Sunday 21 February 2016

Panther - David Owen

Title: Panther 
Author: David Owen
Published: Corsair, Little, Brown; May 2015
Genre: Contemporary YA
My rating: 4.5/5

The blurb says:
"Life isn't going terribly well for Derrick.
He has become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he is hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it's all because of his sister. Her depression - its grip on his family - is tearing his life apart.
When Derrick hears local news reports that a panther has been sighted roaming wild in his south London suburb, he resolves to capture the beast. Surely if he can find a way to trap this predator on his own turf, he can stop everything at home from spiralling towards disaster?


This is not a book that looks beautifully and delicately at teenage depression, through rose-tinted glasses before tying it off with a nice, happy ending and a pretty pink ribbon. It's honest; often brutally so, and it's unforgiving. I know YA has a (highly undeserved *cough* Daily Mail *cough*) reputation for being miserable and morose and depressing (please see #happyYA if you don't know what I'm talking about) but it's done well, and in a way that its readers can relate to; and that's surely more important than filling some quota on happily-ever-after stories?

Anyway, Panther. The book tells the story of Derrick; whose sister is battling a crippling depression. Derrick, like many, cannot understand it; why can't she just snap out of it and get on with her life? All Derrick can see is that it has torn his family apart and he can't see a way to fix it. That is until the rumours of the panther roaming round town begin again; Derrick believes that if he finds and captures this panther, it will fix his sister and it will fix all of the messes her depression caused; his dad leaving, the loss of his best (and only) friend Tamoor, his own eating disorder, the unfortunate event at school that led to some very vicious bullying. He refuses to believe that there’s nothing to be done and he clings to the hope that he will bring her a reason to snap out of it.

Depression is not an easy subject to tackle; there's a reason it rarely gets a proper investigation in literature. And David Owen could have very easily got it wrong. But by writing it from Derrick's perspective rather than his sister Charlotte's, David made it even more gripping and even more relatable. While depression may not be something we all experience personally, it is something most people will see in others and it's difficult to grasp, it's difficult to put yourself in their shoes, as it were, and truly understand what they're going through unless you've been through it yourself. We get to watch as Derrick struggles, and ultimately fails, to grasp this and it culminates into a heartbreaking, brutal climax. Derrick is possibly sometimes a little difficult to read. The book in general is sometimes a little difficult to read; but that’s down to the subject really and nothing else. David tries to lighten the tone slightly but it’s not a subject that can be easily eased with levity. But I think that’s why this book is so brilliant – it’s not just thought-provoking, it forces you to think about depression in a way that I think a lot of people are scared to do. Derrick is selfish, and stubborn, and immensely close-minded at times, but that seems, to me, to be quite realistic. How else do you react? It is human nature to want to find something or someone to blame for your troubles so why not blame this uncooperative, unexplainable thing that has invaded your life? And I think that’s what makes this such a hard read, because it is these points so easy to understand and relate to.

I would absolutely recommend this book. I value the honesty of David’s portrayal of teenage depression, a subject so often neglected. He didn’t write it with kid gloves on and he portrayed the way depression permeates everything it touches and how people struggle to deal with it without flowers and beauty but with a raw necessity. David has absolutely made his mark with this unflinching, unapologetic debut and I look forward to what he’ll bring in the future.

Also, make sure you follow him on Twitter @davidowenauthor; in my opinion, his tweets are mostly just daily musings but they're up there with Patrick Ness' and, to me, that's really saying something. Assuming you value my opinion at all.

Thanks for reading,

Naomi Joy x

Wednesday 10 February 2016

UCLPub2015 - Term 2: Weeks 3 & 4 [25th Jan-5th Feb]

This is super late. I have no excuse. I'm sorry.

Publishing Project
It's kind of difficult to say where we are with our project, mostly because I'm not entirely sure what I'm allowed to say. All of our submissions have been read and the successful authors have been notified. The shortlisted works have been sent to our judges (who we've still not even finished announcing) and we're excited to hear their feedback! Kara is in the process of designing our cover and they're looking really great, I'm excited to see how they turn out. This is when we start crunching the numbers too, and that bit is possibly the least enjoyable as you can imagine.  

Sales, Marketing & Promotion
Week 3 was on marketing theories and techniques by our own Daniel Boswell. We looked at the increasing direct-to-consumer nature of marketing books now that publishers no longer rely so heavily on the high-street booksellers and how this has changed the way we market. It's almost surprising the amount of theory behind marketing strategy: it is most definitely not as simple as just throwing together some posters for some train stations and posting about it on Twitter. There's almost a science behind it that begins at the beginning of the editorial stage.
Week 4 John Bond from Whitefox and Clare Somerville, the Deputy MD at Hachette Children's came in to discuss brand management with us. We learnt from John that the publishing industry still has a lot to learn when it comes to branding their books and their authors; it's all to clear that without the help of film, TV and, recently, YouTube, the publishing industry would not be where it is today because they cannot brand themselves. Clare on the other hand suggested that Children's publishing has got it right; there are a few key brands that drive the sales of the publishing industry using Rainbow Magic Fairy series as a case study. Through licence sales many brands in Children's publishing have grown exponentially.

Applied Creativity and Content
Week 3 we had a really great session on metadata; yes, I'm being serious. Azar Hussain, the Head of Data at Faber & Faber came in to talk to us. In speedy 10 minute segments, Azar gave us a quick rundown of metadata in 4 parts. And he made it interesting! He showed us the importance of metadata and the importance of getting it right first time. Incorrect metadata can break a book's sales. Well considered metadata can greatly improve the visibility of a book and thus positively drive sales.
Week 4's session was on paper! Steve Holmen of Holmen Paper came in to speak to us about how paper is made and how it affects the final product. It's the tiny details; mere millimetres can greatly affect a books sales: if it's too thick and the book looks too cumbersome, a reader might not buy it; too white and it becomes too difficult to read. They're things that, as readers, we kind of don't really think about it, but the wrong decision by the publishers could change everything.

Children's Publishing
Week three we had a fantastic session on diversity in Children's literature. It was really interesting to talk about and discuss the common assumptions when reading; more often than not, unless explicitly told otherwise (and even then, there are those who will chose to ignore it) we assume that the person we are reading about is white, straight, cis. Of course the black Hermione was mentioned, was it enough for J. K. Rowling to come out after and say well I never said she was white, or, in the position of power she was in as an author, should she have made it explicit. Juno Dawson, who has sort of become the poster girl for diversity in YA of late, says that children's literature is getting a bad reputation and it's doing far better than most adult genres in terms of presenting diverse characters. The only reason people think it isn't is because the big ones, the Divergents, the Twilights, the Hunger Games, they eclipse all of the diverse children's literature out there. We also spoke to Crystal Mahey-Morgan formally of PRH, now founder of OWN IT! London who shared her experiences as a WOC in the publishing industry. She also shared with us her own projects that tackle the lack of diversity in literature today.
Unfortunately, week 4's session was cancelled as Mel was ill; get well soon Mel!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase #1) - Rick Riordan

Title: Magnus Chase & the Sword of Summer
Series: Magnus Chase & the Gods of Asgard (Book 1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Published: Puffin; Oct 2015
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
My Rating: 3.5/5

Amazon says: "My name is Magnus Chase. I'm orphaned and living rough on the streets of Boston. And things are about to get much worse.
My day started out normally enough. I was sleeping under a bridge when some guy kicked me awake and said, 'They're after you.' Next thing I know, I'm reunited with my obnoxious uncle, who casually informs me that my long-lost father is a Norse god.
Nothing normal about that. And it turns out the gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Apparently, if I can't find the sword my father lost two thousand years ago, there will be doom. Doomsday, to be precise.
A fire giant attacking the city?
Immortal warriors hacking each other to pieces?
Unkillable wolves with glowing eyes?
It's all coming up.
But first I'm going to die. This is the story of how my life goes downhill from there..."


To start, no quotes for this one; I got an uncorrected bound proof copy from work so don't want to quote just in case.

Anyway, let's get to it. So I'm a huge fan of Percy Jackson. As a booky ex-Classics student it's the perfect combination. When I heard that Rick Riordan was doing it all again with the Norse gods I couldn't have been more excited. Ever since the hints seen in Melvin Burgess' Bloodtide I've been quietly intrigued by Norse mythology but it's really not as well known as the Greek and Roman ones. I was excited to see what Rick Riordan would do with them. And, for the most part, Rick didn't let me down.

The premise is pretty much the same, young boy finds out the hard way that he's a demigod, bound by a bleak and damning prophecy and must prove himself to his seemingly uninterested father-god. Maybe it's because I'm older and this book is slightly more gritty than the Percy Jackson books but I really quite enjoyed it. It's harder, and it's darker, and it seems to want to handle real issues far more that its predecessor series, and in a way that only Rick can in his mythical demigod universe. Magnus Chase has been living on the streets since the death of his mother two years previous. He's getting by as best he can until he hears that people are looking for him; his estranged uncle and cousin (the wonderfully familiar Annabeth Chase) seem really quite desperate to find him. Magnus, is not quite as desperate to find them. After a fatal (yes, fatal; no, that's not a spoiler, the first chapter is called "Good morning! You're going to die.") fight with Surt, Lord of the Fire Giants and ruler of Musspelheim, Magnus Chase sees his life set on a very different path.

The story is good, the characters are great - way more diverse than in the Percy Jackson books, I felt.  There are dwarves, elves, Valkyries galore, and of course the gods and goddesses. I'm almost glad Thor isn't Magnus' father, that would've felt quite obvious and it gives readers a chance to explore some of the slightly lesser known Norse gods. There are so many (9 to be exact) worlds to explore and Rick didn't hold back on any of them; they're all fully formed and realised, so easy to imagine with what has been provided on the page. Sure, at times, the names start getting confusing and merging into one, but it's OK because Rick, as always, has provided a super handy glossary at the back.

Where this book struggles is in its categorisation. Rick's protagonists seem to steadily be getting older with each new series; Percy Jackson started aged 12, Carter Kane (Kane Chronicles) was 14. Magnus Chase is 16 years old, he's spent the last two years on the streets. He's a far grittier, far darker character, and yet Rick's writing style doesn't appear to have changed all that much. This is still marketed as a middle-grade, 9-12 book but I can't help but think that that has more to do with Rick's reputation as an MG author and less to do with the content of the book. YA is a somewhat undefinable genre at the minute so what most people tend to go by is the age of the protagonist; at 16 Magnus Chase sits firmly in the YA category. But Rick doesn't seem to have written him that way. I can't help but think that if Rick had put Percy Jackson behind him and written this as a YA novel from the beginning it could have been immensely better. As it was, Magnus suffered by being confined to MG writing; it's typically fun and light which is fine, but it has been written for the same audience as Percy Jackson and I just don't think it works as well.

But that's probably just me, and I'd still absolutely recommend it. It's the perfect filler for Percy Jackson fans and it tackles Norse mythology in a way that I haven't seen done before. So thank you Rick Riordan for gifting the world with this series; I greatly look forward to the next book.

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

Monday 25 January 2016

UCLPub2015 - Term 2: Weeks 1 & 2 [11th-22nd Jan]

Possibly not the best start to my weekly round-ups of 2016 when I'm late with the first one! I'm going to blame it on the assignments; Author Management and Publishing Skills are now officially over. The assignments have been completed and handed in and the wait for my mark begins...
Term two has officially kicked off and thrown us right in the deep-end, here's my run-down of the first 2 weeks.

Publishing Project
Publishing Project, our only year-long module kicked us off on Tuesday morning. If you've been following us on Twitter and Facebook, you'll see that we've extended our submissions by a week so that they now close Friday 29th January, and we've announced 5 out of 7 of our judges:
  1. Beatrice Masini - Italian translator of Harry Potter
  2. Charlotte Eyre - Children's Editor at the Bookseller and chair of the YA Book Prize
  3. David Owen - author of YA novel Panther (a fantastic read that tackles teenage depression and those it affects)
  4. Annalie Grainger - commissioning editor at Walker Books (who publishes Patrick Ness!!) and author of YA novel captive
  5. Bryony Woods - literary agent at DKW Literary Agency (who represents David Owen)
We've had quite a few submissions in and we're really excited to read what UCL students have to offer! We're also going to be building up our blog as the weeks go on in preparation for the release of the shortlist for the Bookseller's YA Book Prize!

Sales, Marketing & Promotion
Our first new module was Sales, Marketing and Promotion where each week we get to discover the wide and wondrous reach of Martin Neild's professional network. We've heard about several (top-secret) up and coming marketing campaigns and what goes into the designing of a marketing campaign. We've heard from both fiction and non-fiction marketing teams and it's very interesting to hear the different things that need to be considered for each book. It's amazing how much thought has to go into what, to the audience, seems so simple and easy; but I suppose that's the point. Each campaign is a gamble, and each on is a learning opportunity, and no two are the same. A job in sales and marketing would most definitely not be a boring one.

Applied Creativity & Content
This module is basically on production of the book. The stages from manuscript to print/ebook. The first week Will Hill came in to talk to us about typography and it was so interesting to see how important the typeface and font of a text is in book production. The wrong typeface can make reading really difficult and put a reader off. I think I've made it sound really dull but it was actually really interesting. That said, I still don't think I'm 100% clear on the difference between font and typeface...
Our second ACC session was on pre-press. So this outlined for us the steps that must be taken before a book is printed. It turns out that there are minor details that can massively affect the ease and speed of productivity in this late stage of book creation; from file format (MS Word .docx = bad, Adobe .pdf = good), to colour format (CMYK is the way forward for printed books).

Children's Publishing (aka Children's Publishing of JOY)
This is by far the most laid back and enjoyable of our new modules. This module is going to cover all kinds of children's publishing, from board and picture books to YA novels and everything in between. In our first session we took a trip to the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the British Museum (everyone go before it ends, it's so much fun) to look at how many different versions and adaptations there have been over the years. When we got back to uni we had to, in groups, figure out how we would do a new adaptation; who would it be for, how would we present it, what made it different from what had already been done?
Our second session was on the relationship between the author, the illustrator and the editor (though really, we shouldn't forget the agent who plays a key role in the relationship). In some cases, the editor and author will be the same person, though the dream for all publishing houses would be to find a dream team like Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. After discussing this, we were split into groups and given different images. We had to come up with a story and a target market for a story from our group's images. I can't give too much away but hold tight for The Forever Five (and the Sometimes Six) and their arch-nemesis Master Lightbulb. Coming soon to a bookshop near you; or, you know, never, but we can dream!

Saturday 26 December 2015

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) - Patrick Rothfuss

Title: The Name of The Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Published: Gollancz, Orion; June 2008
Genre: Fantasy 
My rating: 4/5

The Blurb says: "'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me'"


"Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man's will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself." 


If it wasn't clear from that quote, Patrick Rothfuss really has a wonderful way with words. 

It's obvious really; really quite simple. It is essentially the story of Kvothe, told by the man himself. Like I said, it's simple; but it is glorious and beautiful. The now unassuming and rather unimpressive innkeeper Kote finds his past life catching up with him; a life he tried desperately to put behind him. With the timely arrival of the great story-teller the Chronicler, Kote decides it's time to tell the story of the man he once was: Kvothe, the Kingkiller. I don't really want to say much more than that; though it may not seem like it, the blurb doesn't really give anything at all away so everything else feels like a spoiler!

The characters are well crafted and intriguing. The young Kvothe is driven and motivated, awkward and naive. Rothfuss' short interludes in the story of young Kvothe kept me intrigued - what happens to Kvothe to make him deny his life of magic and intrigue and become Kote the innkeeper? As a love interest, I was relatively impartial to Denna for the majority of the book. She is most definitely a bitch, there's no doubt about it, but as much as Kvothe tries to apologise for it and excuse it, she very much remains unapologetic and you can't fault her for that. We learn about Denna as Kvothe does and I think, by the end, I was very much rooting for them. I loved Kvothe's school friends Sim and Wil; they sort of popped in and out and weren't around enough for my liking. Bast, close friend and tutee of our central character as innkeeper Kote, is a wonderfully mysterious Fae creature; we have yet to learn how he stumbled into Kvothe's life and why he was so willing to live his life in a mask with his master.

The magic is wonderful. The majority of the magic we see is sympathy and appears to be relatively scientific. Then there's the magic that gives the book its name: The Name of the Wind. I've always, weirdly and with no real known origin, enjoyed the kind of magic that's associated with the naming of things. After a chance meeting with the alchemist Abenthy, who would become Kvothe's first teacher, Kvothe dedicates so much of his future to understanding Naming and finding out the name of the wind. After being inspired by his tutor Abenthy and the tales of the storyteller Skarpi, we follow Kvothe as he battles the streets of Tarbean and becomes one of the greatest, and youngest, students the University has ever seen.

The world Rothfuss has created is well-formed with a well thought out history. It is infinitely clear that Rothfuss has spent an immense amount of time creating Kvothe's world both geographically and historically. Of course it needed to be for the sake of the story perhaps more so than in some other fantasy stories. Kvothe travels far and wide across his world and his motivation is heavily reliant on a well established history as he hunts down the Chandrian and explores the mythic, fantastical history of his world. What is good is that the story keeps moving. Rothfuss doesn't spend heaps of time just establishing his world and its history unless it's integral to the plot. Pat Rothfuss and his character Kote are masterful story-weavers.

The only thing I will say is that it's quite a long book, and it feels like we've barely even scratched the surface of Kvothe's story. Of the things outlined in the blurb it feels like, 600+ pages down and we've failed to cover any of it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's not good, and you barely feel the length of it when you're reading, this book just had a lot of ground to cover and is very much the scene-setter. It's a really enjoyable scene-setter but not enough for 5 stars.

I would definitely recommend this to all fantasy fans. It involves a very different method of world creation than any of the fantasy I've read and Rothfuss does it beautifully. I'm going to hold off reading the second book though, at least until there's a release date for the third book. The Wise Man's Fear is 1000 pages long I don't think I'll be able to revisit it for some time like I normally do when there's a long break in the publications of installments so I think it's best to wait. All I ask is that we find out more about Bast in The Wise Man's Fear. He was my favourite.

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

Thursday 24 December 2015

UCLPub2015 - Term 1: Weeks 10 & 11 [7th-18th Dec]

So there's no excuse, I just fully forgot to do my weekly round-up for last week and this week's, for no other reason than sheer laziness, is horrendously late.

Publishing Skills
Week 10s Publishing Skills class on Nielsen BookScan unfortunately didn't go to plan. Due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances the website could not be accessed on the university network so we didn't get to spend any time on BookScan but it was great to have Annie in again and she helped us as best she could without access to the website.
In our final Publishing Skills session we had Helen Youngs in from Inspired Selection - a recruitment consultancy for the publishing industry. She helped us understand how to best market ourselves in our CVs and cover letters; an invaluable skill for all of us.

Publishing Project
We had an information meeting on the 8th to check out the interest and answer any questions people may have had. It was better attended than we had hoped and helped us to iron out a few kinks and understand what we hadn't quite made clear enough. It at least showed us that our marketing is somewhat working though and we're keeping our fingers crossed that we get our first submission soon! In our final Pub Project session we each gave presentations on how our projects were coming along and any stumbling blocks we'd hit along the way. It was really great hearing from all of the other groups and I'm super excited to see how everyone gets on.

Author Management
In our penultimate session we had a great team in from Unbound - a crowdfunded publishing company. The team contained 2 UCL Publishing alumni which was exciting; it's always good to see the successes of former students. We looked at how important it is to find new ways to publish and work with authors if the "traditional" publishing industry hopes to remain competitive in this new, digital industry.
Our final Author Management session was a space to ask any questions we had about anything we felt needed covering further. We also got a couple more ideas of what we could do for our assessment for this module: an author tool-kit.

Theories of the Book
Week 10: In this session we had special guests Prof. Alexis Weedon and Claudio Pires Franco come in and talk to us about cross-media publishing and the changing "book" in the digital age. They brought in several examples of books that had crossed media boundaries - partnering apps, QR codes that unlocked new material.
Week 11: we sort of lead this session. In the groups from our projects we lead small presentations each on a different arena of publishing. From women's presses to self-publishing; pamphleteering to zines; we got a quick yet thorough run through of many, vastly differing sectors of the publishing industry.
The assignment for this was handed in on Friday so this module is officially finished!

I think it's safe to say we're all looking forward to the coming weeks off, even if we are going to be spending a lot of it working on the assignments for Publishing Skills and Author Management.
The weekly updates will be cooling off over the Christmas holidays (because really, my life is not all that interesting that you'd want weekly updates of my down-time).
Happy Christmas from me and, as always, thanks for reading!
Naomi Joy x

Monday 7 December 2015

UCLPub2015 - Term 1: Week 9 [30th Nov-4th Dec]

We revisited InDesign in Publishing Skills on Tuesday morning. While last time we learnt how to add content to the book, this time around we worked our way through the intricacies of cover design. Marita gave us everything necessary to work through her step-by-step guide to make a cover for a book published by her publishing house: Norvik Press. Once we'd completed that, in the spirit of Christmas, we made some Christmas themed poster designs for our favourite books this year. All in the name of education of course! I would show a picture of my design but I decided to take more of a consultant role on this one rather than create my own as I was not quite feeling the Christmas spirit just yet (yes, I know, bah, humbug!)
Next week: Nielsen BookScan revisited.

Publishing Project this week was a hub of productivity. We now have a website! is still "under construction" but it's live while we fill it up so that everyone can access all the information they need to send their awesome YA short stories to us! Check it out here! We have also made a video (of sorts) which is linked to both the vlogging part of our Publishing Skills, and our Publishing Project topic. We're preparing for our Information Meeting on 8th December where we hope to meet a few of the writers interested in entering our competition and answer any questions they might have. I can't say anything just yet but we already have some great judges lined up and more brilliant judges and prizes in the pipeline. It's all getting very exciting!

The Author Management session on Thursday morning was on literary agents. We saw the history of the literary agent and investigated the various roles of a literary agent in the publishing industry at present. We looked at contracts from another perspective: the one between an author and his/her agent. We saw the breakdown of commission from each of the different rights up for grabs; from simple things like hardback, paperback, and ebook, to subsidiary rights like radio/TV, reprints, and translatio. Special guest Matthew Hamilton gave us a great insight into the life of a literary agent from his first hand experience as long time agent at Aitken Alexander.
Next week's focus: 'New ways of working with authors, or why not DIY?' with special guest Dan Kiernan of Unbound.

In Theories of the Book on Thursday afternoon we had a session on Globalisation given by one of our lecturers Daniel Boswell (contrary to what I said last week). He got us thinking about what globalisation means and if/how it can be applied to the publishing industry. While it has resulted in greater trade across borders, it has also resulted in a homogenisation in the books that are published, particularly in the Anglo-American book industries. It also cannot be ignored the lack of translated works that are making headway in our book industry - we very much expect our books to be snatched up and translated in other countries but, for whatever reason, we do not seem to consider works written in other languages a hot enough commodity that they are worth seeking out for translation.
Next week: 'The 'Book' in the Digital Age' with Mel.