Monthly Archives: April 2021

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The Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize 2021 Shortlist

The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident BAME writers. £1,000 is awarded to the sole winner. The Jhalak Prize launched in 2016 and was created by writers Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and Media Diversified.

The Children’s & YA Prize was founded in 2020, and, like it’s sister award it celebrates books by British/British resident BAME writers. The inaugural shortlist was announced today. The authors on the list are:

The Block by Ben Oliver

Luka is in prison again – but this time it’s worse.

He’s in the Block, a place where reality and simulation start to blur. But an audacious breakout reunites Luka and his friends at last. Hiding out in the heart of the destroyed city, Luka realises the scale of their mission to defeat all-powerful AI, Happy. How can they stay hidden, let alone win the war? Old friends and new – including annoyingly cheerful companion drone, Apple-Moth – hold the key to their slim chance of victory …

The sequel to acclaimed debut The Loop: Prison Break meets 1984 in this cutting-edge sci-fi thriller series.

Chicken House Books

I finished reading a proof of The Loop on a train on the way to the last live Chicken House Breakfast event in Jan2020 and excitedly got Ben Oliver to sign it at the event – it is one of the best sci-fi (dare I say, dystopian) YA novels I’ve read for years – so I was really excited to be offered a spot on the blog tour for the equally thrilling sequel: The Block. Ben has written a bit about the inspiration for the series:


The Loop was the fifth full-length novel I had written, and straight away it felt different. It felt as though I was writing the book I really wanted to write. I had learned from my mistakes in previous books, I had developed as a writer and now I had the tools to write the kind of book I wanted to read. The inspiration to write this series came from the desire to write the type of book I would love to have read when I was fourteen, and I felt like that’s what I’m doing when I’m writing – I’m trying to write for myself when I was fourteen (don’t get me wrong, I still love these books as a 35 year old, but books meant the world to me when I was in high school).

As for the concept of the book (kids breaking out of a futuristic death-row prison), that idea came from … well, nowhere, really. I know that’s a bit of a disappointing answer, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t researching the prison system at the time, I wasn’t watching a documentary about death row – the idea just popped into my head one day, and that’s where it stayed for about a year, slowly developing into a plot, characters appearing, twists and turns materialising. And one day I sat down and started writing, and – like I said – straight away it felt different from what I had written before, and that sense of excitement, that sense that I was writing something really good was as much an inspiration to keep going as anything else.

I think Neil Gaiman put it best when he was asked about where he gets his inspiration and ideas from – I’m probably misquoting, but he said something like, ‘Ideas comes from a lot of different places, but mainly from daydreaming. I suspect it’s something that every human being does, but writers train themselves to notice when they’ve had an idea.’

The writing of The Loop happened very quickly – once the idea was ready to go, I was getting somewhere between two and four thousand words a day (looking back, I have no idea how as I was working full time and studying to get my teaching qualification). Writing the sequel to The Loop; The Block was a different experience. I’d never written a sequel before and I learned very quickly that it’s a whole new skill! I’m so grateful that I had my agent and editor there to keep me on track and to proof-read and make suggestions. It took a lot longer, but The Block is even better than The Loop in my opinion.

THE LOOP and THE BLOCK by Ben Oliver are out now, each priced £7.99. Read chapter 1 of THE LOOP here

Thanks to Chicken House for a review copy!

Take Three Girls

Mean stuff spreads so fast. One click. Post. Send. Share. Online bullying = sometimes suicides, so all the private schools have strategies for dealing with it. At St Hilda’s, it’s Wellness classes. We greeted the idea with genuine enthusiasm. Why not? Everyone loves the chance to slack off.

Elevator pitch: If you enjoyed Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu then this book will be right up your bookshelf! Wait you have not read Moxie? Dang… ok wait a moment don’t leave this elevator yet Read Moxie and also Take Three Girls – it does not matter which one you read first as they are both brilliant! Take Three Girls is a wonderful portrayal of female friendship, strength and a fierce critique of anonymous, online shame culture

Three girls, one popular, one sporty and one smart, one day student and the other two are boarders (it is a private boarding school with day students), each student written by a different author, this works wonderfully! Each character is wonderfully realized and they each come to life on the page.

Take Three Girls is one of the first Australian YA books I have read in years, it may be your first one too so please do pick it up! Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood are superb writers! This book can be used to show that girls and young women all over the world face the same issues and struggles and that by working together they can begin to overcome the misogyny ingrained in many (lets be honest it is most, if not all) of our institutions!

You can get your hands on a copy today!

Take Three Girls is published in the US by Sterling Teen and is available from today!

House of Hollow

The Hollow sisters – Vivi, Grey and Iris – are as seductively glamorous as they are mysterious.

They have black eyes and hair as white as milk. They share the same birthday, spaced exactly two years apart. The Hollow sisters don’t have friends – they don’t need them. They move through the corridors like sharks, the other little fish parting around them, whispering behind their backs.And everyone knows who the Hollow sisters are. Because one day the three Hollow sisters simply disappeared. And when they came back, one month later, with no memory of where they had been, it was as if nothing had changed.

Almost nothing, apart from, for example, the little scar that had appeared in the hollow of their throats … and a whispering sense that something is not quite right about them, despite (or maybe because of) the terrible passion to be with them that they can exert on anybody at will…

A thrilling, twisting, novel that is as seductive and glamorous as the Hollow sisters themselves….

Hot Key Books

I don’t really know how to describe this book…it is mysterious, creepy, glamorous, gross, fantastical and modern…Haunting & unsettling but totally gripping. I was so taken in I could nearly smell Grey’s perfume. I was thinking about it for a long time after finishing reading, and just had to ask the author some questions:

House of Hollow is an…unsettling novel, did you have any routines when writing to get yourself into the right mood?

I listened to the Annihilation soundtrack over and over and over again to keep me in an eerie headspace. I find music and movement to be particularly good gateways into a story. If I used to do this thing when I was a kid called “imagination time” where I would just walk around in the back yard for hours or jump on the trampoline and imagine my way through stories. It was my favourite hobby! Now I walk or drive or (in the Before Times) catch public transport while listening to music to get my imagination flowing.

What first idea sparked the story?

It’s a scrapbook of different ideas that eventually merged together. The first spark came to me when I was out hiking with my sister and I thought, “What if I turned around right now and she was just gone?” If there was no sound, no struggle, no one else around – it was such a horrifying thought.

The story really started to percolate after I visited Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and saw “ghost doors” scattered around the forest – ruins where every part of a structure had fallen away except the doorframe. They felt at once inviting and dangerous, like fairy circles. I wanted to walk through one, but found myself afraid that if I did I might end up somewhere… else. Those two elements really drew me in and I started to build the story and characters and world around them.

Liminal spaces are such an interesting concept, did you read lots about them before writing the book?

I actually started an Honours thesis on liminal spaces while I was writing House of Hollow, so not only was I creating my own liminal space, I was researching other liminal spaces in literature at the same time.

Liminality feels particularly relevant to young adult stories. To borrow an idea from the Chemical Hearts movie, the teenage years really are like of limbo between childhood and adulthood. It’s very much an in-between time; you feel stuck halfway between no longer and not yet. I wanted to explore that in House of Hollow, albeit in a more overt way. 

Who is your favourite of the sisters?

Ugh! I love them all, don’t make me choose! I suppose I’m most like Iris, who’s quiet and studious and keeps her head down. Vivi and Grey were a lot more fun to write though. They’re dream girls, you know? They’re the women I wanted to be when I was growing up. Vivi is rough and wild and heavily tattooed. Honestly, is borderline feral, a ball of walking chaos. Grey is the opposite: The height of glamour and the embodiment of control. I think Grey is the most morally grey (and appropriately named) character in the book, so I’ll say she’s my favourite.

Was there anything your editors asked you to tone down?

Surprisingly, no. I’m always a little shocked by what I’m allowed to do! The director of Chemical Hearts was an early reader of House of Hollow and his feedback was something along the lines of, “How the hell did you get away with this?!” So far the reaction to the book has been hugely positive, but I was worried for a little while that I might have pushed things too far!

In an ideal world, what kind of events would you like to be doing with your readers?

In an alternate universe in which COVID didn’t exist, I’d love to host a House of Hollow fashion show. Everyone would get dressed up in their most eccentric, lavish, Alexander McQueen-esque outfit and we could all hang out looking glamourous and creepy. Sigh.

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

I’m reading The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold, who’s probably most well-known for Mosquitoland. It’s pitched as “Station Eleven meets The 5th Wave” which might not be everyone’s cup of tea at this particular moment in time, but I’ve found it full of hope.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on the first draft of my fourth YA book which, like House of Hollow, is set in a version of London that brushes up against the supernatural. In a world where only women can use magic and the men who know about it seek to eradicate them, three lonely teenage girls – one cursed, one hunted, one out for revenge – team up to track down and take out a brutal killer. It’s a lot of fun!

Huge thanks to Krystal for her great answers and to Hot Key Books for giving me a review copy and facilitating this interview!

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland is out now

(Hot Key Books, £7.99)

Mermaid Life: The Joy of Making Waves by Christine De Carvalho

Ah, salty breezes, beach hair, the feeling of bare feet (or fins) in warm sand. And dreams of that mer-mazing world under the sea. An ode to the joys of making waves, this sweet celebration is filled with mermaids, merman, purrmaids, and other underwater lovelies- complete with quotes, folklore, and mantras.

Mermaid Life is a celebration of all things aquatic as tied to Merfolk. The illustration style is reminiscent of old-style sailor tattoos but modern and somehow timeless.

This little book has a ton of aquatic facts, definitions, inspirational quotes (that are dying to be turned into posters) as well as some really hilarious puns and and will no doubt inspire readers to go and get themselves inked (if they have not already done so!)

Inspirational Quotes

This book is pretty and fun to read or flip through at random and has a page of really shiny stickers at the back!

Highly recommended for fans of Merfolk, beautiful art and puns!

Mermaid Life: The Joy of Making Waves by Christine De Carvalho is published by Workman Publishing and will be available on April 6th

Silence is Not an Option

Silence is Not an Option is the first book by Stuart Lawrence – the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence who tragically died in an unprovoked attack on 22 April 1993. The book is interspersed with reflections on his brother Stephen’s life and murder as well as the tools that have helped him live positively and kept him moving forwards when times have been tough. An inspiring read directed at younger readers (aged 10 +) Stuart’s aim is to use his
own experience to help young people – to help all people – find their own voice, stand up for change, and contribute towards creating a more positive society.
Stuart is determined to ensure that children today understand the impact of their actions against others and the importance of inclusion through teaching tolerance and celebrating difference. He has a background in education – working as a teacher for over 15 years – and is now a motivational speaker and youth engagement specialist. Stuart is also a mentor for several young people in the South London area.
Since his brother’s death, Stuart and his family have had a huge impact on the change of attitude towards racism within British society. Their story is still as impactful and important today.


This is a great book to read slowly. It gives the reader practical activities in each chapter, to really think about themselves and how they can impact those around them, before moving onto the next chapter. It is for independent reading and reflection, but could also prompt some brilliant discussions between young people if shared with a group. Chapters range from the influence of role models (Stuart discusses meeting Nelson Mandela) to championing yourself and others. Stuart is incredibly busy, but I just asked him to quickly recommend some books for teenagers to help them understand their place in the world and how to contribute positively:

– Black and British by David Olusoga (I’ve read the abridged “short history” version for younger readers and it is brilliantly fascinating)

– This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany  Jewell (another full of practical advice)

– Everyone Versus Racism by Patrick Hutchinson

– No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport by Derek A Bardowell

Scholastic also allowed me to share this excerpt from chapter 3: YOU ARE IN CONTROL:


After losing my brother Stephen, I really had to learn self-control. Suddenly, my family and I were in the newspapers and on the TV. A lot of the time, the public were being misinformed about our story. I was so angry that my brother was being portrayed as a gang member and a drug dealer, when he was an A-level student aspiring to become an architect.

However, I had to control myself, because lashing out would only affect my family and my brother’s case negatively. It didn’t mean I didn’t speak out, but I had to exercise self-control in the way I handled the situation. I had to be calm and composed, even though I didn’t feel like it.

What is Self-control? Having self-control means being able to manage your decisions, emotions and behaviours so that you can achieve your goals. This skill is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom!

Self-control is rooted in the front part of our brains, in an area called the prefrontal cortex. This is the planning, problem-solving and decision-making centre of the brain. Did you know that this part of the brain is much larger in humans than it is in other mammals? This area of our brain acts differently at different stages of our lives. For example, teenagers are more likely to act on impulse or to misunderstand their emotions than older people. As much as you might not want to believe us adults and feel like you are an exception to the rule, these are scientific facts!

You can only control yourself. For example, let’s say you are trying out to become the captain of the school netball team and, unfortunately, you aren’t picked for the role. Instead of sulking, getting angry or upset, you show good sportsmanship and shake the hand of your competitor. In doing this, you use your self-control. You are unable to control the situation but you are able to control your reaction and that is what is important. Don’t forget, it’s always useful to get feedback so that you can improve and win next time.

About the author: Stuart Lawrence is the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence, the young man who, on 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. Stuart is an educator and motivational speaker, dedicated to helping to transform the life chances of young people.

Stephen Lawrence Day is held on 22 April each year to commemorate Stephen’s life.
Follow the journey: #SilenceIsNotAnOption Insta @hon_stuartlawrence Twitter @sal2nd

SILENCE IS NOT AN OPTION is published today by Scholastic.

With thanks for sending me a review copy