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!

A Reading School: Guest Post from Alan Gibbons

I’m thrilled to have Alan Gibbons on the blog today. He’s touring blogs to celebrate his latest teen publication with Indigo, Raining Fire, out last week. See the bottom of this post for more info about the book. As a former teacher, and a campaigner for libraries and reading, Alan decided to share with us his views on what a reading school looks like. It sounds like a great place; I’d certainly like to be able to teach there!

A reading school is a successful school

A reading child is a successful child. You wouldn’t argue with that, would you? A 2005 Unesco report identifies reading for pleasure as the single most powerful agent of academic and social success. It should follow therefore that a reading school is a successful school. Well, it’s full of children, isn’t it?

Go into some schools and, whatever the personal feelings of the teachers, it just doesn’t feel like that. You can go into schools without libraries, schools where the children seem only to read excerpts, schools where reading is about technique, synthetic phonics, targets or where the culture of controlled assessments is the be all and end all.

Let me take you on a tour of a reading school. Walk through the door and the foyer has bright, new books on show, usually covers facing you. There are anthologies of reviews written by the staff and students laid out on the tables. There are posters of the students’ favourite authors. There are book cover designs and bookmarks made in class. The TV screen features rolling book recommendations: best film tie-in, best vampire book, best book if you like James Bond, best factual or fiction books about football. There are short films and podcasts in which members of the school community discuss the hot reads of the week. There are book trailers downloaded from You Tube.

Carry on into the heart of the school and there is the library, properly staffed, bright and airy. This is a place with a good book stock. It is a place where digital and physical reading material co-exists in a managed symbiosis. A class is browsing the stock and making their choice. Later in the week, they will have a performance poet in. They still remember the novelist who ran writing workshops last term. Some of them are taking place in the Carnegie Shadowing Group. At lunchtime the library buzzes with reading groups, Warhammer groups, casual browsing and work on computers. Every class has a time when they come in for sustained, silent reading.

Throughout the school there are mystery reader photo competitions, pictures of the students, teachers and members of the local community photographed against the backdrop of their favourite reading landscape. There are regular assemblies around the subject of reading. Students, teachers and members of the local community talk about their favourite books. The books are laid out on tables at the back of the hall for the students to borrow.

In other words, reading is not a worthy exhortation or an optional extra, a matter of didactic instruction or something we would do if we had the time. It is organic to the life of the school, something everyone is expected to do and it is something done for pleasure. Well, you wouldn’t invent a school that doesn’t read, would you? I mean, that would be stupid.

Alan Gibbons is a full time writer and organiser of the Campaign for the Book.
Raining Fire by Alan Gibbons is published by Indigo on 7 March 2013
trade paperback £8.99, eBook £4.99

The gun is power.
The gun can make a weak man strong. The gun is the coward’s fist
 

Opening lines from Raining Fire

“The two great cities of the North West, Manchester and Liverpool, provide the background for most of my writing. This is where I have lived and worked most of my adult life. This is where my wife and I raised our family. The North West is, as Gerry Marsden sang in Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey ‘the place I love’…

As a teacher and author I have spoken to a number of youngsters for whom school and academic success held little attraction. Growing up on bleak, jobless estates, they saw sport or crime as the only pathways out of poverty and boredom. Some spoke of the buzz they got from hanging round gangs. I wanted to explore this world, neither to make judgements, nor to glamorise, but to understand.” 

Author’s Note from Raining Fire

In this tense, gripping and absorbing thriller, Alan Gibbons explores the complex issue of gun crime, and the far-reaching consequences it can have. Head over to the Indigo website for more information.

Guest Blog: Maudie Smith on Rules! Rules! Rules!

Yes! It’s Opal Moonbaby time again! Maudie Smith’s fabulous debut impressed me last year and now the sequel is out. 

About Zooming Time, Opal Moonbaby is out now (published 7th Feb) from Orion Children’s Books.

I can’t wait to see how Opal fares in her new life with Martha. We’re very fortunate to have Maudie stopping here at the Hearthfire on her blog tour to give us a bit more insight into her (and Opal’s) world.

Sometimes growing up can seem to be all about rules. Rules are everywhere: at the table, in the bathroom, in the street, at grandma’s house, in the cinema, on the bus. Do this, do that, watch out for those, don’t run here, don’t walk there, mind your language, mind the gap and while you’re about it, pull your socks up! It’s exhausting. Talk about multi-tasking. When we send our children out into the world there are just so many different ways they can get it wrong. We might as well be sending them out onto an ice-covered minefield with a basket of eggs to juggle – actually  I think I may just have inadvertently described what it’s like to write a book, but I digress.
In order to learn children do have to get it wrong. It’s all about trial and error and this can lead to painful, awkward and embarrassing situations.
Opal Moonbaby gets it wrong. Super wrong. All the time. That’s because she’s an alien. She thinks you can swallow carrots whole and she tries to eat popcorn kernels before they’ve been popped. Yuk! She doesn’t know much about human etiquette. How would she know who it’s OK to pick your nose in front of? For all she knows, humans might sniff each other’s bottoms. After all, humans’ pet dogs do that. Opal Moonbaby makes a lot of social blunders but the great thing about Opal is that she doesn’t really notice or care. This is clearest of all when Opal joins Martha at her school, Archwell Park Primary.
At school, children learn a whole new set of rules. Some of them are simple ‘dos and don’ts’ and may appear in the official school rules, but others are more subtle and learned over time, almost through osmosis. For example, children don’t talk to teachers in the same way that they talk to people their own age and that’s because somewhere along the line they have learned to be respectful, or at least to be circumspect. Martha has learned how to keep a low profile in the classroom which the strict and sarcastic Mrs Underedge controls with a rod of iron.
But the words ‘low’ and ‘profile’ aren’t in Opal’s vocabulary. She pays very little attention to either circumstances or consequences. She hasn’t practised the art of conversing with adults, does not know not to answer back. She doesn’t understand sarcasm either so, not surprisingly, she and the teacher, whom she hugs enthusiastically at their first meeting, get off on completely the wrong foot.
Children are so busy being trained all the time I think – I hope – it will be a relief for them to read about someone as free and untrained as Opal Moonbaby. Opal might not be an ideal role model for children to follow, but she’ll definitely give them an entertaining break from the serious business of becoming ‘socialised’.
Opal seems pretty quiet and demure in this illustration but just look at Martha. She knows what’s coming!
‘I think that I am going to absolutely love being in Merry

Class and I’ll bet you’re a zooming fantastic teacher,

Mrs On-the-edge.’
What a great post! As a teacher, I’m very glad that children have characters like Opal to misbehave vicariously through 🙂 Thank you so much for visiting today – and for sharing Opal with us! Here’s what the blurb tells us:

The second in this sparkling series about the alien who came to stay!

And this time, she’s going to school…

Opal Moonbaby is spending a year on Earth. A whole year! Martha can’t wait to take her to school, to introduce her to her friends and to recreate all the fun they had during the summer.

But things don’t turn out quite as expected and before Martha knows it, Opal is off making new friends, doing new things and throwing herself into life on Earth – and Martha can’t keep up.

When Opal’s Uncle Bixie warns them that the nasty Mercurials, enemies from their home planet of Carnelia, are on their way to Earth, planning mischief, Martha begins to worry. But Opal is far too busy making friends to be bothering about those stupid Mercurials. Besides, her eyes would z-ray them immediately and she’d dazzle-kick them all the way back to Carnelia.

Wouldn’t she?

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!