Bad Water by N.M. Browne

Ollu is a barger; a trader living and working on her mother’s matriarchal boat, The Ark. When they lose all their trade goods in a storm and her Mum gets sick, the only way to save her mother’s life and the life of her baby siblings is to make the most dangerous trade of her life. Ollu has to venture into forbidden waters, Bad Water, and she must go alone.

With her old allies under attack, she finds herself reluctantly welcoming two escaped slaves on board The Ark. Buzz is a genetically enhanced stranger from across the sea, while Ratter is a boy prophet, a spy from the old City. The Ark is forbidden to males but she has to accept their help. How many rules will she break to save her mother? Is she prepared to risk everything?

In a world reshaped by floods and the loss of technology, Ollu must make a perilous journey. She is pitted against gang leaders, slavers and violent machete-men. Only her courage, unexpected friendships and rediscovered technologies can save her mother’s life – and her family’s honour.

Nicky came to my previous school, many moons ago, to talk about her (then) new book, Warriors of Alavna (it is a great historical fantasy, look it up if you’ve not read it). She’s written a few (!) novels since and her latest is for a tiny press called Kristall Ink, BAD WATER: a dystopian thriller for ages 11+ with two great protagonists (I say, having only read 3 chapters so far…), Buzz and Ollu. Because there’s no chance of school visits at the moment, she’s filmed a 30minute WBD lesson that could be used for part of a 60+minute lesson:

She’s also interviewed herself in a much shorter clip as a taster!

Thanks for sending me a copy of Bad Water, Nicky (out now)!

Proud of Me

Becky and Josh are almost-twins, with two mums and the same anonymous donor dad.

Josh can’t wait until he’s eighteen, the legal age when he can finally contact his donor, and he’ll do anything to find out more ­­­- even if it involves lying.

Becky can’t stop thinking about her new friend, Carli. Could her feelings for Carli be a sign of something more?

Becky and Josh both want their parents to be proud of them…but right now, they’re struggling to even accept themselves.

Usborne

I loved Sarah Hagger-Holt’s debut MG novel, NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE and was lucky enough to have the chance to interview her, read it here, so I was really pleased to be asked to be on the tour for PROUD OF ME.

A Pride group is being set up at school, run by older students but our protagonists get involved (if you like the group scenes, I’d recommend Alex Gino’s RICK as well, for an American version). Friendships play an important role in this story – both brilliant friendships and less satisfying ones – and the feelings Josh and Becky have about their friends are wonderfully described, everything feels very true. In the meantime, Josh and Becky both find themselves keeping very different secrets as he investigates their donor father and she realises she might have feelings for a new friend.

Becky’s best friend Archie is a great character. Openly gay, he (rather than their Mums) is why Becky and Josh both initially go along to the Pride group, and he has some very interesting things to say, for example:

“…Look, if someone else puts a label on you and uses that to define you or put you in a box or to treat you like dirt, then of course that’s bad. But when people say that they’re not into labels, it’s probably because they’ve bought the whole idea that being LGBTQ or whatever is bad, so they don’t want to be associated with it. But labels can be good if you reclaim them, then you can share who you are with other people and be stronger together.”

but he also got into my bad books with this one, which will have every librarian shaking their head in despair, hah:

“Wow, did you know he even has his books in height order? Is your brother for real? Perhaps he’s not really a teenager at all, but a librarian disguised in a teenager’s body?” 

Josh’s secret investigations show him trying to find his place, and his uncertainty around friendships is brilliantly portrayed. It is a really positive book. Their Mums’ fears for them are genuine, remembering how different and difficult it was to “come out” 30 years ago, with the reactions of adults and children in the story really shining a light on how inclusive and safe (hopefully) schools today can be. The children are supporting one another and turning around the attitudes of surrounding adults with positivity!

Do take a look at the other sites for the rest of the tour, and thanks to Usborne for the review copy!

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways.

A beautiful tale of love, loss, family and forgiveness set in Papua New Guinea. Blue Wing is obsessed with revenge on the shark that killed her parents but is denied lessons that will enable her to become a shark caller giving her the ability to summon sharks to call to the one that she desires to slay.

Thrown together with Maple, a newcomer to the island at first they are combative but as they spend time together they form a tentative friendship and start unpicking the sadness and grief that they each possess and begin a slow journey towards understanding, acceptance and healing.

I received a copy of The Shark Caller via Netgalley and it arrived soon after my family had experienced a tragic loss. Reading this book helped me in a small way to cope with my loss and for that I will always be grateful to the author Zillah Bethel.

The Shark Caller is published by Usborne Publishing Ltd and will be released on February 4th 2021.

Calico by H.H. German & Javier Orabich

Humans have superheroes.
Animals don’t.
That’s about to change.

Violence in comics is nothing new, for decades now a Bat-obsessed billionaire has been beating up mentally ill criminals in a shadowy, crime ridden city; since the 1970’s a grief-stricken Viet-Nam veteran has been gunning down members of the Mafia and other crime syndicates around the world; and for the past decade one of the best-selling comics has featured a dwindling band of survivors battling off the walking dead while trying to find safety and a place to put down roots.

Most, if not all vigilante-based comics are based on blood and vengeance, a crime is committed and people call out for justice and a shadowy figure that knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men answers the call to mete out bloody revenge on the perpetrators of crime. In this regard Calico is similar to other comics within the genre, but he is also different! Sure he is a spandex-wearing seeker of justice, but unlike other comics those he seeks to avenge and protect are not his fellow humans, rather they are those who cannot speak or call out for mercy or help for they are pets, laboratory specimens and the majestic beasts of the wild who live and die at the mercy of one of the cruelest species that has ever existed – mankind.

From the common cruelty of those that abuse pets for fun in the home or on the street, to the wealthy who flout the law by participating in the inhumane practice of canned hunting and the smuggling of rare and endangered species. From that moment on, they become the prey of The Calico, a man driven to extract vengeance for those creatures that cannot defend themselves.

Calico is published by a new publisher with a singular mission – Sigma Comics.

Sigma Comics was created to give a stronger voice to a group that cohabitates this planet with us, yet are routinely encroached upon, threatened, abused and killed. Through both print and digital mediums, Sigma Comics creates and distributes stories inspired by actual events, which often receive very little media coverage in the news.

The violence in Calico is graphic, but not gratuitous, the cruelty shown to animals is not fiction, if you search the news you will not have to look for long before you find reports of senseless cruelty to animals, from pets being poisoned by random strangers or stolen to participate in dog fights and then discarded; to rare and beautiful creatures being stuffed into cases and dying agonizing deaths while being smuggled across borders and more. this violence is widespread and hard to police and control.

Calico is the answer to the question: “What if animals had their own costumed protector to strike back at those who abuse, and kill innocent creatures for no good reason?”

The script by H.H. German is paired well with the art of Javier Orabich neither of whom pull any punches with this phenomenal piece of graphic storytelling!

Due to the violence and graphic nature of the story The Calico is rated M for Mature and is recommended for readers aged 18+ but honestly is sure to find a readership among all ages of comic fans, especially those who believe that all creatures need to be protected!

Issue one is available to order now: https://sigmacomics.com/order-issues/

Forever Ends on Friday

What if you could bring your best friend back to life – but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

Forever Ends on Friday weaves together loss, grief, friendship, and love to form a wholly unique homage to the bonds that bring people together for life – and beyond.

Macmillan Kids

Published in the US as EARLY DEPARTURES, FOREVER ENDS ON FRIDAY is the second YA novel by Justin A. Reynolds. I interviewed him around the publication date of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and his answers were great, do have a look (and read that book if you haven’t yet)! The synopsis for FOREVER actually really reminded me of OPPOSITE, with the idea of doing things right the second time around, so I was a little worried that it might feel samey…thank goodness I was wrong! Although the idea of second chances is important in both books, it was a refreshingly different read. Family, again, is huge in the story, it is about the importance of family and relationships of all sorts. I loved the humour, brightening even the darkest moments but without spoiling them, and the warmth in the relationships. Jamal’s voice is just great. The premise is so interesting and plays out believably, leaving the reader with lots to ponder over: Do you think it is a good idea to have a second chance to say goodbye?

My last interview with Justin was one of my favourite for the blog, so when Amber at Macmillan asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for this second book I took the opportunity to ask just a few more questions…

What is it about the idea of second chances that sparks your imagination?

Great question! I think it probably has to do with my overanalyzing brain, ha. I tend to replay moments and episodes in a loop, turning over a situation on all sides, trying to grasp either what went right or wrong, what I could’ve done better or just differently. The idea of having the time and space to fix the things we stubbornly broke out of frustration, anxiety, or hurt feelings I think will forever remain intriguing to me. We’re so tragically flawed as people, all of us—and yet, most of us believe in redemption, myself included; and I believe it’s love that makes such healing possible.

Love, in its most honest form, is such a powerful experience; it’s like we’re being remade from the inside out—like remodeling for the soul. You are forever changed. And once you’ve had it, it’s crushing to be without it. For me, the reason we’re here on this planet is to form meaningful, interpersonal relationships, which only happens when we reciprocate vulnerability—but with such openness, we expose ourselves to pain, betrayal, and apathy. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hurt, but when, even at the hands of those who truly love us. I suppose all of my stories stem from this: I so desperately want to believe in humanity; I need to believe that, given the opportunity, we’ll do what’s right by each other. But I also appreciate that sometimes that requires a second chance.

I love the banter between the friends. Do you listen to a lot of teenagers chatting in real life for inspiration?

Thank you. I’m so happy you enjoy it because dialogue is probably the thing I enjoy most about writing—or maybe it’s the thing that I’ve always had the easiest time with, ha. I’m lucky that I get to visit schools all over the country and meet and listen to lots of young people talking about their experiences, the things that matter to them. I think listening is the most important part of writing, other than being a good reader. There’s a rhythm to language, to our conversations, whether those be internal or with our family and friends—and for me there are few greater writerly feelings than when you successfully tap into that sound. Another kinda weird thing I do is I watch movies and television with the subtitles (captions) on—which I know drives some people crazy, haha. But there’s something about seeing the words as they’re being spoken that I find both beautiful and instructive. The fact that there are so many ways to say the same thing to someone else, I love that.

Have you had much opportunity to engage with readers in these…interesting times?

I’m fortunate in that I’ve gotten to do quite a few virtual events, including book festivals and conferences and interviews. I’ve also done several virtual school visits, which are always fun. We also had our second annual Cleveland Reads (#CLEReads) Book Festival this year, also via a virtual platform, and that was such a thrilling experience, connecting with awesome readers, young and old, all over the world.

I will always ask: what are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I always love this question because I love talking about other people’s books! So Bryan Washington’s MEMORIAL is amazing; any story highlighting “found family” is already going to be high on my list but then Bryan’s inventive language and his unique POV is absolutely electric. I should mention I believe this is formally categorized as an adult title.

Also, I’m reading and loving Danielle Evans’s new short story collection, THE OFFICE OF HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS. I don’t know if there’s a short story writer I enjoy and admire more; what she manages to convey in such small spaces detonates fireworks in my brain. Every Evans story makes me green with envy; she’s a master.

I also want to say thank you so much for having me; it’s always such a pleasure talking with you!

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers, it is my pleasure to read your books and have a chance to ask a few nosy questions!

Huge thanks to Macmillan Kids for sending me a review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour for another awesome Justin A. Reynolds!

The book is out now!

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Welton Blake has done it – he’s asked out Carmella McKenzie, the best-looking girl in school, and she’s only gone and said yes!

But just as he thinks his luck, and life, is starting to change, Welton’s phone breaks, kickstarting a series of unfortunate and humiliating events. With bullies to avoid, girls ready to knock him out and all the drama with his mum and dad, life for Welton is about to go very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
The Humiliations of Welton Blake – Cover artwork by Ali Ardington

I really enjoyed this new Barrington Stoke novella by Alex Wheatle. For those of you who don’t know, they publish books with dyslexic readers in mind – short, engaging, and set out carefully to be as readable as possible – written by loads of the best authors of the moment. Alex already had one under his belt, Kerb Stain Boys, a YA story set on his Crongton Estate, but this is for a younger teen audience. Those just starting to think about asking a girl to go to the cinema with them, or worrying about having the latest phone and trainers. Welton, our protagonist, is a great voice, he’d be one of the students that is always in trouble at school but secretly a teacher’s favourite. I asked Alex Wheatle some questions before publication:

How different is the process, writing a book for Barrington Stoke versus a longer novel?

The writing process for a shorter novel remains the same but before I write the first paragraph, I spend more time in my head on the plot and in the writing I try to be more concise.

After writing for adults then young adults and older teens, this is your youngest protagonist. Did that change your approach?

Writing about a young protagonist didn’t really change my approach.  I still invested the same care and attention as I would do for any other character I have created.

What is special about Crongton Estate?

The North Crongton and South Crongton estates are really references to the many council estates I have visited throughout the UK and beyond. What’s special about Crongton is that it is a fictional place. I’m not tied to Brixton, South London or anywhere else so I can freely create my characters and geography how I see fit. I can also populate Crongton the way I want to.

Cane Warriors (which is spectacular btw) is very different to anything else you’ve published for children and teens, what prompted you to write it, and might you write something from that era for Barrington Stoke?

Cane Warriors was a labour of love. Since I read CLR James’ Black Jacobins in the early 1980s, I’ve always wanted to write Jamaican historical narratives. My mother, who grew up very close to the plantation sites where the 1760 slave revolt occurred, heard her elders occasionally mention Tacky’s War. I felt as I was really documenting my ancestors’ history.

Have you done many virtual events? How does it compare to in-person?

I always prefer to do in-person events and I struggled a bit at first to do virtual events. Hopefully, I’m improving but I yearn to get in front of audiences again and do my thing!

What are you reading and who would you recommend it to?

At the moment, I am enjoying A.M Dassu’s Boy, Everywhere and I recommend it to anyone at any age.

What was the most exciting thing for you to come out of 2020?

The most exciting thing for me to come out in 2020 was the Black Lives Matter marches around the world and the different shades who all walked together.

What’s next?

I really enjoyed myself writing my The Humiliations of Welton Blake, so I hope I can produce more of the same for middle-grade readers.

You can read the first chapter on the Barrington Stoke website, and if you want more: the book is out now!

Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for a proof copy to review, and to Alex Wheatle for answering my questions.

The Awesome Power of Sleep

The essential guide to sleep from award-winning teenage well-being expert Nicola Morgan, author of bestselling Blame My BrainThe Teenage Guide to Stress and The Teenage Guide to Friends.

Late nights, addictive technology and minds racing with exam stress and friendship worries: it’s no wonder the teenage stereotype is tired eyes and sleeping through the weekend. Just like adults, teenagers are sleeping less now than ever before, yet sleep is crucial to our health and well-being. Internationally renowned expert on the teenage brain, Nicola Morgan, tackles this essential subject – asking why teenagers so desperately need a good night’s sleep, exploring what a lack of sleep does to their developing brains, and explaining how to have the best sleep possible. Authoritative, accessible and informed by the latest scientific evidence, Nicola Morgan writes a fascinating and helpful guide for both teenagers and adults alike.

Walker Books

Nicola Morgan has written extensively about the teenage brain and mental health, and this, her latest book, focusses on the science of sleep. Now, I go through life feeling tired, thinking that there’s nothing I can do about it as it is all down to being woken up most nights by a restless child, but THE AWESOME POWER OF SLEEP reminded me that there are so many things I can do about it…and I’m trying! Less screens in the evening (she typed, on a screen, just before bedtime…), less alcohol and caffeine, more deep breathing and stretches – I really do think everyone could get something out of reading this book.

Nicola wrote this piece for Teen Librarian (any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental):

In which I become a little bit bossy (to adults) about sleep

While I was writing THE AWESOME POWER OF SLEEP, this was a common scenario when I arrived at a school to talk to teenagers about some aspect of their wellbeing.

The librarian and someone in the Senior Leadership Team – let’s call them Matt and Caroline, just for fun – greet me and we walk towards the staffroom. “What are you working on at the moment?” Matt asks, conversationally.

“Sleep,” I say. Two pairs of ears prick up. They ask for some tips.

On questioning, I discover that Caroline arrives home exhausted after work, eats some biscuits (because sugar), collapses on the sofa and falls asleep with the TV on, wakes an hour later feeling groggy, cooks a meal, has wine, does some work, goes on social media, has another glass of wine “to help me sleep” and then settles down to finish her work and answer emails before going to bed.

Matt is similar except that he isn’t allowed to fall asleep on the sofa because the house is cacophonous with family members at various stages of homework or emotional meltdown and he can’t do his emails and work until he’s in bed and everyone else is asleep. He has strong coffee to keep him awake enough to do the work. The wine still features, though. Thank goodness, he thinks. Because wine helps you sleep, doesn’t it?

Matt and Caroline have only done one thing right: created a routine. And, yes, I recommend a routine. But not like this! These are terrible routines which will wreck their sleep length and quality.

The main mistakes are:

  • Having a nap late afternoon or early evening. It’s OK (though not practical on a workday) to nap earlier but a nap after work hinders the important night sleep.
  • The second glass of wine. (Possibly the first, too, but I won’t take all your pleasures away!) Alcohol raises heartrate and we need a lower heartrate to get the benefits of deep sleep. More deep sleep happens in the first half of the night while the alcohol is still in your blood, so a huge proportion of restorative sleep is damaged.
  • Answering emails (or doing anything on screen) in the late evening – because of the light and because emails are almost never relaxing…
  • Working late at night, because it wakes your brain with adrenaline and dopamine while still making you tired. So, you are tired but alert.
  • Caffeine – but you know that.

I don’t blame Matt and Caroline for any of this! These are very natural habits for over-worked people. They are so focused on getting through the work and life stuff, thinking about the young people in their care, never having enough time to look after themselves, that they have done what busy people tend to do: take the easiest paths down the hill.

Matt and Caroline are not getting enough sleep. This negatively affects their:

  • Concentration
  • Mood
  • Appetite and food choices – sleep deprived people are hungrier and more drawn towards fatty, sugary and salty foods
  • Self-control and resistance to temptation
  • Controlling words and actions in response to emotions
  • Memory and retention of information
  • Hormones
  • Immune system
  • Mental and physical health and wellbeing in pretty much every way

Matt and Caroline need to read The Awesome Power of Sleep before a teenager gets their hands on it and starts telling them off! But what I really care about is that everyone gets better sleep because when we have better sleep we feel better and when we feel better we function better. Matt and Caroline, by looking after themselves will be better able to look after the people they care about.

So, if I seem to be critical, I’m really not. I just need to be a little bit bossy because I care! I also know what it feels like not to have enough sleep: I’ve had my baby grandson living with us for the last six months. Now, there’s a boy who’s going to need The Awesome Power of Sleep as soon as he can read!

The good news is that habits are not so difficult to break. You might need a bit of help, though, and that’s where I come in. You’ll find all the tips and explanations in my book and on my website. The main one is to create a healthy routine in the winding-down period towards sleep, avoiding the things that hinder sleep: alcohol, caffeine, stress, work, and the lights and notifications from screens.

2020 was hard on many people’s night-time rest because anxiety is one of the worst enemies of sleep. But as we enter 2021 and really need to take care of ourselves, I hope Matt and Caroline, and all the other adults working or living with young people, will sleep well: but not on the sofa after work!

Nicola Morgan, The Teenage Brain Woman, is a multi-award-winning author whose work on young brains, psychology and mental health is loved by teenagers, schools and families around the world. For someone whose last school science report said, ‘Nicola has no aptitude for science subjects’, she’s written a lot of science-based books and gained the respect of real scientists. She has been a YA novelist, English teacher and dyslexia specialist and the mother of two teenage (now grown-up) daughters. Now, when not writing and dreaming in a garden office over a valley, she keeps herself physically and mentally healthy as a passionate vegetable gardener, decent cook and determined runner.

Nicola does talks, online or in-person, for conferences, schools, parents and public audiences. She has created unique teaching materials, including videos: terrific value for schools, bringing all the benefits of repeated visits at a fraction of the cost of one!

Website: www.nicolamorgan.com

Twitter: NicolaMorgan

Insta: NicolaMorgansBrain

The Awesome Power of Sleep is out now!

Publisher Permissions for Online Storytimes in 2021

UK

Faber permissions extended to March 31 2021

Hachette

Little Tiger permissions extended to March 31 2021 https://littletiger.co.uk/little-tiger-group-permissions-policy-for-online-book-readings

PanMacmillan awaiting updated information

Usborne permissions extended to July 31 2021 https://faqs.usborne.com/article/83-id-like-to-make-a-recording-of-an-usborne-book

USA

Abrams permissions extended to June 30 2021 https://www.abramsbooks.com/abramskidspermission/

Albert Whitman permissions extended to March 31 2021 https://www.albertwhitman.com/rights-permissions/recorded-readings-during-covid-19/

August House awaiting updated information

Bellwether Media permissions extended to June 1 2021

Boyds Mills & Kane permissions extended to March 31 2021

Candlewick awaiting updated information

Capstone awaiting updated information

Charlesbridge awaiting updated information

Childs Play awaiting updated information

Chooseco awaiting updated information

Chronicle awaiting updated information

Cottage Door Press permissions stand as long as needed

Crabtree permissions extended to June 31 2021

Disney Publishing Worldwide permissions extended to June 30 2021

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers awaiting updated information

Enchanted Lion awaiting updated information

Familius permissions stand as long as needed

Flyaway awaiting updated information

Free Spirit permissions extended to June 30, 2021

HarperCollins permissions extended to June 30, 2021

Holiday House awaiting updated information

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt awaiting updated information

Jump! permissions extended to May 31 2021

Just Us Books permissions extended to June 30 2021 https://justusbooks.blogspot.com/2020/03/resources-and-guidelines-to-support-at.html?m=1

Lee & Low permissions extended to June 30 2021

Lerner awaiting updated information

Little, Brown permissions extended to June 30 2021 https://www.lbyr.com/little-brown-young-readers/lbyr-blog/lbyr-book-sharing-permission-statement/

Macmillan permissions extended to June 30 2021

North South awaiting updated information

Norwood House permissions extended to June 1 2021

Oni Press permissions extended to December 31 2021

Page Street awaiting updated information

Peachtree awaiting updated information

Penguin Random House permissions extended to March 31 2021

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Scholastic awaiting updated information

Simon & Schuster permissions extended to March 31 2021

Source Books permissions extended to June 30 2021

Star Bright Books awaiting updated information

Tilbury Books permissions extended to June 30 2021

Fighting Fantasy

PART STORY, PART GAME – PURE ADVENTURE!

Youthe hero of this story, are a member of the Sky Watch keeping the floating archipelago of Pangaria safe. When the Nimbus isle suddenly crashes out of the sky into the Ocean of Tempests below, you must explore the remaining islands, and battle both storms and sea beasts in your mission to raise Nimbus from the deep. The brand new book in the FIGHTING FANTASY series – by the first ever female guest author!

Scholastic

I read a few Fighting Fantasy books when I was younger and am really pleased that some are being reissued as well as new stories being published. Scholastic very kindly sent me a copy of Crystal of Storms, the first in the franchise to be written by a female guest author: Rhianna Pratchett no less! I had a go and it was just as exciting as I remember – and I was as unlucky as I remember – hard to put down once you begin (unless you die…but then you try again)! They also gave me the opportunity to ask her, and the mind behind the original series, Ian Livingstone, a few questions.

Rhianna Pratchett

Did you read the original Fighting Fantasy books as a child?

Yes, I read a few when I was about 8 or 9 years old and really enjoyed them. I even got into trouble with my local library for holding onto them for so long.
 
How did you get involved in the reboot?

Ian Livingstone and I had known each other for many years and had also done press together as part of the Tomb Raider 2013 reboot. One day he just emailed me out of the blue and asked whether I’d be interested in giving it a go. I’d never done anything like it before, and it seemed a bit scary, so it
was clearly something I needed to do!
 
I imagine you’ve faced some opposition in the game industry, as a female creator. What advice would you give girls that are interested in working in the field?

I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve never faced too much discrimination for being a woman in games. In fact, I’ve had more problems working within narrative, because it’s an area of games development which is sometimes undervalued and not always well supported.
 
How different is writing a book to writing a game?

With a book you’re in complete control of the narrative and everything around it. Aside from a couple of editors, it’s usually just you and the blank page. With games, particular AAA games (the blockbusters of the game world) you are working with hundreds of people across multiple
departments. They will all have their own battles to fight and views on narrative, so you will need to be very flexible, accommodating, and thick skinned!
 
What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m reading Margaret Attwood’s The Testaments; which fans of The Handmaid’s Tale will definitely love. I’m particularly enjoying the fleshing out of Aunt Lydia, who is such a terrifying and complex character. I’m also reading Flora Curiosa, which is a collection of classic short stories in the rather niche genre of ‘Botany Gothic’. I’ve become obsessed with building out my plant collection during lockdown, so I’ve become fascinated with all things botanical.
 
What’s next from you?

I’m bringing some of the skills I developed whilst working on Crystal of Storms, to Bardsung (Steamforged Games) a tabletop cooperative dungeon explorer. I’ll be writing and narratively designing the project, which is a fantastic challenge. I’ve also working on a few film, TV and game projects, which are sadly still in the Vault of Secrecy at the moment.

Ian Livingstone

What do you think has prompted a renewed interest in Fighting Fantasy?

Being interactive, Fighting Fantasy books naturally resonate with today’s children. Part book, part game, the readers decide where the story goes which is empowering and more engaging than a traditional book. Set in worlds of monsters and magic adds a further layer of excitement to stimulate children’s imaginations. In parallel, there has also been a huge revival in Dungeons & Dragons, and Warhammer has never been more popular. 

Which is your favourite of the adventures?

That’s a bit like asking me who is my favourite child when I have four! So, I’m going to narrow it down to my favourite four books. They are The Warlock of Firetop Mountain because it was the first one, Forest of Doom, City of Thieves and Deathtrap Dungeon.

How much direction do you give guest authors contributing to the franchise?

We ask that guest authors stick within the Fighting Fantasy canon to maintain the look and feel of the world and characters we have created. We also require them to adhere to the game system we created using dice for combat and SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK attributes. But as far as story and plot goes, we give them pretty much free rein.

What kind of feedback do you get from readers?

Readers are pretty quick to let us know on social media what they think about new titles. There are fans of the books all over the world and a large community has built up around Fighting Fantasy over the years with dedicated Facebook groups. There are also suggestions and comments sent to us via fightingfantasy.com. All communications are gratefully received!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m currently re-reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the film Blade Runner was based. It’s a classic by my favourite science fiction author Philip K Dick. I’d recommend it to anybody who has a thing about post-apocalyptic worlds and rogue androids!

Huge thanks to both the authors and Scholastic for the interview.

Lots of Fighting Fantasy books are available to buy now!

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome, by Lucy Cuthew

Blood Moon is an extraordinary YA novel in verse about the online shaming of a teenage girl. During astronomy-lover Frankie’s first sexual experience with the quiet and lovely Benjamin, she gets her period. It’s only blood, they agree. But soon a graphic meme goes viral, turning an innocent, intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. As the online shaming takes on a horrifying life of its own, Frankie begins to wonder: is her real life over? Blood Moon is a punchy, vivid and funny story of first-time love, hormone-fuelled sexuality and intense female friendships – whilst addressing, head-on, the ongoing exploitation of young girls online and the horror of going viral. Both shocking and uplifting, it cuts to the heart of what it is to be a teenager today and shows the power of friendship to find joy in even the darkest skies.

Walker Books

Blood Moon is a truly outstanding (and pretty unique) UKYA by Lucy Cuthew, her debut, and I recommend getting a few copies for every KS4/5 library! It is one of what feels like a recent flurry of amazing novels in verse, and Lucy has shared with us some of her favourites!

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome

and 4 Awesome Verse Novels to Read

by Lucy Cuthew

Have you ever read a novel in verse? If so, did you like it? I love them, and wanted to share some of my favourites. If you’ve never read one, here are some reasons I love them:

* Big feels – I love a story that makes me laugh/cry/feel big feelings. Poetry can do that, just like music can.

* A fast read – I absolutely love sitting down and reading a book in one/two sittings. I love verse novels that are intense and immersive.

* Visually interesting – verse novels, because of the way they are set out, are visually very lovely things. There is much more white space than in a prose novel (prose just means normal writing, not broken up in any rhythmic way), and the way the text is set out on the page is playful and interesting. Each page looks different.

* Rhythm – when I read, I read out loud in my head (I know you know what I mean), and I love how reading a verse novel can be like hearing song or rap lyrics.

TOP YA VERSE NOVELS

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is a great one to start with. It takes you right up close to the main character and into her world. It’s a really moving and interesting story, and the writing is amazing. Acevedo is a spoken word poet and you can hear it when you read this book.

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

I absolutely devoured this book. The main character becomes a boxer alongside her mother facing her agoraphobia. You get fast-moving punch verse from both characters and reading from both of their perspectives is so interesting. Reid’s other verse novel, Wrecked, is also absolutely amazing – the whole thing takes place in a court room as a young couple go on trial and the story of who was driving when someone was hit unravels.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This story is extremely short and follows a young boy as he takes a lift down his apartment block, joined by a ghost on each of the 6 floors, to decide whether he’s going to kill the guy that killed his brother. It’s an absolutely gripping moral dilemma full of moments outside the lift which expand our understanding of his world and how complicated the decision he has to make is.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

This is the story of a boy finding himself in a world of strict gender rules. The edition I read (borrowed and really need to give back, sorry Wibke) is illustrated, set out in the most deliciously creative way and is just a perfect book. The writing is superb, it flows, it is really moving and it deals with some difficult subjects with tenderness, nuance and bravery.

Lucy Cuthew is the author of Blood Moon, a YA novel-in-verse about periods, sex and online shaming, published by Walker YA. Available at Waterstones, Barnes and Noble (US), and Amazon.