Monthly Archives: July 2016

Interview with Alan Brough

Alan Brough high-res 3 credit James PenlidisAlan Brough is the author of the crazy, laugh-out-loud new book, Charlie and the War Against the Grannies.  Alan is a Kiwi who now lives in Australia and he has worked as an actor, director, musician and a dancer before he became a writer.  Charlie and the War Against the Grannies is his first book for children and I certainly hope he writes many more.

I had a few questions I wanted to ask Alan and he has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out about weird granny behaviour, the things you need to have in a war against grannies and how Alan came to write his crazy story.

  • What inspired you to write Charlie and the War Against the Grannies?

One morning I was watched a middle-aged man in a beaten up old car deliver my newspaper and I wondered whether kids did paper round anymore. That afternoon I saw a granny delivering pizza menus and, for some reason, I came up with the idea that a boy tries to get a paper round but can’t because all the deliveries in his neighbourhood are controlled by an evil cabal of violent grannies.

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  • What is your strangest grannie experience?

My grandmother had a glass eye. The idea of it completely freaked me out. One morning at the breakfast table she took her glass eye out and rolled it across the table to me to try and make me feel more comfortable about it. It didn’t work.

  • Did you have a paper round when you were a kid?

No. I couldn’t cope with the early mornings.

  • What are the 3 most important things you need to fight a war against grannies?

Shortbread laced with tranquillisers, a hairnet full of false teeth and questionable morals.

  • Charlie and Hils have an awesome secret code called Flush Latin for communicating secretly from a toilet when they get in trouble. Did you have your own secret code when you were a kid? 

Hell yeah. I still love codes. I used to make up all sorts of secret codes. I loved writing invisible messages in lemon juice, I had secret drop-offs for swapping secret information with other agents and I was never without my ‘KnowHow Book of Spycraft.’

  • You’ve been an actor and a director as well as an author. How different is comedy on the page than comedy on the screen?

I suppose the essential difference is that comedy on the screen can be done purely with images. You can tell a whole joke without words. Whereas comedy on the page – for me at least – is all about words. Their order, the way they sound and even the way they look.

  • Charlie is hilarious and I’m sure it is going to have kids rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter. Who are your comedy idols when it comes to writing?

Thank you. I’m really pleased and proud that you think Charlie is hilarious. As far as comedy writing idols go I love Douglas Adams, Dorothy Parker, Evelyn Waugh, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka (he’s really funny), Kyril Bonfiglioli, Nancy Mitford and Ronald Hugh Morrieson (born and bred in my hometown of Hawera.)

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Filed under author interview, books, children's fiction, Interview, New Zealand author, writing

Charlie and the War Against the Grannies by Alan Brough

Have you ever had a paper round?  If you have it was probably pretty easy to get one.  You almost certainly didn’t have to fight a granny army to get one.  Lucky you!  Charlie Duncan has no such luck when he tries to get a paper round.  When he tries to get a paper round his life goes from pretty normal to seriously weird in Alan Brough’s new book, Charlie and the War Against the Grannies.

untitledMy name is Charlie Ian Duncan. I will be 12 on 2 February. I have written this history of my war with the grannies because I need everyone to know that I didn’t mean for Mrs Cyclopolos to blow up. I just wanted a paper round.

When I say ‘my war with the grannies’, I really mean the war I waged alongside my best friend Hils, my second-best-friend Rashid, Peter the Iraqi who isn’t afraid of anything (well apart from one thing), Warren and his magical bike TwelveSpeed and those crazy people we met underground.

The grannies started it when I asked them about a paper round and they sprayed me in the face with rooster brand chilli sauce and made me think that I was dead. Hils and I decided to go to war with them but then I discovered one of the grannies had a glass eye and I wasn’t sure if it was okay to go to war against someone with a glass eye but then I discovered that the granny with the glass eye could pinch bricks in half, turn her snot-covered hankies into deadly throwing weapons and possessed a truly terrible device called the Gnashing Gnet.

It’s all true.

Especially the bit about me not wanting anyone to blow up.

Charlie and the War Against the Grannies is an absolutely bonkers story that will make you laugh out loud.  Alan Brough has taken a pretty simple idea (getting a paper round) and turned it into an all out war against grannies.  There is something for everyone in this story – evil grannies, secret passageways, secret toilet codes, incredible inventions,  explosions, weird characters, and hot sauce.  To find out how all of these things are related you’ll have to read the book.

This is one seriously funny book that I just know kids (especially boys) are going to love.  Even before you start the story Alan makes you laugh with the disclaimer that states ‘Seventeen grannies were hurt (just a little bit) during the making of this book.’ There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, like when Charlie and Hils are trying to come up with a better name for the evil grannies.  The first chapter is only two sentences long but totally hooks you in,

‘I didn’t want Mrs Cyclopolos to explode.  I just wanted a paper round.’

It starts off pretty crazy and just gets crazier from there.  Charlie is joined in his mission for a paper round by his best friend Hils (don’t call her Hilary), who is totally obsessed with the army.  She talks like she is in the army and has a collection of military issue equipment, like gas masks, flares and an enormous knife.  She’s a great person to have by Charlie’s side because she’s pretty fearless.  One of my favourite moments in the book is when Charlie and Hils need to communicate using Flush Latin.  This is a secret code they created so that they can communicate from a toilet if they get in trouble.  They use a combination of flushes, hand dryer sounds, lid slams and more to communicate secretly.

I think a lot of kids will relate to Charlie, especially since he describes himself as a ‘Digital Orphan,’ a kid who is completely ignored by his parents because they are always on their iPhones.  He says that his parents ‘are so interested in their iPhones that they have lost all interest in me.  They take so little notice of me that I might as well not have parents.’

Rush out and get a copy of Charlie and the War Against the Grannies now.  It’s perfect for fans of Andy Griffiths, David Walliams and Morris Gleitzman or just anyone who loves a good laugh.

 

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My Top August Kids & YA Releases

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Marge in Charge by Isla Fisher

Jemima and Jake’s new babysitter doesn’t look too promising. In fact she looks very sensible, very old and VERY small (she only comes up to daddy’s armpit!). But the moment their parents leave the house, Marge gives a mischievous wink, takes off her hat and reveals a marvellous mane of rainbow-coloured hair!

Marge really is a babysitter like no other and the children spend a wild evening with her – racing snails, slurping chocolate soup and mixing potions in the bath! But if Jake and Jemima want her to babysit again it’s time for them to take charge of Marge, tidy up and settle her down for a little sleep.

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The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox – a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to find peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Boundless Sublime – and Ruby can’t stay away from him. So she is also drawn into what she discovers is a terrifying, secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Boundless Sublime?

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Promising Azra by Helen Thurloe

Azra is sixteen, smart and knows how to get what she wants. She thinks. When she wins a place in a national science competition, she thinks her biggest problem is getting her parents’ permission to go. But she doesn’t know they’re busy arranging her marriage to an older cousin she’s never met. In Pakistan. In just three months’ time.

Azra always thought she’d finish high school with her friends and then go on to study science, but now her dreams of university are suddenly overshadowed. Can she find a way to do what she wants, while keeping her parents happy?

Or does being a good daughter mean sacrificing her freedom?

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A Message to the Sea by Alex Shearer

It’s been a year since Tom Pellow’s dad was lost at sea. He was a sailor and Tom also finds himself drawn to the vast ocean; it holds so many possibilities, dangers and secrets. After hearing a song on the radio, Tom decides to write a message in a bottle, and throw it out into the sea. To ‘cast his bread upon the waters’. He doesn’t really expect to hear back, but Tom keeps writing anyway, sending messages out on the tide and searching the waves for a reply. One day he finds one. It’s a letter that seems to be from a ghost, deep down in Davy Jones’s Locker – and the writer has a shocking answer to Tom’s question.

But if Tom’s dad didn’t perish at sea, where is he?

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With Malice by Eileen Cook

When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident… wasn’t just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?

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The Great Dragon Bake Off by Nicola O’Byrne

At the Ferocious Dragon Academy, dragons-in-training learn the arts of bone crunching and teeth sharpening. But there is one dragon who harbours a passion for a most undragon-like pastime . . .

Meet Flamie Oliver. To look at, Flamie is as terrifying as a dragon can get. But behind closed doors, Flamie is . . . a stupendously spectacular Star Baker! That’s right – choux, rough, salty, sweet and puff – Flamie loves it all. In fact, he loves baking so much that his studies at the Ferocious Dragon Academy are starting to suffer, and there’s a chance he won’t graduate! Flamie’s going to need a real showstopper to get out of this one.

On your marks, get set . . . BAKE!

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Good Night Everyone by Chris Haughton

A series of exquisitely coloured cut pages of increasing size introduce woodland families – bears, deer, rabbits and teeny, tiny mice – who are all beginning to feel really… rather… tired… YAWN! “Dear me,” says Great Big Bear, “it must be time for bed!” But Little Bear is certainly not sleepy – he’s wide awake! (For now…) With sublime, starry night time scenes and an infectious yawny ‘Good night’ refrain, Chris Haughton creates a lulling bedtime read, perfect for parents and children to share together.

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Geis: A Matter of Life and Death by Alexis Deacon

Book one in gripping action, supernatural and historical fantasy graphic novel trilogy where souls battle in a contest to become the ruler of an island.

As the great chief matriarch lay dying, she gave one final decree: Upon her death there would be a contest. Having no heir of her own blood she called on the Gods. Let fate decide the one truly worthy to rule in her place. The rich, the strong, the wise, the powerful; many put forward their names in hope of being chosen. But when the night came… only fifty souls alone were summoned.

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The Curiosity Machine by Richard Newsome

With the strange plans for an even stranger machine in his possession, along with a coded message from a long-dead castaway that could be the key to unlocking its secrets, Gerald finds himself at the centre of a web of mystery and danger.

Masked gunmen have taken over his luxury yacht. His parents have been kidnapped. And one of his closest friends has betrayed him.

His old enemy Sir Mason Green seems to be pulling all the strings.

Or is he?

Gerald, Ruby, Sam and Felicity take off on their final exciting adventure, from glaciers to jungles and the depths of the Pacific Ocean to an island teeming with the most bizarre creatures on earth.

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The 78-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Join Andy and Terry in their spectacular new 78-storey treehouse. They’ve added 13 new levels including a drive-thru car wash, a combining machine, a scribbletorium, an ALL-BALL sports stadium, Andyland, Terrytown, a high-security potato chip storage facility and an open-air movie theatre. Well, what are you waiting for? Come on up!

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Barking Mad by Tom E. Moffatt

At first, Fingers refuses to believe that his Granddad has gone BARKING MAD! But what straight-thinking grownup goes around LICKING the postman, growling like a dog and chasing hospital security guards up trees? And when Fingers and his sister Sally discover a BIZARRE machine in Granddads workshop, mix-ups turn into MIND-SWAPPING madness one look at Granddads dog DaVinci is proof of that!

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Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake

Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal—Penguin.

Giraffe knows nothing about penguins and his letters are full of questions. What does a penguin look like? Where is a penguin’s neck?

And so the letters begin to fly from horizon to horizon.

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Gus’s Garage by Leo Timmers

One by one Gus’s friends bring him their vehicles and Gus solves their troubles with ingenious solutions—a cooling system made with a fridge that doubles as ice-cream machine, a burst of speed from a rocket blaster.

Soon the workshop is almost empty, but the last scraps might be just enough to solve Gus’s own problem at the end of a long day.

 

 

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Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

I think books, rather than people, have taught me the most about empathy, particularly as an impressionable teenager.  They make me feel what the characters are feeling and help me to understand different situations. Dianne Touchell makes your heart break for the main character in her new book about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, Forgetting Foster.

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Forgetting Foster is one of the most heart-breaking books that I have read since Morris Gleitzman’s Once.  It is Dianne’s lyrical writing and very real portrayal of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease that makes the story so heart-breaking.  She takes us inside the head of 7-year-old Foster and we see his family falling apart through his eyes.  We experience Foster’s confusion and hurt as the father that he loves and looks up to starts forgetting things and changing completely.  We understand his anger at being treated like a child, even though he understands more than his family thinks he does.  The power of stories to bring enjoyment to our lives and help us to remember also plays an important part in the story.

Dianne’s writing is very lyrical.  I found myself stopping reading in many places just to soak up descriptions and savour images that she had conjured.  I especially liked the image that Dianne conjures when Foster and his dad are talking about phantom itches when someone loses a limb,

‘He imagined Dad’s profile, half a face that looked a bit empty lately, and felt a stab of ghost feeling.  A funny ache that told him the stories were still inside Dad somewhere, like an amputated foot that still itches.’

The way that Dianne describes the relationship between Foster and his dad in the start of the book gives you warm fuzzies.  Sunday is always a special day with Dad, when they make pancakes together and go into town, playing games along the way.  You can feel how proud Foster is of his dad and how much his dad loves him.

Stories play an important part in Forgetting Foster.  Before Foster’s dad got sick he would tell stories to Foster all the time and encourage him to join in.  Foster’s dad tells him that ‘there are stories in everything…They are all around you waiting to be discovered.  You just have to look for them.’ He also encourages Foster to tell his own stories to whoever will listen.  Foster’s mum had an accident when she was younger and his dad tells Foster a fantastic story about why she now looks different to other people.  Stories also play an important part in helping Foster and his family deal with his dad’s illness.

Although Foster is seven in the story, Forgetting Foster is not a story for 7-year-olds.  There are a couple of swear words which, although they are in the context of the story, may alarm parents.  I think good Year 7 and 8 readers would enjoy the story and it would make a great novel study for this age group.  Forgetting Foster is a book that I think all teachers, librarians and anyone who loves a beautifully-written, heart-breaking story should read.  I’m now going to hunt down all of Dianne Touchell’s previous books and will look forward to more books from her.

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Reading survey for parents from CORE Education

Sue Bridges, Literacy Facilitator at CORE Education is looking to gather information from parents of primary-aged children for her research on reading help at home.  Sue is wanting to gather information about the ways in which parents and whanau are helping with reading at home – including both traditional and digital resources.  Please find the info about it below and the links to the survey.  If you know any other parents of primary-aged children please encourage them to fill in the survey too.

Reading Help at Home Survey

Helping your child to learn to read at home used to be just about your child bringing home today’s reading book from school (in a folder), to read with you.  Nowadays, with the addition of digital devices, it may look and feel a little different.

Sue and Catriona are experienced teachers, educational facilitators and researchers. We are carrying out research across New Zealand into whānau/parents’ views and current experiences of helping their children to learn to read. This will give us useful information to share with schools so they can better support children’s literacy learning in partnership with whānau/parents.

YOU are invited to contribute your experiences and views about this important process. It will take about 10-20 minutes. All information about this voluntary survey is at the beginning.  The survey will be open through the July holidays 2016.

It’s easy to take part:

Many thanks for considering sharing your valuable experience and ideas with us. If you have friends who are parents of primary children at other schools, please feel free to pass this invitation on to them.

Sue Bridges  (sue.bridges@core-ed.ac.nz; ph 021 569 041)

Catriona Pene (catriona.pene@core-ed.ac.nz; ph 021 390 604)

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You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Stories can take us out of our own heads and put us into the heads of other people.  I don’t think I’ve ever met myself in a story but I’ve certainly met many characters whose lives and personalities are very different from mine.  I love getting inside the heads of these characters who help me to see the world from a completely different perspective.  This is why I love David Levithan’s books so much.  His characters are very real and always stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.  David’s latest book, written with Nina LaCour, takes us inside the head of two lovesick teens, a gay boy, Mark and a lesbian girl, Kate, and their friendship that comes along at exactly the right time.

9781925355529Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

I loved You Know Me Well but I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to Mark and Kate.  I carried them around with me everywhere while I was reading their stories and I kept hoping that they were going to get everything that they wanted.  It’s a story about friendship, love, discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person.

Mark is gay and everyone knows this.  He’s in love with his best friend Ryan, and the two of them have fooled around plenty of times in the past.  Ryan, though, doesn’t seem ready for the world to know he’s gay and certainly doesn’t see himself as Mark’s boyfriend.  Things get complicated when Ryan hooks up with a guy in a bar and starts a relationship with him.  Onto the scene comes Kate, a girl in Mark’s class who he has never talked to.  Kate is running away from the chance to finally meet the girl of her dreams.  Mark and Kate get talking and realise that they have found the friend they didn’t know they needed.  They help each other to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

It always amazes me how well dual-author books work.  The two different characters and perspectives, written by these two fantastic authors, weave perfectly together.  You really get inside Mark and Kate’s heads, feeling all of their insecurities, their heartbreaks, as well as their hopes for the future.

David and Nina show you how tough life is  for LGBTQ teens as they figure out who they are, while at the same time showing you that they have the same problems as straight teens, especially when it comes to finding love. Although the story centres on a gay and a lesbian teen it’s ultimately about being proud of who you are, no matter what your sexual orientation.

I know that Mark and Kate are only fictional characters but I wish that I could check in on them from time to time and see where their lives have taken them.  Grab a copy of You Know Me Well and get to know them yourself.

 

 

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Guest Author – Juliet Jacka on Frankie Potts

Juliet Jacka is the author of the fantastic new Frankie Potts series, about an inquisitive girl detective.  The series is full of excitement, adventure and lots of fun.  You can read my review of Juliet’s new series here on the blog.

Juliet has very kindly written a special guest post for My Best Friends Are Books all about her Frankie Potts series and how it came to life.

How to turn five crazy words into a book

My new chapter-book series about Frankie Potts, amateur detective, and her clever dog Sparkplug burst into life thanks to an exercise I did at a writing course. Our teacher asked us to string together a bunch of unrelated words into some sort of story.

I wish I could remember exactly what those five words were. But I’ve lost the bit of paper. Although I think they might have been something like:

Jam
Spectacles
Bobbydazzler
Slater
Apricot

Or possibly something else altogether. The point being, those five crazy words made my brain crank and whir, as it tried to string those horribly unrelated things together into some sort of something … and when I tried that out popped the character Frankie Potts.

Although, initially, she was a he — Arty Potts — until my story grew and changed after I fell in love with Arty … then Frankie … and started turning the 500 word exercise into a fully fledged book.

So, why don’t you give it a go? You might surprise yourself and accidentally write a book. All you need to do is pick five words, then try and smoosh them up together somehow into a 500 word story.

If you’re after crazy five-word inspiration, give these ones a go (they’re from my first two Frankie books, out now).

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries

Dirigible
Skateboard
Tattoo
Circus
Dog

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar

Skull
Borneo
Python
Gobstopper
Kangaroo

Now go get crazy word story writing!

Find out more about me and my books.

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School Holiday Mystery Giveaway

The school holidays are here and there is nothing better to pass the time than curl up with a good book.  It might be cold and wet outside but you can open a book and journey to somewhere warmer and make new friends along the way.

mystery-box

You can get your hands on a FREE book to enjoy in the school holidays.  The catch is you don’t know what you’re going to get!  I’m giving away some mystery kids and YA books, you just have to let me know whether you want kids or YA.

Thanks to everyone who entered. The winners are Kerry, Jessie, Lynley, Di, Jeanna, Debbie and Stacey. Enjoy your mystery reads.

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Interview with Mark Smith about The Road to Winter

Mark Smith is the author of the amazing new YA book, The Road to Winter.  I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population. Check out my review here.

I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Mark about The Road to Winter.  Read on to find out what he couldn’t live without, what inspired him to write The Road to Winter and what books you should read next if you like his book.

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  • What inspired you to write The Road to Winter?

The Road To Winter (TRTW) evolved from a short story I wrote in 2013, entitled Breathing In and Out. When I decided to turn it into a novel I was determined to write a page turner that would engage younger and older readers alike. It is largely an adventure story told through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy – but it touches on a number of very relevant issues, including conflict, attitudes to violence, relationships, loyalty and the treatment of asylum seekers.

  • The Road to Winter is set in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out a significant part of the population.  Would you survive if you were in Finn’s position?

I’d like to think I would! The advice when writing is to “write what you know” and Finn’s understanding of the environment – and how to survive in it – is largely my own. He hunts, fishes, grows veggies and trades food. I think the hardest test Finn faces is the isolation – which, of course, is broken when Rose arrives in town in need of his help.

  • What is one thing that you absolutely couldn’t live without?

Coffee! I actually thought of weaving that idea into the story somewhere but it didn’t make the cut. When you are creating a dystopia there are lots of these decisions you need to make – what’s still there and what’s not. In TRTW though, I deliberately didn’t take a lot of time to explain the dystopia because I wanted it to be a character driven novel, rather than one dealing just with the consequences of living in a post-apocalyptic world.

  • Finn has his dog Rowdy but who would you want by your side if you were in Finn’s situation?

Finn feels the loss of his family very deeply and I certainly would too. If I were forced to survive in a world like his, I’d want my family there with me to help!

  • What is your favourite survival story and why?

As an outdoor education teacher I’m a huge fan of adventure non-fiction. I consume books about survival in extreme circumstances – Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void. Simpson’s story is an incredible tales of survival. I’d also recommend the account of Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey of survival in Antarctica in 1914 and Tim Cope’s On The Trail of Genghis Khan.

  • The Road to Winter is your first book.  How was your road to publication?

By 2014 I’d had more than twenty short stories published in magazines, journals, anthologies and newspapers in Australia. I learned my craft as a short story writer but I always wanted to write a novel. It took me 18 months to get the manuscript of TRTW ready to submit to a publisher. I chose Text because they have a strong reputation for supporting new writers. They loved the manuscript and offered me a three book deal. The sequel to TRTW is due for release in May 2017. I know the road to publication is a long and difficult one for most writers and I am incredibly thankful that mine was relatively smooth – but, in the end, it’s the quality of the writing that will decide whether your work is published or not.

  • The Road to Winter is marketed as YA but it has the look of a gritty adult thriller.  Did you write it for a particular audience or just because you wanted to tell this story?

It’s a really good question! I didn’t consciously write a YA novel – I wanted to tell a particular story in a particular way – through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy. I do think that we often categorise books by their protagonist rather than by what the story is saying and whom it may appeal to. I think TRTW will crossover into the adult reading market very easily – and Text have printed it in trade paperback format to encourage that. As you say too, it has the look of a gritty adult book – again, the cover design being part of the crossover appeal.

  • What other books would you recommend for fans of The Road to Winter?

In writing TRTW I was influenced by reading a number of books – some obvious, some less so. The obvious ones are John Marsden’s Tomorrow series and The Ellie Chronicles. But I also enjoyed The Dog Stars (US) by Peter Heller, Clade by James Bradley and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

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The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Sometimes you get that feeling when you start reading a book that you know you are going to love it.  Something about it, whether the characters or the tone of the story just clicks with you.  Mark Smith’s debut novel, The Road to Winter, is one of those books for me.

9781925355123Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population.  There’s lots of action and twists to keep you reading, but there are also some lulls in the action that give you a chance to breath and prepare yourself for the next part.  It’s a story that I couldn’t stop thinking about either.  When I wasn’t reading I was wondering what was happening to the characters and how the book was going to end.

Finn’s story takes place in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out a huge percentage of the population.  The virus affected females mostly so it is mostly males that have survived.  Gangs of men, called Wilders, wander the countryside and control the north where Finn lives.  With a lack of females around to keep them in check these men have lost their humanity and have become violent and ruthless.  You certainly don’t want to bump into them!  Finn has hidden himself away in his house, with a secret store of food, gas, and other supplies, and he and his dog, Rowdy, have survived by themselves fine.  However, when Rose turns up, she brings trouble to Finn’s door and his quiet life is disturbed.  Being the kind of guy that he is though, Finn has to help Rose, both to help her hide and recover and to help her find her sister, Kas.

The Road to Winter reminded me of other books that I’ve really enjoyed, including one of my favourite books, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go.  The tone of the book felt quite similar, as Finn has to try and help the girls escape the clutches of the violent men who want to harm them.  There is the suspense of them evading capture but not really knowing if they’ll be able to outrun them.  The other similarity to The Knife of Never Letting Go that I really liked was the relationship that Finn has with his dog Rowdy.  Rowdy is his constant companion and is incredibly loyal, much like Todd and Manchee.  The story also reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because it’s all about Finn’s survival on his own, becoming aware of the land and the ocean to find hidden trails to get around and hunt for food.

I loved Mark’s characters too, especially Finn.  While the other males have lost their humanity, Finn has held onto his and leaves the safety of his home to go out and try to find Rose’s sister.  He cares for the girls and is willing to do anything he can to protect them and keep them alive.  I loved the special moments of hope that Finn shared with the females in the story.  Even with everything that was happening to them they still managed to laugh and enjoy having full stomachs.

My only complaint with The Road to Winter is that now I have to wait to find out what happens next.  I need to know what happens to these characters and whether they can find some peace eventually.  The book comes with a money back guarantee but you are certainly guaranteed a great read and I highly recommend The Road to Winter.

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