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Discussing The Roanoke Girls with Amy Engels

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Hi Amy, welcome to Teen Librarian, now at the moment you are best-known for the YA Book of Ivy series but (strangely for a Teen Library blog) we are not going to be discussing those today, rather we are going to focus on your first novel for adults: The Roanoke Girls.

The proof of which I must say was the darkest and one of the most twistedly brilliant books that I read last year.
 
But before we get into the book would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

Well, as you said, I’m the author of The Book of Ivy YA series and The Roanoke Girls is my first novel for adults. I am a former criminal defense attorney and now work as a full-time writer. I live in Missouri with my husband and two teenage children.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but to my mind at its heart The Roanoke Girls is about being a woman and what women face now and throughout history – objectification, having to pander to the needs and desires of others, hatred, abandonment, being replaced and murder!

Yes to all of that! I’ve always been interested in the ways in which women are viewed by society and also by the sometimes fraught relationships women have with one another. I’m fascinated by how women often turn on one another, rather than on the person who has wronged them. And on the flip side of that, the ways in which women are valued, or devalued, by society is of tremendous interest to me as a writer. Women are so often viewed as a commodity, valued for their beauty and their ability to act a certain way. The blaming of female victims, both blatantly and subtly, for their own abuse is also something I wanted to tackle.

The Roanoke Girls made me think of two quintessential American art-works American Gothic by Grant Wood and Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth in my mind I identified Allegra quite strongly with both the women portrayed in the paintings. Similarly Roanoke reminded me of Manderley from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and the themes made me recall the discovery of Flowers in the Attic in the Library by a group of students when I was in school – it caused a rush of students reading together and discussing it in hushed tones in the corridor which stopped whenever someone walked past. What were your inspirations for writing The Roanoke Girls?

You are spot on with the Rebecca reference. The first line of The Roanoke Girls is actually my own homage to Rebecca. Growing up, I was fascinated by gothic novels and so those have a huge influence on the book. I also took inspiration from Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. That book evoked such a strong sense of place and I knew I wanted to try and do the same with The Roanoke Girls. My hope was to transport the readers to the world of Roanoke as they were reading. I was also somewhat inspired by my own work as a criminal defense attorney. I think people have a tendency to judge victims by the characteristics of the perpetrator of the crime. So if you have someone who looks like a monster and acts like a monster, then the victim is more likely to be believed. But what about someone who seduces rather than forces? Who charms rather than assaults? Then people are much more likely to blame or disbelieve the victim, I’ve found. And I definitely wanted to explore those feelings and ideas in the book.
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The interactions between Lane and Allegra seemed very real to me do you have any close cousins or siblings that you based their relationship on?

Interestingly enough, I have no siblings and my cousins are much younger than I am and live far away. But because of that void, I always had very strong female friendships growing up. My best friends and I were inseparable and they took the place of siblings for me. I think female friendships, especially as teenagers, can sometimes take on slightly obsessive undertones, so I drew on that for the relationship between Lane and Allegra.

At times The Roanoke Girls made uncomfortable reading – which I suppose is the point, without giving away too many spoilers were there any parts of the story that you found difficult to write?

The interludes from the points of view of the past Roanoke girls were probably the most difficult to write from a purely emotional standpoint.

You tell the story of Lane, Allegra and the other inhabitants of Roanoke and Osage Flats through Lane unpicking the contemporary mystery of Allegra’s disappearance and flashbacks to the summer that Lane lived at Roanoke – how much planning went into the writing as it all flows so seamlessly?

First of all, thank you. You never really know if a past/present narrative is going to work until people begin reading it, so I’m gratified to know it’s being well-received. In answer to your question, not much planning at all. I don’t outline when I write, not even with a dual timeline narrative such as this one. And I didn’t write all of the present day portion and then go back and insert the past. I wrote the book as it’s meant to be read: a “then” section and then a “now” section, etc. I did go back and add in the interludes from the other Roanoke girls after the first draft was finished. For some reason, it wasn’t difficult for me to keep it all straight in my head as I was unspooling it. More proof, I think, that sometimes writing is a kind of magic.

The online response to The Roanoke Girls has been phenomenal – did you expect this when you first started writing it?

Ummm…no? I mean, at the time I was writing it, the first Ivy book had been published, but I knew I’d need a new publisher for this book because it was adult. So I didn’t even know if it would ever see the light of day. I hoped, of course, that it would be published and people would like it, but I knew it was dark and would be too disturbing for some readers. So the reaction thus far has been amazing and I’m so, so grateful.

If you had to describe the novel in six words or less to entice a potential reader what would you say?

Oh, I’m such crap at this sort of thing, but I’ll give it at try! How about:

Dark, disturbing, character-driven psychological suspense.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

A cold night in Milan, Piero Manzano wants to get home.

Then the traffic lights fail. Manzano is thrown from his Alfa as cars pile up. And not just on this street – every light in the city is dead.

Across Europe, controllers watch in disbelief as electricity grids collapse.

Plunged into darkness, people are freezing. Food and water supplies dry up. The death toll soars.

Former hacker and activist Manzano becomes a prime suspect. But he is also the only man capable of finding the real attackers.

Can he bring down a major terrorist network before it’s too late?
 
 
It has been said (by a number of people) that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.

Marc Elsberg has taken that premise, wrapped it up in a taut, fast-flowing thriller and has shown how Europe and the western world can be brought to it’s knees by a small group dedicated fanatics with the technical skills and the knowledge needed to implement a coordianted, catastrophic power grid failure.

Up against them is a ex-hacker and a number of people across Europe wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape, suspicion, conflicting end goals and divided loyalties. In all honesty there were times when my sympathies lay with the terrorists but as the body count grew and the cost of their actions became clearer I felt a chill grow within me as I read.

Blackout brings home how reliant we are on a unified power network and the inability of safety services to cope with a massive collapse in infrastructure. I would like to believe that such an event is not possible, but in a world where elections can be manipulated remotely and code that can hack cars, pacemakers and the growing Internet of Things can be cobbled together by people in their bedrooms we all need to know how vulnerable we are.

Blackout had opened my eyes!

I have not read too many European thrillers, but if many of them are like Blackout then that will change!

A Crafty Way to Protest

Over the weekend the world witnessed The Women’s March (against Trump); this was possibly the largest demonstration in American history; and it was not just in the USA, there were sister marches in many citiesaround the world.

This is just the beginning! One of the things we as Librarians and Library workers can do is encourage the people we work with in many small ways, one of these things is if we run crafting clubs we can provide patterns for members to make protest crafts. This is important as not everyone is able to march but may still want to show their support!

I recently read Crafting with Feminism by Bonnie Burton, a wonderful book that contains 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy

From Feminist Badges of Honor to Next Gen Feminist Onesies this book has it all (well not all but a lot of excellent, eye-catching project ideas and patterns) to provide activity ideas for months.

These crafts are perfect for people of all genders whether you march or not

Crafting with Feminism by Bonnie Burton published by Quirk Books is available now!

#TeenLibrarianMonthly December 2016

Download (PDF, 852KB)

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

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Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juárez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant.

Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.
 
Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

 
 
In Saint Death, Marcus Sedgwick shines a light into the decaying underbelly of our consumer society, laying bare the suffering engendered by growing western demand for drugs and ever cheaper products.

The backdrop to the novel is Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city just slightly south of the border with America; where the citizens live in fear of the rival cartels that engage in battles on the streets and a police force that is often as corrupt and cruel as the gangs.

We view this dystopic cityscape through the eyes of Arturo an 18 year old boy who is drawn in to a tragic spiral by his best friend Faustino, who, much like his namesake has been caught up in a deal with the devil; in this case the leader of his gang: Los Libertadores.

The focal point of the novel is a card game – Calavera, a game that Arturo is nearly unbeatable at and the one thing that can allow him to raise the money needed to save Faustino and give them all the chance of a better life in el Norte. Arturo’s journey to the game is broken up by flashbacks to Faustino’s life as a migrant and Arturo and his life growing up together in Anapra, one of the poorest suburbs of Ciudad Juarez.

In an era of fetishizing gang culture and treating drug dealers as heroes with television shows such as Breaking Bad and Narcos, Saint Death is a step away from the glamour and high-living and instead focuses on the cost in human lives, dignity and common humanity that is so often overlooked.

I took several things away from Saint Death: a greater understanding of why so many people risk the lives of their families and themselves to cross borders in search of a better life, the beginnings of knowledge about folk religion and a growing sense of disquiet of how we are all complicit in the suffering and inequality of developing nations due to our reckless spending and the desire for better deals.
 
Saint Death is perhaps the first great anti-capitalist YA novel of the 21st Century.

Published by Orion Children’s Books, Saint Death will be available from all good bookshops from the 6th October.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (& illustrated by Chris Riddell)

NEVERWHERE VIDEOLike many people of my generation I first encountered Neverwhere on video (thanks Shaun) – the story and concepts were excellent, some of the visual effects were a bit ropey but all in all it was a fantastic and fantastical introduction to London Below and for many years afterwards there were rumours of a sequel (not counting How the Marquis Got His Coat Back) and a big budget remake – but these have not yet materialised but I live in hope!

I discovered the book several years later, not having realised that Neil Gaiman had actually written one and it was exquisite (thank you local library)! It was only after coming to the UK and attending a talk by Neil that I discovered the existence of the author’s preferred edition which was even better.

Now in the year of the 20th anniversary of the broadcasting and publication of Neverwhere I have discovered how you can make a book that was already pretty much perfect even better – add the illustrations by Chris Riddell. In all honesty I already knew that Chris and Neil’s work go together like peanut butter and strawberry jam, their collaboration is akin to alchemy – two Masters of their Art combining talents to create a literary philosopher’s stone, I mean look at the CILIP Kate Greenaway winning The Sleeper and the Spindle as another shining example!

If you have never read Neverwhere then shame on you – get you hence to a library or bookshop and remedy this immediately! I am also incredibly jealous as you will be experiencing the wonders and terrors of London Below for the first time which is truly an unforgettable experience.

AND…

and if you have already read Neverwhere pick up this edition as it is the author’s preferred text and you may not have read that one yet; but if you have then get it for Chris Riddell’s artwork, as this will enrich your life and reading experience immeasurably!

Go on do it now! The Marquis is waiting!

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Youth Libraries Group – South East (YLG-SE) Career Development Grant 2016

Youth Libraries Group – South East are offering two members a career development grant to fund a place at this year’s national conference – CILIP Youth Libraries Group (YLG) conference 2016 on Friday 7 October 2016 at 09:00 – Saturday, 8 October 2016 at 17:00 at the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel. The successful candidates will also have their travel expenses reimbursed.
We will ask the successful candidates to attend the YLG South East meetings from November 2016 to June 2017 and write up a piece for the Youth Libraries Review.
In order to be eligible candidates must be a South East YLG member, with involvement in children and young people’s library services. The grant is particularly aimed at colleagues who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend. In this respect applications are welcome from all interested parties, qualified librarians and support staff.
Candidates are asked to explain in a written submission of not more than 600 words: 

current role & experience in children & young people’s library services

interest in reading & literature for children & young people

personal professional development goals

how the candidate would benefit from this grant

 Submissions emailed to 

Elizabeth.mcdonald@wokingham.gov.uk by 31st July 2016. The successful candidates will be notified by 12th August 2016.

We are also looking for enthusiastic new committee members to join us in continuing to represent YLG-SE members and help to plan future events. Committee members come from all over the South East.
For more information please contact – Elizabeth.mcdonald@wokingham.gov.uk

The Sword That Saves by Ambrose Merrell Blog Tour: 10 Key Rules to Aikido

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  • Find a good teacher. This is tricky. As a beginner in aikido how do you know whether the teacher is good or not? Here are a few things to look out for:

The teacher should list his/her teachers on their website or when you ask them. Who has taught them the aikido that they will teach you? How long have they trained?

They should make no guarantees as to how quickly you’ll get a black belt. Any martial art school that does should be avoided.

The dojo (training hall) should be clean and tidy.

The teacher should teach with discipline but also good humour. Aikido is a martial art and serious injury or even death can occur if discipline is lax. But the class should also be enjoyable, with lots of smiles and occasional laughter.

You should feel welcomed by the teacher and your fellow students.

You should feel safe at all times. If you ever feel uncomfortable with a technique, then you should feel ok to say so. Your teacher should then modify the technique or excuse you from doing it.

Trust your gut. If the dojo doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.

  • Train as often as you can. If you don’t go to aikido practice you  will never learn aikido. The most important thing is to train as often as possible. A bare minimum of 2 times a week is necessary to make progress.
  • Train with beginner’s mind. If you see the teacher show a technique and think, “Oh I know this technique, I’ve seen it so many times before” then you are no longer seeing what the teacher is showing. You must treat every class as though it were your first, every technique shown as though it were the first time you have ever seen it. Then you will really see what is being shown.
  • Train with your whole heart. The energy and enthusiasm you bring to the class is vital to your progress. Aikido is a martial art. Each technique you do is a life or death situation. You should see the person you train with as though they were attacking you with the intent to kill you. You must be completely present to their attack.
  • Protect your training partner. Most aikido training is done with a partner. One person attacks and the other applies the aikido technique. Each time your training partner attacks you they are lending you their body. They are trusting you with their body. If you are careless you could seriously injure or kill them. Obviously that is also true for when you lend them your body. O’Sensei, the founder of aikido, said, “Treat your attacker as you would a new born baby.”
  • Train honestly. It is very easy to anticipate the technique and either block the technique or simply fall into the technique. Neither is aikido. If you block the technique, then your training partner will learn nothing. If you simply collapse without your partner properly applying the technique, then your partner will learn nothing. Attack honestly and as if you have no idea what technique will be applied.
  • Relax! Any video of an aikido master shows the same utterly relaxed movement. There is no strength or stiffness in their bodies. They move effortlessly and gracefully without an ounce of tension in their body.
  • Take your attacker’s balance. The core of aikido technique is unbalancing your attacker, called “kuzushi” in Japanese. If your attacker is unbalanced, then it is very difficult for them to continue to attack. However, if they are not unbalanced then your technique will likely fail.
  • You will find it hard! Aikido is difficult to learn. O’Sensei said, on the day before he died, that he was just a beginner in aikido. Do not be discouraged by the challenge. Train regularly and with a good attitude and you will make progress.
  • The essence of aikido is not about defeating another person. It is about self-mastery. It is about polishing your spirit and discovering the truth of who, or what, you are. O’Sensei said, “I am the universe.” Your dedicated aikido practice will eventually reveal what he meant.

CILIP Action Plan 2016-2020 & School Libraries

UK’S TOP COMEDY TALENT LEND THEIR SUPPORT AS NEW SCHOOL COMEDY WRITING COMPETITION LAUNCHES

Charlie Higson, Kerry Howard, Marcus Brigstocke and David Walliams give their backing to the BBC competition

Some of the UK’s top comedy talent including comedian Charlie Higson, Kerry Howard, Marcus Brigstocke and David Walliamsare calling on secondary school students to become classroom jokers for a new comedy writing competition launched today (April 19th) by the BBC in partnership with the National Literacy Trust.

The Comedy Classroom competition will give 13-15-year-olds across the UK the chance to have their work made and broadcast by the BBC this autumn. The winners will also have a chance to visit the BBC to see it filmed and receive a Comedy Classroom trophy, a signed certificate and a visit from a BBC Comedy comedian to their school.

There are three categories to enter:
Class Joker – Stand-up. Students can turn their personal observations and views of the world into a written and performed stand-up comedy routine.
Class Act – The Sketch. Write your own unique sketch and bring to life funny ideas and characters.
Class Comic – Clever Captions. Find the funny in the image and write a comedy caption.

David Walliams is giving his backing to the competition by starring in online film resources that explain to teachers and their classes more about each category and what is required.

He says: “We all love to laugh, and we all love a competition. The BBC’s comedy competition is where your class of comedians can share their comedic ideas with the nation.

“I was 12 when I first started writing and performing comedy sketches in my school. They were simple spoofs of TV shows at the time, but immediately I discovered that there’s no better feeling in the world than making people laugh. So whether your class is full of budding per formers, or they’re bursting with brilliant ideas for new comedy sketches – BBC Comedy Classroom is for you and your students.”

As well as David Walliams, Charlie Higson, Marcus Brigstocke and Kerry Howard, the competition also has support from the likes of comedians Katy Wix [Not Going Out]and Citizen Khan star, Adil Ray, who have contributed to a teachers’ resource pack, as well as top BBC comedy producers and writers.

Head of BBC Learning, Sinéad Rocks, says: “We want this competition to provide a fun and inspiring way to engage students by helping them find the funny side of literacy and by demonstrating how literacy is the bedrock of good comedy and comedy writing. We hope it provides some great laughs in classrooms across the UK as well as giving students the opportunity to produce some fantastic entries.”

The National Literacy Trust, alongside the BBC, has produced bespoke and flexible classroom learning resources and activities to help teachers easily integrate the competition and comedy writing into lessons. These 60 minute lessons are drawn from the curriculum requirements for literacy and build on key reading, writing and speaking skills.

Jonathan Douglas, Director, National Literacy Trust, says: “Our research shows that young people don’t enjoy writing as much as they enjoy reading. We believe that introducing them to comedy writing can change that. Comedy harnesses many key writing skills to create laughs and can be a great asset in the classroom.”

Details of the competition, along with the David Walliams’ films and teaching resources, are available at bbc.co.uk/comedyclassroom with schools being able to submit entries from April 19th.

The closing date is July 24th with winners announced in November. The competition is open to schools students in Years 9 and 10 in England and Wales, Years 10 and 11 in Northern Ireland and S3 and S4 in Scotland. There will also be a special Comedy Classroom Live Lesson streamed into classrooms on May 12th.

BBC Comedy Controller Shane Allen, says: “While this competition might uncover the next generation of brilliant comedy writers and performers the main aim is for everyone taking part to have fun and learn about some of the techniques that make great comedy. There is a great sense of original thinking and authorship in creating comedy as it often involves playing with language, concepts and a degree of lateral thinking. Lots of big name comedy talent are really engaged in this and promoting the joy of learning through laughter”.