blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Three Ways to Grow your Creative Writing by author Emma Read.

Blog Tour: Three Ways to Grow your Creative Writing by author Emma Read. 

img_1651

 

It may sound a cliché but writing is an escape.

These days, when our worlds have shrunk and our daily lives have become limited to the experiences within our own four walls and the queue at the supermarket, many people turn to writing to open the door to somewhere else.

Perhaps you’ve decided to write that book you’ve always dreamed of. Perhaps your teacher has asked you write a story as part of your home-schooling. Perhaps you’ve just read a brilliant book and want to write about what happens next.

If so, here are a few tips to get you started and keep you going – now and beyond the Lockdown…

TIP ONE

Catch your ideas

Milton1

They are flighty little things and when float in they are just as liable to float right out again. Keep notebooks. Everywhere!

Write down all your ideas – be they character names, or settings in a strange world, or a magical item. I write down dreams. Not necessarily the whole, bizarre detail, usually just images or feelings that have lingered. You might find yourself struck by an idea while watching TV, or reading a news story. Or maybe by something you hear over the fence – the scratch of squirrels, the neighbours playing football, or an alien spaceship landing on the balcony (or was it just the cat?)

 

TIP TWO

Read something different

Milton2

By which I mean – if you’re like me, and generally read fiction, try something like:

  • Non-Fiction – e.g. How to be Extraordinary, by Rashmi Sirdeshpande
  • Poetry – Like Poems to Live your Life By, Illustrated by Chris Riddell
  • Comics or Graphic Novels – My current favourites are Bunny vs Monkey, by Jamie Smart, and Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi.
  • Scripts – Take a look at Dr Who, Episode One – The Woman Who Fell to Earth.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/doctor-who-series11

 

Reading outside your normal scope of media opens your mind to new ways of expressing yourself, new language and also sparks new ideas.

 

TIP THREE

Have adventures!

No, you don’t need to run away and join the circus, or take up with a gang of treasure-mad pirates. But once we are allowed out-out again, have your own adventures. Try something new, even if it feels a bit scary. As a writer, we create fantastical images and write these from our imaginations. But to make them feel real and relatable we weave our real-life experience into the words. The more experiences you have, the more you’ll be able to bring to your writing.

So, for example – your main character is running away from a dragon, and has to climb a sheer rock face to get away. The dragon comes from a picture in your mind, but the effort and nerves felt when climbing the cliff comes from that time you went on a climbing wall at the sports centre.

Or perhaps your hero has to eat a strange alien food. You can go to town describing the food, then really bring it to life by recalling a time you ate something new and unusual for the first time.

 

milton3

I hope these tips have been useful and you find yourself escaping to somewhere new and exciting. Happy writing, happy reading … happy escaping!

 

 About the Author

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty, which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019, and the sequel, Milton the Megastar (both Chicken House Books). The MILTON series is written for younger readers and is all about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs.

Find out more at: https://www.emmareadauthor.com/

 

Catch the other stops on the tour:

Milton the Megastar blog tour banner

 

Thanks to Emma Read for your amazing content. Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for organising.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd.

Blog Tour: The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd.

noah bradley

Guest Post: The Billy Goat Curse by author of The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley, Amber Lee Dodd. 

In 1945, William “Billy Goat” Sianis brought his pet goat, Murphy, to Wrigley Field to see the fourth game of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. However, many fans weren’t too happy to have to stand next to the badly behaved and rather smelly goat. So they got together to get William and Murphy booted from the stadium. But as William and Murphy where being led from the stadium, William promised to have his revenge. Later that day William reportedly put a curse on the team. Ever since, the Cubs have had legendarily bad luck. More so than any other team in the league. Don’t ever mess with a man and his goat.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Noah’s family never stays in the same home for very long. Legend goes that a curse was placed upon them long ago to ensure that they were never able to settle. Twelve-year-old Noah is about to move into his thirteenth home – and this time, he would like to remain. He not only has friends at school. For the first time in his life, Noah is one of the cool kids. Everything is great, even if he feels awkward about the way his friends treat his new neighbour, Neena.

When the curse returns, with a flock of birds that attack Noah and Neena, Noah keeps quiet. The trouble is, the curse has a mind of its own, and it will take more than one boy’s determination to break it.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

A beautiful story of magical-realism that is set in a very ordinary world. Legend says that once upon a time, the Bradley family were given magical gifts to enable them to settle on an island. After becoming greedy and using these objects to strip the island of its resources,  the islanders cursed the family to always be chased from their home by the winds of the North. That was many years ago. Now, twelve-year-old Noah wants more than anything else to be normal.

Curse aside, the story is set in a very ordinary contemporary world. Noah’s life means he has gone from school to school, changing his identity every time to fit into his new surroundings. He has a knack for blending in. At one school, he was very academic. In another, he was a drama kid. Now, for the first time in his life, Noah is popular. This comes with trials as well as perks, because Noah feels compelled to laugh at Neena, the girl from over the road who he would otherwise have liked as a friend. This theme is explored beautifully, showing empathy with Noah but not ultimately excusing his behaviour. Adults can be too quick to say that’s just fitting in when dealing with issues of childhood popularity, but bullying is bullying, and no child should be on the receiving end.

Noah’s family also experiences additional upheaval when his Dad insists on leaving for a time to work abroad. Living with the curse has taken its toll, but it is never easy for children who feel that their family has become too much for a parent. The constant moves, too, will be relatable to many readers. With increasing numbers of children moving from one rental property to another, plenty of readers will identify with Noah’s confused sense of identity.

The characters are created with such empathy that reading the story is like seeing straight into their souls. I especially loved Noah’s brother Billy. Billy is partially deaf, and the representation is spot-on. Billy’s hearing problems affect his life, but so does the way he is treated at times by other people. The things he struggles with need to be recognised and accommodated for without Billy being treated like a baby. He is also finding his own identity for the first time, and this causes Noah endless anxiety. Why must his brother wear girl’s tops? Doesn’t he know what happens to boys who carry sparkly backpacks? People with disabilities, as well as autistic people, often face this kind of overbearing guidance that makes it difficult for their own confidence to develop. Seeing this represented in a children’s book was wonderful because stories enable empathy to grow.

A great story, with strong characters, relatable problems, and a really memorable premise. I raced through the pages and the story was so vivid that I could almost hear the birds of the North.

 

Check out the other stops along the tour:

1024x512-BLOG-TOUR

 

The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley is available now. RRP £6.99.

My copy of the book was provided as part of a promotional blog tour. Thanks to Scholastic UK for sending my book, and for inviting me to take part.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Pests by Emer Stamp.

Blog Tour: Pests by Emer Stamp.

img_1727

About Pests

Stix lives with his saftey-conscious Grandma behind the washing machine in Flat 3 Peewit Mansions. Although Stix knows that not being seeing is the golden rule – a seen mouse is a dead mouse after all – he wishes life could be a little bit more fun.

Then a rat intrudes and makes a mess, and the terrible Nuke-A-Pest are called. Grandma’s act of bravery goes wrong when she is flushed down a toilet and into a septic tank. Stix is left all alone … until he discovers the school for animals branded as pests down in the basement. Suddenly, he is encouraged to make a nuisance of himself, but what is the limit when there is so high a cost?

Pests had me hooked from the start. The strong character and voice was one reason I couldn’t stop reading. Think of Ratatouille, where a brilliant but vulnerable small creature is forced out into the wider world. Add some strong side characters and an evil non-human villain (no spoilers) with a terrible plan.

img_1728

Throughout the story, the illustrations heighten both the comedy and the emotional narrative. From the all-knowing dog in Flat 3, who is so much wiser than his humans, to Stix’s wide-eyed facial expressions, the story is made richer by the wonderful sketches.

There is also a healthy dose of humour. There are toilet jokes, although these are kept to a total minimum and done with such skill that even as a very grown-up person it is impossible not to giggle. This is in the suspense – certain things are planted earlier, and we just know … almost … that they will return in all their poo-based glory later on in the narrative.

I was delighted to be offered a guest post Emer Stamp, and even more so when she agreed to write about character creation. Stix and the gang are so believable that I can still imagine them even though I’ve finished reading the book. Thank you so much to Emer for your time, and to Lucy Clayton for organising this blog tour.

 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Guest Post: Creating Believable Characters by Emer Stamp 

I believe the key to a good book, or film, for that matter, are the characters. You can have the best story in the world, but if the key players populating it aren’t believable, or likeable, or perhaps even dislikeable – if that’s your skit – then I can guarantee that pretty soon your audience is going to wander off and have a cup of tea or, in my case, a glass of squash.  This is why I spend a lot of time considering who my characters are and what makes them appealing or, in the case of the baddies, unappealing.

Both Pig, the protagonist in The Diary of Pig series, and Stix (a small mouse), the lead character in PESTS, possess the same quality – a childlike naivety about life. Pig is almost entirely clueless about the world beyond the farm and is quite often boggled by the everyday things inside it too. Stix is smarter than Pig but, thanks to his sheltered upbringing, is clueless about life outside the flat in which he lives. He openly admits to the reader that he has no idea what, if any, life exists beyond the front door.

I think the reason this naïve character trait works so well is that is it reflects the way children themselves so often feel – though they may not be able to give it such a sophisticated label. They see a bit of themselves in the character, which helps them invest more in its wellbeing. To be honest, even I see bits of myself in both Pig and Stix – the world still boggles me on a pretty frequent basis.

It also allows the child to feel smart.  I’ve been told by numerous parents that their child loved Pig because they felt cleverer than him. For once the child is the wise one. They know the answers to Pig’s silly questions, they know what is outside Stix’s front door.

Now, of course, not all my characters work in this way. Pig’s best friend Duck, and Stix’s best friend Batz, are more worldly-wise. They are the ones who help my protagonists make sense of everything. But, I am very careful to make sure they do this in an endearing way – no one likes a show-off or a big-head. Nobody wants a sidekick who makes the beloved hero look a fool. So, in both cases, I gave each a loveable foible, one to which I believe children can relate. Duck is the super-smart, sensible friend who needs a bit of lightening up; Batz is the over-eager friend who has a tendency to leap before she looks. In both cases my lead offers the antidote – Pig helps Duck see the funny side of life, whilst Stix’s in-built caution helps temper Batz’s dangerous gung-ho attitude.

No story is complete without a horribly bad villain. So, the thought I give to these is just as rigorous. It’s important a baddie is as bad as they can be. I want my readers to really despise them. Which is why I always imbue them with a hearty helping of sociopathic tendencies. This, I find, is always a solid base from which to build. My favourite baddies from the Dairy of Pig series are the Evil Chickens. These avian aggressors who care for no one but themselves. In fact, to be correct, the Super Evil Chicken cares for no one but itself. All the other chickens are just collateral – to be disposed of in whatever way needed to facilitate the ultimate goal – taking over the farm (for completely nefarious purposes of course). A plan which, for obvious reasons, they do their level best to keep a lid on  – secrecy being another great baddie trait. No one likes secretive characters.

And there is no one more infused with secrecy than the aptly-named Professor Armageddon, the despotic cockroach whose grand plan is to destroy the block of flats the pests live in. Not only is he keeping schtum about what he’s up to, but he’s also lying and manipulating others in order to get the job done. Again, both nasty traits that engender instant dislike.

Good or bad, naughty or nice, the most important thing is that your reader feels something towards the characters you create, be it positive or negative. If they don’t, the chances are, they’ll be reaching for the kettle or a bottle of squash.

Check out the other stops along the tour –

Blog tour banner PESTS

 

Thanks to Hodder Children’s Books for my copy of Pests which was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

img_1608

Extract:

We are the Jensen & Jenson Troofriend 560 Mark IV. We are The Better Choice For Your Child. She no longer needs to play with other human children, who might bully or harm or lie or covet or steal or envy. We are programmed only for fun and goodness. 

(Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum. P2.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Imagine having a friend who never disagreed with a word you said? A friend who did everything that you wanted. A friend, like a TrooFriend 560 Mark IV, who wasn’t even human.

Sarah’s parents are often absent, and her friend’s complicated family situation means that she is regularly out of town. Sarah has another friend, but the complicated rules of High School popularity mean that they can no longer hang out together. As a result, Sarah is lonely.

Her mother is convinced that android Ivy is the solution, but Sarah isn’t so sure. At first, she turns the android off when nobody is looking, but over time evidence convinces her that Ivy is something more than other technology. That she is almost human.

As Sarah uses Ivy in a bid to win popularity at school, a factory recall puts Ivy’s existence into danger. There are people out there who reckon Ivy shouldn’t exist, and if they track her down, she will be destroyed.

A complex and philosophical story about popularity, taking account for our own actions, and what it means to be human.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

Technology is taking over our lives. It is now the norm, where is wouldn’t have been several years ago, to look at smartphones and tablets during conversations with other people. Increasingly we consult search engines about our problems before we talk to an expert. The story demonstrates the effect all this technology has on our social skills and imagines things one step further, where children are actively encouraged to replace human friendships with technology.

Sarah is a relatable character. Transitioning to secondary school can be painfully hard. What makes someone popular, and what makes a person likeable, isn’t often taught in a way that is obvious to all children. Being treated as unpopular – being shunned, for example, for some imperceptible flaw -isn’t always treated as bullying by adults in the same way it might have been in a primary school. Sarah, the protagonist in the story, is desperate not to be labelled as unpopular, but her quest to be liked by the ‘right people’ leads her to behave in unkind ways to her old friends.

What I loved about Sarah was that her behaviour wasn’t perfect. She was like so many kids, struggling with day-to-day life, and the story shows her moving from selfish and desperate behaviours to an acceptance that she has to take ownership of her actions. The quest to be popular is no justification for behaving unkindly.

Ivy’s quest to prove that she is unique is also touching. It reminded me in many ways of the characters in Never Let Me Go, using art to communicate their inner selves. Troofriend is a great adventure, but everybody I have spoken to who has read the book is especially moved by the themes.

The reader is constantly challenged to think about their own stances. When the androids are recalled it seems obvious that Ivy should be helped … except that some very real children are being hurt by the android’s actions. This conflict makes for a real page-turner. How can such a conundrum possibly be resolved?

A moving and philosophical story told in such a way that it is impossible to put down. I had high hopes for this after reading The Middler, and I wasn’t disappointed. Kirsty Applebaum is a skilled literary writer and Troofriend confirms her as a real talent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd and Clare Hall-Craggs for my copy of Troofriend. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

img_1103

Extract:

As sunset bloomed in the west like coloured ink spreading in water, Arthur and Maudie stood with Felicity and Gilly at the aft end of the sky-ship taking in the view of hills, rising and falling like gentle waves, criss-crossed with farm fields and woodland patches will full, blousy trees. It felt good to be under the wide sky again.

(Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy. P86.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

The Brightstorm twins are back for another adventure. Arthur and Maudie witness a burglary by their nemesis Eudora Vane. The very next day, Eudora announces a search for the missing explorer Ermitage Wigglesworth – the person whose house she has burgled.

Arthur, Maudie, and Harriet Culpepper are convinced that the search is a cover for something else. What could Eudora Vane want in the legendary Eastern Isles?

The Eastern Isles are almost impossible to find and hold many secrets of their own. The twins are separated for the first time in their lives in a territory which they hardly know. Will they be reunited? Will they work out what Eudora is up to in time?

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

A spectacular, high-flying sequel to hit adventure novel Brightstorm. This is perfect for readers who dream of big, daring adventures. With skyships and jungles and magical continents, Darkwhispers builds on the legacy of the first book as an exciting and intelligent story about exploration.

Arthur and Maudie are separated for the first time and this allows us to know them better as individuals. We see Maudie’s vulnerabilities and Arthur’s desperation to live up to his brilliant sister. Grief for his father causes him difficulties, and at times people write off his reactions as being grief based. Arthur’s emotional narrative plays a strong part in the story and he grows as a character. 

The new settings are as memorable as the old, and there are some new creatures, not least the Darkwhispers of the title.

There is not only a love for geography in these books but complete and heartfelt respect. The worlds are brought to life with care and detail. It feels as if Vashti Hardy must have visited them to give the reader such a clear picture. Her worldbuilding offers questions about our own world – could we invent power sources that do no harm to the environment? Are the other animals around us more intelligent than we give them credit for?

Vashti Hardy has confirmed herself as an exceptionally strong storyteller. Her narrative is told with a confidence that allows her imaginative ideas to soar. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next and hope that there will be a return to Arthur and Maudie’s world.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Darkwhispers. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

img_1267

Extract:

The locomotive puffed out a sigh of steam, as if it were alive – a dragon, ancient, powerful, and ready to fly. 

(The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. P14.) 

 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

As Harrison Beck waits for his new sibling to enter the world, he is sent off to spend time with journalist and train enthusiast Uncle Nat. The pair board the Highland Falcon for its final journey before it is sent to a museum. They are in the company of well-known society figures – from actress Sierra Knight to a Countess, a Baron and important railway officials.

Then a notorious jewel thief strikes.

Can Harrison and his friend, the not-so-secret stowaway Lenny, solve the mystery and catch the culprit before the wrong person takes the blame?

 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

All aboard for the first mystery adventure in a series dedicated entirely to trains. Imagine that Michael Portillo had taken an 11-year-old boy along as he filmed Great British Railway Journeys. And that the boy in question had met a girl with a wealth of knowledge about railways. The train isn’t just a pretty backdrop in this series. It is the living, beating heart of the story. At last! A mystery series for readers who care about the ins and outs of railways.

This first story sees a notorious jewel thief strike on the first night of the journey. The Magpie has a reputation for stealing high-value pieces. The trouble is, nobody knows the Magpie’s true identity. As the blame shifts from one person to another, Harrison and his friend Lenny set to work figuring the case out.

Harrison is an artist and the illustrations tie in with the story as his casebook. This breaks from the recent tradition of detectives with notebooks. This detective has a sketchbook. It also gives the reader very visual reminders of the events and allows them to flick backwards and forwards through the pages as each piece of new information is revealed and notice new details in the illustrations.

Lenny is the resident train geek. Her father drives the train and Lenny has followed him along the rail tracks since she was very small. I was impressed with the level of knowledge and railway vocabulary woven into the story. This series acknowledges that when children have hobbies and interests, they gather huge amounts of knowledge and trivia. It is great to see a series built around this. Recent conversations about whether middle grade has become too adult have failed to discuss this aspect of childhood, but the pure love that young people have for their favourite subjects needs to be reflected in their fiction.  

This story will be a hit with fans of middle-grade mystery and its fictional trains should be a hit with young railway enthusiasts. A roaring start.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Booksfor my copy of The Highland Falcon Thief. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

img_1280

Extract:

Betty took it, her heart beginning to beat fast again, but this time it was with excitement rather than with fear. She unfolded the paper carefully, but even as she did so she knew it was a map. Hand-drawn in black ink, with a decorative nautical star in the corner. 

(A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. P72.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

The Poachers Pocket is on the market and Betty Widdershins is desperate for her family to leave Crowstone. Then, one night, the prison bell tolls, and a mysterious girl arrives on the doorstep, accompanied by marsh wisp.

Willow escaped the prison island with her mother. Her father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Charlie is kidnapped in Willow’s place, and the people who have her aren’t even who they claim to be.

The clue to freeing her, and saving Willow’s family, lies in an old map, a secret island, and a folk tale about three brothers.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

The Widdershins are back. Their pinch of magic this time is matched by a folk tale about three brothers who were faced with a sprinkle of sorcery. With escaped prisoners, pirates and a magical island, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic tale.

Betty Widdershins takes Willow in at a great cost. Her own sister, Charlie, is kidnapped, and their granny is endangered by the same people who take Charlie. This constantly challenges Betty, as she battles with her consciene and the ultimate question – should she give up one child to guarantee the security of another? It is impossible to stop turning the pages as the stakes for everyone get higher and higher.

This exceptionally popular series introduces some new characters. There’s the ethereal Willow herself, who washes up in the night like a Dickensian waif. She’s tougher than she first appears, though, and this is what offers hope that the injustice that sees her father in desperate trouble will be reversed. Then there is Sniff. Sniff is introduced halfway through the book. He’s a pirate, right, tough as they get … except there’s more to Sniff’s story, too, than it first seems. There are also cats. Cats in all their glory.

Alongside the main story runs a folk tale about three brothers: Fortune, Luck, and Hope. Initially, it builds like any moralistic narrative. Fortune blunders his choices, valuing wealth over the right things. Luck has kinder values, but the wrong approach. Then things get interesting – because fairytales, as every reader knows, have at least some basis in real events, and real events are tied to specific locations.

This understanding of the relationship between place, narrative and real events underpins the series. Harrison’s Essex marshes begin with the real Essex marshes and a real folktale. Where that story originated from, of course, is left to speculation. The tales of the Widdershins sisters read exactly like that imaginative narrative. That if three magical sisters once lived on an island in the Essex marshes, then maybe they owned three magical objects … and with Harrison’s confident storytelling, it is possible to believe that those sisters are real people.

Michelle Harrison’s adventures promote a sense of wonder in the world. They are not only excellent narratives, but they leave the reader ready to embrace life and all the adventures it holds. A Sprinkle Of Sorcery is a triumph, and the Widdershins sisters are already listed among the greatest families of children’s literature.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD for sending a proof copy ahead of publication. Opinions my own.