The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivoryrhian2_0

It’s starting again…

Blaze has to draw people’s future to survive, with threats of the workhouse and witch trials hanging over him. Noah tried all he can to stop drawing but the more he fights, the more it takes over. He just wants to pass for normal in his new school.  As he gets closer to Beth, will he give himself away?

One boy hiding in the past, one in the present. Can their futures set them free?

Growing up can be a challenge at the best of times but when you’re someone with a ‘gift’, it makes life even harder. Both fifteen years old, Noah and Blaze can ‘draw’ the future, predicting what might lie ahead for the person they draw for.

Blaze, in an age where witchcraft is recognised but feared, knows he can use his ‘gift’ to protect himself.  And after the death of his mother, Blaze has no choice but predict the future in return for shelter and food. He is constantly overshadowed with the threat of being discovered and sent to the workhouse – or worse.

Noah, lives 100 years later, where such things as being ‘psychic’ mark you out as a ‘freak’, and whilst not a death sentence, make ‘normal’ life almost impossible.  Consumed by guilt believing his drawings have only brought harm, Noah is terrified someone will get hurt again.  Noah’s parents are desperate for him to stop drawing, hoping that yet another new home and school will be the answer. When Noah makes friends with Beth, he feels he might be on the road to a fresh start; but his hope is short-lived when the drawing starts again….

In the The Boy Who Drew The Future, Rhian Ivory takes all the best components of storytelling and blends them to create a novel which is gripping, eerie and immersive. A thoroughly enjoyable story, I read it in one sitting. This a great book for those who might be more reluctant readers and gives some wonderful historical insight as well as reflecting the lives of teenagers today.

Told alternately from both Noah’s and Blaze’s points of view, the narrative switches smoothly from the present to the past.  Both worlds are brilliantly described – the poverty and destitution of the 1800s; and the challenge of being a teenager in the modern world with all that entails from friends to school to family problems.  Empathy is instant for both characters in their respective predicaments and as the plot progresses, it is clear the outcome is inevitably entwined. The tension mounts and Noah can barely resist confiding in Beth with whom romance is blossoming, much to the irritation of their fellow classmates. Blaze, a soulful boy with only his precious dog for companionship, veers ever closer to danger and has no one to help him. Both boys must face their worst fears and overcome them. Reaching an exciting climax, we discover that perhaps it’s not our ‘gifts’ that define us but how we use them that does.

The Boy Who Drew The Future received a well deserved Carnegie Medal 2017 nomination.

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Find out more about Rhian Ivory at www.fireflypress.co.uk and follow her on Twitter  @Rhian_Ivory

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

 

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day by Jim Stoten

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day written & illustrated by Jim Stoten

When Mr Tweed sets out on his afternoon stroll, he soon finds some friends in need of help. Can you come to their aid and find what they are looking for? 

Mr Tweed is a dog who wears a suit and a very tall hat and who loves to help people.  The story begins with Mr Tweed going for his usual afternoon walk and coming across various friends who are in some kind of predicament, each having lost something which could be anything from balloons to pineapples!  The reader then must help find what has been lost in the spread on the next page, with the number of things to find increasing each time.

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I love that this book combines reading with a seek and find element, as well as counting. It may draw comparisons with other well known seek and find books, but what I liked about this was there is a great story narrative to follow.  For those children who are more reluctant to pick up a book, this is a perfect combination of words and images as well as the ‘game’ element of finding the lost things.

The fantastic characters include Colin Rocodile, Mrs Fluffycuddle and Little Penny Paws, to name a few.  The illustrations themselves are quirky, inventive, colourful and full of detail with lots of different animal characters as well as humans.  They reminded me of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, which I loved when I was young. I am sure children will love Mr Tweed and will enjoy the challenge of locating the missing items!

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And with the added moral of being kind and helping people, this is a great book to have on the shelf.

You can read an interview with the author and illustrator Jim Stoten on the Reading Zone. And find out more at www.jimtheillustrator.co.uk. or on Twitter @jimtillustrator

With thanks to Flying Eye Books for sending me this book to review.

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

Chris Riddell & Friends, Southbank Centre Imagine Fest, 9th Feb 2017

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It was half term for many schools in London last week coinciding with the Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival which ran from 9-19 February.  A unique festival run by children for children, the Southbank Centre works with local primary schools to put together an amazing array of events to entertain and inspire.  Just one of these events was the Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell & Friends presenting live illustration, readings and a glimpse into the inspiration behind their work.
The friends in question were Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series; Liz Pichon, author of the Tom Gates series and author and illustrator Posy Simmonds. Add to this a special surprise guest in the shape of Neil Gaiman and it was going to be a very special hour!
Chris began with some live illustrating,  drawing members of the audience as they sat waiting for the event to start! They were lucky enough to be given said illustrations to take home. He then introduced his guests through drawing them and shared his own excitement at having then join him on stage. Each guest was given fifteen minutes or so to share some of their writing and illustrating history, how they got started, and where the ideas for their hugely successful books came from. We even got to see some of their early childhood works, including scrapbooks which were fascinating.
All of them had sound advice for the young aspiring writers and artists in the audience. Which in a nutshell was: don’t let anyone tell you you won’t amount to anything or achieve anything through the art of telling stories in words and or pictures. And don’t let anyone hold you back by saying you’re no good at drawing or no good at writing (even if you have dyslexia, which Liz Pichon does).  Sat next to me was a young girl of about 13 who sat drawing in her sketchbook as she listened – inspiration in action.
Particularly special and perhaps a once in a lifetime moment, was Neil Gaiman reading aloud from Fortunately the Milk whilst Chris Riddell illustrated live on screen. Neil also shared his poem Witch Work with illustrations Chris had drawn earlier. Wow.
It was an utterly inspiring event – a wonderful celebration of stories and illustration. It never ceases to amaze me how a person can put pen to paper a draw the most incredible characters and create the most wonderful stories.
Find out more:

Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray

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Jonny isn’t like ‘normal’ teenagers.

EVERY DAY he wakes up in hospital kept alive by machine. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day they’ll find a donor match for his heart. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day he’ll die.

EVERY DAY Niamh fights with her “PERFECT” brother Leo. EVERY SINGLE DAY Leo wins. EVERY DAY Niamh dreams of a life without Leo. But ALL that changes on the day of the accident the day EVERYTHING falls apart. This is a story about facing the future no matter how frightening. This is a story about healing your heart, no matter how much it hurts. 

Jonny has been in hospital for longer than he cares to remember, living in the shadow of a heart condition.  His hopes for finding a donor for a heart transplant diminish as each day passes, only just kept alive by his fellow hospital friend Em, and his adoring parents.  Jonny dreams of living a ‘normal’ teenage life, whatever that might be.  In contrast, Niamh is desperate to escape her ‘normal’ life, living in the shadow of her twin brother to whom she has always felt inferior.  Playing the role of the black sheep teenager of the family is destructive, but somehow Niamh can’t help herself.  And then a terrible accident changes the course of both Niamh and Jonny’s lives forever, taking them down a path of grief, friendship and love.  With a new heart Jonny can now lead the life he has always dreamt of.  Without her brother’s constant presence in her life, Niamh can truly be her own person.  But it soon becomes clear that even when you get what you want, you still have a long way to go before you can be truly happy.

Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not your average YA romance story. Jonny and Niamh present as two very different characters each facing huge change and difficulties in their lives. What makes this story unique and emotionally challenging is how they are brought together and it is well worth reading even if you aren’t a ‘romance’ fan.  Jonny cannot stop thinking about the person who saved his life and Niamh cannot stop thinking about her brother.  If it wasn’t for both of them, would Leo still be alive?  The narrative weaves a clever plot in which Jonny discovers more and more about his donor and Niamh discovers that perhaps her life was not as bad as she thought.  The harsh reality of this being neither one of them can change the situation they are in; they have to decide how to face it.

Told alternately from Jonny and Niamh’s points of view, the story is easy to follow and keeps you hooked from the first page. You feel great empathy for both characters as well as the wider cast featuring their family, friends and the medical staff. With a focus on long-term illness, the importance of organ-donation is also high-lighted. The story explores the anguish of families facing extreme illness, loss, grief and how you manage to keep going even when all seems lost. It reflects the heartache of first time love, true friendship and how teenagers deal with the many and varied situations they face. The author brilliantly shows the reality of the both Niamh’s and Jonny’s situations and how they are not only dealing with their own emotion and heartbreak; they also have to cope with their parents’ frustration and suffering.

Be warned: Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not for the faint-hearted!  I loved this story and you’ll need a box of tissues and a day to recover from the emotional rollercoaster, but it’s worth it.

Find out more about the author at www.tamsynmurray.co.uk and on Twitter @TamsynTweetie

With thanks to Tamsyn Murray for sending me this book via a Twitter giveaway! 

Crossan and Conaghan at Waterstones Brighton.

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I was somewhat excited about hearing Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan talk about their new book We Come Apart at Waterstones, Brighton and arrived about 45 minutes early in my haste to get there on time.  The seats filled quickly and the talk began, brilliantly chaired by Nikki Sheehan (author of Swanboy and Who Framed Klaris Kliff?).  It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story of how two award winning authors with such unique writing styles came together to produce what will no doubt be a bestseller.  We Come Apart, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Nicu, an immigrant from Romania and his relationship with Jess, a a fellow teenager with a troubled home life.  I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after hearing how it came together.

Brian approached Sarah with the idea of writing together and Sarah agreed; and so began an incredible process of writing mainly via What’s App! With no actual ‘plotting’ the story unfolded between them, each author taking on one of the central characters. Brian would write the story from Nicu’s point of view and Sarah would write the story from Jess’ point of view. Rather than plan the story, each author would write responding and reacting to what the other author had produced, so the process was totally organic.  With their own varied approaches to writing it was clear from the conversation that their various strengths and weaknesses blended well.  And unbelievably it took just five and a half weeks to write!  Both authors shared what they had learnt from the process of a joint writing experience. Amongst other things, Brian, to plan a bit more and Sarah, to keep the gremlins of self-doubt at bay! It also came across as a very brave thing to do, which Nikki Sheehan highlighted saying that as a writer ‘giving’ your story to anyone is like giving something or someone very precious away.

When asked if they would do it again, both agreed there wouldn’t be a sequel.  They also said they’d consider writing together again but perhaps in prose. They both have ideas of characters bubbling away so perhaps it’s a case of watch this space!  It sounded like it had been a very rewarding but also quite challenging experience and it was fascinating to hear the creativity behind it.

As a young girl, I will admit I really disliked poetry. Having studied Chaucer (the original text) to death when I was about 14, I think you could forgive me for being put off poetry for some time.  I was somewhat sceptical when I first heard about The Weight of Water and whether it would appeal to young people based on my own youthful experiences. Sarah shared how in the UK it had been a much harder ‘sell’ because of some negative attitudes to poetry.  She pointed out that young people are often more flexible than their elders and they quickly embrace different styles of writing.  Not only that, for many it appeals as it’s often a quicker read and can be easier for children with dyslexia. Sarah described writing in verse as like sewing lots of different pictures together and how you can get to the heart of the story much more quickly when you don’t have to describe every tree and every ‘high road’! Brian and Sarah both talked about how writing in verse enables the reader to use their imagination to ‘fill in’ the blanks, creating those elements of the story that are left out, in the way they choose.  In that sense, it can be incredibly powerful and also very personal.  For me, reading in verse is an amazing way to communicate a story and has gone a long way to restore my love of poetry.

I wasn’t aware that both Sarah and Brian were previously teachers and both of them talked about this and how it informs their writing. Brian spoke about how he would often be talking to the reluctant readers in the classroom so that he could engage them in even just a small amount of reading, so they could feel a sense of achievement and enjoy stories like anyone else. Not being much of a reader himself as a teenager, he can relate to those who don’t read and even now doesn’t read books with a tiny font.  Brian commented that he writes books for people, about real life and real situations and for those who don’t like this, well, they don’t have to read his books.  I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.  Life is a varied and many splendoured thing and writers can choose what they want to reflect on and the reader can choose what they want to read.  Hence why book choice is so personal – and so important.

Sarah shared that as both a teacher and a mother, she felt a sense of responsibility in being very aware of what she chooses to include in her books and that she always likes to end with even just the tiniest glimmer of hope – even if the ending isn’t a ‘happy’ one.  I can’t help but agree with this too – life is hard and full of difficulties, but it’s often our hope in each other and the future that keeps us going and it’s good for young people to believe this.

Brian and Sarah were both hugely entertaining to listen to, and I can only imagine how excited their agents and publishers were when they were told they had written together; this confirmed by the Bloomsbury representatives and Brian’s agent in the audience.

It’s what I love about the world of books and reading; people are so passionate about stories. Listening to those who write them, hearing their enthusiasm and the creativity behind the story is totally inspiring.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and if Crossan and Conaghan are visiting a Waterstones near you, make sure you go if you can!

A review of We Come Apart will follow soon!

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

the-memory-book-coverSam McCoy is 17.  Sam McCoy was going to be someone – and then she became ill.  Now, she must figure out who she is…..

Told in a diary style narrative, The Memory Book follows Sam McCoy as she deals with a life-changing illness.  Diagnosed with Niemann-Pick, a form of dementia, Sam will inevitably lose her memory.  Determined to give herself the best possible chance of remembering who she is, Sam starts a memory book, like a diary, telling her future self (Future Sam) who she is and what she wants from life.  As she writes, Sam discovers the plans she has made for herself – winning the Nationals, making the Valedictorian speech and going to NYU – are less and less likely to be achieved but with dogged determination she fights her way forward.  Sam’s friends and family provide some support and advice but it’s not always welcome; her illness affects them too.  As it progresses, Sam has less and less freedom, which for a teenager desperate to break free is increasingly frustrating.  Sam starts to realise perhaps she isn’t the person she thought she was and it’s only through the memory book that her true self is revealed.

The Memory Book is an utterly compelling young adult story and I read it in one sitting, staying up till 1am to finish it.  In practical terms, it’s very easy to read with some ‘chapters’ only one line long (so a good choice for teens who don’t want to read a ‘long’ book).  But in emotional terms, it’s heart-wrenching, with the final scenes in particular causing a flood of tears.  I loved Sam; she’s bold and brave and totally inspiring considering what she is facing.  I loved her debate partner Maddie; who takes no prisoners and says it like it is – causing conflict here and there.  I loved Coop; the unassuming, ‘dope-smoker’ from next door, who turns out to be *spoiler alert* the best friend a girl could have.  Sam’s family (Mum and Dad, a brother and two sisters, all younger) are introduced to us through childhood memories as well as ‘current’ moments and Sam’s own predictions of what she thinks her siblings will be like in the future.  Particularly poignant is the scene where Sam lapses into memory loss and ‘forgets’ one of her sisters – with her sister understandably distraught at being ‘forgotten’ even if only temporarily.  Sam’s parents work hard to pay the inevitable medical bills and to stay strong through the horrendous ordeal of watching their child’s health deteriorate.  Through the various relationships Sam has, including with Stuart Shah her schoolgirl crush, the journey of self-discovery is significant. As the reader, you rejoice with her when she manages to achieve some of her goals, mourn those she can’t and feel absolute heartache as her “body is failing”.  Slowly, Sam starts to realise those things she placed so much hope in are not as important as she thought.  This realisation helps her to embrace the life she now has and do her best to enjoy it; a lesson we can all learn along with her.the-memory-book-cover

As a mother myself, I cannot bear the thought of having my sons going through an illness like this. It’s bad enough when they have the flu – you’d do anything to make them feel better.  Magnify this by about a million and that is how I imagine Sam’s mother to feel.  Her words to Sam, her eldest daughter, written in The Memory Book are just beautiful.   The story of Sam McCoy will stay with you long after reading.

Also reviewed for the Reading Zone. Thank you to Quercus for sending me this book.

Author Interview: Patricia Forde

img_7368-soft-copy-copy-730x410I’m so excited to present my first author interview of 2017 with Patricia Forde! Patricia has written picture books, plays, TV dramas for children and teenagers as well as writing for various soap operas – in both English and Irish. Her first novel, The Wordsmith, was published by Little Island in May 2015.

Thank you Patricia for joining the blog today.

How did you come up with the idea for the character of the Wordsmith? For me, writing often starts with a single image.  With The Wordsmith I had an image of a young girl selling words in a shop. Interestingly, I spent a lot of my young years behind the counter of my family’s shop so it was a familiar setting for me. My husband had just come back from the USA and had brought me a visual thesaurus for my computer.  I remember thinking that it was as if he had bought words for me. I then spent months trying to figure out who this girl was and what kind of place would have people who needed to buy words. The story and the character began there.

The Irish language also played a part.  I am bi-lingual and write in both languages. I feel that in my adult life I have been attending a wake for the language. Gradually, native Irish speakers are using more and more English words in normal speech.  Apparently, a minority language like Irish, dies, by being cannibalised by the stronger language, in our case English. Working in that environment and seeing the ‘list’ of words we use diminish definitely influenced me when creating Letta and her world.

the-wordsmith-coverThe Wordsmith ‘collects’ and distributes words throughout the book. I thought the List was a great – if scary – idea. I also thought it was clever to show how restricting the words that can be used affects communication. How did you decide which words to ‘keep’ when writing List dialogue and did you worry about this affecting the narrative?The list of words came from an American linguist.  I found him on the internet and asked him what was the minimum number of words needed to hold a basic conversation (How many words do you need to survive?) He very kindly responded and said 500 and then sent me a list of the 500 words you would use.  I doctored the list to my own ends. I added words like ‘desecrator’ for example.

I did worry initially about restricting my vocabulary but then I invented rules to help me get over that.  In the novel Letta speaks the ‘old tongue’ to her master, to Marlo, to John Noa, and of course, in her own head. This made easier for me to express myself fully and not feel that I too had to conform to the List.

Freedom of expression through the arts is a key theme in the book. What do you think is important about the arts in our daily lives (not just as a means to make a living)? We are the only species on Earth that has more than one life. We have the possibility of imagination. We are able to imagine what will happen- after lunch or in a thousand years time.  We not only experience the reality of every day but we have the facility to step out of the normal and into the ‘other’. Music, poetry, art and stories all act as portals to help us make that transition. I think it is central to our mental health and wellbeing to be able to make that leap. Personally, I’ve always been a reader.  No matter what calamity was playing out in real life, I had the ability to escape into a book. I passionately believe that every child should have the right to have access to that door. I was lucky to have been born into a home where books were valued and into a community where education was freely available. I was lucky to have access to a public library. I think, as a society, we need to value the arts more and realise what a great privilege it is to be able to freely enjoy artistic expression.

You touch on people’s desire or need to believe in something in the novel.   The statue of the Goddess indicates some of the people’s past beliefs. Why did you include this theme in the story?  I grew up in a very Catholic tradition and even though I have major criticisms of the church as an organisation, I loved all a the symbolism and ritual attached to it. I also loved the comfort and reassurance that faith brought. In Ireland now, the idea of faith and belief is slowly falling away. In the novel, I show a people who have left it behind them but still yearn for something supernatural to believe in.

The’ Melting’ in the novel has been caused by man’s own ignorance which has resulted in the catastrophic destruction of society.  What inspired you to write a novel with this as a central idea and did you research the issues surrounding this to inform your writing?  The destruction of the environment has been such a hot topic in recent years. I live on the outskirts of Connemara on one side and the Burren on the other. Both of these places are spectacularly beautiful with granite mountains in Connemara looking down on the wild Atlantic ocean and miles of bone-white limestone in the Burren peppered with rare wild flowers. I did a lot of research into global warming and its consequences. It is horrifying to think that we are destroying fragile places all over the world. And of course we are endangering insects, birds and animals as well. One of the things I mention in the book is that bees had become almost extinct before the Melting. I love bees. My grandfather kept a couple of hives and Ireland has a lot of folklore connected to them. For instance, the old people would say that you should always inform the bees if someone in the household dies.  Otherwise, they will swarm and leave the hive.  This is because bees are very sensitive and easily offended.

*SPOILER ALERT* – Letta and Marlo seem destined for each other (and yippee so they were!!)  Did you feel it important to have an element of romance in the story? No I didn’t!  I had no hand, act or part in it. My plan – such as it was- did not include a love story. Sometimes, characters take on a life of their own and stop going along with the writer. It started with a few glances.  She noticed he ‘smelt like sage’ and before I knew it, they were in love! Eventually I had to give in to them and I was quite happy when they got together at the end.

I love the narrative and the deliberate descriptions you include – such as when Letta is making the ink for her words using the beetroot. This being your first novel (having previously written television dramas, plays, early readers and picture books) how did the writing experience differ?  As far as books go, everything I had written before this was a sprint.  The novel was a marathon. There were times when I found it hard to be patient, hard to slow down and describe things, to let the engine idle for a minute. I had to constantly remind myself to stop plotting and to look around me and tell the readers what I saw. On the positive side, I loved having time to say all the things I wanted to say and I loved having time to spend with the characters, especially Letta. I was shocked at how much I missed her company when the story finished.

And finally, to any aspiring writers out there what would your three best pieces of advice be?!  

1. Read everything you can and especially read books that you love.

2. Write as much as you can. Write every day if you can but don’t get hung up on that.  Everyone is different. There is no right way and there is certainly no wrong way to write. You are the only one who sees the world from behind your eyes. Tell us what you see and we will be interested.  Don’t worry if you don’t see vampires or wizards. I don’t think anyone will mind.

3. And finally, never, ever give up.

Wonderful advice,thank you Patricia! And some really amazing answers here too.