blog tour · Guest Post · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Alfie Fleet’s Guide To The Universe by Martin Howard. Illustrated by Chris Mould.

Blog Tour: Alfie Fleet’s Guide To The Universe by Martin Howard. Illustrated by Chris Mould.

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About Alfie’s Fleet’s Guide To The Universe. 

A good funny book is gold. A great one is invaluable. Last year, I especially enjoyed The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet where Alfie’s determination to buy his Mum a birthday present saw him embark on an adventure across the universe alongside his new friend the Professor. Its humour was woven so cleverly into the story that it was impossible to join in the adventure without laughter. Now Alfie is back, and this time he and the Professor are offering holidays to the most wonderful planets in the universe. 

As they embark on one final tour, putting everything in order before they open for buisness, Alfie and the Professor run into trouble. For starters, some of the beings on other planets are reluctant to accept that humans aren’t … well … aliens. Then there is the motely pack of cartographers, the UCC, that they meet on Planet Bewarye, led by the terrible Sir Willikin Nanbiter, that sets about trying to destroy the Unusual Travel Agency. 

A quest ensues to discover the long-lost other members of the UCC, who have the power to outvote Sir Nanbiter before his damage destroys Alfie’s dreams. 

As with the first book, the new worlds that Martin Howard and Chris Mould have created are super-imaginative. I am delighted to welcome Martin Howard (AKA Mart) back to my blog with a wonderful piece about creating new worlds. 

Thanks to Mart for your time and efforts. 

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Creating Worlds for Alfie Fleet – a guest post by author Martin Howard. 

Hullo, hullo, hullo and a big thank you to Louise for another invitation. Book Murmuration is starting to feel like a second home. For this visit, she asked me to jot down some thoughts on building magical worlds, a fascinating subject and no one’s ever asked me about it before, so hurrah and here we go …

I’ve said before that I’m wary about dishing out writing advice, because every writer finds their own way of working, so I can only describe my own methods. For me, creating a world is a key part of the process. Settings play a big part in the plot, create atmosphere and can be as fun and funny as the characters. In fact, the worlds writers create are very much characters in their own right. And sometimes, like any other character, they just materialise in that strange, mystical idea process – an integral part of the tale and the obvious background for the story and the characters. It’s great when that happens because you can dive straight in, perhaps making a few tweaks as the book develops. Other times – such as for the new Alfie Fleet – magical worlds are born in the fiery crucible of a brainstorm. My notebooks are full of half-formed worlds that never made it and I even have a few finished chapters that took place on worlds that never made it into the book. (If anyone’s interested, I’d be happy to share one or two in a future visit.)

Inspiration can come from anywhere: half-remembered movies and books from my childhood or artwork I’ve spotted online, for example, or straight from the depths of my own imagination. Then, I’ll mix and match trying to build something original. Obviously, with some worlds – Outlandish from The Cosmic Atlas in particular – it’s fun to play with magical features and themes that are clichés of the sci-fi or fantasy genres. That’s something Terry Pratchett was famous for and it’s essential to come up with a new twist rather than just repeat the same ideas. I imagine that’s just as true for serious writers as for funny authors.

For worlds where the whole story takes place, it’s wonderful to have the luxury of introducing detail: history, cultures, languages all create textures that help hook the reader in, but the new book – Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe – simplicity was key. In this book Alfie, Derek and the Professor putter through many worlds on Betsy the moped. As they spent so much time on Outlandish in their last adventure I wanted to expand their universe and give a sense of the multitude of wonders that could be found by popping through a stone circle at the Unusual Travel Agency. That meant each world had to have amazing features but couldn’t be too complicated. There was no space to properly explore cultures, societies, etc, so each planet had to be painted in broad brush strokes and bright, popping colours. They also needed to be very different from each other and – for the most part – be somewhere readers would enjoy visiting. After all, Alfie and the Professor are running a travel agency. That cut down the options. There was no point having our heroes explore icy wastelands (unless good skiing was available), or radioactive fog planets where ravenous maggot-things roam, or anywhere too bizarre because the Unusual Travel Agency wouldn’t want to run tours there. Alfie has actually worked out a scale for this. He calls it the Fleet Unusuality Scale. Worlds so unusual they score more than five are too bonkers and tend to give people a headache. Less than three and they’re so dull people might as well stay on Earth.

Getting back to my point. What was my point? Oh yes, broad brushstrokes. The planet of Nomefolch, for example, has one memorable feature: everything grows massive there, except for the people (who are rather stubby). It’s possible to climb trees all the way into space. Winspan, on the other hand, is a broken world – a hollow, half-tennis ball of a planet. This means it doesn’t have much gravity and people can fly there by strapping wings to their arms. Solstice, meanwhile, is a planet of ten-thousand islands, so it has a nautical theme. With the plot and characters also needing breathing room and a limited number of words I tried to bring a few of these worlds to vivid life while giving fly-bys of a few others. I hope this helps create the impression of a vast universe without describing each planet in minute detail. That was the plan, anyway!  

In fact, the sheer number of worlds in Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe caused a fair amount of heartbreak as there are one or two – especially Winspan and Nomefolch – where I’d have liked Alfie and the Professor to have stayed longer. Creating fun, distinctive worlds and then leaving them behind after a few paragraphs was a real wrench. On the plus side, I hope the fact that I didn’t want to leave some of the world’s behind means readers will feel the same. The one bit of writing advice I will share, and which I think applies to all writers of magical, fantastic tales is that your readers should always feel homesick for your world when the story ends.

 

Catch the other posts along the blog tour: 

 

alfie fleet tour

 

Thanks to Martin Howard for your wonderful blog post and to Martin and Emma Howard for arranging this blog tour. Thanks to Oxford University Press for providing me with a copy of Alfie Fleet’s Guide To The Universe. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! Opinions my own.

blog tour

Lollies 2020 blog tour: The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

Lollies 2020 blog tour: The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Welcome to the Lollies 2020 blog tour stop for The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah Mcintyre. 

So what are the Lollies? 

The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, or the Lollies, celebrate the best in funny children’s fiction. They are voted for by children and cover three categories – picture books, 6-8 year olds and 9-13 year olds. The current awards have been shortlisted and will be announced early in 2020. 

All about The Legend Of Kevin 

The Legend Of Kevin has been shortlisted in the 6-8-year-olds category. 

Reeve and McIntyre are a well-established duo. Both talented creators in their own right, with Phillip Reeve best-known for the hit success that is Mortal Enginges and Sarah McIntyre a well-known name in work for younger readers, the pair began with Cakes In Space and soon built up a selection of titles which proved a great hit with readers of all ages. 

The Legend Of Kevin is the first book in a new series. It follows a roly-poly flying Dartmoor pony who is blown from his home during a storm straight into the lives of Max and his family. Together, Kevin and Max sat out to save the town from an invasion of creatures (with a little bit of help from Max’s teenage sister and a truckload of custard creams). 

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Exciting extras

I was delighted to be offered the chance to represent Kevin on the 2020 Lollies blog tour because it was a book I looked forward to for a very long time. Way back when I was a student, I remember looking on Phillip Reeve’s blog after reading Mortal Engines and finding a little cartoon about a flying pony. It stuck with me through the years, and when I heard that the idea had been expanded into a book with illustrations by Sarah McIntyre (whose Pugs Of The Frozen North I had attempted to draw) I was extremely happy. 

I wanted everyone to know more about how Kevin came to life and am delighted to share the story and some sketchbook illustrations with you. Thanks to Sarah McIntyre for your time and resources. 

Where the idea for The Legend Of Kevin came from by Sarah Mcintyre. 

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Kevin the Roly-Poly Flying Pony first began as a tiny painting on a piece of driftwood that Philip Reeve found on the beach in Brighton in the 1980s. He hung it on his wall, and each time he moved house, he’d take it with him.I spotted it on the wall of his kitchen while my husband and I were staying with the Reeve family on Dartmoor, and I thought it would be a fun character to draw. We’d seen a lot of cute wild ponies out on the moor, and it amused us to imagine them flapping among the big rocks there, snaffling up hikers’ biscuits. We started it out as a dare: Philip wrote a bit of text and I’d draw a picture each day and post it on my blog. (You can see the short story we created this way in our Pug-a-Doodle-Do! activity book.)  I made a few more paintings of Kevin, and eventually we turned it into a book – then two books! Now we’re working on the third book: we thought up some story ideas together, Philip wrote it, and now I’m working on the pictures (although Philip came to my studio and gave me some help with some of the pencil roughs). It’s fun creating stories with a friend, we always have a good laugh.

 

The Lollies Shortlist is available to view now. Thanks to Sarah McIntyre for your time and resources, and to Antonia Wilkinson for organising.

I was sent a copy of The Legend Of Kevin as part of this promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.