Monday 31 October 2011

Halloween Reads - What Frightens You?

What frightens you?
By Maryom and The Mole

Because of the season people have been talking about the most frightening book that there is. One such candidate offered recently was "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty and when we received a copy in the post Maryom took the opportunity to read it.

She will be reviewing it later this week*, but I don't think we are letting too much out in that she didn't find it at all frightening. One wonders why?

Another candidate has to be "Dark Matter" by Michelle Paver and this one Maryom did find frightening but I also read it and while I did really enjoy it didn't frighten me at all. And maybe we start to see a little of why.

Maryom feels that one book that she read as a child and found frightening was "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" by Alan Garner and the reason was the tunnels.Tunnels have recently reappeared in the form of potholing in "Torn" by Cat Clarke (another review due this week) in which one of the characters is absolutely terrified at the prospect of going down a narrow tunnel. Both these stories play on Maryom's claustrophobia because if a writer does their job properly then the reader really feels they are entering the tunnels and so brings out the fear that the reader already has.

When it came to "Dark Matter" the subject of the fear is two fold:- the total dark and the ghost that lives in it. Maryom is also extremely uncomfortable in total dark while I am quite happy in the dark (and having worked for a large company for 27 years, am used to being kept in it!)

With "The Exorcist" Maryom felt that you needed to believe that "demonic possession" was possible before it would bother you. At one point the child vomits and a big play is made of this in the film (apparently because I haven't seen the film) but it's important to remember that in the early 70's Monty Python was getting laughs from people vomiting.

So what have I found to be a frightening read? Well it has to be "Shadow Bringer" by David Calcutt. We've all heard noises, as children, that we couldn't understand what they were and exactly where they were coming from and, to me, it's the most terrifying thing imaginable.

So what does an author need to do to write a terrifying novel? They need to find something that frightens most people and play on it deftly. Or they must set out to make you terrified of it, which has to be a whole lot more difficult.

*Review of The Exorcist

Saturday 29 October 2011

Frightfully Friendly Ghosties: School of Meanies by Daren King

Ghostly Fun
review by Maryom

Humphrey Bump doesn't like ghost school but he's soon to discover that 'still-alive' school can be even worse.
His favourite thing is bumping - into people, knocking over things, whatever. When this gets him expelled, no other ghost school will take him, so he's sent to the school for 'still-alives', normal people like you or me. No one really wants him there either - no one wants to be friends, everyone shrieks and runs away despite Humphrey's best efforts to make friends. But the school is plagued by bullies - and the biggest is the headmaster! Can Humphrey - and his bumping- come to the rescue?

School of Meanies is a humorous book with a serious side. It's a tremendously fun read for all with lots of laugh-out-loud one-liners - and, yes, I did keep reading them out to people because they were so funny! Humphrey's ghostly friends and their attempts to help him out are hilarious. At the same time it touches on finding new friends, starting a new school and shows the unacceptability of bullying, whoever it's from.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Quercus
Genre -
Buy Frightfully Friendly Ghosties: School of Meanies from Amazon

Friday 28 October 2011

Giles Paley-Phillips author interview

Today the Giles Paley-Phillips blog tour arrives at Our Book Reviews Online. We have reviewed "The Fearsome Beastie" and "There's a Lion in my Bathroom". Today we are publishing an interview that he found time to give us.

You "neglected your education to pursue a career in music"... are we likely to have heard your music on the radio? Yeah we had a bit of airply back in the day, we got to play a few big events too, like Glastonbury and Essential festivals

You are now performing with Burnthouse. What type of music is it you perform?
Alternative Rock

You now write poetry books. Did you write any of the music you have performed?
Yeah I used to write music and some lyrics, but the band was always a collaboration of all the members, where as this is now me on my own!

With your poems, are there any poets that have influenced you at all?
I'm a huge fan of Shel Silverstein, his work was a huge inspiration for me to start writing in the first place.

Your first book of poetry - Linear Hymns was being sold to raise money for leukaemia research. Would you like to tell us more about your involvement with this charity?

My mum died of Leukaemia when I was 6 and I have been a life long supporter.

You wrote a collection of nonsense poems called "There is a Lion in My Bathroom" with illustrations by Matt Dawson. How involved were you with the choice of illustrator?
I loved Matt's work as soon as I saw it and did ask my publisher for him to be involved.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your poetry?
From lots of different things really, just stuff that pops in there!

You have also produced an illustrated children's story in poetry called "The Fearsome Beastie". The illustrations were by Gabrielle Antonini. Again how was this particular illustrator chosen?
Like most picture books, my publisher looked to pair my work work with the most appropriate illustrator.

You are now a father of 2. Can you tell us how your children are involved in the creative process?

They are always getting stuff read to them, to gauge their interest and to get their thoughts, my eldest is 4 and massively opinionated! and of course I write stuff I hope they will like.

If your children came home, as young teenagers, and said they were going to go on tour with a band - would you support them in their venture or try to prevent them?
I would like to think I would support them in what ever they decide to do when they are older, if it was something they were passionate about then of course I would actively encourage them to pursue their dreams.

What plans do you have for the future?
I have several more picture books coming out on the next couple of years, plus I've recently become a patron for FSW, a family support work charity based in Sussex, so I will be working closely with them to build up awareness and we are working on some very exciting new events over the next two years, so please do watch this space.

Many thanks for Giles' today and we wish him all the best, particularly in his charity work and fundraising efforts.

Thursday 27 October 2011

The Cat and the Fiddle by Jackie Morris

A Treasury Of Imagination
review by Maryom

Jackie Morris's latest children's book is a collection of nursery rhymes - over 40 of them, picked by the author herself. They range from familiar favourites to the less well known - surrounded by her astounding paintings.

I always get excited when I know there's a new Jackie Morris book about to be published. I absolutely adore her paintings and in a children's book such as this, where the illustrations have greater impact, she gives free range to her imagination.

Each page reveals a world in miniature, peopled by tiny fairy creatures, dressed in shimmering velvets and silks that almost rustle on the page, accompanied by elegant greyhounds and fabulous winged creatures riding on the backs of cats, cockerels or hares, or leading seemingly enormous sheep laden down with balls of wool.

It may be subtitled A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes - but it's a treasury of art and imagination too, one for any child to love forever.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -
childrens, nursery rhymes,

You can see the author talking about this book on Youtube

Buy The Cat and the Fiddle: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes from Amazon

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Grimm's Fairy Tales by Saviour Pirotta

The Return of an Old Favourite
review by Maryom

Much like a golden-oldie record this story collection is having a re-release. We bought it under its old title of The Sleeping Princess, many years ago when our youngest daughter was a toddler and it was in great demand as a bedtime storybook. It's now back in the shops with a new cover and title but the stories remain as enchanting - and frightening - as ever.
Saviour Pirotta retells ten of Grimm's well known folk tales, including favourites such as Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel, all of which are vividly brought to life by Emma Chichester Clark's lively colourful illustrations. Fairy tales are always in fashion, remaining firm favourites with parents and children alike, despite passing trends.

Our copy was much loved and read, and hopefully this new edition will find loving homes with many more children.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre -
childrens, fairy stories

Buy The Orchard Book of Grimm's Fairy Tales from Amazon

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Mr Aesop's Story Shop by Bob Hartman

Aesop retold with a twist
Review by Maryom

Continuing our week of children's books with a retelling of Aesop's fables.

Bob Hartman presents Aesop as a storyteller with a booth set up in the marketplace, telling his tales for all the passers-by to hear. Every story is the traditional story and, of course, has a moral to it - relating here to incidents that occur in the marketplace and neatly summed up at the end of the chapter with the moral. Each moral is as relevant today as it ever was and so these stories still find favour at some point during a child's early learning. The book is illustrated in colour throughout by Jago, who somehow manages to give a Greek feel to the pictures.

Certainly one to think about as the festive season approaches perhaps?

Publisher -Lion Children's
Genre - Children's

Buy Mr. Aesop's Story Shop from Amazon

Monday 24 October 2011

Green Janine Turns Detective by Brian Tyrer

Fun Easy Reader Adventure
Review by Maryom

Janine is a different sort of girl - for one thing she's green! In this adventure she is on the trail of amateur burglars, Bob and Bill. With help from the family pet turned sniffer dog and a little magic from her friend Mr Mephista can she find the stolen tiara and return it to the Duchess? I rather suspect she will!

Green Janine Turns Detective is an excellent, quirky adventure which had me laughing out loud. It's not aimed at the absolute beginner but for the slightly more advanced readers - though parents could share it with younger ones. There are black and white cartoon style illustrations by John Bigwood throughout, avoiding the daunting full page of text that can be so off-putting to young readers and at less than 60 pages, split over 4 chapters, it's not a lengthy read.
At the back you'll find various story-related puzzles and activity sheets to be downloaded from the publishers website - aimed at making learning to read fun!

A good first step away from school readers.

Publisher - Seven Arches
Genre -
childrens, early reader

Buy Green Janine Turns Detective from Amazon

Friday 21 October 2011

The Very Picture Of You by Isabel Wolff

Family Affairs
review by Maryom

Ella Graham is a portrait painter. The way to achieve a stunning likeness in which the character of the subject shines through, she believes, is to get to know them. As she paints, she chats with her sitters and they maybe reveal more than they'd expected to. When her younger newly-engaged sister Chloe asks her to paint fiancé Nate, Ella is dismayed. The little she knows of him is not good, will her opinion change as she gets to know him better? How much of her attitude will be revealed in the portrait? Further turmoil is created for Ells when the father she believed to have abandoned her as a child tries to make contact. As the date for Chloe and Nate's wedding rapidly approaches, should Ella reveal the home-truths she's learned or keep them a secret for everyone's good?
The Very Picture Of You is a gentle romantic story of two sisters and the man who might drive them apart. This plot line is to be honest a little on the predictable side and I actually found myself more engrossed in the emerging family history than in Ella and Nate's changing relationship. The star of the novel is surely Ella's mother - her ability to ignore anything she doesn't wish to talk about and manipulate facts to suit her purpose, make her a middle-class Machiavellian monster. For years she's managed to mislead everyone, including her husband and daughters, but the truth is about to be revealed.
A good 'holiday read' for any fans of romantic fiction.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - HarperCollins
Genre -
Adult, romantic fiction

Buy The Very Picture of You from Amazon

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Eating In by Sue Lawrence

Get Cooking!
review by Maryom

The EdBookFest follow up may be over but we're staying with the Scottish theme just a little while longer with the latest cookery book from popular food writer and previous Masterchef winner Sue Lawrence.

As you can tell from its title it's all about eating in - but not just pulling something out of the freezer and reheating! It's full of (fairly) simple but impressive looking recipes. There's over 100 to choose from- with something for almost every occasion from Anniversary dinner for 2 to feeding the team or having the neighbourhood round for drinks - and all with a Scottish twist.
I found lots of my old favourites in there - such as shortbread and Scottish tablet ( if you're not familiar, it's a sort of superior fudge not readily available outside of Scotland and I've been longing to know how it's made for a long while) - and lots of interesting new twists - serving haggis with nachos or creating a Cullen Skink pie. And if you're not familiar with Cullen Skink.. or Parten Bree .. or Stornoway Black Pudding, there are interesting little snippets of information and history to introduce you to these, and other, traditional Scottish foods.

There are lots of recipes I would like to try but first on the list has to be Crunchie Puds - basically smashed up crunchies in cream - that has to be a 'no skills required' recipe if ever there was one.

At a personal level I would have found it helpful to have had nutritional information included. Whether from life style choice or medical necessity, most people are interested in the fat, calorie, protein composition of a meal and the information would have been really useful.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - HachetteScotland
Genre -
Adult, Non-Fiction,Cookery

Buy Eating in from Amazon

Monday 17 October 2011

Hood Rat by Gavin Knight

Disturbing Reality
review by Maryom

I first heard of this book when it was being publicised around its launch a few months ago. I decided then that its subject, urban gang violence, wasn't really my kind of thing and ignored it. Having run into Gavin Knight on my Teen's autograph hunt at Edinburgh Book Festival, I thought it only polite to read his book after all * - and was curiously surprised at how interesting it was.
Basically, Hood Rat is a fly-on-the-wall documentary in book form, detailing things the author saw and heard while accompanying various police units in inner-city London, Manchester and Glasgow. The style reads rather like a novel - there's no "commentary" from the author, no "I saw X and asked him about..." - but is in fact non-fiction. Knight takes the reader into the heart of these troubled cities and into the minds of the teenage gangs that terrorise some of their streets, places that fortunately most of us only encounter on TV.

An enjoyable book? Well not really, it's not supposed to be - it's an expose of gang culture. Disturbing, frightening and thought provoking.

* and at this point I should, yet again, give our library service and its free ordering service some well-deserved praise

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Picador Non-Fiction
Genre -
Adult Non-Fiction

Buy Hood Rat from Amazon

Sunday 16 October 2011

Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan

A Chilling Tale of Old Edinburgh
review by Maryom

Two reasons to include this review here in the EdBookFest follow-ups - a Nicola Morgan novel, set in 19th century Edinburgh. Unfortunately we couldn't attend Nicola's event on writing historical fiction due to other commitments - but I wish we had.

Edinburgh Old Town in the 1820s is an overcrowded place of dingy stinking alleyways and wynds overlooked by skyscraper-tall tenements which block out the light. Disease spreads easily and rapidly through the place and surgeons at the nearby Infirmary try to pioneer new ways to help - often with disastrous consequences for their live guinea pigs. Dr Robert Knox believes advances in caring for people can only be made through a greater understanding of human anatomy - but how can he achieve this with the legal quantity of one corpse a year. Into this gap of supply and demand step Burke and Hare, suppliers of dead bodies, no questions asked...
Robbie and his little sister Essie live in the heart of the poorest part of Old Town, at the top of a crumbling tenement overlooking the open-air abattoir of the Fleshmarket. Since their mother died following an operation things have gone downhill for the family and, as their father's absences increase, Robbie and Essie are left to provide for themselves. Robbie has long held Dr Knox responsible for his mother's death and all the troubles that stemmed from it. When he thinks he's found a way to avenge her death he's only too keen to go along with it...

Fleshmarket is a wonderful mingling of fact and fiction played out against the atmospheric backdrop of Edinburgh Old Town. I was gripped from the very first page by a deeply disturbing opening that probably wasn't best read over lunch! Robbie's hatred of Knox leaves the reader anxious for him as he's drawn further into the nefarious activities of those around him, to the point where to cease his involvement may prove just as dangerous as continuing. In many ways, though, the 'star' of the story is Edinburgh Old Town - it's stinking backstreets brought to life by the author, making it a 'must read' for anyone who's visited the area. The novel also raises questions about medical research and the legal restraints on it, as valid now as then.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - HodderChildrens
Genre - Thriller, Historical, teen

Buy Fleshmarket from Amazon

Saturday 15 October 2011

Keith Charters - Author/Publisher interview

When in Edinburgh we arranged to meet and share a pizza with Keith Charters. He was very approachable and our teen was delighted that he was not just book orientated but also showed an interest in her music. We are delighted that he managed to find time to be interviewed by us.

You worked in London as a stockbroker before taking up the pen and producing "Lee And The Consul Mutants". What was the inspiration behind Lee and why this particular story subject?
Actually, I ran a sales team involved in what are known as the wholesale financial markets – essentially where banks trade with other banks in financial products. Some, such as foreign exchange, were simple; others, such as credit default swaps, less so.
Did this have anything to do with Lee and the Consul Mutants?
And yet yes – indirectly. By day I was Sales Director. By night I was a would-be author, with all the usual traits: a desk in my bedroom; an irrepressible need to write most evenings despite long hours at work; the same need on planes when I should have been trying to catch up on lost sleep. I started writing psychological thrillers, and they were okay – importantly they improved the more I wrote.
My oldest kids (twins) were aged about 9 at the time the idea for Lee and the Consul Mutants popped into my head. They’d been having a great laugh reading the likes of Michael Lawrence’s The Toilet of Doom. I loved that books were entertaining them in that way and thought I’d try writing a few lines about a boy whose appendix had exploded. Before I’d even finished the first page I knew it was what I should have been doing all along. It was so much fun!

When did you decide to leave stockbrokership and was it to become a writer or a publisher?
I’d already left to give myself some concentrated writing time. A brave/risky/stupid move, of course. I might have come to naught. But it didn’t. Sometimes putting yourself in the position of needing to make something work means you make it work. So I started as an author and at that point had no thought of becoming a publisher.
So how did I end up a publisher too? Well, my first publisher was small and I had a background in business. That meant I learned a lot. And after they’d expressed an interest in signing up Lee Goes For Gold and Lee’s Holiday Showdown (both of which I’d written by the time Lee and the Consul Mutants was published) I thought: could I do what my publisher is doing? And, perhaps because I’d done much of the marketing myself, I decided that I could…with help. Because I didn’t (and still don’t) know it all. But I’d found some great people who knew some of the bits I didn’t know. So we formed a team, each of us with different strengths.

It’s worth saying that from the outset we were focused on building a strong list. The fact that my books – already validated in the market – happened to be on it was incidental. But it was a neat starting point. Now, of course, they’re an increasingly small part of what we publish. I can’t write quickly enough for it to be otherwise!

You formed Strident Publishing in 2005. What was your first publication under this brand?
D A Nelson’s DarkIsle in October 2007. I remember the launch well. I’m sure Dawn does too – she was about 8 months pregnant by then. Helpfully, the book won the 2008 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books and promptly sold (mostly to parts of Random House) all around the world in rights deals.

At what point did you decide to move the Lee stories in-house?
From the outset. In fact, we bought back the rights to the first Lee novel to ensure we’d have control over the full series. My original editor also came over. That was important because she was used to telling me when my writing worked and when it didn’t, and she just carried no doing that. It meant we kept objectivity and that was important to me.
Many of the titles you publish are specifically for the 8-12 year old reader and recently you have published books by Emma Barnes, again aimed at that age group, was this reader Strident's original target market?
We originally saw our market as those of school age. Actually, we’ve avoided the 5-6 sector and gone for 7+. And whilst we didn’t expect to publish books for adults, the likes of Gillian Philip’s Firebrand and Bloodstone, and Janne Teller’s Nothing, having taken us there by virtue of their strong crossover appeal.
So, Emma’s novels (How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good and Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher, both for ages 7+) are very firmly targeted at our core market.

Strident’s "Mission Statement" is 'Strident aims to produce books with a bit of spark; books that give young people a kick out of reading. They will be bold and modern and will cry out to be read and discussed.' How well do you feel Strident is achieving this?
Hopefully very well! In fact, although we have one list, there are two distinct parts to it. Our 7+ titles have a ‘modern classic’ feel – Paul Biegel’s The King of the Copper Mountains and Emma Barnes’s novels. Beyond 9+ the titles become increasingly feisty. Nick Green’s The Cat Kin and Cat’s Paw definitely fit that description and Linda Strachan’s Spider and Dead Boy Talking only take it a step further. Then there’s Janne Teller’s controversial and philosophical Nothing; and finally there’s Gillian Philip’s Firebrand and Bloodstone. I sometimes think the word ‘feisty’ was invented with those last two in mind.
And then come writers like Linda Strachan writing for the teen market, and Gillian Philip's "Bad Faith" and then... The Rebel Angels series. This series has appealed to the adult reader, although mostly the female readers. Did this take you by surprise?
We were delighted that Linda Strachan’s Spider won the 2010 Catalyst Award. Her teen/YA fiction is short, accessible and thought-provoking. We’ve always believed that would be a winning combination.

Then, as you say, along came Gillian’s Rebel Angels series. Now that has taken us to a new part of the market. The series was originally written as YA fiction, but as anyone who’s read Bloodstone will know, they are at least as much adult as YA. In fact we had a dilemma when publishing the first book: should we launch it into the main (i.e. adult) sci-fi fantasy market or into YA? Ideally we’d have gone for both, but retailers’ systems won’t allow that. It has to be listed in one or the other. Gillian had already been building a reputation in YA (she was Carnegie Medal nominated for Crossing The Line, and Bad Faith was very well received) so we eventually opted for that category. However, just to prove the extent of its crossover appeal, Tor in the USA have bought the entire 4-book series for their adult fantasy list, while Ravensburger in Germany are publishing it as a YA title.

Do you now have any intentions of publishing for the adult market?
Well, we didn’t, but we effectively do because of Firebrand, Bloodstone and Nothing. It’s not quite the same as having an adult list, of course. Do we plan one? Not quite yet.

As a keen gardener do you have any plans for horticultural books at all?
‘Keen gardener’. I like that description. It’s an improvement on my wife’s ‘obsessive veg planter’.
Of course, growing plants is like growing stories: you start off with the seed/seed of an idea, ensure it has the ideal growing environment (compost/coffee and cake) and then hope for the best. And there’s also an element of creating something out of nothing about both.
Do we have plans for horticultural books? If the right project (and people) came along we would certainly consider creating a separate imprint.
Would you rather be known as an author or a publisher?
I don’t see it as a choice between the two. Indeed, I would argue that both are essential to what I/we do. I meet a lot of authors because I’m an author myself and that’s been the channel through which many of our titles have come to us. Plus, presenting to young people gives me a keen sense of what they want. That informs our editing and the titles we acquire. And, on the other side, being involved in acquiring and shaping the books of others helps me focus on what I need to do with my own writing. Yes, there’s only one of me (don’t believe any of the claims that I’ve been cloned), but I manage to fit in publishing, presenting, writing (occasionally, and always on trains) and a few other things to boot.
A different – but relevant – question might be: which am I likely to become known for. Again, I hope both, with the answer being dependant upon who’s being asked. I’d hope that those in publishing would know me best for publishing; whereas I’d hope that young people aged 9+ would know me best for my Lee books and lively, humorous author sessions.

Many thanks for finding the time to answer our questions and best wishes for both projects in the future. And if there is an imprint for horticulture please remember - we also review non-fiction.
If you would like to follow Lee then he can be found at

Friday 14 October 2011

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Wish I'd Read It Sooner
review by Maryom

The Eyre Affair was of those books that I'd heard about, intended to read but somehow never got round to. Then events seemed to conspire to bring it back to my attention - first it came up in conversation as Jasper Fforde walked past us at Edinburgh Book Festival, then later he was good enough to sign autographs for the Teen and offer writing advice for her friend, and the following week, a later book in the series cropped up in a B+B! It was definitely time to read it!

Thursday Next is a Literary Detective - Litera Tec - in an alternative universe where trade in first edition classics is big, criminal, business. Mainly her work is involved with tracking down the gangs behind this trade but then her path crosses that of Acheron Hades, a master criminal who has plans to kidnap characters from novels and hold them to ransom. Can Thursday find a way of thwarting his plans before literature as we know it is changed forever?

The Eyre Affair is a marvellous work of imagination. It's alternate reality - of airships, pet dodos, an audience participation version of Richard III, an ongoing Crimean War and a Soviet Republic in Wales - is jam-packed with the wonderful and bizarre but holds firmly together with it's own internal logic. The plot moves briskly through its many twists, turns and time-loops with hardly a still moment for Thursday to catch her breath. I was slightly surprised that 'Jane Eyre', while always there in the background, didn't figure more highly and consistently throughout the plot - but that's just an issue with the title not the appeal of the book.
If this were the only Thursday Next novel, I'd wonder how the author was going to keep up his inventiveness but as I've arrived rather late at the party there are many more ready and waiting for me to discover - hopefully all as wonderfully eccentric. I find it a little sad though that only in a work of fiction is literature cared about so much.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - fantasy

Buy The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next) from Amazon

Thursday 13 October 2011

Linda Strachan Interview

Today we welcome Linda Strachan who we met at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We have reviewed both Spider and Dead Boy Talking and really enjoyed both although they are very different in styles.
Spider... It is really a most powerful story telling of joy riding and it's side effects. The speed and feeling of invincibility, the confusion of passenger noise and then the calm of the after effects and the emergency services. It carries a great feeling of either experience or research. Can you tell us how you came to be able to portray so much so vividly?
I have no experience of joyriding but I did spend quite a few years around car enthusiasts when I was an older teenager, going to car rallies and driving around in fast cars.When I was writing Spider I wanted the crash, and the aftermath, to feel very real, so I did a lot of research - going out with an ambulance crew on a Saturday night-shift - attending a crash simulation day at the local fire training school where they had to extract trainee firemen from mangled cars.I wanted to know what happened after a crash so that I could understand what it sounded like and felt like being inside a car, when they took the roof off to get people out. I wanted to make it feel real. I also went to speak to a teenager who had been involved in stealing cars and joyriding. He helped me to get the voice for Spider.

And then there was Dead Boy Talking... again told so very vividly... Was this research or experience or just from observation?
I have no experience of being stabbed but with Dead Boy Talking I did what I always try to do and that is to put myself inside my character's head. I try to be that person, to see what they see, feel what they feel. Sometimes that can be very uncomfortable, I have a vivid imagination!I wasn't sure if I had managed to portray the real feeling of being stabbed, so I was delighted when one of the first people to read it told me that they knew what it felt like, from personal experience, and could assure me it was almost too painful to read. I had nailed it!

What was your inspiration for these stories - where did it come from?
I suppose Spider and Dead Boy Talking both came about because having sons of my own I always feel for the families when I read in the papers about teenagers who are killed driving on the roads, or by being stabbed. It seems such a waste of their lives, their potential. Joyriding happens everywhere and many teenagers (mostly, but not only, boys) love cars and speed, and think they are invincible. It will never happen to them. I wanted to explore not only what transpires when, in a moment, everything goes wrong; but also what is going on in their lives to lead them to this point and what happens afterwards. We are often driven by circumstances to make bad decisions in the rush of the moment, but more so when we are young. The choices we make at times like this are not necessarily choices we would make in calm or different circumstances, and often one thing will lead to another until it becomes a spiral of dangerous choices and bad decisions. So I find I am putting my characters in this kind of situation and following what happens to them.I was trying to decide what I was going to write after Spider when the title and the first line of Dead Boy Talking came to me. I was on a train and thinking about the news stories of young boys who have been stabbed and I wondered what it would be like to be sitting in the dark, all alone frightened and bleeding.I could hear a boy's voice in my head saying. 'In 25 minutes I will be dead.' I still have the notebook where I wrote it and the first page has almost not changed at all. Gradually I began to find out more about Josh, what was going on in his life and how he got to that point.When I am writing I usually don't know what is going to happen to the characters in the end. I prefer to find out as the characters do, to live the story with them. So I didn't know what was going to happen to Spider at the end of the book, or whether Josh would live or die.

We hear rumours of a third teen crime novel is in the offing? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I am writing a third teen novel which should be out next year (2012). I don't have a title for it, which is fairly usual for me (Dead Boy Talking was the exception!) It is about Arson or Fire setting as it is known north of the border. But it is much more than that, it is - a 'who dun it? and a look at our perceptions of other people and how wrong we can be when we make snap judgements, about both friends and strangers.
And then there is.... Hamish McHaggis. On a recent holiday in Scotland we saw, almost everywhere, books about Hamish and his various adventures. These books are colourful and fun and seem to be designed to appeal to the young audience - a very important audience. We hear that a tenth book in the series is about to be launched. Can you tell us a little about Hamish and his adventures?
Hamish McHaggis is a lot of fun to write and I work very closely with the illustrator, Sally J. Colins which is fairly unusual. With other illustrated books I have written I've never even met the illustrator, but Sally and I work together as soon as I have the story outline. We are working on the 10th book in the series Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt, at the moment. It will be published at Easter 2012.

We hear that he does travel abroad - to Japanese and Australian(?) bookshelves - but we don't see him come to England. Why is this? Does he dislike the English, because I cannot see the English disliking him?
The Hamish books have indeed got a far reach. They are very popular in Scotland in schools as well as in homes all over the world. Hamish has been in the USA this summer, attending several Highland Games there. I recently did a tour of schools in New Zealand and they loved Hamish and his adventures.Hamish does have fans in England but, as often happens, the response in bookshops in England is often that it is too 'Scottish' so they don't often want to stock it because they think it will not sell. I hope that will soon change. I have been invited to speak in schools all over England and Hamish has been very well received everywhere.Hamish has not had an adventure outside Scotland yet, but I am hoping we will be seeing him over the border before too long!

We also hear rumours that you may shortly be publishing for adults. Can you tell us a little about that at all yet?
The future – Yes, I have been researching a novel for adults for a number of years and I think I am almost ready to devote the time it needs. It has been a bit of a personal project that has simmered on the back burner for a long time.I can't say too much about it just yet, but it came about when I heard a family story about my Italian great-grandparents and decided it was so fascinating that I wanted to know more. I decided early on that this was going to be a work of fiction, based very loosely on that story. I know who my characters are and I have begun to write it.But at the moment I need to find time in a busy schedule of writing for young children and YA. I also have far too many ideas for stories I want to write for children slightly older than Hamish fans and younger than YA, and a fairly hectic diary of author visits, both here and abroad (I love to travel!) So I am not making any promises about the adult story. Writing for young people is so interesting and often a lot of fun!

Many thanks Linda for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to your future books. You can find out more about Linda on her website

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The Eddie Dickens Trilogy By Philip Ardagh

Review by The Mole

When we attended the Edinburgh Book Festival we had the opportunity to meet, if only briefly, the author, Philip Ardagh.

Shortly before our trip, Maryom had won a copy of "The Eddie Dickens Trilogy" the special 10th anniversary edition that was a year late. Well 11th doesn't sound so good does it. Maryom had read some already and warned me that they are "Very, very silly" and what's wrong with silly I wonder.

The first story "Awful End" finds Eddie's parents ill with an unknown disease and the doctor administers an unknown cure. So as not to spread the disease to young Eddie he is sent away into the dubious care of Mad Uncle Jack and Aunt Maud. What could go wrong? Well, perhaps everything.

These are clearly children's books and the stories are not only easily read but they have a style of writing that will draw children in and leave them wanting more. I don't come under the 'children' category any longer but to me it brought nostalgic days of listening to "The Clitheroe Kid", "The Navy Lark" and "Around The Horne". The humour is clean, obvious and easy to enjoy. The cover says "Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize" and while I have never noted Roald Dahl stories as particularly funny, Eddie Dickens is well deserving of this prize.

If you get the opportunity to meet Mr Ardagh then be warned - he leaves quite an impression on you. Yes, he is bearded - a full set to be more accurate. And yes he is tall - he left me feeling naked as he looked down on my balding bits. (Note to self - wear a hat should the opportunity to meet him arise again.) But he also has a quick and harmless wit that leaves you thinking "I should have said..." long after it's too late..

Publisher - Faber & Faber
Genre - children, adventure, humour

Buy The Eddie Dickens Trilogy from Amazon

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Nicola Morgan - Interview

A huge welcome today to Nicola Morgan - Google search's top result for 'Crabbit Old Bat' - who we met in Edinburgh and spent some time chatting to. We have also reviewed Wasted - one of her many books that was loved by both of us as well as our teen daughter.

You've written many, many books - fiction and non fiction - but it's your foray into social-networking and promotion that interests me today....

How important is a web presence for an author today?

Increasingly. It has been for non-fiction for a while - for obvious reasons, as you do need to show expertise in your subject and it provides a way for potential readers to see and respect you. Then in the US it became important for fiction. And now in the UK, too, it's pretty essential unless you are very lucky. I've now heard several publishers say they won't take anyone new who hasn't got or isn't prepared to create some kind of online presence. Trouble is, half the time the publishers have no clue how the author is supposed to do this. They just say, "Do it." But you know, I'd actually say that it's quite important even apart from what publishers say, because it's about communication with other humans, and that's generally a beneficial thing anyway, isn't it? I enjoy it (luckily!), though it does sometimes become too much - but that's usually because I've let it. We need to keep control and achieve a balance. No single bit is compulsory, as long as we do something.
Does it really have an impact on sales?
Yes. But that is not why I do it and if you do it because of that then I think it will either fail or be horribly uncomfortable. I can't quantify the benefit because I can't say how many books I or anyone would sell if we weren't doing this stuff. (And I'm not at all interested in measuring it.) But I know that I have come into close contact with people who a) wouldn't have heard of me otherwise and b) who now might buy my books. I also know that they often do. But I have absolutely no intention of counting them or even wondering if any one of them has bought a book. Intuitively, I know I've got more readers because of it, but that feels like a bonus more than an intention. The times when I've joined a forum solely because I thought I should, I've not enjoyed it and have quickly slunk away.

Is a web-site enough or do you feel they need a more interactive profile such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter?
For most of us - those who don't have huge marketing budgets from our publishers - a website is not enough. It's a start but it's not dynamic or interactive. Readers nowadays need to see us interacting, talking, being somewhat accessible. If we want to generate word of mouth, we must remember that people are more likely to talk about us when they can
see us talking and can talk to us. However, it's usually easy to embed a blog in a website, so it wouldn't be hard to move from static website to dynamic website+blog. And Twitter? Well, to me it's the best. It takes time to get used to it but the benefits are phenomenal. Like a party where you can join lots of conversations at once, an office without the office bore, an encyclopedia written only by people you trust, a source of support when things are going wrong, and a resource for any topic, a job agency, a load of fun... and all free.

Your latest book Tweet Right is all about, er, well, how to Tweet? Is it possible to do this wrongly? Surely we all just get out there and gossip wildly?

Oh gosh it's very possible to do it wrongly! Or at least to do it fruitlessly and not enjoy it. Loads of people have started and left; loads of people arrive and don't know what to do. Loads of people also arrive and manage to get the hang of it easily. But a lot of people who were already tweeting away merrily have bought Tweet Right and realised either that they were getting something badly wrong, or that there were facets they hadn't realised (like the full-stop before the @ name??), or that there were ways in which they could use it even better.

There's a proliferation of book-bloggers on the web these days. How much impact do you feel they have? How useful are blog-tours in promoting an author's work?
Hmmm, loaded question! Yes, there's a proliferation of book-bloggers. I don't honestly know what impact they have because - as with the Twitter thing - I'm really not interested in measuring such things. Lucky I'm not a social scientist, eh?! Blog tours - I do know they are an enormous amount of work for the author and for the blogger. (I didn't do one for Tweet Right for that reason.) I don't really believe they pay off in terms of sales, but I think they are an unpredictably useful and Good Thing: you just never know what might come from it. Would you like to be involved in the Mondays are Red one? :)) *

Lastly, you mentioned on Twitter recently that you'd love to have a book banned. Why? Because there's no such thing as bad publicity?
Actually, I do think there's such a thing as bad publicity. I would hate bad publicity. I'm not thick-skinned. But a book being banned is not (to me) bad publicity - it says nothing about the book and everything about the narrow-minded, mistrustful ignorance of the banner. Banned books are the coolest, most edgy, thrilling, thought-provoking books. Although I don't set out to shock, I do want to provoke mental risk-taking, intellectual challenge. I don't want safe reading. I like books that drag readers out of any complacency and electric-shock them into a new compass. And I believe that fiction is the strongest, best and safest way to deal with difficult subjects. To be banned would be an accolade. Oh and also - many teenagers love to do things that are forbidden so banning a book is the best way to get them to read it!

Many thanks, Nicola, for taking time to join us - and yes, *we'd love to be part of the Mondays Are Red blog tour. You can find out more about Nicola and 'join' her at her website

Monday 10 October 2011

Katie In Scotland by James Mayhew

A Scottish Treat
review by Maryom

We were wondering where to start our little series relating to the Edinburgh Book Festival - and decided on something that wasn't actually part of it! Although James Mayhew was appearing at the Book Festival, the event I wanted to catch was a story-telling session at the National Gallery, where he held the audience entranced and I bought myself this little souvenir afterwards.

Many of you may have encountered Katie on her adventures around - and through - famous paintings. This time though, Katie is off on a different sort of adventure - to Scotland where she encounters the country's most famous resident, Nessie! Along with Katie's brother Jack and Grandma, they journey round Scotland, seeing the sights and having lots of fun!

My special interest in this Katie adventure comes from having watched it develop on James Mayhew's Katiespictureshow blog - from preliminary pencil sketches, through roughed out paintings to finished article. I just wish Katie has been able to visit my favourite areas of Scotland - the West Coast and Hebridean Islands with their turquoise seas, white sands and Scotland other famous beast - the Highland Midge! Maybe another time she will.....

Publisher - Orchard
Genre - children, picture book

Buy Katie in Scotland from Amazon

Edinburgh Book Festival 2011

We had planned a Road Trip around Scotland for our holiday and when we realised that with a bit of tweaking to our holiday plans it would be possible to catch a James Mayhew story-telling event live in Edinburgh, we decided we had to!

As this was taking place at the same time as the Edinburgh International Book Festival, we found that several author and publisher friends would be there on the day so put together arrangements to meet up and say "Hi" to as many as possible. It is a frustration that the timetable of events is not publicly announced for the book festival earlier as that would have given us the ability to re-plan more of our holiday to catch some of the events and maybe meet more people.

The first thing on our itinerary was to go to the National Gallery to see James Mayhew and quite a crowd was gathered to watch as James told the story of Baba Yaga and her house on chicken legs followed by the tale of St George and the Dragon. James was every bit as spell-binding in real life as on the web as he told the stories. He not only tells the tale but illustrates it as he goes - and upside down (the illustration that is, not James). I wish we'd been allowed to video him but the gallery's rules forbid photography of any kind.

After this we ambled up to Charlotte Square where the Edinburgh International Book Festival was in full swing, passing street performers for the fringe and collecting flyers for other events as we went. Now, when I first talked about going to Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of our summer road-trip, the teen (14) wasn't too impressed - standing around while I talked to people is NOT her idea of fun - but when one of her friends asked her to collect autographs and writing tips for him, she got a lot more enthusiastic.
We'd arranged to meet with Linda Strachan and Nicola Morgan at the authors' yurt - which proved a little trickier than we'd expected as it's location is kept secret from the general public! Fortunately there were helpful stewards around to send us in the right direction. Both Linda and Nicola are writers of YA fiction (amongst other things) which we've both enjoyed. I've met Linda before, when I was in Edinburgh at Easter, and Nicola was someone I felt I knew from many conversations with her through Twitter - though I would say she wasn't as crabbity in real life as she claims to be! - and she presented me with one of her special 'crabbit old bags' which I will use at future book festivals. (Many thanks, Nicola) Also with them was Emma Barnes (Author of Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher and How (Not) to Make Bad Children Good).
Nicola, Linda and Emma were the first authors to be cornered by the Teen in her autograph hunt and Teen started to find people who talked to her like she wasn't a child and became rather more involved. We could happily have spent much longer chatting about holiday plans, midges, what reviewers do when they really dislike a book etc but everyone had events to go to.
Leaving the Mole checking out one of the festival's bookshops - where he'd found some of his reviews posted (4) - The Teen and I went on an Author Hunt to see how many autographs we could bag. Now, rather unfairly perhaps, we hadn't had time to go to anyone's event and we hadn't bought their books but just tagged onto the end of the 'author signing' queues but everyone we approached was most welcoming and willing to pass on their writing tips for the Friend. A special mention must go to Simon Puttock who I disrupted full flow when a friend I'd been hoping to meet walked past - sorry, Simon. We also were privileged to catch an impromptu re-run of Jasper Fforde's event, performed along with Philip Ardagh, for some unfortunate New Zealand fans who'd arrived 5 minutes too late for the real thing and not been allowed in - I'm not sure how much resemblance this held to the original but certainly deserved an award for Best Comedy Performed By Children's Authors.

We finished the day by meeting Keith Charters, children's author and, like us, a grow-your-own enthusiast and getting thrown out of Pizza Hut because the staff had homes to go to apparently. While we asked a lot of questions it was also nice to answer questions about our minor contribution in the process. But it was also nice to talk about other things that make people people!

Many thanks to everyone for their time in the day and it's a shame we couldn't have spent more time in Edinburgh!

Friday 7 October 2011

The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Not Just Another Zombie Apocalypse.
review by Maryom

Sherry has spent the past 3 years hiding in a bunker with her family while outside the world she knew has crumbled away. When the lack of food eventually forces her and her father to venture outside, they are totally unprepared for what they find. LA has become an empty wasteground peopled only by the terrifying Weepers. So called for the milky tears that mark their faces, these are humans mutated by a strain of rabies, who are now hunting down those still unaffected. Fortunately, handsome guy Joshua is on hand to help, to take Sherry to a safe refuge, to help rescue her family and to distract her from the horrors of this new world. But he and the other survivors Sherry meets have even more horrific tales to share... Can there be any safe haven in this new life?

To be honest, I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. The 'survivors in a world of mutants' scenario is a well-used one - from Day of the Triffids to I Am Legend - and The Other Life follows the basic formulaic story-line of the genre. What matters, of course, is the way in which the story is told - and the Other Life is absolutely gripping. Susanne Winnacker certainly has a knack of capturing atmosphere - from the opening paragraphs in the bunker where everyone's nerves are at cracking point through stomach-churning encounters with the repulsive Weepers to the relative idyll of Safe Haven, the reader is dragged in and feels 'there' alongside Sherry - sometimes when the Weepers are involved, maybe just a little too much.
As to be expected, there's a lot of gore so maybe it's not a book for the squeamish.

Once started The Other Life is a book you'll find impossible to put down - the only drawback to it is the long wait for Book 2 The Life Beyond.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Usborne

Genre - teen,
paranormal, thriller

Published February 2012

Thursday 6 October 2011

Crimson Shard By Teresa Flavin Blog Tour

We have read and enjoyed Teresa's books The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard and today are delighted to be part of the blog tour at the launch of The Crimson Shard.

The Inspiration of Alternative Worlds in Paintings
I have my wonderful parents to thank for my fascination with old paintings and the subsequent appearance of magical artworks in my novels The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard. I devoured their books about medieval and Renaissance art because of the strange and beautiful images in them. The paintings’ subjects were sometimes lurid and terrible: meticulous depictions of martyrs’ beheadings or devils taunting saints in the desert. There were works like Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, which were packed full of odd hybrid creatures, grotesque figures and objects in weird landscapes. I could look at these three images for hours, from the depiction of paradise on the left, earthly delights in the centre, to hell on the right, and wonder exactly what was going on in these scenes. Much of the work’s detailed meaning and symbolism may be lost on today’s viewers, though it is clear that the paintings serve as a warning against immorality and sinful behavior.
I never particularly wished I could step inside the worlds of Bosch’s paintings, but there are those I would love to enter. At the top of this list is The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In it, a huge Romanesque tower is under construction, rising out of a sprawling landscape and precariously close to a harbor. The building is lined with arches and entrances that I have always found very enticing. I would love to join the hordes of tiny people in this picture, to be able to climb inside this construction or to go onboard the ships. The sense of space and drama never fails to draw me in. It was this quality that I wanted to emulate in my invented painting, The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, which is at the centre of The Blackhope Enigma.

Some of my favourite paintings depict scenes from mythological stories. Piero di Cosimo’s Perseus Frees Andromeda is a great interpretation of a Greek myth about the hero freeing the princess from the clutches of a sea monster sent by Poseidon. This painting’s world has a lovely sense of space and depth, like The Tower of Babel, and invites the viewer inside to watch Perseus slay Cetus, the monster. The onlookers wear exotic and stunningly coloured robes and headpieces; the water is a luminous and clear blue-green and the houses on the distant hills are tiny golden gems. Even Cetus, with his odd flippers, tusks and curly tail, is gorgeous. I could imagine this sort of scene being played out in the marine underworld below The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia.
Aside from the astonishing subjects of these religious and mythological paintings, I relish the lush colour and detail of the clothing and objects, the way hairstyles or angels’ wings are rendered. Some paintings have a kinship with woven tapestries or Persian miniatures in their rich pigmentation and rhythmic patterning in the composition. I have also found these decorative qualities in the work of great illustrators like Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen, who illustrated folk tales and stories from European origins as well as from the Arabian Nights. I have always wanted to paint images that are as dream-like and evocative as these – and when the writing bug bit me, I wanted to do the same with words.
Readers have asked me whether The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia is a real painting that they can see somewhere. I’m flattered that they think it might exist and hate to disappoint them when I say I invented the painting and its underworlds. I also assure them that they’ve already ‘seen’ it in their mind’s eye.
The pivotal painting in The Crimson Shard is simple in comparison to The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia. It’s a mural of a door painted in the super-realistic trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) style and transforms into a time travel portal under the right circumstances. Before I had even nailed down this novel’s plot, I knew it would involve murals that can fool the eye. I have always been surprised and delighted by architectural murals: windows painted onto plain walls, blue sky and clouds on a ceiling, books painted onto library shelves. I admire the trompe l’oeil artist’s ability to create playful magical illusions and to delight the viewer.
There is a long history of trompe l’oeil painting. One of my favourite examples is by the 18th century painter Henry Fuseli, whose paintings often depict the supernatural. He is best known for The Nightmare, but he also made a charming image called, appropriately, Trompe L’oeil, that features some of the loveliest painted wood grain ever, and a casually tacked-up sketch of farm animals. Not only do I want to touch that sketch and smooth out its wrinkles, I want to know what world it was painted in. I ask myself what is going on beyond the edges of that canvas in the rest of the scene that we cannot see and rejoice in the sense of wonder that paintings inspire.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Already Gone by John Rector

A Real Nail Biter
review by Maryom

Jake Reese has put his violent past behind him - he's got a new job, teaching at the University; a new wife, Diane; he's even written a book about his life so far. When he's attacked in a car park, he's tempted at first to put it down to random bad luck but then he realises that someone hasn't quite finished with him yet and maybe his past is not as 'behind him' as he'd hoped.

Already Gone is a tense, fast-moving thriller that leads you in and keeps you turning the pages. Told in the first person from Jake's point of view, the reader shares his bewilderment as he finds his world rocked on its foundations. The unexpected twists and turns of the plot left me trying to decide who Jake should believe and trust right till the very last page. As might be expected, it's rather violent, but only when called for in the plot, and I found it possible to step back and not be too disturbed by it. The characters are believable and real, even if some of the lesser ones feel a bit 2 dimensional.
At under 350 pages, Already Gone is an excellent read for anyone who likes John Grisham's style but finds his books too long (that would be me). This is the first John Rector novel I've read and I'm now off to check out his previous one, Cold Kiss.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster

Genre - adult, thriller

Buy Already Gone from Amazon

Monday 3 October 2011

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

A thriller to make you think.
review by Maryom

Chris and Imran were childhood best mates - blood brothers through thick and thin - till world events started to drive a wedge between them. Slowly but surely they start to move away from each other - Chris to join the army, Imran drifting towards Islamic militants.
The book starts as Chris is about to receive a medal for his actions in Afghanistan - he receives a text from Imran claiming that extremists are about to set off a bomb. They haven't spoken in years -Should Chris believe him?
Nicely balanced book showing both points of view against a thriller type setting. The characters are well-imagined and, importantly, believable - not just Chris and Imran but the 'supporting cast' of family and friends come over as real flesh and blood people with differing attitudes and beliefs. Against a background of rising global terrorism, it's easy to understand how the two boys feel pulled in opposite directions.

A full-of-tension thriller with a race against time ending, but one that will make you stop and think about all the rights and wrongs involved on both sides.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - Teen, thriller

Buy An Act of Love from Amazon