The second book in the Alfie Bloom series – Alfie Bloom and Talisman Thief was released on the 2nd June. For my spot on the blog tour I have an interview with the author Gabrielle Kent and a review of both books in the series.
When Alfie Bloom inherited a castle and a centuries-old magic, his dull and lonely life was changed forever. But Alfie’s new life has come with dangers he never could have expected. When Ashford the butler is kidnapped in the middle of the night, the castle comes under threat from a terrifying enemy. Trapped inside with only his twin cousins and best friend Amy, it’s up to Alfie to defend his inheritance and prevent a terrible fate from befalling the whole of England!
Gabrielle has worked in and around the videogames industry since the mid 90’s. She currently teaches games development at Teesside University where she directs and presents Animex, a week long festival of games and animation talks and events bringing young people together from all over Europe to hear from world leading studios.
Gabrielle has written and contributed to a number of articles and broadcasts on gaming and is a regular judge on the Games BAFTA awards. She has been named one of the Top 100 most Influential Women in the games industry several times, and recieved a Woman of the Year award from MCV magazine.
In her spare time, Gabrielle writes books for children aged 8+. Her Alfie Bloom series has been published across several continents.
Is there an interesting story behind the origin of Alfie Bloom?
I have always adored castles and still remember visiting Alnwick Castle on a school trip thirty years ago. There was a medieval festival taking place in the market square at the time, little did I realise it would make its way into my books decades later! I came up with the idea for Alfie Bloom in 2006 when I visited Castle Coch in Wales. In one of the rooms is a carving of The Fates above a fireplace. I imagined talking to them and hearing my destiny. I suppose, in a way, they really did talk to me – they told me I’d write a book. As I made the long drive back from Cardiff, an idea for a story flew round and round my head, growing bigger and bigger. By the time I got home I was ready to start writing about the boy who inherited a castle.
When you were a child, what were your favourite stories to read?
Magical realism! When I was little I was sure that fantastical creatures and magic were all around us if we just knew where to look and I loved books that backed up my beliefs by setting magic and fantasy in our own world. I still do.
Do you write better in a specific place (i.e. office, bed, café…)?
I fidget a lot! I start writing at my desk, but move around the house a lot, then I start visiting the fridge for snacks. I find that the best place to actually get a lot of writing done is at a library. I like Liverpool Central library but it can be very loud so I always take noise-cancelling headphones.
Who is your favourite character in the Alfie Bloom series?
I adore Artan, the flying, talking, pun-loving bearskin rug. What better flying carpet than one that can talk to you and tell terrible jokes while you’re flying
If you could live in any fictional world ever, which one would you choose?
I always thought Xanth from the Piers Anthony novels seemed a magical and wonderful place to live with so much to discover. I’d like to live in Castle Roogna and travel into the magical tapestry that hangs there.
Do you have any odd writing rituals (i.e. writing in the dark, only at 3am, only after four cups of coffee…)?
I always light a candle while I’m writing. Fig, blackcurrant and woody scents are my favourite. I brew a pot of popcorn green tea and choose one of my favourite spotify playlists. Usually: Through the Woods, Deep Dark Indie, or The Far-North Folk.
There is a lot of mystery and magic in the Alfie Bloom books, do you know how everything works?
I do, and it takes me a long time to write because I like to have everything clear in my head. When I wrote the first book I was a bit unclear on what Alfie’s magic was and how it worked. and it caused me many problems later on as it became rather confusing for my proof readers. As a result I went back and clarified it, but it did involve quite a bit of rewriting!
What is your favourite aspect of the magic in Alfie Bloom?
Very little comes easily in life, so I like to show that magic also comes with consequences. As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. The powerful magic that inhabits Alfie is always hungry to feed. Alfie must learn to control it and to exercise restraint in using it.
What I Thought?
Thanks to Faye Rogers and Scholastic I was introduced to this series and provided with copies of both books to review. Opinions are my own – as ever.
I really loved this series and its characters and raced through both books, and will definitely head back for a re-read when the next book comes out. I find that I do sometimes struggle with middle grade books feeling too young (as a 37 year old that’s not really surprising), but, for these books that wasn’t a problem at all. I was definitely hooked when the carriage from Muninn and Bone came calling. Although they work well for the intended age group 8-12 there is much for readers of any age to enjoy. This series has been compared to Harry Potter and there are some similarities – the fabulous cast of characters, joy and ease of reading and magic but it is also very different.
In ‘The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle’ poverty stricken Alfie finds out he has inherited a castle… and a ‘bit’ of magic. The only thing he will miss by moving is his best friend Amy, but his castle is in the village occupied by his dead mother’s family so he gains his twin cousins Robin and Madeline as friends, and Amy comes to visit. Together they explore the castle and its many rooms, secret passages and dangers. Alfie’s new school Wyrmwald House seems to be led by two Miss Trunchballs!! Something sinister is happening in the village and Alfie is driven to use his magic.
One of the things I liked is the idea that magic isn’t necessarily fun and simple to use and that it does come with responsibilities. Alfie isn’t necessarily that happy with the power he has been given and it will be interesting to see how he handles this as his experience grows. Alfie reminds me a little of Roald Dahl’s Charlie Bucket – he is very generous and kind-spirited.
Like Gabrielle, Artan the flying bearskin is my favourite character and his puns did make me giggle.
In ‘The Talisman Thief’ we find out more about Ashford the butler that was assigned to look out for Alfie and his father – thankfully because William – Alfie’s dad, a rather eccentic inventor – really can not cook. I can’t say much without spoilers but Ashford isn’t maybe what you might have expected. Hexbridge is invaded by fae and it’s up to the children to save the day.
Alfie’s school isn’t a magical one and his magical training comes via letters, deduction and trips between times. The rural village setting of Hexbridge is perfect to contain the magic and mysticism and I loved that the villagers follow old pagan festivals.
To summarise – read these books – to your kids if you have them – or to yourself if not. There is much more I could say and many more characters to meet but I’d much prefer you to find that out for yourselves.
Do also check out the rest of the blog tour.
Imagine you had access to countless items of technology which have been classified as potentially too dangerous for the world to have access to!
Dev’s Uncle is the caretaker of The Inventory, the World’s strongest vault.
However, on the day that Lot, a girl from school, and bully Mason happen to visit, thieves try to break in to steal Iron Fist, and the three kids find themselves in a deadly battle with the intruders, and The Inventory.
I really enjoyed this middle grade action adventure and particularly warmed to Dev. Isolated from making friends because he can never invite them home he doesn’t have the best relationship with his uncle so is pretty lonely with a somewhat sarcastic robot his only company. Dev is clearly intelligent and has paid attention to workings of The Inventory but can he beat the thieves? Well, that would be classed as a spoiler so I’m not going to tell you. What I can say is that readers will enjoy the array of technology, be thrilled by the chase and surprised by certain revelations. I’m certainly looking forward to reading future adventures.
Interview with Author Andy Briggs
How much fun did you have making up whacky inventions and which do you wish were real?
Making things up for a living is, in a word, awesome. Making up wild inventions for The Inventory was, therefore terrific fun. However, I had one vague rule at the back of my mind: make them feel real, even if it means pushing the barriers of fringe science, they have to at least sound plausible. That’s what set Star Trek aside from plenty of other science fiction shows, it was more science than fiction.
Straight away I would waltz into the Inventory, strap on a pair of Hover-Boots and fly around at breakneck speeds. If the internal security was to prevent me from pilfering the boots, then I would try and sneak off with the Onmi-Board, which is a next generation skateboard that puts Segways and hover-boards to shame.
Who is your favourite inventor and why?
That is so easy: Nikola Tesla. The Croatian genius who invented so many things – such as radio control, the Tesla coil (which used to be a vital component of old TVs), and – radio. Of course I can hear many history teacher correcting me there, but they’re wrong. There was a bitter legal battle with Marconi… go and read about it. Fascinating stuff. Many of Tesla’s inventions are only just being explored today.
Despite his amazing inventions, Tesla died penniless, had a pigeon as his best friend and believed that aliens transmitted ideas straight to his brain…
Writing is inventing. What is your process: Inspired by a Eureka moment or a carefully planned trial?
If you had asked me this for any other book then I would have answered that it’s all carefully planned. I structure the chapters and key plot points and have my Eureka moments away from the page, then carefully integrate them into the story. This comes from the screenwriter side of me, scripts have to be very carefully structured and timed.
However, this time I threw caution to the wind and ploughed into the story. It wasn’t a moment of madness, it was an experiment. The Inventory itself is supposed to be a place of unexpected twists and turns, so I wanted to be surprised just as much as the reader. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of those old James Bond movies in which 007 gets exactly the gadget he needs later in the story. I wanted my heroes to find seemingly useless items then be forced to make them work to escape a dastardly situation later. The result is that I, at least, was surprised by what lurks in the World Best Kept Secret…
Were you a science geek in school? If not what was your best/favourite subject?
Um. Yes. When it came to choosing GCSEs I took Technology Design, Chemistry and Physics. Then for A-levels I took Maths and Physics – and Media Studies too, of course. The problem was, I wanted to know about quantum physics, black holes and travelling at the speed of light and, sadly, that didn’t crop up in my lessons so I quickly became bored and went off to write stories instead. These days I’m always watching documentaries, reading New Scientist and Wired Magazines and pretend I know exactly what they’re all talking about…
What have sheep ever done to you? (Reference to making them invisible and blowing one’s head off)
Before the RSPCA descend upon me, they are fake sheep! Sheep are menacing. They have weird horizontal pupils and quietly judge you when you walk past their field. Sure, they act dumb, but the moment you’re out of earshot they’re baa-ing away in their cryptic alien language. Them (and cows) are contributing to massive global warming as they fart in order to terraform our planet for their own nefarious purposes. You mark my words, the cute fluffy image is merely creative marketing…
Which of the characters in the book would you Repeat, Rewrite, Remove and why? And yes you have to answer ;0
Ooh, now I know I don’t like you! What a cruel question… I would repeat Lot, because, as the daughter of an Air Force test pilot, she is a gung-ho thrill seeker.
I would rewrite Dev because you can never have a perfect hero (and by perfect, I still include all the flaws that make them interesting) as you keep coming up with new and intriguing issues and problems to inflict upon them. That said, the joy of writing a series is that I can now put him under so much more pressure and really pull him apart…
Finally, I would remove Mason (if I had to) because bullies should be erased (or thrown into the prison colonies of our future masters, the sheep (see above).
Huge thanks to Andy for some brilliant responses. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.
Comment below with which everyday invention you’d confine to The Inventory and tell me why (is it dangerous or just plain annoying) and then head over to the Rafflecopter to register your chances to win. Closes Wednesday 11th at midnight. UK and IRL residents only.
The Rest of the Tour
You can find the links to all the blogs on tour organiser Faye’s website here.
Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Kim Curran’s Glaze which was released on Amazon on the 15th May. The blog tour has been organised by Faye at A Daydreamer’s Thoughts. Kim is also over at Uncorked Thoughts today. See below for the full list of stops.
Tonight there is a twitter chat happening at 8-9pm BST – Do join in by following Kim and the hashtag #GlazeChat
There’s also a blog wide giveaway – here’s the rafflecopter entry. Prizes up for grabs include a limited edition hardback edition, chance to meet or skype with Kim, bookmarks and more. I think I might need to enter.
Petri Quinn is counting down the days till she turns 16 and can get on GLAZE – the ultimate social network that is bringing the whole world together into one global family. But when a peaceful government protest turns into a full-blown riot with Petri shouldering the blame, she’s handed a ban. Her life is over before it’s even started.
Desperate to be a part of the hooked-up society, Petri finds an underground hacker group and gets a black market chip fitted. But this chip has a problem: it has no filter and no off switch. Petri can see everything happening on GLAZE, all the time. Including things she was never meant to see.
As her life is plunged into danger, Petri is faced with a choice. Join GLAZE… or destroy it.
I have been lucky enough to be able to ask questions of three of Glaze’s characters: the book’s protagonist Petri, her close friend Kiara and the mysterious Ethan. I even snuck in a couple of questions for Kim, the author. I hope you enjoy.
Do you wish you had been called Petra?
*sighs* I wish I’d been called ANYTHING other than Petri. Zizi, that’s my Mum, thought naming me after the method of my conception was hilarious in the way that only she could. She also has this joke about getting ‘half-price on ginger sperm’ that she tells like fifty times a day.
Why the fascination with numbers?
I guess it’s because they make sense. They’re constant and comprehendible in a way humans never will be to me. Prime numbers. Patterns. I find them comforting. And sometimes, when everything feels like it’s too loud, I sit and recite Pi in my head till I calm down. Weird, I know!
What do you think of the idea ‘You’re better together’?
Zizi came up with that line, so, I was a little bored of it before the rest of the world heard it. But at first, I totally bought into it. I really believed that everyone would become their best, most brilliant self when part of something bigger than just them. I was always hearing about how all the great thinkers in the world only got to where they were because they were working with the ideas of others. How no one can really achieve something alone. But now… I’m not so sure. I guess it all comes down to what we mean by ‘better’. And who is the one making that decision.
What does family mean to you?
To me, it means belonging. Having a sense that you are safe and that no one is judging you for who you. They just love you – the way you are. It’s not something I’ve experienced all that much, to be honest.
What do you really think about kissing now?
Like anything. It’s about doing it with the right person. :oD
How did you feel when you were saved by a girl on the first day of school?
You mean when Petri stopped those guys from bullying me? I guess I could have handled the situation myself; I’ve been in my fair share of fights after all. But I thought it was really brave of her to step in. I mean, she didn’t even know me. She just knew that what they were going to do was wrong. It’s one of the reasons I like her so much. She’s this tiny thing with all this rage inside her. You do not want to be standing in the way when it explodes.
What’s it like being invisible?
I like it. I like solitude and being able to think clearly. I spent a long time surrounded by other people and having all of my decisions decided by everyone else. So being invisible means I don’t have to worry about that anymore. It can be lonely too, for sure. But I’ll take that over noise. And it means I don’t have to worry about the government watching my every move.
Do you think Glaze contributed to your depression?
I don’t know for sure. The doctors tell me that it’s to do with an imbalance with the chemicals in my brain and so maybe I would have been depressed with Glaze or not. But I know it made me feel a whole lot worse about it. It was like everyone else in the world was having the best time of their lives while I was having the worst time in mine and I thought that there must be something so very wrong with me to not be able to join in with all that fun. So yeah, it made it worse.
What is it about the stars?
To me, they symbolise hope, they’re a point of light in the darkness. My dad used to take me outside to the garden at night and point out all the constellations. The bucket. The leaping frog. The laughing elephant. I didn’t know till I was older that he was making all the names up! So now, when I look up at the stars, I remember the stories he told to make his little girl happy. And that feels nice.
Why do you write?
There are a lot of writers who say they write because they can’t imagine not writing. I’m totally not one of those writers. I can absolutely imagine not writing. I can imagine myself running off and becoming a Mongolian Eagle Hunter and never writing another word. I can imagine myself becoming an astronaut and spending all my time watching the world rather than writing about it. But… that’s also exactly the reason I do write. Because I’m never going to run off and become a Mongolian Eagle Hunter or an astronaut. So I write to go on exciting adventures. I write to try and live other lives for a while. I write to entertain myself and work out what I think about things. I write because I love it. (I adore this answer although feel that Kim underplayed her skills of ‘premonition through writing’ – Google Glass and riots happened in real life shortly after she wrote Glaze!!! Spooky!)
You’ve turned to self publishing for Glaze so it must be important to you. Why write this book?
That’s a brilliant question. And yes, my decision to self publish rather than just let Glaze live in my bottom drawer was precisely because this book is so important to me. I wrote it to deal with a lot of confusion in my own head about trying to find myself amid the noise of other people’s opinions. I wrote it to try and understand how I feel about the world we’re living in today and where it’s taking us. I spend so much of my time online that I end up feeling really angry with myself for not getting out and living. So, I guess I wrote it to try and claim something back from that wasted time. And once I’d written it, I believed that other people might have the same worries as me. Which is why I wanted to share it with them. (I think there can be lots of positives from online interactions but it’s definitely a challenge balancing time online with interacting with the real world. I think the book shows this really well).
Huge thanks to Kim (and Petri, Ethan and Kiara) for giving us a further insight into the world of Glaze. I really enjoyed this fast paced read. Interested to hear everyone’s views on the interview here today.