Category Archives: writing

The Magic of Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favourite authors.  He has written hundreds of stories now and they always leave a lasting impression on you.  He is an incredibly gifted storyteller who knows just how to grab the reader.  There are two new Michael Morpurgo books out just in time for Christmas and they will make lovely gifts for any reader, both young and old.

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The Fox and the Ghost King (published by HarperCollins) is a wonderful little story with something for everyone.  There are foxes, football and a ghost.  The story follows a family of foxes who love to watch football.  Their favourite team, the Leincester City Foxes, keeps losing and losing and it seems like things will never look up.  One night though as they are heading home they hear a ghostly voice and they discover the ghost of a king who has been buried underneath a car park.  The ghost king promises the foxes that if they help him, he will help their favourite football team to win again.  This is a book that is perfect to share with the whole family as it is short and will grab everyone’s attention.  I loved this little story and will come back to it again.

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Such Stuff: a story-maker’s inspiration (published by Walker Books) is the perfect gift for any Michael Morpurgo fan.  This gorgeous hardback book is packed full of information about Michael’s most memorable stories.  Michael introduces his stories, telling you where he got the inspiration for each of them.  This is then followed by an extract from the story and some of the facts from the story too.  Reading this book makes you feel like you are sitting down in front of the fire with Michael as he tells you his stories personally.   With every part that I read I felt that I fell more in love with Michael’s writing and his stories became more ingrained in my mind.  Finding out where the inspiration for the stories came from made me desperate to go back and read them all over again.  By the end of the book I felt completely wrapped up in his stories.  It’s a book that I will dip into again and again.

This book is a family effort.  Not only are there parts written by Michael Morpurgo about his work, but Michael’s wife Clare, his brother Mark (who came up with the idea for the book) and Michael’s long-time collaborator, Michael Foreman, all helped to create this treasure trove of a book.  Such Stuff is a must-buy for any Michael Morpurgo fan.

 

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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 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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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 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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