Spring Forward! Special feature coming soon…

Oh the irony of waking up to awful wet weather on the official First Day of Spring! It doesn’t feel much like spring today, so to provide a bit of spring time inspiration, I’m pleased to announce a new special feature coming soon!

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‘Just in time for Spring  will celebrate new authors, new books and general all round inspiration in children’s books. With participation from some wonderful children’s writers and publishers, I’ll be interviewing the people who bring to life new worlds and new characters, finding out all about their new projects. It all starts in the next few weeks, so watch this space!

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Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma by Jane Clarke & Loretta Schauer

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma

by Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer

It’s a Fairytale emergency! Granny’s gone missing….Has the Big Bad Wolf kidnapped her or even gobbled her up? Quick, call Sky Private Eye! Cupcakes, clues Sky Private Eyeand rescues are this fairy tale detective’s speciality, but can Sky and Little Red Riding Hood uncover the clues fast enough to save Granny.

This is one of a lovely series featuring Sky Private Eye and various fairytale characters. In this book, Sky (along with her dog Snuffles) is called to investigate when Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny disappears. With the help of Sky’s special cupcakes and some clever detective work, they discover Granny hasn’t gone missing but she IS in danger of being gobbled up!  Sky and Little Red Riding Hood use all their ingenuity to help rescue Granny and make sure the Wolf never bothers them again.

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Sky Private Eye is a thoroughly enjoyable read, bringing to life classic fairytale characters in a new and brilliant way. A very accessible font and clear narrative makes this a great book for fledgling readers to try themselves, as well as being a good story to read aloud.

The wonderful illustrations are lively, colourful and perfectly capture the tone of the story – fun with just enough thrills but not too scary!Sky Private Eye 1  I loved the use of magic baking to help save the day and readers can try their hand at baking these brilliant cakes using the recipe at the back of the book.  All in all, it’s a great story to have on your bookshelf and sure to be a hit with aspiring bakers and fairytale fans alike.

I’m looking forward to reading Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit featuring the Gingerbread Boy!

Find out more at www.jane-clarke.co.uk and www.lorettaschauer.com or www.fivequills.co.uk

Review also available at Discover & BeThanks to Catherine Ward PR and Five Quills 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:

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.

 

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

the-wordsmith-coverThe Wordsmith, Patricia Forde

Ark is a place of tally sticks, rationed food and shared shoes, where art and music are banned, language is severely restricted and outcasts are thrown to the wolves. Letta’s job is to collect words and dole them out to people who need them.  When she discovers that John Noa is planning to rob the people of language altogether and make them Wordless, she has to stop him. But she’s only a young girl and he’s the leader of the known world.

Letta is an apprentice, learning the trade of the Wordsmith; perhaps the most important role in all of Ark.  Letta makes the word cards that people are allowed to use in their daily lives – anything not a ‘List’ word is forbidden.  For words are considered to be the cause of the Melting; they are the root of all evil and therefore restrictions ensure there will be no more trouble. The rule of law is created by John Noa and Ark is policed for him by gavvers; ruthless men who will do anything they can to ensure the law is followed.  Anyone found to be challenging the law, a Desecrator, is banished to the wild. Benjamin, the Master Wordsmith, has been Letta’s family since her parents were lost.  He often reassures her that all will be well, even when unrest spreads across Ark and outside the walls in Tin Town. When Benjamin meets his death on a word-finding trip and a Desecrator named Marlo shows up in her shop with bullet wounds, Letta starts to question everything.  The reality of Ark suddenly becomes more like a prison; Letta realises John Noa is not all he seems and that everyone is in danger.  Now the Master Wordsmith, Letta must overcome her fears and challenge all that she thought she knew to uncover the truth.

The Wordsmith is a beautifully written tale illustrating the importance of language and creativity and the power they have to change lives. Suitable for ages 11+, it has a detailed narrative and clever plot, you are instantly drawn into the post-apocalyptic world of Ark.  It takes a moment to get used to some of the conversation which takes place using only ‘List’ words, but this perfectly creates the atmosphere of what it must be like to live in a world without proper communication. The heroine Letta, for whom you feel great empathy, is full of imagination considering the time she lives in, and very brave.  Saving Marlo leads her to find out what life should really be like and how creativity is part of being human – as well as discovering the Desecrators are not the monsters she thought.  The monster, is in fact, John Noa, who has clearly become obsessed with controlling all those around him through taking away their words.  It is a frightening thought and there are some unpleasant moments where you realise just how far he will go to ‘save’ society.

As Letta’s journey to discover the truth unfolds, we find out what happened in the Melting (global warming) and how this has destroyed the world as we know it –a potential future that is a little too ‘real’ for comfort.  Letta meets many brilliantly described characters; each of whom has a different experience to share; each of whom lead her on to the inevitable confrontation with John Noa. As well as being a great adventure, with plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, The Wordsmith captures many of the concerns we have in society today. Raising questions of science, faith, religion, old age, poverty and the power of freedom of expression , I thoroughly enjoyed this story and really hope there will be a follow-up!
Check out my interview with Patricia Forde; not to be missed!

Find out more about Patricia Forde at www.patriciaforde.com and follow her on Twitter @PatriciaForde1

Thank you to Little Island for sending me this book to read and review.