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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Book of the Month: The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

book of the monthThe Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, published by Egmont, is a joyous celebration of the wonder of imagination. I absolutely loved it – not just because it took me back to being a young girl playing imaginary games in the garden, but because it is storytelling at its best. So I’m really pleased to make it my Book of the Month!  It’s Jenny McLachlan’s middle grade debut and demonstrates her skill at weaving wonderful stories full of heart and imagination.  Illustrations by Ben Mantle throughout will no doubt bring this to life if the cover art is anything to go by (I saw a proof copy).

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The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

When Arthur and Rose were little they were heroes in the Land of Roar, an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their Grandad’s attic. Roar was filled with things they loved – dragons, mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure – as well as things that scared them (including a very creepy scarecrow…). Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Grandad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or is Roar…..real?

Arthur and Rose might be twins but as now they’re eleven, and secondary school beckons, they couldn’t be more different. Rose is only interested in her friends and her mobile phone; whereas Arthur longs for things as they used to be when he and his sister played together.  Sibling frustrations simmer off the page, so when Grandad suggests sorting out the attic so they can create a more grown-up den, the twins are given a welcome distraction. But as they sort through the junk in the attic, reminders of their imaginary games are rife– an old rocking horse, a wizard hat and even a map of Roar. Is someone trying to get their attention?  It seems that way especially when Arthur is convinced he can hear the ominous rustle of feathers from the Z-bed – the gateway to Roar. Rose refuses to be drawn back into her childhood world but Arthur is convinced in her heart, she remembers Roar – and does care about it.  And he’s right. For when their Grandad vanishes and Arthur follows to rescue him, Rose isn’t far behind. It’s clear the twins’ connection to Roar is more important that they could ever have realised! Together with their best imaginary friends – Wininja the Wizard, Prosecco the Moonlight Stallion and dragons Pickle and Vlad they must defeat their arch nemesis and surely the most creepy of villains, Crowky the winged scarecrow, in order to save Grandad.

The Land of Roar is just as fantastic as you could imagine and you are quickly immersed in the magic, as Arthur and Rose rediscover their role as Heroes of Roar.  With engaging characters, just the right amount of humour and a whole lot of heart, this story will bring out your inner child and you’ll want to go through the z-bed too!  Jenny McLachlan’s skill is creating stories with characters you care about, with narratives that are as exciting as they are heart-warming and The Land of Roar is no exception. Grandad is delightful with his eccentricity and care for his grandchildren. Rose and Arthur’s changing relationship is perfectly captured as they prepare for their new school.  Their trip to Roar reminds them (and us) that you never have to stop believing in the power of imagination. It’s no wonder my son and niece were so inspired by it they played for hours in the garden their very own imaginary quest, using a map to guide them! I hope there will be more adventures to come – Hear me Roar!

Find out more at www.jennymclachlan.com

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

Guest post and review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Today is publication day for a brilliant debut middle-grade novel from author Damaris Young, The Switching Hour – congratulations! Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath University, where she wrote this novel taking inspiration from her childhood in Southern and Central Africa.  Damaris now lives in the UK and I’m very excited to be hosting a guest post by her on the blog today!

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Cover art: Kelsy Buzzell

The Switching Hour is set in a land suffering from a terrible drought, which has unleashed a dark and dangerous creature, Badoko, who snatches children away to eat their dreams. One night, Amaya’s little brother Kalen is taken and Amaya embarks on a nerve-wracking, spine-tingling chase to rescue him.  She only has three days before The Sorrow Sickness sets in and all memory of her brother is lost.  Accompanied by her faithful companion, her goat Tau, Amaya meets Mally, and finds the true value of friendship as together they search for Kalen in the heart of the Blackened Forest. Full of bravery and heart, The Switching Hour, weaves a wonderful tale, drawing you in, bewitching the senses and showing the true power of family bonds, in the face of absolute peril. A fantastic read and one that highlights the havoc that climate change can cause – watch out for the Badoko!

I’m delighted to welcome author Damaris Young to the blog today to share her thoughts on writing about the weather in The Swtiching Hour and how it represents a force to be reckoned with.

Writing About Weather In The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

“Writing about weather can very easily get overlooked when you’re speeding ahead to get the exciting bits of the plot, but it is such a vital part of writing a story. Weather is a key player and often drives the action by affecting the characters behaviour or mood, or adds tension and conflict, like a storm on the horizon.

I find that it’s all too easy to resort to clichés when it comes to writing about weather, so I allocate time to really think about new and fresh ways to describe it. I find it helpful to go outside into the garden or the park and close my eyes; can I smell the rain? Can I hear the wind? Can I feel the cold or the heat?

In The Switching Hour, it was very important to get the weather right, as it is set during a terrible drought. In my story the drought unleashes a creature that is my interpretation of climate change, a monster that eats the dreams of the young in much the same way that climate change affects the generations to come.

To immerse the reader in the story, I had to focus on some of the main elements of weather: wind, temperature, pressure, humidity, clouds, and precipitation. In every scene, I had to be thinking how the temperature would affect the characters, how the lack of clouds would mean the sun was brighter and harsher, the lack of wind would mean there was no reprieve from the heat. My protagonist, Amaya, seeks out shade on her journey but the ground beneath her feet becomes increasingly too hot to walk on. The lack of rain means that the leaves fall off the trees, the ground cracks and the food resources become scarce.

I lived in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana for many years growing up, where there is low rainfall for large parts of the year and where the natural plants and animals are adapted to the climate. I drew on that experience to write about the heat and the lack of rain, but what I wanted for The Switching Hour was to write a story about an extreme weather event and its devastating effects, much like climate change has an impact on global weather patterns.

For me, the most important thing to remember when writing about weather was not to underestimate its value to the story. I wanted the drought to be a character in itself and so I treated it like a character, giving it motives and thoughts and desires through Badeko, the Dream Eater. This in turn, changed the weather from an afterthought to becoming something real and powerful, a force to be reckoned with.”

Find out more www.damarisyoungauthor.com 

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a guest post.

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Book of the Month: Where Once We Stood by Christopher Riley and Martin Impey

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Fifty years ago today man landed on the Moon. I can only imagine just how unbelievable it must have seemed to the world at the time that we could actually walk on the Moon. It is therefore totally fitting that my latest Book of the Month celebrates that momentous occasion and is one that shares rare insight into the  historic event and the Apollo project as a whole.

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Where Once We Stood by Christopher Riley illustrated by Martin Impey captures first-hand accounts of what it really felt like to land on the Moon. Between July 1969 and December 1972 twelve men landed their spaceships on the Moon, known as the Apollo project. The author has spent a lifetime studying the Apollo project and interviewing the astronauts who walked on the Moon.  In this wonderful collaboration, each Apollo mission is explored with incredible details from the conversations Christopher Riley had with the astronauts and their families.  Martin Impey’s artwork, which has been celebrated by the astronauts themselves, is a fitting accompaniment to the insight these conversations bring.  Beautiful and otherworldly, you can almost feel the lunar experience.

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On an informative note, there’s a map of the landing sites and at various points throughout, helpful facts share some of the science behind the Moon.  Each chapter explores one of the Apollo missions, from the first footprints left by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the final ambitious expedition as astronauts drove electric cars deep into the mountains of the moon.

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It is a completely fascinating read and I found myself discovering a whole world of unknown science and exploration.  This book would be wonderful to share, a fabulous addition to your family bookshelf or school library. You could study it for hours again and again and not fail to be inspired – which I think is so important in a world where the wonder of science can be lost and exploration like something that belongs in the past.  Combining a unique series of illustrations with words spoken by the astronauts themselves, Where Once We Stood is a beautiful book that will capture the imagination of readers young and old.

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Excitingly, this book is published by a new publishing house founded by Emilie James and Martin Impey, who aim to publish high quality books about challenging subjects for readers of all ages.  This is their first publication, bringing the human face of the Moon landings to both younger readers and those who remember them from their own childhoods.  Visit www.harbourmoonpublishing.com for more information.

With thanks to the publishers for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

If you’re looking for a great summer read then look no further than the gorgeous new YA novel Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood, published on 4th July by Scholastic.  A captivating coming-of-age story set in 1930s, it will sweep you into a glorious, romantic summer haze!

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Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

In 1930s England, Bea’s parents want her married off to keep the family estate alive. but she longs for adventure. A golden summer in Italy with her bohemian Uncle opens up a whole new world, which includes Ben , a handsome, infuriating artist. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set – can they put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance? There is only one rule – they absolutely must not fall in love.

Beatrice Langton has never quite fulfilled her parents expectations of being a dutiful daughter – in fact far from it. Her fascination with nature and scientific discovery, her desire for exploration and freedom do not sit well with her parents plans for marrying her off to a rich husband, thereby saving the crumbling family estate and ancestral home of Langton Hall.  Exasperated with Beatrice’s behaviour, which in their eyes is not becoming to a young lady of 17 years, her parents think that sending her to stay with her Uncle in Italy for the summer will drum some sense into her – but they couldn’t be more wrong! For Beatrice’s Uncle, after the death of his wife, has take up with a flamboyant artist and they live a wonderfully bohemian life, with her young cousin Hero, offering an open house to artists from all over the world who want somewhere inspirational to work.  So Beatrice, or Bea as she is called by her young cousin, suddenly has a world of wonder opened up to her, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Italian countryside.

Beautifully described throughout, Under a Dancing Star, brings to life a whirlwind summer romance and is a wonderful exploration of first love.  The stifling world of British aristocracy contrasts with the exuberant world occupied by those who can live as they choose.  The looming clouds of war and references to fascism and the approaching peril invade the summer haze at times and bring a dose of reality. The price of freedom is often loss of some kind which we see in the wonderful cast of characters Bea meets including, Ben, whose mother died and who ran away from an orphanage as a young boy. But the heart of the novel is Bea’s self-discovery, her new found feelings of love which are as transformational as the butterflies she likes to study and the realisation that she can choose her future.  Under a Dancing Star really does make the perfect summer read!

Find out more at www.lauraclarewood.com and www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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New review: How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

I was instantly intrigued by this story given it was written by Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Will Smith’s ditsy cousin Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Karyn has since gone on to found and produce Sweet Blackberry an award-winning series of children’s animated films to share stories about unsung black heroes in history. How High the Moon is her debut novel for children aged 9 and up.  A sweeping tale of growing up in segregated America, it tells the story of Ella and her family and friends and will stay with you long after the final page.

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How  High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

“Boston was nothing like South Carolina. Up there, colored folks could go anywhere they wanted. Folks didn’t wait for church to dress in their fancy clothes. Fancy was just life. Mama was a city girl . . . and now I was going to be one too.”

It’s 1944, and in a small, Southern, segregated town, eleven-year-old Ella spends her summers running wild with her cousins and friends. But life isn’t always so sunny. The deep racial tension that simmers beneath their town’s peaceful facade never quite goes away, and Ella misses her mama – a beautiful jazz singer, who lives in Boston. So when an invitation arrives to come to Boston for a visit Ella is ecstatic – and the trip proves life-changing in more ways than one. For the first time, Ella sees what life outside of segregation is like, and begins to dream of a very different future. But her happiness is shattered when she returns home to the news that her classmate has been arrested for the murder of two white girls – and nothing will ever be the same again.

A moving and beautifully written historical tale drawing you into a world of racial tension, family bonds and friendship. It is told through the voices of the various central characters –11 year old Ella, desperate to find her place in the world; Henry, Ella’s steadfast best friend and Mryna, an orphan girl taken in by Ella’s grandparents who experiences first love with classmate George.  Ella has a love-hate relationship with Myrna and is often in conflict with her. When Ella goes to Boston to stay with her mother she hopes to find the truth about her father – who judging by Ella’s skin-colour and the prejudice she is often on the receiving end of, was white.  However, Ella finds her mother unwilling to share any more than this and unwilling to give up her lifestyle of late-night performing to be a stay-at-home mother. Ella finds a surprising ally in her mother’s roommate, Helen, but the time comes when she must return home. The story takes a heart-rending turn when George, Myrna’s boyfriend is accused of murder, turning their world upside down and causing increased racial tension with the threat of lynch-mobs never far away.

There are so many facets to this brilliant story and it weaves a believable but haunting narrative. Ella is a brave heroine, with a voice that must be heard. The character building is excellent and you can’t help but feel Ella, her friends and family really existed, pulling empathy from the reader from the first page. Sadly, the story of George is based on truth – George Stinney Jr was 14 years old when he was excused of murdering two white girls and executed for murder. Seventy years later he was exonerated and his trial and sentence declared a sham.

I never fail to be horrified by man’s inhumanity to man and shedding light on the racial tensions in 1940s Deep South, and what it was really like to live during this time is important. Particularly in the current climate where racial inequality still exists; this book will build empathy and understanding and would be most suitable for older primary children and also good for those students studying this period of history.  How High the Moon is brilliant and brave storytelling and is deservedly described as future classic.

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Find out more www.penguin.co.uk. With thanks to Puffin for sending me this book to review.

Guest post: The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Today on the blog I’m sharing my review of The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest (published by Scholastic on 4th July) and a guest post from the author.

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The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Coral Glen sees the world around her through a rainbow of colours not visible to others – a day full of adventure is Treasure Island Gold but one with a maths test is Stormy Canyon Grey. When her beloved grandma dies, Coral can’t conjure the colour to match how heartbroken she is.  She meets a mysterious boy who offers to help her say a last goodbye to her Gran – in exchange, Coral must stop an evil spirit from escaping the graveyard, and go on a daring adventure full of witches, ghosts and other things lurking beneath the surface of her not-so-ordinary town. 

A totally original idea and brilliant storytelling combine to make The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest a heart-warming tale full of magic. Coral’s ability to see the world in rainbow of colours brings to life the world around her in a way no one else can understand – except her grandmother who is no longer there. Coral thinks it’s all her fault so when she meets a ghost-boy, Lyart, in the graveyard after her grandmother’s funeral she accepts his offer of help and begins the seemingly impossible task set by him. Coral’s world takes on a new array of colours as she learns to cast spells, meets witches and talking animals and takes on the evil Muckle Red. At the heart of the tale is Coral’s grief at the loss of her grandmother and how she bravely overcomes her feelings of sadness and guilt, with the help of her new friends. The True Colours of Coral Glen is a story full of imagination, encouraging us to see the wonder of the world in all its colours, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’m delighted to welcome to the author, Juliette Forrest to the blog today with a brilliant guest post! 

The importance of watching other authors by Juliette Forrest

Juliette Forrest high-resMy first author event took place last year. I was on stage at Hay Festival with two other well-known writers. I had been fortunate enough to attend an Industry Lab by Scottish Book Trust, which was run to help authors navigate their way through events. Thank heavens for Scottish Book Trust is all I can say, otherwise, I would have been utterly clueless. I pitched up at Hay Festival and braced myself for the unexpected. The festival was such an amazing experience and by far the best bit was being able to observe other writers. By the end of the day, I knew I needed to be more knowledgeable on writing tips for dyslexic kids, it was wise to have a selection of pens in case the only one you owned died on you, and that kids went wild for a badge or a bookmark. I also found out the messages scribbled inside books should be kept short, so people didn’t lose the will to live in the queue, it was prudent not to use your real signature, and even though I’m awful at multi-tasking, it was polite to engage in some chat whilst signing. And not to bat an eyelid when a parent gives you a name that is so unbelievable, you think they are pulling your leg.

A lot of the time I’m asked where I get my inspiration from. It even happened to me immediately after finishing a talk on where I get my inspiration from. Although remaining polite, I recapped briefly over a few of the things I’d previously mentioned, and the child appeared satisfied with my answer. Not long after this, I went to see a top author who was being grilled by schoolkids. He was asked a whole string of similar questions, in quick succession. The writer took his time and made sure he gave a different answer to each child, making them feel as though they’d asked the most interesting question in the world. Here was a true professional at work and I learned so much more about how to handle myself as an author that day.

I think it’s difficult for new writers being flung into the strange and unpredictable world of events. Especially, if you’re like me; shy with occasional dry mouth. I’m happy to report that I’m finding my feet and love working with kids. I’m asking for feedback after every talk or workshop, so I can keep on improving, and so far the comments have been extremely complimentary. If you’ve got all this looming ahead of you and the thought is making you queasy – just remember to be yourself. And try to see as many authors at work as you can. By learning from them, you can be sure your event will always have a happy ending.

Juliette Forrest’s first novel, Twister, was a Sunday Times Book of the Week, the Guardian’s ‘must-read’ kid’s book of the summer and won Calderdale Book of the Year 2019. Her second book, The True Colours of Coral Glen, was released on 4th July. She is in her element delivering workshops and talks for schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. 

Find out more at www.julietteforrest.co.uk and www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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