Category Archives: Interviews

The Third Degree… with Daniel Gray-Barnett


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

Did/do you have your own Grandma Z? If not who inspired the character?

I don’t have a Grandma Z, but I do have 3 grandmothers, each of who inspired the character in their own little way. I’ve always been drawn to strong, female characters with a lot of personality and Grandma Z insisted that that was how she would be too.

Are any parts of the story based on personal experiences?

Yes! Some of the things they do and places they go are based on real things that I have done, or at the very least would like to do. Did you know there is an Enchanted Rock in Texas? I climbed it a couple of years ago. The Big Dipper is also the name of the first rollercoaster I ever went on.

I loved the artwork in the book – how many implements did you use in its creation?

Thanks! I used several tools. I use a variety of Chinese brushes with black ink which are great for linework up to big, rough textures. I also use 3B pencils. When it comes to the digital part, I use a scanner, Wacom tablet and Photoshop for cleaning up, arranging and colouring the artwork.

Was the colour palette you used a conscious decision or did it come about through experimentation?

It was a conscious decision. I think Grandma Z’s character was the first thing to pop into my head – a flame-haired, slightly scary character in a bright blue coat. I love using limited colour palettes in my work so it was a great challenge to see how far I could take it with the book.

How long did Grandma Z take from conception to completion?

About 18 months. It was written over 12 months and then it was a very busy 6 months to finish and hand in the art. It sounds like a long time but when you’ve got other projects, work, a partner and life in general throwing distractions in your way, it can be hard to finish!

Is there anything in the creative process that you would do differently for your next book?

I think if the next book ends up not being the next Grandma Z instalment, it will use more colours. Though if it is the sequel to Grandma Z, I’m wondering whether it will still use the same colour palette.

I’d probably try and procrastinate a little less and have some more solid time devoted to working on this book too. My first book was done whilst I was working part-time and busy with other jobs, but I recently moved to a rural town in Tasmania, which is beautiful and peaceful and allows me a lot more time to focus on my work. I’m hoping that here I can be a bit more productive!

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

I just bought Abner Graboff’s What Can Cats Do? He’s one of my illustration heroes and I’ve spent a lot of time looking lovingly at the illustrations from this book. He did a lot of wonderful work in the 1960’s. This book was originally called A Fresh Look At Cats but has been republished this year. I literally jumped for joy when I saw it in the book shop. It’s a great picture book for younger readers and has a lot of humour.

As far as other books go, I’m in between books but just finished Flames by Robbie Arnott. He’s also from Tasmania and his book is set in Tasmania – one full of magical realism and mythology. It’s a story about death, gods, grief and nature. I loved it. I think it really captures a lot about this place I’m living in now. If you enjoy contemporary fiction, I’d definitely recommend it.

Do you ever visit schools or libraries (or would you consider it)? If you do what is the best way to get in touch with you to organise a visit?

Yes! I’d definitely consider it. You can always send me an email at dan@danielgraybarnett.com

I’d love to hear from any fans, whether it’s to share any work, stories, illustrations or just to say hello.

Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is published by Scribe Publications and is available now

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

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.

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!

Fever: the Deon Meyer Interview


Hi Deon, welcome to the TeenLibrarian interview and thank you for giving up your time to answer a few questions!

Before we begin I would just like to say as a SA expat I am a major fan of your work and love seeing South African authors making waves in the international book world!

Hi Matt

Thank you very much for the kind comments. Much appreciated!

Even though it has a laaitie with a gun, Fever is not a novel aimed at the teen or YA market (but the best books are for all ages) and I know that it will appeal to a number of the older kids I work with! Have you ever considered writing a book aimed specifically at a teen audience?

My basic philosophy is to write the story I am most passionate about ( I usually have a few brewing), and I write for the only reader I know – me. So if such a story comes around and the reader within gets excited, I would certainly try …

You are a superstar in the crime fiction world – what inspired you to write a post-apocalyptic novel?

I’m not quite sure about the ‘superstar’ status, and I must admit that I don’t believe in inspiration, but perspiration. You have to work at finding and developing story ideas. FEVER’s origins are in multiple places; non-fiction books on what would really happen in a world without us, all the great post-apocalyptic novels (and a few short stories) I’ve read in my life, my concern for our planet, and my hope that we can transform our South African society into a country of liberty and equality.

Fever, like your earlier works was originally written in Afrikaans, when your works are translated do you work with the translator or do you just let them get on with the work?

I work closely with my exceptional translator Laura Seegers. We’ve been working together for almost 15 years, and have a great understanding.

I am aware that several of your books have been optioned for film and television over the years, if you had the choice what format you prefer for Fever?

I think FEVER is best suited for a TV series.

I am about two thirds of the way through Fever (and may have finished it by the time you answer these questions) – it is so outstandingly good! How long did it take for the Fever to burn through you from initial infection to completion?

Thank you! It took four years from initial concept to final chapter.

Most authors I know hate the question “what are you working at the moment?” so instead I will ask what are you currently reading?

I don’t mind telling you that I’m writing a new Bennie Griessel crime thriller. And I’m reading the superlative Ken Follet’s FALL OF GIANTS.

Can you recommend the works of other South African authors for an international audience?

Absolutely. In no particular order, and to name but a few, there’s Karin Brynard, Mike Nicol, Margie Orford, Michael Stanley, Angela Makholwa, Andrew Brown, Chris Marnewick, Paul Mendelson, MD de Villiers

#YATakeover Neil Gaiman Interview

Early last week I received a cryptic e- mail from Jake Hope asking if I was free on Saturday from 4 – 5pm. I said of course and he revealed that Neil Gaiman had agreed to participate Anthe FAFictionado’s #YATakeover and they wanted me to host the chat.

Once I had managed to stop dancing round the library I agreed and then started fretting that something terrible would happen (spoiler: it didn’t)

The interview took place yesterday on twitter and the storify is below:

Hilda and the Stone Forest: Chatting to a Pearson of Interest

Hi Luke, welcome to Teen librarian and thank you for giving up your time for this interview!
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I grew up reading Tintin and later got into Asterix and since them Hilda is the first graphic album I actively get excited about when I hear about a new volume being released – what inspired her creation?

The initial inspiration was Scandinavian folk tales. I really like the kind of strange, low-key stories, where the existence of creatures like elves and trolls is taken as matter-of-fact and the stories told very plainly. I wanted to create a world and cast of characters that would let me capture the feeling I got reading those stories.

I wanted the world to look like some of the places I visited on a holiday to Norway with my family, where I guess a lot of the early ideas I had took shape. I love Tove Jansson and the Moomin stories and that was very much on my mind at the start. I did read a lot of Asterix as a kid (I have to admit I always found Tintin kind of boring) and when the series moved to the ‘album’ format, I more consciously looked to that as an influence, though probably only visually.

Hilda and the Stone Forest is my new favourite book of her adventures (but I have thought that with each book I have read), the chase scene at the beginning is a masterclass in conveying speed in a static medium – how long did it take you to draw the first six pages?

I really can’t remember how long I spent on those particular pages. I stop and start a lot and there can be a long time between planning a page and drawing the final, which both feel like part of the same process. They were probably the most carefully planned out though and also probably my favourite pages in the book. They’re not vital to the story but I had a really strong idea about how I wanted the book to start, throwing you straight into the middle of one of one of her escapades, to set the pace and to give a sense of the life she’s living right now.

Sticking with movement for the next few questions I am really looking forward to the animated series in 2018! How long has this been developing?

It’s been on the cards since 2014, maybe a bit earlier. Work on the actual series only really began this year though.

Will the animated series be based on the Hilda books or will we discover a whole range of new adventures starring our favourite blue-haired girl?

Both! The series spans the events of the books so far, with new stories in between. With the exception of The Stone Forest all the books are covered. They’ve been adapted so things have shifted around and changed somewhat (for instance the events of Hilda and the Troll are merged into the Midnight Giant episodes) but it’s basically all there. Actually there are very few scenes or elements that haven’t made it into the series in some form. Some of the most incidental stuff has survived and even been fleshed out.
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Are you involved in the creation of the animated series in any way?

Yes, quite a lot actually. I was there to help come up with the new stories and I’ve been overseeing just about everything coming in. Giving notes and feedback on all the scripts and designs. I’m writing the scripts for two episodes. I’m providing designs and sketches for new characters. I’ll be doing some storyboarding.
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I love Hilda’s mum’s involvement in the latest adventure, as a relatively new parent I found the cliff-hanger to be really shocking – will we have to wait long for the second part of the story and can you share the title or is that still top secret?

Not as long as between this one and the last! With any luck it’ll be next year. I don’t want to leave people too concerned for too long and obviously I have the benefit of knowing exactly where the story is going this time. I can’t share the title I’m afraid because I haven’t decided on it yet.

I am looking forward to sharing Hilda’s adventures with my daughter when she is old enough – are there any comic series that you enjoy that you can recommend for Hildafans?

I’m really not sure what I’d suggest for younger readers, because I don’t really look at much in that age bracket. But for older kids looking onwards and upwards I’d recommend comics by Vera Brosgol, Isabel Greenberg, Noelle Stevenson and the Spera series. And for all ages I would always recommend the Moomin books and picture books (maybe save the comics for later.)
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You are probably too busy writing and illustrating but do you ever visit schools or library groups to talk about your art?

I tend not to as I’m not very comfortable talking in front of people. Occasionally I’ll end up doing something like that and it’s always very pleasant and gratifying. But it wreaks too much havoc on my nerves.

Thank you again for answering the questions and thank you also for two* of the greatest female protagonists in a comic medium!

*Hilda’s mum is also amazing

You’re welcome!

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Andy McNab: the Street Soldier Interview

streetsoldierGood afternoon Mr McNab, welcome to the Teen Librarian site and thank you for giving up your time to answer a few questions!

Not a problem, I’m stuck at my desk doing the final edit to my new Nick Stone thriller, so this is a nice distraction!

I have been a fan of your work since I read Brave Two Zero way back in 1995 but am really behind with the Nick Stone novels.

Get reading then, you’ve got some catching up to do!

Are any parts of Street Soldier based on your experiences prior to and after joining the army?

Yes, quite a lot of this book is autobiographical, and as a result of that it’s a book that feels very personal to me. Like Sean, the main character, I got in with the wrong crowd as a teenager in London, ended up in prison and from there got into the army. Like him, that experience changed my life.

As an addendum to the previous question, are any of the characters based on people you know or knew?

Well, Sean is based in part on me I guess, although only the good bits. I’ve used bits of people i served with in the army for some of those characters, and also a few old mates i remember from my days getting into trouble in Peckham have influenced the characters who made up Sean’s ‘family’ of gang members before he got sent to prison.

andy-mcnabWithout giving out spoilers, some of Sean’s early decisions with his Corporal made me want to smack him upside the back of his head – are you aware of any such activities happening in the army?

There’s always going to be the danger of a few dodgy characters in any large group of similar people. The army is no different, they aren’t all angels, and they don’t all come from the easiest backgrounds, Sean included obviously. There is a big difference between wanting to make a few quid on the side and being part of something much worse, and the problem is that people might think they are doing the first of those things, when in fact they are involved in something much more dangerous, both to them and to others.

Street Soldier is the first book in a new series for teen readers, will it be a finite series or is it going to be open-ended?

Depends whether people like it, and whether Sean has more stories to tell. I’m already working on a follow up to this, so he isn’t going anywhere quite yet, but beyond that, you’ll have to wait and see.

Will any characters from your other works cross paths with Sean or is his universe self-contained?

That’s a great idea, it’s interesting to introduce characters where you don’t expect them. I haven’t done it yet from my adult books to the young adult ones, but if I do, I’ll bung you a credit at the beginning.

There were some threads left dangling at the end of Street Soldier can you drop any hints as to where will Sean end up next?

It’s a secret! If I told you I’d have to kill you. No, just joking, and it might all change, but all I can tell you at the moment is that he’s continuing with his army career for the foreseeable future and that the army will take him to new and exotic locations.

While reading the book I thought there were several similarities with the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz and CHERUB by Robert Muchamore but with a more realistic protagonist and lack of slick secret agent techniques and glamour. Can you recommend other books for readers who have enjoyed Street Soldier?

Yes, I hope my writing is more fact based and authentic than unrealistic spy stories. I’ve got nothing against those, they are all fantastic entertainment, but I guess that because of my background it wouldn’t work for me. I have done the gritty stuff, but not so much of the James Bond cocktails and fast cars. My highlight was a Peugeot 205 turbo when I was serving in Northern Ireland. Not quite the same as an Aston is it.

I am aware of your work with literacy charities, specifically Quick Reads and the Six Book Challenge, if you had one piece of advice on getting young people reading what would it be?

It doesn’t matter what you read, just get reading. If you don’t like it, bin it and pick something else up. Reading really can change your life, it did for me. It gives you knowledge and knowledge gives you power to make decisions and do what you want with your life.

I have heard that you sometimes visit schools and reading groups, if this is something you still do what is the best way to go about organising a visit?

Yes, I feel really passionate about getting out there and encouraging young people, and less young people, to make the most of education and opportunities being offered to them. Best way to organise something is through my publicist Laura. Her email is laura@laurasherlockpr.co.uk. Bet she’ll thank me for shouting her email address in an interview, ha!

Lastly can you describe Street Soldier in six word or less to grab a potential reader’s interest?

Offender turned soldier, Sean Harker, must protect the streets of London from a terrorist threat. Ok, bit more than 6 words, sorry.

Thank you again and all the best

No problem, thank you for the questions!

STREET SOLDIER, PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY, IS AVAILABLE NOW!

An Interview with Dr Dominic Walliman & Ben Newman, Creators of Professor Astro Cat

To celebrate Science Week I am extremely pleased to welcome Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman to Teen Librarian to talk about Professor Astro Cat.

vitruvian astrocat

I will break up my first question into two parts, the first being how long have the two of you worked together and how did you come to be co-creators of Professor Astro Cat?

BEN: We’ve been friends since secondary school. I got to know Dominic better when he and a friend of ours put on a comedy night. A few of my close friends and I were involved in the evening. We always stayed in touch despite going off on very different paths.
Back in 2010, I designed and printed a solar system poster which sold really well from my website and I approached my publisher, Nobrow about publishing a book about Space for children. They agreed and asked if I knew anyone who could write it. I immediately thought of Dominic and when we were back in our home town for Christmas I asked him and he said ‘no’…. kidding! He said ‘yes’, really.

DOM: I got really into astrophysics when I was in 6th form after reading a book that tied in with a BBC documentary series called Universe. I wasn’t studying physics at the time, but I remember all the facts blowing my mind, and I used to come into school and tell everyone all the crazy stuff I had learned. I think that is probably why Ben thought of me when he wanted to make the book; and I jumped at the chance!

I love the Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System app and would like to know if there are plans for more apps and if they will be available for other operating systems?

BEN: Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System is in the digital mechanics being fine tuned as we speak. I believe MiniLab will be announcing some really cool stuff very soon in regards to the app and other operating systems.

In terms of new Professor Astro Cat apps, I have had numerous conversations with MiniLab about a couple of ideas that we are throwing around. Nothing in the works yet but I’m not sure I could tell you even if there were… Or could I?

What is your working dynamic like? Did you meet up to discuss the layout of Frontiers of Space and Atomic Adventure or did you write the text and work on the illustrations separately?

BEN: At the start of ‘Frontiers of Space’, we did physically sit down and work out the running order and how we thought the book should work. After the text was finished and while I was about half way through drawing that book, Dominic moved to Vancouver in Canada to work on Quantum computers.

We stay in touch via email but we found that while making the ‘Atomic Adventure’, we needed to talk more often face to face over skype. This was a huge help to both of us and made us feel like a team again. We work together very closely despite the distance.

The text is never concrete so it means that Dominic and I can revisit it while I am drawing and designing the layouts. This was a big help for ‘Atomic Adventure’ because the text informs the image and then the text can be integrated and adapted to work with the images. This fluidity was a real breakthrough for us.

DOM: Our work mostly involves me getting down a first draft of each spread and then running it past Ben. Then we do several iterations of back and forth, cutting things out and adding things in. Then when Ben is illustrating we do a few more tweaks on the text, and I sometimes help out on the images if Ben gets stuck on thinks like the technical details. I think it helps that I’m a very visual person and have some art and graphic design skills.

Ben how long did it take you to illustrate each book and do you work digitally or with traditional paper & paint/ink?

BEN: More than a year but less than two years. It’s difficult to judge the time it takes because I try to fit in other projects at the same time. In both books, there has been a lot of trial and error which at the time is incredibly frustrating but ultimately it is a detrimental part of the process.

My work is a mixture of both traditional and digital. Much more of Atomic Adventure was sketched out on the computer this time. Mainly because I wanted to illustrate with the text laid out in front of me. Frontiers of Space was illustrated in areas that I measured on the computer and then drew by hand.

Dom, there is so much information collected in so little space how long did it take you to put the text together? How many sources did you use to collate the information?

DOM: The first book took about 2 years, but now I have got the a book down to about a year. This might seem like a long time but as I’m working full time at D-Wave I use my evenings and weekends to write. Getting the word count down has definitely been something I have got better at though – it is almost like a crossword puzzle! How do I get what I want to say in as few words as possible, and it be very clear at the same time. It is super fun though.
For Atomic Adventure, most of the material came straight out of my head as Physics is a subject I have been studying for a very long time. Then I did a lot of fact checking to make sure I got it all right.

What scientific exploration will we experience next with Professor Astro Cat?

BEN: Well, there is a Professor Astro Cat space project out this summer and maybe even another project later in the year. Dominic and I are already working on his next adventure into science but it’s top secret.

DOM: I can say that the first draft of the next book is done, and I can’t wait to be able to talk about it. It is going to be a lot of fun!

Frontiers of Space was my favourite scientific picture book of 2015 and with Atomic Adventure you have given me my favourite for 2016 (it is a combination of engaging art and really interesting snippets of information) and since discovering your work I have seen more picture books dealing with scientific themes and information. Do you think we are at the beginning of a revolution in scientific picture books?

BEN: I hope so. It would be great to be a part of a movement towards engaging minds young and old in science. Children’s non-fiction has been an area well in need of some TLC for a long while now so finger’s crossed there is a resurgence.

DOM: I hope so too! I would love for science to become a bit more mainstream. When I talk to people, I find a lot of adults who think science is some mixture of intimidating, difficult or dull, and I think it is such a shame. When explained well, science is none of these things. In fact there are few things as enjoyable as understanding something new about the fundamental nature of the Universe. So if we can give the young people of today a more positive experience of science, that is fantastic, and I heartily encourage others to do the same.

For readers who fall in love with your work can both of you give a suggestion for further reading (both your own works and any other authors/illustrators that you think we may enjoy)?

BEN: I love Jim Stoten’s Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds as it is mind bogglingly illustrated and fun. Jim and I used to share a studio together when we were working on our books so he was a big inspiration. Also, Andrew Rae’s Moonhead is a brilliant illustrated story. It’s really funny.

DOM: If you haven’t read the Calvin and Hobbes books yet, I would highly recommend them. They aren’t about science, but are philosophical in the most fun way.

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