Category Archives: Authors

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

    Eight Questions With… Ed McDonald Author of #Blackwing

    Hi Ed, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time for a quick chat about Blackwing!

    To begin, would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

    Hi, I’m Ed, and I write books about people waving swords around. I also like to wave swords around myself.

    How would you describe Blackwing to arouse the interest of a potential reader?

    Blackwing takes a lot of elements that are familiar to people – magic, monsters, war – and puts them into the structure of a thriller. It’s a lot faster in pace than most fantasy books because I wanted to write a ‘page turner’ rather than an exploration of a world as we get in a lot of fantasy. The plot/story is the main thing and a lot of people seem to burn through it in a few days.

    You have taken the premise of an alcoholic antihero with a past ™, working for Crowfoot – one of a group of powerful beings who are have shed much of their humanity and not exactly the ‘good’ guys and pit he and his team against a powerful foe that are even worse. What inspired you to write this phenomenal work?

    I studied ancient and medieval history and I was looking at doing a PhD about neutrality towards violence. When you look at the way people acted pre 1900 you see that behaviour in a non-policed society is frequently what we would consider sociopathic in its coldness and brutality. How exactly can a leader justify cutting off the noses and ears of fifty prisoners? I wanted to write about people who felt real to me, and that meant thinking myself into the heads of similarly monstrous characters.

    One of the most memorable recurring scenes is how Crowfoot contacts Galharrow via the Crow tattoo – how did you come up with that novel concept?

    I needed a way for Galharrow to get messages without meeting anyone. It’s a bit like getting a text message, in a way! But I also needed it to be something that couldn’t happen frequently, and I liked the idea that it hurt him (and he doesn’t necessarily want it) because it shows how skewed the power relationship is between Galharrow and Crowfoot. When your boss sends you angry message that tear themselves out of your flesh, well, it’s hardly a meeting of equals.

    I know most people reading this interview have still got the joy of experiencing reading Blackwing for the first time but for those (like me) who have already done so – what can we expect in book 2 – or is that still top secret?

    Book 2 is written and I’m editing it at the moment. Avoiding spoilers as much as I can, the idea that’s put forward in the final chapter of Blackwing is the launching point for the next book. We see a return of pretty much every (surviving!) character in one form or another. The war goes on, there’s a new threat rising and again there’s a race against time to save the day. Obviously!

    There has been an upsurge in the GrimDark Fantasy subgenre in recent years but I think that Blackwing is near the top of the pile being eminently readable and well great fun without sacrificing any of the dark notes – can you recommend any titles by other authors for readers interested in exploring dark fantasy?

    I definitely like my GrimDark to be on the lighter side – I love the grit but I’ve no interest in excessive gore, torture-porn or sexual violence. To me, a fantasy book should be fun, not a trauma. For that reason I’d recommend The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (the third book in the series is the real gem), and Joe Abercrombie’s series that begins with Half a King is a great introduction for a YA audience. Joe manages to start out fairly light but by the end, boy are we in the grit, and I like that (and again, no excess).

    What was your favourite part of writing Blackwing?

    The most fun part of writing a book, for me, is when I just hit on some random idea in the middle of a sentence and think “Oh! Yeah! That would be good. Let’s do that.” And then making it happen, even if it changes the direction of the book.

    Most people seem to talk about the Misery, or the Darlings and gillings in Blackwing, but for me the scenes with Ezabeth are the most important. Galharrow’s relationship with her is, for me, the crux of the book and there’s a lot of raw emotion written into them.

    Finally, if Blackwing is fortunate enough to make its way to the big screen, who would you cast as the main characters?

    Can I have a young Arnie? Just because I love Arnie? No? Ok then:

    Galharrow – Rory McCann (The Hound in GoT – he’s big enough)
    Nenn – Charlize Theron (she has some Furiosa vibes)
    Tnota – Idris Elba (great actor)
    Ezabeth – Emma Watson (great actress & feminist)
    Crowfoot – an evil raven

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

    Thanks it was fun!

    Rook, and the sense of place by Anthony McGowan

    I like to think that if the world were destroyed in some apocalypse, and a future race – perhaps descended from ants or koala bears or mung beans – tried to rebuild our world from literary sources, my books Brock, Pike, and Rook would enable a pretty accurate recreation of the Yorkshire village of Sherburn in Elmet.

    Although, in writing for young adults, I’ve invested most of my energies into characterisation and narrative, I’ve always known exactly where my books were set. It’s almost always been a version of my old school – Corpus Christi, in Leeds. The stained concrete and glass of the building, the polluted beck running past it, the tussocky field beyond where travellers would come and go in mysterious patterns, the surrounding Halton Moor council estate – these were where my characters worked through the dangers and joys of teenage life.

    Although I went to school in Leeds, I was actually brought up ten miles outside, in Sherburn. It’s an odd sort of place – once split between farming and mining – with the old village centre topped and tailed by large council estates, but now swollen with private housing, serving commuters to Leeds and York. As kids, it was glorious. The countryside was a short bike-ride away, and the building sites for the new estates were the perfect playground, in those pre-health and safety days. We built elaborate dens and fought huge wars against rival gangs of urchins. We played football all Winter, and cricket all Summer.

    It’s a place I can still see clearly, whenever I close my eyes. The high street with its four pubs, ranging from rough to dead rough. The Spa. The Co-op. Two fish and chip shops. There’s a joke about a Jewish man who washes up on a desert island. The first thing he does is to build two synagogues – the one he goes to and the one he wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was like that with the fish and chip shops. We went to Kirkgate, but wouldn’t dream of getting our chips from Huggan’s. The beautiful old church on the hill. The Methodist chapel down in the village. The old cinema converted into a Catholic church, where I served as an altar boy all through my childhood. Then, just out of the village, the Bacon factory – a huge meat processing plant. And next to it, the Bacon pond, where monstrous pike lurked, fattened, we were told, on rotten meat from the factory.

    I populated this remembered microverse with kids I knew or half knew. Nicky and Kenny live up on the Highfields council estate. At the beginning of the series, their world was falling apart, their family split, money short, hope all but gone. What saves them is love: the love of Nicky for his older but simpler brother, Kenny. Kenny’s own wide-beam love, which encompasses not only his family, but anything helpless and vulnerable they encounter. And so, over the first two books, things get better. Their dad begins to sort out his life. They move on.

    In Rook, the last (I think …) in the series, their problems change. Rather than survival, the issues are more typical teenage ones. Kenny has made new friends – one of who appears to be Doctor Who – and Nicky no longer feels quite so needed, quite so central to his brother’s being. And he’s fallen for a pretty girl at school, with the horrible complication that her brother is a vicious bully. There are twists, which follow, I trust, the organic patterns of life, rather than the artificial needs of plot. In the end things work out … OK.

    But I hope that I’ve been true both to my characters, and to that place – that particular small town in North Yorkshire, typical, and yet unique, seemingly ordinary, and yet overflowing with stories, with eccentrics, with danger and joy, with life.

    BrockPike and Rook are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now

    Get Ahead as an Author – Get a Dog

    Dogs make the very best muses. I know because I wrote a book about a boy and a dog, with two of my own fur babies constantly by my side. Goodnight, Boy is written to and about a dog, and it explores how, even in the very worst circumstances, a dog will keep you going. Any authors reading this will know that I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that the badlands of 20,000 words into a first draft is a pretty bad place to find yourself. As is sitting down to the smell of freshly-sent editorial notes.

    So here is a rundown of why, if you want to get ahead in publishing, you should most definitely get a dog.

    1. Basics

    The only indispensable rule I know for writing is that you must have your bum on a seat, and your fingers on the keyboard to produce anything. So, if, as a dog owner, you’re forced to spend more time at home, this is a good start. If you also have a dog keeping your toes warm (as Edith Wharton put it, ‘a heartbeat at my feet’), it really does discourage you from wandering off and doing housework.

    1. Distractions

    Talking of housework, once you’re a dog owner, I can guarantee you’ll spend less time on housework, redecorating and the general maintenance of what is normally seen as an acceptable standard of hygiene because keeping up with the mess dogs create is pretty much futile. One of my dogs sheds like a dandelion clock mid blow, 24 hours a day. This may sound like a negative, but actually time spent not hoovering can be diverted into words, paragraphs, chapters, and head stroking.

     

    1. Hobbies

    Forget hobbies. Writing takes time; for thinking, drafting, editing, and Twitter stalking writers more successful than yourself. So the last thing you need is an interesting pastime, such as badminton or medieval battle enactment. It won’t matter though, because, as a writer you get to experience any number of strange locations and events in your head. And, if you’re ever asked at a publishing party what else you do, just say you have a dog because a dog is a hobby, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees.

     

    1. Health and fitness

    There’s a syndrome, coined by the incomparable author Pip Jones, known as SAAD: Spreading Author Arse Disorder. Sedentary hours make SAAD pretty much inevitable, so you’re going to have to get some exercise in somehow. Dogs like walks even though they don’t have Fitbit buddies to impress. The longer and more frequent the better, and in absolutely any weather (unless they’re like one of mine, who is half cat, and won’t go out if showers are forecast). On walkies your dog will meet up with their mates and you’ll make friends with their owners too (think, park scene in 101 Dalmations, but, in my experience, less romantic). If you’re lucky, these humans will be the sort who don’t mind you bouncing book ideas off them or moaning about writing. Even if they do, they’re a lot more polite about it than your family are. And when you’re not exploiting the personal generosity of strangers, you get to spend time walking alone listening to music and audio books (consuming other people’s books is part of the job) or just walking in silence, which sometimes allows you hear those really shy, difficult voices that lurk at the back of your brain.

     

    1. Mental health

    Being a writer can be wonderful but, contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not the way to

    everlasting happiness. Granted, writing can be cathartic at times, but once you’ve catharted you have to live with the fact that other people, thousands of them, will be reading, judging, maybe even hurling across the room in disgust, the product of said catharsis. Fortunately, dogs probably can’t read – though, as the first draft of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Max, you have to wonder. Generally speaking, however, your dog will not mind how bad your first draft is. They equally won’t care about reviews, prizes, foreign rights sales, or if you’re even any good or hopelessly derivative and commercially out of kilter. Dogs are all about here and now. And, as writers, if we can try to be more dog, and concentrate on the process rather than the product, I have a feeling that we’d not only be a lot happier, but better writers too.

     

    1. Love

    People worry about being lonely if they work from home, but I never feel alone. I work with fantastic colleagues who can’t talk to me. This means they can’t discuss the project they’re working on, ask what’s for dinner, or chat about school. They never disagree with me, or storm off to their bedroom, and they don’t judge me when I get in a strop because Scrivener is stupid. (It is – fact). Dogs take tolerance and unconditional love to saintly levels, and like nothing better than to soothe the furrowed brow of the needy writer with a lick, a well-placed head on the lap, or a paw in the hand. They’re philosophers, therapists, personal trainers, and friends. And that’s why authors need dogs.

     

    One last historical note; George Eliot’s publisher sent her a pug as part payment for one of her novels. A practice that, I hope my publisher will agree, should definitely be revived for 2017.

     

     

    Mother and daughter Labradoodles, Tinker (left) and Coco

     

    Nikki and Tinker


    Coco and Tinker playing with their friend, Snowy, at Brighton Beach