Monday, 1 September 2014

Author Interview Exclusive: Alan Snow on Here Be Monsters!

A big, giggly, fangirl hello to everyone and especially to Alan Snow, author of Here Be Monsters!  I was lucky enough to be leant a copy of the original Here Be Monsters! to read some time ago and once I finished it, I was hesitant to return the copy to the Other Half.  Thankfully, he bought me my very own signed and Boxtroll-doodled copy and I can read it any time I like now!  I'm very honoured today to bring the author of the book that I love, to answer some questions and celebrate the new edition of the book, ahead of the film.

How did you create such a big and consistently ridiculous world, yet maintain the logic within it?

Think about it the other way round. Our world is big and ridiculous, and I just brought a few new characters into it.

Here Be Monsters! is full of such a wonderful mix of odd characters, but were there any that you had to lose in the editing process because they didn't work out or just didn't fit in with the finished version of the book?  

Indeed there were. Hilda who ran the Sunday night‘Lettuce and Slugs in a barrel entertainment’, Wompbats that lived in the tunnels and were powered by farts. Hilda was based on a great aunt of mine and was very mean (my aunt charged me for old buttons and secondhand comics when I was a kid).

This book has a very English and wonderful wacky sense of humour about it. Did you write the story with the intention of it being a “funny book” or did it just happen that way? What are your “funny” inspirations?

Children deserve intelligent humour and wit, and this was what I was hoping to put in the story along with an interesting yarn. What I grew up with and remember most enjoying were Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Uncle the Elephant by J.P. Martin (the Uncle series were possible the funniest books I ever read and there are few to match them). 

Part of what I loved about reading Here Be Monsters! was the artwork that made the world of Ratbridge a more concrete place to read about. Had you always planned to illustrate it and which part took longer to complete: the writing or the illustrations? 

I tried to make the book I always wanted. As a kid I could spend hours looking at maps, old catalogs and diagrams. I enjoyed the detail of old books with their plates and headers. So why not put everything in? It did all take time and I can’t really say which took longer as I worked on them together, switching back and forth as it seemed natural. With the second Ratbridge book, I wrote first as it avoided losing drawings that might not see the light of day because of editing.

With The Boxtrolls movie soon to be released, it's giving a whole new audience to the Here Be Monsters! book. Does this mean there might be a chance for more adventures in the Ratbridge universe?

I do hope so. There is a Christmas tale of Ratbridge that I would like to do.

With all the weird and wonderful creatures in Ratbridge, I wonder how you came up with them all. Was there a whole water-filled farmyard full of other animals before you decided on the Sea-Cow? Why Cabbageheads and not any other vegetable?

I tend to think of a creature while drawing and just draw what amuses me. Its place in the ecology of the world may be immediately apparent, and if not then I will ponder and see if there is an interesting solution to making it fit.  As to ‘Why Cabbageheads’? Tone! It may sound ridiculous but a cabbage has the right tone (at least to me).  A potato would be too earthy and lumpy, an artichoke too posh, and a carrot perhaps likely to get snapped. 

Which children's books or authors would you recommend to readers? Classics or contemporary? 

I have already mentioned the Uncle books by J.P. Martin, which I highly recommend, but I would also recommend Anything by Leon Garfield, or Tim Hunkin. 

I know that drawing and illustrating are passions for you; which mediums do you like to work in and is there any other creative avenue you'd like to try but have yet to pursue?

Drawing for me is not so much a passion as a voice. It is also a key to a dream world. I can slide into other places as I do it. I feel most natural and very quiet when I’m doing it. Though I do use other mediums, there are nonethat feel quite like this for me.  That is probably down to the fact I’ve not spent enough time practicing them.

Cheese features a great deal in the book; what's your favourite cheese?

There are many but very fresh mozzarella is lovely.  

What has been your favourite or most memorable response from a fan?

There is a boy in France who dragged his parents halfway across the country to a signing in Paris to bring me a model box troll.

It's nearly 10 years since Here Be Monsters! was first published: Looking back on it, is there anything you would do differently if you were publishing it now?

Write faster and avoid distractions… apart from family.

I know that right now you're working on opening up your own ice cream shop! How has that come about? It's a bit different from writing and drawing for books! 

It’s not quite so different as you might imagine… I started looking at doing a food-related book a few years ago and this led me to researching science, and flavour. I built a lab at home and started playing with extracting essences out of all kind of foods. Ice cream is excellent place to put flavours and I started making my own. I also spoke to some publishers and was told that unless I was a famous cook or chef they weren’t interested in a book. So I thought about a shop or small factory as people I let taste my ice cream thought it different and very good, and I was enjoying making it. I decided that an ice cream shop with a lab - which was as interesting as possible - would be the way to go. 

Now I am building the shop’s fixtures and fittings in a workshop and am looking for a place to open it.With luck it should open next year and be unlike any ice cream shop ever seen. Think Fortnum and Masons in Ratbridge. 

I can't say enough thank you's to the lovely people at OUP for helping organise this interview and to Alan for being so kind and answering all my questions.

The new edition of Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow is available online and in bookshops from September 4th and The Boxtrolls movie is in cinemas from September 12th

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Writing is HARD: #shouldbewriting

As a book blogger, I've heard it said that writing is hard.  I've seen it tweeted, heard it first-hand and in the past year, I've been experiencing it.

Writers that I've met have made it look so easy but that's because we don't see the 24/7 version of their lives that involves WAY too much tea and/or coffee, lots of eating of things that shouldn't be eaten on a daily basis (e.g. a whole packet of chocolate digestives and the entire wedge of cheese) and the constant battle between the blank page and your brain to find words that aren't shit.

Writing is very hard

It needs a level of will power that goes beyond the top range any normal human being would possess (generally implemented when the choccy tin gets past around at Christmas) and a level of focus that even the strongest mind would wobble over.

Writing is difficult

Finding a time to do it after having completed a full work day, cooked and eaten dinner and then being expected (by yourself and the big evil eye over your head) to proceed literary gold instead of gibberish and nonsense.

Writing is painful

Once you've found the will to turn off the repeat episode of Keeping Up With The Karadashians and turned on the laptop, you've then got to beat yourself senseless while you write in order to truly feel like you've achieved.   You've got to spill out a few hundred words, look back at them and then sob quietly at the fact that they could've been written better by a monkey.

Writing is a challenge

It's always in the back of your brain and you know that the only person who can finish the project you've started is YOU.  No amount of help or notes from anyone else will get it ready to hand over for an agent to look at.  Then comes that little painful endeavour.....

Writing takes time

Once you've smashed up twenty computers in despair at your constant use of the word "said" or "banana" and then you've stopped crying long enough to edit it, you've then got to hand it on to someone else to say to you "You seem to use the word banana quite a bit.  Can you change it more?" and then you fix it again and again and then, just maybe, you hand it over to an agent or two so that they hopefully sign you up.

Writing is fun

With all that said and done, it's still amazing to play with words and create characters that become so real that you even know what they'd pick off a menu when you're out for dinner or how they'd react to some gossip you overhear on the bus.  You get to create entire universes and no one can tell you your wrong in doing it.  Nothing you write is wrong; it just might need altering so it is even better than before.

Writing is a process

It's long and there a some really hard days but there are also some utterly wonderful ones too.  You might write a whole book, only to realise that it isn't right for you or doesn't quite work for the character you've got in your head and needs to be rewritten or put away for a while.  Or even locked in a drawer and never spoken of again.  It's all learning though and that's the cool bit.  Even you mistakes are positives (annoying positives but still positives).

Writing is what I should be doing right now

I get distracted and can't focus but I've got the luxury of time to do it and a job that can pay the bills so I keep writing and hope I strike it lucky with the next sentence.



Monday, 25 August 2014

Review: Frog the Barbarian by Guy Bass


Now that Frog has saved Princess Rainbow, and probably the whole world, he decides that he doesn't want to be a prince anymore. But he is still the most excellent, skilled-up outer space someone in Kingdomland and probably the entire universe, and it would be a shame to waste his talents. And when an arrogant bragon arrives to threaten the king and queen, there is only one frog for the job! The second hilarious tale about a frog on a serious mission, in a world where nobody is sure what the bumbles is going on!


WARNING: This is the second book in a series, so you've had fair warning that there might be spoilers for the first book.  This review is spoiler-free for THIS book though.  Promise.

I was delighted to receive a copy of the second of the Frog books by Guy Bass because the first was such a surprising joy to read.  It was funny, bonkers and really well written.  It didn't let up with the chuckles and I'm so pleased to say that Book 2, Frog the Barbarian, is the same.

Following the discovery that Frog IS a Prince but perhaps not the one he'd originally thought he was, means he's a bit lost in the world.  He decides to try to return home to Buttercup, his carer and mother figure, to tell her that the world never ended and that he is a proper Prince.  Things go off course along the way and in a chance meeting with the King and Queen of Everything (Princess Rainbow's parents) along with an army of men and a bragon, Frog finds himself with the decision to be a hero or to stand up for what he believes is right.  It's a hard decision as Frog wants to follow the right path but with the scary shadow of his 'destiny' weighing on his shoulders, he's worried he'll make the wrong choice.

Another champion of a book from Guy Bass who has taken the over done fairytale genre and created a whole new way of looking at it.  Things can be topsy-turvy and not as simple as black and white; good versus evil.  Frog, along with his miss-mash of a gang, tries to save the Kingdom once more.  How can they fail when their hero has a noble steed called Sheriff Explosion.....and is a sheep.

Frankly fabulous and freakishly funny!

Published by Stripes Publishing and is available online and in bookshops now

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Review: Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler


Unexpectedly discovering you have a superpower can lead to trouble, as 13-year-old Jessica Jenkins finds out in this exciting new adventure from BLUE PETER BOOK AWARD-shortlisted author, Liz Kessler.

Jessica Jenkins is missing...

Jessica Jenkins has always thought she was a perfectly ordinary girl, until the day that part of her arm vanishes in the middle of a Geography lesson! Her best friend Izzy is determined to help Jessica realise what a great opportunity the power to turn invisible could be, but where has her new ability come from? Does this mean she's a superhero? And, when her friends are threatened, can Jessica use her superpower to help?

A wonderful new book from bestselling author Liz Kessler.


I was offered a copy of this book for review from the publishers and liked the sound of the concept and know Liz a bit, but had never actually read any of her books so I gladly accepted this one to start with.

Jessica is 13 and has just discovered that she has developed the ability to turn invisible.  Total nightmare?  Best thing ever?  Freaking out much?  All the above?

Jessica and her BFF, Izzy, find out about Jess' superpower by accident and decide that they should use this for some fun but also, to help others.  That's what superheroes do so that's their only lead as to how to act when you find out you can turn see-through.  However, things get a bit more complicated when they try to find out how and why this is happening and it seems that there may be more than one kid in her school that has special skills like her own.  The deeper they investigate and the more they uncover, the stranger things get.  Plus, more dangerous for all involved.

I was happy to throw caution to the wind and go with the flow in this story at first but wasn't sure when I got about halfway in.  It's a fun story and the idea is nice but there were a few moments when my logical head said "hey, that's a bit of a coincidence.".  Which is a shame because it isn't a terrible book but I think the plot was much to believe at times.  You do wonder to yourself: "what are the chances?" but you kind of have to asking that or else it'll ruin the enjoyment of the book for yourself.

The friendship between Jess and Izzy was really lovely and I really liked that there was quite little romance.  Just a hint of a crush.  It was just an adventure story about friendship and superpowers at its core, which was a refreshing change for me to read.

A good-time of a book with nice characters and relationships but you do have to throw logic and possibility out the window.

Published by Orion Children's Books and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: Goblin Quest by Philip Reeve


The goblins have a visitor. Prince Rhind is on some sort of quest to be a hero, desperate for his place in the hall of fame.

But Skarper and his troop of goblins know the prince's plan is a bad one, even if they don't quite know why. Now they must go on a quest of their own to stop him - but Rhind isn't about to let a bunch of pesky goblins get in his way...


WARNING: This is the third in a series so there will be spoilers for the previous two books but not for this one.  Not unless those cheeky Goblins sneak in and mess around!

 A new Philip Reeve book, did you say? Why, yes, I shall be happy to gobble this book up and review it. :)

We are welcomed back into the world of Clovenstone to see our lovely friend Skarper on another adventure of full of fights, cheese, giants and mer-people.  It's back to the world where things are a bit nutty, strange and loopy.  Huzzah!

This time we are on a Quest to try and stop the valiant, but misguided, Prince Rhind from trying to raise the would of Elves from out of the sea and bring back their kingdom.  Sounds like a good idea, a nice thing to do perhaps, but based on the research and book-reading it sounds like the worst idea in the world.   That, perhaps, the elves are not the nice pranching folk we are led to believe.  The Prince has his warrior like sister, his odd cook and a wizard that we've meet before in tow on their way to bring back the age of Elves and see his place in history is stamped out.  The Goblins and their human companions, Zeewa and Henwyn , are off to try and stop him but face their own troubles along the way.
Another funny tale of mischief and challenges from the great mind of Philip Reeve.  I tried to savour this book because I'm not sure if there are anymore Goblins books to come and didn't want to rush my enjoyment of it.  It was nice to see some of the old guard of characters back for another adventure as well as new ones that were just as amusing and odd.  It was a nice addition to my collection and made me chuckle enough to have my work mates give me some funny looks.  Bravo, Mr Reeve.

An eccentric and very British funny book that will bring a smile to your face.

Published by Scholastic UK and is available in bookshops and online now

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Feature: 20 Random Questions with ... Liz Kessler

20 Random Questions is a feature on Sisterspooky that will show you a different side to authors you may already know and introduce new ones.  I ask 20 very Random Questions and they answer them.  Simple as that.  The idea was inspired from a mixture of things in my head and a random question asked by Jim over at YA Contemporary

Today, I get the pleasure to invite Liz Kessler to the blog to answer the 20 Random Questions.  Liz is super lovely and wonderful and her answers are too!  Over to Liz:

If you were ruler of the world what laws would you make?

I’d love to find a way to outlaw violence and war and prejudice and poverty and homelessness, but I don’t know how to do this through laws. Can I make a law that somehow just makes everyone be nice to each other?

If you were a super hero what powers would you have? Limit to three powers!

I’d be able to time travel.

I’d like a power that makes me able to eat and drink whatever I like without putting on weight.

And I’d quite like the power to zap myself instantly to anywhere in the world. And maybe include outer space too, because that would be awesome.

What's your favourite cheese and why?

Halloumi. Especially grilled or barbecued. Because it’s yummy and salty and squeaky.

If you were an animal what would you be and why?

A puppy. Because I would just be loved and adored and cuddled all day long and could get away with being naughty on the grounds that I look cute.

If you could ask your future self one question what would it be?

Are you happy - and if not, what can I do to make sure you are?

What do you think the greatest invention has been?

I think it has to be the internet, because it makes pretty much everything else more possible.

What's your favourite type of Pie?

I keep wanting to say things like cheesecake or apple crumble or mint chic chip ice cream. I don’t think any of these are actually pies. Will they do instead?

If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be and why?

I’m way too honest for this, so I wouldn’t be able to do it as I’d confess to someone that I’d done it straight away. 

Who's your favourite Villain and why?

Can I choose one of my own characters? If so, I have a soft spot for Mr Beeston in my Emily Windsnap books. He’s a baddy, but I like him because really he’s just a flawed person who’s doing the best he can, and I like to think that that’s what we all are underneath.

Do you have any superstitions and if so, what are they?

Crikey. So many! I can’t really walk under ladders. I can’t see a magpie without saluting it and saying a strange little greeting. I can’t take off my wedding ring without kissing it. I don’t like to say how good life is without saying ‘pyu pyu pyu’ (a yiddish expression of my mum’s meaning something like 'all being well’) in case it jinxes the future. And lots more!

If you had a warning label, what would yours say and why?

Take a deep breath when approaching this person. Tendency to do too many things at once, most of them at high speed; can cause dizziness.

What's your preferred playing piece in monopoly and why?

The dog. Because he’s a dog.

What was the last thing you ate?

My dinner last night, which was a very yummy spag bol. Today - three cups of tea so far, but about to have breakfast. (Which is fruit and yoghurt since you asked.)

Who would you want to be trapped on a desert island with? Pick no more than five people!

First up has to be my partner, Laura, please.

After that, maybe Bear Grylls to get all our food and basically help us survive, Ellen Degeneres to keep us all smiling and laughing, David Beckham to keep us fit and active (and cos he’s nice to look at) Ellen Macarthur to help build a boat and sail us home! :)

What song would you say best sums you up?

The Sunscreen Song is my guide to life.

Sisterspooky: (I LOVE THAT SONG)

What was your first job?

Waitress in a whole food cafe.

What's the scariest thing you've ever done?

I don’t like being scared so I try to avoid it. The most recent scary thing was a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon. It was part of a 40th birthday present for my partner and I hadn’t realised I was going to be scared. I had my eyes shut for most of it - just held my camera out and clicked away without being able to look (or breathe very well).

What is your favourite comfort food?

Chocolate. Always chocolate.

What was your favourite childhood toy and why?

A bear called Richard. Because he was a bit scruffy and lost one eye but he was gorgeous and I loved him.

What's the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

I don’t know if it counts as actual advice, but it’s a phrase: ‘Nothing has changed except my attitude; everything has changed.'

Thanks so much to Liz for this fab guest post and you should all know that her new book, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?, is out now and is published by Orion.  Find out more about Liz and her work on her website here.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo


The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.


WARNING: This is the third and final book in a trilogy so this review will likely have spoilers for the previous two novels but it will be spoiler free for this book.

Well, Ruin and Rising had a lot to do if it was going to be a success finale to the Grisha series.  I wanted action!  I wanted adventure! Romance! BALLET DANCING UNICORNS!!!

Ok, I wasn't expecting that last one.  However, I'm pleased to say that all the other things on the list are in Ruin and Rising.  Woo Hoo!

Taking place after the massive battle between Alina, her Grisha army and the The Darkling, we find the remains of the gang underground trying to recover in the apparent safety of the Sun Summoner believers camp.  It seems all well and good but it's more like a prison and Alina, Mal and co decide that the only way to defeat the Darkling once and for all, is to go outside and get help.  Help comes in the form of Nikolai and his sassy lines and action-packed moves.  

We cover a lot of ground and get to see what Alina's life is like after her last encounter with the Darkling and how desperately they need to win this time round; before the whole world is lost along with more friends.  I loved the focus on the characters relationships with each other as well as the general flow of the plot over the course of this last book.  We needed to see some things wrapped up and explored a bit deeper than they had been earlier.  Just for our own peace of mind as readers.  We wanted to know certain things and see more of some characters and I was certainly happy with what Leigh Bardugo presented us with.  

Though the story was a bit slow in some places, it always had a purpose for it.  And there is one big spoilerly moment that had me gasping.  I saw it coming but wasn't sure if it was actually going to happen or if we'd been thrown a red herring.  

A nicely rounded ending to a deliciously detailed series.   Perhaps, not as perfect as some trilogies but a very good and valiant effort.

Published by Fierce Fiction and is available online and in bookshops now