Blog tour: The Eye of the North – Sinead O’Hart

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for Sinéad O’Hart’s debut book The Eye of the North.  I’m delighted to welcome Sinéad for a bookchat about this fantastic fantasy middle grade novel and the inspiration behind her writing.  You can read my full review of The Eye of the North here.

Sinead O'Hart

Sinéad lives in Ireland with her husband and daughter. She has had many jobs in her life including working as a butcher and a bookseller.  Sinéad has a degree in Medieval Studies, a PhD in Old and Middle English Language and Literature and can read Middle English with perfect fluency!

Welcome to the blog Sinéad and congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. I loved it! Thank you so much! I’m very glad to hear that. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind The Eye of the North. The inspiration behind The Eye of the North goes back a long way. Almost twenty years ago now, I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and whenever my mind wandered I found myself thinking about a girl – wait for it – working in a job she didn’t like. The differences between that fictional girl (her name was Emma Marvell) and me were many, though; Emma worked in an office which catalogued and stored artefacts and samples from the mythical and legendary creatures of the world, which were sent in by a team of roving explorers. My job wasn’t a fraction so interesting. In Emma’s story, she receives a strange sample one day from an explorer who was last seen in Tromsø, Norway, which gives the impression that he has witnessed the killing of an extremely endangered, and officially mythical, creature – but Emma knows he’s lying. She sets off to get to the truth of what’s going on. I had such great plans for that story, but it never got written. However, the core of it – mythical creatures at the north of the world, valiant scientists struggling to protect them, a girl and a stowaway boy she meets on her journey – have stayed the same. When I came to write The Eye of the North, the story flowed out of my head almost fully formed.

You’ve created an amazing cast of both real and magical creatures. It must be hard not to get carried away when writing about mythical beasts! Do you find it easier to write about human or fantasy characters and how do you go about this? That is such a fascinating question – thank you for asking! It is a bit hard not to pile on the description when you’re talking about a particularly fearsome mythical creature, or to give your not-quite-human baddies all the evil powers you can think of, but I don’t know if I find it harder to write about them than I do about my human characters. I guess fantasy characters have ‘baggage’ – we expect the Yeti, for example, to do Yeti-ish things, if that makes sense, so it already has a character before an author starts writing – or you create them from scratch, so you can decide the parameters of what they can do. Of course, your mythical characters can be written against type, and can do unexpected things, but I think in general I find human characters more complicated, as there can be more layers to them. Certainly, that was true in this book, even though I loved creating some of the fantasy characters, particularly the Northwitch.

Thing is a particularly interesting chap – a bit of a rogue, but a heart of gold. Where did the idea for him come from? I think Thing emerged as a natural foil to Emmeline, and his character was built around that. Emmeline is logical and rational; Thing is impulsive and a bit scatty. Emmeline is guarded and can appear cold at first, because her feelings are so deeply held; Thing wears his heart on his sleeve and with him, what you see is what you get (not including, of course, the secret pain he hides from everyone, including himself). Emmeline is not, shall we say, a people person; Thing thrives on spectacle and makes connections easily, for the most part. I loved their interaction, and how they complemented one another. On the surface they seem very different, but in truth they are quite alike, as both are searching for some version of family, and they are both quite lonely, in their own way.

The plot is full of twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. How did you go about writing the many threads running through it – are you a ‘planner’ or does it evolve naturally? The Eye of the North, perhaps because it had percolated in my head for so many years, largely wrote itself. I didn’t plan it, and I would normally be a planner when it comes to writing – but in this case, the story just flowed. There were scenes, particularly near the end, where I didn’t know how a situation was going to resolve itself until I wrote it, and that surprised me. I knew where I wanted the story to end up, and I knew what fate I wanted for Emmeline and Thing, but as to how they were going to get there… well. I pretty much worked that out as I went, which I know isn’t at all helpful! Of course, the story was edited repeatedly and some plot strands were made stronger or more clear, some were excised completely, and a whole character (a baddie) was removed, so it wasn’t as effortless as I’m making it sound.

The Eye of the North is a fantasy novel. Do you plan to stick with this genre and are you working on anything at present? I love fantasy – mostly because I love mythical creatures, and have always done – so I will certainly try to tell more stories featuring our beloved fantastical beasts in the future. I also love stories in which a ‘normal’ world intersects with or is somehow interrupted by another reality, one in which unexplained things might happen, so that’s something I’d like to explore in future work. I love creating worlds like our own where someone has a power or talent which is outside the normal range of human ability – I have a future work-in-progress like this one on the back burner. As for what I’m working on: I’ve finished a second book, which isn’t a sequel to The Eye of the North, and it involves a girl and her pet tarantula and a boy and his pet mouse who are inexplicably linked across time and space, and who must work together to stop a terrible villain. It’s with my editors at the moment, and while I’m waiting for their feedback I’m making a start into a sequel to The Eye of the North – just in case anybody wants one.

You’ve been writing since you were young. What keeps you motivated to write and do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there? Motivation to write can be hard to come by – particularly since I became a parent! Finding time, finding ‘headspace’, and finding inspiration can all come under pressure when you’re busy, but it always comes back to this, for me: I can’t not write. If I don’t write for a while, I find the itch to start again always kicks in and I can’t help but think about characters and plots while I’m doing the washing-up or hosting conversations between characters in my head while pushing the pram, or whatever it might be. Sometimes I have time to write but I really don’t want to, and in those moments I sometimes push through and write anyway, but more often than not I give myself a break. Your brain needs rest, too. And writing isn’t always about putting words on a page: thinking and daydreaming and plotting and brainstorming and designing your characters are all important and can be part of the process – though it’s important to find the balance, and make sure you’re getting the words down, too, as often as you can.

As for tips for aspiring writers: read, read, read as much as you can, both because you’re hungry for stories and because you want to learn. Every story you consume teaches you something about creating them. When you write, don’t hold back; write whatever’s in your heart and head, and don’t worry about what people might think of it. Express yourself and be proud of the uniqueness of what you’re creating – because even if it feels like you’re not writing anything terribly ‘new’, your voice and your experience will make it new. And then, if you want to write for publication, my advice is to develop patience and resilience, because it takes a long time, and you will have many knock-backs on the way. I have been rejected by almost every major publisher in the UK and the US, and you’ve got to wear that like a badge of honour! Also, learning to take criticism and separating yourself from your work is important, and probably the hardest aspect of the job for me. But if it’s what you want, never give up. Never let anyone make you believe you can’t do it. People like me – very ordinary people – are doing it every day of the week. If we can, so can you.

Thank you so much for some wonderful words of inspiration and the exciting news there could one day be a sequel and good luck with The Eye of the North!

Thank you to Stripes Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book and for the pleasure of hosting this stop on the blog tour.   Check out the rest of the blog tour for more brilliant bookish chat!

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Book of the Month: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

book of the monthI thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel by Sinéad O’Hart which publishes on the 8th February from Stripes Publishing.  The story weaves elements of fantasy, magic and mythical creatures into an epic voyage.  You can find out more about the author and the inspiration behind The Eye of the North in the blog tour which will be stopping here on Sunday (see below for details)!

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer. Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world? 

Emmeline Widget has always been convinced her scientist parents were trying to kill her.  But on discovering they’ve disappeared, everything is not as it once seemed.  An epic adventure begins during which Emmeline meets a cast of strange and mysterious characters, some of whom are friends and some very clearly foes.  Members of the Secret Order of the White flower make themselves known but Emmeline and Thing don’t know who they can trust. As she travels deeper into the frozen north, the sinister nature of Dr Bauer’s intentions are revealed, the Northwitch stakes her claim and Emmeline finds herself mortal peril.  But with the help of Thing and some very fantastical creatures, her courage and bravery will surely be rewarded.

The Eye of the North is an exciting fantasy adventure transporting the reader to a magical frozen landscape, full of unexpected delights and terrible threats. The perfect storytelling ingredients create a thrilling plot which has plenty of edge-of-your-seat action scenes. With a feisty heroine in Emmeline, an unusual but likeable sidekick in Thing and a wide cast of mysterious characters, the adventures keep the reader guessing.  The story culminates in a breathtaking final sequence, leaving the door open to a sequel that I would be delighted to read!  A really great middle grade debut novel.

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Find out more at https://sjohart.wordpress.com/ and www.littletiger.co.uk.

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me this book to review.

Don’t miss the blog tour starting on the 5th February!

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New Review: You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! by Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Em Lynas writes stories and poems for children aged 5 to 12 years. You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is her fantastic debut novel, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Jamie Littler. A perfect combination of lively narrative and marvellous illustrations that bounce off the page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

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You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! By Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Daisy Wart is NOT a witch! She is an ACTRESS!  And actresses do NOT go to witch school! So when she finds herself at Toadspit Towers, sleeping in a swinging cauldron (surprisingly comfortable) and eating gloop (unsurprisingly disgusting), she vows to escape at all costs.  But how can she get past the TOADSPIT TERRORS that lurk in the corridors? And what if she REALLY IS a witch? Maybe even the WITCHIEST WITCH of them all?

Daisy Wart is furious when her Granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers boarding school for witches. Adamant that she is not a witch and determined to escape, so she can prove her thespian abilities in her school play, Daisy hatches an escape plan. And another, and another….all of which are doomed to fail! Stuck in a dormitory with the irritating Dominique, Best and Brightest Witch in the school, the longer Daisy spends at Toadspit, the more the mystery surrounding her ancestry unfolds.  Not only this, the school has a few mysteries of its own and it seems Daisy’s escape is tied up with the fate of Toadspit. With two new friends to help her, Daisy gathers all her courage and ingenuity to once and for all prove she is not a witch….!

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is a fantastic story, full of humour and original, fun magical details that will delight readers.  I particularly liked the school reward system – magical ticks giving students the ability to ‘buy’ treats (I’d love to be able to do this at my school!) A lively cast of characters include Mrs Toadspit the resident ghost and headmistress; Mrs Thorn, a teacher with looks that cold ‘shrivel’; Jess and Shalini, Daisy’s friends; and of course a variety of magical creatures from hooting owls, carnivorous plants to magical wooden cats! I particularly enjoyed Ms Lobelia the singing/gardening expert (wonderfully drawn by Jamie Littler).

Daisy who is a loveable but somewhat feisty girl has to quickly learn how to fit in at her new school and make friends, something many readers will identify with – although I don’t imagine many readers sleep in swinging cauldrons! Jamie Littler’s fantastic Illustrations bring to life the humour and magic of the story and as the plot thickens, there are some brilliantly described edge of your seat moments. There is a slightly unexpectedly gruesome moment as the story climaxes to watch out for with younger readers, but I’m sure You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! will be a hit with all who read it and they’ll be clamouring for the next in the series!

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Find out more at www.emlynas.weebly.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review!

 

New Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is the author of books for both children and adults.  Born in America, but now resident in the UK, Stephanie has always been an avid reader enjoying stories such as Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice as a young girl. I absolutely loved her stories about Kat Stephenson set in Regency England and I am pleased to say The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart published by Bloomsbury didn’t disappoint!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest kind of dragon, and she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. She’s still the fiercest creature in these mountains though – and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is walk on two feet to the human city, find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time . won’t she?

Aventurine is bored – bored of being stuck in the mountain for another thirty years until her parents say she’s old enough to go out into the world and hunt for herself. So strong are her dreams of freedom, she ignores her mother’s advice that her scales “haven’t hardened enough to withstand a wolf’s bite” and she leaves the safety of the mountain.  Aventurine can’t wait to prove her family wrong, return triumphantly with food and find her true calling (so she can stop her sister and brother driving her mad!). However, little does she realise the challenge that lies ahead of her and as she trips her way down the mountainside, a new smell reaches her nose: CHOCOLATE. Her desire to taste this is her downfall; Aventurine finds herself on two legs instead of four; a twelve year old girl with no wings and certainly no fierce dragon teeth to help her.  She must now find a way to survive, assuage her desire for chocolate and prove just how fierce she still is….

What a delightful story!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart instantly reminds you of the magic of stories and the brilliant adventures they can take you on. Aventurine is a wonderful heroine, ably supported by a fantastic and lively cast of characters. I particularly enjoyed Silke, the street-wise girl who has the same feisty spirit as Aventurine and offers her much needed friendship; and Marina the bad-tempered Chocolatier who takes Aventurine on as an apprentice, truly seeing her passion for chocolate.

Not only does Aventurine have to deal with the complexities of ‘being human’ she has to negotiate her way through the multi-cultural town of Drachenburg, which is full of snobbery, devious officials and of course, fear of dragons!  Her adventure is told with much humour and there are some highly entertaining moments where her dragon responses take over. You also learn the intricacy involved in making chocolate; I loved the scenes describing the creation of various sweet treats; you can almost taste them! There are lessons to be learnt and challenges to be faced through all of which you are rooting for Aventurine to succeed. In making the biggest mistake of her life, she finds her true calling as well as some firm friends and a second family.  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the perfect blend of fantasy and adventure; and of course the wonder of chocolate. You won’t want to put this book down!

Find out more at www.stephanieburgis.com  and follow Stephanie on Twitter @stephanieburgis.  With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book to review.