Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bluefish - M's review

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz

"Sometimes life is hard to read"

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
I loved this novel.

Yes, I blubbed. Not from page one but pretty much from page 145 onwards – and only a few short times before that. As an adult, I’ve recently realised that really good middle grade fiction can do that. Think about Once by Morris Gleitzman or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. But those two novels had plots whose themes set you up to cry before you even opened the book in a way that Bluefish does not.

Bluefish is a beautiful and poignant story about secrets and grieving. One of the secrets is very, very sad although the overall tone of the novel is quietly uplifting. The story is set in the USA and is about Travis, a young teen who lives with his alcoholic but loving grandfather, has recently moved to a new town, loves the outdoors, and is grieving over his beloved dog who has disappeared. To top it off, he’s just started at a new middle school (he’s about thirteen/fourteen) and has terrible problems with reading. Very quickly, sharp-talking Velveeta with all her coloured scarves comes onto the scene to help him through all this in much the same way that Summer does in RJ Palacio’s Wonder. But Velveeta is going through a period of grief herself.

The novel is told from two points-of-view that alternate with each chapter. First, we get Travis’ story unwinding through a third person narrator. Then we have Velveeta’s view told through her diary. This works really well in showing how friendships and family relationships are both hindered and formed by our perceptions of what other people are thinking or doing.

The three main teen characters – Travis, Velveeta and Bradley – they’re really great. I don’t often go in for the ‘let’s talk about the characters in a novel’ thing, but these ones, they’re kind of special in a very ordinary way. Travis is definitely my favourite – he’s also the central character and he’s supposed to be. But Velveeta and Bradley, they’re not far behind at all. I was quite sad to let the characters go at the end of this book. I’ll just have to deal with that grief. Pass the doughnuts please (that’s a joke, if you read Bluefish, you might get it).

While reading the novel, a slight drawback for me was the reference to the plot detail in a few other books, especially The Book Thief. That’s just my personal preference but retrospectively, it’s not something that detracts from my overall memory of Bluefish. Bluefish is likely to be on my list of favourite novels read in 2013.  

This novel includes themes of learning to read, alcoholism, grieving, and relationships.

By the way, the author’s name is pronounced ‘Pat Schmotz’).


Publication details: January 2013, Walker, London, paperback
This copy: received from the publisher

Bluefish was originally published in 2011 in the USA and has received numerous awards and commendations.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Soldier Dog - Little M's review

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus

Soldier Dog has been nominated for the Carnegie 2013. This review is part of our shadowing of the longlist. But, the judging criteria have not been considered for this review.

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus
Soldier Dog is set in the Great War (WWI). It is about a boy named Stanley Ryder who signs up in the signals section of the British army but he does not know what he has signed himself up for. The section he signed up for was the Messenger Dogs which means he must train a dog to come back from where ever he is. This dog can give vital messages back to his Keeper, that’s Stanley. The dogs go through No Man’s Land and have a high risk of getting injured or killed. This can be very sad for the keeper.

While in the army, Stanley is also looking for his older brother Tom. Stanley wants to find him because their father did a terrible thing, something he would never forget or forgive: he killed Stanley’s dog.

This book made me cry an awful lot. I never knew how one book could make me cry so much. It is sad but it did make me laugh at some points. If you like Michael Morpurgo then I think you will love Soldier Dog; people who like books based on wars might like it too.

In some way it is like Michael Morpurgo’s novel, War Horse, in the sense that a boy has an animal that he deeply loves and then his father takes it away from him. They are also both set in a war time.

This was the first book I have read by Sam Angus. It has made me want to read more of her books when she writes them. Soldier Dog is her debut novel.

I am very happy that this book has been longlisted in the Carnegie and it is a book I think lots of people will enjoy and recommend.   

Publication details: 2012, Macmillan Children’s Books, London, paperback

This copy: received for exploring the Carnegie longlist from the publisher

This review counts towards Little M’s British Books Challenge 2013 and the Debut Author Challenge 2013.









Sunday, 27 January 2013

Horsing around with the Classics

This is our first Classics Club review post and it’s five reads from Little M. Spot the theme! For both of us, this is also our first foray into exploring what the ‘classic’ in Classic Books actually means – for us.

Here's a link to our 'master' Classics Club list.

 5 Titles read and reviewed by Little M 
(in order of first publication date)

1. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

2. My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara

3. Kit Hunter Show Jumper in South American Mission by Peter Grey

4. The Secret of Shadow Ranch (Nancy Drew #1) by Carolyn Keene

5. The Magic Pony (Jinny at Finmory #7) by Patricia Leitch

L to R: My Friend Flicka, The Red Pony, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, The Magic Pony, South American Mission + dustjacket
Spoiler alert: because this is a discussion post, there are a few big spoilers in some of the reviews. We don't think this will spoil the read too much though. But, please be warned.


1. The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck,1970, Corgi, London.

First published 1937/1938.

The Red Pony is about a boy named Jody who wants a pony. He gets a little red pony and names him Gabilan. Unfortunately, Gabilan dies and poor Jody is heartbroken.

I thought this was an okay book. It’s probably not at the top of my favourites list but I would definitely recommend it for future generations because it’s sad and happy at the same time. I didn’t notice that the language was old-fashioned in this book. I think there are some bits I didn’t understand in this novel. The storyline/plot is not as interesting as the one in The Magic Pony but I really enjoyed it.

Verdict: Little M would recommend it to next generations.

2. My Friend Flicka
by Mary O’Hara, 1972, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London.

First published 1943. This edition: secondhand hardback passed down three generations.

My Friend Flicka is absolutely one of my favourite pony books ever. Or maybe even my favourite pony book because of the plot. Spoiler: I loved the way one little boy wanted a foal so much that when he got her he didn’t want to leave her alone. Then when his filly is close to death, he sits with her all night in the river almost killing himself. I cried in parts when I thought the horse was dead but I also giggled at some points.

Verdict: I would definitely recommend this to current and future generations. I read this book because my M recommended it to me.

M: I read this when I was about 11 and loved it. Mary O’Hara’s whole Wyoming ranch trilogy was one of my favourites ever.

3. South American Mission
by Peter Grey, World Distributors, Manchester. Publishing date around 1959-1961.

Kit Hunter Show Jumper in South American Mission is the second book in the Kit Hunter series. It is about Kit Hunter and her friends. Her uncle hurts himself while riding. This has put his plans of going to America and getting some horses way out of the window. One day, a man named Mr Gregg comes by and offers to help them with the horses in America. He and Kit decide that Kit and her friend will go to America and take part in the show jumping and wait until her uncle can come out and help her with deciding which horses to bring back.

I thought this book was one of the best pony books I have ever read because it’s exciting and I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next.

Verdict: I would definitely recommend this to future generations. I bought this book in a secondhand bookshop in South Africa.

M: I read one of the Kit Hunter novels, The Wild One, when I was a girl and enjoyed it.

4. The Secret of Shadow Ranch (Nancy Drew #1)
by Carolyn Keene, 1979, Armada, London; first published 1971.

The Secret of Shadow Ranch is the first Nancy Drew Mystery. Nancy is visiting her aunt and uncle (I think) with her cousins. There is a mystery at the ranch. Sometimes a ghost white horse gallops through the yard and breaks the fences. One of the workers is a bit mysterious. He might be part of the mystery. Will Nancy be able to solve it?

I loved this book. It is in my top pony books because I love mysteries and I love horses so it’s a perfect book for me.
Verdict: I would definitely recommend this to the next generation. I think it will be a good book for them to read because it will be an old mystery type of book rather than the newer ones.

M: I read many of the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a girl. I loved them. I recently discovered that Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym and that the novels were ghostwritten and used a formula. This partly explains why one of the titles that I had two different edition of, The Clue of the Broken Locket, were also completely different stories! Because of this, I’m not sure the novels would count as classics in literature, but as a series, I’d say it was some kind of classic.

5. The Magic Pony (Jinny at Finmory #7)
by Patricia Leitch, 2012, Catnip. London. First published in 1977.

This book is about a girl, Jinny, who owns a pony. The pony becomes lame and the vet can’t see what’s wrong but whilst at a fair, Jinny meets a girl who tells her about a woman at a riding stable who might be able to help. The story moves on to Jinny trying to save Easter, an old dying pony.
I quite liked this book but it’s not my favourite pony book because the writing annoys me. I think this is because it uses old fashioned slang (maybe?).

I think a classic is a book that generations might read.

M: I read Rebel Pony by Patricia Leitch when I was 12 and I thought it was OK, which was quite a low rating from me.

Verdict: we wouldn’t recommend it to next generations, so for us, it is probably not a classic.


M: Overall, we noticed in the discussion that some of the older publications hadn’t dated in the same way that some of the newer ones had. We think ‘not dating’ and ‘recommending to future generations’ might be a sign of a classic.

All book copies were our own.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Uncovered: A World Between Us

We’re literally uncovering the novel A World Between Us today, telling you what its editor thinks of its Branford Boase nomination as well as getting behind-the-scenes with art director, Jet Purdie too (read on, his pics are pretty special).

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson is a political romance set right in the heart of the Spanish Civil War. It’s a properly politically (and romantically) passionate novel. Its author, Lydia Syson, and editor, Sarah Odedina, have been longlisted for the Branford Boase award which honours outstanding debut children’s novels.

Sarah Odedina, who was also the publisher for Harry Potter and Holes, told us: “ It is remarkable in a first book to 'tick all the boxes' in a book. A fast paced plot, great dialogue, wonderful characters, strong relationships and an extraordinary sense of time and place. In this book Lydia has proven that she is a really exciting author and for me, as her editor, and as a reader, I am particularly looking forward to see what she does next. The Branford Boase Award is a hugely important award. As the long list shows there are really fine books being published at the moment, and to be amongst such great company is a wonderful encouragement to writers.”

A World Between Us is also a book whose cover really speaks to its story. Jet Purdie, Art Director at Hot Key Books, talks us through the passion and care that went into producing its cover. Wannabe illustrators and graphic designers, take notes.....’s Jet:

The initial plan for the A World Between Us cover was to go down the photographic route, until author Lydia Syson asked if we could explore Spanish civil war style poster illustration, in blue, red and yellow.
Photographic route rejected
I then learnt about Spanish war posters.....
(Examples of Spanish Civil War posters spotted at Imperial War Museum in Manchester by We Sat Down)
....... and hunted for an illustrator that could work in primary colours. I remembered seeing a Swedish website called where the illustrator had created a screen print in that same (slightly tricky to work with) set of colours.
Jan Bielicki's tricky colour screen print
I commissioned Jan Bielecki to illustrate the cover and we sketched up loose thumbnail sketches, the composition being heavily influenced by film poster design layout (my job for the past few years).
Thumbnail sketches
Once a layout was approved, Jan went ahead and created a final rough.
A pretty fine 'rough'
Once the final rough was approved, Jan created the final pencil illustration.
Final pencil illustration
Once the pencil was approved, the tricky task of colouring the illustration began. Getting this right was admittedly a little bit of a challenge. The end results however were very striking.

Next was the task of finding cool fonts to compliment the artwork. We opted for a distressed san serif. The cover was printed on uncoated paper which gave it a slightly aged feel.
Final cover

 Hope you like it : )”

We loved the cover. And your uncovering of its creative journey. Thank you, Jet!
You can read our review here and our interview with Lydia Syson here.
If you'd like to find out more about this book, Lydia's website has some really wonderful and inspiring historical material to explore.




Thursday, 24 January 2013

Lance of Truth - Little M's Review

Lance of Truth by Katherine Roberts

Lance of Truth by Katherine Roberts
Lance of Truth is the second book in Katherine Roberts' Pendragon Legacy series. The novel is still about Rhianna Pendragon and her trying to get her father, King Arthur's, soul back. But this time she is on the search for her mother and the lance of truth. The lance of truth is no ordinary weapon. It is like Excalibur, magical and one of the four magic lights. Will she find it before her dark magicked cousin does? And will her mother really love her the way she is?

A brilliant second Pendragon Legacy book. I really liked the way Katherine Roberts' writing magnetises you towards the pageturning adventurous novel. Definitely a good book.

I think Lance of Truth is better than Sword of Light by a mile. This time the author has put in more magic and mysteries. It is a good carry on to the Arthurian legend. It does remind me of the TV programme called Merlin (so sad that ended).

I think Rhianna develops a lot in this book, just like in the first book when she comes from Avalon to the world of men.

I really hope this book gets listed for the Carnegie or for another award. I think Lance of Truth deserves it.

When I had finished Sword of Light, I went straight on to this book, and when I had finished this I was all sad and "oh no, I've finished it!" So bring on the third one!

You can read my review of Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy #1).

Publication details: 2012, Templar, Surrey, hardback
This copy: uncorrected proof received from the publisher

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sword of Light - Little M's review

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Sword of Light has been nominated for the Carnegie medal 2013. This review forms part of our shadowing of the Longlist.

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Sword of Light is about King Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna Pendragon. She grew up in Avalon with the Avalonians who have magic. She thinks she is just a normal girl from the world of men. But when Merlin, a half druid-half man, comes with a dead King Arthur, he tells Rhianna something and her life changes for good.  Now she must fight Mordred (her cousin) and control the sword of light all with the help of Elphin and the knights of Camelot. Will she be able to return Arthur’s soul?

I really thought this book was going to be boring because other books about the Arthurian legend I’ve read (not many) are dull. But, I enjoy the TV programme, Merlin. But when I started to read Sword of Light, I couldn’t put it down.

When we got the book, I thought that I would struggle to read it because I thought the text size would be too small but when I opened the book the text was quite big. That was brilliant.

Hooking, adventurous, magical - that is exactly what this book is. Anyone who likes adventure, magic and novels to do with the Arthurian legend might enjoy this.

Sword of Light is the first book in the Pengradon Legacy series. When I finished it, I went straight to the second book in the series, Lance of Truth.
Publication details: 2012, Templar, Surrey, hardback & paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof received from the publisher for reviewing the Carnegie 2013 longlist.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Evil Editors and Storywriting Adventures

If storywriting's your thing, read on......

Last week's Branford Boase longlist announcement got me thinking. The award recognises outstanding debut novels for children and honours the team of author AND editor. I've been thinking about how reading, writing and editing all mix together. So, for the next few weeks, we're throwing something a bit different and a bit extra into our blogging mix. We're getting editors on board and exploring the writing and editing that goes into that now rapidly changing business of  publishing.

We're starting off with something big that's little! SHRUNK!

Shrunk!, written by Fleur Hitchcock and edited by Sara O'Connor (Hot Key Books) has been longlisted for the Branford Boase 2013 award. It's about a boy who can shrink things.

This is what editor, Sara O'Conner has to say about it:
"I am so delighted that Fleur's quirky SHRUNK! is longlisted alongside so many talented UK writers for such a prestigious award. We're so convinced of her bright future that we've signed up three more books with her. Working with Fleur is a dream but, if you don't believe me, ask the 1000 school children who are working with her on her third book through the one-of-a-kind online writing project"

The Story Adventure officially starts tomorrow (Monday 21 January 2013). If I was a Key Stage 2 teacher, I'd be excited about it. It's a longitudinal interactive storywriting project that will culminate in the sequel to Fleur Hitchcock's Shrunk!, due to be published in January 2014. Contributors don't have to follow the whole year through but their ideas will affect the way the novel develops and may get a mention in the final published novel.  It's primarily aimed at readers and writers in Key Stage 2 and I think it looks really good. Little M and I have taken part in some interactive storymessing with Hot Key on Twitter, and while Sara might be the evil editor, I know that she does a lot of bouncing too.

Watch out for February when we'll be hosting writing tips for older readers and writers.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Annabel Pitcher chat

We sat down for a chat....with Annabel Pitcher

We both loved My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds, so we were delighted to ask their author, Annabel Pitcher a few questions!

Annabel Pitcher (c) Shelagh Leech
Little M: Do you have a specific religion (this question was inspired by My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece)?

Annabel Pitcher: I was brought up as a Christian in the Church of England, and spent every Sunday at Sunday school. I really enjoyed it, actually, and the church was an important part of my life. I loved the sense of peace and the chance to reflect on the week that had passed and the mistakes that I might have made. As an adult, I am not really sure what I believe. I haven’t turned my back on the church, but I am in the process of trying to work out what I think about God.

Little M: In Ketchup Clouds, do you think Stuart (who is on Death Row) even received the letters?

Annabel Pitcher: Unfortunately, I can’t answer that! I purposely left that open for the reader to decide... What do you think? And do you think it matters either way?
Little M: I don't think he received them because he didn't reply once. I don't think it really mattered if he didn't receive them because it was a way for Zoe to say that she had killed someone.

Little M: Do you have a pen pal on Death Row? Or do you even have a penpal?

Annabel Pitcher: When I was a teenager, I did write to a man on Death Row. I got involved in a pen-pal scheme through Amnesty International, which encouraged people to befriend inmates to give them a social outlet. I only wrote to him a few times, but it was a fascinating experience. Because I didn’t know him, and had no chance of meeting him, I found myself being brutally honest about my own life in a way that I couldn’t necessarily be with friends or family. When I remembered this experience while planning Ketchup Clouds, I knew that my character had to write to a man on Death Row.

Little M: Do you like ketchup?

Annabel Pitcher: Hahaha. Yes, I do! Not as much as my husband, though. He eats it with everything!

M: Absent mothers is a theme that appears in both of your novels to date. In Ketchup Clouds, this comes to the fore when an absent mother is blamed for causing indirect harm to her child. Is this a topic that is important to you?

Annabel Pitcher: I am fascinated by parenthood, so it is a theme that I am drawn to. Inevitably, when you’re writing a coming-of-age tale (which I tend to do) you have to talk about a child’s relationship with their mum and dad because it’s so integral to their experience of growing-up. Often, a teenager matures when they realise that their parents are just people who make mistakes, rather than perfect individuals.

Annabel Pitcher has received many nominations and awards for her debut novel, My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece, and her second novel, Ketchup Clouds is out now.

You can read our reviews of My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Call Down Thunder - M's review

Call Down Thunder by Daniel Finn

 This review is part of our shadowing of the Carnegie 2013 Longlist and takes the judging criteria into consideration.

Call Down Thunder is set in a poor Latin American fishing village. The story is about Reve, who is about thirteen and his sister Mi who is about fifteen/sixteen. Their father is dead, their mother has gone and they have been taken in by one of the men in the village. However, Mi can hear spirit voices and lives alone in an old car. She is treated as a bit of a social outcast in the village. When Mi warns that a storm is coming and Reve gets caught right in the middle of it trying to be a hero, he and Mi set off on a journey that takes them right into the middle of danger.

Call Down Thunder by Daniel Finn
This novel bears similarities to SD Crockett’s After theSnow (also on this year's Carnegie longlist) both in terms of plot structure and voice. Unusually for the teen fiction I have read recently, Call Down Thunder is written in the third person.

I warmed very quickly to Reve and had my fingers crossed for him the whole way through. He is a delightful character and really drives this novel. His tenacity brings Harri from Pigeon English to mind, although Pigeon English is much more cutting than Call Down Thunder and Harri was more innocently naive than Reve.

I didn’t really connect with Mi at all and there was at least one character whose inclusion was more as a plot device than anything more substantial. However, there is a wider cast of characters in the novel that provides a good flavour for the simple but morally intricate economics of the village and its connection to the underbelly of the city.

Overall, I enjoyed Call Down Thunder although there were quite a few plot elements that I guessed too early on. However, I expected this novel to be pitched at older teens but I was pleasantly surprised to read a novel that delivers all the grit and grime of the criminal underworld of organised crime in a way that is accessible to young teen (and even older tween) readers.

I would recommend this to teen readers who like action and adventure stories as well as readers who like to think about the world and situtations that the characters live in. It is a good starting point for readers who’re getting ready to move onto edgier fiction that explores contemporary issues.

Publication details: Macmillan, 2012, London, hardback

This copy: received from the publisher for shadowing the Carnegie 2013 longlist

This review also counts towards M’s British Books Challenge 2013.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Branford Boase 2013 Longlist

The Branford Boase 2013 longlist was announced today. The award celebrates debut novels for children in the UK, and the award is given to the novel’s editorial team: that is, the author and the editor. Last year’s winner was author Annabel Pitcher (author) and Fiona Kennedy (editor) for her novel My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece.
This year’s longlist comprises 26 novels aimed at children aged 7+. The list includes a mix of genres and styles, and there are plenty of novels on here that we would recommend to different readers.  Links to our reviews and interviews are included.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of titles which appear on other awards lists including the CILIP Carnegie. It’ll be interesting to see which ones (if any) make both the Branford Boase and the Carnegie shortlist cuts. We haven’t read all the books on the lists but we have read a few. Based on our current readings, my personal guess for a double shortlisting would be After the Snow by SD Crockett. Little M’s would be Soldier Dog by Sam Angus.

Also, a special note must go to Dave Shelton and David Fickling Books for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat: it’s been shortlisted for the Costa Children’s, nominated for the Carnegie and now this! That bear is definitely not lost.  
The Branford Boase 2013 longlist:
Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Orion)
After the Snow by S D Crockett, edited by Emma Young (Macmillan)
Hitler’s Angel by William Osborne, edited by Imogen Cooper (Chicken House)
A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by DaveShelton, edited by David Fickling (David Fickling)
A World Between Us by Lydia Syson, edited by Sarah Odedina (Hot Key)
Slated by
Teri Terry, edited by Catherine Coe (Hachette)

Read; reviews forthcoming
Soldier Dog by Sam Angus, edited by Rachel Petty (Macmillan)
Mortal Chaos by Matt Dickinson, edited by Kathy Webb & Liz Cross (OUP)
Not yet read
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne, edited by Hahhan Shappard (Headline)
Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable, edited by Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House)
15 Days without a Head by Dave Cousins, edited by Jasmine Richards (OUP)
The Things We Did for Love by Natasha Farrant, edited by Julia Heydon-Wells (Faber)
The Feral Child by Che Golden, edited by Roisin Heycock (Quercus)
Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchcock, edited by Sara O’Connor (Hot Key)
Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan, edited by Mara Bergman (Walker)
A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean edited by Rachel Denwood & Lizzie Ryley (HarperCollins)
Socks are Not Enough by Mark Lowery, edited by Alice Swan (Scholastic)
Torn by David Massey, edited by Imogen Cooper (Chicken House)
Itch by Simon Mayo, edited by Kelly Hurst (Random House)
At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin, edited by Janetta Otter-Barry (Frances Lincoln)
A Hen in the Wardrobe by Wendy Meddour, edited by Janetta Otter-Barry (Frances Lincoln)
Magnificent Moon Hare by Sue Monroe, edited by Rachel Boden (Egmont)
Black Arts by Andrew Prentice & Jonathan Weil, edited by David Fickling (David Fickling)
Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid, edited by Amanda Punter (Puffin)
Geekhood by Andy Robb, edited by Jane Harris (Little Tiger Press)
Doglands by Tim Willcocks, edited by Charlie Shepperd (Andersen Press)

The shortlist will be announced on 1 May 2013.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Half Brother - Little M's review

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
Half Brother was a book I couldn't put down not even to finish a review I was doing; not even to go and tidy my room. It is so sad and funny at the same time that you can cry from both.

Half Brother is about a family and a chimpanzee who are brought together by the dad's science experiment. He wants to teach the chimp to talk; to be able to talk in sign language.

I recommended it to my mum and said, "You must read it. You will love it." (That's not something I say with every book I love.) I finished it in two days. That is how good it is. I recommend this book to everyone.

I loved Half Brother because I liked how when everything went wrong, Ben still went looking.

Publication details: 2011, David Fickling, Oxford, paperback
This copy: my own; Christmas prezzie

Friday, 11 January 2013

We sat down for a chat....with Sangu Mandanna

Sangu Mandanna's debut novel, The Lost Girl, is a lovely contemporary sci-fi mix for teen readers. The novel takes place in England and India. Sangu has written a guest post for us about the importance of location and settings in her writing.....


Top 7 Places I Write About
...or would love to write about in the future

Setting a story is important to me. If I can’t see what my characters see, if I can’t feel a living, breathing place around them, the story just doesn’t work for me. I’ve been writing a long time and while The Lost Girl is my only published novel right now I also have a lot of projects I mess about with and a string of half-baked and incomplete manuscripts behind me. All of those stories have a sense of place; some are imaginary, some are real; some have featured several times in my stories and some are places I can’t wait to write about in the future. Here are my seven favourites.

1. The Lake District, England

I love the Lakes. I went to university in Lancaster and spent three years living a stone’s throw from one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s probably not surprising, then, that when I started writing a book at uni (the book that would eventually become The Lost Girl), my protagonist Eva lives and grows up in the Lake District. When she leaves it, her longing for home is a huge theme in the rest of the book – her longing for the lakes, for the woods, for the water and open sky and the smell of frost in the winter.


2. Venice, Italy

I have never been to Venice, but I am dying to. I sometimes spend ages Googling pictures of Venice, I gobble up books set there (Mary Hoffman’s fantasy City of Masks is one of my favourites and one of my most anticipated YA reads in Fiona Paul’s Venom) and I am always waiting, impatiently, to hit on a story that will make a Venetian setting feel right. Because that’s the other thing. No matter how much I want to use a setting, I can’t do it unless it suits the story. Unless it just happens to be the place where my story wants to be set. So I’m waiting…

3. London, England

In The Lost Girl, the Weavers’ Loom is in London and it’s where the Weavers began stitching life. Not much of the book is actually set in London, though, and I think that’s partly because it wouldn’t have been right to and also partly because the London that really fascinates me is the old one. I love Victorian settings, I love Sherlock Holmes’s world, I love the gritty, rich flavour that an older London inevitably has in fiction. The Loom came about during this gritty, rich time and I couldn’t have set the Weavers anywhere else.

4. Bangalore, India

About half of The Lost Girl is set in Bangalore. This is where I grew up, where I spent eighteen and a half years of my life, and it truly is the place I probably know and understand best. So it was great fun writing about Eva’s experiences here. A lot of people have asked me why the city sometimes feels so western, considering it’s an Indian city, and it’s because this is the Bangalore I knew and it’s the Bangalore I wanted to write about.

5. Paris, France

Haven’t been here either! I admit I totally buy into the romantic stereotypes of Paris and they’re almost exclusively the reason I’m hankering to write a book that takes me to Paris. I want to write about the bread and cheese and cakes, the Eiffel Tower and the candlelit dinners and the fashion, the tiny French villages and the bustling Parisian streets. But, like Venice, I’m still waiting.

6. Fantasy Place, Entirely Imaginary World

I realize this is by no means specific, but I couldn’t write a list without this. I have always been drawn to the fantastical in my writing; almost everything I have ever written has had strong elements of fantasy or science fiction. And often that means I’ve set stories in imaginary places. Sometimes those places have been steampunk-inspired or based on Victorian London and Venice. Sometimes they’ve been a more traditionally fantasy world with taverns and mages and elaborate map-drawing.

7. Cornwall, England

I am a huge, huge Daphne du Maurier fan and anyone who has ever read her books knows they wouldn’t be the same without Cornwall. Her books have almost made me obsessed (my favourite part of watching Doc Martin is the stunning footage of the tiny Cornish town!) In my mind, this part of England is beautiful and romantic and bleak (if I’m wrong, don’t tell me). I haven’t been there yet. I haven’t written about it yet. But I would very much love to do both those things…

Share your favourite settings in the comments! When you open a book, to read it or write it, where do you love to go?
 Thank you Sangu for your lovely post. We love The Lakes too!!

You can read our review of The Lost Girl.
Here is Sangu Mandanna's website.