Tag Archives: MG fiction

The Children of Fate begin their adventure

maiden__mother__crone_by_mentat0209Camp NaNoWriMo has been on the go for three days now, and from day one I decided to try and hit the ground running. I’m happy to announce that chapter 1 is written and as of last night the third book in Jack’s adventure is sitting at about 3,000 words long.

The Wishmaster is back, Jack has some tough decisions to make, Fynn is off for a cross-country adventure with Mick and Ryan, and Alyssa, Borrin (and Jack) have their hands full teaching Borrin’s apprentices (and Thea) some very important lessons about the Reusen power.

I’m in my element, this is my favourite part of the job. A whole new story to tell and even I don’t know exactly how it will go. I want to push on and make as much progress as I can. Sadly this might mean that blog posts might be shorter (and possibly less frequent) for a while as I concentrate my spare time on writing. I’ll try and keep the page updated as often as I can with details on the newest book, and I’ll keep you up to date regarding the release of ‘the Spark of Dreams‘ in paperback.

If you ever want to ask questions about the books, the characters, or writing in general I’m more than happy to talk about it here, over on facebook, or on the Jack Reusen twitter account. Plus I have to add that Camp NaNoWriMo is only in it’s first few days and I’d love to hear from anyone in the Perthshire area (or nearby) who would like to meet up for a writing session. Thanks as always for reading and I’ll try and be back on here as soon as possible, all the best, John

Printing has begun!

moving letters printing pressThe proofs for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ have been approved and sent to the printers (there were a couple of technical issues but I’ve cleared them up). Unusual things happen to almost every main character in this book and I’m looking forward to hearing what readers have to say about it.

I’ve given hints about what the Spark of Dreams will be like at least a few times so I won’t repeat myself here, though I will hint at one little bit of information from the very end of the book. After a quiet few weeks sorting books and helping library patrons, Bob the librarian will meet Granny Reusen. If you haven’t read the first book that won’t much sense, and might sound a lot less interesting than it is, but trust me, it spurs on a really cool story line that I’m writing right now for book three.

I know this wait has been a lot longer than I promised, I just wanted to make sure the story would work properly and I feel like it’s there now. I really hope you enjoy it. I’ll keep you up to date on where the books are and when they’re likely to arrive, and if you want to pre-order a copy you can do that by clicking this link.

I’ll hopefully have more news for you very soon, thanks for being patient with me, all the best, John

Crivens!

feegle3At the moment our house is enjoying a full-on adventure with the wee free men and their ‘Hag’ Tiffany Aching. Terry Pratchett’s ability to create a world filled with humour, excitement, intelligence, and heart is not compromised by writing for children. The Tiffany Aching series includes four (soon to be five) books, set in his iconic Discworld, and each book focusses on a young woman called Tiffany as she grows into a fine upstanding witch.

Out of my two my eldest is especially enthralled with the books. The first book (The Wee Free Men) went down a treat and he really got a kick out of the violent, loud, yet loyal and caring ‘Nac Mac Feegle’ (or ‘wee free men’). It’s a book series that I enjoyed myself years before I became a parent and there’s something really special about being able to share it with my kids now.

The thing that impresses me most is one simple fact that, in itself, shouldn’t be impressive: the main character is a girl. Every book follows Tiffany, sure the wee free men are there too, as are a few other male characters, but the character we follow through every page is Tiffany. This shouldn’t be a big deal but it is. So many books for children (my own included) focus on the adventures of a boy as the main character, and in most cases he’s also cast as the hero. It makes a refreshing change to see that a girl can be just as heroic, just as relateable for two young boys as any male protagonist (I feel I redeemed myself a little with Spark of Dreams, you’ll see Thea’s heroics near the end of the book).

Not once have my kids asked ‘but why is a girl doing everything?’ not once have they complained. Both my six (soon to be seven) year old, and four year old sons have barely noticed that they’re following the adventures of a girl. Perhaps it’s because this is one of the first chapter books I’ve read to them (smaller frame of reference), or maybe their generation has different expectations than mine did. Whatever it is, I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of knowing that my two kids clearly know how brave, clever, and heroic girls can be.

I’ll be rectifying my own lack of a central female character in my books next year as I delve more into Thea’s story, and follow her on a voyage around the world of Fey. It’s in the planning stages at the moment, so very little is concrete, but I can’t wait to delve into the world of legends, mythological animals, and the downright made-up stuff that I’ve got planned for next year’s batch of books.

Tiffany-Aching-Poster-600x686In the mean time I heartily recommend Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books (‘The Wee Free Men’, ‘Hatfull of Sky’, ‘Wintersmith’, ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’, and Pratchett’s soon to be released, final Discworld book ‘The Shepherd’s Crown‘). In the first book you’ll follow Tiffany as she meets strange little blue men, discovers she might well be a witch, and has to fight the Queen of the Fairies. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we are. All the best, John

Why I refused to read Harry Potter

no harry potter restriction circleIt’s not as bad as it sounds, please read on to find out more. I was first told about the boy wizard in high school, it would have been about 2000/2001, and I point-blank refused to read it. I even laughed at friends who were recommending it. You see the problem was that Harry Potter was a kid’s book, and seventeen year old John was no child.

I had my mind set on becoming an author and was sure that truly engaging writing (the kind that I could learn from) could only be found in books aimed at adults. I read magical realist authors like Rushdie, de Berniere, and Garcia Marquez. I also Immersed myself in classic literature and edgy new work. In short I thought of children’s literature as something of an oxymoron. Instead I was simply a moron.

Reality hit me at Stirling Uni in 2002 when I headed down to the MacRobert Cinema to watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with a friend. The film left so much unsaid, so many questions unanswered, that I borrowed copies of the first two books from her to catch up with what was going on. Then I borrowed another (you know, just to see what happened next), and then another. Then I ran out.

On the 22nd of June the following year I was queueing outside a Waterstones in Aberdeen at midnight. I patiently waited for them to open the doors and release copies of ‘the Order of the Phoenix’ to the street-load of waiting children dressed as witches and wizards (I wished I had come in costume too).

A good book transports you to another world, or offers a view of our own that you might not have considered. It opens up questions and makes you think, and if you’re lucky it takes you for an adventure. Magical realists can do that, classical literature can do that, gritty ground-breaking new fiction can do that, and (unbeknownst to my seventeen year old self) so too can a good children’s book do all of these things.

We can get stuck in a rut when it comes to what we read, fixating on just one genre, but we miss out by doing that. As students, a bunch of us traded favourite books, we all had widely different tastes and we decided we might benefit by shaking things up a little. To be honest I don’t think I’ll ever be a full horror, crime, or thriller convert (though I still like to jump into a good horror book as the nights start to draw in) but that wasn’t really the point of our experiment. Our wee book-swap gave me an insight into what qualities made these types of book so appealing to so many people, it made me realise just how hard it can be to pin down just exactly what counts as ‘good writing’.

I still cringe at the thought of how condescending I must have sounded as a teenager and I apologise to Adam for dismissing what truly was an amazing find, and I also thank Vikki for allowing me to see how rich and enjoyable children’s literature can be (even for adults).

Are there any ‘children’s books’ that you’ve found particularly engaging? Do you avoid popular authors because you think they’re somehow less remarkable because of their popularity? Feel free to have a chat about it in the comments below, or over at the facebook page or twitter account. As always, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

The cavern keeper

8232497112_ddaba4ccc5_bHere’s a quick wee glimpse into a place that will be very important in book three. I hope you enjoy it:

These caves were his. It’s not like he actually owned them or anything, but in the same way that a town, a school, or a stadium can ‘belong’ to someone, these caves belonged to Magus Hypologismos (people called him Logi for short, you can see why).

Logi was no stranger to the outside world. As a young man he had toured the globe with a group of Lutin traders (we might call them leprechauns). They exchanged exotic wares from one country to the next, and Logi saw more of the world than he had ever expected. He had three favourite memories. There was the time he had been invited to hunt with centaurs in Laconia, riding onto their horsey backs and gripping onto their broad human shoulders for support.

Further east he had eaten a feast of spiced meats and rice with a genie, sitting in the desert sands around the fire-pits of Mishan. After the meal the genie had entertained him with displays of incredible magic making the sky dance with light and the moon change its colour to shine like a giant gold coin hovering in the sky.

Possibly Logi’s greatest memory was in fact the moment that began his adventure back home to the caves. Whilst sitting in a sanctuary in on the mysterious island castle of Por-Bajin, he was invited by a jadatski (rain master) to a modest dinner of pickled cabbage. They debated into the night, and right through to dawn about whether the golden scrolls of Kubai-Khotim were real.

The scrolls were said to be able to tell the future, and Logi had made it his mission to find them. Sadly in all the centuries that followed he had still never found them.

Logi had enjoyed a colourful life, but his travelling was over, and now these ancient caverns were his home. Books and scrolls weighed down the shelves that lined every wall. Orange lanterns added their flickering light, making the ancient texts appear to dance and move, almost as though they were alive. Logi often wondered if some of the movements really were just a trick of the light.

Logi took the stairs down to the deeper chambers, where the most ancient and powerful texts were housed. No one but the Magus (Logi himself) was allowed down here and he hadn’t had a request for any of these texts in centuries. All the same it was one of the most comfortable places available to him, and he often sneaked down here to sit in the huge throne-like chair and enjoy the peace.

Thick books with gilted spines surrounded him like dusty jewels, their leather dyed in all manner of colours. Logi sat back in the quiet, enjoying the rainbow of books flickering by the light of the lanterns. Then something moved, it didn’t just look like it moved; it really moved.

Logi stepped closer to inspect. It couldn’t be a creature of any sort; the enchantments protecting the library wouldn’t even let a dust mite down here without permission. All the same Logi knew what he saw, something had definitely moved.

In the silence Logi could even hear his shoes creak. A sudden ‘thwap’ echoed around the chamber as a thick scroll dropped onto the hard stone floor and began unravelling. Logi leaned in closer and was astounded to see fresh words appearing on the paper, as though being written from inside:

The families are reunited. The children of fate grow closer to learning their heritage but dark days are ahead and they may have to pay for the mistakes of their ancestors. One will return to claim these scrolls, and once again wield the knowledge of what is to come. He prepares even now.”

The writing stopped.

Logi sat down cross-legged on the polished stone floor and lifted the scroll, allowing a simple ‘Hmmm’ to escape his lips. All those years and the scroll had been right here under his nose the whole time. Whatever it had been up to seemed to be over for now. In the several hundred years that Logi had patrolled these tunnels (aside from the odd holiday), he had never once witnessed a book, or scroll, write itself. He didn’t have anything else planned that day, so he relaxed into a big leather chair, rolled out the scroll, and waited.

Hours passed, but Logi had centuries of experience in patience. The writing began again, it looked like some kind of heading this time:

What has come before…

After that the writing came quicker, Logi’s eyes struggling to keep up. As the story poured out in front of him, words escaped his lips: “What is a ‘TV’?” “Who is Tam?” and “This ‘macaroni cheese’ sounds amazing, I wonder where I might get some…”

Logi read on and on, getting more involved still. Perched on the edge of his seat he actually yelled out “Run Sparky! Run!”. He relaxed, things seemed better now, the characters appeared to be safe. He settled in and read on.

The writing slowed, the last few lines had been about three men getting on ‘motor-bikes’ (whatever they were), and heading for an underground library. Logi got the feeling he might find himself a lot more involved in the story very soon.

Some summer holiday reading

Kindle_UnlimitedIf you have a kindle (or something that can run the kindle reader app) then you can get hold of both of the Jack Reusen books (and a whole heap of books by other authors too) by signing up to a month’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited over at Amazon, here’s the link.

Once you’ve signed up you’ll see that both of the Jack Reusen books come up as free, so you can read the whole adventure so far, for nothing.

Jack Reusen and The Fey Flame‘ introduces you to the land of Fey, as creatures (and other things) make their way through to the ‘matter-world’ (basically our world). Jack and his family have to discover a way of closing a collection of ‘breaches’ between the two worlds to make their world safe again.

‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is a slightly different kind of cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmedadventure. People are losing their ability to dream. Every night more and more people lose the certain something that makes human beings so good at solving problems and creating things; the spark of dreams. Jack discovers that he could be the key to understanding what’s causing this change, and he may even be the only person who can solve it and bring back the dreams and imaginations of hundreds of people.

I hope that both of the Jack Reusen books give you and/or your kids something to enjoy over the summer holidays. Let me know what you think, all the best, John

And…they’re off!

cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmed

Another wee sample of Karen’s artwork

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is ready! The artwork is done, the text has been edited, all files have been sent off to the printers, and now comes the waiting. (Though the wait won’t be too long for the kindle edition, which I’ll have ready sometime tonight.)

The process for print editions is fairly simple; first they send me a digital proof (which I expect to receive sometime early next week). After this comes approval of the proof, which is kind of an odd thing to do actually; basically I send them an e-mail saying ‘yes I like my own book, send me lots’. Once I’ve told them I like my book it can take seven to ten working days for them to to print up a bundle and send them to me.

I’ll probably end up posting a lot of updates on Facebook and Twitter once I’ve got a tracking number, so if you follow either account expect to see lots of posts about UPS on the day the books head my way.

To be sure that you get hold of one of the first copies you can pre-order one by leaving a comment below (they’re £6.99) and you can either pick them up at Fun Junction, get me to deliver them to you personally, or if you’re further away I can post one out to you.

Writing this book has been a totally different experience than the last one. Knowing that people have read the first, that some readers might be emotionally invested in certain characters (no I haven’t killed anyone, nor do I plan to), and knowing that there are many more books planned, has meant that I’ve had to be very careful with this one.

There are some scenes that had to be big and dramatic and they change characters in ways that might take them a couple of books to recover from. That’s what all these big delays have been about (I originally planned on having the book out in April). The trickiest part has been the fact that two key story lines run from just one early scene involving Fynn and Thea.

They come out of the event changed, but getting the balance between developing a character in that way, and just all-out changing them is difficult. Every change I made to that one scene (you’ll see what it is soon) had a heavy ripple-effect throughout the book, at times it was like playing Jenga with a sledgehammer. After a lot of work I think I’ve got it right and I hope you guys enjoy the journey that both of these characters go on.

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is darker than the Fey Flame (though not by a lot), my proofreader/editor left me a note about three quarters of the way through the book that simply read ‘this is freakin’ scary!’. Don’t let this put you off though. I’ve left a lot of the scarier scenes open in a way that lets the reader fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This way, readers at my eldest son’s age (seven in a few weeks) will likely find these parts a lot less frightening than their parents.

Overall the story is based around what the world would be like if people didn’t dream, imagine, or come up with new ideas. Some of this is a little scary but mostly I wanted to deal with how important imagination is for everyone. Jack has to navigate a city that doesn’t dream and it doesn’t look like a nice place to live.

I’ve said before that there are ‘zombies’ in this book, but they aren’t undead, flesh-eating monsters; they’re innocent people who are sleep-walking through life and have lost something important because of it. Jack goes through a crisis of confidence but we all know that in the end he’ll have what it takes to help them.

Thea hasn’t been left out either; she gets to be an action hero in this book. Her fight scenes were some of the most enjoyable things I have ever written (though you’ll have to get a fair bit through the book to see them) and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of girl she develops into in future books.

Sorry for the long post, as you can probably tell, I’m a little excited about launching the latest Jack Reusen book. I really hope you like it (when the books finally get here). I’ll keep you updated here and on the Facebook and Twitter accounts about when to expect them. In the mean time I’ve got a school book talk to prepare for. I’m off to Comrie Primary on Monday (my school between the ages of five and seven) and I’m really hoping the children there enjoy their introduction to Jack and his friends.

All the best, thanks as always for reading, cheers, John

A word explosion for your enjoyment

Not a real post here (too busy editing), just sharing this word-jumble (from wordle) that features all the most popular words in ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ (size=frequency). It might give you an idea about some of the content.

spark of dreams word jumble4

Running tally of progress: final edit=p132 of 275 (don’t worry this bit doesn’t take that long), cover is done (thanks to Karen) but I’ve got a couple of minor tweeks to do once I have finalised page numbers (matching spine to book width). Once these are done the book will be good to go. I’ll pop a wee update after tonight’s editing session to keep you posted. Off to edit now, wish me luck, John

Almost time…

wpid-imag1530_1.jpgThere are two big reveals to share tonight: a sneak-peak of the cover for ‘Jack Reusen and The Spark of Dreams’, and on top of that I’m sharing the title of the very last chapter, it’s that close to completion!

I’m so sorry for the long wait, editing has been a tough run this time round. I did something with one of the main characters that I wasn’t 100% happy with, unfortunately it was quite early on in the book so changing it has had a ripple effect. ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’  is looking to be ready around a month later than the April release promised at the back of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’. To everyone who has been asking about it, I am so sorry for the delay, and thank you for all the support you have all shown so far.

As for the book cover I hope you like the wee snippets shared in this post. I put out a call for an illustrator a few weeks ago and an illustrator called Karen MacAllister came forward (pop over to her illustrator website and her blog to find out more about her work). She showed me some great wee preliminary sketches and we took it from there and, thanks to Karen we now have a really dynamic and intriguing cover.

wpid-imag1532_burst001_1.jpgTo be slightly annoying (building anticipation a bit), I’ve decided to only show small portions of Karen’s finished work. I thought it’d be more fun to share the finished article once the book is out.

I need to point out that Karen’s advice and knowledge were almost as valuable as her artistic skills in creating this cover. She really knows her stuff and de-cluttered my original plans to produce something that catches the eye and draws you in and I absolutely love the colour and tone she’s put into it.

I’m going to edit like a lunatic over the next couple of days, the book is all but done but I want to really do this justice (it isn’t easy getting the balance right in zombie scenes for kids). So many readers have been so supportive of this next leg of Jack’s adventure that I don’t want to let them down. Hopefully the story within will have the same draw as Karen’s fantastic cover.

As always thanks for reading, I’ll try and visit here more frequently over the next few days with updates so you should hopefully hear more soon. All the best, John

Magical Realism

Vasnetsov_samoletFiction is changing but what it’s changing into isn’t something new. For a long time a sub-genre of contemporary fiction known as ‘magical realism’ provided a mind-bending literary experience to those who came across it, but sadly it sat at the fringes while traditional fantasy, science-fiction, and even thrillers enjoyed mass-market backing from readers who would no doubt have enjoyed magical realism if they knew it was available.

I was introduced to it by a teacher of mine (Mr Johnstone) at High School. Famous fantasy writers have been known to denounce it as a fancy way of saying you write fantasy fiction but I think there’s one very clear distinction: just as you probably wouldn’t explain the way that electricity is created and sent down power lines to power your toaster, when describing a scene in which you cook some toast, a magical realist writer feels no demand for an explanation for anything that the reader might regard as ‘magical’.

Terry Pratchett said that saying that you write magical realism is “…a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people…”. In some regards he could be correct, fantasy fiction is certainly seen as more populist (and less literary) than magical realism. What’s more, magical realism sports a host of connections to post-modernist art and philosophy that makes it positively intellectual-sounding. However, fantasy fiction can itself be, though isn’t always, a tremendous vehicle for highlighting philosophical concepts as well. Pratchett was one of the best at doing just that.

But now, within children’s literature, we’re finding works that bridge the divide somehow. Explanations of how the magic works are left to one side as authors launch their characters straight into the adventure. Magical Realist sympathies can be especially evident in works like Pratchett’s Discworld (despite his protestations to the contrary), Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kindom’ series (‘Mister Monday’ etc.), Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’, and many many more. In these books we are witness to a change in the way that magic is introduced, it is left as part of the fabric of the story with minimal exposition.

However, the exposition is still there, as it probably has to be for children. Perhaps we need to delineate fantastical elements in fiction for children. They are still getting a grasp of the reality and physics of their own world so it seems prudent to provide some explanation as to how things work in an alternate one. What’s more the explanation of the magic can itself often serve as a component of the plot.

I’m in this boat. Jack starts in our world (or something very much like it) and is exposed to things he doesn’t understand, therefore a necessary part of the plot (and his character development) involves him gaining a basic idea about how the magic works.

There are things that I’ve left to one side for now and things that may never be explained but I’m happy to admit that there’s simply too much explanation of the magic in my books for anyone to call it ‘magical realism’. While I still enjoy and respect the genre and can see how it really can work in children’s literature I can’t help slipping into fantasy

For me part of the fun of our world is to be found in finding out things. I couldn’t limit my characters by not allowing them to discover the ‘secrets’ behind the magic any more than I could answer my children with the ever-unsatisfying ‘just because’. For a child I expect that a truly magical realist work of fiction could prove equally intellectually unsatisfying, perhaps its one of these odd cases where a literary genre simply doesn’t scale well into a children’s version.

The books I’ve described above have no doubt been enjoyed by more adults and teens than children of twelve and under, they certainly rank extremely highly within my list of favourite books. However, for children reading what’s known as ‘middle grade fiction’ (more about it here) and those younger than them, I can’t help but feel that authors need to be ready for the ‘why’s and ‘how’s from their readers.

What genre of books do you think would/does translate well into ‘children’s’ versions? Which genre’s simple don’t translate at all? Am I wrong about the books listed above, do you think that children between eight and twelve enjoy them as much as teenagers? As always thanks for reading and don’t forget you can buy a copy (paperback or kindle edition) of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ over on this page.