Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

Dream Team

Meet the Dream Team! They turn nightmares into incredible adventures in this fast-paced first book in the series written and illustrated by the award-winning Tom Percival.
Erika’s had a bad day and struggles with her emotions, especially her temper. But going to sleep upset means bad dreams. She finds herself stranded in the Dreamscape along with a mob of hungry Heebie Jeebies – and to make matters worse, she’s being hunted by a terrifying Angermare! Only the Dream Team can help save Erika now and help her overcome her worries and get home, or will she be trapped forever?Attack of the Heebie Jeebies is the launch title in this fun and engaging two-colour illustrated series, exploring anxiety in in children through action and adventure. With echoes of Dreamworks’s Inside Out and The Incredibles Dream Team is a great way to introduce children to managing their anger, especially if they have a bad case of the heebie-jeebies!

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies

The second book in the fun and adventure-packed Dream Team series, Erika returns to tackle some more nightmares in the dreamscape, in this case the jitters!
Erika’s friend Kris is HILARIOUS. She thinks he should perform in their
school’s talent show, but he’s far too nervous.
And when Erika gets a call from the Dream Team to help on a mission, she meets another girl who is struggling with confidence. Chanda’s dream is being attacked by the jitters and nothing seems to be going right.
Try as they might, the team can’t get control of her dream – until Erika realizes that there is a connection between Chanda and Kris. Can she help Chanda to find some confidence before the jitters take over completely?
The perfect book for children to learn how to overcome anxiety and nervousness in a digestible and entertaining way.

A Case of the Jitters

Tom Percival’s Big Bright Feelings picturebooks for Bloomsbury are brilliant introductions to emotions for younger children, and in his new series for Macmillan Children’s he tackles the big subject of anxiety and related emotions (starting the series with with bad tempers and self confidence) but in short, highly illustrated chapter books for a middle grade audience (age 5+). Some dark stuff happens in bad dreams (just wait until you meet the Bone Cobble in A Case of the Jitters!) but I just love the humour in these books that balances it out nicely. There is properly witty banter between the characters, pitched perfectly for the younger reader but also funny to an older child (and any grownups reading with them), and the characters are great fun. His dreamscapes are really inventive but I also like that Erika’s real-world relationships are developed. I think these books would be great to read with a child to see what conversations they spark around feelings and worries, but they are also just great fun reads…and make sure you read the acknowledgements, heehee!

TEACHERS/SCHOOL LIBRARIANS: They would be wonderful to read with a class, and here are some lesson plans (with links to audio of the first two chapters) to whet your appetite!

Thank you to Macmillan Kids for inviting me to be part of the tour, and sending review copies of these two wonderful titles! I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next in the series.

The Diverse Book Awards

This morning the longlists for The Diverse Book Awards were announced, created by The Author School to showcase the talent of marginalised voices, and the books started arriving at my house to read!

I’m really please that two of my fellow judges are actual teenagers, reading the children’s and YA lists, and the awards also teamed up with blogger and photographer Tenelle Ottley-Matthew, to help spread the love, so do keep your eye on her blog, insta and twitter!

The Children’s Longlist:

The YA Longlist:

The Adult Longlist:

To be eligible, the author has to be UK based and the book had to be published in the UK in 2019. I’ve already read all the YA and most of the children’s lists, all brilliant titles that I’m looking forward to rereading with the criteria in mind, to help choose the shortlist and eventual winner! I’ve read one of the grownup books so far…

When Stars are Scattered

Omar and his brother Hassan, two Somali boys, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Separated from their mother, they are looked after by a friendly stranger. Life in the camp isn’t always easy and the hunger is constant . . . but Omar devotes everything to taking care of his young brother and pursuing his education.

Faber

This is set to be one of my favourite graphic novels of all time. You will laugh, cry, rage, and cheer many times over the course of the book, a study in empathy, as Omar and Hassan experience the ups and downs of life in a refugee camp with the dream of resettling in America hanging over their heads. It is based on Omar Mohamed’s account of real experiences of growing up, so obviously the relationships are real, but they are brought off the page so beautifully and in so few words, through the skillful work of Victoria Jamieson (brilliantly coloured by Iman Geddy).

Narrated by Omar, we see his perspective of the environment and people, and how it changes when he was feeling hopeful or down. Bad things do happen to them, as well as good things, and Omar talks them through and shares his feelings with the reader. One panel that really struck me was after Omar had been talking to a friend who’s family had been chosen to be resettled, he tries so hard to be positive all the time but can’t help but think “It’s not fair”. He tells us:

…Of course, thinking like this doesn’t do you any good. Somalis even have a word for it. BUFIS. It means the intense longing to be resettled. It’s almost like your mind is already living somewhere else, while your body is stuck in a refugee camp…

We first meet Omar and his brother Hassan once they have already been living in the camp for a long time (have a read of the first chapter in the extract) and the way their journey to the camp is told to us, as it recounted in Omar’s UN interview for potential resettlement, is really powerful. We follow them for years, until Omar is 18, and I was particularly moved by the relationship with Fatuma, how they came to be together, and how Omar realised more and more with age how lucky they all were to have one another.

Enjoy this exclusive extract of WHEN THE STARS ARE SCATTERED

It does have a happy and hopeful ending for Omar and Hassan, but doesn’t let you forget the thousands more people still stuck in the limbo of refugee camps. I think this is essential reading for, well, everyone aged 8+ frankly.

Huge thanks to Faber for sending me a copy for review and inviting me to join the blog tour. WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERD is out in the UK now!

Comic Classics: Great Expectations

OLD books get NEW doodles – it’s the classics as you’ve never seen them before!A hilarious new series that brings the classics to life with illustrations by Jack Noel. Perfect for fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey. And Charles Dickens.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

Ten-year-old Pip gets the fright of his life when he meets an escaped convict in a spooky graveyard. And that’s just the beginning of an adventure that will lead him to a house full of secrets, a strange old lady and a journey to the big city to seek his fortune. But Pip is in for a BIG surprise . . .

Join Pip in a rip-roaring story of family secrets, scary grannies and a REALLY annoying big sister in COMIC CLASSICS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel.

Egmont
Comic Classics: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel

Do we need the classics? Normally I’d say “not really” and go back to reading an outstanding recently published novel that is actually written for children and not just foisted upon them by the education system <ahem>…but there are a few exceptions. I have never read a Dickens novel except for A Chrismas Carol (though I mostly remember it because of The Muppets) and would happily have never changed that state of affairs until this book crossed my path! Carefully abridged by Liz Bankes, this version is enlivened by loads of doodles by Jack Noel. I flew through it and really enjoyed the way these simple pictures highlighted the story and often explained what the text meant without patronising young readers.

I asked Jack Noel a few questions about it all (unfortunately Charles was unavailable for comment):

What inspired you to create this series?

I love books with pictures. We’re living in a golden age of illustrated young fiction (eg. Tom Gates, Claude, Mr Gum, Barry Loser, Reeves & McIntyre, Lyttle Lies etc). I would have loved them all when I was eight or ten or twenty or thirty and I love them now. I wanted to have a go myself. I was curious to see how the style would work when applied to something a little different. It turns out: quite well!

Did you read Great Expectations as a child?

We read Great Expectations at school. I thought we’d read the whole thing but I now know that my teacher just selected the best bits (the graveyard! the cake! the fire!). Also I think my mum made me watch the David Lean movie one wet Sunday afternoon. Though it might have been Kathy Come Home. It was some old black and white film, anyway. I thought it was quite boring.

There are two more coming soon, Treasure Island & The Hound of the Baskervilles, how many more are in the pipeline? How have you chosen the titles?

We just choose the most fun ones we can think of. Treasure Island is great because it’s got all the original pirate ideas like the maps and a parrot that says ‘pieces of eight’. I’m also hoping that the publisher will pay for me to sail to the Caribbean on a promotional tour. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best Sherlock Holmes story and I’ve been into him ever since I saw The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, about a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes.

If you could add doodles to *any* book, what would you choose?

I feel like any book would be better with doodles. Hilary Mantel books are wonderful but a couple of doodle Thomas Cromwells wouldn’t go amiss. I can’t draw horses very well though, so no Black Beauty.

What kind of author events do you enjoy doing?

I like author events with lots of live drawing and collaboration. I aim for 65% fun, 30% inspiring, 5% educational. If the kids are shouting, that’s a good event. Even if it is because they’re angry.

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

I just started the latest Sam Wu book by  Katie and Kevin Tsang. It’s about a boy who isn’t afraid of Zombies. It’s packed with great pictures by Nathan Reed. 

What, other than Comic Classics, are you working on?

I’ve got a novel coming out in August called MY HEADTEACHER IS AN EVIL GENIUS. Not to spoil it or anything, but it’s about a headteacher who is an evil genius. It’s got loads of pictures and jokes and stuff, you’d like it.

Comic Classics: Great Expectations is out now. For a sneak peek, have a look here on the Egmont website. Thanks Egmont for sending me a review copy!

The National Shelf Service

CILIP started the National Shelf Service on Monday 6th April, a daily recommendation of a book available to borrow electronically through local libraries, live at 11am. Hopefully you’ve been watching these great videos from YLG colleagues, but if you haven’t seen any yet then why not start with mine! I’m the only one (so far) that has talked about a book that isn’t aimed at teenagers or young adults, not really living up to the TeenLibrarian name, but as I say: this book can be read and loved by anyone of any age…

The illustrations on the banners are by Fiona Lumbers, from the book Luna Loves Library Day written by Joseph Coelho

The Austen Girls

Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.
Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.
But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an
option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?
The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of
their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?
In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

Bloomsbury

This is Lucy’s fourth historical novel for Bloomsbury Children’s Books but the first (to my shame) I’ve read, I definitely want to pick up the others now though. It reads like an Austen novel, while managing to keep the story moving at a pace for younger modern teens to keep engaged. The setting is very evocative with real historical touches, I’m a little bit disappointed it isn’t an entirely true story! She very kindly answered some questions for TeenLibrarian:

What prompted you to discover Jane Austen led such an interesting life?

Well, on the face of it, Jane Austen lived quite a boring life. No one knew that she was a famous novelist, because she kept it secret. She never got married or did wild things, and she died quite young. And yet I think her life was terribly interesting, because she was so brave to decide that she wasn’t going to marry a rich man. (She did accept one proposal, but broke it off the next morning.) Instead, she became one of the very few professional female novelists of Georgian times. I did a lot of research about her real life, and I discovered that she gave out agony advice to her two young nieces as they grew up and had to decide themselves who they were going to marry. So I took the three characters from history, and spun a story around them! It’s only in my imagination that Jane Austen becomes a detective, or the rather lovely word that the Georgians used: a ‘thief-taker’.

Which is most satisfying: writing for TV, writing non-fiction, or writing fiction?

What I really like is a mix. Writing for TV is a very collaborative effort – a whole team works on it very closely together. Writing non-fiction is very slow and painstaking, you have to get all the facts right. By comparison, writing fiction is like flying! All you have to think about is the story. It’s nice to be able to switch between all three. (There’s another kind of writing that I do as well: writing very clear blocks of text for guidebooks or exhibitions or webpages in my work as a museum curator at Hampton Court Palace. That’s another challenge all of its own.)

When you started writing fiction did you originally intend it to be for a teen audience or did it evolve that way?

I decided around the age of 11 that I wanted to be a historian, and one of the reasons that I made that decision was through reading historical novels. So I wanted to write books that maybe … just possibly … the person who’s going to be doing my job and who’s going to be the curator at Hampton Court Palace in twenty years’ time might enjoy.

If you were given unlimited time & resources to research & write about a different person or event, who/what would you choose?

I would love to write about Agatha Christie, the detective story writer.

What is your favourite kind of book event to take part in?

I like going to a school or a festival with my box of props and dressing up outfits, and acting out silly scenes from history.

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

I’m always reading about five different books for different research projects, and usually they wouldn’t be of any interest to anyone else apart from the five people who are researching in that tiny corner of history. At the moment, though, I have been burning my way through many Agatha Christies – a nice relaxing thing to read when we’re all feeling anxious!

Lucy Worsley is, by day, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. By night, she is a writer and presenter.

Thank you Bloomsbury for sending me a proof copy, and Lucy for answering my questions!

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Lost by Ele Fountain

Lola’s life is about to become unrecognisable. So is Lola.

Everything used to be comfortable. She lived in a big house with her family, where her biggest problems were arguing with her little brother or being told she couldn’t have a new phone. But as one disaster follows another, the threads of her home and family begin to unravel.

Cut off from everything she has known before, Lola must find a new way to survive.

Now, an ordinary girl must become extraordinary.

Pushkin Press

What inspired the setting for LOST?

The idea of a few misfortunes leading to the loss of something as elemental as your home seems like a far-fetched reality for most of us. The reality for millions of children is that they never had one in the first place. I wanted to write a story with a thread to tie these two realities together.

Did you consider writing it from more than one POV or was Lola always the narrator?

I wanted to stay with Lola’s POV throughout to highlight the contrast between where she had come from and where she ended up, and her sense of helplessness as events gathered speed.

Did you always have the end in mind or did it change as you got to know the characters?

I always had the end in mind, but of course stories evolve during writing; some of my favourite journeys have been those which end up in a slightly different place than originally intended! The only significant change is that the final ending is happier than in my first draft.

As an editor, what kind of stories do you most enjoy working on?

What I love most is the element of surprise when a new manuscript arrives – what will make it special? Wonderful books come in so many guises. A beautifully written page-turner will always be a winner for me, though.

What kind of author events do you prefer doing?

School events are one of the best things about being an author, and usually take you straight to the heart of a school: the library. My favourite events are those which allow time for a talk and then creative writing workshops afterwards. It seems a wonderful recipe for firing imaginations, and I am frequently astonished by the quality of the ideas the pupils come up with.

If young readers are appalled by the conditions Lola & Amit find themselves in, what would be the best first steps you’d suggest for making a difference to the lives of children in real life similar circumstances?

It’s a complex crisis with no single solution. Supporting rural communities to develop micro-industries of their own is one way to make them more attractive to younger generations, and provide jobs so that they don’t feel it’s essential to move to a big city. A more immediate way is to raise money for charities such as Save the Children, who provide relief for families during monsoon flooding and offer safe spaces for children with no home to go to.

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

I am currently reading Solo, an autobiography by the polar explorer Pen Haddow. I’ve also just finished Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. My seven-year-old was reading it at the same time. When we talked about the book afterwards, my daughter said that she loved the ‘world’, and the fact that adults were included in the adventure, not just kids. I loved it too.

Can you give us a hint as to what you’re working on next?

See above (Solo by Pen Haddow). I’m not writing an autobiography about polar exploration, but there will definitely be some snow!

Ele Fountain (picture credit Debra Hurford-Brown)

Lost is published by Pushkin Press on 12th March 2020

Thank you for the review copy!

Love Your Body

What if every young girl loved her body? Love Your Body encourages you to admire and celebrate your body for all the amazing things it can do (like laugh, cry, hug, and feel) and to help you see that you are so much more than your body.

Bodies come in all different forms and abilities. All these bodies are different and all these bodies are good bodies. There is no size, ability, or color that is perfect. What makes you different makes you, you—and you are amazing!Love Your Body introduces the language of self-love and self-care to help build resilience, while representing and celebrating diverse bodies, encouraging you to appreciate your uniqueness.

This book was written for every girl, regardless of how you view your body. All girls deserve to be equipped with the tools to navigate an image-obsessed world.

Freedom is loving your body with all its “imperfections” and being the perfectly imperfect you!

Quarto
Love your Body is illustrated by Carol Rossetti

Love Your Body is a refreshingly honest look at how varied bodies are. It can be given to teens to help them think about a new way of looking at themselves, or shared with younger girls to talk about the message that they are amazing!

I really appreciated that, in the authors note, Jessica states “This book is written for girls, and those who identify as girls. However, the language used is not gendered and the overarching message is universal. Negative body image can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.”.

She has written an extra piece for TeenLibrarian:

When I catch the train to work each morning, I look around me and no one person looks the same. The only thing we have in common is our difference.

Despite difference being the only thing that unites us, from about the age of 8 we want nothing more than to fit in, to meet this illusion of ‘normal’. It might have been a comment from a classmate or one of the parents at pick up, and suddenly you are aware that you are ‘short’, ‘tall’, ‘big’ or ‘skinny’. All of a sudden you realise that your body is being observed by others, and that you are something other than ‘normal’. Ever since that moment that you realised you were too tall, too short, too something, you developed a negative body image. 

Negative body image is often treated as a superficial issue, and something that is inevitable. When it is actuality, a negative body image can change the course of a young person’s life. In particular, a young women’s life, because our society tells girls and women that the most important thing about them is their appearance. 

When girls are worried about how their bodies look:

8 in 10 will avoid seeing friends or family, or trying out for a team or club.

7 in 10 will stop themselves from eating.

7 in 10 will not be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision.

They even perform worse in maths, reading and comprehension. 

I am yet to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced a negative body image – it’s a feminist issue. It’s holding girls and women back. It’s the thief of our precious energy, and our joy.

We have to stop valuing bodies for how they look and start appreciating them for what they do for us. Because our bodies are incredible; they allow us to experience every good and wonderful thing this world has to offer. They are our homes. 

I wrote Love Your Body for my childhood self who hated being tall and just wanted so desperately to be ‘normal’. And because I was so sick of hearing people tell me ‘this is just how it is for girls’. We were not born despising our bodies, we were taught to, and we can make a decision to teach each other how to love our bodies again. 

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti, publishing 3 March in hardback from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, £10.99. (Read alone 8-12 year-olds / Read together 6+).

Thanks to Fritha for sending me a review copy!

Grief Angels

15-year-old Owen Marlow is experiencing a great, disorienting loss after his father suddenly passed away and his mother moved them to a new town. None of his old friends knew how to confront his grief, so he’s given up on trying to make new ones. There is one guy at school who might prove to be different if he gives him a chance but lately, Owen has been overwhelmed by his sadness. He’s started to have strange, powerful hallucinations of skeletal birds circling above him. Owen tells himself that these visions are just his brain’s way of trying to cope – until one night, the birds descend and take him to an otherworldly forest. There, he is asked to go on a dangerous journey that promises to bring him the understanding he so desperately seeks – if he can survive it.

Grief Angels is an urgent and heartfelt look at the power of nostalgia and the many different forms of grief. It’s about young men learning how to share their stories, and teens discovering who they are, and who they might one day become.

Atom Books
Cover illustration by Leo Nickolls

Having never been one, I can’t be 100% sure, but my feelings are that David Owen writes teen boys *so well*. Owen and Duncan are just brilliant characters and reading about their growing friendship from both their perspectives, and how deeply they both feel things, really brought it to life. Owen’s grief is so raw and honest, the potential for it to overwhelm him is clear, while at the same time there is humour and self deprecation and a developing passion for Battlestar Gallactica…while Duncan has doubts about his friendships and himself and where it is all going. The writing is beautiful in places, witty in others, and hugely satisfying throughout.

I interviewed David just over a year ago when All the Lonely People was published, so do have a look there at his responses to some of my usual questions. I love that book but Grief Angels is so brilliant, definitely my favourite David Owen book and in my top 5 reads of 2020 so far, that I couldn’t resist asking a few more!

Your previous books included a fantastical element but this is the first to include a character being pulled into a completely different world. What inspired that?

Largely it was a tremendous act of self-indulgence! I read a lot of fantasy and have long fancied trying my hand at writing it. Having it alongside a contemporary narrative felt like a good way to experiment with writing more in that mode. Plus the ideas I had were better suited to that template – one set down by a number of books that I adore: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Skellig by David Almond, Eren by Simon P. Clark. Ultimately it felt quite natural to take a step beyond magic realism into having outright fantasy be a prominent aspect of the overall book.

The two voices are very distinct. Did you find one came to you more easily than the other?

Duncan’s voice came easiest, and therefore first, because the way he thinks – very self aware, wry, always searching for the humour in everything – is quite similar to how I think. The focus on humour in his voice also made him really fun to write.

Owen was a little harder to find. He needed to be more serious and thoughtful, but I didn’t want him to feel like a drag compared to Duncan! His internal pain and struggle needed to be clear without being overwhelming – I didn’t want the reader to find him difficult to be around the way his past friends did before they abandoned him. The answer came in thinking about why Duncan is so immediately struck by Owen – his honesty and openness is refreshing, but also he’s self aware and funny too. They’re actually quite similar people. Those are appealing attributes, and I built his voice from there.

I love your focus on male friendship. Why do you think it is important to have platonic relationships in YA?

The most important relationships most teenagers have are with their friends. Your friends at that age are one of the biggest influences on the person you become during the most significant transitional period of your life. You spend so much time with them, discover and explore your identity in relation to them, build memories together, have all the fights and reconciliations and drama. Losing those friends, whether you fall out spectacularly or simply drift apart, is often far more painful than the end of a romantic relationship. So writing about these platonic relationships, reflecting those experiences and helping young people to navigate them, is really important.

I felt I had something valuable and unique to say about the dynamic of friendships between teenage boys, and that formed the contemporary side of Grief Angels.

Have you had the opportunity to get feedback from teen boys?

I haven’t, to be honest. I don’t know any! I’m hoping my experience of having been a teen boy wasn’t radically different to how it is today!

Do you listen to music when you write?

I can never decide if I prefer writing with or without music! I’ll go through a phase where I’ll write with music on, and then a phase where I decide I concentrate better without it, before slowly creeping back to having music on. The truth is probably that it makes no material difference and at any given moment I’m trying to convince myself that my decision is making me better and more productive.

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

I’ve just finished The Loop by Ben Oliver. It’s a fast-paced, high concept YA dystopia for people who miss The Hunger Games and Maze Runner books. It’s out in April 2020.

Can you tell us anything about your current WIP?

I’m working on two things at the moment, neither of which are YA! I don’t want to say more than that because neither of them may ever see the light of day.

I haven’t abandoned YA – I just felt the need to try my hand at something new before getting cracking on my next YA project.

David Owen

Grief Angels is out on 5th March, thank you to Atom for sending me a copy.

Monster Slayer: a Beowulf Tale

One dark night , the sound of music and singing wakes a terrible monster from his sleep in a foul swamp …

Warrior after warrior comes to slay the monster, but no one can outwit Grendel. Only the great hero Beowulf stands a chance, but even he is not prepared for the horror that lies in wait.

Barrington Stoke

Brian Patten has revisted his retelling of Beowulf for Barrington Stoke, packaged in their renowned dyslexia friendly style, with illustrations by Chris Riddell making it even more enticing. It is brilliantly done, he has managed to condense it down into readable language while retaining the gore and thrill of the original poem, at one point Grendel “plucked off their arms and legs as if they were petals”.

I was really pleased to be sent a copy of it, and even more pleased to be given the opportunity to ask Brian some questions:

You wrote this retelling quite some time ago, how did it come to be republished by Barrington Stoke?

Barrington Stoke asked me to revisit it for the new edition and I was glad to do so. The Beowulf story dates back over a thousand years and was written by an anonymous poet. It was memorised and retold over and over, spreading from Scandinavia to Britain, where people would gather in the Great Halls where the clans lived to listen to it. You could say it was the very first blockbuster horror story.

I wrote it because I wanted younger people, not just professors and people studying at University to read it, and so wrote this version as simply and as well as I could.

Can you imagine having a mother like Grendel’s?

Was it your idea to have new illustrations from Chris Riddell?

I don’t think we could have used anyone else! Chris has illustrated a number of my books now- three of my poetry collections and The Story Giant- my book about a mysterious figure that lives out on Dartmoor and knows every story in the world- except for one, which a group of children try to help him find one night when they dream themselves into his castle. If they can’t find it, the giant will die.

How difficult was it to distill the poem down without losing the heart of it?

The first draft I wrote was nearly twice as long as the finished draft. Part of being a writer – for a prose writer as well as a poet – is knowing what to leave out. I wanted it to move fast, and the language to be rich, so used images like the monster rising from a nest amongst putrid pools.

When you start a poem, have you already decided if it will be for adults or children or does it come clear as you write?

That’s a great question. I’m really delighted when I’m writing a poem and it suddenly becomes obvious that it is for adults as well as children. A good example is my poem, Geography Lesson. Sometimes there are poems that begin life as adult poems that children seem to find other things in, and they make it their own- a poem like A Small Dragon is a good example. One day it suddenly began to turn up in anthologies for children, while it began life as a love poem. I don’t think poems only have one “meaning.” 

What kind of events do you most enjoy doing with young readers?

I used to do lots of poetry readings for young readers and still do sometimes.

What I like to do is read my funny ones and drop the serious ones into the mixture now and then. I always think if you can make people laugh, they will allow you to be serious now and then, and continue to listen.

Do you have a favourite of your own books (other than this one, obviously)?

I guess my favourite of my own is my Collected Love Poems. Usually my favourite poem though is the one I’m trying to write.

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

At the moment I’m reading lots of nature books. I woke very early this morning and was reading a book called Extraordinary Insects. I live in the countryside and see badgers and foxes all the time, and there’s a pheasant that pecks on the window for its breakfast and a blackbird that loves grapes. (There was one blackbird that lived in the garden last year that would actually take a grape from between my finger and thumb if I stayed still long enough.)  Anyway, I recently decided I’d like to pay some attention to the other world that surrounds us and the almost alien creatures who occupy it and have such weird and wonderful powers. So now I’m halfway through Extraordinary Insects.

What are your plans for 2020?

More writing and more travel.

Thanks a lot for taking an interest. I think we all have more than five senses. We have six. Imagination is the sixth, and the more it is used the more it grows.

Very best wishes,

Brian

Brian Patten (credit: APEX)

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale, by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell, is out now!