Tag Archives: new books

Happy Book Birthday to The Ravens’ Call!

It’s the first of two book birthdays this year for me. My book The Ravens’ Call is published today, and I’m really happy to see it out in the world. Click the link below to find out a bit more about it, and to purchase a copy if the mood takes you:

The Ravens’ Call is a banded reader, designed for use in a classroom setting, and it comes complete with brilliant resources at the back to aid pupils’ understanding of the story and their enjoyment of the themes around it. But you don’t have to be a pupil or a teacher to read or enjoy the short tale – it’s a great story about a brave girl named Alys, her clever raven friend Cuthbert (and all his raven friends), and their quest to find the King in time to deliver a very important message.

Will they reach him in time – and will the King heed the ravens’ call?

Cover of The Ravens’ Call, written by Sinéad O’Hart, illustrated by Maria Brzozowska, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books 2021.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found a copy of The Ravens’ Call on your travels, and particularly if you’ve used it with your class or read it with your own kids. I’m working on a selection of activities to complement the book, too, so keep an eye on my Resources page.

Happy book birthday to me!

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 Starspun Web hits North America

I’m a day late with this, but… well. Life. It gets in the way sometimes, right? Right. On with the show,

Yesterday, November 12th, those lovely lot at Knopf Books for Young Readers in New York City published my second book, The Starspun Web. (For reasons best known to themselves, my US editors removed the hyphen from the title, but I’m happy with that.) Here they are, my US book babies. Don’t they look pretty?

The Eye of the North had a cover designed by Jeff Nentrup, a US-based artist; its younger sibling The Starspun Web‘s cover echoes the UK edition, and in both cases the artist was Sara Mulvanny. I’m so pleased and proud with how they turned out, and I hope they’ll brighten up shelves in bookstores all across North America.

If you’d like to add my new book to your own shelves, here’s the link to buy it at Barnes and Noble, and here’s the link to buy it via Indiebound, and here’s the link to buy it at Powell’s, and here’s Amazon’s link, if that’s your preference. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me to bring this book to publication – it’s a long hard journey, and every bit of support is invaluable.

Reality Check

I’ve written before on this blog of my passion for encouraging literacy, particularly among children; if I had my way, every child on this planet would be exposed to books at as early an age as possible. If there was one thing I could do – given unlimited power and funds – it would be to equip every child in the world with their own mini-library, and with the skills to read it. I truly feel that one of the most useful things we can do for our future generations is to ensure they can read as well as they are able, and that they read as widely as possible.

Of course, there are children who just don’t like to read – that’s sad, but it’s a fact. However, they should, at least, be given the opportunity to read, and encouraged to try, and exposed to as many different types of book as possible, just in case something might engage their imagination and spark off their interest. I have a belief – and it may be a naive and silly belief, but it’s mine just the same – that there is a book for every child.

A sight that gladdens my heart... Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

A sight that gladdens my heart…
Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to put this belief into practice. I was in a bookshop – one with which I’m long familiar, and which I can never resist dipping into if I’m close enough to visit it – and I was, of course, browsing intently in the children’s section. A young mother approached me, her six-year-old daughter in tow, and asked me my opinion on what she should purchase for her little girl to read.

I’m not sure if she thought I was a staff member, or if it was a case of ‘once a bookseller, always a bookseller’ and she caught the whiff of enthusiastic knowledge from me, but whatever the reason for her question, I was happy to help. I learned this lady was the mother of a ten-year-old, the six-year-old I had the pleasure of meeting, and a four-year-old, all girls. The eldest child was a strong and enthusiastic reader, she told me, but the others struggled. They found it hard to emulate their sister, and found themselves bored by a lot of the books they’d tried in the past. They liked ‘funny’ books, and were growing tired of the princessy-type, pink and glitter books that they had once loved.

I threw my eyes around the shelves, and came up with a few ideas. Andy Stanton’s ‘Mr Gum’ books were my first suggestion, followed by Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ series (enthusiastically grabbed by the six-year-old); for the older girls, I thought of Jeremy Strong’s ‘There’s a Viking in my Bed!’ and the wonderful books of David Walliams, which are funny but also sweet and uplifting, with a comforting focus on love and friendship and family, so important to young readers. I think the lady was touched by my efforts and glad of the suggestions, and I certainly appreciated being asked for help.

Image: waterstones.com

Image: waterstones.com

However, as pleased as I was to have helped these young readers to find something good to exercise their brains, there was one aspect of the situation that has been on my mind ever since, and it centres on the fact that the bookshop we happened to be in was one that deals exclusively in second-hand books. The reason I like to go there so often is because I always find new authors to follow and new series to start collecting, and it’s fantastic to dig around in the piles of books and uncover some lost classics and rarities. It’s also wonderful to be able to pick up a book for less money than it would be if I bought it new – but with a view, always, to purchasing the writer’s back catalogue in a ‘proper’ bookshop if I like what I buy second-hand. I discovered Catherine Fisher this way; I got heavily into Kate Thompson by browsing the shelves of this very shop. The same thing applies to Jenny Nimmo, who I adore, and most of whose books I have subsequently purchased new. Sometimes, I don’t mind buying books second-hand if the author is deceased, or if their work is out of copyright – then, I don’t feel like I’m dipping my hand into a fellow writer’s pocket and taking their earnings from them – but normally I try to purchase books new as often as I can. Not everyone feels this way, for a variety of reasons – some of them excellent, unassailably logical reasons.

The mother of these young readers, for instance, was enthusiastic about second-hand books not because they were a gateway to new writers and their back catalogues, but because of their cheapness and relative ‘disposability’; it’s always easier to give a book away, or not to mind if it gets wet or torn or dirty, if you didn’t buy it ‘new’. I can’t blame the lady for thinking this way – as important as it is for children to read, it’s also important for them to have shoes and clothes and school uniforms and food, of course, and I can completely understand why new books would slide down a parent’s list of priorities. But, as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought.

Every book bought second-hand benefits, in financial terms, nobody but the person selling it; the author gets nothing. If a book is borrowed in a library, at least the author gets a tiny fraction of a payment for it. It’s tough, realising that something which benefits readers so much (i.e. second-hand book purchasing) can be such a bad thing from a writer’s point of view, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I do not judge the lady I helped for her choice, particularly because I also frequent second-hand bookshops (though I do try to support the authors I love as much as I can); I just hope that, perhaps, encouraging children to read when they’re young will turn them into not only enthusiastic consumers of books, but also enthusiastic supporters of writers when they grow older, thereby ensuring there will always be a flow of new books to read. I also hate reducing the whole ‘book creation-book consumption’ thing to crass economic terms, but that’s a reality, too. Writers need to earn a living, however meagre, and that’s becoming harder and harder with every passing year.

It’s important to clearly state that of course I believe it’s more important to encourage children to read than it is to ensure they only read from brand-new books – literacy concerns trump all else – but thoughts of ‘what will become of writers?’ have been playing on my mind since my encounter with this lady, nonetheless. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, if you have any. If you buy your books in hard copy, do you like to browse in second-hand shops? What’s your thinking on the economic issues I’ve laid out here? Do tell.

Happy Tuesday! And, naturally, I hope you’re reading, no matter where you bought your book.

Reading vs Writing

And here we are, washed up on the shores of Thursday. How are you all?

I haven’t been doing a lot of writing this week, because life has managed to get in the way a lot over the past few days. It has a nasty habit of doing that just when you feel deadlines approaching and commitments (even if they’re only ones you’ve made to yourself!) piling up all around you. But, hopefully, from today until Saturday at least I’ll have time to get myself back on track and plough through some of the story ideas I’ve been working on; I’ll get them drafted and ready to sit, percolating, for a few days, all going well. I have competition deadlines coming up in June, July and August, and I need to have polished, professional work ready to submit.

Hang on, will you, just a second, while I breathe into this paper bag.

I can do this... I can do this! Image: babyboomeradviserclub.com

I can do this… I can do this!
Image: babyboomeradviserclub.com

Okay. I’m good to go.

This deadline-fear is one of the reasons I go through periodic bouts of panicky palpitations and sleepless nights and sweaty palms – it’s necessary to plan ahead like this in terms of project management and upcoming commitments, but taking the long view on things sure does make life seem frightening, and full, and extremely stressful. Taking things one at a time has been my lifelong mantra, but in this ol’ writing game, you don’t always have that luxury. Multi-tasking has become my middle name.

I should spare a thought at this point, actually, for the hundreds of thousands of kids in Ireland who are sitting their major summer examinations right now. They began yesterday – just, of course, in time for the sun to finally emerge out of its hiding place and start drying out this sodden little country – and I remember all too well that horrible pressure the kids are under. I wouldn’t go through it all again for a king’s ransom. In a way, though, going through an examination process is excellent preparation for life, don’t you think? Kids: I hate to say this, but it doesn’t get any better.

No. That’s a joke, of course. It gets loads better. You still have to cope with pressure, deadlines and stress, but you get to be old, creaky and scatter-brained at the same time, which makes it more fun, particularly for those around you.

Despite the fact that I have excellent deadline-juggling training, there is one aspect of it at which I really am not good; no, not good at all. That thing is: trying to fit my reading deadlines around my writing ones. I have no fewer than three books on the go at the moment – not an unusual thing for me, I have to admit – but there’s also the fact that yesterday, on a browse through my *stealth boast alert* extensive book collection, I realised that my To Be Read pile had grown to heights unheard of since my long-ago and far-away teens. I have so many books I want to read that I’ll have to take a week off just to get started on them. Reading, of course, is a vital part of writing, and so needs to be somehow factored into everything else; each book to be read is another small deadline, another commitment to meet. Luckily, of course, these are probably the only enjoyable deadlines in the world, and so it’s almost a good thing that I have so many of ’em piling up. At least, I tell myself this to make myself feel better about it.

Also, I’m struggling to ignore the fact that Neil Gaiman has a new book out in a few weeks.

Image: transparentwithmyself.wordpress.com

Image: transparentwithmyself.wordpress.com

If I start letting myself think about this for too long, then all my other deadline-awareness flies out the window. Gaiman trumps everything in the great card game of life, of course. I have a feeling that all tools will have to be downed the second ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ comes out, because if I know it exists somewhere in the world, and I haven’t got my hands on it, then I will know no peace until it’s safely read and put on my shelf to admire along with all my other Neil Gaiman books.

Yes. I am an addict. I know.*

My main problem, as you’ll have worked out by now, is that I’m an addict to both reading and writing, and they’ve never come head-to-head before in quite such a way as this. Somehow, though, I’m sure I’ll struggle through. I suppose, really, it’s only right and fair to prioritise the writing deadlines, since they’re imposed by someone else (and are, let’s face it, a little bit more important), but I reckon I’ll pull a few all-nighters and meet most of my reading deadlines, too.

Phew. It’s a hard life.

Happy Thursday to you all. I hope, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, that you’re happy and well and have plenty to read. If you’re stuck for a book, let me know – maybe we can work something out!

*If my husband is reading this, I hope the fact that I’m about to wish him a happy birthday in public will make up for this blatant admission that I’ll be adding another tome to our Neil Gaiman shelf in a little while. Happy Birthday to the best and most understanding and loveliest husband in the world!