Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with YA author Maya MacGregor

We were thrilled to chat with YA author Maya MacGregor about their new novel The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester. Read the interview below, or in the latest issue of PaperBound here.

Can you tell us a little about your YA novel The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester? What a title! 

The title was actually the first thing that came to me in this novel—originally, Sam had literal past lives, all of whom died before nineteen. That was the impetus for the title, and that’s where the story and characters germinated. Sam’s “half-lived lives” morphed through the submission and editorial process to become their autistic special interest, stories Sam felt compelled to keep alive. 

Writing Sam was very personal in a lot of ways. It’s a book about a non-binary, autistic teen who has grown up in rural Montana with their single dad, and after a near-fatal queerphobic attack, they move to Astoria, Oregon to start fresh … and right into a home where one of the half-lived lives ended. 

With the help of their new friends and love interest, Sam sets out to find out what really happened to this boy, bringing them up against a real-life murderer who has been hiding in plain sight for thirty years. 

How much of your own experience did you draw from, as someone who is non-binary and autistic yourself, when creating Sam as a character? 

A lot! A lot of Sam’s experiences in rural Montana are drawn from my own (I lived there from 1996-2003), and that was heavily influenced by the fact that I’ve two mums, and things were very hostile towards LGBTQ people. I myself was deeply in the closet until I was almost thirty. 

I self-diagnosed with autism when I was in my late twenties and got my formal diagnosis at 36. A lot of writing Sam’s story was influenced by my own self-discovery and understanding the parts of myself that had made me different. I wanted to give Sam that self-knowledge earlier than I had it myself, almost as a way of giving a gift to my inner child. 

I think when it comes to my non-binary identity, as an agender person who dislikes a lot of the language around gender (I don’t feel as though I “present” femme—to me, I’m a person wearing people clothes), it can be hard for me sometimes to assert myself. People tend to make assumptions because I don’t bind my breasts, because I love makeup and glitter and dresses. So writing Sam required me to unpack a lot of the internal pressure I feel to be androgynous if I want to be “taken seriously” as a non-binary person. 

I still find that difficult. I have a very complex relationship with the word “woman” as it applies to myself, and I don’t think I was fully ready to write a character who was like me. Sam felt safer in that respect—they’re genderqueer, and their personal style does lend itself more to androgyny than mine. 

There are also a lot of interesting ways that gender and autism interact—autistics have coined the term “gendermeh” or “gendervague” to describe the fundamentally autistic experience of operating outwith [nb: Scottish usage, not a spelling error, heh] expectations for gender and feelings about the same. It took me another couple books to really lean into writing a character closer to my identity, but Sam was very important to me in getting to actively explore non-binary characters explicitly. 

How important do you consider representation within YA novels, not only when it comes to readers but also to yourself? 

Vital. Absolutely vital. Just a couple weeks ago, I was in Aberdeen at Hazlehead Academy, speaking to 70-80 pupils from LGBTQIA+ equality alliances across the city, and it was really emotional to me. When I walked into the school and saw Pride murals, Pride flags, and more, that struck me so hard. 

I couldn’t have fathomed such a thing when I was that age. And the kids were so eager to speak with me, to ask me everything from how to cope with lack of motivation for writing … to how to come out to their parents. It felt acutely important for Sam to exist for them and for my own visibility in that moment to reflect back at them what I wish I’d had beyond my own family (and the way we were consistently shown that people found our mere existence dirty and shameful). 

I think I would have understood myself so much better if I’d had books like Sam, like Heartstopper, like The Gilded Ones and Felix Ever After and I Kissed Shara Wheeler and so many others. The day Sam came out, there were eight other queer YA novels published. The same day. Absolutely unthinkable even a few years ago. 

If we look at the power stories have to cultivate empathy for others as well as confidence in ourselves, representation is simply integral. Humanity is a vast and vibrant tapestry—and there’s room for everyone in this world. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

I’m a full-time editor and a full-time author, and I am also a Gaelic singer and songwriter, so I keep very busy! I like to play video games when I have some downtime, and I of course love to read, though because I spend so much time staring at screens and pages, sometimes I just need to turn off my brain and give my poor eyeballs a break! 

There’s nothing I love more than escaping into the Highlands, alone or with friends, to enjoy this beautiful land we call home. Last week, I was up in Argyll with my friend Hamish, spending the day hillwalking (25 kilometres, ooft!) and speaking Gaelic. 

What books do you consider your favourites? 

This is such a difficult question! I adore The Shadow of the Wind by the late Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s a Gothic novel set in Catalonia after the Spanish Civil War, and it isn’t fantasy, but it feels like fantasy. Barcelona is a character in and of itself. 

Another all-time favourite is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which is I think where I realised how important representation was for the first time. Meg reads very autistic to me in her behaviours (she has set ways of doing things, often gets in trouble for being inflexible about it, is very literal), and I related to her so much as a kid. 

In more recent favourites, I absolutely loved Caitlin Starling’s The Death of Jane Lawrence, which is a fantastic gothic fantasy with an autistic protagonist. Deliciously creepy and beautifully written. 

Can you tell us what might come next for your writing, and if more YA novels might be on the horizon?  

I’ve got so many projects working that sometimes I feel like I’m steering a chariot drawn by a hundred horses at once! In most recent YA news, Astra Books for Young Readers also picked up my option book, The Evolving Truth of Ever-Stronger Will this year, which is in a similar vein to Sam Sylvester (non-binary autistic protagonist, some spooky paranormal stuff, resolving trauma and finding family). I’m so excited about this one. I’m actually working on edits for that right now, and you can expect some news about it in the next few months! 

Last year, I wrote a YA fantasy called Eatorra, which features (surprise!) an autistic agender protagonist who accidentally stumbles upon the Fair Folk in the west of Scotland and becomes one of them. It’s deeply rooted in Gaelic tradition and lore as well as intergenerational language transmission and coming of age. We’ve not found a home for it yet, but as we say in Gaelic, I remain beò an dòchas! (Alive in hope!) 

Beyond that, I’ve got a lot of other projects happening. As Emmie Mears, I’m closing out an epic fantasy trilogy in July 2023 (the Stonebreaker series) with Windtaker, and that series has solid crossover potential for YA readers as well, since the characters start out in their late teens. I’m also working on something under NDA as we speak that will be made public later this month (!), and I also write under a secret pen name, so I’m releasing something entirely different in another genre next month. I keep very busy! 

Oh, and I’m also working on my first Gaelic novel, called Sùgan Sàile, which is based on one of my favourite Gaelic waulking songs, “Thig am Bàta”. 

Maya MacGregor is an author, singer, and artist based in Glasgow, Scotland. A fluent Gaelic speaker, Maya is active in many community activities in Gaelic music as well as writing contemporary YA and adult fiction (as Emmie Mears and M. Evan MacGriogair). Maya has a degree in history and is passionate about writing the stories for teens they wish had existed when they were younger and fills them with the type of people who have always populated their world. Their pronouns are they/them. 

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester is Maya’s first YA novel, and out now. It will be followed by The Evolving Truth of Ever-Stronger Will

You can find Maya online at www.mayamacgregor.com, and you can also find their work at www.emmiemears.com. On social media, they like to keep things simple: you can find them on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok as @Maigheach. (The Gaelic word for hare!) 

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 help keep us running you can buy us a virtual book.

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with YA author Helena Close

YA author Helena Close has released a new book that we just couldn’t put down! We chatted with her about recent release Things I Know and why she wanted to tell this story. Read on below to discover more …

Can you tell us a little about your new YA novel Things I Know

I always find this question so difficult to answer. It’s the story of eighteen year old Saoirse and her struggle through trauma, toxic friendship and loss. It deals with mental health, teenage suicide and spiralling anxiety and sadness but it is also a story about hope and recovery.  

Your main character, Saoirse, is grieving the loss of her mother throughout this book, then unexpectedly must grieve the loss of an ex boyfriend too. What inspired you to write about these difficult topics? 

Things I Know follows Saoirse and her journey through the difficulties and traumas of mental illness, suicide, bereavement and eventual recovery. My youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer, aged just sixteen, and suffered mental health issues post chemotherapy. She accessed the public mental health system and it was an eye-opener. In some ways, even a shocker. I didn’t want to write about mental health – but I had to. 

I suppose I was lucky (or unlucky) that I had witnessed my daughter’s journey and had a body of research already available. I also consulted professionals, teenagers, anyone who would talk to me about their own struggles and experiences. People wanted to talk. I think that surprised me. They wanted to talk about counsellors, good and bad, about medication, about the ongoing day to day struggle, about panic attacks, crippling anxiety, unresolved trauma.  

This book is set in a small town in Ireland, where Saoirse feels isolated and trapped compared to where she lived before. It also features Irish phrases and dialect which roots the reader very firmly to the setting. Was this town inspired by somewhere you are familiar with yourself? 

We moved to a small town in West Clare when my youngest daughters were thirteen and nine and spent six years there before returning to Limerick. It was a stunningly beautiful location but the daughters were city children at heart! I was immersed in a rural community so dialect, vernacular etc. came easily to me. I think it’s important to anchor stories in language that young people are familiar with and use themselves. Language that comes from the setting. There is a tendency sometimes in writing to sweep dialect and the vernacular away and I think stories lose a sense of place and personality as a result. Language is organic to story, it’s not something that should be imposed on it.  

What do you hope this book might offer to a young person struggling with their own mental health? 

I’m not an expert on mental health but I researched extensively to get the balance right. I wanted young people to see themselves in the story, to be able to relate to Saoirse, in all her mess and sadness and hope. We shouldn’t shy away from difficult themes, especially where young people are concerned. Things I Know is not Five Go Down To The Sea for Mental Health. It’s an honest and challenging read about mental health and the taboos surrounding it, about grief and how we deal or don’t deal with it, counselling, medication and professional help. If the voice and story ring true, young people will get it. They will understand and empathise. They will see themselves in the story, be comforted and consoled.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to write young adult fiction? 

Respect young people. Familiarise yourself with their world, their challenges. Listen to them. To the way they speak, act, respond. Give your work to a teenage reader – that’s how you will know if your story works or not. They are extremely insightful critics. (And terrifyingly honest!)  

You have been writing full time for over 20 years. Can you tell us what might come next for your writing?  

I am currently working on a new YA novel. I’m also working on a collection of short stories and have co-written a play for theatre that’s about to be produced.

From Limerick City in the west of Ireland, Helena Close has been writing full-time for twenty years. She has written or co-written seven novels, published by Hodder Headline (under the pseudonym Sarah O’Brien), Hachette Ireland and Blackstaff Press. Things I Know is her second young adult novel and out now in Ireland, UK and America.

You can keep up to date with Helena on Twitter and Instagram.

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 help keep us running you can buy us a virtual book.

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Maggie Horne

Author of middle grade book, Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One, Maggie Horne chatted to us about the inspiration behind her debut novel and what’s coming next! Read on below to discover more about Maggie …

Could you tell us a bit about Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One? 

Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is about 12-year-old Hazel, who begins the book completely focused on one goal: to win her school’s annual speech competition after a humiliating defeat last year at the hands of her nemesis, popular girl Ella Quinn. But when she learns that Ella’s being sexually harassed online by a boy in their class, the two girls team up to try and take him down, and Hazel has to choose between winning and doing what she knows is right.  

Hazel is such a brilliant character. Where did the inspiration for her come from?  

Thank you! Hazel was largely inspired by my own experience growing up and dealing with sexual harassment at school from a young age. I have a lot of memories from around that time (good and bad!) and tried to really tap into them to make Hazel as authentic as possible. 

Do you have any tips for writing memorable characters?  

I think that in middle grade especially people can be tempted to over-explain things or to make sure that each character is specifically teaching the reader a lesson, but I think that creating characters that way can be condescending to the reader. Writing 12 year olds who are fully fleshed out people in the own right is what makes them memorable! 

Friendship is a strong theme throughout the book. Was this always something you wanted to write about?  

Definitely! I always think we should have more friendship stories out in the world, and being able to explore the theme through Hazel, who begins the book almost afraid to even try to have friends and ends it in an entirely different place, was really fun.  

You also include themes and issues that aren’t always talked about in middle grade fiction, but you do it in such a sensitive and engaging way for the reader. Do you think there are more themes and issues that could be featured in fiction for young people? 

Thank you! Definitely. I think that the middle grade years are often when the differences between you and the people around you start to become something that gets talked about a lot more (for better and for worse), so writing about those differences, first of all, is hugely important. I’d love to see more queer middle grade, and especially middle grade with queer BIPOC protagonists. Beyond that, I think that there was a period of time where writing about things like sexual harassment for young people was seen as more taboo because the topics weren’t seen as “appropriate” for them. But, like Hazel mentions in the book, of course it’s not appropriate! That’s why it needs to be recognised and stopped, and writing about it is a first step to that.  

What books/ stories/ authors have been an inspiration to you, and your writing? 

My absolute favourite book when I was Hazel’s age was Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. I’ve always loved how thoughtful and precise his language is, and I try to emulate that where I can.  

When I re-discovered middle grade in adulthood, I was so excited to see how many authors were bringing diversity to the category! Authors like Claribel Ortega, Ashley Herring Blake, and Mark Oshiro (to name a few!) are doing so much for middle grade.  

We’d love to know what’s up next for you. Are you writing anything new, or any other exciting news?  

I’m VERY excited about my next middle grade book, Noah Frye Gets Crushed, which will be out in 2024. It’s about 12-year-old Noah, who, after noticing that her best friends seem to be suddenly boy-obsessed, decides she can teach herself how to have a crush on a boy to fit in. Noah’s story is almost the opposite of Hazel’s – where Hazel’s lack of close friends has forced her to have a very strong, independent sense of self, Noah’s grown up with an extremely tight-knit circle of friends, and she doesn’t quite know who she is without them.  

I’ll also be debuting a YA book in 2024, Stay Here With Me! It tells the story of two best friends who’ve just broken up, because one of them was outed as a lesbian, finding themselves developing feelings for the same girl.

Maggie Horne is a writer and editor who grew up near Toronto, Canada. She studied at Oxford Brookes University, where she obtained both a BA in Publishing Media and a wife, which was a pretty good deal. She now lives outside of Ottawa with her family. Her first novel, Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One, was an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2022 Selection, an Indie Next pick, and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

Her second middle grade novel, Noah Frye Gets Crushed, will be released winter 2024, and her young adult debut, Stay Here With Me, is out autumn 2024 with Feiwel + Friends. 

Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is out now. You can find out more about Maggie by visiting her official website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.

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 help keep us running you can buy us a virtual book.

Blog, Short stories

PaperBound’s winning story ‘The Music of the Vale’ by Steve Blackman

Each issue, we choose a winning entry from all the submissions sent to us. For the winter issue of PaperBound Magazine 2022, our winning entry is the short story ‘The Music of the Vale’ by Steve Blackman. Keep reading below to find out more.

The Music of the Vale

By Steve Blackman

For as long as anyone can remember, we’ve lived on the floor of the vale. Our village here is safe, protected – a sprawl of houses and schools and shops that line one bank of the crashing river.  

On the other side, facing us, is another village, a mirror of ours. The people who live there go about their lives a stone’s throw away from us, but we’ve never met. No bridge has ever been built, and entering the torrent that separates us would mean certain death. 

Over the years, many have searched for ways to cross the river, following its course in both directions. None met with success, even those who travelled for many weeks, though they returned with stories of forests, and meadows filled with exotic flowers, and wild deer and bobcats. Most people stay close to the village. Even the farmers on the furthest outskirts of our communities are only a day away, close enough that sometimes – if the wind’s in the right direction – we can smell the cows and pigs and sheep in their pens.  

The farmers and the shepherds are here tonight though, the one night every year when they leave their crops and their animals to join the residents of both villages, lining the steep sides of the vale. Some have used ladders and ropes to climb as high as they can – finding the uppermost rocks and outcrops before the canyon walls become smooth and unclimbable. From where my fellow villagers sit, it’s impossible to see the faces of those far away on the opposite side, only shapes, lit by the flickering of torches held aloft or wedged into fissures. Not that they’re looking at one another – all eyes are focused down on the open spaces that mark the eastern end of our communities.  

That’s where I am now, near the bank of the river, me and eleven other cantors and musicians from my village. After fifteen years of watching this ceremony from the side, it’s finally our turn. We’re facing another group of twelve across the noise and the spray. I recognise the girl at the front of their troupe. I see her sometimes, going to school or running errands. She’s just like me: same age, same clothes, same life. Except she’s there and I’m here. Still, I feel connected to her somehow, like I know her. Normally, if nobody’s around, we might even wave. But there’s no waving tonight. We’re here to fight for our lives.  

I’ve rehearsed with my troupe all year, but my mum’s been preparing me since I was a baby, when she taught me how to understand the sounds around me. I could identify birds from their songs by the time I was five; could predict a change in the weather from the movement of the wind over the rock walls surrounding us. It was her who showed me how to seek the right music; how to know it when I heard it.  

Tonight I won’t live or die because of how beautifully I sing, but how well I listen. 

The hum of the crowd fades as the leader of each village steps onto their podium. Both Alderwomen wear their cloaks of office: ours is thick with black raven feathers that shine in silky highlights of turquoise and purple; theirs is a dazzling white, the soft fur of wolf hides rippling in the breeze. As last year’s winners, it’s the other side that begins the ceremony. Sure enough, their Alderwoman lifts the ceremonial mallet above her head, and the silence around us deepens. She stands like that for what feels like an eternity, and when she finally strikes the bell, its ring fills the night. As tradition dictates, our performances must begin before it fades.  

There’s a chill in the air, but I’m sweating. My heart is racing and my nerves are stretched so tight they might snap. Breathe, says my mum’s voice in my head. Listen. I wipe my palms on my skirt, and slow my breathing until I find a place of stillness within; until the raging water offers me the tone I need.  

Gently at first, I begin to sing, harmonising with the music of the river. Next to me, Silas follows – a baritone murmur that echoes the distant rumbling of the night sky. From the opposite bank comes the high keening of a wooden flute, like a fledgling osprey calling for its mother. A minute later, my best friend Beth wakes her marimba with the hollow echoes of the earth below our feet. One by one, the others around me respond to the music they hear in the world.  

Before long, around half the performers on both sides have found their own sounds, and already the pull is there – a tug that begins in my guts, compelling me forward. It becomes more insistent every time another voice joins in, calling me, like a siren song, but I clench my fists and stand firm. Beth misses a note, and I know she, too, is resisting the urge to step forward. Soon, someone will lose that fight, and will be pulled into the torrent, and lost forever.  

Above us all, the night sky is strewn with so many stars it’s hard to see the blackness between them. A pair of shadows float across it, only visible as they blot out the stars above them, and the high mewling call of a female nighthawk floats down. In response, the final member of our troupe begins to sing. Eloise’s voice is haunting, ethereal, filled with pain and hope and love. My eyes fill with tears as she completes our number and we become one.  

Our song is the world, the land we walk on, the air we breathe. It’s part of the night, filling the vale, impossible to resist.  

There’s a cry from someone in the troupe opposite, and their song falters. It’s the opening we need, and we focus our performances on that weakness. But their cantors are strong, and they come together, building their defence. It continues like that, each troupe searching for an opportunity to strike, our songs intertwining, clashing, flowing from one side to the other.  

On the edge of my vision there’s movement. Silas has taken a shuffling step forward. I reach out to grasp his hand and our fingers intertwine. But he takes another step, longer this time. My pulse thrums in my neck and in my fingertips. It’s in Silas’s hand too, like we’re sharing a single heartbeat. I grip his fingers as hard as I can, so his nails cut into my skin, but it’s not enough, and his hand is slowly pulled from mine as he edges forward. 

Lifting my head, I sing to the sky, driven by the rhythm of the blood flowing through me, and one by one, more shadows mask the stars. Eloise sings to them, and the nighthawks call back, dipping and swirling with our voices. Silas is making sounds I’ve never heard before, so deep they seem solid – like I could grasp them. I close my eyes, and listen harder than I’ve ever listened in my life, and slowly, faintly, it reaches me. Below the constant booming of the water is something else, the rasp of the torrent against its banks, the chattering of the stones racing along the river bed. Those sounds become part of my song, or I become part of them, and I yield to them: irresistible, elemental. 

For the first time since we gathered, another voice cuts through the performances – the single cry of a mother, calling No! I open my eyes, and my guts cramp like someone’s reached in and squeezed them. The girl opposite me is moving. Her eyes are locked on mine, and she’s smiling, but tears are flowing down her cheeks. And still she’s singing. Her body shakes as she tries to resist, but our call is too strong, too pure, and inch by inch, it pulls her onwards. 

I have no choice but to focus my voice on her – we all do – and our performance is so powerful, the air between us seems to bend and shimmer. It pulls her to the edge of the steep riverbank. One more step and she’ll be lost, but she plants her feet in a last effort to defy our music. Her eyes are squeezed shut now, and she’s shaking her head, and it’s so much effort to stand firm, she gasps, breaking her song. As she does, I change my pitch – an octave higher – and it’s like I’ve pushed a door, opening the way in. The voices around me swirl across the river, wrapping around the girl like a net. She cries out in pain, a high, piercing note, and takes the final step. 

When the river swallows her, her voice hangs in the air like the chiming of the bell. Eventually it fades, leaving only the calling of the birds, the rushing of the water. 

Despite his name, Steve’s neither the showrunner of The Umbrella Academy nor the wrestler, although he’d happily give either a go. He is, however, the inventor of the self-heating soup can, the internet, and sourdough. When he’s not inventing, he writes YA novels with STEM themes. Most of the time, he lives in South London with his wife and their two teenage daughters. He still doesn’t have a Facebook account. You can follow him on Twitter here.

You can read even more music-themed 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, Bookshelf

Our winter 2022/23 bookshelf

Take a look at our music themed bookshelf, as featured in our winter 2022/23 issue, which has all kinds of books perfect for spreading the love of music. You can read even more wonderful 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.

© PaperBound Magazine

Blog, Covers

Our winter 2022/23 issue is out now!

Did you know the winter 2022/23 issue of PaperBound Magazine is out now?

This issue’s theme is based on ‘MUSIC’, filled with lots of new captivating writing and gorgeous illustrations, plus all kinds of fantastic author interviews, writing prompts, book recommendations, and more.

You can read the latest issue of PaperBound completely free here. Just scroll down until you see our WINTER 2022/23 issue.

We hope you enjoy it!

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Lauren Wolk

We caught up with children’s author Lauren Wolk in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine, who told us all about her new novel My Own Lightning. Read on to discover more.

Could you tell us a little about your book, My Own Lightning, and the inspiration behind it? 

My Own Lightning is a sequel to Wolf Hollow, something I never expected to write. It’s a product of the pandemic, a time of such turmoil and uncertainty (both because of COVID and the political situation in the U.S.) that I longed for the safety and security I had always felt on the family farm that inspired Wolf Hollow. But I was also intrigued by how I was being influenced by the chaos around me, and I wanted to explore how Annabelle would react to a similar shock. How it would make her see the world differently. How it would teach her to look past the obvious to hidden truths … about herself and others. Since I’ve always been fascinated with the untapped potential of the hidden brain – and how some of its mysteries are revealed by lightning strikes and other traumatic events – I decided that Annabelle’s ‘shock’ should be literal. So I sent her out into a summer storm and then watched what happened next. 

My Own Lightning takes place in the 1940s and has some beautiful locations, such as the farm and Wolf Hollow. What draws you to this time period? And are any of the settings based on real locations? 

I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about her childhood in the 1940s on the family farm in Pennsylvania, and I spent quite a lot of time on that farm myself. Wolf Hollow and My Own Lightning are my way of paying tribute to that time, that place, my family, and the natural world. I owe a great deal to my mother, especially, for sharing the memories that inspired my work. But I am indebted to my grandparents and my uncles as well, all of whom devoted so much of their lives to the land. 

Annabelle is struck by lightning at the beginning of the novel and gets heightened senses and the ability to understand dogs. What powers would you want if you were struck by lightning?  

What a great question! Honestly, I’d like a whole boatload of powers – including being able to sing beautifully and fly (of course) – but those are far-fetched. I simply haven’t got the mechanics for such things. But people have gained some really extraordinary abilities from lightning strikes and traumatic brain injuries – like being able to compose music and play the piano … or do complex math … or speak foreign languages. I’d be delighted to speak another language well. Especially the language of dogs and other creatures. Trees? I’d be over the moon. 

My Own Lightning is a sequel. What was it like to take the characters from Wolf Hollow on a whole new adventure?  

Because I write without a map, I’m always surprised by what I encounter as I write a novel. Of course, I have some influence on the route I take, but I trust my characters enough to follow where they lead. And I trust Annabelle to my bones. She’s a very able guide. As I wrote My Own Lightning, however, I was so baffled by the state of the world in general and the U.S. in particular that I allowed a fair bit of that confusion to muck up the works. Annabelle and I got lost a couple of times, following subplots down rabbit holes, running in circles, and falling down a lot. It was only after a couple of drafts that I managed (with the help of my editor) to shut out the noise around me and listen to what mattered most to Annabelle and her story. In the end, it was a simple one that focused on giving people second chances and doing the hard work it takes to be fair in a world that seldom is. 

Dogs play a big role in My Own Lightning. How hard was it writing them in danger?  

It was difficult to put my beloved dog characters in harm’s way. But I had made a decision early in the book that I would not allow any of them to die. I rarely make hard and fast decisions about a book, but in this case I did. I was therefore able to put them as risk without losing too much sleep. It was hard to see them get hurt, but it was very satisfying to see them survive. 

You have been called a ‘successor to Harper Lee’ by The Times. How did that feel? 

It’s wonderful to be compared to such an icon. Truly. But it’s also a bit scary, first because I always want my work to be mine, not an echo of someone else’s … and, second, because Harper Lee has very big shoes I can’t possibly hope to fill. I honestly didn’t see any parallels between my work and hers, largely because I was so inspired by my own family history and legacy, and I was therefore shocked when people started to point out plot and character similarities between Wolf Hollow and To Kill a Mockingbird. Then I reminded myself that all of art and literature are filled with echoes. They’re inevitable. But I do work hard to make sure they’re not deliberate. 

Is My Own Lightning the last we’ll see of Annabelle and her friends and family? Or is there more to come for Wolf Hollow?  

I’d love to write a third Wolf Hollow book at some point. And I’m excited about writing a sequel to each of my other books as well; Beyond the Bright Sea and Echo Mountain. (I can’t tell you how many school children have asked for such things … and plotted them all out for me!) But I’ve nearly finished a brand new novel with different characters, and I have another one I plan to rewrite after that. So it may be a while before I meet up with Annabelle again (or Crow or Ellie). 

Lauren Wolk is a poet and artist best known for her novels, especially the New York Times bestselling and Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow (2016), its sequel, My Own Lightning (2022), the Scott O’Dell Award-winning Beyond the Bright Sea (2017), and Echo Mountain (2020). 

My Own Lightning is out now. You can find out more about Lauren by visiting her official website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.

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 help keep us running you can buy us a virtual book.

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Interview with author & former Wales children’s laureate Eloise Williams

Author of Gaslight, Eloise Williams, spoke to us about writing and her new novel, Honesty and Lies, in the latest issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more below.

Could you tell us a bit about your new book, Honesty and Lies? 

Set in the winter of 1601 and centred around Greenwich Palace, it’s the story of two girls and their friendship. Honesty, a Welsh girl seeking fame and fortune, befriends Alice, a maid to Queen Elizabeth 1. But while Honesty looks for attention and praise, to make a better life for herself, Alice must stay invisible, hiding a terrible secret. Can they trust each other?  

It’s a tale of intrigue, scheming and plots set in the spellbinding world of the Elizabethan court. A thrilling adventure where nothing is as it seems. 

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?  

Inspiration is always difficult to pinpoint. I adore London and have done since I was very young. I love the history of it and the way it changes, the size and variety it brings, its scruffiness and its grandeur. Taking a boat from Greenwich to Southwark seems to chime as an important moment in thinking of this story. As does walking along the South Bank of the Thames.  

I hadn’t written anything historical since Gaslight so it seemed like a challenge and I like to challenge myself creatively. I also wanted to write something about appearance and reality, and this seemed the perfect setting for those comparisons. The splendour of the palace, life as a maid, Christmas and Twelfth Night, theatre – both in the real sense with the Globe and in the way that people perform their roles.   

Could you share a little bit about how you research when writing a novel? Is this something that you do before you start writing, or as you go? 

I start by doing a bit of very easy research into the period. This could be through reading books and listening to podcasts, watching films, visiting museums and historic buildings. It helps me to get a basic understanding of what life was like for young people at that time. However, I’m always in danger of falling into a research rabbit hole as I get overly interested in everything, so I have to stop myself after a while. I then write the first couple of chapters which gives me a better idea of the areas I need to concentrate on a bit more specifically. I’m not a historian – though I think it would be fascinating – so I like to give a flavour of the time but only so that it serves the story.  

What top tip would you give to an aspiring writer who would like to try writing historical fiction? 

History is just the backdrop and should help to paint the picture, not detract from the story. It’s tempting to drop facts in just because you’ve learned them. You can include some of the weird and extraordinary things you discover – there are lots of things which seem unusual to us now – but only when they illuminate something about the characters, their personalities, journey, or their lives. It’s not a history lesson, tempting as it is to make it one sometimes. If you want to put a fact in, try to make it part of the rich tapestry which supports the action.     

You’ve written so many brilliant books for young people, as well as being the Children’s Laureate of Wales, and recently creating and editing The Mab alongside Matt Brown. What has been the best/ most memorable moment in your writing journey so far? 

Firstly, thank you. It’s very hard to think of your own books as brilliant! It’s much easier to see what you perceive as the flaws. Stories tend to have a mind of their own and rarely turn out to be the things you had intended them to be.  

I’ve had so many wonderful moments. Every time I see one of my books in a bookshop or library it seems like a small miracle. Discussing stories with young readers is always a highlight. They can be very frank with their questions and opinions so it’s always good to have a sense of humour!  

Collaborating with Matt Brown and the other brilliant authors and illustrator was such a fantastic experience, and we are very proud of The Mab

I think, though, if I were to choose the most memorable moment, it would be when a young person threw one of my books out of their bedroom in disgust and shut the door on it. Her mother told me that she did it because she was so angry on behalf of the main protagonist. She fetched it again later and loved the story, so it was all okay in the end, but it made me realise how passionately young people believe in the stories they are reading, and I think of it often. It helps to keep me focused on writing the best story I can.   

You live close to the coast in West Wales and must feel inspired by the landscape there. Does much of that inspiration find itself in your books? 

Absolutely! It’s impossible not to be inspired by the landscape here. Sometimes it presents itself directly in my work – The Tide Singer, Seaglass and Elen’s Island are all set by the sea and inspired by the coast of Pembrokeshire. Other times, the love of nature and wildlife I’ve fostered here comes through in my writing. I talk about birds a lot in Wilde, that’s a love I’ve found over the last ten years, and I can’t seem to stop mentioning the moon.  

What other writers and books have inspired you (past and present)? 

There are so many! Far too many to mention them all. I’m always impressed by anyone committing to writing a book and finishing it. I read widely and find inspiration of some kind in almost every story.  

Could you let us know what you’re working on next?  

Well, I do have some exciting story news coming up soon but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet!  

I’m also at the dabbling stage with another new story. This is probably the part of writing I love most and fear most. There’s every possibility of it being the story you want it to be, and the empty pages are enticing and exciting. It also feels somewhere between improbable and impossible that you’ll ever manage it and as if there is a colossal mountain ahead. This story is one which has been bouncing around in my head for a while now and it won’t let go. It’s based in my own family’s history, and it’s a story of hope, but I don’t want to give too much away in case the mountain proves too steep!  

Eloise Williams grew up opposite a library in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, where she spent much of her time reading in the ruins of a castle. Her middle grade novels have won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year, the Wolverhampton Children’s Book Award, the YBB Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Tir na nOg, the NE Book Awards and Wales Book of the Year. 

She has an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Swansea University and was the inaugural Children’s Laureate Wales 2019-2021. Eloise now lives in West Wales, very close to the sea, where she wild swims, collects sea glass and ghost stories, and walks on the beach with her cairn terrier, Watson Jones. 

Her book, Honesty and Lies, is out now and published by Firefly Press. You can follow Eloise on Twitter and Instagram.

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 help keep us running you can buy us a virtual book.

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Anne Cassidy

We interviewed children’s author Anne Cassidy, as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, all about her new book The Drowning Day. Read on below to find out more.

Discover even more great content in all our issues.

Can you tell us a little about your book, The Drowning Day?

The Drowning Day is a story set in the future. Jade, Bates and Samson are living in a dangerous world. There are floods which make their lives precarious but the society they live in is divided and harsh. Jade finds out that her sister needs her help and she and her friends need their courage to help her. It’s an adventure. Three young people trying to make things right in a broken world.

The Drowning Day is set in a dystopian future thirty years from now. What inspired you to tell this story?

I had been watching dystopian pandemic drama based on television and enjoyed the idea of people surviving a disaster and trying to make a decent society again. It seemed that the biggest danger wasn’t so much the disease but what the other survivors were like. Instead of creating a good society they looked after themselves. I wondered what it would be like to be children in this kind of world.

Friendship and found-family is a huge theme throughout the whole book. How important do you think friendship is when it comes to writing, and real life?

Friendship is probably the most important thing after family. In all the books I’ve written for teenagers friendship has always been crucial to the plots and the themes. Friends can become as close (if not closer) than family members and the plus is you get to choose them for yourself. In The Drowning Day families are split up because of the need to work, poverty or death. Finding a new family among friends is very important. Jade, Bates and Samson find this connection during the events of the book.

Global warming, environmental issues and natural disasters are also at the forefront of this book in a very real and impactful way. What advice would you give to young people who want to help save our planet?

I wouldn’t give advice to other people because I think it’s important for people to come to their own conclusions. All I would say is look around, listen to the arguments and think about what is right for the future. Then make your mind up and see what things you can do tomorrow to help.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

I have two tips. Read a lot; books, comics, newspapers, online blogs or forums. Write a little every day (15 mins) – a diary, journal, poem, opinion piece, letter, beginning of a story. Think of writing a bit like being an artist. They have sketchbooks and are always drawing or painting. Little and often.

Can you tell us about any new books you might be writing, or are on the way?

Currently I’m writing an adult book. This is new for me so it’s trial and error – but I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s a crime novel. 

Anne Cassidy worked in a bank and as a teacher before she was a writer. She has written over ninety books for children and teenagers. She lives in East London and has two dogs.

The Drowning Day is out now and published by UCLan Publishing.

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, Interview, Interviews

Interview with YA author Natasha Devon

Catch our interview with Young Adult author Natasha Devon as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, as she tells us all about her new book Toxic and offers her own tips for aspiring writers.

Discover even more great content in all our issues.

Can you tell us about your book, Toxic, and what inspired you to write it?

I visit an average of three schools or colleges every week, delivering talks and conducting research on mental health and related issues. The research involves doing focus groups with 13-18 year olds and a theme that emerged just before I wrote Toxic was how to navigate difficult friendships. I thought fiction was an ideal format to explore this because it’s such a very nuanced and complex phenomenon. 

As kids, we’re taught that life is divided into heroes and villains and that good always triumphs over evil. But as you grow up you realize that actually, the world is just full of flawed people doing their best to get by. Sometimes two people create a dysfunctional dynamic and it’s okay to acknowledge that, to extract yourself from the harmful situation without having to hold a grudge, or encourage everyone you know to ‘pick a side’. That’s the central theme of Toxic, it’s about a young woman learning how to have boundaries.

Your main character, Llewella, struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, which the writing captures so well. Did you have to do any research when writing about these topics?

I actually have a diagnosis of panic disorder and, with the knowledge I now have about the condition, have realized that I’ve been having panic attacks since I was ten. Back then, mental health wasn’t acknowledged or spoken about in the same way it is now, though, so I was misdiagnosed with asthma and allergies as a child – I didn’t receive the correct diagnosis until much later. So, writing about panic and anxiety came very easily to me. 

Having said that, panic attacks vary massively from person to person. When I’m talking to young people who experience them, I encourage them to plot how their panic manifests from stages 1-10, so they can identify them early – this is actually a technique I learned from my therapist and that Llewella uses in the book. 

Friendship can often be tricky to navigate when you’re a teen. What advice do you have for any young people struggling with toxic relationships?

This applies to many struggles we face, not just friendships: Think about the advice you would give someone you really cared about if they told you they were in the situation you are in. This is a technique I learned from one of my best friends, Shahroo, who wrote a book called The Kindness Method. She noticed that we are often kinder, more forgiving and understanding to the people we love than we are to ourselves. 

The chances are, you would tell someone whose interests you had at heart that they tried their best, that being in a difficult friendship dynamic is not a reflection of their value and that you wouldn’t judge them at all for taking a step back for their own emotional safety. The same applies to you! 

Toxic also explores racial identity and the personal challenges some people might face. Did this change how the story developed?

The racial dynamics within the story definitely add another layer of complexity. 

I was inspired to create Llewella when I watched a Channel 4 documentary called ‘The School That Tried to End Racism’. One of the contributors was called Farrah and she was of mixed heritage with one white parent and one from Sri-Lanka. Like Llewella, Farrah was light-skinned and you wouldn’t necessarily assume she was mixed. When her class were split into racial affinity groups, she didn’t know whether to join the white or the racialized group. There was this moment of pure panic on her face and, as a viewer, I found myself wondering if this was a reflection of not knowing where she fitted in generally, not just in the context of the exercise.

There was also an activity the children had to do later in the documentary, where they brought in objects which reflected their culture. The children from racialized backgrounds were bringing in items such as beaded prayer mats and African jewellery and were able to explain exactly what they represented and how they were used. The white children seemed really embarrassed and had brought in things like the England flag, not really understanding why. It made me reflect on whether having a strong sense of cultural identity is a form of privilege. Hence Llewella, who was raised by a single white mother and doesn’t know her Asian father or his family, started to form in my mind.  

Aretha (who is the other half of the toxic friendship in the book) is also mixed. Her mother is white and her very present, supportive and loving father is Black. Aretha both experiences and demonstrates racism towards darker Black people in Toxic. She also uses elements of critical race theory to bully Llewella into doing what she wants. The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t just cherry pick aspects of CRT when it suits your agenda, or throw around terms like ‘privilege’ without properly understanding them (both of which I see a LOT of on social media). 

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

I read an incredible book when I was in the early stages of writing Toxic called ‘Story Genius’. It posits that all engaging stories are about a protagonist who is trying to avoid something which the audience knows is inevitable. It also talks about how we, as the reader, actually join the story part way through. The characters have already had experiences and challenges and triumphs which have shaped them before the reader ever meets them. It’s important not to think of your characters as blank canvasses at the beginning that just have stuff happen to them (which if often how we are taught to approach story writing in primary school). 

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

I have a non-fiction book called Yes You Can: Ace School without Losing Your Mind coming out in August. It’s about how you don’t have to choose between your academic performance and your mental health – looking after your brain makes you cleverer (because mental health and cleverness both happen in your brain).

Natasha Devon is a writer, broadcaster & activist. She tours schools and events throughout the UK and beyond, delivering talks and conducting research on mental health, body image, gender & equality. She presents on LBC Radio every Saturday and writes regularly for Grazia Magazine.

Toxic was published 7th July 2022 by UCLan. It is available in the UK and will be released on audiobook soon.

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.