Blog, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Lucy Hope

To celebrate the launch of Fledgling by Lucy Hope, we are excited to share our interview with her from Anne Manson, available in the latest issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about the inspiration behind Fledgling, a dark, gothic middle grade adventure set in the bavarian forest.

Anne: Fledgling is set in the past—a kind of surreal past. What came to you first? Setting? Character? 

Lucy: The setting definitely came first, and partly came from my experience of growing up in an ancient house in North Wales. I’ve always loved the look and feel of faded grandeur, dusty bookshelves, and buildings that take on their own character due to their age, and was keen to build these things into the setting for Fledgling.  

Fledgling actually began as an exercise on the MA (Bath Spa University MAWYP). Inspired by David Almond’s Skellig, I created an alternative world with a cherub instead of Almond’s angel. I decided to set it in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps as I love how the little towns there are often dominated by huge rocks, easily large enough to hold a house – and high enough for a passing cherub to find its way into! I started by writing 1200 words. And then the story just came to me—the setting, the atmosphere, the mother, the father, the hint of steam punk—over many, many sleepless nights. The characters came one by one and their voices were just there in my head, as if they already existed, so I didn’t have to try too hard to find them. 

Anne: The house feels a bit like a character on its own, and also a representation of the family generations that came before Cassie, your heroine.  

Lucy: Yes. When you grow up in an old house, you do feel a sense of the generations that lived there before you. My family house had chests full of unusual things and Edwardian dresses that would crumble under your fingertips as soon as you took them out. That was part of my childhood and part of my teenage years. I had a great uncle in North Wales whose mountainside house also inspired the setting for Fledgling. There was no road going to it so he used to take his own steam train along the Ffestiniog Railway to his private platform above the house. As an ex-army officer, he had a dynamite license, and managed to get permission to blow up a driveway that zigzagged up the mountainside, and that’s how we used to get to his house. Driving through its hairpin bends was quite a terrifying experience! 

Anne: You’ve really piqued my curiosity about your family. Are there cherubs in your family? You have to tell us. 

Lucy (laughs): I haven’t found any cherubs yet. We didn’t have neighbours growing up and I lived inside my head a lot as a result. To have had my own cherub would have been amazing! 

Anne: What part of the book was hardest to write?  

Lucy: I would say the middle. The strange thing about the book is, as I was writing it, I really didn’t know what was happening. I was entirely in Cassie’s shoes, wondering what was going on. Things were happening around her, but what was the root cause of it all? Because it’s written in the first person, she couldn’t see beyond that, and I couldn’t either, which was a strange situation to be in, and quite scary. What would happen if I didn’t find my way through this? But I think you have these moments when you’re writing, and you take some time away to sit and think, and you realise: Ah! That’s what’s going on. Then, all the other things you’ve written tie together, and you think, how did that happen? I’m constantly mystified by the process of writing because I’m not a plotter. I always get that feeling of having to make myself sit and write and coming away having not entirely enjoyed the process. But then you get through it, and that’s when the joy comes.  And I love editing! For me, writing is a journey of discovery with some nice and some tricky surprises. 

Anne: Do you have a writing routine? 

Lucy: No. My writing routine normally means circling the house like a dog waiting to settle down, going to the fridge, finding a snack, having cups of tea, thinking, I just need to pop out and do that thing. So, I’m pretty awful at getting started. I would love to have more of a routine. 

Anne: Have you thought about a sequel for Fledgling? 

Lucy: I’d love to write one. It might sound strange, but I just love being in that world. It’s a very happy place for me to be; it feels like home. I think the setting of your first novel is a place that you hold in your heart. And I think that’s why everyone’s first novel is the book of their heart.  

Lucy Hope grew up in North Wales, but now lives in the Cotswolds. After jobs ranging from designing websites to working in schools, she did a master’s degree in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Lucy loves exploring the countryside with her husband and big, shaggy dog, Bronte, or can be found trundling around the UK in her Bongo camper van, seeking out ideas for her next story. Like most writers, when she’s not actually writing, she loves eating cake (lemon drizzle or chocolate brownies in case you were wondering), sipping coffee and chatting to friends about all things books and writing.

Fledgling is published on 4th November by Nosy Crow and available at all good bookshops.

Anne Manson recently won a City Writes competition for her short story, “Bones”. She is working on her second novel, The Girl with the Hole in her Heart, a MG fantasy about a stolen pen, a lidless eye, and a mysterious Clockwork Artificer. She has published two short stories in PaperBound magazine, “Winter” and “Happy Day” and has a Masters in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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.

Blog, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Lesley Parr

We are delighted to share our interview with children’s writer Lesley Parr, author of The Valley of Lost Secrets, on the featured content section of our website. Join us as we chat to Lesley all about her writing, inspiration for her books, and what you can expect from her next.

You can catch the full interview here in our spooky issue of PaperBound – all our issues are completely free!

Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Valley of Lost Secrets, and what inspired you to write it? 

It all came from a writing task when I studied for a Master’s Degree at Bath Spa University. We were asked to write a short historical piece. When previously researching a different story, I discovered the true account of children finding a skull in a tree. So I used that as a starting point for my own characters, setting and mystery.  

How did it feel to put yourself into the shoes of your main character, Jimmy, while writing this book, and why did you decide to set it during wartime? 

I found it surprisingly easy to write from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy! I only realised after I’d written it just how much of me is in Jimmy. His loyalty to his dad and nan, his resistance to change, his love of comics, his fear of small spaces is all me!  

Oddly, I didn’t ever see myself writing historical fiction, even though I’ve always been interested in history. This whole book came from the chance to try a new genre. Once I’d started, I knew it was a story I wanted to tell.  

Your main characters go through a lot of change and emotional challenges in this book. What was the hardest part of writing it?  

The emotional stuff isn’t what I found difficult – my writing is very character-led and how they feel and what they think pulled me through the story. It’s pace and structure I found hard. The skills of my tutors and my editor got me through that! But that’s okay – my husband calls it Writing Top Trumps…I have accepted that no one can have a 10 in every category. And it’s great because I’m learning with each new book. 

The landscape is a big part of this book and Jimmy reacts to it strongly – particularly where he’s from, and where he is evacuated to. Did you always want to use setting as a strong driving force for this novel? 

I didn’t plan to, I don’t plan much to be honest! I need to write to get a feel for all aspects of my stories. I suppose the setting was bound to come alive for me (and therefore hopefully the reader) as it’s what I know – a small, close-knit Welsh valley community. Because it’s all so alien to Jimmy I was able to show it through his eyes and take the reader there with him. In one scene, Jimmy is on the mountain with his new friend Florence (another evacuee): 

‘I love being so high,’ she says, looking out over the valley. ‘I’ve never seen anywhere as lovely as this.’  

And Jimmy says he tries to see what Florence sees. This is perhaps the first sign he’s beginning to want to be there. 

Are there any writers that have inspired you in your writing and life? 

David Almond is always an inspiration as he writes so beautifully about working-class characters in working-class settings. He was a professor on the MA for which I studied and it took me about three times of meeting him to be able to have a conversation because I was in awe! And I love books by Patrick Ness; like David, he writes with such simplicity to show real heart and grit. Emma Carroll is someone else I admire, as she proves historical fiction can be authentic to its era and feel fresh at the same time.  

If you could share one writing tip with an aspiring young writer, what would it be? 

The simplest words are usually the best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overwriting when you’re new to it (I definitely used to). Writing in 1st-person from the point of view of a 12-year-old, I often have to simplify my language. So I tend to use a thesaurus in the opposite way to how people usually do. I think of a word and look it up to find one a child would be more likely to use. This is especially important in dialogue. Think about how people really speak! Adult characters, too! 

Sum your book up in three words:  

Friendship 

Brotherhood 

Secrets 

Can you tell us about anything else you’re working on?  

My next book is called When The War Came Home (out January 2022) is about a girl called Natty who, with her  mother, moves to  live with distant relatives. It’s set in the early 1920s when the world was still reeling from the Great War. It’s about boys who lied about their age to go to war and how Natty helps them. And it’s about how she learns to fight for something. It’s quite political. 

Lesley Parr grew up in South Wales, at the bottom of a valley and quite near a seaside steelworks. Now she lives in the middle of England (almost as far from the sea as it’s possible to get) with her husband and their rescue cat, Angharad.

She shares her time between writing stories, teaching at a primary school and tutoring adults. Apart from books, rugby union is her favourite thing in the world, especially if Wales is winning. Lesley graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing for Young People. The Valley of Lost Secrets is her first book.

The Valley of Lost Secrets was released in January 2021, published by Bloomsbury Children’s, and available in the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand. You can keep up to date with Lesley on Twitter, Instagram and on her website.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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

Blog, Interviews

Interview with YA author Julia Tuffs

PaperBound caught up with YA author Julia Tuffs to chat all about her debut novel, HEXED! Join us as we discover more about Julia’s writing, her top current reads, and how she came up with the idea for HEXED.

You can catch the full interview and all other issues of PaperBound FREE here.

Can you tell us a little about your novel, Hexed

Hexed is about Jessie Jones; new girl, witch and accidental activist. Jessie’s life is turned upside down when her mum suddenly moves the family back to her home town on the Isle of Wight. All Jessie wants to do is fade into the background, coast and avoid the attention of school douchebag Callum Henderson and his toxic cronies, but when strange and uncontrollable magical powers start to manifest during her period, flying under the radar becomes impossible. Hexed is about finding your place and your power and learning to love your differences. 

Your novel deals with important and timely themes, such as sexism and toxic masculinity, and easily puts the reader in Jessie’s shoes. What inspired you to write about these issues? 

Donald Trump – amongst other things! It was really painful to watch as someone who had boasted about grabbing women’s genitals was elected president and it was a moment in time that highlighted how little society values women and women’s rights. I wanted to write something that looked at how ingrained it is in all aspects of society – our schools, our media, our courts, our government – but I wanted it to be relatable and focus on what all girls experience and are forced to navigate through on a day to day basis. 

These themes are woven into a story about witchcraft. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to combine these two things? 

I was thinking about the recent surge in our reproductive rights being threatened and all the ways men in power try to control women and women’s bodies (Britney, how can we help?!) and that led me to the witch trials; the way women were strip searched for Devil’s marks and how anyone single or widowed could be suspected and tried. Even today, like hundreds of years ago, if women don’t fit into a prescribed box – if we dare to be angry or outspoken or stray out of our lane – we’re labelled and shamed. I found the parallel interesting (and terrifying) and I loved the idea of that which makes us different actually making us stronger – which is how the period witch idea came about – wearing a super plus but being able to magic up your dinner and punish nasty boys! 

The setting of Hexed is vividly portrayed. Did you always plan on setting it on the Isle of Wight? What was it about this setting that you were drawn to? 

I love the Isle of Wight! My husband is from the Island and we lived there for a few years when our children were small. It’s such a unique setting – beautiful in places, 1950s seaside in other places, removed from the mainland and with a population that doubles over the summer. I wanted to explore how someone would feel moving there from a big city, especially if that person was trying so desperately hard to be invisible – which is basically impossible in a small town setting where everyone knows everyone and it’s harder to escape! I also loved the idea of being on Jessie’s journey with her as she falls in love with the Island and begins to appreciate how special it is.   

Can you sum up your novel in 3 words? 

Funny, feisty, feminist. 

What’s the one thing you’d wished you’d known before becoming a writer? 

That it’s a rollercoaster of emotions and A LOT of waiting – waiting for edits, waiting for news, waiting until you’re allowed to announce news, waiting for publication day… 

What are your top reads from the last year (MG or YA), and why? 

Oooh, this is hard – there have been so many good books! For YA, I’d say The Yearbook by Holly Bourne which is in her typical style of being frank and funny whilst also dealing with serious issues and Afterlove by Tanya Byrne which is a gorgeous and heartbreaking love story.  

After a brief (but fun) stint working in television and as a primary school teacher, Julia decided to take her writing dreams more seriously. She lives in South-West London with her family and ragdoll cats (Billy and Nora) and spends her time writing, reading, dreaming of holidays and watching too much reality TV. She aims to write the kinds of books that shaped and inspired her as a teenager. HEXED is her debut novelYou can keep up to date with Julia on Twitter, Instagram and by visiting her website.

HEXED was released in July 2021 by Hachette. It is available NOW in the UK and Australia. 

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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. 

Blog, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Joanna Nadin

We were thrilled to catch up with children’s author Joanna Nadin in the latest issue of PaperBound. Join us as we chat to her about her latest novel, No Man’s Land, and discover more about her books, characters, and writing tips.

You can read our interview with Joanna here, or in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine on our issues page.

Can you tell us about your new novel, No Man’s Land, and a little about what inspired it? 

No Man’s Land tells the story of a new version of England – Albion, run by a far right-wing government – and two boys, ten-year-old Alan and five-year-old Sam, who, a matter of weeks away from World War 3, are secretly evacuated from Bristol (now Brigstowe) to a women’s commune on the Tamar estuary between Devon and Cornwall – the eponymous No Man’s Land. What follows is Alan’s narrative as he tries at first to get used to a wilder life, then, when his Dad doesn’t show up, resolves to escape to rescue him, Sam in tow. It was written in a state of rage on the back of Donald Trump’s increasing abuse of power, and the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Trump has, thankfully, gone. But our world still feels apocalyptian at times.  

No Man’s Land mimics our own current political climate and doesn’t shy away from a future Britain changed for the worse, not the better. It’s easy to empathise with Alan’s frustration of adults not telling him what was happening. Do you think we don’t give kids enough credit for how much they observe the world around them?  

They hear and see so much – more, sometimes, than we do – and of course they realise what’s happening. That’s why we need to talk about it – to reassure them that despite the mess of the world, there is always hope.  

There are so many interesting characters in No Man’s Land. One of our favourite characters is Dad. Do you have a favourite supporting character, and if so, why? 

Dad is a favourite of mine as well. He’s modelled on the actor Joe Gilgun (I cast all my novels, so I can see the characters move and hear them speak better), whom I’ve always found mesmerising on screen – funny and moving too. My top favourite though Ahmed, who’s only in it for a short time, but who is bold and caring, and a great friend to Alan.  

The book ends in a way that people might not expect. Did you plan for it to end this way (without spoilers)?  

I did. I don’t start writing a book without knowing exactly where it will end up, so I’d plotted out the final chapter before I’d started the first. I knew I wanted it to be realistic, as opposed to a classic happy ending, but offer hope as well.  

How do you hope readers will respond to No Man’s Land

I hope readers will recognise some of what’s going on in the world around us at the moment, and where we could end up if we don’t make some changes. Most importantly, I hope they’ll find some courage within themselves to realise they can help make that change. No one hero or heroine is ever going to save the world – too many books tell us that. In No Man’s Land, as in real life, only by working together can we change things.  

Can you sum up your book in three words?  

Funny. Scary. Moving.  

Along with being an author, you also teach creative writing. Do you feel your writing has improved/ developed through teaching? What would be your biggest tip for any aspiring young writers out there? 

Of course. I learn so much from working with other, often hugely talented, writers, many of whom have gone on to be published. In fact, No Man’s Land was partially inspired after a class working on voice in middle-grade novels. My biggest tip is: read. If you read enough, you begin to absorb how story works. You’d be amazed at how many students think they can get away with not reading. It’s like a violinist imagining they can learn to play without ever listening to anyone else. On which note, practise as well. Writing is no different to violin here either, or sport. The more you do it, the better you get at it, so write every day, even if it’s a diary, even if it’s only a paragraph. Slowly it will become more of a muscle memory and you’ll find the right words leaping to your fingertips all of a sudden.  

 Joanna Nadin is the author of more than eighty books for children, teenagers and adults, including the bestselling Flying Fergus series with Sir Chris Hoy, the award-winning Worst Class in the World series, and the acclaimed YA novel Joe All Alone, which is now a BAFTA-winning BBC drama. She lives in Bath, and teaches at University of Bristol. You can keep up to date with her on Twitter and Instagram.

No Man’s Land is published by UCLan, available NOW!

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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. 

Blog, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Hannah Gold

Children’s author Hannah Gold chats to us about her debut novel, The Last Bear, and the inspiration behind it. You can read the interview here, or in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine by visiting our issues page.

Could you tell us a little about your novel, The Last Bear

The Last Bear is the story of 11-year-old April who accompanies her scientist father to a remote Arctic island. There are supposedly no polar bears left but one endless summer’s night April spots something distinctly bear-shaped loping across the horizon. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, so begins the most important journey of April’s life.  

HarperCollins (my wonderful publisher) describe it as a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for the environment and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s. I always love that last line! 

The Last Bear deals with important issues that are very relevant right now and close to a lot of people’s hearts. Could you share a little about what inspired you to write it, and what you hope readers take from it? 

The Last Bear is a book very close to my heart and is basically about everything I love most in the world – nature, the planet and that unique, instinctive bond that especially exists between children and animals.  

Although, it’s first and foremost an adventure story, there is a very important environmental message to the book – and this reflects my values and my own attempts to live as greenly as possible. I set the book on a real-life Arctic Island called Bear Island – so-called because of the polar bears which once lived there. But these days, because of the melting ice-caps polar bears can no longer reach the island which bears their name. Once I discovered this – there really was only one story to tell – and that was April’s desperate quest to take Bear home. 

Many teachers have already used the book in the classroom to showcase the dramatic loss of sea-ice in the Arctic and how this is impacting the polar bear population. This just makes my heart sing because one of my primary goals behind The Last Bear has always been to empower our children to find their roar and know that no-one is too small to make a difference.  

But it’s not just a book for the classroom. There’s a line in the book which a lot of readers seem to pick up on. It’s when April challenges someone who is questioning what impact she, as a little girl, can make. She replies: “But imagine if every person on the planet just did one single thing.” 

And yes, imagine if everyone reading the book made one positive ecological change to their lives? I wanted to write a book with hope. A book that would inspire change. That would encourage children and grown-ups to realise it’s not too late. We don’t have to sit and wait for someone else to make change – we can be that change first. 

Your book is beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold. What was it like working with an illustrator to bring your story to life?  

In truth, I didn’t have that much direct involvement with him! The art designer is the one who mainly communicates with the illustrator and decides what art the book is going to have and where any illustrations sit within the text. I was shown a rough copy and gave feedback but they were so stunning, there really wasn’t much to say other than just gasp. Levi has perfectly captured the bare, sweeping Arctic landscape, but at the same time the heartfelt bond between April and Bear. 

For me, this was a book written with love and it feels like it’s been illustrated with an equal amount of love too. And when I peel off the jacket to reveal the gold bear underneath, there are always gasps! 

The Last Bear has been likened to books by Philip Pullman and Michael Morpurgo. How does it feel to hear comparisons like these? And, are there any writers that have inspired you in your writing and life? 

If I’m really honest, I only think I was compared to Philip Pullman because we both have polar bears on the front cover!  

Although I am a massive Dark Materials fan, if I had one author hero, it’s definitely Michael Morpurgo. The themes he covers in his books – such as nature, helping animals, and our bond with animals – are those which deeply resonate with me. When I signed my deal with HarperCollins Children’s Books (who also publish him) I mentioned how much I admired his writing.  

Fast forward a few months and they asked me if there was anyone they would like me to approach to endorse the book? Obviously there is never any guarantee but straight away I said that I would LOVE Michael Morpurgo. Things went very quiet and I put it out of my head, thinking he would be too busy . . . until one Friday afternoon I received an email from my editor with the subject header: Endorsement. 

It was the best start to a weekend ever. 

To be honest, I still feel like such a newbie that to be mentioned in the same breath as him in various reviews actually makes me laugh. I can only hope my career has his longevity and that readers still embrace my 50th book just as much as they have this one.  

If you could share one writing tip with an aspiring young writer, what would it be? 

It took me a LONG time to get my breakthrough, so don’t be hard on yourself if your earlier effects don’t gain much traction. It’s a process rather than a race. Also don’t be self-conscious or worry too much about how good or bad you are. When we worry too much about our writing and what anyone else might think of it, we are thinking too much about other people’s opinions or judgement of us. But writing, first and foremost, is about finding some spark of joy for ourselves and that’s never been more important than now. 

Sum your book up in three words:  

Courage, heart and adventure! 

Can you tell us about anything else you’re working on?  

I am on a 2-book deal with HarperCollins so I am currently editing my second book. I can’t reveal too much about it other than it features another very large wild animal! 

What other books for young people have you enjoyed recently? 

Too many to mention as I really think we are in a golden age of children’s literature right now – but ones which immediately spring to mind are Starboard by Nicola Skinner, The Swallow’s Flight by Hilary McKay, and I LOVED Boy, Everywhere by A.M Dassau. 

Hannah Goldgrew up in a family where books, animals, and the beauty of the outside world were ever present, and is passionate about writing stories that share her love of the planet. She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat, and her husband and, when not writing, is busy hunting for her next big animal story as well as practicing her roar. The Last Bear is her debut novel.You can keep up with Hannah on TwitterInstagram and Facebook, or by visiting her website.

The Last Bear was released in the US on the 2nd Feb and in the UK on the 18th February, published by HarperCollins Children’s. It will be coming out in various other countries in 2022.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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. 

Blog, Interviews

Interview with author Philip Womack

We caught up with author Philip Womack to talk about his latest novel, Wildlord, in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine.

Philip Womack Wildlord book cover

Could you tell us a little about your new novel, Wildlord?

WIldlord is about a teenage boy, Tom, whose long lost uncle invites him to stay with him on a farm in Suffolk. He’s stuck at his boarding school for the summer, and so decides to escape without telling anyone. But when he turns up, he finds some very mysterious things going on, and discovers that the farm is menaced by various strange forces, known as the Samdhya – and the people inside the farm are pretty weird too, including a silver-haired boy called Kit, and an enigmatic girl called Zita. It’s a fantasy novel with some elements of time travel to it.

Wildlord is set in a different time period to many of your previous novels, and is aimed at teen readers. What inspired you to tell this story, and what do you hope readers take from it?

I’ve always loved folklore and fairy tales, and been fascinated by the idea of the Sidhe, or the Good Folk – the many names for fairies we have in these islands. They’re quite strongly associated with mounds, and of course they can’t cross running water or abide iron. In Suffolk, where I spend quite a lot of time, there are plenty of houses (even small ones) with moats – and when I saw this, of course my natural conclusion was that they must have been put there to stop the Good Folk getting in. From there it was a short step to thinking about why they were being prevented from coming in – and from that came Wildlord. I have written novels in the past which are set in the present day – my first novel, The Other Book, was set in a country prep school; my second, The Liberators, was in London post-financial crash; and The Darkening Path trilogy begins and ends in our world.

I don’t really think of time as linear – the past is all around us, and we are essentially in the future as we go about our daily lives. So I wanted to write something about time and how people think about it. I’m fascinated by history, and by all the moments that contrived to make each and every one of us who we are. Sometimes it’s dizzying to think of that chain of consequences.

It’s also about a teenager finding his own place in the world. I hope that readers will enjoy the setting and the story, and that it will make them think about our own place in history.

Can you sum up your novel in 3 words?

Mysterious, dark, hopeful.

Could you tell us a little about your writing journey, and why you decided to become a writer?

I think that as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. There’s something about the ability to create a story – a good, convincing story – that seems like magic. I swallowed down books as a child, indiscriminately, and I always wanted to know and understand how to write them. It’s an ongoing journey, of course – as a writer, I learn new things every time I sit down to write a sentence. I think it’s also something that, once started, is very difficult to give up, because you always want to go one better.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I’m thinking about possible angles for a sequel to Wildlord – we shall have to see. I had two books published in 2020, and it would be nice to see sequels for them too, in some form. I loved writing The Arrow of Apollo, which is set in the ancient world, and have enjoyed seeing its reception, so we shall have to see about that too.

Why do you think readers find fantasy so appealing? Are there any other fantasy books you would recommend for young people today?

Fantasy speaks to us in many ways. There’s a danger with realist fiction (which of course has its place) that it can be too specific and therefore date very quickly. With fantasy, you’re dealing with archetype, and metaphor, which means that it can console and inspire people in quite complicated and mysterious fashions. There’s escapism, of course; and then there’s dealing with our own world in a way that throws new light on it. Fantasy has been with us since we told stories. When you’re a child and you listen to fairy stories, you don’t think about them in terms of reality structures – you listen to them for deeper meanings that you can’t articulate yet. I’ve never been a fan of the kind of criticism that says, oh well, fairy tales are all about kings and princesses and are about power structures and so forth. That seems to miss the point – they’re stories in which people can imagine themselves as princes and princesses.

What are your three top tips for young aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. That’s number one. Read everything. Read things you don’t understand. Read them again when you’re older. Then read them once more. Read everything – poetry, prose, drama, non-fiction. Absorb things. Don’t be put off by people who tell you that things are complicated, or not for you. Just do it.

Write, write, write. I seriously mourn the loss of letter writing, with pens. It was such a nice and easy way to learn, subconsciously, how to tell a story. If you went to stay with a friend, you’d write a letter afterwards, and I soon learnt to tell a little anecdote. The fragmentation of most communication now, I think, is quite a worrying thing.

Turn off your computer and your phone. Yes, yes, I know it makes me sound like a fuddy duddy or a Luddite. But computers take up enormous amounts of your emotional and creative bandwith. They do things for you. There are computer programs now which try to anticipate what you are going to write. Take a pen and a piece of paper, and go and sit in a park or a café or on top of a bus, and note down what you see, hear, smell. Look at people. Fiction is ultimately about people.

Philip Womack is a British author and journalist, and his writing has appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Literary Review, and TLS. His books for children and teens include the fantasy trilogy The Darkening Path and The Arrow of Apollo. The non-fiction book How to Teach Classics to Your Dog was published in 2020.

You can keep up with Philip on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Wildlord was released in October 2021 and published by Little Island, available in the UK and Ireland.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine 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. 

Blog, Bookshelf

Spooky Bookshelf

Here, you can find our spooky themed bookshelf, as featured in our autumn 2021 issue, which has all kinds of haunting, atmospheric books perfect for the autumnal season. You can read even more spooky stories, author interviews and more in our latest issue by clicking here. 

PaperBound Magazine's Spooky Bookshelf

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.

© PaperBound Magazine

Blog, 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.

Blog, 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.

Blog, 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!