The Round Table revisited

Julia Golding joins us to explain why the Arthurian myths and legends provided such fantastic material for her heart-stopping new fantasy adventure trilogy, Young Knights

julia goldingStrange and terrible things happen to humans who come in to contact with the Fey.

Kidnap.

Enchantment.

Time Travel.

War.

These are just a few of the options and—as traditional storytellers have realized—fantastic material for tales.  And all of them happen at some point to the young characters in my new trilogy, Young Knights, starting this April with Young Knights of the Round Table.

I’m really excited to be back in fantasy territory as it was where I started as a writer with the Companions Quartet, my first series with OUP.  In those books I set about reinterpreting mythical creatures to tell a story for the age of climate change. My animal-lover daughter was the initial audience and influenced the theme.  Now I’m writing for my two boys so have headed into knight territory. The British literary inheritance I decided to ‘reboot’ is the collection of the Arthurian stories and folk tales of the Fey, with their wonderful mix of human politics, heroics and magic, but bring them bang up to date by confronting them in our modern age.

Changelings

The process of writing the books really began with a question.  In the many stories of changelings—Fey children left in the place of human babies—what happened to the human child who was taken?

The next question was what was the motive of the Fey to do this?  It had to be more than mischief surely?

After lots of long country walks to think it through…

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A strange woodland creature discovered on one of my walks

…I decided the answer was that the Fey had a political struggle going on in their world (Avalon) and used our world for their more troublesome exiles.  Being sent to Earth was the equivalent of Stalin sending you to Siberia.  To keep the particle balance between the realms, they had to take a child back or risk implosion of the space/time.  These humans have been kept locked up in a prison camp being fed the lie that they had been thrown out by their parents and are about to be sent back on a mission.

Time Travel

The next gift of legend was the fact that life in the realm of the Fey runs much slower than here—in other words, you can time travel.  As the Welsh story of Gitto Bach, the German Peter Claus the Goatherd, or American Rip Van Winkle attest, if you go to the land of the Fey or fall under their spell, you can find a hundred years have passed in what for you was an instant.  I decided to set a standard time of one Fey year to a human hundred.  This meant a boy taken from Anglo Saxon England would be thirteen now. Trained by the Fey as a secret agent to infiltrate our world, he is going to have some fun and games fitting in with modern teenagers.  That leads to some intriguing comic possibilities.

And it also explains how Arthur can come back as promised us by the legend.  If he has been in Avalon since around the fourth century, only sixteen years or so have passed.  He may have been a bit bashed up in the final battle, but fully recovered he is just waiting for his summons.  You could argue that he’s a little old maybe, but I take solace from the fact that David Beckham has just signed with Paris Saint-Germain at thirty-seven, so there’s hope for King Arthur yet!

julia golding

Julia Golding is a multi-award winning writer for children and young adults.  Former British diplomat and Oxfam policy adviser, she has now published over thirty books in genres ranging from historical adventure to fantasy.  Read carefully and you’ll spot all sorts of material from her diplomatic and Oxfam careers popping up in unexpected places.  She has a doctorate in English literature from Oxford.  Studying for this prompted her to write her first novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane, set in 1790 and told by her intrepid heroine, Cat Royal.  It went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2006 and the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize 2006 (formerly known as the Smarties Prize). In the US, Secret of the Sirens won the honor book medal of the Green Earth Book Award.  Dragonfly won the 2012 Beehive Book Award, Young Adult Division, given by the Children’s Literature Association of Utah and voted on by readers in schools and public libraries.  She is also a Fellow of the English Association.  For Young Adults, she writes on the names Joss Stirling and Eve Edwards. Over half a million of her books have been sold worldwide in many languages.

Visit Julia’s website.

Find Julia on Facebook and Twitter.

The first book in the Young Knights trilogy, Young Knights at the Round Table, is out in April.

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The second book, Young Knights: Pendragon is out in October.

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Christopher Nibble: the greenest guinea pig in town

Author and illustrator Charlotte Middleton introduces the wonderful Christopher Nibble’s latest eco-adventure!

Coming up with an idea for the next Christopher Nibble story was a bit of a challenge.

We’ve already established that Christopher is a plucky, forward thinking and considerate guinea pig.  In his adventures so far he’s prevented the whole town of Dandeville from running out of their staple food – dandelions (Christopher Nibble).

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And in Christopher’s Caterpillars, he has learnt to nurture caterpillars, so that they can flourish and turn into magical butterflies, as they flutter right before our eyes out from Mr Rosetti’s café window.

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So what for the next tale of Christopher Nibble? So far Christopher’s world has been about the natural cycle of life. His home town Dandeville is a very green and harmonious world and Christopher likes to help keep it that way.

In the next story, then, Christopher would surely be encouraging the residents of Dandeville to help him in his next environmentally-friendly quest, whatever that might be…

It all boiled down in the end to the word ‘cycle’.  Christopher’s world is all about sustainability so ‘ recycling’  seemed to be the way forward  and what better way to propel this guinea pig into the next story book, than with a recycled bicycle!

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Now Christopher was well and truly on the road to his new adventure! In this story we revisit Mr Rosetti in his cafe and we meet some new characters along the way, as Christopher spots recycling opportunities all over town.  With the help of his sister and Posie his neighbour, they come up with some brilliant ideas and set to work turning old rubbish into something useful and wonderful!

The young guinea pigs have worked their magic again and ignited the interest of all the residents of Dandeville and hopefully some aspiring young readers too!

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Charlotte Middleton

At school, Charlotte loved drawing and would regularly illustrate her spelling and times tables test papers. She went on to study Graphic Art and Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. Her first book, Tabitha’s Terrifically Tough Tooth, was published in 1998 and since then she has written and illustrated more than a dozen books. Her stories have been sold all over the world and Charlotte would love to be as well-travelled as her books one day.

www.charlottemiddleton.com

Christopher’s Bicycle is out now.

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Join Christopher in his other eco-adventures, Christopher Nibble and Christopher’s Caterpillars.

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4 authors, 4 cities, 1 roadshow: access all areas behind the scenes at OUP’s Author Roadshow

Geraldine McCaughrean, Tim Bowler, Sally Prue, and Gillian Cross are four incredibly talented and inspirational authors who we are very proud to have on our list. With all four authors having new titles published this spring, an ideal opportunity arose to gather this awesome foursome, so we challenged them to a four day roadshow of events across the U.K. and Ireland.

It all began on one chilly afternoon in the fair city of Dublin travelling with groupies from the Publicity and Marketing team. . .

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Destination Dublin

It’s never a good start to a tour to have 3 of your 4 authors missing! (Note to self, always find out before travelling if the airport you are arriving at has two terminals!) Authors found, we voyaged on to the Pearse Street library, a beautiful location for the first evening event of the week.

Preparation, preparation, preparation – an essential element of making sure that an event runs as smoothly as possible. Whether it’s making sure that authors have a drink to hand (obviously non-alcoholic until after the event!), setting up sound or visuals, or checking that there are books available to buy. The time before an event always whizzes past with a mild case of anxiety ever brewing until all the audience are in and the event is underway. Thankfully, due to the organisational skills of Liz Scott, freelance publicist extraordinaire, no detail had been left uncovered in planning for the roadshow and preparation was completely panic free.

Dublin’s event was chaired by the delightful Robert Dunbar, a regular reviewer of children’s books for The Irish Times, Books for Keeps, and The School Librarian. Robert had many thoughts surrounding each of the books, and did a fabulous job of reeling in the audience to the characters and stories from each author.

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The evening included:

  • Reference to a quote from Albert Einstein “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” and how this relates to the importance of Matt’s bike in After Tomorrow, Gillian Cross’s new title.
  • Discussing Geraldine McCaughrean’s motto for writing (according to Wikipedia!): “do not write about what you know, write about what you want to know.”
  • Uncovering Tim Bowler’s fascination for sea stories, including real life survival stories.
  • Revealing the inspiration behind Sally Prue’s Song Hunter and its autobiographical roots. (Read more about this in Sally’s recent blog post!)

A special moment at any event is hearing an author reading from their book. For these events, each author chose a reading of around three minutes to give a sense of the tone and characters from the novel. It’s always exciting hearing how an author can bring their own writing to life, especially when you hear them reading such dramatic lines as ‘She was sure now that it was the face she had seen before’ (Sea of Whispers, Tim Bowler) and ‘Mid-flight, the sun went out’ (Song Hunter, Sally Prue).

Our evening came to a close with audience questions, a couple of glasses of wine and mingling with our guests, followed by a well-earned dinner and collapsing in a heap at the hotel at a respectable time of 10.30pm. Rock and roll!

Onwards to Glasgow

The day began at an early hour flying to Glasgow at 10am, under the threat of snow in both Ireland and Scotland. Thankfully, although snow did cause rush hour chaos in Glasgow, our flight was unaffected and we were in a suitably warm and cosy public house enjoying haggis and Cullen skink by lunchtime.

A short break in the schedule for a couple of hours of rest and then we were onwards to the magnificent Mitchell library.

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Taking the role of chair for our Glasgow event was the Children & Education Programme Director for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Janet Smyth.  Our second evening included:

  • A discussion as to why using a varied and large vocabulary within children’s literature is so important for children’s language acquisition.
  • Discussing whether our authors write with a child audience in mind.
  • Audience questions around audio book editions, top children’s book recommendations, and whether the authors had read and enjoyed each other’s books! (The answer being a resounding yes from all four authors!)

With such an enthusiasm for children’s books, it’s clear to see that this year’s Edinburgh Festival is in very safe hands. Janet did a fantastic job of chairing, drawing together similarities across the author’s new titles and highlighting just what a huge area there is for children’s writers to experiment in.

Our trip to Glasgow was wrapped up with a rather filling curry. Being on the road is not the place to watch calories!

Moving on to Manchester

Midway through the week and it was time for a staff switchover! With an impending sales conference in Oxford (to present books publishing later in the year to our sales reps) it was time for Nicola and Harriet to head back to Oxford, with Jennie taking over the roadshow reins in Manchester. Once joined by aforementioned freelance publicist extraordinaire, Liz Scott, we all made our way to the venue for the evening’s event – Manchester Metropolitan University’s Geoffrey Manton Building, a hotbed of creativity and talent we were soon to discover!

On arrival we were introduced to our host for the evening, Kaye Tew, Director of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and creative writing course tutor at the university, and to the chairperson, Jacqueline Roy, author and senior lecturer in English and creative writing.

After finding out lots more about the Manchester Children’s Book Festival – a biennial celebration of reading which began in 2010 – and hearing inspiring stories of some of the students who study the creative writing course, it was time for the discussion to begin!

Discoveries this evening:

  •  Jacqueline admitted that she cheated and read the end of Gillian’s book because she just couldn’t wait until the end
  • Gillian admitted that to avoid procrastinating she has resorted to using ‘Write or Die’, a word-eating app that deletes your work if you become distracted for too long
  • Sally admitted that a childhood teacher was responsible for her realisation that she didn’t have to be boring
  • Tim admitted to seeing pictures in his mind – the inspiration for many of his stories
  • and Geraldine admitted to having been politely prompted by the Theatre Royal in Margate to write a book about the town

…and that was quite enough revelations for one night!

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Book signing, canapés, and drinks ensued, followed by dinner and a dash back to the hotel to get some shut-eye before the final day of the roadshow. Alarms went off, breakfasts were eaten, and in the blink of an eye we were safely on the station platform at Manchester Piccadilly boarding the train to Bristol – no rest for the wicked!

Bring on Bristol

Our final venue of the week was Bristol Central Library, a beautiful building not too far from the historic Bristol Harbourside. Hosted here by the wonderfully organised Margaret Pemberton, librarian at Bristol School Library Service, the event was the perfect high note on which to end the week! The children’s library is home to its very own book-ship – HMS Book Trove – aboard which our authors duly climbed, along with our chairperson Julia Green (in fact another children’s author also published by Oxford University Press making our talented quartet a quintet)!

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Julia Green also happens to be course director of Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing for Young People, and after her expert chairing of the evening’s discussion it was fascinating to hear questions from her current students, including ‘Do you find it difficult to show your writing to close friends and family?’ It was surprising to hear all authors answer that they didn’t find it difficult, and that sometimes it’s best to hear trying feedback from those closest to you!

With the evening drawing to a close, and our four authors having journeyed to the four corners of the earth – well, Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester, and Bristol at least – it was time to begin the farewells, which is always the saddest part.

It was truly fantastic week, and without the generosity of all the hosts, chairpersons, booksellers and of course the authors involved, not forgetting our fantastic audiences, it couldn’t have happened, so wishing them all a very big thank you for giving up their time and energy and making it one rollicking roadshow to remember…until next time!

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Written by Nicola Gray, Marketing Manager and Jennie Younger, Publicity Executive

Books and authors featured:

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Tim Bowler, Sea of Whispers

Tim explores our relationship with the sea in this recent blog post.

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Gillian Cross, After Tomorrow

Gillian speaks about the unexpected beginnings of After Tomorrow here.

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Geraldine McCaughrean, The Positively Last Performance

Read Geraldine’s post about her experience of writing the novel.

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Sally Prue, Song Hunter

Sally explains the influence of her childhood on Song Hunter in her recent blog post.

Lovesick? We recommend falling in love with someone fictional…

St. Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate romance and all things lovey-dovey. Here at OUP, we’re feeling the lurrve and revelling in the romance of some of our teen titles: Seeking Crystal, Firelight, and Rachel Riley. We thought you might like to share the loving…

It started with a kiss

9780192793515_SEEKING_CRYSTAL_CVR_OCT12Let us begin with the excitement of a first kiss and head to Seeking Crystal by Joss Stirling for some tantalising tonsil tennis. Here comes a first kiss for two savants, Xav and Crystal, destined to be together, but who first have to get past the stage of despising each other to such a level of hatred that we all know ultimately leads to them being a perfect match. Their first kiss comes on the set of a film, where they have been directed in their roles as extras to act the part of lovers.

This time I promised myself I’d resist Xav’s spell and notice Steve Hughes going past but then Xav’s lips touched mine and all other thoughts fled. His kiss was incredibly soft and tender.

Tingles ran from my mouth and down my spine, radiating to every inch of my body. My bones seemed to melt and I could do nothing but hold on to him with that perfect point of contact joining us. Cold dry ice whirled around my ankles. Warm arms enfolded me, keeping me upright. A hand cradled my head in just the right position to deepen the kiss, lips exploring, touching the curve of my jaw, the column of my neck. I was so enthralled that I had not even heard James shout ‘cut’.

Is this all how on/off screen romances begin? Just a note to any casting agents or directors out there, if you ever work on a film of Seeking Crystal I am more than happy to audition for the part of Crystal should you have Bradley Cooper cast as Xav. (Oh come on, it’s Valentine’s Day, a girl can dream.)

The heat of the moment

9780192756510_FIRELIGHT_CVR_SEP12Sometimes just a look is enough to spark a ‘moment’. Take Jacinda in Firelight by Sophie Jordan. Jacinda is a draki, a descendent of dragons with the power to shift into human form. When, in dragon form, she meets Will, a draki hunter, she knows she should avoid him at all costs. But Will stirs something deep within Jacinda, as we see in the following extract where Jacinda first sees Will when in her human form.

He leans against the lockers, taller than everyone around him. Twirly-hair Brooklyn plays with the hem of his shirt, shamelessly leaning into him, glossy lips moving nonstop. He smiles, nods, listens as she chatters, but I sense that he doesn’t really care, that he’s somewhere else . . . or wants to be. Just like me.

I can’t look away.

Honey brown hair falls over his brow carelessly, and I remember it darkly wet and slicked back from his face. I remember the two of us alone in a cave, his hand on mine and that spark that passed between us before his face became so stark and angry. Before he vanished.

Tamra sighs beside me and twists around to see. ‘Ah,’ she murmurs knowingly. ‘Yummy. Too bad though. It looks like he’s got a girlfriend. You’ll have to set your sights on someone else—’ Facing me, she gasps. ‘Jace! You’re glowing!’ That jerks my attention back. I glance down at my arms.

My skin blurs in and out, shimmering faintly, like I’ve been dusted with gold. The draki in me stirs, tingling, yearning to come out.

Steamy stuff. Forbidden love has never been hotter. Quite literally.

Admiration from afar

9780192794512_RACHEL_RILEY_MY_SO_CALLED_LIFE_CVR_JAN13If you need a hint or two in how to attract the attention of someone that you have longed for from afar, then please don’t take Rachel Riley’s advice. In My So-Called Life by Joanna Nadin, Rachel believes she has found the key to bonding with her current fixation, Justin, through a shared love of chocolate.

Wednesday 19 January

Scarlet has tracked Justin down to Mr Patel’s opposite the lower school gates. He goes there with Jack at lunchtime. Under interrogation from Scarlet, Jack has disclosed that he buys a Coke (full fat) and a Snickers. I am going to start eating Snickers to bond with him. I hope I am not allergic to peanuts. Ooh, if I was, though, he could heroically give me mouth to mouth when I collapse on Mr Patel’s sticky lino.

Thursday 20

Went to Mr Patel’s at lunch and bought a Snickers, right in front of Justin and Sophie. But it turns out I am not allergic to peanuts. For a minute I thought I might be because I went all red and started coughing, but it turned out that a peanut had lodged in my throat. Sad Ed hit me on the back and the peanut flew out onto Sophie Jacobs’s pink puffa. Sophie said, ‘Gross, you loser’; Justin flicked the peanut on the floor for Sophie; Jack smiled and said, ‘Nice one, Riley’; and I stood there with Snickers dribble running down my chin. It was not the bonding moment I had hoped for.

And it is on this slightly odd dribble filled note that I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day and hope that you find a way to say I love you to that special someone that involves something less dramatic that getting a peanut stuck in your throat!

Written by Nicola Atkinson, Marketing ManagerNicola pic

Half term activities for dinosaur-mad children

Kathy Webb, Managing Editor here at OUP Children’s Books, and editor of the fantastic Dinosaur Cove series, shares some dino-tastic diversions for half term!

Kathy WebbIf you’re anything like me, you’ll approach the half term holidays with mixed emotions. If you’re lucky enough to have some time off work, it’s great. Otherwise there’s the usual hunt for holiday playschemes, flexible working hours and willing friends and relatives to get you through the week. But even when you do have some time off to enjoy with your children, there’s then the dilemma of what on earth to do with them to keep them amused for a whole day/week! And preferably something that won’t cost too much money.

Museums are the obvious place to go and I have spent many a happy hour in my local natural history museum looking at the amazing dinosaur skeletons with my dinosaur-mad son. And then there’s the library—where we’d seek out all the dinosaur-based books we could find. So when I started work on the Dinosaur Cove series I knew that these books were going to be a real hit with dinosaur fans everywhere. My son is eleven-years-old now, but I think even at this age I might be able to persuade him to have a go at making his own erupting volcano or, better still, some edible dinosaur poo! So why not unleash some dinosaur-based activities on your children this half term and have some fun with dung!

DINO POO RECIPE

Activity taken from the new Dinosaur Cove Cretaceous Survival Guide, out now.

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New editions of the first three books in the Dinosaur Cove series are also out now, with lovely new covers, and free collector cards and a bookmark inside.

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Visit the new Dinosaur Cove website for lots more fun and games to keep the children entertained over half term. They can:

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Margate, a favourite haunt for visitors: Geraldine McCaughrean and the making of The Positively Last Performance

The inimitable Geraldine McCaughrean shares her experience of writing The Positively Last Performance, her wonderful new novel about a seaside town and a theatre full of ghosts, each with their own story to tell.

GeraldineFirst it was Turner, then Tracey Emin.  Even the Rough Guide put it among the world’s ten top resorts.  Karl Marx and T. S. Eliot visited (though Eliot hated it, and I can’t see it made much impact on Marxism).  Now it’s my turn.  I’m the one commending the town of Margate—by way of a novel.

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Two years ago I had a phone call from Will, Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Margate.  He asked how to set about finding someone who’d write such a book, then donate some of the proceeds to the Theatre.   Taking this broad hint, I asked if it was likely to become a play afterwards and (taking this equally broad hint) Will said he didn’t see why not.   Game on.

I called the town Seashaw.  Well, the Bong Shop in the book is not quite the one on Margate High Street.  The ‘Royal Theatre’ is not quite the Theatre Royal.  Rockers probably never met the mechanical elephant . . . Better to change the name, than incite irate letters.  Anyone who knows Margate will recognise it.   But, equally, anyone who’s holidayed in any British seaside town will recognise Seashaw.

I benefitted from the best research source of all—the locals.  Two Margate ‘residences’ combined school sessions with information-gathering. The children were better than any guidebook. (Guidebooks don’t mention the autographed photo of Tiger Woods in the Palm Cafe, the tin-can shop, or the man who always wears yellow).  I also visited Dreamland, the Museum, arcades, caves, beaches, graveyards.  And theatres, of course. Because this book’s about theatre, too.

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The Positively Last Performance is set in ‘The Royal’.   After a lifetime eschewing ghost stories, I finally succumbed.   All ‘The Royal’s’ ghosts have back-stories they would rather not tell; over the years they have settled into a comfortable, comforting routine, like oysters into a mudbank. But interloper Gracie ruthlessly prises them open one by one, so out spill the stories.

History’s genuine hiccups and absurdities always throw up better storylines than staring into space does, or forking over personal experience.   And astonishing things have happened to Margate:  the sea came half a mile inshore;  Mods and Rockers invaded like Visigoths;  TB patients died under the stars; tens of thousands of Londoners arrived every summer, by steamer, in search of a good time, and then abruptly . . . didn’t.

A cartoon’s caption sums up the town’s social status in Victorian times:

“Good Lord, madam, you must never think of going!  It is so low class and vulgar!”

But naturally, those gaudy, bawdy days are long gone. Modern-day Margate has been blessed with investment and fine art!

Yes, and sea silt, arson, an out-of-town retail park that killed the town centre, love-it-or-hate-it high-rise, and urban seagulls big as dogs.

It was a funny book to write: the children’s recommendations included Primark, Macdonald’s, one-armed bandits, and going to Ramsgate instead.

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It was a poignant book to write—got unbelievably more so as it went along.  While T. S. Eliot’s promenade shelter was being repainted a classy green, demolition workers were smashing up the cheap-and-cheerful arcades to make way for a Tesco.  The bucket-and-spade shops were being painted . . . and closed down, for fear their vulgarity detract from the Turner Contemporary.

A year later, arts-funding cuts halted Theatre Royal’s unrivalled community outreach.  Indeed, Will and all his team suddenly became an unaffordable luxury.

So, while I wove my optimistic fiction, real-life Kentish dreams unravelled in hanks.   If only happy endings were as easy to achieve in life as in a novel.

But I’m so glad of the initiative!  Without it I would never have written The Positively Last Performance.  A book’s origins have nothing to do with its worth or how it turns out. The Positively Last Performance will always and obstinately believe in better times ahead.  And readers need to go on believing in those.  So do authors.

Geraldine

Geraldine McCaughrean has written 165 books, from first-readers and picture books to adult novels.  Her awards include the CILIP Carnegie Medal, Whitbread Children’s Fiction Award,  Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, Smarties Prize and America’s prestigious Printz Award.

In addition to fourteen children’s novels, five adult novels and many stories collections and plays for younger children, she has retold myths, legends and inaccessible classics such as Moby Dick and Gilgamesh.  She is the author short plays for schools, plus radio drama and stage plays.

Her best known book is Peter Pan in Scarlet,  official sequel to J M Barrie’s classic, instigated by Great Ormond Street Hospital and published simultaneously around the world in 2006.

The Positively Last Performance is out now.

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The Mammoth in the Room: Sally Prue and Song Hunter

Sally Prue on the influence of her childhood on her latest novel, Song Hunter: the story of a girl at the dawn of the Ice Age.

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‘Hm,’ said my husband Roger. ‘This is a very autobiographical novel, isn’t it.’

Now the startling thing about Roger’s comment is that the book in question was my novel Song Hunter; and Song Hunter is not only a book inhabited almost entirely by Neanderthals, but it’s set 40,000 years ago at the beginning of the last Ice Age.

So, you may ask, were you brought up in a cave? Eating mammoths?

Oh, and just think of the publicity if only I could answer yes. Sadly, however, I was brought up in a 1930s semi-detached house eating mostly, as seem to I recall, custard.

Song Hunter is a very autobiographical novel, though, all the same. Amanda Craig from The Times described the book as a clash between species, and that does describe my childhood brilliantly.

So, were you brought up by wild dogs, then?

Ponies?

Er … hedgehogs?

Well, I think that probably ostriches would be the nearest I could get. The thing is, I turned out to be not at all what my family was expecting.

I suppose I must have seemed all right to start with, when my parents adopted me, but I was only six months old at the time and couldn’t talk. Learning to talk was when the trouble started.

Why? I asked, constantly. Why? Why?

My mother did her best to keep me … what? Respectable? Acceptable? Perhaps merely quiet; but putting a lid on me just sent me shooting frantically in ever crazier directions, like rhubarb.

The basic trouble was that my mother didn’t understand the word why. To be quite frank, she didn’t even get reality in the way most of us understand the word.

Her assumption, as far as I could ever make it out, was that everything in her world was exactly as she wanted it to be.

That meant that I couldn’t trust a word she said. It wasn’t that she told lies, I don’t think she often did that; it was more that for her, reality was nothing to do with, well, facts. For instance, she was always adamant that her hair was fair. It was actually dark brown (she didn’t dye it: as far as she was concerned there was no need). It was just that she liked the idea of having fair hair, and so as far as she was concerned that was what she had.

Yes, it is hard to believe. It was hard to accept, too. Soon, instead of just saying why, I started saying but, as well. Things got extremely frustrating. We were each doggedly defending our own view of the world while at the same time threatening to blow the other’s sky-high.

I grew incensed and fretful, and my mother coped by dismissing more or less everything I valued. Music (nothing like as good as Victor Sylvester (she’d once danced with Victor Sylvester, she said—and, indeed, she may have done)); art (can’t draw) poetry (just words that rhyme) books (keep her quiet).

And how did it all turn out in the end?  Did my poor mother ever win me over to her world-view?

Well, no, of course she didn’t. She inspired me to rebellion. She made me passionate about the importance of both logic and the arts. She made me cling onto books and pictures and music and plays as my greatest treasures. She made me quite evangelical about them, especially as far as poor family-imprisoned children were concerned.

My mother convinced me that the more real and beautiful something was, the more it was worth fighting for.

So, yes, my husband Roger was right. Song Hunter, which is about living in a family which doesn’t even wish to understand its children, and also about art transforming and even saving lives, is a very autobiographical story indeed.

sally prue

Sally Prue is a writer for children of all ages, from picture books up to Young Adult fiction.

Her novel Cold Tom won the Branford Boase prize and the Smarties Silver Award, and The Truth Sayer was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book Prize.

Her day jobs have included being a Time and Motion person, an accompanist, and a piano and recorder teacher.

Sally is married, has two grown up daughters, and lives on the edge of a small but very beautiful wood in Hertfordshire.

Sally can be found at The Word Den blog, Song Hunter blog, and at www.sallyprue.co.uk.

Song Hunter is out now.

Visit the Song Hunter blog, where Sally has been sharing fascinating insights into the Ice Age based on her research.

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The many faces of the sea: Tim Bowler and Sea of Whispers

The wonderful Tim Bowler writes on our relationship with the sea, as explored in his latest novel, Sea of Whispers: a haunting tale of love, loss, courage, and mystery in a beautifully-evoked remote island setting.

Tim BowlerI am writing this blog piece from a favourite spot: a high nest in a little town perched above the sea on the south coast of England. I come here regularly by myself to write, and I do write, pages and pages that give themselves readily in this marine solitude; yet whenever I come, the same thing always happens: for every word I write, I find an equivalent portion of my attention is being drawn from the story in progress to a contemplation of the sea.

I have long since given up trying to resist it. There’s something that the sea has, or does, or is, and I am not the only person who finds in it an echo of our human mystery. Hetty in Sea of Whispers is drawn to it too, though her obsession comes at a price and the messages it gives her are mixed. She feels the loss of her parents and in her island life sees the pain of this daily embodied in what she has come to call the ghost water, yet the sea gives her courage too, not just through the dangers it forces upon her, but in the challenge it offers to the deepest part of her to search for meaning and hope.

I love the many faces of the sea. As I look upon it now from my writing nest, the surface is grey and calm, yet the last time I sat here the water shone like a diamond, and the time before that it was skittish and playful. A few hours later it was crashing so heavily on the shore I could have sworn it was trying to destroy me. I know this is false. The sea has no design upon us and certainly no need of us. Yet we need the sea, I would argue, not just for its practical uses, but for the emotional resonance it gives us. What we perceive in the sea, whether real or imagined, can transform us. Hetty has known this all her life.

As I finish this blog piece, the sea is changing again. It is the ultimate shapeshifter, the ultimate illusionist: always different, always the same. The calmness has gone now and I can see waves forming in clusters. I remember a man who said he always meditated when he saw the sea. He imagined it was infinity and pictured himself as a bubble floating within it. I can see more waves now, bigger and more restless, and a line of foam stretching along the shore. It is time to go.

Tim Bowler

Tim Bowler is one of the UK’s most compelling and original writers for teenagers. He was born in Leigh-on-Sea and after studying Swedish at University he worked in forestry, the timber trade, teaching and translating before becoming a full-time writer. He lives with his wife in a small village in Devon and his workroom is an old stone outhouse known to friends as ‘Tim’s Bolthole’.

Tim has won fifteen awards for his many novels, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for River Boy. His provocative Blade series has been hailed as a groundbreaking work of fiction. He has been described by the Sunday Telegraph as ‘the master of the psychological thriller’ and by the Independent as ‘one of the truly individual voices in British teenage fiction’.

www.timbowler.co.uk

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Find out more about Sea of Whispers, out now.

Writing reality: Gillian Cross on After Tomorrow

Award-winning author Gillian Cross writes about the inspiration for her latest novel, After Tomorrow – a dark survival thriller scarily close to home . . .

Gillian CrossIdeas can come from very unexpected places.  After Tomorrow takes place in England and France, but it started with a picture of boys in Africa.

I was doing some work with a charity called CORD, putting together an information pack about the lives of Sudanese refugees in Chad.  One of the pictures we used was a photo of boys kicking a football – made out of plastic bags.

How clever was that?

I thought a lot about those boys – and about their parents, who taught in the camp schools or started up small businesses to provide services to other refugees.   Would I be able to cope as well as they did?

Then, one day, I suddenly thought: Suppose it was English boys kicking that ball around.  Suppose we had to be refugees . . . 

And that was when Matt and Taco jumped into my head.  They were squashed into the back of a forty foot truck with a crowd of strangers.  Making a mad dash to get through the Channel Tunnel – before it was too late.  I could see them clearly – and I knew I was going to write their story.

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But what was their story?  What made them run away from their home when they had nowhere else to go?  It had to be because life in the UK was breaking down.  Why?  The reason had to be something simple and devastating – and very easy to explain.

Like the collapse of the pound.

That seemed a far-fetched idea (surely no major currency would ever collapse again?) but it was exactly what I needed.  I plunged into the book, inventing the phrase ‘Armageddon Monday’ for the day when the crisis took hold.    That was in early 2010.  Within months, the news was full of the euro crisis and ‘Armageddon’ suddenly became the latest buzz word.

That felt creepy.   My book seemed to be getting more serious every day.  I shuddered – but I kept writing, trying to imagine what it would be like if the pound did collapse.  Riots, I thought.  There would be riots all over the country.   A bit melodramatic, maybe, but I wrote them into the story.

Six months later, in August 2011, riots exploded across the UK.

That was very creepy.  But there was even more to come.  I’d written about the French President closing his country’s borders to British refugees from the UK.  I worried about doing that, in case people thought it was ridiculously implausible.  Everyone knows, after all, that citizens of EU countries have a right to live anywhere in the EU.  But I needed the closure, to make Matt and Taco’s escape as difficult and dramatic as possible.  So I put it in anyway.

In July 2012, when the book was finished, I went to an OUP sales conference to talk about it, with a proof copy in my hand.  Just before I started speaking, someone stood up to report the latest news.  David Cameron had just announced that, if necessary he would flout EU law and close the UK’s borders to Greek economic migrants.  I almost burst into tears.

Am I clairvoyant?  Of course not.  But the whole experience confirmed what I’ve always known.  Fiction isn’t just an amusement.  It’s a powerful tool for exploring the reality around us.   Writing stories – and reading them – stretches our minds and opens us up to new ideas.

It even taught me how to make a football out of plastic bags.

Gillian Cross

Gillian Cross has been writing children’s books for over twenty years. Before that she took English degrees at Oxford and Sussex Universities, and she had various jobs including working in a bakery and being an assistant to a Member of Parliament.

She is married with four children and lives in Dorset. Her hobbies include orienteering and playing the piano. She won the Carnegie Medal for Wolf and the Smarties Prize and the Whitbread Children’s Novel Award for The Great Elephant Chase.

Visit Gillian’s website.

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After Tomorrow is out in April. Malorie Blackman has described it as “a fast-moving, incredibly exciting read. And what grips you most is that the story is scarily plausible. Highly recommended.”

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