Author Interview: Wanuri Kahiu

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Wanuri Kahiu to talk about her first picture book and the inspiration behind it. The Wooden Camel is a beautiful story full of hope, written by Wanuri, illustrated by Manuela Adreani and published by Lantana. Wanuri is an internationally renowned filmmaker having won awards including five African movie Academy Awards, Best Narrative Feature at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Best Short Film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival and the ‘Citta di Venezia 2010’ award in Venice, Italy. She is one of the TED Fellows of 2017.  She currently lives with her partner and two children in Nairobi.

The-Wooden-Camel-cover-copy-12.49.13-PM-e1487202774602

Thank you for joining us today!  Can you tell us about the inspiration for writing The Wooden Camel? I am fascinated by Lake Turkana and I have been for a while. It is the largest permanent desert lake in the world and is under threat of extinction. so the people who have lived and based their culture and tradition around the lake will soon be pushed elsewhere. I write to draw attention to the region and the people.

The theme of family comes through strongly in the narrative; Etabo’s relationships with his father and siblings are beautifully reflected. Was this inspired by your own family relationships and feelings about the idea of family in general? I have a daughter and a son who are my most precious gifts and my husband has two other children. His relationship with them is truly exceptional to watch and I wanted to honour him. I also wanted to represent the creativity and kindness of the sister and her love for her brother as witnessed in the relationship between my daughter and her three brothers.
The-Wooden-Camel-p.-11-e1487203985138
Etabo calls on the Sky God to help him keep his dream alive. How important do you think faith and belief is for people in achieving their dreams? Dreaming is unachievable without belief. We must believe in ourselves and in the universe that our dreams will be delivered and that whatever dreams we have are valid and that they are sufficient. And when dreams come true there is always an element of magic, of some unexplainable spirit like Akuj the Sky God.
The-Wooden-Camel-p.-7-e1487203955406
The illustrations for the story are stunning. How did you work with the illustrator to achieve this? It must have been amazing seeing your words and come to life.
Working with Manuela was a dream. I had never worked with an illustrator before and watching her bring words to life was extraordinary. Sometimes she took the lead and I would rewrite the scene to add to her writing rather than the other way around. Her attention to detail in the clothes and the background and the world have made it the most pleasurable reading experience.
Do you have plans for any more children’s books and if so are you able to share with us what you’re working on? Yes. More books and more YA books to come. Too soon to talk about but I thank Lantana Publishing for taking a chance on an unknown writer and giving me the confidence to believe that I am capable of publishing and that my dreams are enough.
I can’t wait to read your next book and wish you every success with your writing; thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us!
Find out more at www.wanurikahiu.com.  Read my review of The Wooden Camel.

New review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Gaslight is the second novel by Eloise Williams, published by Firefly Press.  Eloise grew up in Wales and studied for a masters in Creative Writing at Swansea. She also worked in the theatre and studied drama. Gaslight is set in Victorian Cardiff and gives a wonderful insight into life behind the scenes in a Victorian theatre, as well as a cracking adventure!

Gaslight-V7_RGB

 

Gaslight by Eloise Williams

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge. All Nansi knows is that her mother disappeared on the day she was fished out of the docks. She can’t remember anything else. Now, with no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally, sometimes thieving, trying to earn enough money to hire a detective to search for her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. Nansi is forced to be part of Violet’s crooked psychic act.  But it’s Constance who is keeping the real secrets. Nansi is about to learn that her world is even more dangerous that she realised. Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Nansi’s life at the Empire Theatre is hard and fraught with danger.  With the vile Sid being her ‘father’ figure – something he constantly reminds her of – she has no choice but trust him and all his schemes, just to keep a roof over her head and the hope of finding her mother alive.  Nansi’s only comfort is her friendship with an orphan called Bee, who is more like a younger sister to her. Nansi is fiercely protective of Bee, determined to try and make her life easier.  With no memory to help her, Nansi is without clues to her mother’s disappearance and it’s only when the new arrival Constance takes up residence in Nansi’s room, that it appears that her trust in Sid is truly misplaced. The mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance starts to unravel.   What follows is a dangerous and thrilling adventure to find the truth- and avoid disappearing herself on the way!

A wonderful Victorian romp with echoes of Dickens, Gaslight is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The narrative unfolds at a good pace and the setting is vividly described, creating a deliciously dark picture of a life in Victorian Cardiff.  From the grimy streets to the spotlit stage, the atmosphere positively draws you in. I loved Nansi; she is bold and brave and doesn’t allow her fears to get the better of her.  She’s exactly the sort of heroine I loved reading about when I was a girl! She holds on to the hope of finding her mother and this is carried throughout the novel, even when she’s at her lowest ebb. Her relationship with Bee is lovely and I love that the author weaves the joy stories can bring into their lives.  Scary and gritty at times the cast of characters includes thieves, mudlarks and even an evil asylum proprietor.  As the plot thickens, the brilliant storytelling takes you on a thrilling journey, with twists galore.  The added interest of life in a Victorian theatre and the intrigue behind the scenes ensures Gaslight will entertain all readers!

Postscript…I think my favourite character must be the maid at the end…called Dilly!! Thank you Eloise; very happy to have inspired the name (as I discovered through the wonder of Twitter!)

Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfQGT_-EYw

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com and www.fireflypress.co.uk. Follow Eloise on Twitter @Eloisejwilliams .

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

New Review: A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis illustrated by Jo Weaver

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

A Story Like the Wind written by Gill Lewis and illustrated by Jo Weaver is out today, published by Oxford University Press.  Gill was inspired to write A Story Like the Wind after seeing an image of a young Syrian refugee playing his violin in front of a barricade of armed police at a border control. Gill says:  “Stories are powerful things. They can travel through time and space, carried through spoken and written word and through music and the visual arts. We need them now more than ever.”

A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis illustrated by Jo Weaver

A small boat drifts on the sea. Far from home, the people inside have lost everything.  But as their boat spins slowly on the rising sea, they share a song and a story.  A song and a story that keep hope alive in their hearts.  A song of freedom and a story like the wind….

Rami is just 14 years old.  He has escaped the war in his home country and is trying to make his way to freedom on a tiny boat that is now drifting on the open sea.  All he has in the world is his precious violin; all he has is hope.  And it is with this violin that he shares a story of hope with his fellow refugees; all of whom have lost their homes to the war that rages and are clinging desperately to life.  The story he shares is a fable; an ancient tale of a white stallion and a boy called Suke fighting against tyranny.  It also tells of the birth of the violin and the power of music to overcome. The fable prompts each refugee to recall memories of family and home, reminding them of the love that surrounds them, even in the darkest of times.

A Story Like the Wind is utterly beautiful; the words and illustrations perfectly intertwining to create a celebration of love, life and hope. The story evokes a timelessness reminding us that throughout the ages people have fought and overcome oppression.  The refugees share the same fears and suffer the same hate as Suke and his stallion, but they also share the same love and desire for freedom. In quiet moments of reflection from each refugee, Gill Lewis captures the heartbreak they have suffered and the devastation of war, but also reminds us why life is to be celebrated.  A man remembers meeting the love of his life; brothers poignantly remember their family home; a mother recalls the birth of her precious son.  Even in the midst of the darkest time, the music of life is a powerful melody that you can almost hear as you read this story.

‘We must all sing it, for those we have lost, or left behind. We must sing it to those who do not know they need it yet. We must keep the song alive.’

Jo Weaver’s absolutely stunning charcoal illustrations give life to Rami, the music and the memories, beautifully portraying the light against the dark. A Story Like the Wind reminds us we have so much to be thankful for – not least our freedom.  Suitable for younger readers but a story everyone should read; if any book is going to inspire a response to the refugee crisis, it is this one.

sltw3

For more information visit www.gilllewis.com and www.joweaver.co.uk. This book is endorsed by Amnesty International. Thank you to Oxford University Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.  Read my interview with Gill Lewis here.

Spring special round up!

Spring time quote 3

I’ve had a lovely few weeks finding out just some of what’s new and coming soon from the world of children’s books.  Thank you to all those who’ve joined the blog over the last month and shared some book-ish inspiration; it’s great to see there’s so much to celebrate in the world of children’s and YA literature. We started with stargazing and ended with bananas and Beyonce!! With reviews, introductions to debut novels and author interviews, it’s been a busy month.

A snapshot of our spring special interviews:

“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.” Jenny McLachlan, author.

“When you get right down to it, every child is different but they all deserve the chance to become readers” Hannah Rolls, Editor, Bloomsbury

“..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.” Gill Lewis, author.

“I’m concerned about the ways our loyalty to our own group can mean refusal to empathise and understand others.” Alice Broadway, author.

“Throw all the bad stuff you’ve got at your main character… and then make it even worse.” Simon James Green, author.

“Publishing is the most glorious random thing; no one really knows what will be ‘the next big thing’!” Rachel Hickman, author & Deputy MD of Chicken House

“Writing is a skill like any other–one which you get better and better the more you do. If your first attempt doesn’t quite make it, try again.” Hayley Barker, author.

“There’s so much to learn from hearing authors speak live about their writing, their influences and their experiences.” Victoria Henderson, Director of Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival.

With an ever growing TBR shelf, look out for lots of new reviews coming soon!.  Thank you to all the publishers for sending me these books to review:

 

 

 

Author Interview: Simon James Green

9781407179940.jpg

Simon James Green is the author of Noah Can’t Even, a story described as “snort-laugh-out-loud” funny!  Simon was an Undiscovered Voices finalist in 2016 and is also a screenwriter and director; Noah Can’t Even is his first novel and will be published by Scholastic on 4th May.  I’m delighted to welcome Simon to the blog today; thank you for joining us!

You can’t help but smile when you see the cover of ‘Noah Can’t Even’! Tell us what the story is about. It’s a funny, sweet, coming-of-age (and coming out) story about learning to be brave enough to be yourself. On the cusp of his 16th birthday, Noah longs to be accepted by his cool classmates. He thinks one way to social success might be to kiss Sophie, the most fabulous girl in the school. But Noah’s plans go awry when his best mate, Harry, kisses him instead and a chain of events is unleashed that turns Noah’s life upside down – with laugh-out-loud consequences!

What was the inspiration behind the central character Noah? Admittedly, there’s quite a lot of me in Noah. We both grew up in small towns and I certainly wasn’t one of the cool kids at school either. We also both have slightly geeky obsessions with Agatha Christie, although I must point out that my mum has never done a Beyoncé tribute act! Growing up is all about working out who you are and what you want to be, and sometimes that takes a certain amount of bravery. I wanted Noah to be dealing with those types of issues and be battling with feelings that he couldn’t (or refused to) understand. Noah worries about fitting in; he has that need to be accepted and liked, and he ties himself up in knots worrying about what people think about him. You eventually reach a point in life where you couldn’t give a damn about any of that, but for Noah, it’s a very real concern. Finally, when I think about my own teenage years, and when I think about why I love writing about this age group so much, it’s the fact so much of what you experience feels heightened. That’s probably because you’re being faced with a lot of things for the first time and you don’t always have the experience to know how to deal with it and know it’ll all work out OK. As a result, you make rash, irrational and sometimes plain crazy decisions. Of course, making those mistakes is how you learn, but in the meantime, it’s often comedy gold! (Although at the time, I definitely was not laughing!)

You were selected for the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016 – this must have been very exciting; how did this come about? UV was such a fantastic experience! Two people really encouraged me to apply – my friend, the author Katie Dale, and my editor at the Golden Egg Academy, Jenny Glencross. I sent in the first two chapters and was staggered when I was not only long-listed, but then was actually one of the winners who would be included in the anthology. From there I was contacted by over 20 agents in both the UK and USA, who all wanted to read the full manuscript and within 7 months I’d signed with Jo Moult at Skylark Literary and had a book deal with Scholastic. I mean, it’s a fairy tale, right? It was such a fast, exciting, roller coaster of an experience and I’m so grateful to everyone at UV for everything they’ve done for me. And, to you all writers out there looking for rep, UV is open for submissions for the 2018 anthology, so get submitting – it’s life changing!

How has writing your first novel differed from writing screenplays? One of the key differences is all the extra stuff you need to put into a novel. With a screenplay, you generally allow the actor to interpret the lines and action in order to show the audience how they are feeling and what’s going on for them internally. With a novel, you need to get that on the page a lot more, and that was a big challenge for me at first. I’m also used to a much faster turnaround time with screenplays (I once had to do a rewrite in 48 hours), so it was lovely being able to work on the manuscript for longer than I’m used to.

As a coming-of-age novel, what do you hope readers will gain from reading Noah Can’t EvenFirstly, I really hope people have a good laugh reading Noah Can’t Even. I’m a big fan of funny books and I hope that when the humour in Noah is combined with some of the sweeter moments, it’s a book that gives you all the feels. And that’s what growing up is all about, right? You laugh, you cry… you screw it all up and make it all better again. I hope people read it and think – ‘that’s OK, what I’m going through isn’t completely weird and unusual then.’ But fundamentally, I wrote Noah for the same reason I write screenplays or I direct for stage and TV – I enjoy entertaining people and I hope it makes them happy.

The audience for YA novels is growing, which is great news for all concerned not least those reading the books! Were you a reader when you were a teenager? Yes, massively! I loved Agatha Christie as a teen and read loads of her books, but I also devoured Adrian Mole, The Catcher in the Rye, and most of Stephen Fry’s books, to name just a few of my favourites.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Throw all the bad stuff you’ve got at your main character… and then make it even worse. That’s exactly what I’ve tried to do with Noah – in every chapter I turn the screws just a little bit more, until he’s basically in an impossible position. It’s a great way to drive the story, up the stakes and keep the reader interested!

And finally….have you got a thing for bananas and Beyonce?! Hasn’t everyone?! Actually, I think ‘Bananas and Beyoncé’ would be a great title should I ever write my autobiography!

Thanks so much Simon for sharing your experiences with us. We wish you every success with Noah Can’t Even!

Find out more at www.simonjamesgreen.com and on Twitter @simonjamesgreen.

Spring time quote

Author Interview: Hayley Barker

Show Stopper.jpg

Hayley Barker’s debut novel Show Stopper will be published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017.  Described by her editor, Lauren Fortune, as “dazzling and dark, heartbreaking and heart-racing” Show Stopper is a YA novel set in a dark and not so death defying circus.  I’m very excited to welcome Hayley to the blog today to tell us all about her new novel and the inspiration behind it.  Thank you for joining us today Hayley!

Show Stopper sounds thrilling – I’m looking forward to reading it! Tell us about your inspiration for the book. Thank you so much! When I was younger, I loved reading circus stories. The circus always seemed to be an almost magical place, one which operated outside of the normal rules of society, and the life the circus folk lead was so exciting -free and wild and wonderful. Because of that, I had been thinking for a while that I would really like to write my own story set in the circus.

When I started writing Show Stopper, there were lots of reports in the media about the growing wave of hostility towards ethnic minorities and immigrants in England. Groups with extreme right wing views were gaining momentum, not just in England, but across Europe, and the right wing press was becoming more and more vocal in its suggestions that the faults of the country all lay at the hands of immigrants. It made me feel worried about where we were heading and I wanted to try address this concern in some way in my writing. The two ideas merged in my mind and the concept of a truly terrible circus, which is far from magical, was formed.

You’ve chosen a unique setting for the novel. What research did you do to inform creating the setting of a circus? It must have been fascinating! I read a few books about the traditional circuses of the past and researched anything else I needed to know about as I was writing. If anyone was to look at my internet search history, there would be some bizarre and slightly disturbing results on there! Subjects I’ve researched include, medieval torture methods, how Tasers work, ways in which the Nazis used the body parts of people they had exterminated in the concentration camps, and traditional and extreme circus acts. In the book, Hoshiko balances a stool on the high wire and then stands on it. Believe it or not, this is not only possible but has been done before – you can watch someone do the very same thing on Ukraine’s Got Talent on YouTube!

Tell us about Show Stoppers’ protagonists – Ben and Hoshiko, who have very different backgrounds.  Ben is a Pure, one of the leading elite in the country. His mother is a really important political figure with leadership aspirations, and he is surrounded by people who hate the Dregs– the suppressed underclass of Immigrants and ethnic minorities. He befriends a Dreg servant, Priya, and begins to question everything has been told about the Dregs being inferior. When he goes to the Cirque and sees Hoshiko, he is captivated by her and determines to rescue her from her terrible fate.

Hoshiko is the star of the show, a brilliant high wire and trapeze artiste. She has been witness to the torture and murder of many of the people she cared about and she herself experiences horror on a nightly basis. She is fiercely loyal to her friends in the circus and feels trapped and embittered about the life they are forced to lead, and angry and resentful towards the Pures. When Ben tries to befriend, and then rescue her, she is far from grateful, but slowly comes to see that not all Pures are prejudiced and cruel.

Did you always intend on including a romance or did that evolve? I did always want the story to have a romance at its heart. I felt like a lot of YA fiction included love triangles or one-sided relationships. I wanted a Romeo and Juliet style love story, one about love at first sight which becomes deeper, a love which redeems and heals. The overall message of the novel is that love is stronger than hate, and that we can always change things if we are determined enough. I think that message, while certainly not a new one, is important and true.

You’ve been a secondary school teacher for 18 years. How has this helped you in terms of your insight into writing for a YA audience?  I think any good teacher needs to be able to relate to and understand the people they teach. Young adults don’t deserve to be patronised, they have real concerns and worries and they think deeply at the world they live in. They don’t want to be lectured to and like stories which have a dark and sinister edge. They want page-turners– books which keep them hooked from the start. That was what I tried to achieve when I was writing Show Stopper.

As a debut author, what are your three top tips for anyone starting out on the road to trying to get a book published? My first tip is to believe in yourself: believe you can do it and try, try, try. I think the difference between a pipe dream and an ambition is simply the action you take to fulfil it. The minute you commit to a plan, and do everything you can to achieve it, your dream becomes an ambition – one which is possible and achievable.

My second tip links to the first and it is to keep going in the face of rejection. Writing is a skill like any other–one which you get better and better the more you do. If your first attempt doesn’t quite make it, try again.

My third tip is to go to the Winchester Writers’ festival, or another similar event. I went when I had completed the first draft of Show Stopper and booked four incredibly useful 1-1 appointments with literary agents. Not only did it ensure that that they had all looked carefully at my writing, but I also got lots of illuminating and useful feedback. All four agents were positive about my writing and wanted to see more, which was a real boost and I also got some excellent tips for further improvement.

Thank you Hayley for these fantastic tips and sharing your writing experience with us.

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyABarker.

flowers 2

 

Perfect picture books for tiny countryside explorers!

Just in time for spring! These two lovely new picture books from Nosy Crow and The National Trust are all about encouraging young readers to look and see in the countryside.

-National Trust- Colours, A Walk in the Countryside-247084-1

Colours: A Walk in the Countryside by Rosalind Beardshaw, features a little boy and a little girl going for a walk and seeing what colours they can spot. On each page, a colour is identified and then the reader is encouraged to see what else they can find in that colour. With cheerful and vibrant illustrations, the two lovely characters and all the creatures they meet are brought to life on the lovely ramble through the countryside.

nosy-crow-11.jpg

The final page brings all the colours together and young readers will delight in seeing what they can find for every colour of the rainbow! It’s an interactive read that could easily be reflected on your next walk through the countryside, encouraging children to notice the wonderful nature and wildlife all around them.

 

Look_Say_Farm_cvr_FINAL.indd

Look and Say what you see on the Farm by Sebastien Braun is a lovely and informative book encouraging youngsters to join in with animal sounds, spot various farm objects and practice saying words together. Interactive seek and find elements add will keep little ones thoroughly engaged and they’ll learn all about life on the farm.

farm 3

The illustrations are bright and lively and each page describes the role of the different areas of a farm; from milking the cows to bee-keeping. Lots of questions will get the reader thinking and make this is a lovely book to share!

With a clear font and accessible vocabulary, Colours: A Walk in the Countryside and Look and Say what you see on the Farm could be enjoyed by very young children and those just learning to read. Perfect springtime reads, they would make a great addition to any young reader’s bookshelves.

For more information visit www.nosycrow.com or www.nationaltrust.org.uk

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.