Baddies are Best: My Top Three Supervillains of All Time

Ben Davis, YA author by day and superhero extraordinaire by night, shares his top three super villains of all time in celebration of his new series, Danny Dread.

Greetings! I’m Ben Davis – author, citizen, eater of pies – and I am here today to talk to you about my latest book, Danny Dread. It’s the swashbuckling story of a useless supervillain and his twelve year old son, who secretly wants to be a superhero.

I'm sure he'll grow out of it

I’m sure he’ll grow out of it.

Despite the embarrassing photo above, I’ve always been drawn to the baddies. When I was a kid in the playground, I would play the villain. I was the best at it. Kids would say, ‘Ben, you can be Silencio the Evil Wizard. His special power is sitting on his own in the corner quietly and not bothering us for the entire lunch break.’ And do you know something? I totally nailed it. Every single time.

Anyway, to celebrate the publication of Danny Dread, I have decided to share with you my all-time top three supervillains.

  1. The Penguin

Yeah, I could have gone for the Joker, but come on, that would be too obvious. Plus, Penguin is my favourite Batman villain. I think it’s because he does dangerous stuff and doesn’t care about the consequences.

I mean, look, he's opening an umbrella indoors. What next, walking under ladders?

I mean, look, he’s opening an umbrella indoors. What next, walking under ladders?

Another reason why he makes my top three is that he’s a psychotic criminal named after a completely harmless animal.

d3

Well, mostly harmless.

  1. My so-called best friend, Fat Barry

That’s right, Fat Barry – you are the second biggest supervillain of all time. How does it feel? You can’t say it hasn’t been a long time coming. I mean, remember my last birthday, when you got me NOTHING? Well, not nothing, it was just a scrap book filled with these really old photos of us when we were kids, but still, I bet it hardly cost you a thing. And after I got you that £5 Nandos voucher for your birthday, as well. Well, this year, you can forget it. This is your present, you evil, evil man.

  1. Dad Dread

Yeah, I’ve put my own character in at number one. Want to make something of it? Now you might be thinking that that is an incredibly boastful thing to do, and I’m only doing it so I can write ‘named best supervillain of all time by Oxford University’ on publicity materials, but hear me out.

DOWN WITH CAMBRIDGE!

DOWN WITH CAMBRIDGE!

Larry “Dad” Dread is the son of the fearsome Phileas Dread, world conqueror and now, head in a jar. Larry has spent his life trying to live up to his father’s reputation to no avail. His failed schemes have included kidnapping Donald Duck, and brainwashing all of the world’s sharks. With the latter, he failed to take into account the fact that their tiny fish brains meant that they would quickly forget that they had been brainwashed. And that is when they started to get bitey.

The book sees Larry take on a dastardly new assistant, and soon, his dreams of world domination are within his grasp. Only one person has the ability to stop him – and he is much closer to home than he thinks.

Hi!

Hi!

That is all from me – I will now return to my secret lair* to hatch some evil schemes of my own.** Goodbye!

* shed.

** hide all the stuff I “borrowed” from my so-called best friend, Fat Barry.

Danny Dread is out now.

Danny Dread

Ben2

Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by writing books for young adults. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog.

See the world of The Boxtrolls come to life!

Kathy Webb, Managing Editor at OUP Children’s Books gives us the inside track on working on the books that accompany the brand new 3D animated adventure film, The Boxtrolls – as well as the book that inspired the film.

Last Saturday I took my family and friends along to the cinema to watch the new movie, The Boxtrolls. It had only just opened in the UK and went on to be the number one film at the box office for that weekend. We all thought the movie was great—an exciting adventure, with some weird and wonderful characters, all brought to life by some truly breath-taking animation. But watching the film was like the end of a crazy and fun-filled journey for me because I had spent the last twelve months involved in putting together a range of film tie-in books to accompany the film.


9780192739308_HERE_BE_MONSTERS_CVR_OCT14
The Boxtrolls
movie is based on a book published by OUP entitled Here Be Monsters! by the hugely-talented author/illustrator Alan Snow. So when it came to publishing The Boxtrolls books, OUP were asked if they could produce them. Movie tie-in publishing is always great fun—schedules and deadlines go out of the window and all you can do is wait for the film company, Laika, to release the images you need for the books and then embark on a mad dash to put the books together and get them off to print. There’s something very satisfying about producing a book at breakneck speed!

9780192739452_BOXTROLLS_NOVEL_CVR_SEP14

Together with the movie tie-in publications (The Boxtrolls Novelisation and The Boxtrolls: Make Your Own Boxtroll Punch-out Activity Book) we also produced a new edition of the original Here Be Monsters! which, although altogether more straightforward, also had times where we were at the mercy of the film company as we waited for their approval to use The Boxtrolls logo on our new cover, for example. But in the end, like a well-oiled Boxtrolls machine, everything came together in the nick of time and the books published just prior to the film’s release.

GROUP_MEET_BOXTROLLS_LRAs I settled down in the cinema and the film began, I felt proud to have had a small part to play in the huge world of The Boxtrolls. Seeing the characters that you’ve come to know so well, burst into life on a huge screen, is really very exciting.

Working on The Boxtrolls books was a bit like the film itself—fast, furious, dramatic, sometimes scary, but above all else, just great, great fun.

The Boxtrolls is in cinemas now.

 

A perilous world for children…

Julia Lee, author of  The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth examines the different types of childhoods experienced by the children in the Victorian setting of her new book The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard.

In my latest book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, I got to plunge back into the perilous Victorian world of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth. (I have to take a deep breath even to type those long titles!)

Clemency Wrigglesworth

It’s a world where schooling is not a great priority. That might sound like fun, but in fact most children work for a living instead, as they do in my book. Their families need every penny they earn to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Gully’s family, the Marvels, have links to the theatre and their children are lucky to have jobs that reflect that. Cousin Whitby is a dancer and dance-school assistant. Nine-year-old Impey has acted on the stage and hopes for greater things in future. Gully’s job is more mundane. He’s just a delivery boy, and wishes he had a special talent like his cousins. But they all share rather adult worries about money, whether they might lose their jobs, and how to find another.

 

9780192733696_DANGEROUS_DISCOVERIES_GULLY_POTCHARD_CVR_AUG14 (2)

Having so much independence and responsibility means that children are out and about all day, unsupervised by parents – so different from now. But that also means plenty of scope in my story for adventures and chance encounters, some exciting, some alarming. Bumping into an old school-mate is the start of a scary rollercoaster of events for Gully.

There’s one character who isn’t allowed out on her own – who isn’t allowed to do very much at all, in fact. Agnes Glass comes from a wealthy family. Although her life is comfortable she’s isolated and lonely. Her over-protective mother fusses about her health. Poor Agnes can only go outside on fine days and then she must be wrapped in blankets in a little pony-cart, led by a groom, going ‘at a sedate pace and only down the quietest streets’. Not much scope for adventure there! Until she decides to do something about it…

I’ve always loved those classic children’s books like Heidi and The Secret Garden where ‘sickly’ children manage to challenge the limitations imposed by illness or disability. So I had great fun helping to prise Agnes out of her narrow world and defy her mother. When she is thrown together with Gully and Impey, there’s quite a gulf between them and lots to discover about each other’s lives. Lots to discover about themselves, too, especially as the perils begin to pile up.

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is out now.

9780192733696_DANGEROUS_DISCOVERIES_GULLY_POTCHARD_CVR_AUG14 (2)

Julia LeeJulia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine.

Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.

 

Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.

 

 

Water Vole Watching

Tom Moorhouse, an ecologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology and author of the brilliant debut The River Singers (out now in paperback) shares his tips on finding and seeing water voles in their real habitat.

The River SingersWhen I talk to classes of children in schools, I always ask them the same question: “How many of you have seen a water vole?”. Usually a few hands go up – perhaps one in ten children, excited to describe their wildlife encounters. And that’s great. The thing is, though, that if I had asked a class that question in the 1980s (the parents of the current generation), perhaps a third of them would have raised their hands. And if I’d asked a class in the 1950s (the grandparents) the vast majority of hands would have gone up. Indeed, for children living in the 1950s seeing water voles was “normal”, a part of going for a walk by a river or canal. It’s difficult not to think that our children are missing out in some ways. The small joy of seeing water voles swimming in a river, doing their determined “doggy paddle”, is now a real rarity, not what it used to be: a common oh-that’s-lovely before carrying on with your day.

The good news is that there are still places you can go to watch wild water voles. Your local Wildlife Trust should be able to point you in the right direction. And if you find a suitable river try to get there early in the morning, or late as the sun is setting, and take an apple with you. Locate a pile of feeding sign or a latrine (chopped up piles of reeds or other stems, about 10cm long, or piles of droppings that look like black tictacs, both hidden at the base of the plants at the water’s edge) and leave ¼ of the apple nearby. If you’re lucky, and sit very patiently and still, a water vole will steal up to the apple and sniff it for a bit. Then it will either eat it, or grab it and scarper. Either way, the sighting will be worth it, I promise. And, of course, you’ll be helping to restore, in some small way, what was once a common experience.

 

The Rising, the sequel to The River Singers will be published in October.

The Rising

Tom MoorhouseTom Moorhouse lives in Oxford, where he enjoys the refreshing and perpetual rain. He is somewhere in his mid-thirties. This, he has discovered, means that small white hairs now grow out of his earlobes when he’s not looking.

He spends a lot of time climbing rocks. He used to play the trombone, but doesn’t any more. He is, without the slightest fear of contradiction, the world’s worst snowboarder. Ever. Tom also happens to be an ecologist, working at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology. As a child he devoured – not literally – just about any fantasy book going.

The Rising, the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed debut novel The River Singers, will be published in October 2014.

 

 

The inspiration behind Scarlet…

Gill Lewis, author of the award-winning Sky Hawk and White Dolphin tells us about the inspiration behind her extraordinarily moving new book Scarlet Ibis.

What’s the story behind a book? Where does the inspiration come from?

For Sky Hawk, White Dolphin and Moon Bear, I have a clear idea where the stories came from and what inspired them. With Scarlet Ibis, I’m left scratching my head. I don’t really know, is the initial answer.

The story gathered itself together from the deep recesses of my mind. After much research including many interviews and reading, it formed on the pages to become the story of Scarlet Ibis.

Scarlet IbisIt began as a seed of an idea, as many of my stories do, with a character walking into my head, with a story to be told. In walked Scarlet Ibis. She introduced herself before I even knew what the story was going to be about. I sketched her and made notes…swirling ideas in my head, and then she told me her dream…a dream she tells her brother Red, every night…

I pull the duvet cover up around him so only his red hair and eyes peep out. “So what story is it to be tonight?” I say.

“Caroni Swamp,” he says.

I smile because there is only ever one story. I dim his side-lamp and begin. “One day,” I say, “we’ll find ourselves an aeroplane and fly up into the big blue sky. We’ll be like birds. We’ll fly above the roads and houses, above Big Ben and The Eye and London Zoo. We’ll fly across the whole Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Trinidad.”

“What then?” says Red.

“We’ll take a little boat out on the Caroni Swamp,” I say.

“Just you and me?” says Red.

“Just you and me,” I say.

Red smiles. His eyes are seeing the deep green waters and tangle of the mangrove trees.

“And we’ll wait,” I say. “We’ll wait for the sun to sink, turning the mountains of the Northern Range deep blue.”

“Just you and me?” says Red.

“Just you and me,” I say. “And as the light is leaving the sky, we’ll watch them coming in their hundreds and thousands. We’ll watch them settle in the trees like bright red lanterns as darkness falls.”

Red pulls his duvet tighter around him. “And we’ll always be together?”

“Always,” I say. “Just you and me in that little boat, as evening falls, watching the scarlet ibis flying back to the Caroni Swamp.”

For Scarlet, this dream is an elusive place where her mother can find happiness again. For Red, this dream is a place where he and Scarlet can always be together.

So where did Scarlet come from? How did she just walk into my head? What ideas did she form from?

When I think back to the time I was exploring the story and playing with ideas, I had just been reading a book called Between Two Worlds, the story of Alan Goffe, a brilliant black British scientist. My mother had known his wife and had met Alan Goffe on several occasions. She remembered him to be a charismatic, intelligent man. Sadly, he was only 46 when he died in a sailing accident in 1965. He had made huge contributions to the development of polio and measles vaccines and it was said that his untimely death probably set back vaccine development by many years. Alan Goffe’s story is an interesting one. His mother was from the Isle of Wight. A young white woman, she trained to become a doctor in the early part of the twentieth century. This was a huge achievement in itself, as women had only just won the right to join men to study medicine. (Women had previously been judged to be inferior in intelligence to men!) She then travelled to the Caribbean, where she met her husband to-be, a black doctor from a well-respected middle-class Jamaican family. Together, they set up practice in Kingston, London, at a time when most doctors were Caucasian males, and racism and sexism were rife. Both Goffe’s parents had been fortunate to grow up in supportive families where education and freedom of thought had been valued.

Goffe became a scientist at the forefront of research in the development of vaccines. He also fought for many altruistic causes, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Freedom from Hunger.

His story made me ponder about all sorts of things; prejudice and discrimination, migration of people, what we mean by home, belonging and family, and above all the importance of education to enable individuals to take control of their future, and in turn be able to change the world around us.

At about the same time, I watched a documentary about young carers in the UK. Many children across the country are forced to grow up early because they care for family members who are disabled, chronically ill or misusing drugs or alcohol. These children support their families, both practically and emotionally, often taking on the adult role. As a result, many miss out on their education and struggle against stigma, prejudice and discrimination. They are invisible children, desperately trying to keep their families together. Scarlet walked onto my page from such a situation; a girl caring for her mother and brother, a girl desperately trying to keep her world together, a girl in need of love and support to allow her a childhood, an education and space to think and grow. Like all children, she deserves these opportunities.

Scarlet’s story became intertwined with scarlet ibis, London pigeons, her brother Red and Madame Popescu. I realise now, they have their own stories to tell behind the inspiration to include them in the story…but maybe that is for another blog post!

Scarlet Ibis is out now.

9780192793553_SCARLET IBIS_CVR_MAY13

GillLewisHeadshotWEBfriendlyBefore she could walk, Gill Lewis was discovered force-feeding bread to a sick hedgehog under the rose bushes. Now her stories reflect her passion for wild animals in wild places. She draws inspiration from many of the people she has had the fortune to meet during her work as a vet, both at home and abroad. Gill Lewis has a Masters degree in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and won the 2009 course prize for most promising writer. Her first novel, Sky Hawk, was snapped up for publication within hours of being offered to publishers. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a treehouse in the garden, in the company of spiders.

 

 

My Name is Parvana

Deborah Ellis shares her experiences of researching her latest book, set in Afghanistan, My Name is Parvana.

Late in the l990s, I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.  Millions of Afghans fled there from the Soviet occupation, the civil war and then the atrocities of the Taliban.  The stories I heard there of sorrow and strength, of loss and kindness, formed the basis for my novel for young people called The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner follows a girl, Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Breadwinner 2014

The Breadwinner was followed by two other novels about Parvana and her friend, Shauzia – Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.

Some years went by.  Afghanistan underwent many changes.  I wondered what life would be like for Parvana in this new Afghanistan.

To research My Name Is Parvana, I spent time in Kabul, meeting with a wide range of women and children.  I was able to record interviews with many children, and published them in a book called Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through A Never-Ending War.

My Name Is Parvana starts out with Parvana being picked up in a bombed-out school building by an American military patrol and being brought back to their base for questioning.  It follows the dream of many girls and women there, a dream of freedom, education, and a life without violence.

My Name is Parvana is out now.

My Name is Parvana

As with the other books, royalties are going to Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan, for their on-going work in support of women and children in Afghanistan.

Deb Ellis largeDeborah Ellis has been a political activist since the age of 17, advocating non-violence. After high school she went to Toronto and worked in the Peace Movement. Later she got involved in the Women’s Movement, focusing on women’s rights and economic justice. She continues to be involved in anti-war politics. She has spent a lot of time in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, talking to women and documenting their lives through 20 years of war. The stories she heard and the children she met were the inspiration for The Breadwinner, Parvana’s JourneyMud City, and My Name is Parvana. The Breadwinner trilogy has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in twenty-five different languages. Deborah lives in Ontario, Canada.

Monkeying around with Oliver and the Seawigs – our first ever sea monkey intern!

This month we’ve had the company of a rascally sea monkey, who has escaped from the pages of Oliver and the Seawigs to learn what it’s like to work in publishing and help us in the lead up to Christmas. It’s been an interesting time to say the least, and it does seem suspicious how all our mince pies and office treats have been going missing…

Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas greetings

Our new recruit was very excited to begin counting down to Christmas. She braved the bus on the way in to the office and soon made her way to the Oxford University Press front gates. EEP!

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey on the bus

By the end of her first week, she was happily working away in the publicity office, sending out copies of Oliver and the Seawigs and teasing the new titles for 2014, such as Nikki Sheehan’s Who Framed Klaris Cliff?

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey press release

On the 5th December our office sea monkey placed an important call, ready to announce that OIiver and the Seawigs had been shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award! The announcement went out on the CBEEBIES channel that evening.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey phone call

The next day she decided to make a show card to celebrate the Blue Peter news. But all that tape was very sticky and she got into a bit of a pickle in her excitement.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey showcard

By the 9th December our well behaved monkey had been feeling a little mischievous and decided to have some fun. She ventured down to visit the editorial offices and ended up making some VERY IMPORTANT changes to a manuscript from editor Clare Whitston’s desk – EEP!

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey editing

Next she went to visit the home of Oxford Words to take a #selfie, as she’d heard that it was word of the year. Even if she really thought the best word ever was EEP! To make her feel better, the digital dictionary team added an entry to their app to explain the etymology of her sea monkey language.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey selfie 1

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey selfie 2

She was so impressed with her award announcement and app entry that she decided to edit the front cover of Oliver and the Seawigs and add in her own ideas.  We’re not sure designer Jo Cameron was as happy with her changes, though.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey designing

As Christmas crept closer, the sea monkey took to travelling in style and hitched a ride with one of the Oxford University Press reindeers to get to work.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey reindeer

And judging by photos from our Christmas party, it looks like she is now right-hand monkey to Big Boss Rod Theodorou.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey Rod

Our sea monkey intern has certainly been making a splash eeping about Oliver and the Seawigs. However, we have become increasingly worried that her time here may have just been part of a monkey master plan for world domination…

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey rights

First Oxford University Press, then the world!

Oliver and the Seawigs monkey takeover

Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas greetings wood cut

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre is out now.

oliver and the seawigs

If you’re feeling creative, take a look at this Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas present pack from Philip and Sarah, complete with gift tags and a knit your own sea monkey knitting pattern!

Houses built out of air

Julia LeeJulia Lee tells us about her love of atmospheric houses that feature in books she has enjoyed throughout her life, and which have helped inspire one of the key locations in her debut children’s novel, The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth.

It was one of the great disappointments of my childhood that I didn’t live in a house like Green Knowe. (Other disappointments were that I couldn’t fly, or talk to animals—at least, not so that they took any notice.)
But back to Green Knowe—an ancient house and garden by a river, full of history, magic, tame birds and friendly ghosts. When I found out that Lucy Boston, the author of The Children of Green Knowe, was describing the house where she actually lived, I couldn’t get over her luck—or my envy.

Green KnoweIllustrations of Green Knowe by Peter Boston.

I grew up in a modern semi, in a road of identical houses, on the outskirts of London. So disappointing when it came to exploration, although we tried! No secret passages, cobwebby cellars, or attics stuffed with generations of junk and the odd piece of hidden treasure. No ghosts, or time-warps back to previous eras, either— our home was brand-new when my family moved in. Whenever we went on a trip I’d gaze longingly out of car and train windows, and make up stories about what it would be like to live in the places we passed. Country cottages, mansions, follies, farms: they all fed my hungry imagination.

I think this was why I’ve always loved books that centre around a house. Old favourites include The Secret Garden’s Misselthwaite Manor, with its long corridors and haunting night-time crying. Or Helen Cresswell’s Moondial, where heroine Minty slips through time when she visits an old manor-house. Another time-shift story, Penelope Lively’s A Stitch In Time, features a Victorian house which has become a rather unloved seaside holiday-let—but I longed to stay there!

As I got older I enjoyed the spoof-spookiness of Northanger Abbey, and the wonderfully haunting Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, amongst many others. I still get excited when I discover another “house” novel I’ve missed, or a new one is published. They always set me wondering about the places that inspired their authors.

MenabillyMenabilly in Cornwall, one of the houses that went into Daphne Du Maurier’s creation of Manderley

Clemency WrigglesworthHardly surprising, then, that when it comes to my own writing, I really love being able to create a house—any house I want, anywhere I want—out of thin air. The Great Hall at the heart of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wigglesworth looks “as if a child had tipped everything out of a brick-box, determined to build a house, however strange the result.” I wanted it to be rambling in the extreme, a hotch-potch of eras and architecture, with plenty of scope for secrets and hiding places.

I like touring old houses, and now I can call it research. Give me a guide-book that includes a floor-plan and I’m in heaven! But there are always areas that are off-limits. When I make up a house I can go into every room, and poke around the stairwells and cupboards and corners to my heart’s content.

West DeanThe walled kitchen garden at West Dean, with cottage and glass-houses.

Image: Jim Buckland.

As I worked out what my heroine Clemency got up to, first below stairs and then venturing beyond the servants’ quarters, I had no trouble picturing her surroundings. A pink drawing-room and a blue-drawing room; stuffed tigers and stuffed birds; a round tower full of trophies; a Victorian kitchen garden laid out with elaborate neatness. I may have overdone the double double staircase in the hall, though, as I can’t find anything quite so complicated in real life.

Winter PalaceHere’s a modest example: the Winter Palace, St Petersburg.

But then the Great Hall isn’t based on any real place. I enjoy making things up too much to limit myself to that. I’m sure that houses I’ve visited and read about and seen on screen have gone into the mix, with ideas and images stored somewhere in the back of my brain. Gosford Park and Brideshead Revisited, perhaps, though not Downton Abbey, as my book was completed before that ever came to our televisions.

I must say that the working parts of a big house—nurseries, kitchens, pantries, passages—fascinate me far more than the grand public rooms. Because I strongly suspect that had I lived in Victorian times, like Clemency, I would have been toiling away below-stairs, rather than lounging about above.

Julia LeeJulia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine. As a child she was ill quite a bit, which meant she spent lots of time lying in bed and reading (bliss!).

Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.

 Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.

 Find out more about Julia on Twitter.

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth is out now. Clemency Wrigglesworth

NOTES ON IMAGE SOURCES

• Peter Boston illustrations: www.polymathperspective.com/?=175

• Photo of Menabilly: www.dumaurier.org/memories.html

• Winter Palace staircase: www.saint-petersberg.com/palaces/winter-palace

• The walled garden at West Dean College – image taken by Jim Buckland the Head Hardener at West Dean College, West Sussex

A brand new chapter for Frozen in Time!

FIT

Ali-Sparkes-001

It’s hard to believe that four and a half years have shot by since Frozen in Time was first published in January 2009. For its launch I dressed up in a 50s style frock and convinced my family to clothe themselves similarly (the menfolk objected but the frocks didn’t look bad), hired a Wurlitzer jukebox and got some dancers to jive around outside Waterstones in Southampton’s West Quay.

I had a really strong feeling about the book – that it would prove to be my bestseller to date. And I wasn’t wrong. It went into a second edition in its first week.

I’d spent a lot of time researching the story of Freddy and Polly, a brother and sister who are frozen in time, cryonically, by their genius scientist father—and then discovered in the 21st century by Ben and Rachel. Although the story is not set in the 1950s, Polly and Freddy have just stepped out of that time into now. For them, as they’re woken up, June 1956 was just yesterday.Polly

In the months spent writing it, I went onto BBC local radio and put a letter in the local paper, asking people to send me their memories of growing up in the 1950s. I believe the essence of all the letters and emails I received really added to the authenticity of Polly and Freddy.

But I had an even better ace up my sleeve. My mum and dad. Polly and Freddy are actually my mum and dad, you see. Kind of. Pauline and Frederick Sparkes (now aged 69 and 70) were aged 12 and 13 in 1956. What better source?

Here’s little Polly—actually somewhat younger than 13—around nine, I would guess. Like Polly in the story, my mum, by this stage, was growing up without a mum of her own. Hers died when she was nine and she was brought up, in part, by her older sisters, Rita and Pat. She felt that lack of maternal guidance very keenly and turned to a well-loved weekly paper for girls entitled GIRL for advice—which offered the ‘Mother Tells You How’ column. GIRL

Polly in Frozen in Time also reads GIRL and knows a great deal about how to run a household as a result. The chapter where she teaches Rachel how to wash up properly was such a joy to write. I felt for Rachel, with her slapdash attempts at housework, as Polly put her to rights. But I cheered for Polly. She’s completely right, you know. You DO need a long handled mop and some really hot soapy water!

with dogFreddy, also, is such a boy! Like my dad (pictured here in the open shirt when he was about 11 or 12), he is an ace rollerskater. Dad told me all about racing around the streets of Millbrook in Southampton on skates—just metal soles and wheels which you attached to your shoes with leather straps and buckles. The gaps between the flagstones would play merry heck with your axles over time, leading to metal fatigue until they occasionally snapped (often at high speed).

In the story one of my favourite bits is the rollerskating chase scene where Freddy and Ben must outskate Roly and the Pincer twins in their modern in-line rollerblades—using just flimsy 1950s strap ons. I know just how brilliantly Freddy can skate because I’ve seen my dad do it, many times, over the years. There was a time in the late 80s when local kids used to come round to the house to ask if my dad would come out skating!

But where my parents differ from Polly and Freddy is the poshness. Polly and Freddy are only partly based on them—the more real part, I like to think. The slightly less real but just as entertaining part is inspired by Julian and Anne out of The Famous Five. Enid Blyton had a huge influence on me as I grew up. Her adventure, Five Go To Smuggler’s Top, was what turned me into a bookworm after a difficult start with reading and writing.

Reading some Enid Blyton to our sons a few years back, we found the stories were still great—but sometimes hilarious in ways that Enid had never intended. The language and the style were very firmly stuck in the 1950s and some of it was pant-wettingly funny. I got to thinking about those characters—Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and Timmy the Dog. How would they cope if they were suddenly fast-forwarded in time to the 21st century? It would blow their minds!

And how would the 21st century cope with them? Kids who went around with neatly parted hair, saying things like ‘Gosh!’ and ‘I say!’ and ‘Never fear, Aunt Fanny—I’m going to call a constable!’

From this Frozen in Time grew. It had all the ingredients of a good Famous Five story. Four children, underground passages, spies, bike rides, a puppy—even a missing scientist. But it also had Pot Noodle, tattoos and piercings, junk food, and some very sinister events (one or two of which, I’m wickedly proud to say, made some readers really scared!)

I had a good feeling about it from the off, but even I couldn’t have known it would up and win the Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award in 2010. That elevated it from my personal bestseller to a full on bestseller, hanging around at the top of the book sales charts for months. It didn’t hurt that it was featured on national telly—and I got to go on Blue Peter twice! Since then it’s spread all over the world and been translated into several different languages. It’s the one that every nods and goes ‘Aaaah yes!’ about whenever it’s mentioned.

jolly good showIt’s even spawned a theatre show. I’m just about to start touring this… Check out www.alisparkes.com for more information in the coming months.

And to top it all, OUP has given it this gorgeous makeover for summer 2013. I loved the original cover by David Frankland but I also adore this new one, from James Frazer…

fit old lookFITIt’s very NOW and yet still THEN, if you know what I mean.Truly, though—GOSH!

Ali-Sparkes-001Ali Sparkes grew up in Southampton and despite some exciting months in London and even more exciting months in Lowestoft (where she really experienced life on the edge), still lives in Southampton today, with her husband and two sons.

She has worked as a singer, journalist, broadcaster, magazine editor and the spangle-clad assistant to a juggling unicyclist (frighteningly, there is photographic proof).

Ali has many children’s fiction titles published by Oxford University Press including her SWITCH series, her award-winning novel Frozen in Time, and her heart-stopping adventure series about a group of teenagers with special powers, Unleashed.

Visit Ali’s website

Follow Ali Sparkes on Twitter

Are you telekinetic? Do Ali Sparkes’ fun quiz and find out!

Ali-Sparkes-001CAN YOU MOVE THINGS AROUND JUST WITH YOUR MIND?

DO ALI SPARKES’ FUN QUIZ AND FIND OUT…

A NEW telekinetic is in town! The thrilling adventures of Tyrone Lewis are out now in Ali Sparkes’ new summer must read, Out of this World.

Shapeshifter fans will have met Tyrone in the last two books of the Shapeshifter series, when he shows up as Gideon’s Telekinetic Tutor… but nobody knows exactly HOW Tyrone got his powers.

Until now.

Out of This World, set seven years before the emergence of Dax Jones and the other Children Of Limitless Ability (COLAs), tells you how.

9780192794123_OUT_OF_THIS_WORLD_CVR_JUN13

But maybe this is no big deal to you. Maybe YOU are already a TELEKINETIC.

Answer these questions and discover the TRUTH…

Q1. Can you move things with your brain?!

1. No. Don’t be stupid.

2. Yes. I just head butted a One Direction pencil case across the room.

3. Sometimes I think I can—when I squint at something really hard and hold my breath and make this noise which kind of goes ‘Wuh-wuh-wuh-weeeeeeeeeh.’ I made a pen roll off a desk once!

Q2. When you get angry, do metal objects seem a bit shifty-abouty?

1. No. Human objects seem a bit inmyfacey-annoy-ey.

2. Yes. Especially when I throw them around!

3. Kind of. I found some forks stuck to the ceiling after I’d had a row with my best mate…

Q3. Have you ever freaked out friends or family by bending spoons or other cutlery?

1. No. Why would I want to bend cutlery? What has it ever done to me? Apart from that time when a teaspoon got stuck in my eye… and that was probably more my fault that the teaspoon’s. I don’t hold grudges against dining implements. That way lies madness.

2. Yes! There was this time, right, when I was whacking myself over the head with a soup ladle… and after about a minute it was all bent! The ladle. Not my head: duh—that’s made of wood, that is. Could this be the wonder of telekinesis? I once set fire to my trousers too. Is that pyrokinesis?

3. Yes, I have. I also floated the bent spoons around in a little circle while everyone screamed and someone fainted. Probably shouldn’t have done that.

Q4. Have your telekinetic experiments ever led to trouble with the authorities?

1. No. I am extremely well behaved. I consider other people’s feelings and think that floating stuff about in the air in a way which      might alarm anyone is reckless behaviour. Generally I try hard to avoid this kind of thing and I’m appalled at the way Ms Sparkes’ books encourage such foolishness. I’m not a spoilsport. I am perfectly well balanced, thank you. Perfectly.

2. Well, let me see… I’ve been done for heading a ball repeatedly at someone’s window and then, when they opened the window to complain, their face. (Well, I didn’t ASK them to open the window, did I?) Does that count? I mean—it’s still moving things with my head, innit?

3. Help! Help! I am being chased by a man and woman in suits, with tasers, who say they’re from the government! They want to test my brain!!! HEEEEEEELP!

NOW TOT UP YOUR RESULTS AND READ THE ANSWERS

MOSTLY As

You seem a little sceptical about the potential of the human mind. And generally quite cross. Of course, nobody has yet proved that telekinesis really exists, but it could happen. Lighten up a bit. And don’t give in to that teaspoon. Show it who’s boss.

MOSTLY Bs

Sorry. We don’t think you’re telekinetic… but we are concerned about the level of violence in your life. Perhaps the process of meditation, which many believe may aid the process of telekinesis, might also allow you and your pyromaniac alter ago to discover inner peace. Please do not head butt One Direction pencil cases. They don’t mean to be that annoying—it’s just in their contract.

MOSTLY Cs

It would seem you ARE telekinetic. Turn around and stare hard at a bin or something and spin it down the road, tripping over your government pursuers, and then leg it somewhere safe before considering your next move. Have you tried doing a little aerial display with a bag of Nice ‘n’ Spicy NikNaks? That’d be a laugh! Or melting a pylon. That’d be HILARIOUS!*

* OUP does not in anyway condone the melting of pylons with your mind. Please DO NOT try this at home.

Out of this World is out now – watch the book trailer!

9780192794123_OUT_OF_THIS_WORLD_CVR_JUN13

%d bloggers like this: