My favourite extract from A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars – Guest Post by Yaba Badoe

Hello! Today I’m very excited to share this guest post from Yaba Badoe, author of ‘A Jigsaw of Fire And Stars,’ sharing her favourite extract from the book. I need to give little introduction, I’ll let Yaba take it away!


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My favourite extract from my debut YA novel, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is the short opening chapter from p1 – 3.

   This extract is crucial to the story because it introduces, Sante, the heroine. Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasures. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Fourteen years on she’s a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them.

    I love the opening of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars because it plunges a reader straight into the drama that propels the novel and resonates through its narrative: the scuttling of a boatful of refugees and migrants who are making the deadly sea crossing from Africa to Europe. I wanted the reader to feel the panic and fear inherent in sudden death and destruction. At the same time my aim was to hint at something larger than an individual instinct for survival and self-preservation. I like to think that in moments of crisis, when death is imminent, my characters might choose to preserve what is most precious to them. In A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars the life of baby Sante is saved as she’s thrust into a precarious future with the blessings of those she leaves behind in the sea.

 

    I’ve spent most of my working life making documentary films for television. So not surprisingly I’m a huge fan of cinema. Nothing excites me more than the opening sequences of a film at the theatre. Once the lights are out, I experience an exhilarating rush of emotion at the possibility that if I’m in the hands of a good storyteller literally anything can happen. Maybe that’s why I made the opening of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars as dramatic as it is. Whether it’s a rooftop chase in the old city of Cadiz or refugees doing everything in their power to save the life of the youngest of their number when their boat is sinking, nothing thrills me as much as visualising a scene. Once a scene in my mind, I then try to describe elements of it in a way that will keep a reader reading.

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Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

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(Potential spoilers ahead! Be warned!)

Heading into every year I try to look at the books that are set to be published in the year ahead, and there’s always a list worth a small fortune that ends up being compiled as result. This, for rather obvious reasons, was one of the books at the top of my list. Having read Sara’s previous book A Quiet Kind of Thunder, a book which completely blew me away, I was very excited for this book too – rightly so, as it turned out!

Eden McKinley’s best friend Bonnie is a model student, consistently getting straight-As and on track to become Head Girl. But then she goes on the run with her secret boyfriend, the last person Eden would have expected. The police begin the search for her and Bonnie is worried knowing that she’s lost her best friend, physically and emotionally too, but best friends never tell, right?

Of course, whatever description I gave of the book there does it a complete injustice. To begin with, I found myself being reminded of ‘Me & Mr J’ by Rachel McIntyre on the basis that both focus on student-teacher relationships within the plot. What’s different about Goodbye, Perfect is that it’s taking a new dynamic – we’re seeing the relationship, however anyone else sees it within the book, from the impact that it has on people around her. This is really interesting. We get our whole sense of Bonnie’s character almost solely through how she interacts with the other characters within the book, and by the way, the use of systems like messaging within the book was perfect.

Speaking of impacts on other people, there’s a beautiful line about relationships that Connor says around halfway through the novel. It goes something like, “Being in a relationship means considering their whole lives, not just the part with you in it.” Connor and Eden’s relationship was one of the key highlights of the book for me. There’s always a certain beauty to reading romances written well, and for me their relationship was an absolutely essential component of the book, second to Bonnie’s disappearance to begin with, I doubt the book would have worked without the two being as close as they were. Valerie was right when she said Connor wasn’t quite like “other 16 year old boys.” This aspect of the novel is really hard to try and explain without spoiling, so my advice here is read the book and try and tell me it’s not one of the best fictional relationships you’ve ever read (alongside Steffi and Rhys’ from A Quiet Kind of Thunder of course!).

I do want to mention the ending. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the book, but whilst I’m not entirely convinced the book could have ended in any other way without doing the story justice, I’m a little sad we didn’t find out what happened to Bonnie post-Glasgow. That, of course, is representative of their then broken down relationship, but on a personal note I would have liked a little more detail of what happens. Then again, as the book points out, people and life aren’t always that straightforward!

I loved the book, and can’t recommend it enough to you. If you’re in need of a great YA book that genuinely will keep you coming back for more, look no further. On with book 4, Sara?!

Spotlight On…Stories for Homes Volume 2

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Hello! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? But, I’m back and I’m shining the spotlight on a volume of books today set out to do good. Emma Darwin, author of The Mathematics of Love, commented on this book calling it, “A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all.”

Yes, it’s the second edition of the Stories for Homes anthology, edited by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood, in support of Shelter.

55 writers, both unpublished and published, come together in this anthology with short stories on issues like poverty, homelessness, crisis and others to life with the aim of doing some real good in the world for people who these issues genuinely affect too.

And the first edition of the book managed to raise over £3,000 for Shelter, so as you can see there’s a potential for this book to do some real good, perhaps go even further than £3,000!

This second edition contains not just short stories but flash fiction and poetry too, so there’s definitely something for every type of reader in here.

It’s available now as an ebook (published 28th September 2017, in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy), and Sally Swingewood, one of the editors of this anthology, commented on the book upon it’s release.

“The Stories for Homes collections would not be possible without the generosity of a huge number of volunteers. By working together we have produced a book which will not only delight but also help address one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing modern society. In a world where migration, identity and belonging are in the news daily we have a duty to help everyone have a home in which they feel safe and settled. Stories for Homes is one way we can be part of the solution”

Plus, if you want to read more, head to storiesforhomes.wordpress.com, a website featuring a further collection of flash fiction, poetry and real life experience of people who have had housing problems and/or have experienced homelessness along with columns from the professionals with advice.

Make sure you go and check out the other posts from across the blog tour for this book as well! And like I said, this book is available now as an ebook to buy today.

Review of Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

(Andersen Press kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for a review, but my opinions on the book haven’t been affected as a result.)

Sally briefly mentioned this book that she was writing a while ago on Twitter, and I remember distinctly seeing that tweet and being really excited about it. I couldn’t wait to read this book, and then when I finally saw that proofs had become available a few months ago I was extremely excited.

Things A Bright Girl Can Do is a book set in the early 1900s when the campaign for women’s suffrage was on the rise. Set in the East End of London, three girls – Evelyn, Nell and May, join the fight for women’s suffrage, all for their own reasons, be it that women were expected to marry rather than continue education or for equality for all kinds of women in the case of Nell and May, the story follows the three characters throughout the campaign for women’s suffrage.

This is the first ‘historical’ fiction book I’ve read in a very, very long time. Any hopes I had for the book to be as amazing as I expected it to be though were entirely realised.

This is a powerful book, and whilst it explores two or three almost separate storylines simultaneously which can be confusing at times, you get really involved with the characters as they fight for the vote. The setting perfectly compliments the characters, and it’s a powerful book about equality, feminism and being who you are and making no apologies for that.

I loved reading about them, and I think that, even if you, like me, don’t usually go for historical novels, you’ll love this book in like I did.

Sally has an incredible voice when writing. You can see it in any of her past books and it shines through in this book too. I can’t recommend it enough. Definitely worth a read.

An Interview with Simon James Green

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Hello! It’s been a while but I’m back and I’m so excited to be sharing an interview I did with Simon James Green (and Noah Grimes!) about Noah Can’t Even.

This interview was first published over on Beth’s blog, Words From A Reader, who let me ask Simon and Noah these questions in the first place, so thank you!


Starting with a challenge; sum up your book in five words.
SJG: Madcap coming-of-age comedy!
NG: Full of lies, really awful.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
SJG: I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories, and I’ve always wanted to write one about a geeky boy questioning his sexuality. I also really enjoy writing comedy – making people laugh is the best feeling – so I knew I wanted it to be funny too. Finally, there was a particular piece of writing advice that stuck in my mind: in every chapter, turn up the heat on your character a little bit more and make life even harder for them. Those things combined in my head to create the story.
NG: Right, Simon (1) just because I get good grades and once built an Airfix Avro Vulcan B Mk2, which I hung from my ceiling on bits of cotton, that doesn’t make me a ‘geek’ necessarily. (2) Shut up about my sexuality. (3) You know full well that you stole the idea from things I told you for your own profit and have probably even bought a Nespresso machine on the proceeds whilst I have received only grief from everyone laughing at me.

How much of the books content came from your own experiences?
SJG: The book isn’t really autobiographical, but I did base certain elements on my own teenage years – for example, I absolutely hated PE at school, just like Noah does.
NG: That’s a lie. The book is based entirely on secrets that I told Simon in confidence. He got me to trust him by buying me some Skittles and then saying nice things about how he thought my poetry was good. When my defences were down, he got me to open up more about my life and unbeknown to me, he was writing all this down to use in his stupid book.

When the cover was first shown to you, what was your initial impression?
SJG: I loved it! It’s such a bold, attention-grabbing image and it sums up so much about the book. I couldn’t have been more pleased. It was designed by Liam Drane at Scholastic, who’s a genius!
NG: I hated it. It’s an appalling, diabolical image that I suppose someone thought was funny or something. It’s not exactly subtle, is it? Personally, I prefer the sort of covers you get on more literary books – maybe a picture of some barbed wire, or a shattered mirror reflecting a fractured face, to indicate the inner turmoil of the character – that sort of thing.

Secondary school/high school can be a rough place for a lot of people. What tips would you give to anyone in school for surviving it?
SJG: Always remember that almost everyone is going through their own form of private hell, and despite appearances sometimes, everyone is in the same boat and feels the same insecurities and anxieties. Find people like you, who you connect with and don’t make you feel like crap. Hang on to those folks and be there for each other – they’ll get you through. Finally, it may seem like it, but it’s not forever. It will end. And things will get better.
NG: I found that becoming Head Student Librarian granted me a lot of respect amongst my peers, especially when they beg me not to give them fines for late returns. Having a position of power strikes fear into the hearts of the mean kids and I know that when they call me rude names and make gestures behind my back it’s only because they are scared and jealous. Also, I keep a list of everyone who has wronged me so that one day, I can get revenge on them.

What tips do you have for any aspiring writers?
SJG: Write the thing that you would want to read – it’s a long slog, so you’ve absolutely got to love the thing you’re working on. Get feedback on your work – whether from a crit group or a freelance editor, if you can afford it. Keep going, read lots, believe in yourself I truly believe there’s a place for everyone’s story, you’ve just got to find it.
NG: I am actually a successful writer and have recently won a prize for one of my poems, which has now been included in a special anthology, so I am well placed to give out writing advice. I suppose my number one tip would be this: you need a lot of stationery if you’re going to be a professional writer who wins awards, like me. The Viking catalogue is a good place to start for all the essentials, like folders, reams of paper and an array of different types of pen.


Simon and Noah are both on Twitter – @simonjamesgreen @noahgrimes12

Books I’m Looking Forward To In July

Welcome back to the ‘Books I’m Looking Forward To’ feature! This is where I talk about all the books that are set to be published in July in the UK and talk about why I’m excited for them and why I think you should be too!

First up on my list is the sequel to Songs About A Girl, one of my favourite books of last year. Songs About Us by Chris Russell is set to be released on the 13th July and I can’t wait. I’ve been waiting to read more about Charlie and Gabriel and Olly and everyone else from Chris’s boyband world. I can’t wait to see where the sequel catapults them all to next!

Juno Dawson has a new book coming out this month too. Entitled The Gender Games and also set to be published on the 13th, it’s described as “a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world where what’s in your head is more important than what’s between your legs.” Juno’s past non-fiction books are fantastic as are her fiction books. Mind Your Head for example, Juno’s book about mental health, is a great read and I highly recommend it. I’m excited to see this brand new title from Juno and I’m definitely excited for it to be released.

Carrie Hope Fletcher has a new book out this month too, again also due to be released on the 13th, called All That She Can See, about a village baker named Cherry, who has a hidden ability to see things that others can’t. She uses this power to add something special to the cakes she sells, so the village people know that when they walk in Cherry’s bakery they feel safe. But then Chase arrives and it turns out she’s not alone in this ability. Carrie has an amazing writing voice and I can’t wait until her new book is published.

There are plenty more books that are set to come out in July, like the collaboration between Radio 1’s Greg James and Chris Smith along with Jenn Bennett’s brand new book too, but these are just some of the books I’m excited for in July!

 

Review of The Loneliest Girl In The Universe by Lauren James

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(Walker Books kindly sent me a copy of this book for review. My thoughts on the book haven’t been affected as a result though.)

Lauren James, as you probably know if you know anything about me as a reader, is one of my favourite authors. She wrote The Next Together series, which I’d say is a little like science fiction meets historical fiction – it’s about a couple named Katherine and Matthew who are destined to fall in love with each other over and over again throughout history. I definitely recommend it. When this book was first announced, I was, as you could probably imagine, really excited for it. I expected big things from it.

I did, however, think a lot about it before starting it. This book focuses on Romy, the only person aboard The Infinity, a spaceship bound for Earth II, with the mission to inhabit the Earth. She finds out about another ship that’s been sent along with her, The Eternity, upon which J is aboard. They can only communicate via emails, and slowly she finds herself falling in love with J, despite the fact that they’ve never met one another and they’re light years away.

As a concept, I thought, this book needed to do a lot of things to work. I remember thinking that dialogue was going to be difficult, because there is no one but Romy on the ship. She communicates with all other humans via email that takes ages to get to where it needs to be. The only living characters we know about (at the start at least…) are herself, Molly (on Earth) and J.  She’s aboard the ship by herself. Would this story work?

It absolutely did. I almost feel ashamed for ever doubting it if I’m honest!

Firstly, let’s talk about the cover. I remember seeing this for the first time and being surrounded by bloggers at Walker Books, and everyone gasped when they saw it, simply because it’s stunning.

Because there’s only a few characters, you really get to know Romy as a person. There’s a really intrinsic backstory which I won’t get into because it will definitely spoil the entire book for you, but once you start understanding a lot more about the book lots more unravels. It’s a mystery what’s going to happen on the next page.

I love the way that the emails were used as part of the book, and chapters are divided in a more unique way, that I don’t think I should reveal either because of fears of spoiling it, but both are unique touches.

Lauren’s way of writing from her first two books are back, of course, and it’s such a unique story. I think you will absolutely love this story, and I think it’s such an amazing book. Go read it!