Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

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

The Austen Girls

Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.
Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.
But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an
option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?
The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of
their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?
In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

Bloomsbury

This is Lucy’s fourth historical novel for Bloomsbury Children’s Books but the first (to my shame) I’ve read, I definitely want to pick up the others now though. It reads like an Austen novel, while managing to keep the story moving at a pace for younger modern teens to keep engaged. The setting is very evocative with real historical touches, I’m a little bit disappointed it isn’t an entirely true story! She very kindly answered some questions for TeenLibrarian:

What prompted you to discover Jane Austen led such an interesting life?

Well, on the face of it, Jane Austen lived quite a boring life. No one knew that she was a famous novelist, because she kept it secret. She never got married or did wild things, and she died quite young. And yet I think her life was terribly interesting, because she was so brave to decide that she wasn’t going to marry a rich man. (She did accept one proposal, but broke it off the next morning.) Instead, she became one of the very few professional female novelists of Georgian times. I did a lot of research about her real life, and I discovered that she gave out agony advice to her two young nieces as they grew up and had to decide themselves who they were going to marry. So I took the three characters from history, and spun a story around them! It’s only in my imagination that Jane Austen becomes a detective, or the rather lovely word that the Georgians used: a ‘thief-taker’.

Which is most satisfying: writing for TV, writing non-fiction, or writing fiction?

What I really like is a mix. Writing for TV is a very collaborative effort – a whole team works on it very closely together. Writing non-fiction is very slow and painstaking, you have to get all the facts right. By comparison, writing fiction is like flying! All you have to think about is the story. It’s nice to be able to switch between all three. (There’s another kind of writing that I do as well: writing very clear blocks of text for guidebooks or exhibitions or webpages in my work as a museum curator at Hampton Court Palace. That’s another challenge all of its own.)

When you started writing fiction did you originally intend it to be for a teen audience or did it evolve that way?

I decided around the age of 11 that I wanted to be a historian, and one of the reasons that I made that decision was through reading historical novels. So I wanted to write books that maybe … just possibly … the person who’s going to be doing my job and who’s going to be the curator at Hampton Court Palace in twenty years’ time might enjoy.

If you were given unlimited time & resources to research & write about a different person or event, who/what would you choose?

I would love to write about Agatha Christie, the detective story writer.

What is your favourite kind of book event to take part in?

I like going to a school or a festival with my box of props and dressing up outfits, and acting out silly scenes from history.

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

I’m always reading about five different books for different research projects, and usually they wouldn’t be of any interest to anyone else apart from the five people who are researching in that tiny corner of history. At the moment, though, I have been burning my way through many Agatha Christies – a nice relaxing thing to read when we’re all feeling anxious!

Lucy Worsley is, by day, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. By night, she is a writer and presenter.

Thank you Bloomsbury for sending me a proof copy, and Lucy for answering my questions!

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Lost by Ele Fountain

Lola’s life is about to become unrecognisable. So is Lola.

Everything used to be comfortable. She lived in a big house with her family, where her biggest problems were arguing with her little brother or being told she couldn’t have a new phone. But as one disaster follows another, the threads of her home and family begin to unravel.

Cut off from everything she has known before, Lola must find a new way to survive.

Now, an ordinary girl must become extraordinary.

Pushkin Press

What inspired the setting for LOST?

The idea of a few misfortunes leading to the loss of something as elemental as your home seems like a far-fetched reality for most of us. The reality for millions of children is that they never had one in the first place. I wanted to write a story with a thread to tie these two realities together.

Did you consider writing it from more than one POV or was Lola always the narrator?

I wanted to stay with Lola’s POV throughout to highlight the contrast between where she had come from and where she ended up, and her sense of helplessness as events gathered speed.

Did you always have the end in mind or did it change as you got to know the characters?

I always had the end in mind, but of course stories evolve during writing; some of my favourite journeys have been those which end up in a slightly different place than originally intended! The only significant change is that the final ending is happier than in my first draft.

As an editor, what kind of stories do you most enjoy working on?

What I love most is the element of surprise when a new manuscript arrives – what will make it special? Wonderful books come in so many guises. A beautifully written page-turner will always be a winner for me, though.

What kind of author events do you prefer doing?

School events are one of the best things about being an author, and usually take you straight to the heart of a school: the library. My favourite events are those which allow time for a talk and then creative writing workshops afterwards. It seems a wonderful recipe for firing imaginations, and I am frequently astonished by the quality of the ideas the pupils come up with.

If young readers are appalled by the conditions Lola & Amit find themselves in, what would be the best first steps you’d suggest for making a difference to the lives of children in real life similar circumstances?

It’s a complex crisis with no single solution. Supporting rural communities to develop micro-industries of their own is one way to make them more attractive to younger generations, and provide jobs so that they don’t feel it’s essential to move to a big city. A more immediate way is to raise money for charities such as Save the Children, who provide relief for families during monsoon flooding and offer safe spaces for children with no home to go to.

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

I am currently reading Solo, an autobiography by the polar explorer Pen Haddow. I’ve also just finished Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. My seven-year-old was reading it at the same time. When we talked about the book afterwards, my daughter said that she loved the ‘world’, and the fact that adults were included in the adventure, not just kids. I loved it too.

Can you give us a hint as to what you’re working on next?

See above (Solo by Pen Haddow). I’m not writing an autobiography about polar exploration, but there will definitely be some snow!

Ele Fountain (picture credit Debra Hurford-Brown)

Lost is published by Pushkin Press on 12th March 2020

Thank you for the review copy!

Love Your Body

What if every young girl loved her body? Love Your Body encourages you to admire and celebrate your body for all the amazing things it can do (like laugh, cry, hug, and feel) and to help you see that you are so much more than your body.

Bodies come in all different forms and abilities. All these bodies are different and all these bodies are good bodies. There is no size, ability, or color that is perfect. What makes you different makes you, you—and you are amazing!Love Your Body introduces the language of self-love and self-care to help build resilience, while representing and celebrating diverse bodies, encouraging you to appreciate your uniqueness.

This book was written for every girl, regardless of how you view your body. All girls deserve to be equipped with the tools to navigate an image-obsessed world.

Freedom is loving your body with all its “imperfections” and being the perfectly imperfect you!

Quarto
Love your Body is illustrated by Carol Rossetti

Love Your Body is a refreshingly honest look at how varied bodies are. It can be given to teens to help them think about a new way of looking at themselves, or shared with younger girls to talk about the message that they are amazing!

I really appreciated that, in the authors note, Jessica states “This book is written for girls, and those who identify as girls. However, the language used is not gendered and the overarching message is universal. Negative body image can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.”.

She has written an extra piece for TeenLibrarian:

When I catch the train to work each morning, I look around me and no one person looks the same. The only thing we have in common is our difference.

Despite difference being the only thing that unites us, from about the age of 8 we want nothing more than to fit in, to meet this illusion of ‘normal’. It might have been a comment from a classmate or one of the parents at pick up, and suddenly you are aware that you are ‘short’, ‘tall’, ‘big’ or ‘skinny’. All of a sudden you realise that your body is being observed by others, and that you are something other than ‘normal’. Ever since that moment that you realised you were too tall, too short, too something, you developed a negative body image. 

Negative body image is often treated as a superficial issue, and something that is inevitable. When it is actuality, a negative body image can change the course of a young person’s life. In particular, a young women’s life, because our society tells girls and women that the most important thing about them is their appearance. 

When girls are worried about how their bodies look:

8 in 10 will avoid seeing friends or family, or trying out for a team or club.

7 in 10 will stop themselves from eating.

7 in 10 will not be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision.

They even perform worse in maths, reading and comprehension. 

I am yet to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced a negative body image – it’s a feminist issue. It’s holding girls and women back. It’s the thief of our precious energy, and our joy.

We have to stop valuing bodies for how they look and start appreciating them for what they do for us. Because our bodies are incredible; they allow us to experience every good and wonderful thing this world has to offer. They are our homes. 

I wrote Love Your Body for my childhood self who hated being tall and just wanted so desperately to be ‘normal’. And because I was so sick of hearing people tell me ‘this is just how it is for girls’. We were not born despising our bodies, we were taught to, and we can make a decision to teach each other how to love our bodies again. 

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti, publishing 3 March in hardback from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, £10.99. (Read alone 8-12 year-olds / Read together 6+).

Thanks to Fritha for sending me a review copy!

Grief Angels

15-year-old Owen Marlow is experiencing a great, disorienting loss after his father suddenly passed away and his mother moved them to a new town. None of his old friends knew how to confront his grief, so he’s given up on trying to make new ones. There is one guy at school who might prove to be different if he gives him a chance but lately, Owen has been overwhelmed by his sadness. He’s started to have strange, powerful hallucinations of skeletal birds circling above him. Owen tells himself that these visions are just his brain’s way of trying to cope – until one night, the birds descend and take him to an otherworldly forest. There, he is asked to go on a dangerous journey that promises to bring him the understanding he so desperately seeks – if he can survive it.

Grief Angels is an urgent and heartfelt look at the power of nostalgia and the many different forms of grief. It’s about young men learning how to share their stories, and teens discovering who they are, and who they might one day become.

Atom Books
Cover illustration by Leo Nickolls

Having never been one, I can’t be 100% sure, but my feelings are that David Owen writes teen boys *so well*. Owen and Duncan are just brilliant characters and reading about their growing friendship from both their perspectives, and how deeply they both feel things, really brought it to life. Owen’s grief is so raw and honest, the potential for it to overwhelm him is clear, while at the same time there is humour and self deprecation and a developing passion for Battlestar Gallactica…while Duncan has doubts about his friendships and himself and where it is all going. The writing is beautiful in places, witty in others, and hugely satisfying throughout.

I interviewed David just over a year ago when All the Lonely People was published, so do have a look there at his responses to some of my usual questions. I love that book but Grief Angels is so brilliant, definitely my favourite David Owen book and in my top 5 reads of 2020 so far, that I couldn’t resist asking a few more!

Your previous books included a fantastical element but this is the first to include a character being pulled into a completely different world. What inspired that?

Largely it was a tremendous act of self-indulgence! I read a lot of fantasy and have long fancied trying my hand at writing it. Having it alongside a contemporary narrative felt like a good way to experiment with writing more in that mode. Plus the ideas I had were better suited to that template – one set down by a number of books that I adore: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Skellig by David Almond, Eren by Simon P. Clark. Ultimately it felt quite natural to take a step beyond magic realism into having outright fantasy be a prominent aspect of the overall book.

The two voices are very distinct. Did you find one came to you more easily than the other?

Duncan’s voice came easiest, and therefore first, because the way he thinks – very self aware, wry, always searching for the humour in everything – is quite similar to how I think. The focus on humour in his voice also made him really fun to write.

Owen was a little harder to find. He needed to be more serious and thoughtful, but I didn’t want him to feel like a drag compared to Duncan! His internal pain and struggle needed to be clear without being overwhelming – I didn’t want the reader to find him difficult to be around the way his past friends did before they abandoned him. The answer came in thinking about why Duncan is so immediately struck by Owen – his honesty and openness is refreshing, but also he’s self aware and funny too. They’re actually quite similar people. Those are appealing attributes, and I built his voice from there.

I love your focus on male friendship. Why do you think it is important to have platonic relationships in YA?

The most important relationships most teenagers have are with their friends. Your friends at that age are one of the biggest influences on the person you become during the most significant transitional period of your life. You spend so much time with them, discover and explore your identity in relation to them, build memories together, have all the fights and reconciliations and drama. Losing those friends, whether you fall out spectacularly or simply drift apart, is often far more painful than the end of a romantic relationship. So writing about these platonic relationships, reflecting those experiences and helping young people to navigate them, is really important.

I felt I had something valuable and unique to say about the dynamic of friendships between teenage boys, and that formed the contemporary side of Grief Angels.

Have you had the opportunity to get feedback from teen boys?

I haven’t, to be honest. I don’t know any! I’m hoping my experience of having been a teen boy wasn’t radically different to how it is today!

Do you listen to music when you write?

I can never decide if I prefer writing with or without music! I’ll go through a phase where I’ll write with music on, and then a phase where I decide I concentrate better without it, before slowly creeping back to having music on. The truth is probably that it makes no material difference and at any given moment I’m trying to convince myself that my decision is making me better and more productive.

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

I’ve just finished The Loop by Ben Oliver. It’s a fast-paced, high concept YA dystopia for people who miss The Hunger Games and Maze Runner books. It’s out in April 2020.

Can you tell us anything about your current WIP?

I’m working on two things at the moment, neither of which are YA! I don’t want to say more than that because neither of them may ever see the light of day.

I haven’t abandoned YA – I just felt the need to try my hand at something new before getting cracking on my next YA project.

David Owen

Grief Angels is out on 5th March, thank you to Atom for sending me a copy.

Monster Slayer: a Beowulf Tale

One dark night , the sound of music and singing wakes a terrible monster from his sleep in a foul swamp …

Warrior after warrior comes to slay the monster, but no one can outwit Grendel. Only the great hero Beowulf stands a chance, but even he is not prepared for the horror that lies in wait.

Barrington Stoke

Brian Patten has revisted his retelling of Beowulf for Barrington Stoke, packaged in their renowned dyslexia friendly style, with illustrations by Chris Riddell making it even more enticing. It is brilliantly done, he has managed to condense it down into readable language while retaining the gore and thrill of the original poem, at one point Grendel “plucked off their arms and legs as if they were petals”.

I was really pleased to be sent a copy of it, and even more pleased to be given the opportunity to ask Brian some questions:

You wrote this retelling quite some time ago, how did it come to be republished by Barrington Stoke?

Barrington Stoke asked me to revisit it for the new edition and I was glad to do so. The Beowulf story dates back over a thousand years and was written by an anonymous poet. It was memorised and retold over and over, spreading from Scandinavia to Britain, where people would gather in the Great Halls where the clans lived to listen to it. You could say it was the very first blockbuster horror story.

I wrote it because I wanted younger people, not just professors and people studying at University to read it, and so wrote this version as simply and as well as I could.

Can you imagine having a mother like Grendel’s?

Was it your idea to have new illustrations from Chris Riddell?

I don’t think we could have used anyone else! Chris has illustrated a number of my books now- three of my poetry collections and The Story Giant- my book about a mysterious figure that lives out on Dartmoor and knows every story in the world- except for one, which a group of children try to help him find one night when they dream themselves into his castle. If they can’t find it, the giant will die.

How difficult was it to distill the poem down without losing the heart of it?

The first draft I wrote was nearly twice as long as the finished draft. Part of being a writer – for a prose writer as well as a poet – is knowing what to leave out. I wanted it to move fast, and the language to be rich, so used images like the monster rising from a nest amongst putrid pools.

When you start a poem, have you already decided if it will be for adults or children or does it come clear as you write?

That’s a great question. I’m really delighted when I’m writing a poem and it suddenly becomes obvious that it is for adults as well as children. A good example is my poem, Geography Lesson. Sometimes there are poems that begin life as adult poems that children seem to find other things in, and they make it their own- a poem like A Small Dragon is a good example. One day it suddenly began to turn up in anthologies for children, while it began life as a love poem. I don’t think poems only have one “meaning.” 

What kind of events do you most enjoy doing with young readers?

I used to do lots of poetry readings for young readers and still do sometimes.

What I like to do is read my funny ones and drop the serious ones into the mixture now and then. I always think if you can make people laugh, they will allow you to be serious now and then, and continue to listen.

Do you have a favourite of your own books (other than this one, obviously)?

I guess my favourite of my own is my Collected Love Poems. Usually my favourite poem though is the one I’m trying to write.

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

At the moment I’m reading lots of nature books. I woke very early this morning and was reading a book called Extraordinary Insects. I live in the countryside and see badgers and foxes all the time, and there’s a pheasant that pecks on the window for its breakfast and a blackbird that loves grapes. (There was one blackbird that lived in the garden last year that would actually take a grape from between my finger and thumb if I stayed still long enough.)  Anyway, I recently decided I’d like to pay some attention to the other world that surrounds us and the almost alien creatures who occupy it and have such weird and wonderful powers. So now I’m halfway through Extraordinary Insects.

What are your plans for 2020?

More writing and more travel.

Thanks a lot for taking an interest. I think we all have more than five senses. We have six. Imagination is the sixth, and the more it is used the more it grows.

Very best wishes,

Brian

Brian Patten (credit: APEX)

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale, by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell, is out now!

Agent Zaiba Investigates – extract!

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve. She knows everything there is to know about running an investigation – in theory…

At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day!

Stripes
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds, cover & internal illustration by Daniela Sosa

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is the first in a new #UKMG series by Annabelle Sami.

Zaiba is a fantastic protagonist with a great team behind her. I love that her aunt is so involved in the story, even though the children basically work alone it is clear that they have plenty of adult support, the grownups aren’t disposed of to give the kids more space but instead the adults give them sensible freedoms (that they definitely make the most of) and actually listen to them! The plot races along, with funny and thoughtful dialogue and a well imagined setting – it is just great fun. The background of a Mehndi party gives us loads of food references and a chance to get to know the whole family, excellent scene setting with just the right level of description without interrupting the flow of the action.

There are a number of full page black and white illustrations in the book to highlight key events, as well as lots of smaller vignettes and chapter headings throughout. Daniela Sosa has done a brilliant job of really bringing the characters to life and keeping the readers eyes on the page.

I’m loving the resurgence in detective kids, and even more loving the diversity of all these new sleuths, Zaiba herself is British Pakistani. I can’t wait for book two, I want there to be as many Zaiba stories as there are about Poirot…and I can easily envisage a CBBC TV series of Agent Zaiba!

Annabelle Sami, author of the Agent Zaiba Investigates series

To give you a taste of what the book looks like (gorgeous), and how thrilling it is (very), I’ve been given an extract to share with you. There’s also a game to play at the end…

Download an extract and game here

Huge thanks to Charlie from Little Tiger for sending me a review copy.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is out now!

The Sky is Mine – Blog Tour!

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy knows three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.

Rock the Boat

The Sky Is Mine is a stunning debut, firmly in the YA+ bracket with its unflinching discussions of (TW:) rape, coercive behaviour, domestic violence and abuse. It is absolutely terrifying in places but funny in others, an extremely emotional read, the characters are so well written and real that every decision is convincing and doesn’t feel contrived. The way it discusses toxic masculinity and, frankly, how awful teen boys can be without realising they (or their friends) are doing something wrong, is something that could spark brilliantly useful conversations – I hope as many boys read it as girls.

Izzy, the protagonist, has a passion for Desert Island Discs, a radio programme during which the guest chooses 8 ‘discs’ and explains why those songs are important to them, so on this blog tour Amy has done the same!

Finish the F**king Book ~ Stella Duffy

There’s no rule that your discs have to musical. They just have to be special. And this is certainly that. I met Stella Duffy about twenty years ago when, having read her fantasically different Singling Out the Couples, I went on an Arvon writing retreat on which she her wife Shelley were tutors. Only they weren’t just tutors. They gave so much of themselves that when I returned home and people asked me how the course had been, there was really only one way to describe it: life-changing. And Stella continues to be life-changing for me. I messaged her on my 36th birthday promising to write every day. This vow was rooted in the hope that in promising to fulfil my goal to someone I wouldn’t want to let down, I would be more likely to achieve what I’d so far failed to do: write a novel. In that same message, I joked about wishing I’d captured a video of her telling me, a couple of years previously, that it’s all well and good having lots of ideas, hopes and dreams, but the only way to make those come to fruition was to sit down and finish the f**king book. If I had that video, I said, I’d watch it as a daily reminder of what was required. I didn’t expect her to respond. But she did. Not just with an email but with a video – exactly like the one I wished I’d made – of her telling me to “finish the f**king book”. That video changed my life. I watched it daily and, as such, I sat down, did what Stella told me and finished the fucking book. A book that got me an agent that got me one step closer to a deal. That’s the thing with Stella, her you-can-do-this cheerleading bouys and ripples with consequences of life-changing proportions. I want to be like Stella. Generous. Bolstering. Kind. Listening to this would be a reminder of the importance of perseverance and, so too, the brilliance of people. People like Stella. #BeMoreStella

Amy Beashel
Amy Beashel, author of The Sky is Mine

THE SKY IS MINE is published by Rock the Boat, an imprint of Oneworld Publications, and out now!

Thankyou to the publishers for a review copy

Empathy Day

Society faces an empathy crisis. But research shows that 98% of us can improve our empathy skills and that in books we have a hugely practical tool. This collection can play a powerful role in helping raise a generation of empathic citizens, story by story.

Miranda McKearney, EmpathyLab’s founder

The 2020 #ReadforEmpathy Book Collections from @EmpathyLabUK are announced today and feature 50 superb books; 33 for 4-11 year olds and 17 for 12-16 year olds. 

All the books from both the primary and secondary collections

Some illuminate the experience of people from a range of cultures or life circumstances. Others help children explore emotions, so they can understand how other people feel. Several reflect stories of our time, such as the refugee experience, or coping with anxiety. All are engaging and thought provoking.

The collections are available to order from Peters via https://www.peters.co.uk/empathy2020 or can be purchased from your local independent bookshop. Click https://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch to find your nearest shop.

Each collection has its own Read for Empathy Guide with a synopsis of all of the books, top tips for sharing stories and more information about #EmpathyDay which is on 9 June 2020. 

Teachers, librarians, parents – download your FREE guides by visiting https://www.empathylab.uk/2020-read-for-empathy-collections

Nothing Ever Happens Here

“This is Littlehaven. Nothing ever happens here. Until the spotlight hits my family.” Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy is terrified her family will be torn apart. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents break up? And what will people at school say? Izzy’s always been shy, but now all eyes are on her. Can she face her fears, find her voice and stand up for what’s right?

Usborne
Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is just brilliant. It tells Izzy’s story with great humour, not sugar-coating reactions from family and others, but sensitively portraying how things change and how Izzy feels about it. Perfectly pitched for a middle grade audience (but definitely also readable by teens and adults alike), it will broaden minds and inspire really positive conversations around empathy and the way the media currently often (mainly) poorly portray trans people. I highly recommend you get this book for your schools, your children, and yourselves!

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions:

You’ve previously written non-fiction for adults, when you initially had the idea of writing fiction did you always intend for it to be for children or did the story evolve that way?

I’m not totally sure! I don’t think I set out to write fiction at all – I simply had an idea for a story which wouldn’t go away, so I started writing something to see what would happen next… 45,000 words later and I had the draft of a children’s novel! I love reading children’s fiction. I have enjoyed so many excellent new children’s books recently – thanks to my daughters’ recommendations – as well as discovering my old favourites to share with them. It’s a real honour and excitement for me to know that Nothing Ever Happens Here will be alongside some of my favourite titles and, I hope, will be read and enjoyed by children (and maybe a few parents too).

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a child of a trans parent?

The most recent non-fiction book I co-wrote was a parenting guide for LGBT parents, informed by interviews with around 70 families – all of whom had fascinating stories to tell and experiences to share. A couple of those stories stuck with me, stories of families where a parent had transitioned while their children were at school. I started wondering about what experience would have been really like, from the child’s perspective as well as the parent’s, and that’s how Nothing Ever Happens Here began. I’m cis (not trans), but I am part of the LGBT community, and I’m very aware how few children’s books reflect families like ours. I hope that Nothing Ever Happens Here is not a one-off and we will start to see more LGBT families appearing in all kinds of children’s books.

Was it difficult to write? Which characters came to you most easily?

Looking back, it was a joy to write (but maybe that’s just hindsight!). Finding time to write was difficult, but the actual writing came quite easily. I think this was because I let the characters and dialogue develop in my head while I was doing other things – swimming, commuting to work, hanging up the washing – so that by the time I got my laptop out to write, everything was all ready to go. The first character to come was Izzy, but I really enjoyed getting to know the other characters too and I’m fond of them all. Perhaps Megan – Izzy’s older sister – and Grace – her extrovert best friend – were the most fun to write as they both have such strong personalities.

Did you involve sensitivity readers early on in the writing process or ask for input when the book was closer to being finished?

Both. The story itself was informed and inspired by in-depth interviews with families with a trans parent, so their experiences were at the heart of the book from before I wrote a single word. This means that some scenes have direct parallels in real-life, and that their voices influenced the whole tone of Nothing Ever Happens Here. Two of those parents read a first draft of the book and gave comments before I even submitted the manuscript to agents. Then I was fortunate enough to have two incredible sensitivity readers – Christine Burns and Jay Hulme – who advised on the manuscript as it was nearer to its final stage.

Have you had feedback from young readers?

My daughter, who is 11, was one of the first readers of Nothing Ever Happens Here – she gave me her unvarnished feedback and has now become a great champion of the book among her friends. It’s early days, but I’m starting to get feedback from pre-teen readers – my favourite feedback so far is from a 12-year-old reader who said “This book was so good and you know it’s a good book when you tell your mum that you can’t wait to go to bed so I could continue reading.”

Have you done any author events? What would you most like to do to promote the book?

The book is only just out, but I’m really looking forward to getting into schools or youth groups to promote the book, to encourage young people in their writing and to talk about some of the issues raised by Nothing Ever Happens Here. I did lots of events and workshops around my non-fiction books (both of which also had LGBT themes) but only with adults – so presenting to a younger audience will be a new adventure.

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

I have just started ‘Amy and Isabelle’ by Elizabeth Strout, after being recommended her books by a friend who always has good reading tips. It’s the first novel I’ve read by her and I’m totally hooked already. I’d recommend it to fans of Anne Tyler or Kent Haruf, it’s a similar, character-led approach which draws you into the lives and emotions of ‘ordinary’ people in a powerful but gentle way.

Are you planning another book for children?

Yes. Well, it’s beyond the planning stage now, as my second novel is coming out with Usborne in 2021. I won’t say too much, apart from that it also involves an LGBT family, like Nothing Ever Happens Here. However I have lots more stories I want to tell that touch on the issues which I care about, so hopefully there will be many more books to come.

Sarah Hagger-Holt

Sarah Hagger-Holt lives with her partner and two daughters in Hertfordshire and is the Community Campaigns Manager for the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall. She is the author of two adult non-fiction LGBTQ+ parenting books and has written for the i paper, the Huffington Post, and spoken on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about LGBTQ+ parenting.

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy of the book, and to Sarah for answering my questions!

Jane Eyre

Carnegie Medal-winning author Tanya Landman returns with a brilliantly realised and truly accessible retelling of one of the greatest novels ever written.

Orphaned as a child, tormented by her guardian and cast out to a harsh boarding school, Jane Eyre has been raised in the shadow of cruelty and isolation. But when she takes a job as governess in Thornfield Hall, where secrets lurk in the attic and strange laughter echoes through the night, Jane meets the elusive Mr Rochester – and her life is irrevocably transformed.

Poignantly and powerfully retold in this stunning edition, Jane Eyre is the tale of a spirited heroine’s search for love, independence and belonging – and this edition perfect as a way in to the original for set text study!

Barrington Stoke
Jane Eyre

I read the original Jane Eyre approximately 20 years ago (it was first published quite some time before that in 1848) and enjoyed it, but not enough to ever watch an adaptation or re-read it. This retelling however, made me sorely tempted to go back and revisit it! As with all Barrington Stoke books, not a word on the page is wasted and, even in such a short novella, we can see into Jane’s thoughts as clearly as Brontë intended.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Tanya Landman a few questions

You’ve previously written original novellas for Barrington Stoke, how did this project come about?

After writing One Shot (a YA book inspired by the legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley) Barrington Stoke asked if I might consider doing a modern twist on a classic. Were there any novels I liked that might inspire a spin off? Jane Eyre immediately came to mind. I said I’d have a think about it but the more I thought the more I realised that I didn’t see the point of doing a modern twist for readers who probably weren’t familiar with the original. So I suggested a straight re-telling instead.

Did you love the original story when you first read it?

I actually can’t remember the first time I read Jane Eyre but it’s a book I’ve gone back to time and time again. It is such a good story.  Cruelty, death, disaster, romance, horror – Jane Eyre has got it all. And I just love Jane – her righteous fury and magnificent strength of character – she’s always felt like a close, personal friend. She’s not some vapid princess who needs rescuing – she’s quite capable of doing that herself, thank you very much.  It’s a very empowering message for readers.

Your historical stories are clearly very well researched, did you look into the background to Jane Eyre or mainly focus on the original text?

I just focussed on the original text. I’d set myself a monumental task distilling Jane Eyre from 185,000 words to 18,000 whilst retaining its essential spirit and character. I really wasn’t sure it if was going to be possible, but when I started to write Jane’s voice just seemed to flow straight from her mouth and on to the page – it was quite possibly the most enjoyable and satisfying thing I’ve ever written.

What would you choose if you had an opportunity to retell another classic?

I’ve actually done the first draft of a version of Wuthering Heights for Barrington Stoke which I also loved writing. And I’m kicking around a few more ideas with my editor right now…

What kind of events do you prefer doing with teens?

I used to work in theatre so I really enjoy doing talks to teen audiences. Their questions always really make me think.

Have you been asked to write about any more real historical figures? Anyone you would really like to write about?

Every time I research for a new book I come across more people I’d like to write about! I have a massively long list of possibilities but very near the top is a woman called Stagecoach Mary. If you look at her photo you can just see there’s a story there waiting to be told.

Stagecoach Mary

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

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo – I’d recommend it to EVERYONE.

What’s next in the pipeline?

I’ve got a couple of projects on the go at the moment – a middle-grade book for Walker which should be out next year, and another teen read for Barrington Stoke.  And there are various other ideas knocking around at the back of my head…

Thank you so much Tanya, I’m very excited by the prospect of a Wuthering Heights retelling, and Stagecoach Mary should definitely feature in a story soon!

Tanya Landman

Tanya Landman’s retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is published by Barrington Stoke on 15th January 2020

(Thankyou Barrington Stoke for sending me a proof copy)