blog tour

Blog Tour: Seeing Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

About The Deathless Girls: 

deathless girlsThey say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

(Synopsis from Hachette Children’s) 

 

I was honoured to be invited to take part in the blog tour for The Deathless Girls, and I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. Having seen Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd together at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I wanted to share their words with you. 

Although I will write a full review of The Deathless Girls in a seperate post, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how the event informed my reading of the story. 

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Kiran MH and Amber LD
Amber Lee Dodd (left) and Kiran Millwood Hargrave at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019. [Photograph taken from KMH’s Twitter Feed. Thanks to both authors for permission.] 
‘I read books,’ said award-winning author Kiran Millwood Hargrave, speaking on 24.08.2019 at the 2019 Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Amber Lee Dodd, ‘because nothing much happened in suburbia.’

This not only earned an appreciative laugh from the adults in the audience, it was a sentiment I could relate to. Growing up in Outer London, there was a grey age. Younger children had to be looked after, and so got regular visits to Epping Forest and local parks and even into the city. Failing that, there was soft-play. Between twelve and sixteen or so, we were old enough to entertain themselves but not so big to go on real adventures. The creativity which came out of my friendship group at that age was never matched at any other time. Boredom allowed us to retreat into our dreams.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books conjure dreams of magical places. Of lands covered in snow, and faraway islands with magic volcanoes. Amber Lee Dodd’s stories are set on Scottish Islands, although she referenced her childhood on the South East Cost as an inspiration for some of the details.

Rather than the high fantasy which has become popular in the post Harry Potter generation, Millwood Hargrave’s books centre around folklore and fairy tales. There is something about them which seems to hark back to the very roots of storytelling. It would be as wonderful to share them aloud and listen to the rhythm of her words as to read them from cover to cover. Although I have yet to read Amber Lee Dodd’s story, this seems to be another thing the two writers have in common. I was drawn right in by her introduction, in which a child undergoes a ritual visit to a magic rock which happens to every islander on their 11th birthday.

Neither author writes about magic which can be learned. Rather, there is magic in their worlds, and deep inside their characters.

According to Millwood Hargrave, these are some of the first details she learns about a story. As well as learning enough about a setting for her readers to be able to ‘relate to the world’ she finds ways to ‘let magic in’. It is interesting to relate this to her second novel, The Island At The End Of Everything, which is purely historical. It could be said that the traditions and details which some people experience more richly than others are an everyday sort of beauty, although this is only my own interpretation.

Both authors were aware of their young audience and generous with help and advice on starting stories. Neither plans stories in detail – Amber Lee Dodd spoke of finding her characters’ voices and imagining where they might be by the end. Kiran Millwood Hargrave goes in with no idea where the story will end but spoke of the power of images to generate ideas.

They agreed that good writing comes out of the bad and encouraged aspiring writers not to be afraid.

I was touched when they offered the microphone to children in the audience not only to ask questions but to answer one. Participants had different ideas about what made a great introduction, from taking the time to introduce a character to making a world real with sensory details. Millwood Hargrave likes to jump straight in with as little explanation as possible, while Amber Lee Dodd believed a good first chapter helped the reader to hear a character’s voice.

The two authors were well paired. Their work explores similar themes, but their approach to writing was slightly different. The conversation between them was a reminder that stories are, first and foremost, about people and places, and that time spent understanding character or setting is part of the creative process.

What about The Deathless Girls, the novel due out in September which I have been invited to talk about as part of this blog tour?

My reading of The Deathless Girls is richer for having listened to its creator. Although the event focused on Millwood Hargrave’s middle-grade output, I can see in The Deathless Girls the same respect and love for place and tradition. Her characters come to life through their actions and responses to different situations.

Before the end of the first chapter, I felt as if I had fallen into a new world. This deep immersion in a story, so easy to find as a bored child, is harder to discover as adults, but when we do, it leaves a little part of itself behind with us so that we always remember the story.

That is what makes Kiran Millwood Hargrave a true storyteller.

 

Thanks to edpr for inviting me to write about The Deathless Girls as part of a promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions about the story remain my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

Review: Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers [CILIP Kate Greenaway shortlisted title].

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Finn misses a grandfather, a man who loved the sea and told stories about the place where the ocean meets the sky. To honour grandfather’s memory, Finn builds a boat on the beach and falls asleep beneath the decks. The boat comes to life and takes Finn on a voyage. Through floating whales and magical ships the boat sails, until Finn is able to say goodbye to his grandfather. 

A touching story about grief and life’s big adventures. 

These are the sort of pictures it is possible to look at for hours. They are so magical, so impossible but yet so real, that feel more like they have been breathed into life than painted. Every cloud floats by and every air balloon seems filled with real oxygen. If you love illustrations by David Wiesner or Shaun Tan you will understand what I mean about being absorbed in the scene. 

Many writers are told from an early age never, ever to end a story with it was all a dream. While I think it is a cliche that early writers fall back on, I believe there is room for experienced creators to take us into dreamscapes and explore how the experiences in our dreams change our lives. The same goes for play or daydreams. Huge part of our lives are spent dreaming and it would be a pity if that was never reflected in stories or art. 

Looking at the illustrations – at cloud castles in the sky and birds roosting among stacks of books – reminds us that there are places where anything is possible. 

As a Kate Greenaway contender, I think the book’s power is in it’s strength to inspire readers to venture into their own magical places. I can see the pictures inspiring play, art and whole new stories. 

The ultimate message is that we can find our loved ones in our minds. If we can conjure up cloud castles and flying whales we will always be able to revisit our memories and explore our love for that person. 

A work of art which takes readers into the powerful landscape of creativity. Magical. 

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Quarto Books for my gifted copy of Ocean Meets Sky. Opinions my own. 

awards · Chat · Uncategorized

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

carnegie 2019

Looking for a great way to celebrate children’s literature? Get yourself behind the Carnegie awards.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are judged by children’s librarians. What makes them unique is that this never changes. The only people who have ever judged them are qualified librarians. Those magical people who work with books on a daily basis and put them into children’s hands. They have the double-expertise of qualifications and regular contact with young readers.

The medal is also uniquely brilliant at identifying books which we will still be reading in 50 years time.

Look at the list of past winners. The Little White Horse, The Borrowers, Tom’s  Midnight Garden. Many of the earliest winners are still beloved reads. Still in circulation and read by the current generation of children. The medal has spotted debut authors who have gone on to be some of the biggest names in children’s storytelling (David Almond’s Skellig, for example, was awarded the medal). 

Every year people in my Twittersphere debate whether children should have a say in the judging process. This conversation can get heated because there are people who are rightly passionate about children having a say in their own literature. 

greenaway 2019

It is also important to recognise children’s writing as a craft. An art. Too often children’s literature loses press space and attention and literary critics have made comments which dismiss children’s fiction as something inferior to the adult literary canon. To stand against this and say we recognise the artists at work in children’s literature today, we need awards run by professionals. That’s not to dismiss children’s voices. In fact, the awards feature a very popular shadowing scheme, where school and library groups work their way through the shortlist, and for the first time this year has introduced the Shadowers’ Choice Award to celebrate the shortlisted book most popular with young people.

I support the Carnegie then because it champions children’s literature as an art, it has a great track record of picking future classics and it gives dedicated authors and illustrators the recognition they deserve.

With this year’s list on my bookshelf, I am already exploring a great range of literature and illustration and making notes about the merits and qualities of every book.

I look forward to reviewing the shortlisted titles and sharing my thoughts over the coming weeks. Join in the discussion: let me know your predictions on this year’s medal, your favourite past winner or who you would like to see nominated in the future.

The most wonderful thing about the Carnegie of all is it gets us talking about books.

 

(Images from CILIP Carenegie and Kate Greenaway website.)

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Guest Post

Author Guest Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

Author Guest Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

2018
Author Michelle Harrison

There is one middle-grade novel I am extra especially looking forward to in 2019. Michelle Harrison writes folksy, magical stories full of black-cats, fairies and local traditions. I have loved every story she has written so far, and  A Pinch Of Magic looks equally amazing.

It is the story of three sisters who must break a deadly curse which has haunted their family for generations. Each sister possesses an object which has been handed down the family – a mirror, a carpet bag and a set of wooden nesting-dolls. None of these objects is what it seems. 

The Widdershins sisters kindly agreed to share their gingerbread recipe. It is a pleasure and a delight to welcome Michelle Harrison and the Widdershins to my blog. 

 

Widdershins Gingerbread

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The isle of Crowstone, home to the Widdershins sisters ‒ Betty, Fliss and Charlie ‒ is often damp and chilly thanks to the freezing fogs from the nearby Misty Marshes. So what better treat to stay cosy with than some warming, spiced gingerbread?

Ingredients

  • 350g plain flour (plus extra for rolling out)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g butter
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup

 

mh1Makes approx. 20 pieces, depending on cutter size. I found this gorgeous Russian doll one on eBay which came with a stamp to press in the detail. I’ve used it several times and the shapes are always met with delight. Without further ado I’ll hand over to the Widdershins . . .

Method

 

FLISS: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the butter and rub together with your fingers ‒ CLEAN fingers, Charlie! ‒ until it looks and feels like sand.

BETTY: Sand? That looks more like shingle from the marshes. Rub it in some more.

FLISS: Shh. This is my recipe.

CHARLIE: No, it’s not. It’s Granny’s.

BETTY: Stop eating the sugar, Charlie.

FLISS: Stir in the sugar. I usually close my eyes and make a wish when I do this part.

BETTY: Can you wish not to burn it this time?

FLISS: *Snorts* Lightly beat the egg and the golden syrup together in a jug—

CHARLIE: Make sure it’s a free range egg. They’re tastier and kinder to the chickens.

FLISS: —then pour the egg/syrup mix into the bowl. Combine until it begins to clump together, then remove from the bowl and knead until smooth.

BETTY: Sprinkle some flour on to your work surface so the dough doesn’t get too sticky. When it’s ready, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for fifteen minutes. This stops it spreading out too much and losing its shape while it’s baking.

FLISS: Ooh, yes. I always forget that part.

CHARLIE: Who cares what it looks like? Get it in the oven I WANT TO EAT IT!

FLISS: Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Once chilled, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 0.5cm on a lightly floured surface, and cut out the gingerbread shapes. Place them on the tray with a gap between them and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden brown. This usually gives me just enough time to write a little love poem.

BETTY: No, this is when you clean up the kitchen and keep an eye on the oven, feather-brain. The best gingerbread is a bit chewy, so don’t overdo it! Once it’s out of the oven, leave it on the tray for a few minutes, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

CHARLIE: IS IT READY YET?

FLISS: Once cooled, you can make your shapes look pretty by adding icing, and silver balls or sprinkles.

CHARLIE: Or just scoff it as it is. Jumping jackdaws, that’s good!

 

Huge thanks to Michelle Harrison for your time. A Pinch Of Magic publishes in February 2019. Pre-order here.

 

Check out day one and day two of Blogmas. 

Round-Up

Event round-up: Andersen Press YA Book Brunch

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Book haul – how good does my TBR pile look right now?

On Saturday 10th March 2018 Andersen Press hosted a YA Book Brunch for bloggers, bookstagrammers and bookish social media aficionados. This was an opportunity to hear about forthcoming titles, meet some of their authors and to network with other bloggers. And there were croissants. What’s not to love?

This was the first time I had attended a blogging event. I couldn’t have been made more welcome. Harriet – the fab publicist at Andersen – and the regular bloggers made me totally welcome. It was lovely to meet some of the people I’ve spoken to over the year, like Faye and Bex, and to meet people whose blogs are now on my radar such as Josh.

We had a great presentation  of forthcoming titles from editor Chloe Sackur, and heard from authors Julia Gray and Emily Thomas. I would love to share some of the forthcoming books with you. I hope you’re excited too! 

birdReboud – Kwame Alexander

April 2018

Kwame Alexander is new to me. Since the event I’ve devoured his first prose-poetry novel and I can tell you his work is amazing. This is a must for fans of Sarah Crossan. Rebound follows Charlie Bell, a teenager whose life changes one summer when he discovers basketball, romance and his family’s past.

 

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Emily Thomas

Mud – Emily Thomas

July 2018

Mud is a semi-autobiographical YA novel. Emily Thomas spent her adolescence on a Thames barge with her siblings and step-siblings. The experience informed parts of her novel. It is the story of Lydia, whose father has remarried. The family move to barge on the Thames estuary. Thomas spoke about the need for stability during times of family upheaval. Lydia’s best friend is her source of stability.

 

 

Shadows – Meaghan McIssac

March 2018

 Patrick is searching for a way back to his own time, and he doesn’t know what happened to his family. Shadows is the sequel to Movers. The books are set in a world where people are connected across time. People from the future are desperate to travel back to a time when there were more resources. It is a sci-fi refugee narrative, with a deadly sinister and Conservative group called BMAC hunting down people who enable time-travel. 

Check out my Twitter page for a GIVEAWAY.

 

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What Girls Are Made Of – Elena K. Arnold

August 2018

This is the story of Nina, a girl recovering from an unhealthy relationship. It was a runaway success in the US, and sounds like perfect reading for people who enjoyed The Nowhere Girls.

 

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No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

October 2018

With proofs just off the press, I am honoured to be one of the first people to read No Fixed Address. Of all the books we spoke about, it wasn’t the book I immediately gravitated towards, but I can’t get the protagonist out of my head. Chloe Sackur did a great job of discussing the story’s relevance in the modern world.

Felix Knutsson lives with his mom in a van. Mom swears it is temporary, but the months tick by and they are still in the van. How long can Felix hide homelessness from his friends?

 

 

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Julia Gray

Little Liar – Julia Gray

June 2018

Nora has a tale to tell, but not everyone will believe it. Not only is she a great actor, she is a proficient liar who likes to push the boundaries.

Julia Gray spoke about how teens take on aspects of other people’s personalities. Nora is not a nice character, but she sounds like an interesting one. As a child one of my favourite books was The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine. This is the story of a girl who is a bit too good at lying, and the friend who gets sucked into her world. Little Liar sounds similar. Characters don’t have to be nice to be interesting.

 

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The Lost Witch – Melvin Burgess

August 2018

Melvin Burgess is – as the publicity material suggests – the Godfather of YA. I had the pleasure of studying Junk as part of the children’s literature module of my degree. It was the first book for teens which showed drug use in a realistic way.

The Lost Witch is about Bea, a witch who is being hunted and doesn’t know who to trust. Should she listen to the people who tell her she is in danger? What is their agenda? Fans of The Wren Hunt look no further. Folk-traditions meets contemporary thriller. It sounds fantastic.

 

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Monsters by Sharon Dogar

February 2019

This was doubly-exciting. After getting over the excitement of hearing about a book due out in 2019, I learned that the story is about the teenage years of Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley. Romanticism is one of my favourite periods of literary history, not least because the lives of its leading figures were fascinating.

Monsters is about the male figures who surround and manipulate Mary, and the influence this might have had on the themes of Frankenstein. I intend to do some serious rereading ahead of Monsters, and look forward to reading a proof copy in the autumn.

 

Huge thanks to Harriet Dunlea for organising this event, and to everyone at Andersen for your time, courtesy and for sharing your fantastic fiction with us.