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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!

Thank you, Alex! You can order a copy of The Mermaid Call from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

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 Lost and 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”

I think about this a lot. We have that power.

How are we going to use it?

Thank you, Alastair! You can order a copy of The Consequence Girl from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

 

A Guest Post from Looking for Emily author, Fiona Longmuir

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Looking for Emily – a hugely gripping, fast-paced mystery adventure, with brilliant twists and turns, from a fresh and exciting new voice in children’s books, Fiona Longmuir. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Fiona!

Just like the book itself, the story of Looking for Emily starts with the discovery of a strange little museum. When my partner and I go on holiday, we like to look for the most obscure local museum we can find. In Bratislava, we visited the clock museum. It was a weird little dream of a building, all strange angles and spindly staircases, scattered ticking bouncing off elaborately wallpapered walls. I snapped a photo of it, narrow and yellow as a pat of butter, and I thought that looks like something straight out of a storybook.

I started to turn over the idea of a story set around a museum in my mind. I could picture a glossy green door, a stamped brass sign, a spiral staircase. The entire seaside town of Edge grew out of that door. At first, I was playing with the idea of a museum of lost things and that became the museum of a lost person – an ordinary little girl called Emily. When I started writing, I didn’t have much more than that. I walked in the footsteps of my main character, twelve-year-old Lily, discovering alongside her who Emily was, why she disappeared and who created the secret museum filled with her things.

Everything in the Museum of Emily is ordinary – well, almost everything! It’s all books and buttons and scribbled notes and family photographs. And that’s because I think these are the things that make us who we are. The things we surround ourselves with every day. Your favourite recipe, or poem, or t-shirt. That’s what makes up a life. Those are the real treasures.

I’ve always had a soft spot for stubborn oddball little kids, probably because I was one – and still am at heart! Lily wandered into my brain pretty much fully formed: adventurous, hot-tempered, so afraid of being disappointed that she refuses to get her hopes up, ever. I created Sam and Jay to be the kind of people and the kind of friends that Lily needed most. The three of them are so different but they really bring out the best in each other. The adventure in Looking for Emily gets pretty scary sometimes, so Lily definitely needed the support of her friends to make it through. Looking for Emily is a story about finding where you belong, and that can be a person as much as a place.

I didn’t realise how much food was in the book until other people started reading it. Almost everyone commented on it! There are chips galore, because you can’t have a seaside trip without chips. My grandad lives in a little seaside town in Scotland, so I spent most of my childhood eating chips while getting rained on and I loved every minute of it. There’s an apple pie, which Emily and her sister make from their mother’s recipe, and which is based on an apple pie I learned to bake from my great granny. There’s lasagne at Sam’s house and tea in Ms Hanan’s classroom and hot chocolate in Lily’s kitchen and hot dogs by the bonfire. I think food is one of the greatest expressions of love we have. Nothing makes me feel safer or more cared for than a really delicious meal, and I love to cook for people I love too. So many of the things I cook, I learned from my family. And when I use their recipes, it’s like I can feel their hands squeezing mine. That’s what I wanted the food in Looking for Emily to feel like.

I write exactly the kind of stories I like to read most. I’ve never been able to resist a mystery or a grand adventure, but I love books that pause for little cosy moments too. Some of my favourite books strike that balance beautifully. Books like Time Stops for No Mouse and the Pages & Co series have so many lovely, warm, gentle moments that it makes the stakes of the adventure feel even higher. You know what everyone has to lose! In Looking for Emily, you get little glimpses of the beautiful life Emily lost – the life that’s just at Lily’s fingertips if she can gather the courage to grab it.

Thank you, Fiona! You can order a copy of Looking for Emily from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

Themes in The Insiders – a guest post by Cath Howe

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Insiders – a wise, heartwarming story of friendship and family from Cath Howe, the highly-acclaimed author of Ella on the Outside, Not My Fault, and How to be Me. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Cath on the main themes in the book!

I’ve been doing some thinking about what made me want to write The Insiders. Here’s some thoughts on the big themes in the book.

School at night

I’m fascinated by places at night: how different they feel. There’s a word for this, kenopsia-a place which is normally full of people so you feel weird being in it when it’s deserted. Everything’s changed at night; distances are confusing and sounds are magnified. When I was writing The Insiders, I thought a lot about other places at night; stadiums, shopping centres and office blocks. I suppose you’re always asking the question, “Is anyone else here too?” Much of the book was written in lockdown so many places which would normally have been full of people were eerily empty.

Friendship

A big theme for me is friendship. How do we support our friends? What would we do to help them if things got tricky? How does someone turn into a friend? My books test friendships; you don’t really know how strong a friendship is until you test it. And then there’s family- what happens when you keep something secret from your family to protect a friend? I love to create plots that give the characters key choices and then show to results of the choices they make.

 Thrillers

I like stories where the reader is the one who knows the most about what’s going on. The Insiders is a thriller; there are moments of Oh no don’t do that and then sometimes the viewpoint switches so the fate of a character is left hanging and you keep wondering about it. That’s one of the things that keeps you reading.

People are icebergs

Callie says, right at the start, that we think we know people but they are really icebergs with loads going on under the surface. I do think it’s true that we only ever know a small amount about a person and, as a result, we can easily jump to all the wrong conclusions. By having three narrators, the book lets you see deeper into the lives of the children and the mistakes they have made and go on making about each other.

Bullying

Bullying takes many forms. It affects a wider group than just a bully or victim. There’s a trickle- down effect from bullying which affects the whole community. This story begins with a practical joke on Ted but it also contains: cruelty in the way that Billy has been bullied, the power of the group in the way that people tease Ted, Ted’s revenge on Billy and a teacher who is harsh with his class. There are also inspiring moments of kindness and friendship. These are a balance to bullying and we see them everywhere in schools.

School

Schools should be places where we feel safe and happy. The Insiders was based on one actual school where I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years. I used the layout of the school and details of the library, hall and playground to help my descriptions and scenes feel real. There are gardens backing onto this school playground too. I’ve often thought about the children in the houses looking out onto the deserted playground at night-time and in the holidays and hearing the place come to life each day as it fills with people. And it’s definitely true, in my experience, that the children who live nearest to school are the most often late.

Thank you, Cath! You can order a copy of The Insiders from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

What Selvi and Lokka taught me – a guest post by Nizrana Farook

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Girl Who Lost a Leopard – the third thrilling adventure set in a fictional Sri Lanka from author Nizrana Farook. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Nizrana on the setting for her books, her reasons for choosing a leopard as her third animal adventurer, and what the central characters of Selvi and Lokka taught her. Nizrana was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the beautiful landscapes of her home country find their way into the stories she writes. 

The Girl Who Lost a Leopard is my third adventure set in the fictional island of Serendib. Serendib is based on Sri Lanka, the country of my birth and where I was raised. I moved to the UK as an adult, so when I think of my childhood I think only of Sri Lanka. And so when I started writing for children, and when I looked into my own childhood, I went with my own part-real, part-imagined version of Sri Lanka as the setting.

That first book was about a girl who stole an elephant. I was swept away by the adventure and wanted to write more. Though a relatively small country, Sri Lanka has quite a lot of variation; from the rainforests to the misty green mountains to dry zone forests and golden beaches. So I set the second book by the sea and this third one in the mountains. Once upon a time these mountains were largely uninhabited and full of leopards, and this was the time I went to.

After I’d finished writing about an adventure each featuring an elephant and a whale, I began to think about what my next animal adventurer could be. I was pulled by the idea of a leopard quite early on. Leopards have a sense of mystery that the other animals I’ve written about before haven’t. They seem more aloof, elusive and enigmatic. I wondered what sort of companion one would make on an adventure!

I also wanted to explore what a bond with a leopard might be like for a child, while allowing the animal to still remain wild. Even the thought felt exciting and laced with danger. Wild leopards and humans don’t mix! Or do they? Selvi the main character and Lokka the leopard share a bond so strong she’d do anything to protect him, and vice versa. They’ve built up their relationship slowly, in little steps of trust. One of my favourite things that happens in the story is how the girl’s and the leopard’s lives mirror each other throughout. They’re both harassed by evil men who want to cut off their freedom. They’re both captured and imprisoned at the same time, and each must help the other in breaking free and living the life they want.

With each book that I’ve written so far I learn a little more; about the writing process, about a new animal, about conservation and the environment. I was fascinated, and sometimes horrified, by my leopard research. I was looking at so many pictures to describe their behaviour that when I closed my eyes I’d see leopard print! Lokka grew to be more central to the plot than the animals in my previous books. He taught me to notice the little details; the quick blink of leopard eyes, the flick of a tail, a silhouette in the sunset.  But most importantly, what Selvi and Lokka taught me was that animals like him needed us to care, so that they could thrive and be free.

Thank you, Nizrana! You can order a copy of The Girl Who Lost a Leopard from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

Not Your Typical Kids’ Book: a guest post by Jason Rohan

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Access Denied – the first in an explosive new action-adventure middle grade series. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a piece from author Jason Rohan on his inspiration behind the book.

Hi! Well, what can I say, other than S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Access Denied isn’t your typical kids’ book. With car chases, explosions, gadgets, secret organisations and breathless action, it’s more of a white-knuckle movie rollercoaster than a novel and that’s entirely deliberate.

I come from a comic book background so I tend to think in pictures and dialogue, which is also how cinema works. A screenplay is written with one page equalling one minute on screen and in S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Access Denied, chapters are time-stamped and intended to read roughly in real-time, so it works the same way, like the TV show 24. In fact, I seem to get a lot of comparisons to things like James Bond, Jason Bourne, Alex Rider, CHERUB, Mission: Impossible and Transformers, but no-one has identified the key inspiration yet, and that is… Thunderbirds.

For, ahem, people of a certain age, Thunderbirds holds a special place in our hearts, back when there were only three channels on TV and Saturday morning at 11:00 was time to gather round the box for Jeff Tracy’s famous countdown. Sure, even as a child, the puppets were hokey, but the action set pieces were state-of-the-art and fired young imaginations like mine, and even inspired a real-life International Rescue Corps.

A live-action film version came out in 2004 and, for me, it was a crushing disappointment. (Rotten Tomatoes has it with a 19% approval rating, so I’m not alone in my view.) That, and rewatching some of the episodes with my own children, started me thinking about how the concept could be brought up to date but with middle graders as the main characters. I couldn’t see five kids each operating separate vehicles as a viable idea but if it were one vehicle capable of performing multiple roles, then that could work… And, if we had a pilot, navigator and engineer, the staple roles for robot anime… That’s how I came up with the main characters of Arun, Donna and Sam, three ordinary kids who find themselves in an extraordinary adventure.

I’ve noticed that adult thriller writers, like Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy, use a lot of real-life detail to ground their stories in the real world and this is important before introducing a fantasy element. It’s almost like the more rooted you are in reality to begin with, the bigger the chance you can take later with upending that, as per The Matrix movies, and a major part of that grounding was making the main characters be normal kids, recognisable and relatable. Arun is the quiet, thoughtful one, naturally reserved but with a sharp intellect and ability to think on his feet. Sam, his best friend, is more of a geek who takes refuge in gaming and computing. Donna, I belatedly realised, is the true protagonist of the story in that she drives the story forward. It is her curiosity which initiates the kids investigating a kidnapping, and she steps up time and again to bail the trio out of trouble. One of the joys in creating S.T.E.A.L.T.H. was seeing the three characters come together as a team.

I don’t set out to write ‘message’ books, but certainly there are themes of not underestimating people or making ill-conceived presumptions and that goes across the board. Just as the adults constantly dismiss the kids, so too Sam puts his foot in it with Donna, and Arun grows to respect and admire her.

I’ve worked as a teacher so I’m always keen that a reader will learn something, however unwittingly, when they read one of my books. As well as lots of STEM-related snippets, I hope that readers will take with them the power of friendship, independence and resilience. Now, more than ever, we need to co-operate to overcome the huge challenges ahead. If nothing else, S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Access Denied shows what you can do if you’re determined enough and refuse to give up, however great the odds. Sometimes, just doing the right thing is heroic in itself.

Now fasten your seat belt, hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

Thank you, Jason! You can order a copy of S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Access Denied from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

 

Guest Post by You’re Not the Boss of Me author Catherine Wilkins

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published You’re Not The Boss of Me – a laugh-out-loud story about fighting for your right to steal the show. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a piece from author Catherine Wilkins on her reasons for writing the book.

I’m very excited to see You’re Not The Boss of Me being published and to share my latest character, Amy Miller with the world. This book is about trying to be the master of your own destiny, even when facing adversity.

Amy Miller is an enthusiastic, ambitious, clever and funny Year Nine girl who loves comedy and wants to write and perform comedy sketches for her school comedy show. But unfortunately for Amy, some of the boys decide they are in charge of comedy, and they make it impossible for her to be a part of the fun. Eventually Amy realises that some of what is happening is sexism, and she has to take a stand.

I felt very strongly that I wanted to write about a teenage girl character who was confident. Actually properly, audaciously confident. Someone who really didn’t care what other people thought, or about being ‘cool’ at school. And not because she was too cool to care, but because she had nerdily done the maths and decided it was better to be a bit naff and have fun being her authentic self. It can be hard to accept that not everyone will like you and be at peace with that. I wanted to see what that would look like in a story. There are already so many books about feeling insecure (which is great, because lots of people feel insecure and under peer pressure). But I wanted this to be a story about a girl who knows she has a right to exist, and a right to join in and speak up.

I wanted to make it funny as well because for me (as a reader) I think it’s important for books to be entertaining and surprising. I have always tried to write the kinds of books that I would have liked to read when I was younger. And (like Amy) comedy is a huge passion of mine.

I have quite a lot of things in common with Amy. I was an avid comedy fan growing up, and often trying to be funny and write funny things. There is a fine line between being funny and being quite annoying which Amy and I both had to learn to tread with care. And I have worked in the comedy and creative industries now, and encountered bizarre proclamations and gatekeeping around anything considered artistic, which doesn’t make sense under investigation. Amy is more confident than I was at her age. There is probably some wish-fulfilment in her moxie.

Amy has to encounter some difficult things in the story, and she finds help in unexpected places. At one point she gets some advice from her older sister about identifying and dealing with sexism, and it felt important to show the wider background of that struggle, so that each new person doesn’t think they’re the first person to encounter sexism and they’ve somehow done something wrong.

Sexism is a serious problem in the real world, but it is also ridiculous. Anything ridiculous can be joked about, it just has to be done carefully. There is a thin end of the wedge as well as the much worse thick end. This book is age appropriate for its readers, so mainly focused on the ‘lighter’ side of sexism, which of course still has far reaching effects and needs to be addressed. Sexism needs to be examined, scrutinised, exposed, logged, talked about, mocked, educated and legislated against, and to have that legislature followed on through on. But I can’t do all those things, so I have settled mainly on scrutinising and mocking in this book.

I think that comedy can be a good way to approach difficult subjects. That’s one of the reasons I really like writing funny books. I think lots of things in life are quite silly, and finding the joke can often make the scary things less upsetting.

I hope I have created a very funny and entertaining book. I hope that the adventures of Amy will make readers laugh, as well as roll their eyes, feel cross, and feel empowered to make choices that work for them. But mainly I hope they laugh.

Thank you, Catherine! You can order a copy of You’re Not the Boss of Me from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

 

 

How Frank and Bert came to be – a guest post by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

I’m very excited to see Frank & Bert being published. It’s a book about friendship and how it’s not always easy getting it right, staying true to your friends and being happy with yourself.

The starting point of this book was a very simple sketch/doodle that came out of nowhere, of a big strange looking animal stood behind a thin tree. I wrote a caption under it explaining how this animal was brilliant at hiding in plain sight and incredibly hard to spot, even though it was stood there as plain as day. I liked this idea, a bit like when children try to hide and think that if they can’t see you, then you can’t see them.

I wanted to make a story out of it and came up with the idea of a duo playing hide and seek – one of them (Bert) being terrible at hiding but doesn’t know it. I came up with a first draft that hadtheidea of a hand-knitted scarf that gets snagged and sent it to my editor, Lou Bolongaro. She saw the potential of the two characters and the set-up but asked me to explore a few more variations.

In the end I proposed four or five different versions, they always started the same but then went in different directions: bear disguised as a rock and fox inadvertently sitting on him, bear hiding in a river bed until it rains and the water’s up to his nose, bear getting lost in the woods, even bear going into a café full of bears and putting a lampshade on his head, thus giving himself away.

We eventually settled on the final story and then ironed out all the plot wrinkles, and for such a seemingly simple tale it took a lot of smoothing out, making sure it all made sense and didn’t feel contrived – that’s always the hardest part of writing stories. For ages Bert was so sure of his hiding skills he offered his scarf as a prize for Frank finding him but the fact that it got unravelled made this a bit awkward – it just didn’t work right. It took ages to realise that that didn’t need to happen and the story might work better without the high-stakes of a favourite scarf to play for!

But the essence of the story was always about friendship – what it’s worth and how it can be tested sometimes. That’s what we were always wanting to bring out and highlight. I also wanted to be really careful that Bert, though not appearing to be the sharpest of the duo, is no fool either. He had to have a little conspirational moment with the reader that Frank isn’t entirely aware of, otherwise the friendship felt unbalanced and Bert a little patronised.

The image of a fox sat on a chair knitting really grabbed me. It seemed an odd thing for a fox to be doing so it felt nice to try and explain what was the story behind it was, and give Frank a very chatty, anecdotal voice. The scarf is is almost a character in itself so it was given a very bright pink colour to make it pop out of the muted landscapes. That was always going to be a big part of the book – following the bright trail of colour through the hills and trees and water, until we catch up with Bert.

I hope readers old and young really feel the relationship and love between Frank and Bert and the sense that no friendship is perfect – it sometimes needs a bit of work and compromise to make things ok.

Yet again, it’s been a joy to work with all the team at Nosy Crow. Making a picture book is sometimes a bit like a friendship – there are always little debates, discussions and compromises along the way but when you trust each other things always work out fine in the end. And again, Lou Bolongaro and Nia Roberts guided and encouraged me along the way, even when I thought I’d run out of ideas, and helped bring Frank and Bert (and the hand-knitted scarf!) to life.

And as Frank & Bert is all about friendship, it’s dedicated to my best friend, Steve Adams, who very sadly died in the summer of 2021, just after the book was finished. He was a really brilliant, lovely, talented man. Sometimes I would send him story ideas when I was stuck – usually a couple of alternatives to ask which he thought was the best or funniest. He always made the right call and he was a big help on Frank & Bert especially. He was an absolutely top person and is much missed by everybody who knew him.

Thank you, Chris!

Take a look inside:

Welcome to The Escape – a guest post by Christopher Edge

Escape Room is a story about finding the Answer and saving the world. It follows Ami as she enters The Escape, the ultimate escape room, but as the Host locks Ami and her teammates inside the first room, they quickly realise that this is no ordinary game and the stakes are sky-high…

I finished writing Escape Room back in the strange days of the first lockdown, when the desire to escape the same four walls was particularly strong. I wanted to write a story about the problems we face in the world today, but it was important to me that this story was a story of hope. From global warming to plastic pollution, young people are the ones who are raising their voices loudest about these problems and they’re also the ones who are showing the bravery and imagination we need to solve them. This gave me the idea for The Escape – an escape game where five young players have to work together to find the Answer to save the world.

As part of the research for the book, I played several escape games, from searching for a lost archaeological artefact in a locked museum to trying to solve a mystery trapped on a nuclear submarine! What I love about escape games is the way they completely immerse you in another reality. When you’re playing an escape game, you’re part of the story and the decisions you make can mean the difference between success and failure, whilst the actions of the other people on your team can either help or hinder the escape!

I wanted to give the readers of Escape Room the same immersive experience, taking them on a fast-paced, puzzle-solving adventure into a host of different realities. The best escape games give players a trail of clues to solve and I wanted the puzzles and mysteries that Ami finds inside The Escape to give the reader clues about the story too.

An escape room is like the ultimate locked-room mystery, but in The Escape there is more than one room for Ami and her teammates to reckon with. From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by strange creatures to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. Every room inside The Escape draws on real-life inspirations, from an unbeatable chess-playing automaton invented in the late 19th century to the Red Queen of Palenque, whose Mayan tomb was discovered by an archaeologist in 1994, and each one of these settings is inspired by the ideas that lie at the heart of the novel too.

At the start of the story, the Host gives the players some important advice which I hope will help you too as you read Escape Room:

“Remember, all you need to succeed is hidden inside The Escape. The puzzles that you find and the challenges you face might seem impossible at first, but for you nothing is impossible. Look around carefully. Everything is part of the game. Use your mind to find the Answer. Find the Answer before it’s too late.”

As I’ve said before, I think children’s books are the most important books you’ll ever read. These are books that can help you to understand about the world, they can let you escape from the world for a while, but also they can inspire you to build a better world. I’m constantly inspired by the young readers I meet and I know that they possess the imagination and creativity we need to build a brighter future.

I hope that you’ll feel inspired after reading Escape Room and enjoy your visit to The Escape. Good luck!

Thank you, Christopher!

Read the first two chapters below:

The places that inspired the setting of Fledgling – a guest post by Lucy Hope

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Fledgling – a dark, gothic tale set deep in a Bavarian forest, filled with mystery, magic, owls, and a boy who isn’t all that he seems. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a piece from author Lucy Hope on the places that inspired the beautiful, often enchanting setting of this wonderful new middle-grade adventure.

My debut novel, Fledgling, is set in Bavaria in Germany in an unusually tall house on top of a rock overlooking the fictional Bratvian Forest and the imaginary town of Edenburg. Cassie Engel’s house is, in my mind, a smaller and more ramshackle version of Neuschwanstein Castle, a real fairytale 19th-century palace that sits on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria. I love how the little towns in that area are often dominated by tall rocks that could easily have a house perched on top if someone had the means and imagination to build one. Edenburg was inspired by the beautiful town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a place I’d love to visit one day!

Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber (above)

I hadn’t been to Bavaria when I wrote the first draft of Fledgling, but had fallen in love with Germany when I’d stayed in Menden, near Cologne, on a school exchange in my early teens; I’ve never forgotten the kindness of my host family, despite the visit being so long ago. When I was editing Fledgling, I was able to visit Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau, allowing me to add more detail to the story. I even got to taste Leberknödel when I was there, the dish neither Cassie nor her mother are very keen on!

Leberknödel
Leberknödel, a traditional German dish featured in Fledgling

I grew up in North Wales and loved family trips to visit my great uncle who lived in an isolated house on a mountainside in Snowdonia – you can take a look here. When he bought his ancient house in the 1960s it was a ruin, but he re-built it, bringing up the building materials by his own steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway. There was initially no road to get to the house but he managed to get permission to blast a road out of the rocky mountainside using dynamite. There’s no way he’d be allowed to do such a thing now in a national park, but the road remains to this day, with its twists and turns and hairpin bends, for anyone brave enough to drive up it. This road was the inspiration for the helter-skelter road that leads up to Cassie’s house.

I’ve never been to a house quite like Cassie’s, so that was entirely a figment of my imagination. I decided to create a house that reached high up to the sky, one that could be buffeted by the weather, and was tall enough to allow a creature from another world to arrive in a thunderstorm. I loved imagining how the Engel family might have designed and built the contraptions that would make living in their house a little easier. The idea for the zip came from thinking about firemen’s poles and how they help them shoot down through the fire station at great speed – I just had to think of a way to make Cassie’s ‘lift’ a little more controllable than this and to enable a way for the family to travel back up through the house – and hence the steam-powered zip was born!

When I was twelve, my parents inherited an ancient and very leaky house in North Wales, close to the little cottage we’d previously lived in. Every room was filled with strange and sometimes macabre items: tiger skin rugs, chests full of decaying hundred-year-old dresses, display cabinets piled high with curiosities and cracked glass cases containing the remains of stuffed creatures. Portraits of stern-looking ancestors hung in long dark corridors, and desk draws were still filled with letters and other paperwork belonging to previous generations, some dating back hundreds of years. I didn’t realise until I was halfway through writing Fledgling, how growing up in this house inspired much of the setting for the novel.

Many of the sensations of my childhood – the smell of stale tobacco, the little plumes of dust rising from threadbare carpets as you stepped across them, the years of oak smoke absorbed into fading sofas, the toe-curling and ever-present chill of an ancient building – these were all a part of my experience of growing up and so it seemed quite natural that they found their place in Fledgling.

I spent much of my early childhood in Wales playing in the woods near our cottage, building dens and having adventures. I was always terrified of getting lost when we ventured too deeply into the woods, but was always a little fascinated by the secrets that might be lurking there! And I loved the idea of one day finding a long-lost cottage with smoke curling from the chimney and a strange recluse within its walls.

The setting for Fledgling came to me before the story did, and getting it right was just as important as making the story exciting and the characters interesting. Luckily, my slightly peculiar childhood, and that brief visit to Germany as a child, gave me plenty of ideas and inspiration that helped to bring Cassie’s strange world to life.

Thank you, Lucy! You can order a copy of Fledgling from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

What it means to be a Great Briton – a launch party speech by author Imogen Russell Williams

Last night we celebrated the publication of the marvellous Great Britons: 50 Amazing People Who Have Called Britain Home – written by Imogen Russell Williams and illustrated by Sara Mulvanny – at the wonderful [email protected] Books in Highbury.

And today we’re delighted to share Imogen’s speech from the launch party, which touches on what it means to be a ‘Great Briton’ and what she hopes this book will mean to readers.

I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of brilliant people. To Louie Stowell for giving me my start in children’s non-fiction, which I’ve always felt passionately about but never thought of writing before she gave me the chance. To Rebecca Mason for sterling and splendid publicity. To Kate Wilson, managing director at Nosy Crow, for wrangling over this list of Britons so intently, thinking all the time about how to make it as representative and inspiring as possible as we added and subtracted and nudged names up and down, trying to ensure every reader could find a hero here. To Sara Mulvanny – who did do the pictures – for doing such a great job, and to Emma Hobson, the designer. With my critic’s hat on, a lot of my friends may have heard me rant about the kind of oversized nonfiction doomed to sit dustily on a coffee table because it’s text-dense and dry – it may look elegant, but it’s too adult and long-winded to work for children. It’s Sara and Emma’s lovely sensitive work that makes these pages, which do have a lot of text on them, feel inviting, rather than intimidating and starchy.

About that text: I owe an absolutely enormous debt of gratitude to my editor, Elizabeth Jenner. All the time I’ve spent working with her – especially on the more potentially fraught areas of the book, like how to balance the portrayal of Winston Churchill, and how to convey a sense of the impact of empire and its long reverberations in a way that felt appropriate and thought-provoking – I have never felt so simultaneously pushed and supported, and I was never in doubt that this book was in the hands of the best possible co-pilot.

I also owe thanks to Dr Philip Abraham, brilliant post-colonial historian; Matthew Bergin, black hole consultant and physicist extraordinaire; Ada Lovelace expert Julia Gray; and perpetual sounding board, emergency tea purveyor and altogether optimal husband Alastair Harper. Last but not least, to my daughter Pererin, who is careful not to let me get uppity by being impressed too often. It does mean, though, that when she is impressed, I feel a proper sense of accomplishment.

Great Britons launch event at INK@84 Books in Highbury
Photos from the Great Britons launch party last night at [email protected] Books

I hope that this book will mean something to its readers: that being a genius doesn’t mean you can’t also be a muppet sometimes, like Alan Turing, who buried his savings in the form of silver ingots and could never find them again. Also, that virtuoso talent like Yehudi Menuhin’s can lend itself to splendidly ridiculous stunts, like standing on your head and conducting the Berlin Philharmonic with your toes. More than that, I hope it will say something about who we consider being worth the name of a Great Briton.

People of glamour and acumen, principle and talent and doggedness, people who were and are eccentric, bloody-minded, flawed and human. People who came here from all around the world or who grew up here, privileged and otherwise. People who did and gave their best. People whose unacceptable views give us something to learn from now – that we can and should expect better, from the people at the top in particular. And people who made it clear that enslaving other people is sickening, violent and wrong. It’s been profoundly educational to me to research and write this book (although now, sadly, the etch-a-sketch of my brain has long been shaken, and every date or figure has instantly fallen out) and I hope that it will be fun to read – and maybe galvanising too.



What an interesting and empowering speech! Thank you, Imogen.

Discover the inspiring, empowering and diverse stories of 50 brilliant Britons who have impacted the way we live, think and feel today in this beautiful new book. From the warrior queen Boudicca of early Britain, who rose in revolt against the Romans, to activist Malala Yousafzai, who fights for every girl’s right to an education today, these gripping tales include key figures from all areas of British life – science, medicine, entertainment, sports, activism and more.

Featuring the inspirational lives and achievements of amazing people such as Florence Nightingale, Alan Turing, Mary Prince, Stormzy, Charles Darwin and Noor Inayat Khan, Great Britons is not only a celebration of our history as an island, but also as part of a far larger and greater world.

Take a look inside the book:

Buy the book.

From summer wings to flying south for winter – a guest post by Clare Helen Welsh, author of Time to Move South for Winter

This month we’re thrilled to have published Time to Move South for Winter – a breathtaking narrative non-fiction book about incredible animal migrations, written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie.

And today we’re delighted to share a blog from Clare on the origins of this beautiful new book.

Coming up with ideas is the easy bit for me where creating books for children is concerned. Ideas are everywhere – places I go, people I meet, words I hear, things I see. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to write them all.

But I am not, for one minute, suggesting that writing is easy!

One part of the process that can be especially difficult is turning these ideas into stories, with compelling characters, engaging plots and satisfying endings. Occasionally, ideas appear fully formed – with a character and clear arc. Other times, I have to work harder to find the angle.

Time to Move South for the Winter by Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Løvlie

Time to Move South for Winter had been in my ‘to write’ collection for a while. It started life as a phrase in the note pages on my phone – ‘summer on the wing.’ My nan, who is a huge inspiration to me, gave me a notebook of poems she collected when she was a primary school teacher. I was so touched – it’s full of all the classroom rhymes, poems and ditties she shared with her students, all diligently written out in her handwriting.

As I pored over the pages, one line stood out – ‘summer on the wing.’ I often take inspiration from our wonderful language and the beautiful visuals it conjures. I began researching bird migration and was soon lost in the fascinating world of the Arctic tern, which makes the longest migration of any animal from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again each year. I love the thought of being able to inspire young readers to love nature.

And there was my angle! An educational but entertaining story about an Arctic tern embarking on her annual winter migration, who discovers lots of other animals moving south for winter, too.

At the time I’d been reading and writing a lot of non-fiction narrative texts and I felt this idea lent itself to being a story based in fact. I envisaged that it would be poetic, lyrical, almost whimsical in tone as the tern completed her long journey, but I was determined it would also communicate awe and wonder about the natural world, encouraging and inspiring children to read and learn more. Narrative non-fiction texts fire up the teacher in me. When I worked as a primary school teacher, I would hang learning on a book wherever possible. I love writing stories that can be used as springboards for further learning, and this was very much in the forefront of my mind as I wrote – something beautiful but meaningful, too.

My life experiences have a funny way of filtering into my stories. Alongside the involvement of my nan, my dad was also a big inspiration for this book. My dad, who loves birds, has been to North America and travelled up the Northwest Passage to the mountains and glaciers in Alaska where he saw humpback whales, which feature in the book. (He says they were quite tricky to catch on camera!)


My dad’s photo of a humpback whale in Alaska (above).

I knew from the very start this would be a book he’d love. Time to Move South for Winter is dedicated to him. Here he is receiving his advance copy on Father’s Day.

(I was right, he did love it!)

The text has been stunningly illustrated by Jenny Løvlie who says the Arctic terns are her favourite bird. She grew up by a large colony of terns on Ekkerøy, Norway, and has described the project as a dream come true but honestly, the honour feels all mine. We can’t wait to share it!

In short, Time to Move South for Winter started like many other of my texts – as a foggy idea on the fringes of my creative mind. With thanks to the influences and inspirations from family, teaching and the research that enlightened me to the animal migrations on our planet – plus my agent, Alice, and all the Nosy Crow team – it became a story!

And one we are all very proud of, indeed.

Thank you, Clare, for that insightful and heartwarming piece! You can order a copy of Time to Move South for Winter from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or from Amazon here.

Take a look inside the book: