Monday, 30 March 2015

Where Else You Can Find Me

Super quick blog post mainly to encourage you to check out two other sites!

As you may have noticed from Twitter, I'm moderating over at That Jesse Bloke's fabulous new forum, Bookish Peeps. It's a great place for bloggers, authors and readers to talk books, and the forum format makes discussions easier than say Twitter. I've been shockingly busy recently so haven't had much of a chance to post there, but hopefully will be able to do more there soon, and we're running the Bookish Peeps Book of 2014 vote - closing date TOMORROW at midnight! - where we're asking people to rank their 10 (or more!) favourite books of last year. We've got a decent amount of votes in but would love more, so if you haven't voted yet, why not check it out?

Also, I'm blogging once or twice a month at MG Strikes Back, alongside a superstar line-up of amazing bloggers and authors! This site is the brilliant idea of Darren, who runs the fantastic Book Zone 4 Boys, and has taken off like a rocket, thanks to the amazing people he's brought on board.

I've done a couple of Happy Book Birthday features there - February and March in addition to a post on MG mysteries and diversity, and another about my favourite illustrations in MG books (inspired by the fantastic #PicturesMeanBusiness hashtag created by Sarah McIntyre!)

There have been brilliant posts there on nearly every day since it launched, but a few I especially enjoyed.

Hands Off Our Harry Potter - Middle Grade Is Striking Back! by Darren.
The Best Books of the 21st Century by SF Said.
Why Do I Write Middle Grade Stories by Abi Elphinstone.
Top Ten Heroines in MG Books by various authors/bloggers.
A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett by various authors.
How We Learned to Embrace Our Bonkersness and Encourage Bonkersness in Others by Miriam Craig and Lorraine Gregory.

If you haven't checked out either site yet, I'd definitely encourage you to take a look!

Friday, 27 March 2015

We All Looked Up Blog Tour: Tommy Wallach on the Differences Between Writing a Book and Writing a Song

Very pleased to have Tommy Wallach, author of We All Looked Up, on the blog today!

For me, the most interesting difference between the two has been that I can write fiction every day, rain or shine, no matter what happens. But when I sit down to write a song, if I’m not feeling inspired that day, I’ll end up writing utter crap. There’s just no accounting for it. Honestly, I’d love to reach a point where I could write great music without any emotional inspiration, but as of now, I basically need something terrible to have happened before I can write a worthwhile song. So next time you see me, punch me in the face. It’ll be inspiring.

The other big difference goes in favour of music over writing. Making music is emotionally satisfying in a way that writing just isn’t. Writing is a great intellectual exercise, but I feel absolutely miserable when I’m in the middle of it. Of course the satisfaction is intense when I’m done, but the great thing about music is that it feels good while you’re doing it. And not just intellectually good, but emotionally and even spiritually good. When I play a song that comes from a real place inside of me (even if it’s someone else’s song!), I can work out my emotional issues just in the playing. There are a couple of songs on the We All Looked Up album (in case this isn’t known, I wrote and recorded a full-length album of songs to accompany the book) that touch on some really important issues for me as a human being. Every time I play through them, I feel as if I’ve just had a really good therapy session! And for free!

Tommy also shared his playlist for the album.

Well as I had mentioned above, I wrote and recorded a whole companion album to go with the book, so of course I would pick that...but aside from that!:

Emily by Joanna Newsom

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips

I Don't Mind by The Decemberists

He Doesn't Know Why by the Fleet Foxes

Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie by Joanna Newsom

Retrograde by James Blake

There, There by Radiohead

Another New World by Josh Ritter

Master Hunter by Laura Marling

Go Home by Lucius

Check out the below sites for Tommy's other posts this week!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Classic Children's/YA: Harriet Whitehorn on The Magician's Nephew and The Silver Chair by CS Lewis

I'm a big fan of Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor's brilliant Violet series - I reviewed Violet and the Pearl of the Orient here, and haven't quite got round to reviewing Violet and the Hidden Treasure yet, but really enjoyed it. Today is a huge day for Harriet and Becka as it's not only the release date for the second book, but it's also the Waterstones Children's Book prize announcement - and Violet and the Pearl of the Orient is one of six books shortlisted in an incredibly strong 5-12 category! I was thrilled that Harriet could take the time to join in my classic children's feature.

I enjoyed all the Narnia books as a child, but the two I really loved, and read over and over again, were The Silver Chair and The Magicians Nephew. Like the rest of the series they are beautifully illustrated by Pauline Baynes and I only have to look at her pictures to be transported back to being nine years old again and devouring these books instead of tidying my bedroom or doing my homework. Sadly my own copies disintegrated years ago but they looked the same as these copies that Ive bought for my children.

As many of you will know, The Magicians Nephew is the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but was actually published last in 1954. It wasnt as critically acclaimed as the other books, but to me it has an appealing mix of lightness and sadness - Digorys mother is dying- and it is the funniest of the books. The two main characters, Polly and Digory bicker away like an old married couple, making one poor decision after another, unlike those goody two shoes Pevensies, who apart from Edmund, never seem to put a foot wrong. Also a good deal of the action takes place in Edwardian London, which I like, and there is a glorious scene with awful Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis (later to become the White Witch) which culminates in her driving, Boadicea-like, a hackney cab as if it were a Roman chariot.  


I do love The Silver Chair - from the opening line It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym- you know you are in for a treat. Our dull world is soon replaced by technicolour Narnia and Aslan has given Jill and Scrubb the task of finding the lost Prince Rilian, and the signs they need to follow. Reassuringly, they repeatedly mess these up. They are helped by one of my all time favourite characters, Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. Gloriously pessimistic, he is the Eeyore of Narnia, and unfailingly and amusingly, sees the worst possible outcome of every situation. My favourite scene is when he gets very drunk at the Giants castle referring to himself as a Very respectable Marsh-wiggle. Respectowiggle. What could be funnier for a nine year old?

Harriet Whitehorn grew up in London, where she still lives with her husband and three daughters. She has studied at Reading University, the Architectural Association and The Victoria and Albert Museum and has always worked in building conservation. She currently works for English Heritage. Violet and the Pearl of the Orient was her first novel, published in 2014, and is currently shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Violet and the Hidden Treasure is published on 26th March 2015.

Thanks for a fab post, Harriet - and GOOD LUCK for the prize tonight!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Blog Tour: Helen Grant on Urban Legends

Helen Grant is one of my favourite authors to have guest-posting as she always comes up with really interesting posts. Today's no exception as she talks about urban legends - her book of the same name comes out tomorrow!

Urban Legends: they definitely happened to someone…

When I was a kid, I remember at the end of our road there was a piece of rough ground called the spinney. It had trees and mud and – bizarrely – carefully cut rectangular holes in the ground, which might have been for laying pipes or cables, except for the fact that the place wasn’t built on until decades later. Sometimes, though not all that often, we used to go and play in the spinney. The reason we didn’t play there very frequently (and never alone) was that it was well known amongst the kids that there was a killer in there. He’d killed a child. Or maybe a body had been found in there. Or something. Anyway, the spinney was scary. 

That’s the thing about urban legends: you can never quite pin them down. I remember when I was in my teens hearing the one about the person who bit into a piece of battered chicken from a take-away and found they were actually eating a rat that had fallen into the deep fat fryer. The person who told me that one said they knew for a fact it was true, because it had happened to their friend’s cousin. Or perhaps their friend’s cousin’s boyfriend. Well, it had definitely happened to someone
Gruesome, improbable and vague though they are, I love urban legends. They’re the modern version of fairy tales. We’ve replaced trolls, dragons and fairies with serial killers, vanishing hitchhikers and psychopathic babysitters. 
I’ve long been fascinated by legends and folk tales. My first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, incorporated the genuine folk stories of Bad M√ľnstereifel, the German town where it is set. When I was writing my Forbidden Spaces trilogy, which is set in the murky world of urbex (urban exploration), I wanted a grittier, more modern equivalent. The final book, Urban Legends, is called that because the telling of urban legends is woven into the plot, just as local legends were woven into my previous books. 

It wasn’t quite as simple as just picking out my favourite urban legends. The Forbidden Spaces trilogy is set in Belgium, partly in Brussels and partly in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, Flanders. I wanted to make the environment of the books as authentic as possible, so I spent a long time making sure that the urban legends I retold in the book are known in Belgium. I also tried to use ones that were known outside Belgium too, because I think there is more resonance for British readers if they recognise the stories. 

The first urban legend that appears in the book, the Angel Smile, is a very well-known and very nasty one. There’s a great book by Stefaan Top of the University of Leuven which collects urban legends from Flanders. That has a version of the Angel Smile in it. There’s a Japanese variation on the same thing called Kuchisake-onna. The motif also appears in a number of Hollywood films.That was the kind of story I was looking for – very wide spread and genuinely chilling. I think the interesting thing about the version of the Angel Smile legend that I’ve used in the book is that there is this terrible element of choice in it. The victim has to choose between a known and horrible fate or the Angel Smile, which may or may not be worse. 

The impossible or dangerous choice is a very old plot device. You see it in stories like The Lady or the Tiger? where someone is put into an arena and has to choose between two doors. One has a beautiful woman behind it but the other has a man-eating tiger, and he has to choose one to open without knowing which is which. Stories like these are about the fear of unknown danger and making a disastrous wrong decision.

Ironically these are both things the characters in Urban Legends really should be worrying about! In the book, urban explorers are disappearing and no-one knows who or what is responsible, though there are plenty of nasty stories going around. Whom can you trust? Make a wrong decision about that and you could be the next one to go…

There are also going to be some very tough choices for Veerle, the heroine, and her on/off boyfriend Kris. They’ve had to make some terrible decisions in the previous books (Silent Saturday, Demons of Ghent), but in Urban Legends the stakes are going to be even higher. If the choice is between confronting a brutal killer or risking the lives of everyone they care about – even the most innocent – what are they going to do? You’ll have to read the book to find out…

About Helen:

Helen Grant writes YA contemporary thrillers. She has lived in Germany and Belgium, and her novels to date have been set in those countries. She now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two cats, and is working on a new thriller set there. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

About Urban Legends:

Urban Legends is Helen Grant’s sixth novel and the third in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy. It is published by Corgi (26th March 2015).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List

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

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch - I've been saving the final part of the Locke Lamora trilogy for a couple of weeks but it's due back to the library soon, so should really get around to it. In fairness, after the stunning ending to book two, Red Seas Under Red Skies, I'm desperate to know what happens next - but I will be extremely sad to come to the end of Lamora's story as he's one of my favourite heroes for a long time!

The Summoner by Taran Matharu - I know Taran and was super-excited to get this but Leah and Debbie were so desperate to read that I lent to them before I had a chance to start myself. Hearing lots of good things about it so it is very near the top of my list!

Every Breath by Ellie Marney - I've been waiting this Sherlock Holmes-inspired YA contemporary for AGES so when it finally made it over here I was thrilled! Ellie is lovely and I've heard lots of great reviews of this one.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell - there was a brief moment at Prosecco YA when I was holding both this AND Remix by Non Pratt, which I was about to lend to Charlie. Given how highly coveted both are, I was genuinely worried someone would rob me. (Especially as I was sitting next to David Maybury...)

Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin - this sounds strange but very funny!

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mantel - staggering praise from everyone I know who's read this, with Kate from Adventures With Words being a particularly big fan. It sounds amazing!

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon - I read about this in the Gothic exhibition I went to with Stacey and Debbie a while ago then found in half price in the London Review Bookshop later that day - clearly fate! It's probably going to be my March read for the 2015 Classics Challenge.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey - This is our book club's read for next month! Hugely looking forward to it after really enjoying hearing Emma reading from it last year at a Penguin bloggers' event.

Blood & Ink by Stephen Davies - Set in Timbuktu after its capture in 2012, Charlie from Andersen made this sound completely fascinating when talking about it at the recent libraries unconference.

Debutante Hill by Lois Duncan - My first book from Lizzie Skurnick Books, who are reprinting some classics from the last century. This sounds very interesting and I was really glad to pick it up in the buy one get one half price that Waterstones High Street Kensington generously offered on YA and sci-fi/fantasy at the recent UKYA blogger awards.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Alligator's Mouth

I've been looking forward to the opening of The Alligator's Mouth in Richmond for ages, so I was thrilled when my friend Jen at Tales on Moon Lane told me last weekend that it was opening mid-week. I got there on Saturday and was stunned by just how gorgeous it was! Also, the first person I saw there was superstar literary agent Molly Ker Hawn, of the brilliant Bent Agency, who introduced me to Tony and Margaret, who own and run the shop and formerly worked together at The Lion & Unicorn. Tony immediately became one of my favourite booksellers when the first book he recommended was The Sin Eater's Daughter by my friend Mel Salisbury, praising its superb world-building and the great characters. I was there well over an hour, browsing, talking to Molly, Tony, and Margaret, and finally buying a few books. It was a lovely place to spend the afternoon and will join Tales On Moon Lane and The Big Green Bookshop as one of my favourite London bookshops!

I would definitely recommend heading down soon - it's only 5 minutes or so away from Richmond station - and checking it out. Take a look below for some pictures!

I caught this lovely couch in a rare quiet moment; for much of the time I was there it was occupied by children curled up reading a book.

Lovers of fairy tales and myths, this section is awesome!

Oops - just realised I cut the title off from this beautiful Penguin edition of Cold Comfort Farm as I was too busy trying to make sure I got a non-blurry picture of Roz Chast's wonderful cover illustrations. It's the first time I've seen this one on the shelves!

I was really delighted that that they have an entire shelf of Chris Riddell's books! (And below, you can just see the head of #ukmgchat favourite SF Said's Varjak Paw.)

I loved the Mother's Day display, with fabulous choices - particularly Where The Wild Mums Are!

And there are some brilliant activity/sticker books!

I don't think I've ever seen the Charlie Bone series (one of my favourites!) together before - I've owned them all at various times but love them so much that I keep passing them on to others. I need to track down the rest of the series so I can see the full picture of their gorgeous spines!

This picture book display is another favourite - awesome to see the wonderful Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field there. 

I was hugely impressed by the range of non-fiction they had in stock - here's just a small sample!

And check out some of the fabulous maths and science books they have.

These are two of several shelves that people taking part in The Pretty Books's #2015ClassicsChallenge will love - so many gorgeous editions!


Speaking of classics, Margaret was incredibly excited to get a copy of Carbonel in. This is one that I've been wanting to read since Robin Stevens recommended it here a few months ago, and this is an especially nice edition - as are the gorgeous Arthur Ransome hardbacks!

If you want something a bit different, there's also some Classics Unfolded, showing just over a dozen scenes from books!

As well as books, there are some beautiful cards!

And, there's lots of puzzles, and some gorgeous toys - who wouldn't want their own Gruffalo, or the Tiger Who Came To Tea?

Of course, I couldn't leave without buying some books! The Gillian Philip is one I've been wanting since someone mentioned it in a Twitter chat on #MGmysteries, while the other two were recommendations from Tony.

It's amazing to see a new bookshop - especially a children's one - open after so many wonderful shops have closed in recent years; please help support The Alligator's Mouth! If you're close enough to visit you definitely won't regret it; I'm confident it'll quickly become one of your favourite shops. If you live further away but want to help spread the word, sharing this post and/or their Twitter account @alligatorsmouth would be awesome.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Cover Reveal And Extract: The Next Together by Lauren James

I met Lauren James last year several times during YALC weekend - first as a group of authors and bloggers got together to see an outdoor screening of Labyrinth, and then during the convention itself which was fantastic. (BTW, this year's has just been announced - go check it out!) I've spoken to her a couple more times since then and I'm hugely looking forward to her debut novel The Next Together which is coming up from Walker Books and looks amazing - so I'm thrilled to be one of 10 bloggers (I think that's the right number!) revealing her stunning cover today and presenting a short extract as well! 

Part 3 of the exclusive extract from The Next Together by Lauren James

University of Nottingham Campus, England, 2039

Kate poured glycerol into a beaker, measuring out what she would need for the afternoon’s experiment. She wasn’t really in the mood for labs today, but it was only her second session of Biology practicals since university started and she couldn’t miss it. It didn’t help that she was the only person without a lab partner, so she had to do double the work of the other first-years. Not that she minded the extra work particularly.
She’d just enjoy having someone to gossip with, which − judging by the crowd gathered by the ice machine − was all the other students did.
She was opening up her labbook on her tablet when a voice from behind her said her name.
“Kate Finchley?” a harried-looking supervisor asked.
“Yep,” she said, dropping her pen and turning around.
At the same time, she stuck her hand into her pocket, fingers catching on a locket she’d stuffed in there last week when it had annoyed her while she was working in a fume cupboard.
The supervisor gestured to a boy who was standing behind her. “Here’s your new lab partner; just transferred from Chemistry. You can get him settled, can’t you?”
Then the supervisor disappeared in a cloud of stress and steamed-up goggles to deal with another fresher, who had just managed to drop a beaker of something foul on the floor and then stand in it.
Kate stared at the boy. “Hi,” she said dubiously. She fished out the locket and put it back on.
He stared back at her, his expression indecipherable. Then he nodded hello. He was wearing a tweed waistcoat, of all things, over a ratty band T-shirt. His light brown hair hung over his eyes in a retro fringe that seemed to be based on something from the late noughties.
She was delighted to note that despite his doubtful fashion choices he was exactly her type.

To read the next exclusive extract from The Next Together, go to

The Next Together publishes in September 2015 (Walker Books) and can be pre-ordered now.

About The Next Together
How many times can you lose the one you love?
For Matthew and Katherine it is again and again, over and over, century after century. Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again. Each time their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated. But why do they keep coming back? How many times must they die to save the world? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace? Maybe the next together will be different…

About the author Lauren James
Lauren James is a scientist by day, writer by early hours of the morning. She graduated in 2014 with a Masters degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She now lives in the village of Berkswell, West Midlands. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, which she mainly uses to fancast actors as her characters and panics about all of the overly ambitious plans she has for her PhD, or her website at