Thursday, 12 January 2017

Barry Hutchison's Worst Ever School Visit Moments

We are super-excited to be taking part in a joint blog tour today! Stripes are running a fabulous tour to promote TWO school stories they're releasing in January - Karen McCombie's St Grizzle's School For Girls, Goats and Random Boys (illustrated by Becka Moor), and Barry Hutchison's Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (illustrated by Katie Abey). Both of these look like hilarious reads with great illustrations! We're excited to have Barry talking about his worst ever school visit moments in this post.



2017 marks my tenth year as a full-time children’s author (I think, although I’m not very good at maths, so don’t quote me on that). As well as writing books lots of books in that time, I’ve also visited hundreds of schools, speaking to tens of thousands of children about what a jolly jape this whole writing lark is, and how books are all great an’ that.

Thankfully, the vast majority of those visits went brilliantly, with lots of enthusiastic students, teachers and librarians helping to make every event a success. Or, almost every event. Sometimes, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they could do. Take the incidents below, for example, which I present in no particular order.

1. Back in my second year of being an author, I was invited by a head teacher to visit her school. She was very friendly, full of great ideas, and we made plans for a whole day of workshops and author talks. The day arrived, and I got up at 5am to drive the 130 miles to the school, only to find out the head teacher was off sick that day, and hadn’t told another living soul at the school that I was coming. They were unable to get her on the phone, and so, unsure about this strange, six-foot-four unshaven man standing at the front door, they decided they couldn’t let me in, and I had to drive 130 miles back home.

2. I was invited to a boys-only boarding school to talk about my Invisible Fiends horror series back in 2012 or so. The plan was for me to do a talk in the evening, after the pupils had eaten dinner. What I didn’t realise was that, prior to my event, the younger boys – aged 8-10 or so – would be sent to shower and get ready for bed, and so I ended up talking about some deeply disturbing horror novels to 100+ kids, half of which were wearing pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, and clutching teddy bears. I was then asked to pose for a photograph with them after the event – a photo I hope never surfaces on the web…

3. Questions! One of the parts of an event I love and dread in equal measures is the Q&A session at the end. Questions generally range from the repetitive (“Where do you get your ideas?” “How much do you earn?”) to the probing (“Your female characters are always more impressive than your male characters – discuss.”)

Sometimes, though, there are some really memorable questions thrown my way. My favourites include:
“Do you know the queen?”
“You know you said Mr Mumbles tries to kill the hero? Have you ever killed anyone?”
And,
“What’s the best noise you’ve ever heard?”

One question that really sticks out in my mind, though, came at the end of a talk to a group of completely impassive Year 9s, who had spent the previous 50 minutes glaring silently at me, and wishing me dead. When I asked if anyone had any questions, I was delighted to see a boy near the back put up his hand. “Yes?” I said. “What’s your question?”

To which he replied: “Can we go now?”

4. Or how about the time when I turned up twenty minutes early at Elgin Academy in the North of Scotland, and got increasingly annoyed as I was left waiting for half an hour in reception for a member of staff to come and take me to the library…

…and then discovered I was supposed to be at Elgin High School at the opposite end of the town, instead, where everyone was already waiting patiently.

And let’s not even mention the event where the 14 year old tried to punch me in the face!

By and large, though, school visits are great fun, and from my initial nervous ramblings have quickly become one of my favourite bits about the job.


Most of the time, anyway.

Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (written by Barry Hutchison and illustrated by Katie Abey) is published today, 12th January, by Stripes Publishing.



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Cover Reveal: Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson

It is with the greatest of pleasure that today we reveal the fabulous cover and awesome trailer of Lara Williamson's new book, Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy (great title!!). This is Lara's third book, and if it is as good as A Boy Called Hope and The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair then it should be high up in your "must-read in 2017" list. Now over to Lara and her fabulous new book cover:




A BIG thank you to Middle Grade Strikes Back for hosting the cover reveal for my third book, JUST CALL ME SPAGHETTI-HOOP BOY. Here is some info about the book; the Cheeky inspiration behind it and a dynamic cover to be proud of.

Watch out world, Adam Butters has a story to tell. And it’s going to be ACE

JUST CALL ME SPAGHETTI-HOOP BOY is a story about Adam who was adopted as a child. And although it’s not a secret, when his teacher suggests making a family tree for a school project, he wants to find out more about his real mother. Problem: where do you get information about your real
mother and how does that work when you’ve got an adoptive mother already? Well, for starters there’s a special hidden envelope that Adam discovers saying he was really called Ace.

KAPOW! That’s a superhero name, right? Being a superhero will make the world perfect, right? This is Adam’s DESTINY! He’ll save a life, help animals and old people and make everyone happy, especially his adoptive mum, who has a face like a melted welly at the moment. But things start to go horribly wrong when Adam overhears a conversation about someone new coming to live with his family; someone who is going to take Adam’s place for ever. Now is the time for Adam to step up, be ACE and unlock the secrets of his past so he can blast his way to a new future …

As a child I loved comics and I think they inspired JUST CALL ME SPAGHETTI-HOOP BOY. Like most kids my age I had my favourites and ordered them from the newsagent and as soon as they’d come in I’d rush to the newsagent and get the comic and devour it as soon as I got home and then I’d have to wait another week. Sometimes those seven days felt like for ever. I particularly loved a comic
called Cheeky (published by IPC) and he was a big-toothed hero in a stripy jumper (once they gave away a free knitting pattern for the jumper. You’ve got to love that. Someone please knit me the jumper now and I’ll wear it). Eventually Cheeky merged into Whoopee, then Whizzer and Chips. I must add that my love of comics didn’t end as I got older and I eventually ended up working for magazines – howzat for a link? Plus, I’ve never forgotten how much I loved Cheeky and perhaps he inspired more parts of my books than I ever realized. (I’ve just remembered that Cheeky had an unnamed pet snail that occupied the back page of the comic called Snail of the Century. Um… Right
now I’m wondering if that little snail secretly inspired Brian in The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair. Go snails <at a snail’s pace obvs>!)

I am beyond happy with the dynamic finished cover of Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy. The incredible illustrations by Carlos Aon and Katharine Millichope’s fabulous design really bring Adam to life. This is how he sees himself, standing tall with his cape fluttering in the wind. Inside his head he’s probably shouting ‘KAZOO!’ which is his superhero motto! There’s a tiny twinkle in Adam’s eye and it’s important because he’s got a sense of mischief. If you look really carefully you’ll see a little spaghetti hoop on Adam’s chest and it’s that attention to detail that takes a cover to a whole new superhero level. Why is the spaghetti hoop so important? Well, that’s the thing – you’ve got to read the story to find out. In my opinion, a good cover throws up lots of delicious little secrets and invites you to discover the story between the pages – Carlos and Katharine have achieved this. From now on I’m going to declare them both cover design superheroes. Finally, it’s been amazing working with the illustrations to create this animated book trailer. Hope you love it as much as I do!

Watch out world, this is Adam’s journey to becoming a superhero, and you’re all invited along. Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson is out in the UK on March 1st 2017. You can follow Lara on Twitter @LaraWilliamson or on Instagram @larawilliamsonauthor or check out larawilliamson.com.



Hey! Stop right there! Where are you going? You haven't seen the trailer yet? Grab a mug of your favourite hot beverage and sit back and enjoy:

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review of THE EYE OF THE NORTH by Sinéad O' Hart

When Emmeline’s parents (zoologists who specialise in unusual creatures) are kidnapped, she is put on a ship, bound for a safe-house in Paris. On board, she meets a boy called Thing (a scruffy stowaway orphan); and an unlikely friendship forms between them. But the criminals who kidnapped Emmeline’s parents soon catch up with her and whisk her off to the frozen north to be used as bargaining chip by the deranged Dr. Bauer who wants Emmeline’s parents to awaken a mysterious creature, asleep beneath the ice.

Determined to save his friend, Thing seeks help from a secret organisation called the The Order of the White Flower. Together, they set off on Emmeline’s trail, but when they are attacked, Thing must continue the journey alone.

What follows is a white-knuckled race towards a glacier in Greenland, with the perspective constantly shifting between Emmeline and Thing. Along the way, they meet many weird and wonderful characters, including magical creatures, some friendly and some not. The plot is perfectly paced, building in momentum with every turn of the page until the reader is hurtled into an edge-of-the-seat climax.

The absence of modern paraphernalia gives O’ Hart’s steampunk world a classic and timeless feel. The scope of her imagination and inventiveness is breath-taking, as indeed is the writing. I loved the character of Emmeline – a bookish, brave but nervous, particular (with a touch of OCD!) girl; or in the words of Dr. Bauer – ‘a singular little creature.’ The more rough-around-the-edges Thing is an ideal foil to her – he’s spontaneous, upbeat and funny, with a dark backstory.

This book is pure middle-grade gold, pitched perfectly in tone at its audience. It is sure to be lapped up by boys and girls alike. This impressive debut is my first 5 star read of 2017. I hope it’s a huge hit. It certainly deserves to be!

Now, in the words of Thing himself: ‘Let the adventurin’ begin’.

Click here for an interview with the author.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Our Favourite Books

My favourite series of books are the Artemis Foul books by Eoin Colfer. There are breath-taking bits and massive sighs of relief bits. It`s about a boy called Artemis. He has found out about an armed and dangerous (not to mention high-tech) race of fairies. He was their No. 1 enemy but now he and the fairies are friends. He has agreed to help whenever help is needed. Allied by Captain Holly Short (she is a fairy) Artemis Foul goes on dangerous journeys through time and all around the world.  

By Lucas W




My favourite book is Historopedia. It was written by John Burke and illustrated by Fatti Burke. This is the second book they made together. I liked it because it has a lot of facts and activities. Some facts I never knew about!!! It tells stories from all around Ireland dating back to 5000 years ago. I would rate this book ten out of ten!!!!

By Luke H, aged nine.






My favourite book ever is written by Roald Dahl. The book is called The Witches. It is illustrated by Quentin Blake. I really like the picture of the witches taking their wigs off. It’s really funny when the witches were turned into mice. After the witches are turned into mice the cats eat them. Grandmamma and her grandson went back to Norway. I like when the grandson puts the mouse-maker into the soup. It happens when grandmamma and her grandson heard the witches ask for soup. Then the grandson gets the idea of putting the mouse-maker into the soup.  

By Martin W


My favourite book is Are We There Yet. It is by Enid Blyton. There are three children, a mother and a father. The family live with their grandmother. The children disturb their grandmother so much they move into a caravan in a field. One day the farmer came to the caravan and said you have to move to a different field. They have a very strong bull that has broken all of the fences. The family went to their auntie and uncle’s house on a farm. The children learn how to milk cows and make butter. They go to school and have a great time.

Harriet H



My favourite book is called My Magical Pony - Silver Mist. It was written by Jenny Oldfield. It was about this girl called Krista and she has a very special pony called Shining Star. Krista and Shining Star became best friends. There was this guy named Joe. Joe got a helper to mind the ponies and horses. The helper’s name is Rob. This husband and wife told Rob that they had to steal the ponies and horses. They said that Rob had to do it with them. Then Rob did it.
 Krista and Shining Star saved the day as always. And that's why I thought that this book was BRILLIANT
BY MAYA     AGE 8

My favourite book is called George’s Marvellous Medicine. The  author is called Roald  Dahl. If he was still alive he would be a hundred years old, two month ago. His birthday is on September the 13th. I like this book because it is fun to read. The book is about a little boy called George. George’s mammy goes to work and his granny minds him. His mammy tells him to give his granny  medicine. George decides  to make his own medicine for granny.

BY      ELLEN   age   8





My favourite book is Dairy of a  Wimpy Kid because it’s funny and I can’t sleep sometimes because it’s that funny  and if you want to know who the author is, it’s Jeff Kinney.   I like him a lot because he’s funny and I love funny people because  I am a funny person.

By Elizabeth






My favourite book is Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban. The author of this series is called J.K. Rowling. This author is full of mystery and cleverness, and that’s why I love the series. My most preferred creature in the books are the Dementors. They give you that eerie feeling!!!

By Niall D

Friday, 4 November 2016

Middle Grade Murder - an interview with Robin Stevens.

As the fogs of autumn give way to the occasional crisp morning of frost, it’s time to settle down to a bit of seasonal mystery...
Robin Stevens, author of the bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series, has just launched another Murder Most Unladylike Mystery – the fabulously titled MISTLETOE AND MURDER. It’s getting fantastic reviews and already topping the charts (just shows the importance of Middle Grade, people) But Robin wasn’t always a bestselling novelist, she was once an 11-year-old and that was the person I wanted to find out about:

Here she is, aged 9, having a bunbreak. 


 The 11 year old Robin Stevens was, by all reports, a bit of a bookworm – where and what would we have found her reading? 

Absolutely anything and everything! I raided the library, second-hand bookshops (my father used to take me to Hay-on-Wye every year, and standing in the specialist mystery shop Murder and Mayhem was the highlight of my life), my friends' book collections and my parents' shelves. Nothing was safe from me! I'm very lucky that no one ever told me that books were too 'young' for me to read. I happily read everything from picture books to adult books - I was definitely already reading Sherlock Holmes by then, but also re-reading my Blytons. Some of my favourite books at the time included Swallows and Amazons, Bunnicula, The Secret of Platform 13, Guards! Guards! and (bizarrely) Dave Barry Turns 50. As I say, nothing was safe from me ...

What a fabulously diverse reading list - I'm especially taken by Dave Barry (had to look that one up) But what do you think you were looking for in a book? Palpitations? Escape? Brain testing mystery?

I wanted books that taught me something and made me think (that's why I've always been so interested in puzzles and mystery - and that's what the Dave Barry was, a way of learning about history that also made me laugh) but mostly I was looking for a book that I could dive into, that made me feel part of its world and connected to its characters. I was an only child, and didn't have many neighbours my age, so I found most of my friends in books!

As a matter of interest - do you do crosswords or sudoku?
I had a phase of being a big cryptic crossword fan. I used to be pretty good! That reminds me that I should probably pick it up again. I found it really fascinating to learn, like a special coded language. Sudoku I can do, but I'm not as interested, as it's numbers or symbols, and my brain prefers word play!

So what came next? Did you hit the great Hollywood gumshoes?
I discovered Agatha Christie aged about 12 and fell in love with her plots. I loved Dorothy Sayers, too, and Ngaio Marsh and (a bit later) Josephine Tey - funnily enough I was never a big Raymond Chandler fan. His books are more thrillers than puzzles, and I think that disappointed me a bit. In terms of books I've never really wanted crime that's gory or dangerous, though I was an enormous CSI fan as a teenager!

You’re not alone with the CSI thing -  what other TV shows did/do you like - Murder she wrote?
I watched Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis Murder, but my Big Loves were (and are) the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple with Geraldine McEwen and the Suchet Poirot. I love BBC's Sherlock too. I had a Silent Witness phase, and Criminal Minds, but that just got too scary. I'm a wuss! Then Veronica Mars, Supernatural, Jonathan Creek, Alias, Heroes, Firefly ... I love good stories with great characters, however they're presented. At this very moment my big obsessions are Westworld and Humans. Robots just want to be loved, guys.


I'm thinking that you're now writing the books that you couldn't find when you were 11? So what else is out there now that wasn't out there then that you would have liked? If that makes sense?

There are so many amazing stories that just hadn't been written yet - I would have loved Skulduggery Pleasant, Mortal Engines, Hunger Games and (in terms of crime) The London Eye Mystery and Katherine Woodfine's Clockwork Sparrow series. But I think that even since I was 11 (which was 1999, not so long ago really), there's been a massive expansion in what genres are available. I know I would have LOVED comics and graphic novels, but at the time I felt like Marvel and DC were only for Proper Fans and was too shy to pick them up. If anyone had given me Lumberjanes, or the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel, or Raina Telgemeier's books, I'd have been in heaven. And YA, too - I had Louise Rennison, but I wish I could have moved on to stuff like Nicola Yoon, Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Jennifer Niven. I'd have eaten them up.

And definitely the final question - the library is burning down - which book does the 11 year old Robin rescue?
Oh man! 11 year old Robin probably stands and cries in panic. But if my library burned down today, the book I would save is one I got when I was 15. Diana Wynne Jones came to speak at the Cheltenham Festival, and I went to see her. I got my copy of Dark Lord of Derkholm signed, and it was about one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love her books beyond all reason, and I loved seeing what a good person she clearly was at that event. If I could grow up to be any author, it would be her!



Here are Robin and her dad enjoying Christmas when she was 11 (p.s. She made the Christmas crackers)



Thank you Robin Stevens. Mistletoe and Murder is out now from Puffin books priced £6.99 and is available from all good bookshops. 


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Blog Tour: Andy Briggs On His Favourite Things About Being A Children's Writer

We're big fans of Andy Briggs here and the first book in The Inventory series, Iron Fist, was a great read! We're looking forward to reading sequel Gravity. To celebrate, he's taking part in a great blog tour, and shared with us his favourite things about being a children's writer.


I am often asked what’s it like to be an author, and there are many wonderful things… but I would like to first say that I have had real jobs. I have stacked shelves in Iceland (sadly, the shop, not the astonishing country), I have delivered pizzas and even been a teacher (again, sadly not at the same time) – so I do know what real work feels like!

We should get the obvious joys out of the way with first – the chance to work in your pyjamas. Let’s face it, we all have days when we wake up and want a duvet day, and aside from professional PJ tester, this is a job that allows you that luxury!

Writing children’s books allows the author the chance to get close to their readers in ways other authors (and screenwriters) can’t, this is due to the many school events we have to do in order to promote our books. I remember my first school visits were quite scary as I didn’t know what to expect, but now I thoroughly enjoy doing them. It’s a good way to receive feedback from the young readers, but also to chat about what they like, what trends they’re starting to follow and (very importantly for an author) do a little research on what should be in the next book!

For me, being a children’s author falls into two broad camps – the award winning intelligent, moral stories that allow the reader to reflect on their own life and weighty issues of growing up in the world. And those that are pure escapism, without winking at the reader and saying yes, this is your life really. I love both, but my books fall in the latter camp. Ever since I learnt to read, I read for escapism, for the chance to live outside my life rather than read instructions on how to live it, so as a consequence I think that reflects in my stories. There are few places left in the world in which a writer can get away with this. Screenplays (which I also write) often have to have some serious vein, and grown up literature generally follows this code – but only in writing for children can an author truly go wild.

Like most authors I know, it’s a huge thrill to receive fan mail from a keen reader. I find it a particular thrill when it comes from a kid who has read my book, rather than an adult. The general opinion of children not caring about things and being “lazy” is completely untrue, and nothing symbolises that more than a message simply saying how much they enjoyed my books. I hope, in some small way, that I have passed on a sliver of inspiration in that child’s life – that is such an amazing feeling that only proud parents and teachers can get.


Gravity (The Inventory #2)
by Andy Briggs







Summary:
Eeek! Think that’s a monster? Nope: it’s a person. What terrible weapon could do this…? Errr – well, that used to be top-secret. Problem: it’s not quite so secret anymore. Dev messed up big time the day he let the ruthless Shadow Helix gang into the Inventory. What is the Inventory, we hear you ask? Well, it’s the secret lockup for all the deadly battle tech the world is NOT ready for. Which is why letting it get nicked was a REALLY BAD IDEA. Now the Shadow Helix have Newton’s Arrow: a terrifying weapon that messes with gravity, causing … well, you get the picture from this book’s cover. Dev and his mates HAVE to get it back – even if it means crossing the entire globe. To stop this evil, no trip is too far!


Information about the Book
Title: Gravity (The Inventory #2)
Author: Andy Briggs
Release Date: 6th October 2016
Genre: MG Sci-Fi
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Paperback

Author Information


Andy Briggs is a screenwriter, producer and author of the Hero.com, Villain.net and Tarzan series. Andy has worked on film development for Paramount and Warner Bros, as well as working with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and producer Robert Evans. With a strong social media following, Andy tours the UK regularly, doing festival, school and library events. 





Tour Schedule
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Monday 17th October


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Monday, 17 October 2016

Shadow Magic Blog Tour: Joshua Khan on Literacy

We're loving the Shadow Magic blog tour, organised by the fabulous Faye Rogers, so it's great to be on it today with a fantastic Joshua Khan guest post on literacy!


Literacy is the most crucial skill in the world. That’s it. You cannot engage with the world around you if you cannot read, now more than ever, as we live in a world of pure information.

I’ve worked with the Beanstalk charity. It discovered at about 50% of the prison population is more or less illiterate. Of course, it seems obvious. People want to get on, they want to have the home comforts, the treats, the respect that earning a living gives. The pride. But if you can’t read or write, how will you acquire these things? It becomes hard and maybe other routes open up, less legitimate ones.

To paraphrase the Jesuits, also big on education, “Give me the boy at seven, and I will give you the reader.”

My greatest encounter as a writer was having a boy, big, fifteen or so, put my book down on the table for me to sign, and tell me he’d never finished a book before until now. He’d become a reader. It just takes the right book, and that can happen to even the most reluctant.

So, yes, it’s about seeing the world through the eyes of others, it’s about empathy, it’s about understanding, but in the end it’s about being part of today’s world. It’s about being able to engage, about begin able to understand what is truth and what is deceit. In the tidal wave of information coming at us all day, every day, it’s about being able to sift through the dross to the knowledge.

Reading is both a skill and a passion. It’s something hard, after all it’s weird squiggles on the page that are, supposed to, make understanding. If you forget how hard it must be for a kid to learn how to read and write just go pick up an Arabic or Chinese newspaper and see how far you get. Even with Google Translate.

Children’s books bear the burden, the responsibility and the honour of making readers. It may be a scene, a hero, even a line, that fires that kid’s passion to read on, to learn, to gain this most essential skill. Be it comic, be it chapter book, be it car manual, whatever it takes, we are duty-bound as children’s writers to put in our very best efforts to transform their lives, to give them the power, education in its simplest form, to go out and succeed in the modern world.



Summary:
Thorn, an outlaw's son, wasn't supposed to be a slave. He's been sold to Tyburn, an executioner, and they're headed to Castle Gloom in Gehenna, the land of undead, where Thorn will probably be fed to a vampire.

Lilith Shadow wasn't supposed to be ruler of Gehenna. But following the murder of her family, young Lily became the last surviving member of House Shadow, a long line of dark sorcerers. Her country is surrounded by enemies and the only way she can save it is by embracing her heritage and practicing the magic of the undead. But how can she when, as a girl, magic is forbidden to her?

Just when it looks like Lily will have to leave her home forever, Thorn arrives at Castle Gloom. A sudden death brings them together, inspires them to break the rules, and leads them to soar to new heights in this fantasy with all the sparkle and luster of a starry night sky.



Release Date: 6th October 2016

Genre: MG Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic

Format: Paperback







Author Information

Joshua Khan was born in Britain. From very early on he filled himself with the stories of heroes, kings and queens until there was hardly any room for anything else. He can tell you where King Arthur was born* but not what he himself had for breakfast. So, with a head stuffed with tales of legendary knights, wizards and great and terrible monsters it was inevitable Joshua would want to create some of his own. Hence SHADOW MAGIC. Josh lives in London with his family, but he’d rather live in a castle. It wouldn’t have to be very big, just as long as it had battlements.
*Tintagel, in case you were wondering.

 



Wednesday 5th October





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