Category Archives: Guest post

GUEST POST: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

What if you could save lives? What if, with just the touch of your hand, you could stop an animal, or even a person, dying? You’d do it, wouldn’t you? But what if it meant you got older each time? Older and older….until you had no time left yourself. Would you do it then?

When this book came through the post, I knew instantly I would love it. Sometimes, a story just captures a little space in your imagination, before you’ve even read it. Lonny Quicke did that for me. Wonderfully written, authentic and engaging characters, and a compelling plot, I read The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum, in one sitting.

At the heart of the story is Lonny, an ordinary boy with the extra-ordinary power of a lifeling. A power which enables him to heal or give life to the dying – at a great cost to himself. Such are the risks, Lonny and his family live in the forest, away from the town of Farstoke, to keep him safe – can you imagine what would happen if people knew? But of course, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long, especially when there are family to take care of and mouths to feed – and an extraordinary boy who longs to live an ordinary life. A narrative rich with folklore and stories, life or death choices will take on new meaning when you read this book and you’ll find yourself wondering, what would you do?

I am so pleased to welcome author Kirsty to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post about the songs behind the story (yes, that’s right – songs – you’ll have to read the book now!). Welcome to the blog Kirsty!

Songs in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is a lifeling, able to restore life to dying creatures with just the touch of his hand. Halfway through the story Lonny finds himself at street festival, surrounded by songs he knows but doesn’t remember learning and ‘stories that are nearly the same as the ones I’ve known forever.’ I incorporated four songs into the book at this point, to help build the festival atmosphere:

A Frog he would a-Wooing Go – A traditional folk song telling the story of a courting frog, understood to be satirising the highly political royal courtships of the 16th century.

My Grandfather’s Clock – Written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, this song tells the story of an old man and his longcase clock. It’s said to be the source of the term ‘grandfather clock’, and the music sets a steady tick, tock pace throughout.

Oranges and Lemons – Each line of this traditional nursery rhyme represents the distinctive chime of a particular set of London church bells, except for the last few lines which depict a grisly death.

Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! – A folk song of unknown origins which has an intriguing mix of biblical, astronomical and possibly even pagan references.

The thing I find most interesting about these songs is that, as I wrote the book, they just appeared in my head, asking to be included. And when I examined them I realised they were ideal. Mr Frog, for example, disobeys a parent and goes out when he’s been told not to – just like Lonny. My Grandfather’s Clock and Oranges and Lemons have clear themes of time, life and death – all key themes in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. And Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! contains the line ‘Two! Two! The lily-white boys, all dressed up in green hi-ho!’ – which could easily be a description of Lonny and his brother at the festival. These songs, then, were lyrically perfect – but they also seemed to embody the essence of the book. With the exception of My Grandfather’s Clock, they all manifest themselves in many different versions, changing through time and place. This is exactly what I wanted to explore in Lonny Quicke about stories – that they change, depending on who is telling them and what message that particular storyteller is trying to get across. On top of that, all four songs have a timeless, folkloric quality. It’s as if they’ve been around forever. Again, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my lifeling folklore in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke.

So the words and tunes that filled my childhood world – all the songs I’d been immersed in as I grew up – have become so much part of me that the right ones just rose out of my subconscious when I needed them. And these four songs of time and life, which I’ve always known but don’t remember learning, are perfect.”

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review and to Kirsty Applebaum for contributing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

Guest Post: A fairy tale partnership – The Tooth Fairy and the Royal Mint!

Today on the blog it’s a great pleasure to welcome Samuel Langley-Swain, author of the new Tooth Fairy series published by Owlet Press and created in partnership with The Royal Mint. These delightful picture books bring to life the legend of the Tooth Fairy with a brand new look and feel, representing a diverse range of wonderful characters and celebrating the magical tradition around loosing a tooth! It’s a brilliant concept, with The Royal Mint being the official provider of coins to the fairies as they collect children’s teeth. Lively illustrations by David Ortu capture the engaging narratives and young readers will no doubt be very excited when they loose a tooth after reading these stories!

Author Samuel, and also the founder of publisher Owlet Press shares some insight into the partnership with The Royal Mint and how he set about creating these lovely stories. Welcome to the blog Sam!

“When the partnership with The Royal Mint was finalised, I was not only proud to partner with such a prestigious organisation, but really keen to work on a dynamic brief, to revitalise the tradition of The Tooth Fairy with a new breed of Tooth Fairy character, who would provide a positive role model for all children.

Steeped in generations of heritage, bringing a sense of childhood wonder to The Royal Mint’s site was easy – a magical, undiscovered place where all the coins in our country are made. The move from the Tower of London to Wales (dragon country) would also be an exciting journey for children to follow in the first, introductory story (Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon) with such iconic locations. There is a natural synergy between the age-old tradition of The Tooth Fairies delivering coins and centuries of minting, which very nicely positions The Royal Mint as the ‘official supplier of coins to The Tooth Fairy’ and gave us an authentic starting point for this picture book series.

Being an author and the founder of an inclusive children’s book publisher, the idea of revisiting this classic character/tradition and bringing her/it up to date with a range of tooth fairies that represent a wider range of readers – while quite a radical reimagining – was of great appeal.  We set out to challenge the archetype of the ‘blonde lady with blue eyes and a glittery dress’. Our intent was to not only inspire a range of young girls of all backgrounds to see themselves in fairies, but to also appeal to all the young boys who lose their teeth and place them under their pillow.

So, we set about creating a lead character who would be smart, witty, brave and also caring; a modern Mary Poppins who would appeal to readers of all ages and genders as a progressive and positive role model – inclusive in their appearance. We studied modern female leads from all types of children’s fiction, to find characters that were more inclusive in their appeal.

When briefing Davide Ortu, an experienced illustrator, on our character, we asked him to incorporate beauty, bravery and strength/labour into our lead’s costume (e.g. inspired by icons such as ‘Rachet Rosie’ and Merida from Disney’s ‘Brave’). I think that Davide being from Italy and living in Spain (where the tooth fairy is replaced by other creatures in their tooth-related traditions) allowed him to look with fresh eyes at creating a ‘Tooth Fairy for today’.

But we also went beyond that, and established this lead character as the Chief of the Tooth Fairies, enabling us to create an inclusive series of tooth fairies to feature within the books; all with the aesthetic traits of their leader, but different genders, skin colours and body types. We’ve also integrated ‘watch-mouse’ inspired by the mouse that takes teeth in many other countries around the world and have worked on an inclusive line up of loveable characters for our forthcoming titles. 

The result is a collection of striking and recognisable fairies that are established within the first two titles in a series of six picture books. I can’t wait to see the reaction of our young readers and hope that these stories bring a new sense of wonder as their teeth are placed under pillow!”

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers and The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey, written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by Davide Ortu, are available now, £7.99 paperback  (Owlet Press/The Royal Mint).  

Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon is written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by Jessica Rose, out now, £7.99 paperback (Owlet Press/The Royal Mint). 

With thanks to Owlet Press for sending me these books to review.

BLOG TOUR: The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra

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:

BLOG TOUR: What did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillian, illustrated by Sam Usher

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 @cguillain and check out the rest of the blog tour: