Tag Archives: Bali Rai

UKYA Extravaganza comes to Nottingham

I couldn’t go, so I sent an author instead. Or more accurately, Helen Grant was going, and before she knew it, she had volunteered to write me a blog post about Nottingham. You know, the place famous for sheriffs, Bookwitches getting lost, and YA Extravaganzas.

Emma Pass

So, last weekend was ‘the second ever UKYA Extravaganza, held at Waterstones in Nottingham. The Sillitoe Room was packed with YA readers and bloggers who came to listen to nearly 30 authors speak about their work and the reasons they love UKYA.

Amongst the authors who took part (too many to list here!) were Sarah Benwell, Mike Revell, Lee Weatherly, Zoe Marriott, Bali Rai, Lucy Coats, Teri Terry and David Owen.

Lydia Syson and Sarah Benwell

Some had been inspired by issues dear to their hearts, some by places and events they had experienced, and in one case – Sue Ransom – by the desire to create a relatable book for her daughter. In one particularly startling moment, Rhian Ivory described how she discovered that the village she had chosen as the setting for her book The Boy Who Drew The Future turned out to be the last place in Britain to duck a witch!

Lucy Coats

The schedule was divided into seven panels, usually comprising four authors; each author had two minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their work, and then the floor was opened to questions for five minutes. The panels were interspersed with breaks to allow those attending to meet their favourite authors, buy books and choose items from the well-stocked swag table, which offered posters, postcards, bookmarks, badges and even magnets. Attendees were also sustained during the event by refreshments, including chocolate brownies and specially-made UKYA Extravaganza fairy cakes!

UKYA Extravaganza Nottingham

UKYA Extravaganza is a truly egalitarian initiative, with all participating authors given an equal voice. With so many of them taking part, an energetic chairperson was required, and this role was carried out by YA author Paula Rawsthorne, who kept things moving along with a light touch – and a very large hourglass!

The other great thing about UKYA Extravaganza is that it is regional, rather than always based in the same place. This means it genuinely brings a mix of YA authors to the readers, wherever they may be. And after all, these are YA books we are talking about, and some of those young readers may not be able to afford to travel long distances to attend events (NB, speaking for myself, some of the old ones can’t afford to, either). The first Extravaganza took place in Birmingham, and future events are planned for other UK locations ranging from north to south.

Teri Terry and Lee Weatherly

For those who are unable to attend at all, or who would like to relive the Extravaganza fun, Lisa Golding of City of YA Books filmed the authors introducing themselves and talking for a few minutes. She’ll be editing these mini interviews into a YouTube video, so that’s something to look out for!

The second UKYA Extravaganza is followed this weekend (17th October) by a UKMG Extravaganza at Nottingham Central Library. For details of this and future events, follow UKYA Extravaganza on Twitter at @UKYAX or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ukyax.’

Helen and I are now holding out for more northerly Extravaganzas. I believe Newcastle has been mentioned, but I must point out there is nothing wrong with Central Scotland. Just bring it on!

(All photos by Helen Grant)

Soul Mates and an Old Dog

That’s not the title of a book, btw. I was simply thinking how great it is that I have two Barrington Stoke books here; one for girls and one for boys. I know, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical, but in this instance it does seem to me that Lee Weatherly’s Soul Mates is pretty satisfyingly girly, while Bali Rai has written an inspirational story for teenage boys in Old Dog New Tricks. What’s more, it covers the ‘immigrant’ angle too, even though Harvey is no immigrant. He just happens to look like one.

Bali Rai, Old Dog New Tricks

Harvey and his family are sikhs, and when they move into the house next door to old Mick, they soon find out how unpleasant their new neighbour can be. But they are friendly and persistent people, so try really hard to make contact with the lonely old man.

The story provides a good mix of ordinary life for people in Britain, whether sikh or white or black. As Harvey says, if Mick were to close his eyes, he wouldn’t be able to hear that Harvey is a foreigner. Because he isn’t.

I learned something new, too, that if I’m hungry or lonely, I can pop round to my nearest gurdwara for food and company. That sounds most civilised, and I hope Bali hasn’t set an avalanche rolling by introducing this sikh tradition in his book.

L A Weatherly, Soul Mates

Lee’s Soul Mates is about precisely that. Two teenagers who for years have dreamed about each other, despite never having met. They just know the other is their soul mate.

And when Iris and Nate do meet, they realise they have come face to face with their dream person. But not just their soul mate, unfortunately. Their dreams have also had a certain scary aspect to them, and they immediately feel this evil danger closing in on them.

They have to work out who or what it is, and whether they and their love can survive this threat. As I said, very nicely girly and romantic.

Barrington Stoke are on the right track, commissioning stories like these. Everybody deserves to read good stuff.

Barrington Stoke is 15!

Reading is easy to take for granted. Even though there was a time when I couldn’t read, and even though I remember that my first ‘real’ book (Famous Five) took me a week at age seven, you soon unlearn what went before. So I read. I used to read very fast (at least I thought I did), and now I’m rather slower again, but I read.

And you know that delicious feeling you get when you discover that the book you’re starting on is one of those really special ones, that will – almost – change your life? I suppose I must have felt like that, all those years ago. Realising that my Treasure Island experience could just go on and on.

Rather stupidly, I hadn’t thought too much about what it might be like to be dyslexic and not read, and then to find something like the Barrington Stoke books and find that you can. You are actually reading! Or to be the parent of such a child. Hopefully it is a child. To become an adult and still have nothing you can read seems too sad.

Browsing the booklet about the books Barrington Stoke are planning to publish to celebrate their 15 years of making readers out of people, made even me excited. There is something so satisfying in finding that top authors are writing Barrington Stoke books. If I could, I’d read them all. As it is, I have read two of the January titles, which are both quite mature and quite scary and strangely both about dead people and consequences.

 Andy Stanton, Meg Rosoff, Pete Johnson, Lee Weatherly, Philip Ardagh, Catherine Johnson, Bali Rai, Karen McCombie, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nigel Hinton and Kaye Umansky

Keith Gray has written You Killed Me! which is a marvellous story. Imagine waking up and finding a man at the end of your bed. A man with a hole in his head, accusing you of killing him, and demanding you put things right.

Shivers by Bali Rai features the teen ‘geek’ who suddenly finds he has the hottest girl around for his girlfriend. But she is somewhat unusual, and soon his life turns around, and not for the better. I thought at first the girl might be a vampire, but she’s not…

I’d like for these two books to start someone’s shivers, either when they discover reading for the first time, or as two more great reads following many earlier ones.

(For the ‘normal’ reader the only thing wrong with them is they don’t last long enough. Although I suppose that means it’s easier to read more of them.)

Bookwitch bites #93

Luckily I didn’t run into either of these two chaps as I haunted Edinburgh this week. Twice. That’s twice I didn’t see them. In fact, I forgot to even think about Philip Caveney and whoever that is behind him. ‘He’s behind you!’ Lucky, seeing as I was running around all alone in the dark.

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Lucky too, that I had not yet come across Chris Priestley’s A Creepy Christmas, the story he has written for 247 tales. That is another thing you don’t want to have on your mind as you’re out alone, in the dark or otherwise. Good to see that the 247 tales are still going strong.

Pleased to hear that Bali Rai won one of the categories at the Sheffield Book Awards this week; his quick read The Gun. Obviously, other books won too, and even more were commended. Read all about it here.

Have been alerted that Sophie Hannah – who seems to be successful at just about everything these days – has been shortlisted for the Nibbies. The event is on Tuesday next week. Lots of other authors are also on the various shortlists, and pirates would appear to be in as far as children’s book titles are concerned. (It was hard to find the lists, however. Something wrong with google? Can’t be me, can it?)

But I did find it a little tricky to discover the Costa shortlist, as well. (So definitely not me, then.) Sally Gardner, Diana Hendry, Hayley Long and Dave Shelton are this year’s hopefuls. I’ve read two.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

And speaking of awards, I was very happy to hear that Barry Hutchison got married last week. He had proposed in a fairly public sort of way, by putting it in one of his books. Glad it paid off, and that he has now been made an honest man of. More good Hutchison news is the arrival of the cover for The Book of Doom. Would quite like for the rest of the book to get here, too. Fast.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

Fast is what another book would have managed, had I not been so busy running around a darkened Edinburgh. (See top.) A very early incarnation of The Bone Trail, the last in the Wyrmeweald trilogy by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell has been made available to me. I happened to mention I wasn’t feeling especially patient.

Arrived home to find DHL had missed me. (Miss you too.) I arranged for redelivery on Monday. Except they turned up yesterday. As I squeezed the package (to find out what it might be, the way you do) it felt like a rucksack. Couldn’t see why Random House would send me one of those.

I will now stick a plain sheet of A4 to the back of The Bone Trail to prevent me accidentally looking at what seems to be the last page of the book. A witch likes some element of surprise.

How can they not know about the war?

Occasionally I feel the need to apologise, quietly, for my fondness for war novels. It doesn’t always feel right. It’s like crime novels. It ought to be wrong to enjoy something that’s based on someone dying. In war lots of people not only die, but millions more are miserable. How can you enjoy that?

But you need some sort of conflict in a story, and what can be better than war? You don’t even need to blame an individual. We know who or what caused the war, and then the characters can get on with what they have to do.

I’m on this topic again, after the shock of hearing Peter Englund talking about the background to his WWI book; that his history students at Uppsala didn’t know that the war had happened. I felt a bit like, if they didn’t learn about it during history lessons, then surely they must have come across war fiction at some point?

But apparently not.

So I shouldn’t feel bad about war novels. They not only entertain, but can potentially give history lessons where history lessons are needed. In actual fact, I feel I learn more about many school subjects by reading fiction, rather than school books, or listening to teachers droning on and on.

Linda Newbery is someone who has written many WWI novels, and I might not still remember all the fictional details (I am a terrible forgetter), but they still provide me with a good feel for the war as such. The same goes for Theresa Breslin and Marcus Sedgwick. In fact, when my forgetfulness works full time, I find some of the plots blend into one, and that is pehaps because they are all pretty true, and they all share the same basic settings.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Leaving fiction behind, there is the marvellous Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. That, too, is similar to the novels mentioned above. Presumably because it is about the same period and similar activities.

There is Michael Morpurgo’s tale about the football match played at Christmas between the British and the Germans (based on something real?). I have come across it many times, and would guess many children or former children also have.

I wonder if there is a difference between neutral Sweden and countries which took part in the war? (This in turn makes me think of Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts, featuring the destiny of all the Indians who fought in Europe in the Great War.) Now that no one has a living great grandfather who fought in WWI, it must still be well known. Newspapers write about it often. I imagine families still talk about those who died. And for that matter, those who came back.

Recently I had cause to look at the family tree again (British side), and was reminded of the Resident IT Consultant’s great uncles. He had many of them, but two he never met, because they died within days of each other in July 1916. I keep thinking of how their mother must have felt.

Revisiting two Indian tales

So far I’ve been feeling strangely apologetic whenever books set in India or about India feature a lot of British people and plotlines. But when you think about it, you can’t remove something that was once reality, however wrong it might have been. And I’m guessing it’s not just authors from other countries who like writing about what used to be.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Midnight Palace

Two novels that made a lasting impression on me are Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. From similar periods, 1919 and 1932 respectively, they are modern and ancient at the same time. Both have a super-natural element to them; something that can’t be explained but still seems quite normal.

The only thing that would define these novels as being Young Adult is that their main characters are teenagers. Both are about growing up and about coming to terms with what has happened in the past. Both are strong on friendship.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

There is sacrifice in both books as well. In City of Ghosts we have the Indian soldier who goes to fight in the war in Europe, and in The Midnight Palace there is the grandmother who has to give up her newborn baby grandson to someone else for him to stay safe.

I obviously don’t know if this is right, but feel there is a really strong flavour of India in these stories. One was written by a Spanish author, and the other by a British born Indian. Both strike me as genuine. Both leave me wanting more.

Bookwitch bites #69


Time to do things!  ‘Faber and Faber has launched THE SPARK, a place for 13 – 16 year olds who have an interest in creativity and reading. During 2012 THE SPARK, hosted on Facebook, will invite young people to take part in some exciting projects around acting, film-making, writing and music, each linked to and inspired by a Faber Young Adult title.’

Now, you know me. I’m not much of a joiner of things, but I suspect that if Facebook had been invented in the dark ages of the 1970s, I might have found myself wanting to try some of what they are/will be doing on this Spark page.

For people too old to spark there is The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award 2013 to go for instead. Write ‘a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.’ There is a prize of £1500, plus the option of being published.

So that’s 15,000 to 35,000 words by the 31st December 2012. Start writing, or dust off that old ms in your drawer!

If you have your eye on a very special prize, however, I can recommend the Booktrust short story competition. 500 words on the riots in 2011, and you could win a day in the company of Bali Rai. I’m tempted to pretend I’m aged 13 to 17 just for that.

Ellie Daines, Lolly Luck

An ‘ethnic’ book for fans of Jacqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy (I’m just quoting here…) is Lolly Luck by Ellie Daines. I was blogging about minorities last week, and it is so wrong that ‘black’ books for children should have to be considered ‘minority’ or ‘ethnic’. You wouldn’t say that about characters from Yorkshire. (Or would you?) But on the basis that young black readers might well want to read about children with darker than the British average skin, I’m glad that Lolly Luck is here.

Let there be plenty more like her.

I have heard a rumour that there is a Blue Peter book programme on Thursday next week. I’m advising you now, just so you remember to tune in, because I might very well forget as the week careers ahead in the way weeks do.

And I feel some careering coming on.