Monday, 14 February 2011

Interview: Jon Mayhew

Apologies for the week off, personal stuff crept up on me...

REALLY excited by this comeback post though - an interview with Jon Mayhew, author of Mortlock and the Demon Collector. I've just finished TDC and a review should be at the Bookbag in the next few days - suffice to say I wasn't disappointed! Many thanks to Jon for doing this interview and for responding to my questions with some really in-depth answers at lightning speed, especially compared to the time it took me to write them!

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

I see a kind of conglomerate of my four children, they range in age from 10 to 17, boys and girls. I think I also see myself as a child too. But when I write, I tend to write for myself!

Which book would you recommend to people who enjoy The Demon Collector while they're eagerly waiting for your next novel?

Mortlock if they haven’t read it! But self-interest aside, Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley and his Tales of Terror series, The Black Book of Secrets and the others in F E Higgins’s series, Oh, anything by Marcus Sedgewick, The Dead by David Gatward or The Bili SanGreal books by Sarwat Chadda.

Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author on a novel? If so, who would be your dream writing partner? (Alive or dead, I'm feeling generous!)

You’re too kind! I’d love to brainstorm ideas with David Almond or Eoin Colfer. I think Mr Colfer would be fun to work with. As would Marcus Sedgewick, I love White Crow and it’s modern interpretation of the Gothic. I suspect though that many writers are a bit like me in that they quite like to work alone, so it may not work. Writers from the past? They’d probably have me burnt at thestake for my heretical thoughts.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

I’m wary of giving advice but I think the one thing I would say is write the book you’d love to read. Enjoy writing it. I could be wrong but I get the impression that if you try to write ‘the next big thing’ you’ll spend half your life trying to second guess the markets and the other half miserable and not enjoying your writing. Pointless.

As a fellow massive folk music fan, I love the atmospheric lyrics scattered throughout your two books so far. Any particular folk artists you'd recommend to your readers? And, if I can sneak in anextra question, do you listen to music when you write?

An album called Castabell by a trio called 1651 had a huge influence on Mortlock, it’s a dark and mysterious take on Playford’s Dancing Master. It sends shivers down my spine. Alva’s take on Long Lankin gives me bad dreams. A lot of Martin Carthy’s music inspires me, his version of Scarborough Fair with Chris Wood and Roger Wilson (Wood Wilson and Carthy) was part of the inspiration for The Demon Collector. He actually makes the song sound sinister! I also love Faustus and Maclaine Colston and Saul Rose. In answer to the sneaky extra question is partly all of the above with a healthy dollop of The Sisters of Mercy, Hawkwind, Steppenwolf, The Pogues and the sound tracks to many, many horror films!

If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?

I would ask Louis Sachar how he plans his stories. There must be a secret to crafting such clever, twisty, turny plots that look so simple. Maybe it’s just genius though!

Who’s your favourite character in the Demon Collector?

Hmm, could be Henry the Jack Russell (I have two myself) or maybe Slouch, the butler who is a demon of sloth and can’t be bothered doing anything for the professors of the Royal Society of Daemonologie. I think I’d have to plump for Salome, the fun-loving demon-queen who’s so unstable, giggly and lethal.

What are you reading now?

The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan. It’s nice to read a standalone by Shan the man and I’m enjoying it!

Between Blogspot, your website, the Mortlock website and Gory Stories
you have an incredible web presence! How important do you think it is
in this day and age for YA authors to communicate with their fans over the internet?

I’m not sure that it’s always important. I like to find out about and link up with authors and I know a lot of younger readers do too. But it doesn’t always matter. F E Higgins keeps a very low internet profile but seems to be popular.

I like the connection the internet gives you with your readers. It’s great to read a review on a blog and to find out it’s been written by a 14 year old boy in Melbourne! I have a facebook fan page too but don’t twitter as much as I’d like!

I also think it’s a great vehicle for giving something back, hence the free Mortlock short stories between Jan 2011 and April 2011 downloadable from

What's next for Jon Mayhew?

In the short term, a cup of tea and the news on TV. In the long term, the short stories are keeping me busy, Bloomsbury have created PDFs in the same font and layout as the Mortlock and Demon Collector books so it looks superb! Book 3 should be out in 2012 and, at the moment it’s called The Bonehill Curse. I don’t think that’ll change but it is sitting on my lovely editors desk as I type! More of that in the future!

Certainly looking forward to reading it Jon! Thanks again for the interview.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Tessa is dying. Oh, sure, we're all dying eventually. But most of us can hope, at least when we're teenagers, that our final exit will be some decades away. For Tessa, no such hope. She has a few months left to live, and a lot of stuff to pack into those few months. Starting with losing her virginity.

There are 46 chapters to Before I Die. I made it to roughly chapter 35 before I started crying. By a few pages later, I was howling like a baby, particularly when reading Tessa's instructions to her dad as to what to do after she died. Tessa is an incredibly brave tragic heroine whose story will touch everyone who reads about her.

There's lots more I COULD say, but to be honest, I think I’ve said everything that NEEDS to be said. This is a complete must read for everyone who loves great writing and wonderful characters. The only book which comes close to it when dealing with the subject of death, for me, is the exquisite The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Interview: Richard Denning

Really pleased today to be part of the blog tour for the superb Tomorrow's Guardian with this interview with author Richard Denning. You can buy TG at any of the following sites.
Amazon UK

Mercia Books

Amazon US

Hi Richard, thanks for agreeing to the interview!

It is a pleasure.

1. In Tomorrow's Guardian, Tom gets to travel back to various times including the Great Fire of London, the Zulu War and World War II. If you were able to travel through time, what would your destination be?

I would love to be able to see some of the lost wonders of the World and the famous buildings and tourist attractions of the ancient world. In particular the Great Library of Alexandria would be high on my list. I would also like to be able to be present at some of the most spectacular occasions in history. Maybe see Cleopatra enter Rome, see the first flight or find out if Richard III really did offer his kingdom in exchange for a horse!

2. You've released a substantial preview of Tomorrow's Guardian on your website, giving people the chance to try 60 pages for free. How important do you think the internet is to spreading the word about a book now?

Oh its critical I think. You cant just publish a book and expect it to sell. You have to be active and out there spreading the word and making contact with readers and potential readers. This means having a good profile on Amazon with lots of reviews, mentions on Goodreads and Shelfari, reviews in many blogs like your own. The effect of a book trailer on U Tube cant be underestimated. I have heard all this called Viral advertising and the Power of the Tribe. In other words the most significant influence on the interest in a book (or film, music track or a million other things) is word of mouth.

3. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what did you tend to listen to while working on Tomorrow's Guardian?

Not so much when I write. I actually like peace and quiet when I write. But I like to listen to music at other times to relax. I was a teenager in the 80s so the groups that had a huge effect on me would be Queen, Eurythmics, Billy Joel, Blondie, Status Quo and Elton John. I still listen to them today although my 14 year old daughter likes to educate me about Lady Gaga and others.

4. Being a GP, have you ever been tempted to write any books or scenes set in the medical world? I'd love to read about Tom travelling back to the Crimean War and meeting Florence Nightingale!

That is a great idea about Tom in the Crimea: maybe one day. As for writing about medical scenes I am not so keen. This is because day to day like as a GP has its shares of stresses and a certain amount of drama and tragedy depending on which patients attend. I have always sought escapism from that world when writing and reading as well as TV watching. So I avoid the various medical soaps and programmes like the plague when off duty. For me its the world of SCi Fi and Fantasy and Historical dramas that appeal.

5. As well as being a GP and author you run UK Games Expo - where on earth do you find the time?

I ask myself this a lot. General practice is a busy job and likely to get more busy with the government's plans to have GPs running the NHS (and I thought that was the job of NHS managers). That said in any job the key thing is to be organised with your time. I am quite efficient with use of time at work and at home I don't watch much TV (its amazing how many hours a week you get back if you only watch an hour or two a day). I am also a bit of an owl. So its 1 am as I write this and I am often up at this time. If you grab an hour or two at either end of the day when the children are in bed you can achieve quite a bit.

6. When growing up, what were your favourite fantasy series?

When I grew up I tended to read a lot of mystery books rather than fantasy. This would include Famous Five and Secret Seven and the Three Investigators. A little later about 10 I read the hobbit and a little later still the Lord of the Rings which I have read many times. I did read some of the fantasy of the time including The Owl Service and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I also read and reread The Narnian Chronicles. I enjoyed Roald Dahl books as well.

I went to university in 1985 and at that point and shortly after a huge amount of really good fantasy came along. Terry Pratchett's first Discworld books came out at that time, David Eddings had written the Belgariad and Raymond Feist Magician and there were many more.

7. Is there any advice you'd give to someone wanting to become a writer?

Read a lot. I usually have three or 4 books on the go at any time. Dont just read fiction but also read around subjects that interest you - in my case historical subjects. Then when you start writing you have a background of experience. But you need not wait for years to go by. You can start writing at any age. Enter competitions if you like so that you start to get some feedback. Just keep writing though because you will get better. Oh and you might check out New Writers UK - a great group of writers who support each other.

8. As you know I loved Tomorrow's Guardian but was also a massive fan of another of your books, The Last Seal. A particular part of that book which I enjoyed was the cameos from real life historical figures - if you could write a book about anyone in history, who would it be?

I hope to have The Last Seal out in paperback later in the year by the way. But to answer your question I have quite an interest in the Anglo Saxon Period and have written a historical fiction - The Amber Treasure - set in the 6th century. I had thought at one point of writing about Alfred the Great but alas Bernard Cornwell beat me to it ;-) There are a lot of really fascinating people in this long past era who forged the England in which we live today but about which most people know nothing.So its fun to write about them - to pick away at the scanty records that exist and try to bring them back to life.

9. And I know that you last year released the board game Great Fire: London 1666, which was set during the Great Fire of London (as the title suggests, I suppose!) like The Last Seal. Would you consider a Tomorrow's Guardian game? If so what kind of things would you put in it?

Actually what might work quite well is a game based around the sequel (Yesterday's Treasures) which I hope to have out in a few months. That is at least in part a treasure hunt across history. This could be a fun game - with players having to grab artefacts from past centuries.

10. Without spoiling Tomorrow's Guardian for those people yet to read it, any hints as to what we can expect from the sequel Yesterday's Treasures?

Given a bit away in the above answer - but here is some blurb:
Everyone is searching for pieces of 'The Crown of Knossos:' historical artefacts which when assembled allow control over all of history in this and in the Twisted reality. The Hourglass Institute, Redfeld's masters and even the Directorate are soon in the hunt. One by one the pieces are found but eventually Tom and the others discover who is really after The Crown and what their motivations are.

It is only then that they realise the extent of the danger, for 'Yesterday's Treasures' can mean the destruction of tomorrow.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions,

Great, thanks for having me. Richard


Richard was born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire, UK and lives in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. He works as a General Practitioner (family doctor)with a North Birmingham practice. He is 43 and married with two children.
He is a Young adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. He also writes book and board game reviews and online articles on historical and gaming related topics. He owns his own small publishing house, Mercia Books and is part of a board game design house Medusa Games.
A keen player of board games and other games he is one of the directors of UK Games Expo (the UK's largest hobby games convention). He is a board game designer and his first Board Game, 'The Great Fire on London 1666' was published by Medusa Games and Prime Games in October 2010.
Author website:

Review: Tomorrow's Guardian by Richard Denning

Eleven year old Tom Oakley thinks he's going mad when he seems to relive short periods of his life, and dreams about other people from different times. The reality is far stranger – he's a Walker, with the power to rescue those he dreamed about. Travelling to the battle of Isandlwana, the Great Fire of London, and a German U-Boat, guided by the mysterious Professor, Tom saves the lives of soldier Edward, servant Mary, and Able Seaman Charlie, who also have powers. There are others, however, with similar powers, who aren't as pleasant as Tom's new friends – and the four of them, allied with the Professor and his roguish helper Septimus, are pitched into a battle to save the worlds. That's intentionally plural – there are two parallel universes at stake here.

So, not lacking in ambition by any stretch of the imagination. The major success here – and it is a really major one – is that author Richard Denning, after a slightly slow first few chapters, keeps the action fast and furious for the other 400 or so pages of the book. Diving in and out of time, and in and out of the Twisted Reality (the other universe), there's never a dull moment as the inevitable confrontation with the evil Redfeld, villain of the piece, comes closer and closer.

The other thing that really impressed me about the book was the way the time travel was handled – this is a bugbear for me as I've read some dreadfully convoluted stories in the past concerning the subject. Denning sets things up well, never goes into too much detail on how everything works, and trust in his ability to keep the action flowing so well that the fine points aren't particularly important. Speaking of details, while the historical sequences are fairly short and they're set in times which I'm not particularly familiar with, they certainly all seem authentic.

I generally really like 'shades of grey' characterisation in fantasy, and tend to find completely good or evil characters rather boring. However, I'll make an exception here – while there are several characters who are definitely ambiguous, and whose motivations will keep you guessing right until the end, Tom and Edward stand out as really likable 'pure' heroes, particularly with a couple of speeches they make, while Redfeld is a splendidly evil antagonist.

In many ways, the story – young boy finds out he had mysterious powers he didn't know about and is plunged into a quest which has been going on for years – is reminiscent of the Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, still probably my favourite children's fantasy sequence twenty years after I originally read it. I'm not saying that I'll return to this one again as often as I've done that series – but I'll definitely reread it at least once in the future, and I'll recommend it to readers around Tom's age, many of whom I confidently expect to absolutely love it. I'm not sure whether older teens will like it quite so much, given the huge amount of great fantasy out there today and the lack of much character development, but I'd encourage them to at least try it.

Tomorrow's Guardian will be followed in the fairly near future by the sequel Yesterday's Treasures - can't wait!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it."

I can't believe it's taken me this long to read this fantastic book!