Category Archives: Interviews

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.

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince


Emily Windsnap is an ordinary girl on land, but a mermaid when she is in water. Liz has created a world and stories brimming with magic, adventure, friendship… and in this new story, we see Emily become more of a young feminist; taking matters into her own hands when her boyfriend is kidnapped; ensuring that young girl readers see her take a confident place in a male-dominated world, in this case a pirate ship. 

Showing that it is just fine to be seen as brave and strong, and that friendships are worth fighting for was a theme important to Liz. This is a transformative moment for a beloved character: moving from being dependent, and often reliant on others, to realising her own power, and being an individual and self reliant, ok within herself.

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince

The Emily Windsnap series has been going strong for years, selling over 5million copies worldwide and translated into dozens of languages. This is the 8th title, but I’m ashamed to say it was the first I have read. It is aimed at a younger audience than the usual TeenLibrarian fodder, 8+, but now that Matt and I are occasionally even popping picturebooks in I thought it still had a place, and I’m certain that younger teens will still enjoy Emily’s adventures! One of my favourite things about it is how important friendship is.

Liz does some intense research when planning each story, and shared with us the adventure she had researching this title:

Liz Kessler

When people ask about my job, I tell them I sit in my pyjamas looking out at the sea and making up stories about mermaids.

And yes, this is true. (Full disclosure, I am actually writing this blog in my PJs. It’s pretty much the writer’s uniform.) But that isn’t all I do. In fact, one of my absolute favourite parts of my job is the bit that gets me out in the world, researching and seeking ideas for my book.

Sometimes I find what I thought I was looking for. Most of the time, I find much, much more.

I went on two research trips for my latest book, Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince. One of them was a road trip to France where I visited Mont St Michel (a tiny island with a castle on a hill) and the old, walled city of St Malo.

The other trip was a week on a tall ship.

When I went on the ship, I already knew that I was looking for inspiration for my pirate prince. What I didn’t know was that I would find a couple of pirate girls at the same time.

Michelle and Anaïs, the two female crew members aboard the tall ship Morgenster, were two of the most inspiring young women I’ve met in a long time. Tough, active, clever, witty, musical and as ready as any of the boys to whizz up a ladder to hoist the sails, these girls were an absolute joy to be with.

And of course they found their way into my book. In the book, there is a moment when Emily confronts the two pirate girls aboard the ship where she has (sort of) been taken prisoner. She says to them, ‘How many girls braid each other’s hair and do it up with ship’s wire instead of pink ribbons? How many girls can fix the cable on the forestay better than their male counterparts?’

In this moment, she is pointing out that by living outside of what society would deem ‘normal’ for girls, they are uniquely positioned to stand up for themselves and for each other and to look beyond the shackles that tie all of us to society’s rules and expectations. And of course, in doing this, Emily realises that she has the right to do the same thing.

I had no idea at the time that Emily was going to grow up to become the young feminist that emerges in this book. But I’m glad she has!

One of the ‘real’ pirate girls, Anaïs, told me this:

‘As a child, the fact that I personally happened to be a girl was always very irrelevant when it came to games, dreams and aspirations, although I did take it into account when I wanted my games to be historically realistic. Every summer holiday my Dad and I pretended the house turned into a pirate ship and we were having those grand adventures. Then, there was no question of gender of course. But when my games turned into more realistic “period pieces” I remember either assuming I *was* a boy (why not? I don’t live in the 18th century either), or alternatively, giving some thoughts to how to look more like a boy, in order to be able to fool a captain and be hired as a ship’s boy.’

I believe that this type of imaginative play is an essential and wonderful part of growing up, and I also think we are living in times when girls are finding themselves becoming more and more ‘allowed’ to take on whatever roles they want.

I am proud to be a children’s author and am particularly proud and honoured that I get to write about Emily Windsnap. If she is part of passing the message to girls and young women that they can be anything they want to be, regardless of gender, then I will consider every moment of sitting in my PJs staring out at the sea making up stories about mermaids to have been time well spent.

I wanted to ask Liz a few more questions after reading about Emily, and she humoured me:

I really enjoyed reading your FCBG post about building a relationship with your characters & wondered what object you had on your desk while writing this book! Actually this time I had a few objects! The main one was a crystal on a chain that I bought from a shop in Tenerife. When I bought it, I thought it had something to do with the book but at the time I wasn’t sure what it’s significance would be. It turned out that diamonds and sparkling lights – similar to the light from this crystal – would form an important part of Emily solving clues and finding the treasure!


You didn’t plan to write so many Emily Windsnap books, have you got any more ideas in the pipeline or will you just wait and see if inspiration strikes again? Well, I’m thrilled to tell you that Emily Windsnap book nine will be out in 2020!


Which of the research trips you’ve been on has been your favourite? That is a HARD question, and in fact I can’t pick one so I’m going to have to give you my top three: Bermuda (for the Monster from the Deep), a cruise in Norway (for the Land of the Midnight Sun), and a tall ship trip in the Canaries (for the Pirate Prince)

Your book for older teens, ‘Read Me Like a Book‘, is a coming out story. Have you considered including LGBT+ content in the Emily Windsnap series? I have thought about this, but the way I see it, the Emily Windsnap books are ALL about people overcoming prejudice and different communities learning to live together and people (especially Emily!) fighting for social justice and the right for all of us to be who we are – and so I see the books as actually having the themes that I want to share, but doing so through mermaid stories rather than more ‘rea-world’ content/issues. In that sense, the books can put across the ideas and messages that I want them to, but hopefully in a way that feels fun, non-confrontational and appropriate for eight-year-olds!

Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince is out now! Thankyou to Orion for a review copy

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

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

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

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

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019

The Third Degree… with Daniel Gray-Barnett


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

Did/do you have your own Grandma Z? If not who inspired the character?

I don’t have a Grandma Z, but I do have 3 grandmothers, each of who inspired the character in their own little way. I’ve always been drawn to strong, female characters with a lot of personality and Grandma Z insisted that that was how she would be too.

Are any parts of the story based on personal experiences?

Yes! Some of the things they do and places they go are based on real things that I have done, or at the very least would like to do. Did you know there is an Enchanted Rock in Texas? I climbed it a couple of years ago. The Big Dipper is also the name of the first rollercoaster I ever went on.

I loved the artwork in the book – how many implements did you use in its creation?

Thanks! I used several tools. I use a variety of Chinese brushes with black ink which are great for linework up to big, rough textures. I also use 3B pencils. When it comes to the digital part, I use a scanner, Wacom tablet and Photoshop for cleaning up, arranging and colouring the artwork.

Was the colour palette you used a conscious decision or did it come about through experimentation?

It was a conscious decision. I think Grandma Z’s character was the first thing to pop into my head – a flame-haired, slightly scary character in a bright blue coat. I love using limited colour palettes in my work so it was a great challenge to see how far I could take it with the book.

How long did Grandma Z take from conception to completion?

About 18 months. It was written over 12 months and then it was a very busy 6 months to finish and hand in the art. It sounds like a long time but when you’ve got other projects, work, a partner and life in general throwing distractions in your way, it can be hard to finish!

Is there anything in the creative process that you would do differently for your next book?

I think if the next book ends up not being the next Grandma Z instalment, it will use more colours. Though if it is the sequel to Grandma Z, I’m wondering whether it will still use the same colour palette.

I’d probably try and procrastinate a little less and have some more solid time devoted to working on this book too. My first book was done whilst I was working part-time and busy with other jobs, but I recently moved to a rural town in Tasmania, which is beautiful and peaceful and allows me a lot more time to focus on my work. I’m hoping that here I can be a bit more productive!

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

I just bought Abner Graboff’s What Can Cats Do? He’s one of my illustration heroes and I’ve spent a lot of time looking lovingly at the illustrations from this book. He did a lot of wonderful work in the 1960’s. This book was originally called A Fresh Look At Cats but has been republished this year. I literally jumped for joy when I saw it in the book shop. It’s a great picture book for younger readers and has a lot of humour.

As far as other books go, I’m in between books but just finished Flames by Robbie Arnott. He’s also from Tasmania and his book is set in Tasmania – one full of magical realism and mythology. It’s a story about death, gods, grief and nature. I loved it. I think it really captures a lot about this place I’m living in now. If you enjoy contemporary fiction, I’d definitely recommend it.

Do you ever visit schools or libraries (or would you consider it)? If you do what is the best way to get in touch with you to organise a visit?

Yes! I’d definitely consider it. You can always send me an email at dan@danielgraybarnett.com

I’d love to hear from any fans, whether it’s to share any work, stories, illustrations or just to say hello.

Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is published by Scribe Publications and is available now