Friday, 28 September 2012


Scribble City Central's thirty-first Fantabulous Fridays A-Z comes from Sally Prue.  I read Sally's first book Cold Tom  (which won the Branford Boase) some years ago, and remember being very impressed by the seemingly effortless way she drew me into Tom's story, (and also delighted to find a new take on one of my favourite of all the British folk tales, Thomas the Rhymer).  The Guardian called it
"One of those rare, strange, wonderful books that makes you see the world through different eyes
and I'd certainly agree with that.

March of the Owlmen, the second in the wonderful Truth Sayer series is different, but equally entrancing, as is Plague of Mondays, the third and final book. I find it serendipitous that Sally's hero in these stories has the same name - Nian - as the scary Chinese creature which appeared here last week, courtesy of Saviour Pirotta!

The last time I read a series as good as this one was when I discovered (a little later in life than I would have liked) Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books.  Nian reminds me a little of Christopher Chant in The Lives of Christopher Chant.  He has that same air of endearingly puzzled confusion when he travels between the worlds, but he's very much his own thoughtful and determined boyish self.  The red-robed Tarhun are a work of comic genius (I never want to eat anything from the revolting Snerk's kitchen), and Sally is also a mistress of the art of inventing boggingly funny (and appropriate) swearwords - a rare skill in a children's writer.  Truly, I could go on and on about the excellence of these books for a very long time - they should most certainly be much more widely known, and bought for every reading child's bookshelf.

Sally's piece is rather different to the others in this series, in that she's writing about her own creation, rather than a beast or being from an established mythology. I have a theory that once a new creature springs into life in a writer's head (rather like Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus), it is in the world to stay, and takes on a life of its own.  Who knows where the sharp black lines of Owlmen will pop up next (oh Lord - please not on my bedroom wall!)?  I've found it fascinating to read about how these terrifying creatures came to be - and I hope you will too. Here's Sally to tell you all about them!

O for Owlmen
A Slice of Death

SP: What’s the scariest sort of monster?

One that’s big? Ravening? Vicious?

Or is it one that watches from the dark, one you can’t see properly, one that only moves when you’ve got your back to it?

I discovered the owlmen by accident, and I’m afraid they are going to be with me forever. That’s how it is, sometimes, with books.

And I’d started off so innocently. So happily.

But the owlmen creep up on you when you’re looking the other way.


The thing was, I’d written a book called The Truth Sayer, which is about an alien boy who arrives in our world only to find that his presence here is making the universe tear itself to pieces.

I ended up with a lot of respect for this boy, who’s called Nian (you say it NEE’n) and I was pleased to be offered the chance to relate some more of his adventures.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the being-in-the-wrong-world-causing-everything-to-disintegrate thing caused all sorts of problems. I wanted to write about huge terrifying monsters invading Nian’s world, but this couldn’t happen without the whole universe breaking up into inconveniently small pieces.

What could I do?

Well, I had a bit of wriggle-room because Nian can eat while he’s in a foreign world, so there was nothing stopping me having invading monsters as long as they weren’t any bigger in total than a few fishfingers and the odd packet of crisps.

So. Small monsters...

Attack of the killer gerbils?


Now, Nian’s home is an empty castle-type thing. In fact it’s so empty that I began to wonder about having the monsters drawn on the walls. That way they could be big and yet have very little substance.

Yes, they could be made of something a bit like paper.

Attack of the killer anaglypta?


Though, come to think about it, paper can give you a jolly nasty cut. Perhaps the monsters could have sharp edges...

I was doing a lot of staring into space at this point, but of course the trouble with space is that the stuff’s transparent, and you can’t help but see the things on the other side of it.

Now, there’s a bit of pattern on a rug in our house which looks exactly like Anubis the jackal-headed god of ancient Egypt.

(It looks, as it happens, like Anubis swinging on a trapeze, but the trapeze is neither here nor there.)

Anubis was just the sort of terrifying creature for which I’d been searching. Yes: I could give my monster the head of an animals.

Perhaps I could have a Hamster House of Horror.


No, it needed to be something dark, something deadly. Something that could stare out of the darkness with sharp focused eyes...


And as I searched for enlightenment the goddess of wisdom came to my aid. She was not Egyptian, as it happened, but Greek, and she was Athena, whose emblem is an owl.

An owl. A creature with the head of an owl. That was what I needed. Yes.

And that was the beginning of the owlmen. But it was only the beginning, because of course the owlmen developed during the writing of the book. For instance, I didn’t realise at first that each tall owl-headed image that appeared on the white walls of Nian’s home consisted of many owlmen stacked one on top of the other. I didn’t realise why sometimes one owlman would step away from the wall and stalk through the place, cutting through everything in its path in a frenzy of destruction.

I didn’t realise to whom the mind behind these dreadful creatures belonged, or what she wanted.

Most terrifyingly of all, though I could feel the cold aggression of the owlmen’s eyes staring at me through the darkness, I hadn’t a clue how to stop them.

The working title for the book was A Slice of Death, but later it became March of the Owlmen.

For march they do.

...there were so many, so very many. The owlmen’s eyes were invisible, but the malice of their gaze was tangible, threatening, as if needles were stabbing out of the darkness...
The fireball thumped into an owlman and might have killed it, but...there were more owlmen behind, more and more and more...

How could anyone stop them?

Look, just watch out, all right?

And don’t say I didn’t warn you....

SCC:  Thank you, Sally.  What a great example of how a writer's mind goes through the creative process.   I'm sure many of my Lovely Readers will learn a lot from this.

Want to read March of the Owlmen?  You can buy it HERE

Next Week: Celia Rees, author of The Fool's Girl, takes on P for Puck.  Be prepared for mischievous midnight doings! 

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Scribble City Interview: Keren David on "Another Life"

As I read a proof copy of Keren David's debut YA novel, When I Was Joe for the first time in January 2010, I knew that a new star had entered the writing firmament.  I found the whole plot so exciting that each time I had to put it down (because of husband's muttering about the late night light), I had a racing heart and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. It was one of the best YA books I'd read that year (or any year), and I predicted it would be a massive winner. How right I was. To date it has won 5 awards, and featured on 15 other prestigious shortlists.

Ty/Joe is a fantastic creation - angst, bolshiness, fear, tenderness and intelligence are mixed up together in one intriguing 14 year-old package. He is believable - and almost more important - likeable. As a reader I really cared about what happens to him and that is a rare thing to achieve for any writer. I liked the sequel, Almost True, equally as much, and was very happy indeed when I got my hands on an early copy of Another Life, the just-published third book, which, once again, kept me turning pages into the wee small hours, such was my eagerness to find out what happened next.  It's a standout trilogy, and if you haven't read these books yet, I urge you not to wait a minute longer before doing so.

Keren has been kind enough to answer some of the


I had about the books, and I'd like to welcome her to the Scribble City Central author interview chair.
SCC: Having just reread When I Was Joe and Almost True, and read Another Life for the first time (in one glorious and unbroken KDfest), it’s clear that you wanted to portray two contrasting aspects of British society. Ty and Archie may be cousins, but they are very different characters and come from very different places.  What was it in particular about Archie and his quite privileged life circumstances that made you want to explore and narrate the plot from his side of things rather than Ty’s in the third book?

KD: I wanted the third book to do something a bit different, and I thought it would be good to see Ty from the outside and in a wider context. By contrasting Archie and Ty’s backgrounds I could write about middle class kids and the problems that can come from their privileges.
Julie Myerson’s books The Lost Child and Living with Teenagers were key texts for me, especially when creating the family of Oscar, Archie’s friend.  Then there was a tragic story in the news about a party in West London which ended in the death of a teenage girl when she took drugs belonging to her host’s dad – the parents having gone out for the night to leave them to party in peace.  These were all inspirations for Another Life.

Ty and Archie are very different, but they both share the same ability to do incredibly stupid things, and I’d like readers to think as much about their similarities as their differences.

SCC: A little information is a dangerous thing.  Archie in particular has few facts to go on in his quest for the truth about Ty, an alarmingly insouciant naivety, and a tendency to step into situations without thinking them through.  I’d be interested to know what your teenage readers make of him!  As an adult reader (and parent of teenagers), I tend to feel sorry for him and want to shake him, mostly both at the same time!  Did you find him easier or more difficult to write as a character than Ty, and why?

KD: Archie started off (in the second book, Almost True) as a plot device, to give Ty someone his own age to bounce off when he is staying with his grandparents. He was created to be spoiled and snobby and he annoyed me as much as he did Ty. But my daughter then aged 13, reading the book as I wrote it, thought he was very funny and kept on asking me to bring him back into the story. So I did, and Ty and I both learned to like him better. Ty is my favourite character to write, he’s my first fictional character, so really my default voice -  in fact I used to worry that I could only write in Ty’s voice!  Archie’s bounciness and recklessness came quite easily though – although he never lost his power to annoy me.

SCC: As an ex-journalist, you know the value of asking the right questions.  It’s what getting the truth out of people is all about.  One quote that struck me is this: “Maybe there’s no such thing as real truth, just lots and lots of different ways of explaining the same thing.” This seems to be a recurring theme in all three books.  Did you set out to give your readers the feeling that there was always another piece of the jigsaw, another angle, so that ‘the truth’ was always shifting their perceptions of what was really happening in the story past and present?

KD: This is really the theme of the second book, Almost True which examines both meanings of true – the elasticity of ‘truth’ and also how far one can be loyal to a friend. I try and contrast the attempts to establish the truth by authorities – teachers, lawyers, policemen, journalists and (most slippery of all) politicians - against the multi-layered, subjective, unreliable process of telling the ‘whole’ story.

SCC: When I read a KD novel, I am always blown away by your sense of pace, by how you manipulate the story arcs so that the reader just has to turn another page to find out what happens next.  Do you think that’s something which has been facilitated by your journalistic experience?  Has being a journalist helped or hindered you as a YA writer?

KD: I think it all comes down to being someone who is very easily bored! That’s why  I love journalism, especially news-editing, it’s very fast, very interesting, constantly changing.
As a reporter I’m used to telling stories in a succinct economical style, so I tend to throw in plot twists and turns to keep myself interested and also to fill up the space that other people use for descriptive passages and long discussions of people’s feelings.  I’m also always thinking about  my readers and what I want them to be thinking or feeling at that point – as I have such a low boredom threshold, I tend to assume readers will too.

SCC: Every writer has a different process.  Mine involves lots of thinking time, much tea and cake, and a mad headlong rush to deadline.  I also self-edit madly as I go.  Have you found that your process has changed from when you began to write When I Was Joe to the point where you started Another Life, and if so, what have you learned?  Anything weird and wonderful? Or just tried and tested tips and tricks of the trade?

KD: I had no idea at all how to write a book when I started When I Was Joe so I pretended it was a newspaper column, telling a story in episodes of 1,000 words each. Once I’d reached the end and knew how the story would end I embarked on the editing process.

I was incredibly disciplined when I wrote When I Was Joe. My husband and I were both working from home, sharing a laptop, and so I would book in time and write like crazy to get to my target of 1,000 words. When I started writing Almost True I had my own laptop, and I found it much more difficult to concentrate, because I didn’t need to be so disciplined.  Oh, and then I discovered Facebook and Twitter!

Then I got a contract to work as the Foreign Editor of a newspaper for a few months, as maternity cover, and although I loved it, it was even harder to concentrate on writing the book, as I found it used the same space in my brain.

Now I’ve written four books and I find I need to leave the house to write, switch off the internet, have strict deadlines and (sometimes) bribe myself with chocolate to get the work done.  Sometimes I think I’d be better off going back to sharing a laptop.

SCC: Do you have a plot template for each book – regimental chapter plans, mindmaps and all that?  Or do you just have a few scribbled down event milestones and let the rest evolve as you write?

KD: For When I was Joe I had the vaguest of plot plans (Boy witnesses crime goes into witness protection, meets disabled athlete girl, stuff happens, gives evidence, has to leave first identity but vows to meet athlete girl again) and one scribbled milestone (a fight in a swimming pool).  For Almost True I had a first line, the last line of Chapter 4 and the idea that Ty would meet his dad.  Almost True evolved in sections, and I only remembered right at the end that I had three people languishing in jail and I’d better put them on trial.

My methods changed a bit when I wrote Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery because I went to see the lottery administrators, Camelot, and from that meeting I had a long list of ideas which I put in chronological order to help create a plot.

With Another Life I’d written two thirds of it just in Archie’s voice, and then I read it through and realized it needed Ty as well, so I inserted his chapters and then wrote the end.

Now I tend to plan ahead a little more, and edit as I go along, partly because my agent demands an outline and a few chapters at the beginning of each project. I would never want to plan ahead too much though, I like it when the story or characters surprise me as I’m writing.

SCC:The Paralympics has been much on everyone’s mind this last month.  Ellie, Joe/Ty’s trainer, plays an important part in When I Was Joe, not least as a fantastic role model for both Ty and your readers, and she continues to feature (though less)  in the next two books.  What triggered the idea of including a disabled athlete as one of your main characters?

KD: I have to admit that Ellie was not my idea at all. I was taking a class in Writing for Children at City University (a course that I now teach), and we did a plot planning exercise which involved creating a character and then getting into pairs and weaving our characters together into a story. My character was Witness Boy and I was paired with Amanda Swift, the course teacher, who had thought of Paralympic Girl. Of course I asked Amanda’s permission to steal her character.  I thought of dropping Ellie for quite a long time, but she was always an integral part of the story. She’s in some ways based on my brother, who is disabled and although not an athlete is ferociously determined, impressive and successful.  I also read some interviews with the paralympic athlete Shelly Woods, so I was thrilled when she won a silver medal at the London Games.

SCC: A lot of research has obviously gone into these books – the psychology of how being in witness protection affects whole families is a huge and daunting subject to cover, and then there is how the whole criminal justice system works, knife crime, gangs, lawyers, boxing and a whole raft more.  Once you started on each book, did you ever have any serendipitous moments when the elusive piece of information you needed just at that moment appeared as if by a miracle?  Or was it all just hard, painstaking graft and talking to the right people?

KD: I’m very aware of the danger of too much research swamping the essential story, so I tend to write first and check later. I did research the details of witness protection in the UK and I have a friend who is a criminal barrister who checks all the legal stuff (he was exceptionally useful for the courtroom scenes). I tend to call on friends and contacts when I need help - one old school friend has been a police officer for 25 years, so I called her up when I needed to know exactly what happens when someone is charged with an offence. For Archie’s home life in Another Life I talked to a friend whose husband is a corporate lawyer, like Archie’s parents.  I was nervous about making Ty a Catholic, as I’m not even a Christian, but very reassured that both my editors were Catholics!

I don’t know if I’d call it serendipitous but when I was writing When I Was Joe in the spring/summer of 2008 there were lots of stories in the newspapers about stabbings in London, about teenagers being killed, joining gangs and carrying knives. Every day there was another tragedy. This definitely shaped the book, which I’d envisaged as being more about false identity than about knife crime. The final chapter, which draws on political responses to knife crime, is all taken from real life.

SCC: Finally, have you said all you have to say about Ty and Archie?  Might you be tempted, say, to write something about Archie’s dad as a boy?  Or are you off to creative pastures new?

KD: At the moment I’ve finished with them, although I’d never say forever. I have a vague idea about picking up the story in the future from the point of view of Alyssa, Ty’s little sister, or even giving characters walk-on roles in unrelated books.

I do have a soft spot for Archie’s dad (although I expect my teenage readers will hate him), but I can’t really see myself going back in time with him, because I know the end of his story.

I’m working two books at once right now. One is a contemporary teen novel for my new publishers, Atom, which is about siblings reunited years after one was adopted into another family. The other is historical, set in Canada at the turn of the century and completely different from anything I’ve ever written, except there is a murder and a confused teenage boy, so hmm….

SCC: Thank you so much, Keren.  I always love delving into other writers' ways of working and reasons for doing certain things in their books, so I'm hugely grateful to you for answering my questions so fully.  

If you'd like to read When I Was Joe, Almost True or Another Life just click on each title link to buy direct from The Scribble City Central Bookshelf

Friday, 21 September 2012


Scribble City Central's thirtieth Fantabulous Friday comes from ace storyteller Saviour Pirotta.  I've admired Saviour's boundless enthusiasm for all things mythological for years, and it's a delight to have him on the blog for the first time.  Saviour has a way of including a tiny nugget of new information to brighten an old and familiar story which makes him one of the best retellers in this crowded field.  I particularly liked his last book, The Orchard Book of Grimm's Fairy Tales, which, along with excellent versions of Rapunzel and the Princess and the Frog, has lesser known tales such as Little Mouse and Lazy Cat.  Emma Chichester Clark's fabulous illustrations are, as always, a delight to behold, and I think this was an author/illustrator match made in heaven! (I'm also pleased to see that the stories are going to be available as a series of separate stand-alone books from January 2013).

Having started as a storyteller for the Commonwealth Institute, Saviour has a rich and rare treasure trove of global myths and legends to draw from.  I'm not ashamed to admit that the Chinese creature he is going to tell us about is not one I'd ever heard of before - and that made me very happy, because I'm always keen to add new mythological creatures to my own store of knowledge.  I'm delighted, therefore, to pass you over to Saviour to induct us all into the mystery of the elusive:

N for Nian
Hairy Chinese Beastie

SP:  The Nian, also known as the Nien, is thought to be one of the most ancient monsters in the world.  Its makes its homes in hard-to-reach mountain caves in faraway China, or in caverns deep at the bottom of the ocean.  Since only a handful of people have looked at the terrifying Nian and lived to tell the tale, no one is quite sure what it looks like.  Some say it is part ox, part lion and part unicorn.  Others insist it looks like a giant lion but has pointy horns on its head.  Yet others believe it is a massive hairy beast with small eyes that are always burning with rage.

Legend has it that every Spring the Nian used to creep out of its hiding place to devour livestock and people, usually children.  One year it stumbled across a small village where a wise man lived.  The hermit noticed several things about the Nian. It stayed away from people making too much noise, and it gave a child dressed in bright red a white berth. The monster hated noise, and was scared of the colour red!

At the next Spring festival, the people in the village were prepared for the Nian.  They had festooned their houses with glowing red lanterns.  Red banners flapped at every door and window.  As the Nian approached, growling at the lanterns, the gate to the mayor’s house opened and a dreadful, ear-splitting noise was heard.  A lion pounced out of the shadows, shaking its massive head and roaring. The Nian winced at the terrible racket. When the villagers leapt out of their houses, beating ladles and brooms on buckets and washtubs, he turned tail and fled.  No one, livestock or child, was devoured by the hungry monster that year.

The lion was, of course, the wise old hermit wearing an enormous mask, but the Nian had been fooled. Ever since then, the Chinese people have welcomed the New Year with a lion dance in which they make as much noise as possible, especially by letting off firecrackers.

I have to admit that, although I tell the story of the Nian in a lot of schools, I’d never heard of it as a child.  I first came across the monster while working at the Commonwealth Institute in London in the late 1980s.  We used to have festivals from around the world, and Chinese New Year was one of them. It was organised by a lady from Hong Kong and it was she who first told me the story.  Mind you, like with all famous tales, there are different versions in different regions including Singapore, Macau, Taiwan and Malaysia.  In one the villagers actually pay a lion to scare off the Nian with its roaring.  The ruse works until one year the lion gets a better offer guarding a king.  Unable to find a replacement, the villages hire an actor who constructs a massive lion mask out of paper and sticks, so introducing the tradition of the lion dance in Chinese New Year.

In another, more humorous, variant of the myth, a famous monk called HongJun LaoZu, seeks out the Nian in its mountain lair.
‘Why don’t you eat the snakes that live in the valley instead of children?’ suggests HongJun, hoping the poison in the vipers would kill the Nian.
The Nian gobbles up the snake but survives.
‘Now why don’t you eat the dragon on the other side of the mountain?’ HongJun says next.
The Nian survives the dragon too, despite the fire in its throat.
‘Now little man, it’s time I ate YOU,’ it growls.
‘Just let me take my robe off,’ replies the monk.  ‘You don’t want the cotton thread to snag on your teeth.’
HongJun peels off his clothes to reveal bright red underpants.  The Nian howls in fright and hastily backs off.  The monk, having discovered the monster's Achilles heel, hurries back to the village and instructs the people there to hang red lanterns at their doors and windows.

Later on HongJun captured the Nian and used it instead of a horse.  Since then, people in China have considered red a lucky colour. And every New Year they give each other lucky money tucked inside a small envelope – a red one, to scare off the Nian in case it has escaped from the brave HongJun….

When I was commissioned to write a book of Chinese stories for Hodder, I made sure I included the story of the Nian.  I love the fact that no one is quite sure what it looks like, allowing me to tailor its appearance to the audience I’m reading to in schools.  It’s also great fun asking children to draw their own Nians and see what animals they incorporate.  We hang up a red lantern at the classroom door, of course, just in case the monster is eavesdropping on us….

SCC: Thanks so much for sharing that, Saviour.  I've always wondered where the origins of the Lion dance lie, and now I know!  This one tale encapsulates so many familiar facets of Chinese culture which we see in passing without really thinking about them - the love of the colour red, the lucky money envelopes, the firecrackers - that I'm surprised it's not more widely known.  Has anyone here heard it before? Do tell!

You can buy Saviour's The Orchard Book of Grimm's Fairytales HERE
Saviour's new book, The Ghosts Who Danced will be published by Frances Lincoln in 2013 Next week: Award-winning author Sally Prue on how she created the terrifying O for Owlmen.  See you then! 

Friday, 14 September 2012


Scribble City Central's twenty-ninth Fantabulous Friday comes from Malachy Doyle, fairytale expert, and award-winning author of many wonderful books, including the just-published Too Noisy! (Walker Books).  It was a treat to read this one aloud to a small neighbour - the rhythm and rhyme rollicks along, the story has a loud beginning, a scary middle and a fine happy ending, and the rich, gorgeous jumble of colours and pictures make a perfect marriage with Malachy's words.  I don't talk about picture books often enough on SCC - so I'm delighted this one came my way. The small neighbour loved it, by the by - I had to read it to her three times!

My own favourite of Malachy's books is Tales of Old Ireland- a real treat of a collection, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey, Ireland's new Laureate na nÓg in a delightfully quirky palette of muted colours just perfect for these stories.  Malachy has a way with words which just begs to be read aloud to a child, and there's a sly sense of humour in these stories which had had me laughing out loud.  What I love about the art of retelling is that each writer picks out different elements to highlight, so that each version, however well you think you know it beforehand, reveals new things about itself.  As Malachy says, quoting an old Irish proverb, "a tune is more precious than birdsong, and a tale more precious than the wealth of the world". So it is - stories are the most precious legacy we have, whether they be from the Irish tradition or any other.  However much technology we have, however many clever gadgets, children will always need stories, and retellers to make them new again.  Malachy seemed the perfect man to tell you about a sea creature not many people know about - crowded out perhaps by its more popular cousin, last week's M for Mermaid.  Here he is then to talk about:

M for Merrow
Soul Catcher of the Sea

MD: When I came to choose the stories to retell for my collection, Tales from Old Ireland, The Soul Cages just had to be in there.  Jack Doherty, a fisherman, wants more than anything to meet a Merrow. 

 ‘Now, merrows are the men who live under the sea, and it is said that if you meet one it will bring you great luck.’ 

One day Jack meets one in a sea-cave – 
‘he was a big fellow with green hair, long dark teeth, a red nose and piggy eyes.  He had a fish’s tail, legs with scales on them and short arms with fins.’
The merrow, who’s called Coomara, invites Jack down to dine with him, and gives him a cocked hat, just like his own, to wear for the dive.

They eat fish and drink brandy together, but Jack is shocked when Coomara shows him the cages in which he keeps the souls of drowned sailors.  Jack knows that souls have to be allowed to wander free, and determines to release them.

Merrows are the Scottish and Irish equivalent of mermaids and mermen.  While female merrows are beautiful and affectionate, male merrows are ugly, which is why their women sometimes seek out human partners. 

Living on the wild west coast of Ireland, I have long been captivated by tales of the sea and  often, on my walks, I find myself singing to the seals, drawing them ever closer to shore.  It’s no wonder than that tales of merrows have found their way into my writing.  Two of my picture books tell of underwater women who come ashore.  Una and the Seacloak (Frances Lincoln) is an original story, while Lake of Shadows (Pont), is my retelling of the beautiful Welsh legend of the lady of the lake, Llyn y Fan Fach, written while I still lived in Wales.  My first in the Irish language, just published, is called Cillian agus an Rón (An Gúm), and is a picture book heavily influenced, I now come to realise, by the story of the Soul Cages. 

I actually know a Donegal man who keeps a particular armchair by his fireside for a seal who regularly comes to visit.  I live in the sort of place where the old tales are somehow much much closer to everyday reality. 

SCC: Would that I lived in such a place, Malachy.  I spent time by the sea in Donegal a few years ago, finishing a novel, and had two swans calling and swimming in Bruckless Bay, just outside my window.  I could swear that they were the spirits of the swan soul-twins, Aonghas and Caér - the Irish landscape made me feel that anything could be true. Thank you for visiting, and for sharing your wonderful Merrow story.

You can buy Malachy's books by clicking HERE

Next week: Saviour Pirotta tackles the mysterious N for Nien. See you then! 

Friday, 7 September 2012


Scribble City Central's twenty-eighth Fantabulous Friday comes from Liz Kessler, author of the mega-popular Emily Windsnap series.  I have to confess to being a bit of an Emily Windsnap addict at this point, not least because as a little girl, my abiding dream was to have a mermaid as a best friend.  My grandmother and I used to take endless long walks on long sandy beaches in Northumberland, where she would tell me stories of dragons, and I would look hopefully out to sea, wishing and wishing for a glimpse of long trailing locks and a flash of irridescent scaled tail.

The latest in the Emily series is just out, and I've been lucky enough to read an early copy.  I can tell you that Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun is a proper page-turner, and her legions of fans are sure to be delighted with it.  King Neptune has been a terrifying presence in all the Emily books, but this time he shows a vulnerable side, which is weirdly endearing.  (I also LOVE that he sleeps in a bejewelled octopus bed, which Natascha Ledwidge's lovely illustration captures perfectly.)  Emily and new boyfriend Aaron are the only ones who can save Neptune from his nightmares, and soon they are diving into a fabulous new adventure which takes them northwards to the mysterious Land of the Midnight Sun - and a scarily surprising discovery. As always, Liz hits exactly the right notes, and I forsee another big success for her with this book.

The best news for my Lovely Readers (and all Emily Fans) is that  I have THREE, yes THREE brand-new copies to give away, due to the generosity of Liz and Orion Children's Books.  All you have to do is leave a comment after this post.  (Winners will be picked out of a hat by SCC & Liz after 5.30pm BST on Monday 17th September 2012).  Now, here is the lovely Liz herself to give you her expert take on:

M for Mermaid
Marine Temptress

LK: Most people will know what a mermaid looks like. She has the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. Other than in the ocean itself, she might be found sitting on a rock near the water’s edge, combing her hair and singing beautiful songs as she lures fishermen to watery deaths. Mermaids are simultaneously seen as visions of beauty and perilous creatures associated with storms, shipwrecks and drownings.

Stories of mermaids are found in the folklore of all sorts of cultures. They have been written about, painted and drawn for hundreds of years. And of course, they were made famous by Hans Christian Anderson’s famous tale, The Little Mermaid in 1836 – and even more famous by the Walt Disney interpretation of this story in the 1989 film.

So what is it about mermaids that makes them so popular and such a lasting figure of our stories, art and culture? Well, I can’t actually answer that question. What I can do, though, is tell you what mermaids mean to me.

About thirteen years ago, I was living on a narrowboat on a canal in Cheshire. Out of nowhere, a couple of lines came into my head:

Mary Penelope lived on a boat, 
Which was all very well, but it didn’t quite float.

Before long, I had grabbed a pen, scribbled the lines down, and developed them into a poem about a girl who lived on a boat with her mum, but who had a big secret: she was a mermaid.

Some years later, the poem grew into a book – The Tail of Emily Windsnap – and the book developed into a series. (The fifth book in the series, Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, is out this month!) Emily Windsnap and I have spent much of the last decade together. In my real life, I have been on adventures to the Bermuda Triangle, to the Arctic Circle and to beautiful reefs and mysterious shipwrecks because of her. In writing these books, and going on these adventures, I have explored what mermaids mean to me. And here is what I’ve come up with.

Mermaids represent the point where the facts of our reality meet the possibilities of our imagination. They live on the precipice between our world and the world of the ocean – a world that occupies more than two thirds of our planet and yet one which we know barely anything about. Mermaids tease us with their secrets and their knowledge of places that we will only ever visit in our dreams. They are like us – and not like us. They know us – but we don’t, fully, know them. They are the ultimate mystery.

It’s no wonder that our books and our art and folklore have been full of their stories for generations.

I like to think that my Emily Windsnap books bring a modern twist to the mermaid story. Emily is an ordinary girl with ordinary issues and problems that children today can hopefully relate to. The only difference is that when she goes in water, she happens to become a mermaid.

Many of Emily’s adventures involve the conflict between our world and the world of the ocean, as ruled by King Neptune. This conflict has been at the heart of our mermaids’ stories for hundreds of years, and is another thing that keeps us interested in them. They present the ultimate clash between two completely incompatible worlds. The pleasures – and often loves – of the land, and the eternal and magnetic pull of the sea.

This conflict is at the heart of my Emily Windsnap books. With a human mother and an imprisoned merman father, Emily’s world is torn down the middle. But further qualities that mermaids represent for me – strength, power and a deep and unifying bond with nature – are at Emily’s core. So if anyone can attempt to unify the conflict at the heart of a mermaid’s life, Emily will certainly give it a good go!

Writing her stories gives me an excuse to visit incredible places and marvel at the natural beauty around us in nature. It gives me a chance to express my own feelings about friendships and loyalty and love. And it gives me the opportunity to help remind others that, although no one has yet proved that mermaids exist, no one has proved that they don’t.

SCC:  Thank you so much for giving us that insight into where Emily came from, Liz, and what she means to you.  I think she's a perfect heroine for so many of your readers - long may she continue to swish through the waves.

You can buy Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun HERE  
Or, if you'd like to be entered into the draw to WIN one of those THREE copies, don't forget to comment after this post! 

Next week: The Mer-tales continue. Malachy Doyle will be here to talk about M for Merrow.
See you then!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

THRIVE! Wellness after Cancer: Guest Post from Stephanie Butland

SCC: Thrive! It's a cheerful word.  It makes me think of healthy green plants bursting out of the warming spring earth and reaching towards the sun.  That's pretty much how Stephanie Butland's new book, Thrive: the Bah! Guide to wellness after cancer made me feel while I was reading it too.  For those of you who don't know her, Stephanie is...well...thriving after an up close and personal encounter with breast cancer.  Her first book, How I Said Bah! to Cancer, was published two years ago.  It's bloody marvellous, and I wish I'd had it to share with my sister ten years ago.  This new book is equally fab.  It's down to earth, practical, unremittingly honest and uplifting - all at the same time, and struck me as being helpful not just for cancer sufferers and their families, but also in a wider context, since many of the visualisations and exercises would help those suffering from depression, or a debilitating illness too.

Three quotes from this book particularly stuck in my head:   
"I think language is important. I believe that the words that we choose reach out into the world and show the world how to treat us.  And I believe that those words also snake down into our unconscious and form a blueprint for our brains to follow." 
Absolutely.  I am a person who works with words as my job, but I also know from my experiences during my training in shamanism, and from my time on the Hoffman Process that positive words and positive visualisations have the power to change both minds and bodies.
"You have to fill your own well.  You have to nurture yourself."  
Taking care of yourself is something a lot of people find hard.  They forget, they somehow think it's not important, they're too busy taking care of everyone around them. But if you're not taking care of yourself, then the well can run dry.
"When you are struggling - lift up your heart."
This is a hugely powerful thing to visualise.  Your heart, lifting in your body as if it was tied to a balloon.  Wow! Do try it.

If you or anyone you know are touched by cancer, then this is a book you should buy, and I'm delighted to welcome Stephanie to Scribble City Central to talk about how lucky she feels to be thriving, 'what ifs', and the baby steps and giant strides of progress.

SBMy copies of Thrive: the Bah! Guide to wellness after cancer arrived on an overcast day in August. I put a photograph of myself, clutching as many copies as I could and grinning like an idiot, on my blog and Facebook and Twitter - I’ve yet to work out which form of social media is for what - and lots of people kindly commented on how well I was looking.

And I felt well. I don’t measure wellness in Olympian terms, but even so. I’d just had a weekend where I’d slept deeply, taken a long walk, spent an afternoon shopping, and had lots of exchanges with my friends and family during which no-one felt the need to make any concessions to, or even enquiries after, my health. My hair was long enough to be clipped back, I had eaten what I liked without worrying about what bits of my digestive system would get upset, I was only short of breath when I’d done something that merited it.

And I thought, as I stood with my books in my hand, about how I wrote this book about thriving when I felt so well. I thought I was thriving. I look back now at the writer submitting the manuscript, and I think about how far I’ve come. I hope that, in a year, I will look back on that photo of me with the books and think of how much better I feel now. The progress I make these days is more subtle, on a graph a gentle curve connecting quieter mind and stronger arms and less time prodding my scars in case I can feel something nasty lurking under there, but it’s still there.

It’s such a long way from cancer survival to genuine wellness. There’s very little in the body that cancer treatment doesn’t affect for the worse. And the psychological impact of facing up to a Big Illness, the guilt of surviving it, the figuring-out of how life should be after it - all of these things take their toll too.

I do feel lucky, so very lucky. I could write a book of ‘ifs’ that would have a much less happy ending. (If the lump hadn’t been so near the surface of my breast I could see it, if my husband hadn’t made me see my GP, if it wasn’t the twenty-first century, if I hadn’t had an expert surgeon, if the cancer had got just a little bit further...) Thankfully, these days there are more lucky ones than you can shake a stick at, and I got to write that book. It’s a book about how to move away from cancer and towards good health, little by little, by being kind to yourself and using your mind and trusting your heart and, above all, being proactive and practical. If you need it, I hope it finds you, and I hope it helps you.

SCC:  Thank you so much for visiting, Stephanie, and for being such an inspirational guest blogger.

The next stop on Stephanie's tour is at Scott Pack's Me And My Big Mouth blog, where she assures me she'll be talking about cake (mmmmn...cake!).  I'll go anywhere for cake (even the virtual variety), so I'll be visiting....

Stephanie on Twitter
Stephanie on Facebook
Stephanie's Blog

You can buy copies of both of Stephanie's books by clicking HERE.

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