Monday, 28 April 2014

Sam Hay - why we all need Uncles!

Sam Hay is the author of the Undead Pets series, published by Stripes. The latest book in the series - Hour of the Doomed Dog is out now.

Sam grew up in Scotland and worked as a journalist for ten years before becoming a children’s author. She’s written more than 20 books. She lives in Wales with her family, in a small house with a big garden.

Why Everyone Needs a Magic Uncle
Uncles. They sometimes get a bad name in books. From wicked old Uncle Ebenezer who tries to bump off his nephew in Kidnapped. To Harry Potter’s mean-spirited Uncle Vernon who makes Harry sleep in a broom cupboard! Not to mention several Shakespearean rotters - Richard the Third who nabbed the crown off his nephews, and, according to the play, had them killed! And Hamlet’s horrible Uncle Claudius, who murdered Hamlet’s dad, married his mum and tried to poison his nephew! Nice.

But not all uncles are up to no good. Step forward amazing Uncle Charlie!

In the Undead Pets books, it’s Uncle Charlie’s gift to his ten year old nephew, Joe, of an ancient Egyptian amulet, that makes all the magic stuff happen. The amulet turns Joe into the protector of Undead Pets and thereafter a string of ‘help-me-or-I’ll-haunt-you’ critters appear, desperate for Joe’s assistance.

Joe always wanted a pet - now he’s got loads!  And it’s all thanks to Uncle Charlie.
So who is Uncle Charlie? An old fashioned adventurer - part explorer, part archaeologist, part Indiana Jones with the survival skills to out-fire-start Bear Grylls. He’s a man of action. A man who plays poker with pirates. A man who has pulled a Tree Python’s tooth out of his own thigh and not only lived to tell the tale, but brought the tooth back as a keep-sake for Joe.  

Unsurprisingly Joe loves Uncle Charlie. He lives the sort of life Joe dreams of. He turns up when no-one is expecting him, in his battered old jeep with a kitbag full of sand and exciting treasures for Joe.  And that’s another thing about uncles. The gifts!

The magical amulet is amazing, but it isn’t without problems. That’s why a parent would never give it to their child. It’s too fraught with danger!  It’s magic. And magic’s unpredictable stuff. Parents don’t do unpredictable. But Uncles? Awww, hang the consequences! What the hec! Here you go! Take it. Try it. It’ll probably work out okay in the end.

I still haven’t forgotten the look on my kids’ faces last Christmas when a beloved uncle gave them a candyfloss machine. Utter joy. Sugar on a stick! Hurrah!  Or the total enchantment when another favourite uncle set up an amazing treasure hunt complete with video clues, walkie talkie communications and a two mile hike across fields and streams to recover a chest full of chocolate!

And if things go wrong, uncles don’t always need to be there to fix it. When the magical amulet goes bananas and Joe wants Uncle Charlie to sort it out, he’s already long-gone, off on another adventure. And that’s a good thing. Uncles give kids the space to solve their own problems...

I actually based the character of Uncle Charlie on another of my kids’ uncles - my older brother who has lived a dozen different lives - travelling around the world, doing the mad, crazy, hair-raising stuff that I can only imagine from the safety of my quiet desk in Wales. He’s Charlie. I’m Joe. And there’s always an electrical storm of magic in the air when he’s around.

See. Kids with uncles are SO lucky. But they’re even luckier if they’ve got an aunt, as well...
Aunts. Now they’re 100% magic. Maybe even more magical than uncles. But that’s another story...

Uncle Fester - scary-looking sweet-natured uncle in the Adams Family.
Uncle Ben Parker - Spider Man’s kind-hearted uncle
The Man from U.N.C.L.E - spy dudes from the seventies. 
Ziro the Hutt - Jabba’s uncle from Star Wars
Scar - evil uncle from the Lion King
Uncle Tom Cobbley (and all) - a bloke in a Devon folksong about lots of people turning up at a party.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Quite Beautiful Ava Lavender

The wonderful Leslye Walton has generously written this short piece about her stunning novel, her YA debut, written when she was not busy teaching children how to read, write and be nice to each other.  Perhaps some of the inspiration from this evocative and moving story came from her teaching experiences, perhaps, as she says it cam from a song.  No matter where it came from here we have a beautiful novel about finding yourself, finding your own wings.  With its gorgeous prose, unpretentious storyline, characters that go straight to the heart there is so much to love about this book that its YA readers are quite certain to fall in love with it just as much as I did and hopefully they will spread the word far and wide too.  Now sit back, read the words of Lesley herself, read the book and then join me in waiting for her next offering ...

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was originally inspired by the song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay. While pondering the logic—or perhaps, the lack of logic—when it comes to love, I discovered Viviane Lavender, a girl who spent her entire life pining after a childhood sweetheart. I imagined the weight of this, the immense burden of loving someone who didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, love you back. How you couldn’t help but allow that grief to shape the rest of your life.

At this point, I didn’t think I was writing a novel, but months went by, I kept returning to this story—one I had thought I was finished telling.  Soon, other characters began revealing their place in this now-evolving tale. Henry was based on an autistic boy I taught who had a remarkable aptitude for mapmaking. Trouver was a sweet tempered Great Pyrenees I walked to earn money while in grad school. But it was Ava who changed everything. I was looking at a picture of my younger sister, taken when she was perhaps eleven. She was all long limbs and big teeth, wearing an oversize white T-shirt, and running, her shirt billowing out behind her as if she had wings. And it was in that description that I came to a stop, my fingers poised over the keyboard, and I thought No. Not as if she had wings. She has wings. And in that, I also realized I had no idea what I was writing. This wasn’t historical fiction. It wasn’t fantasy. It was something else. I didn’t write again for weeks.

I spent the next few months devouring everything I could that touched on the topic of magical realism—Isabelle Allende’s House of The Spirits, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s glorious One Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time was like listening to someone speak a language I thought only I understood. And then I woke up one morning and found the Roux family waiting for me to tell their story, including Pierette, Emilienne’s sister who transformed herself into a canary after falling in love with a man who only had an eye for birds. Once I knew these peculiar characters, the story emerged quite easily from there.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a story about love and loss and longing. I like to call it my love song to the strange. It’s for the lonely, the misunderstood, the unloved. Which is all of us, at some point, in some way or another. So, I guess this book is a love song to you, kind reader. May it serve as a reminder to fly with your own wings.