Category Archives: Ya

The Fountains of Silence

A haunting and romantic novel set in post-war Spain by Ruta Sepetys – winner of the Carnegie Medal 2017.

Madrid, 1957.

Daniel, young, wealthy and unsure of his place in the world, views the city through the lens of his camera.

Ana, a hotel maid whose family is suffering under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco.

Lives and hearts collide as they unite to uncover the hidden darkness within the city.

A darkness that could engulf them all . . .

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys once again shines light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love and the hidden violence of silence.

Penguin

I was lucky enough to be invited to join a small Q&A session with Ruta Sepetys on zoom last month, to discuss her latest title THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE. It was an absolutely fascinating conversation between her and Carmen McCullough (editorial director at Puffin), followed by some questions from the invited bloggers. Do read all the other blogs to discover her answers to some really interesting questions about the research behind her writing as well as the writing itself and its reception.

Ruta talked about building narratives from what you know (and assume) about a person, and how important it is to give a voice to unheard stories to maybe change opinions and open up minds. It was amazing hearing about the lengths she went to in researching details to include that would immerse the readers in a sensory experience – to the extent that she owns a key to a room in the hotel that her American family stayed in, brochures they would have seen in the foyer, a spoon they would have used!

When it was my turn to ask some questions, mine weren’t really about FOUNTAINS at all (although it was relevant as it had recently been announced that it had been longlisted for this year’s Carnegie AND NOW SHORTLISTED!!!), but rather about her experience being nominated for and winning the Carnegie medal:

On your website it says your “books have won or been shortlisted for over forty book prizes”, but the Carnegie is the only one specifically mentioned, why is the medal so special?

Ruta’s answer to this question blew me away:

One of the oldest, most enduring prizes that is recognised world-wide…When I began writing…many of the true witnesses would say “don’t bother, no one’s interested, the world has forgotten us”, and to be recognised on a longlist for an award like this…is restoring a bit of dignity to these people…The true survivors feel honoured by the award, and that is really powerful. It brings history out of the dark.

Is it just a nice thing to win an award, or do you think they are important for bigger reasons?

Ruta made some great points about the Carnegie promoting a culture of reading, being a reading community, and bringing people together around one story. Reading is a creative partnership between the author and the reader:

…the author provides the text and the reader brings the character to life, the setting, amplifies the emotion…walks by their side for 300pages feeling their fear…Awards acknowledge that empathy, I think that’s the most important part.

Thank you so much to Ruta for the really thoughtful answers.

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE is out in paperback now!

The Deep-Sea Duke

When Hugo and Ada travel to their friend Dorian’s planet for the holidays, Hugo is anxious about being accepted by Dorian’s powerful family. But when they arrive on Hydrox, there are more pressing things to worry about, as the planet has become a temporary home for refugee butterflies. Displaced from their home by climate change, the butterflies have been offered sanctuary by Dorian’s parents, but they’re quickly running out of space. Meanwhile, beneath the seas, a strange creature is wreaking all kinds of havoc … Can Hugo, Dorian and Ada step in before the crisis gets out of control?

Barrington Stoke
cover design: Helen Crawford-White

You all know how much I love the extra-readable YA from Barrington Stoke (and everything else they publish, but anyway…) so I’m always excited when I get the chance to review one of their titles. I was especially excited to see The Deep Sea Duke arrive, as The Starlight Watchmaker introduced some utterly amazing characters and I wanted to join them in another adventure. I also got a chance to follow up with the author, Lauren James:

When I interviewed you for TeenLibrarian around the publication of The Starlight Watchmaker, you mentioned that you had plans to write a sequel on Dorian’s planet because there was still a lot more story to tell about Dorian and Hugo’s relationship. I’ve loved to see that come true (and was really pleased to see my favourite character, Ada, still plays a large part – pun intended). Is the final version much different to what you had planned 18 months ago?

Not much, really! I’ve always had a really clear vision for these books, and one of the joys of writing short novellas (each book is around 20,000 words long) is that the edits tend to be quite low-key. Not much changes, unlike my novels, which are torn to bits before I’m through with them. But I’ve always been able to see exactly where Hugo and Dorian’s story is going, and it’s so nice to see it come together. 

There is a definite focus on climate change (and the causes) in this novella, did you find yourself doing a lot of research before (or during) the world building?

I’m very interested in climate politics in general, so a lot of the content in the book was stuff I was already aware of. I read a lot of newsletters about climate change, and reading articles helped me establish what I wanted to say with the novella.

What is your main piece of advice for a teen concerned about climate change, and how they can do anything about it?

So many of the climate fiction books I read focus on the effect that individuals can have on the planet, with the message that we all need to be more responsible, greener consumers. I wanted to look at how industry and businesses are causing pollution, to make it clear to my young, scared readers that it’s not their responsibility to fix climate change. No amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem.

However, there are some things people can do to help! My biggest tips are: 

  • Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views
  • Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take
  • Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options
  • Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives
  • Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)
  • Change to a renewable energy utility supplier
  • Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low
  • Install solar panels or solar roof tiles
  • Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying
  • Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can. They truly are the lungs of our planet. Depleted forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves and wetlands have the ability to grow back quickly, but we need to give them the opportunity to do that. 

How did the Climate Fiction Writers League come about?

The idea was inspired by a similar writing collective, the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by activists, who said, “A body of writers working for a common cause cannot fail to influence public opinion.” They encouraged professional writers to create work about the suffrage movement working to give women the vote. These books were written and published before women got the vote – when they had no idea whether their activism would be successful. 

The comparison between the suffragettes and modern Extinction Rebellion activists is something I’d been thinking about a lot while writing my own climate fiction novel – it’s one of the big questions of our time, I think. Is political protest enough for something as urgent as the climate crisis? Should activists be taking direct action, similar to those taken by the suffragettes? 

I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself while writing my novel, and the Women Writers Suffrage League was mentioned in some non-fiction about the suffragettes. Immediately, I wanted to join a similar movement for climate fiction writers – but I couldn’t find any when I googled it. In fact, I couldn’t really find any comprehensive resources about climate fiction at all. It seemed like something that would be really useful to a lot of people, so I decided to set one up. 

The group has really taken on its own life beyond what I ever imagined, with over 100 authors on board now, and lots of essays and interviews to read: https://climatefictionwritersleague.substack.com/ 

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

I just read an early copy of A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, which is a really lovely far-future look at a world where humans have worked to stop climate change – and succeeded! I think there’s a desperate need for futures which aren’t dystopian, to encourage people to keep trying to save the planet and not give up – and this does that really well. I also really enjoyed Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, a nice space opera romance.

What are you working on at the moment?

My next novel continues the climate change theme with Green Rising, set in a future where teenagers can grow plants, and use it to rewild the planet. I’m also working on the novel adaptation of my internet murder mystery An Unauthorised Fan Treatise, which I posted online at https://gottiewrites.wordpress.com/ So lots of stuff in the pipeline!

Huge thanks to Lauren for her wonderful answers and to Barrington Stoke for sending me a review copy. The Deep Sea Duke is out now!

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. She is also a Creative Writing lecturer, freelance editor, screenwriter, and the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League. Her upcoming release is Green Rising, a climate change thriller.

Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award.

Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise.

She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.

Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent.

Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient.  She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2021. She teaches creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

Forever Ends on Friday

What if you could bring your best friend back to life – but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

Forever Ends on Friday weaves together loss, grief, friendship, and love to form a wholly unique homage to the bonds that bring people together for life – and beyond.

Macmillan Kids

Published in the US as EARLY DEPARTURES, FOREVER ENDS ON FRIDAY is the second YA novel by Justin A. Reynolds. I interviewed him around the publication date of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and his answers were great, do have a look (and read that book if you haven’t yet)! The synopsis for FOREVER actually really reminded me of OPPOSITE, with the idea of doing things right the second time around, so I was a little worried that it might feel samey…thank goodness I was wrong! Although the idea of second chances is important in both books, it was a refreshingly different read. Family, again, is huge in the story, it is about the importance of family and relationships of all sorts. I loved the humour, brightening even the darkest moments but without spoiling them, and the warmth in the relationships. Jamal’s voice is just great. The premise is so interesting and plays out believably, leaving the reader with lots to ponder over: Do you think it is a good idea to have a second chance to say goodbye?

My last interview with Justin was one of my favourite for the blog, so when Amber at Macmillan asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for this second book I took the opportunity to ask just a few more questions…

What is it about the idea of second chances that sparks your imagination?

Great question! I think it probably has to do with my overanalyzing brain, ha. I tend to replay moments and episodes in a loop, turning over a situation on all sides, trying to grasp either what went right or wrong, what I could’ve done better or just differently. The idea of having the time and space to fix the things we stubbornly broke out of frustration, anxiety, or hurt feelings I think will forever remain intriguing to me. We’re so tragically flawed as people, all of us—and yet, most of us believe in redemption, myself included; and I believe it’s love that makes such healing possible.

Love, in its most honest form, is such a powerful experience; it’s like we’re being remade from the inside out—like remodeling for the soul. You are forever changed. And once you’ve had it, it’s crushing to be without it. For me, the reason we’re here on this planet is to form meaningful, interpersonal relationships, which only happens when we reciprocate vulnerability—but with such openness, we expose ourselves to pain, betrayal, and apathy. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hurt, but when, even at the hands of those who truly love us. I suppose all of my stories stem from this: I so desperately want to believe in humanity; I need to believe that, given the opportunity, we’ll do what’s right by each other. But I also appreciate that sometimes that requires a second chance.

I love the banter between the friends. Do you listen to a lot of teenagers chatting in real life for inspiration?

Thank you. I’m so happy you enjoy it because dialogue is probably the thing I enjoy most about writing—or maybe it’s the thing that I’ve always had the easiest time with, ha. I’m lucky that I get to visit schools all over the country and meet and listen to lots of young people talking about their experiences, the things that matter to them. I think listening is the most important part of writing, other than being a good reader. There’s a rhythm to language, to our conversations, whether those be internal or with our family and friends—and for me there are few greater writerly feelings than when you successfully tap into that sound. Another kinda weird thing I do is I watch movies and television with the subtitles (captions) on—which I know drives some people crazy, haha. But there’s something about seeing the words as they’re being spoken that I find both beautiful and instructive. The fact that there are so many ways to say the same thing to someone else, I love that.

Have you had much opportunity to engage with readers in these…interesting times?

I’m fortunate in that I’ve gotten to do quite a few virtual events, including book festivals and conferences and interviews. I’ve also done several virtual school visits, which are always fun. We also had our second annual Cleveland Reads (#CLEReads) Book Festival this year, also via a virtual platform, and that was such a thrilling experience, connecting with awesome readers, young and old, all over the world.

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

I always love this question because I love talking about other people’s books! So Bryan Washington’s MEMORIAL is amazing; any story highlighting “found family” is already going to be high on my list but then Bryan’s inventive language and his unique POV is absolutely electric. I should mention I believe this is formally categorized as an adult title.

Also, I’m reading and loving Danielle Evans’s new short story collection, THE OFFICE OF HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS. I don’t know if there’s a short story writer I enjoy and admire more; what she manages to convey in such small spaces detonates fireworks in my brain. Every Evans story makes me green with envy; she’s a master.

I also want to say thank you so much for having me; it’s always such a pleasure talking with you!

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers, it is my pleasure to read your books and have a chance to ask a few nosy questions!

Huge thanks to Macmillan Kids for sending me a review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour for another awesome Justin A. Reynolds!

The book is out now!

The Awesome Power of Sleep

The essential guide to sleep from award-winning teenage well-being expert Nicola Morgan, author of bestselling Blame My BrainThe Teenage Guide to Stress and The Teenage Guide to Friends.

Late nights, addictive technology and minds racing with exam stress and friendship worries: it’s no wonder the teenage stereotype is tired eyes and sleeping through the weekend. Just like adults, teenagers are sleeping less now than ever before, yet sleep is crucial to our health and well-being. Internationally renowned expert on the teenage brain, Nicola Morgan, tackles this essential subject – asking why teenagers so desperately need a good night’s sleep, exploring what a lack of sleep does to their developing brains, and explaining how to have the best sleep possible. Authoritative, accessible and informed by the latest scientific evidence, Nicola Morgan writes a fascinating and helpful guide for both teenagers and adults alike.

Walker Books

Nicola Morgan has written extensively about the teenage brain and mental health, and this, her latest book, focusses on the science of sleep. Now, I go through life feeling tired, thinking that there’s nothing I can do about it as it is all down to being woken up most nights by a restless child, but THE AWESOME POWER OF SLEEP reminded me that there are so many things I can do about it…and I’m trying! Less screens in the evening (she typed, on a screen, just before bedtime…), less alcohol and caffeine, more deep breathing and stretches – I really do think everyone could get something out of reading this book.

Nicola wrote this piece for Teen Librarian (any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental):

In which I become a little bit bossy (to adults) about sleep

While I was writing THE AWESOME POWER OF SLEEP, this was a common scenario when I arrived at a school to talk to teenagers about some aspect of their wellbeing.

The librarian and someone in the Senior Leadership Team – let’s call them Matt and Caroline, just for fun – greet me and we walk towards the staffroom. “What are you working on at the moment?” Matt asks, conversationally.

“Sleep,” I say. Two pairs of ears prick up. They ask for some tips.

On questioning, I discover that Caroline arrives home exhausted after work, eats some biscuits (because sugar), collapses on the sofa and falls asleep with the TV on, wakes an hour later feeling groggy, cooks a meal, has wine, does some work, goes on social media, has another glass of wine “to help me sleep” and then settles down to finish her work and answer emails before going to bed.

Matt is similar except that he isn’t allowed to fall asleep on the sofa because the house is cacophonous with family members at various stages of homework or emotional meltdown and he can’t do his emails and work until he’s in bed and everyone else is asleep. He has strong coffee to keep him awake enough to do the work. The wine still features, though. Thank goodness, he thinks. Because wine helps you sleep, doesn’t it?

Matt and Caroline have only done one thing right: created a routine. And, yes, I recommend a routine. But not like this! These are terrible routines which will wreck their sleep length and quality.

The main mistakes are:

  • Having a nap late afternoon or early evening. It’s OK (though not practical on a workday) to nap earlier but a nap after work hinders the important night sleep.
  • The second glass of wine. (Possibly the first, too, but I won’t take all your pleasures away!) Alcohol raises heartrate and we need a lower heartrate to get the benefits of deep sleep. More deep sleep happens in the first half of the night while the alcohol is still in your blood, so a huge proportion of restorative sleep is damaged.
  • Answering emails (or doing anything on screen) in the late evening – because of the light and because emails are almost never relaxing…
  • Working late at night, because it wakes your brain with adrenaline and dopamine while still making you tired. So, you are tired but alert.
  • Caffeine – but you know that.

I don’t blame Matt and Caroline for any of this! These are very natural habits for over-worked people. They are so focused on getting through the work and life stuff, thinking about the young people in their care, never having enough time to look after themselves, that they have done what busy people tend to do: take the easiest paths down the hill.

Matt and Caroline are not getting enough sleep. This negatively affects their:

  • Concentration
  • Mood
  • Appetite and food choices – sleep deprived people are hungrier and more drawn towards fatty, sugary and salty foods
  • Self-control and resistance to temptation
  • Controlling words and actions in response to emotions
  • Memory and retention of information
  • Hormones
  • Immune system
  • Mental and physical health and wellbeing in pretty much every way

Matt and Caroline need to read The Awesome Power of Sleep before a teenager gets their hands on it and starts telling them off! But what I really care about is that everyone gets better sleep because when we have better sleep we feel better and when we feel better we function better. Matt and Caroline, by looking after themselves will be better able to look after the people they care about.

So, if I seem to be critical, I’m really not. I just need to be a little bit bossy because I care! I also know what it feels like not to have enough sleep: I’ve had my baby grandson living with us for the last six months. Now, there’s a boy who’s going to need The Awesome Power of Sleep as soon as he can read!

The good news is that habits are not so difficult to break. You might need a bit of help, though, and that’s where I come in. You’ll find all the tips and explanations in my book and on my website. The main one is to create a healthy routine in the winding-down period towards sleep, avoiding the things that hinder sleep: alcohol, caffeine, stress, work, and the lights and notifications from screens.

2020 was hard on many people’s night-time rest because anxiety is one of the worst enemies of sleep. But as we enter 2021 and really need to take care of ourselves, I hope Matt and Caroline, and all the other adults working or living with young people, will sleep well: but not on the sofa after work!

Nicola Morgan, The Teenage Brain Woman, is a multi-award-winning author whose work on young brains, psychology and mental health is loved by teenagers, schools and families around the world. For someone whose last school science report said, ‘Nicola has no aptitude for science subjects’, she’s written a lot of science-based books and gained the respect of real scientists. She has been a YA novelist, English teacher and dyslexia specialist and the mother of two teenage (now grown-up) daughters. Now, when not writing and dreaming in a garden office over a valley, she keeps herself physically and mentally healthy as a passionate vegetable gardener, decent cook and determined runner.

Nicola does talks, online or in-person, for conferences, schools, parents and public audiences. She has created unique teaching materials, including videos: terrific value for schools, bringing all the benefits of repeated visits at a fraction of the cost of one!

Website: www.nicolamorgan.com

Twitter: NicolaMorgan

Insta: NicolaMorgansBrain

The Awesome Power of Sleep is out now!

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome, by Lucy Cuthew

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

Walker Books

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

4 Reasons Verse Novels are Awesome

and 4 Awesome Verse Novels to Read

by Lucy Cuthew

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

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

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

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

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

TOP YA VERSE NOVELS

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

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

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

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

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

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

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

Hijab and Red Lipstick – blog tour

Being a teenager isn’t easy. All Sara wants to do is experiment with make-up and hang out with friends. It doesn’t help when you have a super-strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. But when her family move to the Arabian Gulf, it feels like every door is being closed on Sara’s future. Can Sara find her voice again? Will she ever be free? 

Hashtag Press

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is not an easy read, in the author’s note to the reader she mentions that it covers some upsetting subjects (TW: including discussions of rape, coercive behaviour, self-harm, domestic abuse and sexual abuse), so it is definitely a Young Adult title. We join Sara as she begins talking to a journalist about her childhood experiences, her early years in the UK and then moving to the Gulf because of her father’s job. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, as we were warned she doesn’t have a particuarly happy time, but it was a glimpse into a different (for me) culture that really made me think about things we take for granted in the UK.

I had the opportunity to ask the author, Yousra Imran, some questions about writing:

Your note to the reader said you drew on your own experiences as well as those of others, was it difficult to write or was it cathartic?

It was both difficult writing about such painful topics, even if it was a fictional piece of work, but also cathartic, as I felt by giving a voice to stories based on real life experiences that I was almost giving myself the talking therapy I never got to have.

How different was your approach to writing a full length novel compared to pieces for publications?

Writing an article for a publication is very different to writing a novel. At the moment I write current affairs articles which are of course much shorter (usually 800-1500 words) and they usually require me talking to lots of people to collect views, witness statements and facts. When it comes to writing a novel, even if I am basing it off things I have seen, heard or experienced, and even if I carry out research, I have that leeway to completely make up the characters and the story’s events. I don’t feel under pressure writing a novel as there is no deadline, whereas there is usually a tight deadline for an article. I don’t tend to map everything out when it comes to a novel – I have an idea of the storyline and I map out the characters, but the story evolves as I write it. With articles I have to completely map them out before I write them.

Did you always intend for this to be for young adults?

I think it was always going to naturally be for young adults if the main character is a teenager/young adult and is talking as a teen/young adult. However, the novel can be read by any adult too – that’s what I love about most YA books today – they can be read by adults too!

What advice would you give to a young woman in similar circumstances to Sara’s teen years?

Sadly this is a very tough question to answer, as it really depends on which country the young woman is living in. If she was living in Europe, the UK, America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, I’d be able to say here’s a list of organisations that can help you and provide you with support. It’s a completely different ball game in other countries like those in the Middle East. Without sounding pessimistic, in Middle Eastern countries the legal system is patriarchal in the literal sense, meaning your father literally owns you. My advice to a teen or young woman in the Middle East would be to study hard, try to get a qualification and become financially independent, as financial independence gives you choices.

If you could write extensively about only one of the various topics you mention on your blog, which would you choose?

If I could only write about one topic it would definitely be about women’s rights in the Middle East, no hesitation!

Are you planning more YA?

My next novel is adult fiction, however, I do have an idea for a novel after that which would fall under YA!

Have you had an opportunity to talk to young people about the book?

The publishers and I had been talking about school visits before the pandemic and unfortunately lockdown meant we have been unable to, however, I am definitely planning to do virtual school and college “visits” where I can engage with young people and talk about the book.

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

I am reading The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, Mona El Tahawy’s feminist manifesto, which came out last year. It is hardcore feminism and I love it, and I would recommend it to everyone, regardless of gender. Reading it really puts the way world governments perceive and treat women, people of colour,  people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community into perspective. It’s also nice reading thoughts that I have had myself, thoughts which male family members said I was “weird” for having. I can’t be so weird if there are other women sharing the same exact thoughts!

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is out now! Have a look at the rest of the blog tour (and thankyou to Hashtag Press and LitPR for including me):

Thank You Joseph Coelho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOMBIERELLA, Walker Books, is brilliantly illustrated by Freya Hartas

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

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

One of my favourite pages from THANK YOU

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

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

Joe Coelho Portraits Hay Festival 2018

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

Just Another Little Lie

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

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

Barrington Stoke

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

Eve Ainsworth (photo credit Linda Woodard)

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

Cinderella is Dead

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

Bloomsbury
cover art by Fernanda Suarez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalynn Bayron, the author of CINDERELLA IS DEAD

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

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

The Diverse Book Awards

This morning the longlists for The Diverse Book Awards were announced, created by The Author School to showcase the talent of marginalised voices, and the books started arriving at my house to read!

I’m really please that two of my fellow judges are actual teenagers, reading the children’s and YA lists, and the awards also teamed up with blogger and photographer Tenelle Ottley-Matthew, to help spread the love, so do keep your eye on her blog, insta and twitter!

The Children’s Longlist:

The YA Longlist:

The Adult Longlist:

To be eligible, the author has to be UK based and the book had to be published in the UK in 2019. I’ve already read all the YA and most of the children’s lists, all brilliant titles that I’m looking forward to rereading with the criteria in mind, to help choose the shortlist and eventual winner! I’ve read one of the grownup books so far…