Category Archives: Ya

The Austen Girls

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

Bloomsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Love Your Body

What if every young girl loved her body? Love Your Body encourages you to admire and celebrate your body for all the amazing things it can do (like laugh, cry, hug, and feel) and to help you see that you are so much more than your body.

Bodies come in all different forms and abilities. All these bodies are different and all these bodies are good bodies. There is no size, ability, or color that is perfect. What makes you different makes you, you—and you are amazing!Love Your Body introduces the language of self-love and self-care to help build resilience, while representing and celebrating diverse bodies, encouraging you to appreciate your uniqueness.

This book was written for every girl, regardless of how you view your body. All girls deserve to be equipped with the tools to navigate an image-obsessed world.

Freedom is loving your body with all its “imperfections” and being the perfectly imperfect you!

Quarto
Love your Body is illustrated by Carol Rossetti

Love Your Body is a refreshingly honest look at how varied bodies are. It can be given to teens to help them think about a new way of looking at themselves, or shared with younger girls to talk about the message that they are amazing!

I really appreciated that, in the authors note, Jessica states “This book is written for girls, and those who identify as girls. However, the language used is not gendered and the overarching message is universal. Negative body image can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.”.

She has written an extra piece for TeenLibrarian:

When I catch the train to work each morning, I look around me and no one person looks the same. The only thing we have in common is our difference.

Despite difference being the only thing that unites us, from about the age of 8 we want nothing more than to fit in, to meet this illusion of ‘normal’. It might have been a comment from a classmate or one of the parents at pick up, and suddenly you are aware that you are ‘short’, ‘tall’, ‘big’ or ‘skinny’. All of a sudden you realise that your body is being observed by others, and that you are something other than ‘normal’. Ever since that moment that you realised you were too tall, too short, too something, you developed a negative body image. 

Negative body image is often treated as a superficial issue, and something that is inevitable. When it is actuality, a negative body image can change the course of a young person’s life. In particular, a young women’s life, because our society tells girls and women that the most important thing about them is their appearance. 

When girls are worried about how their bodies look:

8 in 10 will avoid seeing friends or family, or trying out for a team or club.

7 in 10 will stop themselves from eating.

7 in 10 will not be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision.

They even perform worse in maths, reading and comprehension. 

I am yet to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced a negative body image – it’s a feminist issue. It’s holding girls and women back. It’s the thief of our precious energy, and our joy.

We have to stop valuing bodies for how they look and start appreciating them for what they do for us. Because our bodies are incredible; they allow us to experience every good and wonderful thing this world has to offer. They are our homes. 

I wrote Love Your Body for my childhood self who hated being tall and just wanted so desperately to be ‘normal’. And because I was so sick of hearing people tell me ‘this is just how it is for girls’. We were not born despising our bodies, we were taught to, and we can make a decision to teach each other how to love our bodies again. 

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti, publishing 3 March in hardback from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, £10.99. (Read alone 8-12 year-olds / Read together 6+).

Thanks to Fritha for sending me a review copy!

The Sky is Mine – Blog Tour!

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy knows three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.

Rock the Boat

The Sky Is Mine is a stunning debut, firmly in the YA+ bracket with its unflinching discussions of (TW:) rape, coercive behaviour, domestic violence and abuse. It is absolutely terrifying in places but funny in others, an extremely emotional read, the characters are so well written and real that every decision is convincing and doesn’t feel contrived. The way it discusses toxic masculinity and, frankly, how awful teen boys can be without realising they (or their friends) are doing something wrong, is something that could spark brilliantly useful conversations – I hope as many boys read it as girls.

Izzy, the protagonist, has a passion for Desert Island Discs, a radio programme during which the guest chooses 8 ‘discs’ and explains why those songs are important to them, so on this blog tour Amy has done the same!

Finish the F**king Book ~ Stella Duffy

There’s no rule that your discs have to musical. They just have to be special. And this is certainly that. I met Stella Duffy about twenty years ago when, having read her fantasically different Singling Out the Couples, I went on an Arvon writing retreat on which she her wife Shelley were tutors. Only they weren’t just tutors. They gave so much of themselves that when I returned home and people asked me how the course had been, there was really only one way to describe it: life-changing. And Stella continues to be life-changing for me. I messaged her on my 36th birthday promising to write every day. This vow was rooted in the hope that in promising to fulfil my goal to someone I wouldn’t want to let down, I would be more likely to achieve what I’d so far failed to do: write a novel. In that same message, I joked about wishing I’d captured a video of her telling me, a couple of years previously, that it’s all well and good having lots of ideas, hopes and dreams, but the only way to make those come to fruition was to sit down and finish the f**king book. If I had that video, I said, I’d watch it as a daily reminder of what was required. I didn’t expect her to respond. But she did. Not just with an email but with a video – exactly like the one I wished I’d made – of her telling me to “finish the f**king book”. That video changed my life. I watched it daily and, as such, I sat down, did what Stella told me and finished the fucking book. A book that got me an agent that got me one step closer to a deal. That’s the thing with Stella, her you-can-do-this cheerleading bouys and ripples with consequences of life-changing proportions. I want to be like Stella. Generous. Bolstering. Kind. Listening to this would be a reminder of the importance of perseverance and, so too, the brilliance of people. People like Stella. #BeMoreStella

Amy Beashel
Amy Beashel, author of The Sky is Mine

THE SKY IS MINE is published by Rock the Boat, an imprint of Oneworld Publications, and out now!

Thankyou to the publishers for a review copy

Jane Eyre

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

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

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

Barrington Stoke
Jane Eyre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of events do you prefer doing with teens?

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

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

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

Stagecoach Mary

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

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

What’s next in the pipeline?

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

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

Tanya Landman

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

(Thankyou Barrington Stoke for sending me a proof copy)

Seven Ghosts by Chris Priestley



Jake and the other finalists in a story-writing competition have been invited to a stately home for a tour like no other. As their guide leads them through grand rooms, hidden nooks and magnificent grounds, they are about to hear the stories of seven ghosts who haunt these walls. But strange shapes and shadows follow Jake as he journeys through the house. The tour guide’s behaviour becomes ever more suspicious. With each tale that he hears, Jake begins to feel more uneasy, and soon he will discover that something is very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
Seven Ghosts, written and illustrated by Chris Priestley

We at TeenLibrarian are big fans of both Barrington Stoke and Chris Priestley, so when I was given the chance to have a gallery of images from his latest novella for them I jumped at it! Seven Ghosts is a brilliantly creepy short story, telling seven short stories of ghosts haunting a particular house, that would be brilliant to read aloud to a class of any age (from 8+) or at bedtime (but you may need the lights on afterwards). Enjoy the slideshow…

Chris Priestley



The Spellslinger series by Sebastien De Castell



The game of war is always rigged . . .
Kellen and Reichis are settling into their lives as protectors of the young queen. For the first time Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury.
But thousands of miles away a war is brewing that the Argosi always warned could destroy the continent. An unexpected source brings word that there’s one way Kellen can prevent a hundred years of bloodshed, and all it requires is a little murder . . .
Now Kellen and his sister Shalla find themselves on opposite sides, and neither love nor loyalty can protect them from the choices they must make.

Crownbreaker by Sebastien De Castell, HotKey Books
Crownbreaker is the 6th and final book in the Spellslinger series

I failed to keep up with this series after the first two, I loved them but then CKG got in the way, but I’m regretting that now as the 6th and final book was published this month. HotKey Books have very kindly offered a full set of the books as a prize for a TeenLibrarian reader, so I set up my very first Rafflecopter giveaway! Follow the link to enter, and good luck!

Sebastien De Castell



Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde

MOTHER TONGUE is the standalone follow-up to the award-winning and critically acclaimed THE WORDSMITH (published in North America as THE LIST) by Galway native Patricia Forde.
After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.
The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art.
Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life.

Little Island
Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde, cover illustration by Elissa Webb

Little Island have been publishing some great books, unfortunately all ineligible for CKG because they don’t have offices outside of Eire, but definitely worth reading! Mother Tongue, and predecessor The Wordsmith, are both brilliantly devised stories based in a society founded at the end of the world, after flood waters have risen. Noah, the founder of Ark, has decreed that words were to blame for the situation people find themselves in – empty promises and lies of people in power, words instead of action – so all except the most functional 500 words are banned from use. The Wordsmith may store unused words until people can be trusted with them again (but will they ever?). Obviously the idea of storing words appealed to me greatly, so I jumped at the chance of being on the blog tour. The author Patricia Forde wrote a piece about Words for us:

The Need to Keep Words Alive.

I love dictionaries.
As a child, I was often to be found reading those impressive tomes looking for new words, big words, words to impress. Nowadays, as a writer, I still use dictionaries but now to look for smaller words, simpler words, words that are precise.
But what if we start to lose words?
If we don’t have a word for something can we conceive of it? Can we imagine it? And maybe, more importantly, do we still value that which it represents?
There was a thundering brouhaha some years ago when the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed words like kingfisher, acorn and cowslip from its list and replaced them with words like broadband, blog and voice mail. The dictionary is aimed at seven year olds. People felt that the dictionary was adding to the problem of children being alienated from nature. It seemed that the dictionary didn’t value the thrush, the weasel or the wren as much as it valued the grey world of bureaucracy. Committee, common sense and bullet points all had a place while much of the natural world was sent packing.

But, the dictionary argued, the words they chose to include were the words children were using. They had tracked contemporary usage and reflected their findings in their list of words.

How sad that is. As adults, we have to tolerate a diet of grey sludge when it comes to language. We have to talk about Brexit and hard drives and listen to people going on about journeys they’ve made that aren’t journeys at all, and hear them going forward with this that and the other thing and telling us all about it in bullet points. But children?

Their language should reflect the sacred time that we call childhood. I believe that it should be full of beavers and liquorice and droves of dwarves, elves and goblins. We need to keep those words alive because we need to keep that sense of wonder and awe alive.

Many of the words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary had to do with nature. In this time of environmental crisis surely we need to make children more aware of nature and their natural habitat. It should concern us that if children no longer speak about bluebells or brambles it may be because children are becoming increasingly solitary and urban.

Every word in every language represents an entire archaeology and a history of what has gone before. I shudder to imagine a world like the one I created for The Wordsmith and Mother Tongue. A world where people have access to only five hundred words. Letta, my protagonist, says at one stage:

How can we dream if we don’t have words?

I would also ask how can we think? Words give us precision. In this chaotic world we’ve never needed clear thinking more than we do now. We need our leaders to use language like a laser rather than a slurry spreader. We need to cut through the noise, refuse to accept philosophy that can be written as a tweet because it has no complexity, and build a longer list of words – a list that includes all ideas, all languages, all dictionaries.
Let’s make a thundering brouhaha about that!

Patricia Forde

Words Taken Out of The Oxford Junior Dictionary:

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade, carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe, dwarf, elf, goblin, abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar.

Adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry,
blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Words put in:

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue.

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro.

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph.

Mother Tongue, the sequel to The Wordsmith, has just been published by Little Island and they are both available from their website (thankyou for sending me copies of both!). Founded by Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate, Siobhán Parkinson, Little Island Books has been publishing books for children and teenagers since 2010. They specialise in publishing new Irish writers and illustrators, and also have a commitment to publishing books in translation.

For a sneak peek of Mother Tongue, download this free sample:

Clouds Cannot Cover Us

Clouds Cannot Cover Us: Poems by Jay Hulme

October will bring us this really powerful collection of poetry for teenagers, by young transgender poet Jay Hulme. Troika asked him to create a semi-autobiographical narrative, and included are reworked poems he wrote while at high school. He has said that when considering what to include he realised that what he’d wanted as a teenager, and what he wanted to give to teenagers, was the truth, and devised a two part story.

Being trans means that my life does feel almost like it comes in two halves. I have lived in this world as two people: The person I was before; angry, confused, violent, trying to find out what was wrong, trying to find my place in a world that didn’t want me. And the person I am now; proud, confident, at peace with myself, trying to forge a future to be proud of. With that in mind, I divided the book into two parts. The first half is filled with problems, anger, and confusion, and the poems in turn are often filled with industrial and urban imagery, dark, and claustrophobic. The second half is filled with hope, change, and growth – the poems here are often filled with natural imagery, they are lighter, softer, quieter – kinder.

Jay Hulme

No issue is out of bounds, anything he thought of as a teenager is included, some induce anger, some tears, some snorts of recognition, some a smile…and some all of the above. If I had to pick one favourite from each part, the one that made me stop and stare without moving on for a few minutes was his response to the Islamophobic attack at Christchurch earlier this year. That is towards the end of part 1, which is full of rage and sadness and despair at injustice. In part 2, possibly verging on soppy (which is very not me and yet it had me crying happy tears on a bus) is ‘Just the Small Things’ about the every day things that make you happy. Bonus mention though for ‘The Meaning of Stories’, which may resonate with many a reader, particularly I’d think readers of this blog (thank you so much Jay for letting me post it in full here):

THE MEANING OF STORIES


Perhaps it is true that none of my heroes exist,
summed up on a list entitled “fictional characters”.
My life lessons come from the mouths
of people paid to pretend they are someone they’re not,
but I can’t forget what they have taught me.


Because when words mean something, they stay,
no matter where they came from.
So who cares if I live my life by a line
issued from the mouth of Gandalf the Grey, on a film set,
it doesn’t mean it’s worth less than something
said by someone who actually existed.
Because attribution is overshadowed by meaning,
and the fact that these words stay with me
means more than the circumstances
under which they were uttered.


So if fiction is the foundation
on which I build my life, I can promise you
that my turrets will reach the sky,
before yours reach my dungeons.
Because fiction holds within it
the promise of a better world;
and I believe,
not just because I can,
but because I have to.

Jay Hulme
Jay Hulme

Jay Hulme is an award winning poet and performer from Leicester, Winner of Slambassadors 2015, and finalist in the 2016 Roundhouse Poetry Slam. He has recently branched out into children’s poetry, and his work was Highly Commended in the 2018 CLiPPA Awards. He also works as an ambassador for Inclusive Minds, promoting inclusion and diversity in children’s publishing, and doing sensitivity reads to ensure depictions of trans people in books are both accurate and unoffensive.

Thank you Jay for the pdf of Clouds Cannot Cover Us, coming soon from Troika.

Jelly by Clare Rees

Martha and her friends have been drifting on a giant killer jellyfish since sea levels rose and the world ended.
Life is gloopy, toxic and full of tentacles. It’s also really boring.
More than anything, Martha wants to escape – but what ’s waiting for her on the shore? She doesn’t know it, but life is about to get much stickier …

Chicken House
Jelly by Clare Rees

When I read the blurb for this book I thought “this sounds so ridiculous that it just has to be good”, and it was a really entertaining read. I was most taken with how convincing the teens’ reactions to everything going on were, and what they dreamed of for the future. What I didn’t realise, until I was sent this piece of writing for the blog from Clare, was just how much it was influenced by the teenagers that she works with! What an amazing way to write a book!

Writing a book alongside your intended audience is brilliant fun. But it can also have surprising consequences. Jelly started out as a teaching resource, as a way of getting my students engaged with their creative writing lessons. I wrote alongside them, but also shaped sections around their needs- so I would often start lessons by giving students extracts from my book to correct. I filled the extracts with common errors for the students to find and as they identified them we discussed how the errors could be fixed and improved. Identifying and improving those mistakes in their own work would become the lesson focus for students. When the book was published my students had a question and answer session with me. When they asked these questions none of them had read the complete book- so their questions are based entirely on the extracts used during their lessons.
My students’ questions:

  1. [Asked by a student called James] Is there a character called James? If so, was it based on me? If not, why not? Yes there is! The character is not based on you, sadly. When I started writing the book I choose the name because I didn’t then teach anybody called James. Using the book in a school, it was particularly hard to find names which were appropriate for the characters in the book but which were not going to cause problems with my students. The main character, Martha, has the same name as my daughter. This is because when I was writing the book in the evenings she was very little and wanted me to sit outside her room until she fell asleep. Therefore the name, ‘Martha’, was particularly on my mind as I wrote. One of the teachers in the book, Dr Jones, is also named after one of our Biology teachers. While the character is very different from our teacher, Year 9 wanted the character to have the name of the teacher who had taught them in the lesson before mine.
  2. What motivated you to try and get it published? Boredom. I did not go through the traditional publishing routes, but entered a competition [The Times/Chickenhouse competition] at the end of the Autumn term in 2017. I was sitting in a coffee shop with a cake as I finished writing the book. I didn’t really know what to do with the book, so I googled ‘competitions’, found this one, and decided I might as well enter. I didn’t bother sending the book off to any agents or publishers, so it has never actually been rejected. I am also now a firm believer in entering competitions!
  3. Did you ever experience writers’ block, and if so, how did you overcome it? I don’t believe in writers’ block. I think it’s exactly the same feeling you get at the start of a big piece of homework. Nobody wants to write, and at the end of a long teaching day I definitely don’t want to sit down and do any work. But if you sit down and start, somehow it gets better and words do appear. Each evening I sat down and did some writing I always felt glad I had- however difficult it was to start.
  4. Is there an event in your life which inspired you to write this? I was teaching our current Year 9s creative writing (back when they were in Year 7) and they were a bit stuck on the planning. So I decided to plan a book for them at the start of a lesson, but then I thought it looked quite interesting so I went off and wrote it. That week I had seen two interesting things:
    • A youtube clip in which a member of Donald Trump’s team said that sea levels rising wasn’t a problem, because it had already happened in the Bible and we’d been fine.
    • I was reading a Viking saga in which a kraken was described as being like an island which people could live on
  5. Have you always been interested in mythical sea creatures? In no way. But I do have a phobia of shellfish, which I have received hypnotherapy for. When discussing this book, the publishers wanted to meet in a seafood restaurant because they thought it was hilarious and topical. It took me until after the main course before I told them that crab and lobster shells terrify me. Also, my editor wanted me to draw a picture of the kriks for her [my crustacean monsters]. Unfortunately I found them so disgusting that I was unable to do this. At some points while writing I needed to check what crabs and lobsters look like. Again, I was unable to look at pictures so had to
    get my son to look at them for me while I asked him questions.
  6. What do the characters do when they get their periods? Yes, as in most fiction this is not mentioned (despite the fact that I know most women and teenage girls spend a significant part of their life thinking about it!). I did consider this. In the old days I understand that women often used to use rags. There are rags mentioned in the book, so I assumed that they would use these.
  7. If it’s been climate change do the characters need suncream? Yes they do – although not all of the characters have white skin, so they don’t all need loads. I haven’t included this information in the book, but I had planned for the jellyfish slime to have suncream-like properties. It would also work as a moisturiser. I imagined the characters would smear it on their skin to protect themselves from the sun.
  8. You changed the kriks [crustacean monsters]. Why? When I wrote them in school they were more humanoid. My editors pointed out to me that when the central characters get into battle with them, this means it’s like they’re killing humans. I hadn’t wanted to write a book about murder, so I thought I’d change the monsters!
  9. Why did you let Dr Jones live? [Originally Dr Jones, the Biology teacher, was killed in the book because my students wanted the character to die] Actually I needed the character. She was so crucial to the story that when I killed her off I had to invent another, very similar character who lived until the end. My editor pointed out it would be easier if Dr Jones just lived. Plus, I have to share a staffroom with the real Biology teacher and didn’t want her to be cross with me.
  10. Do you think your book could happen in reality? I hope not! Giant crustaceans would be a very, very bad thing. However, sea levels are rising and we’re not planning for climate change in the way that I think we should be. I think that is going to result in people dying, and I think it is going to change the world. We are also going to have to change the way we treat the world, as our place in it is going to be affected.
Clare Rees

Huge thanks to Chicken House books for sending me a copy, Nina for organising the guest post, and Clare for writing it!

Jelly is out now!

Bearmouth

“Time down here is a diffrent thing see. Lyke on the other side you sees seesons change, leeves grow bold an grene an fayde to gold an red, then drop off and kirl up and disappear into snoe. But Bearmouth is black. Black an warm an dark an wet an full o coal. All days all weeks all year. Forever and ever. Amen. “

Newt has been living and working in Bearmouth from a tender age. Daily life in the mine is full of strict routine and a quiet acceptance of how things are – until, that is, Devlin arrives and starts to ask questions. Newt fears any unrest will bring heightened oppression from the Master and his overseers. Life is hard enough and there is no choice about that. Or is there? Newt is soon looking at Bearmouth with a fresh perspective – one that does more than whisper about change: one that is looking for a way out. 

Liz Hyder’s extraordinary debut novel draws on her research into the working conditions of children in Victorian mines and shows a young person daring to challenge the status quo. In Bearmouth, she has created an imagined world with its own dialect, riven with social injustice and populated by characters who don’t simply accept things because they are told they must.

Pushkin Press
Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, cover design by Yeti Lambregts

Bearmouth is Liz Hyder‘s debut novel, told through the voice of a young child trapped working in a mine, barely remembering life outside. It is both literally and figuratively dark, really dark, with some quite harrowing scenes, but also gripping, hopeful, and thought provoking. I read it in one sitting, taking a while to get used to the voice (Newt is writing it, with letters lessons slowly improving the spelling throughout) but then racing through to see what lies ahead for these wonderful (and wonderfully awful) characters. The conditions are terrible but also not unrealistic, the writing really does create the oppressive atmosphere of the tunnels and relentlessness of the workers’ lives, and the doubt sparked by the appearance of a new boy spirals quickly. Newt begins to question the way things are, whether it is actually blasphemous to want conditions to improve, whether it isn’t really the wishes of The Mayker that keep them underground…

Liz has written this piece for Teen Librarian, about the importance of rebellion and asking questions

My nan, my mum’s mum, who died when I was little, was famous for asking ‘who says?’ A tall, formidable woman with a mischievous grin and a fondness for doing impressions, she looks back at me like a mirror image from old photos. I strongly resemble her on the outside but I also think I’m like her on the inside too. Asking questions is always important and more so than ever in our era of fake news and auto-generated bots. ‘Who says?’ encourages us to ask why someone is saying something, what they might hope to get out of it and what vested interest they might have.

Newt, in my debut novel Bearmouth, is an asker of questions. Set down a Victorian-esque working coal mine in which the workers not only toil away in the dark but also live down there, Bearmouth is a world of danger. As Newt learns to read and write, the curiosity within also rises and Newt starts asking more questions. Why are things this way? Why, even if it has always been this way, should things continue like this? ‘Who says?’

The act of asking a question can, in itself, be an act of rebellion and is scattered throughout fairy tales and fiction as such. From the child in the crowd who asks why the Emperor is wearing no clothes to Oliver Twist asking for more, questions are, in themselves, powerful things and no-one uses questions more keenly than children and young people. Their thirst for knowledge, their willingness and desire to push at the edges of what is and isn’t allowed, what is and isn’t acceptable, is something that we as adults should perhaps look to a little more often.

Books open up other worlds. Whether they be real or fantastical, they allow us to explore ideas and themes through their pages. They allow us to travel across time and space, encountering characters that live and breathe, lingering on in our memories long after we’ve turned that last page. Books can inspire and enlighten us, make us snort with laughter, move us to tears and even fill us with courage. The books I read as a child and as a teenager – from Hunter Davies’s Flossie Teacake series and Michael Rosen’s Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here, to pretty much all of Paula Danziger’s witty novels featuring awkward teens – made me feel that I wasn’t alone, whether that was in my clumsiness or my creativity, in my sense of humour or in the way I viewed the world. Books encouraged me to be braver in myself, to think that I might be a person who could camp out in the wilds like in the Lone Pine adventures or have the bravery to stand up to sinister forces like in The Dark is Rising series. Books shaped my world, made me look at things around me differently, when I looked up from the page, my own world had tilted on its axis. The impossible became just a little bit more possible.

I hope that Bearmouth will make readers look at the world a little differently, to remember the real children that worked away for long hours in the Victorian mines, to remember that there are children right now working in mines in other countries around the world. Just because something is not visible does not mean that it does not exist…

I hope readers will come to view Newt as someone who, with courage, has the ability to inspire and to change things. I hope it helps readers realise they can make a difference themselves, they too can push for and encourage change. When I first started writing the novel, I hadn’t heard of Greta Thunberg but there is a line in the novel, the line that ended up on the front cover, in Newt’s somewhat unconventional spelling, that reoccurs and resonates throughout the story – ‘it only taykes one person to start a revolushun.’ It is an empowering thought and one that I hope will inspire those who read the book.

Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder is published in hardback by Pushkin Children’s Books on 19 September at £12.99

(thank you for sending Teen Librarian a copy for review!)