Category Archives: Authors

Are you a fan of Goth Froth?!

ravensite
THE RAVEN MYSTERIES website launches on October 1st to coincide with the publication of GHOSTS AND GADGETS, the second book in Marcus Sedgwick’s THE RAVEN MYSTERIES series. Guided by Edgar the raven, the unofficial guardian of Castle Otherhand, visitors to the new site can take a tour of the castle, meet the spooky and strange Valevine family and download all sorts of goodies!

Designed by Hyperlaunchdmg, the website is full of brand new images of the Castle and its inhabitants drawn exclusively for the website by Pete Williamson: each visit allows something new to be discovered.

BECOME A ‘GOTH-FROTH’ FAN CLUB MEMBER and you can…
Play the Feathers game (where Fellah the monkey tries to pull out Edgar’s feathers).
Gain access to all the extras such as posters, wallpapers and ringtones.
Read the blog from Edgar the raven, (regularly updated by Marcus Sedgwick!)

bordersOrion Children’s Books has joined forces with Borders for the launch of this new website: a bespoke Raven Mysteries page will become a part of the Borders site and will host an exclusive competition which will run until 31 December 2009.

The answer to the Borders competition question is also the secret code that opens the RED ROOM on the RAVEN MYSTERIES website for all who guess correctly, while the prize-winner will receive an invitation to the next recording of a Raven Mysteries audiobook, meeting author Marcus Sedgwick and actor Martin Jarvis, and having the opportunity to take an active role in the recording studio.

Martin’s lively reading of FLOOD AND FANG, the first book in the series, brings the goings-on of the oddballs and fruitcakes who live at Castle Otherhand to life. The recording has been used to great effect in the new website, as has the music by audiobook producer Peter Rinne.

Review: Al Capone Shines my Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

alcapshinesWhen I picked up the book Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, the first thing I noticed were the simple drawings on the front and back cover and the irregular colourful lettering of the title. “Hmm,” I thought. “This looks like light holiday reading”. I did indeed take it on holiday with me, and it was indeed light holiday reading, but no less enjoyable for it. Gennifer Choldenko is a good writer. Even in my sunny locale I could see the mists envelopping the prison island of Alcatraz where the story is set in my mind’s eye, and even though I myself am years past the pre-teen angst of growing up, I truly empathised with the main character – Moose Flanagan – a 12 year old boy and felt his internal embarrassment, his awkwardness, his frustration with his friend who doesn’t play baseball and his puzzlement at the vagrancies of his female playmates.

The year is 1935, the United States is battling the Great Depression and Al Capone has been transferred to Alcatraz. Meet a warden’s son – Moose Flanagan. Moose asks Al Capone for a favour – to help his sister get into a special needs school. When his sister is admitted into said school, Moose owes the dangerous gangster. What is he to do? The story then twists and turns through the trials and tribulations of living on Alcatraz, being in close proximity to dangerous criminals, rule-obsessed wardens, impossibly cruel but unbearably pretty girls and the thrill of moving undetected in a place designed to hold the most accomplished of escape artists.

Moose Flanagan as a character has the touch of the Irish about him, he’s well liked by all,
thinks quickly, always manages to say the right thing and has a way with the girls. This”chosen” sort of quality that others see, but he himself does not feel, reminds me greatly of Harry Potter. The story also deals with a young boy who lives in a special place, who faces down a a dangerous enemy and becomes involved in a plot far bigger than by rights he should be expected to handle, all Potter-esque virtues.

In fact, this book is similarly appropriate for the tween and teen markets as the Harry Potter series.
I would therefore not hesitate to recommend Al Capone Shines My Shoes to young adults and adults who are young at heart.

– –

This review was written & submitted by the awesome Natalie Prescott who currently resides in a medieval town in the Netherlands

Booktrust Teenage Book Prize

The shortlist for the Teenage Book Prize was released yesterday.

Launched in 2003 to recognise and celebrate contemporary fiction written for teenager, the prize (which is judged by a mixed panel of adults and teenagers) has in the words of former judge Matt Whyman ‘fast become the benchmark for quality young people’s fiction in the UK.’

The Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009 shortlist is
:

Auslander by Paul Dowswell (Bloomsbury)
It’s 1942 and Peter is seized from an orphanage in Warsaw by Nazi soldiers, only to be classified as an Aryan and adopted by the prominent Nazi Professor Kaltenbach. Peter is expected to perfectly embody the values of the regime, but he has his own ideas on how to undermine its horrific pursuit of perfection.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)
This chillingly fantastical tale is Gaiman’s first full-length novel since his internationally bestselling and highly acclaimed Coraline. Bod is alive…but his friends are not. Raised by ghosts, werewolves and other ethereal graveyard inhabitants, how will Bod reconcile the world of the living and the dead?

Ostrich Boysby Keith Gray (Definitions)
Left despondent after the funeral of their friend Ross, three friends – Kenny, Sim and Blake – steal Ross’ ashes and embark on an epic journey in search of a more fitting memorial. Described as a “modern classic”’ (Jake Hope, The Bookseller), this tale explores deep friendship and devastating loss.

The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)
33 Georgiana Street is home to an eclectic and chaotic assortment of runaways and misfits. Their disparate lives only briefly cross paths as they each purse their isolated existence; no questions asked. Yet below the surface everyone has a secret to hide.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant (Puffin)
Intrigue and eerie mystery lie at the heart of Grant’s captivating debut novel, which entwines ancient German folklore with contemporary life-changing tragedy. The disappearance of ten-year-old Katharina reduces the small German town of Bad Munstereifel to panic. Only young Pia is determined to discover the truth.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Walker)
The second sci-fi fantasy novel in the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and sequel to the Booktrust Teenage Prize-winning The Knife of Never Letting Go, this fast-paced thriller continues the adventures of Todd and Viola. Fuelled by tension and mistrust, the pair find themselves on opposites sides of a civil war in this work of dystopian fiction.

272925_HERO COM_CRISIS POINT_JUL09272924_VILLAIN NET_POWER SURGE_JUL09 (2)
The Hero Foundation is a shadow of its former self and Lord Eon the most terrible supervillain ever has hatched a plan to tear apart time. Toby and his superhero friends should be able to stop him . . . but Pete has woken up from his coma a different person, Emily has been kidnapped, and Lorna has disappeared.

At the same time, schoolboy supervillain, Jake Hunter has taken his seat on the Council of Evil. Now he will live his dream and exact revenge on the cruel world.

But the cruel world has other plans, and they come in the shape of the Hero Foundation. Jakes not scared of the Hero Foundation. He even has a plan to turn it to the dark side. Until it gets a new member ? Jakes own sister. Is he really so villainous as to try to get her out of the way?

Read the books as separate satisfying adventures . . .or read them together and spot the heroes and villains blasting into each other’s missions.

Which side are you on?

Interview with Joanne Hitchens author of Stained

Stained

1. Before it was developed for the Cutting Edge series, Stained was shortlisted for the Sanlam Youth Literature Award in 2005. Is there much difference between the Cutting Edge version and the original text? How did you rework the book to fit into this series?

Actually, I had worked on Stained since the short-listing. I wanted it to be a longer novel, but the word count for Cutting Edge was limited so I went back to the original text and worked with that. I was happy to do this, as the Cutting Edge project sounded exciting and I wanted to be part of it. I was very pleased that Cutting Edge, and specifically editor Peter Lancett, more or less liked Stained the way it was. I did, however, rewrite the sections now titled ‘from the diary of Crystal September’ from third person into first person, as the Cutting Edge brief was to publish stories written from the first person perspective. As a writer too, I’ve learned not to be too precious about the work – Stained is one of the first full-length pieces I wrote and I tried not be too concerned about making changes and letting it go.

2. Coming from Cape Town yourself, did you draw on any of your own experiences of growing up there when you were writing Stained?

Cape Town is an interesting City to live in. Parts of Cape Town are extremely affluent and luxurious. Suburbs exist with large mansions, complete with housekeepers and gardeners, while a stones throw across the railway line lie the Cape Flats. This is, for the most, a sprawling and very poor area where many families live in cramped council housing, or wooden shacks. Living in Cape Town, I’ve always been aware of this ‘shadow’ side of the city, and I think this influences all of my writing. I am interested in writing about characters who live on the edges of life, the people who are often dismissed or forgotten, people who’ve suffered, and I’m interested in the reasons for their suffering.
My own childhood was relatively privileged, although I did go through the turmoil that affects most teenagers. I was rather boy crazy, so can understand the hormones that influence the behaviour of teens, and I understand too, the need for acceptance that alot of teens feel, and want, from the opposite sex – especially if they are confused themselves about their own identity.

3. Obviously the South African setting is quite important to your book, but how well do you think teenagers from other countries will be able to relate to your story and characters?

The setting is unique to the Western Cape in South Africa, but there is council-type housing in many parts of the world, especially developing countries, where poverty is rife. In my opinion, poverty, linked to the frustration that many people feel as they try to eke out a living and do the best for their families, is a recipe for anger which can result in abuse. And abuse is something that many young people may have to endure – which brings me to the question, how do young people protect themselves in a modern world?
The confusion and angst that my characters feel – Grace the more stable teenager, and Crystal and Shardonnay, the wild sisters who live next door – is universal. As is the need for acceptance, as is the risk of absue that they face, either from older men or their peers who are themselves experimenting sexually. There are risks too, of sexually transmitted diseases, including the very real risk of contracting HIV. I hope that young women might relate to the characters in some way, and learn that they can make good choices for themsleves – although it can be difficult. And I hope too that this book will be read by young men, and that they might learn something from it – to take responisbility for their part in a sexual relationship, which also means to understand the consequences: teenage pregnancy is a problem worldwide, and Britain especially has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy.
And then of course I have made reference to televison and programmes like Pop idols, and materialism and wanting more, showing, I hope, that there is more to life. So I hope teens will respond to this book on many levels.

4. You also spent some time working in a psychiatric clinic, how much of your story is influenced by cases that you saw whilst you were working there?

I worked with adolescents for a number of years, and realised how vulnerable they are – how easily influenced, how needy, and how easy it is to get into (and addicted to) drugs and alcohol, which, if abused, lead to very risky behaviour. I learned too that the media is a great influence on young people and they often want a lifestyle, or a body, which is ‘advertised’ in the pages of magazines, or on TV. I’d like to encourage young people to celebrate their individuality and uniqueness – of body and mind – instead of looking to external factors to make themselves feel better. In many cases this is sex, or even pregnancy. I always like to consider the underlying needs of my characters, which in the case of the young people in Stained, is the need for acceptance, a need to ‘fit in with a crowd’ – which leads to Grace, for instance, making compromises about who she is instead of accepting who she is.

5. Would you agree that teenage pregnancy is the central theme in your book, and were there any other issues you wanted to draw attention to?

Yes, I would completely agree. The reason some teens fall pregnant is that they want to fill a ‘gap’ or a ‘void’ in their lives. They feel an emptiness in their lives and try to fill that ‘space’ with boys, sex or drugs – anything to create the illusion that life is bearable. If young women and girls tiurn ot sex to distract themselves from the ‘emptiness’ , this can so easily extend to pregnancy. In many case preganancy is accidental, but in some cases girls want to become preganant. They feel a baby will be someone to love, and that the baby will love them back! Then the reality sets in, after birth, that raising a child is a full-time job which takes comitment and patience – a baby, unlike a cell phone, can’t be switched off! Dealing with a young baby can be very frustrating.
I wanted also to adress the issue of abuse. In South Africa we have extremely high levels of violence against children, including rape and murder, which is sadly often perpetrated by an acquantance or a family member. In order to face this, we have to expose this sort of abuse, and what better way than to engage readers with the issues? We can’t shield our children from the realities out there.
Another issue I wanted to address was parenting . Sometimes as teens we think our parents are too strict and stifling and that they don’t give us enough freedom. Good parenting is about creating boundaries, even for teens who believe the world belongs to them. Sometime teenagers only understand the value of proper parenting when they are older and can appreciate the effort it takes a parent to ‘hang in there’ through the difficulties – to be a support as well as to provide an example.

6. Stained is one of the few fiction books that I have read that deals with postnatal depression. It is a condition that affects a lot people but it is rarely discussed in the public sphere. Were you aware of this, and do you think it is an important issue for teenagers to be educated about?

I think that most teenagers have a skewed view of pregnancy. Most women, in fact, are brought up to expect pregnancy to be this wholesome time where you glow with health. In fact, pregnancy and birth are probably one of the most life-changing experiences a girl or woman can go though, and the reality of it is that a new mother may well suffer from depression after the birth, or have feelings of loneliness or isolation. It’s difficult for women to admit this, as most people consider the arrival of a new baby to be a time of great joy. The reality is, that the first few days and weeks of taking care of a new baby can be overwhelming – not only do you have to adjust to the new life, but your body goes through various changes too. And the baby makes demands if you are breast-feeding! If feelings of anxiety and helplessness take a new mom by surprise, it can have devastating effects.
I feel there should be much more education on the consequences of pregnancy – which is a child for life! And a child who may have colic, who doesn’t sleep, grows up to be willful and stubborn as he or she turns into a toddler – this is all taxing on a new mom. Although wanting a child is instinctual, and with menstruation, many girls may feel the urge to have a baby, there are so many responsibilities that go with parenthood. Pregnancy is not something that should happen without a good deal of preparation and understanding of what it is like to look after a child.

7. A lot of teenage fiction attempts to discuss these kinds of issues but often skirts around them or doesn’t fully engage with them. When you were writing Stained were you consciously trying to avoid this and remain honest and realistic about and the issues you were writing about?

Yes. Absolutely. A publisher here, interested in publishing Stained, wanted me to cut back on the sex and the violence, but I felt what would the point be if I toned it down? In my experience, and even just from reading the daily newpapers, this is the kind of tragedy that is happening in real life (I have just read a report about the abuse of a nine-year-old girl who is now pregnant!) so I wanted to be truthful and reflect a certain reality. There is no point denying that many young women, and girls, are not only sexually active, but are pushing prams about! Unfortunately, abuse of young women and girls is a major problem in South Africa, and I didn’t want to skirt about the issue. I wanted to be truthful and honest, and in this way initiate exactly this sort of discussion!

8. One of the things I found most striking whilst reading Stained was the narrative voice of Grace. It is overwhelmingly genuine, how did you manage to find and capture this voice of confusion and teenage angst that so many of your readers will connect with?

I placed myself in Grace’s character when writing the story. I tried to wite as if I was myself a rebellious teenager, in that position of wanting a more exciting life. Grace wants more ‘kicks’, but at the same time is afraid of the sort of chaos she sees unfolding next door. She is very much an observer, and I think this comes through in the tone of the writing. Grace is a well-brought up girl, her adoptive mother has tried her best to love Grace, albeit in her own way, but Grace has issues with her adoption and issues with what she believes is her ‘boring’ life. I have teenage daughters too, so I can see how difficult this stage of life is. Girls want to explore, they want to experiemnt, but it is such a dangerous world out there, young people have to be educated about the pitfalls. Part of a parents ‘job’ is to try to potect teenagers. But how does a parent do this without going overboard? A diificult job indeed! And as I said earlier, I can still remember the angst of being a teenager. I did some stupid things, but came through it alive! There is actually less opportunity to experiment these days than there was when I was a teenager – with AIDS, abuse, and murder as part of our wolrd, young girls and women have to really learn to respect themselves and to keep the bigger picture in mind – of a healthy life.

9. Finally, the tragedy that unfolds in your book is a stark wake-up call to readers. Were you always working towards this outcome, or was there any point where you considered taking the story along a different route?

The first scene I had in mind as I started writing was the killing of a baby by his teenage mother. I wanted this mother to be so damaged that this was the only course of action to her. I had thought of writing Stained as a crime novel, so I’m sure this influenced my choices as i went along. I did however, manage to save the baby in the end. In retrospect, maybe the suicide is too much, but I think I wanted the novella to be stark. Not too many happy endings. Especially for the September family. I wanted to show the utter devestation that absue can cause. Yet Grace learns something, doesn’t she? She learns she wants to look after herself, and that her mother loves her.

Siobhan Dowd

Siobhan Dowd

Siobhan Dowd received the Carnegie Medal for her novel Bog Child and is the first author to have won it posthumously.

I first became aware of Siobhan Dowd after having a colleague force a copy of The London Eye Mystery into my hands and tell me to read it or else. I only found out later that she had passed away, but not before writing several other truly amazing books.

London Eye Mystery pbblankSwift Pure Cry hi resBog Child pbblankSolace

TheSiobhan Dowd Trust is the dying bequest of the celebrated children’s author Siobhan Dowd. Just before her tragic death from cancer in August 2007 she personally and energetically supervised its foundation, to support, in all ways possible, disadvantaged young readers in the UK and Ireland. It was one of the very last things on Siobhan’s mind and clearly for her the most pressing cause in our society today.

The aims of the trust are simple and direct:

To take stories to our children without stories.
To bring the joy of reading to our children deprived of reading.
To bring books to our children deprived of books.
To fund disadvantaged readers where there is no funding, and to support disadvantaged readers where there is no support.
To fund and support any persons or organizations who help disadvantaged young readers.

The Trustees believe that the best and truest way faithfully to observe Siobhan’s last wish is to invite applications from persons or organizations in the UK or Ireland who need funding to directly help disadvantaged young readers. The Trustees will take a few months to consider and evaluate applications and then begin to disburse awards in the way that best seems to follow Siobhan’s wishes.

By the terms of Siobhan’s will, all royalty income derived from her published novels and any posthumously published work will go to the Trust.

The Trustees believe that Siobhan’s generosity will be the seed of something much larger, and so the Trust also welcomes donations from the public. The aspiration is to help as many disadvantaged young people as possible.

The Trustees are in no doubt of the importance of this bequest and its fundamental urgency for our children and for the future culture of the British Isles and Ireland. We may think we live in a literate society but, as Siobhan was well aware, there are too many places in our own ‘house’ where children are denied the opportunity to read. This is a charity that must begin at home, a home that, like Siobhan’s life, spans both sides of the Irish Sea.


A brief note on Siobhan:

Siobhan spent most of her career looking after writers. Working for PEN she fought to help writers silenced by oppressive regimes around the world. Closer to home, she did all she could to get reading material into the hands of disadvantaged young people from all walks of life, Siobhan co-founded and then ran the Readers & Writers Programme for English PEN which encouraged disadvantaged children to read by sending books and writers into schools as well as working with other institutions such as prisons. Siobhan also encouraged youngsters from the Romany culture to record their history. Her support for, and encouragement of, her fellow-writers was inexhaustible.

In some ways perhaps she sacrificed her own brimming talent for the benefit of other authors. And then, just as she discovered she was fatally ill, she put pen to paper and produced four of the most remarkable novels for children you could wish for. She was a writing phenomenon. The overriding thought of all those who knew her work is that her loss to the world of children’s writing is a tragedy. It is utterly characteristic that Siobhan should, at the end, put her mind unerringly to the most deserving group of all: the young reader. Siobhan realized that our literary culture – critics, bookshops, agents, publishing, libraries, schools – depends ultimately on the reader. And, of readers, the young reader is the most vulnerable. And amongst young readers, the disadvantaged young reader is the most deprived of all. Siobhan, at the last, and with all her usual clarity, decided to help them. And you can help them too.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Books
A Swift Pure Cry
The London Eye Mystery
Bog Child
Solace of the Road

The Trustees
Tony Bradman
Rachel Billington
Polly Nolan
David Fickling

Rachel Billington
Siobhan has the number one gift of gripping you from the first page and not
letting you go till the final, always satisfying, last page. Her gift for
fabulous characterisation, however small the role, combines brilliantly with
original and carefully constructed plot-lines. Always believable, she yet
raises the drama to a frighteningly intense level. Hardest act of all, she
manages to keep up the humour even when the going gets tough. Solace with all
her gripes and bravery, is a fitting heroine for our times. Yet again, hooray
for another Siobhan Dowd masterwork!

Fiona Dunbar
Siobhan inhabits her characters so completely, you feel you know them. In
Holly, she has done it again; here is someone whose wit and humour carries
her through the hardest of times, and whose journey of self-discovery is both
poignant and heart-warming. A delight.

Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN
‘Siobhan Dowd believed passionately in the power of writing to change
people’s lives. She brought this passion to her work for PEN over many years,
whether defending writers in prison or promoting literature in schools. It’s
inspiring and moving to see her work continuing even now.’

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

fohatIn Mary’s world there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is the best zombie novel I have read in a long time! Set in a post zombie apocalypse world and narrated by Mary a young woman who is starting to question her place in the limited world of the village and the choices being made for her.

Every zombie-novel and film I have read or seen opens with the world in the throes of a zombie attack. This is the first novel I have read that takes place after the fact (or The Return as it is known in the world of The Forest of Hands and Teeth), where a group of survivors have built a village and thrived in their closed environment. The village life is run on theocratic lines by the Sisterhood who make up the ruling body and the Guardians who protect the village and maintain the fences. The villagers themselves do as they are told and on the whole are content. The portion of the novel set inthe village reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village with its inhabitants living with strict rules to keep them safe, with the one difference being that in this book the villagers often come face to face with the Unconsecrated at the fence, and sometimes they are the people that they have loved and lost.

The village has been protected and kept safe for generations, but as any lover of the zombie genre will know – no location is safe forever against the undead. Mary discovers that an outsider entered the village through the fenced pathways and is being sequestered by the Sisterhood. She later comes face to face with the woman and that is where everything changes. Forced to flee with her fiancee, the man she loves and his girlfriend plus her brother and sister in law, Mary hopes to reach the ocean and to finally be safe.

I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and particularly enjoyed nods to other books and films contained within the pages – specifically the shambling zombies of the original Romero films and the running zombie from the remake. The world creation was fascinating, the tale hinted of other groups of survivors who for some time at least were in contact. Reference was made to The Return and I am hoping to find out more about this world when The Dead-Tossed Waves is released next year.

YLG AGM @ Scholastic 19/03/2009

On Thursday I attended the Youth Library Group London AGM, which was a relatively quick affair with Karen Robinson taking the reins as YLG:London Chair for 2009/10.

Scholastic provided a room for the AGM and afterwards all members of YLG were invited to attend an incredibly enjoyable informal discussion (with wine and snacks) between Damian Kelleher and authors Rachel Ward, Josh Lacey, M.G. Harris and Sharon Dogar. They discussed their new and forthcoming books as well as what inspired their creation. We were also treated to a brief reading from each of the authors.

After the Q&A session the authors mingled with the Librarians and signed books and chatted about writing and Libraries until the end of the evening.

From teenlib

Rachel Ward + Numbers, Josh Lacey + Bearkeeper, MG Harris + Ice Shock, Sharon Dogar + Falling

Teen Librarian Monthly: March 2009

The March edition of TLM is available to download here

You can also get it delivered to your inbox on a monthly basis free of charge by subscribing – full details at the end of every TLM.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Read the full-text of Coraline online (including Dave McKean’s illustrations).

A discussion guide for Coraline is available here if you would like to discuss it in a reading group.