blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Alice Oseman on Illustrating ‘Penguins’

While I’ve been drawing my own characters and comics for years, I’d never tried illustrating someone else’s story until Proud. I was so excited to be invited to illustrate one of the many incredible stories in Juno Dawson’s LGBTQ+ anthology and was even more excited to discover I’d be illustrating Simon James Green’s story, ‘Penguins’, having read and loved Simon’s Noah Can’t Even duology.

The first thing I did was read Simon’s story without thinking too much about how I’d illustrate it. I, of course, loved it! After that, I read it again, this time much more carefully, thinking about which parts would make a good illustration and what sorts of images could properly express the feelings of the story. It’s such a sweet, romantic, adorkable story that I quickly decided that I had to draw the two main characters, Cam and Aaron, and I knew that would suit my own strengths too, as my artwork is mostly characters and cartoons.

I spent a couple of days trying out some sketches. I highlighted the parts of the story that revealed little bits about the boys’ physical appearances, but mostly I was left to my imagination, so I tried to capture their personalities – Cam’s awkwardness and Aaron’s shyness!

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After that, I sketched out a couple of composition ideas. I knew I wanted to create a comic page, as that’s what I love drawing above all things, and I had decided that I wanted to draw the kiss at the end of the story, as that was my favourite part, and I suspected would be many readers’ favourite part.

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Once I’d decided on my final composition, I got to work drawing it with my graphics tablet into Photoshop. I spent a few days working on it and I’m so happy with the result. And it’s incredibly exciting to see my illustration in a book!

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A huge thanks to Alice Oseman for your time and for sharing your sketches.

Many thanks to Charlie from Stripes Publishing for arranging this opportunity as part of a promotional blog tour.

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blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock.

Blog Tour: The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock.

boywhoflew.jpgAithan Wilde is a dreamer and an inventor. He would rather work for a scientist or an inventor who is always reaching to see what might be possible than settle down and take what his grandmother would call a respectable job. 

When his inventor friend Mr Chen is murdered, Aithan must find the flying machine they were building. There are other people looking for it too, and a reward is offered for the first person to build a machine capable of staying in the air. 

This a story with twists and turns. It is set in a gloriously creepy past. Think cobbled streets and fear of knowledge and gentlemen with guns. Fleur Hitchcock has never shied away from the horror of murder, and this book is no exception. This is perfect for readers who like a bit of gore with their crime fiction. 

I was given a chance to ask Fleur Hitchcock a question, and I was curious to know what inspired the machines in her story. I am delighted to share her answer with you. Thank you, Fleur H for your time and for the insight into your work. 

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Guest Post by author Fleur Hitchcock. 

We had some odd books in our house. Not really picture books, but books with pictures. We had a book of early aeroplanes. Huge and incomprehensible to a child, but somehow very pretty. 

We had a book of Rowland Emmett cartoons, and many books of Heath Robinson, and we had Professor Branestawn. I think I was always interested in the drawings – rather than the engineering, but found myself drawn towards the inventions themselves, and the possibilities that they offered, the promises they made.  I kept this up by reading Tintin and then immersing myself in DC comics – Batman’s utility belt was soooo exciting.

And gradually as I moved further into words I began to understand the descriptions of the machines imagined, and sought them out in books, from the Alethiometer of His Dark Materials to the Time Turner in Harry Potter, I found the doors that these machines opened a little dangerous, and infinitely thrilling.

It happened that in my non-book life, I ran a gallery, where I sold automata – mechanical toys – and was, some years ago, commissioned to research ancient invention.  I discovered ancient civilisations were much more technologically advanced than I had realised.  The Middle East was full of time pieces and automated statues and sculpture. Heron of Alexandria invented a machine that could roll onto a stage, play out several scenes with puppets and roll off again.  It was run entirely by sand, and he did this in 10 AD.  There were all the awful machines of war, used by the Greeks and the Romans.  There were the complicated stone door mechanisms of the Egyptians, and clever ways of getting water up from the sand into cities.  I found that the Chinese invented tonnes of things, compasses, gunpowder and they really messed around with the possibilities of flight.  Some of it rather horribly as punishment, and some of it for the advancement of humankind.

I found out that everyone, ever has seen new invention as both threatening, and exciting, and that people always wanted to own it, or fear it.  This makes inventions in stories very useful and the catalysts for advance and intrigue.  There’s this whole thing about what is possible and what is impossible. And I found that I really wanted to use that in stories myself – after all, as Arthur C Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.   So – invention? Or magic? They may be one and the same thing. And stories allow a person to blur that boundary – and take huge leaps into the unknown.

 

 

blog tour · Guest Post

Blog Tour: A Witch Come True by James Nicol.

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The Magic Of Maps – author James Nicol talks about the importance of maps in The Apprentice Witch trilogy 

Maps, maps, maps! Who doesn’t love a good map?

When I was a child we had a set of The Lord of The Rings in our house, they were kept on the very important bookshelf alongside a very old bible (we weren’t an especially religious household) some photo albums and some other “leather” bound classics I think my mum and stepdad had bought from a door to door salesman!

I loved those Lord of the Rings books so much, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t!) read any of them. What I loved about those books was the beautiful maps inside of them, all in black and red ink, they folded out to three times larger than the book themselves and I loved to poor over the map and imagine the places named on it, Mordor, Khand and Near Harad. Imagining my own stories and people that might live in those places. That was always much more exciting and fun than delving into the books for me – and that should have been a clue really!

I also loved drawing and making my own maps as a child, often treasure ones inspired by The Goonies, I loved drawing rivers and hills and forests and again my imagination would burst with the stories that perhaps unfurled in these imagined places. I used tea and coffee to stain them and to make them looked aged and I remember being over the moon when my nana actually shoved one in the oven to make it look really distressed (but don’t try that at home though folks!)

So when I started to write my stories as a young child and teenager I was always thinking about the world they were set in, drawing little snippets of maps or building layouts to give the characters a real place to inhabit, a place to be, a place to live! But this was always on the grand scale – rather like Lord of the Rings.

When I started work on what was to become The Apprentice Witch Trilogy I had a clear idea of this small island Kingdom and the neighbouring Kingdoms across the sea. Hylund, Dannis, Grunea, Veersalnd and The Uris.  That was all fixed in my head from the outset. As the edits and different versions of the story evolved over the months and years of writing, so too did the maps, settings came and went, Arianwyn moved from a tumbledown cottage outside of Lull into the Spellorium (a location that has become a favourite with readers I’m thrilled to say!) and the story became steadily more focused on the odd little town on the edge of the Great Wood that surrounded it, my world was becoming less epic it seemed.

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The original world map for The Apprentice Witch – the Four Kingdoms names didn’t change at all through the various edits and versions of the original story.  The shape of Hylund was inspired by a real island but I now have no idea which one!   

  

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The Original Map of Lull and the surrounding area, Lull was loosely based on the town of Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales, the market place captivated me and seemed perfect for the town I was slowly creating in my imagination. You can even just about see the reference to Arianwyn’s cottage, ‘Kettle Cottage’ – her initial home in Lull before I created the Spellorium which is on Kettle Lane.

Then I realised that one vital map was missing.

Lull!

I needed a map of the town. A Place I was writing about more and more but couldn’t always see clearly in my mind, where was the Spellorium in relation to the Blue Ox, how would Arianwyn get to the Great Wood, where was the river and many other questions. So I drew a scrappy map and pinned this to the noticeboard over my desk and like magic, Lull was a real place, full of homes, businesses, people and most importantly stories!

When it was revealed that the map of Lull was going to be included in A Witch Alone I was over the moon! But I had one evening to pull my scrappy sketch into something that could be translated into a suitable illustration (by brilliant illustrator, David Wardle) to make the print deadline. What he did to turn my scribble into the beautiful illustration is nothing short of magic and I loved it. But having the map feature in the book presented the challenge of having the map “proof read” – i.e does it reflect accurately in the story? Yikes!

Well I’m pleased to say that with the exception of a moving telephone box (I blame vandalism!) and a small pond that had to be magicked up, everything was spot on!

 

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Never in a million years when I was drawing those maps as a small child or pawing over the middle earth map did I ever imagine a book I had written would contain a map of a world I had created. If I could go back in time and tell myself that as a ten-year-old I would, I’d love to see the look on my face!

It is so clear to me now that it was the map that helped to keep my story centred, gave it a heart and focused our attention not on the magic of the story but the people that fill it, their lives. It was the key to creating a place that readers have said they want to go and live in – and as an author what more could you ask for than that!

James Nicol. 

 

Many thanks to James Nicol for your time and wonderful guest post. This is a tremendous insight into how you use maps to develop your work. 

A Witch Come True by James Nicol is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). 

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and https://www.jamesnicolbooks.com/.

 

 

 

blog tour · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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About The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould. 

Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? 

Alfie Fleet is fed up of being poor. He wants some money to buy his Mum a foot spa for her birthday, and he wants it fast. His determination to make some cash brings him into the path of Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont, who wants to update his Cosmic Atlas. Think Bradshaws for the entire universe. 

Alfie and The Professor set off in Betsy (one special moped) for the adventure of a lifetime. They pass through Brains In Jars world, Outlandish and a run in with a dragon on their way through the universe. 

Is the humour too bonkers? Not in the slightest. It is wacky and wonderful, but it is so perfectly balanced with the story that we are invested in the plot and rooting for Alfie all the way. It must take real skill to inject this kind of humour and not overdo it. Funny books deserve more admiration and this one is top of my list to shout about. 

As I reviewed a proof copy, I have not seen all of Chris Mould’s illustrations, but my experience of his work tells me readers are in for a treat. He brings scenes to life as if he was a casual observer, and his people are full of character. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to put some questions to author Martin Howard and to share them here on my blog. Thank you Martin for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Martin Howard. 

 

Alfie and the Professor travel to all kinds of other places. What inspired the different worlds? Do you have any favourite fictional worlds?

Big question! HUUUUGE question. My favourite worlds have always been fantasy worlds – places like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and many, many more. I am a massive fantasy geek. When I started writing The Cosmic Atlas I made a very conscious decision to mix and match sci-fi with fantasy. Because it involves travelling through space it’s really a sci-fi book, but I wanted to break with the idea that sci-fi worlds should be hi-tech worlds. As Alfie and the Professor use stone circles – a very old technology – to travel there’s no need for space ships (which are a very slow and dull way to get around) or robots or computers so my worlds could be much more rustic and magical. They’re inspired by all sorts of things: worlds I enjoyed as a child, artwork (I love Olivia Kemp’s drawings), places that exist in the real world or in history, space articles I’ve read and stuff plucked from my imagination. Obviously, they have to be funny but I hope they’re full of wonder, too – places readers would like to visit.

 

 The Professor says technology has killed general interest in cartography. How do you think technology has changed our relationship with maps?

I spent ages as a cub earning my map-reading badge by poring over Ordnance Survey maps. It really felt like I was exploring the landscape and there were always interesting landmarks to discover that you’d miss with a GPS tracker. Obviously, hi-tech gizmos are very handy but there’s something beautiful about real maps, and I especially love ancient charts where navigators would include mythical lands and creatures. Some great artists – like Leonardo da Vinci – produced maps and many are superb works of art in their own right. I love that that tradition lives on in books though. Most fantasy books include maps of their worlds, and – as with old maps of the real world – they are often drawn by truly great artists. I’m very lucky to have Chris Mould bringing my imaginary worlds to life.

 

Do you have any advice about writing humour in middle-grade fiction?

Oh wow, that’s a tricksy question. There are so many different kinds of humour in MG books at the moment, it’s like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age. There are amazing authors out there using comedy in different ways and I can only tell you what works for me:  having confidence in my own instincts and writing what I find funny. The Cosmic Atlas is a Middle-Grade book, but even though I’m a saggy old man of 49 I made myself laugh all the time while writing it. After reading it hundreds of times it still makes me giggle. Beyond that there are some things that will always make kids laugh – bums and fart gags – but you don’t have to use them. If you do, you can’t rely on them to carry a book, unless you’re writing the Big Book of Bums and Fart Gags. There has to be more than that and, personally, I try not to miss an opportunity to add more humour, whatever way I can – through odd characters, box texts, surprise visits from the narrator, unexpected twists or quirky use of language. There are moments when the humour has to take a back seat to developing the plot but even then there are opportunities to keep the comedy going. PG Wodehouse was amazing at that, even when he’s not being funny he’s being funny. I think not trying too hard is important too. Humour should flow and feel natural, not forced. I say all this as someone who is constantly striving to improve. It all comes down to developing your own voice and style of humour and that’s a never-ending journey. I have huge amounts of respect for anyone who can make readers laugh out loud though and I find it ma-hooosively annoying when people dismiss funny books as “unimportant”.

 

When writing about the strange and wonderful things in Outlandish, how did you ensure the story remained believable?

You ask hard questions! Can I have one about biscuits instead? No? Okaaaay then. In any sci-fi or fantasy book that’s stretching the imagination and creating weird worlds it’s important that readers don’t feel lost. That means characters they can identify with who have goals they can believe in. In The Cosmic Atlas, Alfie and Derek – the younger characters – are both much less bonkers than the adult characters (though they both have a sense of humour) and Alfie in particular has a very believable primary goal: to get home to his mum. So long as the reader can understand their main protagonist’s motivation I think writers are pretty free to be as creative as they like with everything else. Pheww, I totally deserve a biscuit-based question now.

 

What should be included in a good travel guide? If you were setting off on an adventure to another world, what would you want to know?

I am very fond of a good travel guide. I have a collection of DK Eyewitness guides on my bookshelf and they’re brilliant, endlessly enjoyable books. Flicking through them and deciding what to see is like having a mini holiday in your head. I also love reading travel books – Bill Bryson’s spring to mind – and watching travel TV shows. A good guide gives you a real feel for a place: it’s history, culture, people and – of course – the best places to have a good time. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to The Cosmic Atlas. I love good food so my perfect guide to other worlds would probably be heavily restaurant-based, but as I also enjoy lazing around on sun-loungers, reading (preferably while getting a massage) that’s the sort of information I’d be looking for, too. There’s a world called Blyssss in The Cosmic Atlas which is my perfect holiday destination. Sun, beaches, spa treatments, fresh baskets of puppies and kittens delivered to your room daily, and a butler who will win the lottery for you while you have a pedicure …

 

And I’ve run out of questions. Since Louise failed to ask, I would like to add that I am very fond of a custard cream and also thank her hugely for having me. This is my first blog tour and I am hugely grateful for the support. I hope it turns into a long and happy friendship.

Mart

 

Huge thanks again for your wonderful answers, and for giving us a great insight into your work. 

Louise 

 

The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet is available in paperback (Oxford University Press, £6.99).

Find out more at Oxford University Press.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

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Extract:

That’s when Dibs pokes his head in between us. ‘I think you’re brave, too.’ He smiles with his big beaver teeth. ‘Way braver than those girls in the movies who are always screaming and carrying on. You’re not screaming and carrying on or nothing and those Martians could zap us with their ray pistols or probe our brains with their mind-control mechanisms at any minute. That says brave to me. No doubt about it.’ 

(The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage. P116.)

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Synopsis:

Milo wishes he had the same courage as his big brother Obie. The brother who died over a year ago. Milo is still grieving. On top of that, he wishes he could help his friend Dibs. Dib’s father is under a dark cloud and he regularly locks Dibs out of the house.  

Then a flying saucer crash-lands in the local area.

Milo and his friends investigate the crash and Milo learns that superheroes need more than super strength. They need superhuman hearts.

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Review:

Milo lives in a small town near Roswell in the 1940s. The Truth About Martians is based on a real-life event which happened in 1947. An army Air Force base announced that a flying saucer had been recovered. The story made major news around the world. Soon after, the US government announced that the saucer had in fact been a weather balloon. Conspiracy theories abounded and it makes prime material for fiction.

This is a story about life beyond our borders. Beyond our known experience. It is also a touching look at grief and living with loss.

What I loved about the story was the friendships. Milo and Dibs have a friendship founded firmly on comic books and their shared sweet-tooth. Their wider social group includes two boys they like-don’t-like, and Gracie. Milo may have a crush on Gracie, but she is determined to do the same things as the boys. The friendship group and child-sized world (do you remember when someone’s house marked the boundaries of your known existence?) felt real and the constant banter between Milo and Dibs reminded me of how intense childhood best-friendships could be.

The story is a great one for breaking gender stereotypes. As well as Gracie’s determination to be an active and adventurous person, Milo has to get over his idea of one type of bravery. These themes are being seen more often as writers seek to help children break any stereotypes about what gender means.  

Think ET with added friendship and conspiracy. This really captured how it felt to live at a time when attention was turning to space and it would make a lovely introduction to that era.

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
 
 
Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 
blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Kim Curran’s ‘Slay’ Playlist

All about Slay:

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Synopsis:

They’re world famous, epic musicians and recognised as the cutest boy band on the planet. Conner, JD, Niv, Tom and Zek make up Slay. They are also demon killers. 

When Milly has the demon-encounter of a lifetime, the last thing she expects is help from a boyband. She finds herself on the road with the guys, hunting demons including the sinister Mourdant who has a plan to take over humankind. 

Can they figure out his plan in time to stop him? 

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Introduction: 

With Slay 2: On Tour hitting the shelves, I was delighted to have the chance to catch up on the first novel. My blogger friends had told me it’s a good story. What they didn’t tell me was how totally epic this book is. 

Slay takes a familiar narrative – evil dude with evil plan searches for object of all doom – and tells the story in a way that feels totally fresh.

As a mid-millennial, I grew up in the boy band era. Boyzone, N Sync, Busted, McFly, that other one, thingummy. Busted aside, I wasn’t a fan, but it is nice to see a teen book which acknowledges the importance of manufactured bands in young lives. Love them or hate them they are part of the landscape. Slay shows the ups and downs of life as a mega-star, but it also puts a twist on the whole thing. The only reason the band exists is as a front for the demon-hunting. 

The demons are scary, but the plot is fantasy rather than horror. It strikes the right balance in a way which reminded me of films like The Little Vampire and Casper The Friendly Ghost. The setting is a little more modern, with boys who create vlog diaries for their fans, but it has the same timeless appeal. 

Kim Curran kindly shared the playlist she created when she wrote Slay, and I am delighted to share it with you. (Note: I remember Busted: The Year 3000 on repeat.)

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Slay playlist by Kim Curran 

I can write anywhere: in my office at home, on the sofa, in cafes even on the bus. But I really struggle to write in silence. Music is an essential part of the process for me. So, whenever I set out to write a book, I always create a new playlist to write to. That way, as soon as I put it on, I’m sucked straight into the world!

My Slay playlist (or slaylist if you will) is entirely taken up by boy bands!

Kim Curran’s Ultimate Boy Band playlisthttps://open.spotify.com/user/kimecurran/playlist/0BZTOczZZCMSgCyyo2cQoO

http://bit.ly/UltimateSLAY

To hear Kim’s Slay: on Tour playlist, checkout Golden Books Girls’ stop on the Slay: On Tour Blog Tour!

blog tour

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow Of The Fox is one of my favourite YA reads this year, and it is your new YA fantasy addiction. Set in a world of demons and tree-spirits, ghosts and shapeshifters, it follows a girl on her quest to prevent a terrible power from falling into the wrong hands. 

I was delighted to be invited on to the blog tour and I particularly wanted to hear how Japanese mythology had shaped the book. My friend Christina has lived and worked in Japan and knows the language and culture well. When I visited her in October, she introduced me to a whole landscape which I had never known before. Shadow Of The Fox took me further into this landscape and made me hungry for more fantasy inspired by world mythology. 

A big thank-you to Julie Kagawa for taking the time to tell us how mythology shaped your story. birdbreak

About Shadow Of The Fox and Japanese mythology – Julie Kagawa. 

Shadow of the fox’s main protagonist is Yumeko, a girl who is also half-kitsune.  Kitsune are the magical, shapeshifting foxes of Japanese legend, and one of their most beloved creatures of myth.  Kitsune appear everywhere in Japan: in anime and manga, folktales, toys and video games, even in food.  Kitsune udon (noodles) and Inari zushi (tofu sushi) are tied to foxes, as both have a sweet fried tofu pouch that is said to be a kitsune’s favorite food.  Fox statues can be found at Japanese shrines, particularly the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, as kitsune are also messengers of Inari, the god of rice.    

In Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko struggles with the two sides of herself.  She wants to be a good human, but she is also mischievous and loves playing pranks due to her kitsune nature.  Having lived in an isolated temple all her life, she is very innocent and naive to the world, but she has a fox’s intelligence and learns quickly.  Which will come in handy when she flees her home and runs into all manner of Japanese monsters and yokai.  Yumeko isn’t a warrior, but she is kitsune, and will have to use all of her cunning, magic and fox talents if she wants to survive.