The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. 

Grady Hendrix is one of the greatest living writers of Horror!

This was a theory I had long held that was confirmed when I read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. He is also one of the few authors for whom I will drop everything else I am reading when a new work by him is published.

It took me ages to figure out why this book is so terrifyingly good, it is because it could take place next door to me or in the homes of my friends. Look mothers generally get a bad rap in horror (and to be honest many other genres as well), this book goes a long way to show the sacrifice, strength and love that mothers have for their children, friends and families that is so often overlooked or looked down upon. Grady also skewers the 1980’s yuppie mantra of greed is good as well as deflating toxic masculinity for good measure. Honestly it is not a stretch to believe that a soulless, blood-sucker could morph into something even worse.

Along the way he also makes the reader look long and hard at the racism and segregation that has suffused many communities in the US (and still does to this day) but was never discussed in polite society.

Patricia is not a hero, she is just a mother, as are her friends in the book club. They are nice ladies, who welcome new folk in to the neighborhood and make them feel at home; but when something starts threatening their children they know they have to do something – what they don’t rightly know, but they will find out, they have to!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is written by Grady Hendrix and was published by Quirk Books back in April, this review is very late!

Check out The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires gift box – out just in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule and many other December celebrations:

https://quirkbooks.biz/product/the-southern-book-clubs-guide-to-slaying-vampires-box/?v=757e5b5109ed

A Thousand Questions blog tour

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.

This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

HarperCollins

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a brilliant new middle grade novel by Saadia Faruqi. I really enjoyed reading from the two perspectives, as they realise that the differences in their upbringings don’t change the things that are really important. Saadia’s love of Karachi shines through in her portrayal of the city and its landmarks, at the same time though, she doesn’t shy away from showing the disparities between rich and poor and it could lead to some really interesting conversations if you’re reading it as a class novel or with a reading group (or with your own child).

For the blog tour I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Saadia a few questions!

I believe your writing began in a local newspaper, followed by the Yasmin books for beginning readers, and now longer middle grade like your new book A THOUSAND QUESTIONS. Which audience do you prefer writing for?

Wow those newspaper columns were such a long time ago, I hardly remember them! Yes, that’s right, and I also wrote a nonfiction academic-style book, plus a short story collection for adults. However, it was only when I started writing for children that I found my true passion. Children’s
books are so fun to write, and even when the message is serious, the act of writing them isn’t. I enjoy crafting stories that give hope and entertain my readers, showing them the world in a way that’s authentic but also full of positive aspects. Whether I’m writing early readers like Yasmin or middle grade novels like A Thousand Questions, I approach them the same way. I’d be hard- pressed to chose which I enjoy more.

Why do you think it is so important to have Muslim characters starring in children’s stories?

It’s very important to have stories that center Muslim characters, families and countries. The fact is that a growing number of our young readers are Muslim, and they deserve to see their stories reflected in the books they read. This means positive stories, ones that show realistic people and situations rather than caricatures and stereotypes. It also means everyday stories about experiences all children face at school, at home and in their neighborhoods. Finally, it means making Muslim children the heroes of our fantasy, sci-fi and mystery books, the ones who solve the crime or save the day. All this is important because storytelling is part of community, and
readers from Muslim backgrounds should know that they’re an essential part of our communities. Readers from other backgrounds should also realize that their friends and neighbors, their classmates in school, can be the heroes of the books they read.

Your author note says you were inspired by your children’s reactions to visiting Karachi, where you grew up. What do you think is the biggest difference between your childhood and theirs (aside from technology!)?

It’s a world of a difference, specifically for immigrant families like mine. I grew up in Pakistan with one type of culture, traditions, lifestyle, and everything else. My children are growing up in the U.S. with another type of culture. As a parent, I try very hard to keep Muslim and South Asian traditions alive in my house, but when they step outside it’s a very different world for my children. I believe that the physical differences aren’t as vast, but the emotional and mental differences are huge. My children feel “other” in a way that I never did. They feel the stress of living in a country that’s their own, but not their parents’. They experience life with each of their
feet on a different continent. I can’t even imagine what they go through every day, not completely fitting in because of their skin color or their background. I never had anyone ask me “where are you from?” growing up, and that’s probably the biggest, most insurmountable difference.

In A THOUSAND QUESTIONS, Mimi and Sakina do a lot of sightseeing. Which of the spots that the girls visit is your favourite?

Hmmm that’s an interesting question because I put all my favorite spots in the book! I really wanted to showcase all the best places to visit in Karachi, so that even if you never travel there physically you can understand what a beautiful, complicated, incredible place it is! If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say the beach. I’ve loved the ocean since I was a child, and still do. Clifton Beach, where Mimi and Sakina visit in the book, is also very fun because of the swarm of people, the camels, the food, and everything else.

The divide between wealthy and poor is highlighted brilliantly by the girls’ friendship. How hard was it to strike a balance between harsh reality and a fun story?

I love writing about juxtapositions. It’s what I do best, bringing to life characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, so my readers can understand that we can find something in common with everyone we meet, even if they’re very different. Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we all found something in common with each other and focused on that
commonality? In the book, Mimi seems well off, and Sakina seems poor. But when they get to know each other, they realize that they are both rich in some ways, and poor in others. Life in Pakistan (and other poor nations) is often reduced to poverty, like it’s something horrible and insurmountable. It was really important for me to change that narrative and write about complex, beautiful life for all people, including those that are poor. It wasn’t hard to do once I had those goals in mind.

Have you done virtual events with children about your books?

Absolutely! I do a ton of virtual events with schools and libraries around the world. Since the pandemic started, I’ve actually increased this aspect of my author-life significantly, because it’s the only way I can reach my readers and give them an encouraging word. I schedule 3-5 virtual visits every day, and most of them are free of charge because of the budget difficulties everyone is going through at the moment. I love meeting readers, answering their questions and inspiring them to be writers. Anyone who wants to schedule a short virtual visit can visit my website and
contact me there.

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

I’ve been reading the Planet Omar series by Zanib Mian with my daughter and really enjoying it. I think it’s great for children in elementary school, but can also be used as a read aloud for younger children. However, I enjoyed it as an adult, so my recommendation would be for everyone to read this series!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several books in the pipeline, some of which are still secret. Ah, the joys of publishing! Four new Yasmin books are releasing in 2021, as well as a couple of picture books and a new middle grade novel featuring a boy main character, white supremacists, and a twenty-year old journal. I’m really excited about all my upcoming projects, but more than that I’m excited about the future of children’s books with all the fantastic BAME authors putting out great books for young readers. I’m proud to be a part of this new wave of books!

Saadia Faruqi (photo credit: QZB Photography)

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is out now!

Thank you to HarperCollins UK for sending me a review pdf and involving me in the blog tour, and thank you to Saadia for answering my questions so thoughtfully (and I love the Planet Omar series too)!

Hijab and Red Lipstick – blog tour

Being a teenager isn’t easy. All Sara wants to do is experiment with make-up and hang out with friends. It doesn’t help when you have a super-strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. But when her family move to the Arabian Gulf, it feels like every door is being closed on Sara’s future. Can Sara find her voice again? Will she ever be free? 

Hashtag Press

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is not an easy read, in the author’s note to the reader she mentions that it covers some upsetting subjects (TW: including discussions of rape, coercive behaviour, self-harm, domestic abuse and sexual abuse), so it is definitely a Young Adult title. We join Sara as she begins talking to a journalist about her childhood experiences, her early years in the UK and then moving to the Gulf because of her father’s job. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, as we were warned she doesn’t have a particuarly happy time, but it was a glimpse into a different (for me) culture that really made me think about things we take for granted in the UK.

I had the opportunity to ask the author, Yousra Imran, some questions about writing:

Your note to the reader said you drew on your own experiences as well as those of others, was it difficult to write or was it cathartic?

It was both difficult writing about such painful topics, even if it was a fictional piece of work, but also cathartic, as I felt by giving a voice to stories based on real life experiences that I was almost giving myself the talking therapy I never got to have.

How different was your approach to writing a full length novel compared to pieces for publications?

Writing an article for a publication is very different to writing a novel. At the moment I write current affairs articles which are of course much shorter (usually 800-1500 words) and they usually require me talking to lots of people to collect views, witness statements and facts. When it comes to writing a novel, even if I am basing it off things I have seen, heard or experienced, and even if I carry out research, I have that leeway to completely make up the characters and the story’s events. I don’t feel under pressure writing a novel as there is no deadline, whereas there is usually a tight deadline for an article. I don’t tend to map everything out when it comes to a novel – I have an idea of the storyline and I map out the characters, but the story evolves as I write it. With articles I have to completely map them out before I write them.

Did you always intend for this to be for young adults?

I think it was always going to naturally be for young adults if the main character is a teenager/young adult and is talking as a teen/young adult. However, the novel can be read by any adult too – that’s what I love about most YA books today – they can be read by adults too!

What advice would you give to a young woman in similar circumstances to Sara’s teen years?

Sadly this is a very tough question to answer, as it really depends on which country the young woman is living in. If she was living in Europe, the UK, America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, I’d be able to say here’s a list of organisations that can help you and provide you with support. It’s a completely different ball game in other countries like those in the Middle East. Without sounding pessimistic, in Middle Eastern countries the legal system is patriarchal in the literal sense, meaning your father literally owns you. My advice to a teen or young woman in the Middle East would be to study hard, try to get a qualification and become financially independent, as financial independence gives you choices.

If you could write extensively about only one of the various topics you mention on your blog, which would you choose?

If I could only write about one topic it would definitely be about women’s rights in the Middle East, no hesitation!

Are you planning more YA?

My next novel is adult fiction, however, I do have an idea for a novel after that which would fall under YA!

Have you had an opportunity to talk to young people about the book?

The publishers and I had been talking about school visits before the pandemic and unfortunately lockdown meant we have been unable to, however, I am definitely planning to do virtual school and college “visits” where I can engage with young people and talk about the book.

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

I am reading The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, Mona El Tahawy’s feminist manifesto, which came out last year. It is hardcore feminism and I love it, and I would recommend it to everyone, regardless of gender. Reading it really puts the way world governments perceive and treat women, people of colour,  people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community into perspective. It’s also nice reading thoughts that I have had myself, thoughts which male family members said I was “weird” for having. I can’t be so weird if there are other women sharing the same exact thoughts!

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is out now! Have a look at the rest of the blog tour (and thankyou to Hashtag Press and LitPR for including me):

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

Adapted from A Short History of Nearly Everything, this stunningly illustrated book from the extraordinary Bill Bryson takes us from the Big Bang to the dawn of science, and everything in between.

Perfect for ages 8 to 80.

Ever wondered how we got from nothing to something?
Or thought about how we can weigh the earth?
Or wanted to reach the edge of the universe?

Uncover the mysteries of time, space and life on earth in this extraordinary book – a journey from the centre of the planet to the dawn of the dinosaurs, and everything in between.

And discover our own incredible journey, from single cell to civilisation, including the brilliant (and sometimes very bizarre) scientists who helped us find out the how and why.

Penguin

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was published just as I was coming to the end of my Geological Sciences BSc and I *adored* it. So much so, I bought 3 copies to give to my best friends on the course. I’ve read a number of Bryson’s books for grown ups, he’s got this amazing skill to write on just about any subject and make it fascinating, funny, informative, and understandable without patronising readers. So I was really excited when I saw that he had rewritten this particular title for younger readers and begged Penguin for a copy. They very generously not only sent me a copy but also said I could host a competition for 3 TeenLibrarian readers to win a copy too*! Just comment with your email address if you would like to be in with a chance of winning one (comments will remain hidden).

I’m loving looking through this adaptation, it really does still contain nearly everything, this time brilliantly illustrated by Daniel Long, Dawn Cooper, Jesús Sotés, and Katie Ponder. The design of the book is really appealing and it is a wonderful introduction to just about every aspect of science and technology.

*UK only, I will contact winners on 1st December 2020

Youthquake!

A collection of inspiring stories about incredible young people who have shaped the world we live in!

No one is too small to start a YouthQuake! This is the story of fearless activists, brilliant inventors, champion athletes, gifted creators and inspiring leaders. It is the story of tremendous trailblazers who have influenced change with their passion, courage and determination, and whose inspirational actions and groundbreaking achievements have shaken the world…

Stunningly illustrated and wonderfully written, this incredible collection contains the true stories of 50 children and young people who shook the world. With wise words from each of the children, fascinating facts, beautiful photographs and gorgeous art, this powerful gift book will engage, entertain and inspire future change-makers everywhere.

List of children and young people featured: Greta Thunberg, William Kamkwamba, Ruth Lawrence, Mary Anning, Ann Makosinski, Blaise Pascal, Richard Turere, Boyan Slat, Reyhan Jamalova, Jordan Casey, Stevie Wonder, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Emma Watson, Pablo Picasso, Björk, Louis Braille, Clara Schumann, Skyler Grey, Shirley Temple, Wang Yani, Anne Frank, Nkosi Johnson, Gulwali Passarlay, Marley Dias, Malala Yousafzai, Momcilo Gavric, Michaela Mycroft, Calvin Graham, Mohamad Al Jounde, Hannah Taylor, Pelé, Laura Dekker, Ellie Simmonds, Jade Hameister, Sachin Tendulkar, Red Gerard, Bethany Hamilton, Temba Tsheri, Nadia Comaneci, Billy Monger, Pocahontas, Hector Pieterson, Samantha Smith, Claudette Colvin, Iqbal Masih, Thandiwe Chama, Kimmie Weeks, Mayra Avellar Neves, Neha Gupta, Emma González.

Other titles in the series include: HerStory and WildLives

Nosy Crow
Youthquake is brilliantly illustrated by Sarah Walsh

I really enjoyed this collection of short biographies of some fascinating young people. The range is brilliant, in terms of area of interest, the era the child lived/lives in, and geographically. I asked the author, Tom Adams, a few questions!

How did you begin researching the book? I thought a collection of stories about children that had done extraordinary things would be both appealing to readers, but also incredibly interesting to research and write. I started gathering ideas and as ever, as soon as you’re aware of something, possible subjects seem to pop up everywhere.
Once I realised there were plenty of incredible stories to tell, I started looking in earnest. A lot of basic research was done online but I found that whilst you got a hint of story, you didn’t always get the details that fleshed out characters. I spent quite a while at the British Library tracking down
specific books for extra background.

I’m sure there were lots of interesting characters that you didn’t have space for, how did you decide who made the cut? I put together a long list of possibilities with my editor at Nosy Crow, the brilliant Victoria English. We had a couple of meetings where we discussed each of the children and their stories and gradually began to build a list of 50. Victoria had the great idea of grouping them into chapters that focussed on different qualities – leadership, creativity and so on – which helped us make decisions whilst ensuring an even spread.
We were keen to have a mix of boys and girls, older and more modern stories and and stories that focussed on different cultures. And, importantly, they had to have a story we felt people would be interested in hearing about. We drew up a long list and slowly whittled it down to 50.
I did start work on a good half dozen or so other characters, but eventually felt their stories weren’t strong enough, were too politically driven or I found some skeletons in the closet that didn’t seem appropriate for a children’s book.

The design of the book, and Sarah Walsh’s illustrations, are a big part of why this is a great book. Were there lots of conversations about how it would look and what pictures would be used before you started writing, or during the writing process? Or did you write the words first and the rest fell in to place around them? Very much the latter. I’d seen Sarah’s work in HerStory and WildLives so knew I could expect some brilliant artwork with huge amounts of expression that would make the stories come alive. It was an interesting process, to see which parts of each story Sarah would gravitate to and decide to illustrate. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of putting the book together…waiting for her first roughs to come back to see how each page would look. I fed back very little – although I do remember explaining a little about how cricket works on the Tendulkar spread. Nadia Comaneci’s
backflips and Mayra Avellar Neves’s flower-filled portrait are two pieces of work that I really love.

If you could choose one of the featured children to write more about, who would it be? That’s a tough one! As Victoria knows, I often wrote a lot more than made the book. I find keeping to the word count very difficult. But, if I had to choose, it would probably be Iqbal Masih, a little boy from Pakistan. Shockingly, he was murdered when he was just 12-years old, but he was a boy with so much courage and determination. He had such a difficult start to life, essentially being a slave worker to a factory owner, and even when he escaped, his story didn’t end there. He fought the factory owners and that bravery eventually cost him his life.

Have you talked to children about the book? Would you/do you enjoy Zoom events about it? I’ve not talked to children about the book…other than my own. I’ve not done an author event before and the idea does slightly terrify me, but I think it’s good to get out there!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’ve usually got a couple of books on the go, often fiction and non-fiction. I’m currently reading Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. It’s the story of a ‘60s band and their path to stardom. I play guitar in a band in my spare time so it’s making me wonder what might have been! I’m also reading
Citizens of London by Lynne Olson. It covers a period in Britain from after WW1 to the end of WW2 and looks at certain Americans who lived and worked in the UK and helped cement the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt.
I also read a lot of children’s fiction and two books I recently enjoyed were The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison, a great story-within-a-story structure about the dangers of ‘writer’s block’, and The Dollmaker of Krakow by RM Romero. I thought this was a heartbreaking tale, beautifully written, that did a wonderful job of getting across the horrors of Nazism to young readers.

What is your next project? Might there be a Youthquake Volume 2?
I’m finishing off another book for Nosy Crow, working with Victoria again. It’s all about mysteries – everything from Bigfoot and the Yeti, to stones that move in the dead of night and ancient codes that can’t be cracked. I’m working with another great illustrator, Yaz Imamura, who can do ‘creepy’
so, so well! It’s looking amazing so far and I can’t wait until it’s finished.
Beyond that…I’m not sure. I’ve got some ideas that I’m working up, but I’d never say ‘no’ to a YouthQuake 2!

Nosy Crow very kindly let me share a couple of my favourite spreads with you: Mary Anning (some of you will know that I’m a geology fan) and Marley Dias (Books and #BlackGirlMagic!).

YOUTHQUAKE is out now! Thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me a copy.

When Secrets Set Sail

Usha is devastated when her grandmother Kali Ma passes away. Then straight-talking Imtiaz arrives – her new adoptive sister – and the two girls clash instantly. They both feel lost. That is until Kali Ma’s ghost appears…with a task for them.

Immy’s and Usha’s home is full of history and secrets. Many years ago it was The House of the Ayahs – for those nannies who couldn’t return to their Indian homeland – and Kali Ma made a promise she couldn’t keep. She can’t pass on to the other side until the girls fulfil it.

Today, Usha and Immy’s over-worked parents run the house as a home for refugees, but eviction threatens. The precious documents that could save them are lost. As the house slowly fills up with ghosts, that only Usha and Imtiaz can see, the girls realise they have more to save than just one grandmother’s ghost.

With help from their new friend Cosmo, Usha and Immy must set off on a quest through London, accompanied by two bickering ghosts, working together to find a series of objects that shine a magical light on their family’s past and hold the clues to securing their future.

If they can set the secrets of generations free, will they be in time to save their home?

Endorsed by Amnesty International

Hachette

Sita Brahmachari seems to be one of the hardest working children’s authors in the UK, and one of my favourites. I had the great pleasure of asking her some questions about her latest book WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL, and her answers are fabulous.

Your books always have “issues” at the heart of them and provoke the reader to discover a piece of history they might not know about, or consider impacts or viewpoints they might not have recognised before. How difficult is it to ensure that they are always exciting stories and not just didactic tomes?

First and foremost I’m fascinated by people’s lives and how the events in their lives, their actions or the things that happen to them impact on the world. I don’t think when people become refugees or are affected by climate change, face mental health challenges, are newly adopted, experience a death in the family or face homelessness or racism or child hunger that they experience these moments in life as ‘issues.’ I don’t shy away from some of the great challenges young people face today but as a writer I’m interested in nuance and getting beyond ‘issues’ to a multi-layered story. I feel that stories are superpower empathy portholes…and in these reactionary times that feels like a vital porthole to be able to open.

When I set out to write a story I might think I know what’s at the core of it, but my synopsis often bears little relation to the final book! The process of storytelling is an adventure for me. I always get taken by the characters into unexpected realms and it’s a real joy when these discoveries and unravellings are experienced and enjoyed by the reader.

It’s always finding characters, symbols and landscapes that really take me into the dreaming space of stories. The artichoke charm from my first story ‘ Artichoke Hearts’ is a guiding symbol for me; I’m constantly unpeeling the layers of characters and wanting to explore their sensibilities; their hopes, fears and dreams. This is what sparks my imagination and takes me into the heart of the story.  Often, as I write, it’s the characters I had thought were on the periphery that take centre stage because, as in life, it is fascinating to get to know people even when, or perhaps especially when, they may seem to be polar opposites to ourselves.

This is how I discovered characters like Themba and Luca in ‘Where the River Runs Gold’ and Imtiaz and Cosmo in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’. Originally ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ was written only from Usha’s point of view then Imtiaz made me see the error of my ways! And I’ve found that Imtiaz not done with me yet, she and Cosmo wanted their own adventure so they appear again in my World Book Day story next year ‘The River Whale.’

The subjects you include in your stories can be very upsetting, do you sometimes find it difficult to do the research?

I hope that my stories contain the gamut of human experience and although I’m not afraid to tackle the most complex of emotions, I always want my stories to scatter hope-seeds. They are inter-generational stories and one thing I’ve realised that no matter what dire situations the characters face there is always someone there to hold them.

I tend to do hands on research. My preference is to work with people. My work with refugee people since I began work in community theatre has informed my characters in many stories and plays. In art as in life once you take people to heart you don’t want to turn your back on them. So If I write about a difficult subject like someone I know or have worked with has faced then my main concern is to find the truth in that experience and to convey the empathy I feel for the characters that grow out of my research and engagements in community. I think engagement is everything and when you engage with people you are naturally moved by their stories, laughing as well as crying with them.

I often place a space in time between research and writing to allow the thoughts and feelings to distil and settle and to find the freedom to move from fact into fiction.

If I was to set out to write a novel at the stage that the research is on top of me I think there would be a real danger that the work would become didactic, something I would hate for my stories to be. An example of this is the experience of helping an elderly homeless woman bathe her feet in a refuge led me to create the character of Elder in ‘Red Leaves’ who is part bark-skinned homeless woman , part tree and ancient spirit of the ancient caring wood!

When children like Pari in ‘Tender Earth’ or Shifa and Themba in ‘Where The River Runs Gold’ are going hungry and needing to use food banks, as so many children are today, children and young people are feeling the discomfort of that sometimes in their own hunger pains, but when I write I think about creative narrative that both recognise the realities of that and offers hope seeds for transformation.

I think a lot about where children place these feelings that the real world ignites in them.  For me stories are magical empathy portholes… they allow us to dream of coming together to change the things that disempower us and to overcome what might seem insurmountable.

In writing fiction I need to know my story is grounded in truths I have discovered from research but then I need to immerse myself in the storytelling adventure and step into dream time.

Perhaps because of late the world, in Wordsworth words has been ‘too much with us’ in my recent novels I have wanted to explore the potential of magical transformations in relation to the realities the children in my stories face.

The idea of unheard stories and oral histories not being forgotten is huge and important, and  the author’s note at the end of WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL tells us the fascinating inspirations for the Ayahs’ story, but where did Imtiaz and Usha, and the idea of them becoming sisters, come from?

 In unravelling the story of the Ayahs – one of abandonment and care- I was looking for contemporary characters who in one way or another would deeply understand why the Ayah ghost ‘Lucky’ would need to set her spirit free by having her story told.

What moved me about the story of the Ayah nursemaids was the dual abandonment. Ayahs found themselves far from home and abandoned but the children they had cared for must have suffered so deeply too from being torn away from each other. That idea is what led me to grow the characters of Imtiaz and Usha.

I don’t think I realised when I set out how the story is as much about Imtiaz and Usha’s contemporary herstory as it is about the Ayahs… the waves of the colonial story from the Ayah’s time is literally in the bricks and mortar of the home they set aside their differences to save. As I wrote I realised that for contemporary readers the journey of these two very different girls to becoming loving sisters had to be central to their discovery of the history of their home.

I often write about family, friendship, belonging and community and have presented many different kinds of families in my stories. With Imtiaz my idea was to see how a looked after child with the most difficult of starts in the world, given the opportunity to feel secure and loved, might grow.

Usha doesn’t have to make an effort to belong but Imtiaz does. It seemed to me that in microcosm that is a theme that also links to the untold stories of the ayahs … if you know that your story is told you have assurance and ease of your place in it… if like the Ayahs and Imtiaz’s your story is hidden or ‘blocked’ (in the ear of the conch)… then there is effort involved to strive to be heard.

This tension between the girls gave me a lot. Here are two girls with shared migrant identities, but very different starts in life who can’t see each other’s ghosts or empathise with each other- but need to believe in each other if they are to stay sisters and save their home. They were, in many ways, the key to me releasing the Ayah’s story into the world.  I have often said stories are an act of communal making and I have to thank my insightful editor Tig Wallace for keeping the historical quest in this story grounded in the ups and downs of Imtiaz and Usha’s relationship!

I also found in their different early lives an interesting contrast. Between them they share wide diaspora birth families, crossing class, cultures, religions and oceans but who they identify with most strongly are those who care for them and love them. Their deep understanding of this gives them keen instincts to uncover the Ayah story.

I love that you found out about the campaign for a Blue Plaque for the Ayahs’ Home as you were finishing writing the book, the videos on the Hachette schools page are great, and I like the idea of encouraging children to make nominations for a blue plaque, have you thought of any yourself, and has it inspired more story ideas?

It was incredible to press send on my story and then discover this event. Some of the adult characters like Valini in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ talk about ‘fate’ and ‘things being meant!’ but this really did feel like serendipity at its superpower best!

At this brilliant event at Hackney Libraries I met Rozina Visram whose research was central to discovering the Ayah story and I also met Farhanah Mamoojee a wonderful young historian and activist who has been campaigning for a Blue Plaque to recognise the Ayahs Home. Watch this space!

Sita Brahmachari with Farhanah Mamoojee, outside the Ayahs Home

It’s been a real joy to work together with Farhanah @ayahshome to sit on the steps of the real life houses where the Ayahs lived together and to share in the launch of this story into the world… in many ways I feel as if I have met a grown up Imtiaz!

If I could nominate a Blue Plaque to anyone it would be to

Elyse Dodgson (1945- 2018)

Adopted Londoner!

Visionary educator, international new writing director and enabler of young people’s talent the world over.  Some of her fierce equality seeking spirit and a little of her name has found its way into the character of Delyse in my story. Her first play created with students in her Vauxhall School ‘Motherland’ has been a lifelong inspiration to me.

Elyse gave my first job as a young person leaving university at The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre… as community theatre worker. She told me that my work first and foremost was to listen to the communities and ‘welcome them to storytelling’ so that they find their voice. I’ve never forgotten that.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/nov/02/elyse-dodgson-obituary

(I’m breaking the Blue Plaque rules that someone needs to be deceased for twenty years and I encourage young readers who want to take part in the project to do the same! If they want to nominate a quiet hero or heroine whose alive for this imaginary project – why not!)

Have you done any virtual events this year?

I’ve done quite a few virtual events in different formats this year. In the build up to publication it was wonderful to be invited to be part of the South Asian Literature Festival and to have such positive responses to that from people joining from around the world – a sort of virtual globe window – that’s a real positive.

The virtual launch with The Children’s Book Shop in Muswell Hill was perhaps my favourite because it was in a wonderful real life bookshop! I felt connected with the community.

Jane Ray and I have been continuing our work with refugee people running our art and writing class by gathering around what we’ve now named out ‘Virtual Hearth’ – no matter how hard it is – the connection is so worthwhile.

At this time teachers and librarians have been amazing in their resilience. In the face of so many day to day challenges they have kept the reading for pleasure banner flying high. Like so many authors I’ve been busy adapting and learning new zooming skills and doing virtual events… Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highett at Hachette has been a real support in helping me with this and also Pop Up Festival has offered excellent training… BUT… We’ve all discovered things about ourselves during this time and one of the things I realise is how much I love being in a reality-room/ hall with readers! Over the years I have visited many schools and it is here, in the direct and indirect engagements with readers that I have understood so much about writing. Very often, as I’m talking I will notice there is a child at the periphery of the room who is perhaps doodling and not obviously engaging. I’ll catch their eye and know that something I have written and am talking about has impacted them… I have a treasure hoard of letters and art from these children that often inspire me to write the next book.  

Your recent post for the YLG blog about Library Hearths was brilliant, such tremendous support for libraries and librarians. You talk about imagining pinpointing for your characters “who planted the seeds that make them grow into who they will become”, can you share any of your own influences?

Here are just three of my writer-potential-seed-planters….there are many!

I’ll start at home… with my dad who I believe taught me what a storytelling voice was all about. My little memory in ‘The Book of Hopes,’ envisioned by the wonderful Katherine Rundell during Lockdown, is dedicated to him. Jane Ray gifted this beautiful illustration to accompany my little vignette but readers of my work will have spied dad’s brave, adventurous, caring and good humoured spirit before in Granddad Bimal and in the man in the hat in my co-theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s sublime graphic novel ‘The Arrival’. 

Dad by Jane Ray

I had an English and Drama teacher who also acted as librarian who always told me I should be a writer and when I wrote ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and returned to my school Mrs Smith, then quite elderly, queued up for a signed copy. ‘You made me wait but told you so!’ she said! In truth this teacher was also an inspiration to Pat Print – the writing tutor in that story and she knew it!

Elyse Dodgson (whom I nominated a Blue Plaque for above) who took a punt on me… and even though I had little experience employed me as community theatre worker for The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre as my first job as a student straight out of university.

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

I’m reading a lot of new writing manuscripts for ‘The First Chapter Awards’ for the Scottish Book Trust at the moment so as contrast I’m dipping in and out of David Almond’s short stories ‘Counting Stars’ (2016 Hodder Children’s Books). For me voice is such an important aspect of being a writer and I love Almond’s storytelling voice. In these stories about David’s childhood in Tyneside I find so much connection, joy and awe at the natural world. I’m loving them because I have been exploring the universal in the global in my own work and I feel a deep connection to this idea especially now when so many people may feel isolated – These stories are a wonderful reminder that in the drift of a cloud or a river’s flow we are so deeply interconnected and I hear in them a heartening song to the power of children’s imaginations. I would recommend it to anyone who is or who has ever been a child!

What are you working on next?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my World Book Day story for next year ‘The River Whale’ illustrated by the wonderful Poonam Mistry in which readers will meet Immy again free-diving in prose and verse! I’ve loved writing it and discovering what a year of having access to fulfilling her dreams has brought her and the world!

On another track I’m working on an illustrated YA story (title not quite set yet!) that I began writing in 2008. It will be published in late 2020 by Stripes. In it my older teen characters are walking a high stakes tight rope between myth, dream and reality.

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers Sita! WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL is out now!

Three Comic Books from Street Noise Books

If I am being honest, each of these titles deserves their own post as they are all so different and beautiful and compelling. They also may never get written if I wait to do each one individually so with apologies to Street Noise Books who published them I am grouping them all together.

Street Noise Books, if you have never encountered them is a new kid on the publishing block, an independent publishing house specializing in graphic memoir and illustrated nonfiction for young adults.

First up is Crash Course by Woodrow Phoenix, the tag line caught my attention: If you want to get away with murder buy a car

I am a fairly reluctant driver at the best of times, this is not the best way to be in America, the land of the highway and byway where the distance between places that are considered local is often a barrier to walking there (and don’t get me started on the lack of sidewalks in many areas) this book did nothing to make me feel better about driving, it also heightened my nervousness at walking on the side of the road but on the plus side it also made me focus on being more aware of where I was as a driver ,passenger and pedestrian. As the author writes in the afterward:

I wrote this book to make you mad. the inadequate laws, the cash reports, the road raging, distracted, and hit-and-run drivers; the data is all appalling.

This book is a meticulously written and illustrated work about how easy it is to be killed while using the road, and not just by careless drivers in their vehicles. The sources used in the creation of this work are all listed and I have read through them several times since finishing this book.

Honestly Crash Course stressed me out and makes me feel anxious just by looking at it, but that is the point we are often not aware about how much we have sacrificed to keep our vehicles moving and how easy it is to become another statistic.

Read this book and you will never look at roads in the same way again. It may even save your life, or the lives of others!

Shame Pudding a Graphic Memoir by Danny Noble is a resonant tale of growing up surrounded by a weird and wonderful family, centered around the narrator’s beloved grandmothers.

Reading this book made me well up with tears – it made me think of my family and miss them (they are mostly in South Africa and I don’t get to see them often). Shame Pudding is a warm, beautiful memoir of growing up anxious, insecure and feeling like an outsider but being rescued by your family without even realizing it.

I hare Read Shame Pudding from cover to cover three times and opened it up at random several times just to enjoy the weirdness and beauty of the storytelling that is infused on each page. It also brought back memories of my protest activist days in London, it is funny how some images can just bring up thoughts of things that you have not consciously remembered in years!

Come Home, Indio is written and illustrated by Jim Terry.

I did not realize it but I have been a fan of his work since at least 2013, when I read The Crow: Skinning the Wolves, written by James O’Barr (it was the first Crow related graphic novel I had read since I discovered the original one in the early 1990’s). His art style is phenomenal and one that is well-suited to a black & white medium.

This is a beautiful, heart-breaking and awe-inspiring story that gives an intimate view of growing up an outsider in two communities and finding the will to survive a self-destructive spiral into drink and drug abuse.

Come Home, Indio is a wonderful reintroduction to an artist whose work I love and is my graphic novel pick for book of the year!

Margate Bookie Fireside Chats

Margate Bookie have been organising literary events around seaside town Margate since 2015, but this year they’ve gone online and everyone’s invited! They run festivals and workshops and creative courses for a range of audiences, and in November they’re hosting Fireside Chats with some fabulous guests lined up, follow that link to see all the booking details, but I wanted to highlight two events that TeenLibrarian readers might be particularly interested in:

I will be watching the New Voices panel – I had a great time reading the books longlisted for the Diverse Book Awards this year and am looking forward to hearing more from the team behind it! I’ve been given an extra ticket for both this and the ‘Love with Dean Atta and Richard Skinner’ event, so if you would like to be in with a chance of winning a free ticket for either, just follow the links:

Click here for a chance to win a ticket for the New Voices chat.

Click here for a chance to win a ticket to the Love chat.

Booking is also open for their fab sounding Christmas event!

Guest Post: A Monument to Cognitive Dissonance by Lindsay K. Bandy

I can still see those Sharpie slashes. My middle school librarian had carefully, lovingly, censored out every swear word from every copy of every book in our small, Mennonite school’s library. Today, as I prepare to release my first young adult novel into the world, I imagine the things my former teachers and librarians will Sharpie out. Sure, there are few black-out-worthy words, but the book’s very theme is what will ban it from my former places of education: Learning how to think—not what to think—is the key to freedom. That theme, for me, has been hard-won. It’s turned me into a writer; and it’s turned me into a librarian.

I remember my intense, instilled fear of public school, my constant anxiety about being subject to secular agendas that would test my faith, sow doubt, or infect me with evil. As a young adult, facing cognitive dissonance was a painful and terrifying process, because my gatekeepers did not provide or value access to conflicting information or opinions. I was left to assume that, if I thought or felt differently, I was simply wrong.

Now, as a parent of two daughters, I understand the good and noble desire to protect children. We want them to stay innocent, unaware of the evil lurking in the world, because we don’t want it to ever touch them. But maybe we also want them to continue to see us, their parents, teachers, and librarians, as the people who know where everything goes. The people who can Dewey-Decimal the meaning of life in a jiffy. Maybe the longer we can keep them from asking us uncomfortable questions, the longer we can avoid facing them, ourselves.

I choose to admit that I don’t know all the answers at the cost of falling from goddess-status in the eyes of my children. But this fall leads to miracles, like searching the shelves of the library or the depths of the internet together for information. It leads to discussions about reliable sources, bias, and empathy. It leads to forming and finding answers together, to reflecting on our own biases, and trying to understand why good-hearted people arrive at polar opposite answers to big questions. It blurs the lines between us and them, because there is room in the library for all. (And hey, let’s face it: by the time they hit college, I’ll have fallen from goddess status, anyway.)

Still, it’s a stubborn part of our human nature to simplify. An organizational system is necessary for libraries and brains, and when things feel out of place, we can easily get angry, defensive, fearful, and fiercely dogmatic. Be honest: You know the library-quiet rage that bubbles up in your chest when a co-worker shelves Salt to the Sea in the “R” section for Ruta instead of the “S” section for Sepetys. Who did this abominable thing?!

Creating neat categories, whether for books, politics, religions and cultures, or personalities makes our brains’ jobs easier. It protects us from cognitive dissonance. It provides comfort. And it leads directly to stereotyping, racism, xenophobia, and hate.

As a parent, writer, and librarian, I choose to reject this comfort. I recognize that if every book that crosses my desk or every person in my circle of friends pleases me, confirms my beliefs and reinforces my feeling of being in control, I’m failing.

So, was my Sharpie-loving middle school librarian a failure? No, because she wasn’t a public librarian. She was a well-intentioned, kind person doing her job. Would she call me a failure for doing mine? Probably. And that’s okay, because a public library isn’t a monument to a certain ideology. It’s a monument to the reality—and the beautiful necessity—of cognitive dissonance.

As an author, that’s a monument I hope my books help to build.

Bio:

Lindsay Bandy works as a youth services librarian in Manheim, Pennsylvania. Her first novel for young adults, NEMESIS AND THE SWAN, releases on October 27, 2020 with Blackstone Publishing. She also serves as the Co-Regional Advisor of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

You can visit her on the website at www.LindsayBandyBooks.com

Or say hi on social media…

Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LindsayBandyBooks/

Instagram at LindsayFisherBandy

Timelines from Black History

Erased. Ignored. Hidden. Lost. Underappreciated. No longer. Delve into the unique, inspiring, and world-changing history of Black people.

From Frederick Douglass to Oprah Winfrey, and the achievements of ancient African kingdoms to those of the US Civil Rights Movement, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies takes kids on an exceptional journey from prehistory to modern times.

This DK children’s book boasts more than 30 visual timelines, which explore the biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous – from royalty to activists, and writers to scientists, and much, much more. Stunning thematic timelines also explain the development of Black history – from the experiences of black people in the US, to the story of postcolonial Africa.

Did you know that the richest person ever to have lived was a West African? Or that the technology that made the lightbulb possible was developed by African American inventor, and not Thomas Edison? How about the fact that Ethiopia was the only African country to avoid colonization, thanks to the leadership of a brave queen?

Stacked with facts and visually vibrant, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legacies, Legends is an unforgettable and accessible hive of information on the people and the issues that have shaped Black history.

DK Books

This year, Mireille Harper was a contributor to the DK Book TIMELINES OF EVERYONE and was sole writer for this collection of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY. It includes timelines of famous and not-so-famous, historical and present day influential and important people across a range of fields and from all over the globe. In usual DK fashion, it is brilliantly laid out to be visually appealing as well as containing tonnes of interesting information, it is definitely worth having in your libray!

I was given the opportunity to ask Mireille a few questions:

After writing contributions to the ‘Timelines of Everyone’, did ‘Timelines From Black History’ on your own feel daunting
or liberating?

To me, it wasn’t particularly daunting but I knew there was an element of responsibility and I felt I had to really do this book justice, so I was very careful and took my time throughout the process. I think the daunting bit was actually sending the book out into the world! I found writing the contributions empowering – finding out about the lives and histories of those who came before us who changed the world for the better was an experience I feel fortunate to have had.

How did you decide on the timelines to feature?
The process was collaborative in that both DK and I took spreads from previous titles (including content I’d created for Timelines of Everyone) that we though had the most resonance, and the figures that we felt should be celebrated most. I also had the opportunity to share some of my favourite figures for the gallery spread and foreword which was great.

If you could choose one from the book to write more on, which would it be?
I would love to write about Nanny of the Maroons. Nanny, or Queen Nanny as she’s often known, was a leader of the Windward Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, who fought off the British forces. I talk about Nanny literally every week, just because I think she’s such a hero and she has not received the recognition she deserves. In an ideal world, there’d be international films, books, statues and more dedicated to the legacy of Nanny.

Do you talk to young people about writing?
I talk to lots of young people about writing! I currently mentor three young people who want to work in the creative industries or publishing and I have a network of people within the publishing industry who work alongside me to help young people develop their writing. I’ve been lucky that with the publication of Timelines from Black History, I’ve had many more opportunities to speak to young people.

Do you prefer writing for children or adults?
I like both! Before working on Timelines of Everyone and Timelines from Black History, I had written over 200 articles aimed at adults on everything from travel and lifestyle to arts and culture. Whoever I’m writing for, I just like to know I’m writing about something that I’m passionate about and that matters.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I am reading an incredible book called This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett. It’s an incredible book on empathy, kindness and how we can become more empathetic, not only to ourselves and one another, but also the world around us.

Mireille Harper

Thanks so much to Mireille for taking the time to answer some questions, and to DK Books for sending me a review copy of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY – OUT NOW!