Sunday, 18 September 2016

Writing Seascapes: The Book of Shadows by E.R. Murray

The sea is one of my favourite things. I find it intriguing, enchanting and at times, frightening. The sea is beautiful yet unpredictable. It whispers and calls, lulls and calms, and yet, it can be ferocious and murderous too. Did you know that seawater covers around 71% of the earth’s surface? That’s a lot of water to marvel at!

Despite its size, the sea is not a vast watery nothingness like many people believe; there are islands and reefs and ravines, and so much is hidden from view. The tides are in constant flux and below the waves, the sea is teeming with life. A wild and unruly beast, it is this incredible mix of qualities that made seascapes a prominent feature in my latest book, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2.

I live on the Atlantic coast in Southwest Ireland and I spend as much time as I can near the sea and on the sea. We have a small punt that we use for catching mackerel and pollock in the summer, and we often see lots of creatures such as jellyfish, dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks. Then there are the seabirds including manx shearwaters, terns, guillemots, and gannets – so don’t be surprised when you find these creatures woven into my stories!

Even though my Nine Lives Trilogy is a fantasy story, it is important to me that the characters and events are believable. This means that the seascapes and high seas adventures had to be realistic as well as exciting, and so I’ve taken lots of inspiration from my immediate surroundings. There’s nothing better than heading out into open water, all your senses open, not knowing what you’ll encounter or how the journey will impact your story. It’s also fun interrogating fishermen and sailors for details that might add to your tale.

Did you realise, for instance, that it is considered unlucky to set sail on a Friday? Or that a tiny spot of rainbow portends rain? Did you know that fishermen prefer to use a clinch knot on their lines? Or that 30 foot long basking sharks might peek inside your boat (the young ones can be quite inquisitive)? Can you tell a schooner from a sloop? Finding out details like this is really fun and even though they’re not the focus of the action, they bring an extra atmospheric element and sense of realism.

Some of the place names in The Book of Shadows are real, while others are complete fiction. Gun Point, for instance, is an actual place, and so is Roaring Water Bay – these are the real names of places where I live (I just shifted them a little, geographically). Gallows Island is based on a mixture of Cape Clear and Long Island (I can see Long Island from my home); I needed to fuse the landscapes, but I also wanted a more sinister name, so I made that up.

History also plays a part, as West Cork was a haven for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a fascinating era, and so part of The Book of Shadows involves some pirate action – and not just regular pirates, but also black-hearted devils made of darkness and shadows. The idea for these creatures came after reading about the real-life ‘Barbary raids’ of 1631, when pirates kidnapped the inhabitants of Baltimore. They represent the darker side of the human psyche.

I hope you enjoy the seascapes and sea life that appears in my stories. And if you have any high seas adventures or facts of your own that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!

About E.R. Murray: Elizabeth Rose Murray writes fiction for children and young adults. She lives in West Cork where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of outdoor adventures. The Book of Shadows is her third novel. You can learn more about Elizabeth here.

About The Book of Shadows: In this exciting follow-up to the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read 2016, ‘The Book of Learning’, heroine Ebony Smart is settling into her role as guardian for the Order of Nine Lives. All seems quiet until she receives a peculiar silver box from an anonymous sender and is tasked with returning it to a mystery owner. Ebony discovers that Zach and Judge Ambrose have allied with a powerful ancient demon, and are more determined than ever to steal her soul and control the fate of the world. To defend the Order and defeat the demon, Ebony and her pet rat, Winston, must unravel the mystery of the silver box, free the trapped souls in the Reflectory and mount a daring rescue. Can she find the strength and courage needed to defeat the enemy, prove herself the rightful guardian and save all of their lives?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Spynosaur Blog Tour: The Roald Ahead by Guy Bass

We're really looking forward to reading Spynosaur by Guy Bass, so we're delighted to host a post from him talking about his love of Roald Dahl.

The Roald Ahead

Comics were my thing. Like most children, injustice drove me up the wall, and superhero comics, despite their shades of grey, were generally about good vs. evil … the fight against injustice. 8-year old me consumed comics by the lorry-load, but there was something about books that bothered me. Maybe it was because I had to read them at school – I tended (very quietly) to resent being told what to do. But honestly, I still don’t know what it was about books – they just overawed me.

Then I found Roald Dahl, or specifically, George’s Marvellous Medicine. I read it again and again, relishing each magical moment and insane ingredient. Books were demystified and defogged before my eyes. Suddenly, I could see the road ahead. Like the story’s hero, George Kranky, I could touch “the edge of a magic world”. Without George’s Marvellous Medicine, I don’t think I’d writing about dinosaur spies (or anything else) today.

To stay with 8-year-old me a bit longer; I was far too studious to be called a dreamer (curse my biddable bones) but every assembly – I mean, every assembly – I would fantasise about floating up from the floor and flying around the hall before zooming out of one of the windows. I’d will it, hold my breath and wish so hard to fly that the rest of the world disappeared. Sometimes I’d even manage to imagine myself soaring over the school before we’d have to stand for a hymn and my flight of fancy was brought crashing back to reality. Part of it was wanting to be noticed, since I was quiet and generally felt quite invisible. Don’t play the harps yet – I expect half the kids in that assembly were also feeling invisible and having daydreams of their own. That’s something Roald Dahl tapped into brilliantly. Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is probably the most obvious “everychild” (especially juxtaposed with the dreadful Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and co.) but many of Dahl’s heroes and heroines are seemingly unremarkable, and rewarded for being good, selfless and just. I was grateful for that. The idea that doing the right thing is reward enough was immensely satisfying (it’s a major theme running most of my books, especially Stitch Head) … even though it was probably more satisfying that the villains got their comeuppance.

Which brings me back to George Kranky. While Charlie is the boy I wanted to want to be, George is the boy I really wanted to be. He takes as much as he can from his mean, sinister, spiteful granny, and decides enough is enough. There are no half measures – it’s not called George’s Reasonably Impressive Medicine, which gives his granny a belly-ache – this potion is off-the-scale. Revenge is a dish best serve marvellously. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to confront the needless injustices of childhood with a medicine of my own. Well, I could but it’d take ages.

When I write, I try to remember 8-year old me and the satisfaction I got from George’s Marvellous Medicine. I try to make sure justice is done – I like to the see the evil (or at least spectacularly misguided) criminal mastermind Ergo Ego vanquished by Spynosaur, a hero who dedicate his every waking moment to battling tyranny (and making bad puns.) And I don’t want my hero to be reasonably impressive – I want him to have secret skis and jump in and out of helicopters and battle ninja snowmen and blow everything to smithereens. And I want him be a dinosaur. Marvellous!

For more from Guy, check out his Twitter account and website and this BBC video, in which he reviews George's Marvellous Medicine!

And of course, don't miss the rest of the stops on this brilliant blog tour!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Cover Reveal: Who Let The Gods Out? by Mary Alice Evans

We are VERY excited to read Maz Evans's Who Let The Gods Out? - coming next year from Chicken House - and we're thrilled to reveal the cover here today! Check out Maz's blurb below, along with the gorgeous cover from Helen Crawford-White (with characters drawn by Aleksei Bitskoff).

Hi - I'm Maz Evans, author of Who Let the Gods Out? my four-part comedy adventure series. When a haughty teenage constellation crash lands in his shed, young carer Elliot Hooper's life becomes the stuff of legend as he joins with the ancient Greek Gods on an anarchic adventure to save the world from an evil death daemon. But after 2,000 years of cushy retirement, are Zeus, Athene, Aphrodite and Hermes still top Gods? Or will they be an epic fail…? 

Follow Maz on Twitter - @MaryAliceEvans and the hashtags #WLTGO and #WhoLetTheGodsOut for more information about the book!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Secrets of Billie Bright by Susie Day

Billie Bright's family is pretty big for one that's got somebody missing. There's Billie who is a girl Billie and eleven and about to go to secondary school. Then there are her three big brothers and her Dad, who also runs the cafe under their flat. Life's loud but Billie likes it, even without her mum there any more.

But with the new school comes having to make new friends and all kinds of other grown-up things to deal with. And at home it feels like all her brothers are keeping secrets from her. So when she decides to do a project on her mum, she has to do all the research herself and ends up finding out all kinds of things she doesn't expect to . . .

My thoughts ....
I love this book. I'm always excited about the prospect of a new Susie Day book this book was no exception and I'm so pleased to report it far surpassed every hope and expectation I had for it. It's set in the same world as Susie's Pea series and the spin off The Secrets of Sam and Sam and much like those books it is wonderful in the diversity of characters featuring characters who are LGBT and PoC without it being a plot point or issue. These different types of people are just there without it being pointed out which is exactly how it should be. I hate it when diversity is used as a plot device or seen as something trendy and Susie Day shows exactly how diversity can be celebrated in a book without making it a big deal or cliché.

The story itself is really sweet and I loved getting to know Billie and her family. The relationships between them were really lovely and I really enjoyed getting to uncover all of Billie's secrets. I also have to mention the cameos from previous characters. I love a good cameo and was very excited about these.

All in all this is the book equivalent of hugs with a cup of tea and rich tea biscuits with your best friend. Just wonderful.  

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Mirror, Mirror: a ghostly Q&A with Sarah Baker

By Miriam Craig

Secrets, you say? Mysterious happenings? Experienced by an orphaned girl who’s weighed down by her own terrible guilt? Who meets a boy from another world, is plagued by deliciously mean cousins and an uncaring aunt - all of it happening in a crumbling French mansion?

The ingredients of Through the Mirror Door make it a classic children’s adventure. It’s the kind of book that simply DEMANDS a cup of tea and piece of cake and, preferably, some really atmospheric rain pattering on the window as you curl up to read it.

It also has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen! (Design by Will Steele, illustration by Jessica Courtney-Tickle.)

I spoke to author Sarah Baker this week about how she came to write it, her background in film and blogging, and the books she read growing up that inspired her writerly life.

What are you up to today?
Waiting in for a delivery, toddler wrangling, writing and, if I’m lucky, a bit of reading too.

What’s Through the Mirror Door about?
It’s about a young girl called Angela, who’s been recently orphaned. When she’s taken on holiday to an old, crumbling French house by her suddenly very friendly aunt, uncle and cousins, she finds a secret doorway that leads her to a boy who needs her help, a boy who might just be able to help her too.

What gave you the idea?
The house in the book, Maison de Noyer, actually exists, though it’s not called that. I was taken there on holiday by my aunt, uncle and two cousins, but (disclaimer) they are all lovely and nothing (nothing at all!) like the characters in the book. However, they did end up staying in the guest house and I was left in the very spooky main part of the house. I really did go adventuring, got lost, bumped into a suit of armour and thought that it might make a pretty good story one day.

Kitty and Fliss are pretty horrible cousins of Angela’s – did you have any nemeses growing up?
I really relished writing Kitty and Fliss, particularly Kitty’s rather cutting comments, because I think we’ve all probably been on the receiving end of a bully or someone who’s taken a dislike to us and isn’t afraid to show it. I’m sure I had my fair share of both at school, though I hope I’ve shown that it’s the fear and misery they’re feeling that makes them so nasty to Angela. Well, when it comes to Fliss anyway. A lot of Kitty’s behavior is just her being Kitty!

What were you like as a child?
Talkative. That’s what every school report says. I read a lot too. I’d take a pot of tea and a pile of books into a corner of my room or the garden and stay there for hours until I was called back in. I lived in books. I had a pretty vivid imagination too, which came in handy because being at boarding school, I didn’t have many local friends (I lived in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere) so books, trees, animals and my rather eccentric family were my mates.

What were your favourite books back then?
I devoured anything and everything by Enid Blyton, but particularly the Famous Five and Secret Seven. Other loved books were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, The Box of Delights by John Masefield and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. Really if it involved someone having an adventure, I loved it.

Tell me about the work you did in film. You were a story editor – what does that mean exactly?
I worked for a small film company so I got to wear a lot of hats. Story editing there involved scouting for writing and directing talent with an eye to adaption for film, so I would get to read books and scripts every day, watch a lot of short films and go to film festivals and the theatre a lot (pretty much a dream job). I would make many, many notes, deal with the film unit’s correspondence, liaise with producers and writers and make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be in time for production. I’d watch the latest rushes of the film with the producer and make more notes, help schedule films, and attend a lot of meetings too. Sometimes I’d work on set, which was great fun.

You’ve blogged about food for various magazines. Does that come up in your books?
I love baking, and food in some form of another always comes up in my books. In Through the Mirror Door, it’s French stews, chocolate and the odd flaky croissant, but in book two there’s a character who’s a proper baker. I even went on a course at Bread Ahead in Borough Market so I could prepare properly. It was so great I want to do another one.

What do you find are your biggest challenges when writing?
I have to remember to forgive every first draft and remember it’s not meant to be perfect. I’d like a bit more writing time too. Oh and exclamation marks. I can’t stop putting them everywhere!

How do you want people to feel when they read the book?
Honestly, I’m just so happy that people are reading my book – a book I wrote! They’re welcome to feel however they feel. It’s all good with me.

What comes next for you, and for the characters in Through the Mirror Door?
I’ve just sent book two to Catnip Books. It’s a prequel to Through the Mirror Door, that’s set in the same village and the same house, but during World War Two. It’s due out in 2017. I’m also writing a contemporary middle grade story called Different about a girl and her sister, who has Down’s Syndrome, as they navigate their way through a new school, their parents’ divorce, bullies, identity and acceptance. As for the characters in Through the Mirror Door, I’m not sure I’ve finished with them yet. Watch this space.

Sarah Baker

Thanks for talking to me, Sarah, about the book. I’m not sure whether you’ve made me more excited, or scared, about my upcoming holiday staying in a crumbling French mansion. I’ll certainly be examining any mirrors I find there very carefully...

For more information about Sarah, have a look at her website or find her on Twitter.

Miriam Craig
Twitter: @miriamhcraig
Instagram: @miriamhcraig

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Blog Tour: Holiday Ha Ha Ha post by Jonathan Meres

We're excited for Simon & Schuster's new Holiday Ha Ha Ha! anthology, so it's great to have Jonathan Meres, one of the authors involved, on the blog today!

Hello. My name is Jonathan Meres and I’m extraordinarily funny. Which came in very handy when I was asked to write one of the stories for the beachtastic Holiday Ha Ha Ha! anthology, available now at all good book shops and several rubbish ones.  And now I’ve been asked to tell you a funny summer-related anecdote of my own. Brilliant. Because not only do I love an anecdote, but I also happen to love summer.  I know. What are the odds, eh? In fact, if I’m ever asked to make a list of my Top 4 Seasons, summer will be right up there.   

Anyway if it’s OK with you, I thought I’d tell you about something that isn’t particularly side-splittingly funny in a hilarious way, more like funny in a ‘blimey, fancy that,’ kind of way. I mean I’ll do my best to chuck in a couple of gags here and there, but I’m not going to make any rash promises. Because essentially this is a true story. Well, not essentially. It is a true story. This really did happen. And it really did happen a long time ago now. Before my wife and I started having children. Or strictly speaking, before my wife started having children. We went on holiday, to France. To the picturesque and rather lovely Dordogne region, to be geographically precise.

By the way I don’t know about you – frankly it would be a bit freaky if I did - but I have the weirdest dreams when I’m on holiday. No idea why. There’s probably some perfectly rational psychological explanation for it. But anyway, I do. And I remember I’d had one that day, just before I woke up and this anecdote happened.

So, on this day, right, we decided to visit the caves at Lascaux. Which are very famous because there are these amazing cave paintings, said to be over 17000 years old or something. And that’s like, well old? Anyway blah blah blah and they were great. Then afterwards we went to the visitor centre. There was a book for writing comments in. About the caves, that is. Not just comments in general.  Anyway I was just about to write something when I noticed that the woman in front of me was from Leicestershire. Not that people from Leicestershire are particularly distinctive looking. I just happened to notice that she’d written ‘Leicestershire’ in the bit where it said ‘Name and address.’ I’m observant like that. That’s why I’m a writer.  

So anyway I said, ‘I used to live in Leicestershire.’ Which I did, by the way. I didn’t just make it up. I wasn’t that desperate to make conversation. Feigning interest, she said, ‘Really?’ Undeterred, I said, ‘Yes. Whereabouts in Leicestershire?’ She said, ‘A village in the Vale of Belvoir.’ I said, ‘No way. I used to live in a village in the Vale of Belvoir!’ Which again was perfectly true. I did. Well I’d started, so I had to finish.  ‘Which village?’ I asked. ‘Harby,’ she replied.  Now this was beginning to get seriously uncanny.  Because I too lived in the aforementioned village of Harby when I was a kid.  It was only a small village.  It still is only a small village, because I drove through it relatively recently and checked. ‘Whereabouts in Harby?’ I ventured, trying not to say ‘asked’ again. ‘Just an old cottage,” she said, clearly scoping the joint for the nearest exit. I paused for dramatic purposes, before saying the following sentence. ‘What’s the name of the cottage?’ But I had a strange feeling that I already knew the answer. And I was right. ‘Pilgrim’s Cottage,’ said the woman, as I was being escorted from the premises, by security.

You guessed it. I’d lived somewhere else entirely. In fact, I’d got completely mixed up and hadn’t actually lived in Harby at all.

I’m joking. Of course I’d lived in Pilgrim’s Cottage. About 25 years before. My dad had even named it Pilgrim’s Cottage. Prior to that, it didn’t even have a name. And I wasn’t really escorted from the premises by security. I added that bit to make the anecdote slightly funnier than it would otherwise have been. But the rest of it’s absolutely true.

Oh, I almost forgot. The dream I’d had the previous night?  And I swear this is absolutely true, too. I dreamt I was 8 years old, living in a small village in the Vale of Belvoir. In an old house, called Pilgrim’s Cottage.

Jonathan Meres
Jonathan Meres is the author of the bestselling The World of Norm series. Before writing children’s books, Jonathan worked as a sailor, ice cream van driver and actor. Born in Nottingham, Jonathan now lives in Edinburgh.

Holiday Ha Ha Ha!
From amazing aliens and strange superheroes to fantastic forests and crazy creatures; from ghoulish ghost tours and tiresome traffic jams to super spies and terrible talent shows – you’ll be laughing all summer with these eight summer sillies!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten MG Books Of First Half of 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Nine of us got together to talk about some of our favourite 2016 releases from the first half of the year! (No particular order, by the way.)

1. The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell (Corgi Children's) - selected by Jim from YA Yeah Yeah/Teens on Moon Lane

Stunning debut from Jennifer Bell, first in the Uncommoners series, is a magical story of a girl and her brother plunged into a strange world where nothing is as it seems and the most ordinary-seeming of objects can have hidden uses. With a great heroine and a truly chilling antagonist, this is a fantastic start to what's sure to be a must-read series.

2. The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House) - selected by Andy Shepherd 

This is such a wonderful MG debut. I was captivated from the very first page. Gorgeous world, cracking characters and a thrilling fast paced story that never lets you go. My son's top pick for the year so far too!

3. The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katherine Woodfine (Egmont) - selected by Katherine Webber

Katherine Woodfine's second book is even more delightful than her first, the wonderful and well-recieved Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Sophie, Lil, and the rest of the gang have another mystery to solve, and this time they have to venture away from the magnificent Sinclair's to do it, and enlist the help of a few new friends-who are fabulous additions to an already well-crafted and engaging cast of characters. The Jewelled Moth has all of the delicious details, gorgeous descriptions, and spectacular settings as Clockwork Sparrow, but the expanded world and the superbly plotted mystery is what makes this such a treat to read. 

4. Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo (OUP) - selected by Lorraine Gregory

Loved reading this story about a girl and her relationship with a wild bear. Great voice, beautiful writing and characters that are both real and charming. Honest, engaging and at times sad this book will stay with me for some time.

5. Swan Boy by Nikki Sheehan (Rock the Boat) - selected by Tatum Flynn

A rare magical realism MG and a rare book all round - beautiful, gripping, scary, funny, heart-rending tale of a boy with a sad past who is forced to perform in a school version of Swan Lake, and who may or may not be turning into a swan for real...

6. Mumnesia by Katie Dale (Macmillan Children's) - selected by Tamsyn Murray

A hilarious laugh-out-loud cringefest about Lucy and her mum, Sharon, and what happens when Sharon suddenly becomes Shazza - a twelve year old girl from the 80s! But don't be fooled - there's a gorgeous soft centre to this funny Freaky-Friday-with-a-twist. It left me grinning from ear to ear and sighing with satisfaction

7. Stormwalker by Mike Revell (Quercus Children's) - selected by Ruth Fitzgerald

A truly exciting, imaginative story about a boy who becomes the hero of his writer Dad's terrifying story. This is a fantastic book. A terrific, action thriller with a real emotional core. It covers grief, loss, friendship and football and wraps them up in a page turning, adventure - my emotions were all over the place! I really couldn't put it down. 

8. Chasing Danger by Sara Grant (Scholastic) selected by Relly Annett-Baker

Chasing Danger is a mystery/thriller story set on an over-60s holiday resort in the Maldives with no TV or wifi. 14 year old Chase is convinced she might die of boredom. Instead Chase, and her new friend Mackenzie, barely have time to dip their toes in the aqua lagoon before they must defend the island from attack from modern-day pirates. The action is intense, the plot twists are breathtaking and Chase and Mackenzie are fab, hilarious, heroines. It’s Charlie’s Angels for middle grade and the start of a brilliant new series.

9. Erica's Elephant by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King (Scholastic) selected by Faye Rogers

In this beautiful story, Erica is a ten year old who wakes up one morning to find an elephant on her doorstep. With her uncle away on a business trip and no one else to turn to, Erica brings the elephant into her home and tries to find a solution to her money and feeding woes. This is a magical book full of incredible illustrations that will leave your heart feeling full and wonderful. The perfect cute story for the younger generation.

10. Defender of the Realm by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby (Scholastic) selected by Faye Rogers

Alfie is a prince. He also feels overwhelmed and does not want to be king as he feels that his twin brother would do a much better job. But when their father dies, Alfie learns that being King comes with even more responsibilities than he first imagined; like defending the realm from supernatural villains. In this fast-paced, funny, and adventure filled book, you'll follow Alfie as he learns to accept his destiny for what it is. This is definitely a series to keep an eye on.