Y Lolfa Review 2018

Y Lolfa celebrated 50 years in publishing in 2017. The Tal-y-bont-based company publishes books in English and Welsh for adults and children. Their 2018 releases are dominated by sports biographies by the likes of headline-makers Geraint Thomas and referee Nigel Owens. We’ll now take a look at Y Lolfa’s 2018 books in English for children, and there are some gems here:

Little Honey Bee by Caryl Lewis; Valériane Leblond (£5.99)

This is a tale of hope and healing, about looking forward to a brighter and warmer future.

Elsi is left to the care of her grandmother who tends her broken heart with patience, kindness and understanding.

When Grandmother shows a collection of beehives at the bottom of the garden, Elsi’s curiosity is awakened and so too, a  desire and interest that sparks her into being.

Accompanied by the compassionate and beautiful illustrations of Valériane Leblond, Caryl Lewis’ story is educational too, as Grandmother teaches Elsi the names of the flowers.

Originally written in Welsh, Caryl’s own translation encourages children to take notice of their surroundings and to appreciate what matters.

Echoing the sentiments of The Lost Words (Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane), Caryl explained, “I wrote the book partly to teach children about the seasons and the names of things in the countryside around them, words like foxgloves, bluebells, catkins. Children don’t get to learn the names of trees and flowers these days.”

This is reiterated by Valériane, “It’s so important to be aware of what’s around us, and children as well as adults should know and understand more about nature and its relationship with everything.”

Moonbeam’s Arctic Adventure, David Morgan Williams, Molly Holborn; Maria Moss (£5.99)

This hardback sees established author David Morgan Williams collaborate with his granddaughter Molly Holborn on a picture book with an essential environmental message. It features two bottle-nosed dolphins, Moonbeam and Sunbeam from Cardigan Bay who answer the distress signals from other creatures.

On their journey to the Northern ice caps, they meet a variety of species – and David and Molly take the opportunity to educate young readers on arctic terns, fin whales, polar bears and others.

Molly said “My grandfather and I have a mutual concern for endangered species and global warming. We wrote this book for young children to make them aware of the issues. Hopefully, by raising awareness, they can help prevent drastic environmental changes.”

Ultimately, the book is about doing what you can to make a difference, as Moonbeam and Sunbeam exert themselves to support and help others.

Teach Your Dog Welsh, Anne Cakebread (£4.99)

Here is a colourful, cleverly-designed book for Welsh learners – which works equally well for children and adults. We should know, as soon as it arrived, the Worms were using it to command our Tedi to Sit, Come, Stay and Fetch.

Each double page has a dynamic illustration on one side with the English and Welsh command on the other, together with a phonetic pronunciation guide.

The inspiration for the book came to Anne Cakebread when she rehomed Frieda, a rescue whippet. Frieda previous owner spoke Welsh to her, so Anne realised she would only respond to Welsh commands. Anne found the process of speaking Welsh to her dog helped her overcome her nerves about speaking Welsh aloud and recognised that her Welsh was improving.

Largely, the phrases are universal and are useful in many situations – lots about the weather and time of day – we’ve certainly had hours of fun and I can say that pronunciations are improving.

This would make a great stocking filler for Christmas!

When Ravens Screamed Over Blood, Williams Vaughan (£4.99)

When Ravens Screamed Over Blood, a novella for teenagers has its foundations in the magic and violence of the Welsh Mabinogion. As the author explains, “One of the main characters, The Prince, was inspired by a character and certain magical events in the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogion. The story also draws upon Irish mythology. The title is taken from a poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen, one of the icons of Welsh literature.”

The novella deals with issues such as sexuality, the joys of love and dealing with conflict. We have not read the book yet but it has garnered high praise from Phil Carradice for its lyrical quality and for handling some complex issues carefully and delicately.

All of these titles are available to purchase direct from Y Lolfa online. We are extremely grateful to them for providing review copies and would especially like to thank them for supporting our Little Honey Bee giveaway. (See Twitter)

24 Authors of Wales – 2018

Here, for your amusement and education, are some of the authors and illustrators we have enjoyed this year. As it’s Advent, we’ve gone for 24 – one for each window of your calendar. These are the authors and illustrators that the whole family of bookworms have enjoyed in 2018: authors who have given us great pleasure; fits of the giggles; something to think about; episodes of escape; and moments to treasure.

Last year we set this criteria for qualifying as “Welsh”: firstly, through birth; secondly because parents or grandparents have been born in Wales; and thirdly, through residency – you must have lived in Wales for three successive years.

In alphabetical order, here’s our list (click on author/illustrator name to visit their own website and/or Twitter profile):

Sophie Anderson @sophieinspace

Sophie Anderson grew up in Swansea, studied at Liverpool University, and has worked as a geologist and science teacher in several parts of the UK. She wrote textbooks until characters from Slavic fairy tales began appearing in her work. Her debut novel, the House with Chicken Legs (Usborne) was published earlier this year and is amazing. When we reviewed the book on publication we called it “a lyrical and emotional debut; rooted in folklore but completely contemporary. As Marinka struggles with the circle of her own life, we get to explore human themes of friendship, purpose, contentment, life and death.”

Dan Anthony

As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, Dan Anthony has written extensively for children and a particular favourite of ours is The Bus Stop at the End of the World from 2017. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2. This year, The Last Big One (Gomer) was an absorbing and important story of self-discovery and belonging.

Peter Bell @PeterGBell

Peter lives in South Wales and published The Train to Impossible Places (Usborne) in 2018. This terrific fantasy novel was fought over by a number of publishers and is an incredibly inventive story, initially made-up for his children at bedtime. Noah loved it saying that it has “everything” a fantasy novel needs and Daddy agreed – it’s perfect for fans of Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Enid Blyton and Doctor Who! As the first in a series, we’re going to be hearing plenty more about PG Bell.

Zillah Bethell @BethellZillah

Zillah was born in Papua New Guinea and came to the UK when she was 8. A graduate of Wadham College, Oxford, she settled in South Wales and has published two fantastic novels aimed at the #mglit market. A Whisper of Horses came in paperback during 2018 together with the fantastic news that Zillah’s next book will be published with Usborne.

 

Stephanie Burgis @stephanieburgis

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Monmouthshire with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. Her Bloomsbury-published ‘The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart’ is a favourite in our house and its sequel ‘The Girl with the Dragon Heart’ landed in 2018. We thought it was a compelling thriller with brilliant characters in a totally absorbing world. 9 year old Nina absolutely loves both books and cherishes them.

Lucy Christopher @LucyCAuthor

Dr Lucy Christopher was born in Wales but went to school and university in Melbourne, Australia. She moved back to the UK to study an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, as well as a PhD in Creative Writing.  She is now a Senior Lecturer on the successful MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. This year she published her fourth novel, Storm-wake (Chicken House), a delightful homage to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Full of lyrical phraseology, Storm-wake is a visceral experience.

Karin Celestine @andthehare

Karin Celestine is a fibre artist, writer and illustrator living in Monmouth. She needle felts small creatures and tells stories from her small shed workshop. She loves swimming. But Bertram doesn’t. In 2018, she added two more books to her canon (yes, we’re calling it that), Bertram Loves to Sew and Bert’s Garden (Both Graffeg). Karin’s books are full of love and gentleness and extol the virtues of kindness and calm – they are an absolute delight!

Nathan Collins @NathanCollins15

Nathan is an illustrator born and bred in South Wales. He graduated from Swansea College of Art, with a degree in Illustration. He works with traditional and digital media. In 2018 he illustrated the Anthology of Amazing Women (20Watt) and also produced new cover art for a new edition of The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (Piccadilly) – the first of the Lewis Barnavelt series. The second book in the series, A Figure in the Shadows, with another cover by Nathan will be published in January.

James Davies @drawjamesdraw

James Davies is an illustrator and author born in Wales, but now living in Bristol. He graduated from the University of the West of England in 2009 with a first class degree in Illustration. During his studies he received a “highly commended” in the 2008 Macmillan Prize and he’s focused on creating children’s books ever since. In 2018, he published two non-fiction books – Meet The… Ancient Egyptians and Meet The… Ancient Romans (Big Picture Press) and a fabulous picture book entitled Long Dog (Templar). Long Dog has had us laughing aloud for months – we love James’ bold illustrative style and his sense of humour works for both adults and children.

Nicola Davies @nicolakidsbooks

Nicola Davies was born in Birmingham and worked as a zoologist and TV Presenter before settling in Powys to write. Many of her books are rooted in her scientific training and are essential additions to any library. These successful narrative non-fiction books cover, amongst other things, the diversity of living things, microbes, owls and bears. Recent picture books published by Walker and Graffeg have delved more deeply into the human condition providing opportunities for children to reflect on refugees, grief and trauma. In 2018 she was nominated for the Tir na nOg Award and published a number of books (we lost count at 9) including the important The Day War Came (Walker), as well as new additions to the Shadows and Light series.

Thomas Docherty @TDIllustration

Thomas Docherty is an author and illustrator living in Swansea – he has produced a number of picture books on his own and with his wife Helen, our favourites being The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight and Snatchabook. He is also the illustrator for the Polly Puffin books written by Jenny Colgan. In 2018, he illustrated a new edition of Julia Donaldson’s World War II play, Bombs and Blackberries (Hodder) – a stunning depiction that allows readers to empathise with characters and really feel the power of emotions as they ‘read’ the pictures.

Jonny Duddle @JonnyDuddleDum

Jonny spent his childhood in North Wales and recently returned to the ‘wet and windy hills’. After studying illustration at college he wrote his first picture book ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ which was published in 2009. Subsequently, he helped design the characters for Aardman’s stop-motion movie ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’. More picture books followed with a focus on pirates, dinosaurs and space. He also produced a full set of brilliant designs for the Harry Potter covers in 2014. In 2018, he published the long awaited Pirates of Scurvy Sands (Templar) – a fantastic and fun/pun-filled joyfest. This isn’t just any illustration, this is Jonny Duddle illustration – oozes quality.

Claire Fayers @ClaireFayers

Claire was born in Cardiff and used to work in the science library of Cardiff University. The award-winning Accidental Pirates books (Macmillan) are ideal for children in Year 4 (age 8 upwards). In 2018, Claire published Mirror Magic, a fabulously imaginative adventure full of fairy magic. We also got to make a video interview with her on the book’s publication!

 

Catherine Fisher @FisherAuthor

Catherine Fisher was born in Newport, and her fantasy books are aimed at Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Having worked as a teacher, lecturer and archaeologist it is no surprise that her books are often set in Wales and are heavily influenced by Arthurian legends, old myths and the Mabinogion. Her latest, The Clockwork Crow is influenced by the Tylwyth Teg, the fairy folk of Wales who take children from their homes and is set in Victorian times – it’s a brilliantly atmospheric story with gothic fantasy overtones and a superbly tetchy eponymous crow.

Sam Hay @samhayauthor

Sam Hay grew up in Scotland, and always wanted to be a writer. She trained as a journalist in Edinburgh and worked in newspapers and television in London. Then she moved to Wales to have a family and start writing her first children’s book. Since then she’s had around 30 books published including the Undead Pets series about zombie animals and Screaming Sands, a ghostly trilogy set at the seaside. In 2018, Sam published Star in the Jar, a picture book with Sarah Massini (Egmont) and A Very Corgi Christmas, illustrated by Loretta Schauer (Simon & Schuster).

Valériane Leblond @triaglog

Valériane is a French and Quebecker artist who has lived near Aberystwyth since 2007. Primarily a painter, her artworks often deal with the idea of belonging, how people inhabit the land, what makes the place they call home. Valériane Leblond has illustrated a number of picture books, in Welsh and English (and other languages too!). This year she illustrated Merch y Mêl/Little Honey Bee by Caryl Lewis (Lolfa) and Cymru Ar Y Map/Wales On The Map by Elin Meek (Rily). We just love Valériane’s style – the folksy houses, the agricultural landscapes, the light and the dark – we could happily buy everything in her Etsy shop!

Gill Lewis @gill__lewis

Gill Lewis’ family are from the Gower and it is clear that the landscape and wildlife of Wales has inspired her. In a National Trust article, she says “I remember many childhood holidays pootling about on the water at Whiteford. In fact I think it gave me my love of estuaries – places of change, where the sea, the sky and the earth become one, and watching the multitude of life feeding on the ebb and flow of the tides.” Gill trained as a vet and travelled the world to work – from Africa to the Arctic. After having children, she rediscovered her love of stories and returned to University to study. Her first novel, Sky Hawk, received an avalanche of award nominations. More novels with themes of conservation, the environment and animal welfare followed, and this year she published Run Wild (Barrington Stoke). We felt this book was a passionate and compelling argument not just for the rewilding of nature but for connecting children to the wild too. A fantastic story to be cherished.

Max Low @themaxlow

Max Low is a graduate of Hereford School of Art, and now lives and works in Wales. In 2018 he illustrated Bee Boy and The Moonflowers (Graffeg), written by Nicola Davies. He also published his first solo picture books, also with Graffeg. Ceri and Deri – Good To Be Sweet and No Time For Clocks are the first two in a series and we just love Max’s dynamic, animated, colourful style which reminds Daddy Worm of TV cartoons Roobarb and Custard, Chorlton and the Wheelies and Magic Roundabout.

Jackie Morris @JackieMorrisArt

Jackie Morris lives on the wild Pembrokeshire coast. Before settling there, she had lived in Evesham and London. She is inspired by “our” environment; particularly the birds (peregrines, goldfinch, buzzards), seals, foxes and landscapes surrounding her home. She says “I am a stranger here, a foreigner. And yet I am at home.” Her beautifully illustrated international bestselling books have wide appeal, and are mostly published by Frances Lincoln, Graffeg and Otter-Barry. Following on from last year’s The Lost Words (with Rob MacFarlane), and Mrs Noah’s Pockets (with James Mayhew), 2018 saw new artist editions of Tell Me A Dragon, The Snow Leopard and The Ice Bear (all published by Graffeg).

Jenny Nimmo @jennynimmo1

Jenny Nimmo has lived in Wales for most of her life, having married Welsh artist David Wynn Millward in 1974. Her stories are rooted in Welsh mythology and she is also inspired by the landscapes of Wales. She appeals to Junior age children (age 7 and up) and has plenty to occupy them – 2018 saw the 30th anniversary of The Snow Spider Trilogy and a new story, Gabriel and the Phantom Sleepers. This new book features ancient supernatural beings and a wicked sorceress, while Gabriel must strive to lift an evil curse. Another exceptional story from a writer of supreme skill.

Gav Puckett @GavPuck

Gavin Puckett is from South Wales, where he lives with his wife, young son and their beloved cat, George. Gavin was the winner of the 2013 Greenhouse Funny Prize, and his first book ‘Murray the Horse’ was published with Faber Children’s in June 2015. In 2018, the fourth Fable from the Stable was published entitled Poppy the Police Horse – another hilarious horsey tail written in rhyming verse – perfectly achievable for new readers and reluctant readers. A really enjoyable series with one more to come in 2019!

Wendy White @Wendy_J_White

Hailing from Llanelli, Wendy White was inspired by her local library to become an author. Her books for children are available from Gwasg Gomer and have a Welsh theme. Welsh Cakes and Custard won the Tir-na-n-Og Award in 2014 and last year’s St David’s Day is Cancelled is a joyous tale for 7-9 year olds. This year, Wendy gave us Mamgu’s Campervan (Gomer) – another fun story with its boots firmly planted in Welsh soil.

Eloise Williams @Eloisejwilliams

Eloise Williams lives in West Wales. She has worked on stage as a singer and an actress after graduating from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. 2017’s Gaslight, a Victorian thriller won the Wales Arts Review Children’s Book of the Year. In 2018, Eloise published Seaglass (Firefly), a chilling ghost story with captivating characters and wild and windy (Welsh) landscapes. Gripping.

Justine Windsor @justinewindsor

Justine Windsor is a previously shortlisted author of The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. She lives in Cardiff and this year her third middle grade crime caper ‘Goodly and Grave’ was published (Harper Collins). Goodly and Grave in a Case of Bad Magic is an accomplished and witty detective (ish) novel for younger readers aged 8 up.

Football School Blog Tour

Football School Season 3

Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton

Walker Books

The Football School series has a new edition! This critically-acclaimed set (Book 1 shortlisted for Blue Peter Book Awards, Book 2 shortlisted for #Lollies2018), brings football facts, figures and bizarre insights to the fore. Noah (aged 11) has been able to enjoy the books at his own leisure, devouring the mysteries over the Jules Rimet Trophies, and the mathematical facts about tallest players, goal averages and circadian rhythms (yes, we have discussed this at the breakfast table!). Meanwhile Kit (aged 6) has enjoyed dipping into the book to pull out nuggets of information. With the help of Mum and Dad, he has been fascinated by the stories, science and trivia bursting from the pages. This really is a highly entertaining read; fast-paced, interesting and educational.

For many, football is a way to inspire children to read, and if you’ve seen any of the other blog posts, you will know that Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton are keen to emphasise the importance of reading for pleasure. On the Books for Topics blog, they say “What’s most important is that kids read the book – since reading anything brings benefits. But we also hope that the books make children curious about the world.” And on Booklover Jo’s blog, they say “We believed that one way to get kids reading was to provide them with a book on a subject they felt passionate about. Football School explains the world through the prism of football.”

Kit was delighted to put his questions to Alex and Ben (but disappointed that neither of them played Fifa 19).

 

Alex Bellos (on the left) and Ben Lyttleton

What are you reading at the moment?

Ben: I am reading a book about family and friendship called the Baltimore Boys but you’re probably more interested in what my children are reading. My eldest daughter is 9 and she is reading Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens. She loves these murder mysteries even if they are a bit gory! My youngest daughter is 7 and she is reading Daisy and the Trouble with Life. She also loves the Claude series by Alex T Smith. They have both read the Football School books and told me they liked them – I hope they weren’t just being polite! 

Could you tell us how you got into writing the Football School books?

Alex: Ben and I have been mates for ages and always wanted to work on a project together. We have both written football books for grown-ups, and thought that it would be really fun and worthwhile to write for younger readers. We were avid readers when we were kids, and we both know the advantages that reading brings.

Ben: We are passionate about getting children to enjoy reading – we know you already love it! – and we thought that writing books about football would help reluctant readers tap into their love of football and encourage them to develop a love of reading and a curiosity about the world. We have since been told by teachers and parents that the book has helped their children get into reading, which inspires us to work even harder!

Which football team/s do you support?

Alex: I grew up in Scotland and support Hearts (the Jam Tarts).

Ben: I support Spurs, because they were my local team when I grew up and my whole family supported them. I believe we should never boo any other teams, because supporting a team is often about family, community and being connected to a bigger group. I am proud of my team but also respect and appreciate other teams – especially if their nickname is a yummy food, like the Jam Tarts! 

Who’s the best footballer in the world right now? (Kit thinks it’s either Ronaldo or Rodriguez)

Ben: Good question. I watched Lionel Messi play for Barcelona against Spurs the other day and I haven’t seen many players play better than that and I’ve been going to matches for over 30 years.  I also really like Kylian Mbappe and think Raheem Sterling doesn’t get the credit he deserves. They are all great players.

Who are the best TV commentators?

Ben: There are lots of good ones but my favourite is Dave Farrar, because he is a friend of mine! His voice is wonderful, and he comes up with brilliant one-liners. I always remember when Greece beat France in Euro 2004, he said “And France lose! That’s Napoleon Blown-Apart!” It was a clever pun on Napoleon Bonaparte and he claims he thought of it on the spot! It still makes me chuckle…

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned when researching your books?

Alex: So many things! I love the fact that stadiums have vomitories, that eagles are the most popular mascot for football teams and that the coelacanth is a fish has limbs instead of fins! 

Ben: As a younger sibling, I liked learning that younger siblings are more likely to become professional footballers. That’s good news for Kit! Also that female players are less likely to be left-footed, that Iceland has 130 volcanoes, that paint is like a cake and that the Prime Minister of India once drank his own wee! 

Who is the best Welsh footballer?

Ben: Right now, or of all time? In both cases I would say Gareth Bale! An incredible player who has always shown how much Wales means to him. There is an exciting new generation of players coming through as well, so keep an eye on Harry Wilson and Ethan Ampadu – it’s a really exciting time for Welsh football.  

How many keepy-ups can you do?

Ben: I have got up to 96, but always lose my concentration as I get close to 100. Annoying! 

Alex: Not as many as Ben!

Apart from your books, what other books about football would you recommend?

Alex: My favourite football books are anything by Simon Kuper, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and Twelve Yards by Ben Lyttleton!

Ben: Alex is so nice! I would say Futebol by this guy called Alex Bellos, it’s all about Brazilian football and it’s Brazilliant!  

What’s next for Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton?

Alex: We have two new Football School books out next year: Football School Star Players out in the Spring, which has the stories of 50 inspirational players, and Football School Season 4 out in the Autumn, and there will be two more in the year following that too.

Ben: It’s really exciting! We also have our youtube channel which is youtube.com/FootballSchoolFacts and we upload new videos all the time so please check it out and subscribe!

 

Thank you to Alex and Ben for answering the questions and to Walker for sending us a review copy of the book. You can follow Alex and Ben on Twitter or visit the Football School website.

Author Q and A: Peter Bell

We are delighted to be part of The Train to Impossible Places blog tour and so pleased that Peter was able to answer our questions. The Train to Impossible Places was highly anticipated by the Worms and instantly cemented itself into Noah’s favourite books when he read it a few months back. It is a great story and, as Noah’s review implies, everything you could possibly want from a book – a thrilling fast-paced adventure with quirks that twist and reshape the fantasy genre. Read Noah’s review here. Now over to Peter…

What are you reading at the moment?

Orphan, Monster, Spy by Matt Killeen, and it’s every bit as good as I’d heard – tense, brutal and moving. I really can’t wait to see what Matt does next. I’m also working my way through the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, which are tremendous fun. He’s coming to Cardiff in November, and I want to be up to date before he gets here.

What are your favourite children’s books?

Too many to list here, but off the top of my head:

Pretty much the whole Roald Dahl cannon, especially The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox. I loved them when I was young, and my son is now a big fan too. He dressed as a Vermicious Knid for World Book Day last year!

The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy. Such a great and accessible fantasy series – the Harry Potter of its day. It’s so good to know it’s still going strong.

Murder Mystery is a genre that’s largely passed me by, but I’ve absolutely loved the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens. She re-purposes all the tropes so cleverly, while keeping the stories grounded in character. I look forward to reading the new one.

The Accidental Pirates books by Claire Fayers are everything fantasy adventure stories should be – inventive, exciting and funny. Her most recent books, Mirror Magic and Stormhound are equally good, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an end to the Pirates trilogy one day.

And finally, anything with Diana Wynne Jones’s name on the cover!

Where and when do you write?

I mostly write in the mornings after dropping the kids off at school. I’ve got a small study at the back of the house, and I’ll get a few hours done there before lunch, with maybe another hour or so in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. My favourite mornings are the ones when Claire Fayers and I meet up at a local coffee shop and sit in silence for two and a half hours, typing away. They serve coffee in pint mugs, which endears the place to me greatly, and they’ve got to know us so well that they know our orders off by heart. 

We know that The Train To Impossible Places began as a bedtime story for your children. Is the finished version much different? What didn’t make the final cut?

Pretty much everything that was in the bedtime story ended up in the book, albeit in a much more polished form. The only thing that didn’t survive the jump was a flying visit to a supermarket, so the crew of the train could stock up on bananas. Every other change I made was adding material, rather than taking away – the whole sub plot of Captain Neoma, the observatory and Lord Meridian grew out of the editing process. The finished book is almost 15,000 words longer than my first draft.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I try to make their names reflect their nature or status in some way. So the Lady Crepuscula comes from the word “crepuscular”, which is an adjective describing anything to do with twilight. Her opposite number, Lord Meridian, takes his name from the point at which the sun is at its highest, suggesting enlightenment. He is a librarian, after all!

Some names, like Fletch and Wilmot, just came to me out of the blue and I’ve no idea why. But they stuck immediately.

We think the book has hints of The Magic Faraway Tree. What else has influenced the storyline?

Thank you for saying so! The Magic Faraway Tree books are the very first stories I remember from my childhood, and they’ve shaped all my reading ever since, so I guess it’s inevitable that there would be a dose of that in my writing.

I drew pretty heavily on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but only in terms of tone – I like to think that Suzy and the trolls would feel at home making deliveries to Ankh Morpork. Because each of the Impossible Places is different, I can effectively make each one a genre – or at least a collection of genre tropes – unto itself. So the Obsidian Tower has strong echoes of Tolkien, while the Topaz Narrows are every pirate adventure story you’ve ever read.

Are we right in thinking you’d love to write an episode of Doctor Who?

Let’s just say that if they ever ask me, I wouldn’t refuse.

How important is a sense of place to your writing? In particular, has living in Wales any influence on your writing?

A sense of place is always important, especially if your characters are travelling from place to place, as mine are. I want the reader to get excited about exploring these strange new worlds, so I always try and include a few details to help ground them. Trollville is probably the most fully-realised world in the book, as we spend quite a bit of time there (and we’ll see even more of it in the sequel!) Its post-industrial feel is definitely informed by my childhood in south Wales. It was everywhere – in the architecture and the street layouts, in the art and in the chimneys of the Llanwern Steelworks, which was still active at the time. And you never had to go far to meet a retired miner.

Our school caretaker was an old man who had gone down the pits at the age of 11. I remember one day he showed our class his missing fingers and recounted each of the accidents that had claimed them. He was the basis of the Old Guard – the retired Posties who spend their time comparing tales of daring and disaster.

The Train To Impossible Places is the first in a series, called A Cursed Delivery. What is the appeal in writing a number of books rather than a single story?

It’s a tremendous privilege to be given the chance to tell more stories with these characters. It’s allowed me to think of new directions to take them in, and new and interesting parts of the Impossible Places to explore. It’s also allowed me to become a full time professional writer for the first time in my life, which is a childhood dream come true.

The finished hardback is delightfully illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino. Should we judge your book by its cover and how important was it for you to have some internal illustration?

You should definitely judge the book by BOTH its covers, because they’re gorgeous. My favourite is the hidden cover underneath the dust jacket – my editors at Usborne presented me with a framed print of it at the launch party, and it’s now got pride of place in my study. 

Usborne made the decision very early on to include interior illustrations, and I was very happy to go along with the plan – I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want a few illustrations with their text if given the chance. And Flavia’s work is just gorgeous. I love her expressionist style, and she’s absolutely nailed the characters.

What question have we forgotten to ask you?

You haven’t asked me who the best Doctor Who is. And the correct answer is: all of them. Although Sylvester McCoy is the best of the best.

 

There have been some really excellent blog posts as part of this tour. Why not check out some of the other hosts?

#Lollies2018 Blog Tour: Joe Berger

Lollies 2018 Blog Tour: Joe Berger

The Pudding Problem by Joe Berger is nominated for the #Lollies2018 in the age 6-8 category. Kit (6), Nina (9) and Noah (11) have all read this hilarious graphic novel and enjoyed it very very much! They got caught up in the misadventures of Sam Lyttle, a boy who keeps getting into trouble though it has nothing to do with lying (honest)! The eponymous ‘Pudding’ is Sam’s cat – and the ingenious story of how Pudding came to be the family pet and get her name is worth the entry fee alone. Noah picked up on the subtle humour in the illustrations – sometimes it’s unmitigated ‘out there’ humour, which had Kit and Nina in fits of giggles and outbursts of belly-laughs, and sometimes it’s just in a ‘look’ or more understated reference in the brilliant drawings. There’s something in this book for everyone, adults included, so the age 6-8 tag is a bit misleading. Either way, all five worms loved The Pudding Problem and its follow-up The Stinky Truth. Here’s the book trailer from Joe’s website:

Joe Berger lives in Bristol with his wife, three daughters, cat and dog. He regularly collaborates with Pascal Wyse, as Berger & Wyse on a weekly cartoon published in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine. He says “telling jokes in cartoon form remains one of my favourite things ever”. He has written two Lyttle Lies books and illustrated many more. We were delighted that he agreed to answer the Worms’ questions, so here are his answers…

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol 1 – it’s a grown-up book but I’d recommend it once you’re older. Also reading some comics, including Greatest Ever Marlys by Lynda Barry, which is brilliant.

Could you tell us how you got into writing and drawing?

When I was little my mum used to read fashion magazines like Vogue, and she would sometimes show me an illustration she liked and ask me to make her a version of it. So I learned a huge amount from copying other people’s drawings and techniques – it’s a brilliant way to learn, to unpick how drawings and paintings are made. From a young age I was also obsessed with comics, and always wanted to do my own comic strip. In 2002 my friend and I landed a job of doing a 4 panel comic in the Guardian newspaper – and co-writing that each week gave me the confidence to write children’s books, which was a long-held ambition. Although the 4 panel strip stopped in 2009, we continue to do a single panel cartoon in the Guardian every week – so far that’s nearly 900 cartoons!

Where and when do you work?

I work in my studio, which is a 20 minute walk from home, in the centre of Bristol. It’s a lovely room with lots of natural light, and room to play the VERY OCCASIONAL board game, which is my big hobby when I’m not making books and cartoons. I usually work 9-5 Monday to Friday, as I find keeping regular hours helps me organise my time. Many mornings I’ll spend an hour or so dreaming up cartoon ideas, and then switch to writing or book illustration later in the day.

Can you tell us about your methods?

All my work starts with drawing on paper. I usually do rough drawings in pencil, and then final drawing in brush pen and ink on a clean sheet of paper  which is just thin enough to see a bit of the rough drawing underneath. But for cartoons I like to draw straight in ink, and see where the drawing goes. It’s harder to be that spontaneous with drawing for children’s books because there are often a lot of changes to make.

What advice would you give to budding young illustrators?

Copy the stuff you love! I don’t mean trace it, that wouldn’t teach you much – but copying really makes you focus on how the artist/illustrator was able to achieve what they did. It’s an invaluable way to learn – and of course, your own style will start to seep in to those drawings, and you’ll naturally start to create your own work.

Is it difficult to do funny some days?

Yes it is! It can be very frustrating if you don’t feel like you’re in the right mood. See next answer . . .

Is being funny a serious business?

It is serious and silly in equal amounts. It’s serious in that you have to be able to be funny on demand, even if you don’t feel like it. For this reason, I carry a small notebook wherever I go, to note down any funny ideas. So then when I need to be funny but don’t feel like it, can look in my notebooks for inspiration. These are not really sketchbooks, though I have those too. I have a collection of about 40 old notebooks which I am always looking in for thoughts and ideas I might not have used yet. But I have to keep writing in new ones too!

How do you choose names for your characters?

Hmmm, that’s a good question – names for characters are so important. Sam in the Lyttle Lies books was originally called Joe, because the stories are loosely based on my misadventures as a boy. But I wanted to distance the character from me because other bits are totally made up. I have a friend called Sam, and Sam seems like a similar name to Joe – one syllable, 3 letters etc. So that’s how Sam was named. Pudding is called Pudding because of what happens in the story – I wish I could remember how or when I came up with that idea. But I can’t.

Which books, authors and illustrators inspire you?

I love Just William stories, and Petit Nicolas stories too, which are kind of a French version of Just William, with drawings by one of my favourite artists, Sempé. I find other cartoonists very inspiring too – Charles Shultz who made Peanuts (Snoopy and Charlie Brown) every day for 50 years – as well as other single panel cartoonists like Charles Addams and Edward Steed.

Ever been to Wales?

Yes, I love WALES! I live in Bristol, so not far from South Wales, and we go at least once a year. We often stay in a place called Capel y Fin in the black mountains, which is an area I love, near Abergavenny. There’s a hill there called The Tumper which we love to climb.

You’ve illustrated work for others – what’s been your favourite of these projects to work on?

Hmmm, it’s hard to pick favourites. One that stands out is the recent Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series I worked on with Frank Cottrell Boyce – I grew up watching the film in the 1970s, so it was a real thrill to get to work on the three new books. I was worried about it because I’m not good at drawing cars, but it helped me get better I think.

Are you an animal person?

Yes I am. We have a cat called Spooky (she’s white like a ghost) and a dog called Sybil. Sybil is a Cairn terrier, and she’s quite naughty – she loves to race out into the garden and bark at birds (and hot air balloons), which gets us in trouble with the neighbours.

What’s the weirdest doodle in your doodle book?

There are so many to choose from. I’m going to open a notebook at random and see what I find, ready? Here goes . . .

Hmmm,  a roll-mop herring driving a car? That’s pretty weird.

Let me try again . . . ok, a robot punching a sandwich, saying “I love you, sandwich”. There’s two weird ones right there.

What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told?

The worst lie is too long to put here, but it might end up in a book one day :-/ But I stopped lying when I was about 12, so nothing too bad since. It’s a habit I learned to break, because it takes a lot of energy to stick to your story in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, and anyway you always end up getting in trouble twice – once for the thing you covered up by lying, and once for lying about it. It takes less energy, but more bravery, to tell the truth. In my case it also took a large box of Smarties, offered to me as an incentive to own up.

What’s next for Joe Berger?

I don’t know If I’ll get to write more Lyttle Lies books, but I want to tell more stories with cartoons, so I’m working on a couple of ideas. At the same time I’m still drawing my cartoons, and hope to find more places that are willing to publish them.

 

 

Thank you to Joe for answering the worms’ questions. We’re really grateful for the time he gave us and are thrilled with his answers. You can vote for the Pudding Problem in the #Lollies2018 here. You can follow Joe on Twitter or visit his website. Thanks to the #Lollies2018 team for inviting us to be part of the Blog Tour again. Check out the other posts:

The Clockwork Crow

The Clockwork Crow

Catherine Fisher

Firefly Press

Catherine Fisher is an author of great talent who’s skillful writing draws praise for its ability to entrance the reader with its atmospheric prose. Often mysterious, sometimes dark, continually gripping, the publication of a new Catherine Fisher novel is always something to look forward to. Since hearing of the book deal last year, and revealing the cover to The Clockwork Crow in May, we have been guessing what lay beyond the gorgeous colours of the jacket.

We’re pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint! Whilst The Clockwork Crow is lighter than Catherine’s other books – it’s aimed at the blossoming 9-12 MG market – it is no less thrilling. It’s actually a perfect introduction to our national treasure for this age group. Noah (aged 11) loved the book and is already seeking out other books to devour. He calls it a “banger” – borrowed from the description of a fresh new song, unbelievably awesome and destined to become a popular, well-loved hit.

The story follows Seren, an orphan girl dreaming of a beautiful home and a loving, happy family. As she waits in the train station a nervous stranger asks her to guard a mysterious package. He doesn’t return and Seren feels compelled to take the package with her to Plas y Fran, the large manor house belonging to her new guardians, Captain Jones and Lady Mair. However, when she arrives, the grand house is shrouded in mystery – all furniture covered, minimal (and seemingly unfriendly) staff, and no sign of the loving family she was hoping for. A cold, bare residence brings her back down to earth with a bump and her dreams are shattered. The young boy she had wanted to befriend and play with has gone, and in time Seren learns that Tomos has been missing for a year and a day and the house is in mourning.

With the aid of the eponymous talking, walking, humorously irritable Clockwork Crow (who very nearly steals the show), Seren sets out to solve the mystery and put things right. In doing so, we learn that she is a determined and gutsy heroine, not afraid to stand up to the grown-ups, nor afraid to put her own security and future happiness at risk.

The world described by Catherine is beautifully wintry – filled with snow and stars, it sparkles like an ice-capped marvel. Featuring a cast of endearing characters, it reminded me of a wonderfully warm and entertaining Christmas period drama for all the family. Drawing on Welsh folklore, the story is magical and fantastic and such a great read. It’s got to be one of THE books of 2018.

Whilst reading and digesting, one constantly feels that this is a book that entertains and inspires in bucketloads.

We’re delighted that Catherine Fisher has revealed there will be a follow-up to The Clockwork Crow. We’re also thrilled that she recently answered the Worms’ questions in a Q and A.

 

Thank you to Firefly Press for the copy of Clockwork Crow, given in exchange for this review. Note that the cover has been designed by Anne Glenn. If you’d like to visit Catherine Fisher’s website, click here. If you want to follow her on Twitter, click here. If you want to buy The Clockwork Crow from Firefly, click here. That’s enough clicking.

 

Author Q and A: Catherine Fisher

The Clockwork Crow is Catherine Fisher’s latest novel – a beautifully crafted enchanted wintry tale for children. Catherine is an acclaimed author and poet of over 30 books and we are delighted that she took the time to answer our questions.

Born in Newport, she graduated from the University of Wales and has worked in education, archaeology and broadcasting. She has been shortlisted for numerous prizes and awards including the Smarties Prize (The Conjuror’s Game), the Whitbread Prize (The Oracle) and the Tir-na-nOg Award (The Candle Man / Corbenic).

What are you reading at the moment?

I always read a few books at once. At the moment it’s an odd mixture – Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel,  The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien, and Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography!

Could you tell us how you got into writing?

I was about 11, and started with poems, at first in school and then at home. I had a whole notebook full of them. I only decided to write a novel when I was about 19 or 20.

Where and when do you write?

I try to write every morning between 9 and 1. I have room with a desk looking onto the garden, and that’s my usual place, though the good thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere.

How do you choose names for your characters?

Sometimes the names just come,like Seren in the Clockwork Crow, or Finn and Claudia in Incarceron. Other times I have to make a list and choose. I’m always looking at names on TV programmes or in books for ideas. I have a names page in a notebook with a few saved up for future books, if I can find the characters to suit them.  

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

Alan Garner’s fantasies, Tolkien, Robert Holdstock’s weird tales, Arthur Machen, who I have always found a great writer. Also a million fairy tales and myths and legends,Norse and Welsh and Irish and Greek.  In terms of poetry, Keats,Yeats, David Jones and George Mackay Brown.

A lot of your writing is set in Wales. How important is a sense of place to your books? 

In some books like Darkhenge or Crown of Acorns, very important because the story rises out of the landscape and history of that place. In Corbenic I used real places in Wales to set a very strange tale. I think Wales is an amazing place and full of untold stories.

The Tir na n-Og Award celebrates books with authentic Welsh backgrounds. You won the award in 1995 and have been nominated twice more. How does it feel to be recognised with literary awards?

It’s always a great honour and encouragement. But I know that many, many really good books are overlooked, so I try not to get down if I am not nominated. It doesn’t mean the book is any less good.

The book is published with Firefly Press, an independent Welsh publisher who we love. How did this come about?

I have been aware of Firefly since they started and they are doing such a great job for Welsh children’s fiction. I wanted to write a Christmas book and suggested the idea to Penny Thomas, who was very keen to publish it. I was very happy to write it for them.

What inspired The Clockwork Crow?

Christmas, the idea of a Crow you could put together from pieces, lots of snow and ice. I wrote the book last winter and as I was working it kept on snowing outside my window, so I think the snowglobe has a real magic!

Was it difficult / fun / strange to give a voice to the Crow?

Not difficult but great fun. He had to be tetchy and bossy and yet quite likeable underneath. And vain,of course.

The Clockwork Crow is a tale “of snow and stars”. Are you a fan of wintry weather?

I have memories of when I was very small and there were really bitterly cold winters when everything froze. I love snow and the dark starry skies, and Northern, arctic stories. The Snow Queen is one of my favourite books.

The new book is written for 9-12 year olds (though Daddy Worm really really enjoyed it!). You also have poetry and YA writing on the go. How do you approach writing for different age groups?

Each is different and arrives differently. Poetry is much more intense and every word has to be tested. Young Adult and children’s books differ in the age of the hero/ine and the complexity of the story.  

Noah (aged 11) has just finished The Clockwork Crow tonight. He’s not read anything else by you. Which books of yours would you suggest he reads next?

I hope he enjoyed it! Maybe a book called The Glass Tower; Three doors to the Otherworld, which contains 3 of my early stories. Or even The Relic Master, the first of a set. Or maybe The Obsidian Mirror.

Is it fair to ask you to name the favourite book you’ve written?

Corbenic. I’m not sure why but I like that character and his story a lot.

What’s next for Catherine Fisher?

I have a new poetry book out with Seren Books in April called The Bramble King, which I am very excited about. And I am working on the sequel to the Clockwork Crow, so look out for more of Seren, Tomos and the Crow.

 

Many many thanks to Catherine for answering our questions and thanks to Firefly Press for organising. You can learn more about Catherine by visiting her website. To order The Clockwork Crow, visit Firefly’s website.

Storm Witch

Storm Witch

Ellen Renner

Nosy Crow

Review by Noah (age 11)

Storm Witch is an amazing book full of imagination and great ideas. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I love reading about characters in books – and most are pretty cool – but Storm, the hero in this book, is really cool.

Wow is all I could say after reading Storm Witch; it is exactly what I dream of and Ellen has made my dreams come true.

Storm Witch is a book with elemental fantasy magic, a stowaway pirate, witches and wildlife. Be prepared for battles with savage sea-dwellers, and much much more – it’s a story that will make you laugh and cry.

An amazing book that me and my Mum fought over.

More about Storm Witch

The first book in an epic children’s fantasy series full of magic, adversity and adventure.

Child of Air, Water, Earth or Fire? Now that she is thirteen Storm must undertake The Choosing and be claimed by one of the Elementals, which will determine her whole life’s work. But she is bestowed with a great and terrible gift. Storm, the daughter of a murdered father, has unnatural powers that no one can understand… Storm-bringer. Storm-rider. Storm-queller.

When a savage band of pirates – the Drowned Ones – attack her people, Storm faces a decision that will change the islanders’ lives forever. Will her powers help her to save those she loves, or is her fate to betray everything she holds dear?

More about Ellen Renner

Ellen Renner was born in the USA’s mountains of Missouri, but came to England in her twenties, and now lives in an old house in Devon with her husband and son. Ellen originally trained as a painter and surrounds herself with sketches of her characters as she writes. Her acclaimed novels include Castle of Shadows (winner of the Cornerstone & Writers News Competition) and City of Thieves. She spins wool as well as stories, plays the violin, fences (badly!), collects teapots and is a keen motorcyclist.

Ellen wrote Storm Witch within sight of the sea in Devon, and now lives in the Midlands.

 

Thank you to Nosy Crow for sending Noah a copy of Storm Witch in exchange for this review. Storm Witch is available now from your local bookshop or direct from Nosy Crow. You can visit Ellen’s website here or follow her on Twitter.

Tell Me A Dragon

Tell Me A Dragon

Jackie Morris

Graffeg

Originally published in 2009, Tell Me A Dragon was recently re-released by Graffeg in a larger artist format. Following in the footsteps of The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard, the book shows off the illustrations to the max (on art paper) and allows the freshly formatted words space to breathe.

Tell Me A Dragon stands proud next to similarly sized Lost Words and Snow Leopard

On her website, Jackie says “One day someone asked me, if I had a dragon, what would it be like. I realized that almost every day it would be different. Some days I would like a big dragon to fight battles for me, sometimes a small dragon to curl around my ear and tell me stories. Each day a different dragon, but each one mine. And so I wrote Tell Me a Dragon.” And so each double page spread documents a different type of dragon – from one as large as a village to a tiny dragon with whisper-thin wings, and from a snaggle-toothed dragon to a sea-dragon which races dolphins on the waves. Many teachers will be familiar with the book as it is used up, down and across the land to spark imagination and as an amazing stimulus for creative work in schools. Indeed, it was recently chosen as an essential picture book for Year 3 by Simon Smith (@smithsmm), Headteacher and Picture Book enthusiast (visit his blog). If you’re thinking of using it in the classroom then you should also seek out Pie Corbett’s teaching notes to accompany the book.

Who’s the Daddy? Larger format next to the original.

Otherwise, open the pages and drink in the gloriousness. Soak in the vibrancy of the colours and be washed by the words as they meander from the paper to your mind. Kit pored over the endpapers for hours imagining what would be borne of the eggs – radiant, rich and varied in shape and size. Nina sat and talked about her dragon, telling me of the adventures through the mountains, the snacks they would share, the parties they would hold. Noah took himself off to draw his own creations – an imagination in full flight, an awareness awoken.

Without a doubt this is a fabulous book with the power to invoke curiosity, creativity and comfort in all who pick her up.

Tell Me A Dragon is available from Graffeg, Solva Woollen Mill or your local independent bookshop. We are grateful to Graffeg for a copy of the book which was given in exchange for this honest review. Follow Jackie Morris on Twitter or visit her blog.

 

The Girl With The Dragon Heart

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury

Review by Nina

Wow! This is a wonderful, magical, thrilling adventure – a compelling sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. In that first book, we were introduced to Aventurine, a dragon cruelly cursed by magical hot chocolate. Silke, the street girl who guides Aventurine plays second fiddle in the ‘Chocolate Heart’ but in this book she is determined to tread her own path and tell her own story. And what a story! It all centres on an awful secret that Silke and her brother Dieter have hidden for years. Silke’s secret is her motivation for getting into the Royal Palace and solving a great mystery. At the heart of this secret is the fairy kingdom of Elfenwald and its evil king and queen. As baddies, these two are wicked, scary, horrid and terrible – Stephanie’s characterisations are brilliant!

What I love about both these books is diving in and feeling a part of the world. It’s a magical city with a medieval flavour – the narrow backstreets of numerous districts, the market stalls, castle walls and riverbank camps – Stephanie Burgis builds the world using all the senses, enveloping the reader with the sights, sounds and smells (mostly chocolatey!) so that you really feel in the midst of the action. Add in fairies, goblins and dragons and this is a fantasy you will not want to miss. I highly recommend this book for age 8 and up.

From the Press Release…

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that since arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announces it will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies…

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

From the author of the magical The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a second magical adventure perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Cornelia Funke.

About Stephanie

Stephanie Burgis is a dual citizen of the US and the UK and lives in South Wales with her husband and their children. The Girl with the Dragon Heart is Stephanie’s second novel for Bloomsbury. Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her website.

The Girl with the Dragon Heart is published on 9 August in paperback. Big thanks to Bloomsbury for our review copy – buy yours at your local independent bookshop or Hive.