Book Review: The Crocodile Curse

Title: The  Crocodile Curse

Written by: Saviour Pirotta

Illustrated by: Jo Lindley

Published by: Maverick

 

The Crocodile Curse by Saviour Pirotta

The  Crocodile Curse by Saviour Pirotta is an exciting fantasy adventure seeped in Egyptian legend and a definite page-turner that will keep young readers hooked from the start. It is the second of the Nile Adventures published by Maverick and continues on shortly after the first book, The Heart Scarab ended.

As with The Heart Scarab it is written from the point of view of two very different voices: Renni a young artist apprentice who specialises in decorating tombs and temples and his elder brother, Mahu, a farmer in the Black Lands, who dreams of becoming a sailor. It was trying to achieve this dream that catapulted them into their last adventure where they had to return the heart scarab to General Tatia’s tomb to defeat the evil visier, Paser. The visier is a fantastic devious and currupt villain who the readers will be willing to fail.

On a trip with their friend, Princess Balaal, to Shedet to witness the Choosing Ceremony of the Golden One, they discover the visier is plotting to overthrow Pharoah Ramesses to seize power for himself. Renni, Mahu and Balaal have to find a way to stop him. Jo Lindley’s lovely illustrations portray the characters just as Saviour Pirotta describes them and brings the Egyptian setting to life.

I particularly liked the dynamics of the relationship between the two brothers. It was believable and realistic. They both take their responsibilities very seriously. Renni wants to make his uncle proud of his artistic abilities and since their father died it is up to Mahu to support them and their mother.

The Nile Adventures are ideal books for supporting a KS2 topic on Ancient Egypt. There is a concise Egyptian glossary at the back of each book and information about some of the Ancient Egyptian gods and places mentioned in the book, which is enhanced by the map at the beginning of each book. However, I felt the map in The Crocodile Curse could have included the Valley of the kings where chapter one opens and it would have been nice if the Ipet-Isut temple was labelled. This would help the reader to get their bearings and make comparing it to the map in The Heart Scarab easier.

A great edition to any school libray.

The Crocodile Curse is due to be released next week on the 28th August. You can buy a copy of, The Crocodile Curse by Saviour Pirotta and Jo Lindley, 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 Abi Reeves at Maverick for sending me review copies of both The Heart Scarab an The Crocodile Curse. Thank you.

An interview with… Katherine MacInnes

For the #246 17 Aug edition of Writers’ Forum, Katherine MacInnes, explained the challenges of writing a biography for a fatal historical event from the viewpoint of the people who were left behind.

Katherine with the figurehead from the Terra Nova ship that took the Scott expedition to Antarctica. The credit is Kate Stuart, figurehead of Terra Nova by permission of National Museum Wales.

Snow Widows: Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition by the Women Left Behind was Katherine’s way of showing the familiar story of these heroic husbands, fathers, sons and brothers who lost their lives on this epic expedition from the point of view of the women whose lives would be changed by it forever. Her aim was not to analyse, but to try to place the stories in their historical context and let the women speak for themselves.

Snow Widows: Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition by the Women Left Behind by Katherine MacInnes

Katherine told me how these women were truly inspiring.

“If I had chosen my subject on the basis of available material I would not have written Snow Widows. When I first started researching the Snow Widows over a decade ago, they were invisible. I was looking for inspiration at the time because my husband was about to climb Everest (our children were nearly five, nearly three and nearly one). He climbed it and came home, but by then I had discovered the treasures that are Oriana, Kathleen, Caroline, Emily and Lois. They have continued to be inspiring companions for me over the years as I hope they can now be for those who read my book.”

Katherine MacInnes

Katherine elaborated how Oriana Wilson, a true partner to the expedition’s doctor, was a scientific mind in her own right. She was a naturalist and partnered her husband on scientific expeditions to New Zealand.  She was a recognised collector for the Natural History Museum and I discovered two species had been named for her. 

Kathleen Scott, the fierce young wife of the expedition leader was also a renowned artist and sculptor She made portraits of most of the great and the good such as, George Bernard Shaw,  Asquith and was a confidant during his time as PM. 

The indomitable Caroline Oates was the very picture of decorum and everything an Edwardian woman aspired to be. She was very wealthy and sent funds to Cpt Oates.  She’d been widowed before this expedition, and ran a large country estate.  Increasingly private and cautioned the family not to talk to outsiders about Cpt Oates.  

‘Empire’ Emily Bowers had travelled the globe as a missionary teacher. had travelled the globe as a missionary teacher. She was ‘Birdie’ Bowers’ mother.  Her father had been a tailor, but she never admitted her lowly origins. Her daughter married co-op movement’s Sir William Maxwell, and became Lady Maxwell.  She lived on the Isle of Bute, Scotland – so quite remote. 

Lois Evans led a harder life than the other women, constantly on the edge of poverty.  She was a talented and popular singer in South Wales. She wasn’t treated equally with the other wives – getting a much lesser amount of the funds raised for the families, (Evans was a rating, the others were officers). Evans was unfairly blamed for the mission’s downfall – he was assumed to have caused a fatal delay. Scott’s posthumously discovered diary says “loss of reason” but now thought to have had a head injury. 

Her starting point was having the famous story as the obvious performance on the stage and the background people as the story in the wings and then she inverted it. Out of choice, she took a seat that gave her a clear view in to the wings of any theatre, the dancers warming up, the actors mastering their nerves. She wanted to see the back of the embroidery, an x-ray of that famous picture, the ‘making of’ at the end of a film.

Katherine told me one of the biggest challenges was researching the expedition from the women’s perspective as most of these women were intentionally invisible, almost self-erasing. Another challenge was giving these women equal balance within the book. Most of them burned their letters before their death (some of them burned their husband’s letters too). The only letters we have from Oriana Wilson are those that she sent out to friends where the friends kept them.

“I wrote articles in magazines and newspapers in the UK and NZ to ask if anyone had some in their attic. Several people did, including one sketch, the only one of hers that survives. It is, appropriately since her husband was Head of the Scientific Staff on the expedition, of two Emperor Pengiuns. Its rather moving. She drew it in April 1912 before she knew her husband was dead. In her sketch one of the penguins is walking away into the distance.”

Katherine MacInnes

She told me original documents have a special power – a link to the past. So she mined numerous sources including Kathleen Scott’s diary, housed at Cambridge University Library, various archives, family papers and books published by surviving expeditioners. She discovered much has been lost, including 50 letters from Taff to Lois, and Wilson’s correspondence, destroyed by Ory, fortunately after an early biographer had read it.

She also bought a book Edward Wilson, Nature Lover on Amazon. Until then everyone had thought that Kathleen and Oriana were not ‘focsle’ friends. But she found an inscription in that book in a hand she recognised as Kathleen’s. So they can’t have fallen out that badly after all. Handwriting gives us not only an indication of character but of emotion. When Kathleen Scott learns of her husband’s death nearly a year earlier, her normally wide rounded script (three words to a line) becomes small and pinched as she tries to master her emotions. It is a direct cipher to a state of mind in a way that carefully stoical, self-curated words may not be.

Her tip to other writers thinking of writing a biography is to buy file dividers and use them, religiously. And be really suspicious of existing photograph captions, especially if your protagonists were as overlooked as hers were. Katherine found so much mis-captioning even with mainstream photo libraries, archives and authorised biographies of the more famous protagonists.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #246 17 Aug 2022 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.

Book Review: Monty and the Monster

Title: Monty and the Monster

Written by: Rhonda Smiley

Chapter Illustrations by: Kev Hopgood

Cover Design by: www.ebooklaunch.com

Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley

Monty and the Monster is an exciting middle-grade adventure story full of twists and turns. The characters have been well fleshed out with their own quirks and foibles. The main character, Montague Hyde, lacks confidence and sees everyone as better than himself, especially his ‘perfect’ older brother, Kyle. He is fed up with moving house, as the gated university community he has just arrived at is the fourth move in two years. Each time Monty finds it difficult to make friends and attracts bullies like a magnet.

Things look bleak for Monty that is until he finds a trapdoor in his new attic bedroom. He climbs down the rope ladder and follows a series of tunnels to an underground chamber where he discovers a leather notebook full of experiments and a load of old crates packed with strange chemicals and potions. He follows the instructions to create himself a friend.

After a few false starts, Monty achieves his goal but it is not quite the friend he was expecting as he is eight-feet tall, covered in hair with razor-sharp teeth, long claws and really long eye-lashes. Monty calls his new friend Houdini because of the mysterious way he keeps escaping. When some of the local children start to go missing Monty is worried Houdini might be eating them. Even so, Monty refuses to get rid of his best friend.

A story of friendship and learning to trust your own instincts. This book is a fun read with a subtle gothic-horror feel, suitable for the 9+ age range. The settings are very vivid, especially the skatepark and Monty’s attic bedroom. There are some real laugh out loud moments. I particularly liked the final twist at the end which opens the book up for a sequel.

I also really like the addition of Kev Hopgood’s illustrations at the top of each chapter which show some wonderful facial expressions for Houdini. They add an extra dimension to the book.

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You can find out more about Rhonda Smiley and her books on her website: www.rhondasmiley.com and follow her on Twitter @RhondaJSmiley.

You can buy a copy of Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley from Kobo UK and Amazon UK here in the UK and in the US you can get your copy from: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble and Kobo US.

I have previously interviewed Rhonda Smiley for her Monty and the Monster blog tour. You can read the interview here: Blog Tour – Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley

I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for arranging for me to receive a review copy of Monty and the Monster.

Special Guest: Q & A with John Condon

Today I am excited to welcome to my blog another special guest. This time one of my favourite picture book writers, John Condon.

When John was a child he was always drawing. So much so that his mother and most of his teachers assumed he would one day become an illustrator or a designer; certainly not an author. Okay, technically he did become a designer… but he’s an author too. Which doesn’t surprise John in the least. John was born and raised in London, but he currently lives on its outskirts where it’s a little leafier. Importantly for him though, it’s just a train ride away from the buzz of town. His favourite holidays involve the sea, which inspires many of his story ideas. Although he doesn’t like to swim in it, he finds the sound of the waves calming and life affirming. He hopes one day to live close enough to the sea to hear it always.

I absolutely loved John’s picture book, The Pirates are Coming – a hilarious retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with not one but TWO twists! I was hooked to the end of The Wondrous Dinosaurium about a boy searching for the perfect pet. So I am thrilled to be able to interview John about his latest picture book, The Best Bear Tracker.

The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians

The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon is illustrated by Julia Christians and due to be released by Templar Publishing tomorrow on the18th August 2022.

Thank you John for agreeing to be a special guest on my blog today. It is a great honour to have you here. Let’s dive into the first question.

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Q&A with John Condon

When did you first realize you wanted to write picture books?

Relatively recently. I first conceived the idea of writing a picture book about 11 years ago, when I was still trying to make films. I wanted to create a gift (or perk) for investors in a planned film project and for some reason or other I decided that a picture book was the solution. I then set about converting the screenplay and loved the process. I didn’t manage to turn the script into a successful text, and eventually put it in a drawer, but the spark had been lit and I knew then that I wanted to write picture books. I actually dug that story out not too long ago and have decided to have another go at it. Watch this space.

My favourite bear tracking rule is Rule Number 5: Lure the bear into the open! What is your favourite bear tracking rule and why?

Hmm, I hadn’t considered it but looking at them all now I think it would be RULE 8: Always be brave. Bravery can take many forms, and it doesn’t have to mean wandering alone into a dark cave looking for a bear. To me in means feeling fear or apprehension about something that you want to do and not letting that fear dissuade you. I’ve often found that by being brave I’ve more often than not benefited in some way, whether big or small.

The Best Bear Tracker relies heavily on the illustrations for the humour. Did you have to write extensive illustration notes?

I tend to do that anyway. I know it’s frowned upon by many but I’m quite visual and I can’t help myself. Occasionally they prove to be very useful to editors but if they decide to ignore them, I have no problem with that at all. I just put them in to give an indication of what might happen rather than with any expectation they should be used. In this instance they were necessary, as you know, so there were notes for every spread. They weren’t always extensive, just clear. And, I would still say they were suggestions rather than rules. If the Templar team had other ideas, or Julia Christians my brilliant illustrator had other ideas, I wouldn’t have had an issue with that. Producing a book is without doubt a team effort, and I embrace that process wholeheartedly.

Do you have any rituals or routines that are part of your writing process?

I don’t have any rituals or superstitions and I’m still trying to figure out a routine that works for me. At the moment I tend to bounce between a few ideas, adding little bits to them as I go, until they are in a place where they more or less resemble a coherent story. Once one does, I’ll decide whether I actually like it enough to keep developing it. This is a tricky point in the process because I’ve found that the stories that excite me won’t necessarily appeal to an editor just as the stories that appeal to them don’t necessarily blow my socks off. As a result, I’ve stopped trying to predict which texts will be winners and just submit stories that I feel have value and then let the editors decide. Occasionally I’ll pin my hopes on one but very seldom do those get picked up. The Pirate story was one of those, but the bear story was not. Having said that, Julia Christians and the Templar team have done such an amazing job with it that I have finally fallen in love with the story. I think it looks gorgeous.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I honestly don’t remember many books from my childhood. I think I was a bit of a reluctant reader. I was more of a TV and movie person. I absolutely adored the cinema, which was why I eventually began trying to make films of my own. If you had asked me what my favourite film was as a child, I’d have a long list for you. If you asked me what my favourite TV show as a child was, we’d have to debate the multitude of options. Books took a while to capture my heart, but, of course, they eventually did.

Is there anything else you would like to tell readers about the best Bear Tracker and writing for children?

Only a request that anyone who reads and enjoys this book (or either of my other books) please leave a review on Amazon. Even if it’s just some stars, rather than a written review. It’s hard to know how effective any of this is but I know that I look at reviews and check the star ratings of any book I am considering buying. I also leave reviews for books I have enjoyed. It’s so important to authors to know their work has found an audience. I make very little money as an author (and it’s currently my only form of income) so that feedback gives me encouragement to continue writing. That goes for all children’s authors, I’m sure.

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Thank you John for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog.

You can find out more about John and his picture books on Twitter @John_Condon_OTT, Instagram @john_condon_author, Facebook @john.condon and on his website: www.johncondon.co.uk.

You can read my review of The Pirates are Coming! by John Condon and Matt Hunt here: Book Review: The Pirates are Coming!

You can discover more about John and his writing tips in another interview I did with him, this time for the September 2019 Writing for Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum: An interview with… John Condon

Also discover the highlights of John Condon’s book launch for The Pirates are Coming! here: John Condon’s book launch

John’s books are available to buy in any good bookshop and online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

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.