Sunday, 11 April 2021

The Best New Children's Book Picks US - April 2021 - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Erin Bowman - Dustborn - Published by HMH Books for Young Readers (April 20, 2021)
Delta of Dead River sets out to rescue her family from a ruthless dictator rising to power in the Wastes and discovers a secret that will reshape her world in this postapocalyptic Western mashup for fans of Mad Max and Gunslinger Girl.

Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her. 

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

Richly drawn, with harrowing escapes from dust storms across parched land and a general sense of blistering doom…Readers will be left to ponder the sometimes warring forces of hope and truth—right after they find a cool drink of water.

Sarah Prineas - Trouble in the Stars - Published by Philomel Books (April 27, 2021)
Trouble knows two things: they are a shapeshifter, and they are running from something--but they don't know what. So when the StarLeague--shows up, Trouble figures it's time to flee.

Changing from blob of goo form, to adorable puppy form, to human boy form, Trouble stows away on the Hindsight, a ship crewed by the best navigators and engineers in the galaxy, led by the fearsome Captain Astra. 

As the ship travels, Trouble uses the time to figure out how to be a good human boy, and starts to feel safe. But when a young StarLeague cadet shows up to capture Trouble, things get complicated, especially when Trouble reveals a shapeshifter form that none of them could have expected. Soon a chase across the galaxy begins. Safety, freedom, and home are at stake, and not just for Trouble.

From acclaimed author Sarah Prineas comes a rip-roaring outer space adventure about an oddball hero, a crew of misfits, and finding family where you least expect it.

Jennifer Adam - The Last Windwitch - Published by HarperCollins (April 13, 2021)

Fans of Shannon Hale and Kelly Barnhill will delight in this charming and richly imagined middle-grade fantasy debut, featuring a wicked queen, magical animals, a henchman with a golden heart, and a small girl with a great destiny.

Many years ago, in the kingdom of Fenwood Reach, there was a powerful Windwitch who wove the seasons, keeping the land bountiful and the people happy. But then a dark magic drove her from the realm, and the world fell into chaos.

Brida is content in her small village of Oak Hollow. There, she’s plenty occupied trying to convince her fickle magic to actually do what it’s meant to in her work as a hedgewitch’s apprentice—until she accidentally catches the attention of the wicked queen.

On the run from the queen’s huntsman and her all-seeing Crow spies, Brida discovers the truth about her family, her magic, and who she is destined to be—and that she may hold the power to defeating the wicked queen and setting the kingdom right again.

Mari Mancusi - Dragon Ops - Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 13, 2021)
From the beloved author of The Once and Future Geek comes this action-packed adventure set in a futuristic world filled with magic, monsters, and high-tech video gaming.

One wrong move, and its game over.

Welcome to Dragon Ops, the world's first augmented-reality video-game theme park. Set on a once-deserted island, our three beta players—classic-gamer geek Ian; his adventure-seeking sister, Lily; and their too-cool-for-gaming cousin, Derek—have been lucky enough to score an invite to play before the fully immersive experience opens to the public.

But once inside, they find themselves trapped in a game taken over by a rogue AI dragon called Atreus, and suddenly the stakes go beyond the virtual world. With no cheat codes, guidebooks, save points, or do-overs, they'll need all their cunning and video-game hacks to beat the game . . . and survive in real life.

Action-packed and unputdownable, Dragon Ops will thrill gamers and reluctant readers alike with high-tech adventure and electrifying twists and turns.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Matthew Wainwright - Out of the Smoke - Book Review (Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books)

We recently had an author guest post by Matthew Wainwright about his experiences of being a debut author (Read Here). Unfortunately, having his book published in the midst of a global pandemic (October 2020) has not been ideal. However, after reading the guest post, I really wanted to read this book as it covers a setting that I'm very fond of. I did have my reservations regarding the editorial side of the book with it being published by a very small publisher (Wakeman Trust). However, my concerns were unnecessary as the narrative runs as freely as the River Thames and has been very well edited. The book cover is amazing and I think it might have been produced by the author himself. I'm really pleased to able to get behind this fantastic book and give it a massive thumbs up.

This is a Young Adult book that introduces a host of characters that will melt the reader's heart. It's a story set in Victorian London that shows the harsh realities of that era. The plot is gripping as it delves into the working and living conditions of a group of chimney sweeps (or soot monkeys) as they were known. These boys could be as young as 4 years old! Billy is one of the main characters you follow as you plunge into the criminal underworld of Victorian London. Unfortunately, he clashes with the notorious gang leader (Archie Miller) who is a very bad man as he believes that gangland life is the best place for an education. 

This is a fully immersive and fantastically told story with historical detail that makes the book shine with reality and realism. It was a real treat to get to know the characters and the bloody side of the gangland culture (a way of living) that was so prevalent at this time. It magically weaves a plot of faith (from a Christian standpoint) but is not overly used, in my opinion. There is just enough of a driving force to show the strong feelings of religion at that time. I really liked the introduction of the British politician and social reformer the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury. When the 'Poor Man's Earl' offers Billy a chance to exchange his gangland life for an education, he must decide what to do. What would you do in this situation? I thought it was very well thought out and researched; it certainly encompassed the narrative very well. 

This story was a glorious read. I would love for more people to read this book and, by doing so, to support the author and small publishing company. Whilst it's a sad, heartfelt, and sorrowful story, it is still full of hope, courage, and fighting spirit. If you want to know more about Billy, Tosher, and Clara and follow their plight, then please pick up a copy from your local bookshop. This is a heartfelt story for all ages. It's one that you will reflect upon and take to your beating hearts. 

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books - Signed Book Recommends & Real Book Shop Links (Whilst Stock Lasts)

 Derek Landy - Dead or Alive: Signed Exclusive Bookplate Edition - Skulduggery Pleasant 14 (Hardback) - Waterstones - Click Here 

In a matter of days, the world will change.

Billions of lives will be wiped away in a final, desperate search for the Child of the Faceless Ones ― she who is destined to bring about the return of humankind's ancient overlords.

To prevent this, Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain have one last – terrible – option: the assassination of Damocles Creed. With protests stirring in the magical city of Roarhaven, with riots and revolutions on the horizon, Valkyrie must decide who she wants to be: the hero who risks everything for a noble ideal, or the killer who sacrifices her own soul for the fate of humanity.

The decision must be made, and time is running out.

Hannah Gold & Levi Pinfold - The Last Bear: Signed Bookplate Edition (Hardback) - Waterstones -
Click Here

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s.

Vashti Hardy & George Ermos - Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest - Signed with Map - Book Nook In Hove -
Click Here 

Join Harley, her robot dog Sprocket and best friend Cosmofor problem-solving adventures and mysteries in Inventia, a world where science rules and technology grows in the forest; and where exploding science projects, giant slugs and runaway robots are all part of a normal school day.

The Iron Forest near Harley’s home is unlike any other – plants and trees grow cogs and hinges and other mechanical parts – and all of Inventia depends on it. So when a strange fungus is discovered, there’s a race to find a solution. Without essential parts for inventions, the town is quickly falling apart…

Elle McNicol - Show Us Who You Are - Signed Bookplate - The Rocketship Bookshop - Click Here  (Book Review Here)

When Cora's brother drags her along to his boss's house, she doesn't expect to strike up a friendship with Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies.

As she becomes part of Adrien's life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she's intrigued by them - Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form. As she digs deeper, however, she uncovers darker secrets... Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself?

Dominique Valente - Starfell: Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom - Signed Hardback, Numbered, Special Edition - Goldsboro Books -
Click Here  

For the very first time, magical children like Willow are allowed to go to school alongside their non-magical neighbours. But Willow is suspicious. She knows the Brothers of Wol are up to no good, so why are they changing the rules all of a sudden?

On her first day, Willow meets an elf girl named Twist, and soon they are embarking on Willow’s most urgent mission yet: to protect the children of Starfell, uncover the mystery of a long-lost kingdom – and prevent the very source of magic from getting into the wrong hands . . .

Jonathan Stroud - The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne - Signed Bookplate - Book on the Hill - Click Here 

England has been radically changed by a series of catastrophes – large cities have disappeared and London has been replaced by a lagoon. The surviving population exists in fortified towns where they cling to traditional ways, while strangely evolved beasts prowl the wilderness beyond. Conformity is rigidly enforced and those who fall foul of the rules are persecuted: some are killed, others are driven out into the wilds. Only a few fight back – and two of these outlaws, Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne, display an audacity and talent that makes them legends.

Julian Sedgwick & Chie Kutsuwada - Tsunami Girl - Signed BookPlate - Guppy Books - Click Here  (Book Review Here)

Tsunami Girl is a powerful coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Yuki Hara Jones who gets caught up in the March 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. It's about a young person trying to work out who they are, and where they fit - and trying to do this whilst surviving the trauma of a triple disaster of colossal scale, told through both prose and manga.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick (Author), Chie Kutsuwada (Illustrator) - Guest Post Interview - Guppy Books


Hello Everybody! (みなさん、こんにちは) One of my favourite books of the year has been Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick. It has been brilliantly illustrated by Chie Kutsuwada. Told through both prose and manga, it's a fantastic but very poignant cultural reality. If you would like to read my review then follow the link HERE. This post is an interview with Julian and Chie about the partnership between author and illustrator and the origins of this amazing book. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have. 

There is a link at the bottom of the post to watch the live book launch and a place where you can buy signed copies of this special book. Enjoy and see you soon. 

Julian writes: Two things in particular worried me about researching and writing Tsunami Girl. The first was to earn the trust and support of affected communities on the Fukushima coast, and create a story that would do justice and respect to the heavy themes of loss, trauma, damage and recovery. If I hadn’t had such a positive reaction from the towns I visited near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant, I would have abandoned the idea. 

But secondly - even after winning that trust, and friendship – I also worried a lot about whether my idea of combining a prose and manga story could work. It took many, many notebooks, early abandoned drafts and plot diagrams to find a way to combine the main prose part of the novel  (which tells central character Yūki’s story) with the manga inserts that show another angle – another world even – and highlight Yuki’s own creation, a diminutive superhero called Half Wave. 

Even when I had the main shape of an idea, and a contract with my new publisher, Guppy Books, I still had to convince an experienced manga artist that this would work. It was at this point that a mutual friend introduced me to Chie Kutsuwada, and – after our own discussion about motivations and trust! - our collaboration began. 

Below, we chat about the practical process involved in weaving manga and prose into one book.

JULIAN: Hi Chie! I’m still so delighted that I found you to bring the manga sections of Tsunami Girl to life. For a long time I worried whether the idea would work, and what a manga artist would make of my script. Did you have any worries about the technical aspects of tying prose and manga together? And was there anything that particularly excited – or worried you - about the task?

CHIE: Hi Julian! So do I! I’m still feeling honoured and lucky to be involved in your brave and epic project! 

Well, I actually didn’t have many worries. I just liked the idea of prose and manga together. And when I read your text, I felt sure that it would work well. The aspect I was most careful about was this: I had to make sure that all the characters ‘looked’ the same in both the prose and in the manga parts where readers can actually see the characters’ faces. So, I tried to imagine the whole book visually first. By doing so, I could get an even approach to, for example, how each character makes their facial expressions. How about you, Julian? How did you make the text go back and forth between prose and manga seamlessly?

JULIAN: Through a long process of trial and error! I always knew there would be both manga pages and a manga storyline, but in early versions it was Grandpa who had created Half Wave, and it was the grandchild who helped him imagine one final great instalment of Half Wave’s adventures. At that point the manga story was a separate adventure that mirrored what was happening to our central character Yūki - (who incidentally started out as a boy in the first few drafts!) 

Whilst I could make certain echoes between the prose and manga stories, they just wouldn’t interweave well enough, until I realised the manga story had to be more about the disaster itself, and just show a different, imaginative interaction with that disaster and the recovery. Suddenly I could feel it was going to work. But even then I wondered if the images and text would gel. 

Your early roughs of characters and settings were really convincing and good to see. But I remember it took us a little while to find a version of Half Wave that worked for us all. Maybe you could say a little about developing the characters visually - particularly Half Wave?

CHIE: I know it is not the most practical way to do character design, but I usually wait for inspiration to hit me. In this case, I read the script a few times and repeatedly read some critical parts. I was thinking about the characters, almost all the time, until I started feeling that I knew them.

Usually when I feel I know characters, I can get to see them visually, then I start sketching several different versions. For the Tsunami Girl characters, I did not need to do much planning sketches. As I familiarised with the story, I quite easily started to see them visually because the way you describe them is very clear. I believe you know them very, very well. Because you are the creator, of course to come extent you must know them - but it is beyond that. I feel you really KNOW them, maybe it is because some of the characters were based on your actual friends? Also the image references you showed me helped me a lot.

As for Half Wave, the sketch of him by your son was everything. His sketch, and how Half Wave acts in the story, gave me inspiration - and I think I did not change much from your son’s initial image! What I did was to make him look more manga. That’s it really!  I remember that our discussion was mainly his age and height,  wasn’t it? 

JULIAN: It’s interesting that your process of finding characters as an illustrator is so like mine as a writer. Suddenly - you know they are coming to some kind of life. 

Practically, with Half Wave, getting his height right was really important - he’s an eternal (wise) child, forever on the cusp of growing up, with real wisdom and strength. What we did discuss was how Half Wave should look subtly different from Yūki, Taka, Grandpa and the other people from this world. Half Wave needed to look like he belonged in the liminal space between this world (konoyo) and ‘that world’ (anoyo). After two or three versions, suddenly he was there. A very exciting moment. (And as my younger son comes towards the end of his comic and character design degree at uni, he’ll be glad of that praise!)

It’s interesting, ever since reading Spiegelman’s Maus I’ve been in no doubt that all subject material can be tackled in comic/graphic novel/manga type approaches. I never worried that manga could help carry the weight of the story of the disaster, (especially after reading more widely around  alternative manga or gekiga - and coming across works like the incredible Fukushima Devil Fish by Katsumata Susumu.) Are there any manga series or titles you’d love to see translated and brought into the UK market from Japan? Anything we’re really missing out on?!

CHIE: It was amazing when your visualisation of the characters and mine overlapped and merged to become what they are now…
Well, as for manga which I strongly believe should be translated... all of Yumiko Oshima’s work, especially short stories. She debuted in 1968 and is a very well-established manga artist. She is just one of the best storytellers… (Another manga artist who I think is in that category is Moto Hagio. Her work is getting translated more and more recently.)
Oshima’s work may look quite pretty and delicate, but often the theme is very heavy and philosophical, concerning love (not typical romantic type), birth, death, mental illness, aging, and the end of the world - which are not typical topics for manga works targeting towards young girls. I think this kind of heavy but realistic theme is picked as a theme for manga more and more recently, but she did it more than 30 years ago, and her work does not look dated at all… 

One of many qualities I like about her work is even though she talks about those heavy issues, she does not use bang-in-your-face sensationalism. Her work is very poetic, her choice of words and drawing style is soft, but as you read, it feels like something has gouged at your heart. Very powerful. I hope one day some of her work is properly translated into English. I even want to volunteer to be that translator…!

Click Here if you weren’t able to make the event live – and enter password +aD4@u%4 to watch. Signed copies by both Julian and Chie are available on the Waterstone’s Website Here.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Kirsty Applebaum - The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke - Book Review - Mr.Ripley's Enchanted Book


I'm delighted to be able to introduce another new title published on 6th May 2021 by Nosy Crow. This is the third middle-grade book by Kirsty Applebaum and for me the best one so far. The brilliant book cover has been illustrated by Matt Saunders and makes it very appealing. This for me has an intriguing premise and from the very start asks a lot of questions. What if you could save animals or human lives with the touch of your hand but every time you healed someone you got older? What if you got older more quickly if you saved a larger life, would you still do it?  I thought this was a really interesting concept.

Of course, the quicker you got older would mean you had less time for yourself. How would you feel and what would you think as an older person looking at yourself in the mirror? I wonder how many people would actually forfeit some of their life if this was a possibility in the real world? Is it a gift or a curse? You have to decide as you walk the tight rope of tension and daily life. 

Lonny, the main character, is a lifeling that is passed down from generation to generation. He has the power to heal any living creatures, but he has to be VERY careful and stay hidden with his family in the forest. Midge is his smaller brother but the relationship between them is rather sad and slightly bitter. Life has taken its toll on the family. Lonny dreams of travelling to amazing places and meeting new people. At this point, the buzzing starts again as his jaw vibrates which tells him something is dying nearby. How is he ever going to get the chance to visit these places when this keeps happening? Lonny is a very endearing and well-written character.

What can you expect from the story? The first thing is that it's a very earthy story that belongs to nature and human emotions. In my opinion, it is also a modern-day fairytale told with thought and emotion in a folkloric way. You'll find yourself investing your emotions in each of the characters as they make you think about yourself as a reader in the real world. Grandad made me particularly smile as he never leaves his bedroom and is always looking out of his bedroom with his binoculars. 

The author has done a fantastic job of teasing the fantasy strands out of her head and applying them onto paper. She has a very creative and unique way of telling the narrative which is full of mystery, family secrets, and a yearning to have a normal life. It takes a philosophical look at how stories can shape us as readers and takes us on journeys without even leaving our home. I would have loved to have seen the story expanded upon in some areas. However, by keeping it trim, readers can fill in the gaps and develop their own opinions. It would be a really fantastic book to discuss as a group with so much to ponder over. I had no idea how the story would pan out - it kept me guessing throughout!

This is a chocolate delight of a book that will make waves in the literary world. It's a great seed for thought so grab a copy, read it and talk about it. Let the story fully blossom into a profound place in your heart. 

Monday, 29 March 2021

The Best New Children's Book Picks April 2021 - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Ele Fountain - Melt - Published by Pushkin Children's Books (29 April 2021)

An urgent story of adventure and survival in a warming climate, from the multi-award-winning author of Boy 87 and Lost

Yutu lives in a remote, Arctic village with his elderly grandmother. Their traditional way of life is threatened by the changing snow and ice, which melts faster every year. Bea is trying to adapt to yet another new school. Worse still, her father’s new job takes up any spare time, and his behaviour becomes odd and secretive. On a trip she hopes will fix things, their fates take a drastic turn and Bea's life becomes entwined with Yutu's in a way she could never have imagined. Together, they are locked in a desperate race for survival.

Julia Golding - Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery - Published by Lion Fiction (23 April 2021)
Jane Austen turns detective in this spooky historical adventure by award-winning author Julia Golding!

It s 1789 and a young Jane Austen turns detective as she seeks to solve the mysterious happenings at Southmoor Abbey. When a carriage accident forces a change of plans, 13-year-old Jane is sent to be a companion to Lady Cromwell for a week as the household prepares to celebrate the eldest son s coming-of-age party. While there, Jane vows to solve the mystery of the ghostly monk in the Abbey grounds for she does not believe in such stories!

But this is not the only strange occurrence for the adventurous young Jane to investigate. There are shivery night-time investigations, an Indian girl with secret talents, a library fire, two prize horses in danger, and friends to save from false accusations.

With notebook in hand and her faithful dog Grandison by her side, will Jane overcome the continuous obstacles and find out the truth?

Fleur Hitchcock - Waiting for Murder - Published by Nosy Crow Ltd (1 April 2021)
It's a long, hot summer. As the water drains away from the reservoir, a car emerges. And there seems to be a body in it, a body that then disappears... Daniel and Florence start to investigate and uncover a long-ago robbery, missing gold and murder. When the drought breaks, everything is swept downstream and the truth is revealed...

Another thriller from the brilliant author of Murder at Midwinter.

Jess Kidd - Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack - Published by Canongate Books - (1 April 2021)
Welcome to Little Snoddington, where nothing is normal and every day is magic . . .
Nine-year-old Alfie Blackstack's parents have met a very unfortunate end. Now he's living in the SUPER CREEPY Switherbroom Hall with his mad-haired Aunt Gertie and warty Aunt Zita. The thing is, Alfie's aunts aren't just weird - they're WITCHES!

When the circus arrives in town Alfie makes his first-ever friend, the FEARLESS Calypso Fagan. But when Calypso's little sister Nova disappears, they must face the TERRIFYING Head Witch in a race to find Nova and stop the next Witch War.

Conrad Mason - The Girl in Wooden Armour - Published by David Fickling Books (1 April 2021) - Book Review HERE
When Hattie visits her granny for the first time in years, she's not sure what to expect. Granny has always been unusual. Now she's gone missing without a trace. Hattie is determined to find her. But in the strange little village where Granny lives, nothing is as it seems. Is magic real here? What is the shadowy place known as the Un Forest? And who is the mysterious girl in wooden armour? One thing is certain. An ancient evil is stirring in Brokewood-on-Tandle... and only Hattie can stand against it.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Michelle Paver - Skin Taker (Wolf Brother) - Quick Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


This Easter we are Running wild with Wolf Brother in a Stone Age world we all want to be a part of again.  The Eight Book will paw its way into the world published by Zephyr on the 1st April 2021. This is another great book in one of the best long-running series. Torak, Renn and Wolf are back in a dangerous and magical world. A mouth-watering adventure in their beloved forest.  

It has been very well researched and is packed full of fantasy and adventure. All of which, is told in rich detail that makes your heart sing and your wolf soul dance in such a way that time disappears in no time at all. A dark shadow rises to a meteorite crescendo that will have readers hooked until the very last page. I'm looking forward to possibly the last book in the series in 2022. Another brilliant read! 

In the Dark Time of midwinter, disaster strikes the Forest. Chaos rules. Bears woken from their dens prowl the shadowy valleys. Desperate clans battle for survival. Only demons thrive.

With their world in turmoil, Torak, Renn and Wolf are tested as never before. And as a new evil haunts the devastated land, Torak must risk his sanity, his life and even his souls to save everything he loves...

Skin Taker carries you back to the Stone Age, to nature, drawing you deeper into an astonishing environment and adventure which began with Wolf Brother. 

Friday, 26 March 2021

Stuart Atkinson - Guest Post - “I Submit! I Submit!”(Maja’s Dragon) Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Good morning - all aliens and dragons are welcome. Today, we have a guest post from Stuart Atkinson, who is a frustrated martian from Kendal. He is in the process of that stomach-turning event that all authors go through to get their stories published - SUBMITTING a novel to Agents. So calling all agents, calling all agents, you really do have the power to move earth and stars (in the literary sense) and secure this book. 

This is a great post if you are about to go through a similar process yourself. Equally, for those who have been through the process, you may have some tips that you can share with others through this post or social media. We all look forward to your thoughts and comments.  Thank you all for reading and enjoy your day. 

“I Submit! I Submit!”

In the centre of a large empty hall, with tables and chairs stacked up against its walls, a group of people is seated in a circle. One stands up hesitantly, searching the faces around him for understanding and compassion. They smile back at him reassuringly, feeling his torment. They’ve all been there. They know the pain he’s going through. After taking a deep breath he speaks.

“My name is Stuart Atkinson… I’m a writer… and I’ve just submitted my novel manuscript to Agents…”

I’m what’s popularly known now as a science writer. I’ve had ten children’s astronomy books of my own published and worked on dozens more as a consultant and editor. I love teaching kids about space in print almost as I love standing in front of a jabbering, gremlin-like horde of them at the front of a classroom and teaching them in person. But I’ve always wanted to write fiction – to be what my mum and many of my friends call “a proper writer” - and last March, as the Covid tsunami began to roll around the world I decided I’d finally do it: I’d write my novel.

So instead of baking banana bread and living on Zoom I spent the previous year doing just that. It was hard finding quality writing time when I wasn’t either writing features for astronomy magazines and websites or working long shifts at a Care Home, first fighting to keep the virus outside its walls and then trying to save as many lives as possible when it finally breached our defences, but I kept at it, I wrote for a year and, contrary to everything I’d heard, I enjoyed it! I built a world I loved and populated it with characters I looked forward to spending time with. I was amazed by the way they had somehow developed and grown when I was away from them. I loved writing my novel! Where was all the weeping and wailing I’d been warned about?

Then the Editing began, and the weeping and wailing began. 

I sought advice from two trusted writing friends and was told my beloved, work-of-genius MS had too many characters and its descriptions were too detailed. Oh, and one more thing: I had to lose 30,000 of its 100,00 brilliant words, cutting it by a third. 

I was aghast. I had thought editing would be done with a scalpel - a nick here, a small cut there - but they were telling me I had to fire up a chainsaw and attack my story like it was an overgrown garden or a diseased tree. But I trusted them and their honesty so I did it. I removed some of those characters I’d fallen in love with; they just… vanished from the world I had created as if I’d gone back in time in the TARDIS and killed their grandparents. I hacked away at dialogue and descriptions like Indiana Jones trying to find a lost temple in an overgrown jungle. And it hurt. I resented every tap of the Delete key.

But they were right. When I read it back, v9 of my MS was better. It was as if my original story, fat and bloated with double decker word-burgers and drunk on its own grandeur, had been taken into Rehab on a stretcher and come out leaner, sleeker and fitter, with all its fat trimmed away, eating salad. 

But now it was time to take the next step. Writing the novel had been hard, but I knew that having finally reached publishing Base Camp I couldn’t just sit in my tent and listen to the wind howling outside. I had to go out and set off for the mountain.

It was time to Submit To Agents.

I took another two months preparing. Ignoring the disapproving glares of my cat I spent hours going through the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook like I used to go through the toy section of my mum’s catalogue as a kid, circling the Agents I wanted to approach; with bookshops shut I spent even more hours online, researching which Agents represented the writers who wrote stories like mine; I put out appeals on social media asking for recommendations; I wrote, re-wrote and re-wrote again my synopsis, covering letter and three line “elevator pitch”. I did everything They say you have to do if you’re to even have a chance of getting an Agent to read the second paragraph of the first of your three sample chapters…

Eventually, I was done. Everything was in place. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I took a day off work and set aside the whole day just to submit my MS to Agents. That sounds very grand but it essentially involved just writing and sending lots of emails, attaching my “submission package” to them, checking everything was just right again and again before taking a deep breath and hitting Send. 

And it was terrifying. My story was out there now. It didn’t belong to me anymore; other people were going to read it. I actually felt slightly ill. But it was done.

Now the waiting. Most of the Agents I submitted to warned that a response would probably take “up to 12 weeks” – which seems like a long time to me but that’s just the way it works – so I’ve started writing another novel; I can’t just sit here waiting for replies to come in, I’ll go mad…

Speaking of replies, I don’t expect replies from all the Agents I submitted to. Past experience suggests perhaps 2/3 will get back to me, which is frustrating (and rude, I think) but it’s a comfort to know that any day now an email will drop into my Inbox from an Agent gushing about my story, asking me if they can have an exclusive read of the whole manuscript and letting me know that my sample chapters excited Steven Spielberg so much he wants to buy the film rights. That’s what happens next, right?

Wish me luck!

Stuart Atkinson - “Maja’s Dragon” out on submission. 

"A Cat’s Guide to The Night Sky” If you look up at the sky on a dark night, what do you see? There's a whole universe staring back at you. In the company of Felicity the cat, discover the phases of the moon, the constellations, and how to spot the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. You can buy HERE

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Tim Tilley - Harklights - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Looking into this book cover is like looking into the star-lit future. Harklights will be published on 13th May 2021 by Usborne Publishing but it needs mentioning early so you can pop it on your pre-order list now. The author and illustrating duties are both by Tim Tilley, who has accomplished a dual spectacular from the illustrative and narrative point of view. A former Winner of the Joan Aiken Future Classic prize, Tim has now made his foray into a middle-grade fantasy where he will be noted for a truly reflective story. The proof copy is gorgeous but, of course, is missing some of the illustrations so I'm really looking FORWARD to seeing them in the finished copy. 

The story feels like a Dickensian tale that meets the Borrowers with an environmental overtone. I thought it really worked and loved every minute of this book. In fact, I read it in virtually one sitting. It all begins at Harklights which is an Orphanage and Match Factory. All the children work for an old tyrant called Old Ma Bogey which is a fantastic name for a character. All the characters have new names to reflect the factory. Wick is one of the unfortunate characters who lives in this dark and dreadful place. They really are dire living conditions where the children work tirelessly with no way out. However, one day something happens out of the ordinary, a bird drops something beyond belief - a tiny baby in an acorn cradle.

From this point forward, the narrative takes on a wild turn of magical events that are both imaginative and captivating. Wick dreams of escaping but as midnight chimes he is visited by the Hobs (miniature protectors) and the guardians of the forest outside the factory. His dreams come true and he escapes on a magical tree stag where he finds happiness and love like he has never known. If this was a HAPPY fairytale the story would end here. However, that would not do as Old Ma Bogey woman has something else to say. With wickedness, a shotgun, and the willful destruction of the forest she leads us down a path that will leave you shivering with fear and trepidation as the story further unfolds. 

This is a thrilling tale about the importance of looking after nature and the environment. It has a moralistic view of future innovation vs mankind's greed and cruelty. This heartwarming story is about family, friendship, and a message filled with hope. The amazing setting has a sparkling, magical theme that is not overly used. The only thing to ask is: are you ready to strike that match to pursue a fantasy bonfire that you will want to escape into? If so, then what are you waiting for? This is a story I would fully recommend - it's a real treat.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Annelise Gray - Circus Maximus: Race to the Death - Interview with Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Enter the arena and welcome twelve-year-old Dido, who dreams of becoming the first female charioteer, at the great Circus Maximus. The book Circus Maximus: Race to the Death has already been published by Zephyr Books on 4th March 2021. It is set in Ancient Rome and has both historical and strong female character interests. 

I'm delighted to have a brilliant interview with Annelise Gray below to find out more about this intriguing book. We really hope you enjoy this as much as we did and that both the book and setting come alive for you as you read this Q&A. If you have already been fortunate to have read this book then we would love to know your thoughts. Equally, please get in touch if you have any questions. Otherwise, thanks for reading and have a great day. 

1.When and where did you get the idea to write Circus Maximus: Race to the Death?

The inspiration was seeded when I was a quiet child with an obsession for pony adventure stories. My favourite was Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, which is about a girl called Velvet Brown who wins a horse in a raffle and dreams of riding him to victory at the Grand National. The idea proper for Circus Maximus: Race to the Death came to me about six years ago when I was watching a Formula One race on TV. I was thinking about the lack of female drivers and suddenly had the image of my main character Dido. I envisaged her as a cross between Velvet Brown and Lewis Hamilton – a brave, scrappy girl, living in ancient Rome and hoping to break into the all-male world of chariot racing. It took me several years to really commit to writing the book though – I was very busy with my teaching job. In the end though, Dido kept calling to me and I knew I had to go back.

2.How would you describe the story to potential readers?

An action-packed, mystery-laced historical adventure about a girl, a horse and an impossible dream…

3.Dido dreams of becoming the first female charioteer. When writing her character, how did you inject realism into it? What do you think it would be like to be a girl in Roman times?

It’s a very hard question to answer, just because we know so little, relatively speaking, about the experience of being a girl in antiquity. Women’s voices are almost entirely absent from the Roman literary record – what we know about them is framed in terms of the ideal expected from them by society. So I find it hard to say what it was like to be a girl in Roman times other than that if you were to take me back there in a time machine and ask me to live as one, I’m pretty confident I’d hate it – the lack of freedom and education for a start, as well as the expectation that you live according to the rules made by the male members of your family. One thing that might make it bearable is if you had good friends and there is some evidence for close female friendships in Roman society – something which incidentally, Dido lacks for much of the book. She is an outlier, really, able to live outside the usual societal norms for a number of reasons. The first of these is her age - she’s only twelve when we first meet her, just shy of the typical age for marriage. Another is her class - her father Antonius is a trainer and ex-charioteer, which placed him a long way down the social pecking order and the usual hierarchies might not have mattered so much in that world, which allows Dido the leeway to run wild around the stables where Antonius works at the beginning of the book. Having said that, being a charioteer was most definitely not an acceptable ambition for a girl and both Antonius and Dido know that and accept it (very reluctantly in her case).

4.What kind of research did you do to recreate ancient Roman times? How accurate have you been with the history of this time period?

I have a PhD in Classics and I used to work as a research assistant to authors and TV companies on books and dramas about the ancient world. So although I was keen to avoid the book feeling like a history lesson disguised as a novel, achieving a high standard of historical accuracy was important to me, particularly when it came to conjuring up the world of chariot racing. For that, I drew on a wide range of sources to create as authentic a portrait as possible, including accounts by Roman writers which give us a taste of what it was like to be in the crowd watching a race and the fanatical behaviour of some of the supporters. One of the latter was the Emperor Caligula, who features as a character in my book and really was an obsessive fan of the Green racing faction, as I describe him. Images from ancient art give us our best idea of how the chariots were designed and what the charioteers wore, while we also have inscriptions which tell us the names and colours of the horses and the career statistics of the best drivers. Other sources such as Roman recipe books helped to paint a picture of the sights, tastes, colours and smells of Dido’s world. 

5.Are there any Roman facts that you know that people might be less familiar with?

In terms of the events described in the book, I think readers might be surprised by the echoes between modern and ancient sporting culture. The most successful charioteers were huge celebrities in Rome. People would follow them around the city and even Emperors could get obsessed – Nero is supposed to have cut his hair in the same style as his favourite racing driver. There was a healthy trade in sporting merchandise and you hear about people buying clothes for their children in the colours of their favourite team.

One of my absolute favourite morsels of evidence that I came across when researching Race to the Death was a chariot games token that was found in the grave of a young girl. It evokes such a powerful image – the idea that maybe this girl loved watching the races and her family buried it with her as a keepsake of a happy day. 

6.This is your debut book, what was the writing process like for you?

Race to the Death is my first children’s novel although it’s not the first book I’ve had published. About ten years ago, I wrote a non-fiction account of the women of imperial Rome and a few years after that I wrote a crime novel set in the Roman Republic (both for the adult market and written under the name Annelise Freisenbruch). But the writing process was different for all three books. For this one, I had to learn a new craft. I took plenty of wrong turns along the way and it was a long process, but I also found it a joyful and satisfying experience overall because I finally felt as if I was writing in my true author voice after many years of trying to figure out what that really was.

7.I believe you might be writing another book connected to this one. What have you learned from writing the first book that may help you write the second? 

I am indeed in the process of writing the second in the Circus Maximus series, which will cover the next chapter of Dido’s story. I didn’t really contemplate writing a sequel until I’d finished Race to the Death. Two things I’ve learned are not to include a character unless they have a job to do moving the story forward (several got cut during the edits of Race to the Death) and also to really think about the emotional journey for the characters and try to express that on the page. I didn’t include enough of Dido’s inner voice in earlier drafts of the book and my amazing editor Fiona helped me draw that out.

8.I'm a massive fan of a hardback book. What do you most appreciate about the production of the book?

My publisher, Zephyr, takes great pride in producing books that are beautiful to look at as well as read. I fell in love with the cover as soon as they showed it to me. It’s designed by Levente Szabo and I adore the sense of yearning and aspiration in the way the Dido figure is looking at the Circus in the distance, but also the atmosphere of danger and darkness in it. The little hints of gold are also exquisite, they weren’t there on the proof copy and were the most gorgeous surprise when I took delivery of the final book.

9.During this pandemic what has helped you through any difficult times?

I am incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful, rural part of England and being able to go out for big walks in the open countryside definitely helped my sanity. I’ve found writing extremely difficult at times over the last year – almost tortuous. Cooking is always therapeutic for me and I’ve blithely and willingly sacrificed my waistline for my sense of well-being. Whatever the day throws at you, it’s helpful to know there’s a nice meal, a little glass of wine and a good TV show to watch at the end of it.

10.Could you share some of the favourite books that you own?

I’ve already mentioned that the book which inspired Circus Maximus: Race to the Death more than any other is National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. I am embarrassed to confess that I removed the copy from my school library when I was about ten and I have never given it back. It’s sacred to me. 

Probably my favourite fiction title of all time is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. More than any other book I can think of, it absolutely captures the uncertainty, idealism and heartache of growing up, all of which I identify with hugely.

My desert island book though is actually How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I bought my copy when I was at university and just learning to cook. It’s incredibly tatty now and covered in food stains. But I read it and re-read it like a novel. (Favourite recipe of many: the chocolate puddings on page 187. Eat ‘em and weep).