Thursday 19 November 2015

Middle Grade Kids Choose Their Favourite Books

Secret Kingdom is my favourite book because  it's full  of excitement and  magic. There are  pixies, brownies, elves, fairies, and a jolly king  called King Merry and  three girls called Summer, Ellie, and Jasmine. Ellie  finds a  wooden box in the  funfair. A  whole magical  adventure  is  waiting  for  them. This  book  really  encourages  me. When I am in bed  it’s hard  to get to sleep because the book is in my head. There is 8 books in the series.

By Caoimhe, age 8

My favourite book is My Mum is Going to Explode. It is about this mam that is going to have a baby but this boy  thinks his mam is going to explode. I like this book because  I think it is very interesting and funny and it makes me want  to go   on to the next page so quickly

By Sophie, age 9 

My  favourite  book  is  The   Hundred-Mile-An-Hour. It’s  about   a  dog  called   Streaker .  He  is  a  really  funny  and  fast  dog.  It  is  really   interesting.  This  book  was   awesome    and   made  me  fall  off my  chair.  Every  time   I   end   up  laughing.  Every  time  I  am  reading  it  in  my  bed  my  Mam   ends  up  telling   me  to  be  quiet.  I  like  this  book  because  it’s  full  of  laughs  that  will  make   you  smile  like  it  made  me.  I  love  Jeremy  Strong  books.   

By Destiny

My favourite book is Big  Nate   by  Lincoln  Peirce. The story is about a boy who’s  in  sixth  grade  and  loves  drawing  cartoons. He  sits  in  front of  this  annoying  girl  called  Gina. He  has  a  crush  on  this  girl called  Jenny  but  she  likes  a  boy  called  Authur .I  like  this  book  because  it  has  comics  as  well  as a  story.
by   Noah, age  8

My favourite book is Timmy Failure We Meet Again, by Stephan Pastis. It is about a boy called Timmy, who is a world class detective. He tries to make the world a better place, with the power of GREATNESS! But things ... don't really go to plan, with four evil obstacles in the way.
I thought it was so funny that I showed my brother loads of awesome parts.

By Jamie, age 9

My favourite book is Sweet Honey. It is about a girl called Honey Tanberry, who has a messed up life at  home and decides to live with her dad in America. But when she goes to school no one understands her and neither does her dad. I loved this book. Sometimes it scared me and sometimes it made me cry with happiness  and sadness ! You should  try it, it's fab. The author of this book is Cathy Cassidy. If you like it I think you will like her other books.


My  favourite  book  is  The   Magic   Faraway  Tree  by  Enid  Blyton. It  starts  when  Joe, Beth  and  Franny  move  to  the  countryside   and   find   out  there  is  an  enchanted   forest  beside  them. That  is  when  they  find  The   Magic  Faraway Tree.  My  favourite  character  is  Mr. Saucepan   man  who  is  deaf. I  really  liked  it  because   it  made  me  laugh  out  loud. There  is  such  exciting  lands  in   it.  I  would  rate  it  five  stars. 


My  favourite  book  is   The Secret Garden. The  author  is  Frances  Hodgson  Burnett. It  is  about  a  girl  called  Mary  that stays  with  her  uncle  that  lives  in  a  mansion. She  hears  wailing   noises  one  night  so  she  goes  downstairs  and  she  finds  a  boy  who  can’t  walk.  He  is  called  Colin. She  finds  a  secret  garden  which  is  Colin’s   mother’s  garden.

By  Katie 

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Mission Bookspedition

 The Date -         Saturday 31st October 2015
 The Team      Twelve children’s writers, bloggers and readers.

 The Location - The leafy suburbs of Dulwich.

 Our mission?   To visit three independent bookshops and chat to the booksellers there.

Now, spending all day wandering around bookshops is a joy of itself but when Miriam Craig and I organised this event we had particular aims in mind. Earlier this year we attended a writers event (run by Non Pratt and Robin Stevens) and something they flagged up as very important was getting to know your local booksellers. 

Non and Robin encouraged everyone to pluck up the courage to chat to booksellers though they and everyone in the room acknowledged that it wasn’t always easy! We realised that many new writers, including ourselves, might feel awkward and anxious but if there was a group of us then it we hoped it would be easier and less pressured.

                                         And thus  the idea for Bookspedition was born! 

With a bit of help from blogger extraodinaire Jim Dean, who suggested Dulwich as the place to go we started organizing dates and times, revealed our plans on Twitter and were soon fully booked.

Dulwich Books with Chloe (centre) and the gang
 First up on our trek was the lovely Dulwich Books where we were greeted by Halloween goodies and the fabulously - costumed  Chloe. It was great to learn that with the help of a grant from James Patterson  the children’s/teen section will soon be expanded here and Chloe is keen to build up their graphic novel selection.   

Talking to Chloe was fascinating, she opened our eyes to the fact that different bookshops, even within close proximity to each other  will have very different customer profiles. So one bookshop in your local area may not want to stock your book because they know they won’t sell many but one just a few streets away may be thrilled to have your book because it fits exactly with their customer profile! 


       Tip – don’t be offended if bookshops don’t want to or can’t stock your book. It doesn’t mean your book isn’t great, just that it might not suit that particular shop. 

Miriam, Tereze and Lorraine at Tales on Moon Lane
We all stopped off for a chatty and much needed lunch before heading to the beautiful children's bookshop Tales on Moon Lane where we met Tereze. She talked us through some of her favourite titles and the popular events they run at half term  which are very often sold out. Their customers are often looking for non gendered books/ strong female protagonists and also the darkly funny does well here. We could have spent hours browsing this Alladin’s cave  of gorgeous books  but had to move on eventually to visit our third and final shop.

 Tip – many bookshops run events either at their shop or alongside school s but be realistic when asking for their help as it can be difficult to sell out events for unknown authors without a previous  fan base. Perhaps team up with other writers from your genre and hold a joint event.

Peter, Darren, Miriam and Allison browing at Tales on Moon lane.


Our third and final shop for the day was Village Books run by the lovely Hazel  who handed out much needed glasses of Prosecco to all the surviving members of Bookspedition! They have a wide children’s selection downstairs and recently moved their YA section upstairs. This was proving very popular with local teenagers who could now browse books without watchful adult eyes upon them. It’s also a great event space and Hazel is always keen to meet local authors.
Helen, Lorraine. Miriam, Hazel, Jim and Peter at Village Books


Tip-     Every one we spoke to said they loved it when authors visited but it’s a good idea to email or phone first. Booksellers are very busy and may not have time to talk if you just turn up.



Miriam and Lorraine with Prosecco!
A big thank you from Miriam and myself to all the booksellers who took part in our event for being so generous with their time and experience. It was wonderful to see so much passion out there in Independent bookshops to get good books out into the hands of children and parents. As writers we’re very lucky to have that kind of passion on our side. 

We’re planning to run another Bookspedition next year and visit some more fabulous bookshops so look out for an announcement if you’d like to join the next one.


Tuesday 17 November 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Quote I Loved From A Middle Grade Book I Read In The Past Year Or So

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Today some of the MGSB team have chosen favourite and/or memorable quotes from middle grade books that they have read in the past year.

1. Elen Caldecott - The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

I'm glad I got in first this week! It means I can nab what must be many people's choice, the opening line of The Wolf Wilder, to quote in full: "Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl." That traditional opening, and cliche is to beautifully and elegantly subverted. You know you're in very safe hands indeed.

2. Rachel Hamilton - A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Quote: “You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 
I found myself nodding as I read these lines earlier this year. Despite what some might claim, I don't believe negative thoughts are toxic. Thoughts don't make us good or bad, they just make us 'us'. And it's only when we fully understand and accept ourselves that we become truly capable of writing our lives with actions.

3. Susie Day - Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin

'''Welcome to the real world, son.'
I'm not your son, I think. And it's not up to you. It's up to Mum.
But that's not true and we all know it."
At first Joe's almost relieved that Mum and Dean, her heartbreakingly awful boyfriend, go off on holiday and leave him behind for a week. But then the leccy runs out, and the money, and the food, and when Friday comes they don't come back... There's hope too, in the form of Asha and Otis in the flat opposite, and tons of wry humour, but Nadin's rightly uncompromising about the bleak reality of neglect and poverty. An outstanding read, with sequel White Lies, Black Dare coming February 2016.

4. Darren Hartwell - Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

Ha! Elen beat me to it, and I would not be surprised if there are a few others on the MGSB team who wanted to pick the same quote. Instead, I am going to go for one line from Matt Ralphs' brilliant debut, Fire Girl:
 "That's it, witch-child, burn it all down"
It's the book's Die Hard "Yippee Ki-Yay, M********" moment. It's not particularly deep and meaningful, but as it is uttered by a grumpy dormouse called Bramley it makes me chuckle every time I think of it. Go on - say it out loud. You'll find yourself defaulting to a deep and gravelly James Earl Jones voice, but remember, you have to use the highest pitched voice that you can. More Minnie Mouse than Darth Vader. See - hilarious. And a perfect example of how Ralphs eases the darkness of his story with humour.
The Book Zone (For Boys)

5. Harry Oulton - The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

"It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old." Great opening to a book! What is 'it'? why was the summer 'green' and why 'crazy'? Is Frankie a boy or a girl? And how old is she/he now? How far back are we looking? All those questions in one sentence, that's how to set up a book! It gets a bit weird after that amazing opening, but for that alone it makes the list.

6. Abi Elphinstone - Stonebird by Mike Revell

Ha! First Elen steals Rundell's opener for The Wolf Wilder then Darren nicks off with my favourite Fire Girl quote. I'm going to go with a few lines from the first page of Stonebird by the very talented Mike Revell.
It starts at night… A huge shadow in the darkness, a flash of gleaming gold. It sweeps across the garden and blends with the trees, then flies off towards the rundown church.
In just a few sentences Revell sets the magic of his story turning - darkness, gold, hushed trees and a rundown church. This is storytelling at its best.

7. Clare Zinkin - Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

"You paint your toenails. You don't steal nail polish, though....Your mother is shouting that it's time to leave for school. You suck in air and shout back: "Just a minute!" You are not going to school. She doesn't realise that, of course"
When the second chapter blasts open and starts talking in second person narrative, the reader is hooked - who is the mystery 'you'? And how does Stead catch the emotions of an anonymous person so brilliantly. An amazing feat of storytelling, carefully woven into the rest of the novel.

8. Tatum Flynn - Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

In the old days folk would have told stories,’ remarked his companion. ‘By the fire. To hold back the dark. But the dark always finds its way into the stories, does it not? The stories worth hearing, at least. The true lies.
Wonderful quote from an absolutely wonderful, gripping, creepy book. Hardinge's imagination and prose are second-to-none. No wonder Cuckoo Song was the first children's book to win the Bristish Fantasy Award for best novel.

9. Kieran Fanning - Island by Nicky Singer

'If we forget the language of the ancestors, we forget how to think. If we stop telling our stories, we stop knowing who we are.'

A powerful quote from an exceptional novel which is important, brave, finely crafted and unique.


Sadly only nine from us today - do you have a favourite quote from a middle grade book that you have read this year that could be our tenth?

Sunday 15 November 2015

Imogen's Book of the Week: Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis, published by OUP

My Sunday Best this week is a moving story of loss, resilience and courage, set in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dealing with serious and challenging themes – child soldiers, coltan mining, endangered gorillas, and corruption – it nevertheless compels the reader’s rapt attention from the outset, plunging us at once into the beautiful and dangerous heart of the jungle.

Imara has a demon inside her. Surviving the bite of a black mamba, she has now become the Spirit Child of Black Mamba’s rebels, the talisman that keeps them safe as they attack villages and secretly mine national park land for priceless coltan.  Black Mamba will protect her so long as she protects him, but Imara knows better than to show any weakness; she cannot allow herself to care for the vulnerable boys the Mambas pressgang after destroying their homes. Only the strong survive, and Imara has learned to be strong.

Bobo’s father is a national park ranger, devoted to the welfare of the gorilla troop. But when the troop’s silverback is shot, and Bobo’s father vanishes, apparently to join the rebels, Bobo is determined to clear his father’s name.  His quest will bring him heartbreak, pain, and danger – it will also bring him to Imara, desperately trying to keep a baby gorilla alive among the Mambas. With violence, fear and privation on every side, what will become of them all?

The plot is swift-moving, the pace whip-smart, and Lewis’s characters, both human and primate, are especially enthralling; the sections of the story told from gorilla-perspective are wholly believable, heart-breaking without sentiment. And damaged, scarred Imara is a superb and unusual protagonist, fighting at all costs to stay alive, but unable to snuff out the compassion at her core. True to its subject matter, Gorilla Dawn refuses the easy analgesic of an uncomplicated happy ending: scars cannot be simply smoothed away, lost lives cannot be restored, and the earth’s wounds won’t heal overnight. But doing nothing, or succumbing to despair, is not an option. With work, time and hope, as Lewis shows, we can – and must – try for better, maintaining a bone-deep connection to our beautiful, vulnerable world.

Friday 13 November 2015

Review of Island by Nicky Singer

Some years ago, I judged a book awards, and saw enough badly written/illustrated/edited self-published books to put me off self-published books for life. Mostly, they seemed to consist of authors who had been rejected by traditional publishing. However, I’ve also read enough extraordinary self-published books (e.g. Hugh Howey and Christopher Paolini) to know I shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush.
So I was rather intrigued to stumble across this post some months ago by the established and award-winning author, Nicky Singer, in which she talked about her latest novel, Island, being rejected by her long-term publisher because it was too ‘quiet’, and too ‘literary’. How devastating this must have been for her, knowing that her new novel contained some of her best ever writing.
But Nicky didn’t take the rejection lying down. So strongly did she believe in Ursula Le Guin’s call for freedom in publishing that Nicky decided to crowd-fund the project, which is where I got my hands on it.
The striking cover and illustrations from Chris Riddell make a strong first impression and as soon as I started reading, I knew I was dealing with something special. The book tells the tale of city boy, Cameron, and his reluctant journey to an uninhabited Arctic island with his scientist mother. There he meets Inuit girl, Inuluk, who teaches him about the island and her people’s traditions, myths and beliefs.
The characters are particularly well drawn, each having a very definite back-story and motivation. Their development and arcs are crafted with the expertise of a truly talented and experienced author. The sparse and confined setting of Herschel Island is so vivid and beautiful, I was convinced the author spent some time there but I think this was not the case. It’s a true feat of literature to transport a reader so successfully that we can feel the bite of that Arctic wind, and hear the moan of calving icebergs.
Island still retains the theatrical qualities of where it began – on the stage. It’s evident in the strong dialogue, the small cast, the confined setting, but also in its aspirations to be something bigger than it is. Because, like Cameron’s island dreams, the book reaches far beyond the shores of the Herschel. It reaches into our hearts, asking us to consider our roles and actions and responsibilities towards our fragile planet. ‘When you tread heavily in your world you also tread in ours.’
As well as the strong environmental theme, the reader gets a real sense of the Inuit way of living, their myths and their beliefs. There is also a wonderful twist in the story which is skilfully constructed. The writing is sublime and layered with complexity and emotion. And considering that the book deals with the destruction of the planet and white man’s annihilation of minority tribes like the Inuit, it ends on a surprisingly hopeful note.
Yes, the book is ‘slow’, but in the best possible way. And yes, the book is ‘literary’, but wonderfully so.  This is a beautifully written and skilfully crafted book, full of important themes and emotions that young people should be reading about. I applaud Singer for what she has created, but also for the brave publishing route she has chosen.

If you ask me how I feel, having read Island, I’ll answer with two Inuit words, taken from the novel. ILIRA – the fear that accompanies awe, and NUANNAPOQ – the extravagant pleasure of being alive. 

Review by Kieran Fanning  

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Cover Reveal: The Roman Quests: Escape From Rome by Caroline Lawrence

As huge fans of Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries series, we're thrilled to hear that there's a new series coming from her next year, The Roman Quests. When Orion asked if we'd reveal the cover to book one, Escape From Rome, we were utterly delighted - especially when we saw how stunning it looked. In addition, Caroline provided us with a bit of a glimpse into the series, which has us even MORE excited!

The cover artist for Juba (main character) is Paul Young, logo, lettering and background were all done by James Macey and there will also be inside maps and art by Richard Lawrence.

When my publishers first suggested that I write a series of books set in Roman Britain, my heart sank. How could chilly Britannia compare with sun-soaked Italy? But as soon as I gave it a bit more thought lots of fun things about Roman Britain popped into my head. There were so many that I made a wish list. 

Exciting things about Roman Britain:

1. Julius Caesar’s brief invasion
2. Claudius’ conquest, with elephants!
3. Boudicca, the flame-haired warrior queen
4. Mystical, mysterious Druids
5. Legionaries, forts and battles
6. Famous for hunting dogs and prowly wolves
7. Blue tattooed warriors with twisty gold torcs
8. Bath Spa’s amazing ruins and museum
9. Fishbourne Roman Villa
11. Londinium’s amphitheatre
12. Roman Wall Blues

I also made a wish list of things that would please Roman Mysteries fans who probably want something completely new and fresh but keeping the successful formula of the Roman Mysteries. 

1. Engaging characters with weaknesses as well as strengths
2. Fast-paced and unpredictable action
3. Historical accuracy but well-embedded so you hardly notice
4. Exotic but real locations
5. Powerful baddies who are never 2-dimensional
6. A little romance, but not too much
7. Humour and squirmy stuff, but not too much
8. Uplifting themes
9. Lots of the five senses, especially taste and smell
10. Cameos by Flavia, Nubia, Jonathan and Lupus… now grown-up!

So I decided to set the books 14 years on from the final Roman Mystery. That brings us to the last years of the Flavian era, when the Emperor Domitian had gone quite bonkers and was killing rich Roman citizens in order to confiscate their houses, slaves and wealth. One night Domitian’s henchmen come to seize a rich townhouse in Rome. The parents’ fate seems sealed, but their children might just get away…

The first book, Escape from Rome, will be published next year. I hope you like it! 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Middle Grade Movie Adaptation I'm Looking Forward To or MG Book To Movie Adaptation I Still Need To Watch

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Today it's all about film adaptations and some of the MGSB team have chosen the adaptations they are most looking forward to watching (some of which are verging on the hopeful), or film adaptations that we still need to see.

1. Elen Caldecott - Howl's Moving Castle

I love Studio Ghibli (even the slower, pastel-hued offerings like The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya) AND I love Diana Wynne Jones. So, I have no idea why it has taken me forever to watch this adaptation. I think I'm just scared. What if two mastercraftspeople have ended up making a dog's dinner? Top Ten Tuesday might just force me over to Netflix!

2. Susie Day - The Secret World of Arrietty

What Elen said! Except this time it's the joy of Ghibli combined with Mary Norton's The Borrowers. I think my wariness comes from having seen some, er, less than stellar adaptations of Arrietty's tiny world of thievery, growing up and green baize doors. But if anyone can...

3. Huw Powell - Magyk by Angie Sage

I met Angie at Bath Children's Literature Festival this year and cannot wait for her Septimus Heap books to be made into films. Not only are they exciting magical adventures about a wizard apprentice, they also contain cauldrons full of warmth and humour. Spellbinding stuff for the big screen!

4. Darren Hartwell - Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Ok, I don't know if this is cheating a little, but as Robin announced back in August that the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries have been optioned for TV and film then they would have to appear right at the top of my list. I rarely get excited about film adaptations of great books (I've been disappointed too many times in the past - Percy Jackson? The Dark is Rising? Stormbreaker?), but Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are made to be on the screen, although I would probably prefer a TV series over a big screen version. Think Poirot or Miss Marple, but for younger viewers - in the right hands they could quite easily become the essential Christmas Day viewing in the future.

The Book Zone (For Boys)

5. Roz Isme - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

I'm definitely cheating because it seems I've already seen all the MG movie adaptations that I've looked up. So this is one I'm looking forward to watching again. We all saw Harry, Hermione and Ron grow up on the screen, so to go back and see them right at the beginning will be a treat. I'll have to stop myself constantly saying 'Oh they're so cute!' After that I may as well watch all the other Harry Potter films too!

6. C.J. Busby - The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

This isn't being made into a film, but it should be. Apparently someone has the movie rights - please, hurry up and make it, before Johnny Depp is too old to play Bartimaeus! There's intrigue, magic, dark Victorian London streets and a wise-cracking djinn who gets all the best lines. There are loads of great characters, lots of action and a spectacular showdown at the end. I's definitely pay good money to see it.

7. Kieran Fanning - Artemis Fowl & His Dark Materials

The MG movie I'm most excited about seeing is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. After years of the movie nearly being made, news was released recently that it's definitely going ahead with Kenneth Branagh as director. Read the full story here.  Only this week BBC confirmed a TV series of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials which is so exciting. Read about it here. Hopefully it'll be closer to the National Theatre's brilliant stage version than the 2006 movie, which was poor.

8. Harry Oulton - Two Jungle Books coming next year!

It's weird re-reading the original (very short) Jungle Book as you realise what an amazing job Disney actually did (how often do we say that?) - it's  a proper adaptation in that they took the world and the incidents from the book and then shaped them into a proper cinematic structure. Like How to Train your Dragon, or Paddington. Maybe it's only films for Children that make the effort to do this? Anyway, live action Jungle Book coming next year. Twice! can't wait.

9. Abi Elphinstone - Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Few writers conjure up worlds as vividly as Michelle Paver. Her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series plunge the reader back into the Stone Age where a boy, Torak, makes friends with a wolf and together they set out to destroy the demonic powers that killed Torak's father. Apparently someone, somewhere, is making a film of the first book, Wolf Brother. Paver's research was meticulous - she travelled to the forests of Finland to explore how people lived 6000 years ago and she spent time in a wolf sanctuary and with ravens in the Tower of London. It'll be a challenge to recreate her powerfully imagined world but if it's done well, it'll be spectacular. I can't wait...

10. Darren Hartwell - Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric

I get to have another choice! Hurrah! And I'm going to cheat again. Doubly so, as I'm going to name TWO more books that I think would make fabulous movies. The first is Philip Reeve's superb Mortal Engines - just imagine how incredible this would look on the big screen (especially if someone like George Miller, of Mad Max fame, got his hands on it as director). Gritty, post-apocalyptic action adventure! And the other one is Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child. Michelle is one of my favourite middle grade writers and I totally love her Venice-set fantasy stories. I would love to see Spielberg directing this one, or alternatively I would love to see a Studio Ghibli version - could someone please persuade Hayao Miyazaki to come out of retirement (again)?
The Book Zone (For Boys)

Sunday 8 November 2015

Imogen's Book of the Week: Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, published by Chicken House

After almost a month of reading far too much YA, I'm back in middle-grade territory at last! My Sunday Best this week is a debut novel published earlier this year; a delightful, poignant addition to the ‘magical circuses’ subset of kids’ fantasy.

Micah Tuttle’s grandfather is dying. But Grandpa Ephraim has lived a life touched by magic – as his stories of the Circus Mirandus can attest. Much to grim Great-Aunt Gertrudis’ disapproval, Micah believes every word of Grandpa Ephraim’s stories, from the flying birdwoman to the invisible tiger, guardian of the circus gates. And he believes in the miracle owed to Ephraim by the Man Who Bends Light, most powerful of the Circus’s members. Desperate to save his grandfather’s life, Micah decides there’s only one thing for it - he must set off for the Circus Mirandus himself, and call that miracle in.

Micah’s life-saving quest, and the mysterious nature of the Circus, are classic-feeling elements, and could stray readily into cliché at the hands of a less assured author. But there’s a vivid sense of real life, only more so, present in Beasley’s landscapes, both workaday and fantastical, which lifts the book out of a purely escapist rut. There’s genuine, deeply-felt sorrow here too; Grandpa Ephraim is the dearest, closest thing in Micah’s life, and the prospect of losing him feels almost unbearable. The power of friendship is also emphasised – and stalwart, sceptical Jenny, who overcomes hard-wired incredulity to help Micah into the Circus, is definitely more than your average ‘brainy girl sidekick.’ But it’s the Circus itself, and the tendrils of wonder it extrudes, slyly, into the everyday, that keep the book glowing softly in the reader’s mind after the turning of the final page.

Friday 6 November 2015

Interview with Nigel Quinlan

I just finished reading Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox by Nigel Quinlan and it’s such a funny, original, wacky adventure that I had to track down the author for an interview. So, welcome, Nigel!

The beginning is probably a good place to start. What are your early memories of reading and/or writing?

Family myth has me as a small child too young for school reading the words 'CAR PARK' while sitting in a car with my granny. An aunt refused to believe this and took me around a shop and asked me to read all the signs, which I did. I don't remember that, but I do remember my Mum getting me my first books, which were Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton. Later there were the Famous Five, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Joan Aiken, CS Lewis and lots of others. The Star Wars novelisatons made a big impact long, long before I ever saw any of the films, and The Hobbit blew my tiny mind just before I started secondary school.

My first attempts at writing turned out to be efforts at mimicking Enid Blyton, but Mum claims my oldest story is about two chickens who rob a bank, and she says she still has it somewhere. We had a mobile bank which visited every Friday, so I think the chickens just drove off with it. We also had a mobile library that visited every second Monday. I kept careful track of the days and must have been the only child in Ireland that hated bank holidays for throwing the visits off. I don't think the chickens ever had designs on the library, but I'd have cheerfully made off with it if I could have.

Maloney's Magical Weatherbox is such an original premise. Where did the idea come from?

What happened was some friends of mine told me a story of how they'd all decided to squeeze into a phone box together to see if they would all fit. They didn't. I made a joke about them destroying the phone box, and that put the idea in my head. Not about the Maloneys or the Seasons or the Shieldsmen or anything like that, just the phone box blowing up. Then I had to come up with a reason for the phone box to explode, so I invented everything else, like a chain reaction getting out of hand. Ideas kept exploding and going off in all directions. Getting all the ideas to line up as some sort of story was the big challenge. The Weatherbox itself is based on the phone box that used to stand in my home village of Murroe. My Dad had a garage and petrol station, and we used to get lots of truck and lorry drivers stopping there for one reason or another, and that's where Ed Wharton came from. I knew eco-warriors who protested the motorway expansion in the Glen of The Downs in Co Wicklow. We used to take Chinese take-away up to them, and that's where the Shieldsmen came from. There are probably other more-or-less direct connections, but a lot of the ideas evolved considerably over revisions, so explanations would be laborious. Most of the landscape and, indeed, the weather, came from what was around me growing up in Murroe.

Yes indeed. One of my favourite things about the book is its 'local' setting. Excluding the Dublin chapters, it's very much a small Irish town/parish book, and the 'Irishness' of the story shines strongly throughout. Considering your publishers are from the UK, did you have any difficulty keeping it as Irish as it is? Were there any particular Irish turns of phrases, words or ideas that they didn't understand?   

Both the US and the UK publishers were pretty keen on the setting and the voice, so I didn't have to change much. There was a bit of low-level swearing and cursing that had to be modified - Liz uttered the odd 'feck' here and there -  but that was due to age considerations. I think it was at the copy-editing stage that some of the colloquialisms got changed, because grammatically speaking they're perfectly terrible, but I generally got them changed back. I wanted Liz and Neil to say 'and me' instead of 'and I,' as in: 'Liz and me ran down the hill chased by the whirlwind,' so I had to keep a sharp eye out for that. They didn't bat an eye at the bits in Irish, even. I did originally have the Shieldsmen in the van singing 'The Boys Of Fair Hill,' and was firmly advised to pick another song. That was probably because of the drisheens. Or cribeens.

And how did you find the whole editing process with your publishers?

With the publishers, it was a dream. I'd already been through the revision mill with my agent, Jenny Savill and the formidable readers of the Andrew Nurnberg Agency. They took the book apart and I put it back together again several times before it was accepted by Orion and Roaring Brook Press, meaning it was at a pretty advanced stage by the time it reached my editors' desks. Still, what they got was the merely the definitive First Draft, no matter how many drafts I may have imagined passing through my computer files, and after that came the second, third and fourth and so on. Amber Carraveo in the UK and Kate Jacobs in the US actually worked together to produce a single set of edits between them, and they only really diverged in minor ways towards the end with the copy edits and the proofs. I was inured to huge plot and scene overhauls by that stage and responded to some of their suggestions by completely redrafting part one, and had to be told to rein it in a bit. Once I realised that the edits, though numerous, were relatively small, I settled into it easily enough. There was edit after edit, with the edits becoming fewer but knottier as I went along, but Kate and Amber were unfailingly kind and supportive. 

Another lovely thing about the book is the Maloney family unit. They work as a team and are kind and supportive of each other. Is the family based on your own? What do your own family think of the book?

They weren't especially based on my family - the personalities of the Maloneys don't map to the personalities of the Quinlans at all, really. I grew up in a big family, and it was loud and rambunctious and everyone tended to pull together when they needed to. You were part of this big gang, and that gang got even bigger when we teamed up with our cousins. Sometimes I look at the Maloneys and wonder if they're a wee bit idealised, but then I recall that Neil and Liz are only just entering adolescence. Family dynamics tend to get more frantic when the hormones start to flow. My family seems to like the book, on the whole, or that's what they tell me. I'm particularly pleased that my nieces and nephews who are at just the right age seem to like it. My older son, Eddie, read one of the proofs when they were sent to me and told his mum he was amazed at how good it was. Then he clapped me on the shoulder and said 'My dad the writer' in an approving voice.

Do you have a writing routine? Where, when and how (pencil or PC?) do you write? Do you have any writing rituals or habits you abide by?

At this point I've had more writing routines than I've had hot dinners. I devise new writing routines and rites and customs and rituals and constitutional amendments every other hour, apparrently, in search of the magical alignment of place and time and snacks and bodily configuration that will allow me to write. I stand, I sit, I lie at desks on floors, halfway up stairs, in cafes and libraries and gardens. I use notebooks, journals, macs, laptops, PCs and small sticks dipped in paint. Somewhere in the midst of all this nonsense, I get some writing done. Actually, things have settled down lately, and I'm keeping it old school, with a desk, a chair, a flask of coffee and a laptop, just like Dickens used to have. I do love writing stuff longhand, but have had to face the stark reality that my handwriting is utterly unreadable, and typing it up was going to cause me permanent physical damage as I broke every ergonomic law in the books twisting and turning and bending myself in knots in an effort to interpret my own scrawl. Now I just use my notebooks to scribble cryptic little notes to myself that I read later and can't understand. 'Burgle the fish walker.' What the hell?

Your favourite books/authors?

This can be a bit of a movable feast, but here we go

Dorothy Dunnett
Dorothy Dunnett - author of the Lymond Chronicles, about a 17th century Scottish adventurer, the House Of Niccolo about a Renaissance banker from Bruges, King Hereafter, based on the premise that the Scottish Macbeth and the Viking Thorfinn were one and the same and the Johnson Johnson Mysteries, about a spy with a yacht. Her historical novels are mesmerising. Witty, delicate writing, astonishing historical detail, fascinating characters, and plotting that is devious and clever and often brutal. Dunnett was a bit of a gateway drug for me to more historical fiction, but though I've read lots of great historical fiction as a result, none of them have the combination of epic scope and literary style, with all the romance, intrigue and action that Dunnett has. Patrick O'Brian might be almost as good, but I find his novels, though lovely, get a bit repetitive.

CJ Cherryh - I think I may have more books by Cherryh than I do of any other individual author. I've loved her since I first read her Morgaine Trilogy - a fantasy epic with a science fictional premise, with her doomed and cursed protagonist and her fanatically loyal sidekick closing destructive gates through time and space regardless of the damage inflicted on the world the gate is on. Incredible writing style and densely psychological tight first-person POVs are her hallmark. Most of her other books tend to be hard science fiction set in her Merchanter/Union universe, tough-as-nails, unsentimental but emotionally tortuous space operas of secrets and lies and uncertain agendas and divided loyalties. Cherryh is downright addictive.

Peter Straub - when I was reading lots of horror, Straub was one of my favourites. Ghost Story and Shadowlands were wonderfully weird, formless, evocative, dreamlike nightmares, but it's the Blue Rose Trilogy that still stands up. Straub removed the overtly supernatural element from his work, which pushed his plotting and storytelling skills to a whole new level. His writing remains gorgeous, but Koko, Mystery and The Throat are as tightly plotted as they are intricate and epic tales of murder and blood-stained history. These are utterly captivating and compelling novels of mystery and suspense.

Other writers I love:

JRR Tolkein - I pretty much lived in Middle earth for all of my teenage years.

Ursula LeGuin - I just reread the Earthsea Trilogy, and they really are incredible books.

Alan Garner - I don't think his first two books hold up so well, but nearly everything else he's written is astonishing.

Flann O'Brien - At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policemen are both profoundly brilliant works of literature and of fantasy. long with Shirley Jackson he's one of the great touchstones of 20-21st century fantasy.

Wow, that's a comprehensive list. Can I ask if there will be more adventures from the Maloney family? If not, what are you working on now? Or is it top secret?

What I'm working on is not a sequel, though it is a similar sort of comic fantasy adventure set in an unusually horrible and miserable Irish village. I'm waiting for edits on that, so I'd better not say too much about it as it all might change completely in the next draft. I hope we haven't seen the last of the Maloneys. If nothing else I'd like to think I might do some short stories with them or with some of the members of the supporting cast. I think Owen and the Hags and Ed Wharton and Neetch should have a few adventures of their own.

We'll look forward to seeing these in the future. Thank you Nigel, for doing this interview for Middle Grade Strikes Back, and continued success to you and your writing.

Great questions, Kieran, thank you.

The Maloneys' Magical Weatherbox features not only Maloneys, magic and a Weatherbox, it's also got tourists, hags, Shieldsmen, bog-beasts, nasty old Fitgeralds, mysterious things in lakes and terrifying elementals! In other words, exactly the sorts of things you'd expect to turn up and make life difficult for Neil and Liz Maloney when one of their Seasons goes missing. Can they protect the Weatherbox and get the Seasons on schedule again? It's only the end of the world if they don't! 

Interview by Kieran Fanning.