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.

 

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.

 

Run Wild

Run Wild

Gill Lewis

Barrington Stoke

Review by Nina and Daddy

Nina and I read this fabulous story from Gill Lewis over 4 nights. On finishing the book, I was met with a barrage of questions: What’s a cormorant?; Are there still wolves in the UK?; Where did you play when you were younger?; How many types of beetle are there?

In response, we checked out some YouTube videos, visited a local heronry, and I reminisced about the patch of common land outside my parents’ house where I would climb trees, build dens and concoct stories.

We also bought the book The Ways of the Wolf by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Jonathan Woodward (published by Wren & Rook, an imprint of Hachette) which is a brilliant and beautiful complimentary non-fiction title endorsed by the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

If Gill Lewis’ aim is to encourage future generations to engage with themes of conservation; to connect with (and be inquisitive about) nature; to think about the wild spaces in their communities, then Nina is proof that she has succeeded.

The story of Run Wild centres on the pairing of brave and adventurous school friends Izzy and Asha. Banished from the local skate park by the Skull Brothers, they are forced to find their own place to play and practice their tricks. This new place is a rundown and off-limits gasworks. It is in this brownfield space that the young girls learn to take risks, to explore, discover new things and connect with the wild. It is in this space that they meet an injured wolf.

The characters then face a dilemma – do they try to help the wolf themselves or do they seek help for the wolf and reveal their secret and special hideout? This quandary brings them closer to the Skull Brothers and they work the problem out together. There is an especially compelling chapter where the children face-up to their headteacher and as Izzy is pleading with Mrs Stone you can hear every child in the land urging adults everywhere to “remember what it feels like to be running wild”. The book is a passionate argument not just for the rewilding of nature but for connecting children to the wild too. See this manifesto from The Wild Network, set up to remove the barriers to #wildtime:

Whilst the rewilding of children is a part of the story, the rewilding of nature is at it’s core. According to the charity Rewilding Britain, it is all about “bringing nature back to life and restoring living systems”. The charity signs up to several principles acknowledging that “people, communities and livelihoods are key”. Rewilding is a choice of land management – it relies on people deciding to explore an alternative future for the land and people. Thus the brownfield site of the old gasworks is at the centre of a bitter battle.

Barrington Stoke promise a series of special school events on the publication of Run Wild and finished copies will be in Barrington Stoke’s super readable typeset on off-white pages. This is a brilliant partnership that has got us really excited.

Run Wild is engaging, compelling and brilliantly written; as a storyteller, Gill Lewis should be cherished and revered. The message of ‘Run Wild’ is important, nay, essential and should be filed next to The Lost Words (Jackie Morris and Rob Macfarlane) and The Promise (Nicola Davies) as enchanting books with significant and important themes.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending us a copy of Run Wild. It is published on July 15. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Gill Lewis on Twitter, or visit her website. The book is endorsed by the charity, Rewilding Britain (who have a website and a twitter account). You should also check out The Wild Network.

The Clockwork Crow Cover Reveal

We are absolutely delighted to reveal the cover of Catherine Fisher’s new MG novel, The Clockwork Crow: a magical story of snow and stars. Published by Cardiff-based Firefly Press, and due out in October, this beautifully produced book will make a perfect Christmas gift.

The stunning cover, designed by Anne Glenn, is shown here in its full glory.

Catherine Fisher, author of the bestselling Snow-Walker trilogy, Incarceron and The Obsidian Mirror series, was the first Wales Young People’s Laureate and we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that Catherine and Firefly were working together – such an enchanting partnership. Catherine told us, “I’m very proud and pleased to be publishing a new story with Firefly. One of the best independent children’s publishers in the UK. And Welsh!”

Synopsis

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in an empty train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is on her way to a new life at the remote house of Plas-y-Fran in Wales, but when she gets there the happy family Christmas she had hoped for turns out to be an illusion. Because their son Tomos has been missing for a year and a day, and if the strange and dangerous Family have really taken him, who would be mad enough to try and get him back? 
Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth, a magical snow-globe and her own indomitable courage, Seren sets off on a journey into a midnight world of snow and stars, to an ice palace unlocked only by a Door of Blood and Tears.

 

We also have an exclusive extract of the book, featuring Seren, the irresistible, headstrong protagonist.

The Clockwork Crow was lying on its side. One of its small bright eyes was looking straight at her. She snatched up the key, pushed it into the hole in the side of the bird and wound it up. The machinery grated, stiff and rusty. It was hard to get the key round more than a few turns. There was a loud whirr and clatter, and quite suddenly the Crow’s head moved. It creaked sideways. Its wings opened. It took one wobbly step. 
Then it looked at her with its shiny eye and opened its twisted beak. “Oil” it croaked. “I need oil.” 

 

The Clockwork Crow is a gripping Christmas tale of enchantment and belonging, set in a frost-bound mansion in snowy mid-Wales. It is due for publication on 4 October 2018, and will be available for pre-order on Firefly’s website or from your local independent bookshop.

 

We’d like to thank Firefly for inviting us to host this cover reveal for a very special and much-anticipated book from a master storyteller.

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Nicola Davies (illustrated by Nicola Kinnear)

Walker Books

Review by Daddy and Nina

Any book that starts with a map gets a thumbs up from us. You know you’re in for a fantastic adventure, and Nina heartily approves.

In this new short chapter book (142pp) from Nicola Davies we are introduced to the feisty and compassionate Ariki; a heroine of the Pacific Ocean, more at home diving through coral and swimming with the fish than playing on land with other children.

This is a wonderful story that educates as it entertains. As we have come to expect from the zoologist storyteller, Davies’ narrative is informative with descriptions of the reef, the wildlife and geography of the island rooting the story in fact. Helpful analogies allow us to picture the exotic creatures – Nina particularly enjoyed the one about each shark’s tooth being as big as a man’s hand.

And so we learn about malu, nihui and the giant shark of the title, Wahine (a Hawaiian and Mãori word for woman); but we are never distracted from the absorbing tale of how Ariki strives to protect and shelter the creature that the majority of the island fears.

It is through this human story that we are given hope. Because when the adults are running scared, reaching for their spears and gathering armies of men, the children of the island are the ones who demonstrate true humanity and compassion.

Illustrations by Nicola Kinnear adorn the pages inside and out adding real character to the host of island inhabitants, lovingly framing the text and adding to the drama.

This is the first in a series for Ariki and we can’t wait to dive in to the next one!

 

Thanks to Nicola Davies for sending a copy of Ariki and the Giant Shark. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Nicola Davies on Twitter, as well as the illustrator Nicola Kinnear.

Tir na n-Og Award 2018 Shortlist

Below you can watch a video review of the entire #tirnanogaward 2018 shortlist. The Tir na n-Og Award is given annually to an English language children’s book with an authentic Welsh background. This year’s winner will be announced on Wednesday 9th May at the National Library of Wales.

Gaslight, Eloise Williams (Firefly)

The Nearest Faraway Place, Hayley Long (HotKey Books)

King of the Sky, Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Walker)

Santa’s Greatest Gift, Tudur Dylan Jones and Valeriane Leblond (Gomer)

The Jewelled Jaguar, Sharon Tregenza (Firefly)

St David’s Day is Cancelled, Wendy White (Gomer)

A Whisper of Horses

A Whisper of Horses

Zillah Bethell

Piccadilly Press

Reviewed by Simon (Daddy Worm)

Last year, I fell head over heels in love with The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Zillah Bethell’s second MG-flavoured book with Piccadilly Press. Bethell is a master of storytelling; her narrative style is effortless; the plot lines are inventive and clever; her characters feel so authentic they could be members of your extended family. A Whisper of Horses was her first novel for children and was given a paperback release in January.

At this moment in time, it’s not possible for me to like another book more than Auden Dare, but A Whisper of Horses is another fantastic read. Similar to Auden Dare, it’s also set in the future. I’m not sure if Bethell approves of her books being called “dystopian” (adj. relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one); I believe in America they refer to them as “futuristic adventure fantasy” – possibly a more fitting description although Bethell’s imagined future is run by a controlling government adept in propaganda. The future in ‘Horses’ is certainly environmentally degraded: there have been big changes in the landscapes caused by poisonous gases – the sky is a different colour and many indigenous plants have been killed. The language has evolved too – the names of places mutated into strange phonetic versions of towns, cities, rivers and landmarks we think we know. Serendipity, our main character, lives in the walled city of Lahn Dan where a caste system is strictly enforced and controlled by The Ministry.

Before her mother died, Seren was given a clue to the existence of horses (thought now to be extinct) and she vows to escape the city and embark on a quest across ‘Grey Britain’ in search of these beautiful and elusive creatures. The now clichéd quote from Arthur Ashe about the journey being more important than the destination rings true as Serendipity’s road-trip brings new friends, learning, peril, understanding, resilience, realisation. And these virtues are bestowed on the reader too as one finds oneself questioning society, class, the role of technology and democracy. This is not a journey without danger – this is a pursuit as Serendipity is hunted by the lawmakers who are desperate to stop her from achieving her goal – but why?

A Whisper of Horses is a thoroughly enjoyable read with an enthralling story and one that makes you ponder and contemplate too. I particularly enjoyed the relationships in Auden Dare and the same is true here – Seren’s friendship with Tab, her companion on the journey, is rich and warm and discerning.

So this seems to be no cure for my Zillah Bethell fascination (bethellitis?), and I’ve left it some time before posting this review to be sure that I’m compos mentis. Bethell is such a glorious writer I want to stand on top of my space-age pod-home and shout it out to this oppressed and inhumane world.

 

Thanks to Zillah for sending a copy of A Whisper of Horses. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Zillah Bethell on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover shown.

The White Fox

The White Fox

Jackie Morris

Barrington Stoke

Sol is lonely. An Alaskan boy in Seattle is a target. He looks different. He behaves differently. He’s lost his mother, his father works so hard they have no time to talk and his grandparents are back in his Inuit homeland. It takes the intervention of an arctic fox, a stowaway now roaming the docks to bring the family back together. Sol befriends the creature, feeds it and nurtures it and it is decided that he and his dad should return the fox to its natural habitat. In doing so, father and son spend several days together on a journey that takes them home and brings them closer together. Back at the grandparents’ house, the fox continues to support Sol to reconnect with nature, his homeland and his late mother.

You may have heard of the Welsh term ‘hiraeth’. There is no direct English translation, but those who have tried describe it as a homesickness tinged with grief and longing. It seems that Sol has that ‘hiraeth’ – away from his home and grieving his mother and the life they have left behind. The subject matter is a bit of a leap for 8 year old Nina – a serious book with a heartfelt, important message about staying connected, belonging and family ties. However, the illustrations are “extraordinary and absolutely incredible” (as you might expect) and the gentle, poetic prose typeset in Barrington Stoke’s ‘super readable’ style meant that the book was achievable and engaging for her.

This is a highly atmospheric book; beautifully told and beautifully illustrated. A joy for father and daughter to share together and yet another triumph for Jackie Morris.

 

24 Essential Authors of Wales, 2017

With this post, we aim to make a list of the children’s authors from Wales that we have enjoyed throughout 2017. As it’s Advent, we’ve gone for 24 – one for each window of your calendar. This is not a definitive list of the best authors from Wales – the omission of Dylan Thomas may make that obvious. These are authors that the whole family of bookworms have enjoyed: authors who have given us great pleasure; fits of the giggles; something to think about; episodes of escape; and moments to treasure.

Let’s clear up our criteria at the outset. If you want to play rugby for Wales then there are three ways to qualify: 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. This is the same criteria we have used for Welsh authors.

 

In this post, we do not necessarily discuss authors who have written about Wales or have set their books in Wales – that can be dealt with in another post!

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

Dan Anthony

As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, Dan Anthony has written extensively for children including working on CBBC’s Story of Tracy Beaker and S4C’s The Baaas. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2.

 

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’ and ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’ both published by Piccadilly Press.

 

Jon Blake @jonblakeauthor

An experienced author with over 60 published books, Jon has lived in Cardiff for over 30 years. His most popular book is a picture book illustrated by Axel Scheffler, You’re a Hero Daley B. In the past year he has received acclaim for Thimble Monkey Superstar, his Laugh Out Loud Award shortlisted comic caper.

 

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 we can’t wait for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Heart’ coming next year.

 

Horatio Clare @HoratioClare

Horatio Clare grew up on a hill farm in the mountains of South Powys. He studied English at the University of York. He has written extensively as a journalist and travel writer and had a best-seller ‘Running for the Hills’ in which he described his childhood experiences. He has continued to write books for adults and in 2015 won the Branford Boase Award for Debut Children’s Book of the Year, after publishing ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’ with Firefly Press. ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds’ was published this year.

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.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff in 1916 and raised in the countryside around Cardiff. His infamous recount of The Great Mouse Plot featuring Mrs Pratchett’s sweet shop is believed to have been inspired by his childhood in Cardiff (though no-one’s really sure how much truth is in the episode). He also referred to many fond memories of Wales, including holidays in Tenby. It is known that he found Dylan Thomas to be “marvellous” and may have been urged to build his own writing hut having visited The Boathouse in Laugharne. Of course, Miss Honey also recites ‘In Country Sleep’ to Matilda.

Helen Docherty

Helen’s family is from Wales, and she now lives in Swansea with illustrator husband Thomas. Having studied languages, and taught oversees, she also has a Masters in Film and Television Production. She loved writing as a child and returned to it in 2010. Her high-quality picture books, often illustrated with Thomas Docherty, are well-loved by children throughout the Foundation Phase (toddlers to age 7), with ‘The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight’ being nominated for several awards. These books should feature in every home and school library.

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.

Claire Fayers @ClaireFayers

Claire was born in Cardiff and used to work in the science library of Cardiff University. She has two books published with MacMillan Children’s – both part of ‘The Accidental Pirates’ trilogy and are ideal for children in Year 4 (age 8 upwards). In 2018, we can look forward to a slightly different tale – Unwise Magic.

 

Catherine Fisher

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.

 

G.R. Gemin

Giancarlo Gemin was born in Cardiff , of Italian parents, and now lives in London. Both of his novels have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award for children’s writing set in Wales and his latest, Sweet Pizza, is a glorious exploration of community life in the South Wales valleys.

 

Rhian Ivory @Rhian_Ivory

A proud Welshwoman, Rhian was born in Swansea, speaks Welsh as her first language and studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University. She published 4 novels with Bloomsbury under her maiden name, Rhian Tracey, before taking a break. She returned as Rhian Ivory in 2015 with ‘The Boy Who Drew The Future’, a tense and compelling read about two boys who draw things that come true. More recently, her YA novel ‘Hope’ was also published by Firefly.

Emma Levey @Emlevey

Emma Levey lives in Cardiff and has illustrated several picture books including ‘Where is The Bear?’, authored by Camilla De la Bedoyere. She is the author of ‘Hattie Peck’ and ‘Hattie Peck The Journey Home’. This gorgeously fun and friendly character is one of Kit Worm’s favourite books of all time, so watch this space as we look forward to lots more from Emma.

 

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 Sky Dancer and the incredible A Story Like The Wind.

Siân Lewis

Siân Lewis is the most prolific author on this list, having published over 250 books. In 2015, she was given the Mary Vaughan Jones Award for her special contribution to children’s literature in Wales. She has published a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and this year with Rily Publications released The Story of King Arthur in English and Welsh versions.

Sharon Marie-Jones @sharonmariej

Born in North Wales and now based in Aberystwyth Sharon Marie Jones was a primary school teacher for 13 years. In 2016, she published Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners with Firefly Press, a charming and captivating story about friendship, fun and magic.

Daniel Morden

Recently awarded the Hay Festival Medal for his contribution to storytelling, Daniel Morden was born in Cwmbran. Focussing on the oral traditions of storytelling, Daniel travels the world delighting audiences with his tales – many from Wales. He has published several anthologies of legends, two of which have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award.

 

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. Jackie exhibits her artwork in galleries nationwide.

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 – from the award winning Snow Spider trilogy, to the Charlie Bone octalogy (yes, that’s a series of 8 books!).

Philip Pullman @PhilipPullman

Philip Pullman spent ten years of his childhood in Llanbedr Ardudwy, near Harlech. This may not be enough to claim him for our own, except that he has referred to Wales as being an inspiration to his writing. “I knew I wanted to write books and I got those ambitions, that sensibility, from the time I spent in Wales.” He’s written some books that have become quite famous (!) and are devoured by children in Year 4 upwards (age 8).

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 this year’s St David’s Day is Cancelled is a joyous tale for 7-9 year olds. Wendy writes under a pseudonym, Sara Gethin, for adults.

 

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. She has two books, both set in Wales and both from the Firefly publishing house. Gaslight, a Victorian thriller is currently causing a stir across the country and is best suited to Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Eloise was a Literature Wales bursary winner.

Justine Windsor @justinewindsor

Justine Windsor is a previously shortlisted author of The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. She currently lives and works in London and this year saw the publication of her debut middle grade crime capers ‘Goodly and Grave’. A third installment, also with Harper Collins is due in 2018.

Author Q & A: Zillah Bethell

Zillah Bethell’s second novel for children, ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’ is an absolute triumph with superlative writing – terrifically engaging, vibrant, life-affirming even. The official blurb on Zillah goes something like this… “She was born in Papua New Guinea, spent her childhood playing in the jungle, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until she came to the UK when she was eight. She was educated at Oxford University and now lives in Wales with her family.”

That free childhood in Papua New Guinea, she says, impacted on the Auden storyline, both in terms of the use of Artificial Intelligence and the effects of a global water shortage. “We didn’t have any technology in Papua New Guinea and I am both fascinated and appalled with it. Instinctively I don’t like it – I don’t even own a microwave – but rationally I see its enormous potential. I think I wrestle with this in my work – sometimes outlining the dangers of it, sometimes showing the wonders of it.” In The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Paragon the robot becomes a robot you can love, a robot with personality, even humanity. A machine with a conscience?

“Having grown up in Papua New Guinea I am acutely aware of the challenges third world countries face. Particularly water shortages. Wars over water are fought around the globe – civil war in Yemen was sparked by a water crisis – and water scarcity is now the number 1 global risk factor according to the World Economic Forum. It was a bold move to bring drought to the UK – higher latitudes are more likely to see an alternating pattern of flood and drought according to climate experts – but it seemed like the right move. It was fun thinking up details such as ornamental cacti replacing cut flowers and raising meat prices to ridiculous heights (dairy and meat production being very heavy on water). And, of course, a governing body headed by General Woolf with his Aquarian Protection Cross!”

Before the amazing Auden Dare, Zillah’s ‘Whisper of Horses’ was published in August 2016 which The Bookseller said ‘has the feel of a lyrical fable’. Prior to that 3 novels for adults were published by Honno and Seren Books.

We are delighted that Zillah has answered our questions, so without further ado…

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently re-reading If This is a Man by Primo Levi, a memoir of his time in Auschwitz. I also found a series of books in a second hand book shop called Jinny at Finmory by Patricia Leitch ostensibly for my eight year old daughter. They were written in the seventies and are beautiful books about a girl called Jinny and an Arab horse called Shantih (which means peace).

Could you tell us how you got into writing?

After studying French and English literature at university I decided I wanted to stop studying books and start writing them. I imagined myself in a leaky bedsit, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes. I did live in a leaky bedsit but whenever I tried strong coffee or a cigarette I almost choked or passed out. I spent weekends labouring over words and internal rhymes when I should have been clubbing. You could say I had a wasted youth!

Where and when do you write?

Well I don’t have a writing shed at the bottom of the garden or space for a writing room of any sort. I have my head, a file and an old Dictaphone I keep for superstitious reasons. I scribble down notes in my file and record thoughts on the Dictaphone but unfortunately I can rarely decipher my own handwriting and my children find it amusing to fiddle with the speed on my Dictaphone so that when I listen back I either sound like a demented Bugs Bunny or an octogenarian who’s misplaced their teeth.

What inspired the book Auden Dare?

For a while I had the idea of a boy whose father is away fighting. I initially imagined it set in Silicon Valley in the 1970s – during Vietnam – but my editor wanted an alternate reality UK setting so I brought the story to Cambridge, England. I’m interested in Artificial Intelligence and I wanted to pose questions like what makes us human, and explore issues around identity and belonging.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I love names – their sounds and their meanings. Usually I think of a character and then a name kind of seems to suit them. Occasionally a name comes first. I once wrote a short story around the name Stuffy; and the tail end of a dream where I think my brain was saying ‘me fancy holiday’ became a character Myfanwy Halliday! Migishoo the parrot in The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare came from buying the Big Issue in Cardiff a few years ago from a guy who had a cold! I think I agree with Louis MacNeice who said he preferred sound over sense. There is a wonderful bit in Ulysees, I think, where a character is confessing to a priest. ‘I sch sch sch sch’ (says the character) ‘And did you cha cha cha cha’ (says the priest). Brilliant how sound conveys the sense of the words.

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Racine, Enid Blyton, Kazuo Ishiguro (I wish I’d written Never Let Me Go).

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

A Whisper of Horses is my homage to Wales, I suppose. A beautiful landscape with mountains and sea, not unlike the terrain of Papua New Guinea though not quite as hot. I get most of my ideas walking over the mountains near Llangynwyd. I think my books are more mindscapes but certainly a particular setting gives rise to a certain story and vice versa. 

We really enjoyed the narration in Auden Dare. How did you manage to find the voice of an 11-year-old boy?

I grew up with two older brothers and I have a twelve year old son. Need I say more?

There’s quite a bit of poetry in the book – who are your favourite poets?

Where to start and where to end? I like Yeats and Eliot. Sylvia Plath. Some of the thirties poets like Auden and MacNeice. And of course Dylan Thomas. I visited his house in Laugharne and the room where he wrote Under Milk Wood. Every now and again a recording played his voice reciting some of his poems. A schoolkid had written in the visitors’ book ‘very horrible, very creepy!’

Both of your books for children have been very powerful, dealing with social and environmental themes – is it important to you that your books carry a message?

My favourite part of writing is the ideas bit at the start. I love grappling with ideas. As a writer I would find just writing a story a little dull though, as a reader, I am perfectly happy reading a story without any message. Maybe I need to think about that a little…!

Tell us a bit about your rescue animals.

Someone once told me that it was my destiny to rescue animals and it does seem to be the case that if there’s a sick or injured animal around then it finds me or vice versa. Over the years I’ve saved a cuscus, a guillemot, a wild rabbit, several cats and a couple of dogs. Our current rescue pets are Domino the collie we found abandoned on the way to Tenby, Coco the terrier who turned up on our doorstep, Presto a black cat with two tabby kittens Mango and Beano; and a pony given to us by a lady who could no longer care for her. Cameo (the pony) is strawberry roan and she likes polo mints and pears. They all (apart from the horse of course) seem to spend their time on the sofa in the sitting room which only leaves the piano stool, a pouf and two hard chairs for the humans!

We know that you’re a big music fan. Do you have music on when you write? What’s the best music to accompany The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare?

I have to have silence when I write but my car CD currently includes Everything Everything’s Can’t Do, The National’s Walk It Back and Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. Music to accompany Auden Dare would have to be Purple Rain by Prince, She Comes in Colours by World of Twist, Yellow by Coldplay, Love is Full of Wonderful Colours by The Icicle Works, 99 Red Balloons by Nena, Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, Where Are We Now by David Bowie (for the lines ‘As long as there’s sun, As long as there’s rain’) and The National’s England (for the lines ‘You must be somewhere in London, You must be loving your life in the rain’).

What’s next for Zillah Bethell?

Well, I’ve had a bit of a break from writing and have recently been encouraged to start up again. My agent wants me to write ‘the Papua New Guinea story’ so I’m going to try and do that. I have a twelve-year-old girl in my head called Blue Wing and she is a shark caller (shark calling being a practice unique to that part of the world). Working title Book of the Long Now. I tried it out on my daughter the other night and she said ‘what does that even mean? Just call it Blue Wing!’ So I guess we’ll see where that ends up…

 

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare is published by Piccadilly Press and is available online or in your local bookshop.

If you’d like to explore Zillah’s books for adults then please visit Seren Books and Honno.

We were inspired by a Q&A published on Typewritered and the quote at the top about water shortages came from a great Bethell-penned piece at the reading zone. There are also author blog posts worth checking out at Powered by Reading and Nayu’s Reading Corner