Category Archives: Interviews

Longbow Girl: Interview with Linda Davies

archers

Hi Linda, welcome to Teen Librarian for the Eight Questions With… interview! The first question I ask all authors is: can you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Hi Matt and hi to all you lovely readers out there, so, who am I? Good question. I’m lots of different people depending on what novel I am writing (I get so into the book I do feel as if I am the main character and am living their lives!), but I suppose there’s an external consistency to who I am: I’m an Oxford University economist by training but a novelist by nature. I spent seven years working as an investment banker in London, New York and Eastern Europe, being exposed to more potential plots than was decent. Then I escaped and wrote my first book, Nest of Vipers. Longbow Girl is my twelfth book.

I’ve lived in various parts of the world.

I spent three years living in Peru and more recently eight years living in the Middle East. In 2005 my husband and I were kidnapped at sea by Iranian government forces and held hostage in Iran for two weeks before being released after high-level intervention by the British government. I wrote about that in my first non-fiction book, Hostage.

I am married and have three great children are who occasionally drive me mad but then they’d no doubt say the same about me. My family play a big part in my books. My husband reads various drafts aloud to the children and me, then they all give me their brutally honest opinion. I then slink away to try and write a better draft!

I also have two dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks called Boudicca and Beowulf, and a desert cat called Cutie. We live near the sea in Suffolk, where I try to swim all year round.

Longbow Girl is a thoroughly gripping tale set in the Wales of the modern era as well as the late Tudor period, how much research went into writing it?

Longbow-final-tweaks-bigger1One way and another, I’ve done a lot of research, both years ago and recently. The roots of Longbow Girl are very personal and go back to my own childhood. When I was eight years old, my father gave me a longbow for Christmas. I would shoot it for hours, perfecting my aim, practising until my hands were covered in calluses. My older brother, Kenneth, also had one. We would shoot cans off walls and also, rather terrifyingly, we’d aim for the high wires on the electricity pylons. Happily, we missed!

As a girl, I just wielded my longbow for fun, but I always used to feel different whenever I picked it up. Longbows are lethal weapons. They changed the course of history. This October sees the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, an ‘unwinnable’ battle, won by the Longbow against all the odds. I did a lot of research into this and also the battle of Crécy in 1346, another ‘unwinnable’ battle won by the Anglo-Welsh longbowmen.

I didn’t really need to research the locations. The setting of Longbow Girl, in the Brecon Beacons and in the Black Mountains, was close to where I grew up. When I was a girl we would regularly go on forced family marches up Pen Y Fan in all weathers. I used to grit my teeth until we got to the top, and then run all the way down to the Storey Arms with my brothers. I never thought that I would write about it, but I love that journey back in my head to the mountains of my youth. It’s my very own form of time travel! I went back several times when I was writing Longbow Girl as well, just to see it all with fresh eyes. It’s such a beautiful and atmospheric part of the world. Revisiting was a joy and an inspiration.

The historical aspect of Longbow Girl took a lot of research. I read widely about the Tudor period, both in factual books but also via fiction. Sometimes it is fiction that gives you a much more vivid portrait of a time and place. Here is a photo of some of the books I’ve either read or repeatedly delved into for my research.
Linda's books
Are you a fan on the Mabinogion and are you able to recommend any particular translations of the text?

I am a huge fan of the Mabinogion. My father had a copy of the 1989 Everyman revised edition (translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, one of whom signed it but with an illegible signature!) and he gave that copy to me over twenty years ago. I always had a sense even then that I would write something linked to it. Recently, my brother Roy gave me an Oxford University Press hardback Mabinogion published in 2007. It’s lovely but my late father’s copy will always be my favourite.

Linda and her longbowMuch like Merry, you grew up using a longbow, have you kept up proficiency in its use?

Absolutely I still have Huntress. If you have a look at my website: www.Lindadavies.com, you will see a video clip of me shooting arrows with Huntress. I practice every few weeks. I wish I could say I can consistently hit an empty can on a wall 50m away… but I’d be lying! I can consistently hit my standard archery target from 30m away and if I sneak a bit closer I can periodically get a bull’s-eye or what archers insist on calling the ‘gold’ at the centre of the target.

Are any parts of Longbow Girl based on actual historical events or have you just woven historical characters into a fictional setting?

Yes, they are! A particular historical fact that I discovered about six years ago acted as a catalyst to writing Longbow Girl. I learned that Henry VIII issued an edict ordering the destruction of wild Welsh ponies under a certain height in order to improve his stock of destriers, or war horses. I was outraged on their behalf! The other childhood inspiration for Longbow Girl was my own black Welsh Mountain Section B pony, Jacintha. I was horrified by the idea of her ancestors being hunted down and destroyed, just because they were small! I dreamt of being able to go back in time to rescue some of those ponies, and then I thought, what if a young girl did just that…

So I came up with the brave, strong and wonderful Merry – the fifteen-year-old heroine of Longbow Girl. She is a supreme archer, the first longbow girl in a tradition of longbow men that stretches back seven hundred years to the Battle of Crécy. She’s also a great rider. One day, while out on her pony Jacintha, Merry discovers a treasure that offers her the chance to turn back time. She travels back to the brutal kingdom of Henry V111. Fighting against battle-seasoned men, she has to wield her longbow to save her family. To save herself… and a few ponies too!

In a strange co-incidence, mirroring one of the central plot lines from Longbow Girl which I dreamed up over five years ago, I recently discovered that in 1346 the Longbowmen of Llantrisant (the village right next to where I grew up!) fought for the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy and saved his life.

The grateful Prince granted them a piece of land to be held in perpetuity. To this day, nearly seven hundred years later, the direct descendants of those longbowmen hold that parcel of land in Llantrisant.

Here’s another personal link that goes all the way back to the Battle of Crécy. During the battle, the Black Prince claimed the emblem of the defeated Bohemian King: three ostrich feathers. This emblem has been adopted by every Prince of Wales since. I was given a ‘Royal’ ring bearing the crest with the three ostrich feathers when I was a little girl when our current Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales. My father was involved in the Investiture and gave me the ring to mark the occasion. I still wear it now! I have never taken it off.

Have you ever read The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch? I read it about 25 years ago now, Longbow Girl reminded me a bit of it as they share a slightly similar time-slip plot and it is also set in Wales.

I’ve never come across it till now. It sounds intriguing! I’ve just ordered it.

Although the main storyline was tied up there were a couple of plot threads dangling at the end – do you have any sequels planned?

There are a few dangling threads aren’t there…? And yes I would dearly love to write a couple of sequels exploring what and where Merry goes next. I’ve just started plotting a different book, also Y/A/middle grade and will write that one first.

I am also a big fan of your Djinn books and reviewed the first two back in 2009 & 2010, moving away from Longbow Girl for just a moment can you let me know when Djinn War is due out?

Thank you so much! I am delighted to hear that. War of the Djinn is currently filed away, both in my brain and on my PC. I have done some work on it and hope to reprise it one day. At the moment, the wonderful Tanabi Films is deep in the process of putting together a deal to make an animated movie of Sea Djinn and then hopefully the rest of the Djinn books after that, so watch this space!

Thank you so much for giving up your time!

Is my absolute pleasure Matt. Thank you for your interest in my books and for your support and kind words.

Eight Questions With… Esther Ehrlich

Hi Esther, welcome to the Eight Questions With… interview for Teen Librarian:

The first question I generally ask is for authors to introduce themselves to the audience- who they are, where they come from and so on, if you wouldn’t mind?

My pleasure! So, right now I’m sitting at my desk, looking into the branches of the oak trees right outside my window in Wildcat Canyon in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live with my family. I like it here, but I miss the east coast, which is where I was born and raised. NEST takes place on Cape Cod, and I really enjoyed hanging out there in my imagination—dunes and swimming ponds and salt marsh—while I was writing the book.


Nest is your debut novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read! Can you let me know what inspired you to write it?

Hmmm…There are so many answers to that question! In a way, I feel like everything I’ve ever experienced in my life filters through me and shapes my writing. What’s true is NEST began with an image that came to me and captured my attention—two sisters dancing together in the road in a summer rainstorm while their mother, a dancer who wasn’t feeling well, watched them from the porch. I wrote that scene and the rest of the story unfolded from there.

Did you set out to write specifically for younger readers or do you write for yourself and hope that your work finds an audience?

Honestly, I wrote the book that I wanted to write, not even thinking about an audience. It was other professionals in the book world who decided what niche NEST fit into. I’m glad that younger readers and adults seem to be really enjoying the book.

What is the most rewarding part of the writing experience for you?

I love discovering who my characters are. There’s a kind of careful listening that I have to do: What hints are my characters throwing in my direction? If I pay careful attention, I find out what matters to them. Over time, I get to know them really well, and that’s so gratifying.

I also just love words—the sounds and rhythms, and, of course, meanings. I like stringing them together and creating something new. It’s deeply satisfying.

Do you read the works of other writers for children and young people? If yes, can you give some recommendations?

Let’s see. I love The Pictures of Hollis Woods. Counting by Sevens. The One and Only Ivan. Okay, for Now. As a child, The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books. Charlotte’s Web. Stuart Little. The Trumpet of the Swan. I’d strongly recommend all of these to everyone. I recently read All the Bright Places and thought it was wonderful. Without Tess is another beauty. These last two, I’d recommend for teenagers and adults.

Which books would you recommend for readers who enjoyed Nest?

All of the above!

Are you currently working on anything new, or do you have any new books planned?

Stay tuned…

You are based in USA so visiting schools and reading groups in the UK may be a bit difficult but do you ever do Skype visits to international groups that are interested in meeting you?

I haven’t done Skype visits yet, but I’d like to give it a whirl! Also, I’d be thrilled to visit the UK. I’ve never been “across the pond!”

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

Thanks for your interest in me and NEST!

NEST publishes in the UK on 2nd July (Rock The Boat, £7.99).

Follow Esther on Facebook and Twitter: @EstherEhrlich

Eight Questions With… A.J. Steiger

Hi A.J. welcome to the Eight Questions With… interview for Teen Librarian

The first question I generally ask is for authors to introduce themselves to the audience- who they are, where they come from and so on if you wouldn’t mind?

Hi, I’m A.J. Steiger, and I live in Illinois. I’m a writer and freelance transcriptionist. My work keeps me in front of the computer a lot, so I try to get out into nature sometimes to remind myself that the world is more than words and screens. Mindwalker is my first young adult novel, and it’s out now with OneWorld Publications, and also with Knopf in the U.S.

Mindwalker is your first novel, can you give us an idea of what it is about and what inspired you to write it?

Mindwalker is set in a future where people can choose to have painful memories removed. Seventeen-year-old Lain Fisher is a prodigy who’s already skilled at wiping away her patients’ traumas. A troubled classmate asks her to erase a horrific childhood experience from his mind, and while exploring his memories, she learns that he’s connected to something much bigger…something their government doesn’t want the world to discover.

I’ve always found the idea of memory modification to be a fascinating and disturbing concept. There’s a quote from Gregory Maguire that sums it up well: “Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are.”

If you change someone’s memories, you change their identity. It’s the ultimate power over an individual. It could be used for good—to help people overcome horrors like war, abuse, and assault—but it could very easily go wrong, especially if institutions gain the power to control which facts people remember and which ones they forget.
Mindwalker is also a novel about mental illness and the social stigma that often goes along with it, which I think is a hugely important issue.

Dystopian novels seem to have an enduring popularity, especially amongst young adult readers, what do you think the reason for this is?

The world is already pretty scary. Transforming our fears into fiction gives us a sense of control and reminds us that there are things we can do about the situation we’re living in.

I think young readers especially like these books because they often involve themes of rebellion or bucking the system. When you’re young, the universe hasn’t had time to wear you down and make you cynical and complacent, so there’s still this burning fire to tackle injustice, and that’s a wonderful thing.

There’s a danger of sliding into escapism, though. If we satisfy our need for rebellion vicariously, through movies and books, it can take the edge off our hunger for real change. So I think a good dystopian ought to leave you at least a little bit nervous. Truth and justice doesn’t always win—it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to keep fighting for it.

Mindwalker has been compared favourably to The Giver by Lois Lowry – have you ever read it and do you read novels by other YA writers? If yes would you be able to recommend some authors and titles?

I first read The Giver as a teenager, and it left an impression on me. Its world seems very safe and civilized and pleasant on the surface, but once you peel back the outer layers you see the darkness underneath, and to me that makes it more interesting than a world where everything is blatantly horrible. Real horror doesn’t always advertise itself.

I’ve also read more current YA fiction like The Hunger Games and Marie Lu’s Legend series, and I enjoyed all of those. But my favourite YA novels tend to be brooding, introspective stories like The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Did you set out to write specifically for teenagers or do you write for yourself and hope that your work finds an audience?

I think all writers have to strike a balance between writing for themselves and writing for an audience. I originally conceived of Mindwalker as a science fiction story for adults, with adult characters. But in the process of writing, I decided to make it YA, and something clicked.

What is the most rewarding part of the writing experience for you?

Revision. Apparently, many writers hate editing, but for me it’s a lot of fun. Writing the rough draft is kind of like generating the raw clay—it’s messy, lumpy and unfinished—and once you have enough of that clay, you can start shaping it and playing with it and seeing it really become what it’s supposed to be. That’s a very exciting feeling.

Of course, I also love getting feedback. Writing is fundamentally an act of communication. Without readers, the experience is incomplete.

What is coming next after Mindwalker?

I’m currently working on the sequel, Mindstormer. After that, we’ll see. I’ll probably continue to write young adult fiction, though I’d like to try branching out into different genres, like fantasy.

You are based in the US so visiting schools and reading groups in the UK may be a bit difficult but do you ever do Skype visits to international groups that are interested in meeting you?

I haven’t yet, but that could be a possibility for the future.

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

Mindwalker is published by Rock the Boat and is available now

Rocking the Boat at Oneworld: an Interview with Juliet Mabey

Hi Juliet welcome to Teen Librarian and thank you for giving up your time for the Q&A
I am sure that almost everyone in the library and book world already knows who you are but for those who do not would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

My husband and I founded Oneworld almost thirty years ago to publish quality non-fiction on a broad range of subjects, always looking for ways to make big ideas accessible and interesting to a wide readership, and we now publish over 100 titles a year. Six years ago I launched a fiction list to publish beautifully written novels that showcase emotionally engaging stories, strong narratives and original literary voices, which is going from strength to strength and now makes up about a third of our output.

What spurred you on to start a YA imprint?

I had a chance conversation with a children’s publisher at a conference who mentioned that issue-driven novels are very popular in the YA market, and since many of our adult novels deal with big issues and explore the human condition in all its vagaries, like all the best fiction, we thought extending our approach into the YA market made a lot of sense. I have four children myself, so we are focusing on publishing the sort of books I would have loved them to read as teenagers!

YA publishing has been growing year on year – do you have any idea why it is so popular?

I think right now some of the best writing is popping up in YA. Publishers of YA fiction are bringing out some incredibly well written and exciting novels – they have set the bar very high – and this is clearly resonating with a wide range of readers, not only teens but also many adults. They are also putting a lot of effort into great cover designs and innovative marketing, and the YA market is particularly responsive to creative social media campaigns.

I read recently that you will also be publishing narrative non-fiction, do you have any authors lined up or will you be initially focusing on your fiction titles?

Our primary focus at the moment will be on fiction, but we have recently published an edition of Jared Diamond’s best-selling non-fiction book, The Third Chimpanzee, adapted for teenagers, which we’re very excited about. And making cutting-edge research and ideas – from science to history and global issues – interesting and accessible to a YA market is a challenge we would love to embrace, so watch this space.

The books are all so different – Mindwalker is a dystopian tale, Conversion is a modern retelling of The Crucible and written by a descendent of three of the accused women from the Salem trials (which is awesome); Nest is a contemporary drama and Minus Me is one I have just started so am not sure what exactly it is yet. How did you find these authors and why did you choose them for your first Rock the Boat titles?

They have all come to us in different ways. I met a translator who had read Minus Me in its original Norwegian and adored it (it is a beautiful story about a teenage girl who develops a heart condition and comes up with a bucket list of things every teenager should do at 13), and her enthusiasm was so infectious I immediately contacted the publisher and asked for the English-language rights, while Mindwalker came up in a chance conversation with a literary agent, and when I described what we were looking for in our YA novels, she immediately recommended Mindwalker and its sequel, Mindstormer (out in 2016). Conversion and Nest both came with passionate recommendations from American editors.

How many titles are you planning on releasing this year?

This year we are publishing 6 titles for YA and Middle Grade readers, with two novels coming out in the Autumn. The first is a fantastic fantasy novel called Illuminae, the first in a trilogy, jointly written by two bestselling YA authors, Jay Kristoff (author of the Lotus War series) and Amie Kaufman (author of the Starbound series). It’s set on a spaceship in the year 2575 in a time of deadly plague, and told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents, including emails, schematics, military files, medical reports, interviews, and more. And we are also re-publishing Richard Adams’ classic The Plague Dogs, about two dogs who escape from a science lab in the Lake District, who may have been infected by a deadly virus that could put the public in danger.

The book Minus Me by Ingelin Røssland has been translated from Norwegian – translated YA titles are still fairly rare. Do you plan on introducing more non-English authors to young readers?

We are certainly very keen to sign up the best YA writing from around the world, so we will include translated fiction whenever we find titles we think will work well for our audience. We have both a Mexican and Russian YA novel currently under consideration, and last year we published the Korean novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, which was very popular with both a teen audience as well as adults. Looking further ahead, we are delighted to welcome Sarah Odedina as Publisher of Rock the Boat, whose credits include serving as Editor in Chief at Bloomsbury where she oversaw the publication of the Harry Potter series, among others, and she is planning to publish around 15 titles a year going forward, some of which will definitely be fiction in translation, as well as fiction that engages with diversity.

It would be unfair to ask you which titles are your favourites so I instead I will ask which book you would suggest readers pick up first when they discover them?

That’s an impossible question to answer – we publish what we love, so I think it will depend on where readers’ interests lie. Our list is deliberately wide-ranging, from Conversion and a group of teenage girls in the 1690s who accuse a woman of withcraft, to Mindwalker, set in the distant future, which asks interesting questions about the desirability of mind-wiping bad memories and the implications for state control. I hope readers will find each one a gem, a beautiful story, well told.

Interview with Sarah Govett Author of The Territory


Hi Sarah, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Teen Librarian!

My obligatory first question is could you please introduce yourself to the audience?

My name’s Sarah Govett (but I guess you know that already!). My debut novel, The Territory, is out this month with Firefly Press. I was initially a lawyer, then a tutor, a mum and now a writer. Please buy my book as I really like writing and want to keep doing it!

How far in the future is The Territory set?

It’s set in 2059, but the exact date isn’t important. It’s just supposed to be enough in the future that environmental meltdown has happened, but close enough that people and their attitudes are pretty recognisable.

The global catastrophe that occurred – one of polar ice caps melting and the lower levels of land being flooded is potentially a very real threat, do you believe it is a catastrophe that can happen in our lifetimes?

I do. And it really scares me. I genuinely believe we need to take pretty drastic steps now to reduce population and carbon consumption, but I’m worried we’re collectively too selfish to do this. Humans are notoriously rubbish at prioritising long-term gain over short-term hardship.


Do you think that Britain is moving towards a police state?

There have been some worrying developments, but I think we’re a long way from a proper police state scenario. I hope, maybe naively, that us Brits value have such a strong tradition of liberty that we will stop any drastic infringements on our freedom. I don’t think, for example, that Spain’s draconian Citizen Safety Law would ever get through Parliament here.

The use of school students is a fairly common one in dystopian fiction (the biggest example being Battle Royale) but it is more realistic with them actually attending school and seeing the division between norms and the kids that have nodes implanted allowing them faster access to learning and near perfect recall. What inspired this?

I think the biggest influence has been working as a tutor these past 12 years. I’ve taught some incredibly bright and talented pupils at low performing schools, who, without additional input, have no chance of competing against their often less able peers at more spoon-feeding, exam-factory style schools. I wanted to take this unfairness and heighten it to a life or death situation.

I felt through the novel that you are not a fan of the levels of testing that students undergo today, nor the push to side-line the arts over the sciences – would you say that is accurate?

Absolutely. I have seen first hand the horrific pressure our results-obsessed education system places on students and I wanted my novel to reflect this. Teenagers work so hard to sit exams in 9 or more subjects, often to be rewarded by newspaper headlines denigrating their results and declaring this year’s exams to be ‘the easiest ever!’ The more creative students are forced to sweat their way through maths and science knowing that more weight will be placed on those results. And I think, growing up, I was as guilty as anyone of seeing maths and science as more important subjects or maybe better indicators of intelligence. I mean the stereotypically ‘brainy’ student is more associated with a lab or mathletes than poetry. I think my change in opinion has come through working closely with students who are clearly hugely intelligent but whose brains, for whatever reason, simply cannot process more abstract concepts in maths or science. And they feel terrible about it and somehow lesser. But the arts and humanities help foster an understanding of motivations and empathy, which I believe we need now more than ever to make the world a better place. When you imagine a world without stories, music and art you realise that whilst the Arts might not be necessary for human survival, they are necessary to preserve our humanity – even people with highly logical jobs like to relax at night with dramas and comedies, or perhaps even a YA book with crossover appeal.

Noa is a very unusual heroine, she comes across as flawed and human compared to many of her near perfect contemporaries on the dystopian YA bookshelf, what inspired you to create her?

I wanted a heroine who was a bit more relatable. I think that even in the most dystopian of societies people would be caught up in their own little trivial worlds, scared to act and, above all, determined to survive. The will to live is really, really strong, even if it means sacrificing others.

Will we be introduced to more of the drowned world in later stories or will we be confined to what remains of Britain?

Book two has the working title ‘Into the Wetlands,’ so there’s a clue!

Moving the spotlight onto your publishers for a moment, Firefly Press is a very new addition to the publishing market; apart from The Territory can you recommend any of the other titles they will be publishing?

They’ve got some great titles coming out. Also out this month is the mad sci-fi epic Lost on Mars by Doctor Who writer Paul Magrs (10+). In June they’re bringing out White Petals by Maria Grace – a warm and funny real-life drama set in a care home in the south Wales valleys (13+). And two great books in September – Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare, a modern day fable about a small boy determined to fight his dad’s depression (8 to 12); and The Boy Who Drew the Future by the brilliant Rhian Ivory – a YA fantasy fiction set in the past and present about two boys compelled to draw events that later come true.

Apart from what you may already have mentioned in previous questions, what inspired The Territory and what inspires you to write?

I’ve thought about writing for a long time and finally decided to have a go in snatched half hours while my baby slept. I’ve always been drawn to accessible novels about big ideas and my biggest influences are probably John Wyndham (The Crysalids is probably my all time favourite book), John Christopher (the amazing Death of Grass), Margaret Atwood (too many to name), Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon – if you haven’t read it you need to get a copy, believe me), and more recently Gemma Malley (her thought provoking The Declaration). On a more personal note, my eldest girl is called Noa. My husband and I often panic about having given her such an unusual name so I wanted her to be able to read about a cool heroine called Noa to make her feel better about it all.

Apart from the sequel, is there anything else that you are working on at the moment?

I’ve written a few thousand words of a more humorous coming of age novel but I think I’ll return to this later. I want to crack on with the sequel!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thank you!

The Third Degree with Malcolm Rose

Hi Malcolm, welcome to Teen Librarian and thank you for giving up your time to answer some questions for the Third Degree.

My first question to all participants is to please introduce themselves to the audience.

I’m a daydreamer. I’m probably the best footballer the country has ever produced. I’m also a fantastic musician, computer genius and brilliant detective. And I like murdering people.

Sorry. I got carried away there. I live near Sheffield at the edge of the Peak District and, when I can’t see the way forward in a story, I walk in the hills for inspiration. Sometimes, though, taking a long bath works just as well. It requires less effort but it’s not as scenic. I am a writer of thrillers and crime stories. The newly launched Body Harvest is my 40th book. By coincidence, I’ve been married to Barbara for 40 years. We have a son who’s an architect in London.

Final Body Harvest Cover_Layout 1Body Harvest, is the first book in The Outer Reaches your new series for teen readers, from what I have read it is a crime series with a science fiction aspect, could you tell us something about it?

Before becoming a full-time writer, I was a scientist. To be precise, I was an analytical chemist. That means I enjoyed finding out what things are made of. That’s very similar to forensic scientists who analyse paint flakes, blood, unknown substances and all sorts of yucky stuff at the scene of a crime. Because I like forensic science, I inject lots into The Outer Reaches. After all, the first person I need to interest in my stories is myself.

Being an ex-chemist, I also like poisons, explosions, medical advances, and the amazing set of chemical reactions that happens within bodies that make life. Come to think of it, I also like the amazing reactions that happen after life has ceased: something we call decay. Each of these things finds a place in my crime stories.

Lethal Outbreak2_Layout 1How did you come up with the concept of two Human races in Body Harvest?

I was reading a scientific article about human evolution, noting that Homo sapiens (that’s us), Neanderthals and Denisovans were all alive tens of thousands of years ago. There was even some interbreeding going on. That’s why we all have a bit of Neanderthal DNA in us. Anyway, Neanderthals and Denisovans became extinct and Homo sapiens continued alone. I thought it would be fun if one of the other humanoid races had not died out and evolved alongside us. In The Outer Reaches, they’re called outers. Homo sapiens are in the majority so they’re called majors. Majors and outers have different body chemistry which makes the forensic science more interesting.

I understand that you have a science background, specifically as a chemistry lecturer, how has this informed your work as an author?

Every author wants to write original stories so we have to come up with original ideas. I look to science for those ideas because, by its nature, science is always discovering or inventing new things. Just think of everything we can do today that we couldn’t do just a few years ago. DNA profiling, cloning, a variety of fertility treatments, making life from scratch, being online almost everywhere we go and so on. Then there’s the science that’s just around the corner such as gene therapy, humanoid robots, brain implants, growing body parts from stem cells, and lots of other things. It’s a great big store of fresh ideas for the novelist. What’s more, many of the topics – like creating a new life form – are controversial so the thriller and crime writer will always be able to find the necessary ingredients for conflict in themes like these.

Because I’m writing for young people, I need to interest them with the themes of my books. Young people have a great deal of natural curiosity and science is the application of natural curiosity so my readers and science are very well matched. But the average science textbook isn’t always thrilling. I think the best way of engaging people in science is to wrap it up as entertainment in an exciting story. Teens enjoy reading about modern forensic science when it helps to catch the bad guys, and they like science-based thrillers when the themes are genuine and preferably gruesome, such as medical transplants, viruses and bacteria, chemical and biological warfare, the use of animals in labs and medicine, and that sort of thing.

Fatal Connection_Layout 1I know from your Traces novels you are an excellent crime writer, are you a fan of that particular genre?

I feel I ought to rave about crime stories because I write them. But… I wonder if someone whose job is making chocolate every day goes home at night, puts the telly on and eats lots of chocolate. I suspect they don’t. They probably want a break from it. So, yes, I love writing crime – because, like analytical chemistry, it’s an investigation and a finding out – but I don’t read other authors in the same genre. That’s a terrible confession you’ve forced from me.

Do you get inspiration from other authors or are all your ideas rooted in real-life occurrences?

Taking ideas from other authors is close to cheating. I’m happy to be inspired by something that actually happened and bend it – personalize it – so it becomes my fictional story, but I don’t steal other people’s imagination. Besides, I want to be original and avoid the well-trodden paths. Mostly, I’m inspired by a new forensic method. Then I work backwards. What sort of crime would this new method solve? Why would someone commit such a crime? How would someone hope to get away with it? Then I start at the beginning with the crime. But I often don’t know who did it till I’m well into the story!

Blood and Bone2_Layout 1I understand that the second book is due out soon, can you drop any hints about it?

In Lethal Outbreak, four scientists working on samples of soil from Mars in the highest safety laboratory are found dead. How did it happen – and why? Actually, the first few chapters set in a secure laboratory will remind readers of the images we see of medics working on the ebola virus, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff about biosafety as well as possible sabotage of the protective suits or the laboratory itself.

The story reflects genuine concern about our ability to deal with alien bugs if they are ever found and brought back for study on Earth. If they turned out to be harmful, there would be serious consequences to the well-being of human civilization. In the Earth’s mild atmosphere, we simply don’t know what it would take to kill bugs that might be hardened to the extreme extra-terrestrial conditions of a planet like Mars.

How many books do you have planned for the Outer Reaches series?

You’ve saved a nice easy question to the end. There will be four books. All of them will be based on genuine scientific issues. In order, they are the illegal trade in body parts for transplants (Body Harvest), the return of toxic matter from another planet (Lethal Outbreak), industrial pollution (Fatal Connection), and the killing of endangered animals so their parts can be used in “traditional” medicines (Blood and Bone). That means the victims of a serial killer in the fourth book will be mostly tigers. I’m really looking forward to writing that one but the topic will make me angry.

The Third Degree with YA Book Prize Judge Imogen Russell-Williams

I am extremely happy to welcome Imogen Russell-Williams to TeenLibrarian today to discuss The YA Book Prize

Would you like to introduce yourself to the audience and let us know how you got to be involved with the YA Book Prize?

Hi audience! I’ve been a massive children’s literature and YA geek enthusiast since I was a child myself, and am now lucky enough to do some reviewing and other journalism on kids’ books for the Guardian Books Blog and the Metro. The Bookseller Children’s Editor approached me because I’m very interested in YA literature, especially YA literature published in the UK, and I know quite a bit about it.

There are 10 judges in all how were you all selected and for how long will you all hold your positions as judges?

We were all selected in the same way – on the basis of being experts in YA fiction – but we all have different kinds of expertise – in book-buying, reviewing, writing, etc. The idea was to get a really diverse mixture of knowledgeable judges to weigh up the shortlist, and we’ll be judges just for this year (although the prize will continue.)

The YA Book Prize is the latest and at present only (I think) national Award for UK (& Irish) YA novels, how did the award come about?

The Bookseller ran a feature about current prizes for children’s literature, and realised that since the winding up of the Booktrust Teen prize, there was no UK award that focused specifically on books for teenagers. After that, they heard from some indie booksellers that people were keen to see an award focusing on YA books – and the rest is history!

Currently Movellas is the primary sponsor of the Award, how did that partnership come about?

The Bookseller approached Movellas to see if they’d be interested in sponsoring the award. They felt Movellas would be a good fit for this prize, since they’re at the cutting edge of how teenagers create and consume fiction (especially fanfiction!) and were delighted when they agreed.

How are YA titles selected? Is there a nomination process, or are all YA novels published in the UK eligible for the Prize?

There’s no nomination process, no – publishers were simply invited to submit up to six titles that meet the ‘published in the UK’ criteria and were definitely YA novels.

Who is involved in the short list selection?

An eight-strong Bookseller committee narrowed down the submissions (almost a hundred titles) to the current short-list of ten, which were then passed on to the judges.

Your job (along with the other judges) to select the overall winner is no easy task, what criteria are used to make the final choice?

Judging is always highly subjective (although I’d love to say we’re all totally objective and omniscient!) and it really comes down to what each judge really rates in a book. I’m on the look-out for superb writing, enthralling plotting, and engaging but nuanced characters (I don’t have to like a character, but I do want to be deeply interested in what will happen to him or her.) I also have a particular interest in diversity – putting people front and centre who aren’t just ‘the usual suspects’.

There has been a big social media push to publicise the Award and the short-listed titles, has it been successful in involving readers in the discussion of the titles?

The prize’s Twitter account @yabookprize has 1,387 followers, and the successive #Team(BookName) hashtags have encouraged readers to champion their favourites (in a really nice, positive, generous-spirited way). The YA Book Prize is also active on Tumblr and Facebook, so yes, I think it has been!

#TeamSalvage
#TeamSayHerName
#TeamEllaGrey
#TeamHalfBad
#TeamOnlyEverYours
#TeamLobsters
#TeamFindingaVoice
#TeamGoose
#TeamTrouble
#TeamGhostsofHeaven

Interview with Mario Routi Author of Rebecca Newton and the Sacred Flame

rebnewHi Mario, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. For those readers that may not have come across you or your work before would you please introduce yourself?

I am a 40+ year-old, slightly sloppy dude who, as a child, worked hard to persuade friends and teachers that I am just a normal guy who is indeed from this world and not some dangerous alien. Years later, I escaped from the business world in order to become an author. Soon, I created my own world, which lives inside my skull. I currently flow between the Earth and the Land of the White Sun, wandering in the deepest places of both worlds, bringing my readers back tales of the adventures of my heroes.

How would you describe Rebecca Newton and the Sacred Flame to hook a potential reader?

Rebecca Newton and the Sacred Flame is a tale of epic wars, grand passions, mythical creatures and ancient Gods. It is an unconventional and emotional fantasy adventure that unites ancient and modern, combining myths with atmospheric legendary battles, romance and mystery.

Rebecca Newton and the Sacred Flame has its base in Greek mythology, how much research did you do before you started writing?

I am Greek originally, so I have studied Greek mythology for my whole life. It has always fascinated me and hopefully this is reflected in my writing.

Are the Orizons based on characters like Hercules, Perseus and other demi-gods of Greek myth?

No, the Orizons are completely from my imagination. The inspiration came from discussions with several very interesting people that I have the honour to call my friends. These are scholars, writers, conspiracy theorists, artists and researchers; they are all lovers of Greek myths, alien life and legendary fantasy epic works, such as the works of Tolkien.

Have you ever read YA books by other authors based in Greek myth (e.g. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan) and if yes can you recommend any of them for YA readers?

I have read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, which is very good indeed. I don’t know of any other YA book that is based on or influenced by Greek mythology. There are several movies, however, that I would recommend, including The 300, Clash of the Titans, Perseus and Andromeda, The Legendary Journeys of Hercules (TV series), Troy, Immortals, The Odyssey and others.

Moving on from the previous question, can you recommend any non-fiction titles on mythology and good and evil for those inspired by your book to read more?

The work of Homer is the ultimate read for any author, scholar, and readers of all ages. Many of Steven Pressfield’s books of historical fiction are also very interesting.

Rebecca Newton and the Sacred Flame is the first book in a planned series, do you know how many books will make up the series and do you know how it is going to end yet?

The saga is meant to be at least a trilogy and that’s what it’s designed for, but with such a project, you can never know when it will end, and so, I don’t really know how it will end either.

Will Rebecca’s future stories bring her into contact with other pantheons?

The Elysian Fields is the place of the Gods in my mythology. However, within the Elysian Fields, Rebecca might meet with more Gods, other than the Ancient Greek Gods, either from the Egyptian, Roman and Scandinavian mythologies.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!

Thanks for yours!

Eight Questions With… Simon David Eden

Hi Simon, welcome to Teen Librarian! Can I ask you to introduce yourself to the audience please?

Greetings and salutations from Sussex-on-toast (as Steve Martin once called it) it’s great to be ‘virtually’ joining you. As a former singer-songwriter turned artist turned screenwriter turned playwright turned novelist, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m open to embracing new frontiers, and the whole blogging universe is totally new to me, so cool, let’s do this! Eh, do I need to wear special goggles? A safety harness of some kind? I get a little woozy in confined spaces (and in deep water, and on top of very, very tall buildings with low guard rails), you know, just so’s you know, in case this becomes one of those things I have to add to the list next time. Blogs, well, I’d love to but after the Teen Librarian experience …

The Savage Kingdom is your first novel; can you describe it in one sentence to hook a potential reader?

THE BEST BOOK YOU’LL READ ALL SUMMER BY FAR! Okay, fair enough, I would say that right. You want more. In one sentence? OK, what they call in Hollywood the elevator pitch:

MANKIND VS THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, WHICH SIDE ARE YOUR PETS ON?

You were originally self-published, how did you go from being an indie author to being picked up by Simon & Schuster?

I’m a great believer in ‘be the miracle’. If you have a dream, believe in it, go after it whatever it takes. It may take years. If it’s a dream that’s worth anything it’ll probably also be a really tough road full of rejection and disappointment and setbacks. And most likely it’ll lead you to a destination you didn’t expect. But the journey will be an experience all the same. And that’s the true reward. I didn’t get paid to write my novel originally. I wrote it because l had to. I had to get it and those characters out of my head, out of my system, and I wanted to share some stuff I felt about the world with my smart, feisty, inquisitive, beautiful daughter. I don’t know what my agent (the wonderful Zoe King of The Blair Partnership) would say, or the amazing team at Simon & Schuster, but I think they picked it up because it was written from the heart, because I completely ignored ‘the market’ and just wrote a story I was burning to tell, one that surprised and thrilled me and kept me awake at night. Chances are if it does that to you as a writer, it’ll do it to someone else too.

You are also a writer of stage and screenplays, do you find yourself having to think in different ways when writing a novel as opposed to a play?

Hmmm. Great question. The obvious difference is that novels are a marathon while plays/screenplays are a sprint (to this writer anyway). But actually, I think there are more similarities than differences between books and film/TV. Both, when they work well, are very visual. In the latter the creator makes the choice about exactly what it is you are seeing, just like comics and graphic novels, whereas in novels the author seeks to create a picture in the mind’s eye of the reader, and of course that film that’s playing inside your head is different from mine and for every other person reading it. That’s why dedicated fans of novels are often disappointed by adaptations of their favourite works/characters, but it would be impossible to put something on the screen that represented everyone’s idea of what it should be. Stage plays are a different challenge altogether, as with few exceptions, they rely much more heavily on dialogue to carry story and convey character. I love working across all the disciplines – songwriting too – and find it creatively stimulating to move between them. Right now though I’m thrilled to be writing The Savage Kingdom Book II and seeing where Drue and Will-C and the other main characters lead me and whether the survivors of Book I can find a way to live together. Some very big twists and turns in store!

What inspires you to write?

Originally it was Dan Dare (The Eagle comic circa 1964). Him and Spiderman and my dad. They fired my imagination and encouraged me to make stuff up and scribble it down when I was still a kid learning joined-up writing. Because we barely had two pennies to rub together, I had to get inventive about feeding my habit for comics as I couldn’t afford to buy them. So what I did, is I drew my own. Frame by frame. Page by page. Copying others at first, before branching out and inventing my own characters and stories. Below is a snap from a pencil rendition (with apologies to Stan Lee, I was 12 and knew nothing about copyright!) of the origin of Spidey. I drew the whole comic. Spent months on it. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great tool for learning about the economy of storytelling. That’s why I love writing for YA and younger readers. You can’t get away with anything. The story either works or it doesn’t. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright/novelist David Mamet said an interesting thing about story: All a reader/viewer really cares about is what happens next. What’s inspiring me to write TSK Book II today is exactly that. What happens next!

spidermannn

What is your favourite part in the writing process?

Typing The End! Always a moment of great satisfaction. But I also love all of the stuff that precedes the actual writing. First hand research is key to me and something I really enjoy. Not just trawling the web (though it’s a very useful tool) but hanging out in cafes listening to people, visiting far flung places, experiencing new cultures, discovering new things. What’s also magical, is that moment when you are so absorbed in the tale that the characters begin to lead you where you didn’t expect to go. You’re writing it, supposedly in charge, but they are demanding to take a different path than the one you had planned. That’s always thrilling and a sign to me that a piece is really flying.

Were you a reader as a child/teen and do you read works by other YA authors?

If I wasn’t kicking a ball or building a den in the woods, my nose was always in a comic or a book. I particularly loved stories that explored the wild and involved animals or animal/human relationships: Watership Down, The Call of the Wild and White Fang. I’m still an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, and yes, there’s some brilliant YA on my shelves. I loved The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Dark Materials Trilogy, and though I haven’t bought a copy yet, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park looks like a great read too.

What do you have planned next – after The Savage Kingdom?

The Savage Kingdom Book II! And I’m also thinking about revisiting that world with a third instalment, but I can’t say too much about that yet. If I promise not to drone on for too long, perhaps you’ll invite me back on Teen Librarian for an update down the line. It’s been great sharing some thoughts with you.

And remember, creative writers aren’t much use without creative readers!

With best wishes,

SDE
www.SimonDavidEden.com

www.TheSavageKingdom.com

The Devil in the Details: Discussing Devilskein & Dearlove with Alex Smith

Devilskein  Dearlove cover image copyright Ed Boxall
Hi Alex, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. For those readers that may not have come across your work before would you like to introduce yourself to the audience please?

Thanks Matt. I was a teenager in the last days of Apartheid, it was a violent and oppressive society, and themes that seem to recur in my novels are alienation, escape and finding ways of dealing with injustice and trauma. I’ve spent time living in China, Taiwan and the UK, and have travelled a fair bit around Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe, and so somehow also, travel/migration, culture, religion and the experience of being a stranger in a new place seem to find their way in most of my stories.

Devilskein & Dearlove is your fifth book and second title for younger readers; did you make a conscious decision to write for Teenagers?

Yes. There seems to be more creative freedom when writing for Teenagers. Perhaps that is just my perception and I’m misguided. But also, I have a son and he loves books (he’s only on picture books at the moment), and I want to write novels that he will enjoy reading.

You have said that Devilskein & Dearlove was inspired by The Secret Garden – how did you develop the idea?

The Secret Garden is one of my formative reading experiences, and to me it’s about finding happiness and magic where you least expect it. And that story has always lingered. In the last few years, South African fiction has broken out of its overly serious ‘JM Coetzee Nobel novel’ straight-jacket, and in particular genre fiction is leading the way (with the likes of Lauren Beukes whose Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award a couple of years ago). The Secret Garden has happy memories for me; and so I wanted to bring its kind of unencumbered charm to a South African contemporary context. I re-read it before I started working and then brainstormed. Travel and place are always important elements in my stories; I very particularly wanted to set the novel in a memorable part of Cape Town. Long Street is an amazing place, full of life, night and day, where past and present, and local and international influences all collide.

I have seen Devilskein & Dearlove compared to Neil Gaiman and Hayao Miyazaki’s work – are you a fan of their work?

All through writing Devilskein & Dearlove, I was imagining the characters as existing in a graphic world, animated like the inhabitants of Miyazaki’s films. I Absolutely love both Gaiman and Miyakazi – they are both geniuses, so fabulously imaginative, their stories are transporting, there is real darkness that must be overcome and but in some way it is overcome, so there is also lightness and a great deal of delight too. It was Neil Gaiman’s ‘Graveyard Book’, a kind of reworking of ‘The Jungle Book’ that first gave me the idea of going back to one of my old favourite novels for a concept idea.

arachneYour previous four novels were all published in South Africa by Tafelberg, Struik & Umuzi in South Africa? How did you come to be signed by Arachne Press in the UK?

I wrote a short story (Icossi Bladed Scissors) that was selected for a Liar’s League reading in London and then later that year Cherry Potts from Arachne Press created an anthology of stories called ‘Weird Lies’. She included that story in the anthology and during the editing process, she sent out an email requesting submissions of novels. I happened to be working on one, so I sent it to her and she like it.

Devilskein & Dearlove is also the first YA novel to be published by Arachne Press – how does it feel to be the YA standard bearer for the publisher?

That sounds a bit daunting. I like making up stories, that’s my job. Cherry has taken a big risk and I hope that Devilskein & Dearlove doesnn’t fail her. But to be honest, I don’t like to think too much about all the other stuff, although I know it’s very important.

You won Silver in the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature for Agency Blue in 2009, the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award for Four Drunk Beauties in 2011 and you were short-listed for the Rolex Mentor & Protege Arts Initiative, the SA PEN Literary Award and 2010 Caine Prize. Do you feel under pressure from all these accolades or are you able to ignore the expectations and just write?

In terms of being a person who likes to make things, in this case stories, I’m only as good as my last story. (Maybe a bit like cooking – you can make a really delicious meal, and everyone enjoys it and you all remember the good feeling, but every day is a new day, a new meal and the fun is in cooking, then the reading… I mean, eating, not so much in remembering last month’s dinner). So once something is edited and published, it’s over, there’s nothing more I can do to it, so the fun and the challenge are over. I’m always working on new things and that’s all I want – is to be in a position to keep making up stories that people enjoy (and getting paid a bit to do it).

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

The first chapter, the last chapter and editing the final draft.

The South African YA writing scene seems to be exploding at the moment, can you recommend any works by SA YA writers that you enjoy reading?

I’m a great fan of anything by S.A.Patridge, Andrew Salomon and also S.L.Grey.

What is coming next for you after Devilskein & Dearlove?

I’ve got a short story long-listed for a competition associated with the National Arts Festival – that anthology (ironically called Adults Only) is due out around July too. And the novel I’m working on at the moment is called My Little Demon but it’s getting to be too dark for my present state of mind, which, in spite of toddler-driven sleep deprivation, is surprisingly positive.

You can find Alex online at alexsmith.bookslive.co.za