Archive for the ‘Author Talk’ Category

Lovereading4kids Q & A with Andy Griffiths

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Andy Griffiths

Andy Griffiths is the author of the hilarious, incredibly popular and seemingly unstoppable large Treehouse books. We tracked him down to ask him a few questions. Find out more below.

 

What were you like at school?
I really enjoyed school—had a lot of fun with my friends and my teachers often commented that I had a good sense of humour. When I was in Grade 4 I found an old typewriter at a junk shop and taught myself to touch type. I wrote and printed a magazine which I used to sell to the kids in my year level.

 

Were you good at English?
Yes, I loved reading and had a natural interest in language—particularly playing around with words and ideas for comic effect.

 

Which writer inspires you the most?
Well, I’ve always loved Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland/Looking Glass books. The combination of philosophy, wordplay and sheer nonsense has always amused, excited and inspired me.

 

So, tell us a little about the Treehouse series and what inspired you to create it?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Terry, the illustrator, for twenty years now and together we love entertaining each other and seeing just how far we can push our humour. The treehouse series grew out of this process of constant experimentation and play. And, I guess, my love of Enid Blyton’s ‘Faraway Tree’ books were probably responsible for the idea of a magical tree filled with unpredictable things and people.

 

Give us an insight into the latest book in the series, ‘The 78-Storey Treehouse’? 
It’s all about a Hollywood director coming to the treehouse and attempting to make a blockbuster movie. Needless to say it all goes horribly wrong in an horribly entertaining way. Oh, and there’s spy cows. A spy cow on every page in fact.

 

How do you and Illustrator Terry Denton make the words and illustrations come together so perfectly? 
It starts by me throwing Terry a few ideas and then him responding by drawing some pictures of those ideas which helps me to develop the ideas further and then his drawings become more detailed and include elements I hadn’t considered so I have to change and develop the story accordingly and so on and so on. The process takes a whole year for each book and Jill, my wife, editor and co-writer is there helping us to sort it out at every step of the way.

 

What made you want to choose this theme for the story?
Everybody is always asking us if the treehouse books are going to become a movie but, given the dreamlike structure of the treehouse and everything that happens there, we’re not so sure it would be even possible to make a movie and we’re not in any hurry. Our ambivalence about the treehouse series and movies is reflected in the plot.

 

What are you working on at the minute?
The 91-Storey Treehouse: Andy and Terry have to babysit Mr and Mrs Big Nose’s grandchildren. What could possibly go wrong (apart from everything?!)

 

How much research do you do?
I am constantly reading books, watching movies and keeping my eyes open for potential levels and story ideas.

 

Do you write full-time or part-time?
Full time.

 

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I like to begin each day with an hour of reading, an hour of exercise and then a good breakfast. I generally aim for around 5-6 hours of writing most days, with the evenings free to just mess around and read some more.

 

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
No, sometimes it comes fast and other times painstakingly slow. I generally know whether I’m on track to deliver the manuscript on time, and if not, I need to work harder until I’m back on schedule.

 

Where do your ideas come from?
Absolutely everywhere. But reading extensively is one of the best ways to encounter a never-ending kaleidoscope of ideas.

 

What is the hardest thing about writing?
Rewriting it for as many times as it takes until it’s as clear and as funny as possible. The rewriting process never stops and occasionally it can become quite exhausting. But it’s one of the most important parts of the process.

 

What is the easiest thing about writing?
Sitting around pitching silly ideas to Terry and Jill. Occasionally one of the ideas is so outlandish that it sparks a whole new level, character or plot.

 

Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
I read a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction for at least two hours every day. My all time favourite authors are Lewis Carroll, Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton, Franz Kafka and JD Salinger.

 

What book/s are you reading at present?
I’m reading ‘As I lay Dying’ by William Faulkner and revisiting some of the short stories of the southern gothic writer, Flannery O Connor.

 

What is your favourite book and why?
As per question 3: Well, I’ve always loved Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland/Looking Glass books. The combination of philosophy, wordplay and sheer nonsense has always amused, excited and inspired me.

 

Do you have a favourite genre?
Comedy!

 

What is your favourite quote?
‘A man’s got to know his limitations’ – Clint Eastwood in one of his ‘Dirty Harry’ movies.

 

What is your favourite film and why?
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. A fantasy wonderland of complete nonsense starring one of the funniest comedic characters ever created.

 

Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?
At this rate—adding 13 storeys to our treehouse each year—I’ll probably be working on the 156 Storey Treehouse.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stay away from man-eating sharks.

 

Do you have a favourite positive saying?
When the chips are down, go eat some chips (Read the 78-Storey Treehouse and you’ll understand.)

 

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Actually, I met a lot of famous dead people when I went time travelling in the wheelie bin with Terry in the 65-Storey Treehouse.

 

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Because it’s perfect.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Research the type of books you love reading and direct your efforts towards learning how to writer your own versions. That way you’ll be gaining a huge amount of enjoyment and satisfaction. whether they get published or not,

 

Where do you see publishing going in the future?
Nowhere. Books still offer a particularly personal pleasure for the reader that movies and computer games—whatever their other merits—just can’t match.

 

How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Reading the books is the best way. And if that’s not enough you can visit www.andygriffiths.com.au

Q&A with Alison Goodman Author of The Lady Helen series for YA readers

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Humaira Kauser – Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel Member recently interviewed Alison Goodman.

I had the opportunity to ask a few questions to the author herself but due to being in the midst of writing book three I was limited to asking five questions. I hope you like the questions I have chosen and enjoy the answers that Alison Goodman replied with! It was great fun thinking of and asking these questions so enjoy!

 

1. Who would be your dream cast if ever your book was adapted to a film?
I love making up dream casts! Let’s see now…first pick for Lady Helen would be Daisy Ridley, from Star Wars  She has a great face – strong, angular and fiercely intelligent — and the  athleticism that Lady Helen needs.  For Lord Carlston, I would cast Aidan Turner from Poldark: dark,  brooding and so, so handsome. He also looks great in period costume. When I first imagined the Duke of Selburn, I thought of Laurence Fox (D.I. Hathaway in Lewis) – he has so much charisma and is a brilliant actor. A friend of mine also suggested Tom Hiddleston, and let’s face it, you can’t go past a bit of Tom and he would make a superb Duke. I think Nell Hudson from Outlander would be a great Darby, and Dwayne Johnson would be a truly magnificent Quinn, although his star quality might be rather overpowering in a supporting  role. Mr Hammond would be beautifully portrayed by Nicholas Hoult and Emilia Clarke  would be an awesome Lady Margaret.

2. Is there any particular reasoning or meaning behind names?
For me, the ‘music’  of a name  is very important – I listen to the  number of syllables and how they run together. I also prefer strong endings such as the hard n in Helen and Carlston because, for me,  it  gives a sense of strength and boldness to the name. I  also try to marry the name to the personality of the  character  e.g. I think of  Hammond as a  straightforward, reliable kind of name, which is how I think of Michael Hammond in the books.  In terms of finding names, I collect them from all over the place — street names that I pass, people I meet (I’ve discovered some great names in the signing lines for my books!), and most productively, the end credits of movies

3.What do you like most about the Regency setting?
I like the veneer of civility over raw human emotions, the elegant and opulent surroundings, the fashion,  the dancing, and how meeting the eyes of someone or the fleeting touch of their hand can take on enormous meaning. As a writer of historical fiction, I also love  how the Regency is like a mirror for today’s society- excessive consumerism, huge divide between rich and poor, and a lot of civil unrest.

4. Aside from being in a modern Dark Days Club, what would Lady Helen be doing now in today’s world?
I think Helen would be studying Chemical Engineering at Oxford University and fencing on the University team!


5. Which of the new characters are your favourite and why?

I think my favourite new character is Sprat, a twelve year old girl living  in a bawdy-house. She is sly and funny and a bit of a hustler –so  much fun to write!
I also really like Martha Gunn, who was a real dipper at Brighton Beach during the Regency. A dipper’s job was to hold on to a lady who could not swim, and literally dip  her into  the sea and out again, rather like a tea bag, so that the lady could  “take the waters” for her health. Martha Gunn was the most famous dipper in England  and was a favourite of the Prince Regent. She is in a sea-bathing scene with Lady Helen, and it is my favourite scene in the whole of The Dark Days Pact.

Meet the Illustrator – In conversation with Helen Oxenbury

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Helen Oxenbury chats to Shelley Fallows from Lovereading4kids.

I (Shelley) have a nine year old son.  Those nine years have flown by in a flash as I was warned they would and yet one of the most endearing memories I have of his younger years is reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, over and over.  The book had been a gift from a friend who also had wonderful memories of reading it to her by then teenage children.  This is the beauty of a great picture book, quiet moments shared with you and the child in your life that become special.  So it was an absolute delight for me when I was asked to interview author and Illustrator Helen Oxenbury on behalf of Lovereading4kids to celebrate the publication of Time Now to Dream written by Timothy Knapman which is packed full of Helen’s beautiful, illustrations.

Time Now to Dream is a beautifully atmospheric story about two young children confronting their fears and supporting each other as they explore a mysterious noise in the woods close to where they live.  Timothy’s prose is perfect for sharing with young ones as it gently explores the fear of the unknown and inspired the illustrations Helen has created.  Her instantly recognisable style fits perfectly with the story.  I wanted to gain a better insight into this mother and grandmother who has made such a great contribution to children’s books – she is even the creator of the iconic bear symbol that graces all of Walker’s Books. She has been drawing since she was a child, discovering her love for it when she was forced to often stay home from school due to asthma.

Where did you take your inspiration from as a child?

I remember drawing endless bunches of flowers.  We had a lovely garden with a pond which I spent most of my time with my hands in.  I had no fear of frogs or toads.  That’s what I remember mostly of my childhood.  We often had friends over who all fell in but my brother and I never did because we grew up around it and knew not to.

What was you earliest book related memory?

You have to remember it was during the war and you couldn’t get books, you couldn’t buy your own books.  My father worked for the East Suffolk County Council and they had a library.  There was a shelf full of children’s books.  It was just awful but these were the only books I had really.  The one I can remember, that I just loved was quite a big book of photographs of Shirley Temple in different outfits, such as red wellies, a yellow raincoat and big yellow hat.  The book was in lovely, bright colour.  All the other books were just black and white.  We were quite starved of books really.  We had comics such as the Beano which was printed in black, red and white but if you had one with colour it was just wonderful.

Can you explain a little about your creative process? For example which medium do you like to work with?

time-to-dream-3It depends on the story, depends on the text.  If it is something like ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ or ‘Time Now to Dream’ that involves a rather English landscape then I’ll use watercolour.  However when I did the illustrations for ‘So Much’ which is about a West Indian family, well it just didn’t seem right in watercolour because they wear these wonderful, vibrant colours, so I used gouache.  It’s usually the text itself that will suggest to one which medium to use.

 

Do you have a specific routine you follow when working and do you tend to draw every day?

I take a flexible approach depending on what I’m working on.  I don’t always draw everyday though.  There’s not always enough time.

 

Do you usually meet the author before you begin work on the illustrations for a project?

No never. I receive just the manuscript to work from and then meet the authors once it is done.

 

Where did you take your inspiration for the illustrations in Time Now to Dream?

I took a lot of walks on Hampstead Heath but not with a notebook, but I wouldn’t do any drawing at this stage.  I would then draw the pictures from memory.

 

Your drawings are wonderfully expressive, are the children based on anyone in particular?

They are a culmination of children based on the age of those who will be reading it.  It helps the children to be able to identify with the characters.  I love to try and put over the emotions the text invokes.  We have to enhance the text but not slavishly illustrate every word.  I also like to add a little something that features throughout the book.  In ‘Time Now to Dream’ for example there is a bird who appears all the way through.  At times you are unsure what his purpose is.  Is he a little sinister or is he watching over them?  It’s another element to talk about when you’re reading the book.

 

How closely do you work with the publisher on the finished book?

I work very closely with the art director on the book itself.  For example with ‘Time Now to Dream’ I didn’t want the foliage and text etc. to be on a white background so we chose a softer colour that supported the illustrations better and provided a softer, more comforting feel to the book.  I also like to include a mix of coloured illustrations with black and white images to also enhance the visual aspect.  Walker Books are particularly good at getting it right.  There is definitely a Walker look.

 

How important do you feel illustrations are to building a child’s love of books and reading?

time-to-dream-4Terribly important and not only for the reading but looking at things, giving them a sense of colour and form.  For example when they see a wolf they’ll recognise it for what it is.  I see them also as a stepping stone to reading.  Illustrations also make a book so much more interesting.

 

How vital do you feel the role of Children’s Laureate is to Children’s literature today?

Well, it certainly can’t do any harm especially if it gets more children reading!

 

Do you have any advice for parents who want to encourage their children to read?

They’re never too young to start.  It’s amazing how much they can absorb right away.  Holding books, looking at pictures, hearing the words and of course having that precious time with mum and dad.  Always make time to read.

 

What are you reading at the moment?

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, it has the most wonderful illustrations!

 

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

I am but I’m afraid I can’t say too much about them at the moment.  I still love what I do and will keep on doing it until I fall off my perch.

Make your child part of a beautifully illustrated story… the perfect Christmas Gift

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

We have come across a beautiful ‘bookie’ idea that we think is a brilliant Christmas gift, so we wanted to share it with you.

miab1It’s called Message in a Bottle and your personal message (the actual message in a bottle) including date, text and an optional picture seamlessly becomes part of the story. Educational, enchanting and full of adventure we can see it being read many many times.

With words by Tom Percival and illustrations by Tuire Siiriainen each book is digitally printed and is unique and the feedback from readers is lovely…

miab2‘Read mine to the kids today and had to stop self from crying – it really did make me very emotional! Very special book indeed.’Kelly Allen

‘Oh my goodness!! Our book just arrived!! It’s incredible!! The quality is superb. The story and illustrations… Ah. It really is amazing. To think what I’ve paid for personalised books in the past that don’t even come close. This really is something special.’Rebecca Taylor

miab3‘Message in a Bottle would make a wonderful gift for any young child.  It’s particularly special for those you don’t see quite as often as you’d like.  The online ordering process is very simple and the book was delivered quickly, it even came with a sheet of beautiful wrapping paper so I could gift wrap it myself.  This really is a lovely way for a child in your life to become part of a delightful story and receive a rather special gift from you.’ Shelley

Find out more at messageinabottlebook.co.uk. Softcover books are £19.95 and Hardcover £29.95 and to get one in time for Christmas order by 16 December.

Also we have just heard that the lovely people at Message in a Bottle have added some ‘Christmas Templates’ – find out more on their blog

miab_christmas_post_feat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a video that explains a bit more

Find out more on their facebook page facebook.com/messageinabottlechildrensbook/

 

See below for an article on the book written by the author Tom Percival.

Words (and Pictures)

I’ve always loved stories—reading them, making them, hearing them, illustrating them… you get where I’m going with this, right? I love stories. And I’m not alone, our whole lives are built around stories. We listen to stories in songs, read them in books, share them when we talk with our friends. Even a simple question like,

‘How was your day at school today?’ is an invitation to tell a story (one that my children usually decline by just saying, ‘Yeah… good.’

We build up our personalities from the continually evolving stories that we pull from our different memories and experiences. Rolling it all up into a big ball of story dough that we can mould into whatever shape we like and then bake into, err… story bread? Story cakes? Hmm, I don’t know, I think I might have pushed the whole story-baking thing a bit too far there.  Let’s move on…

It was my love of stories that led me into the career that I now have as a children’s author and illustrator. I believe that stories have the power to communicate a truth, to help you form a better picture of the world. Although the actual events in a book of fiction are made up (you could even say a sort of lie), what they actually do is communicate a truth about the world. Truth out of lies—I like that idea. And that’s not to mention the sheer fun involved in making up characters and worlds that you can explore and introduce other people to as well.

Initially I started out illustrating other people’s stories. I spent most of my time drawing as a child, (lots of pictures of He-Man, Transformers and skeletons since you asked) and so it was drawing that I first became good at. Just as a quick note to all you aspiring writers, illustrators, musicians, footballers, astronauts, or anything else, if you want to get good at doing something, just do it a lot – you get there the end, I promise!

I was lucky enough to create the cover art for the Skulduggery Pleasant series (I knew all those skeleton pictures were a good idea!), which gave me a kick-start to my illustration career and meant that I got to illustrate books for lots of other fantastic authors.

After a couple of years of illustrating I also started writing my own stories and I’ve now had lots of picture books out, including Herman’s Letter, Jack’s Amazing Shadow and most recently, By the Light of the Moon

2016 then saw the launch of the Little Legends series of illustrated chapter books for newly independent readers. It’s been great to have a few more words to play with, and to be able to explore a world and the characters within it in a bit more detail. Not only that, 2016 also saw the arrival of an email from Tuire Siiriainen, with an invitation to collaborate on a personalized picture book that she was developing with her company Blueberry and Pie. Now, this was all very exciting because Tuire was asking me to write a story that she would be illustrating. I was so used to writing and illustrating my own work that at first I wasn’t sure how it would all pan out. When I usually write a picture book, I have in mind what will happen in the illustrations, right from the start, but that wasn’t going to be possible with this book. Any concerns I had about how the interpretation of the text would work were washed away when Tuire sent over the character designs and sample spreads she had already worked up—they were absolutely fantastic, and I knew straight away that it was going to be a great partnership.

After I’d written the story, Tuire would send through each one of her bright, fun-packed illustrations as she finished them. It was so exciting to see the book come together in that way. Ordinarily, the illustrating phase of a picture book is something of a blur for me as it’s a really intensive period of work, so it was great to be able to sit back and see it all just ‘happen’ in front of me without having to pick up a single pencil! We also had a great team working with us, helping with the design, editing and packaging of the book. It felt as though everyone realized it was a really special project to work on.

Working on a personalized book held a few new challenges for me, mainly creating a story with all the required personalization details that still felt engaging in it’s own right. In this case, the story is about the discovery of a message in a bottle that is found floating halfway around the world and is addressed to the reader. So the child’s name and address features throughout the story and then at the end, the message that was in the bottle is revealed to be whatever you chose to write to the person you are giving the book to. It’s a great way of personalizing a book and will make all young readers excited to feature so prominently in a book.

My most important contribution to the project was the creation of Kiki, a lively and irrepressible young bird who has never seen much of the world before she sets off on an epic journey to deliver the message she has found to the reader’s home.  So as far as I was concerned, the story is about Kiki’s journey of discovery as she tries to do something that she has never done before. New challenges are always daunting and Kiki has moments of over-confidence and also self-doubt, which I’m sure anyone who has ever tried to do anything new can relate too! Eventually she manages to overcome all the obstacles and meets lots of different and exciting characters, some of which are more helpful than others. I would tell you more, but I think you should read the book for yourself—it’s far more fun like that!

I really enjoyed writing Kiki’s story and I hope that you and your children enjoy reading it and being part of the adventure too.

Author Talk. Pete Johnson

Friday, August 12th, 2016

howtoupdateparentsToday we’re very lucky to be joined by Pete Johnson, author of How to Update Your Parents.

Thank you for having me!

Hi Pete, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s get to know you a little bit. What were you like at school?

Erm…no comment!

Were you good at English?

Yes, very good!

Which writer inspires you the most?

That would definitely have to be Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmations and I Capture The Castle. For me, the latter book is a masterpiece and it made me want to become a writer myself – one who could write as wonderfully and vividly as Dodie.

When I was eight years old, I wrote a fan letter to Dodie and we embarked on a long and rewarding correspondence. This only encouraged my new-found ambition of becoming an author.

So, what have you written?
In this series so far I’ve written How to Update Your Parents, My Parents Are Driving Me Crazy, How to Train Your Parents and My Parents Are Out of Control. Outside of those, I’ve written more than 50 books for many different publishers, including The Cool Boffin, Faking It and The Ghost Dog.

Give us an insight into your main character in this book. What does he/she do that is so special?

Readers love Louis essentially because of his happy personality and the fact that he is very funny. Kids are drawn to that.

What made you want to choose this theme for the story?

I chose this theme because it’s incredibly topical at right now. Social media and technology have become such a huge part of our lives. I wanted to explore what life would be like now if it was taken away from us, and how older generations deal with it.

What are you working on at the minute?

I’m currently working on my next Louis book, called How To Have Chilled Out Parents. Watch this space!

How much research do you do?

It depends on the book, but for How To Update Your Parents, my research mostly consisted of discussions with children, teachers and librarians on the topic. Everyone has an opinion or viewpoint on it!

Do you write full-time or part-time?

I’m lucky enough to be a full-time writer.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

Definitely the morning. I aim to start writing by about half past seven. It gives my day structure and allows me to be very productive! I find that if you have a set time and day to write, you will do it no matter how you’re feeling.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I like to aim for at least 1000 words a day.

Where do your ideas come from?

Life! There is no one source of ideas – everything and anything can inspire me.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest part is definitely getting started. Coming up with the initial idea is quite tough. However, once your idea is fully formed, it becomes much easier to start writing!

What is the easiest thing about writing?

I wouldn’t say any part of writing is easy – but it is rewarding.

If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it?

How To Update Your Parents is the fourth book in the Louis the Laugh series. They’re comedy books which focus on Louis, his friends and their various problems and mishaps involving their parents. They’ve been extremely popular so far!

Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

As you can probably guess, I love reading. I have too many favourite authors to list here, but I’ll name a few. As a child, among my favourite authors were P.G. Wodehouse, Roald Dahl, and of course Dodie Smith. Today I am a big fan of Anthony Horowitz, John Green, Louise Rennison, Hilary McKay and Phillip Pullman.

What book/s are you reading at present?

At the moment I’m reading Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare.

What is your favourite book and why?

101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith…for reasons I explained earlier in the interview. I love it.

Do you have a favourite genre?

I am a big fan of comedy, golden age and thriller books.

What is your favourite quote?

“The best is yet to be…”

What is your favourite film and why?

I love Brief Encounter for its romantic element…the same reason I love Casablanca!

Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?

I would like to think that I’ll still be alive!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think I would tell myself to relax and to chill out a bit more.

Do you have a favourite positive saying?

“We’re here for a good time, not a long time!” – Damien Hirst

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

I would love to meet Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant. They are both so charismatic!

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

I would love to have written House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne. The characters just bounced off the page and in to my head.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I cover this in more detail on my website at http://www.petejohnsonauthor.com/about_pete.html but one of the more important points for me would be to remember to have fun with it. If it feels like too much hard work, then the scene isn’t working. Try something new and make sure you enjoy it.

Where do you see publishing going in the future?

The biggest change in the industry in recent years has been the rise of the eBook, and I think that will continue to change things for a while yet.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Website: www.petejohnsonauthor.com

Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.

Author Joanna Nadin discusses Books as beacons

Friday, February 12th, 2016

When I wrote Joe All Alone and its follow-up White Lies, Black Dare I had a checklist of “things I wanted to say” – about child poverty and child neglect, about toxic friendship and family breakdown, about bullying amongst children and adults alike. Fiction has the power to bring new light to these difficult subjects and illuminate not just gory details, but also paths out of the darkness, which is why I will always weave hope into a story, however bleak. But there is another idea lurking in both novels, one that paints books as beacons in a more profound capacity: that books make us who we are, and can change that too.

 

Books matter. Of course I’m going to say that: the ability to pay my bills depends on me writing and selling enough of them. But my belief in their transformative power goes far beyond personal monetary gain. And it’s not writers who think so. There are government studies that point to reading for pleasure as raising test scores in subjects as seemingly unconnected as maths and science. There is research that highlights how stories encourage empathy. But there is evidence too that books penetrate deeper than that, changing our very selves as they show us new ways to be, offering us a pick and mix menu of characters to incorporate into our own.

 

As a child I worked my way through an array of fictional role models – George from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Velvet Brown from Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, even Pandora from Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. The academic Francis Spufford describes this appeal in his homage to the power of children’s fiction The Child That Books Built: “Be a roman soldier, said a book by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Be an urchin in London, said a Leon Garfield… Be an Egyptian child beside the Nile, be a rabbit on Watership Down. Be a King. Be a slave. Be Biggles.” In other words, reading helps us try out new lives for size. It helps us try out being better or bigger or just different people.

 

It was this in mind that I gave both Joe in Joe All Alone and Asha in White Lies, Black Dare books not just as background reading, but as talismans, magic amulets that would change the course of their lives on and beyond the page. For Joe, the eponymous Huckleberry Finn gives him the courage to face up to his situation. It helps knowing that someone else has been where he is – been alone in the world – before. It helps him work out who he wants to be – brave like Huck. It helps knowing that Huck finds a friend. It helps knowing that Huck can evade the adults who are closing in on him.

 

For Asha it’s Sodapop and Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders that drive her final dare and damnation, as well as her ultimate salvation. “So I do what I always do,” Asha says. “ I pick up my book and bury myself in story, glorious story. I read until it’s so real I can feel myself right there in Ponyboy’s house, smelling the eggs and chocolate cake he’s cooking for breakfast, and smoke from Two-Bit’s cigarettes. McCardle’s right, I think, that books get you through stuff.”

 

This is what books can do. They can teach us, they can show us the way. They can give us hope. And more than that they can make us. They have certainly made me – I am part George, part Velvet, part Pandora, and so many others besides. I am even part Asha now, and all the better for it.

Philip Reeve – Railhead – Blog tour 20 October 2015

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

T is for Trainsong

In some ways, the trains which ply the lines of the Great Network are just like the trains we know. They have locomotives, carriages, a buffet car; they run on rails, and pull up at platforms. But in other ways they are quite different. Each train has a brain; a mind of its own, housed in the sleek-hulled locomotive. The locos are born in the trainworks of the Corporate Families, but once their minds come online they stop being mere vehicles and become individuals, intelligent and self-aware. They choose names for themselves, sometimes delving into the deep archives of the Datasea to find phrases from the deep past which they feel best suit their character – the Lounge Lizard, the Weather Report, the Lie Detector, the Pretentious? Moi? They download maps of the Network and complicated schedules of the K-bahn Timetable Authority, and they are off, riding the rails, slamming through the K-gates. Their eyes are cameras, mounted on their hull and on the ceilings of the carriages they tow. Their hands are maintenance spiders – many-legged robots which wait in hatches on the loco’s hull until it needs them to climb out and make running repairs, or eject an unruly passenger. Their huge minds talk constantly to the small, semi-intelligent systems of the track and the stations, to the signal boxes and points. And in their memory banks they carry news from one world to the next. For the trains are the only things which can travel faster than light, so the only way to send information to someone on another planet is to carry it with you on a train, or send it in a train’s brain. The Network Empire would quickly cease to function if it weren’t for the trains, patiently updating the datasea of each world they cross with news from others, further up the line.

 

Some of the locos enjoy human company, chat to their passengers, and make human friends all over the Network. Others are reserved, busy with their own thoughts, their conversation limited to occasional passenger announcements. A few have been known to to write poetry or compose novels (He Was The Thunder, She Was The Rain, written by the freight train Crystal Japan while it made its lonely journeys up and down the Eastern Branch Lines, is a 27th Century classic, still widely read). A tiny minority have become unstable, and had to be forcibly retired. But what they all have in common is that they love their work; speed is freedom to them, and the interdimensional tingle as they slide through the K-Gates is bliss. That is why they almost all sing, their great, strange voices booming like whales, hooting like pipe-organs, repeating their own trademark musical phrases in countless variations so that passing trains will know them. People living miles from the K-bahn will hear them dimly through their sleep, and wake from dreams of wild journeys and far-off stations.

 

RAILHEAD by Philip Reeve – is the long-awaited new novel by Carnegie and Guardian Book Award winner Philip Reeve. It’s a book that he has been thinking about for ten years and that is hotly anticipated by fans, reviewers and the book-trade. It is a gripping story written for both teens and adults alike, with the epic sweep and emotional pull of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. The film rights to RAILHEAD have been sold to Warner Brothers.
RAILHEAD is the story of Zen Starling, a petty thief and self-confessed ‘railhead’ who loves to ride the rails to nowhere. It is set in a far-flung galaxy connected by thousands of gates, linked by indestructible rails – The Great Network, where hundreds of sentient trains criss-cross the universe in seconds. Zen Starling is chosen by the mysterious and powerful Raven to steal something that has the power to bring everything in this galaxy and the next to an end.

Jonathan Stroud – Lockwood book launch

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

By Shelley Fallows

It was a sunny, autumnal evening and the visitors of Daunt Bookshop in Chelsea gathered together to celebrate with author Jonathan Stroud  the publication of the 3rd title in his rather wonderful Lockwood & Co series.  Thankfully supplies of salt, iron, lavender or rapiers were not required as the ghosts (for the time being) were safely captured within the pages of Stroud’s books.

I have to admit that I hadn’t encountered the strange, spooky world of Lockwood & Co until we recently shared the first title in the series, The Screaming Staircase, with our review panel members. They enjoyed it immensely and the series has been highly rated by our very own Andrea Reece.  My interest was ignited. I am however, rather easily scared and so it was with some apprehension that I began reading The Screaming Staircase as I travelled by train to the launch party.  I needn’t have worried because although suitably spooky, Jonathan writes with such skill that I was eagerly turning the pages to discover what happens next.  It was with some surprise that I looked up in what seemed only moments after my journey began to discover the train arriving at Victoria.

A book launch is great fun.  Not only do you actually get to meet the author, if you’re really lucky you may also experience the delight of hearing them read from the book itself.  There is something very special about hearing an author read their own words.  Jonathan was the perfect host, reading us a snippet from his latest instalment, The Hollow Boy (published on the 24th Sept)  and then taking the time to sign books and meet everyone who had arrived.

I met many wonderful book lovers, authors and bloggers.  A young booklover called Toby was immediately absorbed in his copy of The Hollow Boy in a quiet corner of the bookshop. I told him I had just begun reading The Screaming Staircase and he informed me that although it was great, he thought The Whispering Skull (book 2)  was the best.  The evening was a great success and it was with some trepidation that I headed out into the night and made my way back to Victoria Station.  Once upon the train my nose was once more deeply absorbed in The Screaming Staircase making my walk home from the station (in the dark!) rather exciting to say the least.  Thoughts of Spectre’s, Wraiths and Raw-bones filled my head and it was a relief when I finally unlocked my front door and retreated inside.

I have to say I have enjoyed The Screaming Staircase immensely, it is an absorbing, exciting story for kids and adults alike.  Lockwood is a very endearing, enigmatic hero and I just loved our feisty narrator, Lucy Carlyle.  There is also a sneak peek of the 2nd book in the series The Whispering Skull at the end which is now very firmly on my ‘to buy’ list (thanks for the recommendation Toby) and I can’t wait to read it.  Ah, isn’t it wonderful when you discover a new series…

Ten French Children’s Books – that are available in English!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Author of the hilarious The Royal Wedding Crashers and The Royal Babysitters, Clementine Beauvais has shared with us at Lovereading4kids, her 10 of the best French Children’s books translated into English…

 

Have you ever heard me complain about the fact that hardly anything ever gets translated into English from other countries in the world? No? Well, you’ve probably never sat down with me for more than ten minutes. I should probably go on strike and demonstrate and burn cars about it, but maybe it’s better to take things more positively and think about the children’s books… that do get translated!

 

Today, I’m going to focus on French children’s books translated into English – because 1) I’m French, and 2) my new Very British book, The Royal Wedding-Crashers, takes place in a place a litteul bit like France. It’s called Francia. Any resemblance, etc. So, which Francian books would my little Pepino, Holly and Anna read, if they had the time to read (as opposed to flying across the city, running around catacombs, and being almost-beheaded)?

 

Well, there’s the classics, of course, but I won’t go on about Astérix, Babar, the Little Prince and Tintin (Belgian, not French, I know!), or even Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, or Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet’s 365 Penguins, because you already know about those. What else is there? Here’s a highly subjective list of gems.

  1. I can’t wait, by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch. Black and white figures, a red thread, a life story. An Amazon review hysterically warns us that ‘it’s not for children!!!’, so please give it to children.
  2. De Zert Island, by Claude Ponti. One of the rare translations in English of ‘the’ master of French picturebook art. Not his best, but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a perfect introduction to Ponti’s world, a sprawling, quirky, phenomenally detailed universe of monsters and hybrids, of things turned animal and humanoid plants. (Picturebook)
  3. The Aldebaran series, by Leo. Brazilian-born comic artist Leo, who lives in France and writes in French, is the author of one of my favourite series, Aldebaran. It is the thrilling and sensitive maturation tale of a young girl, Kim, on a faraway planet from which all contact with the Earth has been cut. The ecosystem is carefully researched, beautifully precise. (YA, explicit sex scenes)
  4. Daniel Pennac beyond The Rights of the Reader. There have been some English translations of Pennac’s always touching, discreetly radical tales for children: his animal tales, The Eye of the Wolf and Dog (MG), and the story of his childhood School Blues (YA/ Adult), which also gives a damning account of the French educational system and its treatment of those who don’t ‘succeed’.
  5. Zebedee’s Balloon, by Alice Brière-Haquet and Olivier Philipponneau. Zebedee’s got a balloon, which he takes everywhere. But one day it flies away… A gorgeous picturebook for very young readers, with delicate wood cuts, about what we lose and what we gain when the comfort blankets of childhood are taken away. (Picturebook)
  6. Blue is the Warmest Colour, by Julie Maroh. The comic which inspired the film by Abdellatif Kechiche (Maroh later said she didn’t endorse the adaptation). Teenager Clémentine (what a lovely name!) falls in love with Emma, whose haunting blue hair is the Ariadne’s thread in the otherwise grayscale graphic novel. I find both comic and film outstanding and heartbreaking. (YA, explicit sex scenes)
  7. Catherine Certitude, by Patrick Modiano. Andersen translated Modiano’s only children’s book after he got the Nobel Prize. I don’t know how many times as a child I read and reread this poetic story of a little girl and her father, whose worlds become blurry – and dreamlike – every time they take off their glasses. (MG)
  8. Toby Alone, by Timothée de Fombelle. I’ll just leave you with the first sentence: ‘Toby was one and a half millimetres tall, not exactly big for a boy his age. Only his toes were sticking out of the hole in the bark where he was hiding.’ Yes, I know you want it now. Good. And it’s translated by Sarah Ardizzone, who is arguably the most brilliant translator of French children’s literature into English at the moment. (MG)
  9. My Brother Simple, by Marie-Aude Murail. It is an absolute scandal that there isn’t more translated into English from the Queen of French Teenage Literature. Her classic Oh, Boy!, published in 1989, was far ahead of its time in describing illness and homosexuality with incredible sensitivity and laugh-out-loud humour. Her masterpiece is Miss Charity, a fictionalised biography of Beatrix Potter. My Brother Simple is arguably less radical, but it’s the only available one in English while we wait for the rest of her works to be translated (HINT, HINT). (YA)
  10. My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, by Gilles Bachelet. It’s a picturebook featuring, as you can see on the cover, a cat, but that cat isn’t a normal cat. It’s an extremely silly cat. (Picturebook)

Lovereading4kids Author Interview: Paul Dowswell talks about his book Bomber

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Why did you decide to write Bomber?

My family have friends in Norfolk and they live in a converted pub in the countryside. During the war American airmen used to come and drink in this pub as there was an airbase not far away. I always felt a little haunted by the thought of these young Americans, far from home, taking a few moments of pleasure in the East Anglian countryside, before they had to set off on a terribly dangerous flight over Germany. Most of them were barely more than boys.

 

How dangerous was flying in a bomber?

Bomber crew flying over Nazi occupied Europe were constantly in danger of being shot down by anti-aircraft guns (flak) or by enemy fighter planes armed with machine guns, cannons and rockets. These great bombers sometimes crashed on take off or landing, and collisions were not uncommon. The casualties speak for themselves. In 1943, when my book is set, 3 out of 4 bombers were shot down during a tour of duty, which would be 25 missions. Sometimes, not everyone was killed when a bomber went down. Some would parachute to safety, where they would either escape back to England or spend the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp. But often, everyone was killed, especially if there was a direct hit from flak or a German fighter plane. If the aircraft had yet to drop its bomb load, the fliers inside would often be killed in a blinding explosion. The USAAF in Europe had the highest casualty rate in any American fighting force – even more than the US Marines, who were renowned for doing the toughest fighting.

 

How did you research it?

I’m very keen for my books to be ‘good history’ so I do a lot of research before I write them. I want someone who was there to read this and think ‘yes, it was like that.’ I read a lot of books, watched many documentaries, and visited museums and airbases. I went to Seething airstrip, which was the American base near to where my friends live, and tried to imagine what it would feel like to be a 17 year old boy, there during the war. I’m a great believer in walking the same streets as my characters, if I possibly can. Part of the book is set in France, so I wrote about many of the places I have visited myself there, when I’ve been for work or holiday.

 

The book is published on the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Can you answer some questions about the war?

 

What was the turning point, when the war turned in favour of the Allies?

The German 6th Army was destroyed at Stalingrad over the winter of 1942-43. I think this meant the Nazis were never going to beat the Russians and they never really recovered from that battle. During the war the Russians lost infinitely more soldiers than the Allies and they paid a very heavy price for their victory against the Nazis. I hope we never forget that. In the west, the D-Day landings left Germany fighting on both her western and eastern fronts, and made a Nazi defeat inevitable.

 

Why did the Germans surrender? 

Hitler committed suicide at the end of April, when the Russians occupied Berlin. A week later, the German military forces officially surrendered. Allied and Russian troops were meeting up all along the front line and it was obvious to all that Germany had lost the war.

 

How soon after VE day did the process of denazification begin?

Almost at once. German civilians were taken on compulsory tours of the concentration camps or made to watch newsreel films of the liberation of death camps. After that no one could be in any doubt as to the truly evil nature of the regime they had supported.

 

What are the Nuremburg trials and when did they occur. 

The Nazis had destroyed their own country and much of Europe and had done things that can only be described as barbaric. The victors wanted to be seen to be fair and decent with the German people, but they also wanted to punish the Nazi leaders. They were sent to trial at Nuremberg, a city in Germany where the Nazis had had some of their most famous rallies.  Most of the leaders who went to trial (many had killed themselves when the war ended) were held accountable and sentenced to death. A few were sent to prison for ten or twenty years. The trials began in the late autumn of 1945.


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