Tag Archives: Guest blog

Guest blog & GIVEAWAY – Be Your Best Self by Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai

As we near the end of National Non-Fiction November, it’s a huge pleasure to welcome Danielle Brown MBE to the blog today with a guest post about the fantastic non-fiction book she co-authored with Nathan Kai, Be Your Best Self – Life Skills for Unstoppable Kids (read my recent review here). Danielle is a double Paralympic gold medalist and Nathan is the youngest self-development published author, and a member of MENSA. The story behind the book is inspiring – read on to find out more!

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Be Your Best Self

“Have you written a book for children about how they can be the best they can be?” 

Danielle was asked this question by seven-year-old Nathan Kai at an event she was speaking at. Nathan explained that he’d been looking for a book to help him become the very best he could be, but after months of searching he couldn’t find anything out there.

“No,” Danielle said. “But that’s a really good idea.”

And it was. There are thousands of self-improvement books for adults, each one offering a different perspective on how to maximise our capabilities and live more fulfilling lives. However, there wasn’t anything out there to help children build solid foundations for success, happiness and esteem. Nathan then suggested that we wrote the book together.

This had the potential to have a HUGE positive impact and two years later we are very excited that Be Your Best Self has hit the shelves. Writing this book has been an incredibly fun journey, bringing together our unique perspectives and skillsets to create innovative and exciting guidance that children can really relate to, and empowering them to become their best selves. It’s a very unusual combination but we make a fantastic team. We see the world in different ways and our joined experiences and knowledge base has allowed us to create something that is designed for young people.

We believe that every young person is capable of achieving extraordinary things with the right mindset and support structures in place, and Be Your Best Self helps them to do this.  Be Your Best Self is a comprehensive framework that encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create – opportunities to lead bright and successful futures.

Above all it lets children know that they are special and unique, valuable and important, and that they can achieve their dreams. We can all be BRILLIANT if we work hard and develop our strengths and weaknesses.

And this is something that applies to ALL children.

Nobody is born successful, but it is something we can all learn to achieve with the right support, guidance and skillset. We want to help children from all backgrounds and abilities build strong foundations for successful futures and recognise that they have the capacity to achieve great things. Getting this book published is only the start of our very exciting journey. We are looking forward to bringing the contents to life through inspiring workshops and presentations designed to make a lasting impact with children. We believe that the future is built by education and children deserve to be equipped with the right tools and strategies to help them maximise their potential.

Want to know a little more about the authors?

Nathan Kai is nine years old and very determined to achieve his goals – one of which has been to become a published author. Nathan is a member of MENSA and his intelligence shows. He is a prize winning linguist, grade 4 pianist, bronze UK and European medallist in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s educated otherwise. He swims like a fish and thoroughly enjoys the challenges of writing. He’s thrilled that his hard work is paying off and he is looking forward to helping other children feel happier, more secure and confident and in achieving their goals too.

Danielle Brown MBE started archery on her fifteenth birthday and three years later she was on the Great Britain team, jumping in as World Number 1 and hanging onto that position for the rest of her career. Danielle won gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and retained her title in London 2012, as well as winning 5 World Championship Titles. She became the first disabled person to represent England at the Commonwealth Games (and win gold) as an able-bodied athlete. Danielle works as a keynote speaker, trainer and coach.

Find out more at www.beyourbestself.global and head over to Twitter for a fantastic opportunity to win one of FIVE copies of Be Your Best Self!

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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: 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

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“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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