Category Archives: Author Interviews

Spellchasers by Lari Don – Book Review and Guest Post 

It’s my spot on Lari’s blog tour for her Spellchasers trilogy. Below I have her guest post where she shares her views on witches. First I’d like to outline the first book in the series and tell you what I thought. 

Book 1 – The Beginner’s Guide to Curses

Molly is a human girl whose encounter with a nasty neighbour leaves her turning into a hare whenever a dog barks. She’s been cursed and she needs to learn how to break the curse before she ends up as a dog’s dinner. She’s thrust into a world of witches, dryads, kelpies, sphinxes and fairies. 

Molly joins a group in a curse breaking class where they are set a number of tasks to help them learn how to break the dark magic holding them and, in some cases their families, captive. 

The first part of the book is a great introduction to the world and by working with the others Molly’s eyes are gradually opened to what is around her. There’s a good mix of humour and action as well as developing friendships between the children in the class that are severely tested at times. 

The tension really increased when the curse-hatched crows start trying to foil their plans and I found myself reading the last third of the book at super hare speed. 

I really liked Molly’s character and her role as moral compass in the group. And just who is the Toad in their class? 

Does the whole class gets the promised result of lifting curses? You’ll have to read to find out. 

It reminded me a little of the old TV show Woof. I wonder which of my readers are old enough to remember that! 



Lari Don on witches

 

 
I have mixed feelings about witches. Particularly at this time of year (pointy hats, broomsticks, black capes and dropping chocolate eyeballs into plastic cauldrons…) I’m never entirely sure if I’m meant to find witches funny or fascinating, terrifying or tragic. Perhaps we love witches because they can be all of those things at once?

 
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been absorbing mixed messages about witches. For example the idea that witches could be good or bad probably came from reading L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. The idea that witches were just ordinary people – male or female – who were unjustly tortured and killed definitely came from studying and performing in Arthur Miller’s The Crucibleas a teenager.

 
Fairy-tale witches, like the ones met by Hansel and Gretel or Rapunzel, were clearly villains. But reading local Scottish folklore showed a more nuanced picture.

 
In those traditional tales, witches had a living to make, just like anyone else. You could buy a fair wind or a love potion from your local witch. If you annoyed a witch, your child or cow might fall sick, but the best solution was to buy a bit of help from the next witch along. So the old tales weren’t really about good or bad witches, they were about witches who happened to be on your side or not.  

 
And witches weren’t all powerful beings, just folk with a bit of skill and knowledge. Though they had wonderful abilities too. In the lore of the North East of Scotland, I discovered witches who could shapeshift into animals, often into hares.

 
 

That vivid piece of witchlore inspired my most recent novels, the Spellchasers trilogy, about a girl called Molly who is cursed (by a male witch) to shapeshift into a hare at inconvenient times, and seeks help from a female witch who runs a curse-lifting workshop.

 
So Molly encounters different kinds of witches – malevolent and helpful, male and female – and she also encounters other magical beings who argue about the wisdom and ethics of dealing with ‘dark magic’ at all. 

 
I write adventure books for 8-12 year olds, so there are chases, ambushes, monsters, and excitement. But in amongst all the shapeshifting and cliffhangers, I couldn’t forget the historical reality of those accused of being witches.  

 
I had many of the initial ideas for Spellchasers while walking round my local park: Lochend Park in Leith. And it was by that loch that a woman called Bessie Dunlop claimed she once saw fairies. Bessie Dunlop was tried as a witch and burnt to death in 1576.  

 

 
I couldn’t just ignore that history, and the history of hundreds of other women and men accused, tortured, tried and executed, when I was writing about fictional witches.  

 
So Molly’s research into curses for the curse-lifting workshop uncovers the tale of a local woman being burnt alive as a witch. Molly is disturbed by what happened to that long-ago witch, and I hope the readers are too… 

 
I’m inspired by old tales and lore about witches. I’m keen to explore ideas about witches in my fiction. I’m happy to have fun with classes of kids making up spells to put in my brass cauldron. But I am also, under it all, disturbed and distressed by the history of witch persecution.  

 
So, here, have a chocolate eyeball for your plastic cauldron, but please don’t forget the dark history behind the stories…

 
Lari’s favourite books about witches (and favourite witches) 

Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle (Sophie) 

Gill Arbuthnott – Dark Spell (the whole coven) 

Vivian French – The Bag of Bones (NOT Truda Hangnail) 

Robert Burns – Tam O’Shanter (Cutty Sark) 

Arthur Miller – The Crucible (Tituba)  

 

***

 

Lari Don is a full-time children’s writer and storyteller. She grew up in the North East of Scotland and now lives in Edinburgh. She writes in her garden shed, helped by purring cats and hindered by lurking spiders. Lari has written more than 20 books, including adventure novels, picture books and retellings of traditional tales. She can be found on Twitter @LariDonWriter or at 

http://www.laridon.co.uk

 

The Spellchasers trilogy is available and out now.

Do check out the rest of the spots on the tour for more. 

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An Afternoon with Jacqueline Wilson at the Lighthouse Poole with Waterstones Castlepoint 

Art by Louise from Waterstones Castlepoint

I’ve just come home from introducing Jacqueline at this event and it filled me with joy to see so many children happy and excited about books and meeting one of their favourite authors. 

Earlier this week Jacqueline Wilson hosted Blue Peter and added Gold Blue Peter badge holder to her titles of Dame and former Children’s Laureate (2005-2007). 

It’s quite telling, that when talking about her newest release Hetty Feather’s Christmas, that she couldn’t quite remember if it was her 107th or 108th book! What an amazing achievement, and there’s more to come, Jacqueline told us she doesn’t plan to stop writing. 

Hetty Feather is one of her best loved characters and was inspired by a trip to the Foundling museum in London. Her other famous character is Tracy Beaker – both book series have inspired popular children’s tv programmes. Jacqueline’s Contemporary and Historical novels don’t shy away from the more unhappy events in life and have their own distinct style. Indeed Jacqueline is pretty sure her English teacher would still be making notes about her use of Slang with her red pen. But this style makes her books real and relatable. 

I read my first JW book in preparation for the event (I know, please forgive me) and I know a daughter of a friend who has a large collection I will be borrowing more from. 

The book I read Candyfloss, was published in 2006 and follows a young girl called Floss and the challenges she faces at school and at home. 

Issues regarding bullying and general healthy vs unhealthy relationships are explored with Floss’ best friend and the new girl demonstrating what friendship really means. 

Floss decides to stay with her Dad while her mum and her new partner move to Australia for 6 months and during that time her Dad experiences financial difficulties and Floss’ homelife is not as secure as it could be. Her inner struggle about knowing what to do for the best is expertly described. The role of teachers in looking after the social and emotional wellbeing as well as the educational development of children is presented well and hopefully would show teachers in a positive light as adults that children can trust if having difficulties at home or at school. 

The chapter introduction pages are beautifully illustrated by Nick Sharratt and give hints at what the chapter contains. I’d love to see a full graphic novel collaboration. 

As well as showing some of the darker sides of life (such as a couple of scenes featuring street violence) there is a good amount of humour and lightness too. Floss’ and her Dad’s relationship with a cat called Lucky and a Candyfloss seller called Rose are very enjoyable. 

During the event today Jacqueline described her route into the publishing industry starting with magazine journalism (including writing readers letters and telling fellow Sagittarians that they would have a very lucky life). She also answered questions from the audience including advice to future writers about doing things the way that works for you. Over plotting a book, she says, means that she finds writing it a bit boring so she does a rough outline but lets the story come out during the writing process. 

I hope everyone at the event had a fabulous time. I certainly did. Thank you Jacqueline for your time today. I hope you managed to see a bit of Bournemouth (minus rain) on your way home. 

Me and the lady herself

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu – Activism Tips and Book Review 


I was hugely lucky to pick up an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of Moxie at YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) this year. I am really loving the proliferation of books that feature feminist characters. If you are a fan of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series you are going to love Moxie. 

Synopsis 

Vivian Carter is fed up. 

Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. 

Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. 

But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules. 

Viv’s Mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrl in the 90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zone that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. 

She’s just blowing off steam, but then other girls respond and begin to spread the Moxie message…

I loved the book so much I reached out to the PR to see if Jennifer would share some Activism tips with us. And huge thanks to Jennifer and Sarah for these tips from Vivian Carter herself. 

Viv’s Tips for Activism



Hey, Moxie Girls! I’m so excited to share with you some tips that me and the other Moxie Girls hold dear to our hearts.

1) Support other girls! It sounds so obvious, but so much of being a feminist is supporting other women in a world that pits us against each other all the time. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t criticize other girls for justifiable reasons, but catch yourself when you feel the urge to make fun of another girl’s hair, clothes, weight, hobbies, or interests. Making fun of other girls because of their appearance or what they like to do is so not Moxie.

2) Be inclusive! Before Moxie, girls at East Rockport High didn’t really mix outside of their cliques. But feminism has to be intersectional and, thanks to Moxie, the girls of ERH are getting to know each other better. It’s so awesome! Being a feminist means voices of girls of color, girls with disabilities, queer girls and trans girls should be recognized and amplified! Make sure all girls feel welcome at your meet ups and, if you’re an activist, look to the voices of girls from other communities and listen to what they have to say. You’ll learn so much.

3) Educate yourself! The women’s movement didn’t start yesterday – it stretches back decades and centuries. Read your women’s history and learn about the movement’s successes, challenges, and missteps. If you’re in university, take a women’s studies class. I can’t wait to take one when I get to college! An educated feminist is a powerful feminist.

4) Reach out into your community! It’s great to start local, but take your activism outside the walls of your school if you can. In America, we have a real issue with shelters not having enough feminine hygiene products for female clients, so the Moxie Girls want to start collecting supplies for our local shelters. Is there a progressive female candidate running for office that needs your help or younger girls who need tutors or mentors? Is there a women’s organization in your area that you can learn more about? Go for it!

5) Have fun! Activism has to be fun! The first big Moxie meet up that Kiera organized at the VFW Hall helped solidify Moxie into a real movement at our school. Get together and dance, watch a feminist-friendly film, do each other’s makeup, and eat chocolate! Part of being a feminist activist is just enjoying the company of other girls and reminding yourself of what you’re fighting for!

 

Bonus Tip for male allies from Seth!

Hey, it’s me, Viv’s boyfriend, Seth. I wanted to chime in and say that feminists need male allies, and I’m proud to be one. What does it mean to be a male ally? It means listening to the feminists in your life and not taking the limelight. It means believing girls when they tell you what they’re going through and what they’re feeling. And it really means speaking up when your fellow guys start saying and doing stuff that objectifies and degrades women and girls. It’s hard to stand up and speak out – I get it – but it takes guts and it’s the brave thing to do. Forget the crap in the culture that tells you that “real men” are only out to get laid, get drunk, and be violent. Real men are protectors and defenders and stand up for what’s right. You’ve got this.

What I Thought 

This was such a good book. It was a fun and quick read with some serious messages. Viv is such a great protagonist, she’s perhaps not your typical activist. On the surface she’s very quiet and perhaps the last person people would expect to stand up and shout. It’s the small drop in the water that creates the large ripples  

There are so many parallels with what is happening in the news on a daily basis. Over the last week the #metoo campaign in response to insidious sexism in Hollywood has shown the power of women raising their voices. 

The book includes the issues of Moxie that Viv produces and that adds an extra special touch that draws the reader into the story. Each issue encourages an action. A quiet protest such as writing hearts and stars on your hands to identify others like you (or you know bending the knee peacefully??!!). 


I’d love have to been more of an activist when I was a teen and it’s so good that teens of today have books like these to inspire them. 

Point 3 above is illustrated in the book through the inclusion of Viv’s Mum previous activism. Hopefully we can start to share these ideas with our children and encourage them to respectfully question. 

I particularly love the inclusion of the character of Seth, the male feminist, the ally. As well as following women’s metoo stories do check out the few men who are examining their own past behaviour too. 

Tying in to Viv’s tip no 5 about having fun I just want to do a shout out to the concept of Craftivism: the art of gentle protest. If you want to find out more check out this link

Also check out the hashtag #feministfriday on Instagram today. 

Thanks so much to Hachette Childrens for having ARCs of Moxie availabile at YALC. 
You can buy your own copy from Amazon or your favourite independent bookshop. 

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