Sophie Finds a Fairy Door by Laura Sheldon, illustrated by Erica Jane Waters

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Sophie Finds a Fairy Door by Laura Sheldon illustrated by Erica Jane Waters

Tidying her Teddies, Sophie finds a secret fairy door hidden in her skirting board. Before she knows it she is flying through fairyland, where she is just in time to save the fairies day.

When Sophie uncovers a magic fairy door, she is taken on a magical adventure through fairyland with a beautiful fairy called Bella.  Sophie cannot believe her eyes as she sees the fairy world, and even grows some fairy wings of her very own. And when the fairy tea-cup train is in trouble, it’s Sophie who comes to the rescue and finds out how to get the train working again.

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Well I will admit my smile grew bigger and bigger as I read this gorgeous rhyming story with fairy magic galore!  Sophie Finds a Fairy Door is a charming book and I can just imagine all little readers falling in love with Sophie, Bella the fairy, and their fairy adventures. The lyrical narrative carries you on a cloud of fairy dust and makes it a lovely story to read aloud.  There’s just enough excitement to keep readers captivated, with the opportunity for Sophie to literally put the power of her dreams to the test. I love the use of imagination as the key to solving the problem! The story takes me back to childhood days of hoping I’d discover a fairy living at the bottom of the garden or a door leading to a secret magical world.

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The delightful illustrations beautifully bring to life the fairy world and all its inhabitants. Published in March by Firefly Press, Sophie Finds a Fairy Door is perfect for all those little ones who dream of make-believe magical lands and hope to have a magical visitor one day. Although, be warned, this is the first in the series and once you ‘let the magic into your home’ you’ll be hooked!

Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk and on Twitter @LauraSheldon76  and @Ericajanewaters.

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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Just in time for spring: it’s a publishing day!

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There are some great authors celebrating their book birthdays today – just in time for spring!  Have a look at these and you may just find you want to add to your TBR shelf!

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A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias (YA)

Max is a German schoolboy, when he first meets Lili, a trapeze artist from a travelling circus that performs every year in Berlin.  Lili is a Romani and her life and customs are very different from those of Max and his family.  Their friendship turns into love, but love between a German and a Romani is definitely forbidden. As Max is conscripted into the SS and war tears them apart, can their love survive?  

Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, this is a love story of passion, unexpected friendship, despair, loss and hope.

Having thoroughly enjoyed a sampler of A Berlin Love Song, I can’t wait to read the novel. I love the idea of a circus as the setting for a novel – there’s something very romantic about it. And what a gorgeous cover!  Described as ‘beautifully written and meticulously researched’, this story also reflects on what has been referred to as the ‘forgotten Holocaust’ – Hitler’s persecution of the Roma people.  Forbidden love is a theme often seen in YA novels; from the extract I’ve enjoyed, A Berlin Love Song speaks with a passionate voice.

Published by Troika Books, MD Martin West says of Sarah Matthias: “Like the best writers of historical fiction, Sarah brings the past vividly to life. A celebration of the Romani way of life, and the powerful, moving story of two individuals caught up in history, this is one of the most compelling and moving stories you will read all year.”

With thanks to Troika Books for my copy of A Berlin Love Song. 

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Royce Rolls by Margaret Stohl (YA)

Sixteen-year-old Bentley Royce has it all: a hit reality show about her family, a mansion, adoring paparazzi, and everything else that comes with the red-carpet ride of a true LA star.  But after five seasons on ‘Rolling with the Royces’ – and OMG dealing with her narcissistic sister Porsche, a media-obsessed mother Mercedes and gambling addicted brother Maybach – Bentley wants out.  

Luckily for her, without a hook for season six, cancellation is looming and freedom is on the horizon. But as Bentley’s family starts to crumble one thing becomes startlingly clear: without the show, there is no family. Then things starts to get real.  Really real, like, not reality-show real.

Margaret Stohl is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling Beautiful Creatures series. She grew-up in the shadow of Hollywood so was well-placed to be inspired in all things fame and celebrity! In an age where reality TV consumes the channels, I expect this novel will be very well-received by its intended teen audience.  Out in paperback today published by Bloomsbury, Royce Rolls promises to be a “laugh-out-loud funny romp with a twist of mystery”.  With all those crazy names, I think it will be!

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my copy of Royce Rolls.

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Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas (Age 9+)

Effie Truelove is a pupil at the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange. When her grandfather is brutally attacked, Effie promises to look after his magical books. But then shady book-collector Leonard Levar gets hold of them and Efiie has to embark on the most dangerous adventure of her life…

I am very excited about reading this story!  Not only are the initial pre-publication reviews impressive (‘The most exciting debut in children’s fiction since Harry Potter’ Joanne Harris; ‘An enthralling tale, set in a sprawling world that swallowed me whole’ Kiran Millwood Hargrave), the story includes evil publishers, ominous booksellers, magical worlds and secret powers. A pretty enticing combination for a book-ish person! Aimed at 9-12 year olds, this story promises to ‘remind you of the joyous power of reading and the adventures that await’.

Published in hardback today by Canongate, this is the first book for children by Scarlett Thomas, who has also written great books for adults.

With thanks to Catherine Ward for arranging my copy of Dragon’s Green

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Gaslight by Eloise Williams (Age 9+)

1899. All Nansi knows is that her mother disappeared on the day she was fished out of the docks. She can’t remember anything else. Now, with no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally, sometimes thieving, trying to earn enough money to hire a detective to search for her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre.  Nansi is forced to be part of Violet’s crooked psychic act.  But it’s Constance who is keeping real secrets. Nansi is about to learn that her world is even more dangerous that she realised. Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Gaslight is Eloise William’s second novel, aimed at 9-12 year olds.  The beautiful cover is inviting enough, but add to this the mystery, historical setting and backdrop of a theatre, it sounds fantastic.  Described as a ‘darkly delicious romp’ and ‘gorgeously raw and Dickensian’ and with a heroine who sounds suitably brave, I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy it.  Gaslight is published today by Firefly Press, who suggest that fans of Emma Carroll and Katherine Woodfine will love it!

With thanks to Firefly Press for my copy of this book.

I think I’ve got some reading to do…..!

Happy Book Birthday!

Author Interview: Gill Lewis

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Gill Lewis has written wonderful novels for children, including her first, Sky Hawk, which was nominated for a total of fifteen books awards!  Her books reflect her passion for animals and the natural world whether it be saving gorillas from destruction in the heart of Africa or protecting dolphins of the coast of England.  I was fortunate to meet Gill at a recent event where she was talking about her latest book, A Story Like the Wind, which will be published on 4th May by Oxford University Press and is beautifully illustrated by Jo Weaver.  I am delighted that Gill is joining us today for our spring feature to talk about her new book.

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A Story Like the Wind sounds both uplifting and heart wrenching.  Can you tell us what it is about? A Story Like the Wind is a story about the power of music and stories and how they can offer hope in the darkest of times and unite people to overcome oppression. The story is set on a small boat carrying a small group of refugees fleeing war. One of the passengers, Rami, is a teenage boy carrying the only thing he could not leave behind; his violin, because it holds all his memories of home. As the wind and waves begin to rise, Rami begins to tell his fellow passengers an ancient folk-tale that weaves through all their lives to give them hope and see them into the dawn.

You’ve written some amazing books about animals, nature and the environment tackling challenging issues.  Why did you feel compelled to write this particular story? The refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. People are on the move, fleeing conflict, famine and drought, seeking safe and better lives where they and their families can secure a future. The causative issues are complex and intertwined, whether it is Congolese people fleeing conflict perpetuated by world greed for the minerals beneath the soil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or whether it is people fleeing areas affected by famine exacerbated by climate change, or fleeing wars where western-made bombs rain down on civilians. The refugee crisis is a global problem and bears global responsibility. It is again, intertwined with environmental issues, because unless we can secure peace and safety for people, the natural world is at risk, and we can’t afford to let that happen. The health and survival of biodiversity of the natural world is the single most crucial issue on this planet. It’s grim, but if the natural world dies, we die.

It must have been an emotional time writing A Story Like Wind, given it focuses on the refugee crisis. What research did you do to help inform your writing? Many of us are very lucky. It is hard to imagine having to leave your home, and everything in it. It is painful and almost impossible to imagine your home being destroyed and never being able to return, and leaving loved ones behind. All you have left are your memories and stories. A Story Like the Winds was inspired by different stories and testimonials given by refugees. I was also invited to join an art and writing session at the Islington Centre for Refugees. The sessions are run by writer Sita Brahmachari and artist Jane Ray and have a hugely positive influence on the refugees, as a way of exploring feeling through art and writing.

The book features beautiful illustrations by Jo Weaver.  Why did you decide to include illustrations with this story and how did this come about? I remember the first time I shared the idea of A Story Like the Wind with my editor, Liz Cross at Oxford University Press. I threw it in as an idea, feeling a bit shy about sharing it because it was different from my other books, and maybe it was a silly idea (writers are consumed by self-doubt, especially when an idea is still an egg). But as I read the story, Liz Cross said she wanted to publish it, and straight from the word ‘go’ we decided it should be illustrated and have a modern fairy-tale, fable feel. We were so lucky that Jo Weaver illustrated the text with her atmospheric charcoals.

I love that you described this book as “sharing humanity through stories”. When writing about challenging issues for children, do you think it is important to give a positive message – hope – alongside the sometimes cruel realities of the world? Yes, I think hope is a very important message, without portraying an image of false hope. A story doesn’t have to have a happy or resolved ending, and it should stay true and not flinch from reality. But I think hope is important, because stories can be there to guide us through difficult times. They are a light in the darkness, and so it’s important not to switch out the light.

You have talked about the need to find the character at the centre of your stories as you write – for all those aspiring writers out there, how do you go about doing this?Yes, for me character is central to the story, to find that narrative. There are several things that I try to do. The first thing I do is I try not to think too hard. Part of storytelling comes from the subconscious and the harder you think, the more difficult it becomes. (A bit like trying to remember a forgotten pin number…if you try too hard you can’t do it, you have to think about something else.) I have to day-dream and doodle and let the character find me somehow. Then I like to draw my character and ask lots of questions. I also try to write mini-scenes in first person to get to really know the character. Those mini-scenes can be something mundane, like making a cup of coffee, or something dramatic such as falling in a fast river. I sometimes have songs I associate with my characters too. I feel and live and breathe them, a little like an actor has to get inside the head of a character, an author must do too.

9780192756244The stories you have written for children have received huge critical acclaim, winning and being shortlisted for many awards which must be an amazing feeling!  Does this make the writing process more pressured and again for those aspiring writers, how do you deal with this? Being nominated for, and winning awards is always a real bonus. However, I think the best feeling comes from feedback from readers, or when they share their experiences and their writing. There is always a worry in the back of my mind, ‘will the next book be good enough?’, because I want to be true to the story and write it to the best of my abilities. I have come accustomed to the little monster of self-doubt sitting on my shoulder. I can’t seem to shake him off!

Your books have all been for children and young people (although I’m know many adults have enjoyed them too!) – would you ever consider writing a book for adults?It has never really occurred to me, to be honest. I think the world of children’s literature is so exciting and varied. Children’s books can tell cracking adventures, make us laugh out loud, scare us witless and deal with issues that can touch our soul.  Also they tend to have more illustrations and I love illustrated books. So, no, there is nothing yet to persuade me to write for adults.

Elizabeth Laird recently described your books as having a “profound understanding of animals and how people relate to them”.  Where do you think this understanding comes from; is it something that can be learned or a natural talent? I felt so honoured to hear Elizabeth Laird say that about my writing. Animals have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I wanted to be different animals, and often pretended to be anything from an eagle, to a wolf, to a tiny shrew. I would have loved to be a shape-shifter, but I had to contend with shape-shifting inside my mind instead. When I grew up I followed my interest in animals and became a vet. As a vet I could see the deep bond between people and animals and how animals can become a bridge, bringing people and communities together. I think an understanding of how we relate to animals and each other is something we all have huge capacity for. Building empathy for an animal or human allows us to envision what life is like for another living person or creature, and hopefully allow us to build a fairer society respecting the rights of other humans and animals.

Are you working on a new project and if so can you tell us anything about it?! My next book is called Sky Dancer and is set in the uplands of Northern England. It is a story exploring the connection between the persecution of birds of prey and the management of moors for driven grouse shooting. The story is seen through the eyes of Joe, a gamekeeper’s son, who begins to question what it means for the landscape around him to be truly wild. I will be adopting a tagged hen harrier next year and raising money towards community education around the issues affecting these beautiful birds.

Thank you so much Gill, for participating and for such wonderful words of advice and inspiring thoughts about stories in general.  I can’t wait to read A Story Like the Wind  and wish you every success with its publication.

FInd out more at www.gilllewis.com and follow Gill on Twitter @gill_lewis

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Author Interview: Jenny McLachlan

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Stargazing for Beginners is a gorgeous novel by author Jenny McLachlan who spent thirteen years of her life teaching English: a job that combined her passion for the written word with her passion for showing off! It also provided her with the inspiration for her books. I’m delighted to be interviewing Jenny for our spring feature today.

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You’ve created a lovely heroine in Stargazing for Beginners! Meg’s fascination with space is utterly endearing and it’s so great to read about someone with such a big dream. Tell us about your inspiration for the book. My inspiration came from quite a throw away comment: I was describing the plot of one of my books to my dad (I imagine it involved a lot of dancing) and he asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book about a girl who wants to be an astrophysicist. To me, this didn’t seem like instant romcom material, but I think that’s why the idea grew in my mind. I love a challenge!

The space and scientific elements of the story were very educational; how did you go about researching this? I spent about two months reading books, watching documentaries and visiting universities and museums, and a very pleasant two months it was too! Although a lot of what I learnt – a huge amount of facts – don’t appear in the book, my research was aimed at discovering how a girl like Meg, who understands the complexities of the universe but hasn’t got a clue about music, fashion and pop culture, would cope with being a teenager.

Meg’s Mum and Grandad are so well-described – you can almost smell the incense and strange meals! Were they inspired by anyone you know? Both Meg’s mum and Grandad have come in for a bit of criticism in reviews because of their unconventional (bad?) approach to raising children, but I’ve got a soft spot for them, possibly because they were inspired by my mum and Grandad. My mum was amazing: she took us on ‘magical mystery tours’, let us build dens that took over entire rooms and would let us bake, make and mess things up as much as we liked. She also had, and still does have ‘big causes’ that she supports. She’s a Samaritan and regularly goes to India to help run a charity that funds an orphanage. She would never have done what Meg’s mum did (although she did forget to pick me up from a few parties!) but she did have a life beyond her children, and I was proud of her for this. My Grandad was a toned down version of Meg’s Grandad. He was an electrician who helped develop lightening conductors and he owned 30 boiler suits. He was always covered with plasters and scars because of the various burns he got from making bonfires. Both Mum and Grandad LOVED bonfires. Sometimes they got out of hand…

The scenes where Meg is looking after her baby sister who is being particularly difficult brought back memories of my own children’s childhood tantrums! Are you speaking from experience or did you have to research this?! You’re quite right – the scenes were all inspired by my own experience of having babies! I don’t think it matters whether you are 15 or 50, having to look after a baby is a testing experience. I thought I’d be great at being a mum – organised and super-efficient – but what I didn’t take into account was that my children might not like me organising them in the way I wanted to. Babies are so strong minded! Like Elsa, my daughters have trashed rooms, slept in dog baskets and rubbed huge amounts of baked beans into their hair, I also took them for many, long walks along Eastbourne seafront to try and get them to sleep.

Annie is such a great character; feisty and funny. Where did the idea for her come from? Annie, to a certain extent, was inspired by several students I taught who delighted in fighting against conformity. As a teacher, this was sometimes frustrating – how many times a day did I say ‘Girls, roll your skirts down’? – but I also admired their determination. When I went to school, I was terrified of doing something wrong, so I’m fascinated by students who don’t care if they get told off. Teaching also gave me an insight into what life is like at secondary school for disabled teenagers. Schools are becoming more inclusive places, but there’s still a long way to go, and many assumptions that need to be challenged, before disabled students have access to the same experience as able-bodied children at school.

There are quite a few awkward and sometimes funny moments for Meg – the science show, the dog chase on the sea front and the scenes with Ed in the classroom spring to mind! Did you ever have moments like this as a young girl? My entire life was awkward between the ages of 11 – 15. Hair, makeup, music, relationships, fashion…I didn’t have a clue. I remember watching Top of the Pops, and trying to work out who it was acceptable to like and hate. I felt awkward just walking down the road! One of the most embarrassing things that happened to me at secondary school was a seagull pooing on my head in my first week. Seagulls produce a ridiculous amount of poo in one go and I basically had to wash my hair in a sink. I’ve never put that into a book…It’s too traumatic. I did actually witness the dog chase scene on Eastbourne seafront. It was very funny.

Meg’s big dream is to be an astronaut – when you were growing up what was your big dream? I wanted to write and illustrate books. I’ve achieved 50% of my dream which is pretty good!

Stargazing for Beginners gently reflects on some of the challenges young people might face today – but this doesn’t detract from the narrative. For me, this demonstrates real skill in terms of writing i.e. not getting side-tracked or bogged down with an ‘issue’ but still making it meaningful. How did you approach this? I think you’ve just described the main challenge I have when I write. I want my books to feel ‘realistic’ and address genuine challenges, but I also want to them to entertain and provide a certain amount of escapism for the reader. I think that Jacqueline Wilson is a writer who managers to do this particularly well. It’s a balancing act: I try not to lose sight of what my readers enjoy about my stories – the humour and the strong narrative – but I also try to avoid focusing so much on the humour that the stories become flippant and lose their meaning.

I heard recently on the news that space flight for ‘ordinary’ folk is soon to become a reality as early as next year! Would you like to go to space?! I’d love to go to space, but as I’ve got children, I don’t think I could. I’ve watched too many documentaries and read too many books about disasters in space!

And finally can you share with us your top three pieces of advice for aspiring authors?

  • Keep writing until you find your voice. I never thought I’d be writing romcoms for teens. I’m glad I never gave up writing when I was trying, and failing, to write my first novel: a historical romance set just before the First World War.
  • Thinking time is just as important as writing time. I probably think about my books for as long as I spend sitting down and writing them.
  • No writing is wasted. My First World War novel is still sitting in the attic. It will probably always sit in the attic, but I’d never have written Flirty Dancing or Stargazing for Beginners without it.

Brilliant advice. Thanks so much for joining us today and we wish you every success with Stargazing for Beginners!

You can read my review of Stargazing for Beginners here. Find out more at  www.jennymclachlan.com Twitter: @JennyMcLachlan1 Facebook: Jenny McLachlan or visit www.bloomsbury.com

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