Author Q and A: Laura Baker

Laura Baker is a children’s book author currently celebrating the success of The Colour of Happy, a new picture book with Angie Rozelaar. She is also an editor with over twelve years experience.

Having grown up in Canada and moved to Wales to complete an MA in Creative Writing, she now lives in Wales with her husband, two young sons and basset hound.

She says that her career highlights so far include having her first picture book, I Love You When… (written as Annie Baker, illustrated by Barroux), read on CBeebies Bedtime Stories; reading her super-short stories (101 words each) at the Hay Festival and editing a number of award-winning children’s books.

We are delighted that Laura agreed to answer our questions and would like to thank her for her responses.

Where and when do you write?

I write mostly at a little desk in the corner of our dining room/lounge, or sometimes on the sofa with the dog curled up next to me. I try to write in my daytime working hours, but sometimes when I’m excited about an idea I carry on into the evening too. I remember pulling out my laptop at midnight to make some tweaks to The Colour of Happy

The Colour of Happy and My Friend Sleep are your first books as Laura Baker, but you’ve worked as an editor on many more books. Can you explain the difference between an author and an editor?

As the editor, you’re working with the author (and illustrator and designer) to pull the book together. It can involve everything from briefing an author on an idea to checking that the words flow to getting the book ready for print. Whereas, as the author, it’s the opposite! You supply the text and someone else takes over. It’s amazing seeing your words brought to life in that way, growing with the ideas from a team of editor, designer, illustrator and more. They often bring things to the story that you never thought about, making it even better. I feel so grateful to be able to work on both sides.

As an author, you are more visible – having book launches and more direct communication with readers. How has this been for you?

It’s been lovely! It’s a bit scary too, because everyone is reading the words you’ve so carefully chosen, but the publishing world is so friendly and encouraging. It was very special to celebrate the launch of The Colour of Happy with the team who brought it together, plus a wonderful group of supportive writer friends. I’m loving going into schools and connecting with readers directly too. Talking to them is giving me more and more ideas to write about!

You have written previously as Annie Baker – why the name change?

I wrote I Love You When… when I worked at the publisher, so I used the pseudonym Annie Baker. Now that I’ve branched out on my own, I’m using my real name! 

Your latest book, The Colour of Happy, explores emotions through colour. What brought you to this topic?

I wrote this story when my son was about two years old. I noticed that he and his friends could experience so many different emotions in a single day, and to them words like ‘mine’ and ‘share’ and ‘sad’ were huge. I’d also been trying to think visually about a book and wondered about using different colours on every spread. I combined the two ideas – along with the fact that my son would always pick a special flower for me whenever we went for a walk – and brought them together to use colour and emotions to frame the story. I love that Hodder understood what I was thinking, and the fact that they stuck to the single colour per page so strictly! I think it’s made for a really striking and different book. 

Can you tell us something about how you worked with your illustrator Angie Rozelaar? Because the book is so visual, we guess you must have been in contact quite a bit?

The editor and designer at Hodder took the reins on this. I think the designer and Angie were in very close contact about how they wanted the pages to look, and I got the lucky job of seeing everything when it came through! 

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

My favourite picture books as a child were by Shirley Hughes: Dogger and Alfie Gets in First. I still love them today, being drawn to real stories showing real emotions in everyday life. I could name loads of other inspiration as well: currently I love the Oi! series by Kes Gray and Jim Field because of its appeal to children, and I enjoy Rob Biddulph’s heartfelt stories and his inspiring career path towards children’s books.

You are originally from Canada, but came to Wales to do a Creative Writing MA. How supportive has the community been to your writing?

Very supportive! I started out in publishing straight from my MA, working with Parthian Books. This led me to work with other Welsh publishers, such as Firefly and Accent, and ultimately to my work in children’s publishing. Having the support of these publishers from the beginning really encouraged me along my path towards editing and writing. Now I’ve also met a very supportive group of writers and illustrators through Twitter, book launches, writing conferences and more – all of whom are happy to share both challenges and successes with each other.

Are you inspired by your Welsh surroundings?

Of course! We live in a lovely town by the coast, with everything you need for inspiration: green fields nearby, a local school down the road, parks full of children, the sea in view. I think being from Canada but moving to Wales provides inspiration of its own too.

As an editor, you have worked on some really interesting (and award-winning) projects with other authors. Which of these stand out?

Oh, there are so many! In picture books, I might have to say Scaredy Boo by Claire Freedman and Russell Julian. This was one of the first picture books I worked on as an editor, and I worked really hard to get amazing contributors on it. I remember reaching out to Claire through her website and was so pleased when she responded and was interested in the project! One other stand-out project worth mentioning is an adult travel book I edited for Parthian: Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland by John Harrison. It won Wales Book of the Year, and I got to attend the awards ceremony – red carpet and all! That was definitely a memorable moment early on in my career.  

What can we expect from Laura Baker next?

I’m keeping busy writing a variety of things, with some beautiful board books and fun activity books on the way. I’ve also got some picture books percolating and plenty of ideas brewing, so watch this space! 

Thanks again to Laura for agreeing to this Q and A, which was written and compiled by us with no financial payment or gifts received in return.

You can visit Laura’s website here or follow her on Twitter. The Colour of Happy is available in the shops now.

Author Q and A: James Davies

James Davies is the author and illustrator of Long Dog (Templar), a heartfelt, quirky, hilarious picture book about a canine who is ‘different’. He has also published 4 picture non-fiction volumes, Meet The… in which we learn about the Romans, Ancient Egyptians, Pirates and the Ancient Greeks. These last two came out in January 2019.
James is from Wales, but now lives and works in Bristol. We are delighted that he answered our questions.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve got a lot on the book pile! I’m reading the Barry Loser series while I start writing my own middle grade series, to see how it’s done. I’m also reading everything I can find about myths, legends and monsters from all over the world, which is my favourite subject!

Could you tell us how you got into writing and drawing?
I’ve been writing and drawing for as long as I can remember. My nan has a collection of all my first drawings – for some reason I liked making stories about angels being made from empty baked bean tins? Drawing is just something I’ve always done, but it took a little while to discover what I wanted to do with my drawing skills. I tried a bit of everything but then in University I made a picture book for the first time. That was the start of it all! 

Where and when do you work?
I work almost every day. I don’t really have a schedule, as some days it can take a while to really get going! I’m very lucky to have a great studio, Dove Street, here in Bristol. I share the space with lots of great illustrators, so it’s a very inspiring place to work. At weekends I work at home, but my fat cat can be a bit distracting. 

A lot of your drawing is done on computer/tablet – is this more complicated than using pencil and paper?
Yep, I do almost all my work digitally, with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop on a Windows PC. If you’ve only used pen and paper before it can take some getting used to, but it’s how I’ve worked for about ten years now. There’s just so much you can do with different brushes and effects when you work digitally, it’s so inspiring! It’s also much, much, much easier to make changes to artwork, which happens quite a lot. When I first started I was drawing things on paper then scanning them in, but working straight onto the computer makes the process much faster – and I like working as quickly as possible. Recently a lot of my friends are doing all their drawing on an iPad, so I’m wondering about making that move too.

We understand you moved away from illustrating for a while – what brought you back?
I think it was probably all that scanning! I was working in a style that I didn’t really like, and felt a bit fed up of drawing the same fluffy animals when I wanted to draw spikey goblins. I think it’s good to step back a bit sometimes and do other things. I had some fun adventures and some boring jobs in the time I wasn’t illustrating at all, but eventually I realised that illustration was what I enjoyed doing more than anything else in the world. So I started drawing dragons and goblins in a way I enjoyed, and it went down really well. And now here we are, five books later!

You’re clearly a cat person (hello Audrey!), so how come you ended up writing a book about a (long) dog?
Oh, I’m a dog person too! I grew up surrounded by all sorts of animals – cats, dogs, goats, horses, and an owl at one point – so I’m inspired by them all. Long Dog came about from a series of ridiculous book ideas I drew one day. Something about a really long dog was appealing to me, so I kept working on him, and he just kept getting longer.
Audrey says hi, by the way!

Which books, authors, illustrators and artists inspire you?

My favourite books are still the ones I read as a kid. Not Now, Bernard McKee is still a huge inspiration to me. I love the style of illustration where everything is flat and a bit strange, a bit like the Mr. Benn cartoons. Everything Roald Dahl ever wrote still amazes me – I really love his nasty short stories for adults too.  Terry Pratchett, of course, and Allan Ahlberg. And just so many more…

How are you inspired by Wales?
I was very lucky to grow up in the heart of the Brecon Beacons, so I was surrounded by stunning landscapes and wildlife. My parents rescue animals, and I’m still inspired by every broken pet we’ve had. It’s hard not to be swept up in the language, legends and history of Wales. For someone who loves mythical beasts and ghosts as much as me, there’s a lot to work from!

Your website and twitter feed are full of one-off characters – goblins, dragons, hares and lots of random doodles. Where do these ideas come from and do they ever develop into stories?
I never really plan what I’m drawing, these characters just seem to come out when I sit down to draw. I guess I’m just a bit goblin-obsessed…
Some things I just like to leave as one-offs, but then others lend themselves to stories. I’m slowly working some of the barbarians I’ve been drawing recently into quite a weird story.

Your Meet The… history series is brilliant. We love the Egyptians because of the mummification, which book is your own favourite?
Thanks! I love doing those books, and have such a good time making them. My favourite is probably the Ancient Greeks, I really like the orange colours and they were such an interesting culture. Plus, I got to draw the Minotaur!

What’s the strangest fact you’ve uncovered in your research?
It’s gross, but I did enjoy researching the diseases and injuries a pirate might have to deal with, in Meet the Pirates. Peg legs would have looked cool, but would have been agony! Especially after the ship’s cook had just chopped your leg off…

Will there be more? Have you considered Meet The Welsh?
I’m taking a little break from the series to do some different projects for a bit, but I’m sure they’ll be back soon! The Vikings are calling. Meet the Welsh would be fantastic, too!

What’s the weirdest doodle you’ve ever done?
Errr… let me see… I had a phase of drawing scary witches that might have been a bit TOO scary. They’re locked away now though, now all my witch drawings are a bit friendlier.

What illustration ambitions do you have?
I just want to get better all the time and do more and more. I’ve had an incredible time for the past two years working on the Meet the… books and Long Dog, and am excited to see what turns up this year and beyond! 

What can we expect from James Davies next?
More non-fiction in various formats, which is mega exciting! I love working on non-fiction, the world is so bizarre and fascinating. More books generally, really. I’m planning to make some fun animations with a friend soon, too.

Huge high-fives to James and Audrey for answering our questions and for being an all-round top bloke (and cool cat). You can see more of James’ illustrations by visiting his website. To order any of his books, visit Templar’s website. Audrey is yet to have her own social media platform.

The Dog That Saved Christmas

The Dog That Saved Christmas

Nicola Davies; illustrated by Mike Byrne

Barrington Stoke

The Dog That Saved Christmas, written by the magnificent Nicola Davies is a wonderfully heartwarming book published by Barrington Stoke. We are absolutely delighted that this book is dedicated to all the bookworms and want to mark that with something special. We will have an exclusive interview with Nicola coming soon on the blog, and we thought it appropriate that all five of us should review the book for you. Five reviews for one – should give you a balanced view of the book!

 

For most kids, Christmas is the best time of the year. For Jake, it’s a nightmare. He hates the bright lights, the noise and the way everything around him feels different and strange. But then Jake meets Susan, a little dog who is lost and scared. Jake takes Susan home and the special bond they share helps him to cope with all the things that usually stress him out. Maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one that the whole family can enjoy.

 

Mummy Worm

This book is a treat for the whole family. Kit and I read together, although he read on after bed-time and finished before me, meaning I enjoyed the last chapter on my own. Kit was very keen to tell me what happened, but I managed without the ‘spoiler’!

“Super-readable”, the narrative is a moving account of how the familiar joys of Christmas can create great unease for those with autism such as Jake. The bond between Jake and Susan, the Collie dog is central and develops the theme of the importance of enabling animals to soothe those in distress. The joy of Christmas is saved, and lessons learned will resonate long after the festive season comes to an end.

Kit – Age 6

My favourite character is Susan because she is like our dog. Our dog is called Tedi and he makes me happy. Susan makes Jake happy.

I think Jake is brave because he struggles with things most people enjoy – like Christmas. Jake doesn’t like Christmas because it changes things around. In the first chapter, Jake is upset when a big blow up snowman is outside his window! When Susan is with him he feels OK, so it was sad when she goes away, but I did like the ending.

I think people who like dogs would really enjoy this story. It’s for anyone aged 6 (like me) to 94.

Nina – Age 9

This is a great book to read aloud – I really enjoyed sharing it with Daddy and I would rate it 100 / 10. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this book – Jake proves that anyone can do anything. He meets a dog (Susan) who makes him less scared. He usually gets scared when things change – he likes to know what he is doing. That’s why he does not like Christmas because the lights make him agitated. Jake has autism which means he doesn’t like change. So Christmas time in school is a bad time because people are singing and there is a Christmas play to produce. Susan the dog calms Jake down when he is nervous. Thank you Nicola Davies for a wonderful Christmas book!

Noah – Age 11

This unique story by Nicola Davies is not just a good book, it helps people understand how Jake feels and Jake is autistic.

People with autism like Jake like to keep everything the same. Christmas is not normal – it changes a lot of things. Like the houses in your street that get covered in lights and those lights shine in through other people’s windows and for Jake that is very annoying. So when he finds Susan, she comforts him and that makes Jake very happy. In a way, when he’s got Susan, he doesn’t mind the flashing lights anymore.

The wonderful illustrations show how close Jake is to Susan.

The Dog That Saved Christmas is a rollercoaster of emotions and as you read you get to understand Jake’s feelings and you may treat people differently.

Daddy Worm

As a zoologist, Nicola is well known for connecting readers with the natural world. It always strikes me though that she is entirely focussed on the human element of the story, in order to bring about a change (of heart / of perception / of understanding). So many of her books encourage empathy as characters struggle with belonging, being compassionate or showing understanding. Jake is on the autistic spectrum and this book will help readers understand how he is troubled by stimulating lights and noises; how changes in routine can be unsettling and how worries and frustrations can boil over to outpourings of anger. It is also testament to the calming nature of pets. Dogs are a great source of comfort and companionship for their owners and Susan relieves Jake’s anxiety giving him purpose and feeling valued.

As always, there’s a compelling and touching story here, and even though the chapters are short you’ll be hard pressed not to find yourself engrossed in Jake’s daily struggle – likewise, you’ll find it hard not to shed a tear in the moving final pages.

Throughout, Mike Byrne’s illustrations delight and engage making this a simply irresistible package.

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.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

Christopher Edge

Nosy Crow

Review by Noah (age 10) with Mummy Worm

Terrifying and terrific science educates as much as it entertains.

A few weeks ago we took Christopher Edge on a very long car journey. It was one of the most interesting car journeys we’ve ever been on – one which expanded our minds and took us to other dimensions. We’d heard so much about his ‘science’ novels, and the Albie Bright audiobook was out-of-this-world amazing. Imagine our keenness and delight, when we were invited to review Edge’s new story, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

10 year old Noah was drawn in by the ‘familiar world’ story of gifted Maisie, also 10, struggling to make sense of her relationship with her big sister. He was more fascinated by the terrifying science bits and keen to share his new found understanding of “dark matter” with his confused Mother (who decided to read the book for herself to understand what her very intelligent-sounding son was going on about!) Mum enjoyed feeling (temporarily) super-intelligent too and anticipates some impressed stares from her Mummy friends as she and Noah discuss the authenticity of the plot’s ability to anchor familiarity in its setting, whilst at the same time enabling the space-time distortion to feel weirdly authentic.

There comes a point in the story, a very powerful and crucial point, where the mystery begins to unravel and things start to change, heading towards a resolution – this is Noah’s favourite part. The vivid descriptions of optical illusions such as Escher’s never ending staircase chill as much as they thrill. The alternate universe and the superb and frighteningly convincing explanation of events make this a unique book from a unique author – Noah has never read anything like it, nor has Mum, hence its huge appeal. This really is a book you must pick up and you won’t want to put down.

With its challenging concept, engaging plot, endearing narrator and satisfying conclusion, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is a “boss read”. Noah would recommend it especially to anyone in Year 6 or Year 7 who enjoys thrilling heavenly stories!

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for sending a copy of The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Christopher Edge on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover.

We were part of the Maisie Day Blog Tour – you can read a Q and A with Christopher here.

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.

Anticipated Reads of 2018

So 2018 is well underway and we take the opportunity to look ahead to new releases from authors and publishers. This post is rather late, because with each new day, we hear about an exciting new book! However, we’ll take the plunge and update when we get the chance.

Obviously we’re looking forward to new books from the big guns: the final instalment of the Beetle trilogy from MG Leonard, Battle of the Beetles; the third Greek God hilarious-adventure, Beyond the Odyssey from Maz Evans; as well as new books from Katherine Rundell, Kieran Larwood and Abi Elphinstone.

But as @bookwormswales we want to rave about some of the big releases coming out of Wales this year – debut authors, established brands, old favourites and new franchises are all here in equal measure, so let’s get on with it and celebrate our most anticipated books of the year (that we know about). Oh, and please do get in touch if there’s something you’re excited about.

January

Cynan Jones is an accomplished prize-winning writer, most recently winning the BBC National Short Story Competition for his Granta-published Cove. Known for his short stories, we are excited to read Three Tales (Gomer) a collection of short stories for children.

Zillah Bethell was a fabulous find for us in 2017 and The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare was one of our favourite novels of the year. Her first children’s novel A Whisper of Horses (Piccadilly Press) was published in paperback last week (previously only available in hardback).

Elen Caldecott continues to work with Jessica Ennis-Hill and Erica Jane-Waters on the Evie’s Magic Bracelet series. The Clocktower Charm (Hodder Childrens), the 5th book, is out now with other instalments scheduled throughout the year.

February

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands by Jonny Duddle (Templar) is a follow-up to his 2012 picture book, The Pirates Next Door. We’ve already got a copy and it doesn’t disappoint (review forthcoming!).

Also in February, Firefly Press are publishing a new survival adventure by Malachy Doyle entitled Fug and the Thumps. Described as a junior thriller for 8-11 year olds, the storyline features Byron grappling to do the right thing (which includes being rescued from a deserted island).

March

Celestine and the Hare brings us Bertram Likes to Sew (Graffeg) in March. This promises to be a wonderful addition to the series with a very cute Bertram learning to stay true to himself and follow his passions.

Joe and the Adventure Door Pirates by Laura Sheldon (Firefly) will be the 2nd Adventure Door story, following last year’s Sophie Finds a Fairy Door. Illustrated by Erica Jane Waters, this enchanting tale will appeal to boys and girls of all ages.

Nina was particularly pleased when she heard that Gomer will be publishing a new book by Wendy White. Mamgu’s Camper Van will be illustrated by Helen Flook and will be hitting the shelves in the spring.

April

Nicola Davies has a number of new books out in 2018, but one that stands out is Bee Boy and the Moonflowers (Graffeg). This will be one of the final books in the Shadows and Light series (there are 6 in total). Across the whole series, Nicola has worked with first-time illustrators from art colleges around the UK. Bee Boy will be illustrated by Max Low, who will also be publishing his own debut picture books through Graffeg.

Lucy Christopher’s Storm Wake (Chicken House) promises to be a magical YA novel. This from the Chicken House website: “The Old World has disappeared beneath the waves – only Pa’s magic, harnessing the wondrous stormflowers on the island, can save the sunken continents. But a storm is brewing, promising cataclysmic changes. Soon, two strange boys wash up on the shore. As the clouds swell and the ocean churns, Moss learns to open her eyes to the truth about her isolated world…”

Also in April, the already-legendary The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (Usborne) will finally be released. There is such excitement and so many fantastic pre-publication reviews for this novel based on the Russian folk tale of Baba Yaga. Noah is currently reading a proof copy and is really motoring through it – review coming soon!

June

June is a big one! Nicola Davies publishes The Day The War Came (Walker) with illustrator Rebecca Cobb. This book has grown from the 3000 Chairs project – when the government refused to allow access to lone refugee children in 2016, Nicola Davies wrote a very powerful poem. It started a campaign in which artists drew images of lone chairs to symbolise a missed opportunity; a child going without an education. This poem becomes the basis for the book, which like so many of her other books, will address real-world issues and be so valuable to promoting empathy and understanding amongst all readers.

The Secret of the Egg (Graffeg) sees Nicola Davies reunited with Abbie Cameron for a bright rhyming picture book – continuing the Animal Surprises / Word is Bird / Into The Blue series. This is Kit’s area of expertise and he is thrilled to learn that 3 new books will be published in 2018 by this dream team.

We’re also thrilled to hear that Dan Anthony will return with The Last Big One (Gomer); last year’s Bus Stop at the End of the World was a big hit with Noah (and many readers in his school), so this is definitely one to watch.

The very wonderful Claire Fayers releases Unwise Magic (Macmillan) in June; a departure from the accidental pirate books that have garnered nationwide praise, Claire told us about the new book in a Q and A last June: “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.” 

Claire Fayers shares her cover illustrator (Becka Moor) with Justine Windsor, who releases the third Goodly and Grave this year. We can’t wait to be reunited with the cast of intriguing characters in Goodly and Grave in a Case of Bad Magic (Harper Collins).

August

Winner of the 2013 Greenhouse Funny Prize, Gav Puckett gives us more fables from the stables in Poppy the Police Horse (Faber) this summer – and we hear there’s more on the way too! Written in rhyming verse and perfect for those starting to read chapter books, this is unbridled fun *groan*.

September

Not sure we can hold out until September, but the winner of Wales Arts Review Young Person’s Book of the Year for 2017, Eloise Williams, returns with Seaglass (Firefly), a book she describes as an MG ghost story.

We’re also looking forward to The Space Train (Little Tiger) by illustrator Karl James Mountford with Maudie Powell-Tuck – the same team behind Last Stop on the Reindeer Express.

October

In the run up to Christmas, Jenny Nimmo gets a new release in the shape of Gabriel and the Phantom Sleepers (Egmont), built on the characters from the Charlie Bone universe. Her classic The Snow Spider Trilogy (Egmont), will be reissued with a new cover around this time too.

Peter Bell’s debut novel, the first in a trilogy, has just been announced. The Train to Impossible Places, The Cursed Delivery sounds absolutely fantastic. Just get to grips with this synopsis from Peter’s website… When Suzy Smith hears an unexpected noise in the middle of the night, she creeps downstairs… where she finds a grumpy troll building a railway through her house. But this is no ordinary railway. This railway carries the Impossible Postal Express – the trusty delivery service of the Union of Impossible Places. All of a sudden, Suzy’s hallway becomes a blur of wheels, lights, a yellow bear and a troll boy called Wilmot. And as Suzy is whisked onboard and given a mysterious delivery, she finds herself rushing towards a magical unknown, on an adventure she will never forget…

Also, and rather mysteriously, we’ve heard of a fantastic new book coming to the world from Firefly press. We cannot reveal any details but it fills us with so much glee to know that we are going to be able to read a new book by this author this year.

November

The Girl with the Dragon Heart (Bloomsbury) by Stephanie Burgis gets a November release date. Following the story of Silke from the brilliant The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, Stephanie promises us “fairies, spies, chocolate, and a very human heroine who’s every bit as fierce as her dragon best friend!” We’re also assured of a happy ending – she promises!

 

We’re really keen to hear what you’re looking forward to this year. Please reply to us on our pinned Twitter post.