Mirror Magic Blog Tour

We were delighted to be given the opportunity to travel to Cardiff to meet with Claire Fayers and talk with her about her enchanting new novel, Mirror Magic. Noah takes the lead in this video, with the rest of the worms joining in with a ‘Would You Rather?’ section near the end. Thank you very very much to Claire for being such a great sport and taking the time to film with us.

Why not check out Noah’s written review of Mirror Magic here.

Author Q & A: Sophie Anderson

To mark our stop on the House With Chicken Legs blog tour we asked Sophie Anderson to answer these questions set by the young worms. We have previously reviewed The House with Chicken Legs and we are delighted that Sophie has also written an exclusive post for Family Bookworms.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished The Wild Folk by Sylvia Linsteadt. It’s published on 31st May, but one of the enormous perks of being an Usborne author is getting the occasional ARC! The Wild Folk is glorious; both thrilling tale and song to the natural world. Next on my tbr pile is The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge, which I have been excited about forever! 

Where and when do you write?

I home school my three children, and every day is different. Sometimes I get up before my children and write for an hour or two. Or sometimes I get a little writing done in the afternoon if my youngest has a nap, and the older two are busy with their own projects. Or sometimes I write at the end of the day, when my children have gone to bed. I don’t have an office or dedicated writing room; just a small standing desk in the corner of the living room with a laptop on it.

Who or what inspires you?

I love writing stories inspired by fairy tales, or fairy tale characters. Fairy tales can stimulate so many ‘what if?’ questions that spark new stories; they beg to be told from different points of view; or reimagined in original ways. 

Which book do you wish you’d written?

The Moomin books by Tove Jansson were my first love, and I hugely admire her talent as a writer and illustrator. But I can’t wish I wrote them, because if I did, they would be something completely different! I think it’s important we all keep our unique voices, and create our own works of art, so I’m just happy to have written The House with Chicken Legs! 

How long did it take you to write The House with Chicken Legs?

The first draft flowed so well, it poured out in less than two months. But then there were three months of edits with my agent, where the book went through two more drafts and nearly doubled in size. Then there were two months of structural edits with my editor at Usborne, followed by a month of copy edits, and at least another month of final tweaks. So, nine months in total. But there were around two years between writing and publishing because between each stage is some waiting time. It can feel like nothing is happening during these times, but they are actually really important stages in themselves, as they distance you from your work, enabling you to look at it with fresh eyes.

How do you choose character names?

Good question! They have to feel right for the character, and for me there always has to be a kind of hidden meaning or link. For example, there is an old folk tale I once heard where Baba Yaga has a daughter named Marinka, so that is where her name came from. Jack for a jackdaw is unimaginative I know, but it felt perfect! The Old Yaga, whose name is Tatyana, and Yaga Onekin both have names borrowed from Eugene Onekin, a novel written in verse by Alexander Pushkin. In Pushkin’s novel, Onekin and Tatyana show love for each other at different times of their lives, but never manage to get together. It isn’t mentioned in The House with Chicken Legs, but I think Yaga Tatyana and Yaga Onekin have a similar history. 

Marinka is a really interesting character. Are you like Marinka at all?

Yes! I am in my forties, but I often still feel like a young girl trying to find my place in the world! Her character was also inspired by my children who, like Marinka, dream of climbing over fences and carving their own destiny. But as soon as I started writing Marinka, she became incredibly real to me and took on a life of her own!

When Marinka leaves the house to explore the world and make friends, she finds that friendship has its challenges. What makes a good friend?

Another good question! I think someone who values and respects you for who you are, and genuinely enjoys spending time with you. Someone who makes you feel happy and loved.

Would you like to live in a Yaga house?

Oh yes! I have always wanted to. I would sit on the house’s roof as it ran over fells and hills, splashed through rivers, swam across seas, and skated across ice sheets. It could grow me a vine hammock on its porch, and we could sleep together under the stars. 

Can you tell us about your Welsh connections?

I was born and brought up in Swansea. My maternal grandparents lived in Pontypridd, and my paternal grandparents in Brecon. I left Swansea when I was eighteen, to go to University in Liverpool, but my parents still live in my childhood home in Swansea, and I visit them regularly.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?

My next book is a reimagining of another, lesser known, Russian fairy tale called The Lime Tree or Why Bears’ Paws are Like Hands; and, like The House with Chicken Legs, it is an MG novel with themes of identity and belonging. One of the minor characters from The House with Chicken Legs features with a larger role, but it is definitely another stand alone novel.

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I think I would have to express my creativity in other ways. Maybe puppetry! A giant marionette House with Chicken Legs would be awesome!

 We’d like to sincerely thank Sophie for taking the time to answer our questions. She has also written a brilliant blog post just for us on Sadko – a character from a narrative poem and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Author Q & A: Christopher Edge

We are absolutely thrilled to be part of this astronomical blog tour and are delighted that Christopher Edge has answered some questions set by the young worms. You can read our review of The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day now or later.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished reading Daemon Voices, a wonderful collection of essays from Philip Pullman on the art of storytelling. I always read in bed at night before I go to sleep, so for the past few weeks I feel as though I’ve been having some rather intense late-night discussions with Philip Pullman!   

Could you tell us how you got into writing?

I’ve been writing stories since I first learned how to write, although publication came much later. Following a short-lived career in teaching, I made the move into educational publishing and there had a role reading some of the best contemporary children’s literature being published with a view to discovering novels that teachers might want to use in the classroom. Reading books by authors such as Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sonya Hartnett and Philip Reeve showed me the brilliance and ambition of the stories being told in children’s fiction and made me want to write my own, which I then started doing on the commute to and from work. After a couple of unpublishable novels that are still locked away in a drawer somewhere, I wrote the story that found me my agent, and then a publisher and so finally realized my dream. 

Do you miss teaching?

As you might have guessed from my description of my short-lived teaching career, the answer is no! I was waylaid into teaching by the film Dead Poets Society and misled into believing that all you needed to do to be a great teacher was inspire students to stand on desks declaiming poetry.

Where and when do you write?

In the best tradition of Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens I have an office at the bottom of my garden that I retreat to. When I’m writing the first draft of a story I like to immerse myself in this writing full-time, but other times I’ll be travelling to events with a notebook handy so I can keep scribbling away on the move. I actually think I do some of my best writing on trains, so would quite like to be hired as the writer-in-residence on Great Western Railways.

You have written several books for budding authors. What is the most important piece of advice you have on this?

Every writer is a reader and every reader can be a writer too. Fill yourself with stories and I believe your own will start tumbling out. 

Which books and authors inspire you?

Too many to mention! Every book I’ve ever read feeds the roots of the tree my stories grow from. Many years ago, bunking off school to get my comics signed my Neil Gaiman inspired me to dream that one day I could be a writer and I’ve blogged about this here. 

How do you choose names for your characters?

For me, every story starts with a character and they seem to come to me with a name attached. For The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day I had an image of a girl opening her front door to find an infinite blackness outside and the moment this image came into my mind, I knew this girl’s name was Maisie. 

Do you have any connection with Wales?

I’ve walked the whistling sands on the Llyn Peninsula, visited Conwy Castle as a child, but think my strongest connection to Wales is my love of the Super Furry Animals! 

You’re clearly interested in Science. Where did this interest come from?

I didn’t enjoy science at school, but as I’ve got older my interest in science has grown. Watching documentaries made by scientists such as Carl Sagan and Professor Brian Cox make me marvel at the sheer wonder of the Universe, and I now find myself picking up books by popular science writers such as Brian Clegg and Carlo Rovelli to read for pleasure! 

Your most recent books have been full of scientific ideas but there is often an emotional human story at the heart. Is this a fair assessment, and do you see either as more important?

I think both science and stories approach the same questions from different angles. Why are we here? What makes us human? How do we know we really exist? Both science and fiction help us to make sense of the world, with all its wonder and possibilities as well as its inevitable pain. In my books I hope to use scientific ideas to explore the human condition and tell stories about love, loss and family. Without heart, the story would be a lifeless thing.  

You have a Spotify playlist for Jamie Drake. Are you planning one for Maisy Day? If so, what would be your top choices?

Yes, there is a soundtrack for The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day – actually there’re two! As well as my own chapter-by-chapter soundtrack for the book, there’s also a soundtrack that’s been curated by BBC Radio DJ Chris Hawkins of the songs the story reminded him of. And the one song that made it onto both soundtracks is the mesmerizing ‘Birthday’ by The Sugarcubes, whose queasy beauty sets the scene in my mind for the opening chapter of the story. (For more on this visit the Nosy Crow blog). 

We love the covers by Matt Saunders. How much involvement do you have with this and how important is it for you that the cover somehow reflects your writing?

I love Matt’s cover art too and the brilliant design that Nosy Crow create for my books. I’m very lucky in the fact that I’m allowed to comment on the cover concepts and designs as these are developed, and feel incredibly proud that the first contact a reader might have with my books comes via Matt’s cover art as I love the way my stories are represented by his artwork. 

Can you reveal anything about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m writing a new novel at the moment which should hopefully be published in Spring 2019. I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it’s about friendship and what it means to be alive. 

What question do you wish we’d asked?

I’m just glad you didn’t ask me to explain infinity!

Thank you so much to Christopher Edge for indulging us. Did you know he came with us to Scotland? Read our review now.

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

Author Q & A: Jon Blake

#Lollies2017 Blog Tour Post

As part of the Laugh Out Loud Blog Tour, we are thrilled to bring you an interview with Jon Blake, author of Thimble Monkey Superstar. Thimble is nominated in the category for Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds. The full list of nominees is as follows:

Thimble Monkey Superstar by Jon Blake and Martin Chatterton (Firefly Press)
Hamish and the Neverpeople by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler (Simon and Schuster)
Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up by Simon Cherry (Usborne)
Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms by Jim Smith (Egmont)

Thimble is a rollicking, shoulder-heaving romp of a book with the tearaway monkey causing havoc from the outset. Calamity follows catastrophe as the Dawsons look after the monkey while the neighbours are away. Daddy Worm read this in school to a class of 8 year olds and they were rolling around on the floor with fits of the giggles. If you’d like to read Nina’s full review, it’s available here. Alternatively, Jon Blake has written an exclusive introduction to Thimble Monkey Superstar. 

Jon Blake has lived in Cardiff for the past 30 years and has built a reputation for quality, slightly absurd, children’s fiction. He teaches creative writing, specialising in writing for children although is also experienced at writing for TV and radio. He is delighted to be nominated for this major award and the worms (especially Nina) were overjoyed to be able to put their questions to him:

Your website describes you as an “egalitarian author”. What does this mean?

Broadly speaking, it means I’m on the side of the underdog, or sometimes the undermonkey!

Where and when do you write?

I’ve been thrown out of my office so my six-year-old can have a bedroom, so now write in what used to be the kids’ playroom, which has no windows!  I don’t write every day, unless I’m in the middle of a book, and then I write whenever my brain is working!

You’ve written a lot of books. Which was the quickest book to write and which book took the longest?

I’ve had 60 books published and have probably written as many which never made it.  I once wrote a book for the OUP called Rover (about a pet spider) which was about 80 words and took a day.  Then there was the Last Free Cat, my YA thriller, which I started in 2001 and finished in 2007.  But that was because I got stuck.

How do you choose names for your characters?

These usually come to me with very little conscious thought: the name ‘Thimble’ for example.  On the other hand, ‘Jams’ is a homage to the writer Flann O’Brien, and ‘Douglas Dawson’ was the name of a boy in my primary school who regularly fainted in assembly.

Which books (apart from your own!) make you laugh out loud?

The last book which made me laugh out loud was ‘Rich’, the biography of Richard Burton.  It was extracts from his diary.  Flann O’Brien always makes me laugh, especially ‘The Third Policeman’. As to children’s authors, for me Mark Twain is way the funniest, followed by Lewis Carroll and A.A.Milne. 

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

Besides those already mentioned I have to pay respect to Barrie Hines, author of ‘Kes’, who sadly died last year.  As an English teacher in the 80s I was indebted to him for engaging comprehensive school pupils who didn’t like anything else!  I must also mention Erica Jong, who inspired me to write my first (adult) novel, and Robert Leeson, who wrote a brilliant history of children’s fiction, ‘Reading and Righting’.  But the writer who obsessed me as a young man was one of the least humourous authors to set pen to paper, D.H. Lawrence! 

How important is Wales and the Cardiff community to your writing?

I’m rarely specific about place in my books, but there’s a whole lot of Wales under the surface of most of them.  Several scenes in Thimble were inspired by what was going on around me in Canton, Cardiff – the demolition of the police station for example.  And ‘The Last Free Cat’ begins in a fictionalised Adamsdown, where I lived to nineteen years. As the story moves on you might spot Twmbarlwm, Talybont-on-Usk and a few other places if you’re observant!

Thimble Monkey Superstar features a character with cerebral palsy and the book has been included in several lists that encourage diversity in children’s fiction. How important is it that Thimble promotes disability awareness?

My son Jordi has cerebral palsy so obviously it’s a big issue for me.  It’s important that children understand disability and regard it as an everyday fact of life, not something alien, funny or frightening. I hope Thimble will contribute to that worldview, not by preaching, but by readers identifying with Jams.  

If someone really enjoys Thimble, which other books by Jon Blake can you recommend to them?

The next Thimble!  ‘Thimble Holiday Havoc’ comes out on November 9.  From my back catalogue, there’s ‘One Girl School’ and ‘Stinky Finger’s House of Fun’. For older kids, ‘The Last Free Cat’.  But check out the list at www.jonblake.co.uk, as there are so many!

Do you ever laugh out loud when you’re writing your own books?

Oh yes.  Fortunately we have very understanding neighbours.

 

Thank you so much to Jon Blake for this interview. If you’d like to win a copy of Thimble Monkey Superstar (courtesy of Firefly Press), we’ll be launching a competition on our Twitter feed today. You can catch up with the other nominees for the #Lollies2017 by visiting the other wonderful blogging sites shown below.

The winning book in each Lollies category will be decided solely by children’s votes, with schools and parents encouraged to help kids get involved and vote via the Lollies website, www.scholastic.co.uk/lollies, or via the Scholastic channel on the PopJam app.

Author Q&A: Claire Fayers

Claire Fayers is the celebrated author of two books about the Accidental Pirates – ‘Voyage to Magical North’ and ‘The Journey to Dragon Island’. The first instalment is highly praised and recently made the shortlist of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual award. The much-anticipated second book in the trilogy is just available in the shops and had us spellbound from the outset.

Claire is very keen on her allotment and also enjoys skiing, flying kites and music – particularly cello and piano.

Born and raised in South Wales, Claire used to work at the Cardiff University science library; she also wrote short stories for women’s magazines before weighing anchor and writing her brilliant books for children. So avast shipmates, and greet your captain…

You’ve just launched ‘Dragon Island’. How do you feel when you release a book into the wild?

Excited. Terrified. When my first book came out last year I felt like the biggest fraud imaginable because every other author was so professional and capable, and then there was me floundering about incompetently. Now that I have two books out, I’m feeling less like a beginner, though still not quite like a proper author yet!

What are you reading at the moment?

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds by Horatio Clare. It’s a terrific read, funny and adventurous whilst dealing with some very serious issues about family, friendship and the environment. And it had a German time-travelling spider – what more could you want?

Where and when do you write?

I have an office at home with a desk that I bought off ebay with my first advance payment. I do most of my writing in the mornings and keep the afternoons free for editing, admin and watering my allotment. This year I’ve been meeting a friend for writing sessions twice a week. We go to a local coffee shop where we sit in near silence and drink vast amounts of coffee, hunched over laptops for two hours. It is fantastic for productivity.

Who or what inspires you?

My books are firmly inspired by the stories I loved as a child. I read voraciously – sci-fi, fantasy, myth and legend, adventure and comedy. And then there were the films with special effects by Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts is my all-time favourite.) The best inspiration happens when completely random ideas collide and turn into something quite unexpected. When I’m starting to write a new book, I spend a few hours making a list of everything I’d like to include, then I try to connect them. Like pirates, librarians and penguins.

What is your favourite children’s book of all time?

Such a difficult question! My favourite book changes daily depending on my mood, the weather and what I’m currently reading. But, as a prototype of all those books I’ve ever loved, I’m going with Enid Blyton’s wishing chair stories. They have adventure, danger, humour, magic, travel to strange places, and the hero is even called Peter. I can still remember my teacher reading the books to us in primary school, one chapter a day, and I was always desperate to know what happened next.

How long did it take you to write Dragon Island?

It took about six months to write the first draft, then another six months on edits to produce the final version. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book. Voyage to Magical North took about four years, but of course I didn’t have a deadline then.

The Accidental Pirates have some peculiar names. How do you choose character names?

I started with Cassie O’Pia and thought if I was going to mangle constellations I might as well see if there were any others I could use, so I bought The Dummies Guide to Astronomy and went through the index. It gave me Marfak West (a star in the Cassiopeia constellation) and Aldebran Boswell (the star Aldebaran, but I kept mistyping it.) And, of course Orion and the Onion.

Some of the pirates have names that are awful puns – Trudi Storme, for example. And I chose other names as the punchlines to awful jokes – apologies to Tim Burre and Ewan Hughes.

Character names are very important: wherever I get them from, they have to feel right and fit the personality of the character.

How important is Wales and being Welsh to your writing? Does it have any influence?

It’s very important. The off-beat humour, the love of a good song, dragons! I love the way Welsh legends and folktales are often tied to places – Llyn y Fan Fach, Beddgelert, Caer Idris – and I tried to do the same thing in my books. The people of Dragon Island have a legend of Orion, but it’s grown out of the landscape of the island and is very different to the legend of Orion the mariner from book one.

I haven’t set any books in real-life Wales yet, but my next book is set in a fictional town on the border of Wales and England, so I’m getting closer.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

They’re only a hindrance when I have to drop everything to read their books, which happens often. Seriously, children’s authors are a wonderful, supportive group and I’ve made many friends in Wales and beyond.

We understand that you will be releasing another book before the third pirate book, which sounds like it may be for slightly older readers. Was it a conscious decision to do something different? (and what more can you tell us about that book?)

It was a decision made with my editors. I have a third pirate book in my head but I also had an idea for something very different and my editors loved it, so we decided I should write that one first. It’s a Victorian mystery, set in the fictional town of Wyse, the only town in Britain where fairy magic still works. Twelve-year-old Ava and her brother go there to work, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a very sinsiter plot. The story has the humour of the pirate books, but it’s a touch darker, with some very creepy villains and a sarcastic talking book of prophecy.

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I used to work in the science library at Cardiff University and I had planned to get my professional qualifications and become a subject librarian. It was a great place to work and I’m still friends will all my ex-colleagues. If I hadn’t got my book deal I’d still be there.

What’s your best pirate joke?

What’s the pirate capital of Wales?  Carrrrrrrdiff!

 

The Voyage to Dragon Island is published by Macmillan Children’s Books and is available online or in your local bookshop.

“This is a great series for readers of nine or ten who want fun, page-turning fantasy adventure!” Barnes & Noble

“With an ocean full of danger, dragons, dinosaurs, plenty of knockabout humour, some brilliant plot twists, heartwarming friendships and a brilliant bunch of pirates, you really wouldn’t want to miss the boat!” Lancashire Post

“At the heart of this riotous book there are life-affirming messages of resilience, self-belief and friendship. We loved it!” Family Bookworms

Author Q&A: Eloise Williams

We are delighted that Eloise Williams has completed our Q & A this month. The author of Elen’s Island is currently receiving rave reviews for her new novel, Gaslight. Set in Victorian Cardiff, Nansi is fished out of Cardiff docks and her mother has disappeared. With no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally and sometimes thieving to order. Life is hard but Nansi is a fighter, determined to protect her friend Bee and, most of all, to find her mother.

Eloise is no stranger to theatre herself, having performed on stage in productions of Les Mis at Cardiff Castle and in productions and projects at theatres and venues across the capital. This, after earning a place at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, where she studied Victorian Theatre.  As she says herself “Without all those experiences, I don’t think Nansi or Gaslight would have been possible.”

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called ‘Evie’s Ghost’ by Helen Peters. I’ve just started it today. Next up is ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ by Jennifer Killick.

Where and when do you write?

All the time! Everywhere! I do have a writing desk which teeters and topples with stationary and books but most of my writing is done by the sea, or in the middle of a walk through the woods. I’ll suddenly have an idea and an overwhelming need to write it down immediately on a scrap of paper, or in almost incomprehensible short hand on my mobile phone. I often phone my own number and leave messages about the next part of my story so I can pick them up when I get home.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by lots of things and people. People include: Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Amelia Earheart, Cheryl Strayed, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Florence Welch, Chris Packham, my friend Rosalind Hayler, my Mum… the list goes on… but it consists mostly of strong women (except Chris Packham!) who are courageous and/or kind. I think being kind is sometimes the most courageous thing you can be. And being yourself is incredibly important. I’m also inspired by place. Atmosphere, beauty, history, stories, flowers, ghosts, the sea.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Only one? Gulp…

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

That’s two, isn’t it. Don’t get me started on books for children… the list is never ending.

How long did it take you to write Gaslight?

I had the idea in 1994. It took a while to get around to it. I have been known to procrastinate somewhat.

How do you choose character names?

Sometimes I will pick a name because of its meaning or because of where and when the character lived. Nansi’s name was taken from a beautiful, old, ivy-covered gravestone in a Victorian churchyard close to the sea.

How important was it for Gaslight to be set in Wales?

The book is about Cardiff and it couldn’t have been set anywhere else. When I studied Victorian Theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama I knew then that there was a book waiting to be written about the city just outside the window. I love Cardiff. It’s a vibrant, beautiful, exciting place and I know it. It’s in my blood, my family, my history.

You’re on record as saying that people have told you not to set your books in Wales if you want it to sell. Why do you think they said this and why did you ignore the advice?

I don’t know why they said this. I think stories set in Wales are as important as stories set anywhere else. ALL stories are important.

It makes me think of an Oscar Wilde quote: ‘I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.’

In Gaslight, Nansi’s mother suggests that children’s books are sanitised to make them kinder. Were you conscious of making your writing palatable to children?

Interesting, exciting, real, rather than palatable. Victorian life wasn’t easy for a girl like Nansi. I wanted to tell her story truthfully.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

A hindrance? Ha ha! Not at all! I’m friends with lots of authors! They are a lovely supportive bunch. It’s a really good crowd to be a part of.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?

Future plans are to carry on writing Middle Grade Fiction. I have three books I’m dabbling with at the moment. I also have about a hundred ideas for other books but I’m trying to be disciplined so I can actually finish something!

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I’d work with animals. In the wild. Or be an explorer. Or maybe a lighthouse keeper.

 

Gaslight is published by Firefly Press and is available directly from them (click on the link) or from your local bookshop or online.

Praise for the novel:

“Stunning – so tense, atmospheric and really well written.” Ashley Booth (@mrboothY6)

“Beautifully written… with a great central character full of gumption… I couldn’t put it down!” Wendy White

“Vivid, raw and real; characters zing and sparkle with life.” FamilyBookworms

“A darkly delicious romp through the backstreets of Cardiff.” Emma Carroll

“An absolute firecracker of a book. Gorgeously raw, dark and Dickensian. Dreamlike and intoxicating.” Lucy Strange

Author Q&A: Dan Anthony

Dan Anthony is the author of The Bus Stop at the End of the World, published by Gomer. Noah read Bus Stop shortly after it’s publication in January 2017 and thought it was an “amusing and adventurous, mythical page turner”. It follows the adventures of Ritchie, and a cast of  strangers as they try to stop “the most dangerous enemy known to man”. Ritchie’s real world and the world belonging to a host of fantastic characters come together at this bus stop not far from Ritchie’s house. You can see Noah’s vlog review here, and it’s also one of his Top Ten books. Noah sent some questions to Dan and he has very kindly replied.

Dan’s books for children include the Rugby Zombie trilogy, famously lauded by Tom Palmer, and Steve’s Dreams. As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, he 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.

Where and when do you write?

Usually first thing in the morning. If I’m at home, I’m working in my office (in the cellar) between about 8:30 and 2.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I like unusual names, sometimes place names give me ideas. (Kid Welly and Dic Penfro are characters in The Bus Stop at the End of the World).

Who or what inspires you?

I think I get a lot of ideas from just being outside – anything from a supermarket to a bus stop to a mountain top – also talking to people. I love talking!

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me ages to work them out, and ages to correct. But I write fast – about a month.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs

How important is Wales to your writing?

Very, because I live here. Wherever I live gives me lots of ideas.

What other authors are you friends with, and are they a help or a hindrance?

Tom Palmer is a great friend and help. Its nice to meet people who share an interest in adventurous stories.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea?

Yes – it’s about a boy who runs away from home and finds a race horse. I can’t say too much!

If you weren’t an author, what would you do?

A musician – but not a very good one!

You can buy The Bus Stop at the End of the World from your local bookshop or direct from Gomer.