Thursday, 7 May 2020

Christian McKay Heidicker - Thieves of Weirdwood - (A William Shivering Tale) - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

At times like this, we all need a jolly and interesting story. If you are a kid who loves a magical fantasy or a big kid (like me) who just wants to escape into a world so different from our very own then this is the book for you. This is a William Shivering tale written by Christian McKay Heidicker. Thieves of Weirdwood is due to be published in the US by Henry Holt and Co this month (May 2020). It is the first book in a planned series that has all the magical ingredients to keep you entertained.

One of the things you can not miss about this book is the fantastic book cover illustration which has been produced by the talented illustrator Eric Deschamps. Check out more of his great work here It really draws the reader to the book and makes you want to turn the pages inside. Once you enter this story, the book also has many great black and white illustrations by Anna Earley which really enhances the total reading experience.

One thing I have recently discovered about this book is that you can download an interactive Weirdwood Manor story app that is rather fun and great for keeping the kids entertained. Here is a link if you are interested ( 

We are introduced to the brilliant Arthur and Wally, who are twelve-year-old thieves, looking to do a big job to pay off their debts. However, when Arthur spots some wealthy strangers leaving a deserted mansion he identifies an opportunity too good to miss. At this point, the strange just gets stranger! The reader is heading for a real treat as this story explodes into a fantasy extravaganza full of action and deadly peril that will have you hooked. 

These 'chalk cheese' thieves unravel a secret headquarters of a magical order who protect the balance between the REAL and IMAGINARY worlds. The nightmare soon begins as darkness descends into magical chaos consuming the reader. The bones in your body will quiver and shiver in an extraordinary world. From dolls that kiss and change you into porcelain and giant tentacle monsters that rip you from your comfy armchairs.

This is a very imaginative story full of complex twists and turns. All of which are told in a quirky narrative that blurs the real and imaginary with a flourish of the quill pen. It's very dark and atmospheric as you travel between the realms. The book has so much going on but the real question is: can they steal enough money to pay off the debts and save their home (Kingsport) from being just a tale? That's for you to get on board and find out. This is a fantastic start to a new series with much more to come. Make sure you check it out as it's really easy to buy a copy in the UK even though it has been published in the US and Canada.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Jenny Pearson - The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates - Blog Tour

Good Morning. Welcome, Everybody to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books.  I hope you are all faring well and keeping safe.  It's a great pleasure to be apart of The Super Miraculous Journey of the Freddie Yates blog tour. This is one of my favourite funny books of the year. It has bags of humour and features many fantastic characters. If you like to find out more about the book please check my book review Here. 

Today's stop features a post by Jenny Pearson. It talks about her favourite books with heaps of humour and heart. What are your favourite funny books? Please let us know what yours are on the blog or share them with us on twitter using the #Freddie Yates and tag us all in the tweet. 

Happy reading and enjoy your day. 

While I hope there are lots of funny parts in the Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates, from accidental pant snuffling to exploding toilets, I wanted to make sure it was also packed full – like Phyllis’s pear and potato turnovers – with some heartfelt moments.  I love books that have heaps of heart and humour and I’m going to share with you some of my favourites. 

Frank Cottrell-Boyce is an absolute genius. I love all his books. All of them. I first read Millions and adored Damian – he has such a unique look on the world which is both endearing and amusing – I laughed, I cried, and I became a lifelong fan at that moment. I then read Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth and I could not have loved that alien-dog more. Framed, Cosmic, The Forgotten Coat, Broccoli Boy, Runaway Robot – honestly, if you haven’t read any of Cottrell-Boyce’s books, do yourself a favour and read them all. They are so so good. You will thank me for this, trust me. 

Lara Williamson is an author who knows how to create wonderfully loveable characters who take you on an emotional rollercoaster of laughter and tears. If you haven’t met Beckett (The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair), Dan (A Boy Called Hope), Adam (Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy), and  Mabel (The Girl With Space in her Heart), you simply must get yourself acquainted. 

The Charlie Changes into a Chicken series by Sam Copeland is a firm favourite in my class, and as a teacher, I have had so many parents tell me how this is the series that got their child into reading. It is incredibly funny – from the narrator teasing his readers and arguing with the publishers and his illustrator, to the footnotes and the hilarious plot – this series guarantee laughs and lots of them. But alongside the laughter, Copeland deftly touches on childhood anxieties including illness, loss of a parent’s job, and divorce.

The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill is another one of my favourite books. Twelve-year-old Philip writes hilarious letters to his hero, Harry Hill, looking for advice to help him achieve his goal of becoming a comedian. But Philip’s life is interrupted when his mum gets breast cancer. What follows is a story which is heart-warming, uplifting, moving and also very funny. 

Jenny Pearson has been awarded with six mugs, one fridge magnet, one wall plaque, and numerous cards for her role as ‘Best Teacher in the World’. When she is not busy being inspirational in the classroom, she would like nothing more than to relax with her two young boys, but she can’t as they view her as a human climbing frame. She has recently moved to the North East of England and while she has yet to meet Ant or Dec, she has learned how to use canny in a sentence. Which is dead canny, like.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books: Children's Book Picks - May 2020

This is my post for some of the best new children's books being published this May 2020. Through these extraordinary times, we are encouraging you to support small independent book shops up and down the country. Therefore, if you fancy reading any of the below books and are thinking of buying a book or two then why not support them - buy directly and let us do our part to support them in these difficult times.  We have put some links for some suggestions for you to get books from. 

Thomas Taylor - Gargantis (The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea) - Published by Walker Books (7 May 2020) - ISBN-10: 1406386294 - Paperback - Age: 7+ - Pre-order a signed copy here from The Book Nook - HERE 
There's a storm raging in Eerie-on-Sea. Has the mighty Gargantis come back from the deep...? When an ancient bottle is found washed up on the beach after a ferocious electrical storm, all the residents of Eerie-on-Sea seem to want it ... but should they in fact fear it? Legend has it that the bottle contains an extraordinary secret that spells doom for the whole of Eerie-on-Sea. Could it be true that the vast sea creature Gargantis has awoken from her slumbers, and is causing the large cracks that are appearing all across the town? Finding themselves entrusted with the bottle, Herbie and Violet discover they will need to ride the terrible storm and pacify the creature if they want to save Eerie-on-Sea from sliding into the ocean and being lost forever
Lindsay Galvin - Darwin's Dragons - Published by Chicken House (7 May 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1912626465 - Paperback - Age: 8+ (Sorry Postponed Until March 2020)
Robinson Crusoe meets How to Train Your Dragon in this wonderful adventure from Lindsay Galvin!
Syms Covington has landed the job of a lifetime - cabin boy and fiddler on Charles Darwin's Beagle. But when he is separated from the crew during a storm, his life takes a truly extraordinary turn. Shipwrecked on a Galapagos island, he makes a discovery that could change the world - and make his fortune. But should he share his find, or will it lead to the extinction of a legendary species? There's one person who could help, but he's busy writing a book ...  Book in three words. Daring, Discovery, Adventure. 

Liz Flanagan -  Rise of the Shadow Dragons (Legends of the Sky) - Published by David Fickling Books (7 May 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1788451444 - Hardback - Age: 9+ - Read the first chapter Here buy from Kenilworth Books Here 

Jowan wants only one thing: to have a dragon of his own. Then disaster strikes, and his world suddenly turns into a darker and more dangerous place. But a new friend and an astonishing discovery could lead him to what he has always wanted ... if he is just willing to take a leap of faith and brave the impossible. He needs to act fast though - a volcano is waking up!
Nick Mohammed - The Young Magicians and the 24-Hour Telepathy Plot - Published by Puffin (7 May 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-0241331088 - Paperback - Age: 7+ - Buy Here
The Young Magicians are back - and this time the mystery is an attempted murder! The second fabulously funny, trick-filled adventure from rising-star comedian and actor, Nick Mohammed! 
Follow Alex, Jonny, Zack and Sophie as they use their amazing real magic skills to get to the bottom of an impossible-seeming crime. The gang are away at a magic convention when thy discover something unspeakable - someone is trying to poison the president of the Magic Circle! The secret society is stumped - but can our intrepid illusionists get to the bottom of who's trying to do in President Pickle?

Friday, 1 May 2020

Richard Lambert - The Wolf Word (Everything with Words) - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Book Review

The Wolf Road has been written by poet, Richard Lambert, and is soon to be published by Everything With Words this October (2020). I've thought long and hard about this book as it is so different from my usual reading material. In my opinion, you will either love or hate it depending on your own outlook and connection with the unique style and writing of this book. Some readers may just not connect with it or the issues that the book tackles such as coping and denial. However, if you do connect with it (like I did) then it will be one of the best books that you will read this year.

When you start on the road of this narrative the path is very tragic and hard-hitting. There really appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Lucas is the main character of the book and the story is told from his viewpoint. Unfortunately, he is involved in a car accident that kills both of his parents. Some books would play down this situation, but not this book. It faces the loss and grief head-on placing it at the epicentre of the plot. However, there is a little sense of mystery and a little glimmer of fantasy magic as Lucas has only one memory from the car accident. He remembers that it was a wolf that caused the crash but how? and what actually happened?

The book really resonates with me when he has to leave his family home to go and live with his nan in the Lake District. This is an area I can relate to very well. The story for me really comes alive as the setting of the book takes a vital hold on the plot. It's told in a poetic way that grips the reader. The detail and description of the wild and beautiful landscape cut through the hard and relentless element of grief, loss, loneliness, and bullying which have a huge stronghold on the story. This really is one of the many strengths of this story. At certain points, the climactic story leaves you clinging on for dear life.

There are so many great things to mention about this book such as the situations the characters face. They feel very real to me as they have been particularly well narrated. Another strong point is that it's not predictable in any way, you have absolutely no idea where the author is going to take you. However, this makes it particularly engaging and keeps you guessing throughout.

I loved this book so much - it really made me reflect on life, especially at a time like this. It's a powerful book about coping and dealing with grief, having the courage, determination, and understanding to find out who we are as a person. The book helps us in showing us the way. A wolf that comes in the dark and leaves in the light showering the reader and the characters with a beam of sunshine. We are not in charge of our own destiny just like Lucas, however, we can poke it in the right direction with the choice of stories and memoirs we keep in our heart. This is a story that will stay with me for a very long time. It's an incredible debut book from a fantastic new literary voice.  Many thanks Mikka for the opportunity to read and breathe this book.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Corrina Campbell - The Girl who Stole the Stars - Author/Illustration Interview - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Welcome to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books. Today, I'm delighted to introduce Corrina Campbell who is a self-taught illustrator/author with a background in primary education. This interview looks to find out more about her writer/author experiences in the lead up to her new picture book. The Girl who Stole the Stars is due to be published this October (2020) by Little Door Books. 

I hope you enjoy reading our interview. Don't forget you can pre-order the book in advance if it sounds like something you and/or your family would enjoy. Thanks for reading - stay HAPPY and SAFE. 

The Girl Who Stole The Stars is your debut picture book (published later this year), can you tell us a little bit about it?

‘The Girl Who Stole the Stars’ is a story about a little girl who decides she wants a star of her very own but ends up taking all the stars from the sky with disastrous consequences, not just for her but for millions of other children around the world.  But what will it take for her to put them back in the sky?  You’ll need to read the book to find out!

Did you focus on the words or illustrations first for this picture book? 

I started with the words but those first few words that I jotted down are not necessarily the words you’ll see in the book today.  Once the illustrations were introduced a lot of the text changed, mainly because the illustrations tell so much of the story.  There is a huge amount of editing, redrafting and redrawing that happens along the way with both the words and the illustrations taking the lead at various points and influencing the direction of the final look and feel of the story.  

What are the processes involved in writing and illustrating your own picture book? 

When I have an idea for a book I first consider whether I can actually turn it into a story.  This usually involves thinking about the setting and characters but more importantly the plot and storyline.  I then consider whether it would fit a standard picture book size;  usually 32 pages and often under 1000 words.  If my idea is still ‘alive’ after this stage then it’s time to get the pencils out!  I usually sketch out small thumbnail images of how each page will look – these are really rough but it gives me an idea of how I think the book could look.  Then I start working on more detailed illustrations – the best part of the whole process and usually the point where I feel I’ve got something with book potential!

Where and what do you generally get your ideas and inspirations from?
I am a primary teacher and a mum so most of my ideas come from either my children or an aspect of life I am looking to teach in a child-friendly manner.  ‘The Girl who Stole the Stars’ was an idea that came from my eldest daughter when she wrote to Santa asking for a ladder to the stars so that she could have one.  I loved the idea of being able to climb up into the sky and take a star so the story grew from there.  I am also currently working on a story that looks at the impact of plastic on the Planet and wildlife which is a focus in many schools at the moment.

Can you tell us a little bit about your first illustration and what you were particularly proud of?

I started illustrating my written work two years ago after deciding to explore the self-publishing route.  I had written lots of stories and I desperately wanted to see one as a book.  I investigated using a freelance illustrator but it was far too costly for me so decided to give it a go myself.  I’ve always been very creative but had never focussed fully on illustration.  I spent hours exploring different art media, styles, techniques but the real turning point, and the part of the journey I am most proud of, was when I discovered how to make my artwork digital.  I spent two weeks sitting in front of my laptop, trying and failing.  I remember feeling it was impossible, that I’d maybe reached the limit of my capabilities – which was really upsetting.  However, eventually, things started to fall in to place and I was finally able to edit and produce images to a high standard that could be used in picture books, as well as on cards and as prints which I now sell on Etsy, via my website and at local craft fairs and events.  I was then able to pursue and successfully sign a traditional publishing contract for ‘The Girl who Stole the Stars’.  This was a massive step in the right direction with regards to me carving a career path in illustration and indeed children’s picture books.
Is there anything that helps you to channel your creativity?

This is a terrible answer but lots of biscuits(!)…and a lot of determination.  I work in the evenings once my kids are in bed so when I sit down the exhaustion kicks in.  However, a couple of biscuits later I am usually re-energised and feeling creative again!  On a serious note, it takes a huge amount of discipline to focus in an evening and be productive after what can often be a long and busy day.  When I knew I wanted to write and illustrate a children’s picture book but I had to make some significant changes to find the time to make this happen.  As my evenings were my only free time I had to use them productively.  You’ll now find me most evenings at the kitchen table drawing, writing, editing, creating and learning.  It’s having that discipline that’s really helped me channel my creativity in a more focussed direction to reach my goal of creating children’s books.  

Do you think an illustrator should have a particular style or be known for trying/using different styles?

Great question.  Interestingly I think your style is always there, even when you try to be a bit different!  When I was in the early stages of learning how to illustrate a book I explored all the different techniques/styles that other well-known picture book illustrators were using and tried to replicate them.  Strangely what I created never looked anything like what they had done.  It was always my interpretation of what they had done, although by doing this I found my ‘comfort zone’ which I guess is my unique style.  I am always learning and experimenting so I have no doubt that my style will develop and change, but I’d like to think it will still be recognisable.

Which medium do you prefer to use when illustrating?

I love using crayons.  They create an amazing grainy texture and always make me feel like I am five again – which is a good mindset to have when you are creating illustrations for children’s picture books.

Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?

I am terrible for having lots of projects on the go at the same time.  My main focus at the moment is really just preparing for the launch ‘The Girl who Stole the Stars’ and looking at how to best market this and make the most from the opportunity.  I am in the process of creating teaching resources, building content online, and organising author/illustrator events and school visits all around the book launch.  I am also in the early stages of writing the sequel to ‘The Girl who Stole the Stars’ as well as revisiting a story I wrote last year about a Puffin that I keep coming back to…some stories just don’t leave me alone!

Who are your favourite illustrators and why?

There are so many!  Going back to my childhood and my Scottish roots my favourite illustrator/author would be Mairi Hedderwick who is the creator of the Katie Morag series.  Her work always had so much detail and I would spend hours with my Dad looking for all the hidden gems she planted within her illustrations.  

I also love work by Oliver Jeffers, Lisa Stubbs, and Polly Dunbar which is where I draw a lot of inspiration from.

Which books/authors do you choose to read for pleasure?

With three kids under five reading for pleasure is, unfortunately, a rare occasion!  

‘The Girl who Stole the Stars’ is out October 2020 and is available for pre-order from Waterstones;

Friday, 24 April 2020

Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books: Children's & Young Adult Book Picks US - Post Two - April 2020

Welcome readers... Here are our children's book picks for April 2020 which have all been published this month in the US.  If you don't live in the US you could probably get them shipped. So take a look and support the authors below in these difficult times. Happy reading - I hope there is a sparkle of magic on this list to add to your reading pile, wherever you are. Stay safe and happy reading.

Sandra Fernandez Rhoads - Mortal Sight (The Colliding Line) - Enclave Publishing (April 14, 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1621841203 - Hardback - Age:| 13+
When Worlds Collide, Shadow Wrestles Light
Seventeen-year-old Cera Marlowe wants a normal life; one where she and her mom can stop skipping town every time a disturbing vision strikes. But when a girl she knows is murdered by a monster she can't explain, Cera's world turns upside down.

Suddenly thrown into an ancient supernatural battle, Cera discovers she's not alone in her gifting and vows to use her visions to save lives. But why does John Milton's poem Paradise Lost keep interrupting her thoughts?

In a race against time and a war against unearthly creatures, will decoding messages embedded in the works of classic literature be enough to stop the bloodshed and protect those she loves? 

Christian McKay Heidicker  - Thieves of Weirdwood - Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (April 7, 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1250302885 - Hardback - Age: 8+
For fans of Brandon Mull and Rick Riordan comes William Shivering and Newbery Honor winner Christian McKay Heidicker's Thieves of Weirdwood, a brand-new illustrated fantasy series about two kid thieves who are plunged into a battle between the Real and Imaginary worlds! 
Twelve-year-old thieves Arthur and Wally are determined to steal their way up the ranks of the notorious Black Feathers gang. With loan sharks chasing after Arthur’s father and Wally’s brother’s hospital bill due, they’re in need of serious cash. Fast.
When Arthur spots some wealthy strangers exiting a seemingly deserted mansion, he smells an opportunity for a big score. Little do the boys realize, they’ve stumbled upon Weirdwood Manor, the headquarters of a magical order who protect the Balance between the Real and Imaginary worlds. When Kingsport is besieged by nightmarish creatures, it’s up to a pair of thieves to save their city. 
Filled with giant tentacle monsters and heroes literally ripped from the pages of adventure stories, this imagination-bending series is perfect for fans of Keeper of the Lost CitiesAru Shah, and Nevermoor.

               Cover design by Nicole Hower, Cover art by Jana Heidersdorf
Juliana Brandt: When you look at the cover, I hope you notice all the pieces I’d hoped it would include: the sisters, the wolf, the ocean waves, the lighthouse, and the night sky. But included too are pieces I never would have considered: the ocean foam, the bright beam from the lighthouse, the incredible font with the water swirling through, the snow on the edges of the cape setting, the magic that seems to live inside the wolf’s fur. All of these parts add up to create an atmosphere that speaks directly to the book I wrote. Full Post HERE

Juliana Brandt - The Wolf of Cape Fen - Published by Sourcebooks Young Readers (April 7, 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1728209616 - Hardback - Age: 7+

Beyond the Bright, Sea meets Echo in this story of a young girl who must break a magical bargain before an enchanted wolf steals her sister away.
First Frost has touched Cape Fen, and that means Baron Dire has returned. For as long as anyone can remember, Baron Dire has haunted the town come winter, striking magical bargains and demanding unjust payment in return. The Serling sisters know better than to bargain, lest they find themselves hunted by the Baron's companion, the Wolf.
And then the Wolf attacks Eliza's sister Winnie. They manage to escape, but they know the Wolf will be back. Because Winnie would never bargain, so that must mean that someone has struck a deal with Winnie as the price.
Eliza refuses to lose her sister and embarks on a journey to save her. If Eliza can learn the truth, she might be able to protect her sister, but the truth behind the bargain could put her own life in danger. 

Stephenie  Wilson Peterson - Grace's Ghosts - Published by Immortal Works LLC (April 28, 2020) - ISBN-13: 978-1734386622 - Paperback - Age|: 9+

Twelve-year-old Grace and her feline best friend, Midnight, have a secret: Midnight is a ghost. But then again, so are the rest of Graces' friends. Since she's the only person in hundreds of years with the ability to see them, the many ghosts of Tansy have flocked to Grace since birth. She doesn't mind. She prefers the company of the dead to that of the cliquey kids at school. 

Grace is happy with her strange life, until one day, the ghosts tell her about the secret her town has hidden for centuries. There's a reason there are more ghosts than living people in Tansy. Three-hundred years ago, a lonely witch cast a spell that mistakenly trapped the soul of every person to ever set foot in the tiny town. So when the spirits beg her to find a way to break the curse, Grace is eager to help.

As she searches for answers, Grace makes discoveries about the secret her family hid for generations and a world of magic hidden in her own backyard. Grace soon realizes that if she succeeds in breaking the curse, she'll lose Midnight and all of her ghost friends, but if she fails, everyone living in Tansy will face the same fate. Can Grace break the curse before it's too late?

Check out Grace’s Ghosts on Goodreads! 

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Sophie Kirtley - The Wild Way Home - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Sophie Kirtley is a prize-winning published poet. The Wild Way Home is her debut middle-grade children's book which is due to be published in July 2020 by Bloomsbury Children's Books. I think the book cover is superb - it really made me want to read it instantly when it arrived through the door.  In fact, this is the reason why the book review is slightly early.

The book is an unforgettable adventure that starts from the very first page. Charlie's baby brother is born with a problem in his heart - it is a very sad and poignant story that sets the branches swaying and the brains ticking. As Charlie RUNS away from the hospital to the forest to face his emotions, in a fit of rage, he climbs up a tree and the world changes before he reaches the ground. At this point, we are plunged back into an atmospheric time THE STONE AGE. Something wild is just about to happen which finds the readers hurtling into a rich and detailed adventure that will capture the hearts and minds of the readers.

The story tension builds into a thrilling action-adventure set in the forest. Charlie stumbles upon a strange boy dressed in deerskins lying in the RIVER. The characters have a lot in common as they try to solve their own predicaments. Both have lost their family and have obstacles to battle as their path is intertwined with each other's destiny. The book has a lot of raw emotions going on that will make you think about the situation the characters are facing and feeling. This will help younger readers with empathy and deal with the topics of jealously, loneliness, love, and family. 

The landscape is very well written and the historical detail has the right feel for that time period. The book delivers timely action in the wilderness. The communication between both characters, Charlie in English and Harby speaking Stone Age, is very imaginative and helped to keep the authenticity of the plot.  The story has a spiritual element giving it a little spooky edge that adds to the mood. This is a brilliant and engaging read about finding the way home. It will flip the reader's inside out - your wild spirit will soar with hope and adventure. Recommended highly so get it by pre-ordering today.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros - Interview Q&A (Author & Illustrator)

Hello Everybody! I'm delighted to be posting another brilliant interview today. Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a children's picture book writer and illustrator. He's had books published by Bloomsbury and Nosy Crow.  One particularly great book (published last year by Nosy Crow Books) is The Suitcase. This is about a strange-looking animal who arrives pulling a big suitcase. He meets other animals who are curious about what is inside. What on earth could be in that suitcase? A teacup? Maybe. A table and chair? That is for you to find out in this interview. Why not take a journey with us and see what you would put in your SUITCASE?

The Suitcase was published by Nosy Crow Books. It's a picture book about people who are forcibly displaced around the world. What gave you the idea to write about this as a picture book?
My previous books were more light-hearted and were about animal characters that seemed to confuse reality and fantasy. I was trying to retain that element in the next story and, seen as the first two were about food and then companionship, I was looking at the theme of home or shelter - another very basic, universal need. I'd also been thinking of a story idea about a wall that divided two populations and the misconceptions about what was on the other side. This was roughly around the time of the US presidential election campaign and the Brexit referendum in which the politics of division and denial of others were (and still are) gaining a lot of ground.

But the wall idea was a bit stuck and I was doodling and drew a little animal figure with a ruck-sack at the bottom of the wall, looking confused and lost. I started to think about this character and wondered where it was from, where it was going and what might be in its bag. The wall was put to one side and the animal became the centre of a new story that thankfully came together quite quickly.

If you could only put five objects in the suitcase, what would you choose and why?
Strangely, though I've asked this question a lot visiting schools and libraries, I've never yet been asked it. Well, a phone, a torch, a pencil, and some paper, a cuddly toy, a fridge, a million pounds. These were some of the suggestions I was given by school children - all pretty useful items, especially the cash. It's probably impossible to answer without having the urgent, instinctive thinking that must come when living through such a situation in real life. If I discount practical objects, I'm sure I'd take a family photograph just like in the book. But which one? Oh heck...

How do you start the process of writing and illustrating a book?
Usually, it starts with a spontaneous premise or idea that feels interesting. I have quite a lot of those but ultimately most aren't strong enough to carry a good story. So a lot of work is in trying to develop them all as far as they'll go by asking hundreds of 'what if...?' questions, and then recognising when something is worth pushing onwards or should be abandoned. Most fall by the wayside and those left standing I keep niggling away at until they feel like they might work. Sometimes (like for The Suitcase) a doodle or sketch helps things develop but often it's just a lot of thinking time without even putting pencil to paper that much. The hardest thing to do is to develop a natural story that feels credible, rather than just some characters and an interesting premise, followed by a series of occurrences that don't have any fundamental meaning.
It rarely feels like creative work, it more often feels like you're trying to repair something that looked interesting at first but you took the back off and messed about with the workings and all the springs and sprockets flew out. Then you have to put it all back together in a way that no one notices you'd tinkered with it and also that you'd had to throw a load of redundant nuts and bolts in the bin.

Another picture book you've produced was I'm Going To Eat This Ant which is very humorous. Where did the humour come from and how is this important to the story? 
That was my first published book and in effect, I set myself a brief before writing it: I wanted a funny story with two characters that were obviously in some sort of conflict from the outset - like a cat/mouse situation that needed no backstory or explanation but something less often seen - eg. an ant and an anteater. I then wanted it to be short and quite repetitive in structure with a punchline or surprise at the end. Then I just thought it through. I think a lot of the humour came from the cartoon brutality in the story. The ant is imagined to be squished, smoked, sliced, sizzled and sautéed but seems to take it all fairly stoically, without reacting or even seeming to notice. Of course, none of it is actually happening in reality - just in the mind of a deluded anteater but one publisher did reject it on the grounds that it was too cruel. They mustn't have seen Tom & Jerry or Roadrunner.

What do you think makes a really good picture book?
The stories that really work for me are those that are so well put together and uncontrived that they feel like they weren't written at all but unfurl themselves like a rolled-up rug that's been given a little shove.
Even some really successful, enjoyable picture books can have a little moment where you feel the author having to slightly bend or push things in a certain way for it to work out how they needed.
I like books that divide the storytelling between the words and the pictures so that sometimes the text leads the way and the pictures play catch-up and then vice-versa.

What golden rules do you follow when writing and illustrating a picture book?
I really don't have any - I could probably do with some though. I just feel very happy when I think I might have a good story that works, often before anything is even written or drawn.

Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?
I have three more books to come with Nosy Crow and I feel really lucky that they've shown me such commitment. I also have two books to come elsewhere, details of which are mostly under wraps for now. The first of the three Nosy Crow books is finished and is called Out Of Nowhere. It looks quite different to 'The Suitcase' and it was nice to have a visual change of direction.
It was due out this May but the Coronavirus crisis has put it on hold for now. Most distribution channels are barely operating and all the independent bookshops (many of whom really supported 'The Suitcase') are of course closed for the moment. I can't wait to see them all re-open their doors again and I really hope they make it through the current crisis and can flourish afterwards. 

Do you have a Portfolio? If so, what is your favourite piece of work?
Before starting my first book a few years ago I tried - unsuccessfully - to find freelance work as an editorial illustrator and I did a lot of personal projects based on newspaper or magazine articles to build an online portfolio. At the time we lived in a small apartment so, out of necessity, all my work was digital. It looks a lot different from the books I've made since then. Some of them I still like but I wouldn't go back to that style now.

Which illustrators have inspired you over the years? 
I was a relative late-comer to this world and only got inspired when I started buying books for my children, and realising how varied and graphically interesting and beautiful and odd they could be. Some of these were Tyranosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts, Cockatoos by Quentin Blake, the 'hat' books by Jon Klassen, The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers, The Gruffalo and Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Say Hello To Zorro by Carter Goodrich. Since then I've been inspired by Carson Ellis, Sydney Smith, Shaun Tan, Benji Davies, Yuval Zommer, Amandine Piu, Pascal Blanchet amongst many others - a long list of amazing illustrators and writers. It's such a massive world and I'm still discovering 'new' things that are in fact very old and well-known.

What tips would you give any aspiring writers and/or illustrators? 
I don't know if I'm qualified or experienced enough to give advice but I've learned some things that were useful to me. I spent a lot of time early on worrying about finding my own illustration style. I made two different-looking versions of the Ant book one after the other, neither of which felt right, before I realised I should stop over-thinking my 'style' and just try to be a bit more intuitive and natural. So I picked up a nib-pen and ink and watercolour and went ahead more instinctively. This third version took about three weeks (ie. very quick) and that was the one that was submitted and finally accepted by a publisher. Then I worked on it with an editor and a book-designer to refine it but, in essence, it didn't change much for publication.

I've also learnt that persistence is useful, both in hammering away at an interesting idea until it either hits a brick wall or it starts to work. Also persistence in how your work fares once you submit it to agents or publishers. Rejections are hard to take when they happen but you can only learn from them and move on. My first submitted book (before 'Ant') was taken on by an agent and then steadily rejected by all the editors it was sent to. But they were often quite constructive rejections that showed there might be some potential and it encouraged me to eventually pick myself up, learn from it and have another go. Also, on more than one occasion I can honestly say that, with hindsight, a rejection led to something better happening that wouldn't otherwise have happened. It never feels that way at the time though!

Friday, 17 April 2020

Emma Rea - My Name is River - Book Review - FireFly Press - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Dylan's mum thinks he's on the school Geography trip. Dylan's teacher thinks he's at home with the flu. In fact, he's 30,000 feet up in the air on the way to Brazil. When Dylans' farm is snatched away by a huge global company, he can't just sit back and watch. But the journey to rescue his home takes him deep into the heart of the Amazon. With Floyd, a friend he's not sure of, and Lucia, a street kid armed with a thesaurus and a Great Dane puppy, he uncovers dark and dangerous secrets which learns some surprising truths.

My Name is River is by middle-grade author Emma Rea. It's been published by FireFly Press with the support of the Welsh Books Council. This book should, hopefully, be published this summer (June 2020). It has a magnificent cover which, in my opinion, fits the story perfectly inside. It's not very often that the match between the book cover and story is so in-tune but this is spot on. You certainly get the flavour of the narrative before you even delve into the pages. The book cover has been brilliantly illustrated by Brittany E Lakin who has worked her magic on it. Check out her website for more great illustrations.

The story starts as slowly as the sloth in the book but it soon explodes into a big cat adventure. Full of colour, smells, and well-researched places it develops into an authentic and atmospheric adventure. This ecological read is buzzing with descriptive realism - the flavour and the feel of the writing is brilliant. 

Set in initially in Wales, the characters soon find themselves on a plane partaking in an overseas adventure. They find themselves in a dramatic situation trying to save a farm from a large Pharmaceutical company whilst at the same time solving a mystery in locating Dylan's missing family members. These two elements provide much tension ending in a climatic finish which is both thrilling and entertaining.

One element I particularly loved in the story was the introduction of English slang words. Lucia (Brazilian street child) had already learned a lot of the English language from a battered copy of an English Thesaurus but Dylan decided to teach her some slang words to widen her vocabulary further. It certainly added a lot of hilarity in the misunderstandings between the two trying to communicate as best they could with each other. 

This is a story for readers who love a good adventure starting in a school in Wales and ending in the South American Jungle. The plot fills the reader with hope, friendship and a moralistic tale that is warm, heartfelt and very enjoyable. As you follow the characters into a world of dark secrets and corporate wrongdoings, you will feel the bumps and scrapes as they try to evade capture and work everything out. There are some great ideas and some fantastic dramatic scenes that make you feel like the time has slowed for the reader and sped up for the characters. It's a fantastic slice of fiction from an author that I might not have had the chance of being introduced to. So many thanks to Firefly Press (publishing company) for sending me this book to review - it's very much appreciated. Happy Reading and stay safe. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Interview with Children's Illustrator: Maxine Lee-Mackie - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Good morning and welcome to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books. Today is the first of several interviews with some of the best children's book illustrators around. So I'm delighted to be able to introduce Liverpool Illustrator, Maxine Lee-Mackie, who has been ever so kind in answering some personal questions about her career, inspirations and what makes her tick in the art world. 

If you would like to find out even more about her other illustrations and work then you can find her being artistically messy at 

Equally, she's on Instagram: @MaxineLeeMackie or why not visit her Etsy Store. She has wonderful prints and a very interesting graphic novel which I, myself, have just purchased called The Ghost in the Window. So there's plenty to check out if you are interested. I hope you all have a great day!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I'm a children's illustrator from England, and I've been working on children's books since 2011. My sister and I were always given beautifully illustrated books as children, the kind of books that were otherworldly and special - the illustrations from those have always stayed with me. My mum is very creative and loves writing stories and poems, and my dad used to love drawing for us when we were small. I was always drawing as a child, but it was seeing my sister's pencil drawing from secondary school that really pushed home the idea that art is a real thing that people take seriously. I wanted to draw like that.

Can you tell us anything about any of the upcoming projects that you are working on at the moment?
I can tell you that I've just completed a giant bugs book which was very challenging - I love drawing bugs, but I don't much like looking at real ones doing their thing. Illustrating books like that requires lots of research, so I had to look at lots of bugs doing lots of things. At the moment I'm working on some fairytales from around the world featuring brave girls and women, a biographical book about a prolific storyteller who EVERYONE knows, and a book cover for a spooky follow-up.

What is the most unusual project you have worked on and why?
I work with international clients and sometimes stories are told in different ways depending on where you are from. Some of the stories I have worked on haven't always worked out with a happy ending - just recently, one ended up with me having to draw some bones at the end...that was strange.

What resources and techniques do you use and do you have a favourite you enjoy working with?
My favourite techniques all involve getting messy with my materials - black ink with sticks, cardboard, sponges, and anything else I can put my hands on, is the best. That said, when I'm working on work to be published, I work digitally. I do enjoy working on my computer, it opens up lots of ways to experiment and it makes me a bit faster so I can meet my deadlines, but I do like getting my hands dirty when I have more time.

What do you find rewarding as an illustrator?
I find it rewarding when I've solved a problem. I like coming up with unusual ways to show something that might seem boring. It's also really cool to receive the first copy of your book from your publisher!

What is your favorite book cover illustration/design and why?
I have so many of these! Today though, because it's on my desk, I can tell you why I love the cover for Issun Boshi, illustrated by Mayumi Otero. Everything about this book is beautiful. It has carefully chosen colours, very strong contrasts, and pure geometric shapes mixed in amongst organic shapes. In my personal work, contrast is the thing I'm always trying to capture. I can't always do this with client work, so I make as much experimental work as I can. It's kind of my hobby.

Who are your favourite illustrators and why?
I have so many! Brecht Evens is amazing and does lots of layering and translucent paint effects which are so delicate and powerful at the same time. Annette Marnat uses beautiful strong shapes with delicate textures and creates wonderlands that pull you on. I've just recently discovered Beatrice Blue and I'm struck by the layers of detail and light in her work.

                                   (Illustration by Annette Marnat)

Where should a person start if they want to pursue a career in illustration? 
Start with concentrating on what you want to do. Try lots of things out, build up a body of work that reflects who you are and what you want to do. Don't bend to fit the idea of what you think your illustrations should look like. Think of your illustrations like your voice - you can control it, you can imitate the sounds other people make, but in the end, only one sound feels natural. Work with that sound, and hone it. Once you've accepted this part of yourself, you'll feel a lot more confident in what you produce and it will be uniquely yours.