Archive for the ‘Author Talk’ Category

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.

Mary Hooper talks about Girls in the Great War

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Author Talk: Mary Hooper, Poppy in the Field


When I was asked to write two books set during the First World War, I felt rather anxious. I knew nothing about the War and nothing about how people lived then – to me they were just remote figures in starched aprons or shapeless khaki uniforms; the men thigh-deep in mud or struggling to stay alive in the trenches. The idea of the Great War exuded none of the glamour of previous topics I’d written about: neither the intrigue of Tudor London nor the romance of the Georgians, just fighting, injuries, horror, death. But I began researching…


At the start of the War, thousands of men volunteered to go into the Army, leaving behind a multitude of women who quickly realised that they were not being utilised enough. They wanted to help the war effort; they knew they could do much more and at last, in March 1915, the War Office heard them, and women were asked to register for war service work. They were needed to work on the land, or as drivers, in factories, shops and in manufacturing: in fact, they were being asked to take on almost any job which had previously done by a man. One of the biggest changes was to allow women to do heavy and uncongenial work in munitions factories, making the shells that were so desperately needed on the battlefield. The women could manage this all right, but the chemicals used in the manufacture of these shells caused their hair to turn yellow, so that the girls  became known as ‘the canaries’. At first they tried to dye their hair back to its rightful colour, but in the end wore their yellow hair with pride: it was proof that they were doing war work.


Doing these difficult jobs in the real world changed women’s lives. As well as giving them independence and the freedom to take whatever work they chose, it also meant they could earn a good regular salary, far above what they might have earned as a waitress or maid (the usual employment at that time for an uneducated girl).


Intrigued by the girls I was reading about, I did more research. I found that at the outbreak of the War, Voluntary Aid Detachments were established across the country by the Red Cross and St John Ambulance, and many girls and women joined up as volunteer nurses. This, I decided, was the career I wanted for the main character in my book, POPPY. She could be a nurse and get to know some of the boys who’d been in the thick of the fighting; she’d undertake nursing duties which previously might have appalled her, she’d hear the casualties’ stories and become involved. She might even fall in love – in fact, she definitely would fall in love.


In books, museums and on line I found letters, diaries and first hand accounts of what it was really like to live through those years. I discovered stories about nurses on Red Cross trains, ships and in foreign hospitals close to the front line. They were assisting with operations, being attracted to doctors, falling foul of matron, helping cut the uniform off someone with terrible injuries or sitting up all night with someone who was dying. I read about nurses who’d written letters home informing mothers that their son had died, or who’d penned love letters for men who had no arms. I also discovered that, at the start of the War, some big-wig Army generals thought injured soldiers should only be nursed by male orderlies…they didn’t think it “nice” for girls to have to do it. I even found that a newly-qualified female surgeon was told by an Army Major to leave the War to the men – she should go home and sit still!


I finished my research with a real sense of what it must have been like to have been POPPY, or someone very like her, and – this probably sounds ridiculous, but it’s true – I missed her terribly when I finished writing about her.

Author Talk: If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A girl from my kindergarten was at home one evening playing with Plasticene. Her mother stopped her, saying, ‘Don’t do that, you’ll smear the table.’ The girl looked up. ‘Smear!’ she said, ‘that’s the name of that foreign girl in my class!’ The girl she was talking about was me and my name is in fact, Samira, a very common girl’s name in the Arab world but unheard of in 1960s suburban Harrow where I grew up.  


Not only was I one of the very few children in my kindergarten (and later my primary school) who had a ‘funny foreign name’, I was one of just a handful who was not white British and the only one who was mixed race. The sight of me getting on the bus with my white mum always sparked curiosity. Old ladies would ask – is she actually your mum? Where are you really from? I was a rarity, a curiosity and in those far off days they thought it was fine to stare at me and demand to know my life story.


When I told them my dad was from Sudan, I might as well have said he was from the moon. Maybe that’s what sparked the idea for my first book Quicksilver in which three children discover that they really do have a parent who comes from another planet! I have to say that the problems I experienced because I was mixed race were almost equalled by the horror on people’s faces when they found out that my mother was a divorced single parent. What was the world coming to?


At the time I didn’t really question these reactions and of course, although I was an avid reader I never read any books with characters in them who looked like me – except in the Ladybird book of ‘People from Many Lands’ and to be honest, none of them looked much like me either. So now that I am an adult and a writer, it seems natural to me to write about characters who happen not to be white, not because I feel I ought to shoehorn them in to the story but because their lives and experiences are integral to the plot.


It was the author F.Scott Fitzgerald who said ‘Plot is character, character is plot,’ so it is who my characters are that shape their stories and make them interesting to me and I hope, to my readers. The idea for my new book If You Were Me ( published by Chicken House in April ) sprang from an article I read about a young Afghan interpreter who had worked with the foreign troops in Afghanistan. When the troops pulled out he found himself on a Taliban death list and he and his family were forced to flee Kabul and seek asylum in the UK. I tried to imagine how traumatic it would be for a family like that to leave their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs and to arrive in a strange country where they knew no –one.


Then I began to picture what it would be like for them if their hopes and dreams of a new life were dashed by fresh dangers which they had never envisaged. In If You Were Me, that is what happens to 14 year old Aliya and her family. When the Taliban threaten her brother Behrouz, a former army interpreter, they flee to Britain. Soon after their arrival Behrouz is badly injured in an explosion in what appears to be a terrorist bomb factory. When his fingerprints are found all over the detonators he is accused of being the bomb maker for a shadowy terror group and Aliya is forced to fight the power of the press and the forces of prejudice to prove that the brother she loves is innocent. To her horror the police suspect that she too has been radicalised and that she may be working for the same terror group.


So, if my characters were not Afghan asylum seekers newly arrived in Britain I would have had no story. Interestingly I began devising this plot over two years ago, long before the radicalisation of young teenagers was making daily headlines. I hope that this book will give its readers pause for thought. I hope it will make them think about the speed with which we judge people and how often we forget that behind the headlines there are real people with real stories, which may turn out to be very different from the ones we imagine.


I love visiting schools to talk about my books and meeting children from all around the world (with names from all around the world), British children who are not white, children of mixed heritage and children whose families don’t conform to the 1960s template of one mum, one dad and assorted offspring. I hope that some of them will discover aspects of my characters’ lives that mirror their own and that others will get engrossed in the plots and find they are reading about children whose lives and backgrounds differ radically from their own.


Among the rich and varied population of modern Britain there are thousands of fascinating, humbling, funny, thrilling and heart breaking stories to be told, some of which I hope to weave into future books that young adults of all races and backgrounds will enjoy.


If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Author Talk: Justin Miles discusses The Ultimate Explorer Guide for Kids

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

With Easter holidays coming up and the promise of nice weather and playing outside we were very excited when the author of the brilliant Ultimate Explorer Guide for Kids agreed to write a special piece about why he wanted to write this book.

My childhood was awesome! I grew up in Devon with its beautiful moors, woods, rivers and coastline as my playground and I never wasted an opportunity to go out and have fun.

My younger brother and I would be out from sunrise until sunset and often longer, coming home covered in mud, sometimes soaking wet with torn and worn clothes and usually sporting some pretty impressive cuts and bruises.

It was a fantastic way to start a young life. It was healthy, I was constantly active and without even realising it I was learning a huge amount about the world and the natural environment from what weather patterns and which clouds meant “time to go home before we get wet” to what animals lived where.

I played at reading and making maps. I learned about using a compass, how to find my way without a compass (no, GPS wasn’t invented when I was a kid!), how to light a fire, how to make water safe to drink, how to build a shelter and much, much more.

Those early escapades sparked my passion for the outdoor world and the natural environment and inspired a life of adventure.

In March 1999 I was still enjoying outdoor life, but as a ‘grown-up’ my outdoor activities were curtailed to days off and a few weeks holiday a year. I was working hard and investing every second in developing my career when, suddenly, my career, in fact my whole life as I knew it, came to a very abrupt halt.

I was involved in a car accident and the car accident resulted in brain injuries and the brain injuries left me unable to walk or talk properly. At the age of 26, I was about as physically able, or even less so, as an average two year old!

In the early stages of my recovery I couldn’t do an awful lot. Fatigue was a huge problem and my very short bursts of activity – if you can call them ‘bursts’ – were interspersed with long periods of inactivity. I couldn’t focus my attention well enough to read, so if I wasn’t asleep I’d spend most of my time slumped awkwardly in a chair watching television.

It was 1999 so there were only four television channels and, being in Devon, one of those channels was very flaky and there is only so much daytime TV that anyone can watch, brain damaged or not. My mind would frequently drift away from whatever programme was on the box, partly through boredom and largely through not being able to concentrate and absorb what I was watching and I began to explore the corners of my own mind. I would re-live childhood memories and dreams and use them as a foundation to build new dreams and new ideas.

From the window in the living room, in the distance I could see the woods where my brother and I played as children. The memories of our adventures came flooding back; exploring caves (shhh… don’t tell our parents!), lighting fires (shhh… don’t tell our parents!), climbing rocks (shhh… don’t tell our parents!) building dens, making rafts, fishing, filtering water… and then I had the craziest of crazy ideas.

I decided that I wanted to be an explorer, or adventurer, or whatever title that job attracts. I wanted to see the world at and beyond the fringes of civilisation and I wanted to raise money for charity and I wanted to support education and I wanted to encourage kids to live life and pursue adventures of their own.

Now – sixteen years on – I’m living the dream. My adventures and journeys take me to some of the most awesome places on Earth, I get to do some pretty cool stuff and I meet the most amazing people from a whole range of backgrounds and cultures. My projects are used to support charities*. I support a global education initiative called ‘Educate A Child’. I run education initiatives. And this book, the ‘Ultimate Explorers Guide For Kids’ will hopefully inspire kids and give them the tools that they need to start living a life of adventure.

I don’t want this book to ever be handed down or bought, in good condition, second hand. I don’t want to ever read or hear about this book being kept in pristine condition. I want to see the ‘Ultimate Guide’ with ragged-eared mud covered pages with colours faded by the sun. I want this book to be used and abused by kids as they kick-start their own journeys.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing, the idea for my next adventure usually starts with a memory of me and my brother playing in the woods at the fall of darkness and wondering how much trouble we would be in for getting home late; “It was all his fault!”

In the words of Mark Twain “Explore. Dream. Discover.” Click here to find out more about  The Ultimate Explorer Guide for Kids.


*Justin supports the global education programme EAC and as part of that, the aim is to highlight global education poverty. Please tweet your support by using the #educationisimportantbecause hashtag.

find out more by visiting Justin’s Twitter is @ExplorerJust  or  Twitter: @qedpublishing

Author Talk: Andrew Smith on The Alex Crow

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Author Andrew Smith writes about the story behind his new novel The Alex Crow. The first time I met editor-publisher Julie Strauss-Gabel, she was handing out Advance Reader Copies of John Green’s Paper Towns. It was just a couple months before the publication of my first novel, and I was completely star struck because Julie is, well, Julie.

Naturally, this meeting left no lasting imprint on her memory.

The next time I spoke to her came several years later, and it was over the telephone. Julie was calling me to talk about her enthusiasm for Grasshopper Jungle, which, of course, she eventually edited and published.

Now she knows who I am, I think.

One of the things that appealed to me about having Julie Strauss-Gabel publish Grasshopper Jungle was her openness about seeking literary works that defy convention and don’t resemble anything else out there. She’s a champion in those regards. So, when she inevitably asked what I was going to write next, I told her that I wanted to write a book called The Alex Crow, about a refugee kid, but that it wasn’t going to be a predictable tale—I wanted to include suicidal, formerly-extinct animals, an icebound steamship, a schizophrenic and melting bomber, a summer camp for video game addicts, and a little man (who might be the devil) frozen in ice. You know, a typical “Andrew Smith” book.

I also explained to her why I needed to write this story about survival and selfish compulsions; and the general failure of male-dominated societies.

In The Alex Crow, the main character, a refugee boy named Ariel, wakes up after falling asleep inside a refrigerator while he’s dressed in a clown suit, the sole survivor of an attack on his little town. When he’s saved by America—which is what America likes to think it’s good at—he’s sent to a summer camp for boys who are addicted to technology, even though he’s never used a cell phone or played a video game in his life.

In the acknowledgments to The Alex Crow, I include a statement of gratitude to my English Language Learner students—the incredible survivors who introduced me to the novel’s protagonist, that refugee kid named Ariel.

There is a real Ariel. He came from Syria. His family left behind everything they had and got out of the country when the civil war there was getting particularly nasty. It was a good idea, because the real Ariel’s family are Christian, and they came from a place that was recently overrun by the Islamic State movement.

The first day Ariel sat in my classroom was just a few days after he left the chaos of Syria. Imagine that! It also happened to be one of the days when I read aloud to my kids, and I was reading from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions (yes, I go there)—the part about how ridiculous, when you think about it, the lyrics to America’s national anthem are.

The real Ariel was very confused.

And I said, “Welcome to America, kid,” a line that’s repeated to the Ariel in my book.

That was about three years ago. And the impression I got from our first meeting—about how scared and lonely and confused this poor boy must have been—really stuck with me and informed the book I knew I had to write. Recently, I spoke to the kid again about that first day he spent in an American school, and he confirmed to me how overwhelmed he was—and is—by the strangeness of American society and culture.

He’s a terrific and highly intelligent kid.

Author Talk: Tony Bradman on Anzac Boys @tbradman

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Tales my mother told me

My mother was always a good storyteller. I grew up listening to her tales of all the great historical events she and her parents and brothers and sisters had lived through. She was born in 1925, and she’d certainly seen some interesting times – not least the great depression of the 1930s and the second world war. So I heard about poverty, and the Blitz, and what it had been like to be a teenage girl in a London full of GIs.

Over the years the stories grew more and more polished with the telling, and when I look back I realise now she never let the actual facts stand in the way of drama. Several of her best stories were second-hand too, narratives she’d inherited from her father. My grandfather had died before I was born so I had never met him, but he came to life again in those stories – they certainly caught my young imagination.

Their background was simple, but tragic. According to my mum, her father was orphaned when he was quite young and sent off to Australia with his younger brother. But they were separated on arrival, my grandfather staying in Australia while his brother was sent on to New Zealand. My grandfather grew up in Australia, but when war broke out in 1914 he joined the Australian army and fought at Gallipoli, and probably in France too. He must have spent some time back in Blighty, for that’s where he met and married my grandmother, deciding not to return to Australia.

Most of my mum’s stories about him focused on Gallipoli, and the fact that he had nightmares about the campaign for years afterwards. I’m pretty sure now that those tales, and her stories of what happened in the second world war stimulated my interest in history – it was always one of my favourite subjects in school. But one thing she told me stuck in my mind, and made me think about the ways in which history affects individual people and families. For she told me that my grandfather’s brother – my great-uncle – joined the New Zealand army in 1914, and the brothers met for the first time in twelve years in the trenches of the Gallipoli peninsula. I have a feeling that she might have made that bit up then convinced herself it was true, but I didn’t really care. It was something that felt as if it should be true anyway.

Fast forward more than forty years, and the boy who listened to those stories is now a writer of children’s books who has been slowly drawn into writing historical fiction. I’d often thought about that story, and with the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign looming (in April 2015), I knew it was the right time. Over the years I’d read a lot about the first world war, and knew that the Gallipoli campaign had been a terrible experience for all the men involved – the Aussies and Kiwis of the ANZAC brigades, the British and French soldiers, the Turkish soldiers too. I’d also found out that hundreds of thousands of orphans and children in care had been packed off to Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the Empire – and that they’d been lied to and abused as well. So I knew I really did have a great human story to tell.

I was also very lucky that Barrington Stoke decided to publish Anzac Boys, as it came to be called. I’ve written a lot of books for Barrington Stoke, and they’re always great to work with – but they excelled themselves with Anzac Boys. My editor Emma Baker gave me some terrific advice on how to tell the story, and the finished product looks wonderful, with marvellous illustrations by Ollie Cuthbertson. It really was a very moving moment when I first saw a finished copy of the book – for a brief moment I felt like that boy listening to his mother’s stories again. The only sad thing is that my mum won’t be able to appreciate it – she’s 89, but has dementia.

Anzac Boys is certainly in good company on the Barrtington Stoke list – there have been a lot of first world war books to commemorate the centenary, but Barrington Stoke’s other titles on the subject certainly stand out for me. I love Linda Newbery’s Vera-Brittain-influenced tale of a young volunteer nurse and the officer she loves, Tillys Promise. Tom Palmer’s gripping Over the Line manages to combine football and the war in a tale based on a true story. And Catherine MacPhail’s Stars Shall Be Bright builds a haunting fairy tale out of another true story, a train crash in the first world war in which the bodies of three unidentified children were found.

One phrase that keeps coming back to me as I read these stories about the first world war is something the great war poet Wilfred Owen said about his own work – ‘The poetry is in the pity’. My mother gave me a great gift – a combination of truth and storytelling that enabled me to see how true those words of Owen’s are. I hope I’ve managed to convey at least some of that in Anzac Boys – and that if they could have read the book, she and her dad would have liked what I’ve done.


Tony Bradman, 20.2.2015 Privacy Policy Disclaimer