Category Archives: Eight Questions With…

Just Another Little Lie

Violet’s mum hasn’t been herself for a while. A few too many glasses of wine in the evening. Mornings when she can’t get out of bed. Now Violet’s the one looking after her little brother and looking out for empty bottles in Mum’s bag.

She wants to believe her mum when she promises that things are going to change, but is it just another little lie?

Barrington Stoke

Eve Ainsworth has a real skill for weaving a gripping story surrounding hard hitting issues, in this case a parent disguising their alcohol addiction from the world while their teenage daughter looks after her little brother (who is adorable and left me sobbing at one point). As it is for Barrington Stoke, it packs a lot into a few words, but it doesn’t oversimplify the problems and could be a fantastic conversation starter. I asked Eve a few questions:

When you first approach a new story, does a character come to you first or the situation they find themselves in?That’s a really good question! To be honest it’s been a real mix. In some stories the character came to me long before the plot does and they just wouldn’t leave me alone and then I knew I had to base a story around them. Other times the plot has come to me first. It’s never been a consistent pattern for me. In Just Another Little Lie the plot came first as I knew I wanted to focus on alcoholism and the effects that can have on a family.


Do you have an idea and think ‘that would be perfect for Barrington Stoke’? How do you decide which stories will be longer novels and which would suit the novella format?I always discuss my ideas with Barrington Stoke to see whether they think it will suit their readership, we have a great working relationship like that. I don’t deliberately choose a story for the novella format, but I will change the way I write it to try and make it more fast paced. In some ways it can be more challenging as you want to ensure you get all the essential content in a tighter word count, but personally I love that challenge!

I know you’re passionate about including working class families in your stories, why do you think that is so important?I think it’s so important that young people see their own worlds reflected in books and in a realistic and honest way. I come from a working class background and I know how impactful it can be to see your life reflected in books. I know that when I was young, I would look for books that represented the life I was living in a truthful way. 


How much of an influence does your background in child protection roles have on your writing?I think it’s certainly helped me a great deal. I had the opportunity to work with some very challenging and vulnerable families and saw first hand the struggles that many families experience on a day to day basis. It took away a lot of the prejudgments that I might have once had and made me view things in a more empathetic way. We can never understand what someone is going through unless we are in their shoes and it’s important that we try and understand that everyone can experience challenging and difficult circumstances.


If the story resonates with a young reader, what advice would you give them?To speak to someone, don’t struggle alone. There is no shame in seeking help and true strength comes in speaking out.


Have you done any virtual events during these Interesting Times? If so, how have you found it?I’m just starting to! I’ve been a bit locked away recently because I’ve had so many deadlines to meet, but new events are starting to be organised now. I’m a bit daunted by it and hate looking at myself on screen but hopefully I soon adapt! (I might have to cover up my face though – I always look so gormless!)

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?I’ve just finished Kerry Dewery’s The Last Paper Crane and I recommend to everyone. It’s simply beautiful.


Can you tell us something about what you’re working on at the moment?I am currently writing another novella for Barrington Stoke, this time focusing on foster care and the challenges of attachment and I am also writing a second book for my MG series historical series based on the Dick Kerr Girls – one of the first ever (and very successful) female football teams.

Eve Ainsworth (photo credit Linda Woodard)

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me a review copy and to Eve for answering some questions! JUST ANOTHER LITTLE LIE is out now!

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found

Twelve year old Amira has only ever known a life at sea with her sea-witch mothers. So when their ship is wrecked in a great storm, Amira is delighted to have an opportunity to explore land – accompanied by her best friend Namur – a jinn in cat form. Amira soon finds a boy who has a jinn like her, and learns that their spirit companions are connected to the mysterious storm that gets stronger each day.

When Namur goes missing Amira discovers she has to visit a magical place; a place where lost things can be found. But will Amira also discover her own destiny, and find out what it truly means to be a Moonchild?

The Sahar Peninsula is a place that lies just beyond the horizon. If you’ve ever tried to reach the horizon, you’ll realize it isn’t the easiest to get to. No maps will take you there, nor can it be charted by gazing up at the stars, or down at a compass.

If you’re wondering who I am, and why I’m telling you this story, you’ll have to wait for quite some time to find out. It’s a secret, you understand. And I need to know that you’re the right person to keep it.

Are you?

I’m not so sure just yet.

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, shall we begin?

MOONCHILD
MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND, illustration by Rachael Dean


Illustrated by Rachael Dean

MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND is Aisha Bushby’s second book, and I had high hopes after A POCKETFUL OF STARS was such a uniquely brilliant read (watch her read some of APOS here). It is completely different, but just as satisfying! It is about adventure and science and magic and family and relationships, with a narrator occasionally bringing you out of the action to remind you that every adventure is a story, but that ‘stories never start at the beginning and they never ever finish at the end’. And, my new favourite piece of advice, from Jamila (one of Amira’s mothers), is:

All great adventures begin with a nap.

Amira is well cared for, by her two mothers, who encourage her magic (she can smell emotions) but know that it wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by others. As they spend most of their time at sea it isn’t a problem and Amira is very sheltered, but on visiting a souk while they’re docked for repairs after a storm, she starts to uncover some secrets and mysteries related to where she came from…she also makes a friend, and the developing relationship really builds the characters. The occasional gorgeous black and white illustration (and two stunning double page spreads) highlights the personality of the characters and builds up the tension in the nerve-wracking parts (there are some *very* nerve-wracking parts). The young friends problem solve together and I’m so excited that there are more adventures to come.

After having interviewed Aisha around the launch of her debut, I jumped at the chance to read this new novel and ask her another round of questions!

Before writing these questions I read a Netgalley eProof rather than a physical copy. I prefer to read hardcopy because, unless I really concentrate, I accidentally skim read a screen & miss things! Which prompts me to ask whether you have a format preference when you’re reading?

Both! I like to read on a screen before bed (so I can lie down and have the light off), and a book during the day.

A POCKETFUL OF STARS was a fantasy grounded in reality, whereas this is a completely new world. Did you find that gave you more freedom to tell the story or did it make it trickier to structure it?

A bit of both! On the one hand, in MOONCHILD I was able to bend/rewrite my own rules to solve plot holes, which I couldn’t do so much with STARS. On the other hand, I had to spend a lot more time creating a world (including the rules I had planned to bend) from scratch. But I really enjoyed the challenge!

I love the mix of science & magic, was Leo a scientist as soon as he came to you or did it evolve as you thought about the rules of magic?

My stories change dramatically from draft to draft, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I made that choice. but I knew I wanted science to frame my magical rules, to keep them in check.

The Stormbird and its influence is based on the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. Once I figured this out, it helped the rest of the plot unfold, and inspired a few other details.

Leo was the natural choice for the role of scientist in the group, because Amira’s skills lie in seafaring, and I needed him to bring something to the table, too. I also see the certainty of science as a comfort to him, given his background.

Last time I interviewed you I asked about your planned school visits. Did talking to school children about A POCKETFUL OF STARS alter your approach to your second novel?

I was really nervous when A POCKETFUL OF STARS was released. It’s not exactly a light-hearted read, but speaking to children, and seeing how they related to the book and how deeply they think about things was inspiring.

It gave me the confidence to write about subjects like emotions and mental health for that audience, (albeit from a more adventure-driven perspective) knowing that they’re receptive to it.

Have you done any remote events in recent months or are you crossing your fingers for in-person events again ASAP?

I’ve done a few, and I really enjoy them! As much as I miss in-person events, I don’t plan on attending them unless I know it’s going to be completely safe. But I think we have the opportunity to explore more remote options that provide a greater level of accessibility for everyone involved.

I will always ask: What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am very lucky to be reading My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak, which I would recommend to everyone, but especially people who (like me) love cats. Her writing is sublime.

I didn’t know there was more to come, was that your intention when you started to write or did you realise that your characters had more stories to tell as you were writing?

Because the structure is loosely inspired by The Arabian Nights, with short stories and a narrator, it allowed me to explore each character and their desires fully.

I wrote the first book with the intention that it could work as a standalone, but I also imagined other books told from different character perspectives.

Do you know how long a series it will be? Is it taking up all your writing time or have you got other projects you’re thinking about too?

I’m currently editing the second MOONCHILD book… And that’s all I’ll say for now. 😀

I’m always thinking of other projects, but it’s good to have a few sit there and see which end up sticking. That’s actually how MOONCHILD came about – it was a book I wasn’t supposed to write, but one that wouldn’t go away.

Aisha Bushby, the author of MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND

Thank you to Egmont for inviting me to be part of the tour, and to Aisha for answering my questions. This first books is on sale from 6th August 2020, and I’m really looking forward to reading their further adventures soon!

Cinderella is Dead

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince … but the fairytale is over.
Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball … are forfeit.
But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen. She doesn’t want to go to the ball at all. Not when she’s afraid the girl she loves might be chosen too.
Pushed beyond breaking by a society that denies everything she is, Sophia sets out on a journey that will remake her world … into one where SHE gets to choose.

Bloomsbury
cover art by Fernanda Suarez

A thrilling and original twist on the Cinderella story – breaking stereotypes of race, gender and sexuality to create a brand-new YA fairytale and a heroine for our times

The friendships and relationships (both family and romantic) are flawed and interesting, with queer romances and an entirely Black cast. I thought the way that Sophia and Erin each approach their illegal love for one another rang true, with Erin becoming distant and mean to avoid feeling anything that made life difficult, even if it meant an unhappy life, while Sophia simply couldn’t bear that outcome. This society is built around the fairy tale “Happy Ending”, but how much does the version that Sophia and her friends know differ from the actual history of Cinderella and her Prince Charming? Some people believe less than others and only go along with it “because it is the way it is done”, but it is dangerous to obviously disagree with the status quo. Sophia is dreading the life proscribed for her by the story, but things take a turn for the worse and she is forced on the run…only to discover that the lies are even bigger than she thought. The violence encouraged by the patriarchal society is unflinching and she has good reason to fear for their futures! It is difficult to talk about my favourite things without spoilers, but I’ll just say I absolutely loved the way the role of the Fairy Godmother played out.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD is really clever in the way it really brings home to readers that accounts of events are written by the victors, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they were the ‘goodies’ and the losers were the ‘baddies’, by unpicking the history that society uses to impose rules.

I asked the author, Kalynn Bayron, a few questions!

You talk about the legacy of stories and how they shape who we become in your introductory letter for CINDERELLA IS DEAD. What books do you think made the biggest mark on you growing up? I love fairy tales. I had a big book of collected works when I was a kid that had older versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. As a teenager, I discovered Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston whose work has affected not only my writing but the entirety of my life. I read a lot of Anne Rice as a teenager, too, which is where my love of vampires comes from.

What prompted you to choose to rework the tale of Cinderella over any other fairy tale? Cinderella is a pretty popular tale, it’s highly visible. That’s Cinderella’s castle at Disneyworld, kids dress up as her for Halloween—she’s everywhere. I wanted to retell a story that was instantly recognizable and deconstruct it in a way that centered the kinds of people who are nowhere to be found in the story itself, mainly Black, queer people. So, I wrote this story that explores not only how fairy tales have the power to personally affect who we become, but also allows the reader to see this
fairy tale world through the eyes of a young woman who is actively harmed by the societal norms the fairy tale itself perpetuates. It’s a continuation of the Cinderella story and a kind of reworking of that already established framework that makes it accessible to people like me, while also being wrapped in this dangerous, magical, mystery.

Who was your favourite character to write? I love Sophia and I loved writing her, but Constance was also really fun to write. She’s funny, very smart, and she wears her heart right on her sleeve. She is willing to lay down her life for Sophia almost as soon as they meet, and I think that speaks to the kind of person she is. For her, it’s all or nothing. She’s very intense and I had a so much fun writing her.

The real world parallels of those in power rewriting history to maintain systems of oppression are significant & thought provoking – what would you like YA readers to take away from that? It’s important to ask questions and it’s okay to change your mind. The people in this fictional world and readers in the real world have an opportunity, every day, to do just that. Some people take advantage of the chance to learn and grow and change their behaviors, others do not. Sometimes it feels easier to do the thing that has always been done. Real change requires introspection and a willingness to admit that you were wrong or that something you once believed was wrong. That’s really hard for some people to do, but it’s the only way to start the hard work of unlearning and telling the entire truth when it comes to our history. It’s the only way forward.

With your debut publishing in such unusual times, have you had much of a chance to interact with teen readers or get any feedback? The good thing is that I get a chance to interact with teen readers on my social media all the time. I get emails and DMs from teens who are really looking forward to Cinderella Is Dead and it makes me incredibly happy! I’m writing for teens, so their support is very important to me and I take any opportunity I can to interact with them. So many lives have been lost to COVID-19 and the measures we, as individuals, are taking to keep ourselves and our communities safe continue to be important and necessary. I look forward to the day where I get to meet my teen readers face to face, but for now, keep the emails and messages coming! I really enjoy them!

Do you write to a soundtrack or prefer peace & quiet? I love writing to soundtracks. The Penny Dreadful soundtrack is perfect for creepy, atmospheric writing sessions. The music from The House with the Clock in its Walls is great, too! I also love musical theatre so Sweeney Todd, Hadestown, and Wicked OBC recordings are also great to write to. Video game soundtracks are also great to write to, especially if I’m in a headspace where lyrics are too much of a distraction. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Final Fantasy 7 are my go-to’s.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’m always reading a few different books at a time. Right now, it’s A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, which is a brilliant modern fantasy centering Black girls, one of whom is a Siren. If you love magical creatures in a modern setting, Black Girl Magic, and a powerful story about friendship and family, you’ll love this book. I’m also re-reading Rory Power’s Wilder Girls, and I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a story that makes you simultaneously excited and terrified to turn the page. The creeping sense of dread she manages to infuse in her work is spellbinding.

The worst question I know, but I’m going to ask it anyway: what are you working on at the moment? I actually love this question! I’m working on lots of things that I can’t really talk about, so I have to get real creative in how I discuss them and it makes me have to think outside the box. I have a book coming out next year. It’s a modern YA fantasy that is equal parts The Secret Garden and Little Shop of Horrors with a sprinkle of Hadestown. I’m also finishing up a draft of a paranormal Middle Grade that is like an age-appropriate-Watchmen(TV) meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has been so much fun to write!

Kalynn Bayron, the author of CINDERELLA IS DEAD

I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to ask Kalynn a few questions, and to Kalynn for taking the time to give such great answers

I read the book on NetGalley, but it is out in the UK on 6th August!

Comic Classics: Great Expectations

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

WHAT THE DICKENS?

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

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

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

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

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

What inspired you to create this series?

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

Did you read Great Expectations as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of author events do you enjoy doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austen Girls

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

Bloomsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Lost by Ele Fountain

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

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

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

Now, an ordinary girl must become extraordinary.

Pushkin Press

What inspired the setting for LOST?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of author events do you prefer doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ele Fountain (picture credit Debra Hurford-Brown)

Lost is published by Pushkin Press on 12th March 2020

Thank you for the review copy!

Monster Slayer: a Beowulf Tale

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

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

Barrington Stoke

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

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

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

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

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

Can you imagine having a mother like Grendel’s?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for 2020?

More writing and more travel.

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

Very best wishes,

Brian

Brian Patten (credit: APEX)

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

Nothing Ever Happens Here

“This is Littlehaven. Nothing ever happens here. Until the spotlight hits my family.” Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy is terrified her family will be torn apart. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents break up? And what will people at school say? Izzy’s always been shy, but now all eyes are on her. Can she face her fears, find her voice and stand up for what’s right?

Usborne
Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is just brilliant. It tells Izzy’s story with great humour, not sugar-coating reactions from family and others, but sensitively portraying how things change and how Izzy feels about it. Perfectly pitched for a middle grade audience (but definitely also readable by teens and adults alike), it will broaden minds and inspire really positive conversations around empathy and the way the media currently often (mainly) poorly portray trans people. I highly recommend you get this book for your schools, your children, and yourselves!

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions:

You’ve previously written non-fiction for adults, when you initially had the idea of writing fiction did you always intend for it to be for children or did the story evolve that way?

I’m not totally sure! I don’t think I set out to write fiction at all – I simply had an idea for a story which wouldn’t go away, so I started writing something to see what would happen next… 45,000 words later and I had the draft of a children’s novel! I love reading children’s fiction. I have enjoyed so many excellent new children’s books recently – thanks to my daughters’ recommendations – as well as discovering my old favourites to share with them. It’s a real honour and excitement for me to know that Nothing Ever Happens Here will be alongside some of my favourite titles and, I hope, will be read and enjoyed by children (and maybe a few parents too).

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a child of a trans parent?

The most recent non-fiction book I co-wrote was a parenting guide for LGBT parents, informed by interviews with around 70 families – all of whom had fascinating stories to tell and experiences to share. A couple of those stories stuck with me, stories of families where a parent had transitioned while their children were at school. I started wondering about what experience would have been really like, from the child’s perspective as well as the parent’s, and that’s how Nothing Ever Happens Here began. I’m cis (not trans), but I am part of the LGBT community, and I’m very aware how few children’s books reflect families like ours. I hope that Nothing Ever Happens Here is not a one-off and we will start to see more LGBT families appearing in all kinds of children’s books.

Was it difficult to write? Which characters came to you most easily?

Looking back, it was a joy to write (but maybe that’s just hindsight!). Finding time to write was difficult, but the actual writing came quite easily. I think this was because I let the characters and dialogue develop in my head while I was doing other things – swimming, commuting to work, hanging up the washing – so that by the time I got my laptop out to write, everything was all ready to go. The first character to come was Izzy, but I really enjoyed getting to know the other characters too and I’m fond of them all. Perhaps Megan – Izzy’s older sister – and Grace – her extrovert best friend – were the most fun to write as they both have such strong personalities.

Did you involve sensitivity readers early on in the writing process or ask for input when the book was closer to being finished?

Both. The story itself was informed and inspired by in-depth interviews with families with a trans parent, so their experiences were at the heart of the book from before I wrote a single word. This means that some scenes have direct parallels in real-life, and that their voices influenced the whole tone of Nothing Ever Happens Here. Two of those parents read a first draft of the book and gave comments before I even submitted the manuscript to agents. Then I was fortunate enough to have two incredible sensitivity readers – Christine Burns and Jay Hulme – who advised on the manuscript as it was nearer to its final stage.

Have you had feedback from young readers?

My daughter, who is 11, was one of the first readers of Nothing Ever Happens Here – she gave me her unvarnished feedback and has now become a great champion of the book among her friends. It’s early days, but I’m starting to get feedback from pre-teen readers – my favourite feedback so far is from a 12-year-old reader who said “This book was so good and you know it’s a good book when you tell your mum that you can’t wait to go to bed so I could continue reading.”

Have you done any author events? What would you most like to do to promote the book?

The book is only just out, but I’m really looking forward to getting into schools or youth groups to promote the book, to encourage young people in their writing and to talk about some of the issues raised by Nothing Ever Happens Here. I did lots of events and workshops around my non-fiction books (both of which also had LGBT themes) but only with adults – so presenting to a younger audience will be a new adventure.

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

I have just started ‘Amy and Isabelle’ by Elizabeth Strout, after being recommended her books by a friend who always has good reading tips. It’s the first novel I’ve read by her and I’m totally hooked already. I’d recommend it to fans of Anne Tyler or Kent Haruf, it’s a similar, character-led approach which draws you into the lives and emotions of ‘ordinary’ people in a powerful but gentle way.

Are you planning another book for children?

Yes. Well, it’s beyond the planning stage now, as my second novel is coming out with Usborne in 2021. I won’t say too much, apart from that it also involves an LGBT family, like Nothing Ever Happens Here. However I have lots more stories I want to tell that touch on the issues which I care about, so hopefully there will be many more books to come.

Sarah Hagger-Holt

Sarah Hagger-Holt lives with her partner and two daughters in Hertfordshire and is the Community Campaigns Manager for the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall. She is the author of two adult non-fiction LGBTQ+ parenting books and has written for the i paper, the Huffington Post, and spoken on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about LGBTQ+ parenting.

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy of the book, and to Sarah for answering my questions!

Jane Eyre

Carnegie Medal-winning author Tanya Landman returns with a brilliantly realised and truly accessible retelling of one of the greatest novels ever written.

Orphaned as a child, tormented by her guardian and cast out to a harsh boarding school, Jane Eyre has been raised in the shadow of cruelty and isolation. But when she takes a job as governess in Thornfield Hall, where secrets lurk in the attic and strange laughter echoes through the night, Jane meets the elusive Mr Rochester – and her life is irrevocably transformed.

Poignantly and powerfully retold in this stunning edition, Jane Eyre is the tale of a spirited heroine’s search for love, independence and belonging – and this edition perfect as a way in to the original for set text study!

Barrington Stoke
Jane Eyre

I read the original Jane Eyre approximately 20 years ago (it was first published quite some time before that in 1848) and enjoyed it, but not enough to ever watch an adaptation or re-read it. This retelling however, made me sorely tempted to go back and revisit it! As with all Barrington Stoke books, not a word on the page is wasted and, even in such a short novella, we can see into Jane’s thoughts as clearly as Brontë intended.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Tanya Landman a few questions

You’ve previously written original novellas for Barrington Stoke, how did this project come about?

After writing One Shot (a YA book inspired by the legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley) Barrington Stoke asked if I might consider doing a modern twist on a classic. Were there any novels I liked that might inspire a spin off? Jane Eyre immediately came to mind. I said I’d have a think about it but the more I thought the more I realised that I didn’t see the point of doing a modern twist for readers who probably weren’t familiar with the original. So I suggested a straight re-telling instead.

Did you love the original story when you first read it?

I actually can’t remember the first time I read Jane Eyre but it’s a book I’ve gone back to time and time again. It is such a good story.  Cruelty, death, disaster, romance, horror – Jane Eyre has got it all. And I just love Jane – her righteous fury and magnificent strength of character – she’s always felt like a close, personal friend. She’s not some vapid princess who needs rescuing – she’s quite capable of doing that herself, thank you very much.  It’s a very empowering message for readers.

Your historical stories are clearly very well researched, did you look into the background to Jane Eyre or mainly focus on the original text?

I just focussed on the original text. I’d set myself a monumental task distilling Jane Eyre from 185,000 words to 18,000 whilst retaining its essential spirit and character. I really wasn’t sure it if was going to be possible, but when I started to write Jane’s voice just seemed to flow straight from her mouth and on to the page – it was quite possibly the most enjoyable and satisfying thing I’ve ever written.

What would you choose if you had an opportunity to retell another classic?

I’ve actually done the first draft of a version of Wuthering Heights for Barrington Stoke which I also loved writing. And I’m kicking around a few more ideas with my editor right now…

What kind of events do you prefer doing with teens?

I used to work in theatre so I really enjoy doing talks to teen audiences. Their questions always really make me think.

Have you been asked to write about any more real historical figures? Anyone you would really like to write about?

Every time I research for a new book I come across more people I’d like to write about! I have a massively long list of possibilities but very near the top is a woman called Stagecoach Mary. If you look at her photo you can just see there’s a story there waiting to be told.

Stagecoach Mary

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

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo – I’d recommend it to EVERYONE.

What’s next in the pipeline?

I’ve got a couple of projects on the go at the moment – a middle-grade book for Walker which should be out next year, and another teen read for Barrington Stoke.  And there are various other ideas knocking around at the back of my head…

Thank you so much Tanya, I’m very excited by the prospect of a Wuthering Heights retelling, and Stagecoach Mary should definitely feature in a story soon!

Tanya Landman

Tanya Landman’s retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is published by Barrington Stoke on 15th January 2020

(Thankyou Barrington Stoke for sending me a proof copy)

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

The problem with Wales, he thought, was that it was too far away.
But that was the point. To leave Southend behind. To get so far that no one would think to look for them there.

Max wants to be just like his dad – fun, loud and strong.
Instead, he always seems to be accidentally getting into fights and breaking things.
But when his dad starts bringing home mysterious boxes, even more mysterious wads of cash starts turning up.
Then Dad disappears. And it’s up to Max to look after his sisters until he comes home.
When they run away to a remote village in Wales, he’s convinced that no one will find them.
He’s Max Kowalski. Of course he can look after three kids with no grownups around!
Although, he can’t stop thinking about where Dad really went. And the whispers of a golden dragon, asleep under the Welsh mountains…

Puffin
Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

Over on twitter last month, Louie Stowell wrote the review “If Jacqueline Wilson ganged up with Alan Garner and remixed A Monster Calls, with dragons. Powerful and deep.” and I was immediately sold. Brilliantly, Susie Day, the author of said book, then offered to send me one of her author copies and I bit off her hand! It was as brilliant as expected, with warmth and humour and fabulous characters in pretty dire but totally believable circumstances. After reading it, I asked Susie if she would answer some questions for the blog:

In your books you focus on “issues” that are relevant to lots of children but often missing from children’s fiction, always beautifully encased in a fabulous story. What prompted you to tackle toxic masculinity? ‘Issue books’ always sounds such a miserable label, doesn’t it? Like All Bran instead of Coco Pops. I hope my books are a blend of both (although less disgusting than that sounds). I’m always trying to write about children whose lives feel genuinely reflective of the world we live in – which means acknowledging the challenges of poverty, or grief, or homophobia. But it also means celebrating the ways we live through all that stuff: through daft jokes, and family, and love.
We’ve made big cultural strides in celebrating girls who want to do traditionally ‘masculine’ things, from playing pirates and getting muddy to careers in STEM. But boys choosing stereotypically ‘girly’ things – being creative or sensitive, or being open to emotional expression and relying on friends for support – remains a bigger sticking point. When I worked at a boarding school for teenagers we had some mental health training, which showed me some really shocking stats. Suicide is the #1 cause of death among men aged 20-49 in the UK. We’re letting all kids down if we don’t try to identify why that’s happening, and work to change it.

You generally have female protagonists, how different was your approach when writing Max? This question really made me think! Max is a character who often won’t admit what he really feels or thinks, and wants to put up a front. But I’ve written lots of girls like that too – like Sammie in The Secrets of Sam and Sam, or Clover in Pea’s Book of Holidays. Max has ideas that he associates that very strongly with being a boy. But Sammie or Billie Bright: they bump up against the ‘required’ behaviours of being a girl a lot too. It’s the same problem, but with different expectations.
The challenge Max has is that he thinks of himself in one way – big, tough, capable – and that doesn’t match his reality. The challenge for me as a writer is how to show that. But the characters I love to read about most are the ones who are figuring themselves out while we read them. I loved finding the visible symbols of that when he’s not a boy who would articulate it: the trainers he covets, buys, then throws away; the jumper his best friend’s mum lends him, that he keeps on wearing.

The scenes in the climbing centre were very convincing, did you have to do a lot of research or are you a climber? My girlfriend is laughing at this question. This book was written after we went on a walking holiday in Snowdonia together. She’s been walking there for years; I’m an experienced hiker but with a pretty emphatic fear of heights. She took me up a mountain called Glyder Fach, without mentioning it involved a scramble (sort of midway between a walk and a climb, where you need to use your hands but don’t need ropes). We got to the top – but I did cry on the way. That’s the mountain in the book, with a name change and a little geographical creativity.
She helped me out with understanding climbing technique, and I watched the climbers on the rocks alongside the road up to Pen Y Pass, the start of the main Snowdon route. But I will never be a climber!

Castell Y Gwynt on Glyder Fach in Snowdonia by Balochdesign

Have you had much feedback from children about the story? What do they pick up on the most? Max as a character: that’s what kids seem to connect with. A friend of mine’s son was running round the park being ‘brave’, because that’s what Max is. I think the rising stakes help turn the pages too.

What kind of events do you enjoy doing most with children/in schools? I love school visits, whether it’s a KS2 assembly or classroom workshops. Like most authors, I’ve also done festivals to a roomful of babies, surprise 13-year-olds, and three people who are asleep, which certainly hones the improvisational skills…
Assembly-style sessions are interactive, with live storytelling and games. I’m always – I mean this genuinely, I’ve never not had this experience – awed by the creativity that’s waiting to be uncapped. But I think it’s important that I’m not there as a teacher. An author visit can really support curriculum, and I often tailor sessions to particular objectives, like reading for pleasure or editing. But it should also inspire in ways that are bigger and broader: that can just celebrate why reading and writing matters, and why books are relevant for all of us.
I don’t offer CPD for staff, but you might find my books, and my presence, useful for SRE.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’ve just inhaled Louie Stowell’s The Dragon in the Library (7-9), which is all joy: clever, inclusive, highly-illustrated and a smart way to persuade non-readers they might like books after all. Gabby Hutchinson Crouch’s Darkwood is a pure Pratchett-for-kids fairytale: great for advanced middle- grade readers who like talking spiders and laughing out loud. And I’m in the middle of A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, which is gently breaking my heart, while also making me really happy to see fiction about gaming. More please.

What’s next for you? Something I can’t talk about yet, sorry!
I’ve also written a short story for a new Doctor Who anthology called The Target Storybook, about the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) from the classic series. Every book I’ve written has a Doctor Who reference, so it was pretty sweet not having to find a place to fit that in for once. The book’s out in October, and I can’t wait to read the other stories.

Susie Day

Huge thanks to Susie for the copy of the book and the responses for the blog!

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It is out now!