Tag Archives: Guest post

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

Guest Post: A fairy tale partnership – The Tooth Fairy and the Royal Mint!

Today on the blog it’s a great pleasure to welcome Samuel Langley-Swain, author of the new Tooth Fairy series published by Owlet Press and created in partnership with The Royal Mint. These delightful picture books bring to life the legend of the Tooth Fairy with a brand new look and feel, representing a diverse range of wonderful characters and celebrating the magical tradition around loosing a tooth! It’s a brilliant concept, with The Royal Mint being the official provider of coins to the fairies as they collect children’s teeth. Lively illustrations by David Ortu capture the engaging narratives and young readers will no doubt be very excited when they loose a tooth after reading these stories!

Author Samuel, and also the founder of publisher Owlet Press shares some insight into the partnership with The Royal Mint and how he set about creating these lovely stories. Welcome to the blog Sam!

“When the partnership with The Royal Mint was finalised, I was not only proud to partner with such a prestigious organisation, but really keen to work on a dynamic brief, to revitalise the tradition of The Tooth Fairy with a new breed of Tooth Fairy character, who would provide a positive role model for all children.

Steeped in generations of heritage, bringing a sense of childhood wonder to The Royal Mint’s site was easy – a magical, undiscovered place where all the coins in our country are made. The move from the Tower of London to Wales (dragon country) would also be an exciting journey for children to follow in the first, introductory story (Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon) with such iconic locations. There is a natural synergy between the age-old tradition of The Tooth Fairies delivering coins and centuries of minting, which very nicely positions The Royal Mint as the ‘official supplier of coins to The Tooth Fairy’ and gave us an authentic starting point for this picture book series.

Being an author and the founder of an inclusive children’s book publisher, the idea of revisiting this classic character/tradition and bringing her/it up to date with a range of tooth fairies that represent a wider range of readers – while quite a radical reimagining – was of great appeal.  We set out to challenge the archetype of the ‘blonde lady with blue eyes and a glittery dress’. Our intent was to not only inspire a range of young girls of all backgrounds to see themselves in fairies, but to also appeal to all the young boys who lose their teeth and place them under their pillow.

So, we set about creating a lead character who would be smart, witty, brave and also caring; a modern Mary Poppins who would appeal to readers of all ages and genders as a progressive and positive role model – inclusive in their appearance. We studied modern female leads from all types of children’s fiction, to find characters that were more inclusive in their appeal.

When briefing Davide Ortu, an experienced illustrator, on our character, we asked him to incorporate beauty, bravery and strength/labour into our lead’s costume (e.g. inspired by icons such as ‘Rachet Rosie’ and Merida from Disney’s ‘Brave’). I think that Davide being from Italy and living in Spain (where the tooth fairy is replaced by other creatures in their tooth-related traditions) allowed him to look with fresh eyes at creating a ‘Tooth Fairy for today’.

But we also went beyond that, and established this lead character as the Chief of the Tooth Fairies, enabling us to create an inclusive series of tooth fairies to feature within the books; all with the aesthetic traits of their leader, but different genders, skin colours and body types. We’ve also integrated ‘watch-mouse’ inspired by the mouse that takes teeth in many other countries around the world and have worked on an inclusive line up of loveable characters for our forthcoming titles. 

The result is a collection of striking and recognisable fairies that are established within the first two titles in a series of six picture books. I can’t wait to see the reaction of our young readers and hope that these stories bring a new sense of wonder as their teeth are placed under pillow!”

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers and The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey, written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by Davide Ortu, are available now, £7.99 paperback  (Owlet Press/The Royal Mint).  

Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon is written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by Jessica Rose, out now, £7.99 paperback (Owlet Press/The Royal Mint). 

With thanks to Owlet Press for sending me these books to review.

BLOG TOUR: What did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillian, illustrated by Sam Usher

It’s a celebration of nature and history on the blog today! I’m delighted to share a guest post today on my stop of the blog tour for What did the tree see? by Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher. When I first heard about this picture book I absolutely loved the idea of it. There is something wondrous about the mighty oak tree and the fact they have often lived for hundreds of years – what indeed have these majestic trees seen throughout history? What did the tree see? is a non-fiction picture book that captures exactly this premise through a charming lyrical narrative and wonderfully detailed illustrations. We see an oak tree grow from an acorn, to sapling to a fully grown tree. As it grows, it sees the land change before it, with villages turning to towns and the advent of industrialisation. It’s a lovely depiction of the oak tree and it’s importance in our heritage. There’s a wonderful spread charting the life cycle of an oak tree and a historical timeline tracking what happened in history over the course of a 1,000 years – oak trees can live for a long time! Published in partnership with The National Forest by Wellbeck Children’s, 10p of every book sold goes towards helping look after our forests. Today, we discover a day in the life of a picture book author with Charlotte Guillain and she shares are top tip for would-be writers. Welcome to the blog Charlotte!

“In many ways, I’ve been very lucky over the last year. When the pandemic hit us and the lockdowns started, my working life didn’t really change that much. Of course, I missed the opportunity to meet children in schools and at festivals, but the day-to-day job of writing went on pretty much as normal.

I write non-fiction, such as What Did the Tree See? (illustrated by Sam Usher), on my own but I also write picture books with my husband, Adam. We have a room like a box at the bottom of our tiny garden, which we call the Writing Den, and this is where we head every morning. With schools closing and the whole family having to work at home, we’ve never been more grateful for the extra space the Writing Den gives us. After switching on the computers and the heater and checking emails (and Twitter!), we usually start the day properly by going for a walk. We live just over the road from the Blenheim Palace estate, so we normally head there to breathe in the beautiful green scenery and wander among the wonderful mature trees that are scattered throughout the park. It was on one of these walks that I first had the idea for What Did the Tree See? I wanted to tell the story of an oak tree over the hundreds of years that it has been growing and show how much the world around it has changed. Walking in nature always works well for Adam and I to brainstorm new ideas, thrash out plots and solve writing problems.

After our walk, we head back to the Writing Den. I try to do any new writing in the morning, when I’m feeling fresh and energised from going out. On a good day, I’ll be totally immersed and only surface at lunchtime. When things are feeling harder, there will be more Twitter and tea breaks… After lunch I might continue with the new writing, or I might switch to editing projects that are already in progress, update our website, write publicity such as a blog post or deal with any emails that have arrived during the day.

On some days, we might have a virtual visit with a school anywhere in the world. This is always great fun and it’s so important to be reminded who our readers are, even if we can only see them on a screen. We also spend a lot of time recording videos for our YouTube channel. Lockdowns permitting, we might end our working day with another walk among the trees, discussing how much progress we’ve made on a manuscript and helping each other to solve any problems that may have arisen. My top tip for any would-be writers: Don’t spend too much time at your desk! Get out into the fresh air and hang out with some trees if you can. You’ll be amazed how much it helps!

What Did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Sam Usher (£12.99, Welbeck Children’s) available now.

With thanks to Wellbeck Children’s for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Find out more on Twitter: @KidsWelbeck and @cguillain and check out the rest of the blog tour:

GUEST POST: The Pocket Chaotic – the illustration process by Daniel Gray-Barnett

As spend another period of time living in very close quarters, it seems appropriate to share this post about the illustration process behind the delightful picture, The Pocket Chaotic by written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. The story brings to life a delightful family of kangaroos, in a story of a journey towards independence – and how family life can make us feel like we’re living on-top of each other! Read my review of The Pocket Chaotic here.

Today, illustrator Daniel Gray Barnett shares insight into how he created the artwork for the story and his thoughts about the book. Welcome to the blog Daniel!

“When I was asked to work on Ziggy’s story, I (quite aptly) jumped for joy! I love drawing animals, and I love drawing families – getting to illustrate this particular one was something I was very excited about.

It’s a very funny, touching story that I think most people can relate to in one sense or another – whether it’s the parent-child connection that evolves as the child grows up and learns independence, or just the clash of personalities which often happens in families or relationships. Trying to maintain your own space in your life or home when you’re a neat, organised person and other people are a bit more chaotic is a common challenge. Maybe you’re the messy person with hoarding tendencies and your family just don’t understand the value of your treasure trove! Working on this project was a bit faster than previous picture book projects I’ve worked on – it was completed over a period of about 8-9 months. The sketching and storyboard phase took several months. I do all my sketching digitally in Photoshop, which helps me to be less precious about the process and keep things very loose! The editor had some ideas for how the spreads might work, which helped speed things up. Most of the storyboards have stayed fairly close to how I originally imagined, with some small tweaks.

In working on the illustrations, I was very inspired by the work of Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame), one of my favourite illustrators. In the past, I tend to work in quite limited colour palettes, but was also looking for the challenge of working in full colour – and non-digital colouring at that. Ludwig’s work helped me see a way of combining these methods into a cohesive book. I love how in Madeline he contrasts illustrations of limited colours with full colour illustrations, which seem to be mostly used for the outside world in the story. I borrowed the same approach for The Pocket Chaotic – when Alexander is inside Nancy’s pouch, those illustrations are shown in the limited black, white and egg-yolk yellow colours. When Alexander is in the outside world with his mum, those illustrations are shown in full colour.

After the storyboards were all given the go ahead, I spent a few weeks doing colour tests, playing around with inks, pencils and crayons to find that just right combination for the look of the story. I print out all of my sketches then use a light box for my inking process. I ink my linework and colours separately, just in case. I’d hate to have to redo an entire illustration because of one stray line! My illustrations are usually done in bits and pieces, before I scan everything in and layer it all in Photoshop. It feels like digital printmaking, in a way.

This project was a bit of an experiment for me. I used to work in only black ink and use the computer to do all my colouring, but on this book, I used a variety of coloured acrylic inks to do as much colouring as I could outside of the computer. I think there’s something wonderfully unpredictable, loose and warm about how it turned out. We decided to print the egg-yolk yellow in a special Pantone colour, which was saved for Alexander and Nancy and the pouch interior illustrations. It’s so terrifically bright!

It took about 4-5 months to finish all of the illustrations. I had a couple of speedbumps, trying to get my linework somewhere which had the loose energy I was looking for, but still a bit refined. Quite symbolic of the battle between Alexander and Nancy’s personalities, really. There were a few late nights but I’m really happy with how it all came together! Usually I have to wait about 9 months to see the finished product, but 2020 has been such an unusual year. It was only several months from our print deadline to seeing a completed copy. I’m so pleased with our book, I hope you all love it as much as Ziggy and I do!”

With thanks to Daniel for this fantastic guest post! The Pocket Chaotic is published by Cicada Books; find out more The Pocket Chaotic — Cicada Books.

GUEST POST: Poetry and privacy with A.F Harrold

A.F.Harrold is an award-winning poet and author, most recently shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2020 for Midnight Feasts: Tasty poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell. The judges, including 2019 CLiPPA winner poet Steven Camden (aka Spoken Word artist Polarbear) described Ashley’s book as ‘a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced.’

I’ve been privileged to see Ashley performing poetry and running school workshops with children aged 7 and 8 – you’d be hard-pressed to say who enjoyed it more – the children or the adults in the room! His energy, humour and love for poetry is contagious. Read an extract from Midnight Poems:

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Ashley to the blog today with a guest post about poetry and privacy and how we can use poetry to help deal with the things that trouble us. Welcome to the blog Ashley!

Poetry and Privacy – A.F. Harrold

“What I love, and have always loved, about poetry (and about all art, really) is that it’s none of your business.

What I mean is, when I read a book or a poem or listen to a piece of music or hear a joke, I am under no obligation to share it. I don’t have to tell anyone about it. Not about what I thought of it, or how it made me feel, or what it reminded me of, or what connections I traced from it to other pieces of art I’ve consumed before. I can keep all of that to myself.

Art is private, and one’s responses to art are private.

Sure, you might be the sort of person who loves sharing, in which case share away.

But for those of us who aren’t sharers, who don’t much care for the outside world, that feeling of ‘This-is-mine-ness’ of a book or a poem or a story overheard… that thing that happens in the solitary heart and the reader, the listener, is special. It’s a treasure, it’s something that belongs to us, a gem sparkling in the head of the toad of ourselves.

No one has the right to ask you what you think about this or that book or poem (or rather they have the right, but you have no duty to answer them). Keep it safe, keep it secret, if you want.

(You may not have much that belongs to you. You might have to share your toys, your bedroom, your bathwater. But this one thing, this treasure in your head, no one can take that away.)

And the same should go for making art.

You should feel free, whether you’re 8 or 80, to make poems, to do drawings, to write stories, to keep a diary, and to choose to keep them to yourself or share them with the world as you see fit.

Think of making poems as diary keeping.

Use them to find shapes for your thoughts and your fears, for the things that are happening in your life and in your family, with your friends or with strangers you saw in the shops… and sometimes just writing it down will be enough to still the fear, sometimes putting it away and looking back in a month or in six months and seeing how you’ve grown or changed or stayed the same as you-from-the-past might be helpful.

Writing something and knowing that no one else will see it, read it (until or unless you choose to share it), is a way of talking to yourself, to the future you, of checking in and taking stock. It has been essential to me, at times, and if you’re shy or solitary, like I am, then it might be something you should try.

But even if you don’t write, remember to read, that too is a good way to learn about yourself.”

Find out more about A.F Harrold at www.afharroldkids.com and the CLiPPA 2020 at www.clpe.org.uk