Wednesday 28 September 2016

Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 18 September 2016

Writing Seascapes: The Book of Shadows by E.R. Murray

The sea is one of my favourite things. I find it intriguing, enchanting and at times, frightening. The sea is beautiful yet unpredictable. It whispers and calls, lulls and calms, and yet, it can be ferocious and murderous too. Did you know that seawater covers around 71% of the earth’s surface? That’s a lot of water to marvel at!

Despite its size, the sea is not a vast watery nothingness like many people believe; there are islands and reefs and ravines, and so much is hidden from view. The tides are in constant flux and below the waves, the sea is teeming with life. A wild and unruly beast, it is this incredible mix of qualities that made seascapes a prominent feature in my latest book, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2.

I live on the Atlantic coast in Southwest Ireland and I spend as much time as I can near the sea and on the sea. We have a small punt that we use for catching mackerel and pollock in the summer, and we often see lots of creatures such as jellyfish, dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks. Then there are the seabirds including manx shearwaters, terns, guillemots, and gannets – so don’t be surprised when you find these creatures woven into my stories!

Even though my Nine Lives Trilogy is a fantasy story, it is important to me that the characters and events are believable. This means that the seascapes and high seas adventures had to be realistic as well as exciting, and so I’ve taken lots of inspiration from my immediate surroundings. There’s nothing better than heading out into open water, all your senses open, not knowing what you’ll encounter or how the journey will impact your story. It’s also fun interrogating fishermen and sailors for details that might add to your tale.

Did you realise, for instance, that it is considered unlucky to set sail on a Friday? Or that a tiny spot of rainbow portends rain? Did you know that fishermen prefer to use a clinch knot on their lines? Or that 30 foot long basking sharks might peek inside your boat (the young ones can be quite inquisitive)? Can you tell a schooner from a sloop? Finding out details like this is really fun and even though they’re not the focus of the action, they bring an extra atmospheric element and sense of realism.

Some of the place names in The Book of Shadows are real, while others are complete fiction. Gun Point, for instance, is an actual place, and so is Roaring Water Bay – these are the real names of places where I live (I just shifted them a little, geographically). Gallows Island is based on a mixture of Cape Clear and Long Island (I can see Long Island from my home); I needed to fuse the landscapes, but I also wanted a more sinister name, so I made that up.

History also plays a part, as West Cork was a haven for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a fascinating era, and so part of The Book of Shadows involves some pirate action – and not just regular pirates, but also black-hearted devils made of darkness and shadows. The idea for these creatures came after reading about the real-life ‘Barbary raids’ of 1631, when pirates kidnapped the inhabitants of Baltimore. They represent the darker side of the human psyche.

I hope you enjoy the seascapes and sea life that appears in my stories. And if you have any high seas adventures or facts of your own that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!

About E.R. Murray: Elizabeth Rose Murray writes fiction for children and young adults. She lives in West Cork where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of outdoor adventures. The Book of Shadows is her third novel. You can learn more about Elizabeth here.

About The Book of Shadows: In this exciting follow-up to the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read 2016, ‘The Book of Learning’, heroine Ebony Smart is settling into her role as guardian for the Order of Nine Lives. All seems quiet until she receives a peculiar silver box from an anonymous sender and is tasked with returning it to a mystery owner. Ebony discovers that Zach and Judge Ambrose have allied with a powerful ancient demon, and are more determined than ever to steal her soul and control the fate of the world. To defend the Order and defeat the demon, Ebony and her pet rat, Winston, must unravel the mystery of the silver box, free the trapped souls in the Reflectory and mount a daring rescue. Can she find the strength and courage needed to defeat the enemy, prove herself the rightful guardian and save all of their lives?

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Spynosaur Blog Tour: The Roald Ahead by Guy Bass

We're really looking forward to reading Spynosaur by Guy Bass, so we're delighted to host a post from him talking about his love of Roald Dahl.

The Roald Ahead

Comics were my thing. Like most children, injustice drove me up the wall, and superhero comics, despite their shades of grey, were generally about good vs. evil … the fight against injustice. 8-year old me consumed comics by the lorry-load, but there was something about books that bothered me. Maybe it was because I had to read them at school – I tended (very quietly) to resent being told what to do. But honestly, I still don’t know what it was about books – they just overawed me.

Then I found Roald Dahl, or specifically, George’s Marvellous Medicine. I read it again and again, relishing each magical moment and insane ingredient. Books were demystified and defogged before my eyes. Suddenly, I could see the road ahead. Like the story’s hero, George Kranky, I could touch “the edge of a magic world”. Without George’s Marvellous Medicine, I don’t think I’d writing about dinosaur spies (or anything else) today.

To stay with 8-year-old me a bit longer; I was far too studious to be called a dreamer (curse my biddable bones) but every assembly – I mean, every assembly – I would fantasise about floating up from the floor and flying around the hall before zooming out of one of the windows. I’d will it, hold my breath and wish so hard to fly that the rest of the world disappeared. Sometimes I’d even manage to imagine myself soaring over the school before we’d have to stand for a hymn and my flight of fancy was brought crashing back to reality. Part of it was wanting to be noticed, since I was quiet and generally felt quite invisible. Don’t play the harps yet – I expect half the kids in that assembly were also feeling invisible and having daydreams of their own. That’s something Roald Dahl tapped into brilliantly. Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is probably the most obvious “everychild” (especially juxtaposed with the dreadful Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and co.) but many of Dahl’s heroes and heroines are seemingly unremarkable, and rewarded for being good, selfless and just. I was grateful for that. The idea that doing the right thing is reward enough was immensely satisfying (it’s a major theme running most of my books, especially Stitch Head) … even though it was probably more satisfying that the villains got their comeuppance.

Which brings me back to George Kranky. While Charlie is the boy I wanted to want to be, George is the boy I really wanted to be. He takes as much as he can from his mean, sinister, spiteful granny, and decides enough is enough. There are no half measures – it’s not called George’s Reasonably Impressive Medicine, which gives his granny a belly-ache – this potion is off-the-scale. Revenge is a dish best serve marvellously. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to confront the needless injustices of childhood with a medicine of my own. Well, I could but it’d take ages.

When I write, I try to remember 8-year old me and the satisfaction I got from George’s Marvellous Medicine. I try to make sure justice is done – I like to the see the evil (or at least spectacularly misguided) criminal mastermind Ergo Ego vanquished by Spynosaur, a hero who dedicate his every waking moment to battling tyranny (and making bad puns.) And I don’t want my hero to be reasonably impressive – I want him to have secret skis and jump in and out of helicopters and battle ninja snowmen and blow everything to smithereens. And I want him be a dinosaur. Marvellous!

For more from Guy, check out his Twitter account and website and this BBC video, in which he reviews George's Marvellous Medicine!

And of course, don't miss the rest of the stops on this brilliant blog tour!

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Cover Reveal: Who Let The Gods Out? by Mary Alice Evans

We are VERY excited to read Maz Evans's Who Let The Gods Out? - coming next year from Chicken House - and we're thrilled to reveal the cover here today! Check out Maz's blurb below, along with the gorgeous cover from Helen Crawford-White (with characters drawn by Aleksei Bitskoff).

Hi - I'm Maz Evans, author of Who Let the Gods Out? my four-part comedy adventure series. When a haughty teenage constellation crash lands in his shed, young carer Elliot Hooper's life becomes the stuff of legend as he joins with the ancient Greek Gods on an anarchic adventure to save the world from an evil death daemon. But after 2,000 years of cushy retirement, are Zeus, Athene, Aphrodite and Hermes still top Gods? Or will they be an epic fail…? 

Follow Maz on Twitter - @MaryAliceEvans and the hashtags #WLTGO and #WhoLetTheGodsOut for more information about the book!

Saturday 3 September 2016

The Secrets of Billie Bright by Susie Day

Billie Bright's family is pretty big for one that's got somebody missing. There's Billie who is a girl Billie and eleven and about to go to secondary school. Then there are her three big brothers and her Dad, who also runs the cafe under their flat. Life's loud but Billie likes it, even without her mum there any more.

But with the new school comes having to make new friends and all kinds of other grown-up things to deal with. And at home it feels like all her brothers are keeping secrets from her. So when she decides to do a project on her mum, she has to do all the research herself and ends up finding out all kinds of things she doesn't expect to . . .

My thoughts ....
I love this book. I'm always excited about the prospect of a new Susie Day book this book was no exception and I'm so pleased to report it far surpassed every hope and expectation I had for it. It's set in the same world as Susie's Pea series and the spin off The Secrets of Sam and Sam and much like those books it is wonderful in the diversity of characters featuring characters who are LGBT and PoC without it being a plot point or issue. These different types of people are just there without it being pointed out which is exactly how it should be. I hate it when diversity is used as a plot device or seen as something trendy and Susie Day shows exactly how diversity can be celebrated in a book without making it a big deal or cliché.

The story itself is really sweet and I loved getting to know Billie and her family. The relationships between them were really lovely and I really enjoyed getting to uncover all of Billie's secrets. I also have to mention the cameos from previous characters. I love a good cameo and was very excited about these.

All in all this is the book equivalent of hugs with a cup of tea and rich tea biscuits with your best friend. Just wonderful.