Author Interview: Alice Broadway

32827036

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome the author of the Ink, Alice Broadway to the blog.  Alice is sharing some of the ideas and inspiration behind her brilliant debut novel Ink and the writing process in general.  Thank you Alice for joining us!

I just have to say this loudly – I LOVED INK! Couldn’t put it down. For the benefit of those poor people (!) who haven’t read it yet, tell us a bit about it. That makes me so happy – thank you! Ink is set in Saintstone: a world where all your good and bad deeds, all your successes and failures are tattooed onto your skin. Everyone can look at you and know all about you. The purpose of life in Saintstone is to be remembered after you die – and only the worthy deserve this honour. If you are counted worthy after your death your tattoos are preserved in a skin book for your family to keep forever. Ink tells the story of Leora who is sixteen; her Dad has just died and when she looks at his skin book she realises a mark is missing and then everything she thought she knew unravels.

In Ink, people’s memories and significant life moments are tattooed on their skin to create a record of their life story: what was the inspiration for this idea and how did you go about researching it? It’s hard to put my finger on an exact inspiration, but I am definitely indebted to Ancient Egypt: I’m so fascinated by their approach to death and their ways of honouring the dead and their physical bodies. I love anything that makes me think twice about people’s motivations and I’m also really intrigued by the way we present our lives to near strangers on social media.

The world you create is very real, as are the people in it. I loved the use of fables to illustrate the history of Saintstone and where the people’s beliefs come from.   It’s impressive enough to write a novel, let alone the fables within the story too – how did you go about writing them? If I’m facing writer’s block, my solution is to write or dream up a fable. There is something about the magic and gruesomeness of old traditional tales like Grimm’s that captures the idea of story for me. I sometimes work through my own difficulties by creating a fairytale-esque story. Is that weird?! I also come from a background of deep religious faith (although my own faith is very confused!) and I see story as the backbone of so many spiritual worldviews and I wanted this to be represented in Ink.

Leora has some really interesting relationships with the other central female characters in the story – her mother, her best friend and her mentor. Did your own relationships with female relatives and friends inform this? For me, relationships are the things that either cause you to flourish or to fold. I am very lucky to have good female friends, family and role models. I don’t feel that any of the relationships in Ink are exactly representative of the lovely people I have in my life, but I really hope I’ve been able to show the way other people can shape your world and thinking. I really like a lot of the characters in Ink and I feel for each of them. I should say that my Mum is much more chilled than Leora’s!

Faith and belief play a central part in Leora’s story; she is clearly grappling with things she feels she should believe versus the reality of what is happening around her. How important do you think faith is in today’s world?  This is something I wrestle with personally, so for me it’s a big thing but I have no idea how it seems to anyone else. I guess we all spend time trying to work out what life means and how to live a life that is really worthwhile. I have experienced both the comfort of a very rigid faith and the freedom of having no faith at all and I wish I could see how other people make their way on this journey.

You’ve talked about your fascination with death and the afterlife in previous interviews. In the book, the people’s ancestors live on through their skin books; the family get to keep (literally) a part of them – perhaps in the same way that some people in our culture keep the ashes of loved ones. Has writing Ink changed your perception of death and keeping memories of loved ones alive? Researching Ink led to some amazing discoveries and one of those was the death positivity movement, which is a non-religious group of people trying to ease the fear of death and normalise what is a very ordinary thing. I’ve been greatly inspired by the words of Caitlyn Doughty who writes and vlogs brilliantly about death, dying and post-death practices. For me it has forced me to think about death and to talk about it more openly. It has made it a little less scary, which has to be a good thing.

The idea of the Blanks (outcasts and people who don’t share the beliefs of the inhabitants of Saintstone) is quite chilling. This is reflective of so many cultures across the world controlled by religious beliefs or where people who don’t share the same ideals – is this something you wanted to address through your novel? My feeling is that we love to create an identity, and belonging to a group gives us that. I’m concerned about the ways our loyalty to our own group can mean refusal to empathise and understand others. I didn’t aim to write a political book but I’m really interested in the ways it’s inspired people to talk about division, prejudice and control.

Ink is your debut novel; tell us a bit about the process of writing – how long it took; highs and lows; anything that kept you going if there was a low point! I’m super aware that all my answers so far have been a bit gloomy, serious and morbid and I really want to be super cheery BUT, I started writing Ink just after I was diagnosed with depression and for me, writing has been a great therapeutic thing. Of course, it also meant there were days I couldn’t write and that it was slow-going. On a much happier note, it has been just amazing to sign with my dream agent (Jo Unwin) and to then be snapped up by Scholastic, and get to work with an incredible editor (Genevieve Herr). Writing is so solitary and once I had other people giving me feedback and helping shape the book I kept feeling like I was cheating! I think getting to work with gifted and brilliant people has been one of the huge pluses – when people see what you’re trying to do and help you make it better it feels like a dream!

It must be a life-changing – writing a novel, being published, reaching so many readers. How does everyday life feel now and what do your family and friends make of your success? I’m still changing nappies and getting woken most nights by the kids! In all the best ways life hasn’t changed a bit but my dad published a blog post after reading Ink and he wrote that ‘it just goes to show that childhood dreams can come true’. I really feel I’m doing my dream job and I couldn’t be more thrilled. My family and friends have been LOVELY and so supportive and sweet. And so far they’ve been excellent at laughing at me being slightly crap at publicity and the like.

Finally, what would you most want to be recorded on your skin if we lived in a society like Saintstone? I’ve been thinking about this so much! For me, the family tree would be crucial but I wish there would be ways of showing more than just how someone is related to you. Family is so much more than blood or marriage and I would love a way to express how much I love those who are precious to me.

Thank you Alice for such brilliant responses and sharing your insight with us.  We wish you every success with Ink and can’t wait for the next book! 

Find out more at www.alice-broadway.com and @alicecrumbs.

Review of Ink coming soon!

Spring time quote

Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival 2017: coming soon!

Chiddingstone_Logo_Blue_Brooks_MacDonald (2)Logo_dd_BM_LOGO_-01

Chiddingstone Castle in Kent hosted it’s inaugural Literary Festival in 2016 and was a huge success. A celebration of books and reading for both adults and children, the 2017 festival sponsored by Brooks MacDonald starts on Sunday 30th April.  This year, I’ll be at the festival working alongside Beanstalk for Kent in the Reading Zone, a special area for children and parents to give them lots of reading ideas. I’m also one of the judges for the fantastic Short Story competition for children aged 7-13 (entry now closed) and have had a wonderful time reading the brilliant entries! I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Henderson, Festival Director to the blog today to talk to us about this year’s event which is just under two weeks away. Thanks for joining us Victoria!

The Festival is now in its second year; how did the idea for the festival come about? I was working for the book review website Lovereading as their Literary Festivals Coordinator arranging marketing and sponsorship of festivals all over the country and it suddenly occurred to me that there wasn’t a literary festival where I lived in West Kent. Given we live between Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and East Grinstead it struck me that Chiddingstone Castle would be the perfect place to hold such an event. I approached the Castle’s Director and Chairman of the Trustees with the idea, and as they say ‘the rest is history’!

Tell us a bit about what visitors can expect this year. This year’s line-up is a wonderful mix of events for adults and children. We’ve tried to find something for everyone, so story-lovers of all ages will be able to enjoy a choice of historical fiction, biography and memoirs, good mood food, education and the Great War, coping with bereavement, the latest on Brexit and Trump and stories of great lives well lived. For children we have a number of theatre performances and storytelling shows including a musical version of The Ugly Duckling, Sock Puppet Theatre performing Shakespeare and a Comic Strip Masterclass. There’s a guided tour of Chiddingstone, delicious food from our tearooms and vintage food vans, reading advice from your good self and Beanstalk for Kent and some surprises too. Our highlights include appearances from Terry Waite, Rev. Richard Coles, Artemis Cooper, Nicholas Crane, Anthony Seldon, Conn Iggulden, Alison Weir and children’s authors Piers Torday, Lauren St John and A F Harrold.

It’s a big operation coordinating an event on this scale. Do you have help?! We are a small team of 4 (myself – former Publicity Manager at various publishing companies, Mark Streatfeild – retired International Sales Director at Orion, Ali Ditzel – Director of the Castle, and Lisa Prifti – Sponsorship) but we have a wonderful number of smiley volunteers who help out over the 3 days of the festival – manning the box office, checking tickets, parking cars, meeting and greeting our authors, performers and members of our lovely audience.

The festival has a fantastic line-up of authors; do you follow a particular theme or idea when putting the programme together? We don’t have a particular theme as we’re keen to give a really good spread of events and interests. Both Mark and I previously worked in publishing so we still have contacts we can call on for advanced information on up-coming books. Some authors are suggested to us, some we have spotted and chased up and some approach us.

The festival includes a day especially for schools; which is brilliant! Why did you decide to have this? I felt it was really important that we provide an opportunity for local schools and pupils to have access to some exciting children’s authors who they may not otherwise have seen or heard. We’ve chosen authors who are great performers and who will enthuse young people with their love of writing and storytelling.

Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for this year? On the adults’ side, I’m particularly thrilled to have grief therapist Julia Samuel in conversation with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead whose husband tragically drowned saving one of their children. I think their event will be poignant but inspirational, and encourage people to talk about their grief. We are honoured to have two pre-publication exclusives from two bestselling writers of historical fiction; Alison Weir’s new book on Anne Boleyn and Conn Iggulden’s latest novel Dunstan. We are thrilled to have award-winning children’s author Piers Torday talking about his Last Wild trilogy on our Family Day and about his new novel There May Be A Castle on our Schools Day.

Why do you think it’s important to hold literary events such as these? There’s so much to learn from hearing authors speak about their writing, their influences and their experiences. There’s also something very special about bringing the community together, united by a love of books and good writing in a beautiful location in a historic house in the glorious Kent countryside.

And finally, what would your top three tips be for anyone hoping to organise an event like this?

  1. Location, location, location!
  2. Persevere when seeking out your authors, you’ll get turned down and passed over but follow up every lead
  3. Enthusiasm and hard work…and a belief that it’ll be alright on the night (day)!

Thank you so much for talking to us about the festival; it’s going to be brilliant!

Find out more about the festival programme here and book tickets !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Danielle Younge-Ullman

flowers 2

I’m delighted to welcome Danielle Younge-Ullman to the blog today for our spring feature! Her new YA book Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined has just been published by Scholastic and with it’s gorgeous (and very spring -like!) cover is a welcome addition to the TBR shelf! 

517uikON98L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Danielle is a novelist, playwright and freelance writer who has always had a passion for books, language and storytelling. Before turning her attention to writing, Danielle studied English and Theatre in Montreal, then worked as professional actor for ten years in her hometown of Toronto.  Danielle is also the author of the YA novel, Lola Carlyle’s 12 Step Romance , and the adult novel, Falling Under.

It’s great to have you on the blog today Danielle. I love the title of your latest book! Tell us what Everything Beautiful is not Ruined is about. EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED is about a teenage girl, Ingrid Burke, who has promised her mother that she will go to wilderness camp for three weeks in return for the chance to pursue her dream during her senior year of high school. But once Ingrid gets to the “camp” she discovers that the whole thing is much worse than she expected it to be. It’s more like a bootcamp, and her fellow campers all seem to be really messed up–not the “kids with leadership potential” she was expecting. Ingrid details many of the hilarious/gruesome/harrowing details of the wilderness program in sarcastic letters to her mother, written in a journal she has with her on the trip, and tells the rest of the story in first person pov. At the same time, the story of Ingrid and her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia, is woven in via alternating chapters. As both stories progress, you start to get to the heart of why Margot-Sophia really sent Ingrid on this gruelling wilderness adventure.

The story has been described as a “gorgeous novel about mothers and daughters”.  Did your relationship with your own mother inspire your writing? Yes and no. I am really close with my mom, and always have been. We’ve been through some hard times, and that brought us closer. Those times gave me an intense admiration for her strength, but also a heightened sense of her fragility. Our life is nothing like Margot-Sophia and Ingrid’s life, and my mom is nothing like Margot-Sophia, but I have experienced a similar weight of fear and worry over my mom’s well being and an almost crippling sense of responsibility–even though my mom was not expecting or asking me to feel responsible. Because of this, when I got to be an older teen, and then even into my twenties, I found it really hard to draw the line between her wants and needs, and my own. I found myself making the choices that I knew would make her feel safer, more peaceful, and sometimes those were not the right choices for me. It took me a long time (and some therapy) to figure out how to detach, how to have my own sense of self, how to have the courage to do things that might freak her out (become and actress, become a writer, etc) because they were what I needed to do. And did manage it, and we remain very close, but now I am aware of us as separate people. This mother-daughter disentangling was part of what I wanted to explore in this story, but I did it with characters who are not us, and stories that are not ours.

How did you research the setting of a trek through the wilderness?! I actually went on a trip very similar to Peak Wilderness as a teen, (and against my will, btw) so many of the physical circumstances of the hiking portion of EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED are taken directly from my experience. I have not done much canoeing though, so I interviewed a young cousin of mine who has done a ton of camping and canoeing to get more detail and make sure I was using correct terminology.

Some of the narrative is in the form of letters.  Letter writing is almost a lost art-form! Why did you decide to write the novel in this way? The novel started with the letters, and they came so easily and were so much fun to write. They were the jumping off point and then really became the heart and soul of the story.

Do you aim to ensure a positive message for teens reading your books when you’re writing about issues such as depression and complicated family relationships? I always want to give positive messages, but I am careful that they’re not fake-positive messages, if that makes sense. I want to be real and honest with my readers. I wanted to send a message of survival with this book–the message that you may be going through hard times, that you may not feel (or be) in control of your circumstances, or of the people you love, but you can survive almost anything, and come out stronger and wiser in the end. I hope I am also just letting readers know they are not alone when they are suffering–that others have gone and are going through similar things. And I guess another important thing I wanted to convey is that when someone you love is dealing with depression or mental illness this can be overwhelming and take over your life as well as theirs, but YOU, and your needs, wants and dreams are still important, are more important than ever, in fact. Those dreams, the goals you have, they will help to pull you out of the depths of despair and out of your circumstances, they will help you find meaning, they will help you survive…so don’t give the dreams up and don’t give up on yourself, ever.

You studied English and Theatre at University and worked as actor.  What led you to becoming a writer? I loved being an actor and doing theatre, and that’s a big part of what led me to become a writer. Studying theatre is studying the human condition, life, storytelling. Everything you do as an actor to get into the skin of a character you’re going to play, and to try to understand and interpret the intentions of the playwright and then the director–all of that is extremely useful to the writing process. Some of it is exactly the same as the writing process.

What happened for me was that I had always secretly dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t think I had the talent or self-discipline. I started getting frustrated with the kinds of roles that were available to me as an actor, and decided to try to write something for myself to act in. I wrote a play, discovered I was actually not too bad at writing and that I enjoyed it, and then I was still thinking I’d like to try writing a book, but thinking I was too lazy. Then I read a kind of…not-great book, and thought to myself, “Well, surely I could do at least as well as that!” And that convinced me to give it a shot. Once I started, I quickly realized that this is what I needed to be doing, and over the next couple of years I transitioned out of acting and into writing.

This is your second YA novel and you’ve written for adults too. For you, does the writing process differ when writing for different audiences? The result may be different, but the process is not. Whatever story I’m writing, I write from the point of view of my characters. I work to see the world through their eyes, think their thoughts, write their actions. (This is the same thing you do as an actor, and that’s how I learned it.) The first YA book I wrote, LOLA CARLYLE’S 12 STEP ROMANCE, was very different from my previous work, which was for adults. A lot of readers thought the lighter, funnier tone was created because the book was for teens, but that’s not true. The lighter, funnier tone came about because of the main character, and her way of looking at the world…and if I were to write a story about her as an adult, for adults, it would still have that same tone because of who she is. So, the tone and perspective changes from book to book, but to me that’s not about the age of my reader, it’s about the age of the character I’m writing about.

Also, I don’t think of a teen audience being drastically different from an adult audience. When I was a teen I was reading everything–adult books, middle grade books, teen books–whatever interested me. And I wasn’t into in being told what category of book was “for me” or “not for me”–all the books were for me! I think of my readers being the same way, and just try to tell the story as best I can.

Finally, what would your three top tips be for anyone writing for a YA audience?

1: Do not write down to them. (See above.)

2: Dig deep, so as to find something that really matters to you to write about.

3: Be creative.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Victoria!

Thank you Danielle, for such brilliant words of advice and sharing your inspiration for your new book!

Find out more at www.danielleyoungeullman.com and follow Danielle on Twitter . With thanks to Scholastic for my copy of Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.

Spring time quote

Author Interview: Rachel Hickman

Today Rachel Hickman, author of One Silver Summer joins us on the blog. Rachel is also co-founder of Chicken House children’s books publishers and is talking to us about her new novel and how different it is being on the ‘other side of the fence’!

9781910646298 One Silver Summer

Tell us about the inspiration behind One Silver Summer. One Silver Summer was inspired by so many things, some of which I didn’t realise until the book was finished. It’s inspired by my time spent in Cornwall with my family where the weather has its own moods; it’s inspired by the horses I’ve loved my whole life, and a small, badly behaved black terrier at home who came from Dog’s Trust. I grew up abroad so my heroine isn’t English; and Alex is a little like my son in character.  First novels are like pockets filled with everything in the author’s head, or certainly, mine is.

The story really reminded me of some of the romance sagas I read when I was a teenager.  What books did you enjoy in your teens and how have they influenced your writing? It was inspired by my own love of reading to escape, set in wild and romantic settings. I loved everything by Daphne Du Maurier especially Frenchman’s Creek; Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and just about any horse story I could lay my hands on, most especially KM Peyton’s Flambards, or Patricia Leitch’s A Devil to Ride. I would have loved Lauren St John’s novels to read and when my daughter and I were looking for a name for our new young horse, I was unbelievably touched when she suggested we name her Storm.

In One Silver Summer Saskia has recently lost her mother and is going through the painful process of grieving. It must have been difficult to write the moments where she is in turmoil; how did you research this? I’m an overly emotional person who can never hide things well, with a tendency to read too much into almost anything. It wasn’t hard to draw on my own personal stuff: the what ifs, the tough stuff of life that makes you stronger in the end, but hurts so much when it’s happening. Grief isn’t always about death and you can’t get to my age without experiencing it first-hand. I think books can prepare you, or help comfort when it comes.

You’ve worked in children’s publishing for many years. How has your insight into publishing helped you as an author and what advice would you give to anyone in a similar position? I have been shocked at how different it feels on the other side of the fence. I love my job and I get to see the overall picture which is something an author never does. I just want to enjoy the moment, reach readers, and hopefully keep writing if time allows. My work has taught me to temper my authorial expectations and to know that everyone will have an opinion – good or bad, or hmm – on something I wrote from the heart.  If you put it out there, you take the rough with the love! Also, my background in publishing tells me that there is an enormous ocean of books for readers to swim in and not all of them will float. It’s nothing to do with what’s good or bad, but opportunity and luck. Publishing is the most glorious random thing; no one really knows what will be ‘the next big thing’!

Are you working on a new project and if so, will it be a similar genre? Or perhaps a sequel!  Or maybe even a prequel – I’d love to hear more about Alex’s Grandmother and her secret wartime romance! I have got a sequel in my head, and I would love to write your prequel, but the advice I always give authors is to have something new and different worked out. Right now, I’m deep on Dartmoor in winter with a modern-day highwayman, but I am thinking about taking it younger. See ‘the job’ is poking its nose in after all!

Rachel Hickman (col)

Rachel Hickman

Thank you Rachel for participating today and we wish you every success with

One Silver Summer.

Read my review of One Silver Summer. Follow Rachel Hickman @hickman_rachelWith thanks to Old Barn Books and Liz Scott for their support with this interview! 

Author Interview: Gill Lewis

flowers 2

Gill Lewis has written wonderful novels for children, including her first, Sky Hawk, which was nominated for a total of fifteen books awards!  Her books reflect her passion for animals and the natural world whether it be saving gorillas from destruction in the heart of Africa or protecting dolphins of the coast of England.  I was fortunate to meet Gill at a recent event where she was talking about her latest book, A Story Like the Wind, which will be published on 4th May by Oxford University Press and is beautifully illustrated by Jo Weaver.  I am delighted that Gill is joining us today for our spring feature to talk about her new book.

51xdfc5-aUL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

A Story Like the Wind sounds both uplifting and heart wrenching.  Can you tell us what it is about? A Story Like the Wind is a story about the power of music and stories and how they can offer hope in the darkest of times and unite people to overcome oppression. The story is set on a small boat carrying a small group of refugees fleeing war. One of the passengers, Rami, is a teenage boy carrying the only thing he could not leave behind; his violin, because it holds all his memories of home. As the wind and waves begin to rise, Rami begins to tell his fellow passengers an ancient folk-tale that weaves through all their lives to give them hope and see them into the dawn.

You’ve written some amazing books about animals, nature and the environment tackling challenging issues.  Why did you feel compelled to write this particular story? The refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. People are on the move, fleeing conflict, famine and drought, seeking safe and better lives where they and their families can secure a future. The causative issues are complex and intertwined, whether it is Congolese people fleeing conflict perpetuated by world greed for the minerals beneath the soil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or whether it is people fleeing areas affected by famine exacerbated by climate change, or fleeing wars where western-made bombs rain down on civilians. The refugee crisis is a global problem and bears global responsibility. It is again, intertwined with environmental issues, because unless we can secure peace and safety for people, the natural world is at risk, and we can’t afford to let that happen. The health and survival of biodiversity of the natural world is the single most crucial issue on this planet. It’s grim, but if the natural world dies, we die.

It must have been an emotional time writing A Story Like Wind, given it focuses on the refugee crisis. What research did you do to help inform your writing? Many of us are very lucky. It is hard to imagine having to leave your home, and everything in it. It is painful and almost impossible to imagine your home being destroyed and never being able to return, and leaving loved ones behind. All you have left are your memories and stories. A Story Like the Winds was inspired by different stories and testimonials given by refugees. I was also invited to join an art and writing session at the Islington Centre for Refugees. The sessions are run by writer Sita Brahmachari and artist Jane Ray and have a hugely positive influence on the refugees, as a way of exploring feeling through art and writing.

The book features beautiful illustrations by Jo Weaver.  Why did you decide to include illustrations with this story and how did this come about? I remember the first time I shared the idea of A Story Like the Wind with my editor, Liz Cross at Oxford University Press. I threw it in as an idea, feeling a bit shy about sharing it because it was different from my other books, and maybe it was a silly idea (writers are consumed by self-doubt, especially when an idea is still an egg). But as I read the story, Liz Cross said she wanted to publish it, and straight from the word ‘go’ we decided it should be illustrated and have a modern fairy-tale, fable feel. We were so lucky that Jo Weaver illustrated the text with her atmospheric charcoals.

I love that you described this book as “sharing humanity through stories”. When writing about challenging issues for children, do you think it is important to give a positive message – hope – alongside the sometimes cruel realities of the world? Yes, I think hope is a very important message, without portraying an image of false hope. A story doesn’t have to have a happy or resolved ending, and it should stay true and not flinch from reality. But I think hope is important, because stories can be there to guide us through difficult times. They are a light in the darkness, and so it’s important not to switch out the light.

You have talked about the need to find the character at the centre of your stories as you write – for all those aspiring writers out there, how do you go about doing this?Yes, for me character is central to the story, to find that narrative. There are several things that I try to do. The first thing I do is I try not to think too hard. Part of storytelling comes from the subconscious and the harder you think, the more difficult it becomes. (A bit like trying to remember a forgotten pin number…if you try too hard you can’t do it, you have to think about something else.) I have to day-dream and doodle and let the character find me somehow. Then I like to draw my character and ask lots of questions. I also try to write mini-scenes in first person to get to really know the character. Those mini-scenes can be something mundane, like making a cup of coffee, or something dramatic such as falling in a fast river. I sometimes have songs I associate with my characters too. I feel and live and breathe them, a little like an actor has to get inside the head of a character, an author must do too.

9780192756244The stories you have written for children have received huge critical acclaim, winning and being shortlisted for many awards which must be an amazing feeling!  Does this make the writing process more pressured and again for those aspiring writers, how do you deal with this? Being nominated for, and winning awards is always a real bonus. However, I think the best feeling comes from feedback from readers, or when they share their experiences and their writing. There is always a worry in the back of my mind, ‘will the next book be good enough?’, because I want to be true to the story and write it to the best of my abilities. I have come accustomed to the little monster of self-doubt sitting on my shoulder. I can’t seem to shake him off!

Your books have all been for children and young people (although I’m know many adults have enjoyed them too!) – would you ever consider writing a book for adults?It has never really occurred to me, to be honest. I think the world of children’s literature is so exciting and varied. Children’s books can tell cracking adventures, make us laugh out loud, scare us witless and deal with issues that can touch our soul.  Also they tend to have more illustrations and I love illustrated books. So, no, there is nothing yet to persuade me to write for adults.

Elizabeth Laird recently described your books as having a “profound understanding of animals and how people relate to them”.  Where do you think this understanding comes from; is it something that can be learned or a natural talent? I felt so honoured to hear Elizabeth Laird say that about my writing. Animals have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I wanted to be different animals, and often pretended to be anything from an eagle, to a wolf, to a tiny shrew. I would have loved to be a shape-shifter, but I had to contend with shape-shifting inside my mind instead. When I grew up I followed my interest in animals and became a vet. As a vet I could see the deep bond between people and animals and how animals can become a bridge, bringing people and communities together. I think an understanding of how we relate to animals and each other is something we all have huge capacity for. Building empathy for an animal or human allows us to envision what life is like for another living person or creature, and hopefully allow us to build a fairer society respecting the rights of other humans and animals.

Are you working on a new project and if so can you tell us anything about it?! My next book is called Sky Dancer and is set in the uplands of Northern England. It is a story exploring the connection between the persecution of birds of prey and the management of moors for driven grouse shooting. The story is seen through the eyes of Joe, a gamekeeper’s son, who begins to question what it means for the landscape around him to be truly wild. I will be adopting a tagged hen harrier next year and raising money towards community education around the issues affecting these beautiful birds.

Thank you so much Gill, for participating and for such wonderful words of advice and inspiring thoughts about stories in general.  I can’t wait to read A Story Like the Wind  and wish you every success with its publication.

FInd out more at www.gilllewis.com and follow Gill on Twitter @gill_lewis

Spring time quote

 

 

Just in time for Spring: Tasso by Papas

Tasso 1

The spring read for today is a book first printed in 1966: Tasso by William Papas. Tasso is a heart-warming, timeless fable of tradition versus change and this stunning new edition will be published by Pikku on 9th April 2017. Papas received numerous nominations for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals throughout his career – including for his lifetime’s work. He was also a renowned political cartoonist as well as a children’s book illustrator.  His work is held in collections around the world, as well as at the V&A Museum in London.

Tasso by William Papas

The Trocadero café is the lively centre of a Greek fishing village, thanks to Tasso and his bouzouki. But one day the proprietor installs a juke box, and Tasso is no longer needed. At first everyone is happy with the uninterrupted music, but gradually the noise becomes unbearable and the Chief of Police must take control.  Will Tasso and his bouzouki be welcomed back to the café once more?

In this zesty and humorous depiction of Greek Island life, Papas’ timeless take continues to speak to us about the values of tradition, simplicity and shared experience.

Tasso and his sister Athena work in The Trocadero to help their father, a fisherman, support the family.  It is hard work but they enjoy it.  However Tasso sometimes get tired and has to rest, so the restaurant owner decides to solve the problem by getting a jukebox which will play all day and all night.  Tasso is no longer needed. But the change of music changes everything else too, and The Trocadero is not what it once was.  Athena, the villagers and even the Chief of Police are all affected and the proprietor must decide how he can restore The Trocadero, and indeed the village, to its usual happy self.

My first instinct when I read this book was that I love it – it’s totally unique and the story is timeless. I travelled to the Greek islands when I was younger and fell in love with them, so perhaps this helps! Tasso is full of character and what strikes you instantly is the vibrancy of the illustrations, immediately bringing to life the Greek village; you can virtually smell the sea air and hear the voices of the eye-catching villagers.  Each drawing is a piece of artwork in itself and it is no surprise the story leaps off the page.

Tasso 3

Tasso 2

It’s a lovely tale and so indicative of the inevitable change that we all sometimes face; it might be 40 years old but its totally applicable to our lives today.  In this case, the modernisation of the cafe’s music has the opposite effect planned by the proprietor – instead of making people spend more time at the café, it eventually alienates them.

tasso 1

Lovely Tasso and his sister Athena, who are from a hard-working Greek family, immediately feel the effects of this more than anyone else.  And not only this, it causes problems across the whole village – even affecting the donkeys and goats! Very soon the villagers all come to realise the beauty of traditional ways of life.  I’m sure this is something we can all relate to in today’s world of constant change and this story would make a great addition to any school library or classroom book corner.  I also love that it is Tasso, with his bouzouki and beautiful traditional music, that ultimately brings the village back to life again! Tasso shows that even good intentions can have unwanted side effects and that sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are best – something I wholeheartedly agree with!

Find out more at www.pikkupublishing.com.

With thanks to Catherine Ward and Pikku for sending me this book and background information.

flowers 2

 

Author Interview: Jenny McLachlan

flowers 2

Stargazing for Beginners is a gorgeous novel by author Jenny McLachlan who spent thirteen years of her life teaching English: a job that combined her passion for the written word with her passion for showing off! It also provided her with the inspiration for her books. I’m delighted to be interviewing Jenny for our spring feature today.

9781408879764

You’ve created a lovely heroine in Stargazing for Beginners! Meg’s fascination with space is utterly endearing and it’s so great to read about someone with such a big dream. Tell us about your inspiration for the book. My inspiration came from quite a throw away comment: I was describing the plot of one of my books to my dad (I imagine it involved a lot of dancing) and he asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book about a girl who wants to be an astrophysicist. To me, this didn’t seem like instant romcom material, but I think that’s why the idea grew in my mind. I love a challenge!

The space and scientific elements of the story were very educational; how did you go about researching this? I spent about two months reading books, watching documentaries and visiting universities and museums, and a very pleasant two months it was too! Although a lot of what I learnt – a huge amount of facts – don’t appear in the book, my research was aimed at discovering how a girl like Meg, who understands the complexities of the universe but hasn’t got a clue about music, fashion and pop culture, would cope with being a teenager.

Meg’s Mum and Grandad are so well-described – you can almost smell the incense and strange meals! Were they inspired by anyone you know? Both Meg’s mum and Grandad have come in for a bit of criticism in reviews because of their unconventional (bad?) approach to raising children, but I’ve got a soft spot for them, possibly because they were inspired by my mum and Grandad. My mum was amazing: she took us on ‘magical mystery tours’, let us build dens that took over entire rooms and would let us bake, make and mess things up as much as we liked. She also had, and still does have ‘big causes’ that she supports. She’s a Samaritan and regularly goes to India to help run a charity that funds an orphanage. She would never have done what Meg’s mum did (although she did forget to pick me up from a few parties!) but she did have a life beyond her children, and I was proud of her for this. My Grandad was a toned down version of Meg’s Grandad. He was an electrician who helped develop lightening conductors and he owned 30 boiler suits. He was always covered with plasters and scars because of the various burns he got from making bonfires. Both Mum and Grandad LOVED bonfires. Sometimes they got out of hand…

The scenes where Meg is looking after her baby sister who is being particularly difficult brought back memories of my own children’s childhood tantrums! Are you speaking from experience or did you have to research this?! You’re quite right – the scenes were all inspired by my own experience of having babies! I don’t think it matters whether you are 15 or 50, having to look after a baby is a testing experience. I thought I’d be great at being a mum – organised and super-efficient – but what I didn’t take into account was that my children might not like me organising them in the way I wanted to. Babies are so strong minded! Like Elsa, my daughters have trashed rooms, slept in dog baskets and rubbed huge amounts of baked beans into their hair, I also took them for many, long walks along Eastbourne seafront to try and get them to sleep.

Annie is such a great character; feisty and funny. Where did the idea for her come from? Annie, to a certain extent, was inspired by several students I taught who delighted in fighting against conformity. As a teacher, this was sometimes frustrating – how many times a day did I say ‘Girls, roll your skirts down’? – but I also admired their determination. When I went to school, I was terrified of doing something wrong, so I’m fascinated by students who don’t care if they get told off. Teaching also gave me an insight into what life is like at secondary school for disabled teenagers. Schools are becoming more inclusive places, but there’s still a long way to go, and many assumptions that need to be challenged, before disabled students have access to the same experience as able-bodied children at school.

There are quite a few awkward and sometimes funny moments for Meg – the science show, the dog chase on the sea front and the scenes with Ed in the classroom spring to mind! Did you ever have moments like this as a young girl? My entire life was awkward between the ages of 11 – 15. Hair, makeup, music, relationships, fashion…I didn’t have a clue. I remember watching Top of the Pops, and trying to work out who it was acceptable to like and hate. I felt awkward just walking down the road! One of the most embarrassing things that happened to me at secondary school was a seagull pooing on my head in my first week. Seagulls produce a ridiculous amount of poo in one go and I basically had to wash my hair in a sink. I’ve never put that into a book…It’s too traumatic. I did actually witness the dog chase scene on Eastbourne seafront. It was very funny.

Meg’s big dream is to be an astronaut – when you were growing up what was your big dream? I wanted to write and illustrate books. I’ve achieved 50% of my dream which is pretty good!

Stargazing for Beginners gently reflects on some of the challenges young people might face today – but this doesn’t detract from the narrative. For me, this demonstrates real skill in terms of writing i.e. not getting side-tracked or bogged down with an ‘issue’ but still making it meaningful. How did you approach this? I think you’ve just described the main challenge I have when I write. I want my books to feel ‘realistic’ and address genuine challenges, but I also want to them to entertain and provide a certain amount of escapism for the reader. I think that Jacqueline Wilson is a writer who managers to do this particularly well. It’s a balancing act: I try not to lose sight of what my readers enjoy about my stories – the humour and the strong narrative – but I also try to avoid focusing so much on the humour that the stories become flippant and lose their meaning.

I heard recently on the news that space flight for ‘ordinary’ folk is soon to become a reality as early as next year! Would you like to go to space?! I’d love to go to space, but as I’ve got children, I don’t think I could. I’ve watched too many documentaries and read too many books about disasters in space!

And finally can you share with us your top three pieces of advice for aspiring authors?

  • Keep writing until you find your voice. I never thought I’d be writing romcoms for teens. I’m glad I never gave up writing when I was trying, and failing, to write my first novel: a historical romance set just before the First World War.
  • Thinking time is just as important as writing time. I probably think about my books for as long as I spend sitting down and writing them.
  • No writing is wasted. My First World War novel is still sitting in the attic. It will probably always sit in the attic, but I’d never have written Flirty Dancing or Stargazing for Beginners without it.

Brilliant advice. Thanks so much for joining us today and we wish you every success with Stargazing for Beginners!

You can read my review of Stargazing for Beginners here. Find out more at  www.jennymclachlan.com Twitter: @JennyMcLachlan1 Facebook: Jenny McLachlan or visit www.bloomsbury.com

spring time quote 2