Friday, 30 January 2015

And the first award of the year goes to . . .

It's a new year, but not quite the end of January, so there is a fair chance that most New Year resolutions will have disappeared more easily than any extra pounds that somehow arrived in December.

For anyone who sets out with a New Year resolution of finally writing a break-out book - one that will be good enough to attract an agent or a publisher - that resolution will definitely have to have staying power and I always think it is fitting that the first award of the year is the Branford Boase Award, which acknowledges the best of the first-time authors who broke into print the previous year.

And that's not all. It is the only award not only for first-time writers, but also their editors, acknowledging the important role of an editor in identifying and nurturing new talent.

Awards can play a crucial role in marking out talent  - something we are all devoted to on Space on the Bookshelf where we also like to interview editors of books we review as we all know that simply being talented is never enough.

With previous winners of the Branford Boase Award including such great names as Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick, it's often the first sign of a new author with something very special to offer. 

I haven't read them all yet, but great to see Non Pratt there with 'Trouble' as she is also in the running for double glory with the inaugural YA Book Prize - the new prize for UK and Irish YA books (alongside Marcus Sedgwick's 'The Ghosts of Heaven' (another favourite of mine) - and 'Half Bad' by Sally Green, who is also in the running for both. An impressive achievement in itself.

More fave debut boosk of mine from last year also feature, which is exciting: 'A Room full of Chocolate' - a rollercoaster of emotion by Jane Elson; the tremendous fun of 'Cowgirl' by Giancarlo Gemin, I loved the wonderful Tudor setting of the 'The Executioner’s Daughter' by Jane Hardstaff and my own favourite - a wholehearted dive into the world of magical books in 'Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret' by DD Everest. 

We loved Archie Greene at Mostly Books we asked Des to come and do some school events locally and you can read about it here:

One of my favourite things in talking to Des was him telling us how he finally felt like a real author when he was at the offices of his publisher talking about the characters in his book. Becoming part of a team who want your book to be a great success can be such an important step for any writer.

It's truly innovative that the Branford Boase Award recognises - that publishing is a great eco-system and being part of that is what makes being a writer so brilliant and such a privelege.

If you want to have a look at which authors have been selected as showing real promise you can read the full longlist of authors with their editors and publishers here:

A real mix of genres and age-groups and a great reading list to get anyone's year off to a terrific start. Happy reading.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Out of Print BUT Not Forgotten!

Here at Space on the Bookshelf we pride out our self on our combined love of books, and that extends further than just the shiny newly published book. We love older books too, many of our older favourites are now deemed to be ‘Classics’ and so are still being printed.Some of the less fortunate books, the ones that are longer being printed, so here’s a little blog celebrating some of our favourite out of print books…

Claire's Favourite:  Sue Barton Series by Helen Dore Boylston

My childhood books that weren’t destroyed from too much rereading were put into storage when I left home. By the time I had a home of my own, we’d all forgotten where. Recently the mystery was solved; they’d been put in the loft space above my grandmother’s garage, and kept company for nearly twenty years by very many spiders and, possibly, rodents. The books had probably crumbled away to dust, and none of my relatives fancied climbing up to check.

I’ve already replaced most of those books with shiny new editions for my own children. But there is one particular series which may be in those boxes and which have been out of print since the seventies. They were my mother’s in her teens, and then mine. Four of the seven Sue Barton books, an American series for adolescent girls by Helen Dore Boylston. 

I remember so clearly when I was fourteen and a librarian told me she couldn't get hold of the rest of the series.

“They’ve been out of print for more than a decade!’ she said. And then. ‘They’re from the 1930’s - what are you reading those old-fashioned things for, anyway? If you like American books, try Judy Blume.’

But I didn’t want Judy Blume. I wanted to fill in the adventures of the sparky Sue Barton, who was saving patients’ lives during her nursing training, alongside making friends, playing pranks, and developing a promising romance with Dr Barry.

I miss those books. So I’d planned, next time I visit my grandmother, to climb up into the loft to see if any of them have survived the spiders. Until I just Googled Helen Dore Boylston, to make sure I’d spelled her name right. And guess what? All her novels have recently been reprinted! So not only can I now read all Sue Barton’s exploits from start to finish, but I don’t have to brave the loft over the garage after all.

Except… there could be some of the out of print Sadler’s Wells series by Lorna Hill up there.

Sally’s Favourite: Playing Beatie Bow By Ruth Park

I bet most of you have never heard of Ruth Park’s, ‘Playing Beatie Bow’, it not too well known here in the UK despite winning The Guardian Fiction Prize in 1982,  but in its home land, Australia it was much wider known winning Australia it the Australian Children’s book of the year award’ in 1981 and even getting a movie adaptation.

I discovered Playing Beatie Bow by chance in the 1990’s in a dusty corner of the school library. It’s a historical time-slip yarn about 14 year old Abigail, who gets transported back to Victorian Sydney and becomes integrated in the lives of the Bow family and the hansom Judah in particular. It turns out the Bow’s have been waiting for Abigale, and she has a crucial part to play in their family history. The book is so beautifully imagined and you really feel that you’re in the 19th century ‘The Rocks’ region of Sydney. ‘Playing Beatie Bow,’ has a real air of Celia Rees about it and to me is YA – way before YA even existed.

Sadly Playing Beatie Bow is no longer in print, but like many books it’s getting a second lease of life via e-books, and has even earned one of the iconic Penguin Classic’s Covers!

Nicki’s Favourite: The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

When I was reading Lauren St John’s the ‘One Dollar Horse’ it reminded me that I went through a big phase of reading horse stories when I was about eight or nine. The grim sadness of ‘Black Beauty’ and the excitement of ‘National Velvet’, where Velvet’s belief in her horse is so great she pretends to be a boy and takes part in the greatest horse race in the world, are timeless classics.

Inspired by Lauren St John’s modern take on ‘National Velvet’ I decided to do a display of horse books in the shop and was dismayed to discover that my favourite of all, Walter Farley’s ‘The Black Stallion’ was now out of print.

I loved the story of a shipwreck and a boy only surviving because he wins the trust of a wild horse, and how he is rescued and takes the horse to America where he fights to keep the horse by taking part in a race. I was inspired by the beauty of the special relationship between a boy and an animal.

There were many in the series and I think I stopped reading after the first few as the magic of that first one was never repeated, so that’s possibly why there are no longer in print.

None of them, however, helped me in the slightest to have any affinity with horses. My one and only horse lesson was with a friend on her ninth birthday. For some reason I didn’t get the fat pony, I got some monster of a horse who was about as affected by me dragging on his reins as if a fly had been put on his back. After veering off suddenly from the track in sight of some juicy grass, I failed to be able to hang on and slithered down his neck. Then after some remonstration from the instructor (to the horse, not me), I climbed back on, only for him to refuse to do anything else and we both headed straight back to the stable.

But that’s the great thing about books, when you read a book you are the only person in the world able to ride and tame that wild stallion, even if in real life you’d have difficulty getting the better of a hamster.

It’s not just us here at Space on the Bookshelf that worried about our favourite out of print books, the other day I was reading a article 'The Lure of Illustrated Children's Books' on the guardian website by Jenny Uglow about Children’s Picture Books, where she looks at several books celebrating children’s books and picture books called ’ 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up’ by Julia Eccleshare, an ‘Illustrated Children’s Books’ by Black Dog. In the article Jenny Uglow expressed a concern that in the list of these 1001 book you should read some classic have sadly noted by their lack of presence, notable being; Captain Pugwash and one of my recently discovered out of print favourites Orlando The Marmalade Cat. 

This begs the question; what other treasures are out of print and being forgotten? So why not help us celebrate these out-of-print treasures by sharing with us what your favourite out-of-prints are by commenting below…


To win a copy of our FAVOURITE out of print books, just Comment below telling us your favourite OUT OF PRINT book or Tweet us @bookshelfspace with the #SOBSOutofPrint and tell us what your favourite OUT OF PRINT book is.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

3D Review; Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost - Book Designer Interview with Jane Dixon-Smith

Continuing our first ever 3D review of a self published book, Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, we thought very hard about our third blog, as usually we'd interview the books editor. As the cover for book is so striking we thought we'd interview the book designer. So we have another first for you this week, as we present our first ever interview with a book designer, Jane Dixon-Smith!

JD Smith is primarily a book designer. She is also the author of Tristan and Iseult and The Rise of ZenobiaThe Fate of an Emperor, editor of Words with JAM and Bookmuse, and the mother of three mischievous boys. Her can browse her website, and find her on Facebook.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as many others. I loved the magical aspect of it, the venturing through a wardrobe and into another land full of creature who talked and perpetual winter.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

Harry Potter sounds so cliche but I do love the series. The Gruffalo too.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think they have a massive universal appeal, and they have to, because children's books are read by both children and adults - adults reading for, with and listening to their children.

How did you become a book designer?

I began working for a graphic design agency when I was 17. We designed all sorts of corporate literature, company branding and so on. We did a few books, and an awful lot of magazine and brochure covers. I also wrote fiction as a hobby and ran the writers' ezine Words with JAM. So when I was made redundant 12 years later and went freelance, I naturally ended up working on a lot of books. I still work on other bits and pieces but predominantly I'll immersed in the book world and I love it.

Why do you think book covers are important?

I've always said that a cover is important if an author or publisher wants to give a book it's best possible chance of commercial success. Readers do judge books by their covers, and not just for their quality, but also to gauge what's inside, whether or not they'll like the story, what books it might be similar to etc. It's a first impression with many different judgement made. That said, it depends on the reasons for publishing. Some authors who are self-publishing are really only doing it for themselves, the commercial success isn't important.

Please can you tell us 3 examples of your favourite all time book designs and why you think they are so good. 

Gosh. You know, I've never been asked that and it's hugely tricky. Three of my own would be The Lady's Favour. This one is so very sumptuous, and as I'm a big fan of anything historical, and especially Tudor England, this one really strikes me. Yellow Horizon is a fantasy novel and I love the the colours, the blending, and the way the images gel together. Amara's Daughter is an award-winning cover, the colour very striking, even at the smallest size. And a fourth, The Last Walk Out, is one of my all time favourites. Subtle yet striking. 

As for three others, off the top of my head and more because they have stuck with me as being simple, striking and rather clever covers: Missing Men, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Great Gatsby

Can you explain a bit about the anatomy of a book cover?

They tend to work for various reasons - right imagery, right fonts, right colours. Then there's more technical details as to how elements line up, proportions of one image compared to another, the tight, well formatted typography of the title and author name, the way the whole cover sits together in an invisible grid much the same as photographers use.

Is it more difficult designing book covers for children’s books?

It's not more difficult, although many are illustrated rather than based on photographic imagery. If that's the case I tend to work in tandem with an illustrator to bring together the overall design.

Please can you tell us about the cover design of Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost? Did it have several designs? Why was this one that was chosen?

There were several variations. In the end the final design was based on opinions canvassed from a Waterstones shop local to the author. The book is aimed at both boys and girls, so to have a picture of Callum, the main character on the front, made it too gender heavy.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

3D Review; Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost - Author Interview with A C Hatter

We interview author A C Hatter about her book, Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, as part of our first ever 3D review of a self-published book!

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

The first book I really fell in love with was Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse. I was enthralled by the mystical world and still to this day long for a circular bedroom. I couldn’t wait until my daughter was old enough to read it, but sadly it didn’t speak to her like it had to me. If anything it highlighted how much children’s literature has moved on. Contemporary kids need page turning action and humour, sadly mysteriously appearing sugar biscuits just aren’t enough anymore.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

That’s a toughie. It’s a toss-up between His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Twilight and Mr Gum. Can I have all of them as equal favourites? Please?

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

It’s the escapism. Good YA and children’s fiction creates a world of fun, magic and mystery. Who doesn’t want to be transported to another world on an adventure. You can sign me up now!

Why did you start writing for children?

To start with I was just writing – without any audience in mind at all. Short stories, flash fiction, just writing for writing’s sake. I didn’t define it as adults, childrens or YA, and with hindsight that was very liberating. After some success with the short stories I thought I’d try a novel, and then I had to pigeon hole my writing. As I’ve written a story about 12 year olds I suppose it must be mid-grade, even though adults and teens are enjoying it too. To be honest I don’t find categorising books very helpful. Especially as I love all the books for 8 – 12 year olds and the YA stuff, even though I’m dangerously older than that. I know this categorisation needs to be done, but really I just see it as writing something that I would like to read – and I hope everyone from 8 to 108 will enjoy it too.

What made you want to write Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost?

My daughter was in Year 5 or 6 and doing evacuees at school. Being an avid reader myself I was keen that she read Goodnight Mr Tom to support her studies. She was unimpressed. She point blank refused and stuck to reading the fast paced adventures of Alex Rider. (I should have realised I was in for trouble when she hadn’t liked the Little White Horse!)

At the time I was reading Kate Mosses’ Labyrinth. I was enjoying the time slip novel and thought children may find that a more palatable way to digest historical fiction. If I could get a contemporary adventure story to intertwine with a historical novel, in this case evacuees, I could have a winning formula. Parents and teachers would like it because it would support the school curriculum, and children would like it because it was a modern story with a 12 - 13 year old protagonist they could relate to. I could link the two stories by having the ghost of the evacuee and Callum’s Grandad appear in both stories – and if this worked I could take the idea forward to any period, depending on where the KS2 History Syllabus decided to go.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

I love the humour that you can build in, and creating the alternative world. In this instance I also really enjoyed playing with the two parallel story lines so that they mirrored each other, highlighting similarities and differences between the eras. I found the most difficult part of the process getting the two protagonists voices right, so that the reader knew instinctively which time frame they were reading about.

Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost is part set in Summer 2014 and part set during WWII, following evacuee Jim, How much research did you have to do, and what is the challenges of writing the historical element?

I found plenty of reference material on WWII and evacuees. The BBC History Archive was very useful and I got hold of a couple of autobiographies written by people who had been evacuated to Cornwall. My favourite source document was a family history written by my uncle, Jack Holmes. My family ran a B&B and a market garden business in Mousehole around that time. Also one of my great uncles was lost at sea in 1942 in St Michael’s Bay, and there were detailed records of that. It all helped me form a pretty clear picture of Mousehole during WWII.

You have published Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, yourself, what are the challenges and benefits you have found with self-publishing?

I had originally hoped to be traditionally published. The manuscript was picked up by a literary agent very quickly and I was convinced a lucrative publishing deal would follow – but I may have been a little naive! My agent spent five months trying to get a traditional publisher and despite coming close a couple of times it wasn’t to be. In March this year she came back to me and suggested that I move on to the next novel and forget this one, or self-publish it and see what happened. So very rashly I announced I would do it myself and self-publish. I knew the book would sell well over the summer holidays, so if I was going to do it I wanted it out before the schools broke up for the summer. I made the decision to self-publish in early April and set the date of the book launch for the middle of June. It was a very busy two and a half months!

I soon realised the term ‘self-published’ (or ‘independently published’ as some call it) covers a myriad of sins. I looked at several different packages from companies that wrapped up all the various parts of the process and charge the author for the privilege, to doing everything through Amazon and being tied in with them. But I wanted to have total control over my book, and I soon realised I could only get that by doing it all myself. So I purchased my own ISBN numbers and set up a publishing company – Woodside White Books. I sourced my own cover designer, proof editor, and printer, and I had the manuscript professionally formatted for paperback and e book. I launched the book in my home town of Beaconsfield and in Cornwall, at Geevor Tin Mine, where part of the story is set. That was two months ago, it’s now stocked in all the independent bookshops in Cornwall, and nationally through Waterstones, Amazon and many wonderful independent bookshops. I’ve even had to order a second print run already.

There are several downsides to self-publishing. The first is having to differentiate yourself from those vanity published books that have given the business a bad name, and the second is not having a marketing department. I’ve found that if I give a book to a book seller or librarian and if I can get them to read it, they really get behind the whole project and are very happy to help me get the book out there. For example, I gave a copy to the staff in Waterstones in High Wycombe, they loved it and have had me in to do a book signing, I used this to get onto the Waterstones system and then I pushed it into other branches of Waterstones through the Cornwall connection. I’m also doing a reading at my local library as part of their summer holiday activity programme and talking to various writing groups about my experience. I’m setting up school visits and speaking at literary festivals in the autumn - the marketing is hard work, but without it no one is going to know about my book, and it won’t sell.

The other difficulties with self-publishing that I have found are not having a huge team to check and double check everything, and bringing that wealth of experience of the business that I assume the traditional publishers have. I have had to make do with my own research and my own efforts. And of course cost – the risk of ending up out of pocket is huge. The more you push the book sales, the more it costs you. I am starting to recoup my fixed costs now, but very very slowly.

However, despite all of that I can honestly say I am loving learning about the self-publishing process. I have total control over the finished book, the cover, where it’s stocked and how it’s sold and ultimately I will be solely responsible for its success or failure. It’s much more than just seeing the book in print – it’s starting a new business. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is prepared to put the work in and take it seriously – the process itself is a great adventure, and who doesn’t want to go on an adventure – you can sign me up now!

Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, by AC Hatter is available from selected bookshops. Her website is

Friday, 2 January 2015

3D Review; Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost - A C Hatter – REVIEWS

Adult Review

Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, is a masterfully crafted, intricately plotted ghost story, with a duel story arc, one present day and one set during world war two that culminate into a charming and satisfying ending.

The two narratives are set in parallel the open being set in the summer of 2014, with accident prone twelve year old Callum Fox is on a train destined for the sleepy Cornish coastal town of Mousehole to spend the summer holiday with his estranged grandparents, lovely Nanna, and grumpy discontented Granddad Bob.

The second begins with another train journey starting from the same London station in 1939, where little Jim White is being evacuated as part of operation Pied Piper.

The two stories progress, with Callum meeting his grandparents and local girl Sophie, and Jim being placed with the Fox family of Mousehole where he meet his soon to be best friend Bob. It;s only when clumsy Callum gets knocked over by an ambulance and that the two worlds collide, as he starts to see a strange raggedy dressed scrawny boy that no one else can, Jim. It soon expires that Callum near death experience has left him with the ability to see and converse with ghosts.

As the duel narrative progress and you learn much more about Jim’s life as an evacuee, and about living as a child in rural war time Briton. Things become much more perilous when Bob and Jim witness a German fighter plane crash. The pair save and then are saved by gentle teenage pilot Gunter, and three of them hatch a plan to help the pilot escape.

In the present Callum, has to come to terms with seeing the dead, and try and stop all the ghost of Mousehole enlisting him to help them finalise their unfinished business and move on. Callum reaches out to on-nonsense Sophie and together with the help of all the neighbourhood ghosts, they endeavour to assist Jim on a mission to help Callum’s disagreeable granddad Bob.

The plotting and story arc, builds up to satisfying ending with a heart-warming twist, bring together all the plot threads and themes of the story.

Callum Fox and the Mousehouse Ghost is much more than a ghost story, it a thriller, and has charming and informative, well researched historical elements, but primarily this is a story about friendship. It is all this in addition to illustrating in an effective and attainable way the zeitgeist of WWII.

Child Review by Beatriz aged 10

Callum fox and the Mousehole is told from two points of view, firstly by Callum Fox in present time, who goes to stay with his grandparents in sleepy Mousehole a Cornwall village, there strange things start to happen. After being knocked over by an ambulance Callum can see things others can’t, GHOSTS! Even though Callum knows that this is cool, no one will believe him, not even his new friend Sophie.

Then things change once again seeing a ghost called Jim an old friend of Callum’s grumpy old Granddad’s, wants to move on with the help of Callum and Sophie.

Meanwhile in in the past, Jim is going to Mousehole evacuating from London, in the time of world war two. He is thrown into a house where he meets his new best friend Bob Fox. After a day out working Bob and Jim see a German plane crash. Trouble kicks in when both children help the pilot Gunter escape.

This is a great book, with lots of excitement, danger, and fantasy. My favourite character is; Sophie: she is very funny, keen, and joyful. She loves fishing, and teasing Callum. She is a great character, what stands out the most about her, is that she has bright red hair.