Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Taran Matharu - Summoner: The Novice - Book Review

The online sensation, The Novice, has already reached the dizzy heights of 6 million reads so far. The story, a project that was started during the National Novel Writing Month, was shared on the website Wattpad. This in turn has also become a massive success in it's own right with over 35 million subscribers. If you ever get chance to take a look, you can find some fantastic stories on the site, which currently has more than 75 million stories. 

I'll start this review by first mentioning the book cover, I really love it! It gives a good reflection to the story inside and makes you want to pick it up and read it. It's brilliantly done by Malgorzata Gruszka and the Hodder Team and really stands out on the physical hardback copy. 

After the frantic sales rights this book has received, is it worth a read? In my opinion, most definitely. My expectations were high and I believe that this is a great platform to a great series. I really enjoyed every page of this epic action fantasy. Stories like this give me hope for the future in finding a new voice in a genre that's become a little subdued at the moment. The first three or so chapters of the book are slow going, due to a lot of world and character building which is needed, as it sets up a good plot. After that the book has wings as you fly through a dramatic escapade of adventure, magic and brutal mayhem. 

This style of writing reminded me of some of my favourite authors, a blend between Jonathan Stroud's amazing ability to bring good characters to life and Trudi Canavan's fantastic fantasy vision. This book infuses these strengths to make a memorable and creative bubble. It's a journey of hope, violence and humble beginnings as the reader follows the main character Fletcher. 

Fletcher is put through gruelling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully whilst training alongside children of powerful nobles; the power hungry, those seeking alliances and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces with only his demon, Ignatius, for help.

The characters are well written although somewhat stereotypical of this genre. Nevertheless, they are very engaging as you follow them on a stark journey of class and race division. Underpinning this are the themes of the importance of friendship, loyalty and overcoming adversity. I loved this aspect.  

The story contains many clever plotlines that will keep you immersed. The fantastical action battle scenes are all delivered in a film-like quality. The ending is very impressive and leaves you on an inquisitive cliffhanger; it will make you yearn for the next book. A great solid young adult fantasy which is a classic example of this genre. 

Published by Hodder Children's Books out 5th May 2015. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Young Adult Fantasy Book Picks - May 2015 - UK Post

Sarah Govett - The Territory Published by Firefly Press Ltd (14 May 2015)  - (Book review to follow)             
Limited Space requires limited numbers: Noa lives in what s left of a Britain where flooding means land is scarce. Everyone must sit an exam at 15. If you pass you can stay in the Territory, if you fail you must go to the Wetlands. Rich families can buy their children an upgrade to help, but Norms like Noa must succeed on their own merits. Noa is a bright funny teenager, not sure which boy she likes, devoted to her friends. The book follows her as she and her friends face the exam. Who will pass and who will fail?

David Owen - Panther - Published by Corsair (7 May 2015)
Life isn't going terribly well for Derrick; he's become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he's hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it's all because of his sister. Her depression, and its grip on his family, is tearing his life apart. When rumours start to circulate that a panther is roaming wild in his south London suburb, Derrick resolves to turn capture it. Surely if he can find a way to tame this beast, he'll be able to stop everything at home from spiraling towards disaster?
Panther is a bold and emotionally powerful novel that deals candidly with the effects of depression on those who suffer from it, and those who suffer alongside them.

David Greygoose - Brunt Boggart: A Tapestry of Tales - Published by Hawkwood Books (4 May 2015)
Brunt Boggart is a tapestry of folktales, myths and storytelling. The connecting thread follows Greychild, abandoned in the woods by his mother. Mistaken for a wolf, he is taken to Brunt Boggart, a village of primal energies where people live close to the land - but sets off along the Pedlar Man's Track to the city of Arleccra. The harbour fills with ships of fire, stars spin and wheel - and he is back in Brunt Boggart again, out under the season's moon. His mother is not there, but Greychild finally discovers the identity of his father.

Taran Matharu - Summoner: The Novice (BK1) - Published by Hodder Children's Books (5 May 2015) (Book review this week) 
Fletcher was nothing more than a humble blacksmith's apprentice, when a chance encounter leads to the discovery that he has the ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, he must travel with his demon to the Vocans Academy, where the gifted are trained in the art of summoning.
The academy will put Fletcher through a gauntlet of gruelling lessons, training him as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire's war against the savage orcs. Rubbing shoulders with the children of the most powerful nobles in the land, Fletcher must tread carefully. The power hungry Forsyth twins lurk in the shadows, plotting to further their family's interests. Then there is Sylva, an elf who will do anything she can to forge an alliance between her people and Hominum, even if it means betraying her friends. Othello is the first ever dwarf at the academy, and his people have long been oppressed by Hominum's rulers, which provokes tension amongst those he studies alongside.
Fletcher will find himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with nothing but his demon Ignatius to help him. As the pieces on the board manoeuvre for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands ...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Cathy MacPhail - Devil You Know - Book Review (Kelpiesteen)

Book Synopsis: "Baz was the kind of friend I wanted. Everyone seemed a bit afraid of him." Forced to move away from his dad in Aberdeen to a run-down Glasgow council estate, Logan thinks he's pretty lucky to have made any friends -- let alone Baz and the boys. Baz might have a bit of reputation, be a bit mouthy, but he's the kind of friend who'll stick up for you; who'll make life interesting -- or should that be dangerous? When Logan, Baz and the boys get caught up a local turf war Baz is the first to fight back. But the aftermath leads Logan and his friends deeper into a world of real-life gangs, threats and lethal revenge. How far will Baz go, and will Logan follow him?

Book Review: This is another interesting and challenging take on teenage life from the award winning author Cathy MacPhail. This is the second book that I have read written by Cathy. I really connected with this story. It brought back a flood of childhood memories; the feeling of freedom and the naive outlook on the world.   

I had a great time relating to the characters in this story as it really took me back to my own childhood. I was immediately immersed into the world of Logan and his friends. I felt every heartbeat of this story pulsating with the reality of human life. Set on a challenging Glasgow council estate, perhaps not the most exciting place you might be thinking, but it is certainly one that will get you thinking. The themes will have similarities to those that young people will be facing today as they try to navigate their teenage lives through these. 

The book creates a large imprint in the friendship department. It focuses on the daily outlook on life and families and the fact that they are never perfect. It depicts many social problems and fears that we may have about ourselves and the world around us. 

This book is an adventure full of thrills and spills where the characters get involved in the proper gang culture, and not just kid ones. This brings about some dark and deadly serious plot turns as threats and revenge have their price. How dangerous will it get for Logan, Baz, Mickey, Gary and Claude ( don't forget Ricky the dog) "just a bunch of boys" looking for something to do at night? 

I think teenage boys will love this book. The plot is very clever and well thought out. Towards the end of the story you will be faced with a killer twist. I did not see this coming, so I will not say anything else, but the clues are there. This story is fast paced and well plotted; full of action and equal amounts of tension that will have you gripped throughout. 

This is another book that I would not normally pick up but I really loved it. Mnay thanks to Floris Books for sending me a copy.  

Paperback: 240 Pages  - Publisher: Kelpies 6 Mar. 2015 - ISBN-13: 978-1782501794

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Caleb Krisp - Anyone but Ivy Pocket Guest Blog Tour ( THE BIRTH OF AN ANTI-HEROINE )

Many thanks to Caleb Krisp for dropping by Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books to tell us about the THE BIRTH OF AN ANTI-HEROINE. What a character she is.....what do you think?

How I came to write IVY POCKET is actually a heartwarming tale - for years I had devoted myself to writing. I lived and breathed my work, crafting stories that were heartbreakingly moving, bone shatteringly brilliant and entirely in Latin. Naturally, it was a cruel shock when the publishing world rejected one book after another. At the very moment I was struggling with my latest literary failure - a nine hundred page masterpiece on the history of butter - my beloved housekeeper, Mrs Cuttlefish, took a creative writing course via correspondence. The deluded fossil was convinced she had a gift for writing and from time to time she would ask for my expert opinion. Her stories were terrible. Until last winter, when Mrs Cuttlefish presented me with the first five chapters of a new novel - the tale of a twelve year old maid by the name of Ivy Pocket. To my amazement, it wasn't completely awful. In fact, it was rather good. 

A few months later she showed me the finished manuscript. What she had written needed work, but it was fresh and funny and slightly wicked. Here was a character who was plucky and optimistic, but also incorrigible, delusional, loose with the truth, infuriating and utterly bonkers. I knew that with my help, my bone-headed housekeeper was destined to find great success with "Anyone But Ivy Pocket" Was I jealous? Not at all! I was delighted for the haggard old bat.

Mrs Cuttlefish confessed she hadn't showed her manuscript to a soul, apart from me. Which was frightfully interesting. One evening I decided to do a little gardening - digging and whatnot. It took several hours, but I managed to dig a rather impressive hole. By a remarkable coincidence, it matched the exact dimensions of Mrs Cuttlefish. 

Unfortunately, my watch must have fallen off as I was gardening. So I asked Mrs Cuttlefish to come outside and help me find it. She seemed to have misplaced her glasses, which was regrettable. She stumbled about in the dark for at least fifteen minutes, before plummeting into the hole. What are the odds?  

I shone the torch into the hole, fully prepared to rescue the kind-hearted nincompoop. Which was terribly selfish of me. For as I watched her lying there, I couldn't deny how remarkably contented she looked. And as she was old and had a vast collection of ceramic frogs, I felt the kindest thing to do was cover her over with some soil and plant a rose bush (which is flowering beautifully, by the way)

Being a magnificent sort of person, I quickly decided that the only way to honour Mrs Cuttlefish's memory was to make a few improvements to her book, remove her name from the manuscript and replace it with my own. Then send it out into the world. The rest is literary history. And I know for a fact that Mrs Cuttlefish is delighted by my success, for she haunts my cottage with great enthusiasm. In fact, I am hoping that once she stops shaking the walls and throwing pots at my head, she will help me write the next adventure of Ivy Pocket. A happy ending all around.

Other blog tour posts: Caleb Krisp - Author InterviewMy Book Corner 
John Kelly, the illustrator for Anyone But Ivy Pocket - MinerrvaReads
You can read my review of Anyone But Ivy Pocket - HERE

Monday, 20 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Interview with Eve Ainsworth - Seven Days

I'd like to take the opportunity to welcome Eve to Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books website and to thank her for taking the time out to answer questions about her latest book called Seven Days. This is available now to purchase from all good bookshops and websites. 

Tell us a little bit about Seven Days?
Seven Days is book about bullying, but from two sides of the story. You see the week in the life of a bully and victim, leading to a climatic ending. 
Sometimes there can more than one victim.

Give us an insight into your main character?
I have two main characters as it is a dual narrative novel. Jess is a sweet girl, who lacks confidence in herself. She sees the good in people and has a lovely soul, but is awkward in her skin. Kez is fiesty and popular. You think that she is nasty and cruel - but she has lots of insecurities  that creep deeply within her.                                               
How much of the book is realistic?
I hope a lot. I witnessed so much bullying when working in schools and saw the impact it had on students. I also spoke to bullies, I heard their stories. I wanted a story that teens could relate to. I need it to be real. 

Do you have a specific writing style?
Not really. I write fast and straight on computer. I edit as I go. I do carry a notepad around but most of my ideas are locked firmly in my head until I write. I think my style is pacy and fairly gritty.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Yes! I know I'm attracted to covers. A good cover draws you in, it makes you want to open the book and explore. When I received the design for 7 Days from Scholastic I screamed in the street. I was so happy. I love the way the words, the abusive words, are printed all over the book. It shows how exposed a victim feels - like your life is view for everyone to see. 

What are your current projects? 
I am just finishing my second book with Scholastic, Crush - which will be published early 2016. This focuses on abusive and controlling relationships.             
What do you think makes a good story? 
Characters you believe in and care about.   
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?  
From life experience. From the issues I witnessed in schools and my memories of being a teen. I also read lots and lots of magazines (true stories can spark some great ideas) and eavesdrop on lots of conversations.                                                                         
What books have most influenced your life most?                                      
The L Shaped Room was the first book to make me really, really want to be a writer. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole was the first book to be re-read again and again The Stand was the first book to make me go WOW
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?   
Can I have 3? Please?
John Lennon - no reasons needed Julie Walters - my hero and Rik Mayall - ;)
What do you like to do when you're not writing? 
Read! Lots. Listen to music. Play with my kids. Get lost in the woods.
Is there anything that you would like to share with us?                             
I can't ride a bike, but I'm planning to learn (I may need stabilisers) 

Authors web site: 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Book Picks: Children's and Teens May 2015 - UK Post One

Jason Rohan - The Shield of Kuromori - Published by Egmont (7 May 2015)
Science meets Myth when ogres armed with high-tech weaponry steal a huge telescope as part of an insane plan to cast the world into permanent darkness. With global catastrophe looming, Kenny and Kiyomi take the fight to the enemy, even if it means going out of this world.
But all is not well between the friends. Kiyomi's behaviour is growing increasingly erratic and it soon becomes clear that her life - and her humanity - are in danger. Kenny is faced with an impossible choice - does he save his friend or fulfil his duty?

A . F. Harrold - Fizzlebert Stump and the Girl Who Lifted Quite Heavy Things - Published by Bloomsbury Children's (12 Feb. 2015)
It's the great Circus of Circuses competition, and Fizzlebert Stump has no act. He's no longer the Boy Who Puts His Head In The Lion's Mouth (the lion retired) and putting his head in a crocodile's mouth instead didn't work out for some reason. Can Fizz find a new act in time? Can the Bearded Boy find his long-lost parents? And can their new friend Alice, professional flower-arranger and secret Strongwoman, find her rightful place in the circus?

Paul Magrs - Lost on Mars - Published by Firefly Press Ltd (14 May 2015)
With the scale and scope of the great science fiction epics, Lost on Mars tells the story of Lora and her family, third generation human settlers on the red planet who are struggling to survive in incredible circumstances. The family clings to life on a smallholding in the desert landscape, surviving storms and sinister rumours of un- explained disappearances until one night Lora sees the Dancers. When her father and grandmother disappear themselves, Lora's family is driven out to seek a new life across the plains. But none of them are ready for what they find the beautiful, dangerous City Inside.

Heather Brewer - The Cemetery Boys - Published by HarperTeen (7 May 2015)

 Part Hitchcock, part Hinton, this first-ever stand-alone novel from Heather Brewer, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, uses classic horror elements to tell a darkly funny coming-of-age story about the dangerous power of belief and the cost of blind loyalty.
When Stephen's dad says they're moving, Stephen knows it's pointless to argue. They're broke from paying Mom's hospital bills, and now the only option left is to live with Stephen's grandmother in Spencer, a backward small town that's like something out of The Twilight Zone. Population: 814.
Stephen's summer starts looking up when he meets punk girl Cara and her charismatic twin brother, Devon. With Cara, he feels safe and understood—and yeah, okay, she's totally hot. In Devon and his group, he sees a chance at making real friends. Only, as the summer presses on, and harmless nights hanging out in the cemetery take a darker turn, Stephen starts to suspect that Devon is less a friend than a leader. And he might be leading them to a very sinister end. . . 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Paul Magrs - Lost on Mars - Book Review

Book Synopsis: With the scale and scope of the great science fiction epics, Lost on Mars tells the story of Lora and her family, third generation human settlers on the red planet who are struggling to survive in incredible circumstances. The family clings to life on a smallholding in the desert landscape, surviving storms and sinister rumours of un-explained disappearances until one night Lora sees the Dancers. When her father and grandmother disappear themselves, Lora's family is driven out to seek a new life across the plains. But none of them are ready for what they find the beautiful, dangerous City Inside.

Book Review: I was so excited to get my hands on an early copy of this book. In fact, I gave a little dance when it landed in my letter box. It never even made my 'To Be Read' pile as I devoured it straight away. Paul Magrs has quickly become one of my favourite authors, so I was eagerly hoping that this book would live up to my expectations. 

The synopsis gives very little away, as you can see above, so my imagination was on overload from the very start. Paul has a very expressive way of telling a story; simply told with a fantastical and futuristic vision that packs a mighty punch to the senses. Inspired from the books that he read as a child, this has helped him deliver another science fiction epic of his own. 

It's FANTASTIC, it's BRILLIANT, it's certainly strange and the plot will hit you in both the gut and the heart at the same time. It's thought provoking and very surreal following the characters into the realms of the unknown. I was never quite sure what would happen in this book as it's a magical ride of two halves with a big dollop of craziness, of course. Although, the story does have an underlying dark and sinister edge; disappearing people, unexplained sightings and possibly a cannibalistic race of aliens that will have you running for another planet. However, the more that I read, the more that I fell in love with this book. 

The final part of the story is a fantasy marvel. It hits you out of nowhere and changes the whole direction of the story. This certainly shows Paul's pedigree of writing through his epic involvement in writing twenty five or so Dr Who novels.

One of my favourite aspects of the story included another one of Paul's trademark 'servo furnishings'. This time it was a sunbed, if I recall correctly. I'd love more books to feature one as it makes the book sparkle with amusement and wonder.  

This is easily my favourite read of the year. It is a cracking space odyssey for the Young Adult audience and beyond. A unique outlook all wrapped in a disturbing fight for survival against a bleak and desolate landscape. Although, the end does pose the question as to whether there will be a sequel or not.

I hope that you will grab a copy of this delight of a book and enjoy it as much as I did. Many thanks to Firefly Press for publishing this book and Megan Farr for sending a copy in my direction.

Paperback: 352 pages - Publisher: Firefly Press Ltd (14 May 2015) ISBN-13: 978-1910080221

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Guest Post By Taran Matharu - The Novice (Summoner: Book 1)

It was November, and I had a whole month to myself before I flew to Australia to go backpacking. 
I heard about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month from a Facebook group I was part a few days before it started. I had an idea for a book, one that combined everything I loved about fantasy into one story.
So I sat down and wrote the first chapter and uploaded it to Wattpad, using a cover I made using Microsoft Paint. The next day, I wrote the second. It had maybe sixty reads at that point.
Twelve days later, I hit twenty-five thousand reads. At this point, I knew I had something special. People were really enjoying my work, and although there were other books with millions of reads on Wattpad, their authors had been members for years. So I kept going, staying up into the early hours of the morning to make sure my promise of a chapter each day was kept.

When December came along, I had written fifty thousand words and Summoner: The Novice had been read almost one hundred thousand times. But the book wasn’t finished and I knew that I would soon be backpacking around Australia, with limited access to the internet. Amid some protests but also a lot of encouragement, I told my readers I would now upload a chapter once a week.
Thus, the second half of the book was written in the back of juddering buses and dingy hotel rooms. I would hoard my access to the internet jealously, making sure to reply to every comment whenever I found a spare moment and noting down my daily read count, using my phone’s roaming if I couldn’t find it. On Fridays, I would hunt through the streets looking for free wifi, occasionally forced to pay the extortionate fees that the hotel charged for access.
It was a whirlwind trip, where I cage dived with saltwater crocodiles, skydived onto the beach on Surfers Paradise and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. I ate kangaroo, crocodile, camel, emu and barramundi. I learned to surf in Byron Bay, hiked in the outback, hung out with aboriginal tribes and wandered through the jungles of northern Australia.

Four months after I uploaded the first chapter, I hit a million reads. It was a surreal day and I celebrated my success by popping open some champagne and telling my friends via Facebook what I was doing for the first time, to their amazement.
The day after I hit 1 million reads, a reporter from NBC news got in touch and we had an interview. A few weeks later, an article was uploaded to their site, “Must Read: Serial Novels Get Second Life With Smartphones, Tablets”. 

The next day, I received another email from a big audiobook publisher. They wanted to buy the audiobook rights to my book.
This one email kicked me into gear. I decided to contact some literary agents, looking for advice. In order to make it less formal, I found a few by searching “literary agent” on Facebook. I explained my situation and waited for a response.
I received three replies within a few hours. They all said I shouldn’t sell audiobook rights and they all requested the manuscript. One of them read the book overnight on Wattpad itself and offered representation there and then.
Eventually, I had six offers on the table, all from the best agencies in the world. Three were from the UK and three were from the US.
At this point, I was still uploading a chapter every two weeks to Wattpad and the book still wasn’t finished, but I needed to buy myself some time. I wanted to sign with an agent before the entire thing had been uploaded online, so I stopped uploading while this was all happening. I had numerous phone calls with the American agents and meetings with all the UK agents.
The night before I changed my mind a dozen times, but the final decision before I fell asleep was Juliet.

The weeks that followed were quite anticlimactic. Then, I got a phone call from Juliet. We had received a preemptive offer from a UK publisher. Juliet had already decided we should turn it down, as they wanted rights to publish it in the entire world and she didn’t think it was a good enough offer.
A few days later Juliet called me again. We had received another preemptive offer, this time from Brazil. Since I am half Brazilian myself, it was especially gratifying, as my extended family would be able to read it in their native language. I also knew that the deal would signal to other publishers that my trilogy was worth considering.
Soon after, my trilogy went to auction in the UK with publishers bidding against one another. It was extremely tense, with me checking my email and phone every few minutes. They bid against each other, until Juliet told me they could make a last bid each, without seeing how much their opponent had
offered. We reserved the right to go with either publisher, regardless of whose was higher. Juliet thought it best to take me to their offices so we could meet them before the final offers were sent.
I went and met both publishers in their offices on the same day. Juliet was fantastic throughout, telling me the questions she would be asking and what I could expect.
They had all of Malgorzata’s artwork printed on the walls. They also had marketing plans and schedules in a specially designed booklet, with ideas such as demon trading cards and temporary tattoos. Both were incredibly professional, genuine and I met the entire team that would be working on my book on both occasions, something that Juliet said rarely happens.
It was a difficult decision but we finally made the choice to go with Hachette children's publishers. A few weeks later, my book went to auction in the US, with three publishers. This time I dealt with Juliet’s US counterpart, Sasha Raskin. I had phone calls with all the publishers and one even had a conversation with Wattpad.
Ultimately, the trilogy was won after a highly competitive auction by Macmillan.
Later, the book went to auction in Germany and sold in several other territories. At the time of writing this article, it will be published by Hodder Children’s (Hachette) in the UK, Australia and Commonwealth, Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan) in the US and Canada, Hachette Jeunesse in France, Heyne in Germany, Planeta in Spain, Crown in Taiwan and Record in Brazil, EKSMO in Russia, Jaguar in Poland, Ecliptic in Bulgaria and Alpress in the Czech Republic.
On the day I finally announced it was going to be published, Summoner: The Novice gained one hundred and fifty thousand reads within 24 hours. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

It has also been amazing to get to know my two brilliant editors, Liz Szabla in the US and Naomi Greenwood in the UK, who’s combined insight have taught me more in one year than a lifetime of my own study of the craft. They have been a stellar team and have managed to polish Summoner: The Novice into a book I am hugely proud of.
Juliet has been my guiding light, helping me navigate the world of publishing with a steady but firm hand. I don’t think there is another literary agent like her, nor one more suited for my needs as both a person and an author.
While some might look over their shoulders and wonder what might have been, I am very fortunate to know in my heart that I can stand by my decisions.
I can safely say that I have entered the new year with no regrets, only eagerness for what 2015 will bring.

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: New Middle Grade Children's Book Picks - May 2015 UK Post

John Stephens - The Black Reckoning - Published by Corgi Childrens (7 May 2015)
The final instalment in the Books of Beginning series. Emma, Michael and Kate are locked in a race against time: to find their parents; to defeat the evil Dire Magnus; and to locate the final Book of Beginning. When all three books are united, their power will be unstoppable.
Embarking on a perilous journey to the land of the dead, Emma is forced to confront terrifying monsters and ghosts. As the fabric of time begins to fray, she becomes the final piece of an extraordinary puzzle.
Only she can master the Book of Death.

Frances Hardinge - The Lie Tree - Published by Macmillan Children's Books (7 May 2015)
Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.
The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father's murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .

Django Wexler - The Mad Apprentice - Published by Corgi Childrens (7 May 2015)
Old Readers are supposed to live for ever, magically inhabiting the spaces between stories. They’re not supposed to die.
But they can be murdered.
When an ancient Reader is killed, seemingly by his own apprentice, the hierarchy of the magical world tumbles and its spider web of alliances begin to unravel.
Now it’s up to Alice and the remaining apprentices to sort out the mess and catch the murderer. But the world is changing all around them. Things are not as they seem. It’s almost as if they are trapped in a strange sort of labyrinth . ..

Martyn Ford - The Imagination Box - Published by Faber & Faber (7 May 2015)
There is a box. Anything you imagine will appear inside. You have one go, one chance to create anything you want. What would you pick?"
That's exactly the question ten-year-old Timothy Hart gets to answer after discovering The Imagination Box. The greatest toy on earth.
The top-secret contraption transforms his life but when the box's inventor, Professor Eisenstone, goes missing, Tim knows he has to investigate.
With the help of a talking finger monkey called Phil, he sets out to find the professor. In order to rescue his friend, he must face his darkest fears and discover the true potential of his own mind.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Interview with Ross MacKenzie - The Nowhere Emporium (Kelpies)

This has to be one of my favourite middle grade reads so far this year; pure fantastical fantasy. I'm really pleased to have been able to ask a few wee questions about the book and Ross's writing career. Thank you for your brilliant responses. 

Tell us a little bit about The Nowhere Emporium?
The book follows Daniel Holmes, an orphan who stumbles across an enchanted shop called The Nowhere Emporium. Daniel sort of falls into a job as apprentice to the mysterious owner of the Emporium, Lucien Silver. The shop contains a huge labyrinth of passageways, and behind the many doors lie Mr Silver's "Wonders" - rooms where nothing is impossible and the only limit is the imagination. Daniel loves his new life in the shop, but when a shadow from Mr Silver's past shows up and threatens everything, it falls to Daniel to save the day.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Daniel is an orphan. He has vague memories of his parents, and when we meet him at the beginning of the book his life is pretty miserable. He's lonely. He's having a bit of bother with bullies. But that changes when he finds the Nowhere Emporium. It becomes quite obvious that Daniel has a gift for magic. But I think it's Daniel's bravery and cleverness that really sets him apart, even over and above the magic stuff.

Will you be writing a sequel? If so what can you tell us about it?
I wouldn't rule it out but I really don't know!  The kernel of an idea for an Emporium sequel is definitely there, but there are so many other ideas pushing and shoving in my head, and I'm always attracted to shiny new things. And of course it also depends on whether readers actually want a sequel.

Do you write an outline before every book you write?
The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that I do make notes of where I think the story will go. It's a bit like setting of on a journey with a few places marked on a map, but lots of space between those destinations for exploring. Sometimes there's treasure waiting on those unexpected detours.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
I do get lost in a story when I write, and for me that's one of the joys of being a writer. The characters come alive and do unexpected things, and I suppose there must be a bit of me in all of them.

Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
My lovely agent Stephanie is the first person to read any of my new stuff, and she's really good at telling me right away if something is working or not. We worked hard to get The Nowhere Emporium in shape, and it's a better book because of that process. 
And of course, once the book finds a publisher, all the fun starts again when you get to work with an editor, refining the story even more.

How do you think you have evolved creatively?
I'm definitely more confident now, and I'm becoming comfortable in trusting my gut on what works and what doesn't. Also, I think The Nowhere Emporium is a big leap forward for me in terms of finding my voice and the sort of stories I want to tell. I'm just getting started.

Have you ever hated something you wrote? 
Loads of times! If I wrote longhand I'd have wasted an unthinkable amount of paper on rotten ideas by now. Thankfully I write on computer so the trees are spared.

What books/authors have influenced your writing? 
Neil Gaiman for sure. Everything he writes sticks with me afterwards for the longest time. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of my all-time favourite books. I'd also say JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King have been major influences.

What book are you reading now? 
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
My new blog/site will be up and running soon. I'll be posting about my journey as an author, writing the occasional short story, and answering any questions readers might have. You can find it at

Friday, 3 April 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books/ Ben Illis: Stefan Mohamed Q&A (Bitter Sixteen)

Thank you Ben for your input into the development of some of the questions. Thank you also to Stefan for writing the most detailed responses to the questions. Readers will certainly get a feel for the journey that you have undertaken in writing this story. I'm very much looking forward to reading a copy myself. 
Finally, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish Stefan  a HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I hope that you have a great day. 

Tell us a little bit about Bitter Sixteen.
Bitter Sixteen is the story of Stanly, a cynical and somewhat socially dysfunctional teenager living in the rural Welsh town of Tref-y-Celwyn. Apart from having a talking beagle called Daryl for a best friend, his life is pretty unremarkable – until he turns sixteen and begins developing superpowers, specifically flight and telekinesis. Unfortunately there isn’t much scope for using superpowers in tiny Welsh border towns – but there’s a much bigger, weirder and more dangerous world waiting for Stanly in London…

Give us an insight into your main character(s). What does he/she/they do that is so special?
Stanly’s a slightly troubled individual who’s never really had friends, and considers himself as being very apart from his classmates – he has no time for the politics of school and detests bullies, who tend to target him because he’s odd and different. He definitely wouldn’t consider himself a victim, though. He’d probably like to think of himself as being very enigmatic, sardonic and detached, and he is in some ways, but he’s also very passionate and has a lot of anger in him. Something I wanted to play with in the book and its sequels is the idea that an angry, cynical, socially dysfunctional teenager might not necessarily be the best candidate for superpowers – I certainly would have made a terrible superhero at that age! Lots of typical hero’s journey / chosen one-style narratives tend to feature young men who should be very emotionally immature but immediately rise to the challenge and become the best that they can be. Stanly has a bit of trouble with that, although his heart’s in the right place.

In terms of his powers, I wanted to depict their growth and his experience of them as realistically as possible. What would it actually be like, for someone living a fairly mundane day-to-day existence, to suddenly have these extraordinary abilities? How does it change his perception of himself and the world? Are flight and telekinesis actually useful in practical terms? I absolutely do not want to use the words “gritty” or “grounded”, though, because they’ve been over-used to the point of meaninglessness. Plus there’s also crazy, fun superhero action, because I like to both have and eat my cake.

Why do you think we as readers and movie-goers are so drawn to characters with extraordinary powers? Do you feel the world of the “empowered” in fiction and film is a fair reflection on the world we actually inhabit?
I think it’s very common for people to feel powerless, to feel as though they have very little control and choice over their own lives and over the massive, terrible things that happen in the world, so it’s fairly natural that we would find stories featuring superpowered individuals very appealing, seeing characters with a level of control that we could never imagine having in reality. And when you’re going through adolescence, that kind of powerlessness is compounded by a lot of extra, very potent confusion, which is why I think such narratives are especially resonant for younger readers who are just starting to work out who they are, and define themselves in relation to the rest of the world. There’s also an undeniable thrill in seeing ultra-competent people taking care of business and kicking the arse of evildoers.

In terms of reflecting the world, I think it really depends on the story – in Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, for example, superhuman powers and monsters etc are very much metaphors for the problems of growing up, symbols of empowerment and womanhood etc. Whereas in the DC comics universe, many of the superpowered types are much more like Greek gods; huge, iconic figures who ultimately aren’t very relatable. And the portrayal of such powers is different again in Marvel comics. So I think it depends – and I think the wonderful thing about fantastical universes, even relatively realistic ones like mine, is that you can tell pretty much any kind of story you want to tell, and reflect the real world as much or as little as you want.

You graduated with a first class honours degree in creative writing. How did this influence the shaping of the novel, and your writing in general?
I definitely benefited massively from the course I went on, and I would imagine that anybody who read any of my stuff before and after would have noticed a huge difference! Such courses are definitely not for everybody, but I found spending three years around other writers, both professional and fellow amateurs, honing my craft and just having the time and space to concentrate on writing helped me immeasurably.

There’s a nasty strain of snobbery among certain individuals about creative writing courses – even from writers who are perfectly happy to pick up a fee for lecturing but then go on to bad mouth their students and courses in the press, which I think is both rank hypocrisy and the height of bad manners. Can a creative writing course make you a good writer? Not necessarily, and I think there needs to be some sort of spark there in the first place. But learning about the technical aspects of writing, being exposed to writers you might not otherwise have encountered, learning to take – and give out – constructive criticism and process it properly, rather than throwing your toys out of the pram because oh my God people just don’t get what you’re trying to do – how could that not be beneficial?

Since winning the Dylan Thomas prize for unpublished young writers back in 2010, how much has the book changed?
A lot! For one thing, the original draft had Stanly travelling to a fictional city called Breezeblock (I have no idea why I chose that name – that’s one creative decision that’s been lost in the mists of time), rather than to London. This was because I needed him to go to a city, but when I was 16, although I’d been to London many times, I didn’t know the city nearly well enough to convincingly set a story there. Breezeblock was sort of a Gotham-esque hyper city, the archetypal urban superhero environment, although it certainly had a flavour of London ‘cos that was my only experience of cities. Then in subsequent conversations with my agent, editors etc we decided to change the setting to London, which I think improved the book in terms of accessibility, and made it more realistic. Also at this point I’d spent three years at uni in Kingston, so knew my way around the city better.

More generally, having had so much time to do re-writes with feedback from various people – particularly the extensive and invaluable back and forth with my agent Ben – I’ve been able to tighten the book up a lot, make the dialogue punchier, craft better prose, iron out flaws. I’ve also written several other books in the meantime, some very different from Bitter Sixteen, so that experience has helped. When I won the prize I naively thought that everything was going to immediately fall into place and the book would be published within a year, and while it didn’t end up unfolding like that I’m actually really glad, with the benefit of hindsight. Not only have we managed to find a brilliant publisher in Salt, who really support and understand what I’m trying to do, but I feel that I’ve matured a lot as a writer, as an editor, and as a person. So both the book and I are much better prepared to be going out into the world that we would have been back in 2010!

Not that I’m actually prepared. I’m absolutely terrified. But there you go.

Having written the first draft of this book when you were a sixteen-year-old yourself, how has it been returning to the same character almost a decade later? Has sixteen-year-old Stanly changed much over the years?
Stanly’s been with me on and off the whole time, as I’ve done lots of rewrites of Bitter Sixteen as well as writing two sequels, so I find slipping back into the character’s voice relatively easy. There is a temptation to make the style more fluent, to improve the writing, and finding a balance between making the book better and maintaining the rawness of the teenage voice has been challenging at times. He’s always been quite precocious though, luckily. As a character he’s pretty much the same as he’s always been – the main things I’ve needed to tweak and update have been his pop culture references, and things like that. It’s amazing how something first written in 2005, which is a relatively short time ago, can date so quickly! For example, I barely used the Internet at all when I first wrote the book, and now it’s ubiquitous, so I had to bring that aspect of the book up to date.

How much of you do you feel there is in Stanly? Is that more the sixteen-year-old you, or the twenty-six-year-old?
We’re definitely similar in lots of ways, albeit with one crucial difference – he likes baked beans. Although I don’t know if that’s revealed until book two. Spoilers.

To an extent Stanly is who I wished I was back when I first created him. I was bullied a lot when I was at school, but Stanly brushes it off and turns it around on his tormentors, and uses it as fuel to battle injustice, whereas I was much less confident, much less sure of myself, and I internalised all that stuff a lot more. So I guess there’s some slight wish fulfillment going on there (not to mention the superpowers and the talking dog). Although he’s a terrible student and I was always a very attentive student, terrified of getting into trouble!

In subsequent drafts I’ve tried to address the whole wish fulfillment thing a bit, because there’s something slightly cringeworthy about writing yourself a super duper awesome avatar – particularly as Stanly’s town and school are basically fictionalised versions of the town I grew up in and the school I went to! It’s a very tricky balance. I think writing that kind of wish fulfillment is fine when you’re writing at age sixteen, but it’s harder to justify a decade later. So Stanly’s a bit more awkward than he once was, more angry and impulsive. He has a bit of a superiority complex at school, and he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s also far from blameless in some of the bad stuff that ends up happening to him. I don’t think that protagonists necessarily have to be likeable all the time (although being likeable some of the time helps, of course), flawed characters are much more interesting.

We’re both 100-per-cent geek, though – sci-fi, fantasy etc are the lenses through which he sees the world, same as me. I just never got the job in the comics shop, sadly.

How do your interests in music and pop culture affect and influence your writing?
They play a fairly major role, although it’s something I’m increasingly aware of, and something that I try to dial back depending on what I’m writing. I could very easily have every character I write be a fast-talking pop culture junkie who knows Buffy backwards, discusses obscure musical genres and constantly quotes Star Wars, but in the wrong context you risk both alienating large swathes of your audience and creating a world and characters that simply aren’t realistic.

I think it makes sense in a contemporary-set superhero story to have characters be aware of the history and tropes of superheroes in the media – in fact that’s something I’ve had fun playing with in Bitter Sixteen and its sequels. If you suddenly had superpowers, your mind would immediately leap to superheroes, and becoming a superhero, because they’re such a huge cultural force and their narratives are so iconic. How does that translate to the real world? Does it? Is it remotely practical? I found that interesting to explore.

I’ve also written a separate, standalone novel that’s set in the world of music and is very influenced by my love of music, so in that context it makes sense for the characters to reference different musicians and styles, and to assume a certain level of knowledge – or a certain level of acceptance, at least – on the part of your readership.
But I do have to rein it in sometimes!

How much research do you do?
It depends. For Bitter Sixteen I haven’t had to do an awful lot, apart from making sure that my London geography makes enough sense that a Londoner reading it won’t get completely pulled out of the story! But even then, it’s a hyper real version of London that works for the purposes of this story, so as long as I captured a certain essence I didn’t necessarily feel that it had to be a cinéma vérité documentary version of the city. There are all sorts of issues surrounding London that I’ve become aware of – the super-rich driving other people out of the city, crazy price rises, huge cultural shifts etc – and considered addressing, but I eventually decided that they’d take up too much extra space and would affect the narrative in ways that ultimately weren’t beneficial. There may be room in the sequels, though.

I think research is definitely important – you need to have your facts straight, you need to know what you’re talking about, otherwise your reader won’t be able to suspend their disbelief, and all the punchy dialogue and exciting action in the world won’t stop your story from collapsing. But depending on the story you’re telling, it’s not necessarily the be-all and end-all. If you can effectively dramatise a trip through London’s sewers, for example, and keep the reader’s attention, then I don’t think you need to have done any research into Joseph Bazalgette (thanks Wikipedia!).

What are you working on at the minute?
At the moment I’m re-drafting the third book in the trilogy, currently titled Stanly’s Ghost, although once this draft is done I think I’m going to need to go away and work on something that’s not Stanly-related for a bit! Much as I love the world, sometimes staying in one fictional universe for a long time can feel a bit claustrophobic, creatively. Wow, that looks pretty pretentious written down. I have a couple of standalone novels that I’d like to punch into shape, and the first book in a separate trilogy that needs re-drafting. Or maybe I’ll do something completely new. I’m also writing and performing a lot of poetry, which is great fun and a very different creative outlet from prose. I can always fall back on poetry when prose gets frustrating, and vice versa!

If you could have superpowers, what would they be and why?
Flight. Without a doubt. It’s the only power I’ve ever wanted. Even now sometimes when I’m out walking I look up at the sky and feel genuinely upset that I can’t just take off. Which is totally to do with ultimate freedom and magic and recapturing childhood wonder and the poetry of human flight, rather than laziness.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
Any fans of superhero comics who are not currently reading G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel must check it out at once, because Kamala Khan is an absolutely brilliant heroine and also a very important character to be headlining a high-profile comic in the current political climate.
Also, please vote on the 7th of May!