Thursday, 26 February 2015

Blog Tour and Kindle Giveaway: Mario Routi's 5 Greatest Wizards

I am hugely excited to be on the Mario Routi blog tour, partly because one of my readers is about to win a Kindle (which, let's face it, is pretty cool!) but mostly because Mario has AMAZING taste in wizards - and saves the best until last in this fab post!

The 5 Greatest Wizards of All Time by Mario Routi

Since childhood, I have always been intrigued by wizards. As a fantasy writer, I know that the genre would not be the same without them. Wizards even haunt other genres, in the form of wise people imparting sage advice, or characters with seemingly inexplicable powers. However, it is in fantasy that wizards flourish the most, wielding extraordinary powers while trying to remain true to themselves.

Wizards come in all shapes and sizes. They could be wise men guiding heroes on their quests, or heroes themselves, trying to get by with a fumbling grasp of magic and quite a bit of luck. But in all their guises, wizards continue to fascinate me. Their ability to wield magic and power is balanced by great responsibility, and this delicate balance lies at the heart of great characters.

I like all wizards: the good, the bad, and those who just don’t know where they stand. However, my favourite wizards are wise, or if they cannot be wise, kind. They are thoughtful, carrying great weights on their shoulders as they balance duty and love, right and wrong. And in honour of all the wonderful wizards that exist, here is a list of my top 5:


One of the greatest and oldest wizards of all time, Merlin still persists in the popular imagination, inspiring writers and scriptwriters to keep bringing him back to our books and screens. Entwined with the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin is an archetypal figure, the wizard that serves as a template. He is a great magician, and yet he is also human and fallible in his capacity as advisor to Arthur. He reminds me when I write that no amount of power can solve all problems. And perhaps, as some legends suggest, he lives on still.


J.R.R. Tolkein’s great wizard is now, thanks to Sir Ian McKellen’s now-iconic interpretation, famous all over the world. Yet I discovered Gandalf long before, reading my way through Tolkein’s works as a boy. Gandalf, old and wise, helps the characters in the Fellowship and in the Hobbit as often with cunning and intelligence as he does with magic. Wisdom, not magical ability, is prized above all else. Gandalf stands as a counterpoint to Saruman, testament to the fact that character, not magic, renders a wizard good or bad. 


While some might argue that Harry Potter is a greater wizard than Dumbledore – being the Boy Who Lived and all – I would disagree. Dumbledore is the wise teacher who guides Harry through his years at Hogwarts, who always knows more than he says, and who allows Harry to become such a great wizard himself. And who can forget a wizard who only wants socks for Christmas?

Septimus Heap

Angie Sage’s boy wizard is really more an apprentice than a full wizard, as he goes through his ExtraOrdinary Wizard training in his signature green robes. Together with his pet dragon Spit Fyre, Septimus has many adventures as he learns to control and use his magical powers. Yet it is his desire for family and love and his search for identity that make him so relatable, and ultimately such a great wizard.


Raistlin, from the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, is both a protagonist and an antagonist: he straddles the line between good and evil, and yet remains an intriguing character throughout. His weak health might make some question him as a great wizard, but Raistlin proves all his doubters wrong, using his intelligence and magical abilities to pursue power. And Raistlin is so fascinating because, despite turning to evil, he holds true to a code of honour that makes us rethink the simplicity of villains. Even evil wizards can be great.

To celebrate the publication of Rebecca Newton and the Last Oracle, I have a brand new kindle and a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader in the UK. To be in with a chance of winning, simply tweet your answer to the following question to @yayeahyeah and @MarioRouti using the hashtag #RebeccaNewton:

‘If you were granted one superpower, what would it be?’

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Dreamsnatcher Blog Tour: Characters and Their Favourite Gypsy Recipes

Thrilled to welcome my friend, debut author Abi Elphinstone, to the blog today as part of the Dreamsnatcher blog tour to talk about characters in her brilliant MG adventure The Dreamsnatcher and their favourite recipes! 

While Moll is trapped in a witchdoctor’s lair she tries to convince one of the servant boys there that she can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting. In her own words: ‘Big bends in the g, f, j and q mean a person’s greedy; small loops in the a, d, e and o mean a person’s tight-fisted, those wispy dashes across the t and f there mean this person’s clever-thinking.’ But Moll’s lies are as thick as they come when she’s fighting for a plan to escape. It got me thinking though – perhaps you can tell a little about a person from the things they do and like. And so, I’ve asked each of my characters what their favourite gypsy recipe is – then I’ve done a bit of inventing to see what that might mean about them…

Moll scoffing sausages

MOLL: Elderflower in Batter
Make a batter with flour and milk, some sugar and a beaten egg.
Take an elderflower head (cut short at the stalk).
Dip it into the batter and shallow-fry in butter.

Character notes: short recipes mean a person is impatient and probably headstrong – they don’t like cooking but the eating is all good. The shallow-fry in butter implies means this character has a cheeky side and the use of a wild plant like elderflower suggests an unpredictable nature

GRYFF: Duck from the river…
Lie hidden in an alder branch overhanging the river
Wait, crouch low and size up prey, hopefully a duck
Leap from the branches, splay claws then dig fangs into duck’s neck
Drag prey to the banks and consume it

Character notes: the way the wildcat waits silently for its prey indicates a stealthy, secretive nature and its violent attack suggests a wild personality

SIDDY: Joey Grey soup
Add oil or lard to the pot and melt
Add six sausages and cook until brown
Remove the sausages and chop them up into chunks
Place the sausages back into the pot with six rashers of chopped bacon
Cook until brown
Add 3 chopped onions and 1 garlic clove
Once brown add water and 4 potatoes
Cook potatoes until soft
Add 4 large tomatoes and stock then cook until tomatoes soften
Serve with bread and butter

Character notes: six sausages imply the person may be slightly greedy but the tradition at the heart of this Romany soup dictates a loyal character

Traditional Romany pots and pans for cooking

ALFIE: Poacher’s Stew
Mix ½ a cup of flour with 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper
Coat 2lbs of venison in the flour
Melt butter or lard in a heavy cast iron Dutch oven pot
Brown the meat then add 6 cups of water and heat until boiling
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours
Stir in 3 potatoes, 1 turnip, 4 carrots, 1 bell pepper, 4 stalks of celery, 1 onion, 1lb white button mushrooms (all of the above should be peeled and cubed)
Add 1 bay leaf
Simmer for 30-45 minutes until vegetables are tender
Heat to boiling and boil for 2 minutes, stirring continuously
Best served with fresh bread

Character notes: the name of the recipe shows this person is tough and can survive in the wild, but the fact that the venison is poached might mean this character is keeping a secret…

OAK: Pot of Shackles
Half fill a large cooking pot with water
Add pheasant meat, onions, split peas (soaked overnight) & lentils (soaked overnight)
Cook until the meat is cooked through
Add chopped swede, carrots, parsnips, turnips and potatoes and cook
Add stock and stir
Mix flour and fat with a little water and make into dumplings using floured hands
Float dumplings on top of meal and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes

Character notes: this hearty, filling meal is for a person who is active throughout the day, and its warming nature suggests a kindness at this character’s heart. Dumplings imply strength

MOOSHIE: Cake in the Pan
Put 8 tablespoons of self-raising flour into a bowl and add a big blob of lard
Mix together with your fingertips
Add a load of redcurrants and blackcurrants (picked under a full moon)
Add a pinch of salt and sugar, and mix well
Whisk up an egg and add, together with water (or milk), and mix to a stiff dough
Press out on to a floured tray or board into a round shape about ¾ inch thick
Get the swing-pan hot and throw in some lard
When the lard is melted and hot, place the cake in
When golden brown, turn over and cook the other side

Character notes: A baking recipe implies a kind, warm nature though the use of the swing pan suggests a fiery temper. Berries picked under a full moon mean this person is a strong believer in the magical properties of plants

CINDERELLA BULL: Bacon-or-Rasher Pudding
Put 8 tablespoons of self-raising flour into a bowl
Add 4 tablespoons of shredded suet (raw beef or mutton – the hard fat found around the lions and kidneys – if you have Atora beef suet that will do)
Mix ingredients together
Pour in some cold water and mix to a stiff dough
Flour a big tray or board and roll out to about 16 inches x 11 inches
Place a few rashers of bacon, sliced onions and tomatoes on top
Sprinkle with dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper
Roll up (like a Swiss roll)
Wet edges to stick together
Flour a muslin cloth (or cotton tea cloth) and roll pudding in it loosely
Tie end with string, wrap loosely and tie other end
Place in big pot of boiling water and let it bubble gently for 2 hours
Best served with boiled spuds and cabbage

Character notes: The slightly strange, contradictory nature of the title of this recipe suggests a person with a mystical mind. The dried mixed herbs imply a close connection with natural spirits and the precise nature of the recipe indicates this person adopts rituals when carrying out activities

HARD-TIMES BOB: Hotchi Witchi
Encase a hedgehog in clay and bake on a campfire until the clay is glowing red
Break open the clay and you will find the spines of the animal stuck to the inside
Roast the meat over the fire on a spit
Keep turning until the meat is cooked through
Serve with spuds or raspberry jam

Character notes: though not to everyone’s taste, this recipe shows the person has a cheeky sense of humour, verging on the absurd. The spuds show a fondness for tradition but the raspberry jam indicates the underlying randomness at the heart of this person

A Romany hearth

SKULL: Stewed rat
Skin and gut the rat then split it lengthwise
Fry in butter until brown
Cover with water then add tomatoes, peppers and salt
Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice

Character notes: The rat is an unlucky symbol for gypsies and so surrounding this person is a sense of darkness. The violent language used in the recipe implies a sinister side to this character. Watch out…

GOBBLER: Jellied crows’ eyes
After killing 3 crows, cut out their eyes
Sprinkle them with sat then swallow them whole

Character notes: This repulsive recipe suggests a grotesque and even inhumane character. And the slimy texture of the eyeballs indicates a disgusting physical quality to the person’s appearance

Chop up 6 rashers of streaky bacon
Shallow fry the rashers in butter
Twice boil a handful of Dock leaves (lightly salt water, boil for two minutes in each pan)
Tip rashers into the washed and dried Dock leaves
Sprinkle with vinegar
Wrap Dock leaf edges up to form small parcels
Hold in place with cocktail sticks

Character notes: short recipes mean a person is impatient and probably headstrong – they don’t like cooking but the eating is all good. The shallow-fry in butter implies means this character has a cheeky side and the use of a wild plant like elderflower suggests an unpredictable nature.
Sound like anyone from THE DREAMSNATCHER?!

Abi Elphinstone writing up the recipe ideas in a wood in Scotland

Thanks for a fab post, Abi! Check out Abi's website or follow her on Twitter - and don't miss the wonderful Dreamsnatcher trailer!. Also, if you're a teacher, you may be interested in her resources for teaching The Dreamsnatcher.

Top Ten Tuesday: Heroines

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Dido Twite (Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken)

Despite seemingly dying at the end of one book, Dido resurfaces because fans were devastated to see her go and Joan Aiken decided she couldn't see the character giving up in the way she seemed to. I've never read the final few books in this series. Part of me really wants to, as Aiken is such a phenomenal writer, and the earlier ones are some of my favourites of all-time. Part of me feels that, if I avoid finishing the series, it's like Dido's story will never end.

Joey Bettany/Maynard (Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

I have a long and complicated history with the CS series; there are times I think I'll never reread any of them (except Exile, still one of the best books ever written) again, despite them being a huge part of my childhood. But despite her flaws, Joey, both as an impulsive schoolgirl in the first 12 books and later as a neighbour to the school and mother to students, is one of the first main characters I ever really loved reading about.

Pea Llewellyn (Pea's Book series by Susie Day)

Pea simultaneously feels like she's walked out of a Noel Streatfeild book and like a thoroughly modern heroine - truly magical writing from Susie Day. I love her, her relationship with her mum and sisters, and her deep thoughts - especially in Pea's Book of Holidays as she tries to reconcile her adoration of Enid Blyton's books with the fact that Blyton just didn't write about families like Pea's.

Moll (The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone) 

I swear I'll actually review this at some point (although probably not before it's released on Thursday - oops) but as you've seen on Twitter, no doubt, I'm a huge fan of plucky Romany gypsy heroine Moll and the bond she shares with loyal wildcat Gryff.

Drina Adams (Drina series by Jean Estoril)

Drina and Grant were my OTP long before I even knew what the term OTP meant. This is still my favourite series ever, holding up to countless rereads. Fiery Drina, determined to dance despite her grandparents' objections, is a sensationally good lead.

Emily Sparkes (Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald)

The strongest voice of any MG heroine for a long, long time makes Emily Sparkes a series which I'm already in love with after just one book! I can't wait for more from Ruth Fitzgerald.

Faith (Faith series by Candy Harper)

Like I'd have missed Faith out. I absolutely adore her as a narrator, she has a truly incredibly voice and both books are utterly hilarious.

Jen Robins (Abbey Girls series by Elsie J Oxenham)

My other Girls Own love, in addition to Drina and the Chalet School, the Abbey Girls have perhaps held up less well than either overall. Despite them seeming outdated at times, there's still a lot of good stuff in them, and much of it centres around the irrepressible Jen, who was one of my very earliest crushes.

Maddie/Queenie (Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein)

I couldn't separate the two heroines of Elizabeth Wein's stunning novel, one of my favourites for many, many years. Both are utterly superb characters.

To see who my number one is (or, more realistically if you're a long-term reader, to see what I said about the obvious omission here), head over to MG Strikes Back!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Sarah Crossan's Favourite Books

Apple and Rain was a favourite of mine last year, with wonderfully portrayed characters. (Check out my review here.) To mark the recent paperback publication, I'm delighted to have Sarah Crossan taking part in my Classic Children's/YA feature today.

You know, I’ve read more classic children’s books as an adult than I ever read as a child, partly because I wasn’t really turned on to reading in a big way until I was around thirteen, by which time I was much more interested in the Point Horror series and Virginia Andrews than I ever had been in Enid Blyton or C.S. Lewis. But which ones do I remember loving? And which classics are my favourites now? It’s hard to say because it depends on my mood. But today? Hmmm.

1.      Out of Dust by Karen Hesse. This is a Newbery winning modern American classic written in verse which, in many ways, encouraged me to try using this form for The Weight of Water. It’s set during the dust bowl and tells the story of a girl struggling to cope with the loss of her mother. I do have a thing for books about children who have lost their parents whether physically or otherwise. My own novel, Apple and Rain, is a book about a girl whose mother walks out on her when she is a toddler and how that pivotal moment impacts the character’s life. 

2.      Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Oh yes, another one with an orphan in it, I’m afraid. But what I love about Dickens is the way he manages to make us feel such passionate sympathy for the mistreated children in his books. He does this, of course, by drawing his villains so well. I’m also a massive fan of Great Expectations and David Copperfield. Can’t go wrong with Dickens.

3.      Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Reading Alice is like watching Labyrinth. You feel yourself drawn into the impossible logic of the story and the lunacy of the characters. It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. And I’m a huge, HUGE fan of the “Jabberwocky” poem as you’d guess if you’ve read my homage to it in Apple and Rain

4.       The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I love a fantasy adventure and I can’t think of a better one than The Hobbit, which I read at school as a teenager and have never forgotten. I had a fabulous teacher at the time who read the entire book aloud, and that always makes me connect to a text so much more. Also, I’m a big fan of New Zealand, and since the films I can’t separate the two! 

5.       Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Oh, how different my childhood would have been without this book! Every single time I opened up a chocolate bar I pretended I was looking for a golden ticket, and if the bar happened to have foil wrapped around it, I could pretend that I’d landed a place on the factory tour. And we all imagined we were Charlie, didn’t we? We all believed we would have done the right thing and pleased Willy Wonka!

6.      Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I came to this book as a parent, not as a child, and could honestly read it a million times. The melody of it alongside the quirky illustrations is simply genius. If you haven’t read it, do it now. NOW!

7.      To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. How could I not mention this after all the hoo-ha recently about the “sequel”. To be honest, I’m not keen to read Go Set A Watchman. I’ve always been happy to imagine Scout’s life myself and never felt the book needed more. I read it for the first time when I was around seventeen and I loved it, but it was only when I read it as a teacher ten years ago that I fully appreciated the impact of the novel, the beauty of its characters and the simple, singular message which is as relevant today as it was fifty-five years ago

8.      The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Bianco. Hands up if you’ve been to a wedding where a passage from this story was read aloud? I confess I used this text for my own wedding. But the message about what it means to be real and loved is just so true: the price of love is pain. 

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

Thank you, Sarah, for a fab post! Apple and Rain is out now in paperback from Bloomsbury.