Category Archives: The Third Degree

All the Things We Never Said

16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.
As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It’s not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won’t let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.
A pact is a pact, after all.
In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.

Hot Key Books

I read this book in one big gulp all the way back in April when the proof was sent to me, and it has stayed with me because of the strength of the voices, the originality of the plot, and the honesty of the writing. One of my favourite things about it is that one of the three protagonists is a devout Muslim that isn’t doubting her faith, and in fact her depression and anxiety just is, for no “reason” (not abused, not grieving, no family drama), it just exists. The other two have more obvious issues, but again their POVs are so nuanced and not simply “I’m sad because of what happened to me”.

It treads some very dark ground, definitely for a YA+ audience, but (slight spoiler) it is ultimately hopeful. Helpful resources for support regarding the issues included are listed in the back of the book.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Yasmin some questions…

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

Thank you so much for having me!

Your debut published work was a short story in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, had you already started writing ‘All the Things We Never Said’ at that point, or was it still just a simmering idea?

‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, my short story in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was actually a ridiculously early version of what eventually became ‘All The Things We Never Said’. I was trying to write a book about mental health with a Muslim protagonist, but was finding my way into HOW to tell the story at the time. I’d written about 5000 words of this original idea when I realised it wasn’t working and moved on. When I saw the call out for Changebook, I realised that beginning fit so well that I just turned it into a short story.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

There have been so so many amazing things that have happened during this journey – from seeing an 8ft poster of my cover at London Book Fair to being able to record the author note for the audiobook. The best thing for me though is how it’s touching readers, particularly teenagers. I’ve had some lovely reviews where people have connected with my characters so much and that’s always lovely. I remember this one encounter I had with two young Muslim girls who said to me “you’re an inspiration”…and then I burst into tears of course. When I was a teen, there weren’t many people who were so visibly Muslim writing books, or on TV or whatever, so to be able to provide that to young people in a tiny way now is truly the best thing.

You’ve been so honest, in the publicity for the book, about your own mental health in your teen years. How has that been?

It was something I was really scared of at the beginning, baring myself to strangers. But it seems to be somehow a lot easier to talk about it to strangers than people you know! I think being open about it is important to me personally as it echoes the mentality of the book. Also, the fact that so many people can relate makes it a lot more manageable. It wasn’t too long ago that I felt scared of telling people “I struggle with anxiety and depression”, but now I feel less wary of talking about it as I’ve met so many people who have had the same or similar experiences, and if me talking about it openly can maybe help someone else understand their own mental health, then I feel it’s completely worth it.

Of the three girls, which story was hardest to write?

I had trouble at some point or another with each girl, but I think Olivia and Mehreen nudged ahead of Cara in terms of difficulty. I was drawing on a lot of my own emotions when writing Mehreen, which is always tough, and Olivia’s story just had some really really hard scenes to write. Her voice also took a long time to figure out.

Have you talked to many teenagers about the book? What kind of reaction have you had?

I haven’t yet had many readers of the book, since it’s not officially out as I’m writing this, but the brief conversations I’ve had with teens where I’ve spoken about it in vague terms have been very positive! I spoke to a few teenagers when doing research for the book, and received such lovely feedback about how exciting the story sounded, and what an important topic it was – I got very emotional!

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

There’s so many things covered in the book that would be great for discussion with students – mental health and the benefits of talking about it/seeking help, internet danger, grief, etc. But I think what I’d personally love to do is to talk about craft. When I was young I could never imagine that being an author was attainable, so would love to let teenagers know that it’s a viable career! Having studied two Masters degrees on Creative Writing, it would be great to be able to put those skills into a workshop format and teach students how to go about writing a novel.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am in such a reading slump! And have been for a REALLY long time! The last thing I remember reading was an extract of Sarah Juckes’ WIP. Sarah wrote the YA novel ‘Outside’ which was published by Penguin in January 2019, and I just know her next book is going to be just as amazing. We have very similar brains, and a love for dark YA, so I think anyone who enjoys All The Things We Never Said would probably like her writing!

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I don’t want to mention anything specific about book 2, because anything can change at this point! But one thing I’m sure about is that there will be a Muslim protagonist – that’s something I’d like to carry on in everything I write.

Yasmin Rahman, author of All the Things We Never Said

All the Things We Never Said is OUT NOW! Thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy all those months ago.

The Starlight Watchmaker

I feel like I should have a tag just for Barrington Stoke reviews, because they are some of my very favourite books. The Starlight Watchmaker by Lauren James is no exception (so huge thanks for sending me a proof)!

Wealthy students from across the galaxy come to learn at the prestigious academy where Hugo toils as a watchmaker. But he is one of the lucky ones. Many androids like him are jobless and homeless. Someone like Dorian could never understand their struggle – or so Hugo thinks when the pompous duke comes banging at his door. But when Dorian’s broken time-travel watch leads them to discover a sinister scheme, the pair must reconcile their differences if they are to find the culprit in time. A wildly imaginative sci-fi adventure from YA star Lauren James, particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+

I love sci-fi that makes you think without taking itself too seriously, and this fit the bill perfectly. The characters and their backgrounds are so imaginative and well rounded considering the length of the book, fitting such world building into such a short novella takes real craft! I was very excited to be given the opportunity to ask Lauren some questions, about the book and more…

Hi Lauren, welcome to Teen Librarian!

This is your first book for Barrington Stoke, was writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It was a lot faster and more fun, and it gave me the freedom to experiment in ways I wouldn’t for a full-length novel.

Was it a longer editing process to fit the “readability” criteria of a Barrington Stoke book?

It was the most intensive editing process I’ve ever undertaken. There are usually several rounds of edits for a book – the first focussing on wide-ranging plot points, then focussing in scene-by-scene, then line to line, then finally looking at each word. With a readable novella, that process is then continued again for several more rounds of edits that make sure that every single word fits with the words around it, that everything is explained, and that the words only have one possible interpretation. They work to make sure that sentence structure is chronological and easy to understand, there are plenty of dialogue markers to make the speaker obvious, and there isn’t any complicated formatting. It was like watching masters at work.

My favourite character was Ada, how did you get the idea for (basically) a living volcano?

I really love Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle, who is a fire demon/burning ember. He expresses emotions through burning fire, which I always thought was excellent. I wanted to do something similar.

Might you revisit the characters in another story?

Yes! I want to write a sequel set on Dorian’s underwater planet – I have a plot already planned out, so fingers crossed I get chance to write it! Hugo and Dorian’s relationship still has a lot more story to tell.

What books/films/TV shows are your main source of inspiration?

I wanted to write a more readable story that still uses all of my favourite sci-fi elements – there are hints of Binti, Jeeves & Wooster, Starfleet Academy from Star Trek, Saga, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

This novella is designed to be a jumping-off point to help readers explore the whole canon of sci-fi, hopefully while feeling like there might be a place for them in the genre, after all.

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

Great question! I love both, but I think workshops are a lot more fun because I can talk to individual students rather than speaking to a whole hall. Plus, students always have such great writing imaginations. They come up with ideas that I would never dream up.

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

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – A fictional take on a spoke history of a seventies rock band feud. A great look at unreliable narrators and biased storytelling.

The True Queen by Zen Cho – This series is a Malaysian take on Regency romances, with magic and dragons and fairies. So wonderfully unique.

What are you working on now?

My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you it’s about ghosts and murder and university life.

Lauren James (photo credit Pete Bedwell)

Lauren James is the author of Young Adult science fiction, including The Quiet at the End of the World, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Starlight Watchmaker and The Next Together series. She teaches creative writing for the University of Cambridge, Coventry University and Writing West Midlands, and has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

The Starlight Watchmaker is published in July!

The Third Degree with Louie Stowell

Brilliant illustrations by Davide Ortu, including this fab cover!
Matt pipped me to the post and wrote this glowing review of The Dragon in the Library a couple of weeks ago! But I got to ask Louie some questions…

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

You’ve written/worked on a lot of non-fiction, have you had a story bubbling up for a long time or did it come to you suddenly?

This particular story came very suddenly, but I’ve been writing fiction in the background for a long time. My first novel (in a drawer) was about a half-vampire, half-fairy who gave you a wish in return for blood.

A lot of research is needed for both types of writing, but was it a very different approach? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never see it as stories OR non-fiction. It’s both. Facts are magic too. I still work on non-fiction at work so it’s great to keep doing that. Fiction obviously gives you more scope to take things in any direction you want, unconstrained by reality, although writing stories that feel real is very important to me. I love fantasy that happens in the midst of everyday life, just out of sight.

This is quite a love letter to libraries & library staff, why are they so important to you?

As a child, going to the library was a ritual – and having an (apparently) infinite supply of books was incredible. The thing I remember most is the book smell. It smelled like possibility. As an adult, I want new generations to have that sense of infinity.

What made you decide to make the main character a reluctant reader instead of a bookish child?

I felt like I’d read a lot of books where the main character was into books, but a lot of children I meet in real life aren’t so… I suppose I wanted to give them a go in the driving seat. Also, because it’s fun to put characters in uncomfortable positions, so the idea of forcing an unbookish person to do something that requires lots of reading felt enjoyably mean. [C: I really enjoyed listening to Louie explain this to a room of book lovers at the YLG London AGM, but she didn’t need to worry, we love the challenge of reluctant readers!]

Who is your favourite Dragon in fiction?

Smaug. It’s always Smaug. What a class act.

Have you done any school visits? If so, what’s the best bit?

I’ve done loads of non-fiction ones but I’ve just started doing ones for the Dragon in the Library and what I’m really enjoying is the suspension of reality – creating a fictional world in the real world, and pretending that magic is 100% real. (Or am I pretending…?)

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m currently reading A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and it is beautiful and magical. One for anyone who’s in touch with their emotional side… but also people like me who aren’t at all, but books like this help me learn more about how feelings work.

What’s next for Kit & co.?

I’m trying to work out how to say this in unspoilery terms… their next adventure involves a journey and a new wizard… and a new monster. 

Huge thanks to Louie for answering my questions on top of her actual blog tour, and to Nosy Crow for sending me (and Matt all the way in America!) proofs, and to both Louie and Nosy Crow for the brilliant talk and signed books at the YLG London 2019 AGM last week! I loved what Louie said about the importance of just having books around (in lots of formats) and you might just “slip into one”, quite literally in this story.

The Dragon in the Library is out now!

What Can We Be?

What Can We Be? is a brand new picture book where girls’ imaginations run riot and incredible stories are told!
Pirates, Wizards, Astronauts and more! What Can We Be? is a delightfully playful daddy and daughter story.

Tiny Tree Books
What Can We Be is illustrated by Kayla Coombs

Ryan Crawford very kindly sent me a copy of this book, I love the premise of daughters playing with their dads and the way Kayla Coombs has illustrated the ideas really brings them to life, and he agreed to answer some questions about the process of creating it.

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

I see from your blog that you already have a few books under your belt but this is your first picturebook, did you find it it easier or harder to write?

Coming up with the ideas for this picture book was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, since so much of it is based on my life. But actually scripting the rhymes was SO much more difficult than regular prose. I spent forever wondering if things rhyme correctly or if I was actually forcing them to. Then making sure they had the right amount of syllables. And on top of that trying not to change the story just to fit the rhymes. I’ve learnt a lot about rhyming, let’s put it that way! But I had a clear idea of how I wanted the book to look and be structured, so that made things easier too.

It is all about imagination and daughters playing games with their dads, which of the roles do you play with your children?

Superheroes! I’m a huge comic book fan, so superheroes have always been big on my radar. Luckily my daughter inherited the trait and loves to throw on a cape and a mask with me.

Was it a conscious decision to put Mille on the front cover and Rochelle, who you have said looks like your daughter, on the back?

Yes and No. There’s no doubt that Rochelle looks like my daughter and means a lot to me. But I also didn’t want to force the book to be about my personal story. I wanted this book to be for everyone and about everyone. Also my daughter is already overconfident at the age of 4 and I don’t want to inflate her ego any further! On top of that, Millie was always the main character. From the moment I started writing the book, it was about her and her journey with her friends and, most importantly, her dad. So that was the relationship I wanted to showcase on the front.

Have you and Kayla (the illustrator) met in real life or is it all email communication?

Kayla and I talk over emails and Skype pretty frequently. We haven’t met in person yet, but we’re planning too. Because we’ve been through a lot together making this book, and there are some personal stories in there for both of us. So you can’t help but bond when you work on a project like that together.

Have you shared the book with many children? What kind of reaction have you had?

I put together a focus group full of friends and family so that I could share the book with them and their kids. They loved it from the start, but also gave a lot of valuable feedback on how to improve it along the way. There is one particular scene that we added to the book to help make things clearer after reading it with them and their kids. But needless to say, they’re big fans now and can’t wait to get their hands on the physical copies. 

What are your kids’ favourite books at the moment?

My daughter Kiara, who is nearly 5 now, is really into books she can start to read herself at the moment. So we’re reading a lot of things like Oi Frog, where she can recognize the small repeating words and sound them out herself. Plus she finds it hilarious.

My son Cassius, who is 2, is obsessed with nothing but Dinosaurs. So all we ever read is Ten Little Dinosaurs and Dinosaurs Don’t Draw. Which is actually fine since I love both of those!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just finished reading Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. Sci-Fi is always my go-to genre, and there’s something about the characters in this one, blended with the great world-building he is always known for that had me hooked from the start. Anyone who likes a sci-fi set in the far-future or is looking for a quirky cast of characters should check this one out. 

Are you planning to do another picture book or is it back to shoot-em-up sci-fi?

Both, actually! I’d definitely like to do something that targets Mums and Sons to follow What Can We Be. And Kayla and I are always talking about how we would do that next, so watch this space! And I rarely ever work on one book at a time, probably to my own detriment. So there are more entries in my PULSE series on the way, as well as my first stab at a fantasy novel. Plenty to look forward to!

Thanks for the great questions!

WHAT CAN WE BE? is out now!

Ryan Crawford, the author of What Can We Be?

The Third Degree with Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, with illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik

You might recognise Omar, he was originally published as The Muslims by small, independent publishing house Sweet Apple, and I wrote a post about how much I loved it (not long after it won the Little Rebels Prize). Now, with new illustrations, Hachette are taking him to the mainstream into his own series of books. I enjoyed reading the proof copy I was sent (thanks Hachette) and noticed that although the story has changed slightly, the humour and everyday touches that I loved remain, and I was very happy to be able to ask author Zanib Mian a few questions about it:

Hi Zanib, thank you for agreeing to undergo the Third Degree!

You’ve written a number of picture books but this is your first book for older readers, what prompted you to write a longer story?

My writing is often inspired by my own children, so when they were younger, I wrote a lot of picture book stories. When I started writing the book that is now Planet Omar, my son was nine years old. He was growing up, which meant there were so many more dimensions to his often hilarious personality. I was compelled to write a character like him! But I wasn’t quite sure what kind of story I would write, until I began to notice how much young children were suddenly politically aware – discussing Trump in the playground and often overhearing adults discussing the news (usually involving Muslims!). The NSPCC reported a surge in faith-based bullying in playgrounds. Primary aged children were being called ‘terrorists.’ This was all very upsetting and the inspiration behind the book. I thought it was time that the world met a regular Muslim family, like Omar’s.

Why do you feel that it was important to include so many details about the everyday actions of practicing Muslims?

I feel that prejudice arises from a lack of awareness. People may not understand our reasons for doing certain things – they are completely alien to them. For those people who don’t have any Muslim friends and are reluctant to ask questions, the book gives a nice insight into why we do things like fast during Ramadan, or wear hijab. It also includes lots of comical situations that go on in Muslim households that are related to our practices.

I loved Science Sundays! What made you decide that both his parents should be scientists?

That was easy! I am a Molecular Cell Biologist, who loves all things Science. I thought it would be a great way to inspire children towards the subject and show them how ‘cool’ and fun it can be. Making both Mum and Dad Scientists meant that I could really trickle it through the pages, as with Science Sundays, which I very much enjoyed doing!

‘Planet Omar’ was first published as ‘The Muslims’ by Sweet Apple publishers. When you were re-editing it for a larger publishing house did the process feel very different?

Yes, it did. It was the first time I worked with a larger publishing house, so it was very a very different, but hugely positive experience to when I publish books under Sweet Apple. My editor, Kate Agar, wanted to expand the book in areas where I had already felt needed more work, so I was happy to jump on it. Her suggestions and prompts were very inspiring, allowing me to imagine more scenes (just like Omar imagines!) and bringing out the best in my writing.

How did you feel about the illustrations being replaced? Were there any parts you weren’t happy with and asked to be redone?

The illustrations were actually the hardest part of the transition, at first. That’s because, as the book had had a life of its own, I had images in my mind of the characters as they were in The Muslims. Especially for Omar. Seeing him change completely was a bit of an adjustment! The creative team at Hachette were wonderful about getting my input and thoughts. I really have enjoyed working with the whole team there and was really touched by how much they valued my opinion on the artwork and cover. I asked them to make Omar’s face cheekier and the Mum a bit more quirky. They came back with more drafts until I was happy and now I’m in love with the end result!

Do you enjoy visiting schools to talk about Omar?

Oh yes, visiting schools around the publication of Planet Omar. I love seeing the children giggle in complete relation to Omar and his family antics. They seem to be very intrigued and inspired by Omar’s imagination, which is fabulous! One of the schools I visited had already read the book, so their line of questions at the end was very specific. I was extremely warmed by their concern that I might have written the book because I had myself been bullied or suffered a nasty neighbour. I reassured them that it wasn’t the case!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am reading Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland, because I want to read all the awesome books by my author friends. It’s hilarious. I’d recommend it to any kid who wants to have a laugh and likes poo jokes. For some adult reading, I’ve dug into Jonas Jonnason’s Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All – I love this author’s unique writing style. Makes me smile all the way through.

What’s next for Omar, and what’s next for you?!

Planet Omar is a series! Book 2 will be out in Febuary 2020, where you can read about more of his shenanigans! I’ve loved writing for middle grade and had a blast writing Planet Omar book 2.

Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is out now!

The Third Degree with Sharna Jackson

I reviewed High Rise Mystery last month and enjoyed it so much that I asked to send some questions to Sharna Jackson!

Hi Sharna, thank you for agreeing to undergo the Third Degree!

What or who were your influences when writing? How did Nik and Norva come into your head?

I loved the idea of transposing classic mystery genre conventions and seeing what happened to them when placed in a contemporary, city setting. I was thinking about Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, The Thin Man, books by Kathrine Woodfine and my lovely editor Robin Stevens, but also TV programmes like Luther, films like Attack the Block and the Nothing Beats a Londoner Nike ad.

Nik and Norva are both a bit like me. I love shaving my hair off and being practical like Nik, but I can also be dramatic and excitable like Norva. Norva is actually named after a ceramist I met in The Hague in the Netherlands at her exhibition one day. She was very cool.

What made you decide to pitch a murder mystery to a young audience? Was there anything you consciously toned down because of it?

Alongside the thought of murder mystery in the city being interesting, I was also keen to see young black characters being sleuths – being clever and cunning.

I did tone down some of gory aspects of finding Hugo’s body. I took it a bit too far.

How did it come to be published by KnightsOf?

I knew David Stevens from conferences – and Twitter – and was delighted that he and Aimée Felone – his business partner – had launched Knights Of. What a fantastic thing! I had been speaking to them about other matters and one day they said, why don’t you write? I thought about it for a hot second, said yes and pitched High Rise Mystery to them. I described it to them as “PIs in the Projects, they sent back two black girl detective emojis and that was that.

In your day job you’re concerned with social engagement in the arts. Is The Hub, or indeed any character, based on places or people you have worked with?

The Hub is based on community centres I’ve seen across the UK – flexible spaces used by people in the area to use. I’m the Artistic Director at Site Gallery in Sheffield, and have worked with museums and galleries across the world, and have met some interesting people. Hugo is definitely an amalgamation of some people I’ve met along the way!

What do you think is most important about community spaces such as The Hub, and how are they faring in the face of austerity?

Community Spaces are incredibly important as they allow people in the immediate areas access and spaces to use in ways that are directly relevant to their needs and wants. Unfortunately austerity has a knock-on effect on everything – especially the arts. There is less funding for artists, and less money for the public to spend on events.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m just about to start Ghost by Jason Reynolds – can’t wait!

Have you done any author visits to schools and/or libraries yet?

Not yet – my first visit is on Thursday 11th at the Basil Griffith Library in Sheffield and then Waterstones Durham on Saturday [13th April]. I’m excited – and nervous!

When can we hope to see more Nik and Norva?

Soon I hope!

The Third Degree with Justin A. Reynolds

From debut author Justin A. Reynolds comes Opposite of Always, a razor-sharp, hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose and the moments that make life worth reliving.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

I was given a copy of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS at the CILIP YLG London Macmillan event in January, it was one of the books they told us about that I loved the sound of, so when I was given the opportunity to ask Justin some questions for the blog I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, and boy am I glad I did! It isn’t your classic YA love story, it isn’t your classic teen angst story, but it is your classic teenager trying to deal with what life throws at him. Jack is a great protagonist, making terrible decisions and bad jokes while his family and friends stick by his side through thick and thin (so refreshing). It is funny and moving and totally engrossing, and I finished it in a day.

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

‘Opposite of Always’ is your debut novel, was it a long journey to publication or was it snapped up?

Great question. The answer is actually a combination of both. Opposite of Always is my third or fourth completed manuscript, after drafting my first back at university; so, yes, it’s been a long journey in that sense. In fact, at one point, right before beginning this draft, I’d considered giving up writing altogether. Of course, now I’m glad I kept going. Once my agent took the story out on submission with publishers, we had immediate interest the very next day, and it was a whirlwind from there. I was very fortunate.

Do you still have a day job? How have you managed writing time?

Currently, writing is my day job, which is something I’d always dreamed of—writing full time. I do often think of my former occupation, though, with a special fondness; I was a registered nurse and had the privilege of assisting so many awesome patients get back on their feet. It was a very different job than writing, but both revolve around stories, on shaping a narrative. And both require a great deal of humility and empathy.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

The best thing has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people! The young adult book community, as it turns out, is smaller than I thought; which has been nice because it’s afforded me the chance to get to know other writers. They’ve shared their personal stories of perseverance with me and they’ve given me great advice throughout this entire journey; it’s been a tremendous (and unexpected) help!

You say in your introduction that it is your “refusal to say goodbye” to lost loved ones. Did you find yourself using any real memories in the story or is it all fictional?

So, I actually struggled with the idea of writing a story that stemmed from those personal losses. I wasn’t sure that I had the right to include those personal memories because they were no longer around to share their opinions; because of that, I did not use any specific memories in OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS. But the characters are certainly composites of people that I love; people that have loved me.

Jack has extremely supportive parents, something often missing in YA and very much missing from his friends’ lives, was that the case from the very first draft?

I love this question! The answer is yes! It was absolutely the case from the very first draft. There were a couple of things about this story that I knew from the beginning beginning—one was that Jack’s voice would be the focal point, and another was that he would have a very loving and dynamic support network—the center of which would be his parents. Not only was it important to me that their love for Jack be front and center, but that their love for his friends would feel the same. I think much of the parents’ instincts to love and support Jack (and company) stems from their deep (and sometimes super affectionate haha) love for each other.

You reference ‘Groundhog Day’, were there any other time travel influences that you’d recommend?

I love the movie ‘About Time’! If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and correct that immediately!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just finished a great book called ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme’ by Tiffany D. Jackson; at first glance it may appear to be a departure from her previous work—stories intent on drawing attention to the disregarded and giving voice to the overlooked—but at her newest novel’s core is the same heart and urgency present in all of her stories. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves music, values friendship, and enjoys superb storytelling.

Any plans to come to the UK?

I definitely want to visit the UK! Is this an invitation? 😀

I’m afraid we can’t stretch the budget to airfares, but I know a lot of librarians that would definitely love to meet you if you do come over!

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is out in the UK on the 4th April 2019.

The Third Degree with Keren David

Barrington Stoke (my old faves) very kindly sent me a copy of The Disconnect, Keren David’s next novella for them, to review.

How will a group of teenagers react when they are offered £1,000 to give up their mobile phone in Keren David’s thought-provoking story of perspective and influence.When an eccentric entrepreneur challenges a class to give up their phones, offering a prize of £1,000 to the one who lasts the longest, Esther is determined to win. But ignoring the draw of technology is difficult and it’s not as easy as she thought to resist that niggling urge. Can she hold out long enough to win the money and what else can Esther and her friends discover when they’re not glued to their screens? An astute and enthralling examination of the highs and lows of social-media life, from one of the most compelling voices in teenage fiction

As usual for a Barrington Stoke title, it says a lot with a few words. What I loved about this book, was that it wasn’t telling teenagers to get off their phones altogether but that perhaps it is worth looking up occasionally…and that parents and other adults are as guilty as teens about overusing their screens! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I pestered Keren for the Third Degree…

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

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

It’s such a huge thing in teenagers’ lives – all of our lives – and I thought it would be good to think about all the things, good and bad that we get from our phones. It’s something that I talk to my children about a lot. And I’d also been talking to a friend whose daughter was being bullied, and a lot of that was happening within Snapchat groups. I had a long talk with my son to work out what might actually tempt teenagers to put down their phones – money, we concluded. 

Do you have any advice for teens that might be worried about social media ruling their lives?


Give yourself a break. Even switching off once a week for 24 hours can put things into proportion, and help you create a sense of yourself that is separate from social media. 

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

On a very superficial level, I love Middle Eastern food and enjoy going to restaurants where it is served. On a deeper level, at a time of growing antisemitism, I wanted to create a benign character who is Israeli but whose family is originally from an Arab land – as they tend to get ignored in the overheated political narrative. 

This isn’t your first title for Barrington Stoke, how did you first get involved with them?

I loved their mission and books, and wanted to write for them for a long time. Then I had a letter from a dyslexic boy who said he’d enjoyed my books. So my agent used it as a way to approach Barrington Stoke, and luckily they were keen for me to write for them. 

Is writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It’s similar but much more concise – no time to dwell on minor characters or sub-plots. I like it! 

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

I’m equally happy to do either. With writing workshops I try and do something that is fun, because I feel that often the enjoyment is sucked out of writing at school. I do one exercise where pupils create characters, then work in pairs to bring those characters together into a plot. Then – after a lot of laughing and excitement – I tell them that’s how my first book started, by doing that very exercise in a creative writing class. 

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

I’ve just finished Tracey Thorn’s memoir Another Planet: A Teenager in Surburbia (Canongate) which was an extraordinary read for me, as Tracey and I were in the same class at school and did all the same A levels. A lot of it felt like reading my teenage diaries. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those of us who were teens in the late 70s. And I’ve just started reading Karen’s McCombie’s Little Bird Flies  (Nosy Crow) which is an absolutely beautiful, emotionally gut-wrenching story, perfect for sensitive 10 to 14 year olds. 

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

I’ve just started work on a new book, so I hope that’ll be a good experience! 

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

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!