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Cover Reveal for THE EYE OF THE NORTH!

Meeting your book’s jacket for the first time is a heady experience. People compare it to having a child, but it’s not 100% the same (and I should know…) When you meet your child, you’re bound to think it’s the most beautiful baby the world has ever known. There has never been a bonnier child. No eyes have ever been sparklier nor any nose more buttony, and so on.

But with a book jacket? Well. You have no idea how it will look (unless you’ve been heavily involved, which is unlikely); you sometimes don’t know the artist or their work, and you wonder if they’ll be able to ‘get’ your vision (if that doesn’t sound too precious). You worry that they’ll draw your heroine all wrong, or that they’ll put her in a flouncy gown when the book very clearly states she wears a studded armour-plated suit at all times, or whatever.

In my case, the artist (Jeff Nentrup, by the way – check him out, he’s aces) created a cover which was exactly like the one I wanted but which I would have had no chance of creating myself. It was precisely what I dreamed of in terms of layout, style and colouring. The lettering is amazing. It just smacks of professionalism, skill and – dare I say it? – a total cohesion of my vision and his for what the book is about. And all this, without me ever having had a conversation with, or even having met, Mr Nentrup. If he’s reading – *waves* – you’re awesome!

In short, I was blown away.

And now, without dragging this out any further, I present to you (tah-dah!) the cover for my book, The Eye of the North, which is forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers in August 2017. Isn’t she a beaut?

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Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.

Thanks to you all for still being here, for bearing with me during the last few chaotic months, and for sharing this wonderful journey. The first place I shared the seeds of Emmeline and Thing’s story was on this blog, and now here we have the cover of their very own book. Life, sometimes, is an amazing and funny thing.

I hope you like the cover! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know!

Ticking On

Recently, I had a birthday. Not a significant one (insofar as anything as ephemeral as a day can ever be significant – but you know what I mean); it was just another day, here one moment and gone the next. I’m lucky insofar as I was born at my favourite time of year (I wonder if the two are connected? Hmm) and I love these days and weeks of change, when autumn becomes winter, leaves begin to brown and fall, and the days grow short. There are those who believe that the lack of light during the darker months can lead to mental health problems and depression – a condition called S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder – and, while believing absolutely that such a condition exists and can be hugely debilitating, sometimes I feel like I have its exact opposite.

Long summer days make me anxious. The encroaching cold darkness of winter, however? That I love. Does it make me odd? Well. Maybe a little.

A few days ago, I bundled the baby up and out we went for a walk, a lung-and-leg-stretcher, and it was beautiful. I took a few photos of our surroundings, because I thought the trees looked particularly pretty. Of course, the version I managed to capture didn’t do justice to the light-filled, colourful mess that appeared before me in real life; it serves to remind me, though, of a moment that has now passed and will never be experienced again. The baby will never be exactly that age again. Neither will I. In fact my age differed by a whole digit when these photos were taken. This day will never be lived again.

This season – the one we’re starting into – will only happen once.

Time ticks on. Over the past few weeks the world has become a darker place for some, including me. I am dismayed by the turn world politics has taken into a harsher, colder regime, and I am fearful for the future. Every generation has something which scares it: for me, as a child, it was the threat of nuclear war. It seemed nebulous from my perspective, but from my parents’, it must have been horrifying. My father remembers a vivid dream he once had, in which he roused the whole house, urging my mother to get us children dressed and ready to run for the hills, because the ‘enemy’ was coming. The bomb had been dropped. The tanks were rolling up our street.

Of course, it was only happening inside his mind. But, thirty years later, he still remembers it.

Thirty years have passed, and now I am the parent. Now, I am the one who has a child to dress and care for and who has to worry about the world changing dangerously out of my control, and who doesn’t know how to keep this child safe in the face of what seems like an inescapable darkness. So I walk, my baby safe in a sturdy pram, wrapped in blankets and muffled in a hat, tiny fingers pointing and a little voice calling ‘Birdie! Tree! Wow!’ and I tell myself: time ticks on. This day will pass, and the next, and the one after that. With luck, time will bring me and my child with it, twigs in the flood.

When my child is the age I am now, another threat will be facing the world. Another darkness will be enveloping us. My child may have children by then; I may be living, or I may not be. Either way, the dark seasons will keep returning.

Time will keep ticking on.

The leaves will keep turning brown, and falling, and regenerating the soil.

Days will shorten. Then, they will grow long again, only to grow short once more.

And all we can do is keep our children safe, remember that love is stronger than anything – including death – and that all will pass into history one day, including the tyrants and despots who sell our future for profit, who bluster and blast their way into power simply for the thrill of being there, and who gamble with all our lives.

I hope things will turn out for the best. I hope the world I hand to my child will be better than the one my parents worked to hand to me. I hope, and time ticks on, and that is all anyone can do.

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Autumnal Walk Photo credit: S.J. O’Hart

 

 

It’s Aliiiiive!

Yes. Hello. I am, in case you may have been wondering, still here and still beavering away; beavering so assiduously, in fact, at so many different things, that I don’t often get time to venture into WordPress-topia, even just to see the sights. My main preoccupation, of course, is currently tootling around on the floor at my feet, chewing on something and leaving a trail of drool which is, frankly, a health hazard – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby is now almost one year old (the thought is frightening. Where has the last year gone?) and I’m about to get stuck into the copy-edits for The Eye of the North, which is exciting.

Oh, and by the by, I’ve seen a draft of the cover art for the aforementioned novel. It’s glorious. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

But really I’m here today to do two things: mark the fact that it’s been four years since I started blogging – four years! – and also to jump on the coattails of my very good friend and extremely talented blogger, who goes by the name Fairweather Paddler around these parts, by answering some questions which she posed on her blog (Home Grown Heaven) as part of her recent nomination for a Liebster award.

Not, of course, that she tagged me in said Liebster award post. But why should that stop me answering her fantastic questions?

Alors. Off we go.

What drives you up the wall in people?

I hate it when people refuse to see other points of view. It’s like people are so terrified of being wrong that they can’t bear to accept the idea that other people might know better than they do about certain things. This, in my humblest opinion, is silly.

What is it that draws you to new people the most?

Meep. Well, a few things combined, probably. If they’re making interesting conversation, showing curiosity, open-mindedness and an eagerness to learn more about the world, on top of a sense of humour and an aura of kindness, then I’m suckered.

What was the biggest shock about becoming a parent?

The all-consuming terror. The terror, before your baby arrives, that something will go wrong, and the terror after they arrive that something will happen to them. I really hadn’t expected that. I’m still not used to parcelling it away, leaving it on a high shelf so that I can get on with enjoying my child’s presence, in the moment.

What one thing would you recommend to new parents?

To keep their baby close, particularly when they’re small. Not to listen to advice which says ‘put your baby in a crib/Moses basket/cot, so you can get your life back/have a cup of tea/watch the TV’ – maybe this attitude isn’t prevalent elsewhere, but when my baby was tiny it was something I encountered a lot. My instinct was to keep my baby close, in contact with me, right over my heart, and I think instinct is there for a reason. Keep your little ones close while you can, is my advice.

What’s your go-to store-cupboard-is-empty meal?

Erm. Sandwiches? I don’t know. I normally have pasta in stock at all times, and I’m always swimming in green olives (I have an addiction, don’t judge me), and I normally have either passata, or chopped tomatoes, or tomato puree, or tomato pesto – sometimes all four! – somewhere in my kitchen. So, that makes a tasty, if not very hearty, meal.

Why blog?

Why not?

To make friends. To connect with people. To feel like I’m making a contribution to the world’s store of knowledge. And to pass the time.

Best place you have travelled to and why?

Malta, which was where I honeymooned. Not necessarily because of the honeymoon aspect, but because it was spectacular, in terms of scenery and culture and language and history and just about everything. I would dearly love to return someday.

Any hidden talents?

If I had, I wouldn’t be telling you about them.

What talent do you wish you had?

Coordination. It would be nice to be able to move with grace and fluidity, instead of like an arthritic hippo. My body is a wonderland and has done many things, and it’s strong and capable and sturdy, but by God. It’d be nice to feel like I was a Cadillac instead of a Humvee, just once.

Where do you find your village?

I have excellent friends. Some of them I see a lot; others only rarely. Some of them I talk to all the time, and others I ‘speak’ to only online. But they are my people, and I couldn’t be without them.

What are you most proud of in life?

The fact that I came through the darkest months of my life after the baby was born and that I’m now out the other side, more or less, and learning every day how to be a better mother. I’m proud that I didn’t crumble when it felt like the whole world had collapsed upon me.

Oh, and I’m proud that I wrote a book, too, and that it’s being published. Have I mentioned that already?

So, there you are. Apologies once again for the irregularity of my updates. I hope this missive finds you all well, and I hope to be back soon with more news of frightfully amazing cover art… To that end, did you know you can now follow me on Instagram, too? Check me out there, where I’ll hopefully be unveiling some teasers for the book jacket as soon as I can. And, until next time, stay awesome – and keep reading.

 

 

 

 

 

*Sigh*. It’s Complicated.

You may remember this post, when I told y’all that my book, The Eye of the North, was all set for publication next February 14.

Yeah.

Well.

Y’see.

Publishing’s a complicated business. There are lots of layers to it, rather like a cake (though publishing’s probably a bit harder to eat, not that I’ve tried). Many people are making decisions, and there are hundreds of variables to take into account (some of them to do with things like ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’, which bring me out in a rash) and dates for publication get shoved around all the time.

And for that reason, the clever folk at Knopf (who know about things like markets, and sales, and all that stuff) have decided to push back the release of The Eye of the North a little, until August 22, 2017. So, it won’t be in your sweaty little mitts next spring, after all. More like next ‘fall’, to use the lovely American term. Which suits, in a way, because the book is a bit wintry, a bit of an ‘end of year’ story, and one that lends itself well to longer, darker evenings tucked in beside the fire.

That doesn’t mean I’m not sad that it’s delayed. And it doesn’t mean I’m not a little embarrassed to have to write this post. But these things do happen, and they happen to better and more established writers than me.

Anyway, it gives me more time to get everyone’s appetites whetted, and to drum up some excitement, and to come up with clever ways to keep everyone interested in my little story. This will include (all in good time) a cover reveal, and maybe a little competition or two to keep things peppy. We’ll see how it goes.

My apologies if (you’re my mother and) you were looking forward to the book being released in February – I hope the delay will make you keener, rather than the opposite. Any further updates I have will be posted here on the blog, and I want to thank everyone who was so congratulatory and kind when I announced the previous publication date. I don’t always have time these days to respond to messages – but I read them all and I’m very grateful for every one. Thank you!

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A suitably borealis-y night sky to get you all in the mood… Image: unsplash.com Photographer: Priscilla Westra

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence’

It’s wonderful to read a book which leaves you feeling, with every page, that you’ve just drunk a large cup of warm tea (or coffee, or hot chocolate, or whatever is your comfort beverage of choice) – not to suggest that The Uncommoners is cutesy, or twee, or in any sense bland. It’s not. What I mean is, it’s such a great story, so well told, that it just leaves you feeling satisfied, completely happy with your lot, and glad to have made the acquaintance of so many great characters in such a perfect setting. I don’t think I’ve read a better Middle Grade fantasy book in a long time.

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence is the debut novel of Jennifer Bell, who happens to be a fellow Greenhouser. She and I share an agent, though we don’t know one another in real life (so my review isn’t in the slightest bit biased!) I heard about her book several years ago, through our agent, and I’ve been dying to read it ever since. It was well worth the wait.

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The fabulous cover of Jennifer Bell’s ‘The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence’ (UK paperback edition, Random House 2016)

The book tells the story of Ivy Sparrow and her older brother Seb, who we meet on the dramatic night their beloved Granma Sylvie is rushed to hospital after a fall. Their parents are both at work and can’t get to the hospital for several hours, so Ivy and Seb need to look after Granma as best they can. While in the hospital, Ivy notices a strange man with very odd hands who seems to be looking for someone; he gives her the creeps, but eventually she and Seb have to go home. But when they get there, they find the place ransacked and – weirdest of all – a feather, suspended in midair, leaving an eerie message scratched into the wall of Granma’s kitchen.

Next thing they know, a coach and four complete with black plumes is arriving at their door and they’re being pursued by a strange man who appears to be some sort of police officer – though one armed with a toilet brush instead of a gun – and they’re being helped to escape through a suitcase by a strange boy named Valian. They end up in a place called Lundinor, which exists beneath the London they know, and is a teeming market for ‘uncommon’ objects – everyday things (like toilet brushes) which have secret powers to do odd and unexpected things. Here, a yoyo can defeat a selkie, and bells can speak.

It turns out that Granma Sylvie – who has lost the memory of her life before Twelfth Night, 1969, when she was involved in an accident as a young woman – is far more complex and intriguing than the children first thought. They are thrown headlong into a mystery tying their family to the fate of Lundinor, a generations’-old conspiracy, and the adventure of their lives as they try to get to grips with this strange new place and the scary new truths about their family.

Oh, and that’s not mentioning the fact that their parents are kidnapped somewhere along the way, threatened with certain death unless Ivy and Seb return the Great Uncommon Good, an object which they’re believed to have stolen – but of which they’ve never heard a word before their adventure begins. Can they uncover the truth, save their parents (and their dear Granma), and sort out the complexities of Lundinor, before midnight?

This book is fantastic. It’s wonderfully written, perfectly paced, full of excellent touches of folklore, particularly the lore of London (the bells of St Clements, for instance) and peopled with fantastic characters. Seb is so ‘real’ I felt I knew him personally; Ivy a wonderful, brave heroine. Granma is wonderful, as is her old-new friend Ethel. The baddies are superb (and genuinely frightening). But the best part is Lundinor. I adored everything about this ‘other’ world, which reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s London Below. It was so well described and perfectly imagined that it felt like you were walking its streets as you read. It’s a book i didn’t want to end – and one for which I’m glad there are sequels in the pipeline!

I don’t tend to give ‘star’ ratings, but this one is an Uncommon Ten, and no mistake. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Brava, Jennifer Bell!

Fancy a Date?

Guys, guys, guys. How have you all been?

Life is insane for me at the moment. I miss this blog so much – believe me, I do – but I just never get time to sit into my comfy old blogging seat (grey with dust at this stage) and update you all on what’s happening in my life.

Well, to be fair, not a lot is actually happening, on a day-to-day basis, besides keeping myself and a baby alive, (mostly) clean, and fairly well fed, but that in itself is an achievement.

It’s not what you lot signed up for, though, is it? No. No, it is not. You signed up for hot-off-the-presses insights into the publishing industry, sizzling updates from the coalface of writing, incisive commentary on the cutthroat world of children’s literature. Right? And, finally, I have something sort of like that to share, so I’m here to tell you about it for as long as baby’s nap lasts. In other words, not long.

Onwards!

So. First things first. My little book – you may remember it, it’s called The Eye of the North – now has its own Goodreads page. How exciting! It also has its own page on Amazon.com, which is thrilling also. If you’d like to, you know, go and pre-order it or mark it as ‘to read’, I’d be… well. I’d be tongue-tied with gratitude, frankly. There’s a wonderful blurb all about it on both those fine websites, which should whet the most arid of appetites, and I’m being compared to the great Karen Foxlee, which is just… mind-boggling, and it all feels so insanely real now.

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Squee! Photo Credit: MsSaraKelly via Compfight cc

I can also reveal the date my book will (hopefully) be published – February 14th, 2017. Yes, that’s right. Valentine’s Day. All those years I sat fruitlessly by the front door of my parents’ house waiting for cards from admirers to drop through can suck it, frankly. Next Valentine’s Day, my book is going to be published.

In America and Canada. In hardcover! By Knopf/Random House Children’s Books.

(As you might have guessed from the italics, I’m rather excited).

No Valentine’s card (well, all right, excepting one from my husband and/or baby) can compare with that.

I will hopefully have a cover to share with you all very soon, and when I get the go-ahead from on high I’ll splash it all over the place… I mean, tastefully and unobtrusively draw attention to it. And after that, all I have to do is wait for the big day!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off. I have excited bouncing to do and a baby’s lunch to make. Ta-ta for now, but I hope there’ll be loads more exciting news very soon!

 

 

Book Review – ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’

TL;DR – just buy and read this book already, okay? And when you’re done, let me know so we can enthuse about it together.

KOTBD

Image: penguin.co.uk

Longer version: hoo wee.

Right. So, you know when you’re editing your own work, and you’re getting on fairly well (or, at least, you’re getting on with it) and you come up against a book you’ve been wanting to read for ages? And you crumble in the face of temptation, and you read the long-awaited book?

Well. Normally, that would be okay. But when the book is Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark, you may just have a problem. Because this book is good. Really, really good. So good that it makes everything else around it seem like dross, much like a thousand-watt bulb will drown out a candle flame. As a result, reading your own work in tandem with it is likely to bring on existential dread.

At least, it did for me.

KOTBD is the story of orphan Denizen Hardwick, who lives in Crosscaper Orphanage on Ireland’s west coast. He and his best mate Simon have lived in the orphanage all their lives, and things are pretty grim – but not, on the whole, as grim as they could be. No, there’s plenty of space for things to get way worse – and that happens around the time Denizen turns thirteen. Firstly, two very weird (and extremely spooky) visitors come calling to Crosscaper looking for him (though they go away empty-handed, at least at first), and secondly he discovers he has an aunt he never knew about, who sends her employee to go and pick him up so they can have a heart-to-heart. Naturally, learning about long-lost family, to an orphan, is a bit of a bittersweet thing; great to have an aunt, but why on earth has she never come forward until now?

It all becomes clear when Denizen is on his way to his aunt’s house in Dublin in the company of Grey, her second-in-command. They’re ambushed on the road by something Denizen can’t find words to describe – a creature made of darkness and debris, so powerful it tears a hole in the fabric of reality in order to try to wipe him out. But Grey fights it off, and after a sugary tea (for the shock), they’re on their way again.

But Grey refuses to answer Denizen’s questions. In fact, Denizen has a bunch of questions, and nobody seems interested in answering them.

In Dublin, Denizen realises his aunt lives in an embassy-style building, though the flag isn’t one he’s familiar with. He meets the members of her household, and he marvels at the weirdness of the place – but all that pales into insignificance when he meets his aunt herself. Easily the most impressive female character I think I’ve ever read, I loved Vivian Hardwick from the second I ‘met’ her, despite her initial coldness towards her nephew. Resplendent and powerful and afraid of nothing, this is a woman I would cheer for (from a safe distance). She is a powerful and accomplished member of an ancient order of warriors who set themselves against the Tenebrae, or the creatures of darkness – and, as Denizen soon learns, the same power of Light is in his veins.

But, every time the power is used, there is a Cost to pay, and Denizen must decide whether he is willing to pay the Cost, take up his mantle as a Knight, and fight alongside his aunt – or whether to learn enough to control his power and stop it hurting him or anyone else, and leave the whole thing behind.

I think you can probably guess what way he decides to go…

This story, in some ways, is full of things I’d seen before (orphans, hidden relatives, secret powers, turning thirteen), but in another way it’s entirely fresh. In Rudden’s hands, all these elements become brand-new, and the book is utterly compelling. Partly this is down to the writing style, which is absolutely wonderful, filled with expertly judged sentences, spot-on imagery, excellent set-pieces and pitch-perfect dialogue, and partly it’s down to the way the elements are spun, and the small touches which Rudden adds to make things new and interesting, as well as the fascinating characters. Each of them is interesting enough to have a book written about them in their own right, and that’s some achievement. I loved the idea of the Cost, and I loved the downright bone-rattlingly scary baddies (The Man in the Waistcoat, the Woman in White, and the Opening Boy), and I loved Grey (oh, how I loved Grey) and – of course – I adored Denizen himself, brave and determined and snarky and devoted to Simon and awkward and inadequate and utterly perfect. The settings, descriptions, pacing, plot, language and characters in this book are just… look. There aren’t enough superlatives, okay? Suffice to say, I found a home for this one on my Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett shelf (no higher honour can be paid to a book in my ownership besides to be placed alongside my Alan Garners and Ursula Le Guins), and I am itching with impatience for the next installment in the trilogy.

Dave Rudden is one of those annoyingly brilliant people, a debut novelist whose work reads like a twenty-year veteran – and he appears to be rather a nice man, to boot. I recommend you follow him on Twitter (@d_ruddenwrites and/or @KOTBDofficial), and I heartily recommend you equip yourself with a copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark. It is the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it simultaneously gave me the shivers you only get when reading a really excellent piece of literature and the terrors you get when forced to question your own career choices. Don’t read this book if you have any other calls on your time; block off enough hours to finish it in one sitting, and just dive in.

And make sure you leave the lights on.