Archive of ‘children’s books’ category
I wrote the original version of this post when The Jewelled Moth was first published, for the fab YA Yeah Yeah’s ‘Classics’ series. Since a few people have asked recently about the relationship between The Jewelled Moth and The Moonstone, I thought I’d put a few thoughts here too!
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, published in 1868, is often considered to be the first real detective novel written in English. It’s a captivating read – the story of a mysterious (perhaps cursed) diamond stolen from an English country house in strange circumstances. Crime writer Dorothy Sayers called it ‘probably the finest detective story ever written’ and TS Eliot went as far as to say that the detective genre was ‘invented’ by Wilkie Collins. It’s inspired many crime writers including PD James, and it features a lot of the elements that we expect from a classic detective tale – from the English country house setting, to its world-weary detective Sergeant Cuff, to its exciting, twisty plot.
However, whilst it might be a thrilling read, The Moonstone is also very much a product of its times. At the very start of the story, against the backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, a British soldier steals a priceless diamond – the Moonstone – from an Indian temple. A few years later, he leaves the diamond to his niece, Miss Rachel Verinder as a gift for her eighteenth birthday. But as soon as the Moonstone arrives at her country home, Rachel, her family, and their guests all become aware of the threatening presence of a group of Indians on the trail of their long-lost jewel, who (we are told) will stop at nothing to get their sacred diamond back.
Over the course of the story, the diamond is stolen; a famous detective is called in to solve the case and return Miss Verinder’s diamond; and a whole cast of characters find themselves drawn into the mystery. Yet no one ever seems to point out the obvious: that the British soldier was the original thief, and it is in fact the Indians and not Miss Verinder who are the true owners of the Moonstone.
One of the things I love about The Moonstone is that it’s told in a range of different voices – from that of the Verinder’s old and trusted servant, Gabriel Betteredge, to evangelical busybody Miss Clack. However, the Indian characters are never allowed to relate their versions of events: they appear only through the narratives of the white British characters who encounter them. They have no names, they never speak for themselves, and we know little about them – we are only told they are mystical and exotic, as well as potentially sinister and dangerous. Spoiler alert (highlight to read!): although the Indians do eventually reclaim their diamond, and return it home for a contemporary reader, the imperialistic overtones of the story are impossible to miss.
With The Jewelled Moth, I wanted to have a go at writing my own tribute to The Moonstone – putting a different spin on this classic story. But as well as having fun writing about my own mysterious cursed jewel, I wanted to explore what the story might be like if it was told from a different point of view. How would it feel to have your most important and valuable possession stolen from you – and what might happen if you had the opportunity to try and get it back?
That’s exactly the position of Mei Lim in The Jewelled Moth. Mei has grown up in her family grocer’s shop in London’s Edwardian Chinatown, hearing her Chinese grandfather’s old tales of the Moonbeam Diamond – a precious gem that was once the pride of the temple in the village in China where he grew up. The diamond brought the Lim family prosperity and luck, until it was stolen by a visitor to their village – a treacherous British gentleman. Years later, her family believe the diamond is long gone, but when Mei spots a picture of an elegant young society girl wearing it in a London newspaper, she knows she must seize this chance to try and return it to its rightful home.
Even though it’s a very different story, which explores some very different elements of history, I had a lot of fun paying tribute to The Moonstone in The Jewelled Moth. If you’re a fan of classic detective fiction, you might spot one or two of those references and hints (and for those who have asked whether new store manager Mr Betteredge is named after Gabriel Betteredge – he absolutely is!) I’ve joked that the book could be described as ‘The Moonstone for kids’ but as well as being an exciting detective tale that I hope will keep readers turning the pages, it’s also an attempt to tell a different kind of detective story – and to hear from some of the voices that are so often missing from Victorian and Edwardian literature.
Read more about The Jewelled Moth and the historical inspirations for the book.
Mysterious gentlemen’s club Wyvern House is the scene of some exciting goings-on in The Painted Dragon. Whilst Wyvern House itself is totally fictional, during the Edwardian era, gentlemen’s clubs like it were an important part of London life.
Most well-off gentlemen would belong to at least one – or possibly several – of these exclusive establishments. Gentlemen’s clubs had become popular in the 19th century, and by 1909, when the Sinclair’s Mysteries are set, there were around 200 of them in London. Most were situated in the St James St/Pall Mall area of the West End, which was known as ‘Clubland’ – see above. (In The Painted Dragon I’ve departed from tradition by instead positioning Wyvern House in the City of London, close to the Bank of England; however, Mr Pendleton’s club which also makes a brief appearance towards the end of the book, is situated in the heart of Clubland.)
Each club was usually aimed at a specific group of gentlemen, who might share a political affiliation, a profession, or a particular interest. Some were military clubs, others for those who had studied at a particular university, whilst some were purely social clubs. Some of the most famous Edwardian clubs included The Athenaeum (founded in 1824, ‘for men of science, literature and art’), The Reform (founded in 1836, for those who supported the Reform Bill), Brook’s (for Liberals) and the Marlborough (formed by Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales). There was even the Travellers’ Club, founded in 1819 for men who had travelled a minimum of 500 miles outside the British Isles.
The oldest and arguably most exclusive club was White’s, founded in 1693. It began life as a hot chocolate emporium, but later became a gentleman’s club, and by the 18th century, it had gained a reputation for gambling. The club kept an infamous ‘betting book’ recording its members’ personal bets on everything from political events to marriages. One of the most famous bets it recorded was Lord Alvanley’s 1816 bet of £3,000 that a particular raindrop would chase its way down the club’s famous bow window, before another! It’s even rumoured that a man once collapsed outside the club’s front doors, and bets were immediately placed on his chances of survival. (White’s, like several of the most famous Edwardian gentlemen’s clubs is still in existence today – and its current members include Prince Charles and Prince William.)
Each of the clubs had different rules and regulations, and different atmospheres. Some were serious and silent, whilst others were much more raucous, and the scene of gossip and scandal. Either way, wealthy gentlemen would usually spend a lot of their time at their club, eating, drinking, playing cards or billiards, and relaxing with their fellow members. Many clubs even had bedrooms which the members could use, and some gentlemen might live at their club for weeks at a time!
Just like in The Painted Dragon, women were not permitted to enter these Edwardian gentlemen’s clubs, which were very much masculine spaces.However, by the late 1890s, a small number of clubs, including the Abermarle, did admit both ladies and gentlemen. What’s more, some clubs for women were beginning to spring up. The first was the Somerville Club, founded in 1879, for graduates of the college; whilst the high society Alexandra Club (1884) required its members to attend Court Drawing Rooms. The Victoria, established in 1894, was ultra-exclusive and provided dining rooms, reading rooms, drawing rooms, and bed chambers for its members, accommodating ladies for up to a fortnight at a time. By 1899 there were nearly 25 clubs in London catering specifically for women. I wonder if Sophie and Lil might even have become members of one of them?
The wonderful map of Clubland at the top of this post is by artist Adam Dant and is actually a silk pocket square designed for Drakes Of London! Find out more information here on the website Spitalfields Life.
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
Illustration by Karl James Mountford, from The Painted Dragon
The third book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series, The Painted Dragon, takes us into a new area of Edwardian London. In this story, we are plunged into the city’s art world – meeting art students, celebrated painters and art collectors – and going behind the scenes at exhibitions, auctions and museums, as well as art school the Spencer Institute.
Whilst the Spencer Institute is fictional, it was partly inspired by a real-life art school, the Slade, which still exists in London today. Forming part of University College London, the Slade was founded by lawyer and philanthropist Felix Slade in the 1860s. In the late 19th and early 20th century, an incredible number of famous artists studied there – including Augustus and Gwen John, Percy Wyndham Lewis, and (a little later, at around the time The Painted Dragon is set) the likes of Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Richard Nevinson, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer.
This group of young artists – together with their wider circle of writers and intellectuals – were something like the Young British Artists of their day. They enthusiastically embraced exciting new artistic movements such as Futurism and Vorticism and they led unconventional Bohemian lifestyles. They enjoyed wearing wild and unusual clothes – like Dora Carrington, who was one of the ‘Slade Cropheads’, a group of female students who dramatically rejected ideas of Edwardian beauty by cutting off their long-hair into short boyish bobs.
In all these ways, the art students rebelled against the conservative, traditional old-fashioned culture of the Edwardian era – and opened the door to the exciting new possibilities of modernism, taking their inspiration from the avant-garde artists of Paris and Vienna.
Dora Carrington and some of her fellow ‘Slade Cropheads’
In The Painted Dragon we see this world thorough the eyes of aspiring artists Leo and Jack, as they start their first term at the Spencer Institute. Like Leo, Jack and their friends at the Spencer, the real-life students at the Slade in the 1900s would begin their studies by spending lots of time in the Antiques Room, drawing from copies of plaster casts of Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture. Here, they would be carefully watched over by the strict Professor Henry Tonks – a rather terrifying figure, who was both respected and feared by his students! He was famous for his stinging criticisms, which sometimes made students weep – and rarely praised anyone. (Professor Jarvis, the stern drawing teacher who appears in The Painted Dragon, certainly owes a little something the real-life Professor Tonks.)
An Edwardian drawing class
Only when Professor Tonks considered them good enough were the art students allowed to graduate to the Life Class, where they would draw real models. Male and female students had separate life classes, for reasons of decorum! But in general, the art school was a place where the strict rules of Edwardian society were relaxed. Students came from many different backgrounds: the Slade welcomed both students like Mark Gertler, a talented sixteen-year old from the slums of East London; and well-off young people, such as Richard Nevinson, who came from a middle-class background and had previously attended an expensive public school. Outside classes, the students enjoyed socialising at bohemian cafes and restaurants like the famous Café Royal – which also makes an appearance in The Painted Dragon.
The Cafe Royal in 1901
These young artists were dedicated to their work, producing everything from portraits and still-lifes to landscape paintings. They played an important role in influencing – and unsettling – the art and culture of their time. But in 1914, the outbreak of war changed everything. The First World War, in which so many of them fought and died, had a shattering affect upon this young artistic community. Today, it’s sobering to reflect on what they might have been able to achieve under different circumstances: as Randolph Schwabe wrote: ‘Much talent and some genius was born into their generation, and their loss… is deplorable in its tale of waste and unfulfilment.’
If you’d like to read more about the Slade and these young artists, I’d highly recommend A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young Artists and the Great War by David Boyd Haycock. Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900 – 1939 by Virginia Nicholson also provides a fascinating insight into artistic and bohemian life in the early 20th century, including the importance of places such as the Café Royal.
For fiction, Pat Barker’s Life Class trilogy of (adult) novels are partly set at the Slade and focus on a group of young artists. I’d also highly recommend Ruth Elwin Harris’s YA novels The Quantock Quartet (now sadly out of print) about the artistic Purcell sisters – in particular Frances’s Story which follows ambitious older sister Frances to London to study at the Slade.
Today, you can see paintings by some of the artists who studied at the Slade at Tate Modern. For more of an idea of what the Edwardian art world would have been like, I’d also recommend visiting the grand Royal Academy (the heart of the Edwardian art establishement – the opening of the famous Royal Academy show each year was a highlight of the London Season) and the Wallace Collection, a beautiful gallery which includes lots of the kinds of paintings that might be found in Mr Lyle’s art collection – including ‘The Swing’ by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which Lil helps bring to life in The Painted Dragon. You can also still visit the Café Royal on Regent Street, though today it looks very different to the bohemian cafe of the 1900s!
The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click the image for the source) where you can also find lots more pictures of the Edwardian era.
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
Hooray! The Painted Dragon, the third book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series, is published in the UK TODAY!
I’m so excited that the book is now out in the world. I’ve already spotted it in several bookshops – and there have been some lovely responses to the book online, including this fabulous 5* review from The Bookbag, and this wonderful review from Booklover Jo.
Here’s a bit more information about the book:
You are invited to attend the grand unveiling of Mr Lyle’s magnificent art exhibition at Sinclair’s department store!
When a priceless painting is stolen, our dauntless heroines Sophie and Lil find themselves faced with forgery, trickery and deceit on all sides.
BE AMAZED as the brave duo pit their wits against this perilous puzzle! MARVEL at their cunning plan to unmask the villain and prove themselves detectives to be reckoned with – no matter what dangers lie ahead . . .
This is their most perilous adventure yet!
‘I read it in one delicious sitting – a cleverly plotted, atmospheric page-turner with exquisite attention to detail’ – Fiona Noble, The Bookseller
‘Funny, scary, heart-stopping stuff – do not, under any circumstances, miss it’ – The Bookbag
One of my very favourite things about the new book is of course, the gorgeous cover illustrated by the brilliant Karl James Mountford (look our for Karl’s new picture book The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth which is also out today!) Karl’s interior illustrations are amazing too – here’s a sneak peek at one of my favourites, which is the first time we’ve seen Sophie and Lil in a picture:
If you want to get hold of a copy of the new book you can buy it now from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon. Add it on Goodreads here.
2016 has been such busy year! Whilst it’s been a strange (and depressing) one in many ways, for me personally, it’s been a very positive time. I’ll always remember it as the year that my second book The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth was published – and that the pile of my books (see above) grew from one to four!
It’s been a great year for collaboration. I’ve been lucky enough to be included in two amazing short story anthologies, alongside lots of other authors whose writing I hugely admire. I love feeling part of a community of children’s writers, so it was such a treat to be part of Mystery & Mayhem and Winter Magic.
I’m relatively new to short stories and I do find them challenging – but I really enjoyed writing Lil’s solo story ‘The Mystery of the Purloined Pearls’ for Mystery & Mayhem. I also loved writing ‘Casse-Noisette’ for Winter Magic, which is set in 1890s St Petersburg and focuses on the first ever production of The Nutcracker ballet. This is the first story I’ve had published that’s set outside the world of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, and it’s been great to hear so many enthusiastic responses from readers.
Celebrating Winter Magic with Abi Elphinstone and Piers Torday
Launching Mystery & Mayhem with Harriet Whitehorn, Helen Moss and Robin Stevens
2016 was also the year that both Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth were published in the USA by publishers Kane Miller, which is so exciting! What’s more, this year Clockwork Sparrow was published as an audiobook, read by the wonderful Jessica Preddy! I love audiobooks and I’m thrilled that Clockwork Sparrow exists in audio form – look out for the Jewelled Moth audiobook coming out in January 2017.
I’ve been very busy with lots more writing this year, including working on Books 3 and 4 of the Sinclair’s Mysteries series – book 3, The Painted Dragon is coming out on 9th February.
The cover has had a little tweak since the first reveal, but it looks as shiny and beautiful as ever in all its green glory. I love Karl James Mountford’s stunning artwork, and I think it might be my favourite cover yet. You can preorder the new book here.
I’ve also been working on a couple of exciting new writing projects – more news on those coming very soon!
2016 has also been a very busy year for events. I’ve done over 40 author events this year, including the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival to the Children’s Books Ireland conference. Amongst other things, I’ve visited schools and festivals all around the country, led some fun creative writing workshops as part of The Mousetrap’s ‘Mystery Solved’ project, and taken part in two great panel events at Waterstones Piccadilly.
One particularly special moment of 2016 was attending the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize ceremony at Piccadilly when Clockwork Sparrow was on the Younger Fiction shortlist. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the prize for a number of years as a guest, so being there as a shortlisted author alongside so many amazing children’s writers and illustrators was really special. Clockwork Sparrow didn’t win (that honour went to the lovely David Solomons for his My Brother is a Superhero, who also scooped the overall prize) but celebrating with so many friends and colleagues is something I’ll always remember.
Shortlisted authors and illustrators assemble at the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, with Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell
As well as my own author events, 2016 was the third year of YALC, which was a tremendous success. There’s always more to learn and improve – but overall I’m so proud of everything we’ve achieved with YALC. Here’s the wonderful YALC Working Group who do such an amazing job in helping me make the event happen – my very own Scooby Gang! (This year they even bought me my very own gold umbrella as a present – fans of Buffy will appreciate the significance)
Lovely YALC working group pals
As well as a fantastic YALC, 2016 was also the year that we launched the YA Salon! I’ve teamed up with the brilliant Anna James and Rosi Crawley to launch this fun evening event for adults who love YA books. We kicked things off with our first salon with legendary Baby-Sitter’s Club author Ann M Martin, who was joined by Laura Dockrill and Holly Bourne, for a special event for London Book & Screen Week. We’ve since organised a Christmas themed YA Salon to celebrate Stripes’ new anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas with a host of fabulous YA authors taking part.
Highlights of the first ever YA Salon
Our lovely authors at the Christmas YA Salon
Children’s books radio show Down the Rabbit Hole has gone from strength to strength this year. Louise, Melissa and I have launched our new website with gorgeous artwork from Rebecca Cobb, introduced a brand new e-newsletter and made the show available as a podcast via iTunes. Of course we’ve also broadcast twelve shows featuring amazing guests including the likes of Clare Balding. Check out our Christmas special here.
We’re already busy planning more exciting things for DTRH in 2017 so make sure you’re subscribed to our podcast and following us on Twitter so you don’t miss anything! (If you want to give us a great Christmas present you can rate or review the show on iTunes here!)
New DTRH website with gorgeous Rebecca Cobb illustrations
I also launched my Youtube channel this year. I still have lots to learn about how to make videos, but it’s been really fun trying it out and having a go! If you want to see how I get on, do subscribe to my channel, and check out some videos – some of my favourites include a top 5 new middle grade books, an interview with fellow Mystery Girl Robin Stevens about her new book Mistletoe and Murder, and a fun festive Q&A with the lovely Abi Elphinstone.
Robin and I filming our Mistletoe and Murder video
I’ve been lucky to be involved in lots more fantastic book-related projects this year, including being a judge for both the Bookseller YA Prize, and Stripes’ competition to find a new writer for the I’ll be Home for Christmas anthology, which was a real privilege.
It’s also been lovely to help celebrate the launch of many great new children’s books this year – and even to blurb a few of them! In particular, I’ve loved seeing the spectacular success of MG Leonard’s brilliant debut Beetle Boy, and more recently Peter Bunzl’s amazing debut Cogheart – it’s been pretty cool seeing my name on posters in railway stations around the country!
Amazing Cogheart posters!
On a personal note, 2016 has also been a lovely year for me, with highlights including a visit to Sweden, a relaxing post-YALC summer break in Rye, and a September trip to Paris. Follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see lots more pictures of what I get up to.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me this year! I’m so appreciative of all those who have read, reviewed, bought or shared my books, come along to an event, or followed along here. I’m so grateful and feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this. Now bring on 2017!