Book review – William Wenton series

Title: William Wenton series

Written by: Bobbie Peers

Published by: Walker Books

The William Wenton series are fast-paced, thrilling fantasy adventures about twelve-year-old codebreaking genius. In book one, William Wenton was nearly kidnapped and taken to the secretive Institute for Post-Human Research to hide out. His parents believe he will be safer there as it was established by his grandfather who disappeared eight years earlier.

His grandfather also has an extraordinary talent for cracking codes and everyone thinks he used these skills to steal the last remaining traces of a strange and powerful substance known as luridium, originally discovered by Abraham Talley. William wants to learn more about Abraham Talley and why Talley thinks he would know anything about where his grandfather hid the luridium, so he breaks into the Institute’s Archives.

An enormous cybernetic robot hunts William down and attacks the Institute. William is taken to the Centre for Misinformation by Fritz Goffman who claims to be a friend of his grandfather. After escaping the Centre for Misinformation, William bumps into Iscia who he met at the Institute. Together they explore the underground tunnels of London on a quest to find his grandfather. But, they are trapped and William has to use all his ingenuity and code-cracking skills in order to escape with no idea who he can trust.

The second book, shows William adapting to his extraordinary talent for cracking codes when an ancient artefact mysteriously disappears from the Depository for Impossible Archaeology. William chases the antagonist from Norway, to England and then to the dizzying heights of the Himalayas. This race-against-time adventure pushes his skills to the limit to stop an ancient portal of untold power being unleashed.

The third book starts with William celebrating his thirteenth birthday when news breaks that Big Ben has suddenly stopped working due to a powerful ancient weapon. A series of codes and puzzle unravel to lead William to a network of long-lost underground tunnels beneath London.

The futuristic steam punk elements in each book will appeal to fans of Alex Rider, Percy Jackson and Peter Bunzl. It is ideal for boys and girls 8+. I was a little disappointed there were no codes to actually break in the story. We are simply told William solves them with his fantastic mind. However, William Wenton and the Luridium Thief, could spark off a multitude of code-breaking activities in the classroom.

These books are exciting page turners, which create vivid images in your mind. The plots are full of twists and turns that will keep young minds active and engaged. The characters are strong and realistic that make you feel for their dilemmas. I enjoyed reading these thrilling action adventures and hope the series continues.

An interview with… Juliet Clare Bell

For my latest Research Secrets slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum, I interview picture book writer Juliet Clare Bell. She talked me through her research process and how this has inspired some of the thorough and often unusual research she has done for her picture books.

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In the interview Juliet Clare Bell told me about the psychologist Graham Wallas who published The Art of Thought in 1926. In this book he identified a four-step process of problem-solving, insight or creative breakthroughs. Juliet Clare Bell summarises the four steps as:

“[1] Preparation –where you formulate your problem, then read, sketch, write, research etc., often very intensively. This, he believed, was absolutely necessary in creative thinking. During this intensive stage, you often end up feeling stuck, and to get past this mental block you must move onto phase two:

[2] Incubation where you let it sit whilst doing other things. If the answer you’re looking for feels really close, he argued, don’t force it. Trust that the process will lead to phase three:

[3] Illumination –often thought of as a ‘Eureka!’ moment –when the answer bursts into your consciousness. The final phase is:

[4] Verification –a conscious, formal activity, where you test it out and ensure that the insight is correct, or that the idea for your story fits.”

Juliet Clare Bell on The Art of Thought  by Graham Wallas

All writers love the illumination phase when writing seems to happen without much conscious effort, but Juliet Clare Bell finds it really useful to think of it in these phases. She explains you need to create the environment for it to happen, by preparing well with research and formulating ideas, and then you need to put in the work in phase four with the editing, even if the story does not change much from the original version.

“I’d recommend approaching people who are experts about an area. In my experience they’ve been really helpful and willing to share their interest. For fictional picture books, I like spending time with people whose lives are similar to those I’m writing about, as I did for The Unstoppable Maggie McGee and Benny’s Hat, both illustrated by Dave Gray. You might do loads of research for a book but it’s often one small snippet you read, or hear in an interview, that can really bring the person to life, or change the direction of your story.” Juliet Clare Bell

The Unstoppable Maggie McGee

Juliet Clare Bell told me it’s taken her a long time to really ‘get’ the idea of incubation, to the point where she now factors it into her schedule of writing. She can’t just do the research and then get straight down to writing it. For a week or two, she needs to let it sit whilst her unconscious gets on with making links with everything she has immersed herself in and other things she has learned or experienced.

Her advice to other writers is to trust in the process and treat incubation and illumination as skills which can be practised and improved on. Create an environment where phases 2 and 3 can happen, and that means being active when you’re reading/conducting your research (phase 1): before you start reading, ask yourself specific questions about the person/subject that you’re really interested in and which your readers will be interested in discovering, but also be on the lookout for the little nuggets that illuminate something interesting.

Author picture - Juliet Clare Bell

Juliet Clare Bell is always interested in the human side of things (so the personality of the inventor, explorer, mountaineer, scientist) and there might be one line in a whole autobiography that makes me say wowthat’s the angle I’m looking for.

To find out more about Juliet Clare Bell you can check out her website www.julietclarebell.com or follow her on Twitter @julietclarebell

To read the complete feature take a look at #218 Dec 2019 of Writers’ Forum magazine.

I have also reviewed some of Juliet Clare Bell’s picture books on my blog. Have a look at Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury, illustrated by Jess Mikhail and Benny’s Hat, illustrated by Dave Gray.

 

Re-evaluate your plot

Last week I talked about re-evaluating your characters. Take a look here.

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Sometimes it is also a good idea to stop what you are writing even if you have not finished the book and re-evaluate your plot.

  • A novel needs an ending but this ending need not be cast in stone. You need to have something to work towards, something to aim for.
  • With plot, you also need to have a sub-plot. The sub-plot moves the reader along.
  • It is very tempting to have another set of characters coming in when the hero needs to learn important information, try to avoid this. Sharpen in the re-write by cutting subsidiary characters.
  • Don’t overcrowd scenes. Does the plot really require lots of people to be together in one place at one particular time? Be economical in the number of cast and scene changes. See action in your sequences. Think like a play-write or film director. You can fast forward and backwards to visualise your plot as frames. This way you can see if it isn’t running smoothly form one scene to the next.
  • Use flashback rather than having a large scene that shows the plot and use it with purpose to move the story on.
  • Imagine conversations to hone dialogue.
  • In the first draft don’t worry about getting it right, just get it out of your mind and onto the paper, then you can edit and mould it into shape. The first draft is the bones – the bar skeleton.
  • Analyse where your peaks and troughs are and always finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • If you use symbolism, it must play a part in the conclusion.
  • End as soon as possible after the dramatic climax of the novel. Open with a bang but don’t go out with a phut.

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Book review – Are you a Monkey?

Title: Are you a Monkey? A Tale of Animal Charades

Written and Illustrated by: Marine Rivoal

Published by: Phaidon Press

Are you a Monkey

This is a creative non-fiction book using animal characters and the guessing game of charades to divulge poignant facts about a wide variety of jungle animals. The title Are you a Monkey? is memorable, intriguing and matches the tone of the story, as well as highlighting the charades theme of this picture book.

The beautiful screen-printed illustrations are bright and fun, creating a lively jungle setting and atmosphere. The structure of the book is ideal for keeping a child turning the pages to find out who is character is acting out, whilst providing space for the child to interpret the story, with added humour as toucan keeps guessing wrong.

I personally felt Marine Rivoal could have developed each individual character more with exciting sound effects and a wider variety of dialogue, rather than using the same phrase to disclose what animal they were pretending to be. There was also an explanation of what charades is at the beginning, which I felt was not necessary and a little preachy. The story works well without this.

A cute and satisfying ending that resolves the question of who the tiny starfish could act out, creating a ‘big reveal’ moment and bringing the story full circle.

This book would be great for acting out the characters at home or in the classroom and could spark of a wide range of investigative work on finding out more about the animals portrayed.

An interview with… Kathleen Duey

I interviewed her in November 2007, as a speaker at the SCBWI Bologna Conference, March 2008.

Kathleen Duey is the author of over 70 children’s and young adult books including historical fiction, nonfiction, picture books and dark fantasy. She was one of the 2007 finalists for the National Book Award for Literature for Young People, with her novel Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic. She writes for adults with a partner; they have a finished novel with an agent and a second work being optioned by HBO. She lives in San Diego County, USA.

Kathleen Duey

This is what Kathleen told me:

I always want to be a writer. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me and got me started writing stories. Then an English teacher in high school made me promise I would keep writing and give it a serious try, which I finally did, in my late thirties. Mrs. Fredericksen and Mr. Doohan. Bless ‘em both.

She explained all the work she has done and all the play, informs her writing. Living off-grid for a long time shaped her, too. She missed a couple of decades of TV. She does a lot of historical research for her books. But, the research never hampers her historical fiction. She uses a lot of primary sources and they always enrich, guide, inform. She told me she has never once felt constrained by facts.

Kathleen said she identifies very closely with all her characters, so in a way, has been all of them. She could live where Heart Avamir lives. (The Unicorn’s Secret) in fact she hinted she did, in a weird way, but that’s a whole story in itself. Her life has been extraordinary – she dropped out of the mainstream and lived off the land for many years. That gave her a rich vein of knowledge to mine.

Her childhood influenced what she writes in every way. She grew up in rural places, was raised by rural parents. She writes historical fiction and fantasy… both usually low tech, in cultures where people are close to the soil. As a child, her parents bought her non-fiction, almost exclusively. The first novel she loved was Molly Make Believe, an old book she found in her great Aunt’s apartment. Then came Black Beauty and then all the Farley books. In middle school she discovered fantasy and SF and was astounded at the created worlds, the possibilities of speculation, the massive intellects of the writers.

Kathleen claims the best books are autobiographical to some degree.

I work alone, almost always, in my office at home. I often play music, quietly. Sometimes I prefer silence. If it is chilly, Rooibos tea is wonderful. The hardest part of writing is sitting still, indoors – I hate it. The shortest time it has taken me to write a book is nine days. the longest was fifteen years.

She told me, people just need to figure out what is comfortable, what works for them when it comes to social media and marketing. She likes travel, she loves schools and speaking has become fun even though she said she began as a nervous, two-puke speaker, she now enjoys it.

Every book presents different obstacles, various areas of clear sailing.

I like every genre I have written in and intend to try more. It’s just the way my brain works; it’s not a conscious business choice or a deliberate artistic decision. It is about the individual project for me, not the genre. Whatever takes my breath away – that’s what I want to write. I like writing for all age groups. I seem to thrive on variety. Writing for kids is an obvious choice for me. I like kids. And I am head over heels in love with the possibility of touching a child’s (or a teen’s) life the way mine was touched by books.

 

Re-evaluate your characters

Sometimes you need to step back from your writing and take a deeper look into your character’s and their story so they do not appear flat on the page.

Flat Stanley

Ask yourself if your readers can relate to your protagonist. You need to consider who will be reading your book. It does not matter how clever, funny and charming your characters are, will the readers truly care about them. What can you do to make them care more?

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Often you can relate to your readers by giving your main character a problem they can empathise with. But it is not just the hero you need to consider. You also need an enemy for your hero to battle against. Someone who is blocking their way to achieving their goals.

The antagonist in your story should appear to be everything that your protagonist is not but they must also have some good qualities as well. People are not good or evil. Your characters should have the same character traits, as the rest of humanity to give them depth. Both your hero and antagonist need to have a few bumps in the road. Life isn’t smooth. Let them both make mistakes and figure their way out of their problems.

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Begin and end your story with a bang. Remember your hero needs to learn a lesson about themselves. Are they braver than they thought? Did they know more than they thought? Were they in love with the person they thought? Your characters should have some type of self-realisation.

Peeta Mellark

It can be subtle. You do not have to go into a five chapter monologue on it, just give the readers some clues how they have changed.

Book review – The Jamie Drake Equation

Title: The Jamie Drake Equation

Written by: Christopher Edge

Published by: Nosy Crow

The Jamie Drake Equation

This is an ideal book for young sci-fi enthusiasts. It combines real interstellar facts with fantasy to produce a unique and heart-warming story that will keep the readers turning the pages.

Written in first person narrative, Jamie retells the story of his dad, Commander Dan Drake, who is about to embark on a spacewalk as part of a mission in search of alien life. He has been orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station for several months but won’t be back in time for Jamie’s eleventh birthday.

Jamie describes how he disturbed Professor Forster, an astronomer doing unofficial investigations into signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence, at the abandoned observatory and inadvertently picked up a weird signal on his mobile phone which he tried to charge it from her laptop. The phone buzzes in his pocket and strange messages start coming through from an ancient alien civilisation known as the hi’ive, which Jamie names Buzz. When Jamie’s dad gets caught in a solar storm during his spacewalk, Jamie and Buzz have to save him.

The Jamie Drake Equation touches on the issue of divorce without labouring the point. The reader is left with the sense relationships change but they are still a family. A satisfying, thought-provoking book for mid-grade readers, which will make you laugh and cry.