Anna Maxted's Blog

Wednesday
Dec092009

down with the kids

I’ve just finished writing my second children’s book. I was driven to it after reading my six-year old a bedtime story, supposedly for his age group, in which Beyonce featured. Is that really necessary? Talented and beautiful as she is, does she have to be in his frame of reference? Can’t it wait until he’s nine?

I wanted to write a book that was modern and traditional - about children having an adventure. I also wanted it to be fun for parents to read. I always get a little anxious when I’m reading a story to my kids and the mother in it is perfect. There was one instance, where a little bear and his brother ruined a jumper and by the following morning, Mummy Bear had knitted them new ones. Now that just isn’t right.

The parents in The Baddie  and The Horrible Princess – both to be published in the UK in 2010 – are happily flawed. They are loving but also tired, overworked, and irritable. They shout a lot and can’t always control their kids. Their children are kindly tolerant of their parents’ imperfection. I do hope this resonates with other mothers and fathers or I am going to feel terrible.  Although I shall claim otherwise and say loftily, ‘Would you want to always control your kids?’  

One highlight of writing The Baddie was seeing it illustrated. The artist is Alex T Smith – and he is enormously clever. If I draw a house, it’s a triangle on top of a square. His gorgeous, hilarious illustrations have brought the book to life. The boys (now five and seven) jumped up and down when they saw his drawing of one of the characters – and now I know what Bin Man School looks like.

 I read the chapters to the boys as the story progressed – and they were stern critics. The hero’s magic powers were, initially, too understated for the seven-year old who required a little more pizzazz. It was duly administered. The final test was reading the book to the 7-year olds’ class. What didn’t help was that I’d taken along the younger child as a treat – and in the story, his alter-ego wears underpants and green swimming goggles. Of course he thought that everyone was laughing at him and had a fit. I tell you, there’s no dignity...

Monday
Nov302009

my glamorous life

 

The title is sarcastic, in case you were hoping for pink boas, tan pool boys and vintage champagne. But if it’s tales of small Bolognese-covered children you’re after – or people skidding in cat sick while attempting to rush a vomiting feline to the back door – welcome, welcome, you’ve come to the right place!

When you write, you create a world to escape to. And when I say ‘you’ I suspect I mean ‘me.’ After the children have been dispatched to school and nursery, it is a luxury to sit down at the kitchen table, (current status: Sponge Bob guitar, two boxes of felt tip pens, innards of a musical toy, wooden hammer, Green Bay Packers baseball hat, toy gun, copy of Harry, The Dirty Dog, pot of congealed glue) transport myself to a white sand beach, prettily fringed by a turquoise sea, and stay there all morning.

Of course – at least in Rich Again - the characters are usually destroying the tranquillity by disgracing themselves – but these kinds of scenes are the most fun to create. It’s a way of vicariously indulging in shocking behaviour. In suburbia where I (perpetually wonder why I) live, shocking behaviour is in short supply. So much so that the last time I jogged round the park, it was widely noticed and excitedly remarked upon.

In suburbia, if someone from across the road parks their car in front of your house, the crime takes on the proportions of a homicide. In a lavish fairytale for grown-ups, the stakes are higher. The car parked in front of your house; that large, rusting embodiment of a rude gesture, and the reaction it provokes in you might be pathetic and ridiculous – but your feelings around it relate to territory, ego, insecurity, and possibly, all the other problems in your life.

In a bonkbuster, the issues of territory, ego and insecurity are more likely to be dramatised by, say, an arrogant billionaire being robbed of his fortune. The emotions at play are the same – the situation is more extreme. So you don’t need to be dripping in wealth to relate to that billionaire – either at the point where he has his fortune or where he loses it.

That said, the seven-year old has been scouring the Lego catalogue with the fervour of a hedge fund wife leafing through Tiffany & Co – and frankly, I can’t see much difference in price range. The Death Star (which, with my boy-warped perception I can see is gorgeous, with its moving turbolaser turrets and swoonworthy array of 24 prized ‘minifigures’) costs £269.15. What’s that in dollars? Just over $400? OK, I’ve just checked - a silver Tiffany ring studded with diamonds: £270!

Even though I’m going to refer Sir to the sterling silver equivalent page in the Lego catalogue, I am tempted to remortgage and purchase the Death Star because I think of Lego as a goodly, worthwhile skill-building toy (whereas it pains me to the soul to buy him a computer game – I keep deferring it and arguing with my husband). I think I relate better to that billionaire at the point where he is scraping around penniless. 

Wednesday
Nov112009

Hello hello

This feels like taking off my clothes in public - revealing and a fright for all concerned. Possibly because, despite having been a journalist for twenty years and an author for ten, I've never written a blog. So please excuse me while I get used to it - I'm sure soon enough I'll be a virtual nudist. I'm going to keep the first post brief (and also, in the interest of dignity, end the naked metaphor now.)

My agent - immediately that makes me sound unpleasant so let's change that to my mother - is urging me to mention that my latest novel is about to be published in the US. I don't even want to think about what that means in stripping terms. Anyway, it's called Rich Again and it's a big juicy tale about a wealthy, dysfunctional family - terrible things happen to them, and they don't know why. Frankly, most of their bad luck is of their own making, but not all...

It was fun to write. The characters start out jittery, and then, you keep thinking, keep writing and one fine day they become real. In Rich Again I had to kill someone off - I felt lousy. It's a serious matter, murdering a character. If you put an end to the wrong one, it can ruin the reading experience; it's like a personal betrayal.

Strictly for authenticity, I had to immerse myself in the lifestyle of the super rich. There was one particular dinner party hosted by an heiress. I bought a bottle of good wine and when we were introduced, I tried to hand it to her - she wafted past and refused to make eye contact. So I gave it to one of the uniformed maids. I'm sure many billionaires are polite, but she wasn't one of them. 

Ah. My husband has just looked over my shoulder and said 'Bloody hell, that's long.' I think that might be my signal to end it there.... 

 

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