Monday, 14 March 2011

Library Saviours or Council Spindoctors? - The Truth Behind the Happy Headlines

"Please can someone start telling the truth?"
That's the question I was asked by Paula Davies, chair of the Friends of Roade Library in Northamptonshire, one recent Friday afternoon. Well, yes, Paula. I will. Because I want to save Roade Library and all the other libraries under threat as much as you do.

For those who may have missed it (hard to do if you're a reader of this blog or any British newspaper) our libraries are in danger from Government cuts. There are many of us fighting against this cultural vandalism, but the ones on the true front line of the battle (apart from the librarians themselves) are the mostly unsung heroes and heroines who have, sometimes at very short notice, formed the Friends groups for their local libraries. Paula Davies of the Friends of Roade Library is such a person, along with her colleagues. On 5th February 2011 I took part in Roade's National Library Protest Day event, which you can read about HERE. On 15th February I was called by the local BBC newsroom and asked for a comment on the news that “Northants County Council have scrapped plans to close the 8 rural libraries that were to be shut as part of the £180k savings”. 

"Well, whoopee, I said rather cautiously. If it's true. But I'll have to see the detail before I dance a jig and open the champagne". How right I was to be a cynic. Because behind that happy headline lay an untold story. 
  • The Friends of the 8 libraries facing the axe had worked hard and raised more than £40k, (during an incredibly short consultation period), to help NCC reduce the deficit.
  • That's why they got a stay-of-execution. The headline-grabbing LIBRARIES SAVED BY COUNCIL announcement was pure 'let's make ourselves look good to the voters' smoke-and-mirrors by NCC, who, in reality had had to do almost no work at all. NCC are just going to use that handy volunteer-raised money to keep the libraries open--temporarily. 
There was an unfortunate and unforseen outcome of those happy headlines, as well.  All the people and businesses who had so kindly pledged large amounts (in a cash-strapped environment) to save the libraries thought that there was no longer a need to do so. Those 'happy headlines' had given them the mistaken impression that the council had done a U-turn and found the funds within their own budget.  That basically ripped the rug out from under the library Friends. And next year it will be worse.  Unless the library Friends raise more large sums from the community, they'll be in an even more precarious position.  Because next year NCC say they have to find £300k to balance the books.  No doubt they'll use the temporary cash reprieve the Friends have given them to put the fear of God into the other 28 'unthreatened' libraries and ensure they start raising funds too, so as to reduce the NCC libraries budget to a negligible amount.

The Friends of Roade Library have had their task spelled out in no uncertain terms.  They must contribute a minimum of £4,500 to NCC in 2011/12, continue paying in 2012/13 and again in 13/14, with the possibility of ever-rising contributions. Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage says that NCC need to "use [Roade] as trailblazers for the future of library services in the county." and to trumpet their example as "the impetus for others to work to raise local funding and galvanise...voluntary efforts." Oh good.  So that's all wonderful, then.  Well done, Roade. Trailblazers, eh? Paula Davies would just like to know where it all stops. I would too, and I'd like to ask a few more questions as well.
  • Are NCC accurate in their assessment of the monies needed to run Roade and the other libraries?
  • How can we know they are giving us accurate figures unless NCC justify taking this volunteer-raised money from the people of Roade and elsewhere in Northamptonshire by giving complete and open access to their accounts?
  • Will the Central Library (forinstance) be exempt from raising funds to help keep it open? If so, how is this fair to the other 35 Northamptonshire libraries? 
  • What will happen to the libraries that are unable to raise any additional funding (there are only 22 Friends groups and a total of 36 libraries)?
  • Will those libraries which are capable of raising funds be forced to use their hard-won monies to help support those libraries that can't/won't?
I wonder, too, whether the Friends of each library will have any say in how 'their' money is spent? Will they have the power to allocate their own funding to suit the individual needs of their own library?  In this public, open forum, I'd like to ask someone from NCC to give Paula and me some truthful answers to all these questions.  But I won't be holding my breath and twiddling my thumbs while I wait.  I'll be nagging  Andrea Leadsom, my local MP (again) to get properly engaged with our fight to save this essential community resource for future generations. It should be just as big and important a button on her website as Wind Farms or High Speed Rail.

Friday, 11 March 2011


I've whirled and twirled my magic pieces of paper in the little red Nis hat, and these are the lucky winners who emerged triumphant:
The blog comment copies go to:
pressed posies
Swan Artworks

The Twitter RT copies go to:
@storylaura (from the good ol' USA).

If all of you would like to email me by clicking HERE or on the envelope at the bottom of this post (or DM me on Twitter @lucycoats) and send your addresses, then your winnings will be winging their way to you as fast as the Royal Mail can whisk them onto the back of the North Wind.  Congratulations to all of you from Katherine and from me! And thanks to everyone for entering.  There'll be more giveaway chances soon on SCC, so don't go away!


Just a reminder that today is positively your LAST CHANCE to enter the competition to win 4 lovely copies of


You have till 5pm GMT TODAY!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

My Complementary World Book Night Giveaway-on-a-Train (& a Brief Encounter)

So what's a complementary World Book Night?  Well, it all started with the ineffably Crabbit Nicola Morgan, who made the very fair point that giving away a million free books wasn't necessarily the best thing for struggling independent booksellers, and that perhaps there was Another Way which might address that.  You may have caught her saying so at the end of Newsnight on Thursday.  As an alternative, she suggested a simple but brilliant idea, namely that people could sign up to the idea of buying just one book, write in it "Given in the spirit of World Book Night and bought from ___ .  Please enjoy and tell people about it." And give it away. You can read her original post HERE.

Well, I wasn't going to be able to take part in the 'real' World Book Night, and I liked Nicola's idea very much. So I signed up. 

On Thursday I went to my local independent bookshop, the wonderful Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley, Northamptonshire.  You can see from the picture what a pleasure it is to shop in this lovely building with its well-stocked shelves and its airy friendly book-smelling atmosphere.  I scurried around, sniffing out favourite books that I'd read and loved.  I wanted to give mainly to teenagers, so I chose those sorts of books. Here are the two I picked....

The third book I decided to give away (for a slightly younger age) was one of my own.  It was a strange experience, buying my own book in a bookshop, but I was so grateful that they stocked it!

So what next?  Go and chat to lovely booksellers Christine and Carey, of course.  They were very happy to hear what I was doing.  Here they are behind the desk with my purchases.

Carey Percival and Christine Bridger of The Old Hall Bookshop

 Now, cut to King's Cross Station on Saturday morning.  I got lost.  Here's where I ended up.  I felt it was a Good Omen...

I scanned the passengers boarding the Edinburgh-bound train minutely.  Who would it be? How would I know? How would they respond to a complete stranger shoving a free book at them?  I decided to have a sit down and a cuppa and let everyone settle in their seats.  Then, as the train reached Yorkshire, I picked up my brown paper bag and made my way up through the whole swaying, rattling train from one end to the other.  I was nervous, I'll admit.  It was such a strange thing to be doing--but I was excited too.  There were lots of teenagers.  Most of them were asleep.  This was not promising.  Wake a sleeping teen at your peril is my experience. I worked my way down again.  Ah, here was an awake one.  I made my offer.

"Er, no thanks.  I've already got a book."  Not a promising start. I was downcast.  Perhaps this wouldn't work.  Then I spotted a blonde boy chatting to his mum and dad.  Did he like books, I asked him. 

"Ooh, yes,|" he said in a fab Geordie accent.  So Hootcat Hill was duly handed over, to big smiles and round-eyed wonder that an author should be giving him one of her own books, 'signed and all!"  Then there were three more refusals.  Quite polite, but they obviously thought I was mad.  Then a solitary girl, immersed in a magazine.  Was that her preferred reading matter?  No.  She liked books very much and took Troubadour by Mary Hoffman with alacrity.  One to go.  Two giggly young ladies.  Were they interested?  Definitely!  So they tossed a coin (shades of Nicola Morgan's book, Wasted) for Sigrun's Secret by Marie-Louise Jensen.  The dark-haired one won, but she's going to lend it to her friend when she's finished.  What a result!

And then, lovely readers, my World Book Night adventure took a surreal turn.  I'd been tweeting back and forth with @EffieMerryl since we were both doing WBN giveaways on trains. Now this is where it gets weird.... We were both going in the same direction.  Could it be that she had a seat booked on my train?  In the same carriage?  We both thought so for a few glorious minutes.  But it was not to be.  However, Nil Desperandum!  We arranged to meet on Platform 2 of Newcastle Station (where my train was stopping for a second and hers was leaving from), so that she could hand over one of her WBN books and we could meet.  It was a bookish Brief Encounter. We hugged, we snapped each other on phone cameras, and we waved farewell in in a cloud of steam (oh alright, I made the cloud of steam up).  It took all of three minutes. 

Effie Merryl
And I am now the proud owner of Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog, a book I've been wanting to read for AGES and was intending to take on holiday with me anyway.  Thank you, Effie (I wish I'd still had a WBN book to give YOU!). And thank you Nicola Morgan for putting this brilliant, amazing, book-giving, reading-enhancing, fantabulous idea into all our heads!

Friday, 4 March 2011

West of the Moon - WIN COPIES!

To celebrate its Kindle publication day, those kind people at Harper Collins Children's Books have sent me 4 whole paperback copies of Katherine Langrish's wonderful

(see my glowing review in the post below) to give away. 
So what do you have to do?  It's very easy.  I'll pick two winners from blog commenters here on Scribble City Central, and two winners from Twitter retweeters. 
  • Comment on this post and tell us your favourite Norse hero or heroine for a chance to win.
  • Follow me on Twitter at @lucycoats and retweet my #WoTM tweets for a chance to win.
  • Why not do both and give yourself an extra chance?
That's it!  The four winners will be picked out of a hat when the competition closes at 5pm GMT on Friday 11th March, and the books will be sent out once I have addresses.  Good luck to all of you! Oh yes, and the competition is open INTERNATIONALLY so everyone can enter wherever they are!
PS: if you absolutely can't wait to get hold of a copy, you can download it for your Kindle right now, or order a hard copy from Amazon (or better still, your local independent bookstore). 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The British Books Challenge 2011 - Review of West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish

I'm delighted to be reviewing Katherine Langrish's West of the Moon on the third stop of a massive blog tour to celebrate its new incarnation as one gorgeous omnibus volume.  Equally exciting, the publishers have agreed to a


this Friday (4th March), so do come back again and check out the details!

I was a fan of Katherine Langrish's troll trilogy as soon as I started reading it two summers ago, but this revised edition is definitely something special and should bring her many new fans.  For a start (and this is important in getting readers to pick up the book in the first place), the new cover is simply marvellous--icy and enticing, with just a hint of the stark landscapes inside the book.  But of course, one shouldn't judge by appearances.  What I was surprised by (and shouldn't have been, because I know how beautifully Katherine writes), was how well West of the Moon reads as one big book instead of three separate ones--how each part flows smoothly and seamlessly into the next. 

Peer Ulfsson's journey from boy to young man takes him from his father's funeral pyre to the forests of a strange new land.  What happens along the way is a story in the best traditions of Viking saga fantasy with a good dose of fairytale mixed in.  His childhood is plagued with wicked uncles and trolls--Norse folklore is a constant undercurrent running through these books--but this is also a coming-of-age novel.  Peer has to deal with his growing feelings for the beautiful and resourceful Hilde--not always easy when she scorns him as a little boy who looks like a heron, quite unlike the blue-eyed, handsome Arne.  I'm not going to put up any plot spoilers, so you'll have to believe me when I say that the culminating part of West of the Moon, where Peer and Hilde travel to Vinland is a truly breathtaking and original tale of two differing cultures meeting--but also a story of how the past catches up with the present, not always happily or tidily.

What struck me as I read was the quality of the writing and how marvellously Katherine has created the feel of the Viking period.  No horned helmets here, thank goodness, just lots of well-researched small and fascinating details scattering the text like gracenotes. I was also delighted to meet the eccentric Nis again--and wished, as I always do, for a Nithing to grace my own house with its housekeeping skills and its red hat.   If you like Vikings, trolls and adventure, leavened with a good dose of subtle humour, then this is the book for you.  Highly recommended.

Katherine was kind enough to answer my usual


SCC:  How does it feel to go back and look at your books again as you have done for West of the Moon?  Was it a hard process to go back and revise--or was it actually quite enjoyable?

KL:  It felt brilliant. It was the chance every author longs for and rarely gets – the chance to go back over already published work and do it better.

That doesn’t mean the books were awful to start with. My first book, Troll Fell, took me two years to write (I began it in autumn 1999) and another two years of revision, revision and more revision. It’s set in the Viking era, with trolls and other spirits borrowed from Scandinavian folklore, and features both a hero and a heroine, sensitive Peer and confident Hilde. By the time the book was published in 2004, it was a colourful, exciting fantasy, and the best I could possibly do. But of course authors, like everyone else, get better at what we do the longer we go on doing it. By 2010, with four books under my belt, I would occasionally leaf through Troll Fell and wish I hadn’t used quite so many adjectives here – or adverbs there – or written that particular purple passage – or used phrases like ‘…he whispered quietly’. (He was whispering, for heaven’s sake. Obviously he was quiet.)

So I was thrilled when HarperCollins decided to republish the trilogy in one omnibus edition. We knew the three books were a bit too long to publish in one volume without some cuts – but, rather than weeping over this, I welcomed it. I could go back and sort out some of the things I’d been itching to put right! Yay! And another advantage of having all three books in one volume was that I could do away with the explanatory material every author has to include in the early pages of sequels so that new readers (who may not have read the other books) will understand who these characters are, and something of their back-story.

Troll Fell was originally written as a stand-alone. I didn’t know if it would even find a publisher, so there was no point in daydreaming about a trilogy! Then, when HarperCollins asked me for a sequel – and a third after that – I discovered myself writing a trilogy after all. And the books got darker and stronger as I went along. There were threads running through all three – the same characters, obviously, though I added new ones in each book as Peer and Hilde grew older and had more adventures – but also threads of self-discovery, and the longing to travel far away to distant lands. And – of course – romance. It was clear to me even in the first book that Peer was going to fall in love with Hilde. It was a lot less clear that she would feel the same way about him. Indeed, even in Book 1, there’s a handsome fisherman, Arne, who is an obvious rival for Hilde’s affections. The path of true love never did run smooth, and Peer and Hilde have an awful lot to face, and to discover about themselves and others, before they really come to know their own hearts. How lucky I was to be able to follow them for three whole books and discover what happens….

For this new edition, we needed an overall title. West of the Moon was my working title for Troll Blood and all of us – my publisher, agent and I – had a soft spot for it. It seems to express the longing for adventure that Peer and Hilde both feel, as well as hinting at the strong fairytale and fantasy elements of the story.

For me, West of the Moon now works as a complete trilogy, the coming-of-age story of a young man who doesn’t see himself as a hero, who is thoughtful, self-doubting, but also determined and truly courageous. As Hilde says at a terrible moment in Book 3:

“Peer always thinks he isn’t brave. But he is brave. He’s the bravest person I ever met.”

SCC: Thanks,  Katherine.  I couldn't have asked for a better answer!

Katherine's next stop on the tour is:  MOSTLY BOOKS where she'll be tomorrow (2nd March).  Don't forget to come back to Scribble City Central on Friday 4th March for the book giveaway competition!

Her website is:
Her blog is: (and I can safely say it's one of the best blogs out there on folklore and fairytale--do go and read the Fairytale Reflections series, which can't be beaten for fascinating author insights into the Otherworld).
Her Twitter handle is:
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