Bookchat Roadshow. Just brilliant!

It’s a week ago today that we were busy welcoming parents to the Bookchat Roadshow at Harlands Primary in Haywards Heath.  This was a unique event, bringing together children’s authors, publishers, education specialists, along with local organisations and the Public Library Service to share ideas with parents and carers.  And being the second event I was possibly even more nervous than the first time round! The first event had gone so well, would this one be the same?  I can safely say it was even better, not least because after the main event, the authors ran workshops with 240 children at the host school!

“The atmosphere is positively buzzing” one parent said to me – and I couldn’t agree more. It really was exciting and I am so grateful to my brilliant fellow presenters, participating authors and the organisations who were exhibiting for helping to make it this way!  After a lovely introduction by the school’s Headteacher, Jane Goodlace, I spoke to parents about encouraging reading and the importance of reading for pleasure. It’s not easy to do this in such a short time – there is so much you could say!059_The-Book-Activist-Bookchat-Roadshow But the crux was how to help your child’s enjoyment of reading through helping them choose the right book for them, taking into account their interests. I truly believe parents can be the best reading role models a child can have but as parents we often worry about our children’s reading and this can sometimes remove the joy of the experience – for both parent and child.  If we can remove the stress from the situation and focus on what children want to read and get enjoyment from, the path to discovering the magic of stories is much smoother!

“It was really helpful to confirm I am doing the right thing and to give me new ideas” Parent feedback

I was followed by Jane Walker from Barrington Stoke, who spoke brilliantly about reluctant readers and making reading accessible. It was fascinating to hear how Barrington Stoke produce books that are so readable on a practical level and also really helpful to hear how whether your child can’t read or won’t read, there are ways to support them. “Reading is for everyone” Jane said.

Moving on from this, author Nikki Sheehan was totally inspiring on how to encourage children’s creative writing, with brilliant and achievable ideas that all parents – and of course their children – could benefit from.  Her final comment was ‘be their inspiration’ – what better advice could you get?!  I was delighted that both Kate Manning and Clementine McMillan-Scott from Scoop Magazine joined the line-up and shared the story behind Scoop.  Their presentation focused on the importance of celebrating all kinds of stories, sharing that every reader is different and how we can all play a part in encouraging all types of reading and writing.

“Congratulations on delivering such an inspiring and positive event!” Parent feedback

On that note, the coffee break arrived, and the celebrating continued with attendees having the chance to peruse the exhibition.  Parents had the opportunity to ask advice from organisations including local education service Discover & Be, dyslexia specialists Helen Arkell, Inkpots Writing Workshops and Nature Nuture Sussex. Even the Schools Library Service and the Public Library Service were represented with parents able to join up if they weren’t already members and find out about the Summer Reading Challenge!  With a bookstall provided by Waterstones Haywards Heath, and Usborne books it was a hive of activity!

“Attendance should be compulsory; it was inspirational!” Parent feedback

The grand finale of the morning was the fantastic author panel Bookchat featuring four award winning children’s authors; Nikki Sheehan, Jamie Thomson, A F Harrold and Jenny McLachlan which I was very excited to be chairing.  There is something magical about authors sharing their ideas – they create the worlds we inhabit when we read and I like to think some of the magic rubs off on those who hear them!

A lively chat ensued with questions from the audience and the authors shared their best tips for getting children into reading and writing and why stories are so important. As a parent myself I am eager to encourage my children’s reading and hearing the author’s childhood experiences of books and stories was just brilliant!  It was the perfect consolidation of all the wonderful ideas and advice heard throughout the morning, but with the extra inspiration everybody needs.

“It was a fabulous morning with excellent presentations and entertaining authors” Parent feedback

After a quick lunch break, it was back to work for the authors who ran workshops with pupils in years three to six at the host school as well as signing lots of books!  On visiting each classroom, I can’t tell you how incredible it was to see the look at the children’s faces as each author brought their stories to life and inspired them with ideas for getting into reading and writing.

Jenny McLachlan talking to Year 6

Jenny McLachlan reading an extract from Stargazing for Beginners

Nikki Sheehan talking to Year 4

Nikki Sheehan working her creative magic

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Jamie Thomson aka The Dark Lord!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Schools don’t often have the opportunity to benefit from one author visit, let alone four, so this was a real achievement! As you may know this Roadshow was supported with funding from West Sussex County Council and I am truly grateful to them for recognising the value of the Roadshow and the importance of empowering parents and carers to support their children.   

The Roadshow was a great success… The combination of authors, publishers and specialists provided a focus for everyone in the audience… The workshops went down incredibly well with teachers and especially the children.” 

Jane Goodlace, Headteacher of Harlands 

I am so pleased we had fantastic photographer, Adam Hollingworth, to help capture some of the magic of the Roadshow! Feedback for the whole event has been even more positive than I could have hoped for and I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to EVERYONE who supported the event and made it so special.  Bring on the next one!

All photographs courtesy of Adam Hollingworth Photography.

If you would like to get involved please contact thebookactivist@gmail.com.

With thanks to our funding partner:

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For more information about the Bookchat Roadshow visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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New review: Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink

Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink is the debut novel by Jennifer Killick, published by Firefly Press. Jennifer studied Creative Writing at Brunel University and having always loved stories, has achieved what she thought as a child would be impossible: having a book with her name on it in the shops!  It’s a fantastic middle grade debut and has been chosen as one of the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge titles.

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Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink by Jennifer Killick

Alex Sparrow is a super-agent in training. He is also a human lie-detector. Working with Jess – who can communicate with animals – they must find out why their friends, and enemies, are all changing into polite and well behaved pupils. And exactly who is behind it all. This is a humorous tale full of farts, jokes and superhero references. Oh, and a rather clever goldfish called Bob. In a world where kids’ flaws and peculiarities are being erased out of existence, Alex and Jess must rely on what makes them different to save the day.

Alex Sparrow is a boy whose mission in life is to be a superhero of the secret agent variety (think Nick Fury). He doesn’t share this too much with the boys at school, for fear of losing his ‘friends’.  But Alex’s idiosyncrasies become more obvious when his ear becomes a human lie detector causing horrifically smelly results! Little does Alex realise he’s not the only one who’s been ‘gifted’ a superpower. Jess, a girl at school who he’s never had much to do with, has her own unique power; she can talk to animals with equally odd results.  Together they make a hilarious team. Whilst the rest of the school kids, including Alex’s so-called friends, shun them for being ‘weirdos’ Alex and Jess set about uncovering a dastardly plot led by an evil teacher. Who knew the hidden lives teachers lead?! As you can imagine, this leads to some unusual and action-packed scenarios, featuring everything from a brave and noble goldfish to a fairly irritating pigeon – and lots of twitching and farting.

I particularly loved – and laughed at – Alex’s voice overs narrating their every move, fully immersing himself into a secret-agent-come-superhero guise. Even more amusing was Jess’ reaction to this, given her straight-talking personality and refusal to be anybody’s sidekick!  The banter between Alex and Jess is brilliant and brings each of their characters bouncing to life. The barmy plot keeps you guessing and laughing out loud all the way through. With twists and turns galore, Alex Sparrow is a school comedy caper perfect for kids – and I think lots of grown-ups will enjoy it too. It also brilliantly reminds us that being different is what makes us human and true friends are often found when we least expect it.

Find out more at www.jenniferkillick.com.

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

New review: A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Sometimes you read a book and when you reach the final page, you realise the story has found its way into your soul.  Heart-wrenching, beautiful and so well written A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias is undoubtedly one of those stories and stays with you long after the final page.

It is the fourth book written by Sarah; a YA novel published by Troika Books. Her first job after leaving Oxford university was with the BBC where she was involved in a documentary called The Nazi Hunter, based on the life and work of Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down war criminals. A Berlin exhibition, Hitler and the Germans, Nation and Crime, further inspired her to research the wartime persecution of the Romani people, and to write A Berlin Love Song.

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A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Max is a German schoolboy, when he first meets Lili, a trapeze artist from a travelling circus that performs every year in Berlin.  Lili is a Romani and her life and customs are very different from those of Max and his family. Their friendship turns into love, but love between a German and a Romani is definitely forbidden. As Max is conscripted into the SS and war tears them apart, can their love survive?

The story starts in present day, where Max, now an old man, is finally writing down his precious memories from long ago.  We are drawn into a narrative telling the tale of how he, an ordinary German boy, and Lili, a beautiful Romani girl, fall in love.  Theirs is a love that is a meeting of souls; a love that cannot be ignored; “a kind of madness”.  Alongside this, we are shown the impending doom of the rise of the Nazis; the impact the looming war has on everyday life and ultimately how families are ripped apart. Max’s father refuses to conform to the Hitler regime; Lili’s father won’t acknowledge the threat posed by the Nazis to the Roma.  But with the persecution of many groups identified as “gypsy scum” along with the Jews, and with the terrible punishment for those Germans refusing to respond to Hitler’s call, both Max and Lili’s families have no choice but to face the unavoidable.  It is clear that Max and Lili will be unable to choose which ‘side’ they are on; their paths are inevitable.

A Berlin Love Song is a beautiful love story and a brilliant but terrible reflection of the ‘forgotten holocaust’ – the persecution of the Roma and Sinti people during World War 2. The thread of love that runs through the narrative keeps hope alive and whilst the inevitability of the war unfolds, we see that even the most physically broken of people survive in spirit. The stark realities of war are portrayed through the eyes of Max and Lili and through the very different experiences of their families.  It never ceases to fill me with horror the atrocities that took place in World War 2 and the characters are so real in this story, it feels like a true to life account.

Thankfully there are moments throughout that restore your faith in humanity.  The Roma people are beautifully brought to life – the colour, the freedom, the music and above all the spirit of the people leap off the page.  Added to this the wonderful descriptions of Lili’s home and livelihood, Circus Petalo, it is no wonder Max falls for her.  Set alongside the stifling household of his own family, Lili is a breath of fresh air.  Max’s household have very different opinions about Hitler and the Nazis; the claustrophobia and the fear of this situation are palpable and there is a sense Max finds an escape through his love for Lili. Meanwhile, the threats to Lili’s family grow ever closer and the sense of foreboding increases in intensity with every page.

A Berlin Love Song is well-paced and the juxtaposition of the romance alongside the complexities of war keep the reader captivated throughout.  Whilst desperately sad in places, the story holds the joy of love and the strength found in family at its heart. A very appropriate metaphor for our time.

Find out more at www.troikabooks.com or www.sarahmatthias.co.uk.

Thanks to Troika Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New review: Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Danielle Younge-Ullman a novelist, playwright and freelance writer who has always had a passion for books, language and storytelling. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is published by Scholastic and is Danielle’s second YA novel.

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Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Ingrid doesn’t belong on a hard-core wilderness trek with a bunch of ‘at risk youth’. She only agreed to come so that her mother would let her attend her dream school.  But as the group journeys further into the wilderness, the past becomes impossible to avoid. Maybe she does belong here after all.

Ingrid has always been her singing sensation mother’s number one fan.  Margot-Sophia Lalonde was an opera singer on the brink of superstardom, when her career was halted abruptly and their lives fell apart.  Ingrid has been picking up the pieces ever since; but maybe now it’s her turn to shine.  With the realisation of her dreams on the horizon, Ingrid’s mother only agrees to let Ingrid complete her senior year in a school of her choice IF she goes on a trek through the wilderness.  Ingrid finds herself in the middle of nowhere and very quickly realises it’s not what she expected. Instead of a beautiful tree-lined campsite, Ingrid finds herself wading knee deep in mud, trekking through waves of mosquitos and trying to avoid the searching questions of the camp counsellors. What was her mother thinking? How could she make her spend even one day in the company of such delinquents? She’s not the one with the problem…is she?

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is a great title, for an equally great story. With a bittersweet humour running throughout, it explores the experiences of a teenage girl who has had to face more than her fair share of troubles.  The story is told through journal entry letters written from Ingrid to her mother, alongside a narrative focusing on the events that brought Ingrid to this point in her life. Ingrid’s experiences of adjusting from a nomadic upbringing and the consequent fallout resulting in her mother’s depression, have given her more determination than perhaps even she realises.  Ingrid’s dry wit and resolve shines through, even when she’s right at the end of her rope. We follow Ingrid’s emotional journey of self-discovery, meeting those individuals who have had significant impact on her past; the repercussions of which she still feels.  We also meet her fellow campmates all of whom have a story to share that will help Ingrid better understand herself. A huge amount of research must have gone into this book to make each character so believable.

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is truly well-observed and I particularly enjoyed Ingrid’s often humorous descriptions of the daily nightmare of the trek. I had nothing but sympathy for her having to hike in soaking wet clothes, being bitten to death and deal with the ‘circle’ sessions around the campfire.  This extended to huge empathy when you discover what she has been dealing with. I found her mother at times infuriating, but also felt desperately sad for her and could completely relate to her desire to protect her child.  Many will relate to Ingrid’s relationships with her school friends, her first love and her responses to the dilemmas she faces. But perhaps most poignant was how the story demonstrated that we all create facades around ourselves for self-preservation; to try and control life. If we admit to ourselves and others that everything is not ‘fine’, we can then face our past and our biggest fears and in doing so, we can move forward.  A great read for all young people.

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.  You can read my interview with Danielle here.

Author Interview: Danielle Younge-Ullman

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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!

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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. Read my review here!

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Author Interview: Gill Lewis

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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.

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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

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Just in time for Spring: Tasso by Papas

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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.

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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.

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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.

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