Category Archives: Guest post

BLOG TOUR: Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling

Take a trip to a magical isle and be swept away by song, in this wonderful tale by Nicholas Bowling, Song of the Far Isles. It’s the final day of the blog tour and I’m sharing a musical instrument-inspired guest post from the author!

Music is the life-blood of Little Drum, one of the Far Isles, feeding the souls of all who live there – those alive and the ancestors who now exist as ‘ghasts’. Oran plays the cithara, her birth instrument, and such is her skill even at her young age, she plays as though it is part of her, inspiring and thrilling all who listen. All this is brought to a stop by the arrival of the the Duchess from the mainland, along with an order for silence – no more music. Ever. A threat to the very heart of the community, Oran is determined to save her home and life as she has always known it. So begins a quest to find the mythical instrument that might just hold the key to changing the Duchess’ mind, taking Oran and her ghast friend Alick to places they can only imagine. Beautifully told, Song of the Far Isles is lyrcial to it’s core, showing the wonder and power of music to bring life, love and liberty to all.

I’m delighted to welcome author Nicholas to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post sharing the meaning behind each of the instruments in the story. Welcome to the blog Nicholas!

The Nine Instruments of the Chorus

“While writing Song of the Far Isles, I thought a lot about why musicians choose their particular instrument – or why the instrument chooses them. I have played music long enough to know that the stereotypes of certain players (e.g. bassists: reliable, versatile, excellent lovers) are for the most part true. This led me to wonder whether there might be a sort of “zodiac” for the musicians of the Far Isles, in which a specific instrument might naturally attract, and develop, a specific set of emotional or physical attributes.

So, here they are: the Nine Instruments of the Chorus. Which one are you?

Cithara

The cithara is the first of the instruments, and the most versatile. It is unique in not having a specific partner-instrument, and will happily duet with any of the Nine. Cithara players are just the same – open-minded, open-hearted, friendly to all (even when they should be more circumspect). Cithara players are creative, imaginative, and often characterised as dreamers. They usually have an adventurous streak, and have difficulty seeing the seriousness and danger of certain situations.

Fiddle

Fiddle-players have long had to endure the age-old joke about being “too highly strung”. While it is true that they have a tendency towards worry, and do not cope well with change and disorder, they are also fiercely loving and selfless souls. They are tireless workers – often on the behalf of others – and their quick fingers make them exceptional craftsmen and women.

Barrow fiddle

Traditionally the accompaniment to funeral song, players of the barrow fiddle are, like their instruments, a thoughtful and melancholy bunch. In general they are self-sufficient and happiest in their own company, but the friendships they do form are incredibly strong. To those who know them they are loyal, trustworthy and can always be relied upon for sound advice and a sympathetic ear.

Sea Horn

Brash and brassy, players of the sea horn are perhaps the most confident of musicians. They are born leaders. They love to be in the company of others, and others love to be around them – not least to catch their jokes and stories. Typically, sea horn players have incredible amounts of energy, and are known to be spontaneous to the point of recklessness. Underestimate their mood swings at your peril…

Bombard

Bombard players are renowned for being deeply affectionate and soulful sorts (the bombard is often known by its colloquial name, “the lover’s pipe”). They want nothing more than to please other people, and the courtship of a bombardist can be a wearisome thing. They are, like fiddle players, incredibly hard workers – although, unlike fiddle players, they are also impossibly disorganised. Always best to give a bombard player one task at a time.

Reed Pipe

Reed pipers are often hard to pin down – never happy to settle in one place, or at one task, for too long. They have a reputation for being flighty, changeable and unreliable, but at the same time there is no one with quicker wits. Many a time has an over-confident sea horn player found themselves on the sharp end of a reed piper’s tongue. And their feet are quicker still – with the smallest and lightest of the instruments, they are the best dancers on the Four Seas.

Bagpipes

Bagpipers are some of the most gregarious musicians in the Far Isles – great talkers, great storytellers, and (as the stereotype goes) great eaters and drinkers. Only cithara players can compete with their friendliness. They are known for their patience and compassion, and are nearly impossible to rouse to anger. On the rare occasions when they give in to their emotions, however, best set sail for another island…

Bodhran

The role of the drum is to hold a song together, so it is unsurprising that bodhran players are the most steadfast and reliable of islanders. They say what they mean, and they mean what they say. A drummer is often called upon to settle disputes between more “passionate” instruments – in fact, they can be so diplomatic and even-handed that they seem to lack any feelings at all. Do not be fooled by this. Under a bodhran player’s thick skin is a warm heart and a wicked sense of humour. 

Handpan

The handpan Is perhaps the oddest instrument in the Far Isles – somewhere between percussion and a tonal instrument – and handpan players are, without exception, eccentric folk. Their minds seem to work in ways that other musicians cannot fathom, which means they often befriend each other (or just talk to themselves). But beyond their outward strangeness they are fiercely intelligent, perceptive, and imaginative. They often see solutions to problems where everyone else has failed.”

SONG OF THE FAR ISLES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House) Follow Nicholas on twitter @thenickbowling and find out more at chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out all the stops on the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Bad Panda by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

It’s DAY FIVE of the Bad Panda blog tour – and I’m afraid you just can’t help falling in love with super-fluffly Lin and her partner-in-crime, Fu – no doubt much to Lin’s disgust! Bad Panda is the first in a fantastically funny new series from the duo who created Dave Pigeon, author Swapna Haddow and illustrator, Sheena Dempsey. Lin is the ‘bad’ panda in the story but she’s so super fluffy and cute everyone loves her, no matter how badly she behaves, as she tries to escape the zoo and get home to her favourite person – her bad brother, Face-Like-A-Bag-Of-Potatoes. Combining hilarious narrative, with lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour, Bad Panda is the ideal tonic if you need cheering up or if you just enjoy laughing-out-loud!

Today I’m sharing an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how Swapna got to know pandas and gain real insight by working as a panda-keeper for a day!

Behind the Scenes of Bad Panda – with Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

“You are in for a treat. Swapna and Sheena are sharing behind-the-scenes pictures and secrets of their new book Bad Panda.

The Bad Panda story was originally inspired by a trip Swapna took to China with her in-laws in 2017. Her mother in law arranged for the family to be panda keepers for a day at the Chengdu Panda Base and Swapna describes this as the absolute highlight of the trip.

She and her family arrived at the panda base where they heard about the rescued pandas Most had lost their homes due to deforestation and some were orphaned. And right now there are only about 2000 pandas in the wild, which makes them vulnerable of extinction so these centres do vital work in protecting pandas.

Swapna spent the day cleaning up the panda paddocks, sweeping up their poos, smashing up bamboo stems ready for meal times and making steamed panda cake which is a treat of corn, soybean, rice and egg.

And of course, she spent many hours watching the gentle giants go about their day.

When she got home she had heaps of ideas for a new panda story and both she and Sheena co-created Bad Panda.

Sheena says designing characters is one of her favourite aspects of illustration and before she started making the rough drawings for Bad Panda, she wanted to create some model sheets that she could refer to easily for each of the main characters – these model sheets were inspired by those the Disney animators make where they draw their characters from different angles and with different expressions.

Lin was the trickiest character to get right. Sheena struggled to make her cute and appealing, while also making her look like the rotter of a grotter of a panda she truly is. She worked with her art director Emma Eldridge on getting the fluff around her head just right, as well as making her proportions very toddler-like with a big head on a small body.

Fu was a much easier bamboo to crack than Lin. Sheena describes his body shape as ‘kind of like an egg on legs, with a flyaway quiff on the top of his head’.

Sheena wanted to make the antagonist King Cobra pretty vicious-looking and she didn’t hold back. He looks every bit the deadly cobra he is.

Bad Panda is partly told in graphic novel format, with 37 pages of its pages told with panels and speech bubbles. This was a really exciting way to tell Lin’s story through pictures. Sheena did a lot of research into the mechanics of making comics as she had never drawn any before and she even started her own webcomic called Penguin Chronicles for practice.”

With thanks to Faber for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more at www.faber.co.uk and don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour:

GUEST POST: Writing sequels by Jennifer Killick, author of Crater Lake: Evolution and more!

Jennifer Killick has fast become one of my favourite children’s authors in recent years with the Alex Sparrow series and Mo, Lottie and the Junkers high on my list of must-have reads on the book shelf. Great stories, lots of humour, believable characters and heart-warming friendships are at the heart of her books.

With the success of Jennifer’s more recent series, Crater Lake, published by Firefly Press and centred on the sinister, sci-fi adventures surrounding a group of school friends, it’s clear to see her books becoming a staple for many middle-grade readers (and lots of grown ups too!). The Crater Lake stories have all the hallmarks of Jennifer’s previous titles – great friendships, engaging characters, fantastic dialogue and the added element of being super-creepy! Today, Jennifer shares her thoughts on writing the Crater Lake sequel, Crater Lake: Evolution.

Welcome to the blog Jennifer!

“Here’s the sequel situation: Your book did well: hooray! Your publisher has commissioned a sequel: double hooray! A sequel is an opportunity to continue a story you love, full of characters you already know and are incredibly attached to. All you have to do is pick up where you left off – that’s easy, right? RIGHT?

I wrote Crater Lake as a stand-alone book. I wanted it to be a compact, neatly-tied parcel of satisfaction. There was no way I was going to ruin it by writing a sequel. But people were keen for a second book, and an excellent little idea just plopped itself down in front of me. So I agreed, and then I panicked.

One of the things that worked best in Crater Lake was the setting – keeping everything confined to one activity centre for the duration of a residential trip. It was simple and recognisable,  but something that I felt would become predictable and unbelievable if I used it again. A new setting was needed.

The characters in Crater Lake were the perfect group – a mix of personalities and experiences all coming together to form a tight-knit team. But in a second story they would need to continue to learn and grow. I had to rethink the characters.

The alien threat in Crater Lake was full of menace – turning the characters’ best friends and teachers into the enemy made their actions far more sinister and disturbing. How could I raise the threat level even higher? I needed something new.

After much stressing and crying and knowing that there was no way I was going to pull off a second book, I decided that the best way to approach my sequel was to almost forget it was a sequel. I wrote Crater Lake as if it would be my last book, as if it existed on its own in solitary completeness. I wrote Evolution in the same way. I took those characters that I loved so well, and thought about how they would naturally change in their transition to secondary school. I thought about the things in their lives that I hadn’t explored: their homes and their families. I imagined how an intelligent alien enemy might learn and grow after its failed attempt at destroying the human race. I played out scenes in my mind in the middle of the night – so creepy that I couldn’t get back to sleep. And then I sat down and wrote that story like it would be my last.”

Find out more about Jennifer and her books at https://www.jenniferkillick.com/. With thanks to Jennifer and Firefly Press for sharing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR: Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton illustrated by Jeff Crosby

Hold onto your hats! It’s Day One of the blog tour for a rollicking adventure with the Dino Knights, the first in a new series by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby published by Scallywag Press. I’m delighted to be sharing a guest post from the author focused on writing for reluctant readers.

In a medieval land where dinosaurs still roam, lowly stable boy Henry Fairchild joins the brave Dino Knights and rides into adventure on the back of a T-Rex. A fast paced action-adventure series about bravery, friendship, and being your best self.

Dinosaurs, daring deeds and dastardly danger – what more could you want! There are going to be young readers up and down the land wanting to join the Dino Knights as they discover the Kingdom of Panterra and the Knights who bravely protect their beloved land. Such a brilliant concept and totally engaging, the story is fast-paced, full of fun and just the right amount of peril. Henry makes a heart-felt hero and is supported by a brilliant cast of characters brought to life in detailed illustrations. Readers will love the handy character guide at the start of the book and no doubt be choosing who their favourite is – and then at the end, a dinosaur guide adds even more detail to the different dinos featured in the tale. All in all, a great start to what is sure to be a hit! Bring on the next battle!

Welcome to the blog Jeff!

Writing for reluctant readers

“The truth is, I didn’t really like reading very much when I was young. I found it hard to concentrate on a book and for a long time I didn’t find anything that captured my imagination as much as the incredible films and television on offer. I was a child of Star Wars and Transformers, definitely a visual thinker, but never found the equivalent joy in books that I did on the screen.

We didn’t have the term “reluctant reader” when I was young, but I was aware that I was a much slower reader than most of the kids in my class and certainly far behind the girls. This can be a downward spiral because when you’re not good at something, you tend not to want to pursue it. And then you don’t practice, so you don’t improve. It’s a phenomenon common to any pursuit (be it sport, music, or indeed, reading) and when I talk to teachers and librarians, it is something that plagues many emerging readers, especially boys. So, how to break the cycle?

There isn’t one easy fix, but I can share my own personal experience, one that’s resonated with students I’ve met in school visits and with teachers. For me, it starts with finding a book that’s both interesting and compelling. For me, that book was the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ interactive novels. These were hugely popular in the 1980s (and I later went on to produce the animated movie based on the series, but that’s a story for another day) and they were essentially structured as branching narratives that the reader could direct. They were written in the second person where “You” were the hero of the story and your choices (turn to page 125 to go the jungle, turn to page 140 to climb the mountain) dictated how the story unfolded. Many choices would lead to a gruesome demise!

They were probably written at a level below where I should have been reading, but because I was likely about 18 months behind my peers, they were perfect for me. Easy enough to get into, but filled with excitement and cliff-hangers to hold my attention. I started with one and kept going. The benefit of a series is that once you find one, you can read more and more. It’s comforting to a young reader to read something similar but a little bit different. I think this helps to explain the success of Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest. I’ve written Dino Knights to be a series and hopefully it will be the kind of book that a young reader starts with and wants to stay with through many books.

For me, reading the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novels was practice. I was practicing at reading. It became habitual and the more I read, the better reader I became. After a while, I was able to make the leap to a new set of books as I was a confident enough reader that I could truly call it “reading for pleasure.” And that’s the inflection point to find for an emerging reading. We’ve got to find the book or book series that gives the reader the confidence and capability to get to a reading level where they can start enjoying the book instead of slogging through the prose.

Now, the key is that the book will be different for every child. And that’s why I believe so strongly that every school needs a dedicated librarian. The role of the librarian isn’t just to be the keeper of the books, but to be the key that can help unlock the reader. A good librarian will be able to work with a child and find the book that reverses the downward spiral and set the inflection point towards a virtuous circle of reading one book then another and then another; with the child growing in confidence and ability with each successive read.

When I visit schools, I tell the children that I’m still a very slow reader and have to concentrate very hard to enjoy a book. I find it gives them comfort to know that even an author still struggles with reading and that it’s not something that’s instantly easy. Just like mastering an instrument, or learning fancy football moves, it’s something that takes time and practice. If we work with children who are reluctant readers, and find them the on-ramp for reading through the right book, then I think we can raise a generation of confident readers that find books just as compelling as the best of films, tv, and video games.

As an author, it’s my goal to have my books become part of that unlocking; hopefully Dino Knights will compel some young readers to discover their joy of reading….on the back of a dinosaur!”

DINO KNIGHTS by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby is out now in paperback (£6.99, Scallywag Press)

Follow Jeff Norton and Jeff Crosby: Twitter @thejeffnorton @jeffmcrosby Instagram @thejeffnorton @jeffmcrosby. With thanks to Scallywag Press for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

Follow the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Bug Belly Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton

It’s time for another Bug Belly adventure on the final day of the blog tour for Paul Morton’s second book in the Bug Belly series, Froggy Rescue published by Five Quills. Featuring the fabulous frog Bug Belly, this time on a rescue mission to save a froglet from a magpie’s nest! Read on for a bookchat Q & A with author illustrator Paul Morton

Uncle Bug Belly says frogs can FLY. But CAN they REALLY? Bug Belly and the froglets are about to find our in this dangerous rescue adventure.

Another lively, fun-filled adventure by talented author illustrated, Paul Morton, Bug Belly Froggy Rescue brings the inventive froggy and friends leaping to life! Once again Bug Belly’s rumbling tummy gets him into trouble and he fails to save one of his froglets from being snatched by a magpie. However, being the brilliantly inventive frog that he is, Bug Belly soon comes up with a daring rescue plan which involves an intrepid trek across the forest. On the way, Bug Belly and the froglets have to face all manner of dangers including not becoming fancy froggy fritters to owls and snakes! As ever Bug Belly finds ingenious ways to save them all – think rabbit poo amongst other things.

Bug Belly Froggy Rescue is as entertaining and exciting as the first adventure and young readers are sure to enjoy the story and the lively illustrations! I’m delighted to welcome Paul Morton to the blog for a bookchat Q & A.

What’s your typical working day like?  This is going to sound really lazy, especially when I have friends and colleagues producing books whilst they have full time teaching jobs for example. If I have any illustration commissioned work booked in I will spend maybe 3 or 4 hours on the Mac in my studio at home. I might mountain bike in the afternoon. Do some writing in the garden summerhouse (it used to be in cafes) and I like staying up late to work if the muse takes me. I work best in a quiet house at anything up to 2.30am.

How have the last 15 months been? As an author, have you found ways to connect with readers? I managed one single school visit the week before the first lockdown. Since then I have joined the Book Pen Pals scheme, where authors are paired up with schools, and they swap recommendations and craft ideas and stories. I have absolutely loved this. My 3 schools at the moment, in Darlington, Derby and Bradford have all been enthusiastic with their replies, completing Bug Belly crafts and recommending new books to me that they have been reading in class. I’ve have virtually visited a couple of them on Zoom and that was really fun too. I’m hoping to get out and about to more schools, bookshops and libraries as soon as it’s practical and safe to do so.

How did it feel to see Bug Belly included in the Summer Reading Challenge last year? Initially a great surprise and then I felt so proud that my first published book was chosen amongst some other great titles. It was a pity the scheme wasn’t able to run to its full potential due to the pandemic, but still a great feeling.

Are you working on other book projects at the moment? In addition to working on 2 or 3 further Bug Belly storylines I have two picture books at various stages of development. I’m looking forward to bringing those to submission. They are very different from Bug Belly, though both of them happen to feature a frog in the storyline!

Were you a keen reader as a child? If so, what kind of books did you enjoy? I must say that I don’t remember that many reading books from my childhood. The ones I can recall are all from school time. The Borrowers, Water Babies and a favourite was Stig of the Dump. At home and in holidays it was always comics, and as a treat I would buy 3 or 4 Batman comics with my pocket money.

And now? what do you like to read as an adult? Lots of ‘How to” books on creating children’s stories. Favourite books at the moment are still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. David Almond. John Fowles. Unless we are on holiday I don’t seem to find the time or patience to read a longer adult novel so it’s picture books and early readers that I devour at home.

Which other authors and/or illustrators do you admire? I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece for the SCBWI Words and Pictures magazine about Brian Wildsmith. I’ve always loved the vibrancy and immediacy of his colours and images. I knew he was also from South Yorkshire but in my research I discovered that not only did he move to the same small village just outside Barnsley but we actually lived on the same road. Me at no. 89, the Wildsmiths at no. 22. Amazing! We were 27 years part though, so it’s not like I could have bumped into him. Currently I love the books of Benji Davies, Jim Field, Oliver Jeffers, Mo O’Hara and all the King Coo titles by Adam Stower.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take from your books?  A sense of fun and enjoyment from having been on a mini exciting adventure and left with a hunger to read about more Bug Belly antics. I have plenty more planned, so I hope so.

Bug Belly: Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton is published by Five Quills, £6.99 paperback – out now. Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk / www.bugbelly.com. With thanks to Five Quills and Catherine Ward for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour for more Bug Belly fun!