Category Archives: The Third Degree

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

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

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

The Third Degree with David Owen

David Owen’s latest book, All The Lonely People, is released on 10th January. It is a fantastic read with a fascinating premise: can you be so lonely that you actually disappear? There are two main characters, who rarely meet but their paths are entwined when Wesley’s “friends” choose Kat as a target for an online hate campaign with the intention of hounding her off the internet. Kat (like me as a teenager tbh) only feels like she can be herself online, and so as she deletes her accounts she herself begins to fade in real life. The Kat storyline resonated but Wesley’s side was the outstanding side for me – he’s trying to find a place to fit in but has chosen a toxic community that he realises he doesn’t agree with but fears he’s in too deep to get out. I was so impressed with his confused and also lonely voice, and hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say I was very pleased with his redemption without forgiveness. It is a brilliant examination of the damage of toxic masculinity and the ease with which lonely boys can be indoctrinated by misogynistic online groups, something I’ve not seen in YA before, as well as a touching look at the prevalence of lonliness in teens and how important it is to remember that no one has it together but some people fake it better. There is no “get off the internet and find a real friend” moral, but it does lead the reader to think about the potential pitfalls of social media use.

In fact, I loved it so much that I pinned him down to ask a few questions:

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

All the Lonely People is about online culture, did you spend a lot of your teenage years online?

Waaay too much time! I was part of the first generation to grow up with online culture. I spent an inordinate amount of time in chat rooms and forums, and I had LiveJournal, MySpace, and was an early adopter of Facebook. I’ve been online since I was about ten years old. 

I spent most of my online time on an RPG video game forum that had quite a small but very active community. The opinions of these people came to really matter to me. If I said something stupid or accidentally broke a rule there, I’d feel bad about it for days. It was so stupid! That was my first taste of how an online life can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.  

Do you have any words of wisdom for teenagers, like Kat, who feel like their online presence is more important than their real world presence?

I’m not sure about words of wisdom. It’s so easy for me to encourage people to disconnect a little and not take it quite so seriously, but the reality is very different. Social media is such an integral part of the lives of young people now, much more so than when I was a teenager. There is a sense that if you’re not online, or if you don’t get enough attention there, you don’t exist. And one wrong move can be instantly seen by the entire world. 

I suppose all I can say is to encourage teenagers to seek out people, whether online or in the ‘real world’, who share similar values, who have similar interests, and who will treat them with kindness. Those are the people that matter, rather than striving to gain the approval of people who don’t care about you. Use your online presence to enhance your life – if the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, it’s time to reassess how you use the internet. 

What inspired the title?

It is shamelessly lifted from the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. I listened to it a lot while I was writing the book, because it’s such a terrifically melancholy song, and quite succinctly sums up the isolating experience of loneliness. And, of course, it fitted in well with the Lonely People group in the story, and the idea that more people than you realise are struggling with feeling alone. 

Your day job as a journalist obviously involves a lot of writing, how easy is it to switch between researching for articles and writing fiction?

Switching between the two modes of writing isn’t something I find too difficult. They’re sufficiently different that my brain can easily differentiate them. The fact I go to an office for my day job and then write fiction at my desk at home also helps! The only real problem is time and tiredness – after a day of work, especially one that’s involved a lot of writing, the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer and write some more, even if it is something different. So sometimes fiction has to wait. 

You’ve chaired a few panels at events in recent years, who were your favourite panellists and what would you love to chair next?

I’m going to give a cop out answer here and say I’ve loved everybody I’ve chaired – but it’s true. It was an honour to chair Melvin Burgess because he’s such a titan of YA fiction and listening to him talk is fascinating. Taran Matharu talks really eloquently about fantasy fiction, and Alice Oseman was also a delight to chair. 

I’d love to chair a panel of authors of really weird YA fiction – like Andrew Smith, Margo Lanagan, M. T. Anderson, authors that really push what YA can be. I think that would be really interesting.  

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I like a mix of both! A talk is a good way to introduce yourself and your books and talk about the things that really matter to you to hopefully get them thinking. But not many school kids want to be talked at for an hour straight, and doing workshops is a great way to keep them engaged and to encourage a love for reading and writing, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. Young people are so creative, I think authors often get more out of the workshops than they do!


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

I’ve just (figuratively) cracked the new Alex Wheatle novel ‘Home Girl’, which is the next in his brilliant Crongton series. They’re such unique books, packed with the types of characters we don’t see enough in YA, and the writing is just brilliant. I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, but particularly to people who are cynical about YA and how tremendously powerful it can be. 

What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

In books? Better representation of marginalised voices, better coverage of children’s books in the national press, and for our libraries to be protected. In the world? For everything to be significantly less terrible.

I also wouldn’t mind All the Lonely People being a bestseller…

You won’t regret it!

The Third Degree with Julie Kagawa

When destiny calls, legends rise.

Every millennium the missing pieces of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers are hunted, for they hold the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish.

As a temple burns to the ground Yumeko escapes with its greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll. And when fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai she knows he seeks what she has. Kage is under order to kill those who stand in his way but will he be able to complete his mission? Will this be the dawn that sees the dragon wake?

I read Shadow of the Fox in two sittings a couple of weeks ago, so huge thanks to Nina for sending me a copy and giving me the chance to ask Julie Kagawa some questions as part of the blog tour! It is an engrossing read, I particularly liked just how the world was built with all the little details about food and clothes without getting bogged down in descriptions. The two main protagonists are great, I loved the humour in their interactions (even in very unfunny, potentially deadly circumstances) and as new characters were introduced they quickly came to life and fit into the story perfectly. It is a properly epic tale and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment of their adventures!

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

Since publishing your first book, The Iron King, in 2010, not a year has gone by without a new
title and/or the beginnings of a new series. Are they ideas that you have been polishing for
years, or have you simply not slept for the last 10 years?!
I’m constantly getting new ideas. Writing a book takes awhile, and once the excitement and
newness wears off, shiny new story ideas are bound to creep in. But since I can’t stop one story
to go write another, I keep them in a “new ideas” folder on my computer. I’ll type a few short
lines, either on characters, setting or plot, and file it away so it will be safe. That way, not only
will I not forget, I have a whole folder of new stories to be written once I’m done with my
current project.

After tackling fairies (not the cute ones), vampires, and dragons, why did the idea of
shapeshifters appeal next?
I love anime, and I especially love the legend of the kitsune. I actually wrote Shadow of the Fox
before the Iron Fey, but didn’t get it published until this year. The original version was an adult
fantasy, so I rewrote it as YA and the story is very different now. But I always loved that first
idea about a kitsune, so I’m thrilled that Shadow of the Fox is out in the world now.

Shadow of the Fox is the beginning of a new series that brings Japanese mythology to life. Did
you consider bringing it into a contemporary Western setting or was it always going to be in an
ancient land?
It was always going to be set in an ancient, mythological Japan, because the history, culture,
settings and architecture is beautiful and fascinating. I didn’t only want to write about
Japanese mythology, I wanted to write a book set in a land of samurai and ninja. Which is hard
to do in a contemporary Western setting.

How much research went into the customs and clothing you describe so vividly in the book? Are these largely based on reality?
A lot of the research that went into Shadow of the Fox comes from years and years of watching
anime and old samurai movies by Japanese directors. Movies like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Thirteen Assassins and the like, are very helpful when it comes to clothing, buildings and
terrain. Years of watching anime has taught me a lot about Japanese folklore and legend, as
many mythological creatures like kitsune, oni and tanuki appear in anime a lot. But I’ve also
studied the history of Japan, especially around the Sengoku era, because that point in Japanese
history is where Shadow of the Fox is inspired.

Do you plan in advance how many books in a series? Have you decided what’s coming next?
I usually know how many books beforehand. I tend to like trilogies, so Shadow of the Fox will
have three books in the series. I just finished book two, Soul of the Sword, so now I’m onto
book three.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?
Right now I’m reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I’d recommend it to anyone
who loves fantasy, particularly if you like beautiful writing and almost surreal worlds.

Any plans to visit your UK based fans?
Not at the moment, but the year is nearly over, and who knows what the next year will bring?

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

The Third Degree… with Daniel Gray-Barnett


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

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

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

Are any parts of the story based on personal experiences?

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

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

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

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

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

How long did Grandma Z take from conception to completion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Degree… with Candy Gourlay

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

My pleasure! Unless of course this really turns out to be a third degree (long and harsh questioning) in which case, I invoke the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Author (if it exists).

I feel the need to apologise to you – for years you have been one of my favourite people to bump into at literary events and we have known each other for years (online mostly) but this is the first time I have interviewed you on TeenLibrarian – it is long overdue!

I would have nagged you incessantly over the years, except you are always in a new, nefarious disguise whenever we meet!

You have two books out this year (that I am aware of) your first picture book Is It a Mermaid? out now from Otter Barry Books, and Bone Talk … coming soon from David Fickling Books.

Yes! This is going to be my year of promotion … but I’m trying to write another novel while jumping up and down and begging people to pay attention to my new books.

How did you come to write a picture book work with artist Francesca Chessa?

I wrote the words of the picture book two years ago now. My editor, Janetta Otter Barry, then launched a search for the right illustrator. I suggested all my friends, as you do, but Janetta was looking for something in particular. A picture book is not just the work of a writer and an illustrator, there is a third vision involved that the world is usually not aware of – the editor. The editor is like a Third Eye that puts it all together. Janetta had worked with Francesca on her eco-Christmas book Elliot’s Arctic Surprise, written by Catherine Barr, in which children all over the world set sail to rescue Father Christmas. Then of course there is the Art Editor, in this case, Judith Escreet, who saw Francesca through the long months of illustrating the book. It was very strange, after working on novels, which requires long periods of solo creativity, to experience the coming together of a picture book! I was delighted and astonished by the final product!

Without giving too much of the plot away can you tell me what Is It a Mermaid is about (I am guessing mermaids feature somewhere in the story)?

I’ve begun speaking to Nursery, Reception and Year 1 children, and the first thing I do is hold up the book and ask them where the mermaid is on the cover. Their responses are hilarious! I wrote the story after I heard that European sailors arriving on our shores in the Far East back in the Age of Discovery, mistook dugongs (sea cows) for mermaids. How do you do that? Perhaps they’d been at sea for looooong time! I wondered what would happen if someone met a dugong that thought she really was a mermaid!

What inspired you to write Bone Talk?

I actually wanted to write another book, set in a World Fair in 1904 where American exhibited Filipinos in a human zoo. But it would have been a disservice to the tribal people AND to Americans not to show the context of that story. So I decided to begin at the beginning, when the United States invaded the Philippines in 1899 and annexed it as “unincorporated territory”. We became a republic in 1945 but Puerto Rico, which was annexed by the US on the same year, continues to be unincorporated territory. It’s odd how so much of the world has no idea of this. I realise that the Philippines is a small state that doesn’t do much to influence the world but the United States is a major world power.

Is there much resentment against America in the Philippines because of their history?

To be honest, there is a lack of awareness of our shared history. I memorised dates and events in my history classes, but nobody ever told me the context of these stories. And more importantly, ours is an unfinished story.

My grandparents were part of a generation that lived under American colonial rule. They were taught to despise their own culture, to be ashamed of their race and to look up to everything American. My parents’ generation survived the second world war and their formative memories are of gratitude at the flood of American help that arrived after the war. My father used to wish that we could become another state of the United States! My own generation parroted our parents’ love for anything American, grew up watching American TV and being encouraged to speak American.

To this day, the Philippines is a work in progress – nationhood doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen over a mere century and we’ve only properly been a nation since 1945.

I know it is fiction, but how accurate are the representations of Samkad and his people?

As I write in Bone Talk‘s afterword, it was difficult to hear the authentic voices of people from that forgotten era because all of the documentation was done by or curated by the United States, and tinged by the racism of that era. The observations of professionals like historians, anthropologists and state officials treated the Bontoc people as objects. It was only when I read the diary of an American housewife living in Bontoc, who documented her daily encounters with children and ordinary people, that I began to hear the Bontoc as real people. It gave me the confidence to create characters who would have been like a child of today.

I visited Bontoc and asked a lot of questions about specific events in the story, especially about ritual and belief. It was difficult to be totally accurate because the Bontoc of 1899 was made of tiny communities, each with their own specific practices. I was careful not to name the community where my characters lived, so that no community in today’s Bontoc would feel slighted if there was a deviation from their practice.

I based a lot of domestic detail on an anthropological description of Bontoc The Bontoc Igorot by the American anthropologists Albert Jenks. But Jenks was short on human detail and I also read many books on pre-Christian belief in the Philippines, going back to before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s. An American historian named William Scott Henry , realising that Filipino voices were missing from historical accounts, attempted to glean these voices from the written record. His books were a godsend.

I was enthralled by Bone Talk, can you suggest sources of information I can use to find out more about the history of the Philippines?

A great history (despite the focus on our relationship with the US) is In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow. America’s Boy: America and the Philippines by James Hamilton Paterson (although I disagree with some of Paterson’s conclusions about the Marcoses, he’s a gorgeous writer). You might also read the story of how Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen, which his a thriller of a book! There are other brilliant books but they are written with Filipino readers in mind.

I must admit that you are the only writer from the Philippines that I know (personally and as an author), are you able to suggest works by other Filipino authors that are available in the UK?

When I was a child, there was virtually no publishing in the Philippines, but now, the Philippine book industry is thriving! Unfortunately it is hard to access books over here so I have to load up suitcases with books whenever I go home. The works of Filipino Americans are widely available in the UK however. Erin Entrada Kelly recently won the Newbery Medal for her middle grade book Hello, Universe. Another Filipino American, Elaine Castillo, has been getting rave reviews for her debut America is Not the Heart. It riffs on another book worth reading by Filipino author Carols Bulosan, America is in the Heart, about the dehumanising experiences of Filipino migrants at the beginning of American colonial rule in the Philippines. I’ve just begun reading Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, a serial killer story. Very promising.

Will you be visiting schools and libraries to promote your books? If yes, what is the best way to get hold of you to book a visit?

Oh yes! I love doing school visits! Please contact me by messaging me on Facebook or via the contact form on my website, candygourlay.com

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

It was my pleasure, Matt. May the best stories follow you wherever you go.

http://candygourlay.com

The Third Degree with Catherine Johnson

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

You have a new book coming out soon – Freedom, based in England at the time of the Zong trial. Can you tell me more about the book?

It’s one of a series published by Scholastic that looks at major turning points in history. I was asked to do abolition (of slavery) but I argued that since that took at least fifty years – the mind of the british public was very slow to change – I would do one of the things that kicked off that change. And I was aware loads of people had heard of Wilberforce but maybe that fewer people had heard of the Sons of Africa, a group of campaigning Black Britons, freed slaves, American veterans of the War of Independence, and others who worked to end the inhumanity of slavery.

The blurb taught me something new – much like Nathaniel I was always under the impression that once a slave set foot on English soil he was free, but after the blurb I looked it up and according to English common law while technically no longer a slave they were still bound to their masters until the abolition of the slave trade. Why do you think that a majority of people in the UK are ignorant of whole swathes of UK history except on a superficial level?

Er- Brexit is a prime example of this. We forget the ends of our own noses! I think every nation likes to tell its own story, and as a woman who grew up with 3 TV channels and endless WW2 films the story of Britains’ exceptionalism is the one we English like best. We say ‘Britain stood alone’, but conveniently forget we had the manpower and resources of India and Pakistain, many African countries, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean to call on. We often forget this too.

Once they have read Freedom can you recommend other sources for people to find out more information about the Zong massacre and the trial that followed? I first heard about it during the film Belle – a fictionalised account of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle the niece of Lord Mansfield who ruled on the case.

Yes! It’s in Belle isn’t it! For anyone wanting to read more I’d recommend David Olusoga’s Black and British which is very accessible and also very interesting. Also Peter Fryer’s Staying Power.

I have been a fan of your books for years (since Nest of Vipers when you visited one of my reading groups in Edmonton Green), The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and Sawbones are two of my favourites – it is so refreshing to read historical fiction that has not been white-washed. How much research do you do before you start writing?

I have read and written so much about the 18th century now (and a TV series which got optioned but never made set in 1790s and also a BBC2 docu/drama with Simon Schama called Rough Crossings that was on telly almost 10 years ago, that it’s a question of pulling out all the books. I love London maps of the time too. I like to see where my characters go. I lived very near where Loddiges’ Nursery used to be in East London.

The #OwnVoices movement in the UK is becoming bigger than ever before – are there any books by BAME authors that you can recommend?

Loads! For picture books I’d recommend Ken Wilson Max and Yasmin Shireen, of and I loved John Agard’s Come All You Little Persons illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, and Chitra Soundar’s work too. for first readers I love Atinuke’s Number One Car Spotter series. Other authors include the wonderful Patrice Lawrence, Bali Rai, Irfan Master, Muhammad Khan, Sarwat Chadda, Alex Wheatle and Sita Bramachari. Oh and Savita Kalhan and of course the perenially wonderful Malorie Blackman. And look out for a new UKYA by Danielle Jawando and Aisha Busby, two fresh new voices coming next year.

Do you still visit libraries or schools? If you do what is the best way to get hold of you to organise a visit?

Yes! I am all over the place very often! Contact me via my agent, Stephanie Thwaite at Curtis Brown, or via my Twitter account @catwrote

Lovely to chat Matt!

To find out more about Catherine Johnson and her books, visit her website: http://catherinejohnson.co.uk

Learn more about the Zong Massacre and the subsequent trial here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong_massacre

Freedom is published by Scholastic and will be out in August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is involved in the short list selection?

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

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

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

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

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

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