Wednesday 18 February 2015

Polly meets Jacqueline Harvey!

A couple of weeks ago, following my interview with bestselling children's author Jacqueline Harvey, my sister and I were very lucky to have the opportunity to meet Jacqueline Harvey and her husband Ian in Chelsea. It was a lovely morning; Polly was very excited to meet her favourite author and get a goodie bag filled with Alice-Miranda treats and have the opportunity to ask some hard-pressing questions written down in her notebook! We also went to a gorgeous typically-Chelsea cafe where Polly was allowed to gorge herself on all of the chocolate treats she could manage. It was a very special meeting that was not only exciting and interesting but inspiring for Polly and myself... It is always profitable to be able to see inside a successful author's mind!

Here is the interview transcript from Polly's questions to Jacqueline:

Why is Alice-Miranda’s name so long?

Her parents had very long names, and didn’t know what to call her, so they called her the whole lot altogether! That’s why she has this incredibly long name. And when she met Millie, who also has a big funny long name, I wanted there to be something they had in common from the moment that they met, even though Millie never uses her full name, because it is so long she would never be able to remember it!

How did you come up with her name?

First of all I wrote down the name ‘Miranda’ because I liked that name. One of my sisters had a friend in High School called Miranda and she was a really lovely girl and I had always liked that name! But then I thought I should make it ‘Miranda-something’. So I wrote ‘Miranda-Anna’, ‘Miranda-Kate’ and ‘Miranda-Alice’ because they were quite short names. I didn’t like any of them! I rubbed out the top two but I still had 'Miranda-Alice' on the whiteboard. I had to go and answer a phone call and when I came back I looked at the board and thought ‘Aha! What if I swapped the names around?’  So I rewrote it as Alice-Miranda and I thought that was a cute name- it rolls off the tongue. I’ve never met an ‘Alice-Miranda’ before in my years of teaching. I worked on the last name for a long time- I wanted it to be easy to remember even though it was really long. I tested it on the kids at my school and I asked them how long it would take them to remember it- it took them about five minutes! 

Have you written any other books?

I have! My very first series was called the Code Name series and it had three books in it. It was about a little girl and it was set on the beach in Australia. I have also written a picture book called The Sound of The Sea, which won an Honour Book award in Australia with the Children’s Book Council. 

What is your favorite colour?

My favourite colour is pink! I like blue as well. 

Do you have any pets?

We don’t have any pets at the moment because we travel so much - it wouldn’t be very fair to have a dog who would be pining away at home. When I was a little girl we had a very naughty Labrador, as well as German shepherds, Burmese cats, a whole bunch of chickens and two horses. When I write about Alice-Miranda’s pony, Bonaparte, he has the characteristics of a horse I owned as a little girl.

What inspired you to write Alice-Miranda?

I was a teacher for a really long time and I worked in boarding schools. There was one particular young boarder in my class who I thought was very brave, like Alice-Miranda is! I wanted to write stories that were about school because that was somewhere I had always been. I also thought about stories I loved as a little girl. My favourite books were Heidi and Black Beauty. I also loved the idea of writing a mystery or detective story and that’s how it all came to be!

What is it like in boarding school?

At boarding school it’s quite good fun - the girls sometimes get really homesick which is really sad, though. At the last school I worked at the girls had a puppy and a rabbit and a cat at one stage, so they get to have some pets. It’s much more fun than I thought it would have been, and a lot less scary than what I was led to believe as a child. My mum and dad used to say to me that if I didn’t stop fighting with my sisters I would be sent to boarding school. I used to think boarding school was like jail for little kids! But of course it’s nothing like that at all.

Here's what Polly had to say about the morning:

As Alix, Mum, Dad and I entered Chelsea, my heart was pounding. I was so exited! I had never had never sat down and had a proper talk with an author before. Waiting for the author to approach, I was nervous. What if she thought I was weird? She was here! Jacqueline Harvey! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Once we had all met we started to walk to a nearby coffee shop, as that was where we were going to talk. I clung on to Alix as if I was standing on the edge of a black, never ending hole. (I was only shy.) On the way to the coffee shop we had a little chat and guess what, her birthday is on the 13th of March, and my birthday is on the 11th of March. The coffee shop was really lovely; good choice! As we all took our places I suddenly realised that all this time I had been nervous, I shouldn’t have been Jacqueline Harvey was lovely and cheery and very beautiful. She had a lovely rose pink and grey scarf on and a dark black cardigan on. Her jeans looked almost brand new! During the coffee Jacqueline Harvey gave me some awesome freebees: she gave me some Alice-Miranda stationery, some stickers, a bag and much more! Soon after that we had to leave, but of course if you meet an author there are two things you must do: Get their autograph and have a picture. Of course I did both. After a few more pictures and some goodbye’s Alix told me that it was time to go, So I said my last good bye’s and gave her a hug and watched her until I couldn’t see her any more.

Safe to say that we both had a really enjoyable time and we hope to meet Jacqueline again when she comes back to London! Thank you very much, Jacqueline, for meeting us and for such a lovely coffee morning.

Visit Jacqueline Harvey's website here.

See my interview with Jacqueline Harvey here.

See the Huffington Post article here.

Until next time :)

Interview with The Bookseller- YA Book Prize Fever!

Hello readers! Today, as promised, I will be doing a feature on the YA Book Prize- an exciting celebration in the British literary sphere that highlights the YA books we can't stop talking about. Ever since I first heard about this I have wanted to be involved- and thanks to the social media linked with the Prize, readers can get involved simply by tweeting their favourite book, and joining in the conversation with other YA enthusiasts! At the moment I have to say I am #TeamGhostsofHeaven...

Want to find out more about the prize? Here is an interview with Charlotte Eyre, Children’s Editor at The Bookseller, to tell us more...

Please could you briefly outline what the YA Book Prize is?

 In basic terms, the prize is a celebration of British and Irish YA literature.

We wrote a big article in the Bookseller last year on all the different book prizes there are in the UK but several publishers said they were said they were sad there wasn’t a prize just for teen and YA books, especially those written and published here, because the big American authors like John Green and Veronica Roth tend to dominate. We were initially thinking of launching a teen book prize but booksellers we spoke to said they wanted a YA prize instead. So that’s what we did!

What kind of people are involved in choosing the books shortlisted for the Prize?

 A team of Bookseller staff. When we opened the prize to submissions last December eight of us read through all the books entered (nearly 100) and put together a shortlist of 10 titles.

What makes a great YA book?

 This is such a hard question! Everyone has a different idea about what makes a good YA book but when I think about this question I think back to what I felt when I read Melvin Burgess’ Junk when I was fourteen. I was totally gripped, yes because it was a brilliantly written book, but also because it let me explore things I was starting to learn about as a teenager – sex, drugs, leaving home – in book form. So it was way of exploring, eg. heroin addiction, without sticking a needle in my arm.

So a good YA novel should allow young people explore the things you start to discover as a teenager, whilst being a brilliant story to read.

How important is social media for the YA Book Prize?

 Very! It’s allowed us to talk about the shortlisted books with readers, it’s been really interesting to see who likes what. We decided early on to shortlist one book a week using a hashtag, so one week it is #TeamOnlyEverYours, another it is #TeamTrouble, and it’s really great to see readers create fan videos and blogs in support of the book they want to win. The publishers like it too, of course, because it raises the profiles of the books.

 How do you view the future of YA literature?

 I think it’s got a great future and I think British writers will start to get a bit more recognition. In terms of trends, I think feminist YA is going to go from strength to strength and there is going to be a lot more diversity in terms of ethnicity and LGBT characters.

Authors aren’t afraid of hard-hitting plots and that won’t change any time soon.

In terms of what I would like to see, it would be nice if certain adults stopped being snotty about YA and saying things like “well I was reading Charlotte Bronte when I was fourteen”. Teenagers and young people still read Bronte, Dickens, Tolstoy and any other literary author you can think of. They are reading YA in addition to, not instead of, classic novels. Plus they are perfectly capable of deciding what they want to read, they’re not three years old. 

Visit the YA Book Prize website here.

Want to be involved? Join in the conversation by tweeting your choice to win and the #Team to have your say!

Have a look at my previous post to see all of the books on the shortlist here.

Until next time :)

Tuesday 17 February 2015

YA Book Prize Haul 2015

Hello readers! I have to apologise for the lack of posts lately- coursework had to be polished off and revision is already well-underway for mocks after half-term (yippee!) Anyhow, there is light at the end of the tunnel after all- the YA Book Prize! I have an interview coming up tomorrow explaining all about this exciting event in the YA sphere, but in the mean time gorge your eyes on this stack of books I was kindly sent, in preparation for YA Prize celebrations!

These titles have been buzzing around twitter and bloggers' TBR lists for the past few months now, and I was so excited to get my hands on them and start reading! 

There is nothing more exciting than coming home from school to a huge parcel of books to get stuck into! Here are the titles from left to right:

Half Bad- Sally Green

Salvage- Keren David

Trouble- Non Pratt

Goose- Dawn O' Porter 

A Song for Ella Grey- David Almond

Lobsters- Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

The Ghosts of Heaven- Marcus Sedgwick

Say Her Name- James Dawson

Only Ever Yours- Louise O' Neill 

Finding a Voice- Kim Hood

I can't wait to read all of these titles and choose my favourite to win the YA Book Prize!

If you have read any of these titles, let me know in the comments!

Until next time :)

Sunday 1 February 2015

'Bobcat & Other Stories' by Rebecca Lee (****)

Happy Sunday, readers! Today I have a book review for you, this time Rebecca Lee's beautiful book of short stories, Bobcat! I have wanted to read this for a while but haven't quite gotten the chance, so finally I am glad to be sharing it with you! At the moment I am busy preparing my creative writing portfolio for the University of Manchester, and for part of this I have to write a short story, so not only was Bobcat a captivating and highly enjoyable read, but it also helped me grasp how to write a great short story! I was sent Bobcat in exchange for an honest review. 

Intrigued? Here's the blurb...

At turns heartbreaking and wise, tender and wry, Bobcat and Other Stories establishes Rebecca Lee as one of the most powerful and original voices in contemporary fiction.

A university student on her summer abroad is offered the unusual task of arranging a friend’s marriage. Secret infidelities and one guest’s dubious bobcat-related injury propel a Manhattan dinner party to its unexpected conclusion. Students at an elite architecture retreat seek the wisdom of their revered mentor but end up learning more about themselves and one another than about their shared craft.

In these acutely observed and scaldingly honest stories Lee gives us characters who are complex and flawed, cracking open their fragile beliefs and exposing the paradoxes that lie within their romantic and intellectual pursuits. Whether they’re in the countryside of the American Midwest, on a dusty prairie road in Saskatchewan, or among the skyscrapers and voluptuous hills of Hong Kong, the terrain is never as difficult to navigate as their own histories and desires.

The thing I loved about this beautiful collection of short stories was that they were all so incredibly diverse, dealing with a wide array of issues and settings, but they all aimed to discover the crux of ultimately, what it means to be human. The complex and utterly intriguing cast of characters were all so different, yet I found myself drawing similarities between them as their lives, dreams and innermost sense of selves were laid out in front of us, the reader. Set against beguiling and disparate landscapes and worlds, the short stories each in turn fascinated me and allowed me to wonder at the lives of the character's, and what would happen after the story had finished.

Lee's language was carefully crafted and beautifully written, and the thing I most enjoyed was the way she used listing to describe her characters when we were first introduced to them. It was an interesting and engaging way to reveal to the readers what we needed to know about her characters, without fancy metaphors and similes. It was simple, yet utterly effective. Overall, her way of writing replicated what I thought was the point of the whole collection: what it means to be human. At first glance we are simple, intelligent beings; yet underneath everything lies the capability to break hearts, crack jokes and aim to discover the very point of our existence. This was so cleverly captured in Lee's writing, and it held me fascinated until the very end of the collection.

As my first experience of a short story collection goes, I couldn't have wished for any better. Lee's collection was tender, hilarious, intelligent and completely beautiful. The language, coupled with the complex and engaging characters, made the collection what it was. I would thoroughly recommend this collection to all, whether you have had experiences of short stories or not!

Check out Rebecca Lee's Bobcat & Other Stories here:

Until next time :)