The fascinating thing about The Islands of Chaldea is not that it is Diana Wynne Jones’s last book but that she died with it unfinished and it was completed and published posthumously. DWJ’s younger sister Ursula has given fans an extraordinary gift by seamlessly integrating an ending to the unfinished manuscript. We will never know if it is the ending Diana would’ve written – because she left no clues, no notes, and an entire committee of family and friends brainstorming for hours could not figure out what she might have intended for the story. Nevertheless, Ursula’s ending is fitting and satisfying and a wonderful tribute to Diana’s memory and the power of sisterhood.
The Map to Everywhere is the first collaboration between husband and wife authors Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and utilises the increasingly popular format of alternating chapters told by a boy-girl pair of main characters. They may have missed a golden opportunity here to make their characters two girls to fill in the dearth of female-friendship adventure stories for this age group. In addition, it is the male character’s point of view that opens the book, granting him the lead by default. Other than that quibble this book is a superbly-crafted adventure story with only a very few of the annoying clichés you might anticipate –
The first being that most of the chapters in the book don’t pass the Bechdel test for the simple reason that Marrill is the only female character for large swathes of the story. Even her cat is male. However, it is a story with a small cast: Fin, Marrill, Ardent the wizard, and Coll the ship’s captain. And the book certainly passes the Mako Mori test.
This is delightful, though probably best for readers about 10+ because it’s set during WW2 and, while not graphic, it features air raids and the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused. It deals with death in a sweetly reassuring and semi-secular-fantasy way: the dead are described as being peacefully at rest with their loved ones enjoying a long, pleasant dream. Ghosts rise when something disturbs the interred body, but most ghosts do not leave the cemetery where they are buried.
I’m in the process of publishing a picture book called I Own All the Blue, for ages three to seven. After reviewing hundreds of portfolios and websites I finally clicked with an illustrator and I’m thrilled to be working with Bess Harding to produce this book.
I Own All the Blue is a modern fable I wrote about two years ago. As a parent, I’ve noticed with surprise how vehement children are about enforcing certain conventions of our society, such as which colours and styles of clothing are allowed to be worn by boys and which are exclusively for girls.
I Own All the Blue is a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the idea that specific colours are exclusively for specific groups. It’s a book that promotes sharing, and I hope it will help to generate a little bit of thinking and questioning of some of the strange rules we enforce on each other for no real reason.
My newsletter subscribers will have exclusive previews of the book in progress, page by page – and will have a chance to read the whole of the text. I know how frustrating it is to pick up a children’s book that looks promising only to find that the last page goes against your principles. Or trying to gauge the content from a 10% Look Inside on Amazon. So I know and understand that you want to vet the entire book before you invest in it.
Sign up now, so you can join in the fun!
I’m also currently writing a chapter book for ages three to nine, called The Convoluted Key. Stayed tuned 😉
The Far End of Happy is fiction that draws heavily on a real event from author Kathryn Craft’s life. The novel’s main protagonist, Veronica (Ronnie) Farnham, is trying to leave a dead marriage and make a new start. But her husband, Jeff, increasingly depressed and mentally unstable, decides his family would be better off without him. After an altercation and a 911 call, the police (thankfully) evacuate Ronnie, her two sons, and her mother. Then follows a twelve-hour standoff as police negotiators try to talk Jeff down. Interspersed with the tension of waiting are the musings and flashbacks from the point of view of three very different women: Ronnie, her mother, Beverley, and Jeff’s mother, Janet. Each woman has buried secrets that may, or may not, have an impact on the situation.
A quick news and update post:
- Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling, joins me on Wednesday 29th April for the start of her blog book tour for her new book The Far End of Happy. Mark your diary for this one.
- My reviews of the second and third books in the Slated trilogy by Teri Terry are now up here.
Slated is the first book in the Young Adult trilogy of the same name by Teri Terry. It is the story of sixteen-year-old Kyla, who is a former juvenile offender. Kyla was “slated”—given a clean slate by having her memories wiped and adopted into a caring family. But Kyla is different to the other “Slaters”. Instead of being care-free, she has nightmares. And she can draw—photo-realistically—including places and people she should have no memory of. Kyla is treading a fine line as she searches for answers: there are things that powerful people would rather remain a secret. The rules include not questioning the government’s actions. And the price for breaking the rules is termination.
Will You Like Slated If You Liked Madison Lane?
This is the most incredible piece of performance art by Japanese dancer and circus artist Miyoko Shida. She is performing a piece called “Sanddornbalance”, from the production “Sanddorn” (Sand/Thorn) created by Maedir Eugster Rigolo in 1996. She is a member of the Rigolo Swiss Nouveau Cirque.
Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Maddie becomes Earth’s best hope of survival when she uses a magic wand to travel to its quantum-entangled twin planet, Ground. But there are other people after the wand, and they have suspicious intentions and unfair advantages. Can she keep it from falling into the wrong hands as she completes the quest that will save both worlds?
Meanwhile nine-hundred-year-old Lady Sa finds herself in serious trouble when she is captured during her quest for the Source of magic. Worse, she is unable to fulfil her duty as guide to the wand-holder, and her disappearance puts new wand-holder Madison Lane at risk in an unfamilar world.
As I mentioned yesterday, transient art fascinates me. I sometimes become frustrated while writing and entertain the thought of pressing the delete key on my files. But I know I have back-ups, so it would be unlikely my work would be irretrievable. I’ve done it with knitting, though, when I’ve spent months knitting a particular pattern, put it aside over summer, and then the following autumn I’ve changed my mind–I’ve frogged the entire thing, reclaimed the yarn, and started something new.
Imagine creating a beautiful work of art and then destroying it. Picking up a paintbrush loaded with too much paint and going nuts over a painting you’d worked hard on. Could you? How far do you think you would go? Would you make sure it was a dry acrylic painting knowing that you can still wash it off before it dries?
My first introduction to Catherine Fisher’s books was with The Conjuror’s Game, which I read as a preteen when I “worked” for the only bookstore in our town as a beta reader, helping the middle-aged owner select new children’s and YA books for the store. I was paid in books (probably a lousy deal, but I was over the moon at the time). Of the dozens of books I read for them, The Conjuror’s Game is the only one I’ve kept, and read several times. Catherine Fisher disappeared off my radar for a while, but, thanks to Google, when I discovered she had a new series available, I couldn’t wait to get reading.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley has fascinated me for a long time. She lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is amazing.
I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl when I was about eleven or twelve years old. In the self-centeredness of prepubescence, what I most identified with was Anne’s difficult relationship with her mother. And I was awestruck at the audacious way she wrote about their arguments and how angry she was at her mother.
It wasn’t long before I decided to start writing a diary of my own. It served as a record of things I did and places I went so that I could remember and transcribe the most relevant news into letters to my best friend, who had moved overseas when we were ten. I made a pencil mark at the end of the last entry to have made it into the current letter, so I would know where to begin the next. In those days, it took several weeks for our mail to be delivered, so it was easily two months’ worth of diary entries that went into each letter.
And, emboldened by Anne, I also used my diary to vent my frustration, devastation, and rage over my mother’s behaviour towards me. It would be twenty years before my mother was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder; all I had for support was pen and paper.
When I was nineteen I left home and escaped overseas, taking the current diary with me to record my adventures—but, stupidly and in the rush of packing, I forgot to lock away the six or so books I’d amassed over the years. Or maybe it was fate. My parents moved house while I was away, and my mother found and decided to read my diaries “to try and figure out why [her] daughter was so unhappy”. When I returned, she confronted me about their contents that described “family business” and abuse that I’d been told never to reveal. Although we managed to have it out, tearfully but semi-constructively, she “won” that round and I complied with her orders that I burn the diaries with their damning evidence against her.
I stopped keeping a diary until about seven years later when I realised I was being left behind while everyone and their dog was happily blogging away. My first attempts to join in lead to panic; it was then that I noticed how deeply but subconsciously I’d been affected by my mother’s condemnation of my personal writing. I had developed a complete and painful mental block against writing about myself and my feelings. For an author, this was a serious problem: I couldn’t even manage a decent bio, let alone a blog. Even Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages failed for me—I ended up using them to write general articles at one point rather than stream of consciousness, because stream of subconscious said, “Don’t you dare write down what you really feel.”
It has taken me ten years to get to the point where I can blog. But, still, I have found it painful and laboured, posting probably once a month on average, if that. So this A-Z Challenge seems an ideal way for me to desensitise and push through the discomfort, and learn to talk about myself.
This post got left behind, and now you know why. It’s taken a couple of weeks to write, but a lot longer stuck in my head knowing one day I was going to get this down on screen.
And painful as it was for both of us, my mother reading my diaries did have a positive effect thirteen years after the fact, shortly before she died. As part of the counselling that followed her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, my mother reopened communication on her behaviour during my childhood. It didn’t go smoothly, but she gradually came to understand and accept my point of view, and had the grace to apologise. I think we both achieved closure on the issue and reconciled before she died, and I think this is why I have slowly been able to write about myself again.
Now I just have to click that Publish button.
I began reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and was so intrigued by the clever detective and his deductions that I moved onto other well-known Whodunit authors such as Agatha Christie and P.D James, and decided that this would be my genre as I began my apprenticeship as an author. While working through Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, I decided to try my hand at adapting one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories—The Valley of Fear—into a screenplay. It was a fascinating exercise, and gave me a lot of insight into story construction and characterisation.
At the heart of Kathryn Craft’s long-awaited debut novel The Art of Falling is the story of the intense and life-changing friendship between three very different characters. Penny is a dancer treading the finest of lines between disciplined diet and anorexia who regains consciousness in hospital after a 14-storey fall. Marty is her worst nightmare–a baker who tries to sweeten her life with glazed dough-nuts. But he is also her saviour: it was his van she landed on, and he’s determined to check up on her. And Angela is the woman in the next bed with cystic fibrosis, a great sense of humour, and a perfect stick-thin body to die for.
Just as some people find it hard to start a conversation, some also battle with what to say next. If talking to people doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to think of conversation ideas ahead of time. Don’t rehearse too much or you’ll sound unnatural.
Another way to keep talking is to think of conversation as a tennis match.
Many people just don’t know what to say and will respond to any attempt to start a conversation. It’s worth a try.
Here’s a neat trick: Start by asking the question you want the other person to ask you. What’s the most interesting thing you do or know or like. Because, usually, the polite thing to say after answering a question is “How about you?”
When I was working as a typist or secretary or personal assistant, I never asked people “What do you do?”
Friendship is one of the themes that crops up in my books all the time. I’ve made lots of mistakes with my friendships, and learnt plenty of lessons along the way (the hard way). I thought I’d share some of the good stuff.
1. To Have a Friend, Be a Friend
You can’t “make” someone be your friend. The only person you can control is you. So look for ways to be friendly and let friendships evolve naturally.
How can you be a friend?
The StarThorn Tree – Book 1
When crippled Durrik makes a strange prophecy regarding Estelliana’s dying young Count, he and his friend Pedrin go on the run from the evil Regent’s soldiers, while their parents and most of the village are imprisoned to pre-empt a rebellion.
Durrik’s prophecy involves six people and a deadline of “when the last petals fall from the StarThorn tree”, so when he and Pedrin discover the count’s sister and her maid hiding in the forest, and their team is joined by a strange old man and a dirty little thief girl, they begin to believe they are destined to save the Count and overthrow the evil Regent.
But the prophecy is vague, and if their assumptions are wrong, they will all risk their lives for nothing.
…are called “Hennin”. Thanks, Wikipedia*.
I first came across this particular headgear when I was a child listening to a Story Teller tape of The Faery Flag by Beryl Maude-Jones. The accompanying book was full of pictures of pointy cone-hats with long veils. The funny thing was I was scared by the story. So, in true child-like spirit, I decided it would be better if I recorded over this story by singing Happy Birthday onto the tape instead. I earnestly informed my mother that I would re-record the story when I was older and it no longer scared me (as if I could possibly recapture the talent of reader Annette Crosby (she of One Foot in the Grave fame)). Luckily my rendition of Happy Birthday was only long enough to record over the title of the story. And the last time I was able to listen to the cassette tape, as an adult, I laughed at my little five-year-old self singing to unscarify the audio. My husband now informs me that we no longer have any equipment capable of playing those old tapes.
I wanted to be an author from the age of about eight or so – as soon as I realised that real people were responsible for the stories I loved. I was a storyteller from a very early age, entertaining friends at sleepovers with tales of princes and princesses, and making up plays that we would rehearse and put on for our parents.
I never could decide on a “real” job, so I did a creative writing diploma and a secretarial course to learn to type, and kept working away on my first novel. Writing and telling stories have always been a part of who I am, so it’s a natural outlet for my creative expression, my ideas, and the way I view the world.
Beyond the murk
The ire of dragon long impaled on wretched lance
Encircled in a bitter trial.
Sacred heart and evil dance
And hemlock burns in desperate pale
Beyond and through the cries of night
Bewitched and thrice behove of light
Briton’s daughter-earth beyond
Fearless echo of their heart.
When I was a young child a little girl called Fiona Harvey was kidnapped from the same town where I lived. Parents of that town – my parents, my friends’ parents – clamped down on our freedom out of concern for our safety and taught us about “stranger danger” – as well they should have. I still walked home from school almost every single day, but things had changed.
My fears grew slowly. I travelled to the UK and felt able to take risks I wouldn’t have dared to in the place where I grew up. I lost more innocence, not because I took those risks, but because others felt entitled to abuse my naivety simply because I had it. I took a lot of supposedly far bigger risks that had no negative consequences for me at all. Travelling by myself overnight on a train to see Dublin, Stratford-upon-Avon, London… some of the highlights of my trip to the UK. I took myself out to dinner in Dublin and then walked maybe a mile by myself, late at night, across the city, to find a particular pub I’d read about, where I then had a drink and a conversation with a lovely Scottish couple and a pleasant young man from Cork. Right place, right time? I certainly hadn’t been as safe at our next-door neighbour’s house, or in my parents’ home with bars on the windows and dead-bolts on the doors.
A week or so ago I had one of those sparks of inspiration that usually stop me short as I backtrack in amazement to work out how my brain cobbled together something that seems so, well, inspired. I was tidying up (yes, housework), putting some books back on a shelf, when I noticed that the author of one of the books had the same name as a character from my work-in-progress. I thought nothing of it at the time, but about half an hour later I found myself mulling over what I remembered of a Wikipedia entry I’d read a year ago, that had a connection to a plot strand involving this same character. Suddenly the phrase “everything’s connected” popped into my head, and an element of the Wikipedia entry that I hadn’t considered important before wound up being the thread that tied an entire dangling subplot back into the main plot. I was so blown away I just had to sit there for a moment with my mouth open.
The long awaited update post. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in December – another easy homebirth, but another silent reflux baby. She hasn’t yet fully outgrown the reflux, but she started crawling at six months and is now pulling herself up to stand at eight months. Her brother hasn’t coped very well with the addition of a constantly crying baby to his life, and turning three didn’t help, either. We have had to take several steps back and re-group often. But now that the doldrums of winter are finally beginning to shift into spring, we are all feeling a little bit lighter-hearted.
A month after my baby was born, my mother died.