Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Jen Carney

Catch our interview with children’s author Jen Carney as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, as she tells us all about her book series The Accidental Diary of B.U.G and offers her own tips on how to write comedy in fiction.

Discover even more great content in all our issues.

Can you tell us a little about your series The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and where the inspiration for your main character, Billie Upton Green, came from?

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is a contemporary comedy series firmly rooted in reality. Each book is narrated by Billie Upton Green, a sparky ten-year old who sneakily ‘repurposes’ boring old spellings practice jotters into diaries that she doodles and writes in when she should be going to sleep. Billie’s funny observations on life knit together so that each book tells a story. In The Accidental Diary of B.U.G., for example, the story is about a thief in Billie’s school.

Billie was inspired by my son. He wanted to read a funny book in which the main character was happy, feisty, and had two mums, like him.

Your books have been praised as ‘perfect for fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and Jacqueline Wilson’. What was your initial reaction when you first heard this?

I was filled with joy and a little nervous! These are marvellous books and wonderful authors! I was aware that Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books were real gateways to reading for children sometimes classed as reluctant readers, so that was a real compliment for me as I’d written the first book to appeal to that market – my son hated reading for a long time and these were the kinds of books that piqued his interest. He moved on to Wimpy Kid after Tom Gates and I think the B.U.G. series sits well between the two. As for being compared to Queen Jacqueline – what could be better! She’s a wonderful writer who kept my daughter entertained every night for many years.

Your main character, Billie, often finds herself in the middle of surprises and hilarious happenings. What do you find is the hardest thing about writing comedy?

Trying to come up with jokes and laugh-out-loud moments can be hard while staring at your keyboard! Fresh air helps loads, as does life in general. Also, finding the right balance for your target demographic can be tricky – not under/over-estimating their ability to infer.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to write comedy?

Keep a pen and paper on you at all times. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and when you least expect it. Also, read your work aloud frequently and test things out on your target age group. Be prepared to cut LOADS when no one laughs! Think back to when you were the age your main character is. What did you find funny? Read other writers’ books and see what makes you laugh/smile.

What’s the best thing about writing a series and how do you come up with new ideas?

I like being able to develop characters; not just Billie but the secondary ones too. I’m constantly coming up with new ideas, so a series gives me the opportunity to explore them more fully without trying to squeeze them into one book. It’s also great to be able to carry themes through a series. So, in this series, acceptance of differences, navigating a new friendship, adoption and The Biscuit Laws run through all the books.

As for new ideas, I think about my life, and that of my children and those that I have taught and play around with ideas until I have something I’m happy with.

Your main character, Billie, is adopted by her two mums and has a larger-than-life personality. How important do you think it is for children to read inclusive books?

I think it’s vital that children have access to books that both mirror their lives and provide a window into the lives of others. Age-appropriate inclusive books really help children to empathise with people who are different to themselves and broaden their knowledge of our world and the people who live in it. Similarly, reading books about people a bit like them, or someone in their family, can really validate a child’s experience of life.

Are there any other authors out there who you admire and, if so, why?

I read loads and there are so many authors I admire. A few to mention are Sarah Hagger-Holt who isn’t afraid to tackle same-sex parenting head-on, Louise Gooding who is an amazing advocate for inclusion, Masie Chan who brings other cultures into popular fiction, Emma Mylrea and Heneka Statchera whose world-building is brilliant, Joanne O’Connell whose book Beauty and the Bin I thought was a brilliant novel for bringing food waste issues into children’s lives, Jamie Russell who is building a fantastic series to engage gamers and entice them off their consoles, and Louie Stowell whose comedy skills are top notch. I could go on!!

Are there any more books from The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series on the way?

At the moment, B.U.G. is a three-book series. However, the door has been left ajar on it, and I’d love to write more in the future. At the moment I’m working on a new comedy series targeted at the same age range. Watch this space!

Jen Carney is a children’s author-illustrator living in Lancashire. Co-mum to three children, Jen is passionate about the representation of different family units in children’s books, and promoting reading for pure pleasure. The Accidental Diary of B.U.G is her debt comedy series.

Follow Jen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Sister Act, the third book in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series, was published on 3rd Feb 2022 by Puffin, currently available in the UK and Commonwealth.

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

Interview with children’s author Anthony Burt

Catch our interview with children’s author Anthony Burt, as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, as he tells us all about his middle grade debut The Animal Lighthouse from Guppy Books. Packed full of adventure, this is one book you don’t want to miss.

Discover even more great content in all our issues.

Can you share a little about your book, The Animal Lighthouse, and the inspiration behind it?

The Animal Lighthouse is a middle-grade adventure story with a classic Treasure Island-Jungle Book feel to it. Set on a secret island somewhere in the Caribbean in 1704, it’s about a boy called Jim Rogers who washed up on the beach (as a baby) in a barrel of rum. 

Jim has been brought up by animals and he knows no other life but that of a lighthouse keeper. The animals are his family, and have kept him safe, until one day a thief steals the lighthouse bulb filaments. Whilst on a mission to find the thief, Jim learns secrets about his family’s piratical past and pirates invade the island to try and take him away. 

A warm-hearted adventure with lots of animal antics, gross stuff, and action-packed moments, The Animal Lighthouse came about because I spent all my childhood playing and walking around Portland in Dorset, under the watch of the Portland Bill lighthouse. I also used to live near Moonfleet, where Blackbeard smuggled his loot, so – along with my love of animals – I combined all the elements I love to create the kind of fun-filled, epic middle-grade story I’d want to read!

One of the main characters is Oskar the orangutan, an older animal who loves to invent things and is always showing Jim how to repair the lighthouse. Oskar is based on my late grandad, a very special and magical man, who I spent many happy years learning skills with, like gardening, painting, building, fishing, and cooking. Oskar is Jim’s father-figure until he discovers who his real pirate father is …

This is your first book for middle grade readers, but you’ve also written a picture book. What is it about writing for young people that you enjoy?

Yes, I’ve also done a STEM-based picture book for young children called The Wish Fish. That’s about two kids who want to fix their grandad’s broken old boat but don’t believe they can. Until, that is, the Wish Fish comes along and shows them they do have the skills to do it! 

I love writing for children because you can let your imagination run wild, have lots of weird stuff happen in your stories – like talking animals – and children will go along with it. I think there are a lot more rules in depicting ‘real life’ in adult novels, so I much prefer the freedom that writing for children gives me. I love to create worlds that are fun and magical too – worlds children want to be in.

This issue of PaperBound is an action/adventure special, and The Animal Lighthouse sounds full of action and adventure with pirates, animals, gadgets, and mysteries. Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared for writing in this genre?

I did A LOT of research on lighthouses and how they work! This included discovering how different metal filaments work inside lighthouse bulbs for the thief part of the story. And, because my book is set in 1704, I needed to depict very old lighthouses, so I visited one of the oldest in the world in Portland, Maine, USA. The Portland Head Light was built in 1791 and it has an amazing museum inside it with loads of information about the lights, structures, and internal gadgets. Most people don’t realise that lighthouses were invented over 2000 years ago, but I found some amazing examples that were in existence in the UK at the time my book is set. 

The lighthouse in my book is very special too, because beam ‘three and a half’ does something a bit magical, using line-of-sight illusions, to hide Jim’s island. This ‘magic’ is based on a real-life, light-bending phenomena called a Fata Morgana Superior Image. Look it up, it’s very cool! I also learnt loads about how different animals move in real-life for this story as I wanted each one to have their unique personality and movement.

There are several illustrations in this book that complement the story. How important are they to you as the author?

There are an amazing 50 illustrations in this book, and I am utterly blown away at how beautiful, fun and clever they all are. Ciara Flood is so talented, and she has the kind of classic adventure illustration style that really help bring to life the characters’ personalities and exotic settings. Although not all middle-grade fiction has illustrations, I personally think when they’re done really well, they add a level of intrigue to the story as well as an accessibility to the book itself for more reluctant readers.

What are your top middle grade recommendations for readers right now?

I adored October, October by Katya Balen – it has such beautiful writing and gives the reader a really different point of view on the world. My fave comedy series at the moment is Knight Sir Louis by the Brothers McLeod, and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly about a deaf girl’s struggle to help a songless whale be heard is beautiful too.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of writing an adventure story?

With adventure stories, even though it’s often about exciting action scenes you really mustn’t neglect the ‘quieter moments’. These are the moments where we get to know the characters and what they want, and of course why they’re on this adventure in the first place. Without this motivation and depth of reason for doing the adventure, the action scenes will feel emptier and almost pointless. So, write fast-paced scenes, but make them matter!

Anthony Burt is a qualified teacher and experienced youth worker of 17 years, working across primary, secondary and college education ages, mostly with children with SEND. He has been a book festival host at the Edinburgh Book Festival, written for Disney, BBC Doctor Who magazine, Nickelodeon, CiTV, and Macmillan. He lives in Frome, Somerset with his black cat, Watson.

Follow Anthony on Twitter, Instagram and visit his website here.

The Animal Lighthouse will be released 12th May 2022, published by Guppy Books.

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

Interview with children’s author Gabriela Houston

We are so excited to share our interview from the latest issue of PaperBound with children’s author Gabriela Houston, whose new book The Wind Child is out now. Read on to discover more about this fantastic middle grade adventure and what inspired Gabriela to write it. You can catch even more great content in all our issues.

Your book, The Wind Child, is a beautiful, heartfelt tale of loss, adventure and belonging. Can you tell us a little more about the book and the inspiration behind it?

The Wind Child is a Slavic-folklore-inspired novel about Mara, the granddaughter of Stribog – God of Winter Winds – setting out on an epic journey with her bear-shifting best friend, to bring her father back from the dead.

I like to centre my writing around family and friendship love stories, rather than romantic love stories.  In this novel, I wanted to explore the need to protect, which children often feel for their parents or guardians. Mara is a very lonely child. She knows she doesn’t quite match everyone’s expectations, on both sides of her family: god and human. So the relationship with her father, the one person who offers her the affection and reassurance she craves, was immensely important to the core of her identity. 

Mara is untrusting and insecure, yet resourceful and endlessly stubborn. I wanted to explore the emotions a child like her might go through at the loss of the one person who gave her stability. Because of Mara’s heritage, the normal grieving process didn’t feel like the only option. Mara wouldn’t fear the gods – after all, she grew up among them. She wouldn’t care for what’s considered proper for the humans – she wasn’t fully one. She finds herself a loophole to try and do the unimaginable and defy death itself.

In the process of trying to bring her father back from the dead, Mara has to explore the duality of her nature, including all the aspects of it she’s been running from: she is half human-half god, but others only see one part of her. There is a struggle to prove herself, to prove that she can belong in both worlds. Her father is her link to humanity, but she believes that that nascent god nature inside her might be the key to saving him. 

Torniv, Mara’s friend, also struggles with his dual identity, and he sees something in Mara, someone who can help him belong. 

Mara and Torniv, the two main characters in The Wind Child, come up against deadly monsters and difficult challenges in this book. Did you plan the entire story out, or did the characters lead the way?

I never plan my stories in advance, as I like to get to know the characters first, and feel what’s natural to them before I make things happen. In terms of their adventures, my focus is on Mara and Torniv’s friendship – how those two lonely children find their way to trust each other. The creatures and the challenges they meet along the way expose their weaknesses, they feel the cracks in their armour. As they learn to understand each other more, Torniv and Mara begin to rely on their friendship. This learning to empathise and learning to trust is always gradual, and I wanted it to feel as organic as possible.

The Wind Child is said to have been shaped by your childhood and the landscape you grew up in. How does it feel to put these things on the page for readers to discover for themselves?

Writing Slavic-folklore-inspired fiction is, in a sense, a way for me to reach back towards my early childhood, to the stories I grew up with. Slavic mythology is still not as well-known as its Western counterparts, not even in the Slavic countries, and while I studied Greek and Norse mythologies at school and university, Slavic folklore remained confined to the space of fairy tales, of children’s bedtime stories.

Returning to it, and studying it critically for the first time, has been a real joy. It has such a sense of wonder to it, and it fits in so well with the landscapes I remember. It makes me so happy to be able to share this small part of my heritage with my own children and with all the readers who might not have come across Slavic stories before.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

For a long time it was my ambition to be a writer-illustrator, but while art will always be a part of my life, writing definitely comes easier to me. I dared not presume as to what success or lack thereof I might experience. But writing was just something I have always done, because not doing it would be unthinkable.

This is your first children’s novel. How does it feel to write for both children and adults?

I want to write all kind of books, for everyone to enjoy! I want to do novels, and comics, and illustrated novels, and picture books! It’s all storytelling, and my appetite for that is boundless!

Do you have any favourite characters from children’s literature and, if so, who are they?

Ronya, from Ronya, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. I read that novel so many times as a child! Ronya is adventurous, and brave, and mischievous, but also fiercely loyal and loving. In a way, she encapsulated how I saw myself, and how I wanted to be. I envied her for the freedom and opportunities for reckless adventure, I suppose.

What’s next for you and your writing?

I have an adult novel project I’m working on right now, but I also have a children’s novel all finished, which I can’t talk about just yet! I hope to be able to show people more of Mara and Torniv for sure!

Author Gabriela Houston

Gabriela Houston is a Polish writer based in London, UK. She writes Slavic-folklore-inspired fantasy. Her adult fantasy debut, The Second Bell, came out in March 2021 from Angry Robot Books, and her children’s fiction debut, The Wind Child, is out now from UCLan.

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

The Wind Child is out now from UCLan.

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 children’s author Lee Newbery

To celebrate the launch of The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery, we are excited to share our interview with him from the latest issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about the inspiration behind The Last Firefox, a heartfelt, inclusive middle grade novel full of magic and wonder – with buckets of personality.

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery

Can you tell us a little about your debut book, The Last Firefox

Of course! The Last Firefox tells the story of Charlie Challinor, who’s got a few big life problems. He’s getting picked on at school, he’s pretty much terrified of everything, and his dads are in talks of adopting another child. How on earth is he supposed to stand up for his little brother or sister if he can’t stand up for himself?

But then he accidentally becomes the guardian of the last firefox, and his whole world changes. Because the firefox is covered in magical fire fur that’s governed by its mood, and now Charlie has to keep his furry little friend a secret from his bullies, his dads, and a sinister monster from another world that’s hunting it down. Cue endless hilarity, adventure and danger as Charlie uncovers his own inner fire! The book is published by Puffin, and it’s beautifully illustrated by the amazingly talented Laura Catalán. I’m a very lucky debut author! 

Where did the inspiration for The Last Firefox come from? Why did you want to write it and what do you hope readers will take from it? 

The inspiration for The Last Firefox came from a few places, actually. I’m a huge Pokémon fan, and when I was younger I was always making up my own fantastical critters. One of them was a fox covered in fire instead of fur, which it could use to protect itself or show affection (a close relative of Vulpix, maybe?).

But the true inspiration for the book came from my experiences of going through the adoption process. When my husband and I first embarked upon our journey towards becoming a family, I couldn’t really see many books out there with adopted children as the main character, books where the character has two mums or two dads. I wanted our future child to see himself represented in the world, so that was how this book was born.

We’ve now got a three-year-old son, and it warms my heart when he opens my book, points to an illustration of Charlie and his dads, and declares that it’s him and his daddies (there may or might not be some similarities between Charlie’s dads and myself and my husband!). 

Your main character, Charlie, has to deal with/ overcome a few issues in the book, such as bullying. Was there anything that you found difficult to write about and, alternatively, was there anything that came more easily?  

Actually, this was one of those rare instances where the first draft of the book wrote itself (alas, it hasn’t happened since!). I think because it was so closely tied to my own experiences as an adopter, and as a shy child who, a bit like Charlie, was intimidated by everything, it just sort of leapt from my fingertips. I was writing from the heart every step of the way. Even the bullying scenes – difficult to read, perhaps, but easy for me to write because they were so engrained in Charlie’s character arc. 

Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication? 

Ah, the journey to publication! I would love to say that I wrote a book, found an agent straight away, went on sub, entered a ‘hotly contested’ auction with several publishers after a few days … but that did NOT happen. It sort of happened the long way for me. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight, and in the second year of University I started taking it seriously. I wrote a YA book about a girl who could see dead people and subbed to agents, but that didn’t get any offers. Then I wrote another YA about magical teen runaways, which did get me an offer of representation from an agent – but only one, and that was after intense reworking and rewriting according to her insight. We went on sub with that YA, and that didn’t get any nibbles from any publishers.

So, I wrote my first MG, The Last Firefox, and we went on sub with that. An editor from Puffin said, “Hmm, I like it, but not enough to buy it yet … come back to me if you don’t get any offers.” And that’s exactly what happened. No other publishers offered, so we went back to the editor at Puffin. We met in London (this was about two months before the UK went into lockdown for the first time), had a lovely dinner, and he offered me some editorial advice.

I went home, spent a few weeks editing, then resubmitted. I waited some more, and then in May 2020, Puffin offered a two-book deal! It just goes to show that it only takes ONE person to love your book. One agent, and then one editor! 

What would be your biggest tip for anyone thinking of writing a book for the first time?  

I know this sounds cliché, but write whatever the heck YOU want to write. Writing is so much more fun when you’re writing a book you yourself would love to read, not what you think other people want to read. It’s pointless trying to write to a trend – if the trend is current, then you’re already too late! Forget about all that and write the book of your heart.  

What kind of stories/books did you love to read growing up? 

 I was a sucker for fantasies and horrors. I loved R.L. Stine and Darren Shan. But I was also a huge fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice books!  

Are you writing anything else at the moment? 

I’m currently waiting for edits on my second book with Puffin (which I can’t talk about yet, but I think I can at least tell you that it’s another standalone, not a Firefox sequel!), so I’ve been working on a just-for-fun YA. It’s a bit over-the-top and outrageous and dark and funny. It might never see the light of day, but I’ve had SO much fun writing it so far! 

Lee Newbery author

Lee Newbery lives in South Wales with his husband and their little boy. Their favourite thing to do is go on adventures together, which they blog about over on their family Instagram account. The Last Firefox is Lee’s debut novel, though there may or may not be a YA book of his hidden far away in the depths of Wattpad, never to surface again.

Follow Lee on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

The Last Firefox was published 3rd March 2022 from Puffin (Penguin Random House).

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.