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!