Category Archives: Authors

I am your toothless Carny… Michael Grant on Horror


So, Matt suggested a blog post explaining how I tap into the sort of horror that will affect both kids and adults and my first thought was that I hadn’t written enough horror to have a good answer. I’ve only written one thing that’s just straight-up horror: Messenger of Fear, with sales well into the dozens.

But then I scrolled back through my oeuvre (I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to deploy that obnoxious word) and on closer reflection, huh, I do write a lot of horror, I just tend not to think of it that way. BZRK is certainly scary but it’s sci-fi horror in the Alien or Event Horizon vein, so I sweep it into the sci-fi category. And there are certainly major horror elements in the Gone series, but that gets swept into the YA dystopia drawer.

Going way back, the Everworld series I wrote with my wife, Katherine Applegate, has a lot of horror, but also a lot of mythology so I sweep that into the category of, “shouldn’t we have hired Rick Riordan to write that?” That was back in the 90’s and he hadn’t done The Lightning Thief yet, and we probably could have hired him for minimum wage. The series would have sold better, and we would have contractually enslaved a future competitor. Everybody wins! Except Riordan.

I’m sorry, that was a bit of a digression. The point is yes, yes I would like to pretend to be an expert on how to write scary stuff. Let’s see if I know what I’m talking about.

There are two kinds of people: those who think death is the ultimate threat, and those who have a sick, twisted, deviant imagination and understand that death is actually the end of fear and suffering. The instant you are dead, you can stop worrying how you look, what you can eat, and how to weasel out of attending your high school reunion. All done! Candle snuffed out. You’re not just outta here, you’re just not. You occupy no position, neither here nor there. It’s not just Buh-bye! it’s Buh-.

Death doesn’t scare me, you know what does? Mutilation. The forcible removal of useful body parts. That’s why when I meet my daughter’s boyfriends, I’m never thinking “shotgun,” I’m thinking “hack saw”. To be specific, I’m thinking one could use a metal clamp to attach some portion of the young gentleman’s anatomy to the floor, set the room on fire and leave the victim a steak knife. The element of choice is important because it makes the victim an agent of his own mutilation, it transfers enough responsibility that the moment of decision, the moment when he decides to start sawing away rather than burn alive, that moment would be with him every day of his life.

What’s the point of inflicting suffering only to end it in death?

Now, what just happened in your head, blog reader, is also important. It’s useful that you started to wonder if there was something actually wrong with me. I mean, what kind of person thinks up something like that? And that concern is useful because it means I’ve laid down a marker in your brain signalling that we could be going to some very dark places. Look at it this way: two identical roller coasters, one operated by a team of costumed Disney droids, and one operated by a toothless carny with a skull tattoo.

I am your toothless carny.

(By the way, I just Googled the phrase, “I am your toothless carny,” and it has evidently never before been written or said. I could not be more proud.)

Wherever we are taking the story, whatever the specific horror, it’s helpful if you don’t trust me to behave. I don’t want you reassured, I want you nervous. So when I set out to scare people I lay down some early scene to knock the reader off-stride. In BZRK (spoiler alert) I set up what appears to be our protagonist and then kill him in as spectacularly gruesome a way as I can while working with a plunging jet, a football stadium, a flying brain and a cup of beer. In Gone there’s the baby who starves to death in his crib, and a girl beaten to death with a baseball bat. In Messenger of Fear we start with the corpse of a teenager who has shot herself in the head.

I want the reader to understand that I don’t even know what the rules are so I’m certainly not going to abide by them. You know that place you’re afraid to go? I’m taking you there. Get in the car, we’re going right now. You are in the hands of a disturbed individual.

So, I like to create uncertainty, then I want to keep pushing your boundaries, but only so far. You can’t get into the game of trying to top yourself each time because that pretty quickly starts to reek of desperation. And it’s unnecessary. The Stand is not scarier than Pet Sematary, it’s just a different scary. We don’t need to believe Stephen King will turn the scare up to eleven, we just need to know that he’s going to take us someplace darker than we are comfortable with. No one makes you more nervous and sustains it longer than King.

Dread is the thing much more than the thing is the thing. Wait, what? Okay, what I mean is that it’s less about the specific horror – mutilation, burning alive, dad getting crazy and chasing you around the maze with an axe, vampires sucking your blood so you can sparkle too — than it is about the build-up. In the build-up you want the reader unsettled, you want an element of choice, you want feelings of helplessness, and you want the reader to see him/her/their self in at least one character and then you get dread.

It’s not death we dread, it’s all the things leading up to death. In other words: life. Only the living can experience cancer, the slow suffocation of emphysema, Alzheimers, dismemberment, the guilt of committing homicide, loneliness, depression, locked-in syndrome, uncontrollable rage, frantic impotent desperation, or a cold sore on the side of your tongue where it keeps rubbing against your molars.

So, it’s simple, really. Think of something awful. Create a character to inflict that awful thing upon. Give that character some control. Signal that, oh yes, we are absolutely going to go too far. And then try to work in the word, “eldritch” at least once.

Interview with Sarah Govett Author of The Territory


Hi Sarah, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Teen Librarian!

My obligatory first question is could you please introduce yourself to the audience?

My name’s Sarah Govett (but I guess you know that already!). My debut novel, The Territory, is out this month with Firefly Press. I was initially a lawyer, then a tutor, a mum and now a writer. Please buy my book as I really like writing and want to keep doing it!

How far in the future is The Territory set?

It’s set in 2059, but the exact date isn’t important. It’s just supposed to be enough in the future that environmental meltdown has happened, but close enough that people and their attitudes are pretty recognisable.

The global catastrophe that occurred – one of polar ice caps melting and the lower levels of land being flooded is potentially a very real threat, do you believe it is a catastrophe that can happen in our lifetimes?

I do. And it really scares me. I genuinely believe we need to take pretty drastic steps now to reduce population and carbon consumption, but I’m worried we’re collectively too selfish to do this. Humans are notoriously rubbish at prioritising long-term gain over short-term hardship.


Do you think that Britain is moving towards a police state?

There have been some worrying developments, but I think we’re a long way from a proper police state scenario. I hope, maybe naively, that us Brits value have such a strong tradition of liberty that we will stop any drastic infringements on our freedom. I don’t think, for example, that Spain’s draconian Citizen Safety Law would ever get through Parliament here.

The use of school students is a fairly common one in dystopian fiction (the biggest example being Battle Royale) but it is more realistic with them actually attending school and seeing the division between norms and the kids that have nodes implanted allowing them faster access to learning and near perfect recall. What inspired this?

I think the biggest influence has been working as a tutor these past 12 years. I’ve taught some incredibly bright and talented pupils at low performing schools, who, without additional input, have no chance of competing against their often less able peers at more spoon-feeding, exam-factory style schools. I wanted to take this unfairness and heighten it to a life or death situation.

I felt through the novel that you are not a fan of the levels of testing that students undergo today, nor the push to side-line the arts over the sciences – would you say that is accurate?

Absolutely. I have seen first hand the horrific pressure our results-obsessed education system places on students and I wanted my novel to reflect this. Teenagers work so hard to sit exams in 9 or more subjects, often to be rewarded by newspaper headlines denigrating their results and declaring this year’s exams to be ‘the easiest ever!’ The more creative students are forced to sweat their way through maths and science knowing that more weight will be placed on those results. And I think, growing up, I was as guilty as anyone of seeing maths and science as more important subjects or maybe better indicators of intelligence. I mean the stereotypically ‘brainy’ student is more associated with a lab or mathletes than poetry. I think my change in opinion has come through working closely with students who are clearly hugely intelligent but whose brains, for whatever reason, simply cannot process more abstract concepts in maths or science. And they feel terrible about it and somehow lesser. But the arts and humanities help foster an understanding of motivations and empathy, which I believe we need now more than ever to make the world a better place. When you imagine a world without stories, music and art you realise that whilst the Arts might not be necessary for human survival, they are necessary to preserve our humanity – even people with highly logical jobs like to relax at night with dramas and comedies, or perhaps even a YA book with crossover appeal.

Noa is a very unusual heroine, she comes across as flawed and human compared to many of her near perfect contemporaries on the dystopian YA bookshelf, what inspired you to create her?

I wanted a heroine who was a bit more relatable. I think that even in the most dystopian of societies people would be caught up in their own little trivial worlds, scared to act and, above all, determined to survive. The will to live is really, really strong, even if it means sacrificing others.

Will we be introduced to more of the drowned world in later stories or will we be confined to what remains of Britain?

Book two has the working title ‘Into the Wetlands,’ so there’s a clue!

Moving the spotlight onto your publishers for a moment, Firefly Press is a very new addition to the publishing market; apart from The Territory can you recommend any of the other titles they will be publishing?

They’ve got some great titles coming out. Also out this month is the mad sci-fi epic Lost on Mars by Doctor Who writer Paul Magrs (10+). In June they’re bringing out White Petals by Maria Grace – a warm and funny real-life drama set in a care home in the south Wales valleys (13+). And two great books in September – Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare, a modern day fable about a small boy determined to fight his dad’s depression (8 to 12); and The Boy Who Drew the Future by the brilliant Rhian Ivory – a YA fantasy fiction set in the past and present about two boys compelled to draw events that later come true.

Apart from what you may already have mentioned in previous questions, what inspired The Territory and what inspires you to write?

I’ve thought about writing for a long time and finally decided to have a go in snatched half hours while my baby slept. I’ve always been drawn to accessible novels about big ideas and my biggest influences are probably John Wyndham (The Crysalids is probably my all time favourite book), John Christopher (the amazing Death of Grass), Margaret Atwood (too many to name), Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon – if you haven’t read it you need to get a copy, believe me), and more recently Gemma Malley (her thought provoking The Declaration). On a more personal note, my eldest girl is called Noa. My husband and I often panic about having given her such an unusual name so I wanted her to be able to read about a cool heroine called Noa to make her feel better about it all.

Apart from the sequel, is there anything else that you are working on at the moment?

I’ve written a few thousand words of a more humorous coming of age novel but I think I’ll return to this later. I want to crack on with the sequel!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thank you!

Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour

Welcome to the Teen Librarian stop on the Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour, lovingly organised by the fantastic Viv Dacosta.

This was supposed to be a review of Dodger by Pterry (that is included) but when chatting to some dear friends who are also massive fans and regular visitors to the Discworld I thought I would invite them in to play today.

Starting off with one of the best librarians I know and a wonderful human being Caroline Fielding

I read Jim‘s Top 10 Discworld characters as part of the Terry Pratchett blog tour (YAYeahYeah) and it got me thinking about the characters that I love, including those on his list. I realised that a lot of my favourites are those that are completely essential to the series but might only actually play the tiniest of roles when it comes to the plot, or feature for a brief time. Some of them appear in books I haven’t read for 10 years or more but they’ve stuck in my brain. So here, in no particular order, are my

Nominations for Best Supporting Character:


The Luggage: I miss Rincewind and the Luggage…featuring from the very beginning of the Colour of Magic, this chest made of sapient pearwood brings nothing but distress into the life of cowardly wizard Rincewind.

Vimes’ Dis-Organizer: It can tell the time in Klatch, remember your appointments, and use precognition to know your upcoming appointments will occur before you do…causing some consternation when it follows the wrong timeline.


Hex: the computer designed by Ponder Stibbons and his team of nerdy wizards. Stibbons denies that Hex can think for itself, but is constantly worried by the additions Hex seems to make to itself, and when the FTB (Fluffy Teddy Bear) is removed it throws a wobbler!


Bergholt Stuttley ‘Bloody Stupid’ Johnson: doesn’t actually feature in any of the stories having died many years previously, but his creations crop up regularly, most notably the Archchancellor’s shower! Pratchett described him as an ‘inverse genius’.


Death of Rats: Once a part of Death, he remained after the events of Reaper Man and is able to make himself understood with a one-syllable sound: SQUEAK, with the occasional emphasis of an EEK-EEK, and the help of the raven Quoth.


The Canting Crew: “Millennium Hand and Shrimp”. Need I say more? Well, maybe – the beggars that even beggars avoid, Foul Ole Ron and his comrades feature in a number of the books, sharing their alternative view of the world.


Leonardo of Quirm: locked up in the Patrician’s dungeons, he’s quite content just doodling out his inventions that could very easily accidentally start (or end) wars…

Drumknott: Lord Vetinari’s Clerk, the perfect civil servant, relishes order and protocol but knows exactly what Vetinari wants. This quote from Going Postal sums him up perfectly:
‘…we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,’ Drumknott was agonizing. ‘You see, I’d merely have referenced them on the daily-‘
‘Your concern is, as ever, exemplary,’ said Vetinari. ‘I see, however, that you have prepared some folders’
‘Yes, my lord. I have bulked some of them out with copies of Clerk Harold’s analysis of pig production in Genua, sir.’ Drumknott looked unhappy as he handed over the card folders. Deliberately misfiling ran fingernails down the blackboard of his very soul.


Igor: a number of Igors pop up, coming from an extremely extended family in Überwald and mainly working as servants for mad scientists although they are great medics, ably performing emergency surgery, including in particular transplants, with one particular Igor having made it onto the City Watch in Ankh Morpork.


CMOT Dibbler: the Del Boy of the Discworld, starting out selling ‘sausage inna bun’ on the streets of Ankh Morpork, he regularly dabbles in new initiatives and trades. CMOT stands for “selling this at such a low price that it’s cutting me own throat” One of the things I love most is all the relatives of his that pop up across the Disc with very similar sales techniques.

lego pterryx
My second guest, like Caroline is another excellent librarian and someone you will want next to you if you ever find yourself in a foxhole. I have known Shaun Kennedy for half my life now and he is here to share his memories of Terry Pratchett:

Only in our dreams are we free.

The first book by Terry Pratchett I read was Pyramids, after that came Mort. And then, well you know what they say about eating Pringles? It applies here too.

I first met Terry in 1999 when he did a signing tour through South Africa. I was working a weekend job and convinced my co-workers that I had to be somewhere important and they covered for me – after all, it’s not every day an internationally acclaimed author you’re a fan of comes to town. To this day I am not even sure if I ever told them where I went and why.

After moving to London in 2005 I met my now-wife, who back then wasn’t a Pratchett fan. At the time she worked for a membership organisation and was involved in running events all over the country. A few months later I got told that one Terry Prachett was going to be one of the main guests at an event they were running. It turned out that as I was one of the few people that knew anything about his books, they wanted me to the stand where the Pratchett books were going to be sold to answer questions. I say yes because I didn’t have anything better to do.

Then I got told that I would be looking after him while he was at the event!

That Saturday I will never forget. After having spent a couple hours of helping people choose books to buy, the main organiser came over with Terry in tow and introduced me to him. I managed to remain calm and professional and asked if he needed anything. To which he replied that he wanted to wander around and have a look at the stalls. I asked if he wanted me to accompany him, but he declined and said he was happy to meander around until his talk. And he was off and I went back to answering questions about which book came first.

About five minutes later I realised that there was a queue going past the stall and I went to investigate. I’m not sure how it started, but at the end of the line I found Terry signing books for attendees while juggling his jacket and hat. Fearing that he had been ambushed, I asked if he was okay signing for people as there was a signing scheduled later in the day. But he waved me off saying. I offered to keep his jacket and hat safe so he had his hands free. Terry gave me his jacket and proceeded to ask the people in the queue if I was trustworthy before he would consider giving me the hat.

Fortunately most of the people said they knew me and I headed back to the book stall with the coat and hat. I didn’t see him again until I was told to find him and take him to the green room. I think the organiser thought I was doing a bad job watching Terry. I got him back to the green room and we chatted to a while on various topics including his trip to South Africa. I remember him quizzing me about why I had become a librarian. Turns out he was rather fond of librarians on the whole. I wouldn’t have guessed.

After the talk we moved onto the signing. I think it was the first time I had ever seen a queue go across two floors of a venue. Everyone patiently waited to have their books signed – I think it was because Terry gave as much time to the first people whose books he signed to those who were at the end of the queue and they knew this. Well, those who had been at one of his signing did anyway.

I never did get to see Terry off though, I was called away because of an emergency and by the time it was resolved he’d already left.

One thing I have learnt is that Terry Pratchett’s works, and in particular the Discworld books, resonate with a lot of people. Personally I think this is because the characters are written as unique individuals with their own experiences. When I read a book the characters feel alive and like old friends who are telling me about what they got up to while we have been separate. I am going to miss reading about new adventures, but I will always happily have them retell stories I’ve heard before.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that, except for my manager, I’ve yet to meet a librarian who has never read a Pratchett book. Last year I was fortunate enough to run a Discworld role-playing game for a bunch of librarians and they had so much fun being oddball characters in the Watch.

I have to admit that while I do love the Chief Librarian, my favourite character is Sam Vimes.

lego pterryx


I grew into the reader I am thanks in no small part to the Discworld books, I also read (and loved) the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, the Bromeliad, The Carpet People, Nation and The Dark Side of the Sun. Dodger was different, I purchased it (as I always did) on its day of release in 2012 and then it sat on my shelf. It is weird, I have one reading rule and that is nothing comes before a Pratchett. I have no idea why I did not devour it immediately – perhaps because it was not a Discworld book but whatever the reason (and maybe there was not one) the book sat, pristine and unread on my shelf until this year when Viv sent the call out for people interested in getting involved with the blog tour. It was then that I picked it up and decide that I should do this in memory of him!

The cover is a Paul Kidby masterpiece, Dodger rising from a manhole, tipping his hat with a cheeky grin and a straight-razor in his left hand. The background is recognisably London with Saint Paul’s Cathedral towering over tenement blocks and huddled figures. The Victorian marbled end papers are a wonderful touch making the book a thing of beauty to behold. The book is written in a Victorian style, including chapter headings (Terry is famously dismissive of chapters) there are also footnotes – a quirk of his that I love dearly.

However it was the writing that captured me, the story opening with Dodger leaping from the sewers to save a damsel in distress from peril at the hands of dastardly villains. Dodger is a wonderful example of Terry Pratchett’s writing, his books are amazing, not because of the background, setting or sometimes awful puns but because of the characters, he writes people so well. Dodger mixes real and fictional characters in a satisfying melange of crime, mystery, politics and heroism. Dodger is a great starting point for readers new to Terry Pratchett’s work and a wonderful read for established fans.

lego pterryx

Finally, I want to share the cartoon I drew as a tribute to Terry Pratchett on the afternoon of his death. It was either create something or dissolve into a puddle of misery on my work desk; it is a good thing that I don’t work in an office or I may have closed the door and had a good cry.

lego pterryx

Visit Emma Greenwood’s blog for yesterday’s stop on the tour and remember to stop by Bookish Treasures tomorrow for the next stop.

Wintersmith by Steeleye Span & Sir Terry Pratchett

In 2013 Electric Folk band Steeleye Span released Wintersmith, an album based on Sir Terry Pratchett’s YA Discworld novel of the same name.

Listen to the full album here: Wintersmith

Use it to introduce young people to folk rock and the works of Terry Pratchett if they have not already discovered him.

Terry Pratchett

I was 12 the first time I picked up a Discworld book. Equal Rites, the hardback with the wonderful Josh Kirby cover.

I read it in several days – I was young and had to go to school and do other things that prevented me from finishing it in one or even two goes. Reading it was like a lightbulb going off in my head, I can still remember sitting in the kitchen with my mother as I finished the final page, then turning to her and saying: “I loved this, I wish he would write more books!”

Moments later my mother took the book, flipped to the front papers of the book and pointed out that there were two other Discworld books.

That was the single happiest moment of my reading life to that point.

His books brought me great joy over the years, and one moment of paranoia when I thought the series was coming to an end – it was Pyramids the Book of Going Forth and I convinced myself that he was going to end it with that one, no idea why (it had something to do with the subtitle). His books got me through some tough times as a teenager, they made me laugh and cheered me up during some miserable times.

There are still a handful of his books that I have yet read but I am saddened that his tales are now done.

I met him twice but never knew him as a person. I will miss him.

The Third Degree with Malcolm Rose

Hi Malcolm, welcome to Teen Librarian and thank you for giving up your time to answer some questions for the Third Degree.

My first question to all participants is to please introduce themselves to the audience.

I’m a daydreamer. I’m probably the best footballer the country has ever produced. I’m also a fantastic musician, computer genius and brilliant detective. And I like murdering people.

Sorry. I got carried away there. I live near Sheffield at the edge of the Peak District and, when I can’t see the way forward in a story, I walk in the hills for inspiration. Sometimes, though, taking a long bath works just as well. It requires less effort but it’s not as scenic. I am a writer of thrillers and crime stories. The newly launched Body Harvest is my 40th book. By coincidence, I’ve been married to Barbara for 40 years. We have a son who’s an architect in London.

Final Body Harvest Cover_Layout 1Body Harvest, is the first book in The Outer Reaches your new series for teen readers, from what I have read it is a crime series with a science fiction aspect, could you tell us something about it?

Before becoming a full-time writer, I was a scientist. To be precise, I was an analytical chemist. That means I enjoyed finding out what things are made of. That’s very similar to forensic scientists who analyse paint flakes, blood, unknown substances and all sorts of yucky stuff at the scene of a crime. Because I like forensic science, I inject lots into The Outer Reaches. After all, the first person I need to interest in my stories is myself.

Being an ex-chemist, I also like poisons, explosions, medical advances, and the amazing set of chemical reactions that happens within bodies that make life. Come to think of it, I also like the amazing reactions that happen after life has ceased: something we call decay. Each of these things finds a place in my crime stories.

Lethal Outbreak2_Layout 1How did you come up with the concept of two Human races in Body Harvest?

I was reading a scientific article about human evolution, noting that Homo sapiens (that’s us), Neanderthals and Denisovans were all alive tens of thousands of years ago. There was even some interbreeding going on. That’s why we all have a bit of Neanderthal DNA in us. Anyway, Neanderthals and Denisovans became extinct and Homo sapiens continued alone. I thought it would be fun if one of the other humanoid races had not died out and evolved alongside us. In The Outer Reaches, they’re called outers. Homo sapiens are in the majority so they’re called majors. Majors and outers have different body chemistry which makes the forensic science more interesting.

I understand that you have a science background, specifically as a chemistry lecturer, how has this informed your work as an author?

Every author wants to write original stories so we have to come up with original ideas. I look to science for those ideas because, by its nature, science is always discovering or inventing new things. Just think of everything we can do today that we couldn’t do just a few years ago. DNA profiling, cloning, a variety of fertility treatments, making life from scratch, being online almost everywhere we go and so on. Then there’s the science that’s just around the corner such as gene therapy, humanoid robots, brain implants, growing body parts from stem cells, and lots of other things. It’s a great big store of fresh ideas for the novelist. What’s more, many of the topics – like creating a new life form – are controversial so the thriller and crime writer will always be able to find the necessary ingredients for conflict in themes like these.

Because I’m writing for young people, I need to interest them with the themes of my books. Young people have a great deal of natural curiosity and science is the application of natural curiosity so my readers and science are very well matched. But the average science textbook isn’t always thrilling. I think the best way of engaging people in science is to wrap it up as entertainment in an exciting story. Teens enjoy reading about modern forensic science when it helps to catch the bad guys, and they like science-based thrillers when the themes are genuine and preferably gruesome, such as medical transplants, viruses and bacteria, chemical and biological warfare, the use of animals in labs and medicine, and that sort of thing.

Fatal Connection_Layout 1I know from your Traces novels you are an excellent crime writer, are you a fan of that particular genre?

I feel I ought to rave about crime stories because I write them. But… I wonder if someone whose job is making chocolate every day goes home at night, puts the telly on and eats lots of chocolate. I suspect they don’t. They probably want a break from it. So, yes, I love writing crime – because, like analytical chemistry, it’s an investigation and a finding out – but I don’t read other authors in the same genre. That’s a terrible confession you’ve forced from me.

Do you get inspiration from other authors or are all your ideas rooted in real-life occurrences?

Taking ideas from other authors is close to cheating. I’m happy to be inspired by something that actually happened and bend it – personalize it – so it becomes my fictional story, but I don’t steal other people’s imagination. Besides, I want to be original and avoid the well-trodden paths. Mostly, I’m inspired by a new forensic method. Then I work backwards. What sort of crime would this new method solve? Why would someone commit such a crime? How would someone hope to get away with it? Then I start at the beginning with the crime. But I often don’t know who did it till I’m well into the story!

Blood and Bone2_Layout 1I understand that the second book is due out soon, can you drop any hints about it?

In Lethal Outbreak, four scientists working on samples of soil from Mars in the highest safety laboratory are found dead. How did it happen – and why? Actually, the first few chapters set in a secure laboratory will remind readers of the images we see of medics working on the ebola virus, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff about biosafety as well as possible sabotage of the protective suits or the laboratory itself.

The story reflects genuine concern about our ability to deal with alien bugs if they are ever found and brought back for study on Earth. If they turned out to be harmful, there would be serious consequences to the well-being of human civilization. In the Earth’s mild atmosphere, we simply don’t know what it would take to kill bugs that might be hardened to the extreme extra-terrestrial conditions of a planet like Mars.

How many books do you have planned for the Outer Reaches series?

You’ve saved a nice easy question to the end. There will be four books. All of them will be based on genuine scientific issues. In order, they are the illegal trade in body parts for transplants (Body Harvest), the return of toxic matter from another planet (Lethal Outbreak), industrial pollution (Fatal Connection), and the killing of endangered animals so their parts can be used in “traditional” medicines (Blood and Bone). That means the victims of a serial killer in the fourth book will be mostly tigers. I’m really looking forward to writing that one but the topic will make me angry.

A few thoughts on Zoella, Ghost-writers & Getting Teens to Read

aaZoe Sugg (Zoella) and Penguin seem to have taken a lot of flak over the weekend as rumours (now confirmed) abounded about the use of a ghost-writer to produce Girl Online, the fastest selling début novel ever. I have seen a number of sub-tweets about this in my twitter network, and thought that the furore would die down, but if anything it has grown larger and more frenzied.

I am not totally sure why people seem to be getting more upset than usual; it is not as if ghost-writing is a new phenomenon, even in the YA and Children’s book market; series like Sweet Valley High, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew spring to mind.

The thought of celebrities getting publishing deals because of who they are upsets a lot of people, some of whom may feel that authors should be published on the merits of their manuscripts rather than because of who they are. Publishing is a business much like any other and books are published to make money, authors that do well are groomed and promoted to sell more.

Superstars get publishing deals because publishers know they come with a built-in fan-base, a percentage of whom are almost guaranteed to buy the book, even if they have not purchased (or read many) books before.

As someone who knows absolutely nothing about fashion, beauty and the difficulties of being a young woman I am pretty sure that Zoella is doing something right with her Youtube channel – she has over six million followers that listen to her for a reason.

As a librarian I am less concerned with the perceived iniquities of ghost-writing and more interested in how celebrity books can be used to get young people hooked on reading. Around 78 thousand copies of Girl Online were sold last week – I am sure that a percentage of those went to teenagers who do not often pick up a book through choice. As many librarians, teachers and anyone that works with young people may know, getting teenagers that view reading as a pointless waste of time to read is one of the more Sisyphean tasks that we can face. So when someone that young people look up to attaches their name to a book I will not question its provenance too deeply.

I will celebrate anyone who will get young people enthusiastic about books & reading so I am a BIG fan of Zoe Suggs – more power to her!

So if you had a student or child that read and loved Girl Online by Zoe Suggs and would like to encourage them in their reading pursuits then they may also enjoy:

adorkable
Adorkable by Sara Manning

Jeane Smith’s a blogger, a dreamer, a dare-to-dreamer, a jumble sale queen, CEO of her own lifestyle brand and has half a million followers on twitter.

Michael Lee’s a star of school, stage and playing field. A golden boy in a Jack Wills hoodie.

They have nothing in common but a pair of cheating exes. So why can’t they stop snogging?
white barrier

adEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she’s never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and – in Eleanor’s eyes – impossibly cool, Park’s worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re 16, and you have nothing and everything to lose.
white barrier

addGuitar Girl Sara Manning

Seventeen-year-old Molly Montgomery never planned on becoming famous. Molly’s band, The Hormones, was just supposed to be about mucking around with her best mates, Jane and Tara, and having fun. But when the deliciously dangerous Dean and his friend T join the band, things start happening fast. Soon The Hormones are front-page news, and their debut album is rocketing up the charts. Molly is the force behind the band, but the hazards of fame, first love, screaming fans, and sleazy managers are forcing the newly crowned teen queen of grrl angst close to the edge. Fame never comes for free, and Molly’s about to find out what it costs.
white barrier

adddGeek Girl by Holly Smale

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn’t quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she’s spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

abFan Girl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

acCode Red Lipstick by Sarah Sky

Models, spies and lipstick gadgets… When Jessica’s father, a former spy, vanishes mysteriously, Jessica takes matters into her own hands. She’s not just a daddy’s girl who’s good at striking a pose; she’s a trained spook who knows how to take on MI6 and beat them at their own game.

Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour: Stuart Hill

princeoftheicemarkI enjoyed writing The Prince of the Icemark enormously; and in fact it was inspired by several readers who sent fan letters asking to know more about Redrought as a character. He was killed quite early in The Cry of the Icemark but obviously the huge bear of a man who was the King of his country, a doting father and loved cats with a passion, made quite an impression on the readers, and so the scene was set for a revisit. But this time I wanted to study Redrought as a boy just before he settled into the throne of the Icemark. And then when he was finally forced to become King after his brother was killed, I wanted to show him growing into the job.

I actually based part of Redrought’s character on every awkward, stumbling and shy teenage boy I’ve ever known – including me! As a grown-up he was a like a cross between a friendly Viking and a grizzly bear; the type of bear that would deliberately break wind loudly in quiet exam rooms or tell vicars dirty jokes and then roar with laughter, not noticing the silence that had settled around him. But as a boy he was very different. He’d blush if a girl so much as looked at him, and he’d definitely fall over his own feet if he had to do something terrifying like actually go for a walk with one of the strange creatures that he found so fascinating.

Stuart HillI also wanted to go back and tell the stories of some my other favourite characters, especially the Vampire King and Queen. I absolutely loved writing about them; I particularly enjoyed their snobbery, their refined manners and their sarcasm – and all of that, coupled with their ferocity, made me think of some of my old teachers (not all of them – I had some great teachers). I could just imagine His Vampiric Majesty as an old-style headmaster who’d sweep through the corridors in a long gown, on the hunt for prey or for any pupil who’d forgotten their homework! And Her Vampiric Majesty would just have to be a maths teacher … precise, professional, petrifying!

I think there are more stories to be told involving the young King Redrought, his fighting, farting cat Cadwalader, and his future wife Athena, the warrior princess of the mighty Hypolitan. Perhaps one day, I’ll tell them.

RHCBA2015

The British Isles Chapter of the SCBWI 7th Annual Conference

Cathy Cassidy, Nick Butterworth and Sally Gardner to deliver keynotes at the SCBWI British Isles’ Annual Conference. An exciting new PULSE professional development track specifically aimed at published authors is introduced.
The British Isles Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
announces speakers for its 7th Annual Conference

The British Isles Chapter of the SCBWI, a professional organisation of writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people, announces a star-studded line-up for their 7th annual conference, to be held on November 1st and 2nd 2014 at the University of Winchester.

Keynote speakers this year are Cathy Cassidy, Nick Butterworth and, for the all-new PULSE strand aimed at published children’s authors, Sally Gardner. Adhering to the theme of Riding the Waves of Change, this year’s SCBWI conference will focus on the changing face of children’s book publishing, offering on the Saturday specialist industry panels with speakers from the very largest houses to representatives of vibrant indies. Additional panels for illustrators and non-fiction writers cover developments in the world of picture books and educational publishing. Published members will be able to participate in a discussion on self-promotion best practices. Saturday evening’s exclusive party will give delegates the chance to celebrate new members’ 2014 publications and network with a stellar list of industry professionals.

Sunday will open with PULSE keynote, Sally Gardner. The rest of the day is devoted to craft intensives and a new PULSE track for published authors and illustrators.

The craft intensives will feature: For writers, everything from how to plot your novel, led by Melvin Burgess, to writing for reluctant readers, led by Anthony McGowan and his Barrington Stoke editor, Mairi Kidd, to crafting a picture book, led by Erzsi Deak and Mike Brownlow, to an intensive for beginners on how to get your precious manuscript published. Illustrators can join in a hands-on craft session on pop-up books. One-to-one manuscript and portfolio reviews with agents and editors will be offered.

The PULSE track will feature a workshop on interview techniques, hosted by BBC presenter, Claire Bolderson, a Twitter Triage, hosted by social media guru, Michelle Goodall, a panel on how to reach schools, hosted by educators and librarians and finally, a workshop on building your online presence with website designer and author, Candy Gourlay.

The SCBWI Annual conference has never before offered such incredible opportunities to both published and unpublished authors to develop their craft, raise their profile and market their work!

Admission to the entire conference is £210 for SCBWI members and £240 for non-members, with a charge of £120 for those members only attending the new PULSE track on the Sunday (£180 for non-members who opt for Sunday-only PULSE). More information and a registration form can be found at our website: http://britishisles.scbwi.org/conference2014/programme/

  • Author keynote by Cathy Cassidy, the bestselling author of many novels for children and young teens, including the Chocolate Box Girls series. Cathy trained as an illustrator, once worked as Fiction Editor on the legendary Jackie magazine and also spent twelve years as an agony aunt on pre-teen mag Shout.
  • Illustrator keynote by Nick Butterworth, writer and illustrator of children’s books whose popularity has ensured that, for nearly three decades, he has been featured in the UK bestsellers’ list for picture books. His books have been published in thirty languages worldwide, with international sales in the region of thirteen million. He is almost a permanent fixture on awards short lists, and has won many, including the top award from the Society of Illustrators (for One Snowy Night) and the prestigious Nestlé Gold Award for the critically acclaimed, The Whisperer. He has written and/or illustrated more than sixty titles, and is probably best known for his Percy the Park Keeper series. In 2009 he co-founded Snapper Productions with his son, Ben Butterworth, and his wife, Annette Butterworth. Their first production is based on Butterworth’s books about the friendly alien, Q Pootle 5.
  • PULSE keynote by Sally Gardner, the award winning novelist who has sold over 2 million books in the UK and her work has been translated in to more than 22 languages, Her stories range from retellings of fairy stories for emerging readers, to the Wings & Co series for younger junior age children, through to I, Coriander and Maggot Moon for teenagers, for which she won the prestigious Carnegie Medal and the Costa Children’s Book Prize. Her historical fiction novel for Young Adults, I, Coriander, won the Smarties Children’s Book Prize in 2005. Her action-packed French Revolution thriller The Silver Blade, sequel to The Red Necklace, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2009. Actor, Dominic West (‘The Wire’) has bought the film rights to both The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade. Sally Gardner, who is dyslexic, continues to be an avid spokesperson for Dyslexia, working to change the way it is perceived by society.
  • The faculty also includes: Tricia Adams, Librarian, Sam Arthur, Director of Flying Eye Books, Juliette Clare Bell, Author, Natascha Biebow, Author & Editor, Claire Bolderson, Journalist, Commentator & Analyst, Mike Brownlow, Author/Illustrator, Melvin Burgess, Author, Amber Caraveo, Editorial Director of Orion Children’s Books, Catherine Coe, Editor, Rebecca Colby, Author, Joy Court, Librarian, Shannon Cullen, Publisher of Puffin Fiction, Erzsi Deak, Literary Agent, Jude Evans, Publisher of Little Tiger Press, Michelle Goodall, Social Media Consultant, Candy Gourlay, Author, Sara Grant, Author, Penny Holdroyd, Literary Agent, Eric Huang, Development Director of Made in Me, Louise Jackson, Art Director at Walker Books, Mairi Kidd, MD of Barrington Stoke, George Kirk, Educator, Adam Lancaster, Literary Consultant, Anthony McGowan, Author, Kate Nash, Literary Agent, Sara O’Connor, Digital & Editorial Director, Hot Key Books, Scott Pack, Publisher of The Friday Project & Authonomy, Amanda Punter, Publishing Director of Puffin Fiction, Steve Rickard, Publisher of Ransom Publishing, Paul Stickland, Illustrator, Sallyanne Sweeney, Literary Agent, Sophie Thomson, Commissioning Editor at Pearson, Jo Unwin, Literary Agent, Kersti Worsley, Commissioning Editor at OUP.
  • There is an optional critique meet on the evening of Friday 31st October, an open portfolio exhibition on Saturday 1st November and various other competitions for authors and illustrators. Delegates and invited industry guests will be celebrating our members’ 2014 publishing successes at our exclusive party and Mass Book Launch on Saturday night!

    For more information about the conference programme visit: http://britishisles.scbwi.org/conference2014/programme/
    Booking deadline is midnight, 17th October 2014.

    About SCBWI:

    SCBWI British Isles is a chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a group form in 1968 by some Los Angeles-based writers for children. It is the only international organisation to offer a variety of services to people who write, illustrate, or share a vital interest in children’s literature. It has over 22,000 members worldwide working in all areas of writing and illustrating for children, from picture books to YA. It is the only professional organisation for those specifically working in mediums of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia, and makes an annual presentation of the Golden and Crystal Kite Awards, the only award presented to children’s book authors and artists by their peers.

    SCBWI British Isles hosts a number of events during the year, from a professional development lecture series to masterclasses and a writing retreat.

    For more information:
    SCBWI: www.scbwi.org
    SCBWI British Isles: www.britishisles.scbwi.org
    2014 Conference: http://britishisles.scbwi.org/conference2014/programme/

    Splintered Light Blog Tour: Young Adults in Prison by Cate Sampson

    splinteredli_paperback_1471115836_300Imagine for a moment that you were in trouble with the police. Perhaps you fell in with the wrong friends, friends who manipulated you into doing things you didn’t really want to do. Or perhaps you got greedy, and found that the quickest way to getting whatever it was you wanted was to nick it. Or perhaps no one had ever taught you that doing some things was just plain wrong. Or perhaps you knew it was wrong, but you wanted to do it anyway, because you thought it would be a laugh. So perhaps it was a surprise when you got arrested, and when they put you on trial in front of a judge. Imagine all that, and then try and imagine what might turn your life around.

    My new book, Splintered Light, is about three teenagers, Leah, Linden and Charlie, who don’t know each other, but whose lives collide dramatically twelve years after Leah’s mother was murdered in a local park. One of these three is a young man called Linden. At 17, he’s about to be released from Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution, where he’s been incarcerated for three years. Linden is scared of what’s waiting for him outside, because the things that turned him into a criminal aged 13 are still waiting for him outside the prison gate. Like many young offenders, Linden is afraid that he has no alternative but to re-offend, and to return to jail. He wants a way out, for good, but he doesn’t know how to find it. To write about Linden, I had to read and think not only about what would happen when he stepped outside those gates, but also what had happened to him inside.

    Last year, inspectors at one prison for young adults found that young inmates often went hungry because their meals were too small. They ate their meals on their own in their cells, often at ridiculous times of day, so that their evening meal was served as early as 4.45. Cells were dirty, mattresses covered in gang-related graffiti, and on average these young people spent 18 hours a day in their cells.

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, which is much lower than many other countries. In Scotland it is 12. In most of the UK, then, a child convicted of a crime between the ages of 10 and 14 will be held in a Secure Children’s Home. Those aged fifteen to 20 will be held in Young Offenders’ Institutions, first as juvenile offenders and then, above the age of 18, as young offenders. At the age of 21, a person convicted of a crime becomes an adult offender and will be held in a regular prison. Everyone seems to know that the system is a catastrophe. Politicians have referred to children being consigned ‘to the scrapheap’, re-offending rates are above 50%, the institutions offer little in the way of education and retraining, and when young people are released their futures are bleak, with little possibility of employment and often no safe home to go to. You’d have thought that there would be hope for children and teenagers, but when people – even children – are shut away, out of sight, then it’s too easy for all of us to turn a blind eye.

    Last month, inspectors reported that one of these prisons for young adults, Glen Parva, was simply ‘not safe’. Three young men had killed themselves there in 15 months, and inspectors reported the prison was rife with bullying and violence. The cells were dirty and ‘poorly ventilated’, for which read smelly, often with no toilet seats on the toilets. Nearly a third of inmates were locked up all day in their cells. One young man, aged 18, killed himself after just two days inside.

    It sounded shocking, but the awful conditions are not new. In 2012, an inspection report on HMYOI Wetherby reported, ‘One boy in the segregation unit with a lifelong medical condition that would have been hard for any teenager to manage, and who had exhibited very disruptive behaviour, asked me tearfully if I could take him home to his mum… A boy in health care, described to me as ‘low’, lay on his bed not speaking. All these boys were receiving good attention and care, but you feared for them all…’

    ‘You feared for them all…’

    It’s not the kind of language you expect from hardened prison inspectors.

    So imagine yourself in the dock, imagine you’ve messed up badly, and then imagine what happens next. Then, since we are free and many are not, perhaps we should raise our voices louder to say this isn’t good enough.

    Cate Sampson