Review of The Bell Between Worlds and Interview with author Ian Johnston
Book review of Ian Johnstone's The Bell Between Worlds by Isobel aged 9
This book is about a boy
called Sylas Tate who can make a drawing come alive with just his imagination.
He doesn't know how he got his talent until he goes into a different world and
meets a group of people who know how he got them.
My favourite part is the bit where Sylas is running to the passing bell,
which takes people from one world to another. Sylas has just met the Ghor (half
dog / half man)
It is a bit like the book Time City by Diana Wynne Jones because in both books
there are two different worlds and it could be the end of the universe.
It is harder to understand than Harry Potter but easier to understand than Lord
of the Rings.
I recommend it to ages 9+. I would like to read a book about Sylas's mum and dad and how his mum got her
Author Interview Ian Johnsone
What was your favourite children’s book as a child?
Hmm, that’s difficult. It’s a close-run thing between The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and a number of Roald Dahl books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny the Champion of the World, but I think The Faraway Tree would probably win overall. I loved the underlying idea – a gateway to other worlds in the highest reaches of an enchanted tree – such a clever extension of every child’s excitement when they climb scarily high in a tree – excitement derived in part from leaving the normal world behind and going somewhere adults can’t or won’t go. It was the first time that I came across such a convincing gateway to another world married with such a wonderful concept for those fantastical places and I have been interested in them ever since.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
Another tricky choice! I love The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. But in truth I still adore the books I loved as a child and, perhaps because they are still laced with that wonder I felt when I read them in my youth, they are probably still my favourites. So, the short answer would be The Faraway Tree.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?
I think one of the key reasons why they inspire us is that they assume a capacity for wonder and an ability to suspend disbelief and go with a story wherever it may take you. By contrast, adult fiction often spends a lot of time and lines establishing its credibility, even when the premise is fantastical. That’s heavy work for the writer and for the reader, and I think as a consequence it can’t go as far as quickly or get there as accessibly as a children’s book can. I also think that children’s fiction explores great universal themes, such as good and evil, love, friendship, family, adversity, triumph and so on – themes that apply to us all and to our whole lives – and they do so from a perspective of innocence that we all treasure.
Why did you start writing for children?
My answer to the last question is actually a pretty good answer to this one! But to expand a little, I was always aware that the majority of the most influential books in my life were those that I read when I was a child, when I had that capacity for wide-eyed wonder, to go with a story wherever it might take me, to get lost in its ideas and themes. I have wanted to write since I was a child, and I always knew that if and when I did, I would want to write for the immense imaginative capacity of children. That capacity is even a theme of the book!
What made you want to write this book?
Well, I suppose I could say ‘everything I have said so far!’, but there is also a rather specific history to this story. When I was about twelve I had an idea: what if one of the reasons we can sometimes doubt ourselves – feel so unsure of ourselves – is that we are not quite whole? And what if that other part of ourselves was another person living in another world? What might that person be like? And how might they be connected to us? That idea still intrigued me after all these years – in fact it had grown into something much bigger – and so I decided that it had to be written!
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?
In the actual writing phase I love letting my imagination go and seeing where it takes me – in children’s writing, there are almost no limits! After the book is written, I count it a great privilege to meet young readers. It is wonderful to hear their impressions of the story and the characters – it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Your description in The Bell Between Worlds, is beautifully evocative, do you have any tip you can share on how to write description?
Thank you that’s very kind of you! Well for me, two of the key things to remember when describing things are that they are three-dimensional and that they may act on all of our senses. It is important to try to look around the thing you are describing and sometimes to hear them, smell them, touch them and taste them as well as to see them. If you can do that your imaginings will become more real to you as the writer, and as long as you then put some of your impressions down, they will also become more real to your reader. Of course there is a balance to be found between saying too little and too much, so one good tip is to decide which senses are the most appropriate to the thing you are describing and focus on those. Another tip is to give some thought to the “route” you are going to take when describing something – think of yourself as a tour guide and find the sequence of description that is most engaging and easiest to picture or understand.
Interview Questions from Isobel our child reviewer.
In the book Sylas makes the bird wind chime fly, what would you make something do?
What a great question! Well in truth many of the things I write are things I would love to do. I had the idea for the Groundrush when I was walking down a steep forested hillside in New Zealand. It had been a really hard climb to get to the top and we were very tired so when I saw a stream tumbling down the hillside I found myself wishing that I could use it as a water slide. The more I thought about it the more I thought it would make an incredibly exciting ride – darting between the trees and over mossy banks – and so the Groundrush was born. But I suppose the most exciting creation to me is the symphony on the Windrush towards the end of the book – I won’t say too much because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I would love to witness something as beautiful and powerful as that!
At the start of the book it has lots of information that you need later, have you thought about a companion book, with maps and character information.
I certainly have. I think the Samarok might make a nice publication in its own right, as it contains many stories from the history of the Other, including lots more about its magic, its creatures, its peoples and events like the Undoing and the Reckoning. I also hope to release some pieces of writing that did not make the final cut. We have already published a Prologue to the trilogy and a deleted scene on Goodreads, here: Goodreads