Tuesday 28 June 2016

YA BOOK PRIZE 2016 | Hay Festival Winner Announcement!

Hello readers, and happy Tuesday! Today, as promised, I am going to be giving you a write-up of the YA Book Prize winner announcement ceremony, which this was held at the Hay Festival! Compared to the YA Book Prize winner announcement that I attended last year at Foyles Charing Cross, I thought that this was a much better event; it was open to the public so that young fans could attend, and you could find out a lot more about the authors and their books because they all got five minutes or so to speak to the crowd. Also, the announcement was held at the Starlight Stage venue, which is so beautiful! 

Charlotte Eyre, the Children's Editor at The Bookseller and chair of the YA Book Prize introduced the event, and welcomed Malorie Blackman, the ex- Children's Laureate, who chaired the event. The first award that was presented was the Special Achievement Award, which was awarded to Melvin Burgess, author of Junk, a book that was dubbed 'dangerous' at the time of its publication and which transformed the YA genre irrevocably. If you don't believe me, check out this quote from the book...

Listen. You can be anything you want to be. Be careful. It’s a spell. It’s magic. Listen to the words. You can be anything, you can do anything, you can be anything, you can do anything. Listen to the magic.

Blackman said that Burgess has been instrumental in her own writing, and that his work had transformed YA literature. Although Burgess was one of the very early runners in the YA game, it is undeniable that the genre hasn't been the same ever since. 

Then it was time for the author introductions. First up was Holly Bourne, author of Am I Normal Yet?, a story about gender and mental health. Bourne said that the best way for her to explain what her book was about was to read an excerpt - page 91 - which she said was the page people tweet about and Instagram pictures of. After listening to Bourne read this, I wanted to run straight out of the Starlight Stage and pick up a copy - it was seriously that good.

Next up was Sarah Crossan, author of One, a story written in verse about conjoined twins Tippi and Grace. Crossan said that she was inspired by the BBC documentary 'Joined For Life' and was fascinated by the portrayal of the strikingly normal lives of Abby and Brittany Hensel (conjoined twins living in Minnesota, USA). Crossan spoke about her writing process - she undertook research by reading medical records in the British Library - and about how she changed her mind about what she wanted her book to be about - sisterhood, loyalty, and the special bond shared between Tippi and Grace. 

Jenny Downham spoke next about her book: Unbecoming. It took her four and a half years to write it, and it is a book with many meanings - it is about drugs, sex and alcohol, identity, and a family full of secrets. Downham said that Unbecoming is accidentally based on real life and it is about families because we all have one. 

Next, Frances Hardinge spoke about her Victorian gothic murder mystery: The Lie Tree. She described her protagonist, Faith, as smart, hungrily intelligent and curious. The book definitely has a feminist aspect to it as Victorian patriarchal society doesn't attribute much to its females, however Faith makes use of the resources available to her and spies, snoops and eavesdrops her way to solving her father's murder. Hardinge also read an excerpt of her book, which sounded amazing. I can't wait to read it!

Catherine Johnson spoke about her book The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, which is based on a true story - described as 'the ultimate historical hustle, steeped in delectable romance'.  Johnson read the distressing opening and explained that the opening is a trigger for the rest of the story. This was the book on the shortlist I was the least familiar with, but it sounded like a beautifully written, decadent and gritty historical novel, and I cannot wait to pick it up.

Unfortunately Patrick Ness (The Rest of Us Just Live Here) and Louise O' Neil (Asking For It) couldn't be at the ceremony, however we were shown video links where they spoke very highly of the shortlist and gave a bit of background information to their own books on the shortlist. Patrick Ness praised the 'cracking shortlist' and said that now is 'a lucky time to be a YA reader'. Louise O' Neil also praised the Prize for being so well run and supported, and said that the 2016 shortlist contains her most favourite books of the past two years. O' Neil admitted that she hadn't been sure of how Asking For It would be received, but she was very grateful for the emotional support she has been given since its publication. 

Next up was Melinda Salisbury, author of The Sin Eater's Daughter. Salisbury spoke about her childhood, and the fact that she grew up with no books in the house, and read the back of sauce bottles. Then she discovered the local library, and that was the beginning of everything - she also named J.K Rowling as her inspiration. Salisbury described The Sin Eater's Daughter as a fairytale, a retelling of Rapunzel, where her protagonist has to learn how to trust herself in the face of danger. Salisbury also gave credit to the daring, explorative YA scene that is just getting bigger and better.

Then William Sutcliffe spoke about his (seventh!) book Concentr8 - a dystopian novel about the government paying parents to drug their children to keep them in line. Sutcliffe described as this scenario as being closer to reality than one might think - in a Q&A he described Concentr8 as 'a satire on the ADHD epidemic, and on our society’s belief that we should medicate away all non-normative behaviour'. Sutcliffe also described some of the inspiration behind the book, such as his work as a mentor after he was attacked on the streets. The boy Sutcliffe mentored is who the book is dedicated to.

The final author was Lisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal - a book about friendship, gender identity, and growing up having to keep the most important of secrets. Williamson describes her inspiration for writing the book - for many years she worked in the NHS helping teenagers who were struggling with their gender identity. She couldn't stand it that these kids didn't have their stories put into books, and she said that to an extent The Art of Being Normal was a well-timed book as the representation of transgendered people improved. Williamson stated that young people are open-minded and inquisitive - which is entirely reflective of the books in the YA Book Prize shortlist.

Next all the authors gave their book recommendations to the young people in the audience, and were asked what they would say to people (because there are quite a lot of them!) who say that YA novels aren't proper books. I think it is worth noting down their responses, just in case any of you readers face questions like this in the future...

Jenny Downham - "Statements like that patronise YA readers as well as YA authors. YA books make dark subjects accessible. YA books are about possibilities, and emit a rawness that are not in adult books. YA also encourages people to write."

And speaking of writing, how about some writing advice from Holly Bourne and Sarah Crossan?

Holly Bourne - "Don't worry about it being good, worry about it existing."

Sarah Crossan - "I just want to write a good story... that's what people want to read."

And after some audience questions, Malorie Blackman made the winner announcement. Unless you have been living under a rock, I think you'll be aware that the glorious winner was the wonderful Sarah Crossan! A very worthy winner.

I hope you all have enjoyed this write-up of a very special event. If you've read any of the books on the shortlist, please let me know in the comments!

Also coming up soon is a write-up of Malorie Blackman's event at Hay! Keep an eye out for that :)

Also check out my interview with the lovely Sarah Crossan, here.

Check out the YA Book Prize website here.

Until next time :)


Monday 27 June 2016

DELIGHTFUL NEWS | Award-Winning Blog!

Hello readers, and happy Monday! 

This is just a quick post to let you know that...

Delightful Book Reviews is now an award-winning blog!

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook you are probably already aware of this (sorry!) but just in case you only follow this blog then I thought I should make a little announcement.

A couple of months ago I got a twitter announcement from the lovely Shelley Wilson congratulating me for my nomination in the Blogger Bash Awards...

I was like... WAT

But it was true! I clicked on the link and sure enough, my name was there along with the other 19 nominees for the award of Hidden Gem. I couldn't believe it! When I started this blog at the age 14 of in July 2013 I never for one minute thought the blog would be this popular, or even that people would read it!

As for today, I am very very grateful for all 20,740 of you <3

Anyway, I posted about my nomination on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram... and you wonderful lot pulled through. On a particularly horrible day on a horrific weekend, you readers brightened my day, when I checked online and discovered that I HAD WON! 

I can't describe how grateful I am that you guys gave me this opportunity. Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for boosting my confidence and my happiness. Thank you for letting me know that my hard work isn't for nothing :)

I'd also like to say a massive congratulations to everyone who was nominated, and for all of the other winners. You guys are all awesome, and us bloggers are a pretty solid bunch of peeps. Let's keep spreading the love of books to everyone far and wide!

A massive thanks to Sacha Black for creating the ABBAs!

And another HUGE thank you to you guys <3

There's a lot of exciting things in store, I can't wait for you guys to hear about everything.

Until next time :)

Sunday 26 June 2016

YA BOOK PRIZE 2016 | Interview with Sarah Crossan, author of 'One'

Hello readers, and happy Sunday! I hope you are all having a wonderful (if somewhat grey and drizzly) weekend! 

Today I have a very exciting post for you. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to Hay Festival, which you can read about here.

And at Hay Festival, the wonderful Emily at FMcM gave me the incredible opportunity to interview Sarah Crossan, the winner of the YA Book Prize 2016, with her beautiful YA novel One - a story about conjoined twins, sisterhood and the heart-wrenching loyalties that come with both of these bonds.

I can't wait to read One, especially after I heard Sarah talking about it at the YA Book Prize winner announcement. From what I heard about One, Sarah sounds like a very deserving winner, and I was so happy for her - One sounds like a book that encapsulates everything that is wonderful about YA fiction. 

After the event, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to talk to Sarah (who was lovely) and find out a bit more about One, her process in writing it, and what she adores about YA fiction.

Hi Sarah, Congratulations on your YA Book Prize win!

Thank you!

Could you tell us a bit about One and your inspiration behind the book?

I saw a documentary called 'Joined For Life' by the BBC about Abby and Brittany Hensel who are conjoined twins, living in Minnesota. At the time I was finishing Apple and Rain, but I was so fascinated by this idea of being conjoined. I have a sister, and I couldn't imagine having a twin who is conjoined! At this time my baby was eight months old, and at that point she was attached to me at all times, and people didn't think that was weird. People also don't think it's strange for people who are in love to hold hands and be with each other all day. However, people do think it's weird if you're conjoined, and think it is even weirder if you say that you want to be separated. So that's where the idea came from, and I wanted to write a book about two girls who were conjoined but didn't want to be, because one of them fell in love, and it turned into a completely different book, actually. 

So how was the writing process different from when you wrote Apple and Rain to writing One?

The process of writing verse is different because I use a pen and paper, and it's much slower because I have to wait for the poems to come to me. It sounds a bit pretentious and magical but I can't force the words. With prose I can force myself to write 1,000 words a day - with Apple and Rain I was able to do that - and meet a deadline, whereas with One I couldn't do that because I was trying to write the best possible thing I could. With poetry  every word counts, every bit of punctuation counts - you just have to wait for it to happen, you can't force it.

And how do you feel about winning the YA Book Prize?

Oh my god! I'm so happy! I really am so utterly delighted. I really didn't think it was going to be me - the shortlist is so incredible and the books are such heavyweights - they are all so exciting, innovative, and so well-written.

What's your favourite on the shortlist?

My favourite on the shortlist is Jenny Downham's Unbecoming - I just think it's a beautiful novel.

What's your favourite YA book at the minute?

At the minute it's Deirdre Sullivan's Needlework by Little Island Press, an Irish press. It's a book about a girl who has been abused, but it's written in such a subtle way that you really wouldn't know that's what it was about unless you understood that issue. So for young people who are not ready for that, they might not work out what's going on, which I think is a real skill and it's very difficult to do.

Could you sum up One in three words?

Poetry, sad, hopeful. 

Thank you so much for the interview, Sarah, and thank you Emily at FMcM for organising it all :)

Check out my post about my time at Hay Festival here: http://delightfulbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/delightful-news-hay-festival-2016.html

Check out Sarah Crossan here: http://www.sarahcrossan.com

Buy One here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Sarah-Crossan/dp/1408863111

Until next time :) 

Saturday 25 June 2016

FOLLOWING EVAN BLOG TOUR | 'Following Evan' by Elida May | 3.5* Review!

Hello readers, and happy Saturday! Today I am very excited to be on blog tour for Elida May's brand new novel, Following Evan! For the blog tour I am going to be sharing my thoughts on the book, make sure you all go and check out the other posts on the tour after you're finished here! 

Following Evan is about grief, fate and finding yourself after being lost to grief. The story follows Laura, who has suffered the loss of both her husband and her young son, who decides to take back control of her life, her job and her future. After returning to her job as an interior designer, Laura decides to follow a strange turning of fate and travel to New York to discover if there is such a thing as providence, and how it could change her life irrevocably.

I was sent an electronic copy of Following Evan by Faye Rogers PR in exchange for an honest review :)

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Three years on from the sudden death of her husband Matt and a subsequent miscarriage, interior designer Laura is still lost in grief, hiding out in the smart London townhouse that was going to be her family home. On the encouragement of her best friend Carla, she signs up to a dating website and receives a message from a mysterious stranger, imploring her to visit him in New York because he has seen her face in his dreams. 

Meanwhile, Laura visits an art gallery and is captivated by a painting of a beautiful woman in a flowing dress. It seems to be speaking directly to her, beckoning her to take a leap of faith. 

These seemingly disparate events lead Laura on an epic journey to the bustling streets of the Big Apple and the desert landscape of Wyoming, where the clues to her future happiness are waiting to be discovered…

When I read the blurb, I thought the whole premise of the book was so interesting and I wasn't disappointed. I loved the aspects of the book that explored the concept of fate, and how often it pays to be adventurous. The message that resonated throughout of taking control of your destiny and taking a chance on a fresh start was highly uplifting, and contrasted greatly with the first half of the book, which explored Laura's grief and hopelessness. I thought that May explored Laura's emotions delicately, sensitively and in great detail, however a lot of the phrases used were repeated and this sometimes made the narrative sound like it was going around in circles. 

I liked every single character except Laura - which is actually quite typical for me! Sometimes I find that sometimes in books the story focuses too much on the protagonists at the expense of the other characters - and unfortunately this was the case in Following Evan. This is a completely subjective point, however, and some readers might feel differently! Evan was a great character, who was developed physically and psychologically, and I enjoyed reading about him and finding out more about his past and his background. In the first half of the book however, I felt like characters entered the story too quickly and were given too much detail - which turned out not to be maintained. For example, in the plane scene, too much background information was given to certain characters which distracted from the main elements of the story.

I much preferred the second half of the book, where a lot more was going on - I loved the setting of New York and the interweaving of the different narratives. May is clearly a gifted writer who seamlessly slips between different voices and different stories - maintaining a distinctive emotional expression in both. I think the female voice of Laura was well articulated and layered in complexity, which kept me interested in the story until the very end.

I also thought the writing itself was a lot clearer in the second half of the book, where there was a lot more going on in the story and Laura's emotions and experiences were undergoing a constant transformation and rejuvenation. In the first half of the book, lovely simple phrases such as 'porridge of human sound' had a tendency to be dampened by the exaggerated, hyperbolic language and phrasing, which in fact didn't greaten the sense of loss and grief. Most of the time in literature, simplicity goes a long way, especially when trying to convey a great sense of loss and helplessness.

I enjoyed the ending of the story - I love a good reconciliation in a book! The mystery that was ongoing throughout the book was resolved by the end and the speed of the action and the writing in the last section of the book made it unputdownable. Particularly in the second half, the elusiveness in May's writing was commendable.

Overall I enjoyed Following Evan by Elida May, and if you enjoy stories about fate, and hopefulness in the most dire of circumstances, I would pick this book up!

Make sure you guys check out the rest of the posts on the blog tour <3

Until next time :)

Thursday 23 June 2016

DELIGHTFUL NEWS | Hay Festival 2016!

Hello readers, and happy Tuesday! This is a very belated post that I am writing but the time that would have been ideal for me to write it was taken up with exams and moving out of halls *sob*. Anyway, I have now arrived back home in London for the summer and finally have the time to blog as much as I want!

This post is going to be about the three wonderful days I spent at the Hay Festival. If you don't know what the Hay Festival is it is a literary and arts festival held in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, where creative people come together to celebrate all the wonder of knowledge, the beauty of literature and the immense importance of the arts. I was very fortunate this year to be given some press tickets by my friends at FMcM to be able to attend the festival and see some of my favourite authors in person *uncontrollable squealing*.

On Wednesday 1st June I left my friends in the midst of exams and (laden with plentiful amounts of books and revision!) got on the train from Manchester Piccadilly to Hereford. I was really excited to go to Hay but also super nervous - I had no idea what on earth to expect! As soon as I got to Hereford I jumped in a taxi and went straight to the Hay Festival site. I managed to have a quick look around at the site and sat in the chill out bit answering emails and coming to terms with the fact that I, Alix Long, was at HAY FESTIVAL AHHHHHH. But I was completely cool about the whole thing. Honestly. 

That evening I was lucky enough to attend a dinner at the Baskerville Hall Hotel (think The Hounds of the Baskervilles - ooer!) which was lovely, with gorgeous food and lots of wine! Later on my taxi came to pick me up and I went straight to my BnB in Kinnersely. I was shown my room and not long after I fell into a very very deep sleep!

After a lovely cooked breakfast by the owners of the bnb I was kindly given a lift into the festival by an author and his wife who were also staying in the bnb. One thing I noticed about Hay Festival is that there is such a community feeling and everyone is there for the same reason - because they love books and the arts and want to celebrate everything that is great about them. As soon as I arrived at the festival there was a distinct buzz around the place - the excitement and enthusiasm of everyone there was completely tangible. I made my way straight to the press office to say hi to the folks at FMcM and pick up my press tickets and press pass. 

Not long after it was time for the main reason I was there - the YA Book Prize winner announcement! The Starlight Stage - where it was hosted - looked beautiful and it was so cool to see so many kids there, excited to see their favourite authors. I'm not going to go into detail about the event (that is for another post!) but safe to say that event alone was worth travelling many miles for!

After the event I was just perusing one of the many bookshops that Hay has on offer, when I got an exciting email from Emily at FMcM inviting me to interview the winner of the YA Book Prize- the wonderful Sarah Crossan, author of One. Safe to say I was over the moon; such an amazing opportunity for both me and my blog! I was definitely the least prepared for an author interview I had ever been in my life, but Sarah was so lovely and the interview went well given how little prepared I was - I literally made up the questions on the spot, which was something I'd never done before, and I was pretty proud of myself for not completely messing up!

Still revelling in the fact that I had just interviewed Sarah Crossan (I'm sorry, I'm still very excited about it!) I *literally* ran to the Malorie Blackman Chasing The Stars event and managed to get a seat with a brilliant view of the stage. I don't know what I was expecting to get from this event, but it was a million times better than what I thought it would be. So many of the kids there to see Malorie Blackman were so excited and their enthusiasm was infectious. I will do a proper write up of the event and post it here soon, but it was definitely one of the highlights of my time at Hay.

And after that tremendously long day, safe to say that I slept brilliantly that night!

The next day mainly consisted of travelling - I took a bus from Hay-on-Wye to Hereford and then a train from Hereford to Manchester Piccadilly - and despite an hour delayed train and a premature termination - I managed to get home in one piece!

Overall, my trip to Hay Festival was an unforgettable experience and I felt so privileged to be able to go and experience such incredible authors talking about their books, and even be able to interview one of them. I would like to thank FMcM for giving me the opportunity to attend and everyone who I met there for being so lovely! I cannot wait to go back next year. 

Stay tuned for a write-up of both of the events I attended, and my interview with Sarah Crossan *eeeeeek!*

Until next time :)

Monday 20 June 2016

CHASING DANGER | Interview with Sara Grant

Hello readers and happy Monday! I hope you are all feeling rejuvenated after the weekend and ready for another week!

Today I am really excited to be able to share an author interview with you - today I have an interview with the author of Dark Parties and Half Lives: Sara Grant! This interview means a lot to me because Sara is actually the reason why I started blogging in the first place so it's lovely to still be talking about her books on here some years on!

Sara's most recent novel Chasing Danger follows fourteen-year-old Chase who visits her grandmother on holiday, before coming to the realisation that she has to become the one who has to save the island and its inhabitants before it's too late! 

About Sara and Her Books
Sara Grant has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her newest book – Chasing Danger – is an action-adventure series for tweens. She has written two YA futuristic thrillers – Dark Parties and Half Lives – and Magic Trix, a funny series for young readers. Sara teaches Goldsmiths University’s master’s class on writing for children/teens. She co-created Undiscovered Voices – which has launched the writing careers of thirty-two authors.

Intrigued? Read the blurb here...

Fourteen year old Chase is pretty sure that visiting her grandmother is going be the most boring holiday ever, even if they are going to a tropical island. But Chase doesn't know that the island is about to come under attack. Soon Chase will trying to save the entire island in the most exciting (and most dangerous!) holiday of her life.

Doesn't this sound like an exciting read? I'm so excited to welcome Sara to my blog to discuss her inspiration behind Chasing Danger, the feminist aspects of the book, and how the writing process differed from the rest of her books...

Hi Sara! What inspired you to write Chasing Danger?

I’ve always want to write a mystery/thriller series, and it finally came together in Chasing Danger. When I was eight years old, I ADORED the 1970s TV series Charlie’s Angels. For me it was all about girl power, mysteries and friendship. I wanted to create my own re-booted tween Charlie’s Angels. 

I also love to travel. The first book in the Chasing Danger series sprang from my trip to the Maldives a few years ago. While my husband sunned himself and read a series of books, I plotted and planned mayhem. I envisioned and then pitched Chasing Danger as Die Hard – one of my all-time favourite action movies – on a desert island. 

Tell us a bit more about Chase Armstrong. Are you similar to her in any way?

I wish I was more like Chase. She’s smart, athletic and feisty! She must dig deep and find the courage to save the day when disaster strikes. She’s stronger – physically and mentally – than she thinks she is. She’s always beating herself up when things go wrong or she feels as if she’s made a mistake – and that’s definitely me. 

Chasing Danger follows the adventures of strong, exciting, badass female characters. Would you describe the book as feminist?

I want to empower my female readers. We are not damsels in distress; we are the heroes of our own stories. 

How is Chasing Danger different to your previous YA books, Dark Parties and Half Lives? Did your writing process change at all?

Chasing Danger has a younger protagonist than my previous two YA books. It’s considered a middle grade/tween novel. It has a strong female heroine and the twist, turns and surprises that I hope readers have come to expect from a Sara Grant novel. I’d like to think my books are page-turners that also engage the head and heart. 

My writing process is slightly different for every book. Each has its own opportunities and challenges. Because Chasing Danger is a mystery/thriller, I created a detailed storyline – nearly 10,000 words long, breaking the action chapter by chapter so I could seed clues and surprise readers. 

Also Chasing Danger is a series so I needed to create an exciting novel with a set up that would work for future books. I’ve created an overarching plot that stretches across the first four books and ideas for many, many more adventures for Chase and Mackenzie.

Sum up Chasing Danger in three words.

Action! Surprises! Funny!

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog, Sara! I would highly encourage you to check out Chashing Danger and the rest of her books - they are truly fantastic.

Check out Sara Grant here: www.sara-grant.com

Buy Chasing Danger here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Chasing-Danger-Sara-Grant/dp/1407163299

Until next time :)

Sunday 19 June 2016

MUSEUM OF YOU BLOG TOUR | Interview with Carys Bray!

Hello readers, and I hope you are all having a very happy Sunday! If it's Father's Day where you are, I hope you are having a lovely day celebrating all the people who you love and care about <3

But today I am very excited to be part of The Museum of You blog tour, to celebrate the latest book written by the wonderful Carys Bray (author of A Song For Issy Bradley). The Museum of You is a beautiful story about a broken family and their attempt to piece things back together after tragedy and lost dreams. A couple of months ago I read Sweet Home, a short story collection by Bray, and was overwhelmed by the beautiful way Bray portrays family life and the complexities these relationships bring. The Museum of You is a similarly tragic tale exploring the complicated relationship between a father and a daughter and the ghosts of loved ones who have passed before them, yet linger ominously, looming over them and rendering them unable to move on with their lives.

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.

Darren has done his best. He's studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want - everything he can think of, at least - to be happy.

What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother's belongings. Volume isn't important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.

But what you find depends on what you're searching for.

Doesn't this book sound amazing? To give you more of a taster I have a special interview today with the author herself, Carys Bray, to discuss more about The Museum of You, the difference between writing novels and short stories, and her best writing tips...

What is the inspiration behind The Museum of You?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but at the same as time I was beginning to think about writing a second novel, I was wondering about a couple of things. Firstly, how it would feel to make plans to leave a place, only to end up circling it every day of your working life? And secondly, how it would feel to hear a carefully rehearsed recitation of the story of your birth, all the time suspecting that things had been omitted, smoothed over somehow? 

Did your writing process change at all with writing The Museum of You from when you wrote A Song for Issy Bradley?

Yes, it did. The Museum of You had a deadline, for starters, which meant that I couldn’t just work on it when I felt like it. I had to set myself daily targets and I think I worried a lot more because I knew that my editor would definitely read it, whereas A Song for Issy Bradley was written in the hope that someone might read it. That felt quite different. 

Tell us a bit more about Clover Quinn. Do you think you are similar to her in any way?

Clover is twelve. She is an only child and is used to being around adults, which makes her mature, but also perhaps a little removed from her peers. Although she worries about her dad, she is an optimist. I’m not sure whether I’m similar to her. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as an optimist! My own daughter was ten when I began writing the novel. She is twelve now and similar to Clover in some ways: sensible and kind, and not one for histrionics. 

What was it like writing Becky, Clover's mother? How important is she in the story?

As I wrote Becky I was thinking about the fact that when caregivers neglect children and fail to buffer them from stress, children can become particularly vulnerable to the fluctuations of life.  Children who have experienced neglect are, as adults, more at risk from psychiatric and medical illnesses as well as substance abuse. The Museum of You is partly Becky’s story, but there are gaps, things Darren doesn’t know, things Jim (Becky’s brother) hasn’t said, and things Clover gets wrong. Becky’s absence is at the heart of the story, something that is beautifully depicted on the novel’s cover. 

How different is it writing short stories compared to writing novels? Do you prefer writing one to the other?

I think it requires a different kind of fitness; it’s a bit like a marathon versus a sprint. I used to prefer short stories but I feel a bit out of condition. Having said that, the best way to get back into condition is to read, and I just had the chance to read lots of excellent collections as I helped to make the shortlist for the Edge Hill Prize – it was a pleasure and I suspect it was also really good for me. 

When did you first know you wanted to write?

I loved reading as a child and I suppose writing was the next step. I wanted to see if I could do it, too. I started out writing Famous Five fan fiction. 

In A Song for Issy Bradley, Sweet Home and The Museum of You, you write about broken families and in particular the complexity of the relationships between parents and their children. What interests you about these relationships, and what makes you want to write about them?

I think these relationships are really fascinating. I like to think that most people are well-intentioned; very few parents wake up each morning thinking, ‘What can I do to damage my family today?’ And yet, people do awful things to each other. I suppose that’s what so scary about having children: you can get it terribly wrong while simultaneously having the best of intentions (Ian Bradley is a good example of this!).

When you start writing a novel or a short story, what do you start with - an idea of the plot, or the idea of a character?

I usually start with the opening and closing scenes. A Song for Issy Bradley started out as an image of woman walking on the beach after the death of her child. The Museum of You started with Clover Quinn watering the vegetables and then whooshing down the hill of the railway bridge, full of the excitement of the summer holidays. The novel I am working on at the moment started out as a picture of a woman driving home at night to an unexpectedly dark and empty house. (I haven’t mentioned any of the closing images – spoilers!)

What's the best piece of writing advice you have been given?

To read lots. One of the best things about being a writer is that reading is research, whether it’s research for form, content, language etc. This means I can sit in the garden or on the sofa and be busy doing something that is ‘work,’ and also happens to be one of my favourite activities in the world. 

Sum up The Museum of You in three words.

What’s my story?

Thank you so much, Carys, for appearing on my blog! 

Check out Carys Bray here: http://www.carysbray.co.uk

Buy The Museum of You here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Museum-You-Carys-Bray/dp/0091959608

Until next time :)

Saturday 18 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW | Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers (****)

Hello readers, and happy Saturday! Today I am delighted to be able to share with you a book review, of the wonderful Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers! I was sent this book back in March (I know, I am terrible with keeping up with book post!) and I read it a couple of weeks ago during my stay at Hay Festival and throughout the exam period. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of why I keep my blog open to more than just YA books - this was an adult novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone, young or old! Hester & Harriet is a beautiful story about two widowed sisters who, one Christmas, find their quiet, cosy lives interrupted by a stranger with a baby and their young Nephew Ben - all who are laden with their own problems and secrets. Hester and Harriet abandon the wine and the knitting to embark on perhaps the biggest and most important adventure of their lives.

I was kindly sent Hester & Harriet by Ruth Killick publicity (on behalf of Allen & Unwin) in exchange for an honest review :)

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be part of the Hilary & Harriet blog tour, where Hilary wrote a post about the inside of the mind of an author! Check it out here.

Intrigued about Hester & Harriet? Check out the blurb here...

When widowed sisters, Hester and Harriet, move together into a comfortable cottage in a pretty English village, the only blights on their cosy landscape are their crushingly boring cousins, George and Isabelle, who are determined that the sisters will never want for company. Including Christmas Day.

On their reluctant drive over to Christmas dinner, the sisters come across a waif-like young girl, hiding with her baby in a disused bus shelter. Seizing upon the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, Hester and Harriet insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them.

But with the knock at their front door the next day by a sinister stranger looking for a girl with a baby, followed quickly by their cousins' churlish fifteen-year-old son, Ben, who also appears to be seeking sanctuary, Hester and Harriet's carefully crafted peace and quiet quickly begins to fall apart.

With dark goings-on in the village, unlooked-for talents in Ben, and the deeper mysteries in Daria's story, Hester and Harriet find their lives turned upside down. And, perhaps, it's exactly what they need.

Hester & Harriet stood out for me first of all, because it is such a warm, comforting book. The world we live is in such a state of despair and disparity, and sometimes it is nice to be reminded that, even in books with fictional characters, good people still exist. Within Hester & Harriet, Spiers reminds us that even in the smallest of English villages, people exist who can change society for the better.

This uplifting moral message and sense of collective communal responsibility is fantastically mediated through the two principal characters: Hester and Harriet. The way Spiers wrote them made them so vivid for me and their differences in particular stood out really strongly for me - a hard feat as the two characters are both related, have names beginning with the same letter and are the same age. Their dialogue was obviously well-thought out and clearly reflected their character, allowing me to imagine them more clearly. Hester and Harriet stood out for me to be two warm, kind-hearted, intelligent women who have an unwavering sense of right and a determined dedication to those who are less fortunate than them. Their wisdom and general benevolence was tangible and I felt like they were real people.

Other characters that stood out for me in the book were Daria and Finbar. Daria's broken dialect was caught perfectly on the page, and Spier's writing allowed me to equally empathise with and question her. The fact that the reader finds out more and more about Daria and her story as the book goes on works well in maintaining the reader's interest, and it certainly kept me invested in Daria's story until the last chapter.

Finbar was such a unique feature in the story and it was evident that he was an intricately created character. I loved the tiny details that Spiers added to him, and his relationship with Hester and Harriet was wonderful to read and become invested in. In particular, the dynamic between Finbar and Hester and Harriet's nephew, Ben, was interesting and showed hidden depths to both of the characters.

I loved the relationship between Ben and his aunts, however I thought that Ben's dialogue was not as strong and believable as the other characters. It might be an age thing, I don't know. It didn't impact the way I felt about the story, but if Ben's dialogue was better then this review would undoubtedly be 5*s! I just thought that the way his dialogue was written wasn't a true reflection of the way that teenagers actually speak.

Aside from the characterisation and the dialogue, as a whole I really liked the way the book was written. Spiers writes beautifully, clearly and with a warmth I haven't felt from a book in a really long time. I can definitely see myself re-reading Hester & Harriet - it is the kind of book that leaves you comforted and hopeful - like being enveloped in a warm hug. The story itself is very well thought-out and there are no holes or gaps where information could be filled in. Nothing that happened was extremely obvious or out of the blue - Spiers brilliantly kept the balance between the believable and the mysterious, and at times I found it really hard to put the book down!

Overall, I think it is pretty clear from my review that I adored Hester & Harriet and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a comforting, feel-good read! 

Buy Hester & Harriet here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hester-Harriet-Hilary-Spiers/dp/1925266818/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Check out Hilary Spiers here: http://www.hilaryspiers.co.uk

Until next time :)

Tuesday 14 June 2016

INDIGO'S DRAGON BLOG TOUR | Interview with Sofi Croft!

Hello readers, and hope you are all well since I spoke to you yesterday!

It is another late night and I am late yet again with the posting of a blog tour - my apologies!

But nonetheless, today I am honoured to welcome Sofi Croft to my blog for an interview about her brand new book, Indigo's Dragon! I was lucky enough to meet Sofi at the Accent YA Launch at London Book Fair and she is so lovely, and I also read Indigo's Dragon a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it, I will leave a link to my review here.

For those of you unfortunate enough not to have come across this wonderful book yet, here is the blurb...

Some families keep monstrous secrets... 

Fans of How to Train your Dragon, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson. 

Indigo lives in the Lake District, and spends his time exploring the mountains he loves. An unexpected parcel arrives containing a first aid kit inside his grandfather’s satchel. Indigo’s curiosity is raised as he looks through his grandfather’s notebook to discover drawings of mythical creatures. 

Strange things begin to happen and Indigo finds himself treating an injured magpie-cat, curing a cockatrice of its death-darting gaze, and defending a dragon. Indigo realises he must uncover the secrets his family have kept hidden, and travels alone to the Polish mountains to search for his grandfather and the truth. 

Danger looms as events spiral out of control, and Indigo needs to make choices that change him, his world, and his future forever…

Doesn't it sound amazing?! If you are still yet to be convinced, today I am so excited to welcome Sofi Croft to my blog where we will be discussing dragons, her writing inspiration, and what she loved reading as a kid!

Hi Sofi! Tell us a bit about Indigo's Dragon. What gave you the inspiration to write it?

I started writing Indigo’s Dragon after I moved to Borrowdale in the Lake District. I spent a huge amount of time sat at the side of the river while my children played in the water. I would write poems, short stories and sketch pictures, all inspired by the things my children and I liked most at the time – mountains, lakes and rivers, wildlife, dragon caves, strange hidden beasts, adventures, mysteries, journeys, folktales and legends. Very slowly the thoughts, ideas, pictures and words in my notebooks all came together to create Indigo’s Dragon.

What do you find interesting about sea monsters? Why did you want to write about them?

I grew up near the coast; beachcombing, rock pooling, fossil collecting and swimming in the sea. I have always loved the mystery of the oceans and I find sea creatures absolutely fascinating. They are so different to us, like alien life forms right on our doorstep! I love the idea that huge sea creatures may be living in our oceans undiscovered, and it is not as unlikely as it sounds. 95% of the world’s oceans are unexplored and scientists estimate up to a million species remain undiscovered, so there is actually quite a good chance there may be some pretty big creatures out there we haven’t seen yet.

In my late teens I learned to scuba dive and had some incredible experiences underwater. It is this vast, mysterious, other world, with an incredible extra dimension – you can move up and down as well as on the horizontal plane. The creatures are so surprising and wonderful; I have been chased by curious seals, terrified by moray eels and intrigued by cuttlefish and octopus trying to communicate by flashing patterns on their skin.

For me, more than anywhere else, the oceans are where the wonders of the world, and the life in it, are most apparent. The third book in the Indigo series, Indigo’s Deep, is set almost entirely underwater, in the Irish and Baltic seas, and it includes more than a few sea monsters, real and imagined. I had incredible fun researching and writing it, and was able to relive some of my most treasured experiences scuba diving in my youth.

 Did you always want to be a writer?

No! My mother is a writer and when I was growing up I did not see the appeal at all. I watched my mother spend hours of every day sat at a typewriter lost in an imaginary world. I was far more interested in living in the real world. I wanted to be an explorer or a scientist, and that is what I became! I studied biology and geology and worked as a laboratory technician and exploration geologist before becoming a science teacher.

It wasn’t until I had children that I began to write. I spend lots of time outdoors with them, and I think the combination of the outdoors, daydreaming and being with my children must have stimulated my creative and imaginative side!

What did you like reading as a kid?

Some of the first books I really loved were The Moomins books by Tove Jansson. The weird, alien looking Hattifatteners are particularly memorable to me! As a young teenager I enjoyed books full of action and adventure, like the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, and of course The Hobbit by Tolkien. As a slightly older teenager I loved dystopic fiction, books like 1984 by George Orwell, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Describe Indigo's Dragon in three words!

Adventure, mystery & monsters.

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog, Sofi! 

Guys, please make sure you check out all the other posts from this blog tour!

Check out Sofi Croft here: http://www.soficroft.com

Buy Indigo's Dragon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Indigos-Dragon-Sofi-Croft-ebook/dp/B00PG0JZWI/280-4279280-9477309?ie=UTF8&tag=geolinker-21

Until next time :)