Feature: Lights, Camera, Books! – Louis – Night Salad (Graphic Novel)

This weeks Lights, Camera, Books! (which is a couple of days late – sorry) features a graphic novel frommetaphrog . Metaphrog are the duo Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers who together have been creating comics, graphic novels and illustrations since 1996, gradually building a loyal following and receiving critical acclaim worldwide.

Louis – Night Salad is a stand-alone graphic novel: the moving tale of Louis’ quest for a cure to save his friend FC. A simple story of friendship, heart-warming and genuinely transporting. It contains beautiful hand-painted artwork packaged in an attractive hardback.

The Sunday Herald called the book a “sweet, sad fable, beautifully rendered by the Glasgow-based duo of John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs…the story they tell, a gentle fantasy, has an easy tone and a deceptive depth that will appeal to both adults and children.”

To wet your appetite further here is the trailer for the book…

Feature: Lights, Camera, Books! – Blood Red Road – Moira Young

Our featured book trailer this week is ‘Blood Red Road’ by Moira Young. This is what we thought about the book when we reviewed it…

“Blood Red Road is an epic adventure story which will transport you to a near future. It will scare you, yet excite you at the same time. Reminiscent at times of Patrick Ness and Suzanne Collins yet still full of originality Young has written a book which you will be sure to enjoy.” (Read our full review here)

Blood Red Road is the first book in the Dustlands trilogy. You can find out more about Blood Red Road and the sequel Rebel Heart on the official Dustlands Facebook page or theDustlands Fans Site. You can also follow the author of the book Moira Young on Twitter @Moira_Young

A longer than planned blogging holiday…

Today my youngest son is one year old (don’t worry he’s safely tucked up in bed as I write this) proving that time does indeed fly when you are having fun. I have two boys, G who is 3 and F and they are without doubt the two greatest joys in my life. But equally they are exceptionally hard work, something I am sure any parent will tell you!

It”s as a result of being a Dad to two children under three that I’ve not been blogging for quite some time. Well that’s my excuse anyways. In amongst the full time job, dirty nappies, night time feeds and living the life of being a Dad to two boys something had to give.

Thankfully I’ve still been reading (although not as much as I would like) during my sabbatical but finding the time and energy to write was proving a step too far. However today’s milestone has given me an impetus to get back to blogging. The boys are still pretty full on and I’m sure there might be a few false starts as the weeks and months follow but hey ho.

Reviews, features, interviews are all back on the agenda. Authors, publishers and readers thanks for staying with me, or maybe it’s welcome back.

Review: Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography

“If I needed a result to epitomise what Manchester United were about it came to me in game No.1,500: my last. West Bromwich Albion 5 Manchester United 5. Crazy. Wonderful. Entertaining. Outrageous.”
So begins one of the most eagerly anticipated autobiographies of recent years.  A follow up to the earlier published ‘Managing my Life’ this is less autobiography and more ‘Thoughts from Fergie’ yet this doesn’t make the book any less entertaining. Ferguson has an opinion on most of what has taken place at Manchester United over the last 20 years and we hear about his relationship with Beckham, Keane and Ronaldo, whilst also listening to his views on rivals Chelsea and Liverpool.
Although the start of the book touches on his Glasgow roots and early managerial career in Scotland there is no real narrative to the book, each chapter instead focusing on either an individual player or specific aspect of life at Manchester United.  This makes for interesting, and at times controversial reading, but it does take away from the flow of the book to some extent.
The chapter on David Beckham confirms what was widely assumed at the time. David Beckham felt he was bigger than Manchester United. There is no doubt that Ferguson appreciated his immense talent and to a certain extent respected the decisions he made.  However he does make it clear that, certainly in a footballing sense, he didn’t think that Beckham achieved his full potential.
The issue of potential is also raised when discussing United’s rivals Liverpool. Interestingly although the rivalry remains strong between fans of the two clubs, Ferguson is scathing of the challenge Liverpool presented to United in his time in charge. A team with a trophy laden History and bags of potential but during his time as United manager forever failing to achieve success.  Sure to endear Mr Ferguson further on Merseyside.
One of the most interesting chapters is when Ferguson talks of his relationship with Ronaldo.  It’s clear there is a mutal respect between the two and certainly no animosity over Ronaldo’s multi million move to Madrid. Ferguson writes with glowing praise not only about Ronaldo’s natural talent but also his exemplarly attitude to training and the way he adapted to both British life and the British game. He finishes the chapter with a discussion he and Peter Schmeichel had on who was better, Ronaldo or Messi…Ferguson played the diplomat and said he couldn’t chose.
There is plenty to enjoy in this offering from, arguably, one of football’s greatest ever managers.  He is as forthright and outspoken as one would expect and one of the strengths of the book is that it is clear that the majority of what has been written has been done so by Ferguson himself. Although fans of Manchester United will enjoy this most, football fans in general will also find it an absorbing read. Unless you happen to support the team from the red side of Mersyside.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013

Here is Alex Ferguson himself talking about the book…

Review: Laidlaw – William McIlvanney

Harkness stood absorbing it. It was the same as had happened with the golf, he thought. You threw Laidlaw a question as casual as a snowball and he answered with an avalanche. 

William McIlvanney’s detective novels are quite possibly some of the most important Scottish crime novels to be published. Cited by Iain Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre among others as an inspiration, McIlvanney is viewed by many as the ‘Godfather of Scottish crime writing’.

Yet unbelievably a new generation of readers, myself included, may well have missed out on these seismic novels were it not for the foresight of publishers Cannongate. On hearing McIlvanney talk at a book event and then discovering his books were no longer in print they immediately entered into talks with him to address this. A rather astute move one could say.

Jack Laidlaw is no ordinary detective. Emotionally damaged, a deep thinker and living by his own rules he patrols the streets of Glasgow trying in his own way to cleanse the city of criminals. Laidlaw is witty, has a dry sense of humour, an analytical mind and is a fascinating character, richly created by McIlvanney.  He cares deeply about being a detective and his role in making society a better place.  Easier said then done when serving on the crime squad in Glasgow in the late 1970s, when the city was home to notorious hard men and gangland villains.

The city of Glasgow is captured magnificently by McIlvanney in this novel with every nuance of the city oozing from the pages. The humour and friendliness are here but in equal measure so is the squalor and the undercurrent of fear which runs across the city like a needle on a record. As we read the book we feel like we are walking the streets of Glasgow with Laidlaw.

‘Laidlaw’ is the first book in what is a trilogy and begins with the discovery of a young woman found brutally murdered on Glasgow Green. The story that follows sees us follow our unorthodox detective claw his way through the Glasgow underworld looking for clues to who her murderer was.  He is an enigmatic and at times philosophical detective. He picks at the case like a hungry man eats a chicken leg, forever going back and seeing if he has missed something, no matter how small. This along with McIlvanney’s wonderful writing and amusing one liners will leave you wondering quite how these novels ever went out of print.

Publisher: Cannongate, 2013

Review: Divergent – Veronica Roth

“Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up. I’ve seen it. It’s fascinating.” He releases me but doesn’t pull away, his hand grazing my jaw, my neck. “Sometimes I just…want to see it again. Want to see you awake.” 
Veronica Roth’s ‘Divergent’ had been on my ‘to be read’ list for some time. It came with glowing reviews from both sides of the Atlantic and a big budget movie due to be released in early April.  What was stopping me from picking it? If I am honest I wasn’t sure if I wanted to deposit myself once again into a dystopian future where it was good versus evil. With the recent glut of dystopian themed novels in Young Adult literature I was beginning to feel like I had gorged at the table of despair once too often.  But just like when I decide that’s the last biscuit I’m going to have I always seem to find space for one more…
Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning.  There are a number of similarities between this book and the benchmark young adult dystopian thriller, ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. The first few chapters introduce to us the ‘Choosing Ceremony’, something not too dissimilar to the selection of tributes which features heavily at the start of Collins novel.  The lead character in ‘Divergent’ is a feisty, young girl called Tris (Beatrice) who could well have been separated at birth from Katniss Everdeen, heroine of the Hunger Games trilogy. Equally Tobias, although a little more testosterone fuelled than Peeta Mallark, is heart meltingly good looking and unsurprisingly becomes the love interest of Tris.
However the story that develops has enough merits of its own to stand out in this genre. In a world not too dissimilar to the present day, yet in many ways different, civilisation has been divided into ‘factions’ that mirror an individuals personal attributes. The 5 factions; Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Candour and Erudite each have their role in helping the city to rebuild itself after an unannounced breakdown of society.  This is a clever and unusual method of dividing people for the inevitable hostility that follows.
The concept of fear features prominently throughout the book and this is the basis for a number of memorable, adrenaline pumping scenes. Tris chooses to join the Dauntless faction instead of staying with Abnegation and her initiation training makes up a large part of the novel. Roth develops a number of clever ideas here including the fear room where an indivuduals’ fears are stimulated and replicated in the mind. A particular macabre scene sees Tris being eaten alive by a murder of crows. Very Hitchcock.
The tension builds as the book progresses although it is clear from an early stage that this is very much the 1st novel in the trilogy and Roth does not hide away from the fact that nothing will be resolved at the end of this novel. We do see a resolution to the simmering love story between Tris and Tobias.  Thrown together as trainer and novice Roth builds their tryst from early on in the novel, with furtive glances, shared touches and an unwritten understanding for each other.
There is much to enjoy in ‘Divergent’. Adrenaline pumping action, intrigue, mystery and romance. Roth’s writing is pacy and the world that she has created is a dark and unsettling.  The concept of ‘factions’ is a new and unusual and offers depth to the book whilst Tris and Tobias are a likeable partnership who you will be willing to succeed by the end of this 1st novel.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2013

The movie will be released in the UK in early April. Here is the trailer…

News: Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2013

The books had been read and the votes, all 38,000 of them, had been cast.  All that was left was to announce the winner of the Scottish Children’s Book Award (12 -16 category) to a packed audience of excited, teenagers, teachers and librarians. However the Scottish Book Trust had other ideas!

Within the wonderful Mitchell Library, pupils (attending from all over Scotland) were first tasked with identifying books from a series of film stills. This was followed by working out which books were represented by a series of ‘pictionary style’ drawings. Crisps and juice on each of the tables kept the eager young minds ticking over.

With the excitement in the hall building the shortlisted authors, Claire McFall, Diana Hendry and Barry Hutchison were invited to take the stage for a question and answer session. Some great questions followed, particularly from the teenagers in the audience including my personal favourite, “If you could write the sequel to any book what would you choose?”. Cue much scratching of the authors heads as they thought carefully on how best to answer this searching question.

The quizzing continued with a book quiz for the audience focusing first on the shortlisted books and then a second round of more general book knowledge.  The authors participated as well although looked rather sheepish at times, particularly when trying to answer questions on their own books!

And then came the moment we were all waiting for, the announcement of the winner of the 2013 Scottish Children’s Book Awards, as voted by the children of Scotland. With the opening of a golden envelope ‘The Ferryman’ by Claire McFall was announced to loud cheers from the audience. She was certainly a popular winner. Claire took to the stage with a genuine mix of disbelief and excitement and thanked those who had voted for her before going on to tell the audience that just 3 years ago, as a teacher of English, she had been sitting where they were today. Now here she was the winner of the very same award. An inspiration to us all.

For those who are keen to find out more about The Ferryman the books blurb is below followed by a video of Claire talking about and reading from her book. (Thanks to Scottish Book Trust for the video.)

For more information on Claire and her books visit www.clairemcfall.co.uk
You can also follow Claire on Twitter at Mcfall_Claire

When teenager Dylan emerges from the wreckage of a train crash onto a bleak Scottish hillside, she meets a strange boy who seems to be waiting for her. But Tristan is no ordinary teenage boy and the journey across the desolate, wraith-infested wasteland is no ordinary journey.

Review: Tape – Steven Camden

Ameliah feels the thick play button depress under her fingertip. The crackle starts immediately. She turns the volume down, making the sound just audible, and stares at the stereo.
The cassette tape is probably a mythical object to most of today’s teenagers.  Possibly glimpsed in the attic when accompanying Dad on one of his forays to the upper echelons of the house or occasionally surfacing in a mysterious box of junk it was once a prized object. Capable of holding everything from a number one album to the latest top ten recorded directly from Sunday afternoon’s chart show it’s fire was extinguished rather abruptly by the arrival of the CD.
Steven Camden’s novel, where a casette tape is central to the story, is a remarkable book which centres on the lives of Ameliah and Ryan, separated by 20 years but connected by grief. Both have lost their mothers. In 1993 Ryan uses a cassette recorder to record his feelings on the death of his mother. When Ameliah moves in with her Grandmother following the death of her own mother and father in 2013, she finds the cassette and begins to hear the voice of teenage Ryan.
What follows is a clever and entertaining novel where Camden slowly unwinds the connections between our teenage protagonists, separated by time, yet in the context of the book, both having to deal with the horrors and heartaches of teenage life, including first love. With the narrative of the book split between our two main characters Camden gives us just enough information on each to keep us hooked on the two characters.
This book has many strengths including being extremely readable. I could have easily read it in one sitting were in not for family life intruding. Camden conveys the emotions and feelings of teenagers really well. The relationship between Ryan and his stepbrother is conveyed with a sharpness that one would except whist he is able to show Ameliah as a sensitive young girl trying to come to terms with the death of her parents.
The flitting between 1993 and 2013 works well and for readers who grew up in the early 1990’s there are lots of amusing cultural references. (Jurassic Park, Monster Munch, Shake n Vac and Eric Cantona to name a few).  Indeed as someone who used to ‘tape’ songs from the radio onto cassettes there was a certain a degree of nostalgia to this book. However for the young adult readers that this book is marketed at much of this may be somewhat lost on them.
This book will take you on a veritable mix tape of emotions. It will make you laugh, make you think, will have you close to tears and will ultimately leave you with a feeling of hope.  Reading this book is akin to discovering a classic album for the first time. You never want it to end as you know you what you have discovered is something very special.

Steven Camden introduces ‘Tape’ in this video…

Feature: The Steven Camden Playlist

Steven Camden’s novel ‘Tape’ (review here) is heavily laced with musical references which is unsurprising given how much music has influenced his career. It’s provided inspiration for his writing as well as providing the soundtrack to his life.

In the novel ‘Tape’ lead character Ryan sets about making up a ‘mixtape’ of music which he plans to give to Ameliah. In an era where music is predominantly digital the art of the mixtape has been somewhat lost on today’s generation. I myself remember spending hours preparing tapes for friends and, more commonly, girlfriends. As a shy teenager I liked the idea of the music doing the talking instead of me.

After reading ‘Tape’ I approached Steven and asked him what he would put on his mixtape. The tracks the he has selected are those that he played heavily during the writing of ‘Tape’ and that have been influential in his life and career to date. And although it doesn’t quite have the same aesthetic quality (not to mention painstakingly neat handwriting on the inlay card) there is a Spotify playlist embedded in this article which will allow you to listen to the songs whilst you read why they are so important to Steven.

St. Etienne – Only love can break your heart

This song was playing as I arrived at a Halloween party I went to when I was fifteen. The drums thumping as I walked in feeling like Fonzey and it turned out to be the first amazing night of my life. One of those nights when you feel like you’re speaking to people without even opening your mouth and it seems you’re gliding rather than walking. It all felt like a film and I remember walking home on my own and singing this song, giving it the Gene Kelly swinging round lamp posts.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it since and not wanted to go out dancing. That kind of romantic coolness was in my mind as I wrote TAPE and I hope anyone who reads it gets a sense of that.

Souls of Mischief – 93’ til Infinity

This track just sums me up at a time when I was falling completely in love with hip-hop. That sense that I’d found the music that felt most like ‘mine’ and the importance of drums and rhyming. I tried to pour the sense of that into Ryan and the book is set at the start of the summer holidays, because that was always the most hopeful time for me.

My older cousin and his friends used to break dance on flattened cardboard boxes outside his house and us younger ones would wait until they’d all gone inside, then have a go ourselves. I was rubbish.

When I first started writing rhymes and playing with words I remember my cousin gave a me a taped copy of this album and the title track was my favourite. I regularly blast this when the flat is empty and throw some of my amateur shapes on the living room floor, then I catch myself in the mirror and stick to rhyming along to words I’m pretty sure are etched into my brain.

The Stone Roses – Shoot You Down

This one is all about timing. I went to stay with my uncle and aunt for a weekend and slept on their sofa. I couldn’t sleep, so I started looking through their music collection and found a cassette tape with lemons on the cover and splattered paint and liked the name of the band so I plugged in their headphones and put it on, and completely fell in love. It sounded to me like guitar music influenced by hip-hop and Ian Brown’s voice and lyrics just made perfect sense.

I remember thinking how special it felt to have found a band this way and that it was supposed to happen. The ideas of ‘fate’ and ‘the universe’ and trusting that things would work out for the best were very important to me when I was thirteen and still are to this day.

The Cardigans – Carnival (acoustic)

This is another one from University and was a b-side to a single I’d bought a while before and never played. One night I was up late talking with a girl I properly fancied, trying to play it cool and she saw the single and put it on as we were still talking and then this track came on and we stopped and looked at each other and it felt like somebody was sound tracking the moment perfectly and it’s been one of my favourites ever since.

Toots & The Maytals – Funky Kingston

This one is all about the relationship I had with my nan. Because my parents worked far from where we lived, my grandparents were a massive presence in my upbringing up until the age of 11. I used to hear this song coming from downstairs and I remember thinking about how sound moves through walls and floors and water and doors and how no matter what music it was, it always made me picture what was happening in the other room.

Ameliah’s relationship with her nan in TAPE is based on the dynamic between me and my nan. The arc of their relationship in the book is me trying to get them to the point of comfort, respect and love that I felt existed between me and my nan. I wanted Ameliah to have that.

Aesop Rock – Zero Dark Thirty

I love words.  More specifically I love playing with words, and even more specifically, I love when wordplay, craft and the musicality of speech patterns all combine to communicate something that feels like it’s got you and you can’t fully explain why.

Aesop Rock is brilliant. I still listen to music of his from over ten years ago and find new things in his lyrics and the marriage of those lyrics with the musical production. I love that feeling of lying in bed when everyone else is asleep and hearing something in a song and telling myself that only I have discovered that, that I’m connected to the person who made this music in a really simple yet magical way.

In my own, smaller version of that, I really hope that what I write gives anyone that feeling.

James Brown – Super Bad

TAPE is about a lot of things for me, and one of them is parenthood. I’m a father and I spend a lot of time thinking about how things get passed along through generations. Some of them are good and some bad, but they all carry weight. Something that makes me very happy, is the importance of music to both our children and how it feels like music is central to our lives. Words, lyrics and sentiment are important to me, but sometimes it’s just about a feeling and letting the music take you wherever it wants.

The main characters in TAPE all have this connection to music and the rhythm of the story and dance between the present and the past is, in my head at least, kind of musical and writing it felt like juggling the balance of the two worlds, whilst also showing how connected both of them were.

Broadcast – Tender Buttons

I listen to music mostly on the move these days. Journeys between meetings or walking around supermarket aisles trying to choose healthy food, are all sound tracked by whatever is in my Walkman. This album gets played a lot and this song always seems to play while I’m sitting on the train opposite someone who looks interesting.

It’s become my perfect song for people watching in the busy city. I’ve always been a watcher of people, not just grown ups, but everyone and I think that the details you take in all filter through to anything you write, especially when you’re creating characters.

Ameliah is a watcher of people in the story. The kind of person who will watch rather than speak, until she is ready to. I’ve become more like that as I’ve got older, but when I was younger I remember always wanting to be more like that, instead of running my mouth off which I invariably did.

Mos Def – Next Universe

This song makes me want to jump out of my own skin and break stuff. In a good way. It’s the beat. The specific snare sound and the groove of Mos Def riding it like some kind of genius jockey. The build up to when the beat drops gives me shivers every single time I hear it. That feeling of being that moved by a song is essential to both Ryan and Ameliah in TAPE and is the first point of connection between them and myself.

Basically, every now and then it’s important to shock out, and no matter how, where or when you do it, you should try and do it at least once a day. I do. And the days where I don’t get the chance are much greyer.

This is one of my top shock out tunes and while I was writing the book I often pictured Ryan and Ameliah, and anyone else from the story who was up for it, all shocking out to this, upstairs on a bus, like wild gorillas going to a party.

Adem – Statued

This song has sorted me out many times. The space and the time and the words, but mostly the feeling of it. It’s a song for journeys. For staring out of the window and trying to make sense of stuff.

Strange as it might sound, I’ve never been a big talker when it comes to personal stuff directly. I’ve never really been someone who goes to somebody else for advice, or confides doubts or fears and stuff. These days I have someone I could tell anything to, but before I found her, I would work things out through music. And it works.

By the time the right song finishes, you’ve either figured something out, made a decision, or at the very least, gained a slight sense of perspective on what’s going on and in some way things are better.

Both Ryan and Ameliah have things to deal with that can feel quite isolating, even from people close to them, and this song would make me remember what that’s like.

Review: City of Fate – Nicola Pierce

There was a rotten smell which usually only meant one thing, a body, though there was often more than one. They were a common feature now, part of any war-torn landscape; there were so many dead and not enough time nor space to bury them.

When picking up a Second a World War novel there is a certain amount of trepidation on my behalf as it can be difficult for an author to tell an original story, a story that captures the horror of war and yet at he same time entertains us as a reader. In ‘City of Fate’ Nicola Pierce blows my fears out of the water with an superbly written novel which does all of the above and quite a bit more as well.

‘City of Fate’ is set in one of the Second World Wars more unusual battlefields, the city of Stalingrad. Described by many as the most important battle of the Second World War Stalingrad was unlike any other part of the War. The fighting took place on the streets of the Russian City and amazingingly nearly 10,000 citizens were still living in the city when the battle was finished. The novel centres on some of these people; teenagers Yuri and Tanya who live with 5 year old Peter and Vlad and 3 of his classmates who are ordered to leave school to fight the Nazis.

It is clear that Pierce has meticulously researched her novel and she has captured what it must have been like to live in Stalingrad at this time. The sights and smells of the city envelope us as we follow Yuri and Peter’s constant struggle for survival. Food, water and shelter were in short supply and there was the constant threat of violence. The brave souls of Stalingrad were fighting a bigger enemy than just the Nazis. They were fighting death.

It is hard to comprehend what happened in Stalingrad. Almost 2 million soldiers and civilians died in the battle including 150,000 Germans and their allies. Some of them may well have been killed by teenage soldiers like Vlad, who Stalin forced to join the ranks of the Russian army. A reluctant recruit Vlad is scared and ill equipped and must lean to deal with the full horror of War as it unfolds in front of him. Pierce portrays this in a thoughtful manner as we see the indelible scars War leaves slowly form on him.

Pierce does not shy away from the horror of war in her story. One particular scene focusing on the massacre of a Jewish village is particularly harrowing. She is to be commended for being brave enough to share this monstrosity with a teenage audience. Despite the darkness of the book in places there is also humour to be found. The scene where Peter spies on some Nazis in order to get a sausage brings some light hearted relief to the storyline.

The stories of Yuri and Peter and Vlad are cleverly brought together by Pierce as the book progresses. As we read the final chapters of the book the desolation and desperation taking hold in the City becomes ever more apparent. However nothing prepares us for the heartbreakingly sad climax to the story. The innocence of youth and the finality of war are smashed together in an amazingly powerful scene which will leave readers with a tear in their eye.

There is no fairy tale happy ending to this book which only adds to it’s authenticity.  It’s a richly evocative story which will stay with the reader long after the final pages.

Watch Nicola talking about ‘City of Fate’ and her previous novel ‘Spirit of Titantic’…