Friday 29 November 2013

Friday Feature: Interview with Kimberly Pauley

I really enjoyed the brilliantly bonkers Cat Girl's Day Off, a Kindle impulse buy a few weeks ago. I was intrigued as to what kind of person would write a book whose climax involves a rescue attempt being made by an army of cats, so I jumped at the chance to interview author Kimberly Pauley.

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

Myself, when I was a teen…sitting on the floor in my bedroom in the middle of the night, glued to a book instead of sleeping because I can’t put the book down. I was always one of those readers who had to read just one more page…

2. Other than your own characters, which famous fictional feline would you most like to talk to if you had Natalie' gift?

Hm, that’s a good question. Probably the Cheshire Cat from Wonderland. It would definitely be an interesting conversation.

3. I'm assuming Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which plays a fairly big part in Cat Girl's Day Off, is your favourite 80's movie. Since it was an awesome decade for teen flicks, can I ask you to round out your top 3?

Ferris Bueller is one of my favourites, though not my absolute favourite. That would be The Princess Bride. Do I have to stick to the 80’s? If not…then I’d also have to include the original Star Wars movie, Episode IV. That was the first movie I saw in the theatre and I still remember sitting there as the credits rolled at the end, totally blown away. It’s nearly an 80’s movie, since it came right before.
Then…well…I feel like I ought to stay in the 80’s era here for my last pick…um…Earth Girls are Easy or Adventures in Babysitting. The first one had Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum and is really just an insane movie. And Adventures in Babysitting…I dunno, it was really fun. Of course, I love all the John Hughes films too.

4. I really love the concept of Tu Books - it's great to see diverse characters in stories which don't revolve around that diversity. Was this a big part in your deciding to publish with them?

Well, yes, and also that they wanted to buy the book ;-). Seriously, it was nice knowing that they weren’t going to have any issues with the characters race or sexual orientation. I think some publishers turned the book down because of those things (and the fact that Cat Girl’s Day Off is decidedly quirky). Tu Books is doing some really great stuff and Stacy (my editor) was lovely to work with.

5. I'm intrigued by your vampire novels, Sucks To Be Me and Still Sucks To Be Me. Because I have a mortal fear of spoilers, I haven't delved too closely into Still Sucks To Be Me... Even In Paris, but I believe you're writing it as a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' style book? Were you a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and if not, what gave you this idea? (It seems like a strange, but extremely cool, way to write a book!)

I feel like I should explain the background behind the third book…the first two books came out with Mirrorstone, which no longer exists as an imprint. The publisher decided to go back to what they had always traditionally published and, basically, my series and a bunch of other ones got cancelled.

I figured that was it for Mina (the main character) but fans kept writing and asking me to keep writing her story. That’s easier said than done in the publishing world. Other publishers aren’t generally keen to pick up a series started by another publisher. I could have tried Kickstarter or just written it and self published it, but, honestly, I don’t have the time to work on something that may or may not sell at all. It takes months to write a book (for me, anyway…I’m not one of those authors who can whip out a book in a month!). But the fans kept after me. So I came up with a compromise idea that I thought would be fun and something I could do in my spare time. I released the first three chapters outright of the book and after that, after each chapter, I post a poll where readers get to vote. After a certain number of votes are hit, I will write the next chapter. It’s up to chapter 12 now, I think. Sometimes it takes a while for the votes to come in but this way, the book doesn’t get written unless the readers care enough to see it through. It’s hard to say how it will wind up – it’s a very strange way to write, letting the readers choose what happens next. It also feels very strange to me as it is basically like releasing your first draft of something, which I would normally never do. Usually there’s a bunch of re-writing and revising before something sees the light of day. When and if it gets finished, I’ll have it copyedited and put it out as an ebook or possibly a physical book as well, depending on interest.
And yes, I did have an obsession with CYA books for a while when I was a pre-teen. J

6. Also on your website, you mention that your 'bucket list' included seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov dance. Are you a big ballet fan? How often do you go?

I’m actually more of a Baryshnikov fan than I am a ballet fan. I do like the ballet, but I don’t go very often. I go to the theatre fairly frequently, however. London is a great theatre city. I’ve seen Baryshnikov twice live and have probably watched that White Nights movie about a billion times. Actually, I probably could have included that one in your question about movies. I loved that movie when I was a teen.

7. I'm loving the Cat Girl's Day Off T-shirts and phone cases over on Spreadshirt! What gave you the idea for them? And do you design them yourself?

Yes, I designed those myself because some people had asked about what they could buy with Rufus or P.D. quotes. Everyone loves crazy cats! Well, except dog people… I’ve even done custom designs for people who wanted something specific. My first job out of college was doing graphic design. I’m very rusty, but I can hack things together.

8. On that note, Spreadshirt also has Sucks To Be Me stuff (the vampire squirrel might be the cutest T-shirt I've ever seen!), with proceeds from STBM-related sales going to the literacy charity Open Books, Ltd. How did you choose Open Books as the charity to benefit from this?

At the time my first book came out, I was living in Chicago. I knew I wanted to support a literacy charity, so I did some research and found that one. They do good work!

9. You founded YA Books Central back in 1998, which I'm guessing made it one of the earlier teen book sites out there. How do you think the internet has affected teen books over the last 15 years?

Yes, YABC was one of the very first! I was running that site before book blogs even existed. It has been really interesting to watch how huge the YA book movement has become, a lot of it driven by online blogs. That said, in a lot of ways it is a very isolated phenomenon. There are the teens and adults who participate in it via blogging and Goodreads, etc. and then there are many who have no clue it exists at all. You tend to see the same people online making the rounds of the different sites or within their own circle. Some of them I remember from when I started YABC – they were young then and now they are running sites of their own! I do think the Internet has helped some books really pick up early buzz, which of course helps in many ways, though mostly it seems that the books expected to hit big are the ones that do. I love it when I see something unexpected gain traction.

10. What's next for Kimberly Pauley?

My next book due out is ASK ME, a dark paranormal fantasy from Soho Teen. It is coming out in April. You can find out more about it at It’s very different from my other books – dark, mysterious, a bit sexy… It still has moments of humor, but laughs are definitely not the main focus of the book.

And I’m now writing an adult noir-ish crime fiction type of book with a strong female lead character. It’s set in both Chicago and London, which I am having fun with. It’s the first adult book I’ve worked on, though the two short stories I’ve had published were both for adults.

Beyond that, I’m potentially starting up a joint book with another author, probably something middle grade, but as we’ve just started talking about it, I really can’t say anything more than that. Should be fun though!

Looking forward to all those, Kimberly - thanks so much for the interview!

Kimberly can be found on Twitter and on her website.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Mini-Recommendations

Let's go again here...

Love in Revolution by BR Collins - If you've been following me on Twitter, you already know my thoughts on this one. If you haven't, then imagine you've read lots of incoherent tweets along the lines of "OMG this was absolutely AMAZING!" and you're in the picture. Jill Murphy reviewed this wonderful love story between two girls falling for each other during a revolution for the Bookbag, where it was one of our top ten books of the year. Her review pretty much summed my thoughts up too. (Although I'd have bolded "I loved loved loved Love in Revolution" and "this story has the best ending EVER".) Check it out here for her far more coherent write-up. Summary, though - BUY THIS NOW!

Rags and Bones edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt - Slightly hit and miss collection of retellings of classic tales by some of today's top YA authors has enough really good stuff to be required reading despite a couple of flops. Highlight is Rick Yancey's sci-fi version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark - utterly incredible. Check out my full review at the Bookbag.

Hidden Gift by Ian Somers - Somers follows up the enjoyable Million Dollar Gift with an even better sequel, seeing Ross Bentley needing all of his powers to face off against a seriously dangerous antagonist who's ready to wreak havoc on Ross, and the world. With the antagonist narrating parts himself, you really get inside his head and get to see what's turned him into the monster he is, while Ross is one of my favourite lead characters for a while. The combination of the two, good world-building in terms of the powers and their history, and a strong supporting cast lifts it significantly above most action books of this type. Highly recommended.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth - Grudging recommendation here on the strength of an exquisite first half and a lyrical writing style. For me, though, this story about a girl finding she likes other girls in small-town America suffered from a second half which went massively downhill - more than anything else I've read since Daughter of Smoke and Bone. By the end, I barely liked any of the characters and thought the ending was anti-climatic. It didn't help that the blurb gives away so much I felt I'd read the first two-thirds or so already. Despite my complaints, the first half IS wonderful, but I'm struggling to see why this is getting so much hype.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Classic Children's/YA: Gemma series by Noel Streatfeild

Number of books: 4, with 2 published under various titles.

The full list is:
Gemma and Sisters
Gemma Alone (also published as Gemma The Star)
Good-Bye, Gemma (also published as Gemma In Love)


They seem quite difficult to get hold of, compared to many Streatfeild, which is a real shame. Ebay/second hand bookshops appear to be your best bet.

The premise

The Robinsons are perfectly normal, thank you very much…

Oh, wait, I think I’m getting confused with a future post there. Anyway, the Robinsons ARE perfectly normal (except for Lydia, who’s dance-mad, anyway.) There’s two parents, daughters Lydia and Ann, and son Robin. The not-so-normal thing about them is that their aunt Rowena and cousin Gemma are famous film stars. But then Rowena writes to say that Gemma has become the wrong age for films, at 11 – no longer a child star but not ready for older movies – and asks them to let her stay with them. Gemma moves in and has to try and be part of a big family for the first time ever, and cope with her fears about school, while also hide her identity as she doesn’t want people to think she’s “washed up.”

Why I like them
Rather than the good, sweet, kind-hearted girls I was used to reading about when growing up, Gemma is a complete brat for a fair amount of the first book, and for parts of the others. She’s a flawed character, but far more interesting than the majority of heroines from this time period. Lydia is even more flawed, being basically interested almost solely in dancing to the point of lying through her teeth if it helps advance her career, but is just about likeable enough that you can forgive her, while understanding her parents’ frustration.
Speaking of her parents, I also think the adults here are more rounded – and more present, for that matter – than in most books of the era. Alice and Philip, the Robinsons’ parents, along with Gemma’s mother, and dance school teacher Miss Arrowhead and her niece Polly are all great characters. And the couple who run the West Country farm they stay at in one book are gems. (And give us such wonderful dialogue as “Sweetly pretty it do be.”)

I’m also fascinated by the stage and think Streatfeild does a great job here of portraying the worlds of the theatre, TV and movies. In addition, it’s interesting that there’s real changes as the characters grow up – so many mid-20th century series seem to have their main characters locked at the same age forever, but my favourites have always been the ones like this where they grow older and have to cope with new experiences.

Best books

I think the first two are superb, personally, and the others are good but not great.

Who they’ll appeal to

Anyone who loves reading about the stage will like these. I think fans of Lyn Gardner’s Olivia series would feel at home, in particular.

Books by the same author

Tons and tons! Ballet Shoes is of course the most famous. (And has led to a bunch of others being reprinted as Something or Other Shoes.) The Painted Garden is another favourite of mine. (That would be Movie Shoes in some editions, which makes me want to bang my head against a wall.)

Thurday’s Child and Far To Go are both excellent from what I remember, as is her semi-autobiographical trilogy the Vicarage books.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Kristen Zimmer

As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I absolutely loved Kristen Zimmer's wonderful NA romance, The Gravity Between Us. This story of two childhood friends, one now a Hollywood star, finding out they had deeper feelings for each other than just friendship, is one of the best LGBT books I've ever read. The chance to interview her was awesome!

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Honestly? A teenage version of me. That was a tough time in my life, and I looked toward books to help me through it. But being a bit different from my peers sometimes made it difficult to find characters I could identify with, so I set out to write a novel that my teenage self would have really wanted to read. I think 17 year old Kristen would’ve enjoyed Gravity.

2. I love books with dual narratives, so The Gravity Between Us immediately sucked me in with Payton and Kendall’s wonderful voices. Did you ever consider writing it from one point of view, or did you always plan to use both as narrators?
From its inception, I knew this novel was going to switch perspectives between the two protagonists. It was important to me to illustrate that even though you’ve been close with someone for years and feel like you know that person as well as you know yourself, they inevitably have secrets – things that they’re afraid to share. Both Kendall and Payton have big, complex personalities, and when they each begin to realize that their feelings for the other are changing, it’s a very personal experience. Essentially, it’s two sides of the same story.

3. On that subject, which of the two narrators do you think is more like you, and was one easier to write for than the other?
Payton is without a doubt more like me. She’s a musician, an athlete, ambitious, but constantly questioning the decisions she makes… Yeah, I definitely put a lot of myself into Payton. That being said, Kendall was actually the easier of the two to write. I think maybe that’s because she is quite different from me, so I basically got to create her completely from scratch. I tried to stay away from drawing on personal experience while shaping her, and that was fun.

4. I hadn’t actually heard of Bookouture before reading The Gravity Between Us, although I’m keen to read more of their books now! What made you decide to go with a relatively new publisher?
I really liked their business model, their marketing strategy: the plans they had laid out for me as an author were very cohesive to the plans I had for myself. Plus, I’d worked as an editor for a startup publishing company in the past, and I know new companies are willing to take risks with the books they acquire because they want to stand out and build a reputation for themselves. Frankly, I’d make the same decision again. I only have great things to say about Oliver Rhodes. He was so supportive of every creative decision I made, threw out ideas when I was stuck, talked me out of the panic I think all debut authors have when it comes to rewrites, and paired me with brilliantly insightful editors. Overall, it was a wonderful experience.

5. I somehow forgot to mention this in my review, but one of the reasons I first picked up The Gravity Between Us was the absolutely stunning cover. Did you have any input into it, and did it look as you’d have imagined it to?
I did have input into it, yes. Bookouture came to me with three cover designs, all of which were beautiful in different ways. We had a slight dilemma on our hands as to which we’d choose, so we enlisted a handful of bloggers to share their thoughts with us. The results were too close to call, believe it or not! In the end, I sort of just threw my hands up and said to my publisher, “Oh, whichever you go with, I’ll be happy!” But I definitely think they made the right choice. It’s everything I imagined and more.

6. How is being a published author? Has the month or so since The Gravity Between Us was released lived up to your expectations?
You know, at first I was really nervous about it. Will it sell? Will it get good reviews? And things of that nature. I mean, everyone wants people to like what they’ve put out into the world, right? So far I’ve gotten a lot of lovely feedback, and it’s doing rather well. At the end of the day, being a published author is a dream come true for me. The fact that people like the book is a bonus!

7. Summer Ronso created a music video to go with the novel. How did that come about – was it your idea, or did she approach you?
Shortly after I finished the first draft, I sent it off to Summer, who had graciously agreed to act as one of my 'beta readers'. We’d been friends for a while at that point, so I trusted that she would give me an honest opinion on the manuscript. A few weeks later, she got back to me and (very excitedly) said, Kristen, this is really good! It should be a movie! From there, she pitched the idea of making a music video based on the book. She is such a talented photographer, and she’s currently studying to become a filmmaker, so I jumped on board right away. I threw some music together for the video and the rest, as they say, is history.

8. I’m always on the lookout for great New Adult fiction as I think it’s a category packed with potential – is there anything you’ve read that you’d recommend to readers while they are waiting for your next book?
Hmm… It’s funny. I usually read and am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and Dystopian fiction, but it seems that we’ve yet to see many Sci-Fi/Dystopian titles that fit into the New Adult category. I think Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro could be classified as New Adult. I can tell you it was an enjoyable read. Also, I liked Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

9. Who has been the biggest influence on your career as a writer so far?
Lots of writers name other writers as their biggest influences, and while there are so many authors who inspire me, truthfully my biggest influence as a writer and as a person is my mother. Not only did she teach me how to tell a great story, she’s always been the one person who told me I could achieve anything in the world, as long as I wanted it enough and worked hard enough.

10. What's next for Kristen Zimmer?
I’m currently working on two new books, but you know, I’m a newlywed… and with all the writing I did last year, I think I’m going to shelve them for a little while so we can finally get around to doing that 'honeymoon' thing I’ve heard so much about! No worries though, I’ll definitely have something new for you in 2014.

Fab to talk to you, Kristen - thanks so much for taking part in this interview.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Classic Children's/YA: KM Lockwood on the Green Knowe series by Lucy M Boston

Green Knowe is one of those series I keep meaning to get round to reading but never do - I've clearly been missing a treat, to judge by this fabulous piece from KM Lockwood!

There are six books in the series and they are all still available to buy online – an edition of two of the stories was released at the beginning of October 2013. There was a BBC TV series based on the first book The Children of Green Knowe, as well as a radio play, and a film based on The Chimneys of Green Knowe (‘From Time to Time’). Some of these are around too.

The books are all quite distinct and different: you don’t need to read them in any particular order. What brings them together and enchants me is the house – Green Knowe of the titles. You can visit it –the author Lucy Boston lived at The Manor, Hemingford Grey and rescued it from near-dereliction.

It is her love of the place that shines through –but that wouldn’t be enough for a child reader. What she does best is bringing history to life through an intoxicating blend of reality, adventure and magic. There are ghosts and witches and lonely children – and finally, resolution to the problems set up in each story. There are stories within stories, rich description within the action and a sensual appreciation of time-hallowed things, of artefacts with resonance.

They are beautifully written – though they may challenge a less-than-fluent reader. I love the character of the great-grandmother Mrs Oldknow, who occurs in all the books. Like L. M. Boston herself, she never patronises any of the children.

My favourite is The Children of Green Knowe. There are parts I still cannot read without laughing or crying or feeling scared after far too many years. A close second is The Chimneys of Green Knowe (sometimes known as The Treasure of Green Knowe) and then An Enemy at Green Knowe. I should warn you that this has a truly terrifying evil character in it: not for the timid.

These books will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fantasy written with deep love for time and place. They are equally suitable for boys or girls from around eight – especially the more goth-minded, outsider types, I would suggest. Contemporary children might enjoy the 50s/60s style in its own right – and then come to love Green Knowe as a character itself. I think the best editions are illustrated by her son, Peter Boston, for whom she wrote the stories originally.

The other three in the series are The River at Green Knowe, A Stranger at Green Knowe and the Stones of Green Knowe. L. M. Boston also wrote The Castle of Yew, The Guardians of the House, The Fossil Snake and The Sea Egg – they would be described as magical realism nowadays. There are also books and plays for adults.

K. M Lockwood writes for children and young adults, and reads books for Serendipity Reviews.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Authors For The Philippines Auctions - Please Check This Site Out!

I wasn't planning on posting on here this weekend, but I wanted to bring people's attention to a really good cause. If you have the money to spend on some fantastic items AND help out people at a time of need, please check out the fabulous Authors for Philippines auctions organised by Keris Stainton.

Some highlights from authors who've been kind enough to post on my sites or be interviewed by me in the past. All bids are correct at of 3 o'clock GMT or so on Sunday afternoon. Bidding closes on Wednesday at 8pm GMT.

A rare US hardback of Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf, signed and doodled in by Curtis Jobling - This is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, and the first one - rare even WITHOUT the signature/doodle - currently just £25!

A night down the pub with Anthony McGowan and Andy Stanton - I have no idea what the latest bidding for this is; there are cartels and EVERYTHING. The comments thread is awesome, though.

Signed copies of Undone, Torn, and Entangled by Cat Clarke - Three really good YA contemporaries from a brilliant author, going for £40.

Signed copy of ACID and 15,000 word critique by Emma Pass - ACID is fab, and getting good feedback on your work can be incredibly difficult, so this is an opportunity far too good to miss for anyone who's interested in writing. (And given it's NaNoWriMo, isn't EVERYONE interested in writing?) Just £50 atm!

Several different auctions for Rose Under Fire signed copies. The companion book to the wonderful Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, this is a great read. US hardback just £20 at the moment!

FIVE signed copies of Hayley Long books and an extremely limited edition print of a working cover for Lottie Biggs Is Not Desperate. This is £80, but look what you get for it!!

Signed US hardback of Gillian Philip's fantastic Firebrand and a signed cover of Bloodstone. Only £40!

A character named after you in Keren David's next book - plus a signed, personally dedicated hardback first edition of Salvage (check the comments for the additional part) - just £110.

Also from Keren, a two chapter and synopsis critique at £50.

Phone chat/coffee with Non Pratt - Non is one of the nicest people I've ever met and as Commissioning Editor of Catnip Publishing and a soon to be published author, she's in a wonderful position to give you some tips! This is £50.

Signed copies of Phil Earle's 3 books - I've read 2 and they're both brilliant - plus other swag, plus your name in the acknowledgements to his fourth book. £100 currently.

Signed Hardback of Threads by Sophia Bennett - £20. (This is me, so part of me was tempted to 'forget' to include this but Sophia has been so generous in giving me stuff for the blogs that it wouldn't feel right to leave her out of this round-up. And, of course, with it being such a great cause it would be cool to see it go for even more money, even if that's to someone else.)

Critique of YA manuscript up to 60k words, plus submission package, plus signed books, from Keris Stainton. Keris writes wonderful teen novels and gives outstanding feedback. The chance to get your hands on signed books and advice isn't to be missed! Currently £110.

Critique of 1st three chapters of a novel, or complete short story, up to 10k words, by Stephanie Burgis. Stephanie has written one of my favourite series of the last few years, the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, and one of my favourite short stories, The Wrong Foot. At £75 at the moment, this is another that's really cheap!

Manuscript and synopsis critique of children's or YA book by Susie Day - I'm not sure if Susie is the most consistently wonderful author of the last few years, but between Pea's Book, Big Woo!, My Invisible Boyfriend, and The Twice Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones, she can't be far off. Advice from her would be worth a huge amount, and is somehow just £65 at the moment.

Three day writing/reading/artists retreat by the Sussex coast at Peacehaven B & B, courtesy of KM Lockwood. This is £200, but that's working out at less than £70 a night for what looks like a truly gorgeous location - surely it'll go for much more than that?

Friday 15 November 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Laura Summers

One of the biggest surprises for me this year has been the absolute wonderfulness of The Summer of Telling Tales by Laura Summers. With a strong pair of narrators, a brilliant love interest, and a surprisingly dark plot, this is perhaps my favourite of the year for younger readers. When an interview request which took me two weeks to write (I was so desperate to get this one) got a positive response, I was over the moon.

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

When the book’s finished, I’d like to imagine a whole variety of people might read it - the book-mad teenager who devours stories like chocolate bars, the non-book-mad teenager who is surprised that she can’t put it down, the mum who’s downloaded it on Kindle for something the kids to read on holiday, the teacher checking out new books for his or her class and maybe even a grandparent who’s bought it for a grandchild and starts reading to check it’s ‘ok’.  I’d like to hope that whoever is reading it is hooked and really enjoying it.  When I’m in the middle of writing I try take myself back in time to remember how I felt about love, life and the universe when I was the same age as my protagonists but I avoid thinking about who’s going to read what I’ve written, otherwise I’d be constantly agonising about what might appeal to other people and either end up with something that didn’t hang together or a blank manuscript!  My logic is that if I just focus on creating the best story I can, hopefully anyone who picks it up when it’s published might just like it too.

2. You've written two narrators with exceptionally strong voices in The Summer of Telling Tales. Which of the two girls is the most like you as a teen?

I think there’s a bit of both girls in me as a teen. I’d love to say I had Grace’s stunning looks and musical talent and Ellie’s acting ability and gift of the gab but I’d be telling porkies. I became pretty shy and geeky as a teenager. I loved reading and drawing and spent a lot of time writing sketches and stories inspired by the Ealing Studio comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob and the St Trinians films which always used to be on the telly on wet Sunday afternoons in winter.  Like Ellie, friends were important to me, particularly my best friend to share secrets and gossip with, but unlike Ellie I was not a talented actress– when I hit my teens I became quite self-conscious and would get rampant giggles.

3. Ellie and Grace's mum takes them to the place where she went on holiday when she was ten. What was your most memorable childhood holiday?

My family used to spend a couple of weeks every summer holiday at Pagham, on the south coast because my grandparents lived there. My cousins often stayed with them so there were always lots of kids around.  There were loads of places to play and hang out including a nature reserve with a big saltwater lagoon, sand dunes with prickly gorse and an abundance of rabbits, the ‘Swamp’ - a few of acres of spooky, waterlogged land that I think used to be the grounds of a big house as there was the remains of an old tennis court at one end, and Pagham Harbour – with its massive fast flowing estuary. As we got older we became more free range and got up to a lot of stuff that thinking about now, as a parent, would turn my hair grey, like digging tunnels in the sand dunes and daring each other to hop across the sticky mud flats at
low tide. Fortunately we all survived, definitely more due to luck than common sense.

4. Between Grace's violin playing, Ellie's acting, and their mum's baking, they're clearly a talented family. Other than writing, what's your own most impressive talent?

Thank you. I wish I had something impressive to boast about. I once won a flower arranging competition in the Brownies but sadly have never fulfilled my potential in the world of floristry.

5. The Summer of Telling Tales surprised me because it was far harder-hitting than I was expecting from seeing the cover, which gave me the impression it was perhaps one for younger readers. What age range would you say the book was aimed at, and have you had any feedback from children or parents who found the book different to what they were expecting?

It’s difficult to pin point exactly the age range of the book but I would estimate 12 plus.  It is very dark in some places and does have a serious message about the importance of speaking out. I have had a few comments about the discrepancy between the cover and the story but I really hope it hasn’t misled younger readers or deterred older readers from picking it up. As you probably know the cover design and blurb are down to the publishers who are very experienced in marketing and selling books, however, I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if writers were given free range to choose or produce their own book covers – something I’d love to do if any publisher is bonkers enough to let me.

6. How much research did you have to do into the topics you cover in the book?

Loads. Particularly about the impact of domestic violence on children and teens within families.  There were too many heartbreaking stories of children and teenagers, from all sorts of backgrounds, too scared or ashamed to speak out, struggling within horrible family situations. Feeling totally isolated and trying to protect a parent were themes that came up over and over again. Domestic abuse is something very common, and happens in all sorts of families but sadly it’s often kept secret.

7. Ryan is a love interest who is sure to have teen girls swooning - he's adorable! Who was your first fictional crush?

When I was a teenager I don’t really remember there being many books written particularly for my age group so when I ran out of books at the library (the Narnia series, Swallows and Amazons, Just William and masses of legends and fables were some of my childhood favourites), I jumped straight into books by Agatha Christie and classics like Jane Eyre.  I definitely didn’t fancy Hercule Poirot so I think my first fictional crush has got to be Mr Rochester.

8. Two of my favourite supporting characters were the two main teachers in the book, who both have their hearts in the right place but don't always know what's the right thing to do. As a teacher myself, I think it's brilliant to see that sort of realistic portrayal. Which teachers of your own did you particularly look up to when you were younger?

Three teachers stand out from my school days. The first, Mr Challoner, my year 6 primary teacher, was quiet, calm and totally brilliant because he nurtured us all by encouraging us to develop the stuff we were passionate about. For me, this meant allowing myself and a group of friends to take over the school hall at lunchtimes to rehearse (unsupervised) a play I’d written – which we later subjected  - sorry – performed  to the rest of the class.(I wasn’t so self conscious at 11!) We were so engrossed in what we were creating, we never even thought about mucking about. The second teacher was Mrs Ram, the deputy head at my secondary school.  She was scary – with wild hair and a disapproving stare that could knock your head off at ten paces.  She was very strict and fiery but incredibly charismatic, turning our RE lessons into amazing debates about moral dilemmas, getting the whole class fired up and involved. My third brilliant teacher was my sixth form English teacher Mrs Smith, who hooked me into a whole load of books I probably would never have read otherwise and encouraged my creative writing, even managing to keep a totally straight face when reading some of the cringingly embarrassing angst-filled poetry I’d written and shown her.

9. What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve got several books on the go. Dickens by Peter Ackroyd. I got into Dickens late. I didn’t realise how funny and clever at plotting his stories he was. If he was alive now he’d be running BBC drama or have his own mega-bucks film company.  100 Ways to Train the Perfect Dog by Sarah Fisher and Marie Miller. (Unfortunately a losing battle, as our dog had already read 100 Ways to Train your Dopey Human) and lastly What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn which is beautifully written from the viewpoint of a ten year old girl and is poignant, funny and off beat – three qualities I love in a good book.

10. What's next for Laura Summers?

I’m working on a story and researching my next book – I don’t want to reveal anything about it as I generally find that’s the best way to murder an idea before it’s fully developed. I’d also like to do some more children’s TV work. Writing is a solitary business; I miss the collaboration of scriptwriting.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Thursday Thoughts: YA Yeah Yeah Mini-Recommendations

Still struggling for time to write full reviews, so here's some more recommendations to keep you going.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross - I only got this out of the library because something about the cover drew me to it. Yes, Hot Key can even make the 'girl in a posh dress' cover stand out, partly due to the addition of the Eiffel Tower. However, it's a read that's even better than that cover suggests. Taking a concept from an Emile Zola short story, this follows runaway Maude Pinchon as she struggles to find work in Paris and ends up employed by an agency who hire out plain girls to rich women to make the women look beautiful in comparison. Hired by a rich Countess to perform this function for her daughter Isabelle, who doesn't know anything about it, Maude starts to mix in Paris society. Isabelle is nowhere near the spoilt brat Maude first takes her for, though, and Maude is torn between her own interests in holding onto the job, and her loyalty to her new friend. The setting of late 19th century Paris, with the Eiffel Tower under construction - and not particularly popular - is magnificent, but the best thing about this one is the friendship Maude finds here. Her relationships, particularly with Isabelle but also with several other characters, are great to read about and there's a strong message on the theme of beauty and art in the book. In a strong year for historical fiction, this is up there with Jillian Larkin's Diva, Cora Harrison's Debutantes in Love, and Suzanne Rindell's adult book The Other Typist at the top of the tree.

The Dark Behind The Curtain by Gillian Cross - I picked this up a few weeks ago (might even have been on Hallowe'en) from my library back home, having somehow missed it in my childhood despite it originally being published the year after I was born. I think I'm quite glad I missed it when I was younger, as it scared the living daylights out of me even now! Colin Jackus is press-ganged into taking part in the school play, alongside his friend Marshall. The play is Sweeney Todd, and Marshall is a compelling title character - maybe too compelling. Jackus starts to realise that something is horribly wrong here, and there's only him and Ann - who plays Mrs Lovett - who can recognise how badly things are going. I'm sure books for teens in the Eighties were significantly shorter than today's YA on average, and there's something to be said for that conciseness. This is about 160 pages long and I think I was uneasy by page 32, very worried by page 60, and scared senseless by page 100 or so. An eerily brilliant read.

Rainbow Man by P.B. Kane - Talking about books that scared me senseless, new release by award-winning horror writer Paul Kane - his first foray into YA - is a short but satisfyingly terrifying read. There's nothing massively original in the story of a John Doe who washes up on the beach at the island of Shorepoint after a storm, and appears to bring prosperity only for things to go horribly wrong on the island. However, Kane's prose drips with menace, his lead characters - Daniel, who originally finds the man, his younger brother Mikey, and friends Jill and Greg - are well-written, and the final reveal and climax is very exciting. Well worth checking out, and I hope that Kane writes more for this age range.

The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer - My new favourite NA novel of them all. Two childhood friends, one a rising star in Hollywood, find that there's more to their feelings than friendship - but will the outside world and Kendall's adoring fans allow them to declare their love? This is packed full of likeable characters and has superb chemistry between the two dual narrators. It's also not as explicit as people generally seem to expect NA to be - I don't think the 17+ warning is particularly reading. It's sizzling hot, though, thanks to that wonderful chemistry. A fuller review I did can be found over at The Bookbag.

Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley - Natalie's family are hugely Talented, with her mother having a super-high IQ, her elder sister being a human lie-detector, and her younger sister being a supergenius and chameleon. Meanwhile, she can talk to cats. Her Talent, so weak that she has hidden it from everyone except her closest friends, finally becomes useful when she sees a cat on TV belonging to Hollywood blogger Easton West screaming "This is not my person! Save us!" With West on her way to Chicago, where Natalie lives, to catch up on the gossip on a film inspired by Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Natalie and her friends decide to try and save the day.

The first half of this is pretty good fun; the second half is fabulous. The entire book is completely bonkers, in case the plot summary hadn't given that away, but you can't help but smile at any book with an army of cats racing to the rescue, can you? I really liked Natalie as a narrator, although didn't think Oscar and Melly were quite as good characters. The cats steal the show, though. I'm not an animal person at all but would have happily adopted Rufus, Purr Daddy, or several of the others, as they're dripping with attitude and have really well-rounded personalities and great dialogue. There's also a little bit of romance which never dominates the story. Overall, a wildly inventive plot and the fabulous cats make this well worth reading.

All I Want For Christmas by Esme Taylor - I don't normally review adult books here, but I'll make an exception for this Esme Taylor novella as I'm a huge fans of hers under her real name. (For any of you who've somehow missed this, ET is actually Keris Stainton.) The name change for this one is probably a good plan, as it's rather more explicit than her teen stuff - nothing approaching 50 Shades levels or anything like that, but worth noting that there's a few hot scenes in it. However just as in her three YA contemporary books so far, this has lovely warm characters, a real attraction between the two leads, and a breezy writing style. It's the story of Ella, who's dreading Christmas until she meets her boss's nephew Joe. Joe needs something to take his mind off the prospect of having to settle down with his family after some time travelling, and he and Ella think that a quick fling will be enjoyable. Could there be more to their feelings than just a mutual desire for sex, though? This is one for adults and mature teens, but it's definitely one I'd recommend to them.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Classic Children's/YA: Liz Filleul on The Marlows Series by Antonia Forest

One of the coolest things about the classic children's/YA feature is discovering more about books and series I've never read. Antonia Forest's Marlows books have been on my 'to read' list for a decade or two without me actually getting round to them, but I'm going to have to change that after this fabulous post about them by Liz Filleul!

Number of books
10, published between 1947 and 1982. Their reading order is:  Autumn Term, The Marlows and the Traitor, Falconer’s Lure, End of Term, Peter’s Room, The Thuggery Affair, The Ready-Made Family, The Cricket Term, The Attic Term, Run Away Home.


Autumn Term is easiest (and cheapest to find) as it’s been republished as a Faber Children’s Classic.
The six non-school stories (those without ‘Term’ in the title) were recently republished by niche publisher Girls Gone By, but are currently out of print – try eBay or Abebooks.

End of Term, The Cricket Term and The Attic Term have been out of print since the 1980s – again, try eBay or Abebooks. Or write to Girls Gone By requesting they reprint the holiday books and the school stories! 

The premise

Antonia Forest didn’t set out to write a series, so the books are a mash-up of school, holiday and adventure stories about the Marlow family – twins Nicola and Lawrie and their siblings Karen, Rowan, Ann, Ginty, Giles and Peter. The four school stories take place at the Marlow sisters’ boarding-school, Kingscote. With the exception of The Marlows and the Traitor, the non-school stories are set at Trennels, the Marlows’ family farm. The books cover a period of 29 months in the Marlows’ lives, but Forest chose to set each story at the time she wrote it. Hence, in The Marlows and the Traitor (1953), Ginty reminisces about the Blitz, while in Run-Away Home (1982), Lawrie dresses up as a punk.

Why I like them

When I was growing up, the Marlows books were banned by my local library for being too middle-class. Yet, Kingscote, despite being an elite girls’ boarding-school, felt closer to my real-life grammar school-turned-comprehensive in England’s Black Country than any other fictional school I’d encountered – apart from Grange Hill. There are no midnight feasts or practical jokes at Kingscote; instead the books focus on everyday aspects of school life such as the annual Christmas play, netball and cricket matches,  friendship, rivalries and favouritism. And, just as life isn’t always fair in a real school, so it isn’t at Kingscote – Nicola, main character/hero of the series, is shafted on more than one occasion, and the villainous Lois Sanger never does get her come-uppance.

I like so many other things about the stories, too – the strong characterisation (the Marlow girls’ personalities are so distinctive that you don’t need to be told who is speaking – you can tell), the developing love triangle between Nicola, Ginty and their neighbour Patrick; the fact that every time I re-read a Marlows book, I notice something that I hadn’t before.

Best books

End of Term – arguably the best book in the Forest canon. Lawrie Marlow has her heart set on getting a major role in the end-of-term play, while Nicola wants to get into the junior netball team. Lois Sanger’s meddling ensures things don’t turn out the way the twins had hoped. End of Term contains two particularly gorgeous scenes – the description of the Christmas play and Nicola and Patrick’s ride into Wade Abbas at half-term.

The Cricket Term – Forget double Ashes: the greatest rivalry in cricket is Nicola Marlow v. Lois Sanger as they lead their respective forms to the final of the inter-form cup. Nicola has other worries too, as her parents’ financial worries mean she might have to leave Kingscote. The cricket match at the end of the book is up there with my other favourite literary cricket match, the one in The Go-Between (LP Hartley).

Peter’s Room – Ginty’s school project on the Brontes teaches her about the make-believe ‘Gondal’ universe they created, and the Marlows and Patrick Merrick spend a snowy Christmas holiday doing some Gondalling themselves. Their fantasy world brings Ginty and Patrick closer together, and there’s an unfortunate incident with a gun… This is probably the darkest book in the Marlow series, but a pivotal one in terms of the Nicola/Patrick/Ginty relationship.

The Ready-Made Family – Karen drops out of university to marry her lecturer Edwin Dodds and become stepmum to his kids. This goes down like a cup of cold sick with her family, who (with the exception of Nicola) treat Edwin pretty shabbily. Not that Edwin does much to endear himself to either the family or the reader… In a surprising storyline for a book published in 1967, Edwin’s daughter Rose runs away from Trennels and into the arms of a paedophile, ‘Uncle Gerry’.

Who they’ll appeal to
I can’t think of a contemporary equivalent of the Marlows books, but readers who enjoy realistic school and family stories, memorable characters and social history should give these books a go.

Books by the same author
In The Cricket Term, Edwin and Nicola discover that the Marlows had a thespian ancestor, Nicholas Marlow, who travelled with Shakespeare and performed in his plays. Two historical novels – The Player’s Boy and The Players and the Rebels – tell the story of Nicholas Marlow. These are well worth a read, especially if you have an interest in Shakespearean England. 

The Thursday Kidnapping is Forest’s only non-Marlow novel. It’s set in London and features the Ramsay family, who discover that a child they’re babysitting has gone missing.

Catch Liz over on her website, Story Spinner, or on Twitter. And read her wonderful book, First Term at Cotterford - a must for fans of girls' boarding school stories! (Plus, if you read it now, you'll be ready for the upcoming sequel...) Grab it for Kindle here.