BLOG TOUR: Anna Doherty

Hello friends!

Sorry I’ve been MIA this week. This week has been an insanely busy week at work with observations and learning walks and twilights, so on Sunday I had a day off doing lots of work and blogging and spent it with my gorgeous friend. 

However, you are in for a total treat today because I have a Q&A with the amazing Anna Doherty all about her new book Michelle Obama. This book is all about celebrating Black History Month and is part of the incredible Fantastically Feminist series. When I knew I was going to be lucky enough to host a Q&A with the author, I enlisted the help of my class to ask some questions! I narrowed them down the the 8 below, but there were some brilliant questions I didn’t get to ask! 

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1. What made you want to write about Michelle Obama?
A few things. I think she’s got a very interesting life story, but what drew me to her more was her personality. She’s so passionate and caring, and dedicated to EVERYTHING she does,which is so special, and I think those are amazing qualities to have and to tell children about.
2. Why is it important to you to highlight the amazing work that women have done? 
Women have so often been overlooked in history and skipped over, and while that’s getting a lot better now I think it’s still very important to keep highlighting women. On a personal level, I was a huge tomboy when I was little, because in loads of my books it seemed like the boys did all the fun and cool stuff! So I want the next generation of little Annas to realise that girls are also super cool and can do absolutely anything they put their minds to. But these books are not just for girls – I want to show that no matter who or when or where you are, you can make a difference!
3. If you could ask Michelle one question, what would it be? 
I would ask her, how does she have so much energy and positivity all the time!
4. What other amazing women do you want to write about? 
I would love to write about Katie Sandwina, a super stongwomen and suffragette from 1880s Austria. She could lift a canon above her head!
Also, I would love to write about Mary Queen of Scots, who was Queen of Scotland ages ago in the 1500s. She became Queen when she was just six days old!
5. You’re invited to have a dinner with 3 amazing women from history, who would they be and why? 
Such a hard question!
Coretta Scott King (activist – and Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife) because she was a huge activist for race and gender equality and LGBTQIA+ rights. She seemed to be so passionate, and never gave up what she believed in for a second.  She was a singer too, and she just seemed an amazing person all round!
Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer) because I’ve been obsessed with her for a long time, and I wrote a book about her, so I feel like I know her really well and we’d get on! She was brilliant because she was determined to learn maths and science in a time when not many girls had an education.
Nellie Bly (an undercover reporter) because she was always going on adventures! She because a journalist when not many women were, and she did undercover operations to expose things that she thought were unfair (like bad working conditions, or horrible hospitals). She travelled around the world all on her own, and she seemed so headstrong and independent, and let nothing stand in her way!
6. Do you have any writing rituals? 
I get very distracted if I’m not at my own desk, I have a little studio in a spare bedroom in my flat. I like to listen to podcasts or music and drink lots of black coffee.
7. What’s the best thing about being an author?
I love every part of it, but the absolute best part is when you see your work printed into a book for the first time. Often you finished writing and illustrating months ago, so there are little things you don’t remember, and it’s like seeing a friend you’ve not met in a long time again!
8. What was the last book you read and loved? 
For children: She Made A Monster (written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicity Sala). It’s about Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein, and I think she’s so fascinating, and it’s a bit dark and creepy in time for Halloween! (So maybe so slightly older children, or adults!)  And the illustrations are beautiful.
For adults: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It’s just brilliant, I couldn’t put it down!
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OUT NOW! This is the absolutely astonishing, fantastically feminist and, best of all, totally true story of one amazingly inspirational global icon! Meet the marvellous Michelle Obama: A+ student, passionate piano player, and a girl who’s not afraid to dream big. Determined to make the world a better place, the grown up Michelle gets to work in helping the community in whatever way she can. But then she meets and falls in love with Barack Obama, who is equally passionate about changing the world and he tells her he wants to become the first African American President of the United States, Michelle knows it’s time to really find her voice…

A review of this book is coming next week… but trust me, it’s absolutely incredible! I am loving all of the amazing non-fiction that is coming out celebrating incredible women and this one sits very proudly on my shelf of non-fiction!

I’ve kicked off the blog tour, but be sure to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour in the coming days! There is sure to be a whole host of brilliant content and maybe even a review or two so you know I’m not just telling fibs!

Michelle Obama Blog Tour (1)

A massive thank you to the publishers, and to Anna, for allowing me to kick off this blog tour! It’s always an absolute delight!

Who would you write a book about if you could choose any wonderful woman?
What’s your favourite empowering women non-fiction book out there?
What was the last book you read that you want to shout about?

Thanks so much for stopping by! 

S x 

BLOG TOUR: Mother Tongue

Hello friends!

How are you on this here Tuesday? I hope you’re having a lovely day, or if you’re having a troubling day, this wonderful post from author Patricia Forde might cheer you up a little! Looking at the inspiration behind her new book, Mother Tongue, this post was a proper delight to have arrive in my inbox! I hope you enjoy and check out details of this brilliant book at the end of this post!

The inspiration behind Mother Tongue

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It’s only when a novel is written, and left to cool for a while, that I understand what inspired it. While I am writing it, I am just telling a story, following a trail of breadcrumbs, with no idea where they will lead.

Inspiration, I find, comes from experience. It bubbles up from a  lasagne of conversations had, emotions felt, stories enjoyed and news events witnessed, layer upon layer, over all the years of your life. Where did the inspiration come from for Mother Tongue?

I grew up speaking two languages, English and Irish. English was my mother tongue but I went to a total immersion Irish language school at the age of four and soon became fluent in my second language. Irish is a minority language even if it is the first official language of Ireland. I live on the edge of Connemara where the Irish language is still a living language, albeit a struggling one. In Galway, the capital city of the west, you can hear Irish spoken every day on the streets. I have friends with whom I only speak Irish. I write in Irish and I often dream in Irish. But the list of words that we use as Irish speakers is getting shorter. Year in and year out, people proclaim  that the language is dying or dead which always reminds me of Mark Twain when he said:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

It is true that the majority language, English, cannibalises our sentences with a vigorous appetite, but the old tongue battles on and there are green shoots with more and more parents sending their children to total immersion schools.

Nonetheless, I became aware at an early age that this language that I love was on the endangered list. I started to wonder how it would end.  How many words would we need to survive? Looking back, that was probably when the idea for The Wordsmith was conceived.

In The Wordsmith, and in its companion novel Mother Tongue, words are controlled.  The story is set in a place called Ark. In Ark, music is banned, art is banned and the language of Ark is List – a list of five hundred approved words.  The idea of a list of words, of words being taken away, definitely came from my experience with the Irish language.

Where I live also influenced the story from an environmental point of view. Writers are often advised to put their seat in the chair if they want to make good work, but sometimes I think you have to get up, and have a look around, to keep yourself inspired.

We live ten kilometres north-west of Galway city, with Connemara to the west of us, and the Burren in Co. Clare to the south. Both are exquisitely beautiful places, and both very fragile environmentally. Connemara is a unique and very special part of County Galway. It is situated on the edge of Europe, and features breath-taking scenery, a rugged wild coastline, dramatic mountains, volatile lakes and rivers, peaceful woodlands, and a National Park. Its coastline has been trounced by the Atlantic for millions of years and it bears the scars with rugged dignity.

The Burren in Co. Clare is a totally different proposition and no less beautiful.

 If you have never been to The Burren, you have to imagine a desert of limestone, but in that desert, rare living things and echoes of times long gone abound. The Burren is home to 70% of Ireland’s 900 native plant species including Gentian, Cranesbill, Rock Rose, Mountain Aven and Orchids. In Spring, wildflowers create splashes of vivid colour on the grey limestone palette.

 It’s also an outdoor museum with over 80 tombs scattered across it’s moon-like face, dating from the Mesolithic era right through the Iron Age. It’s a magical place and a fragile one. I am no scientist but I’ve been reading about threats to the Burren. If I understand correctly, if temperatures continue to rise, there is a fear that the rate of  limestone dissolution will increase, and that may sound the death knell for the life that clings to it. I do know that we are seeing more severe storms and flooding in this part of the world of late and that can’t be good news for the delicate spring flowers that cling to the limestone rocks.

I love to visit the Burren, not just for its physical beauty, but for its silence and its haunting atmosphere. There’s something about being there that reminds you about all the other people who have walked on the rocks, looked out at the sea, crouched down to see a tiny blue flower nestled in a cradle of grey rock and passed it all on to us.

The novels I wrote are set in a place where all of that had been destroyed, swallowed by the sea. When I am writing, I’m always trying to tap into emotion, and I used images from the Burren to remind me of what Letta and her cohorts had lost. The thought filled me with loneliness and I tried to put that into the sentences.

Inspiration comes from lots of different sources but mostly it comes from the things that effect you most. Creativity needs input. Sometimes to be inspired, you have to get your seat out of the chair and let yourself be amazed.

Mother Tongue is the sequel to the brilliant The Wordsmith. Perfect for readers 11+. These books are set in a world where a new dictator wants to silence speech forever. It’s Letta’s job as a wordsmith to keep words alive. She works out in the woods teaching children language, music and art. When things start to go wrong, it is Letta’s job to try and save the very people she’s been teaching… and maybe risk her own life in the process!

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A massive thank you to publishers, Little Island Books, for sending me a review copy of this book and for inviting me to be on the blog tour. I’ve loved discovering more about this world and I can’t wait to share my review of this book in the coming weeks! You guys are in for a treat with this book!

What would you do if someone was trying to silence everyone?
What words would you miss most?
What words would you want to get rid of?

Talk to me in the comments and I’ll share the one word I’d get rid of first!

S x 

 

BLOG TOUR: My Pet Star

Hello! 

Today I have the utter joy of hosting the brilliant Corrinne Averris (author of My Pet Star( and she is here to talk to us about her favourite bedtime stories. Now we all know how important I think stories are (whatever time of day), so having someone else praching from my hymn sheet is an absolute delight!

It’s lovely to be asked to contribute to A Little But A Lot and to talk about beautiful books for bedtime. I think any book shared at bedtime is a beautiful one – taking the time to look, listen, read and make sense of the world – is a wonderful, intimate way to finish the day. It really wouldn’t matter if it was a recipe book providing its pages and pictures are explored together with curiosity and questions! However, in our house we definitely have some favourite bedtime books and there are certainly themes which lend themselves to snoozing and dreaming.

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In a class of its own, for babies, is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Its rhyming and repetition; its gentle simplicity has a wonderful soporific effect. And the illustrations are like a visual lullaby as lights inside bunny’s bedroom dim and moon and stars shine through windows.

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When a Dragon Comes to Stay, also beautifully illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, written by Caryl Hart, takes the domestic bedtime setting but gives it a twist with a friendly dragon sleepover! Contrary to all expectations, this little Dragon is the perfect guest… she goes up to bed without a fuss, has her bath, cleans her teeth and then ‘pulls the covers cosy tight, to help her sleep all through the night’.

Other bedtime books we love tend to fall into two categories – either they chart a dramatic adventure before retreating to home and comfort or they conclude with an escape, like a gateway to dreaming.

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John Burningham’s classic My Gumpy’s Outing sees Mr Gumpy punt his boat along the river and kindly allow every animal a ride (with conditions) until the boat is so full, it tips everyone out into the water. They swim to the riverbank and dry out in the evening sun as they walk to his house for a tea party. It ends with the comfort and security of home and looking forward to another day and another adventure.

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Beyond the Fence by Maria Gulemetova is such an atmospheric book about freedom and friendship. Almost like a modern day Town Mouse Country Mouse. Piggy lives in a large house with a boy called Thomas who gets to decide exactly what Piggy does. But one day Piggy meets Wild Pig who shares with him the joys of life beyond the fence. Finally Piggy finds the courage to escape and join Wild Pig running free. The final image of them disappearing into the sunset, feels full of expectation and hope.

I love hearing other people’s recommendations and I will certainly be scoping out Beyond the Fence – I have never heard of it before!

While you’re checking out amazing picture books, I can recommend My Pet Star with my whole heart. It is a gorgeous picture book that follows a little girl as she helps nurse a fallen star back to health until it is ready to take its place in the sky again. If my recommendation isn’t enough, it has already been praised highly in the bookish circuit!

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“When a little girl finds a lost star, she takes it home and cares for it, just like a beloved pet. She reads it stories, makes it special snacks and tucks it into bed at night. The more she cares for the star, the brighter it glows. Until, one day, it’s time to let go…”

My Pet Star is out now! Go go go: get yourself a copy!

Why don’t you check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour? 

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A massive thank you to the publishers Hachette for the invite onto the blog tour and to Corrinne for taking the time to write this blog post. It is always an honour to host an author on my blog! Check out My Pet Star and some of the other stories recommended… I know I will be!

See you all soon!

S x

BLOG TOUR: Bad Luck Lighthouse

Hello!

Today is an exciting day! Today I am hosting the lovely author of The Bad Luck Lighthouse, Nicki Thornton, as part of The Bad Luck Lighthouse blog tour! Nicki is here to talk to us all about where she writes and her writing process. I absolutely loved this blog post and am so lucky to get to host it! Massive thank you to Nicki!

Where I write

I admit I suffer badly from Writing Shed Envy.

All those shared pictures of beautiful inspirational places; seeing the small hut where Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman or Roald Dahl have written their endlessly brilliant stories.

It’s easy to feel you are doing it wrong if you don’t have a special place to write.

My walk to work is not a few minutes’ stroll to the bottom of a beautiful garden. From a writing point of view, the most important bit of my very small and ugly garden is my attack hedge – a vastly overgrown thing that does get pruned quite viciously every time the writing is not going well.

I actually even suffer from desk envy. I write mostly on a laptop that moves with me like a little pet, generally to wherever is warmest in the house in winter (usually the top of the house, with views of clouds), or coolest in summer (in the kitchen, where I have views of birds).

My laptop started falling apart and very few of the keys retain visible letters. My other half told me it was a bit like watching the end of the Terminator where all that is left is an eye. So I did get a new one. But that has a few extremely annoying features, so I haven’t completely given up on the old and I’m still very fond of my battered laptop.

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But I am equally happy scribbling into a notepad. All I seem to really need is quite unbelievably regular cups of tea.

I think part of the trick with writing is just to find a way of working that suits you. And everyone you talk to will do it differently, so there isn’t really a right way. I interviewed Frank Cottrell Boyce once, and he likes to write perched halfway up the stairs, because his house was in a permanent state of chaos.

But I find it’s less about where I write and more about habit, because I think it’s something you get better at slowly and with lots of practice, like playing tennis, or the piano. Like any long-term creative task, progress is better judged in years.

So my habit is to write five hundred words, or edit five pages a day, five days a week. And that is pretty achievable. It suits me because I’ve always been able to fit it in between all my other commitments of work and family.

Although I think it’s also probably true that I am also hardly ever not writing. My mind just slides into making things up when I am unloading the dishwasher. I can’t seem to help that.

And as long as I manage to get some words on the page every day, at the end of a month, a year, it’s surprising how much you find yourself able to look back and think that, yes, you have done quite a lot.

THE BAD LUCK LIGHTHOUSE – sequel to Nicki’s bestselling debut THE LAST CHANCE HOTEL – is out now, priced £6.99. Connect with Nicki on Twitter: @nicki_thornton.

Massive thank you to the publishers Chicken House for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and to Nicki for taking the time to write this insightful blog post for me!

Remember to check out the rest of the blog tour – it promises to be full of fun! And follow Nicki on twitter!

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S x 

BLOG POST: Morag Hood

Morning friends!

Today we have a very special post from author Morag Hood who is here to talk about how she came up with her character Sophie Johnson and how she developed. 

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I love hosting authors because it’s really interesting getting an inside peek at their creative processes. 

Where did the idea for Sophie come from and how did she develop?

The character of Sophie initially came about when I was thinking about picture books in general. One of the things I like most about the format is the tension that can be created between the words and the pictures. I’ve always especially enjoyed books where the reader knows what is going on better than the characters themselves. I think I am probably quite in touch with my inner four-year-old and I seem to remember relishing that feeling of being in on the joke and being smarter than the characters in a book. It was with this in mind that I started playing around with the idea of the main character being oblivious to what is going on around them, and Sophie started to emerge.

She has been such a fun character to write and develop. She is very forthright and certain, despite not necessarily having understood a situation, and she loves to explain everything, while in actual fact knowing very little about what is truly going on! Once I worked out her voice and perspective on life, I started to come up with scenarios in which she could shine.

My editor at Simon & Schuster, Helen Mackenzie Smith, gave me a brilliant note about thinking of Sophie as giving an interview about herself and I try to hold that in my head whenever I am writing for Sophie. The first book, Unicorn Expert, came about partly because it was the first book I was writing for someone else to illustrate and I tried to think of something I wasn’t very keen on drawing but would be fun for another illustrator! And then I had so much fun with the first one that I wanted to give Sophie some other things to do. She became a Detective Genius because, as well as having a personal love of detective stories, I felt it would give lots of room for her getting things wrong and missing some fairly obvious clues. I always enjoyed the rather hapless police officers who are outwitted by clever detectives such as Hercule Poirot, or Jessica Fletcher, so having Sophie outwitted by her dog seemed to fit well into her world.

Sophie Johnson has been such a fun character to create and work with, dancing the fine line of being over-confident while still being likeable. I think a lot of that likeability comes from Ella Okstad’s joyful illustrations. It really has been a treat to see how the book has come together with Ella’s input. The pictures are so full of life and really help to make Sophie endearing.

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius is a WONDERFUL picture book and it has the most incredible cover. It is sparkly goodness. 

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Sophie Johnson studied very hard to become a detective and it’s a good thing she did – there has been a terrible crime!
Someone has stolen Lion’s tail. Unfortunately, this means that Sophie doesn’t have time to train her new (and not very good) assistant, Bella. However, is it possible that, while Sophie is busy rounding up suspects, she doesn’t see that Bella may be better than she thinks?
The Sophie Johnson series is perfect for bright young minds and great fun to read aloud as children spot what’s really happening in the story right under Sophie’s nose!

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genuis is out now! You should all go and pick it up!

Massive thank you to Morag and the publishers at Simon and Schuster for inviting me to share this wonderful blog post! Happy reading!

S x 

BLOG TOUR: The Path Keeper

Hello lovelies!

Today I am hosting author N J Simmonds taking on Strong Girls in YA as part of the blog tour for her debut novel The Path Keeper.

“What if every coincidence was a tiny miracle? What if our life was already mapped out before birth? What if someone had the power to change the path we were destined to follow?
Ella hates her new life in London, she misses Spain and she’s struggling to get over her past until she meets Zac. He has always loved her but he isn’t meant to be part of Ella’s story. Not this time. Not ever. Little does she know that his secret is the one thing that will tear them apart and will force her to live in a world that no longer makes sense, a world more dangerous than she could ever imagine.
The first in a thrilling new YA fantasy series, The Path Keeper is a tale of passion and secrets, of first loves and second chances, and the invisible threads that bind us. Can love ever be stronger than fate?”

Let’s go!

STRONG GIRLS IN YA

We all love strong girl in books and on screen. From Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, to Katniss and Zélie, ferocious young women kicking arse and putting bad men in their place.

Except, there’s more than one way to be strong, and it doesn’t always involve shedding blood and high kicks (as much as I’m a huge fan of both too).

The depiction of women in literature has come a long way in the last twenty years, and never more so than in the Young Adult and Fantasy genres. Paving the way for important conversations, and creating role models for young readers, YA has always been in the foreground of strong young characters and formidable girl MCs.

When I started writing The Path Keeper, I wanted a female protagonist who had a voice. A girl that acted like the young women I know, and the young woman I once was. I didn’t know quiet, sullen, polite girls when I was growing up – I knew teens who fought back, who said what they thought and who acted. Sometimes they said too much, sometimes they were too impulsive, but for me that was more real than a simpering girl who needed to be rescued. So that’s how Ella came about – and she’s not the only woman in the series who struggles with her place in society and questions who she is mentally, physically and emotionally.

Strong girl protagonists are everywhere in YA, but they may not be holding a bow and arrow or have lightning shooting out of their fingertips. Here is my list of amazing female writers and their strong YA girls who in turn have helped teens understand themselves, and the world, better.

Let’s start with emotional wellbeing and mental health. This subject means a lot to me as I have had my own degree of ups and downs, and when I was growing up it wasn’t acceptable to admit that you were struggling. I read these books now and wish I could go back to fifteen-year-old Natali and tell her she’s not weird or weak for feeling the way she does, she’s actually totally normal and not alone.

Olive in Holly Bourne’s Are We All Lemmings And Snowflakes is a girl on the edge attending a summer camp with a difference – every attendee is suffering from various mental health issues. The underlying theme of the book is about being kind, but not just to others – girls are used to being told that – but kind to ourselves too. Likewise, Violet in Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places meets her love interest Finch on top of a school bell tower as they contemplate suicide. These aren’t easy subjects to broach in a novel targeted for a younger audience, but the girls are strong through their vulnerability – showing the readers that they too have nothing to be ashamed of.

Talking of shame, it’s refreshing to see a growing rise of body-positive female characters in YA. Gone are the days of Bridget Jones counting calories and noting how many pounds she’s gained in her diary – enter Dumplin (Dumplin by Julie Murphy), Eleanor (Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell) and Leah (Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli). These girls, so strong and powerful they not only appear in the title of their books but also on the covers, never once apologise for who they are and what they look like – in fact, their weight isn’t even the main point of the storylines – there’s no old-hat trope of ‘I was overweight, got thin and got revenge on my bullies’ here. These girls didn’t have to change the way they looked to get what they wanted, how they look doesn’t even come into it, because we love them for who they are.

And it’s not just being seen or understood that makes strong girls in YA so important, it’s also about being heard. Vivian in Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie fights the feminist fight at her school, and Starr in the award-wining The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas teaches readers about the importance of speaking out about what you believe in. Starr is under pressure from her community, friends and society to keep quiet and not rock the boat – but she goes on to do what teens in real life are finding the strength to do too. From Malala to the pupils of Sandie Hook Elementary School, social media and the press finally want to hear what teens have to say, and books like these are showing them how it’s done.

And finally, there are the young women who have been dealt a shitty life they never asked for. Sadie from Courtney Summer’s harrowing book Sadie is a force to be reckoned with, but she’s no traditional beauty – in fact she has a stutter and doesn’t care what she looks like. And Indigo in Patrice Lawrence’s Indigo Donut is a feisty London girl brought up in the care system. She’s tough and she’s suffered – but she doesn’t need to be rescued. And looking outside of contemporary fiction to teen girls in YA fantasy, Inej from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, and Sarai, in Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer are perfect examples of delicate girls who are tough as nails and forced to create a family out of the scraps left from their previous lives. Although they are forced to do bad they still remain good – because they don’t let what has happened to them define who they are.

As a proud feminist, as a YA writer, and as a mother to two ferocious, smart and bold daughters, it fills my heart to read books filled with strong girls, as well as having the opportunity to create my own unforgettable characters (wait until you meet Luci in the sequel Son of Secrets).

What makes a strong girl in YA? Not muscle, not money and not magic – what makes a strong girl is fortitude, grounding morals and all the other strong girls surrounding her. Goodbye damsels in distress and pretty girls who just want to be accepted – and hello girls like you, like me, and what the future deserves. Young women kicking arse and fighting the good fight with weapons made not from iron but from hearts, voices and unity.

Stay strong, girls. I see you.

Every blog tour in the blog has a letter. Collect them all to spell out the answer to this competition question: What does Zac get in the sequel SON OF SECRETS that’s very out of character? Prize info and entry details will be posted in The Glass House Glass magazine on release day 28 May 2019. Check out today’s letter and competition graphic below.

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour so you can enter the competition!

S x

BLOG TOUR: In The Shadow Of Heroes

Today I have the utter joy of hosting author Nick Bowling who is sharing his thoughts on some Unheroic Greek heroes. We all know I love a bit of mythology (if you didn’t know that then WHERE HAVE YOU been?!) so this post is PERFECT in my life!

Nick’s new book In The Shadow of Heroes is out now and I can’t wait. It’s been snatched up by one of the kids in my class… so I guess I need to wait my turn!

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“Fourteen-year-old Cadmus has been scholar Tullus’s slave since he was a baby – his master is the only family he knows.

But when Tullus disappears and a taciturn slave called Tog – formerly a British princess – arrives with a secret message, Cadmus’s life is turned upside down. The pair follow a trail that leads to Emperor Nero himself, and his crazed determination to possess the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology. This madcap quest will push Cadmus to the edge of the Roman Empire – and reveal unexpected truths about his past…”

Unheroic Greek heroes

The Greeks thought differently about what a hero was. Google the word “hero” today and you get the following result: “A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”  Most people would agree with this as a definition. But in an Ancient Greek dictionary the word heros brings up three fairly vague ideas: 1) the Greeks before Troy, all free men of the Heroic age; 2) men born from a god and a mortal; 3) inferior local deities, patrons of tribes, cities, guilds, founders of cities etc. etc.

The important difference is that the heroes of Greece usually were people who demonstrated “courage” and performed “outstanding achievements”, but “noble qualities” were often sorely lacking. Nowadays, we assume that a hero has some kind of moral rectitude, but for the Greeks and Romans there were more shades of grey. Their heroes were messy, complex, conflicted, often just plain awful people. This is what makes them interesting; it’s also what makes them function as mirrors to our own lives.

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES takes this idea and asks the question: what is a hero? To get you thinking, here are five heroes you might have heard of, along with some of their less “outstanding achievements”:

  1. We’ve all heard of Hercules suffering nobly through his Twelve Labours, but less well known is the reason why he had to perform them: he killed his wife and all his children in a fit of madness. The rest of Hercules’ life is similarly chequered with random acts of extreme violence. He killed his music teacher for correcting his mistakes, he killed King Eurytus and his sons when he was denied the hand of his daughter in marriage, he killed Sileus for forcing him to tend his vineyards. All of which was, sadly, left out of the Disney motion-picture.
  2. Heroic slayer of the Minotaur, but also heroic home-wrecker. He escaped from the Labyrinth with the help of Ariadne (King Minos’ daughter), who then eloped from Crete with him. Theseus then abandoned her on the island of Naxos, and upon returning to Athens forgot to change his black sail to a white sail, which would have signalled his success in defeating the Minotaur. His father Aegeus, assuming his son was dead, threw himself into the sea.
  3. After reclaiming the Golden Fleece from Colchis with the help of Medea (the King Aeetes’ daughter – there’s a pattern developing here…), Jason settled Corinth with her as his consort. He then got embarrassed by having a girlfriend who was foreign and, admittedly, a bit weird, and promptly dumped her to marry Creusa. This, despite the fact Medea helped him win the fleece in the first place, betrayed her family and travelled halfway around the world to be with him. This pushed Medea to perform one of the all-time great acts of female vengeance (no spoilers).
  4. Perhaps better known for his bad behaviour, but it still bears repeating. Achilles had the mother of all tantrums because Agamemnon took a slave girl from him. He refused to fight and said he won’t return until Agamemnon say sorry. Hundreds of his own men died as a result.
  5. Even the most unwarlike heroes don’t get clean consciences. Daedalus was a master craftsman, inventor and architect, who built the Minotaur’s labyrinth. While you might pity him for the death of his son Icarus (of melting wings fame), you’ll probably feel less sympathetic when you hear he killed his own nephew – threw him off the top of the Acropolis – because he came up with the idea for the handsaw before Daedalus did.

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling

Why don’t you check out the rest of the blog tour?

In the Shadow of Heroes blog tour banner

Massive thank you to Chicken House and to Nick for his blog post! What a great start to a Wednesday! 

S x

Ollie’s Magic Bunny Blog Tour

Happy Tuesday!

Today I have the utter joy of hosting author Nicola Killen and we’re getting a tour around her studio. I’m really nebby so I absolutely adored reading this post when it dropped into my inbox! 

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Hello and welcome to my studio tour!  This is the place where I worked on the story and illustrations for Ollie’s Magic Bunny.  

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I share a space with two other artists – it’s a converted garage on the side of a photographer’s studio.  The door to the studio is very grey and boring so it’s hard to imagine what’s inside!

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Tada! Here’s my workspace. I’m quite embarassed to be showing you round when it’s SO messy.  I’m always untidy, but when I’m in the middle of working on a new book (like I am now), it gets even worse!  As you can probably see, I’ve got two desks: one for sitting at my computer, and one for standing at when I draw and paint.

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On my computer desk I have an iMac, and I use a wacom tablet with it.  I also have a very comfy chair and most importantly, there’s a heater next to my desk!  As it used to be a garage, the studio can get very cold at times. I always have lots of lists of things to do on my desk – I like to be able to tick things off!  

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I usually stand up when I’m painting or drawing.  I have a drawing board in the middle of the desk, which is hidden by my lightbox at the moment.  There’s an A3 scanner tucked underneath this desk, as well as sketches, boxes of books and some portfolios too.  I used to have lots more postcards and pictures up on the wall, but they keep falling down and it’s very hard to reach to put them back up!  You may also have noticed my Studio Stegasaurus which lives on this desk – it roars when you squeeze it. I’ve had the anglepoise lamp since I was at school so it’s lasted a long time!

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This is all the brushes, dip pens and inks which I’m using for the book I’m working on.  

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Then, squeezed into the corner, is my bookcase.  It’s got lots of my books in it, as well as reference, sketchbooks, paperwork and some of my childhood favourites too!

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I’m not sure I should show you this photo! When I opened the cupboard, I was worried that everything was going to fall out . . . It’s chock full of materials, inks and paper. Tidying it is on my lists of things to do!

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That’s all of my space, but we also share an area just inside the door where there’s a big plan chest with a very useful cutting mat on top.  I store a lot of my artwork and paper in the drawers here. I’m preparing some Ollie’s Magic Bunny themed activities today so have been using the cutting mat – but I will need to clear it up later in case anyone else wants to use it!

Thank you for letting me show you around my studio space – I hope you’ve enjoyed having a look around and sorry about the mess!

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I hope you guys enjoyed that as much as I did! It’s fascinating to see where people work and their process! I’d love to snoop in everyone’s workspaces! Check out my review of Ollie’s Magic Bunny here: BOOK BLOG: Nicola Killen

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour! 

S x 

BLOG TOUR: Proud

This year sees the release of one of my most hotly anticipated books, another brilliant anthology from the wonderful publishers Stripes. This year it’s an anthology to celebrate all things pride… and I’m not going to lie, reading it made me VERY proud.

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Today, I have the absolute honour of hosting one of the authors from the anthology, Michael Lee Richardson, as he talks about his top 5 queer teams. You’re in for an absolutely brilliant blog post, so get yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit! 

‘The Other Team’

Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin talks about biological families and logical families, the idea that we have the families we’re born into, and the families we make of our friends. For me, being queer is as much about our friendships and the people we choose to surround ourselves with as it is our romantic and sexual relationships. 

Queer friendship is one of the themes I wanted to work into ‘The Other Team’, the story I wrote for Juno Dawson’s Proud anthology.

With that in mind, when I was asked to write something for the #ProudBook blog tour, I wanted to focus on my favourite queer teams and my favourite queer teammates – so, without further ado:

Michael Lee Richardson’s Top 5 Queer Teams!

The Crystal Gems

I’m a huge fan of Steven Universe – at this point, figuring out which Crystal Gem someone is most like is basically its own form of zodiac sign – and I love the dynamic between the Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Steven. The fact that they compliment each other, celebrate each other’s differences, and make room for each others quirks and eccentricities is pretty inspiring, as is the fact that they know how to have a good argument and still be there for each other at the end of the day. In the real world, the fact that the Crewniverse – the team behind Steven Universe – is full of queers is also pretty inspiring!

The Fab Five

When I heard Netflix were remaking Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I was skeptical – the series had its place in the early 2000s, but it felt like we had moved on by 2017. Relaunching the show as Queer Eye – not all the makeovers are with ‘straight guys’ – was a good starting point, but the team Netflix put together was the key to the show’s success. Jonathan Van Ness is my favourite, obviously (when I wrote Alistair from ‘The Other Team’ flicking his ‘hair’ off his shoulders, I was definitely thinking of Van Ness!), but I love them all, and they all bring something unique to the team – not just in their skills, but in their personalities and personas, and it’s nice to see a diverse bunch of queer men working together (especially when it’s for the benefit of other queers).

House of LaBeija

Nothing speaks to the idea of logical families better than houses, part of the drag and ballroom customs which started in Harlem in New York and have become a staple of queer scenes all over the world. From the language – shade, reading, fierce, realness – to the fashion to the dance, ballroom’s influence on queer and mainstream culture can’t be underestimated. I’m particularly fond of the House of LaBeija – Crystal LaBeija, the founder of the House of LaBeija, is often credited as having started ‘house’ culture, and her successor Pepper LaBeija makes a star turn in the legendary drag documentary Paris is Burning.

Babysitter’s Club

Okay, so they’re not canonically queer – but one of the things Proud has made me revisit is the idea that, before LGBTQI+ YA was a going concern, we had to ‘queer’ our YA for ourselves, and there’s no way you could tell 11 year old me the every single one of these girls (and Logan Bruno, boy babysitter) wasn’t queer! The ‘theory’ checks out, too – Ann M Martin, author of The Babysitter’s Club, is queer, and came out publicly after the series was finished. 

Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh

Slightly cheating, this one, as I said being queer teammates was more about friendships than romantic relationships – and Helen and Kate are both! Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh met playing for the England and Great Britain hockey teams – they married in 2013, three years before becoming the first same-sex couple to win an Olympic medal when Team GB won Gold in the women’s field hockey tournament in 2016.

For me, any blog post that celebrates Team GB, The Fab 5 and drag queens in the same blog post is an ABSOLUTE winner. A massive massive thank you to Michael for taking the time to write a blog post for me! I LOVE it so much. 

My review of Proud is coming in the next week or so, so make sure to keep an eye out for it. I promise you this much though… it is EXCEPTIONAL and I can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops!! 

Why don’t you go celebrate some other brilliant #Proudbook content by checking out the rest of the stops on the blog tour? I have absolutely loved how this blog tour is celebrating all things pride related. 

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A massive thank you to the people of Stripes for sending me an early copy of the book and for inviting me on the blog tour. It’s been an absolute honour to shout about this book everywhere! I can’t wait for it to be released into the wild so everyone can enjoy its majesty! 

S x 

 

BLOG TOUR: Will You Catch Me?

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting author Jane Elson on my blog as part of the blog tour for Will You Catch Me? 

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“Nell Hobs lives with a tortoise called Bob Marley, guinea pigs Asbo and Chaos, goldfish Beyoncé and Destiny, gerbils Fizz and Tyrone, Aunty Lou the Hamster … and her mum, who drinks too much. Nell does everything she can to be a good daughter so that her mum will stop. But when things get really hard, Nell stands on her head. Everything looks better upside down, don’t you know?

Nell wishes she knew who her dad was. When new teacher Mr Samuels makes history come alive and tells the class the story of Nell Gwynn, the Orange Girl who became one of the first actresses on the London stage, Nell is captivated and is determined to dress up as an Orange Girl for the Costume Parade. She hatches a plan with her best friend Michael: a way to make her dad step forward and claim her. Will she succeed?”

With a Little Help From My Friends: The highs and lows of friendship for the child of alcoholic

Oh, the complexities of schoolgirl friendships! Especially Years 4-7, it’s such a complex thing, often invisible to the adult world.

For children who have an alcohol dependent parent making friends in school can be nearly impossible. How can you have a sleepover or even have someone home to tea when mum or dad might be drunk?

Nell Hobs in my book Will You Catch Me? has a mother who is alcohol dependent and she has fallen out with best friend, Chantal Smith before the story even begins.

‘Chantal and I used to be friends, only she kept wanting to come round to my flat and I just couldn’t have her there, not with my mum the way she is. Chantal kept on and on about coming round, so I started ignoring her and now she hates me.’

Nell’s new best friend is Michael, a looked after child, who lives next door to Nell on the Beckham Estate with Aunty Lou. His mother has had a nervous breakdown and is being taken care of by relatives in Jamaica. His father is a busy business man who rarely sees him. These two vulnerable children stick together like glue. He is the perfect friend because he knows and understands the situation with Nell’s mum.

I had a lot of fun creating Michael. He is a genius and wants to be an inventor when he grows up. He is constantly taking things to pieces for his inventions and causing havoc! His wardrobe, the lock on the bathroom door, his school chair and so on. Michael is flamboyant in his dress preferring waistcoats, bright spotty patterned shirts and bow ties to trainers and tracksuits. This makes him stand out and he is bullied by the Beckham Street Boyz, the gang on his estate and the T Crew from the neighbouring Tarkey House Estate. Then one day he invents a remote control for the school clock and they get out of maths 45 minutes early. Michael, becomes a hero! He has earned respect and is nick named Prof M. Nell and Michael can now walk about the estate freely.

The complexities of school life are hard as fitting in seems to be the way to survive. Anyone who is different and stands out from the crowd has a rocky ride at some stage in their lives but often go on to achieve great things.

Nell and Michael’s friendship is strong, beautiful and I hope touching to my readers. Nell is not perfect; she is so driven by her desire to fix her mum and find out who her dad is that she fails to notice how much Michael is missing his mum.

She is also bossy and tells Michael what to do which leads to a dramatic climax to the story but I won’t spoil the ending of Will You Catch Me?. I loved writing about Nell and Michael’s friendship. They became my friends as I wrote the book and now that it is finished and out in the world I miss them dearly.

I believe that every child has the right to see themselves reflected in a book. I feel Will You Catch Me? is the most important story I have ever written. Not every one of the 2.6 million children who have a parent who drinks too much, like Nell does, is lucky enough to have a friend like Michael.

Nacoa- the National Association of children of Alcoholics- has a message. You are not alone. This week is COA Week- Children Of Alcoholics Week to raise awareness for children like Nell in Will you catch Me? If you are reading this and are one of those children, please phone The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics helpline number is 0800-358-3456 to talk to someone in confidence.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics (Nacoa) has a message for children like Nell. It is ‘You are not alone’. Their helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

A massive thank you to Jane for writing this post and an equally big thank you to Fritha for asking me to be part of this blog tour!

Check out the rest of the blog tour, I know there promises to be some more brilliant posts coming up!

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S x