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A Dancer’s Dream

dancer

I’m thrilled that my very exciting new project has just been announced! A Dancer’s Dream is going to be a gorgeous full-colour gift book, illustrated by the incredible Lizzy Stewart.

The story is inspired by the real story of the first performance of the classic ballet The Nutcracker – and if you’ve read the anthology Winter Magic, you’ll recognise it! The short story I originally wrote for this collection has now been transformed into a beautiful book in it’s own right. Here’s a little more about it:

In a snowy St Petersburg, a little girl called Stana longs to play the role of Clara in Tchaikovsky’s new ballet, The Nutcracker. But when Stana’s dream comes true, and with all eyes on her, she must overcome her nerves and dance like she’s never danced before…

I loved ballet growing up and have such fond memories of going to see The Nutcracker at Christmas. It hs been wonderful to tell the story of the first dancer ever to play the part of Clara – and even more special to see it transformed into an illustrated book with glorious new artwork from Lizzy Stewart. I’ve long been an admirer of Lizzy’s work and her gorgeous illustrations for this story are absolutely enchanting – the above is just a tiny sneak peek at what you can expect from this beautiful-looking book.

A Dancer’s Dream is part of a new boutique line of colour gift books which Simon & Schuster have launched, beginning with Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock’s The Snow Dragon.

It won’t be out until October 2020 (just in time for Christmas!) but you can preorder it now from Waterstones.

Awesomely Austen: Pride & Prejudice

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My latest book, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is published today – hooray!

Here’s a little bit about it:

Part of the Awesomely Austen series, this is a fresh, funny and accessible retelling of Jane Austen’s best-known story, with witty black and white illustrations throughout.

Elizabeth Bennet is the second eldest in a family of five daughters. Although their mother is very keen to see them all married to wealthy men, Elizabeth is determined that she will only ever marry for love.

At a ball, Elizabeth meets Mr Darcy, who at first she believes is proud and haughty. But perhaps there is more to him than first meets the eye…

I’ve been a huge fan of Jane Austen ever since I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice aged 12. That year my best Christmas presents were a hardback copy of the book, plus a video cassette of the BBC TV adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth and Darcy. I watched it so many times I could recite it by heart! My friend Felicity and I were so obsessed we even used to write each other long letters in the characters of Jane (me) and Elizabeth (her).

Given this I was very excited when Hachette Children’s Books asked me if I’d be interested in writing a retelling of Pride and Prejudice for a young audience. The new Awesomely Austen series is illustrated by the brilliant Églantine Ceulemans, with each book retold by a different author. Here’s a little peek at some of Églantine’s fabulous art:


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In two weeks the #AWESOMELYAUSTEN will be out! Jane Austen’s fantastic stories retold by the awesome @followtheyellow (Katherine Woodfine), @katybirchallauthor and @narinderdhami , published by @hachettekids 🥰 and illustrated by me :) Also thank you to my lovely agents who made this project possible @plum_agency @hannahlwhitty 💚 . . . #janeausten #art #design #illustration #retold #janeaustenfan #janeaustenbooks #kidlit #books #childrensbooksmatter #illustrationdaily #feminism #women #strongwomen #watercolor

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Hello there! Here is a little sneak peek from the #awesomelyausten retold by @katybirchallauthor @followtheyellow and @narinderdhami by @hachettekids They will be out the 17th of October! . . . #janeausten #kidlit #art #drawing #illustration #books #bookmatter #fictionbooks #watercolor #blackandwhite #dessin #family #feminism #emmajaneausten #prideandprejudice #persuasion

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The first three books – Emma, told by Katy Birchall, Persuasion told by Narinder Dhami, and Pride and Prejudice by me – are out now, and you can look out for three more Awesomely Austen titles next year. It’s the perfect way to discover Austen for the first time!

Buy Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice now from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon

Sophie Takes to the Sky

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My latest book for Barrington Stoke’s super-readable Little Gems series, Sophie Takes to the Sky is out today!

Like my previous book, Rose’s Dress of Dreams, it’s inspired by a historical heroine – in this case, one of the first female aeronauts, Sophie Blanchard. In this reimagining of Sophie’s childhood, we discover where Sophie’s passion for flight might have originally begun. Here’s a bit more about the book:

Scaredy-Cat Sophie is afraid of everything! So when a balloonist comes to the town fair, Sophie is left behind while everyone else goes to watch him fly in his marvellous balloon. She’s far too frightened of the crowds, the commotion and even riding in a horse-drawn carriage.

But Sophie longs to watch the hot-air balloon sail across the blue sky. If she could just be brave enough to face her fears, who knows where her journey might take her … A touching tale for young readers of learning to overcome anxiety and follow your dreams.

I’m thrilled that this book has been gorgeously illustrated by Briony May Smith. I’m a huge fan of Briony’s  artwork, and her illustrations for Sophie Takes to the Sky are so full of atmosphere – they perfectly conjour up the setting of this story. What a delight!

If you’d like a little taster of the book, you can check out the first chapter here

You can also download a gorgeous poster with one of Briony’s stunning illustrations (see below) or a colouring sheet to design your own hot air-balloon

Take  a look at my Pinterest board showing some of the visual inspirations for Sophie’s story

And of course you can buy the book now via Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon

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Behind the Scenes: The Edwardian Lady Detective

ladydetective1When I first started writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries, while I loved the idea of Edwardian girl detectives, I had a feeling that it was unlikely that my heroines Sophie and Lil had many real-life counterparts. Although I’d come across works of fiction like Revelations of a Lady Detective, and The Female Detective published in the mid-19th century I suspected that real lady detectives at this time had in fact been few and far between. And although many new opportunities were opening up for women in the early 20th century, I couldn’t somehow imagine that there were really many young women who had the opportunity to work as professional detectives as Sophie and Lil do in my stories – never mind setting up their own detective agency. However…

Reader, I was entirely wrong.

In my research for the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, I’ve discovered that there were many women engaged in detective work both in London and further afield in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. In fact, one of the first lady detectives Kate Warne got a job at the famous Chicago agency Pinkerton’s as early as 1856. By 1894, Henry Slater (head of one of London’s largest detective agencies) was advertising Slater’s Women Detectives and at around the same time, Moser’s Ladies Detective Agency was set up by his rival, the ex-Scotland Yard inspector Maurice Moser. Meanwhile, Kate Easton was one of the first lady detectives to set up her own agency in London, which she established in 1905, declaring: ‘Blackmail, divorce, evidence, robbery, I undertake it all; I have touched everything except murder.’

Meanwhile, although women could not officially work for the police in the UK, Scotland Yard had been quietly hiring lady detectives to help with their cases as early as 1899. And across the pond in the USA, Isabella Goodwin was hired as New York’s first woman police detective in the 1900s, investigating burglars and swindlers; whilst Frances Benzecry worked as a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan to expose fake medical pracitioners.

Anyone who has read the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents will be interested to hear that another place women detectives could often be found in the 1900s was in London’s department stores! Stores like my own (fictional) Sinclair’s would frequently hire women to help prevent shoplifting, as women detectives were better able to blend in with the customers. When it opened in 1909, Selfridges hired a detective named Matilda Mitchell as the head up its very own ‘secret service’. She and her staff helped to catch thieves and frustrate the efforts of gangs like the ‘Forty Elephants’ who would sweep into the shop and cause a rumpus, while others quickly stuffed furs and expensive trinkets into outfits fitted with pockets especially for the purpose.

maudwestI recently read a fascinating new book The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton which explores the intriguing story of one of these early lady detectives, Maud West, in more detail. I was especially interested to discover that Maud had a surprising number of things in common with Sophie and Lil!

Maud reportedly set up her own detective agency in 1905: she had a number of both male and female detectives working for her, and an office in Bloomsbury. She had a particular eye for publicity, placing advertisements in the press (‘Maud West, Lady Detective. Are you worried? If so, consult me! Private enquiries and delicate matters undertaken anywhere with secrecy and ability’) but also writing colourful newspaper stories about her cases, seeking out publicity stunts, and circulating pictures of herself in various disguises.

According to her own accounts, her detective work involved everything from unmasking blackmailers to foiling jewel thieves to infiltrating dangerous gangs. She frequently used disguises, changing her appearance with wigs and make-up, and often dressed as a man, occupying rooms in a hotel as a ‘titled Englishman’ and following her suspects ‘into their clubs, playing baccarat beside them at the Monte Carlo Casino. She would reportedly disguise herself as ‘a shabby old scrubwoman’ at 5pm before being at the Ritz elegantly dressed for dinner by 7pm. She even claimed to have been involved in catching foreign spies, and just like Sophie and Lil, apparently worked for the British intelligence services during the First World War.

Something else that I was particularly intrigued to discover about Maud is that just like Sophie she appears to have started her career as a shop assistant – possibly even working in millinery – and that just like Lil she may have spent some time on the stage.

Later, her two daughters also came to work for her as detectives. One newspaper reported that her daughter Vera (described as ‘a pretty fair-haired girl of 17’ when she first started working for Maud) was such a clever young detective that she was dubbed ‘Miss Sherlock Holmes’.

It seems that my idea of Edwardian girl detectives was not so very far-fetched after all!

Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents

Five Children’s Books Set in St Petersburg

Following on from my list of children’s books set in Paris, I wanted to put together a new list to celebrate Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg!

There are obviously lots of children’s and young adult books set elsewhere in Russia, or that are inspired by Russian folk tales. However, these five all have scenes that are set specifically in and around St Petersburg (or Leningrad) itself.

 

WOLFWILDERThe Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico

Deep in the snowy woods, Feo lives in a wooden house, with her mother – a ‘wolf-wilder’ who helps to re-wild the wolves that foolish men have tried to tame. Feo has grown up amongst the wolves, and could howl before she could talk. But when the Russian Army appear and kidnap her mother, Feo’s life is turned upside down. Now she must travel through the harsh winter landscape to St Petersburg to try and rescue her mother, teaming up with some unexpected new friends she meets along the way. This is an enchanting story from Katherine Rundell, with wonderfully atmospheric illustrations from Gelrev Ongbico.

 
eggspoonEgg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

In this reimagining of the classic story of The Prince and the Pauper set in Tsarist Russia, Elena lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her future is bleak, until the night that a grand steam train stops unexpectedly at her village’s abandoned station. Aboard is Ekaterina, a girl who looks just like Elena, although in every other way she couldn’t be more different. Soon the two girls have switched places and Elena is on her way to St Petersburg – beginning an extrordinary adventure that also features a Fabergé Egg, the mythical Firebird, a prince in disguise, and the famous Baba Yaga herself.

 

rendezvousRendezvous in Russia by Lauren St John

In this instalment of Lauren St John’s engaging Laura Marlin series, young detective Laura, her faithful husky Skye and her friend Tariq have left behind their Cornish home for another adventure abroad. This time they’re joining a film crew in the faraway city of St Petersburg. But once on the set of ‘The Artistocratic Thief’, a new movie about an art heist, they find themselves mixed up in a real-life mystery.

 

ravensThe Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakoleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Set in 1938, during the time of Stalin’s purges, this is the intriguing story of 7-year-old Shura. He leads a normal life in Leningrad, going to school, playing with his friends, and fighting with his big sister. But then his Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka suddenly disappear without trace. The neighbours are saying they were enemies of Stalin, who have been taken away by the mysterious ‘Raven’. Desperate to reunite his family, Shura sets out to hunt down the ‘Raven’  – but there are strange adventures ahead.

 

wolfprincessThe Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

On a school trip to St Petersburg, Sophie and her friends get aboard the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful and mysterious Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers that secrets – and dangers – are lying in wait for her in the crumbling palace …

 

9781405287050Finally of course I have to mention Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg! In the second in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, it’s 1911 and Sophie  is missing in action after an explosive Secret Service Bureau mission in Paris. Lil decides to take matters into her own hands, setting out  to track her down in misty and mysterious St Petersburg. But can they uncover the identity of their true enemy – and can they trust anyone, even the Bureau itself?

 

If you have a favourite children’s book set in St Petersburg I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below!

If you enjoyed this list then do also check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists: