ONE WISH by Michelle Harrison

Five years ago, Moontrug’s mum gave her a book to read, saying ‘Apparently kids are raving about this one; it’s got bad-tempered fairies in it so you’re bound to love it.’ And sure enough, in Michelle Harrison’s 13 Treasures, Moontrug discovered a world of sinister fairies seen only by humans with the second sight – and she was hooked. Because the fairies weren’t flittering Tinkerbells who sprinkle flying dust over innocent children, but petulant sprites who use devilish glamour and commit mischievous deeds. And so when Moontrug’s fabby publishers-to-be, Simon & Schuster, said Michelle Harrison had written a prequel to the series, Moontrug leapt at the chance to review it.

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The Spinney Wicket Wishing Tree can grant your heart’s desire – just wish out loud, or hang a message from its branches. It sounds as though the Wishing Tree is just a sweet old tradition, but Tanya is only too aware how real its magic could be. Tanya can see fairies, and would love to meet someone else can see them too. When she meets Ratty and his cheeky fairy, Turpin, it seems at last she’s found them. But Ratty has a secret, and a dangerous enemy who’ll stop at nothing to get to him. Tanya must use her one wish to save her new friend – but wishes should be used wisely…

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At the heart of the story is the Spinney Wicket Wishing Tree, adorned with colourful ribbons, strips of cloth and dozens of different shaped bottles filled with wishes. The moment Moontrug read about it, the story came alive – because let’s face it, magical trees like JK Rowling’s Whomping Willow and JRR Tolkien’s Ents ROCK – and Harrison’s tree comes with a fabulous rhyming voice. The magic that’s rooted in Tanya’s story is brilliantly mischievous, with tooth fairies who leave half-chewed spat-out toffees on pillows and sew children’s into their clothes… But Moontrug’s absolute favourite had to be the glorious Turpin the Terrible. She’s laugh-out-loud funny, fabulously cheeky and underneath the glower, has a heart of gold. Moontrug was chuckling out loud when Tanya bathed Turpin: ‘Turpin stuck out her bottom lip and folded her arms. “No. Nope. No way” ‘ and when she crawled down the well with Tanya: ‘ “Did you just hit me with that torch?” Tanya exploded. “Shh,” Turpin whispered. “Wasn’t a hit anyway. Just a little nudge.” ‘

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But alongside Turpin Harrison gives us fairies who’ve been forgotten, like the resentful Thingy, and malevolent creatures who lurk in the depths of rivers. Moontrug’s blood curdled at the description of Nessie Needleteeth (‘Water gushed in through silver-green teeth that jutted out in thin, spiteful spikes. Its fat tongue sat like a bloated slug.’) And the river chase scene, with Nessie Needleteeth and the strange girl-creature, is brilliantly written – it had Moontrug’s heart pumping for pages! The evil lurking in both Tanya’s world and the fey world is frighteningly real and Moontrug loved that ‘mixed up magicky places’ are on the fringes of our own world.’ The imaginative scope is huge – think spells involving a twist of a rainbow and seven dragon scales ‘best performed by someone left-handed, but, if not, then any time between Monday and Thursday.’ One Wish is a fantastic read for 8+ years, full of adventure, humour, danger – and above all – MAGIC…

THE SAVAGE KINGDOM by Simon David Eden

Moontrug has been doing a lot of book research on wildcats recently – because her main character tends to hang around with one most of the time. He’s called Gryff and he’s very wild (apparently wildcats are the only animals that can’t be tamed), he makes a grumbly Brrrooooo sound when he’s saying hello and he can reach 30mph when running). In short, he’s EPIC. And so Moontrug was delighted to see that author Simon David Eden had written a book called The Savage Kingdom, an unforgettable tale about courage, hope, loyalty and the unbreakable bond between a girl and her cat…

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When Drue’s beloved cat, Will-C, goes missing, she’s unaware that his disappearance is the start of the greatest global conflict the world has ever known. The animal kingdom has declared war on mankind, and now domesticated creatures must choose who to fight for: Man or Beast. Cast into a world of danger, but determined to rescue Will-C and bring him home, Drue embarks on a quest and makes an astonishing discovery: a mysterious ancient tribe called the Nsray, who have lived in the shadows since the dawn of time, are about to shape the future – but can they save mankind? And what role is Drue herself destined to play?

Mosey  Bea  author copyThe real cats that inspired Eden’s story

The reader is thrown into the story head first with a fabulously dramatic prologue: ‘But, as the rodents closed ranks and began to advance, and the mink rose up on its hind legs, hissed and bared its needle-sharp teeth, Drue realised, to her horror, that what was happening was all too real.’ The sense of threat is all too real as the animals gather together to destroy the human race and Will-C’s bravery standing up to the brilliantly named but utterly horrid Natterjack is fantastic. He’s an awesome cat (I think he and Gryff would be friends) and his owner, Drue, is a gloriously feisty female lead. She’s stubborn, curious and unimaginably brave. And Moontrug is loving the fact that so many great authors are now rolling out strong female protagonists: Meggie Folchart from Inkheart, Oona Kavanagh from The Black North, India Bentley from Ironheart…

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Not only does Eden present us with a plot that matters (Moontrug nearly jumped up and fist-pumped the air when the giant white-tailed eagle rescued Drue), he gives us a few pearls of wisdom along the way. Whether it’s Liliuk talking to Drue: ‘Sometimes the things we’re forced to endure are the things that truly make us who we are’ or Will-C’s father speaking to Will-C: ‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow’, Eden offers up some thought-provoking and wise ideas. Similarly, Eden’s outlook on the natural world is a delight to read and the inter-connectedness of man with nature is powerfully done: ‘It was Will-C who had first shown him how the trees’ powerful living energy fields snaked from one to another like writing, invisible serpents, and how, with practice, it was possible to tap into them to calm the nerves or clear the mind.’ On the outset the book sounds like MEGA fantasy but the way Eden writes and explains the Nsray shape-shifting is so realistically done; it’s just ‘seeing things in a different way.’ Moontrug loves that idea – it sort of brings magic much closer in, as if it’s just beyond our fingertips if we only look at things the right way. As Drue’s father says: ‘Belief is a powerful weapon.’ The Savage Kingdom is a fantastic read for 10+ years and Moontrug is already excited about the sequel…

 

 

Winner of Moontrug’s ‘sunrise’ creative writing competition

For the past few months Moontrug has been sent some AMAZING stories for the ‘sunrise’ creative writing competition. The brief was as follows: Find out what time the sun rises where you are: Click Here For Sunrise Times.  Find a place where you know you will be able to see the sunrise (from a window in your house or even better – outside in the garden or on top of a hill) then set your alarm.  Give yourself plenty of time to get to your chosen place before the rest of the world wakes up – and then watch.  See the sun come up, watch the colours change, listen to the silence and the stillness. And then write your story (it can be any length so long as in some way your story features a sunrise). But there was one entry that literally blew Moontrug away, from an 11-year-old ‘author-in-the-making’ called Annabelle Ndiwe. A signed copy of Jasper Fforde’s brilliant The Last Dragonslayer is on its way to her and in the meantime, here is her story…

Reflections
 by Annabelle Ndiwe

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I tried to run away again yesterday.

 

I failed. I really thought that I could make it but, as per usual, when I got to the airport the police showed up, again. And took me home in their van, again. And gave me a pamphlet explaining the importance of not making my parents worry, again. I swear I’ve got about a hundred of those now. They’re all irrelevant though: the people ‘worrying’ weren’t my parents, they were my adopted jailers. My parents died ten years ago in a car accident. As did my freedom, happiness and recognition for the world. I threw my ‘leaving’ duffel bag back under my bed. One day. I mean I do still do things, if you count six hours of homework from my three home tutors. Sometimes I feel like Rapunzel. I’m trapped in a tower room of a life all because of one person’s mistake and now I just need a prince to climb up my social defence wall, kill my wicked adopted parents and whisk me away from this place.

 

As I stare out of my bedroom window, my only connection to the outside world, I watch the sun set. Like a glorious hero or a pop star performing, it puts on quite a show. The sun drags down in the west. The dark clouds of the evening overrun the sky but the focus remains on the sun. Slowly, while exuding the last bursts of its light, the sun tucks itself away. It falls. Sometimes I wish I was the sun. Everybody loves you. You make a difference and matter. And when you fall you’re missed.

 

When I fall, no one will care.

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I can always tell when the sunrise is coming; the scarce clouds in the east tint pink and pale light floods into the gap under them. I wait, shivering with apprehension in the cold and early morning. As I drag my eyes across the skyline I smile because hardly anyone is up. That’s why I love this time of day. The sky in the east is getting pinker and pinker and pinker as if an invisible paintbrush is colouring it in. Hardly anything moves at this time. All the trees are motionless, no people run around busy with their lives, only a few buses and vans pass by on the road. It’s perfect. I can forget everything in the endlessly far sky.

 

The air at this time of day is so strange. So free and untainted. It’s the same with the sounds. All you hear is a few bird calls from time to time. In fact the most defined sound is my own breathing. The wind, though not moving the trees, caps it all off. The conductor of the early morning orchestra.

 

Orange light floods over the east horizon, bringing the world closer to the day. Gray clouds compress the orange light but I know the sunrise will prevail. The protagonist always wins but you need a fight before the end. Shy at first, the sun peeks out a bit before gradually coming out of its shell. It rises like phoenix from the ashes that it left when it last set. The sky erupts with colour; an amber halo surrounding the rising sphere. And just like it’s meant to, it claims its place as king of the sky.

 

Watching the sunrise is so inspiring but today is the last time I’m watching it from my bedroom. I’ve decided that today is the day. I shut the window and reach for the duffel bag under my bed. For years now I’ve planned to leave. And today I will rise.

 

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As I sit by the window on my flight I can’t help but feel like crying. Not because I’m sad but because I’m happy. I’m finally free, I’m finally leaving. As I flick through the inflight magazine it starts to rain outside. Raindrops run down the window pane chasing each other. In a way, I’m kind of just like them: falling out of my clouded old lifestyle and on to a clear new one. In about nine hours I’ll be in Vancouver with my cousin Sasha. I tense up as the flight takes off. I love that weird feeling that you get, like you’re frozen in place. Soon enough we’re soaring through the clouds but the rain didn’t let up. I could see all the landmarks: Big Ben; The Houses of Parliament; and The London Eye. They all look so inferior. I felt like I was on top of the world. And I was on top, of my world. I could make my own decisions now and be free. I don’t care if I have to go to regular school or do chores or get a really sucky job. The important thing is that I’m going to be happy. I haven’t been happy for a long time.

As I sit by the window on my flight I can’t help but feel like crying. Not because I’m sad but because I’m happy. I’m finally free, I’m finally leaving. As I flick through the inflight magazine it starts to rain outside. Raindrops run down the window pane chasing each other. In a way, I’m kind of just like them: falling out of my clouded old lifestyle and on to a clear new one. In about nine hours I’ll be in Vancouver with my cousin Sasha. I tense up as the flight takes off. I love that weird feeling that you get, like you’re frozen in place. Soon enough we’re soaring through the clouds but the rain didn’t let up. I could see all the landmarks: Big Ben; The Houses of Parliament; and The London Eye. They all look so inferior. I felt like I was on top of the world. And I was on top, of my world. I could make my own decisions now and be free. I don’t care if I have to go to regular school or do chores or get a really sucky job. The important thing is that I’m going to be happy. I haven’t been happy for a long time.

 

As I look back outside at the rain I can’t help but think, isn’t it funny how the weather reflects me perfectly.

‘Violet and the Pearl of the Orient’ by Harriet Whitehorn

Any book that opens with the heroine hanging upside down from a tree is bound to win Moontrug over. And so Harriet Whitehorn’s debut 7+ years detective story, Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, begins. When the Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into Violet’s neighbourhood she’s sure there’s something strange about them. And when her eccentric neighbour, Dee Dee Derota, has a precious jewel called the Pearl of the Orient stolen, a series of clues make Violet think the new family are to blame. But with no one willing to listen to her, Violet’s going to need to use all her detective skills to uncover the truth…

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The book boasts a string of fabulously named characters: a cat called Pudding (short for Sticky Toffee Pudding), a headmistress called Mrs Rumperbottom and a malevolent man called Count Du Plicitous. But it’s Violet who really steals the show. Moontrug had been told by one of the UK’s top book bloggers, Jenny Davies (@WondrousReads on Twitter), that she would love Violet, so she was expecting BIG THINGS. And that’s exactly what Whitehorn gives. Violet’s capacity for adventure is brilliant (she climbs the forbidden tree again and again even though a fall from it broke her limb), she makes epic escape plans from her school (‘Plan A: striding straight forwardly and brazenly out of the front door’) and she won’t give up on finding the Pearl of the Orient (even if it means challenging the police).

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Whitehorn’s style of writing is effortlessly gorgeous. Not only does she introduce the characters by describing their favourite foods (‘you can tell a lot about a person from their favourite food’), she then perfectly captures the odious snobbery of the Du Plicitous family, with lines from Isabella Du Plicitous, like ‘That is locked because we are so rich and have so many valuable things’ as delectably foul as some of Dudley Dursley’s best ones in the Harry Potter books. The sense of adventure is carried forward by the impetuous Violet, and her nervous side-kick Rosie, as well as the beautiful illustrations by uber-talented Becka Moor. Moontrug is happy to know that it’s not just Sherlock Holmes solving clues out there any more; we’ve got some properly awesome girl detectives kicking around, too: Mariella Mystery, Noelle Hawkins and now, the totally charming and wonderfully clever, Violet Remy-Robinson.

 

 

 

 

 

Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them. In Scott Westerfeld’s AFTERWORLDS

When superstar author John Green (The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska) comments on the front of a book proof, it makes you sit up and pay attention. And on Scott Westerfeld’s latest YA (‘Young Adult’ / teen) novel, Afterworlds (out 25th September 2014), Green writes: ‘I recognise nothing of myself or any of my friends in this book. Well, except for the true parts, of course. And the parts that aren’t true certainly could’ve happened. But no, no, it’s all lies.’ Because that’s the thing with this book by the bestselling author of Uglies: writers will feel themselves in the story, because it’s TWO books in one…

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Landing a major publishing deal, teenager Darcy finds herself in New York City, and suddenly surrounded by the cream of YA authors. At the same time, Afterworlds, Darcy’s gripping thriller, begins to unfold… A novel within a novel. Each chapter alternates between Darcy’s journey to the publication of her first book and Lizzie’s story, a paranormal romance which begins with a terrorist attack and travels far beyond our world, into the folds of death… Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them. Darcy’s story of taking up her ‘new life’ as an aspiring author is brilliantly told, both in her initial excitement at the news of her deal (Moontrug remembers doing starjumps around her house when the email confirming her book deal came through) and in her subsequent self-doubt that she’ll ever be able to do the re-writes and live up to the expectations of her publisher (um, yes, Moontrug feels that, too…!). I mean, it’s a tough all world the book-writing one – see below for a photo of Moontrug doing her edits earlier this month. Exactly…

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If you’re a writer then Darcy’s ‘real-life’ publishing journey is very, very real, even to the point where Darcy’s author-friend, Imogen, does ‘find and replace’ on the word document format of Darcy’s book, swapping ‘veins’ for ‘penguins’ just so that Darcy will notice how much she has over-used the word ‘veins’ in her first draft! Moontrug managed to overuse ‘shivered’ in her first draft – a ‘find and replace’ with the word ‘ketchup’ soon sorted that problem out… Darcy’s feelings of inferiority at meeting mega star authors and her fears that her book might bomb are brilliantly done, as is Imogen’s research scene where she asks Darcy to shut her in the boot of a car so that she can realistically capture feelings of claustrophobia. Moonturg is a big fan of ‘method writing’ (is that’s even a thing?!) – and just a few weeks ago she found herself plunging her head into a rock pool filled with slimy seaweed – essential research tactics for the sequel…

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If Darcy thinks she’s got a lot on her plate with a six-figure book deal, things only get more intense when she falls in love: ‘The thought of publishing – of the whole world reading Afterworlds – had always made Darcy feel naked and exposed, but loving had left her skinless.’ And love is perhaps a good place to start for Lizzie’s story (the heroine of Darcy’s novel, Afterworlds). The terrorist attack in the opening chapter is brutally executed but underpinning it all is an eerie sense of otherness: Lizzie is lucky to be alive but her brush with death has left her hungry for more. The ghosts Lizzie encounters are brilliantly depicted – some funny and sweet, some totally terrifying, like the old man with the needle and thread…

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The afterworld may be grey and full of sadness and threat but it is there that Lizzie feels alive: ‘it left me breathless, and the grey sky pulsed with colour.’ Yama, the symbol of ‘YA hotness’ is handsomely painted and it’s no wonder Lizzie feels so drawn to him: ‘He drew me closer, and the sky rippled with colour again, my breath catching and shuddering in my lungs.’ Afterworlds is a gripping read, and like Darcy, Moontrug will be panicking about which pen to do signings with (Uni-Ball? Vision Elite? Jet Stream?!) come February, and whether she’s saying the right things on Twitter and Facebook. But perhaps it’s better to take the advice of the more reflective Darcy as her book debuts: ‘In life, as in the bewildering business of writing stories and flinging them out into the world, you had to focus on the page in front of you.’

‘Violet & The Pearl of the Orient’: hello movie stars…

Planning a book is a BIGGGGGGG thing. All over the house Moontrug has got spider diagrams of characters, maps showcasing settings and mood boards brainstorming plot angles. And one of the things that really helps Moontrug shape characters is having a mini photo of a film star in mind for each of her characters. You’ll be pleased to know Johnny Depp and George Clooney feature already… And it turns out Moontrug isn’t alone in this technique – author of the FABULOUS Violet & The Pearl of the Orient, Harriet Whitehorn, had a few movie icons in mind when creating her debut for 7+ years. Moontrug has a review of Violet coming next week but in the meantime, here is a brief blurb on the book before Whitehorn takes over with an LA lowdown on her characters. When the Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into Violet’s neighbourhood she’s sure there’s something strange about them. And when her eccentric neighbour, Dee Dee Derota, has a precious jewel called the Pearl of the Orient stolen, a series of clues make Violet think the new family are to blame. But with no one willing to listen to her, Violet’s going to need to use all her detective skills to uncover THE TRUTH…

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Harriet Whitehorn here – with a warning! You are now about to enter author fantasy land… I’m in LA, lying on a unfeasibly comfortable sun lounger, a cocktail in my hand.  Sitting attentively by my side is one of the top, no the top, casting agent in Hollywood.  Their pen is poised to record my every thought concerning the cast of the forthcoming blockbuster movie of Violet & The Pearl of the Orient

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I’ve only just started and despite several sips of my cocktail, I am feeling rather stumped, as the only suitable children’s actors I know are now about thirty five.  So over to my casting agent on this one, and maybe that’s good as she won’t think I’m entirely bossy and controlling.

 

Benedict

Right I’m in gear now and this one was easy – he even has the same first name – Benedict Cumberbatch.  He would bring the perfect blend of humour, slight eccentricity and great Englishness that I imagine Benedict to have.

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Camille

The counterpoise to Benedict’s Englishness is Camille, his very glamorous French wife.  I love Eva Green but she is too gothic for Camille. Audrey Tatou would be great, as she is funny too, but I’m sure Marion Cottilard could manage it.  In fact any of those beautiful French actresses would do.

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Dee Dee

When I was writing the book, Dee Dee was the only character for whom I did have an actress in mind and that was, drumroll please… Gena Rowlands, who is the actress in The Notebook film. I see from Wikipedia that she is now 84, so she might take some persuading, but she would be absolutely perfect.

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The Count Du Plicitous

This is the character that I have had the most trouble with.  Charles Dance would be good but then, maybe he is a bit too scary – I can’t really shake the image of him as Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones. Hugh Grant is the right level of menacing but I think he would be such a marvellous Uncle Johnny, that I have to save him for that. So I have settled on the more unusual choice of Colin Firth. He looks right and I think it would be fun for him to play a baddie for once.

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The Countess Du Plictious

It think it might be rather beneath the formidable talents of Cate Blanchett, but she would play the Countess beautifully.  Probably worth the phone call…

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Godmother Celeste

Celeste is an old school friend of Camille’s but is very much a grown-up tomboy.  I’m finding my knowledge of French actresses a little limited here but I could imagine Juliet Binoche convincingly being an adventurous wildlife photographer.

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PC Green

I know it’s wrong to have favourites but I have to admit that PC Green probably is my favourite adult character and for ages I couldn’t think of the right actor. And then it came to me in a flash – Rupert Grint. And now I can’t imagine anyone else.

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Norma and Ernest

Although these two characters are in the background they are crucial to events and I think you could have some fun with them – I didn’t describe their physical appearance in the text and therefore you could have any nationality, any age really so over to my casting agent while I order another cocktail…

 

Look out for Moontrug’s review of Harriet Whitehorn’s Violet and the Pearl of the Orient next week!