Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: Chitra Soundar

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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.

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Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Meaghan McIssac

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A door to the future has been opened 

Movers have the ability to pull people from the future into the present day. Time travel is not only possible, it terrifies the authorities. Regular readers might remember that I reviewed Movers a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by the relevance of certain themes to the present day, and enjoyed the complex world McIssac has created.

Time travel, morals and strong female characters. There was so much I wanted to ask McIssac, and I am thrilled to be able to share her answers with you. 

Welcome Meaghan McIsssac, and many thanks for your time.  bird

Movers is set in world where people from the future at trying to immigrate to the past. It also features an organisation who are vehemently opposed to this movement. To what extent was this inspired by current events? Why did you decide to explore this through Sci-Fi?

I hadn’t really been considering any specific current event when I set out to write Movers over five years ago now. The idea actually came from something I’d read from Stephen Hawking who said that one of the most compelling reasons for Time Travel not existing is that,  if it did, we would be inundated with immigrants from the future. What a wild thought. What would that world look like? How would people now react to people from tomorrow? How would the government handle it? And the world took shape from there. I’ve definitely been struck by how applicable Movers has become to events unfolding in the news every night since then. So while I didn’t necessarily set out to comment on any current events, I think it’s great that people are able to engage with Movers, and Sci-fi as a whole, to help navigate  and make sense of important discussions surrounding those events . Sci-fi may take us to new worlds, but it also reflects the one around us. And I think that’s what makes it so captivating.

 

Pat’s mother is a movement advocate. Other parents in the story are against movement. How can fiction help young readers to shape their own political views?

I’m definitely not looking to shape anyone’s “political views” but I do think fiction can have an impact on a young reader’s moral compass and view of the world. Through Sci-fi, and all fiction, really, young readers are confronted with big questions and extreme dilemmas, but let’s face it, life is filled with these things too, and young people are forced to confront big questions by virtue of the world we live in today. Heck, I’m thirty and still figuring out my place! My hope is that fiction and story can provide an exciting and safe space to engage those questions, to sort out their feelings and reflect on thoughts and ideas that they hadn’t considered.

 

Were there any challenges to writing time-travel?

Oh gosh, yes. Paradoxes, paradoxes, paradoxes. Time travel is one big tangled hairball of paradoxes. Think of Terminator — ‘Wait, if John Conner’s dad goes back in time to save his mom so that John Connor can be born, but his dad can only be his dad if John Connor is born in the first place to send him back in time, what comes first? What?… No wait…What?” This is ALL YOU THINK ABOUT in a time travel story. Not John Connor, no, but problems like these. If this plus this equals that, but this can only exist if that exists too…Oh goodness. The brain melts. So trying to patch up these tricky problems is a BIG challenge and requires a lot of organization. I am not the best at organization. I spent a lot of time doodling diagrams and moving skittles across my desk to try and get the answers I needed. Also lots of problem-solving sessions with friends and family and editors helped immensely. Time travel is a tricky beast, but it’s also a lot of fun.

 

How did you plan a novel set in the future?

Again, a lot of doodles. To be honest, I went into the time travel part of it a little naive. It wasn’t until I was revising that I realized how much planning would have helped avoid the paradox problems. So for book 2, which takes place both in the past and the future, I had multiple diagrams in my notebook of timelines with plot points marked on each one. I can’t recommend timelines enough. They change as the story develops, asking you to redraw them again and again, but they are so worth it for keeping the story organized.

 

Your female characters include intelligent Gabby and strong Rani. How did you make them into fully-rounded characters?  

I don’t do anything special for my female characters vs. my male characters. I just try to write convincing people — their fears, desires, their secrets and they just grow as the story unfolds. Writing is such a crazy process, because you make up these people and you think they are exactly who you want them to be, but it doesn’t take long for characters to take on a life of their own. Before you know it, they are saying and doing things you never planned for them to do. It’s kind of spooky, but exciting. Gabby and Rani came together the same way Pat did, the same way Roth and Leonard did — I set them free in my brain and they started saying and doing things that were totally them. It’s the best part of crafting a story, watching your characters become who they are!

 

Huge thanks to Meaghan McIssac for your time, and to Harriet Dunlea at Andersen Press for arranging this opportunity.

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.

 

Q & A

Guest Post – Anthony McGowan

Anthony McGowan is a prolific author, who has written for children of all ages as well as adults. I am pleased to welcome him for a Q&A about his latest book I Killed Father Christmas. This is a warm-hearted story about the pressure people feel under at Christmas. You can read my review of the book here. 
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Q.  Jo-Jo’s parents are concerned about finances. Do you think modern Christmas puts pressure on people? What do you think could/should be different?
 
A. Christmas has always been a struggle if you’re poor. I was one of five kids, and it must have been incredibly hard for my parents to keep us all happy, presents-wise. Things have got worse – there’s a kind of arms race now with gadgets and gizmos. I suppose I Killed Father Christmas is a deliberate attempt to combat that materialism, by replacing the acquisitive urge to get and give material things with emotion. Jo-Jo is forced in the book to look beyond his own desires and cravings to see and understand the needs of others. And by the end he understand that Christmas is about the love, not the stuff.
 
Q. Jo-Jo overhears a heated comment and comes to the conclusion that Father Christmas is dead. Do you think imagination can be frightening as well as wondrous? How do you think Christmas plays on children’s imaginations?
A. Fear is as much the product of the imagination as joy – a basic principle of writing scarily for adults or children (which I’ve done a lot of) is to make them do the work by imagining horrors you only hint at. But in general fear isn’t a huge part of Christmas, for most children – other than the fear of not getting what you want. My own children used to love imagining the glories to come almost more than the reality. Even now they join in with the fantasy that Father Christmas really comes down the chimney, and my daughter (15) insists on leaving out a mince pie for the fat man in red, and a carrot for the reindeer.
 
Q.   Jo-Jo delivers presents to other children in the neighborhood. What do you think are the most important values at Christmas?
 
A. Kindness, generosity, unselfishness. Actually, these aren’t just the values of Christmas, but the principles we should live by.
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If You Could Create A Cracker … 
 
– Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?
 
A cracker without a terrible joke would be a monstrous sham. The Christmas cracker groan is as much a part of Christmas dinner as the turkey. An example? BNAG – that’s BANG out of order!
 
What sort of hat would you wear?
 
I have a surprisingly huge head – it doesn’t look particularly bulbous from a distance, but that’s deceptive: hats never fit me. Paper ones are always rapidly rent asunder when I try to don them. But one has to show willing. Could I wear my cricket cap?
 
What else would you hope to see inside?
 
Er, another cracker. It would continue, Russian doll style, each cracker containing a smaller doppelganger. The last one – smaller than a Quality Street –  would contain a single sapphire, glittering with a cold, heartless brilliance.
Which fictional character would you pull it with?
 
Jesus. He’d definitely let me win the sapphire. Oh, but I suppose he’s not really fictional … Gandalf, then – he’d use his expertise with fireworks to make sure the cracker really went with a bang.
Chat · Q & A

2018 Deubt Author Sophie Anderson – Christmas Cracker Q&A

The House With Chicken Legs is a 2018 debut I am particularly excited about. Inspired by the myth of Baba Yaga, it is set in a house with chicken legs and a mind of it’s own. Everything about it sounds magical. You can read more about why I’m so excited in my Waiting On Wednesday post, where I flagged the book up as one to watch out for. Author Sophie Anderson kindly agreed to tell me about her dream Christmas cracker. Read about the book, then check out her answers!

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About the Book: 

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…

Available from Usborne Publishing

April 2018bird

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Christmas Cracker Q&A:

If you could create a cracker… Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?  Miniature books! ‘My Miniature Library’ by Daniela Terrazzini contains thirty tiny books to create; including fairy tales, nonsense rhymes, and nature guides. It looks delightful! (and perfect for anyone making home-made crackers)

 

What sort of hat would you wear? Something sparkly, made of moonbeams and magic.

 

What would you hope to see inside? Even the tiniest book contains infinite magic – so a miniature book would be enough for me!

 

Which fictional character would you pull it with? A House with Chicken Legs of course! Then I would sit on its roof and read us the story, as it danced beneath a star filled sky.

Chat · Q & A

Christmas Cracker Q&A – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl

The first thing I remember thinking about Harry Potter? I wish Christmas crackers were like that. I was – by happy luck – nine and three-quarters years old when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time. The plot had me hooked, but it was chocolate frogs and live mice in Christmas crackers which made me want to be part of JKR’s world. 

This Blogmas I will ask authors and book bloggers to design their dream Christmas Cracker. First up is Amy from GoldenBooksGirl. Amy is a new blogger this year. She has so much to say about children’s literature, and so much time for everyone that she’s taken to blogging like a … wizard to levitation. She’s also the blogger who makes me braver. From clicking request on Netgalley for the first time (oh yeah, but it was such a big deal back in June), to asking for real actual proof copies or emailing authors to ask if they will do an interview. Amy, without you the mouse button would still be hovering over ‘request’. 😀 

Anyways. Here’s Amy’s dream cracker:

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Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place? 

I am not a big fan of cracker jokes, unlike my uncle who takes great glee in reading every single one. 
This is one of his favourites: What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas Quacker! It’s also one I can bear, so I’d put that in.
 

What sort of hat would you wear?

I generally try to swap paper crown with the person who has the purple or pale pink one.
 

What would you hope to see inside?

The best thing I have ever gotten out of a cracker (which was from Dog’s Trust) were some really gorgeous magnets with dogs on them. 
 

 Which fictional character would you pull it with?

I am incredibly competitive and pride myself on never losing a cracker pull. If they lose I don’t care who they are, but I’d probably let Ade from Boy in the Tower win as he’s so brave and inspirational and lovely. Or Sam from Ways to Live Forever for similar reasons.

 

Check out GoldenBooksGirl 

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Check back on the 10th of December when 2018 debut author Sophie Anderson will answer the same questions!

Q & A

Guest Post – Judi Curtin

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Judi Curtin is the author of a huge list of books. She has been described as ‘Ireland’s Jacqueline Wilson’, possibly because of her prolific output, and because her work would appeal to the same readers of Middle-Grade contemporary fiction which is strong on friendships and issues. 

Stand By Me is the latest novel in the Molly and Beth series. The great thing about Molly and Beth, aside from their friendship, is their ability to travel back in time. I was instantly hooked. I love time travel, and think it is important for children to read about the recent past as well as earlier periods of history. 

I was lucky enough to send some questions to Judi, and it is lovely to share her answers with you. Do check out my review of Stand By Me when you’ve finished reading the Q & A. bird

How do you think childhood has changed since the 60s? I think childhood nowadays is more controlled. In the 1960s children spent a lot of time entertaining themselves, which was good for their creativity.

Is there anything you wish modern children could experience from the 60s? I’d love them to experience the freedom – where they could play outside for hours, without parents fretting over the dangers.

Why should children read about the recent past? Children usually think of their parents as dinosaurs – so it’s no harm for them to learn a little about the realities of the past. It might make them a little more sympathetic.

Stand By Me focuses on changing attitudes to medical conditions. Is there a reason you chose this theme? I think it’s terrible that very often in the past, people with disabilities were locked away from the world, as if they were somehow shameful. We complain a lot about the modern world, but in this we have greatly improved.

 Stand By Me is also about missed opportunities to continue friendships, and regrets over time. Do you have any messages for your readers? I don’t consciously write books with messages, but I think we all need to remember that we can’t change the past, so it’s best to nurture and value friendships. Supposed slights can be so damaging, yet seem trivial when viewed over the space of years.

 If you could travel in time, which era would you visit and why?I’d love to go back to when my grandparents were young, so I could see them as teenagers, and talk to them about their hopes and dreams for the future.