Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author Content – Pages & Co by Anna James

Pages & Co by Anna James – blog tour. 

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Pages & Co was one of my favourite reads this summer. It is a magical middle-grade story which will by loved and enjoyed by all bookish people. The story follows a girl with the magical ability to wander inside books. 

I am delighted to welcome Anna James to BookMurmuration to talk about the books which made her an avid reader. bird

Children’s Books That Made Me The Person I Am Today – reccomendations from author Anna James 

 I imagine that anyone reading this is built of books. I dread to think of who I would be if you took everything I’ve learned or felt because of a book I’ve read, I worry there wouldn’t be much left. In Pages & Co, my heroine Tilly feels much the same, so much so that she struggles to relate to real people outside of the bookshop that she lives in. When characters from her favourite books start popping up, she thinks she’s found the friends she needs, but of course real life is still waiting.

Yesterday I wrote about my top ten children’s classics over on a Day Dreamer’s Thoughts. All of those books were hugely formative for me, but I’ve resisted the urge to repeat any (Anne of Green Gables in particular!) to choose some more modern books that had a big impact on me growing up. From the super famous to the out of print, these are the five books that have most impacted me as a reader, a writer and a person.

 

Favourite books from childhood –

–          Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

“And it’s a pity too that I’ve no right to open your letters. I hope you don’t get many, or my conscience will give me no peace.”

If I had to name one writer that has had the biggest impact on me it would be Diana Wynne Jones. She’s written a lot of books and I think I’ve read most of them. She’s probably best known for Howl’s Moving Castle because of the Studio Ghibli film, but in my mind the Chrestomanci series is her best. They’re a bit of a Narnia situation, i.e. do you read them in the order they were written, or chronologically in terms of in-world timing, but I would recommend starting with Charmed Life. Quirky, funny and clever, it’s storytelling at its absolute best. With her worlds within worlds, playfulness with genre and tropes, and stories of finding yourself, Wynne taught me all the foundations of the things I love to read and write.   

 

–          Back Home by Michelle Magorian

“Come on,’ said Peggy. ‘You’ll have to come with me. I need you to show me the way.”

Michelle Magorian wrote the beloved Goodnight Mr Tom (which I’ve somehow never read) but my heart lies with Back Home, the story of Virginia, nicknamed Rusty for her red hair (I can’t resist ginger heroine as a redhead myself) who is returning to England after her evacuation to the US during the Second World War. She comes back to a country and a family she barely understands and struggles to fit in at home or at the strict boarding school she’s sent to. It’s a story of hope, bravery, family and being true to yourself. If you’re already a fan, I recently read Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War and it took me right back to how I felt reading Back Home.

 

–          Momo by Michael Ende

“Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.”

Another book where the author is better known for a different title, you might have heard of Ende as the writer of The Neverending Story, but he also wrote another book about the power of storytelling about an orphan called Momo. It’s sometimes also published as The Grey Gentlemen, who are the villains of the piece and inveigle their way into Momo’s town and start to steal the people’s time. This is one of my Dad’s favourite books, and I came to it through his version which is printed in brown ink with amazing illustrations. It’s a trippy, weird, profound book about how we use our time, and what is really important in life, and the grey gentlemen were big inspiration for me creating Enoch Chalk, the villain in Pages & Co. His grey bowler hat is a nod to them.

 

–          Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

“You cannot change what you are, only what you do.”

From some slightly more obscure titles to one of the most famous books of recent decades. I was bought Northern Lights for Christmas by my Grandad when I was about nine or ten and I fell in love. My Grandad, and the way he chose books for me and my sister, hugely inspired Tilly’s Grandad. He died when I was at university, but I hope that in Tilly’s Grandad he exists still in some way. His Dark Materials is also the series that made me aware of publishing, because I had to wait for the third book in the series. I remember going into my local Waterstones every time I passed to ask if they knew when it was going to be available. As well as being brilliant stories, these books taught me about challenging corrupt authority, standing up for what is right, and showed me the power of being your own heroine, something that is at the heart of Tilly’s story too.

 

–          They Do Things Differently There by Jan Mark

“We have to be careful from now on,’ Elaine said. ‘In a minute we’ll be back where we started. If we’re going to disappear, this is where it happens.”

It is an absolute travesty that this book, first published in 1994, is out of print (I think I am going to have to petition my publisher to buy the rights and reissue it). It’s one of the weirdest, most wonderful books I’ve ever read, and my childhood copy (whose RRP is £3.50!) is very worn from how much I read it. Arguably a UKYA novel before UKYA existed as a genre, it’s about two teenage girls living in a newly built town just outside of London, inventing a hidden world in the cracks and corners of the identical suburban houses. It features fishmonger poets, avenging angels, and a mermaid factory and it is a clever, weird trip of a book that kicked off my love of books about magic just around the corner, hiding in plain sight in the real world (see also Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones!).

 

Pages & Co: Tilly And The Bookwanderers is available from 20th September 2018.

Thanks to Anna James for your time and to Sam White at HarperCollins UK for organising the tour.

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.

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.

 

Tags

Naughty Or Nice Tag

 

Coal for ‘naughty’, Candy-cane for ‘nice’. Simples? I was tagged by Liam at Bookworm Hole. He’s sent me a list of bookish things, and I have to tell you whether I’ve been naughty or nice. 

 

Received an advanced review copy and not reviewed it – 

bituminous_coalNAUGHTY. The first time I did this, the book touched on a subject I was unhappy to read about. There are good reasons people don’t finish books. I review most books I’m sent. It is difficult to know what to do when we just plain don’t get on with a book. Most bloggers start out as reviewers – people who want to talk about the books they have read with other bookish people. What is not apparent from the outside is the degree to which some people look for us to be promoters. Book reviews can and do affect a book’s sales, and authors are very real people who see negative reviews. When I don’t get on with a book, I feel the conflict between those two identities. Not reviewing is one solution which can suit all parties. 

 

Have less than 60% feedback rating on Netgalley –

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailNICE … I think. My suggested feedback averages around 80%. The trouble is when we get click-happy and are accepted for five at once. I have some to work through at the moment, but also have a large physical TBR pile. It might be worth a bit of time on Netgalley, before the damage is irreversible. 

 

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailRated a book on Goodreads, promised a full-review on your blog, then failed to keep your promise – 

NICE … Never promise. Never, ever promise. Failing to keep my Goodreads updated would be a fat lump of coal, but nobody asked me that. I find Goodreads time-consuming for what comes back from it. I believe it used to be about online book groups, but now it seems to be more about sales. Twitter has a nicer balance. 

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailFolded down the page of a book, spilled liquid on a book or otherwise blemished, blighted or marred a book –

The adjectives say it all. I should become a librarian. NICE.

 

 

Failed to finish a book –

Well, if they award lumps of coal for that, they deserve to have coal rammed down their throats. **QUESTION VOID**

 

bituminous_coalBought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it –

Intention? I probably intended to read it … but we’ll call that NAUGHTY. Strange the Dreamer and A Place Called Perfect come to mind. Their covers are striking. They were all over my Twitter feed and I *needed* them. Did I make any serious effort towards reading them. Nadda. Other books came along. 

 

bituminous_coalRead when you were meant to be doing something else – 

NAUGHTY. My hair is a constant mess and my handbag is always disorganised. It’s a choice between getting ready or the next chapter. There is no contest.

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailBorrowed a book and not returned it –

NICE. I have done this in the past, but it came about because the person in question failed to realise I hadn’t clicked with the book. Keep hold of it, keep hold of it … you know what happens. You can’t say no, you can’t read it. It sifts down the book pile and festers at the bottom.

 

bituminous_coalBroke a book buying ban –

NAUGHTY. I succeeded second time around, and went beyond my four week stipulation. The fact I stocked up ahead possibly helped. 

 

 

Started a review, left it for ages then forgotten what the book was about – 

The elf-jury would be split on this one. There have been times when I could have done a better job if I’d written it within 24 hours, but I’ve never failed to review as a result.

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailWrote in a book you were reading – NICE. 2017 is the year I discovered stationery, or more specifically the year I got addicted to Paperchase. There is no need to write in books when you have a draw full of notebooks. I did annotate books as a student. It might be cute to read my Undergrad. copy of Wuthering Heights to see what I wrote in the margins. 

 

Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads –

We spoke about this earlier … and I thought I’d got away with it. NAUGHTY. 

 

The Final Count – 

One question drawn, and one discounted. These aside the final count is:

candy-cane-classic_thumbnail candy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailbituminous_coalbituminous_coalbituminous_coalbituminous_coal

 

A close call, but the survey says I’m nice enough. Does that mean I get a Book Token in my stocking? It’s a bit late in the season to tag anyone, but if you answer please let me know and I’ll leave a comment.