Category Archives: Interviews

James Dawson and the Countdown to June 5th

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Yesterday you read 20 Random Questions with Holly Smale over at Sister Spooky’s site.

Tomorrow you can read about Jennifer Gray at Big Book Little Book.

But TODAY… today we are BLESSED for we have James Dawson here, brought to you by the wonder that is digital video:

Shift the Blame – an interview with Jeff Povey

shiftHi Jeff welcome to Teen Librarian – would you like to introduce yourself to readers that may not have come across you before

Hello Matt and firstly thank you for letting me do this. I’m usually a scriptwriter. I’ve written over 250 episodes of prime time British TV over the past 20 years. EastEnders, Casualty, Silent Witness, Grange Hill, Holby and quite a few others. I have also written original pieces, one of which I directed. I also write film screenplays, all of which never get made. I also had a couple of plays on in London many moons ago. About eight years ago I wrote a novel called The Serial Killers Club which was a black comedy about a lonely guy who inadvertently joined a Chicago based serial killers club – and found love. It was published by Warner/Hatchette in America and in quite a few other countries but the UK wasn’t at all interested. I loved writing it though and swore I would write another novel one day. Trouble is I really love writing scripts and before I knew it, quite a few years passed and I still hadn’t done it.. Til now of course.

Did you make a conscious decision to write for teens or did you write Shift and think “hey this would be perfect for YA readers”?

That’s a good question. I actually just thought it would be a much more exciting story if it was about teenagers rather than adults. I hoped there would be a naivety to teenagers who don’t know as much about themselves and the world as perhaps an adult would and thus it would be a bit more dangerous and a lot more thrilling. But I also thought they’d be a bit more daring and free and that when it came to relationships and friendships it would be more fun – and funnier. I also write adult characters every day of my life and a little bit of me didn’t want to do that. I also like teenagers, I have four kids and the house has always been full of teenage kids who you find sleeping in the hallway or you sit down to dinner and they’ve already eaten everything. They are bold and brash one minute and nervous and self doubting the next. They have their whole lives ahead of them and have so many huge decisions to make and I remember being like that – ready to rule the world one second, and then scared stiff of it the next. One of my kids friends turned up one day wearing his mum’s wedding dress and I thought now there’s a great character. I was also going to write this as a blog from the main character’s – REV – perspective. I was going to publish it online and do one chapter/blog a week. I probably have those pages somewhere but I was really interested in putting a story onto the web and seeing what happened. (Probably nothing!) But I hoped teenagers would maybe find it and maybe enjoy it. I’m droning on now but I think if you write a novel then you just write it, I didn’t know I was writing YA fiction, I was just thinking about who best served the story. I was very happy when someone said I’d written a YA novel though.

Shift made me think of a cross between Stephen King and John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) in the Twilight Zone – what were your inspirations for writing it?

That’s a great description. The Breakfast Club only became an inspiration when I suddenly realised that I had been inspired by it if you know what I mean. I hadn’t watched it for years but then it suddenly sunk in. John Hughes was a brilliant film maker, one of my favourites, and although I’ve only recently read Stephen King he is incredible and I wish I’d started reading his books years ago. What a writer. The main inspiration was a simple ‘What if’ question. I always do this if I come up with a story. I’ll look at a bit of life, or a person or an event and ask myself “What if that happened, or what if they said this, or what if that didn’t happen and something else did instead. For SHIFT it was obviously What If some schoolkids stepped out of school and found the world was empty? That’s all I really had. The harder part is answering that question, but it’s also the best part. Sometimes you can’t answer the question there and then and you leave it to simmer for a year or two. I had this question for a year before I could figure out an answer. I think we are bombarded with images and music and ideas every second and sometimes you don’t even know that your brain has taken them in – and then twisted them into something else. But I always get inspired when I ask that question: What If….

Did you do any scientific research for the story or is it pure science fiction?

I did a little bit of research and there are theories on the multiverse – but that’s all they are. Just theories. No one has proof so I decided that I would be the master of my reality. My main aim was to make it logical, that even if I made this new world up, it would have to have a logical sense to how it operated etc. But also we’re dealing with 16/17 year olds and if they suddenly start spouting great swathes of theory and scientific understanding then I don’t think anyone would believe in them. The characters are not interested in WHY so much as they are in HOW the hell do we get home? I would be the same, I would have one major thought – let me get home! REV’s dad has written a paper on how and why it happens but only one character, The MOTH, can get a grasp of it. Even if he explained every last detail to the others they probably still wouldn’t quite grasp it. I don’t recall The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe stopping to explain itself. I might be completely wrong there, it’s been a long time since I read it. But sometimes if you explain too much then you take away a bit of joy a reader may have in the wonder of it all, and also in coming up with their own theories. (I hope anyway). I’m not saying don’t research though because the more grounded and believable the better. It was just a hard one to research when alternate worlds may or may not exist.

Shift is the first book in a trilogy – I am looking forward to books 2 & 3 can you let us know when they are due out?

I’m writing the Second one now and I think it will be published around 6-8 months from now (April 2014), and the Third instalment will appear 6-8 months after that.

Are you currently working on any other stories?

Only for television but as everyone knows you really need to have your second and third ideas lined up just in case someone asks you to come up with something else. I’m asking those What If questions again. But I know it will be YA fiction because it’s brilliant to write. I’m a little worried though because I really love the characters in SHIFT and I fret about making up new ones that I love just as much. I can see why JK Rowling wrote so many Harry Potter books, she loved those characters unconditionally. Also, do I go back to apocalyptic worlds? They’re my favourite type of fictitious world but would I just be copying myself? I think I’ll just wait til the right What If presents itself. There’s a few bubbling away.

Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors? If yes what can you recommend?

I have a list of books by my bed now. The YA world is very new to me and as soon as someone said I had written a YA novel then I made a point of not reading any. I didn’t want to be influenced by them. I didn’t want people telling me that I had been influenced by them either. Someone mentioned Michael Grant to me and I immediately looked him up on Wikipedia and thought, ‘My God it’s almost the same idea I had!’ I e-mailed Simon & Schuster and told them what I’d found and of course they obviously knew all about Michael Grant and said don’t worry I was a very different type of writer. But I really panicked for a while. As a writer you strive for originality and think you’ve hit on the best idea in the world and lo and behold someone’s already thought of it. So I have a lot of books, some of which you recommended to me, and I am waiting until I’ve written my second book in case they get into my head. Also they might have a style I like and I’ll ape it before I even know what I’m doing. And worst of all they could be much better writers and my fragile mind doesn’t need to know that. One thing I would say is before I started this, I would go into bookshops and not look at YA. It was not drawing my attention, I’m older obviously, but I used to stick to the world I knew. I don’t think that’s a good thing because avid readers like me are probably missing out big time. Anyway my list comprises of Scott Westerfeld, Neal Shusterman, Darren Shan, Clare Furniss, Suzanne Collins to name but a few.

Do you ever do Library visits to Teen Reading Groups? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

I have never been asked but I would do that in a heartbeat. Just send an e-mail and I will do whatever I can.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by Teen Librarian!

Thank you for asking them! I know I waffle a bit so apologies for that.

Eight Questions With… Sam Osman

chasing darkWhat influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?
I have two teenage children, a boy of fifteen and a girl of thirteen and I really wanted to write the sort of books that would keep them and other teenagers reading, despite all the distractions of phones, friends and Facebook.

How do you get into the heads of your characters?
I listen to my own children and their friends and sometimes I try to think back to my own feelings as a teenager but very often I imagine that I am the character and I talk to myself!

Do you know instinctively what will appeal to Teens or is it more a hit or miss process?
Like readers of any age, teens love gripping stories but the important thing is to have characters whose lives and emotions they can relate to. I’m writing crime fiction for teens at the moment and although the crimes in the stories may be very similar to those in an adult novel my detectives are very different. They are teenage boys and girls, not raddled old cops with alcohol problems and rocky marriages!

QUICKSILVERWhat is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?
Sitting down at the computer and writing a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph or a page that conveys exactly what I can see or hear in my head.

Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors? If yes what can you recommend?
Yes, I read lots of Teen/YA novels. One of my favourite books is Guantanamo Boy by Anna Pereira. For older Teens I would recommend Tanya Byrne’s Heart Shaped Bruise and for younger ones Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?
Not directly in terms of plot but I think that some of the emotional reactions of the characters come from my own experience of pain, conflict or loss.

serpentsgoldAre you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned?
Yes I am writing a crime novel about an Afghan girl whose family come to London to escape the Taliban. It’s at the very early stages at the moment but when her brother is accused of a terrible crime she turns detective to expose a massive conspiracy.

Do you ever do Library visits to Teen Reading Groups? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?
Yes, I do a lot of school, library, and reading group visits. The best way to contact me is via my www.samosmanbooks.com website

Eight Questions With… Sandra Greaves

skullwoodWhat influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?

I’ve always loved children’s literature and YA. I didn’t make a conscious decision to try and write for teenagers, but when I started plotting ‘The Skull in the Wood’, my characters Matt and Tilda just emerged as aged 12 and 13. I feel very happy writing that for age group, and I’m interested in writing for an older YA readership too.

How do you get into the heads of your characters?

It’s a cliché that your characters take over, but they genuinely do. I try and imagine how they behave in all sorts of situations, not just the ones on the pages of the book. I even wrote a few scenes that I never intended to appear in the book, just so that I knew how Matt and Tilda had reacted at crucial times in their lives.

Do you know instinctively what will appeal to Teens or is it more a hit or miss process?

Mostly I write about what appeals to me – I don’t consciously gear it to a particular age group. If I get excited about it, I hope that teens will too.

What is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?

Writing the early drafts is amazing – a story just seems to take shape out of nothing and the process is utterly magical. But I like the detailed editing too – I think you have enjoy that if you’re ever going to finish a novel, because if you get bored at any stage, your readers will too.

Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors? If yes what can you recommend?

At the moment I’m reading Patrick Ness’s ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and really enjoing it. Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I Live Now’ blew me away, as did Sally Gardner’s ‘Maggot Moon’. And I loved Louis Sachar’s ‘The Cardturner’ – it just amazed me that you can construct a whole novel around playing bridge!

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?

Not really – I like to make things up, and none of my characters are based on real people. But of course, things that have happened to me do have a knack of edging in where I least expect them.

Are you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned?

I’m in the early stages of a new novel – but it’s way too soon to talk about it!

Do you ever do Library visits to Teen Reading Groups? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

I’m going to do some library and reading group visits in the autumn, and I’m always happy to do more – it’s great to meet committed readers! At the moment it’s best to email on tina(at)doublecluck.com at my publishers and requests will be passed on to me. And I’ll have a website up and running soon.

Entering the School for Good & Evil: An Interview with Soman Chainani

the-school-for-good-and-evil-by-soman-chainani
1. Hi Soman thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for Teen Librarian. For the first question would you please introduce yourself for the readers?

My pleasure! I’m Soman Chainani, the author of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series and the writer of the upcoming film adaptations for Universal as well. I’m thrilled to be here at Teen Librarian to give you a little peek behind the scenes of the SGE world. I’m also a massive, massive Anglophile and worked in the British film and TV industry for years before I started work on the series. I’d live in London in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to fly to Los Angeles so often for film work.

2. School for Good & Evil is your first novel, everyone I have spoken to that has read it has been raving about it (in a good way) myself included – how does it feel to have such a rapturous response?

Any temporary ego boost is tempered by how hard I’m working on the second book in the series, called A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES. Sequels tend to be disappointing, but I’ve always told myself that each book in the SGE series has to be better than the last – and wildly different — or there’s no point writing them. So I’ve been holed up in various rooms and coffee shops, writing like a madman. Even when I was in London for the UK tour, I’d spend half the day at a tea shop in Soho banging my head against the wall on a new chapter.

That said, I’m fully aware of how special and lucky this whole run has been so far. I had a list of goals I wanted to achieve by the end of the series – and they all happened in the first week! I stumbled around for a while, feeling like I was in a dream. Good news can sometimes be as disorienting as bad news. But now I’m happily back to work, abusing myself daily as to why I can’t write faster.

3. I have heard that the movie rights for SfG&E have been purchased – will you be involved in the adaptation?

I’m writing the adaptation for Universal with Malia Scotch Marmo (the writer of Hook). The movie will be very different from the book. For one thing, there’s just too much story in the book to fit into a two-hour movie. For another, a literal adaptation of a book can be quite dreary and repetitive. I’m much more interested in finding a new way to tell the story of Sophie and Agatha, so that the film feels like a new experience, even to lovers of the book.

4. On the surface, the story looks like your typical fairy tale of good and evil but once you get past the cover it challenges ones preconceptions of good and evil – what influences did you have in the writing of the story?

We didn’t have cable when I was young, so all we had was our rickety TV set and VHS tapes of every single Disney animated movie. Until age 8 or so, that was all I pretty much watched. Everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from Disney. When I went to college, though, I became fascinated by the gap between the original tales and these Disney revisions.

As a relentless student of the Grimms’ stories, what I loved about them was how unsafe the characters were. You could very well end up with wedding bells and an Ever After – or you could lose your tongue or be baked into a pie. There was no ‘warmth’ built into the narrator, no expectations of a happy ending. The thrill came from vicariously trying to survive the gingerbread house, the hook-handed captain, or the apple-carrying crone at the door – and relief upon survival. Somewhere in that gap between the Disney stories and the retellings, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL was born.

In recent years, fairy tale mash-ups, retellings, and revisions have become popular – and for good reason, given how enduring and inspiring the source material is. That said, I had my sights set on something more primal: a new fairy tale, just as unleashed and unhinged as the old, that found the anxieties of today’s children. To acknowledge the past – the alumni of the genre, so to speak – and move on to a new class. As soon as I started thinking in those terms, I knew I wanted to do a school-based novel. I was walking in Regents Park in London before a meeting when I had the first image… a girl in pink and a girl in black falling into the wrong schools… I got so caught up thinking that I missed my appointment entirely.

5. There are some superficial comparisons to Hogwarts Harry Potter, but the School for Good and Evil is a much darker place – has your book faced any challenges yet or is it still too new to have popped up on outraged parents radars yet?

It is a much darker place – Hogwarts you choose to go to. You’re kidnapped to The School for Good and Evil and there’s no return. But encouragingly, I haven’t heard a single complaint about the book’s content. There’s certainly been commentary about its amoral universe and the intensity of what the kids have to face – but the course of the story seems to solve any concerns.

That said, there will be rumbles about Book 2. You’ll see.

6. Have the majority of your fans identified themselves as Evers or Nevers? and how would you describe yourself?
Hmm, good question. It’s been so evenly split! It’s quite amazing, really. Even when I go to schools, by the end, it’s a very clear 50-50.

I can be comically high maintenance (my friends joke Sophie is the real me), so I’d surely be an overachieving Ever and the most regular user of the Groom Room (the medieval spa, which only the top ranked students are allowed to use). That said, Evil’s classes have no boundaries – for sheer entertainment value alone, I can see the allure.
That’s if I had a choice. In the process of writing the book, I realized I wasn’t quite sure which school I would actually end up in– so I created an online assessment to answer that question. At www.schoolforgoodandevil.com, every reader can take a 10-question SGE Entrance Exam to determine whether they’re an Ever or a Never. I wrote all the questions myself and there’s a bank of over 100, so the questions change every time.
I’ve taken it a number of times, trying to be as honest as I can, and I always end up 75% Evil and 25% Good. Those who read the novel will agree that this isn’t a surprising result in the least.

7. Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody tales before they were tamed by the Grimm brothers and Charles Perrault (and later Walt Disney) and had most of the blood and death removed, your story returns to the roots of the tales were bad things happen to the deserving (those deserving of having bad things happen to them) – was this intentional returning to the roots of the stories and removing most of the sugar?

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I just don’t quite understand why children of two hundred years ago could handle these frank and brutal stories of survival and cleverness – while children today must endure the sanitized versions. Frankly, I find the latter far more offensive and damaging. So in the School for Good and Evil, I point out this disparity. Once upon a time, Good and Evil were in pure balance. But now Good wins all the time, is obsessed with beauty, clothes, and superficial romance. The School itself has become Disneyfied and is trying to find its way back.

8. Finally do you have any plans for a sequel either involving Sophie and Agatha or staying with students at the School?

It’s a three-book series, so you’ll see what’s next. As for who’s in it… well that’s the question isn’t it!
Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog. SGE fans can join the jam-packed Facebook page, message me on Twitter at @somanchainani, and keep up with all things Good and Evil on www.schoolforgoodandevil.com.

COMPETITION TIME:

Win One of Five Copies of The School For Good & Evil!

Follow this link:
http://schoolforgoodandevil.com/exam/
Take the exam and then comment on this post with your name and if you were determined to be Good or Evil. Winners will be chosen at random at the end of the month!

Talking about Half Lives: an Interview with Sara Grant

sara_grant_author_photoHI Sara, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed! For my first question would you be able to summarise Half Lives in 10 words? (if you can- more words can be used if necessary)

That’s a difficult challenge, but here goes…

Two stories of survival; separated by time but bound by a deadly secret.

Half Lives is two stories – one set at the end of our world as we know it and the second on the cusp of a new civilisation arising – how long did it take you to write the story?

The spark for the story came in November 2009 when my editor at Little, Brown sent me a link to an article on Slate.com’s Culture Gabfest. The article was titled “Atomic Priesthoods, Thorn Landscapes, and Munchian Pictograms: How to communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future civilizations.” It discussed how a US Department of Energy panel planned to label the site of an underground nuclear waste repository.

The topic may sound dull, but the more I thought about it, the more it fascinated me. Some types of nuclear waste are deadly for more than 10,000 years – that’s longer than the world’s oldest civilization. Who knows what the world will be like even a thousand years from now? What language will we speak? What symbols will have meaning? The article sparked something in my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I developed the novel on and off from the moment I read that article in 2009. The more I wrote and researched, the more I found that I wanted to explore.

(If you want to read more about the article that started it all and the issues behind the story, you can visit my web site at: http://www.sara-grant.com/half-lives/half-live-discussions/)
halflivesuk
Was it difficult keeping the protagonists voices separate?

The voices, settings and time periods were so different that keeping the stories separate in my head wasn’t difficult. Also I initially wrote the two stories in Half Lives as separate novels. Once I was sure the stories were satisfying on their own then I knitted them together, endeavouring to show the reader the complete story by withholding and revealing information in each narrative.

The idea of a culture and religion based around modern day youth slang and culture is brilliant – what inspired you to come up with that concept?

It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a long time, maybe even since the 1995 Joan Osborne song One of Us with the chorus, “What if God was one of us. Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.”

Until Half Lives, I hadn’t found the story that would allow me to explore these ideas. What’s more fascinating than religion? Not only organized religion but also the systems of belief, faith and superstition that everyone creates to make it through the day.

Half Lives as a title works on a number of levels – the stories of Icie and Beckett, their lives being trapped by fate and circumstance and the time it takes radioactive materials to decay. Did the title come first or did you have the story planned and written before you named it?

Half Lives was the title from the very first proposal and outline. That happens sometimes; the title comes as part of the initial spark.
halflives us
The covers of the British & American editions are very different – which one do you prefer?

I like both covers for different reasons. They both represent similar aspects of the novel. Both covers show the connected dark and light sides of the story. The US cover was designed to match the re-designed cover of my first teen novel Dark Parties. I must admit that my favourite detail appears on the UK cover; it’s a black cat sauntering across the ISBN bar code. (A black cat plays a significant role in the novel.) Details like this make me appreciate how much my publishers invest in and understand my work.

Did you have any involvement in the design?

I have two amazing publishers with fantastic art departments. They showed me initial designs, and I gave feedback, but they are responsible for the cover concept and design. I leave the visual art to the professionals.

The breakdown between Icie, Chaske, Tate and Marissa was as heart-breaking as it was inevitable – is it difficult to write scenes like this in your novels? I am aware that some authors have very public near breakdowns when talking about bad things happening to their characters.

Many scenes in Half Lives were difficult to write. If I’m heart broken when writing or upset or scared then that emotion often translates onto the page. Many scenes had to be written in layers. It’s easier to deepen difficult scenes over time rather than in one initial rush. I’m a planner so I know most of what will happen from the initial outline. But surprises happen along the way, and it can be devastating when you realize that something horrible must happen to one of your characters. Chaske surprised me the most in Half Lives. He was a mysterious character that revealed himself to me over the course of several drafts.

Was Half Lives written as a warning against the dangers of nuclear waste and weapons of mass destruction or was that just an added extra?

The novel sprang from an article about these issues so they were fundamental to the story from the very beginning. The more I researched about these topics the more unbelievable it became. Creating a substance that will be deadly for tens of thousands of years definitely seems like science fiction, something right out of a superhero comic book.

While reading the book I had no idea how you were going to bring the two strands of the story together separated as they were by time and culture. Did you start with the idea of how they would converge or did they converge together as you wrote?

I created a grid that outlined the plot points in the two novels and noted how and where they would intersect. The difficult aspect of this novel was that if I changed something in one story, I had to consider the ripple effect it would have in the other.

The Just Sayings that prefaced each chapter of Beckett’s story are brilliant – are there any plans to put them together and make them all available to the reading public?

That’s an interesting idea. I do have a bigger list of Just Sayings. I’m a bit obsessive about details like that so I have a grid that notes the origin of the Just Saying and where it appeared in the book. But my reference documents are sometimes only understandable to me. Maybe I’ll get that organized and post it on my web site. Thanks for the suggestion, Matt!

Finally – what are atomic priesthoods?

The phrase ‘atomic priesthoods’ comes from the article I mentioned that served as the spark for Half Lives. The article discussed how the US planned to mark the site of a nuclear waste repository and the conundrum of how you communicate with future generations that most likely won’t speak the same language we do nor understand the same symbols. Here’s the extract from the Slate.com article:

“In the early 1980s, the semiotician and linguist Thomas Sebeok wrote a paper for the U.S. Office of Nuclear Waste Management titled “Communication Measures To Bridge Ten Millennia,” which proposes a folkloric relay system to pass along information: “The legend-and-ritual, as now envisaged, would be tantamount to laying a ‘false trail,’ meaning that the uninitiated will be steered away from the hazardous site for reasons other than the scientific knowledge of the possibility of radiation and its implications; essentially, the reason would be accumulated superstition to shun a certain area permanently.” Sebeok further suggested a Dan Brown-like “atomic priesthood” of physicists, anthropologists, semioticians and the like who would preserve the “truth.”
” (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/green_room/2009/11/atomic_priesthoods_thorn_landscapes_and_munchian_pictograms.html)

This was one idea for how to warn away future generations from these deadly burial grounds with only a select few – so called atomic priests – who know the truth. Thankfully this wasn’t the final recommendation. Atomic Priesthoods sounds like a great name for a rock band though.

Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed!

You are very welcome, Matt! Thanks for reading Half Lives and being my first official interview on the book.

Cover2Cover Publisher Interview

C2C-Masthead5

Today, Teen Librarian is proud to host an interview with Dorothy Dyer, one of the founders of YA Publisher Cover2Cover

1. Globally publishing seems to be in a crisis and companies are merging for survival – why did you decide to start an independent publishing company?
Cover2Cover didn’t start to compete with existing companies. Cover2Cover started in order to get young South Africans reading, teens who have never really read for pleasure before. So we were wanting to create a whole new market!

2. How have young adult readers responded to these books?
fundzaWe have been absolutely overwhelmed by the responses of readers. We founded a literacy trust, FunDza, and as part of its work it distributes these books to schools and literacy organisations all over the country. Again and again we get rave reviews and accolades, with teachers saying they have never seen their students wanting to read like this before. I just have to quote some of our favourites, if you don’t mind..!

From a rural organisation in Kwa-Zulu Natal: The principal of Siyanda says the kids are so enthusiastic about the books that they are not even waiting to return them to the library before passing them on…She says she goes into the library now and finds kids sitting there in silence, engrossed in their reading – your books have started what we hope will be a revolution.
From a girls’ high school: I thought you would be interested to know that the books have been a huge ‘hit’ in our grade 9 bookclub . The girls are just so enjoying them. We just can’t keep up with the demand.

I think it’s incredibly powerful on all sorts of levels to recognise your life and world in a book, and for many of these students this is the first time it happens.When I do a reading aloud I can feel the ripples of excitement and recognition when there is local slang. It validates your world, to see it in a story, I think.

c2cA-shining-star-cover3. You currently publish Best Reads so far aimed at years 7,8 & 9 and The Harmony High series aimed at secondary school readers do you have plans for more series?
We are also publishing anthologies of short stories that were first published on FunDza Literacy Trust’s mobi-site – we’ve just brought out number 1. We are interested in creating new series – we have been discussing the idea of a series for 9 to 12, as we hear from literacy workers that there is a real gap here as well for contemporary local stories. Here though we would have to look at translation into local languages too to make the stories widely accessible.
Another project is trying to get our books much cheaper, and distributed in a different way. Currently books are expensive items available at bookstores. We dream to change that. We have seen that there are readers who enjoy the books. Now we need to get the books out there, possibly in a different format… watch this space!

c2cSugar-Daddy-Cover4. The books published by Cover2Cover focus on South African youth issues – do you think they would find readership outside of SA?
We have heard that readers in Malawi and Zimbabwe have enjoyed them. They are easy and exciting reads, and although are local, the stories deal with challenges that many teens face, so yes, I think the books could find readership elsewhere. They might be interesting to people out of the country because they also do give a picture of SA that is not always reflected in the news – ordinary people making meaning out of their lives in difficult circumstances.

5. I have seen conversations recently about a lack of people of colour (POC) on the covers of YA books Cover2Cover seems to be bucking this trend are you aware of other publishers putting out YA novels featuring POC on the cover?
Our mission is overt in getting our readers to recognise themselves in books, so we think it is very important that our cover models reflect the characters in the book. I have seen various incidences in this country and overseas where the white models on the outside are no reflection of the darker skinned characters inside the covers, and I think it is distressing that some publishers are prepared to sacrifice the integrity of the novel to get more sales, and seem to think that for this white faces – or rather beautiful white faces – are necessary.
c2cToo-Young-to-Die-Final-Cover
6. Harmony High is described as a soap opera read for teens – do the stories have to be read in order or are the stories self-contained?
The books are all follow characters who attend one fictional township high school, Harmony High, and there is a vague chronological order. Broken Promises and Jealous in Jozi, for example, follow one particular character, Ntombi, whereas the other books focus on other characters, such as Sugar Daddy, which follows the story of one of Ntombi’s friends. But each book is carefully written so it can be a satisfying read on its own.

7. How many authors are working on the series and how can writers get involved in writing for Cover2Cover?
c2cFrom-boys-to-men-CoverThere is a little team of us – five in total. Ros and I are the puppet masters, or rather the conductors, who make sure the stories fit together etc. We also always test the stories in manuscript form on young readers, to make sure we’re getting things right.
Because it is a bit like a soapie, and does have to be carefully managed, we aren’t looking for anyone to join the team at this stage.

8. Are the books available internationally and if yes how can one get hold of them?
Hard copies can be ordered from us at info@cover2cover.co.za. We are also available on Amazon now, digitally.

Geekhood: Mission Improbable the Video Interview

A few weeks ago Laura of SisterSpooky, Kerrie from ReadandRepeat and I were invited by Stripes Publishers to interview author Andy Robb on his houseboat near Taplow.

Laura has a brilliant write up of what went on during the filming here: On the Boat with Andy Robb.
 
While we chatted we were painting Dark Angels Space Marines.

calibangreenmarine

There are many like it, but this one is mine!

 
Andy is an excellent host and all-round geek and nice guy. We chatted for ages between filming; about comics (He showed off his Spiderman signed by Stan Lee) I drooled over his Batman/Joker Animated Adventures, Doctor Who and the literary merits of Terry Pratchett versus J.R.R. Tolkien (Andy is a die-hard Middle Earther while I tend more towards the Discworldian view). He played the voice of Kring the magic sword in The Colour of Magic.
 
The video was made to promote and celebrate the release of

geekhood2

Which is a sequel to:

geekhood

Both of whom were written by:

andybat2

The Batman?

Noooooooooooo not the Batman – although that would have been amazing!

andybat3

They were actually written by BatmAndy Robb.
 
The last few photos were taken at the book launch, which was held at the Waterstones on Kensington High Street. The launch was fantastic with a number of people dressing up as comics characters (my favourites being Walter ‘Rorschach’ Kovacs and The Big Figure from Watchmen), I was too busy enjoying myself to take photos.

andybatandcris
This is Andy and Cristina of Crisckracker Films who filmed the interview.

Important Note: Each of the bloggers has a unique coda at the end of their videos so be sure to watch them all!

Monster Odyssey: an Interview with Jon Mayhew

Teen Librarian is proud to feature an interview with Jon Mayhew, author of Mortlock, The Demon Collector, The Bonehill Curse and the soon to be published The Eye of Neptune, first book in the Monster Odyssey series.

monsteroddcover1. You have chosen a young Prince Dakkar – better known as Captain Nemo as the (anti?) hero of your story. Is there any particular reason you chose a pre-existing character in the public domain rather than creating someone new for the story?
I have a bit of a track record for using past works of literature as a springboard for my writing. The character of Sergeant Major Morris in The Bonehill Curse is taken from WW Jacobs’ story The Monkey’s Paw. I quite like imagining the characters before the events of a story and the best characters allow you to do that. I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Captain Nemo and so when Bloomsbury asked me to do an adventure series, he sprang to mind straight away. I wanted to write undersea and historical so inventing anew Captain Nemo, seems a bit pointless. There’s also the challenge of doing something new but something that has a ring of truth about it.
 
2. Obviously in his youth he was merely Prince Dakkar, will your series touch on how he became Nemo (no-one) and eventually refused to step on to inhabited land? Or is it going to be a swash-buckling tale of derring-do and adventure?
Both, I hope! What intrigues me about Nemo is that he had a past. It is referred to in Mysterious Island. He returns to India at the age of 30 and marries but becomes embroiled in the Indian Uprising of the 1850s. His wife and child die and he goes to an island with some compatriots and builds the Nautilus. But that doesn’t really explain how he knew how to build a submarine, or why he was so driven to save the oppressed or why he wept bitterly whenever he killed men. It didn’t tell us how he became educated, where he got his encyclopaedic knowledge of the sea or his love of Art from. I wanted to explore how his character forms. For example, he is obviously an inspiring leader, so in one book he may encounter famous generals, emperors and politicians of the time. It would be a shame to miss such an opportunity for swash-buckling tales of derring-do and adventure, though!
 
3. There is also (according to the Amazon page) a Girl but she is only referred to as ‘a Girl’ – is her identity going to be a surprise or can you share a bit more information with us?
She is a fictional character. Georgia Fulton, a niece of one of the other characters, she’s a fist-fighting, All-American girl who generally acts as a foil to Dakkar’s Princely pomposity. In other words, she punches his lights out when he gets too big-headed!
 
20kus4. I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island when I was a youth and loved it (also the Disney Movie which I enjoyed as a child) and did not give the character any thought for years until I read Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. There is a Nemo graphic Novel by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill due out in February focusing on the captain‘s daughter. Have you read any of the works featuring Captain Nemo (apart from the Verne originals)?
dakkarThere is a lot of Nemo-inspired material out there! I loved the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but wondered why Moore made him a Sikh. Dakkar would either be Hindu or more likely, Muslim. I’ve read a manga Captain Nemo which was great fun but I’ve avoided other texts. I also enjoyed the films and various cartoons that have popped up through the years.
 
5. Prince Dakkar was portrayed as being virulently anti-British and anti-imperialist in general, will your novels be showing how he became this way?
I hope so. It is interesting to look back at how Dakkar was portrayed because in early English translations, he came to England to improve his country, in American translations of the time, he came to ‘learn the ways of his oppressors.’ In the original versions of Verne’s books, Dakkar was Polish and hated Russia. This was quickly changed when France and Russia became close allies. All fascinating and the reason why MY Prince Dakkar is mentored by a Polish nobleman in exile from his home country!
 
6. Apart from Prince Dakkar will any other literary characters be making an appearance in the series?
Probably not literary characters but certainly historical characters from the time I have set the books. So in Book one, Dakkar meets Jean Lafitte, notable American/French pirate, he meets Robert Fulton, real inventor of the first Nautilus submarine. In the second book, Napoleon crops up amongst others!
 
7. You are currently working on a sequel to Monster Odyssey, will this series be finite in length or is it going to be more open-ended?
As open-ended as possible! I have an ending in mind and a broad character arc for Dakkar but anything could happen on the way!
 
8. How much research went in to developing the story?
Obviously, I needed to reread the originals and then it’s a question of interrogating the year I set the first book. Dates and chronology proved tricky as there were inaccuracies in the originals which I discuss here: http://jonmayhem.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/dating-nemo.html It also involves reading around certain key events such as the Battle of Waterloo and getting a feel for that time. Verne wrote speculatively at the time but he pinned a lot of his work down with what he believed to be scientific fact. The beauty of writing in Verne’s world is that you have an essentially recognisable world but tinges of fantasy. A good example of this would be the fact that Verne thought it plausible that undersea craft could survive much deeper below the sea than we now know is possible. So we can go deeper.
 
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions
 
Thank you for asking!

YA in SA Author interview: Joanne Macgregor

turtlewalkhi Joanne thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed! Can I ask you to introduce yourself for the audience please?

Hi Matt, thanks for having me to “chat” to all your wonderful, bookish readers!
I’m a born and bred Joburger and have lived here among the Hadedahs and mine-dumps all my life. Johannesburg isn’t a beautiful city – though we have fabulous trees – but there’s something about the vibe and the pace that’s exciting. Or maybe we all just have altitude sickness!
After I finished school, I trained as a high school English teacher and I loved doing that for a while. I must confess that in my early days, I did a lot of things “for a while”. I have done IT training, business consulting with one of the Big Four consultancies (awful job!), been a general factotum in a children’s theatre, answered phones, arranged flowers, done in-store demonstrations of cooking frozen vegetables (almost as bad as business consulting!) and, once, I had a job handing out helium balloons in a shopping mall, while wearing a bathing suit and high heels. One day, I will write a book – a tragi-comedy – called “Jobs I have done”. Along the way I collected a fistful of degrees and for the last 15 years, I have practised as a Counselling Psychologist, dealing primarily with victims of crime and trauma. It’s tough work and my brain escapes by dreaming up stories when I’m not in my consulting rooms.
The first book I wrote was a biography of the sole survivor of the 2003 “Sizzlers Massacre” of nine men working in a Cape Town massage parlour. Although it was never published, I learned an enormous amount about writing and that gave me the confidence to begin writing books that have, thankfully, been published.

Your new novel Rock Steady has just been released – it is your second book for young adults and a sequel to Turtle Walk, can you tell us something about the series?rocksteady
Rock Steady is the second in the series that began with Turtle Walk. Although it’s a sequel, it reads just fine as a stand-alone novel.
My inspiration was a desire to write something different to the books I saw on the YA bookshelves at local book stores – books written almost exclusively by foreign authors, set in Europe or the US, telling stories very often based in fantasy, with a preponderance of male protagonists and feeble girl sidekicks who served as loyal friends, victims to be rescued, or passive foils to the boy’s actions. With this series, I wanted to write realistic fiction (a break from wings and wands and fangs), telling South African stories set in our beautiful country, with smart, funny, resourceful, kick-ass heroines. In short, the kind of books I’d love my teen daughter and her friends to read. The feedback on that score has been amazing!
In each book, the protagonists tackle some broadly ecological issue. In Turtle Walk it was illegal long-line fishing which decimates Leatherback Turtle populations, in Rock Steady it’s the illegal trade in San Rock Art. Of course, back at school, the eco-warriors have to deal with the usual teen issues – first love, parental pressure, really mean teachers, etc. Sam, the main character, also suffers from anxiety and it’s been fun to explore that a bit more deeply in this book. The main characters are female, but the books aren’t “girly” and there’s lots to interest boy readers.

Rock Steady and Turtle Walk have both been published by Protea Boekhuis in South Africa, do you have any plans for international publication?
Turtle Walk was picked up by international distributors and is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Hopefully Rock Steady will follow suit. I think it’s safe to say that most South African authors have plans for international publication. We have such a small book-buying public here that in order to make a living from writing, you do need to adapt your writing style and projects for the international market.

Are you planning on writing more stories about Samantha Steadman and the eco-warriors?
One of these days, I have to begin writing the third in the series. I’m thinking of having my eco-warriors go head-to head with fracking in the next one. And it may be Jessie’s turn to come off the rails!

Did you make a conscious decision to write for a teen audience?
For this series, yes, though I like to write what I would like to read, and I love reading YA books. I don’t think there were very many of them around when I grew up (we seemed to go from Enid Blyton straight to Wilbur Smith), so maybe I’m indulging in a second adolescence!
I have also written two books for younger middle grade readers (Jemima Jones and the Great Bear Adventure, and Jemima Jones and the Revolving Door of Doom, both of which are available as ebooks) as well as an adult novel. But I really enjoy writing in the YA “voice”. There’s a lot to like about YA fiction as a writer. It’s very direct, raw and emotional, there’s not too much in the way of flowery, literary descriptions, and there’s always room for writing with humour – which seems to be my style. So though I don’t want to be locked into writing one genre only, I’m very comfortable in the YA zone.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I think it’s that the work is so varied that even I can’t get bored. There’s a rhythm to getting the idea, fleshing it out in pleasant daydreams, getting it down on paper, editing and rewriting, and these days, of course, marketing, but it’s never the same. Each new book is like a new baby, and you can’t quite be sure what it might become!

Were you a reader as a teen and did you have any favourite authors?
I was a reader as a foetus! Seriously, ever since I could read, I’ve read everything that would stand still long enough, be it the classics, trashy novels, or the back of the cornflake box. I loved it all –from the minute microcosm of Jane Austen’s world to John Steinbeck’s spare style; from the rollicking romances of bodice-rippers to the detailed excellence of PD James. I read, and always have, every genre except high fantasy and science fiction – I think I must lack the imagination to see other worlds, because I don’t think I could write those genres either. I suspect I might be a low-brow, because I generally prefer gripping stories and authentic characters to literary fiction.

Can you recommend any other YA writers (from SA or international)?
Oh, wow, where to begin? In South Africa, Jayne Bauling, Edyth Bulbring, S.A Partridge, Kabelo Kgatea, John van de Ruit and Christine Porter, among dozens of others. Internationally, the usual suspects: John Green, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth and, of course, Jo Rowling, but also Gwen Hayes, Lauren Oliver, Stephanie Perkins and Australia’s Melina Marchetta. I’ve just finished “Poison Princess” by Kresley Cole and thought it was fabulous.

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?
I’m a real magpie, collecting images, experiences and words – especially words. Sooner or later, everything I’ve ever heard or seen or felt or experienced winds its way into my books. Of course, it gets transmuted through the experience of my characters in the alchemy of the writing process. In Rock Steady, Samantha is tormented by a really sick teacher, and that is based, in part, on a miserable experience I had at school. I also use my kids shamelessly – stealing their jokes and teen-talk. The only exception to my general thievery is in my psychological practice – what my clients tell me there, I treat in strictest confidence. What happens in therapy, stays in therapy.

Are you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned for the near future?
At the moment, I’m writing a YA romance, and I’m loving it! It’s based on a contemporary (and non-fantasy) retelling of a classic fairy-tale. I’m a bit superstitious of saying more about it, though, in case I jinx it. My psychological thriller for adults, Dark Whispers, is scheduled for publication next year. Writing that book, which was based on a newspaper article I read, scared the pants off me, and it definitely won’t be one for my YA readers.

Do you ever visit school or library reading groups either in person or virtually via Skype? If you do what is the best way to contact you about a visit?
I love visiting schools and talking directly to teens – I want to get as many young people as possible addicted to reading! I’ve done school visits in Johannesburg and Cape Town and would definitely be available to speak to groups via Skype. I do talks on my specific books, as well as on the broader writing process and the ecological issues tackled in my eco-warrior series.
I’ll be part of the children’s programme at the Franschhoek Literary Festival again this year, and will be visiting Durban in July as a guest at the Kids Lit Quiz international finals. I’d love to chat to readers and schools outside of South Africa. Travelling is always a possibility as, like many South Africans, I have family in London and Atlanta. The best way to reach me is probably via twitter @JoanneMacg or via the contact form on my website www.joannemacgregor.com.