Saturday, 28 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with John Corey Whaley

I loved John Corey Whaley's Highly Illogical Behaviour. Its snappiness, Star Trek jokiness and lemonade flavour provides the inspiration behind these questions that I put to John:

John Corey Whaley - author
WSD: A Wal-mart woman put a curse on you? You've remembered that so how did it affect you?

John Corey Whaley: Well, I believe she spoke gibberish, so I never actually knew what the curse was--and, look, who's to say she didn't bless me or something?  I have no idea.  She grabbed my hand, chanting something nonsensical, and walked away.  I guess it's given me a good, weird story--and what better for an author to have, eh?

WSD: What's your favourite drink and how do you like it served?  

John Corey Whaley: Coffee---and I like it with cream and a little sugar, maybe some coconut oil. Please no almond milk in there. Please.

WSD: If you know any Star Trek jokes, can you please tell me one (or two) so that I can repeat it and impress my friends and family?

John Corey Whaley:

What did Captain Picard say to the tailor when his uniform ripped?

Make it sew.

(That's the only one I know and it's so bad hahahaha)

WSD: Oh yeah, that's bad! 

WSD: What books should be on every responsible reader's shelves?

John Corey Whaley: Mine. I'm KIDDING.  I think a responsible reader is someone who reads a wide list of authors from around the world--who write for different age groups, fiction or non-fiction.  Poetry too--a responsible reader has books of poetry and the sciences and maybe a weird book about birds or contagious diseases thrown in the mix.

WSD: What's the most highly illogical thing you've ever done (or one of them)?

John Corey Whaley:  I quit my job as a teacher to tour with a book no one had ever heard of. It worked!

WSD: Do you like dogs or cats?

John Corey Whaley: Both, but my boyfriend and I have a cat named Banjo.  He is like our child.

WSD: OK, he likes dogs so so he gets the big thumbs up! My review of Highly Illogical Behaviour is here.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Memory Book – Lara Avery

Two young adult novels out this month featuring Memory in the title. Having limited time, this is the one whose first page drew my attentions and held it the whole way through.

The Memory Book is exactly what it says. It’s a fiction about Samantha McCoy, 17, the smartest girl in school, a champion debater and she’s been diagnosed with a memory loss disease, a kind of dementia. She writes The Memory Book (or types it on her laptop) to her future herself, as a way to remind her who she is and what she did.

Sammie is a very determined girl, and her voice is snappy-smart but without the snark, a combination that I liked. I was a bit wary about the disease element (yeah, there are a few of those around and once you’ve read a few they can get tiresome: sorry, I’m feeling jaded) but I thought that it actually worked really well. A bit like many young adult novels featuring very ill teenagers, this is a novel about making the most of your life while you can and I felt that The Memory Book really pulled this off.

Interestingly, it made me think a bit quite a bit about dementia, not so much in young people, but in old people and how it might affect them in the little and big ways. Of course, it also made me think about giving life your best shot always.

There’s an interesting thread in the novel about first love and crushes (obviously!) although they left me wondering whether or not Sam ever really decided which was which. But does that matter anyway, whether it’s a crush or love (that’s me thinking through after reading as it’s not directly raised in the novel)?

I imagine this would appeal to readers who are competitively determined – or who like debates. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is on a debate team, or trying to get on a debate team. Samantha McCoy is exhausting!

Yep, I really enjoyed this novel: page-turning, thought-provoking and poignantly wistful.

Publication details: Quercus, 26 January 2017, London, paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof for possible review from the publisher

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

How to Write Your Best Story Ever! - Christopher Edge

I am a browser and sometimes I find something that takes me by surprise. And so I happened upon Oxford University Press's How To Write Your Best Story Ever, which was published earlier this month. When I was a child, there was never as much guidance on developing your talents like there is today, and so I'm quite unfamiliar with fiction writing guides for 7-13 year olds. So I took a close look.

How To Write Your Best Story ever is not an activity journal, which is what I was expecting. There is no place intended for you to start scribbling down ideas. No. In keeping with OUP's dictionaries, How To Write Your Best Story Ever is definitely a reference book to prompt you, inspire you and help you along the way in, well, writing your best story ever with whatever writing instruments you choose.

It's a busy book (perhaps a bit busy for my eye, but I was 7-13 a long time ago!) full of colour, illustrations and chunked tips and guidance. Succinctly, it uses double spreads to tell you about the intricacies of the elements that make up a good story - and how you can get there. One of the things I liked most (there were a few), was that it devotes a few pages to writing all the different genres including Scripts and Mash-ups. It offers vocabulary to inspire you - and to challenge you - in crafting these different types of stories.

A couple of the other things that I really liked: quotes from a variety of different novels and authors (as well as Christopher Edge, who authored this book and some jolly good novels) are included as real examples of how to apply the suggestions so that you can see what the language looks like in a real live (and published) setting; and, all the way through it gives friendly reminders about the basic elements of the English language and how to identify and use them to improve your writing.

Really nice.

Publication details: January 2017, Oxford University Press, Oxford, paperback
This copy: received from the publisher for possible review

Thursday, 19 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Lisa Heathfield

Lisa Heathfield, author of the emotionally charged and spellbinding Carnegie nominated Paper Butterflies, joins us today to talk a little about her novel.

Lisa Heathfield, author of Paper Butterflies
WSD: Bicycles hold a significant value for characters in Paper Butterflies. What was so 'dear' to you when you were a teenager (or now, if you can't remember)?

Lisa Heathfield: I know that it's a bit obvious to say it, but books were always my most important possessions as a teen. The all held precious words and worlds. I still never bend a spine or fold pages!

WSD: If someone gave you a paper sculpture, what do you wish it would be?

Lisa Heathfield: My perfect paper sculpture would have to be of our three sons. Although, I think that'd be fairly impossible even for Blister, so failing that I'd opt for a Scottish mountain.

WSD: Do monsters exist?

Lisa Heathfield: I don't think that anyone is born bad, but so called 'monsters' are created out of circumstance. If all children had the very basics of being looked after and loved, then many 'monsters' would never exist. There's a cycle of abuse, where the child who has suffered often acts out that very same abuse in adulthood - the way to break it is to talk about it, blast it out into the open where the secrets have nowhere to hide.

WSD: In my review, I omitted to mention anything about race although June's abuse was often linked directly to her being 'black'. Would you like to say more about 'racism' as a theme in Paper Butterflies?

Lisa Heathfield: Writing about racism in Paper Butterflies was never a conscious decision. June appeared to me one day and asked me to tell her story. She was as clear to me as if she'd just walked into the room - feisty, guarded and strong. I didn't choose her skin colour any more than I chose her character. And it hurt to watch her suffer racism at school as much as it hurt to see her suffer at the hands of Kathleen, her step-mother. Thank goodness for her bike. Thank goodness for Blister.

WSD: June and Blister have such a deep and intense relationship. Who are some of your favourite fictional couples, either friends or lovers?

Lisa Heathfield: For me, Liesel and Rudy in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief are unforgettable. Their relationship is beautiful in a time of brutality. But it's completely heartbreaking. And I love Tessa and Adam in Jenny Downham's Before I Die. I read it years ago and cried and cried. I still think about them. I also love Saba and her brother Lugh in Blood Red Road - her fierce determination to find him in the incredible world that Moira Young created. 

WSD: Craziest thing you've ever done in a library?

Lisa Heathfield: I've never done anything crazy in a library! But seeing my book in libraries is like my craziest dream coming to life!


Paper Butterflies has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal.
Read my review here.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Zana Fraillon

I loved Zana Fraillon's The Bone Sparrow, a tale about a young boy born in a refugee detention centre and a young rural girl in Australia. The novel epitomises what I'm starting to consider my favourite elements of Australian teen/young adult fiction so I'm absolutely delighted to have asked her some questions and to share them here today.

Zan Fraillon, author of The Bone Sparrow
WSD: You've written about refugee children and your inspiration for The Bone Sparrow, and particularly Subhi. Could you say something about your inspiration for Jimmie and her story? For me, it is she that gives the book its sense of Australia.

Zana Fraillon: I really love Jimmie as a character. While she is distinctly her own self, there are many similarities between Jimmie’s life and Subhi’s life, and I think they recognise this in each other. Jimmie is growing up surrounded by grief; she has the sense of being almost forgotten by society; she is desperately trying to get a sense of her past and her family’s past so that she can step forward into the future; and despite everything, she is so strong, and so resilient.

In the same way I wanted to write about children growing up in immigration detention centres, I knew for a long time that I also wanted to write about kids growing up in a really remote area, where the usual support networks don’t exist. In Australia, there are many remote communities whose people are living in third world conditions and whose life expectancies are dramatically lower than people living in other parts of Australia. John Pilger’s amazing documentary 'Utopia' is a very eye opening insight into the conditions of many remote communities, and many people – both in and out of Australia – are not aware of this hugely important social issue. While I wasn’t able to go into great detail of this issue in The Bone Sparrow, it was something I felt I could touch upon and shed just a little light on in the context of the story. 

WSD: You've talked about the resilience of childhood and their ability to imagine and hold onto a 'someday'. When you were a child, what was one of your 'somedays' that you dreamed about?

Zana Fraillon: My someday was all about travel and getting away. I imagined the far away places I would discover – remote places, away from everyone and everything, wild, natural places where I could be completely myself. I always wanted to have kids of my own and imagined a large, gloriously happy family full of kids and dogs. On a recent trip overseas we went to Ireland, and while travelling through the countryside there, I felt an incredible sense of being ‘home’. This was exactly the kind of place I imagined my ‘someday’ unfolding. There is still time…

WSD: You've mentioned being a fan of Isabel Allende (yes!) and discovering magical realism through her and how it finds a place in your books. Can you say a bit about what draws you to magical realism (and do you think there's more magic or more realism in it)?

Zana Fraillon: I have always been drawn to magic. That idea that there are other worlds and other existences and other possibilities just hiding in the shadows is so exciting! As a kid I slept curled up with a garden gnome (who still lives with me, although no longer shares my bed) and used to climb out my second story window and leap across to a huge tree that grew outside and was definitely full of fairies. I suppose magical realism gives me a way, now I no longer have a fairy tree outside my window, of believing that there just may be magic in this very real world we live in. I am not at all religious, so perhaps this is my religion of sorts! This was another bonus for us when we visited Ireland – where we stayed had a lot of information regarding the Sidhe (the fairy people of Ireland) who, in some parts, are very much believed in, and respected and feared. I love this idea. The notion that you have to divert a road to go around a fairy thorn, rather than cut down the tree and risk the Sidhe’s wrath – it was a little like living in a story, where anything is possible because the world is more than what it seems.

I think the reason I love magical realism, but rarely enjoy fantasy, is because of the wonderful balance between the magic and real. There is that sense that the magical phenomenon could almost be explained by other, more real worldly explanations, but then, perhaps, just perhaps, they really are magic…I love that feeling of not knowing, and then that freedom of giving in to the magic. It gets me excited just thinking about it!

WSD: If someone gave you a necklace, what would you like it to be and why?

Zana Fraillon: Something with a story behind it. Something that has passed through countless hands, had hopes and dreams whispered into it, been rubbed in excitement or anxiety or fear. I majored in history at university and am very much drawn to the ghosts of places and things. I quite often (much in the same way Jimmie does) sit on a rock and imagine all the other people that have sat on that very same rock, trying to fly my imagination as far back as it will go, trying to breathe in that person’s story. So an old necklace. A simple necklace, but one that has something to say…

WSD: Please tell us about the mysterious passageways of Melbourne!

Zana Fraillon: I wish I knew more about them! But Melbourne, as with most cities, has an incredible hidden history. There is a huge network of underground tunnels and drains – there is talk of an old, beautifully decorated train station right under what is now the CBD, although its exact whereabouts is currently unknown. There are alleyways and hideouts of local criminal gangs from the turn of the century, and then other smaller laneways that you can wander down and suddenly find yourself surrounded by quite incredible, and usually surreal, street art that makes you feel as though you have stepped into another world all together. And of course there are then all those doors – the ones that are in odd walls, or at curious heights or are just a very strange size for a door, and they make you wonder where they lead, and who are they for and why are all these people walking past without noticing?! But all of them, the lanes and the passageways and the tunnels and the doors – they all have stories in them, just waiting for us to discover.

Thank you so much, Zana, and wishing you all the best for reaching your 'someday'!

The Bone Sparrow is published in UK paperback today and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal,

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber
Katherine Webber's debut novel, Wing Jones, is a delicious mix of ingredients. Based in 1990s Atlanta, the main teen characters are all mixed race or black, there's an inter-racial relationship, there's binge drinking and suspenseful moments of gun-toting. But, there's also - and primarily - a naive and painfully vilified fifteen year old girl who is relentlessly bullied, is mocked by her loving Ghanaian and Chinese grandmothers, has a girlhood crush on her popular brother's best friend, and she calls on her dragon and lioness to help her through the most tragic events of her life.  Wrap all of this up in Jessica Ennis 'this girl can' attitudes to sport and sprinkle with happy bliss. Then you've met Wing Jones.

Wing Jones is a pleasure to read. Katherine Webber's writing flows, and she creates immediately likeable characters. Prejudiced attitudes to race and what constitutes criminal activity form central parts of the story without being tackled as 'issues'. The tragic event*, which provides a plot turning point, covers an issue I don't think I've seen in YA before (I'm sure it is out there though) and is tragically very real. Curiously, and despite these elements of the plot (which were my favourite), the overall tone in Wing Jones is cosily warm and those who love cute couples will no doubt be charmed.

*See below for small plot spoiler about the tragic event......

Publication details: 5 January 2017, Walker Books, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof from the publisher for review

Caution: Plot spoiler follows.

Plot spoiler

Plot spoiler.

Tragic event: drinking and driving