Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bookish Brits Vlog 25: Blooper Reel

This isn't strictly a vlog but it's a lot of fun to watch! Enjoy :)

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Book Review: Wintersmith, by Terry Prachett (Farewell Terry Prachett Blog Tour)

Tiffany Aching's witch training is going pretty well until she is taken to watch the Dark Morris, the opposite of the better-known spring time morris dance, performed to bring the winter to the land. Bored and distracted, she finds herself giving into temptation and joining the dance, where she comes to the attention of the Wintersmith, an elemental, and he falls in love with her, threatening to plunge the world into eternal winter if she cannot work out how to stop him.

But this isn't all Tiffany has to worry about - her current mentor, Miss Treason, is a witch feared by many, a woman shrouded by legend - skulls and spiderwebs decorate her house, there's allegedly a demon in her basement, and she has a clock instead of a heart. And of course the Nac Mac Feegles are still protecting her, stealing food, and reading her diary...

It has been a few years since I read the previous Tiffany Aching book - A Hat Full of Sky - and I found that I remembered characters better than plot details, so I did have to read the Wikipedia summaries of the previous two books. However, I wouldn't worry about having to do this as there aren't that many references to the previous two books - the most important thing you need to do to enjoy Wintersmith is to remember who everyone is!

With characters this memorable, it's not a struggle at all, and for me Wintersmith was all about the characters. If I remember the other books correctly, I preferred the plots of the last two, but Wintersmith would be well worth reading just to learn more about the witches and see more of the Feegles! I loved all the little details that are thrown in because they're funny, even if they have nothing to do with the plot - like Horace the living cheese.

I hope you enjoyed this review - do check out the other #terryprachettblogtour posts. Now, I really must read I Shall Wear Midnight soon...

Friday, April 24, 2015

An Interview with Kathryn James, author of Gypsy Girl (Countdown to 7th May)

Hello! Today I am thrilled to share with you an interview with Kathryn James, as part of the Countdown to 7th May multi-author multi-blog tour, which celebrates the great new books that will be released on 7th May 2015.

I think Kathryn gave some really interesting answers, so without any further ado...

When I began reading Gypsy Girl, I was drawn immediately into Sammy-Jo's world. It was very easy to imagine her life - there's a lot of detail about her family and their history. Even the wedding planning parts were fascinating - and they led to some great group scenes. Your bio says that you have worked with Gypsy and Traveller children. How much of this experience fed into the book? Did you have to do any additional research before you wrote it?

Yes, I worked for eighteen years with Gypsies and travellers here in Leicester, firstly organising play schemes on the sites and then later doing classes in photography, video, literacy and Driving Theory for the teenagers and adults, and nursery classes for the little ones. We also had a mobile classroom in the shape of an old Leicester City Bus which had been repainted with a rainbow painted on the side. We loved this work, and the days spent with the traveller girls were always filled with lots of excitement and laughter. We didn’t only teach them, we also joined in with their celebrations – they are very big on Weddings and Christenings and first communions – in fact they celebrate most things!

I didn’t do any additional research for Gypsy Girl, because we’d worked alongside girls like Sammy-Jo and her family. Of course Sammy-Jo isn’t based on any one girl, but I met many like her, with the same spirit and strength and love of family. I also saw the prejudices on both sides when a Gypsy falls for a non-Gypsy and wanted to illustrate these problems through Sammy-Jo’s relationship with Gregory.

The video classes led on to us videoing some of the weddings. Features from all of them went into Sammy-Jo’s sister’s wedding in the book. But the last wedding we videoed a couple of summers ago was probably the biggest influence. It was a really big, full-on Gypsy wedding.

Here’s the bridesmaid that inspired Sammy-Jo’s dress!

I loved the Smith family - there are a lot of them but you have given the members distinct personalities. My favourites were probably Sammy-Jo's aunts, Beryl and Queenie. Which of the secondary/background characters is your favourite? (I'm a bit obsessed with this question - I've made two Bookish Brits videos about secondary characters!)

I loved Beryl and Queenie, they were such fun to write! They were based on women we met whilst working with the travellers, but also I think there’s a bit of me and my best friend in there as well! Like Beryl and Queenie, Mandy and I like to know everything that’s going on, and we’re always in the middle of things plotting and planning and giving our opinions. Mandy hasn’t read the book yet, but when she does she’ll really enjoy Beryl and Queenie. I do have a soft spot for bride-to-be Sabrina as well, I think she knows she’s being spoilt and demanding but she can’t seem to stop. I put it down to wedding nerves :)

Like you, I also have a fascination with secondary characters. In some books I’m almost more interested in them than the main heroes. When I was at school we read Jane Eyre and I always remember wondering and worrying about the mad woman in the attic and wanting to know how she got there. Years later I found out that another author had exactly the same thought and had written a book all about her – Wide Sargasso Sea.

Are you going to write any more stories about Gypsies/Travellers? I have to admit that when I first saw the title, I didn’t like it, because I thought 'It sounds a bit like this is The Book about characters with this lifestyle, and I think there should be loads'! As I read the book, I changed my mind - it makes sense as 'Gypsy Girl' is Sammy-Jo's fight-club name, and because it is an identity that she is proud of, but that can lead to problems for her and her family, because of the assumptions other people make about them. It's central to the book.

I’d love to write more about Gypsies and travellers. The girls and boys in our classes very rarely see themselves in fiction. When we were doing the nursery classes we made photo books for the children, showing them leaving caravans rather than houses when going to school, and playing around a site rather than in a garden. They loved them, I think it was the first time they’d seen their surroundings and way of life in a book.

I’ve just finished writing Gypsy Girl 2, which carries on with Sammy-Jo’s story and her fight to make her family safe again. Before Gypsy Girl I wrote a couple of books called Mist and Frost, about the Elven that live secretly amongst us. Although the Elven were a fantasy based on the Scandinavian tales of elvish people, I actually based some of their characteristics on the gypsy children I worked with – their toughness and liveliness, the fact that they live secretly amongst us and that people fear and mistrust them, even thought they don’t mean any harm. But after writing those two books I wanted to write a book that was based in the real world, about some of the girls we’d worked with. I wanted a feisty heroine who would fight for her life and her family against great odds – and there’s no girl better equipped to do that than a Gypsy girl, even if she’s wearing her heels. And by showing Sammy-Jo’s life I hope my readers will enjoy learning about these secretive people and their lives, loves, hopes and families.

The word 'Gypsy' and derivatives are sometimes used as insults, yet 'Gypsy' is a word used in law and by community organisations to describe themselves, for example, the Gypsy Council. Sammy-Jo describes herself as a Traveller and as a Gypsy, and as I said above, she is very proud of who she is, but is very concerned about how other people see her and her family and friends, because of the stereotypes and myths about Gypsies. Could you explain a little about the history of the term 'Gypsy', and how it is used today?

The term Gypsy apparently comes from the word ‘Egyptian’ because people used to think they came from Egypt but that’s incorrect. Most historians believe they are a lost and wandering tribe from India, who left that country after persecution hundreds of years ago, and gradually wandered right across Asia and Europe. Imagine how exotic and foreign they must have seemed all those centuries ago, when most people didn’t move far from where they were born, to suddenly see the Gypsy wagons pulling into their village!

Nowadays Gypsies and Travellers often live on council or private sites, or own their own land. Most still travel but some stay put and live in houses.  But even those who live in houses now would still consider themselves Gypsies or travellers.

The girls and boys we worked with were a mix of Gypsies and Travellers. The Gypsies were mainly English, and proudly call themselves Gypsies. If I asked a girl to describe herself, she would say, ‘I’m a Gypsy Girl’, so the title of my book reflects this love of their lifestyle. They name they hate being called is gypo, this is the insulting term for them and is considered offensive.  The travellers we worked with were mainly Irish, (but there are Welsh and Scottish travellers as well) and they didn’t refer to themselves as Gypsies, only travellers. If you’ve every watched the programme My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, then the families normally shown on it are actually travellers not Gypsies, so people still get it wrong. Perhaps the programme makers thought Gypsy had a bigger impact than travellers!

Finally, how are you going to celebrate on 7 May?

Well it’s the day of the election so I will go and vote. But after that there will be champagne I’m sure!

Thanks for some very interesting questions!

Thank you for taking the time to answer them, Kathryn!

Kathryn also sent us some photos taken when she used to work with Gypsies and Travellers:

If you enjoyed this post, please do go to CountdownYA.com to find out more. You can also follow @CountdownYA and #CountdownYA on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a pick-your-own-topic: 'Books for Readers Who Like ______'. I wasn't planning to take part, but then Ming suggested that 'Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy' as an idea. I loved it, and told her so, and after a little bit of discussion we agreed to make this a collab. I'm going to list five books below, and once you've read this post you can pop on over to Rare Medium Well Done for the rest of the list.

So without any further ado:

Top Five Books for Readers Who Like Teenagers Effing Up The Patriarchy

My feminist badge collection from my teenage years

1. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, by Libba Bray - Victorian girls with powers not only have to save the world, but also have to work out how to improve their own lives, which is possibly more difficult, living in the era that they do and being supposed to go straight from finishing school to marriage/drudgery.

2. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller - a gang of delinquent Girl Scouts, led by the mysterious mastermind Kiki Strike, explore a hidden city below New York. At the end of every chapter there are useful lists, such as 'How To Take Advantage of Being a Girl' and 'How To Kick Some Butt'.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart - Frankie finds out that her boyfriend is in a secret all-male society at their school. He won't even admit that it exists. Bored by this lying and shameless sexism, she decides to infiltrate it. Fun ensues.

4. The Forestwife Trilogy, by Theresa Tomlinson - Medieval teenager Mary de Holt doesn't fancy getting married off to some old guy, so she runs off into the forest with her wet nurse Agnes, where they help heal the sick and rescue people from the patriarchy. Along the way she changes her name to Marian, learns archery, and spends a bit of romantic time with a dude called Robert who wears a hood. Also there are AWESOME NUNS.

5. Valiant, by Holly Black - this is more incidental patriarchy-effing but Val a) learns how to fight with a really cool sword and b) has to use these skills to save her love interest. Goodbye stereotypical fairy tale!

Now, please leave a comment and recommend me some of your own favourite books about teenagers who, when confronted with tedious stereotypes and boringly gender-conventional lives, refuse to put up with it. Or people in general!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Finish It Feb 2015

It's February, which means it's time to put the TBR Double Dog Dare on hold and #FinishItFeb instead!

I loved being part of #FinishItFeb last year, even though it took me a couple more months to finish the Gemma Doyle trilogy than I'd intended. This year, I'm aiming reasonably high, and I want to finish three books from my 'currently reading' list, and one series.

The Series

I hadn't ever really considered reading Artemis Fowl until I became a Christmas temp at Waterstone's Bromley, and a couple of my colleagues (one in particular), enthused about it so much that I couldn't resist.

I've read the first two, and I really, really loved them. But somehow I never got around to reading the rest. I am planning to re-read the first two and then I will be continuing merrily on with this fantastic series.

The Three Books:

I have started reading The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp's guide to creativity, at least once before but lacked the determination to finish it. You see, it's one of those books with exercises. I am often halted by exercises. I started it again in January, and I really want to continue it as it's one of those lifechanging, really useful kind of guide books. I just have to get around to doing this particular exercise, and then I can move on...

I read most of The Bookshop Book last year and then stopped after interviewing the author. I don't want it to end! But I should finish it, so that I can put the dustjacket back on it, take it off my desk and find it a nice home on a shelf.

I don't know why I never finished reading Haunted by History: Poetry by Joan Anim-Addo, who taught on my undergrad degree programme. It's a poetry book. It's not very long. And I don't have to review it - I generally don't review poetry, though I might mention it in a vlog. If I finish it!

I talked about my #FinishItFeb plans in my last vlog, which you can see below:

Are you taking part in #FinishItFeb? Have you read any of these books?


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