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!

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 & GIVEAWAY: The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

I am absolutely thrilled to be hosting the final stop on the blog tour for the fantastic new picture book from Helen and Thomas Docherty, The Screen Thief published by Alison Green Books. You couldn’t ask for a better story to encourage everyone to put down their screens and discover that there’s so much more to life!

The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

When the Snaffle arrives in the city, she just wants to play. But nobody notices her: they’re all too busy staring at their screens. The Snaffle discovers that she likes screens, too -as a snack! She quickly chomps down every last phone, tablet and TV in the city. People are horrified -until they realise that life is much more fun when you actually play together.

A delightful, rhyming narrative and colourful, inviting illustrations combine to bring the Snaffle and her adventures to life, in this timely story about the over-use of screens in our lives. Not only does it remind us there’s more to life than what’s on screen, it also wonderfully captures the power of friendship, playtime, and being together. The Snaffle is a cute and quirky character and I love the double page spread towards the end showing the myraid of brilliant things we could be doing if we simply put down our screens. You really can’t fault this lovely picture book – in fact, I might have to buy a copy for everyone I know!

To the mark the end of The Screen Thief blog tour, I am running a giveaway – you can enter on Twitter (and then put down your screen in case you get snaffled..!)

With thanks to Harriet Dunlea and the team for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more about The Screen Thief here. Catch up with the rest of the tour here: