Category Archives: Authors

Stars Shall Be Bright

Catherine MacPhail, Stars Shall Be Bright

In memory of the lost children of Maryhill, who died in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster exactly one hundred years ago today. We don’t know their names or what they were doing on a train full of soldiers going off to war.

Catherine MacPhail has a theory, which she shares with us in this Barrington Stoke story, Stars Shall Be Bright. She reckons they were siblings James, Belle and William, who set off to find their dad who was a soldier.

Their mum has just died and to avoid being taken into a home, James decides to take his brother and sister on a trek to find their dad, lying in order to get away from a ‘well meaning’ neighbour.

They hide on a stationary train, which soon fills up with over 500 soldiers, travelling from Larbert to Liverpool, on their way to Gallipoli. Near Gretna Green the train was involved in a three train crash, with 225 soldiers dead, 246 injured, and 65 walking wounded.

And then there were the bodies of three children.

Lovely (yes really) story, but awfully sad.

The Fugitive

The fifth Theodore Boone is here! I have to own up to still enjoying these junior John Grisham books very much. And that cliffhanger I could see at the end of the first book, which then didn’t materialise? Well, it’s here now. And matters continue to wobble near the edge of the cliff as we leave Theodore and have to wait for the sixth and last book.

Strattenburg’s most wanted man is back. Theodore goes on a school trip to Washington, and accidentally comes across this suspected murderer on the run. Because Theo is Theo, he knows what to do to prove it’s Pete Duffy, and the point of the book is not the catching of Mr Duffy, so much as the trial he needs to face.

John Grisham, The Fugitive

Because it’s the law that Theo the miniature lawyer is passionate about, and it’s important that young readers learn how the law is – supposedly – there to take care of you and keep you safe. The town of Strattenburg is not perfect, but it does its best.

Pete Duffy is not the loveliest of men, and nor is his defense lawyer, or his ‘helpers.’ Some people will go to any lengths to escape jail, and one of the witnesses for the prosecution in particular has to stay brave and remember his duty. But will he? Can he? The case is so difficult that Theo begins to doubt his calling.

The usual interaction with Theo’s parents, Theo’s favourite judge, and some pretty nifty action from uncle Ike.

Liz Kessler on Read Me Like a Book

The fact that I had looked forward so much to reading Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book, doesn’t mean that I believe it will be all straight sailing. That’s why I nailed the lovely Liz to the spot and asked all kinds of questions on how she sees the future for this new book of hers:

Liz Kessler

So, from mermaids via fairies and a bit of time travelling and some plain invisibility, to a book on discovering you are gay… That’s quite a journey. (I know you actually began with the gay book, before moving on to more conventional mermaids.)

You’re right, I did write this book first – and it has been sitting in a drawer for over a decade! I personally don’t think of this as ‘the gay book’ though. I really hope it’s much more than that! But yes – definitely quite a journey!

Do you reckon your first fans are old enough to be ready for this complete change of genre? In fact, perhaps this older book is what you need, to hang on to readers as they outgrow the mermaids?

My first book came out in 2003, so I guess many of my early fans will now be in their late teens or even early twenties. Hopefully that means they are well within the age group for a YA book! I do hope that some of my readers will progress through my books, and that they will see the similarities and the links in terms of themes between all of my books. I don’t see this book as a complete change of genre at all. I just think it’s a book aimed at a different age group. Like almost all my books, this one deals with subjects like learning to accept others, becoming comfortable with yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being bold and honest. As to whether my readers are ‘ready’ or not – well, you’ll have to ask them that! All I know is that I very much hope they are!

Have you any fears regarding parental gatekeepers, or is Read Me Like a Book purely for readers who decide for themselves?

Up to this point, I have only received positive comments, and the book seems (up to now) to be coming out in a climate of celebration and support. Perhaps some of the gatekeepers – be they parents, librarians or teachers – might have issues with some of the content of the book. If they do, there is nothing I can do about that. To be honest though, I think that they would have to be fairly extreme in their views to be worried by this book. It isn’t setting out to be controversial in any way. It is about many issues which all teenagers can hopefully relate to, whatever their gender or sexuality. As to whether this is a book purely for readers to decide for themselves or not – it’s no different from any other YA book in that respect. I can only write the books. I can’t decide who will pick them up or what their motivation or decision-making process will be.

Are you expecting a ‘Melvin Burgess, Doing It’ type of outcry in schools?

No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has read both books would see any link between them. This is not a book about sex. It’s a book about first love, about the struggles of teenage years, about coming to terms with who we are.  

You seem like the kind of woman who’d encourage your fans to ask questions about all sorts of things. Has anyone ever sought advice on gay issues?

Not yet. I do encourage people to feel able to ask me questions, and if as a result of this book I am asked questions on LGBT matters, I’ll do my best to give my own honest answers and hope that they will help.

It’s been a while since you wrote Read Me Like a Book. Are there significant changes to society that affect gay teenagers, be they good or bad?

Society has changed a lot since then – and I would say that most of the changes are for the better. More famous people are ‘out’ today than fifteen years ago, so young LGBT people have more role models. The nasty, homophobic ‘Section 28’ no longer exists. We have anti-discrimination laws to give more protection to LGBT people. Attitudes are more positive. But we’re not there yet. If we were, I don’t think I would be asked whether I’m expecting an outcry for publishing this book! 😉

Why not write a completely new book? Was it hard to go into your first book and start editing it to fit 2015?

I do write completely new books all the time! (I think you’ve read most of them!) This book is important to me, and I wanted to get it out there. I’m glad that my publisher has agreed with me that the time is right to do that. There was a lot of editing to get it up to date, and up to scratch. Many things had changed in fifteen years, so I did a lot of work. In fact, I would say it probably feels like a new book now!

Is there anything you’ve worried about to do with this new book? Other than it is a new book, and you can’t know before it’s out there how it will do.

Yes of course – I worry that not everyone is as accepting and ready for the book as most people seem to be. I worry that some parents might not realise it’s a 14+ YA book and buy it for a younger child (although we’ve done everything we can to hopefully prevent this). Perhaps I worry that I will be asked to do too many interviews that make me feel like I’m having to defend a book that I don’t feel should have to be defended in this way! But my mind is mostly focused on the excitement I feel about it, not on worries.

What are you most looking forward to with Read Me Like a Book?

Getting an email from a teenager telling me that my book has helped them to feel confident about who they are and not feel alone. If I get one email like that, my job is done.

Might you write more books like this, or is it straight back to fantasy now?

I don’t think I write fantasy – I think that I write books about the real world, but quite often they have a magical element in them. I will continue to write those for the Middle Grade age group, and I am planning to continue to pursue a YA strand as well.

It seems that I am far more worried about the world than Liz is. And she’s quite right; finding out – and learning to accept – that you are gay is actually much the same thing as discovering you are half mermaid. We’re all a bit different, but also the same. I wish her book and its readers all the best.

It’s Bookbug Week!

For a moment when the email came I was under the impression I was being invited to get into bed with Debi Gliori, but on closer inspection the invitation was ‘only’ to watch school children read books with Debi. In a bed, as you do with bedtime stories. On a farm, which is less common, but why not?

FREE PIC- BookBug Week Launch 03

Sheep next to your bed is handy for when you need to count them, if nothing else. And the children look as if they had fun. I might have gone to watch, had I not been otherwise engaged on Monday morning. But Scottish Book Trust have sent some photos on, so it’s almost as if I was there. ‘Away in a manger…’

As well as photographing reading sheep, Scottish Book Trust are involved in giving books to every Scottish child. Which, as I keep saying, is an excellent idea. They have also looked into the statistics of how many parents read to their children, and at what age. 72% have read to their child before 12 months, which is pretty good. If this Bookbug gifting continues those figures are likely to improve.

Director Marc Lambert says ‘Sharing a book with your child on a regular basis, from as early an age as possible, is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to make a real difference to their future. You might feel silly reading to a tiny newborn, or even to your bump, but your baby will listen closely to the rhythm of your voice and the speech patterns, laying strong foundations for later language development. It’s never too late to get started though – at any age your child will soon realise that books equal cuddles, helping to inspire a love of reading which will last a lifetime.’

I think I was probably of the school of thought that I felt a bit silly to begin with, but your child won’t know that.

As well as the free books, there are lots of events on this week. In Scotland. If you live somewhere else, you might want to consider moving.

FREE PIC- BookBug Week Launch 05

Outcaste

This is so good. Outcaste is the impatiently – by me anyway – awaited sequel to Ellen Renner’s Tribute. I’m not sure how Ellen does it, but she certainly knows how to write a marvellous story.

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Set in a fantasy world, Zara has been forced to leave her home, a place where magic rules, and she is now a refugee along with several groups of non-magic people. Being a mage is not good, and Zara needs to work hard at hiding her natural talents.

Her father, the Archmage is wanting to catch her, after she tried to kill him. But sometimes it’s not the people with magic who are the worst. It seems some of the other peoples have traditions that are not terribly attractive either. The refugees are heading to the homeland of Aidan, the boy she has fallen in love with. And her problems won’t necessarily be over when she gets there.

Outcaste is not a book you can easily describe. It’s a book you want to read. Now. (But read Tribute first.) It has a love story to die for (not that you want anyone to die), and that in itself is rare enough these days.

I’ll be thinking of that love as I wait for another book from Ellen, be it another sequel or something else. Anything else. This is what YA should be like. And in Zara’s friend Twiss, we have a young girl character of almost Dido Twite-ish proportions. I would very much like to see more of her.

CrimeFest

I was going to waffle a wee bit about yet another CrimeFest I’m not actually at. (And half glad I’m not, because of that ‘new-ish’ intolerance to travel and crowds.) The main reason I would have wanted to be there was to hear Maj Sjöwall. But we can’t have everything.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

But you’ll be spared the waffling, because the only other comment I have to make about this Bristol weekend gathering of professional killers – who according to Stuart Neville ‘are generally friendly’ – is that they announced the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger on Friday evening. And they’ve had the good taste to include Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman, mostly famous around these parts for having been translated ‘in-house’ by Son of Bookwitch.

I’m actually reasonably proud.

And in the Short Story Dagger, the aforementioned Stuart Neville has been shortlisted for his contribution to the Oxcrimes anthology with Juror 8, which was my favourite. Well done, there too.

May both my favourites win.

Full circle

Five years on, Candy Gourlay and I were back where we started. No, not on Facebook. At Carluccio’s St Pancras. When thinking about what we might do – briefly – before I got on my northbound broomstick, I realised that we could finally have some more of the coffee ice cream we have reminisced about over the years. We both like it, and we both eat it sometimes, but never together.

I got there early, and was sitting reading, completely engrossed in Lucy Coats’s Cleo, when I realised someone was standing there, staring at me. But I suppose it’s fairly suitable to be found nose down in a book when you have a brunch date with an author.

And over my poached eggs we discussed lots of publishing stuff and books and writers. None of which I’ll tell you about. Children. Interior decorating. How to stay warm in our old age. Yes, really. Actually Candy believes she’s already too old, which doesn’t leave much hope for me. But we agreed that you need to have lived before you can write worthwhile stuff.

After the eggs, and the coffee ice cream, Candy accompanied me across the road to the other station, the one with a perennial queue for platform 9 3/4, but I said there was no reason for her to wait with me. I promised to leave town even if not escorted, and I did so by following the sudden stampede towards platform 4, once the Aberdeen train had been announced.

It’s good to have gone to London, but better still to get home again. I’m too old for all this big city life, seeing lots of people in crowds. I’ll have to set up meetings with people one at a time in future. If anyone ever wants to see me…

(The recipe for the coffee cheesecake will, possibly, turn up some time if I don’t forget.)