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.

Mamgu’s Camper Van

Mamgu’s Camper Van and the Knights in Shining Armour

Wendy White

Gomer Press

A charming short story from the writer of St David’s Day is Cancelled

Review by Nina (Age 8)

St David’s Day is Cancelled is my favourite book. Ever. So I was really happy when I heard that Wendy White had written a new book. Mamgu’s Camper Van is lots of fun; it’s short and I read it in an hour.

Mamgu and Betsi Wyn get the camper van out of hibernation but it doesn’t seem to be working properly! They finally get it going and take it out for a spin to a castle. It’s a heartwarming adventure story that children in Year 2 and Year 3 will love. I think Mum should read it to Kit (my little brother), because he would love it too.

I really liked all the Welsh words that Wendy White used – castell, diolch, da iawn, Ych a fi! – it gave the book a definite Welsh feel! I also loved the pictures: Helen Flook’s illustrations made the story come to life – the colourful front cover is especially good.

I would recommend this book for children up to 8 years old and am looking forward to reading more by Wendy White soon.

 

Thanks to Gwasg Gomer for sending us a copy of Mamgu’s Camper Van. You can buy it direct from Gomer or, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Wendy White on Twitter, as well as the illustrator Helen Flook.

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.

Storm Wake

Storm-Wake

Lucy Christopher

Chicken House

Reviewed by Mummy Worm

For me, reading is escapism. The world around disappears and I’m immersed in the world created by the author.  It took a few pages longer than usual to sink into Lucy Christopher’s Storm-Wake but this is no criticism. The lyrical phraseology sparked more curiosity and my attention was held by the language as much as the narrative. Storm-Wake is a visceral experience. It is nothing short of magic when you smell, taste, see the hallucinogenic effects of the island’s stormflowers!

Delightful homage to Shakespeare’s Tempest rolls in and out of Christopher’s novel. I enjoyed the reimagining of Miranda as Moss, especially her relationship with bewitched Callan and the island (which is as alive as its inhabitants). Pa was an equally fascinating reimagining of Prospero.  Moss’ battle with whether to admire and love, or resent and fear the man who raised her, grounds her transformation from compliant little girl to questioning teenager most effectively. Secrets, mysteries and magic spiral through each page of narrative but the familiar detail of the modern world and the brutal reality of Moss’ early childhood – and eventually the arrival of the two boys – reveal that the dream-like island is a trap and not a refuge. Escape will be far from easy.

So I “cried to dream again” after finishing Storm-Wake and anticipate further readings will enchant as much as the first.

 

Storm-Wake is Lucy Christopher’s fourth novel published with Chicken House. Born in Wales, but widely-travelled, she lives in Cardiff and is Senior Lecturer on the MA in Writing for Young People course at Bath Spa University. She is a Branford Boase Award winner and has been shortlisted for the Costa and Waterstones Book prizes. You can follow Lucy on Twitter and find more information at her website.

We are extremely grateful to Lucy for the copy of Storm-Wake which was given in exchange for this review. You can buy Storm-Wake on Hive, or better still, at your local independent bookshop.

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs

Sophie Anderson

Usborne

My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living.

The House with Chicken Legs has been garnering lots of praise since proof copies found its way into the hands of readers just before Christmas. Booklover Jo called it “the most accomplished debut”, whilst The Bookseller described it as “utterly magical and highly original” and countless enthusiastic authors including Claire Fayers, Stephanie Burgis and Kiran Millwood Hargrave have used words such as “spellbinding”, “beautiful” and “full of heart”.

So can 10 year old Noah add any superlatives to the list? Well he’d like to start with “fascinating, gripping and really cool!” At the heart of his fascination is the Chicken House itself, borne of the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga but reimagined for the 21st Century. The Yaga House is a house that can walk, changing location whenever it wants to, without warning. Noah tells me it can also grow things – “really cool” does this justice! The Yaga House has a purpose though – it holds the gate through which the dead must walk in order to complete the circle of life. Baba Yaga, our heroine’s grandmother, makes food for the dead to give them a good sendoff.

This lifestyle is far from ideal for Marinka, a complex lead character who comes across as bold and daring but has insecurities. She feels like she’s trapped in the house with no future and no friends; she has no opportunities to build relationships or put down roots because the house keeps moving on. But she is destined to be a Yaga herself and is struggling to accept this destiny. The rebellion of youth does not sit well with this transient life.

Swansea-raised Anderson has written 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. Noah says “It sounds like it’s going to be a gloomy book about death but actually it’s not – you can really empathise with Marinka.”

The book should be in shops come May 3rd and if Sophie Anderson is interested in more praise, then she should know that Noah has placed The House with Chicken Legs next to Sky Song (Abi Elphinstone) in his top reads of 2018 so far.

 

Thank you to Usborne for providing a review copy of the book in exchange for this review.

You can buy The House with Chicken Legs from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

Follow Sophie Anderson on Twitter or visit her website which includes some super resources to go with the book.

Wales Children’s Books of the Year

Family Bookworms is proud to present our Children’s Books of the Year. Throughout December we will be announcing the shortlists for different categories as chosen by the ‘worms. The categories broadly follow the ages of Noah, Nina and Kit and we will also have a popular vote on Twitter. The categories are as follows:

  • Wales Picture Book of the Year
  • Wales Children’s Book of the Year (Age 7-9)
  • Wales Middle Grade Book of the Year (Age 9-12)
  • Wales Illustrator of the Year
  • Wales Children’s Book of the Year – People’s Choice
  • Family Bookworms Children’s Book of the Year (International Category)

Eligibility for the awards depends on the following criteria:

  1. The book must be written by a writer who was born in Wales; or is of Welsh parentage; or is a current resident in Wales.* (In the case of Wales Illustrator of the Year, these conditions apply to the illustrator only).
  2. The book must have been published during 2017.

*Criteria number 1 does not apply to the International Category!

These awards are just another way of us highlighting the brilliant books we have enjoyed this year and promoting some of the wonderful things happening within the Welsh publishing world. It is also recognition that whilst there is a Wales Book of the Year for adults, and an award for a children’s novel set in Wales (Tir na n-Og), there is no set of awards acknowledging the quality of children’s fiction in Wales. Above all else though, this is a bit of fun so please don’t get worked up about it. Let us know your recommendations though – we’re very keen to keep learning and are bound to leave out someone’s favourite.

This page will be updated below as we announce our shortlists.

Picture Book of the Year 2017

King of the Sky, Nicola Davies (author) Laura Carlin (illustrator) WALKER
The Pond, Nicola Davies (author) Cathy Fisher (illustrator) GRAFFEG
You Can Never Run Out of Love, Helen Docherty (author) Ali Pye (illustrator) SIMON & SCHUSTER
The Great Dinosaur Hunt, Helen Look (author and illustrator) GWASG GOMER
The Glump and the Peeble, Wendy Meddour (author) Rebecca Ashdown (illustrator) FRANCES LINCOLN
Mrs Noah’s Pockets, Jackie Morris (author) James Mayhew (illustrator) OTTER-BARRY BOOKS

Children’s Book of the Year 2017 (age 7-9)

Thimble Holiday Havoc, Jon Blake (author) Martin Chatterton (illustrator) FIREFLY PRESS
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis BLOOMSBURY
The Marsh Road Mysteries: Dogs and Doctors, Elen Caldecott BLOOMSBURY
The White Fox, Jackie Morris BARRINGTON STOKE
The Story of King Arthur, Sian Lewis (author) Graham Howells (illustrator) RILY
Planet Adventures: The Lost Moon, Pat Roper (author) Huw Aaron (illustrator) BURST
St. David’s Day is Cancelled, Wendy White (author) Huw Aaron (illustrator) GWASG GOMER

MG (Middle Grade) Book of the Year 2017

The Bus Stop at The End of the World, Dan Anthony GWASG GOMER
The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Zillah Bethell PICADILLY PRESS
Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds, Horatio Clare FIREFLY PRESS
Accidental Pirates Journey to Dragon Island, Claire Fayers MACMILLAN
Sky Dancer, Gill Lewis OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Gaslight, Eloise Williams FIREFLY PRESS
Goodly and Grave in a Deadly Case of Murder, Justine Windsor HARPER COLLINS

International Book of the Year 2017

Moonlocket, Peter Bunzl USBORNE
The Starman and Me, Sharon Cohen QUERCUS
Who Let The Dogs Out, Maz Evans CHICKEN HOUSE
The Song From Somewhere Else, AF Harold (author) Levi Pinfold (Illustrator) BLOOMSBURY
Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink, Jennifer Killick FIREFLY PRESS
The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, Kieran Larwood FABER AND FABER
Beetle Queen, MG Leonard CHICKEN HOUSE
Where The World Ends, Geraldine McCaughrean USBORNE
Radio Boy, Christian O’Connell HARPER COLLINS
The Explorer, Katherine Rundell BLOOMSBURY
Dragon’s Green, Scarlett Thomas CANONGATE

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.

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Jon Blake

Illustrated by Martin Chatterton

Firefly Press

Earlier this year, we reviewed the #lollies2017 nominated Thimble Monkey Superstar by the industrious Jon Blake. It proved a big hit with Nina, making a lasting impression with its genuinely laugh-out-loud episodes of hilarity. Well, Thimble is back and this time he’s going on holiday with the hapless Douglas Dawson and his family.

The Dawsons take part in a ‘house swap’, driving over to France with Thimble in tow. Thimble barely steps onto the continent before catastrophes and calamities strike. It’s clanger after clanger as the mischievous, manic monkey causes devastation in the rural village.

Nina found ‘Holiday Havoc’ even more hilarious than Monkey Thimble Superstar; in fact it’s bigger and better in many ways. It is quite literally a bigger book and seems to be written for a slightly older readership – recommended for 7 to 9 year olds. It is also extremely funny as the madcap humour and “crazy stuff” (Nina’s words) is ratcheted up a few notches: Thimble gets his hands on some superglue and does his worst; he manages to turn dad’s trousers into hot pants when he gets hold of the scissors; and you really don’t want to know the mayhem that is caused when Thimble finds the drill.

The Thimble stories are an absolute delight; fresh and funny, anarchic and inventive – they’re brilliant for reading aloud and totally accessible for newly independent readers. The illustrations by Martin Chatterton really bring the story to life. Both books now come highly recommended – Nina gives five stars or 10/10 (“whichever is higher”) and has already voted Thimble in the Laugh Out Loud Awards.

Thimble Holiday Havoc is published by firefly press and can be purchased online or at your local independent book shop.

We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing us with a review copy of the book.

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