Posts Tagged ‘Author Guest Post’

Author Interview: Olaf Falafel

We are delighted to welcome Olaf Falafel as he talks about the inspiration behind his book Old MacDonald Heard a Parp
“Old Macdonald heard a parp…E-I-E-I-O!”
There are some VERY rude noises coming from Old Macdonald’s farm – who could be responsible?! Sing along to this side-splitting picture book adaptation of everyone’s favourite nursery rhyme.
Old Macdonald’s busy day on the farm keeps getting interrupted by some VERY rude noises … but who could they be coming from?! A hilarious and irreverent take on the classic nursery song from debut author/illustrator, Olaf Falafel, with helpful do-it-yourself instructions so you can parp along to your heart’s content!

What inspired you to write a children’s book?

The idea for Old MacDonald heard a Parp came to me when I was trying to coming up with ideas for child friendly stand up (I quite often gig for Comedy Club 4 Kids). I started singing it to my kids on the way to school and we did all the different noises, before long it had spread round the playground. When the dinner ladies started telling the kids off for singing it I knew it had potential.

You had a pretty whirlwind experience when it came to getting published – how did it all happen and what was the most surreal moment looking back?

Basically, I’m an illustrator during the day and a comedian in the evenings. I had some spare time due to an illustration job falling through at the last minute so I saw it as the ideal opportunity to draw some of Old MacDonald.

I drew a front cover and the first three or four pages of the book and then it got to the point where I started thinking about what I was going to do with the book when it was finished.

This was when I put out the tweet asking if any publishers were interested along with the drawings that I’d already done to give an idea of what the book would look like. Then twitter went a bit crazy for 24 hours, there were loads of great people who retweeted the idea, loads who private messaged me contacts in the publishing world and loads who wrote lovely comments saying they’d buy the book if it ever got made.

I had eight different agents contact me asking to meet up and I ended up getting direct interest from several publishers, including Harper Collins.

Within four days, I had a literary agent (the wonderful Jo Unwin) and a deal with Harper Collins to produce Old MacDonald plus two follow up books. The whole thing felt surreal.

Which books do you remember most fondly from your own childhood?
I read a lot of comics as a child, I really liked The Beano, most of the characters were naughty kids which appealed to me. I later graduated onto Viz comic which isn’t at all child friendly but it must have had an influence on me as Old MacDonald Heard A Fart was describe as ‘Viz for toddlers’ by one of the first standups who saw it.

Who is your favourite literary character and why?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Winnie The Pooh – it sounds completely out of character for me but that tubby bear made a lot of sense.

How important do you think comedy is for children, and can you ever be too young for a good joke?
For me it’s the other way around – children are important for comedy. My two are a constant source of inspiration for funny thoughts that I have turned into stand up comedy. A lot of the stuff they come out with doesn’t make a lot of sense but can be ridiculously funny.

I understand that you do stand-up for children – how do they differ as an audience from adults?
They have no ‘socially acceptable behaviour filter’ so they quite often say whatever they are thinking whenever they feel like saying it. In a lot of ways, performing to kids is a lot like performing to drunk adults (including the likelihood of being vomited on)

What does the future have in store for Old MacDonald and his parping menagerie?

I’m currently working on the second book, Father Christmas Heard A Parp, which is going to be even better than the first book with some great new characters, new ways of making parp noises plus a great new twist at the end. I’ve also got an idea for the third instalment of the ‘parp trilogy’ currently percolating through my brain – fun farty times ahead!

Picture book sensation and stand-up comedian Olaf Falafel burst onto the scene in 2017 when he posted a call-out to publish his his hilarious debut, Old Macdonald Heard a Parp, on Twitter.
Olaf lives and works in London with his wife and two children, who are his biggest fans.

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Bamboo Road

Ann Bennett

Thailand 1942: Sirinya and her family are members of the Thai underground, who risk their lives to resist the World War Two Japanese occupation and to and help British prisoners of war building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years.
Bamboo Road is volume three in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island (the books may be read in any order).

Today we have Ann Bennett on the blog talking about Penang and how it is important to her Bamboo Trilogy.

The beautiful, exotic island of Penang in Malaysia, known in colonial times as the Pearl of the Orient, inspired scenes in both Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island. When I wrote the books I had only visited the island once, for four days, in1985.
It made a huge impression on me, enough to stay with me for decades. It was the place I wanted Tom to dream of from his prisoner of war camp. It was also where Juliet and Rose had their first experience of Malaya in Bamboo Island, fresh off the boat, spending evenings in the Club, and days exploring.


Penang from the Butterworth Ferry

I took a sleeper train down from Bangkok, just as Laura does in Bamboo Heart. At Butterworth we boarded the ferry to Georgetown. I remember crossing the straits at sunset, standing out on deck in the warm evening, and watching the red sky and the mountains behind the town coming closer.


Cathay Hotel

We took rickshaws to the Cathay Hotel, a shabby old Portuguese Villa. The rooms were huge, and it was unbelievably cheap, but oozing old world charm. It seemed to obvious place for Laura to stay when she comes to Penang in search of the elusive Joy de Silva. Penang Hill with its views across the shimmering straits towards the mainland inspired scenes in that book, as did the jungle covered hills of the interior and the powder-white beaches of the north and east of the island.


Batu Ferrinhgi

Written by Ann Bennett

Publisher: Monsoon Books
Publication Date: March 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Faye
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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Blog Tour: The Elders

Inbali Iserles
FOXCRAFT THE ELDERS Isla’s search for her missing brother, Pirie, has brought her to the vast Wildlands. The forest is a treacherous place for a fox cub, but Isla is talented in foxcraft — ancient arts of cunning known only to her kind.
Skilled though she is, Isla’s grasp of foxcraft is still new. And she’s not alone… A cruel and mysterious fox stalks the forest, with the power to enslave others to his will. In order to survive, Isla must learn to trust in the rustic Wildlands foxes.
But there are tales of others — a council of Elders who are masters of foxcraft, and who warily guard its most potent secrets. If Isla wishes to master her gifts and find her brother, then the Elders may be her only hope.

First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
Hello! Hmm, let me think… I was born in Jerusalem but if you go back far enough, the Iserles family was Spanish – and interestingly, that’s where most people guess I’m from on the basis of looks.

What else? Not a lot of people know that while I love aubergines in almost every form, I’m scared to touch them because I burned my hand on one as a child.

And finally… Although I have an incredibly sweet dog, a Japanese Spitz called Michi, I would never define myself as a “dog person” or a “cat person”. I’m an animal lover and it’s in my DNA. As a child, I appalled my grandmothers by feeding stray cats and nagged my parents for pets of every kind (including hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, cats and a guinea pig). I love all animals really… Yes, even rats. Even snakes. This doesn’t mean I’d invite either into my bed!

How different was it writing a sequel?
In some ways, writing a sequel is easier as you have already established the parameters of the world – something that requires careful handling in fantasy. One of the challenges is how to recap on the previous book without bogging down the action. I prefer a light touch where possible, with gentle clues and reminders buried in plot-driven sequences.

What is your favourite aspect of writing?
I absolutely love thinking up stories. The thrill of new landscapes, of magic and fantasy worlds… The shaping of characters… This is what I live for. I’m less of a natural editor as by the time I’m editing the manuscript, I already know what happens, and I’m excited to get to the next thing. To edit, one needs patience – a quality I possibly don’t have in abundance…

Where is your favourite place to write?
I usually write in my study. I love the idea of writing in cafes but I’m far too easily distracted. I download playlists for each book but I don’t listen to music while I actually write. I’m a fan of writing retreats when these are feasible, and my favourite bolt hole is a lovely little place on the Suffolk coast, nestled between marshes, woodland and sea.

Can you tell us anything exciting about your main protagonist?
The series is told in first person through the eyes of Isla, a young fox. She returns to her den to discover that her family has disappeared and strange foxes are circling. The den itself smells of cinders. The foxes turn on her and she flees into the night. That is how the adventure begins…

I found it thrilling to narrate a story through a fox’s perspective. Isla is brave, loyal and stubborn. True to her kind, she is inquisitive – sometimes at her own expense. She takes risks.

If you could live in any fictional world, where would you choose to live?
Hobbiton in Middle Earth, but only after Sauron has been vanquished!

What was your favourite book to read as a child?
As a young child, I was a fan of Mog, Judith Kerr’s famously forgetful cat. I then became enchanted by Tove Jansson’s Moomin adventures. I still adore all things Moomin! Moving into my teens, my favourite book was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Such characters, such a sense of time, of mood. Of jeopardy and hope!

Can you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters)
Foxcraft: The Elders

Isla’s quest continues. The mysterious Elder Foxes hide deep in the Wildlands. Can they unlock the secret of her brother’s disappearance?

Questions by Faye

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: October 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy
Age: MG
Reviewer: Faye
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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Guest Post : Guy Parker Rees

Thank you for asking me along, Big Book Little Book!
For this stop on my blog tour I want to share my five very best moments in making my latest book, Dylan the Doctor.

1. The best moment was doing the sketch that started it all.
When my youngest son was born we bought a stripy sausage dog toy for one of his older brothers to give him as a present. This sowed the seed of an idea for a stripy dog character and I did this sketch. I thought there was something special about him.

guy 1
That was 8 years ago. These things take time!

2. Another special moment was when we found his name.
Naming a character is tricky, it either comes straight away or it’s a struggle. Dylan was a struggle. It took months of searching, going through lists of names, boring all my friends stupid as I tested them out and rejected their ideas. It was harder than naming my three boys. In fact I ended up with the name I’ve given two of my children. Admittedly it was the second name of my oldest, we had to use it again by the time we got to our third, the one who was given the sausage dog.

3. I had an idea of what I wanted Dylan’s character to be like from the sketch but I had to think of what sort of world he would live in.
Originally I wrote a story for him in which he had a pet boy, here’s a sketch from it.

guy2

But that all changed when I took the story to my wonderful editor, Alison Green of Alison Green Books. She suggested that Dylan could be the star in a series of adventures- not just the one book.

For this he would need a gang!

Again it took a lot of searching and sketching to find his best friends. It was another special moment when I felt I had found them all. Here they are: Purple Puss, Jolly Otter and Titchy Chick. Oh, and there’s Dotty Bug as well who is there on every page to encourage everyone to join in.

guy 3
4. I think one of the best moments in making a picture book is when I’m sent the first copy and I hold it in my hands.
What was once just an idea that became a sketch now becomes a real object with a life of its own. It will sit patiently on a library or bookshop shelf waiting its turn to be shared.

guy 4

5. And sometimes it takes on a life beyond the book.
I had a very talented friend of mine, Mia Underwood make me a felt toy of Dylan. Here is Dylan in three dimensions:

guy 5
It was a very special moment to see him come to life. And even more so to hear soon afterwards that Brown Bag, the animation company who made Octonauts, wanted to make a series of Dylan animations.

My youngest son, Dylan, is nine now. Sometimes it takes a while for an idea to grow and develop. You have to be patient and persevere- just make sure you enjoy the special moments along the way!

Guest post by Guy Parker Rees

Dylan the Doctor was published on the 4th of August by Scholastic Press.

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Blog Tour: The Inventory: Iron Fist

Today we have the pleasure of hosting Andy Briggs as he answers some of our burning questions about his latest novel, The Inventory: Iron Fist.
Iron FistThe Rules: if you find a secret inventory of utterly deadly battle tech.
1) Do not try it.
2) Do not tell anyone.
3) Do NOT let thieves in behind you.
What’s more secret than top-secret? The Inventory. Home to the deadliest inventions the world isn’t ready for. Invisible camouflage. HoverBoots. Indestructible metals. Plus a giant creature of chaos: war robot Iron Fist. No one has ever broken past the state-of-the-art AI security system. (Seriously, most bad guys have no idea this stuff is even there.)
Problem 1: the security robot wasn’t ready for a gang of kids wandering in.
Problem 2: they’ve ONLY brought the ruthless Shadow Helix gang in behind them. Seriously dumb, but it’s a bit late for ‘sorry’.
Say hello to trouble: the Iron Fist is in the wrong hands!

Let’s start off with the basics, what made you decide to write The Inventory: Iron Fist?
The Inventory was a place I had thought about for a long time. It came from old comic books, or rather the classified ads they had at the back (which they sadly no longer do) offering x-ray specs for sale or mind reading caps or instant muscles. They were fabulous devices that always prized my pocket money out of my hand, and inevitably what arrived in the post was often a sad piece of cardboard that didn’t work. Of course, I knew the real reason I wasn’t receiving the gadget was because of a massive government conspiracy that placed these amazing devices in an underground vault to keep them out of the hands of the likes of me. Thus the concept of The Inventory was born. What if…? which is one of the best questions a writer can start with.

So far, what book have you enjoyed writing the most?
Ooh, that is such a loaded question. Of course I MUST say it’s this one! But that’s not entirely true because everything you write gives you something different. I’m lucky that I get to write TV shows, screenplays and comics too, so I have the opportunity to write across a massive range of genres and formats.
Last year I wrote my first non-fiction book, HOW TO BE AN INTERNATIONAL SPY (Lonely Planet), which was amazing fun, and a completely different experience to writing The Inventory. When I wrote the rebooted TARZAN series it was a joy to swing through the jungle, ride elephants and explore the savannah – both on the page and for research – giving me rich experiences I would never otherwise have had. Thinking about it now, The Inventory is the polar opposite of Tarzan – high-technology, set mostly underground, and not a parrot or chimp in sight. That in itself gave me a thrill as I was exploring new territory, this one set in the world of science.

If you could live in any one of your books, which book would you choose?
I am a self-confessed geek, and I love gadgets and gizmos. For me, living in The Inventory would be like Christmas day every day… if I was allowed to play with all the tech. But, like the hero of the book, Dev, I would probably grow very frustrated if I was told it’s all hands off. In that case, I would love the opportunity to jump books and live in the tropical paradises that form the rainforests of Africa…

If you could live in any book in print, which book would you choose?
If you had any doubts of me being a nerd, then I will erase them right now: The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Why? Because I would have the chance to explore an entire universe carrying only an eBook, a towel and a fish in my ear. So, okay, the earth may have been destroyed, but there is plenty more fun to be had out there…

What is your writing space like? Is it your desk? A library? A café?
I have a home office that is bedecked with toys, action figures, comics and other items designed to occupy my time when I am supposed to be writing. However, over the years I have discovered that when I have the onset of writer’s block, a change of location always helps. I have a small library space at home with a fish tank that provides yet more hours of distraction, and I tend to get more done there. I can’t work with other people about, so cafés are out of bounds for me if I want to get any work done. I prefer to have relative peace, a movie soundtrack blasting out to inspire me, and a pint of tea by my side.

What is the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
“Don’t run over the dog,” was a rather terrific piece of advice given to me on my first driving test. I failed the test, but the dog escaped (it was a textbook emergency stop). I also remember working on a movie with my brother in which we were told “This story is so great, we’ll use it as a sequel!” – unfortunately the first movie was terrible and flopped. But the very best piece of advice was given to me by my amazing English teacher, Mrs. Cross, while I was in Junior school: “That was a very imaginative story, you should write another one.”

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
It’s an old tried and tested piece of advice: don’t give up, finish it. I don’t simply mean write a book then spend the rest of your life trying to sell it – that’s unlikely to ever happen. I mean write a book, then another, then another… maybe write a TV show or something else to change your pace. Find something you feel comfortable with. You may want to write a book, but it maybe, frankly, awful. However, you could have had huge success if you’d only taken the idea and developed it as a screenplay. I tour around the country quite a lot and one of the most common phrases I hear is “I’ve started writing a book,” – you seldom ever meet somebody who has finished writing the book. And, if it is your first book, I recommend shoving it in a dusty drawer and writing another because that one will be better in every way. You can always go back to book one and rewrite it!

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Andy Briggs is a screenwriter, producer and author of the Hero.com, Villain.net and Tarzan series. Andy has worked on film development for Paramount and Warner Bros, as well as working with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and producer Robert Evans. With a strong social media following, Andy tours the UK regularly, doing festival, school and library events. To learn more about Andy and his work visit his website here alternatively you can converse with him on Twitter (here)

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Blog Tour: Soldier by Julia Kagawa

We are delighted to host the latest stop on the blog tour for Julia Kagawa‘s Soldier. Today she shares how a visit to London informed the setting of Soldier.
SOLDIER_Full layout.inddThe thrilling next story in the The Talon Saga, the incredible new YA fantasy series from New York Times bestselling author Julie Kagawa.
When forced to choose between the sinister Talon organisation and being hunted by her own kind, dragon-human hybrid Ember fled. Even if it meant losing Garret, the dragon-slaying soldier she shares a deep bond with.
Now Garret has uncovered secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragon-slayers alike. Can the danger reunite them?

In the spring of 2015, I visited London for the first time. Partly for a vacation, but partly because I knew the next book of the Talon series, Soldier, would prominently feature the city as the birthplace of the ancient Order of St. George. I fell in love with the city and, because I was looking for them, I began seeing the flags and symbols of St. George everywhere.

It was on signs, churches, bridges, and countless flags throughout the city. The red cross on the white shield. The symbol of England’s patron saint, and also the mark of Order of St. George. There was even a St. George’s Day that celebrated the famed knight. I was ecstatic. London was the ideal birthplace for the Order of St. George; everything fit together perfectly.

I returned home and eagerly began writing Soldier, knowing that Garret would soon walk the same streets I did, see the same sights. He would pass Big Ben, the Thames River, and the London Eye. He would be in the same neighborhoods, and notice the many symbols of the Order, just like me. It was a faintly surreal feeling, the knowledge that this character would soon follow my footsteps into the heart of a very real city, where an ancient order of knights might very well have lived for hundreds of years.

Though perhaps his first impressions were not quite as excited as mine…

‘I had arrived. In London. The Order’s largest and most influential territory. Though I’d been to the city only once, I could be sure of one thing: I would find no dragons here, or in any of the surrounding towns. St. George’s presence in the city was huge and obvious. The Order’s symbol, the red cross on a white shield, was everywhere throughout London, on signs and churches and building walls. Though St. George was the patron saint of England itself, and we shared his flag with the rest of the city, the message to Talon was very clear: no dragons allowed.’
-Garret in Soldier

Dragon London Bridge 2JULIE KAGAWA was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects and frequent hurricanes. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Fey series, the Talon series and the Immortal Rules trilogy.

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My Top Ten Secret Gardens

Big Book Little Book is delighted to host author Holly Webb as she shares her top ten secret gardens.
Holly has written a sequel to one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden. Dickon, from the original story, was one of my very first book crushes, before I even knew what a crush was. There was something so wonderful about the walled garden, a secret , special place away from the adults, where the children were in charge, and in the case of Dickon, much more knowledgeable than the adults. I am really looking forward to sharing the story with my children in the future and this exciting follow up.
With out further ado, over to Holly.

Return to the Secret GardenIt’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…

1. Great Maytham Hall

Frances Hodgson Burnett lived in this house in Kent from the mid-1890s, and the walled rose garden was her inspiration for The Secret Garden. She wrote in a little summerhouse in the corner of the garden. The garden is open one day a week under the National Gardens Scheme.
Click here learn more about Great Maytham Hall , or here to find a garden

2. Misselthwaite Manor, from The Secret Garden

The site of the secret garden itself – in amongst the kitchen gardens and orchards, surrounded by a high brick walls. Mary first discovers the garden in winter, and the trails of roses look grey and dead. Only the little green points of the bulbs give any clue to the garden that’s waiting to come alive.

3. My childhood garden

I grew up in a Victorian house in South London, with a long, narrow garden. My parents still live in the same house, but strangely, the garden seems much smaller now! I remember it as huge, and full of hiding places…

4. The garden in The Magician’s Nephew

I loved (still love) the Narnia books, and this garden is fascinating – Polly and Digory fly on the winged horse Fledge (possibly my favourite character) to pick an apple from the tree in this walled garden.

5.Miniature gardens

While she’s still living in India, Mary Lennox makes toy gardens, picking flowers and arranging them in the dusty earth. I used to do this too, and I loved making gardens in trays with my children.

6. Kew Gardens

Not a secret at all, of course. But I remember visiting these as a child, and being fascinated by the glass houses, with the enormous water lilies. I loved fairy tales, and Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher, and I was sure there were secret creatures living in those glass houses.
To learn more about Kew Gardens visit their website here.

7. Thumbelina’s garden

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, Thumbelina appears inside a flower. After a whole series of adventures, she and her friend the swallow find a meadow full of flowers, and Thumbelina meets a flower fairy prince. I don’t know why, but I’ve always imagined that the flowers were tulips!

8. RHS Wisley

Again, I visited these gardens as a child, but all I remember is a house made out of wisteria. It was a summerhouse, completed surrounded by the purple flowers, and I wanted to live there. The wisteria in my own garden now is one of my favourite things! Looking at photos of Wisley’s long pergolas, I wonder if imagined that the house was round? But I’m sure it was… There’s a wisteria pergola at Great Maytham, too. I changed the idea of the summerhouse slightly for Return to the Secret Garden, my character Emmie imagines herself a house of flowers, but hers is made of roses and honeysuckle. (It would have been wisteria, except in the book it was the wrong time of year!)
Learn more about Wisley here

9. The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Real life secret gardens! Heligan was abandoned during the First World War, and the gardens were rediscovered and recreated in the 1990s.
Discover them for yourself by following this link.

10.The garden next-door, from Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

One of my favourite books ever. I read it so many times, and I still have my copy. Molly moves house and finds that the garden next door has been abandoned – it’s a paradise for tigerish cats, and full of adventures.

Post by Holly Webb

Holly Webb_RTSG2Holly Webb is the author of Dog Magic, Cat Magic, and Lost in the Snow. She has always loved animals and owns two very spoiled cats. They haven’t said a word to her yet, but she’s always listening, just in case! She lives in England.

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How NOT To Write A Novel

I can’t tell you how excited we are to be hosting this fantastic author as she promotes her latest book, Black Cairn Point. Not only is she responsible for a thrilling dystopian novel (we are still keeping our fingers crossed for a sequel to Bombmaker), she is also the author of Caroline’s favourite paranormal novel, Ferryman. Without further ado we will hand you over to Claire McFall
b c pTwo survivors, one terrible truth.
Heather agrees to a group camping holiday with Dougie and his friends because she’s desperate to get closer to him. But when the two of them disturb a pagan burial site above the beach, she becomes certain that they have woken a malevolent spirit. Something is alive out there in the pitch-black dark, and it is planning to wreak deadly revenge.
One year later Heather knows that she was very lucky to escape Black Cairn Point but she is still waiting for Dougie to wake from his coma. If he doesn’t, how will she prove her sanity, and her innocence?
How NOT to write a novel…

I was talking to a friend the other day about a project she was working on. She told me all about how she used Post-it notes to keep her ideas organised, how she had a timeline with deadlines to ensure she never got behind, how she planned steps in detail so that she could work her way methodically to a positive conclusion. Then she turned to me and said, “Well, you must do all this every time you start working on a new novel, right?”

Eh, yeah. Sure.

Maybe.

Or, you know. Not.

I think I must be a bad writer. Not a bad writer (I hope)… a naughty one. Because I really don’t like planning. You know those people who get ready to decorate a room by putting down dust sheets, moving any breakable objects, laying out all of their equipment beforehand? I don’t do that. I grab that bit of wallpaper – that bit that’s been ever so slightly hanging off the wall and bugging you for ages – and YANK! It’s a bit messier, and you’re likely to get stuck when you come to slapping the paint on in three days’ time and discover you haven’t prepped the walls right… but you know what, when you’re finished, it looks just as good!

And that’s kind of how I write.

When I get an idea, I get an idea. I’m filled with enthusiasm and I just want to get in there and start bashing away at my laptop before I lose it. That feeling. The one that gives your story an edge and makes it come alive. You can’t plan that, it’s got to sink its way in through your writing. I’m always afraid that, if I plan every little detail, I’ll lose the excitement. After all, if I know exactly what’s going to happen, exactly where it’s going to go, what’s left to discover?
The downside with that is that I have several novels which have gotten to, oh 25,000, maybe 35,000 words and then… died. It’s like one of those maze puzzles. You start out enthusiastically with your pen, get halfway through and realise that you’ve gone the wrong way. Some people might get out the Tip-ex and start again. Me? I just turn the page over. There’s always another puzzle.

Please note: this is a stupid, stupid way to write. It’s frustrating, leads to wasted time and it’s, well, stupid. It’s also my way. Doh!

What else do I fail to do that other, smarter, writers do as a matter of course when beginning a new project? Make character profiles.

That’s not true, actually. I usually start with good intentions – giving each main character a page in my notebook, creating a mind map with their name in the centre – and I dutifully fill in mundane details like their age, hair colour, rough height. That sort of thing. The problem is, I don’t keep it up. As the novel progresses I flesh out their characters, add in new people, and my notepad remains woefully under-filled. And then I find myself, and half eleven at night, eyes burning because I’ve already been writing for six hours, searching through seventy five thousand words of manuscript because I can’t remember if David had green eyes or brown. The air is blue, my wineglass is empty and I’m muttering to myself “Why the hell didn’t you write this down?” Why? Because I’m a bad writer!

As every author know, writing a novel is actually only about 30% of the process. And it’s definitely the most fun bit. Unfortunately, after writing come editing. I despise editing. Now, I can’t knit, but imagine you made a jumper and when you were finished and proudly showing it off to your mum (because mums always seem willing to point out faults, or mine does anyway!) she picks out five places where you’ve gotten the pattern wrong. A bit where the hem’s not quite right. To me, it looks fine. Not perfect, but fine. And my mum’s giving me that you need to fix it so that it’s right look. That’s the relationship my agent and I have with editing. I think it’s fine… he wants it to be perfect. And I know, I know, it’ll be much better after I fix it, but just like with knitting (I imagine, I can’t actually knit), it’s not a case of fixing those little bits you can see. As soon as you pull on that thread, there are eight more threads that will need adjusting.
Maybe it’s more like a Rubix cube. You get one yellow facing the way you wanted, but you’ve thrown six other little squares out with that move, so now you have to change them too!

It’s important to be methodical when you’re editing. To keep track of changes. You know what’s really helpful with this? Word Track Changes (it does what it says on the tin and all that). Do I use it? No. Why not? Well, it makes things go all funny coloured and it looks messy and I get all confused and…

Another things it’s really important to do, is keep track of your versions. There’s often a bit of back-and-forthing between me and my agent, me and my editor, me and my agent and my editor. Things can get confusing, fast. My agent’s always really careful to label anything he works on. You know, like Black Cairn Point v1.0… Black Cairn Point v 2.2 (I had to get a wee plug for the novel in somewhere!) Me? I label my manuscript stupid things like Bombmaker_fixed or Ferryman_for_Helen. You know, helpful names that will enable me to remember which one’s the latest version… at the moment I’m saving it. Three hours later when I’m looking at the manuscript folder and trying to remember which one to email? Not so much.

So there you are. A “how not to write a novel”. If you think about what I do…. then do the opposite, you’ll be all right. 😉
Thank you to the lovely peeps at BigBookLittleBook for having me on today so that I can share my little pearls of wisdom!

Claire xxx

Posted by Claire McFall

User commentsClaire McFall grew up just south of Glasgow in the heart of Celtic and Rangers country. She teaches English in a secondary school in Peebles, Scotland, where she lives. Her debut novel, FERRYMAN, was long-listed for the Branford Boase Award, nominated for the Carnegie Medal and won a Scottish Children’s Book Award. Follow Claire at www.clairemcfall.co.uk or on Twitter: @mcfall_claire

Black Cairn Point was published by Hot Key Books on the 6th of August 2015

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Jessica Cole’s Ten Favourite Locations

We are delighted to introduce you to Jessica Cole, supermodel and spy, and her creator, Sarah Sky.
Catwalk Criminal, the third book in the Model Spy series, will be published by Scholastic on the 4th of June 2015.

Catwalk Criminal coverModels, spies and lipstick gadgets in this fast-paced teen series. Jessica Cole has been recruited to Westwood, MI6’s secret division of supermodel spies. Her first official mission seems simple at first, until it turns into the biggest cyber-attack ever known, threatening the security of the whole country. Then it emerges there is a traitor in the midst at MI6 – and suddenly Jessica herself is being accused. With no one believing her innocence, and the country on the verge of chaos, Jessica has no choice but to take matters of national security into her own hands and catch the culprit – fresh from the catwalk.

1 MI6 HQ, London

The giant building on the River Thames is nicknamed Legoland by the spies who work in it. Such is the secrecy of the sister organisation to MI5, that the British government didn’t admit its existence until 1994.

Jessica often visits HQ for briefings with her Westwood handler and godfather, Nathan Hall. It’s also where all her amazing gadgets are designed. In Catwalk Criminal she gets to see the inside of a secret comms room, which Westwood agents haven’t been allowed inside before.

2 The Shard, London

This is the location of Jessica’s first official mission for Westwood at the start of Catwalk Criminal, so she feels a special connection to the landmark building. Designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, the 1,016 ft glass skyscraper is Western Europe’s tallest building.

Jessica’s taking part in a fashion show at The Shard to showcase the best of British fashion, while also attempting to stop a Ministry of Defence boffin from selling the blueprint for a driverless armoured vehicle to a third party. Unfortunately, the mission goes horribly wrong…

3 Claridges, London

The luxury five star hotel in Mayfair dates back to 1856 and is one of the finest examples of Art Deco style. It’s been favoured by royalty and celebrities over the years.

Jessica’s treated to afternoon tea here as she and top fashion designer, Ossa Cosway, are interviewed by a Teen Vogue journalist. Jessica would normally love the cream cakes – but her mind’s on other things as London has come under attack by cyber terrorists and MI6 believes she’s to blame…

4 Somerset House, Strand, London

The BFC Courtyard Show at Somerset House is the main venue for London Fashion Week. Top models from all over the world are flown in for shows at London Fashion Week, which is a highpoint in the international fashion calendar. Jessica’s walking for Ossa Cosway as she’s his new muse, but danger lurks around every corner, even on the catwalk…

5 Ealing, West London

Jessica lives in Ealing with her dad, former MI6 agent, Jack Cole. Her grandmother, Mattie, lives nearby. Her favourite haunts include Ealing Studios, where she and her best friend, Becky, attempt to get a glimpse of famous actors filming their shows. She’s a frequent visitor to Cafe Panorama, where she often meets her boyfriend, Jamie.

6 Portobello Market, West London

Jessica loves vintage clothes shopping with Becky in Notting Hill and this is the place to go. It’s the world’s largest antiques market, with over 1,000 dealers. On Sundays, Portobello Green has a market selling mainly vintage clothes. Jessica likes to mix up her vintage clothes purchases with finds from High Street stores such as TopShop.

7 Monaco

In Fashion Assassin, Jessica was a guest on board a Russian oligarch’s super yacht, moored in Monaco harbour. She was able to soak up the atmosphere of the highly competitive super rich, but could never let her guard down as she was working undercover. She got to see the ‘off limits’ area of the Grimaldi Palace too – pity she was being chased at the time…

8 Paris

Paris is one of Jessica’s favourite cities for sightseeing and fashion – there’s lots of vintage clothes’ shops and beautiful fashion show venues. Jessica modelled here for Couture Week in Code Red Lipstick – but used it as a ruse to get to the capital city to try and find her private investigator dad who vanished while hunting for a missing scientist.

9 New York

Jessica visits this amazing city in Fashion Assassin – she’s been handpicked by a top photographer to appear in a fashion spread alongside rising star, Kat Ingorokva. The photoshoot is on top of the Flatiron Building in Manhatten – one of the tallest buildings in the city. She also gets ‘invited’ to lunch at the luxury hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, where a nasty surprise awaits her.

10 Cornwall

Jessica often holidays here with her dad and the place will always have fond memories for her. Great beaches, surfing and cream teas – and no-one trying to kill her or set her up for a crime she didn’t commit. The perfect getaway for a spy. There’s probably a few holidaying there this summer…

Post by Sarah Sky

sarah sky picture website (here), Goodreads author’s page (here) or Twitter account

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Democracy, Diversity and YA

Ravinder Randhawaembeauty and the beast‘Problems? Confusions? Contradictions? I got them all and if you’ve got them, then FLAUNT them is my motto.’ Meet Harjinder (aka Hari-jan): ‘A’ level student, supermarket worker and desperate journalist. Feisty and impulsive, Hari-jan can’t refuse a dare and to make matters worse has fallen in love with the wrong boy.
Her best friend Ghazala has taken to wearing the hijab and mentoring racists.
Can Hari-jan battle through the hurdles and win her man?
Can Ghazala work out how to do Good in her own way?
A sparkling, coming-of-age novel about life, love and friendship.

Forget Diary of a Wimpy Kid or The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, read the Diary of Mhairi Black Novice MP, a young woman of barely twenty years, who this month became a fully elected Member of Parliament. Hats off to Mhairi!!

Mhairi’s diary (published in the Herald Scotland) contains the episode in a Westminster canteen, which wonderfully sums up Mhairi and the place she’s suddenly found herself in. First, quite heart warmingly, when she gets her lunch of bread and chips, she gets told off by Rita at checkout for not having something more nutritious, then secondly when she sits down near a table where some of the canteen staff are having their lunch they indicate she should be in another part of the dining room. Dutifully Mhairi picks up her tray and walks towards the other end, when she sees a false partition with a sign saying “MPs only beyond this point.” Mhairi immediately turns around and goes back to sit near the canteen staff telling them “If they want us to be snobby you’d think they would go all out snobby and get a different room instead of a half effort partition?!” The whole table burst into rapturous laughter. Good for you Mhairi!

It may be that I’m being unfair, and am happy to be corrected, but it appears to me that politics is not a subject covered in Young Adult fiction. We have vampires galore, dystopian works, time travel, Harry Potter (a genre in itself), cancer, love and identity and so on, but no trailblazing books about the highest seats of power.

There is great talk of the importance of diversity in YA books. I completely agree that diversity, the free exchange of ideas through the medium of fiction, is a cardinal principle. I would put politics under the banner of diversity, for it seems to be a forgotten and therefore undervalued subject, and yet politics underpins our very existence and governs much of what we can or cannot do, what opportunities, rights and freedoms are available to us.

In Britain, the land of the Magna Carta, which first established the principle of equality before the law, a cornerstone of democracy, we’re lucky enough to enjoy civil liberties that people in other countries are struggling for. These brave and courageous people, for instance the blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes – let’s write that again – a thousand lashes – for setting up a liberal website, would be astounded that we don’t value our democracy and therefore our political system (with all its flaws) as a most precious resource.

‘But is there drama in democracy?’ I hear you all asking. Yes, quite simply is my answer. Just look at all the political thrillers, the films and TV dramas set in the ‘corridors of power.’ When they’re well written, whether comedies or conflict, they make riveting watching, or reading.

I accept there’s an issue about age; the political arena is seen as being for ‘grown-ups,’ by virtue of age restrictions. But actually any 18 year old can stand for parliament as long as they can put down a deposit of £500 and are nominated by 10 electors of the constituency. That makes politics into young adult territory.

How many times have we heard people complaining about the young not being engaged with politics. Surely, if their reading doesn’t include books that are set amongst the rough and tumble of politics; the processes, rooms and recesses of parliament; if they don’t have heroes and heroines, villains and thugs who pursue their ambitions in those places, then young people will never become familiar with them or identify them as places where they could be. Politics, and the places of politics will remain distant, difficult and incomprehensible.

We learn from literature: it evokes dreams, sparks ideas, makes known the unknown. I ask YA writers to fling open the doors to those corridors of power so their readers can see themselves there – within the boundaries of whatever story has been created. It can be as full of passion, action, fun or thrills as anything else.

Conspiracies, secrets and devilish deeds can occur as much in those hallowed halls as anywhere (and most probably do); the stakes are high, the prizes are glittering. There’s power to be grabbed and blazing ambitions to be fulfulled. Villains and enemies, the revengeful and friendless, the love-lorn and romantic, the dewy-eyed and innocent, all jostle against each other, pursue their plans, courses, machinations – and many a tangled web is woven and many a drama is created.

Post by Ravinder Randhawa

ravindaRavinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of the novels Beauty and the Beast (YA), A Wicked Old Woman, The Tiger’s Smile and the short story collection Dynamite. She’s currently working on a trilogy: The Fire-Magician. Ravinder was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Toynbee Hall, Queen Mary’s University, the University of London, and founded the Asian Women Writer’s Collective.
Ravinder was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London and agrees with Samuel Johnson’s saying (though of course, in a gender non-specific way) ‘…if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Loves good coffee and really good thrillers. To learn more about Ravinda and her work check out her Website (here), Facebook(here) or Goodreads author page (here). Alternatively you can interact with her on Twitter(here)

You can check out the rest of Ravinder’s tour schedule here.

Tour-Wide Giveaway
The prizes include;
3 Paperback copies of Dynamite

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