Category Archives: The Third Degree

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 Starlight Watchmaker

I feel like I should have a tag just for Barrington Stoke reviews, because they are some of my very favourite books. The Starlight Watchmaker by Lauren James is no exception (so huge thanks for sending me a proof)!

Wealthy students from across the galaxy come to learn at the prestigious academy where Hugo toils as a watchmaker. But he is one of the lucky ones. Many androids like him are jobless and homeless. Someone like Dorian could never understand their struggle – or so Hugo thinks when the pompous duke comes banging at his door. But when Dorian’s broken time-travel watch leads them to discover a sinister scheme, the pair must reconcile their differences if they are to find the culprit in time. A wildly imaginative sci-fi adventure from YA star Lauren James, particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+

I love sci-fi that makes you think without taking itself too seriously, and this fit the bill perfectly. The characters and their backgrounds are so imaginative and well rounded considering the length of the book, fitting such world building into such a short novella takes real craft! I was very excited to be given the opportunity to ask Lauren some questions, about the book and more…

Hi Lauren, welcome to Teen Librarian!

This is your first book for Barrington Stoke, was writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It was a lot faster and more fun, and it gave me the freedom to experiment in ways I wouldn’t for a full-length novel.

Was it a longer editing process to fit the “readability” criteria of a Barrington Stoke book?

It was the most intensive editing process I’ve ever undertaken. There are usually several rounds of edits for a book – the first focussing on wide-ranging plot points, then focussing in scene-by-scene, then line to line, then finally looking at each word. With a readable novella, that process is then continued again for several more rounds of edits that make sure that every single word fits with the words around it, that everything is explained, and that the words only have one possible interpretation. They work to make sure that sentence structure is chronological and easy to understand, there are plenty of dialogue markers to make the speaker obvious, and there isn’t any complicated formatting. It was like watching masters at work.

My favourite character was Ada, how did you get the idea for (basically) a living volcano?

I really love Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle, who is a fire demon/burning ember. He expresses emotions through burning fire, which I always thought was excellent. I wanted to do something similar.

Might you revisit the characters in another story?

Yes! I want to write a sequel set on Dorian’s underwater planet – I have a plot already planned out, so fingers crossed I get chance to write it! Hugo and Dorian’s relationship still has a lot more story to tell.

What books/films/TV shows are your main source of inspiration?

I wanted to write a more readable story that still uses all of my favourite sci-fi elements – there are hints of Binti, Jeeves & Wooster, Starfleet Academy from Star Trek, Saga, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

This novella is designed to be a jumping-off point to help readers explore the whole canon of sci-fi, hopefully while feeling like there might be a place for them in the genre, after all.

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

Great question! I love both, but I think workshops are a lot more fun because I can talk to individual students rather than speaking to a whole hall. Plus, students always have such great writing imaginations. They come up with ideas that I would never dream up.

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

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – A fictional take on a spoke history of a seventies rock band feud. A great look at unreliable narrators and biased storytelling.

The True Queen by Zen Cho – This series is a Malaysian take on Regency romances, with magic and dragons and fairies. So wonderfully unique.

What are you working on now?

My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you it’s about ghosts and murder and university life.

Lauren James (photo credit Pete Bedwell)

Lauren James is the author of Young Adult science fiction, including The Quiet at the End of the World, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Starlight Watchmaker and The Next Together series. She teaches creative writing for the University of Cambridge, Coventry University and Writing West Midlands, and has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

The Starlight Watchmaker is published in July!

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!

What Can We Be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your kids’ favourite books at the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the great questions!

WHAT CAN WE BE? is out now!

Ryan Crawford, the author of What Can We Be?

The Third Degree with Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, with illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik

You might recognise Omar, he was originally published as The Muslims by small, independent publishing house Sweet Apple, and I wrote a post about how much I loved it (not long after it won the Little Rebels Prize). Now, with new illustrations, Hachette are taking him to the mainstream into his own series of books. I enjoyed reading the proof copy I was sent (thanks Hachette) and noticed that although the story has changed slightly, the humour and everyday touches that I loved remain, and I was very happy to be able to ask author Zanib Mian a few questions about it:

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

You’ve written a number of picture books but this is your first book for older readers, what prompted you to write a longer story?

My writing is often inspired by my own children, so when they were younger, I wrote a lot of picture book stories. When I started writing the book that is now Planet Omar, my son was nine years old. He was growing up, which meant there were so many more dimensions to his often hilarious personality. I was compelled to write a character like him! But I wasn’t quite sure what kind of story I would write, until I began to notice how much young children were suddenly politically aware – discussing Trump in the playground and often overhearing adults discussing the news (usually involving Muslims!). The NSPCC reported a surge in faith-based bullying in playgrounds. Primary aged children were being called ‘terrorists.’ This was all very upsetting and the inspiration behind the book. I thought it was time that the world met a regular Muslim family, like Omar’s.

Why do you feel that it was important to include so many details about the everyday actions of practicing Muslims?

I feel that prejudice arises from a lack of awareness. People may not understand our reasons for doing certain things – they are completely alien to them. For those people who don’t have any Muslim friends and are reluctant to ask questions, the book gives a nice insight into why we do things like fast during Ramadan, or wear hijab. It also includes lots of comical situations that go on in Muslim households that are related to our practices.

I loved Science Sundays! What made you decide that both his parents should be scientists?

That was easy! I am a Molecular Cell Biologist, who loves all things Science. I thought it would be a great way to inspire children towards the subject and show them how ‘cool’ and fun it can be. Making both Mum and Dad Scientists meant that I could really trickle it through the pages, as with Science Sundays, which I very much enjoyed doing!

‘Planet Omar’ was first published as ‘The Muslims’ by Sweet Apple publishers. When you were re-editing it for a larger publishing house did the process feel very different?

Yes, it did. It was the first time I worked with a larger publishing house, so it was very a very different, but hugely positive experience to when I publish books under Sweet Apple. My editor, Kate Agar, wanted to expand the book in areas where I had already felt needed more work, so I was happy to jump on it. Her suggestions and prompts were very inspiring, allowing me to imagine more scenes (just like Omar imagines!) and bringing out the best in my writing.

How did you feel about the illustrations being replaced? Were there any parts you weren’t happy with and asked to be redone?

The illustrations were actually the hardest part of the transition, at first. That’s because, as the book had had a life of its own, I had images in my mind of the characters as they were in The Muslims. Especially for Omar. Seeing him change completely was a bit of an adjustment! The creative team at Hachette were wonderful about getting my input and thoughts. I really have enjoyed working with the whole team there and was really touched by how much they valued my opinion on the artwork and cover. I asked them to make Omar’s face cheekier and the Mum a bit more quirky. They came back with more drafts until I was happy and now I’m in love with the end result!

Do you enjoy visiting schools to talk about Omar?

Oh yes, visiting schools around the publication of Planet Omar. I love seeing the children giggle in complete relation to Omar and his family antics. They seem to be very intrigued and inspired by Omar’s imagination, which is fabulous! One of the schools I visited had already read the book, so their line of questions at the end was very specific. I was extremely warmed by their concern that I might have written the book because I had myself been bullied or suffered a nasty neighbour. I reassured them that it wasn’t the case!

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

I am reading Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland, because I want to read all the awesome books by my author friends. It’s hilarious. I’d recommend it to any kid who wants to have a laugh and likes poo jokes. For some adult reading, I’ve dug into Jonas Jonnason’s Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All – I love this author’s unique writing style. Makes me smile all the way through.

What’s next for Omar, and what’s next for you?!

Planet Omar is a series! Book 2 will be out in Febuary 2020, where you can read about more of his shenanigans! I’ve loved writing for middle grade and had a blast writing Planet Omar book 2.

Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet 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.