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.

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.


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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

"Back to the future..." by Caroline Busher

As a writer of historical fiction for children the past intrigues me. It is what makes us who we are; it shapes our future and gives us a road map to tentatively follow as we move into the future.

If I could step into my imaginary DeLorean time machine right now the year I would return to would be 1848. I would travel back to the murky realms of Victorian London, to the time when the four main characters in my novel Ginny, Theo, Archie and Millie lived.

The first thing I would do is walk along the banks of the river Thames, and wait hesitantly to see which shadowy figure would emerge from the dense fog.

Would it be Badblood, the cruel ringmaster and proprietor of Badblood’s Circus? or Ginny the girl with a  little bird called blue living inside of her?

Then I would pick up a copy of The Illustrated London News and read all about the Cholera Epidemic that was rampant at the time. I would finish the day off with a trip to the circus to witness the horrors that awaited the characters in my novel first hand.

This fascination that I have with the creepy Victorians; stems from my childhood. I grew up as an only child in a large Victorian House in the North-West of England. As a child I would sneak up the stairs to the attic with my favourite Victorian novel gripped in my hand. I devoured children’s literature everyday until eventually the fictional characters and stories of the crumbling Victorian Era became so entrenched in my imagination that I knew I had to write my own children’s novel set in the past.

When I am writing a historical novel I don’t have the luxury of a time machine, therefore, I have to use my imagination to fill in the blanks.

Research is an important part of the process, and it is something that I enjoy. I have been known to spend hours in the library sifting through history books and newspaper articles. Part of my research involves reading works of fiction that were written at the time that my novel was set. For the Victorian Era I read books by authors such as Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll.

One of my favourite Children’s Books set in the Victorian Era is “The Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It tells the tale of Sara Crewe, an intelligent and resourceful girl who lives like a princess. Her world is turned upside down when her devoted father dies and she is forced to live a life of poverty in a tiny attic room.

Despite the challenges that she faces, Sara remains resilient, hopeful and benevolent. A Little Princess moved me on so many levels as a child. It taught me that it is possible to overcome adversity and Burnett’s portrayal of Sara Crewe as a girl trying to navigate a world over which she has no control is still as relevant to children today as it was when it was first published. The Little Princess is a hopeful book and I have re-read it many times over the years and I feel a real connection with this classic work of Children’s Literature.   

I wrote my debut novel “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” when I was completing an MA in Creative Writing in UCD. It is set in the past and I hope you have as much fun reading it and I did writing it.

About Caroline Busher:

Caroline Busher is an award winning writer and curator for Wexford Literary Festival; she graduated with a First Class Honours MA in Creative Writing from UCD and is represented by Trace Literary Agency- USA. Her first book “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” (Poolbeg Press) is out now. You can learn more about Caroline here:

About The Ghosts of Magnificent Children:

The year is 1848. It is a time when magic and ghosts exist.

Four Magnificent Children are captured by Badblood’s Circus.  Theo can look into your eyes and reveal your secret thoughts, which come out of his mouth like a swarm of bees.

Ginny has a bird called Blue living inside her. Her ribs are woven together to form a birdcage. Blue perches on a swing made from one of her ribs.

And the Thought-reading Twins, Archie and Millie Luxbridge, have an extraordinary ability to read each other’s minds.

They become stars of the circus but are unaware that Badblood has a dark and secret plan.

One hundred years later the children’s ghosts appear on an island off the coast of Ireland where a boy called Rua befriends them. Rua discovers that a terrible fate awaits them and, in a desperate race against time, he struggles to learn how they may be saved.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Location, Location, Location

Just now, on Twitter, I came across a sketch by an artist of two imaginary children on a bike in a London street. Marshalsea Rd.  It was very specific. Exact.
Minutes earlier I’d answered a question from a publicist about my settings – were they real – had I imagined them?

I had to admit that I’d amalgamated several different places. Yes, there was a spot in my head, but it wasn’t perfect.  Generally, I like to take a place and make it fit.  Bring the quarry a little closer to the farm, lug the river up the hill a bit, add an extra storey to the house. That kind of thing.
And it made me wonder – does it matter to the reader if the location is real or imagined?
Obviously, a fantasy adventure set in space is an imagined location – but for all the terrestrial stories do we unconsciously or even consciously try to work out where they are? And does it matter if the story changes those places a little, or a lot?

When Phillip Reeve wrote his Mortal Engine books, he messed about with London, which was fine, because it’s fantasy – but would we have stood for Anthony Horowitz doing the same in his Alex Rider series?

Which got me thinking about using real people -  was I the only person who felt a delicious sense of something naughty when James Bond trotted through Buck palace with the Queen at the Olympics? or even when David Walliams cast the Queen in his Gangsta Granny book?
Historical fiction is full of real figures, it’s totally fine to use them – but apart from the Queen – or “the Prime Minister” I don’t know of any other examples of real people being stolen by contemporary children's writers. 
Do you? 

And, what do you think about locations?  Is using a real place a little bit naughty? A little bit exciting? Or – as it’s a work of fiction – would you rather have fiction all the way?
I’m interested.  

Latest book from Fleur Hitchcock, MURDER IN MIDWINTER out October 6th from Nosy Crow.