Category Archives: author interview

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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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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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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Guest Post: Peter Millett on Johnny Danger

Peter Millett is the author of the funny, action-packed secret agent series, Johnny Danger.  So far there are two books in the series, D.I.Y. Spy and Lie Another Day.  With the third book, Spy Borg, being released in September Peter wants to give readers a special preview of the cover.  Peter joins me today to talk about why he created the Johnny Danger series and gives us a sneak peak of the Spy Borg cover.

 

Johnny Danger is turning into one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on in my career as a children’s author.

I’ve created the series with two audiences in mind: students and teachers. Firstly, students aged 8 – 12 years will enjoy the slapstick comedy, outrageous pranks, spectacular action sequences and unpredictable story twists that Johnny Danger and Penelope Pounds experience as teen spies working for MI6. Secondly, teachers and parents will appreciate the fun I am poking at the James Bond spy series and enjoy the subtle sense of hidden humour that is at play in the background. I am an eternal prankster and I have purposely littered the book with all sorts of comedy traps to catch readers of all ages off-guard.

My wife has taught Year 6 students for over 20 years and I am more than aware that teachers re-read certain stories in their classrooms each year and that they want these stories to maintain a fresh and energetic feel over multiple readings. The Johnny Danger series has been created for such purposes.

The comedy is broad and will appeal equally to both boys and girls. I’ve gone to great lengths to construct well-planned plots that end satisfactorily and unexpectedly. I’ve also made sure that the scatological humour used in the books doesn’t overtake the storytelling.

Additionally, books one and two contain DIY spy codes that can be emulated in the classroom by students. The first book uses humorous anagrams as the basis of an intricate software hacking system, and the second book uses upside down calculator spelling words to hide vital codes. Both these DIY codes can be created by student readers with everyday school or household resources.

We live in an increasingly multimedia-orientated world and I have decided to embrace a number of new technologies to help connect readers with the Johnny Danger series.

The digital trailer for book one “DIY Spy” uses state-of-the-art 2D animation to project the spirit of the main character:

The trailer for book two ‘Lie Another Day” uses a mixture of live-action footage and green screen technologies to display the off-the-wall comedic moments of the book as well as hinting at the plot:

 

Finally I made an appearance on national television so that readers could hear first-hand what they were in for if they read Johnny Danger.

I hope the Johnny Danger series is remembered as one of the funniest sets of children’s books ever to be released down under. I also hope that reluctant readers find them a gateway to discovering a love of comedy fiction.

As a ‘special feature’ to this blog I’m including the world premiere of the cover of book three “Spy Borg”.

Book 3

(Please note that this blog will self-destruct in five minutes time!)

Pete

 

You can find me on:

Website www.petermillett.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PeterMillettBooks/

Twitter: @petermillett

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Interview with M.G. Leonard about Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard is one of my favourite books so far this year.  I got the chance to interview M.G. Leonard for Christchurch City Libraries.  You can read my review of Beetle Boy here on the blog and follow the link to check out the interview.

Interview with M.G. Leonard about Beetle Boy

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Interview with Em Bailey

Em Bailey is an award-winning Australian author.  Her previous book, Shift was the winner of the 2012 Gold Inky Award for best Australian YA novel and was selected as a notable book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.  Em’s new YA novel, The Special Ones is an incredibly exciting, twisty, nail-biting read.  You can read my review of The Special Ones here on the blog.

The Special Ones is one of those books that I can’t get out of my head.  I had a few questions that I was dying to ask Em and she has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out her inspiration for the book, what it was like to go inside the head of a psychopath and what draws her to writing for teens.

Special Ones

  • What inspired you to write The Special Ones?

I’ve always been interested in the psychology of cults: what sort of person becomes a cult leader, the people who are drawn to them, what happens when someone attempts to leave. I knew I wanted to write something about this theme and I started thinking about how modern technology might affect the way a traditional commune-style cult operated. I began imagining a situation where someone was able to control and manipulate a group, in the way that cult leaders traditionally always have, but without needing to be physically present.

  • Which of The Special Ones are you most like?

‘Him’? No, not really! I don’t think I’m very much like any of the girls, although I guess certain aspects of Esther’s personality are like mine but she is much tougher and far more determined than I am. I like to write about characters who make mistakes and do dumb things – sometimes even really bad things – because I think it’s still completely possible to have empathy for them. A number of people have told me that they really dislike Lucille in The Special Ones, but I must admit to having a soft spot for her. She’s put through a very traumatic series of events after all, and a lot of her complaints about Esther seem justified to me.

  • Is the cottage in the book based on an actual place?

The farmhouse isn’t based on a particular building, it’s more a composite of many. I started planning The Special Ones while driving through South Australia with my family. I spent a lot of time looking out the window at the dry landscape and noticing the abandoned, ramshackle old stone farmhouses here and there. It’s that kind of environment that I picture for The Special Ones and I imagined the girls being imprisoned in one of those solid old buildings.

  • You take readers inside the head of a psychopath in The Special Ones. Did you have to prepare yourself to get into character when writing these parts?

It was difficult, and exhausting, to be in ‘his’ head. I would be working on a passage and realise that I was writing it from a normal person’s perspective, with typical, human reactions to things. I would then have to stop myself and think ‘but how would a psychopath view this situation?’ I read Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test book as part of my research and I had a list of psychopathic characteristics stuck up beside my desk which I used to refer to as a way of keeping myself on track. It wasn’t very pleasant. I would often find myself frowning or clenching my teeth as I was writing from his viewpoint. It was always such a relief to flip back into ‘Esther-mode’.

  • Apart from ‘him’ in your story who is the most evil, twisted character from a book or movie that you’ve come across?

I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary books and movies (yes, it’s ironic I know) so I’m probably not the best person to answer this. I did however read a lot of non-fiction accounts of cults while preparing for this book and it was amazing to notice the similarity between the various cult leaders. They share such an unswerving belief in their own greatness and a complete disregard for the rights of anyone else. Because they lack the ability to feel empathy the suffering they inflict on others has no effect on them whatsoever. It’s chilling to read about people like this because it’s clear they genuinely don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong.

  • How did the story come together? Did you know how it was going to end?

Nutting out the plot was a very long process. I knew basically how I wanted to resolve things, but it took a lot of work to get the details right. I think I re-wrote the entire second half at least four times. It was painful at the time, but ultimately it was necessary for getting the storyline to follow a course that felt right to me.

  • What do you love most about writing for teens?

Writing for teens is great because there’s so much scope. The YA genre is so broad now that you can really go in any direction you want and explore a wide variety of themes. I’m drawn to writing plot-dense stories and this works well with teen literature. I think of my books as being escapist but hopefully also reasonably substantial, theme-wise. Teens read a lot more widely and with a greater level of sophistication than they did in my day, so there is also the challenge of writing something which will meet with their approval.

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Interview with Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge is the author of many great books for kids, including the Penelope Tredwell books Twelve Minutes to Midnight, Shadows of the Silver Screen and The Black Crow Conspiracy.  Christopher’s latest book is the out-of-this-world, inter-dimensional adventure The Many Worlds of Albie Bright.  I absolutely love this book and you can read my review here on the blog.

I had some questions about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright that I wanted to ask Christopher and he has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out if bananas are indeed radioactive, which Back to the Future film is Christopher’s favourite, and what’s the coolest thing that he has ever built.

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  • What inspired you to write The Many Worlds of Albie Bright?

Lots of things! One of the sparks was a popular science book I read called How To Destroy The Universe And 34 Other Really Interesting Uses of Physics. It described cancer as a ‘quantum killer’ and explained how this disease is caused by a single-cell in your body mutating and going rogue. This got me thinking about the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics which suggests that quantum events might happen in one universe but not a parallel universe, so I had the idea of a boy who might have lost his mother to cancer and how he might try to use quantum physics to find the parallel universe where she is still alive. From this spark I slowly built the story and thought about the different parallel worlds the boy might find and how his life might be subtly different in each one. When friends asked what I was writing, I told them it was like It’s A Wonderful Life, but with added quantum physics!

  • One of the things I love about your book is that there is lots of science in it. Did you have to do lots of research?

Back when I was at school, I got a grade D for GCSE Physics – so I’m not any kind of science whiz! But as an adult I’ve become fascinated by the wonders of the universe as expertly explained by scientists such as Brian Cox, Jim Al-Khalili, Michio Kaku and Brian Greene. The American physicist Richard Feynman once said, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics”, but thanks to a huge pile of books in my office by these and other expert authors, I’ve been able to pretend that I understand a little more than I did before I started writing The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. It was important to me that all the science mentioned in the book was real and accurately described, so I had the manuscript checked by a friend who’s a Professor of Particle Physics and also works at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Luckily he said it passed the test!

  • Are bananas really radioactive?

Amazingly, YES! All bananas contain potassium which is a natural source of radioactivity. This means that if you’re standing next to the fruit bowl in your kitchen and it’s got a banana in it, then every second you’ve got a chance of being blasted with a gamma ray of radioactivity. Don’t worry this is completely safe and won’t turn you into a radioactive banana-eating superhero! However, large shipments of bananas have been known to trigger false alarms when they pass through radiation monitors at ports and airports!

  • Albie uses just a computer, a Geiger counter, a cardboard box and a banana to travel between dimensions. What is the coolest thing you’ve ever built?

A Tusken Raider from Star Wars using toilet rolls and cardboard boxes!

  • Back to the Future gets a couple of mentions in your book. It’s obviously a favourite of yours (who can blame you?). Which movie is your favourite?

The first Back to the Future is obviously the best. In some ways I wish they’d have kept it at just one film as it’s just so perfect from start to finish, whereas I don’t feel that way about the second and third films. Having said that I do like the fact that in one of the parallel universes that Albie visits in the book there’s a cinema showing Back to the Future IV…

  • If you could travel to a different dimension what is one difference that you would like to see and one that you wouldn’t like to see?

Difference that I’d like to see: greater equality. Difference that I wouldn’t like to see: a universe where libraries no longer exist. #savelibraries!

  • What’s the thing you enjoy most about writing stories for young readers?

It’s funny, I spoke about this at the end of an interview I gave to Front Row on BBC Radio 4 and said that one of the things I like best about writing stories for young readers is that you have a fearless audience. Young readers aren’t a jaded audience – they’re an audience with high expectations, who will go with you anywhere if you can deliver on giving them a great story. And it’s a real honour to write for an audience like that.

To find out more about Christopher Edge and his books visit his website, www.christopheredge.co.uk.

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Sylvie the Second Blog Tour

Kaeli Baker is the author of Sylvie the Second, a story of identity, family, friendships both good and bad, and choices that can affect the rest of your life. It is a stand-out debut YA novel from a wonderful new local author.  You can read my review here on the blog.

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Today I’m joined by Kaeli as part of her blog tour for Sylive the Second.  Sisters play an important part in Sylvie the Second so I asked Kaeli if she could write a post about her Top 5 sisters in fiction.  Read on to find out who they are.

My Top 5 Sisters in Fiction

The relationship between sisters, or even siblings in general, has always been a source of huge fascination for me. I’m an only child and the idea of growing up with someone close to my age, who shares DNA and bits and pieces of my parents – the same unruly hair, or the same crooked teeth – who sleeps in the room next door and argues over whose job it is to do the dishes, is so foreign to me.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise then, that I’ve always loved reading about sisters in fiction. Here are five of my favourites…

Kristy Thomas & Karen Brewer

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The Babysitters Club Little Sister series, by Ann M. Martin

Kristy and Karen are stepsisters with a close and reliable bond. I had always wanted a big sister, and it interested me that two people could become sisters without blood ties. Karen admires Kristy and wants to be just like her. Kristy is the pinnacle of big sisterhood, providing help and advice to Karen when she needs it.

Pat & Isabel O’Sullivan

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The St Clare’s Series, by Enid Blyton

Identical twins at a boarding school in England! My kid brain went wild over Pat and Isabel and the antics at St Clare’s. Their adventures kept me endlessly entertained – everything from midnight feasts to sneaking out, to pretending to be each other and tricking the teachers, which is obviously the biggest benefit of having an identical twin.

Kate & Anna Fitzgerald

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My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

The complexity in this relationship is what I love most. The dilemma of being Anna – the girl born to save her sister, and Anna – a teenage girl with rights. The confusing tangle of love, duty and freedom. As you get further into the story it becomes clear that both girls are capable of selflessness, and care for each other deeply even when it’s messy.

Bellatrix LeStrange & Narcissa Malfoy

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The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

Two sisters heavily involved in the world of dark arts. One evil to the core, one…maybe not so much. The relationship between Bellatrix and Narcissa is strong – they even call each other Bella and Cissy. United in the web of a complicated family with fierce loyalties, eventually they find that their devotions take them in different directions.

Judy Woolcot and her whole entire family

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The Seven Little Australians series, by Ethel Turner

Judy Woolcot is my favourite sister of all time. I was obsessed with these books. I wanted Judy to be my sister.

‘She had a small, eager, freckled face, with very bright dark eyes, a small, determined mouth, and a mane of untidy, curly dark hair that was the trial of her life.

Without doubt she was the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest.’

Mischievous Judy is close to all of her siblings. In the end it becomes clear just how much she is willing to give up for them.

 

That sums up my top five! Thanks so much to Zac for letting me share his space on the interweb, and I hope you enjoy Sylvie the Second.

Kaeli

Make sure you visit msblairrecommends.blogspot.co.nz tomorrow for the last stop on the Sylvie the Second Blog Tour.

 

sylvie-cover-copyWin a copy of Sylvie the Second!

Thanks to Makaro Press I have a copy of Sylvie the Second to give away.

To get in the draw for a copy of Sylvie the Second by Kaeli Baker simply email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Sylvie the Second,’ along with your name and address.

Competition closes Wednesday 23 March (NZ only).

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Interview with Maria Gill

Maria Gill is one of our queens of children’s nonfiction in NZ.  She has written some fantastic books for all ages and on many different topics, from dogs to Kiwi and volcanoes to politics.  Some of Maria’s most recent books have profiled remarkable Kiwis from all walks of life.  In Maria’s latest book, Anzac Heroes, she tells the stories of the triumphs and tragedies of 30 heroic Australasians during World Wars One and Two.

I had a few questions about Anzac Heroes and Maria Gill kindly offered to answer them for me.  Maria talks about some of the extraordinary men and women she discovered while writing her book and the collaboration process with Marco Ivancic.  Thanks for joining me Maria!

  • Who is the ANZAC that fascinated you the most?

Hard to pin down to one. Charlie Upham, perhaps. Not just for his bravery on the field – he sacrificed his life many times for his men and the Anzac army – but also, for his tenaciousness at trying to escape prisoner of war camps eight times! When he came back to New Zealand, locals had fundraised and bought him a farm to thank for his service to his country. He refused it. As far as he was concerned, unless they were going to give a farm to all the soldiers, he wasn’t going to be singled out for a gift. Australian Joice Loch was another.

anzac-heroes

  • Did you have a personal connection with any of the heroes in your book?

None of the heroes are relatives or friends’ relatives. However, Albert Knight’s story touched me personally. It was very difficult finding any information about Aboriginal soldier Albert Knight. I only found two sentences online about his life. There were no archived newspaper stories about him. Sadly Aboriginal soldier stories have gone unreported. I had to find his family and speak to them. I only had his surname and the town he was born in over 120 years ago. I rang many phone numbers until I found a family member. That person put me on another family member, and they told me to ring another. Between Albert’s relatives, I pieced together his life story. There was a lovely outcome that came out of talking to his family – read his story to find out.

  • How did you choose the heroes to be featured in your book?

First I had to define ‘what is a hero’. Then I had criteria. I wanted Army, Navy, and Air Force servicemen. They had to have a range of jobs within those military forces and fight in different places so that I was covering as many of the wartime arenas as possible. Next I wanted four indigenous soldiers: two Aboriginal and two Maori. Lastly, I wanted to include women. Women couldn’t fight in the two wars, but the five women I chose were incredibly brave while operating in the war zones as ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, rescuing refugees or as a spy. It means there aren’t just Anzac soldiers in the book, but in the Introduction, I say why I included all the others.

  • We hear so much about the male heroes but your book also features some incredible female heroes.  Can you tell us a little about one of these amazing women?

Dr. Jessie Scott was a young doctor from Canterbury. When she received a personal invitation from the Scottish Women’s Hospital to work in Europe – she caught the first boat out. She had been working in a hospital close to the frontline when the Austrians then Germans invaded Serbia. She and the other doctors decided not to desert their patients. Instead, they stayed. The Germans crammed Jessie and the other nurses and doctors into a train carriage with little food or water. For several weeks, they were taken from one country to the next while the American Red Cross negotiated with the Germans for their release. When they arrived back in London and Jessie was interviewed about her ordeal, she perkily said the Germans had treated them well, and they had enjoyed the scenery. They had only eaten once a day, slept on straw, and the Germans had taken most of their possessions off them. Jessie’s story didn’t end there, though…

  • What was your collaboration process like for this book? Did you work closely with Marco Ivancic?

I worked closely with the illustrator and designer of the book. For Marco, I took photographs at museums in Australia and New Zealand so he could use them for photo reference when drawing the pictures.  I also spent a day with an Army re-enactment group and took photographs of them doing a drill, acting out a war scene, and holding different guns. They kindly stood still in poses while I took photographs of them at all angles. Marco had asked for close-ups of details on their clothing, how they held a gun and expressions on their faces. The re-enactment group even stood in formation so Marco could see the stance and angles for the front cover illustration. For designer Luke Kelly I gathered different maps of Europe during WWI and WWII and marked in battle zones. I also found all the medals for the heroes, and for the medal page. Sometimes I could not get the real medals that belonged to that hero so had to line single medal images up in order and send to Luke. Luke, Jack Hayes (New Zealand military expert) and I put a lot of work into those medals! I also collaborated with different experts, museums, and Creative NZ enabled it to happen with their grant.

  • What does ANZAC Day mean to you? How do you celebrate it?

I believe Anzac Day recognises not only the sacrifice men and women made during the different wars but also the kinship between Australia and New Zealand while fighting. Common themes that resonated throughout the different Australian and New Zealand stories were their comradeship, incredible bravery, modesty, and down-to-earthness. Leaders fought with their men instead of sitting in their offices. It shows how alike Australians and New Zealanders are, compared to other nationalities.

I’m going to attend my first Anzac Day dawn parade this year. I have to confess my only interest, before writing this book, was in reading war stories. I love adventure stories where the hero survives at incredible odds. Most of the heroes in ‘Anzac Heroes’ fit that category.

anzac-heroes

Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic is available now from Scholastic New Zealand.

 

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Interview with Glenda Millard

Today I’m joined by Glenda Millard, author of the amazing new YA book, The Stars at Oktober Bend.  Glenda’s book, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, is one of my favourite books and I was very eager to read her latest book.  It is an absolutely amazing story with unforgettable characters (you can read my review here).

Check out my interview with Glenda to hear about her inspiration for The Stars at Oktober Bend, why she wrote her story in the way that she did, and her haunting characters.

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FRONT COVER (20 October 2015)

  • What inspired you to write The Stars at Oktober Bend?
My strong point as a writer is certainly not planning! I usually begin writing with a singular idea and develop it as I go. The initial idea for ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’ came from a brief newspaper article about a homeless girl who sang and in doing so had earned herself a scholarship to study music at a prestigious conservatorium.
 So I began writing with the vague notion of telling the story of someone who sang as a means of escaping a traumatic past. But as often happens, once the characters began to evolve and further information came to hand, my story changed direction.
One of the bigger impacts on the change of direction for ‘The Stars at October Bend’ was that my daughter was studying for her Masters in Speech Pathology and I became aware of language disorders, their causes and effects. That led me to thinking about what it would be like to be unimpaired intellectually, but to struggle with expressing ideas verbally.
  • Your characters really got under my skin and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  Do they still haunt you?

Literary characters have to live and breathe for me. I have to be totally engaged with them and believe in them otherwise I can’t imagine how other people will. I feel the same as a reader – if I have no emotional connection with the characters, then it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, there is nothing to keep me motivated to read. So I suppose the answer to your question is ‘yes’ because I think of the characters as  living people for so long, that it’s hard to forget them once the book is finished.

  • What is your secret to creating memorable, relatable characters?

I’m not sure I can tell you the answer to that. I imagine that creating a literary character and acting the part of one in a play or movie might be similar in some ways. I only know that I have to try to feel what my characters feel and then express it in a way that readers will relate to – not only in an intellectual way, but an emotional one.

  • Joey is the sort of brother that all sisters would want.  Do you have a brother like Joey?

I don’t have any brothers, but I invented one who I hoped would seem plausible – Joey with all his human faults and foibles, but staunchly loyal and faithful.

  • You use both prose and verse to tell Alice’s story.  Why did you decide to do this?

I used prose, verse, lower case letters and minimal punctuation as an acknowledgement of the difficulty Alice had in explaining longer, more complex thoughts in single sentences.  As Alice herself says, she began by writing lists, these developed into verse and then as the story progresses, so too does Alice’s ability to communicate more complex, cohesive thoughts. One of the things Alice and I love about verse is that each line can give a small foretaste of what is to come – a kind of prompt or reminder. So for Alice, verse became an aide to expression, something that helped her string longer passages of thought together in small bites.

  • You write picture books, books for younger readers and teens.  Do you have a favourite age to write for?

Anyone who can read! The age of the reader is in some ways irrelevant to me. Even when I write picture books, I don’t presume that only children will read them. I am always looking for the best way to tell my story, so that whoever reads it will enjoy it for some reason or other. Perhaps the story itself or simply the way it is told. Each genre has its own challenges and pleasures. Picture books, for example, generally demand very concise writing. For me, writing across a broad range, from picture books through to novels is a way of keeping my writing fresh and not allowing myself to get too comfortable or predictable.

  • Who are your rock-star authors?

Among the many on my list, David Almond, a UK writer, has been for many, many years, my rock-star author. My not-so-secret wish is to have David endorse one of my books!  In Australia, I am a great admirer of Ursula Dubosarsky’s beautiful writing and have had the privilege of meeting her on a number of occasions.

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