Building Blaggard’s – a guest post by Katherine Wiseman #GangsterSchool

final cover edit 2 v05.pngThis week, I’m delighted to be kicking off the Gangster School blog tour with a guest post from Kate Wiseman. I believe our environment shapes us dramatically, affecting our ever-changing moods and attitudes, and that setting is, therefore, incredibly important in fiction. World building has to be infallible, whatever your genre or theme or intended readership. so I shall hand you over to Kate and her excellent post on Building Blaggard’s, a school for gangsters…  

Writers are always being advised to write about what they know. If you’ve been a police officer, write a crime novel. If you’ve worked in a pet shop, write about working in a pet shop, etc, etc. So when I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to try to fulfil my lifetime’s ambition of writing a novel, the obvious choice for me was to write something based in a school.

I’d worked in schools for a long time, doing everything from mopping up sick in the kindergarten to helping teenagers with learning difficulties. Of course this isn’t exactly undiscovered territory, so I needed a way of making my school a bit different. Luckily enough the solution to that conundrum wasn’t hard to find, thanks to my son, Harry. As a small boy, he always answered queries regarding his ambitions for when he grew up by saying that he wanted to be an evil genius. He was a strange child. But it planted an idea in my mind – a school for evil geniuses!

I was off to a good start. The name for the school was quite easy to find. I wanted something that conveyed its criminal ethos. I grabbed my trusty thesaurus and looked up synonyms for evildoer. One of the first ones was blackguard, which I thought had the right swash-buckling ring to it. But lots of kids wouldn’t know that blackguard is pronounced blaggard, so I changed the spelling. Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants was starting to take shape.

I’ve always loved history, especially the gory variety and it seemed important to me to know who had started Blaggard’s, and when, and what had happened to it since. Enter Sir Thomas Blaggard, born in a mud hut in London in Tudor times, eater of stinging nettles because there was nothing else available, bear wrestler and in time, the most successful villain in Tudor London. In my world, he cut off Anne Boleyn’s head and pinched her emerald necklace when the deed was done. Sir Thomas’ first wanted poster has pride of place in Blaggard’s reception. Other famous alumni followed. There’s Sir Bryon de Bohun, the Devilish Dandy and Blaggard’s most infamous ex student. He died when his bullied butler shook up a bottle of champagne and aimed the cork at his heart. His portrait is in Blaggard’s reception too, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. My favourite is Sally Masters, the 18th century highwaywoman. Her nickname is Blunderbuss Sally and she’s the idol of my protagonist, Milly Dillane.

Knowing the school’s history had a big influence in shaping its appearance and layout. In acknowledgement of its Tudor founder, Blaggard’s has a thatched roof (adorned with bear statues, Sir Thomas’ emblem, concealing remote controlled look out cameras) and half-timber walls. It also has a huge, arched front door that Sir Thomas pinched from the Tower of London because he thought it was important to set a bad example. Another example of how the school’s history shaped it can be found in the artefacts on display in the Assembly Hall. My favourite is the badly stuffed body of Sir Bryon de Bohun, a relic of Blaggard’s long-defunct and famously unsuccessful Taxidermy Club. It sits in a glass case and has proved surprisingly vital in several of the stories I’ve written so far.

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The gigantic spectre of Hogwart’s hovers over any attempt to write about school life, and I was keen to differentiate between Harry Potter’s haven and Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants. One way that I tried to tackle this was by the introduction of numerous high tech touches. As well as the cameras in the swivelling bear heads, there are fingerprint detectors instead of registers and glass shields that spring up in front of the serveries in the dining room, when one of the frequent food-fights kicks off.

OK, I had a school, a rich history, a layout and a location (the sleepy town of Borage Bagpuize, where a stolen wheelbarrow merits a headline in the local paper). Now down to some of the logistical stuff.

For a start, what would the local Dependable (non criminal, to you and me) population think of having a school like Blaggard’s on its doorstep? Obviously they couldn’t know. The school needed a cover identity, so the sign outside Blaggard’s states that the school is Constance Bottomley’s Academy for the Rural Arts, specialising in sheep topiary and corn dolly weaving.

Then the lessons. This was tricky. There was an awful lot that that I couldn’t and didn’t want to include: murder, terrorism, torture, all the dark stuff. But would it be right to leave them out altogether? I consigned these to Blaggard’s rivals – Crumley’s School for Career Criminals, crouching on a hill like a medieval gargoyle. What were the skills that a criminal kingpin would need in order to climb to the top of the felonious tree? They’d need to be very good liars, so I introduced Fabrication (it sounds so much grander than lying). They should be willing to let anyone down at the drop of a hat, so Betrayal was added to the curriculum. They should be nasty and unpleasant so my favourite lesson, Defiance and Discourtesy, became a staple at Blaggard’s, taught by the unfailingly rude Jane Vipond. There are lots of others, of course.

I really feel that all the thought I put into building Blaggard’s was worth it. Knowing my setting came before knowing my characters and it has given rise to much of the madcap action that peppers the Gangster School books. With the introduction of Milly Dillane and Charlie Partridge, two secret Dependables from long established criminal families (to create an immediate problem and sense of their not belonging), I was ready to dive into a world where good is bad, bad is good and where apologising to a teacher lands you in detention.

I love writing about Gangster School. I find it devilishly entertaining and I promise that no useful criminal knowledge is imparted. Or am I Fabricating?

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About Kate Wiseman: Kate is a late developer when it comes to writing. She started writing Gangster School, her first novel, about five years ago. Early incarnations were shortlisted for three national kids’ lit prizes. Her first book deal was with Piper Verlag, Germany, who have published two Gangster School books to date, with two more to come (so far). She is proud to be the very first author chosen for publication by new Manchester-based publisher, ZunTold. The series will also commence publication in Holland in August this year. She is currently working on a new MG series. You can learn more about Kate here

 

 

 

 

 

The Nine Lives Trilogy, Snowmageddon, Autonomy & other updates…

IMG_4383It’s been a while since I posted and I apologise, though I’m guessing that with the crazily long winter and weird weather, everyone else has been just as busy. Between snowmageddon destroying pipes and trashing our car (engine seized – write off!), my MacBook finally dying (meaning new computer, programmes, the lot!), and the double book launch of The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3, things have been hectic! So here’s a little update to get back on track…

I have a few articles/interviews/podcasts you might be interested in as part of The Book of Revenge blog tour…

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Usually I’d be posting my vegetable garden updates around this time, but there’ll be none of that until end of April as my garden is not in a happy place. Unfortunately, the crazy snow also made World Book Day on March 1st a complete wipeout. I managed to do the first 2018 Biggest Book Show on Earth event with some great #kidlit people (Derek Landy, David Doherty, Chris Judge, Sarah Moore-Fitzgerald, Ger Siggins) and a day of workshops in a very friendly and creative Educate Together school, but other than that, everything was cancelled. I really felt for the Ennis Book Club Festival team – a big cheer goes out to them for handling the situation so well, especially after all the effort it takes to put such a great programme together.

I ended up trapped in Dublin during the snow so I didn’t even get to wander the deserted country roads or throw snowballs with my dog. Luckily, I have great friends who were willing to put me up, give me books, and drive me to the station when transport finally opened. How lucky am I? Friends are everything. Truly. 

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Thankfully, I did manage to reschedule two fantastic WBD events in Hodges Figgis (celebrating 250 years in business in 2018!) and Dubray Books on Grafton St last week – so some of those pesky cancellations are back on track.

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And I’m delighted to announce that I have an essay published in the Autonomy anthology from New Binary Press, a women-led collection of stories, poems, memoirs, essays, articles, screenplays and more, exploring what it means to have bodily autonomy. Some of my favourite Irish writers have also contributed, including Claire Hennessy, Elaine Feeney and Sinead Gleeson, so do go take a look – my essay is on the taboo subject of being a woman who doesn’t want children. I can’t wait to read the other pieces as I know they’re all going to be full of heart – and what more to do we want from any read?

And so… what next? Broken stuff and weather troubles have meant I’m way behind in my writing. ‘Behind’ meaning I’ve done nothing for weeks. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, you just have to let go and make the best of the situation. I have my health and a great life, and I knew the mess was only temporary. Now everything has been fixed or replaced, I am looking forward to returning to my writing. And seeing as I’ve been invited to be a three-week Writer in Residence just outside Carcassonne, I have nothing to complain about AT ALL. More on that soon…

In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing x

 

Publication day: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3

BookofRevengecoverIt’s official – publication day for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is here! It’s a week earlier than I expected and the nerves have kicked in… let’s hope you all love Ebony Smart’s biggest adventure yet!

So, does publication day feel any different when it’s your fourth book? The answer is no! It’s just as exciting, nerve-wracking, strange, unbelievable, wild and bizarre as every other time. It’s also a whimper, rather than a bang, as all the build-up is towards the launch. But seeing people reading the book, pictures of it on shelves, in hands, on TBR piles is a crazy good feeling. So keep the pictures coming!

I haven’t even seen a copy yet, but hopefully they’ll arrive today! It’s such a great experience, holding your book in your hand for the first time. Until I do, it still feels like an unruly manuscript that has to be kicked into shape!

And so, here’s to the final piece of the Nine Lives Trilogy – off you go, out into the world, The Book of Revenge!

Playing Catch-Up: events, writer’s block & #amwriting

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind with my blog. So huge apologies to you all! It’s not that I’ve forgotten about you or the blog, it’s just that there have been lots of events to attend, proofs to complete, new freelance contracts to sign, 2018 festival pitches and other applications to complete, and new manuscripts to write. It all takes a lot of time, and when time gets tight, I reduce my online presence to keep everything ticking over as it should.

BookofRevengecoverThe good news is: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is completed. The proofs are done, gone, (almost) a distant memory. The final book in the Nine Lives Trilogy did not manage to kill me (as I feared it might around February earlier this year) and I’m super excited to see it on the shelves in 2018. The Dublin launch will be February 15th – more details to follow but save the date!

And so, that means I’m now out of contract. It’s simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking – who knows what will happen in the future? But right now, I’m enjoying working on the second drafts of two new manuscripts. No deadlines or pressure, except whatever I impose upon myself. I’m keeping a steady pace – maybe not as fast as I’d like – but I’m making progress and am being kind to myself. After all, four books published in two and a half years is pretty tough going so I think slowing it down now will have a positive impact further down the line.

Around all the proofing and writing, I had a fabulous time last month travelling around Ireland’s libraries for the Children’s Book Festival, meeting lots of young readers and writers. The ideas, the questions – fabulous! Often, I was working alone, but I also did some events with Alan Early and Caroline Busher. I love doing events so much but when you do several a day with lots of travel in-between, it can get tiring. So it’s really lovely to have wonderful friends you can work alongside to keep up the momentum and have a laugh with!

Myself and Caroline debuted our Things That Go Bump in the Night interactive storytelling event at the Glor theatre for Ennis libraries and it went down a storm. We had the best sound and light technician ever (thank you, Ian); it was a lot of work and slightly terrifying, but we had a ball. Now all we need to do is figure out how to take it on the road… any takers?

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After the show was over, I suggested to Caroline that I should be banned from having any more ideas for a while – especially if they’re completely new, a lot of work and take us well out of our comfort zone. And she agreed wholeheartedly. But then, we had some chats over a glass of wine by a fire and candlelight and guess what? Inspiration hit and we had another very exciting idea – it’s not fully formed yet, but it’s going to happen, so watch this space!

Speaking of too many ideas… yesterday, I was honoured to be one of the guest speakers at the fantastic Fiction at the Friary event in Cork city, organised by the impressive duo, Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin. There was a great and enthusiastic crowd, and one of the questions asked was about writer’s block. Now, I’ve never had writer’s block (yet), I suffer from the opposite: too many ideas, and many of them terrible. So my issue is sifting through the nonsense in search of gems.

But I do find that stopping writing altogether makes it harder to start back up again. Writing is a muscle that needs to be continually flexed, so if you are suffering from writer’s block, I suggest writing something new. A short story or poem or piece of flash fiction perhaps. Step away from the current WIP and try to play. Let it be terrible or without purpose. Alternatively, take a long walk and record any thoughts/ideas on your mobile phone, then go home and type them up.

If all else fails, distract yourself with something completely unrelated, then trick yourself back to the desk to write something about whatever it was you chose to do. Break the habit of focusing on not writing and find yourself writing again.

Get moving. Writing anything. Gain momentum. Then write more. 

And now, it’s time for me sign off – I have to pack because I’m off to the Irish Book Awards tomorrow. I didn’t have a book out this year so I’m not nominated, but I’m delighted to have lots of friends shortlisted – I’ll be cheering loudly for them all – and I’m really looking forward to catching up with lots of friends.

Until next time… happy reading, happy writing x 

 

Ten Classic Books to Read & Reread

Writers write, but writers also read. And we read lots. We’re talking piles of books, no, mountains of books! If you tell me you’re writing a book, don’t tell me that you don’t have time to read. It’s an essential part of the job – and it’s delicious!

Every book is a personal journey and sometimes we want to travel a new route, while other times we want to revisit the familiar. I love rereading books because you always notice new things; and I find this is especially true when it’s a book I read as a youngster.

Here are a few classic children’s fiction books that I highly recommend. I consider them old friends; stories and characters that I read as a child and revisit time and again. They always remind me of where my love for stories came from and why I want to write.

Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines: This is the only book that ever made me cry. The setting was similar to where I grew up, and as I’ve always loved nature, I was completely engrossed in Billy’s journey. I spent many days searching for my own kestrel to nurture! Set in a single day, the range of emotions you’re pulled through is truly intense. I could read this book over and over for the rest of my life.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett: I could never quite understand how I could love a book with such a despicable main character – the opening lines say it all! But this is a beautiful book about discovery; of gardens, of self, of how to trust and how to make friendships. A remarkable coming of age tale with all the necessary ingredients for a tug at the heartstrings – and don’t worry, you’ll like Mary by the end.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit: travel is one of my favourite things and when I was a child I always dreamed of taking long journeys. We had an old, abandoned rail track called ‘The Black Path’ near my home and I used to love rambling under its bridges, past the banks of briars, conjuring up images of this book. The ending is so satisfying that when you finish, you just want to start over again.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian: Set during World War II, this historical fiction novel is a real page turner. I love the dual settings of city and countryside, the steadfastness of Mr Tom (I kept him in mind when I created Grandpa Tobias in The Book of Learning), and how the book deals with an abusive home life. The way each of the characters grow is just wonderful.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White: this story of Fern Arable, a pig called Wilbur and his spider pal Charlotte is just so beautiful and yet so sad; and it is still completely unique. I grew up in a council estate so the farm setting really appealed to my love of nature. There’s just enough tension and a sprinkling of hope – perfect!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: I adore the characters that Dickens creates – especially the mean ones, they’re so vile! And the way he uses the environment to depict mood is stunning. I read my first Dickens book aged ten (Hard Times), and I was hooked – but this is the one I return to time and again. A dark yet heartwarming tale of rags to riches.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett: a riches to rags tale, I was attracted to this book as a child because I loved the way it showed how delicate our fortunes are, and the impact this has on the people around us. I admired the way that Sara kept her resilience and good nature, even though her fortunes had changed so much. The fact that she makes friends with a monkey was a real draw also, and the ending is sublime. I love a story where people get their comeuppance!

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: Anne is such a vibrant, bubbly, and enigmatic character, I was drawn to her right away. I remember feeling like I had lots in common with her, and I think she’s still one of the best female characters in children’s fiction today. Her antics always make me smile – she’s a ray of sunshine.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson: buccaneers, buried gold, mutinies, kidnappings and a one legged pirate – what’s not to love? I remember my heart pumping when I was reading this epic book as a child, and it still has the same effect today. The ending makes me want to jump on a boat and go searching for the buried treasure.

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme: although the language is a little old-fashioned now, I still adore this tale and would recommend it to any young reader that loves animals and nature The characters are wonderfully colourful; wise yet grumpy badger, naive mole, clever ratty and barmy toad – they’re unforgettable. The setting is also incredible. Reading this always makes me want to go off on long countryside treks, foraging.

What are your favourite classic books that you revisit time and again? What is it about them that you love?