Sunday, 21 June 2015

Outcaste by Ellen Renner

Those of us who have been waiting eagerly for the sequel to Ellen Renner's Tribute, about Zara the Archmage's daughter, have  had our patience rewarded. Initially scheduled for publication in August last year, Outcaste, published by Hot Key, was delayed while Ellen wrote four books for OUP. But here it is at last.

Zara has escaped her home city of Asphodel and is travelling with the Knowledge Seekers to the Maker home city of Genst (but this summary will not help you if you haven't read Tribute!) What you need to know is that she is one of a group of Rebels who hope to find an alliance with the Makers against the tyranny of Zara's father, the Archmage Benedict.

She has fallen for Aidan, the Maker her father imprisoned and whom she helped to rescue and their connection survives all through the long and dangerous journey they are both on.

So far, so according to many, many love stories in fantasy novels. But here's where it all changes. Zara discovers that Aidan's culture is very backward when it comes to attitudes towards women. And what is worse, he is not immune to those views himself.

But there are even more horrific secrets to be discovered in the Maker city and Zara is driven back to Asphodel to confront her father. The story isn't over yet. Please don't make us wait too long for the resolution, Ellen Renner!



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Out with the old, in with the new





Off to BAFTA this week for the announcement of the new Children's Laureate, the ninth, who will bear the crown for the next two years. The eighth Laureate, Malorie Blackman, has been such an outstanding star, that I really did wonder who could possibly follow her. Not only has she involved many more teenagers in reading through her YALC initiative, she has travelled the length and breadth of the country to talk to anyone and everyone about the importance of books and reading. She even came to be the "outside speaker" at the writers' conference I was organising with a friend in Peterborough in 2014:
And this picture shows you another reason that she was so popular: everything was done with such good humour and joy.

So, who was going to be brave (mad?) enough to take on that mantle? I had heard rumours - there are always murmurs. "It must be a man" (after two women in a row) , "It should be an illustrator," "It is definitely going to be X," "No, no, I know for a fact that it's Y."

Well in the event it was both the first but neither X nor Y. And my heart lifted. If there is anyone in the children's book world who can live up to his predecessor, it's our new Laureate Chris Riddell.


 It has been a very popular choice for the following reasons:

• Reach - Chris's picture book illustrations are legendary and have won him prizes (Two Kate Greenaway medals so far). His interpretations of writing by Neil Gaiman find an older audience as do his own Goth Girl books (winner of the Costa). But his political cartoons, for the Observer and New Statesman, have introduced his wit and acute observations to adults too. People are going to know who this Laureate is.

• Speed - Chris is a fast worker. He has pledged and is already fulfilling that pledge to draw at least one picture a day of his laureateship, making a unique visual journal of his years in office. He's doing it in a beautiful book given him by his mother. My only worry is that Chris's mum should have made it a bigger book.

• Humanity - it shines out of all his work: from the gentle humour to the acerbic lampoons. This is a man with his heart in the right place.

• Quality - not only is he a superb natural artist, who is perfecting hs craft by using it all the time; he is drawn to quality in the projects he takes on or initiates (I say nothing of his collaboration with Russell Brand, because I haven't read The Pied Piper of Hamelin).*

• Modesty - You see in the colour picture above his version of himself as as pudgy everyman with a Pooterish air but the photos tell a different story. He is equally unassuming about his work.

The great and the good - and a few of the bad - were gathered to applaud the outgoing laureate (for so long she had to stop us) and celebrate the new. The pictures below are brought to you by a combination of Nicolette Jones and myself (after a phone malfunction) and give a flavour of the party.

Patrick Ness and Julia Eccleshare




Elissa Elwick, Liz Pichon, Sarah Macintyre, Mary Hoffman and a photo-bomber

Our new Laureate


Chris as Superhero The Doodler

Chris's cartoon of Malorie Blackman
* I really can't be modest myself about the fact that Chris has illustrated two of my books. In fact Beware, Princess! (1986) might just have been his first professional commission for a trade book. Here is the dragon from that book, now displayed on the wall of my study.