This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Nowhere Thief – a mind-bending multiverse adventure about theft, family, and finding your home by Alice M. Ross. And today, we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Alice!
I’ve started playing a fun game on school visits when I go to talk about my debut children’s fantasy, The Nowhere Thief. I call it the ‘what if’? What if you discovered that your wardrobe didn’t have a back to it and you could just keep walking and ended up in a snowy forest? What if there was a secret school for witches and wizards that you’d never heard of before? What if everyone had a spirit animal called a daemon that they couldn’t get separated from or they would die? What if you could steal things from other worlds?
No prizes for guessing the first three ‘what if’s – but the fourth one is mine, and that’s how The Nowhere Thief began. I always knew I wanted to write about other worlds, also known as the multiverse, so I was trying to think of interesting ways to do that. I thought: what if you could travel to other worlds and bring things back with you? What would you do with those things? Well, I thought they’d probably be pretty interesting things, so you might be able to sell them. What if you already lived in an antiques shop, giving you the ideal place to profit from your crimes? That’s how Elsbeth came into being: she steals things from other worlds to sell in the struggling antiques shop she lives in with her mum. I also knew I wanted to write about a seaside town: one that’s a big sleepy but built on magical energy lines, a bit like Lewes in East Sussex. So I created Lewesby, where Elsbeth and her Mum live. It’s in a world very similar to ours, but not quite the same: the capital city is called Lunden, for example, and I hint that history didn’t quite go the same way as it did in our world.
I always loved the idea of other worlds and was thrilled to discover when I was studying philosophy at university that people have actually studied this concept, so I actually wrote an essay on it as homework, which was probably one of the more fun assignments I’ve ever done. But I decided it would be more fun to write stories about other worlds, rather than study the scientific possibility they existed, so that’s how The Nowhere Thief came about.
I am a journalist by profession, so my career has been in writing, but (good) journalists have to make sure that what they’re writing is true, and it’s very fun being able to break those rules and write things that aren’t true – without getting fired!
One fun thing about being a fantasy writer is that you can invent all sorts of things but particularly animals. In The Nowhere Thief one world that Elsbeth visits has animals called chamchas in it: sort of like flying cats that fold up their wings along their back when they’re sleeping. One of the chamchas that Elsbeth meets helps her to piece together an important piece of the puzzle after her Mum goes missing. You can see a picture of the chamcha on the front cover of the book.
Also in the book we see versions of the same person in different worlds, and I love the idea that someone might be a slightly different version of themselves, depending on what’s happened to them and how they grew up. Something to explore in future books!
During the book Elsbeth has time to have a good think about what she’s been doing and what sort of person she wants to be, especially when she’s confronted by people that would like her to be different. So it’s also a book about deciding who you are and working out what and who is important to you. I loved writing it and hope you enjoy reading it!
Thank you, Alice!
Take a look inside:
Two Books Old – a guest post by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Now that Frank and Bert are officially Two Books Old, I’d like to write about how the characters came about and what the inspirations were for the stories.
Unusually for me, the basic idea sprung from a random ink doodle I did. I more often think a lot first about a story and then start sketching only when there’s a fairly solid idea in mind.
The drawing I did was of a huge but quite sad-looking animal standing behind a thin little tree. Underneath was a caption in the style of a natural history program that said the animal was “known for its highly effective camouflage, blending almost invisibly into its surroundings”, then invited the viewer to try to spot it in the picture.
It reminded me of when small children play hide-and-seek and they run off to stand behind the curtains – legs and feet sticking out below. But the silliest part of it all is when us grown-ups collectively pretend we can’t see them. “Oooh, where is she?”, “Gosh, where did he go?!” and then we start ‘looking’ for them. Meanwhile the child is getting more and more excited and proud of their ingenious hiding place.
I liked this hiding animal idea but it didn’t make much of a story. At first I thought about illustrating a little series of animals that were really bad at the thing they were supposed to be good at. Or animals that had just broken something or made a big blunder and were trying to own up and say sorry. Humans are like this, we’re always getting things wrong or not being very good at things. Even with our friends, we sometimes do or say the wrong thing then don’t quite know how to fix it. That’s what makes people fascinating. Those seemingly perfect ones who win all the time are very boring.
But you can’t play hide-and-seek on your own, so I needed a duo. And if one was a big, round-shaped bear sort of animal, then his partner could be a smaller, pointy-shaped fox sort of animal – Laurel and Hardy style. And my motto for their personalities was that Frank knows things, whereas Bert feels things. They both figure things out in their own way and get there in the end.
Then we were off! Except that thinking of stories that really work and don’t feel a bit contrived or slightly hammy sometimes takes me ages. But, with the patience, creativity and skill of the Nosy Crow Dream Team Lou Bolongaro and Nia Roberts, a lovely knitwear-based yarn for book one was developed. And towards the end of making this first book, Lou suggested that I might want to have a think about further Frank and Bert adventures. So I scarpered off and did just that.
This was the first time I’d been asked to write a second story featuring established characters and their world. There are pros and cons. On one hand a lot of the fundamental elements are already there. On the other hand, well… a lot of the fundamental elements are already there. What I mean is that there are constraints, things that are already set-up visually or that are in the characters’ personalities or relationship and you can’t do anything that isn’t credible within that pre-existing world. Again, Lou helped me loads in navigating it and this time Frank and Bert don their crash-helmets and go on a bike ride. Things inevitably go a bit wrong again.
Each story features an activity that children can relate to – playing hide-and-seek or learning to ride a bike. And then, just like real life, something doesn’t go quite to plan. There’s a bit of a disagreement or a dilemma to overcome, and they have to try to do the right thing by their friend and themselves.
An important point was to make sure that Bert doesn’t fall into the cliché of being the slightly dozy friend who is never quite up-to-speed on what’s happening; the hapless punchline to the story. In the first book when Frank lets Bert win at hide-and-seek, it at first seemed like a nice ending, all wrapped up. But something was a bit off. Frank knows Bert didn’t really win and we know Bert didn’t really win. We’re all in on a ruse that Bert is blissfully unaware of and that felt a bit patronising, slightly cruel. So a big part of the story was to find a final twist, something that lets Bert have his moment, to show us that he isn’t as daft as he at first seems and can even be a little bit sly, just like his friend Frank.
Hopefully Frank and Bert will be having many more adventures. I’m working on book three now (featuring picnic-based peril) and I’m starting to feel like the best friends are making their own minds up about what happens in the story. I think I might just let them get on with it, what could possibly go wrong?
Thank you, Chris!
Take a look inside:
It’s Thriller Time! – a spooky guest post from Dashe Roberts
We’re positively thrilled to have published Sticky Pines: The Valley of the Strange last month – the latest explosive instalment of the cult sci-fi series for children. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Dashe!
‘And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver / For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller…’ – Vincent Price
Shhh… Listen… Can you hear it? The rasp of dry leaves blowing across the grass? The whistle of the wind through spindly bare branches? The bubble of spiced lattes brewing in darkened cafes? The telltale signs of the Spooky Season are upon us, bringing a chill to the air, a gossamer coat of spiderwebs to our windowsills, and a creepy, kooky, decidedly ooky flavour to our reading diets. But what makes a good thriller? And, more importantly, are scary stories making a comeback in the children’s book market, where tales of talking animals and magic schools tend to keep the tone as cosy as a four seat sofa.
I think they are, and as a writer of spine-tingling books, I couldn’t be more excited.
From the rib-tickling horror of Jennifer Killick’s Crater Lake and Dreadwood to the wildly inventive monsters lurking in Aisling Fowler’s Fireborn, thrilling, scary stories are on the rise.
Frightening themes have always been present in children’s literature, designed to instruct kids about the scary realities that exist in the world, as evidenced by the evil stepmothers, shapeshifters, ogres, and child-devouring witches found in old fairytales. Folklore was a source of great inspiration for my own Sticky Pines series, as were the popular American horror books of the 1990s. Growing up as a child attending school in California, my friends and I furtively passed around our prized copies of Goosebumps by R.L. Stine or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, a collection of nightmare-inducing tales as old as time.
Gawking and gagging at the wonderfully hideous illustrations by Stephen Gammell, we delighted in spooking each other silly. Why did we do it? As kids know quite well, there is something deeply empowering about facing your fears, torch in hand and heart aflutter, from the safety of your own bedroom.
Scary stories have evolved since their nascent days, and it now takes more than simple jump scares and dark omens to tickle a horror fan’s fancy. So, what makes a good modern thriller? The best have several qualities in common: immersive atmosphere, great characters, and sophisticated pacing.
The first challenge to creating a spooky tale is crafting the perfect setting. Your world must envelop the reader, evoking a sense of foreboding from all the senses: the creak of floorboards, the scent of fresh mud, or the dusty, claustrophobia of a room that hasn’t seen daylight in decades… A fabulous example is the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud, set in a world where ghosts are real, dangerous, and terrorising the countryside. Stroud’s Britain is altered to fit this circumstance, with ghost-repelling lamps planted on every street corner and spook-busting businesses run by teenagers, as young people are the only ones who can clearly see the apparitions. A particularly evocative sequence appears in The Screaming Staircase, when the series’ protagonist Lucy slowly realises, through the creep of shadows and chill air, that there is a particularly nasty spectre lurking in her bedroom.
The next step is to populate your world with compelling characters. These are people you grow to know inside and out, whose lives and wellbeing you become as invested in as you would a dear friend. In Aisling Fowler’s Fireborn, Twelve is a young girl trained in the art of battling fearsome monsters. But despite her toughness, Twelve is plagued by anxieties and nightmares that she must overcome in order to defeat the creatures who have thrown her world into turmoil. When I wrote Sticky Pines, I wanted to create two protagonists who viewed life through opposing lenses, but who eventually had to come together for the greater good. Lucy Sladan is a working-class girl obsessed with proving the existence of the Unknown. Milo Fisher is a wealthy boy whose father may be up to no good but who unquestioningly believes in a rational world where adults have our best interests at heart. Through several monstrous trials, the two must overcome their differences to face down an existential threat to the human race.
And lastly, a good thriller is a total page-turner. Readers should be chewing their nails as they flip through each chapter, desperate to find out what misfortune befalls the main characters next, and how on earth they might find their way out of trouble. In Alastair Chisholm’s The Consequence Girl, Cora flees her home when she is pursued by nefarious government agents determined to use her amazing, dangerous powers to their ownadvantage. Cora and her friends travel from town to town across a post-apocalyptic landscape. At every turn, their pursuers are just a few steps behind, with high-tech weapons and eerie tracking tools at their disposal. Chisholm’s skillful storytelling, thought-provoking themes, and continual raising of stakes make it impossible to put this brilliant high-concept thriller down.
This is an exciting time for stories featuring action-packed, evocative, goosebump- inducing thrills. So, asthe nights grow longer and the cool air nips at your toes, grab your torch and blanket, stock up on pumpkin pie, and reach for your favourite spooky story. And don’t forget to turn oﬀ the lights!
This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Wren – a dark, gothic adventure set on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Lucy!
I’m so excited that Wren has fluttered out of the Crow’s Nest and into the big wide world, as her story is very close to my heart. Like Wren, I grew up in North Wales in an ancient house filled with the memories of my ancestors and the stories of the people who came before me.
The story of Wren began with the setting on Anglesey, one of my favourite places in the world. If you’ve ever stood on the southern shore of the island you may have found your breath swept away at the sight of the mountains of Snowdonia watching you from across the Menai Strait. There’s something quite magical about two giant land masses, separated for thousands of years, yet still very much connected.
Wren’s house was inspired by the old house I grew up in just outside the town of Mold (Yr Wyddgrug) in North East Wales. It was ancient, with six-foot-deep walls, a very dark past and steeped in Welsh history; there was something quite unique about growing up in a place where dark shadows and memories seem to lurk in every corner. One day I’m sure I’ll set a story in a ‘normal’ house, but for now my old home has provided all the inspiration I need for creating dark, gothic mysteries like Wren!
I’ve always had a strong sense of my Welsh heritage, mostly because I grew up surrounded by portraits of my ancestors whose silent gaze watched my every move! In my adult life I’ve loved researching my family history and was very excited to find that Llewellyn the Great or Llewellyn ap Ioworth (who lived between 1173 and 1240) and became Prince of Wales, was a many-greats grandfather! He probably has hundreds of thousands of descendants, but I was excited by the discovery! Like Wren, I had an ancestor who lived in my old family house and I grew up hearing stories of his bravery. His name was Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn and on dydd Calan, New Year’s Day, 1465, he attacked the men of Chester at a New Year’s fair at Mold after they began plundering his lands. Rheinallt seized Robert Bryne, a former mayor of Chester, and hanged him from a staple in the dining room ceiling that remains to this day, a reminder of the house’s brutal past.
Wren feels an overwhelming urge to fly like a bird, at a time when very few people had managed to design anything that would stay up in the air for more than a few moments. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of flight, and flying creeps into all my writing, even when I’m not really intending it to. I love visiting flying museums – my favourites are the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, Aerospace Bristol and the Brussels Air Museum – all of which contain fabulous contraptions cobbled together with string and timber that somehow lifted up into the air and flew. I love hearing stories about how early pilots seemed so fearless, their good sense clouded by their overwhelming desire to fly. I live just up the road from the ancient market town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire. One of the many things the town is known for is a monk, Eilmer of Malmesbury who attempted to fly in 1125 by leaping from the top of the abbey with a pair of home-made wings attached to his back and a heart full of hope. Amazingly, he survived, but broke both his legs which probably wasn’t much fun in the twelfth century!
I have lots of pilots in my family. They all died long before I was born, but growing up hearing about their daring deeds helped to shape Wren’s character, who, like them, couldn’t resist the urge to fly. In 1930, one of my great uncles attempted to emulate Charles Lindberg’s solo flight across the Atlantic but his Puss Moth aeroplane exploded on take off at St Johns, Newfoundland. He survived and continued to fly until he crashed while flying over the French Alps during a thunderstorm in the middle of the Second World War. In 2016, I went flying in a Tiger Moth over South Africa. This was one of the most magical and memorable experiences of my life, and the feeling of taking into the air in a little biplane is something I’ll never forget, and I was keen to bring my experience of this flight into Wren’s story.
I could talk for days or even weeks about the things that inspired Wren. I see the book as being inspired by my own childhood in an ancient house in Wales, mixed in with my love of the North Wales landscape and fascination with the country’s turbulent past. I hope my readers will take what they want from the story, but the thing I admire the most about Wren is her absolute determination to fight against the conventions of the day and be the person she was born to be. I hope you love her story and are inspired to follow your own dreams, whatever they may be.
Thank you, Lucy! You can order your copy of Wren from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or from Amazon here.
Read the first few chapters below:
What it was like to Abridge The Wind in the Willows – an Experience, by Lou Peacock
In celebration of Autumn, Lou Peacock, our wonderful Publishing Director of Picture Books, shares her experience of working on the abridged edition of The Wind in the Willows.
I still can’t quite believe that I have had the wonderful good fortune to work on an abridgement of The Wind in the Willows. I keep pinching myself, and now I’m black and blue! I wear many hats in my writing and editorial life – I’m mainly a publisher and editor but I’m also a picture book author and poetry anthologist – but never thought I would add an abridgement hat to the collection, too. It might just be my most exciting hat yet.
I say “exciting”, but it was also EXTREMELY daunting. This was my first time abridging a book – how could I do the original justice? And not tread on Kenneth Grahame’s toes? Can you imagine?! To be frank, I was a little overwhelmed. So, like any self-respecting author, I sharpened my pencils, tidied the desk, took the dog out, bought some biscuits and did the laundry. Then, after a stern talk with myself, I made a start.
The Early Stages of Abridging a Classic
I started by looking back. What was it about the story that really appealed to me as a child? A series of very distinct images came to mind – Ratty and Mole in the boat, the snow in the Wild Woods, the train chasing after Toad – but these dramatic moments were all mixed up with an intense love of the world of the book and the connection between the characters. I LOVED the idea of animals living in a parallel world to our own and was fascinated by the domestic detail of how they lived, the warmth and cosiness of their homes, what they ate, how they dressed.
Now, coming to it as an adult and a writer, I can see that Grahame’s magic worked on many levels and this is his true genius. He created a world that children would want to disappear into, characters whom they would want to befriend and adventures that were impossible to resist. No wonder it is a story that has stood the test of time. I wanted our abridged version to evoke the same kind of feelings, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
The first thing to consider was the sheer volume and length. The original story is about 60,000 words long, but our picture book version only had space for 10,000 words – quite a difference! Some moments would have to go, but which ones? I knew I would have to harden my heart and edit the parts that are less well known and might be less appealing to a contemporary reader, whilst keeping as much of the original as I possibly could.
And then, whilst I was thinking about content, I also had to think about the language. Grahame has a very distinct and particular voice and I wanted to make sure that it sang on every page. There are famous lines that I knew readers would want to find, such as “messing about in boats”, and I made these favourite phrases anchor points for particular scenes. Where I made a change or cut, I made sure that the loss wasn’t noticeable in any way. My aim was for things to be seamless, to keep the flow and charming voice throughout . . . and hope that Grahame would approve!
Of course, if we’re thinking about language, then we also have to think about the typical reading age of a picture book audience. The original story appeals to most ages but the language is quite sophisticated, and I wanted our fully illustrated version to appeal to emerging readers. I thought long and hard about the register of the language and what might be an accessible choice of vocabulary. It’s always good to have a few words that might push a reader, but not so many that they become a barrier to enjoyment and comprehension.
“Grahame has a very distinct voice and I wanted to make sure that it sang on every page… My aim was for things to be seamless, to keep the flow and charming voice throughout… and hope that Grahame would approve!”
Working with Kate Hindley
But I couldn’t think about any of these points without also thinking about the illustrations. In a picture book, images and words combine perfectly to tell a story, but The Wind in the Willows is a dense, word-heavy novel – how would we bring the story to life visually? As I studied the book closely, I began to identify the key moments in each chapter – the first sighting of the alluring motor car, the intricacies of Badger’s underground home, the dramatic climax in Toad Hall – and used these cornerstone moments to structure things visually.
Also, I wanted to make sure that Kate Hindley had as many opportunities as possible to work her magic . . . in a picture book, the words are only half the story, and the pictures themselves say so much.
Like Grahame, Kate Hindley is a genius. We have worked on several picture books together, and when we discovered that she was a huge Willows fan, we just knew she was the artist for the job. When I had finished working on the story, Nia Roberts, our Creative Director, carefully set the text in layouts to create plenty of space for Kate’s art. This is the incredible, invisible work that designers do behind the scenes – deciding between full spreads of art versus single pages, or pondering whether a small, simple vignette might be best for a particular moment. Then, when Nia had a rough shape she was happy with, we worked on it together. We perfected page turns for dramatic moments, shifted bits around and so set the pacing for the story visually.
And then it was over to Kate. From the first character sketches to roughs to the finished art, it felt like Christmas every time something new arrived. Picture books don’t just rely on characters but on worlds, and how the characters inhabit those spaces. Kate is extremely skilled when it comes to creating engaging, appealing characters, and her scenes are layered with the most beautiful patterns and quirky details that will keep children absorbed for hours. Even now, I couldn’t tell you what I love more – the intricately detailed Edwardian world or the adorable charm of Mole in his pinstripe suit. I can’t think of a favourite scene because they are ALL brilliant. I do have a particular fondness for the moment where Mole falls in the water after his unsuccessful attempt at rowing . . . the way the objects drift down, Mole’s expression, the ineffable sadness of the lost cake.
But then there’s the cosiness of Badger’s kitchen and the winter store room where Mole and Ratty sleep. And what about the first glimpse of Toad Hall in all its Arts and Crafts splendour? So many wonderful images . . .
What I Enjoyed Most About this Experience
It’s been such a privilege to work on this beautiful book and I hope people will enjoy reading it as much as we have loved creating it. I hope readers will find favourite moments and I hope those moments will stay with them. I’ve discovered a new favourite and it’s a real keeper. It’s the moment when Ratty and Mole find Badger’s home after being lost in the snow. Badger opens the door and greets them both with a little pat on the head each, saying, “This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out.” There is a huge amount of affection in these simple words. Badger might seem a little gruff, but he is full of love for his friends and, for me, that is the key to The Wind in the Willows – it’s packed with adventure but it’s also all about love and friendship. So perhaps my favourite image has to the last one of all, where our four heroes wander through the woods, fixed forever in time as a band of friends who would do anything for each other.
Can’t wait for the home delivery? Indulge in the first few chapters below:
Dive into The Wide, Wide Sea
In The Wide, Wide Sea, published in collaboration with the National Trust (their very first non-fiction picture book for children), a young child befriends a seal on a trip to the beach and learns about the importance of caring for the ocean.
The National Trust spoke to author Anna Wilson and illustrator Jenny Løvlie about creating the book, their relationship with the sea and the future of the coastline. Anna also gives her top tips for families wanting to tackle the problem of plastic pollution together.
Anna, we heard you’re a keen wild swimmer and swim at your local beach. Is this what inspired you to write the story?
Anna: Between May and September, a friendly seal always pops up in the bay where I swim and has a good long look at me. Once I was swimming and I heard a loud snort behind me – the seal was almost touching my feet with his nose, as if he wanted to chase me back across the bay.
I felt as though he was reminding me that the sea is his home and that I’m lucky to be allowed to swim in it too. This made me think about how we share our oceans with so many creatures and how we have a responsibility to keep the seas clean.
Anna was inspired to write The Wide, Wide Sea after swimming alongside a friendly seal in her local bay
Jenny, what were your first impressions of the story? Did it spark ideas straightaway?
Jenny: The first time I read the story I had to have a little weep. It’s so beautiful and tender – and a subject close to my heart. I grew up on Ekkerøy by the Barents Sea in Northern Norway and, out of all the creatures in the ocean, I loved seals most of all.
The ideas flowed pretty freely. I love drawing animals and landscapes – and working out the colour palette for each book. The human character development was actually the most challenging task for this one.
Artist Jenny Løvlie used this photo of herself with a seal at her childhood beach as inspiration
Speaking of the characters, the story is written from the child’s perspective – and we never learn the child’s name. Anna, can you tell us more about this?
Anna: I wrote it from the child’s perspective as I wanted young readers to see the beach and the seal and the effects of the storm from their point of view – to think about how they’d feel if their favourite places were destroyed by litter.
I didn’t want to give them a name as I wanted any child to be able to read the story and see themselves in it. This is also why I’ve not settled on the gender of the child – and nor has Jenny Løvlie in her incredibly beautiful illustrations.
Jenny Løvlie’s early drawings of the main character in gender-neutral outfits
Jenny, what was your creative process of bringing the story and characters to life? Are they based on real-life people and places?
Jenny: I do a lot of research before I start drawing. I like to cast a wide net and let the research shape the visuals. If possible, I really like meeting the author and the team – it’s lovely to get to know each other and talk the story through. I work in a sketchbook to start with and then draw the final artwork in Photoshop using my trusty drawing tablet.
The landscape is a mix of the landscape on Ekkerøy, where I grew up, and the Cornish coast where Anna lives. The underwater scenes are largely from my imagination. The grandmother character is based on my old neighbour, Jack. She taught me a lot about nature and animals when I was a child.
Early sketches of The Wide, Wide Sea by artist Jenny Løvlie
So, you’ve both lived near the coast. What’s your relationship with the sea? Do you think the coast has changed over the years and do you worry about its future?
Jenny: The worry for the ocean has always been present in my life. My father was a fisherman until the seas went black in the 1980s due to overfishing by commercial trawlers and he had to find other ways to make a living. A lot of debris from trawlers would wash up on the beach where I lived.
We had a big beach clean every year to make sure it was safe for humans and animals to use. I’m hopeful that we will be able to make the changes that are necessary to turn the tide on plastic pollution.
Anna: The coastline where I live has also changed a lot in the past 25 years. The land is slipping into the sea, and the sea itself is rising. This is going to have an impact on humans and non-humans alike. Some people are going to have to move out of their houses as the land falls away beneath them, and many birds and other animals are going to lose their homes as well.
The thing that makes me most worried – angry, actually – is plastic pollution. Animals eat litter that is left behind and it makes them sick. We humans end up eating it too, as it finds its way into the food chain. It is all rather depressing once you start to think about it.
The Wide, Wide Sea explores how people can come together to protect nature
Finally, what do you love most about the book?
Jenny: It’s so difficult to choose! I love the whole book, but if I had to choose just one thing, it would be the big double page with all the different birds. I had a fantastic time drawing them all.
Anna: I love Jenny Løvlie’s depiction of the beach, the birds and the ocean creatures – and the seal, of course! It was wonderful seeing her early sketches. It was as though she’d read my mind and saw exactly how I’d hoped the book would turn out. I particularly love the illustration of the sea birds, and where the child seems to turn into a seal in their imagination.
Anna Wilson’s top tips on tackling plastic pollution
Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics. Try to avoid buying things that come in the kind of packaging you’d throw away. Take a reusable water bottle out and about with you instead of buying bottled water, or use a resuable container to pack your picnic.
Reuse old packaging. If you have bought something in plastic or tin foil, see if you can wash the packaging and use it again and again. Tin foil pie dishes can be used for baking, and plastic trays can become seed trays if you are a keen gardener.
Recycle as much as possible. This means separating out packaging and recycling it in special bins. You can also take old clothes and toys to the charity shop so that someone else can enjoy them, instead of simply throwing them away.
Go on a ‘clean-up’ adventure. Take a bag with you on a family walk and collect any litter to recycle when you get home. Or get involved in a community beach clean, like the people in The Wide, Wide Sea.
From Strawberry to Clementine: The Inspiration for Always, Clementine
This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Always, Clementine – a funny, wise and heartwarming story, with a truly one-of-a-kind hero. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Carlie!
Growing up, there was a rabbit living in my kitchen. Her name was Strawberry. She had sleek white fur, pinkish eyes (hence the pinkish name), and one black ear – with a small, perfectly circular hole in it.
My family adopted her under unusual circumstances. Let me explain.
When I was in elementary school – many years ago, in suburban North Carolina – my teacher brought in a rather afraid rabbit in a black, wire cage. Like Clementine, the main character in my new novel, the rabbit was recently liberated from a local science lab – and she didn’t quite belong in the classroom. We already had a hamster as a class pet. Someone needed to adopt the rabbit. And fast. The school was a little anxious about having a research bunny on the premises: who knows what chemicals she had been exposed to?
Now, my mother is an animal lover – and at that time, also had a profound inability to say no to well-meaning elementary school teachers. The rabbit came home with us. That first night, I named her Strawberry, and the next day, we took her to the vet to have the research tag removed from her ear.
“You don’t need to do that,” the vet said, glancing between me, my mother, and Strawberry. “The tag can stay in. It’s not hurting her anymore.”
But my mom was insistent. The tag was more than symbolic. This rabbit was going to feel free.
The bill would come to just over a hundred dollars with tax, which was a whole lot of money for my family in those days. I distinctly remember how the vet brought out the bolt cutters from the back; nothing else could cut the tag. I remember the quick chomp through the metal, and the way Strawberry easily twitched her ears after the tag was gone; the white plastic square with her number on it – her former number – went promptly into the bin.
I could hold Strawberry in my lap. She liked to cuddle. She’d press her nose into my palm. That trust was precious to me – and looking back, it was a real leap of faith for a rabbit like her.
Two weeks after we adopted Strawberry, my family went on a short holiday to Myrtle Beach – and asked our next-door neighbour to feed her for the weekend. Could he let her out in the kitchen so that she could stretch her legs? Sure, he said. He wasn’t worried about it. Perhaps he should’ve been. Strawberry tried her very bunny best to attack him, shrieking and biting and lunging. She meant business. Our neighbour very gently fended her off by shielding his feet with a frying pan.
Strawberry was okay with my dad, but as we discovered, had a tremendous fear of most men. Of people who were like the researchers who tested her.
I didn’t fully understand this as a kid. I knew that something sad had happened to Strawberry in the time before us. I knew that my parents were trying to give her the best life possible for however long she had left – but any more details than that were a mystery to me. My dad built her a wooden hutch in the backyard, under the shade of my favourite tree. She loved the crunchy kind of lettuce. She loved rolling around in her hay.
As an adult, I’ve been able to put together the pieces of what she endured – and when it came time to write my third middle grade book, I knew I wanted to focus on lab animals. To help give Strawberry, and other animals like her, a voice.
That’s where Clementine comes in. She’s an optimistic little mouse for an optimistic little book. Even though Always, Clementine focuses on the plight of lab animals, I wanted to highlight the absolute joy of freedom – what lab animals’ future could look like, what they deserve. The story may have sad parts, but it is by no means a “sad book.”
One of the things I love about children’s books is their boundless capacity to see the good in the world, even amongst the bad. I hope that’s what this book does, too. I hope you can glimpse how much love I’ve poured into it – for Strawberry, and for all the animals who might choose different lives than the ones they’ve been given.
Once Upon a Time – a guest post from Mouse Heart author Fleur Hitchcock
This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Mouse Heart – an atmospheric thriller, full of daring stunts and sinister villains. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Fleur!
I wasn’t a theatre child. I certainly wasn’t desperate to act. It came by accident when I was 18.
I’d gone through clearing to do an English degree and it was only when I arrived that I discovered I had to take three subjects in the first year. I didn’t have the qualifications for the sciences, or it turns out, anything else. After an awful day of trekking from one department to the next and being turned away, the tutors at History of Art and Drama both shrugged and said I could join their courses.
History of Art was fine, I’d been dragged round galleries from an early age, but Drama? That meant acting, didn’t it? After trust games, farty yoga and howling like wolves (all fine) I found that we were doing a module called “History of Theatre”. Instead of a lecture theatre, we were taught in her eccentric house by an elderly white witch. She saw it as her mission to entrance us with recitations of early English plays, dressed in appropriate garb, dancing over sticks where the proscenium arch ought to be. It was bizarre and wonderful and I became fascinated by the idea of all these lost theatres.
Then there were the performances themselves. Somehow, I found a backstage role from day one, but I watched enthralled as my fellow students stepped into the lights and were, for a moment transformed. All the tawdry clipped together costumes, the clunky makeup, the cardboard shoes became real and wonderful and I fell in love with that magic.
Scroll on a couple of decades, and waiting for a ferry, I met a dutchman who worked on the building of the Globe theatre, and who told me that he had placed coins under the huge pillars on the front of the stage, and that sometimes he was the last to leave and would sit on the stage and imagine a long ago audience.
Another decade and my niece and her family were living near the Globe and I passed regularly, eyeing the flags on the roof and wondering about the other theatre, the Swan, that was there in Southwark and was destroyed by fire. Somewhere under one of those huge modern office buildings are the remains, and they began to scratch at me as if there was a story of a theatre by a river, but I didn’t know what it was.
As the first lockdown eased, I looked for a place for my theatre. Not London, it was too well documented, and this wasn’t going to be real history. Also, I needed a place I could visit. We couldn’t travel far, but we could just about make Bristol without needing a wee, which was a serious consideration. My daughter, 18 at the time, was desperate to leave the house so we drove to take a walk around the deserted city. We wandered the harbour side, the Backs, Bristol Bridge. Up to St Mary’s Redcliffe and down to St Nicholas Market. It was eerily quiet. It felt as if we might at any moment turn the corner to see the tall ships, still there, bobbing on the oily water.
At home again, I read about the harbour. Every sort of ship, all wooden, but all transporting different things. Sugar, cotton, timber, wool, wines, and people. It must have been a toxic mix of everything unruled and unruly. Even Blackbeard had started here. I pored over maps of the city. I read about the awful gaol at Newgate, the gibbet on St Michael’s Hill, and my incoherent notes began to take shape, as did my protagonist.
Her name came first, Mouse, and she appeared in my mind dancing with a sword in the sunlight on the stage. She was small and strong. Her beloved family was a patchwork of theatrical figures, actors with better pasts than futures, jealous children she had grown up alongside. She had skills and would be taught by people who lived by deception and enchantment. But in spite of that, she would always want to know the truth, even if it led her to terrifying places. And then she would be afraid, but brave. The thing I wanted for her most though, was that she was real. A modern protagonist, in an almost historical setting, because I thought that was the best way to make a modern child connect with her.
In the end, I wanted the reader to care about Mouse as much as I do.
And so Mouse, the Moth Theatre, and the Company of the Moth Theatre came alive.
“Raymond Briggs had a genius for storytelling through illustration. Of course, he is best known for The Snowman, but he embraced the challenge of exploring darker subjects including ageing and nuclear annihilation… and The Snowman itself is at least as much about loneliness and loss as it is about imagination and adventure. His work was uncompromising in his emotional honesty, and his wit was biting and unafraid. I feel he created his books for himself, without compromising his inspiration with a sense of any audience, let alone a child audience. He never patronised children and I think that’s one of the things that made him brilliant and popular.” ~ Kate Wilson, Managing Director at Nosy Crow.
In celebration of this great man, Nosy Crow’s Louise Bolongaro, Publishing Director, Picture Books pays tribute with her fondest memories of working with Raymond Briggs during her tenure at Puffin Books:
My fond memories of working with Raymond Briggs by Louise Bolongaro
The picture book world shines a little less brightly this week. Like many of our heroes, I somehow thought Raymond would live forever, but I was wrong.
I know he would have been embarrassed by all the wonderful tributes from those who loved and admired him, but we can’t say enough about the man who left such a legacy. His stories were full of meaning and pathos; they were multi-layered and startling, and saw right into the heart of things. He also gave us comedy and phrases that we’ve woven into our collective consciousness. Raymond really was bloomin’ marvellous.
I was lucky enough to work with Raymond and his extraordinary backlist whilst I was Editorial Director at Puffin in the noughties. It was a pinch-me moment if ever there was one. Like so many, The Snowman was a vibrant part of my childhood (I was three when the book published and seven when the animation first aired) and it swiftly came to represent the essence of Christmas with all its joy, humour and sadness too. Then when I became a parent myself, my son and I would watch it without fail every year, as if to say, “Ah, now Christmas is truly here.”
My favourite project was an updated version of his beautiful Mother Goose collection, winner of the Kate Greenaway when it first published in 1966. It was a big book, and so the designer and I would regularly pop down to visit him at his home near the South Downs. I say home, but it wasn’t the home he lived in but, rather, his previous home where he wrote The Snowman and which he continued to use as a studio. The steep South Down hills banked up outside the house and, even though it was the height of summer when I first visited, you could feel the landscape of the story all around – I half-expected it to start snowing.
I can remember the exact moment I stepped inside as if it was yesterday. It was like entering a magical kingdom. Every surface and wall was crammed with paintings, sketches, drawings and models, all of which Raymond instantly dismissed with a wave of his hand, always humble and self-effacing. I was like a child in a toyshop and particularly remember a magnificent drawing of a chair that looked as if it were on loan from the Royal Academy. “Oh, that,” said Raymond. “I did that when I was 16.” When I was able to drag my attention back to the task in hand, we would chat about various bits and pieces, have a cup of tea, and then Raymond would take us to lunch at a little pub nearby.
What I remember most about those lovely days was the laughter. Raymond was the most delightful company. Whilst he liked to trade a reputation as a grumpy old man, he was anything but. He was kind and generous, charming and courteous, and he was also very funny. He had a wry sense of humour and was deliciously irreverent. We mostly corresponded by letter and phone – never email – and he loved the rich pickings my surname provided. He spelt it differently nearly every time – often silly, always affectionate – and those letters are some of my most treasured possessions. He also LOVED a good practical joke . . .
When we were talking about the new Mother Goose, we had to talk about money matters, too. Raymond found his original offer letter from Kaye Webb herself, (if I remember rightly!) and, of course, it was a somewhat modest amount by modern standards. Raymond said, “Bolongaro, times have changed! I expect a suitcase full of cash!”
Well, how could I refuse!
So, I spoke to his agent and whilst we arranged new terms, I also printed fake monopoly money, trimmed it to size until we had wads of the stuff and crammed it into a little suitcase. Then I popped it in the post. Raymond couldn’t speak for laughing when he called.
When I left Puffin to join Nosy Crow in 2012, it was a horrible wrench to leave Raymond behind. When I told him, his letter was very brief: “Bugger, bugger. What a blow.”
I know I was one of many editors and publishers in Raymond’s long career, but he was always unfailingly kind and interested in what I had to say. He taught me so much, about how stories endure and how, sometimes, the ones with no words can say the most of all. I loved every moment and am full of sadness as I write this.
Raymond, we will miss you.
Bugger, bugger. What a blow.
A guest post from Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Recipe for Trouble author, Sarah Todd Taylor
I’m so excited about seeing Alice’s first adventure A Recipe for Trouble heading out into the world and for everyone to meet Alice Éclair.
Alice Éclair is Paris’ rising star in the world of patisserie, and also its youngest spy. In A Recipe for Trouble she faces her first big mission – to track down a package of secret papers on board France’s most luxurious train, the Sapphire Express, and to uncover the spy from a train full of passengers, all of whom seem to be hiding secrets.
Alice really started way back in the 1980s when my brothers were given a book on how to be a spy, which I quickly borrowed (I say borrowed, they say stole) and spent the entire summer reading up on secret codes and writing messages with lemon juice (something I recently discovered one real spy actually did!). It was all very exciting and I’ve always wanted to recapture that, so writing Alice’s adventures is a way of being back in my childhood, imagining that I’m on an important secret mission.
I often get asked if I chose to make Alice a star baker because I’m good at that myself. I wish I could say yes, but a decent chilli cheese scone is pretty much where my talents start and end. I wanted her to be creative, though, and I realised that giving her a talent that would get her invited into places that she might not otherwise be able to go (like luxury trains and posh manor houses) would mean that I had a reason for her being at the centre of the action. It also makes it a lot of fun for me, finding ways to combine her baking with her spying so that they work together, and I hope that is fun for the reader too!
I set Alice’s first adventure on a train quite simply because I’ve always wanted to write a book set on a steam train. I absolutely love them. In Wales, where I live, there are lots of narrow gauge steam trains that were used for the coal and slate industries or for Victorian tourism and I love visiting them. It’s like stepping back into the past. There’s something very magical about a steam train, and they are the perfect setting for a detective or spy book because trains give you an environment where everyone is trapped in a small space and can be observed in great detail, and they also give you a deadline for your detective or spy to solve the mystery – everything has to be wrapped up before the train reaches its final destination.
A Recipe for Trouble is set in-between the wars at a time when the importance of espionage was increasingly recognised and when some writers and thinkers began to find themselves in danger and were looking for places of refuge. Although Alice and her fellow spies play an important part in helping people with their feats of daring do, I also wanted to highlight the work of some individuals who found ways to help refugees that were less ‘dramatic’ but that led to thousands of people escaping to safety. In reading up on the history of espionage in the 1930s I came across passport officials and diplomats who pushed through visa applications or even forged documentation to help people get to safety. I think it’s important to remember that all of us can find ways to be brave and do the right thing, even if we can’t be a spy who hangs off the side of a moving train.
Although I’m not as brave as Alice and I certainly don’t have her baking or decorating skills, I do recognise myself in her curiosity and her love of puzzles and word games. I think I have written myself into her lack of confidence too. She often doubts herself and feels out of place, especially in glamorous situations. But she rises above it and is willing to take on a challenge and I think that’s important too. We can’t all be naturally confident, but if we’re willing to push ourselves, often with a little help from our friends, we find we are capable of much more than we think we are.
I really hope that readers find in Alice a character that they can root for and that everyone discovers that there are few things more fun than cracking a cipher while eating a chocolate macaron or two.
Mermaids versus Suffragettes – a guest post by Alex Cotter
This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Mermaid Call – a gripping story of myth and mystery about a legendary mermaid and her dark power from Alex Cotter, the author of The House on the Edge. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Alex!
Mermaids versus Suffragettes. Can you be a fan of both? I grew up awe-struck by the Suffragettes and their seismic, life-changing achievements. I’ve also long adored mermaids and their vast library of stories and legends. And yet in many ways the two can contradict and compete with one another: feminists on one side fighting for equal rights, mermaids on the other promoting an idealised version of women and girls as alluring and beautiful.
It’s that tension between the two that captured my imagination and inspired a story that became my recently published novel, The Mermaid Call. It’s set in a fictional village in the Lake District – Lake Splendour – which survives on tourism from its legendary Lake Mermaid. My main character, Vivien, lives above her gran’s mermaid-themed shop and her family make their living from mermaid merchandise. At the same time, Vivien’s friend is campaigning against Lake Splendour’s ‘sexist’ Mermaid Crown and Vivien herself doesn’t feel pretty enough to enter. Instead, when Vivien meets an enigmatic girl called Alice, she finds herself embarking on a dangerous quest to discover a mystery about Alice’s lost aunt and find out if the mermaid in the lake really exists.
I’m a big fan of any legend; in fact, the search for the Loch Ness monster captivated me as a child and was definitely an inspiration for my story. But mythical stories about merfolk across the globe particularly fascinate me. There’s the dangerous and sharp-teethed Japanese ningyo who offers the promise of youth and beauty (at a price!) Or mermaids closer to home, like the Zennor mermaid who eloped with a boy from Cornwall or the Peak District’s ghost mermaid who grants you eternal life. And yet at the same time, I’ve often been uneasy about the common depiction of mermaids: beautiful long hair, perfect looks, magical qualities. Dig a little deeper and you can soon find evidence that many of their stories were created by a patriarchal society in order to portray women as both tempting and unforgiving, beautiful yet unattainable. And of course the mythical stories that inspired many of the original mermaid tales were mostly written by men too!
I introduce the Suffragettes into The Mermaid Call via two working class girls from Lake Splendour’s past – the Mermaid Girls – who disappeared in 1914 only to return and claim that they had been called by the Lake Mermaid herself. They then use their mermaid encounter to help the village survive on tourism from its lake legend after the First World War puts a stop to its quarry mining. While the legend of a mysterious mermaid is at the heart of the story, as Vivien embarks on her mermaid quest with Alice, the story becomes more about those young Suffragettes and it starts to explore themes of community, survival and self-expression. Most of all it looks at the importance of being true to yourself – rather than believing other people’s opinion of you.
The ‘mermaid’ village of Lake Splendour itself was inspired by the ‘tourist’ communities I used to visit as a child, in the Lake District and also Matlock Bath, an inland town with serious seaside vibes! I also drew upon the stories of my own Irish immigrant grandparents who came to the UK in search of a better life and worked in hat shops and pubs and bakeries. I was equally inspired by my very good friends who moved here from Cyprus and made their living from a seaside fish and chip shop (I relocated it to Lake Splendour!) All these stories of hope and survival, of making choices to give your children a better life, fed into the story of The Mermaid Call and led me back to those incredible Suffragettes. Because that’s what they did. They fought to make a difference, so that the lives of girls and women could be better, equal, more empowered.
So to return to the question that sparked my imagination in the first place: Mermaids versus Suffragettes? I suppose if it was an easy question to answer, it wouldn’t have inspired a whole novel! Yet I have to conclude that, while I will always be entranced by the mystical magic of mermaids, my appreciation and admiration will forever rest firmly at the feet of the Suffragettes. But maybe in some ways the two have more in common than I first realised. Take ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen – the perils she faced and sacrifices she made to discover another life – it presents some parallels with the fight for women’s liberation, for change, for being true to yourself. And after all, there’s no reason why today’s mermaid can’t be a feminist too!
Fixing the Future – a guest post by Alastair Chisholm
This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Consequence Girl, a thrilling, unputdownable adventure, from Alastair Chisholm, the highly-acclaimed author of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-shortlisted Orion Lostand the Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year, Adam-2. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Alastair!
The Consequence Girl is my third science fiction novel. It’s about Cora, a girl hiding in a world ruined by a mysterious ancient disaster. Chased from her hiding place, she meets others for the first time, and learns about an amazing power she has – one which could change literally everything…
It’s an adventure story, a chase story, and a mystery. But actually, it’s about how we deal with disaster and grief, how we overcome feelings of powerlessness, and how we live in the face of fear for the future.
Actually, it’s about a girl on a mountainside.
I love writing science fiction. I grew up immersed in sci-fi (I still remember queuing for The Empire Strikes Back, standing on tiptoes because I technically wasn’t old enough to get in!). Oh, sure, I liked magic, too – but sci-fi was cool. Sci-fi comes from our world – from things that might actually happen, machines we might actually invent. I love that the people in these stories really could be us.
And so for me, when an idea first starts, it’s with a person. My first novel, Orion Lost, was someone waking up alone on a starship, a billion miles from home. My second, Adam-2, was a boy in a basement. And this one was a girl – Cora – standing on a snowy, pine-covered mountainside.
Who was she? Why was she on the mountainside? Where was everyone else? Was she hiding? Who was trying to find her? I had no idea, but she stood there, and I had to work it out.
Cora, I realised, has a power. She can look at something that happens – a coin toss coming up heads, say – and see all the tiny events that led to it. The flick of her thumb on the coin, the air currents as it flew, the way it hit the ground and bounced. And then she can ask: what if things were just slightly different? If my thumb twitched slightly as I flicked? If the coin bounced just a little differently? What would happen?
Cora can see every outcome – and once she has one in her head, she can fix it in place. She can rewrite history.
She can change the world.
And boy, sometimes it feels like the world needs changing, right? Scary events in the news can make us feel like we don’t have any control. It’s clear that the grown-ups don’t always know what they’re doing. Weird politicians make weird decisions and tell us that this is what we agreed to, while actual climate disasters are ignored. Old prejudices and intolerances have raised their horrible heads – in fact, we’re inventing new intolerances, like we don’t have enough…
I thought, what would I change, if I could? And then I thought – how would I ever stop?
Cora’s world was ruined by some disaster – an apocalypse that broke everything. It’s taken a hundred years for society to get going again. But it’s not a dystopia. There’s food, and power, and schools, and shops. There are police, and a free press, and an elected government, and freedom of movement. It’s not dystopia – in fact, in some ways it’s a lot like our world.
But the government are trying to control the press. And the police are getting a bit heavy-handed. And there are artificial shortages, and policies designed to create fear amongst the population. It’s not dystopia, but it could be.
So … it’s a lot like our world.
And I wanted to show this world, and how different people react to it. Some hide away, living alone with their grief. Some revel in nostalgia, trying to return to “The good old days”. Some want to burn it down and start again. Some want to control it, lock it down tight as if people were numbers on a spreadsheet. Cora has the power to do any one of those – but which one?
Of course, I love sci-fi adventures. So first she must escape explosions, flying cars, evil security bosses and all sorts of danger! And she has no idea who she can trust, and things are going to get very dark indeed…
I hope you enjoy The Consequence Girl. I loved writing about Cora (and her guardian, the amazingly kick-ass Lilith!). As I was writing, I came across this quote from Thomas Paine, the politician and philosopher, who understood something amazing. Many years ago, he said:
“We have it in our power to rebuild the world over again”