Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sarwat Chadda talks Templars, Old Gods and Werewolves

Readers, I am so excited to present our second interview with Sarwat Chadda. He's currently doing a blog tour here in the UK to celebrate the release of his new novel, The Dark Goddess, which is the follow-up to The Devil's Kiss. Now, between you and me, I really enjoyed The Devil's Kiss but trust me when I tell you that The Dark Goddess will blow you away. It's ridiculously good and well, read my review that'll be live tomorrow but in the meantime, read Sarwat's interview with MFB today.

1. Another year, and a brand new book from you! Can you tell us what Dark Goddess is about without giving too much away?

The Dark Goddess is Baba Yaga, a twenty thousand year old witch who sees herself as the living embodiment of the natural world. She’s seen the damage humanity has done to the planet, the pollution, the destruction of the forests and extinction of so many of its species that she’s decided the human race needs to be culled.

And who’s the say she’s wrong? What other species has prospered under the dominion of Man? Not one.

But Baba Yaga is old, weak and far past her best. She feeds on the psychic energy. If she’s to create a global cataclysm she needs to gain more power. What Dark Goddess centres around is a young nine year old girl, Vasilisa. She’s a potential avatar, a psychic of god-like proportions. The Templars have found her and Billi’s sworn to protect her until the Templars can get Vasilisa to Jerusalem, where she’ll begin her training to be the next Templar Oracle.

Meanwhile Baba Yaga has sent her priestesses, the Polenitsy, to find Vasilisa and bring her to her. The Polenitsy are old school religion. They believe in human sacrifice and will do anything for their goddess. They are also werewolves.

2. Having had the opportunity to read it I have to say I love how much Billi has grown as a character. Although she’s still pretty darn tough, there’s a new vulnerability to her that is really charming. This enhances her as a character greatly. How did you as a male writer tap into a teen girl’s psyche to pull this off?

Having two daughters, a wife as a first reader and two female editors certainly helps. However lot of teen issues are the same, whether male or female. Billi’s conflict is centred around her identity, what is she going to be, now she’s on the threshold of adulthood. What responsibility is so going to take on for the wider community and of course, who does she love?

Devil’s Kiss presented her with two sides of her personality, reflected in Mike and Kay. Mike was the resentment, the anger and the rebellion while Kay was duty, compassion and the chance for honesty.

Love is shaped by the type of person you are, and want to be. Through it we aspire to be better than we are and strive far more than we’d do for ourselves. This theme is all the way through Dark Goddess. Baba Yaga loves the natural world. The Polenitsy love Baba Yaga. Ivan loves Russia and as the story develops, Billi too. But, after the pain Billi’s suffered, she’s closed herself off and that makes her a smaller person. What Dark Goddess is about is her rediscovering her connection with other people and her capacity to love.

3. I know you’ve been to Russia to research the places Billi gets to see in Dark Goddess. What was your experiences like when you were there?

Moscow is AWESOME. The place is just gigantic and has a monolithic grandeur. The tube stations have mosaics, bronze statues and chandeliers. The palaces are endless and the city is dominated by the Seven Sisters, Stalin’s skyscrapers that brought Moscow into the modern age. I love it in the way I love London, it’s mythic. It reeks of history and has a brashness that comes with its new found freedom, but under that skin is a deep, old culture and a profound connection with its history.

Rather than wander around with a guide book I contacted Alan Steel who runs a company called Russian Gateway. He arranged a guide who took me way off the beaten track and filled me in on a lot of history that gets brushed over in the usual tourist articles. Then he did the Russian translation work for me too. Alan really helped turn the story around so it didn’t read like a travel brochure.

4. Billi’s relationship with her dad has changed dramatically – she is still a squire in the Templars – yet there is a newfound respect between Billi and Arthur yet you sense that there is still a hesitancy there. Will they ever be a happy father/daughter unit?

Things have moved on in Devil’s Kiss and Billi’s accepted her duty as a Templar. She still doesn’t like it but she knows she has to do it. And there’s what she achieved in Devil’s Kiss, saving all the firstborn. Arthur respects her for that and the price she paid, emotionally, in defeating the dark angel. Alas, both father and daughter share a lot of tragedy. Arthur will never recover from the death of his wife and that has tainted his relationship with Billi. I hope Billi does move on from her loss and certainly the emotional journey she takes in this book is centred around her embracing life, rather than brooding in the darkness and being angry with the world, which is Arthur’s way. So, Billi has a new maturity that Arthur lacks, and he knows it. I think that’s another big reason Arthur has a great respect for his daughter. She survives her pain and moves on, which is something Arthur can’t do.

But while they’ll never be an openly affectionate family, there is an incredibly deep bond between them and part of that is because of Jamila, Billi’s mother. That’s something I’d like to explore if the series continues.

5. Most of the action in Dark Goddess takes place in Russia. You have used a lot of imagery and legends from parts of eastern Europe and Russia and they play a big role in Dark Goddess. Did you have a lot of fun doing research and playing with mythology?

I’ve been reading about Russian mythology since the early 1990’s, which was when I first decided to do a Baba Yaga story. I’d done some travelling around Eastern Europe and had just visited Romania, and Transylvania so was very into the Dracula myth too.

I find Eastern Europe fascinating because the culture and mindset, as well as the myths, are very different. There’s a darkness to the tales that’s been taken out of the Western fairy tales, and there’s a greater sense of the otherworld. The forests are spookier and the characters much more macabre and you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys so easily.

Four characters come up again and again. Prince Ivan, Vasilisa the Fair, Koshchey the Undying and Baba Yaga. I’ve put my own spin of them in Dark Goddess but, hopefully, retained their virtues and vices from the original fairy tale versions.

6. I think the reason everyone likes Billi so much is that she is a no nonsense kind of girl that can as easily smile at you than put you on your butt. Did you have to learn what it was like being able to throw punches or use weapons to write it well?

I’ve dabbled in a lot of martial arts as I’ve grown up but never for long. I’m a writer, not a fighter!

Actually, writing about fighting is a curious skill. It’s all in the anticipation, rather than the event itself. I don’t write much about the actions, but on the emotional state of the warrior. It’s life and death and so Billi’s feelings will be intense. We don’t really need to know how she swings the sword, but what she’s feeling as she does it. The fear, the excitement.

Billi’s all about raw emotion and that’s what appeals to me when I write her. She’s not a girl who does things by halves! She’s not cool or calculating. Even when she’s trying to be cut off and cold at the beginning of the story you sense her emotions storming beneath the surface. Perhaps she feels too strongly, too intensely. But it’s what makes her such fun to write.

7. Let’s talk Romanovs. Specifically let’s talk about Ivan Alexeivich Romanov. Tell us a bit about Ivan. What makes him different from the usual bad boys we see in YA these days?

Ivan’s the anti-bad boy. Ivan’s an old-fashioned hero, elegant, civilized and totally deadly. He’s had the best of everything and has a certain, natural arrogance of nobility.

The bad boy template’s been a bit done to death now and hasn’t really evolved from the James’ Dean misunderstood, ‘tough on the outside and soft on the inside’ formula. And all he needs is the love of a good woman to make it all better. There was absolutely nothing I could do to add a new spin on the bad boy character so decided to go the opposite direction. If you spot a cliché, do the opposite. It’ll keep your writing fresh and interesting.

Ivan isn’t like that. He’s got responsibility, duty and commitment to what he believes in. He is willing to die for his honour, which isn’t something modern heroes have any real interest in. What I love about Ivan is he realises that nobility is not in the blood, but in the deed. He has set himself an ideal and that is what he strives for. To be better.

8. Tied intrinsically with Dark Goddess are the werewolves. Here we have really tough Amazonian werewolves who follow matriarchal law. Why did you decide to buck the trend and walk away from male alphas / male dominated packs?

My two biggest werewolf inspirations were from ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Angela Carter’s short story collection ‘Company of Wolves’.

Werewolf mythology is intrinsically female. It’s centred around moon worship which is a female deity and connected with Hecate, the goddess of witches. Plus the weapon of the Amazons was the double-headed axe, itself mimicking the curves of the moon.

On the Yin/Yang front I wanted DG to have a strong female energy to balance the male dominated energy of Devil’s Kiss, where Billi and Elaine were the only two female characters in the entire book and that was centred around the Templars, all men. I wanted to create a rival organization, as tough, as deadly and as dedicated as the Templars and my female werewolf pack fits that role perfectly.

9. What have you learned about writing between Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess? Do you think you’ve grown as a writer?

Very complex question since I still feel very much a novice. I’m making fundamental mistakes still but am getting quicker at recognising them and correcting them. The biggest difference is greater objectivity. To stop a problem with a story you need to be able to view it from a distance. This is not easy especially when you’ve got deadlines and the urge is to write and write and write. But what you need to do is think.

What I’ve also noticed is my lack of tolerance for reading. I read less and am far more willing to put a book down that just doesn’t work for me. That’s a shame because I’m finding it harder to get out of the writer mode when you’re reading and analysing, rather than just letting yourself get caught up in the world of the story.

10. I love the short stories you’ve been doing on the site, will we be seeing more of those? (explain here if you like, why you are doing them because obviously we know, but others may not)

There was going to be slightly over a year gap between Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess so I thought it would be fun to write a series of short stories to fill the space. Some would hint at the second book, or expand on some event out of Devil’s Kiss, others would look at one of the secondary characters.

I’ve done about four or five. Some have been released on my website but some are being saved for the US publication, so do keep checking. I’ve two more I want to work on. When Arthur joined the Templars and the first meeting between Billi and Kay.

11. Two years on, on the cusp of Dark Goddess being published, what is your writers’ advice to newbie authors now that you’ve had a lot more experience in the biz. I’m referring to the advice you gave us in our previous interview, over a year ago, see my cleverly added link for reference.

Funny reading up on it, later down the line. I was at a function yesterday talking to an agent trying to place her zombie novel with a publisher. Problem is EVERYONE now has their zombie book so don’t want any more. So, I was right, the zombie trend has come and gone. Apparently dystopia is the next big thing, following from Knife of Never Letting Go, Hunger Games and Matched. You have been advised.

The only thing worth emphasising is passion. You have got to love writing. When it’s your fifth rewrite, deadlines are looming and the plot makes no sense whatsoever the only thing that will stop you from giving up and becoming an accountant like your parents wanted, is the passion. No matter what a shambles my attempts are with this job, I love it as much now as I did in that first interview. More in fact. I can’t believe this is my day job. When I’m at the pc lost in the world I’m building, nothing else compares. AND you get paid for it. UNBELIEVABLE.
Thanks for that really interesting interview, Mr. C! The Dark Goddess is out tomorrow, 1st July (yay!) so make sure to get yourself a copy...or swing by here tomorrow as I'll be running a competition in which you can win a signed personalised copy of The Dark Goddess. UK entrants only, just so you know!
In the meantime, make sure to visit Sarwat's blog site here and his website here, to keep up to date with all his shenanigans. Also, the next stop in the blog tour will be: Bookzone on the 2nd of July.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Graphic Novel

Writer: John Jackson Miller (from screenplay by David Koep)
Illustrators: Luke Ross; Cliff Richards (pencils); Fabio Laguna; Eber Ferreira (inks)
Publisher: Titan Books

As a huge Indiana Jones fan I was very excited to get a copy of this graphic novel as a freebie recently from an event we attended.

I devoured it in one sitting and felt even more let down by the graphic novel than I did by the movie. There was nothing wrong with the artwork which was excellent, the colours were true to the movie and the franchise, but to be honest, it just didn't spark.

The story takes the big set pieces from the movie and puts it into graphic novel form and it just doesn't work. If I hadn't seen the movie I probably wouldn't have followed the confusing storyline. Now - be nice here: I'm talking about the graphic novel and not the movie, which although pretty dire, had some merit.

We can't blame the Mr. Miller, the writer, because how exactly do you cram an action packed 2 hour movie into less than say 100 pages of graphic novel? It just won't work. Also, he had to obviously stick to the script and to be fair, he does it admirably, but there just was no lift in your spirit that you get when you read something really good.

The story feels flat and unpleasant and as a fan I thought it just didn't work on a variety of levels. There was no impact and Indy himself is a stock adventurer, as is the villain of the piece, Irina Spalko, who is nothing more than a cold-war puppet and decidedly one dimensional.

As a graphic novel reader, I thought that had I been the one to sell this storyline to a buddy to read, I'd be fired from the friendship on the spot.

This is definitely not a graphic novel I'd recommend, not even if you were a fan of the movies (pre or post Crystal Skull) or the Indy omnibusses. Omnibussi? *blinks*

And it makes me a little sad as I feel quite let down by it because I wanted to love it. But no. Not going to happen.

My verdict is: I am so glad I didn't buy it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A short intermission

Just to let you know that things will be a tad quiet at the beginning of this week, but will pick up towards the 30th with a guest interview, the guest being Sarwat Chadda, as well as a review of his new novel: The Dark Goddess.

I'll also be reviewing The Unit by Terry DeHart as well as Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation by Tamsyn Murray and Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne.

Elsewhere I'll be reviewing:

The Talisman graphic novel by Stephen King, et al.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter

Mezolith by Ben Haggarty

The reason it's a bit quiet at the moment is that I've got some writing projects on the go which I'd like to send out later this week, hence me being a bit slow with reviews on MFB. However, after this week, it will be full steam ahead with a lot of graphic novel reviews from me and Mark, some excellent YA fiction from both Sarah and myself and probably some good fantasy fiction reviews, again from Mark and myself.

Thanks for bearing with me as I hoik my trousers up to wade through the whole querying process.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ibiza Summer by Anna-Louise Weatherley


Is honesty always the best policy?

At sixteen, Izzy longs to be like her older sister Ellie. Ellie seems to have everything Izzy would like - a devoted boyfriend, highlights in her hair, a glamorous life style, loads of sophisticated friends, and at twenty- two she is treated like an adult by their parents. However, for her birthday, Izzy receives the gift of a lifetime. Ellie is going on holiday to Ibiza with her friends and she offers to take Izzy with her! At last Izzy has a chance to hang out with an older crowd and do all the things she’s dreamed of…

Izzy uses this as a chance to pretend that she is much older, and she manages to catch the eye of Rex, one of the DJs on the island. But can she keep up the pretence of being the same age as her sister? Falling in love with an older man might be ‘cool’, but it has its hardships. And then a tragedy reveals everything to Izzy…

I picked this book up with a whole load of preconceptions. I imagined that Ibiza Summer would be fairly predictable, fluffy and easy to second guess. Happily I was wrong and this book has a little more to offer than the average teen romance.

First off the main character is beautifully written and adorable. She's not perfect, unlike her sister, and suffers from self-esteem issues. We learn quite early on that she hates her curly hair, is insecure and quiet whereas her sister is gorgeous, outgoing and popular. Izzy's recently been dumped (by text - yuck) and is hoping that a holiday in Ibiza will lift her spirits. But there's more to Izzy than this. Her father died when she was eleven and she feels that there's no-one she can speak to about her grief. She has issues with commitment and suffers from anxiety about people that she loves as a result.

Izzy's sister Ellie is six years older and although Izzy idolises her the age difference has driven them apart. Obviously Ibiza Summer is a love story but it's also an emotional journey for Izzy. The reader watches her as she finally expresses her feelings about the death of her dad first to Rex and later to Ellie. The relationship with her sister is perfectly done showing how a gap of six years at sixteen feels more like twenty. Izzy struggles to connect with her and as the story progresses they start to address the issues between them. I also loved her insecurities about best friend Willow who upsets Izzy by finding a new friend in her absence.

The Ibiza background is perfect too. It has just the right amount of hedonism, glamour and beautiful sunsets to transport the reader. Izzy's trip becomes a whirlwind of club nights, parties, days on the beach and boat parties. Rex introduces Izzy to a glamorous world. His appeal as the romantic lead lies in his hot looks, moped and DJ job but he's also incredibly sensitive and sincere - the perfect combination! Through Rex, Anna-Louise Weatherley succeeds in making the most unlikely love story realistic and believable.

There were some elements of the story that I wasn't completely sold on. The character of Jo-Jo is brilliantly bitchy but she disappeared too quickly for me. Also, Izzy's nearly seventeen and Rex is twenty-six but in a three week period there isn't one mention of sex. I found it a little difficult to believe that Rex, thinking Izzy is twenty-two, wouldn't have mentioned it (but hey, that's my adult eye being cynical so ignore me). Also, as I've mentioned, Izzy's journey is beautifully done but I ended the book a little worried about Rex. He mapped out his future for us in the closing chapters but the clean ending that it provided was a little unrealistic for me. However, this makes the book perfect for a very young teen as it's non-controversial and if this book had been around when I was that age I would have loved it. As it was I steamed through it in a day and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a perfect holiday read: lightweight (but not entirely), a lovely main character and enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

13 to Life by Shannon Delany

Something strange is stalking the small town of Junction…

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort.

The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early.

Needless to say, chatting to Shannon on Twitter about her upcoming release, I'm truly chuffed to be part of the "UK tour".

Overall, the storytelling is strong. There are a few moments at the beginning where our main character Jess wavers between being a B-grade horror movie victim and a sensible person. Thankfully the sensible person wins out.

The initial chapter, the Prologue, did not inspire me with confidence, I have to to be honest. The writing did not ring true. It was shaky and very self-conscious but I've seen this before in other debuts so I read on because dammit, I wanted to find out about Russian werewolves! And I'm glad I stuck it out because wham, in Chapter 1, it's as if we are being reintroduced to Jess and here the writing evens out we get to know our main character from scratch.

Jess is not a girl without her issues. She has a bit of a martyr complex, being nice and becoming the bff of the girl who caused her great grief not too long ago. On the one hand I personally can see this happening but on a realistic level, I had my doubts. However, Jess feels so strongly about this, the fact that she has to somehow stay friends with this girl, that you allow her to do so on this crazy track. She remains friends with the girl - Sarah - to the extent that she denies herself the possibility of a budding romance. I was very sad about this.

I liked the new boy, Pietr. I found him darkly interesting and probably more developed than a lot of YA love interests. His relationship with Jess is one of mutual friendship and interest and barring the occasional kiss, respect. I liked that they talked and that they are showed talking. I liked that they are both deeply conflicted about their emotions for each other and how it is a push-pull situation for them. I liked that Pietr remained a mystery for longer than usual and also that his family ties were quite strong. Here we have a unique likeable character with morals and an inner strength that is so lacking in other novels we get to read, both in adult and YA fiction. I wanted to root for him regardless but his character really grew on me so in the end, it wasn't hard to be in his corner, at all.

The story focusses so deeply on the two of them that the author only much later mentions both their siblings - in Jess's case a younger sister and in Pietr's case, a twin (and also an older brother) and their guardian. I was really surprised by this, especially the Pietr's twin situation. I don't mind being surprised in novels but that came out of nowhere and it did jerk me out of the novel and got me thinking: did I miss something earlier on…but I didn't really have enough time to try and figure it out because the story was moving ahead so rapidly.

I thought that 13 to Life felt like an origin story. Call me crazy, but it's true. There are much deeper issues at work here, issues that we've only touched on. I suspect that some of the other characters we meet in 13 to Life may not in fact be as human as we think they are - I say this, and am probably wrong, but Jess and Pietr's reaction to some people, especially a fellow student at the high school, had me wondering. I am dying to ask Ms. Delany but I don't want to spoil it for myself.

I loved that once I've finished reading 13 to Life the more I thought about it, the more I interesting I found it. There is a depth here that I liked it and the world created by Ms. Delany is one that she is in complete charge of. I am looking forward to her next offerings as I want to find out more about the creation of the werewolves, the lives of Pietr and his family and also what Jess gets up to.

13 to Life is being published by St Martin's Press in June of this year over in the States with book 2 due for release in January 2011 and book 3 aimed for summer 2011.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Eric by Shaun Tan

I strongly and truly believe that some people are magic.

Among these people I count the following authors:
  • Charles de Lint
  • Midori Snyder
  • Holly Black
  • Shaun Tan
I received the very small, very slender, new offering from Shaun Tan by Templar Publishing on Saturday morning. And when I small and slender, I mean it. But I've long ago learned that very small and very slender does not mean "can't carry a punch" because it can.

The magic and the essence is distilled, all the superfluous stuff is stripped away and you hold in your hands something of rare and tremendous beauty.

You may know Shaun Tan from some of his other works, most notably his picture book The Arrival or even Tales of Outer Suburbia. These are books of depth and grace and beauty and tremendous character.

In Eric we have a tiny self-contained story about a foreign exchange student who comes to live with a typical suburban family. Although everyone is delighted with the arrangement, cultural misunderstandings ensue, beginning with Eric's insistence on sleeping in a pantry cupboard rather than the guest room.

The story on the surface is a simple one; an exchange student comes to stay and he's a bit odd, but everyone is understanding and the narrator of our story is keen to make friends with Eric. But Eric remains an enigma. Through a sequence of haunting pictures we are shown his diminutive size and the scope of his questions.

When he unexpectedly leaves the family he's staying with, he leaves behind a small group of people touched by his presence. And it's only when they see what he left behind in the pantry cupboard, that they realise that someone a little bit magic stayed in their home.

Wonderful and beautiful, Eric is a true book lover's dream book to own. Tactile and sweet, the story has many layers and is just that little bit magic. I think I may carry it with me for a little while.

Note: this review is probably ten times as long as the book.

A further note: the artwork is from Shaun Tan's website and I use it on MFB to illustrate the haunting magical quality of the artwork within Eric. Eric will make a truly wonderful random present to someone who likes quirky and sweet little books with a big heart.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nemesis - James Swallow

After the horrors of Isstvan V, Horus declares outright war against the Imperium. In the shadows of the Emperor’s Palace, powerful figures convene. Their plan is to send a team of assassins to execute the Archtraitor Horus and end the war for the galaxy of mankind before it’s even begun.

But what they cannot know is that Horus and his dark allies have already embarked on an equally sinister plan of their own.

This is the 13th book in the Horus Heresy series, which I’m happy to say shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. Like its predecessors, Nemesis is an insight into one aspect of the Heresy, in this case the reaction of the shadowy part of the Emperor’s court – the Officio Assassinorum (essentially the Ministry of Assassination). Comprised of six schools, it is the long, sneaky arm of Emperor’s will, silently eliminating enemies of the Imperium. The long shadow cast by Horus’ rebellion forces them to set aside their secretive protocols and work together to accomplish a seemingly impossible task: to kill Horus.

Horus’ fleet has embarked on its voyage to bring the uprising to the gates of the Imperial Palace, sending a bow wave of fear and insurrection ahead of it. Iesta Veracrux and its closest neighbour, Dagonet, are two planets that are starting to experience the fear and uncertainty that heralds the approach of the Sons of Horus. On Iesta Veracrux we meet Yosef Sabrat, a local investigator for the planetary law enforcers, as he heads out towards a crime scene. It’s a vicious, ritualised murder, and he sets about doggedly tracking the perpetrator down. As he does so, it gives James the opportunity to paint a great picture of the life and thoughts of the average Imperial citizen on the ground as the Heresy looms on the horizon.

However, it soon becomes evident that things aren’t what Yosef expects them to be, and the truth comes to light in a blood drenched epiphany that shoots the story in a completely different direction as the nature of the mysterious figure known only as Spear is revealed.

From then on, the game is well and truly on as the strike team of assassins manoeuvre into positions and set the bait for Horus, drawing him to the surface of Dagonet to crush the dying embers of a civil war which they had stoked into a blaze. Given that the outcome of the Heresy is already well documented, it was always going to be interesting to see how James would tackle the money shot. The six assassins are interesting and above all deadly in their own right, so there could never be an outcome as trite as having one of them fumble at the last minute.

When the moment comes, it’s tense and exhilarating, and the outcome ricochets the story into a different direction again, particularly as Spear has been advancing his own mission simultaneously. It’s a convoluted but brilliant idea for a unique and formidable opponent that you can actually believe would threaten the god-like power of the Emperor.

When their paths cross, it sets the stage for a silent, lethal war in the shadows of the carnage and devastation that the Sons of Horus’ thirst for vengeance wreaks upon the planet.

The inherent coolness of assassins notwithstanding, Nemesis is an absorbing and worthy addition to the ranks of the Horus Heresy, a definite must read.

You can read an extract here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Scream and an ABA* in London

*Awfully Big Adventure

Saturday dawned a little bit sunny, a little bit gloomy and we had no idea what to expect as our day was due to be busy. A lot was happening and if it was going to rain, it would be pretty rubbish.

So we got done after a lazy breakfast of bagels and headed into town. As we had the camera with us, I made Mark swing by Trafalgar Square so I could get a few shots of this:

The ship in the bottle on the extra plinth in Trafalgar Square - pretty damn cool. The attention to detail is amazing.

Last year we managed to completely miss the West End Live event at Leicester Square but this year we thought to actually make an effort to go. It was packed and everyone was smiling and cheering on the various theatre stars on stage. A little bit of London Magic.

Naturally we had to show our support to our favourite indie bookshop, Forbidden Planet, as they had a stall there. We said hi to John, got to play with various items and then Mark got into trouble. As usual.

Mark says "hi" to Batman. He looked very serious.

My forthcoming Xmas present from ME to Me. It's been decided. By ME!

Mark being arrested by the 501st Legion. Again.

The people from the Little Angel Theatre were there too - I love (and am terrified by) puppets and would one day love to travel to Prague to buy a whole collection. Or make my own.

We swung by Goldsboro Books and spotted this lovely display of City of Ruin, Mark C Newton's newest offering. He was there later that day, doing a signing. We were about 4 hours early.

We stopped at Orbital Comics to see and touch all the pretty new comics but then realised we were running late for the Foyles event and legged it up Charing Cross Road. Needless to say, we weren't late!

A display in the Gallery with some pretty shiny bookses.

See this table full of these awesome goodies? One person can win this, if their short story entry is chosen. For more info pop over to Foyles website and check it out. It looks really tempted to enter myself!

Some more info cards on authors and their books.

From left to right, Rachel Caine, Sarah Rees Brennan and Sarwat Chadda

Display tables and information cards, forming part of the Summer Scream event.

Goodie bags!

More recommendations!

The all-important signing and schmoozing the authors. I stood in the queue to get The Demon's Covenant signed by SRB for the lovely Sarah. Mark got his copy of The Dark Goddess signed by Sarwat Chadda.

Then Kaz, Mark, Ana from The Booksmugglers and I managed to kidnap Sarah Rees Brennan for lunch. We stuffed our greedy little faces with burgers from GBK before heading for another exhausting stroll around Forbidden Planet, just in case there were shiny bookses that struck our fancy.

Then we bid farewell to Ana and Sarah and headed off to Madame Tussauds for an exclusive after hours press event to showcase the Marvel 4D exhibition. I really had my doubts - I mean, how much fun can it be to walk around a wax museum, right? Well, I'll say now that I was fascinated by the entire event. Apart from feeling like you've been invited to an A-list party, where you can meet some (immobile) stars, it was pretty cool.

I'd definitely recommend the entire thing - but the icing on the cake was the Marvel 4D movie which BLEW ME away. I know I wasn't the only one. We were beaming like small kids afterwards and stayed for a second showing. One scene had a London taxi flying through the air and landing in the fountains in front of Buckingham Palace. As the spray hit the screen we were sprayed with water from the seats in front of us. As Wolverine clawed his way out of the taxi, we felt the stabbing claws in our backs. Insectile robotic creatures crawled all over the screen, we felt them on our legs. It was surreal and amazing and we loved it.

How it's all done!

R-Patz - a fan refuses to inch up closer. I don't blame her. That glitter must be a nighmare to wash off!

Hmm, Johnny Depp. Well hellooo, Sailor!

Nicole Kidman - wow, the likeness is surreal. Also, she's teeny tiny.

The King!

I know MFB have friends in high - and low - places, but this we didn't expect!

The Hulk decides that Mark needs to be nicer to me!

Mark, the pretender, tries to get his claws into Wolverine.

Hmm, the lovely tortured and hunky Wolverine / Logan / Hugh Jackman.

Nick Fury - how mean does he look in this?

When we left, we were handed very cool goody bags stuffed full of very cool Marvel items, a few comics, buttons, toys, sticker books. It was an amazing day - a busy day - but we were still smiling when we got on the tube home.

Thanks to the organisers over at Foyles for an amazing event at Foyles. The authors outdid themselves with the interviews and were genuinely amusing and generous with their time and answers. And a big thanks goes to Madame Tussauds and their dedicated PR team - you guys rock. We had an amazing time. In fact, I can't believe how much fun I had! I felt like a five year old, believing that any moment now that 4 metre Hulk was going to pick me up and cuddle me. It was a great day out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Terry Pratchett Anywhere but Here, Anywhen but Now First Novel Prize!


Sir Terry Pratchett and Transworld Publishers are proud to launch a new award for aspiring debut novelists, The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now Prize. Transworld will offer the winning author a publishing contract with a £20,000 advance.

The award will be judged by the esteemed Sir Terry Pratchett, the wise Tony Robinson, the savvy Mike Rowley from Waterstone’s and two members of the editorial team at Transworld Publishers.

Sir Terry Pratchett had this to say:

“Anywhere but here, anywhen but now. Which means we are after stories set on Earth, although it may be an Earth that might have been, or might yet be, one that has gone down a different leg of the famous trousers of time (see the illustration in almost every book about quantum theory).

We will be looking for books set at any time, perhaps today, perhaps in the Rome of today but in a world where 2000 years ago the crowd shouted for Jesus Christ to be spared, or where in 1962, John F Kennedy's game of chicken with the Russians went horribly wrong. It might be one day in the life of an ordinary person. It could be a love story, an old story, a war story, a story set in a world where Leonardo da Vinci turned out to be a lot better at Aeronautics. But it won’t be a story about being in an alternate Earth because the people in an alternate Earth don’t know that they are; after all, you don’t.

But this might just be the start. The wonderful Peter Dickinson once wrote a book that could convince you that flying dragons might have existed on Earth. Perhaps in the seething mass of alternate worlds humanity didn't survive, or never evolved -- but other things did, and they would have seen the world in a different way. The possibilities are literally endless, but remember, it’s all on Earth. Maybe the continents will be different and the climate unfamiliar, but the physics will be the same as ours. What goes up must come down, ants are ant-sized because if they were any bigger their legs wouldn't carry them. In short, the story must be theoretically possible on some version of the past, present or future of a planet Earth.”

The deadline for submissions will be 31 December 2010 and a shortlist of six entries will be announced on the 31 March 2011. The winner will be announced by the end May 2011.

Entrants must be over 18, have no previous published full-length works of fiction
and live in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth. Submissions should be emailed to:

For full terms and conditions visit

Dust off your quills and begin!

For more information please contact: Lynsey Dalladay, Press Officer at Transworld Publishers on 0208 231 6793 or

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins


Three years ago, a mysterious package arrived for Jake and Kady Ransom. Inside were two halves of a Mayan gold coin, their mother's sketchbook and their father's notebook. But their architect parents failed to return from an expedition to the site of a long-lost Mayan civilization. Now Jake and Kady are plunged into a terrifying adventure. Someone is very interested in what's happened to their parents. And in Jake and Kady themselves. So begins a journey into a world of dangers both ancient and modern. Can Jake and Kady survive long enough to solve the mystery?

I like James Rollins a lot as an author. I enjoy his action adventure thrillers for adults and was therefor very excited when I received a copy of his boys' own adventure for younger readers in the post from Orion.

I feel very strongly and protective of this genre as a whole. It's so easy to get it wrong. Thankfully most authors don't as their editors guide them through the action adventure pathways and invariably the books work.

However, as much as I liked Jake Ransom and as much as I like James Rollins I don't think it's a very convincing book for younger readers. Don't get me wrong, it's a devastatingly competent book with good storytelling and a fantastic plot and mystery at the core, but I just couldn't bring myself to like either Jake or his sister Kady.

I think had Jake been more of a "everykid" I would have had more sympathy for him. Instead Jake is a bit of a knowitall and instead of rooting for him and his sister throughout the novel, I really couldn't bring myself to care about them. I did however begin to care deeply about the world they found themselves in, as well as the two friends Jake made when they were transported to Calypsos, a place that looks and feels a lot like somewhere in South America.

The world building was rich and the mysteries contained within was unexpectedly lush and wonderful and I wanted to stay there longer and find out more about the magisters, about the one language, about the world itself. In fact, I thought that we would be staying in this world but once the baddies in the novel were vanguished - for now - Kady and Jake got spirited away elsewhere for another type of adventure, to follow.

To be honest, there is not an awful lot of action in Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. It comes in bursts and starts and is unevenly written. There is quite a bit of telling and a lot less showing. Almost everyone is shown to be either evil or good which frustrated greatly as the in-depth characterisation and plotting that I've become used to in his adult books really lacked in this one.

It really pains me that I can't rave about this book because I know it's something I should utterly love. But it just didn't work for me on several levels, chief amongst them being Jake and Kady's dislike for each other, even in the tough situations they get in, and then also the actual dialogue between the characters. It felt hard and stilted and just did not ring true.

I suspect however that this may be the problem for the first book and think that the second book will be the place we'll see Mr. Rollins bring out his usual effortless prose. I am also bearing in mind that ultimately I am not the target audience for this one, and that perhaps my knowledge of his books for an older audience has tempered my review to slant towards the negative. I don't know. It's been a difficult book to review, with flashes of excellence but not enough to make me champion it wholeheartedly. I'll really be interested to see what other readers make of this.

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow is out later in July from Orion Kids.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Mummy Snatcher of Memphis and The Maharajah's Monkey by Natasha Narayan

Synopsis - The Mummy Snatcher of Memphis

When Kit Salter and her friends peek at a famed mummy in a museum chamber, they are shocked to discover rattles and moans coming from the box ...Inside is an Egyptian stowaway, determined to return a looted scarab and save his village. When the mummy is stolen too, the ensuing adventures puts the children fast on the heels of a villainous East End mob, and right into the heart of the Western Desert. But as the story climaxes in a temple, the villains and Kit find they have underestimated a stronger force - the terrible power of ancient Egypt.With a wonderfully spirited heroine and a cast of batty aunts, French adventurers and music hall villains, this is a fabulous first book in an exciting series set during the Age of Empire. Over the course of the next three books, Kit and her friends will hunt for soma, the elusive elixir of immortality, on the slopes of the Himalayas; solve the mystery of the Marie Celeste among pirates on the high seas, and track Inuit warriors through the Arctic wastes. They will battle to outwit their arch rivals: the ghastly Baker Brothers, collectors linked with slavery and opium running.

Synopsis - The Maharajah's Monkey

Dark secrets at the maharajah's palace...Lost treasure and a bear attack in the Himalayas...And a naughty Indian monkey, filled with an ancient evil...When world-famous explorer Gustav Champlon disappears just before a trip to India to find lost treasure, Kit Salter is determined to discover why. Tiny footprints in Gustav's room put her on the trail of a naughty Indian monkey. Before long she and her friends are aboard a steamer to India, on a quest to find the monkey and save Champlon. Welcomed into the palace of the boy Maharajah, a fabulous adventure ensues: Tiger hunts, court intrigue and a mountain expedition to find the lost paradise of Shambala...

These are two genuinely fun, over the top, action packed and intelligent adventures for younger folk written by Natasha Narayan. Set during the almost steampunk Victorian age, Kit and her friends have the opportunity to go on a vast array of adventures and get into all sorts of trouble.

My favourite, as well as the one I had the most trouble with initially, has to be The Mummy Snatchers of Memphis. I had trouble with it because I had to get into the way the author wrote, which initially I thought would not appeal to me. First person point of view, yet slightly removed and tongue in cheek. So after the first few chapters, imagine my surprise when I was sailing through the book at a rapid pace. And it's since become a firm favourite as it's introduced me the very funny Kit Salter and her group of friends.

Kit's a very clever, indulged and slightly precocious character that gets into a variety of scrapes. Some bits were genuinely funny, startling snorts of laughter from me during my commute.

The author takes us on a gamut of historical places throughout both novels, interspersing genuine characters with fictiontal characters, letting us piggy back on Kit's coat tails as she goes from one scrape to the next.

Her companions, Waldo, Rachel and Isaac, are worthy side-kicks and each one comes with his faults and strengths to help Kit through her various adventures.

I've just been to the publishers - Quercus - website and spotted that there is another Kit Salter adventure out later this year. I am very pleased. These pocket sized books with their fantastic covers are very deceptive in that they made me think they would read far younger than they actually did.

I was really surprised by the quality of language, the rich history and information that the author managed to impart throughout both books. It never felt laboured or dull. The chapters are decently sized pieces, ideal to be read out in class or before bed. For confident readers these will make ideal books to pick up on their own. As it's historical adventures, they'll also learn a bit more than they anticipated...of course, they shouldn't know this before the time.

The Maharajah's Monkey is as much as Mummy Snatchers but with the added bonus of a naughty monkey and some wild excitement. Set in India it follows Kit and her friends as they try and unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of Gustav Champlon. I loved that the group of friends rely on each other and are so fearless, even in tough situations.

What can I say? I had fun reading them. I wholeheartedly approve of Kit, her odd family and her true friends. I hope you do too.

Find Natasha's website here and Quercus' stunning new site can be found here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce


The story of Scarlett and Rosie March, two highly-skilled sisters who have been hunting Fenris (werewolves) – who prey on teen girls – since Scarlett lost her eye years ago while defending Rosie in an attack. Scarlett lives to destroy the Fenris, and she and Rosie lure them in with red cloaks (a colour the wolves can't resist), though Rosie hunts more out of debt to her sister than drive.

But things seem to be changing. The wolves are getting stronger and harder to fight, and there has been a rash of news reports about countless teenage girls being brutally murdered in the city. Scarlett and Rosie soon discover the truth: wolves are banding together in search of a Potential Fenris – a man tainted by the pack but not yet fully changed. Desperate to find the Potential to use him as bait for a massive werewolf extermination, the sisters move to the city with Silas, a young woodsman and long time family friend who is deadly with an axe. Meanwhile, Rosie finds herself drawn to Silas and the bond they share not only drives the sisters apart, but could destroy all they've worked for.

I can only urge you not to be fooled by the gorgeous cover for Sisters Red or the apparent sweetness of the author. Sisters Red is not a saccharine cute reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. No, it's dark and dangerous and scary and deals with the darker elements of that fairy tale and it deals with it competently, not dwelling on the gruesome bits, but making you very much aware of the nasties in the shadows.

Our two main characters, Scarlett and Rosie, are strong independent characters with an axe to grind with any werewolves that may stray across their paths. After a devastating attack when they were young, Scarlett is physically disfigured and has a personal stake in tracking down these creatures. She gets cranky when she doesn't go and hunt and she is fiercely protective of her younger sister, Rosie who is in actual fact, pretty damn deadly with her knives.

The relationship between the two girls form such a large and integral part of the novel that it would be silly to not mention it. Closer than average sisters, because of the violence they went through when their house was attacked by a Fenris and their grandmother slain, they become a devastating tag-team of death for any kind of werewolf.

Rosie is lovely, sweet, kind natured and less bloodthirsty than Scarlett but this makes her overcompensate because she feels she's the lesser hunter. She also carries tremendous amounts of guilt, blaming herself for Scarlett's scars. Scarlett defended them both during the very first attack and she almost died.

But, she survived thanks to the knowledge and assistance from their nearest neighbour, the woodsman. Growing up along with the two girls is Silas, the woodsman's son. Before Rosie, he was Scarlett's hunting companion. Together they fought against the weres encroaching on the area, putting them down and saving young girls...the Fenris' preferred prey.

The novel picks up when Silas comes back from taking time out. Rosie's grown up, she's beautiful and sweet and falls head over heals for Silas. Their romance is so sweetly written, I fell a little in love with them both, I have to say.

Silas is so far removed from the boys we've had in YA we've seen recently. He is a devastating killer when the need calls for it, with his axe and his strength, but the thing is, it's just something he does, it's not what he is. And that's where Silas and Scarlett have their sticking point - hunting is Scarlett's life. It's how she feels worthwhile and alive. She can't wrap her mind around Rosie and Silas not wanting to smash these creatures to smithereens.

It's written from both girl's points of view in alternating chapters and it's easy after the first two chapters to realise who is "talking" as their voices are so different, without having to read the chapter sub-headings. I loved that Mr. Pearce gave us these girls who are so tough and so honourable and delicate and scared. They are imbued with a vitality that so many YA characters lack or only hint at.

It is easy to assume that Scarlett's character is the dominating one, that her storyline is the strongest and in a way that is true but then we have the softer gentler story of Rosie with her road to self-discovery and her realisation that the world is not just killing monsters. It's a part of it, yes, but there are others things too. Silas is of course a huge influence on Rosie as her character develops and grows. But what I liked is how he was quietly a part of this - he sort of pointed her in the direction and motioned her on to go and figure things out for herself.

Even if YA urban fantasy or fairy tale retellings aren't your thing or you tell yourself you are too old for such things, I'd highly recommend Sisters Red by Ms. Jackson Pearce to get you over your own preconceptions. The writing is ridiculously easy to get into and the girls and Silas are well rounded characters. I suspect that Sisters Red is a bit of a classic in the making as it has many elements of the real and supernatural yet it's a story about family, trust, loyalty and love and how far you would go for those you love. It's big concepts, high concepts and I wasn't sure if the pay-off would be worth it, but you know? It is. It's such a great book, wonderfully jacketed to lure the unsuspecting into its sharp little claws and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Find Jackson's live journal website here. Sisters Red is now out in the UK.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw


Ten years ago Kate Winters' parents were taken by the High Council's wardens to help with the country's war efforts.

Now the wardens are back ... and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane - the High Council's most feared man - recognises Kate as one of the skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Councils experiments into the veil, and he's convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace.

The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft - a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume. But the night of Souls , when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft.

I've wanted to read this book since I first heard the title which is haunting. For some reason I've read nothing but urban fantasy for months (apart from Fever Crumb) and was curious to see what kind of world Burtenshaw had created. I was drawn in by the prologue; a man digging up a grave and a woman keen to get her hands on the Wintercraft book it contains. The initial pages contain a dire warning of abusing its contents. I was hooked on the idea of a book so dangerous it had been buried.

In the following pages we're introduced to Kate who lives with her uncle, Artemis, and Edgar in Morvane. When wardens come to the town to collect the skilled they are captured. It's at this point that the story started to drag a little for me. I understand that there has to be world building but I wanted more about the veil between life and death! We get a glimpse of Kate's growing powers when Silas stops at an inn to meet the thoroughly scary Da'ru. Kate is able to sense her arrival, sees things through Da'ru's eyes that hint at Kate's enormous power. However, I felt for the next few chapters that Kate and Edgar were always being caught and then escaping from Silas or the wardens.

Just when I was losing faith Kate is finally captured by Da'ru and her powers are put to the test. To prove to the High Council that Kate is worth keeping, Da'ru puts her through a series of gruelling tests. When Kate has to bring a dead man back to life we get our first glimpse of the veil. Jenna Burtenshaw has created a magical land; a shadowy, silvery place of peace, pools of water and whispering voices. I found this part of the story so enchanting and fascinating that I couldn't wait to read more. Prior to Wintercraft my ultimate version of the Land of the Dead is in Garth Nix's Sabriel trilogy but I was entranced with her description. I felt as if I were standing at Kate's shoulder looking around for the soul she's been sent to collect.

From this point onward the book flew past with fast paced action in both worlds. I also loved the Graveyard City and the underground world that seemed to accept Kate as one of its own. Edgar's story also gripped me and I wanted to know more about him and his brother. The character of Silas is initially repellant but as I learned more of his story the more I sympathised with him. When he shares his secret with Kate there are changes in the power balance between them which left me eager to know how it could possibly be resolved. As the story develops I became as concerned about him as I was about Kate and by the time I'd finished he was my favourite character.

Wintercraft left me wanting more and excited about the sequel. I'm keen to see how Kate develops her powers, what happens with Edgar and of course whether the wonderful Silas will appear.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Good Neighbours: Kin by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh


Rue Silver's mother has disappeared . . . and her father has been arrested, suspected of killing her. But it's not as straightforward as that. Because Rue is a faerie, like her mother was. And her father didn't kill her mother -- instead, he broke a promise to Rue's faerie king grandfather, which caused Rue's mother to be flung back to the faerie world. Now Rue must go to save her -- and must also defeat a dark faerie that threatens our very mortal world.

Thanks to the very lovely Sarah, fellow reviewer, writer and geek, I received a copy of Holly Black's graphic novel, Good Neighbours: Kin (book 1) recently.

So I set it aside for a while, devoured a few other things and subsequently read it in one fell swoop this morning during my commute into work.

I lurve this little book so much. It stands out - for me at least - because of it's artwork by Ted Naifeh. Some pages are illustrated to quite obviously show the fae in the mortal world, all around us. And then there are bits that are illustrated where the fae presence is only hinted at. It's subtle and lovely and wonderful and I'm a fan. I also liked the tiny sneak in of a box filled with items and ontop is a copy of The Spiderwick Chronicles. And I think I spotted Jay and Silent Bob lurking in the background too in one panel...but maybe that was just me being too observant.

Of course there is the story that forms the backbone of Good Neighbours. At the heart of it we have Rue trying to cope with her mum walking out / disappearing on them. Then her father's odd behaviour when she did: he's not gone to work and been sitting around in the house for days on end. So with her home not being somewhere she wants to be she prefers hanging out with her friends. But even then things aren't going well. There are glimpses of odd beings and creatures that do not belong to our world that haunt her days.

When it's revealed that a student of her father's, a professor of folklore, has been found murdered and Rue's father is the main suspect, her world is shaken. Further injury is added when the police extend their investigation to determine if her mom had left out of free will or if she had been murdered.

There are some twists and turns here and there but those who know Holly Black's writing and those of us who are fans of fairy tales will find a lot of familair threads within Kin, but I'd hasten to add that this does not detract from the story or from Ms. Black's storytelling. She is so comfortable in her narrative that it's palpable. Kin is a great addition to a library for any person who has an interest in the supernatural or the fae. I can't wait for Book 2 - Kith - to be in my grubby little paws.

Lavishly illustrated and well written, Good Neighbours: Kin, feels a bit like a trophy book to me. It's a very tactile bit of published niceness that I'm very pleased to have on my shelf, along with all my other Spiderwick books and posters.

Jackson Pearce talks fairy tales, Sisters Red, werewolves and singing!

MFB are really and truly proud to be part of Jackson Pearce's UK blog tour. I've read Sister's Red and in fact, I had to put it aside for a day or two because I started having vivid dreams about the two main characters. I kid you not! It's very immersive reading and a book I highly recommend readers of both YA and adult urban fantasy to get stuck into, especially if you like and enjoy intelligent and creative reworkings of fairy tales. Review to follow tomorrow!

But, enough jabbering from me, here's the MFB interview with Jackson Pearce - all singing, all dancing, all writing superstar author of Sisters Red.

1. Can you tell us about your road to being a published author?

I’ve always wanted to write, but didn’t start trying to get published until I was a junior in college. My first book, THE KEYBEARER, got rejected everywhere—and I mean everywhere. I started writing my second book, AS YOU WISH, as a form of therapy to get over how sad I was about KEYBEARER flopping. As it turns out, AS YOU WISH would become my very first published book! Of course, within that roadtrip was also a lot of side trips, a lot of sadness and happiness, and a whole lot of anxiety. It’s never an easy road, no matter who you are, but it’s worth it.

2. You are clearly a big fan of fairy tales and their retellings. Which is your favourite fairy tale and why?

My favorite fairytale, at the moment, is The Snow Queen. It’s Hans Christian Anderson’s (arguably) second most famous fairytale, after The Little Mermaid. The story is about a girl on a quest to find her best friend, who was stolen by The Snow Queen. The main character is fun on her own, but it’s the secondary characters that make this story my favorite—in particular, the Little Robber Girl, a gypsy child with a good heart but a sharp knife.

3. There are so many layers to the two sisters, Scarlett and Rosie. Did you find it hard to make sure each girl remained so strongly individual?

Scarlett and Rosie are so different, it really wasn’t too tricky to write each of them as individuals. Sometimes if I’d been writing in one’s perspective for a long time, it was difficult to quickly switch over to the other, but even that got easier with time.

4. Like the two girls, Silas has a pretty tough time with his family. What drew you to Silas’ character as a writer? Similarly, did you find it hard, distinguishing him from your two very strong heroines and from other boys in the YA genre at the moment?

I loved Silas from the start—he’s good at hunting, he might even be brilliant at hunting, but it’s just not what he loves, and he’s very okay with that (even if Scarlett isn’t!). He’s confident, he knows what he wants, and he isn’t afraid to get it—but at the same time, he loves both the March sisters like family.

I wanted to make sure that Silas was a real character, a real person, not just an attractive male mannequin stuck into the text. His relationships with the March sisters is based on how his particular personality meshes with theirs, which means his relationship with Rosie is very different from his relationship with Scarlett.

5. I love that you call the weres Fenris. Did you have to do a lot of research on purpose or was this part and parcel of things you’ve always read and wanted to write?

I did a lot of research on werewolf mythology, and was most drawn to the mythical Norse Fenrir—giant, killer wolves. I also researched a lot of other traditional werewolf fairytales. I combined everything together to create the Fenris.

6. What are you reading for fun for yourself at the moment?

I just finished BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, and am still reading THE REPLACEMENT, both of which are amazing.

7. I love how media savvy you are, with your site and your videos. And I admire them greatly, as do so many others. Did you find that you really had to work on putting yourself out there, walking away from your writing cave? Or have you always been a crazymad singing writer?

I’ve always loved blogging—I actually started my livejournal as a freshmen in college, years before I was trying to get published. Vlogging is more recent, but I really enjoy it too! I love putting myself out there because it creates a real dialogue and relationship with readers. I think I’d feel very lonely as a writer if I didn’t have blogging.

8. What is the utmost best advice anyone has ever given you about writing? And the worse?

Best advice: “A writer writes.” A writer doesn’t just talk about writing, or just dream about writing, she sits down and actually WRITES.

The worst advice? “Write what you know.” Because I totally don’t know any werewolves.

9. And finally, please choose wisely: PIRATES or NINJAS

I’ve never understood why there has to be war between the two. Wouldn’t pirate ninjas be the real scourge of the seven seas? Can you imagine? Make peace, pirates and ninjas. It’s only through your combined forces that we can take out the zombies.
Fantastic! Thanks so much to Jackson and her publicity team at Hachette Children's Books for popping by MFB to chat about Sisters Red and to prove to us we're not the only ones worried about those zombies!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay


Be careful what you wish for . . .

Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs.

Then Andi's biggest wish comes true and she's minutes away from becoming someone's little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he'll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he's tall all right. But he's not just tall ... he's a GIANT.

In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay looks like a small unprepossessing book - something you might pick up as a snack read between heftier volumes.

Yes, it's small but for all its smallness it packs quite a punch. I read it a few weeks ago and I've not been able to stop talking to friends about it and I've not been able to stop thinking about it. I don't know why. Some books just have this bit of magic about them and Tall Story has a lot of magic.

Andi is a skinny small eleven year old kid who no one really notices except for the fact that she is an ace basketball player, tiny size notwithstanding. There is more to Andi than slouchy clothes and grumbling. She has a big heart, she has a heart the size of a giant, in fact and I had the impression that if Andi could, she'd be punching holes in the sky. Her voice is big, clear and lovely. I fell in love with her immediately. Here is a strong heroine who keeps believing, no matter what. She gets her parents, she gets her mum and she understand her mum's heartbreak at not having her oldest with her. By this I mean Bernardo, who is the Tall in the title.

When Barnardo was very small, a baby still, his mum had to leave him behind in the Philippines as she couldn't afford to look after him in London, which is where she relocated to. For many many years she's been trying to bring him across to live with her and Andi and Andi's dad. For many years she's been failing. But eventually the true news came through - Bernardo can come and live with them. Fantastical excitement ensues.

But Mum's family have kept a secret from her. They didn't actually ever tell her quite how big Bernardo's grown. Eventually, they came clean but Andi's mum never tells Andi quite how tall her big brother is. Not until she sees him at the airport for the first time. And he's eight foot tall!

The story moves from Andi's point of view, to Bernardo's. It tells the story of the past, it tells the story of the present.

Ms. Gourlay manages to write fluidly, taking us deeper into both Andi and Bernardo's stories. She shows great empathy writing Bernardo's story, the story of a boy who unexpectedly starts growing. Who is maybe not the fastest or the most intelligent but someone who is inherently kind and generous. Tied in with Bernardo and the area he lives in, is the legend of another Bernardo, someone who had become a legend in his own lifetime, many years before. Everyone in Bernardo's village is now convinced that Bernardo is the new Bernardo and well, this entails me doing a reveal about who Bernardo really is, but I won't go there. The mythology is so deftly woven throughout the storyline you don't for a second mis-believe it. Cleverly making use of religion and long ago beliefs we are presented with a very clear picture of this tiny part of the Philippines.

Andi's story is less big, if you excuse the unintended pun. Her struggle is more internal and her story would be an easy one to overlook but the author makes very sure that this doesn't happen. She imbues Andi with a life and vividness that is vibrant and real. We feel Andi's success as she is chosen to be part of a basketball team, how she never ever misses her drops into the basket, we feel for her when it transpires that they have to move and the realisation that she has to give up this brand new place in a team. We empathise with her when at the new school she wants to try out for the team but they don't take on girls.

Throw a freak of a big brother into the mix and Andi's life is hell, especially when her parents leave her to mind her brother as they have to take extra shifts at work.

Obviously I'm not going to reveal how the story pans out but it is deliciously wonderful and uplifting and it made me laugh and cry at the same time. I definitely think that David Fickling Books have a winner on their hands and I hope that Tall Story makes a big splash because it genuinely does deserve it. Small in size, but big in impact, Tall Story won't leave a dry eye in the house. It's so many things but mostly it's powerful storytelling at its best.

Find Candy's website here, the Tall Story website here and of course this is the David Fickling books website. Tall Story is out later this month.