A magic which is raw, real and above all, wild… The Outsiders

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one: Michelle Paver is, without doubt, one of the best 8-12s adventure fantasy writer out there today (according to Moontrug…). She kicked off with her fantastic Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series which follows Torak’s battle with Wolf and Renn against the deadly Soul Eaters (go 2min 52secs into this clip to hear Moontrug chatting about Wolf Brother at the Bath Literature Festival). And now Paver is onto a brand new series: Gods & Warriors, set in the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece.

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12-year-old Hylas is an Outsider, born to unknown parents beyond the safety of the village gates. He lives in the mountains tending goats with his sister, Issy. But all that changes the day the Crows arrive. Separated from his beloved sister and hounded off the mountain side by the Crows, Hylas is on the run. All he cares about is finding Issy but before long Hylas has to contend with a runaway Priestess, Pirra, a dying man with a mysterious last wish and a best friend who, it emerges, is in league with the Crows. Hylas’ journey takes him across the seas, helped by the wonderful dolphin, Spirit, to the island of the Finn people. Like Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, The Outsiders is steeped in an elemental magic – the Sea (the Black Beneath), the earth (The Earth Shaker) – which is raw, real and above all, wild… For Paver, magic isn’t about wizards and wands; it’s about the natural magic in our every day world where certain animals signify good omens and others (The Angry Ones) bring bad luck. Paver’s magic feels very real; in fact it’s so convincing you actually feel the power of the Goddess and the strength of the Black Beneath.

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There are three things Paver does extremely well (which is why she has such a huge following). Firstly, she creates characters you really feel for. Hylas is an outsider, much like Torak, in Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Within pages he wins you over – with his tough independence, his loyalty to his sister and his determination to survive. His unlikely friendship with Telamon, son of a Keftian chief, is brilliantly and painfully presented, and his growing respect for the seemingly useless Pirra is realistically told. Secondly, Paver describes action scenes with incredible skill and pace. Whether Torak’s fighting off a shark or dodging the sinister Crows, Paver’s writing is ALIVE with its short sentences, dramatic verbs and original imagery. And lastly, she depicts the best animal-human bonds ever. Think Lyra and Pantalaimon (Northern Lights) or Albert and Joey (War Horse). In Chronicles of Ancient Darkness we have Torak befriending an abandoned, weakened wolf cub and then in The Outsiders we have Hylas’ unexpected bond with Spirit, an intuitive dolphin desperate to befriend Hylas. Paver captures Hylas’ initial fear and wariness of Spirit and then their growing understanding of each other. Spirit’s underwater world of clicks and whistles suddenly comes alive to Hylas and he learns to trust and understand the dolphin.

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In Moontrug’s best dreams she is bursting out of the ocean with a dolphin or racing over mountain tops with a snow leopard and reading Paver’s The Outsiders was like reliving one of those dreams. It’s children’s writing at its very best. The research Paver does in the run up to writing means that her world is completely real. Before writing Spirit into the story, Paver swam with wild dolphins off the islands of the Azores (near Portugal) – so it’s small wonder that the reader is sucked into Spirit’s underwater world from the very first pages. Thankfully Paver is writing quickly and the second book in the series is already out: The Burning Shadow. And Hylas is not alone in his quest to find Issy: there’s a lion by his side… Moontrug cannot wait to buy this next book and in the meantime, both Wolf Brother and The Outsiders are stacked up nicely on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower.

The new Roald Dahl? Get ready to laugh with William Sutcliffe

A few years ago Moontrug heard bestselling author Andy Stanton speak at a literary festival and one boy in the audience laughed so much he was sick. Kind of EWWWW but kind of COOL as well. It was at that moment Moontrug thought: surely this author is the funniest guy in children’s books today. And then along comes William Sutcliffe with a side-splitting debut and Moontrug knows there’s competition on the Giggleometer… Sutcliffe’s Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom is a must read for children aged 6+ who love books by Roald Dahl, Andy Stanton and David Walliams.

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Hannah’s life is boring, boring, boring! Then Armitage Shank’s Impossible Circus comes to town and Hannah’s world is turned on its head when she meets Billy Shank, his astonishing camel, Narcissus, and a host of other bizarrely brilliant members of the circus. But all is not as it seems; Armitage Shank, evil ringmaster and Billy’s surrogate father, has a dastardly plan that could end in catastrophe for Hannah’s dull little village and it’s up to Hannah and Billy to stop his stinking scheme before it’s too late…

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The first thing you notice about the book is the fabulous illustrations by the wonderfully named David Tazzyman. He illustrated Andy Stanton’s books and his humorously energetic eye has worked its magic again with Sutcliffe’s story. Sutcliffe brings us brilliantly memorable characters (Fluffypants McBain, the tabby cat from the Post Office, Narcissus, the taramasalata-loving camel and Irrrrrrrena, the acrobat assistant drenched in olive oil) who propel the story forward with energy and wit. What starts as a ‘rumble and a clatter and a faint trembling of the air’ soon becomes the country’s whackiest and most unforgettable collection of circus acts.

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Sutcliffe is a natural story-teller and he gets you laughing from page 1. When Hannah jumps up onto Narcissus, the taramasalata-loving camel, Sutcliffe writes: ‘riding this animal was like sitting on a seesaw strapped to a supermarket trolley rolling around the deck of a boat on a stormy day in the middle of the Atlantic.’ You get the drift. And the footnotes are up there with Chris Riddell’s in Goth Girl: ‘Uglily isn’t a word. You know that. I know that. Let’s just move on.’ Sutcliffe’s characters are refreshingly original – and funny. Take Maurice, the oiled-up acrobat ,(and you must say his name as if you are gargling an espresso of pond water – Murrggghhhheeece – because Maurice is French): ‘In fact he was so proud of being French that he actually became slightly ratty if any other French people came within range, causing him to increase his Frenchness in order to ensure that he was always the most French person in his immediate vicinity. This was why he’d been forced to emigrate. Living with such a high level of competitive Frenchness in France itself was simply too exhausting.’

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With his fantastic characters (did I mention Jesse, the Human Cannonball, the itchiest man in the world who suffers from vertigo and is afraid of cats and spaghetti?) and hilarious sense of humour Moontrug reckons William Sutcliffe is one to watch. I mean anyone who makes up words for a living (think gloombucket, gobgasted and flabbersmacked) and teaches us wise facts like ‘Penguins do not bend in the middle’ is worth a place in the Altocumulus Tower.

 

A lost fortress, pirated ice rigs & Siberian shamans: IRONHEART

For quite some time Moontrug has been on the hunt for an 8-12 years action-adventure story, a book with original characters, a journey to remote lands and a fast-paced plot. And Allan Borough’s debut novel, Ironheart, is all that – and more… Since her father went missing while prospecting for oil in Siberia, life has been tougher than ever for India Bentley. Little does she know that he was actually searching for Ironheart, a legendary fortress containing the secrets of the old world. A place some say could save humanity. Along with tech-hunter, Verity Brown, and her android, Calculus, a killer from the old world turned protector in the new, India must make the journey to remote Siberia to try to find her father and finish his work. But there are others fighting to find Ironheart too – and they have very different goals in mind…

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India’s impoverished, waterlogged London is realistically described – and it reminded Moontrug of Emily Diamand’s dystopian setting in her award-winning Flood Child. Boroughs gives us a frighteningly real depiction of a world post nuclear wars. And it works as a powerful contrast to the icy realms of Siberia, a land steeped in magic ‘where ancient spirits lived beneath mountains and living shadows stalked the forests’. It’s the perfect setting for an ice rig pirate like Bulldog, though even he seems on edge at the country’s forbidding climate: ‘It’s minus sixty in the winter and as dark as a witch’s armpit.’ Boroughs spent time travelling through Siberia and it seems he was struck by the otherworldly magic of the place – where shadows can suck the life from a man’s body if you happen to step on them. Yikes. Boroughs’ icy setting is so vividly portrayed that you can almost feel the frost and hear the biting wind in his pages. It’s right up there with Lyra’s journey to Svalbard in Northern Lights – powerful stuff.

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And so it is into this world of spirits and shadows that India must journey, past ‘bird-black’ shapes with ‘streams of smoky darkness trail[ing] behind them like ragged silk.’ Oooooh that’s good. And it’s not just the mysterious shadows India must escape from. There’s the odious money-grabbing Clench (great name) who will stop at nothing to find his fortune, and the terrifying Lucifer Stone whose quest for power is all-consuming. Lucifer Stone is a brilliantly created villain – Boroughs nails it from the very first description of him right through to his heartless actions: ‘He wore a floor-length fur coat, tied with a thick leather belt and had shaggy black hair with one furry eyebrow that ran right across his forehead. His beard was plaited into black ropes and there were pieces of bone tied into the ends. He looked like a story-book troll that had crept out from under a mountain.’

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India may be up against all that but she’s got a fantastic (albeit surprising) team around her. Fearless ice pirate Bulldog, feisty tech-hunter Verity and the ever-loyal android, Calculus – or Calc. Moontrug’s not normally a fan of robots and techy things (she struggles to do anything other than call on a mobile phone and still has no idea what an APP is) but Calc totally won her over. Boroughs combines wisdom, compassion, loyalty and humour in Calc, with the result that he’s as likeable as Tinman in The Wizard of Oz, as India discovers.

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The plot pushes forward with relentless energy, unforeseen twists (loving the surprise at the end of Chapter 15 ‘The Lone Wolf’ – Moontrug’s stomach flipped at the last sentence!) and secret codes hidden in the unlikeliest of places. And the mix of new world tech and old world magic is superbly combined. Think armies of android killers and shamans who can take the shape of a bird and fly across the land or control a person’s dreams… Ironheart is a fantastic read for boys and girls aged 8-12 years, perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer’s WARP or Chris Columbus’ House of Secrets. Moontrug’s only hope is that we haven’t seen the last of soul-voyager India Bentley. Surely she and tech-hunter, Verity Brown, have more adventures ahead of them?

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‘My name is Kaia. I’m frozen because of what happened.’

At last Moontrug feels it’s time to write about Tom Avery’s book, My Brother’s Shadow. She’s put it off for a while now – not because it was boring, not because it was badly written – but because she was so profoundly moved by it that she had to spend a few weeks just thinking about its strange, subtle magic. Because that’s the way it is with some books. They strike a cord somewhere deep inside you and you spend weeks after mesmerised by that magic. And that’s how it was with My Brother’s Shadow.

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My Brother’s Shadow is Kaia’s story. Her world of books, friends and laughter is shattered the day she comes home to find her brother dead. Something inside Kaia hardens until gradually she finds herself totally alone. Friends drift, teachers become impatient and her mother’s erratic behaviour leaves her frightened and desperate. Kaia freezes up inside and only when a mysterious boy appears at the window of her classroom, do things start to change.

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My Brother’s Shadow reminded Moontrug of Patrick Ness’ brilliant book, A Monster Calls. Avery relates the aching process of coming to terms with loss just as acutely (and subtly) as Ness does. With Avery, Kaia’s inner pain is manifested in the wild boy’s actions: ‘He was really wild. Whilst I dream of leaping on tables, he did it, howling at the ceiling. When the class cackled at one of Mr Wills’ stupid jokes, the boy looked around perplexed then clapped and barked out an imitation of a laugh. He tore books apart, chewed at pencils, bolted in and out of the classroom.’ But amidst this pain, there is a sense of hope, beauty and wonder in both Ness’ and Avery’s writing. Avery’s references to the renewing power of nature – to the wonderfulness of trees, sunflowers and daffodils – are a constant reminder that although the human spirit may be crushed to breaking point, there is hope and strength somewhere deep inside us all. It reminded Moontrug of a wise Anglo-Saxon saying her mother often tells her when things get tough: ‘Let the spirit grow stronger, courage the greater, will the more resolute, as the strength grows less.’

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Kaia is such an engaging character. Her mind works in brilliant, original ways, like David Almond’s wonderful Mina. Kaia knows ‘it’s rude to stare’ but when she notices the ‘amazing, unique, miraculous’ people in the world, she asks us how can we not just stare and marvel at ‘every single stupendous one of them.’ Kaia’s way of thinking is captivating and Moontrug would love to amble along inside her mind, to see the world like she does, to run on silent feet, to soar through blue skies with wild animals… Because, as Kaia says, ‘wild thoughts are what make us feel alive.’

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The ‘relationship’ between Kaia and the wild boy is beautifully told: ‘…he’s there with me. We trot together. Tears run as silent as the boy’s footfall. We do not speak. We walk.’ Avery captures the subtle magic of the wild boy’s role so perfectly, gradually releasing Kaia towards a thawing, a freedom from all that’s happened: ‘Finally, with a second wail, despair in its voice, the building falls in on itself. A great cloud of dust rises into the air. We shield our eyes. When it settles we’re all that’s left: us and the tree against our backs. I laugh, not at the destruction, but at the freedom.’ Kaia develops a wisdom more important, more lasting, than algebra and descriptions of imaginary trainers, and Avery very realistically shows how it is sometimes in grief that we find out who we really are.

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Perhaps one of the things Avery does best is to capture Kaia’s moments of triumph. Her Special Achiever Award is brilliantly done – and Kaia’s reaction so painfully real. And like Kaia’s class, Moontrug read her book review with tears streaming down her face. My Brother’s Shadow is a heart-breakingly good book for 9+ years, so good that it’s made its way onto Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower 

 

 

The coolest BFFs?! Cressida Cowell & Lauren Child…

Over the years, Moontrug has come across some seriously cool friendship pairings in books: Lyra and Will in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Wild Boy and Clarissa in Rob Lloyd Jones’ Wild Boy and Auggie and Summer in R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. And then, a few weeks ago, Moontrug stumbled across a SUPER COOL pairing: two ridiculously bestselling authors who are BEST FRIENDS! How cool is that? And this coolness came in the form of Cressida Cowell (author of the brilliant How To Train Your Dragon series) and Lauren Child (author of the wonderful Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort series) speaking at Imagine Children’s Festival, in an event chaired by Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust.

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The first thing Moontrug noticed about Lauren Child was her uber trendy boots (kind of like Doc Martins with bright red laces) and the first thing Moontrug spied about Cressida Cowell was her funky tweed waistcoat – best friends with style, it seemed… The two authors met when they were 16 years old, when they signed up to the sixth form of the same boarding school. They shared English and Art classes together, a love of a posh pink dip called taramasalata and a passion for writing stories. At the time of their meeting, Cressida was writing a story called Angora of the Shetland Isles, which was partly inspired by her summer holidays spent running wild across the Inner Hebrides – the original Vikings/dragons territory off the coast of Scotland. Cressida admits that the rugged landscape inspired her writing and was probably the reason she choose to explore Vikings and dragons in her bestselling How To Train Your Dragon series, which includes titles like How to be a Pirate, How to speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to break a Dragon’s heart. The books are brimming with fabulous illustrations (drawn by Cressida herself), hilariously named characters (Fishlegs, Tuffnut Junior, Gobber the Belch…) and action-packed plots…

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Although Cressida and Lauren are best friends (Cressida’s daughters did the voice of Lola in the TV adaptation of Lauren’s Clarice Bean books), they have very different writing patterns. Like Moontrug, Cressida likes to plan an overarching plot for her books before writing whereas Lauren often just dives in. Lauren admitted she’s very indecisive when it comes to her plots. And apparently a child came up to her recently and said: ‘I know who the villain is in the Ruby Retfort books.’ And Lauren was a bit confused – because she didn’t even know who the villian was at that stage! Lauren spoke about the importance of having ‘thinking time’ before writing ideas down though – time to explore ideas in her head before starting the writing process. And both authors spoke about how ‘good’ writing should ‘move’ the author as the author writes it – so, for example, Cressida likes to really scare herself when writing about her witch who moves on all fours… That way it’s more frightening – more real – for the reader, too.

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Unlike Cressida’s dragon books, Lauren’s books involve every day events and people and Lauren said she can still vividly remember her day-to-day feelings as a child which help to inspire her plots: ‘When I walk past restaurants that have no-one in I feel really sad for the owners; it’s like sitting at the back of the bus as a child, with just your sandwiches as company.  Or when I break something, like knocking a vase over, I feel the guilt and shame exactly as if I was eight years old again. Both Cressida and Lauren spoke about the differences in their characters, too. Cressida’s hero, Hiccup, has to learn courage and self-esteem over the course of the books whereas Lauren’s latest heroine, Ruby Redfort (named after her childhood screen crush, Robert Redford) is seemingly brilliant at everything and must learn how to fail, how to be humble – equally important lessons.

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One thing both authors have in common though (and in abundance) is humour.  Lauren talked of the rhythm of sentences – how writers often draw out their writing to explain their jokes, but really they should trust their reader to interpret them. And there’s nothing Moontrug likes quite so much as FUNNINESS. So she’s excited about diving into some Ruby Redfort adventures and getting lost in Hiccup Horrendous Haddock The Third’s sword-fighting dragon-whispering tales! Oooooh, it’s going to be a fun ride…

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Ssshhh! Don’t wake The Sleeping Army…

The first thing Moontrug noticed about Francesca Simon was her hair: curly, brown and BIG. And hair like that means something. The owner of the hair is going to be interesting. And Simon proved to be just that… With a mountain of bestselling Horrid Henry books under her belt, Francesca Simon was speaking to us at The Imagine Festival recently about her latest Norse Gods series: The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods. 

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Simon kicked off by revealing how she ‘found’ her subject for the first book in the series, The Sleeping Army, and strangely enough, the idea was hidden away inside Room 40 of the British Museum. Inside the room was a set of Chessmen carved from ivory and walrus tusk by Scandinavians long, long ago. But in the nineteenth century these Chessmen were dug up on the Isle of Lewis, off the north-west coast of Scotland. Simon told us that every story she writes starts with a question and when she looked at these Chessmen for the first time, she realised something. Every single one was sad – in fact not just sad – totally miserable. And then the question came: why are the Lewis Chessmen so sad? And the idea behind The Sleeping Army was born…

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In The Sleeping Army, Simon recreates a Britain where Christianity never existed. Instead, Norse Gods are revered by the people and the days of the week are named after them (Wednesday is Wodnesday from the God Woden, Thursday is Thorsday from the God Thor). Even the main character is named after a Norse God: Freya. And The Sleeping Army follows the story of Freya, a young girl from today’s world who unwittingly blows the Ceremonial Horn from a Viking Silver Hoard (which, incidentally, still lives in the British Museum) and awakens Woden’s army. Moments later, Freya finds herself in Asgard, the land of the Gods, with servant-children Alfie and Roskva, an eight-legged horse and a giant berserk called Snot. And they have a BIG task ahead of them: a sinister God, Loki, has stolen Idunn, the keeper of the golden apples which grant the Gods their immortality, and it’s up to Freya and her new friends to find Idunn and restore life to the ancient Norse Gods. Because if she fails, the Gods will continue to sleep as Chessmen and a darker power will emerge.

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The plot is fabulously fast-paced, right from the moment Freya blows the ceremonial horn in the British Museum (‘A thunderous roaring ringing shrieking blast rumbled and swelled, pealing and blaring louder and louder and louder until Freya didn’t know where her body ended and the sound began… She pressed her hands against her ears but the blasts were inside her now, controlling her heart, her breath, her life’s blood’) up until the last few pages. And the characters are brilliantly inventive. Take Snot, the ferocious berserk, whose response to anyone who dares to claim Snot is a girl’s name is ‘Say that again and I’ll kill you.’ Or the giantess, Skadi: ‘Her arms bulged out of her tunic sleeves. Her thighs were like tree trunks. Her short dress was far too tight. Freya had a horrible feeling she wasn’t wearing any underwear.’ And Simon’s invented words – ‘snugglebum’, ‘snugglechops’, ‘odoriferous’ – are up there with Moontrug’s best ones.

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Freya is an unlikely heroine and it’s exciting to see her grow from the girl with ‘a ketchup stain from lunch on her ratty yellow sweatshirt’ who holds the record for pancakes eaten in ten minutes, to a brave warrior-child hoping to restore the lives of the Gods. Through her friendships with Snot, Roskva and Alfi, Freya learns to adopt Thor’s advice: ‘live fearlessly while you can’ and that’s the reason she’s able to face Hel with such courage. Because let’s be honest, Hel isn’t the easiest of characters: half-goddess, half-corpse, rotting away behind a curtain called Glimmering Misfortune and attended by slaves named Lazy Cow and Slow-Poke.

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After talking about The Sleeping Army, Simon gave us a sneak preview of the second book in the series (and Simon’s favourite book so far): The Lost Gods. And as Simon read aloud from her book, her brilliant illustrator, Adam Stower, drew an ENORMOUS Frost Giant. As Simon’s description of the Frost Giants rising went on, Stower’s Frost Giant grew. What started out as a few squiggles emerged into the terrifying image of a giant with lumbering forearms, a hooked nose and an icicle-dripping mouth. It was story-telling at its very best. The entire room were convinced that the Frost Giants (called Bottled Rage, Mouthcramp, Neckbreaker, Lockjaw) were rampaging towards the Shard. In fact Moontrug was quite surprised to see the Shard still standing when she emerged from the Southbank Centre after the talk.

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The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods are brilliantly magical adventures, perfect for 7+ years. And for those Francesca Simon fans who want to know what’s next on Simon’s agenda, watch out for The Monstrous Child – the story of Hel, goddess of the underworld who is very, very, VERY angry…

Sea Monkeys, Rambling Isles & short-sighted mermaids – Oliver & The Seawigs…

Moontrug has come across a lot of islands in her time: Engelsholm island in the Norwegian fjords (home to Scandinavian mer creatures); Great Britain (home to the rain gods); Old Harry (a rather stubborn fellow off the Dorset coast)… But she’s never come across an island undergoing a severe identity crisis – until she met Cliff, that is, from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s amazing Oliver & The Seawigs.

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Oliver is the son of two intrepid explorers, which is all good and exciting, but it hasn’t left him any time for doing normal things – like hanging out in his bedroom and making friends at school. And so Oliver is relieved when his parents run out of places to explore and make their way back home. But within hours of unpacking, Oliver’s parents have vanished, along with the miniature islands which had mysteriously sprung up in Deepwater Bay below their house. Oliver goes down to the beach to investigate and after driving his boat out to the only island remaining in the bay, he concludes that his parents really have vanished. Before long, Oliver is catapulted into an adventure with a short-sighted mermaid, some very sarcastic seaweed, a grumpy albatross and an island with very low self-esteem. Eventually Oliver gets to the bottom of Cliff’s sadness: the annual Night of the Seawigs is approaching, the night every Rambling Isle parades his best Seawig (a wig made from the finest treasures of the seas). But Cliff has nothing to parade and is totally miserable. And so spurred on by the thought of helping Cliff find a brilliant Seawig and bringing back his parents, Oliver travels further out to sea.

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The characters are fantastically original and VERY funny. For example, most mermaids Moontrug has ever come across have been beautiful creatures with voices like angels and hair like rippling silk. Not Iris. Iris is a tad overweight, she sings like a tone-deaf walrus and she’s badly short-sighted. And she thinks sitting on rocks and singing like the rest of the mermaids is ‘completely lame.’ Now that’s Moontrug’s kind of mermaid. Her friendship with Oliver is brilliantly crafted and Moontrug has never come across such a polite explorer as young Oliver. When he pops out to rescue his parents from the evil Thurlstone Isle, he leaves a very courteous little note for Iris:

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The setting is both wonderfully magical (‘The Hallowed Shallows…are the place where all the old things of the sea went to live once the people in your world stopped believing in them) and very funny (our Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic is transformed into the brilliant Sarcastic Sea: ‘I love the inflatable dingy…orange is such a tasteful colour.’ It’s the perfect setting for creatures like Sea Monkeys to abound and nasty boys like Stacey de Lacey (yes, that’s a boy’s name, apparently…) to crop up in.

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Cliff’s quest for an exciting Seawig is totally original (think narwhals, lighthouses, ancient temples, submarines, even tractors!) and the author clearly had a lot of fun dreaming up his possible Seawigs. It was no wonder that when Moontrug went along to meet the author, Philip Reeve, at the Imagine Festival, the illustrator, Sarah McIntyre, was sporting one of the best Seawigs imaginable, complete with shark, rubber duck and a mighty wave. And one step cooler than that… McIntyre taught me how to draw a pesky Sea Monkey. And here he is, aptly named Snotboogle:

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Oliver & The Seawigs is a an inventive story with a fabulous cast, perfect for 7+ years. And to celebrate its wonderfulness, Moontrug is opening a competition. Here’s the deal: Moontrug wants you to describe the most brilliant Seawig you can think of. It can have anything at all on it – so long as the ideas are CRAZILY imaginative. And if you have a spare moment or two, you can accompany your description with a fabulous drawing. See Moontrug Competitions for more details. I’ve a sneaky feeling Ascot Races is going to be dealing with some rather unusual hats this summer…

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Piers Torday talks secret poems by Roald Dahl and tips to approach a wolf

Many of you truggers out there will know that Moontrug is a BIG FAN of The Last Wild (remember Kester and his quest to save the last animals?). Well, a few weeks ago Moontrug actually got to meet the author. Yeah, you heard me – Moontrug got to meet the wonderful Piers Torday! Now, sometimes you big up people in your head and they’re a real let down in real life (I won’t mention any names but Mickey Mouse at Disney Land, I thought you were better than that…) – but Piers Torday was every bit as awesome as I expected him to be and he gave a STORMER of a talk about The Last Wild and The Dark Wild at Imagine Book Festival.

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Torday started off by talking to us all about his childhood and where the ideas for his books had come from. He grew up in Northumberland with a pet dog and a pet cat – and their house, Toad Hall, was surrounded by A LOT OF SHEEP. Torday revealed: ‘The reason our house was called Toad Hall was because it was above my mother’s book shop – Toad Hall Books.’ Torday talked about the bookshop’s link to Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, admitting he loved reading the book as a child. ‘Did you know The Wind in the Willows was one of the first books ever written for children? And it was the first book written about animals talking like people!’ No, Moontrug did not know this – so Torday is clever as well as cool. Impressive. And Moontrug’s relieved Kenneth Williams wrote Wind in the Willows because if he hadn’t kids would be reading boring book about the financial crisis and pension schemes. Not cool.

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But Torday was quick to tell us there’s another reason he has such fond memories of his time at Toad Hall. Roald Dahl (yes, THE Roald Dahl) visited the bookshop and after his visit he wrote to Torday, sending him a secret Oompa Loompa song that he decided not to put in the final version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – about a spoilt rich girl who is put into a peanut brittle mixer and turned into a hard sticky toffee peanut butter bar! Torday and his family eventually moved away from Toad Hall to live beside a forest. Less sheep – more hedgehogs, badgers and rabbits. But Torday kept his Northumberland sheep alive by writing a comic book called SHEEP. Sadly it didn’t sell well; perhaps because it was priced at one million pounds. Per copy.

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Torday dabbled with writing stories as a child but often didn’t see his ideas through to the end of the story. Indeed he started a detective novel but admits that the plot was flawed – there was only one sentence, the opening sentence – but what a sentence that was: ‘One day, there was a dog, and like most dogs, he was a Detective.’ So, Moontrug has an idea… She is challenging all you writers out there to finish Piers Torday’s story for him in 500 words or less. See Moontrug Competitions for details.

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Torday said that the real inspiration for his brilliant book, The Last Wild, occurred when he was on Colonsay, an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. He was there with his family and his best friend. One morning, Torday and his best friend decided to walk round the island: ‘The first thing we found on our walk was a cat slipping out of a ruined stone cottage. We tried to usher it back to where it had come from in case its owner was near by, but the cat followed us. And then hours later, when we were walking along the beach we came across a seagull with a wounded wing. My friend picked it up and put it in his pocket, hoping we’d find a vet later. Meanwhile, the cat padded along beside us. Moments later, when we were eating our lunch-time sandwiches on a rock amidst the heather, a mouse scurried out, so I put that in my pocket, too. And then, as we made our way back to the village, we spotted a very tame rabbit. We had one more pocket spare; in the rabbit went. When we got back to the village we were the talk of the island. The seagull was treated by a vet and we returned the other animals into the wild. But something happened that day; I had an adventure – and one that was going to spark the initial idea for my first book.’

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Later in life, Torday began to think what it would be like if only a handful of animals remained in the world and they were all in terrible danger. He thought back to his journey across Colonsay with his band of animal recruits. And gradually, ideas started to form for The Last Wild. Cool to think that Torday’s ideas sprung from an actual REAL LIFE adventure… And it seems he still goes on adventures now. Just recently he had an encounter with a North American Grey Wolf, Tundra.  No wonder wolf cub in The Last Wild is such a cool character. Torday has been researching him thoroughly – and below are a few of Torday’s wolf facts:

 

1. A wolf howl can travel 10km
2. There is only a 2% genetic difference between a dog and a wolf
3. When you approach a wolf you need to ball your hand into a fist and hold it out, then you need to breathe onto the wolf’s back (and you should eat a Full English Breakfast or something really meaty before your visit because wolves will pick up your meaty smell and identify you as a fellow predator. So lay off the salad leaves and broccoli, you’re toast to a wolf with that kind of behaviour)
4. Wolves can leap 9ft into the air from a standstill position
5. A wolf’s bite is more ferocious than a grizzly bear’s or a great white shark’s!

 

It was a real delight to listen to Torday talking about his writing and Moontrug cannot wait to read The Dark Wild, out in the UK in April 2014. Why the excitement? Because Moontrug needs to find out why there is a helicopter flying towards Kester and why he can hear strange whispers below the earth… Oh, and she’s been missing the white pigeon – a lot.

Toraday