Category Archives: young adult

Interview with Helen Vivienne Fletcher, author of Broken Silence

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

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  • What inspired you to write Broken Silence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Who are your favourite authors?

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

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Broken Silence by Helen Vivienne Fletcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Top September Kids & YA Releases – Part 2

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The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away? Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. Their only communication is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone.

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Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

“Don’t you wish,” said the small rhinoceros, “that you could see the world?” And so begins this delightful picture book by award-winning creators Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Once, there was a small rhinoceros who wanted to see the big world. So she built a boat. And sailed away … From the duo behind award-winning picture book No Bears comes a simple yet inspirational tale about challenging the norm, pushing boundaries and being true to oneself.

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I Want to be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien

Monster wants to be in a scary story – but is he brave enough? Scary stories have creepy witches and creaky stairs and dark hallways and spooky shadows… Oh my goodness me! That is very scary. Maybe, a funny story would be better after all?

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Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott and Melissa Sweet

Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. Then, quite unexpectedly, a third sheep shows up. A funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance: the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

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On the Night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond

Bunny and Dog live on opposite sides of the fence. No one says hello. Or hi. But on the night of the shooting star, two doors open… From bestselling author Amy Hest and illustrator Jenni Desmond comes a charming picture book about loneliness and making friends.

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His Royal Tinyness by Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts

Marianna, the most beautiful, ever so kindest princess, lives happily with her mum, dad and gerbil. Happy, that is, until the new baby comes along. His Royal Highness King Baby is so smelly. He’s so noisy. And all the talk in the Land is about him – non-stop, All the time! Has there everbeen such a time of wicked rule?!

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Crazy About Cats by Owen Davey

Did you know that the fishing cat has partially webbed paws for catching fish? Or that pumas can leap up over 5 metres into trees? There are roughly 38 species of cats today, each one superbly adapted to their environment – whether that be in the rainforest or the desert!

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The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson

The cold bites and the sea lashes in this adventure on the ice seas. Ten-year-old Siri must counter the treachery of sailors, hungry wolves, frozen landscapes and a mine where children are enslaved, to save her younger sister from the dreaded ice sea pirates.

 

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My Top September Kids & YA Releases – Part 1

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The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

After crashing hundreds of miles from civilisation in the Amazon rainforest, Fred, Con, Lila and Max are utterly alone and in grave danger. They have no food, no water and no chance of being rescued. But they are alive and they have hope. As they negotiate the wild jungle they begin to find signs that something – someone – has been there before them. Could there possibly be a way out after all?

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Because You Love to Hate Me edited by Ameriie

This unique YA anthology presents classic and original fairy tales from the villain’s point of view. The book’s unconventional structure–thirteen of the most influential booktubers on YouTube join forces (writing-prompt style) with thirteen acclaimed and bestselling authors–gives these mysterious, oft-misunderstood individuals characters a chance to tell their stories, their way.

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Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Cos people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.

Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think.

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What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

A very special, spooky story from Dr. Seuss – with glow-in-the-dark ink!

Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
Wth nobody inside them!

Turn out the lights and say hello to Dr. Seuss’s spookiest character… the pair of empty trousers, with nobody inside them!
First published as part of The Sneetches and Other Stories collection, this all-time favourite story of Dr. Seuss’s is now published on its own in this very special edition with a glow-in-the-dark finale!

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Birthday Boy by David Baddiel

This is the story of Sam Green, who really, really, really loves birthdays. He loves the special breakfasts in bed. The presents. The themed parties. Blowing out the candles on his cake. Everything. He is so excited about his 11th birthday, in fact, that he wishes it was his birthday every day.

So, at first, it’s quite exciting when his birthday happens again the next morning. And again. And again. And again…

But it’s not long before things start to go wrong. Soon, disaster strikes, threatening something Sam loves even more than birthdays. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

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The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald

This is a book about a bad seed. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad Do you really want to know

He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself, and decides that he wants to be-happy.

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Whimsy & Woe by Rebecca McRitchie and Sonia Kretschmar

After being abandoned by their thespian parents one afternoon while playing their weekly family game of hide-and-seek, Whimsy and Woe Mordaunt are left in the care of their austere Aunt Apoline.

Forced to work in her boarding house, looking after the guests, sharpening the thorns of every plant in the poisonous plant garden and listening to off-key renditions of ‘Fish Are Friends Too’ – an aria made famous by the legendary Magnus Montgomery – Whimsy and Woe lose all hope that their parents will someday return. Until one day, quite by accident, the siblings stumble upon a half-charred letter that sets them on a course to freedom and finding their parents.

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A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying refugees. Her people. Fourteen years on she’s a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them: A bamboo flute. A golden band. A ripening mango which must not fall . . . if Sante is to tell their story and her own.

 

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Ink by Alice Broadway

Imagine that you live in a world where every significant moment in your life is tattooed on your skin.  When you are named at birth your name is tattooed on your wrist, your family tree is tattooed on your back, and any successes or failures are recorded on your skin for anyone to see.  When you die your skin is flayed from your body and made in to a book so that your ancestors will remember you.  However, you are only allowed to be remembered once you are judged and your soul found to be clean.  If you are found to not be a good person your book is burned and you are forgotten.  This is the world in which Leora lives in in Alice Broadway’s fantastic new YA book, Ink.

9781407172842Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever.

When Leora’s father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life.

But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all.

Ink is a gripping dystopian story of a girl whose life has been a lie. It’s also a book about wanting to live forever through the memories of our ancestors.  There is a belief in Leora’s world that only those who have lived worthy lives will be remembered and people will go to any lengths to ensure this.  I was hooked from the very first page and Alice kept me guessing the whole way. The stunning cover was the main reason why I picked this book up as the bronze foil design made me want to find out what the book was about.

Alice Broadway has created a world that is intriguing and enchanting.  It is a world that is held together by the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.  These stories, that are woven in to Leora’s story, are based on fairy tales that have been manipulated to serve the purposes of the government.  In Leora’s world there are those that have been marked by their stories and those who choose to remain blank.  These Blanks have been banished but it is believed that they are trying to sneak back in to society to spy and ultimately to start a war.  Everyone in Leora’s world has a certain job, including inkers, flayers and government workers, and it is Leora’s dream to be an inker.  Just as her dream becomes a reality Leora’s world starts to unravel, leaving her unsure who to trust.

Ink is the perfect book for those readers who have read the Hunger Games, Divergent, and Flawed series and want something similar.  I think it is even suitable for Year 7 and 8 as there is nothing in the book that makes it inappropriate for this age group.  Although the book comes to (what I considered) a satisfying end there is certainly the possibility to delve deeper in to this world, and Alice says on her website that Ink is the first book in the The Skin Books Trilogy.

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Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

I loved Cecelia Ahern’s debut YA novel, Flawed.  It was fast-paced, tense and the ending left you wanting more.  After a year long wait the sequel and finale, Perfect, is finally here and it had me on the edge of my seat.

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Celestine North lives in a society that demands perfection. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone.

Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with the complicated, powerfully attractive Carrick, the only person she can trust. But Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save only herself, or risk her life to save all the Flawed. And, most important of all, can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?

Perfect is the sequel that I hoped for.  It is thrilling, tense, action-packed, and twisty.  Celestine is forever on the run and you just know that she could be caught at any stage.  Celestine’s grandfather tells her to trust no one and she certainly finds this out throughout the course of the book.  There are those who want to help but know they need to cover their backs, those who seem trustworthy but blame Celestine for messing up their lives, and there are those who are willing to do anything to bring her down and silence her.  Celestine and her fellow Flawed find themselves in some situations that could blow up at any moment.

I have really enjoyed seeing Celestine’s character evolve, from the girl who had everything to the girl who had nothing.  She went through so much and became so strong.  Although she didn’t want to be the ‘face’ of the Flawed she took a stand for their rights and did everything she could to try to bring the system down.

In a market full of trilogies it was great to read a story that is just told in two books.  Although there were a couple of places where there was a lull in the action I felt that overall everything was covered in the two books.  By the end I felt that everything was resolved and that there is hope for the future.  Celestine’s story is set in Humming, which is only a small part of the world, so I am curious to see if Cecelia Ahern will return to this world and show us a different part.  Humming was supposed to be the test of the Flawed system but are there other places in the world who have a similar system that they adopted?

Several of the Year 7/8 girls at my school absolutely loved Flawed and are dying to get ahold of Perfect.  This second book gets a little steamy at one stage but would still be fine for good intermediate age readers, especially the girls.  Celestine is sure to be another strong female character, like Katniss, that readers will love.

 

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Lonesome When You Go Blog Tour – Interview with Saradha Koirala

Saradha Koirala is the author of the wonderful Lonesome When You Go, a YA novel that follows Paige and her high school rock band in the lead up to Rockfest.  To help spread the word about Saradha’s book, her publisher, Makaro Press has set up a blog tour.  I’m very pleased to be part of the Lonesome When You Go blog tour and today I get to share my interview that I did with Saradha about her book.  Thanks for joining me Saradha!

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  • What inspired you to write Lonesome When You Go?

I was on a train heading out to Johnsonville to see my brother and his oldest friend and just started thinking about when we all played in a band together in high school and what an excellent and tumultuous time that was in the midst of all the other dramas that those years can throw at you.

I wrote the briefest idea out on a scrap of paper there and then and talked to them about it when I arrived. We had a good old reminisce!

Our high school band’s rise and fall was pretty ordinary really and I wanted the story to be much more dramatic than that. It was a chance to revisit that time but I also ended up amalgamating a bunch of different high school experiences – as student and teacher – and a whole lot of rock and roll times, real and imagined. It seemed like a fun concept and it did turn out to be a lot of fun to write.

Being a high school teacher lent itself quite naturally to wanting to write for teenagers too, and I had an idea of what I thought some of the young women I’d been teaching might want to read about – a cool rock chick who isn’t fixated on a mysterious sparkly boy!

  • What are the songs that shaped teenage you?

I spent a lot of my early teen years listening to whatever I could find in the house, which was mostly popular tunes from the 60, 70s and 80s. It wasn’t until people started giving me mixed tapes and I could buy my own CDs that I really saw how music could change my views of self and shape my teenage identity.

Radiohead, Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, Stone Temple Pilots and Shihad were often on high rotation in my CD player. Music is much easier to access these days, but back then I really got to know the few albums I owned inside out! I would analyse the lyrics, read the liner notes, talk to my friends about them, sing along and all that.

I really think those bands of the mid-nineties tapped into a collective feeling that teenagers hadn’t been able to vocalise yet. They gave us permission to feel moody and outraged, while also acknowledging the sweetness we desired from the world. But it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, so maybe that’s Paige talking.

  • What genre of music best sums up your life?

Some days I would say it’s been a bittersweet folk album in the vein of Joni Mitchel’s Blue, but mostly I like to look at life as an Indie pop band full of cheesy catchy lyrics, bright colourful beats and frivolous synthesizers.

If Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan could write a soundtrack for the novel then everything in the world would make sense to me!

Actually I say that because I think he’s a master of creating story and character in very few words, but his music probably isn’t quite garage rock enough to capture the rock and roll aspect of the book.

So in that case, I’d say The Pixies. I kind of had The Pixies in the back of my mind as I described Vox Pop playing and I think they’re just an incredible band with a totally kick-ass bass player.

  • What is the most important lesson that you learned from being in a band?

Because I tend to be quite a self-sufficient person and my favourite things to do (writing and reading) are largely solo tasks, I think playing in bands taught me how to be part of something beyond myself. I never really played team sports, but was always in school orchestras, choirs, chamber music groups and, later on, rock bands.

In all those groups we had competitions to work towards, tours to organise, performances in front of sometimes many, but often very small audiences, rehearsals to get to on time and other band members to consider when making decisions and playing. It isn’t enough to just learn your part well and play it through, you really need to tap into what everyone else is doing and how they’re going, what they need and how what you’re doing affects all of that.

  • As well as being the author of Lonesome When You Go you’re also a poet.  Is the process of writing a novel similar to writing poetry for you?

They’re really very different processes for me and I’ve continued to do both simultaneously since finishing Lonesome. I enjoy being able to shift between the different forms.

When writing a novel I find I can set myself much more tangible goals – 1000 words a day, complete a particular scene etc. It’s a more continuous process too, as you’re developing and building on what you wrote last time and thinking about where you left your characters and what might happen to them next. With a novel there’s a lot of planning involved (for me, anyway) and behind the scenes stuff that helps inform my picture of the characters and their world.

I find poetry more difficult to describe in terms of a process as I’m less systematic about it. The poems come from everywhere and sometimes when I least expect them. I find I need to be open to poetry’s own schedule rather than try and force out a number of lines a day or give myself a deadline to complete something. Poetry doesn’t have to stay within a certain world or voice either, so there’s less need for continuity or meeting reader expectations.

The crafting process is probably similar for both. I think you need to be able to look at the world in a certain way to be a poet, and it’s a way of seeing the world that I really value.

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My Summer in Verse

I’ve had the chance to catch up on loads of books over the summer school holidays, which has been so great.  One of the books that I had wanted to read for a while was Kwame Alexander’s Booked.  I’d heard so many good things about this book and I had it on reserve at my public library for ages.

Not only was Booked totally brilliant, it also got me hooked on verse novels, a way of telling a story that I had previously thought wasn’t for me.  Kwame Alexander’s Booked opened up this door for me.  I loved the way that Kwame’s characters came alive using such few words.  Booked is about football and The Crossover is about basketball and, even though I’m not a sporty person, I loved the way that Kwame weaved the gameplay in with family issues, friendship and girl problems.  I especially enjoyed Booked because there is a really cool librarian called Mr Mac who always talks about books with Nick and keeps trying to give him books to read. I highly recommend both of Kwame’s books for Year 7 and up, especially boys who are super sporty but don’t really like to read.  These books might just switch them on.  I think boys would find them especially appealing because each of the poems is short so there isn’t too much reading.

Here are the verse novels that I have enjoyed recently and completely recommend.  Paper Hearts and Coaltown Jesus are aimed at teens but the others are perfect for ages 8+:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

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Booked by Kwame Alexander

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER,  soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

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Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

“I guess it does
look like a poem
when you see it
typed up
like that.”

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments — and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

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Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech

February 25

Today the fat black cat
up in the tree by the bus stop
dropped a nut on my head
thunk
and when I yelled at it
that fat black cat said
Murr-mee-urrr
in a
nasty
spiteful
way.

I hate that cat.

This is the story of
Jack
words
sounds
silence
teacher
and cat.

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Moo by Sharon Creech

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

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Apple Sauce Weather by Helen Frost

When the first apple falls from the tree, Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather, even though Peter is getting a little old for such things. It also means Uncle Arthur should be here to tell his stories, with a twinkle in his eye as he spins tales about how he came to have a missing finger. But this is the first year without Aunt Lucy, and when Uncle Arthur arrives, there’s no twinkle to be found and no stories waiting to be told. Faith is certain, though, that with a little love and patience, she and Peter might finally learn the truth about that missing finger. Paired with warm, expressive illustrations by Amy June Bates, this heartfelt tale by award-winning poet Helen Frost highlights the strength of family and the power of a good story.

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Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

(This was one of the verse novels mentioned in Kwame Alexander’s Booked so I had to read this one.  It is heart-breaking but so wonderful!)

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Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

A novel in verse, Paper Hearts is the story of survivial, defiance, and friendship. Based on historical events about a group of girls who were slave laborers at the munitions factory in Auschwitz.

(This is a story of the holocaust unlike any I have read before.  Telling this story in verse somehow makes it more powerful)

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Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge

Walker shouldn’t have been so surprised to find Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. After all, he’d prayed for whoever was up there to help him, and to help his mom, who hadn’t stopped crying since Noah died two months ago. But since when have prayers actually been answered? And since when has Jesus been so . . . irreverent?

But as astounding as Jesus’ sudden appearance is, it’s going to take more than divine intervention for Walker to come to terms with his brother’s sudden death. Why would God take seventeen-year-old Noah when half of the residents in his mom’s nursing home were waiting to die? And why would he send Jesus to Coaltown, Illinois, to pick up the pieces?

 

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Filed under books, children's fiction, poetry, young adult, young adult fiction

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

Reality television shows are made about just about anything these days. You can watch people survive on an island, housewives fight with each other or follow the exploits of a group of Kiwis on the Gold Coast, from wherever you are in the world. However, would you watch a man dying of a brain tumour as his family crumbles around him? Len Vlahos’ amazing new book, Life in a Fishbowl, shows us exactly what life would be like for a family in this situation.

32604250Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever…

I absolutely loved this incredibly powerful story!  Like a reality TV show, Life in a Fishbowl is addictive and entertaining, but this book will also make you stop and ponder the issues that it deals with.  What lengths would you go to to provide for your family if you only had 4 months to live?  How would you feel if someone you loved was dying and you couldn’t grieve in peace? How would you cope with people who want to twist and edit your words and feelings just to make better TV?  If the person you love asked you to help them die would you do it?

Like the house that the family Stone live in, with it’s multiple cameras and multiple points of view, Len Vlahos gives us many different perspectives of Jared Stone’s situation.  I feel that these different points of view set this book apart from your average YA read.  You get the perspective of Jackie, one of the teenage daughter’s of Jared, who is struggling to deal with her father’s illness and the constant cameras that follow her everywhere in the house.  However, you also get the perspective of Jared himself (who is quickly loosing his memories and control of who he is), the ruthless TV producer Ethan (who will do almost anything to keep his show running), Sister Benedict (a nun who wants to save Jared but has questionable morals) and Sherman Kingsborough (an immature millionaire who believes that money can give him everything he wants).  Then there is my favourite perspective of the book, Glio, the anthropomorphized glioblastoma multiforme (or brain tumour).  You watch as Glio gobbles up Jared’s memories with glee, giving you a taste of family life before Glio came along.  Glio becomes more and more adventurous and hungry for experiences as the book progresses, which ultimately means the deterioration of Jared.

Like any reality TV show you there are moments where you will be biting your nails, screaming at the characters, laughing with glee as a character you hate gets what is coming to them, and ultimately wanting to binge the whole book until you’ve reached the end. Rush out and grab Life in a Fishbowl now!

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The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Like many of the books on my shelves The Bombs That Brought Us Together has been sitting on my shelf for a while just waiting for the chance for me to pick it up.  I’ve spent the last month reading through my TBR pile and this book shot straight to the top when I heard that it had won the Costa Book Award.  I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it because it is a brilliant book.

9781408855744Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will…

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is an atmospheric, tense, utterly unique read that made me smile one minute and bite my nails the next.  I was absolutely captivated by this story and the characters that Brian has brought to life.  It is clear to see why this book won the Costa Book Award.
Brian Conaghan portrays life in a war-zone and a time of unrest with honesty and with heart. You see what the day-to-day reality is for Charlie, with rationing, curfews and beatings, and you see the fear that his parents live with.  Charlie tells us about the reality of life after the bombs when he shares his list of things he did before the bombs came, including ‘got really bored because Little Town had a lack of teenage things to do.’ You also see what life is like for refugees like Pav, those people that are forced out of the country and the lives that they knew into a place where they are hated and made to do horrible jobs just to survive.  Brian also shows us the friendship and hope that exists too, even with everything else that is happening.
The way in which Brian has portrayed the war between Little Town and Old Country is brilliant.  The conflict between Little Town and Old Country bears striking similarities to wars all over the world.  There are rebels that have taken Little Town as their own and they run the place as they see fit, but Old Country wants to take Little Town back and so they invade with their bombs and their soldiers.  Pav and his family are refugees from Old Country who are now living in Little Town and they are persecuted, especially when the Old Country troops invade.  Little Town is run by The Big Man and his Rascals.  It is when Charlie and Pav get themselves involved with The Big Man that the real trouble starts.
It was Charlie’s voice that grabbed me from the first page and made me want to keep reading.  As the story is narrated by Charlie you really get inside his head and go through all of his dilemmas and the events of the story right with him.  You feel him changing as the story progresses and hope that he is going to make the right choices.  You know how much he wants to protect his family and Pav and that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.  Things get especially tense towards the end of the book and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is one of those stories that I’m still thinking about days after finishing it.  Charlie and Pav will stay with me and I’ll wonder what they are getting up to.  I loved Brian’s writing so much that I want to go and hunt down his first book, When Mr Dog Bites, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next book (with Sarah Crossan) called We Come Apart.
Recommended for 13+ (definitely a YA read).

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Filed under book awards, books, war, young adult, young adult fiction