Category Archives: Uncategorized

Books of the Year

It’s that time of year again, when things are drawing to a close and we’re thinking about all the things we’ve done (or not done), and all the goals we hit (and those we missed). I’ve been thinking about my year of reading, and how on earth to sum it up in a few short paragraphs.

So – as will surprise precisely nobody – I read a lot. Probably not as much as some people, but certainly more than average. I’m a fast reader; I get sent a lot of proofs (advance reading copies) from colleagues in the publishing world, and I like to be able to read them and get back to the person who sent them to me as quickly as I can, but sometimes being a fast reader can have its drawbacks – particularly at times like this, when you want to draw up your top ten books of the year, and you find you’ve got fourteen, and then you’ve taken the photo before you realise you missed a pile over here too, and oh! what about this one? And how could I have forgotten this one, etc.

So, basically, what I’m trying to say is: here’s a photo of my top ten fourteen books of the year, but they aren’t the only brilliant books I read in 2022. I’ll try to remember to mention them all.

So! Here we have, from the bottom up:

TERCIEL AND ELINOR by Garth Nix

A prequel to the world-bendingly brilliant Old Kingdom books, bringing us back to the days of Sabriel’s parents. A must-read for Old Kingdom fans.

DAY OF THE WHALE by Rachel Delahaye

A thrilling eco-themed story about Cam and his friends, who live on Cetacea, an island where whales are worshipped like gods – but is the whale whisperer, Byron Voss, telling the full truth? A brilliant, unforgettable book.

FURTHERMOOR by Darren Simpson

Bren has lost his sister, and the only place he can find comfort and refuge is in Furthermoor, an otherworld where his sister is still alive – and where everything runs on clockwork. But when a threat arrives both in Furthermoor and Bren’s ‘real’ world, how can he survive?

MAGGIE BLUE AND THE DARK WORLD by Anna Goodall

Maggie sees her arch-enemy being taken into another world – and when she follows, Maggie realises she’s stumbled onto a plot to steal something precious from everyone on earth… unless she can stop it.

THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE OF KATY WILLACOTT by Sharon Gosling

My favourite book this year, Katy Willacott follows our titular heroine on the voyage of a lifetime to the Amazon rainforest and beyond – and what she uncovers is truly life-changing. A must-read.

DEAD GOOD DETECTIVES by Jenny McLachlan (Chloe Dominique, illustrations)

Laugh out loud and zany, with a deep emotional heart, this brilliant new book from the ever-excellent Jenny McLachlan is a perfect 8+ read. Ghost pirates, a hapless (but courageous) heroine, and a race against the clock make this unputdownable.

THE HOUSE OF SHELLS by Efua Traoré

With Traoré’s signature mix of modern-day life and folkloric myth, this Nigerian-set story is unique and gripping. It features genuinely spooky spirits, family dynamics, and a heart-pounding mystery to be solved.

FIRESONG by Vashti Hardy (George Ermos, illustrations)

The epic conclusion to Hardy’s Brightstorm trilogy sees her twins, Arthur and Maudie, off on an adventure to the volcanic North where they face the villainous Eudora Vane in a final showdown.

THE STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCY: SECRETS OF THE STORMFOREST by L.D. Lapinski

The perfect ending to Lapinski’s masterful Strangeworlds trilogy sees Flick and Jonathan unravelling the secrets of the Travel Agency – but can they do it in time to save the universe from collapse?

ZO AND THE FOREST OF SECRETS by Alake Pilgrim

Zo is lost in the forest at night – and what was a familiar space now becomes a place of darkness and danger. She meets a boy, lost in mysterious circumstances, and together they must try to make sense of the terrifying truths they’re discovering.

YESTERDAY CRUMB AND THE STORM IN A TEACUP by Andy Sagar

A book that feels like a warm hug, this story has danger, adventure, intrigue, magic, and an abundance of tea and cakes. Perfect comforting holiday fare!

TWICE WE MAKE MAGIC by Sarah Driver

The second of Spel and Egg’s adventures, where they must delve into the depths of their magical potential to save the world – an absolute feast of imagination and storytelling skill.

THE SPELL TAILORS by James Nicol

A warm-hearted fairytale about a family of tailors with the power to stitch magic into the garments they make – but when a long-forbidden spell is uncovered, can Hen get to the bottom of the mystery, as well as save his family business?

THE CHESTNUT ROASTER by Eve McDonnell (Ewa Beniak-Haremska, illustrations)

Piaf is a girl who can’t forget – and when everyone else in Paris appears to have forgotten an entire year, it’s up to her, and her twin brother Luc, to unravel the reason why.

And absent from the photo – due to nothing more than my own innate bungling – are books such as:

LEGENDARIUM by Jennifer Bell

A GLASSHOUSE OF STARS by Shirley Marr

OUR SISTER, AGAIN by Sophie Cameron

THE VALLEY OF LOST SECRETS by Lesley Parr

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ALICE TONKS by Emily Kenny

THE MOUNTAIN RESCUE DOG by Juliette Forrest

BIG BAD ME by Aislinn O’Loughlin

THE BURNING SWIFT by Joseph Elliott

BEYOND THE FROZEN HORIZON by Nicola Penfold

SPELLSTOPPERS by Cat Gray

WAR OF THE WIND by Victoria Williamson

THE BOOK OF SECRETS by Alex Dunne

SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS by Diane Magras

And, to be honest, so many more. This year (as is increasingly the case) was a brilliant year for books, stories, and reading (though not so much for bank accounts and shelf space). I’m always of the firm opinion that books are the best presents to get everyone during the festive season, if gift-giving is part of your traditional celebration (I mean, there’s a reason why books are so easy to wrap, right?), so I strongly urge you to go down to your local bookshop armed with this list of recommendations, and if you have anyone in your life who enjoys a brilliantly-written story, you can’t go wrong.

Happy Holidays – and, from me, a hearty Merry Christmas. I hope you’re taking some time off to relax over the next few weeks, and do make sure to find a quiet corner in which to curl up with a book.

I’ll be back in 2023!

The Time Tider Cover Reveal!

Hello hello hello!

Today, I am so excited to share the cover for my new book, The Time Tider, which is coming from Little Tiger Press (and me, obvs) in February, 2023. The absolutely incredible Vashti Hardy, an author whose work (and whose general existence) I absolutely love, was kind enough to do the official reveal this morning over on Twitter…

…and here it is!

I’ve got to thank so many people, principally the entire Little Tiger team responsible for bringing this gorgeous cover to life. Designer Sophie Bransby has brought her creative magic to all my UK/Ireland covers, and this one is (I think) her best yet. Illustrator Abigail Dela Cruz (I still can’t quite believe someone so talented has done the artwork for something I wrote) has brought Mara Denbor, my protagonist, so perfectly to life that I’m blown away every time I see her. Everything about this cover is exactly what I hoped it would be, and I’m helpless with gratitude over here.

The Time Tider has been in my head for a long time. Astute and long-time readers of this very blog might remember, or know, that its actual title is ‘Clockwatching…’, and I gave it that name back in 2012 because, at that time, I was working on a story which I was calling Tider, about a girl named Maraika Denbor and her father, who lived a very unusual life for very unusual reasons, and that there were characters in the story known as Clockwatchers – about whom I’ll say no more, for now. But I hope that anecdote shows how long I’ve been dreaming of this story, planning it and trying to write it. The Time Tider was one of the first ideas I ever had, over twenty years ago; it was the idea that sparked my brain into proper ‘I can be an author’ gear, and the idea that really filled me with the desire, and the need, to write. I’ve been trying to write it ever since, and I’m so glad to say I’ve finally succeeded.

And to whet your appetite, here’s the blurb:

Mara and her dad have lived in their van for as long as she can remember. Whatever her father does to scrape a living has kept them constantly moving and Mara has never questioned it. That is until she uncovers a collection of notes addressed to ‘The Tider’, an individual responsible for harvesting lost time from people whose lives were cut short.

But before Mara can question her father, he is taken by a dangerous group who want to use his power for evil. With the very fabric of time and space at stake, it’s down to Mara and her new friend Jan to find him before it’s too late…

The Time Tider hits shelves on February 2nd, 2023, and if you like the cut of its jib, please do consider pre-ordering it through your favourite bookshop, or through some of these handy links:

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3UqXmDw

Amazon: https://bit.ly/3fSBMIW

UK Bookshops: https://bit.ly/3NRWmWA

Hive: http://bit.ly/3fRTFI1

Halfway Up the Stairs: Click Here

Thank you for all the support you’ve shown to my previous books – and I hope you’ll enjoy The Time Tider!

A Letter To A Young Reader

Almost a year ago, a young reader wrote to me looking for advice on how to become a writer, of SF and fantasy in particular, and what to do if you don’t think you can come up with any new ideas.

Recently, in looking through some old emails, I came across my reply. I thought it was filled with the sort of timeless advice I give everyone who asks me questions like these, and then I thought: why not put this advice on the blog, for everyone to see?

So, here you go. I’ve obviously redacted all identifying information relating to the sender of the original query, but the majority of this post is exactly reproduced from my letter, sent last October. I hope, if you’re full of questions, that it will help you too.

The Eye of the North meets some of its older cousins. (Photo: SJ O’Hart)

How Do I Become A Writer?

I’m delighted to hear you’re interested in writing. I get asked all the time where my ideas come from, and to be honest the answer is ‘from everywhere’. What I mean is, I’m a person who pays attention to the world around me, and I’m insatiably curious. I’m forever asking questions, wondering about things, needing to find things out, and I try to learn all the time. As a kid I loved to read dictionaries and encyclopedias and books of facts (I just loved  to read in general, really) and all the interesting bits would sort of stick to the inside of my brain, where they’d eventually grow into story-seeds. The Kraken from The Eye of the North, for instance, was something I first came across in a book of myths and legends I read as a seven-year-old, and it stuck with me for decades before finding its way out in a story. So, my tips would be:


-Read as much as you can, and as widely as you can. No reading is ever wasted.


-Think about things, daydream, wonder, ask yourself questions and find out the answers, cherish the things you’re interested in and dive into them as deeply as possible. All those nuggets will go into your memory bank and could eventually turn into a story.


-Keep a notebook handy. When you’re out and about, take notes and/or doodle the things you see, hear, and smell. Listen to how people talk. Eavesdrop as politely as possible! Get a feel for the rhythms of language by listening as carefully as you can. 


-Cultivate your curiosity. Notice things. Don’t walk through the world with your head down – look up and see the cat sitting on the window-ledge, or the rainbow peeking through the clouds, or the old couple holding hands in the park, or the runaway dog with one ear turned inside out… look for all the beautiful detail in the world and soak it all in. Ideas are everywhere. Writers are just the people who notice them. (An addendum to this: make sure to use all the senses that are available to you, and don’t neglect your senses of smell, touch, and taste!)


-Whenever you get a little story-seed – so, a character name, or a good sentence, or an interesting image, or a setting, or even a line or two of dialogue – write it down. But if you only get a little ‘flash’, don’t worry, and don’t push it. Put it aside. Lay it down in the warm darkness of your imagination, and let it grow. You’ll find, eventually, that it’ll start bugging you so much that you’ll be itching to write the story!


-Don’t worry too much about originality. There are no new things under the sun! That old saying has a lot of truth in it. Nobody comes up with ideas that are completely unique – I didn’t invent the idea of a girl going after her kidnapped parents, or an Arctic setting, and I certainly didn’t invent the Kraken! But perhaps the way I put them together, and the fact that the story was written in my ‘voice’, made it mine. Anything you write will have your stamp on it, and if you infuse it with the things that are special to you, the things you love and are passionate about, it will always have a fresh feeling to it. 


-Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Write for the joy of it, and know that any story you create is a huge accomplishment. Be proud of it. Don’t throw anything away, even stories that don’t work, because there’ll be something useful in everything you write. And don’t expect things to work first time, all the time. If it’s frustrating you, put it aside and come back to it in a week or a month; don’t give up. Writing can be hard work. It often is. Every story and every published book will have a hundred thousand ‘wrong’ words behind it. I did so many drafts of all my published books, and they were edited in depth by multiple people! They didn’t pop out of my head as they appear on the page. 


– As for tips for writing fantasy/sci-fi/humour – my best tip is to read those sort of books and watch those sort of movies. Every story you take in will teach you something – how stories work, what makes a funny line so funny, and what ideas have been a bit overdone. I really recommend Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Ursula le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Catherine Fisher, Justina Ireland, Karuna Riazi, Hannah Alkaf, Sarwat Chadda and so many more, but those authors are a great place to start. I get a lot of my humour in my dialogue, and the only tip I have for that is to listen to people, enjoy accents, and take pleasure in funny, new words and in language overall.


I hope this helps!


Keep reading, keep wondering, and keep dreaming. The stories will come.


Warmly yours,
Sinéad  

Skyborn Is Published!

Today is June 10th, 2021. For many, that won’t mean much. But for me?

Today’s the day my third – third! – novel publishes with Little Tiger Press. *shocked and amazed emoji face*

Skyborn is released into the world today. It’s available wherever you get your books (ideally, a bookshop… a real one, in a proper building, with tax-paying staff and proper toilet breaks and all that stuff… but no judgement if you choose otherwise) and I very much hope this book reaches an audience, that it’s read and enjoyed and that it brings a sparkle of magic and wonder to the world.

Skyborn cover, designed by Sophie Bransby and drawn by Sara Mulvanny, published by Little Tiger Press, 2021

Skyborn is a prequel to my first book, The Eye of the North, and tells the story of Thing (who you might remember from The Eye of the North) during his earlier life, before we get a chance to meet him in Eye. If you’ve read Eye you’ll know that, in that book, we follow Thing – a mysterious character with no proper name, and fragmented recollections of his family – as he travels to Greenland in the company of the brave Emmeline in order to try to save the world. Skyborn takes the reader back to those fragmented recollections, fleshing them out into the full-bodied story of Thing’s childhood in a circus and his discovery of a deeply-buried secret from his mother’s past which threatens his own future, and that of everyone he loves…

As Skyborn is a prequel to The Eye of the North, please don’t feel you have to have read the earlier book in order to read Skyborn. In fact, they work better the other way around! It’s great to finish one book and have the sequel ready to go.

All my books have been fun to write, and I’ve loved the creation of all of them in different ways, but Skyborn has been such a wonderful journey. It’s a book I never thought I’d write, a story that I discovered as I put it together, one that draws on the deep loves of my childhood in the same way as everything else I’ve ever written but which had the added benefit of being about a character I’d already created, and one that I already loved. Its circus setting comes straight from the circuses I found so magical as a child; the walled city with its long-held secrets is excavated from the stories and movies I adored growing up; the characters – particularly Crake, who I love so dearly – have threads of my own beloved people in them. All these shining flecks of the story were taken from my own strange story-cauldron where I keep all the ideas I get in the hope they’ll germinate into something wondrous. I think, in Skyborn, they truly have.

This is a book I’m proud of. Thank you, so much, for all the support you’ve given me since I began this writing dream almost a full decade ago. I’m (incredibly) on my fourth book – my third full-length novel – and I have no intention of stopping just yet. I hope you’ll stick with me as I figure out where to go next.

Now. Roll Up, Roll Up – you’ve got a front-row seat! The performance is about to begin, and The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly… Alley-oop!

Five Cool Facts About SKYBORN

My new book, Skyborn, is coming from Little Tiger Press in just over three weeks – on June 10th, to be precise! So, I decided to make a short video: Five Cool Facts About Skyborn, to introduce you to the book and its story world, and to give you a flavour of what it’s about. I hope you enjoy!

And don’t forget: if you pre-order your copy of SKYBORN from Halfway Up the Stairs Bookshop in Wicklow or from the Rocketship Bookshop in the UK, you’ll receive a signed and personalised bookplate to stick into the book, thereby transforming it (ta-daaaah!) into a signed copy. But, of course, you can pre-order SKYBORN just the same as you can pre-order or order any book: by calling into, or phoning, or emailing, or using carrier pigeons, or in any other way contacting your favourite bookshop or bookstore and asking them to organise getting a copy of the book to you. Booksellers are magicians, people. They can find literally anything. Try it!

Anyway. Without further ado, here are FIVE COOL FACTS ABOUT SKYBORN!

WonderFest!

In case you hadn’t heard…

There’s a brand-new Festival in town!

Well. Technically, it’s in every town, everywhere, because – yes! – it’s Ireland’s First Digital Children’s Literature Festival. It’s called WonderFest. It’s happening very soon – like, next week, November 20th to November 22nd! It’s a celebration of Irish children’s literature, particularly of all the amazing books that have been published in 2020 so far. And it’s full of brilliant things like Go Animal Crackers – Animal Tales and Draw Along with Alan Nolan, Margaret Ann Suggs and Jennifer Farley! There’s also Eggcorns and Bumbumbees: Word and Art Play with Chris Judge! There’s Lunchtime Tales of Wonder with PJ Lynch, Kieran Fanning, Marianne McShane and Lindsay Sedgwick! There’s a Live Q&A with DEREK LANDY! There’s a Dead Zoo Draw-Along with Peter Donnelly! There’s another Lunchtime Tales of Wonder with Celine Kiernan, Eve McDonnell and Catherine Doyle!

I mean… I need to sit down after all that excitement. While I’m recovering, here’s a photo of the fab Alan Nolan, on the hunt for stories (as is his wont).

(Photo Credit: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Loads of the events have already sold out, but never fear. There’s so much more still to explore. If you (or your grown-ups) have access to Zoom, then you’re all invited to take part in WonderFest. It’s going to be WonderFul, and so much fun. Get your tickets through the website, tune in at the right time, and a world of Wonder awaits…

Some Recent Reads

I’m lucky enough to be on the radars of several Very Important Publicists (and fellow authors), so occasionally I’m contacted and asked to read proofs, and/or early copies, of forthcoming books. I can’t always say ‘yes’ to these generous offers, but I do my best to accommodate requests as often as I can. It’s a huge privilege, for which I’m very grateful.

The cover of the proof of GLASSHEART, by Katharine Orton, art by Sandra Dieckmann, to be published by Walker Books UK in November 2020

Glassheart

One of the brilliant books I’ve read in the past few weeks was Glassheart, by Katharine Orton, which is coming from Walker Books UK in November this year. I loved Katharine’s debut, Nevertell, and her second novel is even better – a heartfelt, poignant and powerful story about grief, and war, and the power of sadness to both build up and to destroy. It tells the story of Nona, niece to a master glazier, who helps him work to try to repair the damaged windows in buildings torn by war. On a new job in Dartmoor, they encounter strange and inexplicable magic, which seems to have taken over Nona’s uncle. It’s up to Nona to get to the bottom of the mystery of the wild power, and to unravel its connection to the windows her uncle is labouring to complete. This book is a solid 5/5 for me – I loved it, and I can’t wait until it’s out for everyone to enjoy.

Return to Roar

Anyone who (like me) loved Jenny McLachlan’s The Land of Roar last year will absolutely devour the sequel, Return to Roar. Crowky, one of the best and scariest villains around, makes a welcome – or unwelcome – return, and the story is stuffed with the same spills, thrills, and wildly imaginative adventures as the first book. Arthur and Rose are on a week’s holidays in Grandad’s house, and so what better way to fill their days than to make a return visit to the land of imagination they cooked up as younger children, and which somehow exists for real through the special portal in Grandad’s attic. They think Crowky is gone, but then they realise he may not be – and that the key to him finding his way back through the portal and into the Real might be dangerously close… Another 5-star read for me, Return to Roar is currently available.

The Hungry Ghost

H.S. Norup’s The Hungry Ghost is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – certainly, it’s one of my favourites from this year. Telling the tale of Danish girl Freja, who arrives in Singapore during Hungry Ghost month, it’s an incredibly well-crafted story of family, loss, grief, and love – as well as having a healthy dollop of adventure, mystery, and intrigue, too. Freja meets an enigmatic, mysterious, and not a little spooky girl in a white dress during her time in Singapore, and alongside her new friend discovers hidden secrets in this new city, as well as an entirely forgotten chapter to her family history. You may need tissues by the end… The Hungry Ghost is genuinely stunning, with evocatively-written settings and extraordinary character building. An absolute 5-star read.

The House at the Edge of Magic

Amy Sparkes’ The House at the Edge of Magic is a delight. Coming next January from Walker Books UK, it’s a genuinely funny story, but not one lacking in stakes, excitement, or pathos. We follow Nine, a pickpocket who lives in the Nest, a run-down ‘shelter’ for pickpockets like her, where their bed and board must be paid for with trinkets and treasures. Nine only has one treasure, which she’s had since she was a baby, and she hasn’t been lucky, lately, with the pockets she’s tried to pick. Then, she sees a young lady in the streets and tries to steal from her, only to discover a tiny house in her pocket – which very rapidly grows into a huge house, home to Flabberghast the magician and his motley crew of raggle-taggle beasties. This story had me glued to the pages, with a grin on my face throughout. If you’re a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, particularly Howl’s Moving Castle, this book should definitely appeal.

Elsetime

Eve McDonnell’s debut novel Elsetime is nearly among us! In fact, I think my pre-ordered copy is already on its way to me… *excited face* I was lucky enough to be asked to read the proof of Eve’s book several months ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. Her characters – particularly her gorgeous-hearted, brave, stalwart Needle, and feisty apprentice jewellery-maker Glory Bobbin – are wonderfully crafted, and this twisty, fast-paced story will keep you guessing right to the end. A time-slip adventure, utilising a very clever mechanism for travelling from one era to the other, Elsetime is the tale of Needle, a mudlark, who discovers a very unusual treasure in the muck one day – a treasure that brings him somewhere he could never have imagined, tasked with saving people from a flood only he knows is going to happen. Based on real events around the Great Flood of London in 1928, this is a unique and memorable book – which should be available very soon!

These are only a flavour of the excellent books I’ve been treated to over the past few months, but I hope they’ll give you some inspiration to go out (or stay home) and support your local independent bookshops; they need the help, and your brain needs these stories. Happy reading!

The Green Wave

This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for ages now, but somehow never managed to find the time. Recent events – specifically, the EU elections here in Europe, which have seen (particularly in Ireland, my home country) a surge in support for the Green Party (or its equivalent in other countries) – have finally given me the impetus I’ve been searching for. So, buckle up, buttercups: here are some of my personal top tips for living a greener life and, particularly, reducing the amount of plastic you consume – because, when you think about it, is there anything more important facing us as a species? I don’t think so. These tips are all things that I have personally done, which means they’re all things you can do too. I hope you find them useful.

Right. At the risk of sounding like a po-faced monstrosity, let’s get started.

1. Change Your Toothbrush

I don’t just mean ‘buy a new one’. No. What I mean is: change it from a plastic-handled one to one made from more sustainable, renewable and (importantly) biodegradable/compostable materials, like bamboo. I’ve been using a Humble Brush for a few years now (no, not the same one. Ew! Don’t be disgusting) and I find them absolutely amazing.

Image: funkymonkeypants.com

The Humble Brush works, feels and performs exactly as well as any plastic toothbrush, but it has one important difference: the handle is made from bamboo, which disappears (under the right conditions, i.e. in landfill or compost) within a year. Considering it takes between 800 and 1000 mindboggling years for a plastic toothbrush to ‘biodegrade’, this is a no-brainer. I’ve also recently started to use the Bambooth toothbrush, which is even fancier than the Humble Brush; it has a colourful bamboo handle, variegated nylon bristles, and it comes in its own cardboard carrying tube. Bambooth’s absolutely brilliant tagline is ‘Change the Handle, Change the World’, which sums it up for me.

2. Change Your Detergents/Soaps

This one is super-easy and will save you money, too. Instead of using plastic boxes filled with plastic pods to wash your clothes – you know the type, the ones filled with gunky detergent which you toss into the drum of your washing machine – try using the simple, old-fashioned cardboard box of loose washing powder. Admittedly, if you’re unlucky (as I often am) sometimes you’ll have spillages – but it’s worth it. When you run out of powder you have a very recyclable box, and that’s all. No plastic. No nonsense.

I also use solid hand soap at all the sinks in my house – you can get an endless variety of scents and sizes and colours and shapes, and anti-bacterial ones for the bathrooms. Try to get ones that come in cardboard and paper wrapping, which means you have brilliant soap which lasts for ages, costs a fraction of what the fancy plastic squeezy liquid soap bottles do, and leaves no lasting waste behind.

3. Think About Using Solid Shampoo/Shower Bars

This one’s a bit more tricky, as not everyone is going to like solid shampoo. Those of us with thicker hair, or longer hair, mightn’t be too enamoured of the feel of a solid shampoo, but if it suits you to try it, then please do. Some I’ve used (SoapNuts, in particular) have given a great lather and a wonderful clean. Of course, using soap in the shower instead of (or alongside) plastic bottles of gel is a huge help.

4. Change Up your Sanitary/Babycare Shop

Back when my little one was a baby, we made a choice to use washable/reusable and/or biodegradable nappies/diapers. We used several brands of washable nappies – Little Lambs, Charlie Bananas, and G Nappies primarily, all of which worked fantastically well – and at the end of our nappying/diapering journey we supplemented our stash with biodegradable nappies. The brand we used was Kit and Kin, but there are loads of brilliant options available now. Just think: babies are a small-ish percentage of the overall population, but nappy/diaper waste is a huge problem. Every baby in diapers is changed perhaps ten times a day, or more; every single one of those diapers/nappies goes into the bin, and into landfill.

Where they do not disappear. Just imagine the sheer numbers.

When I was pregnant with my child, I went for a walk one hot summer’s day. I passed a bin filled with used nappies, and the smell made me retch. It was then I swore we’d try to find the greenest option possible for our own child’s diapering needs. If you have a bum (or bums!) in nappies in your house, maybe look into greener options. They exist in abundance. I’m very happy to help if you have questions!

The same principle applies to things like baby wipes, sanitary protection, cotton buds, plasters/bandaids, and so many small things we take for granted. Baby wipes are a scourge to our waterways, beaches and pipes; never flush them, even if the packet says you can. Try not to use them if possible (though I do admit they’re extremely handy, out and about), and look for biodegradable ones. We use Kinder by Nature, widely available in pharmacists nationwide. Sanitary protection (like sanitary pads/liners, tampons and so on) should also never be flushed, and there are loads of brilliant options available if you want to get away from plastic. Mooncups and reusable/washable sanitary protection work brilliantly for loads of people, but the option I go for is to use the Natracare range, which is very easy to find in most pharmacies and shops, and which is fully compostable. It’s plastic, chlorine, and bleach free, and the range works just as well as any plastic-packed alternative. I also swapped out my cotton buds/Q-Tips with plastic free alternatives, and I use plastic-free plasters/bandaids.

Something I discovered as my child grew older, too, was how often things like glitter and balloons feature in their lives. Glitter is a horror for the environment (I bought some biodegradable glitter, but it’s an expensive option) and balloons are even worse. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, try to limit these things when you can.

I also replaced my clingfilm/Saran wrap with beeswax wraps, which I find to be very useful and easy to clean, though not really suitable for use with meat leftovers. (Don’t beat yourself up over a little clingfilm.) Another small change I’m happy to have made is swapping out plastic straws for paper ones, and bamboo ones for more sturdy challenges.

5. Shop Clever, and Remember the 3 Rs

It’s not always easy, but something you can do which really helps is to cut down on the plastic you buy in the supermarket. Some supermarkets provide biodegradable bags for loose fruit and veg; if yours doesn’t, then bring your own. If you buy fresh meat at a butcher’s, then bring your own (scrupulously clean) plastic box, with a perfectly sealable lid (a lunchbox is perfect) and ask them to put your raw meat products in it instead of in two or three throwaway plastic bags. Always bring your own bags to carry shopping home – I have a collection of cotton totes large enough to hold everything I own, and which I invariably forget to bring when I go shopping – and try to be aware, as you purchase, of how much waste the item will create, and buy accordingly. Try to buy meat and fruit products in clear plastic packaging, as opposed to black (it’s harder to recycle black plastic), try to buy packaging which is already recycled (companies like Ecover and Innocent are good for this), and try to buy cardboard packaging as often as you can.

We recycle scrupulously in my house, as I’m sure most people do, but the more important of the 3 Rs is the first one – Reduce. It’s easy to lessen the amount of rubbish leaving your house if you don’t use it in the first place! Reuse whenever you can – yogurt pots as planters for seeds or paint-mixing pots, fruit trays as storage boxes for small toys or crafting materials, plastic wrap (where it’s unavoidable to buy) as binliners – there are loads of things you can do. And then Recycle as much as you can. Please do wash out your containers before putting them in your recycling, and squash them down to maximise space.

Phew. So, if you’re still here, thank you. I’m (in case you hadn’t guessed) passionate about the environment and protecting it for future generations. I know it feels like we, as individuals, don’t have a lot of power – but that’s not really true. If every one of us made an effort to be mindful about plastic, waste and recycling, it would make a huge difference. If – as we’ve seen – we vote in large numbers for parties and politicians who will prioritise dealing with climate collapse, everyone will be better off. Governments and corporations need to move the dial, of course, but never feel like your own small effort is worthless. It’s not. I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful, and if you have any of your own, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from fellow Greenies about the tips and tricks you bring to living a bright, green, clean life on this beautiful planet we all share.

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?

eye-front-cover

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!

Book Review Saturday – ‘White Feathers’

In the interests of full disclosure, I want to say that the author of this book is a person I know. We have only met in person once, but we are regular correspondents over social media and I have followed her work for some time. That said, I have done my utmost to remain objective both in my reading of the novel and the construction of this review, and I have not let any personal opinions cloud my judgement.

So. Let’s begin, shall we?

Image credit: S.J. O'Hart

Image credit: S.J. O’Hart

White Feathers is a historical romance, based in Britain and Ireland at the outbreak of the Great War, and in its observation of the time, it is note-perfect. I am passionate about the history of the First World War, and the societal mores which governed this period, so in that sense White Feathers played right into my interests. The very idea of giving someone a white feather – the notion that women were encouraged to think of themselves as being the arbiters of social justice on one hand, while the real issue, the fact that they were disenfranchised and in all real senses denied the human rights which should have been theirs without question, was left to fester on the other – is fascinating, and tragic, and terrible. Eva Downey, the heroine of this novel, isn’t a woman who takes what she is given, though, and for that reason (among many) her story is worth reading.

The Prologue of this novel gives a great sense of the story’s feel and setting. We are introduced to a young woman, sitting in a train carriage in a beam of golden light, trapped like a fly beneath amber – both in terms of her era and her story, and her literal position – and we know a tale is about to be told, one in which someone feels they deserve to take the blame for something as yet unnamed. We know that a war is taking place, and that it has taken a huge toll. This encapsulated moment of pain bursts as we begin Chapter 1, and we enter another train carriage carrying another two women, one of whom is Eva Downey and the other her guardian, Mrs Michael Stewart. Eva is being sent to a finishing school in London, which has been paid for out of a legacy left to her by a Mrs Elizabeth Jenkins as thanks for Eva’s work on a publication entitled The New Feminist. This reality has caused huge uproar in Eva’s family, not only because her stepsister Grace has not been afforded the same luxury, but because her younger sister Imelda is seriously ill with consumption, and Eva’s removal from the family throws the burden of her care onto her deeply unpleasant stepmother and largely absent father. This is on top of the fact that Eva is seen with distaste by practically everyone, being a young woman who has expressed an interest in women’s suffrage and who is, in general, no fool.

Eva settles into her new school, meeting Sybil Destouches, the great-niece of the woman whose legacy has allowed her this expensive education, as well as other girls who can’t quite get over the fact that Eva is Irish, having been born and raised in Cork. Letters home reveal that Imelda’s condition is worsening, her odious stepmother isn’t helping, and Mr Cronin – a dreadful man who wished to marry Eva, but who was rebuffed – is still hanging around. Meanwhile, in London, Eva’s feelings for her English Literature teacher, Mr Shandlin, develop from intellectual regard into something deeper, and slowly – encouraged by the incorrigible (and brilliant) Sybil – they reveal their feelings for one another.

All the time, the war hangs in the background, waiting to pounce.

Then, Imelda’s health worsens and Eva is summoned home. A pioneering new treatment exists in Switzerland for tuberculosis patients, one which plugs the holes in their diseased lungs with tiny pellets – but it is ludicrously expensive. Grace, Eva and Imelda’s stepsister, is willing to devote half her sizeable dowry to ensuring Imelda can receive this treatment, but it hinges on one huge condition: Eva must present her beloved Mr Shandlin (a man of whom her family does not approve, both because he is a mere schoolteacher as well as a ‘Conshie’, or conscientious objector, for heartfelt personal reasons) with a white feather of cowardice. If she does this, Imelda’s treatment will be paid for and her life, possibly, saved.

It will also spell the end of Eva’s own happiness.

Eva’s decision, its consequences, and the life which unfolds for her after this pivotal moment plunge us straight into the bloody, brutal heart of war. Eva and Sybil volunteer as medical aides, going to the front and witnessing the worst of humanity; Eva goes down avenues she never would have expected, bringing her into contact with a woman whose presence in her world will later bring Eva a crumb of redemption. A scene in which Eva and Sybil are in a lifeboat, abandoning a sinking ship whose propellers are still churning, was – for me – the best passage in the book, summing up the tension and needless destruction of life, and the bodily horror of what people all over Europe were experiencing at that time.

There were things I didn’t like so much, primarily the unrelenting evil of Eva’s stepmother, the way in which Grace’s story was wrapped up, and the fact that several very important parts of the novel were narrated ‘after the fact’, either in letters or simply dropped into conversation as though they were nothing. Without wishing to give away spoilers, one of these (which came near the end of the book) made me slap it shut for a while, until I recovered from my feelings of being cheated, before continuing. Having said that, perhaps it’s designed to mimic the experience of people who lived through the war, only learning important things about their loved ones once weeks or months had gone by – but I can’t say it pleased me as a reader. I also felt, perhaps, that there were a couple of coincidences too many – people being related to people, or showing up just when they were needed – but that was only a small quibble.

However, I enjoyed the setting, the unflinching look at historical reality, the character of Sybil (with the exception of one scene, which left me shouting ‘No, Sybil! What are you doing?’ at the pages), and Eva’s gentle love story. I think the strongest praise I could pay this book is to say that it kept me reading – and I’m not a person who normally goes in for grand romances. It’s a timely, touching, intelligent and lovingly written book, and it’s worth the read.