BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


Fire Maker

The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Children’s Book Award BLOG TOUR! Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

CBA-no-date-3-300x219I am hugely excited to be participating in the Children’s Book Award official blog tour in the books for older readers category again this year.  It’s the only national book award to be voted for entirely by children from start to finish and as such makes the award even more noteworthy.

Today I’m championing Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, published by Barrington Stoke.  Tom has written some fantastic historical fiction titles and this is no exception.

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Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

Lily has lots of worries. Sheʼs struggling to compete in her fell-running races and, worse, sheʼs losing her gran to Alzheimerʼs. But then she discovers her great-great-grandfatherʼs diaries from the First World War. Could his incredible story of bravery help her reconnect with her gran and even give her the inspiration she needs to push through and win?

Lily is really fed-up with always finishing her beloved fell-races as a runner-up.  At the end of every race, she just can’t seem to breakthrough the final barrier and push forward for the win. Endlessly frustrated, Lily’s worries are compounded by a visit to her grandparents and being faced with the reality that her wonderful grandmother is suffering with dementia.  The impact her grandmother’s illness is having on her family becomes all too real – even Lily’s irritating little brother can see how different everything is and looks to her for comfort.  A surprise discovery about her great-great-grandfather, Ernest, provides an unexpected escape and incredible connection with the past, offering Lily the inspiration she needs.  For he too was a fell-runner and faced huge pain and suffering during the course of World War One.  As his experiences come to life in the pages of his diaries, Lily starts to see that maybe she can get through her struggles and be like Ernest.

First and foremost this is a fantastic story – moving, engaging, thrilling, insightful – brilliant storytelling at its best. Bringing together two narratives, Armistice Runner provides an amazing insight into the fallen heroes of World War One alongside the experiences of Lily, whose family situation is causing great suffering.  With themes of conflict, family, rivalry and perseverance you can’t fail to be moved.  I knew nothing about fell-running prior to reading this story and found this aspect completely fascinating.  I have read many stories set in World War One, but Armistice Runner brings a new perspective on the horrors of trench warfare and the suffering endured by those on the Front and those at home. Tom Palmer captures this brilliantly and the empathy that Lily feels for Ernest, perfectly mirroring her own sadness as her grandmother slowly fades through dementia. It was particularly moving to see how this horrible illness affected the whole family and the moments where Lily sees her father’s response to his mother’s decline will have your heart aching. As Lily reaches the end of Ernest’s diaries, she finally discovers what happened to him and is given the best example of perseverance, kindness and friendship.

Armistice Runner offers opportunities for readers to truly relate to the themes of conflict through the parallels drawn with fell-running and the determination, bravery, and grit required to complete a race.  Endurance takes on new meaning as we see Ernest running through the trenches to save his fellow soldiers and escape the horrors of war. However, at no point is the story inaccessible to readers, on the contrary, it will help them gain a new understanding of World War One through the understanding it generates.  With a great female protagonist in Lily and an inspirational hero in Ernest, Armistice Runner is the best combination of story, hope and empathy. I would highly recommend it and its place on the Children’s Book Award shortlist is thoroughly deserved.

You can reading the first chapter of Armistice Runner here and find out more about Tom Palmer here. As a Barrington Stoke title, Armistice Runner offers a truly accessible read, with a super-readable layout and typeface so that even more readers can enjoy it.

CBA-no-date-3-300x219The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. Any child up to the age of 18 can visit to vote for their favourite books from the top 10. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by the Testing Groups. Previous winners of the award include, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, Quentin Blake, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Rick Riordan.

Follow the award on Twitter @cbacoordinator and use #fcbgcba19 to stay up to date!  And don’t forget to check out the rest of the CBA Blog Tour and the other books in the Older Reader’s category:

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With thanks to  the Children’s Book Award for inviting me to participate in this wonderful award blog tour. Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of Armistice Runner to review.

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