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.

Round-Up

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

mgleonardDid you know we would die without beetles? I didn’t either until I heard MG Leonard talking as part of the Guildford Book Festival. Dung beetles clear away the nasty stuff – the clue is in the name – which would otherwise litter our world and cause lots of diseases. Without dung beetles, we would be dead in weeks.

Way to captivate an audience – especially a young one. 

It was clear that MG Leonard had thought about how to keep her audience interested – and she spoke about how children as a general rule are more open to new facts and new ways of thinking than adults. Her event reminded me what it was like to be young, and to be in a state of near-constant exploration. 

I read Beetle Boy for the first time ahead of the event. I have meant to read it since its debut in 2016, but one way or another never got my hands on a copy. The story follows Darkus, whose father disappears in suspicious circumstances. As he investigates, he learns about genetically-modified beetles and a villain called Lucretia Cuter, who is as interested in high-fashion as she is in science. 

I read the book in one setting and chose the sequels for my birthday. I loved how, although it was the familiar and archetypal story of child-vs-big-bad-power, there was so much I hadn’t seen before. For one thing, the villain is not only a woman, she is also a mother, and her child aids our heroes. I can’t think of a single book where a woman with a family is the villain. Female villains are often shown to have chosen something wrong in over family. (Think of Nicole Kidman in Paddington, who totters around London in impossible heals and tight cat-suits.) Lucretia Cutter has both. 

During the talk, MG Leonard spoke about the inspiration for her story, and the pressure to be original. She struggled with many genres because she felt everything had been explored before. The thought which set her on the road to her story was that, although beetles have featured in stories, they are usually shown as monsters. As villains. 

It was lovely to hear a children’s author talk honestly about her writing history. Too often, it can seem that writers were just able to write a manuscript without any learning. MG Leonard spoke about being a child, and about how her ideas seemed to come faster than her writing. 

It is always a pleasure to hear authors talk about their work. There is no better way to gain an insight into the writing process and to add depth to our reading of a novel. Many thanks to MG Leonard for her time, and to the organisers of the Guildford Book Festival.  

Chat · Days Out · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh festival.

abiesigning

Her books are bestsellers, she’s sledded through the arctic in search of eagle hunters and her ancestor (according to the fun facts ahead of the event) plotted with Guy Fawkes. Abi Elphinstone writes middle-grade fantasy full of magic and animals and vast, untameable landscapes. I loved her writing from the word go and was delighted to see her at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 24.08.2018.

Elphinstone says her dream job – aside from being a writer – is to be a Blue Peter Presenter. I reckon they’d have her in a second. Her enthusiasm for her audience and her spirit of adventure made me think of Blue Peter long before she was asked her dream job by a member of the audience.

Her resounding message was you don’t have to be the cleverest person to be a writer. At the age of seven, Elphinstone’s life-ambition was to become a unicorn and it wasn’t until she was older that she found her way into writing through the places visited and things she saw in the natural world.

A slide-show of places which had inspired Elphinstone’s writing proved that adventures can be found closer to home as well as further away – from Tromso to some water off the M25, the outdoors has been a starting point for different aspects of Elphinstone’s writing.

I have never seen children so excited about reading. From pop-quizzes about arctic animals (with signed bookmark prizes) to the chance to try on a fox-fur hat, Elphinstone grabbed the attention of each and every child in her audience. This is what a book event should look like – excitement and chatter and children bouncing on their seats because they are so desperate to ask the next question.

Elphinstone’s final message was that she wrote four novels had had 96 rejections before publication. The people who get there, she says, are the ones who keep going no matter how many times they appear to fail. Failure is not finite. It is a stumble along the way. The audience (young and not so young) were left with more confidence in themselves and their eyes open for adventure. 

Following the event there was a signing. Having books signed and meeting authors is one of the most special and inspiring things about being a bookworm. Thank you very much to Abi Elphinstone for signing my books and for a memorable and uplifting talk.