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
Sweet Pizza is Giancarlo Gemin’s second book. His first, the highly praised Cowgirl, won the Tir Na n-Og Award in 2015 and was nominated for many others. Giancarlo was born in Cardiff to Italian parents.
Sweet Pizza is about a South Wales valley café under threat; Joe’s mam is stuck in a rut – she’s down in the dumps, jaded by the daily grind and is beginning to accept that the café’s days are numbered. Her son Joe, however, has an entrepreneurial spirit like his immigrant ancestors; he is unwilling to accept that the café is a lost cause and has ideas to breathe new life into it and make it the centre of the community once more.
Maybe Joe’s mum is so weary because her dad (Joe’s Nonno) is so unwell – or maybe she’s tired of seeing the jobs, investment and soul being ripped from the valley. Joe is proud of his heritage, proud of his ancestors, and proud of the valley in which he lives.
Throughout the book, we learn more and more of how Joe’s family, like many other Italians in South Wales, came to settle in the area. Joe is getting his Nonno to record the family’s history before the inevitable happens.
The novel reads like a soap opera – a good soap opera, where you get a real insight into the family’s life, getting to grips with their relationships, their fears, their motivations, their triggers, their highs and lows. The characters are very real and you feel their frustrations as well as their joys.
There’s a lot of wit and humour in the book and I adored the depictions of the generous and charismatic people of the valley. The dialogue is full of verve and oomph – the valleys lilt and Italian-Wenglish dialects add to the appeal. More than anything, this book is a warm celebration of that diverse community, coming together to celebrate fellowship, identity and heritage.
Akin to home-cooked Italian food, the narrative is charming, comforting and made with love. But there is also great skill at work here – for something to appear so life affirming and tasty.
Ruth Morgan’s Alien Rain is one of the most engrossing novels I have read recently. I begin by apologising to Nina Worm who was late to gymnastics because Mummy Worm was determined to finish this enthralling page-turner!
Bree Aurora, the teenage heroine, lives in Cardiff, Mars. Yes, a cool address and the descriptions of this sci-fi setting are original, convincing (I love the name drops and associations of Cardiff suburbs!) and visually stunning in the choice of detail. Bree has a gift for Empathy, which is one of the “soft subjects” in her top ranking school, and is the last person expected to be chosen for the prestigious trip to Earth. Humanity, as we know it, has been eradicated but the details of this final war are kept tantalisingly hidden until late in the novel.
Love-hate relationships simmer through the plot with ingenious machinery, apocalyptic Salvador Dali-esque imagery and physical and emotional journeys aplenty. There is something for everyone here, certainly Science Fiction in the truest sense, but at the core is a teenager who discovers self worth. There are pages where Morgan alludes to the horror genre and grips you in an icy embrace with the terror of the unknown. Just as convincing and one of my lasting impressions is the awe and wonder of the beauty of Mother Earth, “with its scary out-of-control lushness and fecundity” and Bree’s longing to be accepted on “this mystifying, rich and diverse planet”. The brilliance of this novel is that you journey not only through space but also through time and are left with a greater appreciation of our natural history – as well as an intense desire to spend longer in the “Origins of Earth” section of the Cardiff Museum!
There is so much more to praise here and I hope that Ruth Morgan has more in store for us. My advice to anyone looking for a Sci-Fi adventure is to step out and get themselves soaked in “Alien Rain”.
We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Gaslight is incredibly rich in detail – full of vivid descriptions of a grimy Victorian underworld. You can taste, smell and feel the sooty Cardiff backstreets with every page turn.
The story tells of Nansi, a young girl in constant conflict with villainous theatre owner Sid (a Dickensian fiend and devilishly corrupt master) as she tries to uncover the whereabouts of her mother. It’s a hard life – split between bit parts on the Empire Theatre stage and thieving from rich households, all the time dreaming of being able to find her own identity and free herself from the perilous life she leads.
Whilst the portrait is bleak, the characters zing and sparkle with life – Nansi is bold, feisty and independent; Sid is menacing, evil and intimidating (there was cheering and much jumping on beds when we read of his comeuppance!) This is absolute testimony to the skill of the author: Eloise Williams received a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to produce this book and they should be very well pleased “to Barry and back” as they’ve had more than their money’s worth.
The tale is brutal too as descriptions and suggestions of death, incarceration, and ill-treatment are not shirked from; and in the final few pages of Gaslight, as Nansi is poring over a selection of beloved books, the strong female lead declares that children’s books are often censored and made more palatable so the audience will not be scared, and we sense that this may be the author’s voice, standing up for the raw, real and gripping tale that she has produced.
I loved it and heartily recommend to mature readers age 10 and up.
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.
Between The Raven and The Dove
Reviewed by Mummy Worm
Take a sassy young black teenager, place her on a modern-day island governed by ancient competing forces, pour in a spoonful of self discovery and then sprinkle a generous handful of musical magic over the top: the result is this delicious new novel, the first of a series for Young Adults.
Through the protagonist, Margot, Sophia Kingshill has managed a feat of magic herself: the creation of a girl in the first throws of adolescence whose no-nonsense persona will appeal to boys and girls alike.
The landscape is a familiar cocktail for supernatural novels: forest, school of witchcraft, secret urban base but the twist is that Margot has grown up in a home for the mentally ill. The in-patients (known as the Residence’s name ‘The Hollies’) are lovingly crafted individuals, and you can’t help but smile as you read about their quirks. I hope they will make a re-appearance in the next book. Other characters warm the heart (Humph the Hob) or send chills down the spine (Nilas) in equal measure. Folklore underpins the narrative and the authenticity of a group of characters from myth and legend known as The Others provide a melting pot of opportunity for the novels to come.
There is much to enjoy here and I look forward to joining Margot in her next mission as she learns more not only about her craft, her parentage and her new friends, but also about how harmony and balance can co-exist in a modern world founded on ancient rites.
Daddy Bookworm looks ahead to the next few months of Welsh books
So we’ve already had a few corkers in 2017 – our favourites being The Bus Stop at the End of the World by Dan Anthony (Gomer Press) and Elias Martin by Nicola Davies (Graffeg). We thought we’d look ahead to what’s on offer in the coming months, with a few books from Welsh publishers getting us VERY excited…
Next week sees the publication of Gaslight by Eloise Williams (Firefly Press). From what we’ve heard, it’s comparable to Pullman’s Ruby in the Smoke and is a dark and rich Victorian thriller. Can’t wait for our copy.
The amazing Nicola Davies has so many books out this year; I bet even she is struggling to keep pace. There will be two more supernatural tales in the Shadows and Light series published in September and another release through Graffeg in May. The Pond is a second collaboration with Cathy Fisher (see Perfect) exploring a difficult topic – the death of a father. Graffeg do a brilliant job in making hardback editions to treasure – we’re sure this will be no exception.
Nicola Davies works with other publishers too and has two books coming out with Walker. King of the Sky will be published in May, but our most anticipated Nicola Davies book is Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth. This will be out in June and is a collaboration with Emily Sutton – the team that brought you Tiny, The Invisible World of Microbes. From what we’ve seen (only snippets of pages on Twitter!) the illustrations look absolutely gorgeous and completely captivating.
Nine year old Noah’s most anticipated book is Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds by Horatio Clare (Firefly Press). The first Aubrey book won the Branford Boase Award and was also longlisted for this year’s Carnegie – scandalous that it didn’t make the shortlist! This is the book we are most excited about!
I guess Noah should also be quite excited about Jackie Morris’ Mrs Noah’s Pockets (Otter Barry Books). This is a collaboration between Jackie and James Mayhew; text by Jackie, illustrations by James. We have to wait for September for this one, but it’s such a brilliant idea and definitely one I’ll be taking in to school to share.
Jackie Morris also has two books being republished in large hardback versions by Graffeg – The Ice Bear and Snow Leopard will be published in September. These formats show off Jackie Morris’ illustrations magnificently well.
Claire Fayers’ Accidental Pirates are currently doing battle with Michael Morpurgo and a Jam Doughnut in the Younger Readers’ Book Award from FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups). The second instalment is due in the middle of May and is called Journey to Dragon Island (MacMillan Kids).
Other bookish highlights include Through The Eyes of Me, written from the perspective of a child with autism (by Jon Roberts, Graffeg) and the reveal of the Tir Na n-Og winner in May. The three books battling it out are:
Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan (Firefly Press)
Sweet Pizza by Giancarlo Gemin (Nosy Crow)
The Haunting of Jessop Rise by Danny Weston (Andersen Press)
So we’ll get those read and let you know which one we prefer. In the meantime, if we’ve missed any great releases by fabulous Welsh authors or publishers, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks.
Nicola Davies / Fran Shum
Elias Martin is a grumpy, lonesome, hard-faced young man who thinks that nature and the wild are conspiring against him. What with deathly blizzards, harsh winters and cruel terrain the only pleasure he gets in the North is skinning the animals that symbolise nature as enemy. He is fighting a “war against life, driven by a lonely darkness in his soul.” Then one day, a young girl mysteriously enters his life and things begin to change. He hears the birdsong, he notices the sunrise, he feels the fire’s warmth. Is Elias’ heart beginning to thaw?
Nicola Davies expertly paints a callous canvas in this short tale, choosing her words meticulously; within paragraphs the scene is set and we are directly placed into the raw reality of an isolated northern province. The writing is atmospheric, intelligent and compelling. Fran Shum’s black and white etching-style illustrations are perfectly suited to this tale and ideally imitate the naive wood carvings of the little girl.
At under 40 pages, it’s a short book, but it packs a punch: Elias Martin has you feeling the landscapes, worrying for the characters and seriously considering our relationship with the wild.
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth
Frank Cottrell Boyce / Illustrated by Steven Lenton
MacMillan Children’s Books
Reviewed by Noah Worm (Aged 9)
Sputnik is an alien visible as a dog to everyone except Prez; to Prez he is a boy exploring the universe. Here – Steven Lenton shows it much better than I can explain it…
Frank Cottrell Boyce has produced another great page-turner with this book – ideal for Year 4 and up (but Year 3 will love the funny bits). The really funny bits come mostly when people treat Sputnik like a dog, and he replies with sarcasm or disbelief, but they just hear barking. Sputnik’s mission is to make a list of 10 things that make the Earth special.
A bigger story than Sputnik’s search for ten things, is Prez’s search for his Grandad. There are sad parts to the book when Prez discovers his Grandad but we realise that Grandad doesn’t recognise or know who Prez is.
This is an hilarious, often touching novel, full of the greatest storytelling.
Daddy Worm says: I was in bits! Frank Cottrell uses this comic caper to touch on some “grown-up” ideas. I thought it was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed it.