Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: HS Norup – author of The Missing Barbegazi.

Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.

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The moutains which inspired H S Norup’s writing 
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HS Norup 

The Missing Barbegazi is one of my middle-grade hits of 2018. It is the story of a friendship between a girl and a mythical, fairylike creature which lives in the mountains. The story is about family, friendship and trust and it is set in the days shortly after Christmas. If you are looking for a magical story to read in the build-up to Christmas, I can’t reccomend this enough. 

I was delighted when author HS Norup agreed to answer some questions about her work, about the snowy landscape which inspired her setting and about fairytales in general. It is a pleasure to share her answers. Thank you Helle for your time. 

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Q: Barbegazi are mythical creatures who come out at first snowfall but are rarely sighted by humans. Did you want to write about Barbegazi, or did these creatures fit into your story?

A: When I began writing THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. And everything about them fit perfectly into the story.

 

Q: Aside from the Barbegazi, do you have any favourite stories set in snowy landscapes? What is it you love about these stories?

A: Snow is magical! I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. In a novel, the dangers of snow and cold weather immediately raises the stakes. A landscape covered in snow can become a character in its own right and influence the story through the opposition or help it gives the protagonist, as is the case in THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Other favourite stories that are set in the snow includes: C.S. Lewis’s THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS, Sinéad O’Hart’s THE EYE OF THE NORTH, Vashti Hardy’s BRIGHTSTORM, Piers Torday’s THERE MAY BE A CASTLE, and Katherine Rundell’s THE WOLF WILDER.

 

Q: Mountains play a huge part in your story. Why did you choose this setting?

A: I love the mountains and find them immensely fascinating—perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. From afar, the mountains present this beautiful, serene panorama, but up close they are wild and unforgiving. Add snow, and the mountains become both more beautiful and more dangerous. I have a deep respect for these dangers, especially avalanches, and they played a role in the story even before I discovered the avalanche-surfing barbegazi.

 

Q: You write about a world which is very like ours, except for the magical creatures who live in the mountains. What drew you to magical realism and how do you think fantasy elements help us to tell a story?

A: I have always loved reading magical realism and low fantasy stories. The idea that there might be magical or otherworldly creatures around us is both enticing and scary. I can’t go for a walk in the forest without secretly looking for fairies and I’m still afraid of the dark—my imagination often runs wild. I think fantasy elements can help us create story worlds that are fresh and interesting. At the same time, the presence of fantasy elements signals to the reader that this is a pretend world, which they can safely explore along with the protagonist.

 

Q: Family plays a huge part in The Missing Barbegazi. Tell us a little about how the two main characters fit into their families.

A: Tessa and Gawion are tweens (although Gawion is 154 years old) and both are part of loving families, but with very different family structures. Tessa’s parents are divorced, but she and her mum lives in the same house as her grandmother (and until recently her grandfather) and near other relatives, so she has a wide family network around her. Gawion’s family lives in complete isolations, far from other barbegazi, so they are a very close-knit family, and Gawion’s twin sister is his only friend. It’s important for the plot that they are isolated, but it’s also a situation I know well and wanted to describe. Whenever we, as a family, have moved to a new country, we have experienced 6-12 months of being each other’s only friends, and, since we left Denmark a long time ago, we have not had any family network to depend on. All family structures have positive and negative sides, and it’s important to show diversity without judgement in children’s fiction.

 

Q: Your story is set in the days after Christmas – the days when the presents have been unwrapped and the crackers have been pulled. Was there a reason you set your story after Christmas, and not during the festivities?

A: There are a couple of reasons I didn’t include the Christmas festivities, but the main reason is that it would have distracted from the story I wanted to tell. Tessa’s grandfather died shortly before Christmas, and the family is grieving, so I can’t imagine their Christmas was a jolly affair. Also, for many of the locals in a skiing resort, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, is the busiest week of the whole year. Tessa’s mum and Uncle Harry were both working over Christmas, catering to the needs of guests instead of their own families, but I’m sure Aunt Annie took good care of Tessa, Felix and Oma.

 

Q: Fun: Favourite cracker joke? Best Christmas jumper?

A: We have neither Christmas cracker jokes nor jumpers in Denmark, so I can’t really answer these questions, but we have other fun traditions. We celebrate on Christmas Eve. For dessert we always have Risalamande, a kind of rice pudding with almond slivers and one whole almond. Whoever finds the whole almond receives a small gift, but the fun lies in hiding the almond if you have found it or pretending to have found it if you haven’t. After dinner and before opening presents, we all dance around the Christmas tree, singing first psalms then jolly songs, usually ending with the whole family chasing each other around the house.

 

Q: Which animal would you have on the front of a Christmas card?

A: Mountain goats! We sometimes see them in the snow, springing around the steepest mountain sides, defying gravity. They’re more interesting than reindeer and deserve to be on Christmas cards.

 

Many thanks to HS Norup for taking the time to answer my questions. The Missing Barbegazi is available from Pushkin Press.

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Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian

Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian

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Though seasons may turn,

bringing sights new and strange,

My love is the one thing,

that won’t ever change.

A polar bear guides a cub out of the den and across the landscape, from winter to spring and through the first year of life. All along, adult bear reassures the cub of unending love.

A gentle rhyme to share with the very smallest children.

Reading is about so much more than language acquisition. It is a bonding time, and books like this give children the space to ask very big questions. Will you always love me? Even when I’m grown up? As adults, we take these things for granted but children need the space to ask these questions. 

Little bear gains confidence, exploring for himself and straying further from the adult but at the end of the book, the bears are cuddled back together. This gives the reader an important message – even when they spend time away from their loved ones, the bond is never broken.

The bears are not gendered or named as parent and child. This makes the book accessible to all sorts of family units. It would be a lovely book to gift to a new baby or to give to a child on the edge of a new milestone who is nervous about the changes.

This is also a lovely story for talking about seasons. Winter turns to spring, and then summer. Big polar bear introduces different features of the seasons – snowflakes, blossom, migratory birds and golden leaves indicate that the seasons are changing. The soft colour-pallette and gentle brush strokes match the tone of the rhyme. This is a safe landscape. A landscape ready to explore.

A warm and comforting narrative which will make a beautiful gift for small children. A must-have for any early bookshelf.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of I’ll Love You Forever. Opinions my own.

 

Blogmas 2018 · Chat

Nailing New Year Organisation

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Nail your blog organisation in 2019 

When it comes to blog organisation I’m a total Mary Poppins – practically perfect. Take BookMurmuration. I have books to review from picture books through to YA fiction. I have author interviews and guest-bloggers to coordinate and lifestyle content to write. Without a system, it just wouldn’t happen.

Take my advice – where there’s a system, there is stationary.

img_7855Great stationery lifts our mood and makes tasks a pleasure. It can also help us to keep on top of things. The right diary or calendar layout is the first key to good organisation. That’s why I was so excited when I was offered some products from Danilo. As well as being Europe’s number one supplier of licensed calendars (so you can guarantee there will be a brand you love) they have a range of styles available. From family planners to desk calendars to calenders just for children, there will be something in their range to suit your needs.

That’s my first piece of advice for New Year organising – figure out what you want.

When it comes to my blog organisation, I need to see which posts are due up, which posts have been published and which days are still available. I also need space to change my mind, or to write in additional notes as other social media engagements (such as cover reveals and giveaways) come up. I love my new diary from Danilo for its generous boxes and for the lines which made it easier to keep things neat. 

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How I organise my blog:

  1. Begin with commitments. I use a different colour pen for blog tours, brand collaborations and collaborations with other bloggers. This is because, where other content is flexible, commitments have to be fulfilled for a specific date.
  2. For the first six weeks of 2019, I am reverting to Middle-Grade Mondays and YA on Thursday. I write middle-grade fiction, and could spend my life reading it, but I worry this comes at a cost to the YA-content on my blog and to my YA readership. Looking at my review pile, it works out nicely for the first weeks of the year, so this will give me a chance to try it out.
  3. When a blog post is scheduled, I highlight my diary entry. This way I know at a glance what still needs to be done. The at-a-glance planners in this diary will make this even easier. There is one for 2019 at the front of the diary and one for 2020 at the end.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do jobs out of order – I work roughly by the week, but sometimes a spare twenty-minutes before going out is just the right time to write another Waiting On Wednesday. Ticking something off the list is always a win.
  5. Just copy that over to a slimline calendar – diaries are easy to put away. A slimline calendar like my Winnie The Pooh calendar for 2019 keeps my jobs at the front of my mind.

 

Diary available from danilo.com, Waterstones, John Lewis and Disney Online.

Calendars available from WH Smith, ASDA, Tesco and danilo.com. 

Thanks to Kirsty from Grapevine Global PR for my diary and calendars. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A

Q&A: Sophie Anderson, author of The House With Chicken Legs.

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About The House With Chicken Legs: 

Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she stays in one place long enough to make friends, but that isn’t possible. Her house has chicken legs and her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides spirits between one world and the next. 

Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga, but she rebels against this and sets out to change her destiny. 

The House With Chicken Legs was one of my favourite titles this year. I loved the interpretation of Yaga (a character from Russian folklore) and the unflinching narrative about mortality. The characters are the sort that stick in your head, and I will return to their story over and over just to spend time in their company.

I am delighted to have Sophie Anderson here on my blog to talk about fairy tales, stars and Christmas traditions. 

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Do you have any favourite fairytales set in winter/snowy landscapes? What draws you to these stories?

Wintry landscapes glitter with magic and invoke a chilling feeling perfect for dark fairy tales. My favourite is the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. There are different versions, but most begin with a childless couple building a little girl out of snow. She comes to life and seeks out happiness at every opportunity, but sadly in most versions she melts at the end of the tale. As a child I used to find this heart-breaking, but over the years I have come to accept it as a message to live fully, as a short, full life is preferable to a long, empty one. One of my favourite books is an adult reimagining of this tale: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

 

Winter is a time when stories were traditionally told around the fire. What are your favourite storytelling traditions?

I love bedtime stories with my children. However busy our lives get, we always make time for stories at the end of the day. We each take turns reading a chapter of a book we like and because my children all have different tastes we usually have three or four quite different books on the go!

 

Both the Nativity Story and your story feature stars. What inspired you to write about stars?

Carl Sagan! I love his work. The idea of our souls returning to the stars after death came directly from one of his quotes: “We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

 

How might Marinka’s house be decorated if she was celebrating Christmas?

Holly and mistletoe would grow in great curls from the House’s roof and oranges studded with cloves would blossom from the beams. The scents of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and rum soaked fruit cake would plume into the air as Baba cooked up a sweet spiced feast. And skulls lit with candles would adorn every surface, throwing a warm light into all the dancing shadows.

 

Marinka learns and inherits lots of traditions from her Grandmother. Do you have any special Christmas traditions, or any you would love to try?

My grandmother served Rumtopf with ice cream every Christmas. Rumtopf is made by soaking seasonal fruits in a stoneware pot filled with rum, and because it takes months to make I’ve never got round to doing it. Perhaps 2019 will be the year I finally start filling my Rumtopf pot!

 

If you could receive one gift from a story, what would it be and why?

The wardrobe that leads to Narnia. I’d love to see if I’m brave enough to go through it!

 

A huge thanks to Sophie Anderson for your time.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments below.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Little Robin Red Vest by Jan Fearnley

Review: Little Robin Red Vest by Jan Fearnley

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Little Robin is excited about Christmas. He has seven warm vests washed and ready for the festive season. When he sees his friends shivering in the cold, Little Robin gives away all his vests. His generosity has left him warm inside but freezing cold. Is there a present for Robin this Christmas?

There are two things at the heart of this story – an origin story for how robins came to have a red vest, and a message about sharing and generosity. This beautiful edition has been printed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the story. With its warm take on the festive season, it is little wonder that this book has endured.

With so much emphasis on receiving, Little Robin Red Vest reminds us that the thing which will leave us warm inside is giving to those in true need. The animals Robin gives to are without warm clothes. This would make a lovely, gentle introduction to the difference between need and want, and the difficult fact that a lot of people are currently going without the things they need.

Blue and grey snowscapes make a lovely soft background. Robin’s red vest stands out bright and warm in the cold, just as it does when we see a real robin on a snowy day. The animal’s facial expressions speak louder than the words -desperate, longing eyes turn to hugs of joy and gratitude as the animals receive the warm clothes they need.

Every time I see a robin now I think of this story. It captures the joyful spirit of this bird and uses it to remind us that generosity will bring us greater happiness than want. A true Christmas classic and one I recommend to all my friends.

 

Thank you to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Little Robin Red Vest. Opinions my own. 

Blogmas 2018 · Chat · Guest Post

Guest Post: Amy from Golden Books Girl tackles the Christmas shake-up Q&A.

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Christmas shake-up Q&A:

What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another. 

Today’s answers come from Amy from Golden Books Girl

Amy is one of my earliest blogging friends. She’s the one who keeps me sane when I have 460 blog posts to write on a Friday evening. Her knowledge of middle-grade fiction is second-to-none and she has cheered on my writing from the early, shapeless stories through to the third edits of a 45,000-word manuscript. 

I love Amy’s blog too – it’s a mash-up of Disney and middle-grade fiction and exceptionally cute dogs. 

Thanks to Amy for your time. 

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Gift an object from one book to a character from another and explain why.

Oooh this one is definitely the hardest! I think I’d give a certain very expensive spoilery object from the Children of Castle Rock to Joni’s family from Skylarks so that they could sell it and have a really special Christmas with the proceeds.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together.

I want a party with basically all the Geek Girl characters, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells from the Murder  Most Unladylike books because I think they’s be brilliant company and Ade and everyone else who lives in his tower because they deserve a really special Christmas because they go through so much in the book!

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be?

I loved the sound of the royal Christmas in Maradova, and I’d love to give those a go! We see them in Princess in Practice, and they sounded wonderful! Or some of the Covey family’s from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting?

Much like Fergus from the Children of Castle Rock’s decision to sabotage Alice when she first arrives at Stormy Loch, my choice for this question is inspired by literally nothing other than to see what would happen: I want to move Daisy and Hazel’s present opening scene from the end of Mistletoe and Murder to a fantasy world. Really any, but I think something where the animals speak like in Narnia, would be HILARIOUS to see Daisy especially navigate. I can’t imagine her putting up with the White Witch for long!

Make your New Year’s resolutions with messages from three books. 

I need to embrace what Gracie learns throughout You Only Live Once- you need to have a healthy balance between doing school work and other things you love.

‘Nobody ever really metamorphoses’- this is from Geek Girl (I’ve mentioned them SO many times in this post alone, but they’re such faves so why not?!). It’s something I try to remember constantly- you can’t really change yourself that much, and as such you really should like yourself.

I also liked the Great Diamond Chase’s message of trying your best to be good to the people around them and do the best thing for them, so I’ll go for that as my last one I think.

Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books. 

I think for a dress I’d go for the polka dot dress from the Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington, or perhaps one of the party outfits from A Sky Painted Gold- which all sounded gorgeous! For jewellery, I seem to recall Harriet wearing lovely expensive earrings in one of the Geek Girl books, so I’d have those too, and for shoes I’d probably go for strappy sandals (which are mentioned in loads of books, and I’m almost certain they pop up in several of Cathy Hopkins’) even though it’s December, because I can’t wear high heels. I can’t think of any characters off the top of my head who wear red lipstick, even though there are probably loads and I just can’t remember them, but I’d finish off the look with that because I wear it with just about any outfit it even vaguely goes with!

 

Do you have a great answer for one of these questions? Let me know in the comments below.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller

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Extract:

Torvil’s was most definitely one of the town’s richest elves. In fact, as the owner of its only toyshop, he had done rather well for himself. But whereas most people who make money are happy to share it with their family and friends, Torvil kept his fortune all to himself. 

(The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller. P19.) 

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Synopsis:

Jackson has always wondered where Father Christmas came from. How did he come to be the man who delivered all the presents around the world. 

Then, one magical night, Father Christmas arrives and takes Jackson on the ride of a lifetime. Along the way, he tells a story. A story about a stingy elf who never thought of those less fortunate, until one night three strange beings showed him a different way of thinking. 

A Christmas Carol meets the magic of the North Pole. 

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Join Jackson on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for the answer to the ultimate question – how did Father Christmas get his position? 

There are two parts to this story – the strand in which we see Father Christmas and Jackson, and the story of Father Christmas’s – or should I say Torvil’s – life. It is this second strand where the action and development takes place, so the story is about Torvil and not Jackson. 

Let me be clear – this is a retelling of A Christmas Carol. Although the landscape is different and there are some minor changes (Torvil, does not, for example, face his own grave,) the plot builds in just the same was as the original Christmas classic. What Ben Miller has done is made it accessible to younger children, and added a bit of Christmas sparkle for bigger kids. 

This narrative has never been more relevant – young Torvil’s claims that he will grow up to help the poor fade as he grows older and greedier. At a time when politicians are putting their own personal feuds and whims above the increasing number of Foodbank users, it is important for children to understand why the wealthy and powerful need to think about others. 

The world is full of magic – think snowy hills and starry skies and reindeer. 

Accepting that this is a retelling, I think it brings the story to a younger audience. Snuggle up and listen with wonder to the story of Father Christmas himself.