I Want To Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien

I love interactive picture books that make the reader a part of the story.  It’s clear that kids love them too because it’s these kind of books that are the most popular in my school library.  I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien is an absolutely brilliant recent example of an interactive story where the reader talks directly to the purple monster who stars in the story.

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You start off asking Little Monster what he wants to do today.  He wants to be in a story, but not just any story – a scary story.  You then set up an idea for a scary story and in Little Monster goes.  However, it’s a little too scary for Little Monster, so you try again.  It is still too scary.  You keep trying until Little Monster decides maybe a funny story might be best.  Just when you think you’ve got the perfect story for Little Monster, he disappears, only to surprise you at the end.

I Want To Be in a Scary Story is a hilarious picture book that you have to read aloud.  You are guaranteed to have your young audience in fits of laughter.  It’s the sort of picture book that would almost be better if you read it in a pair, with one person being the reader and the other being the monster.  If you’re reading it yourself though you need to come up with a great Little Monster voice.

Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien are a winning combination for this book.  Sean Taylor’s text makes the story perfect for performing as there are two distinct voices, with different fonts and different colours.  You could even just read the text and get the children to draw what you think Little Monster’s scary story might look like.  Jean Jullien’s illustrations are bold, colourful and full of expression.  Little Monster’s face changes from an expression of pure joy to one of fear and shock.

I can’t wait to read I Want To Be in a Scary Story to all of the kids at my school.  I know this is going to be one of those books that the kids ask for again and again but will never be on the shelf because it’s so popular.

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NZ wildlife on show in three gorgeous new books for children

Potton and Burton are the New Zealand publishers who really showcase the beautiful country that we live in.  Not only do they produce wonderful coffee table books full of stunning photographs of our country, they also produce some of the best children’s books in the country.  Their children’s nonfiction and picture books are top quality and introduce kiwi kids to our native wildlife.

Three wonderful new children’s books have just been released from Potton and Burton – Up the River: Explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, Watch Out for the Weka, and It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).

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Up the River is the latest book by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud in their popular Explore and Discover series.  I love this series because it gives children a perfect introduction to different parts of our land and sea and the wildlife that make these environments their home.  Like the other books in the series, Up the River uses simple language, small chunks of text and realistic illustrations to engage young readers.  In this book children are introduced to creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands and the wildlife that they will find living there.  For most children these environments will be familiar but they may not have thought about what lies beneath the water or who nests in the reeds. Up the River is a fantastic addition to the series and is a book that children will come back to again and again, whether just out of curiosity or for school work.

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As well as illustrating nonfiction books, Ned Barraud also writes and illustrates his own picture books.  Watch Out for the Weka is Ned’s latest picture book and it tells the story of a mischievous weka who steals a DOC hut warden’s watch as he is taking a swim.  Ned takes us to Awaroa Inlet in Abel Tasman National Park, a gorgeous part of the country that lots of birds call home, including herons, oystercatchers and weka.  Weka are always on the lookout for food and something shiny, and one hot, sunny day, while Alf, the hut warden is cooling off in the stream, a weka steals his watch.  Alf gives chase in the nude but quickly loses the weka in the thick bush.  That night Alf comes up with a plan to tempt the weka and get his watch back.  Ned’s style of illustration is quite different from the Explore and Discover books, but the cartoony style matches the humour of the story.  Ned has made the weka look very cheeky indeed and he is sure to make kids laugh.  It is a fun picture book that is based on a true story.  Ned even includes weka facts in the back of the book.

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Heather Hunt’s stunning illustrations of kiwi have featured in several books, including the award-winning Kiwi: the real story.  Her illustrations jump right off the page in her latest book, written by Kennedy Warne, It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).  This gorgeous picture book highlights the reality of life for a kiwi trying to hatch an egg in the wild.  After laying the egg the female leaves the nest to go and build up her strength, leaving the male to look after the egg until it hatches.  It is not just a lot of sitting around for the kiwi dad though as he has to fend off attacks from predators, including cats, dogs and stoats.  The cat and the stoat look especially menacing as they creep up to the nest in the hope of a meal.  The kiwi fends off each attack though, repeating the line ‘It’s my egg, and you can’t have it!’  I love Heather’s illustrations, especially the way that she creates texture, making the kiwi look fluffy.  This is another picture book that is ideal to share with preschoolers through to the upper end of primary school.

Each of these wonderful books from Potton and Burton are available now in all good bookshops.

 

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The Thunderbolt Pony by Stacy Gregg

Imagine that a huge earthquake strikes, destroying your home and leaving your mother badly injured.  You could take the easy (and safe) way out, joining your mother on the rescue helicopter to the hospital.  This would leave your beloved cat, dog and pony to fend for themselves for who knows how long.  You decide that you will do anything to get your animal family to safety, which means a treacherous journey over mountainous terrain and rugged coastline to a ship that will take you to safety.  Not only do you have to cope with aftershocks and a landscape that is forever changing, you also have to deal with the OCD that has taken over your life.  This is what faces Evie in Stacy Gregg’s powerful, emotional new story, The Thunderbolt Pony.

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When a devastating earthquake hits Evie’s hometown of Parnassus on New Zealand’s South Island, she and the rest of the town are forced to evacuate. Evie’s injured mum is one of the first to be rescued by helicopter and Evie will be next. But when realises that she will be forced to leave her beloved pony, Gus, her dog, Jock, and her cat Moxy behind, she is determined to find another way. Before the rescue helicopter returns, Evie flees with Gus, Jock and Moxy in a race against time across difficult terrain to reach the port of Kaikoura, where she has heard that people will be evacuated by ship in three days’ time. Surely there will be space for her, Gus, Jock and Moxy there?

But the journey is harder than Evie could ever have imagined, and with aftershocks constantly shaking, Evie will have to draw on all her bravery, strength, and resilience to bring her and her animals to safety . . . and hope that they reach the boat in time.

I feel that The Thunderbolt Pony is Stacy Gregg’s best story yet.  It is a heart-racing story about a girl who will do anything to save the animals that have become her family.  It is a very emotional story that so many readers will relate to.  You can’t help putting yourself in Evie’s shoes and thinking ‘what would I do if I was told to leave my family behind?’ Although the cover, with the flowery design, gives you the impression this is a story for girls it is in fact a story for everyone.  Girls and boys alike will be absolutely gripped by the story and, like me, will hungrily read it to find out how it ends.  It would be a fantastic read aloud, especially for Years 5-8, as it will keep everyone engaged.

As someone who has lived with constant earthquakes this was an especially emotional story for me.  Stacy Gregg has perfectly captured the feeling of constantly being on edge and not knowing whether the next shake will be a big one or a little one.  Evie knows when there is another shake coming by the way that her animals react (ears back and growling or howling).  Stacy really gives you an insight in to how animals are affected with earthquakes as it’s not always something you think about.  Even the little details like the cows still needing to be milked, even though there was no power to make the pumps work.  When they do get the cows milked using the back-up generator they end of having to pump the milk through the irrigation system because the milk tankers can’t get through on the roads.

Evie is a fascinating character who has a lot to deal with in the story, but she overcomes any obstacles that come her way.  Not only does she lose her home and see her badly injured mother fly off in a helicopter, she also has OCD which causes her to go through different rituals to protect those she loves.  Her OCD was triggered after her father became sick with cancer.  It started with her double-closing doors and got worse after she blamed herself for her father’s death.  Dealing with OCD mustn’t be easy at the best of times, but throw in a huge earthquake and a trek across the mountains and it’s a whole lot to deal with.  Overcoming her condition is a huge part of the story.

Whether you are a pony person, a dog person or a cat person there is a character in this book to please you.  Gus (the pony), Moxy (the cat) and Jock (the dog) are Evie’s family and they are fiercely loyal right to the end.  I loved each of them as much as Evie and I hoped that they would all make it to the end.  There sure are enough incidents in the story that would make you think they might not all make it.

The ending of the story is absolutely perfect and made me want to go right back to the start and read it again.  I would put The Thunderbolt Pony alongside Michael Morpurgo’s stories as Stacy is a fantastic storyteller who tugs at your heart-strings. Whether you are a long-time fan of Stacy Gregg’s books or have never read one of her books you absolutely must read The Thunderbolt Pony.

 

 

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Interview with Frida Nilsson, author of The Ice Sea Pirates

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Photograph by Ellinor Collin

One of my recent favourite books has been The Ice Sea Pirates, written by Swedish author, Frida Nilsson and published in English for the first time by the wonderful Gecko Press.  The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart.  You can read my review here on the blog.

The Ice Sea Pirates was still on my mind several days after finishing the story and I was lucky enough to be able to ask Frida Nilsson some questions.  Read on to find out what inspired Frida to write The Ice Sea Pirates, which story she would jump in to, and how she comes up with the names for her characters.

  • What inspired you to write The Ice Sea Pirates?

The inspiration mainly came to me shortly after my first child was born. Until then, my books featured another character, they had much more humour in them and were not classic sagas. When I became a mother it was suddenly more important to me to try and make some sort of change with my books. A lot of us are worried, I think, about the conditions in our world, with poverty and pollution, the death of many species, the plastic in all the oceans. My story about Siri is my way of questioning how we live our lives. We constantly take more than we need and in the long term, that’s not going to work.

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  • The Ice Sea Pirates is one of those books that I felt I wanted to jump in to.  If you could jump in to one book and be part of the story which one would you choose?

I think I would choose Charlie and the chocolate factory (and if possible I would bring my kids along since they are absolutely crazy about chocolate)

Siri is incredibly brave and determined and I’m sure children will wish that they could be like her.  Which book characters did you wish you could have been when you were growing up?

I hope that the children that read the book will NOT want to be as brave as her. Children characters in sagas like this are often “thrown out” on adventures that are far too dangerous for a real child – and this is how it should be I think. I hope that Siri’s journey can inspire children in another way.  I hope they find the courage to question the things that are wrong with how we “overuse” our planet and how the stronger use the weaker.

But, to answer the question: One character that I envied a lot was Lisa in Astrid Lindgren’s books about the Bullerby children (The children of Noisy Village). I grew up far out in the “dark woods” with no neighbourhood children or siblings at all, and sometimes I would miss the company of people of my own age. I envied Lisa simply because she lived in a village with a lot of children that she could play with all day. And best of all: Lisa did NOT go on any dangerous journeys. Her everyday life and play were adventure enough.

  • Captain Whitehead is the terrifying pirate captain in The Ice Sea Pirates.  Who is your favourite pirate from history or fiction?

Well since I’m a big fan of the Aardman films I must answer the Pirate Captain in the movie ‘The Pirates! In an adventure with scientists’ (released as Pirates! Band of misfits in some parts of the world). If I’m not mistaken this film is based on a book with the same title, although I haven’t read it.

  • The crew of The Sea Raven have some fantastic names.  How did you come up with their names?

I found a list on the internet of old French soldiers names and I used a lot of them, but translated them into Swedish first of course. Then I just used my imagination for the rest.

  • Peter Graves has translated your story into English.  How do you work with translators to ensure they capture the essence of your stories?

In this particular case I could actually read the translation before it went to print. It’s not quite as easy when it comes to a Czech or a Russian text. It was a true pleasure to read Peter Graves translation. I think he did a fantastic job. When a foreign publisher takes on one of my books I must put my trust in the whole “crew” that works with the title (translator, editor, illustrator etc) because they all know their country and their readers much better than I do.

Make sure you grab a copy of The Ice Sea Pirates from your library or bookshop now.

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Thornhill by Pam Smy

I love Brian Selznick’s books because of the way that he tells his story using the combination of text and wordless illustrations.  His books make you think because you have to interpret the story from the illustrations.  Thanks to Twitter I’ve discovered another author who also very effectively tells a story using these same techniques.  Pam Smy uses a combination of diary entries and black and white illustrations to tell a spine-tingling tale of two girls connected across time.  It is a story that will haunt you long after you turn the last page.

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1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Thornhill is a tense, chilling mystery that captivated me from the first page.  The story alternates between the diary entries of Mary, an orphan at Thornhill in 1982 and a girl in 2017, who we find out is called Ella.  Pam Smy tells Ella’s story through atmospheric black and white wordless illustrations.  From the first page we know that Mary is living in fear, being tormented by someone at Thornhill.  She hears a thumping on the walls and her door at night and she sounds miserable.  We also learn that Ella is unhappy as her mother has recently died and her father is often not around. As the story progresses Mary and Ella’s stories weave together and the tension in the story grows.

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Pam’s illustrations are powerful and portray so much emotion.  She shows the reader details of Ella’s life and how she is feeling through the illustrations.  In one of the first glimpses of Ella’s life we know that she is from the present day because the calendar on her wall says 2017.  There are photos of Ella with a woman, who we assume is her mother, but it is not until later in the story that we find out more about her.  We only see snapshots of Ella’s life but some of these send shivers down your spine.   Pam paints an imposing picture of Thornhill Institute For Children and gives us glimpses of what happened within its walls. When Pam switches perspective between Ella and Mary there are two black pages which are like a break for the reader to take in what has just happened.

Thornhill is a beautifully produced book.  It feels like you are holding a work of art in your hands. It is a solid hardback with a cover illustration that looks like it has been etched in the cover.  The page edges are black, adding to the sense that this is dark story.  The illustrations are an incredibly important part of the story so the binding is of high quality, meaning that you can lay the book down open on a table or your lap.

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The ending of Thornhill made me shiver and it still does when I think of it.  It’s a perfect book for anyone wanting a spooky read.  I’ll be recommending it to all the kids at my school because I know there will be lots of them who will love it.  There are a group of 10 and 11 year old girls who love urban legends and ghost stories and I just know they will gobble up Thornhill.  This is a book to own and reread so go out and buy a copy now.

Check out the Thornhill website to read an extract and watch this video of Pam Smy talking about her book:

 

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Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story by Gavin Bishop

I think the biggest growth in New Zealand publishing for children has been in nonfiction.  There have been some outstanding nonfiction books published by both big and small publishers in New Zealand in recent years, including Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic and the ‘Beginner’s Guide to’ series published by Penguin Random House.  Gavin Bishop’s latest book, Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story, has blown all of these out of the water.  I don’t think there has been another book for children about our history and culture that is as important as this book, and every home, school and library in New Zealand needs to have a copy.

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Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is a huge book, not just in size but also in the content that Gavin Bishop covers.  Just about anything that a New Zealand kid has ever wanted to know about our country is here in this book, from the asteroid that destroyed most of the life on earth, to the first Polynesian explorers who visited and gave our land the name of Aotearoa, the birds and creatures that first lived here, the arrival of the Pakeha, and the development of transport, education, food and clothing.  Gavin introduces children to famous New Zealanders, famous places, natural attractions and disasters that shook our country.  Not only does Gavin take children in to the past, he also deals with the threats to our future, including pests, pollution and politicians (who don’t listen).  The book is a large format hardback, so it is perfect for opening out on the floor and poring over.

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This book is a taonga, a book to be treasured and read until it falls apart.  It is a book that will keep children and adults occupied for hours and you are sure to notice something new every time you look at it.  Every time I open this book I am amazed at the information and illustrations that fill every page.  It must have taken Gavin Bishop years to create this book but you can really tell that it has been a labour of love.  So much care and attention to detail has gone in to making this book the taonga that it is.   It is a book that the whole family will enjoy as the information is in small chunks and the layout is visually appealing.  Every classroom in every school in the country should have a copy because each age group will get something different from the book.  Gavin explains the history and culture of our country so that anyone who picks it up will be able to understand and absorb it.  All New Zealand children will be able to see themselves and something familiar in this book, from the famous New Zealanders to the food and famous landmarks.

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Penguin Random House New Zealand should be applauded for publishing Gavin’s book and for the care that they have taken to ensure the high standard of production.  Not only does the book look stunning, it also feels and smells like nothing has been spared to publish this important book.

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is certain to win the coveted Margaret Mahy Award for New Zealand’s best children’s book next year. If you buy one book for your children this Christmas make sure that it is this one.

 

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Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! by Lynley Dodd

Like most kids in New Zealand I grew up with Lynley Dodd’s books.  I got read the Hairy Maclary books and My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes so much when I was younger that as an adult I know them off by heart.  It’s really wonderful being able to share these stories with my daughter now too, especially when she can almost read Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy to me.  It’s great to see that Lynley Dodd is still writing stories starring these familiar loveable characters, and her latest book features that crotchety moggie, Scarface Claw.

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Scarface Claw, Hold on Tight! starts off with old sleepyhead, Scarface Claw sunning himself on the roof of the car.  The next moment though he finds himself holding on for dear life as Tom zooms off down the driveway.  As the scar speeds off down the motorway they go past a trailer of dogs, a logging truck, a school bus full of boys and many other people who try everything to get Tom’s attention. When the Policewoman finally manages to get Tom to stop, Scarface tumbles down from the roof, very unhappy indeed.  He yowls and scowls like the Scarface Claw we know, and Tom takes him, double quick, all the way home.

Scarface Claw, Hold on Tight! will be loved by young and old.  As soon as I got the book my daughter asked me to read it three times in a row and it has certainly become one of our current favourites to snuggle up together and read.  Lynley Dodd certainly hasn’t lost her touch in the 30 or so years she has been writing these stories.  Scarface Claw hasn’t mellowed with age either.  He still seems the same old grumpy cat that he was when my grandmother first read me Caterwaul Caper when I was young.  I remember that story so well because she always used to trip over the word ‘cacophony.’ It’s one of my favourite words and it’s all because of Lynley Dodd.

The story is a joy to read aloud, especially with Lynley Dodd’s language.  There is some wonderful alliteration in this story.  I especially like ‘a lumbering logging truck loaded with logs.’  The illustrations are delightful, especially when you see poor Scarface hanging on to the top of the car.  My favourite illustration is the one of Scarface sliding off the roof of the car.  Scarface is seriously unimpressed and Tom looks quite shocked too.

One question that I’d love to ask Lynley Dodd if I ever do meet her is ‘how does Miss Plum manage to always be in the right place at the right time?’ If you look carefully at the illustrations you’ll also see another of Lynley’s characters trotting along the street.

Grab a copy of Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! to add to your Lynley Dodd collection.

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The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson

I love reading translated fiction, especially for children.  Some of my favourite stories were not originally published in English – Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was originally published in German and The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was originally published in Spanish.  Thank goodness for publishers like the wonderful Gecko Press who translate the best books in to English for children to enjoy here in New Zealand.  Gecko Press’ latest translated gem is The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson.  This wonderful story brought back memories of the first time I read my favourite book, Inkheart, as it took me on an adventure that swept me away.

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Siri lives on a small island with her younger sister, Miki, and her old, tired father.  An outing on a nearby island to collect berries ends in tragedy as Miki is taken by pirates.  These are not just any pirates, but those from the Snow Raven, a ship from the stories that Siri tells her sister.  The Snow Raven is captained by the most wicked pirate in all the seas, Captain Whitehead, a pirate with hair white as snow and a heart as empty as an ice cave.  Children who are taken by Whitehead are never seen again as they get sent to work in his mines until their bodies and minds are broken.  Siri knows that she is the only person who can save her sister and so sets out to get her back by any means.

The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart.  It is a story about an incredibly brave girl who never gives up on her search for her sister.  Frida Nilsson, and her skilled translator, Robert Graves, transport the reader to the unforgiving Ice Sea and make you feel that you are right there beside Siri the whole way.  You feel the biting,  icy wind, feel Siri’s gnawing hunger and her heartache for the friends she makes along the way, and hear the creaking and groaning of the frozen sea.  The writing is beautiful.  Some of the descriptions of the characters and places were so perfect that I had to reread them several times.

Siri is one of those characters that becomes your best friend.  You are right there beside her and get inside her head.  She goes through so much on her journey to find her sister – she leaves home by herself to rescue her sister, faces down white wolves, stows away on boats with angry men, and stands up to vicious pirates – but she never gives up.  She is determined to find her sister, rescue her friend and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

I loved The Ice Sea Pirates and I know that Siri and her story will stay with me for a long time.  It is the perfect read aloud for ages 9 and up and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves adventure stories with a touch of magic and wonder.

 

 

 

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Interview with Helen Vivienne Fletcher, author of Broken Silence

Today I’m joined by Helen Vivienne Fletcher, the author of Broken Silence, an edge-of-your-seat YA thriller that I absolutely love.  You can read my review of Broken Silence here on the blog.  After reading Broken Silence I had a few questions I was dying to ask Helen.  Read on to find out what inspired Broken Silence, the journey that Helen went through to get her book published and how she creates such believable characters.

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  • What inspired you to write Broken Silence?

I came up with the idea for Broken Silence when I was a teenager. My friend was staying over and we were watching I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream. We started coming up with our own stories, and the basic plot outline for Broken Silence was one of the one I made up that night. The idea stuck with me, though obviously a lot changed in the time between coming up with the idea and actually putting pen to paper as an adult.

  • Your main character Kelsey is dealing with a lot in Broken Silence.  Did you need to research the sort of situations that Kelsey finds herself in?

I used to work as a mental health phone counsellor. Over the years I spoke to many people in abusive relationships, or other dark situations. From the outside it can be hard to understand why people stay in these type of situations, or don’t ask for help, but when you are in a dark place it is so incredibly difficult to ask for anything, or even see the situation for what it is. Talking to people on the phone line showed me that, time and time again, and gave me a real insight into how this can feel. While of course I didn’t, and would never, write about anything I was told in those conversations, they did give me an understanding of how to write Kelsey’s character.

  • Your characters are so well developed that you have readers thinking that the Kelsey’s stalker could be any of them.  How do you ensure that your characters are believable?

Funnily enough, character is actually one of my weak points in writing. When I start working on a story, I have lots of ideas for what could happen, but I usually only have a very sketchy idea of who it happens to. The upside of this is that it does force me to do the work. Before I get too far into the story, I have to pause and spend some time developing and figuring out who my characters are. For Broken Silence, I spent quite a bit of time looking at stock images of faces to figure out what my characters looked like, and wrote pages of notes about each one. This really helped with understanding how they would react in different situations, and made it easier to write them as whole people.

  • Broken Silence is one of those books that affected my mood as I read it as it’s quite unsettling at times.  Did you find the story seeping in to your life as you wrote it?

Yes, definitely. I wrote the first draft over a period of a couple of years, and there were times where I had to pause for a few weeks then come back to it. It occupied a lot of my headspace, while I worked out all the plot twists and turns, and I had so many mental conversations with the characters. There was some parts which were really hard to write, as I’d become so attached to the characters. At times they felt more real than the actual people in my life.

  • Broken Silence reminded me of some of my favourite adult thrillers. Thriller is a genre that is rare in New Zealand Young Adult fiction though.  What drew you to this type of story?

All of my writing is pretty dark – I describe my performance poetry style as “funny tragedies” and I read my dad a synopsis for a play I was writing the other day and he said “Are you sure you’re not just a little bit twisted?”

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I knew I was writing a thriller when I started Broken Silence. I think I just find both writing and reading dark stories quite cathartic, and I know other people feel the same, especially teenagers. When I was a teenager myself, I liked dark, intense stories, and that’s what I wanted to write. I remember everything felt so important and so full on all of the time. The emotion in these dark stories matched those feelings in a way that left me feeling understood, and I think that’s something that many teenagers experience.  I sometimes get surprised looks when I tell people about my writing, as I’m little and smile lots, so it’s not what people expect, but it’s what makes sense to me to write.

  • Do you have a plan when you write or do you just see where the story takes you?

I have a plan of the overall shape of the story, and several plot points that I know are going to happen along the way. The bits in between those plot point, I just see where the story takes me for the most part. For example, I didn’t know Mike had a sister until she walked into the story as I was writing. I do quite often end up waking up in the night to write down ideas for things that could happen, though, so I guess most of the time I am still planning along the way as well. I think a mix of both works well for me.

  • What was your journey to publication?  Why did you decide to independently publish your book?

If you’d told me when I started this project that I would end up independently publishing, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, as that wasn’t something I thought I could do well. I was also really worried that if I couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal, it must mean the book wasn’t good, and I therefore I probably shouldn’t independently publish it either.

I spent a lot of time submitting Broken Silence to traditional publishers and competitions. Through this, I realised that the book must be good, as I was getting great personalised feedback from each, and many said they wanted to be able publish it, but in the end they were still turning it down for various reasons outside my control. I came very close to getting a deal last year, but ultimately that fell through at the last minute. I was just about to give up when an online course on self publishing popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. I decided to do the course, just to figure out whether self publishing was a realistic option. The course was so inspiring and helpful, I decided to go for it, and I’m so glad I did.

  • Who are your favourite authors?

Fleur Beale, Kate de Goldi, Diana Wynne Jones, Paula Boock, Melina Marchetta… and so many others.

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Broken Silence by Helen Vivienne Fletcher

I’ve read my fair share of adult thrillers.  Authors like Dean Koontz and Stieg Larsson have had me on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I can to find out who did it and why.  I haven’t seen many YA thrillers though, especially not a New Zealand thriller for teens.  When Helen Vivienne Fletcher, a New Zealand author from Wellington, contacted me about reviewing her book I read the blurb and was immediately intrigued.  I needed to read this book about a teenage girl, coping with an abusive boyfriend (among other things) and the stranger on the end of the phone who offers to help.  Helen’s story absolutely lived up to the intriguing blurb and she had me hooked from the very first page.

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A stranger just put Kelsey’s boyfriend in a coma. The worst part? She asked him to do it.

Seventeen-year-old Kelsey is dealing with a lot – an abusive boyfriend, a gravely ill mother, an absent father, and a confusing new love interest.

After her boyfriend attacks her in public, a stranger on the end of the phone line offers to help. Kelsey pays little attention to his words, but the caller is deadly serious. Suddenly the people Kelsey loves are in danger, and only Kelsey knows it.

Will Kelsey discover the identity of the caller before it’s too late?

Broken Silence is a pulse-pounding thriller, full of twists that keep you guessing.  Helen makes you second-guess yourself as you try to figure out who the mysterious caller is.  I can’t think of another book recently that has had me thinking about the story and the characters constantly.  When I wasn’t reading it I was worrying about Kelsey and what would happen next.

Kelsey doesn’t have an easy life.  Her dad walked out on the family, her mum is in a care home with dementia and her boyfriend, Mike, is abusive.  He talks down to her and can turn violent quickly, but will then come back apologising the next day.  He has the worst role model in a violent father who is most often drunk.  Kelsey lives with her brother, Pete, and his flat mates, Aiden and Ben.  One day Kelsey starts getting prank calls, with the person breathing heavily and not saying anything.  The calls escalate to the stage that it’s not just on the home phone and her cell phone, but also on the phone at Mike’s place.  When Mike gets violent after a party the person on the end of the phone offers to help Kelsey.  She tries to break up with Mike but he won’t let this happen and so he attacks Kelsey, leaving her with multiple injuries and unconscious.  When she wakes up in the hospital she learns that someone else attacked Mike and he is in a coma.  Things get even worse for Kelsey as the phone calls keep coming and she tries to figure out the identity of the caller.  As she found out with Mike, those closest to her are in danger unless she keeps quiet.  But how do you keep quiet when you just want the violence to stop and your life back?

Helen really knows how to build the tension and keep you guessing.  There are so many different possibilities of who the mysterious caller could be and I think this is because of the skillful way that Helen builds the characters.  As the story progresses we get to know more and more about the people in Kelsey’s life and this leads you to suspect that it could be this person or it could be that person.  Helen would make me think the caller was one particular character just by something they said or did, but then I would think it couldn’t possibly be them. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t see the ending coming.  The ending is pretty traumatic but there is still a touch of hope that things will get better.

Broken Silence is not the sort of story we see much of in YA fiction but I’d certainly like to see more.  It’s perfect for teens who want a gritty, edge-of-your-seat story but I also know that adults will love it too.  I’d love to see Broken Silence on book awards lists next year as it is certainly a winner with me.  I can’t wait to see what Helen Vivienne Fletcher writes next!

To find out more about Broken Silence or to purchase the book check out Helen’s website – helenvfletcher.com

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