14
January

Mango and Bambang – A Review

Mango and Bambang, by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy, is one of those books that not only sings to you from the bookshelf – but when I reached the end I got the immediate urge to cuddle it. (I’m sure I can’t be the only one who does this with books?)

It’s a collection of four stories about a little – but very capable – girl who one day finds a rather shy tapir on her way home. She sets about making him feel at home in the very busy city. And the two friends soon find themselves on some wonderful adventures.

So here are some of the things I LOVE about Mango and Bambang.

The names, title and cover!

How could anyone walk past that gorgeous combination?

The story telling

Each story satisfies the reader much like a plate of those delicious banana pancakes! You can’t help but fall in love with Mango Allsorts  – the karate kicking, clarinet playing girl, good at all sorts of things – who might just have felt a little lonely had a certain Not-a-Pig turned up. And as for Bambang, he has the level of charm of a certain marmalade loving bear!

The artwork

With its palette of three colours Clara Vulliamy’s pictures are a complete delight. Funny, touching and wonderfully expressive as the two friends navigate the inevitable mayhem.

The busy city world

Conjured so wonderfully by Polly and illustrated by Clara. It’s so full of charming detail that we feel completely at home with them.

The humour

Beware if like us you choose it as a tea-time read because when coming across a tapir in a swimming hat, or sliding down the banister, or trying desperately to get ‘uncollected’, we found that laughter and food is not always the best combination!

The heart

Because from the very first pages we care. We care that Bambang is terrified of running into a tiger, and that Mango needs to fill her days alongside her very busy father. And I will admit to not just a tear in my eye in the final story but the ‘wetter, hiccupy, messy sort’ – when the strength of their friendship is shown so beautifully.

And the best news of all? There are two more books coming this year – the first one in March, so not long to wait at all – and another in 2017.

This is a book to really treasure. I can always tell when a book has that special something when my two boys continue quoting from it long after we finish reading! Oh, and one of them has taken it to bed to read and cuddle up with too!

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17
December

Top Picks of 2015

Top Ten lists are tough! But this month over at Middle Grade Strikes Back we are sharing our highlights of 2015. It’s definitely been a good year, and there are many many more I could have added. I’ve also read a lot of books not necessarily released this year – so new to me –  that I would love to mention. So I will just add a couple here. Plus I want to mention some YA books that I’ve loved.

The Wolf Brother series by Michelle Paver – now a firm family favourite. And the audio books read by Sir Ian McKellan are fantastic and have been a life saver on long journeys this year.

The Tulip touch by Anne Fine. An oldie but – Oh My – a goodie. Knocked my socks off.

YA Books 

Close Your Pretty Eyes     Sally Nicholls

I thought this was incredible. An atmospheric and downright creepy story about Olivia who has been in care since she was 5 and is just starting her sixteenth placement in an old secluded farmhouse. She discovers the house was home to a notorious Victorian baby farmer and fears her new family are in danger. Brilliantly written. Tense.  Dark, with an unnerving sense that it will go really dark. And an ending that totally delivered.

Ketchup Cloud   Annabel Pitcher

I love Annabel Pitcher’s writing.  Really strong voice and great writing about guilt.

Jenny Valentine –  This year I discovered Jenny Valentine (I know it takes me time to catch on sometimes!) So, I have devoured pretty much all she’s written. She writes really unusual stories. Very philosophical and honest. I loved these!

Fire Colour One 

Finding Violet Park

The Double Life of Cassiel Roadknight

Broken Soup

 

Now is Good    Jenny Downham

I enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this book was in a different league, I thought.  Moving and heartwrenching. Beautifully written. Authentic. And I loved that the main character was so honest and flawed.

One   Sarah Crossnan

I’m such a big fan of Sarah’s work. Her characters are some of the most well-drawn I’ve come across. This story is about conjoined twins and is written in verse.  And it’s beautiful.  A fragile story and a fragile form.

Deep Water   Lu Hersey

This is a contemporary story with a twist. Taking in folktales and myth. Superb writing and a great story.

Anyway I could be here all day at this rate! So I shall leave it there. Please do add your own recommendations from your reading year to the comments below – not that I need my TBR list to get any bigger! If you need me I shall be in here …

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18
June

Author Interview with Katherine Rundell

Here’s my author interview with the lovely Katherine Rundell that I did for Middle Grade Strikes Back. At the end of this month I’ll be talking to Emma Carroll about her new book ‘In Darkling Wood’. A tale of fairies, magic woods, heartbreak and the First World War. I can’t wait!

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17
June

The End (which of course is not The End but rather The Beginning)

So, I ‘ve been rushing headlong towards my own self-imposed deadline for this first draft. I’ve been so desperate to finish before the end of term and birthday madness hits – ah, the joys of children being born a week apart and in the period where school activities hit an all time high… But I’ve actually done it!

Last week was painful. Really really painful. I hit a new personal record for words written in one day – 14! And they were rubbish, too. Then suddenly this week everything fell into place and I couldn’t keep up with my fingers on the computer, or my head. My characters just kept talking to each other, even when I was trying to take a few minutes off. How rude! I had to get it all down whenever and wherever I could. All that brewing over the last few months seems to have paid off. Thank Goodness.

So today I wrote those two words I’ve been dreaming of: The End.

And I think the reason I found the last quarter so hard was because I know of course: it’s nowhere near the end. This is just the beginning. My first draft is like a raw bleeding heart. Not nice to look at or indeed safe in the wider world.

It needs so much work still (although not a transplant, I hope). So I think there was an element of weariness at the thought of what was coming next. And everything slowed down. But then the momentum of the story took over this week and I just loved writing again. Just being in the flow and having the story tumble out, like in those heady days at the beginning of Act One.

So I’m all a bit emotional now, having actually got to the end. I did cry at the final scenes, which I hope is a good sign. But maybe it’s just writer’s fatigue! I shall see after it’s had its alone time and I come back to reread it.

I am now going to celebrate. Not think of what’s to come, but celebrate the fact I actually finished my third book. 55,000 words. Mini Mexican wave with myself (because everyone else is out).

And then I’m going to check out my writing friends’ top tips for editing. Which I shall no doubt share with you later, too.

In the meantime though, here is my writing journey as told by Minions – and a little taster of what the book is about.

First came the euphoria of starting

 

I tried to make myself braver when tackling tricky bits

 

Somewhere near the The Middle I admit the hysteria took over

 

There were days I just needed to do this to get through

 

Then out of the blue I’d have a breakthrough

 

And things just fell into place

 

It didn’t last. And when I got stuck I had to kick some verbal butt

 

Or vent

 

Or give up and bake

 

Apologies to my family for the days I felt like this

 

And for when my inner critic got really loud

 

Sometimes I felt like I would never finish the thing, but then the end was in sight

 

And today I mostly feel like

and

 

and like I deserve something like this to announce to the world: I am done with you, First Draft.

 

But also maybe just a little

 

And in case you wanted a taste of what it’s all about, here’s my first attempt at a blurb:

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/andreashepherd/Dropbox/Andy%20Shared/New%20Writing3/Mill/Haunted%20Doves%20-%20submitted%20Dec%2015/Haunted%20Blurb.doc

 

Haunted Doves

Jo Dove is haunted by the ghost of the boy she left to drown. And now she’s been dumped with grandparents she’s never met, on a farm surrounded by water – her greatest fear. Worse still, Daniel’s ghost has followed her. On her first night at Dove’s Farm she sees a light at the top of the old mill, and soon discovers that she’s not the only one in her family who is haunted. When Jo finally discovers the truth about the light in the mill, it unearths family secrets that have remained buried for over sixty years.

 

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26
March

Why I owe the postman an apology

I’ve got a bit of an admission to make. I think I have an Author Crush. I haven’t felt this way since David Almond.

I only recently read ‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell, despite all the buzz last year about the book and its author. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it back then, perhaps it was just the wilful (middle-grade) child in me that never wanted to jump on a bandwagon for the latest book/film/fashion…

Anyway I finally did read ‘Rooftoppers’ – and of course immediately understood what everyone had been raving about.

This book sings.

It had me at Hello – well at the first line, which is the equivalent.

Who can’t fail to be at the mercy of that wonderful opening? A baby in a cello case, floating in the English Channel.

And when Katherine describes Charles for the first time: ‘Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.’

That was it, for me.

Continue reading »

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23
March

Middle Grade Strikes Back

Have you heard about MGStrikesback yet? It’s a collection of writers and bloggers who are just a teeny bit excited about middle grade books. In fact, there is a whole lot of love going on. If you want reviews, interviews, guest posts, competitions, Top Ten Tuesdays, book birthdays, articles and much much more then head on over and check it out.

Maybe you want to hear what children say about what they read?

Or where authors get their ideas from?

Or why authors love writing for kids?

Go on then, get yourselves over there!

(Oh and I’m one of the contributors too : ))

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26
February

Why I’ve become a fickle floozie since having kids

I used to be strictly monogamous. But now not so much. In fact between you and me I’d say I was a bit of fickle floozie these days. And it’s probably since having kids.

Now before you leave in horror, let me just explain that I’m only talking about books here!

For years I would only read one book at a time. It was the author and me in a wonderful whirlwind romance. I had eyes for no other. And even the ones who were a trial, and frankly I should have chucked sooner, I still stayed true while we were together.

But having two small boys I started having to flirt with other books while my first love was still blazing away. They wanted stories not just at bedtime, but at teatime and in the middle of the morning and while they were in the bath. And lots of them. I had to get used to the idea that I could have a story for me, a story for a new reader and a multitude of stories for a voracious toddler all on the go at once. Well, not quite at once – I may be learning to read books alongside one another, but even I haven’t learned to read with each eye independently – it would be good though, wouldn’t it!?

Anyway I have now discovered that with books coming in so many different formats I can be as frisky as I like.

When I’m cooking and can’t hold a book open I flick on my Kindle story – a quick tap in between chopping and I’m good to go. Walking the dog or lying in bed I can listen to another on audio format. Then I have the kids’ story of choice – wherever and whenever we have story time.

Then finally my actual physical silky-paged book that I hold in my hand and read in the few moments in between everything else.

And I kind of like how the mix up of stories can bring new things to each one when I read.

I used to love curling up with a book when I was a kid and reading for hours and hours. But apart from the fact my back won’t allow that (which is why kindle and audio also rank high for me) I don’t get those uninterrupted hours anymore.

One of the best bits of writing advice I was given was to not wait for a chunk of time to write, a whole day to settle in and get in the mood. But to write in the little snatches of time when the kettle boils or the kids are briefly occupied or the bath is running. And I guess I’ve finally learned to read like that too. In the little gaps. And having a different format for each snatch of time has definitely helped.

So are you a strictly one at a time reader or do you juggle stories like a pro? And if you have more than one or two or three on the go at once do you choose them to complement each other or purposefully make them clash to set the mental sparks flying?

Currently my reads are:

Paperback – Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces. My go to book when I want to remind myself why I love words so much.

Kindle – The Girl Who Walked on Air – Emma Carroll

Boy’s story – The Dreamsnatcher – Abi Elphinstone

Teatime boy’s story – Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

Audio – The true Tale of the Monster Billy Dean – David Almond

Picture books a plenty just because we love them anytime anywhere.

 

 

 

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8
February

Why I wish I could forget Stonebird by Mike Revell

I am reading so many great books at the moment, and there are more stacking up clamouring to be read. I sometimes wish I could read with both eyes, one on each book. Think how many more I could get through! But then sometimes a book comes along that makes me glad I can’t, because it’s a book you want to keep both eyes firmly focused on.

Stonebird by Mike Revell is one of those.

It reminded me of one of my all time favourite books, Skellig. And like Skellig it was a book I wish I could forget I’d read – just so I could go back and have the pleasure of reading it all over again!

From the first pages I didn’t want to be doing anything else except curling up with it. It’s a beautifully told story where magic weaves effortlessly through the everyday. Revell writes so poignantly about the power of story and memory and the effects that an illness like dementia has on people. Told in the first person, Revell really captures the voice of  Liam and expertly conveys how the move, his grandmother’s illness and his mum’s drinking feels to an 11 year old.

From the moment Liam stumbles across Stonebird in the Church I knew I was in a for a treat.

A stunning debut from Mike Revell and one to watch in 2015 for sure.

 

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4
February

Inspiration meeting effort

Sometimes words don’t seem enough.

Sometimes the depth of feeling is so great that even as a writer it can simply feel impossible to capture a moment.

But we still try.  It’s what we do.

My husband is an audio engineer – well-respected in his field. Today, using all the sophisticated binaural equipment and digital audio editing software at his disposal he has tried his best to capture that moment where inspiration and effort meet.

Just click here to experience it:

Inspiration meeting effort

(All I can say is that some days it’s just easier than others!)

Are you having one of those teeth pulling days?  Where you want to do anything else except write?

Why not share your top tip to keep yourself turning up to the page?

Here are a few of mine from a previous post:

Quick, they’re after us!

And if all else fails I remember that I might rant and rail and blow raspberries of epic proportions that scare the dog, but at the end of the day I’m still going to write so I might as well bloomin’ well go on with it.

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2
October

National Poetry Day – Hurray!

When I was about 13 my rather brilliant English teacher brought Roger McGough into school. For me this was the equivalent of meeting Simon Le Bon or Andrew Ridgeley. He was cool.  McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri – those Mersey boys. They broke rules and they played with words in a wicked way.

Ah the power of author visits – and good teachers –  to inspire. Here I am still playing with words today.

And in honour of the Day itself I thought I’d include a few of my own little verses.

 

Lil’s

There’s a shop at the top of our road called Lil’s,
Which has shelves stacked with sweets, under the tills.
There are twisty red laces
And round candy faces,
Sherbert and fizz bombs
And dark chocolate bon bons.
And sometimes, when I am sitting in class
I imagine I’m there, nose pressed to the glass.

 

Who Am I Today?

On Monday I pretend to be
A pirate who’s been wrecked at sea.

On Tuesday I am spiderman,
Shooting webs to foil their plan.

On Wednesday I am Doctor Who
Telling Daleks what to do.

On Thursday I go undercover,
Detecting clues about my brother.

On Friday with my Wizard’s wand
I pull a Princess from a pond.

On Saturday I am a knight,
Wounded by a dragon fight.

On Sunday I am very good
All dressed in green as Robin Hood.

And then I can’t think who to be,
And so I think I’ll just be me.

 

Our Den

Down in the wood where the trees are thick
And the bracken trips you and bites at your knees
We made a den.

And the branches bend low and the leaves whisper,
And no one can see us beneath its green weave.

It’s a den to hide in, a den to find bugs in,
A den to watch rabbits and squirrels go running.

We can sit very still as a woodpecker knocks,
Or leap out from a bush to startle and shock.

But mostly we listen to the sounds of the wood.

The crack of a twig,
The crunch of a leaf,

The song of a bird,
The creak of the trees.

And when we walk home all covered in burrs,
Singing our stories of good Robin Hood,
There is our den left deep in the wood.

 

Apple Tree

Beneath a tree upon the ground
A rosy apple I once found.
I took a bite and there inside
A tiny wriggly worm I spied.
Stepping back in my surprise
I started to apologise,
For my gigantic teeth and jaw
Had eaten most of his front door.
But this tiny little fellow
Tipped his hat and said “Ah, Hello,
I’m so glad that you are here
It’s such a perfect time of year.
Won’t you come and join with me
In scrumptious, juicy, apple tea?”
So now when I do take a bite
Of any apple juicy ripe,
I always like to stop to knock
In case a worm should get a shock.

 

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