Category Archives: Author Interviews
I’m pleased to be hosting a guest post from author Lindsay Littleson today. Her newest middle grade novel Guardians of the Wild Unicorns was released on 21st February. When I read the synopsis I was struck by the conservation angle that the book was taking. With a number of animals recently confirmed as extinct, Japan’s whaling, production of palm oil threatening orangutan habitats, this is a timely topic.
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns explores themes of friendship, adventure and conservation. The story emphasises the importance of caring for wildlife, and is particularly relevant for today’s world, when we are facing a huge variety of environmental challenges, from the large scale ecological disaster that is the deforestation of the Amazon, to the woodland habitat loss suffered by the critically endangered Scottish wildcat.
In Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, Whindfall Forest is the refuge of Scotland’s last remaining herd of unicorns. The two protagonists, Lewis and Rhona, must endeavour to keep the herd safe from a gamekeeper who has hatched an evil plan to capture and kill the unicorns for their beautiful spiralled horns. Comparisons are made in the novel to the poaching of elephants for their tusks and of rhinos for their horns. Like the unicorns in the story, rhinos are targeted by poachers because some people mistakenly believe that the horns cure ailments and are willing to pay huge sums.
Her brain filled with images she’d glimpsed on television: heaps of tusks, white as bone, long as spears; muddied elephant corpses buzzing with flies; tiny orphaned calves; blank-eyed poachers with guns slung over their shoulders. When terrible stuff like that came on the news, Mum tended to flick channels, back to the safety of celebrity quiz shows or cooking programmes, where ugly, tragic real life wasn’t allowed to intrude. And now animal poaching had come here, to this beautiful Highland moor.
My unicorns might be wild and dangerous, with horns like spears, but no animal is a match for armed poachers. Endangered animals need the help of humans who are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect them. To save the unicorns, my protagonists have to be both courageous and determined, but I wanted them to be as real as my setting. Neither Rhona nor Lewis would describe themselves as brave, but the definition of courage in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘the ability to do something that frightens one’ and both children are willing to put themselves in danger to save Scotland’s last herd of wild unicorns.
Thanks Lindsay – this sounds like an excellent story which will be both thrilling and educational. I hope there will be plenty of children – and adults – inspired by this post to take action to help endangered species.
Lewis is cold, wet and miserable on his school residential trip in the Highlands of Scotland. The last thing he expects to see is a mythical creature galloping across the bleak moorland. Unicorns aren’t real… are they?
Lewis and his best friend Rhona find themselves caught up in a dangerous adventure to save the world’s last herd of wild unicorns. Fighting against dark forces, battling the wild landscape, and harnessing ancient magic, can they rescue the legendary creatures in time?
Lindsay Littleson is a primary school teacher in Renfrewshire, Scotland. After taking up writing for children in early 2014, she won the Kelpies Prize for new Scottish writing for children with her first children’s novel, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean.
Thank you to Kirsten at Floris Books/Discover Kelpies who #gifted me a copy of Guardians of the Wild Unicorns which I’m hoping to read and review very soon.
So pleased to welcome Geek Girl author Holly Smale back to the blog today to talk about the Soundtrack that helped her write the first book in her brand new series which released yesterday.
SOUNDTRACK FOR HAPPY GIRL LUCKY
I always write to music, and every time I start a new book I usually have a handful of songs I turn to when I need to feel in the right mood, or get the right tone, or just generally have to click back into the mindset of the character I’m writing as. Sometimes they’re lyrically accurate, but they’re often more of a feeling: something that encapsulates how it feels to be my protagonist.
Happy Girl Lucky is a different kind of book to Geek Girl, and Hope is a very different girl to Harriet; she needed a new kind of soundtrack. She’s a very positive, confident, easy-going and high-energy girl, and the music I listened to needed to fit that: far less classical than with Geek Girl, with a lot more attitude.
Here’s a list of the songs I turned to again and again. Songs I think Hope would probably have on her iPod. Ironically, there’s quite a big cross-over between my Happy Girl Lucky playlist and my personal running playlist. In both cases, I need to feel uplifted, motivated and positive: maybe a little bit sassy and kick-ass.
All I Do Is Win – DJ Khaled
I love this track – it’s so amped and fearless. There’s so much exuberant confidence, so much go go go. I feel like Hope would be listening to this in her room to motivate her; she’d probably have her own little dance for it.
Don’t Delete The Kisses – Wolf Alice
Another personal favourite. This is so sweet, so teenage and so perfectly encapsulates a huge, joyful crush. With – I think – a perfect undercurrent of anxiety and fear that you won’t get what you want.
Waiting For A Star To Fall – Boy Meets Girl
A straight-down-the-line love song, and one I used to dance round the living room to as a child in the 80s. It’s so buoyant, so happy, so playfully romantic. I feel like Hope would appreciate the 80s vibe immensely, and whenever I need a shot of sweet hopefulness I stick this one on.
Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie
Bit of a change with some solid emo, but for someone in a long distance relationship between the UK and America, this feels yearning and pretty fitting. As happy as Hope usually is, there are moments in the book where she is genuinely struggling with sadness and I needed to find music to fit that.
Soda – The Cinematic Orchestra
Again, while Hope is generally very upbeat there are moments where she needs to be quiet, thoughtful, more introverted. This is one of my favourites – I’ve taken it around the world with me, on various road-trips through India and Asia – so it helps me tap into that. It really is a great one for beautiful landscapes.
Safe and Sound – Capital Cities
Not going to lie: this is one of my favourite running tracks of all time, and it’s also one I turned to over and over again for Hope. It has a similar, fast rhythm to the others – it’s the right tempo for Hope – but it also has a beautiful optimism to the lyrics.
Where No-one Goes – JONSI
Okay, this is famously the soundtrack to How To Train Your Dragon. But I’ve been a fan of Jonsi for nearly 20 years – he was in one of my favourite bands, Sigur Ros – and this is so beautifully hopeful, so upbeat, so sweet, so brave, so free-ing. In my mind, this is where the book ends up: this is so perfect for the mind-set Hope ultimately reaches. If I have to choose one song for Happy Girl Lucky, it’s this one. It’ll always be the one that reminds me of Hope.
Huge thanks to Holly for sharing her HGL playlist inspired by its point of view character Hope. Lots of tracks I wasn’t familiar with on there. I’ve created a YouTube playlist if you want to listen to it before or after reading Happy Girl Lucky. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzXeNd36_QuQbSGGrRfDui23h-nm85Q6f
Each book in the Valentines series will focus on a different member of Hope’s family and I’m sure their playlists will all be very different.
Do come back tomorrow for my review of Happy Girl Lucky.
Continuing with the spooky theme – today I have a guest post from Sarah Epstein author of psychological thriller Small Spaces.
Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks?
Sarah Epstein spent her childhood drawing, daydreaming and cobbling together books at the kitchen table. A writer, illustrator and designer, she grew up in suburban Sydney and now lives in Melbourne with her husband and two sons. She is passionate about YA, especially the thriller genre, which is her favourite to read. Small Spaces is her first novel.
Are Characters Writers’ Imaginary Friends? by Sarah Epstein
Imaginary friends have always fascinated me. And while I don’t remember having one myself as a child, I’ve encountered plenty of people who did. When my own kids were small and attending playgroup and kindergarten, I’d hear stories from mothers about how they’d overheard their child’s one-sided conversations in the bath, or how their child’s invisible friend had to have a place set at the dinner table. I’d always think, where do these imaginary friends come from? Are they tied to emotional issues, loneliness or just boredom? Are they coping mechanisms, a cry for attention, or even, as some suggest, a spiritual presence that a child’s mind is open enough to see?
It was a subject I wanted to explore in a story. But in many ways I’ve been writing about imaginary friends for years – my own. The characters I create who tell me their story.
In Small Spaces, I wrote about my protagonist Tash’s experiences with her imaginary friend, Sparrow, both as a young child and as a teenager. To do this, I had to understand Tash’s character inside and out – her hopes, dreams, fears and faults – so I could figure out how she would react to the appearance of Sparrow and the situations his presence would put her through.
In a sense, Tash became my imaginary friend, because she was constantly talking in my head. She was with me while I walked my dog, took showers, and late at night when I was trying to switch my brain off to go to sleep. For writers, this is nothing new. Our characters are shadowing us everywhere we go, especially during the drafting stage of a novel when we’re trying to work out exactly who they are. You imagine how they look, speak, think and act, who they are closest to in the world, and what makes them angry or afraid. Soon they become more than just fictional characters – they become friends we are passionate about. They become friends we are rooting for, friends who are keeping us company on our writing journey as well as actively driving our stories.
And, until readers discover these characters, they are friends created in our imagination that no one else can see.
Is this so different from the imaginary friends some of us invented during childhood? If they were created for company, entertainment, comfort or even a bit of attention, perhaps it’s not so different at all. And while I may not set a place for Tash at my dinner table, or hold a conversation with her in the bath, she’s always with me, tucked away inside my head.
Thanks so much to Sarah for this insight into how characters can ‘live and breathe’ for the writer. Hope everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo has picked nice people to spend the next month with