Short stories

‘Up the Stairs’: Meg Small

Each issue, we choose a winning entry from all the submissions sent to us. This time, our winning entry is spooky short story ‘Up the Stairs’ by Meg Small. Keep reading below to find out more.

Up the Stairs 

By Meg Small 

Alice couldn’t sleep. How could she, with that thing her dad had bought downstairs? 

It was, her dad insisted, a suit of armour. A piece of history, like all the other antiques he’d collected. But it wasn’t like any suit of armour Alice had ever seen.  

The lumpy body. The rusty, tarnished metal. The musty, dusty smell of it and how it slumped where it sat at the foot of the stairs. When she shut her eyes, she could picture it perfectly. Sitting there, in the dark, with its misshaped limbs and its odd crooked helmet with the empty, staring eye sockets.  

She imagined it crumpling forward, collapsing off the chair and onto the floor, and starting the long, painful climb up the stairs. Its armour would squeak, its fabric arms would rasp against the carpet. Its hands would thump, thump against each stair, and it would drag itself up. And up. And up. Until it was outside her door.  

Alice opened her eyes. She stared at her dark ceiling and gripped her duvet tightly.  

She wasn’t sure if she could handle another monster. The Thing at the Foot of the Bed was bad enough. If she shut her eyes almost all the way, and peeked through her eyelashes, she could see it. A silhouette almost shaped like a person. But it was too tall and too thin, its neck and arms and fingers too long to be human. Its face was blank, a shadow, but Alice knew it was watching her. It was always watching her.  

Last week, she had caught it reaching one long, long hand toward her. She had almost screamed the house down, and her dad insisted it was a nightmare.  

But Alice knew better.  

She knew, in her bones, that the suit of armour wasn’t just a suit of armour, either.  

The Thing at the Foot of the Bed shifted. It wobbled its empty face slightly to the left, like it was stretching its neck, then returned to its usual position. Alice watched it through her mostly closed eyes and felt her heart slowly crawling into her throat.  

Since all the screaming, it hadn’t tried anything. But if it was moving now… 

Thump, thump

Alice’s insides swooped like she’d tripped. She held very still and listened.  

Water gurgled in the pipes. Rain pitter-pattered against her window. A breeze rustled through the trees outside.  

It had been the pipes. The floorboards settling. Someone closing a car door down the street.  

It hadn’t been something reaching for the bottom stair.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

Alice yanked the duvet over her head. It was dangerous, with the Thing standing there, but she couldn’t help it. She needed to hide.  

In the soft, stuffy darkness, her heartbeat felt very loud and very close. It raced as hard and fast as a thundering horse.  

That hadn’t been the wind. Not the rain or the plumbing, either.  

It had been the grating squeal of rusted metal against rusted metal.  

Thump, thump.  

There it was again.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

It was coming closer. It was heaving its rusted, battered body up the stairs. Alice wanted to scream, but her thundering heart had lodged in her throat and no sound would come out.  

Why had her dad brought it home? Why had he looked at that horrible thing and thought, yes, that’ll look good in the living room? 

Now it was coming.  

Thump, thump.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

It was coming for her.  

Thump, thump.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

Closer and closer and closer.  

Thump, thump.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

Then silence.  

Alice held her breath. She held it until her head felt like it would burst. And when she couldn’t hold it anymore, and it whooshed out of her, a new sound made her choke on a startled gasp.  

Click. Click. Click.  

The sound of a doorknob rattling. Twisting one way then the other.  

Click.  

The sound of the latch opening. The sound of the door scraping softly over carpet.  

Alice scrunched her eyes shut and clamped her hands over her ears. But with only her hectic heartbeat for company, it was even worse. She couldn’t hear it. She couldn’t see it. She had no idea if it was crossing the carpet. Crawling toward her bed. Reaching for her with its musty, lumpy hands— 

Alice took a trembling breath. Peeling the duvet away from her eyes, she peeked over it. She got a mouthful of flowery-tasting fabric as she gasped again.  

It was there. It was in her doorway. The suit of armour. It was standing, not crawling, lopsided like it couldn’t support its own weight.  

Alice’s brain swirled. She didn’t breathe. She felt like a hedgehog in the middle of a road. Nowhere to run, and too frozen with fear to try.  

In the corner of her eye, she saw the Thing at the Foot of the Bed shift. It twisted its long body to look at the armour as well. In the light spilling in from the landing, Alice thought she saw a flash of teeth as it smiled a horrendous smile.  

Squeeeeeaaaak. 

Metal shifted. With a staggering, lumbering lurch, the suit of armour stepped forward. Alice could only stare, cold spreading through her veins as she watched it approach. It wobbled, then righted itself, then lurched forward another step.  

And that’s when Alice realised it wasn’t heading for her. It was heading for the foot of her bed. Its wonky hands surged forward and grabbed the Thing.  

And squeezed.  

The Thing hissed. Then it shrieked, a high sharp sound like a kettle boiling. It rang in Alice’s ears as the Thing swelled. It squirmed and spat, but it couldn’t escape. The suit of armour squeezed and squeezed and squeezed, until, without a sound, the Thing at the Foot of the Bed popped. Like a water balloon bursting, shadows scattered in every direction, and a cold, stale wind whipped through Alice’s bedroom, stinging her eyes and tangling her hair.  

When she winced and blinked and looked again, the Thing at the Foot of the Bed was gone and…  

The suit of armour was looking right at her. The shadows made its wonky helmet even wonkier, and Alice shivered when she met its empty eye sockets.  

Only, they weren’t so empty anymore. There was something there, something bright and soft, something that made Alice think of hot chocolate and holding hands and her dad’s soft voice telling her stories.  

The suit of armour turned toward the door. It stumbled back the way it had come. Pausing in the doorway, it looked back at her and gave her a slow, rusty nod. Then it stepped out into the landing, closed the door with a gentle click, and was gone. 

That night, there were no nightmares. There was no tossing and turning, no constant panicked glances at the end of her bed. There was just soft, still darkness. The feeling of being safe and protected. And Alice slept the best she had in weeks.  

Meg Small

Writer, Meg Small

Meg’s head has always been full of stories. Since finishing an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, she spends her time daydreaming about spooky stories and fantasy adventures – and sometimes writing them, too! When she’s not writing, she can be found tending to her ever-growing army of succulents and spending far too much time playing videogames. You can follow her on Twitter here: @liminalace

You can read even more spooky stories, author interviews and more in our latest issue by clicking here. All our issues are completely free and run by volunteers, however if you would like to support PaperBound and the work we do, you can help us out by buying us a virtual book. 

Here at PaperBound, we love stories. Want to be a part of ours? Find out more.

Covers

Runner up: Autumn 2021

Rūta Čiutaitė entered her beautiful illustrations for our spooky autumn 2021 issue and we loved them instantly. Along with two other illustrations, we chose one in particular for the front cover.

You can read this issue in full here.

Spooky autumn 2021 illustration designed by Rūta Čiutaitė

Find out more …

Illustrator Rūta Čiutaitė

Rūta is an illustrator with a textile design background, which shows in her work where she uses lots of tiny textures and patterns. Her inspiration mostly comes from nature and fairytales, both in concept and the colour palettes she works with. Autumn is a great inspiration as well but, no matter the season, she’s always drawn to it!

Rūta illustrated the cover, contents page and printable writing prompts in our latest issue.

You can visit her Etsy page here, and follow her on Instagram: @blue_rue_designs.

Interviews

Interview with children’s author Clare Weze

We caught up with author Clare Weze to talk about her debut novel, The Lightning Catcher, in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine.

Could you tell us a little bit about your novel, The Lightning Catcher?

The Lightning Catcher is an adventure story featuring Alfie, who’s been transplanted from the city to a small village in the countryside because of problems his sister’s been having. He isn’t used to village life and doesn’t yet realise that whatever you do there tends to be SEEN! There are mysterious weather anomalies, including isolated icicles in July, whirlwinds in buckets and shoes icing up for no apparent reason. Alfie and his new best friend Sam decide to investigate, but Alfie is fearless (and reckless) and doesn’t understand that certain places are no-go areas. He accidentally releases something from a box while trespassing, and whatever it is unleashes yet more meteorological mayhem. The adventure blows up in Alfie’s face. Friendships are tested, new and special ones created, and there’s some extremely unfair scapegoating.  

The Lightning Catcher is full of sci-fi adventure, whiplash humour and mysterious goings-on. Where did the idea come from?

It grew out of the setting and main character, but my love of weather and biology probably sparked the idea for Whizzy. The book is a consolidation of all my interests, and they spiral around a character with a burning curiosity, someone who just has to find out WHY? I’ve always liked the idea of mysterious no-go areas, and people who attract labels and become outsiders, so once I had my strange and lonely house, I wondered why it was dilapidated and full of junk. What sort of person would let that happen, and why? So Mr Clemm, another important character, grew out of that setting.

This book has been affectionately described as Skellig meets Stranger Things. What do you think of this comparison, and were you inspired by any other film/TV/books when writing it?

Skellig and David Almond’s other books have been a huge influence on me, so I love the comparison. Finding someone or something in odd, dark places has always sparked my imagination, and I love the general tone of Skellig. Until this year I hadn’t watched Stranger Things, but I can see what people mean: boys on bikes making discoveries. There’s no horror in The Lightning Catcher though, so I think that’s where the similarity ends. I was inspired by John Gordon’s The Giant Under the Snow for that sense of an escalating, race-against-time adventure. And I loved the cheeky interplay between the siblings of Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Can you tell us anything about your writing journey so far, and what you’ve learned from it?

It’s been a long journey, but one of the main things I’ve learned is to have a bit of everything ready to suit all opportunities. There are openings popping up all over the place, so it’s best to join every writing-related organisation you see advertised so that you’ll hear about them. Some places are looking for short stories, others for flash fiction, and agents in particular are often looking for novels. It’s great if you can have something finished to submit. Watching the process of building a book from start to finish has also been fascinating. And meeting some of the people required to make the finished product – many more than you would think – has been very special. Seeing Paddy Donnelly’s illustration for The Lightning Catcher for the first time was also a huge highlight. It’s so beautiful. From those aspects of the journey, I’ve found out what a difference each person’s contribution can make, and seen the book and its concepts grow and change, which has been really exciting.

If you could choose 1 tip for an aspiring writer, what would it be?

There are lots of openings for very short fiction in online magazines these days, so trying your hand at flash fiction is a good idea. It helps to get your name out there and boosts your confidence.

What would you say is the most challenging thing when it comes to writing?

For me, keeping the momentum going while plotting is quite difficult. I find setting up the events and characters straightforward, and often know where I want them to end up, but keeping the engine of the book thrusting forwards is trickier.

What other middle grade books have you enjoyed reading recently?

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee is fantastic. I read it last year and although there’s a rare medical condition at the centre of it, there’s so much heart and love, and city life is brilliantly painted through the eyes of a child. The Space We’re In by Katya Balen is lovely. It has a really different pace: quiet in the day-to-day, but in the background, there’s a huge and life-changing event ticking away.

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

Stormy, heart-warming, surprising

Clare Weze grew up in London and Yorkshire and has British and Nigerian heritage. She is the author of The Lightning Catcher (Bloomsbury) and a story called ‘Once’ in the forthcoming anthology Happy Here (Knights Of and BookTrust).

You can visit her website, and also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Lightning Catcher was released on 13th May 2021 and is published by Bloomsbury.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Short stories

Winner: Young Writers Competition – The Dig by Daisy Whittington

This year, we put together our FIRST EVER competition dedicated to young writers. After many fantastic entries, it was a difficult decision trying to narrow it down to a final shortlist before a winner was chosen by YA fantasy author Caroline Logan. She picked Daisy Whittington, aged 14, as our winner, who wrote The Dig, a rolleroaster tale with unexpected twists and turns.

Read on below to read The Dig by Daisy Whittington.

Tina’s dad is an archaeologist and ever since Tina was able to walk, he would always make an effort to involve her with his work. He would bring home special artifacts for Tina that would intrigue her greatly. Tina was always most intrigued by the bones. It could be any sort of bone: a rabbit bone, a deer bone. And it could be a bone of any shape: a tooth or perhaps a femur. Tina didn’t care, she just loved bones.

It didn’t take long for her to start collecting them. Every evening, she would eagerly wait for her dad to get back from work and she would jump with joy when he’d unveil a new bone from behind his back to add to her collection. She couldn’t get enough! Her collection grew and grew, however she still had not reached the level of fulfilment she felt compelled to reach. Tina soon came to the conclusion that her dad was not the best source of bone income. She needed to get her own bones.

Tina crept out the house. She found herself in a graveyard. A bone jackpot! She waited until no one was around, and then she began to dig into a grave. Tina dug fast. Excitement overcame her. She knew the skeletal remains were close by, she knew they were waiting for her to take them home. Tina dug deeper and deeper until….

“TINA!! You stop that right now!” It was Tina’s dad. He’d caught her. ‘You are a DISGRACE. I am taking you straight home, you bad, bad dog.”

We hope you enjoyed reading The Dig just as much as we did! You can read all the shortlisted stories – and Caroline Logan’s feedback on each one – by clicking here and scroll down to read our Summer 2021 issue – completely FREE!

Interviews

Interview with children’s author Stephanie Burgis

PaperBound caught up with author Stephanie Burgis to chat all about her new middle grade fantasy novel, The Raven Heir. Read on to discover more …

Can you tell us more about The Raven Heir? How would you describe it to anyone who hasn’t read it before?

The Raven Heir is an epic adventure about three triplets, brought up in a secluded, magical forest, who discover that almost everything they thought they knew about themselves is untrue … and the only way to save their family now is for one of them to become the next king or queen of a kingdom wracked by war.

You’ve written so many fantastic looking books. What’s unique about this one?

I’ve written lots of different kinds of fantasy novels before (from funny historical fantasy adventures to dragons drinking hot chocolate and arguing with fairies), but this is my first foray into really epic fantasy adventure, and it was so much fun!

Did you have to do a lot of research when it came to the magical elements of this book, or did most of it come from your own imagination?

I actually did a LOT of research for the magical elements in this book, because the heroine of The Raven Heir is a shapeshifter who can transform herself into any animal she chooses – which meant that I had to research hundreds of new-to-me details about how those different animals (from moths to bears, wolves, swallows, and more) all experience the world around them.

The magical world you’ve created in The Raven Heir is so vivid. How important do you think setting is in fantasy writing and world building?

I love how immersive good fantasy is, and how it lets us escape into different worlds from our own – which has been even more of a gift than usual during lockdown! Personally, I live in Wales, where I frequently visit local castles that were involved in some of the real-life battles of the British Wars of the Roses. Although The Raven Heir is set in an imaginary kingdom (named Corvenne), I absolutely drew on the history I’m surrounded by in my own life as I was creating that imaginary world and its history … with lots of magical twists!

Are there any books in particular you’ve been influenced by in your own life and writing?

So many! As a kid, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit first turned me into a fantasy fan, supplemented when I was a teen by other fabulous fantasy novels by Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, and Nalo Hopkinson. As an adult, Hilary McKay’s Casson Family series was what first convinced me to try writing middle grade fiction. Some of the MG books I’ve loved recently include Sophie Kirtley’s The Wild Way Home, Clare Weze’s The Lightning Catcher, and Maria Kuzniar’s The Ship of Shadows.

What do you love most about middle grade fiction?

I love the true sense of wonder in middle grade fantasy. When I’m writing it, I get to really luxuriate in the sheer coolness and beauty of what real magic might feel like!

Do you see anything of yourself in Cordelia, your protagonist?

We both love nature, and we’re both deeply loyal to our families. She is far wilder and more fun than I am, though!

If you could turn into any animal with magic, what would it be?

I’d love to be a cat, prowling around gracefully, making impossibly high leaps, and basking in the sunshine.

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

Magic, family, danger!

Stephanie Burgis lives in Wales with her husband, their two sons, and their tabby cat, surrounded by mountains and castles. She writes fun MG fantasy adventures, most recently The Raven Heir and the Dragon with a Chocolate Heart trilogy. She has also had over forty short stories for adults and teens published in various magazines and anthologies. To find out more (and read excerpts from her books), please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with children’s author Sam Thompson

PaperBound caught up with author Sam Thompson to chat about his first book for children, Wolfstongue.

Could you tell us a little bit about your novel, Wolfstongue?

It’s the story of a boy called Silas who is bullied at school because he has speech difficulties and is very quiet. One day he meets an injured wolf, and discovers a hidden world called the Forest where animals can speak. A struggle is going on between the wolves and the foxes: the foxes’ leader, Reynard, controls everything with his clever talk, and has turned the wolves into slaves in his underground city. Silas wants to help his wolf friends escape from the foxes, but to do this he will have to face his own struggle with words.

Readers may recognise some of the names in Wolfstongue from Reynard the Fox stories. Can you tell us a little bit about how you were inspired by these, and share any other inspirations behind the book?

Reynard the Fox has appeared in many different stories over hundreds of years, including a cycle of medieval European fables which were my main inspiration. Reynard is a trickster — a bit like Loki, Anansi or Br’er Rabbit — who is always getting himself in and out of trouble with his clever schemes, and he invariably gets the better of his rival Isengrim the Wolf. One reason I wanted to write a Reynard and Isengrim story was that I sympathised with poor old Isengrim, and I felt he deserved to be more than just the victim of the cunning fox! Further inspiration came from all the books I’ve read and loved about children going into hidden worlds, from Alan Garner’s Elidor to China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. And I took lessons in language from books like Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline – writing that is so clear and simple that it feels like myth. I hope Wolfstongue has some of that spirit.

This is your first novel for young people. We’d love to know what came first: did you always plan to write something for this age group, or did the idea for Wolfstongue come first?

Actually what came first was my own young people. When my children got big enough for me to read them books with chapters, I rediscovered a lot of childhood reading that I hadn’t thought about in a long time, and in turn that got me inspired to write: I find writing usually follows from reading in that way. And then the idea for Wolfstongue came together when one of my children was having trouble with his speech. I found words difficult when I was small, and really I still do; I wanted to give my son a story about the power and danger of words, and how we get to grips with them.

Wolfstongue has been described as a fable, with references to the relationship between humans and the natural world, and to some of the more troubling times in our past/present. How did you decide what to include, and what do you hope readers take from the novel?

I didn’t really have to decide what to include, because the story led the way. Once I had the wolves and the foxes and what happened between them, the other ideas flowed in. I do hope the book gives readers a way of thinking about how humans relate to the world beyond ourselves, and how we might use our language to speak respectfully on behalf of things that are silent.

Are you writing, or planning to write, anything new for this age group?

I’m working on a sequel to Wolfstongue, provisionally titled The Fox’s Tower. I’m feeling very excited about it and would love to tell you all about the story, but I’d better keep it to myself! Writing a sequel is rewarding because it lets me dig deeper into parts of the story that I only began to uncover in the first book.

If you could pass on a writing tip to an aspiring young writer, what would it be?

If you’re like me, you started writing for the joy of it. Then, when you got serious about writing, it turned out to be very difficult. Joyful and difficult: it’s okay for writing to be both.

What are your top book recommendations for young people today?

I would recommend omnivorous reading. The most wonderful thing about being a young reader is that you can read anything and everything – read adventurously and ravenously and discover for yourself what you love. My best memories as a young reader are memories of investigating the shelves in my local library, taking down whatever looked intriguing: books I’d never heard of, books I didn’t understand, books that seemed strange or scary or like they weren’t meant for me. It’s all yours to explore.

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

Fox, Wolf, Child.

Sam Thompson grew up in the south of England and now lives in Belfast. He is the author of the novels Communion Town and Jott, and his short fiction has appeared in Best British Short Stories 2019 and on BBC Radio 4. He teaches writing at Queen’s University, Belfast. Wolfstongue is his first novel for children, published in May 2021 by Little Island Books.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with YA author Clare Owen

We chatted with author Clare Owen recently all about her new YA novel, Zed and the Cormorants.

Can you tell us a little about your novel, Zed and the Cormorants? What made you want to write it?

It’s a story of a young girl who moves from London to Cornwall. Zed’s dad is convinced that a fresh start and a simpler lifestyle will improve the family’s life – he even gives up his job to start an artisanal bakery – but Zed is riddled with anxiety about starting a new school and becomes increasingly convinced that she’s under attack from a flock of cormorants who live in the woods near her home.

 It’s got ghosts, mythology, romance, Cornish history, baking, environmental issues and bucket loads of teenage angst!

The inspiration came when I was walking my dogs and I saw two cormorants on the sand banks, and it struck me how poised but also how sinister they looked!  I went home, began to research them and learned how adaptable they are – they’ve been around since the dinosaurs and live in all parts of the world – but also how often they feature in mythology and literature. I’d been playing around with the idea of writing a story about a young girl struggling with anxiety, but the cormorants wouldn’t go away.  In my mind they stretched out their wings, and said, ‘If we’re good enough for The Bible, The Odyssey, Shakespeare and Milton, don’t you think you should give us a look in?’

Zed and the Cormorants is steeped in mystery, family and centres around a haunting love story that spurs on the entire book. Did you know what you wanted to include from the start, and did anything change through the course of writing it?

I knew I wanted to explore anxiety, loneliness and the oblique ways that we find to face difficult emotions and overcome them. Love needed to be a part of this: the fear of never finding it and the fear of finding it and having it taken away. I also wanted Zed to have a loving family – for that never to be an issue – but for them all to be real, flawed and struggling themselves, so they aren’t always able to give her the support that she needs.  The question was how to combine this very ‘real’ story with the more fanciful elements; how to introduce all the mythology, ways of communicating with the birds and the possibilities for making a truce. And that was where Denzil (a young man who sometimes sleeps rough in the woods) came in.  Once I’d got to grips with who he was – his particular challenges and coping strategies – then he became a kind of bridge between the two worlds. 

This book has themes of mental health, parental illness, loss, and new beginnings. Can you tell us a little about why you felt these themes were important to include? Were any difficult to write about?

All these things are part of our lives and as such they should be written about in literature for any age. The joy of writing YA is that you can tackle them head on, with characters who are hungry to learn about the world, open to self-discovery and their feelings are usually pretty close to the surface.  I didn’t find those bits hard to write, in some ways they were the easiest because they needed the least imaginative input.

Your writinghas been described as ‘Daphne Du Maurier for the 21st century’. Do you find your writing has been influenced by gothic style?

It’s funny, I never set out to write a gothic book and didn’t think I was drawn to the gothic style! I’ve never ever read Frankenstein or Dracula, and it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve read Poe’s The Raven and du Maurier’s The Birds.  But, of course, Zed is gothic – it has mystery, suspense, foreshadowing, the supernatural and overwrought emotions. And I’ve always loved the Brontës, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and they are all about wild landscapes, hidden secrets, haunted buildings and passionate, intense love affairs.

The setting and landscape plays such a key role in this book. Did you ever think about setting it anywhere else?

No, right from the start it was always set in a particular wood near my home.  Partly because it’s where I first saw the birds that inspired the story, but also because although it’s specifically a story about a girl at war with a flock of cormorants – why they are seeking revenge and how she can make amends – it’s also about someone being forced to engage with the natural for the very first time and what they gain from that.  I needed a setting that would be alien and isolating to a city girl but also offers her headspace and access to wildlife, so that she can learn to live in harmony with it and at the same time find some peace within herself.

What’s next for you and your writing? Are there any more books on the horizon?

Last year I wrote a lot of short stories and now I’m working on a novel for adults. I’ve had to do a lot of research trips on Google Earth which has slowed me down a bit and isn’t half as much fun as spending the day away from your desk: drinking lots of coffee and lots eating lots of cake to fuel hours and hours of hours of walking round locations that may or may not be used. 

What are your top 3 tips for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. As much as possible and as widely as possible and when you like something – whether it’s a description, a punchy bit of dialogue or even just the rhythm of a sentence, copy it down somewhere.  I put it in Notes on my phone.  Then when you lack inspiration, you can just dip into it and you’ll get all fired up again.

Be nosey. I don’t just mean listening to other people’s conversations (although I do this a lot, I’m afraid!) but also follow your nose. Be curious. Most of us have the internet at our fingertips, so use it.  If you have a phone, don’t just use it to scroll through social media, but use it to investigate things. Any number of questions can be answered in a ten-minute bus ride, and those questions can lead to any number of ‘what ifs’ which can lead to any number of stories.

‘Write with the handbrake off’!  I don’t know who said this, but I put it in block capitals somewhere prominent when I start any new writing project.  It’s really just a mantra to push you to the end of the first draft – because that for me is always the hardest bit.  Once you have a first draft then everything slows down, and you can spend as long as you like fiddling with one paragraph!

What are your top YA book recommendations for young people today?

I think every teenager (and probably every adult) should read All the Places I’ve Cried in Public (Holly Bourne) as it explores how easy it is to get into a toxic relationship and how painful it is to get out.

The Space Between (Meg Grehan) – a tender, lyrical novel in verse about mental anguish and coming out.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson. It isn’t marketed as YA, but it explores the dark relationship between two teenage sisters.  It’s beautifully written but very disturbing and not for the faint-hearted!

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

‘The-Birds meets Bake-off’ (ha.. that’s really cheating isn’t it?)

After working as an actor in London – performing in venues that ranged from The National Theatre to the boot of a Ford Fiesta – Clare married a boat builder and moved to Cornwall. Her short stories have been published by Mslexia, Storgy, Litro & Fairlight and in the anthology An Outbreak of Peace.  Zed and the Cormorants (Arachne Press) is her first YA novel. 

You can keep up to date with Clare by visiting her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Zed and the Cormorants is available now and published by Arachne Press.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Covers

Winning Illustration – Summer 2021

We fell in love with the illustration Elizabeth Cowling submitted to PaperBound Magazine recently. We loved it so much we decided to use it as the front cover of our Summer 2021 issue, which you can read in full here.

Elizabeth also illustrated our jam packed contents page, as well as the cover design.

Find out more …

London born, Elizabeth Cowling is an illustrator who specialises in colourful home and character illustrations. When she’s not busy working on her ideas she
spends time reading comics, playing video games and chatting with her chatty cat Rosie.

You can discover more about Elizabeth by visiting her website.

Bookshelf

Summer Bookshelf

Our summer bookshelf is full of book recommendations set during the heat of summer for you to enjoy, from middle grade and graphic novels to YA. These are just a few of our favourites. Are there any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.

You can also see this page and lots more recommendations in our Summer 2021 issue, which can be found here.

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Interviews

Interview with children’s author Struan Murray

Rebecca Perkin caught up with Struan Murray to chat about his writing and his Orphans of the Tide book series. You can catch the interview in the full magazine by clicking here and scrolling down to our Spring 2021 issue.

Struan Murray

When a mystery boy washes in with the tide, the citizens believe he’s the Enemy – the god who drowned the world – come again to cause untold chaos.

Struan Murray grew up in Edinburgh and has a PhD in genetics and is a lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Oxford. And now, following his success with the Bath Children’s Novel Award, he is the debut author of fantasy adventure Orphans of the Tide. If you’re a fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, then Orphans of the Tide is a must read. Children and adults alike will find themselves caught up in Murray’s dark and mysterious word, left wanting more when they reach the end. Thank goodness there’s a sequel!

After enjoying a very interesting and insightful video call with Struan through my writing group, I was thrilled when he accepted my invitation of an interview. I asked him ten questions about himself and his debut.

Orphans of the Tide has a lot of themes around trust, family and grief. What was the hardest scene to write?

To be honest, the emotional scenes are usually the ones I find easiest – it’s not hard to get into the heads of characters when everything’s emotionally turbulent. The hardest parts were more technical – there are a lot of rules surrounding the magical element of this book and it was a challenge at times to find ways to weave in the necessary backstory in a way that was organic, without overloading the reader or giving away too much too soon.

Ellie and Anna are two strong independent female characters. What is the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?

I think it’s important for me to be mindful when writing female characters to avoid the dangers of the unintentional male gaze and be really thoughtful about expressing the integrity of someone with a different gender from me.

Aside from the follow up to Orphans of the Tide, Shipwreck Island, what other works do you have in the pipeline?

Currently I’m working on the third (and possibly final!) book in the Orphans of the Tide trilogy. So many of my previous (unpublished) projects were the first books of planned trilogies, so it is a strange and wonderful thing to finally be able to finish one.

Could you see Orphans of the Tide as a film and if so who would you like to see playing Ellie?

I definitely could – in fact whenever I’m writing a scene at least a part of my brain is imagining how it would be filmed. I’m a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, and often dream about how my novel would look in that style. As for actors, I haven’t thought much about the child characters but think Tom Hardy would do a great job of the brooding, fanatical Inquisitor Hargrath, while Chiwetel Ejiofor would be perfect as Castion, the kindly, charismatic whale lord.

If you were to rewrite Orphans of the Tide is there anything you would do differently?

If I’m honest, I haven’t really looked back through the novel since it was published. There are certain aspects of the world that I would have liked to bring out more (the politics of the City, the rivalries between different whale lords), but I think that would be more for me, because they were important considerations in creating the world, but would have slowed the pace of the story.

As an author myself, I like to hide things in my books that only a handful of people might pick up on. For example, a door code being your birth date. Do you hide any secrets in your books?

I named a few (very minor) characters after a few of my (very minor) friends. They haven’t been nearly as grateful enough.

Has a book ever made you cry, and if so what was it?

I remember crying at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (spoiler alert) when Dumbledore died. Occasionally I have cried while rereading my own stuff but that’s more from exhaustion than the quality of the writing.

What is your writing kryptonite?

I sometimes get bored describing character’s physical/emotional reactions to things and usually just put an asterisk for future Struan to deal with. When he comes across them he *

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be? Related or unrelated to writing.

I think I’ve spent an awful lot of my writing life questioning whether I am ‘worthy’ of being a writer, instead of just writing. This is an entirely pointless exercise – if you have made the effort to sit down to try making up a story, then you are a writer.

And, finally, if you could write anywhere, where would it be? Real or imaginary?

A big, big library full of books and comfy chairs and spiral staircases that lead to nowhere.

Thanks so much to Struan for this ten question insight into his debut novel and world of writing.

You can visit Struan’s official website to keep up to date with all his latest news and books. Orphans of the Tide is published by Puffin Books and OUT NOW. The follow up to Orphans of the Tide, Shipwreck Island was released on 4th March 2021.

Interview by Rebecca Perkin.

Rebecca Perkin is a YA fantasy and sci-fi author from Surrey. Being an avid reader from a young age, Rebecca always loved escaping to other worlds. Her passion for writing comes from the freedom it gives someone to live out another life. She has written five novels to date, and is currently working on Half Undone, a YA Speculative fiction all about secrets, memories and what it means to be human.

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