Thursday, 30 May 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Joe Craig PLUS UK Giveaway!

UK only COMPETITION: Win one of two SIGNED COPIES of Jimmy Coates: Blackout

Joe Craig has very kindly donated two SIGNED COPIES of his new book Jimmy Coates: Blackout! If you'd like to get your hands on one, read below to find out how.

NOTE: Competition entrants must be 13 or over and live in the UK. E-mail address and postal addresses of the winner will be passed on to Joe for him to send the books out, then deleted.

1. Enter on Twitter - follow @yayeahyeah and retweet the below tweet before 11:59 pm Sunday 2nd June UK time to be entered into a draw to win one copy!

2. Enter via e-mail - e-mail with the subject "I Want Blackout!" before 11:59pm UK time Friday 7th June to enter.

In addition to his generosity in providing me with two signed copies of the new book to give away, Joe also found time to sit down and talk to me about it. Thanks for the books, and an awesome interview, Joe!

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

I have never done this. If I try it now I see couple of images very strongly, because they’re a couple of favourite photos that readers have sent to me. One is of a boy of about 12 with a huge, beaming smile, holding up a signed Jimmy Coates poster. The other is a boy of 10 sitting crosslegged in the corner of a bookshop, head bent forward, engrossed in Jimmy Coates: Killer.

But when I’m writing I don’t imagine my readers. If I tried to write for some imaginary, universal ‘reader’, I’d be struggling to please someone who doesn’t exist in real life. All readers are different. They have different tastes, different energy, they’re different ages, some are boys, some are girls. When I’m writing, the reader I worry about is ME.

I’m the most impatient reader and the most demanding audience in the world. For me to be happy, I will never settle for an easy escape, an obvious plot move or the first word that springs to mind. It’s the demanding, impatient reader in me that constantly pushes the writer. It can be frustrating, but the result is that eventually I end up satisfied with my finished story.

2. In a recent blog post, you showed your diagrams for plotting out Jimmy Coates: Blackout. Have you always planned your books out carefully like this, or do you ever start writing without knowing too much about what's going to happen?

I always plan very carefully. If I started writing without knowing what’s going to happen I’d be improvising and would end up clutching at the first idea that came to mind or the first thing that made the story work. The point of planning is that I go through ten, twenty or a hundred different options, map them all out, with all their permutations and ramifications and I choose the BEST. I could probably improvise a story but it wouldn’t be the best version of that story… and what’s the point of that?

Also, for me, the planning is the bit that’s most fun. I love the plotting and the puzzling out of twists, the building of characters and the bringing them together in different combinations and situations to work out what conflict will tell the story I want to tell. I’d never want to skip that part and just start writing.

3. You contributed a brilliant guest post to my other blog, YA Contemporary, recently, about questions in school visits you'd made. Did you ever have any authors visiting when you were at school? If not, which author would you most liked to have met as a teen?

Thanks! I’m glad you liked the blog post. No, I never had an author visit me at school. I don’t think it even occurred to me that an author could be an actual, human, living person. I never gave it a thought. Once I hit my teens I was really into books about cricket and movie magazines – that’s virtually all I read from the age of about 11 to 17. The only fiction I read was Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (which I loved). Honestly, the writers I wanted to meet were Tom Stoppard, David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin (because he wrote ‘A Few Good Men’, not because of West Wing). Once I hit 17 I discovered Paul Auster, who changed the way I thought about books. I was lucky enough to meet him, briefly, and get my copies of his books signed when he gave a talk in London a couple of years later.

4. As well as being a great author, you're also an incredibly talented singer-songwriter as well! Do you listen to music when you're writing? If so, is it your own songs, or someone else's?

Golly – thanks! If there’s no music on, I can’t write. But some music makes me more productive than others. When I’m working on a draft of a book I keep a daily diary of music I’ve listened to that day, what I had for lunch, how many words I wrote and the time I finished work for the day.

From this, I’ve scientifically calculated that the most productive combination of food and music is sushi plus Oscar Peterson.

There’s nothing quite like Oscar Peterson.

5. In addition to all this, you're a screenwriter as well! Is there any chance Jimmy Coates will make it to TV or film?

I’d love there to be a Jimmy Coates movie or TV series and I’ve been lucky that there’s been so much interest over the last couple of years. At one point there was a Jimmy Coates TV series in development in the US, but it didn’t go into production so now I’m back at square one and courting producers again.

6. Do you really have a dwarf crocodile? What made you pick it as a pet, and how quickly can it eat your shoes? (For people not understanding that question, you really do need to read Joe's YA Contemporary guest post!)

Hehe. I have no dwarf crocodile. I’m sorry. I don’t even know whether that’s a real animal. I sometimes make things up. It is, after all, part of my job. At school I convinced a classmate I was in line to the throne of the Solomon Islands. He believed me for about three years before he finally came across a picture of the people of the Solomon Islands and saw they were all black.

7. For fans who've read all of the Jimmy Coates books, which other authors would you recommend to them?

There are so many great authors around now for anyone who’s a fan of Jimmy Coates or that whole genre of thriller. I wish they’d been around when I was at school; I’d have devoured their books.

The obvious big name to recommend is Anthony Horowitz, but most people discover my books after they’ve already read all of his, (which is actually great for me because it brings lots of new readers to my books).

I also suggest my readers check out Chris Bradford, Mark Walden, Andy Briggs, Anthony McGowan, Ali Sparkes, Barry Hutchison, Matt Dickinson, Marcus Sedgwick, Michael Carroll… and for my slightly older readers there’s Robert Ludlum (my favourite thriller writer of them all) and Robert Muchamore.

8. The Independent memorably praised your books for being able to drag teens away from their games consoles, saying "Super Mario is no match for this schoolboy assassin" - would Jimmy be able to take Mario and his brother Luigi in a fight?

Ha. This is not a fair fight. Mario and Luigi are plumbers used to fighting giant apes with spanners. Jimmy Coates is a genetically engineered assassin who can smash through the windscreen of a plane, midflight, to catch a rocket he’s just launched that will zoom him into the path of his enemy. I’m not sure a spanner and a big moustache are going to trouble him.

9. What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre and Revelation by CJ Sansom. (I usually have a fiction and a non-fiction on the go at the same time) I’ve just started Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (who wrote one of my favourite novels, the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) and I haven’t decided which non-fiction to pick up off my pile yet. I might re-read Rubicon by Tom Holland because it’s a cracker and I’d like to write a thriller about the Roman general and despot Sulla, or I might dive in to Monte Cassino by Matthew Parker, which looks riveting.

10. What's next for Joe Craig?

Joe Craig is busy…

I’m launching the new Jimmy Coates book (it’s out on June 6 and PR to do. At the moment that’s what’s keeping me from writing, but as soon as Jimmy Coates: Blackout is launched I’ll get back to the new book I’m working on… It’s a thriller that will hopefully be the start of a new series. I can’t tell you too much about it, of course, but it involves a boy and a girl escaping an evil organisation led by the pope (probably) and breaking in to ‘borrow’ the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. That kind of thing. I’m pretty excited about it.
Meanwhile, I’m also due to deliver the next draft of the movie I’m working on, so I’d better get cracking on that too.

Sounds great! Thanks so much for talking to me, Joe, and for the very generous giveaway!

Jimmy Coates: Blackout is out in the UK on June 6th, and you can find more from Joe on his websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Thursday Thoughts: April in Review

Total Books Read: 22

Life On The Refrigerator Door - Alice Kuipers
Don't Look Back - SB Hayes  
Light - Michael Grant 
Colin Fischer - Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz 
Kidnap In The Caribbean - Lauren St John

The Wit And Wisdom Of Discworld - Stephen Briggs and Terry Pratchett
Shipwrecked - Siobhan Curham 
They Called Him Lightning - Mark Falcon 
Geekhood: Mission Improbable - Andy Briggs 
Follow Me Down - Tanya Byrne 

The House On The Cliff - Franklin W Dixon
Why Me? The Very Important E-mails of Bob Servant - Neil Forsyth 
Ruthless - Sara Shephard
Tide - Daniela Sacerdoti
The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau

Burglars Can't Be Choosers - Lawrence Block
The Burglar In The Closet - Lawrence Block
Heroic - Phil Earle 
Inferno - Sherrilyn Kenyon 
Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: Circus Of The Damned: The Charmer - Laurell K Hamilton and Jessica Booth

Butter - Erin Jade Lange
Twerp - Mark Goldblatt 

Random Thoughts

More adult books than usual for me this month (only 5, but still an increase on previous months.) The best of those were undoubtedly the first two in Lawrence Block's Burglar series - I'd read most of his others featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr but finally got an omnibus of the first five and devoured them. (I'm not listing rereads here, which is why I've only got books one and two up.) For a winning mixture of comedy and mystery, you can't go wrong with Bernie!

A couple of slight let-downs in the latest in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Chronicles of Nick series and Mark Falcon's They Called Him Lightning, which wasn't up to the average Western tale for me, but overall a pretty good month. One of the highlights for me was tracking down a gorgeous reprint of one of the original Hardy Boys books by Franklin W Dixon, which was very enjoyable - and looks brilliant on my bookshelf.

Book of the Month

Close call for third, but SB Hayes just takes it with the wonderfully atmospheric thriller Don't Look Back, which gave me chills!

Second goes to a novel by an author I hadn't read before, and is an unusual choice for me because it's MG not YA - Mark Goldblatt's Twerp, a tale of a 12-year-old boy growing up in 60's New York, is a stunning coming-of-age story. Funny, moving, and managing to teach an important lesson without ever seeming to preach, this may well be my MG Book of the Year.

As good as Twerp was, though, there was never any real competition for the overall winner for Book of the Month. Michael Grant's LIGHT was the most-anticipated series finale for years for me - certainly since the final Harry Potter. I'm pleased to say it lived up to, perhaps even exceeded, my sky-high expectations. This is a series which has it all - wonderful characters, breathtaking action, fantastic heroism, and chilling evil. The climax was absolutely stunning, and is a clear winner for me.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Free Comics on Comixology

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

As you may have noticed from recent Monday reviews, I'm trying to post more about graphic novels and comics here. One reason is that I've been picking up a lot from my local library; another is that I recently downloaded the superb Comixology app for my iPad and am reading a decent amount on there. I wanted to spread the word about just how good Comixology was, so thought a (hopefully!) interesting top ten for this 'freebie' day would be 10 of the best free issues I've found on there.

Note: In most cases - the exception being Y: The Last Man - I've only read the free issues and am going to pick up the rest when I have time, so I'm basing my reviews solely on the individual issues rather than the strength of the series as a whole. I've also tried to go for a variety of publishers and genres.

Second note: There are so many free comics on Comixology that my original plan of reading them all over the weekend was never going to work (unless I stopped doing anything else, including sleeping.) I turned to Twitter to ask what I should read and recommend and the fabulous Saranga, who blogs over at the awesome New Readers Start Here - an essential site for anyone wanting to get into comics - was kind enough to recommend a bunch of comics to me, which was massively helpful in narrowing things down.

Third note: All were free when I got them at some point over the last two weeks and as far as I can tell are still free now - this may change, though, so if you're interested in reading, grab them sooner rather than later!

Superman: War of the Supermen #0 - Well, if you're going to try comics, you need to take a look at one of the most iconic and enduring characters around. This is one that I hadn't read before Saranga recommended it to me, but having just taken a look, I can see why she chose it. It contains two stories - the first, with some awesome splash pages and brilliantly drawn fight scenes, sees Superman take on General Zod on the planet of New Krypton as he finds out that the supervillain is about to declare war on Earth. The back-up strip, focusing on Lois Lane recapping the events that led to the creation of New Krypton and why Superman left Earth, is a clear and concise way to bring new readers up to speed on things.

GI Joe Origins #1 - I'm not remotely interested in war/soldier comics normally, but picked this up as it was free and was hugely impressed. Larry Hama has created a good story with a hook that makes me want to read issue 2 as soon as I get a chance, and Mike Hawthorne and Tom Feister's strong art and gorgeous colours work brilliantly with it.

Molly Danger/Princeless - Molly Danger is a perfectly acceptable action comic, as far as I can see, but not massively to my tastes. Princeless, though - WOW! I've been wanting to read this for ages and after reading this story I'm desperate to get the actual series as soon as possible. It's about a princess and a dragon (the cutest I've ever seen!) trying to rescue other princesses from the towers they're locked in to await knights to rescue them. The bright, vivid cartoony art is absolutely gorgeous, with the weirdly-shaped frames in the big fight scene making it stand out from the rest of the book. The plot and script are also very strong, and the message that girls don't have to wait around to be rescued is a great one to spread.

Y: The Last Man #1 - One of my very favourite ever comics (I'm about halfway through the series at the moment), this nightmarish tale of a world where all the males except two - title character Yorick and his monkey Ampersand - suddenly die is phenomenal. The opening issue - starting with a police officer pointing a gun at her own head and saying "All of the men are dead," before catapulting us back half an hour to see events in the lives of Yorick and the other characters who will go on to be major players - is stunning, and features one of my favourite ever comics panels, as two women's soccer players try to see what's wrong with a male referee who's collapsed, while another looks at the slumped figures who make up most of the crowd in horror.

Mouse Guard #1 - The first issue in the original Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 mini series, this follows three members of the Mouse Guard trying to find a mouse who's disappeared peddling grain. It's a good story with a brilliant twist at the end, and the three mice - Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam - are brilliantly portrayed with writer/artist David Petersen bringing out their personalities with both his script and his artwork.

Action Lab Confidential - It has the first five pages or so of Princeless, what more do you want? Noir-style detective story? Check, Jack Hammer. Psychological comedy with super heroes? Yup, Fracture. Roller skating monsters? Yes! Seriously. (Actually, I'm not sure 'seriously' is the best way to describe Monsters Are Just Like Us, but it's there, I promise you.) Lots more, including some interesting interviews with creators, makes this probably the one I'd recommend picking up above everything else simply because of the sheer variety.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 - I only got this as a 'blast from the past', because I liked the Turtles growing up in the 80s, but the new IDW series works on more than just a nostalgia level. This first issue starts with a well-executed fight scene then does a great job of introducing the turtles and their sensei Splinter. Good artwork and story makes it definitely worth picking up.

Adrenaline #1 - I'd never even heard of this before picking it up, but really enjoyed the first issue - it's set in Africa and starts with a rich kid hunting while a doctor is trying to cure people in Tanzania. Hearing that he's killed a lion, she races to stop him from leaving, only for the pair to clash, setting up an intriguing series. Great art - particularly on the animals - and I thought Dr Saida Nri was a fantastic leading lady.

Secret Skull #1 - Intriguing pulp/horror mash-up about a skeleton who stalks the streets killing bad guys. The muted palette of the artwork is a perfect match for the pulpiness of the story.

Lady Mechanika #0 - I'm not usually a steampunk fan, but occasionally I find something that makes me want to give it a go anyway - and this certainly did! The title character, a mercenary, is really well-introduced and it's a strong story.

What do you think of the list? Are there any must-read freebies that I've missed off? How about other books on Comixology - what should people new to the site/app, like myself, make sure they're reading?

Monday, 27 May 2013

Monday Musings: Graphic Novel Review of Flutter v1: Hell Can Wait by Jennie Wood and Jeff McComsey

When fifteen-year-old Lily moves to yet another new town, she falls for a girl who isn't interested in her. Lily, though, has a trick up her sleeve - she's a shapeshifter. She turns herself into a boy so that she can have a chance with Saffron. As Jesse, she starts to build a new life for herself at school -can this 'boy' get the girl? Additionally, why is Lily so resistant to any sort of harm, and who are the strange people who are trying to find her?

This is rather awesome. It's sweet, tender, thought-provoking, exciting, and carries a strong message about being true to yourself and finding your own place in the world. In addition, it's unpredictable and has some lovely artwork from Jeff McComsey. His fairly muted palette fits the story perfectly and his teens look realistic (especially in the way they dress), while his facial expressions are particularly strong - I love the way he draws Lily's father when he's confused, which seems to be quite often! The artwork and writing meld together in the way they do in the very best graphic novels to give us some superb characterisation here - as well as Lily's father, as mentioned, Lily herself is a wonderful central character, sympathetic even when she's clearly being extremely manipulative, and the other teens she's friendly with are also portrayed well. The action plot, with people chasing Lily and her dad and explosions and guns, is handled skilfully, but it's the gender issues at the centre of everything which make this one really stand out as one of the most unique graphic novels I've read.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next volume of Flutter, and this is a high recommendation from me - especially as it's available on Comixology at the bargain price of £2.99. (I think that's the right price - unfortunately I don't think there's a way to check UK prices once you've bought it.) If you still need convincing, get over to the website and check out the preview of the first part.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Shipwrecked by Siobhan Curham

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Grace Delaney and her friends from her dance school are really excited to have the opportunity to perform on a South Pacific cruise ship. But when a storm hits and leaves them stranded on an island, they're left fighting to survive - and fighting with each other, as tensions build when they start to panic about whether they'll be rescued. As if that wasn't bad enough, the island has a dark secret - will they learn it before it's too late?
In the advance publicity for this book, it's being billed as Gossip Girl meets Lost, and the mixture of sexual tension, mysterious island setting, and weird happenings mean it's a pretty good comparison. Curham's characterisation elevates it past the 'guilty pleasure' level of Gossip Girl for me, though, with an interesting group dynamic between the teens as they're trying to survive and find a way of being rescued. I'll even forgive the insta-love element, something that normally really gets on my nerves, because Curham makes Grace and her love interest's feelings for each other seem believable given the possibility of impending death. Speaking of which, he's a seriously hot love interest who will no doubt have many readers swooning over him! I also really liked most of the other teens, particularly Bella and The Flea, although some of the posher students didn't feel quite as well-rounded.
It's an atmospheric read, with lots of strange things happening, and Curham builds up the magical elements into the book well, starting from really early on when Grace burns a list and ends up with the word danger being the only thing not to burn. My only slight gripe would be that for all the creepy atmosphere, it's yet another book to start off a series which seems to end just as things get really interesting. Having said that, I'm definitely looking forward to the next in the series.
Recommended as a good read, and I think this has the potential to be a brilliant series.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Saturday Special: Book Review of Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

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.

For the first half or so of this book, I merely liked it. It seemed to be almost more of an interconnected bunch of short stories than a novel in many ways, most of which would have worked well on their own - I can see this being massively popular as a book for teachers to use in English lessons in older primary and younger secondary school classes. It was only when we'd got past the halfway point that I really fell in love with it, as I realised just how cleverly Goldblatt had tied all of the journal entries together into a beautifully-told coming of age story. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that on finishing it, I reread it almost immediately and found it even better the second time around.

Narrator Julian - struggling to cope with his guilt over the event which got him suspended, his relationships with his friends, and his worry that he may no longer be the fastest kid in school - is a brilliant central character. Just as good, though, are the supporting cast, particularly fast-talking Lonnie and Julian's older sister Amelia. As well, the setting of Queens in the 1960s is brought to life incredibly vividly.

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. I think this could be one of the biggest hits of the year, appealing to children and adults thanks to the great writing, funny and touching story, and the nostalgia for the sixties.

(I'd like to thank the publishers for allowing me to read this book via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Friday, 24 May 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Julie Mayhew

I've just started Julie Mayhew's Red Ink, which  looks fascinating - I was really pleased to get the chance to interview her.

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

I don’t imagine a reader at all when I’m writing, I just get absorbed into the story. I’m sure that breaks someone’s law of creative writing somewhere, but that’s what works for me. And even when I’m done, I’m not imagining a specific reader. I like to think anyone can read any kind of book. And Red Ink was a quirky proposition from the start - is it an adult book? Is it a YA book? I’m still getting asked that question. I don’t know. I guess it’s both. Let everyone enjoy it!

2. I was hooked by Melon's voice as soon as I started Red Ink - who are some of your favourite narrators in teen fiction?

I love Doria in Faiza Guene’s Just Like Tomorrow and Jason Taylor in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. I’m not certain that they were both published as adult books – but they both have cracking first person teen narrators and teens should absolutely enjoy them. Of course, 17 year old Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s Catcher In the

Haven't read Just Like Tomorrow, but definitely agree on Black Swan Green - a brilliant book with a wonderful narrator!

3. Red Ink is set in both London and Crete - did you take a trip over to the Greek islands for research purposes? If not, would you like to visit Crete in the future?

A visit to Crete was one of the inspirations for starting the book. I was staying in the region where the melons grow and saw a truck piled high with the fruit. And, just like I describe in the book, it drove along this bumpy road with no net or tarpaulin to hold the melons in place, yet none of them dropped. That image stuck with me. I did return to the island to help finish the second half of the book. I stayed in Maleme and celebrated Greek Easter while I was there – which was an amazing experience, even though I’m not Orthodox Christian. At night everyone went to church to light their candles from an eternal flame and carried the light back home. It was beautiful

4. You're a frequent tweeter and have a fantastic website - how important do you think the internet is to an author today?

I love it for research and discovering opportunities and bantering with other writers. I also hate it for the way it can obsess and distract me and for the way big issues get condensed down into 140 character rages on Twitter.

I can’t live with it, and I can’t live without it, is my (simplistic and less than 140 character) answer.

5. The cover of Red Ink is stunning! Did you get any input into the cover design, or was it a complete surprise to you?

It is stunning, isn’t it? I did have some input – yes. Hot Key Books came to me with the image of the girl in the launderette, which I loved, then I told them how I’d envisaged some illustrated element too. And that was when Jet (Purdie, Hot Key’s Art Director) suggested getting tattoo artist Duncan X involved to produce the icons that you can see when you angle the book into the light. Authors often hate their covers, because the images chosen don’t match those in their head, but I love love love what they’ve done with Red Ink.

6. Prior to having your first novel published, you'd achieved success as a writer of radio dramas. What made you decide to move into writing books?

I started writing the book first actually – just in fits and starts and kept putting it to one side. Writing a novel feels like such a mountain to climb, or a marathon to run, so I switched to drama every so often to ease the pressure. Writing drama is such a freer and easier (and quicker!) experience – and also it’s joyously collaborative.

You get to hand it over at the end and see it transformed by actors and directors and sound people into something else. Basically, I get bored easily so I flip between drama and prose.

7. You've also collaborated with Spencer Wilson on a series of picture books - I love the picture on your website of the seagull who wants to be an eagle! If you could be any bird or animal for a day, what would you be?

Though it would be fun to be a bolshy seagull nicking everyone’s chips, I would be an Oyster Catcher because they are bright and elegant and they get to spend all day on

8. You took part in the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme while writing your second book - what was the best thing about the scheme?

That scheme was amazing – utterly transformative. Red Ink found an agent and a publisher while I was on the scheme and I wrote most of my second novel. The best thing was working one-on-one with historical novelist Maria McCann and being challenged to write about things that I find scary.

9. You've also written several plays. Could you ever see yourself adapting Red Ink for the stage?

I think it would make a lovely bit of TV, actually. The location is such a strong element of the book – I’d like to see that brought to life on screen. And I’d like to be asked to visit the set too. I need a good excuse to go back to Crete.

10. What's next for Julie Mayhew?

I’ve just finished my second novel, a book for adults, set in Russia and London and after being shut away on my own writing that, I’m ready for a bit of drama. In a work sense, and a life sense too!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Julie! Best wishes for the future.

Julie's website can be found here and she's also on Twitter.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Monday Musings: Graphic Novel Review of Superior by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu

Former basketball star Simon Pooni is now in a wheelchair and blind in one eye - at the age of 12. Mutliple sclerosis has left him in this state, prayting for a cure. Then a talking monkey named Orman appears to him and offers him the chance to become a real life version of movie superhero Superior - for a week. But what will happen when the week ends?

There are some superhero comics which stand out from the crowded field by offering a new spin on superheroes. Chief amongst them, of course, are still Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's incredible critique of the genre, and Frank Miller's Dark Night Returns, putting an aged Batman in a bleak future. There are others that stand out by doing similar things to most of the hundreds of superhero stories out there, but just doing them incredibly well. Superior is one of the second type.

There's not that much original about the tale - even the title hero is clearly inspired by Superman, to the point where it's dedicated to Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner. Fittingly, though, given the name, the writing and art is far superior to nearly anything else I've read in the last few years. Simon is a great hero, the supporting cast is well-portrayed, and if much of the series is fairly easy to predict, there are some shining moments for several characters - one in particular - which took me by surprise and made me smile a lot. Actually, I smiled a lot while reading most of this book, because it's a story told with such warmth that it's really enjoyable to read, while also being thought-provoking. It raises questions about disability, about temptation, and about choices. As good as the writing is, though, it's definitely matched by Leinil Yu's stunning artwork - particularly impressive on some of the jaw-dropping splash pages and the scenes in which Simon tries out his powers for the first time.

In addition, because it's a stand-alone, it's perfect for someone with little to no knowledge of comics to read, compared to trying to get into the sprawling worlds of Marvel and DC. Huge recommendation as one of my favourite graphic novels.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Adamma Okomma, daughter of a Nigerian diplomat, isn't keen on moving to boarding school, even the exclusive Crofton College in Wiltshire. However, after arriving there, she quickly makes friends with the beautiful but unpredictable Scarlett. What seems like a beautiful friendship, though, is torn apart when both girls fall for the same guy. After Scarlett goes missing, can Adamma put their problems behind her?
I enjoyed this, despite finding much of the plot rather easy to guess, because the two main characters of Adamma and Scarlett are really well-portrayed. Adamma is a bright young girl and a loyal friend, while Scarlett is unpredictable and at times annoying, but has such a forceful personality that it's easy to see why Adamma likes her so much. I also thought the adult characters, particularly the policeman who sets out to solve Scarlett's disappearance and the two girls' fathers, were very well-drawn.
The action takes place in two timelines, flicking back and forth between the past - starting wtih Adamma's arrival at the school - and the present, just after Scarlett goes missing. The constant changes, letting us see the growth and then decline of Adamma and Scarlett's friendship and the effect Scarlett's disapperance has on the school, build the tension well. The relationships between the girls generally – not just Scarlett and Adamma – are also well-portrayed and believable. As mentioned earlier, I found the mystery predictable, but was still glued to the book to see if I was right.
It’s a dark and atmospheric read, in the same vein as Byrne’s superb debut Heart-Shaped Bruise. If I’m honest, I didn’t think it was quite as good as her first book – not a major criticism, as that was one of the best YA contemporary books of last year for me. However it’s an easy recommendation and confirms Tanya Byrne as a definite name to watch out for. I’m already looking forward to her next novel!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Katie McGarry

I loved Katie McGarry's Pushing The Limits last year, and Dare You To - her upcoming companion novel to that book - was another really good read. I was incredibly pleased when she agreed to an interview with me.

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

I see a lot of different people. I see teenagers, both male and females. I see people in their young twenties and those who are my age. What I also see is a friend of my grandmother’s, who is in her nineties, who wrote me a note to tell me how much she loved Pushing the Limits.

2. You've created four very different narrators in your two books so far - who was your favourite to write for?

That’s like asking which of my children I love more. J

I loved writing Echo’s innocence and sarcasm.

I loved writing Noah’s intense love for his brothers and Echo.

I loved writing Beth’s heart break and tough façade.

I loved writing the poet that is Ryan.

3. I'm really looking forward to reading Crossing The Line, your upcoming novella (released since I asked this question!) featuring Echo's best friend Lila. Can we expect more short stories or novellas from you in the future?

I wouldn’t rule it out! Writing Lila’s story has given me a taste for short fiction and now I’m a little addicted.

4. Isaiah was one of my favorite characters in Pushing The Limits and Dare You To, so I'm really looking forward to reading his story in Crash Into You! You mentioned to me a while ago that you had plans to write more stories in the Pushing The Limits universe - will Isaiah's be the last? If not (I hope not!), could you give us a clue as to who you'd be focusing on next?

I’m glad you love Isaiah as much as I do! For now I’m focused on his book. But I fall a little in love with every secondary character who shows up on the pages of my novels, so it’s entirely likely that one of them will demand their own story at some point down the line.

5. In Dare You To, Ryan and his friends are somewhat obsessed with dares - what's the craziest dare you've ever done?

I’m afraid I’m no fun with this answer. It’s not that I haven’t been dared to do anything, but I’m a little like Beth in that I wouldn’t be sucked into a game I didn’t want to play. Of course, Beth does become sucked into Ryan’s dares, but only because it serves her purpose.

6. Ryan and his brother are both excellent athletes in different sports. Do you have any sporting talents yourself?

I played tennis in high school and advanced to the state tournament my Junior and Senior years. I even played in USTA Kentucky junior tournaments. While I enjoyed it, I have to admit that I haven’t picked up a racket since the end of my Senior year.

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

I’d ask S.E. Hinton what happened to Pony Boy (The Outsiders) as he got older.

8. What are you reading at the moment?

I’m rereading Breaking Point by Kristen Simmons

9. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack for Dare You To?

I listen to a playlist while I do everything else other than write. I typically write in silence. I’ll be adding DARE YOU TO’s playlist to my website as it gets closer to the release date. P!nk’s F**kin’ Perfect and Rod Stewart’s Broken Arrow are two of my favorite songs from the playlist.

10. What's next for Katie McGarry?

I’m currently working on revisions for Isaiah’s story, CRASH INTO YOU. I can’t wait to share his story with the world!

Thanks so much for talking to me, Katie!

You can find more from Katie at her website and on Twitter.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Monday Musings: Comic Book Review of Green Lantern v1: Sinestro (The New 52)

I've never been a Green Lantern fan - I've tried the series a couple of times in the past but seem to have picked bad times to give it a go. However, I've heard some good things about DC Comics recently so wanted to try a few of the New 52 books, which relaunched all of the publisher's ongoing monthlies, and this caught my eye.

First things first - this is something of a 'soft' relaunch, in comparison with a few others which served as origin stories. This plunges us right into the action, with the Guardians, creators of the Green Lanterns, giving back a power ring to Sinestro. For those even more unfamiliar with the series than I am, the Guardians are immortals from another planet, while the Green Lanterns are chosen from across the universe by these immortals and given rings which turn them into superheroes. The two main characters in this book are Sinestro - Green Lantern turned supervillain turned Green Lantern again - and Hal Jordan, former Green Lantern turned normal guy. At least until Sinestro, his bitter rival, turns up and makes him an offer...

Geoff Johns is generally acknowledged as one of the best at writing Green Lantern, and this definitely doesn't disappoint! We get some fabulous action, wonderful humorous exchanges between Sinestro and Jordan, and intriguing hints being laid down for future issues. There's a good mix of the aforementioned action with slower stuff - the comedy early on as Jordan tries to adjust to life after being a Lantern is really well-written, as is the romance element. I think it's a good starting point for new readers - everything you need to know is easy enough to pick up from the first 12 pages or so.

In addition, I loved the art - by Doug Mahnke on the first five issues and guest artist Mike Choi in the sixth. Both have brilliant, although very different, styles. Mahnke's work is some of comics' finest, especially when it comes to some stunning action scenes and beautiful full page spreads. Choi's is more realistic but equally great to look at. All in all, it's an extremely visually appealing comic.

Highly recommended as a great book for readers new to DC in general, or Green Lantern in particular.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

After finding out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with a girl he met online, Mallory decides that the best way to make her life less complicated is to get rid of the boy, and of the new technology that's the cause of her woes. Finding a list her grandmother wrote as a teen in the Sixties, she decides to go vintage, and live as her grandmother did. Will she find the answer to her modern-day problems in the past?
This is a fun, fairly light, read which I didn't think was quite as good as Leavitt's previous teen novel, the wonderful Sean Griswold's Head, but was still a cut above most contemporary YA books. Mallory is a great narrator, and her younger sister Ginnie and their grandmother are fabulous supporting characters, while the relationships between the three of them, and Ginnie and Mallory's parents, are the strongest part of the book. The dynamics, as Ginnie becomes frustrated with Mallory's attempt to 'go vintage', and both girls have to cope with their grandmother moving into a retirement community and their parents arguing, are definitely believable and worked well. (Although I have to say, I found their mother to be incredibly annoying!) I thought the romance was perhaps slightly less successful, although that may be because I was expecting too much as Sean and Payton in Sean Griswold's Head were one of my favourite recent couples. For me, the love interest in this book wasn't quite as engaging as Sean was, although I still liked him.
Leavitt's writing style is still fresh, easy to read, and she keeps the plot moving at a rapid pace here. I'd happily recommend this to anyone looking for a teen contemporary with a strong narrator, and am looking forward to reading her future books!
(Oh, and one more thing - aren't both covers gorgeous? First is the UK one, second is US - both fabulous!)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday Special: Interview with Will Hill

As readers may know, one of my very favourite current series is Department 19, by Will Hill. I was absolutely thrilled when I managed to get an interview lined up with him - huge thank you to The Bookbag for arranging it!

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

Will Hill: People who like a good story, who don't mind being scared, and who have strong stomachs!
To be honest, I don't see a particular person when I wonder about who reads D19 – I see lots of them. Some of the marketing has positioned them as books for boys, which is understandable given the action and the military stuff, but I've never thought of them that way, and the emails and tweets and Facebook messages I've received suggest that they are read by both boys and girls, and by men and women, of various ages. Which is awesome, obviously.

2. Department 19 is inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula, while Frankenstein is perhaps the most intriguing character. (For now - I'll have changed my mind by question 7!) Are there any other classic novels that you'd like to see inspire modern teen novels?
WH: It's an interesting thought – I've had D19 fans ask whether I'm going to bring in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Invisible Man, and many others! Beyond the horror genre, Rick Riordan is doing a fine job of integrating the classic myths and legends into his various series, and there have been lots of re-imaginings of Austen, Dickens, Brontë, etc. I think looking to the classics can be a great way to inspire new stories, as long as the author's ambition is to build on them and create something new, rather than just go over the same ground and try to associate themselves with something iconic.

3. I loved the animated comic strip, with stunning illustrations from Tom Percival, posted on your website a few weeks ago, and am looking forward to seeing the others. Is there any chance the main series will get a graphic novel adaptation?
WH: You never know! I'm a huge comic book fan, so that would be something I would be delighted to see happen, but any type of adaptation is incredibly hard to get off the ground. I had a lot of fun writing the animated comics that we produced for the release of Battle Lines, and what Tom has done with them is absolutely incredible – they've been getting a great response, so I would think they'll be something we would seriously consider doing again in the future.

4. Speaking of adaptations, would you like to see Department 19 filmed? Any thoughts on who could play any of the parts, if that was to happen?
WH: I get this question a lot, and to be honest, I'm always in two minds about a film adaptation. On one hand it would be amazing to see the physical side of D19 realised – the technology, the locations, the uniforms, and the world of the vampires – and watch actors playing characters I made up. On the other, it would be very weird, as I can be a tiny bit of a control freak :) One of the best things about writing novels is the lack of compromise that is required, in terms of scale and scope. The budget is essentially unlimited – I can do anything I want as what I'm describing only takes shape in the imagination of the reader. A film version of D19 would need to be very, very expensive to do it justice – there would be digital effects in almost every frame. We've had a lot of meetings with interested parties, and I suspect that at some point someone will try to make it happen, but I won't be holding my breath…
As far as casting is concerned, there are a few people I've always seen in my head when I'm writing certain characters: Paddy Considine as Julian Carpenter, Gary Oldman as Henry Seward, Rachel Weisz as Marie Carpenter. The one that usually surprises people is Colin Firth as Frankenstein.
Some great picks there - I think Firth as Frankenstein would be amazing!
5. I was thrilled to see the amazing Department 19: Battle Lines display in the window of Foyles when I visited London last week! Did you ever imagine the series would be as successful as it's turned out to be?
WH: It's all very weird. I don't really know how successful it is, as I tend to stay away from the sales numbers – my view tends to be that as long as my publishers are happy, then I'm happy. But when I was writing it, I never had any idea whether it would ever even see the light of day, let alone whether anyone would ever read it. So if it's selling well, that's awesome. But what's far more awesome, and endlessly humbling, is realising that there are people out there actually spending their money and time on something I wrote. Interacting with fans of the series is the best part of the whole thing – reading their thoughts, answering their questions, enjoying their theories – and it's been lovely to hear how many of them were eagerly awaiting the publication of Battle Lines.

6. In addition to the three superb novels so far released in the Department 19 series, you recently released the Department 19 Files, 3 e-books set in the Department 19 universe between 1917 and 1919. I've read, and really enjoyed the first one, and am about to read the others - and am looking forward to more in the future, hopefully! Do you think the internet and the growth of e-readers has led to more opportunities for authors to write short stories like this?
WH: Definitely – before the rise of ebooks, the only places I could have put the D19 Files would have either been in the backs of the novels, or in their own collection once I had written enough of them to warrant the printing costs. I love printed books, so I’d still love to do that one day, but for now, releasing them digitally allows me to put them out there quickly, and lets readers pick the ones they think they might be interested in.

7. And speaking of short stories, you also wrote one for World Book Day, featuring Larissa, perhaps one of the most intriguing characters in the series. (Apologies to Frankenstein; I did say I'd have changed my mind by now though!) How did you get involved in writing something for World Book Day?
WH: I don't know exactly how it came about – World Book Day are in contact with publishers all through the year, so the first I knew of it was when my editor asked me if I had a story that would work for the YA app that they were going to be doing for the second time this year. I was delighted, even though it was going to need writing in the same period as we were finishing the edit of the third D19 – I actually wrote it in a six-hour blitz the day after Battle Lines was sent off to be typeset.
Larissa is one of my favourite characters, and I'm delighted she seems to be so popular with the D19 audience. When I was thinking about what to do for WBD, a story about her on her own, without Jamie or Kate or Matt, quickly presented itself, and by the time I came to write it I was desperate to get on with it.

8. I love the way your books cut between so many different situations and plot threads, but it seems like it must be incredibly hard for you to keep track of them all as an author! How much planning do you do before you start to write your first draft?
WH: When I started writing Department 19 I knew how it started and how it ended, but basically nothing else. I just trusted that the story would unfold itself as I was writing it, and luckily (after a few detours and wrong turns!) it did so – the historical sections appeared pretty much fully formed, and the narrative gradually fell into place. But about halfway through, I realised that I was going to have to work out the history, all the family trees, and the organisation of the Department, so I stopped in the middle for about a month and did the bulk of the research and planning.
For The Rising, I planned a bit more, particularly with reference to the story elements I left open at the end of the first book, and for Battle Lines I did even more – the series has well over a hundred named characters now, along with all the history, all the geographical range, and all the different threads that will eventually all need bringing back together. But even now, as I'm starting book four, I'm still reluctant to plan everything too tightly – I have a long list of everything that is active from the earlier books, where all the characters are and what they are doing, and I know what the main narrative threads are going to be. But I'll be very disappointed if I don't come up with some new (and hopefully better) ideas as I write it – I like to make sure I have room to change things.

9. If fans of Department 19 have read the entire series so far and all of the short stories, what should they seek out to tide them over until book four is out?
WH: Off the top of my head, the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, the Mortal Engines quartet by Philip Reeve, the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (when it comes out!), The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (as well as the entire Artemis Fowl series, obviously!), In Darkness and Hostage 3 by Nick Lake, Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, the Gone series by Michael Grant, and everything by Roald Dahl – I don't care if you've read them all before, read them again :)

10. What's next for Will Hill?
WH: Right now, D19 book four – that'll occupy me through the spring and summer, then I'll normally get a couple of months to work on other projects while we're editing and polishing. I signed a new contract with HarperCollins last year which is for the last two D19s and something else afterwards, so I'm working on a few ideas for what I might do after the D19 series is wrapped up. One thing is for sure – it will be a standalone, rather than the first in a new series :)

Can't wait for those books, Will! Thanks so much for the interview. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of I'm Dougal Trump - Where's My Tarantula by Dougal Trump

Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Warning: Some minor spoilers for I'm Dougal Trump And It's Not My Fault in this review.

Sybil has gone missing! Not Dougal Trump's sister Sibble - he'd be quite glad to lose her - but his beautiful Goliath birdeater spider! The fact that her tank's disappeared as well suggest this isn't just a spider making a break for freedom - and this is quickly confirmed when Dougal gets a ransom demand, telling him to follow instructions or receive Sybil back one leg at a time!

I really enjoyed the first in this series despite it being aimed at a younger age range than most books I review - it stood out thanks to a clever plot and Dougal's really strong voice, along with a great cast of supporting characters. This books continues in the same vein, with a really entertaining story and a great mixture of the narrative with Dougal's blog posts and his friends' comments on them - I particularly loved his recipes, especially when others tried to follow them with predictably disastrous results! I think the blog parts work especially well because they make what's in some ways a timeless story - Dougal is the kind of boy you could imagine fitting in with William Brown's Outlaws perfectly - feel fresh and up to date.

Stealing the show from the human characters in some ways though, are a bunch of animals - starting with Sybil and if anything getting more exotic - who are introduced as the book goes along. All of them are great to read about and Dougal gives readers some interesting facts on each one. In addition to the excellent writing, we also get some really good doodles as illustrations, which definitely added to my enjoyment of the book. (Actually, thinking about it, they don't quite steal the show from ALL of the human characters - there's one scene involving Dougal's blind neighbour which is simply brilliant.)

Highly recommended, and I'll definitely be hoping for a book 3!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Monday Musings: The Right Voice

I wrote a post about six months ago called The Ingredients of a Great Book, where I tried working out what the really important things were in the books I loved most. At that point, I plumped for character as the most important with voice a close second, but the more I think about it, the more I'm veering towards voice.

I'm thinking about the books which have stayed with me the longest, and almost all of the ones I can remember have incredibly strong narrative voices. For the most case, they're in first person - tragic Tessa in Jenny Downham's Before I Die and Lennie, grieving for her sister, in Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere being two who immediately sprang to mind.

Interestingly, some of my very favourite narrators have actually been hard to warm to. I nearly put down Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now three or four times in the first seventy pages because I felt out of breath trying to keep up with Daisy's frantic, hyperactive prose, but at some point there it absolutely clicked for me and I was completely hooked. Similarly, the first quarter of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan had me wondering what all the fuss was about because Dash's super-snarky voice was grating - but once I'd got into it, I loved it so much I bought my sister a copy as part of her Christmas present.

That's not to say, of course, that all my favourite narrators have initially annoyed me. Disfigured Jenna and Ryan, suffering from prejudice against travellers, hooked me from the opening chapters of Laura Jarratt's Skin Deep. Similar dual narratives - a particular favourite type for me - which have pulled me in right from the beginning are Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry, with the stunning chemistry between damaged teens Echo and Noah, and Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, with similarly wonderful chemistry between feisty Lucy and artistic Ed. Then, there's Maddie and Verity in Elizabeth Wein's breathtaking Code Name Verity. (Regular readers KNOW why I don't say anything about CNV except "Buy it now!")

Moving to single narrators, Hayley Long's Lottie Biggs, struggling to cope with some rather serious mental health problems, is one I absolutely loved, as are Sam, in comin 2 gt u by Simon Packham, terrified of the person or people who are bullying him, Chris in Silenced, by Simon Packham, talking to his dead friend but nobody else, and Jess, in Firewallers, by... oh, yeah, Simon Packham. (I'm saying little about Firewallers as it's not out yet, but it's a must read!) As impressive as Packham's ability to write completely convincing voices for new characters in each novel is, though, Daniela Sacerdoti does this several times in the course of the same novel. Dreams and Tide, the first two in the Sarah Midnight series, are mainly in third person but bounce us into the heads of various characters for first person segments. It's a fascinating style which pays off because she voices them all, particularly the two love interests for Sarah, so brilliantly.

Speaking of fascinating styles, the most fascinating of all is surely Jaclyn Moriarty's, whose characters in her Ashbury/Brookfield series communicate with the reader using everything from letters to diary entries to exam transcripts. Her Feeling Sorry For Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, and Dreaming of Amelia are three of my very favourite contemporary YA novels of recent years.

Of course, not every writer I think has a stunning voice is writing in first person. when it comes to third person, I have a real weakness for the less serious stuff. The Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars series both hooked me with their deliciously acidic narration, while one of the most bizarrely brilliant books I've read so far this year is Yelena Black's Dance of Shadows, of which the last six chapters are incredibly quotable. Then there's the books where the narrator is indescribable, for whatever reason - Natasha Farrant's fabulous The Things We Did For Love being the one which springs to mind right now.

Which books, or authors, stand out to you as having truly superb voices? Leave me a comment, I'd love to know!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Don't Look Back by SB Hayes

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Ever since they were children, Sinead has been taunted by her older brother Patrick. Always their mother's favourite, he constantly plays games with her, trying to force her to follow him. When he goes missing, it seems to be his most sinister game yet - as he leaves a trail of clues which lead to Benedict House, a strange place where time seems to stand still.
I started reading SB Hayes' latest book at about half past ten one Sunday evening, and put it down at about twenty five to eleven. That's not because of any lack of quality, though - rather, it was just that the eerie atmosphere of the opening pages reminded me that after finishing her debut novel, Poison Heart at around midnight on a Sunday, I was too scared to sleep for at least 3 hours! On picking it up again on Monday morning, I found I'd definitely made the right decision - if Poison Heart was fairly frightening, this is absolutely chilling, scaring me more than any teen novel I've read before - and more than anything since my days of reading horror by John Saul and James Herbert.
In addition to the extremely atmospheric writing, Hayes really captures the characters well in this one, particularly the bizarre - but still believable - family dynamic between time-obsessed Sinead, manipulative Patrick and their mother. I'll even forgive her for including two boys competing for Sinead's attention, as despite my feelings on love triangles, the pair are both interesting characters and the romance definitely doesn't overshadow the main plot of the novel. I found the plotting to be well done, and the ending left me stunned.
Strongly recommended - but let me stress, it's definitely not one to read late at night!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Andy Robb

Really pleased to present an interview with the brilliant Andy Robb, author of the Geekhood series, highly recommended reads if you enjoy reading about teenage boys navigating the perils of love and LARP. (If you don't know what LARP is, check out yesterday's review of Geekhood: Mission Improbable!)

Jim very kindly asked me to do this interview, saying that he finished writing the questions “late at night , so they might be slightly surreal” and that I was to “ignore anything too out there!” Personally, I like a challenge…

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

My brain operates in 2-D, hand-drawn animation, so I tend to visualise people as cartoon characters. I’d never actually imagined my readers until that question was asked, so I had a go. For some reason, I got a picture of a crowd of cartoon people sitting in cinema seats, with the lights up, each reading a copy of Geekhood. But, I’m going to interpret the question another way to give a less-weird answer: I kind of hope that the people who the books speak to are young adults, probably around 13, who might be having problems of their own. I know Geekhood is supposed to be a funny book, but I hope there are little messages in there for the people who need them.

2. You really bring the role-playing games the characters play to life. Do you play RPGs yourself?

Not as much as I used to. I started out on D&D which, I think, is still the best. But my interest in painting miniatures soon took me in other directions and I ended up playing Middle Earth, Judge Dredd and – my favourite of that lot – Paranoia. I liked Paranoia because each character had a specific hidden (and often ludicrous) agenda, which could turn a game upside down. As much as RPGs are about adventuring and telling stories, I also think they’re for people who like people; people who like to understand how other people think and work out the mechanics of creating and investing in a character. It’s like making a movie, but without the cameras. Or huge pay-packet.

3. Clare and Archie's fake relationship is brilliant! Who would be your ideal fake girlfriend?

If you’re going to lie, go big. I’d plump for someone completely and utterly out of my league and who would have no interest in me whatsoever. Oh, hang on… that rules out a lot of people! I’ll say Diana Troy out of Next Generation because, as an empath, she could let me know what the girl I really liked was actually feeling about me.

4. I really like the shop The Hovel, which caters for all of the boys' gaming needs. What's your own favourite place to shop?

I do like a Games Workshop, but I also love Forbidden Planet. I’ll take either for a lazy browse.

5. I always like seeing well-drawn adult characters in YA novels, and thought the relationship between Archie, his parents, and their new partners was really well done. Who are your favourite fictional parents or guardians?

That’s a tough one! But I do think Bilbo Baggins did a good job as Frodo’s adoptive father. Not only did he have a cool home, but he also discovered the joy and horror of adventures. Plus, he proved he was fallible – which I think is important; I’m forever telling my lad that grown-ups get it wrong, we’re just terrible at admitting it. As a parent, I sometimes feel like a very old-looking child.

6. You've appeared as an actor in some massive films and TV programmes, with Coronation Street and two Discworld adaptations being perhaps the most impressive (at least to me!) Where would you rather live, Weatherfield or Ankh-Morpork?

I’d have to go for Ank-Morpork. I think I’d fit in with the dress-code a lot better.

7. As if I wasn't jealous enough that I couldn't make it to the Geekhood: Mission Improbable launch (thanks for the invite, though!) I've just seen the awesome superhero cupcakes. If you were a cake, what type of cake would you be?

It’s a toss-up between a Battenburg and a home-cooked fruit cake. I think I’d go for the fruit cake, because home-cooked ones always have burnt currants on the surface and I think that’s a bit like my personality. But no candied orange – can’t stand the stuff.

8. I know you do school visits from time to time - what's the best thing about them?

Most of the time, the students I talk to have never heard of the book. So, to help them understand a bit about it, I tell stories about my teens – generally embarrassing ones about asking girls out – just to give them an idea where I’m coming from. But I do talk about more serious stuff; things like divorce. The best bits for me are when something I’ve said has struck a chord and a student hangs about to talk to me about it. I’ve seen poems and I’ve mopped up tears; it can be very emotional, but it’s incredibly humbling to think that you
might be helping someone to articulate the problems they’re going through.

9. Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader. Frodo Baggins had Sauron. Archie has Jason Humphries. And you have Cethan Leahy. How did this literary rivalry start?

Every Holmes must have his Moriarty. Where other heroes have adversaries who are often far cleverer or stronger than they are, I decided to hedge my bets and go for someone obviously inferior on every level. If he’s a master of anything, it’s mediocrity. Actually, it was Cethan who started it – he was on Twitter, bemoaning the fact that he didn’t have a Literary Rival, so I applied for the job. And, in seriousness, I’m delighted to cross swords with him: he’s funny, articulate and a talented artist and it makes Twitter a fun place to be. But don’t tell him I said that.

10. What's next for Andy Robb?

Immediately, a cuppa. Long term – it’s a bit more fuzzy. I’m waiting for Stripes to confirm or deny the possibility of a third Geekhood, but that’s some weeks away. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out, I’ve got another idea bubbling away – something very different. But I don’t want to start on it, until I know
what’s happening to Archie, as I’ve already got the plot in my head and the opening paragraph. For the time being, I’m doing a few events: Southampton Recon, the Hay Festival and Edinburgh. In the meantime, I’ll just keep on keeping on.

Thanks for the questions, Jim – it’s really nice to answer something a bit

Thanks for the great answers, Andy - I'll keep my fingers crossed for a Geekhood 3!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

Warning: The below review contains spoilers for Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind.

Despite his efforts with Sarah at the start of term, fourteen-year-old Archie is still as geeky and as clueless about girls as ever. Then he meets Clare, a sixteen-year-old who has relationship problems of her own, and they create a fake relationship to try and get their crushes to notice them. What could possibly go wrong?

Archie's voice - split between the main narrative of the book and frequent interjections from his Interior Monologue, which tends to sarcastically put him down, and his Exterior Monologue, is fantastic. The two monologues are the kind of thing that could easily have come across as gimmicky, but in both books, Robb has really nailed them - they fit Archie's character perfectly, and make it a fun, fast paced read.

In addition to the superb voice, Geekhood has a good cast of characters - I particularly like Beggsy, who can carry on entire conversations with the use of the word ''Dude!'', and Archie's relationship with both his parents and their new partners is really realistically handled. (His mum is absolutely adorable, while the other three are all frustrating to varying degrees but clearly care about him a lot.) In addition, Archie and his friends become involved with live action role-playing, which makes this seriously unique; it's rare enough to read about tabletop roleplaying, but Andy Robb makes the idea of LARP sound completely fascinating. While not everyone will be as keen as I was after reading it to try and find some LARP to do, I'm pretty sure that everyone will be able to relate to Archie's romantic problems, and sympathise with him as he struggles with what to do about his fake girlfriend and the girl he actually likes.

There are lots of authors out there at the moment writing wonderful contemporary books about teen boys navigating the perils of growing up - I wish I'd had anywhere near this much of a choice of books to read when I was a teen myself! - and Andy Robb is one of the best of them. If you're a fan of Tom Clempson, Don calame, Larry Doyle or Jesse Andrews, you should definitely check out the Geekhood series.