Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author content from Victoria Williamson


I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, a lyrical middle-grade novel about friendship and tolerance. It is the story of Caylin and Reema, who meet on a Glaswegian council estate when they care for an injured fox and her cubs. 

Author Victoria Williamson has written a guest post about animals, and how they bring us together. Thank you, Victoria for your time. birdAnimal Friends 


Rabbits 1
Young Victoria with her rabbits

Like most children, I spent years begging my parents for a dog when I was growing up. “It doesn’t need to be a big one,” I’d say, “A little one would do, and I’d walk it every day and feed it and clean up after it and…” My parents knew better than to take my word for it though, and eventually got me a lower-maintenance rabbit instead. I called him Sam, after Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, and soon he was joined by Hazel, a female version of the Watership Down character, and her sister Katy from the What Katy Did series. It didn’t take long for three rabbits to become seven, then twelve, then…


Despite the extra work involved in looking after so many rabbits, who seemed to appear despite our very best efforts to keep the males and females apart, I was thrilled by the new arrivals. It wasn’t just because the baby rabbits were so cute, it was because of the new friends they helped me make. Like many aspiring writers, I was a shy teenager who lacked confidence in talking to people at school. But the baby rabbits brought classmates to our garden in droves, and people who had never spoken to me before in school were happy to chat away as they stroked the soft fur of the tiny rabbits they’d heard about through the grapevine.

That was my first lesson in the power that animals have to bring people together and forge new friendships, and it’s one I never forgot. Animals appeared regularly in my own stories, from the first trilogy I wrote about a clan of foxes living in a forest under threat from a pack of wolves, to a monkey sidekick in a pirate book and a wombat companion in a distant planet colony.

It was a family of urban foxes in my debut novel though, that really reflected my own early experience of animals providing an opportunity to make friends with people I previously thought I had little in common with. In The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, Reema and Caylin couldn’t seem more different. Caylin’s a Glaswegian school bully, all defensive and prickly-edged on the outside, but lonely and longing to make a connection to other people on the inside. Reema’s a Syrian Muslim refugee, homesick and resentful at the war that’s uprooted her family and stolen the big brother she adores. When the girls first meet their reaction to each other is mistrust and unease. It isn’t until they find an injured urban fox and her family in the back garden of their apartment building that they discover a shared purpose, and eventually forge a strong friendship.

Most people are familiar with the idea that a pet is not just a companion in the home, but a great way to break the ice with strangers. People who would normally stride on past when out on a walk are happy to stop and say hello, smiling at a dog and asking it questions directly that are really meant for the human owners. A purring cat curled up in your lap is one of the quickest shortcuts to feeling at home in a stranger’s house, and even a less cuddly tortoise or a hamster can provide endless topics to discuss when the conversation starts to flag.

Why do people so often feel more at ease talking to animals than to humans? And why do Caylin and Reema initially find it so much easier to make friends with a fox and her cubs than they do with each other? I think one of the reasons for this that animals are multicultural – with Hurriyah there is no language barrier to cross and no sense of being judged for being different. Caylin and Reema can just be themselves around Hurriyah and tell her what they’re thinking and feeling without the stigma of the labels other people apply to them. With the foxes, Caylin is no longer ‘the bully’, ‘the girl with the lisp’, or ‘the girl who doesn’t wash her clothes’, and Reema isn’t ‘the refugee’, ‘the Muslim’ or ‘that girl with the headscarf.’ They are just themselves – two girls who, when all of the surface differences are stripped away, are more alike than they realise. Both have suffered loss, both care about their family more than anything, and both have a real passion for running.

Their willingness to care for the foxes eventually morphs into a willingness to care for each other, and by the end of the book it becomes clear that rescuing Hurriyah, the fox called ‘Freedom’, is a metaphor for the girls’ struggles to overcome their own difficult circumstances together. In literature and in real life, animals often help us see past our own differences, and making friends with one can often lead to us befriending another person who is more like us than we could ever have imagined.


Check out the other stops on the tour: 




Chat: Do Second-Hand Books Always Find The Perfect Home?

second hand bannerimg_5743

Do unloved books find the right home?

On Thursday 10th May, Mum and I went to see the Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. Aside from loving Michiel Huisman, I was taken by a single line. Huisman’s character Dawsey Adams came into possession of a book which once belonged to writer Juliet. Dawsey describes books as being like ‘homing pigeons’. He suggests an unloved book will find its way into the right hands.

Dawsey has never sorted books in a charity shop.

I did this for eighteen months in my early 20s. The first time I was told to chuck something in the ‘rag box’ I had palpitations. The rag box is something between the dustbin and the shop floor. Books consigned to the rag box weren’t sold. A company bought them for pence, fished out the treasures, and sold the rest on Amazon. We ragged dog-eared books, out of date reference-books, and a dozen copies of The Da Vinci Code every session. If it broke me the first time, it soon became automatic. I consigned books to their fate without thinking.

Knowing about ragging makes it difficult to believe books find their perfect home. It sounds idealistic. 

Except that line in the film spoke to me. 

If I have been the person who threw books into the rag box, I have also been the person who bought a double-copy of a childhood favourite because I couldn’t bear for it to go unwanted. I have carried boxes of books home from clearance sales. At 16, I refused to hand my GCSE poetry anthology back because I didn’t want it to go to someone who failed to appreciate its contents. (Thank you to the teacher on duty that day who let me keep it. My love of Carol Ann Duffy began with that book.)

Many of the books I ragged would have been sold on by another company. Maybe the rag box was just a place along the way. Part of the book’s journey to the perfect owner.

A second-hand book can be more than a homing pigeon returned to roost. It can be a soulmate. A lifelong companion. I don’t know that every book finds its ideal owner, but I too have come into possession of books and felt it was meant to be. I have dusted them down and stroked their spines and created the perfect place on my shelves.

When unloved books find the right home, they find a place in someone’s heart.


Louise Nettleton

Has the perfect book ever found you? Let me know in the comments below.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Secrets Of the Mountain by Libby Walden and Richard Jones


A day in the life of one mountain. A beautiful picture book which explores mountain wildlife and terrain.

Observant and atmospheric, this picture book is like a day on the mountain. It shows the changing light, from dawn to dusk, and introduces the different animals which can be found on the mountain.

img_5679The text is spare. Not a single word is wasted. Walden introduces the time of day, the animal species and gives an example of their behaviours. Eagles soar from their nests at dawn, Pikas stir on the slopes and a wolverine prowls the foothills. This introduces vocabulary to describe the different areas of a mountain, it introduces animal-species and it would be useful for talking about times of the day.

Richard Jones is a master. Anyone who read my review of The Snow Lion knows he is one of my favourite artists. He captures the movement and nature of the animals, and his landscapes are brought to life with texture and different shades of colour. His palette and style are soft and calming.

img_5680I love the format of the book. The varied layout keeps things interesting. On some spreads, there are smaller pictures at the bottom of every page. Sometimes a picture runs across the double-page spread, while at others there are two separate pictures. An index at the back names every animal featured in the book. This will make a great spotting game and turns the book into a work of non-fiction as well as a standard picture-book.   

A beautiful introduction to mountain wildlife and a soothing bedtime story. This picture book is a work of art.


Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Little Tiger Press and Beth F for my copy of Secrets Of The Mountain. Opinions my own.

Chat · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: I Was Born For This By Alice Oseman


I Was Born For This is the latest novel by Alice Oseman, whose contemporary YA novels have attracted a dedicated following. It is the story of two teenagers, Angel and Jimmy, who are brought together by their dedication to a pop-rock trio. 

Alice Oseman has shared her favourite tracks across the blog tour, and I am delighted to share one of my own favourite songs. 


Alice Oseman: Friends (feat. Bon Iver) – Francis and the Lights

This is such a pure song and really captures some of the warmer elements of I Was Born for This – the deep friendships between The Ark boys and the somewhat rocky but genuinely supportive friendship between Angel and Juliet. This song has such happy vibes but there’s also something ethereal about all the electronic sounds and voices layered over each other. Plus, Bon Iver is my all-time favourite band, so I had to have them in the playlist somewhere.


Louise (Book Murmuration): The Northstar Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny

How can you not love it with a title like that?

Folk music is something I share with my Dad. It is my musical inheritance and plays a part in some of my nicest memories – outdoor concerts and festivals, and running through Dad’s collection on 8-hour car journeys. 

TNGatR is enigmatic. Both the music and the lyrics conjure images of escape and adventure and mystery.

All upon the shore for to wonder why the sailor goes/All to close their eyes and wonder what the sailor knows. 

It is music to dream to. 


Big thanks to Alice Oseman for your content, and to Nina Douglas for organising the blog tour. I Was Born For This is out now.

Middle Grade Reviews

Reviews: New books for younger middle-grade readers


Arlo, Mrs Ogg and The Dinosaur Zoo by Alice Hemming

Maverick Arts Publishing

Headteacher Mrs Weebly says Class 4X are unruly, disobedient and downright unteachable. When yet another teacher leaves, Mrs Weebly gives 4X an ultimatum – one more incident and there will be no end-of-term-party.

Then Mrs Ogg arrives, and she is unlike any teacher 4X has had before. She takes them on a trip to the zoo, except it is no ordinary zoo. It is a dinosaur zoo.

A lovely chapter book which reminded me of Mr Majeika. A class of children comes together under the leadership of a less-than-normal teacher. This will be popular with children who dream of having an adventure instead of an ordinary school day. I love the illustrations and design.


img_5701Dino Wars – Rise Of The Raptors by Dan Metcalf

Maverick Arts Publishing

The dinosaurs have won the war.

Adam Caine lives in Bastion – a city of bunkers which is home to human survivors and peace-loving dinosaurs. He has his friends accidentally activate and old biological weapon. It is up to them to find four energy-giving crystals to stop the weapon from destroying every dinosaur on the planet.

Problem is, there are dinosaurs to fight too.

An intriguing dystopia for the very youngest readers. This would be lovely for newly confident readers who are ready for a more involved plot. Although I have read similar quest stories, I was impressed by how suited this was to younger middle-grade readers. The main characters make a great team, and I love the set-up and backstory.



img_5710Rose’s Dress Of Dreams by Katherine Woodfine

Little Gems (Barrington Stoke)

Rose dreams of beautiful dresses. Dresses made of whipped cream, and butterflies and woven starlight. Nobody understands about Rose’s dresses. They say such things are impossible. Then Rose meets the Princesse de Conti and is given a chance to make the dress of her dreams.

A book so beautiful it feels as if it has been sprinkled in fairy-dust. This is a gentle fairy tale, inspired by the real-life story of Marie Antoinette’s favourite dressmaker. I love the descriptions of material and dresses. If you loved the Tailor of Gloucester for its taffeta and silk twist, you will adore this.


img_5707McTavish Goes Wild  by Meg Rosoff

Barrington Stoke

Where will the Peachy family go for their holiday?

Betty Peachy wants to go camping, and Ma knows the perfect place, but Pa Peachey, Ollie, and Ava show no interest in the great outdoors. It is up to rescue dog McTavish to bring the family together so they can enjoy their holiday as a family.

Rescue dog McTavish watches as the holiday unfolds. One disaster follows another until the family is totally fed-up. This has a lovely, light sense of humour. There are running jokes throughout the story, such as Ava’s obsession with philosophy.  The reader becomes familiar with these jokes until they feel like part of the family. McTavish is the underdog who is wiser than the humans. We know the solution rests with him.  


img_5704Mummy Fairy And Me by Sophie Kinsella

Puffin Books 

When Ella’s Mummy says the magic word marshmallow, she turns into Mummy Fairy. 

Mummy’s Computawand does all sorts of amazing things, but sometimes the spells go a little bit wrong. Like conjuring up a cow instead of a pint of milk, or giving the cleaning things a mind of their own. When the spells go wrong, fairy-in-waiting Ella comes to the rescue. 

This is a cute and relatable fantasy. It shows how, for a young family, everyday chores can become havoc. I think lots of parents have wished at times for a magical wand, never once thinking that magic might make things a thousand times worse. I love the mini-me Mummy-and-daughter team. 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Puffin Books for sending copies of the books to review. Opinions my own.


Chat: Introverts Make Great Bloggers



You don’t have to be a social butterfly to blog. 

Introverts. The dictionary definition of ‘introvert’ is a shy and reticent person. In my opinion, this is a narrow definition. Anybody who enjoys their own company and unwinds by being alone is an introvert.

When I figured there were other introverts, I realised being one wasn’t a bad thing. 

Blogs – especially lifestyle blogs – can give the impression that everybody in the blogosphere is confident and sociable. From blogging squads to pictures of beautiful people at parties, it can be easy for introverts to think that blogging is not something they would be successful at.

This impression is misleading. Blogging has plenty to offer introverts, and introverts have plenty to bring to blogging. 

Blogging starts with a computer. That makes a difference. To be successful at blogging, you need to network.  With online networking, there is less instant judgment, and we are screened from people’s reactions. Although I am an awkward conversationalist, I find online conversations easier. Networks are built on shared interest. This makes it easier for introspective people to share their thoughts. 

The second thing which helps is the chance to edit. Before I post this, I will read this over and think about what I have said. I have a chance to change my thoughts. Even in a fast-paced Twitter chat, I take a moment to scan over what I have said before I press ‘send’.  Every picture I take goes through my quality-control before it reaches my audience. Unlike in face-to-face situations, blogging and social-media allow us to edit our thoughts before we share. 

Blogging helped me to find like-minded people. Bookish people. Kidlitters. Aspiring writers. It is not that I dislike company, but I am so happy in the company of a book that I sometimes forget to seek out other people. It turns out we can be bookish together. Literary festivals have become popular on this principle, that we can make a party of reading, and book-buying and talking about our favourite books. My blogging friends have added value to my life, and their conversation has added value to my reading. 

Reading blogs might give you the impression that bloggers are outgoing party-people, but creating one teaches you that blogging is about hard work and editing. Introverts can thrive in a world where self-motivation and reflective feedback are key.


Louise Nettleton

Would you describe yourself as an introvert? Do you think introverts make great bloggers? Let me know in the comments below. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Big Book Of The Blue by Yuval Zommer


One fish, two fish, and an entire ocean of amazing creatures. Read all about them in this amazing and beautifully-illustrated book from Yuval Zommer.

This is not a heavy information guide. Instead it combines facts with artwork to capture children’s imaginations. Did you know that a krill has a see-through body, so you can see it digesting last night’s dinner? Did you know that an octopus has three hearts? These bite-sized snippets of information will make children curious and motivated to learn about life under the sea.


The first double page spread outlines different families of sea creatures. Most of the following double-page spreads are dedicated to individual species of sea life. Towards the end, there is some information about the different layers of the ocean, and the impact human activity is having on sea life. I was particularly pleased to see the latter included. What better time to talk about the way we treat the world than when a child has developed a growing love of wildlife?

There is also a useful page at the back which defines terms for young readers. Instead of being called a glossary, it is presented as a way to brush up your skills for talking to oceanographers. This simple difference will draw in many more readers. This is an inspired way to present definitions.

The illustrations are divine. They demonstrate how many shades and colours there are in the ‘big blue’. Short sentences at the side of each page offer creative descriptions of the sea. This provides a variety of words which could be used in creative writing – bet you didn’t think of the word ‘slicing’ to describe the movement of a fish.


 I love the STEAM approach. For those of you who don’t know, there has been a big push towards encouraging STEM subjects (that’s science, technology, information and maths). STEAM puts the arts back into STEM. This is the kind of book which shows exactly why this works. The arts explore and define the world, making people curious and hungry to think.

A sneaky sardine is hidden in different places throughout the book. This hide-and-seek game will keep people flicking. It is great to see factual books engaging the reader’s natural sense of play.

Exactly what a children’s information book should be: engaging, beautiful and packed with facts.


Louise Nettleton



Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: You’re Safe With Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry



It is bedtime in the Indian forest. Tonight, there is a storm, and the little animals can’t sleep. Mama Elephant is on hand to reassure them with her wisdom and her calming words. The little animals fall asleep under Mama Elephant’s gentle watch. 

A soothing and gentle story. Repetition and rhythm are employed to great effect, and the calming voice of Mama Elephant speaks for parents everywhere with her constant refrain of you’re safe with me. 

img_5189Stories on this subject usually end with a reformed child who sees that there was never any need to be afraid. You’re Safe With Me does something better. It shows children that it is OK to be afraid, but tells them they are safe all the same. Mama Elephant also explains the reasons behind thunder and lightning and rain, but the reader is left to make their own mind up about whether this is still frightening or not. This is far more powerful than telling children not to be afraid. It gives them the information to gradually reshape their views. 

I love the integration of science and art. There has been a push in recent years towards STEM-based subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). Leaving art out of the equation does great harm. Art is all about human experience, and for children to want to understand the reasons behind weather, they must understand situations in which weather might be experienced. You’re Safe With Me shows to great effect that art and science can work hand-in-hand. 

img_5191Poonman Mistry’s illustrations are divine. They are influenced by Indian fabrics and paintings, which rely heavily on pattern. This style captures the movement of weather – clouds building and grass swaying and water running. The book is a visual treat.  I can see children and parents tracing their fingers over the illustrations to describe what is happening. 

One of the most innovative and beautiful picture books I have seen in a long time. A stunning achievement. 


Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy of You’re Safe With Me. Opinions my own.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: Chitra Soundar


Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books worldwide. Many of her books her inspired by Indian myths and legends.

Her latest book, You’re Safe With Me, tells the story of a group of animals who are afraid of a thunderstorm. A wise elephant shares her knowledge of the weather and reassures the little animals that they are safe under her watch. 

I was able to ask Chitra some questions about the story, and I am delighted to share her answers.bird

What was the starting point for your story?

The story came to me as an image – a mother elephant rocking little animals in her trunk. And I wanted to find out what her story was.


What were the main influences?

This story is drenched (the pun is fully intended) in my experiences of the thunderstorm. The crash of thunder, flashes of lightning and the relentless downpour is etched in my deep subconscious. And of course the image of a gentle elephant has stayed with me from my childhood.


How do you see Mama Elephant’s role?

This story began with my experience as a storyteller. I wanted the main character Mama Elephant to be a storyteller who would explain scary things in a poetic way.

She plays the role of my grandmother in my life – reassuring, poetic and imaginative.


Why did you choose to include a refrain?

In the first version of the story, I didn’t have a refrain. And the title was different too.

Then as the story found its rhythm, and as I found the voice of Mama Elephant, I knew she had to reassure them that she’d be there no matter what. She not only explains the fearful elements and makes them less scary, but she acknowledges their fears and makes them feel safe.


Your story offers children scientific explanations in a very poetic way. What role do you think art has in helping children learn about the natural world?

Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Children identify with animals and nature – whether it’s Goodnight Moon or baby owls. They want to know how animals do bedtime, eat their food and go to school.

Children put themselves in the character’s place – like the little animals in You’re Safe With Me and they mirror the fears of the characters and they empathize with the characters.

Whether it was thousands of years ago around the fire, to teach children the dangers of predators or today we tell stories about thunderstorms, the purpose of stories is to give us a frame of reference to relate to this world. Through stories we learn about our natural world and our place in it. We learn to respect and live in harmony with the world around us.


I love the personification of the natural world. Why did you use personification?

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I grew up thinking of nature as living beings. Like the Greeks we have gods associated with each element and we respect them, fear them and acknowledge their place in the natural world.

For this story, the underlying theme was empathy and alternate perspectives. I wanted the little animals to understand the working of the elements and not fear them.


Many thanks to Chitra Soundar for your time. You’re Safe With Me is available now from Lantana Publishing.

Short Story

Blog Tour: Nothing Is As It Was [short story anthology]

Climate Change Cover

A child is inspired into action by watching their hero. A mother is forced to choose between goats and cattle when the water runs out. From seas to wildfire, Nothing Is As It Was brings together short stories and flash fiction on the theme of environmental damage.

I love the range of stories this anthology offers. New and upcoming authors. Flash fiction and short story. Voices from around the world. Given the global nature of environmental crisis, it is good to have as wide a range of voices as possible.  

Issues explored range from overfished seas to flooding, wildfire to plastic pollution. One message which recurred across the anthology was there is only a finite amount of time in which we can make a difference, and that time is running out. The anthology doesn’t take an upbeat approach to environmentalism. Instead, it asks people to imagine different possible scenarios. By showing possible futures it invites the reader to change the present.     

One of my favourite stories was Mirror Image by Anna Orridge. Mirror Image is about the point of no return and has a really interesting structure. It is split into two sections, offering two possible realities. In the first section, a soft-play centre has been repurposed to grow plants. In the second section we follow the same family to the same soft-play area, but this time they are looting for any remaining food. The world is decimated. The familiarity of a day at a play-centre will give this story particular resonance with many readers.

Another favourite was The Goodluck Camera by Kimberley Christensen. A Westerner claims her archeology will bring good luck to an area of poverty. It explores Western attitudes towards third-world countries, and I loved the idea of a camera which could take pictures of what is buried beneath the soil.

Cli-Fi is not a genre I have read widely, but I would be interested to explore it further. There are some strong voices working in this area, and the message of this anthology got under my skin.


Thanks to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour, and for my ebook of Nothing Is As It Was. Opinions my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour:

Nothing Is As it Was Blog Tour poster .jpg