Monthly Archives: January 2011

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Eight Questions WIth… Richard Denning

Q1   What influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?

Other than the time travel series of which Tomorrow’s Guardian is the first, I also have written the first of a historical fiction series ‘The Amber Treasure’ which although I believed I was writing for adults does seem popular with some older teens. There is also a historical Fantasy ‘The Last Seal’ set in the Great Fire of London and also written for Young Adults.

I generally set out to write books I would like to read. I enjoy reading a lot of Young Adult Fiction such as Garth Nix – Keys to the Kingdom – as well as Harry Potter of course, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard book, Darren Shan and so forth. Since quite a lot of what I enjoy reading falls into YA/ teen fiction I guess I tend to write in that style. To me a lot of the best books (and for that matter TV and film) is aimed at a crossover audience and accessible by 8 to 80 year olds. For this audience you need a strong story and good characters and a fast pace to the book.

Q2 How do you get into the heads of your characters?

Before I write a book I sit down with a notepad and try to sketch out each main character. I ask myself what is their main strength and weakness and what motivates them. What do they want and what will they do to make that happen? Then I find that as I write the book I KNOW how a character should act to any situation.

Q3    Do you know instinctively what will appeal to Teens or is it more a hit or miss process?

Well I am a pretty new writer of course and although I have had some good reviews and interest in Tomorrow’s Guardian and other books I am not arrogant enough to believe I am an expert. Far from that at this stage. So I usually work on the basis that if I enjoy a passage and so do some readers and my editor that I am getting it right. If I give someone a passage to read and they tell me they don’t understand a bit, or it was dull or confusing then it needs a revision. So I believe I am learning how to write for this audience, expect to learn more and I hope I will get better.

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

When I plot out a book I start with only a spark of an idea. I mull it over – quite often for weeks. Then as I try to sketch out a plot I get little moments when something about a character inspires an idea that you can work into the story. So I may be struggling with a section and not sure how to make it work when that spark comes along and it can be a bit of a eureka moment when you realise you have cracked it. Another fun part of writing is when you have the first draft done and you are going through the book working on dialogue and descriptions. I have  a lot of fun with descriptions of historical locations.

Q5    Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors?  If yes what can you recommend?

I have covered quite a few of these in Q1. Everyone has heard of Harry Potter so that hardly needs a recommendation from me but I still take my hat off to Rowling’s genius in inventing such a rich believable world. However I would say that Garth Nix and his Keys to the Kingdom series is excellent and rivals Harry Potter for detail and depth.

Q6    Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?

Well I am a GP in the ‘day job’ and not a Saxon Warrior, Time Traveller or sorcerer. So it is not so much personal experience so much as tapping into 40+ years of reading, TV and Films. These have been heavily Sci Fi and Fantasy orientated such as Terry Pratchett’s amazing Disk World books, David Eddings and Raymond Feist’s writing as well as the Young Adult fiction which I have mentioned. There is also a lot of historical fantasy including Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series and others. I was 11 when I saw the first Star Wars Movie (Number IV now) and around then the first Indiana Jones came out. I grew up with the classic series of Dr Who including the superb John Pertwee and Tom Baker era. I am also very fond of historical sites and have toured many battlefields such as Agincourt, Crecy, Normandy and Waterloo and visited a vast array of ancient and medieval buildings. I went to school in sight – it was literally just out the window – of Warwick Castle. Gradually all that soaks in and went into the pot from which I draw when I write.

Q7   Are you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned?

My editor and I are just tidying up Yesterday’s Treasures – the sequel to Tomorrow’s Guardian. I hope that will be published in the late Spring. I am also working on the sequel to The Amber Treasure and have plans for a sequel to The Last Seal. So I hope to bring out some new books in the next 12 months.

Q8 Do you ever do Library visits to Teen Reading Groups? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

I would be happy to do visits to a Library. For this purpose, the best way to contact me is via my website and my email address r.denning (at)
I have a talk/workshop designed to be entertaining and thought provoking for children of ages 10 to 14 – Years 5 to 9.
It is intended to fit into World Book Day and other activities.
Duration – can be adjusted but will be circa 60 minutes. Event consists of talks, readings and activities: Time travel sounds like fun until you try it!
The fascination of time travel and why it could be more dangerous than you think!
There is  a pdf on my website about the talk:

Richard Denning Blog Tour

Richard was born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire, UK and lives in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. He works as a General Practitioner (family doctor)with a North Birmingham practice. He is 43 and married with two children.

He is a Young-Adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. He also writes book and board game reviews and online articles on historical and gaming related topics. He owns his own small publishing house, Mercia Books and is part of a board game design house Medusa Games.

A keen player of board games and other games he is one of the directors of UK Games Expo (the UK’s largest hobby games convention). He is a board game designer and his first Board Game, ‘The Great Fire on London 1666’ was published by Medusa Games and Prime Games in October 2010.

Author website:

Tomorrow’s Guardian Review

When schoolboy Tom Oakley discovers he can transport himself through time, he draws the attention of evil men who seek to bend history to their will.

Tom’s family are obliterated and he soon faces an impossible choice: To save the world he must sacrifice his family.

Tom Oakley is a normal boy, growing up with friends and family until he starts having funny turns, hallucinating about jumping in time an space as well as dreams where he finds himself in other peoples bodies reliving the terrifying final moments of their lives he starts to think that he is going mad. Add to this the general concerns of bullying, school work and the life a young boy on the cusp of becoming a teen he starts really worrying about his mental well-being.

Mixing in historical fact and real characters to the story Richard Denning has created a fantastic yarn that educates as it entertains. The historical detail is richly detailed and described, from the battle formations of the Zulu armies to the Great Fire of London.

What really made the story stand out for me was the opposing side – all good time-travel stories have an adversary and Tomorrow’s Guardian is no exception. Captain Redfeld makes a brilliant counterpoint to Tom’s guide Septimus who has less than pure ideas on how to usehis power. Redfeld is open about his desires to use his powers to change the world rather than for personal enrichment, making offers that Tom struggles to reject.

Battles across time have been done before and the ultimate enemies have been around for some time but all the concepts are neatly handled. The choices Tom is faced with are as old as time itself – using power for the good of all or the good of a few and how fart would you go to protect loved ones.

Tense and gripping stuff – Tomorrow’s Guardian is a classic time jumping yarn that mixes high adventure, historical fact with a nail-biting finale. This book will be fantastic for pre and early teen readers that love action adventure with a dash of history and mystery.

View other stops on Richard Denning’s blog tour here

100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader

Courtesy of Bitch Magazine’s Bitch Community Lending Library


Working in Partnership: libraries and youth agencies

Emma Sherriff, Outreach Support Officer, Plymouth Libraries and Jo Batten, Senior Professional Youth Worker, Plymouth Youth Offending Prevention Service gave a presentation at the Youth Libraries Group conference in September 2010, discussing their experience of partnership working and giving direction to other library authorities who want to explore an exciting partnership for youth.

To give you some background, wider Youth Offending Services are found across the country and work with young people aged 10-17 who have committed an offence and have been sentenced by the courts to an order which is then supervised by a YOS worker. The Youth Offending Prevention Service sit within the YOS and work with children and young people aged 5-25 who are identified as at risk of social, school exclusion or offending behaviour.

Plymouth Libraries and Plymouth Youth Offending Prevention Service (PYOPS) have been working together since November 2006 in a dynamic way to encourage and support young people to engage with libraries and read.

Key projects delivered together to date include:

  • Secondary Inclusion Programme (SIP) – an offsite education provision for young people at risk of school exclusion;
  • HeadSpace – a library run by young people for young people in a deprived area;
  • Film making – our joint entry for the Public Library Building Awards 2008;
  • Training – library service and project briefings for SIP and Intervention workers;
  • Summer workshops – songwriting at Budo Beatz, Fashion targets knife crime at St Budeaux Library;
  • Library promotion – community fairs and library sessions within youth drop-ins.

Emma Sherriff has been working closely with Senior Youth workers and together we have devised opportunities for both services, to become intrinsically linked across our services. Jo Batten has worked as part of the team for 6 years and supervises the team of Youth Intervention workers.

Emma began working with the team by delivering a programme of innovative literacy activities within the offsite education provision. Since then Emma has set up a pop-up library at the YOPS centre, supports Youth Intervention Workers to work with young people around literacy and actively contributes to PYOPS events, holiday workshops, projects and drop-ins.

The Youth Intervention workers’ who work 1:1 with young people identified at risk of offending identify library engagement and reading targets for their caseload, support behaviour management at weekly HeadSpace sessions and work 1:1 with HeadSpace young people at risk of offending. Jo’s extensive experience of youth work includes sexual health and film-making projects. Jo worked with HeadSpace young people to plan and produce a film about their library for the Public Library Building Awards 2008. You can watch the film here.

Both Jo and Emma recognise that a successful partnership requires a great deal of flexibility. Open communication is very important in order to understand the circumstances of the other party. It is important to ask “how can we help you overcome that obstacle?” We have a shared understanding of the project goals. Emma briefs project workers on the outcomes the library aims to achieve for the young people. It is important that the team understand how we will attain the identified outcomes and the role of the worker and librarian.

Ultimately the deal has to be signed and sealed, what is the library service committed to and what is the youth agency committed to? Longer term projects obviously require a greater time commitment and regularity. Emma’s time is committed to deliver a weekly session on the SIP programme; providing Intervention workers with resources tailored to a young person’s reading ability; helping young people to structure their writing and feed their creativity; discussing reading with young people informally.

Joint working allows us to work together to develop new projects on the back of courses, ideas or press cuttings on other projects, nothing is out of scope providing there is little or no budget involved in delivering. It is important to feed the ideas into the work we do to attain better educational outcomes for the young people.

To make the projects work librarians need support to manage challenging behaviour in sessions. The YOPS has experienced staff and a range of useful resources for establishing and maintaining boundaries with young people. Often working with young people who demand your attention in different ways can be overwhelming, it is really important to have colleagues around who have existing relationships with the young people. Intervention workers can pre-empt or address behaviour whilst you focus on the activity itself.

Librarians can learn a huge amount from observing the worker’s methods of talking to young people and addressing issues. The service has provided informal training opportunities which enable you to deliver at a level that suits the young person and that the young person can relate to.

Youth agencies shouldn’t be scared to give a librarian access to the young people at risk in their community. As long as the librarian is prepared, which means having a full understanding of what the young people are experiencing. An opportunity to represent the library at community events is also useful, as you can be considered to be giving them something, even if it is just your time.

Youth accreditation schemes can be very labour intensive to administer. Youth agencies more broadly can support librarians to deliver the schemes and obtain recorded outcomes for the young people.

Youth agencies want librarians to look at literacy and learning in a different way – both in terms of the content and reading level of the resources. Librarians need to have knowledge of resources for young people who have become disengaged from education. Resources must be relevant to the young person’s environment and innovative in some way.

Emma uses a selection of Graphic novels, Manga and Barrington-Stoke publications, as well as fiction and non-fiction resources from Raintree. Activities should be as interactive and hands-on as possible, using magnetic poetry, writing a story based on a visually exciting double-page of a graphic novel, karaoke or using word games such as Rummikub.

Taking the library into different learning environment can change the way in which you work. Youth agencies want librarians to be able to be flexible and support young people’s learning in different ways in different environments. At a summer health & beauty workshop Emma provided a selection of accessible resources including fiction, non-fiction and DVDs covering healthy eating, active lifestyles, development and puberty and natural beauty. Contrast this with focused selection of resources for individual young people who have particular interests and ability, Emma supplies Youth Intervention worker’s with graphic novels and large print, short novels in series.

The most vital part of the library involvement in the young person’s lives is to enable them to access a mainstream service in their community. In Plymouth the librarian and Youth Intervention workers host visits with young people, often banned from the library in the past. The visits and workshops aim to enable the young person feel comfortable and enjoy their time in the library. Young people are able to visit their local library to use the internet in their own time. One young person books regular sessions on our people’s network PCs and the library take care of his headphones as they are not safe at home with his siblings. The young person does this independently and has developed a positive relationship with library staff following years of discord between young people and librarians.

Our top tips for creating a successful partnership:

  • Contact your local youth agency
  • Identify your aims and outcomes
  • Present the benefits and link with their aims
  • Meet to match up your project with an appropriate group
  • Plan a programme of activities
  • Agree a mutual start date
  • Reflect and review at monthly meetings
  • Ever evolving partner contributions

If you have questions about our project please email: emma.sherriff (at)

My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the media screening of the trailer for My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher. You can watch the trailer below and start looking forward to the 1st March 2011 when the book will be released.

Zombilicious Competition Winners

As you may remember in December as part of the 12 Months of Halloween I ran a Zombiefy yourself competiton. The winners of this competition are:

Zombie Caroline
Zombie Kateria

Could you please contact me and I will send your prizes out as soon as possible!

Dragon Heir by Emma Vieceli

Emma Vieceli is a member of independent manga studio Sweatdrop Studio and one of the top manga artists in the UK, she has illustrated books for Self Made Hero Press, a story in the Eisner Award Winning collection Comic Book Tattoo and had work published in many other books and magazines.

Dragon Heir is the work she started when she first joined Sweatdrop and is important on a number of levels, and, as Emma herself says:

Sweatdrop members are of course independent creators. What that means is that it’s just little old me and my book. Being picked up by Diamond as an independent creator is a huge honour, but getting stock to retailers is the harder step. Spreading the word and ordering copies is something that everyone can help with. Help out an indie creator and demand that your local bookshops order in copies of Dragon Heir, because reading epic stories filled with pretty people, swords and angst is everyone’s right! ^_^

If your library hosts a Manga Club then Dragon Heir will be an essential part of your collection, it will be proof for your young manga artists that it is possible that they can have their works published. Even if your library does not have a manga club this book is necessary, it is beautifully illustrated, cracking story that has been created, written and illustrated by a UK artist , so in purchasing it you will be supporting local industry and adding a brilliant book to your collections.

Even if your library does not have a manga collection, Dragon Heir will be a good book to start your collection!

Go on order it! You know you want to!

Library Protest sign making 101

I have been speaking to a number of library workers recently who are being affected by the upcoming cuts, I am one of them! There are a number of marches and protests planned across the UK and it will be a shame if Libraries are left out of the push for social justice, so I have put together a basic how to guide on making protest signs. This can also be used as a practical workshop for young people who feel they may want to protest.

It is also good for Friends of Library Groups that may wish to protest branch closures on a Local Authority level.


  • Poster boards (A3)
  • Ruler
  • Marker pens / Paint
  • Stencils
  • Pencils
  • Handles
  • Stapler
  • Glue
  • Duct tape

Select a thick board that won’t easily bend or tear in strong winds. Also, select a board that’s white – or, if choosing coloured board, make sure it is a light colour that won’t distract from the message.

Writing the message:

  • You will need a pencil, a ruler and a thick black marker for this part, especially if you don’t have stencils.
  • Using the ruler, measure the board and letter size – you do not want to start and then run out of space.
  • Using the pencil, lightly trace out the letters of the slogan, make them as large as you can (so that the slogan is legible from a distance)
  • Once you have a design you’re satisfied with, use your marker to outline the letters.
  • If there is a particular word you want to emphasise, consider adding colour. Red will make it stand out and look dramatic, but outline the word in black so it’s readable.

There is a how to construct a stencil guide at the bottom of the article.

Constructing your sign

Use glue to attach the sign to the handle and then use a staple gun for additional strength, for the paranoid you can use tape to make sure the sign will stay attached to the handle. If you use wood for the handle it may be advisable to wrap the end you hold in take so you do not get splinters.

Hold your poster up with both hands where people can see it. It is, of course, make sure it is right side up! Alternatively you can attach a handle to your sign.


These should be clear, concise, and readable – remember that people will only have a few seconds to read your message, by all means have some leaflets to hand out as well detailing your views.  Humorous slogans can work well, as do images.

For example:

We will not be shhhhhh’ed!

Close Tax Loopholes Not Libraries!

Making a stencil

  • Come up with a design – it is best to do this once you have measured the board as you may end up with letters that are too large or small for the size of the board.
  • It is important to remember that you cannot have ‘islands’ such as the middle of an O or R. You can use straight lines to connect the islands.
  • Transfer your designs to a piece of cardboard (cereal boxes can be used to make stencils). You can also draw out your designs on paper and then photocopy them on to thinner pieces of board.
  • Use a sharp craft knife to cut out the design. Blunt blades can rip the board wasting your work.
  • Spray-paint works best with cardboard stencils, you can also use acrylic paint and dab it through the stencil using a sponge or brush.
  • Remember to wipe excess paint off the stencil as this will help it to last longer.

The Left Hand of God a novel by Paul Hoffman

Occasionally one is lucky to stumble across a book that is mind-blowing in its intensity that you just have to stop and appreciate the sheer art that went into its creation.

The Left Hand of God is one such book! It was so brutal, gripping and amazing that I had trouble in putting it aside until I had finished, that said it took me three days to finish reading it.

I have not felt annoyance at having to go to bed or to work or in fact do anything other than quietly sit and absorb the story in ages.

Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary…

So begins the story of Thomas Cale, Kleist, Slow Henry and Riba. Cale’s entire life, and that of Kleist and Henry has been one of deprivation, and cruelty, a life in which they are being moulded in special ways to fight against the enemies of the Redeemers.

Forced to flee the Sanctuary after becoming witness to a crime that was hideous & brutal even to him, he becomes a prize that the Redeemers will never cease to chase. Finding, not exactly sanctuary, but relief with the Materazzi who capture them, Cale and his friends are schooled in the life of a culture that values good food, fine women, humour and the importance of nobility and class over capability, Cale and his friends learn that brutality and heartlessness exist even outside the walls of the Sanctuary.

Thomas Cale remains an enigma throughout, a tactical genius and born fighter, he looks upon battle less an art and rather something to be settled quickly and as brutally as possible. Showing flashes of cruelty and kindness to his few friends and (ever-growing number of) enemies, his back-story is eked out gradually over the course of the book; but the true nature of his importance to the Redeemers is kept a secret until the end.

Part historical epic and theological mystery as well as being a high-octane adventure thriller, The Left Hand of God takes place in a world familiar yet subtly different. Throughout the tale I kept catching glimpses and snippets of historical facts that I recognized but were strangely unfamiliar¬

The Left Hand of God is a book that could easily be my favourite book of the year, the only thing I want to do now is say write faster Paul Hoffman! I need to find out what happens next!

Toshokan Senso (Library Wars)

In a slightly different timeline than ours, the explosion of information and misinformation came to be considered a direct threat to society. In a daring decision, it was decided to create a new government agency dedicated solely to information management. Some thirty years later, in 2019, the government still monitors and controls information, suppressing anything they find undesirable, but standing against their abuses of power are the libraries, with their special agents called ‘the book soldiers.’

This all sounds really familiar! Suppressing information, cutting access to books and people think it only happens in fiction! Guess not – who knew that manga could foretell the future?

I like the idea of being a Book Soldier, the first shots in defending Libraries and access to books are being fired as we speak. Do we as librarians that work with young people have a duty to educate our Teens on how to protest the cutting of the EMA, provision of addresses of MPs, during the reading groups and activity sessions should we be able to run letter writing workshops to Parliament to protest the cuts. I am working on a how-to create a ‘zine programme that I will post up here soon, maybe even a workshop on protest sign making.

The youth are already rising up, I think we have a responsibility to guide them on how to do it safely (and legally)!

You can grab Library Wars from Amazon here or ask at you rlocal comic or speciality bookshop.