Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente

x298

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente was first published in 2019.

Starfell was released this month but I was pretty lucky because I had the chance to read it a couple of weeks before it was released. A friend of mine had an early copy and she passed it over so that I could have a look. 30 pages later she laughed and said that I was welcome to borrow it. She’s so nice.

The book is aimed towards younger readers so it’s a fun, easy read and it was a great choice for a relaxing afternoon in my case. Starfell is a debut novel by the author Dominique Valente and I thought that the writing was wonderfully descriptive.

The story is a bit of an adventure where the main character follows clues along the way and it reminded me of stories I used to read and write when I was younger which was quite nice. I loved adventure stories as a kid. I love that kind of progression where the character’s journey is the same for the reader because it gives the reader a much better chance of following what’s going on in a world they’ve never read about before.

Dominique’s story is set in a new world called Starfell where some people have a magical power and the main character Willow Moss has the ability to find lost things. Personally I think that’s pretty cool but most of the characters in the beginning, including Willow, think that her sister’s powers are much better and flashier.

There are many characters that Willow meets during her journey. From a witch with a feared reputation to a boy who can see your deepest secrets to a heartbroken dragon Willow’s new friends are quite diverse. This description also includes her first friend who is a small monster called Oswin who spends most of their adventure grumbling from Willow’s bag. He’s kind of cute although he wouldn’t thank anyone for saying so, haha.

At the centre of this story is a really interesting question. What would happen if an entire day could disappear from existence?

It’s such a different thought and has so much potential. Dominique does a lovely job of exploring what the disappearance of an entire day could mean for the people of Starfell. There are a couple of really good twists in the story that I particularly enjoyed such as the moment when you meet Willow’s mother for the first time and some family secrets are revealed.

I love a beautiful book which is why I bought the hardback copy with the lovely illustrations by Sarah Warburton once it was properly released.

Overall, the book is charming with a couple of bittersweet moments but I also think that the book is delightfully clever. I thought that this quote on page 60 was a good example of that, Willow did ‘lose’ things that might be useful later. You couldn’t be too deliberate or else the magic wouldn’t work, but if, for example, you placed a spare bit of change in a pocket that you ‘forgot’ had a hole in it, well, it could save you running home for your wallet on market day.

Advertisements

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dale Hale

51ksa5UbH9L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World was first published in 2017.

This book is a great reminder that reading should and can be fun. I borrowed it from my sister who really likes this book and it’s her birthday today as well so, happy birthday sister. By the time she reads this she will have found out that I bought her the second book The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious as one of her presents. So, I know she’ll be happy 🙂

Anyway, the book is based on a character from the Marvel Universe. Obviously Marvel Comics are well known but you may not have heard of Doreen Green a.k.a. Squirrel Girl before. First of all, she’s awesome. This book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Doreen Green who is starting a new school and is saving her new neighbourhood. Starting with picking up rubbish that has been tipped over, then rescuing babies and fighting robots that are trying to destroy animals and humans alike Doreen keeps jumping in and helping out.

Unlike some heroes Doreen was born with her unique abilities and her parents are super awesome about the fact that their child was born with a squirrel tail. In fact, Doreen’s happy relationship with her parents is one of the best things about this book. They are the first to acknowledge that their daughter is special and all of their mutual honesty is so healthy. Even when Doreen doesn’t tell her parents straight away that she’s chasing after a stolen car to rescue a baby which is sitting in the back she still talks to them openly about it afterwards. See, not all family relationships have to be filled with angst and loathing to be interesting.

Doreen’s move to the neighbourhood of Shady Oaks means that she meets two important friends, Ana Sofia and Tippy Toe. Yes, one of them is human and one of them is a squirrel that has a jersey accent. It’s not cheesy as it could be in any other situation. Actually, all of the characters whether they have tails or not are awesome. There’s a really diverse mix of characters which is great and there are even a few more familiar Marvel characters that crop up. After all, Doreen is living in a world where superheroes really do exist. Ana’s secret admiration of Thor which equals her love of comfy socks is particularly delightful.

Of course, this might be a bit of an origin story but it is still about a superhero and the ratio of hero to villain is well established in the Marvel Universe. Hydra sticks it’s unwanted nose into everything 😝 As Squirrel Girl’s challenges are quickly escalated she gets more and more awesome. After all she is the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I think that’s one of my favourite things about this character. Not only is she a cool friend but she’s also one of the strongest characters in the Marvel Universe (yes this has been established in more than just this particular book).

There is a lot to like about this book but best of all is that Doreen is such a great, likeable character. She wants to be a good friend, she has a lot of personality, she’s funny and she is definitely superhero material. I loved this book and I think I’m going to go and read it again right now.

I’m definitely ending this post with my love for the first time Squirrel Girl comes up with her catchphrase on page 251 because it’s fun, I’m here to kick butts and eat nuts. And I’m ALL OUT OF NUTS!

A Small Insight Into Publishing

A couple of weeks ago on the 28th March I had the rare opportunity of attending a workshop at Faber & Faber publishing house where representatives from various departments took the time to tell us a little bit about what their jobs entailed.

The whole day trip to London was run by New Writing North which is a group based in Newcastle that supports writing and reading across the north of England. I already knew about some of the work New Writing North does but this was the first time I’ve had the chance to take part in one of their events. It was a great experience.

Faber & Faber has been publishing books of all kinds for 90 years and they have a great reputation as a large independent publisher. All of that talent and experience really showed when they spoke to us.

So, here are a few bits of information that I picked up during the workshop.

After we were led up to the event space we were introduced to one of the editors who had some great advice about what she looks for in a book that she’s publishing. One of the big things that she’s looking for is whether the book is working as hard as it can. If so, is it working for that particular publisher? Editing is about a lot more than a structural edit when a writer and an editor work together to chop and change the content around. Editing is about encouraging and working hard to turn the material into the best version of itself. Most people don’t think of editing as a group effort but it was clear that editing involves a lot of people skills as much as anything else. She was a really nice, interesting speaker and editing is clearly about more than reading a lot of books.

The editor suggested that she had a lot of books that she works on each year including the book which the workshop was loosely built around. Before we went to Faber & Faber we were given an early copy of a new book by Louise Doughty (I think someone said it’s due to be published around August) and they used that book as a good example of how the publishing process is applied.

So, after we met the editor we were then greeted by someone from design and another person from production. Both men were interesting but they have very different roles in the process.

First of all, design. Using the example of Louise’s new book he explained that research into books of a similar genre is usually where his process starts before he moves onto picture research using a brief the editorial team puts together for the design team. What I found really interesting was how much collaboration goes into choosing the final design as he explained how many opinions were sought before the final designs were taken to the author. Yes, haha, the author does get a say in the design of her book but the design team have definitely got a good eye for aesthetics. Oh, and he promised that you don’t necessarily have to be amazing at using photoshop if you’d like a job in that particular sector.

I was slightly surprised but delighted by what came next. It turns out that production sounds super interesting and it’s not all about margins and paper types. Although, he actually made choosing the right kind of paper sound fascinating. Production’s role actually involves a lot of external and internal collaboration between all departments and high quality is just as important as managing the budget. So, if you’re a people person but you also love small details you might want to check it out.

After they said goodbye and we had lunch the marketing and publicity department spoke to us. They started with the question, what is the difference between marketing and publicity? Of course, a few answers were given but what I noted down from that exchange is the publicity is connecting to readers via media and marketing is about paid promotion. It might not be entirely that simple but I thought it was interesting to see two sides of a department that has one ultimate goal: promote the book. The women who represented their team were really nice and they gave us a bit of an insight into the many different kinds of promotion methods that they work on. To think that each book has a promotion campaign is kind of crazy but it was lovely to meet the people who are focused on trying to give the readers what they want.

Following on from marketing and promotion was two women from the sales team. They were absolutely delightful and I am not just saying that because they brought cinnamon buns for us (they were delicious). They were bright and cheerful and they really embodied the idea that sales is the social part of publishing. Like the production team they do a lot of collaboration both internally and externally but they also run the numbers for when a particular book should be published during the year and the numbers for acquisitions, ect. One of them works with international markets and had just come back from a work trip to Iceland which was very exciting to hear about. So, although I don’t know if that particular job would ever be for me I loved hearing about the obvious joy they have for their work.

Then, it was time for another perspective as Louise Doughty came to speak to us as a published author. As well as talking a little bit about her new book and kindly answering our questions there was one particular thing that I took away from Louise. From a writer’s standpoint publishing is all about persistence. Whether you’re trying to get your first book published or your book is going through the process you have to be patient but determined that your book will finally be out there. Even then, persistence will see you through as you wait for one of your novels to be the one that really grabs an audience. So, keep going and play the long game.

Of course, I only wish that we’d had more time to talk and explore but a whole day spent talking about books and writing was an absolute treat. It was also nice to receive a goody bag of books which we were given at the end.

dav

I met some really interesting people who had applied for the trip with New Writing North. There were people who were eager to publish their novel. Some who were still in the process of writing theirs. Others really want to work at a publishing house and then there were people who just like writing and the opportunities that come with it. It’s a delightful thing to talk to people who love similar things.

Everything about the day was interesting and fun. What slightly surprised me was how I felt the day after. That one day left me feeling really motivated and positive about writing. Honestly, much more positive than I have felt in a while. So, I considered what I wanted to do next.

For the first time in over a year I’ve started looking at poetry competitions again and I’ve already found a couple that sound really exciting. I’ve been making plans about what new things I can do with this blog and spoken to someone who I’d love to have as a guest blogger in the near future. I’m looking more carefully for new opportunities in the areas of publishing, writing, etc. and overall, I’m happy to be doing all of this.

Mort by Terry Pratchett

91Z8IVdGlAL._AC_SL1500_

Mort by Terry Pratchett was first published in 1987.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time.  Mort is the fourth book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and it is also fantastic. Yeah, I’m starting out with some strong opinions in this blog post haha.

Terry Pratchett’s talent for world building is like every fantasy writers dream but his books are so much more than buildings and forests and oceans. In the book Mort Terry Pratchett’s wit and his understanding of the characters that inhabit the Discworld absolutely shines through. For me it was an easy and fun afternoon read.

As for the plot, well, have you ever wondered what kind of apprentice the anthropomorphic personification of Death would be looking for? Thankfully, Terry Pratchett did and Death’s apprentice is a clumsy but usually well-meaning boy named Mort.

Let me just say, Death is an amazing character. It’s hard to explain why to someone who hasn’t read any of the Discworld books but I’ll try. For starters, Death is fond of cats which bring out a rather sweet side to the character and his curiousity is both delightful and slightly unexpected. Also, Death named his horse Binky and I think that’s one of the best things I have ever read.

It’s easy to get the impression that Death is old and has seen much but he also has a wry sense of humour and gives the impression that death can be a job just like any other. Like all jobs it also has it’s ups and downs. I love this quote from page 25: I? KILL? said Death, obviously offended. CERTAINLY NOT. PEOPLE GET KILLED, BUT THAT’S THEIR BUSINESS. I JUST TAKE OVER FROM THEN ON. AFTER ALL, IT’D BE A BLOODY STUPID WORLD IF PEOPLE GOT KILLED WITHOUT DYING, WOULDN’T IT?

Hence, Mort’s appearance in the book. The character Mort is chosen to be Death’s apprentice and his on the job training doesn’t go smoothly in any way. That’s probably not a big surprise haha. He’s quickly up-skilled from cleaning out Binky’s stall to being present at deaths on his own. From there the story is a lot of worry, discovery, and a literal duel with Death. It’s a really individual story.

Although Mort is offered a unique job opportunity, Death’s adopted daughter Ysabell makes a rather prophetic statement on page 47 of the book, He’s not something you become, he’s something you are. She’s a smart girl.

I liked a lot about this book. It was worth waiting for.

Also, I was delightfully amused enough to read this short conversation between Death and Mort on page 48/49 out loud when I reached it:

YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF THE BAY OF MANTE, HAVE YOU? he said.
‘No, sir,’ said Mort.
FAMOUS SHIPWRECK THERE.
‘Was there?’
THERE WILL BE, said Death, IF I CAN FIND THE DAMN PLACE.

Modern Mythology

As much as I like creative writing (when it co-operating, lol) I really love seeing other people’s creativity. With how much I read this probably isn’t really a surprise.

However there is always one particular branch of creativity that I’m always excited to see and that is modern adaptations of mythology. Greek mythology kind of hooked me when I was a kid and I read some watered-down, child-friendly versions of the classic myths. Then there was Egyptian mythology and Roman mythology and so many more. Thousands of years old but so many stories have lasted all this time, that’s pretty impressive. Of course, because there are so many myths there are plenty of stories that are popular or obscure which can be adapted.

I love how those older stories can take on modern twists and turns by so many talented people. I especially love finding artists on places like Tumblr who do amazing work at creating their own versions of those ancient characters. Just recently I saw some interpretations of Egyptian God’s in modern clothes and who knew that Anubis could rock a suit like that? 

Creative people are awesome.

When I was at university I worked on a mini project with a friend that never really saw the light but, we took some mythological creatures such a sirens and put them in modern situations like behind the microphone at a lounge club (that was my friend’s idea and I still think that it’s great).  There’s so much you can do with the classics and it’s fun to create them but I truly love seeing the many creative interpretations by others that emerge in stories and art, etc. To tell the truth, I would love to produce a collection of works based on this concept one day. Such a cool concept.

So, don’t be afraid to reinvent an old concept because I am sure there is someone like me out there who is delighted to read about deities always making life complicated.

I’m always happy when events in my life revolve around books and I’m super excited because I’ve been given a great opportunity. In a couple of weeks time I will be travelling down to London with New Writing North to visit the Faber & Faber offices for a workshop on how they publish a book. I basically start smiling every time I think about it. Faber & Faber have been publishing books for 90 years so maybe they’ll share a few secrets to their success, haha.

It Devours by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

81nZ-S6sYoL._AC_SL1500_

It Devours by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor was first published in 2017.

It’s not the easiest book to talk about without talking about it’s background. So, in 2012 Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor created an online podcast called Welcome To Night Vale. The horror/science fiction style online podcast is not usually my sort of thing but it’s delightfully clever and I like that the strange events that take place in the fictional town Night Vale is narrated by the soothing voice of the character Cecil Baldwin.

Since the podcast began the two creators have written two books and I read Welcome To Night Vale – A Novel last year. I enjoyed reading that book but I think the biggest difference between that and It Devours is that it doesn’t jump between character’s points of view as much. It Devours has more of a main character in Nilanjana Sikdar.

Influenced by Nilanjana’s view of the town the book Night Vale is both terrifying and charming. As a scientist who grew up outside of Night Vale Nilanjana works with Carlos and her fellow scientists in reaearching the ‘most scientifically interesting place in America’. The book follows her new scientific assignment of investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. Facts and logic are her guiding principles but nothing in Night Vale is simple. The investigation leads Nilanjana all over the area and it poses questions about the difference between science and belief. The belief comes with Darryl, a member of  the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and he’s an interesting friend to have.

I was really looking forward to this book and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Hearing about the scientists is one of my favourite parts of the podcast so I was thrilled that Nilanjana was the central character. Also, Nilanjana did not grow up in Night Vale so she may like living in the town but she also doesn’t accept everything that happens without questioning it. A good quality in a scientist.

The book has a great plot which made it a fun, easy read even when people were being swallowed by the ground and threatened by the Director of Emergency Press Conferences. Although I started this blog by saying the book needed a little bit of background I would also say that jumping into to the world of Night Vale is not so bad if you’re following a sensible scientist like Nilanjana.

The book unsurprisingly has some delightfully unique quotes from the two podcast writers. On page 33 there is a great line that I think does a good job of giving an insight into the town of Night Vale, She been in this town four years. Or it had felt like four years. Time, despite Darryl’s insistence, was weird here, and so she had no idea exactly how long it had been since her arrival.

So now I can say, It Devours? Oh, yeah I’ve read that book.

Fairytales

Bandit Fiction, a digital non-profit publisher based in the North East of England announced a couple of weeks ago that they were opening for new submissions and the theme was fairytales.

In my opinion, that is a creative topic to get excited about.

Fairytales is an interesting genre which has a lot of range and potential because it isn’t confined to one place or topic. Greed, heroism, innocence and transformation are just a few of the many popular themes that appear in some of the traditional tales. However, fairytales are definitely not an old, irrelevant genre.

Fairytales and variations of classic fairytales are written all of the time today and the genre has never been connected to just one culture. Like the stories themselves, fairytales are not tightly restricted as they take place ‘Once upon a time…’

Of course there are recurring motifs and characters within the genre such as princesses and giants but in the never-ending land of fairytales a writer can really let their imagination take over and run wild.

Bandit Fiction’s new collection is the most interesting opportunity I’ve seen lately.

I’m a big fan of fairytales because I love the unending potential that it has. Fairytale influences writers so much and I find people’s interpretations of fairytales endlessly fascinating. For example I could potentially talk for ages comparing the original tale of Rapunzel to the Disney movie Tangled (love it). I’m also still disappointed that they didn’t introduce the class where they look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing until after I graduated from my university course because his views of fairytales are so interesting.

Still, being a fan of fairytales doesn’t mean that I’ll automatically be good at writing them.

When I saw that Bandit Fiction had announced the new theme there were a couple of lines that I thought of immediately when I saw the prompt.

Changeling child, changeling child
Eyes turned black and running wild…

I don’t know exactly where they will fit into the story yet but I’m pretty pleased  with them as a starting point. I’m intrigued to find out where they lead which is a good sign for any writing. Also, those lines that I put together put me in mind of a book of Celtic fairytales I was given when I was younger. It’s a beautifully illustrated book full of stories about transformation and wonder.

After those lines it took a few days before I had any semblance of a beginning. Then I think I managed to cobble something together on my way to work today that I’m happy with. So, we’ll see if I’m happy to submit anything for Bandit Fiction in a few weeks time.

At the moment, I just want to take this opportunity to write something that I would enjoy reading.

Artemis Fowl and The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

81fdfxtuq0l._ac_sl1500_

Artemis Fowl and The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer was first published in 2012.

As the eighth and last book in the series there was a lot packed into it. Starting with quickly wrapping up a couple of loose ends from the previous story, titled The Atlantis Complex, it then jumps right into the fray of the next adventure.

There’s sacrifice, megalomania and the attempted destruction the of the world which actually sounds really dark considering that this is a book marketed towards young teenagers. Of course, it’s not the first time that these themes showed up in the series. Let’s just say that a certain character has a lot of ‘issues’.

It must be at least ten years ago when I read the first book in the series. I thought that the arrogant, young criminal genius Artemis Fowl the Second and the fantastical plot was a lot of fun. That’s the first thing I would say about this series. The second would be that the characters are continuously interesting. They’re a quirky bunch faced with almost impossible odds but tend to balance each other out. What is particularly interesting is that in a series with a criminal as the main character morality becomes interestingly flexible for all of the characters.

I re-read the entire series lately before finally picking up the final book off my shelf (some of you are well aware of how long my to-read list is) and I am sure that the third and fifth books in the series are still my favourite, Holly is an awesome character and there is some really impressive world building by the Eoin Colfer.

The Last Guardian brings the characters back more or less to where the series started at the Fowl family mansion which I quite liked and finally Foaly’s wife was more than just mentioned which made me happy. She was cool.

There were quite a few moments when I paused to laugh at a line or two. One of these moments came from a flashback to when Foaly and his wife Caballine first met due to a misunderstanding. It was so in line with his character that I was delighted by this quote on page 182, “It’s just typical of my luck,” he said eventually, “that I finally meet someone as beautiful as you, and all you want to do is kill me.”

However, as much as I enjoyed reading this book I can’t help finding the ending to be frustrating.

Obviously after reading the whole series I know that the author likes to drop clues to set up new storylines but it’s the last book in the series. It’s been said that it’s the last and yet there’s still a cliffhanger at the end. Of course the character’s story isn’t complete or else they wouldn’t feel particularly realistic but now I’ve finished the series and I do not get to find out whatever happens next. Artemis Fowl also has another scheme, ect. so it’s not like the ending was unexpected but, now that is it and unfortunately a part of me simply wanted more of a resolution in this case.

I am left with questions.

First of all, what is the plan that Artemis (well, supposedly it was him) was thinking about at the end? Did Trouble and Lily Frond stay together – that question had no bearing on the plot I’m just curious. How did Number One’s project go? Were Juliet and Beckett totally alright? What were Myles and Beckett like when they grew up? Did Foaly and Holly do the right thing in the end? What happened to Mulch Diggums?

I should probably clarify again at this point that I enjoyed reading this book. I’ve read The Last Guardian for the first time after starting the first book year’s ago and there’s no more Artemis Fowl books left to come. It’s kind of a strange thing to know that’s as far as a reader can fol the story.

Technically…

Non-fiction is a broad category but, if you’re particularly knowledgeable about a subject or skill and you can write about it then that could be classed as non-fiction. I don’t blog about this side of writing a lot because I prefer talking about made-up stories (haha) but I was recently frustrated about how hard it can be to learn certain skills if all you have is the basic instructions.

I tend to think of non-fiction in general as a piece of writing that intends to teach you something. So, whether you’re reading a historical account or a knitting pattern or the blueprint for a fighter jet non-fiction it should be the facts (with maybe a few opinions around the edges in some cases).

However, understanding a piece of non-fiction isn’t always easy if you don’t have as much knowledge about the subject as the author does.

Lately, with all of the best intentions I looked at a knitting pattern and understood none of the steps. To be fair, I’ve only recently started learning but even that was only possible because a friend offered to show me in-person how to get started. I love learning new skills just because I can (alright, and at the time I was reading a story where the main character was knitting a gothic-style jumper that sounded awesome) but, I learn much more quickly if someone is watching me while I try it and they can correct any mistakes straight away. It’s easier not to make the same mistake twice if you know where you went wrong in the first place.

Anyway, I’ve done a couple of small projects since I started learning but, just as it was with baking, I’d like to try making something a little bit more complicated. Hence, the pattern. Crafty people (and I know plenty who have said this themselves) collect crafty things which is why we have a folder of knitting patterns even though we only started learning last year during the summer. So, I had a look and between the abbreviations (with no guide about what they meant) and different phrases that actually meant the same thing as each other I was confused.

Knitting isn’t the only skill that has it’s own version of shorthand so that experienced people can get on with it but, I find that it’s very tough as a beginner to catch up and learn the lingo. It’s a tricky way to learn but a good example as to why non-fiction isn’t always a helpful tool on its own.

To be fair, it’s easy to write in a familiar manner when you really understand the topic. I know that I get used abbreviations and start using them when I’m writing something other than fiction. For example, at the moment I’m doing a business administration course and I have to keep going over my coursework to take out all of the abbreviations that I’ve picked up over the last few months. When I first started it felt like we were learning new terms for different processes every day but now I use them without really thinking about it beforehand.

My point is that learning the jargon before you can learn what you wanted to in the first place can be frustrating and slow but that doesn’t mean that non-fiction doesn’t have a purpose. If i keep learning I know that one day I will hopefully pick up the abbreviations from friends and that knitting pattern will make sense. Then that particular branch of non-fiction will be useful in developing my skills.

So, it may not always be the best method for a beginner but non-fiction definitely has it’s purpose.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑