She’s a legend!’ – and after just an hour and a half, I felt the same way. Everyone I spoke to felt deeply touched by the speech, and all the years of work Marion has put into the search for ‘stories that enhance our lives.’

Thank you Marion Lloyd for a wonderful lecture, I’m so glad I went, and thank you so much for all those books that have enhanced my life.

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Book Review: Granny Grabber’s Whizz Bang World

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Granny Grabber’s Whizz Bang World by Charlotte Haptie

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Delilah’s over-achieving parents want nothing more than for Delilah to win the Worldwide Junior Extreme General Knowledge Competition. Delilah tries to live up to their expectations, but it’s hard when they don’t seem to care about her at all.

Granny Grabber is the slightly wonky housekeeping/childminding robot who comes to look after Delilah, and for the first time Delilah gets an inkling of what it’s like to have a normal, loving childhood. But when her parents are sent a replacement upgrade robot, Granny Grabber is at risk, and Delilah has to save her.

I can’t gush enough about this lovely book. Granny Grabber’s robot language is hilarious, Delilah is a lovely sympathetic character, her parents and the rival housekeeping robot are fantastic baddies.

I laughed a lot, and finished the book with tears in my eyes. It’s rare to find a book so genuinely funny, so this is definitely one for parents to read to their children.

The book feels very modern, with the robots and themes of celebrity – but it also feels very classic and I think it will stand the test of time. It’s an easy, fun read for any child 7+, but the writing and story are perfect and I would recommend it to anyone.

Training Points in Crystal Palace

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I have dabbled in many different ways of keeping fit in London: the Serpentine Running Club, zumba, normal yoga, glow yoga, Bikram yoga, spinning, Power Plates, Gymbox membership, Fitness First membership, Insanity workout DVDs, bootcamp, swimming, running around Crystal Palace park… nothing has stuck like going to the group training sessions at Training Points, 85 Church Road in Crystal Palace.

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The studio is small, but has all the space and equipment we need for a group that is usually only around 5 people. It’s a nice, relaxed, friendly atmosphere and the walls are adorned with herbal teas, painted handprints, and mirrors. There’s no changing room, so no awkward shuffling around and cold smelly showers – I only live round the corner so it’s ideal for me.

Anna is the fitness instructor for legs, bums and tums on a Sunday morning at 10am, and the core class at 8pm on a Monday. She’s the best instructor I’ve ever had – incredibly fit (inspiring!), but also very enthusiastic, it’s clear she’s passionate about getting people fit. She gives me just the right kind of positive encouragement that leaves me feeling physically a broken woman but mentally a million dollars. With loud music and random chatting and joking to distract you, she somehow manages to make the hour go very fast. This is exactly what I need to keep me sane – but I know there are also pilates and pre-natal classes for those who prefer a bit more tranquility.

It’s £12 for a class that consists of one hour of training, and results in several days worth smugness. If you’re anywhere on the triangle, you should definitely check it out.

Hurrah for Crystal Palace!

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2012: Creative Thursday and Dragon’s Pen

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Today I’m back in London after a four-day holiday in Harrogate at the Crime Writing Festival.

I attended ‘Creative Thursday,’ the £99 1-day course for aspiring crime writers, and at the end of the day my name was drawn from the hat of people who had volunteered to pitch to Jane Gregory, Jon Wood, Sarah Lutyens, and Nick Sayers and I thought I would share my thoughts on the experience here.

 

The official description is:

 

Four brilliant publishing professionals. Two minutes to convince them your synopsis and first chapter are worth reading. One audience full of your fellow would-be writers watching how you fare. Our literary version of the popular TV show, the Dragons’ Den, is not for the faint-hearted.

 

What the actual deal is:

 

I think there are around 200 people in the audience, with the four dragons at the front, and Mark Billingham organising. When he calls a name, you go to the front and he asks a few questions about you and how long you’ve been writing, so this is a chance to talk about yourself a bit, which I didn’t take advantage of because I was nervous. Then you have two minutes to speak.

 

Some people had gone to a lot of trouble to memorise their pitches Dragons’ Den style, I thought about doing this but chickened out, as it is too easy to fluff your lines and lose your train of thought. Interestingly, I think that the people who were a little more nervous and human actually came off better as the dragons were more merciful. Those with perfectly honed pitches and professional delivery probably got more detailed and useful feedback, but my feeling is that they came away with less requests to see a submission.

 

I had prepared a short (300 word) synopsis, and I originally had the strapline at the end, but I ended up putting it at the beginning. From listening to the others, I realised that it’s actually quite difficult to listen and understand two minutes of plot description, and I think a mistake many people made was to include too much of this. Because my pitch was shorter, I think this worked to my advantage as Jane Gregory said she was intrigued enough to want to see more. Nick Sayers said he liked the fact my pitch started with a clear statement – “The Cliffs of Lizard is a psychological thriller that asks the question: how far would you go to protect your family?” so I know making this last-minute change was the right thing to do.

 

I didn’t give away the ending in the pitch, but I think I should have made it clear that there is a dramatic, unexpected ending with a twist, as this was what they asked about afterwards. Mark Billingham commented that aspiring authors have a tricky balance of intriguing an agent/publisher enough, reassuring them it’s a good ending, but not giving the game away.

 

Sarah Lutyens said my idea had potential, but so much depends on the actual writing that she couldn’t really judge it. Her tip was that you need to take something that is successful in the genre, and then do it in a different way. For example, Elizabeth Haynes’s ‘Into the Darkest Corner‘ is a psychological thriller with a first-person narrator, but told with two interweaving timelines that meet at the end.

 

Publisher Jon Wood of Orion said that Waterstones have changed the way they buy books from publishers. Waterstones used to order many different books, then if any were unsold they could return them. Now, they don’t do this – they just bulk order books they know will sell, and this means it’s even more difficult to take on a new author, and they have a very small ‘nursery’ of authors they are developing. He said my book sounded similar in style to Elizabeth Haynes who he is publishing, so it wouldn’t be one he’s interested in.

So, I had three requests to see more, which is very exciting for me, and the chance to get any kind of personal feedback from these people will be hugely valuable.

There are many, many ways for an unpublished author to spend lots of money “honing the craft” and getting different levels of feedback, but I think this £99 was well-spent.

Other notes on Creative Thursday in general:

In the morning, we heard from forensic scientists Lorna Dawson, Professor Dave Barclay and Dr James Grieve, who were all witty and fascinating, I was on the edge of my seat hearing about their experiences (and listening to the gorgeous Scottish accents), and it was funny to watch Stuart MacBride struggle to reign them in and stick to schedule – they just had so much to say!

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I also sat in the sessions with Mari Hannah and her editor at Pan Macmillan Wayne Brookes; Mark Edwards & Louise Voss and their editor at HarperCollins Kate Bradley who told us about their roads to publication.

The lesson I learned here is that it can take many long, heartbreaking years, but you have to keep going. I was particularly interested in hearing that Wayne had wanted to publish Mari Hannah’s book before, but had to wait to change jobs to be able to add her to his list.

So again, apparently it’s all about perseverance, finding the right person who loves your book, and giving yourself the best odds of this happening.

Thanks to Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride for being so generous in setting this up for aspiring authors like me, this was a fantastic event and I’m very glad I went.