Friday, 22 August 2014

Growing up on the Miriam Halahmy

Outside our house in Hayes. The same lamppost we used in our games back in the day!
I have recently made a nostalgic trip with my brother down memory lane to the place where we spent the first ten years of our lives - Hayes, Middlesex. Not perhaps the most inspiring landscape for a budding writer but that's all we had and now I write novels and my brother, Louis Berk, is a semi-professional photographer. Hayes must have had a part to play in our creative development. It certainly was the place where my childhood imagination took wings, stimulated by my voracious appetite for reading.

The street outside our house where we played with our gang, just any of the local kids.

We were one of the last generations of children to grow up in complete freedom to roam and so we played out until dark, either in the street outside our house or up the rec where the bad boys roamed! Our mothers never knew where we were. It was a golden time for childhood and I had many adventures. But reading was still the most important thing I did.
I still remember my mother waving me off at the door, after dark on a November afternoon, the street lamps glowing yellow and walking to the top of our road and down the next one to the little library. I must have been all of nine years old. We found the building but the inside has been converted into flats.

The library was my treasure house although I was only allowed to take out three books each week and couldn't join the adult library until I was eleven. But those weekly visits were the high point of my week.
I read through the entire canon of any author I loved from E. Nesbit, through Enid Blyton to Richmal Crompton and hundreds in between. My imaginative life slipped between the games in the street, the exploration of my area on my bike and the books I read. In between I wrote poems, stories and songs.

I started nursery classes at three and a half in this room above a Burton tailoring shop and I remember this big grey front so well. My teacher,Mrs Ison, wore her university gown to teach her class of 3-7 year olds. I loved her classes so much I insisted on going full time before I was four. I was already reading independently and the only time I was ever told off in school was for daydreaming - well, writers are actually supposed to do that, aren't they?

One of my favourite playgrounds in Hayes was the Grand Union canal. I used to ride along the tow path on my bike all year round. In winter the canal iced over and the fish were trapped. I used to release them with a stick, slipping about on the icy path. In summer fisherman sat along the bank fishing for hours. I couldn't swim until I was nine so fortunately I never fell in, although there were some near misses.

This 99p store used to be Woolworths where I spent my pocket money. Opposite was Poplars, selling sweets and tobacco. My mother would send me up the road for five cigarettes in a paper bag and I had three pence for going.

My brother patiently setting up a photo outside our old post office building.

As we got back in the car to drive away we agreed that perhaps it would have been more interesting to grow up in the Lake District or the Alps, but Hayes is what we got and my childhood feeds my stories endlessly. However, I did spend a lot of my student days in the mountains halfway up a rock face - I'd had enough of flatlining for a life time.
Not everyone can grow up on the edge - but then the edge can be found anywhere really. If you let your imagination run free.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Books on the Beach—The Edge Guide to Summer Reading! by Dave Cousins

I write this in haste. We go on holiday tomorrow, and I should be packing. Clothes aren’t a problem, but choosing which books to take requires time and some serious thought. No e-reader for me, so there are space and weight issues to consider.

Summer breaks have always been a great opportunity for reading. Memories of childhood holidays tend to blur into one compilation vacation, but I often remember places we visited because of the book I was reading at the time. I doubt Hound of the Baskervilles would have affected me quite so much had I not read it while staying in a remote cottage on a wind-blasted Cumbrian hillside. Each night I peered from my bedroom window convinced that the lights from the houses across the valley were signalling to me!

Here at the Edge, we like to spread the word about good books, so in honour of the season I asked a few friends for their favourite summer reads, and what they would be taking wrapped up in their beach towel this year.

So much to choose from! I took E. Lockhart's We Were Liars and loved it. It had a fantastic twist that I didn't work out and was, quite simply, an enchanting read. Set in a beautiful location, there are vivid descriptions which whisk you away. My 12 year old is working through the Death Note graphic novels by Tsugumi Ohba, at an alarming rate. Great illustrations and a gripping (very dark) plotline.

Helen Grant’s Silent Saturday and the Demons of Ghent, both atmospheric thrillers set in Flanders. Rae Earl's  My Mad Fat Diary—Funniest teenage diary ever. Better than Adrian Mole. Keris Stainton's Starring Kitty—A sweet romantic first love story, about a girl with a crush on another girl.

I recommend The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes—for people who would like a chill over the high summer. Serial killers, time travel and the monsters that humans can become! Grown up reading for anyone who wants to be drawn into a web of darkness. This One Summer is a graphic novel by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki—a coming of age story set over a summer “about the awkward transition from carefree childhood to jaded, self-conscious young adulthood” beautifully drawn and gripping.

Edge author Miriam Halahmy’s Hayling Cycle of young adult thrillers set on Hayling Island off the south coast of England, make perfect summer reading—sea, sun and lots of action! She would also recommend:
For children: Five Children and It by E. Nesbitt, about a grumpy sand fairy who offers them one wish each day which will turn to stone by sunset. This sets the children near impossible choices.
For teens: This year I loved Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, a thoughtful romance to get lost in on the beach.
For adults: The Lie by Helen Dunmore, set in Cornwall after WW1. Beautiful descriptions and a different take on life after that terrible war.

The books I would recommend with summer themes are That Summer by Sarah DessenJim Carrington's Drive By and Jackdaw Summer by David Almond. I love any books by Sarah Dessen, they are perfect for teen readers to relax with when away from school and this was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Drive By was excellent and the characters stayed with me for ages after I’d finished reading it, especially Summer whom I loved! It was the first book I’ve read by Jim Carrington and have now bought the others. Jackdaw Summer is a great read especially for lads who want something particularly engaging. I loved in particular the first line: "It starts and ends with the knife …" Highly recommended!

The books I have piled up to read this summer are: RIOT by Sarah Mussi (I read that. It was brilliant—Ed.); The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle; Haunt – Dead Scared by Curtis Jobling; Exposure by Kathy Reichs (Virals – 4); Rockaway by Charlie Fletcher; The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My full summer reading list is here

Megan, who writes The Book Addicted Girl blog
My perfect summer read … if you're into contemporary, I think a great one would be We Were Liars: set at a beach, full of mystery. Don't read it on a beach though—unless you enjoy crying in public … Ooh, I'm also reading Simone Elkeles' new book Better Than Perfect—which is a brilliant beach-side read if ever there was one! 
But for me, a paranormal addict, my perfect summer read would be either the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo or Paula Weston's Rephaim series. The Grisha series has a Sun Summoner (suitably summery, right?) along with loads of action, romance and magic. The Rephaim series is set in Australia: insta-sun!! As for what I'll be taking on holiday …well, that'll probably be Jennifer L. Armentrout's Opposition and the second in the Game of Thrones series. What can I say? I'm just a fantasy girl! 

I recommend Lousie Rennison's Georgia Nicolson books - they're perfect summer reading. Teenage Georgia is self-obsessed, but in no way self-aware, which makes her diary especially hilarious. As a forty-two-year-old man, I should probably be embarrassed at reading about fourteen-year-old girl stuff like boys, spots and unexpected leg hair, so I shall have to claim that I'm doing it all in the name of research. This is because I have my own fourteen-year-old daughter, although she reads the same books with a furrowed brow, as though it's all a true-life documentary about the misunderstood plight of modern teenagers!

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson: Light, funny and ridiculous in equal measure! Loved the main character - a young black orphaned girl from the slums in Soweto who's ever changing circumstances, and extremely high IQ, take her on a path that leads to hobnobbing with presidents and royalty. Thoroughly enjoyed it. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid: This comes highly recommended by a friend. It's received great reviews too, so really looking forward to reading this. And looking forward to a re-reading of The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin.

Edge author Sara Grant, whose Half Lives was one of my summer reads of last year, just returned from holiday with our third recommendation for E. Lockhart's We Were Liars.

My wife Jane, is my first reader, harshest editor and best critic! It takes a good book to win her praise so I’ll certainly be stealing this from her pile. 
My holiday reading this year has been Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. Famous for her Moomins series of childrens’ tales, the author also wrote ten novels for adults. The lives of the inhabitants of a small Finnish island are documented through snapshots of odd days and events. It is ideal as a ‘dip-in’ book as each chapter can be read in isolation; but the parts add up to a fascinating portrait of the two main characters: a grandmother and her grandchild, Sophia. The book has a quietness to it that echoes the long summer days, but covers much more than relationships. Philosophy, religion and comments on the environment are touched upon through the conversations and actions of the characters. The wisdom, wit and imagination of the old woman and young girl appeals to all generations, and it reminds us not to dismiss those at either extremes of their lives. I can see why it is regarded as a classic in Scandinavia and look forward to reading the The Winter Book when the weather turns.

Finally my own book of the summer:
Butter by Erin Lange was one of those special stories that grabbed me on page one, and didn’t let go—or let me down. A potentially dark subject handled with subtlety, humour and heart. The voice and characters are particularly well crafted, in fact I can’t praise this highly enough—one of my reads of 2014 without a doubt. Great cover too!

Now all that's left is to choose which of my stack of "books to read" will make it into the suitcase. After much deliberation I've gone for: Tape by Steven Camden (I’ve heard good things about this, but Keri Smith’s cover alone would have made me read it!), The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle (I’m a big fan of Mr Earle, and this one sounds great), plus Dark Satanic Mills, written by Marcus and Julian Sedgwick, illustrated by John Higgins and Marc Olivent (I do like a good graphic novel, and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this since I bought it back from Hay for my lad.)

So, that's it. If you wouldn't mind just sitting on this case while I try to close it … 

Huge thanks to everyone for taking the time to offer their recommendations. Have a good summer and happy reading.


Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins recently won the Grampian Children’s Book Award. It is out now in paperback and audiobook—read by the author!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Discovering Diamonds

Edge author Katie Dale sets a challenge...

How do you choose which book to read next?
- Good reviews?
- Prize-winning/Award-nominated titles?
- Publicity/Film/TV tie-in?
- Book trailers?
- Cover/Blurb?
- Favourite author?
- On offer/On the table/Face-out in the bookshop?

These are all good ways of choosing, but often they will lead you to select a book that is either fairly similar to previous books you’ve enjoyed, or a book that has been highly publicized. There’s nothing wrong with this – if I’m honest, these are often the reasons I choose to read books – but what about all the hundreds of thousands of other books out there?

There are many things that might put you off:

- You’ve never heard of the book
- You’ve never heard of the author
- The cover isn’t appealing
- The blurb doesn’t grab you

But does that mean it isn’t a good book?

After all, none of these factors affect the quality of the book itself – and in fact none of them are in the author’s control. It may be surprising, but authors themselves often have little or no say over their title, cover or blurb, or indeed, the marketing budget. If, for whatever reason, publishers decide not to spend a lot of money promoting a book (posters, bookmarks, review copies, paying to place it on the table in bookshops etc.), the bulk of publicity is left to the author themselves, which can be daunting, difficult, and rather awkward.

But does that mean you shouldn’t read their book? That you won’t enjoy it? That this unheard of author isn’t about to become your favourite?

I always feel a thrill when I discover a new great author or novel - like finding buried treasure - and actually came across some of my all-time favourite authors quite by accident.
Holding Me HereOne was at a car boot sale. HOLDING ME HERE by Pam Conrad, (which is sadly now out of print, though available second-hand online) became one of my all-time favourite YA reads, and is about a girl who cannot fix her own family so tries to fix someone else’s – with unexpected and dangerous results. I fell in love with the main character, empathized with her actions, and was on the edge of my seat by the end – a riveting, thrilling, heartbreaking book that stays with you for a long time.

Another discovery was whilst I was travelling through South-East Asia. I had run out of books to read, and came across a hostel doing a book-swap. There wasn’t much choice, so I picked up a novel called AT ALL COSTS by John Gilstrap – an author I’d never heard of. I read it cover-to-cover in no time, I could not put it down and I have now sought out and bought every single one of his titles and cannot understand why he isn’t more famous. They are page-turning, edge-of-your-seat fast-paced thrillers which leave other more famous thriller-writers in the dust.

I’ve also recently joined my first book club, which has prompted me to read books
 I wouldn’t have usually chosen, but have enjoyed immensely, such as COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan (another author I’d never heard of), as well as books I struggled with and couldn’t get through (THE CORAL ISLAND).

Of course it’s a risk to try a book you know nothing about – but the worst that can happen is that you decide you don’t like it, so you stop reading. But there’s a chance that you too might discover a hidden treasure – a new favourite author or book, a diamond in the rough that you would otherwise never have found.

After all, this is the process editors and agents go through all the time – reading work from unknown authors (known as the slush-pile). Great authors like Malorie Blackman and J.K. Rowling famously got hundreds of rejections before their books were published – and for us that stage of vetting is done already. These undiscovered books have survived the difficult journey to publication, and yet for some reason you’ve never heard of them, they haven’t received the hype and publicity of others.

Conversely, I find some books that receive a lot of publicity and attention – and that I’m consequently desperate to read – rather disappointing and over-hyped when I actually read them. Sometimes even award-winning books fall into this category.

So my challenge to you – go into your local library, bookshop, or charity shop and pick up a book by an author you’ve never heard of. Pay no attention to the cover or blurb – read the first page instead and see if it grabs you. If not, try another new author, and I guarantee that before long you’ll find one that does. Take a risk, take it home and read it. I’d love to know if you find any treasures. After all, who knows what diamonds are still lurking in the rough? Maybe you too will find that your new favourite author is out there just waiting to be discovered.

Katie Dale is the award-winning author of SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE
Simon & Schuster UK
Delacorte Press USA & Canada

Thursday, 24 July 2014

At the YALC - by Bryony Pearce

On the weekend of the 12th July I travelled down to London to take part in the inaugural YALC (Young Adult Literature Con) which was joined to Comic Con and took place in the Earls Court arena.
I was to conduct a Creative Writing Workshop entitled ‘Starting to Write’, all about … well it did exactly what it said on the tin.  I was a bit concerned that no-one would sign up, and worried about having an embarrassing signing afterwards, but so excited about the rest of the line up that I went in high spirits, dressed (after Malorie Blackman announced that she was going in costume) as Zoe from Firefly.

The first thing that struck me as I walked around the corner to see Earls Court was the insane queue.  There had to be 50,000 people all trying to get into the arena.  Some had apparently been queuing since 3am.  My jaw dropped.  Luckily I had a special ticket with a little green dot on a lariat and had been told to go in through gate M, so my guests and I headed past the miles of queuing Avengers, Spidermen, Storm troopers, Lannisters, Starks and, oddly, Disney princesses, towards the gate. 
The walk felt like miles and the queue carried on.  I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it in for my workshop.  But then we got to the entrance and there was no queue.  We walked straight in, feeling a bit guilty, but immensely relieved – queuing is one thing I really hate.
And inside what was the first thing I saw – Antony Head doing a signing next to Paul McGann.  I squealed.  My day was made (yes, I’m an enormous Buffy fan).

I had a couple of hours before the YALC officially started so we walked around.  There was a large part of the venue given over to stands where people were signing: everyone from the guy from Airplane, to a ghoul from Ghostbusters, to WWE wresters, to Stan Lee.  I was particularly excited about seeing Summer Glau (Firefly) and was hoping to get a photo with her (as I was in costume and all), but every time I walked past, her ‘stall’ was empty.  Boo.
There were obviously a lot of stands selling merchandise, which were fun to browse, and you could have your photo taken on the iron throne (which I did). 

The main events though, were the talks.  Talks by Stan Lee, by the Doctor Who team, by Game of Thrones actors and, of course, panels in the YALC area by the most YA wonderful authors. 
I made a plan of what I would see (when I wasn't working), then I headed to the main event -  The YALC. 
When I turned up: the first talk with Patrick Ness, Malorie Blackman and Sarah Crossan was about to get going.  Excitedly I sat down and listened (although my ears were ringing a bit – I was in the same room as Patrick Ness!!).
After being impressed by their thoughts on dystopia (its all about fear, about one person changing the world) I legged it to the green room to sign in for my workshop. 
There I found Antony Head and Jamie Bamber relaxing along with various wrestlers, other actors I recognised or half-recognised and a number of writers who luckily seemed as star-struck as me (later I saw Carrie Fisher and Lena Headey, but never did manage to bump into Summer Glau).  My excitement could hardly be contained.  But it had to be, as I had to go and give a workshop to an empty corner of the YALC.

Only it wasn’t - empty that is.  It was full.  I realised as I swiftly set up that I was going to have to yell at the top of my lungs for an hour, as there were no mikes for the workshop authors and there were apparently upwards of 70,000 people in the venue by this point all competing with me along with music, other people giving talks (with mikes) and terrible acoustics.  I have two small children, so I’m used to yelling for an hour straight, but by the end I had quite the sore throat.  Still, I felt that the workshop went well and I didn’t lose any of my audience.  I could have gone on for another hour if I hadn’t been kicked out of the space to make way for the next one!
Then to my signing.  I knew that I was between Jonathan Stroud (I am a HUGE fan of his Bartimaeus books and had recently finished reading the enjoyable Lockwood and Co) and Andy Robb (marvellous author of Geekhood), so I was a bit worried that my signing queue might look a bit sad. 

I was very happy to find an actual queue (and a beer) waiting for me when I sat down.  I chatted with readers and soon-to-be-readers who had just bought my book and had a steady trickle of signings for a couple of hours, which was lovely.  Nothing like Jonathan though, who was non-stop signing with barely enough time for me to catch his eye and say what a fan I was.  And as for Rainbow Rowell’s queue – for a while I thought Stan Lee might be signing books at the other end of the YALC area!
After my signing I had time to go to the other author panels and chat with a couple who were still signing (Sarah Mcintyre signed Oliver and the Seawigs for the kids – she did a lovely illustration for them).  I chatted to Malorie Blackman in the green room (she is so lovely) and even bumped into fellow Edgey author Sara Grant!
By this point, on one of the hottest days of the year, with no air con, crammed into a room with thousands of other people and in a leather outfit with knee boots, I was feeling a bit worse for wear, so sorry Sara if I was a bit dozy!
I popped out to change and returned for the drinks party at which I got to chat with loads of wonderful YA authors, tell Patrick Ness how much I loved the Chaos Walking Trilogy, catch up with old friends, meet some twitter / FB friends and make some new ones.
On the Sunday I geeked out for the day, went to the Game of Thrones talk I’d ear-marked, mooched around looking at cosplay and enjoyed more of the YALC events, chatting to Anthony McGowan after his controversial panel (where he got himself in trouble playing devils advocate) and generally having a great time.
It was a shame to leave, but by Sunday night I was exhausted … and they were closing up anyway. 
So was the YALC an unqualified success?  Well there were a few teething problems mainly caused by the venue itself – for example poor acoustics and a lack of a sound system for the workshops.  Some people wanted to come into the YALC but were trapped outside queuing for five hours!  But the people who did make it in (and there were a great many) were all smiling, despite unbearable heat.  I didn’t hear a single bad word about the event and in fact, an awful lot of complimentary things.  The readers, and they’re the most important after all, enjoyed themselves immensely.  And, hey, so did I.
So thank you, Malorie Blackman, Katherine Woodfine and everyone involved in making the first YALC so completely brilliant.  I hope that it goes from strength to strength year on year and I hope to be there each time.  Even if I have to buy a ticket and queue!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Passion, Rebellion & Discovery

EDGE Author Sara Grant
shares why she writes teen books

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Charles Dickens could have been talking about my high school experience.

A page from my senior yearbook.
Gotta love the 80s!
I don’t write teen fiction because I long to return to the ‘glory days’ of my youth. In many ways my teen years were the toughest – a bizarre mix of hope for my future oddly twisted with angst and despair. I was sure I could change the world if it didn’t steamroll me first. I experienced the thrill of a crush and the devastation of rejection. My first love. First kiss. First heartbreak. First failures. First success.

So why do I write teen fiction?

I write for this age range because the teen years are a time of rebellion and discovery. You are figuring it all out, asking big questions and challenging anything and everything.

For me, writing has always been about imagination and exploration. I wrote poetry when I was a teen to uncover what I was thinking and feeling. (I can still quote a few stanzas from my poems titled Tomorrow Never Comes and Unrequited Love. Those may not have been from my happiest days.) Now I write stories with an undercurrent of the issues I want to explore. Just like when I was a teen, I write not because I have the answers but because I’m interested in the questions.

My visit to Haslett (Michigan) High School.
Some of my favourite books are the ones I read as a teenager. Those books helped me discover the world and challenged my thinking. I cherish those first experiences of finding myself and losing myself in a story. One of the pleasures of being a published writer of teen fiction is being on the other side of that reading experience. Teen readers love or hate your book and aren’t afraid to tell you. I enjoy getting emails from teen readers: ‘your book changed my life’, ‘I’m your number one biggest fan’. And there’s the dark side of teen reviews: ‘words cannot express how much I loathed this book’. Wow! At least I’ve inspired passion.

I love writing for teens and I also love working with teen writers. It’s such a privilege to visit schools and libraries. All writers know the thrill of crafting a good story, but I’ve discovered an even bigger high – helping a young writer find his or her voice and discovering the power of storytelling.

Dave Cousins and I at Hemel Hempstead Library.
Whenever I’m asked the question, why do you write for teens? (Or the more dreaded question: Will you ever write grown-up fiction?) I suppose I wonder why -- when there’s so much passion, rebellion and discovery in teen fiction -- why would I write anything else?

For more about Sara and her books, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @AuthorSaraGrant

Friday, 4 July 2014


Young Adult author, Paula Rawsthorne is delighted to read how our librarians make a difference to the lives of young people.

Yesterday a comment appeared on The Edge website and I felt compelled to write about it.  The comment was left by Dominic in response to a Q&A post with school librarian, Ingrid Broomfield.  The original post was part of our ‘Salute to Librarians’ series. Read the post 

 Dominic’s comment

‘I would just like to say thank you for the time you spent at John Port School. As a student who frequented the library during your last few years there you really made that place feel like a second home. You kept my love of reading alive and it is thanks to you that I found two of my favourite authors (Anne McAffrey and David Eddings!). The shared disappointment on the school trip to see Eragon and the surprise at seeing the books I mentioned appear on the shelves are things I still think of every time I walk past the library (I have come back to JP to work as a Teaching Assistant). I hope you are doing well and that you continue to enjoy your work as a librarian and I am sure you are making a difference, because you did with me.
Thank you,

Ingrid (like all our featured librarians) has dedicated years of her life to instilling a passion for reading in young people.  Dominic’s comments are a timely reminder of the impact that a good librarian can have on children and shows how that impact that can last into their adult lives.  It’s a reminder of how invaluable it is to have qualified librarians in our schools, working in libraries that are appealing, welcoming places and that convey the message that books are enjoyable, life enhancing and for everyone!

I know that they’ll be many more ex pupils throughout the UK who have their school librarians to thank for finding them the perfect story when they insisted that ‘books are boring’, for offering them a place they felt at ease and for passing on their love of books.  So many writers have strong, fond memories of their school and community libraries (read Savita Kalhan’s ‘A People’s Palace In Every Town’ post )   The access to free books for all and the guidance of a good librarian has helped mould many children into readers (and writers).


When librarians have devoted years of their lives to a profession which is increasingly under threat (in schools and in the community) it’s gratifying to read Dominic’s confirmation of how vital their role is in young people’s lives.  (Here’s my  post ‘Taking Issue’ about the importance of school libraries.)

It would be great to take this opportunity to Big Up any librarians out there who’ve made a difference to us at any stage in our lives.

I’d like to get the ball rolling by thanking all the great school librarians I work with when I do author visits.  Their enthusiasm to get students reading is inspiring. 

 If you’d like to thank any librarians please leave a comment below.

Paula Rawsthorne is an award winning author of YA thrillers 'The Truth About Celia Frost' and 'Blood Tracks' (published by Usborne) You can follow her on  FB- @PaulaRawsthorneAuthor and Twitter @PaulaRawsthorne