Jackie Morris on the magic of dragons…

A few days ago, one of Moontrug’s favourite illustrators asked: ‘Would you like to do a dragon interview?’ As if she needed to ask… Moontrug was BORN to do dragon interviews; not a night goes past when she doesn’t imagine one swishing past her window. Moontrug grew up on Terry Pratchett and Cornelia Funke’s dragons and most recently she has discovered the utterly magical dragons gliding through Jackie Morris’ world…

Tell-Me-a-Dragon-by-Jackie-MorrisMoontrug: In Tell Me A Dragon you give us moon dragons, river dragons, tiny dragons, sea dragons, fire dragons, ice dragons… What would your dragon be like?

Jackie Morris: My dragon is small as small. She sits quiet in my pocket, waiting. When I need her I scoop her out in my hand and blow, gentle, one, two, three times on her nose and then she grows, until she is big as big. Then she lets me climb on her back and away we fly, into the sky, night time or day time to wherever I want to be. And when we land I thank her kindly and when she is ready I blow gentle on that great nose and she shrinks, smaller and smaller until the size of the smallest of dragons and she sits in my hand, then safe in my pocket. 

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Moontrug: If you could ride a dragon to anywhere in the world today, where would you go?

Jackie Morris: Today I would go nowhere, because it is beautiful here where I am. The birds are singing, the air like silk and the sea sending quiet waves to shore. I might fly up, to the cool, to look down, to race the birds, but I would come back here, always, because I am lucky enough to live where I love. 

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Moontrug: Which part of the dragon do you like drawing the most? (You always do eyes amazingly and I thought your flower dragon had beautiful wings!)

Jackie Morris: The eyes. And the wings. The claws and the jaws and the teeth. The scales and the skin. The whole.

 

Moontrug: Where in the UK am I most likely to see a dragon?

Jackie Morris: Wales, of course. It was built with the help of dragons. If you walk to the top of the hill above my house and sit quiet and wait, close your eyes and listen, sometimes you can hear them. They are the land and the sky, the rocks and the grass, the earth and the air. 

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Moontrug: I’m in love with the ice-dragon. Does he have a name?

Jackie Morris: None of my dragons have names that we would know. None of the people do either and it was a battle hard fought with my publishers to keep it that way. I thought that by naming the people it acted to exclude the reader, whereas by not giving them names it invites the reader to become that person. I have a thing about names that comes from reading too much Ursula LeGuin. Naming gives power. Partrick Rothfuss knows this too. To know the name of a thing gives you a power over it. One of my favourite books is The Name of the Wind by P Rothfuss. My children are lucky to have names. I avoid naming my characters whenever I can and mostly my publishers seem not to  have noticed, so shhh… don’t tell them.

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Tell Me A Dragon is one of the most beautiful picture books Moontrug has come across. Each page offers up a new dream – of dragons who follow ‘silver moon-paths’ and have ‘whisper-thin wings of rainbow hues.’ Just like Morris’ Snow Leopard, every word in this book carries with it an ancient magic. Fantastical creatures are stirring all around us, up in the sky, down in the sea, far away on the ice plains and tucked into river valleys… It’s impossible to get to the end of the book without dreaming up your own dragon, imagining what it would like look and how it would sound. Morris’ magic has a sort of elemental feel, as if her stories are imbued with the power of wind spirits and far away lands. And Moontrug reckons that if she was given this book at school, it would have been a whole lot more helpful than the sheets of times-tables that were shoved her way. Times-tables may teach you to add up but Morris’ books teach you how to dream – and that’s the kind of thing Moontrug wants to be discovering…

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The Tell Me A Dragon art will be shown at Hornsey Library (London, N8 9JA) from 8th July (6:30-8pm for the opening night exhibition on 8th July) and the book will also be part of the Summer Reading Challenge. And if that’s not enough, Jackie Morris has made some of the art into puzzles, available from Solva Woollen Mill, AND she is giving away one signed copy of Tell Me A Dragon to the person who can draw their own dragon and write a sentence describing it – like she has done below. Send entries to abi@moontrug.com by 1st September 2014 and Moontrug and Morris will select a winner! Good luck!

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Winner of Moontrug’s Footprint Story-Writing Competition!

Moontrug is pleased to announce the WINNER of the latest story-writing competition. We had loads of fantastic entries for the ‘Footprint Competition’ (entrants had to write a story that in some way included footprints) but 11-year-old Lili Stanley’s Lonely No More, about a lonely ogre conducting midnight cat robberies, was the stand out winner! Here’s Lili’s wonderful story – and keep an eye out for the latest competitions on Moontrug (we’ve got signed copies of Allan Borough’s Ironheart to give away AND copies of Pamela Butchart’s hilarious The Spy Who Loved School Dinners!).

Lonely No More
by Lili Stanley (aged 11)

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The ogre trudged along the sandy beach. He was coming out for his midnight walk: a midnight robbery. His feet were as big as dustbins lying down flat, making trenches in the sand. Children would be running along this beach in the morning, wondering what made these holes. But not now. No, the children were all tucked up in bed, feeling safe under the covers. They would be here soon. He had to hurry, if he was caught he would be put in a zoo, and people would pass, staring. Children would push their noses up against the glass, staring at this big ogre. It would also mean people would know ogres existed; they would be hunted down and trapped – and taken to zoos. They would become extinct, he would never see another ogre again. Not that he knew of any in that area. He couldn’t actually recall the last time he had seen another ogre. But being in a zoo. He shivered. No, that would not do, that would not do at all. He could not be seen. He quickened his step.
The ogre’s name was Jonny. I know what youre thinking, “Jonny doesn’t sound very scary.” Well thats because he’s not. Even though people think ogres are scary, a lot of them are a bit wet. (If you dont know what that means, it means they are a bit soft and get scared easily.)
Jonny loved cats. And he stole them every night, from unsuspecting houses. He took them back to his cave and played with them. You see, he was the only ogre around. He had no friends or family that he knew of. He was lonely. Very lonely. All he ever wanted was a friend, but humans would put him in a zoo, so no, he had to stay hidden.
Jonny knew no one was awake at this hour, he knew they would all be asleep. But this night one little boy looked out of his window. He had not been able to sleep. A great shape moved past his window. And carried on down the road.
The boy’s mouth hung wide open. He had read in stories about ogres but never thought it to be true. The boy went over to his drawers and got out a torch, he crept down stairs and through the front door and into the night.
Jonny put his hand into a house he took out the little cat and started to head home. Across the sandy beach and back to his cave.
The boy followed Jonny. He had to run to keep up with the ogre. It was a big effort. Soon they arrived. There was a massive rock in front of Jonny’s cave. For Jonny it was just like a step that you have on stairs. But for the boy it was a lot harder. He scrambled up the rock and finally he was at the top. There was a curtain and the boy pushed it across. A sea of cats surrounded him. A cat came over to him.
Hello little cat.” He smiled. Oops. Jonny looked round.
Who are you?” Jonny boomed.
I….I…I’m George. I didnt mean any harm.” He stuttered.
Is there anyone else with you?” Jonny asked. George shook his head. “Well then, that is Mable you are stroking. I got her two months back.” Jonny smiled. “Would you like some cake?”
The sun rose. And George’s parents soon noticed he was missing. And they called the police. But George knew his mum and dad would be worrying, so he said good bye to Jonny and set off back home.
George climbed in through his window and went down stairs pretending he had never left. But of course he saw the police downstairs and knew he would not be able to keep his story up.
George! Where were you?” George’s mum cried.
I was….just…um…”
George, have you been anywhere near the beach? Only there are some footprints in the sand and we think it’s connected to the cats that have gone missing, or as we think stolen!”
Jonny!” George exclaimed. He rushed out. George ran along the sand, he could not let the police catch Jonny. He climbed up the rock and into Jonny’s cave.
Oh hi George. You’re back early. Would you like a cup of tea?”
George bent over panting. “The police, they found your footprints. They’re coming.”
What? Did you tell them about me?” Jonny asked. George shook his head. “We must run.” Jonny picked George up and bolted out the opening of the cave. The police looked up.
George was on Jonny’s shoulder and he whispered in Jonny’s ear “Run”. So Jonny ran, up past the beach and onto the high street, he ran right out of the town and onto the motorway. The police reacted very quickly and were soon racing off after Jonny and George.
What do we do now?” asked George “Hold on tight, I’m going to speed up.” Jonny started to sprint. He ran past a cliff and into a small cave, it was a squeeze but he managed it somehow. Blue and white lights flashed and sirens wailed. Cars wizzed passed.
I think we’ll be safe here.” Jonny pushed back against the wall.
Where can we go? We can’t stay here for long.” George said.
Well, we can go to France? But…..You should go back to your family. It’s not fun being alone.” Jonny sighed a sad sigh.
I won’t be alone. I’ll have you. Anyway I can’t go back there, they found out about you there be too many questions.” George Smiled. “ I’m staying with you.”
When the sun had gone down they set off, walking to Paris in the moonlight. No one ever knew what happened on that day, all except a pair who were never seen again. Jonny stopped stealing cats after that he didnt need to because he had found all the friends and family he needed. George.

Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane – Tunnock’s tea cake anyone?

Hay Festival saw some pretty mean rain clouds but in amongst the drizzle, Moontrug spotted a flash of red. Could it be a 1961 Vintage Ford Zodiac Convertible ‘Miniature’ zooming through the mud? Indeed it was. Dixie O’Day, the main character in Clara Vulliamy and Shirley Hughes’ Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane, (5-8 years) had arrived…

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Just as Dixie is the driver in the book and Percy the map reader, so Vulliamy is the illustrator and her mother, Shirley Hughes, writes the words. And possibly one of the funniest bits of Vulliamy’s talk at Hay was when she showed us some of her family photographs and there was one of a scene with a Christmas tree, tinsel, wrapped presents and snow, and Vulliamy asked the children: ‘Can anyone tell me what day of the year this photo was taken on?’ A hand shot straight up and a little boy said: ‘Friday.’ And THAT is why I think kids are so cool…

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Vulliamy revealed where the idea for her Dixie O’Day books had come from: ‘When I was little I used to love watching a TV programme called Whacky Races and so I invented my own whacky race from Didsworth to Dodsworth for Dixie and Percy.’ Vulliamy then showed us a fabulous page of illustrations detailing the other racers: goats driving a rocket, cows steering a side car, mice pulling a cheese trailer, otters flopping about in a bath tub car – the imaginative scope was awesome and if Moontrug had a whacky car she’d be cruising around in a cloud pedalled by moon sylphs.

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Somehow Vulliamy managed to read from her book AND draw the scene at the same time (luckily she wasn’t arrested for draw-driving) – Moontrug particularly enjoyed Vulliamy’s made up word THWONK and was amazed that what began simply as a pair of sunglasses turned into Lowella in her pink sports car… And bravo, Vulliamy, for scribbling all over Lowella in permanent marker when she didn’t stop to help Dixie and Percy with their smoking car. Vulliamy let us peek inside Dixie and Percy’s hamper (think roast dinners, baked beans, a thermos, Tunnock’s teacakes, Gin and Tonics, chocolate rice pudding and kitkats) and by the end of the talk Moontrug felt super hungry, both for Tunnock’s tea cakes AND a desire to read the Dixie O’Day books right away…

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Guess which character Michelle Paver has a crush on?!

If Moontrug could have a banana milkshake with three of her favourite middle-grade (8-12 years) authors she would go for Philip Pullman, Eva Ibbotson and Michelle Paver. Okay, so Moontrug didn’t exactly manage a banana milkshake with Michelle Paver at Hay Festival but she did manage to hear her speak about her Gods & Warriors books and meet her after the event… And that is second best to a milkshake.

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Paver’s best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series conjures an elemental magic born in the Stone Ages while her more recent Gods & Warriors books deal with Bronze Age adventures – an Ancient Greece where lions and wolves still roam the hills and a mountain boy, Hylas, is on the run with the daughter of a High Priestess, Pirra. Paver talked of the everyday fears looming over individuals in Ancient Greece: ‘Life back then was uncertain for everybody. Will a storm sink our ship? Will an earthquake flatten our hut? People were always looking for signs from the Gods about what was going to happen next. So my magic isn’t about wands and wizards; it’s about a magic people back then genuinely believed in: the spirit of the mountain, the Earthshaker, the Black Beneath…’

AlejandroColuccuiTheOutsiders1Read Moontrug’s review of The Outsiders

Paver creates some of the best child-animal bonds out there (up there with Michael Morpurgo’s). In The Outsiders she brings us a dolphin, the cleverest animal known to man – but she admits: ‘It would have been hard to get a dolphin inland to the volcano Hylas escapes to so in my second book, The Burning Shadow, I chose to have a lion cub called Havoc, the strongest animal that would have roamed the hills of Ancient Greece. And in the third book, I go for the fastest animal in the world, the falcon.’

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Moontrug likes to get out and have adventures as part of the research for writing books – and it seems like Paver does, too. ‘I never use the internet for research. I spend all my time in libraries pouring over amazing books – and out in the wild exploring where my characters would have been. Recently I hiked in the mountains in Greece like Hylas would have done; I found broken deer antlers which Hylas would have used – as a weapon against the Crows and as a fish hook to hunt (he would have bound the antlers with the stems of stinging nettles acting as rope).’ Paver showed us a piece of flint from ancient times which Hylas (and Fin-Kedinn from Chronicles of Ancient Darkness) would have used as an axe head. It got Moontrug thinking – if the UK’s male hunter-gatherer/uber explorer is Bear Grylls then Paver is our female version. She knew EVERYTHING about how people in Ancient Greece hunted: ‘If Hylas killed a rabbit, he’d use the long bones for fish spears and needles, the stringy bones as thread, the heart for food, the eyes as glue, the brain to rub into the hide to polish the leather.’ BOOM.

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Paver has swum with dolphins as research for her character, Spirit, and heard the web of flickering, clicking sounds of the pod beneath the sea, ‘not unlike a sky of stars’ Paver said. She met the eyes of a wild dolphin before it sunk into its deep, blue world and Paver admitted: ‘I wanted to follow it but I wasn’t part of its world. Perhaps that’s why I had Hylas dive down into the sea on Spirit’s back and then come spluttering back up, gasping for air, as he realised he couldn’t follow’. Paver’s watched lion cubs – and even been charged by their mother. ‘You can’t get this kind of research from the internet or even from books; you have to experience it.’

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Paver finished off with a few Q&As so Moontrug thought she’d spill some top-author secrets:

  • Paver has a massive crush on Fin-Kedinn from Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
  • Wolves are Paver’s favourite animals. She bottle-fed a wolf cub called Torak and he still licks her face and puts his paws on her shoulders when she visits him
  • It takes Paver a year to write a book
  • She wouldn’t change anything about the books she’s already published because she does about 30 drafts of each one so a lot of editing already happens before publication!
  • Paver’s first ever memory was of a large, wolf-like dog called Sheba. Sheba used to protect Paver as a kid in Africa. That memory bubbled in her mind and she knew she wanted to write a book about a boy and a wolf
  • The character she’d make real would be Spirit the dolphin because he could still be free and roam the seas
  • The book she likes most out of the ones she’s written is always the one she’s currently writing, so right now that’s The Eye of the Falcon
  • The first story she ever wrote was called Ebony the Mouse Goddess and she was 5 when she wrote it
  • Her tip on writing a book is to ask yourself two questions: what does my character want? does she/he get what she/he wants?
  • She dreamt up the ending for her book, Spirit Walker, in a yoga lesson!

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Ghostly guinea pigs and pampered poodles

Step aside Sherlock. Moontrug has been on the hunt for female detectives recently – and after discovering Rachel Hamilton’s Know-All from The Case of the Exploding Loo – she’s now uncovered another brilliant investigator: Kate Pankhurst’s fabulous Mariella Mystery.  Sherlock may have had speckled bands and engineer’s thumbs to contend with but Mariella has ghostly guinea pigs and pampered poodles. You gotta love an alliterative mystery…

Mariella Mystery

Whilst most of the grown up world were sitting in offices last Tuesday pondering things like tax returns and rent increases, Moontrug was trundling through Wales on a bookish adventure – to Hay festival. There she met the talented Kate Pankhurst – and her GIANT ghostly guinea pig (big fan of him). Kate admitted she wanted to be an illustrator when she was only 10 years old: ‘I loved the stories that used to fly around school – of ghosts, rumours and unexplained events – so perhaps it’s fitting that I ended up writing a detective series… I start my stories with a doodle (in this case it was of a curly-haired girl holding a magnifying glass) and then the story comes from there.’

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What makes Pankhurst such a fantastic writer is the way she combines a plot full of twists and turns with super funny ideas. Cue mysteries about ghostly guinea pigs and pampered poodles… And her characterisation of Mariella is superb – I am definitely asking Father Christmas for Mariella’s Super Sleuth Handbook this year. As soon as Pankhurst explained that the handbook showcased the very best equipment for super sleuths, she had kids jumping up and down in their seats inventing gadgets: shirt buttons that record things and special binoculars that see inside cakes…

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Mariella Mystery may only be 9 years old but she’s able to solve the most mysterious mysteries and perplexing problems, even before breakfast, as she declares at the start of her first case case: ‘I’ve only been up for forty-five minutes and I’ve already solved a mystery. I’m definitely getting better at being a detective.’ When her teacher, Miss Crumble, spots the ghost of her pet guinea pig (the wonderfully named Mr Darcy) in her back garden, she doesn’t know what to think. But Mariella knows it’s up to her and her fellow Mystery Girls to get to the bottom of The Case of the Ghostly Guinea Pig. And so Mariella’s career as a detective is born…

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Pankhurst had the kids at Hay drawing their own Mariellas (using a volunteer child dressed up in a detective-y overcoat and sporting a fake moustache), admitting that sometimes she illustrates Mariella wearing clothes she loves, like stripy tights and converse trainers. Given the weather at Hay that day, I felt Mariella could have done with a pair of wellies and a high-tech video-camera-ed umbrella. The Mariella Mystery books are exciting and funny books for 7+ years and Moontrug is so excited about getting stuck into the first one – before following up with poodles, hair scares and spaghetti yettis…

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Baby Aliens Got My Teacher!

Moontrug’s primary school years were dominated by two things: unicorns and forming clubs with complicated passwords. BULC (‘club’ backwards) was the most memorable club. Details below:

 

Members (from left to right): Abi (Moontrug), Lucy, Georgie, Eleanor  (the Angus girls)
Meeting Place: the girls’ loos
Password: so complicated Moontrug has forgotten it
Secret handshake: involved a starjump
Day-to-day activities: building dens, investigating our teachers, making potions

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Just when Moontrug thought she’d try to be a bit more grown up (host dinner-parties instead of den-making sessions and make Jamie Oliver meals instead of brewing potions), she stumbled across a hilarious book which brought BULC memories flooding back… Pamela Butchart’s Baby Aliens Got My Teacher.

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Izzy and her friends are really surprised when Miss Jones starts being nice to them. After all, this is the teacher who secretly smiled when Maisie Miller fell off her chair that time. And then a teddy bear appears on her desk with ‘You’re Great’ written on its tummy. Miss Jones isn’t a teddy bear kind of person. She’s more of a hates-puppies-and-thinks-kittens-are-ugly kind of person. And that’s when they know – Miss Jones has been taken over by aliens. And now she’s trying to turn them all into aliens, too. RUN!!!

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Izzy’s narration is brilliantly funny and perfectly captures the wild imaginings of 7/8 year-olds. By page 2, Butchart already had me in giggles. Izzy finds a crisp that looks exactly like her neighbour Mrs Cunningham: ‘I obviously did NOT eat it. I put it in an envelope and carefully posted it through Mrs Cunningham’s letter box. Because that’s what I would want someone to do if they found a crisp shaped exactly like me (also called a crisp twin.’) Izzy’s humour is SO SO well done – and you feel yourself carried away with her hilarious interpretations of events. Her friends are equally great (pea-phobic Zach, mega-tantrum Jodie and faint-a-lot Maisie) – and Moontrug would have LOVED to have been in their gang…

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Jodie’s thoughts on why Miss Jones might be acting strangely are the kind of things Moontrug would have come up with: ‘So me and Jodie sat together and tried to find out why Miss Jones was being so weird. Jodie said that one time her aunty started doing lots of weird things, like saying: “Good morning, Jeffrey!” to an orange and pouring milk on her violin. The doctor had said that is was STRESS.’ And Izzy’s excitement about attending a ‘meeting’ outside the den is awesome: ‘I didn’t know what to bring so I just brought a bag of crisps, four biscuits from the cupboard, my good pens and Dad’s torch.’ Essential meeting equipment – Moontrug would have also added: one balaclava (in case robberies were intended).

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Butchart’s humour is partly due to the fantastic absurdities in her plot (aliens, teddies, classroom meditation) but also because she captures exactly the way children think and speak. Check out possibly the BEST late-for-school excuse ever from Izzy: ‘So I told her about the terrapin… but I couldn’t tell her about the other [late] because it was Dad’s fault and he had said not to tell Mum. So I said that the other one was a terrapin too and then she sent me to my room.’ Similarly, Zach’s melodramatic goodbye text to his mother as the alien invasion reaches its peak, is priceless: ‘I love you Mum. Goodbye. P.S. I’m sorry I didn’t change the cat litter.’ Baby Aliens Got My Teacher is a laugh-out-loud book for 6-8-year-olds, full of imaginative twists, boundless energy and lots of rule-breaking. So to celebrate its alien wonderfulness, Moontrug is offering up a copy of Pamela Butchart’s latest book, The Spy Who Loved School Dinners, to the person who can draw an extraordinary alien and write a few sentences about it. Entries should be sent to: abi@moontrug.com before September 1st.

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Why are there no penguins on Mastermind?

Moontrug has a very long list at home (not of ordinary things like food to buy at the supermarket or chores to do around the house) – she has a list of literary crushes (characters from books she thinks are cute). Particular highlights on the list are: Will Parry from Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife, Will Potter from Emma Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall and, of course, Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. There is something seriously cool about a guy who can walk into a room and ‘know’ a person’s story before they’ve even opened their mouth. It got Moontrug thinking though – there are lots of books about male detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Wild Boy, Raphael in Trash) – so where are the ladiiiiieeeeesss?! Cue Rachel Hamilton’s seriously funny debut for 8-12 years, The Case of The Exploding Loo.

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Having engaged in a literary rap battle with Hamilton last month, Moontrug decided to delve inside the mystery of the exploding loo… Wacky scientist Professor Brian ‘Big Brain’ Hawkins has vanished in a portaloo explosion, leaving only his smoking shoes behind. His daughter, Noelle, has an IQ of 157 and a photographic memory (but is NOT a mutant freak, whatever her sister, Holly, says). She’s born a Sherlock and the perfect person to investigate. Sort of.

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Noelle, or Know-All as she’s called by most, narrates the story with suitable academic charm: ‘Our local police are not displaying the dedication to crime-fighting I’ve come to expect from watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on TV. They certainly don’t solve as many crimes.’ Her earnest determination to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance is often hilarious, particularly as Noelle has no idea that the local police find her repeated phone calls unbearably irritating: ‘Some of [PC Eric’s] fellow officers groan. Maybe they have food poisoning. I’ve heard bad things about police canteens.’

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Noelle is a truly original detective, full of Sherlockian brains and style: ‘I always travel around school at speed because a moving target is harder to hit’ and her diagrams to explain her thought processes are so funny. Check out Noelle’s pie chart showing the percentage of students supporting the most popular theories about what Ms Grimm, the Maths teacher, does when she’s not teaching Maths. Morgue attendant and Witch were Moontrug’s faves…

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But alongside Noelle’s quest to find out where her father is sits her relationship with her ‘explosive’ sister, Holly. Hamilton develops their relationship superbly as Noelle learns to appreciate her sister’s hands-on approach to solving the crime and Holly begins to understand that Noelle is less of a mutant freak than she had believed. Moontrug particularly liked watching Holly wield her chainsaw (that bit would be AMAZING as a film!) and the moment where Holly tries to teach Noelle to stand up to bullies:

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Noelle’s methodical way of thinking is both interesting and amusing: ‘Breakfast: herrings and green leafy vegetables because oily fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids that improve the performance of the brain cell membranes. So why are there no penguins on Mastermind?’ and the plot is full of twists and turns, facts and diagrams, clues and findings – perfect for inquisitive 8-12 year olds who like a bit of rule breaking. As Noelle’s friend, Porter, says, ‘Best time to break a rule is straight after you’ve been punished for the last one. No one suspects you’re still up to no good.’

Secrets at Frost Hollow Hall…

Moontrug likes to make a habit of doing the opposite of what most other people are doing: she goes down up escalators, rushes out into thunderstorms and eats pizza with a lot of ketchup. So perhaps it was unsurprising when, on the hottest day of the year so far, she decided to read the most wintry-named book she could find: Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll.

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In the middle of a frozen lake, a girl is skating. She’s not supposed to be here. No one is. Not since Kit Barrington drowned at Frost Hollow Hall ten years ago. But the dead don’t scare Tilly Higgins. The ice is thin. It cracks. Suddenly she’s under the water, drowning. Near death, a strange spirit appears to her, a boy so beautiful Tilly is sure he’s an angel. But he’s a ghost. A very troubled ghost. And he desperately needs her help…

So, Moontrug reckons there are four basic things that make a brilliant book:

1. a strong narrative voice
2. an engaging protagonist
3. an original plot
4. a captivating setting

And Emma Carroll managed to nail each one! She even chucked in a gorgeous guy called Will Potter – and he’s as fanciable as Will from Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife. Well done, Carroll. We like.

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The mysterious setting of Frost Hollow Hall lures you in from the start, just as it does Tilly: ‘like I’d been tied with an invisible thread and someone at the Hall was on the other end of it, reeling me in.’ There is something of Conan Doyle’s Baskerville Hall and Joan Aiken’s Willoughby Chase in Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall. It’s a place beckoning both Tilly and her friend, Will, in – luring them towards secrets and ghosts: ‘It had got colder. By now the sun was low and red in the sky, and the air so still not even the trees stirred. High above my head, rooks circled and cawed to each other. At my back, the copse grew darker.’ But Carroll’s settings aren’t just helpful backdrops – they’re at the forefront of her brilliantly written action scenes: ‘Black, stinking water spewed over the ice. It sucked at my skirts. And it was cold. So cold it knocked the breath clean out of me… Slowly, gently, the lake closed over my head and all went quiet but for the blood pounding in my ears. I went down and down into blackness.’

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Tilly is a fantastic heroine, as feisty as Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua and as brave as Borrough’s India Bentley. Will Potter might have dares in store for her but as Tilly says, ‘Now I’ve got a dare for you.’ She’s not afraid to thump Will – and Moontrug loved the way their friendship developed. Tilly might feel all alone at Frost Hollow Hall with its dark secrets and grief-stricken mistress, but in the background there is Will’s loyalty, humour and bravery – and set against Tilly’s impoverished family life and the eerie circumstances she finds herself in, that’s kinda cool. Carroll presents the ghostly aspects of the plot in a subtle yet powerfully frightening way: ‘The whispering started just inches from my ear, a hissing, lisping sound that made my scalp prickle. I shrank back in horror. Tried to pull free. But the grip was fierce. Fingernails bit through the sleeve of my frock.’ The unravelling of the secrets stored at Frost Hollow Hall is brilliantly done and keeps you enthralled page after page after page. Frost Hollow Hall is a fantastic mystery story for 9-12s and I can’t wait to read Carroll’s latest book, out August 2014, The Girl Who Walked On Air. This is an author to watch…

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Petr Horacek talks sledging at midnight & marshmallow moons

Following her literary rap battle with author Rachel Hamilton, Moontrug is now super excited to be talking munching moons with best-selling author of the adorable picture book, The Mouse Who Ate The Moon, Petr Horacek. Having decided a literary rap battle would be a bit too full on for a book about a little mouse, Moontrug thought she’d orbit her way through some moon-based questions with Horacek instead…

urlLittle Mouse dreams of having a piece of the moon for herself. If you could have one magical wish come true, what would it be?

 

Thinking about answering this question could keep me busy for hours. It’s raining outside, so as I sit in my armchair I close my eyes and I’m dreaming… I have so many wishes and so many ideas. Half an hour later and I still can’t choose just one wish I would have. I think…. being able to fly. Yes, that’s the one. I would like to be able to fly.

 

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Little Mouse’s story takes place on a starlit, moon-filled night. Do you have a memory of a night like that?

 

Oh, I love full moons! The best full moons are in the mountains, when the moonlight reflects on the sparkly snow. Everything is blue. Sledging at midnight. I also used to sleep in the summer under the open sky looking at the moon. I sometimes go for moonwalks with friends.

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If you could have a little nibble of the moon, what do you imagine it would taste like?

 

It would definitely taste like a marshmallow. Even the colour and texture is right.

 

Apparently the tallest mountain on the moon is called Mons Huygens. If Little Mouse, Mole and Rabbit were to have a race up Mons Huygens, who would win and why?

 

Little Mouse would win. Rabbits never run straight. They always run zig-zag and they sit and run and sit again. Mole doesn’t run. He knows better. He can’t be bothered. Mouse would win, because she would run straight to the top. No messing around. She is determined.

 

Little Mouse does her moon-gazing in stripy orange and yellow socks. Did you have a favourite pair of pyjamas as a child? (Moontrug did – they were navy blue scattered with bright yellow stars and her teddy wore matching ones…)

 

I actually never had favourite pyjamas. Pyjamas don’t last long on me. They always loose buttons and they get torn. Who knows what I’m doing when I sleep. In bed I wear a t-shirt embroidered with a picture of Suzy Goose. It’s a hand made Christmas present by my daughter Cecilia. I have another one with Puffin Peter.

 

The Mouse Who Ate The Moon is a gorgeous peep-through picture book with each page drawing you further and further into Little Mouse’s world of wonder…

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I didn’t expect to encounter a dragon in my wellies…

I didn’t expect to encounter a dragon in my wellies but that’s sometimes how things go. Hay Festival last week was pretty wet (lots of looming black clouds, squelchy mud and dripping umbrellas)… But as I tramped through the puddles towards the Starlight Stage I didn’t care about the rain – because inside that tent three best-selling authors, Justin Somper, Charlie Fletcher and Philip Womack, had gathered to talk about Dragons, Heroes and Assassins. Eek.

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Chaired by the renowned children’s books editor for The Guardian, Julia Eccleshare, the authors gave us an insight into their fantasy worlds. Somper, author of the best-selling Vampirates books, has now released the first book in his Allies & Assassins series. The ruler of Archenfield, Anders, has been murdered and it’s up to the heir, Prince Jared, and the Council of Twelve, to solve the murder and protect the princedom. Somper read aloud from Allies & Assassins, drawing us into his world of betrayal, bravery and threat. And just when Moontrug thought the plot was going one way, Somper hit us with a line that undermined everything that had gone before. Anders’ murder is more complicated than it seems…

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Fletcher, author of the much-praised Stoneheart trilogy, is now working on his Dragon Shield series. Despite bringing his kids up in Los Angeles, he discovered inspiration for his children’s books back in London. LA might have given him frozen yoghurt chains and great weather, but London gave him a city dripping with story and myth… Dragon Shield opens with two children, Will and Jo, in a hospital. Something dark awakens inside the British Museum and it stops time, literally freezing the city in its tracks. The people are there, but unmoving, unseeing – like statues. The statues, on the other hand, can move… It’s up to Will and Jo to fight back against dragons and gargoyles and to rid London of the evil that stalks its streets. As a Londoner right now, Moontrug can’t wait to ‘walk the streets’ of this book and when Fletcher read out an extract, Moontrug could actually see the coils of black smoke rising from the ferocious dragon and hear its barbed tongue flick back and forth at the sight of Will and Jo. It was as if the dragon was actually lurking behind the Starlight stage – and let’s face it, wellies aren’t exactly a catalyst for a quick escape…

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Womack, author of the much-celebrated Liberators and The Other Book, has now embarked on a new trilogy: The Darkening Path series. The idea for the first book, The Broken King, (out later this month) came from a line from Shakespeare’s play, King Lear: ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.’ And from that one line came a world of black swans, brave knights, suns and moons. When Simon’s little sister is mysteriously snatched away to a dark other world, he is sent by a golden messenger on a dizzying quest to get her back. With him is Flora, whose brother has also vanished, and a strange boy who rescues them from a violent attack. To enter the land of the Broken King they must complete three tasks: Eat the Shadow. Steal the Sun. Break the Air. Just the kind of riddle-y magic Moontrug LOVES – and perfectly revealed when Womack read aloud from his book – of the swan’s mysterious power and its unsettling darkness…

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Each author was asked what the hardest part about writing books was. Somper gave us distractions (all the millions of other things dragging us away from the story), Fletcher admitted it was getting overly excited about ‘the next idea’ when he’s only on the first book of a series (Moontrug gets that A LOT) and Womack revealed it was the editing – the idea that when you finish a first draft of your book you think it’s fab – then you leave it a week and when you revisit it you realise how much you have to change. All three authors had the Starlight crowd enthralled by their words and books and before Moontrug had to leg it (in her wellies) for a train back to London, they revealed the things they’d be doing if they weren’t writers. Justin Somper would be a gardener, or (he admitted later) a winery owner; Charlie Fletcher would be a silversmith and Philip Womack would be ‘a lot richer.’ Much as Moontrug loves wine, silver and shiny coins, she’s very glad these three are writers – because they bring us dragons, heroes and assassins lurking in worlds beyond our own – and that is pretty cool.

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