May the Books be with you – May Round Up

 

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The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Look, if you are reading a book blog, the chances are high that you’ve either heard of this and it’s on your TBR pile or you’ve discounted it as not your thing (or, some have said, too intimidating in size), so you don’t need me banging on about it. But I’m going to anyway. Cause I loved it and I want to talk about it!

Fantasy can sometimes be a struggle to get into, particularly if it’s done well – you’re learning a whole new world of names, geography and systems as well as new characters and it can seem bamboozling until you get into it. On top of that it is often loooooooong. Game of Thrones is 5 books long and came into existence in 1996 and still isn’t finished. Priory itself is an 800 page behemoth which my friend brought up from Glasgow for me and joked (Maybe not so much a joke) that it put her over her weight allowance. However the secret which lovers of fantasy are privy too is that no matter how long a fantasy book is it’s never enough. These books are so densely packed with rich detail and complex characters that the immersion is like nothing else.20190507_181343

Priory comes with handy maps (which I used a lot) as well as a character list and glossary which are tucked at the back and I didn’t find until the end so I can’t speak to how useful they are as I didn’t use them. But more than that it comes as a beautiful, fantasy balm, like a warm hug and a cosy blanket.

That’s not to say that there’s not tragedy and violence and genuine stakes – there is. But these things are not included just for the sake of brutality. This is a character driven story which follows Ead Duryan, an undercover mage, in the West and Tane, an ambitious Dragonrider, in the East as the end of a thousand year rule by the House of Berethnet threatens to awaken Draconian rule. It is complex and deep, part mystery thriller, part high level adventure, and infused throughout with genuine warmth and consideration for the characters and their choices. I can’t fault it. It’s a beautiful book, and a gorgeous story.

 

Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers

Any book I read after The Priory of the Orange Tree was going to have a very hard act to follow, so when I picked this up directly after it I thought it didn’t stand a chance. And then Sonny opened his mouth and I burst out laughing and Sonny and Billy had won me over.

This is the story of Sonny and Billy Daughter, two Stirlingshire lads who go to Battlefield High; A made up secondary school in a very real and tangible location. Written in broad 20190521_184044.jpgScots, Sonny and Daughter are real, identifiable and typical teenage boys (though perhaps a little more woke and tolerant than the ones I went to school with). The book is chocful of good Scottish Humour, and a little teenage idiocy as Sonny and Daughter stumble on a potential murder while trying to clear the name of Billy’s favourite teacher and pass National 5 Maths. And yet, despite the insane plot, every choice, every scenario is logical and entirely believable. In fact I can’t believe more teenage boys don’t find themselves in this situation!

Another young adult book that’s for everyone.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Told from two points of view, this is the tale of a widower and his two young sons facing the sudden and tragic death of their wife and mother. During the days following her death, they are visited by Crow, a tricky character who challenges and provides comfort in equal measure, and insists on staying until they no longer make them. Tragic and darkly funny, this book captures the immediacy of grief and the challenge of the healing process and a family re-finding each other in the wake of tragedy. It’s a strange and engaging parable which anyone who has lost someone will relate to deeply.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper

20190602_164457 (1)After the untimely death of his friend and first love, Aaron Falk fled his hometown of Kiewarra with his father, a pick up truck of their most valuable possessions and a dark cloud of suspicion. 20 years later he is pulled back when Luke, another of his childhood friends, committs a horrific act of murder/suicide against his own family. But in a run down town suffering from the Australian drought, Aaron’s attendance at the funeral brings up historical suspicions and questions about what really happened to Ellie 20 years previously and Luke and the Hadler family today.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a typical whodunnit thriller, and on one hand it definitely fits my “popcorn for the brain” criteria, but it’s also smarter and more engaging than the normal crime thriller. Written with a typical eye on potential cinematic adaptations (the Flashbacks reek of cinematic structure) the story is genuinely intriguing and unpredictable. I was kept guessing as to what had happened with both crimes right until the end, and on occasion even doubted the protagonist. The end was satisfying, logical and yet hadn’t been telegraphed too early. Really enjoyed this.

 

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

A prequel novel set in the “Lady Astronaut” series, The Calculating Stars covers a period in an alternate 1950s which follows the impact of a catastrophic meteorite. Mathematician, Dr Elma York and her husband, manage to escape the immediate repercussions of the impact only to discover that it is a slow burn extinction level event which will lead to unsurvivable temperatures on Earth, and demands international co-operation to colonise the stars in order to ensure the survival of the human race. Battling misogyny at every term and facing her own privilege while witnessing her friends’ battle with racism, The Calculating Stars takes a high concept scenario and uses it to explore historical and contemporary issues from our own world. Elma York is an intriguing protagonist, battling to earn her due, and insisting on rocking the boat while simultaneously trying to work for the greater good. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series and seeing where it goes.

 

Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera Translated by Lisa Dillman

A dense and tightly woven narrative focused on Lobo, a musician whose talent earns him entry to the court of the charming and magnetic King, a local drug baron. Once there, Lobo finds himself getting got up in the power and egos of the “court” while also falling in love with the King’s Step-daughter, a girl desperate to escape the corruption that surrounds them.

 

The Carer by Deborah Moggach

The author of The Best Marigold Hotel returns this July with The Carer, the story of Phoebe and Robert, a brother and sister who are trying so hard to maintain the lives they’ve constructed to seek their parent’s approval that they have to hand the care of their elderly father, James, over to an in house carer. When Mandy turns up it feels like the answer to all their prayers, but slowly family secrets start to unravel and Phoebe and Robert begin to question all their choices.

This feels like two different stories, the first a sinister and creeping thriller where Mandy has questionable motives. I felt like I was heading for a prescient tale of elderly abuse. And then the reveal comes, which I admit I didn’t spot, and it became a very different story about questioning my own motives, privilege and choices. An interesting tale about priorities and being true to yourself as you get older.

 

Octavio’s Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy

Don Octavio is an illiterate gentle giant living in the slums of Venezuela. After a chance encounter with a vibrant woman named after the country itself, Octavio finds himself learning how to read and being split between his life with the Brotherhood gang and a woman he loves. Events conspire to mean that he has to leave both behind and journey across the Venezulan jungle on a journey which blends myth and reality and allows Octavio to find a true sense of peace and purpose.

This was a grand novel which managed to pack a life into a mere 95 pages and never felt like it was skimping. Jam packed with nature, the prose is poetical and hypnotic – a melodic ode to one man’s sense of self discovery. However the occasional flurries of myth sometimes jarred as they were woven abruptly into such a short narrative. Worth a read but not for everyone.

 

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

After reading Priory (yes it entirely dominated my reading direction and thoughts this month) I raced out to get Shannon’s first ever book. The Bone Season is the first in a proposed seven book series about clairvoyants and general super powered people who gain their powers from either manipulating or communicating with the Aether (spirit world) around them. As with her later work it displays a commitment to world building and complexity that is astounding, but this is a clumsier affair altogether.

Paige is a rare and coveted Dreamwalker who works for a criminal underground syndicate. Her role? To hack into the dreamscapes of other unnaturals. After an unfortunate incident where her power surges forward in self-defence she is captured and handed to an alien race which has set up base in what used to be Oxford. There she and other unnaturals are used as slaves, and the ruthless alien in charge has their eye on Paige and her unusual powers, while the royal consort, Warden, is interested in her as a potential rebel leader. It’s an interesting concept, but the love stories feel convoluted and unnecessary, while it takes a while to really comprehend what’s going on and the tale is, by necessity, very exposition heavy. It was intriguing, but not enough that I’m running out to get the sequels, although there are plenty of people who swear by this so it might just be me.

 

Pick of the Month: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

 

Dud of the Month: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannan

Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers

Book Review

After spending a week of my life immersed in my new favourite novel I picked up Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers to review, stealing myself that it just wasn’t going to be as good but “I’d better give it a chance”. And something amazing happened; it completely blew me over and stormed into my heart.

Set in Battlefield High in Stirlingshire, Sonny and Me follows two teenage boys; Sonny and Billy Daughter, best friends just trying to make it through secondary school with their dignity intact, when Daughter’s favourite school teacher, Miss Baird, is summarily20190521_183953 (1) kicked out of school and his hopes of making it through his Maths National 5 are dashed. Being a good Scots lad, Daughter is not willing to let this stand and he and Billy set about sticking their noses in and trying to unravel the web of gossip and intrigue that permeates their school. Is Miss Baird a home-wrecking villain, or is something more sinister going on?

The description of Sonny and Me doesn’t begin to touch on the warmth and humour that characterise this book. Sonny and Daughter are so well drawn, so recognisable and relatable, that I would willingly read about them watching paint dry; because I guarantee that their take on it would make me laugh. From the first time Sonny opens his beautifully naive mouth on page 1 I was laughing. These are two young boys who may not always have everything sorted, but deal with unrequited love, coming out and criminals with the same compassion, twinkle of wit and groan inducing jokes. Who express their “wokeness” with moral integrity but also a strong sense of Scottish mischief. Who, if my sons grew to be anything like them, I would be intensely proud; even while pulling my hair out with stress and despair. They feel like a true and honest depiction of kind and full of trouble teenage boys.

Around them the plot flows, always grounded in believability, even as it weaves its way through its mad cap revelations at the end (perhaps the one exception is the headmistress who feels a little pantomime villain in her boo-hiss evilness, but that is real nit picking.). Every step and choice the boys make is logical and relatable and often hilariously funny.

Maybe it’s because I spent four years in Stirling and so the geographical references made me feel like I’d come home, but Sonny and Me is so full of heart, humour and a rollicking good plot that reading it feels like hanging out with your best friends. This is a story targeted at young adults but endlessly enjoyable and highly recommended for everyone. Mature, thoughtful and genuinely laugh out loud funny.

Book Giveaway!

Snakeskins by Tim Major

20190513_172732 (1)Set in an alternate timeline, where a mysterious meteor shower known as “The Fall” hit Britain in the 1800s, leaving behind a lasting impact on the inhabitants of a nearby village and its descendants, Snakeskins is an intriguing exploration of what it means to be human and the absolute corruption of power.

As a result of the impact, a subsection of the British population known as “Charmers” now have skin shedding ceremonies every seven years, where they produce a conscious but very brief clone of themselves known as a Snakeskin, giving the original extended youth and lives. The snakeskin then dusts back into the atmosphere. But what are they really? Fully realised people or ghostly copies of their original? With Caitlin Hext’s first shedding ceremony coming up, a right of passage for charmers, she finds herself naturally curious to find out more.

This is an intriguing SciFi conspiracy novel which, as with all good SciFi, uses high concept ideas to explore prescient issues about our society’s treatment of people, and it’s bloody good too. From high powered political games, to everyday bullying it covers society’s complex push and pull in shaping its institutions for the benefit of the few.

Thanks to my friends over at “TitanBooks I have a copy of this to give away. All you have to do is head over to Instagram or Twitter and do the following:

Instagram: @HebrideanReader  Follow and Like the Snakeskins post, and comment on why you would like a copy.

Twitter: @HebrideanReader Follow, Like and Retweet the competition tweet.

The competition is open until 10pm on Wednesday 15 May 2019 when I will pick a winner at random. The competition is open to UK/Ireland/US and Canada only. Good luck!

April showers allow reading for hours

April Reading Round-Up

This is a bit of an unfair month; nothing I read was a particular DUD, although there were a lot of “average” reads. However nothing fell below 3 stars (out of 5). That said, there were a lot of very specialised genre books, so bare in mind that although I enjoyed them all, they are definitely not all for everyone.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was my surprise of the month. An impulse pick up from the Library display, it felt like Kismet and it was. Orlean is a staff writer for the New Yorker, who previously wrote the Orchid Thief, which I’ve heard of but yet to read. In The Library Book she re-discovers her love of libraries through her son’s school project and sets her journalistic eye on the history and depths of the Los Angeles Central Library which suffered a cataclysmic fire in 1986.

Part History book, part mystery investigation and part sociology study of the Microcosm of the Library’s clientele, no description can do this book justice. Try and tell someone what it’s about and it just sounds archaic, but like the libraries it waxes lyrical about, it 20190411_085121has hidden fathoms. It’s beautiful; atmosphere and quotes dripping from every page, and not only have I not stopped talking about it since I read it, but I’ve immediately had to go out and buy my own copy. Seriously, give it a try, if you love books I dare you not to fall further in love with libraries and librarians after reading this.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies, curated by Scarlett Curtis

A collection of essays from activists, actresses, and women wanting to shout their autonomy from the hills, FDWP is a must read for anyone beginning their Feminist journey, or simply wanting to shore up their battle weary heart after another day of fighting the patriarchy. As with all essays, you may not agree with everything written here, but the book makes clear that you don’t have too. Everyone’s interpretation of Feminism is going to be slightly different, and each is equally valid. It’s about listening to all view points, educating yourself on experiences you may not directly 20190404_152104have had and supporting other women in their own battlefields, and all the proceeds go to Girl Up a United Nations Foundation Initiative, so you’re helping others while reading!

I found it inspirational and funny and I think if you come to it willing to learn then you’ll definitely gain something from it.

Snakeskins by Tim Major

I’m not going to say much about this, because I have book giveaway and fuller review coming later in the month – but it’s definitely worth it. An excellent and intriguing Sci-fi novel which deals with themes of humanity, empathy and power and which I could not predict even down to the last couple of chapters.

Death Sentence by Stuart Moore (Published 2 May 2019)

I have an Avengers itch that needs scratched (It’s not on in the cinema here until the 24th of May. Avoiding spoilers is HARD), so this came along at the right time. Thanos is my Ultimate villain right now and so getting a book looking at his internal motivations has the same feel as reading a serial killer psychological study…who says Marvel fans take things too seriously?

This book is NOT set in the cinematic universe, but it is close enough to scratch that itch for me. Having suffered a final defeat at the hands of the Avengers Thanos begs his beloved Mistress Death for a final chance to prove his devotion and she puts him through an afterlife walkabout that steadily reveals hidden depths to Thanos and his motivations, as well as some welcome cameos from more heroic characters.

The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson (Published 15 May 2019)

Trembling with excitement, Bertha Watt sets out on the adventure of a lifetime: her and her mother leaving behind their old life in Aberdeen to meet up with her father in Oregon and start a new life full of promise and opportunity and, if she behaves herself, a pony. Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. Along the way, Bertha befriends Johan, a 3rd class passenger with a desperate passion to reunite his family. But something even more ominous is lurking over the horizon: It’s April 1912 and Bertha, her family and her friends are sailing to America aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

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The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson is a tale of two halves. The first; a look at the innocent and nostalgic childhood from the early twentieth century – both that of the privileged, and the heavier responsibilities of those in poverty. The second half is wrought with tangible horror and heartbreak, as the ending that you almost forgot was looming comes to fruition. Littleson has done her research, and although the narrative is fiction, all the characters are based on true-life passengers aboard the doomed Ocean liner with some of the more out there twists and turns being based on fact – truth is often stranger than fiction after all. An excellent introduction to the Titanic for younger readers.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Macarenhas

In the 60s four female scientists make a landmark breakthrough that will transform the world – Time travel. But their paths soon diverge as one of them has a shakey temporary reaction and is unashamedly pushed out in order not to tarnish the project. Meanwhile, in the present a mysterious and unidentified dead body appears in a locked room, but without any way to identify it how can the case be solved.

I am a SUCKER for Time Travel. It doesn’t need to make sense for me, I just love the different narrative options it can open up for a story – it feels like a sandbox of possibilities for me. So when this fell through my letterbox courtesy of my monthly book subscription I was giddy. It was a dark exploration of how power corrupts and that we should be careful what we wish for, alongside a healthy dose or mystery thriller, and female lead to boot. My only complaint was that it felt a little like it was playing it safe to appeal to the mainstream market and that it could have let loose and gone even darker.

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Alison is a high flying London Barrister deep in a guilt ridden affair and who’s family life is falling apart, her husband Carl systematically pulling away and taking their daughter with him. When Alison is handed her first murder by her lover, things start to come to a head. But who is really manipulating who and can Alison find her way back from the brink to the life she really wants?

It’s a typical mystery thriller, well-written but fairly predictable, and with a messy alcoholic female protaganist. A must read for anyone who loved Girl on a train and Anatomy of a Murder, but still a mystery thriller by numbers.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Published 7 June 2019)

Le Sigh. I enjoyed The Farm; it was a good read but it simply didn’t live up to expectations. It was sold as a feminist almost dystopian tale, and while all the main characters are complex women, it is much more focused on current world issues which we’re grappling with and moral and ethical questions around surrogacy and potential exploitation. While these are interesting and prescient topics and the characters were engaging and well written, the ending felt like a cop out. I’m not sure it ever really reached a conclusion. I was happy for the outcome for most characters, but it felt like it dodged the overarching issues and complexities in order to wrap everything up in a nice little bow, without ever truly delving that deeply into the issues of exploitation and racism that it hinted at.
A good read but not as world shattering as had been implied.

Supernatural – Children of Anubis by Tim Waggoner

I’m a Supernatural Fan. For a brief period I was even part of the Fandom. I’m on my third full rewatch and I will absolutely feel like something is missing when the show ends next year (God help me, those boys BETTER get a happy ending!..although I’m not holding out much hope), so I jumped up and down with excitement when I was offered this for a preview, and I did enjoy it. But it did not feel like a Sam and Dean story.

20190422_163153Introducing a new monster after so many seasons is impressive, and this story, which is set during season 12 introduces a family of Jackals, a monster that has generally stayed off the radar of hunters by not rocking the boat and only harvesting after natural deaths. However they do rub Werewolves up the wrong way, and this unfortunate pack find themselves in a town already marked as the territory of a particularly aggressive pack of werewolves. So begins a turf war which is essentially a bloodier version of Westside Story, or Romeo and Juliet to go back to the original. And Turf wars Definitely attract the attention of hunters. So enter Sam and Dean and a couple of other fan favourites, but the story still belongs to the Jackals. And it’s engaging, and the characters are excellent so I’d definitely pick up another one. But that still doesn’t mask the disappointment that this wasn’t a story focused on Sam and Dean, despite some illuminating flashbacks.

All My Colours by David Quantick (Published 16 May 2019)

Todd Milstead is a jackass; barely tolerated by a few close friends who love his whiskey more than him and loathed by almost everybody else, his arrogance and self-satisfaction mark him for a comeuppance well overdue. Until one night when he discovers that he can recall a book, word for word, that no one else has ever heard of – the titular All My Colors. Being a wannabe writer who, until this moment hasn’t managed to construct enough narrative to fit on a napkin, Todd decides that this is his chance, and while fending off an acrimonious divorce sets about writing the next Great American Novel.

All My Colors is the latest novel from David Quantick, who this time takes a twisty look at the Publishing industry and the pain of trying to write something, sometimes anything, that might help you leave a mark. In this case it comes with a high price for Todd and his long suffering friends, proving a cautionary tale at chasing your dreams at any cost, and serving up an end reminiscent of an episode of Tales from the Crypt – weird but deserved and with a cackley twinkle.

All My Colors is dark and twisty and has a horrible protagonist, even in his nicer moments and so-called reformation. While the end feels a little bit too rushed and the atmosphere is all over the place, it carries enough threads of curiosity through it to keep you turning the pages and wondering how they can all be tied together.

 

 

A Titanic story for young readers

The Titanic Detective Agency – Book Review

Trembling with excitement, Bertha Watt sets out on the adventure of a lifetime: her and her mother leaving behind their old life in Aberdeen to meet up with her father in Oregon and start a new life full of promise and opportunity and, if she behaves herself, a 20190417_172015.jpgpony.

Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to emulate Holmes and Watson and set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. They quickly stumble across two intriguing mysteries, one involving treasure and another involving a mysterious family with a shady father. Along the way, Bertha befriends Johan, a 3rd class passenger with a desperate passion to reunite his family. But something even more ominous is lurking over the horizon: It’s April 1912 and Bertha, her family and her friends are sailing to America aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson is a tale of two halves. The first; a look at the innocent and nostalgic childhood from the early twentieth century – both that of the privileged, and the heavier responsibilities of those in poverty. The second half is wrought with tangible horror and heartbreak, as the ending that you almost forgot was looming comes to fruition.

Littleson has done her research, and although the narrative is fiction, all the characters are based on true-life passengers aboard the doomed Ocean liner with some of the more out there twists and turns being based on fact – truth is often stranger than fiction after all.

It’s a challenging introduction for its target audience of 8 to 11 year olds. One which focuses on the humanity involved in the maritime tragedy, but it’s all the more worthwhile for this focus, The Titanic Detective Agency doesn’t shy away from the horror and lasting impact the accident had on the few survivors.

It’s well written, engaging and doesn’t talk down to younger readers. More than that it brings a hundred and seven year old tragedy to life. And just look at that cover – it’s beautiful!

 

The God of All Small Boys – Author Interview

As the last stop for the Book Blog tour for The God of All Small Boys (review posted below) I have the immense privilege of being able to publish an interview with Joseph Lamb, the author.

I have interviewed authors before in a previous career as a journalist, and with some of them it’s like wringing blood from a stone. Not Joe. He was gracious, funny and provided more than I could have hoped for. So please find below what I think was a great interview – entirely due to him! And if you enjoy it, or the review has whetted your appetite, then you can get a copy of The God of All Small Boys at local bookshops or at Cranachan Publishing’s own website here.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/4c5FsjETiJbea/embed

Where did the inspiration for The God of All Small Boys come from?The book began life as a short story, which I wrote in the mid ‘80s, about a few slightly fictionalised events from my own childhood.
I’d always felt that it could stand being expanded into a full length novel, but, thanks to one thing and another, it wasn’t written until 2014 for the Dundee Great War Children’s Book Prize – for which it became one of only three shortlisted.For the extended novel, I suppose my inspiration was simply my own family. Many of my immediate family make an appearance in the book, and the characters of James Gunning and Christina ‘Teeny’ Robbins are named after my maternal Grandparents – who would have been around the same age in 1917.At the risk of sounding cheesy – it’s a bit of a love letter to my family.
What sort of research did you do for The God of all Small Boys?
A ton! 
As a professional actor (which I was for around 30 years) I wrote a lot of Historical Dramas which played all around the country. What I very quickly discovered was that, if you get something wrong – someone will notice. So, whenever I write anything at all, (even non-historical) there is usual some sort of research required.For The God of All Small Boys, being set just over 100 years ago, there was an awful lot of research to be done. Within Lochee (a part of Dundee where the bulk of the book is set) I spoke with The Headmistress and ex Headmaster of St Mary’s school, I also spoke with the resident priest in St Mary’s Church, as well as the Manager of the Lochee swimming baths. Some of the incidents in the book (False-Line payday!) are taken directly from somethings which happened to my grandmother! I had to research the make-up of the Camperdown Mill (of which the Chimney remains, and some of the buildings (now flats)), the cost of stamps, where trams ran to, the placements of rail and tram depots that don’t exist anymore, when gas lamps went out of fashion, what kind of cars existed in 1917 (and how much they cost)…

Here’s a thing…
At one point in the book, it is mentioned that a soldier called William Hill was killed on June 12th. This was included as, when looking at the casualties in Dundee for WWI, I found the grave of that very soldier. It struck at me, because June 12th is my birthday. I felt it fitting to commemorate him in the story.

But, one thing that I would urge anyone looking to write historical literature – don’t put all of your faith in one source. Literally, right up to the very last fine-tooth edit, I had a particular type of match box mentioned (and really nicely illustrated by my daughter , Charlotte). But, (and I don’t know why I did this), I decided to check this matchbox again, and found more sources stating it was not in use until 1930… so I had to change the type of box and Charlotte, thankfully, was able to illustrate the new one – unfortunately, we both think that type of box is not nearly as interesting to look at than the one I first had.

In the book, James and his friends have to face a great deal of tragedy, loss and trauma, how important is it to include these themes in children’s fiction?

I felt that, in a book about WWI, it would be remiss of me not to include the harsh realities of war, as seen from the children’s point of view. (And the difference in reaction from those who did not have a parent off fighting in it.) I also think that it is something of a dis-service to avoid such topics as, sadly, these things still happen. Even in some of the classics these themes are found: Gandalf falling to the Balrog, Aslan sacrificed by Jadis, Fred Weasley, Severus Snape, A great many rabbits in Watership Down. Charlotte, scuttling into the shadows across her web…
Realistic fiction should never be afraid to touch on these subjects, as children will always know when they are being ‘spoken down’ to.

James and his friends live a childhood that very few children will be able to recognise these days, with freedom and independence, but they pay a steep price. Do you think children you don’t experience this kind of childhood are missing out or are they better off now?

I honestly feel that there is something missing from childhood these days. And the perceived lack of independence, unfortunately, has not shown any sign of ending such tragedies. There is an argument to be made, I suppose, that social media is (ironically) responsible for this, and that children don’t need a physical hang out to call their own to be with their friends, as they can have exactly that in a gaming chat room, or whats app group, or any number of others. But, to me, nothing has ever bettered lying on a patch of wild grass, in the blazing sun, and reading a pile of comics with my pals. Yes, we did a number of stupid things, but they were experiences to treasure. I worry that children are losing those opportunities.

If you could predict where the children end up after the book finishes, where do you see them?

Ah well…
The sad truth is that they would probably both eventually have been conscripted into the army during the 2nd World War, as they would only be in their early 30’s. Ever since I wrote the first draft of The God of All Small Boys, a kind of sequel has been buzzing around my head, but I always see it as being set a good 10 years on (around 1927), but I haven’t developed anything on it. What I will say is, James does go to WWII, becomes an officer, takes a bullet in the nose (sideways on) and marries Teeny. Billy becomes a policeman – and might not actually have to go to WW2 because of that.
I suppose, if TGoASB does well enough to warrant it, (and Cranachan are interested) I could always flip the scenario and have Billy coming to live with James for a while! J I feel that one would be more of a romp, however!

What drew you to Cranachan Books as a publishing house and how have you found the experience of working with a smaller publisher?

Since The God of All Small Boys was shortlisted I took a leap of faith and decided that maybe I could find someone interested in publishing it. What I was determined was, if possible, that the publisher should be based in Scotland. (I’m a very proud Scot!) I actually became aware of Cranachan through a tiny article about independent Scottish publishers. I went to their website to find it ‘under construction’ and so kept an eye on it every day until it was open for business. I wrote to them immediately and the rest, as they say, is history!

Here’s the thing about Cranachan. There’s a little hashtag that you might see every now and again of #ClanCranachan. Now, for most other, big-name publishers, that might be a frivolous little phrase, but, with Cranachan, it’s a truism. The amount of support from the authors, given to the other authors, is staggering. On a personal level, it wasn’t until I worked with Anne Glennie that I realised some dreadful habits I had developed in my own writing and I can’t thank her enough for her belief and trust in both my story and my development to bring TGoASB to life.

As anyone who is looking to be published should know, you don’t go into this game for fame and fortune. And I doubt that a ‘larger’ company would have given the time Anne did. It has coloured my way of writing, and (being ridiculously loyal!) I would rather see my work put out by Cranachan than anyone else… I just hope I can repeat the process with some of the other manuscripts I am developing. (Obviously, without quite so much direct input being required!) 

Are you able to tell me anything about what your next writing project will be, or what you would like it to be?

Well, as The God of All Small Boys was written in 2014, I’ve had a lot of time to develop and draft out a few ideas. I have around five or six full manuscripts – two of which I am going through again using what I learned during my time editing TGoASB with Anne. Another which is slightly more YA in theme (Vikings!) and a Sci-Fi/Spy comic trilogy which isn’t really in any way historical, but I’m hoping Cranachan will maybe look to be publishing some lighter titles in the future! I am also putting some ideas together for… something I can’t really talk about! 

Where was your favourite den as a child?

Exactly where it was in The God of All Small Boys!

Who are your writing influences?

Without doubt, Ray Bradbury. But unless you are Ray Bradbury, I don’t think many companies would publish anything written in his style these days. (Which I see as a sad indictment.) He had a fluidity of prose which could read like poetry at times. (I strongly recommend The Halloween Tree to anyone. I literally read this every year at Halloween.) Others who I think may have influenced my style would be Isaac Asimov, Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis and, to a certain extent, Stephen King. (And a touch of Ed McBain). Read them ALL!

What is your writing process like?

Because, like most writers, I also have a job, it can be a very slow process. I also have two young boys in the household (Murray and Finlay) who are always needing taxied to football or swimming etc, etc – so my time to write is quite limited. But insofar as the process itself is concerned I usually have some sort of vision of what the ‘end’ looks like. Then I wonder how it might all have started, and then I fill in the space in between! I can knock out a 1st draft quite quickly. (And if I have one piece of advice to give to any aspiring writer it is this… Just WRITE!) I don’t worry about mistakes or word count until I have the full story out, because it is too easy to bog yourself down worrying about craft and losing focus on the story. 
Get the story down first, and then fix it. (Because you can’t fix a story you haven’t written!)

What was the first thing you remember writing? Were you pleased with it?

I always wrote daft little stories when I was young, but when I was around 14 (1977) heavily influenced by Star Wars, I wrote a small novella called “Rebellion” – populated by some of my friends, including dear ol’ John McLintock who appears in everything I’ve ever written.. and (spoilers!) dies in most of them! It was set in my own school and was very sci-fi. I remember the story, but unfortunately the book which I created has gone missing through the years. What’s worse was… I re-wrote it… and that went missing too!

Did I like it? Yes… I do have a very soft spot for it. Maybe I should revisit it again?

If you were to recommend one book to someone, what would it be?

The God of All Small Boys by Joseph Lamb  (ahem…)
It has to be Alice in Wonderland, closely followed by the Narnia Chronicles, closely followed by The Halloween Tree.
These books have been with me all my life, and I’m not a bit sorry for that.
(BUT, if you can find copies of the ‘Nigel Molesworth’ books by Geoffrey Willans and  Ronald Searle, get them!)

(I know, I know, that’s more than one… but that’s a total Sophie’s Choice question!!)

The God of All Small Boys – Review

The God of all small boys back inside cover image

Childhood is a mixture of joy and trauma, and throughout the bittersweet rollercoaster it is our friends that can provide the stability that allows us to keep getting up and fighting.

So it is with James who, having lost his mother at a young age, now watches his father ship off to join the front in the Great War, and is himself whipped from a relatively privileged life to overcrowded tenement living with his cousins in Dundee.

But the God of all Small Boys, the one who lets little boys bounce when they fall out of trees, and find the perfect conker, is looking after James, and after a rocky start with a distrustful cousin, he finds himself the key to facing this avalanche of challenges; a family of friends who will last a lifetime.

Through thick and thin and a love of dens, the boys embark on a summer which will force them to grow up in ways they hadn’t bargained for.

Sprinkled with nostalgia and laughter, tragedy and sorrow, this latest book from Cranachan, is a story that makes childhood tangible again. The characters are, for the most part, a group of 11 year old boys for whom local problems, such as the school bullies, are much more real than the war raging in a far off country, but who are also waiting with bated breath for the international troubles to brush against their lives.

Some younger readers may need to talk through what happens in the book, both the (to this generation) alien freedoms and the emotional fallout from a number of events but it provides the perfect access point on issues such as war; bullying; family loss and safety in play.

Highly recommended for 7 to 11 year olds, and any age which realises that sometimes the best stories are the ones contained in children’s books.

Come back later for an interview with the author, Joseph Lamb.