BLOG TOUR: The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

Tigers? Time Travel? Tropical forests? Three intrepid adventurers? What more could you ask for in historical middle grade adventure?! It’s my absolute pleasure to be hosting a guest post for the final stop on the blog tour for this fantastic new book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, written by Tania Unsworth, published by Zephr Books.

Cover Art: Helen Crawford-White

Elsie is not looking forward to the long summer holidays with her creaky, old Uncle John. But then the unimaginable happens as Time unravels and Elsie tumbles back to 1940s India to meet her Uncle John as a young boy on a tiger hunt. Can Elsie change the future by stopping him from doing what he’s already told her is a wrong he can never right? Face to face with the mightiest and most majestic predator in the jungle, Elsie is in awe of the tiger’s beauty. She’s on a mission to have the adventure of a lifetime, save the tiger and change the future.

I love tigers and I love time-travel stories so this story caught my eye immediately. I’m also always taken by 1940s India – my grandfather served with the Ghurkas in the Second World War and my mother was born in India whilst he was there. In addition, my great-grandfather was Mountbatten’s Chief Medical Adviser so I’m always fascinated by hearing stories of India. This was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this wonderful adventure. Alongside themes of friendship and bravery, the story doesn’t shy away from the reality of animal poaching and prejudice that existed and encourages the reader to think seriously about conservation. Elsie, John and Mandeep are a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own fears to face creating a multi-layered story of thrilling adventure. Brilliantly brought to life, the Indian forests are teeming with atmosphere and the tiger is utterly majestic, particularly as we see the world through his eyes at key moments throughout.

I’m delighted to welcome author Tania Unsworth to the blog today to share her thoughts on using description in children’s books. Welcome to the blog Tania!

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is an adventure story set in the forests of Central India, and the minute I finished the first draft, I knew I had a problem. Although the characters and plot were coming along nicely, I’d hardly described the setting at all. It felt fake – like the painted backdrop on a stage. I’d read books and looked at pictures, but I simply didn’t have enough information. So, I decided to spend a week visiting a tiger reserve in India. And that was when I ran into my second problem.

Now, I had too much information. I came back with a notebook crammed with facts and figures and breathless accounts of everything from the light of dawn to the stars at night. And because I’d fallen in love with the place, I wanted to put all this description into my book.

Usually, I’m quite sparing with description. I tend not to describe what my characters look like, for example, because I think part of the pleasure for readers comes from creating their own pictures. At the same time, some description is needed in children’s fiction. And it’s often for a different reason than in fiction for adults. Adult readers might automatically get a visual image when they read the words ‘a mountain chalet’ say, or ‘the boardroom of a large corporation’. But chances are, most children won’t have a good sense of what these places actually look like, because almost everything is new to them.

On the other hand, long descriptions are risky in children’s books. They can slow reading progress and get in the way of the story. As Joan Aitken points out in her guide The Way to Write for Children, “if you do nothing but describe…although it will be a pleasure for you, and to some of your readers, others will automatically skip all your best descriptions, and the plot will creep at a snail’s pace.”

I decided that if I wanted to include a lot of description in my book, I would have to weave it in using stealth. Through dialogue, for example. Elsie – my main character – knows nothing about the Indian forest. That was an opportunity to have my other characters, John and Mandeep, point things out and give her descriptive snippets of information. Wherever possible, I tried to convey the appearance of things through action. Instead of describing a giant spider web, I had Elsie run into one. Rather than telling the reader what termite mounds look like, I made Elsie mistake them for weirdly caped figures in the dark.

I made a rule that I wouldn’t describe anything unless the description added directly to the story. To create atmosphere, say. The grasping, knotted tendrils of a banyan tree echoing the sinister machinations of a group of trophy hunters. Or to show character motivation and personality. Light coming through the trees reminds Mandeep of a temple, revealing the depth of his love for the forest…

Of course, I didn’t always stick to that rule. Sometimes I couldn’t resist just…describing. But by making the setting less of a backdrop, and more of an active participant in the story, I hoped readers wouldn’t be slowed in their gallop to the end.

I’d love to know if you think I succeeded!”

Find out out more at www.headofzeus.com and www.taniaunsworth.com/. With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher, a fabulous finale to the Clockwork Crow series published by Firefly Press. Today, I’m sharing a guest post by Catherine focusing on writing the third book in this brilliant trilogy.

The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

With an invisible girl, a parliament of owls and a pen that writes by itself, the journey to the garden of the Midnight Swan might be Seren’s most dangerous adventure yet. Can she, Tomos and the Crow complete their quest and get back where they belong?

Beautifully written, depicting a magical Victorian setting with characters we’ve come to know and love, The Midnight Swan is both gripping and heart-warming. The kind of adventure I would have gobbled up as a child (metaphorically speaking of course!), you’ll be transported back into Seren and Tomos’ world as they race against time to save their schoolteacher friend, the Clockwork Crow. In addition to facing the eerily terrifying Tylwyth Teg, Seren must contend with her worries of being sent back to the orphanage too. Perhaps being taken by the faery folk wouldn’t be so bad…?

Today on the blog, author Catherine Fisher shares insight into writing the final book of the trilogy. Welcome to the blog Catherine!


The Midnight Swan is the third in the Clockwork Crow series, about the adventures of Seren, an orphan in Victorian Wales, and her tetchy, vain friend, the Crow. The series has been huge fun to write. I have enjoyed mixing in all the things I like best- a big old house, lakes and woods, magic and folklore, strange other worlds and the silvery faery beings of Wales, The Tylwyth Teg. I wanted it to be firmly rooted in Wales. So I have used Welsh names and fragments of the language, as well as some of our folklore. The house of Plas-y-Fran is imaginary, but based on a house I know well, where I used to go to school, especially the creaky upstairs corridors and the staircase with its portraits that look down on Seren.


Each book is set in a different season, the first in winter and the second in autumn. The Midnight Swan is set at Midsummer, when the days are long and hot, and the nights short and magical. The last book is always the trickiest of the three to write. That’s because if readers enjoyed the first two, they are looking forward to this one a lot and I don’t want to disappoint them! Also the third book has to wrap the story up in a satisfying way and have everyone living happily ever after. In this book, Seren and Tomas and the Crow must find a way to break the spell that keeps him as a moth- eaten bird and find a way to restore his human shape. And Seren has to come to finally be accepted as part of the Jones family and lose her fears of being sent back to the orphanage.


Also the book has to have its own exciting adventure! So we have a Midsummer Ball, a stolen Box with a strange message on the lid, a pen that writes by itself and an invisible girl. Seren and the Crow journey to the Garden of the Midnight Swan, and on the way they meet all sorts of animals, problems and dangers. Who is following them? And can they get back in time to stop the Tylwyth Teg invading the Ball? Above all, will the Midnight Swan help them break the spell? I hope it’s a thrilling, funny and satisfying end to the series, and that you love reading it.”

Find out more at https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/midnight-swan/

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

GUEST POST: Every day is a Poetry Day with Joshua Seigal

Today is National Poetry Day, the annual mass celebration that encourages everyone to enjoy, discover and share poetry. This year’s theme is Vision and with activities centred on encouraging young and old to See it Like a Poet and #ShareAPoem, there’s bound to be a plethora of creativity and imagination coming to life everywhere!

Today, award-winning children’s poet Joshua Seigal, who can often be found visiting and performing in schools, libraries and theatres around the country sharing his poetry shows, joins us on the blog with a guest post about why every day can be a poetry day!

Welcome to the blog Joshua!

Every Day Is Poetry Day – Joshua Seigal

“It is great that we are given a day every year to celebrate the joys of poetry, but it is important not to forget that every day can be a poetry day!

Poetry is a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to express themselves and get creative, and it can be embedded right across the curriculum in all kinds of interesting ways. For geography, why not write a poem from the perspective of a river or volcano? And in maths, you could try describing yourself using numbers, shapes or mathematical equations. Try to add a little bit of poetry to everything you do, a bit like adding spice to your cooking.

Perhaps you have studied poetry for exams, and have decided that it is not for you. It is important to remember that poetry is not supposed merely to be analysed, like we do in exams; it provides us with a chance to engage with ourselves and society, as well as the joys of language, in a way that is meaningful to us. To write poetry is to play with words, and we can use those words in incredibly powerful ways.

So how might one go about doing this? I always offer the following piece of advice when I visit schools: write about something you are interested in, that means something to you. If you’re interested in football, write about football. If you’re interested in butterflies, write about them. That way your poem will have heart and soul. It might also be a good idea to write in the style that you normally speak. That way your poem will come from deep inside, from the place that truly belongs to you.

Also, try to seek out poems on topics and in styles that speak to you. Simply saying “I don’t like poetry” is, when you think about it, as senseless as saying that you don’t like music or movies. A lot of people do say that they don’t like poetry; I even called my first book I Don’t Like Poetry! But remember that, just like songs or movies, poetry comes in all kinds of styles, and you can pick something you like! Nowadays you don’t even have to read poetry, if you don’t want to; you can watch it on Youtube.

Poetry is for life, not just National Poetry Day! There is no right or wrong way to write it, and there is no right or wrong way to consume it. There are as many different poems out there as there are people. Try to find something you connect with, and have fun!”

Find out more about Joshua on his website www.joshuaseigal.co.uk. and visit National Poetry Day to see how you can get involved in celebrations!

SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED FOR 2020 CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award)

It’s an exciting day for poetry today! Not only is it National Poetry Day, but it’s also the day we find out who is on the shortlist for CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award)! And I’m really happy to be sharing the shortlist on the blog this morning, announced by none other than Michael Rosen on behalf of CLPE! (view here).

The Award is run by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). Established in 2003, the CLiPPA is the UK’s only award for published poetry for children. As well as celebrating outstanding poetry, the CLiPPA encourages schools to explore the shortlist with their pupils through its Shadowing Scheme, each year prompting poetry performances in many hundreds of classrooms across the UK.

The 2020 shortlist reflects the extraordinary vitality of the UK’s poetry publishing for children. Birmingham based independent The Emma Press has two books on the five-strong shortlist, including a collection by the Spanish poet Karmelo C. Iribarren newly translated into English by Lawrence Schimel, and an illustrated collection of LGBT themed poetry based on retellings of Scottish folk tales. Tiny independent Troika Books are also represented with Cherry Moon, a collection of nature poems by Zaro Weil, illustrated by newcomer Junli Song. The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog published by Walker Books is an anthology of ‘how to’ poems collected by poet Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Richard Jones that features an eclectic mix of topics. In Midnight Feasts, published by Bloomsbury, A. F. Harrold collects together poems ancient and very modern all on the theme of food, pairing for example Ian McMillan’s Praise Poem for Yorkshire Puddings with Indian Cooking by Moniza Alvi.

Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive, CLPE said “In this challenging year, we are particularly delighted to be announcing the shortlist for the CLiPPA and to be doing it on National Poetry Day, when everyone is invited to celebrate and share poetry. Our judges have selected five poetry collections that, though very different, will each inspire and enthral young readers. We are excited to make the announcement and look forward to sharing the shortlist through our shadowing scheme.”

THE SHORTLIST

Midnight Feasts. Tasty Poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell, Bloomsbury. The judges said: a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced.

Poems the Wind Blew In, Karmelo C. Iribarren, illustrated by Riya Chowdhury, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, The Emma Press. The judges said: a book to carry around with you, proof that poetry is ideas, thoughts and emotions captured in words.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones, Walker Books. The judges said: a wonderfully varied collection of poems that will speak directly to young children.

Wain: LGBT Reimaginings of Scottish Folklore, Rachel Plummer, illustrated by Helene Boppert, The Emma Press. The judges said: a fresh voice and take on something that could have felt archaic but is made to feel new.

Cherry Moon, Zaro Weil, illustrated by Junli Song, ZaZaKids Books/ Troika Books. The judges said: meditative and nicely paced; Weil presents beautiful snapshots of the natural world and has thought carefully about the form for each.

Steven Camden, poet, winner of the 2019 CLiPPA commented: “I was pretty nervous going into the judging meeting because I felt really strongly about my choices. My favourites on the list really affected me and I was apprehensive about fighting their corner with people I didn’t really know. Within five minutes it was clear that those books that touched me had touched the other judges just as strongly and what followed was a gorgeous celebratory conversation of some truly stunning creations. What a treat and privilege.”

This year the judges are poets Valerie Bloom and Steven Camden, winner of the CLiPPA 2019, alongside Tracey Guiry, director of the Poetry Archive and Charlotte Hacking, Central Learning Programmes Leader at CLPE.

In a first for the CLiPPA, thanks to a new partnership with The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, the winner of the 2020 Award will be revealed at the culmination of the CLF schools’ programme, on Friday 9October, in a Poetry Show introduced by CLiPPA judges, poets Valerie Bloom and Steven Camden, and featuring performances by the shortlisted poets as well as live drawing by former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. Schools across the UK and beyond will be able to watch the show for free on The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival platform and access poetry CPD sessions created by CLPE. The free Shadowing Scheme to involve schools in CLiPPA 2020 will launch alongside the announcement of the winner.

The CLiPPA is delivered in partnership with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and supported by Arts Council England.

To find out more visit www.clpe.org.uk/poetryline/clippa or contact sarah@clpe.org.uk / 020 7401 3382

BLOG TOUR: Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy by Jane Clarke and James Brown

A very Happy Book Birthday to Jane Clarke and James Brown on publication day for Lottie Loves Nature published by Five Quills! I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour. Lottie Loves Nature is the first in a brand new spin-off series to Jane’s Al’s Awesome Science books, but this time with Al’s sister taking the lead. Lottie loves the natural world and everything in it and does everything she can to protect it. The first in this eco-adventure series features Lottie, along with her pet parrot, Nacho and her dog, Einstein, stopping her neighbour from getting rid of all the ants in his garden and rescuing the frogs as he’s turned the pond into a putting green! A fun narrative is interwoven with fascinating facts, lively illustrations and great nature projects for budding young conservationists aged 7+ to do at home. Lottie Loves Nature is a brilliant way to encourage children to be more aware of the natural world and start to make a difference right on their own doorstep!

Today, I’m sharing a gorgeous guest post from author Jane Clarke, featuring her Top 5 Stories Set in the Natural World. Welcome to the blog Jane!

“From the time I was a child, I’ve loved stories that are set in the natural world. Here are my Top 5 in the order I read them. The editions shown are the ones I own now, but in the case of the first three, I borrowed earlier editions of the books from my local library:

1. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne, illustrated by E.H.Shepard, first published 1926. This is a collection published in 1994.

“Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the Pooh lived in a forest …”

Instantly, I was in Hundred Acre Wood, giggling at the adventures of optimistic, silly Pooh as he searched for ‘hunny’, got stuck in Rabbit’s burrow, tracked Woozles through the snow, attempted to cheer up Eeyore, met up with the not-so-wise Owl, and attempted an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole. Friendship, kindness, humour, nature and adventure stories: I was hooked! I’ve just read it to one of my granddaughters and it still feels fresh!

2. Wind in the Willows by Grahame Greene, first published 1908 (!). This edition is from 2001 and has lovely illustrations by Michael Foreman but I vividly remember the ones by E.H.Shepard. Now the River Bank and Wild Wood burst into life, and emotions ran a bit deeper. I joined Rat and Mole on their adventures, and this book was the first to make me cry – with Mole when he missed his home. I worried about the lost baby otter, and was relieved when that ended well, if somewhat mystifyingly. Mr Toad made me laugh out loud and Weasels made me nervous. Behind it all, I noticed the environment changing with the seasons, but it’s only on re-reading the book that I realise how detailed and poetic some of the natural descriptions are.

3. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, 1956, written with wit and charm, bursting with eccentric animal – and human – characters, and oozing with Greek sunshine. It took me on a wonder-filled quest to discover the natural world from mini-beasts to ‘magenpies’ with Gerry and his tutor, Theodore. Even today, it has the power to make me laugh out loud in places. I read ‘My Family’ when I was in my early teens, and instantly became a lifelong fan of Gerald Durrell. Through his books, I found out a lot about nature and about efforts to conserve endangered species.

4. The Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson, 2001. Maia, Clovis and Finn are great company, and there’s an exciting story that plays out in an Amazon setting. As a young adult, I lived for a while in Mexico and Brazil, and a few years ago visited Venezuela where my son was then working as an adventure tour guide. Reading this took me right back to a river trip: “the lapping of the water against the side of the boat, the moths, the fireflies,” and the insect bites and the tummy upsets! It all feels (and felt) so adventurous.

5. The Explorer by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Hannah Horn, 2017. I read this only last week, and again was transported by the sights and sounds of the jungle where four children, who are stranded after an air crash, learn to survive with the help of a mysterious explorer. I was right there, shuddering along with them as they gingerly sampled ground-up grub pancakes. On many pages, Hannah Horn’s fabulous black and white illustrations of the environment frame the text and add to the feeling of being there. Friendship, wonders of nature and an adventure story – it brings me right back to where I started!”

Find out more at www.jane-clarke.co.uk or www.fivequills.co.uk

With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour here:

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy by Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown, is published today, £6.99 paperback, by Five Quills.