A warm welcome to my guest illustrator Holly Bushnell.
I live in Liverpool with my mum, Wendy and my cat called Ginger, who is almost as old as me. I'm 21 and he's pushing 19 or 20 – he came limping along as a stray when I was 3. Since I left school at 18 after completing my A Levels, I've worked in Write Blend Bookshop and am trying to build up a career as an illustrator/mural painter. I did have places to go to University, but after thinking things through, I decided that the courses were not for me and I wanted to avoid hefty student debt. I've painted murals in schools and children's bedrooms. I also work as a barista, making lots of coffee! I am Write Blend's Artist in Residence for 2016. I have painted a mural in their bookshop and I try to contribute creative ideas to displays, and I design the cafe menu boards for them. I also have my own range of cards for sale at Write Blend, ranging from cute hedgehogs to dragons. I really enjoy writing and one day hope to be a children's author and illustrator. I love anything involving mermaids, fairyland, magic and animals... I've always loved Disney and when I was three I fell in love with The Little Mermaid. It's been my favourite film ever since (and always will be)!
The latest book I've worked on is called 'Doodles and the Flower Lake', which was written by B.B. Taylor
I've also illustrated 'A Bushy Tale' by Bob Stone, the manager of Write Blend (the bookshop where I work), and 'The Star that Lost its Sparkle', by Sally-Anne Tapia-Bowes.
I asked Holly to tell us a bit more about herself
What sort of illustrations do you like to draw?
I like to draw fun and lively illustrations, with lots of bright colours. Usually I put lots of doodles, swirls and stars in too, which helps me create the idea of magic.
Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
I'm a lifelong vegetarian – my mum brought up as a veggie and I've never eaten meat. I love animals! I dream that one day I'll be able to buy a little cottage and open an animal sanctuary.
What was your favourite children’s book when you were a child?
I read lots of Jacqueline Wilson books when I was growing up. She was by far my favourite author. My favourite children's picture book was (and still is) Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. I think the illustrations are amazing.
A warm welcome to Heather Eagar, who's dropped by today to tell us about her debut YA release, Devil's Playground.
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Winters may be a witch, but she doesn’t know the first thing about magic—unless you count accidental bouts of spontaneous combustion. Elizabeth’s father, a wizard himself, has forbidden the use of her powers for her own protection, but when accusations of witchcraft start flying through Salem Village, she wishes she was more prepared.
Despite her lack of magical knowledge, Elizabeth appoints herself to save innocent women from the demise the village has in store for them. Elizabeth finds, however, that she is not the hero Salem needs her to be.
She meant to save them. She cursed them instead.
There, amongst the yellow kernels, the corner of a large book peeks through the grain. Instead of rushing up to Mother, for she certainly needs the corn by now, I drop the bag on an old bench. Dust explodes in my face, and I use my sleeve to stifle an expected sneeze. Shaking my head, I reach into the corn and pull out a large, leather-bound book.
“What are you doing buried down here amongst our harvest?” I murmur, running my fingers down the thick spine. At first glance it doesn’t look like much; the cover has no title and no design. The only thing that makes the book remotely interesting is the iron clasp sealing it shut—only the clasp isn’t secure. It rests, slightly ajar, and with a gentle prodding, it falls open.
My fingers tremble as I nudge the book open. It all feels wrong somehow, me alone with this mysterious book. The pages seem ancient, so much so that I am afraid to turn them, certain they will crumble away. Studying the first page, I am in awe at the beautiful penmanship. If I didn’t know any better, I would say the letters are swirling, changing, before my eyes.
But that is impossible.
After staring at the page for a moment or two, I am surprised when the letters take form, and I am able to decipher several words. Kempe’s Magisches Buch für Hexerei und Zauberei. It is in German, but I have a feeling I know what kind of book this is.
“No, that is impossible,” I whisper, stepping back. “Father would never have kept such a thing.”
And yet, he has.
I ought to hide the book away—and never look at it again. Something like this can only bring trouble. Even I know that. But an invisible force draws me close once more, and I don’t have the power to resist. Even if I did have the power, I don’t have the desire. I must know what is in that book.
Gently turning to a page at random, I stare at the strange writing. As with the cover page, the letters continue to swirl, and I wait for them to arrange themselves. Unsichtbarkeit, it finally reads in bold letters. “I wish I knew German.”
And then the letters begin to change and rearrange. When they have settled once more, I am astonished at what is in front of me. Invisibility, it says. Four lines follow the title, though, and I can’t understand a word of it. It isn’t German, and certainly not English.
“Lumen transeat per me,” I sound out. My toes begin to tingle. I try not to become too excited; it could have been a coincidence. “Ut non alii videre.” The tingling sensation moves from the toes and up my legs. Blood rushes to my head, and I feel faint, but I don’t want to stop. “Lumen—”
“What is the meaning of this?” a deep voice thunders. Before I have time to react, the book is snatched from my hands, and I am looking into the furious face of Father.
I asked Heather to tell us a bit more about the book
How did you come up with the idea forDevil’s Playground?
It was actually my husband’s idea! Years ago when I was working on a different novel he said, “Hey, why don’t you do a story about an actual witch who lives in Salem during the witch trials.” I thought it was the best idea EVER and took it from there. It has become quite a different story than either of us envisioned, but so much better.
Do you use actual people from the trials in your story?
Yes, I do! My main characters are mostly fictional, but I use actual people from the trials as supporting characters, and also some of quotes from the trials as well.
Is Devil’s Playground a part of a series, or is it just one book?
I always intended for it to be just one book. Even as I was submitting it to agents and publishers, I didn’t want there to be a sequel. But with some invaluable feedback, my whole ending changed. And with that change, it seemed pretty clear that there was more to Elizabeth’s story. So…that was a long answer to say, it is the first book in a series. Because I never intended for there to be another book, I am still in the rough draft stage for book #2.
It's been a month since Devil's Playground was released to the world and to thank everyone for their support, Heather is doing a Reader Appreciation Giveaway! She is giving away a 24 kt Gold Overlayed necklace/earrings, as well as throwing in an Amazon Gift Card for 2.29, just for fun. Why 2.29? Because it is leap year, and she is so excited!
Heather Eagar currently resides in Logan, Utah where she strives to balance her love of writing with raising a husband and two kids. Devil's Playground is her debut novel, but it will not be her last. She is currently working on the second book in the series. Heather is also a book reviewer and you can find reviews for Middle-grade fiction through Adult novels on her website, www.heatheraeagar.com.
Thanks for dropping by to tell us about your book, Heather!
My Guest Author this week is B.B.Taylor. A children's author and animal lover, she loves to write stories filled with colour and imagination. She writes under the name B. B Taylor because she has three daughters; Bethany, Bailey and Taylor. B.B's first ever book released was about one of her raccoons, Sox, who regularly attends book events with her.
Born in Birmingham, United Kingdom, B.B works with animals when she is not writing, specialising in animal education and therapy. Her animals and children and are her main source of inspiration and material for her books. She studied as a Youth, Community and Play worker and also has qualifications in Early Years and animal care, welfare and behaviour. She works with with over a 100 animals including raccoons, foxes, owls, lizards and many many more. She loves to write and dance.
B.B's latest book
B.B's most recent book Doodles and the Flower Lake was released on the 12th December 2015. It tells the story of Doodles, A clever little Pixie on a mission to retrieve some magic flowers. However whilst on her journey she becomes distracted and wanders off. Will she ever complete her task and find her way home?
Isn't the cover gorgeous? The book is illustrated by Holly Bushnell, who will be my Guest Illustrator next week. If you want to buy it then click here: Amazon
I asked B.B. to tell us a bit about herself
How did you get started writing?
As a child I absolutely loved writing, I had lots of books filled with little stories. But as an adult I was always conscious as to whether anyone would actually like what I had written, I started making up stories about the animals I work with, to help child relate to them and engage with them but I never wrote them down. One day a teacher at a school I was visiting asked me for a copy so I had to write it down. It all then evolved from there.
Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
I own a raccoon called Socrates (Sox for short)
What was your favourite book as a child?
A spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony
What’s your top writing tip for new writers?
Write about what you like. Don’t force yourself to write about something you don’t want to, if it doesn’t feel right then don’t do it. Capture all your ideas down no matter how silly they may seem you never know where they may lead.
My guest illustrator today is Catherine Lindow. Catherine was one of the last intake of mentees within the 'Picture Hooks' scheme for developing picture book illustrators http://www.picturehooks.org.uk/. Five illustrators were paired with established illustrators and met throughout the year for advice and discussion. Catherine was mentored by Natalie Russell. The work they produced is currently on show at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh until 26thFebruary, and will tour to Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway thereafter.
Catherine studied Drawing and Painting at Glasgow School of Art. She worked as a scenic artist and as a theatre designer for 8 years before having children, often painting stones and bricks. She painted to exhibit and to commission (lots of house portraits – stones and bricks again) until her youngest daughter started school. Since then she has been focussing primarily on illustration. Stones and bricks? Not a problem.
Here are some of Catherine's fantastic illustrations.
I asked Catherine to tell us a bit about herself
What sort of illustrations do you like to draw?
I like to draw children engaging with the world around them. I've always loved drawing people and places, and the way children respond so physically to the world around them brings a location completely alive. I also love drawing brick walls – a hangover from my days as a scenic artist! I'm very engaged with my materials and I am very happy to let them take the lead... sometimes a new discovery (a delicious grainy watercolour or a deeply pigmented ink) can give rise to a whole strand of work.
Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
I enjoy wearing yellow trousers. If I lay down in a gutter I could be mistaken for a double yellow line (almost). That's why I never lie down in gutters.
What was your favourite children's book when you were a child
I still look at lots of the books I loved when I was young, especially the picture books. Probably my memories are skewed by having some of them around me but I loved 'The Lion in the Meadow' by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams. It has a wonderful balance of reality and non-reality which is a rare thing in books I think, and the illustrations have a great 70's texture while being completely unselfconscious.
What's your top tip for new illustrators?
I'm a new illustrator myself so I'm not well placed to offer tips. I would say, though, that continuing with my own artwork alongside my illustration work is a great source of sanity. Perhaps my advice would be to preserve a place where you can develop new work without scrutiny. Or without looking for scrutiny anyway.
I'm delighted to welcome prolific author Ann Evans back onto my blog. Regular readers of my blog will know that Ann writes fiction and non-fiction for children, as well as articles for numerous magazines and romantic fiction. There isn't much multi-talented Ann can't turn her hand to! Today Ann is going to tell us about writing for Reluctant Readers.
Thanks for dropping by, Ann. Can you tell us how you got into writing for reluctant readers?
I received an email out of the blue from Badger Learning who specialise in publishing books for reluctant readers – or high low books. These books are for children whose reading age (ability) is much lower than his or her actual age. Badger Learning invited me to try out for a new Dark Reads series that they were producing. I read the briefs and was very excited to give it a go!”
Here are the two books Ann wrote for the Dark Reads series
These look fab, Ann! What age group do you write for?
I write for teenagers whose reading age is around 7 or 8 and also I've written some books classed as 'very high-low' where the teenage reader has a reading age of around 6. Obviously no teenager wants to be seen reading babyish books – particularly in school where they have to read. He or she wants a book with a strong story that packs a punch and will keep them enthralled. So for someone who isn't such a good reader for whatever reason, the story has to be written in a straightforward manner, using sentence structure and vocabulary that a much younger person could cope with. But the story must be suitable for a teenager. These books are also much shorter. So, creating an action packed story – or one that evokes emotion, in a small amount of words is quite a balancing act!
How do you go about writing a high-low book? How difficult is it?
It takes some thinking about. First you have to study the brief, and use that as a starting point. And then it's a matter of thinking up the story, without worrying about the actual words at this stage. For me, if I can visualise the story from beginning to end as word-less scenes, that's a good start. Then it's a matter of writing those scenes with narrative and dialogue, getting the excitement, emotion and character's personality across, and seeing if the story works. Once I've got that written and checked the word length – then screamed when I see it needs cutting by 200% or more I start looking at the sentence structure, making it as compact as I can. Pruning away absolutely everything that's not necessary or is slowing the story down. I'll also be checking the vocabulary and changing words where necessary in line with the reader's ability.
How fascinating. Thank you for sharing your writing process with us.
Are your books illustrated?
Nightmare and By My Side aren't illustrated. These are longer books of around 6-7,000 words. But the 'very high-low' books which are only around 600 words, are fully illustrated. My titles are: Red Handed, Straw Menand Kicked into Touch. I've been so fortunate in having the illustrators Kev Hopwood (http://www.kevhopgood.com/) and Amit Tayal (http://www.amittayal.com/) providing the illustrations – two brilliant illustrators and artists
They look fantastic. I've read both these books and can promise readers that Nightmare is just as scary as the cover looks, and By My Side had me in tears.
Are all of your books for reluctant readers, fiction?
I've written one non-fiction book for Badger Learning, called How to Spend Like a Celebrity.
So there was lots of research, and then it was a matter of getting the information across in a way that would grab the reader, and allow them to read at ease. The book is very colourful with photographs and illustrations.
So what's in the pipeline now?
My sixth book, Kicked into Touch, illustrated by Kev Hopgood again is due out in January as part of another new series by Badger Learning – Dark Reads II. All the stories in this series are based around Shakespeare's stores - but brought bang up to date. My Kicked into Touch is based around Macbeth.
I'm hoping then to get more invitations to try to write further high-low books, so I'll have my eye on my emails! Additionally, I'm writing articles for various magazines, working on two longer adult novels, and bringing some earlier children's adventure stories out as ebook box sets.
You really are busy Ann. I hope you'll visit my blog again and tell us all about writing for magazines.