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New Frontier Publishers Spotlight

During the half term I was lucky enough to attend an event at the offices of New Frontier Publishing. I always enjoy the books they publish and this was an exciting opportunity to visit, meet key people and see what brilliant new titles are planned for 2020.

It turns out New Frontier have BIG plans for the year and so much for readers to look forward to. Before we left the event, there was the joy of a goodie bag! Books and Chocolate in the shape of books- a perfect treat.

It was so wonderful to put faces to the names I have been emailing over the past few months. We were also treated to a talk from the author and illustrator duo of Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley. Their most recent collaboration is the hugely successful Gregory Goose is on the Loose series. Perfect for younger readers with a chance to find Gregory on each page as he travels through different habitats.

I want to share with you some of the delights from their catalogue and a sample of the titles in our goodie bags!

Written and Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

Blue Whale is singing the blues. He feels sad about his bike and helmet. Luckily, best friend Penguin is on hand to help Blue Whale feel better. With all the right answers to the problems, Penguin helps Blue Whale to stop singing the blues and to laugh a giant blue whale laugh. With a very blue colour palette, you can’t help but feel as though you are under the sea with the cast of this funny book.

Written and Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

A very philosophical book, reading from an adults perspective, asking the question, Why am I here? For children reading the book, the answer is simple- this is a story about the boy. Heart warming and life affirming, this book would make an incredible gift for those philosophical souls in your life. Ultimately the boy is here because he is part of something far greater than he could imagine. A wonderful book and beautifully illustrated.

Written and Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

Sarah carries around a heavy heart and it is really wearing her down. One day she sees a boy flying past her holding a string attached to a heart. His heart is too light and he constantly gets carried away. When they finally meet, Sarah ties their hearts together and the perfect friendship is formed. A stunning story about finding friends and love. The simple illustrations are perfect for the text as they work seamlessly together for a brilliant effect.

Written and Illustrated by Sally Anne Garland

LOVE- what we need and crave most! Mouse is loved and protected by his mother. She warns him of the bear who is big and dangerous. Mouse, as he grows, gets bolder and ventures further from home, exploring. There is so much wonder and beauty to discover in the world. When Mouse finally meets Bear, he sees only kindness in his eyes. Perhaps he isn’t scary after all. When a terrible storm rages, Mouse finds safety in a cave with Bear, feeling LOVE. This is one of those books that stays with you!

As you can see, there is a lot to look forward to in 2020 from New Frontier! I would love to share a picture of the chocolates but they didn’t last long. They were delicious though!

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Local to Me Author Spotlight! Sophie Green

Thank you so much to talented and local to Suffolk writer Sophie Green for her blog post today! She is utterly lovely and her trilogy, Potkin and Stubbs, is gaining the attention it deserves! This is a trilogy not to be missed! She has kindly signed a copy of the third book, Ghostcatcher, and I am hosting a giveaway on twitter! Good Luck! Read on for a guest post from the charming Sophie Green!

Potkin and Stubbs: a three-book story

Potkin and Stubbs is the tale of Lil Potkin, an aspiring teenage reporter on the lookout for a big scoop. One rainy night in Peligan City Lil meets Nedly Stubbs, a mysterious boy that only she can see, and finds a story more extraordinary than she could have imagined and an adventure that will change both their lives forever.

When I started writing it back in 2012, the first time I pictured Nedly he was sitting alone and ignored in the bus station where Lil would soon find him. Not long after that I imagined a pivotal scene from near the end of their tale. For these particular children, in that kind of city, the arc of the story felt inevitable. I knew what had to happen at the beginning and where it would lead Lil and Nedly and why, long before I understood how they would get there. 

I had to solve some of the mysteries myself as I pinned the plot down, but as I started to map out the road in between those two moments I soon realised that it would take three books to tell the whole tale. I was lucky that my publisher saw it the same way.

It wasn’t all roses; in this golden age of children’s books it is a competitive and crowded market and books are easily forgotten if there is too big a gap between release dates.  I had taken five years to write the first book, now I had less than one to write the second and only six months for the third, but even though it was hard-going the speed was exhilarating too, like a Rocky training montage.

One of the benefits is the total immersion in the story; there’s no time to think of anything else. I lived and breathed the rain-soaked air of Peligan City. 

In the years I had spent writing the first book I had invested a lot in really getting to know and love Lil, Nedly and the battered old detective who helps them, Abe Mandrel, and once your characters become real and believable to you then half the battle is won. You can put them into any situation and predict their reactions and what they will do next. They drive the story forwards, usually following your story map, but not always. 

Three books gave me plenty of time to enrich their story world; introduce more minor characters and let them develop, to create substantial arcs and subplots, it gave me space to explore new locations and ideas and delve deeper into Peligan City’s history.

I soon discovered that writing books in quick succession is also a big help in maintaining the style of a story and the characters voices, quirks and abilities, and remembering practical details especially in terms of the geography, so there is less chance of continuity errors. It’s good for keeping track of loose ends. 

But the cycle of book creation and publication means that authors are often promoting one book while writing its sequel so fear of spoiler alerts haunts my every Q&A. I’ll be over the moon when all three books are out and I can talk about the whole story freely.

My years of hanging out with Lil, Nedly and Abe, have been amazing and I got choked up more than once when I was writing Ghostcatcher, in part because I knew this would be the last adventure we would have together. I’m sure that there are many stories of Peligan City left to tell; I’ve had some great ideas for future books from readers; focusing on other characters, or skipping forward or back a generation, but for me now it’s time to begin a new story, somewhere completely different. . . 

Ghostcatcher (Potkin and Stubbs 3) will be published on March 5th2020 by Piccadilly Press

Peligan City is still haunted and City Hall’s initiative to solve the problem is an outfit called Ghostcatcher. Every night they patrol the streets with their high-tech equipment, following reports of spectral activity. But they are only hunting one spook now; the Herald calls it the Final Ghost and it is public enemy number one. 

But to Lil Potkin he is Nedly Stubbs, her investigative partner and best friend.

Now an apprentice reporter for the Klaxon, Lil manages to talk her way into a job shadowing intrepid journalist Marsha Quake, who is writing a feature on Ghostcatcher. 

And so, with Lil’s help Nedly is able to stay one step ahead of the game, but for how long?

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Little Tiger Wonders

I always adore picture books from Little Tiger Press. They are quirky, fun and imaginative. There can also be an underlying message of hope, friendship and belonging. The books featured tonight are just lovely and I am so pleased to have copies to read and enjoy.

A Little Bit Worried by Ciara Gavin and Tim Warnes.

Weasel finds himself stuck in a storm and feels very small and worried. He builds a home and feels safe and warm until one day a surprise guest arrives. Mole wants to play but Weasel is too worried to have fun and play games. A problem shared is a problem halved and so Weasel tells of his fear. Wise old Mole shares his perspective on the storm and shows Weasel how to face his fears. A very sweet tale of facing your fears with a friend at your side. Gorgeously illustrated and perfect for young children who may find storms scary too.

Don’t Mess with Duck by Becky Davies and Emma Levey

Duck doesn’t want to be social or friendly, he just wants peace and quiet. Traipsing away from his pond, he tries several others with little success of finding the oasis he craves. When a quiet place is finally found, Duck realises it is already home to Frog. Agreeing to avoid each other, they settle into a calm routine. When a surprise splashes into their pond, they realise they have formed a friendship and begin to welcome others to their oasis. Brightly illustrated, this is a gorgeous book to share.

Supermouse and the Big Cheese Robbery by MN Tahl and Mark Chambers

With peek through pages, lift the flaps and other delightful paper engineering, this book is awesome. Stunning illustrations and paper folding ensure the reader will be entertained for the whole mystery. When the Big Cheese is stolen, only one mouse can be relied upon to save the day, Supermouse. But, hot on the trail of the cheese, Supermouse gets trapped. Is this the end of the city’s hero? Surely not! Flip the flaps and lift the pages to find out what happens next.

Unicorn Club by Suzy Senior and Leire Martin

When Amy advertises a Unicorn Club, she is excited for her friends to arrive. When no one arrives, Amy sadly goes to her treehouse and finds the ultimate surprise waiting for her. Unicorns! They are all thrilled to join the club, have crafts and snacks together. Moving from the cramped treehouse to the garage, there is space for dancing and painting. Having so much fun together, they already have plans made for the next meeting. The illustrations in this book are bright and bold and delightful. How I wish I could join in with the club!

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The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

Written by L.D. Lapinski, Publishing by Orion (Hachette) 30 April, 2020

This was a highlight for me! I was so impressed and excited when it came up on Netgalley. Proof copies are incredibly hard to come by sometimes and I was squealing with delight to get approval to read the ebook.

2020 is set to be a bumper year for children’s fiction and this will be leading the way.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency looks neglected, lonely and forgotten. Jonathan Mercator is the young successor owning the shop and he is sarcastic, sad and lonely, until he meets Flick.
Flick has an incredible urge to travel the world, she wants to visit as many places as possible, but she isn’t sure how she will ever do it. Her map sits empty of pins for places she has been. Exploring her new town, Flick feels a sense of curiosity when she glimpses The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. Picking up a broken piece of magnifying glass, Flick can see glittering and a crack in the air. Jonathan quickly reacts and grabs the opportunity to welcome her to the Society. Here begins an incredulous adventure and the start of a new friendship.

Flick and Jonathan join forces and are on a quest to find out what happened to Jonathan’s father. They must visit each place contained within a suitcase. Once you open a suitcase, there is another world waiting for you, with people, currency and towns. However, you must be careful and follow the strict Society rules. Flick needs to learn these quickly or else they could become stuck in a suitcase.

As with any brilliant book, there are plot twists and turns, courageous moments and baddies! This book has it all and I so wish I could step into another world via a suitcase! Flick and Jonathan are fantastic, well written and thoughtful characters. We learn just enough to keep us guessing through this book and know we will learn more in the second and third in the series.

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The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

Written by Lucy Worsley
Publishing April 2020 by Bloomsbury

This is an intriguing read and a new perspective on the Austen Family. Knowing of Jane’s brilliance in writing, the rest of her family were lesser known to me…this has helped to extend my knowledge of the family and perhaps some reasons into Jane’s spinsterhood.

Delving into the next generation of Austen’s, this story is focused mainly on Fanny and Anna, cousins in the Austen extended family. Both are of marrying age and are being introduced into society and attending plenty of balls. At times, the stresses of finding a husband take over and the girls need to find their feet in this new expectation on them.

Fanny has trouble connecting with her mother, who is constantly busy with the 9 other children in the family and so Aunt Jane is relied upon by both Fanny and Anna. Fanny, the more serious cousin, is daunted by the thought of finding a husband, whereas Anna is more flirty and eager. When an engagement is announced between Anna and clergyman, Mr Terry, Fanny is jealous and unsure of the match.

Relying on advice from Aunt Jane, Fanny learns news ways to help. It was lovely to see Aunt Jane as a member of the growing family, and to see her as a mysterious figure to the family. She leads Fanny on a mission to save Mr Drummer, their clergyman when he is falsely accused of theft.

Fanny and Mr Drummer feel a bond together and just when we think a proposal is imminent, disaster strikes the family and everything changes for Fanny. I was devastated for Fanny and felt real emotion at how quickly life changed for the women in the Austen family, and the level of expectation on young girls.

This story is dramatic and full of Regency rules and views of marriage. It has inspired me to learn more about the Austen family and to follow the family tree to see where they all fit together.

I think knowing that the author, Lucy Worsley, has an incredible knowledge of history and it’s heroines, makes this book more credible and interesting.

I could happily read more of the Austen family and will be watching out for more books from Lucy Worsley!

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The Pear Affair, Judith Eagle, Faber March 2020

C’est tres bien!

This is an incredible book. An adventure from beginning to end, with a cast of fantastic characters, the city of light and baddies set on destroying the boulangeries across the city.

Nell, a neglected, unwanted child, is home for the school holidays, much to her parents disapproval. She manages to convince them to take her to Paris with them, promising not to cause trouble or make a scene. Nell’s previous Au Pair Perrine, Pear for short is Parisian and so Nell believes this is her one big chance at finding Pear again.

Nell believes she knows where Pear lives and works but is quickly told otherwise. There is a mystery to be solved as to why Pear was fired and where she has gone. Finding herself embroiled with gangs of underground children, Nell starts to find clues and added mysteries to solve. Some of the book is set in the tunnels running under the city, creating a dark and daring atmosphere for Nell and the children.

From reading plenty of children’s fiction, I know that 12 year old girls are fierce, independent and entirely capable of bringing down the bad guys. Nell is no different. She puts forth a plan, asks for help from new friends and finds her way in the world. Her parents are strangely detached and mysterious. When she finds them hiding out in Paris, she decides to figure them out once and for all. Ending up with her mother’s all important handbag, Nell is finally set to get some answers.

I was hooked by this story and loved Nell. There are plenty of twists and turns to take you by surprise and a glorious city to explore with Nell. A perfect book to keep you company on a train to Paris!

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Demelza & The Spectre Detectors

Written by Holly Rivers, Illustrated by Alex T Smith, Published by Chicken House

This is a hotly anticipated MG book and I am so thrilled to have read it and be part of the blog tour. Holly Rivers has shared some information about she builds a scrapbook of interesting pictures that help her to create her story. Incredible photos from her scrapbook have been shared today as well!

Scrapbooking a Story

by Holly Rivers

It’s fascinating how differently us writers approach our craft.  Some writers are plotters — those whomake a detailed plan before they start drafting, and stick to it rigorously without much room for change. Then, on the other end of the spectrum there are pantsters — people who write by ‘the seat of their pants’ and revel in the flexibility of not knowing what might happen next.

I, however, would describe myself as…a scrapbooker!

Like my inventor protagonist Demelza, I’m a really visual thinker, and my brain relies heavily on pictures, images and doodles. So for every writing project that I start, I make an Inspiration Scrapbook to generate ideas and aid me on my journey. 

Whether you’re writing a middle-grade adventure, a YA horror, or a fantastical chapter book, scrapbooking is liberating, fun and massively freeing for the imagination. I find it allows me to visualise my characters and locations really clearly before I start drafting, and it also helps me establish the specific tone or mood I want to convey in my writing. Anything and everything can go into a scrapbook: pictures from newspapers, magazine cuttings, maps, postcards, dried flowers, scraps of fabric, buttons, photographs, stamps, train tickets…even sweet wrappers.

When I sit down to write, I like to have my scrapbooks open by my side, and allow their pages to guide me from chapter to chapter. For example, a piece of vintage wallpaper might inspire the decor in a protagonists attic bedroom; an old photograph might rouse a mysterious piece of backstory; an interesting obituary in a newspaper might motivate a new plot point; and an unusually pigmented paint-swatch might lead to a description of a stormy sky. Each treasure that I stick in my scrapbook helps me to build a richer picture of the story I’m working on, and allows me to engage on a really tactile level with the world I’m trying to build.

So here are a few cherished pages from the scrapbooks I created for Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, which I hope will inspire you to get out your scissors and pritt-stick, and start scrapbooking your stories too.

A huge thank you to Holly Rivers for providing this piece and for the inspiration to get scrapbooking. I especially love the photo labelled Grandma Maeve!

Thank you to Laura Smythe and Chicken House for the book to read and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

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The House of Hidden Wonders

Written by Sharon Gosling, Publishing 2020 by Little Tiger

I am lucky enough to have read this on Netgalley and did so on the very day it was downloaded.

Within pages I was hooked on the story of Zinnie, Sadie and Nell. I love that the story is set in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities. Zinnie, Sadie and Nell are “sisters” living in a crowded, derelict building with dozens of others who are too poor and unable to provide for themselves, and to get out of this situation.

Running from the police in the first chapter and saving her sisters, you start to make assumptions about Zinnie. Perhaps she is a typical street urchin of the time period, stealing for money and food. However, we should never assume, for what you learn of Zinnie as you read further will amaze and impress you. She is a wonderful main character and one I truly enjoyed following throughout the story.

When she later walks into the home of Arthur Conan Doyle, the story really gets interesting. One of literature’s greats can only mean one thing- mysteries to solve! This encounter with Conan Doyle is not the first nor the last but it does open up new characters and fortuitous events for Zinnie.

My heart was hammering and I had to force myself to slow down and not skip ahead throughout much of this book. I kept wanting to peek ahead and check on the characters but must admit I enjoyed it more by devouring every single word!

Zinnie has a penchant for trouble and danger but she is incredibly quick witted and clever. We rely upon her street smarts and attention to details as the mysteries are unravelled and inter-connected. She rivals Conan Doyle in her deducing skills and sleuthing abilities. Her loyalty to those she trusts is unwavering.

The House of Hidden Wonders is set to open soon with curiosities collected from around the world by Phineas MacDuff. While Zinnie is watching a seance performed in the house of Lady Sarah Montague (at the request of Conan Doyle), MacDuff makes Zinnie nervous and wary, and with good reason- he is not who he says or seems. This very same evening, Zinnie is introduced to Dr Sophia JexBlake- one of the first female doctors in Scotland. Lady Sarah and Dr Sophia fight the constraints of polite society in adventuring and studying.

The plot well and truly thickens with the arrival of a ghostly spectre and horrendous noise in the derelict home of the poorest in Old Edinburgh. The littlest sister, Nell becomes quite ill and Zinnie is caught in the midst of several interlocking problems. Danger lurks everywhere in Old Edinburgh and even with offers of help from Lady Sarah and Dr Sophia, Zinnie still feels a huge sense of loyalty and responsibility for her sisters. This extends to new sisters Aelfine and her pet monkey Ruby.

I was awe struck at the genius of this book and could not find any point suitable for a break. I had to know what happened next, how Zinnie solved the problems and what exactly the removed ears had to do with it all. So much intense plot and interconnectedness- it was completely beguiling.

Powerful, emotive and atmospheric. I can guarantee you will want to devour this book and will fall in love with Zinnie- her loyalty, love and instincts are admirable. Genius book!

Add it to your wishlists or pre-order now!

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Picture Book Perfect

Five new books to read, share and love!

The Grizzly Itch by Victoria Cassanell, Published by Macmillan

Bear has just come out of hibernation and feels an “unBEARable” itch. He just can’t reach it but luckily he knows of the perfect tree to scratch that scratch! Unfortunately, Bear is not the only Bear with an itch to scratch. He joins the queue but when it is finally his turn, something terrible happens. Beaver is on hand to help Bear find another tree. The new friends learn they can help each other in new and wonderful ways.

This is a beautifully illustrated debut picture book. I adore the style of illustrations and the message of unexpected surprises from new friendships.

The Incredible Hotel by Kate Davies and Isabelle Follath, Published by Frances Lincoln/Quarto

Stefan, the kitchen porter, is the under appreciated yet integral cog in the clockwork run Incredible Hotel. He starts every morning and ends every evening, and is essential in between. Stefan harbours a secret dream of baking and creating cake masterpieces, and wishes this dream could come true.

When the hotel announces that The Duchess of Delauney will be staying, it all starts to go terribly wrong for Stefan. Instead of being asked to help, he is told to leave. Without Stefan, everything goes wrong in the hotel. There is only one thing that can save the day and the hotel- an incredible profiterole tower.

A brilliant book with stunning and detailed illustrations, sure to make you crave profiteroles!

A Fox called Herbert by Margaret Sturton, Published by Andersen Press

Herbert is a rabbit but he loves Foxes! Starting with making new ears to painting his body, Herbert is trying very hard to be a good Fox. Sadly, Mum just wants him to be a good rabbit. Spotting a particularly “Foxy” looking dress, Herbert cuts into it to make the perfect fox tail.

Using all the pieces of his Fox costume, Herbert goes out to play with the foxes. Finding himself in trouble with Mum yet again, Herbert needs to make Mum understand- he can’t be a good rabbit because he is a Fox.

A wonderful book with powerful messages hidden inside. Herbert can’t be one thing when he feels he is something else entirely. Why can’t Mum just understand and accept him? A lovely book with wonderful illustrations.

The Pirates are Coming by John Condon and Matt Hunt, Published by Nosy Crow

This delightfully funny book starts out as a nod to The Boy who cried Wolf. Tom waits patiently at the top of the hill everyday and when he spies a boat in the harbour he runs through the town shouting, “The Pirates are Coming”, encouraging everyone to hide.

Tom gets it wrong time and time again, with his Dan gently and patiently calming him down and explaining in greater detail just what a pirate ship is- big, fast and with a special pirate flag.

Keeping in line with the famous story, Tom again waits on the Hill and again runs through the town shouting, but this time, no one hides until it is almost too late- the Pirates are here! A funny twist and surprise ending will delight readers. The illustrations are ingenious especially when you look for the townspeople hiding. A complete joy to read!

I am NOT an Elephant by Karl Newson and Ross Collins, Published by Macmillan

A sequel to the hugely popular I am a Tiger, this is an equally funny and silly book. Fiesty and bold mouse is having another case of mistaken identity. The animals seem to think he is an Elephant, or a sm-elephant. Mouse tries to convince them otherwise.

Mouse is well versed in animal languages, although he doesn’t seem to make the sounds we expect them too! Mouse or Moose, is not an Elephant but he does have a powerful message to share, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts, don’t you think?”. Lovely Mouse and a brilliant message! Perfect for sharing and reading aloud!

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The Power of Picture Books

This is a new type of blog post for me, although it is about one of my favourite topics- picture books! Sometimes you come across a book that is much much more than just a story or a picture book- something powerful and emotive and stunning!

The Power of Picture Books will hopefully prove just how widely used a picture book can be, how it can inspire, evoke imagination and promote empathy.

The first in this series features Extraordinary! By Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson. It is published by New Frontier Publishing.

Being a nature lover I was immediately captivated by the front cover. A beautiful scene of stunning Autumnal colours, a young boy and his dog and what looks to be an adventure. I also loved the title Extraordinary!, a word I wish I used more in my daily life!

This book is not an adventure for just the boy and his dog but for the reader. Beginning with a question, “Have you ever had an extraordinary wish?”. A question that asking those with huge imaginations sparks conversations and fun. A question that makes you think.

Stemming from the wild and wonderful wishes are the reminders of what you already have and do that are amazing. This books encourages its readers, young and old, to remember fondly, those experiences and events that form their world. Whether a family camping trip, fun in the snow or swinging on the swings. Those moments that bring a smile to your face. These ordinary moments are actually extraordinary.

This is a book that encourages children to dream big and aim high! It reminds them to relive the memories they love the most. I adored this book and the illustrations are powerful and match the text in its power for the reader.