Category Archives: Authors

Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

In this delightful and persuasive essay for adult readers Katherine Rundell explores how children’s books ignite, and can re-ignite, the imagination; how children’s fiction, with its unabashed emotion and playfulness, can awaken old hungers and create new perspectives on the world.

Bloomsbury
Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

Katherine Rundell has written some amazing adventures for children that are destined to be classics, her latest The Good Thieves could well be my favourite, but she is also an academic, and this summer Bloomsbury published her essay “Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise”. They gave me the opportunity to ask her some questions about this lovely little tome!

Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise puts into words a lot of my thoughts about children’s books, as well as providing a brief but fascinating history, what prompted you to write such an essay for publication?

I felt that there was such a treasure trove of brilliant books, that adults were overlooking, books which could offer a defibrillation for the imagination – and imagination feels to me something which we need urgently at this point in history. And it’s also a bit of a love letter, after more than ten years of writing children’s fiction; a sort of thank you note, to all the books I’ve loved.

The research on fairy tales is particularly interesting, the development of the Cinderella story is fascinating & I like the thought of your retelling. Might you publish one, one day?

I’d love to, one day! I find the story of Cinderella, and her many strange and sharp-edged incarnations, so fascinating: so, absolutely, it might be on the cards, some time down the road…

How does your approach differ when writing fiction versus writing an essay? Do you favour one style of writing over the other?

I think, in both cases, I’m interested in structure and rhythm, and in making a sentence sound as right as I can make it – I think something well or vividly put sticks better in the mind; but they feel quite different beasts, to me, fiction and non-fiction. I love both, but fiction has my heart.

All of your stories are set in very different environments and have very different plots, the only thing guaranteed is adventure, have you considered revisiting any of your characters or writing a series?

Yes! I’m not allowed to say very much, but one day I would love to write a series. I love the idea of continuity, and being able to dig deeper into a world: that sort of ongoing excavation looks very tempting.

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

I like to do a sort of amalgam of both: 25 minutes of talking, about where ideas come from, and story-hunting, and then I enjoy getting the group to write a story together, which I write down. Some of the stories the kids come up with are truly superb: the only consistent feature between schools is that the kids tend to want disastrous, riotous endings: everyone dead on the floor: a pleasingly apocalyptic tone.

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

I’ve recently finished Lanny, by Max Porter; a book so brilliant it’s like being kicked in the lung. A children’s book I adored recently was Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo; it’s so spare and funny and painful and clever, the kind of book to blow your hair back.

What books do you find yourself revisiting most often?

My copies of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci books, are so heavily read the pages keep falling out. And I love Jane Austen’s Emma so wildly – for its wit and sharpness and generosity and wisdom – that I’ve read it more than a dozen times; if you read me one line, I can usually recite the next. This is not a party trick, I have to admit, that many people find exciting and/or sexy.

What can we expect from you next?

I’m working on turning my PhD into a book, about John Donne and his obsessions – and, alongside that, I have a new story brewing. I can’t give much away, except: it will be quite different from anything that’s come before, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. 

Katherine Rundell

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of the book and passing on my questions!

What Can We Be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your kids’ favourite books at the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the great questions!

WHAT CAN WE BE? is out now!

Ryan Crawford, the author of What Can We Be?

Candy Gourlay in Los Angeles

Los Angelinos have a rare treat coming up this Saturday! They will have the opportunity to meet award-winning Filipino author Candy Gourlay at Philippine Expressions Bookshop in San Pedro.

For full details of Candy’s book talk, please follow this link: www.facebook.com/events/567085910451494/

Libraries, Serendipity and Me

Judith Eagle, author of The Secret Starling, shares with us how libraries shaped her path in life.

It all started in Burnt Oak Library, in a building my sisters and I considered the height of ‘modern’ – a sort of concrete pagoda, with underfloor heating and enough books to keep us occupied for a life time. We’d go there every Saturday, after popping into the Co-op to inhale the smell of the lemony Bronnley soaps, and before visiting ABC bakers, for cream buns to be eaten on the way home. Libraries have always loomed large in my life, not surprising considering both parents were librarians: the hush; the endless shelves of books; the helpful staff; the borrowers from all walks of life. Stepping into a library always feels like coming home.
The library in Burnt Oak was housed in an upstairs gallery, with books on one side and a wraparound balcony on the other – perfect for observing the adult library below. Here we would lounge on the floor, browse the shelves and – because we were regulars – sit behind the desk and file tickets for Daphne, the children’s librarian, who had lovely shoulder length bouncy hair.
In the afternoon, back at home, I’d dive into Richmal Crompton, Alan Garner, anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett or E Nesbitt. Later, came Flambards, Watership Down, Fifteen by Beveley Cleary and The Outsiders by SE Hinton.
When I’d exhausted the teenage section, it was onto the adult library: Agatha Christie, Jean Plaidy, Jilly Cooper and (sigh) the tumultuous Angelique by Sergeanne Golon, Libraries have shaped me. They’ve soothed me. They’ve gently nudged me in the right direction in, dare I say it, the most serendipitous of ways.

My first Saturday job was at a school outfitters, run by a dictator-type who sent me home for wearing trousers. My second Saturday job was in the library, where everyone was nice and no one batted an eyelid, whatever you wore.
At 16, I was not considered University material. My mum wanted me to be a secretary at the BBC and work my way up, ‘like Mrs Jones’ daughter’; my heart was not in it. Then one day I found a box of prospectus’s tucked under the library desk, and bingo! In an elegantly bound book I found the perfect course: a degree in Fashion Communications at Saint Martins. The future took on a rosy glow. I was fashion mad. I went back to school, took an Art O level, got into Saint Martins and then several years later, won my dream job, as Fashion Assistant on Honey Magazine.
For some years I worked happily in fashion and then for many more years wrote magazine articles on pregnancy and parenting. But one day, after filing a piece on why babies dribble, I decided I’d had enough. I needed a change.

Then, two things happened.

  1. I read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, where the Laura Bush character just happens to be a children’s librarian.
  2. I visited a new library in my neighbourhood and was particularly taken with the sense of peace that stole over me as I stepped inside.
    On a whim, I applied for an assistant’s position in a secondary school library. I got the job and quickly found out it wasn’t the oasis of peace I’d imagined. It was noisy, sometimes chaotic, packed with young people before, during and after school. But it didn’t matter! I was rediscovering the joys of children’s fiction; speaking to the students about what they loved to read; recommending books, and getting a buzz when they came back, asking for more. At the same time, I embarked on an MA in Children’s Literature. And I started to think
    about what makes a book tick.

There are libraries aplenty in The Secret Starling. In Leeds, Clara visits a library for the first time and ‘it was as if she had been catapulted into a treasure trove.’ She and Peter explore ‘three whole shelves groaning with ballet-related books’ and on the way out, spot an exciting clue on the library noticeboard. In Colindale Newspaper Library where there is ‘a velvet hush, the kind of all-enveloping quiet where you can hear every creak and sniff,’ Clara and Peter make the biggest discovery of all, unearthing information that will change their lives forever.

Libraries changed my life too.

If I hadn’t had my Saturday job, I wouldn’t have found that prospectus; if I hadn’t read the Sittenfeld book, or visited that neighbourhood library, I doubt I would have found my way back into the library fold. But mostly, if I hadn’t read all those books from Burnt Oak Library, the ones that seeped stories deep into my bones, I’m pretty sure I could not written The Secret Starling.

So thank you libraries. I owe you big time.

The Secret Starling is out now, from Faber and Faber

The Third Degree with Keren David

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

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

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

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

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

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

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


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

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

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

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

A STORM OF ICE AND STARS by Lisa Lueddecke – Guest Post

How I Write

By Lisa Lueddecke

 

If you’re interested in how I go about writing the books that you read, then this is the place for you. Let me just caveat this post by saying that this is a description of my normal writing life, when I’m not pregnant and repulsed by coffee, etc.

My writing days always start very early. I have long been a morning person, far more inspired by the dawn than the dusk. Particularly when I was writing A Storm of Ice and Stars and living in Cumbria, England, I would set my alarm for five or five thirty am every day, when it was still very dark outside (I wrote most of the book over winter), and after feeding the cat and making my first cup of coffee, I would get into my writing room just as the sun was starting to come up, or close to it. For me, especially when writing fantasy, I find that early morning, pre-dawn time more inspiring than anything else. I even mention it from time to time in my writing, those early hours when the sun is just began to yawn and wake up.

In addition to coffee and mornings, one thing that I usually cannot write without is a scented candle. For A Shiver of Snow and Sky and A Storm of Ice and Stars, I most often wrote with a forest/pine/evergreen/fir scented candle, with the occasional Christmas one sprinkled in. Writing, for me, needs to be a very immersive experience, so I can really feel and see and smell and hear the world. Alongside my candle, I would play some sort of ambience to fit whatever scene I was writing, like an icy cave or crashing waves on a beach. I find that by doing my best to recreate elements of the scene that I’m working on, I can better immerse my readers in the world. I find more details, more descriptions, more bits and pieces that make the world seem real. My fantasy stories have always been very setting-based, and I think that’s why I need so many elements to have a successful writing day. I have to believe in it in order to make other people believe in it.

Although I have moved to America, my writing routine has not changed. I still write very early in the morning, and I try not to set word count goals for myself unless I’m on a very tight deadline. I have to just let the words and the scenes flow, or I feel like my brain stops working with me. I write until I start to get distracted, or I realize that I’m forcing the words out, and then I just let it be for the day, or until the afternoon when I’m feeling fresh and revived. I’m not one of those people that thrives when writing somewhere like a coffee shop. I wish I was, because I usually love coffee, but I’m not. I need mostly quiet, save for my ambiences or my wordless music, and I write either at my desk, or sitting my my couch.

Even if my country and my writing space changes, the way that I write does not, and I’m not sure that it ever will. Scented candles, relevant ambiences, and coffee have always been necessary for me, and I suspect they always will.

 

A STORM OF ICE AND STARS by Lisa Lueddecke out now in paperback (£7.99, Scholastic)

@LisaLueddecke      www.lisalueddecke.com

#ICEandSTARS

Updated (but always incomplete) list of UK BAME authors and illustrators

Just a quick note to say that there are new names on the list but, as ever, let us know who’s missing!

An Updated (but still incomplete) List of British BAME Authors for Children & Young People

The Third Degree… with Candy Gourlay

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

My pleasure! Unless of course this really turns out to be a third degree (long and harsh questioning) in which case, I invoke the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Author (if it exists).

I feel the need to apologise to you – for years you have been one of my favourite people to bump into at literary events and we have known each other for years (online mostly) but this is the first time I have interviewed you on TeenLibrarian – it is long overdue!

I would have nagged you incessantly over the years, except you are always in a new, nefarious disguise whenever we meet!

You have two books out this year (that I am aware of) your first picture book Is It a Mermaid? out now from Otter Barry Books, and Bone Talk … coming soon from David Fickling Books.

Yes! This is going to be my year of promotion … but I’m trying to write another novel while jumping up and down and begging people to pay attention to my new books.

How did you come to write a picture book work with artist Francesca Chessa?

I wrote the words of the picture book two years ago now. My editor, Janetta Otter Barry, then launched a search for the right illustrator. I suggested all my friends, as you do, but Janetta was looking for something in particular. A picture book is not just the work of a writer and an illustrator, there is a third vision involved that the world is usually not aware of – the editor. The editor is like a Third Eye that puts it all together. Janetta had worked with Francesca on her eco-Christmas book Elliot’s Arctic Surprise, written by Catherine Barr, in which children all over the world set sail to rescue Father Christmas. Then of course there is the Art Editor, in this case, Judith Escreet, who saw Francesca through the long months of illustrating the book. It was very strange, after working on novels, which requires long periods of solo creativity, to experience the coming together of a picture book! I was delighted and astonished by the final product!

Without giving too much of the plot away can you tell me what Is It a Mermaid is about (I am guessing mermaids feature somewhere in the story)?

I’ve begun speaking to Nursery, Reception and Year 1 children, and the first thing I do is hold up the book and ask them where the mermaid is on the cover. Their responses are hilarious! I wrote the story after I heard that European sailors arriving on our shores in the Far East back in the Age of Discovery, mistook dugongs (sea cows) for mermaids. How do you do that? Perhaps they’d been at sea for looooong time! I wondered what would happen if someone met a dugong that thought she really was a mermaid!

What inspired you to write Bone Talk?

I actually wanted to write another book, set in a World Fair in 1904 where American exhibited Filipinos in a human zoo. But it would have been a disservice to the tribal people AND to Americans not to show the context of that story. So I decided to begin at the beginning, when the United States invaded the Philippines in 1899 and annexed it as “unincorporated territory”. We became a republic in 1945 but Puerto Rico, which was annexed by the US on the same year, continues to be unincorporated territory. It’s odd how so much of the world has no idea of this. I realise that the Philippines is a small state that doesn’t do much to influence the world but the United States is a major world power.

Is there much resentment against America in the Philippines because of their history?

To be honest, there is a lack of awareness of our shared history. I memorised dates and events in my history classes, but nobody ever told me the context of these stories. And more importantly, ours is an unfinished story.

My grandparents were part of a generation that lived under American colonial rule. They were taught to despise their own culture, to be ashamed of their race and to look up to everything American. My parents’ generation survived the second world war and their formative memories are of gratitude at the flood of American help that arrived after the war. My father used to wish that we could become another state of the United States! My own generation parroted our parents’ love for anything American, grew up watching American TV and being encouraged to speak American.

To this day, the Philippines is a work in progress – nationhood doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen over a mere century and we’ve only properly been a nation since 1945.

I know it is fiction, but how accurate are the representations of Samkad and his people?

As I write in Bone Talk‘s afterword, it was difficult to hear the authentic voices of people from that forgotten era because all of the documentation was done by or curated by the United States, and tinged by the racism of that era. The observations of professionals like historians, anthropologists and state officials treated the Bontoc people as objects. It was only when I read the diary of an American housewife living in Bontoc, who documented her daily encounters with children and ordinary people, that I began to hear the Bontoc as real people. It gave me the confidence to create characters who would have been like a child of today.

I visited Bontoc and asked a lot of questions about specific events in the story, especially about ritual and belief. It was difficult to be totally accurate because the Bontoc of 1899 was made of tiny communities, each with their own specific practices. I was careful not to name the community where my characters lived, so that no community in today’s Bontoc would feel slighted if there was a deviation from their practice.

I based a lot of domestic detail on an anthropological description of Bontoc The Bontoc Igorot by the American anthropologists Albert Jenks. But Jenks was short on human detail and I also read many books on pre-Christian belief in the Philippines, going back to before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s. An American historian named William Scott Henry , realising that Filipino voices were missing from historical accounts, attempted to glean these voices from the written record. His books were a godsend.

I was enthralled by Bone Talk, can you suggest sources of information I can use to find out more about the history of the Philippines?

A great history (despite the focus on our relationship with the US) is In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow. America’s Boy: America and the Philippines by James Hamilton Paterson (although I disagree with some of Paterson’s conclusions about the Marcoses, he’s a gorgeous writer). You might also read the story of how Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen, which his a thriller of a book! There are other brilliant books but they are written with Filipino readers in mind.

I must admit that you are the only writer from the Philippines that I know (personally and as an author), are you able to suggest works by other Filipino authors that are available in the UK?

When I was a child, there was virtually no publishing in the Philippines, but now, the Philippine book industry is thriving! Unfortunately it is hard to access books over here so I have to load up suitcases with books whenever I go home. The works of Filipino Americans are widely available in the UK however. Erin Entrada Kelly recently won the Newbery Medal for her middle grade book Hello, Universe. Another Filipino American, Elaine Castillo, has been getting rave reviews for her debut America is Not the Heart. It riffs on another book worth reading by Filipino author Carols Bulosan, America is in the Heart, about the dehumanising experiences of Filipino migrants at the beginning of American colonial rule in the Philippines. I’ve just begun reading Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, a serial killer story. Very promising.

Will you be visiting schools and libraries to promote your books? If yes, what is the best way to get hold of you to book a visit?

Oh yes! I love doing school visits! Please contact me by messaging me on Facebook or via the contact form on my website, candygourlay.com

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!

It was my pleasure, Matt. May the best stories follow you wherever you go.

http://candygourlay.com

The Third Degree with Catherine Johnson

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

You have a new book coming out soon – Freedom, based in England at the time of the Zong trial. Can you tell me more about the book?

It’s one of a series published by Scholastic that looks at major turning points in history. I was asked to do abolition (of slavery) but I argued that since that took at least fifty years – the mind of the british public was very slow to change – I would do one of the things that kicked off that change. And I was aware loads of people had heard of Wilberforce but maybe that fewer people had heard of the Sons of Africa, a group of campaigning Black Britons, freed slaves, American veterans of the War of Independence, and others who worked to end the inhumanity of slavery.

The blurb taught me something new – much like Nathaniel I was always under the impression that once a slave set foot on English soil he was free, but after the blurb I looked it up and according to English common law while technically no longer a slave they were still bound to their masters until the abolition of the slave trade. Why do you think that a majority of people in the UK are ignorant of whole swathes of UK history except on a superficial level?

Er- Brexit is a prime example of this. We forget the ends of our own noses! I think every nation likes to tell its own story, and as a woman who grew up with 3 TV channels and endless WW2 films the story of Britains’ exceptionalism is the one we English like best. We say ‘Britain stood alone’, but conveniently forget we had the manpower and resources of India and Pakistain, many African countries, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean to call on. We often forget this too.

Once they have read Freedom can you recommend other sources for people to find out more information about the Zong massacre and the trial that followed? I first heard about it during the film Belle – a fictionalised account of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle the niece of Lord Mansfield who ruled on the case.

Yes! It’s in Belle isn’t it! For anyone wanting to read more I’d recommend David Olusoga’s Black and British which is very accessible and also very interesting. Also Peter Fryer’s Staying Power.

I have been a fan of your books for years (since Nest of Vipers when you visited one of my reading groups in Edmonton Green), The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and Sawbones are two of my favourites – it is so refreshing to read historical fiction that has not been white-washed. How much research do you do before you start writing?

I have read and written so much about the 18th century now (and a TV series which got optioned but never made set in 1790s and also a BBC2 docu/drama with Simon Schama called Rough Crossings that was on telly almost 10 years ago, that it’s a question of pulling out all the books. I love London maps of the time too. I like to see where my characters go. I lived very near where Loddiges’ Nursery used to be in East London.

The #OwnVoices movement in the UK is becoming bigger than ever before – are there any books by BAME authors that you can recommend?

Loads! For picture books I’d recommend Ken Wilson Max and Yasmin Shireen, of and I loved John Agard’s Come All You Little Persons illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, and Chitra Soundar’s work too. for first readers I love Atinuke’s Number One Car Spotter series. Other authors include the wonderful Patrice Lawrence, Bali Rai, Irfan Master, Muhammad Khan, Sarwat Chadda, Alex Wheatle and Sita Bramachari. Oh and Savita Kalhan and of course the perenially wonderful Malorie Blackman. And look out for a new UKYA by Danielle Jawando and Aisha Busby, two fresh new voices coming next year.

Do you still visit libraries or schools? If you do what is the best way to get hold of you to organise a visit?

Yes! I am all over the place very often! Contact me via my agent, Stephanie Thwaite at Curtis Brown, or via my Twitter account @catwrote

Lovely to chat Matt!

To find out more about Catherine Johnson and her books, visit her website: http://catherinejohnson.co.uk

Learn more about the Zong Massacre and the subsequent trial here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong_massacre

Freedom is published by Scholastic and will be out in August

Blog Tour: A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Claire Cock-Starkey will be speaking about A Library Miscellany (and The Book Lovers’ Miscellany) at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm

Visit Claire’s website www.nonfictioness.com and follow her on Twitter @nonfictioness

A Library Miscellany FRONT ONLY