Category Archives: Interviews

Start the Story Interview with Barry Hutchison (co-creator with Tommy Donbavand of Start the Story)

What prompted you to start an independent magazine to aid literacy?

We both do a lot of work in schools running writing workshops and we have a lot of fun doing it. Sometimes the kids get stuck right into it from the start, and sometimes you have to work a bit harder and think creatively to get them engaged, so we’ve both developed lots of tricks over the past few years to get even the most reluctant pupils writing creatively.
Often teachers approach us at the end of our workshops asking if they can “borrow” some of the ideas we used, and we’re always happy for them to do so. It got us thinking, though – is there a way to share the exercises we’ve developed and techniques we’ve learned with a wider audience? Can we make it easier for teachers, librarians – even parents – on a much wider scale to get kids excited about literacy? Start the Story is what we came up with.

 

Start the Story is an excellent idea – how long have you been developing it (and what took you so long)?

We’ve been developing the content for years without actually realising it. We’ve been running school events since about 2007, and everything we’ve come up with during those visits has been filed away in our heads to be pulled out when needed.
The idea for the magazine itself only really came about in the past few months, and as soon as we hit on the idea we swung into action. I think from initial idea to the first issue coming out was about three weeks. We were so excited about the potential it had to help gets kids reading and writing that we put aside all our other work (sorry, publishers) and focused 100% on getting issue one done.

 

Why do you think that literacy in the UK is suffering?

There’s no one single reason, and that’s what makes it so hard to combat. From the point of view of reading for pleasure, there are so many other demands on kids’ time these days, from video games to 24 hour cartoon channels, plus Facebook, YouTube and a million and one other things.
Parents are more pushed for time, so they’re reading less with their children, and that has a massive knock-on effect in terms of the literacy skills of those kids. We’re looking at ways to combat that with “Parent Sheets” schools can send home with kids encouraging them to read and talk about reading at home.
If the input isn’t coming from home, it’s very difficult for teachers and librarians to turn the tide. Librarians are great at keeping up to date with new books, but a lot of teachers find it more difficult, which is why we recommend a wide range of books for all interests and abilities in every issue of the magazine.
I also think teachers themselves have so much more put on them now than they ever used to. What’s expected of them seems to change every few weeks, and from speaking to hundreds of them over the past few years the general consensus is they have less and less time to actually teach.
That’s where we thought we could make the biggest difference, by supplying ready-made lesson plans, plus lots of exercises which can be easily adapted to any age group. We also provide five pupil worksheets with every issue, ready to print off and use in lessons.

 

Did you consider working in conjunction with existing literacy groups (for example The National Literacy Trust or the UK Literacy Association)?

At the moment, the whole thing is very much a work in progress, and we haven’t ruled anything out. Our big rush was to get issue one out before schools broke up for the summer, and now our focus is on making issue two even bigger and better than the first one. Once that’s out of the way we’re going to step back and catch our breath a bit, and see what connections can be made with other groups and organisations.
Part of the appeal for me, though, is being able to come at the problem from a unique angle – we’re not teachers, we’re not part of a government body or a literacy charity or whatever. We’re just two authors who love reading and writing, and who want to help other people learn to love it, too.

 

At the moment it is a two author publication – are you considering taking on partners (including authors, teachers or librarians)?

We had a couple of teachers helping advise us on the first issue, and lots of others have pledged their support. We’ve also had authors and illustrators offering to help us out, and the response overall has been great (particularly from librarians, who seem to “get it” best of all).
By and large, though, it’s just the two of us, but we’re definitely looking to grow and we’re probably going to need all the help we can get! So if you’re interested in helping out in any way, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Will you accept article submissions or ideas from outside professionals?

This is definitely something we’re planning to do down the line, but we want to be in a position to be able to pay people what they deserve. At the moment we’re both doing this off our own backs and taking care of costs ourselves, so by necessity we’re writing all the articles. If we start getting a reasonable number of subscribers, though, then we can start accepting – and paying for – submissions from other people.

 

Why should librarians, teachers and parents subscribe to Start the Story?

We’re not very good at the hard sell, so all I’ll say is this: We can make it easier for you to get the children in your care excited about reading and writing. The magazine can save you huge amounts of time and effort, and can make literacy lessons fun for teachers and pupils alike.
Schools are also free to distribute it to all staff and classes, and we even supply a print-friendly version of every issue ready to print off on desktop printers.
Oh, and if you’re one of the first 100 subscribers you’ll be entered into a competition to win £100 of free books plus a virtual author visit from one of us!

 

How can we go about subscribing?

It couldn’t be simpler – head along to www.startthestory.co.uk and click the big yellow “SUBSCRIBE NOW!” button at the top.

 

Thank you for an amazing resource!

Aimée Carter Interview

Hi Aimée! For those of us who have not met you would you be willing to give us a short introduction?

Hi! I’m Aimée, and I wrote the Goddess Test series.

The Goddess Test is not quite a retelling of Greek myth but rather extending the cycle in a new story that has echoes of the original (which I particularly enjoyed) was it tough to update the gods & goddesses

Thank you! One of my favourite things to do while writing The Goddess Test was updating the gods and goddesses. While in some ways it was difficult to fit them into our current culture, at the same time I believe they’re universal, which made it easier. I kept their original personalities from the myths as much as I could, and then I thought about how they would need to adapt to modern times.

Is the world you are building home to other classical pantheons or are your deities the same but reflected differently in other cultures?

I love this question. In my head, it’s the latter – they have different names throughout history and different cultures, but they’re more or less the same beings. Some of the minor gods in Greek mythology are considered almighty in others, and they’re reflected differently between, say, Roman and Norse mythology. But they’re more or less the same. This is just in the Goddess Test world, of course, but it’s interesting to study the different kinds of mythology in the world and see where they intersect.

I had a thought that the river that Kate & Ava crossed to get onto Henry’s property was the Styx – am I right and if yes are there any other mythological easter eggs scattered in your story that I may have missed?

You’re totally right! I believe Chapter 16 is called The River Styx, and while it’s not explicitly stated in the text, that was definitely my intention. There are several mythology Easter eggs scattered throughout the trilogy, little throwaway things that might not mean much to the casual reader, but someone more familiar with mythology might get a grin or a little piece of insight into the story.

Henry is described as dark, tortured and mesmerising (considering that he is Hades he has good reason to be) – do you think that emo boys are the new objects of attraction in YA lit?

To be honest, I never really intended for him to be considered emo. He’s really the opposite of emo – very unemotional, at least outwardly. Stoic, quiet, keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself. A lot of times, Kate is the one to hurl emotions at him to try to get something to stick, but Henry has a lot of trouble acknowledging how he feels. And with good reason, for sure.

I don’t think emo is anything too new on the scene, really, but there is definitely a variety of YA love interests who exhibit classic emo traits. And that’s what I love about YA – there’s something for everyone!

Writing Children’s Books While Black and Feminist


I received an e-mail from the wonderful Kerensa at Ms.Magazine about an interview they are running on their blog with Jacqueline Woodson–one of the few queer, Black or feminist writers of bestselling contemporary children’s books.

Rather than grab the interview and post it here which would be illegal (read this to find out more) you can find links below and a video of the first part of the interview.

You can read the interview here:

Writing Children’s Books While Black and Feminist

Or watch the first part of the interview here:

You can watch the entire interview on Zetta Elliott‘s youtube channel

Eight Questions with… Chris Westwood

Chris was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to sit down with Teen Librarian and take part in the Eight Questions With… interview which follows below.

What influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?

Robert Swindells had a lot to do with it. About the time I was starting out, struggling with a first novel I never finished, I heard he was conducting a writing workshop at my local library so I went along to say hello. Robert was incredibly generous with his time, read the sample pages I’d brought and recommended a number of YA novels he thought I should read. I had a background in the music business as a journalist with a weekly paper called Record Mirror, and Robert suggested I try writing fiction for a similar young readership. My first novel (A Light In The Black) wasn’t actually planned as young adult fiction but as soon as I started the first chapter, the voice – the tone of the piece – took it that way. I guess that’s what Robert was getting at: writing in the voice that comes naturally to you.

 

How do you get into the heads of your characters?

I suppose it’s a little like acting, role-playing, putting myself in someone else’s place. There’s a lot of me in my characters anyway, and I like to think most of us have enough in common emotionally that we can relate to the same things in similar ways, whether it’s the heartbreak of being jilted or the fear of the sound of a dentist’s drill. Also, characters do have this alarming way of taking on lives of their own and beginning to speak for themselves, whether or not I agree with what they’re saying. I’m just hoping the reader will pause and go, “Wow, I didn’t know anyone else felt that way too.”

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

It’s more about finding something that appeals to me. I try not think in terms of what will grab, say, a thirteen year old reader; you can’t second-guess what others will like, I’m not sure you should even try to. First, entertain yourself. If an idea gets its hooks into me, I’m hopeful it will do the same for others. Does the story I have in mind already exist? If not, I’d better settle down and write it…

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

It’s nearly all good. There’s the first spark of inspiration that kicks off an idea… and lasts for about ten seconds. After that there’s a lot of hard work, which often feels like pushing a dead-weight uphill, but there are also times when the story seems to be writing itself – when I’m not absolutely sure where it’s going but I’m willing to go along with it to find out. If I’m lucky I’ll eventually see what my subconscious has been doing all along… and if it all makes some kind of sense, that’s the best. Oh, and finishing work is hugely satisfying too!

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

There are so many fine writers in this area – Malorie Blackman, Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman – but I’d like to mention a few of the books which made the greatest impression on me as a young reader, some of the ones that made me want to write:

JD Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye; William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies; Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. There’s also Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is simply magical no matter how old you are; and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the granddaddy of the zombie novel, which is booming right now.

More recently, I was really knocked out by Louis Sachar’s Holes and John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, and I’ve just finished the first of ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy, a fabulous fantasy from a writer with a lovely, surprising turn of phrase. Can’t wait to start the next in that series.

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?

I’m not sure I could write anything without making it personal – whether it comes from family life, school days, or all the ups and downs between then and now. For Ministry of Pandemonium I drew a lot from my own experience of losing my parents; that’s what the book is really about, and writing about it was a way of coming to terms with it. When I came back to London for the first time in ages, I started discovering parts of the city I’d never seen before, made some wonderful new friends, had my sunglasses stolen from a shop in Hackney… those things found their way into the story too. Sometimes personal experience adds extra colour and believability to a scene. Sometimes it gives you so much more, entire story-lines and themes.

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

I’m now adding the final touches to a sequel to Ministry of Pandemonium, and looking ahead to the third book in the series, which is only very vaguely planned so far but at least I know how it will begin and end. I’m less sure about everything in between!

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, so you could either call the publicity team at Frances Lincoln or email me or my agent at the addresses on the Contact page of my website http://www.chris-westwood.com

Author Interview with Julie Kagawa

Julie Kagawa, author of the phenomenal YA fantasy series The Iron Fey recently took some time out of her busy schedule to take part in a quick Q&A with Teen Librarian.

1. In The Iron King the fey are all from the Western European tradition of faeries – as the series progresses will you spread out into the mythologies of other cultures?

In the Iron Fey series, I stuck mostly to the traditional faeries of England, Scotland, and Ireland, because they are Fey. For example, the kitsune of Japan is not a faery but more of a spirit. However, I do love oriental mythology, and though it might not appear in The Iron Fey series, its certainly something I would love to write about in the future.

2. How much research did you do before you started The Iron Fey series?

I already had a good grasp of faery lore and legend, so it was more of a “research as you go” sort of thing. Most of my research was done online, though I did watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream before starting The Iron King, just for inspiration.

3. I loved the concept of faeries of Iron, will you be delving more into the backstory of the Iron Fey themselves from the time of Ferrum and the founding of the court of Iron?

Thank you. And the origins of the Iron Fey will be touched upon as the series progresses, most notably in the third book, The Iron Queen.

4. Will Floppy ever reappear?

He does pop up one more time in a dream sequence, but other then that, no.

5. Is the Iron Fey series open ended or do you have a definite end goal in mind for the series?

Oh, there is a definite ending for Meghan, Ash, Puck, Grim, and everyone in the Iron Fey world. I don’t like leaving things open-ended; I want to know, as I close the last page, that the story is over, and that it ended the only possible way it could.
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For more information on the Iron King and to find out about forthcoming releases from Mira Ink click on the logo to be taken to their website.

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The Sunday Express is giving away 1000 ebook copies of The Iron King here
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Watch the book trailer for The Iron Fey

5 Questions with Rachel Vincent

First up for 12 Months of Halloween is an interview with Rachel Vincent author of The Shifters and Soul Screamers series.

1. For those reading this interview that have not encountered you on their bookshelves would you be able to give us a short introduction?

I am a cat owner, former English teacher, and the author of the young adult Soul Screamers series as well as the Shifters series (adult). I live in San Antonio, Texas, where we’re currently experiencing our first cold day of the year, and my central heat doesn’t seem quite up to the challenge. (Picture me bundled and hunched over my keyboard. ;))

2. Faythe your heroine is a werecat – did you consider other werebeasts before settling on cats as the main weres of this series?

Nope. I’ve always been a cat person.

3. The term paranormal romance seems to have become a catch-all within the supernatural genre, how would you describe your writing?

I actually write urban fantasy. The difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy (as I see it) is that if you take the romance out of a PNR novel, the story falls apart. But if you take the romance out of urban fantasy, you lose an element of characterization and sexual tension, but the plot still holds up. In other words, in UF, the fantasy/plot is the focus, whereas in PNR, the character relationships and romance are the focus.

But that’s not to say that my novels don’t have intricate character development, because they do. But plot and world-building, for me, come first. Which is why it always surprised me how vehement the readers are that Faythe’s romantic life should end a certain way (and they don’t agree on what that way is). 😉

4. Which authors can you recommend as inspirations

As writing inspirations? Um…in the sense that after reading their writing I want to become a better writer myself, there’s Stephen King (I’m a huge fan), Kelley Armstrong, Courtney Summers, Holly Black, etc… An eclectic list, huh?

5. Can we expect more tales of adventure featuring Faythe and her Pride or is Alpha her last outing? If it is can you let us know what else we can expect book-wise from you in the future?

Alpha is Faythe’s last book. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of a spin-off series, but it’s not currently in the works. Early in 2011, my Soul Screamers series will debut in the UK, and in January, My Soul To Steal (Soul Screamers 4) will be released in the US. That fall, both If I Die (Soul Screamers 5) and the first in my new adult series will be released.

A Review of Alpha will follow soon.

Fool's Gold: The Interview

How did the project start – would you be able to give me some idea of the history behind the Fool’s Gold project?
Mr Peter Shaw, project lead says:
The project developed from my insistence on implementing the following philosophy:
Everything we do at the ‘Dearne High: A Specialist Humanities College’ is about raising academic standards and the absolute pursuit of excellence for our local and wider learning communities. How can we teach children to be outstanding writers without providing real purposes, real locations, real audiences and high quality teaching and coaching? How can we help our children to become fully rounded human beings without developing their understanding of their locality, the Yorkshire way of life, our National identity and the wonders of the wider world? How could our children have achieved all of these aims without publishing a book called ‘Fool’s Gold?’ I didn’t think they could…until they had…

The title ‘Fool’s Gold’ captured many of the ironies that modern teachers in Yorkshire are working with. After the closures of the mines, the textiles industry, the steel industry and dwindling fish stocks, the Yorkshire economy now relies on tourism to generate the majority of its income. The main idea for the book was that Yorkshire’s tendency to lament the loss of past glories is like an unhelpful search for ‘Fool’s Gold,’ which is now being replaced with a full and meaningful recognition of Yorkshire’s future potential that is like finding ‘Pure Gold.’ My four main strategies to make the book unique and worthy of note were to 1.) Ensure that all the children taking part would appear as themselves within the storyline 2.) Enlist the support of as many ‘A’ lister young adult fiction writers as possible 3.) Ensure that a substantial part of the book would be in a graphic novel format and 4.) Select prominent and varied tourist spots which led us to devise visits to Scarborough, Whitby and the National Coal Mining Museum.

When I gave the plot synopsis to our children and staff they turned it into what it is…

An introductory question to begin with – who are the Iron Pyrates and how did they become involved with Fool’s Gold?
Mrs. Joan Townend, events and marketing and the main photographer says:
Scott, Brandon, Lauren, Savina, Bethany and Jessica are the ‘Iron Pyrates.’  They were some of the authors included in the college’s first book – ‘Out of the Shadows’ – An Anthology of Fantasy Stories,’ our first self published book.  During one of the promotions for the first book- (a visit to Barnsley Library and a signing at WHSmith)–the idea for a graphic novel was born. I remember it well… The first conversations about it took place within an extremely noisy shopping centre cafe during a lunch break. We were sat around a table with GP Taylor, Mr. Shaw, Bethany, Scott, Brandon and myself. GP Taylor volunteered to be a main character and offered to work with us in Scarborough and Whitby. These became two of the three main locations for the book. 

www.flickr.com



Although the Pyrates are the ‘heroes’ of the tale I noted that there were five schools involved in the story. Roughly how many people (students & teachers) were involved in the creative process?
Mrs Joan Townend says:
The four primaries that came along on the trips were The Hill Primary, Gooseacre, Dearne Highgate and Dearne Carrfield.  We had 8 staff and 45 students on each trip to Scarborough, Whitby and the National Coal Mining Museum, often using different staff and students on each.  The main coordination of a very large group of collaborators and a complex creative process was undertaken by Mr. Shaw, Mr. Child, Mrs. Crichton and I. A further 12 staff including the Head teacher, also made invaluable personal contributions to the book as a whole.  Of course the children did the majority of the hard work that made it happen! The Iron Pyrates wrote most of the prose and dialogue and made most of the decisions about the content and ordering of the frames.  Our young ICT team developed skills quickly and became experts in the art of turning my photographs into graphic art.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was hard work… We have had a fantastic time seeing it in print and are really enjoying the readings, sales events and quite extensive publicity that Fool’s Gold is now getting.

How long did the whole process from conception to completion take?
Scott, student writer and main character says:
The whole process started all that time ago when ‘Out Of The Shadows’ had just been published, back in 2008. I remember there was an idea for a sequel that nobody really took seriously at the time, after all we were used, like most writers, to writing on our own, rather than as a team. As things went on and Mr Shaw pushed the idea…we realised that we had something that could actually work. I think it was May 2009 when we actually started work on writing it and the end result we have now was finished about three months ago in September/October. It took about nine months from conception to completion.

Was the entire graphic novel created in-house – cover design, layouts, graphic design and layout etc. or were parts of the process outsourced?
Mr Eddie Child, who led on ICT design throughout the book, says:
The novel was created in a variety of ways, in line with the deliberate and varied presentation styles throughout the book.
The ‘photo book’ graphic novel images were created by students either in house, or at Foulstone CLC.
The prose sections were written by teams and individuals. Some were outsource, i.e. those written by famous authors, others were written in house i.e. those written by staff or students.
The hand drawn sections were again a mixture of in-house and outsourced. Some were drawn by one of our students (Marta Kwasniewska); others were drawn by reputed comic artist Kevin Hopgood including the cover images.

In the acknowledgments Fool’s Gold is referred to as a ‘virtual reality graphic novel’ – can you explain the concept?
Mr Peter Shaw, project lead, says:
That was a bit of fun… Virtual reality television involves celebrities appearing as themselves. No one can really tell what is planned, i.e. what is happening for real, or what is just acting. The narrative structures and designs within ‘Fool’s Gold’ went on to be a lot like that… I remember having to think particularly hard about how to adapt the absolutely standard disclaimer that appears on the copyright page of virtually every book. Ours went on to read:
“Whilst this book includes real living persons and places, it is important to point out that the book’s dramatic events and characterisations are largely fictional and included with the very kind support and permissions of all those involved.”

Just as a virtual reality television programme evolves through the interaction of its characters so does a ‘virtual reality graphic novel…’ We had to be very flexible with planning until we knew exactly how and when some of the writers, artists and photographers could be included.
‘Fool’s Gold’ also has a fairly substantive number of books that inspired its’ unique blend of styles. These are all referenced within the novel itself and include contributions from the authors – i.e. graphic influences – ‘Dopple Ganger Chronicles,’ by GP Taylor and ‘Malice,’ by Chris Wooding – literary content influences –‘Room 13’ by Robert Swindells and ‘The Mariah Mundi’ series by G.P. Taylor – the use of MSN – novels by Bali Rai and the ingredients of the historic novel – Alison Weir and Bernard Cornwell.

The list of key contributors is a veritable who’s who of UK Young Adult literature A-listers, how were you able to get them all involved in Fool’s Gold?
Bethany, student writer and main character says:
Well, I think the important thing to remember is that a lot of people were very interested in ‘Fool’s Gold.’ Once the extent of the project was properly explained, it really did provoke a range of questions, such as; Could this actually be done? How could we manage it etc.…? So I think it was partly curiosity that got so many people involved. However, it was also a lot of persistence on both the students and the teachers’ part. When we first began emailing those involved, we didn’t honestly expect anything back, but after mere days there were reams of responses that really amazed us.
I think, after the first few contributors agreed, it became much easier to persuade others to become a part of the ‘Fool’s Good’ team.

What was it like working with the authors, which ones were the most inspirational to you on a personal level?

Savina and Lauren, student writers and main characters:
It was absolutely fantastic working with famous authors. I remember that being ‘allowed’ to sit, eat and talk with G.P. Taylor was like being treated as a successful adult. It was great being able to call him Graham as well. He was incredibly kind to us in agreeing to be a main character and was one of the funniest people we have ever met! In fact he has worked with us for four full days without charging us for any of it…
Mr Peter Shaw, project lead adds:
They’re absolutely right. Graham’s exemplary support spurred us all on to persuade many more children’s writers to work with us a voluntary basis in return for a highly purposeful educational outcome. We were really grateful to Chris Wooding, Alison Weir and Linda Newbery who wrote sections on a fully voluntary basis and for Robert Swindells’ assistance in editing his cameo sections into his own voice. I also remember reading Joe Craig’s endorsement and seeing just how powerful our ‘specialism and community work’ was embodied into a story, that in many aspects was as ‘real’ as it was ‘fictional.’
In fact, I think the real inspiration is now coming from ‘Fool’s Gold’s growing ‘reading community’ more than the original ‘writing community’ that produced it. Grovel.org.uk, a graphic novel review site said:
“It’s not every day that you see a 130-page graphic novel produced by school children but Fool’s Gold is a notable exception. This book has come together through the collective efforts of the pupils and teachers of Dearne High, a Yorkshire school that’s trail-blazing new ways of interacting with its local community and the wider world.
You’ll have to alter your expectations about what a book by children might be like. Featuring a multi-layered story with additional material by a number of professional comic writers, artists, editors, photographers and novelists, this is an extraordinary feat of co-operation, merging real people from the school with local folklore and storytelling. A phenomenal achievement.”

What was it like having to work in a group?
Did working in a group make the creative process easier or harder?

Bethany, student writer and main character says:
This question definitely made me smile, as do most of the memories of the ‘Fool’s Gold’ team. I think the answer to this question is both.
On one hand, it was difficult to organize different parts of the book, especially with every day school to deal with as well. It seemed we were all operating on different time scales, and at one point, we were sure it wouldn’t fit together. However, it was also a great experience to the work in such a diverse environment. The Writing/Character team, who were key behind the ideas of the book all knew each other quite well from our previous book, Out of the Shadows, so that made things slightly easier (even though there were some horrible arguments in the more stressful stages), but then there was also the ICT team (in charge of the production and editing of images) to work with and outside contributors.
I’d definitely say the group approach made it more interesting…!

A question for the students that wrote the scripts for the pages illustrated by Kevin Hopgood – how did it feel to see your work drawn on the page and did he capture the images you saw in the your minds eye?
Scott, student writer and main character says:
How did it feel to see my work drawn? It was amazing, to think that the drawings in ‘Fools Gold’ that once started as nothing more than an idea are now fully fledged drawn artwork and are published in a book. It’s just absolutely amazing. I never imagined that anything like the end product would come from it. It’s still a little surreal to me, and I find it almost crazy how Kevin Hopgood managed to draw what we were thinking so accurately.

A question for the artist Marta – the other contributors had their writing drawn by an artist. What was it like illustrating Bali Rai’s piece and how does it feel to see your artwork in print?
Marta, student artist and main character replies:
I was lost for words at the time. At first I was a bit embarrassed, particularly when I received my school planner and saw that one of my drawings from ‘Fool’s Gold’ was on the front cover!
Mr Shaw, project leader says:
Actually Marta now has quite a ‘fan base.’ Lots of our children and staff have commented very positively on the quality of Marta’s illustrations and Kevin Hopgood was delighted to colour them for her.

Is becoming involved in the publishing world a career any of you are thinking of for your futures?
Bethany Pickering, student writer and main character says:
Many of us consider or have previously considered a career as a writer. Scott has already written a novel, and is in the process of getting it published. Brandon shares the ambition, and is currently working on several pieces. Whether or not we all plan to go into this career, we all share a love for literature, both producing and reading.
The girls in the group do have different plans, as far as I am aware, but we still maintain it as a much loved hobby, and will probably aim to publish as an option in later life.
Brandon, student writer and main character says:
Definitely, I have wanted to be an author as long as I could remember. With our graphic novel being supported and recognized, by an increasing number of prominent writers and reviewers, it’s given me a glimpse of what you can achieve and get from it when you set your mind to it. Plus, with advice from the many successful writers involved in this novel, it’s given me a whole new level of support for trying to reach my goals and dreams.

Why are graphic novels so appealing to teens?
Scott, student writer and main character says:
The reason why Graphic novels are so popular with teenagers, what I think anyway, is that many teenagers don’t like reading a large quantity of words. A graphic novel gives them something a little easier to read and for some, something more enjoyable than reading through just text. Also, as they access pictures it gives them more of an idea of what the author is thinking and wanting to communicate.

Do you have any ideas on how Graphic Novels can be better utilised in schools?
Scott, student writer and main character says:
Well of course…they could all buy ours and attempt similar writing processes themselves!
Other than that… Graphic novels could be better utilised in schools by using them more, because of how many teenagers will prefer to read from a book with pictures. More teenagers will be willing to read and learn if they have books like that. I don’t think that full text books should be removed from schools, but because of teenagers’ willingness to read graphic novel styled books, more should be produced and used.

Was there anything particular that you enjoyed or disliked about the project?
Jessica, student writer and main character says:
Well, where do I begin…I enjoyed the trips to Scarborough, Whitby and the National Coal Mining museum, they were good research, and we took a lot of pictures that helped us later on. I also liked that we were all friends from the beginning, so it was easier to communicate and get on. I can’t say I disliked anything, the deadlines and Photoshop part was hard, but we pulled through it, so it was good!

Did you learn anything during the project that you wouldn’t normally have learned?

Jessica, student writer and main character says:
I learned that working to deadlines can be frustrating and hard, but without them, we would not get anywhere in life. I also learnt how to work in a team, and if you imagine success, it will come to you; also that if you work hard, it pays off and you really appreciate the work that you and your team-mates have done.

Where can any interested parties obtain copies of Fool’s Gold apart from Amazon?

Mr Peter Shaw, project lead says:
The best way to purchase the book as an individual is to email j.townend@barnsley.org
I would strongly recommend going for the black and white interior version that is printed on high quality silk paper with a satin sheen – ISBN – 978-1-907211-74-4. These books can be purchased and collected from the college itself for just £5.00! The same book can also be posted out to a given address at a cost of £9.00 (to cover postage and packing) and the book also retails via Neilson at £9.00 for bookshops and libraries to order multiple copies.
If you want the far more expensive colour deluxe version – ISBN – 978-1907211737 then I suggest you enter Matthew’s competition to win a specially signed one, or part with quite a lot more money to buy it via Amazon…

What does the future hold for Dearne High’s fledgling publishing empire?
Mr Neil Clark, the Headteacher states:
The publication of ‘Fool’s Gold’ represents a significant landmark in our School Improvement journey… ‘Fool’s Gold’ has and will continue to act as a catalyst to increase students’ interest and enjoyment of reading and writing alongside the development of vital Personal Learning and Thinking Skills such as creative thinking, independent inquiry, self management, effective participation and team working, vital to individual and collective success in our increasingly competitive global market.
Brandon, student writer and main character says:
Who knows!? With the majority of us starting to focus on their school career choices, the Dearne’s publishing empire will also be starting to get a new group of kids to produce stories and novels. But I think I speak for all of the Iron Pyrates when I say that we would all be very responsive to any further work involved in promoting and selling our latest book ‘Fool’s Gold,’ including that for this interview…
Mr Peter Shaw, project lead adds:
The future is very ‘golden’ indeed. Our writers are now producing feature articles about ‘Fool’s Gold’ for a significant number of magazines with circulations of 50,000 and 80,000, not to mention their appearances in a raft of websites relating to promoting reading, comics, developing literacy skills and libraries. We thoroughly enjoyed the Teen Librarian organising and publishing our first ever ‘proper interview.’ May the best person win the only signed copy of the full colour version in existence … and who knows… they might even get included in a forthcoming sequel….!

Eight Questions With… Marcus Chown

Welcome to Eight Questions With… Marcus Chown, these questions (and answers) can also be found on the last page of the December edition of Teen Librarian Monthly, and now for the first time on the website itself. This is for those readers who do not subscribe* but are interested in finding out more about our scientist in residence.

Q1 Which of your books would you recommend for teens and young readers

For teens, any of my popular science books. When I was a teenager I used to read popular science books by people like Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. I write at their kind of level – in fact, I write for my wife, Karen, who has no science background. So, if I was a teenager today, I might be a reader of my books, if that makes any sense!
My most accessible books are Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and The Magic Furnace. In fact, several school science teachers have said they’ve given Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You to their teenage pupils.
Did you know that there’s so much empty space in matter that, if you could squeeze it all out, the entire human race would fit in the volume of a sugar cube? Did you know that a single atom can be in two places at once – the equivalent you being in London and New York at the same time? Did you know that you age faster on the top floor of a building than on the ground floor? All these things are in Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, which is about Einstein’s theory of relativity too. All in less than 200 pages. Without an equation. And, hopefully, it won’t hurt you (at least, not much!).
The Magic Furnace is the book of mine I like best. It’s about the discovery that we are far more intimately connected to the cosmos than even the astrologers guessed. Want to see a piece of a star? Just hold up your hand. You are stardust made flesh. The iron in your blood, the calcium in your bones, the oxygen that fills your lungs every time you take a breath, all of these atoms were forged inside the furnaces of stars which lived and died before the Sun and Earth were born. The story of how we discovered this is the story of The Magic Furnace.
So much for teens, what about young readers? Well, there’s Felicity Frobisher and the Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (www.felicityfrobisher.com). It’s the book I had the most fun writing. Felicity Frobisher is quiet and polite and never gets into any trouble whatsoever. Until the day she is visited by Flummff, a young Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (he comes down a “wormhole” from a dusty planet around the red giant star Aldebaran).
Flummff is very, very bad. He gets poor Felicity into all sorts of trouble at school. She gets chased out of a park by a fist-waving park keeper and accused of cheating in the school cross-country run. But, despite having the worst day of her life, she also gets to beat the school bully, and go down a wormhole to Hawaii, the International Space Station and Flummff’s horribly dusty, horribly gritty home planet. The Scotsman newspaper called the book: “A thrilling, silly escapade among the stars.” And that’s about it. It was my chance to be really, really silly, which I don’t ever get with my popular science books.

Q2 Do you ever read the works of other science writers? If yes who can you recommend?

When I was a teenager I used to read Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. But I would recommend anything by Simon Singh, because he’s a good writer (and because he’s my friend!). So Big Bang or Fermat’s Last Theorem. Richard Feynman was an eccentric, bongo-playing Nobel-prizewinning physicist but he popularised too. His best book is QED: The strange theory of light and matter, which is about what he got his Nobel Prize for. That’s small and without equations but demanding. But the books about his adventures such as Surely, You’re Joking, Mr Feynman? And What Do You Care About What Other People Think? are great fun. (I was incredibly lucky to be taught by Feynman)

Q3 How did you become known as the Katie Price of Science Writing and who first gave you the nickname?

I have to admit I gave it to myself! I heard that Katie Price never gets any prizes but that one of her books outsold all 100 (I think) books on the Booker Prize long-list combined. I too never get short-listed for any book prizes or anything like that but readers seem to like my books because they buy a lot of them. So I thought: I’ve got something in common with Katie Price. So that’s why I called myself the Katie Price of Science Writing on my website (www.marcuschown.com). It’s tongue-in-cheek, really. Just a bit of fun!

Q4 What is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?

When the money arrives! No, I’m joking!

Actually, the best part is when your book comes out and you keep going in bookshops to see if it’s arrived yet. I am very sad. I tend to get my wife, Karen, to photograph me holding up the first book in a shop! But it’s great. The thrill never wears off. When I was at school, I liked English and writing stories. My absolute dream was to write a book and see it published and go into a bookshop and see it on a shelf. And, when it happens, it’s just as wonderful and amazing as I imagined it would be.

Q5 I have recently acquired a copy of Felicity Frobisher & the Three-headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (an amazing title and even better story) – do you have any plans for a sequel or perhaps even writing similar books for older readers?

I am so glad you like my title – and the story! I really enjoyed writing it. I had never written children’s fiction before and I had no idea whether children would like it. But I was overwhelmed by the response when I went into schools. And children keep asking when they can read more about Felicity Frobisher. I think children identify with Felicity because she isn’t like the normal heroes of children’s books. She isn’t any good at school, isn’t athletic, and she wears big glasses. Her mum and dad never notice anything about her. And she’s being bullied by the school bully! And, if things could not get any worse, she is befriended by Flummff, an alien boy who is very, very bad. But, although he gets her into tons of trouble, he definitely gives her the adventure of her life. Definitely, the sort of thing most children would like to brighten up a dull, boring day at school

The good news about a sequel is that I am writing Felicity Frobisher and the Newly Wedded Capellan Toast Weevil and also have a third book fully plotted. The bad news is that my publisher does not want to publish any more. So I will have to find another publisher. But don’t worry. I will. I’m persistent!
As for writing similar books for adults, my wife is 50 and she loves Felicity Frobisher. So I think the book can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

Q6 Are there any novels that you have enjoyed that you would recommend for Teen readers?

I really liked Elizabeth Knox’s teen novels The Rainbow Opera and The Dream Quake. She’s one of my favourite novelists. I also really like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses about a world where black and white people have switched roles. I also liked her sequels, Knife Edge, and Checkmate. I liked Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, about cities that trundle across the planet, fighting and gobbling each other up. And, of course, I love The Lord of the Rings, which I first read when I was 18.

Q7 What can you tell us about Kelvin (that won’t ruin the end of the book)?

It’s about what every day things that tell us about the Universe. It’s as simple as that. Every chapter starts with a familiar everyday observation – like the sky is dark at night or teacups break when you drop them – and leads on to the, often amazing, thing this tells us about the Universe. For instance, the reflection of your face in a window tells you about the most shocking discovery in the history of science – that the Universe is based on chance, the roll of a “quantum” dice, that ultimately things happen for no reason at all. The fact that iron is common – in the metal of cars, even in the blood coursing through your veins – is telling you that out in space there must be a blisteringly hot furnace at a temperature of at least 5 billion degrees. I finish the book with one everyday observation for which we don’t yet know what the thing it is telling us is. If you see what I mean! The observation is that there are no aliens on Earth – not lurking on street corners, not floating angelically overhead or beaming up and down like characters from Star Trek. It could be that we are the first intelligence to arise in our Galaxy. Or it could be it’s so dangerous out there in space that any race that ventures out from its home planet gets wiped out. Or it could be anything else. In fact, this is case where your guess is as good as mine. Or the guess of the best scientists!

Q8 Do you ever visit School or Public Library Reading Groups or science classes? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

In the past, I have been to state schools. I have also given talks at events like the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Edinburgh Science Festival. What I can do depends on what else I am doing at the time. But the best way to contact me is through my publisher, Faber & Faber.

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions!

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