Starfell – Q & A Dominque Valente

Today I am delighted to welcome Dominique Valente to the blog with a special Q & A about getting published as part of the ‘Starfell,’ blog tour. Willow Moss is the youngest and least powerful witch in her family, the power to find lost socks, missing teeth and misplaced glasses is not very exciting. Not only that, Willow failed to inherit her mother’s striking looks – unlike her sisters –  feeling like a general disappointment to her family, she’s constantly left behind.  But this seemingly dull power to find things that are lost becomes crucial when Tuesday disappears and Willow is sought out by the most powerful and intimidating witch in the whole of Starfell. Can Willow find the lost day and save Starfell from impending catastrophe? Dominque has conjured up the most glorious of places in Starfell, through the most exquisite and intricate world-building. Starfell,’ is magical storytelling at it’s very best with dreamy and beautiful illustrations by Sarah Warburton. An enchanting start to this wonderful series.

Getting published – Q&A with Dominique Valente

When did you start writing the book and how long did it take from starting to write to publication day?

The character of Willow Moss appeared, around eight years ago. She popped into my head while I was driving home from work and I started writing it the next day.

It took a further four years to really get to grips with the plot and what losing a day would mean. It got over twenty agent rejections. But I kept trying, and kept redrafting. Finally, in 2017, on the third I got two offers of representation and I chose my agent, Helen Boyle of Pickled Ink (who is the absolute best). Then after seven years of hearing no, seven publishers offered to publish it at the same time – one for each year, maybe? I am not the kind of person who cries when I’m happy … but I did then.

How far in to the process of writing did you start sharing your work with others?

In a bevy of excitement, I shared my first chapter with my best-friend, who was incredibly kind and supportive, and had a field day fixing all my appalling grammar… One of these corrections was a query about a misplaced comma, in which it appeared that Willow amongst finding misplaced wallets and wooden teeth, had also found last Tuesday. Was this what I intended, she asked? Of course not, I answered. A missing day? How absurd … only to sit up (three years later…) while on holiday in France, realising that actually THAT could be the ENTIRE plot for book one! It was kind of a Eureka moment while I was trying to have a nap and my brain had other ideas.

I’d say though – that you have to pick who you share your work with. I once shared a story with a friend who said it was too much like Terry Pratchett and I ended up abandoning the story, which now I think was a mistake. So be careful who you share it with.

What is the hardest bit about getting a book to publication?

For me, it’s all the waiting involved. The limbo-land that you exist in for months at a time. There’s the waiting to see if an agent will take you on. The knife edge feel of rejection when you’ve waited and waited and then you still hear no. Then when you do get an agent and then a deal, it all happens rather painfully slowly, then rather all too fast and all at once.

What is the best bit of getting a book published?

There are so many amazing bits – it’s like a roller coaster at times. There’s the day you see your cover, and for me when I got to see the first illustrations! The most surreal moment though was seeing the story as an actual book for the first time.

Any top tips for writers on how you get your book finished?

Change the goal from a perfect book to a finished book. There comes a time when we all shut up the voice/s that said we aren’t yet ready/ need more life experience/ schooling – add an excuse of your own, and sat down and just saw what happened. It’s a tip that alas is just as important on the first book as it is on the seventh. There’s no big secret, apart from just going for it. I wish there was as trust me, I’ve looked for them all. Then set yourself a deadline – a year is good, perhaps before your next birthday.

Did you get any advice from anyone/anywhere while writing?

I love reading about other people’s writing processes and journeys to publication. Starting out I used to scour the internet for them. I came across Anthony Trollope’s advice about writing first thing in the morning a few years ago, and that has been one of the best things I’ve ever done – I write before my brain has a chance to fully wake up and fear can get in the way. Also, Jodi Picoult’s advice – that you can’t edit a blank page is just so true. I also love the late Terry Pratchett’s advice about writing the first draft for yourself.

Anything else you would like to share on the process?

Along with my children’s book, I have written seven books for grown-ups published under my pen name, Lily Graham, and what I’ve learnt is that we all have different processes. It’s about doing what works best for you. I tend to live with my book, and not do much else until it’s done. It’s a few intense weeks of living, breathing and sleeping with it. I’m very much an all or nothing sort of writer, I’ve tried to be someone with a regimen and a daily word count but it doesn’t completely work for me. The story gets stale, I Iose my nerve and my enthusiasm … I think the important thing is to find the love, and the process that makes the most sense to you. With Starfell I had to learn to let the story brew, and that was different to how I write my women’s fiction. So sometimes the story dictates too, it’s what keeps writing interesting, for me at least.

 

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and guest posts.

Thank you to Dominque for this really insightful Q & A and to Laura and Harper Collins for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Cover Reveal – Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse – Jennifer Killick

I’m really excited to be sharing with you today the cover of the third book in  Jennifer Killick’s hilarious middle grade Alex Sparrow series. ‘Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse’ is the newest adventure featuring Alex and Jess and will be published on the 12th September 2019  by Firefly Press.

So without further ado here it is…

I love this, another stunning, vibrant cover designed by Alex Dimond, featuring again the artwork of Heath McKenzie. Bursting with suspense and mystery, it hints at the chaos and carnage that Alex and Jess will face as they try to tackle their most tricky investigation yet.

Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse

The Zumbies are on the rampage – member of the Cherry Tree Lane Zumba class are apparently dying and then mysteriously coming back to life!

Alex, Jess and Dave have to put a stop to it before Alex’s mum and nan join the living Zumba dead or there’ll be no family Christmas.

Buy why are the Zumbies curiously drawn to the Christmas lights? What does the Octopus sign mean? And who is the evil genius behind it all?

Thank you to Jennifer and Firefly Press for inviting me to do the cover reveal, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book I think it will be hugely appealing and I will definitely be adding this to my school library as we love the first two books in the series.

You can find out more about Jennifer Killick on Twitter or on her website

You can find Heath McKenzie on Instagram or visit his website

You can find Alex Dimond on Twitter

 

 

Terrific Teen Reads

So when I started writing this blog four years ago I was mainly reading books for younger readers. As a primary school librarian and mum to a nine and six year old I felt inevitably drawn to books that I could recommend to my own children and the children at my school. Fast forward four years and I now have a teenager so it seems natural that I’m gravitating more to teen reads. The books I’m sharing on the blog today are only suitable for teen (and adult readers) but the thing they all have in common is that they entertained and enthralled me in very different ways.

The Paper and Hearts Society – Lucy Powrie

It was with huge anticipation that I read Lucy Powrie’s debut, ‘The Paper and Hearts Society,’ having heard so much buzz about it on Twitter. The mere mention of a literary road trip and a Jane Austen dance party was enough to convince me that this was a book that teen me would have adored, although I’m pleased to say adult me feels exactly the same way. Tabby is tired of trying to fit in. She would much prefer being at home reading her favourite book then have to face the social awkwardness of going to parties.  But a chance encounter in an library opens up a whole new world where she discovers fellow teens who may just be like her. Can Tabby be brave enough to face her fears and reach out to find her people or will secrets from the past ruin any hope she has of happiness? Lucy has created a thoughtful and insightful debut that speaks to everyone out there who hasn’t yet found their tribe. In a increasingly tricky world dominated by social media, healthy and positive relationships can be hard to come by. While teens are pressed to conform and fit in instead of standing out. Lucy explores what could happen if you embrace your inner weird and just be yourself. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a teen in want of an entertaining, funny and poignant read needs this in their life! This book will make you laugh, cry and smile in so many different ways, for me it’s a real joy of a read.

Kate Mallinder – Summer of No Regrets

Having read, ‘Summer of No Regrets.’ it’s hard to believe that this is Kate Mallinder’s debut novel. It’s incredibly brave to write a story from four different view points and be able to create a cohesive and compelling read but Kate does this brilliantly. The cover alone makes you dream of the summer holidays, endless days filled with sunshine, laughter and time with your friends. After their exams finish, four friends vow to live a summer with no regrets allowing themselves the chance to face their fears and try something new. Hetal will seize the day and go to summer camp. Nell will try to escape the confines of her mother’s desire to wrap her in cotton wool. Sasha will go to stay with her absent father, while Cam tries to find her birth father. With all four girls facing monumental challenges, can they stay true to their pledge to live life to the full? Wonderfully diverse, sensitively written this is the perfect teen summer read. It really is a breath of fresh air. Both me and my teenage daughter devoured it and I would love to see more uplit teen reads where the challenges of everyday life are laid bare for the reader to see. A confident and assured debut from Kate, I think she is a very talented writer and definitely one to watch out for.

The Gifted, The Talented and Me – William Sutcliffe

I genuinely can’t remember the last book that made me laugh out loud as much as William Sutcliffe’s, ‘The Gifted, The Talented and Me.’ Sam’s life is turned upside down when his Dad becomes rich overnight and his mum decides to uproot his whole family to London. Convinced her children’s creativity is being stifled by an ordinary school she enrols them in the North London Academy for the Gifted and the Talented. But Sam unlike his musical brother Ethan and his infinitely expressive sister Freya is just well ordinary. In a normal school being ordinary is fine but at this school, it makes Sam a social pariah. Can Sam find a way to fit in while being himself? I don’t say this lightly but this book is a total genius, it’s outrageously funny and downright clever. William’s ability to write the most brilliant observational comedy is outstanding. There are so many scenes that made me cringe and laugh, my particular favourite being the poetry scene – no spoilers here! He has assembled a magnificent cast of characters who felt so real to me, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Sam and his family. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, it really stands out from the crowd.

The Quiet At the End of the World – Lauren James

I’m going to let you into a secret, some might say it’s quite shocking. Despite the fact I’m a huge booklover I don’t own that many books. I have a carefully curated collection of books by authors whose work I genuinely love and Lauren James is an essential part of my most loved shelves. Her ability to create stories that are truly incredible never ceases to amaze me and ‘The Quiet At the End of the World,’ is another stellar addition to her repertoire. Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused a global infertility. Enveloped in a small community where they are treasured, their every move is controlled and their freedoms are limited. One day whilst exploring the confines of their restricted life they stumble across a secret that threatens their entire existence. Lauren explores the theme of how we as humans are destroying our world by highlighting the irony that as the population decreases the planet begins to recover from the years of excessive consumption and pollution. This dystopia is frighteningly believable, the reader is so drawn into the story we can feel that these events may unfold in the future it is not beyond the realms of our imagination. Lauren yet again manages to surprise and astound the reader with the most unexpected of revelations which disturb the very foundations of everything you held up to be the truth. A truly compelling and extraordinary story that dazzled me with its brilliance.

Thank you to Bloomsbury, Firefly and Hodder for sending me gifted proof copies in exchange for an honest review. All of the books are available to buy or pre-order online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop.

We Won An Island – Guest Post Charlotte Lo

Once in a while a book comes along at just the right time and gives you the very thing you need and for me, ‘We Won An Island,’ did just that. Charlotte’s debut novel is a wonderfully uplifting read that filled my heart with joy! Luna’s family is in crisis, her dad is depressed and her family is threatened with her eviction for failing to pay the rents. So when she spots a competition from a benevolent billionaire to win his island, she thinks this is the perfect way to save her family. But winning the competition is not the instant solution she thinks it will be. Island life turns out to have it’s own challenges and things don’t go exactly to plan. Cue one secret festival which is bound to win over the locals and help bring dad out of the depths of his grief. I loved the wildness and freedom of island life that was reminiscent of stories I adored growing up. You can’t help but get attached to Luna and her family and are cheering from the side lines desperately hoping for a happy ending. Charlotte deftly mixes humour and heart in this fun-filled and thoughtful tale.

I am thrilled to have Charlotte on the blog today with a special guest post on what she would do if she won her own island.

What I’d do if I won my own island  – Charlotte Lo

(1)

The first thing I’d do is ship a flock of chickens to the island. I am completely obsessed with them. While most people are either a dog or cat person, I’m a chicken one. Such is my love for them that I’ve even been known to watch chicken agility videos on Youtube.

My grandparents owned a small holding when I was growing-up, and I used to take eggs home after visits, and try to hatch them in the airing cupboard. I do not recommend trying this, because not only does it not work, but the eggs will invariably get broken, and your socks will smell of rotten yolks for weeks.

Our garden isn’t particularly chicken friendly at the moment, so despite having convinced by husband to build a chicken palace in anticipation of their eventual arrival, my chicken fancying is still the stuff of dreams. If I had my own island though… well, anyone within a 50 mile radius (on land or sea) would never be short of eggs.

(2)

I would learn to surf. People who surf always look so cool, like they spend their entire lives at the beach, eating shrimp burgers, and having perfectly immobile hair despite the sea breeze. I want to be like that! Although, I am thoroughly aware that I am the epitome of uncool. One of my hobbies is reinventing slang words to annoy my husband, like changing “street” to “cul-de-sac”. The bigger his cringe, the more points I get.

I am also incredibly bad at most types of sport, apart from swimming. I once tried snowboarding, and went down the nursery slope sideways, before crashing in a plume of snow and people. Still, perhaps surfboarding would be different. I did yoga for a week once, so that’s bound to give me an advantage with the balancing.

(3)

The next thing I’d do is buy a karaoke machine, and sing Celine Dion songs until the early hours of the morning. Technically I could do this now, but would probably be arrested for anti-social behaviour and given an ASBO.

I love singing, but I’m too self-conscious / considerate to do it in public, so an island would be perfect. I could dance around with a microphone, pretending to be one of the guest acts on The X-Factor, but with only the seals and gulls to judge.

(4)

Another thing I’d do is hold a children’s book festival, mostly so I could meet all my favourite writers and fan girl after them (and, being on an island, they’d have no means of escape until they’d signed my towering book collection, poor things). I would possibly combine it with a food festival, because I’m not sure there’s anything better than a beach full of authors and burritos.

(5)

The final thing I’d do is is instate an official island siesta between the hour of 12pm – 1pm. During that time it would be illegal for anyone to wake me up to demand cake, or ask me to fast-forward the boring bits of The Teletubbies, or help fish toys out of the dehumidifier. I would spend most of this siesta in a hammock, which would be strung on the beach, so I could watch the ships go by with one eye (I am incredibly nosy – people watching is one of my favourite hobbies) while my other eye sleeps. On particularly coffee-heavy days I would read instead, or jot ideas down in one of my many pretty notebooks (which would have had to arrive on their own boat given the vastness of their number).

So, there you have it: my island would consist of 200 pet chickens, Celine Dion karaoke, surfing authors, burritos, and regimented siestas on hammocks.

 

Thanks to Charlotte for this really insightful guest post, I love the idea of the book festival and I would happily volunteer my services as chief author looker after and food taster of course. ‘We Won An Island,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you want a sneak peek or would like to listen to the first chapter of the audio books, why not head over to the Nosy Crow website.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day – Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

From the moment Dominque Valente’s debut children’s novel, ‘Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day,’ landed on my doorstep I had a feeling that this book was going to be something special and I’m pleased to say my instincts were spot on. I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous cover illustrated by Sarah Warburton, promising a truly delicious read, bursting with magic and wonder. I’ve always been a fan of books with witches so was intrigued to see how ‘Starfell,’ would bring an unique twist to the magic genre and it has truly delivered an intriguing and original concept. Willow Moss is the youngest and least powerful witch in her family, the power to find lost socks, missing teeth and misplaced glasses is not very exciting. Not only that, Willow failed to inherit her mother’s striking looks – unlike her sisters –  feeling like a general disappointment to her family, she’s constantly left behind.  But this seemingly dull power to find things that are lost becomes crucial when Tuesday disappears and Willow is sought out by the most powerful and intimidating witch in the whole of Starfell. Can Willow find the lost day and save Starfell from impending catastrophe?

Dominque has conjured up the most glorious of places in Starfell, through the most exquisite and intricate world-building. I felt an immediate connection to the misfit Willow who feels lost and unloved except by her somewhat eccentric and confused Granny Flossy. Her willingness to step into the unknown with Moreg Vaine in the face of confusion and uncertainty is admirable. At last Willow is being given the chance to prove she is as worthy as the rest of her family. It shows the reader the transformative power of someone having belief in your abilities and how it can give you the courage to face the world. The characterisation in this story is just sublime, Dominque has assembled the most magnificent cast of characters. I have a particular fondness for Oswin the cantankerous kobld – who is most definitely not a cat, despite the canny resemblance. Just when you think this book can’t get any better, enter Sarah Warburton with the most dreamy, beautiful illustrations and fabulous imaginings of the characters. I’ve long been a fan of her brilliant ability to capture the essence of someone’s personality in her creations. ‘Starfell,’ is magical storytelling at it’s very best. An enchanting start to this wonderful series, I can’t wait to go on more adventures with Willow.

Thank you to Laura and Harper Collins for sending me a gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ‘Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria – Catherine Bruton

Today I am delighted to welcome Catherine Bruton to the blog to talk about the books that inspired her to write the remarkable, ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria.’ I was incredibly touched by the story of eleven year old Aya who has fled from the war in Syria to seek asylum in England. Ava is doing what no eleven year old should ever have to do, she is holding her family together. Her mother is drowning in grief and is unable to speak English, so the burden of looking after her younger brother and trying to deal with the authorities falls to her. It would be almost unbearable to read a story that is so desperately sad but Catherine shows the reader that inside Aya is more than what others see her to be. She may be viewed as an asylum seeker but in her heart she’s a dancer and a chance encounter with a local ballet teacher changes her life forever. Hauntingly sad but ultimately hopeful this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. I cried, I laughed and smiled my way through this extraordinary story which needs to be in every school. Wonderfully empathetic and incredibly inspiring, I felt emotionally wrung out by this moving story. A complete triumph in every way.

Books that Inspired Me – Catherine Bruton

In No Ballet Shoes in Syria I tell the story of 11 year old Aya who has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher Miss Helena spots her exceptional talent and believes Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time Aya and her family must fight to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the perilous journey from Syria.

Here are the books that inspired me to tell Ayas’s tale!

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

As I watched the migrant crisis unfolding on the news, I knew immediately that it was something that I wanted – needed – to write about. And when I heard Judith Kerr talking about the parallels between her experiences of fleeing the Nazis, and the Syrian migrant crisis, I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment. I would write a story about a young girl and her family fleeing the war in Syria, escaping across Europe, seeking asylum in the UK – a story that was a modern version of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – a book which I had adored as a child – a story that would make young readers look beyond the labels of ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum’ seeker and see the child behind.

The Silver Sword – Ian Serrailler

This was the other book that was in my mind as I conceived the idea for No Ballet Shoes in Syria. This classic tale of children journeying through war-torn Europe towards Switzerland where they believe they will be reunited with their parents had a profound effect on me as a young reader, offering a remarkable insight into the reality of Europe laid waste by war. It’s not a story that shies away from difficult truths, but it is irradiated by hope, by small acts of kindness – something which I really tried to capture in No Ballet Shoes in Syria too.

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild

Very early on I decided I didn’t want Aya to be defined solely by her experiences as a refugee. I wanted readers to see her as just a young girl, with hopes and dreams, friendships and favourite teachers and hobbies, just like they have. I wasn’t sure how to do it until a fan of my Cate Shearwater Somersaults and Dreams gymnastic books asked me if I was ever going to write a book about ballet. When I told her I was writing a refugee story she replied, ‘Don’t refugees do ballet?’ This was such an important question that lies at the heart of the story I tried to tell. I simply adored Noel Streatfield’s ‘Shoes’ books when I was younger, as well as Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series (I swear I know them all off by heart!) and the Drina Ballerina books by Jean Estoril, and I hope that No Ballet Shoes in Syria will be to young readers what those classic tales were to me – stories of following your dreams that I read over and over and which I still love today. I also hope that if a young reader like Aya picked up the book, she would see herself depicted not as a victim but as a heroine – not a war child but a beautiful ballerina!

The Swish of the Curtain – Pamela Brown

When she joins Miss Helena’s dance school, Aya befriends a young girl called Dotty, daughter of famous ballerina Bronte Buchanan who dreams of performing on stage in the West End, rather than in Covent Garden. It is Dotty who comes up with the idea of putting on a show to raise money for the Refugee Centre, and I had The Swish of the Curtain (another childhood favourite) along with Helen Peter’s The Secret Hen House Theatre (one of the most wonderful books my daughter and I had the pleasure of reading together) in the back of my mind as I wrote these bits. Classic stories that live long in the heart and the imagination and which I hope my story can live up to.

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

This is going to seem a little obscure, but I was teaching Wharton’s 1920 Pulitzer prize winning classic to my lovely A Level class when I was writing the end of No Ballet Shoes in Syria and it is her beautifully delicately balanced ending that I attempted to emulate. I didn’t want ‘happy ever after’, because that would trivialise the issues I was writing about, but nor did I want the finale to be totally bleak. I wanted an ending that offered hope at the same time as breaking my readers’ hearts. Newland Archer sitting on a bench outside Ellen Olenska’s Paris apartment, not going up, but knowing that the memory of her is enough – it breaks my heart and makes me sob every time. And that was what I wanted to achieve too. I guess you’ll have to read it and decide if I succeed…

Thank you to Catherine for her hugely insightful blog post, it’s really interesting to see how writers can be influenced by the books they surround themselves with.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and special guest posts.

Thank you to Clare and Nosy Crow for sending me a gifted copy of the book in exchange for a review and for inviting me to join in the blog tour. ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

As a child I was such an avid reader and my dream was to meet some of my favourite authors but this sadly never came to pass. However as a grown up (I use this in the most loosest of ways) I have had the privilege of meeting some amazing authors of books I love when they have visited my schools. Sadly not all schools have the resources to host author visits, so thank goodness for brilliant festivals like the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival exist. The festival is back for it’s fifth year and opens on Wednesday 8 May with their Education Programme, three days of specially curated, curriculum-linked sessions which they provide free to pupils in all state primary schools in London. This year 4,500 children will have the opportunity to engage with their favourite authors and illustrators including a rare schools’ performance by Britain’s best loved poet, Roger McGough, Paralympian, television presenter and author, Ade Adepitan and the BookTrust Writer in Residence Nadia Shireen.

If you’re thinking my children won’t get this opportunity to meet authors as we don’t live in London then I’m here with some brilliant news. On the 11th and 12th May London’s largest dedicated children’s literature festival opens to the public in  Barnes. Attracting some of the UK’s best authors and illustrators for a fun-filled weekend for children of all ages.  Led by UK Laureate Lauren Child and master story tellers Judith Kerr, Michael Rosen, David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Francesca Simon, this year’s programme looks better than ever.

Tickets are available to book online now for events featuring the brilliant Emma Carroll, Lauren Child Candy Gourlay, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Tom Palmer, Paula Harrison and many many more. There is so much to choose from, you are bound to find an event that you will really enjoy.

Barnes also provides dedicated programming for families with children with special and extra needs including inclusive storytelling with Rose Robbins and Vanessa Woolf and yoga-telling sessions.

To find out more about Barnes Children’s Literature Festival head to the website:

www.barneskidslitfest.org/