Last month I was in Sweden, and it was blanketed in diamond-bright snow; snow so crisp and clean that the vast expanses of lake and forest glistened and glinted in the sun. I’ve never seen snow like that before. It felt like fairy tales and toothpaste.
I walked out over lakes covered in solid ice, slipped and slid my way down a natural fault line in the earth to discover icicles taller than me, and even made friends with a moose. It was my first encounter with one, despite having travelled to Sweden a couple of times now, and I got to marvel as it plodded through the quiet trees.
By the time I wound my way back up the hill, the sun was dipping down behind the tree line, spilling its orange light over the horizon. My breath fogged in front of me, my fingers were numb, but I had to take a moment just to stand there. To take it all in. Have you ever been somewhere so beautiful that you just wanted to stare until you branded the image into your memory? That’s what this was like. The perfect winter postcard.
When I got back, I was emailed by my editor to say I’d been invited to appear on Down The Rabbit Hole, a radio show in London devoted to children’s books. I would be chatting about three different stories alongside Eve Ainsworth, and of course the lovely hosts, Katherine Woodfine and Melissa Cox.
The guys from the show posted me a copy of the three books we’d be discussing so I could read them ahead of time, which I was initially slightly worried about because I’ve never been a very fast reader, and to this day I’m still a very reluctant reader. I normally know by the first page if I’m going to be able to finish a book or not, and there are a lot of books out there that I don’t finish simply because they don’t grab me for one reason or another.
Someone who’s NOT a reluctant reader? My puppy, Cookie, who demolishes books. She loves them. She doesn’t actually read them, of course, but she has developed a particular mischievous glint in her eye that she saves especially for when she’s gorging on he pages of a book that’s fallen off the shelf. About the only thing she loves more chomping on words is the unparalleled thrill of rushing to the door when anyone rings the doorbell. We live in an old, oddly shaped flat, which has got quite a long corridor leading to the front door, and Cookie gallops down it in a flash so she can say hello.
Now, the connoisseurs among you will know well that there are small packages that the postman can fit through the letterbox, and large packages that will not conform to letterbox shape, and when these large packages refuse to fit through the door, the postman will ring the doorbell. On this occasion, the books slotted very nicely through the door and landed on the mat. There was, however, a second package on this day, which did not fit through the letter box. The postman rang the bell, the puppy put on her galloping shoes, and by the time I reached her, she was busy enjoying the delicacy that is the Rebel of the Sands cover.
It was a clean tear. Cookie perfectly removed the front cover from the spine, leaving the inner pages and the back cover attached to the spine. Which is a real shame, because I didn’t get to appreciate how gorgeous the book looks in the flesh. And it also meant my fine radio hosts would no doubt consider me a barbarian.
I promptly rescued the other books – Beetle Boy and a picture book called Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting, and took them to a safe place. I decided to read Bear Spotting first, because, well, it’s a picture book and even I can manage that, and WOW – the first thing that jumped off the page was the glorious artwork. Illustrated by David Roberts, the bears were characterful and cuddly and fearsome, and it made me want to have one as a guardian or a friend, like Lyra in Northern Lights (I don’t think a bear would ever be a pet; they’re too mythical for that).
The other two books were pretty darn stunning too, both of them very easy to read, and both gripping from the get go (so I needn’t have worried about that!) They both also accomplished this feat in different ways. Beetle Boy grabbed me first of all with its voice; it opened, like some of the best children’s books do, like a tale told at the fireside, and it introduced some fantastic characters who I loved from the beginning. And the villain! Oh, wow. What a villain. The way it was written reminded me of a mixture of two different kinds of magic: a dash of Roald Dahl, and a sprinkling of Piers Torday. Waterstones are currently championing it, and it’s easy to see why.
Rebel of the Sands grabbed me with intrigue and action and a wonderful injection of myth. It’s a marriage of two concepts, a sort of Wild West landscape with ancient myths woven into it, which as far as worlds go is exactly as brilliant as it sounds. There are ancient, shape shifting beasts, gun duels, and all manner of exciting moments (and I’m told the cover tastes delicious).
Needless to say it was very easy talking about three very good books, and the Down the Rabbit Hole radio show was a joy. A bunch of bookish folks chatting about stories live on air? What’s not to like? In case you missed it, you can listen to it again here. Needless to say, it didn’t go unnoticed that my copy of Rebel of the Sands was somewhat different to the others…
Now it’s back to reality, working on final edits for my second book, Stormwalker, which comes out in May. I’ve seen how the cover is shaping up, and it’s all very exciting – illustrated once again by the marvellous Frances Castle, who did the Stonebird cover. I’m so pleased that both books will sit nicely alongside each other on bookshelves, and they’re definitely going to stand out.
I can’t wait to be able to show you more!