Monday, 29 February 2016

#CoverKidsBooks – Librarians

If you want to understand the true significance of children's literature today, you need to visit libraries.  The latest PLR figures show children's books being borrowed on an unprecedented scale, eclipsing every other kind of literature.  17 of the top 30 most borrowed authors in the UK are now children's authors:

Librarians are well placed to assess the impact that media coverage has on the public.  So #CoverKidsBooks talked to four leading librarians: Dawn Finch, President of CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals); Joy Court, Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals and reviews editor of The School Librarian; Ferelith Hordon, a former Carnegie Greenaway Chair and editor of Books For Keeps; and Matt Imrie, a current Carnegie Greenaway judge and editor of Teen Librarian

Our research shows that children's books typically get 3% of newspaper review space, despite accounting for over 30% of sales.  How do you feel about this under-representation?

Matt Imrie: It is idiotic beyond belief.

Joy Court: It is shameful, ridiculous and plain stupid.  Look at the ever-growing list of festivals around the country and the audiences Hay, Edinburgh, Cheltenham and the like attract.  Think of the number of adults involved in the children's book world, in childcare and education, and who have families.  That is quite a sizeable audience interested in this material.  Why are they not exploiting all this interest?

Ferelith Hordon: I'm amazed that newspapers haven't cottoned onto the interest and the gap.

Dawn Finch: I have thought a lot about this issue and it really is quite baffling.  Why would newspapers and magazines not cover children's books when they account for such large sales?  It simply doesn't make sense, and of course there is practically zero coverage for children's poetry and non-fiction.  I'd love a newspaper to tell me how they can afford to ignore such a lucrative section of the publishing industry! 

"Why are they not exploiting all this interest?"

What are some of the consequences of this under-representation?

FH: When IBBY UK nominated Jacqueline Wilson for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, we had to create a portfolio of reviews.  There were no reviews of Jacqueline Wilson in any newspaper.  She is dismissed.  If you had anything, it was two lines: "Another popular book from Jacqueline Wilson.  A cheerful book."  It's the demise of space to review material; of somebody actually doing a proper review of Jacqueline Wilson.  And there are many authors like that!  Many authors who are to be admired, you would be hard pressed to find anything.

DF: Coverage of children's books is ridiculously limited, and this is very damaging to literacy.  Currently the lack of coverage of great and diverse books means that developing readers are mainly being guided towards mass marketed books.  That is not to say that there is not a place for mass marketed books, but it should not be the only choice.  Children and parents are unable to see a fair and diverse representation of what is currently available.  This is tantamount to censorship as many books remain invisible behind a wall of top names – the usual suspects. How can we as a nation expect to nurture a love of reading for pleasure if there is almost no coverage of extraordinary books?

MI: It does the newspaper-reading part of the community a massive disservice, as they end up only reading about books they would hear about anyway and miss out on the chance to be introduced to something new and interesting.

"There were no reviews of Jacqueline Wilson in any newspaper"

What would be helpful to librarians?  What would you like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks?

JC: I want it taken seriously as something which merits the attention of "the man in the street". Children’s literature is the foundation stone of our culture.  How can it not be taken seriously?  They will also make it easier for anybody – not just librarians – to trace books if they always give full bibliographic details including the ISBN: a number unique to that book and only that book.  They should always, always give credit to a book's illustrator as well as author.

FH: I think a page a week that could be posted up in the children's library would help.  It would raise awareness: here are the books that are being reviewed, for parents to look at.  There are thousands of book websites; I try to look at them, but one could spend all week doing that.  But just having a sheet up in the library – you look! 

MI: A weekly or monthly list with titles and a précis/review.  There are fewer and fewer librarians each year and those with specialisms such as Children's Librarians are often dragooned into other parts of the service leaving little time for in-depth research into current and forthcoming books. 

DF: They should be asking children's librarians to contribute to mainstream media – and not just in the online editions.  The lists that appear in the press (when they break through the wall) are almost always formulaic and dull and drawn from a list of "classics" that were most probably on reading lists forty years ago.  Last year I wrote a list of books that your child might actually want to read and this went out with the TES.  I was told that it was one of their most popular items.  It is clear that parents, teachers, librarians and young people want this information, and so there is a duty of care to provide access to it.  Why would they not?  It's not only books that need readers, surely newspapers do too?

"Children’s literature is the foundation stone of our culture"

What difference does coverage make for librarians?

DF: With so many books being published, I can't stay on top of what is good, and nor can my colleagues.  We need to be able to see what is coming out so that our shelves can be full of books that are diverse and of high quality.  Librarians need this stuff on their shelves, but we are drowning in titles and professional reviews are hugely helpful.

JC: The mantra of a children’s librarian is finding the right book for the right child at the right time.  As Paul Jennings said: "There is no such thing as a reluctant reader. A reluctant reader is a child for whom an adult has not found the right book yet."  To do that as a librarian, teacher or parent, you have to know what books are out there and you have to read them to make that match, but it is not possible to read everything (and believe me I do try!)  The next best thing is finding somebody who has read the book.

FH: It may be that the book a child needs or wants or will enjoy is not a book that you personally might want.  If you haven't been able to read it, then you need the reviews.  You need to know.

"The right book at the right time can change, or save, a life"

What impact does coverage have for all the people who use libraries?

MI: As a librarian who has worked in a number of environments and with many challenging young people, I know the effect the right book can have on a young person.  Sometimes (usually) the right book is not a best-seller; it is a quirky, niche story that has a particular audience, and if one member of the audience is a disaffected non-reader and that book gets into their hands, it can change their world!  These books usually do not get coverage and can pass by unnoticed.  With no reviews to highlight their existence, so many books can be missed.  Libraries that do not have professional librarians can end up with a very superficial collection that does not fully engage with readers.

JC: The library with a specialist children's librarian to advise would have been the safety net for all families, but we all know what has been happening with library closures and the loss of professional posts.  Even school libraries have been closed. Yet it is within the wonderful range of books that are out there, if you can find them, that you are more likely to find that magic book to get a child started and the quality to sustain a lifelong habit of reading.  All the evidence shows that reading for pleasure impacts upon life chances.  This is not something that is just for fun.  This is deadly serious.

DF: I can't even begin to list the number of children who have found their voice or their identity thanks to the right books.  Time and time again I have hand-picked a book for a child and seen how it reaches inside them and makes them feel better about who they are.  I have seen children get through divorce, death, gender or sexuality confusion, bullying, social isolation and so much more with the right book.  I have lost track of the number of kids whose life has been made better by reading a book and realising that they are "normal" too.  That is why it's important to have books that encompass all issues and lifestyles – the right book at the right time can change, or save, a life.  We need coverage to show that these books are out there. 

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Blog Tour: Katherine Woodfine on Edwardian London: From West To East

As big fans of Katherine Woodfine's The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, and just-published sequel The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, we are very excited to be on the blog tour for the new book today!

Edwardian London: From West to East

‘She had almost reached the river now. The air here had its own peculiar tang: a part-sour, part-spicy odour of smoke and turpentine, flavoured with rum from the West India Docks, and always the distinctive smell of the water. Everything started with the river… Mei could see the dark lines of its myriad cranes and masts sketched against the sky, as she picked her way carefully down towards it.’
- The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth

Whilst Miss Veronica Whiteley and her fellow debutantes experience the social whirl of the Season in the grandeur of West London, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth also introduces us to a very different side of Edwardian London.

If The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow focused in closely on Sinclair’s department store itself, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth represents a kind of ‘zoom out’, allowing us to see more of the wealthy Sinclair’s customers like Veronica, but also to see something of London’s flip side - the docks of the East End, where the goods that were sold at Sinclair’s department store might have first arrived in the city.

In the Edwardian period, London’s East End was one of the poorest parts of the city. Whilst just a few miles away, London’s richest grew richer thanks to trade with the Empire, here life was tough. Living conditions were extremely poor: some families lived ten to a room, with no access to clean water.  Wages were low, crime was rife and disease flourished: nearly 20% of children died before their first birthday.

In spite of all this, the East End docks were of huge importance to London, as the place where goods from all over the world arrived in Britain. Whilst today our docks are largely automated, in the Edwardian era, they employed many thousands of people. Communities of sailors sprung up around the docks - itinerant populations who came and went on the big ships that sailed out of the London docks all over the world. As such, the East End fast became one of London’s most diverse and multi-cultural quarters.

There are lots of stories told about the East End of London at around this time in history - from the dark tales of the Jack the Ripper murders, to the writings of authors like Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, who wanted to draw people’s attention to the abject poverty of the East End, and the inequalities of society. A little later, and closer to the time that The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth is set, the author Jack London lived the life of an East End Londoner for a few months, staying in workhouses or sleeping on the streets. He wrote a book The People of the Abyss about his experiences, which also aimed to expose the plight of the poor.

Today, it’s difficult to read accounts like these without being struck by the awful contrast between the lavish lives of the Edwardian ‘super-rich’ - with their grand balls, elaborate fashions and extraordinarily extravagant meals - and the daily struggles of the Edwardian poor. In The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, I wanted to explore this contrast, and to write about the Edwardian East End as well as the West. However, I also wanted to tell a slightly different story from the dark tales we might have previously encountered about this area.

I chose to focus particularly on Chinatown, which in this period was situated in Limehouse, close to the London docks - and in particular, on a young East End girl, Mei Lim and her family. The Lims run a small grocer’s shop which strikes quite a contrast with the elegant Sinclair’s department store. (You can read more about why I wanted to write about Edwardian Chinatown on the Guardian website here.)

Through the adventure that follows, we have the chance to explore life in two different worlds -  London’s glamorous West End, and the more dangerous and down-at-heel East. Yet I hope the story also points to some of the ways that the carefully-maintained social barriers of the Edwardian era were just beginning to unravel. Although they may live in two different worlds, Mei and her family find themselves unexpectedly entangled with Veronica and her debutante friends - and soon learn to understand and help each other. Perhaps in the East End and West End of London are not really so very different from each other after all?

Katherine is on Twitter as @followtheyellow, and you can read her website and blog.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cover Reveal: The Inventory: Iron Fist by Andy Briggs

As huge fans of Andy Briggs's, especially his brilliant Tarzan series, we are super-excited for The Inventory: Iron Fist! When given the chance to reveal the cover for the new book, we obviously jumped at it.

Hidden under a small suburban town, the Inventory is a collection of the most incredible technology the world has NEVER seen: invisible camouflage, HoverBoots, indestructible metals, and the deadly war robot Iron Fist. Dev's uncle, Charlie Parker, is the Inventory's mild-mannered curator, with security provided by Eema, a beyond-state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system.

But security is catastrophically breached when Lot and Mason from school turn up unexpectedly and, hot on their heels, a ruthless gang of thieves working for the Collector and the Shadow Helix organization. If the thieves succeed in their goal to seize the Iron Fist, Dev, his friends, and the world are in a whole heap of trouble.

The Inventory is a fast-paced new adventure series, packed with high-tech thrills; perfect for readers who like edge-of-the-seat adventure with great characters and clever one-liners. This is ALEX RIDER with the gadgets and humour of ARTEMIS FOWL.

The Inventory's cover was designed by the fabulous Sam Perrett from Scholastic. We asked Sam for a quick comment on the cover and got this brilliant reply.

"It was clear from the start that the cover needed a bold and graphic treatment. With all the tech, devilishly cunning villains and exciting plot twists and turns (I won’t say anymore – there will be no spoilers from me), it was tough to decide what the final design should look like. After trying a few different things it was pretty clear that the Iron Fist was the best, and strongest choice, as it creates quite an impact, alludes to the gadgetry and technology hidden inside The Inventory and sets up the series look!"

The Inventory will be published by Scholastic on 2nd May.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

#CoverKidsBooks - Chapter Two

Three weeks in to the campaign and #CoverKidsBooks is continuing to create discussion both online and in the bigger, wider world. There have been some exciting talks going on behind the scenes, as we build on plans to take the campaign to the next level, so please watch this space.

We would again like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has tweeted the #CoverKidsBooks hashtag, commented on one of our posts, written their own blog post in support, or supported the campaign in any other way. On Monday 29th February S.F. Said will be posting the next of his campaign posts, this time featuring interviews with librarians, and we hope you will join us again in adding to the discussion. In the meantime, we wanted to bring you another round up of some of the supportive tweets, blog posts and other items that have caught our eye in the past week or so.

This tweet from @KL_Peebles echoed the thoughts of a lot of people who we have spoken to about #CoverKidsBooks:

We are loving the #CoverKidsBooks tweets by school librarian and blogger Jo Clarke (aka @bookloverJo). Some of the pupils at Jo's school are also going top be reviewing a book as part of the TES's decision to give more coverage to children's books. If you love kid's books and you don't already follow her then you should head on over to Twitter and click the 'follow' button now!


It is great to see the #CoverKidsBooks  hashtag being mentioned more and more in blog posts, either as a main focus for a post or even just a brief mention:

Imogen Russell Williams was invited by Andrew Hall (@PewterWolf13) to write a piece about #CoverKidsBooks for his blog, The Pewter Wolf:
"This breadth of wonders just can’t be adequately covered in seasonal round-ups, or a 2cm once-a-week review that will all too often go to a famous first-timer or big name, rather than an exciting debut or even a ‘quiet’, but compelling, slow-working story. The downside to the sheer number of brilliant kids’ books being published is that it’s all too easy for an author’s work to sink undeservedly, never finding the readers with whom it was written to resonate and chime."
 @MsXpat wrote a great post on her The Tiger Tales Blog about how she and her children find books, in particular those that include diversity:
"My question is based on the poor coverage, how do libraries, bookshops and children centres know the full range of what’s available for their readers? Of course I know there are catalogues, publishers and book sellers' catalogues but it's the reviews that give the experience of material. How can parents and carers avoid the trap of simply buying what’s most popular and not allow children to experience a wide variety of reading matter? In my humble opinion the system is set up for only a few to succeed"
We loved Jim's (@YAYeahYeah) Happy YA blog post, and his opening paragraph is one we found ourselves nodding to:
"Another week, another jaw-droppingly ignorant article about YA in a mainstream newspaper. I knew the #CoverKidsBooks hashtag should actually have been #CoverKidsBooksWithoutResortingToSadClickbait but felt it was probably too long."
This goes some way to answering newspapers who claim that they devote online space to children's books. Sadly, when articles about YA literature appear online they all too often seem to be written purely to raise the ire of those who read and love young adult books, rather than be written to celebrate the wealth of brilliant YA fiction that is published these days.

Author Anne Booth (@Bridgeanne) gave #CoverKidsBooks a great mention in her Valuing Children and Kindness blog post:
It is astonishing that children’s books are ignored so much – and every children’s writer cheered when Frances Hardinge won the Costa prize for her novel ‘The Lie Tree’, not just because it is an excellent book and deserved all the praise it got, but because it was showing the wider literary public that children’s books can be amazing and just as brilliant – if not more so – than any written for adults. I often have more confidence that I am going to read and enjoy an excellent story when I pick up a children’s book than an adult book. There are some AMAZING books out there – and I encourage you to browse the children’s shelves in your library or bookshop and see what I am talking about.
I think this lack of respect for books written for children is not just about underestimating the skill of the adults who write for them, but also about undervaluing children themselves.

And finally, thank you to Vincent Ripley (@Enchantedbooks), for publishing this list of bloggers who write about children's books. In the (current) absence of coverage in newspapers these are some of the best places to find out about new books for children and young adults.


We have tweeted several times asking for supporters to let us know if they spot any coverage of children's books in the press. We aren't just here to campaign and criticise, we also want to celebrate when we feel that newspapers 'get it right', and the past week has brought a couple of cracking examples:

On Monday 22nd February, The Metro ran this fabulous whole page piece on Feminism and Friendship in YA literature, written by Imogen Russell Williams:

Two days earlier, The Guardian ran a piece about the recently announced longlist for the 2016 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals.

Thank you to both of these newspapers for giving coverage to children's books. Sadly, it's not all good news though, as highlighted by school librarian Gillian Ward, in her tweet:

Why, indeed? Despite putting a lot of thought to this I cannot come up with any rational explanation as to why, in twelve pages of book coverage, not a single children's book is reviewed. For anyone who may question the validity of the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, here is a perfect example of why we feel that children's books are underserved by the UK national press.


Thank you for your continued support and don't forget to pop back on Monday for our S.F. Said's interviews with librarians blog post.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Imogen's Book of the Week: Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimée Carter, published by Bloomsbury

Kids who can change into animals, and who owe loyalty to rival kingdoms; a secret school where children are educated in magical combat; a powerful artefact whose missing pieces must be assembled for the weapon to be either deployed or destroyed. Individually, the elements of the first book in the Simon Thorn series may not be spectacularly original – but Aimee Carter has combined them to create a book with impressive, stick-to-your-fingers readability. I devoured it on several Tube journeys, happily impervious to the sweaty misery of the rush-hour crowds, and rushed back more than once to retrieve it when I realised I’d left it on the kitchen table.

Media of Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den

Fatherless Simon lives in a tiny New York apartment. He’s bullied at school, his mother is always away, and his uncle Darryl, who looks after him, hates wildlife and tells Simon off for talking to animals – but Simon really can talk to them, although pigeons tend only to say ‘Food?’ One day, a river of rats invades their apartment, wounding and carrying away Simon’s mother, and he discovers that he, his mum and Darryl are all Animalgams: humans with the power to change into other creatures’ shape.
The five kingdoms of the Animalgams, however, have long been at war – and the Alpha of the mammal kingdom now commands the loyalty of the reptiles, the insects and the fish against Orion, the golden-eagle King of the Birds. To get his mother back, Simon the Hybred, half-mammal and half-bird, must infiltrate the Animalgam Academy under Central Park Zoo, and discover where the mammals are hiding her. But, in doing so, he’ll discover more about himself, his family and his friends than he has bargained for – not to mention the mysterious Sceptre of the Beast King…

This is a pacey, thrilling MG fantasy, a bento box of fantasy tropes and unceasing action. Pink-haired girls who change into black widows, hereditary magic with unexpected manifestations, jovial dolphin boys and sarcastic snakes – it’s all here, handled with assurance and swift-moving verve. Simon is, at times, a little too heroic, gungho and forgiving to be entirely convincing, but he’s a thoroughly likeable hero nonetheless. Ideal for those who like their fantasy fast-paced, engaging and checking all the classic boxes.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

An interview with Abi Elphinstone by Tizzie Frankish

With more at stake then ever before, can Moll and her friends stop the Shadowmasks before its too late?

As a writer of Middle Grade and a huge fan of adventure stories, its is my pleasure to welcome Abi Elphinstone, author of The Dreamsnatcher and the soon to be released sequel The Shadow Keeper.

A thrillingly wild adventure – bold, breathless and beautifully told’ Jonathan Stroud

So, grab your catapult and join us on our adventure where we crack the secret code for  bringing stories to life, share secret pasts and save the life of a certain earthworm...

I wholeheartedly agree with Katherine Rundell, who said of the Dreamsnatcher; “An outstanding debut packed with suspense, adventure and heart”. What magic and mysteries can we expect from The Shadowkeeper?

I wanted to build on Moll’s world in The Shadow Keeper – to draw her out of the forest towards a coastline puckered by caves, waterfalls and fishing villages – and as her world grew, so did the magic. But I needed to make sure the fantasy elements enhanced, rather than detracted from, my seaside setting. Originally I thought I’d stop at kelpies and grindylows but because I tried to make the plot in this book bolder, and the sense of peril greater, I felt an unstoppable urge to add yet more magic. Cue grim whispers, cursed owls, spells uttered inside secret caves and codes read out in the Oracle Bones.

Sounds exciting. I cant wait to read more about their adventures... Moll is an impulsive and courageous character and if social media photos are anything to go by there is more than a dash of Elphinstone in Moll.  What was the inspiration for this feisty protagonist?

Writing Moll is like writing my autobiography one exhausting step at a time. I loved reading feisty heroines as a child (Lyra from Northern Lights, Maia from Journey To The River Sea and Bonnie from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and I expect the inspiration for Moll’s friendship with her wildcat, Gryff, came from Pullman’s Lyra and Pantalaimon, but ultimately what inspired my protagonist was thinking back to the fear, excitement and wonder of being twelve. I grew up with two younger brothers and a younger sister. If we were perched on a cliff top overlooking the sea, I made sure I jumped off first. There was a tone to set. If we were leaping over bamboo canes in the garden, I made sure I leapt higher than my brothers. And out of this fierce outdoor rivalry came Moll: plucky, determined and hopelessly impulsive.

Alfie is an intriguing character and I would love to know more about him. What has he got in store for us in The Shadow Keeper?

In The Dreamsnatcher Alfie runs away from Skull’s camp to help Moll find the Amulets of Truth and while writing my debut, I knew that Alfie’s past was complicated – that there were secrets he was holding back from Moll and Sid. But it wasn’t until I had written the first few chapters of The Shadow Keeper that I realised who Alfie was. I was walking down the street one day and everything about his past suddenly popped into my head. I didn’t have a piece of paper to write on so I took a leaf from a tree in the park and scribbled his story onto it (I still have that leaf in my writing shed J). I don’t want to reveal too much about Alfie at this stage but I can say that in The Shadow Keeper Moll discovers who he really is. And there are tears.

No! Not the tears... I’m a massive fan of animal sidekicks in books. In your series there is Moll and Gryff and Siddy and his earthworm pet. Was Siddy always saddled with an earthworm or did you audition other sidekicks for him?

In The Dreamsnatcher, I included an earthworm called Porridge The Second. I felt that non-stop witch doctor antics would have been a little overwhelming and an apathetic earthworm would provide a suitable antidote to the dark magic. But when I considered having Moll squash Porridge The Second in The Shadow Keeper, my editor (and numerous fans) begged for his life. He lives, in The Shadow Keeper, but remains in the forest and down by the sea Siddy adopts a crab, Hermit, who is terrified of absolutely everything. Even his own pincers. 

Ah Hermit sounds delightful... I loved reading The Dreamsnatcher and appreciated the hints of Pullman and Lewis, which reignited my childhood memories. Which book from your childhood had the biggest impact on you as both a reader and a writer?

It’s a tough call between The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. No moment in literature has affected me so powerfully as the moment Lucy Pevensie pushes open that wardrobe door – except, perhaps, Lyra riding Iorek over the Arctic ice plains. As a reader, these stories filled me with wonder and made me hungry for magic. Now, I read a lot of contemporary children’s books and they have definitely coloured how I write. Michelle Paver (and her excellent Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series) taught me how to write action scenes, David Almond showed me that magic doesn’t need to be all signing and dancing to be powerful and believable (Skellig remains one of my favourite books) and Katherine Rundell’s writing, particularly in The Wolf Wilder, makes me want to take time over every word I write.

There is much to be said about the trials and tribulations of ‘Second Story Syndrome’.  How did you find writing a sequel compared to the first book? And how is the third book coming along?

I found writing my debut hard. Very hard. As most people already know, I had 96 rejections from literary agents on the books I wrote before The Dreamsnatcher so it was a long and winding struggle to get my book deal. But weirdly, I didn’t find writing my second book that difficult. I had the world and my protagonist set up – and I had amulets still waiting to be found... The plot poured out (perhaps because I plan/sketch each chapter before writing) but I had to work much harder at the character progression. And Book 3? (here's hoping...) You’re not meant to know that there is a Book 3 because it hasn’t been announced yet but… I submitted it on Monday and it’s a northern adventure – full of mountains, lochs, castles, moors and kilts – and I absolutely loved writing it. 

Yippeeee!... So, what’s next after the Dreamsnatcher series?

Again, I’m not supposed to reveal too much at this stage but I can tell you that I’m doing an Arctic series next. I spent a few days in the Lofoten Islands, north of Norway, over New Year and have come back armed with stories involving orcas, polar nights and glaciers. I’ve got a few characters in my head, too – Eska, Flint and an Arctic fox pup who lives in the hood of someone’s jacket. 

You travel to the ends of the earth when researching your books. Why do you feel this is an important part of your writing process?

On the one hand, I travel because I am full of wonder at our incredible world and, as author John Muir said, ‘The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark’ but on the other hand, I travel because my adventures bring my stories to life. If I’ve learnt how to carve catapults from ash, sculpt knife handles from hazel, fashion bows from yew and fletch arrows with buzzard feathers with one of Britain’s last ‘real’ Romany gypsies I can picture my main character, Moll, doing the same. And if I’ve abseiled into a cave in the heart of the Brazilian jungle, I can imagine how Moll and her Tribe would feel encountering caves filled with stalactites and brooding shadows. I’m dyslexic and my processing skills are dreadful so I crave visual prompts throughout the writing process; my adventures spark the ideas for fictional worlds but it’s the maps I draw afterwards that anchor them into a plot.

I adore Narwhals (and Artic Foxes now that you mention it!) and a little birdie tells me that they may make an appearance in one of your books.  Can you give anything away?

Ah, the unicorns of the sea. Yes, they’ll be in the book. Scientists still don’t know why narwhals have a tusk but I’m pretty sure my heroine, Eska, is going to uncover the truth.

You are a huge advocate for Middle Grade stories. What do you love the most about writing for this age group?

I love the scale of adventure, the bravery of the children and, as I often say, the sense of wonder at the heart of these stories.

Quick fire questions:

I create my characters names by… glancing at cocktail lists, signposts, shower gels in TK Maxx and, rather morbidly, gravestones.

What comes first: the character or the plot? The setting.

My favourite word is… goblin.

The book I wish I’d written is… The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

If you could add anything to the school curriculum, what would it be? Starjumps. They’re good for the soul.

One thing you don’t know about me is… I once ate 14 pieces of toast – IN A ROW – at my friend’s house. I was 12 – and hungry.

Hiking or biking? Hiking.

My perfect day is … Walking across the Scottish moors.


Moll Pecksniff and her friends are living as outlaws in a secret cave by the sea, desperate to stay hidden from the Shadowmasks. But further along the coast lies the Amulet of Truth, the only thing powerful enough to force the Shadowmasks back and contain their dark magic.

 So, together with Gryff, the wildcat that’s always by her side, and her best friends Alfie and Sid, Moll must sneak past smugglers, outwit mer creatures and crack secret codes to save the Old Magic. 

With more at stake than ever before and the dark magic rising fast, can Moll and her friends stop the Shadowmasks before it’s too late?

The Shadow Keeper is published by Simon & Schuster Children's UK on 25th February and  can be pre-ordered by clicking on this link  

 A massive thank you to Abi for taking the time to answer my questions and for giving us a glimpse into her writing life.

Interview by Tizzie Frankish