The True Face Curriculum by Siobhan Curham

true faceSiobhan Curham is on a mission to help teens find their true selves, with her fabulous book True Face, which came out last week. I’m so happy to have her guest posting here at the Hearthfire today.

I asked her what her dream curriculum would look like (and I so wish we could implement this in schools right now – it looks brilliant!).

One thing that baffles me about the education system is that it’s so geared towards preparing us for our adult lives: cramming our heads full of knowledge, training us to pass exams, providing us with qualifications, and yet no time, or very little, is spent looking at who we actually are. Instead of tailoring education to fit the unique needs and talents of the individual, we’re forced to squeeze ourselves into a ‘one size fits all’ system. Only it doesn’t fit all at all.

And when you combine this with the pressure from the media and society to look and act and think in a certain way, it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves before we’ve even left school. Then, when we do leave, we can end up in jobs and relationships and lives that make us feel unhappy and uncomfortable because they just don’t fit.

Losing sight of my true self when I was a teenager caused me to drop out of uni and end up in a job that I hated. It took me years before I regained the confidence and clarity to remember who I truly was and follow my true calling as a writer.

So, if I could give school curriculums a TRUE FACE make-over, here’s what I would do…

Finding Out Who You Truly Are

There would be regular sessions designed to help students identify who they truly are. They would frequently be asked questions such as: What are your passions? What are your talents? What are your strengths? so that their academic education could be adapted accordingly to ensure that they shine.

Feeling Good About Your True Self

Building on the findings from the previous section, I would help students feel good about their own unique talents and characteristics and strengths – even if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. Especially if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. The world desperately needs more free-thinking, free-spirited people. It does not need any more reality TV stars.

Having a Healthy Body Image

To counteract the air-brushed images we’re constantly being bombarded with by magazines and the media, students would be taught that true beauty exists within all of us. And that to live our best, most fulfilling lives, we need to eat for vitality, exercise for fun and revel in our so-called ‘imperfections’.

Turning Wounds into Wisdom

Students would also be given the tools to turn any painful experiences into lessons to live their life by. Turning wounds into wisdom is one of the most freeing things you can do in life and absolutely vital for happiness during the teenage years.

Overcoming Your Inner Voice of Doom

During the school years you can often become plagued by your ‘inner voice of doom’ – the voice in your head that tells you that you’re just not good enough, popular enough, attractive enough, clever enough. I would provide students with simple techniques to counteract this inner voice and encourage them to create an inner voice that is way more supportive.

Making and Being True Friends

There are few things more depressing than reading the statistics about bullying in schools, so a substantial part of the True Face Curriculum would be focused on creating a culture of encouragement and support. There would be regular Random Acts of Kindness days and mentorship schemes.

Mindfulness Techniques

With anxiety, self-harming and depression amongst young people all massively on the rise, there would be regular lessons in basic mindfulness techniques so that students would have the tools to help themselves when life gets tough.

Studies are showing that meditation has a transformative effect in the classroom and on students’ lives, so I would make this a daily practice.

Finding Your True Calling

Lots of time would be spent studying inspirational women and girls from all walks of life and all different professions. So that when teenage girls are surveyed about what they want to do when they leave school 70% don’t reply ‘be famous’ (as they did in a recent poll). My goal would be to have 100% answer that they want to in some way create, adventure, pioneer and explore.

Although I might not be in charge of the curriculum (and writing this post has made me really wish that I was!) all of these subjects are covered in TRUE FACE and my talks and workshops for schools.

You can find out more over at the TRUE FACE website.

See what I mean? How much more meaningful could school be with Siobhan in charge? Thank you so much, Siobhan, for visiting the Hearthfire today. If you have or are a teen and like the sound of these ideas, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of True Face.

Following Your Inner Compass: Q & A with author Andrew Norriss

Jessicas GhostAndrew Norriss’s brilliant new Middle Grade (9-12+) book, Jessica’s Ghost, is out now and I highly recommend it. We are fortunate enough to have Andrew visiting the hearthfire today to answer a few questions about this book and his interesting writing career (did you know his other writing includes sitcom The Brittas Empire and kids’ TV series Bernard’s Watch?).

Jessica’s Ghost tackles a weighty subject (depression and suicide) for young readers; where did the idea for the book come from?

It’s not an idea I consciously chose. I would not have dared. I was trying, as an experiment, to write a story without all my usual pre-planning, so I began with the idea of a ghost (with no idea why she was a ghost) and just started tapping away. I was halfway through the first draft before I realised she had killed herself (it’s curious how this was never really up for debate) and was thoroughly alarmed. This is not my usual territory, and I was not at all sure I had the ability to make my story remotely convincing.

That does sound alarming! Francis is a great character. How do you create a character like that? Did he arrive, fully-formed, or did you have to work out what would make him different?

Arriving fully formed just about sums it up. Again, to my surprise. I know nothing about clothes, design or fashion and there was a lot of hasty searching in books and on the web for good phrases and words that might make it look as if I did. What I did know, however, is that passions like these can appear at a remarkably early age, so I imagined Francis finding back numbers of Vogue when he was four, and demanding a sewing machine for his eighth birthday. And just a few weeks back I found an article in the paper about a famous designer who had done exactly that.

What would you say to someone who says children’s books shouldn’t raise difficult issues directly?

I have some sympathy with this but, like so many things in life, you can’t make a hard and fast rule about what can and cannot be put in books. Even in Narnia, war kills friends and mothers have cancer. Maybe it’s not so much the subject that matters so much as how it’s treated. And most important of all, of course, whether it’s a good story.

Yes, didactic ‘issues-driven’ books don’t really work for any age group, adults included – story is definitely the most important thing. Jessica’s Ghost is, first and foremost, a good read and I think that’s how you can ‘get away with’ raising these issues with this age group.

You have written in a range of media and genres in your career; how much is that a conscious choice?

After deciding that I was going to take the writing thing seriously, the first piece I wrote was a situation comedy for television and, to my astonishment, managed to sell it. I wrote sitcoms for 10 years, with my friend Richard Fegen and then, as mysteriously as the urge had arisen, it simply disappeared, and I found myself writing other things instead. Like books for young people.

I don’t know why this happened, but I have come to realise that there is an inner compass in all of us, telling us which star we have to follow – like Francis wanting to design clothes – and it is a foolish person who, for the sake of money or fame or to please their parents, tries to go in a different direction. We really have about as much choice about where this inner compass will take us as we do in choosing which direction is north. To a quite remarkable extent we go where we have to go…

Do you have a fixed writing routine? (e.g. number of words per day, set hours for writing etc)

I never went for the idea of a set number of words, but I always found a time limit very useful. I usually made sure it was not too long as well. Four hours was a good day…

What advice would you give to young writers?

The best advice I ever found on writing was given by Robert Heinlein (science fiction writer). He said there were only three rules to follow for a successful career in writing. Number one was to write something (he reckoned that was where 99% of would be writers fell down). Number two was to send it off to a publisher. And number three was to keep on doing numbers one and two… Made sense to me!

Thank you, Andrew – such interesting answers. If this has whetted your appetite for a quirky MG read that offers depth without ever feeling heavy, I can definitely recommend Jessica’s Ghost.

UKYA Extravaganza Blog Tour: Q&A with Alan Gibbons

UKYA extravaganzaAs you may know, there is a very special event taking place on the last day of this month: the UKYA extravaganza, with 35 UK authors of YA books at Waterstones Birmingham. Tickets sold out within 24 hours, and it looks like this will be the first of many, rather than a one-off event. Today the blog tour stops here, with Alan Gibbons answering a few questions about writing, the UKYA phenomenon and reading.

Gibbons booksAlan’s books cover a range of important and interesting topics. They are often contemporary novels, focusing on difficulties that teens and children face. He has written about gun crime (Raining Fire), hate crimes (Hate), domestic violence (The Edge), bullying and suicide (Hold On) and racial tension (Caught in the Crossfire, An Act of Love) as well as football (Total Football series), mythology and folklore (Shadow of the Minotaur, Night Hunger). With all of Alan’s books that I have read, there is a very real and very human story at the heart that brings the issue into focus. His writing is issues-led, but never preachy or didactic.

What do you think is special about UKYA? Why does it deserve celebrating/ promoting?

I think any initiative that keeps young people reading through the teenage years is to be supported. This crossroads between childhood and adulthood can often be turbulent, thrilling, troubling and monstrously exhausting. It was for me! The genre barely existed until landmark books such as S E Hinton’s The Outsiders, Robert Cormier’s Chocolate War and Heroes and Robert Swindells’ Brother in the Land and Stone Cold blazed a trail. Now it attracts some of the most talented writers around. An event that brings lots of these authors together with their readers is a terrific idea.

You obviously believe in the importance of diverse books. What advice do you have for writers who are hesitant about writing characters who are from different cultures from themselves?

I suppose I just feel that the variety of human experience should find its way into literature. Writers who have a range of black and Asian, male and female, gay and straight characters aren’t following an agenda or pushing ‘political correctness.’ They are reflecting their society. They are being human. Anyone who chooses not to do this is surely pushing an alternative agenda.

I would never be so arrogant as to give other writers advice. Personally, I think I have nothing to lose by walking around in somebody else’s skin. Whatever details of skin colour, gender or sexual orientation, we are all brothers and sisters and have far more in common than we have difference. I just write out of human solidarity and that means having that little bit of courage to stray into the odd avenue I have not trodden myself, to imagine another person’s circumstances and responses. Hey, if I get it wrong I can apologise in the best way possible, do it better in the next book I write. Defensiveness is the enemy of literature and artistic creation.

I’m also aware of your tireless library campaigning. Do you see this as part of your role as an author, like school visits?

Absolutely. I am a teacher-writer-activist. Each of those elements is as essential as the others. What this government is doing is wrong, the greatest act of cultural vandalism carried out in this country since World War Two. How could we writers step aside and let the philistines get away with book burning by proxy without raising howls of protest?

Can you tell us something about what you’re working on at the moment?

My next novel is about political and personal betrayal, focussing on the son of a Member of Parliament and something his father did in public life that impacts disastrously on the family. It was planned to be called You Took My Son, but may morph into End Game because my publishers prefer the second title. I am just happy for it to see the light of day in the spring. I am now working on a book about abduction and abuse for 2016.

How do you work? Do you plan in depth? How do you decide what your topic will be? Does the story come first, the characters or is that not at all how it works?

I was an angry young man. Now I am an angry man in late middle age. Pretty soon I will be an angry old man. I usually start with something in the news that either upsets me, confuses me, perturbs me or inspires me. From that, the characters start to emerge, essentially how they respond to crisis. I would love to be good at planning, but I am terrible. I usually get an ending, a few ‘scenes’ in the middle and a vague sense of where it is going then start tapping away at my laptop. I feel my way through the text instinctively and rather chaotically, I’m afraid.

Thank you, Alan, for that insight into your work. I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham!

In the meantime, if you fancy a well-written thriller set very firmly in the real world, grab one of Alan’s books.

Mothers in Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess – guest post from Katy Moran

Today, Katy Moran, author of Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess, is here to talk about mothers in YA novels and specifically in her Hidden duo. If you haven’t read these novels, I would definitely recommend them.

Mothers are often necessarily absent from YA fiction. Usually, you can’t get your heroine or hero into the truly epic amount of trouble that makes a good story with their mum in the

Hidden Princessbackground cooking tea and asking if they have done their homework. Connie has grown from being a vulnerable little sister in Hidden Among Us to a spiky heroine in her own right in The Hidden Princess, and whilst Miriam might be a bit emotionally distant with her, there is no way Connie could have planned an illegal rave with her mum on the doorstep. It’s the second party in my Hidden books to which the fae Hiddhidden among usen arrive as uninvited guests, with awful and far- reaching consequences each time around. Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mothers for these horrendous screw-ups to occur, and to give your teenage leads the chance to emerge (or not) from disaster without any adult help.

On the other hand, it’s definitely not common in YA to actually hear a mother’s side of the story. After all, these novels are about the young, the cool and the desperate, not about their mums. But in Hidden Among Us, the first of my Hidden books, when Connie is still just a little girl, I decided to narrate a few chapters from the perspective of Miriam. To really understand why she is such a different mother to each of her three children, we need to hear her side of the story and how she was led into the terrible position of getting too close to these dangerous fae creatures, and subsequently having to make a choice between Lissy, Connie and Rafe. Writing from Miriam’s perspective in flashbacks to her own teenage years and early twenties made her a more well-rounded character. I think she’d be just a textbook over-protective mum, otherwise.

The Hidden books aren’t just about the loss of children, though. The death of Larkspur’s mother sparks a revenge plot that forces all my characters into intolerable situations and leads them into situations where they are forced to make impossible choices. My fear is that I should have explored Larkspur’s mother more deeply as a character. I worry that I fridged her – that she falls into the category of the cardboard cut-out dead female who exists only to generate a revenge plot for male characters. I wish I’d been able to round her out a little more without compromising on pace.

Writing novels is a good way for authors to explore their own worst fears. The mothers in The Hidden Princess and Hidden Among Us were born from my own worst fears as a mum, not from my actual mother, who couldn’t be more different to Miriam. That desperation to protect all her children comes from a very deep and instinctive source inside me, and the fact that she can’t protect all of them is what drives the drama – a theme which re-emerges in The Hidden Princess when we learn how Lissy’s Hidden friend Iris lost her own baby son.

I do owe a little of these books to my own mum, though – well, perhaps more to my grandma. I’m not sure if Mum will thank me for sharing this, but lots of babies present a slightly odd and squashy appearance at birth, and Mum was born with both ears squashed flat to the sides of her head.

What did the midwife say to my grandma when she saw the pointed ears?

“It’s a changeling!”

Now there’s an idea…

Wow – I certainly didn’t experience Larkspur’s mother as a flat stereotype, largely because there is so much action in the novel, which would have suffered if her character were more developed. 

Thank you so much to Katy for visiting the Hearthfire today, and for giving us a peek into her thinking process. Mums in YA (and many children’s books) do tend to be absent or deficient, perhaps even more now as parents are less and less able to give their children enough freedom to have adventures. Gone are the halcyon days of the Famous Five, when kids could just roam around the countryside without anyone batting an eyelid!

Top Five Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Essentials: Blog Tour Post from April Tucholke

devil blog tour banner

Today we are fortunate to be one of the stops on April Tucholke’s blog tour celebrating the publication of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (see previous post for review, but short version: it’s a cracker). I’ve been enjoying these list-themed posts. Check out the banner opposite to see where to go if you’ve missed any. And over to April…

1. Coffee.

The characters down espresso every chance they get, especially River and Neely. They run on the stuff. If you don’t have a caffeine addiction before you start reading, you will afterward. Hopefully.

 

2. Classic film.

The first day River arrives in town he and Violet pack a picnic dinner and watch Casablanca at an outside showing in the town square. Neely and Violet see A Brief Encounter together, and “Citizen Kane” is the name of Violet’s rundown mansion by the sea.

 

3. Classic books and short stories.

I reference several in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Jane EyreWuthering HeightsThe Shining, “A Rose for Emily.” Violet is reading “Young Goodman Brown” from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse when she sees River for the first time.

Violet is a Bookworm Heroine. She doesn’t have magical fighting skills. She doesn’t know how to use a sword. She’s not a secret assassin. She doesn’t have a temper or a cabinet of lethal poisons (unfortunately). She reads books and thinks a lot and dreams a lot and still manages to save the day in the end.

 

4. Art.

Violet’s parents are artists and she and her twin brother grew up breathing art and paint. Degas, Chagall, Pollock, French Impressionism, Italian Renaissance… There is a small painting studio in the backyard that the characters spend time in.

 

5. Music.

The characters listen to old Robert Johnson records in the attic. A lot.

Thank you, April, for sharing those with us. If this has whetted your appetite for Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, it’s out now from Faber so no need to wait!

Blog Tour: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings – I’m All About the Ass-Kicking (plus GIVEAWAY!)

I’m really excited to have Sean Cummings here at the Hearthfire today, having loved both Poltergeeks and Student Bodies (links to my reviews).

Click here for more tour links

I’m All About The Ass-Kicking

My thanks to Beth Kemp for inviting me to do a guest posting today.

I write urban fantasy – it’s kind of my passion because there’s something liberating about the entire genre. Yes, there are similar kinds of characters with similar kinds of story arcs, but what I really love more than anything is the serious ass-kicking that goes on.

Because slamming evildoers is really something we all might like to do deep down inside. So I tend to live vicariously through the heroes and heroines in books by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Nancy Holzner … I could list all the UF titles I’ve read and probably pick out the best ass-kicking scenes in each one. So when I set about to write a young adult urban fantasy, I really wanted to create a character who epitomizes the kinds of qualities that I’ve found in protagonists by my favorite authors. I also wanted to write a book that was starkly different from what’s currently on the YA shelves at your local bookseller.

In POLTERGEEKS, teen witch Julie Richardson has something to prove to her mother. She’s cocky, snarky, independent and utterly fearless. Unfortunately for her, Mom winds up on the receiving end of a dark spell that rips her soul out of her body and leaves her in a coma. Voila! A hero’s journey. And what kind of hero would you be if you didn’t have a “chosen one” aspect to your life. Julie isn’t really chosen in the sense that she’s messianic – but she does have a magical heritage and part of her journey is to discover what it all means.

In STUDENT BODIES, I’ve really ramped up the tension and raised the stakes. Julie now knows what her place in the world is supposed to be and there’s a threat to every person at her school. She must also balance our the normal teenage mother-daughter conflict in a way that doesn’t make her come off sounding like she’s a petulant teen. Because Julie, like it or not, needs her mother. Mom is her anchor and in this second book, she still has a lot to prove. Her mother also has to begin to let her daughter figure things out for herself – Mom’s challenge is every parent’s challenge: letting go.

Did I mention there’s a lot of ass-kicking going on in book two? Because, you know, there is. We’ve got new friendships – Twyla Standingready, an aboriginal magic slinger in her own right. If Julie’s going to solve the threat to everyone at her school, she’s going to need allies because the danger is very real, very dark and it gets very big very fast.

Marcus is still there, but even he’s not safe. Julie has to deal with the fact that her newfound role places her boyfriend in danger. She’s learning that even with her great power, she can’t always protect those who are closest to her, no matter how much she tries.

STUDENT BODIES is a dark, book. Where POLTERGEEKS was light, fluffy and thrilling, STUDENT BODIES deals with some very dark themes that make all the characters much more believable. There’s a ton of magic being thrown around throughout the book and an ending that I promise you simply won’t see coming.

Well, there you go. An ass-kicking teen witch, a threat to basically everyone at her school and the clock is ticking. Do get a kick out of STUDENT BODIES, won’t you?

About the Author:

Sean Cummings is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing quirky, humorous and dark novels featuring characters that are larger than life. His debut was the gritty urban fantasy SHADE FRIGHT published in 2010. He followed up later in the year with the sequel FUNERAL PALLOR. His urban fantasy/superhero thriller UNSEEN WORLD was published in 2011.

2012 saw the publication of Sean’s first urban fantasy for young adults. POLTERGEEKS is a rollicking story about teen witch Julie Richards, her dorky boyfriend and race against time to save her mother’s life. The first sequel, STUDENT BODIES is due for publication in September 2013.

Sean Cummings lives in Saskatoon Canada.
*Author Links*
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About the Book:

Student Bodies (Poltergeeks #2)

Release Date: 5 September 2013

Summary from Goodreads:

Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn’t give a damn if you’ve found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.

GIVEAWAY
STUDENT BODIES GIVEAWAY:
UK Prize Pack
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle
CANADA/US Prize Pack:
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

a Rafflecopter giveaway

#murderonthebeach Blog Tour: Deleted Scene from James Dawson’s Cruel Summer

I hope you’re ready for the awesomeness that is here today. James Dawson’s Cruel Summer, out now from Indigo, is a fabulously tense tale of murder and friendship. I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour, celebrating both Cruel Summer and Kate Harrison’s Soul Storm, wrapping up her fantastic Soul Beach trilogy.

CRUEL SUMMER – DELETED SCENE

In early drafts of Cruel Summer, Katie also had a narrative. It was felt, however, that it was more interesting if all of the novel was told from the point of view of the ‘sidekicks’. In most YA novels, Katie would be the main character, but Cruel Summer plays with that format. This scene still exists from Alisha’s point of view, but in this deleted scene we actually get to hear what Katie and Ben are saying.

Katie stared at the fire for what felt like hours. The roaring flames lost their will to fight, tiring to feeble tongues before dying to embers. They still glowed scarlet though, and they still gave heat. When she poked them with her stick, they flared up angrily, trying to spark. If she weren’t so tired she’d have thought up some poetic analogy about them being like the dying fire, but she couldn’t be bothered.

Most of the others had drifted back to the villa, blaming coldness or tiredness. Maybe it was all too much: the flight, the wine, the sun. Janey. Alisha remained on the other side of the ashes, playing with her camera. The pair sat in companionable silence.

The mood had lightened a little after the talk about Janey, but the elephant, although acknowledged, didn’t go anywhere. Katie didn’t feel any better for getting things out in the open. OK, they’d talked about it, but there was still so much left to say.

‘Hey,’ Alisha finally said. ‘I’m gonna get ready for bed.’

Katie nodded. ‘I’ll be in in a minute.’

‘You OK out here by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I like the quiet.’

Alisha walked over and gave her a kiss on the head. It was a reminder of how close they’d been once upon a time, but Katie wasn’t sure anymore. The gesture felt awkward. It was like Janey had been the stitching holding them together, after she jumped, everyone fell apart, tumbling miles apart in different directions.

Alisha’s flip flops clattered up the stairs towards the villa and she was alone with the tide and the embers. Katie closed her eyes. Still noisy in her head, but quiet on the beach. Things would seem better in the morning. They always did.

Without needing to open her eyes, she became aware of someone approaching. She opened them to see Ben’s silhouette amble onto the sand. She’d recognise his walk anywhere. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’ She tried to think of something cute or funny to say. There was nothing. This was painful – she hated not being able to banter with him.

‘I just wanted to come and make sure you were OK. You went pretty quiet.’

She looked up at him. With nothing to say, she just shook her head. If she opened her mouth, she was pretty sure a sob would find its way out. Ben sat alongside her, their shoulders touching this time. Unsure of himself, his arm hovered for a moment, like he was scared something might bite it. But as soon as his hand made contact with her arm, it all made sense and he pulled her into an embrace.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He was so warm and so soft. He still used the same washing powder. Katie buried her head in his t-shirt. It was all the same – a familiar feeling blossomed inside her chest. It was the same as it had been, and it was unique to him. She loved other things and other people but no-one else made her feel exactly like this. It was Ben-love.

A flock of what ifs flew into her mind. What if they’d never split up? What if he’d never gone out with Janey?

His stubble grazed the top of her forehead. His skin on her skin was too much to stand. She opened her eyes to find Janey sat on the other side of the fire, watching them. Not as she had been, but as she was. A drowned girl. White, dead eyes. Bloated cheeks. Grey-blue skin. Katie recoiled, but the vision had gone.

‘What?’

‘We can’t do this, Ben.’

‘Can’t do what? We weren’t doing anything wrong.’

Katie stood and started back towards the villa. She held her arms close to her body like a shield. Turning to face him, she said, ‘Ben, we can fancy this shit up as much as we like. What happened to Jane was our fault. You and me.’

‘Katie, it wasn’t. We have to stop blaming ourselves. We have to let it go.’

Katie shook her head. ‘We don’t have that right. We don’t deserve it.’ She ran up the stairs to the villa and didn’t look back to see the hurt on his face.

**********
Wow! Thank you so much, James, for this peek into the earlier life of the novel. If you haven’t already read Cruel Summer and this has whetted your appetite, do not delay – the blogosphere is raving over this one with good reason. Check out all the other fun with the hashtag #murderonthebeach, including many more fascinating blog posts and a fab Twitter Q&A with both authors.

Q and A with William Sutton, author of Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square

Today I’m very happy to bring you some fascinating insights into the work of William Sutton, author of the fabulous Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square, a Victorian detective novel being published this week. If you’re in the London area, do take a look at the open invitation to the book launch below *sigh*. Maybe next time… Anyway, here’s what William had to say:

Why historical crime?

By mistake. I fell in love with the construction of subterranean London. The 1860s became my domain.

But in constructing my techno-thriller of the past, I discovered I could be blunter than I would be allowed to today. In a diseased society, if your friends went about cleansing it, how far would you support them?

Favourite fictional detectives?

I do like non-detectives detecting:

Oedipus the King, Sophocles
Porfyry Petrovich in Crime and Punishment (the original Columbo)
Inspector Cuff, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone: “I own that I made a mess of it. Not the first mess which has distinguished my professional career!”
Utterson, the lawyer, in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Joseph K in Kafka’s The Trial
Detective McDunn in Iain Banks’ Complicity
Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery (first mystery: is there even a mystery?)
Woody Allen in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (see Oedipus above)

Your writing process? I’d like to know about planning – were all the pieces in place before writing?

Every book is different, every story is different, as I scrabble to find new ways to annotate and organise the waves of ideas.

I take notes, write scenes on backs of envelopes, wake up in the night. Notebooks, pads. Now I’m using Evernote and Scrivener, which let me check and add to notes anywhere.

I write by hand in fountain pen in A4 notebooks at a desk with no computer. I just love turning the page, numbering the pages, the cartridges running out, the whole process. I’ve now started typing up on to typewriter (my mother’s, a 1958 Eaton). I know it sounds mad. But my last book I spent so long faffing around with computer files, it’s actually quicker to rewrite decisively, revising with care but without deleting and cut/pasting, then to type up finally on to computer.

I’ve used speech to text software to help me type up. I’ve used text to speech software to listen back to (a robotic reading of) what I’ve just written.

My acting teacher told me, “On n’est jamais trop aidé.” You can’t be helped too much: ie whatever helps, do it.

Could you give us a crash course in writing crime fiction?

1. Go with your instinct on what you want to happen and why it matters.
2. Gather ways it could have happened.
3. Split them up. Wilkie Colllins: “Make ’em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”

Thanks to William for this little bit of insight. Fountain pen, eh? If this has whetted your appetite to hear more from him, check out the details for Thursday’s launch:

Writing Funny Books for Children by M L Peel

Today at the Hearthfire, we are privileged to be visited by the fabulous M L Peel, author of The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair, out now from Walker Books and a great fun summer read. Here is a brilliant authorly meditation on laughter and humour in children’s books.

The first time my daughter really laughed, she was around five months old. We were in the bathroom blowing bubbles. Pop. Pop. Pop. I burst them with my finger, and each time I burst one, she gave a little giggle. But then, I failed to blow one. Bubble-less, I was left fat cheeked, puffing into the air. My daughter stared in confusion, and then, from deep within her belly, there erupted a gurgling torrent of laughter.

When we had stopped laughing along with her, my husband and I stared at each other in amazement. Our baby could not yet feed herself or even sit up unaided, and yet she had just displayed a fully-fledged sense of humour: she had laughed at the incompetence of her bubble blowing mother.

I finished writing my first comic novel for children ‘The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair’ a year before my daughter was born, but it is only since observing her instinctive sense of humour, that I have really stopped to consider just how important laughter is to children’s emotional development, as important in its own way as food and water, touch and movement.

Laughter is bonding. It unites a family. Funny books make reading together a shared joyful experience. When reading together is a pleasure, parents will be inspired to do it more often, and children will concentrate for longer. Funny books foster a love of reading in general, a love that will last well into adulthood and be passed down into the next generation.

Even base bodily humour can be educational when it helps to keep children turning the pages. When I wrote my book The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair, I was aware that the concept of ‘phartling’ would be off putting for some adults. Many agents rejected the manuscript with a cursory glance at the synopsis. One agent wrote to tell me that “whilst the odd whizz popper may be amusing, a whole book about them will not be.” One posh London primary school cancelled my school visit over fears that parents would feel they had put “unsuitable material into the hands of children.” (My favourite rejection letter ever…)

In one sense, the agent who wrote to tell me that a “whole book about whizzpoppers” would not be amusing was right. But had she read the book, I hope she would have discovered that whilst it’s full of whizzpoppers it’s not really about them. Whizz-poppers are the pretext that let me talk about our society’s obsession with instant fame, without, I hope, ever sounding worthy or pompous. The farcical nature of ‘phartling’ allows me to discuss (amongst many other things…) both Mozart’s work for opera and stranger-danger, two topics which, in their different ways, would indeed be ‘unsuitable material for children’ if presented in a more serious context. When I talk to children on school visits, after the initial sniggers, it is rarely the ‘phartling’ they dwell on: instead they enthuse to me about the parrot disguised as an owl; or the Duke of Phartesia’s moustache done up in curlers; or Agent Frogmarch shouting at the spoilt celebrity parents….

As well as being bonding, laughter is sometimes punitive. Anyone who has been a child knows, laughter can be cruel as well as joyful. One thing I have been mindful of when writing is to avoid poking fun at ‘easy targets’. I have tried to make the rich and the powerful the butt of my jokes (excuse the pun, I just can’t help it…), rather than the weak or vulnerable.

Since my daughter has been born, I have become even more conscious of the way in which girls and female characters are portrayed in children’s fiction. My characters are deliberately larger than life and so can sometimes sail close to stereotypes, but I have tried to make sure that I tease men, women and children equally. A few friends have asked if I could put their children into a book, or name a character after them, but since my characters are rarely one hundred percent pleasant, this is a request I have had to decline!

Above all, I try to remember the weird and wonderful things that made me laugh as a child, and to use those memories as my inspiration, (so for instance, the origami loo paper is a standing joke in my family). I also try to make myself laugh as an adult and to include a few jokes especially for the parents reading aloud to their children. Sometimes, I have to sit down to write when I am not feeling particularly funny, but if I haven’t cheered up by the end of my writing session, I know I’ll probably end up going back and deleting most of what I’ve written later. If I’m not laughing, why should anybody else be…

What a fascinating post! Thank you so much. 
 
If this has whetted your appetite for a funny summer read, The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair is available now.

Interview with Michelle Lovric, author of The Fate in the Box

Today I’m really excited to welcome Michelle Lovric to the Hearthfire to tell us about her love of Italy (and Venice in particular) and her latest book, The Fate in the Box which I recently read and loved.

Firstly, how did you come to be interested in all things Italian? My introduction toItaly was somewhat coincidental: my A-Level French teacher was an Italian (Lorenzo Chiarotti), who offered Italian GCSE in a year as an optional extra to those of us in his French class. I probably wouldn’t have become aware of the language and culture in the same way if it hadn’t been for him. Funny how life can be a series of fortunate coincidences! 

How lucky that an Italian teacher came into your life at such a formative age. But you must have had some inclination in that direction to have chosen to do his optional extra? Or was he just as incredibly dashing as ‘Lorenzo Chiarotti’ sounds?
I loved languages and was good at them. I’d have opted for any language that was offered, I think!
My background is Serbian Irish Australian. I was never given a chance to study Italian at school, though I loved Latin. I was like Byron in that Italy, and particularly Venice, was ‘the greenest island in my imagination’ even before seeing the place. (In no other way am I like Byron, however. In fact, I intensely dislike his poetry, though his letters are fun – if you like cruelty and exaggeration). When I was able to travel, Venicewas the first place I went, and I immediately signed an invisible contract for life.
I learned Italian ‘per la strada’, as they say. I did start to have private lessons with Ornella Tarantola from the Italian Bookshop in London, but after six weeks I had enough vocabulary to chat about life, Venice, men, clothes and food. The lessons promptly stopped and we became close friends instead. We still are. I began to read in Italian, and to speak it regularly. I learned a great deal more Italian dealing with plumbers, librarians and books in the Marciana library. Then I had to give a couple of lectures in Italian when I was trying to save the column of infamy of Bajamonte Tiepolo, the villain of my first two children’s novels, from the dusty room in the Palazzo Ducale where it still lies … sadly. And when The Undrowned Child was published in Italian, I had to present it to a conference of booksellers. I’m still learning all the time, and speaking it every day.
I really enjoyed reading The Fate in the Box (as did my eldest daughter – 14 – who fancied it after seeing me with it!). One of the things I found most intriguing was all the automata. I love the idea that automating everything made people lazy and unable to do things for themselves any more – a great form of social control! But I really wanted to ask where that initial spark of an idea came from. Were you consciously thinking of a way to mirror our computerised world without using computers as such? Was it a steampunky thing? 

I am so glad you enjoyed The Fate and thank you for the lovely review.
I’m a little unsure about Steampunk, and had to get my god-daughter to explain it to me, at least in fashion terms. As far as I understand it, I am proto-Steampunking in the book.
So it was not a race to join a genre that inspired The Fate. I was thinking about how little we use our bodies these days, except in order to beautify and display them, and about how idleness has become prized as something in which the spoilt and rich can indulge. Some people pamper themselves in passive ways – massages, facials, spas. Most of all, the rich have the luxury of time, as well as financial wealth.
But all that idleness always costs someone … whether it is a child working in a dangerous factory in Pakistanto create a designer spa dressing gown or a subsistence farmer in Moroccogrinding Argan nuts for oil. And somehow all the pleasure seems to accumulate at the top of the pyramid, with very little down below, where the work is done.
I wanted to remind young readers that luxury always costs more than money and frequently costs human misery. So I personified that issue in my child characters: Amneris, Tockle and Biri are respectively poor, very poor and starving. Meanwhile Latenia and her brother Maffeo are rich. Yet all their privileges and treats only partially hide the fact that their father does not care about them except as pawns in his ambitious games. Meanwhile Latenia and Maffeo are indulged with revolving cake stands and mechanical toys.
The automata of The Fate in the Box are meant to be both a little menacing and a little ridiculous. The need to wind them up creates a slave race of Winder Uppers. And my young characters soon realize that they must liberate the slaves in order to make Venice a decent place again.
I’ve read and enjoyed others of your books (must read your adult novels!) and always appreciate the historical notes you include in the children’s books. I think they add a lot to our enjoyment of the book, and it’s natural to be curious about the reality behind the story after reading. But which comes first for you: the history you want to include, or the plot?  

I am so glad you like the historical notes. I do them in all my novels and I’ve only ever had one person sneer about it in a review; mostly people are happy and interested. I know that schools make use of them too.
History is a starting point for me, but more of a springboard than anything as I write historical fantasy. I usually find an idea that intrigues me, and it always comes from real history. Just now, for example, I have discovered that there several eminent and talented parrots living on the Grand Canal in the late nineteenth century, and I do see the beginnings of a possible story in that. The children’s book I am currently writing was partly inspired by the Treasures of Heaven exhibition of saintly relics at the BritishMuseuma few years ago.
But an idea is not enough. Then I have to hear a voice in my head. A little personality starts reaching into the historical setting, burrowing around and finding a place for itself. Then it finds a problem – for without problems there would be no drama and without drama, nothing more than pageantry. And that personality that acquires accoutrements that mean it belongs to the only person who can possibly disentangle the knotted network of catastrophe I have carefully constructed to entrap all the characters.
Place is also hugely important in my writing. Venice is always a character in my books. Veniceis special for me. Well, she’s special for everyone, but my whole writing life is invested in her. I always write about her, and my entire lifetime will be too short to explore all the stories she offers me. And of course I have spent many years restoring a gothic building there, so I am invested in all sorts of other ways too.  I’ve always had a thing about living in a house with a name rather than a number, and Venice offers lots of joy in that department too. My forthcoming adult novel is set in a palazzo that rejoices in the name Ca’ Coccina Tiepolo Papadopoli. When I went there to write it, it was the week before the builders moved in. Two years later, it has now been restored as a luxury hotel, with my character’s bedroom heavily featured on the website, which feels odd.
Rather horribly, I tend to judge people by their sensitivity to Venice. There are people who truly are Venice-blind, who don’t see anything special in the place, who say that she isn’t very different to Manchester. Or they complain that the Venetians are not very friendly, or that their city has a strange smell. If you were part of a population of 59000 and shrinking, and you were invaded by 22 million tourists annually, some of them bellowing at you in their language – might you not be a little withdrawn? And of course Venice smells. She is an urban seaside, an antique port. She smells of the past, of salt, of seaweed, of crabs, of wet stone. She smells delicious!
As my blog readers may know, I write educational textbooks and teaching resources as well as working on some fiction projects. So for me, it’s quite obvious how my career as a teacher has led me into writing (or at least publishing – writing’s always there). What about you? How do the various pieces of your career(s) slot together? I know you worked in publishing before (I loved your blog post on window displays for your books), but what led you to pool all your interests and specialisms into writing? 

Yes, I know several teachers who have found their way into writing and publishing. The urge to share information is common to writers and teachers, and when one speaks of children, then there must also be the urge infuse joy and fun into that process.
It is only in the last three years that I have learned that I like teaching! At least I love teaching one-to-one. I have been teaching writing skills to art history students at the Courtauld, as one of the Royal Literary Fund Fellows. Until then, I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much.
From childhood, I was always in a hurry to write, edit, arrange and generally deal with the written word. I wrote and illustrated my first picture book at twelve.
I first trained as a journalist. Then I worked in publishing. I have done just about everything in publishing except sell an actual book: editorial, design, production, foreign rights. Finally, I became a packager, which means coming up with ideas for books, selling them to publishers and then researching, writing, designing and producing them. But all along I wanted to write fiction. I wrote poetry, and made endless notes for the novel I would one day find the time to write. My packaging business was a seven day a week commitment, with many late nights too, so the novel never seemed about to happen. But finally one of my packaged books became a New York Times bestseller. I was in New York, doing publicity for Love Letters an Anthology of Passion, when my publisher dropped the newspaper in my lap. As soon as I saw my listing, I knew my life could change, and I decided that it would change in the way in which I wanted … so I took two months off work and wrote my first novel, Carnevale. I’m now writing my tenth novel, another one for children …
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions. 

Thank you so much for asking me!