Anita Loughrey's blog. This is my journal about my experiences and thoughts on writing. As well as news about me and my books, it includes writing tips, book reviews, author interviews and blog tours.
For more information about me and my books see my website: www.anitaloughrey.com. Follow me on Twitter @amloughrey, Facebook @anitaloughrey.author and on Instagram @anitaloughrey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.”
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.
Check out SCBWI British Isles online magazine, Words & Pictures, to read the interview I did with Alice Hemming about how she is inspired byHans 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 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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
Exciting news! Today I am hosting Roo Parkin for the next stop of their blog tour for their picture book, Sid’s Big Fib, published by Maverick Books.
Sid and his friend Lulu are always trying to outdo each other. Yet, Lulu always seems to win their brag-a-thons until one day, Sid tells a fib, which quickly escalates to a bigger and then an even bigger fib. Sid considers telling the truth but before he knows it his fib is discovered. After setting things right, Sid learns you don’t have to lie to have fun.
I hope hope you are as eager as me to learn more about Sid’s Big Fib and Roo’s writing process so let’s get on with the interview.
What inspired you to write Sid’s Big Fib?
Sid’s story (about two children desperate to outdo one another) began life in a writing class. Why it took the form it did was probably down to a myriad of things. I had powerful childhood memories of certain super-competitive playmates and their comical but disproportionate desires to be ‘the best’. (Whatever ‘the best’ was supposed to be.) It also struck me how, sometimes, this never goes away. One glance at social media will show you how people love to out-holiday, out-handbag, out-cake one another. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing fun details about your life, but let’s say not everything is always as it seems. I also love using language in fun ways, and Sid’s story had an escalating energy of its own that really lent itself to that.
How do you get inside your character’s heads?
I won’t claim I always do this but, for Sid, I spent some time writing an extract from his point of view about many things not necessarily connected to the story. Themes included Sid’s thoughts about school, who he found cool, why his dad sometimes annoyed him. It was nice to find his voice without worrying about the word count.
What’s your favourite writing snack or drink?
I’d say chocolate buttons. A lot of chocolaty bang for your buck if you let them melt in your mouth one by one with a nice cup of tea.
Do you have a favourite spread in the book?
Hmm. Story-wise, the second spread where we realise Lulu is going to out-brag Sid every time with her cheeky backchat and things are going to spiral. Illustration-wise, there’s a great double spread where the school dinner lady rumbles Sid’s fib. The kids have clocked it too and there is so much emotion in those drawings: fury, shock, absolute hysteria. The brilliant illustrator, Irina Avgustinovich, excelled at bringing my words to life.
What books did you grow up reading?
You know, I don’t remember reading that many picture books when I was little. I was always in the King’s Lynn town library, and they must have had some, but maybe not as many as they’ll have now! Later, Winnie the Pooh was a great favourite of mine – an incredible piece of work, and I loved all the usual children’s classics. But The Witch’s Daughter by Nina Bawden had a big impact on me – such an atmospheric story that amazes me to this day.
Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
For sure, my crit group The Book Bees. They put in so much effort reading drafts and making suggestions. My writing experience wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without those ladies. Friends and family are thrilled for me, of course they are, but no one else quite understands the process or what the wins and disappointments mean as much as other writers. There are also lots of lovely people on Twitter who happily yeek, yay and retweet stuff – which is so kind and much appreciated.
Is there an aspect of writing for children you wish someone had told you when you started out?
That everything would take ages but getting published was something I could achieve. I would have applied myself much, much earlier if I had known! I thought it was something other people did and that those ‘other’ people all had first class English degrees from elite universities. There is so much free or affordable information out there now – no one should feel that writing is only for members of an exclusive club.
I would like to thank Maverick Books for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I would also like to thank Roo Parkin for agreeing to a Q&A for this stop of the tour. Thank you.
To join the other stops of the Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin blog tour check out the schedule below:
You can find out more about Roo Parkin and her books on Twitter @RooParkin, and on Instagram @roogirl73.
Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Avgustinovich is available to buy from Maverick, or from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. It is also available at:
In my Writing 4 Children slot in issue #245 13 Jul 2022 of the UK national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, Rachael Davis explained to me why books that break stereotypes are important for young children.
She explains representation is so important in children’s books. Rachael revealed the first time she saw herself reflected in a picture book was in Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers.
“It was an incredibly emotional moment for me and inspired me to try writing for children myself. For me, creating characters young children will identify with stems from finding your voice. Your unique life experiences will be relatable to a child somewhere and by tapping into your inner child, you can reach them through the stories you tell.”
Her debut picture book I am NOT a Prince, illustrated by Beatrix Hatcher, is an inclusive, rhyming fairy tale for the 21st century that challenges gender stereotypes. On a misty lagoon in a fairy tale land, young frogs wait patiently to be turned into princes. When Hopp refuses to be kissed and turned into a prince, the magical frog sets off on an adventure to prove you can be whatever you want to be.
I am NOT a Prince is full of universal characteristics and emotions which readers young and old can relate to. This unique picture book is about not having to conform to stereotypes and being proud to be yourself. She hopes will realise that, regardless of gender, race, upbringing and societal expectations, it is okay to be yourself.
Rachael revealed that before the idea for I am NOT a Prince came to her, she had known for a while that she wanted to write a story about being proud to be yourself.
“I wanted to write a story that was inclusive to as many children as possible. I hope lots of children can relate to it, including the LGBTQ+ community.”
She explained one of the most important things to remember when writing books for children that have a big theme, such as breaking stereotypes, is that first and foremost you need to write a captivating story. Unless it is an information book, the message should not be overpowering the plot.
While I am NOT a Prince does offer children an accessible way to start a conversation about gender stereotypes, it can also just be read as a fun twisted fairy tale that empowers children to be themselves. If you read the book carefully you will notice that I haven’t used a single pronoun in the book, for any of the characters (not he/him, she/her or they/them). It invites the reader to draw their own conclusions about gender expectations.
Her advice to other children’s book writers is that when trying to write for children, originality is key. If you are new to writing, twisting a traditional tale can be a great place to start. You can take confidence from the fact that the original story beats (plot points, the highs and lows) are working well: no soggy middles or pacing issues to be seen. The fun comes in looking at how you can twist the story beats to add even more impact.
However, as fun as it is, finding a knock-out twist can be incredibly tricky. Market research is really important because there are lots of brilliant twisted fairy tales already out there and you need to find your own unique angle. What she loves most about writing for children is that you have the opportunity to write a variety of different types of books.
It is with great pleasure I join the blog tour for Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao.
Xiran Jay Zhao is the #1 bestselling author of the Iron Widow duology. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their bio-chemistry degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.
My contribution to the blog tour will take the form of a book review.
Title: Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
Written by: Xiran Jay Zhao
Cover Design by: Karyn Lee
Cover illustration by: Velinxi
Published by: Rock the Boat
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is a fun, roller-coaster middle-grade fantasy with foundations in the real world. I must say that before I even opened the book I was captivated by the fantastic front cover designed by Karyn Lee and illustrated by Velinxi. It is absolutely gorgeous and had me mesmerised. The story follows twelve-year-old Chinese-American, Zachary Ying, who has been bought up by his mother first in New York and then in Maine, United States, after they escaped from the Chinese government.
In the same way as Rick Riordan uses Egyptian mythology in the Kane Chronicles and Greek mythology in his Percy Jackson series, author Xiran Jay Zhao, successfully uses Chinese mythology and folktales in what promises to be the first of the Zachary Ying books. The amusing chapter titles were a clever device, which made me want to read on and find out more.
I enjoyed the exploration of modern day Chinese politics with all its trials and tribulations and was fascinated by the amazing diversity of the Chinese people. I also felt Zack’s apprehension about other people’s attitudes to his cultural background was realistically portrayed. This was evident in the fact his mum didn’t teach him Mandarin, as she didn’t want him to have an accent at school, and in the way he furtively tries to compost his freshly cooked Asian packed lunch as he does not want the other children to tease him about not eating ‘American’ food. However, because he never embraces his Chinese heritage he is utterly unprepared for the ensuing quest. He is told more than once he worries too much about what people think of him.
Zack is a great character with a unique voice who captures the reader from the start. He plays as a team with his so-called ‘friends’, in his favourite online augmented reality game, Mythrealm, which is played through a clear AR headset, styled like a hero’s mask from DC or Marvel, as can be seen on the beautiful front cover. The game is a Pokémon-style game where players wander the streets to find unique characters. Xiran Jay Zhao cleverly combines this AR gaming with Chinese myths and history to create an exciting action-packed adventure that will have readers hooked.
Simon Li, who channels the Emperor Taizong of Tang, arrives at his school and explains to Zack he is a descendant of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and was born to host this Dragon Emperor’s spirit. But Qin Shi Huang fails to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead. The Dragon Emperor presents Zack with gaming tags through the headset, which provides often hilarious key facts about each new character, explaining their role in history and effectively move the story forward.
When Zack’s mum’s soul is abducted and she consequently falls into a coma, Zack is told he must travel with the spirit-possessed headset to China to help shut the portal to the China’s underworld to save her. They have until the deadline of the seventh lunar month (known as Ghost Month) which is in only fourteen days. He believes if they fail he could lose his mum forever.
In China, Zack and Simon meet up with Melissa Wu, who channels the only female emperor in China’s history, Wu Zetian. Zack must learn how to use the emperor’s water dragon powers so together with his new ‘friends’ they can find the magical Chinese artefacts to defeat a host of historical and fictional figures.
Xiran Jay Zhao’s world building is excellent. I liked the way the magic became more powerful through the stories being kept alive in people’s minds, despite whether they are fact or fiction, and how this linked to the stories portrayed in computerised games and movies, as well as in the myths and legends.
Through his journey Zack learns about his ancestry and discovers Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a tyrant who lies, cheats and killed many people to get what he wanted. Zack struggles with whether he should be helping him or not. As the story progresses, he finds it more and more difficult to determine right from wrong. He ultimately discovers what it means to be truly strong.
I would recommend this book to all middle-grade readers who love fast-paced fantasy adventures. I am looking forward to the second book in the series.
To follow the rest of the blog tour please take a look at the schedule below:
I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. I would also like to thank Rock the Boat publishers for sending me a review copy. Thank you.
You can buy copies of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
I am happy to announce today is my stop on the Secrets of an Undercover Activist by Nat Amoore blog tour.
Nat Amoorewrote and directed international award-winning short film Elemenopee. She currently has a feature film and a kids’ TV series in development. Nat was a recipient of the CBCA Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program for 2018. Nat has a kid-lit podcast One More Page, which was nominated for the ‘Best Newcomer’ category at the Australian Podcast Awards 2018. Nat’s debut Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire was a children’s book bestseller in Australia and Secrets of an Undercover Activist won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature. But most importantly, she used to be a trapeze artist and had a pet kangaroo when she was little.
A brilliant, fast-paced adventure that will have you laughing in your seats. Casey Wu tries to stay out of the spotlight, which is why no one would suspect her of being the mastermind behind a string of attention-grabbing pranks at her school.
Together with best friends Zeke and Cookie, she is part of Green Peas – a secret activist organisation designed to make adults sit up and pay attention to important environmental issues. But when the three young activists get wind of a major cover up in their town, things really start to get serious. It’s time for Green Peas to stage their biggest prank yet. This book is hard to put down.
Winner of the Environment Award for Children’s Literature in Australia. Shortlisted for the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2021. Shortlisted for the Young Australians Best Book Awards for Older Readers
Todays’ stop takes the form of an author interview.
What are the underlying themes of Secrets of an Undercover Activist?
There’s a lot going on under the surface of this book. The fun pitch is ‘three kids who are passionate about the environment take down an evil mayor who is trying to destroy their local park using epic pranks’. But like all good stories, ‘Secrets of an Undercover Activist’ is layered and complex. It explores themes of activism, how far is too far, grief, loss, family relationships, friendship and community, finding your tribe, disability representation, self-reliance, making yourself heard, standing up for what you believe in and the grey area between right and wrong. I know that sounds like a lot for one kid’s book but I always want my books to reflect the world kids live in and kids run into all of this and more on a daily basis. I like to create a safe space for kids to explore all the things they are thinking about (and sometimes worrying about) while being lost in a hilarious and adventurous story.
If you were going to be an activist, what cause would you be most passionate about?
Oh this is so hard. There are SO many things going on right now that honestly keep me up at night. I guess I would have to say equal human rights because it’s a big umbrella idea that covers a lot of things that I am passionate about. For everyone to be able to live their lives safely and freely and make their own choices about themselves, their bodies, their relationships and how they live their lives.
How did you develop Cassie’s Wu’s voice?
There is a little bit of me in Casey. I think there is a little bit of me in all my main characters – it’s how I get the authenticity to begin with. But then I really need each character to feel and sound different, especially because I write in first person a lot. So I try and think of someone in my life who aligns closely with my character and channel them as I write. I know a kid who is very intelligent and strong-minded but also a little shy and ‘behind-the-scenes’. I kept her in mind a lot as I was writing Casey. But after I get a decent amount into the story, I find my characters usually take on a life of their own and I don’t have to try anymore, it’s like they speak to me.
What was the most fun scene to write of Secrets of an Undercover Activist?
Oooohhh, a lot of it was REALLY fun to write but if I had to choose, probably the opening scene. It’s based on a real prank at my school assembly and it was so much fun for me to write down what was essentially now a sort of movie scene in my head. In my previous book ‘Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire’ there is a mention of Casey and the alarm clock prank she wanted to do and ever since then I have wanted to write that scene. I think it makes a great opener and we learn so much about Casey in just one chapter. It also makes a really fun read aloud and sets up the tone of the book perfectly. I do have to admit all the pranks were fun to write though because I wanted them to be quite sophisticated and complicated so that took a lot of thought and consideration.
Tell us about your YouTube channel and any other forms of social media you think are useful for authors.
I have mixed feelings about how much social media helps me as a kid’s author (it’s different if you write for adults or teens). Nothing for me has more impact than actually getting in front of kids, connecting with them, making them laugh, getting them excited about reading. But we know this is not always possible. The beauty of things like YouTube is it allows me to connect with readers in remote areas, overseas, during Covid. It also creates content for teachers, librarians and parents to share with kids. So I definitely think you need a presence on social media but I’m not sure it needs to eat up half your life. I would rather spend time WITH kids than on social media or creating online content but, that being said, I love making funny videos and so YouTube (or videos for social content) is where I do dedicate my online time because I believe it is most likely to reach my most important audience – the kids!
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything what would it be?
Well, when I was young, I NEVER thought I would be a writer. I thought authors were super clever people who knew all the big words and knew where all the commas went and what a semi-colon is (I’m still not sure about that one). What I didn’t realise is that the most important part of being a writer is being a great storyteller. The rest you can learn if you want to. So I guess I’d tell my younger-self – ‘You’re wrong. If you want to, you can do it.’ I’d also tell myself to climb more trees while you’re young because people look at you weird when you do it as an adult!
Is there anything else you would like to tell readers about Secrets of an Undercover Activist and writing middle grade?
I think it is a surprising book (at least that’s what people keep telling me). It has everything you might expect – fun, humour, action-filled hijinks and a strong message about standing up and making yourself heard. But it has quieter themes of loss, family, differences, learning about yourself, diverse families, disability representation and finding out who you are. People (adults and kids) often write to me after reading my books to say they were surprised they had to reach for a tissue or about the in-depth conversations they had with their kids after reading it. I love that. I love to surprise a reader. Someone once said that my books were like ‘hiding vegies in the bolognaise sauce’ – I didn’t realise I did that. I just write how I feel. But if kids expect fun and hilarity from my work and then they get that AND a little bit more – then I couldn’t be more stoked!
What are your social media links where can people find out about you and your books?
Great question! Come follow me/check me out, I’d love to see you all online…
Where is the best place for people to buy your book in the UK?
I am fortunate enough that there are many places to buy my book in the UK. Fantastic stores like Waterstones of course. Or if you love to support your local indies, then check our bookshop.org. Or just head to the Rock The Boat website and decide for yourself…
Thank you Nat for agreeing to be interviewed as part of your blog tour.
Philip Womack expertly weaves mystery and suspense into this YA time-slip fantasy escapade. When a letter is delivered by a furtive silver-haired, silver-eyed boy inviting sixteen-year-old orphan, Tom Swinton, to stay at the equally furtive Mundham Farm in Suffolk, home of an unknown Uncle James, Tom weighs up the pros and cons and decides anything has to be better than being stuck alone again for the Summer at his boarding school. This is a decision he is forced to regret as the intriguing narrative progresses.
Tom befriends the silver-haired Kit and Leana the lurcher and he is beguiled by the alluring Zita, whom Tom feels is out of sync with the farm. He quickly realises there is something ominous about Mundham Farm, after all you don’t get many farms surrounded by moats where you have to reset the defence wards every day and get shot at by arrows. Tom stumbles across some old diaries written by a local rector’s daughter, recalling her encounters with Rohenga, a member of a mystical race known as the Samdhya. As Tom starts to uncover the truth and finds his uncle is not what he seems he is confronted with a difficult choice: freedom or infinite power.
With hints of Alan Garner’s Stone Book quartet and the secrets of a supernatural relationship with the natural world, Wildlord, is a compelling read. The characters are vivid and memorable. Throughout you do not know who you can really trust as they set each other up against each other. There is a strong sense of place and I enjoyed the way Philip Womack skilfully mixes the faerie world with mundane everyday life. There is some well-crafted imagery lulling the reader into a false sense of security from the ‘confusing ramble of corridors’ and array of chiming clocks inside the house, to the ‘large, white-tipped waves that loomed from the darkening swell and crashed over the bow’ of the ship that lay claim to his parents, which sets the tone for the dramatic twists and turns of this fast-paced adventure.
Wildlord is a must-read for people who enjoy intricate fantasy quests.
I would like to thank Philip Womack for personally sending me a copy of Wildlord to review on my blog. Thank you.