Category Archives: Interviews

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince


Emily Windsnap is an ordinary girl on land, but a mermaid when she is in water. Liz has created a world and stories brimming with magic, adventure, friendship… and in this new story, we see Emily become more of a young feminist; taking matters into her own hands when her boyfriend is kidnapped; ensuring that young girl readers see her take a confident place in a male-dominated world, in this case a pirate ship. 

Showing that it is just fine to be seen as brave and strong, and that friendships are worth fighting for was a theme important to Liz. This is a transformative moment for a beloved character: moving from being dependent, and often reliant on others, to realising her own power, and being an individual and self reliant, ok within herself.

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince

The Emily Windsnap series has been going strong for years, selling over 5million copies worldwide and translated into dozens of languages. This is the 8th title, but I’m ashamed to say it was the first I have read. It is aimed at a younger audience than the usual TeenLibrarian fodder, 8+, but now that Matt and I are occasionally even popping picturebooks in I thought it still had a place, and I’m certain that younger teens will still enjoy Emily’s adventures! One of my favourite things about it is how important friendship is.

Liz does some intense research when planning each story, and shared with us the adventure she had researching this title:

Liz Kessler

When people ask about my job, I tell them I sit in my pyjamas looking out at the sea and making up stories about mermaids.

And yes, this is true. (Full disclosure, I am actually writing this blog in my PJs. It’s pretty much the writer’s uniform.) But that isn’t all I do. In fact, one of my absolute favourite parts of my job is the bit that gets me out in the world, researching and seeking ideas for my book.

Sometimes I find what I thought I was looking for. Most of the time, I find much, much more.

I went on two research trips for my latest book, Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince. One of them was a road trip to France where I visited Mont St Michel (a tiny island with a castle on a hill) and the old, walled city of St Malo.

The other trip was a week on a tall ship.

When I went on the ship, I already knew that I was looking for inspiration for my pirate prince. What I didn’t know was that I would find a couple of pirate girls at the same time.

Michelle and Anaïs, the two female crew members aboard the tall ship Morgenster, were two of the most inspiring young women I’ve met in a long time. Tough, active, clever, witty, musical and as ready as any of the boys to whizz up a ladder to hoist the sails, these girls were an absolute joy to be with.

And of course they found their way into my book. In the book, there is a moment when Emily confronts the two pirate girls aboard the ship where she has (sort of) been taken prisoner. She says to them, ‘How many girls braid each other’s hair and do it up with ship’s wire instead of pink ribbons? How many girls can fix the cable on the forestay better than their male counterparts?’

In this moment, she is pointing out that by living outside of what society would deem ‘normal’ for girls, they are uniquely positioned to stand up for themselves and for each other and to look beyond the shackles that tie all of us to society’s rules and expectations. And of course, in doing this, Emily realises that she has the right to do the same thing.

I had no idea at the time that Emily was going to grow up to become the young feminist that emerges in this book. But I’m glad she has!

One of the ‘real’ pirate girls, Anaïs, told me this:

‘As a child, the fact that I personally happened to be a girl was always very irrelevant when it came to games, dreams and aspirations, although I did take it into account when I wanted my games to be historically realistic. Every summer holiday my Dad and I pretended the house turned into a pirate ship and we were having those grand adventures. Then, there was no question of gender of course. But when my games turned into more realistic “period pieces” I remember either assuming I *was* a boy (why not? I don’t live in the 18th century either), or alternatively, giving some thoughts to how to look more like a boy, in order to be able to fool a captain and be hired as a ship’s boy.’

I believe that this type of imaginative play is an essential and wonderful part of growing up, and I also think we are living in times when girls are finding themselves becoming more and more ‘allowed’ to take on whatever roles they want.

I am proud to be a children’s author and am particularly proud and honoured that I get to write about Emily Windsnap. If she is part of passing the message to girls and young women that they can be anything they want to be, regardless of gender, then I will consider every moment of sitting in my PJs staring out at the sea making up stories about mermaids to have been time well spent.

I wanted to ask Liz a few more questions after reading about Emily, and she humoured me:

I really enjoyed reading your FCBG post about building a relationship with your characters & wondered what object you had on your desk while writing this book! Actually this time I had a few objects! The main one was a crystal on a chain that I bought from a shop in Tenerife. When I bought it, I thought it had something to do with the book but at the time I wasn’t sure what it’s significance would be. It turned out that diamonds and sparkling lights – similar to the light from this crystal – would form an important part of Emily solving clues and finding the treasure!


You didn’t plan to write so many Emily Windsnap books, have you got any more ideas in the pipeline or will you just wait and see if inspiration strikes again? Well, I’m thrilled to tell you that Emily Windsnap book nine will be out in 2020!


Which of the research trips you’ve been on has been your favourite? That is a HARD question, and in fact I can’t pick one so I’m going to have to give you my top three: Bermuda (for the Monster from the Deep), a cruise in Norway (for the Land of the Midnight Sun), and a tall ship trip in the Canaries (for the Pirate Prince)

Your book for older teens, ‘Read Me Like a Book‘, is a coming out story. Have you considered including LGBT+ content in the Emily Windsnap series? I have thought about this, but the way I see it, the Emily Windsnap books are ALL about people overcoming prejudice and different communities learning to live together and people (especially Emily!) fighting for social justice and the right for all of us to be who we are – and so I see the books as actually having the themes that I want to share, but doing so through mermaid stories rather than more ‘rea-world’ content/issues. In that sense, the books can put across the ideas and messages that I want them to, but hopefully in a way that feels fun, non-confrontational and appropriate for eight-year-olds!

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince is out now! Thankyou to Orion for a review copy

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

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

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

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

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019

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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