Author Q&A with Greg Fowler

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I am thrilled to be today’s stop on the blog tour for T is for Tree by Greg Fowler, and very excited to present my very first author Q&A! Greg was kind enough to answer some questions for me – check them out below the blurb!

T is for Tree

Eddy knows he’s not like other teenagers. He doesn’t look like them. He doesn’t think like them. He doesn’t go to school or have friends like they do. Eddy’s not even allowed to leave his bedroom – except on shower day of course. He doesn’t know why; all Eddy knows is that he’s different.

Abandoned by his mother and kept locked away by his grandmother, Eddy must spend his life watching the world go by from his bedroom window. Until Reagan Crowe moves in next door and everything starts to change. She’s kind, funny, beautiful, and most importantly, she’s Eddy’s first friend. Over time, Reagan introduces Eddy to the strange and wonderful world outside his bedroom: maths, jam, love.

But growing up isn’t that simple for either of them. And Eddy has a secret. The tree that’s slowly creeping in through his window from the garden is no ordinary tree. But then again, Eddy’s no ordinary boy. He’s special…

Set over the course of five years, T is for Tree is moving, life-affirming, and shows that we can all find greatness in the small things.

Hi Greg! Thanks for doing this Q&A with me – I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day!

My pleasure. It is always fun answering questions.

Firstly, T is for Tree is quite an unusual book – where did the story come from?

It is an unusual story but that’s a good thing…I’d like to think. The story arrived from no single place. Initially it was going to be a story about Eddy getting revenge on all the people who tormented him, but as Eddy developed in my head, and on the page, he was too innocent for such a thing to happen. In the end, I wanted to tell a story about overcoming the odds. You only overcome odds when they are first stacked against you and that takes something special, something strong. That’s a great breeding ground for compelling characters, both good and bad. I also wanted to tell a story about how life will be how you choose to see it. Hopefully all of this comes across through Eddy’s journey.

You tackle some difficult issues in the book, from Eddy’s situation to Reagan’s illness – how did you go about researching this?

I’ll tackle the Reagan bit first. It’s a very unfortunately reality, but I think we all have a connection with someone who has fought cancer. It’s a tough journey to watch, let alone be the centre of. So I took my lead from watching others fight a very personal battle and filling in what gaps I could with internet based research.

As for the Eddy situation, that’s a harder one to explain. Like many authors, I suppose, I have this capacity to walk a mile in my character’s shoes. I grew up lucky, in that I was not bullied, or (thank goodness) locked away in my room. But I can imagine what it would be like, to the extent it can make me physically upset. To cut a long story, I found Eddy riding along in my head and I believed everything he did and said; hopefully that carries on to the pages.

Did anything in the story end up differently to the way you expected when you started writing?

Yes. Writing takes time and practice. One of the lessons I have learned is to plan, but not to over plan. Leave a little space between the pillars of your planning so that you can create and innovate along the way. That happened with T is for Tree. As mentioned earlier, this story initially had a darker edge to it, but it changed because Eddy simply wasn’t made that way.

I also committed a bit of a writer’s sin, in that I didn’t have the end before I started. That arrived of it’s own accord. When you believe in your characters enough, sometimes you just have to have faith in letting them do what they will do. There were occasions when I went along for the ride as much as any reader has.

Without spoiling anything (sorry, I know it’s difficult!), do you think you would have been able to make the same decisions Eddy does?

That’s a great question, and one I haven’t been asked before.

Eddy is undoubtedly selfless. That’s an amazing trait considering what he goes through. Could I do the same thing? I’d like to think I would and I could. If I placed my wife (or my children) in Reagan’s shoes, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

We know that Eddy’s different from the very beginning of T is for Tree, but we never find out exactly why. Was it important to you that this was never defined?

Another good question. I think it is important. Everybody faces challenges, some more than others. Some much, much more. I’d like to leave it to the reader to step into Eddy’s world, and the challenges he faces, with an open mind.

Finally, how would you pitch the book to anyone thinking of picking it up?

As you mentioned in your first question, this is an unusual story. It merges modern day realism with a touch of magic; enough to make you look for the magic in your every day life. It sings of love, forgiveness and all the lessons that come along for the ride. At the end of the day, it about how people really need each other and how we can run from that fact, but we can never hide from it.

Thanks so much for your answers Greg!

You can see Greg reading from T is for Tree in the video below, and don’t forget to check out the other stops in the blog tour!

T is for Tree is out now from Ink Road Books.

The End of an Era

I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was 7. By 9, I knew I wanted to teach History. My entire academic career was geared towards becoming an educator. And hey, secondary school teaching didn’t work out for me, but I made the leap to adult education and thought I’d found my place. That was 11 years ago, and in those 11 years, I’ve made a difference to people’s lives. I know I have. There are people who started new careers because of the qualifications I helped them gain. People who had always been afraid of English or Maths discovered that they could do it after all. And I loved it. I loved seeing people reach their potential in ways they hadn’t dreamed possible for years. But  tomorrow is my last day working in education. And it’s weird.

I’m pretty certain it’s the right decision for me. I hate the pressure of Ofsted, the constant erosion of funding, the ever-present need to do more for less, and the ridiculous amount of paperwork that stops me being able to prepare effectively, and anyone who follows me on twitter knows that hate is too mild a word for me feelings towards my curent workplace. But I’ve been convinced for most of the last 30 years that education was the career for me, so it’s very strange to be leaving it for something completely different. It’s scary too. Education works very differently to other sectors and I haven’t worked in the ‘real world’ for anything more than a few weeks since university. My commute has gone from a 10 minute drive to an hour on the bus, again something I haven’t had to do since university.

I don’t start my new job until the first week of September, so I have two lovely weeks to prepare myself, which I think I’m going to need. But if I go a bit quiet (again), at least this time you’ll know why.

(I know I don’t usually post personal stuff on the blog, but I wanted to make an exception for this. Thanks for reading!)

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Diverse Books Recommendations

Hello! Yes, it’s been a while. Between YALC, Nine Worlds and work, my blogging time recently has been cut down to practically nothing. However, I am about to have two weeks off work and hopefully this will give me the push to get the posts I need written! I thought Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme run by The Broke and The Bookish (which has been on hiatus for a few weeks and I’m so glad it’s back!) would be a good way to slide back into regular blogging. This week’s theme is ten books to recommend for…and I’ve chosen to rec ten diverse books.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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2. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

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3. A Change Is Gonna Come by Various

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4. Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

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5. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

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6. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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7. Release by Patrick Ness

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8. This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson

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9. The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

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10. Another Place by Matthew Crow

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Which diverse books would you recommend? Have you read any of the ones on my list? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Another Place

A few weeks ago, Atom Books put out an open call for bloggers to review Another Place by Matthew Crow, and I was lucky enough to be sent a copy. I didn’t really know what it was about, but I’d seen some buzz about it on social media, and there was a cover quote from Matt Haig about Crow’s last book, so I hoped it would be good. I was not disappointed!

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A small town. A missing schoolgirl. A terrible secret. And one girl’s fight to survive.

Sixteen-year-old Claudette Flint is coming home from hospital after an escalating depression left her unable to cope. Released into the care of her dad, she faces the daunting task of piecing herself back together.

She may look unchanged; but everything’s different. The same could be said about her seaside hometown: this close-knit community seems to be unspooling in the wake of the sudden disappearance of one of her schoolmates, Sarah.

As the police investigate and the press dig around for dirt, small town secrets start to surface – and Claudette must do everything in her power to keep her head above water. 

Another Place is a novel about lost girls – and the meaning of home.

Another Place is so good, I really recommend it you get hold of it as soon as it comes out. It has great mental health rep (Claudette, the main character, has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after years of suffering with depression) and it’s also really interesting in the way it explores class  – there’s a definite divide between the middle and working classes in the community, which can be seen in the attitudes towards Sarah.

We only get to meet Sarah through flashbacks, as Claudette remembers her friend, but I found myself really liking her. She’s not a nice character by any means, but she comes across as a survivor, who does what it takes to get by…until of course, she goes missing. Claudette is convinced that the key to her own recovery is finding out what happened to Sarah, and sets about doing so. Claudette herself is difficult. She’s clearly still struggling, but instead of turning to the people who love her, she becomes obsessed with her quest, and hurts a lot of people. The book is marketed as something of a mystery, but it’s much more about Claudette’s journey to accepting who she is.

Fortunately, Claudette is surrounded by great supporting characters. Her dad, her almost-stepmother and her best friend are fantastic and I loved seeing them interact with Claudette and try to show her that they’re there for her. Donna, the best friend, is particularly good at home truths, which Claudette was sorely in need of at times. I also very much liked Mr Fitzpatrick, a curmudgeonly soul who is unexpectedly nice to Claudette one day, leading to an unlikely friendship.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I think it’s much better if you go into this book knowing as little about it as possible, but I really did think it was great and exceptionally well-written. It’s out today, 3rd August, and I hope that if you do check it out you enjoy it as much as I did.

4/5

I received an ARC from Atom Books in exchange for an honest review.

Blogiversary/100 Followers Giveaway!

Back in June I realised this blog had reached its first birthday, and I promised a giveaway. Alas, life has interfered since then, and in the meantime, the blog also hit 100 followers, and so it seemed the time was right to finally follow through on that promise I made almost two months ago. First of all though, I would like to say a big

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to all of you who have made the last year so much fun. Everyone has been so welcoming and willing to engage that I am incredibly glad I started this blog in June last year.

But to the point of the post! To celebrate my one year blogiversary, and reaching 100 followers, I am giving away two SIGNED UK hardback books that I personally love.

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All About Mia by Lisa Williamson is a fantastic story about family, growing up and learning to find value in yourself. When her sister comes home unexpectedly with a big announcement, Mia thinks that now’s her time to shine, but things don’t quite work out that way and instead, her life starts to spiral out of control. Is it really a good thing to be the centre of attention?

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is a bewitching tale of danger, love and heartbreak, in the magical setting of a legendary game. Scarlett has dreamed of being invited to participate in Caraval for years, but just as she thinks the dream is over, her invitation arrives. Escaping her abusive father and forthcoming marriage, Scarlett travels to fulfil her dream, but finds much more than she bargained for.

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What you win:

  • A UK hardback of All About Mia, signed by Lisa Williamson
  • A UK hardback (Tesco exclusive) of Caraval, signed by Stephanie Garber

(The Tesco exclusive Caraval is gold embossed with a top hat under the dustwrapper)

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How to enter:

  • Follow the blog
  • Follow me on twitter (@donnamk79)
  • Leave a comment on the blog
  • Tweet about the giveaway
  • Remember to click the rafflecopter link below to claim your entries!

This giveaway is open internationally, and will close at midday BST on 20th August 2017.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER

Happy Things #3

I’m currently away with work so I didn’t think I was going to manage to post this week, but happily I’ve been left alone for a bit and have a working internet connection, so I thought I’d better make the most of it.

Unfortunately, this week has been as rubbish as the last and so I only have one happy thing to post, but it’s a doozy.

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My happiest thing by far last week was the BBC following through on the implied promise they’d been making all season, and cast Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor in Doctor Who. I’ll admit, I was absolutely convinced they would go for their usual ‘safe’ choice (and I also know that this is only a teeny step forward and casting a WoC would have been an even better choice), but they surprised me and I screamed with happiness. Also, Jodie Whittaker is awesome and I love her.

So there you have my one happy thing from the last week. (OK, this is a lie. I was also happy that #UKYAChat was back after a hiatus and it was glorious, but it also took place when I’d just got back from a funeral, so I wasn’t in the best headspace.) What made you happy this week? Are you as chuffed as I am that we have a female Doctor? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Blackwing

Blackwing by Ed McDonald has been gathering a fair amount of hype in the last few months. A debut released on the 27th July, it’s epic fantasy in the tradition of grimdark, and the proof copies are just magnificent – so when Stevie Finegan at Gollancz offered some out to bloggers, I jumped at the chance. And you know what? It deserves the hype.

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It’s been a while since I read an epic fantasy, but Blackwing was the perfect book to get back into the genre. The worldbuilding is stunning – I was able to vividly picture The Misery and Valengrad, as well as the various heroes and villains, and I’m not sure I’ve ever come across as creepy a bad guy as the Darling. There’s plenty of blood and guts too, and the very real consequences of the war being fought are clear. I also loved the idea of the Nameless Ones, and the way they’ve mostly abandoned the general populace, just when they need them most.

The plot rockets along and is full of surprises. There’s a definite Game of Thrones-y sense that you don’t want to get too attached to any of the characters, because there’s a higher than average chance they’re not going to last very long. It did take me a little while to get into, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I had plenty of things I needed to be doing last Sunday, but not one of them actually got done, for which I entirely blame Ed McDonald for writing such an addictive book!

The real strength of Blackwing, though, is in the characters. Galharrow is a bit of a bastard, yes, but it’s born of the things he has done and witnessed. I loved the hints of his past with Ezabeth, and how it affects his present. I especially loved his relationships with Nenn and Tnota – this is a group who have been through thick and thin together, and it shows in their every interaction. Nenn will call Galharrow on his bullshit, but trust him when it counts, and he will do the same for her, and I loved that you could see that came from their experiences together, without it needing to be explicitly said. They’re a fantastic group of characters, and I’m hoping it’s not too long before I get to meet them again.

In short, if you are a fan of epic fantasy (or, y’know, books in general), you need to read this book. It’s a stunning debut novel and it absolutely deserves the hype it’s been getting.

4.5/5

ARC received from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

June Wrap-Up

I’m aware that this is rather late. We are nearly halfway through July after all, but life has, sadly, been getting in the way again. I didn’t want to miss another month’s wrap-up though so here we are.

June Reading

I only read 8 books in June, which is definitely a disappointment. It wasn’t helped by having a different bedtime book to my daytime book, but I really wanted to read my lovely new house edition of Harry Potter! Anyway, this month’s books were:

Three of them I read in one day, so it really wasn’t a good reading month. At least I managed some reviews? And while I may not have managed a great quantity, I really enjoyed all of those books, so the quality was great! I haven’t managed any great progress on my YALC TBR though, so I am rapidly revising which authors I need to see at the end of the month. Two of those books were from Netgalley though, and two others were review copies, so I’m happy with that, if nothing else.

June Book Haul

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So normally this is where I would have taken a picture of all the books I acquired in June but, er, it turns out I can’t remember which ones they were. Oops. The books above are the ones I already had photos of, but there are about three weeks’ worth not shown! Two of them are review copies, which I’m really pleased about, and that set of Alison Croggan books were a prize in a twitter competition from Walker Books, which I was amazed to win. I haven’t had a chance to start them yet, but they look awesome!

Events

I only went to one event this month, which was Juno Dawson on the tour for her latest book, The Gender Games. It was a really good event, and I always love listening to Juno talk, but unfortunately I was streaming with cold and wasn’t at my best. I was supposed to also be going to an event in Manchester, but it was cancelled.

Looking Ahead

Obviously the main event in July is YALC, which starts on the 28th. I am so looking forward to this it is unbelievable. The schedule was released last Friday, so I know the panels and signings I want to go to – now I just need to work out how I’m going to manage it! Reading wise, I’m going to concentrate on my YALC TBR. I’m currently re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban, so I’ll finish that and put the Potter re-read on hold until after YALC. Netgalley books are also going to have to wait! On the 17th August I’ll be taking part in my second blog tour, for T is for Tree, so keep an eye out for that review (the book, btw, looks absolutely gorgeous, and you can find out more about it and read a sample on the Ink Roads website).

How was your June? What have you got planned for July? Let me know in the comments!

 

Happy Things #2

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Last week was an absolute stinker in many ways, and as a result my mental health took a nosedive and a lot of things went to the wall. Including the blog. I’m fairly certain that there are reviews that now won’t get written, but sometimes you have to take a step back to process. However, I’ve decided the best way to put all that behind me is to concentrate on the positives, so it’s time for the happy things of the last two weeks.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, with some of my favourite members of the New Adventures company. A weekend in London. Angels in America, which was fantastic. Meeting Andrew Garfield and Russell Tovey (among others). A long walk in the sunshine. Excellent books. The biggest, most needed cup of tea in the world, provided by someone who didn’t need to be asked. Listening to Matt Haig talk about How to Stop Time. Book club and excellent people. My dad’s birthday. Family barbecue. Fab book post. A day spent reading. Three hours in Starbucks talking books and Doctor Who. A phone call with my best friend. An empty office at work. Finding out my favourite character is returning to a TV show. Spider-Man: Homecoming.

What’s made you happy recently? Let me know in the comments!

The YALC Survival Guide

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As Top Ten Tuesday is on hiatus this week, and it’s been announced that the YALC schedule will be released on Friday, I thought now might be a good time to do a YALC survival guide. I know that some of you are going for the first time this year, so I hope you find this useful! (I also highly recommend reading this post by Amber over at The Mile Long Bookshelf, which she wrote before last year’s YALC, especially if you suffer from anxiety.)

1. Stay hydrated

YALC takes place at the end of July, and it tends to be hot. There is air-conditioning on site, but there are a lot of people there and it’s not always effective. You’re going to need to be drinking water regularly, or you’re going to do yourself damage. And I do mean water – caffeinated drinks aren’t going to help. This is really the most important tip I can give you, and is true of any con you might go to. It’s remarkably easy to forget!

2. Plan

There’s a lot going on at YALC, so you’re going to want to take advantage of these few weeks with the schedule to work out how you’re going to best use your time. Related to this…

3. Accept you’re not going to be able to do everything

Seriously. Come to terms with that now, and your time at YALC will be a lot pleasanter! It is impossible to make it to every signing, panel and workshop. Usually how it works is there’ll be a panel, and then straight after that, the panellists will go to their signing tables and sign for around 90 minutes (well, it’s scheduled for about 90 minutes. Some go on much longer). In the course of that 90 minutes, the next panel will start. If you were in the first panel, you’re not going to be at the front of the signing queue for any of those authors, let alone all of them, so you’re probably going to miss at least some of the next panel, and so it goes on. Last year I missed a panel I really wanted to see because I messed up and was still in Patrick Ness’s signing line. This did mean I was right at the front of V E Schwab’s line though. The big name authors like Ness, Schwab, Laini Taylor, E Lockhart and probably Ryan Graudin are going to have HUGE queues, and you need to take that into account when you plan.

4. Don’t overdo it

Take breaks. Remember to eat. There are places within Olympia where you can buy food, but they’re expensive, so I recommend taking something with you. There are small supermarkets in the vicinity, and a bigger Tesco in Hammersmith tube station, but remember that everyone else probably has the same idea, so they sell out of stuff quickly. If you feel ill, or that you’re running out of cope, tell someone. Everyone’s really friendly, and they’ll help you. I nearly fainted at one point last year, and the people manning the Electric Monkey stand were lovely to me when I asked if I could sit down there.

5. Follow the publishers on twitter/instagram

There are always a ton of publisher stands, and they do regular giveaways. The best way to find out about these is to follow their social media accounts. I don’t use instagram, so I can’t help you there, but some twitter accounts you might find useful are: @HQYoungAdult@BooksWithBiteUK@WalkerBooksYA/@WalkerBooksUK@Chapter5Books@EMTeenFiction (Electric Monkey), @HotKeyBooks. There are others, but these are a start.

6. Take cash

All those publisher stands? They sell books, often at a discount. Although a lot of them have card machines, they rely on the wifi at Olympia and it’s not great, especially when there are thousands of people trying to use it at the same time. There are also cash machines on site, but again, remember there are a lot of people who’ll be wanting to use them and they *will* run out of money, so bring what you want to spend in cash. This will also stop you accidentally bankrupting yourself, which I very almost did two years ago. Not my finest hour! It’s also worth bearing in mind though that the publishers won’t be selling books of the authors officially attending – those you have to buy from the Waterstones stand, and they won’t have any offers on them.

7. Take a break

I know, I know. I already mentioned this in number 4, but it’s really important. A day at YALC is EXHAUSTING. If you’re doing more than one day, imagine what you’re going to feel like by Sunday. You need to take breaks. There’s a lovely chill-out area with beanbags, deckchairs and books, so take advantage of it. You can also leave the site and come back in if you need some fresh air. I know you’re probably thinking that there’s no way you’ll have time to do that, but seriously, make time. It’s worth it.

8. Don’t be afraid to approach people

I’m a bit wary of saying this, because it’s not true of all authors, but many of them are perfectly happy to be approached as they’re wandering the convention. I’m not saying pounce on them with your entire collection of their books, but if you want to say hi and have a bit of a fangirl/boy at them, many of them won’t mind. A lot of authors are there as fans as well as professionally, and they understand. At the same time, *please* be aware of their need for a break and personal space too, and if they make it clear they are not up for being approached, respect that.

9. Work out in advance how you’re going to carry your books

Each time I’ve been to YALC, I’ve come back with a lot of books. And I mean a LOT. Mostly I’ve carried them around with me in tote bags (it’s a publishing event; you will be overwhelmed by tote bags!) but that’s not great for my shoulders or my back. Two years ago I ended up having to get the bus back to Euston – which took about 2 hours because of Friday rush hour – because I could not possibly carry those books to the tube station. It’s definitely something to think about – and remember that if you’re coming from a distance, you also have to get those books home with you. I know, terrifying isn’t it?

10. Talk to people

Everyone at YALC is a fan like you. You will find people you can squee with while you’re queuing to meet your favourite author, people you can argue passionately with about who you ship, people who love the same things you do. But only if you talk to them. I know it’s scary, but I’ve honestly met some great people at YALC, and the advent of social media (god, I sound so old) means you can keep in touch with them so easily. Last year, I met someone in the queue to get in, who turned out to live half an hour away from me. We’ve been to at least five local book signings together in the last year. The last day at YALC last year, I met the lovely Alice while queuing for a signing, and I’m looking forward to seeing her again this year. It’s worth making the effort to start up a conversation, although again, respect people’s personal boundaries.

11. Have fun!

Yeah, nothing to add to this one, just enjoy yourself.

I hope that’s a little bit helpful to those of you going to YALC this year. This will be my fourth year, and I really do love it. If you think I’ve missed anything out, or you have questions, please let me know in the comments!