Category Archives: Interviews

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!

That Asian Kid

Despite his hard work and brains, Jeevan, is doing badly in his GCSE English literature class. His teacher, Mrs Greaves, dislikes him intensely and Jeevan is convinced that he is the victim of racial prejudice. Can he stand up for what’s right? When he comes upon her in the woods outisde school in a compromising situation with another teacher, Jeevan can’t help but film the scene on his phone. With this secret new ammunition at his fingertips – dare he upload it to social media?

That Asian Kid will make you cross. Livid. Spluttering with indignation on Jeevan’s behalf. Despairing that adults could even behave this way but knowing full well that it isn’t that unusual. Jeevan and his friends are great characters, all “good” kids doing well at school, from a wonderfully portrayed mix of backgrounds, and their interactions are so believable I could see them in any playground. I really enjoyed his relationship with his parents, and grandmother, so concerned for him and never doubting him, even if they do begin by think he should have kept his head down and not cause any trouble. I was really pleased to be invited to be part of the blog tour, and to get to ask Savita some questions!

Hi Savita!

Thanks so much for inviting me on the blog today. It’s such an exciting time when a new book is published and getting to talk about it on a blog tour with amazing bloggers is such a treat!

That Asian Kid is a stunningly blunt title, it really packs a punch and is perfect for setting the tone. Did you have it in mind from the beginning or did it come to you as the story evolved?

Strangely, it was a very hard book to find the right title for. I had a list of about thirty titles, and everyone I asked liked a different one. That Asian Kid wasn’t among the list, which is odd because it was staring me in the face. When it suddenly came to me I knew instantly that it was the right one to go with. However, it does seem to be a bit of a marmite title – you either love it or hate it! But whichever side you fall on – it is intriguing.

I imagine an unfortunate number of teens will recognise the situation as something that is happening to them. What would your advice be to them?

It’s very sad and infuriating, and I have no doubt that some teens will recognise this situation. I recognise it all too well from Primary School where I was bullied by a group of girls and pushed and punched to the ground. I kicked out from the ground and when the teacher saw me kicking, I got the blame for provoking the other girls. My form teacher put me in the Dunces Corner, telling me I was a stupid and nasty girl. She made me sit there for the rest of the year. I was eight years old. It was a traumatic experience and it scarred me for a very long time. So my advice would be to tell your parents, and if you cannot tell your parents, then tell another adult you trust. Let them help and support you, and fight the battle for you.

Have you had much opportunity to talk to teens about it yet?

I’ve talked about my book with my teen reading group and they’re all really excited about reading it. I got the opportunity to talk about it at the SLA/YLG conference earlier this year too, and all the librarians at my talk were very keen to get their hands on a copy of the books! I’m really looking forward to going into schools and talking about the book. The moral dilemma that Jeevan faces in the book is one that, I think, will prompt many interesting discussions!

If you go into schools, what kind of event do you most like to do?

I love running creative writing workshops. As a child, although I wrote stories, I had no confidence in my creative writing ability. I think lots of kids feel the same – particularly as the English curriculum is so prescriptive about how to write. What’s happened is that the freedom to explore ideas in stories and to write them the way you want to write them has been eroded. So I run creative writing workshops that show kids a variety of story formats and then allows them the freedom to write what they want to write, and how they want to write it. I also love doing author talks and Q and A’s with kids. Most schools I visit are ethnically mixed – and most of the non-white kids have often said to me that they have never seen a BAME author before, or read a book by a BAME author. That’s sad to hear. So anything I can do to inspire kids to write, to be what they want to be, to see possibilities in their future they may not have seen, is time well spent.

I love Jeevan’s grandmother & her snacks. What’s your favourite of her comfort foods?

Indian grandmothers love to have something sweet with a cup of tea! You cannot beat a chocolate digestive and a cup of tea. A close second would be sukkapare, which are sweet, or matya, which are savoury but equally delicious – but they have to be homemade!

How much did you know about video editing before you wrote this book?

I actually knew very little. I have a friend who makes TV programmes, so I had a chat with him. And not surprisingly, lots of teens seem to know a fair bit about how to edit a video they’ve taken on their phone…

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

I have a towering to-be-read pile of books! There are so many great books that have come out this year and it’s tough deciding which books go to the top of the pile! I have just finished Sita Brahmachari’s beautiful Middle Grade book Where the River Runs Gold, and Patrice Lawrence’s Rose, Interrupted. I highly recommend both books by these amazing writers. I have All the Things we Never Said by Yasmin Rahman to read next. It’s YA so it’s right up my street. I’ve been reading the Daevabad Trilogy by S A Chakraborty – The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper are the first two books – and they are brilliant if you like YA fantasy with a middle eastern twist and a great heroine! I’ve also got The Tatooist of Auschwitz to read, and then there is the new Marcus Zusak, Bridge of Clay. And then I have the Cemetery of Forgotten series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to finish. The first book in the series, The Shadow of the Wind, is one of my all time favourite books, and suitable for teenagers and young adults. I think I should stop there as there are so many great books out there that I want to read!

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I’m not going to give much away at the moment! I’m working on a couple of quite different projects. Obviously there is another YA book that I’m working on, but I’m also working on two other projects – a younger teen book, and I’m researching another project too, but that’s top secret! If your readers would like to keep up to date with my news, they can find me on Twitter @savitakalhan or my website www.savitakalhan.com. I love to hear from my readers, so please tweet me or get in touch. I hope you all love That Asian Kid as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Thanks so much for having me on Teen Librarian blog!

Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan was born in India, but has lived in the UK most of her life. She graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. She was a Batik artist before going to live in the Middle East for several years where she taught English and began to write. Now living in North London, she spends her time writing, playing tennis, and growing vegetables and super-hot chillies on her allotment. Savita runs a very enthusiastic teen reading group at her local library in Finchley, who enjoy reading and talking about books as much as she does.

Her debut teen novel, The Long Weekend, was published by Andersen Press, and is a tense thriller about two boys who are abducted after school. It was short-listed for the Fabulous Book Award. Her YA novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror was published by Troika Books in 2018, and her next YA novel, That Asian Kid, was published on 29th August 2019. If you would like to know more about Savita, you’ll find her on Twitter @savitakalhan, or visit her website

A Pocketful of Stars

This place is magic . . . but it’s not the sort of magic that comes from wands and spells . . .
Can piecing together the past help you change the present?
Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange and magical world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

Egmont

A Pocketful of Stars is Aisha Bushy’s debut middle grade novel, which will fit very nicely in both primary and secondary school libraries, in which Safiya learns more about her mum, her friends, and herself. It is slightly heartbreaking but also very hopeful, a brilliant twist on the quest story, and a really good look at the way friendships change over time.

I asked Aisha a few questions!

I interviewed Yasmin Rahman, your fellow newbie in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, for her debut earlier this month. In your acknowledgments you say how important your support for one another has been, what was the next best thing about being part of it?

Having my short story featured in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was like attending a writer bootcamp. I got to see what it was like to edit a book, attend school visits and festivals, and deal with not-so-great feedback! By the time my own debut novel was published, I felt quite ready for what was to come, and I’m so thankful to everyone at Stripes for guiding us. 

Had you already started writing ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ when you wrote your short story, or was it still just a simmering idea?

It wasn’t even an idea. I was working in a very different novel at the time, one that I didn’t get very good feedback on. I thought of and drafted ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ in the months between being picked for ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and the anthology’s publication.

Did the story start with the gaming idea or did it come to you as a way to make the “dreams” a more modern quest story?

It started off with Safiya witnessing her mother’s memories in a dream-like way, but as I continued to work on ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ I needed to give Safiya something to strive for. That was when the quest came in. And, as Safiya loves video games, it made sense for her to navigate this world in that way.

What is your favourite computer game?

I really love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because it is open-world, which means you can explore as much as you want without any limitations (unlike in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’ where the world crumbles when Safiya tries to leave the house). But when I was Safiya’s age my favourite games were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. I played them both for hours.

Have you any thoughts on how teens might balance gaming as a hobby with “real life” relationships?

I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. Gaming is a very social hobby. When you play online you can create groups for your friends to join and play together; otherwise you can meet up and play in the same room. I see it as bringing friendships together through a shared interest, in the way it connects Safiya with her new friends in ‘A Pocketful of Stars’. 

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

I have two different events planned at the moment that I’ll be pitching to schools in September. The first is a scent-based workshop where I’ll ask students to pick and smell one of several pots filled with different scents. They are tasked with writing the opening of a story leading in with scent, whilst working in the other senses too. 

The second event I have planned can work in smaller groups or larger assemblies (and I’ll be running this one during my school tour). It’s about narrative gaming, and different ways of consuming stories. I will work collaboratively with students to create the basis for our very own video-game by picking a character, setting, and premise. 

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

I am reading lots of things at the moment, some I can talk about, some I can’t. Two books I am dying to talk about, both middle grade, are I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak, written from the perspective of a dog. It is one of the most heart-warming books I have ever read and I’ve already cried twice whilst reading it. It was published at the beginning of August, so you can buy it right now (and I very much recommend that you do).

My second read is an advanced copy of a book out next year called The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook (what a great title). The book is packed with adventure and friendship, and the world is so fully realised that you really feel you are riding through the jungle on the back of an elephant you may or may not have stolen yourself…

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I can’t say much yet (mostly as I’m drafting it and I’m still learning what it’s going to become), but let’s just say there will be a new magical world to explore…

Aisha Bushby

A Pocketful of Stars is out now! Thank you to Egmont for a review copy

Letting Go by Cat Clarke

Never make a promise at a funeral. It’s my new motto.
When Agnes made a promise to her girlfriend, Ellie, she thought they would be together for ever. But when she has to keep that promise a year later, it puts Agnes in a situation she could never have predicted – climbing a desolate mountain in miserable weather, with Ellie and her new boyfriend, Steve. And when the weather takes a threatening turn and the tension between the trio hits its peak, Agnes will have to push herself further than she ever thought was possible …

Barrington Stoke

In true Barrington Stoke form, this is a tightly paced, readable YA novella. In true Cat Clarke form, this is an emotional rollercoaster of a book! I was given the opportunity to ask Cat some questions.

This is your second book for Barrington Stoke, after Falling, how different is writing and editing with Barrington Stoke compared to other publishers?
The only real difference in the writing process is that the book is a lot shorter, so it took me a couple of months to write instead of a year. The editing process is a little different, as the manuscript goes through an additional edit for readability for dyslexic and reluctant readers. All in all, it’s a very smooth, streamlined process, and one that I very much enjoy! The Barrington Stoke crew are such a joy to work with.

When an idea comes to you do you already know if it would most suit a novella rather than a full length YA novel or does it come clear as it develops?
I usually specifically set out to come up with an idea that would suit a novella. In the case of Letting Go, I really fancied writing something with a very different setting to my other books. The short time frame of the story in Letting Go–less than 24 hours–really seemed to lend itself to the novella format.

You often write quite heartbreaking stuff, does your mood change depending on what kind of scene you’re working on?
Definitely! I’m not much fun to be around when I’m writing the heartbreaking stuff. I have playlists I listen to for different moods–my favourite is my ‘impending doom’ playlist! If I listen to that one too much, I get *really* anxious. 

Are you a fan of mountain climbing or did you have to do quite a bit of research to set the scene for Letting Go?
I used to climb mountains when I was a kid (thanks, Dad!), but I haven’t done it for many years. I did some research, and also got some help from a friend of mine. He gave me mountain-climbing info and I gave him a home-cooked meal.

What’s your favourite kind of author event to be involved in?
I love all author events, but I have to say it’s particularly lovely when young people have come to see me by choice! The events I’ve done at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have been some of the highlights of my career. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many lovely readers, and appear on panels with some incredible authors, including David Levithan and Holly Bourne.

Do you get much feedback from teens about your work?
I do! It’s so rewarding when a reader takes the time to get in touch and let me know what they think about my books. It’s one of the great joys of being an author.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m currently reading The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka. It’s a brilliant crime novel, featuring a bisexual private detective. If you’re interested, I’d recommend you start with the first in the series: The Last Place You Look. I’d recommend these books to anyone who loves crime. (N.B. Unless you love *committing* crimes, in which case: STOP DOING CRIMES! IT’S VERY NAUGHTY.)

What will we see from you next?
I’m working on several exciting projects at the moment, none of which I’m allowed to talk about. All I can say is that they all feature queer characters, which is something I’m very happy about.

Thanks so much for having me on your lovely blog!

Thankyou for being on the blog!

LETTING GO is out now! Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending a review copy.

No Big Deal

It’s not my body that’s holding me back. It’s more of a problem that people keep telling me it should.
Meet Emily Daly, a stylish, cute, intelligent and hilarious seventeen-year-old about to start her last year at school. Emily is also fat. She likes herself and her body. When she meets Joe at a house party, he instantly becomes The Crush of Her Life. Everything changes. At first he seems perfect. But as they spend more time together, doubts start to creep in.
With her mum trying new fad diets every week, and increasing pressure to change, Emily faces a constant battle to stay strong, be her true self and not change for anyone.
No Big Deal is a warm, funny inspiring debut YA novel from Bethany Rutter: influencer, editor and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.

Macmillan Children’s Books

I adored No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter, from the opening pages where our protagonist Emily is stuck in a dress in the changing rooms (if that hasn’t happened to you then you will never really understand, but this chapter might help you empathise), to the difficult relationship with her Mum because of Mum’s obsession with weight, and the true-to-life peer relationships. I adored it so much, that the moment I finished reading it I tweeted Bethany to ask some questions, which she very graciously answered in record time!

As a journalist you’ve been writing for a mainly adult audience for some time, why did you decide that your debut novel would be YA?

I just had this thought of ‘if I only ever write one novel, what’s the one story I most want to tell?’ and it turned out to be this one, which is best suited for a teen-ish audience!

How autobiographical is the book?

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t autobiographical at all, but I don’t want people to read it and see Emily as purely me, because she’s not. It’s more that she’s in various situations that I was in when I was her age but she almost universally deals with them differently.

Have you had much opportunity to talk to teens about the book? I’d particularly love to know the reaction of teen boys to Emily’s sister’s advice that, basically, things will get better but teen boys are a bit crap because of societal expectations!

Do you know what, I’ve actually only spoken to teen girls about it, which is really interesting! It would be amazing if teen boys did read it, and then they could tell me if I was a bit harsh! But I’ve absolutely loved talking to teen girls about No Big Deal, it’s so fun and interesting to hear about the things that resonated with them.

What is the most important thing that you want fat teens to take on board?

Honestly it is that very basic idea that things won’t always feel as limiting and frustrating as they do now, and that the world and the people in it get so much more interesting once they figure out who they are.

Body positivity campaigns seem to lead to a lot of negative comments, as well as encouraging ones, do you think social media is mainly a force for good or harm?

Personally I am very in favour of social media because it’s allowed me to find my people and my community and hear from people that I wouldn’t otherwise and learn about so many amazing important things. I know there’s always an element of backlash and negativity but for me, I would say the good outweighs the bad – particularly because it’s a way for people to give themselves a degree of representation that the media hardly ever will!

Can you recommend role models for teens to follow?

I would say people like Callie Thorpe, Michelle Elman and, if you really want to blow your mind, Enam Asiama

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

I just finished listening to Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh on audiobook which I had read in book form before but I’m so glad I revisited it in audio, because it just such a special, kind, radical and thought-provoking book. I would really recommend it to anyone, of any age, because we all eat.

Have you plans to write any more novels?

Yes! I’m partway through my second YA novel which isn’t a sequel but has some similar themes to No Big Deal. It’s set by the seaside so I should probably use that as excuse to take some daytrips for ‘research’…

Bethany Rutter, author of NO BIG DEAL

NO BIG DEAL is published on 8th August by Macmillan, and I’m very grateful to them for sending me a proof copy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What books do you find yourself revisiting most often?

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

What can we expect from you next?

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

Katherine Rundell

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

All the Things We Never Said

16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.
As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It’s not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won’t let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.
A pact is a pact, after all.
In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.

Hot Key Books

I read this book in one big gulp all the way back in April when the proof was sent to me, and it has stayed with me because of the strength of the voices, the originality of the plot, and the honesty of the writing. One of my favourite things about it is that one of the three protagonists is a devout Muslim that isn’t doubting her faith, and in fact her depression and anxiety just is, for no “reason” (not abused, not grieving, no family drama), it just exists. The other two have more obvious issues, but again their POVs are so nuanced and not simply “I’m sad because of what happened to me”.

It treads some very dark ground, definitely for a YA+ audience, but (slight spoiler) it is ultimately hopeful. Helpful resources for support regarding the issues included are listed in the back of the book.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Yasmin some questions…

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

Thank you so much for having me!

Your debut published work was a short story in the Stripes ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ anthology, had you already started writing ‘All the Things We Never Said’ at that point, or was it still just a simmering idea?

‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, my short story in ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was actually a ridiculously early version of what eventually became ‘All The Things We Never Said’. I was trying to write a book about mental health with a Muslim protagonist, but was finding my way into HOW to tell the story at the time. I’d written about 5000 words of this original idea when I realised it wasn’t working and moved on. When I saw the call out for Changebook, I realised that beginning fit so well that I just turned it into a short story.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

There have been so so many amazing things that have happened during this journey – from seeing an 8ft poster of my cover at London Book Fair to being able to record the author note for the audiobook. The best thing for me though is how it’s touching readers, particularly teenagers. I’ve had some lovely reviews where people have connected with my characters so much and that’s always lovely. I remember this one encounter I had with two young Muslim girls who said to me “you’re an inspiration”…and then I burst into tears of course. When I was a teen, there weren’t many people who were so visibly Muslim writing books, or on TV or whatever, so to be able to provide that to young people in a tiny way now is truly the best thing.

You’ve been so honest, in the publicity for the book, about your own mental health in your teen years. How has that been?

It was something I was really scared of at the beginning, baring myself to strangers. But it seems to be somehow a lot easier to talk about it to strangers than people you know! I think being open about it is important to me personally as it echoes the mentality of the book. Also, the fact that so many people can relate makes it a lot more manageable. It wasn’t too long ago that I felt scared of telling people “I struggle with anxiety and depression”, but now I feel less wary of talking about it as I’ve met so many people who have had the same or similar experiences, and if me talking about it openly can maybe help someone else understand their own mental health, then I feel it’s completely worth it.

Of the three girls, which story was hardest to write?

I had trouble at some point or another with each girl, but I think Olivia and Mehreen nudged ahead of Cara in terms of difficulty. I was drawing on a lot of my own emotions when writing Mehreen, which is always tough, and Olivia’s story just had some really really hard scenes to write. Her voice also took a long time to figure out.

Have you talked to many teenagers about the book? What kind of reaction have you had?

I haven’t yet had many readers of the book, since it’s not officially out as I’m writing this, but the brief conversations I’ve had with teens where I’ve spoken about it in vague terms have been very positive! I spoke to a few teenagers when doing research for the book, and received such lovely feedback about how exciting the story sounded, and what an important topic it was – I got very emotional!

What kind of event would you like to do if invited into schools?

There’s so many things covered in the book that would be great for discussion with students – mental health and the benefits of talking about it/seeking help, internet danger, grief, etc. But I think what I’d personally love to do is to talk about craft. When I was young I could never imagine that being an author was attainable, so would love to let teenagers know that it’s a viable career! Having studied two Masters degrees on Creative Writing, it would be great to be able to put those skills into a workshop format and teach students how to go about writing a novel.

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

I am in such a reading slump! And have been for a REALLY long time! The last thing I remember reading was an extract of Sarah Juckes’ WIP. Sarah wrote the YA novel ‘Outside’ which was published by Penguin in January 2019, and I just know her next book is going to be just as amazing. We have very similar brains, and a love for dark YA, so I think anyone who enjoys All The Things We Never Said would probably like her writing!

Any hints of what we can expect from you next?

I don’t want to mention anything specific about book 2, because anything can change at this point! But one thing I’m sure about is that there will be a Muslim protagonist – that’s something I’d like to carry on in everything I write.

Yasmin Rahman, author of All the Things We Never Said

All the Things We Never Said is OUT NOW! Thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy all those months ago.

The Third Degree with Louie Stowell

Brilliant illustrations by Davide Ortu, including this fab cover!
Matt pipped me to the post and wrote this glowing review of The Dragon in the Library a couple of weeks ago! But I got to ask Louie some questions…

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

You’ve written/worked on a lot of non-fiction, have you had a story bubbling up for a long time or did it come to you suddenly?

This particular story came very suddenly, but I’ve been writing fiction in the background for a long time. My first novel (in a drawer) was about a half-vampire, half-fairy who gave you a wish in return for blood.

A lot of research is needed for both types of writing, but was it a very different approach? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never see it as stories OR non-fiction. It’s both. Facts are magic too. I still work on non-fiction at work so it’s great to keep doing that. Fiction obviously gives you more scope to take things in any direction you want, unconstrained by reality, although writing stories that feel real is very important to me. I love fantasy that happens in the midst of everyday life, just out of sight.

This is quite a love letter to libraries & library staff, why are they so important to you?

As a child, going to the library was a ritual – and having an (apparently) infinite supply of books was incredible. The thing I remember most is the book smell. It smelled like possibility. As an adult, I want new generations to have that sense of infinity.

What made you decide to make the main character a reluctant reader instead of a bookish child?

I felt like I’d read a lot of books where the main character was into books, but a lot of children I meet in real life aren’t so… I suppose I wanted to give them a go in the driving seat. Also, because it’s fun to put characters in uncomfortable positions, so the idea of forcing an unbookish person to do something that requires lots of reading felt enjoyably mean. [C: I really enjoyed listening to Louie explain this to a room of book lovers at the YLG London AGM, but she didn’t need to worry, we love the challenge of reluctant readers!]

Who is your favourite Dragon in fiction?

Smaug. It’s always Smaug. What a class act.

Have you done any school visits? If so, what’s the best bit?

I’ve done loads of non-fiction ones but I’ve just started doing ones for the Dragon in the Library and what I’m really enjoying is the suspension of reality – creating a fictional world in the real world, and pretending that magic is 100% real. (Or am I pretending…?)

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

I’m currently reading A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and it is beautiful and magical. One for anyone who’s in touch with their emotional side… but also people like me who aren’t at all, but books like this help me learn more about how feelings work.

What’s next for Kit & co.?

I’m trying to work out how to say this in unspoilery terms… their next adventure involves a journey and a new wizard… and a new monster. 

Huge thanks to Louie for answering my questions on top of her actual blog tour, and to Nosy Crow for sending me (and Matt all the way in America!) proofs, and to both Louie and Nosy Crow for the brilliant talk and signed books at the YLG London 2019 AGM last week! I loved what Louie said about the importance of just having books around (in lots of formats) and you might just “slip into one”, quite literally in this story.

The Dragon in the Library is out now!

The Third Degree with Sharna Jackson

I reviewed High Rise Mystery last month and enjoyed it so much that I asked to send some questions to Sharna Jackson!

Hi Sharna, thank you for agreeing to undergo the Third Degree!

What or who were your influences when writing? How did Nik and Norva come into your head?

I loved the idea of transposing classic mystery genre conventions and seeing what happened to them when placed in a contemporary, city setting. I was thinking about Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, The Thin Man, books by Kathrine Woodfine and my lovely editor Robin Stevens, but also TV programmes like Luther, films like Attack the Block and the Nothing Beats a Londoner Nike ad.

Nik and Norva are both a bit like me. I love shaving my hair off and being practical like Nik, but I can also be dramatic and excitable like Norva. Norva is actually named after a ceramist I met in The Hague in the Netherlands at her exhibition one day. She was very cool.

What made you decide to pitch a murder mystery to a young audience? Was there anything you consciously toned down because of it?

Alongside the thought of murder mystery in the city being interesting, I was also keen to see young black characters being sleuths – being clever and cunning.

I did tone down some of gory aspects of finding Hugo’s body. I took it a bit too far.

How did it come to be published by KnightsOf?

I knew David Stevens from conferences – and Twitter – and was delighted that he and Aimée Felone – his business partner – had launched Knights Of. What a fantastic thing! I had been speaking to them about other matters and one day they said, why don’t you write? I thought about it for a hot second, said yes and pitched High Rise Mystery to them. I described it to them as “PIs in the Projects, they sent back two black girl detective emojis and that was that.

In your day job you’re concerned with social engagement in the arts. Is The Hub, or indeed any character, based on places or people you have worked with?

The Hub is based on community centres I’ve seen across the UK – flexible spaces used by people in the area to use. I’m the Artistic Director at Site Gallery in Sheffield, and have worked with museums and galleries across the world, and have met some interesting people. Hugo is definitely an amalgamation of some people I’ve met along the way!

What do you think is most important about community spaces such as The Hub, and how are they faring in the face of austerity?

Community Spaces are incredibly important as they allow people in the immediate areas access and spaces to use in ways that are directly relevant to their needs and wants. Unfortunately austerity has a knock-on effect on everything – especially the arts. There is less funding for artists, and less money for the public to spend on events.

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

I’m just about to start Ghost by Jason Reynolds – can’t wait!

Have you done any author visits to schools and/or libraries yet?

Not yet – my first visit is on Thursday 11th at the Basil Griffith Library in Sheffield and then Waterstones Durham on Saturday [13th April]. I’m excited – and nervous!

When can we hope to see more Nik and Norva?

Soon I hope!

The Third Degree with Justin A. Reynolds

From debut author Justin A. Reynolds comes Opposite of Always, a razor-sharp, hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose and the moments that make life worth reliving.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

I was given a copy of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS at the CILIP YLG London Macmillan event in January, it was one of the books they told us about that I loved the sound of, so when I was given the opportunity to ask Justin some questions for the blog I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, and boy am I glad I did! It isn’t your classic YA love story, it isn’t your classic teen angst story, but it is your classic teenager trying to deal with what life throws at him. Jack is a great protagonist, making terrible decisions and bad jokes while his family and friends stick by his side through thick and thin (so refreshing). It is funny and moving and totally engrossing, and I finished it in a day.

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

‘Opposite of Always’ is your debut novel, was it a long journey to publication or was it snapped up?

Great question. The answer is actually a combination of both. Opposite of Always is my third or fourth completed manuscript, after drafting my first back at university; so, yes, it’s been a long journey in that sense. In fact, at one point, right before beginning this draft, I’d considered giving up writing altogether. Of course, now I’m glad I kept going. Once my agent took the story out on submission with publishers, we had immediate interest the very next day, and it was a whirlwind from there. I was very fortunate.

Do you still have a day job? How have you managed writing time?

Currently, writing is my day job, which is something I’d always dreamed of—writing full time. I do often think of my former occupation, though, with a special fondness; I was a registered nurse and had the privilege of assisting so many awesome patients get back on their feet. It was a very different job than writing, but both revolve around stories, on shaping a narrative. And both require a great deal of humility and empathy.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

The best thing has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people! The young adult book community, as it turns out, is smaller than I thought; which has been nice because it’s afforded me the chance to get to know other writers. They’ve shared their personal stories of perseverance with me and they’ve given me great advice throughout this entire journey; it’s been a tremendous (and unexpected) help!

You say in your introduction that it is your “refusal to say goodbye” to lost loved ones. Did you find yourself using any real memories in the story or is it all fictional?

So, I actually struggled with the idea of writing a story that stemmed from those personal losses. I wasn’t sure that I had the right to include those personal memories because they were no longer around to share their opinions; because of that, I did not use any specific memories in OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS. But the characters are certainly composites of people that I love; people that have loved me.

Jack has extremely supportive parents, something often missing in YA and very much missing from his friends’ lives, was that the case from the very first draft?

I love this question! The answer is yes! It was absolutely the case from the very first draft. There were a couple of things about this story that I knew from the beginning beginning—one was that Jack’s voice would be the focal point, and another was that he would have a very loving and dynamic support network—the center of which would be his parents. Not only was it important to me that their love for Jack be front and center, but that their love for his friends would feel the same. I think much of the parents’ instincts to love and support Jack (and company) stems from their deep (and sometimes super affectionate haha) love for each other.

You reference ‘Groundhog Day’, were there any other time travel influences that you’d recommend?

I love the movie ‘About Time’! If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and correct that immediately!

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

I just finished a great book called ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme’ by Tiffany D. Jackson; at first glance it may appear to be a departure from her previous work—stories intent on drawing attention to the disregarded and giving voice to the overlooked—but at her newest novel’s core is the same heart and urgency present in all of her stories. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves music, values friendship, and enjoys superb storytelling.

Any plans to come to the UK?

I definitely want to visit the UK! Is this an invitation? 😀

I’m afraid we can’t stretch the budget to airfares, but I know a lot of librarians that would definitely love to meet you if you do come over!

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is out in the UK on the 4th April 2019.