Author Archives: bookwitch

Firebird Dawn

OMG, as they say, and as I usually don’t. But Nick Green’s second Firebird novel, Firebird Dawn, is quite something. As with the first book, you think you know what to expect, and then it turns out your guess wasn’t far-reaching enough.

At the end of Project Firebird you sort of sit there wondering ‘will they really?’ and you might ponder what kind of scenario an author could possibly go with to follow up on that first ending. You’ll find out.

Leo – yes, he’s still here – will have his work cut out this time round. The others too, and they need to get on, or at least to agree what to do and how to do it.

And in order not to give anything away about either the first or the second instalments of Firebird, I can’t actually say much. It’s about friendship and working with people (which sounds so sensible and boring because you won’t know what I know). It’s about remembering what you have learned and being able to use it.

At times it reminds you – in a vague sort of way – of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and you wonder what will be left to fill the third book. Firebird Dawn features a beautiful love story, treated with such a light hand that it’s barely there. It simply makes you glow happily, and that’s almost the only happy you get.

No, that’s wrong. It’s bleak, but it’s also promising.

I am fairly sure I can promise you a marvellous read. Please buy it. Tomorrow.

The #11 profile – Pat Walsh

I heard only good things about Pat Walsh’s debut novel The Crowfield Curse. Her peers kept going on about it (although I have to own up to not having managed to get my hands on a copy), which is always a good sign. Now, not only is there a sequel, The Crowfield Demon, but Pat has branched out on her own and is publishing The Hob and the Deerman, which is the first in a new, short series of stand-alone books featuring Brother Walter the hob from the Crowfield Mysteries. It is set in and around Crowfield Abbey in the 16th century and is a ghost story/historical fantasy.

You can tell how far behind I am with my reading, as well as what a prolific writer Pat is. And here we are, on the blog tour for Pat’s new book. It is my pleasure to introduce you to her, with the help of my usual profile questions:

Pat Walsh

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Five complete books, and numerous bits and pieces which never made it beyond the first few chapters. I keep everything though, as it’s surprising how often things can be recycled or reworked into something new.

Best place for inspiration?

Anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant detail can turn out to be important. I went to visit the site of a small abbey in Buckinghamshire a few years ago. There was almost nothing left to see, just an overgrown fishpond and a small chapel which stood all by itself in a field. Not the most interesting of places, but it stayed with me and became Crowfield Abbey in my Crowfield Mysteries series.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t but I would do, if I wrote something in a new genre. I think it’s a way of flagging up that you are doing something different from the work you are already known for, and it warns readers not to expect more of the same.

What would you never write about?

I wouldn’t write pornography, but apart from that, I would write anything, but only if it was a subject I felt I really wanted to write about for personal reasons, and not to jump on a passing bandwagon or because it might be commercially successful.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The most unexpected place was Chicken House supremo Barry Cunningham’s dark, damp cellar in his home in Somerset, reading a passage from The Crowfield Curse to a group of German booksellers by candlelight. They were delightful but I’m not sure how many of them actually understood what was being read to them. I wasn’t the only writer there that day, just in case this sounds odder than it really was. As for the most unexpected person – on a recent research trip to Oslo, I came across a noisy and colourful demonstration and hung around to see what was going on, and along came the Dalai Lama. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see him!

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Brother Snail from the Crowfield books. He cares deeply for the natural world, is happiest when he’s pottering about in his garden and tries to treat everyone with respect, whether they are human, animal or fay. I’m not sure I manage to live up to his standards, but I try.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a clear idea in my head of how my characters look and what their world is like, and I know they would not look the same on screen. Also, because this possibility has been raised already, I know changes would be made to the books to adapt them into a film and those changes would most likely not come from me. I’m not thrilled at the idea of someone taking my work and in some way making it into something which is no longer mine. I watched the film of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising recently and was surprised to see the Thames valley setting moved to somewhere in Eastern Europe, with its very distinctive architecture. Will Stanton seemed to have turned into an American along the way too. It wasn’t a bad film but it didn’t capture the atmosphere of the book. On the plus side, if a film adaptation was done well, then wouldn’t that be great! And I might even get a bit part as a dung-encrusted peasant!

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

A young girl of about seven asked if I had a hob of my own. I wish! I haven’t been asked anything too strange but I did hear about one fantasy writer who was asked during a school talk if she liked moles. You just have to wonder what was going through that child’s mind.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can dig up a human skeleton neatly, and have done so on a number of occasions, and I am not too bad at medieval dancing. I won first prize in a national cross stitch competition, and I won a growling toy tiger and a voucher for a Mexican meal in a phone-in quiz on a local radio station. Plenty there to fall back on if the writing dries up.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I loved them both as a child, but if I had to choose between them, it would have to be Narnia. A world full of magic and talking animals just wins out over lashings of ginger beer and plum cake. Just.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Other than you? It would have to be Carl Larsson, the Arts and Crafts painter. His paintings are a glimpse into another world and time, and are filled with light and colour. I went to see an exhibition of his work at the V&A a few years ago and was astonished by the beauty of his paintings and sketches. He has a lightness of touch which is just enchanting. (My daughter said I should pick Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood fame and I don’t think it’s for his acting skills.)

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By subject – children’s books, ghosts and the supernatural, Vikings, trees and woodland – that sort of thing. The thing is, I know where to find a particular book when I need to, even if the actual arrangement of the subject groups doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Something funny, like Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens or The Grunts, or anything by Liz Pichon or David Walliams.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I don’t think you can separate the two. I couldn’t imagine not doing either. Having said that, if civilization came to an end tomorrow, or I was sent back in time, then I could do without both, and go back to doing what humankind has done for millennia – sit by the fire and tell stories.

Skeletons. The Dalai Lama. In Oslo. Where else? And can’t you just visualise Barry Cunningham’s cellar? Finally, it pains me to admit that I don’t know what a hob is, apart from the kind you cook dinner on. I should read more.

Migs and Pig

So. Going to school is upon us again.

Jo Hodgkinson, A Big Day for Migs

Migs is starting, for the first time (yes, I know that’s what starting means), and Jo Hodgkinson shows the reader what a typical first day at school might be like.

You worry at first, but then, like so many children, Migs discovers that this school thing isn’t bad at all. He might even want to return tomorrow.

Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers, Freddy and the Pig

Whereas Freddy in Charlie Higson’s and Mark Chambers’s Freddy and the Pig, isn’t too keen on school. He wants to stay at home and play computer games. (He’s rather lazy, truth be told.) So one day he sends his pet pig to school instead.

The thing is, in this dyslexia friendly book, that the pig actually likes school. He gets better and better at it, and by the end he’s got himself a university degree and everything.

Freddy? Er, his mother sold him.

You and Harry

Call me childish if you will, but I do quite fancy being on the cover of a Harry Potter book. After all, I’m a witch.

Life size cover Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

This life size cover will be at King’s Cross today, somewhere near platform 9 ¾, from seven to seven. I believe you can be photographed inside the 3D cover (and I’m hoping it’s free, but they didn’t actually say), as they are celebrating the new edition of Harry Potter.

I’m fairly sure it’s the same picture as was on the poster Son bought in Sweden back in 2002, and which sat on his wardrobe doors (yes, doors; we cut it in half) for longer than you’d think would be considered cool. Daughter bought another poster, and I bought wallpaper. The real kind, not what you have on a computer. And a suitcase, to transport it all home.

Project Firebird

I can’t help it. I like what Nick Green writes. Very much. His books are precisely how you want children’s books to be; exciting and fun, and just that little bit different.

Nick first offered Project Firebird for me to read when he’d finished it a few years ago, and I loved it. But I knew he had edited it substantially, so felt it was best to re-read the new version. Nick is about to publish Project Firebird as an ebook in September, along with its two sequels.

It’s a dystopian adventure, with a twist. We first meet the main character – Leo – in his joy-riding days, in Salford of all places. His actions cause him to end up as one of a group of 25 (ish) young teenagers at a centre in the Lake District. They are there because they have all done a ‘good’ deed. They are different.

Events unfold in a way I don’t want to give away, but let’s just say that the plot changes dramatically several times. When you think you know, expect to be surprised, again.

The teenagers learn new skills and how to cooperate with each other (well, they are meant to) and to prepare for a bad future.

(When the Resident IT Consultant first read the book he asked if it really was all right for adults to do what they do in this story. I reckon it is. It adds to the thrill and the adventure.)

Project Firebird isn’t one of those books where you are dismayed to learn there are two more. On the contrary, you won’t want to wait to start on the sequel.

Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist 2015

The latest shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has been announced today, and from now until next year young Scottish readers can vote for their favourite books.

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray (Nosy Crow)

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins (Andersen Press)

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell (Macmillan)

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith (Birlinn)

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall (Kelpies)

Pyrate’s Boy by B. Collin (Kelpies)

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott (Kelpies)

The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

What’s nice about this – among many other things – is that small publisher Kelpies have got three books on a list of nine. Another nice thing is that this is for Scottish authors and illustrators. And then there is the handing out of free books to readers; ‘Scottish Book Trust will give a free copy of the three Bookbug category books to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland.’

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

As Jasmine Fassl at Scottish Book Trust says, ‘The Scottish Children’s Book Awards are much more than a celebration of Scottish literature – they are about expanding children’s horizons far beyond their physical boundaries and barriers. By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a 5 year old can imagine what it’s like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10 year old can hop aboard a pirate ship, and a 15 year old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone.’

I’ll read to that! I can’t vote, but we will find out who wins on 4th March next year, after Scottish children have had their say. And the rampaging robots.

Lions and Lizes

Were I not totally unworthy, I’d love to be best friends with Lizes Laird and Wein. They are so brave and adventurous and so funny. No wonder they write fantastic books. Write about what you know. Well, these two ladies know a lot.

Elizabeth Wein spent the summer strapped to the top of a small plane (which then takes off and flies). The strapping part seemed to be due to health and safety rules. Quite. Otherwise it’d be fun to just stand there, on top of a plane up in the air. Her next book, Black Dove White Raven is about circus flying, which is why Elizabeth needed to have a go. Because she loves flying, anyway, and this was fun.

She showed us photos from Ethiopia – which was the topic for the day – and when Elizabeth Laird looked more closely at a range of mountains, it turned out she had walked across them. When she was young (which apparently made it nice and easy and nothing to write home about!). EL had also once stayed with EW’s aunt and uncle in Ethiopia, many years ago.

Because EL spent a few years in Ethiopia in the 1960s, teaching – as you do. That’s when she witnessed the homecoming of Olympic champion Abebe Bikila at the airport, where she just happened to be. The Emperor met the plane, complete with favourite lion, to honour the country’s hero. It’s the done thing.

Now everyone in Ethiopia runs. Partly to get to school, when that happens to be six miles away from home and you have no car, and partly in the hopes of making it to the Olympics. Elizabeth’s new book, The Fastest Boy in the World, is about a runner. Obviously.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s book, which is due out next year, features female pilots; one white and one black. They are part of a group of pilots trained at Tuskegee, who came to Ethiopia in 1935 to set up the Ethiopian Air Force during the second Abyssinian war. The Emperor wanted to have planes and black pilots from the US.

Both Elizabeths have written other books set in Ethiopia; EW’s A Coalition of Lions is set in the sixth century, and EL’s Prince Who Walks With Lions is about a young prince during Victoria’s reign. Liz managed to forget the title of her book momentarily, and made a joke out of it. In fact, both of them are really very amusing and they should make something of this.

They said they will now need to agree in advance who gets to write about what, so no doubt they will divide up Ethiopia between them. EW admired EL’s fictional grandparents, and EL proceeded to unwrap her real grandfather’s real WWI medals. And she didn’t just show us them, but trusted us enough to allow the medals to circulate round the room.

Elizabeth Laird

Asked about writing, EL told the audience to write from the heart. Only you will know your story. Read, write and live/do stuff (which includes being strapped to the outside of planes). EW thinks people should write about what they are passionate about, and she is sure she will have to fight EL for Haile Selassie’s lion.

The best things about Ethiopia according to EL is the weather, how beautiful the country is and the people. EW agrees about the wonderful people and told us about the clever children she met in the middle of nowhere, who were able to write in three different languages.

Books they would recommend were Holes, Journey to the River Sea, Goodnight Mister Tom, Code Name Verity (EL), Noughts & Crosses and Coram Boy. EW added the books by Hilary McKay. (No cause to disagree there.)

Elizabeth Laird writes in her study, which has got a woodstove, while Elizabeth Wein is the wandering type who writes everywhere, liking the noise in cafés and on trains. She thinks it’s important to ‘get out there’ to get the right feeling for what to write. And we were unable to end the event without a very brief description of the time EL was forced to leave Ethiopia, accused of murder…

Boring these ladies are not.