Category Archives: Authors

The Third Degree with Keren David

Barrington Stoke (my old faves) very kindly sent me a copy of The Disconnect, Keren David’s next novella for them, to review.

How will a group of teenagers react when they are offered £1,000 to give up their mobile phone in Keren David’s thought-provoking story of perspective and influence.When an eccentric entrepreneur challenges a class to give up their phones, offering a prize of £1,000 to the one who lasts the longest, Esther is determined to win. But ignoring the draw of technology is difficult and it’s not as easy as she thought to resist that niggling urge. Can she hold out long enough to win the money and what else can Esther and her friends discover when they’re not glued to their screens? An astute and enthralling examination of the highs and lows of social-media life, from one of the most compelling voices in teenage fiction

As usual for a Barrington Stoke title, it says a lot with a few words. What I loved about this book, was that it wasn’t telling teenagers to get off their phones altogether but that perhaps it is worth looking up occasionally…and that parents and other adults are as guilty as teens about overusing their screens! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I pestered Keren for the Third Degree…

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

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

It’s such a huge thing in teenagers’ lives – all of our lives – and I thought it would be good to think about all the things, good and bad that we get from our phones. It’s something that I talk to my children about a lot. And I’d also been talking to a friend whose daughter was being bullied, and a lot of that was happening within Snapchat groups. I had a long talk with my son to work out what might actually tempt teenagers to put down their phones – money, we concluded. 

Do you have any advice for teens that might be worried about social media ruling their lives?


Give yourself a break. Even switching off once a week for 24 hours can put things into proportion, and help you create a sense of yourself that is separate from social media. 

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

On a very superficial level, I love Middle Eastern food and enjoy going to restaurants where it is served. On a deeper level, at a time of growing antisemitism, I wanted to create a benign character who is Israeli but whose family is originally from an Arab land – as they tend to get ignored in the overheated political narrative. 

This isn’t your first title for Barrington Stoke, how did you first get involved with them?

I loved their mission and books, and wanted to write for them for a long time. Then I had a letter from a dyslexic boy who said he’d enjoyed my books. So my agent used it as a way to approach Barrington Stoke, and luckily they were keen for me to write for them. 

Is writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It’s similar but much more concise – no time to dwell on minor characters or sub-plots. I like it! 

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

I’m equally happy to do either. With writing workshops I try and do something that is fun, because I feel that often the enjoyment is sucked out of writing at school. I do one exercise where pupils create characters, then work in pairs to bring those characters together into a plot. Then – after a lot of laughing and excitement – I tell them that’s how my first book started, by doing that very exercise in a creative writing class. 

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

I’ve just finished Tracey Thorn’s memoir Another Planet: A Teenager in Surburbia (Canongate) which was an extraordinary read for me, as Tracey and I were in the same class at school and did all the same A levels. A lot of it felt like reading my teenage diaries. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those of us who were teens in the late 70s. And I’ve just started reading Karen’s McCombie’s Little Bird Flies  (Nosy Crow) which is an absolutely beautiful, emotionally gut-wrenching story, perfect for sensitive 10 to 14 year olds. 

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

I’ve just started work on a new book, so I hope that’ll be a good experience! 

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

A STORM OF ICE AND STARS by Lisa Lueddecke – Guest Post

How I Write

By Lisa Lueddecke

 

If you’re interested in how I go about writing the books that you read, then this is the place for you. Let me just caveat this post by saying that this is a description of my normal writing life, when I’m not pregnant and repulsed by coffee, etc.

My writing days always start very early. I have long been a morning person, far more inspired by the dawn than the dusk. Particularly when I was writing A Storm of Ice and Stars and living in Cumbria, England, I would set my alarm for five or five thirty am every day, when it was still very dark outside (I wrote most of the book over winter), and after feeding the cat and making my first cup of coffee, I would get into my writing room just as the sun was starting to come up, or close to it. For me, especially when writing fantasy, I find that early morning, pre-dawn time more inspiring than anything else. I even mention it from time to time in my writing, those early hours when the sun is just began to yawn and wake up.

In addition to coffee and mornings, one thing that I usually cannot write without is a scented candle. For A Shiver of Snow and Sky and A Storm of Ice and Stars, I most often wrote with a forest/pine/evergreen/fir scented candle, with the occasional Christmas one sprinkled in. Writing, for me, needs to be a very immersive experience, so I can really feel and see and smell and hear the world. Alongside my candle, I would play some sort of ambience to fit whatever scene I was writing, like an icy cave or crashing waves on a beach. I find that by doing my best to recreate elements of the scene that I’m working on, I can better immerse my readers in the world. I find more details, more descriptions, more bits and pieces that make the world seem real. My fantasy stories have always been very setting-based, and I think that’s why I need so many elements to have a successful writing day. I have to believe in it in order to make other people believe in it.

Although I have moved to America, my writing routine has not changed. I still write very early in the morning, and I try not to set word count goals for myself unless I’m on a very tight deadline. I have to just let the words and the scenes flow, or I feel like my brain stops working with me. I write until I start to get distracted, or I realize that I’m forcing the words out, and then I just let it be for the day, or until the afternoon when I’m feeling fresh and revived. I’m not one of those people that thrives when writing somewhere like a coffee shop. I wish I was, because I usually love coffee, but I’m not. I need mostly quiet, save for my ambiences or my wordless music, and I write either at my desk, or sitting my my couch.

Even if my country and my writing space changes, the way that I write does not, and I’m not sure that it ever will. Scented candles, relevant ambiences, and coffee have always been necessary for me, and I suspect they always will.

 

A STORM OF ICE AND STARS by Lisa Lueddecke out now in paperback (£7.99, Scholastic)

@LisaLueddecke      www.lisalueddecke.com

#ICEandSTARS

Updated (but always incomplete) list of UK BAME authors and illustrators

Just a quick note to say that there are new names on the list but, as ever, let us know who’s missing!

An Updated (but still incomplete) List of British BAME Authors for Children & Young People

The Third Degree… with Candy Gourlay

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

My pleasure! Unless of course this really turns out to be a third degree (long and harsh questioning) in which case, I invoke the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Author (if it exists).

I feel the need to apologise to you – for years you have been one of my favourite people to bump into at literary events and we have known each other for years (online mostly) but this is the first time I have interviewed you on TeenLibrarian – it is long overdue!

I would have nagged you incessantly over the years, except you are always in a new, nefarious disguise whenever we meet!

You have two books out this year (that I am aware of) your first picture book Is It a Mermaid? out now from Otter Barry Books, and Bone Talk … coming soon from David Fickling Books.

Yes! This is going to be my year of promotion … but I’m trying to write another novel while jumping up and down and begging people to pay attention to my new books.

How did you come to write a picture book work with artist Francesca Chessa?

I wrote the words of the picture book two years ago now. My editor, Janetta Otter Barry, then launched a search for the right illustrator. I suggested all my friends, as you do, but Janetta was looking for something in particular. A picture book is not just the work of a writer and an illustrator, there is a third vision involved that the world is usually not aware of – the editor. The editor is like a Third Eye that puts it all together. Janetta had worked with Francesca on her eco-Christmas book Elliot’s Arctic Surprise, written by Catherine Barr, in which children all over the world set sail to rescue Father Christmas. Then of course there is the Art Editor, in this case, Judith Escreet, who saw Francesca through the long months of illustrating the book. It was very strange, after working on novels, which requires long periods of solo creativity, to experience the coming together of a picture book! I was delighted and astonished by the final product!

Without giving too much of the plot away can you tell me what Is It a Mermaid is about (I am guessing mermaids feature somewhere in the story)?

I’ve begun speaking to Nursery, Reception and Year 1 children, and the first thing I do is hold up the book and ask them where the mermaid is on the cover. Their responses are hilarious! I wrote the story after I heard that European sailors arriving on our shores in the Far East back in the Age of Discovery, mistook dugongs (sea cows) for mermaids. How do you do that? Perhaps they’d been at sea for looooong time! I wondered what would happen if someone met a dugong that thought she really was a mermaid!

What inspired you to write Bone Talk?

I actually wanted to write another book, set in a World Fair in 1904 where American exhibited Filipinos in a human zoo. But it would have been a disservice to the tribal people AND to Americans not to show the context of that story. So I decided to begin at the beginning, when the United States invaded the Philippines in 1899 and annexed it as “unincorporated territory”. We became a republic in 1945 but Puerto Rico, which was annexed by the US on the same year, continues to be unincorporated territory. It’s odd how so much of the world has no idea of this. I realise that the Philippines is a small state that doesn’t do much to influence the world but the United States is a major world power.

Is there much resentment against America in the Philippines because of their history?

To be honest, there is a lack of awareness of our shared history. I memorised dates and events in my history classes, but nobody ever told me the context of these stories. And more importantly, ours is an unfinished story.

My grandparents were part of a generation that lived under American colonial rule. They were taught to despise their own culture, to be ashamed of their race and to look up to everything American. My parents’ generation survived the second world war and their formative memories are of gratitude at the flood of American help that arrived after the war. My father used to wish that we could become another state of the United States! My own generation parroted our parents’ love for anything American, grew up watching American TV and being encouraged to speak American.

To this day, the Philippines is a work in progress – nationhood doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen over a mere century and we’ve only properly been a nation since 1945.

I know it is fiction, but how accurate are the representations of Samkad and his people?

As I write in Bone Talk‘s afterword, it was difficult to hear the authentic voices of people from that forgotten era because all of the documentation was done by or curated by the United States, and tinged by the racism of that era. The observations of professionals like historians, anthropologists and state officials treated the Bontoc people as objects. It was only when I read the diary of an American housewife living in Bontoc, who documented her daily encounters with children and ordinary people, that I began to hear the Bontoc as real people. It gave me the confidence to create characters who would have been like a child of today.

I visited Bontoc and asked a lot of questions about specific events in the story, especially about ritual and belief. It was difficult to be totally accurate because the Bontoc of 1899 was made of tiny communities, each with their own specific practices. I was careful not to name the community where my characters lived, so that no community in today’s Bontoc would feel slighted if there was a deviation from their practice.

I based a lot of domestic detail on an anthropological description of Bontoc The Bontoc Igorot by the American anthropologists Albert Jenks. But Jenks was short on human detail and I also read many books on pre-Christian belief in the Philippines, going back to before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s. An American historian named William Scott Henry , realising that Filipino voices were missing from historical accounts, attempted to glean these voices from the written record. His books were a godsend.

I was enthralled by Bone Talk, can you suggest sources of information I can use to find out more about the history of the Philippines?

A great history (despite the focus on our relationship with the US) is In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow. America’s Boy: America and the Philippines by James Hamilton Paterson (although I disagree with some of Paterson’s conclusions about the Marcoses, he’s a gorgeous writer). You might also read the story of how Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen, which his a thriller of a book! There are other brilliant books but they are written with Filipino readers in mind.

I must admit that you are the only writer from the Philippines that I know (personally and as an author), are you able to suggest works by other Filipino authors that are available in the UK?

When I was a child, there was virtually no publishing in the Philippines, but now, the Philippine book industry is thriving! Unfortunately it is hard to access books over here so I have to load up suitcases with books whenever I go home. The works of Filipino Americans are widely available in the UK however. Erin Entrada Kelly recently won the Newbery Medal for her middle grade book Hello, Universe. Another Filipino American, Elaine Castillo, has been getting rave reviews for her debut America is Not the Heart. It riffs on another book worth reading by Filipino author Carols Bulosan, America is in the Heart, about the dehumanising experiences of Filipino migrants at the beginning of American colonial rule in the Philippines. I’ve just begun reading Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, a serial killer story. Very promising.

Will you be visiting schools and libraries to promote your books? If yes, what is the best way to get hold of you to book a visit?

Oh yes! I love doing school visits! Please contact me by messaging me on Facebook or via the contact form on my website, candygourlay.com

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

It was my pleasure, Matt. May the best stories follow you wherever you go.

http://candygourlay.com

The Third Degree with Catherine Johnson

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

You have a new book coming out soon – Freedom, based in England at the time of the Zong trial. Can you tell me more about the book?

It’s one of a series published by Scholastic that looks at major turning points in history. I was asked to do abolition (of slavery) but I argued that since that took at least fifty years – the mind of the british public was very slow to change – I would do one of the things that kicked off that change. And I was aware loads of people had heard of Wilberforce but maybe that fewer people had heard of the Sons of Africa, a group of campaigning Black Britons, freed slaves, American veterans of the War of Independence, and others who worked to end the inhumanity of slavery.

The blurb taught me something new – much like Nathaniel I was always under the impression that once a slave set foot on English soil he was free, but after the blurb I looked it up and according to English common law while technically no longer a slave they were still bound to their masters until the abolition of the slave trade. Why do you think that a majority of people in the UK are ignorant of whole swathes of UK history except on a superficial level?

Er- Brexit is a prime example of this. We forget the ends of our own noses! I think every nation likes to tell its own story, and as a woman who grew up with 3 TV channels and endless WW2 films the story of Britains’ exceptionalism is the one we English like best. We say ‘Britain stood alone’, but conveniently forget we had the manpower and resources of India and Pakistain, many African countries, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean to call on. We often forget this too.

Once they have read Freedom can you recommend other sources for people to find out more information about the Zong massacre and the trial that followed? I first heard about it during the film Belle – a fictionalised account of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle the niece of Lord Mansfield who ruled on the case.

Yes! It’s in Belle isn’t it! For anyone wanting to read more I’d recommend David Olusoga’s Black and British which is very accessible and also very interesting. Also Peter Fryer’s Staying Power.

I have been a fan of your books for years (since Nest of Vipers when you visited one of my reading groups in Edmonton Green), The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and Sawbones are two of my favourites – it is so refreshing to read historical fiction that has not been white-washed. How much research do you do before you start writing?

I have read and written so much about the 18th century now (and a TV series which got optioned but never made set in 1790s and also a BBC2 docu/drama with Simon Schama called Rough Crossings that was on telly almost 10 years ago, that it’s a question of pulling out all the books. I love London maps of the time too. I like to see where my characters go. I lived very near where Loddiges’ Nursery used to be in East London.

The #OwnVoices movement in the UK is becoming bigger than ever before – are there any books by BAME authors that you can recommend?

Loads! For picture books I’d recommend Ken Wilson Max and Yasmin Shireen, of and I loved John Agard’s Come All You Little Persons illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, and Chitra Soundar’s work too. for first readers I love Atinuke’s Number One Car Spotter series. Other authors include the wonderful Patrice Lawrence, Bali Rai, Irfan Master, Muhammad Khan, Sarwat Chadda, Alex Wheatle and Sita Bramachari. Oh and Savita Kalhan and of course the perenially wonderful Malorie Blackman. And look out for a new UKYA by Danielle Jawando and Aisha Busby, two fresh new voices coming next year.

Do you still visit libraries or schools? If you do what is the best way to get hold of you to organise a visit?

Yes! I am all over the place very often! Contact me via my agent, Stephanie Thwaite at Curtis Brown, or via my Twitter account @catwrote

Lovely to chat Matt!

To find out more about Catherine Johnson and her books, visit her website: http://catherinejohnson.co.uk

Learn more about the Zong Massacre and the subsequent trial here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong_massacre

Freedom is published by Scholastic and will be out in August

Blog Tour: A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Claire Cock-Starkey will be speaking about A Library Miscellany (and The Book Lovers’ Miscellany) at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm

Visit Claire’s website www.nonfictioness.com and follow her on Twitter @nonfictioness

A Library Miscellany FRONT ONLY

#BookBuddy: an interview with Maz Evans

Over the weekend a discussion about donating books to School Libraries blew up on Twitter, led by author Maz Evans (Who Let the Gods Out?); she and other Children’s Authors in the course of visiting schools to speak to students had stumbled onto an open secret – that School Libraries in the UK are not statutory and many (if they exist at all) are not adequately funded.

Rather than writing an article about it I reached out to Maz with a request to interview her about the idea she had for a BookBuddy programme to introduce it to library folk and others that may have missed the initial discussion.

So without further ado, here is the BookBuddy interview with Maz Evans

What is BookBuddy?

It is essentially a scheme to pair those who have spare kids’ books with schools that can give them a great home. Anyone who has children’s books lying around – or wants to buy some new ones for a school – will be put in touch with a school for either a one-off donation or a longer partnership – entirely up to them.

What sparked the initial idea?

I travel extensively around the UK and visit at least one primary school a week. Most schools I visit don’t have a library, very few have a librarian and some have no books at all. I’ll say that again. There are schools in this country with no books in them. I don’t think people realise this. So many books are being funded by the educators themselves, which is insane. I have been badgering the government to address this issue, but I am a lone voice. I was trying to encourage the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to pass comment when one kind individual offered to donate all her reading books for a year to a school as their “book buddy” – I retweeted her offer and a school that follows me was ecstatic to take her up. More people came forward and schools started putting their hands up, so I drew up a “first-come” list and matched them to the offers. It was a total accident, but a happy one.

Has the response to your idea surprised you?

Yes and no. The number of schools desperate to join the scheme has, sadly, come as no surprise. The government should hang its head in shame to see schools in this parlous state when we have such wonderful people doing such a great job inside them. The generosity of people has been beyond uplifting. Authors, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, schools and caring members of the public have come forward in their dozens, offering to donate used or buy new books for schools. What has been a very sad surprise has been the negativity the scheme has attracted in certain quarters, but more on that later…!

How many schools responded to your offer before you had to cap it?

On a Saturday afternoon, within an hour I had 100 schools on my list – I had to cap it to have a hope of finding those schools book buddies and didn’t want to create false hope. I currently have 28 schools left on my list – although many matches have been made ad hoc on Twitter for people who can only donate locally or have a particular type of donation. Over 100 schools are now receiving books from total strangers. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Will you be opening the school waiting list again if more buddies come forward?

Me sitting at the laptop copying and pasting Twitter handles is not the most efficient or sustainable way of running the scheme. But a very kind person has come forward and offered to build a website where schools can register and book buddies can find schools when they want to clear out or simply be lovely. I am absolutely behind the scheme and will do everything I can do to support it while I’m trying to pester the state to sort this mess out.

Does the non-statutory nature of school libraries shock you?

Horrifies me, actually. Something that came of the conversations prior to BookBuddy was that libraries are (rightly) statutory in prisons, but not in schools. So some children have a better chance of being exposed to books if they are convicted of a crime than during their primary school years. It’s a national disgrace.


What do you say to those that have criticised your endeavours by saying that:

  • it is the government’s responsibility
  • that it will spark an increased wave of schools approaching authors directly for donations or free visits
  • or that it will reduce an author’s pay
  • I’m not going to lie, I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the reaction of a certain (small) number of people, primarily because they haven’t bothered to research what I’m actually doing before sounding off on social media. To be explicit on this point, I am NOT putting the begging bowl out to the publishing industry. I receive hundreds of requests for free books and free visits and feel horrible that I can only fulfil a fraction of them. The last thing I want is to put further pressure on people. BookBuddy is firstly for people who have books they WANT to clear out. Yes, many of those are coming from the publishing industry because lots of us are fortunate enough to receive a lot of free books and not everyone wants to keep all of them.

    But as a parent, I know how easy it is to accumulate books that are never going to be read again and I have always donated them. I haven’t approached anyone to do anything – people are hearing about the scheme and coming to me. This whole thing was born out of me trying to get the government to see the damage they are doing to our future and the need to fund schools properly – how nice it would be if those who have the time to denounce this scheme on Twitter put their energies into lobbying their MP or Mr Hinds to demand action, as I am also doing.

    As for the financial argument, sorry, I just don’t buy it. These are books that are a) books for which royalties have already been paid 2) books for which royalties were never going to be paid (free copies to publishing people) or 3) new books that are being bought for the scheme, therefore are paying royalties! Also, put a book in a school and watch it breed like a randy rabbit. If anything, this will market books, not cost sales – and it gives schools a place to ask for donations, potentially easing the need to approach publishers/authors directly. If none of that convinces you, question your own humanity and privilege. At the end of the day, this is getting books to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have them. Should we have to do it? No – the government should. But as one author eloquently put it, we shouldn’t have to donate to food banks. But are we going to stand back and let people starve?

    If given the opportunity to speak to Damian Hinds the Education Minister what would you say to him?

    I want – no, demand – that the government enshrines funding for books in schools. One school I spoke to has £40K put aside for sports equipment, but can’t remember the last time they bought a new book. The government itself insists that reading for pleasure is at the heart of education – how the hell can educators do this without the books?! I see inside 100s of schools and while I see so much passion and inspiration from teachers and students, I also see an education system that is at breaking point. If we don’t invest in our future, we won’t have one.

    Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp Blog Tour

    Before I Let Go is set in the literal middle of nowhere. What was the reason(s) behind this?

    I wanted Lost to be lost. I wanted it to be its own insular universe, for better and for worse. That allowed me to delve deep into the collective psyche of Lost, without interference from the outside world. Small, tightknit communities can be wondrous places, and I love exploring their positive sides. But with Before I Let Go, I also wondered what would happened if I flipped that and focused on what would happened if an entire community fell under the thrall of a girl who really only wanted to be seen and heard. Moving Lost far from the rest of the world allowed me to do that.

    Plus, there is something magical about snowy landscapes, isn’t there? Anything can happen in the woods.

    Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp is published by Sourcebooks on 23/01/18.

    GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post to win a copy of Before I Go.
    The winner’s name will be pulled from a hat on the 1st February

    Unspooling The Red Ribbon… an Interview with Lucy Adlington


    Hi Lucy, welcome to Teen Librarian and thank you for giving up your time to answer a few questions about The Red Ribbon.

    Can you please introduce yourself to the audience?

    Hello, I’m Lucy Adlington. I’m a writer and costume historian (which means I get to find out fantastic stories about people’s lives in the past, using clothes as clues). I live on a farm in Yorkshire and I love my work.

    How would you describe The Red Ribbon to catch the attention of a potential reader?

    The Red Ribbon is a story of four girls, each looking to survive in extreme circumstances. It’s also about love, courage, hope… and the power of clothes to transform our lives.

    What inspired you to write the story?

    The story of The Red Ribbon is based on real events in history. During World War Two, in the middle of Auschwitz – the Nazi concentration camp – there really was a dressmaking studio where prisoners could literally sew to save their lives. I was so staggered to discover this I just knew I had to share it with readers.

    If readers would like to find out more information about the true story behind The Red Ribbon where would you recommend they look?

    I’m working on a non-fiction book about the Auschwitz dressmakers. In the meanwhile, readers might like to read testimonies of Auschwitz survivors. I recommend Eva’s Story by Eva Schloss. She was Anne Frank’s stepsister. She survived Auschwitz as a teenager and still tours the UK speaking on behalf of refugees, and against discrimination.

    Writing about historical events such as the Holocaust can be harrowing – did you find any parts of writing The Red Ribbon difficult?

    The greatest challenge was daring to create fiction out of such a significant era of history, all the while remembering that while it’s history for us, it was people’s lives. I wanted to respect the truth even while weaving the fates of my own characters. I never, ever feel dulled to the horrors of warfare or genocide while reading or writing about them. They fed my anger against injustice and violent tribalism.

    Can you recommend any other books based on the same time period to fans of your book?

    My To Read pile is vast, and topping it are Elizabeth Wein’s books Codename Verity and Rose Under Fire. I loved Judith Kerr’s memoirs Bombs on Aunt Daisy (also When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit) And of course, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom.

    At the end of the Second World War world leaders started working towards a world where such atrocities could never take place again, now with the resurgence of the neo-Nazi movement and growth in hate crimes do you think the world is at risk at tipping towards fascism again?

    There have always been extremists who seek to impose their constrictions on all levels of society. No matter how many times we say Never Again there are countries and cultures that promote right-wing doctrines. If we have the luxury of freedom we must use our voices against hate-speech. If we enjoy the luxury of living in a free society we must, in our daily lives and daily acts, promote community and connectedness.

    Lastly will you be visiting libraries and schools once The Red Ribbon is published? If yes what is the best way to contact you?

    I LOVE visiting libraries most of all – in schools, or in towns. As a child I would have lived in a library if I could (next best thing – being allowed to take home 12 library books a week). Librarians throughout my life have inspired me to read more, and to read more widely – I thank them all. You can see where I’ll be presenting talks about The Red Ribbon on my website www.historywardrobe.com There’s an online events diary.

    ‘Reading Russia’ while researching The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

    In 2012, when I was just beginning to have vague thoughts that I might write an historical novel set in Russia during the Revolution, an email appeared in my Inbox. Edinburgh International Book Festival was celebrating 50 years and, supported by the British Council, invited 50 writers to do a cultural exchange with different locations world-wide. So, while other writers ended up shopping in New York or sunning themselves in the Caribbean I was one of a group who were asked to speak at a Cultural Fair in… Siberia!

    A stop-off in Moscow provided the opportunity to speak with librarians, teachers and students of English literature and see some of Russia’s literary treasures. In addition to their pre-printing press beautifully illuminated manuscripts, there were originals manuscripts of famous Russian writers, such as Dostoevsky and, thrillingly, the handwritten title page of Mikhail Bulgakov’s original manuscript for The Master and Margarita.

    Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

    Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Moscow Original MS ‘The Master and Margarita’: ©Scarpa

    We discussed the transformative power of good fiction and in the evening attended an ‘open mike’ literature session in a night club. Seriously. In a night club. During the music breaks anyone could come up and talk about reading. And they did. Amazing! Young people spoke about the influence of Gogol and quoted favourite bits of Turgenev. And I learned so much about modern Russian writers. We were challenged to name a ‘hero for our times’ I chose Katniss Everdeen – who else?

    Russia has enormously influential writers, with Alexander Pushkin rated as the funder of modern Russian literature. In Eugene Onegin Pushkin speaks on writing saying: “… weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound; I write, …”

    Pushkin supported the 1825 uprising and his writings were considered so dangerous by the Tsar that he was banished from St Petersburg and barred from any government post. When he died he was buried without ceremony in case the occasion of his funeral would cause unrest. I’m intrigued by Pushkin for he used language in a new way, melding traditional tongues with the words of the common people. He proved a big inspiration for the character of Nina’s father, Ivan, the Storyteller, in The Rasputin Dagger.

    Then on to Siberia. I was soooooo excited. It was late October / early November and they said “Oh, it’s not that cold, yet…” Really? I was glad I’d packed my grey-goose down-filled parka with the fur-lined hood. I have to say that Melvin Burgess looked fetching in his dark green wool overcoat and was a particular draw for our teen audiences.

    As I’m a former Young People’s Services librarian the organisers were keen that I speak on the subject of Youth Library Services. Despite the remote venue the session was full and I was proud to share examples of British ‘best practice’. Like ravenous wolves the librarians fell upon the material I’d brought with me.

     Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

    Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Librarians Event: ©Scarpa

    Then Melvin and I had events with articulate and engaging young teenagers, organised and moderated by the pupils themselves.

     Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

    Photo: Theresa Breslin Books – Siberia Teen Event: ©Scarpa

    It was an absolute joy to talk to these young Russians. Although desperately keen for modern teen fiction from the West, their own reading included Tolstoy and Chekhov, and a wide range of classic Russian books.

    And a final interesting fact – schools in Siberia only close if the temperature drops below 26 degrees centigrade!

    ©Theresa Breslin 2017
    Twitter: @TheresaBreslin1