The A-Z of Railhead. K is for K-Bahn….

We are very excited to host a guest post from master storyteller Philip Reeve as part of his A-Z of Railhead tour!

K is for K-Bahn

Railhead

When I realised that interstellar trains were going to be at the heart of Railhead, one of the first things I did was look up teleportation, in the hope of finding some nifty way that a train could be flipped from one side of the galaxy to another. One of the first things I stumbled across was the concept of Kwisatz Haderech, or ‘the shortening of the way’. This is a concept from Jewish mysticism. Certain very enlightened rabbis, it was believed, were able to transport themselves supernaturally from one place to another…

 

To science fiction fans, Kwisatz Haderach has another connotation, because it’s one of the names given to the messiah figure in Frank Herbert’s classic space opera Dune. “I can’t use that,” I thought, “because everybody will think it’s a reference to Dune…” But after exactly 0.5 seconds of serious thought I decided I didn’t care: I liked the sound of those words; they were too good not to use. And the initial K seemed useful. I knew that in German-speaking cities there are often railway lines called the U-bahn and the S-bahn. My interstellar empire would be linked by the K-bahn, whose trains would go through K-gates and flash across a dimension called K-space to reach their far destinations.
 

Railhead is brought to you by the letter K…

 

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.


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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

About Mums by Mina May (age 13)

To celebrate Mother’s Day, an ode to mums by Mina May, illustrator extraordinaire of the Wendy Quill series Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom, Wendy Quill Tries to Grow a Pet and Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong (out July 2014), which she creates with her own mum, author Wendy Meddour.

This is me when I was ten: the year I became an illustrator with Oxford University Press.

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I’ve wanted to be an illustrator for as long as I can remember, and when it finally happened, it just felt right. I’m thirteen now, and have just finished illustrating my third book, but it took years of submitting my pictures to publishers and entering competitions before I got my first contract. (I started doing all that when I was eight). People are very lucky when they achieve something they’ve always aspired to do and I’m very grateful for that! But I definitely didn’t get there on my own. My mum was the first person who believed in me: she inspired me to draw and encouraged me to try and achieve my dreams (and do most of the other things I enjoy so much now). She even helped me type and colour in the first proper books I made at home when I was only four years old.

Here’s a page from one called:  ‘Mina’s World’.

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It’s a bit different to what we make together now!

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She knows how important drawing is to me. She understands how happy it makes me feel. She knows that it’s something I just really need to do. Mum says that ALL children have a talent and it’s important they find an outlet. Football. Singing. Telling jokes. Whatever. I feel so lucky that Wendy Quill is mine.

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Often, I write little messages to Mum when I’m drawing, like on this picture of Wendy Quill’s family at breakfast.

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She writes back.

image018And we have great fun doing events together – like at this book launch party of Wendy Quill tries to Grow a Pet. (Mum always makes sure there are lots fab cakes for me and my brothers too).

image019So, what’s so special about my mum? Well, she’s funny, talented and I know this might sound soppy, but she’s always been my ‘guide through life’. And when tricky things happen, we just get closer. And stronger.

She’s great company and always makes me feel happy! I think that mums are the best. Simply that. A lot of people may not get on with their mums because they are ‘this and that’ and they don’t let you do ‘etc.’ But I figured not too long ago that they are just there to protect you, make you smile and to share your best moments with. They aren’t there forever and they literally work their socks off for you, so we really need to look after them too.

Now I’m not meaning to have a bit of a crazy lecture about ‘be nice to your mum before it’s too late’ because that’s not what Mother’s Day is about.

Mother’s Day is a day when we remember how fab our own mothers are and how we should appreciate the things they do for us every single day: like washing up, making dinner, giving you the hug that you didn’t realise you needed so bad until you came home and got it. Or maybe just making you laugh.

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To be honest, I believe that Mother’s Day should be every day but I suppose the card factories would get a bit fed up and it would stop being so exciting. It would be like having your birthday every day and get boring, wouldn’t it? Actually that’s not such a good example… (I really don’t know how my Mum does it! All of those hilarious and well-written books and blogs that never seem to waft off into my endless babble!)

Anyway, back to the ‘intended’ point. What I was trying to say was that Mother’s Day wouldn’t be special if we had it every day – so let’s make the most of it!

Buy your Mum a big bunch of flowers and tell her how great she is!

Write her a letter or phone her up and tell her how fabulous she’s been.

Make her breakfast in bed.

Help her mow the lawn.

Or maybe just write a blog.

Like I’m doing now.

About how great she is.

Or something similar.

Only try not to waffle as much.

So … Happy Mother’s Day, Mums!

WE LOVE YOU!

And Mum – thanks for being such a great best-friend xxx

image023Mina May: I’m thirteen years old. I live with my three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls. I’m half Algerian. I love trying new things. I don’t like peas. But I do like drawing.

Wendy Meddour: I’m thirty-eight years old. I live with Mina May’s three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls (that I straighten when I’m trying to look smart). I’m not half Algerian. I love doing old things that I already know I’m good at. I quite like petit pois. And I do like drawing (but I’m not as good as my thirteen-year-old daughter).

Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2014: The Rights Place to Be!

Elaine McQuade

Anne-Marie, head of rights at Oxford Children’s, once worked out that her team travel over 109,000 miles every year. Their job is to sell rights to publishers from around the world to publish OUP children’s fiction, picture books, dictionaries, home learning and schoolbooks into their own languages. The team visit publishers in their offices and at book fairs around the globe, and, of course, they also keep in contact via email and the internet. However, the Bologna Book Fair is still the most important event in the children’s publishing calendar for them. Every year in March, thousands of children’s publishers pour into this gorgeous Italian city with its stunning medieval centre around the Piazza Maggiore.

The ‘Fiera’ takes place in a large, purpose built complex, where around 1,200 publishers and other related organizations from 75 countries showcase the titles or the services they have to sell. The fair’s website states that about ‘25,000 international professional trade representatives’ attended last year.

The Oxford Children's Books stand

The Oxford Children’s Books stand

The run-up to the fair’s opening is one of the busiest times in the publishing year. The British picture book industry, in particular, has been built on co-editions. Colour printing is very expensive so publishers need to build print runs by selling rights to as many customers as possible. The more books we can print, the cheaper the books become to produce for everyone.

Customers naturally want to see as much of the finished book as possible. So for the past few months, authors, illustrators, editors and designers and the production team at OUP have been extremely busy getting proofs ready for the fair.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the projects we took to Bologna this year, which will be published later on this year or in 2015:

What a Wonderful World

A glorious picture book version of one of the most popular songs of all time

The Adventures of Mr Toad

A funny and fabulously illustrated picture book retelling of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for younger readers

Here’s author/illustrator Steve Antony with his rather tempestuous ‘toddler’ Betty and his US publisher:

Steve Antony and his US publisher.

Steve Antony and his US publisher with a sneak-peak of Betty herself!

The Rising

The stand-alone sequel to last year’s exciting river bank adventure ‘The River Singers’

 

Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

A top-of-the-league tale, publishing in time for the 2014 Football World Cup!

 

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley

The hilarious and highly illustrated of a teenage, self-confessed ‘girl-repeller’

 

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre weren’t in Bologna this year but do see the Bologna blog for 2013 for pictures of the two wowing the crowds.

Just before the fair we wrapped up a deal with Philip Reeve’s agent (Philippa Milnes-Smith of LAW) to publish his next novel for older readers. We’ll be publishing it autumn 2015. We sent a press release to the trade press and were pleased that ‘The Bookseller’ magazine featured the story in their daily emailed news flash. It is another way of ensuring that foreign publishers, keen on British fiction and picture books, are kept abreast of exciting new projects, while they are at the fair.

Here’s some of the team at the fair presenting our list to colleagues from around the globe. I am constantly amazed that almost everyone can speak English. However, between them the rights team can speak over 10 different languages so, communication is rarely a problem.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football and The Rising.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football.

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Rights Manager, Giuseppe Trapani.

Rights Manager, Stella Giatrakou.

Rights Managers, Stella Giatrakou and Valentina Fazio hard at work!

Clare, Helen and Pete from our fiction and picture book editorial teams were also at the fair seeing agents and foreign publishers, who presented them with projects, manuscripts and picture books that we might look to publish in the UK. It’s fascinating to wander around the stands of colleagues from countries such a France, Korea, or Italy and to note sometimes similar trends but often very different illustrative styles.

The rights team/editors arrange appointments in half an hour slots from around 9.00 till 6.00 daily throughout the fair.

Time for a cappucino!

Time for a cappuccino!

Coffee breaks or a dash to the queue for the loos (too few loos and a preponderance of women publishers is not a good combination) have to be squeezed in if and when someone turns up late for an appointment.

Many UK retailers take the opportunity to visit the fair and Louise, our sales director and I gave them a preview of some of the projects we have coming much later in the year and in 2015. Siwan from production was here to meet with suppliers from outside the UK who are involved in the production of our print and digital books.

Vineeta and Sam from our dictionary team were also at the fair. In 2016 we are very much looking forward to publishing the ‘Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary’. 2016 is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and Vineeta and I attended a presentation and dinner for many of his foreign and UK publishers where we heard about the exciting plans the Estate has to celebrate the anniversary around the world. I sat on a table with lovely publishers from Taiwan and Estonia as well as Amanda from Puffin and it was great to hear how popular Roald’s books are around the world. Here’s Vineeta and me leaving the beautiful, medieval palace where the event was held. The photo is a bit dark but you can see we’ve got our winter coats on! It’s been pretty chilly weather-wise.

Head of Children's Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR Elaine McQuade.

Head of Children’s Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR, Elaine McQuade.

For a few days in March Bologna becomes the centre of children’s publishing and it is always a joy to meet colleagues from around the world who work in this wonderful, creative and important industry.

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Elaine McQuade is Head of Marketing and PR for OUP Children’s Books

 

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!

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!

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