Monday, 16 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Author Interview with Huw Powell - SpaceJackers

I'd like to thank Huw Powell for agreeing to do this interview and for taking the time to answer some questions for Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. I really loved reading 'Space Jackers' and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, 'The Lost Sword', which is out in July. I'm hoping that the next book will be soon on its way Huw, perhaps a cover reveal at some point would be good (hinting cheekily). So, over to Huw and his fantastic replies below.....

Tell us a little bit about Spacejackers and the series?
Spacejackers is an exciting new book series about space pirates. The first novel was published in July last year by Bloomsbury (paperback and ebook) and WF Howes (audio book). It’s all about a boy called Jake Cutler, who is abandoned on a remote planet when he’s two years old. Jake is raised by cyber-monks, but he has a passion for the stars and a thirst for adventure. When Jake turns thirteen, space pirates attack the monastery where he lives, forcing him to flee the planet aboard a grubby old spaceship called the Dark Horse. Jake embarks on an incredible voyage through space in search of his missing father and a mythical planet called Altus.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special? 
Jake grows up not knowing who he is or where he’s from. He doesn’t even remember his own parents. His only clue is a mysterious gold pendant that contains three crystals: a diamond, a ruby and an emerald. This means that Jake never really feels as though he belongs with the cyber-monks – or anyone else – he has no sense of identity. If that wasn’t bad enough, his eyes were damaged in a space storm and replaced with special computerised lenses, which means that Jake has bright purple eyes. When space pirates come searching for Jake, he has no idea why.

What is your favourite theme/genre to write about? 
Space. As a writer and reader, I get excited about a lot of genres, especially those set in intriguing worlds full of magic and mystery. However, I’ve always been fascinated with space and what the future might hold. As a child, I was obsessed with Star Wars and Warhammer 40K role play, as well as science-fiction books and comics, including The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison and The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The challenge writing Spacejackers was to make the future feel old, so people feel they are reading a classic tale, like Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing something? 
A few years ago, I was living in London and spending most of my time working – with little to show for it. I really wanted something else in my life, however my options were limited because of my long working hours, therefore I needed something flexible. What could be simpler than a notepad and pen? My brother was already a published author and I had always enjoyed writing in my younger years. I started scribbling whenever I could find time, usually in cafés or on the tube, and I was immediately hooked. A few years later, my first novel was published.

What are your current projects? 
In addition to promoting the first Spacejackers book in the UK, I’m helping to ‘Americanise’ the novel for release in the US and Canada in June. At the same time, I’m putting the finishing touches to the second book in the series, Spacejackers: The Lost Sword, which is due out in the UK, Australia and New Zealand on 2nd July. Finally, I’ve started writing the third book in the series, currently titled Spacejackers: The Pirate King, which will be published next year. In my spare time, I’m a Patron of Reading and I support various initiatives that encourage children to read.

What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? This is always a tricky balance for me, because I have a ‘day job’ and two young sons, which means that I have to be disciplined with the time allocated for writing. As an author, I want to make the second and third books as good as they can be, however it’s important to devote a few hours a week to promote the first book, so it has the best possible chance of success. This includes school visits, literature festivals, website updates, social media, local press, interviews, etc.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
There are so many people to choose from for different reasons. Imagine being able to meet Jesus Christ, King Arthur, William Shakespeare, Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill. If there was one children’s author I would like to meet today, it would be JK Rowling. I would love to talk with her about the Harry Potter series and swap ideas for other novels. Her books have become modern day classics, capturing the imagination of millions of readers. It would be fascinating to understand her approach to writing and find out if there will ever be another Hogwarts adventure.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
It would probably be The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Not only is it a fantastic trilogy full of magic and adventure, but JRR Tolkien created a whole world with Middle Earth, including its own creatures, politics, history, maps and languages. His work has entertained generations of fans and inspired a whole genre of fantasy novels. Most authors only dream of leaving such a legacy.

How do you describe your role of Patron of Reading?
Fun, rewarding and an honour. Writhlington School is a modern secondary school in Radstock with impressive students, staff and facilities, which includes a brilliant library and a first class librarian. The school has a great feel to it and I really enjoy engaging with the children (mostly years 7, 8 and 9). As their Patron of Reading, I encourage the students to read for pleasure, whether they are library prefects or rapid readers. This means regular visits, a monthly newsletter, competitions and messages from other children’s authors.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
Never trust a space pirate!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Exclusive Book Cover Reveal - Alex Campbell - Cloud 9 - Published by Hot Key Books

I always feel a little bit excited when I'm given the opportunity to nurture a new book cover and introduce it to the 'wildness' that is the internet for the first time. It's a great honour and privilege to be showing off a stunning book cover to readers and followers of Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. The team at Hot Key Books have done a brilliant job, which makes it all the better for showing it to you all today. 

The Cloud 9 book cover art was by Jet Purdie, Art Director at Hot Key Books, and the illustrator Levente Szabó. You'll find Cloud 9 landing in your shops at some point during September 2015. So for now, here is the synopsis for you to whet your appetite. Please let us know what you think. 

Life's Short. Enjoy It.
So goes the favourite slogan of Leata, the wonder-drug that sixteen-year-old Hope has been taking since she was a child, just like the rest of her family. Well, the rest of the country really. For who would choose not to take it - a perfectly safe little pill that just helps take the ‘edge off' life. Because everyone can do with a little help staying happy sometimes… Especially Hope, whose home life is not as perfect as she likes to make out on her blog. 

Tom's never taken Leata. Why would he? His family are happy as they are. At least they were, until the sudden death of his journalist father. The police are unequivocal: his father's death was suicide. But Tom refuses to accept this. Consumed by grief, and increasingly obsessive about his dad's final big story, he is thrown a lifeline when Hope offers to help. As a Leata-backed blogger, she wants to steer Tom into 'positive living' - instead, her efforts take her down a path she could never have expected. Tracing the final steps of his father's life, Tom, and Hope, soon find themselves unravelling a trail of deceit, murder... and a conspiracy so shocking the government will do anything to keep it secret. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Rob Stevens - Would The Real Stanley Carrot Please Stand Up? - Book Review (Andersen Press)

Book Synopsis: Stanley ‘Carrot’ Harris is ginger, tubby and definitely not cool. And he has a secret: he’s adopted, and this makes him feel like he’s never quite fitted in.
On his thirteenth birthday, he receives the one thing he’s been waiting his whole life for: a card from his long-lost birth mother, asking to meet up. But Stanley isn’t sure: what if he’s a big disappointment to her? So he hatches a plan – and he’s going to need a stand-in Stanley, someone who is handsome, sporty and God’s Gift to Mothers.
What Stanley doesn’t realise is he’s about to have the most confusing time of his life . . . just who is the real Stanley Carrot?
Book Review
I was not expecting to enjoy this book as, at the moment, my reading enjoyment appears to be tuned into the nimbus clouds of fantasy worlds. Everything that I read is filled with magical monsters and based on far flung imagination. I enjoy escaping the real world and, sometimes when I'm sent a book of this nature, my heart actually sinks a little. Looking at the blurb on the back of this book, that sinking feeling washed over me, this was not the type of book that I was expecting from Rob Stevens. It was certainly very different to the other books that I have read by him before. 

The only aspect of this book that swayed me to read it was the tagline on the front of the brilliant book cover 'Laugh-out-Loud Funny'. That spurred me on to open the book, read the first pages and take a chance on the story inside the cover. I'm a sucker for a humorous storyline and this book has it in bucket loads. In summary, this book is based on reality that crashes into a truck load of humour. Stanley Carrot is the character at the heart of everything that goes crazily wrong.....

I would like to say that this book is teenage cool, just like the title. It may even refer to one of your favourite songs. However, it also deals with serious and complex issues which some teenagers may find themselves being able to relate to within this story. The main character, Stanley, has bright orange hair and is incredibly bad at sport. He lives with his adopted parents and generally feels unloved. This is further heightened by him becoming a victim of a group of nasty bullies. The story is written very sensitively and in parts was very moving. It provoked me to think deeply about the main character and to see life from his perspective.  

Another issue briefly explored within this brilliant story focused on dyslexia, which again is another difficult subject to write about. I would normally run away from such elements within a book, so what happened? Well, I actually devoured the story in one sitting, which really did surprise me very much. Sometimes the books that you shy away from become the ones that you love the most.

The contemporary plot is a mixed bag of incidents that go seriously wrong. A story about not fitting in with a crowd and exploring hidden talents that will capture the hearts of other people around you. If you're wanting to explore a book that is different, but has a great message about life this then this book is for you. 

This is a really inspiring read; one minute you will be crying tears of joy and the next minute you be weeping tears of sadness. It's a real rollercoaster of emotions and events that will stay with you for some time. However, it will leave you feeling good about yourself; it will make you smile and hug the other people around you. Like the saying goes 'if you smile, then the world will smile back at you'. If any book can do that then it is definitely worth reading and this book can. Aimed at an audience of approximately 11+, this book will be sort after by everyone, but what do you think? 
Published by Andersen on the 5th February 2015. Thank you for sending this for me to review and for taking me out of my comfort zone.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Favourite Barrington Stoke - Book Picks (Dyslexia/Reluctant Reader)

Barrington Stoke is an independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance. 

E.E. Richardson - Black Bones Tony must stop a cult summoning a demon before the blood moon rises. If only he knew when that was...When your dad owns a magic shop, you're pretty much prepared for weird things to happen. So when Tony comes across a strange skull, he's not fazed. It's not until the demon inside wakes up that he realises he might have a problem. And when the trolls who worship the demon decide to dig up the rest of the bones, he must act fast, or everyone will die. 

Sam Enthoven - My Name is O O has two tasks tonight. The first is to break into the Bank of England. Easy. Well, easy compared to the second - to challenge the shadowy presences who rule the world. Clever fantasy for teens. 

Darren Shan - Hagurosan  When Hagurosan is told to take an offering to the shrine, he reluctantly begins his trek up the mountain. But when he gets hungry and eats the cake meant for the spirits, things take a turn that no one could have expected. Now Hagurosan must face the consequences of his actions. Terrific adventure from a master of fantasy. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers of 8+

Chris Wooding - Pale 
The Lazarus Serum can bring you back from the dead. Only thing is, it turns you into a Pale. Jed can't imagine anything worse, but then the choice is taken out of his hands...Dystopian sci-fi by the Storm Thief author.

Ian Beck - Samurai  Following his desertion of his fellow warriors on the battlefield, a lone Samurai and his faithful dog Cho journey together. When he stops at a village, he finds that its inhabitants are plagued by an evil demon. Will the Samurai be able to defeat the demon and redeem himself in the eyes of the gods? Atmospheric myth from Japan. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers.

Cornelia  Funke - Sea Urchins and Sand Pigs  A delightful story from a top author. With treasure trails, dune pigs and the occasional visiting mermaid, there's never a dull moment in Sandy Cove, as a gang of children find out when they visit the holiday village one hot summer! High quality cream paper and a special easy to read font ensure a smooth read for all.

These are some of my favourite reads from over the last few years. They are just a small snapshot of some of the quality authors and titles that you will find from Barrington Stoke. What are your favourite reads? 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Author Interview with Ian Johnstone - The Bell Between Worlds (The Mirror Chronicles)

This was one of my favourite books of 2013. It was an amazing debut fantasy novel that I could quite literally not put down.  Now that it has finally been published in paperback, I still have the same positive feelings for the story that I had then. 

I would like to thank Ian for writing such detailed responses to my questions. I hope that they will inspire you to read a copy of his book,  if you've not already done so!

1. Tell us a little bit about The Bell Between Worlds.

The book tells the story of young Sylas Tate, who lives in peculiar old terrace called Gabblety Row. Between running errands for his peevish Uncle Tobias, Sylas escapes into his dreams, dreams that take him as far as possible from his uncle and from thoughts of his mother, who died some years before. But the world changes beyond his wildest imaginings when The Shop of Things opens in the Row. The shopkeeper shows him three wonderful “Things”: strange, magical objects that seem to prove that there is something special about young Sylas Tate. Before he is able to discover any more he is woken in the middle of the night by the ear-splitting toll of a bell, a chime that seems to shake the footings of the world but that astonishingly, only he can hear.  As the sound of the bell rages in his ears, Sylas begins a journey: a voyage of discovery that takes him into a world subtly different from the one he knows, a world where magic replaces science, a world of wonders that will soon unravel everything he has ever known. But he finds answers too, about the fate of his mother, about the two worlds and his own astonishing powers, and about the nature of our very soul.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 

Well, like any fantasy writer a key preoccupation of mine is wonder – capturing it and evoking it – and I want to share my wonder not only at magical things but also at the endless potential of our imagination and the staggering beauty and power of nature. If that doesn’t sound too high-minded! I would like to take the reader on a magical journey but also show my wonder at the real world – our world. That’s why I chose to write the book as a portal fantasy, spanning worlds of both magic and science and teasing out a correspondence between the two. 
The trilogy also explores some basic questions: why is it that we doubt ourselves? Why is it that so much of our potential is often hidden to us? And why do we turn so readily to superstitions and mythologies to find answers? Obviously these are big topics to grapple with (I can only hope I am up to the task!) but they explain why this is a very big story that needs the depth and breadth of a series of books. The resulting trilogy, The Mirror Chronicles, will publish over the next year or two. Book two, Circles of Stone, is out in July!

3. Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?

Both! I like to have at least a loose framework written out at the beginning but then be free to shape and change as I go. I once heard a great metaphor for this and I hope the owner will forgive me for forgetting where! They said that they like to create the blueprint for their book like that of a house, so that they know the structure and the layout – where the rooms are and how they are connected – but they know little about each room until they walk into it. It is like that for me. I know what chapter or scene is needed in advance but they come to life in true detail and colour as I reach them. Circles of Stone is much more closely planned than The Bell Between Worlds because it involves a very complex interplay of characters in both worlds, but as far as possible I still tried to come to the scenes fresh as I wrote them. I think that keeps the writing interesting, and it is certainly a lot more fun!

4. What inspired you to write your first book? 

Like so many of us, as a child I was absolutely transported, bewildered and enraptured by The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, and as ordinary and predictable as this may be for a writer of fantasy, I can trace much of my inspiration back to them. They both made me want to understand how a writer can create a world of wonders so vivid and enthralling that it almost seems real. So I knew from aged eight or nine that one day I wanted to attempt their wizardry in whatever way I could, and it was only two or three years later that I had the underlying idea for The Mirror Chronicles. I think it was reaching that age of terrible self-consciousness and self-doubt at twelve or thirteen that made me dream up a fantastical reason for our doubts and questions. And that was the beginning. I even wrote a synopsis, but I soon realized that I wasn’t equipped to write the book, so I decided to leave it until I had grown up. I now realize that may never happen, so I just have to get on with it! 

5. Where do your ideas come from?

I suppose I have just explained where one of the central ideas came from, but in truth the ideas in The Mirror Chronicles come from a range of places in my past. I think my love of the natural world comes from a lifetime of travel, particularly in Africa, where I have lived and worked for years. In Africa the natural world feels far more pervasive and powerful than it does here – it is very much IN CHARGE – and that has stayed with me in a way that became Essenfayle, the magic of Nature, in the novel. My fascination with science probably comes from my dad, who at twelve taught himself chemistry with a second-hand chemistry set and a hosepipe from the gas cooker (DON’T try it at home!). He spent a career in the world of chemistry and electronics without any formal education, great at it just because he loved it. He taught me the wonder of a scientific view of the world. Another example of ideas from my past is the Samarok, the endlessly expanding book of myth and history that underpins the trilogy. I have spent many years working in digital publishing and the Samarok and the Ravel Runes it is written in are of course modeled on web technologies and the endlessly unfurling connections of hypertext. Again, this is an example of magic mirroring the wonders of science.

6. What are your current projects? 

Well I am delighted to say that book two of the trilogy, Circles of Stone, is now all done bar the dotting of ‘i’s and crossing of ‘t’s, so I am about to return to the planning of book three! After a while in editorial I am very happy to be writing again. And talking of writing, I am about to begin a series of creative writing workshops in schools, which will be based on the Shop of Things and will involve a box of Things from the shop itself. VERY excited about that!

7. Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I don’t read as much as I would like to but I certainly read as much as I can. As a writer I think it is crucial to keep reading – it keeps your own writing fresh and it also reminds you of all the good reasons why you are doing it! I have LOADS of favourite authors from yesteryear when I used to read a lot more but of recent writers for children and YA, I have very much enjoyed a variety of books from Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Sally Gardner, SF Said, RJ Palacio to name a few. The authors I seem to come back to again and again are Dickens and Orwell: both have an incredible way of seeing the world and describing it in their own unique way. And of course I just love the language and humour of Dickens.

 8. Do you have any advice for other writers?  

Most importantly, keep going! It has taken me years to get from the kernel of an idea to a fully-fledged trilogy. None of the stages have been particularly easy, from the writing, to finding an agent and a publisher, and finally the editing, but each has had its very real rewards. And the final reward is the greatest of all – your story in the hands and minds of a readership. It is a constant wonder to me that my story is now out there, living in the imaginations of people I have never met. The rest may not play out as easily as you hope, but that part, the part about your story and your readership, that is exactly as you hope it will be.

9. What are your views on social media for marketing?

Ha ha! I am rather wondering if my agent Ben has put you up to that one. As he will tell you, I have mixed feelings. I think at times writing and the pressure to be present on social media can be at odds: the first requires immersion in your imagination, the other living in the here and now, being available, being active and immediate. I worry about getting distracted by it. But that said, I think if you can work out a way of giving both things their place – as some writers clearly do. It is great to have that contact with your readers and with bloggers, critics, booksellers, librarians, teachers and last but not least, fellow authors. So I suppose my view is that writers should do as much as they can make work without impacting their writing. How’s that for a politician’s answer?!

10. Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?

Just that I am very excited to see (on social media!) a recent revival of interest in “middle grade” writing. As SF Said pointed out in his great article recently “The Best Books of the 21st Century”, some of the finest writing in this wonderful, talented country of ours is – and has always been – children’s writing. For some reason we seem poor at recognizing it, celebrating it and encouraging it. With less and less titles and authors being championed in the mainstream press and in the big retailers it is becoming increasingly difficult to break through. And most recently Middle Grade, one of our particular gems, has been eclipsed by a transatlantic love of young adult writing, but I am thrilled to see the balance being redressed by excellent blogs like this and by much-needed new initiatives like Middle Grade Strikes Back ( and their associated Twitter hashtag #ukmgchat. I think those of us who want to preserve our tradition of excellent and varied children’s writing should all be following them and supporting them so that they might take up the slack left by traditional media and stores. Of course that’s not to underestimate the wonderful work being done by independent booksellers to champion good books and new authors.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Graphic Novel/Comic Books on Mr Ripley's Reading Table - Jan/March 2015 Post

Secret Origins: Volume 1 Written and art by Various. Published by DC Comics. At last, the Secret Origins of the World's Greatest Heroes in The New 52 can be revealed! The beginnings of the most popular characters in the DC Universe are finally told here, in stories that fans have been clamoring for since September 2011. Included here are the origins of The Last Son of Krypton and Kara Zor-El, Supergirl, plus the first Robin, Dick Grayson. Written by a host of the industry's brightest talent including Jeff Lemire (Justice League United) Greg Pak (Batman/Superman) and Tony Bedard (Green Lantern Corps) with painted covers by Lee Bermejo (JOKER), this new series is a fantastic way to jump on with the DC Universe! Collects Secret Origins #1-4.

Secret Origins Volume 1  available from February 24th. 

The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures Written and art by Dave Stevens. Published by IDW Publishing. Cliff Secord, a down-on-his luck pilot, is always looking for ways to make a fast buck. Discovering a stolen rocket pack could be the one thing that will turn his fortunes around... but will it? What follows are government agents, German spies, deception, danger and adventure. This is the world of... The Rocketeer! All of Dave Stevens' original The Rocketeer comics collected in one book!

The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures is available in Paperback from March 10th.

Daniel Hartwell & Neil Cameron - The Pirates of Pangaea: Book 1 (The Phoenix Presents) The year is 1717. The newly discovered island of Pangaea is the most dangerous place on Earth, where dinosaurs still walk the land - Sophie Delacourt has been sent to Pangaea to stay with her uncle. But little does she know its perils - for Pangaea is a lawless wilderness, teeming with cut-throat pirates! Kidnapped and imprisoned, Sophie must escape from the ruthless Captain Brookes and embark upon an epic journey, to find her way home -

The Pirates of Pangaea: Book 1 is available in Paperback from 5th. February 2015 by David Fickling. 

Master Keaton by Naoki Urasawa published by Viz Media. 
Taichi Hiraga Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and an English noblewoman, is an insurance investigator educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS. When a life insurance policy worth one million pounds takes Master Keaton to the Dodecanese islands of Greece, what will he discover amidst his scuffles with bloodthirsty thieves and assassins?

Master Keaton is available in paperback Viz Media, Subs. of Shogakukan Inc (29 Jan. 2015)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Author Interview with Jason Rohan The Sword of Kuromori &The Shield of Kuromori

Today I'm very pleased to be interviewing Jason Rohan, the author of "The Sword of Kuromori" and "The Shield of Kuromori." I'd like to thank him for agreeing to do this interview and for taking the time out to answer a few questions for Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. This has been one of my favourite Q&As that I've received recently - very interesting and incredibly engaging. Thank you very much. 

Tell us a little bit about The Sword of Kuromori and the series?

As the title suggests, The Sword of Kuromori is somewhat unique for a kids' book in that it's set entirely in modern Japan. Japan is one those countries that everyone knows a little about but at the same time is still viewed as exotic and largely unknown which is odd given the huge presence Japanese culture has in our lives. Be it film, comics, consumer electronics, cars, toys, games, fashion, cuisine - you name it - Japan has its influence.

Having spent five years in Japan, living and working the sarariman lifestyle, I wanted to bring that rich culture to a wider audience, not only by describing everyday life in the country, but also by tapping into its history, religion and folklore. As with Europe, villages were quite isolated in feudal times and regions developed their own distinctive traits, such as dialects, foods and folk tales. These diverse myths create a rich backdrop to set a story against and I had a blast bringing some of these ancient stories kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

One of the central conflicts I see in modern Japan is the clash between a fiercely traditional society and a fast-paced world which embraces technology. I decided to take that old-versus-new battle to a literal extreme by having ancient Japanese gods adopt modern science to settle old scores, and that's another aspect which I think sets the Kuromori books apart from other middle grade fantasy stories.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 
There is, but I try to be subtle about it as I think readers don't like the sense that they are being preached to. The Kuromori books each have a different theme which is etched into the DNA of the story. The first is about the power of belief, of having faith in yourself and in not giving up when life sets you back - I think every aspiring writer can relate to that! The second book explores the classic samurai dilemma of 'duty versus desire,' and the third book is about duality and the necessity for balance. In every case, the theme grew out of the story and not vice versa.

How much of the book is realistic? 
I'd like to say, "all of it," but I probably can't get away with that in a book featuring magic, myth and monsters! I did try to portray life in Tokyo as realistically as possible, so I write about public transportation, language, using chopsticks, correct etiquette when visiting Shinto shrines, bowing, removing shoes, public baths, the tea ceremony, even correct shuriken-throwing technique! I tried to get all of the everyday aspects as accurate as I could with the idea that someone could read the book and have a good idea of what to expect if they ever visited Japan. 
How much research do you do? 

Tonnes! It's hard to measure exactly, because I tend to do research as I go along. For example, I have a section in the book where the main characters take a tour of the Imperial Palace, something I wasn't able to do when I was there. After a few hours of serious digging I was able to take a virtual tour, cross reference several Japanese guide books, check maps, read visitor blogs and collate what I needed. I also did a lot of reading up on Japanese mythology and folklore as background. It helped that my Japanese is still serviceable so I was able to go to the source for a lot of my research. In fact, that language barrier is probably one of the biggest reasons why Japanese culture remains largely unknown to western audiences.

Do you work to an outline/plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you? 

I'm definitely a plotter by nature and you'll see a classic three-act structure in what I do but that doesn't mean I write an outline and stick to it slavishly. Most of my novels tend to start out as back-of-the-envelope sketches, and I start writing with that loose map in mind and then see where it goes. I'm a firm believer in always knowing the direction you're drifting in and in knowing your ending, but I'm open to taking detours and feeling my way through a story, because characters will surprise you and do their own thing if you let them. While it's important to not be too rigid, I don't fancy writing a whole book straight off the cuff. I can't afford the time if it goes spectacularly wrong!

Is travel an important aspect to you, as your books are based in Japan?
I love travel and have been fortunate enough to visit many parts of the world, but there's always more to see, learn and discover. I have a fairly diverse background being Indian by genetics, Caribbean by heritage and British by culture. My extended family includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews so I have a very broad view of the world. To me, people are essentially the same wherever they are; we have the same desires and needs. Travel, and by that I mean seeing how people live and sharing in their lives, rather than merely passing through and treating them like exhibits, is a hugely rewarding experience because it teaches you new ways of looking at the world. We are so steeped in our cultural mindset that we assume it is the only way of seeing things; exposure to different peoples shows us how blinkered we are and how little we know. For example, the concept of owning land is alien to some cultures. They see it the other way round and, if you think about it, it is absurd to believe that any individual can lay claim to any portion of our planet. The land owns us and that's a lesson that we'll be reminded of in the coming decades as the climate changes.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? 
That's an intriguing question. I'd like to say no, that readers will discover new books through word of mouth or recommendations from trusted bloggers, but if packaging wasn't important, we wouldn't spend millions on it. It's funny, because I've had kids express reservations about the cover of The Sword of Kuromori yet go on to love the book. Equally, there are books that have gone on to huge success with covers that I don't find at all appealing. I've been very lucky, though, in that my publisher Egmont has involved me fully in the cover design process and I love the movie-poster/computer-game look that we've gone with.

Are there any authors that you have found inspiring?

As a kid, I devoured the Willard Price Adventure series of books and learned so much from them about animals, nature, science and the wider world. I also enjoyed classics such as King Solomon's Mines by H Rider Haggard and I can see even now how those novels inspired my rapid-fire style of writing. Stan Lee at Marvel Comics was another huge influence because not only did he write multiple titles simultaneously but he also went big with his ideas. Lee was never afraid to raise the stakes and go epic while retaining the sense of fragility that encapsulates mankind. Finally, I have to mention Sarwat Chadda because we go back a long way and seeing him break into publishing gave me the kick that I needed to get back to writing seriously.

Do you have any advice for other writers?  

Don't write for success. Don't write for the market. Don't write for your friends. Don't write to meet an arbitrary target. Don't write to win a bet. Write for yourself because not getting that story out will haunt you for the rest of your life. My father wanted to be a writer but he never knuckled down and only left a few pages of jottings. I wrote four books before I sold one and I was prepared to keep writing novels, even if I never succeeded, so I would leave my children a shelf full of finished manuscripts and they could say that at least I tried. Write because you have to. Everything else is a bonus.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us? 

One of the biggest surprises I've found this year is that there are so many really wonderful people out there who love reading, love books and give up their free time to share that love. The community of readers, writers, editors, agents, bloggers and publishers that I've stumbled across is like a big, warm hug and I'm honoured to be a member of that extended family. Thank you to everyone who has read this, supported their favourite author and spread the word about their favourite book. It's been a pleasure.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Ross MacKenzie - The Nowhere Emporium ( Kelpies) - Book Review

What a magical start to a story . . . . . welcome to The Nowhere Emporium. You start this glittering adventure hanging on to every word, of every page. The author will dazzle you and entice you to feast your imagination on the story ahead. A spectacular entrance will have you gripped, as the door swings open on this enchanted tale, in a spectacular ride of plot and mayhem. 

We start in present day Glasgow with Daniel Holmes, as he finds himself jostling against the hoard of shoppers. However, he soon finds himself being chased down the High Street by Spud Harper and his gang of bullies. The plot takes flight just like the magpies in this adventure, who are watching every step as you are sucked into this brilliant read. 

Brimming full of excitement and mystery, Mr Silver draws Daniel into an unimaginable and breathtaking world of magical enchantment. The shop from nowhere has arrived. A vast maze of passageways and an infinite amount of rooms containing wonders can be found - wonders that will stir up your wildest imagination. 

Placed into a world that feels like a dream, you will skip and dance through time from wartime London to New York. It is really one of the most imaginative plots that you will probably read this year - it has elements reminiscent of Cornelia Funke stories. I loved everything about this book, but I'm not going to say anymore, as I don't want to spoil it for you. Although, you may need a wee hankie at some point, as it does have a slight emotional bite. 

This is another fantastic and exciting Middle Grade read which I'm so excited to tell you all about. Just like the book cover, it's brilliant. The story inside does it justice and really lived up to my expectations. It  has to be one of my favourite reads of the year, with its palette of explosion and colour that lifts off every page. You will zip through this book quicker than Vindictus Sharpe pulling out a rabbit from his hat. 

Find out if Daniel can save the day.... 

Who will love this book?  Well, I feel that everyone will love this book, so go out and buy a copy as it is definitely worth tracking down. Take Mr Ripley's word for it. 

Thank you Floris books for sending out a copy of this book for me to review. It is out in all good bookshops from the 19th March 2015 - not too long to wait!  

If you would like to read an exclusive chapter sample HERE

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books - Young Adult/ Older Reader Book Picks - February 2015

Ari Marmell - Covenant's End: A Widdershins Adventure - Published by Pyr (3 Feb. 2015)

The thief Widdershins and her own "personal god," Olgun, return to their home city of Davillon after almost a year away. While Shins expects only to face the difficulty of making up with her friends, what she actually finds is far, far worse. Her nemesis, Lisette, has returned, and she is not alone. Lisette has made a dark pact with supernatural powers that have granted her abilities far greater than anything Widdershins and Olgun can match.

Together, Widdershins and Olgun will face enemies on both sides of the law, for Lisette's schemes have given her power in both Davillon's government and its underworld. For even a slim chance, Shins must call on both old friends--some of whom haven't yet forgiven her--and new allies. 

Even with their help, Widdershins may be required to make the hardest sacrifice of her life, if she is to rid Davillon--and herself--of Lisette once and for all.

Mark Stay - Robot Overlords - Published by Gollancz (12 Feb. 2015)
To find his father, one boy must defy an empire...
Three years ago, Earth was conquered by a force of robots from a distant world. They have one rule:
Step outside and you get one warning before you're vaporised by a massive robot Sentry, or a crawling Sniper, or a flying Drone. That's if the vast Cube doesn't incinerate you first.
But Sean Flynn is convinced that his father - an RAF pilot who fought in the war - is still alive. And when he and his gang figure out a way to break the robots' curfew, they begin an adventure that will pit them against the might of the ROBOT OVERLORDS.
This fast-paced, thrilling novelisation is based on the hit British film starring Sir Ben Kingsley (IRON MAN THREE), Gillian Anderson (THE X-FILES) and Callan McAuliffe (THE GREAT GATSBY). A perfect companion to the movie, it expands on the story with additional action, characters, and a special peek behind the scenes.

Melinda Salisbury - The Sin Eater's Daughter - Published by Scholastic (5 Feb. 2015)
Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she's engaged to the prince, Twylla isn't exactly a member of the court. She's the executioner. As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she's taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla's fatal touch, avoids her company. But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he's able to look past Twylla's executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla's been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen. However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla's problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

V. E. Schwab - A Darker Shade of Magic - Published by Titan Books (27 Feb. 2015)
Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London...

Holly Black - The Darkest Part of the Forest - Published by  Indigo (5 Feb. 2015)
 Near the little town of Fairfold, in the darkest part of the forest, lies a glass casket. Inside the casket lies a sleeping faerie prince that none can rouse. He's the most fascinating thing Hazel and her brother Ben have ever seen. They dream of waking him - but what happens when dreams come true? In the darkest part of the forest, you must be careful what you wish for...