I’m delighted to be kicking off DAY ONE of the blog tour for an exciting new historical detective series for middle-grade readers. Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery by award-winning author Julia Golding, published by Lion Hudson, imagines a young Jane as a budding detective, showing all the signs of the literature genius she will become!
‘The life of a clergyman’s daughter in rural Hampshire was disappointingly full of duties, and there were few things for an adventurous girl to do. This was why Jane always considered it fortunate to have been involved in a carriage accident. Without that disaster she would never have met the Abbey ghost.‘
Following the accident, Jane is sent to be companion to Lady Cromwell for a week as the household prepares to celebrate the eldest son’s coming-of-age party, in place of her older sister who can no longer attend due to a broken arm. Little does Jane know that the week will be far more interesting than it initially promises, with not just ghosts to discover, but a house full of secrets too. Thoroughbred race horses, midnight thefts, mechanical inventions, family feuds, arson: English aristocracy is not all it seems and the Cromwell family are definitely a force to be reckoned with! Young Jane, notebook in hand and her trusty dog Grandison by her side, sets out to find the truth – and save some new found friends in the process……
Immerse yourself in imagining the world of a young Jane Austen with this delightful mystery story! Bringing the historical period and all the English etiquette and age-old prejudice surrounding class to life, The Abbey Mystery weaves an engaging tale. A wonderful cast of characters ably support the intrepid young Jane, who proves herself a staunch ally when her new found friend, Fitzwilliam, is blamed for a crime he did not commit! Helped by the stable boy, Luke, and the cook’s daughter, Deepti, Jane sets about proving his innocence, regardless of the potential danger. The plot thickens with every page, with multiple strands of the story keeping you guessing. Throughout, there are little nods to grown-up Austen, perhaps showing what her writing might have been inspired by. As historical novels go, it’s a fast read helped by short chapters, engaging and entertaining dialogue and plenty of action. Author Julia Golding always creates believable historical settings and this is no exception; with a doctorate in literature of the period from Oxford she is well-placed to do so! Highly enjoyable, The Abbey Mystery is a great addition to the middle-grade detective series genre and I am already looking forward to Jane’s next adventure in book two!
With thanks to Lion Hudson for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:
If you’re looking for an action-packed, fantasy thriller then Monstrous Devices by Damien Love , published by One World imprint, Rock the Boat, is for you – publishing in paperback on 1st April. Today is my stop on the blog tour and I’m delighted to be hosting a quick Q & A and sharing an exclusive extract from the story!
When Alex receives an old tin robot in the post, the note from his grandfather reads: “This one is special”. But it doesn’t take Alex long to suspect that the toy is more than special – it might also be deadly. Just as things are getting out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, whisking him away into a world of strange, macabre magic. From Paris to Prague, they flee across snowy Europe in a quest to unravel the riddle of the little robot. Will Alex work out the robot’s secrets before it falls into the wrong, wicked hands?
An assured debut, Monstrous Devices has all the ingredients of a sure-fire hit with the next in the series available next month. Darkly entertaining, this middle-grade novel will keep you on your toes, with creepy robot villains, an eccentric grandfather and a likeable protagonist in Alex. Author Damien Love shares some more of the inspiration behind the book today.
Welcome to the blog Damien!
As a child, did you have a relative who inspired you, like Alex’s grandad? A few people have asked that, but, no, not really, not in that way. Alex’s grandfather wasn’t inspired by anyone in my family; there are elements in there of some other people I know…but they don’t know that, so I won’t say who they are. Really, though, I think that when you get down to it, most writers would probably end up confessing that all their characters actually become more like reflections of aspects of themselves – even the villains.
What was your favourite scene to write, and why? Oh, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure there is one that I could single out. But there’s a sequence I was quite happy with ¬– without giving away any spoilers, there’s a scene in Monstrous Devices where the boy at the centre of the story, Alex, gets attacked in a lonely field in the middle of the countryside. The scene started out as a kind of tribute to a very famous scene in one my favourite films, North by Northwest (i.e. I stole it from there), but I think I did an okay job of bending it all around until it fit into the scheme of Monstrous Devices and begin to work as its own thing, too. Plus, I was once advised to drop that scene from the book because there was “too much action”. So I kind of feel protective of it.
Post lockdown, where would you most like to travel? Like a lot of people, the relatively short trips to meet family and friends again are the ones I’m looking forward to most. Beyond that, I’m not sure – I wouldn’t mind going to Prague again someday, though. It’s been a long time since I was there.
Anextract from Monstrous Devices: Hotel Rooftop, Paris
Turning onto the landing below came the tall, broad figure of a man wearing a long black coat and large black hat. When he lifted his face to them, Alex, struck numb with horror, saw it was made of dull metal. Painted eyes. A wire grid for a mouth.
It began climbing the stairs.
“Life-sizer,” his grandfather grunted, turning back up.
There was only one more flight of stairs. It led up to a small, bare half-landing, containing a cupboard door and an iron ladder bolted to the wall, beneath a ceiling hatch. His grandfather was up and through it in a flash of grey, hauling Alex after him. A huge attic, old and dark, musty and empty. They crouched under high slanting roof beams while his grandfather worked with another spool of wire, tying the hatch shut as best he could. He twisted on his heels, searching the dim space around them.
“Nothing to block it with,” the old man muttered, running a hand over his brow. He took Beckman’s little gun from his pocket, weighed it for a second, then threw it far off into the shadows.
“What are you doing?” Alex gasped. “We need that!”
“Never liked guns. C’mon: onward and upward. This way.”
Alex already knew where they were headed. Halfway along the attic, a single skylight glowed dimly, just low enough to reach. Just big enough to fit through. Snow was falling steadily as they climbed out onto the enormous roof.
His grandfather made him go first, crawling away from the window up the steep slope. The cold black tiles were slippery under Alex’s feet. There was little to get a grip on. But, clawing
and scraping, sliding back then scrabbling on, they made it to the pitch of the roof, where they stopped, sitting facing each other on the peak, breath misting the sharp air. A frail full moon pushed through the wisping clouds, staining the rooftop silver.
Freed from concentrating on the climb, drawing breath, Alex’s mind flooded with panic, then a stunning sense of disbelief. He became aware of the raw ache in his throat, his shaking limbs.
The sky was enormous above him.
“What did I tell you?” his grandfather said. He was pointing off behind Alex’s shoulder.
Turning his head, across the stretching roofscape Alex saw the Eiffel Tower, not far away, strangely clear, lit up gold and black, its blue searchlight strafing the swollen cloudbanks.
He turned back. The scream he felt building came out as a sigh. He sagged.
“Yes. That’s very pretty. Tell you what, shall I get my phone out and you can take a picture with it behind me? We could send it to Mum. That would be a nice surprise for her.”
“That’s the spirit. Have to keep your sense of humour about you. Now.” The old man dug in his coat pocket. “Sweet?” He held out the open tin.
“Well, why not. We’re on holiday. Thanks.”
“Sugar’ll do you good. Much-maligned stuff, sugar.” His grandfather squinted, tilting the tin in the weak blue light. “Bit of a Russian Roulette, taking a boiled sweet in the dark. Can’t see what you’re going to get. Ah well, nothing ventured.” He popped one in his mouth and rattled it around his teeth.
“Blackcurrant again! Must be my lucky night. What did you get?”
“Lime,” Alex said. It tasted surprisingly good.
They sat there in silence, sucking sweets on the high snowy roof in the Paris night, smiling stupidly at each other.
“So, now,” his grandfather said. “I should probably tell you the plan, give you something to look forward to.”
“Oh, do we have a plan?”
With thanks to Rock the Boat for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour and follow more of Alex’s adventures in second in the series, The Shadow Arts coming soon.
It’s time to enter the City of Rust! I’m sharing my review of this exciting adventure on the final stop of the blog tour today. Published by Chicken House, City of Rust is the debut middle-grade novel by Gemma Fowler and introduces a sci-fi world of robots, space junk and a daring heroine with her side-kick gecko.
Railey dreams of winning the biggest drone race on Earth with her bio-robotic gecko, Atti. But when her chance is crushed, she flees skywards, hiding out among the Junkers who mine the rubbish orbiting the planet. Here though, Railey discovers something far worse – a huge trash bomb will destroy the world…unless she and Atti do something about it. This is the race of a lifetime….
City of Rust builds a world and characters you believe in right from the opening scenes; there is so much to enjoy in this story. Set in a dystopian future where the world has been turned into a giant junkyard caused by decades of trash, and different ‘spheres’ make up the rust-filled planet. Most people live in Boxville, a city made of giant containers. Scraping a living amongst them, is brave Railey, her aging and delightful half-Junker Gran and staunch friend Atti, and we soon discover there is more going on than day to day junking. After the failure of the drone race, Gran reveals a glimpse of her past and with a bounty hunter robot chasing them, the adventure really begins. Told with a fast-paced plot and engaging narrative, we follow Railey and Atti as they manage to escape, seeking shelter with the Junkers – the clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth known as the Soup. Sinister villains lurk, somehow connected to her Gran’s past life and Railey must use all her engineering ingenuity, with the help of Atti and new Junker friends, to save the world from a dastardly plot.
Full of action, imagination and a whole world of sci-fi wonder to discover, City of Rust is definitely one to add to your bookshelf!
With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour which you can follow here:
It’s DAY THREE of the blog tour for The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra. I’m so pleased to share a guest post from illustrator Padmacandra with insight into the artwork from the story, as well as my thoughts on the book.
The Tale of the Whale is undoubtedly a stunning debut from both author and illustrator, telling the story of a child and whale journeying through the oceans. Their beautiful friendship captures the symbiotic relationship between humans, the sea and the creatures who live in it, and their discoveries show the extreme harm plastic is causing. A lyrical narrative combines with beautifully drawn scenes from under the waves and brings to life the reality of pollution. A brilliant book to support children’s understanding of environmental issues and show just why we need to act now to save our seas. Not only this, it’s a really beautiful book to read and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on award shortlists in months to come.
Welcome to the blog Padmacandra!
“Hello! I am Padmacandra, the illustrator of the Tale of the Whale. I am an ordained Buddhist which is why I have a funny name! Many people think this means the I should be wearing robes or have a bald head, but within my Order it means that I have made a commitment (with quite a long training process) to do everything in my life in the light of kindness and awareness, with the aim of waking up more and more to the truth of the interconnectedness of all life. I was delighted to be asked to illustrate The Tale of the Whale which speaks to this interconnectedness so lyrically and beautifully. Karen and I talked about the importance of the connection between the child and the whale and their friendship throughout the book, as well as connecting with the awesome beauty, joyfulness and depth of the ocean. It was so inspiring to research and make the images of all the ocean creatures, and their home, trying to communicate this beauty and connectedness.
One other detail about me is that I also work part time as a carer for the elderly, mostly living in for a week at a time. I enjoy the simplicity and practicality of the work: it can be such a straightforward way to be of service to others. I have the privilege of often being alongside people when they are facing the challenges of old age – when they have stopped feeling the need to “put on a face”- which feels like a real meeting. Perhaps also this flavour of joy in meeting comes across in the tale of the whale!
My Art Processes
I remember trying to learn Salsa some years ago and finding myself challenged by following step by step instructions. However, when the music started and I was in a group with other people dancing I found myself picking up some of the steps and moves by simply feeling my way. Likewise, with art I’ve found I seem to learn best by playing around and making mistakes. I also find it invaluable to look at the work of others that I admire. Not to copy, but to educate my eye. I find Instagram a good place for this.
I love to experiment with mark making. This was very much encouraged on the Cambridge Art School MA, and I continue to do so. I seem to have settled with oil pastels and wax crayons as a main medium, sometimes (as in The Tale of the Whale) combining these with monoprint textures (the monoprints are created by rolling ink and paint onto paper). I usually create images by laying down lots of lovely colours in layers first. Then I will either create images by scratching away layers to reveal what is underneath, or I add lines and shades on top with more crayon, coloured pencil, and occasionally acrylic pens. Usually, it’s a combination of these!
The Tale of the Whale was a lovely text to illustrate, and particularly as it was my first book as illustrator – I felt in good hands with the designer Ness Wood, and editor Janice Thomson. It was obvious that Karen had really thought about the illustrations in a very skilled way when writing her text. One challenge was to render the underwater scenes as well as the scenes above water. In the end, the method of layering waxy crayons with soft oil pastels on top worked very well, and I combined monoprints with these digitally.
Bringing texture to images is important to me – especially for this older age group of 4 to 8-year-olds who are starting to have a subtler appreciation of it. I hope texture brings more psychological depth, interest and sensitivity to my images. It reflects the way that nature is. Of course, it’s important to get the balance right between simplicity and complexity in an image – an area I find interesting to explore.”
The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra, out now in hardback (£12.99, Scallywag Press. Find out more at scallywagpress.com. With thanks to Scallywag Press for inviting me to host a stop on the blog tour. Don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour:
It’s a celebration of nature and history on the blog today! I’m delighted to share a guest post today on my stop of the blog tour for What did the tree see? by Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher. When I first heard about this picture book I absolutely loved the idea of it. There is something wondrous about the mighty oak tree and the fact they have often lived for hundreds of years – what indeed have these majestic trees seen throughout history? What did the tree see? is a non-fiction picture book that captures exactly this premise through a charming lyrical narrative and wonderfully detailed illustrations. We see an oak tree grow from an acorn, to sapling to a fully grown tree. As it grows, it sees the land change before it, with villages turning to towns and the advent of industrialisation. It’s a lovely depiction of the oak tree and it’s importance in our heritage. There’s a wonderful spread charting the life cycle of an oak tree and a historical timeline tracking what happened in history over the course of a 1,000 years – oak trees can live for a long time! Published in partnership with The National Forest by Wellbeck Children’s, 10p of every book sold goes towards helping look after our forests. Today, we discover a day in the life of a picture book author with Charlotte Guillain and she shares are top tip for would-be writers. Welcome to the blog Charlotte!
“In many ways, I’ve been very lucky over the last year. When the pandemic hit us and the lockdowns started, my working life didn’t really change that much. Of course, I missed the opportunity to meet children in schools and at festivals, but the day-to-day job of writing went on pretty much as normal.
I write non-fiction, such as What Did the Tree See? (illustrated by Sam Usher), on my own but I also write picture books with my husband, Adam. We have a room like a box at the bottom of our tiny garden, which we call the Writing Den, and this is where we head every morning. With schools closing and the whole family having to work at home, we’ve never been more grateful for the extra space the Writing Den gives us. After switching on the computers and the heater and checking emails (and Twitter!), we usually start the day properly by going for a walk. We live just over the road from the Blenheim Palace estate, so we normally head there to breathe in the beautiful green scenery and wander among the wonderful mature trees that are scattered throughout the park. It was on one of these walks that I first had the idea for What Did the Tree See? I wanted to tell the story of an oak tree over the hundreds of years that it has been growing and show how much the world around it has changed. Walking in nature always works well for Adam and I to brainstorm new ideas, thrash out plots and solve writing problems.
After our walk, we head back to the Writing Den. I try to do any new writing in the morning, when I’m feeling fresh and energised from going out. On a good day, I’ll be totally immersed and only surface at lunchtime. When things are feeling harder, there will be more Twitter and tea breaks… After lunch I might continue with the new writing, or I might switch to editing projects that are already in progress, update our website, write publicity such as a blog post or deal with any emails that have arrived during the day.
On some days, we might have a virtual visit with a school anywhere in the world. This is always great fun and it’s so important to be reminded who our readers are, even if we can only see them on a screen. We also spend a lot of time recording videos for our YouTube channel. Lockdowns permitting, we might end our working day with another walk among the trees, discussing how much progress we’ve made on a manuscript and helping each other to solve any problems that may have arisen. My top tip for any would-be writers: Don’t spend too much time at your desk! Get out into the fresh air and hang out with some trees if you can. You’ll be amazed how much it helps!“
What Did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Sam Usher (£12.99, Welbeck Children’s) available now.
With thanks to Wellbeck Children’s for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Find out more on Twitter: @KidsWelbeck and @cguillainand check out the rest of the blog tour: