Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Feature: Ellie Irving Interview

One of my favourite books so far this year has been the super-sweet For The Record, a lovely tale of villagers rallying round to try and break 50 world records to save their village. Author Ellie Irving was kind enough to agree to an interview with me.

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

I like to think of happy, smiley faces - readers of any age from say, 8, upwards, enjoying the craziness of the story. And hopefully laughing at the odd joke (some of them very odd...) I try and write with a knowing nod to the adults reading, so I like to think it raises a smile among them, too.

2. One of my favourite things about For The Record was the gorgeous setting of Port Bren - so what's your favourite fictional location?

I'm going to have to say Narnia. Post the White Witch's reign, obviously, where everything is glorious and humans can gallivant about to their heart's content without time ticking on in the real world. The Chocolate Room in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory comes a very close second, though.

3. What are you reading now and how are you finding it?

I tend to read a lot of children's books, but I have just finished 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' by Phillip Pullman, which is only the third or fourth 'grown up' book I've read this year. I'm about to start The History Keepers by Damien Dibben, which I'm very excited about.

4. Which of the 74 world records attempted would you have most liked to be able to watch?

I would have liked to have seen the 'Longest time to hold on to a galloping sheep' record, but I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing you can see on youtube. Although it's not technically a record, picturing Walking-Stick Glyn attempting to recreate Pamplona's Running of the Bulls always makes me smile.

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

If I can go back in time and ask the question, I'd catch JK Rowling as she stepped off the train all those years ago and say, 'you don't really want to do anything with that boy wizard idea, do you? Let me take that off your hands.'

6. Where did you get the inspiration for For The Record from?

A few years ago I saw an article on Teletext about a village in Spain that broke the record for making the world's largest salad, and it just made me think, 'why would a village go to those
lengths? Why bother?' It made me wonder what would happen if the village had to break a record, and what would be resting on whether or not they achieved it, and the idea sort of grew from there. I was pretty surprised that there haven't been similar stories about world records already, but then I guess I'm probably the only person in the world who still reads Teletext.

7. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to For The Record? (I'm thinking Belle and Sebastian personally; they're perfect to listen to while reading it in any case!)

I do listen to music as I write, though normally it's just the radio in the background. I did listen to the theme tune from Record Breakers with good old Roy Castle many, many times, though. Altogether now...'dedication's what you need...'

8. Who's your favourite character in For The Record?

Simon was the first character I created, so he holds a special place in my heart. I love his kindness and his offbeat sense of humour. I love Luke's enthusiasm and determination, but if I had to choose, I'd say Grandad Barry. I LOVE him, special occasion toupees (Hanukkah) and all.

9. Is there any book you'd recommend to readers of For The Record to keep them going while they're waiting for your next novel?

I'm a massive fan of Frank Cottrell Boyce, so I'd recommend anything by him - Millions and Framed are my favourites.

10. What's next for Ellie Irving?

I've just finished work on my second book, 'Billie Templar's War,' which is due out next year. It's about a girl whose Dad is off fighting in the Army, and her efforts to get the Queen to send him home from the war. Aside from that, I'm also working on other ideas and stories.

Sounds fantastic - I'll look forward to reading it, Ellie. Many thanks for your time in answering these questions.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Monday Musings - Review of Shadowfall: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes by Tracy Revels

(Originally published over at The Bookbag.)

You remember Sherlock Holmes, yes? Deerstalker, pipe, leetle grey cells… (Oh, sorry, that was Poirot, but same kind of deductive ability), naked winged-woman on, or at least floating above, the sofa in Baker Street… wait a minute? Seriously?

Well, ‘seriously’ is probably not the word to be used to describe this delightful pastiche, but I can happily tell you that mixing Sherlock and Watson with Titania, Spring-Heeled Jack, Charon, and other lesser known tales works surprisingly well. Chiefly this is because Tracy Revels manages to capture the tone of Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals fairly faithfully, just with the twist that Sherlock is only half-human. And looking at his detective skills, it’s a wonder we hadn’t figured that out before.

The characters come at us fast and furious here, and part of the pleasure is there’s no need to spend any time establishing them. We know what to expect from Holmes and Watson, Revels shows us enough to realise that this is still the recognisable duo, despite Watson’s shock at finding out about his friend’s true origins, and that allows the majority of the book to be spent throwing ever-more bizarre obstacles at the pairing and watching them stretch themselves to their limits trying to overcome them. Full marks, as well, for a Watson who is significantly more of a man of action, as in the original stories, than the bumbling fool found in some of the pastiches.

The supporting cast is a mixture of cameos from the usual suspects such as Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, and Mycroft, and the legendary characters thrown in to the tale. I won’t spoil too much by listing the other adversaries – everyone mentioned above comes into the first 30 pages or so – but they’re interesting foes who present a worthy challenge for the great detective and his sidekick, and my blood was well and truly pumping as we reached the final showdown.

Sherlockians and non-fans alike, this is a really wonderful read - high recommendation!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Feature: Interview with Keren David

It's been a while since I've had an author interview, but am thrilled to present this one, with the superb Keren David - who wrote three of my favourites of the past couple of years, the outstanding When I Was Joe and its equally brilliant sequel Almost True, plus the excellent standalone Lia's Guide To Winning The Lottery.

Many thanks to Keren for agreeing to do this.

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

I'm not sure, because I never do that. I started off writing for myself as I was at about 13, but now I suppose I see a load of assorted teens.

2. I got hooked on your writing after reading When I Was Joe and Almost True, hugely exciting thrillers. While I enjoyed Lia's Guide just as much, it's a big change in style for you. Which ones did you prefer writing?

I think there are quite a lot of similarities - all the books are about contemporary teens in extraordinary circumstances, they all examine big questions and are character-driven. I suppose the Ty books are thrillers with an element of humour and Lia is romantic comedy with a dash of darkness. I found the Ty books easier to write, I seem to prefer writing as a boy.

3. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, could you share with us the soundtrack to any of your books?

I don't, sorry to say - I'd love to, but the words of songs distract me when I'm writing. I had a Ty soundtrack for the gym full of commercial hip hop to get me in the mood for writing as Ty - Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, Chipmunk and Tinie Tempah. Claire and Ty's song is 'You Make it Real' by James Morrison - I think Claire would listen to it a lot, and Ty not at all.

4. What did you write in your current manuscript to make your daughter call you a 'pervert'? I took a quick look at your blog and I'm intrigued!

Haha...she didn't approve of a 15-year-old boy eyeing up a much older woman. One who is related to him. She has a point, I suppose.

5. Again, looking at your blog, I see that you let a young girl shadow you at work recently. If you had the chance to shadow anyone doing their job, who would you choose?

Oh my lord. I think if I spent a day shadowing Prince Harry I could get a novel out of it. Or Rafael Nadal. Or Jon Hamm from Mad Men. Or Ryan Gosling...Johnny Depp....mmm...George Clooney...

6. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?

J K Rowling. I can add urban edginess and she can boost my bank balance.

7. Having mentioned your blog a couple of times, and seen you on Twitter a lot, how important do you think the internet is to an author today?

From a hard-headed marketing point of view, the internet offers fantastic opportunities to network and promote yourself and your books. From a human point of view, I've met wonderful people, been informed and entertained and - with the blog - had tremendous freedom to develop as a writer and journalist. But as a writer it is a massive distraction and I need to disable it to be able to write.

8. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoyed Lia's Guide while they're eagerly waiting for your next novel?

I loved Bumped by Megan McCafferty, a witty clever dystopia which imagnes a world where only teenagers can get pregnant. Wish Me Dead by Helen Grant is thrilling - and also features a girl in line to inherit the family bakery.

9. What do you enjoy most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?

I love it when all the bits are falling into place and I'm in love with the characters and the writing comes easily and quickly. I hate writing outlines and synopses.

10. What's next for Keren David?

Yesterday I started work on a new book - no idea if it will work or not. From January I'm going to be teaching the Writing for Children course of evening classes at City University.

Sounds fabulous! Good luck with the book, and I'm very jealous of those people lucky enough to be learning from you - I wish I lived in or near London!