Category Archives: Authors

Longbow Girl: Interview with Linda Davies

archers

Hi Linda, welcome to Teen Librarian for the Eight Questions With… interview! The first question I ask all authors is: can you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Hi Matt and hi to all you lovely readers out there, so, who am I? Good question. I’m lots of different people depending on what novel I am writing (I get so into the book I do feel as if I am the main character and am living their lives!), but I suppose there’s an external consistency to who I am: I’m an Oxford University economist by training but a novelist by nature. I spent seven years working as an investment banker in London, New York and Eastern Europe, being exposed to more potential plots than was decent. Then I escaped and wrote my first book, Nest of Vipers. Longbow Girl is my twelfth book.

I’ve lived in various parts of the world.

I spent three years living in Peru and more recently eight years living in the Middle East. In 2005 my husband and I were kidnapped at sea by Iranian government forces and held hostage in Iran for two weeks before being released after high-level intervention by the British government. I wrote about that in my first non-fiction book, Hostage.

I am married and have three great children are who occasionally drive me mad but then they’d no doubt say the same about me. My family play a big part in my books. My husband reads various drafts aloud to the children and me, then they all give me their brutally honest opinion. I then slink away to try and write a better draft!

I also have two dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks called Boudicca and Beowulf, and a desert cat called Cutie. We live near the sea in Suffolk, where I try to swim all year round.

Longbow Girl is a thoroughly gripping tale set in the Wales of the modern era as well as the late Tudor period, how much research went into writing it?

Longbow-final-tweaks-bigger1One way and another, I’ve done a lot of research, both years ago and recently. The roots of Longbow Girl are very personal and go back to my own childhood. When I was eight years old, my father gave me a longbow for Christmas. I would shoot it for hours, perfecting my aim, practising until my hands were covered in calluses. My older brother, Kenneth, also had one. We would shoot cans off walls and also, rather terrifyingly, we’d aim for the high wires on the electricity pylons. Happily, we missed!

As a girl, I just wielded my longbow for fun, but I always used to feel different whenever I picked it up. Longbows are lethal weapons. They changed the course of history. This October sees the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, an ‘unwinnable’ battle, won by the Longbow against all the odds. I did a lot of research into this and also the battle of Crécy in 1346, another ‘unwinnable’ battle won by the Anglo-Welsh longbowmen.

I didn’t really need to research the locations. The setting of Longbow Girl, in the Brecon Beacons and in the Black Mountains, was close to where I grew up. When I was a girl we would regularly go on forced family marches up Pen Y Fan in all weathers. I used to grit my teeth until we got to the top, and then run all the way down to the Storey Arms with my brothers. I never thought that I would write about it, but I love that journey back in my head to the mountains of my youth. It’s my very own form of time travel! I went back several times when I was writing Longbow Girl as well, just to see it all with fresh eyes. It’s such a beautiful and atmospheric part of the world. Revisiting was a joy and an inspiration.

The historical aspect of Longbow Girl took a lot of research. I read widely about the Tudor period, both in factual books but also via fiction. Sometimes it is fiction that gives you a much more vivid portrait of a time and place. Here is a photo of some of the books I’ve either read or repeatedly delved into for my research.
Linda's books
Are you a fan on the Mabinogion and are you able to recommend any particular translations of the text?

I am a huge fan of the Mabinogion. My father had a copy of the 1989 Everyman revised edition (translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, one of whom signed it but with an illegible signature!) and he gave that copy to me over twenty years ago. I always had a sense even then that I would write something linked to it. Recently, my brother Roy gave me an Oxford University Press hardback Mabinogion published in 2007. It’s lovely but my late father’s copy will always be my favourite.

Linda and her longbowMuch like Merry, you grew up using a longbow, have you kept up proficiency in its use?

Absolutely I still have Huntress. If you have a look at my website: www.Lindadavies.com, you will see a video clip of me shooting arrows with Huntress. I practice every few weeks. I wish I could say I can consistently hit an empty can on a wall 50m away… but I’d be lying! I can consistently hit my standard archery target from 30m away and if I sneak a bit closer I can periodically get a bull’s-eye or what archers insist on calling the ‘gold’ at the centre of the target.

Are any parts of Longbow Girl based on actual historical events or have you just woven historical characters into a fictional setting?

Yes, they are! A particular historical fact that I discovered about six years ago acted as a catalyst to writing Longbow Girl. I learned that Henry VIII issued an edict ordering the destruction of wild Welsh ponies under a certain height in order to improve his stock of destriers, or war horses. I was outraged on their behalf! The other childhood inspiration for Longbow Girl was my own black Welsh Mountain Section B pony, Jacintha. I was horrified by the idea of her ancestors being hunted down and destroyed, just because they were small! I dreamt of being able to go back in time to rescue some of those ponies, and then I thought, what if a young girl did just that…

So I came up with the brave, strong and wonderful Merry – the fifteen-year-old heroine of Longbow Girl. She is a supreme archer, the first longbow girl in a tradition of longbow men that stretches back seven hundred years to the Battle of Crécy. She’s also a great rider. One day, while out on her pony Jacintha, Merry discovers a treasure that offers her the chance to turn back time. She travels back to the brutal kingdom of Henry V111. Fighting against battle-seasoned men, she has to wield her longbow to save her family. To save herself… and a few ponies too!

In a strange co-incidence, mirroring one of the central plot lines from Longbow Girl which I dreamed up over five years ago, I recently discovered that in 1346 the Longbowmen of Llantrisant (the village right next to where I grew up!) fought for the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy and saved his life.

The grateful Prince granted them a piece of land to be held in perpetuity. To this day, nearly seven hundred years later, the direct descendants of those longbowmen hold that parcel of land in Llantrisant.

Here’s another personal link that goes all the way back to the Battle of Crécy. During the battle, the Black Prince claimed the emblem of the defeated Bohemian King: three ostrich feathers. This emblem has been adopted by every Prince of Wales since. I was given a ‘Royal’ ring bearing the crest with the three ostrich feathers when I was a little girl when our current Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales. My father was involved in the Investiture and gave me the ring to mark the occasion. I still wear it now! I have never taken it off.

Have you ever read The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch? I read it about 25 years ago now, Longbow Girl reminded me a bit of it as they share a slightly similar time-slip plot and it is also set in Wales.

I’ve never come across it till now. It sounds intriguing! I’ve just ordered it.

Although the main storyline was tied up there were a couple of plot threads dangling at the end – do you have any sequels planned?

There are a few dangling threads aren’t there…? And yes I would dearly love to write a couple of sequels exploring what and where Merry goes next. I’ve just started plotting a different book, also Y/A/middle grade and will write that one first.

I am also a big fan of your Djinn books and reviewed the first two back in 2009 & 2010, moving away from Longbow Girl for just a moment can you let me know when Djinn War is due out?

Thank you so much! I am delighted to hear that. War of the Djinn is currently filed away, both in my brain and on my PC. I have done some work on it and hope to reprise it one day. At the moment, the wonderful Tanabi Films is deep in the process of putting together a deal to make an animated movie of Sea Djinn and then hopefully the rest of the Djinn books after that, so watch this space!

Thank you so much for giving up your time!

Is my absolute pleasure Matt. Thank you for your interest in my books and for your support and kind words.

All Sorts of Possible Blog Tour: Blurred lines between reality and magic – Why have this element in your stories?

All Sorts of Possible COVERI have only written two novels so it’s difficult to say precisely what sort of writer I am. Furthermore, who knows what I’ll end up writing next. But it is true to say that in my first two books I have grafted the magical and the supernatural onto the real world in which both stories take place. I’m not entirely sure why this is because it’s just been a natural process of storytelling for me, but I’ll have a go at trying to give you some reasons as to why I think it might be.

Certainly I have always been a bit of a daydreamer, a person who likes to imagine ‘what if’ and escape the confines of the real world in which we live. It has therefore seemed a logical step to do this in my writing too, where a blank page gives me the opportunity to imagine anything I want to and make it come alive with words. I have also been a big observer of people too, making me slightly detached from the real world. Perhaps a combination of these two traits adds a twist to the stories I try and write?

Or perhaps it’s just because I’m lazy, that I can’t be bothered to world build a huge alternative universe so I just take a few magical elements and graft them onto the ordinary world that I know and can describe. Or maybe it’s down to the things that I have read that influence my writing. For example I like poetry and this can be quite hyper real or even surreal sometimes, using heightened, powerful language as a lens through which to view the world. (I often think of reading poetry like looking through a child’s kaleidoscope and seeing lots of different things at once, such can be the power of the words sometimes). It could be that I haven’t really grown up and that my inner child is still quite strong and influencing the way I write, infusing it with a slightly magical view of the world.

I don’t seem to be very good at pinning this down!

So perhaps I should try a different approach and look elsewhere for an answer. After all whatever there is in my personal make up that makes me put the real and the magical together does not really make me unique because there are lots of writers who write novels in a similar vein, who write stories in ways that put a unique spin on the world we know. Some people define it as magical realism whilst others don’t. Regardless of what label to use, this type of writing seems to be a genre defined by the fact that it is quite difficult to define, flirting as it does with various other genres and where anything is possible in the story, limited only by a writer’s imagination.

Another notable trait of this form of storytelling is that to enable the magical element to resonate the normal world has to feel very real too. So magical realist writers, whilst being imaginative and off kilter, have to be very gritty realists as well, showing us the real world in a finely tuned manner. I think this realism is one of the key strengths of this type of work.

However, I think the best way to portray magical realism is by describing the feeling it engenders when read, namely a vague dislocation of normality, a slightly skewed vision of the world that can make a reader giddy, putting them off balance. In other words, books of this type can be constantly surprising.

So why is it such a popular genre for writers (me included) to work in? Well, I think it might be because writers are explorers, weighing up what they have been told about the world (what their brains have stored up through childhood, adolescence and beyond) and how it functions. Through the process of storytelling they are working things out for themselves about life without necessarily drawing conclusions.

For example, David Almond, whose work is often described as magical realism, talks a lot about the impact of his Catholic upbringing in many of the interviews I have read, and he is aware of how wrestling with it has impacted on his writing, namely that of negotiating the tension between rational and magical thinking, of what to believe:

When you are at a limit, you pray. At the end of rationalism that’s what’s left. My work explores the frontier between rationalism and superstition and the wavering boundary between the two.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/23/booksforchildrenandteenagers.features

This idea that writers are working things out for themselves may be one reason why magical realism is popular in YA and also MG. Children and adolescents usually accept they don’t know everything about the world and are in the process of trying to work it all out too. There is, perhaps, a sense of collaboration between these readers and magical realist writers within the arena of storytelling. I like to think those adults who read magical realism – whether YA, MG or the literary stuff for grown ups – are ones who still have enough sense to realize they don’t know everything about the world either, that they aren’t overpowered by hubris.

So I think magical realism is a powerful tool for exploring and feeling one’s way in the world, allowing the reader and the writer the freedom to react to the odd, the strange, and the downright mysterious. I like to think this is one reason for why I have written the books I have so far. But I can think of another reason too.

One further spin off from this genre is that readers’ imaginations are given a work out. I know from my own experiences of writing that creativity is a muscle – it needs to be inspired to grow stronger – and if books that fuse the magical, the fantastical and the mysterious with the real help to inspire and fuel creativity in other people then that has to be a good thing. Maybe that’s the real reason I write the way that I do, to inspire readers and make them think and question and imagine for themselves…?

Rupert Wallis

Stuff Mom Never Told You: Judy Blume Forever

For the past several months I have been listening to the phenomenal Stuff Mom Never told You

“What is that?” you may well ask, the website explains it far more succinctly that I ever could!

Hosted by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, Stuff Mom Never Told You is the audio podcast from HowStuffWorks that gets down to the business of being women from every imaginable angle. Fueled by boundless curiosity and rigorous research, Cristen and Caroline are girls-next-door gender experts who skillfully decode the biology, psychology and sociology of ladies and gents, from their evolutionary past to millennial present, to better understand all the Stuff Mom Never Told You.
(taken from http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/about/)

One of their recent podcasts is called Judy Blume Forever a celebration of the awesomeness that is Judy Blume – one of the greatest writers for children, young people and, well everyone actually!

Judy Blume will be at the Manchester Central Library this evening – in conversation with brillaint UK author Keris Stainton and will also be popping up around the UK – check out her UK tour details here: http://www.picador.com/blog/june-2015/judy-blume-2015-uk-tour.

If you cannot make any of those appearances, heck even if you can and want to find out more about JB then take a listen to Judy Blume Forever here:

http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/judy-blume-forever/

Episode Summary
One of the most beloved and banned authors, Judy Blume wrote adolescence like no other. Cristen and Caroline investigate how Judy Blume’s real life intersected with her fictional books, censorship activism and feminism.

Eight Questions With… Esther Ehrlich

Hi Esther, welcome to the Eight Questions With… interview for Teen Librarian:

The first question I generally ask is for authors to introduce themselves to the audience- who they are, where they come from and so on, if you wouldn’t mind?

My pleasure! So, right now I’m sitting at my desk, looking into the branches of the oak trees right outside my window in Wildcat Canyon in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live with my family. I like it here, but I miss the east coast, which is where I was born and raised. NEST takes place on Cape Cod, and I really enjoyed hanging out there in my imagination—dunes and swimming ponds and salt marsh—while I was writing the book.


Nest is your debut novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read! Can you let me know what inspired you to write it?

Hmmm…There are so many answers to that question! In a way, I feel like everything I’ve ever experienced in my life filters through me and shapes my writing. What’s true is NEST began with an image that came to me and captured my attention—two sisters dancing together in the road in a summer rainstorm while their mother, a dancer who wasn’t feeling well, watched them from the porch. I wrote that scene and the rest of the story unfolded from there.

Did you set out to write specifically for younger readers or do you write for yourself and hope that your work finds an audience?

Honestly, I wrote the book that I wanted to write, not even thinking about an audience. It was other professionals in the book world who decided what niche NEST fit into. I’m glad that younger readers and adults seem to be really enjoying the book.

What is the most rewarding part of the writing experience for you?

I love discovering who my characters are. There’s a kind of careful listening that I have to do: What hints are my characters throwing in my direction? If I pay careful attention, I find out what matters to them. Over time, I get to know them really well, and that’s so gratifying.

I also just love words—the sounds and rhythms, and, of course, meanings. I like stringing them together and creating something new. It’s deeply satisfying.

Do you read the works of other writers for children and young people? If yes, can you give some recommendations?

Let’s see. I love The Pictures of Hollis Woods. Counting by Sevens. The One and Only Ivan. Okay, for Now. As a child, The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books. Charlotte’s Web. Stuart Little. The Trumpet of the Swan. I’d strongly recommend all of these to everyone. I recently read All the Bright Places and thought it was wonderful. Without Tess is another beauty. These last two, I’d recommend for teenagers and adults.

Which books would you recommend for readers who enjoyed Nest?

All of the above!

Are you currently working on anything new, or do you have any new books planned?

Stay tuned…

You are based in USA so visiting schools and reading groups in the UK may be a bit difficult but do you ever do Skype visits to international groups that are interested in meeting you?

I haven’t done Skype visits yet, but I’d like to give it a whirl! Also, I’d be thrilled to visit the UK. I’ve never been “across the pond!”

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!

Thanks for your interest in me and NEST!

NEST publishes in the UK on 2nd July (Rock The Boat, £7.99).

Follow Esther on Facebook and Twitter: @EstherEhrlich

Eight Questions With… A.J. Steiger

Hi A.J. welcome to the Eight Questions With… interview for Teen Librarian

The first question I generally ask is for authors to introduce themselves to the audience- who they are, where they come from and so on if you wouldn’t mind?

Hi, I’m A.J. Steiger, and I live in Illinois. I’m a writer and freelance transcriptionist. My work keeps me in front of the computer a lot, so I try to get out into nature sometimes to remind myself that the world is more than words and screens. Mindwalker is my first young adult novel, and it’s out now with OneWorld Publications, and also with Knopf in the U.S.

Mindwalker is your first novel, can you give us an idea of what it is about and what inspired you to write it?

Mindwalker is set in a future where people can choose to have painful memories removed. Seventeen-year-old Lain Fisher is a prodigy who’s already skilled at wiping away her patients’ traumas. A troubled classmate asks her to erase a horrific childhood experience from his mind, and while exploring his memories, she learns that he’s connected to something much bigger…something their government doesn’t want the world to discover.

I’ve always found the idea of memory modification to be a fascinating and disturbing concept. There’s a quote from Gregory Maguire that sums it up well: “Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are.”

If you change someone’s memories, you change their identity. It’s the ultimate power over an individual. It could be used for good—to help people overcome horrors like war, abuse, and assault—but it could very easily go wrong, especially if institutions gain the power to control which facts people remember and which ones they forget.
Mindwalker is also a novel about mental illness and the social stigma that often goes along with it, which I think is a hugely important issue.

Dystopian novels seem to have an enduring popularity, especially amongst young adult readers, what do you think the reason for this is?

The world is already pretty scary. Transforming our fears into fiction gives us a sense of control and reminds us that there are things we can do about the situation we’re living in.

I think young readers especially like these books because they often involve themes of rebellion or bucking the system. When you’re young, the universe hasn’t had time to wear you down and make you cynical and complacent, so there’s still this burning fire to tackle injustice, and that’s a wonderful thing.

There’s a danger of sliding into escapism, though. If we satisfy our need for rebellion vicariously, through movies and books, it can take the edge off our hunger for real change. So I think a good dystopian ought to leave you at least a little bit nervous. Truth and justice doesn’t always win—it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to keep fighting for it.

Mindwalker has been compared favourably to The Giver by Lois Lowry – have you ever read it and do you read novels by other YA writers? If yes would you be able to recommend some authors and titles?

I first read The Giver as a teenager, and it left an impression on me. Its world seems very safe and civilized and pleasant on the surface, but once you peel back the outer layers you see the darkness underneath, and to me that makes it more interesting than a world where everything is blatantly horrible. Real horror doesn’t always advertise itself.

I’ve also read more current YA fiction like The Hunger Games and Marie Lu’s Legend series, and I enjoyed all of those. But my favourite YA novels tend to be brooding, introspective stories like The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Did you set out to write specifically for teenagers or do you write for yourself and hope that your work finds an audience?

I think all writers have to strike a balance between writing for themselves and writing for an audience. I originally conceived of Mindwalker as a science fiction story for adults, with adult characters. But in the process of writing, I decided to make it YA, and something clicked.

What is the most rewarding part of the writing experience for you?

Revision. Apparently, many writers hate editing, but for me it’s a lot of fun. Writing the rough draft is kind of like generating the raw clay—it’s messy, lumpy and unfinished—and once you have enough of that clay, you can start shaping it and playing with it and seeing it really become what it’s supposed to be. That’s a very exciting feeling.

Of course, I also love getting feedback. Writing is fundamentally an act of communication. Without readers, the experience is incomplete.

What is coming next after Mindwalker?

I’m currently working on the sequel, Mindstormer. After that, we’ll see. I’ll probably continue to write young adult fiction, though I’d like to try branching out into different genres, like fantasy.

You are based in the US so visiting schools and reading groups in the UK may be a bit difficult but do you ever do Skype visits to international groups that are interested in meeting you?

I haven’t yet, but that could be a possibility for the future.

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!

Mindwalker is published by Rock the Boat and is available now

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.