Book Vegetarian

This week my gentleman and I have gone vegetarian. It’s not unusual for me to have a veggie meal every now and then but we wanted to try a whole week having different vegetarian meals, no Quorn or meat substitutes, to see how it goes. The shop was certainly cheaper and three days in I’m enjoying it and have discovered that vegetarian meals can be as (or perhaps more) varied than the traditional meat and two veg.

This has made me realise that perhaps I have been somewhat of a book vegetarian in the past. By book vegetarian I mean that I stick to the same genres (light fantasy, classic, poetry) rarely venturing into something I know little about or believe I have no interest in and I want to change this. Studying publishing has made me push my boundaries a little and this past year I’ve dabbled in ghost stories and prose poetry and have been enjoying a few Ian McEwan’s on the recommendation of a friend but I’ve not immersed myself in something completely new.

I want to experience new, exciting genres and I would love to hear your recommendations from children’s to chick lit, from horror to heartbreak and everything in between. I’d be grateful if you would comment below with your favourite genre and a good book to get me started and I shall choose a few to read and let you know how I get on.

Here’s to new experiences! Cheers!

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Words, words, words by Frankie Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Publishers and Pottermore

HarperCollins executive vice-president and Chief Digital Officer Charlie Redmayne is to take over from Ron Henwood as CEO of Harry Potter interactive website Pottermore, the Bookseller reported on Monday.

Is the move from a digital media expert to Redmayne, who Rowling’s agent Neil Blair believes is “a formidable talent in both the digital and publishing spheres”, a move towards making Pottermore less of an online game and more of that online reading experience that J.K Rowling spoke of in her Pottermore Announcement video?

Pottermore is set to open to the public at the end of October following a beta testing period in which 1 million fans were given early access to help shape the site. The shop where e-books can exclusively be purchased is due to open in early 2012  as is the next book in the Pottermore exprience, The Chamber of Secrets. It will certainly be interesting to see if any changes take place under the leadership of Redmayne.

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Words, words, words by Frankie Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Professor of Children’s Poetry

Today the first ever post of Professor of Children’s Poetry was given to Morag Styles. I’m delighted to hear this news and you can read her Case for Children’s Poetry here.

This news comes at a crucial time for me as I am doubting more and more the provision of poetry education. My thirteen year old niece is such a bright spark and incredibly literary. She always has multiple books on the go. By the age of twelve she had read all of Jane Austen’s books and last time I checked in she was planning on reading as much Dickens as she could but she says she can’t stand poetry. She doesn’t understand it and she particularly doesn’t like to write it. I’ve offered advice and free reign over my poetry library but she’s just not interested.* I’m left wondering what went wrong. Is it the lack of enthusiasm from teachers? Is it just not cool to enjoy poetry?

It’s certainly not down to bad children’s poetry. There’s such an abundance of it about and it can range from catchy rhythms and rhymes through to hilarious stories played out in iambic pentameter. The first encounter with a book of children’s poetry that I remember came in the form of a gift from my Grandmother, she’d come across a book of poems on holiday in Australia and bought it back for me, the bookworm of the family. I was hooked. I moved on to Edward Lear’s limericks (There was an old man with a beard…) and on to my favourite, the wonderful Spike Milligan (I still treasure his Children’s Treasury). Since the age of about nine I’ve been able to recite On the Ning Nang Nong and still can when persuaded.

Hopefully with the appointment of Morag Styles we’ll see a renewed interest and belief in children’s poetry. I shall end this post with a link to the fantastic Spike Milligan reading that wonderful poem On the Ning Nang Nong. Listen to it, no matter what your age and try not to smile!

*P if you do stumble across this you know I am so proud of you and think you are wonderful but I will make you love poetry!

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Words, words, words by Frankie Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

On absences and Icarus

I’ve unashamedly been busy this month finishing my dissertation and applying for lots of exciting jobs and internships. Unfortunately this meant that I’ve neglected this blog somewhat so as a form of apology I am sharing one of my dissertation poems here. My dissertation collection, Changeling, focuses on the deconstruction of the individual and included three poems inspired by Greek mythology. This dramatic monologue-esque piece is based on the story of Icarus:

We called it curiosity
to start with – the collecting
and dissecting of dead birds,
the fascination with aircraft.
He wore a crow’s feather
in his hair, looking like a
young Hermes.
We excused him
as eccentric.
It was a relief when he left
to study the spine – ‘Our Son
The Surgeon’. We cleared
skeletons from his childhood
room and shattered his obsession
to fractional memories.
The journalists crowded to see
the box room where it started
and scribbled shorthand
about the wooden toy plane
we’d left for posterity
without seeing the crude sketches
reimagining the human scaffold
with feathers and wingéd bones.
I still dream, sometimes,
that I’m flying and wake up
with sun spots in my eyes,
the burnt image that I identified
as the scorched carcass
of my modified son and
the soldered wings
wounded to his shoulder blades
lined black beneath the power lines.
Please note that I post this here in good faith and it is copyrighted.

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The View from Inside Pottermore

Over the last few weeks Pottermore has let in over 144,000 early entry users to the Beta testing site which opens to the public in October. The next month or so will see the full one million Beta testers accepted to the site where they can explore the world of Pottermore, leave feedback and test the site for glitches.

I gained access two weeks ago and wanted to explore the story fully and get used to the interface before writing this blog. J.K Rowling made it clear that Pottermore would be an “online reading experience” rather than an RPG (Role Playing Game) and that rather than taking an active role in the story users would be passive, watching the story of Harry Potter unfold as they work their way through the chapters with extra written content from Rowling herself.

The site is quite user friendly already and it certainly is more of a reading experience than an action game. As a user you are given a persona which you develop and discover as you progress through the story (I’ve become quite attached to my ‘Quill Queen’ character). Currently users only have access to the first book, The Philosopher’s Stone. You are a student in the same year as Harry, Ron and Hermione and whilst you go through the motions of purchasing items from Diagon Alley, having a wand choose you and being sorted into a house you aren’t directly involved in the action of the story: you are a voyeur, a reader.

The story is split into chapters, just like the book, and each chapter has up to three key ‘moments’ to explore. The ‘moments’ consist of mainly static images which the user can zoom in to and can collect and discover items through a point-and-click system – within the ‘moments’ you can access content which is in the book and new content from Rowling which can range from information on wizarding fashion through to the personal history of Minerva McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor. It is suggested at the start of the story that Pottermore be explored whilst reading the book; a good idea if one is unfamiliar with the story and, in my opinion, a charming idea for exploring the story with a child (after reading a chapter of the book the child can experience the key moments for themselves online).

Taken from Pottermore Press Room:

The artwork used is very sympathetic to the style of both the films and the cover artwork for the books and wisely never shows the faces of the characters. It’s almost a blurred snapshot of one’s own imagination while reading the book, a clever move to avoid disappointing diehard fans. Despite the user’s passivity within the storyline (which, of course, cannot be altered through play) you are given a chance to become involved in student life. You are sorted into a house by answering a series of questions (the questions are rather unobvious therefore you cannot answer just to be sorted into your preferred house– I always believed with my love of study I would be a Ravenclaw; it turns out I’m an ambitious Slytherin!) and once in a house you can start earning points by collecting items, brewing potions and (once it’s working) duelling against other houses.

Although marketed as a ‘reading experience’ many fans are leaving feedback asking for more action, many suggesting a soundtrack or sound effects to accompany the ‘moments’ with some fans even wanting movie clips. Most feedback asks for more ways to earn points by perhaps playing Wizard’s chess, Quidditch or Gobstones. I feel that movie clips would demean the idea of the site; if I want to watch the films I will do just that! But sound effects, perhaps of Fluffy (the three headed dog) growling or the Hogwarts Express chugging along the train tracks, would add to the atmosphere created by the beautiful artwork and further ways to earn house points could add another element of interactivity to a quite passive online experience. However I believe that Sony haven’t done a bad job – they’ve delivered what they set out to and we won’t be able to judge the site fully until the full version is released in October.

I blogged in June that I thought Pottermore would inform the future of online reading yet I am now unsure. The model seems to work with the world of Harry Potter, a world which transcends both book and film, but would it work with other texts, even those with similar franchises (Twilight…?). I am unsure that there will ever be anything which matches the personal and emotional experience of reading a bloomin’ good book.

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The Practicality of Books

Two weeks ago I was in the Mendips. Literally. I was underneath the ground, squeezing through caves, climbing underground waterfalls and dunking myself in cold water. 100 meters below the earth is not a natural place for a human being to be but I’m glad that I’ve experienced it and, who knows, I might try again in the future.

Trying not to panic

Me (staying calm and collected) in Swildon's Hole

While on my relaxing Somerset holiday I began thinking about the practicality of specialist books. My father had brought with him a caving guide, a guide he has owned since 1977 and it suffices to say that the book was a little worse for wear. The spine is broken, pages are falling out and the front cover isn’t attached. We were offered a new version of the book which was similarly constructed: a paperback with perfect binding. In my mind these books aren’t as practical as they could be. These books are used for quick referencing and may even be taken down the caves. In a word they need to be durable. They need hard covers and perhaps even spiral binding so a page can be turned to and held on to, the paper needs to be fairly robust and the text and images easy to read in reduced light.

It’s not just caving guides which suffer from impracticality. I have seen numerous beautiful cookbooks with glossy images and beautiful bindings which I would be afraid to take into my kitchen* and holiday guides which are not sized to fit into handbags. Of course there are cookbooks which are designed to lie flat on the work surface with pages which can be wiped clean and there are many fantastic guidebooks which come in a range of sizes perfect for handbags and backpacks alike. In these cases the publishers are thinking practically of their market’s needs.**

I know that often it’s a case of budget, adding these extras to a book’s production will push the production costs and therefore the retail costs up and can result in diminished sales but my experience below the earth has made me realise that taking on the market’s perspective while thinking about the physicality of a book is one of the most important things to consider.

*Although I completely understand that some cookbooks are designed as ‘coffee table books’ and aren’t necessarily intended to be subjected to my messy cooking.

**The new phenomenon Flipback books are an ideal example of a publisher addressing the market’s needs, these small books are designed perfectly for cramped train travel and are small enough to fit into a back pocket.

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I do feel guilty in having not posted in two weeks. I have a post formulating in my mind (inspired by recent caving trip) but at the moment I’m spending my time writing a first draft essay for my dissertation. It’s 3,000 words about my poetry and I’m hitting on some rather interesting topics at the moment from attempting to disagree with Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’ through to animal spirits and the role of the cyborg in our society. As you can see I have lots of different thoughts buzzing around my head which I need to get in to some kind of sensible order!

Perhaps I will post up some parts of the essay  once it’s done and dusted (please don’t groan, my essays are always exhilarating!).

Do keep watching this space.

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Words, words, words by Frankie Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.