Monday, October 31, 2011

Tucker and Dale vs Evil - Movie Review

The great outdoors can be murder.

Classic movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and Deliverance have established murderous hillbillies as a firm staple of modern horror, and along the way they've picked their own range of stereotypes. The makers of Tucker and Dale have acknowledged and embraced these, using the understanding of what audiences have come to expect and capitalising on that in a way that the 'Scary Movie' rip-offs can only dream of.

The movie opens as most have come to expect, with a SUV full of fresh faced college kids off on a camping trip in the wooded hills. En route they have a narrow miss with a beaten-up pickup truck that pulls onto the road.. a truck that soon overtakes them, the two rednecks in the cab staring at them as they pass. And so we catch our first glimpse of the titular Tucker and Dale, lifelong friends who are on their way to the hardware store to pick up some essentials to fix up the dilapidated cabin they've bought up in the hills as their very own holiday home. They're normal guys, looking forward to a weekend of beer and fishing with a bit of carpentry thrown in.

What follows Dale's initial, abortive attempt at initiating a conversation with one of the college girls is a snowballing series of misunderstandings as the kids pigeonhole the oblivious Tucker and Dale as murderous hillbillies with spectacularly fatal results.

Writer-director Eli Craig strikes a fine balance between the funny bits and the gore - it's a rare movie that can make you hoot with laughter while watching someone's head getting pulled into a wood-chipper. Importantly, T&DvE is more than a one trick pony as he never lets the fun he's having in turning the stereotypes on their head overpower everything else. It's laugh out loud funny in (most) places, a gore-splattered buddy movie with a good heart and has become a firm favourite in casa MFB.

(Plus it's nice to see Wash alive again)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why we love London

Artwork by Tony DiTerlizzi 

Sarah and I try to meet up at least once a month in town for book swapping, book talking, writerly talking and book buying.

Yesterday we were joined by the ever cool Caroline from Portrait of a Woman website.  We met up at Foyles where we said "hi" to Neil who was busy doing grown up bookseller things and left us to our own devices. <>

We systematically worked our way along the YA shelves, chatting all the way, choosing various books.  Then we moved around the corner and worked our way along the younger bookshelves and helped two mums decide what picture books to buy.  We recommended THE BOY WHO CRIED NINJA and Mini Grey's THREE BY THE SEA and some others.  The mums were very happy and pootled off to buy the swathes of books we suggested.

Then we had a quick yet lazy bite to eat at the very nice Soho Nando's after which we made our way to Forbidden Planet which was heaving!  En route we passed a queue of around 50 people standing outside the fancy dress shop, Angels, on Shaftesbury.  This amused us.

We got to FP and it was heaving - I mean FAR more than usual.  Everyone was there buying and talking and hanging around.  Upstairs they had some FX guys demonstrating some great make-up effects.  Downstairs they had a graphic novelist doing a book signing.  So yes, it was busy.  Caroline met a nice man, I saw Icarus and of course we bought more books.  Then when we got outside, I spotted the very lovely Jim (James) Swallow and I introduced him to the girls.  Jim is one of the nicest people I have ever met - he always has interesting stories to tell and is incredibly encouraging towards aspiring writers.  It was a great random "hello" to a favourite person and as we waved him off,we decided we needed fortification in the shape of some tea.  Then we all ran home!

Here are some pictures to illustrate our cool day out and about.

Turns out Sarah (left) and Caroline (not left) share the same gelaskin obsession

Caroline wondering if this nice man may need some concealer...and breath mints
This Icarus shaped man took my money in Forbidden Planet and I quite fancy that beard...

The books we bought between the 3 of us

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mysteriously mysterious - All Hallow's Eve Read

I am not 100% sure who sent us these mysterious parcels.

Both came in one envelope addressed to both Mark and myself.  With no return address.  Each parcel was wrapped beautifully in thick black paper.  On the front it said this:

On the back was this:

Where did they come from?  Who sent them on?  The mysterious All Hallows Eve Reading Fairy?  Well if it was him / her I am very grateful and pleased because they are two very cool random and exciting books.

Check it:

I have no idea who sent this - and suspect it may be part of the All Hallows Read Eve thing that's going around - yay! - so in return, I will be leaving two horror books in two random places today as part of All Hallows Read Eve and the Guardian Book Swap.

Because it is important to do random cool things.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

Freya is an ordinary girl living in modern Britain, but with a twist: people still worship the Viking gods. She’s caught in her parents’ divorce, and shuttling between bickering adults is no fun. One evening, stuck with her dad on his night shift at the British Museum, she is drawn to the Lewis Chessmen and Heimdall’s Horn. Unable to resist, she blows the horn, waking three chess pieces from their enchantment; the slaves Roskva and Alfi, and Snot the Berserk. They are all summoned to Asgard, land of the Viking gods, and told they must go on a perilous journey to restore the gods to youth. If Freya refuses she will be turned into an ivory chess piece but, if she accepts her destiny and fails, the same terrible fate awaits her.

Firstly, the look and feel of the book in your hand is great. The cover is rough, it feels a bit like antique paper and the artwork is superb. It already sets the tone for the book. It's also not a full-sized paperback and the print is decent sized, so even for reluctant readers this is a great gift.

Freya as a main character is so great - she's grumpy, annoyed that her parents are full of it, and all she really wants to do is have a quiet evening. Instead she's been handed over to her Dad who forgot that his shifts at the museum had changed and so she has to spend time at the museum, after dark.

When she is left to her own devices, she strolls around and notices the horn suspended from the ceiling near the chess pieces. And she thought: hey, I wonder if I can blow it? And so she does, but quietly. Only thing is, it doesn't come out as quiet. There is a tremendous noise, masses of confusion and then the next thing she knows, she's tumbling through the air with her dad shouting her name. And then she lands, somewhere else, with three companions and a horse with too many legs.

So begins the very epic story of Freya's reluctant quest. She is indeed very much the reluctant hero. Her call to take up the journey is not one she wants, at all. She is genuinely just a girl, who is clearly very ill equipped to become The One to try and save the gods from eternal destruction. What doesn't help is the fact that the two servant/slaves with her along with the berserk warrior Snot don't hold her in high esteem, at all. She's seen as a nuisance, a hindrance. Not really someone they want on their side, to try and save themselves and the world.

As their journey continues, after a very odd conversation with Odin and his dying crew of gods, it becomes clear that this Asgard, this world they are travelling through is far bigger than Freya could have imagined. She used to be a bit of a passive believer in the gods and yet know, having seen them for real, she doesn't have much choice and they are both more AND less than what she expected.

The quest is set up through a variety of tasks that they need to perform to reach their goal. Yes, I am being very non-committal about what exactly this entails but I love the cleverness of the characters and how slowly but surely (very slowly) they come to work as a team to reach their final destination and not just that, but they figure out how to help Freya get to her goal.

But of course, things aren't as easy as that. Not in a true hero's quest anyway.

The book made me grin and frown and growl. Sometimes all at once. (No one came near me on my commute whilst I did this). I both liked and disliked the characters, just like you do in real life with some people, when they get under your skin. A lot happens throughout the book, and is quite rapidly paced, but never so that your mind feels cluttered.  The fact that we are given an alternative religious history here, that the old Norse gods are our gods and that the Christian god and his son are a new religion is very interesting and far from being controversial, and it really does make one think what would have happened if...

The world is still ours - we have cars and mobile phones and all the modern paraphernalia associated with our current lives, except for this one crucial thing, that in Freya's world, we bow to the Allfather, old Odin and his cronies.

I enjoyed The Sleeping Army - Ms. Simon has a very light touch when it comes to working the alternate history and religious bits and you are never given a theology lesson and it just works so well.  She's integrated the modern and the old very nicely and Roskva and Alfi are our point of reference for the way things were in the long distant past so as a reference, that works well as we can identify with both of them, as well as Freya.

The conclusion to the novel made me grin - it is a true quest story in which the hero manages to save the day and then some (other shenanigans too) other random things happen that you may not suspect.

I think that readers 9+ would really enjoy this and that some older readers (especially adults) who like things a bit Viking and Norse, will be pleasantly surprised because although the novel is aimed at younger readers, there is a lot of great mythology to be relished here as well as world building and action.

The Sleeping Army is out now - brand new - and would make a perfect gift come Christmas for that hero / heroine in your life, regardless of age.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson


Sixteen-year-old American girl Rory has just arrived at boarding school in London when a Jack the Ripper copycat-killer begins terrorising the city. All the hallmarks of his infamous murders are frighteningly present, but there are few clues to the killer’s identity. “Rippermania” grabs hold of modern-day London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. In an unknown city with few friends to turn to, Rory makes a chilling discovery… Could the copycat murderer really be Jack the Ripper back from the grave?

I'm a big lover of creepy, gritty urban stuff so I'm not sure why I didn't rip this from the shelves as soon as it was released. I kept seeing great reviews of it and wondering why I hadn't bought a copy. Anyway, I put that right and sat down on Sunday and was instantly drawn into this modern-day London world that Maureen Johnson had created. I was pretty much sold as she walked her character Rory down the streets of the East End. I don't really know anything about Jack the Ripper apart from the usual facts like no-one knowing who he was and so on. However, I learnt that most of what I thought I knew was in fact untrue.

Rory (or Aurora which she hates being called) has always wanted to come to London to study and gets her chance when her parents move to England for work. I loved how Rory adapts to everything and she has such a wry sense of humour that even in the darkest moments she could be replied upon for a great comment. Before she even arrived in London the first "Ripper-esque" murder has taken place and the capital has gone mad. By the day of the second murder Rory has made great friends and is sneaking out to watch events unfold from a nearby roof. What happens on her return journey I found more than a little chilling.

There's so much to love in this book. Rory has great friends, I adored quiet but determined Jazza with her tea obsession. I joined with both of them in their hatred of Charlotte the head girl. One of my favourite characters was Jo and there's a really poignant scene between her and Rory which I read again as soon as I'd finished the book. The way that Rippermania grips the country is brilliantly done with the attitude of the public, the reliance on the BBC and the way that the hysteria builds. There's also a great deal of fascinating history seamlessly blended in about "dead" underground stations and war-time tragedies. I'm being deliberately woolly about the plot as I don't want to give even the tiniest thing away.

For me this was almost a perfect urban fantasy and I'm so glad this is part one of a series (Shades of London) so that I can immerse myself back into the mysterious, weird and creepy world that Maureen Johnson has created.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves


When thirteen-year-old Josephine moves to Awkward Falls she can’t help but snoop around the dilapidated mansion next door. Inevitably, she is captured by the house’s strange inhabitants: an ancient automaton who serves as a butler, a cat patched together with a few odd parts, and most surprising of all, a boy named Thaddeus Hibble. Meanwhile, Fetid Stenchley—the most feared patient in the Asylum for the Dangerously Insane—is on the loose after making a dramatic escape, and there is only one thing on his mind...revenge. Unfortunately for Josephine and Thaddeus, he’s headed their way. Can these unlikely friends stop Stenchley before it’s too late? With a penchant for spooky details, surprising twists, and haunting illustrations, Keith Graves delivers a suspenseful and engaging first novel.

I was sold on this book just from the synopsis. What's not to love about an automaton butler, escaped murderers and dilapidated mansions? I put it on pre-order and promptly forgot all about it until I got an email to say it was on its way. The picture doesn't really do it justice. The hardback cover has a hole in it which opens to reveal the full illustration of Thaddeus Hibble, Josephine and Felix the patched-up cat. The book is littered with beautiful illustrations by the author. Well, when I say beautiful - they are beautifully rendered but the subject matter might not be for everyone. One shows a corpse being dragged from its grave, another set depicts a murder. However, this is a middle grade book and it's full of traditional themes too.

When we first meet Josephine she's cross with her parents for making her move yet again. However, she loves their new home with its old copies of Poe on the shelves and, through the fog, sees an old manor house next door. Despite the fact it's night she heads straight over and gets caught snooping through the window by the automaton butler who grabs her and she meets Thaddeus. I wasn't sure about Thaddeus at first; he's described as needing some good food, sunlight and a bath. However, it becomes apparent that he's waiting for his parents to return although he can't actually remember the last time he saw them or what they look like. He shows Josephine the party hats he has out ready for them - the hats are covered in dust and my heart broke a little for him.

Meanwhile, across town, Fetid Stenchley the murderous cannibal is heading back to the only home he's ever known - Thaddeus's house. Soon they all meet with gruesome results. Although the backdrop for this story is mildly horrific with plenty of, "urgh," or, "oh, yuck," moments there's also plenty of thoughtful parts too. Josephine is a great heroine: lover of books and libraries (yay!), ultra-nosey, loyal and trustworthy. She instantly sees in Thaddeus an interesting kid who needs help and friends. She accepts his crazy life and fear of the orphanage and does everything she can to help him.

There's also a little bit of mystery thrown in which kept me guessing throughout. Oh, and zombies, don't forget the zombies. This is a middle grade book with a difference and I wish I'd had it in time to include in our MG month back in July. Anyway, I'd recommend it to any 8-12 year old (and older!) who isn't afraid of a bit of ick. I loved it as it was full of awkward friendships, strange experiments and a talking cat that had been reanimated in a giant microwave. Brilliant.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski

By suffocation: 3,300
By poisoning: 8,600


Ex-cop Charlie Hardie's latest job is guarding an isolated mansion in LA's Hollywood Hills. But it comes with an unwanted guest - a D-list actress who says she's being hunted by professional hitmen.

Charlie thinks she's just high and paranoid.

But he's wrong.

The killers are real.
They've tracked her to the house.
And they're not letting anyone out alive.


It is obvious, from the very start that Charlie Hardie's life is pretty crap.  He is a melancholic figure and his house-sitting job allows him to do two things he likes: watch old movies and drink himself into unconsciousness. 

But the Hollywood Hills job will turn out to be a kick in the teeth to Charlie and the carefully constructed world he lives in. 

The novel opens with a young movie actress driving around late at night - she needs to clear her head as too much is going on at present in her life and she's trying to figure out how to tidy her life.  Then she notices someone following her.  She speeds up, he speeds up, comes close, then falls back again.  She puts her foot down and drives like a crazy person, to try and get away from him.  But the way the chap is following her makes little sense, so she pulls over, waves him on, but he stops.  Talks to her, seems nice.  He voices his concern for her, thinking she may be unwell, but she assures him she's okay and he drives off.  Lane sighs with relief and carries on with her drive.  On the highway, very early, at dawn, she is in an altercation with the same driver and as someone climbs into the car to see if she's okay, she sees a needle in the "samaritan's" hand and acts purely on instinct: she takes the crumbled windscreen glass from her lap and smashes it into this person's face.  She gets out of the car and runs for her life.

Enter Charlie, blissfully unaware of the fact that the house he is about to house-sit already has an uninvited guest: Lane.  She attacks him, under the impression that he is one of Them.  As they start sorting out their story, things are taken further by the team outside the house because of course the house is being watched by the bad guys and they know Lane is in there, but who is this new guy?  As Charlie and Lane struggle to not kill each other and figure out what's going on, we are privy to the other team's swift decisions and actions and we know things are going to go very bad very quickly. There is a lot of story here, but it doesn't feel it because the other keeps such a tight reign on the characters and the exposition.  The pace is furious and it felt like I was reading and experiencing everything in real time.  Only some of the very best thriller writers can pull something like this off and the author is definitely one of those.  As the kill team come to realise that Charlie Hardie is not just another chump they can take out without much hassle, we are privy to Charlie and Lane's desperate efforts to make it out of the house alive and to stay alive. 

Charlie really is such a great hero - he is completely screwed up, he has issues up the wahzoo and he is utterly real. His reactions, his thoughts and how he takes all this crap that's come his way and how he just does not stay down and then takes the fight to them - man, it's brilliant stuff. 

I thoroughly, wholeheartedly enjoyed Fun and Games and have become a big fan of Mr. Swierczynski in the process - chief among those reasons as to why I like him: he is devious and clever and he plays both his readers and his characters perfectly.  I believed the entire story from start to finish and am wondering if he knows something that we don't know about the Accident Police - these mysterious They and Them.  The novel is a mix of the best of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers but it is wholly Swiercynski.  There are bits of fantastic humour, it is tense, tightly plotted and utterly moreish.  I'd recommend this as a holiday read - at any time of the year - but I'd hasten to add that you should make the effort to wait until they are all out in the UK so you can read them all in one swathe.  As it stands, I have the second Charlie Hardie novel at home.  And I cannot wait to get my teeth into it.     

Find Duane Swiercynski's website here - and what I didn't know until someone mentioned it to me on twitter, he is also a well known comic / graphic novel writer! My crush just grew by 50%.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scream Street Blog Tour

This will be MFB's last ever blog tour we are taking part in! And as we know Tommy and think he's a bit special, we are exceedingly pleased that we can feature him in a splash of horror and gore and ick.  This is also to celebrate the final Scream Street novel: Flame of the Dragon.

Chapter Six
The Phantom

Resus held a transparent hand up in front of his face. He could still make out the outline of his body, but he could see right through it, as though he was made of glass. “You are banned from doing anything with magic wands from now on!” he shouted at Cleo.
“But that was definitely the right spell,” Cleo insisted. “I checked.”
“Well, obviously not closely enough,” said Resus. “Not only am I not a vampire, I’m not even alive any more!”
“We can’t be dead,” said Luke. “I doubt Everwell’s Emporium would sell spells that could kill you.”
“He’s right,” said Cleo. “This must just be the way it works.”
“It feels weird,” said Luke, peering through his legs. “Do you think we can walk through walls and things like that now?”
“Of course we can,” said Resus. “Cleo’s turned us into ghosts – we’ll be able to do everything ghosts can do.” To illustrate his point, he turned, strode towards the lamppost he’d recently been talking to – and crashed straight into it. “Ow!” he cried, rubbing his nose.
“The spell doesn’t really turn you into a phantom,” said a mournful voice. “It just lets you talk to us. Not that anyone ever wants to for very long.”
The trio turned. Now clearly visible, the phantom from Luke’s bedroom stood behind them. He also appeared as though he was made of glass. And he looked utterly miserable.
“You sound like you’ve done this before,” said Luke.
The phantom shook his head. “I’m not important enough to be allowed to use magic,” he said. “But I did see my boss speak to someone using the spell years ago. It didn’t go very well, but then I didn’t expect it to, really.”
“What’s your name?” asked Cleo.
The phantom looked surprised. “You want to know my name?” he asked. “No one ever wants to know my name.”
“Well, we do,” said Luke.
The phantom removed his top hat and bowed his already stooped body. “Henry Horatio Harper,” he said. “Although I don’t expect you to remember it. No one ever does.”
“We remember you throwing things at us in Luke’s bedroom,” said Resus.
“I’m sorry,” said Henry. “I was just practising.”
“Practising?” asked Luke. “What for?”
“My exam,” Henry replied. “I don’t often get the chance to practise in front of people. And even if I do, they don’t really notice me.”
“Well, we did,” said Resus, rubbing the bruise on the back of his head. “Although I can’t imagine what sort of exam would need you to chuck stuff at kids.”
Suddenly a deep bell boomed out across the square. The ground shook, and Luke, Resus and Cleo were forced to clamp their hands over their ears. “What is that?” cried Cleo.
Henry sighed. “That’s the end of my lunch hour.”

 Be sure to check out the next chapter over at Spine Chills!

Friday, October 21, 2011

An Interview with Kathryn James

After I read Mist I couldn't stop thinking about the writing, the story, the characters,  and wanted a chance to chat to the author, so I stalked her and asked her nicely to chat to me via email and she agreed. Phew. Here is the interview:

Can you tell us a bit more about what Mist is about?
 It’s about what happens when you demonise people who are different to you. You give them a bad name and then believe they are out to get you. And you drive them out. Then the driven out people decide that if they’ve been given a bad name, then they’ll act bad.

In Mist the people who have been driven away are the Elven. The Watchers who police them are afraid the Elven want to come back and take over the world, so they imprison them, making matters worse. My heroine Nell meets an Elven boy and instead of fearing him, she befriends him.

In the past I’ve worked with gypsy and traveller children, and some of the characteristics of the Elven were inspired by this – the gypsies are a secret people who live on the fringes, often misunderstood and distrusted. But like my Elven are also lively, passionate and intriguing.

What was your journey to being published?

For Mist it was through my excellent agent Julia Churchill at Greenhouse. When I finish writing a book most times I’m the only one who’s read it. What it needs then is a fresh eye to read and comment. That’s where Julia is so good. She always has useful constructive comments to make. She did that with Mist, so I would say it had a couple of revisions before she sent it off to the publishers for me.

On the whole though, it’s taken a long while to get published. I’ve written scripts for a video production company for years, which was very enjoyable and gave me lots of experience writing for kids and teenagers. I also wrote two books about a gypsy boy a few years ago.

Nell is such a great character – was she with you from the start or was the concept of the story there first?

I wanted to write a story about a secret people, so that came first. I was walking in the woods and I saw a patch of mist, and I remembered reading myths and legends about mist in the woods – how if you walked into it you wouldn’t come out the other side, you’d end up in another world. And when you did find your way out time would’ve passed differently to the outside world. And I got to thinking about a wood with a mist that led somewhere else where a hidden people lived. And I thought of a young girl running headlong into it, as though chasing someone. And that was Nell. She sort of arrived in my mind fully formed. I knew who she was and how she would react from the start. Same with her sister, Gwen.

Grizedale forest - aerial photo by Jonathan Webb
 The woods and the forest in Mist felt very much real to me and I wondered if you had a set location in your mind when you were writing about Nell and Evan’s adventures.

It was in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District that I saw the mist and had the idea for the book. It’s so dark and primeval in there, your imagination runs riot. We also have woods near us at home that are just amazing early in the morning, with the light coming through the trees. I love most woods and forests. I have a really detailed picture in my head of the Elven forest and I would love to walk through it! Especially in the deep snow that occurs in Frost, the follow on book to Mist.

Evan’s brother, Fen, really scared the life out of me yet you manage not to let his antics dominate the story. How did you make sure his darkness in the story did not take over?

He was scary, wasn’t he! I think it was because he was unpredictable and there was the hint that he was suffering some kind of mental breakdown – which can be frightening to witness in someone. I don’t like out and out baddies in stories. I like the idea that even the worst people might be able to be redeemed, that there’s a little bit of light in their darkness. And I like finding out what it is about their lives that made them become mean or dangerous.

I loved Nell’s bravery in the face of Fen’s madness. She was scared stiff but she stood up to him, and so did Evan in the end. I think Fen’s badness doesn’t overwhelm because much of the story is about Nell and Evan finding out that they can trust each other, and then they stand firm against him.

Friendship, family and loyalty is so important in Mist and was it difficult to reign in Evan and Nell’s growing friendship during the writing of Mist?

I had to think about it carefully, but by the time I came to write Mist, I knew Nell and Evan so well that I knew how they would react to each other, how Nell would react when Gwen got kidnapped. I loved writing their relationship, and how they eventually realise that they had this very special bond between them – a unique friendship between an Elven and a human. I really enjoyed the end when they realise that friendship is becoming something more! I also enjoyed writing Nell, Gwen and their mum’s scenes. They seemed to flow very easily from my mind. I could see them getting ready in the morning so vividly.

The story, the characters, the forest, it is all very fairy tale orientated, but on the darker scale. Are you fond of fairy tales and do you still read them if you are?

I love to read re-imagined fairy tales. I’m thinking of Angela Carter here, and others who have taken a very basic and well known tale, which in its original is nothing much and turned it into something amazing and intriguing and relevant. I love the Elf King poem by Goethe for example. I like sci fi as well, and I think that you can see a real connection between the old myths of fairy abduction and a belief in other beings and dimensions with the modern day belief in alien abduction and other worlds.

In writing Mist I was putting a new spin on old fairy stories about Elven and time distortions and other worlds.

What is your writing process like? Do you write clean copy, do you obsessively plot and revise?

I used to get an idea and start typing before I actually knew where it would end. I was always good at getting a basic idea, and the characters came easily, but plotting was my downfall. Making it up as you go along is exciting but lead to lots of dead ends and the scrapping of whole chapters. So now, thanks again to Julia, I try to do a very detailed synopsis. A chapter by chapter breakdown of what’s going to happen. And then I expand each chapter. This way works much better.

Do you get the chance to read and relax and if so what do you read and how do you relax?

At the moment I’m writing fairly frantically. During the year I’ve written Frost and another book that’s with my agent. And now I’m working on another. I don’t read much when I’m writing because it puts me off. If I read a really good book, I sit there and think ‘I wish I’d had that idea’ or I start to rethink the book I’m writing on. I do most of my reading in between finishing one book and starting another. Then I read and read obsessively. I got a Kindle for Christmas and I love the fact that you can download a book and start reading at any time, even lying in bed at night! I miss seeing the book covers though and wish that the screen saver could be the book cover you’re currently reading.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers, both schoolgoing as well as adult?

Never give up! If you’re determined you can do it. Never start a book and not finish it. Make a commitment that even when the going gets tough and you have to scrap whole chapters, that you keep faith with it. There’s nothing like getting to the last page and sitting back and thinking ‘yep, I did it. I wrote the whole thing!’

Also try and do a very detailed synopsis before you set out. I learned this late but it is so useful. Plotting is so important. OK, some things might change, but if you’ve got the structure set down before you, and each chapter mapped out, then it is so much easier.

Another useful thing is to try and write a blurb for your book idea. The sort of thing that you see on the back of books. If you can’t get your ideas into an exciting paragraph then maybe you need to rethink them.


I loved doing this interview and the advice was great! If you've not read Mist, I do hope you consider picking it up.  Thanks so much, Kathryn (find her website here) and I'm really looking forward to reading Frost!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Dead and The Fear by Charlie Higson

The sickness struck everyone over the age of fourteen. Mothers and fathers, older brothers, sisters and best friends. No one escaped its touch. And now children across London are being hunted by ferocious grown ups.

They're hungry.
They're bloodthirsty.
And they aren't giving up.

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I think the same can be said about my groaning to-be-read shelf. I read, enjoyed & reviewed the first book in Charlie Higson’s zombie-esque apocalypse back in January 2010, and had my antennae frantically waving around for signs of the second book in the series, The Dead. Yet but then when it did land (almost a year ago now- gulp!) it got lost on the shelf. But then I saw the saw the pearly white cover of the The Fear slide from an envelope and I knew that there wouldn’t be any distractions this time.

The Dead is in fact a prequel to The Enemy and goes back about a year to when the world had just been brought to its knees by the mysterious disease that transforms anyone over the age of 14 into scabrous, cannibalistic psychos with an aversion to sunlight. As with the previous book The Dead starts right in the action as we’re introduced to best friends Jack and Ed while they’re desperately trying to evade their teachers, who are in turn desperately trying to take a bite out of them. Charlie brings us up to speed on the situation pretty quickly and smoothly (which also means that if you can quite easily read these books out of sequence and start with the Dead) and wastes no time in getting the adventure on the road as the boys hit the road to find somewhere safer to hole up.

But this is Charlie Higson’s world, and he is not a benevolent god and the predatory adults lurking in the shadows quickly throw their tentative plans in disarray. An unlikely rescuer is at hand though, and so begins their journey into London, the initial impression of safety engendered by their rescue quickly being eroded by the subtle tension building beneath the surface as we get to know a bit more about their rescuer.

What follows their arrival in the not-so-welcoming streets of London is a well balanced cocktail of Dawn of the Dead and Lord of the Flies as the survivors fragment into various groups, either by choice or by circumstance. The world they inhabit is a harsh one, and I was glad to see that Charlie wasn’t pulling any punches. Violence is omnipresent, sudden, and shocking. Wounds get infected. People starve, or crack under the pressure of this new reality. That no character is safe is a fundamental part of the constant tension that permeates the series. The combination of Higson’s flair for vivid imagery and the solidity of the world he’s created is a winner that sees the pages fly by at an alarming rate.

The Fear picks up from The Dead in a smooth hand-over and offers more of the same, inexorably tightening the various threads of the story and drawing them towards what will be a massive conclusion. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the conclusion as The Fear does a great job of setting things it up but leaves it open for the next one. Still, with writing that’s this entertaining I’m happy to pick up another instalment – but just one, mind you. The Fear was feeling a bit drawn out in places, so for me the next book really needs to deliver a knockout. There’s no reason it shouldn’t, given the world and the characters he’s brought to life, but then that’s what they said about Lost..

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not my review of Carrier of the Mark

So, this was supposed to be my review of Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon. However, I haven't finished it. Erm, yeah - I know. It doesn't exactly make me qualified to talk about it at all so I'm not going to.

However, I'm going to talk a little about stuff that I like in YA fiction and some stuff I don't. This is a bit of an extension from Liz's post about MFB in 2012 and what I'm personally looking for next year and what I'm not going to read.

I've always had a rule to finish a book but had a bit of an epiphany this week. Full disclosure - I'm not a teenager, just someone who loves to read and write YA fiction. I know this isn't much of a revelation but worth mentioning. Does this make me qualified to review YA? Well, yes, I think so. However, I'm looking at relationships in the books I read from a woman's viewpoint. So when I see insta-love my eye gets a bit of a twitch going on. I also get a bit worried by the prevalence of overprotective boyfriends who, for example, stare at a girl for a few days, kiss and then the relationship goes from casual to - quite frankly - bonkers. I mean, if I kissed a boy at a party when I was at school I would have been pretty freaked out if he had then driven me to school the next day, taken me home and then stayed half the night. I'm not even getting started on what message these relationships give out. Whenever I read about a girl who suddenly feels that she can't talk to her friends about her boyfriend because they just wouldn't understand I get worried. I know that in many stories it's the supernatural aspect of the boyfriends that make the girl secretive but the message is still the same.

Yeah, I'm aware I'm getting a bit ranty now and there's room for all types of main characters in fiction. But, for me personally, I want a bit more of a kick-ass heroine. I want a heroine who's as passionate about her friends as she is about her man. I adore a good love story but I don't want the man to take over her life from dawn till dusk. I like passion in my books but I also want an amazing plot with characters that are going to make me think.

I've read some great books with male protagonists recently and have loved them because their voice is so refreshing. I've also read some fresh female voices too this year which only serve to underline what I've started to get tired of in YA fiction. Basically, I want to admire my main characters. I want to be thinking about them after I finish the book and I want to be doing that for good reasons.

I'm sorry that I couldn't finish Carrier of the Mark but it really wasn't for me, in part for the reasons I've mentioned above. What I read was well written and the main character is appealing. However, at the moment I'm looking for characters like Uma's The Bride from Kill Bill and although that sets the bar pretty high I like a challenge.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mist by Kathryn James

Midnight: a mist-haunted wood with a bad reputation. A sweet sixteen party, and thirteen-year-old Nell is trying to keep her sister, spoilt birthday-girl Gwen, out of trouble. No chance. Trouble finds Gwen and drags her through the mist. Only Nell guesses who's behind the kidnap - the boy she hoped was her friend, the gorgeous but mysterious Evan River.

Evan is no ordinary boy - he has a secret which will lead Nell to question everything she has always learned from her grandmother's stories. Evan lives on the fringes of Nell's world, rarely glimpsed, misunderstood and feared, but a long-simmering showdown between the two worlds is looming ...

Quite by accident I managed to read 3 books, for different age groups and maturity levels, in which fae / fairy characters play a big role.

First was Huntress by Malinda Lo and second I read Mist by Kathryn James.  The third will also be reviewed this week.  Patience!

I found this book "Mist" in Foyles, took one look at that cover and the write-up on the back and knew it was for me.  I started reading it on the way home on the train and just loved how the framework of the story was set up within a few very readable chapters.

We are introduced to our main character Nell immediately.  Nell is 13, dresses inappropriately (read: does not conform to convention) and is far more likely to be found watching others, especially her sister Gwen who seems to the sparkly happy beautiful yet manipulative prettier older and popular sister we've become used to in teen fiction.  What makes Gwen a bit more than just a stock character is that she is more aware of what she's doing than some others we've read about.  She is not an ingenue. She plays at it.  It makes for an interesting contrast.

Nell is the strange one, the dreamer, yet the one who is far more capable than dealing with weird things going on than her older sister.  They come from a single parent family - their mum is a police person and is  tough and funny and a bit helpless when faced with the sass from her oldest daughter.  Their dad is someone Big in the police force too.  There was a divorce and the kids got to stay with their mum.  Their dad's mum still makes an appearance and is wonderfully strange and tough in her own right.

When Nell notices a new boy in school, when no one else does, her curiosity is piqued. She follows him home, through the strange forest behind their house and when she sees him dancing across the stones in the river she is even more curious.  But when he suddenly appears next to her and they start chatting, she is charmed but wary.  When a group of bullies confront them, Nell takes no nonsense and holds them off, with her mixed martial arts skills.  But she notices that the boy, Evan, does not like any kind of metal.

As their strange friendship grows, Nell finds that occasionally she doubts Evan's existence, until she looks at her phone and there he is, clear as day.  Odd things are happening all over town too.  The electricity seems to be playing up and all around the country, in fact, there are back outs and shortages.  The police aren't entirely sure what's going on either - as much as they try and track down the culprits messing around with the power stations, they can't find anyone or proof that someone is messing around with it.

When Gwen decides to have her birthday party in the nearby forest, Evan warns Neill to tell Gwen not to be stupid.  Partying in the forest will attract unwanted attention.  But Gwen has her own way and the party goes ahead.  And when she is taken from the party, by a mysterious older boy and a vicious wolf, it is up to Nell to figure out exactly what is going on.

Mist wanders between dreamy writing and the edge of horror.  The author seems self-assured as she creates the world and introduces us to the odd relationship between our world and the world rubbing shoulders with our own.  Even is obviously not human and the boy who takes Gwen is his older brother who is psychologically unstable.  And yet, you can't help but feel so much empathy for both Evan and his brother Fen.  They are doing their utmost to look after their own small community and as Nell comes to understand what really is at stake, she has interesting and difficult moral choices to make.

I genuinely enjoyed Mist.  I read it in a few sittings (it was bed-time reading) and think that younger teen readers would love it too.  In fact, I think reluctant readers would easily be caught up in Nell's story and there is just enough otherness about it to make it something different.  I fell for Nell and think she's a great character. With a heart of gold and a tough attitude when needs be, she is intelligent and resourceful, stubborn and someone I would like to call a friend and more importantly, someone I can identify with, even though we are obviously many years apart in age.

I am however worried that the cover - as gorgeous as it is - may put off boy-readers because I think this would suit boy-readers to a T.  There is action, adventure, a quest and a bigger story than can be found in Mist.  Frost, the follow-up novel is due for release next year and I cannot wait! Having read Mist and become so involved with the story, I have to know what Nell is going to do next.  I know what I'd like her to do...but what choices will she make and how will it not just affect her, but her family and especially her grandmother?

A great many questions to be answered and I'll be here, waiting...

Find Kathryn James' website here.  Mist is out now from Hodder Children.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Madame Tussauds 250th Birthday - London

A bit random for a website called My Favourite Books to have an article about Madame Tussauds but we were invited along to this special event - part of celebrating their 250th birthday - and we thought, why not.  A lovely MFB outing is called for.

Mark, Sarah, her husband Andy and I met up in town for the event.  Sarah had been as a child and remember crying at the Dalek they had on display.  Andy and I had never been and Mark and I attended last year when they showcased their Marvel exhibit and new 4D movie.

The evening was great fun.  Once all the day visitors had left, the staff checked and tidied the exhibition and let the invited lucky few in.  And by lucky few, I mean just that.  There were maybe 100 of us - I am bad with numbers - so it was really empty and everyone got to get up close and personal with superheroes, A list stars, monsters and famous people.

Here are some photos we took on the night.

Sarah and Daniel R

Bond and M

Mark and Nicole

Bruce baby, aka the actor who looks like my brother in law, Shayne

Rob and Liz (please note the super short hair)

Captain Jack Johnny Sparrow

Mark being punched by Jonah Lomu 

Fist to face with Mohamed Ali 

Wills and Sarah - it's true love!

My heroes

Bob Marley

Freddie - you are still the best

Jimi - too fast, too soon

Captain America


Mark and some sweary mofo dude called Nick Fury 

Sean Connery 

Morgan Freeman 

Russell Brand - freakishly life-like

Colin Firth being sculpted

Johnny is so awesome I had to put another picture up
Before I ever attended Madame Tussauds I never thought it would be this much fun - and it is!  You admire the artistry that's gone into making these figures, how everything is copied in minute detail and exactly how on the spot some of them are.  It was fantastic having the chance to chat to the one artist who sat there, sculpting and modelling Colin Firth's head and hearing how it is done.  The picture of the sculpture we have above took five weeks to reach this stage and there is still much to be done.

The staff were all lovely and encouraging us to step right up to the exhibits to have our photos taken or to take photos of them.  They looked like they were having as much fun as we were.  We were plied with drinks and canap├ęs and cake goodness and it was lovely and fun.  I think going to Tussauds is seeing how much fun other people get to have too - especially the kids.

It was a lovely treat, and one that Team MFB thoroughly enjoyed!