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.

‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

Helen Mortimer, commissioning editor at Oxford Children’s Books takes us behind the scenes of a brand new edition of the classic The Wind in the Willows, retold by Tom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and illustrated by the brilliant David Roberts.

toad cover image

‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

toad 1With these words, Kenneth Grahame first introduced his enduring character in a letter written to his son, Alastair, on May 10th, 1907. During that summer Grahame, who was staying away from his son, continued to send Alastair instalments of the story by letter. The following year Grahame polished the material into a manuscript and the book was published in October 1908 as The Wind in the Willows.

At 55,000 words The Wind in the Willows is normally read to children over many bedtimes. But, for parents and children alike, it is well worth investing the time as it’s a wonderful story with friendship and adventure at its heart. The language is vivid and evocative and is remembered far beyond childhood. Here at Oxford Children’s Books we were delighted when we approached David Roberts to illustrate a glorious new gift edition of the original story and discovered that he shared our enthusiasm for the book.

 

toad 2

 

We published a sumptuous gift edition in 2012, packed with over 150 stunning illustrations from David.

willows cover image

David’s illustrations are so bright, appealing, and accessible that we wanted them to reach children even younger than those who would enjoy sharing The Wind in the Willows. We wanted to condense Kenneth Grahame’s original story into a 32-page picture book and focus on the character who started it all back in 1907: Toad himself.

toad 3

There can be few characters in the world of children’s books more entertaining than Toad and even fewer illustrators who have captured his every mood and moment with the verve and panache of David Roberts. So we commissioned acclaimed author Tom Moorhouse to retell the story for a picture book audience. Essentially, Tom has taken Toad’s best bits from The Wind in the Willows to create The Adventures of Mr Toad, in Toad’s own words and songs.

toad 4.

It’s a really engaging picture book that will introduce the youngest children to four of the most lovable characters of children’s literature: Mole, Ratty, Badger, and, of course, Mr Toad!

 The Adventures of Mr Toad is out now.

toad cover image

You can also read the original Oxford Children’s Classic of Wind in the Willows, which now has a gorgeous new cover look and includes the unabridged text, as well as extra material to help you get the most from the story and lots of recommendations for other things you might enjoy.

OCC_WIND_WILLOWS_P#40F9C372

 

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.

 

 

Cakes in Space!

Greetings, space cadets! Philip Reeve reporting from the Reeve and McIntyre international space station (we built it out of some of Sarahʼs spare hats).

Yes, for our new book, Sarah and I decided to launch ourselves into outer space. Weʼve even had some space costumes made so we can be properly dressed when we do book events.
Picture 1

People often ask, ʻWhere do you get your ideas from?ʼ, but by the time youʼve gone all through the process of writing (and illustrating) a book it can sometimes be hard to remember where you started. I think the first idea for Cakes in Space came when I noticed that Sarah is really good at drawing aliens, and that got me thinking that we should do a space story. And then I thought it might be fun to start with an idea that felt quite cold and futuristic – a girl sets off on a long space voyage in a gleaming white starship. She and her family are off to live on a new planet, called Nova Mundi…

pic_2_novamundi_brochure

So I told that idea to Sarah – we always come up with our stories together – and we started discussing what might happen next. We decided that Astra and the other passengers would all be put into a frozen sleep while the ship makes its long journey. But something goes wrong, and Astra wakes up in the middle of the voyage, while everyone else is still asleep. That was the idea which the rest of the story grew around. (Not many of us have been aboard a starship, but we all know that slightly magical, slightly scary feeling of being the only one awake in the house.)

pic_3_sleep_pods

What would Astra discover as she crept around the silent, sleeping ship? We didnʼt want her to be too lonely, so we invented a friendly robot called Pilbeam…

pic_4_pilbeam

And Sarah didnʼt want to be drawing just white corridors all the time, so we gave the ship an overgrown zero-gravity fruit garden…

pic_5_garden

But there are problems, too. Thereʼs a bunch of aliens called the Poglites, whom Sarah has drawn wearing chimney-pot spacesuits. Theyʼve come to steal all the spoons…

pic_6_poglites_zps250d472c

And, more worryingly still, the shipʼs food making machine, Nom-O-Tron 9000, has gone bananas and started baking batch after batch of KILLER CAKES. That was Sarahʼs idea, and once she suggested it, those cakes sort of took over the book.

pic_7_cakes

Will Astra be able to defeat the fearsome flapjacks, murderous muffins and beastly battenburgs? Youʼll have to read Cakes in Space to find out. But never fear – she has a SPORK, and sheʼs not afraid to use it!

pic_8_astra_spork

 

Cakes in Space is out now.

Cakes

And you can get Oliver and the Seawigs too!

Oliver and the Seawigs PB

cakesinspace-smallformatPhilip Reeve was born and raised in Brighton, where he wrote his first story at the tender age of five about a spaceman called Spike and his dog Spook. He is a talented illustrator and writer, and he has illustrated several titles in the Horrible Histories series.  Philip is best known for his multi award-winning Mortal Engines quartet, which won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award, and the Guardian Children’s Book Award. Philip has also won the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Medal with Here Lies Arthur. Philip lives in Dartmoor with his wife Sarah and his son Sam.

Sarah McIntyre is a writer and illustrator of children’s books and comics. She once applied for a job as ship’s rigger, intending to run away to sea, but instead, she found herself studying Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2007.

Sarah grew up in Seattle in the US and went to university in Philadelphia, where she studied Russian language and literature. She thought she wanted to be a journalist, and worked for a year at a newspaper in Moscow. One of her articles caused a huge scandal, and she ran off with a British diplomat named Stuart, who married her and took her back to London with him. She thinks he probably wasn’t a spy, but she is not entirely sure. She shares a studio with three friends in an old police station in Deptford, south London, (complete with cells!). You can visit Sarah’s website and blog at http://www.jabberworks.co.uk

 

Islands and imagination

Julia Green, author of Sylvie and Star and Tilly’s Moonlight Fox gives us an insight into the inspiration behind her brand new book for younger readers, Seal Island.

I’ve loved islands as long as I can remember: I like the smaller, more intimate scale of an island, the way you can get to know it on foot, the sense of community found there, and the relationship with the weather, the sea and the rhythm of the tides. Recently I’ve re-visited the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and this is the setting for my new book for children, Seal Island.

north uist June 10 2014 004

My island is imaginary but based on these real places. I drew a map to show where everything happens in my story (I loved maps in books as a child).

 

mapThrough Grace’s story, I hope to bring a sense of this beautiful place to my readers, to share the pleasure of beachcombing, spotting seals, making friends and experiencing the freedom to play and explore. I researched real seals, but also read the old tales about Selkies – half seal and half person – and wove these into my story.

deer on allotment and North Uist 031

Grace learns about the island, about life and loss – there are some dramatic events after a storm – but I have tried overall to capture the summery feel of life on an island, the warmth of family and friendship, the rhythm of the sea and the wide starry skies.

Seal Island is out now.

Seal Island

Copyright Kim Green

Copyright Kim Green

 

Julia Green lives in Bath. She has two sons.  She writes fiction for children and young adults. She is the Course Director for the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Julia leads creative writing workshops for children and adults in a variety of settings, including festivals and schools and for the Arvon foundation. She has worked as an English teacher in school, as a lecturer in FE, Higher and Adult Education, as a tutor for young people not in mainstream school; she has also been a publicity officer, a sub editor for a publishing company and a library assistant at a medical school in London.

A Prank is for Life, Not Just for April Fools’ Day.

Stand-up comedian and author of the brand new The Private Blog of Joe Cowley, Ben Davis shares his top 3 favourite April Fool pranks…

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Davis and I’m a writer. My debut novel is called The Private Blog of Joe Cowley. It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who starts his own secret blog to document his transition from outsider and wedgie-receiver to a Captain Picard-like master of life. Unfortunately for Joe though, his plans are dealt a major blow with the revelation that he has a step-brother with whom he has a serious history.

Of course, as my book is based on a blog, it was perhaps fitting that OUP kindly asked me to write a blog to mark the occasion of its publication.

To begin with, I had no idea what to write about. I mean, I do have many varied interests, but I doubt that young people of today would be interested in reading about my collection of 1990s WWF wrestling figures.

That's what you think, MAGGOT!

That’s what you think, MAGGOT!

When I saw what day this blog was going to be published on, though, I knew what I was going to write about.

Yes, April Fools’ Day. The one day, or to be more accurate, half day, when you can pull all manner of cruel pranks on your fellow man with no repercussions.

Now, I love pranks. To me, pranking is the best thing we humans can do. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Except the penguins.

Except the penguins.

To a prank guy like me, April Fools’ Day is Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Of course, because I prank so many people, I don’t usually get too many presents, but still…

When most people think of pranks, they think of the old cling film over the toilet trick, but this is old hat and you will always end up with one of two things: a wet floor or a lifetime ban from Homebase. So to inspire you, I have compiled my top three pranks of all time.

3. The Trojan Horse

image005This was a classic. You see, the Greeks really wanted to get into Troy. I don’t know why but I’m sure they had their reasons, maybe their Ikea had a proper good sale on. Point is, they wanted in.

Now this was the olden days, so things were different. These days, if I want to go to say – Nuneaton, I can just drive over there and walk around with complete freedom.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

 Back then though, they built massive walls around their towns and they’d only let you in if you knew the secret password. Secret passwords were often tricky to remember and had to be at least eight characters long with at least one capital letter and one number, and if you forgot it, you were out.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let's just move.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let’s just move.

Anyway, the Greeks didn’t have a secret password, so they decided to prank their way in. Because the Greeks, as a people, are nothing if not committed to the lolz.

I mean, look at that statue! He's got his bum out!

I mean, look at that statue! He’s got his bum out!

For their super prank, the Greeks proceeded to build a giant wooden horse and wheel it to the gates of Troy, with dozens of super-tough army guys hiding inside, trying not to sneeze or anything like that.

See, the thing you should know about the Trojans is that they loved giant wooden horses. Give your typical Trojan a giant wooden horse and he’s as happy as Larry, so this was the perfect thing to prank them with. It would be like tricking your way into Essex dressed as an immense bottle of fake tan.

Naturally, the Trojans were chuffed to bits with their surprise and wheeled it inside the town where they quickly began to plan where it would go in the Troy Museum of Giant Wooden Horses.

But before they could, as a hilarious crescendo to this masterpiece of prankdom, the Greeks jumped out and mercilessly slaughtered everyone.

Actually, that’s not funny. That’s horrible. We’ll move on to the next prank.

2. The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

image013Orson Welles was one of the most accomplished actor/directors of all time. He is known for being the auteur behind celluloid classic Citizen Kane, and the owner of one of the most impressive beards in Hollywood.

But what I’ll mainly remember him for was his love of pranks.

In 1938, Welles performed a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ (no relation, I mean, come on, they’re not even spelled the same) sci-fi novel, War of the Worlds. In case you haven’t read it, or you began to watch the movie version starring Tom Cruise and kicked in your TV screen in disgust, War of the Worlds is about what would happen if a legion of aliens came and took over earth with their terrifying disintegrator rays of doom.

As we have already established, Welles was a top-notch actor.

Unlike someone we know.

Unlike someone we know.

And his performance was so convincing that many listeners thought a real alien invasion was occurring.

This was an incredible prank and one that will never be repeated, because people are getting wise to it now. I mean, radio stations these days are trying so hard to convince me that Justin Bieber is an actual thing, but I’m not having it.

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

1. The Epic Prank I played on my So-Called Best Friend Fat Barry

Ah, Fat Barry, my oldest chum. We’ve been friends since we were kids, but to be honest, I have no idea why because he’s always whinging:

‘When are you going to pay me back?’

‘Stop calling me Fat Barry, I’m thinner than you.’

‘No I don’t want a hug, now get out of my bathroom.’

Blah, blah, blah. You see? He’s Mr Negativity. And I’ll tell you something else about Fat Barry – he hates pranks. Every April Fools’ Day he is a terrible sport. Like this once, when I called the bomb squad and told them a suspicious package was in Fat Barry’s car, and they came out and blew it up, he barely even cracked a smile. Lighten up, Scrooge!

For some reason, after that, Fat Barry started going on holiday every April. He’d never tell me where he was going, either. Considering he’s supposed to be my best friend, he’s really secretive. Once, he even refused to tell me his mother’s maiden name, account number and sort code. What a weirdo.

Anyway, it wasn’t easy, but last year, I figured out where he was going – Spain. I won’t give away my investigative techniques, but let’s just say the contents of a man’s bin can reveal a great deal.

Straight away, I called my mate Spanish Steve who works in customs and told him that a high-end smuggler was coming over and that he should be searched thoroughly. And I meant thoroughly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to just hear about it when he got home – I had to be there. I booked a ticket for his flight and got on board in disguise. The disguise in this case was that I actually looked like my passport photo.

Hello handsome!

Hello handsome!

When we arrived in Spain, sure enough, Spanish Steve took Fat Barry into a private room and searched him for illegal contraband. I stood outside as Fat Barry protested his innocence and giggled to myself as I watched him tenderly walk out after an hour.

‘Hey, Fat Barry,’ I yelled. ‘April Fool!’

Fat Barry slowly turned around and looked at me. It was as if he knew.

‘Now here’s your April Fool,’ he said, before smacking me in the face and knocking out three teeth.

You might think he got me there, but the thing is, Spain is an hour ahead of us and by the time he hit me, it had gone twelve. So in a way, the joke was on him.

I hope you have enjoyed this round-up of my all-time favourite pranks, and that it has inspired you to terrorise your own nearest and dearest this year.

But that’s not all. I have one more prank up my sleeve. You see, at the beginning, I told you that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is my debut novel. Well, I was lying. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley isn’t a novel at all – it’s a horse.

APRIL FOOL!

APRIL FOOL!

Actually, I should point out that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is a book and that you should definitely buy it. Please, I’ve got dentist bills to pay.

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is published on 3 April (honest!).

9780192736758_THE_PRIVATE_BLOG_OF_JOE_COWLEY_CVR_APR14

Ben2

Stand-up comedian Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Ben was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and, despite his complete lack of singing and dancing ability, was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is his first novel.

Picture credits

PENGUIN: http://www.gifbin.com/981126

TROJAN HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STORE DETECTIVE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STATUE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

ALIEN: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

CRUISE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

JUSTIN BIEBER: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

SCREAM: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

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

The Word Tin – where stories come from

Dave Cousins, author of 15 Days Without a Head and Waiting for Gonzo, shares his story making secret.

Dave_Cousins_2One of the most common questions asked of writers is where do you get your ideas from? It’s a question that many will struggle to answer—not me. I know exactly where my stories originate. I’ll let you into the secret, but don’t go spreading it around. This is just between us, OK?

On my desk there’s a metal box, 18cm wide by 9cm deep and 8cm high. I call it the Word Tin, and it contains all the words I need, stamped into small strips of metal, like dog-tags. To build a story, I simply delve into the box, pull out a handful of words and put them in the right order—simple.

The Word Tin

Sadly, I’m joking (but imagine if such a tin existed—now there’s an idea for a story!) The tin is real enough, and I have once or twice tried to conjure a story the way I described. It produced some interesting, if not exactly publishable, results.

So where do ideas for stories come from? For me, Robert Cormier explained it perfectly when he said, ‘to work for me, an idea must be attached to an emotion, something that upsets, dazzles or angers me and sends me to the typewriter’. The spark that sent me to my notebook to scribble the start of the story that became my debut novel 15 Days Without a Head, came from an incident I witnessed in a pub one afternoon. A very drunk woman was arguing with a stranger at the next table—much to the embarrassment of her sons. It made me wonder what life was like for those two boys, what would happen when they got home.

9780192732569_15_DAYS_WITHOUT_A_HEAD_JAN12

I can’t tell you about the idea that started my new book Waiting for Gonzo because it will spoil the story, but something I had experienced thirty years earlier provided an important element.

9780192745460_WAITING_FOR_GONZO_CVR_MAR13

In the summer before I was due to start secondary school, my family moved from Birmingham to a small town in Northamptonshire. I arrived for my first day at ‘big school’ in an over-sized blazer, 1970s haircut and impenetrable Brummie accent.

Dave Cousins School Photo

Look, I’m not going to lay a huge sob story on you—by the end of the first year most kids were calling me Dave, rather than Birmingham, but I’ll admit the first few months weren’t easy. So, this was the situation into which I dropped my thirteen year old narrator of Waiting for Gonzo—though for him, I went one better—or worse. I took him from the city to a remote village—an environment so alien, he might as well have been on Mars.

But ideas alone don’t make stories—for that you need characters—real ones, that leap off the page and invade your life. Cue Oz: loud, cocky and selfish—nothing like the sensitive, sympathetic character I had originally imagined. Rather than attempting to blend into his new surroundings and make friends, Oz barged onto the page like he owned the place. I loved him. He made me laugh and did unexpected things. The more Oz came to life, the more he transformed the story—and all I had to do was type.

And then of course, there was Gonzo, but I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out about that. One secret per post is my limit!

Waiting for Gonzo is published on 7th March 2013—there’s even an original soundtrack to go with it, but that’s a story for another time.

Waiting for Gonzo soundtrack

Watch the Waiting for Gonzo trailer!

Dave_Cousins_2

Dave Cousins grew up in Birmingham, in a house full of books and records. Abandoning childhood plans to be an astronaut, Dave went to art college in Bradford, joined a band and moved to London. He spent the next ten years touring and recording, and was nearly famous.

Dave’s writing career began aged ten, with an attempt to create a script for Fawlty Towers. He has been writing songs, poems and stories ever since.

He now lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and family, in a house full of books and records, and writes in a corner of the attic with an anarchic ginger cat for company.

For more information visit www.davecousins.net. You can also find Dave on Twitter, Facebook and at the Edge – a group of eight authors writing cutting edge fiction for teens.

Chaos lurking in the everyday: Matt Dickinson on Chaos Theory

Everest climber, adventure film maker and author extraordinaire Matt Dickinson joins us to discuss all things Chaos Theory. Over to Matt . . .

mattTwo BIG reasons to celebrate! (Well…three actually)

It’s a New Year and the Mayan doomsday scenario was wrong (so far—phew!)

And . . .

My new book Speed Freaks (the 3rd Mortal Chaos book) is just out!

9780192757142_MORTAL_CHAOS_SPEED_FREAKS_CVR_JAN13

And, as if that isn’t enough, in a few days time I’ll be leaving for South America and a climbing expedition to Mt Aconcagua (6959 metres)—the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalaya. I’ve been training like crazy for this demanding climb, which has a reputation as one of the coldest and windiest on the planet.

But that doesn’t mean I went easy on the Christmas Pudding—all climbers know that they should arrive at Base Camp six kilos overweight (it helps your body deal with the cold—ahem, it’s true, honest!)

2012—a great (but Chaotic) year

How many school events did I do last year? Truth is, I lost count. But it could easily be seventy or perhaps even more. Falkirk, Manchester, Dundee, Ipswich, Taunton, Coventry . . . promoting Mortal Chaos and meeting a lot of cool people. It’s all a bit of a blur. Thank goodness for Sicilian Lemon cheesecake and Skinny Lattes at Cafe Neros all over the land; I couldn’t have survived without it!

I spoke to pupils at every type of school—and every age group—but the most frequent question was this:

Is Chaos Theory real? Does the ‘Butterfly Effect’ really exist?

Well they certainly do! You are living proof that the smallest tiny variations in the way something starts can lead to big changes later on. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in the jungle CAN cause a hurricane to rip through the USA, so are all the vital characteristics that make you YOU caused by miniscule  variations in the chemical codes on your DNA.

Small events really do lead to big and unpredictable consequences—you only have to check out a few news websites to find that out for real.

The Seagull/Baguette debacle!

This is a good example of chaos theory at work; the day a baguette dropped by a seagull shut down mankind’s most prestigious science experiment.

How strangely ironic that a tiny piece of bread could cause such mayhem. And who dropped that piece of bread in the first place? I can feel a future Mortal Chaos storyline coming on already!

Deer run horse race

Three wild deer get freaked out by the crowds at a race track and end up running the race! But what would have happened if the horses had been on the track at the same time? And what caused the deer to get so lost?

I love the way the commentator just keeps doing his job.

The dark side of chaos theory

Many people have asked me if it is really possible that big accidents can happen because of small events in nature (as happens in every Mortal Chaos story). The answer to that one is definitely yes, as this tragic chaos event from Africa demonstrates.

Why was the passenger carrying the croc? To sell it? For food? How had it been captured? How did it escape on the plane?

A proposal—just an idea from yours truly

In fact, while we’re about it, why isn’t chaos theory taught as a subject at school? In my opinion that would be a great idea; how many other scientific subjects can embrace biology, mathematics, logic, philosophy and current news stories all at once?

Will we one day see ‘Chaos Theory Studies’ as a GCSE choice?

I certainly hope so—it would be hard to imagine a more intriguing and mind expanding subject!

Matt Dickinson

matt

Matt Dickinson is a writer and film maker with an enduring (and sometimes dangerous) passion for wild places. Trained at the BBC, Matt has filmed many award-winning documentaries for National Geographic television, Discovery Channel and Channel 4.

As a director/cameraman he has worked with some of the world’s top climbers and adventurers, joining them on their expeditions to the Himalayas and beyond. But Matt’s proudest moment was filming on the summit of Mount Everest having successfully scaled the treacherous north face of the world’s highest peak.

He was only the fifth British climber ever to do so, and this experience led to the publication of Matt’s best-selling first book for adults The Death Zone.

Visit Matt’s blog

Follow Matt on Twitter

Like the Mortal Chaos Facebook page

Speed Freaks, the latest Mortal Chaos adventure, is out now! And don’t forget to experience the thrill of Mortal Chaos and Deep Oblivion

mortal chaos series

%d bloggers like this: