BLOG TOUR: Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

I recall a time when Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander was permanently on loan from the school library, with a reservation list as long as your arm.  I would not be surprised if the same is to be true of her fantastic new novel for middle grade readers Invisible in a Bright Light published by Zephyr Books and I am delighted to be participating in the blog tour today!

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It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles. Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else. When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste’s past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.

Celeste knows something is not quite right and can’t seem to remember exactly who she is and where she has come from. Distant voices and strange memories of a man in an emerald green suit haunt her as the truth is slowly reveavled. Her current reality of being a theatre rat just doesn’t ring true and even those she loves are not themselves. What is the mystery behind the glorious chandelier that adorns the ceiling of the opera house? And why won’t anyone accept that Celeste’s name is not Maria?

A stunning narrative reveals a compelling and dark fairy-tale of love, family and magic set against the backdrop of the opera. Full of startling discoveries, bold characters and family bonds that even time itself cannot break, this story will draw you in one page at a time. The theatrical world of opera is brought wonderfully to life and Celeste’s determination to win what seems the most impossible game is palapable. Beautifully described, I read this in one sitting finding myself totally absorbed and thoroughly enjoying each twist and turn right to the satisfying ending.  This novel really stands out in the crowd; Invisible in a Bright Light will captivate it’s audience from beginning to end.

The story behind the novel
As a young costume designer working at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen, Sally Gardener glimpsed a chandelier which hung majestically from the dome of the opera house into the auditorium. One wintry day, she visited the dome that looked out across the rooftops of Copenhagen and found an old lady living there, whose job it was to polish the chandelier until it gleamed. Sally felt as if she had stepped into a fairy tale and the experience left an indelible mark on her imagination. Inspired by this and by her love of ghost ships, theatre and fairy tale, Invisible in a Bright Light is a story she has
been waiting to write for a long time. It reunites Sally with her favourite middle grade audience and recreates the splendour and dark magic of her award-winning debut novel I, Coriander.

Find out more at www.sallygardner.co.uk and @TheSallyGardner

With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Mother Tongue by Patricia Ford

MT Blog Tour CORRECTEDI absolutely loved The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde, the first in this post-apocalyptic series (read my review here) so when I heard there was a standalone sequel, Mother Tongue, I was delighted to read it and participate in this blog tour.  Today, I’ll be sharing my review and a timely guest post from the author focusing on the issues at the heart of this upper middle-grade novel. Published by Little Island BooksMother Tongue continues the story of Letta’s fight against injustice in a world unrecognisable after a climate disaster.  Language is a weapon and hope and creativity the only defence in this dystopian novel that feels all too real.  

Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde

After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.  The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art. Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life. 

Whilst it is quite possible to read Mother Tongue as a standalone novel, the book brilliantly follows on from the narrative of the first story and reaffirms the role Letta, the Wordsmith, must play in restoring freedom to her world.  John Noa might be gone, but the new leader of Ark is even more fearsome and will stop at nothing to control the people through taking their words. But Letta, equally determined and incredibly brave, knows that in order to save the people, she must fight for their words – their voice. Whilst she has much to lose, the tension-building plot shows Letta’s true heroism as she battles injustice alongside her fellow ‘Desecrators’.  Totally enthralling, Mother Tongue invites you to return to a world where the horror of climate change has been realised but despite the despair, the hope of humanity lives on in Letta and her friends. A truly riveting read, you download an extract here.

I’m delighted to welcome author Patricia Forde to the blog with a thought-provoking guest post on what extinction really means.

“Extinction is the saddest word of all.

So says John Noa, ruler of Ark in my novel The Wordsmith.  And he should know. As both The Wordsmith and its companion novel Mother Tongue are set in the future, Noa is in a position to judge. This story takes place after The Melting when almost all of the world has been swallowed by the sea. Rising tides have taken people, technology and almost all hope from Earth. For the small group of people who survive and live in Ark, there is plenty of time to consider the mess that humans created, on their home planet.

When I was growing up, dinosaurs were extinct. That was about the only time I heard that word being used. While doing research for my novels,  I did a lot of research about climate change and its effect on this planet. Scientists tell us that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. This is the sixth wave of extinction in the last half-billion years. Extinction, we are told, in a natural phenomenon. It occurs at a rate of about one to five species per year.

When I read that, I had to pause to take a breath. That many?

Then I read on.

Today we are losing species at up to 1,000 times that rate with many species becoming extinct every day. That’s why they are calling it an Extinction Crisis. Did you know that there are two subspecies of giraffe on the endangered list? Illegal hunting and the disappearance of habitat has been blamed. Translated, that means that humans are to blame.

The blue whale is in danger because she eats mostly krill and requires massive amounts of it. Unfortunately, we humans have developed a taste for krill. Increasing demands for krill oil by humans could sound the death knell for the poor whale.

It’s the inter-connectivity of nature that we are ignoring. Take insects. Small, often scary and very quiet generally. We interact with insects usually with a rolled up newspaper or a cocktail of deadly chemicals but they are our waste management team. At life end, plants and animals of all sizes, from daisy to dinosaur, leave dead organic matter that has to be cleared away.  Bring on millions of munching insects and the processes of decomposition and decay, so critical to life on Earth, can get started. We wouldn’t last long without them.

Way back in 1987 renowned Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson wrote:

The truth is that we need invertebrates but they don’t need us … if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could live more than a few months.

How did we miss that? As I write we are living under a storm alert and it’s all people can talk about.  Will  trees come down? Will the lights go out?  Will there be enough bread to last 48 hours? But when a renowned scientist says that if we keep killing insects we could all be wiped out in a few months – no! We didn’t hear that.

We moved from the city to a house in the country in 2004.  Our house is surrounded by trees. We were under constant attack from midges the first years we were here.  Every summer, as soon as the weather warmed up and the barbeque was taken out, in came swarms of midges. Neighbours assured us that they would be devoured by the bats who lived in the old shed at the back of our site. For the last two summers we’ve had hot weather and no midges. I can’t say I’ve missed them but I liked the bats and now I’m wondering what they fed on this summer and where the midges have gone?

That’s how extinction works, I suppose. First they come for the midges, then it’s the bats, and before you know it, the giraffe is on the endangered list.

Extinction is the saddest word but there’s still time to turn things around. According to National Geographic, there were only 2,000 sea otters extant in 1911, due to years of hunting this lovely creature for its fur. Today, globally, the figure has rebounded to 100,000. We have stronger laws and greater protection enacted in the North Pacific to thank for this miracle. So we can do it. It’s not too late. But to quote Greta Thunberg – the house is on fire.

We didn’t listen in 1987. Are we listening now?”

Find out more about Patricia Forde at www.patriciaforde.com  and find her on Twitter @PatriciaForde1; on Instagram @TrishForde1.

With thanks to Little Island Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Spylark by Danny Rurlander

Spylark Jacket lowresI’m kicking off the autumn term on the blog with the first stop on the blog tour for Spylark by Danny Rurlander. What a great way to bring in the new term!  Spylark is a fantastic middle-grade thriller full of adventure, lots of action and some great characters – not to mention a really cool and clever idea at the heart of the story!  Spylark is set in the author’s native Lake District and uses the islands that inspired Swallows and Amazons as the backdrop. Danny Rurlander’s debut novel is a perfect adventure of the absolutely classic kind. With themes about the importance of friendship, bravery, terrorism and technology, readers will be swept up into the daring mission to save a Very Important Person from assassination. A thoroughly riveting read, Spylark is a must for middle grade bookshelves!

Danny Rurlander Photo.pngDanny Rurlander studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, and worked in the finance sector for several years. He now serves on the staff team of a multi-cultural, city-centre church. While at University Danny spent two years learning to fly with RAF, as an officer cadet in the Cambridge University Air Squadron.  He has lived in Austria, Kenya, Devon and Australia, but always longed to return to his native Lake District where he grew up exploring the fells and camping on islands, so it’s no wonder his descriptions of the landscape where Spylark is set are so real! I’m delighted to welcome Danny to the blog today to share some insight into what inspiration means to him.

Inspiration

“There’s a moment, roughly half way through the book, when Jim Rothwell, an older man whose wisdom and life experience help the child protagonists navigate some of the trickier moments of their adventure, offers a challenging view of love.

 ‘Joel, my lad, love is not always a feeling. Sometimes it’s a decision.’

This down to earth and counter-intuitive idea of love is also true, in my experience, of ‘inspiration’.  Inspiration, for the fiction writer, is not so much a feeling, but a decision, an act of the will.  If you sit around waiting for it to turn up, you’ll never write anything. But where does inspiration come from?  The answer is so obvious it seems almost unnecessary to say it.  Inspiration comes from two spheres: what you already know and what you don’t know, but know you need to know.

In writing Spylark a number of key influences and experiences (the first sphere of inspiration) found their way into the book: my own childhood adventures in the part of the world where the book is set; a first-hand knowledge of flying aeroplanes gained through my time with the RAF; and perhaps most of all, memories of books I read as a child.  In particular I grew up not only reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons adventures but trying to live them out!

Spylark is a classic action-adventure thriller, involving spies, criminals, and a group of child heroes who save the day.  But the book plays with this genre by means of a key technological concept. Tom, the main character, who has suffered a life-changing accident several years before the story begins, ‘escapes’ the harsh realities of his life by means of his home made drone.  This enables him to be in two places at once, and enables the narrative to switch between locations in the blink of an eye.

This brings me to the second source of inspiration – what you don’t know, but know you need to know. Before I started I knew nothing at all about drones.  So I had to find out enough to make the story convincing.  Writers traditionally call this ‘research’ but that has always sounded rather outfacing and dull when you are itching to get going with the story.  I prefer to think of it as fueling the tanks for the creative energy of writing.

The internet makes this easy of course. I subscribed to a few drone blogs to understand the technical stuff.  I then tried to get my head around what could actually be possible, and how a terrorist might use this technology for destructive purposes.  (At one stage if – for some reason – my hard drive had been examined by the police, it could have looked rather suspicious!)  But it’s a good idea not to rely too heavily on Google.  I also bought a book on drones, went out to the local beach to watch people flying them, and met up with a local enthusiast to watch him at work and ask him questions.

The key to this is not to think of what you don’t know as a barrier but an opportunity.  I often say that writers are nosey-parkers!  They learn to listen in on other people’s conversations on the bus; they observe the world around them in fine detail, tune into the stories of other people’s lives and actively imagine the world from someone else’s point of view.  After all, one of the reasons children read is to learn about what they don’t know.  If as a writer you can learn something new, the chances are the story will be even more vivid and fresh than those that come from your experience.”

Find out more at dannyrurlander.com and chickenhousebooks.com. SPYLARK by Danny Rurlander is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review. Be sure to follow the rest of the blog tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Take A Chance on Me by Beth Garrod

I am so excited to be kicking off the blog tour for the new sunny, feel-good romantic comedy Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod, published by Scholastic.

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Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod

Meg’s first kiss was a disaster…but this summer she will have a perfect, swoony, just-like-in-the-movies kiss with a hot boy – and what better setting than the sun-drenched Greek island she’s holidaying on? But with three very different boys vying for her attention, resetting her first kiss may be more complicated than she bargained for…

Just in time for summer, this fun, feel-good story will strike a chord with young people hoping for holiday romance! Beth Garrod is the author of the Super Awkward series and has worked for broadcasters including Radio 1, Blue Peter and MTV.  She now concentrates on social impact campaigns, working with charities and broadcasters around the world to make content that can help empower young people. I am delighted to welcome Beth to the blog today for a Q & A on this first stop on the blog tour!

Describe Take a Chance on Me in five words

Can I do six?! Holiday hotties, best-mate missions, superstar surprises.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?  Well, a few years ago I visited a small Greek island for the very first time – I was so lucky. We had to catch a plane and a boat to get there, but when we arrived it was like something from a postcard! The water was like a giant warm bath, the sea and sky were the brightest blues, and everyone there was super friendly. And oh my goodness THE FOOD. The whole island was so good that it ended up being the inspiration for Meg’s surprise holiday in Take A Chance On Me.

Lots of the action in Take a Chance on Me takes place on a film set. Name your dream cast for a movie adaptation of the book. This is a hard one! Hmm… Can I dream big?

Meg – can Joey King from the Kissing Booth do it?! Or Lana Condor. Or Jessica Barden who is totally amazing. Or Amandla Stenberg.. sorry I need to stop now.

Anita (her best mate) – Manpreet Bambra from Free Rein. I love that show, and she seems super fun. Barbara Ferreira is also a total boss.

Meg’s Dad – Stephen Mangan. But he’d have to get really into health and safety. And could Jodie Comer get older to play her mum?

Billy – Maybe Ncuti Gatwa, as he brings all the laughs and all the feels in just one look. Or Lewis Capaldi, if he fancied acting?

TJ – I mean I’d love Noah Centineo to be in it, but he’s too Noah and lovely to be TJ right? Right?!

And can a young Miles Teller/ Shailene Woodley be in there too? And Marsai Martin – she’d star in the film AND keep TJ in check.

Can you share the cringiest thing that’s happened to you on holiday? Oh wow. Lots of things have happened. It’s hard to choose a winner. I think the time I did my dissertation in Ibiza on… biodiversity, was pretty excellent. Everyone else was on holiday, and glamming it up on the beach, but my uni needed video evidence I was following procedure so my friend had to document me on the beach, clutching a 1m square quadrat (a giant wooden and metal grid thing) in full high vis safety wear and non-slip shoes.

Any top tips for going on holiday with your friends? If you’re going somewhere on a plane then pack a spare swimsuit or bikini in your travel bag. I once had a case go AWOL, and let’s just say the clothes my friends lent me were all at least 4 sizes too small. It was all quite a lewk. And always have a stash of chocolate. It tastes extra good on holiday, especially if it’s fridge-chocolate. And remember a speaker. Music is a must – then you can come back and re-listen to the playlists and try and pretend you’re still there.

And something to remember if it’s your first holiday together, living with someone is harder than just hanging out, so allow everyone the space to be  a grumpy morning person, or to be sleep deprived, or a bit hot and sweaty one day. One day it’ll most likely be your turn.

Oh, and is it wrong to mention I never regret packing Marmite?

What are your favourite YA reads of 2019 so far? There have been so many! I wasn’t surprised at all that I loved Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green so so much. Just like his Noah books it had everything in that I love – big laughs, awkward moments, and a really beautiful mega-crush. Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard was another one I loved – it’s also very funny and contemporary, but with a real twist to it. Jemima Small Vs The World I adored, and wished Jemima would pop out of the pages and become real. And I’m about to go on holiday (to the non-imaginary Greek island I mentioned just before) and I can’t wait to read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon and Scar by Alice Broadway. I’ve been dying for the third book in the Ink series for ages!

Find out more about Beth at www.bethhgarrod.com.  With thanks to Scholastic for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour this week:

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BLOG TOUR: Starfell by Dominique Valente

Starfell Jacket lowresToday I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Starfell by Dominique Valente. I’m delighted to welcome Dominique to the blog with a guest post on writing – even when you are feeling least inspired. Many will identify with the dreaded writers block, but Dominique has some great tips for getting past it.

Starfell is Dominique’s debut middle grade fantasy series published by HarperCollins and I can safely say it’s absolutely gorgeous! I spent a large amount of time smiling at the wonderful storytelling and thinking about how my younger self would have been totally enthralled.  The first book entitled Willow Moss and the Lost Day introduces a likeable young witch called Willow, who feels less than special even with her special powers. Whilst she might be able to find all sorts of lost things, compared to her beautiful sisters and mother, it’s all rather boring. If it weren’t for Willow’s eccentric grandmother, also a witch and whom Willow adores, life would be very dull.  As we soon discover, all that is about to change when the most powerful witch in Starfell arrives on her doorstep, asking for help.  So begins the most marvellous – and dangerous – magical quest where Willow finds that even the most unlikely of powers can save the world.

Starfell is the most enchanting story with a perfect balance of magic, heart and imagination.  Willow and the friends she makes are a delightful cast of characters and Starfell feels like it could be just over the hill, so good is the world-building – although watch out for the trolls, wizards and Brothers of Wol! There’s also plenty of humour largely from Oswin, Willow’s somewhat begrudging sidekick; a sort of cat in a carpet-bag! Full of positive messages around believing in yourself and being selfless in the face of great difficulty, Starfell will have you hooked from the first page. Brought to life by Sarah Warburton’s brilliant illustrations, this book sings inside and out!

Read on for fantastic writing tips from the author herself, perhaps showing just how she created Starfell magic!

Writing with the handbrake up by Dominique Valente

dom“When I first discovered my love for writing I’d sit down for hours happily creating a magical world, never once wondering what an end reader would think. And then I started writing for a living. Having to expose my thoughts and ideas for someone to judge or correct, was tough. I’m not going to lie. But it was good for me. I learn the hard way, which isn’t good – and so often, the only way I improve is with tough love.

And while that has helped with making my writing more polished – and I now pay a lot more attention to things like grammar and structure. (There’s nothing quite like a newsroom and an editor who will call out your mistake in front of all of your colleagues to make you pull up your socks, fast!) It can take a bite out of your confidence, particularly if you allow it more room than it deserves.

It’s a bit like writing with the handbrake up. You’re able to write but it’s hard going because you’re having to try ignore that annoying voice – the one that tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough … and still haven’t grasped the comma at the age of thirty (just me?) . That voice is not always there. Some days the words come easy and I delight in every one. But others the FEAR arrives and it’s like wading against a current.

When that happens, this is what I do to get myself through it:

Write first thing in the morning, just after I wake. There’s something about an early morning start, before my brain has fully woken up that really helps. You’re still in that sleepy state and the self-doubt hasn’t had a chance to truly kick in, so by the time you’re fully wake you’ve already knocked out a few hundred words and you’re already half-way there…

Writing sprints. I set a timer and write for as long as I set it – usually ten minutes. There’s something about the ticking timer that focuses the brain not on the fear of a writing a bad story but on the fear of not putting down all the words, which really works. I learnt this great tip from the author Sarah Painter, and her excellent book on the subject of fear and self-doubt – Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

Just keep going. If the scene doesn’t work, I just work around it – I can always come back and fix it later. Or with a little distance I might find that actually that scene is great. It happens. The trick is to keep moving forward. The Jodi Picoult quote: ‘You can’t edit a blank page’ is so true. I’ve put that up on my chalkboard more than once, because I sometimes need a daily reminder of this.

Write the story for yourself first. I used to follow Stephen King’s advice which is to write for an ideal reader in mind – now I just write the story I want to read. For me it’s about creating something that I enjoy, I figure if I’m bored or moved or excited – maybe someone else will be too, and if not, at least I had fun doing it. For a while, when I was journalist and was trying so hard to write for someone else, I forgot about the joy – and that’s where the magic really lies.”

STARFELL: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente out now in hardback (£12.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Follow Dominique on twitter @domrosevalente, #Starfell

 With thanks to Laura and HarperCollins for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

 

I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens. I was delighted to be invited to do so, having been a huge fan of Rebecca Stevens previous novel, Valantine Joe. This latest middle grade novel Lily and the Rockets, published by Chicken House, is a fantastic story that celebrates girls and women in football and serves as a poignant reminder of how the first World War impacted the lives of so many. Not just those serving in conflict but those left at home, who had to totally transform their way of living whilst the men were away.

Lily and the Rockets Jacket lowresIt’s 1918. Lily spends her days working in a munitions factory, her nights picking metal out of her hair, and her lunchtimes kicking a ball with her workmates. Together they form a football team, the Rockets, and a league soon follows. But when the war ends, the girls lose both their jobs and their football. Not Lily. If her only chance of being a goalie is to play with the men, then that’s what she’ll do.

Lily is a wonderful heroine, determined to live her dream of playing football. Such is the narrative and quality of the writing, the characters leap off the page and you feel that their story could be true. It was in fact is inspired by the Woolwich Arsenal Rocket Ladies FC, who were one of several female-only teams that thrived while the Great War raged on. Despite their success, once the war was over, a ban was put in place by the FA that was to last fifty years.  Thankfully women’s football is now in a much better place and perhaps without girls and women like Lily and her friends, who were brave enough to stand up to convention, we wouldn’t be about to celebrate the FIFA Women’s World Cup which begins next month (7 June- 7 July 2019).

I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca Stevens to the blog share more about her inspiration for the book!

‘Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’  Football Association spokesman, 1921

st helens ladies with tall keeper

“Lots of people know about the munitionettes of WW1. They’ve seen the propaganda posters of the time, urging women and girls to ‘do their bit’, to fill the jobs in the factories left empty by the men and make the bombs and bullets needed for the war. What fewer people know is that the women and girls started to play football;  they formed their own teams and leagues and then, when in 1915 the Football Association suspended the men’s professional game for the duration  of the war, they started to play on their grounds, attracting crowds as big – and sometimes bigger – than the men’s game.

 

The most successful team of all, the Dick, Kerr Ladies from Preston (the comma isn’t a typo – it was originally a team of workers from a factory owned by a Mr Dick and a Mr Kerr), drew huge crowds. The biggest was a crowd of 53,000 inside the ground with over 14,000 locked out – a record for a women’s match that wasn’t beaten until the 2012 Olympics when England played Brazil. Ladies’ football was a success.

So what happened?  

Well, the war ended. The men and boys needed their jobs back. The women and girls got kicked out of the factories. And the gentlemen of the Football Association decided they didn’t like the idea of females playing football after all and announced that they would expel any club who allowed ladies’ teams to play on their grounds.

And that was that.

But what, I wondered, if it wasn’t. What if there was one girl who refused to give up, who found a way to carry on playing?

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved stories about disguise, people pretending to be someone else and actually becoming more like themselves in the process. Mulan, Sweet Polly Oliver, so many of Shakespeare’s heroines.  Even Cinderella is able to become somebody else just by putting on a different outfit (perhaps that’s why we all love makeovers!).   So, in Lily and the Rockets, I decided to do the same and write a girls’ own story about football, friendship and feminism in the hope that it would encourage readers to follow their own star, whatever that star might be.”

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Rebecca Stevens on twitter @rstevenswriter. With thanks to Chicken House for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour here:

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BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


Fire Maker

The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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