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Interviews

Interview with Michelle Kenney

We chatted with YA author Michelle Kenney about her trilogy, Book of Fire, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Michelle’s books and what inspires her writing …

Tell us a little about The Book of Fire trilogy.

The Book of Fire YA fantasy trilogy follows wild girl Talia, surviving as a hunter-gatherer in a treehouse village valley, after a biochemical Great War has destroyed most of the world. The story focuses on two communities: a sealed off scientific population who believe the outside world to be poisoned, and a treehouse-dwelling community of foragers who believe they are the only Great War survivors – until a chance encounter changes everything…

The trilogy is rich in Roman mythology, science and history, with plenty of romance thrown in for good measure. The action is also set in and around a war-torn ruined Exeter! Often dubbed ‘The Hunger Games meets Mythology,’ or ‘Percy Jackson meets The Bone Season’.

The series has strong themes and raises questions about the frequent conflict between nature and science.

Inspiration for the series grew from a visit to the Colosseum in Rome where they were burning torches of lavender at the end of every stand. The tour guide explained it was an authentic detail from the real gladiatorial games, where the scent was used to cover the scent of bloodshed. It was a tiny gruesome seed that lodged in my head, and stayed with me for nearly 20 years, before it grew into a trilogy.

How important is setting to you and your books?

I deliberately chose Exeter for my setting because I wanted the landscape to be local and recognisable – partly because I like to ground my fantasy in a little reality, and partly because Exeter has a deep vein of Roman history I knew I could tap into and use. I love living in Devon and feel very lucky to have the moor, coast and historical cities like Exeter on my doorstep for inspiration.

As the trilogy progressed, I realised readers were enjoying the local setting as much as I was enjoying writing it, and it inspired me to research and include more local history and landmarks. These included the ruined Roman bathhouse beneath Cathedral Green, which I deliberately used as a backdrop to action in City of Dust, and of course Exeter City’s famous underground passages.

Do you think dystopian fiction is on the rise again?

I think dystopian fiction is always bubbling away beneath the surface. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine a dystopian world given recent world events, and this adds a factor of relatability at the moment too. The Book of Fire series imagines a world after a devastating Great War, and I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who’ve been in touch to say how the setting feels a little too raw and realistic to be entirely comfortable. However, this is a real measure of its success for me.

Book of Fire’s core themes: science vs nature, history vs future and questioning if we should, just because we can underpin the whole series; and every reader who reviews or gets in contact to say Talia represents so much more than a wild girl in a recovering world, makes me very happy.

What dystopian novels do you love?

So many! The Bone Season series, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, 1984, Divergent, but perhaps the most influential for me was Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah.

Z for Zachariah was the very first dystopian novel I ever read at the influential age of 13, and at that time it felt as though it changed everything. Before then, I’d read a usual range of popular childhood authors including C.S Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Enid Blyton and Ruby Ferguson. But this one story turned everything on its head – a reimagining of a world after an apocalyptical war, where the race for survival is uppermost and no-one is who they seem, felt so exciting and unique. Afterwards, I actively sought books that gave that same thrill. I think part of the reason I love YA fantasy, is that it’s brave and unafraid of taking chances or asking the difficult questions.

Could you tell us a little about your writing journey?

I always scribbled stories as a child, and even had some short stories published in my local newspaper as a teenager/adult; however I didn’t start writing seriously until a traumatic event relating to the birth of my second child. While I always nursed secret hopes of getting published ‘one day’, the event was a wake-up call – a reminder that none of us are here forever, and fulfilling ambitions takes time and stamina! So I started writing seriously.

My first novel got an agent, but no deal. That same agent closed her business after a year, but by that point I had a second novel ‘Genetica’ and received four offers of representation within a week.

The initial feedback from publishers was great, but dystopia wasn’t in vogue and it went on the back burner while we worked on my next novel. Then, just as we were about to submit the new novel, a trilogy offer came in from HarperCollins HQ, a full twelve months after the original book was submitted! It was the most exciting moment of my writing journey.

Genetica became Book of Fire, the first book in the trilogy.

How valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Looking back, enrolling in the 2015 Curtis Brown Writing for Young Adults/Children course was one of the most valuable steps in my writing journey. More importantly than the writing wisdom and wizardry – though with Catherine Johnson as course leader there was plenty of that – I met a brilliant bunch of like-minded people who became the best friends and support network a writer could want.

Five years later we’re still in daily contact, sharing and supporting the highs and lows of each other’s journeys and lives. Some of us have agents and deals, some of us don’t, but it doesn’t matter because no-one’s success impinges anyone else’s, and everyone’s journey offers a chance to learn.

One of my cohort, Stuart White, started the hugely successful #WriteMentor, the online, accessible, support network for published and unpublished writers alike.

What’s your favourite ever book for young people?

Too hard! I do remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe very vividly, and being absolutely filled with wonder that someone had written a door to another world through the back of a wardrobe. It felt as though they’d read my mind, and heard the questions I whispered to myself when the lights were out. It still captures that essence of childhood magic for me.

Writing Prompt:

The Book of Fire series is full of Roman myths and legends! If you could recreate a beast of myth and legend, what would you create? What strengths/skills would it have and why?

Expand this into a map of your own mythological world. Where does your creature live? Who else lives there? Think about setting/time and add as much ‘world detail’ as you can.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Michelle is a firm believer in magic, and that ancient doorways to other worlds can still be found if we look hard enough. She is also a hopeless scribbleaholic and, when left to her own devices, likes nothing better than to dream up new fantasy worlds in the back of a dog-eared notebook. Doctors say they’re unlikely to find a cure any time soon.

The Book of Fire trilogy is published by HarperCollins HQStories and is available globally now (in English). The final book in the trilogy, Storm of Ash, was released earlier this year. Michelle is represented by Northbank Talent Management, and loves chatting all things book-related on her official website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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

Interviews

Interview with Caroline Logan

We chatted with author Caroline Logan about her YA fantasy series, The Four Treasures, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Caroline’s books and what inspires her writing …

Can you tell us more about The Four Treasures series and what readers can expect?

A few years ago, I got an idea for a story based on Scottish legends. I read a lot of Young Adult Fantasy but hadn’t really seen mythology represented. Originally, the story was supposed to be covered over one book but once I started plotting it out, I knew it would take a series to do it justice. I immediately knew what would happen in the first and second books, but then I had to make a decision about whether it would be a trilogy or a quadrilogy. Around that time, I stumbled upon the legend of The Four Treasures (which is actually an Irish story) and since my lucky number is four, I took it as a sign and plotted the other two books. 

The first book, The Stone of Destiny, is about a quest to find a magical stone, to save the kingdom and guarantee the safety of the king. But it’s actually so much more than that and I think people are always surprised when they read it. It’s really about the main character, Ailsa, who has been shunned all of her life by superstitious neighbours. She saves a pair of selkies who convince her to help them find the stone. But, meanwhile, something terrifying is stalking Ailsa through the forests of Eilanmor. There’s friendship, romance, action, and many monsters (my favourite things to write).

Have you always wanted to become a writer? How did you start?

No, I never thought I’d become a writer. English wasn’t my strong suit in school – I was much more suited to maths, science and art. I didn’t like dissecting poetry and hated writing essays. It wasn’t until I got back into reading again that I started thinking about writing. I had a New Year’s Resolution to read a book a week. By the end of the year, I wanted to give my own story a try. 

I started by coming up with characters, a plot and by building my world. That’s the best bit of writing a book in my opinion. I watched Youtube videos on writing and read blog posts. Then I just started. I didn’t think I would ever finish and I especially didn’t think anyone would ever read it. But a few years later, here I am with one book out and another on the way!

Did you have to do a lot of research into Scottish myths and folklore, or history, to write these books?

I already knew quite a few myths but I had to dig a little deeper when writing the book. There are often different versions of the same story, so I just chose the ones I liked best. Sometimes I’ll add a twist to them, like the selkie’s water magic. Sometimes I’ll just make something up. When I was in primary school, my friends and I pretended there were bog monsters in the mud, waiting to steal your wellies, so I put them in the book. I reckon it still counts – I am Scottish after all, so I can make Scottish myths!

In terms of history, originally I was going to set the books in a certain time period, but nothing was really lining up and I wouldn’t have been able to give my characters kilts or have them eat curry. That’s why I decided to set it in a fictional land based on Scotland. I always joke that I just couldn’t be bothered researching all the history.

The main character in The Stone of Destiny, Ailsa, is treated differently from a young age because of the way she looks. Is there anything you hope readers can take from this?

I really wanted to have interesting, diverse characters to set them apart from other medieval based fantasy books. Though all my characters in book 1 are white, I hope they all have distinctive features and personalities. As we move through the books, we’ll start to meet people from different places other than Eilanmor and the cast will become even more diverse. Hopefully, it conveys the message that if you broaden your horizons and meet people from different places, with different sexualities and gender identities, and abilities, your life will be better for it.

When I was creating my main character, I wanted someone who felt like an outcast. The Changeling Mark was another myth I’d heard about and when I saw this picture of a beautiful woman with a birthmark on her face, it all just clicked into place. I think Ailsa’s struggle is something we can all identify with. I believe that everyone has the experience of feeling left out at some point in their lives, so hopefully I made a main character who was relatable and could show the reader that being yourself is better than being another face in the crowd.

What do you love most about writing? What comes next for you and your books?

I love coming up with plots and characters. I really don’t like the actual writing part that much but it’s just part of telling the story. I have a four book contract with Cranachan Publishing. The Cauldron of Life, the second in the series, was released in October. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing Book 3 which will be out in 2021.

I have a few side projects on the go, but I just don’t have the time for them right now. One is inspired by the Gorbals Vampire legend, another is a fairytale retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Ancient Egypt, and the last is an adult Science Fiction Western that’s about a gang of female criminals on the hunt for treasure. Maybe when The Four Treasures Series is finished, I’ll be able to get on with those.

How will you be spending the winter season?

Playing with my dogs: Ranger and Scout. I know it’s a bit cringey, but they really are my babies. I’ll also be up to my eyes in school work. I’m a secondary biology teacher and I have a lot of senior classes this year. It’s been a challenge working through the pandemic but I’m so glad to see my students again. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in months.

Writing prompt:

You explore a hidden cave and discover two portals. One will take you to a beautiful place with a terrifying secret. The other will take you to a dangerous place with a great treasure.

Write about which one you would choose and what you see when you step through the door.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Caroline is a YA fantasy author. Her debut novel, The Stone of Destiny, is the first in The Four Treasures series. Caroline is a high school biology teacher who lives in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, with her husband. Before moving there, she lived and worked in Spain, Tenerife, Sri Lanka and the West Coast of Scotland. She graduated from The University of Glasgow with a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology. In her spare time she tries to ski and paddle board, though she is happiest with a good book, a cup of tea and her dogs.

You can keep up to date with Caroline by visiting her website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Stone of Destiny and The Cauldron of Life are both available to purchase now!

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

Bookshelf

Our Winter Bookshelf

Take a look at our winter warmer bookshelf, filled with each of our own book recommendations for books to read in winter. From novels to short story collections, and middle grade to YA, we hope there’s something you can get stuck into over winter here, or maybe even find something new …

You can also see this page and lots more recommendations in our Winter 2020 Issue, which can be found here.

© PaperBound Magazine

Interviews

Interview with author Damaris Young

We spoke to author Damaris Young about her new novel The Creature Keeper in our Winter 2020 issue. Read on to discover more, or head over to our issues page to read the interview inside PaperBound Magazine itself.

Tell us a little about your new book The Creature Keeper. What made you decide to write it?

When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire’s mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she’s looking for to save her parents’ farm. But Direspire Hall is a spooky place, and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them…

Growing up, I was always more comfortable around animals, and sometimes I struggled to talk to people. I wanted to write a story about a young girl who, just like me, feels a connection to animals, and send her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, where she learns to find her voice.

What does your typical writing day look like?

The first thing I do is take my two dogs for a long walk near the river, which helps wake my brain up. When I get home, I’ll make breakfast, toast and a cup of coffee, and take it up to my home office. I usually write for a few hours, before finishing off the day by catching up on admin. I send out author letters to schools, sign bookplates, write articles for blog posts, and prepare for virtual workshops. I love connecting with schools and readers, it is one of the best parts of the job.

Your book The Creature Keeper has been described as having a ‘creepy gothic setting’. How important is setting to your writing?

The setting is incredibly important to my writing and I will treat it as a character, with its own quirks, personality and different moods. In The Switching Hour, the setting of the drought-stricken land became the antagonist that thwarted Amaya on her mission to save her brother. In The Creature Keeper, Direspire Hall is found near the coast and ‘The sea, the one that bordered our part of the world, wasn’t like any other. It had a mind of its own. Ma said it had eyes and ears and even teeth, and that it would gobble you up if you weren’t careful.’ The setting is wild and unpredictable, not unlike the creatures Cora discovers in Direspire hall.

What other middle grade novels do you love? What is it about them that you enjoyed?

I’m currently reading When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, set on a small Caribbean island. I love the strong sense of place, and the clever, and perceptive protagonist, Clara. I’m also a huge fan of the author Kirsty Applebaum, and her new story Troofriend is excellent! It follows a robot manufactured to be a child’s companion, and the curious and clever robot stole my heart from the very first page.

You’ve completed a writing course; how valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Being able to share your work with other writers and critique each other’s stories is invaluable. Writing a book is tough, and it is easy to lose motivation. Having other writers who support and encourage you is essential, as is being able to celebrate each other’s successes!

What other things do you enjoy when you’re not writing books?

I’ve recently started to learn cross-stitch, and it’s a great way to relax your mind! This year has been particularly challenging for lots of people’s mental health and being able to do something creative and relatively simple, like cross-stitch, has helped me.

If you could share one piece of writing advice with our readers, what would it be?

Don’t compare yourself and your writing to anyone else. When I started on my writing journey I often felt like a chameleon as I tried to emulate the writers I admired. I wasn’t allowing myself to find my voice as a writer, and I caused myself no end of frustration when I couldn’t get it ‘right’.

Once I stopped comparing myself to others (although full disclosure, I do still sometimes find myself slipping into those bad habits) I began to celebrate what made my writing unique.

Writing prompt:

In my new book The Creature Keeper, Cora looks after extraordinary creatures that are extremely rare. When writing your story, imagine your character comes across a rare or endangered creature. What is it? Write an adventure, helping the creature get back to its natural habitat.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University, where she wrote her debut novel, The Switching Hour. She is passionate about inspiring and empowering young readers with knowledge and action about climate change, as well as encouraging a love of the natural world with her stories. You can catch up with Damaris on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Switching Hour and The Creature Keeper are published by Scholastic UK and both books are available now!

Short stories

Winning story: ‘Winter’ by Anne Manson

We are thrilled to share ‘Winter’ by Anne Manson – the winning story featured in the Winter 2020 Issue which you can read in full here – on our featured content section of PaperBound. Get ready for a thrilling atmospheric story that’s bound to give you chills …

Wind howled across the frozen prairie, raising spiraling plumes of snow.

Bishop stared out the tiny cabin window into the wilderness, then emptied the flour bag into the week-old fat of the frying pan. It was the last of her food. She set it on the wood stove.

Above the howl of the wind rose another howl—a series of them. They were closing in on her.

At first, they’d simply gathered around the cabin at night, sniffing at the door. Later they’d got bolder, hurling themselves at the exterior with ravenous cries, while she stood terrified, shaking, clutching the cast iron pan—her only defense—as the cabin door shuddered under their weight.

Daytimes, they disappeared, and she wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. She felt as though she’d been here forever, as though she was light years away from home. All alone. Sometimes, she even thought she felt a familiar, barely detectable vibration under her feet. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t.

As a precaution, she’d run around the perimeter of the cabin, squatting and urinating in the brilliant snow. Father had told her about a scientist who’d done that—marking his territory to keep them away—a vague memory from the mists of time. But they didn’t seem to notice. She remembered something else, something about the scientist altering his diet. Had he eaten mice? She would have tried it—tried anything. But there wasn’t a single sign of life in that white desert. Except for them.

Even the nights they didn’t come, she sat awake, sleepless, by the cooling wood stove, the iron pan in her lap, waiting, starting at any unfamiliar sound. During the day, she gazed out the window in a sleep-deprived fog, occasionally slipping into a blessed doze.

Eventually she made a plan. She took apart the chair, cut strips from the legs, soaked them in water and bent them, painstakingly forming an oval with a tapered end. She soaked cords from the hammock in fat and wove them across the frame. Snowshoes.

She spent endless hours pondering, mountains or prairie? Open plain or wooded slopes? They could bring her down in a flash in the open. And the mountains were covered in pines—she could climb a tree. But how long would she last? They would wait her out. And in the end, what were the chances of finding anyone to help her up there? Nil. She’d have to go across the prairie.

Bishop ate the greyish, floury sludge straight from the pan, staring out the window at the first glimmer of dawn—no rosy sunrise, but a lightening of the black landscape into a charcoal grey. She finished, put the pan away, banked the stove, and set about putting on every piece of clothing she had. By the time she was done, her shirt was damp with sweat and she could barely move. Last of all, she tied the snowshoes tightly to her boots.

She eased the cabin door open, but the wind caught it and slammed it hard against the exterior wall. A heavy mist of snow blew in and settled on the floor. She pulled her scarf up over her mouth. Then she summoned all her strength and heaved the door closed again. She might need to come back here.

She took a last look at the cabin’s small wooden overhang, the snow-covered wood pile, the thin trail of dying smoke from the chimney, and felt a pang. At least it had protected her for a while.

Then she turned and stared out into the grey, clouded light—the sun, a muted silvery glow on the horizon. To her right, the west, and the massive peaks of the mountains—sharp, snow-covered pines, spiking the grey sky. To her left, east, and the barren, white plain.

A chorus of howls rose from the mountains and her heart shot to her throat. She shouldn’t have used bacon fat to soak the rope for her snowshoes. It was like laying a trail for them. But what could she do now? She’d needed to make them waterproof.

She set off across the prairie, heading toward that silvery, clouded sun. She tripped and fell on her first few steps and terror rose in her gorge. What if the snowshoes didn’t work? But she figured out how to lift the tips with each step so they didn’t catch, and soon she settled into an uneasy, careful jog, her heart racing, her legs aching numbly from lack of exercise. She kept her eyes fixed on the rising sun. East. She’d have to keep her wits about her so she didn’t end up going in circles. Sun ahead. Mountains behind. Fingers crossed.

East. East. East. The sun edged along the horizon at a low angle. There was so little light at this time of year. When was sunset? Three? A little later? It only gave her six hours or so. Her inner clothes were soon drenched with sweat, her face, hands and feet, rigid with cold. She was fiercely thirsty. She stopped and raked her gloves over the frozen earth, stuffed snow in her mouth, gagged on the bits of grit, then scraped up some more. She pulled off her gloves and sucked on her numb fingertips. She couldn’t afford to lose them. A toe or two, even the tip of her nose, fine. But not a finger. Please.

There was still no sign of a living soul. No houses, no road. Maybe she should have stayed and starved in the cabin. The scarf around her mouth was frozen rigid. The winter air passed over it and raked her lungs with every breath. She stuffed her fingers back into the gloves, looked behind her, held her breath, and listened. No howls. No sounds at all over the wind. No low grey figures running through the waist-high mists of whirling snow. The cabin was long gone—vanished into the horizon. But she couldn’t see far. And they were clever. They might well be hunting her silently. Or merely waiting for her to tire and fall.

She set her jaw, lifted her aching legs, and set off again, this time keeping the low sun more or less on her right, to the south. It must be close to midday now. She stuffed down thoughts of panic and replaced them with anger. Yes. Rage would keep her warm. She untied the makeshift spear she had on her back and clutched it in her right hand. She wasn’t going down without a fight.

At the end, the sun was passing behind her, hovering on the edge of the horizon, the landscape all frozen shadow, and there was still no sign of human habitation. Why hadn’t she tried the mountains? She could have climbed a tree and rested. Her head was ringing. She had to hold herself upright. If she turned quickly or tilted her neck, the horizon spun round. She couldn’t feel her toes or fingers. She knew she should stop and eat more snow, but she feared if she squatted down, she’d tumble over and never get up again. She plodded forward, her legs numb with pain, her head reeling, using the spear as a walking stick.

Occasionally she thought she saw a light, heard a voice, but then it would vanish. She really was imagining things. Maybe everything was in her mind—the snow, the ravenous howls, the endless tundra. All she knew for sure was that she had no compass and night was falling. And the frozen earth was hard as rock—no way to make a snow cave, no wood for a fire.

It was then she heard them. Not the long-accustomed desolate howl—rather a chorus of joyous yips and barks.

They’d found her.

She ran, staggering wildly forward, trying to stay upright, as their hungry cries came closer and closer. She felt nothing but ache, saw nothing but grey whirls of snow, heard the eternal wind that grew and grew in her mind with the throbbing beat of her heart. Louder and louder, filling her head, like a relentless engine.

Suddenly she felt a stab of pain, glimpsed the grey mouth clamped on her leg and knew they’d got her. She fell, skidding forward. Immediately she felt a massive weight on her back. She screamed, her head reeling. She couldn’t move, spasms of agony in her leg, explosions of noise all around, that screaming roar in her head.

Then, nothing but black.

Bishop opened her eyes. Everything had turned still and white. So, what she’d heard was true—this was what you saw before you died.

Then she became aware of her throbbing leg and pounding head. And something else. That long-familiar hushed vibration underneath her, the smell of disinfectant and filtered air. She closed her eyes, wished she was back in the cabin. Out alone on the tundra, even. Anywhere but here.

“Congratulations, Bishop. The Committee felt that was a pass.” The voice was neutral, impassive.

She turned her head painfully. He was sitting next to her bed. His face, pocked with old acne scars, his green uniform, the pulsing, blueish screen in the upper corner of his wire rim glasses.

“Ingenious to mark the perimeter with urine. Unfortunately, they only respect that if you’ve eaten mice.” He didn’t look at her, didn’t take her hand. It was as though he didn’t even know her.

“What?” Bishop’s throat was painfully dry.

“You have to eat mice—that’s the wolf diet—in the arctic, that is. They smell it in the urine. That’s what keeps them away. I told you that. You didn’t remember?”

She stared at him. “There weren’t any blasted mice.”

“No mice?” He glanced at his watch. “Dear me. I’ll make a note of that.” His left eye flicked left and right, and a miniscule line of text rolled across the lens of his glasses.

Bishop wondered how the Committee would feel if she throttled him.

“In any case, no time for regrets. I suggest you prepare for stage two. You’ll have a week or so for…” He gestured at her injured leg with distaste. “And then…well, Bishop, we’re hopeful Spring may go a bit better. In the meantime, at least you’ve passed Winter.” He showed his teeth—his version of a smile.

Bishop stared at his yellowed canines. He was mistaken about the mice. It wouldn’t have made any difference. There was no escaping real wolves.

Anne has a Masters in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. Her first novel, ‘Lobster Wars’, is a thriller about two boys who find a dead body on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her second, ‘Dark Sun Rising’, is about a girl accused of murder at the time of the American Revolution. You can keep up to date with Anne by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.

Want to submit your own work to PaperBound? Find out more here.

Covers

Winning illustration

We are thrilled to showcase two illustrations by Shirley Shelby. Together, they make up the front cover of our winter issue and the contents page. We hope you like them too.

Find out more …

Shirley Shelby is a children’s book illustrator and letterer. She usually works digitally these days using Photoshop or Procreate but also likes to hand draw her illustrations from time to time as well. She has taken several courses in illustration and design and loves to inspire others with her work. She especially loves illustrating animals and nature.

You can follow Shirley on instagram here.

Covers

Magazine Cover: Winning Entry

We were blown away by this illustration submitted to us for our autumn issue by Rūta Čiutaitė. We loved it so much we decided to use it as the front cover of our debut issue, which you can also read here.

Find out more …

Originally from Lithuania, Rūta came to study textile design at Falmouth University. She started working as a graphic designer in her third year, but after two years found her true path in illustration. Rūta illustrated All About Autumn and the front cover for our debut issue and is also our second Autumn 2020 Winner.

You can follow her on Instagram by checking out @blue_rue_designs.

Short stories

‘Whiz Bang’: Winning Entry

We are pleased to share the winning entry ‘Whiz Bang’ by the talented Olivia Collard on our official website, which is featured in our debut autumn issue. We hope you enjoy reading’Whiz Bang’ as much we did!

Please note: although ‘Whiz Bang’ is middle grade fiction, it does feature some darker themes, so it is down to reader discretion on whether they would like to read on.

I hate bonfire night.

I hate the booms and the pfffts and the horrible screeching. I hate the way the big ones make the windows rattle and I hate the way I can still hear them through my headphones.

What I hate most are the crowds.

Anna gets upset that we have to stay home every year, because otherwise I close my eyes and scream when people push past me, and I get hitty. And gougey. I don’t understand how anyone can be around so many people zipping up coats and laughing and shouting and pushing and slushing and apologising and other kids crying. Not to mention the pop, pop, popping of the wood as it burns.

Anna still has the scars from last time. 

I love animals, because they make a lot more sense than people. People ruin everything. Scientists can explain nearly everything about animals, like how tigers are stripy because it makes them harder to spot in the tall grass, or how anteaters have long tongues that can move like fingers so they can grab termites out of their big mounds. Or how termites live in big mounds to keep away from anteaters.

I love animals. Animals don’t talk with their faces.

Miss Hayes smells like burnt coffee and dust and lemon marmalade and always wears a necklace with a hare on it because her mum gave it to her, and her mum is dead now. I know that because she told me so and when she told me, a drop of water fell on her chest, which was probably a tear falling from her chin. I don’t know for sure though, because I don’t look at people’s faces when they talk to me, and I was more interested in the fact that hares are better than rabbits because hares don’t need to live in groups.

I like to be alone, too.

Miss Hayes says I’m too smart to learn about photosynthesis the way we are in class. Putting cress in a cupboard and watching as the stems predictably start to spiral and turn yellow isn’t stimulating enough for a girl who reads at a Year 9 level, so she gives me my own projects to work on alone.

I’m not allowed to do group work, anyway.

The other kids get frustrated when I can’t hear them through my headphones, even though that’s the whole point of them. When they come at me with their marmite sandwich hands and try to take my headphones off, I get hitty and maybe a little bit scratchy. Sometimes, if the smell of marmite is too strong or their sticky hands touch my hair, I get a bit gougey, too.

Gouging is not allowed at St Bernard’s Primary.

So, I work on my own projects. My project last year was about hedgehogs.

I like hedgehogs. They have little mousey faces and big hard spikes and their name makes sense. They’re called hedgehogs because they grunt like pigs do and pigs are sometimes called hogs and hedgehogs live in hedgerows. So, we call them hedgehogs because it sounds better than hedge-pigs. It’s a very literal name. I have been told I am a very literal person.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means they are awake when it’s dark. Things become nocturnal because it’s harder for predators to spot them in the dark. For my project, I wanted to learn why hedgehogs bother to be nocturnal when they make so much noise grunting like they do, anyway.

When an animal evolves without predators, they don’t develop the same defences as other prey creatures. They can’t leap like gazelles. They can’t sneak like mice. They can’t shoot hot acid out of their bums like those caterpillars on David Attenborough documentaries.

Blue Dad says the kiwi birds in New Zealand have this problem. I call him Blue Dad, because he has blue eyes. My other dad is Tall Dad, because I used to call him Brown Dad, but Aunt Sally said that sounded racist. My dads are the only people I look in the eye, because they don’t look away when I stare too long.

Blue Dad says kiwis can’t fly, they’re nearly blind and nearly deaf, and they stumble around loudly like Tall Dad does when he gets home from the pub on a Friday evening. Because the main population of New Zealand, for millions of years, was birds and insects. No predators to hide from. But then people came along and ruined everything, because people always ruin everything.

British people brought hundreds of rabbits 11,617 miles on their boats, because they missed the rabbits in the countryside. Which, if you ask me, is a stupid reason to bring rabbits 11,617 miles on a boat.

Rabbits get seasick. Rabbits also breed very quickly, so suddenly there were too many rabbits in New Zealand. So, they brought weasels and stoats 11,617 miles, to eat the rabbits. But the weasels and stoats ate the loud, blind, flightless kiwis instead, because rabbits are harder to catch.

Unlike people, weasels and stoats aren’t stupid.

What I learnt doing my project at the back of the class, aside from the fact that Casey Ludlow stepped on a slug and was getting slime all over the floor, was that hedgehogs aren’t quiet because they don’t need to be. Even though hedgehogs, unlike the poor kiwis, evolved with predators like badgers and foxes. Their big spikes are a good enough defence alone. When they curl up and spike out, they look like little brown fireworks, too dangerous to eat. ­­

But again, people ruined everything.

Hedgehogs like to hibernate in big piles of sticks, because they’re safe and warm. Or they used to be, anyway. Before people all over Britain started building piles of sticks every year and setting them on fire. Even the hedgehogs’ big spikes can’t protect them from burning.

Last year, our dads took us to the fireworks.

They said that because I had gone a long time without hitting and my headphones were helping to keep me calm, that we should go and see them for Anna. I said yes, because I love Anna. They said it was just a little whiz bang.

When we got there, Anna took my hands like she does when she needs me to look at her face. So, I looked at her face.

‘Jessie,’ she said. ‘I love you.’

‘I know,’ I said.

‘Can I please go to the front with Blue Dad? I’ll come and see you right after the display?’

‘Okay,’ I said. I squeezed her hands, because that’s how I show that I mean something when I say it. I’m still learning how to understand the things people say without words.

 I stayed at the back with Tall Dad. It’s not good for me to be in crowds. He got on one knee even though it was muddy so I could look into his eyes.

 ‘I know I normally say you have to hold my hand when we’re out, Jessie,’ he said. ‘But if you think holding your headphones down will help to keep you calm, you can do that. As long as you stay close. Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the car with me?’

‘Yes.’ I squeezed his hand because, at that moment, I was sure I was okay.

‘You’re amazing,’ he said.

‘Isn’t your knee getting wet?’ I said, clamping down my headphones.

Then the display started.

Even at the back with my headphones on tight, it was hot and loud and there were so many people moving around us. Everyone was cheering. It smelled sweet and smoky of fire and mulled wine and bad hotdogs and it was too much. And with every boom my body shook and with every person pushing past I closed my eyes and screamed as I remembered the hedgehogs, hedgehogs, hedgehogs.

Burning.

Tall Dad tried to take my hand, but I ran forward anyway. Through the crowd. To Anna. To the fire. To the hedgehogs.

I don’t know for sure what I did, but Anna still has the scars.

Anna doesn’t love me anymore.

Olivia Collard is an MA Writing for Young People student at Bath Spa University. She’s an aspiring lesbian aunty, a coffee hater, and is currently working on her first YA novel about two girls falling in love. You can find out more about what Olivia gets up to on her blog, or by following her on Twitter.

Illustration by Rayan Rhys Phillips

Interviews

Interview with Beth Cartwright

Earlier this year, Emma Gibbs spoke to English author Beth Cartwright to talk about her debut coming of age novel Feathertide and why it might not be what you first expect. Join us and read on to discover more.

This magical realism novel follows the story of Marea who is born covered in feathers and kept hidden in a house. In search of answers, she tries to find her father which takes her to the mysterious City of Murmurs.

The book has already been compared to bestselling fantasy novels, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. However, Cartwright feels this comparison is misleading.

‘People expect fast paced action – it is not that kind of book,’ she said. 

Cartwright revealed the book is more ‘gentle’ and ‘introspective’ compared with other fantasy novels. Instead of world building the magic is brought to the world we know and are familiar with.

‘There are no demons or dragons, instead the villain is self-doubt,’ she revealed.  

The plot is driven by the protagonist, Marea, and her transformation.

In the beginning, Marea ‘can only dream of escape’, but by the end ‘she has complete freedom and has cast her independence. She is kind of no longer content with just staying still,’ said Cartwright.

Cartwright grew up in Greater Manchester near the Peak District and returned there as an adult. However, she has also taught English in Greece, and worked in South America for a time.

‘I would recommend travelling,’ she said. ‘Even leaving the house to go to the local forest or the wood.’

Cartwright has always written and suggested that parts of Feathertide are taken from childhood, but also bits of what she’s seen and heard throughout her life.

‘The birds probably came from my grandparent’s garden,’ she said.

Discussing how she got her publishing deal, Cartwright revealed it was in ‘a very traditional way.’

She sent the manuscript to six agents, at which point it was more of a novella.

‘It was not a novel, it was too short,’ she said. ‘I left it and went back to it. I didn’t really hear anything. I didn’t think I would get a book deal,’ she said modestly.

But then one day Cartwright received a call and almost didn’t listen to the message, until she noticed it was a London number. 

‘I listened to the message – it was the most uplifting but disappointing message I ever had,’ she said.

Her agent saw potential in her book, but it needed work.

‘She could see something. She took that chance,’ said Cartwright. However, she also noted that it’s important to ‘try and believe in what you are doing and the story you are trying to tell.’

Her agent eventually emailed to confirm the book deal with Penguin and they worked to polish the manuscript together for about a year. However, in its entirety, Feathertide was a 10 year writing project.

‘I wasn’t consistent in my writing,’ she said.

‘I’m not very brave and I’m not very confident. I sat on the idea of Feathertide for years,’ Cartwright said.

Cartwright refreshingly busts the myth that you need a completed manuscript, unwavering confidence, or a militant writing routine to bag a publishing deal.

When struggling for creative inspiration she turned to poems, but also enjoyed reading a number of current authors including Jeanette Winterson, Alice Hoffman and Jessie Burton.

‘I think Jessie Burton is a really intelligent writer,’ she said.

As for the editing process she revealed it was very ‘up and down’. Things would be ‘really slow paced’ and then ‘really fast’. In the end, the catalyst for finishing the book was her agent going on maternity leave.

‘My timing has always been terrible,’ she mused. 

The book launch was set back to July, not due to Coronavirus, but due to the book changing imprints.

When discussing the book launch and the inevitable feedback she said it now belongs to the readers, but it’s ‘great when someone understands how your mind works.’

Having revealed that she landed a two book deal Cartwright confirmed that she has completed the first draft of her second novel – and we can’t wait to see what she writes next!

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright is available now from all major book retailers.

Emma Gibbs is an NCTJ qualified journalist with bylines in Mancunian Matters, VIVA Magazine, Cornish Story and Cornish Guardian. She is also the founder of Emma’s Travels With Books blog designed to help people read their way around the world. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, exploring, and daydreaming.