North of Nowhere Blog Tour: A Place of Inspiration

Today is a very exciting day here at the Hearthfire: Liz Kessler is here to talk about her setting for North of Nowhere (which by the way is a fabulous story of families, mystery, magic and the sea – my review’s here). So, without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Liz.

About seven years ago, I went on holiday in the Scottish highlands. Whilst there, I visited various tiny towns and attractions along the coast. One of these was a small town called Pennan, the setting for one of my favourite films, Local Hero. But just a little way along the coast from this town that has now become a tourist attraction, there was another, smaller village. Little more than a row of houses standing silently, yards from the water’s edge, this one is not on most people’s tourist destination maps. And yet it was the one that stayed with me.

Crovie (pronounced ‘crivvy’) was once a busy fishing town. A storm in 1953, however, put an end to that. The storm washed away many of the houses and forced the residents to flee. Today, the houses that remain are mostly holiday lets – I guess, for those who really want to get away from it all. There is certainly not a lot to do here.

Crovie
But as I walked along the tiny ridge between the houses and the sea, what struck me was the intensity of the silence, the feeling of history trapped here, the creepy atmosphere that seemed to fill every inch of the place. It was the atmosphere that got inside me, and I knew instantly that I wanted to write a book that featured this place or somewhere like it – and most certainly this atmosphere.

It was about five years later that I began to write the story.

 
Many of my books are inspired by a place and, if possible, I always try to go to the place itself in the early stages writing the book. As I had now moved to Cornwall, the prospect of a visit to the Scottish highlands – and the fifteen-hour drive that this would involve – was, I confess, not the most enticing thought in the world.

So I began to look at other possibilities. Were there any other similar towns a
little nearer? That was when I discovered Hallsands.

Hallsands has a similar history to Crovie – only worse. A small but thriving fishing town in Devon, the village was all but destroyed in a storm about 100 years ago. Almost every house was destroyed. Miraculously, there were no casualties from the storm – but every inhabitant had to start a new life elsewhere.

It didn’t take me long to pack a bag and book a trip to Hallsands.

Hallsands

A few nights in a nearby apartment; a few conversations with the right people to allow us over the fence and through the gate that blocked off the land as it is now too unstable to allow public access; a few pages of scribbled notes as I wandered around soaking up the atmosphere of this incredible place; a few hundred photos…All of this led to a head buzzing with ideas and inspiration.

For me, there is nothing quite like going to the place that has inspired a book.

It’s not just about what you can read in a book or on the internet. It’s about standing in the place itself and feeling its history – almost hearing and seeing the events that took place where you are standing – this is what gets my creative juices flowing. This is what really excites and inspires me.

And so, seven years on from the original moment of inspiration, North of Nowhere is written and out in the shops, and this feels like a very exciting point of an amazing journey.

I hope that I have managed to do justice to the places and the people that inspired this book. And I hope that, if you happen to read it, you will feel at least an inkling of the atmosphere and drama that I have tried to convey.

Thank you for having me as a guest on this blog, and for giving me the opportunity to relive the feeling of inspiration that I had when this book began to form in my mind.

The path down to Hallsands
Thank you, Liz – what a fab post! The sea is such a great place for stories. Where I grew up, on the East Anglian coast, Dunwich is the focus of ‘washed into the sea’ stories, having been diminishing for centuries – at least half a dozen churches and monastery buildings, for example, are ‘out there’ in the sea somewhere, the tower of the last having fallen in 1922.

NORTH OF NOWHERE by Liz Kessler was published by Orion Children’s Books on 24 January in hardback at £9.99.

Interview with James Dawson, Author of Hollow Pike

The fabulous Hollow Pike (my review here) has a new and gorgeous paperback edition out last week – with PURPLE-EDGED PAGES! – so James has been touring the web in celebration. His blog tour, Hollow Pike Uncut, featured ‘deleted scenes’ from the novel and I would strongly recommend checking it out. Details here, on his website.


Before concluding his travels, James is here today at the Hearthfire to answer some questions about his work:

You were a teacher before becoming a full-time writer, which is not that unusual a past career for an author (and not specifically for children’s authors). Why do you think that is? For you, how does writing YA compare to teaching? 

    I suppose the answer is twofold. On one hand, they’re both incredibly creative professions (or they CAN be if you’re teaching well). The best part of being a teacher for me was coming up with madcap ideas for what we were going to teach and how – it’s a shame that the current government wants to squeeze the fun out of teaching and learning.


    Secondly, teachers are surrounded by children’s literature and you can’t help but be inspired by that. I suppose if you’re in a position of being an authority on how to write, it figures that you’d imagine you’re quite good at it (like a writing megalomaniac!)


    Hollow Pike is shot through with the idea of witches and there’s clearly an interesting history there. What kind of research did you do into witchcraft to write Hollow Pike? Are there any cool facts you picked up that didn’t make it into the book?

      An earlier version of Hollow Pike would have centred around Ley Lines rather than witchcraft. Ley Lines are supposed channels of energy that flow under the earth. Areas with a high abundance of Ley Lines are said to be hotbeds of mystical energy and that is how the kids of Hollow Pike would have developed their abilities. In the end though, witches are just more fun and the Pendle case proved irresistible.


      Earlier this year, you were the first man to be nominated Queen of Teen, which brought some interesting press coverage. What were the highlights of that experience for you? Are there any ‘lowlights’?

        The Queen of Teen was such a great experience – man do they know how to throw a party! I was proud to be nominated because the Queen of Teen organisers were keen to show it wasn’t a ‘girls only’ affair and that pink is for everyone. There was some fuss when the nominations were announced but, if I’m honest, I thought it was pretty hilarious. Some critics didn’t like that a bloke was stealing attention from female authors, but these were the same critics who hated it being a ‘girly’ award. The poor organisers couldn’t win whatever they did.


        With the Queen of Teen, you just have to enter into the spirit of it. Male or female, the day IS pink and light-hearted and stereotypical, even if that’s not altogether PC. It was designed as a remedy to stuffy awards ceremonies and there’s something quite punk about the whole day. It’s two fingers up to the establishment. More importantly, it gives readers a chance to vote for THEIR favourite books – not the books critics tell them they should like. On a final note, the winning author, Maureen Johnson, is a million miles away from being pink and fluffy, so that speaks for itself really!


        I’ve seen several interviews already asking about your writing practice, now that you’re a full-time writer. I note that you are very professional and organised about the whole thing (no lying-in until noon, for example). So, there really aren’t any strange writing habits you could share with us? No rituals or routines to help you get down to writing?

          This is such a boring answer, but no! I wake up, eat breakfast, shower and write. Actually I do eat constantly on the orders of my personal trainer. Actually, that’s still quite boring isn’t it? Writing is my job. I keep office hours. I’m sorry I’m not more flouncy and artistic!


          Well, I suppose we can forgive you 🙂 Thank you so much for answering my questions – and for producing such a fabulous read!

          Guest Post from Victoria Lamb, Author of Witchstruck

          Witchy goings-on for Friday 13th at the Hearthfire today, with Victoria Lamb here to answer a few questions. Her first YA novel, Witchstruck is just out with Corgi this month, and she’s touring blogs to celebrate.

          How did you go about researching/creating the magick in the novel? Are there any juicy details of Tudor witchcraft you couldn’t use that you’d like to share with us?
          I’ve always been very interested in witchcraft, and know a fair amount about modern Wiccan practice in particular, so it wasn’t that tricky to research even a Tudor novel on the subject. Witchcraft really hasn’t changed that much over the centuries! I don’t think I left anything out about witchcraft, though some details about their methods of detecting, torturing and executing witches were too disturbing to use in a YA novel. I have used some though, like the Devil’s Mark which my heroine Meg is accused of bearing – this was usually a birthmark they believed was left by the devil, or some other mark (like an extra nipple) where witchfinders claimed the devil had suckled on the witch. Pretty horrible.

          You’re working on both adult and YA historical series at the moment. What would you say are the most important differences between the two?
          The adult historicals have far more history in them! That may sound like an odd thing to say, but my Lucy Morgan novels are far more concerned with political and historical events than my Tudor Witch series is. Witchstruck is essentially a paranormal romance set in Tudor times, rather than a straight historical where the setting is the most important element of the book. Having said that, the violent and dark dystopia of Tudor England is a vital part of Witchstruck and lends the book great intensity. Meg would have had a much easier time of it in Victorian times, for instance!

          How much of a plotter are you? Do you outline in detail?
          I’m a major planner, yes. I dislike starting a book without knowing more or less what’s going into each chapter, and how the story will pan out for everyone. When I first started writing novels, I had a far looser approach, often starting in great excitement only to peter out partway through because I’d lost the thread and had no real idea what was going on. Some people work like that very successfully, but I’m afraid I’m too cautious to do that anymore. I like to know the world of my story as God knows this one, to paraphrase Hollywood script guru Robert McKee.

          How do you name your characters?
          Well, in a historical novel, many characters are either already named for you or have names limited by what was normal for that age. (I couldn’t have called my Tudor heroine Chardonnay or Buffy!) But when I have a choice and nothing leaps instantly to mind, I tend to flick through a baby name book until I find one that’s perfect for my character.

          You’ve published poetry (as Jane Holland – Boudicca and Co is great), adult historical and now YA historical-paranormal novels. Do you see yourself expanding further and writing something different again like a children’s book or something with a contemporary setting?
          Well, yes. I actually have a children’s fantasy novel completely written and hidden in a file somewhere, unpublished. But that’s maybe something for the future. I’m very restless as a writer, and although I’m excited to be writing Tudor fiction, I already know what I want to write after the series finishes; in my spare moments, I’m developing an idea for a Victorian slipstream thriller. It’s all still top secret though, so I can’t say much more than that.

          What would be your top tip for new writers?
          Write what you’re most comfortable with, not something you think will ‘sell’. The authentic voice of a writer  enjoying him or herself is what publishers really want – even if they don’t always know it! And write every day if you possibly can. Writing is like exercising on a freezing winter’s day. You have to do it to remind yourself why you like doing it, because when you’re not actively writing, it can seem like the hardest thing in the world to start.

          Thanks for having me, Beth! 

          It’s a pleasure, Victoria – thanks for visiting! 
          So there you have it: some great info and advice there. Do check out Witchstruck if it appeals to you at all – it’s a great read.

          Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.

          Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn – despite their very different attitudes to witchcraft.

          Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.

          Guest Post: How I (Don’t) Write for Children by Caroline Lawrence

          Today at the Hearthfire, we’ve got a visit from Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries, The Roman Mystery Scrolls and The P. K. Pinkerton Mysteries. Her latest western mystery starring P. K. Pinkerton is fabulous. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what Caroline has to say:

          I was at the Edinburgh Literature Festival last summer and met an old Arvon pupil for tea. She had been working on several projects over the past five years, but had been finding it a struggle. ‘How do you write for children?’ she said at one point.

          I stared, uncomprehending for a few moments, the realised what she meant.

          She meant how do you get into a kid’s mentality and consciously make your story suitable for them.

          My answer was: ‘I don’t write for children; I write for myself!’

          I think each of us has an inner child.

          The Age of Wonder

          For some of us our inner child is a toddler. We are still amazed by the world and especially animals. We also love poo, fart jokes, pirates and fairies.

          The Age of Adventure

          For some of us, our inner child is aged 8 to 11 or 12. We feel grown up and ready for anything but aren’t yet obsessed with the opposite sex. We love adventures, puzzles, working out how the world works.

          The Age of Awakening

          Some of us have an inner adolescent or teen. The YA category from 13 – 18, is when mortality, sex, and relationships become of paramount importance. We are happy to explore these concepts via the metaphor of vampires and werewolves.

          My inner child is an 11-year-old.

          I love adventures and truth-seeking quests and mysteries. I prefer a ‘concrete’ story full of objects, tastes, smells and sounds to an ‘abstract’ book full of ideas. I also write to teach myself. That’s probably why there are so many facts peppering my books. I’m slightly geeky, so relationships and all that mushy stuff do not figure as highly with me as facts and finding the truth. (It turns out my books are popular among boys on the Asperger’s spectrum. I’m guessing I’m somewhere on the spectrum myself; or at least my inner 11 year old is.) Being a bit of a geek, I write about what fascinates me, whether it’s trendy or not.

          When I was agonizing about a plot complication last week one of my friends said, ‘Don’t sweat it. After all, it’s only a kids’ book.’ ONLY A KIDS’ BOOK? I put as much time, care and research into my kids’ books as if they were for adults.

          Of course, once you’ve written the thing, you have to make sure it is kid-friendly:

          1. Suitable content
          2. Vocabulary appropriate
          3. Clear, fast-moving plot

          And that is often where the real challenge lies.

          I used to teach 8 – 12 year olds – the age group I enjoy most – and I would often read a chapter or two of my Work in Progress. After a while just getting up in front of them immediately made me see what would work and what wouldn’t. Find a willing class of kids in your target age group and read to them. Even if your idea sprang from telling stories out loud, don’t use your own children, grandchildren or friends’ children. They will either be too nice or too ruthless.

          By reading to an impartial target audience, you’ll know when they get bored or confused. What is suitable and what’s not.

          You’ll also benefit from showing it to librarians, teachers and editors at some point. But that can be further down the line.

          Here are my five easy steps for determining what age group you are best suited to write for:

          1. Write (or map out) a story that interests you.
          2. Use your instinct to guess which age group would like it best.
          3. Does that age group match the protagonist you had in mind?
          4. Read or show it to an impartial target audience, getting feedback.
          5. Modify as necessary.
          Now if you will excuse me, I must go find an impartial audience of 8 – 12 year-olds and put my own advice into practice!
          Caroline Lawrence’s latest book, The Case of the Good-looking Corpse, is set in the Wild West in 1862, when a 12-year-old misfit detective called P.K. Pinkerton must solve the mystery of who killed a ‘hurdy girl’ in the lively mining town of Virginia City.

          Words on Wednesday: Keris Stainton and her "Female Fiction Fiddling" List


          I am very excited to be hosting this guest post as part of Keris’s blogtour.  Her new novel, Emma Hearts LA is just out and I strongly recommend it.  Without further ado, here’s what Keris has to say:

          A few years ago, I read a book called Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, which features an essay by Lara M Zeises called The M Word. The essay begins with Zeises, age 7, discovering that touching herself feels good, “sometimes good enough to help me fall asleep”, and how she didn’t know what she was doing until she read a Judy Blume novel, Deenie
          Zeises went on to say that “relatively precious few novels even allude to girls getting their groove on by themselves” adding that one notable exception is Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl: Ready or Not

          Deenie was published in 1973. Ready or Not was published in 2006. I was astonished that female masturbation was still considered such a taboo subject, more than 30 years later. And so I decided I had to mention it in my first novel, Della Says: OMG! 
          It did actually fit the plot: Della’s diary is stolen and someone starts circulating the most embarrassing bits and, as a teenager, I couldn’t have imagined anything more embarrassing than people knowing I masturbated. Which is precisely why it needs to be addressed in more YA fiction. (A friend told me about a recent YA novel in which the main character complains that her aunt comes into her bedroom without knocking and says, “What if she caught me smoking? Or undressing? Or, like, masturbating or something? Not that I really do that, ever – but it’s the principle of the thing.” Fine, that particular character may not masturbate – though I’d be very surprised – but if I’d read that as a teen, I would have been mortified.)
          And so I am collecting a “female fiction fiddling” list. If you know of any other books that should be on here, I’d be delighted to hear about them. 
          NB: May contain spoilers, so proceed with caution!  

          Deenie by Judy Blume (pub. 1973)

          Deenie touches her “special place” when she has trouble falling asleep and asks a teacher, in an anonymous note, “Do normal people touch their bodies before they go to sleep and is it all right to do that?” The teacher explains that, yes, masturbation is “normal and harmless”.

          All-American Girl: Ready or Not by Meg Cabot (pub. 2006) 

          Sam’s sister tells her she practices making love by herself. In the bath. 
          “Look, it’s easy. Get in the bathtub. Turn the water on. Scoot down to the end of the tub, until your you-know-what is under the running water. Then pretend the water is the guy, and let it–” 
          “OH MY GOD.” 
          This leads to an extended discussion of why girls should do it (“Come on, Sam. You can’t expect a guy to know what to do to make you have an orgasm. You have to do it yourself. At least until you can teach him how.”) which is both feminist and very funny. 

          Pop! by Aury Wallington (pub. 2006)

          I think I must have loaned my copy of Pop! to someone, but I’m pretty sure that, like Sam above, Marit treats herself to a romantic moment with her bath tap. (Is it just me or does that sound incredibly uncomfortable?) 

          Leader of the Pack by Kate Cann (pub. 2008)

          Leader of the Pack is a perfect example of how we’re much more open about/comfortable with/used to the idea of male masturbation (it’s never even usually referred to as “male masturbation”, is it? There’s “masturbation” and “female masturbation”). Gem is alone in bed…
          “She started moving her hands on her thighs, rocking herself. She thought… If you feel this turned on right now at the start, how’s it gonna be when… Her hands moved higher. She was thinking of the amazing kiss they’d had…” 
          The next paragraph begins “Over in his bedroom, Jack had been masturbating too, highly pleasurably.” If it hadn’t been for that, I might have actually missed that that’s what Gem was doing. 

          Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton (i.e. me) (pub. 2010) 

          A page of Della’s diary is scanned in and sent to her on Facebook. It reads: “But since he’s not interested in me and nothing’s ever going to happen between us, I’ll have to make do with the next best thing: touching myself and pretending it’s him.” 
          Della’s embarrassed, but her more experienced friend Maddy tells her she needn’t be, that it’s perfectly natural and everyone does it. 

          Forget You by Jennifer Echols (pub. 2010) 

          Zoey is in the bath, trying to work out whether or not she had sex the previous night. ‘Testing for tenderness gave way to making myself feel better. It helped with my headache.’ This is another one where I could quite easily have missed what she was doing. 

          Adorkable by Sarra Manning (pub. 2012) 

          After Jeane and Michael have had sex for the first time, Jeane tells him not to worry about the fact that she didn’t orgasm. 
          ‘”I was close and then I wasn’t. It happens. It’s not, like, an exact science. Like, sometimes when I’m doing it to myself, my timing goes all wrong.”
          “It does?” I managed to spit out, because my mind had just gone into a tailspin at Jeane’s casual reference to the fact that she masturbated. I mean, I know that some girls do, but generally they don’t talk about it.’


          Thank you so much Keris. It’s amazing to think that there are so few references that it’s even possible to compile a list. Any more recommendations, anyone?

          Guest Post: Right to Roam by Linda Newbery

          For this week’s Words on Wednesday, we’ve got a real treat. Linda Newbery, author of many children’s books (for many different kinds of children), is here to talk about writing for a range of ages. I’m reading her latest book, The Treasure House, at the moment and it’s a gorgeous adventure with a truly classic feel (full review – and a giveaway of a copy – coming up on Monday). Without further ado, over to Linda…

          One of the things I love about writing for young people is that there’s such freedom, or can be if you choose to take it. My first novels were for teenagers, but soon, wanting to diversify, I wrote a few first readers, short, illustrated books for children of about five or six, before moving into the core 9-12ish age group. My first book for Orion, At the Firefly Gate, was followed by five more, most recently The Treasure House; meanwhile I continued to write young adult fiction for David Fickling Books, along with Lob, for about 7+ (though I prefer to think of it as a book for everyone except teenagers) and have just completed an adult novel, to be published later this year. Oh yes, and there’s one picture-book, Posy, illustrated by the wonderful Catherine Rayner. So now I have books in every age-slot apart from board books for babies.

          There are drawbacks to this from the marketing point of view. My books aren’t all shelved in one place; they come from different publishers and don’t share a “look”, so I’m not particularly known for any one thing. But I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one age-group or genre. After finishing a long and challenging older novel, it’s refreshing to turn to something shorter and lighter, such as a rhyming picture-book text or a little story about a dog and a narrowboat. And it gives a lovely variety to my school and library visits: I might be reading to five-year-olds one week, talking to year nine or sixth-form the next.

          People sometimes ask about the practicalities of writing for different age-groups. Is it difficult? Confusing? Does it require a major switch of focus, or a preparatory period of immersion in picture-books or adult fiction? I’m not really aware of any great difference in approach. Writing is writing, and once I have an idea, it’s the story itself and the characters whose heads I’m inhabiting that determine how the story will develop, the pace, the language, the length. What I can’t do, though, is have two or three projects on the go at the same time. It’s essential to feel that I’m living in whatever story it is, so that my mind works away at it while I’m doing other things, like swimming or gardening, or even sleeping..

          What next? Well, I do have something in mind – something I haven’t tried before … which brings me to another question I’ve often been asked. “Does it get easier now that you’ve written so many books?” No. It doesn’t and shouldn’t. Each book presents it own challenges, and if I ever start thinking it’s easy I’ll have to be very strict with myself and find a way of making it harder.

          Thank you, Linda, for that insight into your work. I agree that Lob has the potential for a wide audience (I certainly enjoyed it!), and would certainly recommend The Treasure House. In fact, I’m off to read a bit more now…

          Words on Wednesday: Guest Post by Katie Dale

          Someone Else’s Life, Katie Dale’s fabulous YA debut, came out this month. I loved this emotional read encompassing family secrets and the trauma of living under the shadow of Huntington’s Disease. Naturally I was thrilled that Katie agreed to visit the Hearthfire as part of her blog tour. So, it’s over to Katie:

          My Top Ten Childrens/YA Authors in the History of Time!

          As my first books hit the shelves it’s got me thinking about the authors who inspired me, and the stories that stick with me even today.

          Here are my Top Ten!

          JM Barrie The story of the boy who never grew up has stuck firmly in my heart since I was a child, waiting by my bedroom window for Peter to take me flying off to Neverland! My all-time favourite.

          Enid Blyton Blyton has to be the most prolific children’s author ever. As a child I couldn’t get enough of her series, from the childhood magic and mischief of Noddy, Naughty Amelia Jane and The Magic Faraway Tree, through the midnight feasts and escapades of St Clares and Mallory Towers, right to the mystery and adventures of The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and the Adventureseries, Enid Blyton was wonderful company throughout my childhood, and every book I opened was a wonderful adventure.


          Jacqueline Wilson – Hot on Blyton’s heels, Wilson has earned her place as the tween girl’s favourite, writing two books a year – and what books! Taking serious and gritty issues and handling them with humour and vitality she creates vibrant, memorable, feisty characters who make us laugh and make us cry. My faves are The Story of Tracy Beaker and The Suitcase Kid.


          Morris Gleitzman – Like Jacqueline Wilson, Gleitzman takes tricky/tragic situations and makes them both poignant and hysterical with his sparse, witty, sparkling books, particularly Blabber Mouth, about feisty fun-loving Rowena Batts – who just happens to be mute – and more recently Once and Then, about Jewish children trying to escape the Nazis during the Second World War.


          Michael Morpurgo – Michael Morpurgo is the author of some of the most beautiful children’s books around today. The Dancing Bear, Why The Whales Came, The Butterfly Lion and War Horse simply sing with their lyrical prose, and deep emotional heart beating strongly behind every page.



          JK Rowling – Rowling is unquestionably one of the defining literary talents of modern times. The vast, detailed and magical world she created around Harry Potter, the scope of her vision across all seven books, her use of allegory and themes, and her skill in weaving it all together into an adventure that kept children and adults alike gripped, nose-deep in her books right till the very end, will undoubtedly be enjoyed by generations to come.


          Jane Austen – the original chick-lit author! Austen’s romantic novels describing a time of balls and manners are as well-loved today as ever. Absolutely timeless. But my favourite is not the beloved Pride and Prejudice, but the even more heart-wrenching Sense and Sensibility. Like the Bennet sisters, Marianne and Eleanor are dependent upon a good marriage for a viable future, but the fairytale ending doesn’t come quite so easily, and hard lessons must be learned first.


          Bronte sisters Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t choose between these talented sisters whose vibrant imaginations transported them from their restrictive parsonage upbringing into romance, danger, and adventure with two of the most classic love stories of all time, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – with two of the most rugged literary heroes ever.

          Caroline B. Cooney – I first encountered Caroline B. Cooney through one of her “Point Horror” books –The Train, which gave me several sleepless nights and had to be abandoned halfway through after a character got nailed into a coffin – alive. It took me a while to pick up another, but when I started reading Among Friends I was so thankful that I had. Cooney has such a knack for describing the trauma and triumphs of the teen experience, and Among Friends and her incredible Face on The Milk Carton series, in which a teenage girl discovers she was kidnapped as a toddler, are two of my favourite ever YA books.


          Sharon Creech – I discovered Sharon Creech like a hidden jewel when I picked up Walk Two Moons. I’d never heard of her before, but became so captivated by the story of Salamanca – a girl on a road trip with her Gram to visit the mother who recently left her and her father –  that I have sought out all her other titles. Part coming-of-age, part family mystery, completely charming and moving and heart-breaking, Walk Two Moonsis a treasure I will keep forever.


          So those are my top ten – what are yours?

          Chosen by Katie Dale

          Published by Simon & Schuster February 2012

          Twitter: @katiedaleuk


          Wow, thanks Katie – so many great memories and recommendations there. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your Top Ten with us. Caroline B Cooney is new to me. What about you?

          What Would You Risk Everything For?

          Today, the #darkdaysofjanuary blog tour stops here at the Hearthfire.  This tour is to celebrate the publication of  Sara Grant’s gripping dystopian debut Dark Parties, published by Indigo at the start of this month. In this final stop on her tour, Sara discusses risk and commitment – a topic she explores fully in the novel. For more information about Dark Parties: my review and its Goodreads page.


          Dark Parties explores how far someone will go to stand up for what she believes in. My main character Neva risks everything to rebel against an overbearing government and save those she loves. If I was faced with Neva’s dilemma, would I do the same? It’s a question I asked myself over and over while writing Dark Parties. It’s probably at the heart of why I wanted to write this story.

          I would like to think I would be a rebel and stand up and speak out for what I believe in – no matter what the cost. But that’s an easy thing for me to say from my comfy flat in London. That’s a much different decision when there’s a gun or Protectosphere standing in your way – or worse yet when your actions would hurt a loved one. I want to believe that I would have walked along side Martin Luther King, for example. I want to believe that I’d step in when I see injustice. As Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to nothing.”

          But for most of us, improving the world doesn’t often come down to life or death decisions, nor is it focused on one moment in time. It’s constant baby steps. It’s making small decisions on a daily basis.

          More than twenty years ago, I attended a Franklin-Covey seminar on time management. I’m a compulsive list maker and planner. I have an electronic to-do list but also often have adjunct Post-it note lists tacked all over. This seminar talked about planning each day based on what you want to accomplish long-term. The presenter asked us to imagine a two-by-four plank placed between the Twin Towers. He asked us what was important enough to make us cross that narrow beam. What would we risk everything for?

          The list of worthy causes seems endless: protecting human rights, ending poverty, curing cancer…all the way and including, well, world peace. But if I’m honest, there’s only thing for which I’m 100 percent certain that I’d risk life and limb – those I love. I’d cross a wire strung between the Twin Towers in a raging wind storm for my family and close friends.

          The presenter in the Franklin-Covey seminar asked us to generate a list of our top long-term goals. He asked us to break those goals down to what we could accomplish in one year and then identify what we could do each month, week, day and then spend the next hour and minute in activities that are directed toward those goals. It’s a lesson I think about often and still endeavour to plan my time using this principle.

          I’m not doing enough to improve the world or even my little corner of it, but I keep trying. I hope that Dark Partiesencourages action and rebellion and inspires the belief that one person can make a difference. I love the quote from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

          So….how do you want to change your world?


          Wow, thank you Sara – so much to think about there. Again, I would recommend having a look at Dark Parties if you haven’t already. It certainly does raise questions about conformity and rebellion, as a good dystopian novel should.

          Opal Moonbaby Blog Tour: Fantasy Writer? Moi?

          For Words on Wednesday this week, we have a real treat. Maudie Smith, author of the fabulous Opal Moonbaby (see my review) is stopping off on her blog tour to talk about genre.

          Fantasy Writer? Moi?
          If you’d asked me a couple of years ago whether I liked fantasy writing I’d probably have said no immediately. There would have been no need for soul-searching. As an adult I don’t tend to pick up fantasy literature. I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett for example (don’t know what I’m missing?) and the term ‘sci-fi’ has always been something of a turn off. Sci-fi’s not for me, I’d say. It’s more of a boy thing.

          So when I started writing OPAL MOONBABY and it turned out to be about an alien from another planet, that was something of a surprise, even to me. I’ve always thought I liked my literature to be set firmly in the real world. But I now realise that I only have to scratch the surface of my childhood reading to see that this never used to be the case.

          We’re all plunged into fantasy as soon as we start listening to stories. Fairy tales, myths and legends are full of fantastic worlds and amazing creatures the like of which we will never see on Earth. These strange environments and weird and wonderful creatures fire our imaginations and make us laugh but they do more than that too.

          When we are children the adult world seems a mad and complicated place. Fairy tales help us make some sense of it but our need to do so doesn’t just end when we grow out of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and The Pied Piper. We’re always having to try and make sense of the world we inhabit. I think that’s why I loved books where real world characters bumped into fantasy ones, each having to figure out the logic behind the other’s world.

          It’s that moment where fantasy and reality collide that gets me going. The moment when Mary Poppins flutters down to London with a roomful of belongings in her carpet bag. The moment when Tommy and Annika discover their new neighbour, Pippi Longstocking, has superhuman strength and can lift her horse with one hand. It’s the wardrobe moment when Lucy pushes her way past all the coats and finds herself in Narnia and comes face to face with Mr Tumnus.

          I loved THE HOBBIT but I wasn’t such a fantasy addict that I wanted to tackle THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I liked books where there was more of my world involved, where I could identify with the main characters and their problems. Narnia was enthralling but I was always keen to hang around quite near the entrance to the wardrobe.

          In my book Opal is the title character and she’s the catalyst for the story but the real hero is Martha. I wanted my human hero to be as rooted as possible in the everyday world and it was her story I wanted to write. Martha has everyday problems with friendships and family, of the type we can all identify with, and she has to solve them herself. Sometimes Opal is helpful and sometimes she makes things more difficult than ever but I hope she always adds spice and sparkle, and some humour, to any adventure.

          Opal isn’t the only fantasy character I’m working on just now. Reluctant witches, elusive mermaids and jealous cloud creatures are all milling around up there in my brain cogs. So I suppose I must be a fantasy writer after all.

          Maybe I’d better sample some more adult fantasy then. Stephen King, here I come….?

          Thanks for such an interesting post, Maudie. I must admit, I tend not to read much ‘pure’ fantasy written for adults either. I love Pratchett , but don’t see his books as ‘pure’ fantasy because of the satirical element. I’ve recently loved Sarah Addison Allen’s books for a touch of fantasy in a real world setting.

          Any suggestions for Maudie, anyone? (Oh, and I suggest you take a look at Opal Moonbaby if you like children’s books or want a good read for a  7+ girl).

          The next stop on the Opal Moonbaby tour is the magical Book Angel Booktopia. If you want to check out the other places Maudie’s visited, click on the tour button for a list. (I’d particularly recommend the Serendipity Reviews stop, where a fabulous tea party for Opal with fictional characters was planned)

          Double Shadows Blog Tour: Can You Police the Past?

          Today, Thoughts from the Hearthfire is visited by the lovely Sally Gardner. She’s here as part of her Double Shadows blog tour to promote the marvellous and myseterious-sounding The Double Shadow, released today. The hardcover looks gorgeous (with a lovely matte dust jacket – I’m such a book-stroker…) and I’m looking forward to reading this (it’s somehow jumped to the top of my TBR pile *whistles innocently*).

          Anyway, over to Sally and her take on the idea of Political Correctness in writing historical fiction for children.

          The past is a foreign country, and we did do things differently there. There is a tendency to whitewash it in fiction – especially for younger readers. This robs them of the knowledge of the journey we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned. You can’t pat-a-cake the past pretty, you have to be true.

          The Double Shadow is set between the wars and in the 1930s they smoked a lot, anti-Semitism was prevalent in Britain as well as Europe, there was the use of drugs and alcohol, the facts of life were not taught and young girls were often in trouble. Things were swept under the carpet and not talked about, but in the writing of them you bring them out from under the carpet.

          Then, if you upset a man’s moral machinery by being dressed in a sparkling skirt you would expect little sympathy for what happened to you. The two world wars can’t be made to look all right, they were a huge black cloud over Europe and they changed the fabric of our society. Not to talk about it is a terrible mistake.

          Humans on the whole are very slow learners as history has proved. The wheel always goes back a little before it goes forward. Writers have a duty to be true to what history has given them, even when writing fiction and especially when writing for a young audience. There is an issue with patronising today’s youth. The dumbing down of history should not be condoned.


          Thank you so much to Sally for sharing such interesting thoughts with us today. I agree completely: part of the excitement of reading is discovering different viewpoints and we can’t do that if we re-colour and re-touch attitudes from past times (or from different places and cultures).



          Don’t forget to visit the other stops on the tour!