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Down the Rabbit Hole: January 2015

Our first show of 2015 saw us back in the Resonance FM studios with two ace guests – picture book creator (and The Observer Magazine’s Art Director) Rob Biddulph, and young adult author Non Pratt.

We chatted about three new titles: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson; Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty, illustrated by James de la Rue; and Please Mr Panda by Steve Antony. The show also included a feature about forthcoming debut novel The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, which is being published by Scholastic in February.

You can listen to the show below. Resonance have recently moved over from their old SoundCloud account to a new platform on Mixcloud: I’m hoping that they’ll also add our old shows to the new account very shortly, so you can still access them too.

Down The Rabbit Hole – 27th January 2015 by Resonance Fm on Mixcloud

Next month is the anniversary of Down the Rabbit Hole’s first ever show, which was broadcast in February 2014 – can you believe it? We’re looking forward to celebrating Down the Rabbit Hole’s first birthday! Tune into our next show on Tuesday 24 February at 5pm and find more info on our Tumblr.

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New Year, New Books

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Dark, cold January evenings are the perfect time for settling down under a blanket with a good book, and over the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying getting stuck into some of the new children’s and teenage books being published in 2015.

Whilst I always love reading new books, getting started on this year’s crop has been especially exciting, because I’m aware that my first book is also a 2015 title, and so (I hope!) will soon be sharing bookshop spaces with some of these great new releases!

Here are some of the 2015 books that I’ve especially enjoyed reading so far:

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner 

The latest from Sally Gardner is a real treat. I loved the Dickensian flavour of this satisfying time travel tale, which takes its teenage hero on a  journey from gritty modern-day London to the city of the 18th century.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Lisa Williamson’s first book has already generated lots of well-deserved buzz, and is a real must-read. Sensitive, funny and heart-warming, it’s a powerful coming-of-age story that challenges assumptions about growing up transgender, beautifully demonstrating to teen readers that ‘being normal’ is not necessarily all its cracked up to be.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens

I absolutely loved Robin’s first book, Murder Most Unladylike, about schoolgirl detective duo Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. The second installment in the series is just as gorgeous and delightful as the first, as Daisy and Hazel find themselves caught up in a new case, this time in a country house setting.  Glorious.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Fairy-tale traditions are turned on their head in this magical YA fantasy, set in a small American town. There are a lot of ‘alternative’ fairy-tales around at the moment, but Holly Black does it with especial flair, offering up a mysterious handsome prince asleep in a glass coffin and a young girl who must take on the role of brave knight, challenging the reader’s expectations every step of the way.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This heart-wrenching YA novel has been compared to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.  The story of Theodore and Violet, two troubled high school students who strike up an unlikely relationship, it’s a moving exploration of first love, mental illness and grief. One to read with a box of tissues handy.

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

Nick Lake blends fantasy and reality together in this unusual young adult novel, following Shelby, whose sheltered life is turned upside down when her overprotective mother suddenly whisks her away on a strange road trip. As some unsettling secrets come to life on their journey, Shelby slides into an otherworldly landscape, known as the Dreaming.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Another attention-grabbing debut, this time a gripping and darkly imaginative YA fantasy. Twylla has a strange and terrible power – she instantly kills anyone she touches. Forced to act as court executioner, once a month she must lay her hands on those accused of treasons. But things are not what they seem in a strange court filled with secrets and deceit,  ruled over by a mad queen who will do whatever it takes to destroy her enemies.

Demolition Dad by Phil Earle

Phil Earle’s books are always full of heart, and his latest is no exeption – a lovely, warm family story about the relationship between a boy and his dad. Pitched as ‘Danny the Champion of the World in Spandex’, it’s a delightful middle grade book with lots of warmth and quirky humour.

Captive by A J Grainger

Walker Books editor Annalie Grainger has turned her hand to writing YA herself in this, her first novel. Fans of Sophie McKenzie’s teen thrillers will especially enjoy this tense and twisty contemporary tale of  a teenage girl who finds herself dragged into a web of global corruption, and plunged into terrible danger.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’d almost forgotten how much I was blown away by Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere until I read her new novel, publishing in the spring. The story of twins Jude and Noah, it’s one of my favourite young adult books of 2015, and beautifully demonstrates how complex and ambitious YA writing can be. Powerful and poetic, it’s a sprawling exploration of family, love, art and fate, that makes for an intense and immersive reading experience.

Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow

I was so thrilled and delighted to read this, the first YA novel from my lovely friend Anna McKerrow. Set in a not-too-distant future in which Britain has been divided into the Red World, and the Green World – a self-sufficient pagan community cut off from the rest of Britain – it’s a witchy, wild and wonderful delight that kept me so immersed that I read it in a single sitting. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’m already on tenterhooks for the next installment of the trilogy.

For more new books, don’t forget that Down the Rabbit Hole is back this week, for our first show of 2015! We’ll be broadcasting live on Resonance 104.4FM on Tuesday 27 January at 5pm.

2014 in Pictures

2014 has been quite a year for me – but I’m very aware that one thing I haven’t done very much of is writing here. I decided to take inspiration from one of my favourite bloggers, Sarah McIntyre (aka Jabberworks) for this post, to sum up 2014 with a few pictures. For 2015, I’m making a resolution to get back to writing here on a more regular basis. There should be plenty to write about – it’s going to be an exciting year!

But for now, what happened in 2014? It’s going to be a big one, so take a deep breath…

We kicked the year off on the Isle of Wight, celebrating New Year with friends in the countryside. January is also my birthday month, so Duncan and I went away for a weekend to one of our favourite places, Rye in East Sussex. We spent a couple of days enjoying wild and windy seaside walks, cosy pub dinners and afternoons reading books by a roaring fire.

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February got off to a pretty exciting start, when we welcomed a gorgeous new nephew, Little Frank!

The first Down the Rabbit Hole also happened in February, after I’d cooked up the idea of a children’s book radio show in response to all the discussions about the lack of children’s book coverage in the media, and pitched it to London’s art radio station, Resonance FM. We had three amazing guests for the first show: Tanya Byrne, Laura Dockrill and Alex T Smith.  Also taking part were the wonderful Melissa Cox and Louise Lamont – and hey presto, a Down the Rabbit Hole dream team was born!

It was pretty amazing to see all the fantastic responses to the show online, and I guess Resonance FM were looking on too, because they soon invited us back to turn Down the Rabbit Hole into a regular series.

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Tanya, Alex and Laura in the Resonance studio for the first EVER Down the Rabbit Hole

Meanwhile, there was also exciting news for me on the writing front. After interest from several children’s publishers, I was lucky enough to secure a two-book deal with Egmont UK. The announcement that they had acquired The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow coincided with London Book Fair in April of this year, and even dropping my phone down a toilet in a fit of excitement (or well, OK, actually because I was in a rush and late for work, but book deal excitement is a better story) didn’t ruin the moment.

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Signing the contract!

A few weeks later, Louise and I were at The Wolseley on Piccadilly with the lovely Ali and Hannah from Egmont to sign the book contract and celebrate with cakes, tea and a glass of champagne or two. What better place to raise a glass to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow?

May saw the launch of Down the Rabbit Hole as a regular monthly series on Resonance FM. We’ve had a completely amazing year and a host of incredible guests: I won’t run through them all now, but you can catch up on our episodes here.

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Melissa with our studio guests for June’s Picture Book special – Ed Vere and Nadia Shireen

What can I say about the summer? It was a super busy few months with lots of highlights, from chairing children’s book superstars Michael Rosen and Malorie Blackman at the Foyles Festival to the amazing (and slightly mad) party we threw in July to announce the winners of the first ever Booktrust Best Book Awards.

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The graffiti wall at our Best Book Awards party

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We had a little too much fun with the photo booth

Then of course, in July YALC happened, and it was one of the most incredible weekends EVER. Need I say more?

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Hooray for YALC and all the amazing authors who took part!

I was pretty exhausted after the madness of YALC, so we went away for a few days in the countryside. We stayed in a little shepherd’s hut in deepest Kent, and spent our time sitting by the campfire, cycling down country lanes, reading in deckchairs, discovering country pubs and reading old children’s books. The weather was perfect and I half expected to see Pop Larkin driving his Rolls Royce down one of the Kentish country lanes at any moment.

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Deepest Kent

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A few handy books for a bit of campfire reading

August means Edinburgh Festival time! In spite of the unseasonal weather, we had a lovely few days mooching around one of my favourite cities, with ice-creams from Mary’s Milk Bar, coffee at Peters Yard, and of course lots of time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square, where I was pleased to find that my shoes perfectly matched the carpet in the Authors Yurt.

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In September, I got married! Duncan and I had a gorgeous London wedding surrounded by friends and family.

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We headed to Budapest for a few days for a  ‘mini-moon’ which involved lots of walking, eating, drinking, reading and sleeping.

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Once we got back home, wedding and holiday swiftly became a distant memory. Far from a relaxing start to married life, the rest of the autumn was packed with things to do and see. I loved visiting the House of Illustration to hear Johnny Duddle talk about illustrating the new Harry Potter covers, and going to the opening of the fantastic new Oliver Jeffers exhibition at the Discover Centre with the Booktrust girls.

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Getting into the spirit of things at the Discover Centre… ice-cream cone, wine and cheesy grin.

In October, Seven Stories announced their Diverse Voices list at the Guardian’s offices: a list of 50 of the best children’s books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK. I was lucky enough to be on the selection panel for this list, alongside Julia Eccleshare, Sarah Smith, Debbie Beeks and Jake Hope, which was a really fascinating experience, and left me with a lot to think about.

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Just a few of the fantastic authors and illustrators featured in the 50 Diverse Books list at the Guardian launch

In the same month, Claire and I went to visit the Story Museum in Oxford, and had a lot of fun dressing up and exploring their 26 Characters exhibition. My highlight was definitely Holly Smale as the Snow Queen in the Narnia room: open what looks like a wardrobe door, and push through the fur coats to emerge in a glittering winter scene. While we were there we were lucky enough to hear the amazing Frank Cottrell Boyce give a hugely inspiring David Fickling lecture.

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Also in October, it was back to Earls Court for the Winter London Film and Comic Con, for a mini YALC ‘spin-off’. Our pop-up YALC included a Waterstones bookshop and two YALC panels. I had a lot of fun chairing the first event, ‘Hey YA!’, which brought back two YALC stalwarts, James Dawson (cosplaying as Katniss especially for the occasion, naturally) and Non Pratt, alongside US author James Frey, who was touring the UK for the publication of his first young adult book, Endgame. The second event focused on female characters in YA fantasy fiction, and was ably chaired by Liz de Jager, with fantastic panellists Samantha Shannon, Zoe Marriott and Laure Eve.

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The YALC lanyard came out again!

November took me off to Birmingham to visit the new Library of Birmingham for the Blue Peter Book Awards judging meeting. Hannah and I had a great day with Blue Peter judges Anna James, Liz Pichon, Michael de Souza, Ewan Vinnicombe and the Blue Peter team.

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And of course in December, I had the chance to talk alongside author Matt Haig about the popularity of YA fiction – not a bad way to finish off a very busy year!

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There are so many other things I could mention here – BOOKS, exhibitions, theatre, lovely book launches and events (Judy Blume! Rainbow Rowell! So many more!), friends, weddings, new babies, food and fun, but I won’t go on any longer.

Instead, I’ll finish by saying how excited I am to see what 2015 has in store. There will (hopefully!) to be a second YALC to look forward to, and there will be lots more from DTRH – we’ll be celebrating our first birthday in February.

Most excitingly of all of course, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is published on 4 June: the first proofs are beginning to wing their way out into the world, and the writing of a second book is underway. 2015 is going to be the Year of the Book and I’m looking forward to documenting it here!

On Front Row

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I was on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row this week, talking about YA books and the new YA Book Prize alongside author Matt Haig! We talked to presenter Kirsty Lang about everything from diversity in YA to the importance of book bloggers.

Although my true radio loyalties will (of course!), always belong to Down the Rabbit Hole, it was so interesting to go to Broadcasting House and pre-record for the programme, and I was delighted to be asked to take part. It’s been great to see children’s and YA books get a bit more coverage in the mainstream media this year – and on Radio 4 in particular – and I really enjoyed the chance to be part of that.

After the pre-record I came home and had a listen to the programme. Even after almost a year of broadcasting, I somehow still can’t get used to the sound of my own voice on the radio, but happily I had a brilliant new YA books to hand to distract myself from cringing too much – Jandy Nelson’s gorgeous I’ll Give You the Sun, coming from Walker Books next year.

If you want to have a listen, you can hear the Front Row programme on catch-up here.

A Very Down the Rabbit Hole Christmas

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OK, so it’s not quite Christmas yet, but this week we broadcast our Down the Rabbit Hole Christmas special. We were joined by the incredibly talented Chris Riddell for our festive show, which covered everything from our favourite Christmas children’s books (including the lovely Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes, pictured above) to answering listeners’ Christmas book shopping dilemmas.

We also found time to chat with Chris about his latest books, including the gorgeous Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death, the second in the Goth Girl series; and two new books he has illustrated – Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales: Pied Piper of Hamlin and the extraordinary Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman.

All the while we were on air, Chris was doodling away:

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You can listen to the show below and find out about all the books we talked about here.

Down The Rabbit Hole – 25th November 2014 by Resonance Fm on Mixcloud