August 08, 2019

Bring Me Some Crime...

On the weekend of 28/29 September I am very excited to be attending this wonderful crime writing festival in the seaside town of Morecambe.

Morecambe and Vice started life in 2017, and has already established itself as a friendly, quirky and fabulous crime festival by the sea. It takes place at the iconic Midland Hotel, a building that looks like it popped straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

I'm taking part in a children's and YA crime event 'Let Them Lead The Way' with three fabulous crime and mystery writers: Sharna Jackson (author of 'High Rise Mystery'), Sarah Todd Taylor (author, amongst other books, of feline sleuth 'Max the Detective Cat') and Anne Coates (author of the Hannah Weybridge series of crime novels).

Anyone who works in the book trade - whether author, publisher or book seller - plays a part in raising the next generation of readers, and crime fiction is no exception. I'm really looking forward to discussing the challenges of writing crime for young readers, and the books that inspired us as both writers and readers.

If you are coming to Morcecambe and Vice - do come and say hi. And if you are going to be around Morecambe over the weekend of September 29/30 - come along and join in!

July 16, 2019

The dread of Second Novel Syndrome

Second novels are notoriously difficult to write. You lose your debut status and you find you have gained a whole lot of reader expectation . . .

Sure, having readers is what it's all about, but it's difficult enough to face that blank computer screen with that feeling that quite a number of people are sitting on your shoulder eagerly expecting the same, only different. But not that different. They liked your first book, but you can't just write that again . . . yet if you write something completely new are your readers going to sulk and tell you this was not what they were expecting?

No wonder there is something called Second Novel Syndrome.

My first book, The Last Chance Hotel, was so incredibly difficult to write I think I always approached the second one with a feeling that it could only be easier. I set out wanting to do a proper murder mystery, full of twists and turns, clues and red herrings, and I wanted to set it in a world that had magic in it (that was very probably used in the murder). And I wanted it to be for children.

It was insanely difficult to write. Writing crime fiction for adults you often can use the advantage of taking your readers through a sub-plot meander so that they conveniently forget some of the crucial action.

But writing for children, it has to be short, clear and understandable . . . only not too understandable because you don't want everyone to get to the end and have everyone go 'oh was that it? I saw that coming ages ago'. I sometimes wondered if I was trying to write something that was actually impossible.

So I have to say it wasn't so much a thrill that so many readers liked The Last Chance Hotel, as just a relief that no-one has said it was either too easy, or way too difficult to understand.

I think having managed to achieve (I think!) that balance, did make it easier the second time around. Of course there were new challenges, like incorporating some of the key elements of the first book, without making the beginning just a boring rehash - or including too many spoilers if you happen to read this one first.

Hopefully all the elements are there that readers will enjoy - a mystery that might be down to magic, Seth trying to learn fast about the magical world (along with help/hindrance in equal measure from his cat, Nightshade). And of course at it's heart, this is a mystery story, set in a remote location. There is a body and a bunch of people looking over their shoulders and wondering which of them is the baddie. 

I really hope readers will like it - particularly those that took the trouble to review or write to me about The Last Chance Hotel.  I am going to leave here a small piece about Beatrix Potter's attitude to worrying whether people actually liked her books:

“If it were not impertinent to lecture one’s publisher, you are a great deal too much afraid of the public for whom I have never cared one tuppeny-button. I am sure that it is this attitude of mind which has enabled me to keep up the series. Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.”

– Beatrix Potter in a letter to her publisher, after they complained about The Tale of Mr Tod being too dark and having the opening line “I am quite tired of making goody goody books about nice people”.

She eventually changed the opening line to “I have made many books about well-behaved people. Now, for a change, I am going to make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod”

Well, with respect to Beatrix Potter, I do care quite a few tuppeny-buttons about my readers. I care desperately that this next book is better than they hoped, and that I haven't rubbed too many edges off The Bad Luck Lighthouse.

And if you are interested how I plot my books, things I find useful to help create atmosphere and various other insights into my weird and obsessive brain and writing life, I have great pleasure in being a guest on a blog tour where I do my best to answer these and many other tricky questions.

And you can follow the links below(or catch up if you miss any).

The tour contains a few thoughts about writing sprinkled with not so much my writing advice (everyone does it differently and I wouldn't presume . . .) but I so share a few tips about what works for me.
  • A Little But a Lot (17th July) Where do I write? Clue - nowhere fancy! If you think you have to wait for the perfect place, the perfect moment and have an awful lot of time - maybe think again.
  • Golden Books Girl (18th July) Plotting a mystery novel . . . the easy way.
  • Read It Daddy (22nd July) Some imaginative and challenging questions from the blogging legends that are the father/daughter reading team, Read It Daddy! Phew, dodged a few toough ones there.
  • My Shelves are Full (23rd July) An exclusive extract with Erin Lyn Hamilton, primary school teacher turned librarian. If you'd like a snatch of the opening you can find it here.
  • Mr E Primary (24th July) A breathtaking and generous review from Mr E, a primary school teacher in Wales whose blog is a one-stop treasure trove of all the best new children's writing. And he is doing a giveaway to win three sets of both books in the Seth Seppi Mystery Series!
  • Books for Topics (25th July) Another wonderful review from English lead and primary school teacher Alison Leach, in which I also discuss which Hogwarts houses my characters would be sorted into (and a little insight into how much fun it is to revisit characters)!
  • Luna's Little Library (26th July) You can get an immediate emotional connection with music, so I find music helps me write both scenes and characters. Here I muse a little about well Muse... and the creative circle of inspiration.
  • Bookbound (27th July) Another extremely thoughtful and generous book review from the wonderful Sam Thomas on her Book-bound blog. A wonderful way to finish an equally marvellous blog tour :-) 

July 04, 2019

Welcome to the Bad Luck Lighthouse

I'm thrilled to welcome you to a brand new adventure The Bad Luck Lighthouse - out now!

In spite of the title, I've actually had a great deal of good luck with this book:
  • It has another awesome illustration from the brilliant Matt Saunders. How gorgeous is that cover?
  • It has the same great editorial team at publisher Chicken House that led to so many fabulous reviews for The Last Chance Hotel.
  • Not every author gets to write a sequel with characters they love and I am pleased that this returns to the same world as featured in The Last Chance Hotel. You can join Seth and his cat Nightshade and his magical friend, Angelique, as they get to tackle another case for the magical police MagiCon and help to solve it along with Inspector Pewter.
Over the last few years, I've been excited to share with you my writing and publishing journey - from winning the Times / Chicken House Fiction Prize, to printing of the book, publication, and the complicated, bewildering but always rewarding world of being an author. It has been an amazing journey to where children are reading and enjoying your book - and telling you about it!

Along the way, this has involved wonderful window displays in Waterstonesincredible support from readers, schools and independent booksellerstranslations of Seth and Nightshade into other languages - and even music inspired by the characters themselves.

So enough about me being excited, I hope others will get excited about the next part of Seth and Nightshade's story. Here's a taster of what is to come:

"In uncovering the mystery of The Last Chance Hotel, Seth has discovered a dazzling world of magic and is determined to prove himself.

But he and Nightshade get embroiled in the latest MagiCon case of ghostly goings on at the remote Snakesmouth Lighthouse owned by the eccentric Mina Mintencress.

When Mina is murdered, Seth must work out if the vengeful ghost of Soul Snakesmouth has really returned. Because if this time magic is responsible, it’s a darker and even more disturbing magic that even Seth ever knew existed.

Seth and Nightshade must use all their best detective and magical skills to solve this mystery. Can they unlock the key to the hauntings and unmask a sinister sorcerer . . . before it’s too late?"

Thanks to Pam Norfolk for this great review in the Lancashire Post:

I really want to say a big 'thank you' for having had such a brilliant publishing experience and the chance to write a sequel. Also, I've had extraordinary support, enthusiasm and kindness shown to be me by the wonderful bookselling world.

So here's where you can order your copy:

June 13, 2019

Celebrating The Bad Luck Lighthouse - limited edition bookplates

The second book in the Seth Seppi mysteries - The Bad Luck Lighthouse - will be published on July 4. I had such brilliant support from booksellers for The Last Chance Hotel, so a huge thank you from me. It means so much to me as an ex-bookseller 😊

So, to celebrate the launch of the The Bad Luck Lighthouse, I would be delighted to send out limited edition signed bookplates to any bookshops that would like them. Just email me if you would like some (and how many). Also, if you'd like any dedicated - just let me know!

It will be signed by me, and only a limited number will be produced.

(And if you would like your bookshop to be involved, you can ask them to contact me - and if you want to know where your local bookshop is - locate them here)

It's very exciting that Seth and Nightshade will be returning in a new, twisty-turny magical mystery. This is due to the fantastic number of booksellers who have shared and celebrated by debut novel The Last Chance Hotel.

Thank you for your amazing support :-)

May 10, 2019

A bold and brilliant experiment with teaching english

Back in November last year, I visited the inspiring Joseph Cash Primary School in Coventry. It turned out that they had based an entire term's English language teaching on my book, and when I arrived at the school, I definitely got the rock star author treatment!

The whole school oozed a love and an excitement of reading (they even do read-aloud story sessions with guests called 'Cashanory' - how brilliant is that?)

So how thrilled was I to discover that Joseph Cash has been shortlisted for the TES School Awards for the category of "English Team of the Year"!

Obviously this is nothing to do with my book (!) and everything to do with the passion, enthusiasm and love of literature that led them to do this big, bold experiment in inspiring english teaching. So imaginative and bold to choose to do all of this with a book by a debut author as well.

They are one of the most inspiring schools I’ve had the privilege to visit in their approach to teaching. The team is brilliant, as are their lovely and lucky students!

Thank you so much for involving me in a wonderful journey with your fabulous school. And the very, very best of luck with the award!

April 18, 2019

Perplexing discoveries as your book takes flight

Last year, being a debut author felt like one constant round of being disorientated by the avalanche of new experiences.

Everything is a ‘first’. Editing, pre-launch preparation, events (if you are lucky), reviews (if you are even luckier) and then – amazing – reader feedback that arrives by a variety of channels, sometimes stumbled upon accidentally. And it won’t always be positive. But it is lovely that it is there. That you have readers.

Your book exists outside of your own head.

Whether it's the first time you speak to a group about your book, or the first email you receive from a reader, or someone sending you a picture of one of your characters that they've drawn, you have to deal with all this strangeness (and quite frankly, terror) of dealing with your book 'out in the wild'.

What? You want to read it???
It stops being a part of you and somehow manages to have a totally different life of its own. It no longer needs you. It has independently grown its own wings, left you, and miraculously landed on the shelf of bookshops and then on the shelves of readers to make of what they will.

And of course you still have to remain focused on writing the next one (and then editing that, and then writing the next), all while dealing with the strangeness of people reading what, until now, has been your private story, your own thoughts.

Dealing with all this in your own language is one thing - but if you are lucky enough to have your book published in another country - and another language – this strange new life gets turned up several notches.

I knew The Last Chance Hotel would be published in translation, but didn’t know when. I knew the Russian language rights had been sold, but didn't know a publication date. So when a package arrived at the door and I discovered Отель «Последний шанс» (literally 'Hotel "Last Chance" ') it was amazing. I discovered a whole other life, the same book, but different.

Luckily my husband (Mark) and I know a smattering of Cyrillic, enough to go through and identify the key characters. The Russian language doesn't have a 'th' sound, so my main character 'Seth Seppi' has become 'Sett Seppi', and a few other characters have slightly different names (even my name alters slightly to 'Niki Tornton').

And there's a subheading on the jacket which reads 'The Firefly Cage Secret' which is a lovely nod to the original title of the book The Firefly Cage when it won the Times / Chicken House children’s fiction competition.

At the time of writing, we haven't identified the name of Nightshade the Cat!

If you are interested in seeing the book in Russian, and reading the blurb, check out the link to publisher ЭКСМО (Eksmo).

Eksmo also has a kids' book feed, and it was great to spot some favourite UK authors also there, including Holly Webb, Sarah Todd Taylor and Harriet Muncaster's 'Isadora Moon' series - makes you feel extremely patriotic, and a great reminder of how much British children's books are a huge global export.

Next week The Last Chance Hotel is published in Holland, and I can't quite believe what a brilliantly exciting new adventure is in store.

Published as Hotel De Laatste Kans: Een Sep Seti Mysterie it looks very similar to the English version - with one key, and wonderful, detail. Take a look at this (very short) clip:

Can you believe that? Publisher De Fontein has produced a gorgeous glow-in-the-dark cover which is amazing. It has also featured on other Dutch book websites, and I have been busy using Google translate to try to get a feel for the translation and what the blurb says.

Which is - in the final analysis – probably the most weird thing about having your book translated. I have no idea of the differences in nuances, meanings, and overall cultural sense of the book. When books are translated, it's both a huge honour, and a little bit of an exercise in trust!


('Last Chance Hotel' with such a different US cover by the talented Jessica Kleinman - and the German edition (literally 'Hotel of the Magicians' which comes out in August)

The American literary critic George Steiner wrote "Every language is a world" and I'm incredibly grateful to other publishers who are taking Seth and Nightshade, and transporting them into other languages and that they will reach readers in other worlds, who live very different lives. I really hope they find things universal to relate to, not just the fun of the magic and the mystery, but in Seth’s journey, finding a path through life and realising your dreams.

Dank u wel! большое спасибо! 

March 07, 2019

The Last Chance Hotel is Waterstones Book of the Month

To everyone who has supported, bought, read and given a whole lot of love to The Last Chance Hotel - thank you! 
Writing and publishing my debut children's novel has been a lovely experience and there is nothing an author likes better than hearing that readers are reading their book - and enjoying it. 
A particularly big Thank You goes to Waterstones for choosing The Last Chance Hotel as the Children's Book of the Month for October 2018 and spreading the news so widely and with such passion and enthusiasm.
I have been amazed and delighted by all the wonderful displays by your creative teams and it has been so lovely to hear how much they have enjoyed shouting about The Last Chance Hotel.
I am sharing them here so everyone can appreciate at the hard work and creativity that has gone into them.
And as if this hasn't been an incredible enough month, thanks to the terrifically talented Oliver Daniel Nicholls - olliednmusic - Nightshade also has a theme.