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Poppy and the Blooms – Guest Post Fiona Woodcock

Last week on the blog I reviewed the glorious ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ by the lovely and talented Fiona Woodcock. Exquisitely produced and filled with the most sumptuous and delicate spreads, it really is a joy to behold. I’m always fascinated to learn about the creative process that the author/ illustrator goes through when developing a book so I’m thrilled to welcome Fiona to the blog today for a special guest post on the story behind ‘Poppy and the Blooms.’

The story behind ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ – Fiona Woodcock

Like a lot of my stories, this one started with the characters.

My agent Vicki spotted a rough sketch of the Buttercup character in some ideas for a different story, and encouraged me to develop her further and create a gang of flower characters. The original suggestion was for a woodland tea party with Poppy initially on a toadstool rather than a skateboard. I later changed that in favour of making them active and urban, giving them all skateboards (apart from Dandy who got a scooter!)

This BLOOM image from the previous year fitted with the flower theme and hinted at where I could head with the treatment of the flowers.

I chose wild flowers, partly because I love the way that they pop up with determination through the cracks in the pavement. Their strong willed nature appealed as something to explore and the initial concept started to form of feisty wild flower characters, running wild on skateboards and scooters in a riot of colour, spreading flower seeds and colour as they go.

I liked the ethos of guerrilla gardening, seeing potential in neglected and unexpected places and I knew that throughout the course of the book there would be a transformation and that between them they’d have the ability to dramatically change the urban environment.

An important reference point I came across at the very beginning of the development is this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A weed is a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered”.

I was interested in showing common garden weeds in a different light, and the flip side is that they are also allowing us to see the potential of the urban environment too.

I wanted it to be about contrasts. The man-made monochrome structured world, contrasting with the unstoppable freedom and power of nature. But how to get all these ideas into a story proved quite tricky!

In the early stages of working on it with Lara Hancock and Jane Buckley at Simon and Schuster there was initially an abandoned fairground that was being saved. We’ve all seen the haunting images of abandoned places being reclaimed by nature and again I had an old rough sketchbook drawing of a disused roller-coaster covered in foliage that I’d been thinking about for years. But soon we realised that it was much simpler to communicate the idea with the last park in the city. Although it was hard to sacrifice the potentially striking images, it was a bit of a turning point in terms of getting to grips with the story.

Whilst I was working on the idea, Leicester City won the premier league at odds of 5,000-1. Although I’m not a die-hard football fan, I grew up in Leicester so inevitably got caught up in their fairy tale story of achieving the impossible. I loved the idea that the Blooms are also challenging preconceptions of what they might be capable of. It also ties in with the idea of the collective ability to change things and do good if you work together as a team/ gang.

So with a lot of guidance from Lara and Jane I tried to inject as much drama into it as possible and we talked about the Bloom’s adventure almost being like a game of snakes and ladders, as they slide down and then climb up again overcoming all the challenges that come their way. I’d sketch out the roughs on post-it notes stuck into a tiny dummy book, which allowed us to easily try different sequences whilst checking the impact of the page turn.

From a visual point of view it was challenging to convey the idea of a big city when our main characters are only a few inches tall, but I tried to turn this into a positive, with dramatic changes in scale.

The artwork process was very rewarding, carefully placing the pops of colour in an entirely grey monochrome world. I experimented with rubber stamps, charcoal and children’s blow pens creating all the elements on paper, which were then collaged together digitally.

Finally, another quote that had a big impact early on was that

‘One field poppy plant can produce as many as 50,000 seeds.’

This staggering statistic reminds us of what one flower or individual is capable of and that even something very small can make a big difference.

 

A huge thank you to Fiona for stopping by the blog, ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop.

 

 

Poppy and the Blooms – Fiona Woodcock

‘Hiding Heidi’ by Fiona Woodcock was one of my most favourite picture books of 2016, I was totally captivated by the stunning illustrations and beautiful story, so I was delighted to receive a copy of her new book ‘Poppy and the Blooms.’ Poppy and her friends Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup are a lively bunch of skateboarding wildflowers who like nothing better than filling the world with colour and sunshine. When they find out the last park in the city is about to be closed they know they must do everything within their power to stop this happening. How can such tiny creatures possibly hope to save this last piece of greenery all by themselves?

Exquisitely produced and filled with the most sumptuous and delicate spreads, ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ is a joy to behold. Fiona cleverly contrasts the gloom of the city with its muted grey palette by scattering splashes of bold and vibrant colours across the pages in the form of Poppy and her friends. Their unrelenting quest to stop the park closing throws them in the path of challenging obstacles but we soon learn that perseverance and determination goes a long way to helping them achieve their goal. Wonderfully endearing and utterly charming this story is brimming with positivity about how even the smallest of actions can make a significant difference. Perfect for sharing with younger readers, ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ would make a delightful addition to any home or library,

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this glorious book.

The Explorer – Katherine Rundell

It was with great anticipation that I opened the pages of Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer as I absolutely loved being transported to the rooftops of Paris and the wilds of Russia in her previous books. Therefore I knew without a doubt that ‘The Explorer’ would  allow me to fully immerse myself in the ferociously hot, damp and somewhat dangerous Brazilian jungle, so that I would feel that I had actually travelled there. We meet Fred, Con, Lila and Max flying in a tiny aeroplane above the Amazon river unaware that in a few moments time their plane is going to plummet to the ground. Their chance of survival seems slim but when they’re caught in a canopy and manage to scramble out of the plane they soon realise this was just the start of their problems. With no hope of rescue they are totally lost and all alone, how can they ever find their way out of the jungle so that they can return home.

It’s extremely difficult to put into words just how glorious a book ‘The Explorer’ really is – which presents somewhat a difficulty when you’re a book blogger! Katherine has an outstanding gift for exceptional storytelling that always captivates and enchants the reader. This should feel like a terrifying situation that our characters find themselves in, adrift from the rest of humanity with no sustenance to keep them alive, but it feels more thrilling than despairing. Fred as the eldest of the group feels a need to take charge of the situation although he’s not naturally a brave person. He longs to be an explorer and makes his father proud and is driven by this desire, to try and escape from the jungle and keep everyone alive. Con is naturally hesitant and the lack of love in her life has made her distant and untrusting. Whilst Lila is trapped by this terrible guilt of having to keep her baby brother Max alive at any cost.  All of the characters are tested to their limits, forced to do the unimaginable – eating a tarantula is something that stays in my mind – and as they do this they discover these unknown reserves within themselves and it’s that keep them going in the darkest of times.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the journey that Katherine takes you as you become lost in the jungle too. Wonderfully atmospheric, all our your senses are stimulated by this rich evocative writing. You can feel the torrential rain soaking through your skin, hear the unknown calls of animals in the jungle and taste the acrid smell of smoke burning through the trees. All around you, you soon discover a new world as you see the most amazing sights from pods of pinkish-grey dolphins to ingenious monkeys who have the most creative techniques to sourcing honey. Yet at the heart of this story it is the emerging friendship between these four children which I found the most fascinating, Katherine takes them on a physical and emotional journey which is wonderfully compelling. And without wishing to spoil anything the epilogue is just sheer perfection and brought tears to my eyes. An extraordinary adventure which I know will be enjoyed for many years to come, what a stunning read bravo Katherine!

Thank you to Emma and Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this sublime book.

All The Things That Could Go Wrong – Stewart Foster

I absolutely adored Stewart Foster’s debut ‘Bubble Boy’ so it was with high hopes that I set out to read ‘ All the Things That Could Go Wrong.’ This is a book that tells two very different stories about Dan and Alex who both find the reality of everyday life a struggle. Dan is consumed by rage after his brother left, and unable to deal with his emotions he torments Alex, honing in on his weaknesses and taking out his pain on him. For Alex life was incredibly difficult even before Dan started to make his life a misery, his severe OCD makes it hard for him to live a normal life. But their paths are unwittingly thrown together when their mums make a plan for them to meet outside of school and finish the raft that Dan started with his brother. This seems like the end of the world for both of them, the thought of spending their summer with their enemy fills them both with dread. But life has an unexpected way of surprising you and maybe this could be the start of a very unlikely friendship!

I’m pleased to say that Stewart Foster has again written an incredibly emotional and uplifting story which I struggled to put down. It’s rare to gain an insight into the mind of a bully, they are usually portrayed as mean perpetrators who delight in inflicting emotional and physical damage to their victims for no apparent reason. Yet by telling us Dan’s story, Stewart allows the reader to understand why he has become so angry allowing us to see how the impact of his brother’s influence has shaped his personality. We begin to care about Dan as we discover the emotional turmoil he suffers for the wrongs he commits against Alex and realise that he too is scared to stand up to his own peers. In contrast we see the anguish that Alex suffers as a result of this incessant bullying from Dan and his friends. We feel his fear and terror so intensely, it really is heart breaking and makes the reader truly involved in the story. Stewart deals with Alex’s OCD sympathetically but he’s not afraid to show the devastating effect it has on his family as they try to make sense of it and help him despite Alex’s best efforts to deter them. By allowing this friendship to develop Alex and Dan are given the opportunity to be different from how everyone sees them and they start to make tiny advances in learning to move on with their lives. A surprising and insightful story, this book needs to be in every school library. Wonderfully empathetic and beautifully written it deserves to be widely read.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this brilliant book.

Rose Raventhorpe Investigates – Guest Post Janine Beacham

  

Today on the blog I am delighted to welcome Janine Beacham to the blog, with a special guest post on her ‘Top 10 Detectives’ to celebrate the launch of the second book in the ‘Rose Raventhorpe Investigates’ series ‘Rubies and Runaways.’ It’s a bitterly cold winter in Yorke and Rose Raventhorpe and her butler Heddsworth are stuck with Rose’s unpleasant cousin Herbert, and his equally horrible butler, Bixby.
When an orphan boy named Orpheus interrupts the Cathedral’s Mistletoe Service, saying that his sister has been kidnapped, Rose vows to help. Solving the mystery will be a lot better than accompanying ghastly Herbert! But the investigation is more complicated than Rose has anticipated and will lead her and her butler friends through fancy tea-rooms, horrible factories, secret underground passages and more.
Fireplace pokers are much more dangerous than you might imagine. This fabulous series is perfect for lovers of murder mysteries who love to work out just who did it!

 

Top 10 Book Detectives  – Janine Beacham

I love mysteries, and I love good detectives. My heroine owes something to all my favourites. Here are ten of my most loved book detectives, for kids or adults:

  1. Sherlock Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock’s deductive powers are second to none. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a classic read, and Dr Watson the classic loyal sidekick.
  1. Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie books. I read a lot of Christie when I was growing up, and Poirot, with his ‘little grey cells’ always made amazing deductions. Christie blew me away with her clever whodunits.
  1. Brother Cadfael in the Ellis Peters Cadfael series. This medieval monk lived out in the world before he joined a monastery, and has a great deal of compassion, wisdom, and wry humour. I particularly appreciate that the ‘villains’ in these books can be normal people who make mistakes, rather than evil personified.
  1. Amelia Peabody in the series by Elizabeth Peters. I love Amelia. A strong-minded Victorian woman who lives in Egypt with her family, she is devoted to archaeology, mysteries, her family, and her sharp parasol. Funny, and very much an inspiration for my character Rose.
  1. Trixie Belden. Some readers prefer the other American girl detective Nancy Drew, but I couldn’t relate to Nancy. She was too grown-up and glamorous, with her car and red hair and boyfriend. Trixie lived on a farm, was ‘sturdy’ in build, and had to babysit her mischievous little brother. And still solved a fair few mysteries.
  1. Flavia in The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence. Flavia is a ‘detectrix’ living in the days of Ancient Rome, Ostia to be precise. Brave, impulsive, determined and smart, Flavia is one of the girls my heroine would love.
  1. Lady Grace Cavendish in the Grace Cavendish mystery series. Grace is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth the First, and acts as her secret Lady Pursuivant. Her mysteries are written down in her ‘daybooke’. I love the historical setting, and Grace is fun to follow with her friends Ellie the laundress and Masou the acrobat.
  1. Precious Ramotswe in The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith. Precious is a kind, loving, ‘traditionally built’ and clever detective, accompanied by Grace Makutsi, her second-in-charge. Precious’s love of the Batswana way of life imbues the whole series.
  1.  Kinsey Milhone in the Sue Grafton alphabet series. Kinsey is a strong, independent female detective in 1980s America. She owns one dress and lives in jeans. I’ve read all the Kinsey books, starting with A is for Alibi, and look forward to the ones still to come – Y and Z!
  1. Philip Marlowe, in the Raymond Chandler books. Marlowe is the classic hardboiled American detective, a private investigator who carries a gun, drinks too much, and has a sentimental side. Also a wonderful way with words. ‘He was as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel-food cake.’ ‘A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.’

 

Janine Beacham

A former journalist, Janine Beacham has written all her life. She has always loved fairy tales and fantasy, and as a child would make up games for her friends to play at school. Janine once entered a competition where the prize was a real-life butler – which partly inspired the secret society of butlers in the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series. Janine lives in Western Australia with her family.

Thank you to Stephanie and Hachette for inviting to host this guest post and for sending me a copy of this fabulous book.

Linwood Barclay – Chase Q & A

I am delighted to welcome the internationally bestselling author Linwood Barclay to the blog with a special Q & A to celebrate the release of his first children’s book ‘Chase’. This thrilling edge of the seat adventure had me captivated from the opening page and I devoured it in one sitting. Dark, dangerous and packed full of suspense and action this is a story that is guaranteed to enthral and entertain.

Linwood Barclay – Q & A

 

1.          I devoured ‘Chase’ in one sitting and absolutely loved it, can you tell us more about this brilliant book?

Chase stars Chipper, a border collie that’s been outfitted with computer software by a sinister organization called The Institute. He’s been designed for espionage work, but The Institute is going to pull the plug on him. His canine instincts often overrule his programming, making him unreliable. Chipper knows his days are numbered, so he escapes. And when he does, he immediately goes in search of an orphaned boy named Jeff for reasons that are not immediately clear. The Institute is in pursuit, and Chipper and Jeff are running for their lives.

2.         After years of writing bestselling crime books why did you decide to write your debut children’s novel?

When the idea for Chase came to me, I knew right away that it would not work as one of annual thrillers for adults, that it was really more of a book for young readers. But I liked the idea so much I did not want to abandon it, and my wife, a former kindergarten teacher, was so excited about it she said I simply had to write it. Girls will love reading it as much as boys, she said, but boys, who are often reluctant readers, will especially love it.

3.          Did you share your book with any children to get feedback during the writing process or after the book was completed?

The children I shared it with were of the 60-plus variety. I mean, do we ever really grow up? I gave my first draft to a couple of friends and they reported back that they could not put it down. My UK editor who works on my adult thrillers gave the early chapters to his young son, and said he was hooked.

4.         ‘Chase’ feels wonderfully thrilling and is filled with fast-paced action, was it very different writing for children and did you have to edit the story to make it less dark and dangerous?

The book is certainly lighter on foul language and violence, but there’s still plenty of darkness and lots of danger. I think we worry a little too much about trying to protect our kids from darkness in literature. I know I loved it as a young reader, and I think today’s kids do, too. But my approach with Chase was really no different than with any of my other novels. The story had to move, it had to be engaging, it had to make you want to turn the page, it had to have characters you could care about, and there had to be something big at stake.

5 .         Who if anyone inspired the characters in the story and how did your idea of a highly trained spy dog who is part dog/ part computer come about?

The idea for Chipper came to me at two in the morning. I woke up and the story was pretty much all there. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t been dreaming it, but when I woke up, as men my age tend to do around that time of night, the story presented itself. I suppose the Jeff character, and the environment in which he finds himself, is largely autobiographical. In my teens, I helped run the family business, which was cottage resort and caravan park that catered to fishermen. One year, I adopted a stray dog that wandered in and named him – you guessed it – Chipper. It was my wife, Neetha, who suggested I name the dog in my story after my own. After all, what better name could there be for a dog loaded with computer chips?

6.         I love how you open the story writing Chipper so the reader doesn’t realise that he is a dog. Is it important for you that the reader gets the same insight to Chipper’s thoughts as they do Jeff?

We are definitely in both their heads. We know their hopes and fears, and in that sense, we see them as equals.

7.         You left us with quite a cliff hanger, it was one of the moments when I just couldn’t believe I would have to wait to find out what happened to Jeff. When will the second book be released?

Book two, which is written, will be along in about a year.

8.           What’s advice you would give to children who want to be a writer and may be struggling to get started?

I started writing stories when I was around eight years old. The real struggle would have been not writing them. I believe that where children are concerned, writing is not unlike sports or music or riding your bike as fast as you can. No one has to talk you into it. You simply must do it. And for young writers, don’t worry about that old adage “write what you know.” Go ahead and write about anything you can imagine.

Thank you to Dom and Hachette for sending me a copy of this thrilling book and inviting me to host this Q & A. ‘Chase’ is available now to buy online or from any good bookshop.