Saturday, 24 June 2017

Twenty Things I've Read #17

My links recap continues, after a slightly longer break this time around. (Busy time of the year!)

As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out.

Safe Space

Media Diversified
The Pool
Teen Vogue 

Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.

On that note, this thread from a mother in the USA talking about the money she'd owe without health insurance is an incredibly moving read - I hope everyone in a position to affect things reads it. (If you're in the US, call your reps please!)

For day job reasons, I have to keep relatively quiet about my own political views. However I'm really thrilled by the amount of interest younger people I talk to are taking in politics today. I've been reading the independent blogs of the main parties a lot recently - Conservative Home, Labour List and Lib Dem Voice. It's well worth checking them out - even the ones you disagree with - to be more informed. And with Parliament back in session, reading Hansard keeps me updated with what's going on and lets me see what my MP is talking about - definitely interesting to take a look at see what's being covered in debates.

A huge thanks to all involved in the Authors for Grenfell Tower auction - particularly Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Sara Barnard and Molly Ker Hawn - which has some incredible things you can bid on! If you haven't checked it out yet, please take a look; there's a couple of days left to get things including afternoon tea with David Walliams, advice from superstar agents Molly herself, Juliet Mushens and Claire Wilson (amongst others) or a book written about your child by Piers Torday! Also if you're in a position to help get some national coverage on Monday or Tuesday as the auction builds to a climax, please get in touch with Harriet.

Other bookish stuff - Asian YA is a fab new site set up by the amazing Eri celebrating the "authentic and glorious portrayal of Asian kids/teens" in YA - don't miss it!

I'm super late raving about this one because I met Sarah at a Wing Jones event at the start of the year and ADORED her fan art but didn't get her Twitter name. We finally met properly a couple of times last week - check out her gorgeous artwork of Wing, and of characters from Melinda Salisbury's stunning fantasy trilogy!

Great book haul post by Amy on her fabulous new blog.

And of course it's Indie Bookshop Week this week - don't miss their website with details of all the incredible shops taking part!

On Maximum Pop, Zoe wrote a must-read piece on living with a disability and being housebound at the age of 23.

Politico have an interesting piece on the sad death of Otto Warmbier shortly after being released by North Korea and returning to the US.

I love the Book Smuggler's Pride Month special of what's on their radar!

I know lots of people are INCREDIBLY excited for the Stripes Books anthology A Change Is Gonna Come - if you're on Netgalley, you can request it here.

Outstanding thread from the amazing @findmereading on how just because you dislike a book doesn't mean it's problematic.

A really interesting piece in the New York Times on a 12-year-old girl who came out in her Mormon church.

Another great Twitter thread, from Debbie Reese, with lots of fabulous recommendations for books by Native writers.

And Angie Thomas, as ever, wonderful talking about the need for more diverse characters.

There's a fascinating post here from teacher Ashley Booth on how he teaches whole class reading.

And for light relief after a tough week, I love this post from a brewery who tried to organise an event called A Piss Up In A Brewery - and failed!

Friday, 23 June 2017

Independent Bookshop Week 2017

Tomorrow launches Independent Bookshop Week 2017, and I thought I'd do a quick round-up of 5 of my favourite indie bookshops for anyone looking for places to go on their #bookshopcrawl! But first, a MASSIVE thank you to the lovely people at Books Are My Bag for sending the above swag package to me - how awesome is this?! I adore the Hufflepuff special edition of the Philosopher's Stone, but the (badly-photographed, sorry!) tote bag is stunning too.

For more details of IBW and the bookshop crawl, check out their website.

Tales on Moon Lane - as ever, I have to declare an interest as I do some work on website Teens on Moon Lane for them. Regardless, this is my favourite shop ever, with gorgeous window displays, a stunning selection of books (the children's non-fiction section is INCREDIBLE, in particular) and super-knowledgeable staff - everyone who works here is a massive fan of children's and YA books and it really makes a huge difference when you need help. If you are looking for a specialist kids/YA bookshop to spend some time in tomorrow, head over to Herne Hill!

The Big Green Bookshop - Simon took the Twitter world by storm with his perfect winding-up of Piers Morgan earlier this year, and gained a ton of publicity for the shop in doing so. Both Simon and Tim are great guys who are a pleasure to talk to and give brilliant book recommendations and the selection at the shop is always really interesting - I especially like the variety you get on their display tables.

Foyles Charing Cross Road - always well-stocked (including a fabulous selection of US imports), great displays and massively helpful staff - including wonderful blogger Jo, and soon-to-be published author Chloe Coles. The sheer size of the place and the range of books available is perhaps overwhelming at times, but there's always someone to help you find what you're looking for or recommend something you didn't know you needed. And lots of places to sit down and check out a first chapter too!

Queen's Park Books - gorgeous place which hosts some fabulous events and has an incredible selection of books for a shop of its size. Laura, who runs their Twitter account, is especially fabulous (both online and offline) and there's an awesome US section here too.

The Book Nook - moving outside of London, Hove's Book Nook is a must-visit if you're in the Brighton area. One of the most beautiful shops around, it has great staff and hosts some awesome events.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Physical Books and E-Books - Which Do You Prefer?

E-books or physical books? It's a subject which can get a lively debate going, and it was brought up again at last night's panel at Waterstones Kensington when an audience member asked what the authors thought of reports showing that sales of e-books seem to have slumped.

I have loved physical books for nearly as long as I can remember. I have amazing memories of my parents teaching me to read, of sitting with them as they read Enid Blyton and Anthony Buckeridge to me. Of going through the spare room at my grandparents' house and finding my first Chalet School book, starting a love affair with the series which lasted for perhaps 15 years. Of being given amazing presents, books I'd never have bought for myself but ended up loving. And a cupboard in my flat is full of signed books by authors I've been lucky enough to meet, with some truly gorgeous messages to me which I will hold in my heart for a long, long time.

So the joys of a hardback or paperback copy are definitely not lost on me. I also find them easier to read and tend to take in more information when I read them than when I read an e-book. (This is apparently the case with most people, according to scientific studies.)

And yet, for all the great advantages of physical books, there are some massive plus points to e-books as well. I've read self-published books which are either unavailable in the UK as physical copies, or at the very least difficult to get hold of. And in many cases they're books which stand out as very different from most of what's published for YA readers - I'm thinking of Hannah Moskowitz's 3, the most in-depth look at polyamory I've seen in YA, Ishara Deen's God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems - a Muslim version of Nancy Drew, with a fun mystery and a wonderful central character - or the collected short stories of Lawrence Block (which I could have bought here, but couldn't carry around to read as he's written so many!)

In addition, there's also the chance for authors to release short stories which wouldn't have been available in previous years - whether that's the author themselves doing it, as Laura Lam did with her Vestigial Tales to give fans like me something to read while waiting for Masquerade, or working with publishers. Two UK authors who've done brilliantly are Melinda Salisbury, with Scholastic recently releasing short story collection The Heart Collector, and Robin Stevens, whose short story e-releases did so well that they were collected - along with tons of excellent bonus material - as her recent release Cream Buns and Crime.

Of course, there's an elephant in the room here - the threat that Amazon, in particular, poses to bookshops. Yes, e-books do have their benefits, but the dwindling number of bookshops is a worry for anyone who loves them, and I appreciate that people buying e-books can hasten that decline. This would be, in my opinion, a Very Bad Thing. Several of my favourite places in London are bookshops; I'm lucky enough to do some work for Tales on Moon Lane (my absolute idea of heaven!) and can spend hours browsing and talking to staff there, in Foyles, in Big Green Bookshop or many more.  I've also attended a lot of fabulous events at bookshops, and got a ton of great recommendations from knowledgeable booksellers - neither of which are going to happen when you buy from Amazon! My personal feelings - and this is very much just what I do myself, rather than meant to be judging anyone else - is that I don't buy anything from Amazon that I'd be planning on getting normally. I buy Kindle books either to try out authors unfamiliar to me (especially when they're reduced), or if they're only available as e-books, or if I've already got physical copies and want to have one for the convenience of always having it with me. (This tends to apply mainly to mood-busting reads like Candy Harper's Faith trilogy, or Beth Garrod's Super Awkward.)

So, in conclusion from me, I love both physical and e-books. How about you? Do you have a preference? And what are your thoughts on buying from bookshops vs buying from Amazon? We'd love it if you joined the discussion over at the new UKYAMG subreddit!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Twenty Things I've Read #16

My links recap continues, after a slightly longer break this time around. (Busy time of the year!)

As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out.

Safe Space

Media Diversified
The Pool
Teen Vogue 

Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.

Firstly, and most importantly, my heart goes out to all the victims of the gragic Grenfell fire. If you're in a position to donate/volunteer, please do so - BuzzFeed have a list of verified fundraising pages here while there's a Twitter account which is giving details of where volunteering is needed at the moment. 

Great interview here with Lollies judges Michael Rosen and Nicolette Jones.
Amber's post on teens in the YA community is a must-read!

Speaking of teens in the YA community, Amy's new blog is FABULOUS - you should definitely check it out. I especially like her May reading wrap-up, she writes quick and to the point reviews which are really useful.

Awesome Twitter thread by Daniel Heath Justice about avoiding the 'snarky dismissal of folks who like things you don't'.

And another great thread from Kumail Nanjiani on Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Richard Curtis.

Rosalind Jana wrote on growing up in the modelling industry.

I completely adore this fabulous piece on Mallory Ortberg of The Toast!

Non Pratt is fundraising for the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability and will shave her head if she reaches £2000 - over halfway there; please donate if you can!

Julia Ember's queer books recommended by Hogwarts house is AMAZING.

Rave Sashayed has tweeted about Joss Whedon's unproduced script for a Wonder Woman movie. It's an eye-opener (and doesn't make me too confident about JW's Batgirl film, to be honest.)

Great Daily Beast post by Ira Madison III on The Color Purple and Elizabeth Banks.

And a really interesting interview with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams - is the internet broken?

I haven't actually had a chance to listen to this yet because I'm TERRIBLE with podcasts, but hearing really good things about Emma Gannon's with Juno Dawson!

Really wonderful post by Grace on losing weight and body positivity, including book recs.

Sooo thrilled that my amazing friend Katie Tsang (who some of you may know as Wing Jones author Katherine Webber) and her husband Kevin have written a series together for 6+ children! Read this thread about it from Katie.

Zoraida Córdova's recommendations of books to read if you loved Wonder Woman are awesome!

Another superb blog - Sophie and Sarah's Copper Boom is fab; I especially loved their post on 10 top teen movies.

And a stunning post by Jenn Lerner on 'performing disability' here - please read it.

Finally, I revealed my new project, a UKYA and UKMG subReddit! Please check it out and join if you'd like to discuss books there.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Guest Post: Simon James Green on why he loves laughter and funny YA

A day later than planned because of technical issues (huge apologies to Simon and Scholastic!) I'm thrilled to have Noah Can't Even author Simon James Green talking about funny YA!


Why I love laughter and funny YA
I must have been about thirteen. I wasn’t particularly bullied at school, but like my protagonist, Noah, I was a long way from being one of the popular kids. It’s very unfair. At that age, some kids are somehow built like proverbial brick, er… lavatory accommodation, securing their popularity by virtue of the fact they could snap your neck just by looking at you. Others, even though they’re going through the hell that is puberty, somehow manage to be good looking, totally avoiding the spots, gangly limbs and terrible hair – and everyone loves them. I needed an angle. I needed something that would make people like me. Just a little bit.

I found it in making people laugh. I distinctly remember the drama lesson where it happened – a funny improvisation involving my portrayal of a rather camp vicar, and afterwards, basking in the warm glow of everyone coming up to me, telling me how funny it was, and slapping me on the back like I was somehow cool. While it may have started as more of a defense mechanism, I soon found that I enjoyed making people laugh not because it meant there was less chance of getting battered, but because it felt good to make people happy. Entertaining people is fun. It’s a privilege being able to create material that people want to turn to when they want to relax, kick back, and have a good time. Laughter takes us away from whatever else is happening in our lives, and the World in general. It’s escapism. It’s the best medicine. That’s one of the big reasons I love writing funny stuff.

So when I was writing my debut YA novel, writing something funny was my natural angle. I also found that writing comedy, and then twisting something more heartfelt and raw in there, can be really effective – funny and sad by turns, just like life is. But I was conscious of something else too: there were some great funny YA books out there, but it didn’t feel like there was exactly a glut of funny LGBTQ+ YA. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are certainly some, and some excellent ones at that. But I felt there should be more. I really didn’t want to write a sad story about a boy discovering his sexuality. I wanted to show that coming out can be a joyful thing; that there can be lots of positives and lots of laughs and lots of fun. And that’s not to diminish the very real struggles that a lot of gay teens face – Noah certainly encounters his fair share of prejudice, heartache and turmoil along the way – but the ultimate message and ending, it’s uplifting. I felt that was important. Life can be good. You deserve happiness.

Whilst that was my starting point, I soon found that actually, I wanted this to be the message I sent to everyone, not just gay teens. My god, the world can be a grim place – who wouldn’t want to seek refuge in the pages of a good book right now? With everything that was going on, I really felt that what people needed was to laugh, have a good time, a giggle. I hope Noah Can’t Even let’s some of us do just that.


Noah Can’t Even is out now – published by Scholastic UK.

Simon James Green grew up in a small town in Lincolnshire that definitely wasn’t the inspiration for Little Fobbing – so no-one from there can be mad with him, OK? He enjoyed a classic British education of assorted humiliations and barbaric PE lessons before reading Law at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he further embarrassed himself by accidentally joining the rowing team despite having no upper body strength and not being able swim. When it turned out that being a lawyer was nothing like how it looks in Suits or The Good Wife, and buoyed by the success of his late night comedy show that involved an inflatable sheep, he travelled to London to pursue a glamorous career in show business. Within weeks he was working in a call centre, had been mugged, and had racked up thousands of pounds worth of debt. Finding strength and inspiration in the lyrics of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba, he eventually ended up working on a range of West End shows and UK tours, co-wrote a feature-length rom-com for the BBC and directed Hollyoaks for C4 / Lime Pictures. After trying really, really hard, he also managed to write Noah Can’t Even. If you are interested in stalking him, he still lives in London, where he spends a lot of time telling people that Noah Can’t Even is only partly autobiographical, and his mum has definitely never done a Beyoncé tribute act.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Guest Post: David Owen on writing The Fallen Children

The Fallen Children by David Owen is really high on my TBR pile, and I loved last week's awesome launch! 

It's always great to hear from David so I was thrilled to get this fantastic piece to share with you all.

The Fallen Children was the first book I ever had to put in the metaphorical drawer for a year after writing progress had ground to a halt. 

I had the core concept – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos transported to a modern day council block – but the approach I had taken to writing it simply wasn’t working.

This was because I had set out to write the book as something studiously ‘commercial’, which in my mind meant action-focused, heavy on shock and excitement and light on exploration of social or political issues. Around this time I was reading Michael Grant’s Gone series which, though hardly apolitical, certainly doubles-down on excitement and gratuity, sometimes at the expense of reflection. 

I thought The Fallen Children could follow suit. I’d developed a misguided notion of what makes commercial fiction, and this meant dumbing my idea down. The earliest outlines had evil alien children running amok, contrived twists and shoehorned explosions, while doggedly ignoring the thematic questions and connotations inherent in the concept.  

Partly I wanted to write something more ‘fun’ after my debut Panther, a deeply personal book I was still finishing up at the time. And partly I had convinced myself that I needed to write this way to have a book people would actually want to buy. 

When I returned to the manuscript, I realised that it was impossible – and irresponsible – to write about young women being impregnated by unseen powers without engaging with the emotional trauma this violation would cause. It couldn’t simply be a device to deliver evil aliens into the story. 

Almost immediately, characters emerged that felt real and compelling, and the story soon evolved into something much more interesting, because everything I had tried to ignore was the story. The book became interesting once it had something to say.

That’s how The Fallen Children became a story not just about (possibly) alien children with superpowers, but about how young people are being let down by society, how a generation facing immense hardships outside of their control are nevertheless blamed and vilified for their perceived failings, and how they will have to fight to make a better future for themselves. There’s still plenty of excitement in The Fallen Children, but it serves a purpose beyond cheap thrills.

This is something YA fiction does so well, and why many people fail to see YA’s value. Outside commentators see YA’s penchant for breathless, dramatic, often fantastical stories and dismiss it as vacuous, when in fact the best YA is using these to tackle head-on the most urgent issues facing young people. 

To pluck some random examples: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill and The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew are rich, provocative dystopian stories about feminist issues and more. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series has all the drama and romance we associate with YA, while also offering nuanced examination of race relations. The Call by Peadar O Guilin is relentlessly exciting (and terrifying) while also being about disability. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is as much about sexuality and identity as it is about a giant grasshopper apocalypse. 

A young adult readership demands excitement, of course, whether it comes from edge-of-the-seat action, intense romance, or outrageous humour. But it should be a vehicle for exploration and reflection, never an excuse to simplify ideas for a young audience – to talk down to them. The best YA fiction trusts that its reader is ready to engage with difficult topics, because they’re already living them. By acknowledging this, by trying to help young people better understand the most serious issues facing them and the world, we hope to empower them – like the characters in The Fallen Children – to fight for a better future.

The Fallen Children is published by Atom and is available now in all good bookshops. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Interview: Sita Brahmachari Interviews Rachel Vale

Rachel Vale of Macmillan Children's Books is one of my VERY favourite of a whole host of amazing cover designers working on YA and MG novels! When I found out that awesome author Sita Brahmachari had interviewed her to celebrate Rachel's glorious cover for Sita's new novel Tender Earth, I was excited to read it - and even more thrilled to be asked to share it with my readers on my blog! This is such a fascinating piece; I hope you all enjoy as much as I did!

In 2011 Sita Brahmachari wrote her first novel ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award. In 2012 she followed it with ‘Jasmine Skies’ returning to The Levenson family and now in 2017 comes ‘Tender Earth’ told through the eyes of Mira’s sister Laila Levenson who is twelve years old and finding much in our world to protest about. Rachel Vale has been the designer on all of Sita’s books for Macmillan Children’s Books. Here Sita interviews Rachel (Art Director for Children's Fiction, Non Fiction & Poetry at Pan Macmillan) and poses the questions that she is asked by so many readers…

 With Sanchita Basu De Sarkar at Children’s Book Shop Muswell Hill sharing the new covers.  


How are covers created?

An initial brief comes from the Editorial department; it will usually cover the basic information – title, author, the best market for the book, etc. – followed by a brief synopsis (character descriptions if relevant) and some visual references – other successful book covers in the same genre, pictures or movies posters, for example.

From there I will usually go away and read the book (or at least a good portion of it), to get a feel for the writing. As a designer I think we pick up on visual things in a way that not everyone else does – for instance, a very small detail in a book that isn’t hugely significant in terms of the overall story. I start to jot down thoughts, ideas, sentences from the book that I think may be useful. I’ll also go on to sites like Pinterest for inspiration – collecting lots of visual references like typography, colour, texture, images . . . you name it!

With lots of references gathered, I’ll start to think about how they might come together to create a suitable cover solution – and if this is something I will generate entirely in-house or whether it would benefit from the help of a sympathetic illustrator/designer. In this case, and with three covers to generate, I invested some help to bring these covers to life from the very talented Helen Crawford-White. I’ve worked with her before and I knew she would be a great fit for these. We worked together on some initial thoughts and ideas, until I was happy we were at a point to present to the rest of the in-house team.

Assuming I present something that inspires everyone, there will then be a process of specific feedback and tweaking as a final, approved version of the cover takes shape.

Who is involved in the process, e.g. author, editor, marketing, etc.?

It’s an incredibly collaborative process. At times there can be a lot of voices, but all are worth listening to. Key people/teams involved in the process are Editorial, the Publisher, Sales, Marketing & Publicity, and of course the author.

When you first started working on the covers for Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies, what was the spirit you wanted to capture? 

The vibrancy of the landscapes and the spirit of the characters. I find the locations evocative, and wanted to capture that with colour and energy.

In Jasmine Skies there is a family tree. It also appears in Tender Earth as a friend and family tree. You commissioned an artist to create vignettes in these books. How do these images impact on the reader's experience?

The interior illustrations for Jasmine Skies were from the very lovely Kate Forrester. In the case of the family tree in particular, this provides a very quick and accessible visual reference to something that can be quite complicated to understand when just reading about it. It acts as a shorthand that can be referred to over and over again as you discover the family in the book.

With the publication of Tender Earth a story that returns to the Levenson family what was the purpose of re-jacketing the previous two books?

The first of the two original books was published back in 2011. Design-wise, trends are constantly moving and progressing. At the time the book covers really stood out; they felt very fresh and new – combining photography and illustration. But in the six years since then, though more books followed along similar lines, designs have moved on. We felt this new book gave us the perfect opportunity to re-energize and reinvigorate the two older covers, thereby showcasing the new Tender Earth while at the same time reminding readers with the new look of the links to Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies.

What was the cover concept behind the new jackets? 

The concept or key ideas behind these new jackets were vibrancy and energy. I wanted to keep the strong sense of location and character, but in a more graphic/illustrative way, where colour and natural motifs played a big part in the identity of each book.

When you read Tender Earth, what aspects of the book struck you as important to bring out in the cover?

As this returns to the world of Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies, I really wanted to bring the character of Laila, the youngest member of the Levenson family, to life. I wanted the cover to represent her voice, strength and independence.

Were there any aspects of the book(s) that you especially drew on when designing?

The locations and associated culture were a big part of designing these covers – I drew a lot of inspiration from the jewel-like colour combinations in particular. It proved an important tool in ensuring that these sat together as well as standing apart confidently on their own.

Can you offer a list of words/phrases/qualities that you would like readers to take from the design of these three books, and Tender Earth in particular? 


I’d like readers to be inspired by these three books and their covers. Inspired to read them in the first instance and be inspired to be confident in who they are on their own journeys.
Thank you Rachel for all your beautiful covers. They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but I think lots of people do and I feel very lucky to have had you designing mine.

Sita x

Tender Earth - ‘A coming of age story for young protestors everywhere’ is edited by Venetia Gosling. Publication date June 1st 2017.

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.'

Rachel Vale is Art Director for Children's Fiction, Non Fiction & Poetry at Pan Macmillan

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Twenty Things I've Read #15

My links recap continues, after another slight break.

As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out.

Safe Space

Media Diversified
The Pool
Teen Vogue 

Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.

The Twenty

Alana Massey’s post for MEL magazine on how men could learnsomething from One Direction is one of the best pieces of writing about music I’ve ever read. 

Nineworlds announced some of the titles for programme items at the 2017 convention! There are some fascinating looking things coming up; I’m super-excited for it – it’s always one of my favourite events of the year. 

Sam Missingham’s new site Lounge Books is really fabulous, and I look forward to using it to discover some awesome new books. 

With lots of people having different views on ebooks and physical books (I’m a huge fan of both) I really appreciated Erin Kelly sharing this great letter in The Guardian from Ian Macrae about the benefits of ebooks and text-to-speech for blind readers. 

I’m thrilled that Rife: Twenty Stories from Britain’s Youth is finally funded! However there’s still the chance to pledge and get some great rewards. 

I don’t normally include my own posts in these twenty but I REALLY wanted to share this amazing Eleanor Wood interview again! 

Speaking of interviews, Olivia Chanel’s Saturday NightAuthor Fever – asking about 70s music and diverse books is such a fabulous idea! And it’s great to see one of my favourite authors, Dahlia Adler, starting it off. 

There’s a stunning piece by Sunny Singh here about the Jhalak Prize being forced to justify the prize’s existence to the EHRC after a complaint by Philip Davies MP. 

Ruby Tandoh released her mental health zine Do What You Want, just £1.99 as an ebook. I’ve just started, and it’s awesome – don’t miss it! 

There’s a really important piece on The Atlantic site by Sophie Gilbert looking at the ways in which popular TV series 13 Reasons Why was problematic in how it tackled suicide. 

Fabulous teen blogger Amber Kirk-Ford wrote a great post about the recent Penguin Random House Children’s Highlights evening, which I was lucky enough to attend.  

Jessica Plummer’s Book Riot piece on why many fans aren’t interested in being ‘patient’ with Marvel over the HYDRA Captain America stuff was superb.

Stunning Twitter thread from Suzannah Lipscomb in response to Mark Lawson asking whether 17th century spouses were really as feisty, cheeky and rebellious as those in new TV programme Jamestown. (Spoiler: often, yes.)

Another great YA Open Mic on the B & N site – I especially loved Laura Silverman, Elizabeth Wein and Jennifer Yu’s pieces. 

Magic Mike Live sounds incredible! I loved Lindsey Kelk’s piece on it for Glamour.

Autostraddle have an extract from Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, which looks superb – I can’t wait to read this book! 

I love this interview with Unstoppable Wasp writer Jeremy Whitley and scientist Tamara Robertson! 

My awesome friend Louie Stowell spoke about technology and reading on Book Machine! 

I loved the Gerry Duggan AMA on the Marvel Reddit! 

Finally, a really thought-provoking post by Simon Smith on making careful judgments about class books

Friday, 28 April 2017

Eleanor Wood Interview

I used to do a LOT of interviews on this blog at one point, talking to tons of amazing authors. A couple of years ago I hit the stage where I felt I was running out of questions to ask, and took something of a break. I did 2 last year for books I especially loved, though, and after reading another one I adored, Eleanor Wood's Becoming Betty, I was desperate to find out more about her and her awesome book!

If you want to see my mini review, it's at the bottom of this piece along with the blurb for the book - but first, check out the interview itself!

I love standalone books taking place in shared settings, so it was great to see Tuesday appear in Becoming Betty! Are you planning on Tuesday, Lizzie, or any of your other characters appearing in your next book?

I am also a massive fan of crossovers between standalone books. It’s something that Sarra Manning does beautifully and I always wanted to copy! It’s my aim to keep the link going in every future book. It’s nice to give a little nod and feel like we’re all in a gang together.

One of the key themes of the book is Lizzie reinventing herself in order to fit in with what Viv wants. What's the most you've ever changed about yourself for another person? And did you regret it?

I actually had a friend very much like Viv, so that relationship comes directly from personal experience. It started off harmlessly: offering to dye my hair like hers or lend me clothes, but turned into trying to get me to dump my (very nice) boyfriend for someone ‘cooler’ and all sorts of controlling behaviour. Of course, I was eventually replaced with a new BFF who was turned into another clone. This girl was so dazzling – for a while it was like a full-on romance. We would swap dresses halfway through a night out, wear matching make-up, make each other mix tapes and call each other secret nicknames.

When you are not that confident in your own identity, it can be really easy to fall into copying someone you admire. I do regret it, as it ultimately doesn’t make for a real friendship – it should be about what you both bring to the table. Also, of course, I see photos of myself from those months and cringe at the fact I look like someone else!

Music plays a key part in both of your first two books, of course! What's the most fun you've ever had watching music live?

I recently went to see The Raincoats, playing in a tiny community hall near where I live in Brighton. It was truly one of the most amazing nights I have ever had. It was genuinely life-changing. The Raincoats were a 70s all-girl punk band, who are still together and playing live in their 60s – they are still angry and shouty and brilliant. They are not like a normal band and I danced and laughed and cried throughout. It was raw and joyous and emotional. I highly recommend looking up their ‘Feminist Song’ on YouTube. The Raincoats were (among others) a big influence on Dirty Harriet in the book.

Of the bands competing in Becoming Betty, which would you most like to be a part of? And which one would you least like to play/sing with?

I love Dirty Harriet so much. Those girls bring me such joy – I basically wrote them as my dream girl gang. I would LOVE to be in their band. I also have quite a soft spot for Dream Genies, who look like they have a lot of fun.

Living in Brighton and having a lot of friends in bands, I’ve come across a lot of bands like Gypsy Death Curse – music snobs who take themselves *extremely* seriously. I can’t think of anything worse than being in a band like that!

Another key theme is friendship; I love the way the book looks at Lizzie's relationships with friends both old and new. Who are your favourite pair or group of fictional friends?

I love the friendship dynamic in Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, which feels so true to life (I think that book has basically become the gold standard for writing about friendship in YA!). Also Kaz and Ruby in Remix by Non Pratt, and Kate and Mark in You Know Me Well.

It was really interesting to see Lizzie's experiences at college compared to her friends' at sixth form. Do you think it's important to show teens a range of options that are available after leaving school?

Definitely. It was based a bit on one of my best friends, who left our school to go off to college – we all thought she was so cool and I was very envious, while I was still stuck at school and feeling like a child by comparison. She ended up not coping very well and coming back to our school sixth form. It’s a funny time as people go off to do very different things, which really affects relationships – you can suddenly feel like you’re at a completely different stage in life to your friends of the same age; it’s weird.

If you were asked to put together a band of YA authors to support a group or artist on tour which authors would you pick? And who would you be playing support for?

I love this! I would definitely want to put together a YA supergroup of amazing female authors, so I choose Mel Salisbury, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt and Holly Bourne. We will play disco-punk anthems and support my hero Patti Smith.

Finally I really appreciated the part that Lizzie's parents and sister played in the novel. Other than your own, who are some of your favourite families in YA?

I’m so glad you thought that, because I am extremely fond of Lizzie’s family (I think Grace might be my favourite character in the book). I know it’s different for everyone at that age, but my family always played a really important role in my life and it feels very natural to make family a big part of the story.

I love the family themes of Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s Square Root of Summer, Nina Lacour’s We Are Okay and Jess Vallance’s The Yellow Room. I ADORE the dad in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl beyond all measure.

I always seem to bring up this book, but OF COURSE I have to mention the Mortmain family in I Capture the Castle – the best fictional family of all time!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, Eleanor!

Eleanor Wood lives in Brighton, where she can mostly be found hanging around in cafes and record shops, running on the beach, pretending to be French and/or that it's the 1960s and writing deep into the night. She used to make a photocopied fanzine, moved on to embarrassingly personal blogging and has written for magazines like Elle, Time Out and The Face. She has a fringe, is fond of eyeliner and wishes she had a dog.

Lizzie Brown's life is one big to-do list:
1. Start college
2. Become cool
3. Decide wtf to do with her life
So when she meets Viv, the crazy, beautiful lead singer in a band, she thinks she's on her way to achieving number two on her list. And when Viv asks her to be the bass player in the band, there's only one problem - Lizzie can't play a single note. And that she's nowhere near cool enough (ok, two problems). And that she has a huge crush on the guitarist (ok, three), who happens to be Viv's boyfriend (ok, this is a terrible idea).

But Viv won't take no for an answer, and decides that a makeover is the answer to everything. Boring Lizzie Brown is going to become Betty Brown the Bass Player and there's nothing Lizzie can do about it . . .

Told with Eleanor Wood's trademark warmth and hilarity, Becoming Betty is the story of one girl's journey to being cool, and learning what's on the other side.

My review:

Eleanor Wood follows up her awesome debut My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend with another incredibly fun contemporary filled with amazing characters (including an appearance, in a small role, from Tuesday, star of her first book.) I adored Betty, the lead here, and this is a really warm and funny read which I raced through. In addition to being completely hilarious it's also a great look at the way friendships change, at a close family - I LOVED that the parents here played more of a part than in most YA novels - and at the different paths teens can choose after finishing Year 11. One of the best UKYA books of the year so far for me and Eleanor is one of my autobuy authors given how good both of her first two books have been.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Books Read in March

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin, read via NetGalley) – I know that authors often say second books are really difficult, and sometimes I feel the same way reading them. There are some authors whose debuts I’ve loved, but whose second books have left me disappointed. Then again, there are others like Morgan Matson, Non Pratt, and Becky Albertalli (obviously a VERY incomplete list!) who have followed up an astonishingly fabulous debut with an equally brilliant sophomore book. There’s a loose link to Simon Vs here (main character Molly is cousin to Abby in that book, and both Abby and Simon appear in this one briefly) but it’s completely readable as a standalone if you’ve missed Becky’s first book. (Obviously you should then go back and read that because it’s superb though!) Narrator Molly is such an adorable character, while I also loved her twin sister. The romances running through this one are perfectly done and it’s such a gorgeously fun read.

Into The Fourth at Trebizon by Anne Digby, illustrated by Lucy Truman (Egmont, bought) – Reread of one of my favourite of the Trebizon series, with the new edition illustrated, like the rest of the series, by Lucy Truman with her gorgeous artwork. I’ve read this so many times but it’s a perfect comfort read, while Lucy’s pictures definitely add to the experience of reading it.

Girls Can’t Hit by Tom Easton (Hot Key, read via NetGalley) – With the same brilliant sense of humour he showed in Boys Don’t Knit, Tom Easton brings us the story of a girl who somehow ends up taking up boxing despite the disapproval of her family and slight bewilderment of her friends. This is a consistently funny read with a great set of characters, and I raced through it. I also loved seeing a group of friends involved in historical re-enactments, a hobby I’ve rarely seen portrayed in YA - which led to some especially hilarious scenes!

Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson (Harper 360, bought) – This is such an intense thriller, with so many twists and turns, that I don’t want to say much for fear of spoilers. I WILL say, though, that you should absolutely read it ASAP – Tiffany Jackson gives us an incredible story and a truly memorable central character in the shape of Mary, a black girl convicted of killing a white baby when she was just 9 and now fighting to convince people that she didn’t commit the crime in order to keep her own unborn child.  A brilliantly written story which will stay in my memory a LONG time; I’m excited for whatever Tiffany writes next.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (Harry N Abrams, bought) – Really  interesting coming of age story following a fair-haired, blue-eyed young Lakota boy on a road trip with his grandfather following in the footsteps of the famed Crazy Horse – who was once another Lakota boy with similar features to Jimmy’s, and who grew up to become one of the bravest and most renowned of the Lakota nation. The grandfather’s tales of the exploits of the famous warrior are excellent and I enjoyed finding out more about him as well as getting an insight into the modern-day life of a Lakota boy. It’s also a completely gorgeous hardback; I love the cover and Jim Yellowhawk’s wonderful illustrations really work perfectly with Marshall’s story.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elon Mastai ( Read via NetGalley) – I don’t generally do time travel, but this sounded too intriguing to pass up and requesting it via NetGalley was SUCH a brilliant decision! Starting in the 2016 we were meant to have – a wonderful utopia with unlimited energy, this follows a slacker who is the son of the man who’s invented time-travel. Despite the perfection of this world, main character Tom is left alone by a series of heartbreaks, and after a time-travel accident ends up wiping out the world and catapulting him into ‘our’ 2016 – which may seem like a nightmare world in comparison, but which has people who love him in it. He’s left to try and decide whether to ‘fix’ the universe, or to hold on to the people he cares for. Stunning voice here, genuinely unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and really lovely characters.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt (Walker, received from publisher) – How can ANYONE be as consistently incredible as Non is? Four books, all of which are very different, all of which would be in my top 20 YA contemporaries of the last 5 years. This story of Claire and Sef, who team up to start a YouTube channel and raise money so that Sef’s brother can stay in his care home, is both moving and at times hilarious. I think Non captures modern teens better than perhaps anyone else in UKYA (and, obviously, with the amount of incredible authors writing UKYA at the moment there’s MASSIVE competition.) The dual narrative format – starting with Claire’s story, switching to Sef’s POV halfway through so we can see his version of events, and finishing off with both of them – works brilliantly. I also really appreciated the ace representation in the form of Claire’s friend Seren, who I thought was a fabulous character.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (Corgi, bought) – I got slightly confused here, thinking the sixth in the popular Murder Most Unladylike series was ‘just’ the short stories that have been published online before plus a couple of new ones. That was already enough for me to buy it; I’ve loved all the shorts I’ve read and Nina Tara’s gorgeous covers ensure that this is a series that’s too stunning to NOT collect in full. However there’s so much more to it than the shorts (as brilliant as they are!) with Robin talking about her inspirations, and in-character pieces by Daisy and Hazel on codebreaking, famous detectives, and other gems. I think this is one of the best ‘companion’ type books I’ve read for a series – you can clearly feel Robin’s love for her characters in everything she writes. In addition, the shorts are superb and it’s fabulous to see George and Beanie both take centre stage as narrators for separate stories without Daisy and Hazel.

Book of the month: Wow, this is tough! Non and Becky’s books were both fabulous, while Tiffany blew me away with one of the strongest YA debuts I’ve read in a long time. However Elon Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays takes this for me; it really is unlike anything I’ve read in ages and I LOVED it.