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So the Hogwarts Letter Came. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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Tickle tickle little pear – Maisie dreams of the Hogwarts kitchens

Aside from the minorly inconvenient points, like I’m in my late-20s, and the school is fictional. Fictional schools is they give us freedom to imagine, and anyway. You’ll always find a home at Hogwarts. I will, even when I’m old and grey. 

Like lots of Millennials, I’ve spent the past 20 years watching the doormat. And the fireplace, and the windows, but especially the doormat. Most of us have never got beyond the disappointment and the hope. What if it actually came? Ignoring the obvious, practical stuff, would you really be happy at Hogwarts?

Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve thought about it from the flip-side. Here are some of the things that could cause problems if I packed up my trunk and headed for Platform 9 3/4.breakbird

Cat or owl? I have two cats I am very fond of, but would I take them to Hogwarts? Aside from the fact the rest of the family would complain, I would never see the cats again. Willow would spend her days hunting in the Forbidden Forest, which carries all kinds of health and safety concerns. Maisie would make her way to the kitchens, then never leave. Those house-elves seem obliging, and Maisie loves her food. Come to think of it, Willow would probably hunt the house-elves, too.

 

Stomach Ache – with the range of magical sweets available, and passages out of the school which lead straight to Honeydukes, I would have constant stomach ache. And toothache. Then again, Madam Pomfrey might leave me with a bottle of stomach solution. Imagine. All the sweets, none of the pain. I’d be Dudley-sized before the end of the first term.

 

How would I ever leave the library? Odds are, I never would. Some dangerous herbology book in the Restricted section would swallow me whole when I tried to take it without permission.

 

Following on from that thought, I’d lose too many house points to have friends. I would take issue at the idea of restricted books, and stage protests. Read-ins. Aside from the damage to other pupils, I would be very unpopular.

 

Peeves. If that poltergeist played a prank on me, I’d try to prank him back. He’d probably frame me for his activities for the rest of my student days.

 

Gryffindor or Ravenclaw? Always pleased to meet a fellow Gryffinclaw. I want to be a Ravenclaw. I’m an overthinker, and I’m bright, but I’m also impulsive. Determined. I make decisions not on logic, but on what feels right and true. Online tests put me in Ravenclaw, but I always think they fail to find that Gryffindor streak. The trouble isn’t that I don’t know where I belong – the sorting hat would suss that out. The trouble is, I have an allegiance to both. How could I ever belong to one?

 

Sit in the Quidditch stands when there is warm fire in the common room? You do realise this is the Highlands? It’s a wonder the players aren’t blown off their broomsticks. My general attitude to sport is one game and I’ve seen it all.

 

Dumbledore would lose his pensive. I’m such an overthinker, it would probably be a school-wide benefit to leave it in my possession.

 

No Wi-Fi. An embargo on the non-magic world ever finding out about magic. OK, so you’ve got a world of magic at your fingertips, but how frustrating would it be not to share it on Twitter?

 

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Shadowblack by Sebastien De Castell

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Extract:

‘Wait,’ I said to Rosie. ‘If Seneira doesn’t want to go home, why are you going there?’

It was Seneira who replied. Whatever goodwill I’d bought myself by my concern that she might be a prisoner had evidently been spent. ‘How thick are you? I’m neither Jan’Tep nor am I a student of magic, but somehow I caught the shadowblack.’ She pointed to Rosie and Ferius. These two weirdos are Argosi, which means that anything strange happens in the world and they feel a burning need to go paint a card about it. Obviously they think the markings mean something.’ 

(Shadowblack by Sebastien De Castell. P76.) breakbirdSynopsis:

It seems Kellen is not the only one cursed with the Shadowblack.

Kellen hasn’t found his calling. He travels with Ferius and Reichis, but he makes as good an outlaw as he did mage. Ferius has saved his back too many times, and Kellen is impatient to find his destiny. Could Kellen’s future be with Seneira? Seneira is the daughter of Beren Thrane, who runs the Academy in the Seven Sands. Rich and powerful families send their children to the Academy, where they become future leaders. Now Beren Thrane’s children have black marks around their eyes. Trouble is brewing in the Seven Sands

Spellslinger Dexan offers to cure Seneira, but only if Kellen can find the mage responsible for the curse. Kellen isn’t going to leave Seneira until he has the answers, but there are people who would rather he wasn’t in Seven Sands.

A sequel which lives up to Spellslinger. Kellen’s story continues, but he has no idea which direction he should take.

breakbirdReview:

Shadowblack, like Spellslinger, is a pacy, original story. The plot keeps you guessing until the final pages. It is clear something is wrong, but the answers unfold slowly, and I didn’t guess the full truth. 

Our knowledge of the world’s geography widens. The Academy and The Seven Sands were interesting additions. The Seven Sands isn’t accepted as a nation by the nations around it, even though the rich and influential send their children to The Academy for an elite education.

Beren Thrane was my favourite minor character. As with Kellen’s family in book one, we see different sides to Thrane – we see the successful and influential man who runs the academy, and the father who would do anything to cure his children. His different faces made him a believable character.    

Kellen’s story develops well. At the end of Spellslinger, it appeared he had found his destiny, wandering as an Argosi with Ferius, but the series challenges the notion finding your place, so it was never going to be that simple. I think this is important at a time when young people are under more pressure than ever to tick the right boxes. The world is so obsessed with life choices, we have forgotten how to live. The narrative doesn’t discourage hard work and sound morals, but it challenges people to think for themselves and to take the world as it comes.

Ferius Parfax is my favourite character of 2017, possibly of all time. She challenges stereotypes about women without resorting to the super-grumpy-superwoman image which is becoming too familiar in YA. Ferius is tough talking, but she doesn’t run from her own feelings, she follows them. Shadowblack adds depth to her character as we learn more about the Argosi. The introduction of Rosie gave us a counterpoint to Ferius. Rosie’s big on sticking to the rules and traditions of Argosi life, while Ferius lives up to the Argosi ideal without spouting rules left, right and centre. I love her Argosi name, The Path of the Wild Daisy. We learn that what Ferius is most afraid of is losing her freedom – her freedom to roam, to find her own way and to act on her own decisions.

If you read Spellslinger, you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t, check out my review here and get started. This new fantasy series is something special, and the journey begins here.

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson

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Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

35216519Every Christmas, Wren is chased through the woods near her isolated village by her family’s enemies—the Judges—and there’s nothing that she can do to stop it. Once her people, the Augurs, controlled a powerful magic. But now that power lies with the Judges, who are set on destroying her kind for good.

In a desperate bid to save her family, Wren takes a dangerous undercover assignment—as an intern to an influential Judge named Cassa Harkness. Cassa has spent her life researching a transformative spell, which could bring the war between the factions to its absolute end. Caught in a web of deceit, Wren must decide whether or not to gamble on the spell and seal the Augurs’ fate. breakbirdWhy I can’t wait to read The Wren Hunt: 

  • Warring factions remind me of Romeo and Juliet. There is so much possible conflict, and the most interesting question isn’t why would she use the spell, it is why wouldn’t she? 
  • Wren sounds like a headstrong, independent character. I am interested in the research she has done, and why a young girl is doing this rather than elders within the community.
  • The hunt reminds me of S.T.A.Gs, one of my favourite YA reads of 2017. I want to know what agenda there is to the hunt, and whether there is something Wren has to learn about herself. Why is Wren hunted, and not other members of her clan?
  • If there are spells to end the war, what other magic exists? Is there a limit to magical power within the world?
  • The wren hunt is a real folk tradition from Britain. As you know, I love my folk history. I love the current spate of folksy books – old traditions are being given a bite for the YA audience. 

 

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Autumnal Covers

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Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is autumnal covers. 

Autumn in all its colours. Orange and red and black and purple and blue. Not so obvious, the last three, until you think of crisp skies and crows feathers. Autumn is my favourite season, but it also my favourite publishing season. Summer relationships and sparkling seas? Over like a dropped ice-cream cone. It’s all about bonfires and sorcery and long dark nights indoors with a book. 

Here are some of my favourite autumnal covers of 2017. Regular readers have heard about some of the books so many times, that instead of a round-up as such, I will focus only on the covers. 

Images go top to bottom for each row. breakbirdThe Invincibles And The Beasts Of Bramble Wood by Caryl Hart. Illustrated by Sarah Warburton: autumn begins with blackberry picking, so I was sold on this one from the title. I love how the traditional Halloween black-and-orange is broken with splashes of bright green. It looks spooky in a really cosy way, just scary enough for a middle-grade audience. 

 

Hide And Seek by Anthony Browne: This is the most sophisticated, beautiful autumn you have seen, and the most beautifully observed. This book shows how quickly a child in the woods goes between joy at a game, and fear at being ‘alone’ in such a large outdoor space. At the strange noises, and things which look like they might be other than they are. Read my review here

 

Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson Another spooky-but-safe middle-grade read. Vlad’s cartoon style face is ridiculously cute, while the spindly trees hint and bats hint at some spooks and scares.

 

Curse Of The Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestly More Halloween, more orange. Literally more orange. This must be the most orange cover I have ever seen, but look how spooky those ghoulish faces are against it’s backdrop. 

 

The Wizards Of Once by Cressida Cowell. Exactly how beautiful is this, with its purple cover and the lettering like it was burnt in by a sparkler or a wand? The crow in the centre is intriguing. I know wizards and warriors feature in this story, but crows? What is the connection? 

 

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris I love the gold border. It reminds me of a historical tapestry. The crows here look as if they are coming in to attack. 

 

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend And did I mention, it is divine? I can’t stop raving about this book. Morrigan looks like Madeline in negative. It is almost, but not quite, cartoonish, and I love the burst of light around the lettering, as Morrigan has burst out of nowhere. Read my review here. 

 

The Rise Of Wolves by Kerr Thompson A touch autumnal, a touch wintery, I love the detail. The smoking chimney pot suggests a cosy retreat, while the gathering wolves hint at something deeper going on. 

 

Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling How divine is this cover? It hints at hedge magic, gypsy magic, with the dried flowers and the detail of the crow’s earring. I love the palette. It manages to be a bold colour with a subtle palete, and I think that is quite special. 

 

Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann This manages to be autumnal with very few splashes of orange, and I think it is a truer representation of the outdoors as we see it. For all the leaves that turn, there are plenty of evergreens and wheat, not to mention the fact the leaves don’t turn at once like someone turned on the Technicolour. Love the texture and brush-stokes, something which adds to the realistic effect.

 

Do you have any favourite covers this autumn? Any all time favourites? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

One kick and it could all be over. Kick by Mitch Johnson

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Extract:

Dad works in a factory that makes smart shirts for businessmen, and even though he doesn’t have to, he always wears a short-sleeved shirt with a collar to work – either his white one or the one with yellow and blue checks. He’s says its important to be proud of yourself. He’s always telling me: ‘Budi, if you don’t respect yourself, nobody will. You must be proud of who you are.’ Today he’s wearing the shirt with yellow and blue checks, and it sticks to a sweaty patch on his chest. As he gets closer he smiles and sits down on the step beside me.

‘What’s happened here then?’ he asks, kissing me on the head. 

‘I cut my leg playing football.’ 

Dad leans over and grimaces as I show him my knee. The cut glistens with fresh blood. 

‘Make sure you get all the grit out. We don’t want it to get infected.’

I nod and keep brushing it with the cloth. 

‘Was it a foul?’ Dad asks.

‘No, but I scored the most amazing goal, so it was worth it.’

‘Good boy! Keep it up and you’ll play for Madrid one day.’ 

Real Madrid, Dad. If you just say Madrid it could mean Atlético Madrid, and I would rather never play football again than play for them.’ 

(Kick by Mitch Johnston. P16.) breakbirdSynopsis:

Budi is Twelve. His dream is to play football for Real Madrid like Kieran Wakefied. Budi practises in all his spare time: in his work break, and if the factory foreman doesn’t keep him over time.The rest of the time he sews football boots together, unless the foreman is cross enough to stick Budi on the boxing section.

Life in Jakarta is hard. There’s talk of a pay rise, but most people say it will never come. Without a pay rise, there is no money for Budi’s education, or Grandma’s medicine. Budi lives with his parents and Grandmother. There was an uncle, but nobody ever speaks of people who go to prison. There are only two ways out of prison: keeling or standing.

Then there’s The Dragon, the main Landlord and money lender. Cross him and he’ll chew you up and spit out your bones.

When a bad kick puts a football through the Dragon’s window, Budi finds himself in the Dragon’s pocket. If the Dragon kills him first, he’ll never play for Real Madrid.

breakbirdReview:

I took interest in Kick for two reasons. Initially I was interested to see a well-written children’s book about football. Don’t mistake me. I’m not interested in football. However, since I sorted books in a charity shop nearly ten years ago, I have been interested in how some subjects in children’s literature inspire poor quality writing. What do I mean? Well, there’s Mal Peet’s series, and lately Tom Palmer has won a lot of fans. How many well-written books about football have you seen? How many poorly-written? I don’t think it is that the good stuff isn’t written. I think there is just a proliferation of books. If you want to see this illustrated, check out one of Palmer’s books on Amazon, and look at under the words ‘customers who bought this item also bought’. Point made.

When I saw Kick in the shop, I knew I had to buy it. The second reason I took interest was the Amnesty International endorsement. Every children’s title I have read this year which has been endorsed by Amnesty has been well-written, and offered me a different perspective on the world. Kick was no exception.

Budi is so optimistic and so determined. I liked what Mitch Johnson said in the interview at the back of the story. Maybe we can’t truly know what it is to experience Budi’s daily life, but we can understand shared hopes and dreams. Football becomes a powerful link between Western comfort and an impoverished life in the East. So does the theme of aspiration in general. We all have hopes and dreams, although too often we ‘outgrow’ these. Get too tired. The message is loud and strong: if you want something, never stop working for it. This message, written for the readers, helps us to empathise with Budi.

Budi has some shocking experiences in the course of the book, which offer a window into that life, and show us how much Budi is up against. The moment which will help child readers get some sense of Budi’s life, and how unfair it is, isn’t an event at all. It’s number-crunching. How long would Kieren Wakefield have to work to earn Budi’s salary? I found it so poignant, that Budi hadn’t grasped the disparity between their lives. It is a clever way to interest children in an issue which might be frightening to think about. Children too young to think about the brutality are capable of understanding those numbers are unfair, and wrong.

I loved Budi’s friendship with Rochy. Rochy has dreams too, but he thinks they are over. His mother and sisters are so worn down, they barely speak. It would have been a distressing and bleak read if Budi and his family felt the same way, but by making him so close to Rochy, we are able to think about how such a life would wear you down, then take comfort in Budi’s dreams. At MG-age, this is hugely important, but I think something similar is true for adults. I might read a few pages of non-fiction on such a difficult subject, but if I’m investing time in it, I need something uplifting.

Masterfully written, yet still accessible. It is interesting to see a story which isn’t about football, but uses football to open an important conversation. I look forward to anything else which comes from this talented debut author. 

Chat · Days Out

Day Out: The Forbidden Corridor.

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Staycation round-up #4. There is no term to describe The Forbidden Corner, a place of wonders found in Leybern, Yorkshire. Tourist attraction? Yes, but it is also a garden, a folly, a work of art and one man’s dream. Welcome to a place of giants and devils, boars and mice and grave-stones of men who got on the wrong side of fairies. And water. Healthy amounts of water. Please note: this picture contains pictures of the attraction.

There is plenty more to see, but it you want it to be a surprise, look away. 

At the entrance, we weren’t given a map but a tick-list of some of the strange things we might see. There are no sign-posts within the park. This is part of the fun. It is like a giant maze, except some of it is in a castle, some of it underground, some of it in gardens, and some of it more like a traditional hedged-in maze. The first time we found a view-point, I suggested we could map the park, but the trees are planted to obscure the attractions from the view-points. A lot of thought has gone into the design. 

As a party of three adults, we realised this was a friendly attraction for all ages. Certainly the school kids were having great fun, but so were the seniors. It is possible to play in the towers, or to admire the gardens. The thing everyone had in common was a healthy imagination. 

 

One huge point to consider is access: there are areas which are hard to access if you have mobility issues. Several of my closest blogging friends have mobility or balance issues, and I would suggest phoning for information on how much is accessible, and visiting on a spring day when you can enjoy smaller amounts of the park while others in your party explore the castle.

We enjoyed the cafe – plenty of regional food, and a spacious area to sit. 

It was a lovely introduction to the Yorkshire Dales. The funniest thing was, having gone to see the attraction, we ended up having a long walk. It is set in the most beautiful countryside, and I would love to go back and explore the general area. The Forbidden Corner is like the best sort of book, full of hooks to keep you walking. What can I say? I walked through a giant’s mouth, stuck my tongue out at a water daemon, and searched a mouses’ layer for a giant cat. It was like the best sort of dream, and I’m reluctant to wake up.  

The Forbidden Corner
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ, UK
Middle Grade Reviews

GoldenBooksGirl on Mystery And Mayhem

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9781405282642You may remember Amy from GoldenBooksGirl from our shared read of Quest. Short Story Anthologies were designed to be shared, whether you read a story together, chat about one story every week or feed back to each other on one half of the book. This is the format we use – it works well from a blogging perspective, and allows us see whether we agree with each other’s verdict when we read the rest of the book. 

Murder And Mayhem is a great anthology for fans of mystery and crime. Me and Amy share a love of Middle Grade detective fiction, and the anthology has some of the greats: Frances Hardinge, Katherine Woodfine and Helen Moss to name three. 

Huge welcome to Amy, who read the first six stories from Murder and Mayhem. breakbird

MYSTERY AND MAYHEM GUEST POST

 

IMPOSSIBLE CRIMES

 

Emily and the Detectives- Susie Day

This is a really jovial opening to the anthology; it tells the story of Emily, a young girl who is the real brains behind her father and his friend Lord Copperbole`s much lauded feats as a detective duo, as she becomes involved in a locked room mystery no one else can explain. However, it also touches on why Emily isn`t given credit, and how unfair it is that she isn`t seen as clever/brave enough to solve mysteries just because she`s a girl. It shows a real historical murder method, which will be educational for some, and especially for younger readers or those not familiar with the historical mystery genre. Finally, I thought the mystery was wrapped up really well even though the solution kind of comes out of nowhere.

 

Rain on My Parade by Elen Caldecott

In her story for the anthology, Elen Caldecott sets a mini-mystery in her Marsh Road setting about the Marsh Road Carnival and a few members of the team solving the mystery of a sabotaged dress. While I did miss Piotr and Andrew in this story, I was pleased to see Minnie, Flora, Sylvie and minor character Big Phil appear. I adore Elen Caldecott`s vibrant, vivid writing style and the imagery she uses as it hugely helps me visualise the setting and understand exactly how each character is feeling, and it brings the world and the story to life. Finally, this story manages to have quite a complex mystery for such a short wordcount as there are several suspects and red herrings for the team to work through and it was as ffun as ever to follow their detective work.

 

The Mystery of the Green Room by Clementine Beauvais

This short story, possibly my favourite of the three in this section of the anthology, is about a large family reuniting in France for a funeral/will reading and what happens when one of their party goes into their room, locks the door and then dies. The protagonist Marcel is super likeable and I like that as well as him being a great detective we also see him struggle with his changing relationship with his slightly older cousin Joseph who he feels is leaving him behind. This is an absolutely fascinating locked room mystery with a solution I definitely didn`t guess, and I really liked the very enclosed setting as it makes the story feel quite dangerous at points. The only thing I`m not keen on in this story is that I struggle to keep the different members of the family straight in my head as there are so many of them.

 

CANINE CAPERS

 

The Mystery of Diablo Canyon Circle by Caroline Lawrence

Going in, I wasn`t expecting a huge amount from this as I’m not really a big fan of the Roman Mysteries series by this author, but I enjoyed this story hugely. Darcy is a great narrator and detective (I also love the literary references of her and her sibling`s names!) and the mystery- the disappearance of a dog called Shane who belongs to her celebrity neighbour- is interesting and I definitely wanted to keep reading throughout. I personally don`t like the ending of this (no spoilers though!) but it`s still an excellent story as this is just down to me personally and not the quality of the ending itself.

 

Mel Foster and the Hound of the Baskervilles by Julia Golding

I had no clue what this story would be like when I started it as Julia Golding is the only author in the anthology I`d never read before, but I`ll be seeking out the novels in the Mel Foster series soon. This was super fun and a great mystery, but I think my favourite part was the relationship between Mel and Eve as their friendship is so nice and they cover each other`s weaknesses and look out for each other in general. I do feel that I may have picked up on some extra references if I`d read the original Hound of the Baskervilles but the story was very easy to follow and I definitely wasn`t confused by anything. Finally, I loved the happy ending and the little cameo from Sherlock Holmes.

 

Dazzle, Dog Biscuits and Disaster by Kate Pankhurst

This story is the very definition of a canine caper, and I love it a lot! It`s about Sid, whose mum runs a dogwalking business, as one of their dogs escapes from its house and Sid gets blamed. He soon sets out to clear his name and find out where Dazzle really is. I actually managed to work out the culprit in this but it`s an utterly delightful read and Sid is a sweetheart of a narrator. If you like Mariella Mystery, I think you`ll love this short story even more.

 

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

ftffbSynopsis: (from WalkerYA.com):tumblr_inline_ovt9uz1vck1re4pvv_500

A sweet and kooky romcom starring flying-trapeze double act and brother/sister twins, Finch and Birdie Franconi, and their geeky friend, Hector Hazzard. After Birdie’s terrifying trapeze accident, serious performer Finch and clumsy wannabe Hector must work together to save the family circus school and put on the biggest show ever. Together they learn to walk the high-wire of teen life and juggle the demands of friends, family, first love and facing up to who they are – all served up with a dash of circus-showbiz magic. breakbirdWhy I can’t wait to read Flying Tips For Flightless Birds:

 

  • Did I mention that I love circus settings? OK, ten or twenty times, but saving the family circus school is another take one of my favourite settings.

 

  • I love the tagline ‘Life is a Circus, Don’t Miss the Show’. Circuses are a great place for characters to do something even though it is dangerous, or crazy, because they want to be part of the magic, and will never live with themselves if they don’t step out.

 

  • Following on from the above thought, this is a great metaphor for the theme of sexuality. Romance feels big and scary, especially for a young protagonist, but what if the only thing to do is ‘jump’? Something wonderful might happen.

 

  • Circuses are often used in fantasy stories, something I devour and applaud, but it is nice to see a circus setting in a novel which looks to be contemporary. Contemporary YA has really come into its own this year, and it is lovely to see how many different books come under that banner.

 

  • It is great to see a rise in LGBTQA+ stories which explore the building relationship between the characters, rather than ‘the issue’. 2017 has definitely seen a shift in what is being published, and Flying Tips For Flightless Birds looks set to start 2018 on the right foot.

 

Flying Tips For Flightless Birds

Walker Books

March 2018

Chat

Work with the brain you’ve got, or 100 hours.

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A couple of weeks ago I posted this picture on Twitter, and it got a reasonable response. I thought people might be interested. Lots of people in my network write, or have a creative pass time. In the summer, I set myself the challenge of counting 100 hours writing. Not planning, not editing or … fussing … just words-on-the-page writing. That’s not to say those other things aren’t important, but I find it easy to distract myself with them, and forget the thing which matters most. The picture marks the moment I hit that target.

It took longer than I hoped, but in the two weeks since  I’ve almost done another 50 hours. Why? The challenge helped me build discipline. My projects have got longer, and I’m less self-critical in early drafts. This was my biggest problem. I was so frightened to be imperfect, I wouldn’t let myself get going. Having overcome that, I’m giving more time to each project, which means less planning time.

Another thing has changed. Through the first 100 hours, I felt guilty for colouring in half an hour at a time. To simplify:

  • a large square is 25 hours
  • a small square is therefore an hour
  • half a square is … you get the picture.

At first I was angry if I coloured in half a square. Three, maybe four squares. That was what I wanted. Except, I kept colouring in at the half-hour. Now I always colour half-squares. Not only that, but I set them up as time windows. I have a fidget, then settle down for another half-hour. I figure if short bursts of writing work, why fight it? 

 I would be a fraud if I offered writing advice. However, I think if my current experience has taught me anything, it is that. Work with the brain you’ve got. Learn your habits, and work with them. Don’t make excuses – you don’t need to do yoga, or sit at the finest chair, or build extension or wait for more time – but when you sit down to write, do work in the way which gets words on the page. 

Here’s to the next 100 hours, and the next. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, except that the words are on the page and I’m so happy. 

 

What do you reckon – motivation or distraction? Have you ever set a time challenge for a hobby?

Middle Grade Reviews

Nine Places. 150 Applicants. The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

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Extract:

Nevermoor stretched out for miles in every direction. Morrigan she was imagined she was on a ship, sailing an ocean of buildings and streets and people and life.

A thrill crept down her neck. Leaving a trail of gooseflesh. I’m alive, she thought, and the idea was so absurd, and so wonderful that a laugh spilled from her mouth, cutting through the quiet. Morrigan didn’t care. She felt expansive, bursting with a new joy and termerity which could only have come from cheating death. 

It’s a new age, she thought with disbelief, and I’m alive

(The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. PP. 80 -81.) 

breakbirdSynopsis:

Morrigan Crow has an unfortunate reputation for making unlucky things happen. A reputation which is damaging her father’s political career, and costing him a fortune in compensation. As far as her family are concerned, there is one small blessing: cursed children die on Eventide, so Morrigan won’t be around much longer.

At the age of eleven, children in the Republic find out whether they have any bids. It’s too expensive to educate every child properly, and there needs to be an underclass. After all, that’s where the servants come from. Only the best and the brightest, and those with well-connected parents receive bids. Morrigan isn’t expecting any bids. After all, she’s on the Cursed-Children Register. Imagine her surprise when more than one person bids.

There’s strange Mr Squall, who is in charge of the energy supply. Then there is Jupiter North from the Wundrous Society, who says Morrigan doesn’t have to die. She can follow him to the free state of Nevermoor, and cheat death.

If she passes three difficult trials, she can stay in Nevermoor as a member of the Wundrous Society.

Why is Jupiter North so convinced Morrigan has a knack – an impressive talent she can demonstrate at the final trial? What does he know that he won’t tell her?breakbirdReview:

I read this with the same rapt delight with which I first read Harry Potter 20 years ago. Jessica Townsend has created something special – a special world, special characters, and a plot which will keep you turning the pages.

I love the voice in which the story is told. Some serious observations are made in a witty asides. It’s like real-world issues hyped up. Children cherry-picked at eleven? Stand them in a hall, while they watch half their classmates receive ‘bids’. Christmas has become commercial? Let’s play off the traditions of the seasons against consumerism in a battle between ‘consumerist fat cat’ St Nick and The Yule Lady, bringer of snow. What I love is, having thought up the most exaggerated scenario, Townsend works it into the narrative in a really subtle way. The plot kept moving, and everything felt like a credible part of the world.

I adored Morrigan. People have been telling her she is cursed, and doomed to die, and she’s so afraid of being forgotten. She is quite low on self-belief. She’s the cursed-child, not someone with an extraordinary gift. Even so, she keeps going through the trials because there is more to her than a special talent.

The folksy touches were great, from the names (Morrigan Crow. Corvus Crow. The Wundersmith) to the measures of time, (Eventide,) to traditions like Hallowmas and the Christmas fight. Townsend has taken pre-existing ideas and reworked them into something new and exciting. She’s also thrown in plenty of totally new things, like a transport system based on umbrellas, and the Magnificat who oversees room service in Jupiter North’s hotel, the place which becomes Morrigan’s home.

I liked the relationship between Morrigan and Jupiter. It showed how difficult it is for children to trust adults blindly, then to discover those adults don’t always have the answer. Another theme was the arrival of new siblings. Morrigan literally becomes invisible to her family, a poignant metaphor for how some children feel at the arrival of a new child.

This will be a real winner, with teachers, librarians, and young readers, but I can see it being popular with readers of all ages. It has the magic and gentle wit which makes a children’s book a classic.

Huge thanks to Hatchette Children’s for giving me a chance to read this ahead of publication via Netgalley. This does not affect the honesty of my review.