Sunday, 26 October 2014

Top 20 MG Books of Last 10 Years

A few weeks ago, Nicolette Jones wrote a wonderful piece for the Sunday Times on 100 Modern Kids' classics - 20 each in the age groups 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12 and 13+. If you're a Times subscriber you can get the full article, which really is a fantastic read. Otherwise, they're got a list on their shop, so you can at least see what made it.

Of course, this got me thinking about my own top books of the last 10 years. I don't know enough about the bottom 3 age ranges, but I had a stab at 13+, and at 10-12. The 13+ came not long after the original article and can be found here, the 10-12 are here.

Quick note - age ranges are arguable here! I'd be happy to give any of these to 10-12 year olds but a couple are probably aimed at slightly older or younger children - hope no author feels I've miscategorised them TOO badly. Same notes as last time: I stuck to individual books rather than series and kept it down to one per author, to try and spread the love around a bit.

Also, the reviews/plot summaries are extracts of my longer reviews, which you can get to by clicking on the title - mainly at The Bookbag.

Kaia feels frozen after the death of her beloved older brother. With her mum not talking about it and both struggling to cope, she withdraws into a shell and stops spending time with her friends. Then a mysterious boy joins her school and she starts to spend time with him. Even though he never speaks, she slowly starts to come out of her shell. Can she ever rediscover happiness?

Well-written and moving look at grief and recovery which feels realistic in the time Kaia takes to start to come to terms with her brother’s death, but is ultimately optimistic. Kate Grove's illustrations are incredible, as well!

In a land tormented by the screams of 999 souls, victims of dreadful experiments which have taken place since the despicable coward Villius Ren betrayed a king and seized power for himself, a young boy is about to become a hero. Servant to Ren and the rest of the Craven Lodge, 14-year-old Oland Born takes a stand and is forced to flee the castle after reading a mysterious letter addressed to him, but written by a king who died before he was even born. Trying to find out more about his background and how to save the kingdom from the Lodge, Oland sets out on a quest.

I always find adult authors writing for children to be a risky proposition - sometimes it works well, others seem to talk down to their audience. Barclay definitely doesn't fall into that trap - she creates a brilliant set of characters and plunges them into fast and furious action. I can't wait for the next in the series!

Eleven-year-old Sesame Seade has been waiting all her life to be a super sleuth, so when a student journalist disappears and no-one seems all that bothered, she decides to solve the case herself. Can she track down the vanished girl before her parents work out what's going on?

Fun with a capital FUN, the Sesame Seade seris are ALL amazing so I'll go for the first book. Fab mystery, brilliant characters, beautifully written with lots of great one-liners and enough classics reference to challenge a young reader (as you'd expect from a book set at Cambridge University.) Add in Sarah Horne's gorgeous illustrations and this series is a must-read.

No plot summary as can't work out how to do it without spoilers, but this is the one book I would most want EVERY school librarian to go out and buy multiple copies of. It's a book which, as the back cover quote 'A Story To Change Hearts And Minds' suggests, will help shape the way children (and adults) look at the world. And it's a book which will completely devastate you with its brilliant voice, wonderful plot, and massively important messages - about forgiveness, family, learning from history, and doing the right thing

Fab 5-star review from Anne at The Bookbag if I somehow haven't sold you on this. 

Third in this excellent series is definitely the best; I love Briggs's portrayal of Tarzan as a 'take no prisoners' anti-hero who'll go to extreme lengths to protect those he cares about, while plucky, resourceful and generally awesome Jane is behind only Kat Stephenson (see below) as my favourite ever MG heroine.

A Most Unladylike Magick by Stephanie Burgis

I've only reviewed book 3 in the series and it has mild spoilers so won't link here. All three of the Kat Stephenson novels (and, indeed, the recent novella) are equally wonderful, so again this gets it as the first book. Best described as MG Jane Austen with magic, this features my absolute favourite heroine of the past decade and a truly outstanding supporting cast, with amazing writing and a brilliant plot. 

For more details, brilliant 4.5 star review from Linda at The Bookbag

Magic Marks The Spot by Caroline Carlson

Somehow haven't reviewed this one (maybe I was too busy rereading to savour the awesomeness again?) If you like magic, pirates, gargoyles, adventure, humour, great plots, brilliant characters, and superb writing, read this now. Again, much more coherent review (5 stars!) over at TheBookbag courtesy of Linda if you need a second opinion. 

Simultaneously a love letter to Enid Blyton and stories like hers, and an insightful critique as to the issues with reading books from her era today. But of course, more than any of those things, it’s a charming, wonderful, and beautifully written story of adventure, friendship and family. The best of an absolutely tremendous series. (Disclaimer: I'm thanked in the author's note, but I'd written this reaction before seeing that!)

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (author) and KG Campbell (illustrator)

When an unremarkable squirrel is hoovered up by an out of control vacuum cleaner, Flora Belle Buckman steps in to save him. But the mysterious accident has given him a new life, with super-strength, flight, and the ability to write poetry. As the duo start to make friends, Flora discovers happiness - but every superhero needs a nemesis. Will the pair be cruelly separated?

Told partly in prose and partly as a comic strip, this is completely and utterly wonderful. To quote comic-book fan Flora herself, ‘Holy Bagumba!’, this is a heck of a read.

Flora herself, cynical, jaded, and upset with her parents, is a really sympathetic main character, while the superhero squirrel is absolutely adorable, as is his poetry. I thought all of the characters here were excellent, though – perhaps especially the ‘villain’ here, who on the one hand is a formidable antagonist but on the other hand clearly has good intentions deep down. It’s an utterly and completely heart-warming read which completely deserves all of the praise it’s getting.

Julian Twerski did something bad. So bad, that it got him suspended from school. When he returns, his English teacher asks him to write a journal about it, in exchange for getting out of doing a report on Shakespeare. Julian reluctantly accepts - but would rather be writing about sending love letters for a friend, blowing up fireworks, or pretty much anything else except telling Mr Selkirk about what he wants to hear.

Bullying, peer pressure, power, responsibility and growing up are all handled perfectly here, while Goldblatt's writing style captures 12-year-old Julian's voice superbly. Will appeal to children and adults thanks to the great writing, funny and touching story, and the nostalgia for the sixties.

Luke is obsessed with records. He's so busy planning on breaking world records when he grows up, and playing world records DVD games, that he doesn't take much of an interest in what's going on around him. But that's about to change, because when the village of Port Bren is chosen to host a waste-incinerator plant his house will be demolished and the graveyard where his dad's buried will be destroyed – unless the village is too historically important for this to happen. How can they put themselves on the map in one week? Luke comes up with the idea to break 50 world records… but why won't his mum let him take part?

Completely and utterly charming with an outstanding setting. Irving's next book, Billie Templar's War, was also absolutely superb but this is the one I keep coming back to because it's so much fun and the eccentric characters never fail to raise a smile.

On moving to middle school, eleven year old Elise's life takes a turn for the worse. She's bullied by her cool and popular locker-buddy Amanda, and embarrassed by her best friend Franklin – who's decidedly uncool and certainly not popular – she's also struggling to cope with the new arrivals at her home, Aunt Bessie's younger sister Annie and her baby daughter Ava. Just when she doesn't know how she can cope with everything, help arrives in the form of a strange key with her name on it. As she opens a door to find out about her past, Elise starts to realise that she can take control of her future.

Fresh, clear, and moving writing style, and really captures adults and the children perfectly. An absolutely wonderful read.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I've still only read the first in the series (although rereading it now and planning on reading the entire series before my friend Caitlin disowns me.) Rereading it, I'm hugely confused as to how I stopped after one because the voice is utterly amazing and it is so much fun! (I know nearly everyone reading this blog is well ahead of me here.)

Raised as a monster and sent to a freak show because of the hair that covers his body, Wild Boy is loathed and feared by nearly everyone, but has an incredible power of observation. When he's accused of murder, he's forced to run from the freak show and team up with circus acrobat Clarissa to try and clear his name.

Action-packed adventure with a great central pairing and excellent villains with convincing motives.

Thirteen-year-old Edie knows that she doesn't need a nanny. She's old enough to look after herself, and her six-year-old brother Stan. Between them, they've managed to scare off nearly everyone who their parents have hired to take care of them. So when a girl of just sixteen starts looking after them after school, Edie is less than impressed. But then the girl, Alice B. Lovely, with her captivating dress sense and strange way of looking at the world, starts to win over Stan... could she be the person to fix Edie's problems?

With any of McCombie's books, you know that you'll get a heart-warming story, with believable characters, fabulous dialogue, and a plot with enough twists to keep you guessing as to exactly how everything will turn out alright in the end. I love everything I've read by her, but this is the best.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I don't need a plot summary, right? I LOVE this as a series-ender - JKR did a phenomenal job of tying up so many loose ends while also providing a truly satisfying read.

Sophie is shipwrecked in the English Channel on her 1st birthday, with her mother presumed dead, but she's lucky enough to be found by scholar Charles. He raises her as his ward and they have a happy, if seriously unconventional, existence until the authorities intervene on her 12th birthday.  With the orphanage beckoning, Sophie and Charles run away to France in the hope that her mother may be alive after all.

Incredibly lyrical, with Rundell's breathtaking language married to a clever plot, lots of excitement, and one of the most wonderful climaxes for a long, long time. It's also one that I think could open older readers' eyes to the amount of amazing books out there today. This feels, in so many ways, reminiscent of classics like Noel Streatfeild and Joan Aiken that I'd put it towards the top of my list of books to hand to readers who haven't read recent YA. 

Nearly ten years after Squirrel, Panther, Bobs and Puss last saw the Psammead, the sand fairy returns. But the world is in a state of upheaval, and with the now grown-up children contributing to the war effort, it's left to The Lamb, a teenager, and new arrival 9-year-old Edie to look after their visitor and save him from prying eyes. In addition to the horrors of the war, there are revelations for the six siblings about their old companion's past - why has he returned, and is there a reason he can't grant wishes any longer?

A stunning story that holds its own against Nesbit's wonderful original books about the Psammead. Warning - MAJOR need for tissues, I was in tears before the prologue finished!

Kitty is falling for someone she's just met - but that someone is a girl. Will her friends Sunny and Hannah ever understand her feelings for Dylan? And can she open up to any of them about her mother's illness? Kitty is keeping a lot of secrets, does she come out into the open, or risk losing Dylan forever?

This is, in a word, adorable. In two words, absolutely adorable. In three words... you get the picture, yeah? Love love love it!

Rose’s grandfather Brian takes her to Ypres to pay their respects to his dead brother, but while there she notices the grave of a 15-year-old boy, Valentine Joe. Tormented by thoughts of such a young lad dying so tragically, she wakes up that night and looks out of the window to see the strange sight of a 1910s town, and a soldier marching. Slipping back in time, she meets Valentine Joe himself – but why has this happened, and what will the future be for these two children?

Small in terms of number of pages, this is decidedly big in terms of themes and emotional weight. It also has one of my favourite endings of the year, managing to be simultaneously heartbreaking in many respects and surprisingly uplifting in others. It's a hugely powerful novel. Massively recommended, a really stunning read.

PLEASE NOTE: The below book was in there originally but (while it's AMAZING) it's been suggested via Twitter that 10-12 year olds may find it too bleak; my memory's terrible and I thought it was originally marketed towards this age range but Google suggests not. Thanks Darren from Book Zone 4 Boys for the discussion! 

Avoiding plot summary as possible spoilers for books 1 and 2 in this series, but this third volume is an epic horror-fantasy which took my breath away. Fabulous action, vivid descriptions of the nineteenth century, but best of all is the breathtaking, blissful, wonderful language that narrator Will Henry uses looking back on his childhood.

What are your favourites from the last 10 years for this age group? Tweet them to me or comment below!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My Four Favourite Hashtags Of The Week

Well, this has been an interesting, and incredibly up and down, three and a half days. I'll potentially write more about other stuff at some point - I'm not ignoring it, as you can tell if you saw my Twitter feed last night - but wanted to concentrate on positive stuff and highlight three AMAZING hashtags.

#ckg15 is following the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, with nominated books being announced yesterday. There are tons of prizes for YA and children's books out there, with varying purposes, and I'm really looking forward to the new YA book prize which was recently announced. However the long history of these two medals means that they're really something special, and it's been wonderful to see so many fantastic books nominated for them. I linked to reviews of ones I've read yesterday here but also, after being disappointed by the lack of funny books last year wanted to say I was particularly thrilled that the stunning Boys Don't Knit by TS Easton, one of my favourite comedies of the year, is on there. Also lots of humour in many others, especially Trouble, Pea's Book of Holidays and Murder Most Unladylike. I'm hoping to read some of the others, but it'll take something special to displace Bone Jack from my heart - I've been desperate for this to win ever since I first read it several months ago. (Quick update - also really impressed by the speed at which the Carnegie organisers dealt with concerns over illustrated novels like Oliver and the Seawigs and Fortunately, The Milk being nominated and credit given only to the writer rather than the illustrator - update on that situation here on Sarah McIntyre's excellent blog.)

Twitter user and author Ava Jae started up a spontaneous hashtag #Authoryes to say thank you to the wonderful authors who've supported the blogging community, both this weekend and in general. I'm already sure I've missed some brilliant people out when tweeting so I won't compound the error by even attempting a list of authors I'm grateful for here (especially with only 45 minutes of my lunch break left!) Do scroll back through the hashtag, though, to see a huge amount of love being spread. Even more so people started using #bloggeryes to praise bloggers as well!

Even better, though, this morning saw the reveal of the cover for Lisa Williamson's stunning The Art of Being Normal and the eagerly-anticipated #WhatIsNormalFlashMob. This is an amazing campaign for a stunning, and important book. Anyone who's a fan of thoughtful books and wants to read about diverse characters should absolutely pre-order it now. As well, it's been incredible to see so many people change their Twitter avatars to the cover - including people connected to other publishers! It's reminded me just how incredibly supportive of each other the community as a whole is. Of course, even though the book is fantastic and Lisa is AMAZING, the other reason it's getting so many tweets and RTs, even from people who haven't read, is just how truly gorgeous the cover is! Fab work from Ness Wood designing and Alice Todd illustrating! Head over to Twitter to see if you agree that it is utterly amazing.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Nominations Announced!

Today was a massive day in the YA and children's community as the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway nominations were announced! I don't really know enough about the Kate Greenaway contenders, which can be found here, to say much although I've read Shh! We Have A Plan by Chris Haughton and would LOVE to see it win.

The Carnegie nominations can be found here. Below is a list of ones I've particularly enjoyed, with links to reviews.

Bold would be my shortlist if I was doing it now. Bone Jack would be my winner.

My Brother's Shadow by Tom Avery
Saving Silence by Gina Blaxill
Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth
Ghost Soldier by Theresa Breslin (I apparently haven't reviewed this and feel REALLY bad about it - argh! V good read, moving and incredibly well-written, as you'd imagine from Theresa Breslin.)
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
In Bloom by Matthew Crow
Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Salvage by Keren David
Say Her Name by James Dawson (Ummm, again, I meant to review this. My excuse here is that I was too scared to type it up!!)
Pea's Book of Holidays by Susie Day
The Bubble-Wrap Boy by Phil Earle
Boys Don't Knit by TS Easton
A Room Full Of Chocolate by Jane Elson (Okay, I've been hopeless at reviewing stuff, haven't I?!)
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss
Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall
Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls (Argh.)
Trouble by Non Pratt
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens (Oops. It's 1920s, crime, boarding school. I'm not writing a full review here because if you've got any sense you ordered it before my last full stop.)
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Brief Bloomsbury Recommendations

I haven't reviewed anything for what seems like ages and have been losing the will but I've read two fabulous books from Bloomsbury today so wanted to talk about them briefly!

This is a short story which I've read before but I had to get my hands on it to see what Chris Riddell's illustrations would add to it - and the answer is LOADS! It was already a brilliant read but the black, white and gold drawings from Riddell make it an absolutely perfect book for your shelf - or for Christmas presents! I always struggle to review shorts because I'm petrified of spoilers and it feels like I'll give something away, so all I'll say on the writing is that it's a great version of a fairytale (or two!) which took me by surprise and is just as beautifully written as you'd expect from Neil Gaiman. Oh, actually, one more thing - this has awesome heroines! Riddell's illustrations are breathtaking and the hints of gold added to the black and white pictures catch the eye beautifully.

Jill reviewed for The Bookbag and was also a massive fan, as was Viv at Serendipity Reviews.

Jon Mayhew's Monster Odyssey: Eye of Neptune was possibly my favourite yet from an author who's been consistently excellent, with his loosely-linked Mortlock trilogy being big hits with me. I've been meaning to read his second one in the series for ages but keep seeing it when I don't have spare money or having cash and not being able to track it down - until today, when the brilliant Tales On Moon Lane had it in and I bought it from Jen, my favourite bookseller.

Slight spoilers for EoN, have tried to avoid anything major.

Dakkar and his mentor Count Oginski get viciously attacked by a hideous creature resembling a giant lizard, severely injuring the Count. Trying to track down the lizard's origins, the youngster ends up in a world far below the earth's surface, filled with lizard riders, giants, and another of the Count's evil brothers, Cryptos. Can he find allies and fight his way out?

I feel like I should probably string together a coherent review (and I might, at some point, if I put this on The Bookbag), but OMG YOU GUYS THERE ARE GIANT MONSTERS! And people living in the middle of the earth! And historical characters including a girl I've always wanted to read more about, whose name I'll leave you to discover for yourself and the Emperor Napoleon, as well as a welcome returning character from book one. Dakkar - brave, resourceful, and definitely showing signs of being the man he'll grow up to be (Sorry for the crypticness there but saying more would be a BIG spoiler for book one!) - is a fantastic lead, I love the two girls who play a big part in his adventure, and the other allies and enemies are well fleshed out.

Seriously, what more do you want in an adventure series? I'm hoping we get loads and loads more books - my only complaint here is that the Count needs to find some extra brothers for our hero to take on, I think he has 7 (or is it 6, with him being the 7th?) and that's NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and Why You Should Be Involved In The Cover Reveal Flash Mob

(V rushed post; I'm teaching an evening class in 15 minutes but I've just seen this news and wanted to get the word out quickly!)

I was recently lucky enough to be sent a copy of Lisa Williamson’s debut The Art of Being Normal, coming in January from David Fickling Books. My expectations for this were sky-high because it was recommended to me by Charlie, George, and Kim, all of whom have amazing taste in books, but it smashed them completely.

I don’t want to do a full review as I’m leaving that until closer to release date but I mentioned last week when writing my 20 Best YA Books of the Last 10 Years that if I hadn’t limited it to already released books, this would definitely have been on there, and I stand by that. It’s a stunning read which switches between two amazing main characters – David, a year 10 boy who wants to be a girl, and Leo, the new boy in Year 11 with a secret of his own – and the friendship that forms between them. As well as the two great lead characters it has a brilliant supporting cast – with their families being especially strong – and it’s completely riveting. Cat Clarke said of it that it “will break your heart – and then mend it again” which sums it up perfectly.

Just announced is that the cover will be revealed next Tuesday, 21st October, and that David Fickling Books are asking people on Twitter and Instagram to take part in the #WhatIsNormalFlashMob,  tweeting or regramming the image of the cover (which will be available on Tuesday to download from their website) with that hashtag and/or changing their avatar to the cover. I know that a lot of people following me feel really passionately, as I do, about spreading the word about diverse books so I wanted to bring this to everyone’s attention in the hope that as many people as possible would join the flash mob.

If you’ve read it, I’m almost certainly preaching to the converted here. If you haven’t, but you trust my judgement, or that of Charlie, Kim, George, James Dawson, Anna James and Charlotte Eyre of the Bookseller, Cat Clarke, Barry Cunningham, Non Pratt, Cait Lomas, or Darren from Waterstones Durham, please get behind the cover reveal – let’s see if we can turn our Twitter timelines into a wall of #WhatIsNormal!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Top Ten Places Books Made Me Want To Visit/Revisit

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

1. Hogwarts from Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - No explanation needed, surely!

2. Linbury Court from Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge - I'm sure that in real life, I'd have hated boarding school, but Linbury Court always looked so much fun!

3. Chalet School, in Tiernsee years, from Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer - See above, but with extra Alpine escapades!

4. The Abbey, from The Abbey Girls series by E J Oxenham - Always sounds so beautiful and peaceful.

5. Bath, from A Tangle of Magicks by Stephanie Burgis - I haven't been to Bath for ages, and keep meaning to go back - apart from anything else I'd love to sample the bookshops that bloggers like Lucy The Reader rave about so much! (I WILL visit Mr B’s sooner or later!) However Georgian Bath, as described by Stephanie Burgis in the 2nd Kat Stephenson novel, also sounds AMAZINGLY wonderful.

6. Lyssia, from Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling - With my luck, I'm 90% sure I'd get killed by a therianthrope within my first ten minutes in Lyssia. But it would be an AWE-INSPIRING ten minutes.

7. Everywhere in Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – Is this a cheat? I basically really want to do a road trip across America!

8. The town in The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – I love this setting so much but can’t remember its name, or even if it’s actually GIVEN a name. (It’s a long time since I’ve read it.) Anyone?

9. Cornwall in Just For The Summer/In The Summertime by Judy Astley – I love Devon and Cornwall, and Astley has captured the seaside atmosphere perfectly in these two novels.

10. Nancherrow in Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher – As mentioned above, I love the South West, and the magnificent Cornish estate of the Carey-Lewis family would be an amazing place to stay.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Author Interview with Susan Fletcher

I'm a big fan of Les Miserables and Eponine is my favourite character, so I was thrilled to get the chance to read A Little In Love by Susan Fletcher, a novel centred on her. Full review to follow (hopefully later this week) but I'd definitely recommend it - along with some tissues! - it has one of the most powerful endings of the year so far.

I was delighted to get the chance to ask Susan some questions.

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

This is the first time I’ve written for the YA market – so I’m imagining a brand-new readership! I think, in many ways, I imagine the teenaged me: I was quite a secretive reader, choosing cosy places – my bed, a corner, an empty classroom at lunch-break or under a blanket with a cat – to turn my pages in. I think this influences my imagining of my readers. But I’m also keenly aware that YA fiction can be crossover literature – and I’d love to think that it might find an adult readership too.

2. A Little In Love is the retelling of Eponine's story from Les Miserables - but which version of Les Miserables is your favourite, book, screen or stage?

It’s a hard choice – but I would have to choose the book. It isn’t an easy read – it’s 1400 pages! – and it brims with so much description and information that the pace can, at times, become slow. But even so, it’s an extraordinary, sprawling and mesmeric book; it is full of tremendous characters, and full of heartbreak. I felt stunned, in the days that followed reading it. No wonder it has inspired so many. Having said that, the stage and screen versions have, I think, captured the book’s passion and richness brilliantly. The recent film is just wonderful! I’ve seen it many times and absolutely love it.

3. Are there any particular actors whose performances in Les Miserables influenced your versions of their characters?

I tried very hard to empty my mind of all I’d seen and heard. It’s tricky to do – and certainly I could envisage several of the actors from the recent film, from time to time. Samantha Barks’s perfect Eponine, of course, and Sasha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter’s wonderful depiction of the Thenardiers were the hardest to put to one side. But Hugo’s book has very defined descriptions of the characters, and I tried to use those as the basis for my own – not the film’s. By the end of the first draft, I could see new people. I could see my own, personal Eponine wandering through Paris – and I still can.

4. While A Little In Love is your YA debut, you're an acclaimed author for adults, winning the Whitbread prize with your debut Eve Green. Do you approach writing for teens differently than writing for adults?

I was fazed, in the beginning. I thought I might have to do everything differently, and I didn’t know how! But I calmed down – and I decided that, actually, there is very little difference between the writing process for YA and Adult fiction. Both readerships want, ultimately, the same thing: a thoughtful and immersive story, a little excitement, a little love, likeable characters - and all told in a way that might, at times, make them read a sentence a second time just because it is beautifully done. That’s what I try for, at least. The only things I altered slightly were dialogue (more of it) and description (less). By doing this, the book’s pace is faster – and I think the YA readers have a greater wish for a speedy read than many adults do.

5. On a similar note, do you read much YA? Do you have any particular favourite YA authors you'd recommend?

Before writing A Little In Love, I hadn’t read any YA novels since my own teenage years. But having taken on the challenge, I did look at some of the most successful YA novels out there – The Hunger Games books, for example. During the actual writing process, however, I stopped reading other novels. I do this with my adult work, too: I find it confusing to have another author’s style and story in my head, when trying to create my own. So I stop reading, and just write …

6. The ending to A Little In Love - surely one of the most powerful of the year - had me in tears on the train. When's the last time you cried at a book?

Thank you. I am glad you cried! I hope that doesn’t sound cruel or strange – but it suggests that I managed to get all the emotion that I, too, was feeling into the pages. It suggests you cared for Eponine as I did, which is a lovely thing to know. I cried writing that scene. I often cry when I’m writing – I keep tissues on my desk! It’s hard to explain to non-readers why I do this, and sometimes I worry that I’m too emotional! But I also think (hope!) it’s a good sign: I am so immersed in my created world, and so in love with the characters in it, that they feel real to me. In terms of other people’s work, it’s been a while since I cried at fiction. But I often get tearful at poetry. Poetry is my first love, and I can be profoundly affected by it. I steer clear of Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ for what it does to me! That’s an extraordinary poem. And I cried, recently, at both Missing God by Dennis O’ Driscoll and Carol Ann Duffy’s Water – they are so tender, beautiful and sad. (In fact, I have just re-read them for the sake of this Q&A, and they both got me again!)

7. If you could host a literary dinner party, which six characters or authors would you invite?

What a great question! And virtually impossible to answer; I could change my mind daily, I’m sure! Off the cuff … I’d want Charlotte Bronte with me – and possibly Jane Eyre’s Rochester, too, because he’s flawed but rather fabulous, and I used to have a huge crush on him. Shakespeare. The late Seamus Heaney who made me want to be a writer. The novelist Sarah Bower, because she’s my friend and she’d be as excited by this dinner party as I’d be. And Eponine, too: a dinner party might overwhelm her somewhat, but she’s still a huge part of my thoughts so I’d feel compelled to have her there. And Charlotte Bronte would look after her, I’m sure!

8. Other than your own book, what's your favourite retelling of a classic story?

I recently read a novel called Ahab’s Wife – but Jena Seter Naslund. It is based on Herman Meville’s classic Moby Dick. In Moby Dick, there is a passing reference to the grizzly Captain Ahab’s young bride who is waiting for him, back on shore – and Naslund tells this bride’s story. It’s a wonderful idea, and gorgeously written. The protagonist is a true survivor, and tough in many ways – but it’s also a compelling story of lasting love.

9. What are you reading at the moment?

The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh … See below!

10. What's next for Susan Fletcher?

I’m returning to adult fiction – for now, at least. I am working on a novel that looks at a period in Van Gogh’s life, and a person he met during it. It’s all quite scary, because I am writing out of contract – and sometimes I’m worried that this book won’t be bought, won’t find publication … But I’m loving it. I wake up each morning with a sense of excitement, because of how much I am enjoying the writing of it. I hope this is a good sign! And, as ever, I have my box of tissues at the ready, just in case …

You can follow Susan on Twitter, and get more details about A Little In Love over at the Chicken House website.