Tag Archives: Guest Post

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Lesley Gibbes

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Lesley Gibbes, author of the award-winning book, Scary Night.  Lesley joins me on My Best Friends Are Books today to talk about her spooky picture book.

There’s no denying, I love all things scary! When I was a child I loved a good scare and nothing was scarier than the darkness of night. There’s something so deliciously terrifying about noises in the dark made by things you can’t see. My imagination would run wild and I loved it!

So of course, my first picture book just had to be set in the dead of the night when anything can happen. And in SCARY NIGHT when three friends, Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel set out on a mysterious night-time journey all sorts of scary things happen. Close your eyes and imagine snapping crocodiles, roaring bears, mountain cliff tops, graveyards, bats, spiders, castle ruins and rats. Are you brave enough to join the journey and find out just where the three friends are going? Go on, you won’t believe the surprise!

SCARY NIGHT has just the right amount of scare to give your kids a thrill with a reassuring ending that’s sure to have everyone celebrating. It was awarded Honour Book, by the Children’s Book Council of Australia for Early Childhood Book of the Year 2015 and is the perfect book for Halloween this October!

SCARY NIGHT written by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Working Title Press 2014. CBCA Honour Book 2015 Early Childhood Book of the Year. Shortlisted Speech Pathology Australia, Book of the Year (3-5 years) 2015.  You can visit Lesley Gibbes at www.lesleygibbes.com

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Gareth P. Jones

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Gareth P. Jones, author of my favourite funny book about ghosts, Constable and Toop, and the forthcoming Death and Ice Cream.  Gareth talks about why he loves writing about death.  Thanks for joining me Gareth!

“Honestly, Gareth, why do you have to write about death?”

My new novel (published by Hotkey Books) comes out January 2016, and I already know that my mum won’t like it because of its title. It is called Death or Ice Cream?

“Why can’t you write a nice book like Little Women?” she says.

“I think because I was born a hundred years too late,” I reply. “Also, I’ve not read it but I have seen that episode of Friends about it and I’m pretty sure someone does die in it. Beth possibly?”

“Black Beauty then.”

“I’m not massively keen on horses.”

My mum’s real question is: “Why do you have to write about death?”

Firstly, I should explain that I don’t only write about death. I have three series of books (Ninja Meerkats, The Dragon Detective Agency and The Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates) in which the vast majority of the characters make it to the end. I have also written the text for two picture books, (The Dinosaurs are Having a Party and Are You the Pirate Captain?) which are very light on the subject of mortality.

But when it comes to writing my standalone novels, I am often drawn to the subject of death. The Thornthwaite Inheritance is about a pair of twins trying to kill each other, The Considine Curse begins with a funeral, and Constable & Toop is a Victorian ghost story named after a real undertakers.

It was the real Constable and Toop that sparked the idea for my new book, Death or Ice Cream? I follow them on Twitter (sure, why wouldn’t an undertakers have a twitter account?) and they put up a link to an article called 500 Ways To Say Dead about all the euphemisms we use for dying (kick the bucket, push up the daisies, fall asleep, bite the bullet, pop your clogs etc.) It got me thinking about why we have such a long list of ways to express the one thing that will definitely affect us all. The answer is that death is something we are scared of so we use language to soften its impact. We try to make it sound funnier, gentler… more temporary. But, if Dumbledore has taught us nothing else, it is that fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.

“Yes, Gareth.” This is my mum again. “But you write children’s books. Why can’t you be more like that nice Beatrix Potter or Enid Blyton?”

Over the nine years I have been a published author, I have visited hundreds of schools and met thousands of children. I have observed that these children have not yet learned to fear death but they are fascinated by it. And literature allows us to consider subjects in a way that is engaging, satisfying and, above all else, entertaining. So whether it’s war, religion, prejudice, sex or death, books help us explore these tricky subjects in a unique – and rather wonderful – way.

Anyway, my new book isn’t just about death. My favourite thing about being a children’s author (rather than – say – a crime writer or a purveyor of historical fiction) is the freedom to employ different genres and draw upon a variety of influences to tell my stories. As my publishers will tell you, Death or Ice Cream? is a difficult book to describe but I’ll have a go anyway. Death or Ice Cream? is a selection of dark morality tales, closely interwoven and all set in the same fictional town of Larkin Mills. While the characters change from story to story, the book has an underlying theme about the duality of the daily choices we are forced to make. Let me try that again. It’s about god and the devil and why religion forces us to make a choice between them. It’s also about domestic sharks, concrete sculptures, dodgem cars, corrupt politicians, evil doctors, the Roman empire, the dangers of archeology, zombies, the art of making television, alien landings, death and ice cream.

Oh and if you’re thinking that the question Death or Ice Cream? is a no-brainer, then I should point out that it is not really a choice at all.

After all, you can choose never to have an ice cream.

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

Death or Ice Cream? is published January 2016 by Hot Key books.

You can read my review of Gareth’s Constable and Toop here on the blog.

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Guest Author: Barbara Else on The Queen and the Nobody Boy

I’m very lucky today to be joined by New Zealand author Barbara Else.  As well as writing novels for adults and editing several short story collections for children, Barbara is the author of the magical adventure stories set in the land of Fontania, The Traveling Restaurant and The Queen and the Nobody Boy.  Barbara has written a wonderful post all about The Queen and the Nobody Boy and her wonderful new character, Hodie.

 

When you start work on a new story, usually you decide on the main character at once. But sometimes you might find your first choice isn’t the right one. It’s perfectly ok to change your mind.

This happened to me with my latest novel the second tale of Fontania, The Queen and the Nobody Boy. The obvious choice for main character was the Queen.  In the first tale, her brother has a series of adventures when he turns twelve. I thought that when she turned twelve, little Sibilla would have adventures of her own.  Because I didn’t want to simply repeat the same sort of story, I came up with the ‘nobody boy’ Hodie, who is the odd-job boy at the Grand Palace. I thought that I would use him as the main character for some sections and Sibilla in others.  The technical way to put this is, I would use two point of view characters.

Being a queen, Sibilla has some big problems – people gossip about her and keep expecting her to do great things. That can be very hard for a person to cope with. But when I wrote about her in her point of view she sometimes sounded too sugary (argh!). Sometimes she sounded like a spoiled brat (double argh!). I also worried that because she’s already a queen, readers might have thought, What does she have to complain about? Did I think she was sugary or a spoiled brat? Definitely not. But writing from her point of view didn’t show her in the right way.

For me, the passion and grip of story come from the troubled heart of the character. In his sections of the story Hodie was working well as a character in this way. So I rewrote the whole story in his point of view, in his thoughts, in the way he sees everything (even though it is 3rd person). Through his eyes, Sibilla began to shine. She became more interesting and much braver.  She became more vulnerable and charming in her own often very funny way. The whole story raced on much more smoothly.  That’s part of the fun of writing – gradually figuring the best way to tell your stories.

You can read my review of The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

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Guest Author: Why I Read (And Write) Scary Books by Will Hill

Will Hill is the author of one of my favourite books of 2011, Department 19.  The sequel, Department 19: The Rising came out earlier this year and was even better.  To celebrate the release of The Rising, Will Hill wrote this fantastic guest post about why he reads (and writes) scary books.  Since it’s nearly Halloween I thought I’d re-post it. Enjoy his post and make sure you grab the Department 19 books for some seriously creepy, gory and action-packed reading.

When I was about 12 I was so scared by Stephen King’s It that I slept with the light on, having placed the book, a beautiful old library hardback with a terrifying oil-painted amusement park clown on the cover, in the middle of my bedroom floor where I could keep an eye on it.

It was the prologue that did it.

George Denbrough chases a paper boat down the flooded streets of his hometown, until he loses it down an overflowing drain. A drain in which he finds a friendly, charming clown. A clown that suddenly changes shape and pulls George’s arm off at the shoulder, leaving him to bleed to death in the rain and the rushing water.

That was it for me.

Not only was it the moment when I closed that particular book and asked my mum to take it back to the library for me, as I was too scared to touch the thing myself, but it was also when I first understood the power that certain books can possess. The power to scare you silly.

I wrote Department 19 because I wanted to tell a story, about an ordinary boy called Jamie Carpenter who is thrown into an extraordinary world where he is forced to sink or swim, where he finds out who he really is. But I’ll be totally honest – I wanted to scare readers as well. Not because I’m mean, or vicious, or some kind of sadist, but because I think that books have a unique quality that I wanted to take advantage of – how scary they are is limited only by the power of the reader’s imagination.

I can describe the vampires in Department 19 in as much detail as I choose, but the picture of them that appears in one reader’s head is still going to be very different to that in someone else’s. In films and TV, the monsters, the villains, the frightening and scary things, are fully formed and shown, decisions that the director and the makeup department have made and then presented to you, whole. That doesn’t mean they can’t be scary, not at all – The Exorcist, The Omen, the original A Nightmare On Elm Street, all scared the hell out of me when I was younger than I am now. But they’re a communal experience, where everyone who sees them sees the same thing.

Books are different. With books, it’s just the words on the page and the power of your own mind. It’s personal.

When I was a teenager, I went straight from reading children’s books to reading Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Herbert etc. My mother, who always encouraged me to read, and who would regularly bring me horror paperbacks home from the second-hand shops near where we lived, even though she didn’t really approve of them, would often ask me “Why do you read all that horrible stuff?” She still asks me that question, but now she also adds “How can you think of the horrible stuff you write?” I didn’t have an answer for her when I was younger, but I think I understand it a bit better now.

I loved (and still love) horror because nothing makes you feel more alive than staring into the darkness and confronting the things that scare you.

It’s placing yourself in harm’s way, without actually taking any physical risk. It’s like being on a rollercoaster – you know full well that it’s safe, you know that nothing genuinely bad is going to happen to you, but your heart is still pounding, your palms are still clammy, and you’re still wearing that slightly hysterical grin that is meant to show you’re not scared, but in fact gives you away completely. And while the ride may be horrible, may be a terrible, gut-churning ordeal that you never, ever, ever want to do again, when you get off at the other end, your legs wobbling and your face pale, the sensation of being alive, of having survived, is wonderful. It’s adrenaline and it’s probably mild hysteria, but ultimately it’s the primal, joyous sense of being alive.

That’s what scary books did for me.

Still do.

You can confront terrible things, evils both great and small, violence and pain and anguish and loss, and you can do it all from the comfort of your favourite chair, or lying in bed with a lamp on, the one that’s light doesn’t quite reach the corners of the room, the dark corners where things can hide, and wait. And if it gets too much, you can simply close the book, and come back to the real world for a while.

For some reason, the human brain seems to contain a tendency towards the masochistic; it’s the bit of your mind that looks at the rollercoaster tracks and thinks it can see cracks in the metal, that looks at the dog being walked innocently in the park and imagines it suddenly accelerating towards you, its jaws wide, foam frothing from its mouth. This is the bit of our brains that give horror its power. And it’s why I still read scary books, and why I write them. Because I love the thought of tapping into something primal, of experiencing something visceral.

Because being scared is good.

It’s one of the ways that you know you’re alive.

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Guest Author: Glenn Wood talks about The Brain Sucker

When I first came up with the idea for ‘The Brain Sucker’ it was quite different.  For a start it wasn’t called “The Brain Sucker’, it was called ‘The Manners Thief’.  This was an idea I’d been mulling over ever since I’d seen a really badly behaved kid running riot at my local supermarket (‘The frozen pea thrower’ was another working title).   It was as if the child had no manners at all and I wondered if someone had stolen them.  Then I started to notice more badly behaved children and decided there was definitely a manners thief on the loose.

From there I had to work out just how the manners were stolen and I came up with the idea of a villain who sucked the manners straight out of children’s heads for his own nefarious purposes.  Clearly he needed a machine that would do this and the brain sucking machine was born.

Now I had an idea and a villain with an evil plan.  Next I needed someone to stop him and I knew that would need to be someone who was really polite and not scared of a challenge.  Callum formed quickly as did his disability because it automatically made him a kid used to adversity with plenty of guts and determination.  Once I knew Callum would be in a wheelchair it opened up lots of possibilities for his friend Sophie to exercise her crazy inventive mind to ‘trick it out’.

Jinx was a character I’d been thinking about for some time.  I love the idea of the world’s unluckiest boy and he is based on me as a kid (and many would argue, as an adult).  I’ve always been accident prone and susceptible to bad luck.  He was easy to write!

Once the story was written my very smart publisher and editor asked if we could have the machine sucking more than just manners out of the kids – it would be much more evil if Lester sucked the goodness out of them.  I agreed and ‘the Brain Sucker’ started to take shape.

Writing Lester and his dumb but dangerous henchmen Darryl and Parson was lots of fun.  Lester is clearly insane but he’s also a twisted genius, my favourite kind of villain!  His plans are grandiose and a bit far farfetched, but I love evil doers who think on a grand scale, which is why I have always loved the villains in James Bond films!

My top five kid’s villains in no particular order would be:

  • Voldemort (of course)
  • Scar (The Lion King)
  • Megamind (best comic villain)
  • Principal Agatha Trunchbull (Roald Dahl’s Matilda)
  • Count Olaf

You can win a signed copy of Glenn’s fantastic book, The Brain Sucker, right here on the blog.  Check out the competition post and tell me about your world domination plan to get in the draw.

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Guest Post: Catherine Bruton on Pop! Part 2

It’s my pleasure today to host Catherine Bruton, author of Young Adult novels We Can Be Heroes and, her latest book, Pop!  Catherine has written a couple of fantastic posts for me about how Suzanne Collins pipped her at the post and how Pop! came to be.  Thanks Catherine!

 

I guess ‘Pop!’ is a bit like my previous book ‘We Can be Heroes’ in that it’s silly and madcap and bonkers but underneath all that it’s actually dealing with some pretty serious  issues. The whole reason my main characters enter ‘Pop to the Top’ is  because  it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives – or maybe a way to help them forget all that. A strike is dividing the community; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy; and if that happens he’ll lose custody of Elfie and her baby brother too. Winning the prize money  is Elfie’s last chance to save her family.

But she needs Agnes if she’s going to do it. If Elfie is the brains behind the operation, Agnes is the talent. The only problem is that the  girls’ families are on opposite sides of the strikers/scab divide. Agnes’s family are under attack and ostracized by the whole community so going along with Elfie’s crazy plan is  the only way any one will actually talk to her  (not in public mind you – like Elfie said, this is strictly business and totally top secret!)

Then there’s Jimmy. Sweet, long-suffering Jimmy who’s been in love with Agnes since they were eight years old. Jimmy’s got his own problems: his dad wants him to be an Olympic swimmer. He reckons everyone should have a dream and this is Jimmy’s apparently. Only sometimes it feels like he’s only doing it to keep his dad happy – and now his dad talking about crossing the picket line to  pay for Jimmy’s training and Jimmy has to stop him.

Jimmy  gets dragged  into Elfie’s ‘Pop to the Top!’ plan because – well, basically because he does whatever Elfie tells him to do – it’s just easier that way.  Even if it does mean posing as the teen father of her lovechild and pretending to be in  love triangle with Agnes and Elfie – which he sort of is anyway  ( not that he is EVER going to admit that to anyone – especially not Elfie!)

Of course I had to watch my step writing  about Talent TV.  My original judging panel line up  for ‘Pop to the Top!’ would have got me sued by Mr Cowell and Co! And  the minute I changed my lead judge to a North West Pop Legend who’d headed up a Uber-famous boy band in the 90s  what goes and happens? Gary Barlow  only gets the top spot at the X Factor. So, can I do that disclaimer bit you always see on films: ‘Any similarity to real event and people is purely coincidence etc etc!’ Cos I love Gary, me! Despite how it might seem when you read the book!

It was a character from George Orwell’s novel who spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the first ever Reality TV show. And now  Reality TV is feeding right back into fiction and shaping the way contemporary authors are writing.  From ‘The Hunger Games’ and the  ‘The Running Man’ to novels like ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ ,‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’, ‘L. A. Candy’ ‘Strictly Shimmer’ – and loads more – see my list below – Reality TV is such an integral part of our culture that it’s hardly surprising that it should be a topic of interest to contemporary novelists.

And I might be a Talent TV addict, but  that doesn’t mean I don’ t think it needs to be mocked  a little – OK, more than a little! Or maybe the’ ‘Rules of Talent TV’ that head up every chapter of ‘Pop!’ really are  a fool-proof recipe for Talent TV success – perhaps someone should  follow them all and see! Only it won’t be me cos I really, really, really can’t sing! And I don’t have any talent really – oh, except writing, obviously (I think  I’m meant to say that aren’t I or no one will read my books!)

Anyway,  I guess I’m OK with not writing ‘The Hunger Games’.  I mean, thank goodness Suzanne Collins did cos they totally rock (I read all three in four days and barely ate, slept or spoke to my children whilst doing so).  But  I’m so indecisive I’d never have decided between Pet and Gale  and I’m so squeamish no one would actually have ever died in the arena. And  most importantly,   what would I have worn to all those film  premieres? I just don’t have the shoes! So perhaps I’m glad I wrote ‘Pop!’ instead. Which is not to say I would mind if any lovely film buff came knocking on my door … in fact, I think it’d make a cracking film you know … call me anytime, Mr Spielberg!

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Guest Post: Catherine Bruton on Pop! Part 1

It’s my pleasure today to host Catherine Bruton, author of Young Adult novels We Can Be Heroes and, her latest book, Pop!  Catherine has written a couple of fantastic posts for me about how Suzanne Collins pipped her at the post and how Pop! came to be.  Thanks Catherine!

Why I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’  – or how Reality TV and the novel have been getting it on for years!

I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’! No,  seriously,  it should have been me!   Suzanne Collins – Schmollins.  I should be topping those best seller lists and tripping down the red carpet to film premieres (although I haven’t a thing to wear!)  Cos  it was my idea, you know!  Well, sort of… I mean, I totally… practically… well almost thought of exactly the similar-ish plot.

OK, here’s how it was:  I’d been reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ whilst watching ‘The X Factor’  (yes, at the same time – I know, weird)  and I thought,  ‘Oooh! I should write a novel about a reality TV show where the contestants have to kill each other.’  I got a little way into plotting it too  (I have the notes in an old ideas book which I unearthed recently  in order to prove myself that I had basically written a best seller – sort of) but  then I remembered that I don’t much like blood. Or gory bits in books. Or killing off my characters really. And I’m rubbish at writing dystopian fiction.  And that’s as far as it got.

Only it didn’t – not really. Cos The Reality TV bit stayed with me, nagged at me – in that way certain plot lines tend to do. I think  it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who said that some plots  hunt you down, relentlessly   – like a predator, on your tail night and day until you get them onto paper. And that’s what this one did for me.  And as it went along it got muddled up with a load of other stuff:  oil refinery strikes and  kids with Olympic dreams and ‘Shameless’  and ‘Billy Elliot’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ via  Richard Armitage (him from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) and ‘Glee’ and my sister making me pierce her ear with a fish-finger and my friends and I starting a girl band when we were seven  (we made dresses out of bin-liners) …  and somehow my ‘Hunger Games’ turned into a totally different novel which  eventually became ‘Pop!’ It’s still about Reality TV  – after  all it was the perfect cover for my BGT/ X Factor obsession – and it’s even got a love triangle but more it’s more  ‘Millions’ than ‘Mockinjay’. Less murder and more mayhem and madness , basically!

Cos I might be a bit too much of an optimist to  write dystopia but I do love a bit of Talent TV. OK I admit it – I’m a Talent TV addict. In fact some of the key moments of my life I associate with Talent TV. Novels got me through childbirth (yes, seriously: ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ for child no 1 – it was a long labour – and ‘Wives and Daughters’ for child no. 2 – I still haven’t finished it!) but  ‘Pop Idol 2003’ (and ‘Pop Idol Extra’) got me through the new baby sleepless nights phase and ‘BGT’ was there for me the day  my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Stavros Flatley – better than Valium. God bless those little chubby river-dancers!

And I’m going to go  out on a limb here and declare that the editors of shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today.  Yes, storytellers. Think of those perfect narrative arcs they script for the characters (sorry contestants); the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides;  the butterfly from the cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; the tearjerking  goodbyes and the edge-of-you-seat grand finales. It’s fictional gold dust!

Yes, there’s an element to which the editors have to relinquish control of their scripts to the voting public, but if you ask me that’s just a bit like one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ adventures – you know the ones you read when you were a kid (if you were a kid in the eighties, like me!) where you get a choice what to do at the end of each chapter. But the thing was that no matter what you chose they’d scripted a possible outcome for you – just like they’ve got every possible ending lined up in the Talent TV the edit suite, ready to roll out when the phone lines close. Honestly, those Talent TV bods know how to write a good story – and that’s what gets me hooked every time!

But I wanted to invent a kid who could see the narrative clichés of Talent TV and set out to exploit them. So my main character, Elfie Baguley, reckons she knows the ‘Rules of Talent TV’  inside out.   Her  useless –good-for-nothing mum is celeb obsessed  – and she watches so much Fame TV Elfie’s sussed out the ‘winning formula’.   So when she and her mates decide the only way to sort out their rubbish lives is to enter ‘Pop to the Top!’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised –  version of The X Factor’!)   Elfie knows exactly how to ensure they get all the way to final – and if that means making up the odd whopping great lie and landing her best mates in a whole load of trouble along the way then  what can you do?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Catherine’s guest post tomorrow.  Pop! is out now in NZ so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.

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Guest Post: David Hill and Fifi Colston on The Red Poppy

This year there are a bumper crop of books about New Zealand’s involvement in war being published to coincide with Anzac Day on April 25.  The Red Poppy is one of them that really stands out for me because of it’s well-told story by David Hill and it’s stunning illustrations by Fifi Colston.  It’s a story full of tension, but ultimately about the friendship between enemies and the loyalty and bravery of one little dog.

I asked both David and Fifi if they would be able to tell me a little about their book and what it meant to them:

David Hill

The Red Poppy is a senior picture book which tells the story of a young soldier in a terrifying battle on the Western Front in France, during World War 1. Jim McLeod and his battalion have to attack across the open ground, into the face of artillery and machine-gun fire from the German trenches. With them goes the little black messenger dog, Nipper, whose job is to carry back requests for help, to save wounded men. As they charge across the open ground, past a place where red poppies grow among the shattered trees and buildings, Jim is hit by a bullet. He falls into a deep shell-hole, at the bottom of which lies a wounded German soldier. What happens between the two men, and the part played by Nipper in trying to save them, is the rest of the story.

I’ve dedicated my part in The Red Poppy to my uncles who fought in both World Wars. Their stories of the great battles and the courage of soldiers fascinated me from when I was a kid, and finally I had the chance to honour them in a story. Mud and huge guns and fear and the red poppies that have become the symbol of Anzac Day are all in this book.

Fifi Colston

My husband’s grandfather Rothwell, wrote postcards to his fiancé Hilda, from 1914-1918. Particularly poignant were two from France; they said simply “Am O.K” and “Keep smiling!” I was in the process of scanning and blogging these cards for the family (http://wartimepostcards.blogspot.co.nz/) when Scholastic asked me if I would look at a very special story to illustrate. I had decided some time ago that the next book I illustrated had to really mean something to me on a very personal level. Illustrating a book is a labour of love and I wanted to make a body of work that would enthrall me and push me to produce as excellent work as I could. For that I’d need to relate to the story; it had to move me. Then I read David’s manuscript. Jim’s letter home never mentioning the horrors of the trenches struck an immediate chord with me; those cheerful words from a young man, disguising the reality of his situation. Rothwell did come home from France to be a husband and father, but was far from ‘o.k’; dying just a few short years later from the cruel ravages of his war experience. Illustrating this book has been a journey through his time for me. I visited war museums, studied WW1 uniform, grew red poppies, photographed mud and rubbed chalk pastel until my fingers bled. I have learned much and my artwork is a tribute to him. It’s been a real pleasure working with David, Diana and Penny at Scholastic and Penny Newman the brilliant book designer who created the vision with me.

 

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Guest Author: Michael Pryor on The Extinction Gambit

It’s exciting to begin a new series. It’s like taking a first step through a secret door leading to places unknown with tantalising prospect of adventure awaiting. The release of ‘The Extinction Gambit’, the first book of ‘The Extraordinaires’, is just like that.

I also have a strange sensation that comes from leaving a series behind. In May 2011, ‘Hour of Need’ – the last book of ‘The Laws of Magic’ – was published. I’d worked on this series for more than eight years, and having it finally coming to an end was most peculiar. I’d lived with those characters for a long time, after all. I’d worked with them, I’d known their hopes, their dreams, their fears – and they’d been very patient with me as I subjected them to the bizarre, the dangerous and the embarrassing. Waving goodbye to them was sad. It was as if they were leaving home, going off and having more adventures and I wouldn’t be there to write about them.

And so, to ‘The Extinction Gambit’. Like ‘The Laws of Magic’, this new series is set in a world that is delightfully old-fashioned. It’s a world of manners and decorum, of society and class, of being dreadfully proper – and of some of the most stylish clothes you’re ever likely to see. Top hats anyone? Gorgeous lace? Silk capes and gloves?

Unlike ‘The Laws of Magic’, ‘The Extinction Gambit’ isn’t set in an alternative Edwardian world. It’s set fairly and squarely in London in 1908 – the time of the first London Olympic Games. The Olympics form the backdrop to a dizzying adventure that mostly takes place in the Demimonde, mysterious world that lies side by side with the ordinary world. The Demimonde is a world of magic, of lost legends and of sinister plots, of inhabitants who are startling, shadowy and highly unpredictable.

The main characters in ‘The Extinction Gambit’ are Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens. Kingsley is a young man, seventeen years old, who has decided to put his studies to one side and pursue a life in the theatre. He has always had a dream to be a stage magician. More than that, he wants to be an escapologist, one of that special breed of magician who escapes from handcuffs, from locked trunks, from straitjackets suspended over a pit of crocodiles. At his first ever professional engagement he meets Evadne Stephens, an astonishingly beautiful, outstandingly talented juggler, who also happens to be an albino and an inventor who delights in building frighteningly lethal weapons and other machines of destruction. She also makes an excellent cup of tea.

When Kingsley’s foster father is abducted, Kingsley hurries to find him. Evadne insists on coming along and soon proves her worth as they plunge into the Demimonde. They flee through drains, tunnels and along London’s long lost underground rivers. They battle ancient magic and strange devices. They encounter the last surviving Neanderthals who are fanatically determined to wipe out the human race. They are assaulted by a trio of immortal magicians who want Kingsley as part of their plan to enslave the world. They are assisted by a famous author who seems to have an agenda of his own.

None of this was what Kingsley had been imagining when he stepped onto the stage of the Alexandra Theatre, and it’s made more difficult for him as he constantly has to struggle with a side of him that is wild, uncontrollable and undeniably wolfish. This is only natural, of course, since he was raised by wolves as a young child.

In short, ‘The Extinction Gambit’ is a helter-skelter fantasy comedy adventure with sandwiches, at the appropriate time.

I’ve had a wonderful time writing ‘The Extinction Gambit’. As usual, I’ve had to undertake mountains of research, but this is almost as much fun as writing the actual story. I’ve uncovered surprising details about the underground geography of London, about the organisation of the Olympic Games and about the nature of Homo Neanderthalis. Much of this didn’t end up in the book, but nothing is ever wasted. After all, we have another two books to come in the series!

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Guest Post: New Zealand author Deborah Burnside

Deborah Burnside

The question was; Do you want to write a guest blog?

I said, YES…

I say yes to a lot of things because it makes life interesting and gives you things to write about.

Yes, I’d like to learn to belly dance and derby skate, yes I’d like to see the pilots flying the plane, yes I’d like to buy a ticket, yes I’ll get up extra early to take the special Colosseum tour (even though I am NOT a morning person).

You can see a theme here I hope?

That writers are spontaneous, curious and explorative people who may or may not write about all of the things they do, see or experience, but will likely always be doing interesting things that they could write about.

Although sometimes it’s the thing a writer hasn’t been able to do that turns up in their stories.

I live on a large rural block with my lovely husband, Malamute Blaze, three sons, their assorted friends, some sheep and cattle, various migratory birds, pesky rabbits and a wild, white cat with no ears.  A long time ago I said I wanted to turn our paddock into a maize maze – at the time we were leasing the land to a cropper who had planted maize and our son got lost in the maize.  While that was a terrifying experience, it made me think it would have been a whole lot easier to find him if there were paths through the maize.

“Then the cropper wouldn’t make any money, Deb.”  Said the lovely man.

“I know, but you could charge money to walk through the maize maze instead, before you harvested,” I said.

“Nobody would pay to do that.”  Said the lovely man.

“I think they would, I think we should do it here.”

The lovely man didn’t agree, “You are raising kids, singing, dancing, acting in Les Miserables, building a house and running a waste and recycling company…I think you are too busy to grow and operate a maize maze.”

Well, put like that I had to agree, because what the lovely man didn’t know was that I was also harbouring a secret desire to write books.

It was that seed of truth, that personal desire to grow a maize maze that made me give that thing to Marty in YES.

I love that YES, my new young adult book, is titled YES, because so many great things have happened in my life simply by saying YES.  It’s also an acronym for the Young Enterprise Scheme, something the characters in the book take part in and which is something I wish had been in High Schools when I was at school, as I cold started a business when I was 21.  I encourage anyone given the chance to participate in YES at their school to give it a go.

And all those other things I mentioned… well since 9/11 you can no longer visit pilots in cockpits.  The Colosseum  closed the lower levels in October this year indefinitely and they’d not been opened since the 1930s.  Learning to Belly Dance was fun, I met great people, got to perform at lots of public events and it gave me an idea for a scene in, On A Good Day.  Buying the wrong bus ticket in Turkey led me on an amazing (sometimes slightly hair-raising) adventure and personal tour of Istanbul by a local, which may yet end up in a book.  And Roller Derby has me loving bruises, blisters, grazes and speed and leaves me with the conundrum of what to call my skating alter ego.  I wanted Princess Slayer (Princess Leia – star wars) because my Mum used to put my hair in two buns when I was little, but thanks to the movie, Whip It that name is taken.

I’ll take some time thinking about my Derby name the same as I do when I name characters in stories… because I like names and words that mean more than one thing and I like my characters to be true to their names.

The newest character I am writing about is Cartograph, he takes a while to get his name, I’m not quite sure exactly what is happening in his story,  I know where it is and when it is and who is in it, but the rest is just a fabulous rollercoaster ride as I sit at the computer and say YES – today I’m writing.  How lucky am I?

Deborah Burnside

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