waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

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Synopsis (from Scholastic): 

Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, sixteen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet and into a world of moonlit cocktail parties and glamour beyond her wildest dreams. But, as she grows closer to the Cardews, is she abandoning her own ambitions… and is there something darker lurking at the heart of the Cardew family? A gorgeously dreamy coming-of-age romance set against a stunning Gatsby-esque backdrop, this is perfect for fans of I Capture the Castle and Eva Ibbotson.birdWhy I can’t Wait to read A Sky Painted Gold:

This sounds very Daphne Du Maurier. Big house mysteries were a core part of my diet as a teenager. I loved the blend of history, romance and mystery which the big house setting lends itself to, as well as the themes of social change and prejudice. 

Lou is a writer who appears to have conflict about her ambitions. It can be difficult to tell people your life’s ambition is to write a novel. People often think arts come fully-formed. Either you have the ability to write a novel already or you never will have. I’m looking forward to seeing a book which explores the conflicts faced by aspiring writers. 

I want to know whether there is something sinister about the Cardews. I enjoyed The Wren Hunt where a similar question was posed about a magical faction and the answer was more complex than I guessed from the outset. I love novels which make us question people’s motives.

Let’s face it – we all love cocktail parties and moonlit meetings on private beaches. We never learn. We’re all dreaming of Manderley.

Laura Wood is the author of the Poppy Pym series. Poppy Pym is a middle grade mystery series about a circus girl who finds herself in a boarding school. With four books in the series so far, Laura Wood has significant experience of writing mysteries. 

 

A Sky Painted Gold

Scholastic UK

July 2018

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Guest Post

Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour

ORPHAN MONSTER SPY BLOG TOUR GRAPHIC

Matt Killeen author photo.jpgToday is my stop on the Orphan Monster Spy blog tour. Protaganist Sarah is a good example of a female character who knows her own mind and makes her own decisions. Matt has written about his female heroes and today he celebrates singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. 

I’m so excited to welcome Matt to my blog. 

birdAlanis Morissette

 Alanis was not the first female artist to swear and tell it like it was. She wasn’t the first to complain about abuse in the music business in song. She wasn’t the first to scream and talk explicitly about sex and heartache. She wasn’t even the first person to play the harmonica that badly in a professional setting.

 Yet there was something about her that sounded genuinely new. There was virtually no analogy, metaphor or simile at work in most of her lyrics. She hopes that her ex-boyfriend feels her having sex with someone else. So that’s what she says.

 Again, it was not unique, but it was the moment when 33 million people stumped up £12 for Jagged Little Pill to hear her go for it over and over again. It was the point when the entire world decided it wanted to hear a woman speak, without any filter whatsoever, from the darkest and most transgressive of her desires and hatreds, to the wildest of her dreams and the most heinous of her wounds. All in so many words.

 Figuratively and lyrically she managed to exist simultaneously as “beautiful” and “ugly”, good and bad, equally comfortable with either, equally dismissive of both. She seemed so triumphant and so lost, so powerful and yet so vulnerable. Even her descriptions of sex manage to be detailed without being pornographic. And all this rendered complexity, all this terrifying, deep and murky raucousness was melodic, accessible and catchy. Perfect pop. It played the game, changed the rules and won.

 One of the few obfuscations on the album, using similes throughout, is the track that’s most dubiously derided. No, her examples aren’t ironic – but in fact, she doesn’t insist these things are ironic, she just asks us if that’s what we’d call them. It took me years to realise that it was all about meeting the man of her dreams and then meeting his wife…an event that left her lost for words. It’s an admission of weakness, so embarrassing that it can only have been true. What it probably was for a supposed former infatuation junkie, was typical.

 It was an album released by a woman – it appeared on Madonna’s Maverick label – when every other company had passed on it. It outsold her boss, the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses and even Adele hasn’t done better. It remains the 13th highest selling album of all time, the second best-selling album by any woman. That may not be meaningful – Shania Twain is number one after all – but it was the Wonder Woman of its day, proving conclusively that the public would stump up cash to hear a woman speak for herself.

 She suffered through all this to an extent and took a sharp turn in style in its aftermath. She became ever more introspective and concentrated on self-care to the detriment of her sales and arguably the quality and importance of her music. Certainly, her work no longer resonated with the numbers of people it had done.

 As a music journalist, I might bemoan the reasons behind her later choices. She once said of her change in intensity, that singing Jagged Little Pill live, night after night, hadn’t resolved anything for her but made her more angry. This suggests that she thought that it was supposed to be cathartic for her. She was the shaman, she was there to heal the tribe, not herself. Of course, there speaks that part of us all that likes our rock-stars to burn bright and then be a bit dead.

 As a fan, I could talk about the crushing disappointment of her meditative later material, or the fact that the 2005 acoustic version appeared to show someone who didn’t know what made her greatest achievement worth listening to.

 But as a feminist, she decided she was done. So that has to be good enough for me. Maybe what she gave us of herself should be enough for everyone. She was just a singer. She was not a spokesperson or shaman. She was just a woman. But wow, what a woman.

 

Thanks to Matt for your wonderful piece. Tomorrow’s stop is at Be My Anchor.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

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orphan monster spy

Synopsis:

Nazi Germany. Sarah is left an orphan when her mother is shot at a road block. Sarah puts her trust in a British Spy and agrees to play a vital part in his mission. She goes undercover as a German schoolgirl and attempts to befriend the daughter of an eminent scientist.

Sarah negotiates cruel teachers and school-girl bullies, all the while working to get herself and the Captain into the scientist’s house. Trapped in a world of lies Sarah does what she must to survive, but will she ever be protected by the adults around her?

A fast-moving thriller which poses deep questions about the rise of fascism.

birdReview:

Sarah will do anything to survive, even become the thing she hates. A dumb monster. The theme which affected me most was how ‘ordinary’ people’s behaviour allows the rise of fascism. The Captain makes a comment about the rise of the Nazis which is particularly pertinent in the modern day. A few years ago the Nazi party was just a few angry men in a beer hall. Although this is set in WW2 the themes it talks about are relevant today.  

Sarah’s relationship with her mother was clearly unhappy and this drives her to act. To prove herself. It is possibly also the reason she bonds with Captain. She is willing to trust anyone who will stay with her but isn’t necessarily the best judge of who to trust. The Captain has secrets of his own and there are things he doesn’t tell Sarah about her mission. I cared very much about Sarah and wanted her to find a safe place and someone she trusts. Her friendship with Maus is touching because Maus is someone Sarah forms a genuine bond with.   

The novel does a brilliant job of showing ways children might have been affected by the Nazi regime. Sarah lives in fear for her life. The school bullies have been brainwashed into believing things the regime says are true. Maus barely meets the standards set by the school. The novel clearly explores how fascism benefits some by taking from others.

A dark and compelling thriller which will keep readers hooked. If you like high-stakes thrillers this will keep you turning the pages.

Check out all the stops on the Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour:

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Chat · Lifestyle

7 things which brighten my February

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The tinsel is back in the loft but we’ve still got six weeks of winter. How does that even work out? Like many bloggers this week I am asking myself what is the point of February? Dark mornings. Dull skies. Rain. Endless rain.

We talk about seasons as if they are places we arrive at, fixed destinations when in fact the world is always turning. February is part of that cycle and it seems a pity that so many people want to put it on fast-forward. When I look past the rain there is really quite a lot to love about February. There lies the trick. The sun may not be shining right now but that doesn’t mean we create our own warmth.

This list is by no means exhaustive but here are some of the little things which brighten my world. What’s making your day brighter?bird

String lights: One reason January and February hit people hard is the post-Christmas blues. As winter rolls in we string up tinsel and fairy lights. Our houses twinkle and glitter throughout December. Why is it tradition to take those lights down in the darkest weeks of the year? 

String lights are cheap and cheerful and they bring back some of that festive glow. Suggestion: add string lights to a glass jar.

img_4807Book Post: Publishing people. I love you regardless of whether you send me post. You turn manuscripts into stories, you turn stories into masterpieces and you create something which genuinely makes the world a better place. You’re fantastic guys. BUT. When book post lands in my letter box it brightens my day. Every. Single. Time.

Migratory Geese: I live near a salt marsh. From October through to Spring we share our local area with migratory geese. Twice a day they fly past my house – on their way to feed and as they come in for the evening roost. Right now the geese are gathering ready for migration. This afternoon the sky filled with geese and it was the most beautiful sight.

img_3882Kitty Snuggles: Maisie comes to me when the house is quiet. She’s a Heffalump of a cat who rolls around when she wants a tickle. Willow is Little Miss Dainty Paws. She is a hunter, a burrower. Her favourite thing is to crawl beneath a blanket or dressing gown and snuggle right up to her chosen human. There is no doubt my girls play a big part in my life.

img_4881Cosy Boots: I don’t care what they look like on my feet. My booties are like a hug for my calves and feet. Cosy anything sounds about right. Onesies, leggings and bobble hats are all welcome here.

Bath stuffs: The Body Shop outlet sold off Christmas bubble bath in bundles. I kid you not. Our bathroom is all about frosted plum and vanilla chai. They smell so nice it is a wonder we ever emerge from our bubbly kingdoms.

 

Monty Don:  As much as I love the Solway it isn’t the sunniest place in the world. No worries – Monty Don is bringing paradise gardens right to my living room. Did you know pavilions came into being because nomadic people based them on tents? Dream fodder. 

 

What is brightening your world? Perhaps you enjoy the long, dark nights? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Guest Post · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Kelly McCaughrain – Author of Flying Tips For Flightless Birds

kellymccaughrainbannerFlying Tips For Flightless Birds is one of my favourite books of 2018. It has everything: memorable characters, themes everybody can relate to and bucketfuls of humour. If you love contemporary YA look no further. This one is special. Kelly McCaughrain has kindly agreed to tell me some more about the story. Huge thanks to Kelly for your time and insight into the novel. I totally love your answers! 

About the book:

img_4989Finch and Birdie Franconi are from a circus family. Now the family business is in trouble, it is up to the twins to save it with their flying trapeze act. The twins are also a double-act at school. It has never mattered to Finch that everybody calls him a freak, because he and Birdie have always done their own thing.

When Birdie suffers a terrible accident, Finch must find a new double-act if he is going to save the family circus school. Can Finch overcome his feelings about school and new-boy Hector? Will he ever get over James Keane? Can Hector’s Dad accept the son he has?

A warm and witty YA novel about sexuality and identity.

Check out my full review here. birdQ and A:

Hi Louise, thanks for having me on your lovely blog! This is my very first blog interview so I’m very excited!
Your story deals with a teenager’s feelings around coming out. What were your priorities in writing a coming out narrative?

My priority was never to write a coming-out story, it was to write a love story. But the very unfair fact is, if you’re going to write about a young-teen LGBT romance then coming out is probably going to feature because it just does in real life. It’s the unavoidable roadblock in the way of your first relationship, and I think it’s hugely unfair that if you don’t come out, then you don’t get to do the teen romance thing like all your peers, or certainly not in the same way. I remember telling my parents I’d been asked on my first date by a boy, and that was hard enough (it was awful!), because you’re basically admitting private things about yourself – you like someone, you’re thinking romantic thoughts – things that are really no one’s business. It must be so much worse if you think your parents might react really badly.

So I knew it was going to feature coming out and I did feel strongly that I wanted the characters to be young. I wanted them to get started on their love lives at the same time as all their peers, not in late adolescence or university or even later, which is the case in many novels about coming out. If there was a priority, it was maybe that.

But beyond that, I didn’t really have conscious ‘priorities’ in mind. I wanted it to be sensitive and realistic, but I’d have wanted that for any story, LGBT or not. The whole point is that Finch’s feelings are no different to any teenage boy, so I didn’t try to approach the story any differently than I would that of a straight kid, and I didn’t think about it too much while I was writing it.

 

 

Birdie has an accident part way through the narrative. What does this mean to Finch (beyond stress and fear for his sister)?

Finch and Birdie are not only brother and sister, they are twins and trapeze partners, which means their lives really revolve around each other and always will. So Birdie’s accident has huge ramifications for Finch in that sense.

I’ve always found twins interesting. I’m not sure I’d have liked to have one because I’m a bit of a loner, but on the other hand, it might be like having a built-in best friend. But it must be weird if your identity is built around being one half of a pair; twins are so often known as ‘The Twins’, even within their own families. How do you know who you are by yourself?

And I think that period when teenagers start dating must be especially weird for twins who are close, because it’s the beginning of a process of separation. Birdie’s accident is the start of that process for Finch, and it’s the start of him discovering who he is and who he can be without her.

 

 

Birdie expresses her feelings through a blog. Why did you choose to tell her part of the story through blog posts?

I chose to let Birdie speak through a blog partly to differentiate her voice from Finch’s, and partly because it felt like a very natural way to impart all that information about circuses. Finch and Birdie wouldn’t sit around talking about circuses, that wouldn’t have felt natural. And if I’d just made Birdie tell the reader all that stuff directly, it would have been boring. But writing it as blog posts meant I could make it entertaining, funny, and believable. So structurally, it was very useful.

But the main reason I used the blog was that, although a lot of the posts appear to be about circus history, in fact Birdie is using them to describe her feelings about her role in the circus. It’s her sneaky way of telling Finch some things he needs to hear but doesn’t want to hear. I think it’s a strange phenomenon that, even though the internet is so public, it can be easier to say things online than in person, because it feels sort of anonymous. It’s also probably what I’d do if I had something important or difficult to say to someone. I’d prefer to put it in writing than try to have a conversation about it, I just find writing easier than talking.

 

 

Please can you tell us more about why you chose a circus setting? What does it represent within your story?

I love circuses. I’ve been trying to learn to juggle since I was 16 and I’m still crap at it (I have infinite sympathy for Hector). I love the atmosphere of circuses and the more I read about them, the more I admire them.

The reason people run away and join the circus is that they have always been a place for outsiders.  Circuses have been around since the 18th century, when social roles were even more rigid than they are today. People who were severely limited in mainstream society – women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities or disfigurements, people of colour, people from poor backgrounds – could not only have a career in the circus, but be the star of the show.  Talent and hard work were all that mattered. 

It was no utopia, of course. The life was rough, they worked hard for their money, they could never settle down, there were sometimes violent clashes with local people or rival circuses, but it must have been preferable to many people than life in the mainstream.  Perhaps because they got to be themselves.

In Flying Tips, the circus is a refuge for Finch because it is a completely accepting space. He is loved there for his uniqueness, whereas at his high school he’s rejected because he’s not exactly like everyone else.

 

Finch is hung up on popularity, and sometimes forgets to value his friends. Please can you tell us more about why you chose to give him this flaw?

I don’t think Finch ever wanted to be the most popular boy in school, but when he experienced rejection by someone he cared about, he reacted by going in the opposite direction and deliberately making himself a total outsider. But really I think he was just hurt, and the reason he tends to be unfriendly is that he’s trying to keep people at a distance because he’s afraid to trust anyone else in case he gets hurt again.  It can be brave to step outside the mainstream and be a loner, but it can sometimes be even braver to let people into your life.

 

Quickfire/Fun: –

  • Which role would you choose in the circus?

I’d be torn between Trapeze and Clown. I honestly think Clown would be harder and more rewarding.

  • Finch and Birdie wear some amazing outfits. What would your most daringKelly McCaughrain Vintageoutfit look like?I love vintage! This is a picture of me at a Jubilee party wearing a tea-dress, stockings and a 1940s headscarf. (Can I stress that the cigarette was part of the costume, I do not smoke!!!) But, unlike Birdie, I wouldn’t dress like that every day, because hair and make up are so time consuming! Actually, I think if I was really brave, I’d just wear men’s clothes all the time because they’re so comfy.
  • Hector’s clowning draws attention to himself in a good way. What would you like to be noticed for?

My writing. I have lots of hobbies, but I’ve never truly cared about being very good at anything except writing.

 

Chat · Lifestyle

What’s affecting your productivity?

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I saw this idea over at The Everygirl and wanted to write my own thoughts about productivity. Which habits make us less productive? Let me stress – this is not a lecture. The most difficult thing about Social Media is seeing other people’s apparently impossible standards. Comparing yourself to a curated image will never make you feel better.  This post is designed for people who would like to get more out of their creative sessions but who don’t know how to turn their procrastination into work time.

Lots of posts exist about procrastination. Most of them will tell you that horrible truth. The golden rule: only you can put that work in. Some advice posts leave you there. You’ve had the lecture, you know the score and the rest is up to you. OK … but I think we all encounter these difficulties and we learn along the way. One person’s solution will be different from another. The key is to identify which behaviour is currently detrimental to your work ethic. 

Which habits stop you from getting the most out of your work time? Here is my list of ideas: birdPetty distractions:

  • Set a time or a work-goal for tea breaks and stick to it. If this is a regular time it will become habit, and you will find it easier to stick to.
  • Limit what you eat and drink during working time. Which foods distract you? Is it choosing a sugary snack or munching your way through the nut selection? Cut it from your working time or limit it to one portion a day. I will eat chocolate to procrastinate, but only eat healthy stuff if I am hungry.
  • Set social media times. Keep your phone out of reach and work with the internet off if you possibly can.
  • Get real – is it a job or another distraction? It is easy to convince yourself you need to type that email, respond to that comment and do your online shopping but if you are serious about your goals you need to give them time.
  • Don’t panic if you get distracted! Don’t berate yourself. Again, please let me stress these are not rules. Nobody can be perfect all the time. The worst thing you could do is go back to work in a negative frame of mind.

 

Vague goals and unrealistic objectives:

My rule of thumb: if I am flicking on to social media on a regular basis, my writing goal is probably too vague. Every writer – published and unpublished, fiction writer, blogger or journalist – learns that there is only one way to fill the blank screen. That doesn’t mean you should sit staring aimlessly at it for hours. If you aren’t typing, ask yourself why. Is it because you need a clearer plan for the next paragraphs? Because you haven’t made enough notes? If so take it back to the drawing board.

Make your plans realistic within the time available. The desperation to be better and achieve more has killed many creatives before they have started. If you have an hour you will not be producing half a novel. Or a beautiful new blog. You might write a draft a decent blog post or write 1000 words. Know from experience how much you are likely to achieve.

 

Not taking time for yourself:

We have six books to review. We want that novel drafted. We want to improve our photography or our web-design skills. We need to respond to our social media. Sometimes this thing called real life gets in the way too. Guys … there will never be enough time in the day, but if you work work work you will burn out.

  • Set a finish time. Excepting Fridays, my internet is supposed to go off at 8pm. I need some hours in the day where I am not in contact with the giant web of information.
  • Allow you-time. Blogging and writing are hobbies, but if you aspire to turn them into a career, odds are you’re working hard at them. Make sure you factor in down-time.
  • You-time is not for planning. I’ve spoken to lots of bloggers who are like me. INFJ-types. Over-thinkers. You have to allow yourself head space. If you find this difficult try some meditation techniques or ‘active rest’ (engage your brain in something repetitive like cross-stitch or Sudoku.)
  • Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. You need sleep to function. You need sleep to think. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

 

Which are your worst habits? How do you overcome them? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

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Synopsis:

Finch and Birdie Franconi are from a circus family. Now the family business is in trouble, it is up to the twins to save it with their flying trapeze act. The twins are also a double-act at school. It has never mattered to Finch that everybody calls him a freak, because he and Birdie have always done their own thing.

When Birdie suffers a terrible accident, Finch must find a new double-act if he is going to save the family circus school. Can Finch overcome his feelings about school and new-boy Hector? Will he ever get over James Keane? Can Hector’s Dad accept the son he has?

A warm and witty YA novel about sexuality and identity.

birdReview:

This novel is as good as Meg Rosoff at her finest. A fresh and honest look at teenage life, and explored issues of sexuality and identity.

Finch Franconi’s safe place is circus school. He feels out of place everywhere else, especially at secondary school where he falls prey to the taunting comments of people like Kitty and James. Since an incident of bullying in his first year, Finch has orchestrated his own ‘act’. He dresses to be different, gives snarky remarks and generally acts as if he is a cut above his class mates. My heart bled for Finch, because I was exactly like him as a teenager. His issues didn’t come from nowhere. He has a really grotty time at school between the comments and the people refusing to spend a minute with him, but his reaction is to withdraw. To assume anybody who approaches him is against him. Kelly McCaughrain’s depiction of school life is so observant it is like watching footage from a hidden camera. She picks up on the way kids feel and how this affects their behaviour.

Circus School is the only place where a lot of the characters feel safe. We know from page one that it is under threat, and this keeps us turning the pages. There is a second question set up early on: will Finch get together with Hector? Finch isn’t exactly in denial about his sexuality, but he has issues with being open about it. Hector’s Dad is another obstacle between the boys. Where Finch’s parents are more relaxed about his sexuality than he is, Hector’s Dad doesn’t want him to make life difficult for himself.

Birdie sets up a blog toattract more people to Circus School. She schedules lots of posts before her accident. It is lovely to see a YA book where kids have a regular social media presence. Lots of teens on Twitter have said this is something they feel is too often left out of YA because it is not part of life adults want to depict. They have talked about social media being a large part of their lives. Like Editing Emma, Flying Tips For Flightless Birds picks up on the way people express themselves through blogging and social media.

This book is so lovely and warm and humorous. Finch can be deprecating but he is witty and observant and I laughed so many times just because something was a perfect representation of life. This is the book I needed when I was fifteen and it is one I will reread for the sheer joy.

 

Huge thanks to Walker YA and Kelly McCaughrain for my ARC of Flying Tips For Flightless Birds. Check back on Saturday when I will publish a Q and A with the lovely Kelly McCaughrain.