Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

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

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)

Seven Ghosts by Chris Priestley



Jake and the other finalists in a story-writing competition have been invited to a stately home for a tour like no other. As their guide leads them through grand rooms, hidden nooks and magnificent grounds, they are about to hear the stories of seven ghosts who haunt these walls. But strange shapes and shadows follow Jake as he journeys through the house. The tour guide’s behaviour becomes ever more suspicious. With each tale that he hears, Jake begins to feel more uneasy, and soon he will discover that something is very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
Seven Ghosts, written and illustrated by Chris Priestley

We at TeenLibrarian are big fans of both Barrington Stoke and Chris Priestley, so when I was given the chance to have a gallery of images from his latest novella for them I jumped at it! Seven Ghosts is a brilliantly creepy short story, telling seven short stories of ghosts haunting a particular house, that would be brilliant to read aloud to a class of any age (from 8+) or at bedtime (but you may need the lights on afterwards). Enjoy the slideshow…

Chris Priestley



The Spellslinger series by Sebastien De Castell



The game of war is always rigged . . .
Kellen and Reichis are settling into their lives as protectors of the young queen. For the first time Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury.
But thousands of miles away a war is brewing that the Argosi always warned could destroy the continent. An unexpected source brings word that there’s one way Kellen can prevent a hundred years of bloodshed, and all it requires is a little murder . . .
Now Kellen and his sister Shalla find themselves on opposite sides, and neither love nor loyalty can protect them from the choices they must make.

Crownbreaker by Sebastien De Castell, HotKey Books
Crownbreaker is the 6th and final book in the Spellslinger series

I failed to keep up with this series after the first two, I loved them but then CKG got in the way, but I’m regretting that now as the 6th and final book was published this month. HotKey Books have very kindly offered a full set of the books as a prize for a TeenLibrarian reader, so I set up my very first Rafflecopter giveaway! Follow the link to enter, and good luck!

Sebastien De Castell



Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde

MOTHER TONGUE is the standalone follow-up to the award-winning and critically acclaimed THE WORDSMITH (published in North America as THE LIST) by Galway native Patricia Forde.
After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.
The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art.
Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life.

Little Island
Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde, cover illustration by Elissa Webb

Little Island have been publishing some great books, unfortunately all ineligible for CKG because they don’t have offices outside of Eire, but definitely worth reading! Mother Tongue, and predecessor The Wordsmith, are both brilliantly devised stories based in a society founded at the end of the world, after flood waters have risen. Noah, the founder of Ark, has decreed that words were to blame for the situation people find themselves in – empty promises and lies of people in power, words instead of action – so all except the most functional 500 words are banned from use. The Wordsmith may store unused words until people can be trusted with them again (but will they ever?). Obviously the idea of storing words appealed to me greatly, so I jumped at the chance of being on the blog tour. The author Patricia Forde wrote a piece about Words for us:

The Need to Keep Words Alive.

I love dictionaries.
As a child, I was often to be found reading those impressive tomes looking for new words, big words, words to impress. Nowadays, as a writer, I still use dictionaries but now to look for smaller words, simpler words, words that are precise.
But what if we start to lose words?
If we don’t have a word for something can we conceive of it? Can we imagine it? And maybe, more importantly, do we still value that which it represents?
There was a thundering brouhaha some years ago when the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed words like kingfisher, acorn and cowslip from its list and replaced them with words like broadband, blog and voice mail. The dictionary is aimed at seven year olds. People felt that the dictionary was adding to the problem of children being alienated from nature. It seemed that the dictionary didn’t value the thrush, the weasel or the wren as much as it valued the grey world of bureaucracy. Committee, common sense and bullet points all had a place while much of the natural world was sent packing.

But, the dictionary argued, the words they chose to include were the words children were using. They had tracked contemporary usage and reflected their findings in their list of words.

How sad that is. As adults, we have to tolerate a diet of grey sludge when it comes to language. We have to talk about Brexit and hard drives and listen to people going on about journeys they’ve made that aren’t journeys at all, and hear them going forward with this that and the other thing and telling us all about it in bullet points. But children?

Their language should reflect the sacred time that we call childhood. I believe that it should be full of beavers and liquorice and droves of dwarves, elves and goblins. We need to keep those words alive because we need to keep that sense of wonder and awe alive.

Many of the words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary had to do with nature. In this time of environmental crisis surely we need to make children more aware of nature and their natural habitat. It should concern us that if children no longer speak about bluebells or brambles it may be because children are becoming increasingly solitary and urban.

Every word in every language represents an entire archaeology and a history of what has gone before. I shudder to imagine a world like the one I created for The Wordsmith and Mother Tongue. A world where people have access to only five hundred words. Letta, my protagonist, says at one stage:

How can we dream if we don’t have words?

I would also ask how can we think? Words give us precision. In this chaotic world we’ve never needed clear thinking more than we do now. We need our leaders to use language like a laser rather than a slurry spreader. We need to cut through the noise, refuse to accept philosophy that can be written as a tweet because it has no complexity, and build a longer list of words – a list that includes all ideas, all languages, all dictionaries.
Let’s make a thundering brouhaha about that!

Patricia Forde

Words Taken Out of The Oxford Junior Dictionary:

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade, carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe, dwarf, elf, goblin, abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar.

Adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry,
blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Words put in:

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue.

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro.

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph.

Mother Tongue, the sequel to The Wordsmith, has just been published by Little Island and they are both available from their website (thankyou for sending me copies of both!). Founded by Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate, Siobhán Parkinson, Little Island Books has been publishing books for children and teenagers since 2010. They specialise in publishing new Irish writers and illustrators, and also have a commitment to publishing books in translation.

For a sneak peek of Mother Tongue, download this free sample:

Clouds Cannot Cover Us

Clouds Cannot Cover Us: Poems by Jay Hulme

October will bring us this really powerful collection of poetry for teenagers, by young transgender poet Jay Hulme. Troika asked him to create a semi-autobiographical narrative, and included are reworked poems he wrote while at high school. He has said that when considering what to include he realised that what he’d wanted as a teenager, and what he wanted to give to teenagers, was the truth, and devised a two part story.

Being trans means that my life does feel almost like it comes in two halves. I have lived in this world as two people: The person I was before; angry, confused, violent, trying to find out what was wrong, trying to find my place in a world that didn’t want me. And the person I am now; proud, confident, at peace with myself, trying to forge a future to be proud of. With that in mind, I divided the book into two parts. The first half is filled with problems, anger, and confusion, and the poems in turn are often filled with industrial and urban imagery, dark, and claustrophobic. The second half is filled with hope, change, and growth – the poems here are often filled with natural imagery, they are lighter, softer, quieter – kinder.

Jay Hulme

No issue is out of bounds, anything he thought of as a teenager is included, some induce anger, some tears, some snorts of recognition, some a smile…and some all of the above. If I had to pick one favourite from each part, the one that made me stop and stare without moving on for a few minutes was his response to the Islamophobic attack at Christchurch earlier this year. That is towards the end of part 1, which is full of rage and sadness and despair at injustice. In part 2, possibly verging on soppy (which is very not me and yet it had me crying happy tears on a bus) is ‘Just the Small Things’ about the every day things that make you happy. Bonus mention though for ‘The Meaning of Stories’, which may resonate with many a reader, particularly I’d think readers of this blog (thank you so much Jay for letting me post it in full here):

THE MEANING OF STORIES


Perhaps it is true that none of my heroes exist,
summed up on a list entitled “fictional characters”.
My life lessons come from the mouths
of people paid to pretend they are someone they’re not,
but I can’t forget what they have taught me.


Because when words mean something, they stay,
no matter where they came from.
So who cares if I live my life by a line
issued from the mouth of Gandalf the Grey, on a film set,
it doesn’t mean it’s worth less than something
said by someone who actually existed.
Because attribution is overshadowed by meaning,
and the fact that these words stay with me
means more than the circumstances
under which they were uttered.


So if fiction is the foundation
on which I build my life, I can promise you
that my turrets will reach the sky,
before yours reach my dungeons.
Because fiction holds within it
the promise of a better world;
and I believe,
not just because I can,
but because I have to.

Jay Hulme
Jay Hulme

Jay Hulme is an award winning poet and performer from Leicester, Winner of Slambassadors 2015, and finalist in the 2016 Roundhouse Poetry Slam. He has recently branched out into children’s poetry, and his work was Highly Commended in the 2018 CLiPPA Awards. He also works as an ambassador for Inclusive Minds, promoting inclusion and diversity in children’s publishing, and doing sensitivity reads to ensure depictions of trans people in books are both accurate and unoffensive.

Thank you Jay for the pdf of Clouds Cannot Cover Us, coming soon from Troika.

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

The problem with Wales, he thought, was that it was too far away.
But that was the point. To leave Southend behind. To get so far that no one would think to look for them there.

Max wants to be just like his dad – fun, loud and strong.
Instead, he always seems to be accidentally getting into fights and breaking things.
But when his dad starts bringing home mysterious boxes, even more mysterious wads of cash starts turning up.
Then Dad disappears. And it’s up to Max to look after his sisters until he comes home.
When they run away to a remote village in Wales, he’s convinced that no one will find them.
He’s Max Kowalski. Of course he can look after three kids with no grownups around!
Although, he can’t stop thinking about where Dad really went. And the whispers of a golden dragon, asleep under the Welsh mountains…

Puffin
Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

Over on twitter last month, Louie Stowell wrote the review “If Jacqueline Wilson ganged up with Alan Garner and remixed A Monster Calls, with dragons. Powerful and deep.” and I was immediately sold. Brilliantly, Susie Day, the author of said book, then offered to send me one of her author copies and I bit off her hand! It was as brilliant as expected, with warmth and humour and fabulous characters in pretty dire but totally believable circumstances. After reading it, I asked Susie if she would answer some questions for the blog:

In your books you focus on “issues” that are relevant to lots of children but often missing from children’s fiction, always beautifully encased in a fabulous story. What prompted you to tackle toxic masculinity? ‘Issue books’ always sounds such a miserable label, doesn’t it? Like All Bran instead of Coco Pops. I hope my books are a blend of both (although less disgusting than that sounds). I’m always trying to write about children whose lives feel genuinely reflective of the world we live in – which means acknowledging the challenges of poverty, or grief, or homophobia. But it also means celebrating the ways we live through all that stuff: through daft jokes, and family, and love.
We’ve made big cultural strides in celebrating girls who want to do traditionally ‘masculine’ things, from playing pirates and getting muddy to careers in STEM. But boys choosing stereotypically ‘girly’ things – being creative or sensitive, or being open to emotional expression and relying on friends for support – remains a bigger sticking point. When I worked at a boarding school for teenagers we had some mental health training, which showed me some really shocking stats. Suicide is the #1 cause of death among men aged 20-49 in the UK. We’re letting all kids down if we don’t try to identify why that’s happening, and work to change it.

You generally have female protagonists, how different was your approach when writing Max? This question really made me think! Max is a character who often won’t admit what he really feels or thinks, and wants to put up a front. But I’ve written lots of girls like that too – like Sammie in The Secrets of Sam and Sam, or Clover in Pea’s Book of Holidays. Max has ideas that he associates that very strongly with being a boy. But Sammie or Billie Bright: they bump up against the ‘required’ behaviours of being a girl a lot too. It’s the same problem, but with different expectations.
The challenge Max has is that he thinks of himself in one way – big, tough, capable – and that doesn’t match his reality. The challenge for me as a writer is how to show that. But the characters I love to read about most are the ones who are figuring themselves out while we read them. I loved finding the visible symbols of that when he’s not a boy who would articulate it: the trainers he covets, buys, then throws away; the jumper his best friend’s mum lends him, that he keeps on wearing.

The scenes in the climbing centre were very convincing, did you have to do a lot of research or are you a climber? My girlfriend is laughing at this question. This book was written after we went on a walking holiday in Snowdonia together. She’s been walking there for years; I’m an experienced hiker but with a pretty emphatic fear of heights. She took me up a mountain called Glyder Fach, without mentioning it involved a scramble (sort of midway between a walk and a climb, where you need to use your hands but don’t need ropes). We got to the top – but I did cry on the way. That’s the mountain in the book, with a name change and a little geographical creativity.
She helped me out with understanding climbing technique, and I watched the climbers on the rocks alongside the road up to Pen Y Pass, the start of the main Snowdon route. But I will never be a climber!

Castell Y Gwynt on Glyder Fach in Snowdonia by Balochdesign

Have you had much feedback from children about the story? What do they pick up on the most? Max as a character: that’s what kids seem to connect with. A friend of mine’s son was running round the park being ‘brave’, because that’s what Max is. I think the rising stakes help turn the pages too.

What kind of events do you enjoy doing most with children/in schools? I love school visits, whether it’s a KS2 assembly or classroom workshops. Like most authors, I’ve also done festivals to a roomful of babies, surprise 13-year-olds, and three people who are asleep, which certainly hones the improvisational skills…
Assembly-style sessions are interactive, with live storytelling and games. I’m always – I mean this genuinely, I’ve never not had this experience – awed by the creativity that’s waiting to be uncapped. But I think it’s important that I’m not there as a teacher. An author visit can really support curriculum, and I often tailor sessions to particular objectives, like reading for pleasure or editing. But it should also inspire in ways that are bigger and broader: that can just celebrate why reading and writing matters, and why books are relevant for all of us.
I don’t offer CPD for staff, but you might find my books, and my presence, useful for SRE.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’ve just inhaled Louie Stowell’s The Dragon in the Library (7-9), which is all joy: clever, inclusive, highly-illustrated and a smart way to persuade non-readers they might like books after all. Gabby Hutchinson Crouch’s Darkwood is a pure Pratchett-for-kids fairytale: great for advanced middle- grade readers who like talking spiders and laughing out loud. And I’m in the middle of A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, which is gently breaking my heart, while also making me really happy to see fiction about gaming. More please.

What’s next for you? Something I can’t talk about yet, sorry!
I’ve also written a short story for a new Doctor Who anthology called The Target Storybook, about the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) from the classic series. Every book I’ve written has a Doctor Who reference, so it was pretty sweet not having to find a place to fit that in for once. The book’s out in October, and I can’t wait to read the other stories.

Susie Day

Huge thanks to Susie for the copy of the book and the responses for the blog!

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It is out now!