Saturday, 18 March 2017

The White Hare blog tour

Head of Zeus is launching Zephyr, a brand new children's imprint. The White Hare by Michael Fishwick is their launch title. The hardback's jacket has a lovely matt texture and beautiful deep red end pages. I've read the first page and it's good. I'm wishing Zephyr and The White Hare all the best for a great launch and future. 




A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind. 

Robbie doesn't want anything more to do with death, but life in a village full of whispers and secrets can't make things the way they were. 

When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase, a hunt. 

But who is the hunter and who the hunted? 

In The White Hare, Michael Fishwick deftly mingles a coming-of-age story with mystery, myth and summer hauntings.




Read an extract from The White Hare:


*******

It was a long way to Alice’s, but he made it in the end.
He didn’t want her parents to see him, so he waited up the road for her to come home from school, his hood over his head just in case. He had texted her to tell her where he was. His phone had been full of texts from everybody, he had deleted them all without bothering to read them. The battery was going, anyway.
He looked around him. Alice lived on an estate on the outskirts of Sherborne. Rows of new houses marched together like soldiers on parade. Sometimes a bus stopped at the end of the road and people got out and mingled, then disappeared home, leaving everything neat and regimental again.
Suddenly there was Alice coming towards him in her school uniform, eyes singing with excitement.
 ‘You’re in so much trouble,’ she exclaimed. She gave him a big kiss. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Coming to see you.’
‘You’re out of your mind.’
‘Yeah, you’re not the only one thinks that.’
‘You can’t come over to mine. My mum and dad will call the police. Or your dad.’
‘Not sure which is worse.’
‘Come on, what’re you doing here?’
‘Running away.’
‘Really? And where are you going?’
She’d got a point.
‘Need to find somewhere to hole up for a while.’
‘“To hole up”? Robbie, your dad’s in a total state. Your sisters are too. Jess called me. Oh, and the police came and pulled me out of school.’
‘What for?’
‘To see if I knew anything, ’cos Sheila told them we were friends.’
‘She’s all heart.’
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘Stay with you. Haven’t you got a shed or something?’
She looked round conspiratorially.
‘There’s the garage. Dad’s car’s being serviced and there’s some part they haven’t got they’ve sent away for so he’s not getting it back for at least a week.’ She took him to a row of garages painted a dull blood colour. Some of them had cars outside on the tarmac, which sloped down to the road.
‘Wait here,’ she said. He watched the strings of red and blue beads bobbing in her hair as she ran, then he sat down on the warm ground. He was almost asleep by the time she was back.
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Mum wouldn’t stop talking, and it was hard to get the key without giving something away.’ She twisted it in the lock, wrestled with the handle and pulled. Inside, the garage smelled of wet concrete. It was almost bare, except for some cupboards and some used paint tins stacked up on top of each other.
‘Ta da!’ sang Alice, pirouetting. A mattress was propped on its side, almost invisible against the dirty whitewash of the back wall.
‘But, Robbie, am I going to get into trouble over you? Won’t I be aiding and abetting or something? Isn’t that what they call it?’
‘I won’t be staying long. And you’d go to the ends of the earth for me, you know you would.’
‘Ends of the earth but not the Youth Court or whatever, that thing you went to.’
‘No, it’s not nice.’ He pulled the mattress flat.  It was spotted with black mould.
‘I think maybe just the night.’
‘All right, be fussy. Then where are you going?’
‘Away.’
‘You’ve got no idea, have you?’
 ‘Yeah, I do.’ Maybe London. Maybe look up his old friends. Would they want him back?
He was rapidly working out the downside of running away. He was so hungry again he could have eaten the mattress, mould and all. And people were walking past, the estate wasn’t totally dead, it just looked it, so hiding wasn’t going to be easy. And night was coming on.
Alice seemed to know what he was thinking.
‘I can give you a few pounds if you want,’ she said. ‘It’s all I’ve got. There’s a chippy at the corner if you’re desperate. I’ll see what I can get you from home.’
‘Can you leave the garage door open?’
‘Nah, people’ll think it’s weird, they might take a look. I’ll have to shut it. It won’t lock from the inside, though, so I’ll leave it unlocked. You can get out if you need to.’
‘And anyone can get in if they want to.’
‘Well, yeah.’
So he sat there in the dark, the light at the edges of the door beginning to fade. It seemed hours before she returned. She’d changed her clothes.
‘I couldn’t get away again,’ she declared, after slamming the door down. She’d brought him a torch and some biscuits.
‘Is that all? I’m going to die.’
‘Mum knows her cupboards and the fridge inside out. She knows where every bean is. She’d notice.  So don’t be ungrateful.’
‘I’m not. I’m just about to faint, that’s all.’
‘Here.’ She pulled out a bottle of water.
‘Won’t she miss that, then?’
‘No. Got it out of the bottles bag. Tap water.’ She pulled off her jacket and then the sweater underneath. ‘This is for you. It’s usually at the bottom of my drawer. It’s going to be cold in here.’
They lay on the mattress making shadows on the ceiling with the torch for a while, before Alice had to go.
‘I’m pushing it, anyway. I’m not supposed to be out this late.’
After she’d left Robbie listened to the sounds from outside, trying not to lie on his side because the mattress smelled so bad.
Cars crawled past, then one swept up to the next-door garage, there was lots of banging and crashing and the car door slammed. He could hear some guys playing football in the dark, the ball slithering along the tarmac, the booms as it hit one of the garage doors they were using for a goal. Then some girls went by, talking loudly about some guy they fancied.
Robbie was thinking about that chippy. His stomach was howling for food.
He listened at the garage door to see if there was anything happening outside, then pushed it open a bit so he could slide underneath. The chippy was a golden glow at the end of the road.
There were loads of people in there, and the smell was just too much. It seemed like forever before it was his turn, and suddenly there was a noise in his ear like the crowd at a football match, and he turned to find a policeman standing behind him. His radio had just burst into life. What with the smell and the wait and the shock and the worry Robbie must have swayed a bit, because he found the policeman looking down at him, his eyes narrowing.
‘You all right, son?’
‘Yeah, thanks. Just hungry.’
‘You live round here, do you?’
‘Yeah, over there. Well, just staying the night. Sleepover.’
‘Where are you at school, then?’
Robbie told him.
The man behind the counter was looking impatient.
‘Sorry,’ Robbie said. ‘Large chips, cod, large coke, please.’
‘Aren’t they feeding you at this sleepover, then?’
Robbie laughed as if he’d just heard the world’s funniest joke. ‘Yeah, I’m greedy, that’s all. Guess I’m just a growing boy!’
‘I’ll have the same as him,’ the policeman said.
‘You greedy too, are yeh?’ said the man.
‘Hungry work, nicking people,’ said the policeman, and turned looking for an audience. He got a big cheesy grin from Robbie, but everyone else looked bored.
‘That’s four-fifty.’
Robbie only had four.
‘Oh, can you keep the Coke? What’s that, then?’ ‘Three-ninety.’
‘Yeah, got it.’
‘You need some more pocket money, son.’
‘Yeah, I do, you’re so right, thanks.’
Then he was out, stuffing his face as he ran.
The salt made him thirsty, but he tried not to finish the water. He leaned back against the wall in the dark, feeling bloated.
So.
There was only one analysis of his situation, bleak, but simple. He’d got nothing and nowhere to go.
Some light was sneaking in at the edges of the door, mostly moonlight. It would last a few hours. The night stretched ahead.
He’d work it all out in the morning.
He was awake, at least he thought he was. Something had woken him. He had been drifting in and out of sleep, and he couldn’t see a thing. There it was again. Metal against metal. Just outside. Good thing I didn’t reach for the torch, he thought.
What’s out there?
There was no singing this time. Something scraped on the tarmac.
If he rolled over a few times he could make it to the door and maybe see though the gap between the door and the floor.
His gut felt tight and his heart was racing.
It had gone quiet.
Maybe it was the police. Maybe Alice had told them. Maybe her mum and dad had got it out of her, asking her where she’d been, they’d noticed the key was missing and then it wasn’t, what were you doing in the garage, Alice?
He couldn’t hear anything.
Maybe they’d gone.
Maybe they were waiting.
Waiting for what?
For him to make a move.
I’m going back to sleep, he decided, but of course he couldn’t.
The silence and the darkness around him felt as if they’d come alive. They were listening, watching. It was almost as if they were about to talk to him.
What would they say, the silence and the darkness? They were cold and threatening, they would say cold, threatening things. Things about dying, about people who should be friends hating each other, about bad people always coming out on top.
He tried to sing to himself, but the words wouldn’t come.
Something bumped on the tarmac outside.
Help.
No, wait, I know that noise, I’ve heard it before. Slowly, slowly, he rolled towards the door. Mustn’t make a sound.
He reached the door and peered under it. Outside, a streetlight glared, and he could see the car outside the next-door garage. It was a Volvo. And he could see what he knew he would. The tyres had gone. Someone had jacked them. That’s what the bump was, rubber on tarmac. He’d heard it, seen it, hundreds of times.
The thieves had vanished.
Relief flooded through him. He wanted to dance around the garage, hugging the darkness and silence and giving them kisses.
He could even have sworn the mattress smelled sweet.
He curled up.
Mags, that’s it. Mags understands. One of her hiding places, she can hide me. Now Fleet’s gone. She can hide me instead of Fleet.
Then what?
Then nothing. Something will happen. Something will happen.
Something.
‘Robbie.’
Oh, no.
Did he hear that? Did he hear someone calling him? He was imagining it.
Sleep now.
There was that tightness in his gut again.
I need a doctor, that’s what I need, he thought. I’ve handled the silence and the dark and a bunch of tyre-jackers.
Anyway.
I imagined it.
See a doctor.
Go to sleep.
Mags. She’ll sort it. She knows.
It’s so dark. All the moonlight’s gone now.
‘Robbie.’ There it came again.
No, no, he thought. I don’t want this.
It was outside. It always started outside. He felt as if he was being invaded.
It was a girl’s voice. Her voice. No singing.
What did she want?
He began to panic. What can I do? How can I stop her? How long will all this go on for?
The garage door trembled, as if a strong gust of wind had blown against it.
Then it began to open.
He couldn’t move. He tried, but he couldn’t. Was something holding him, or was he dreaming?
He couldn’t see anything in the darkness of the garage, but he could hear the door opening and there was light out there. Just enough, now, to see her, there was light about her, there was always light about her, and not just the streetlight.
He began to feel her pain again, like he had in the wood.
There she was. Black tights, boots, denim, long blonde hair. She was looking at him. For the first time he could sense her anger. Intense, vengeful.
What does she want?
Then something changed. She didn’t look the same any more.
Who did she look like?
He thought, she looks, it’s weird, she looks like Mum, when she was young, in pictures, how she used to be. I never saw her like that.
Something changed again, and again, over and over, and it was as if she had thousands of faces, passing like clouds across the moon on a windy night.
Then she was gone.
The door shut.
He was trembling. The sweat was cooling on his skin.
At least the pain had gone too.
He was left with the fear, biting into him.
And the silence and the darkness were laughing at him.
Told you so, they were saying.
He wanted to turn on the torch, but he couldn’t in case anyone saw the light.
Not if he put it under his t-shirt, though. Just for a bit.
That was better. Much better.
He curled up round the torch. The light shone through, but softly, only for him.

*******

Extract ends.


Friday, 10 March 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner is the author of debut The Serpent King, a warmly funny, charming and moving young adult novel that I couldn't put down. After reading his novel, and looking over his website, I'm delighted to have asked him a few very random questions.


WSD: Do you like Segway (I looked at your twitter too)?

Jeff Zentner: I would rather walk slowly down a busy street completely nude, with people pointing and laughing and trying to hit me in the butt with darts than ride down the same street on a Segway. 


WSD: You have 9 tattoos! I have none. Tell me about yours and make it sound interesting (but be sensitive, I'm scared of needles).

Jeff Zentner: It's actually 11. Many have very long, boring stories. I have one I got to commemorate appearing on a recording with two of my musical idols, Nick Cave and Iggy Pop. One I got when I decided to become a writer, to burn the bridge behind me and force me to go through with it. I have both of my book titles in my title font. I hope this sounds interesting. They were all done by, uh, a...pirate captain? There you go. 


WSD: Yes, that sounded interesting. But, do you like snakes (like needles, I'm also afraid of spiders)?

Jeff Zentner: Not especially, but nor am I especially afraid of them.


WSD: What do you like about cast-iron skillets?

Jeff Zentner: I love how durable and nondisposable they are. I use one from the 1940s on a daily basis. You can see the marks where a human being hand-filed down a rough spot. There's something poignant to me about creations that endure and endure. Plus, they're a southern cooking tradition and food made with them tastes really great. 


WSD: Do you like fantasy novels?

Jeff Zentner: I do, but I've read very few. Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones. That's about it. 


WSD: We know you like music. You can wax lyrical for a bit now.

Jeff Zentner: Music was my first love. It was the thing that made me believe I had something beautiful to share with the world. 


WSD: Did you ever want to leave Tennessee (I'm assuming you grew up there)?

Jeff Zentner: At times, and I tried, but I came back. This is my home. 


WSD: And here, you can answer a question I haven't asked.

Jeff Zentner: Why yes I do have another book out soon! GOODBYE DAYS will be out in March!


WSD: So there we go - another book out this month!


****

The Serpent King was nominated and has been longlisted for the 2017 Carnegie medal.




Thursday, 9 March 2017

A Life Discarded - Alexander Masters

148 diaries found in a skip. The author is unknown and a stranger starts to read them, and then write this book about them.



It's years since I read a biography (and I don't think I've ever done it just for fun). Invariably, they're all about celebrities of some sort (generalisation, I know, but still....) but this one! The social researcher inside me was alerted and my brain chemistry was already smouldering.

A Life Discarded is a wonderful interweaving of the biographer's inner thoughts with those of the unknown diarist. Who were they and, perhaps more intriguingly, why were these diaries dumped (died alone was probably my foremost presumption)?

The diarist doesn't name themselves, and there doesn't seem to be a clear chronology. This makes for lots of narrative twists and turns, which A Life Discarded uses to good effect. The biography is deliberately written and structured to heighten this sense of intrigue and ever-deepening mystery. Alexander Masters alludes to this intention by offering up, early on, mistakes that he discovers in his assumptions about the diarist's life. Of course, these add an extra element of humour and poignancy to the narrative.

And, of course, there is the whole question of ethics: entering into the private space of a person's life - these are a lot of diaries; does them being in a skip mean you have been invited or not? And history; again 'of course', how do we make it and record it? How reliable is it, and at what and whose expense? Masters doesn't ignore these issues that are potentially big ethical problems, and includes conversations he's had with his history and philosophy academic friends. Throughout the novel, Masters talks his way through his ever-changing methodology. It feels a bit like the Famous Five Does a PhD, and I was charmed on both counts.

A Life Discarded brings the diarist's recordings (otherwise discarded both on paper and in their own mind) alive, and also plays a wonderful tribute to important people in Alexander Masters' life, most notably Dido Davies who gave him the diaries and was living with terminal cancer throughout the development of the autobiography.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's probably one of those where little things about it will stick with me and I'll bring them up in conversation at some point in the future.

Read further if you want to find out a bit about the diarist. It's a little bit spoilers but not too much. You decide.


Publication details: 2017 (paperback edition), 4th Estate, London
This copy: received for possible review from the publisher




Spoiler Alert! 

Spoiler ahead!


Alexander Masters talks about the diarist as a 'he'. And then he discovers that he is a 'she'. This brings another ethical dimension to the biography, which Masters does not shy away from: a man reading a woman's intimate thoughts and descriptions about her personal life. Oh boy! Frankly, this could have gone so wrong. But, it doesn't.