Tag Archives: Storytelling

Crossan and Conaghan at Waterstones Brighton.

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I was somewhat excited about hearing Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan talk about their new book We Come Apart at Waterstones, Brighton and arrived about 45 minutes early in my haste to get there on time.  The seats filled quickly and the talk began, brilliantly chaired by Nikki Sheehan (author of Swanboy and Who Framed Klaris Kliff?).  It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story of how two award winning authors with such unique writing styles came together to produce what will no doubt be a bestseller.  We Come Apart, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Nicu, an immigrant from Romania and his relationship with Jess, a a fellow teenager with a troubled home life.  I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after hearing how it came together.

Brian approached Sarah with the idea of writing together and Sarah agreed; and so began an incredible process of writing mainly via What’s App! With no actual ‘plotting’ the story unfolded between them, each author taking on one of the central characters. Brian would write the story from Nicu’s point of view and Sarah would write the story from Jess’ point of view. Rather than plan the story, each author would write responding and reacting to what the other author had produced, so the process was totally organic.  With their own varied approaches to writing it was clear from the conversation that their various strengths and weaknesses blended well.  And unbelievably it took just five and a half weeks to write!  Both authors shared what they had learnt from the process of a joint writing experience. Amongst other things, Brian, to plan a bit more and Sarah, to keep the gremlins of self-doubt at bay! It also came across as a very brave thing to do, which Nikki Sheehan highlighted saying that as a writer ‘giving’ your story to anyone is like giving something or someone very precious away.

When asked if they would do it again, both agreed there wouldn’t be a sequel.  They also said they’d consider writing together again but perhaps in prose. They both have ideas of characters bubbling away so perhaps it’s a case of watch this space!  It sounded like it had been a very rewarding but also quite challenging experience and it was fascinating to hear the creativity behind it.

As a young girl, I will admit I really disliked poetry. Having studied Chaucer (the original text) to death when I was about 14, I think you could forgive me for being put off poetry for some time.  I was somewhat sceptical when I first heard about The Weight of Water and whether it would appeal to young people based on my own youthful experiences. Sarah shared how in the UK it had been a much harder ‘sell’ because of some negative attitudes to poetry.  She pointed out that young people are often more flexible than their elders and they quickly embrace different styles of writing.  Not only that, for many it appeals as it’s often a quicker read and can be easier for children with dyslexia. Sarah described writing in verse as like sewing lots of different pictures together and how you can get to the heart of the story much more quickly when you don’t have to describe every tree and every ‘high road’! Brian and Sarah both talked about how writing in verse enables the reader to use their imagination to ‘fill in’ the blanks, creating those elements of the story that are left out, in the way they choose.  In that sense, it can be incredibly powerful and also very personal.  For me, reading in verse is an amazing way to communicate a story and has gone a long way to restore my love of poetry.

I wasn’t aware that both Sarah and Brian were previously teachers and both of them talked about this and how it informs their writing. Brian spoke about how he would often be talking to the reluctant readers in the classroom so that he could engage them in even just a small amount of reading, so they could feel a sense of achievement and enjoy stories like anyone else. Not being much of a reader himself as a teenager, he can relate to those who don’t read and even now doesn’t read books with a tiny font.  Brian commented that he writes books for people, about real life and real situations and for those who don’t like this, well, they don’t have to read his books.  I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.  Life is a varied and many splendoured thing and writers can choose what they want to reflect on and the reader can choose what they want to read.  Hence why book choice is so personal – and so important.

Sarah shared that as both a teacher and a mother, she felt a sense of responsibility in being very aware of what she chooses to include in her books and that she always likes to end with even just the tiniest glimmer of hope – even if the ending isn’t a ‘happy’ one.  I can’t help but agree with this too – life is hard and full of difficulties, but it’s often our hope in each other and the future that keeps us going and it’s good for young people to believe this.

Brian and Sarah were both hugely entertaining to listen to, and I can only imagine how excited their agents and publishers were when they were told they had written together; this confirmed by the Bloomsbury representatives and Brian’s agent in the audience.

It’s what I love about the world of books and reading; people are so passionate about stories. Listening to those who write them, hearing their enthusiasm and the creativity behind the story is totally inspiring.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and if Crossan and Conaghan are visiting a Waterstones near you, make sure you go if you can!

A review of We Come Apart will follow soon!

A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

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A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time…

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents. Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead. The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

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This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan. The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail. The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative. The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.

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The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness. The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.

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A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in. A must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Find out more about the author and illustrator at www.robryanstudio.com and on Twitter at@RobRyan_Art. A Sky Full of Kindness is published by Chronicle Books.

Review can also be found at Discover & Be.

31 December: Mark Powers

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Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate the final day of our calendar than with a debut author?!

mark-hi-resMark Powers has been making up ridiculous stories since primary school and is slightly shocked to find that people now pay him to do it. As a child he always daydreamed that his teddy bear went off on top secret missions when he was at school, so a team of toys recruited as spies seemed a great idea for a story. He grew up in north Wales and now lives in Manchester. Spy Toys is publishing in January 2017!

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Chocolate, more chocolate, upset stomach medicine.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? In the Powers family, we are firm believers in the tradition of the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.  It usually starts over something trivial (“We’re not watching the boring Queen’s speech!”, “Why aren’t you wearing the lovely socks/tie/scarf I bought you?”, “Who made that smell?”) and ends up as a massive shouting match about who’s always been the favourite child (it’s me, of course) complete with neighbours banging on the walls and police sirens.

(Sounds like a nice ‘peaceful’ time!!)

‘What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Christmas is the perfect time for spooky stories – when it’s snowy and dark outside and you’re tucked up snugly inside with a hot drink and your feet slowly t51veqhzdbll-_sx321_bo1204203200_oasting by the fire.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? I would choose Sue Townsend (author of the brilliant Adrian Mole books, who died in 2014).  I think she would have been a fascinating and hilarious dinner companion.

Your debut book Spy Toys features amazing toys that are ‘alive’. If you could choose any of your Christmas toys from childhood to come to life which would it be? I had a toy Dalek for Christmas when I was six and it would be amazing to see it come alive and obey my commands.  It would definitely give me the edge in the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.

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You’ve been making up stories from a young age; if you had to make up a festive story for Christmas who would be your main character? I think I might write a story about a sad snowflake that has only five points instead of six.  Might make a good picture book.  Hands off my idea if you’re reading this, David Walliams!

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Reader’s question from the children at Inkpots Writers’ Hut; how do you start writing a story; do you type or write them by hand? I usually type them on my laptop; sometimes I make notes on my phone.

Turkey or goose? Goose.

Real or fake tree? Real.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Christmas pudding.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for joining our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Find out more about Mark at www.bloomsbury.com and follow him on Twitter @mpowerswriter.

You can read a review of Spy Toys on the Bookshelf.

Spy Toys is illustrated by Tim Wesson who was born somewhere in England. As a young boy he enjoyed climbing trees and drawing pictures of dogs in cars. Eventually he became an illustrator who creates children’s books. Tim doodles and paints whenever he can and likes to draw the first thing that pops into his head. He lives by the sea in Suffolk with his family.

30 December: Kat Ellis

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YA Author joins us on our penultimate day!

kat-ellisKat Ellis grew up in North Wales and studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an active blogger and amateur photographer. Kat has had short stories published and wrote Blackfin Sky last year after trying her hand at sci-fi. Her first published novel, Blackfin Sky will also be released in the US next autumn.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Notebooks (I have a bit of a collection building… some might call it a hoard), fancy coffee (because I usually spend January trying to be a bit posh in my drinking habits, but inevitably go back to instant), and a novelty mug (to put the fancy coffee in).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Day for me usually involves bustling around to visit family members, but on Boxing Day – which is also my husband’s birthday – we traditionally go out for a curry, just to do something completely un-Christmassy.

(Curry on Boxing Day sounds like a great idea!)

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Growing up, Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider was my favourite Christmas read. Last Christmas I read Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, which was snowy and wonderful, and I think this year I’ll be reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan for a bit of festive romance.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? David Bowie, for sure. As well as being an amazing musician, he was also an artist, starred in films like Labyrinth – which is one of my all-time favourites, especially at Christmastime – and he just seemed like a fascinating person. I bet he’d have some good stories to share over the Christmas crackers!

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Purge is your third YA novel. Mason is often in trouble in the novel; do you think Father Christmas would visit him and if so, what would he give him? I think if Father Christmas paid Mason a visit, the only thing he’d give him is a stern telling off. Not that Mason would be bothered, mind you. He’d probably nick Father Christmas’s sleigh and go joyriding.

(*laughs out loud* Definitely belongs on the naughty list!)

You’re a keen photographer; what or who would your ideal Christmas photo feature?Living in North Wales, I have plenty of amazing scenery to photograph, so maybe a nice snowy castle or forest.

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from the children Warden Park Academy: we sometimes have to correct our creative writing. How do you feel when you have to make corrections to your work? Before I share a story with anyone else, I read it over and over, looking for mistakes and polishing it to make it as good as possible. But – and I don’t think I’m alone here – I inevitably reach a point where I can’t look at my own work objectively, and I might miss a mistake that’s obvious to someone reading it for the first time. That’s why I’m always grateful to work with editors; they offer me expert guidance to make my stories flow better, and make my writing more polished. Writing is a skill you never stop learning and honing, so it’s great when you have someone helping you to improve.

(Wonderful writing advice!)

Turkey or goose? Turkey, always.

Real or fake tree? Fake (if you’ve ever trodden on pine needles with bare feet, you’ll know why.)

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Errrrr….neither? I’m more of a sherry trifle fan.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Over the fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for participating in our festive Q & A! Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year! 

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Find out more about Kat at katelliswrites.blogspot.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @el_kat

29 December:Chris Priestley

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Photo by Martin Bond

Chris Priestley lives in Cambridge with his wife and son. His novels are brilliantly original additions to a long tradition of horror stories by authors such as M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe. Chris wrote one of the World Book Day books for 2011 and has been shortlisted for a variety of prestigious children’s book awards.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! A time machine, a holiday and socks. 

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? I’m a big fan of Christmas – can’t think of any bad traditions in my little family. The best are all pretty ordinary – good company, good food, a roaring fire, a walk on Boxing Day, a few films, the odd board game.

 There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol has a special place in my affections. But I also like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. That was a regular when my son was little. As was 51hmtth98cl-_sx258_bo1204203200_John Burningham’s Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present.

 If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? My mum, dad and brother. Because I missed so many when they were alive. 

Your brilliant book The Last of the Spirits is a take on the classic A Christmas Carol. If you could write another take on any novel, which would it be and why? Well I’ve done my tribute to Frankenstein in Mister Creecher. That’s probably me done with other people’s novels now.

In Christmas Tales of Terror you feature lots of Christmas characters with a scary twist. If you had to choose one of them to write a full length novel about, which one would it be and why? I’m not sure any of the Tales would make a full length novel. They are very different things. I love writing and reading short stories. They are they’re own very particular pleasure. 

Reader’s question from students in Year 10 at Warden Park Secondary Academy; why do you write in this particular genre (horror)?  The fact is I don’t just write horror! I’ve written over 20 books and only a handful have been horror. I’ve written funny stories, historical adventures and non-fiction. I write what is most interesting to me at the time. I’m working on three books at the moment. One is horror, one is part of a funny series, the third is a YA story about love and loss and superheroes.

(We can’t wait to read them!)

 Quick fire round:

Turkey or goose? Turkey

Real or fake tree? Real

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Both!

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? Back of a chair

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve all the way. Never quite got the hang of New Year’s Eve

 Thanks for the questions and Merry Christmas one and all!

Thank you for participating and a very Happy Christmas to you!

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Find out more about Chris at www.chrispriestleybooks.com or on Facebook or Twitter @crispriestley