An Interview with… Rachel Ip

My blog today is a summary of my interview with picture book writer, Rachel Ip, which appeared in Writers’ Forum last year, in the #235 Aug 2021 issue. She talked to me about her picture book, The Forgettery, which has a theme of memory loss. The Forgettery is illustrated by Laura Hughes and published by Farshore Books.

Rachel revealed the inspiration for The Forgettery came from one of her daughters who asked where all the forgotten things go. Rachel loved the idea that we all have a library of forgotten things we can just dive into and explore.

The story gently explores the concept of memory loss and dementia. Amelia and her Granny find themselves inside the magical world of The Forgettery, where they find everything they have ever forgotten. Amelia helps her Granny find her most treasured memories and they make more along the way.

She told me the theme of memory loss came about quite organically when she started writing about memories and the concept of forgetfulness. She explained she didn’t set out to write a story about dementia, but in the (many!) re-writes it became more and more important to the story. 

“I was keen to write a hopeful story and show the close intergenerational bond between Amelia and her Granny, their joy in their time together and the importance of their memories and experiences, even those they may have forgotten.”

Rachel Ip

When Rachel was writing the story, she started researching how memories are made and why we forget things. She gathered together lots of advice and recommendations about how to talk to children about dementia, and how to support loved ones living with dementia from places like the World Health Organisation, and reports from Dementia UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and other organisations. Rachel told me all this research shaped the story – particularly the ending, where Amelia makes the memory book to help Granny remember their many special moments together. The book also includes lots of sensory details as Granny remembers the smell of fresh bread and the crackle of autumn leaves underfoot.

“It was important for me to use the right language to talk about people living with dementia, and those who support them. Although dementia isn’t explicitly mentioned in the story, that became important in the way the book was described in the various marketing materials (catalogues, online and back cover copy).”

Rachel Ip

Rachel explained she wanted to capture some of these light-hearted moments inside The Forgettery, as well as explore the deeper theme of memory loss. She advocates there’s something very relatable about forgetfulness. Children are forgetful. They’re busy living life in the moment. Adults are also forgetful. We forget our keys and our glasses. We’ve all felt that rush of nostalgia when a song on the radio takes us back 10 years, 20 years in a matter of moments.

With regards to her writing process, Rachel said if she is working on a particular story, she always read the latest draft aloud and see how it feels before starting to edit.

“I write in long-hand in my notebook until the story starts to take shape, then I create a dummy or page plan to see how the pacing and page turns feel. Only then do I write it up in Word to share with my critique group. Everything goes through critique at least once, often more, before I share it with my agent.”

Rachel Ip

She revealed she has a running list of story ideas in the back of her notebook. It might be a phrase or a question, possible titles, or themes she wants to explore. Gradually these come together and form a story idea. I was surprised to discover she had The Forgettery title long before she found the essence of the story.

For picture books, making a dummy or page-plan really helps her to see whether the pacing is working, and whether each page turn is exciting for the reader. You can download an editable page plan for a 32 page picture book from Rachel’s website here: www.rachelip.com/forwriters.

“The picture book plan helps me to see whether each spread feels sufficiently different for the illustrator to illustrate. With picture books, although I’m not an illustrator, I try to think visually when I write and I always edit to take out anything from the words that could be shown in the illustrations. I add illustration notes as I write, but then I try to remove them all before sharing with my agent (unless the story wouldn’t make sense without them).”

Rachel Ip

She explained, The Forgettery was originally rhyming, and she shared it with course tutors, Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horácek, on a picture book course at the Arvon Foundation. Joyce told her to “rewrite it in crystal clear prose.” This struck a chord with Rachel.

Rachel said there’s a lot of luck and timing involved in being published but if you have a story you really believe in, persevere. She explained that The Forgettery was rejected many times on submission to agents. Her agent, Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson, rejected it a year before she signed with her for another story. By then she had taken Joyce’s advice and rewritten The Forgettery many times and it was much stronger than her original submission. Perseverance is key.

I have previously reviewed another lovely picture book book written by Rachel, The Last Garden by Rachel Ip and Anneli Bray on my blog. You can read the review here: Book Review: The Last Garden.

You can find out more about Rachel Ip and her writing at www.rachelip.com and follow her on Twitter @RachelCIp and on Instagram @RachelCIp.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #232 May 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Libby and the Parisian Puzzle

Title: Libby and the Parisian Puzzle

Written by: Jo Clarke

Illustrated by: Becka Moor

Published by: Firefly Press

Libby and the Parisian Puzzle

I really enjoyed this book and was hooked by the first page. It is such a great concept. Libby and the Parisian Puzzle is the story of a young girl who is being sent to join the Mousedale Travelling School, run by her Aunt Agatha. The school is going to be in Paris that term and Libby’s mum waves goodbye to her from the platform of the Eurostar in London. Libby is conflicted as she is excited to be going to a new school but upset she can’t travel to Ecuador with her photographer mother as she normally would.

Libby is a brilliant character that jumps off the page. Her love of mysteries, impulsiveness, love of photography like her mum and determination to get to the truth no matter what, are ideal traits for this young amateur detective. The concept of a travelling school is ingenious allowing for a different setting each book. A fantastic set-up for this unique new series. At Libby’s new school she meets Connie who is also new and they soon become best friends. The story reminded me of a modern version of the Enid Blyton Malory Towers series, which I loved as a child. They go and visit all the main attractions in Paris and during their visits her Aunt is accused of stealing a distinctive jewelled brooch. Libbie and Connie embark on a quest to prove her innocence.

Jo Clarke has set the age range flawlessly for the lower middle grade reader (age 7 – 9 years). This book had plenty of intrigue and the exact amount of red herrings to keep the young readers turning the pages. Jo shows skill in creating well-developed, believable characters with their own distinguishing features so she just has to mention the white and black zebra patterned coat, or the man with the bow tie and we know instantly who she is talking about.

Jo’s vivid descriptions of Paris brought back memories of my own visits to the Eifel Tower, Montmartre and The Louvre. I particularly liked Libby’s reaction to the Mona Lisa, which resembled my own when I first saw it. She includes lots of food and drink that evokes all the senses. My hankering for macaroons and intake of drinking hot chocolate certainly increased during reading this book. Thank goodness for Options! Her descriptions were complimented perfectly by Becka Moor’s illustrations, from Connie’s long flowing red hair to Libby and Connie’s shared bedroom in the school. The detail in each illustration was superb.

I would recommend this book to all young mystery lovers. Jo includes several mysteries to solve as well as the case of the missing brooch. The build-up of how they prove her Aunt’s innocence and expose the guilty party is cleverly and sensitively plotted, avoiding the children doing anything untoward that would make them just as guilty. This is especially true when you consider how two young children are unlikely to be believed over the word of the adults without suitable evidence to back-up their accusations. The final conclusion was realistic, convincing and a delightful climax to this outstanding debut novel. I also enjoyed the sneak peek chapter for the next book in the series, Libby and the Highland Heist.

This book would be ideal for both shared and independent reading in the classroom and would be a brilliant addition to the class bookshelf and all primary school libraries.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

An Interview with… Rebecca Smith

In another author interview flashback, I recount when Rebecca Smith told me she used photos and family history to write her saga, The Ash Museum, published by Legend Press. The interview appeared in my ‘Research Secrets slot of Writers’ Forum issue #234 Jul 2021.

The Ash Museum, is an intergenerational story of loss, migration and Rebecca’s search for somewhere to feel at home, inspired by people on her father’s side of the family and what happened to them. She follows their story for five generations and over one hundred years. The character, Emmeline Ash, was inspired by Rebecca’s great grandmother, Edith Hubback, who co-wrote Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers in 1906.

The Ash Museum is based on what happened to Edith Hubback and her children. Edith’s son, Rebecca’s grandfather, went to India as a tea planter in the 1930s. There he fell in love with and had four children with her grandmother who was Indian. Her grandfather was killed at The Battle of Kohima in 1944. After this happened, the English side of the family took over the care of the four children (including Rebecca’s father) and they were sent to a boarding school on the other side of India; they never saw their mother again.

“I have always wished I knew my paternal grandparents and great grandparents and particularly wanted to know more about my Indian grandmother, about whom we know very little. I wondered what it was like to be her, to have this English “husband” and then to lose him and her children.”

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca’s character, Josmi, is based on what she imagined her grandmother to be like and is at the heart of her novel. In The Ash Museum, Emmie Ash (Josmi’s mixed-race granddaughter) wants to know more about Josmi, and this is one of the things that drives the plot. The novel is about the impact of this loss up and down the generations.

The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith

As part of her research Rebecca has collected hundreds of books that belonged to previous generations and she explained these were useful in creating characters and historical changes over the generations.

“We can tell so much by what people like to read. I have maps, books about rock climbing with my grandfather’s annotations, an atlas from the 1920s, and poetry, history, philosophy and most importantly, novels. There is a wealth of information to tap into.”

Rebecca Smith

When it came to adding historical details to family meals, she used the only cookery book one of her great aunts had –Radiation Cookery Book: A Selection of Proved Recipes for Use with ‘New World’ ‘Regulo’- Controlled Gas Cookers (19th Edition, 1936). REbecca reckoned it must have come free with her stove. She recognised some of the things she used to cook when she visited and Rebecca tried cooking those and other things herself to get an understanding of the process and how they felt.

The cookery book that belonged to Rebecca’s great aunt

Inspired by her family’s history, she was planning to write lots about The Battle of Kohima where her character, James dies, so she read lots about it and watched documentaries, but in the end Rebecca decided to do things more from his ‘wife’ Josmi’s point of view and ended up with just one very short battle scene. She told me that a lot of her notes and links to articles and images were stored on her phone.

Rebecca explained when she started writing a cousin gave her boxes of family papers. The photos, particularly of when her great grandparents were in Canada, and when her grandfather was in India, were extremely useful. She also found her great grandmother’s diaries kept when her children were small invaluable because her grandmother, Edith Hubback, had recorded things that so many mothers do – funny things her children said and the dates of their first steps and other milestones.

“It was so moving reading these observations 100 years on and knowing what had happened to her children when they grew up.”

Rebecca Smith

She elaborated that the photos showed how Edith had changed from being a beautiful young Edwardian in gorgeous dresses to looking quite broken in the 1940s after her son, my grandfather, had been killed. Rebecca wanted to capture that trajectory. Looking at photos of people and places over time to see how they have changed and traditions changed helped her to do this.

Edith Brown nee Hubback c.1907

Another great research resource was when she was the writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House. She saw the way the curator (then Louise West) used objects to tell the story of Jane Austen and how much can be conveyed and evoked in an economical way and the importance of the visual in storytelling.

Rebecca told me as people walk around the museum, they learn Jane Austen’s story by looking at small things – a needle case made for a niece, Cassandra’s teapot, the quilt made by the Austen women, and of course the books and letters. this observation made her realise by using objects she could have strong threads in the novel without having to ‘tell everything’ that happened.

“I ended up using objects to structure the novel too – it is in the form of a visit to a museum. I plan around scenes and key images – that helps make the writing more manageable and the finished work (I hope) pacier and more memorable.”

Rebecca Smith

Her tip to other writers who want to write a saga is to use your libraries. Librarians are a wealth of information and always pleased to help. she urges authors to make the most of their library card as it gives you access to wonderful resources, many of which you can use remotely so it does not matter where you live.

You can follow Rebecca Smith on Twitter @RMSmithAuthor and Instagram @rebeccamarysmith7

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #234 Jul 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t

Title: Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t

Written by: Michael Bright, John Farndon, Dr Jacob F. Field, Abigail Mitchell, Cynthia O’Brien, Jonathan O’Callaghan

Illustrated by: Mark Ruffle and Jack Tite

Edited by: Christopher Lloyd and J.E. Luebering

Published by: Britannica Books

Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t

Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t is a clear and concise encyclopaedia with a twist. This unique encyclopaedia explains what we already know in the fields of chemistry, physics and biology and what we still need to discover. Rather than listing the entries in alphabetical order it is organised in sequential time order – starting from the beginning of time, to the present day and looking into the future where its highlights some of the most intriguing unexplained puzzles in archaeology, engineering, history and science, whilst still embracing the fundamental truth everything is constantly changing.

Aimed at Key Stage Two, Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia is divided into eight chapters, each one written by a different author and all edited by the renowned writer of the What on Earth wallbooks, Christopher Lloyd. The eight chapters are: Universe, Earth, Matter, Life, Humans, Ancient & Medieval Times, Modern Times, and Today & Tomorrow.

Each subject area is explored using diagrams, illustrations, infographics, maps and photography, as well as text. It is divided into separate coloured blocks so even the most reluctant reader can browse, or dip in and out. All the facts and explanations provide a mammoth amount of information in original and engaging ways, which will interest older children and adults as well as KS2. Perfect for STEM education.

Over 100 experts have been consulted in the compiling of this book. At the bottom of each double-page is a credit to the expert who has checked the information and facts included on that spread. At the end of each chapter is an interview with three different experts, explaining what they love about their job and what they are working to discover at the moment. Together these experts form a directory of innovators who have changed the course of history or science with their actions and discoveries. There is also a multiple-choice quiz at the end of each chapter so readers can test their own comprehension. All the answers can be found somewhere within the chapter but are also listed upside-down at the bottom of the quiz.

Readers of all ages will love discovering the facts, lists and information, which may inspire them to do their own research to uncover some of the remaining mysteries of our planet, the universe and beyond. There is cross-referencing so they can explore the topic further from different perspectives in the other chapters broadening their interest and knowledge. What I particularly like is how it highlights particular areas which need our attention that may be of interest to young conservationists.

This exquisitely presented, 416-page compendium of amazing, mind-boggling facts you can trust, will provide hours of exciting learning for curious readers all over the world. An excellent resource to support any topic in the classroom and could be used for homework and home-schooling. This book would make the ideal gift.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

An Interview with… Tania Unsworth

This week’s author interview is a flashback to when I interviewed Tania Unsworth For my Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum, issue #233 Jun 2021. Tania talked to me about how in-depth research permeates every aspect of her novel, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, published by Zephyr.

Tania told me that even before she began writing the book, she knew she needed to tell part of the story from the point of view of the tiger. But she didn’t want him to be a creature of whimsy or magic. She wanted him to be real. Or as close to real as she could manage, given the impossibility of knowing exactly what it’s like to be another animal. It was important for her to learn as much as she could about the physical characteristics and behaviour of wild tigers.

To do this she started by revisiting two classic books: My India the memoirs of legendary tiger hunter-turned conservationist Jim Corbett, and Peter Matthiessen’s powerful Tigers in the Snow. Then a quick google search turned up The Tiger by John Vaillant. Tania told me the latter extraordinary, beautifully written book was full of information and imagination-triggering insights. It also had a lengthy bibliography enabling Tania to source less well-known – but vital – texts, such as Richard Perry’s The World of the Tiger and Spell of the Tiger by Sy Montgomery.

The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

Tania explained she did far more research for The Time Traveller and the Tiger than ended up in the novel, filling her notebook with pages and pages of unused facts, along with drawings of various jungle creatures, because she approached the research in a broad, almost scattershot way, happy to go down any number of online rabbit holes, or wade through scientific accounts detailing how tigers are able to see in the dark or the life cycle of bamboo trees.

“I wasn’t always sure what I was looking for, but I knew it when I saw it; the spark of something I could use, the sudden reshaping of an idea. Casting a wide net in this way made the research process far more dynamic. It didn’t just provide authenticity for my story, it also helped me discover how to tell that story.”

Tania Unsworth

Along with books, Tania scoured YouTube for clips of tigers roaring, growling and ‘chuffing’, and watched documentaries such as David Attenborough’s Dynasties to get a sense of the physical presence of tigers – the way they move and sound and react to their environment.

Her book is set in the jungles of central India, and initially she thought it would be enough to go through Google Images for pictures of ‘Kipling country’, and do a thorough online search on the flora and fauna of the region to find out what a banyan or a peepal or a sal tree actually looked like. But she soon realized that this wasn’t going to be enough. Tania revealed spending a week in Kanha and Bandhavgarh – two tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh changed everything.

“Setting is important to me as a writer, particularly in this book, where the beauty and fragility of the natural world is a big part of the story itself. You can’t tell what the jungle smells like (wild basil and warm grass) just from looking at pictures. And no audio recording of birds and animals can compare to standing in the forest and hearing them for yourself. The notes I made during my week in India transformed the second draft of my book and helped to bring my story to life with a hundred details. The way that termite mounds glitter with tiny fragments of mica. The sound of dew dropping from leaf to leaf in the early morning. The shafts of sunlight pouring through the trees like columns in a temple…”

Tania Unsworth

Her trip wasn’t just useful in terms of providing authentic details. It also gave herideas for plot and character development. For example, the villain iis a man called Sowerby who operates out of a remote hunting lodge. She had a lot of fun describing his study – a ghastly collection of knick-knacks and furniture, all made from animal parts. The inspiration for this came from a visit to the Museum of Science in Boston where I’d marvelled at the reconstruction of a gun room belonging to a certain Colonel Colby, crowded with animal skins and trophies.

When Tania googled ‘objects made from animal parts’ she came across hundreds of old photographs of items – from chairs to waste-paper baskets – that had been constructed out of various wild creatures. Discovering this long-ago trend for grisly home décor gave credence to my description of Sowerby’s room.

To find out more about Tania and her novels visit her website: www.taniaunsworth.com and follow her on Twitter: @TaniaUnsworth1.

You can read my review of The Time Traveller and the Tiger on my blog here: Book Review: The Time Traveller and the Tiger.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #233 Jun 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: It’s a Jungle Out There

Title: It’s a Jungle Out There

Written by: Tracy Gunaratnam

Illustrated by: Valentina Fontana

Published by: Maverick Books

It’s a Jungle Out There by Tracy Gunaratnam and Vanentina Fontana

It’s a Jungle Out There is a delightful picture book from Maverick Publishing ideal for reading out loud to a class or child at home. The children will love the idea of a nit picker and be entertained by the exuberant hairstyles of the stylist. The jungle animal theme is brilliant.

Panzee is bored of nit picking in the jungle and wants a more challenging job. When the king of the jungle suggests she styles the other animals hair she is in her element but when Bouffant Bill the royal stylist is summoned the king still announces her as the royal nit-picker, much to Panzee’s dismay.

However the animals revelry and crazy antics are not suited to such bouffant and extravagant hairstyles and wigs. So their hair soon gets in a mess again and they need to return to the stylist. The royal stylist throws down his scissors as he is stressed, overworked and thoroughly exhausted but refuses to simplify his hairstyles.

This is a story about self-fulfilment and finding out exactly what makes you happy. I particularly adore the illustrations and colour palette. Valentina Fontana does not use bold outlines for the characters which give them a more natural feel.

A great addition to the class book corner. It’s a Jungle Out There could also be used to compliment Key Stage One topic work on life in the jungle.

You can buy a copy of, The Very Best Beast by Alison Green and Siân Roberts, direct from the publisher Maverick Publishing, from your local bookshop, or you can also purchase a copy online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

I would like to thank Maverick Publishing for sending me a review copy of The Very Best Beast to review on my blog.

Book Review: The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks

Title: The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks

Written by: Emily Kenny

Illustrated by: Flavia Sorrentino

Published by: Rock the Boat (Oneworld Publications)

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks is one of those rare gems that stands out above many middle grade novels. I was totally hooked by Emily Kenny’s unique concept of a young autistic girl who can talk to and shapeshift into different animals.

The book is set at Pebblewood Boarding School, situated on a cliff-top overlooking the beach and caves. The book opens with Alice finding it difficult to keep calm on the beach during the school’s open day, with the hazards of the gritty sand and slimy seaweed threatening to overcome all her senses. Her panic attack leads her to storm off, leaving her grandmother on the beach. When a seagull tells her he has a job for her, Alice is unsure whether she has sunstroke and is hallucinating.

Alice discovers she must endeavour to solve the mystery of who is stealing the animals. Her mission challenges her friendships with the other new students, Ottie and Tim. Both the animal and human characters have been well developed with distinct characteristic traits. All the main characters have difficulties fitting into their new school, each for their own reasons: Emily because she is on the edge of the autism scale, Tim because his mother is suffering from depression and Ottie because her uncle is the headmaster.

I would recommend reading this book as part of national mental health awareness week as, from a teacher’s point of view who has worked in special education, Emily’s portrayal of Alice’s coping mechanisms and problems negotiating new people and situations were realistic and sensitively portayed, as was Tim’s protectiveness of his mother and her depression. Perfect for stimulating a discussion on empathy.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks would be a great novel to read to a Key Stage Two class and is the ideal addition to any child’s bookshelf. There were several well-plotted twists and turns that even took me by surprise. Emily Kenny has succeeded in creating an exceptional book that left me wanting a sequel. 

I have previously featured Emily Kenny on my blog as part of her book tour for The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks. You can read the author interview here: Blog Tour – The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks by Emily Kenny.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks is available to buy now from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

You can find out more about Emily Kenny and her books on her website: emilykenny.co.uk, on Twitter @Emilie_London and on Facebook: @EmilyKennyauthor.

I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox and Rock the Boat Publishers for sending me a copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks to review on this blog. Thank you.

An Interview with… Lev Parikian

For my Research Secrets slot in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum #235 Aug 2021, I interviewed Lev Parikian about how his research for a previous book helped him to structure his creative non-fiction book, Into the Tangled Bank, published by Elliott & Thompson.

Lev explained, Into The Tangled Bank, grew from his second book, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? which is the story of the year he spent trying to see 200 species of British bird. It had occurred to him, while travelling the country researching the previous book that as well as the fascinating birds he encountered, the people watching them were worthy of study, whether they were novices with only a vague interest in what they were looking at or expert ornithologists with deep knowledge. It made him think of how we all experience nature in our own individual ways, so the broad idea of a book about ‘how we are in nature’ was born.

Into The Tangled Web by Lev Parikan

In honing the idea from that initial concept it occurred to Lev that he could weave together three stories: his own journey through nature; the people he met on the way; and some of the great naturalists of the past who devoted their lives to studying the mysteries of the natural world.

Lev told me his initial research included everyone he found who fell under the broad definition ‘naturalist’. He noted their dates, area of interest, where they lived, and how they might fit into the arc of the book. From there he whittled it down. He wanted it to move from the familiar and domestic – the wildlife we encounter in our homes and gardens and on our doorsteps – gradually outwards to take in a wide variety of habitats – not just the wild places like nature reserves and mountains and lakes and clifftops but local parks and zoos and even museums, where the wildlife is laid out for us to survey in close detail and at our leisure.

“I love birds, but the lives of twelve ornithologists might not have offered the range I was looking for.”

Lev Parikian

Lev revealed it was important to him to cover a variety of disciplines. This is why he included Walter Rothschild, founder of what is now the Hertfordshire wing of the Natural History Museum; the great poet John Clare, who wrote with such power about the nature on his local patch near Peterborough; Thomas Bewick, the engraver whose illustrations were many people’s introduction to the appearance of birds and animals they would never encounter in the flesh; Sir Peter Scott, a man of extraordinary breadth and founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (among many other achievements); Gavin Maxwell, who by all appearances preferred the company of otters to humans.

Charles Darwin’s English Heritage house in Kent, UK

The places he visited became gradually wilder – from the rather genteel surroundings of Charles Darwin’s English Heritage house in Kent to Skokholm, a small island off Pembrokeshire which was the first bird observatory in Britain, and is home to a couple of hundred thousand seabirds and just a handful of humans.

During his week on Skokholm, he was torn about how best to spend my time. He was writing about his own experience of the birds, so wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors looking at the birds and picking the brains of Richard and Giselle, the observatory’s wardens; but the island has an extensive library, filled with the works of its founder Ronald Lockley and much more, all of which he wanted to read. It was impossible to do everything.

“At the heart of the book was a desire to reflect the various ways we experience nature, whether actively (yomping across a boggy moor hoping for a glimpse of a disappearing curlew) or passively (slumped on the sofa listening to David Attenborough describing the sex lives of aardvarks). And really all that was required in that department was to observe people (including myself) as keenly as I observed nature. There was a fair amount of eavesdropping, but I also made a point of striking up conversations whenever I had the opportunity (and when appropriate) and listening to what people had to say.”

Lev Parikian

Lev explained he found recording all this information difficult and admits he is not naturally organised. But he does have a notebook, which he carries with him most of the time, and whenever possible he jots things down. He also makes use of technology which he said he finds indispensable.

“I took a lot of photographs with my phone to remind me of particular settings or encounters, and if I overheard something particularly interesting or funny it was generally quicker to jot it down in the Evernote app on my phone.”

Lev Parikian

He described the process of writing Into The Tangled Bank, as absorbing everything like a sponge and then squeezing it out afterwards. The trick, he claims, is knowing which is the good stuff.

You can find out more about Lev Parikian on his website www.levparikian.com and follow him on Twitter @levparikian and Instagram @levparikian and Facebook @levparikianwriter.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #235 Aug 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Inspirations from the Bookshelf – Alice Hemming

Check out SCBWI British Isles online magazine, Words & Pictures, to read the interview I did with Alice Hemming about how she is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen.

Alice hemming writes for children of all ages. She has over 50 books published in the UK and internationally, including picture books and chapter books. She has also written for websites, reading schemes and even a talking bear! Two of her books were selected for the National Library Summer Reading Challenge.

Alice Hemming

Alice recalls how The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen captured her attention when she was a child. She revealed that when revisiting the story as an adult, it was difficult for her to imagine what appealed to her four-year-old self, but she believes it had something to do with the comfort that is to be found within the tale in the flashes of warmth provided by the matches as the little girl tries to keep warm in the snow. A ‘polished stove’. A table set with a mouth-watering feast. A Christmas tree ablaze with candles. And, above all, the hug from the grandmother.

The Little Matchgirl

From that moment on Alice was hooked on Hans Christian Andersen. She told me she has even read Andersen’s autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life, although she still prefers the 1952 film with Danny Kaye!

Danny Kaye in the Hans Christina Snderson movie

She explained:

“Andresen hasn’t influenced my writing style, in that every Andersen fairytale I’ve read has been in translation, but he’s had a huge impact on my storytelling.”

Alice Hemming quote from Inspirations from the Bookshelf Interview

Her book The Frozen Unicorn (Scholastic 2022), is the first to reference Hans Christian Andersen and her absolute favourite story (or seven stories) of Andersen’s: The Snow Queen.

The Frozen Unicorn by Alice Hemming

Alice Hemming’s protagonist in The Frozen Unicorn, crosses a snowy landscape to confront an antagonist with a frozen heart, to save her lost love. She meets a hostile stranger in a flower garden, magically blooming in the snowy landscape. Alice has taken these ideas and made them her own. She captures the feeling of magical warmth and safety she found in Andersen’s work.

She explained she is sure she will continue to draw on Andersen’s stories for inspiration and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen will always give her a warm glow.

To read the complete feature please take a look at: Inspirations from the Bookshelf Hans Christian Anderson

You can find out more about Alice and her books on her website: https://alicehemming.co.uk

Book Review: Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow

Title: Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow

Written by: Kate Cunningham

Cover designed by: Rachel Lawston

Published by: Reading Riddle

Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham

This multi-viewpoint, plot driven, YA novel is set in a dystopian post-pandemic world. Kate in her acknowledgements explains she wrote the first draft of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow before Covid but completed her edits during the lockdowns.

This topical novel portrays a realistic insight into human nature. It is about a young girl known as Mary who has lived her whole life in a laboratory where everything was white. She has been kept alone apart from the testers who take samples from her dressed in full hazmat gear. The rest of society is run by five distinct groups.

“The five wealthiest men of the time of the plague had hidden away in their bunkers, then swooped in to take control as the old order crumbled, floundered and failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation until it was too late.”

Extract from page 34 of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham.

The five are:

  • Howner who ran the power supply
  • Charris who managed transport and medical supplies
  • Wuchenoge who organised security
  • Dansy who was head of housing.
  • Girin who controlled the orphan child-labour workforce who lived in the child bank.

The majority of the people live in poverty and many find themselves in situations where the only way for them to survive is to sell off a child to the child bank to live with the orphans. These children spend the rest of their lives working off their debt for being housed and fed.

Vander is one of the children from the child bank and was recently given the job as a tester in the Charris facility with responsibility for taking the samples from Mary. He feels sorry for her. He has lived through the Red Plague and seen the choices families had to make to survive. His feelings about her captivity and the desire to make a connection with someone leads him to release Mary. His actions trigger events that spiral out of control and change countless lives. Mary must decide what price to put on her new found freedom.

Each chapter is relatively short making it a hard novel to put down. At first I found it a little disconcerting as there is no one character the reader can identify with as we jump in and out of everybody’s head. Also a lot of, seemingly at first, main characters die. However, this multi-viewpoint approach did not put me off and I believe most YA readers will cope with this style of writing and will enjoy the novel for the intriguing and compelling plot, that lingers in your mind long after the book is finished.

There is a strong desire to know how it is going to end. Kate has plotted some brilliant twists and turns that keeps you guessing until the end. I think Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow would make an excellent movie.

You can buy copies of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham through all bookshops, large or small, and all the usual outlets online. Kate also has a free short story, linked to Mary, which is available through the newsletter on her website:  www.readingriddle.co.uk.

You can find out more about Kate Cunningham and her books on her website: www.readingriddle.co.uk, on Twitter @reading_riddle, on Instagram @reading_riddle, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/readingriddle and on TikTok: @readingriddle.

I have previously interviewed Kate Cunningham about her writing process for Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow as part of her blog tour. You can see the interview here: Blog Tour – Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for sending me a review copy of the book to review on my blog.