Category Archives: Blogging

The Black Lotus Tour: Writing Books with Kids

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Kids like writing, but all too often the joy of it gets lost in the mountains of school and home work. Let a child write about something they’re interested in, something meaningful, and the difference will be huge. I discovered this recently in a letter writing lesson. My pupils were required to write an imaginary letter to someone. The results were a little dull. Soon after, however, I arranged a class pen pal swap with a school in America. Once the kids had real pen pals to write to, their writing became alive with personality and enthusiasm.

They say the early childhood years are the formative years of any person’s life, but is it really true? In my case – yes, and here’s the proof. When I was a kid, I wrote two books – one called ‘The Magic Sword’ and one called ‘The Samurai’. Thirty years later, my first novel is published and guess what it’s about? Magic swords and samurai! It’s about other things too, but the influence of my childhood writing cannot be ignored. Writing a book as a child allowed me to experience the thrill of creating new worlds and characters, as well as the thrill of seeing somebody else read about them. Perhaps if I hadn’t written those books as a child, I’d never have become an author as an adult.
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So when I became a teacher I decided to give other kids the opportunity to write a book, in the hope that it might influence their adult life. I started writing books with children in the pre-digital age, so we wrote and illustrated stories on sheets of paper and then stapled them together.

We then got involved with the ‘Write a Book’ scheme which was being run by education centres around the country. As part of this initiative, my pupils each wrote a book and then sent them off to be read and reviewed by other pupils. In return, we received a similar box of books. It was a fantastic scheme.

When computers came into the classroom, they took my book project to the next level. No longer did the child with the messy writing have to feel self-conscious about their handwriting. The printed word became the great leveller in the classroom. Sure, after reading the books, you could still tell which were better than others, but not anymore could you make this decision at first glance.
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The printed word made the books feel more like real books. But with staples and sellotape for binding, they were still a long way off being the real deal. Then along came the internet, and following closely behind it, Print-On-Demand (POD) publishers.

So here’s what my pupils do now: they spend the first term of school preparing for the biggest writing project of their lives by doing all the regular stuff kids do in classrooms across the world. But this time, with a difference. Because now the ‘pointless’ writing activities are no longer pointless, but are training for the book they will write after Christmas.

After having plenty of writing practice in different genres in both fiction and non-fiction, they decide what their book will be about. They spend their Christmas holidays thinking about it, and then return to school in January fired up and ready to start. Free software is downloaded onto the school PCs and pupils spend the next three months writing, drafting, editing and typing their stories. They then illustrate their books with their own artwork or photos. Each book is then uploaded to the POD publisher’s server in America, before being printed in the Netherlands. Once the child’s book is posted, we track the package across Europe until it arrives at the classroom door. Nothing beats the excitement of opening that parcel with your own printed book inside.
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Once all the books arrive at the school, we put away all class readers and use the pupils’ books as class reading material. Pupils read, comment on, and answer questions about each other’s books. Probably the only thing that beats writing your own book is seeing somebody else read and enjoy what you’ve written.

At the end of the year, when copies are thrown in the bin, and textbooks are discarded, these books are carefully brought home and proudly displayed on bookshelves for grandparents, uncles and aunties to see. And long after we’re all gone, some of these treasures will still survive, and hopefully will be picked up by some curious reader in the distant future.

My childhood creation led to what is now a passion in my adult life. I’m hoping it will do the same for some of my pupils.

The Black Lotus by Kieran Fanning published by Chicken House.

Follow Kieran on Twitter @kieranjfanning and find out more at www.kieranfanning.com and http://www.chickenhousebooks.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert Wallis

Chris Riddell the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2015-2017

Each Children’s Laureate brings something new and amazing to the role, my personal favourite has been Malorie Blackman due to the frankly amazing work she has done in raising the profile of teen fiction and YA engagement in general.

When Chris Riddell’s name was announced yesterday I punched the air and whispered “Yeah!” (I was in the Library), I think he is a brilliant choice and has appeal from small children to their parents and grandparents as well as everyone in between.

I am a big fan of Chris Riddell’s work and after hearing his views on libraries, reading, illustrations and how he let his chidren draw in his sketchbooks with him, I have become a fan of the man himself!

At his unveiling as Laureate he released his Five Point plan for the next two years and School Libraries feature heavily:

five point plan

Chris Riddell on Illustration:

During my term I want to use the immediacy and universality of illustration to bring people together and lead them all into the wonderful world of books and reading

On School Libraries:

It’s bizarre that it is not a requirement for the very places where children will learn how to read, draw, think and create to have a space for books…

I want to help and encourage every school to do more for readers. If they have nowhere to read, create a space with a few books; if they have a bookshelf, have two; if they have a reading room, aim for a library.

I am looking forward to following what he does as Laureate and will be sharing it with the students in my school and encouraging them to pick up pencils and paper with their books.

Find out more about Chris, his plans and previous Laureates at the Children’s Laureate site here:

http://www.childrenslaureate.org.uk/

Follow his Laureate Log here: chrisriddellblog.tumblr.com

I am your toothless Carny… Michael Grant on Horror


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am your toothless carny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chopstix by A.T. Raydan, Exclusive Extract


A lot was on my mind, happy thoughts, happy positive thoughts. I was enjoying college life.

As I walked closer to home, I felt another shiver shoot down my spine and tingling sensations throughout my body. This time they felt stronger and lasted longer. I was struck by a sense of panic. Then I heard the sirens and saw flashing lights in the distance.

I noticed the pale blue sky turning dark very quickly. Something had happened. Something very bad had happened.

I carried on walking. With each step, I felt the tingling sensations getting stronger and stronger. As I got closer to home, it hit me. The sirens and flashing lights were coming from right outside the House of Wu. It was on Fire!

The happy thoughts were gone in a flash…

The whole building was ablaze. Plumes of thick black smoke just billowed out across the sky and flames could be seen shooting from the windows and roof of the building.
For a moment, all I could hear was the loud thumping of my heart. I just froze to the spot whilst I took everything in.

I looked around and noticed firefighters carrying hoses everywhere. They were fighting what was quickly turning into a raging inferno. It was at that moment that I first noticed the strong acrid smell and the heat from the fire. It was unbearable.
There was a cordon around the parade of shops, yet crowds were still gathering, all gasping whilst watching the blaze. I heard someone mention that Beryl’s and Franco’s were also under threat from the fire and that firefighters were doing their utmost to save them too.

And then all of a sudden, there was an explosion followed by the sound of glass shattering. Things didn’t look good for the House of Wu.
My breathing became very strained and that acted as a trigger for me to run towards my home oblivious of my surroundings. Suddenly two individuals in uniforms grabbed me. It was the police.

“Stop! Stop! You can’t go any further!” shouted one of the police officers.
“That’s my home! My parents are in there!” I screamed.

“Calm down, calm down,” replied a police officer in a rather relaxed manner, as he took me to one side.

“My parents!” I shouted.

I became hysterical and started to scream. A policewoman approached me and put her arm around me. I knew something bad had happened.

“Come with me,” she said, as she took me towards a police van. She opened the side door and I was helped to sit on the floor with my feet on the pavement.

I was visibly shaking and tears were flowing from my eyes.

“My parents are in there! Have you rescued them? Did they manage to get out in time?” I screamed.

Chopstix by A.T Raydan is published by Unique Inspiration (paperback, £6.99). Available online from Waterstones here.

NEXT STOP: Addicted to Media concludes the official Chopstix blog tour with a spooky letter from Wendy Wu’s mother from beyond the grave…
YESTERDAY’S STOP: Death, Books and Tea hosted a guest post by Chopstix bad guys – ‘The Chi’

Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour

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

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

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

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

Nominations for Best Supporting Character:


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

Only in our dreams are we free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lego pterryx


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

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

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

lego pterryx

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

lego pterryx

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

Some (rambling) Thoughts on Boys & Reading

These thoughts came about while watching the #BoysAndMen tag on Twitter from the London Book Fair yesterday, and getting involved in the online discussions, I am stillupset at missing out on going!

Anyway… on to my thoughts:

One thing I do know for sure is that it is very hard to turn a reader into a non-reader

Some other things of which I am aware:

    Boys read fewer books than girls
    Women buy and read more books than men do
    Some boys do read
    Not all girls read

I have seen gendered reading schemes focusing on young male readers, The Dads and Lads, Mothers and Sons groups being the most widely spread but I have never seen a reading scheme focusing on solely on girls (if anyone knows of any please let me know!)

I have been in the UK for 13 years now and have worked with teens in libraries for a large part of that time. A decade ago it was all about getting teens into libraries and reading, as the resident teen library person in the local authority that I was working in that task fell to me and a couple of colleagues, one of the biggest fights I had was to be allowed to run events for the teens that actually used the library rather than the ones that did not want to be there. Prevailing wisdom seemed to think that we already had the ones that came to us so they were not a problem; I won that fight as I stood firm in my belief that if you build a better teen library service they will come! (it does work!)

The most success I had at getting boys to read was in mixed groups, in the past boys used to see where girls were congregating in the library and follow them in.

I have found that non-readers on their own or if there are only one or two in a group where the focus is on reading will soon fall into reading. Problems arise when non-readers in a group form the majority and then they feed off each other’s antipathy to reading, this strengthens their resistance to picking up a book and they can distract the attendees that actually want to read.

Divide and rule by peer pressure can be positive if engineered correctly.

I believe that it is nurture over nature that influences a person as a reader. I am the middle of three brothers; we were all brought up in the same household surrounded by books and regular trips to the library for story-times. I love reading and owning my own books, my younger brother enjoys reading and my older brother (and his wife) are bringing up their children with a love of reading, as does my younger brother and as will I.

I have also seen youngsters that come from homes with few to no books pick up a book and fall into reading but they are a minority.

What I would like to know is what makes young readers readers – I am not talking about peer suggestions, advertising or pop culture attractions but rather what in their lives led them to pick up a book and fall in love with the act of reading. Every child loves being read to – even teenagers but what is lost or made stronger when they have to read the stories to themselves?

When it comes to reading the United Kingdom does its utmost to engage citizens from birth, with Bookstart Packs for babies and toddlers. Even with the public service cuts libraries still run baby & toddler times and story sessions and it is all free!

So if anyone would like to add comments or suggestions please do so below!

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

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

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

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

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

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Teen Librarian and the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards

Those readers who also follow me on twitter or know me in real life will be aware that for the next two years I will be a Judge for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards.

The effects of the CKG Awards have been slowly creeping in to the way I have been running Teen Librarian. I have been reading as many of the potential nominations as I could so that when the list of nominated titles is revealed I would not have an almost insurmountable task in getting through all of them. I have not felt that it would be a good idea to review the books I have read over the past year as it may create a conflict of interest if my views on them are made known and they are nominated.

My reviews will cease entirely from now as I will have no time to read anything other than the nominated titles, the list of titles will become public next week.

The voices of past judges has become a Greek chorus in my mind, collectively and individually they have all said the same thing: Life as you knew it is over! All your free time will be taken up with reading the nominations, you don’t really need eight hours of sleep a night and say goodbye to your friends and significant other…

The list of things in life that will be set aside because of the awards does go on a bit, but those were the salient points.

I know that I am not the most prolific of posters in the library & book blogging worlds but I may become even quieter. I will not be posting on any of the authors and titles nominated, or about any of the meetings relating to the Awards. I will keep posting ideas and items of interest as I usually do and if anyone reading this would like to become involved with writing articles or reviews for Teen Librarian please do let me know.

I will also not be able to answer any questions relating to views on the nominated titles or authors, or about the awards process or my fellow judges. I will be happy to talk about the importance of the Awards, the criteria and any general questions people may have. I may even write posts about those subjects in case.

Young Adult Literature Con 2014

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Well this week the YA literary blogosphere has been afire with people raving about the Young Adult Literary Convention that took place this past weekend under the wings of the London Film & Comic Con.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with conventions – I love meeting authors & actors seeing friends in the audience and among the people displaying their wares and seeing the cosplayers BUT I really do not enjoy massive crowds of people, in the past my con of choice has been the MCM Expo in Docklands, followed closely by the LFCC but as con culture has grown in the UK so have the crowds and navigating my way through packed gang-ways makes my want to run away screaming. My past survival technique have always been to get in early, see as much as I can and get out before it gets unmanageable.

You want to know something cool? – I was at YALC on the Sunday and it was utterly magnificent! I was fortunate enough to be invited to a blogger breakfast chat on Sunday morning. The brunch featured appearances by Holly Black, Matt Haig, Non Pratt and James Dawson who each gave a short introduction and promotion of their books followed by a meet & mingle with coffee, juice and croissants.

ezgif.com-resizeJames Dawson being crowned by Rosi Crawley with Non Pratt, Matt Haig & Holly Black seated from left to right next to them

My personal highlights of YALC 2014 (in no particular order) were:

Catching up with wonderful human beings Non Pratt and His Majesty James Dawson the new Queen of Teen
Meeting Matt Haig and chatting about the importance of libraries, reading and the differences between school and public libraries
Seeing (and speaking to) Jim and Darren who were (I think) the only two other male bloggers at the blogger brunch
Speaking to Nina, Rosi & Harriet in person for a change rather than being at the other end of an e-mail
Giving my Ruin & Rising tote bag to a passing teen who had a total fan-girl meltdown when she saw it (she told me she was looking forward to reading book 3 so much and loved my bag and did I know if she could get one if there were any more left)
Meeting the Chapter 5 team (who are also the amazing Hodderscape team) and having a mutual admiration chat – they recognized me because I borrowed their table sign for a Lego Han Solo pic
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Chatting to the Hot Key Books team, getting a hug from Sara O’Connor and a proof of Clariel thus earning my love and dedication for life.
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Finding the 2000AD stand, speaking to Lydia Gittens and discovering that they have a YA imprint called Ravenstone
Being surrounded by my people the book fans, people that geek out when meeting authors and receiving signed books
Catching up with my friends Doctor Manhattan and Zuul (aka Shaun & Jackie)
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Things that I did not do that I really wanted to:
Attend the opening on the first day
Speak to Holly Black – no idea how this did not happen, we were in the same area for ages!
Get a seat at any of the talks – I hung around the back and listened to some but I was too hot and dressed inappropriately to get comfortable
Find any number of friends, authors and associates that I knew were there but did not seem able to locate

What I will do next year:
Book early entry tickets way in advance then arrive early to make sure there is none of that hanging around for hours in a queue to buy tickets
Take at least two water bottles
Wear light and airy clothes
Arrange to go in with a group of friends for mutual defence and protection
Be aware what* is happening, where and at what times
*panels, workshops & author signings

The most important thing anyone can do is support the YALC organisers and agitate for it to become an annual occurrence, this was the first one and it was amazing, I truly believe that next year will be even more spectacular and will do what I can to make sure it happens!

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