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:
Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skybornpublished 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:
On the blog today, it’s time for an adventure with a story that sparks the imagination and will delight young readers, on Day Ten of the blog tour for Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes. Indie-publisher, Little Door Books, have found a real gem with this, their first chapter book for early-readers and the first of what is sure to be a very popular series.
Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes
Harry never went to sleep. Not EVER. In fact, Harry had been wide-awake since the day he was born. His Mum and Dad and the people in the town had tried everything to help him, but nothing seemed to work. Just when they had runout of ideas, Uncle Pete the explorer arrived on their doorstep and came up with a very special plan.
This charming, original tale is a perfectly pitched story for younger readers, as Uncle Pete arrives just in the nick of time to solve the problem for Harry and his mum and Dad. Eccentric and entertaining, Uncle Pete has some interesting habits – like eating lots of baked beans (and I mean LOTS) and growing potatoes and giant strawberries to make chips and jam. But he always makes sure he has lots of clean underpants on his adventures!
With lots of humour, you can’t help but smile as Uncle Pete sets about on the most marvellous journey in a rickety bi-plane, with the help of a tiny, talking mouse – rather aptly named TM. As Uncle Pete says “anything is possible”, and so it is as their quest takes them to a far-away land, through magical skies to find the starlit-filled cure for Harry. Young readers will love the imaginative narrative brought brilliantly to life with quirky illustrations and they’ll all be wanting to join Uncle Pete and TM on their next adventure! (of which there is a sneak-peek at the end of the book Uncle Pete and the Forest of Lost Things).
If you’re looking for an action-packed, fantasy thriller then Monstrous Devices by Damien Love , published by One World imprint, Rock the Boat, is for you – publishing in paperback on 1st April. Today is my stop on the blog tour and I’m delighted to be hosting a quick Q & A and sharing an exclusive extract from the story!
When Alex receives an old tin robot in the post, the note from his grandfather reads: “This one is special”. But it doesn’t take Alex long to suspect that the toy is more than special – it might also be deadly. Just as things are getting out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, whisking him away into a world of strange, macabre magic. From Paris to Prague, they flee across snowy Europe in a quest to unravel the riddle of the little robot. Will Alex work out the robot’s secrets before it falls into the wrong, wicked hands?
An assured debut, Monstrous Devices has all the ingredients of a sure-fire hit with the next in the series available next month. Darkly entertaining, this middle-grade novel will keep you on your toes, with creepy robot villains, an eccentric grandfather and a likeable protagonist in Alex. Author Damien Love shares some more of the inspiration behind the book today.
Welcome to the blog Damien!
As a child, did you have a relative who inspired you, like Alex’s grandad? A few people have asked that, but, no, not really, not in that way. Alex’s grandfather wasn’t inspired by anyone in my family; there are elements in there of some other people I know…but they don’t know that, so I won’t say who they are. Really, though, I think that when you get down to it, most writers would probably end up confessing that all their characters actually become more like reflections of aspects of themselves – even the villains.
What was your favourite scene to write, and why? Oh, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure there is one that I could single out. But there’s a sequence I was quite happy with ¬– without giving away any spoilers, there’s a scene in Monstrous Devices where the boy at the centre of the story, Alex, gets attacked in a lonely field in the middle of the countryside. The scene started out as a kind of tribute to a very famous scene in one my favourite films, North by Northwest (i.e. I stole it from there), but I think I did an okay job of bending it all around until it fit into the scheme of Monstrous Devices and begin to work as its own thing, too. Plus, I was once advised to drop that scene from the book because there was “too much action”. So I kind of feel protective of it.
Post lockdown, where would you most like to travel? Like a lot of people, the relatively short trips to meet family and friends again are the ones I’m looking forward to most. Beyond that, I’m not sure – I wouldn’t mind going to Prague again someday, though. It’s been a long time since I was there.
Anextract from Monstrous Devices: Hotel Rooftop, Paris
Turning onto the landing below came the tall, broad figure of a man wearing a long black coat and large black hat. When he lifted his face to them, Alex, struck numb with horror, saw it was made of dull metal. Painted eyes. A wire grid for a mouth.
It began climbing the stairs.
“Life-sizer,” his grandfather grunted, turning back up.
There was only one more flight of stairs. It led up to a small, bare half-landing, containing a cupboard door and an iron ladder bolted to the wall, beneath a ceiling hatch. His grandfather was up and through it in a flash of grey, hauling Alex after him. A huge attic, old and dark, musty and empty. They crouched under high slanting roof beams while his grandfather worked with another spool of wire, tying the hatch shut as best he could. He twisted on his heels, searching the dim space around them.
“Nothing to block it with,” the old man muttered, running a hand over his brow. He took Beckman’s little gun from his pocket, weighed it for a second, then threw it far off into the shadows.
“What are you doing?” Alex gasped. “We need that!”
“Never liked guns. C’mon: onward and upward. This way.”
Alex already knew where they were headed. Halfway along the attic, a single skylight glowed dimly, just low enough to reach. Just big enough to fit through. Snow was falling steadily as they climbed out onto the enormous roof.
His grandfather made him go first, crawling away from the window up the steep slope. The cold black tiles were slippery under Alex’s feet. There was little to get a grip on. But, clawing
and scraping, sliding back then scrabbling on, they made it to the pitch of the roof, where they stopped, sitting facing each other on the peak, breath misting the sharp air. A frail full moon pushed through the wisping clouds, staining the rooftop silver.
Freed from concentrating on the climb, drawing breath, Alex’s mind flooded with panic, then a stunning sense of disbelief. He became aware of the raw ache in his throat, his shaking limbs.
The sky was enormous above him.
“What did I tell you?” his grandfather said. He was pointing off behind Alex’s shoulder.
Turning his head, across the stretching roofscape Alex saw the Eiffel Tower, not far away, strangely clear, lit up gold and black, its blue searchlight strafing the swollen cloudbanks.
He turned back. The scream he felt building came out as a sigh. He sagged.
“Yes. That’s very pretty. Tell you what, shall I get my phone out and you can take a picture with it behind me? We could send it to Mum. That would be a nice surprise for her.”
“That’s the spirit. Have to keep your sense of humour about you. Now.” The old man dug in his coat pocket. “Sweet?” He held out the open tin.
“Well, why not. We’re on holiday. Thanks.”
“Sugar’ll do you good. Much-maligned stuff, sugar.” His grandfather squinted, tilting the tin in the weak blue light. “Bit of a Russian Roulette, taking a boiled sweet in the dark. Can’t see what you’re going to get. Ah well, nothing ventured.” He popped one in his mouth and rattled it around his teeth.
“Blackcurrant again! Must be my lucky night. What did you get?”
“Lime,” Alex said. It tasted surprisingly good.
They sat there in silence, sucking sweets on the high snowy roof in the Paris night, smiling stupidly at each other.
“So, now,” his grandfather said. “I should probably tell you the plan, give you something to look forward to.”
“Oh, do we have a plan?”
With thanks to Rock the Boat for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour and follow more of Alex’s adventures in second in the series, The Shadow Arts coming soon.
It’s 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: