Category Archives: Authors

Interview with Rhonda Roumani author of Tagging Freedom

Hi Rhonda, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Tagging Freedom!

Can you please introduce yourself to readers of TL?

I am the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the United States. I am a journalist and have written about Islam and the Arab world for many years. I started writing children’s literature in 2017. The war in Syria was raging and I was very frustrated with adults and how little they understood what was happening or what had happened in Syria. I wanted children to hear our stories earlier so that when they grow up, they’ll do a better job making sense of the world around them.

Would you be able to give a short elevator pitch to us to introduce Tagging Freedom?

Tagging Freedom is about two cousins – a Syrian boy named Kareem and his Syrian American cousin named Samira – who, through graffiti and artivism, learn to make sense of the revolution taking place in Syria and discover what they stand for in the process and what their role might be even when they’re far away.

My next question is going to go a bit wide, but it does tie in to the book – do you know how things in Syria are going at the moment? (Most of the news about the war in Syria has been overshadowed by Ukraine and now the Gaza conflict). Are there any trustworthy sources of news you could recommend for anyone wanting to find out more?

In English, I recommend reading the Guardian and Al Jazeera English for news about the Arab world. I also follow Middle East Eye, Al-Monitor. The New Arab, The Public Source, and the BBC. I always check information. I want to know who owns the news source and what their spin might be. No news is completely unbiased. These days, I always check where the journalist is reporting from and I’m always asking who their sources are and checking facts with other sources or reports.

There is still fighting in certain parts of Syria– there was even an uprising a few months ago in Idlib. But much of the country has quieted down. People in Syria are struggling financially. During the summer, the electricity is cut for most of the day. And the cost of food has skyrocketed. The entire region is really struggling right now.

As an immigrant myself I am always interested in finding out more about other communities, is there a large Syrian/Syrian-American community in the US?

I grew up in a Syrian community in Los Angeles. It wasn’t huge, but it was sizeable. We started off surrounded mostly by Syrians, but I think as we grew older and as my parents got used to being in the U.S., we naturally branched out to different groups. We ended up in different Muslim and Arab groups comprised mostly of Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Iraqis and Palestinians. As we started asking more questions about our identity as Syrians and Arabs and Muslims, it was only natural that we branched out. They also came from a generation that centered around Arabism, I think. You do have large groups of Arabs in Los Angeles, as well as in other large U.S. cities like New York City, Boston, and various mid-western cities like Toledo, Dearborn, Patterson and other cities in New Jersey and even in cities like New Orleans. There’s even a large Jewish Syrian population in New York.

Young people have always formed an integral part of any uprising/protest against brutal regimes and abuses of power – how true to life were Kareem’s experiences in Syria?

I actually wasn’t in Syria during the uprising in 2011. But I was there in 2002-2006, when the opposition movement was taking shape in Syria, during a time that was dubbed the Damascus Spring. Young people were definitely interested and young people were integral to the revolution in Syria. I based Kareem on different people that I had read about and people that I remembered from my time there. He is a compilation of characters, really. The fact that the revolution was ignited by a small act of resistance, by a group of kids who graffitied on a wall outside their school makes it so much about young people. But the revolution involved people of all ages really. The scene where Kareem is experiencing his first protest is an important one. Most kids would have seen or been a part of pro-government rallies. But to see people of all ages, coming out to protest the government, to demand freedom – on this level – that was new. So that is very much based on reality. Also, I worked for an organization that brought Syrian students to the U.S. and Canada to complete their education, and many of those students became activists or voices for freedom in the U.S. So I definitely based Kareem on some of those students.

When reading fiction works based on fact, I always enjoy an author’s afterword and factual vignettes that tie in to the narrative (when they are included) and your work was no exception. Can you recommend other books or articles for anyone (me) who is interested in learning more about the Arab Spring in general and Syria in particular?

There’s the graphic novel Muhammad Najem: War Reporter. I can’t think of a book that would explain the entire revolution, along with the conflict– for teens. Maybe that needs to be written. Some of the best journalists during the war were women. I especially loved the reporting of Rania Abouzeid, Anne Bernard, and Lina Sinjab. Rania wrote a book called No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria. She also wrote a Middle Grade/ YA book based on that book called Sisters of War. I would definitely recommend reading anything she wrote! Sisters of War would be a good start.

The themes of speaking up in the face of inequality and social justice are woven throughout Tagging Freedom. Do you have any recommendations for young readers who may wish to do the same but are not sure where or how to start?

History is constantly being rewritten as different groups are able to tell their own stories. Watching what is happening in Palestine right now speaks to that. As Arabs, as Syrians, the story of what happened in Palestine has always been close to our hearts because we know people who have been displaced, people who have lost their homes. We know people from Gaza. They are our best friends. So, I would say that the first thing we need to do is ask questions. Look at stories from different points of views. Even stories that you have grown up with. Then, as you learn more, you will naturally find others who are interested, others who want to know more. And it will build. With time, you will find your people who care about the same issues that you care about. Whether it’s the environment, or what is happening in your city or schools, or anything that you’re interested in. First learn as much as you can about what has happened. The more knowledge you have, the more you can contribute to the narrative that exists about that subject. It will grow organically– finding others who care about the same subject, others who want to take action.

There is a small (but growing) group of Muslim authors writing books for younger readers in the US, are you able to recommend any personal favorites you may have?

I have so many!! I think if you’re talking about picture books, I absolutely love Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (YOUR NAME IS A SONG and ABDUL’S STORY), Hannah Moushabeck (Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine), and Aya Khalil (THE ARABIC QUILT and THE NIGHT BEFORE EID). For Middle Grade, there’s Reem Faruqi’s novels in verse. I absolutely love her work. And for YA, there’s Huda Fahmy, of course! Huda F Cares? and Huda F Are YOU? and Malaka Gharib (graphic novels), Zoulfa Katouh and Reem Shukairy. It’s so hard to mention only a few. The Kidlit space for Muslims is very exciting right now!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! I really enjoyed Tagging Freedom and was wondering if you had any plans for a follow up novel or sequel?

I do not have plans for a sequel, but I do have two picture books coming out this year. One is called Insha’Allah, No, Maybe So (Holiday House) and another is called Umm Kulthum, Star of the East (Interlink Publishing.) I’m also working on a new Middle Grade but prefer to keep that a secret for now! Thank you for your questions!

Tagging Freedom is published by Union Square Kids, it is available now in the US and is published in the UK on Thursday February 22nd.

You can find out more about Rhonda and her work on her website: https://www.rhondaroumani.com/

An Interview with Sarwat Chadda

1. How did you get involved in writing for Rick Riordan Presents and how did it feel to be asked?

I’ve been with Disney-Hyperion since 2008, and Stephenie Lurie has been my editor through all that time. She’s also Rick’s editor. So I was given a heads up when RRP was starting, that she and Rick would love me to be involved. But the pitch I sent didn’t really work, so I didn’t get involved till a couple of years later, basically I needed the right idea. Then I wrote up a partial (first few chapters, outline) of CITY OF THE PLAGUE GOD and sent that to Steph. She took it to Rick and the rest of the team, we got the thumbs up and we were off!

2. As a very white guy raised in a western/Christian milieu it was a delight to read a book that was steeped in Muslim values and a story based in Mesopotamian mythology, do you have more stories planned that pull on these influences? I know that City of the Plague God was supposed to be a one-off but after Fury of the Dragon Goddess I am hoping for more stories of Sikander and his friends.

Oh, I have SUCH PLANS! I am literally waiting for the publisher to give the okay to go public. So much of publishing is waiting…

3. For readers that enthralled by the Mesopotamian influences in your Sikander stories what books would you recommend that they discover more?

I mainly used the works of Stephanie Dalley and Andrew George. Look at their translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Myths of Mesopotamia. Plenty of great history books covering that period too. Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux was brilliant.

4. I cheered during the British Museum scenes in Fury of the Dragon Goddess and am sure that some people will get hot under the collar at the criticism of the British Imperialism method of collection development. Do you have any suggestions on where people can find out more information about repatriation of museum collections and ethical museums?

I think the key thing is supporting local museums. They don’t need to be in Iraq! This is a HUGE topic, the fallout of colonialism. It won’t be sorted out in our time, but the signs of the shift are already there. The recent unrest in Niger is rooted in its colonial past, and those same pressures created much of the modern Middle East and we’re seeing how native Hawaiians are bringing their stories of American colonialism to the fore with their recent eco-disasters. Our problem us thinking that colonialism is in the past. It isn’t. The old colonial powers still wield great power (most to their advantage) over their former colonies. We are in for a rough time, but we must keep an open mind with regard to whose narrative we are being fed.

5. One of the early quotes in City of the Plague God is one that has stayed with me since I first read it (& it is in the pages that I read whenever I am asked to give book recommendation talks in schools):
Daoud laughed. “Guys like us don’t get to be heroes. You know that.”
“Why? Cause you’re an Arab, or ‘cause you’re a Muslim?”
“Take your pick, cuz. Take your pick.”
Can you recommend any books (for readers of all ages) that have positive representations of Arabs and Muslims?

Pick a book written by a Muslim and/or Arab! I’ll recommend the following authors off the top of my head but there are more: Sufiya AhmedSF SaidIrfan MasterSaadia Faruqi.

6. I recall seeing a tweet (RIP twitter) from you a while ago wherein you mentioned that Ash Mistry had been optioned, can you share any details about that?

Ah, it’s with LIGHTHOUSE, a production company. It is a slow, slow process but there’s a young British-born Asian director involved and writing the pilot, so I feel it’s in safe hands.

7. What are you currently reading?

Just finished 1984, which was brilliant. A masterclass in writing Third Person Perspective as well as (almost goes without saying) incredibly powerful about the manipulation of the masses. Always current, always essential reading. Not sure quite what to start next. Got the Three Musketeers ready as my big holiday read.

8. I am aware that you are an avid collector of tabletop role playing games, do you have any plans to create or work on a RPG?

Too lazy to create one of my own, tbh! I just love running games, leaving all the hard design work to better gamers than me. Just wrapped up a 2 and a half year campaign we ran online throughout covid. Really helped me get through the lockdowns having that to look forward to every week. Now running a few short mini-campaigns. Star Trek (TOS), some JUDGE DREDD and now STORMBRINGER, set in the world of Elric of Melnibone. It all, one way or another, feeds into my writing, keeping my story cells refreshed. If you want to become a writer, start running an rpg.

Johnny Recruit: Interview with Theo Houle Behe

Theo Houle Behe & Johnny Recruit
  • Hi Theo welcome to TeenLibrarian, can you introduce yourself to the audience please?

Hi, I’m a British-Canadian student Theo Behe. I live in London and love football, video games and reading action adventure novels. My favourite subjects are Biology, Spex and History – and I’ve been interested in WW2 and planes since seeing the Duxford airshow when I was two. One of my favourite shows ever is Band of Brothers (its follow-up Masters of the Air is being made in the UK now) and I love having lunch at the Eagle pub in Cambridge a few times per year – which is a historic RAF pilot drinking establishment. I also am particularly interested in the August 1942 Dieppe raid (also one of Johnny’s adventures) – which is now seen as Churchill’s “test-run” for the D-Day landings where over 900 Canadian troops were killed.

  • How would you describe Johnny Recruit to hook a potential reader?

You’re 14 years old – and you’ve just found out your uncle (and mentor) has been captured by NAZIS.  So what do you do? If you’re Big Johnny, you lie about your age and join the war to go RESCUE him.   Big Johnny might only be a young teenager but he’s the BIGGEST kid everyone knows.   An awesome bush pilot and an expert moose hunter, he’s also pretty dominant at ice hockey.   So when Johnny learns that his uncle Bert is being held by Germans across the ocean, he’s 100% sure there is only one person in the whole world who can save his best friend  – HIMSELF.   But when this pompous British pilot named Billy threatens to tell everyone his real age, Johnny faces big tough decisions no kid really should have to make.

  • What inspired the creation of Johnny Recruit?

In primary school, I created a comic book in a notepad about my great uncle, Bert Houle. He was a Canadian World War Two RAF ace who earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses – and he shot down 13½ Nazis.  In this short storyboard I told a little story about his time in Egypt. I was always amazed by what he did. I am very close to my family in Canada and stay all summer with my great uncle’s extended relatives in Northern Ontario every year, including Manitoulin (the world’s largest freshwater island), where the story begins. I also share his name – Houle is my middle name. So when I visited Juno Beach a few summers ago I saw the Dieppe memorial, and my family talked about about Uncle Bert and his heroics. After that it made sense to write an action hero book about him, World War Two, Dieppe, Canada, and Germany. 

  • At age 14 you are the youngest comics writer to ink a deal with publisher Markosia. How did this come about?

I had a football match against Norwich FC U13 Academy last summer. Harry [Markos], the publisher, lives only 40 minutes from the training ground, so we drove up after the game to his house to meet him. In his garden I told him about the idea and story arc – and my dad also helped sell the concept too. Harry’s place was very cool – he has tonnes of graphic novels all over the place. Markosia has published something like 400 titles.  After we signed the deal, I found out Markosia as a publisher has an agent in Los Angeles called World Builder Entertainment. This was very interesting to hear as they had made the Trolls films happen. Although they’re not my cup of tea, they’re a very successful set of movies. I guess that means I have an agent for Johnny Recruit in Hollywood!   We went back up again exactly one year later after another Norwich match, however this time we brought some treats to celebrate the book being released on May 30!  

  • How did you connect with comics artist Thomas Muzzell?

My dad knows lots about comics artists. He had a few in mind but we reviewed the websites of several illustrators in order to find an artistic collaborator who could bring the story to life on the page. We decided to contact Canadian illustrator Thomas Muzzell.  He is a scenic layout specialist so his style was perfect for what we were looking for. In an amazing coincidence, it turned out that Tom also had an ancestor named Bert (no relation to Bert Houle) who had been a captive of the Germans. I guess it was meant to be.

  • Can you let us know how long this project took – from initial concept to publication?

The project took about 18 months – it started with me bouncing ideas off my dad on car journeys to and from football practice. An office wall of random sticky notes was then converted into a storyboard that we shared online with artist Tom.  Next, my dad helped me create a page-scripting matrix template to write out character descriptions, scenic layout, and key actions. As I added details page by page, I also found photographs on the internet which helped show how Tom could imagine scenes, people, places, and objects on the page. Finally, I drew a rough sketch of each page to give Tom an idea of layout for penciling and inking. I was so happy seeing the pages come in – first the pencils (to make any minor changes) then the final inks. That is over 50 exciting emails to open with amazing artwork in each! The publishing bit took about 4 months and my dad covered that off. And now we are promoting the book so it’s definitely not over yet. My dad said I was very disciplined working through the creative process, and I think the final result is a good action story. At the same time it makes the point that things cannot really end happily for child soldiers.  

  • Did you do much research into the history of child soldiers and, underage combatants in WW2?

We researched everything about the book –  the story of Bert, key events in WW2 and small details for each page. As we learned more we realised that thousands of kids were child soldiers in WW2.  The name “Johnny Recruit” was a term used by seasoned troops in reference to soldiers new to the war – even Camel cigarettes ran a successful ad campaign around the term.  But the best marketers at that were brought in to create powerful WW2 propaganda posters.  The book’s double-page spread design are like the campaign posters and popular wartime comic covers – themselves often encouraging enlistment, war bonds purchase or blood donation drives. In the 40s Canadian, British and American “dime comics” featuring mainstream superheroes such as Superman and Wonder Woman battled Nazis, the Japanese – or sometimes just their leaders.   Such influential comics resulted in thousands of underaged kids signing up to fight in WW2, the youngest being Tom Dobney who became an RAF pilot at 14 – only caught out when his father saw a newspaper photo of him shaking hands with the King.  Big Johnny is an epic pilot, an expert shot and leader among his men – this is what many kids dream they might be from believing all the hype and stories of heroism.  I’m sure seeing all the cool war posters and comic covers with superheros leading the charge would make kids go wild about the war, and want to go fight and be the hero.  Even my great uncle Bert was used for the Allied conscription drive. After he was injured he traveled around the Commonwealth telling his war stories to encourage men to sign up to WW2.  But joining a war isn’t like this at all. It’s cold, brutal, painful and deadly.  And for many kids who join wars today such as in Africa, Columbia or the Ukraine –  once they’re in and find out what’s really going on, it’s too late to turn back.  

  • Are you a comics fan? If you are, can you recommend any titles for fans of Johnny Recruit?

I do like superhero comics – they are so well written and illustrated.  I’m not sure if people know the effort the artists put into pencils, ink and colouring each page – it’s so many hours. But I like novels. I used to read all the teen hero books like Alex Rider and Percy Jackson – but now it’s the military, action and history novels like Reacher and from Chris Ryan that I like the most.

  • What advice can you give other aspiring comics creators looking to break into the industry?

Writers should create something they like but will also teach people or other kids a lesson. Looking at the final book, maybe Johnny Recruit could be a good learning tool for the classroom. We talked about making these pages the opposite of “rapid-fire” social media streams. I think the book’s big double- page landscapes encourage people to calmly find the clues to piece the story together. And the reader can use their imagination to fill in the gaps between each page. This is all pretty good for comprehension and analysis.  Most of all I hope Johnny Recruit can show other kids they too can tell a story without being an expert artist or writer – they can work with others to bring it all to life.

  • Have you ever done any talks with teen library groups? If not, is this something you would consider doing in the future, to connect with other teens interested in creating comics?

I would love to do a talk. I handed my book to my school librarian last week and she has scheduled some talks with students – but that probably doesn’t count as I know nearly all of them. I’d be happy to speak to new people and encourage them to work on their projects and ideas. Most teens interested in comics will already have their favourite webcomics and some will have tried their own. Maybe some help working through a story plan and believing in their concepts could help take their own story where they want to go.

Johnny Recruit by Theo Houle Behe & Thomas Muzzell was published by Markosia on June 30th and is available now!

Truth Be Told – guest post by Sue Divin

Northern Ireland. 2019.

Tara has been raised by her mam and nan in Derry City. Faith lives in rural Armagh.

Their lives on opposite sides of a political divide couldn’t be more different. Until they come face-to-face with each other and are shocked to discover they look almost identical. Are they connected?

In searching for the truth about their own identities, the teenagers uncover more than they bargained for.

But what if finding out who you truly are means undermining everything you’ve ever known?

Macmillan Children’s Books

Very pleased to be asked to be part of the blog tour for Irish author Sue Divin’s second powerful novel: Truth Be Told, with a guest post!

Writing in a pandemic

What are you working on next?

Like many people, I think the pandemic has disrupted the ‘normal’ of everything in our lives. I spend more of my time not writing than writing – although if I’m not writing at all I can feel quite out of balance. Writing is like a release. Like many writers though, writing is not my full-time job. I had planned to take a year out once Guard Your Heart was published but the Covid pandemic put paid to that.

About six months after Guard Your Heart was published, I did make the decision to change from working full-time in my ‘day job’ to just 4 days a week. That has helped the stress levels a bit! Managing an EU funded Peace and Reconciliation programme for my local council still takes up most of my week – and my favourite bit of that is working with local communities and seeing projects make a difference to people’s lives.

My life circumstances have also made me a single parent to a brilliant teenage son with high-functioning ASD (autism/aspergers). The lockdown/home schooling phases of the pandemic were not fun. Thankfully at this stage of the pandemic, things seem to be becoming a bit more normal again. What keeps me on an even keel are things like walking/hiking and swimming. I’m also a musician – I play guitar and tin whistle. Lattes with friends are top of my favourite-things-to-do list and on a dark winter’s night, I’ll rarely say no to a warm fire, salty popcorn and a good movie.

I don’t have a specific new novel on the go yet, though I’m toying with some characters and a cross-border setting from Derry into Donegal. I’ve a fascination with a place called Fort Dunree in County Donegal. So much so, that I’ve already written two short stories based there – each with connections to my novels. Perhaps it’s time to explore a novel itself having that ingrained into its setting and psyche.

Over the last few months, I’ve started to get invitations to speak at literary festivals and occasional dialogue events. I’m also building up my skills in learning how to mentor other emerging writers and facilitating creative writing workshops. It’s fantastic fun and definitely an area of work that I love but, especially because it’s all quite new to me and because I live in the north-west of Ireland where historical political decisions meant that no motorways were built and the rail network was reduced, it’s quite time consuming. I’ve also been trying to tackle my TBR (to be read) pile but am not winning. This is entirely my own fault – I can resist books and bookshops. Once I’ve finally blethered all these excuses out of my system, I’m pretty sure a third novel will surface. I’m also pretty sure it will still be YA because I can’t resist writing teenagers – they’re the absolute best.

Truth Be Told by Sue Divin is out now in paperback (£7.99, Macmillan Children’s Books)

With a Masters in Peace and Conflict studies and a day job in Community Relations/Peace building in Derry for over fifteen years, Sue’s writing often touches on diversity and reconciliation in today’s Northern Ireland. Her first novel, Guard Your Heart, was shortlisted for the 2019 Caledonia Novel Award, was a Finalist in the Irish Novel Fair 2019 and was longlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award.

Check out the rest of the blog tour!

The Boy Behind the Wall

What would you risk for a friend you’ve never met . . . ?

In 1960s Berlin the Wall is everywhere. It cuts through streets, parks, even houses. Teenagers Harry and Jakob live either side of the divide.

In West Berlin, American Harry witnesses the brutal shooting of a boy trying to escape over the Wall into the West, and decides to emulate his comic book heroes and help those in the East however he can.

On the other side in East Berlin, Jakob is the adopted son of a high up Stasi officer, feeling suffocated by the rules of a strictly regimented society and desperate to find his real family.

When Jakob finds a message that Harry has sent over the Wall, he grasps the opportunity. The boys begin a secret friendship, evading the authorities using lemon juice as invisible ink to share hidden messages.

They soon realise that a bold plot to carve a tunnel under the wall is the only way out for Jakob – and it’s time to put their friendship to the test. Just how much are they prepared to risk for each other – and for freedom?

The Boy Behind the Wall is a gripping historical tale about two boys living either side of the Berlin Wall, told in alternating chapters and both of the voices are well realised. I was interested that, as part of the pitch for the book, Welbeck Flame included the fact that Maximillian Jones is in fact a group of people writing in a similar manner to those in a script room, at Tibor Jones Studio. Because of this, when I was asked if I’d like to be part of the tour, I said I’d love to have a piece of writing from the team about this collaborative process!

THE BOY BEHIND THE WALL – origin story

Tibor Jones Studio is a writer’s collective that gives creative writing opportunities to aspiring novelists so they can learn on the job while dreaming of having their own works published in the future. By using the TV writer’s room model, a concept is created with a spark document, then developed by the book’s creative editor and then two co-writers. From time to time, a third writer may be brought in to help elevate the material.

Kevin Conroy Scott, the founder of the studio, was thinking about the wealth of children’s books inspired by the holocaust, in particular the success of THE BOOK THIEF and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS. How could such a terrible event generate such moving fiction for children? And why hasn’t the Cold War, another terrible historical event, been covered in a similar way?

After revisiting iconic adult stories like John Le Carre’s classic novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS, Kevin visited the infamous Stasi museum in Berlin, where so many innocent, hard-working residents of East Berlin were being monitored, or in some cases, interrogated and incarcerated by the East German secret police. It was there that the idea for the book originated. What if an American boy, living in the American sector, sent a balloon up for a class project and it floated over the wall and was shot down by the border guards? What if, a week later, a boy around the same age wrote back and asked for help getting out to the West? How can two boys overcome such a barrier, with such a powerful adversary in the Stasi standing in their way?

The writing process took almost five years. We started with the simple premise, then we needed to build out the characters, the world, the sub-plots and the shape of the narrative. The outline served as posts that we let the horses of our imagination roam between as the story took shape. We used a two-writer system, and once the outline felt robust enough, each writer would write a chapter in either Henry or Jakob’s voice, and build until a first draft was reached, getting feedback from our in-house editor with each tranche delivered. Then each full draft of the novel would be shared with our brain trust (in a nod to the way Pixar works) and then we would start the next draft. After four drafts, we felt we had something special, but there was more work needed. That’s when we brought in a third writer to bring some new energy and a fresh perspective into the mix. Then our publisher, Welbeck Flame, came on board to help polish it further and we enlisted the expertise of two different German editors for their comments. It was an exciting and fascinating deep dive into the Cold War and the terrible destruction a wall built through a vibrant city can do to so many lives. It felt like we were exploring dystopian fiction before it even existed.

Do take a look at the previous stops on the blog tour and read the book, which is out now!

Overlooking Problematic Content is a Feature, not a Bug

Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me is an award-winning book that has received rave reviews, New Statesman called it refreshing, The Guardian thought that people like Clanchy are needed to keep liberal ideals alive, The Times called it inspiring and uplifting, The Sunday Times deemed it inspiring, moving and funny.

Philip Pullman said that it is: The best book on teachers and children and writing that I’ve ever read. No-one has said better so much of what so badly needs saying. I want to see this book become a bestseller, I want to see it in every staffroom, I want to see it read by every student teacher. This is a wonderful achievement.

In 2020 Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me won the 2020 Orwell Prize for Political Writing

Then in 2021 on twitter Kate Clanchy alleged that Goodreads reviewer Ceridwen had made-up quotes from her book in their review.

Things went downhill rapidly from there!

Unfortunately, whenever people have received near universal acclaim & praise for their work they can react poorly when they encounter someone who says “whoa there is a problem here” and this is exactly what happened!

Instead of giving a blow by blow account what occurred, I will recommend that you read Beth Bhargava’s comprehensive write-up of what happened over at Bad Form Review here. I will just say that I was bitterly disappointed by a number of authors whose work I have previously enjoyed.

Like Public Libraries, Publishing is a majority white profession, both of which can be difficult to break in to, as many opening positions are notoriously low-paid. I could not help but compare what is happening with Kate Clanchy’s book with what happened with the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals in 2017 where it took people of colour to start asking why no-one who was not white had won either of the awards in over 80 years and a big push from them and allies to start the process to effect change.

Kate Clanchy issued a statement on August 6th which caused more consternation and upset. Picador, KC’s publisher released three statements on the 6th, 9th and 11th, The Orwell Foundation issued a brief statement denying responsibility of what their external judges did, and Philip Pullman released an ‘apology’ on the 10th.

No mention was made by anyone at the centre about the vile language and threats directed against Professor Sunny Singh, Chimene Suleyman & Monisha Rajesh three of the highest profile people that stepped up to offer honest critiques of Clanchy’s work and challenge the racist rhetoric that was springing up in the discussion.

The end result of the storm of protest is that Kate Clanchy will rewrite portions of her work to remove the racist and ableist stereotypes contained in the original.

Systemic racism does not require that those working within the system to be racist; in publishing like libraries, is made up mostly of good, well-intentioned (white) people who do their best but miss many signs that what they are working on may be harmful to minority groups. Unfortunately, most white people lack the insights and cultural knowledge to identify problematic work and content. Even after an outcry those who ‘have learned’ from the criticism are often rewarded, while still excluding those that were harmed.

It should not fall to People of Colour to fight for systemic change on their own, no matter where it happens – in libraries, in publishing, or elsewhere if someone says that something is harming them and their community we need to stand with them and fight to make a meaningful change.

We (white people) have benefitted from systemic racism for hundreds of years, we are complicit even when we fight against it, and we should fight against it – we lose nothing if those that are disadvantaged gain the privileges that we currently enjoy.

It is often said that When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, but this is something we need to stamp out of our psyches and instead embrace the need for true equality.

Bad Water by N.M. Browne

Ollu is a barger; a trader living and working on her mother’s matriarchal boat, The Ark. When they lose all their trade goods in a storm and her Mum gets sick, the only way to save her mother’s life and the life of her baby siblings is to make the most dangerous trade of her life. Ollu has to venture into forbidden waters, Bad Water, and she must go alone.

With her old allies under attack, she finds herself reluctantly welcoming two escaped slaves on board The Ark. Buzz is a genetically enhanced stranger from across the sea, while Ratter is a boy prophet, a spy from the old City. The Ark is forbidden to males but she has to accept their help. How many rules will she break to save her mother? Is she prepared to risk everything?

In a world reshaped by floods and the loss of technology, Ollu must make a perilous journey. She is pitted against gang leaders, slavers and violent machete-men. Only her courage, unexpected friendships and rediscovered technologies can save her mother’s life – and her family’s honour.

Nicky came to my previous school, many moons ago, to talk about her (then) new book, Warriors of Alavna (it is a great historical fantasy, look it up if you’ve not read it). She’s written a few (!) novels since and her latest is for a tiny press called Kristall Ink, BAD WATER: a dystopian thriller for ages 11+ with two great protagonists (I say, having only read 3 chapters so far…), Buzz and Ollu. Because there’s no chance of school visits at the moment, she’s filmed a 30minute WBD lesson that could be used for part of a 60+minute lesson:

She’s also interviewed herself in a much shorter clip as a taster!

Thanks for sending me a copy of Bad Water, Nicky (out now)!

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome, by Lucy Cuthew

Blood Moon is an extraordinary YA novel in verse about the online shaming of a teenage girl. During astronomy-lover Frankie’s first sexual experience with the quiet and lovely Benjamin, she gets her period. It’s only blood, they agree. But soon a graphic meme goes viral, turning an innocent, intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. As the online shaming takes on a horrifying life of its own, Frankie begins to wonder: is her real life over? Blood Moon is a punchy, vivid and funny story of first-time love, hormone-fuelled sexuality and intense female friendships – whilst addressing, head-on, the ongoing exploitation of young girls online and the horror of going viral. Both shocking and uplifting, it cuts to the heart of what it is to be a teenager today and shows the power of friendship to find joy in even the darkest skies.

Walker Books

Blood Moon is a truly outstanding (and pretty unique) UKYA by Lucy Cuthew, her debut, and I recommend getting a few copies for every KS4/5 library! It is one of what feels like a recent flurry of amazing novels in verse, and Lucy has shared with us some of her favourites!

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome

and 4 Awesome Verse Novels to Read

by Lucy Cuthew

Have you ever read a novel in verse? If so, did you like it? I love them, and wanted to share some of my favourites. If you’ve never read one, here are some reasons I love them:

* Big feels – I love a story that makes me laugh/cry/feel big feelings. Poetry can do that, just like music can.

* A fast read – I absolutely love sitting down and reading a book in one/two sittings. I love verse novels that are intense and immersive.

* Visually interesting – verse novels, because of the way they are set out, are visually very lovely things. There is much more white space than in a prose novel (prose just means normal writing, not broken up in any rhythmic way), and the way the text is set out on the page is playful and interesting. Each page looks different.

* Rhythm – when I read, I read out loud in my head (I know you know what I mean), and I love how reading a verse novel can be like hearing song or rap lyrics.

TOP YA VERSE NOVELS

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is a great one to start with. It takes you right up close to the main character and into her world. It’s a really moving and interesting story, and the writing is amazing. Acevedo is a spoken word poet and you can hear it when you read this book.

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

I absolutely devoured this book. The main character becomes a boxer alongside her mother facing her agoraphobia. You get fast-moving punch verse from both characters and reading from both of their perspectives is so interesting. Reid’s other verse novel, Wrecked, is also absolutely amazing – the whole thing takes place in a court room as a young couple go on trial and the story of who was driving when someone was hit unravels.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This story is extremely short and follows a young boy as he takes a lift down his apartment block, joined by a ghost on each of the 6 floors, to decide whether he’s going to kill the guy that killed his brother. It’s an absolutely gripping moral dilemma full of moments outside the lift which expand our understanding of his world and how complicated the decision he has to make is.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

This is the story of a boy finding himself in a world of strict gender rules. The edition I read (borrowed and really need to give back, sorry Wibke) is illustrated, set out in the most deliciously creative way and is just a perfect book. The writing is superb, it flows, it is really moving and it deals with some difficult subjects with tenderness, nuance and bravery.

Lucy Cuthew is the author of Blood Moon, a YA novel-in-verse about periods, sex and online shaming, published by Walker YA. Available at Waterstones, Barnes and Noble (US), and Amazon. 

When Secrets Set Sail

Usha is devastated when her grandmother Kali Ma passes away. Then straight-talking Imtiaz arrives – her new adoptive sister – and the two girls clash instantly. They both feel lost. That is until Kali Ma’s ghost appears…with a task for them.

Immy’s and Usha’s home is full of history and secrets. Many years ago it was The House of the Ayahs – for those nannies who couldn’t return to their Indian homeland – and Kali Ma made a promise she couldn’t keep. She can’t pass on to the other side until the girls fulfil it.

Today, Usha and Immy’s over-worked parents run the house as a home for refugees, but eviction threatens. The precious documents that could save them are lost. As the house slowly fills up with ghosts, that only Usha and Imtiaz can see, the girls realise they have more to save than just one grandmother’s ghost.

With help from their new friend Cosmo, Usha and Immy must set off on a quest through London, accompanied by two bickering ghosts, working together to find a series of objects that shine a magical light on their family’s past and hold the clues to securing their future.

If they can set the secrets of generations free, will they be in time to save their home?

Endorsed by Amnesty International

Hachette

Sita Brahmachari seems to be one of the hardest working children’s authors in the UK, and one of my favourites. I had the great pleasure of asking her some questions about her latest book WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL, and her answers are fabulous.

Your books always have “issues” at the heart of them and provoke the reader to discover a piece of history they might not know about, or consider impacts or viewpoints they might not have recognised before. How difficult is it to ensure that they are always exciting stories and not just didactic tomes?

First and foremost I’m fascinated by people’s lives and how the events in their lives, their actions or the things that happen to them impact on the world. I don’t think when people become refugees or are affected by climate change, face mental health challenges, are newly adopted, experience a death in the family or face homelessness or racism or child hunger that they experience these moments in life as ‘issues.’ I don’t shy away from some of the great challenges young people face today but as a writer I’m interested in nuance and getting beyond ‘issues’ to a multi-layered story. I feel that stories are superpower empathy portholes…and in these reactionary times that feels like a vital porthole to be able to open.

When I set out to write a story I might think I know what’s at the core of it, but my synopsis often bears little relation to the final book! The process of storytelling is an adventure for me. I always get taken by the characters into unexpected realms and it’s a real joy when these discoveries and unravellings are experienced and enjoyed by the reader.

It’s always finding characters, symbols and landscapes that really take me into the dreaming space of stories. The artichoke charm from my first story ‘ Artichoke Hearts’ is a guiding symbol for me; I’m constantly unpeeling the layers of characters and wanting to explore their sensibilities; their hopes, fears and dreams. This is what sparks my imagination and takes me into the heart of the story.  Often, as I write, it’s the characters I had thought were on the periphery that take centre stage because, as in life, it is fascinating to get to know people even when, or perhaps especially when, they may seem to be polar opposites to ourselves.

This is how I discovered characters like Themba and Luca in ‘Where the River Runs Gold’ and Imtiaz and Cosmo in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’. Originally ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ was written only from Usha’s point of view then Imtiaz made me see the error of my ways! And I’ve found that Imtiaz not done with me yet, she and Cosmo wanted their own adventure so they appear again in my World Book Day story next year ‘The River Whale.’

The subjects you include in your stories can be very upsetting, do you sometimes find it difficult to do the research?

I hope that my stories contain the gamut of human experience and although I’m not afraid to tackle the most complex of emotions, I always want my stories to scatter hope-seeds. They are inter-generational stories and one thing I’ve realised that no matter what dire situations the characters face there is always someone there to hold them.

I tend to do hands on research. My preference is to work with people. My work with refugee people since I began work in community theatre has informed my characters in many stories and plays. In art as in life once you take people to heart you don’t want to turn your back on them. So If I write about a difficult subject like someone I know or have worked with has faced then my main concern is to find the truth in that experience and to convey the empathy I feel for the characters that grow out of my research and engagements in community. I think engagement is everything and when you engage with people you are naturally moved by their stories, laughing as well as crying with them.

I often place a space in time between research and writing to allow the thoughts and feelings to distil and settle and to find the freedom to move from fact into fiction.

If I was to set out to write a novel at the stage that the research is on top of me I think there would be a real danger that the work would become didactic, something I would hate for my stories to be. An example of this is the experience of helping an elderly homeless woman bathe her feet in a refuge led me to create the character of Elder in ‘Red Leaves’ who is part bark-skinned homeless woman , part tree and ancient spirit of the ancient caring wood!

When children like Pari in ‘Tender Earth’ or Shifa and Themba in ‘Where The River Runs Gold’ are going hungry and needing to use food banks, as so many children are today, children and young people are feeling the discomfort of that sometimes in their own hunger pains, but when I write I think about creative narrative that both recognise the realities of that and offers hope seeds for transformation.

I think a lot about where children place these feelings that the real world ignites in them.  For me stories are magical empathy portholes… they allow us to dream of coming together to change the things that disempower us and to overcome what might seem insurmountable.

In writing fiction I need to know my story is grounded in truths I have discovered from research but then I need to immerse myself in the storytelling adventure and step into dream time.

Perhaps because of late the world, in Wordsworth words has been ‘too much with us’ in my recent novels I have wanted to explore the potential of magical transformations in relation to the realities the children in my stories face.

The idea of unheard stories and oral histories not being forgotten is huge and important, and  the author’s note at the end of WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL tells us the fascinating inspirations for the Ayahs’ story, but where did Imtiaz and Usha, and the idea of them becoming sisters, come from?

 In unravelling the story of the Ayahs – one of abandonment and care- I was looking for contemporary characters who in one way or another would deeply understand why the Ayah ghost ‘Lucky’ would need to set her spirit free by having her story told.

What moved me about the story of the Ayah nursemaids was the dual abandonment. Ayahs found themselves far from home and abandoned but the children they had cared for must have suffered so deeply too from being torn away from each other. That idea is what led me to grow the characters of Imtiaz and Usha.

I don’t think I realised when I set out how the story is as much about Imtiaz and Usha’s contemporary herstory as it is about the Ayahs… the waves of the colonial story from the Ayah’s time is literally in the bricks and mortar of the home they set aside their differences to save. As I wrote I realised that for contemporary readers the journey of these two very different girls to becoming loving sisters had to be central to their discovery of the history of their home.

I often write about family, friendship, belonging and community and have presented many different kinds of families in my stories. With Imtiaz my idea was to see how a looked after child with the most difficult of starts in the world, given the opportunity to feel secure and loved, might grow.

Usha doesn’t have to make an effort to belong but Imtiaz does. It seemed to me that in microcosm that is a theme that also links to the untold stories of the ayahs … if you know that your story is told you have assurance and ease of your place in it… if like the Ayahs and Imtiaz’s your story is hidden or ‘blocked’ (in the ear of the conch)… then there is effort involved to strive to be heard.

This tension between the girls gave me a lot. Here are two girls with shared migrant identities, but very different starts in life who can’t see each other’s ghosts or empathise with each other- but need to believe in each other if they are to stay sisters and save their home. They were, in many ways, the key to me releasing the Ayah’s story into the world.  I have often said stories are an act of communal making and I have to thank my insightful editor Tig Wallace for keeping the historical quest in this story grounded in the ups and downs of Imtiaz and Usha’s relationship!

I also found in their different early lives an interesting contrast. Between them they share wide diaspora birth families, crossing class, cultures, religions and oceans but who they identify with most strongly are those who care for them and love them. Their deep understanding of this gives them keen instincts to uncover the Ayah story.

I love that you found out about the campaign for a Blue Plaque for the Ayahs’ Home as you were finishing writing the book, the videos on the Hachette schools page are great, and I like the idea of encouraging children to make nominations for a blue plaque, have you thought of any yourself, and has it inspired more story ideas?

It was incredible to press send on my story and then discover this event. Some of the adult characters like Valini in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ talk about ‘fate’ and ‘things being meant!’ but this really did feel like serendipity at its superpower best!

At this brilliant event at Hackney Libraries I met Rozina Visram whose research was central to discovering the Ayah story and I also met Farhanah Mamoojee a wonderful young historian and activist who has been campaigning for a Blue Plaque to recognise the Ayahs Home. Watch this space!

Sita Brahmachari with Farhanah Mamoojee, outside the Ayahs Home

It’s been a real joy to work together with Farhanah @ayahshome to sit on the steps of the real life houses where the Ayahs lived together and to share in the launch of this story into the world… in many ways I feel as if I have met a grown up Imtiaz!

If I could nominate a Blue Plaque to anyone it would be to

Elyse Dodgson (1945- 2018)

Adopted Londoner!

Visionary educator, international new writing director and enabler of young people’s talent the world over.  Some of her fierce equality seeking spirit and a little of her name has found its way into the character of Delyse in my story. Her first play created with students in her Vauxhall School ‘Motherland’ has been a lifelong inspiration to me.

Elyse gave my first job as a young person leaving university at The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre… as community theatre worker. She told me that my work first and foremost was to listen to the communities and ‘welcome them to storytelling’ so that they find their voice. I’ve never forgotten that.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/nov/02/elyse-dodgson-obituary

(I’m breaking the Blue Plaque rules that someone needs to be deceased for twenty years and I encourage young readers who want to take part in the project to do the same! If they want to nominate a quiet hero or heroine whose alive for this imaginary project – why not!)

Have you done any virtual events this year?

I’ve done quite a few virtual events in different formats this year. In the build up to publication it was wonderful to be invited to be part of the South Asian Literature Festival and to have such positive responses to that from people joining from around the world – a sort of virtual globe window – that’s a real positive.

The virtual launch with The Children’s Book Shop in Muswell Hill was perhaps my favourite because it was in a wonderful real life bookshop! I felt connected with the community.

Jane Ray and I have been continuing our work with refugee people running our art and writing class by gathering around what we’ve now named out ‘Virtual Hearth’ – no matter how hard it is – the connection is so worthwhile.

At this time teachers and librarians have been amazing in their resilience. In the face of so many day to day challenges they have kept the reading for pleasure banner flying high. Like so many authors I’ve been busy adapting and learning new zooming skills and doing virtual events… Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highett at Hachette has been a real support in helping me with this and also Pop Up Festival has offered excellent training… BUT… We’ve all discovered things about ourselves during this time and one of the things I realise is how much I love being in a reality-room/ hall with readers! Over the years I have visited many schools and it is here, in the direct and indirect engagements with readers that I have understood so much about writing. Very often, as I’m talking I will notice there is a child at the periphery of the room who is perhaps doodling and not obviously engaging. I’ll catch their eye and know that something I have written and am talking about has impacted them… I have a treasure hoard of letters and art from these children that often inspire me to write the next book.  

Your recent post for the YLG blog about Library Hearths was brilliant, such tremendous support for libraries and librarians. You talk about imagining pinpointing for your characters “who planted the seeds that make them grow into who they will become”, can you share any of your own influences?

Here are just three of my writer-potential-seed-planters….there are many!

I’ll start at home… with my dad who I believe taught me what a storytelling voice was all about. My little memory in ‘The Book of Hopes,’ envisioned by the wonderful Katherine Rundell during Lockdown, is dedicated to him. Jane Ray gifted this beautiful illustration to accompany my little vignette but readers of my work will have spied dad’s brave, adventurous, caring and good humoured spirit before in Granddad Bimal and in the man in the hat in my co-theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s sublime graphic novel ‘The Arrival’. 

Dad by Jane Ray

I had an English and Drama teacher who also acted as librarian who always told me I should be a writer and when I wrote ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and returned to my school Mrs Smith, then quite elderly, queued up for a signed copy. ‘You made me wait but told you so!’ she said! In truth this teacher was also an inspiration to Pat Print – the writing tutor in that story and she knew it!

Elyse Dodgson (whom I nominated a Blue Plaque for above) who took a punt on me… and even though I had little experience employed me as community theatre worker for The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre as my first job as a student straight out of university.

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

I’m reading a lot of new writing manuscripts for ‘The First Chapter Awards’ for the Scottish Book Trust at the moment so as contrast I’m dipping in and out of David Almond’s short stories ‘Counting Stars’ (2016 Hodder Children’s Books). For me voice is such an important aspect of being a writer and I love Almond’s storytelling voice. In these stories about David’s childhood in Tyneside I find so much connection, joy and awe at the natural world. I’m loving them because I have been exploring the universal in the global in my own work and I feel a deep connection to this idea especially now when so many people may feel isolated – These stories are a wonderful reminder that in the drift of a cloud or a river’s flow we are so deeply interconnected and I hear in them a heartening song to the power of children’s imaginations. I would recommend it to anyone who is or who has ever been a child!

What are you working on next?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my World Book Day story for next year ‘The River Whale’ illustrated by the wonderful Poonam Mistry in which readers will meet Immy again free-diving in prose and verse! I’ve loved writing it and discovering what a year of having access to fulfilling her dreams has brought her and the world!

On another track I’m working on an illustrated YA story (title not quite set yet!) that I began writing in 2008. It will be published in late 2020 by Stripes. In it my older teen characters are walking a high stakes tight rope between myth, dream and reality.

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers Sita! WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL is out now!

Thank You Joseph Coelho

Tatenda says thank you every day, wherever he can. Thank you to Mom and Dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favorite comic, thank you to his teacher for marking his work and thank you to the shop worker stacking shelves. But lately, it seems no one can hear his thank yous: their heads are too foggy with worry. So Tatenda decides to say his biggest “Thank you” ever. He stands on tiptoe, brings his arms down like a huge rainbow . . . and this time, his thank you helps the whole community feel better!

Frances Lincoln Books
Thank You, with words by Joseph Coelho and pictures by Sam Usher

THANK YOU is a beautiful book. Joseph was inspired by the Clap for Carers during lockdown and royalties from the book are being donated to Groundwork UK, a federation of charities nationwide “mobilising practical community action on poverty and the environment”. Sam Usher’s illustrations are full of movement and so joyful, really bringing the words to life.

I’ve long loved Joseph Coelho, as a performer and writer, and when Frances Lincoln offered the chance to interview him about THANK YOU I jumped at the chance, while cheekily asking him about other recent titles with other publishers as well – he really is unstoppable at the moment!

The last few years have seen you publish poetry collections, novels, and picture books (as well as plays) for all ages of children and young people! When you have an idea, do you immediately know what you want to do with it or does the form come as you start writing?
What a super question. I don’t know immediately it’s a bit of trial and error, I have found however that if a story is deep enough it can often work for several mediums. Such as my poem If All The World Were Paper which was first published in Werewolf Club Rules but became a starting point for my picture book with Allison Colpoys If All The World Were...

THANK YOU is full of movement. Did you have an idea of how it should be illustrated or did you hand the text to Sam Usher to run with?
All picture books are really a collaboration between writer, illustrator, designer and editor so it’s hugely important that there is space for everyone to express themselves through the book. I am now in the habit of not thinking too much about the visuals, I focus on making sure the text works by itself, that the story is clear with or without illustrations so that the illustrator has scope to really put their mark on the book.

THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE, Otter Barry Books, is strikingly illustrated by Kate Milner

What is it about Daphne’s story that inspired you to write THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE?
I’ve always been interested in physical transformations as metaphor for internal change. It’s poetry made manifest. So when I came across the greek myth of Daphne it felt like the ideal subject for a story I’d been working on about a girl dealing with the death of her father. As with all the myths there are so many layers and ways to interpret that it felt like  a gift to explore through poetry.

ZOMBIERELLA is deliciously different, first of a 3 part series, but are there other fairy tales you would like to retell?
There are!  Book 2 is based on Rumplestiltskin and is called Frankenstiltskin. I have many ideas in development for many of the other tales some of which get a mention by the Librarian at the start of Zombierella who has discovered a section of the library full of fairytales that have gone bad, so I have a library to fill!

ZOMBIERELLA, Walker Books, is brilliantly illustrated by Freya Hartas

What is your favourite kind of event to do with/for children? How have you found digital events?
I love doing festival events with large audiences, you get a real sense of togetherness and occasion. I thrive off of getting large audiences to interact with each other.  I love the joy that can be generated as students hear their peers from different schools coming up with poetic lines or add to a group poem with people they’ve only just met.
Making everything digital has been interesting, it’s definitely far more time consuming than expected with even a five minute video taking the best part of a day but it is wonderful that we have this technology available to get us through these difficult periods.

Librarians across the country are so grateful for your enormous support, what drives that passion?
Libraries have always featured heavily in my life, from living on estates where I had a library next door, to my first Saturday job, to working at the British library whilst studying at UCL, to touring theatre shows designed to be performed in libraries. I’m immensely grateful to libraries and the services they provide for turning me into a reader and by association a writer. I also sincerely believe that library provision it key to helping communities thrive so it really is an honour to be in a position where I can celebrate these wonderful spaces.

One of my favourite pages from THANK YOU

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m a serial dipper and always have several books on the go at present I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, a book that everyone should read. I’m also reading an anthology of short stories on the theme of the sea published by the British Library called From The Depths and Other Strange Tales Of The Sea Edited by Mike Ashley – Recommended for anyone who likes a shot of creepy adventure. I’m also a big book listener and am currently listening to Children Of Time By Adrian Tchaikovsky for all sci-fi fans who aren’t scared of spiders!

What can we expect from you next?
I have a busy year ahead with book 2 of Fairytales Gone Bad and some more picture books coming out. I’m also working on a brand new middle grade adventure series which is yet to be read by anyone! Eeeek! But I love this period because at the moment it’s just me telling a story to myself or rather hearing characters tell me their story.

Joe Coelho Portraits Hay Festival 2018

Joseph Coelho is an award winning poet and performer from London, although he now lives by the sea. In 2019 he won the Independent Bookshop Week Picture Book Award for If All the World Were. He has been long-listed for The Carnegie Children’s Award with his poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’, which was also shortlisted for the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award and Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards. He won the 2015 CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award with his debut poetry collection Werewolf Club Rules. His debut Picture Book, Luna Loves Library Day was voted one of the nations favourite picture books by a survey led by World Book Day. His other poetry books include How To Write Poems and A Year Of Nature Poems