I’ve been very lucky to have been involved in lots of author events lately. It was a huge privilege to chair an author panel in the last session of the reluctant readers course that I gave for the South East branch of the Youth Libraries Group on Monday. Mo O’Hara, Helen Dennis, Garen Ewing and Lisa Williamson were all fascinating and highly entertaining.
Bizarrely, the genesis of Mo’s wonderfully funny Zombie Goldfish series was a real event. She and her brother resuscitated a dead goldfish when they were children, though by the sound of it, theirs was rather less interesting than the extremely feisty fish in her novels. Anyone who hasn’t yet discovered this series is in for a treat. It’s perfect for reluctant readers, with plenty of humour, great illustrations, and short chapters. There are two stories in each book to make reading less daunting.
Helen’s Secret Breakers series has lots of exciting action, as well as a cast of very resourceful characters. Bookish Brodie, we were told, is based on her. One of the many pleasures of the series is the plethora of codes and puzzles that the reader may or may not be able to solve. Helen is a primary school teacher, and has managed to get lots of maths, history and even music into her books without making them the least bit heavy-going.
Garen Ewing’s Rainbow Orchid trilogy will delight any child, or adult, who loves Tintin or Blake and Mortimer. These are lovely graphic novels with loads of thrills and tension, very arresting protagonists (both good and evil) and brilliant artwork. The time each double-page spread takes to create is awe-inspiring. As Garen said, graphic novels are just right for many children who are unwilling to pick up a conventional book, and can be a huge spur to their reading skills and imagination.
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson has received rapturous reviews. A fabulous novel exploring the feelings many teenagers have of being outsiders, it’s tremendously sensitive on the topic of gender identity. Lisa worked for a time with the Tavistock gender identity development service and was deeply moved by the plights of its users. However this is certainly not a tedious issue-driven novel. Nor, she hopes, will it ever become a set text, since that can suck the life out of even the very best books.
On Tuesday I attended a panel discussion with Kenneth Oppel, Robin Stevens and Lauren St John, who all read from and talked about their new books. Kenneth’s novel Boundless sounds very exciting. Set on the maiden voyage of the most amazing train ever built, a train that is seven miles from end to end, it features murder and terrifying other-worldly phenomena. Robin has also written a murder story based on a train, this time the Orient Express. First Class Murder will come out in June, and I’m sure it will be a big hit. Lauren’s book The Glory, written for an older readership than most of her books, has a journey theme too: a petrifying twelve hundred mile endurance race on horseback. Each author said they loved researching their stories, and that journeys provide great structures for novels. Asked about the defining features of timeless children’s books, they identified strong characters that readers can relate to, storylines that sweep readers along, universal themes and, of course, enjoyment.
I was very pleased to represent Armadillo Magazine last week at the launch of The King’s Shadow, the second in the Darkening Path series by Philip Womack. Simon and Flora’s epic quest for their siblings, started in The Broken King, continues, with numerous dangers in a frightening land of knights and magic. It was very good to meet Philip (who would be the first to admit that the real star of Wednesday’s show was his excitable puppy Una). We talked about the visits he makes to schools. Like all the authors I’ve heard recently, he clearly very much enjoys his interactions with children and listening to their views.