Blog, Interview, Interviews

Blog Tour: Bigfoot Island by Roderick O’Grady

PaperBound Magazine are thrilled to be part of the Blog Tour for Bigfoot Island.

We were lucky enough to interview Rod all about the inspiration behind his books!

Q&A with Roderick O’Grady

Can you tell us a little bit about your new book Bigfoot Island (and Bigfoot Mountain for those who haven’t read it yet – no spoilers!) and the inspiration behind it?

Let’s start with what inspired me to write BFM. I had never written a book before and the only subject at the time that really intrigued me was that of Bigfoots also known as Sasquatches, also known as Sabe (Saa-bay). In fact, every Native American tribe has a word in their language for the big hairy forest people that, according to them, have always lived on the American continent. I had happily fallen down the rabbit-hole of ‘Bigfoot Research’. In Bigfoot Mountain we meet the four humans living in the Pacific North West in cabins near the sea at the foot of a mountain – Minnie, her step dad Dan, their neighbour Connie and her young son Billy.
We also meet eleven Bigfoots who are looking for a new forest home as wild fires forced them to leave their caves in the mountains to the east. Minnie and the young Bigfoot Kaayii (who is nearly seven foot tall) don’t become friends, but they do help each other. In Bigfoot Island, a family comes to stay in one of the cabins who go hunting on the mountain. Minnie is worried that their paths will cross with Kaayii. The young Bigfoot has problems of his own when an angry rogue Bigfoot arrives on the mountain and starts wandering close to the humans. Kaayii needs help and, again, Minnie is able to provide it.

What made you decide to write about Sasquatches?

The evidence for their actual existence has been increasing in recent years. I’ve read the DNA report which says they are an unknown relic hominid, not yet recognised by science. If they do indeed exist then I think the way I describe their way of life might be quite accurate. They live in family groups, are self-appointed stewards of the forest, and can communicate telepathically.

Did you have to do a lot of research to write your books? If so, what was the most interesting thing you discovered?

I did a ton of research and am still learning. I wanted to set the story in a temperate rainforest where animals thrive as it has high rainfall and therefore plenty to eat. So, I researched the area of Western Canada in British Colombia so that the descriptions of the flora and fauna are accurate. I’ve never been there, though I hope to visit one day. The most interesting thing I discovered is that many eye witness accounts of seeing Bigfoots in the woods describe how they seem to be able to make themselves go invisible, possibly by raising their vibration. And the footprints they leave in mud and snow can suddenly stop, like they just disappeared in to another dimension!

What do you hope readers will take from these books?

I believe that the more children understand about nature, the more they will want to protect it. I hope I have described the forest, the sea shore, the islands vividly enough that they will want to go out in to nature and explore our wonderful natural world.

What do you enjoy most about being an author?

I really enjoy meeting children in schools, and inspiring them to think about maybe writing a story one day.

If you could give one writing tip to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Just start writing. Your first idea might not be the one that will end up being a great story but the process of writing will pull from your subconscious mind incredible ideas, charming characters, fun dialogue and extraordinary places ­- if you just let it.

Roderick O’Grady is an actor who has worked in London and New York. His stage play, ‘A Foolish Fancy – How not to Get Ahead in the Theatre’ was a Time Out critic’s choice on the London Fringe. He has voiced the audiobook for Bigfoot Mountain, his first children’s book.

Bigfoot Island

When Minnie spots a white boat bringing strangers to the cove below her cabin, she fears the hard-won peace of her tiny community at the foot of Bigfoot Mountain will be shattered.
Kaayii too has to deal with an intruder on the mountain and, injured, needs to reach his family across the water. The two inhabit separate worlds but must find a way to work together to avoid disaster and protect the people and places they hold dear.

Bigfoot Mountain and Bigfoot Island are out now and published by Firefly Press

We have loved being a part of the Bigfoot Island Blog Tour!
Don’t forget to check out the other great blogs this week, for lots more from the world of Bigfoot Mountain!
Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview: Shanti Hershenson in conversation with Cailey Tin

We are delighted to share an interview of Shanti Hershenson in conversation with Cailey Tin. Shanti Herhenson is a teen author who has published a number of books, from science fiction novels to a book told in poetry.

Here, she discusses her creative writing process, how she overcame bullying by using writing as an outlet, becoming a social media star, marketing her own books, and making a name for herself in the publishing world.

Being a teenager is tough, but she wrote around all of these obstacles and that inspires so many aspiring young creators today.   

Shanti, thank you for taking the time to answer some burning questions. I’ve read that you’re in the process of publishing your thirteenth book, entitled The Bane of Angelfall Academy. Can you tell us what it’s about?

Sure! The Bane of Angelfall Academy follows a girl called Devan and her parents are both famous writers. She’s sent to a futuristic boarding school for the most talented authors, because her parents help fund the school, and it’s this nepotism thing. [Devan] loves to write, but with a lot of pressure to overcome, she feels like she’s not good at it. Then suddenly, characters from her book bleed into her reality and beg her to finish her story. Now she has to deal with this, along with navigating the student body and the twists and turns of the school. When her characters come to life, Devan realises that she has not only a novel to write, but a world to save. 

When you’re writing these characters, how do you write real humans that feel alive and resonate with you?

Any character that is three dimensional doesn’t exactly have to be well-rounded, but they need to have advantages and weaknesses, including positive and negative things about their personalities. I think we need to have their future in mind to shape these characters. Some of them have my feelings poured into them, but not all, because every character can’t be like me. I enjoy using character sheets sometimes, because even if some [information] will not be in the book, at least we know things that can be brought up if needed.  

Most of your books are fantasy and science fiction, which is your favourite genre. What makes you love this genre more than others?  

When I was a kid, I was introduced to many science fiction books. I loved the story of a cat who was a stowaway in space. The idea of technology and the future was something I was naturally drawn to. At an early age, I was introduced to Star Wars. My first books had robots that I loved. With fantasy, I enjoy exploring new worlds and escaping reality in any brand-new place.  

What is your favourite book that you wrote? Out of all the stories you’ve penned, have you ever gotten the feeling like, ‘If I could be known for any story, this is what I would want to be known for,’ and why? 

I have three books in mind. First would be The Bane of Angelfall Academy because of the plot points that were so difficult to tie together that I almost scrapped it, and I thought, ‘Man, this is my worst book.’ But during the editing process, I grew a love towards it. Otherwise, Neverdying is probably the best book I’ve published. It was a breakthrough for me when my writing improved and so did my storytelling skills. It felt like it was written by an adult, and I thought, ‘Did I actually write this? That’s crazy!’ The other book, not yet published, was what I wrote in winter, and I only have a few social media posts on it but it’s so good, it’ll probably come out in early 2024 because it’s a super long one to edit.  

Your novel told in poetry, entitled You Won’t Know Her Name, perfectly shared your struggles with bullying, and it tells your real-life story as the victim of incredibly harsh bullying, which included sensitive topics. How does your poetry process differ from writing novels? Especially with difficult topics?  

I did a thousand words of poetry every single day, which was about ten poems. They’re in chronological order that explain what happened [in my experience]. Some are more poetic while others are rough, but that’s okay, because the story is rough. That book was one of the hardest to write, not because the process was particularly challenging, nor because I struggled with writer’s block, but I always woke up telling myself, ‘Why are you writing this? This is a bad idea, just stop.’ That was my daily thought process, which was wrong.  

You’re such a strong advocate of anti-bullying. How was writing something that guided you with life’s challenges, as reflected in your poetry book? 

Poetry, and specifically shorter stories have been an outlet for my emotions. I write about things that upset and scare me, it’s a great way to lift a weight off of my chest, just getting it on paper. In the aftermath of being severely bullied, I really wanted to get the story out. I didn’t want to keep it in. Writing was a way I could process things, maybe share it with other people.

The situation was ridiculous and originally I wanted to write it as a novel, like a non-fiction of me going through the [bullying] events and sharing what I wish I could’ve said in those moments. I barely got through the second chapter. Another idea was a fiction, almost reminiscent story, and the other one was a standpoint of how I was surviving and coping afterwards. None of those ideas worked; my big problem was that I can’t use anyone’s names because I don’t want to get sued, nor call people out. I didn’t want to change the names because it felt less personal.

In the end, I realised poetry is perfect because it plays such a big role in my story, which was cool because it’s about poetry, and actually poetry. 

When I was checking out your other novels, what specifically stood out to me were the blurbs. Just how concise, well written, and closely woven to the story they are. When you’re beginning your story, do you already have a blurb in mind? Or does it flow to you naturally, how do you navigate that?   

Most of the time I don’t write the blurb until the halfway mark, which I did with my first book, Biome Lock, when it was time to promote it. But it really depends on the book, whether they’re challenging. Sometimes it takes multiple revisions and I let someone read through them. Other times it’s a first draft, then I’ll read it through and there is nothing to fix. With a few stories, my ideas completely change at the halfway mark. I have a weird writing process where sometimes I only know little plot points to piece together as the story goes on, then it slowly falls into place. 

What are some key aspects of storytelling that you really want to focus on in your work? Whether that be character development or plot points, what do you focus the most on?

I feel you can’t have a good book without strong characters. It needs to be a character-driven story, I’m more of a character writer myself because I need to focus on their journeys. I love a strong plot, but the most underrated and overshadowed thing is the setting. I’m a sucker for vivid locations, and I strive to focus on it more. 

How do you balance relationships, school, and all these other things with your passion for writing?  

I had to learn a ton of time management skills that I didn’t have before. Thankfully, I’m allowed to write on my school computer during homeroom. I do as much writing as I need at home, then I’ll do schoolwork. If I have lots of schoolwork, then I do thirty minutes of that and alternate it with writing. My goal is one thousand words a day, but lately I’ve been averaging two thousand words. Learning to switch from these two was a helpful, valuable skill.  

That sounds incredibly motivating. With all the passion you’ve been putting into writing, what was the exact moment where you felt like you wanted to be a writer? 

In elementary school, I thought that writing books when I was older would be cool, but I wrote short stories then while thinking, ‘Maybe when I’m an adult I could write a full-length novel.’ The time I discovered that I could make this a career as a teenager was in sixth grade, when I penned two novellas with a friend, and we self-published them through Amazon KDP. They didn’t sell well, so I returned to short stories thinking, ‘I can’t write a full book and become successful.’

But one day, my family and I were at the beach, it was getting dark, and I was wondering what to do because I was very bored. I thought of watching movies or playing video games, but it felt boring. I told my sister, ‘It would be cool to write a book and say that I made it, but what would I do though?’ Then I got the idea of teenagers stuck in these biomes and they couldn’t move, and over time, that became my current four books, one of the first in the series being Biome Lock. There was a crossover novel, so in total that would be five books.  

Who was your biggest inspiration when you began writing? Whether it be a popular author, famous person, close friend, anyone?

I always stop every time I get that question because it’s changed so much. There are authors of the books I’m currently reading, but then that would be such a long list. One of my inspirations is my younger self, particularly in fourth grade, because I was always creating stories. I love the idea of my younger self seeing me now and going, ‘Oh my gosh, we made it!’ Funnily enough, I’m currently working on a screenplay for school about a famous author who gets to meet her younger self. 

Let’s talk about book publishing and marketing‌. It’s filled with overwhelming things where we have to stop actually writing in order to market. Were there particular resources that helped you through it?

Sometimes marketing is harder than writing itself. When I began writing my book, I thought, ‘These have to be successful. As a teenager, I need to make a name for myself.’ I had moments where I’d stay up really late and wonder if my work would pay off one day. I read all these blog posts that gave me lists of markets before I needed them, and that was helpful.

I began posting on TikTok, and it blew up for me. Editing Biome Lock was a challenging editing process, and during it, I ended up writing a series of novellas that got published before it. With those books, I experimented with marketing tactics as I did giveaways, and from there I kept going. Now I have a concrete plan on what gets sales, what doesn’t, and the only way to make books successful is to keep trying new things.  

Sometimes the industry makes you want to focus on a specific type of book. How do you manage these expectations while still staying true to what you love writing?

If I’m writing something because other people want it, then it wouldn’t be as great. Fan service is awesome and I like putting little things in my book that readers suggest, but only when I agree with it. People push for mature scenes in my books all the time, but I ignore it because it isn’t my genuine work. I think people who write more mature books are cool, but I’m fifteen; I don’t want adults to read books that don’t stay true to my audience.

Some reviewers go, ‘When is it gonna get spicy?’ but it’s a young adult novel and I also need to stay true to myself. There’s a lot of pressure on authors to stay in one genre and stick to that, but I want to experiment with a variety of books, which means having more readers and reaching more people. I want to write books targeted to teens, then also kids, too.  

You’ve been consistent with social media posts, with over fifty thousand followers on TikTok. How do you continue doing something that can get extremely draining, and not let it affect your mental health?  

Tiktok is one of my biggest resources for marketing, but it’s also a struggle. For every one hundred comments that are nice and supportive, there’s a rude person. Although I don’t get that many hate comments, occasionally some are pretty mean. There was an incident where someone uploaded my TikTok for free in a compilation with other TikTok videos related to books and writing, but they misspelled something in the caption and everyone thought it was me who wrote it. They absolutely came for me! Luckily that’s all sorted out now. 

How do you convert negativity and experiences like this into art, and into your stories? 

I remind myself that every successful writer faces criticism. In every book signing, there are questions asked [regarding] how to deal with negative reviews, and every author’s answer varies. But for me, when the review is constructive, then I’ll apply it to my next book and forget about the first, because it’s already published after all. It’s also important to remember that people like different things, and sometimes they’re not even part of your target audience, so no book like yours would appeal to them. We have to focus on the positive people, and make their voices louder than the negative ones.  

Last question. This is such a cliché one, but seriously, what is the most valuable advice you could give another young, emerging author, specifically your younger self?  

Okay, I can get pretty corny and cliché about this too. Don’t let your age get in the way of your dreams. Don’t join the military when you’re ten years old, though! But for things like writing, you’re never too young or old to create a book. When you’re four, you can still scribble on paper, make a children’s book. A lot of kids that are twelve, thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen, you start discovering what they want to do. Sadly, many of them are told that they’re too young. But with enough practice, a thirteen-year-old can write better than an adult. A tip that goes along with this is try to write every day. If you miss one day or more, that’s totally fine, but just attempt to. Forming a routine trains your brain and helps you get into the author habit. You’re testing out new territory and improving with every passing sentence, so start early and be consistent. 

Shanti Hershenson’s first two novellas were published when she was in the sixth grade, although her writing journey started long before then. Ever since she could hold a pencil, marker, or crayon, she was creating stories. They started from pictures, mere scribbles, and eventually, turned into captivating tales.

She lives in California with her parents, sister, and furry friends. Besides writing, she enjoys skateboarding, Beyblading, free-running, falconry, and of course, reading.

She writes in a variety of genres, including Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction, although she mostly sticks to Sci-Fi.

She advocates for anti-bullying, and you may find her at open mic-nights, performing her spoken word poem Needles & Thorns, which is about the struggle of bullying in middle schools.

About Cailey:

Cailey Tin is a mixed-raced staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, and an interview editor at Paper Crane Journal. Her work was awarded by Spillwords Press and published in Fairfield Scribes, Globe Review, Alien Magazine, The Inflections, and more, under the pen name Cailey Tarriane. During her free time, she plays the piano or watches children’s shows with her dog.

PaperBound Magazine is an online magazine for the young, and the young at heart. We are dedicated to showcasing authors and illustrators for children’s and young adult fiction and we strive to deliver inspiring content, uplifting stories, and top tips for young and aspiring writers yet to burst on to the literary scene.

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. We appreciate any support you can give us!

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

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview: Meg Grehan in conversation with Siobhán Parkinson

To celebrate today’s release of middle grade title The Lonely Book, we are excited to share an interview of author Meg Grehan in conversation with Siobhán Parkinson. This is a loving story about gender identity, family, and the magic of books.

Annie’s family is made of love.

When her moms open up their bookshop in the mornings, there is always a mysterious pile of books on the counter. By evening, every book has found its ideal reader. But one day there is a book on gender identity that doesn’t get bought. Who can its reader be, and why don’t they come?

 Days pass, and the book with no owner gets lonelier and lonelier. The bookshop is unhappy, its magic starts to go awry, and the moms are worried that the shop isn’t making enough money. Meanwhile, Annie’s sibling has become withdrawn.

Annie has a plan to save the shop, but is this all that’s worrying her sibling?

Meg, I was thinking about what a lovely – and intriguing – title ‘The Lonely Book’ is. And of course this new verse novel is not just about a book — it’s actually set in a bookshop. Which reminds me that the main character in your first book, The Space Between, worked in a bookshop. So it seems that you are drawn to the idea of bookshops, not just as places to visit as a customer, but as rather enchanting places to work in. Have you ever worked in a bookshop, or is it just a dream?

I love bookshops. When I found it harder to leave my house they were real sanctuaries to me, little homes away from my real home. If I could get home I was OK, and if I could get to a bookshop I was OK. I think bookshops are so special, so unlike anywhere else.

I did work in a bookshop! I was a bookseller and I did most of the ordering. It was very fun but a lot more stressful than I expected! I loved getting to talk to people about books, help them with their most specific and niche requests. I need a book about a sloth, I need a book about the high seas, I need a book about … I loved that! Getting to know people has always been easiest for me when it’s through books. I feel confident that I know and understand the world of books and it’s where I feel safest, so working in a bookshop was very special to me.

And of course in this story, the bookshop has a very special kind of magic. It is the bookshop itself that chooses certain books and makes sure that they find their ideal readers. Later in the story, when this one unattached book, the lonely book, doesn’t find its person for some time, the bookshop gets very agitated. How did you come up with such an extraordinary device?

When I worked in the bookshop I had a little desk down the back where I would unbox all the new books I’d ordered, put them on the system and get them ready for the shelves. There were a couple of instances when someone would come up and say, ‘Oh, I heard about this book, it’s about …’ and I would have that very book sitting right in front of me! They always reacted like it was magic, and I always kind of felt like it was. That’s what gave me the idea for a bookshop that works with its people, helps with some of the bookselling – though they still have to find the right readers, of course.

The idea of a magic bookshop works very well in a story that centres on such a young character. I mean Annie, who is about eight or nine? She is not exactly the main character (that is probably Annie’s older sibling, Charlie); but Annie is a main character in another sense, because the story is told from her point of view. That was an interesting decision. It is Charlie’s story, but it is told from Annie’s perspective. What made you think of telling it that way?

I agree that Charlie is really the main character, but for what I wanted to achieve with this book Annie made sense as the character whose point of view we follow. In my last book for children, The Deepest Breath, we followed Stevie as she discovered that she liked girls. It made sense to follow Stevie on that journey, as she was starting from the complete beginning. It’s the same with Annie: she doesn’t know anything about gender at the start of the story and it makes her the perfect character to learn and grow with.

Charlie is a little older, a teenager, and a book about them would be a YA (young adult) story. But I felt that this book needed to be middle-grade – for younger readers. Just like with The Deepest Breath, I wanted to introduce concepts gently and carefully and in a positive way, and following Annie allowed me to do that. It is also very much Charlie’s story, though, I love them so much and I do think we see a lot that goes on with them through Annie’s eyes.

Yes, I see what you mean. The central issue, which clarifies as the story opens up, is that Charlie is starting to realise that they are non-binary. That is a big idea to mediate through the thoughts and worries of a much younger child, but it works really well, doesn’t it? I suppose Annie’s openness to new ideas is something that comes naturally to her, as a child – when you are small, everything is new, and you maybe haven’t acquired too many prejudices. So that makes her an ideal narrator, would you agree?

I do agree! It’s what’s so amazing about children, isn’t it? They learn and learn and learn every day, they are so open and ready for new things and so, so brave.

I wrote The Deepest Breath and The Lonely Book for younger readers because they both deal with topics I don’t think are written about enough for children. Queer stories are for everyone, and I wanted to share some!

Annie might be very young and very open, but she does also suffer from anxiety. Her worries are a kind of subplot – she knows there is something bothering Charlotte; she knows her mothers are worried about something completely different – whether the bookshop is financially secure. And one reaction she has to these anxieties is that she finds very often she can’t speak. Can you tell us a bit about selective mutism and why you chose to explore it in this story?

Selective mutism is a type of anxiety disorder that means that sometimes you just can’t speak. I decided to write about it because I have it. In times of extreme stress I lose the ability to speak. For instance, during the height of the pandemic I couldn’t speak at all for almost a year. My speech slowly came back but it was quite scary. Generally it just manifests in little ways: like, in an argument, sometimes words just vanish for me. It feels like quite a betrayal because I have always considered words friends. Writing about it, however minor a subplot it may be, was really nice for me. It reminded me that words take many forms and I am never truly without them.

Using sign language to overcome mutism is a creative as well as a very loving response, and the whole family becomes involved. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Again, that comes from personal experience. For those months when I couldn’t speak my girlfriend and I learned sign language. We learned together and it was a very beautiful thing. It was her idea. We had tried a text-to-speech app but I didn’t like that, and we tried me writing things out, but it was such a slow process. Sign was the perfect answer. We loved learning it, we loved using it and I loved it so much that she learned it with me; and that made me feel so loved and respected and valued. And so that is why I wrote that into the story of The Lonely Book. It just seemed right.

The love that Annie and Charlie share with their two mothers is very strong, very warm, very sustaining. And emotionally very satisfying to read about. It is the core of the book, really. But I like how you don’t allow the fact that this family is united in love and togetherness to be an easy solution to their various anxieties. It’s important that they have each other, but it’s not enough to make all their worries disappear. Can you tell us a bit more about your thinking on this?

I am very lucky to be in a relationship for almost twelve years now with a warm, funny, kind and caring person. I am loved and cared for and supported beyond what I ever thought possible. But I still have my anxieties, my troubles, my worries and struggles. The love I receive and the love I give can soothe these worries, they can lessen the load, they can calm me when things get too much. But they cannot take them away.

It isn’t fair to expect a person, no matter who they are, to fix your problems or take away your struggles with just the power of love and togetherness. But it is OK to expect respect and love and tenderness, I think. That’s what this family do: they love and respect and care for each other because they are a family and this is what comes naturally to them. They don’t expect each other to fix everything for them, or expect themselves to be able to fix everything for the others.

This is what Annie is learning, you can’t fix everything for a person, even if you wish you could. But you can love them and support them and be there for them, and that can be just as powerful.

The Deepest Breath, which is also written for quite a young readership, is realistic, as was your first book, The Space Between, which is more for a YA audience. Then, with Baby Teeth, definitely YA, you plunged right into fantasy (almost horror), and that went down very well!

Do you think Baby Teeth opened up the way for the kind of magic realism we find in The Lonely Book? Maybe in the same way that centring the story on a younger child in The Deepest Breath might have inspired you to write The Lonely Book also for a young audience?

Maybe! I’ve never had any interest in categorising myself when it comes to writing. I am not a person who has a lot of ideas, I am not at all brimming with them and I rarely have to choose between them to decide what to write. Usually I have one idea and I sit with it for as long as it takes to form and grow and develop. Then I write it.

Same for me!

Beth (the main character in The Space Between) came to me first, then Stevie (The Deepest Breath), then Immy (Baby Teeth) and now Annie. Immy was the most self-indulgent for me (though it may seem to be Beth from The Space Between!) because I love horror, I love paranormal stories, I love the innate drama of vampires and the idea of many lives lived.

I also love not holding back when I write, letting myself be as over-the-top or dramatic or even maybe pretentious as I want to be and Immy let me do that. I very much wrote that book for myself and the fact that other people liked it too definitely made me much braver moving forward, which, yes, could have played a part in inspiring me to write about a magic bookshop.

All your books, Meg, are verse novels. Do you find that verse comes to you more naturally than prose? And do you find that audiences respond especially well to the poetic form?

It definitely comes more naturally to me. I have always, always loved poetry. My nana wrote poetry and she wrote a poem about me when I was little. I still have the book that it’s published in on my bookcase. I like to think she wrote me into the world of poetry.

What a gift!

Wasn’t it just?

I was also a drama kid. I performed poetry I loved and wrote and performed my own poetry. I’ve always read it, always written it, and always loved it. So when I learned that books could be poetry too, that I could write a whole story in a poetic form, a new world opened up to me. It just comes naturally to me, it makes me happy, it makes me feel free and brave and inspired.

I love verse a lot, and I do think people respond well to it, even if they don’t quite know what it is. I try quite hard to make my verse accessible and make it flow nicely so it isn’t too taxing to read and I think, or I hope rather, that readers feel that. I think people are often surprised by how much they like verse, it kind of delights me!

Yes, I see what you mean about how naturally it comes to you, but I’m still wondering if it was a conscious decision to use verse as a form and magic realism as a storytelling style in order to tackle a subject that some readers might find more difficult to think about if they encountered them in a realistic novel or one in prose?

Honestly, no, not really. I trust readers, I trust young readers. I think they can handle bigger ideas and concepts than we give them credit for.

I totally agree, Meg. I think that respect for young readers is what marks the best writers for children and young people.

So, the reason I chose verse is that that is what I love and how I write best, and I wanted to give this story it’s best chance at being good. And I chose magical realism or fabulism because it allowed me to tell the story I wanted to tell and because the idea excited me. I think it just worked out well that these choices helped me in telling the story as clearly and accessibly as I could.

And it all worked out pretty well perfectly! Thank you, Meg, for talking to me, and thank you for this wonderful book.

You can catch this interview in the back of The Lonely Book upon its paperback release from Little Island Books. We want to thank Little Island for giving us permission to publish this interview on our blog to celebrate this fantastic release!

PaperBound Magazine is an online magazine for the young, and the young at heart. We are dedicated to showcasing authors and illustrators for children’s and young adult fiction and we strive to deliver inspiring content, uplifting stories, and top tips for young and aspiring writers yet to burst on to the literary scene.

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. We appreciate any support you can give us!

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

Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author AF Harrold

We teamed up with Emma Stanford who reviewed The Worlds We Leave Behind by A.F. Harrold (and beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold) in a previous PaperBound issue and put together a few questions for the author. Read the interview below, or in the latest issue of PaperBound here.

The Worlds We Leave Behind by A.F. Harrold

Could you tell us a little about The Worlds We Leave Behind, and the inspiration behind the story and illustrations? Did it start with a setting, a character or something else?

The Worlds We Leave Behind is a strange, slightly dark, slightly creepy, slightly odd story about a boy, Hex (short for Hector), who gets in some trouble down the woods, meets an old lady and her dog in a cottage that shouldn’t exist and gets offered a bargain that could change his life. I think that’s probably all I could say about the story without saying too much. 

The inspiration for it came from the previous book Levi and I made together, The Song from Somewhere Else. That was a story that I wrote and which the publisher (Bloomsbury) went out and found an illustrator for (which was Levi, obviously). And what Levi did with that story, and what the designer (Andrea Kearney) made of the book-as-object, was utterly delicious, dark and moody and beautiful. Naturally people asked if we were going to do anything else together… 

And, a few books later, the thought came of taking one of the minor characters from that book and letting them have a go. And so Frank (the main character in The Song…) had a little brother, Hector. What if, I thought, time had moved on five or six years, so that he was now the age Frank had been when she had her adventure (10-11)? And how might he react put through some of the same sorts of difficulties she was? 

The previous books, The Imaginary and The Afterwards (both with Emily Gravett), and The Song…, all have some sort of bargain at their heart. In the two books with Emily the ‘villains’ of the books have made supernatural bargains to allow them something they shouldn’t have, and in the first book with Levi, a boy called Nick’s dad has made a bargain with a secret agent to bend the rules… This time, I felt, I could look at one of these bargains being made, with an outer entity. 

And so the thought of someone offering Hex the chance to get his own back, to have his revenge on someone who’d hurt him, who’d wronged him… that seemed a good starting point. And the story grew and changed and spread and got pruned and eventually sort of fitted in and around that original thought, and ended up how it looks today. (Thanks to plenty of work with my editor Zöe Griffiths, who asked the important questions and made me stretch for the answers.) 

What is the process of working with an illustrator like? When did you start collaborating? Were the illustrations created after the story was complete, or did they develop along with the story itself? 

Since Levi lives in Australia and I’m in the UK, we’ve only met, in person, a few times. But when we have met we’ve got on well, and although he’s a decade younger than me, we have enough childhood loves and experiences in common (me growing up in the pre-internet ‘70s/’80s, he in the pre-internet ‘80s/’90s) that we have a shared understanding of the sort of story we’re making, and the atmosphere we want to give. Although the story is ‘modern’, in that there are mobile phones and computers, it’s still very much rooted in our shared ‘80s memory, I think. 

And so, where The Song from Somewhere Else was written without knowing who would be illustrating it, this new book I wrote specifically with Levi in mind. So, although it isn’t a collaboration in the sense of ‘coming up with the story together’, it is very much a collaboration in that I was thinking, ‘What do I want to see Levi draw?’ as I went along, knowing the visual language and atmosphere of the previous book. It was as if he was sat on my shoulder as I wrote and tinkered. 

And then, a few weeks before the first lockdown, Levi happened to be in the UK, and he had a spare afternoon so he came over to Reading, where I live, and we had a cup of tea, and we sat in my shed and I told him the story, face to face, and that was a really lovely moment I’ve not had with anyone else. 

And so, then he gets the ‘finished’ manuscript and goes away and makes his art. And I get to see it at various points and simply be amazed, moved and feel immensely, intensely lucky to know such a man with such a talent! 

Time is used in a very unique way in this book. Did this bring up any issues with structuring the story at all? If so, how did you overcome them? 

Because of how The Song from Somewhere Else had been structured (days instead of chapters), this book was obviously going be the same, which meant you’ve only got four days for the story (Monday to Thursday, plus evenings/nights), so it’s actually very linear. Things happen in the order in which they happen, and so that’s quite simple. 

Although there are some wrinkles (trying to be spoiler free, one might allude to alternative timelines), there is no back and forth time travel or paradoxes to be negotiated (I think of something like Gareth P. Jones’ No True Echo (which I read after seeing it mentioned in a review for The Worlds…), where it’s proper mind-bending timelines folding in around themselves, past and future and present in a big timey-wimey complex)… none of that. Just things happening one after another. 

What are your top three tips for aspiring young writers and illustrators? 

I think my two tips would be unsurprising ones. Firstly, read books. For one thing, reading books is a great way to fill your time and take yourself to all sorts of places and times and viewpoints you’d not otherwise get to visit (or to see places, people and times that you do know, but with fresh eyes), and secondly, if you want to be a writer, by seeing how other people do it you’ll get a feel for how to do it, or how not to do it… 

And my second tip is, if you don’t feel like writing, don’t, and don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t have to write every day. Sometimes you’ll write loads, and sometimes you won’t  Sometimes ideas will pour out of you, and sometimes they won’t. Don’t worry, don’t panic, don’t beat yourself up. You’re allowed to not write. 

My third tip is have a bath whenever you can. It’s a good place to read, and it’s a good place to think. 

Photo by by Alex Genn-Bash

A.F. Harrold is a poet, performer and children’s author who has written funny and spooky books for all ages and gotten to make art with some of the finest illustrators of the age, including Chris Riddell (Things You Find in a Poet’s Beard), Emily Gravett (The Imaginary), Joe Todd-Stanton (Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space), Mini Grey (The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice) and Sarah Horne (the Fizzlebert Stump series).

His two books with Levi Pinfold, The Song from Somewhere Else (winner of the Amnesty International/CILIP Honour, 2018) and The Worlds We Leave Behind are good things. 

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 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, and you can also find their work at 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!