Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

Little Rebels Prize

The Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) is delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction is Catherine Johnson for her book, Freedom (Scholastic 2018).

A short historical novel, Freedom tells the story of Nat, a young boy enslaved on a Jamaican plantation, brought over to England in the late eighteenth century. Hopeful that, once on UK soil, he will finally be free from bondage, Nat instead witnesses the pivotal role Britain played in building the slavery industry. Praising the winning title, the award judges commented:

“Freedom is radical in a number of ways. It tells a story of a young enslaved man in Britain. It explores the humanity of those whose humanity was denied through chattel slavery. It subtly examines the similarities and the differences between class oppression and a system of slavery rooted in racism. It tells a story of Britain that continues to be neglected. Johnson’s writing is a masterclass in the maxim ‘show don’t tell’ – through the point of view of her protagonist we are brought into his world and yet we are afforded space to emotionally engage with the story she offers us.”

Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow at UCL and contributor to The Good Immigrant.

“Catherine Johnson brings the horrific history of slavery to life in this important piece of historical fiction for a middle grade audience. A brilliant adventure story that shines a much-needed spotlight on the UK’s role [and which also introduces us to] real life people who should be more famous than they are, including former slave turned author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and Shadrack Furman, the first black army Pensioner. A well deserved win from one of the UK’s most fabulous storytellers.”

Emily Drabble, head of children’s books promotion and prizes at BookTrust
2018 winner Zanib Mian congratulates Catherine Johnson after the announcement

The winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2019 was announced at an event held in the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Literacy Library on Wednesday July 10th by Zanib Mian, the 2018 winner for The Muslims (now Planet Omar). This followed on from a panel discussion with the other shortlisted authors (all except Sarah MacIntyre) and a chance to have a look around the beautiful CLPE library.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is now in its 7th year. The Award recognises fiction for ages 0-12 which promotes or celebrates social justice and equality. It is run by booksellers Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB).

All the Things We Never Said

16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.
As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It’s not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won’t let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.
A pact is a pact, after all.
In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.

Hot Key Books

I read this book in one big gulp all the way back in April when the proof was sent to me, and it has stayed with me because of the strength of the voices, the originality of the plot, and the honesty of the writing. One of my favourite things about it is that one of the three protagonists is a devout Muslim that isn’t doubting her faith, and in fact her depression and anxiety just is, for no “reason” (not abused, not grieving, no family drama), it just exists. The other two have more obvious issues, but again their POVs are so nuanced and not simply “I’m sad because of what happened to me”.

It treads some very dark ground, definitely for a YA+ audience, but (slight spoiler) it is ultimately hopeful. Helpful resources for support regarding the issues included are listed in the back of the book.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Yasmin some questions…

Hi Yasmin, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

Thank you so much for having me!

Your debut published work was a short story in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, had you already started writing ‘All the Things We Never Said’ at that point, or was it still just a simmering idea?

‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, my short story in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was actually a ridiculously early version of what eventually became ‘All The Things We Never Said’. I was trying to write a book about mental health with a Muslim protagonist, but was finding my way into HOW to tell the story at the time. I’d written about 5000 words of this original idea when I realised it wasn’t working and moved on. When I saw the call out for Changebook, I realised that beginning fit so well that I just turned it into a short story.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

There have been so so many amazing things that have happened during this journey – from seeing an 8ft poster of my cover at London Book Fair to being able to record the author note for the audiobook. The best thing for me though is how it’s touching readers, particularly teenagers. I’ve had some lovely reviews where people have connected with my characters so much and that’s always lovely. I remember this one encounter I had with two young Muslim girls who said to me “you’re an inspiration”…and then I burst into tears of course. When I was a teen, there weren’t many people who were so visibly Muslim writing books, or on TV or whatever, so to be able to provide that to young people in a tiny way now is truly the best thing.

You’ve been so honest, in the publicity for the book, about your own mental health in your teen years. How has that been?

It was something I was really scared of at the beginning, baring myself to strangers. But it seems to be somehow a lot easier to talk about it to strangers than people you know! I think being open about it is important to me personally as it echoes the mentality of the book. Also, the fact that so many people can relate makes it a lot more manageable. It wasn’t too long ago that I felt scared of telling people “I struggle with anxiety and depression”, but now I feel less wary of talking about it as I’ve met so many people who have had the same or similar experiences, and if me talking about it openly can maybe help someone else understand their own mental health, then I feel it’s completely worth it.

Of the three girls, which story was hardest to write?

I had trouble at some point or another with each girl, but I think Olivia and Mehreen nudged ahead of Cara in terms of difficulty. I was drawing on a lot of my own emotions when writing Mehreen, which is always tough, and Olivia’s story just had some really really hard scenes to write. Her voice also took a long time to figure out.

Have you talked to many teenagers about the book? What kind of reaction have you had?

I haven’t yet had many readers of the book, since it’s not officially out as I’m writing this, but the brief conversations I’ve had with teens where I’ve spoken about it in vague terms have been very positive! I spoke to a few teenagers when doing research for the book, and received such lovely feedback about how exciting the story sounded, and what an important topic it was – I got very emotional!

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

There’s so many things covered in the book that would be great for discussion with students – mental health and the benefits of talking about it/seeking help, internet danger, grief, etc. But I think what I’d personally love to do is to talk about craft. When I was young I could never imagine that being an author was attainable, so would love to let teenagers know that it’s a viable career! Having studied two Masters degrees on Creative Writing, it would be great to be able to put those skills into a workshop format and teach students how to go about writing a novel.

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

I am in such a reading slump! And have been for a REALLY long time! The last thing I remember reading was an extract of Sarah Juckes’ WIP. Sarah wrote the YA novel ‘Outside’ which was published by Penguin in January 2019, and I just know her next book is going to be just as amazing. We have very similar brains, and a love for dark YA, so I think anyone who enjoys All The Things We Never Said would probably like her writing!

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I don’t want to mention anything specific about book 2, because anything can change at this point! But one thing I’m sure about is that there will be a Muslim protagonist – that’s something I’d like to carry on in everything I write.

Yasmin Rahman, author of All the Things We Never Said

All the Things We Never Said is OUT NOW! Thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy all those months ago.

The Starlight Watchmaker

I feel like I should have a tag just for Barrington Stoke reviews, because they are some of my very favourite books. The Starlight Watchmaker by Lauren James is no exception (so huge thanks for sending me a proof)!

Wealthy students from across the galaxy come to learn at the prestigious academy where Hugo toils as a watchmaker. But he is one of the lucky ones. Many androids like him are jobless and homeless. Someone like Dorian could never understand their struggle – or so Hugo thinks when the pompous duke comes banging at his door. But when Dorian’s broken time-travel watch leads them to discover a sinister scheme, the pair must reconcile their differences if they are to find the culprit in time. A wildly imaginative sci-fi adventure from YA star Lauren James, particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+

I love sci-fi that makes you think without taking itself too seriously, and this fit the bill perfectly. The characters and their backgrounds are so imaginative and well rounded considering the length of the book, fitting such world building into such a short novella takes real craft! I was very excited to be given the opportunity to ask Lauren some questions, about the book and more…

Hi Lauren, welcome to Teen Librarian!

This is your first book for Barrington Stoke, was writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It was a lot faster and more fun, and it gave me the freedom to experiment in ways I wouldn’t for a full-length novel.

Was it a longer editing process to fit the “readability” criteria of a Barrington Stoke book?

It was the most intensive editing process I’ve ever undertaken. There are usually several rounds of edits for a book – the first focussing on wide-ranging plot points, then focussing in scene-by-scene, then line to line, then finally looking at each word. With a readable novella, that process is then continued again for several more rounds of edits that make sure that every single word fits with the words around it, that everything is explained, and that the words only have one possible interpretation. They work to make sure that sentence structure is chronological and easy to understand, there are plenty of dialogue markers to make the speaker obvious, and there isn’t any complicated formatting. It was like watching masters at work.

My favourite character was Ada, how did you get the idea for (basically) a living volcano?

I really love Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle, who is a fire demon/burning ember. He expresses emotions through burning fire, which I always thought was excellent. I wanted to do something similar.

Might you revisit the characters in another story?

Yes! I want to write a sequel set on Dorian’s underwater planet – I have a plot already planned out, so fingers crossed I get chance to write it! Hugo and Dorian’s relationship still has a lot more story to tell.

What books/films/TV shows are your main source of inspiration?

I wanted to write a more readable story that still uses all of my favourite sci-fi elements – there are hints of Binti, Jeeves & Wooster, Starfleet Academy from Star Trek, Saga, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

This novella is designed to be a jumping-off point to help readers explore the whole canon of sci-fi, hopefully while feeling like there might be a place for them in the genre, after all.

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

Great question! I love both, but I think workshops are a lot more fun because I can talk to individual students rather than speaking to a whole hall. Plus, students always have such great writing imaginations. They come up with ideas that I would never dream up.

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

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – A fictional take on a spoke history of a seventies rock band feud. A great look at unreliable narrators and biased storytelling.

The True Queen by Zen Cho – This series is a Malaysian take on Regency romances, with magic and dragons and fairies. So wonderfully unique.

What are you working on now?

My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you it’s about ghosts and murder and university life.

Lauren James (photo credit Pete Bedwell)

Lauren James is the author of Young Adult science fiction, including The Quiet at the End of the World, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Starlight Watchmaker and The Next Together series. She teaches creative writing for the University of Cambridge, Coventry University and Writing West Midlands, and has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

The Starlight Watchmaker is published in July!

Quill Soup

Noko, the porcupine, is very hungry. On arriving at a village, he asks the other animals for some food and shelter. But, despite their full bellies, all the animals say they have nothing to spare. Never mind: he’ll just have to make do and cook a pot of soup from the quills off his back – a soup so tasty even the king likes it. Once the villagers hear of his plan they offer just enough ingredients to make a soup worthy of them all…
This African version of Stone Soup celebrates generosity and kindness – and the message that we can all benefit if we share our resources. It’s part of our One Story, Many Voices series, which explores well-known tales told from different cultural perspectives.

Tiny Owl blurb
Quill Soup, written by Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar

I’m sure many readers of this blog are aware of the tale Stone Soup, and there will be well thumbed versions of it in most libraries. This is an African version, with the same message : that we can all benefit if we share resources, and an exhortation to open our arms to strangers (something that desperately needs encouraging in these times).

Quill Soup was retold by British author Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar, a full time illustrator from South Africa. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, there is so much going on in each spread while the animals (such a range of animals) try to put off the newcomer, the colours are bold and captivating, and the text is great to read aloud.

Tiny Owl are a new(ish), small independent publisher of books for children with one aim: to promote under-represented voices and cultures in beautiful picture books. Quill Soup is part of a series they have called One Story, Many Voices, exploring “well-known stories told from different cultural perspectives from all over the world, pairing authors and illustrators from different countries and different backgrounds.”. Also already published, and also wonderful and different, are Cinderella of the Nile and The Phoenix of Persia.

Thankyou Tiny Owl for sending me a copy of Quill Soup to review, it is available to buy now!

Comic Scene

Tony from Comic Scene kindly sent me copies of the first six months of this new magazine to have a look at, and I asked if he’d like to do an introductory post for the blog. Not only has he written a blurb about the fascinating range of articles, as well as reviews and original comic strips, he has also very generously included a special offer and prize draw for librarians who would like to encourage wider reading of comics and graphic novels, see below!

ComicScene Magazine is a new magazine which guides librarians, adults and children to what classic and contemporary comics to try, and what graphic novels from U.K., US and European publishers people should be reading.  It also introduces you to the exciting and eclectic work of independent and small press comics.  For those who love superhero movies and TV shows they go back to the original comic source of the films and TV.  Many of the original comics inspiring films, such as the Avengers, are over 30 to 40 years old, so a rich source of material to explore.  Did you also know publishers like Rebellion are publishing new Roy of the Rovers comics and bringing back girls comics like Tammy, Jinty & Misty? Comic Fans love the magazine – but the main aim of the title is to help those parents/carers who casually read boys and girls comics when they were younger to revist old friends or recommend comics to their children and grandchildren.   From the current issue they have also introduced some of the best comic strips being produced today with plans for a dedicated pull out comic section for adults to give to their children to encourage reading and improve literacy.  It’s the only monthly magazine dedicated to comics and comic culture being published today in the U.K. and Ireland and we’d recommend it as your guide. The magazine is available to buy in selected WHSmiths, McColls and Easons in Ireland, and it can be ordered in any newsagent or comic shop.  Just pop your postcode into the shop finder to check what local stores stock the magazine. Libraries can also subscribe monthly to the magazine or subscribe in print or digital from £2.50 a copy digital or £5.50 in print (with free digital copy).

On the ComicScene shop they have just added the first six months of the magazine in a £30 pack and if a library purchases a pack and/or subscribes before the end of July they will be put in a draw to get their subscription back for the year PLUS £100 of free Graphic Novels (email comicsceneuk@gmail.com when you have made your order).

With sales of graphic novels for children on the rise and University courses now available to study producing comics and comic history who knows – you could be inspiring the next comic writer or artist by introducing the magazine to your library!

gal-dem manifesto

This is the manifesto that the gal-dem contributors created when putting together their powerful book of essays “I will not be erased”, a collection of stories based on diaries and letters from their teen years, full of understanding and advice they wish they could share with their younger selves. Rules to live your life by!

I shared “I will not be erased” on the blog last week, after being sent a review copy

The Third Degree with Louie Stowell

Brilliant illustrations by Davide Ortu, including this fab cover!
Matt pipped me to the post and wrote this glowing review of The Dragon in the Library a couple of weeks ago! But I got to ask Louie some questions…

Hi Louie, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

You’ve written/worked on a lot of non-fiction, have you had a story bubbling up for a long time or did it come to you suddenly?

This particular story came very suddenly, but I’ve been writing fiction in the background for a long time. My first novel (in a drawer) was about a half-vampire, half-fairy who gave you a wish in return for blood.

A lot of research is needed for both types of writing, but was it a very different approach? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never see it as stories OR non-fiction. It’s both. Facts are magic too. I still work on non-fiction at work so it’s great to keep doing that. Fiction obviously gives you more scope to take things in any direction you want, unconstrained by reality, although writing stories that feel real is very important to me. I love fantasy that happens in the midst of everyday life, just out of sight.

This is quite a love letter to libraries & library staff, why are they so important to you?

As a child, going to the library was a ritual – and having an (apparently) infinite supply of books was incredible. The thing I remember most is the book smell. It smelled like possibility. As an adult, I want new generations to have that sense of infinity.

What made you decide to make the main character a reluctant reader instead of a bookish child?

I felt like I’d read a lot of books where the main character was into books, but a lot of children I meet in real life aren’t so… I suppose I wanted to give them a go in the driving seat. Also, because it’s fun to put characters in uncomfortable positions, so the idea of forcing an unbookish person to do something that requires lots of reading felt enjoyably mean. [C: I really enjoyed listening to Louie explain this to a room of book lovers at the YLG London AGM, but she didn’t need to worry, we love the challenge of reluctant readers!]

Who is your favourite Dragon in fiction?

Smaug. It’s always Smaug. What a class act.

Have you done any school visits? If so, what’s the best bit?

I’ve done loads of non-fiction ones but I’ve just started doing ones for the Dragon in the Library and what I’m really enjoying is the suspension of reality – creating a fictional world in the real world, and pretending that magic is 100% real. (Or am I pretending…?)

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

I’m currently reading A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and it is beautiful and magical. One for anyone who’s in touch with their emotional side… but also people like me who aren’t at all, but books like this help me learn more about how feelings work.

What’s next for Kit & co.?

I’m trying to work out how to say this in unspoilery terms… their next adventure involves a journey and a new wizard… and a new monster. 

Huge thanks to Louie for answering my questions on top of her actual blog tour, and to Nosy Crow for sending me (and Matt all the way in America!) proofs, and to both Louie and Nosy Crow for the brilliant talk and signed books at the YLG London 2019 AGM last week! I loved what Louie said about the importance of just having books around (in lots of formats) and you might just “slip into one”, quite literally in this story.

The Dragon in the Library is out now!

“I Will Not be Erased” gal-dem

Fourteen joyous, funny and life-affirming essays from gal-dem, the award-winning magazine created by young women and non-binary people of colour.
gal-dem, the award-winning online and print magazine, is created by women and non-binary people of colour. In this thought-provoking and moving collection of fourteen essays, gal-dem’s writers use raw material from their teenage years – diaries, poems and chat histories – to give advice to their younger selves and those growing up today. gal-dem have been praised by the Guardian for being “the agents of change we need”, and these essays tackle important subjects including race, gender, mental health and activism, making this essential reading for any young person.

Walker Books

The introduction to this book says “There is something in each of these essays that will speak to anyone who has ever wondered what they might say to their younger self…But it is our hope that these essays will especially speak to those of us from marginalised backgrounds…”. It really does cover every conceivable aspect of the teenage years, I want every 6th former in the country to read this book because they will recognise themselves in it (for me, it was Grace Holliday’s “The Uncool Girl’s Manifesto” in particular) and be inspired by the adults the contributors have become. They’re not saying their lives are all perfect, but that they want readers to “learn from our adventures, mistakes and heartbreaks so you feel less alone in your struggles and more at home in your joy.” The presentation of the essays is really smart, with illustrations by Jess Nash peppered throughout, and they are all really distinct and eloquent voices.

Jess Nash’s illustration for Niellah Arboine’s story “You Speak Well for a Black Girl”.

They made a fabulous short video, in this embedded tweet, and in amongst all the business made time to answer a few questions for us!

gal-dem started as a magazine, can you give us a bit of background as to how the book came about?

gal-dem magazine started when we were (almost) teenagers ourselves – we were in our very early twenties and feeling isolated at university and at the beginning of our careers. Much like with the book itself, we wanted to create something for our peers and for those younger than us, to make them feel less alone in their experiences. We are still a magazine which produces an annual print issue and online articles, but we also have ventured into the realm of events, takeovers and now books!

Can you share any favourite (recent or not) children’s or YA books?

YA is probably still my favourite ‘genre’, if you can call it that! Growing up I read everything from Philip Pullman to Jacqueline Wilson – The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Magicians Trilogy. Two of my recent faves have been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

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

At the moment I’m re-reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the legacy and trauma of slavery, who believes in good and bad magic, and who just loves a beautifully told story.

What’s next from gal-dem?

At the moment we’re planning some really exciting events for over summer around sport! We’re relaunching our website and redesigning our print magazine. Big things ahead and always looking for more people to get involved and do some paid writing for us. Pitching details can be found here.

“I will not be erased” is out now from Walker Books (thank you for sending me a copy)

What Can We Be?

What Can We Be? is a brand new picture book where girls’ imaginations run riot and incredible stories are told!
Pirates, Wizards, Astronauts and more! What Can We Be? is a delightfully playful daddy and daughter story.

Tiny Tree Books
What Can We Be is illustrated by Kayla Coombs

Ryan Crawford very kindly sent me a copy of this book, I love the premise of daughters playing with their dads and the way Kayla Coombs has illustrated the ideas really brings them to life, and he agreed to answer some questions about the process of creating it.

Hi Ryan, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

I see from your blog that you already have a few books under your belt but this is your first picturebook, did you find it it easier or harder to write?

Coming up with the ideas for this picture book was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, since so much of it is based on my life. But actually scripting the rhymes was SO much more difficult than regular prose. I spent forever wondering if things rhyme correctly or if I was actually forcing them to. Then making sure they had the right amount of syllables. And on top of that trying not to change the story just to fit the rhymes. I’ve learnt a lot about rhyming, let’s put it that way! But I had a clear idea of how I wanted the book to look and be structured, so that made things easier too.

It is all about imagination and daughters playing games with their dads, which of the roles do you play with your children?

Superheroes! I’m a huge comic book fan, so superheroes have always been big on my radar. Luckily my daughter inherited the trait and loves to throw on a cape and a mask with me.

Was it a conscious decision to put Mille on the front cover and Rochelle, who you have said looks like your daughter, on the back?

Yes and No. There’s no doubt that Rochelle looks like my daughter and means a lot to me. But I also didn’t want to force the book to be about my personal story. I wanted this book to be for everyone and about everyone. Also my daughter is already overconfident at the age of 4 and I don’t want to inflate her ego any further! On top of that, Millie was always the main character. From the moment I started writing the book, it was about her and her journey with her friends and, most importantly, her dad. So that was the relationship I wanted to showcase on the front.

Have you and Kayla (the illustrator) met in real life or is it all email communication?

Kayla and I talk over emails and Skype pretty frequently. We haven’t met in person yet, but we’re planning too. Because we’ve been through a lot together making this book, and there are some personal stories in there for both of us. So you can’t help but bond when you work on a project like that together.

Have you shared the book with many children? What kind of reaction have you had?

I put together a focus group full of friends and family so that I could share the book with them and their kids. They loved it from the start, but also gave a lot of valuable feedback on how to improve it along the way. There is one particular scene that we added to the book to help make things clearer after reading it with them and their kids. But needless to say, they’re big fans now and can’t wait to get their hands on the physical copies. 

What are your kids’ favourite books at the moment?

My daughter Kiara, who is nearly 5 now, is really into books she can start to read herself at the moment. So we’re reading a lot of things like Oi Frog, where she can recognize the small repeating words and sound them out herself. Plus she finds it hilarious.

My son Cassius, who is 2, is obsessed with nothing but Dinosaurs. So all we ever read is Ten Little Dinosaurs and Dinosaurs Don’t Draw. Which is actually fine since I love both of those!

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

I’ve just finished reading Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. Sci-Fi is always my go-to genre, and there’s something about the characters in this one, blended with the great world-building he is always known for that had me hooked from the start. Anyone who likes a sci-fi set in the far-future or is looking for a quirky cast of characters should check this one out. 

Are you planning to do another picture book or is it back to shoot-em-up sci-fi?

Both, actually! I’d definitely like to do something that targets Mums and Sons to follow What Can We Be. And Kayla and I are always talking about how we would do that next, so watch this space! And I rarely ever work on one book at a time, probably to my own detriment. So there are more entries in my PULSE series on the way, as well as my first stab at a fantasy novel. Plenty to look forward to!

Thanks for the great questions!

WHAT CAN WE BE? is out now!

Ryan Crawford, the author of What Can We Be?

Libraries, Serendipity and Me

Judith Eagle, author of The Secret Starling, shares with us how libraries shaped her path in life.

It all started in Burnt Oak Library, in a building my sisters and I considered the height of ‘modern’ – a sort of concrete pagoda, with underfloor heating and enough books to keep us occupied for a life time. We’d go there every Saturday, after popping into the Co-op to inhale the smell of the lemony Bronnley soaps, and before visiting ABC bakers, for cream buns to be eaten on the way home. Libraries have always loomed large in my life, not surprising considering both parents were librarians: the hush; the endless shelves of books; the helpful staff; the borrowers from all walks of life. Stepping into a library always feels like coming home.
The library in Burnt Oak was housed in an upstairs gallery, with books on one side and a wraparound balcony on the other – perfect for observing the adult library below. Here we would lounge on the floor, browse the shelves and – because we were regulars – sit behind the desk and file tickets for Daphne, the children’s librarian, who had lovely shoulder length bouncy hair.
In the afternoon, back at home, I’d dive into Richmal Crompton, Alan Garner, anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett or E Nesbitt. Later, came Flambards, Watership Down, Fifteen by Beveley Cleary and The Outsiders by SE Hinton.
When I’d exhausted the teenage section, it was onto the adult library: Agatha Christie, Jean Plaidy, Jilly Cooper and (sigh) the tumultuous Angelique by Sergeanne Golon, Libraries have shaped me. They’ve soothed me. They’ve gently nudged me in the right direction in, dare I say it, the most serendipitous of ways.

My first Saturday job was at a school outfitters, run by a dictator-type who sent me home for wearing trousers. My second Saturday job was in the library, where everyone was nice and no one batted an eyelid, whatever you wore.
At 16, I was not considered University material. My mum wanted me to be a secretary at the BBC and work my way up, ‘like Mrs Jones’ daughter’; my heart was not in it. Then one day I found a box of prospectus’s tucked under the library desk, and bingo! In an elegantly bound book I found the perfect course: a degree in Fashion Communications at Saint Martins. The future took on a rosy glow. I was fashion mad. I went back to school, took an Art O level, got into Saint Martins and then several years later, won my dream job, as Fashion Assistant on Honey Magazine.
For some years I worked happily in fashion and then for many more years wrote magazine articles on pregnancy and parenting. But one day, after filing a piece on why babies dribble, I decided I’d had enough. I needed a change.

Then, two things happened.

  1. I read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, where the Laura Bush character just happens to be a children’s librarian.
  2. I visited a new library in my neighbourhood and was particularly taken with the sense of peace that stole over me as I stepped inside.
    On a whim, I applied for an assistant’s position in a secondary school library. I got the job and quickly found out it wasn’t the oasis of peace I’d imagined. It was noisy, sometimes chaotic, packed with young people before, during and after school. But it didn’t matter! I was rediscovering the joys of children’s fiction; speaking to the students about what they loved to read; recommending books, and getting a buzz when they came back, asking for more. At the same time, I embarked on an MA in Children’s Literature. And I started to think
    about what makes a book tick.

There are libraries aplenty in The Secret Starling. In Leeds, Clara visits a library for the first time and ‘it was as if she had been catapulted into a treasure trove.’ She and Peter explore ‘three whole shelves groaning with ballet-related books’ and on the way out, spot an exciting clue on the library noticeboard. In Colindale Newspaper Library where there is ‘a velvet hush, the kind of all-enveloping quiet where you can hear every creak and sniff,’ Clara and Peter make the biggest discovery of all, unearthing information that will change their lives forever.

Libraries changed my life too.

If I hadn’t had my Saturday job, I wouldn’t have found that prospectus; if I hadn’t read the Sittenfeld book, or visited that neighbourhood library, I doubt I would have found my way back into the library fold. But mostly, if I hadn’t read all those books from Burnt Oak Library, the ones that seeped stories deep into my bones, I’m pretty sure I could not written The Secret Starling.

So thank you libraries. I owe you big time.

The Secret Starling is out now, from Faber and Faber