Monday, 14 December 2015

The Broken King and The King's Shadow in The Guardian Children's Books of the Year

A lovely Christmas present came today - the great Philip Reeve has chosen The King's Shadow as one of his children's books of the year. Callay! Read the whole list here.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Literary Review December Children's Book Round Up

From The Iliad, ill. Neil Packer
As December approaches, so, with the regularity of the seasons, comes my round-up for Literary Review, which this year features the following books:

Railhead by Philip Reeve
Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
Anything that Isn't This by Chris Priestley
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Boy 23 by Jim Carrington
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Love Notes for Freddie by Eva Rice
Mango & Bambang the Not-A-Pig by Polly Faber, ill. Clara Vulliamy
Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody by Roland Chambers, ill. Ella Okstad
The Iliad by Gillian Cross, ill. Neil Packer.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Guardian Review of The King's Shadow

A lovely reader's review of The King's Shadow was in The Guardian today. Here it is.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


Next year, the final part in the Darkening Path trilogy will be out - THE KING'S REVENGE. Here's the front cover, which I think you'll agree is rather splendid:

Monday, 26 October 2015

Visit to Dorset House Preparatory School

A couple of weeks ago I went back to my old prep school, Dorset House, which is in a Norman manor house nestled in the Arun valley. My childhood was spent roaming the beautiful river banks, running through the woods, with Amberley and Arundel castles not far away: a timeless landscape, pretty much as it must have been when the Normans settled there. It was naturally a powerful influence on my imagination, and my first novel, The Other Book, was certainly inspired by the location. The West Sussex County Times have written up the visit here - though the current piece erroneously states I was there in the 1980s; I was in attendance in the mid-90s. We had about two CDs - Queen's Greatest Hits and Nirvana's Nevermind.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne: review

I've reviewed John Boyne's new book, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, for the Guardian, available here.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Interview with Annabel Pitcher for Books for Keeps

Morning all: I've interviewed Annabel Pitcher for Books for Keeps. The piece is available here.

Monday, 7 September 2015

News roundup and Waterstones Piccadilly Event

I will be doing an event at Waterstones Piccadilly on the 15th September, with the authors Sally Gardner, Chris Priestley and Taran Marathu. It's at 6.30pm - do come along. We will be exploring other worlds - not literally, of course, but do bring an astronaut's suit should you so wish.

More details here. This event is free but please email to RSVP

I've reviewed three books whilst I've been away: firstly, Cressida Cowell's How To Fight a Dragon's Fury, for the Telegraph, available here. 

Secondly, Tessa Hadley's new novel, The Past, done for the Independent on Sunday, available here.

And finally, Harry Mount's new book, Harry Mount's Odyssey, I reviewed for Literary Review; not available online, but you can go in actual personhood to an actual newsagent and buy a copy of the September issue, which has got reams of other splendid stuff to read.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

THE KING'S SHADOW: Independent Best Summer Reads

PW: Thrilled
I was utterly thrilled to see that The King's Shadow had been selected by Nicholas Tucker as one of the 12 Best Summer Reads for Children in The Independent on Sunday last weekend. You can see the whole list here.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood: review

Wood: playfully experimental
I've reviewed Benjamin Wood's new book, The Ecliptic, for the Telegraph. Read it here.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Check out the July issue of Literary Review for my children's book round up, featuring:

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
The White Umbrella by Brian Sewell
Pike by Anthony McGowan
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde
Beasts of Olympus by Lucy Coats
Julius Zebra by Gary Northfield
Apocalypse Bow Wow by James Proimos III
Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed by Michael Rosen
The Story of King Lear by Melania G Mazzucco.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Interview in Reading Zone

There is an interview this week on The Reading Zone. Read it here.

Monday, 8 June 2015

We Love This Book piece on Fantasy

I've written a piece on my favourite fantasy novels for young people of the last seven years, for We Love This Book. Read it here.

Review of The King's Shadow in LoveReading4Kids

PW: Photo by Izzy Mathie
Julia Eccleshare has reviewed The King's Shadow in LoveReading4Kids. Read it here.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Review of THE KING'S SHADOW in Literary Review

Another review of THE KING'S SHADOW, this one in the June issue of Literary Review. It's not available online, but I'll quote the relevant part here: "Yet The King's Shadow, like The Broken King and Womack's two previous books, remains full of atmosphere, menace and lightly-worn learning. Classical influence is evident in the lunar names of King Selenus and his daughter and in the compass directions of the Roman winds; and there are nice, unsettling touches of warped courtliness and chivalry throughout. A darkly disconcerting high fantasy, in the vein of Alan Garner or Susan Cooper, it should appeal to adventurous young readers."

Review of THE KING'S SHADOW in The Financial Times

There's something especially thrilling about being reviewed in The Financial Times - the lovely pink broadsheet, the quiet seriousness of the paper. So I was delighted to see a review of THE KING'S SHADOW in last weekend's paper, which you can read online here.

The picture on the left was taken at the department store, Manns of Cranleigh, where my books have their own display - do go and check them out.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Review of The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

My review of The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, edited by Daniel Hahn, was in the Times Literary Supplement last week. It is available online, but you have to subscribe. Also reviewed with it were Brian Sewell's The White Umbrella, and Elizabeth Taylor's Mossy Trotter.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Writer's Week

 A Writer's Week

People seem to be quite interested in how writers and artists deal with their time - not least my family. (It is a proper job, I promise.)

Following on from Sarah McIntyre's post about the life of an illustrator, I thought I would post a fairly typical week from a writer's point of view.

The actual act of writing a book - of putting words on the page, whether by hand or by keyboard, (and I do both) - takes up, as you will see, a very small amount of time. 

Others will have their own routines: my days are always different, which makes setting aside composition time crucial. I don't have word limits, but I have something better: guilt.

Generally speaking, I try to leave some time for my own reading - I have six or seven books going at once, which currently include: Samuel Pepys (ongoing for five years); J G Ballard, Claire Messud, Robertson Davies's The Cornish Trilogy, James Davidson's book on Greek Love, and Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, each in various states of perusal, each clamouring for attention like hungry fledglings.

The best time for reading is between 4:30 and 6:30 in the morning; then I can snooze again for an hour before getting up properly. Piano practice comes and goes; as does exercise. As for a social life... well, that somehow sneakily manages to find its way in, proffering cocktails with a glimmer in its eye.

Monday 18th May

My week began at 615 am, as I woke up with a dog's (admittedly very friendly) snout in my face. She's only a pup, and she wakes up earlier and earlier as spring shades into summer, sprinting out of the front door like a racehorse. I grabbed the time - quiet, dawnish time is the best for creation - to work on The King's Revenge, the final part in my Darkening Path trilogy, which is out next year. 

I did so, in a happy semi-daze, until 10, when I was teaching a Latin lesson over Skype. It never fails to fill me with joy that I can pass on the words that Ovid and Vergil spoke, to a child inhabiting a high rise flat on the opposite side of the world. I'm sure those poets would have loved it. Perhaps it would be no different for them than communicating with a spirit, or a god.

The rest of the day is taken up with making editorial notes on someone's manuscript, and reading for the children's book round up I do biannually for Literary Review. Out of fifty or so books, every six months, I have to choose a mere dozen or so. Each year (and I've been doing it for about ten years now) it becomes harder.

In the late afternoon, most days, you'll usually find me jumping onto the underground for a face-to-face (that is what we call them now) lesson. Today, it's in Chelsea, and a young pupil doing her Common Entrance Latin. I don't mind train time, as I usually read, or, more excitingly, think, or stare at the passengers and wonder what they're all doing. Which is, no doubt, making notes for their own novels.

Tuesday 19th May

Another early start: I managed about an hour's work on The King's Revenge, whilst simultaneously brushing my teeth, taking a phone call at 7:30 from a colleague about a project we are working on that is soon coming to fruition, and preventing my dog from eating my toothbrush. I hustled onto the overground for a meeting concerning said project, in Haggerston: we huddled around the computer, making notes, until 1pm, whilst our dogs barked around our feet.

I hightailed it back for a quick lunch before a pupil arrived and we became immersed in Catullus for two hours - the longer poems, which I have always loved.

Then it was back on the tube for another lesson - this time in South Kensington, and with a much younger boy for beginner's Latin - before meeting an editor at 8pm. We discussed a potential project over dinner, which is slowly becoming less like an inchoate idea and more like a book.

Leaving her building, I got myself locked in to the hallway. Rescue soon came, but not before I envisaged sleeping on the mat. I could have made quite a nice bunk in there. Private, too.

Wednesday 20th May

The website We Love This Book asked me to write a piece  about the state of fantasy in children's books, so the morning passed in its composition. I filed it smugly before lunch time, made some notes on someone else's manuscript, and spent the afternoon reading for the Literary Review round up, answering emails intermittently (as well as Twittering, blogging, and all the other social media ephemera we must contend with). A piece about writing fantasy, done for The Guardian, was published on their website today, so I dealt with  feedback from that, which can sometimes feel like pinging table tennis balls back and forth.

At 6pm I sped off to the bright lights of Soho, for the launch of Elizabeth Day's new book, Paradise City, which was in the Ham Yard Hotel. There were actual proper canapés, and gallons of wine, and I'm sure I saw Sebastian Faulks. There's nothing writers like more than parties, particularly with actual proper canapés and wine. It means you don't have to have any dinner. (And the mini-burgers were a delight.)

Thursday 21st May

My first full day at home for about a month, as one of my pupils cancelled her lesson in the evening. The King's Revenge occupied the morning; in the afternoon, I began to go through the edits of my book The Double Axe, coming out in Spring next year. It's a re-telling of the Minotaur story. I also started to compose a synopsis of it that the publishers need. In breaks I answered emails about a host of other things: forthcoming events; Tweeting a competition; arranging lessons.

In the evening I read - for my own pleasure: J G Ballard's Hello America, a trippy, steam-punky fantasy, which I am halfway through, and one of Claire Messud's novels, When the World Was Easy, about a pair of sisters on either side of the world. I am rather an admirer of Messud: she has a lucid, calm intelligence that is deeply poignant and precise.

Friday 22nd May

I am in the last third of The King's Revenge. Battles are forming; positioning my characters is becoming more crucial then ever; working out how they've developed over the course of two books, placing them into the final configurations that should - I repeat, should - put them into an explosive finale. 

Having woken up with glee, and eaten a whole duck egg for breakfast, disappointingly I only managed about 750 words with pen and paper, but I felt that they were good words. Perhaps I should try a bigger egg.

Another lesson took up the rest of the morning - Greek translation for two hours - and in the afternoon I turned back to The Double Axe, and my editor's marginal comments. Some are easy to deal with, others less so; but it's all part of a long process of shaping, forming and massaging, to get the script into shape. 

And so Friday afternoon comes. Although I have written TAXES in my diary, as I do most Fridays, that little green folder mysteriously fails to move itself to my desk.  I begin each tax year with a song in my heart and a new system; by about now, that system has reverted to my tried and tested one: otherwise known as Bernard's from Black Books

"This is March to... boobelyboo
[takes out more receipts]
Bernard: this is err... misc
[takes out more receipts]
Bernard: and this is... other."

And each time, I do it all in three days of spreadsheets, receipts, bank statements, random screaming, and scribbled notes. But just not today. Now, I feel, it might be time to have a glass of wine. Writers do get weekends too. Sometimes...

Frances Hardinge interview for Books for Keeps

I've interviewed the novelist Frances Hardinge for Books for Keeps. Read it here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How to write a fantasy world: Guardian piece

Good afternoon. I've written a piece for The Guardian about writing fantasy, which you can read here.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Launch party for THE KING'S SHADOW

What ho! Here are some ace pics from the party last night, at Daunt Books, Chelsea. Find them on the Tatler website.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Publication Day for THE KING'S SHADOW

Now that I've got your attention, let us all celebrate the publication, today, of the second in The Darkening Path series: THE KING'S SHADOW.

Here's the blurb:

Simon's sister and Flora's brother are prisoners of the Broken King, and they have entered his land determined to rescue them. But here, nothing is quite what it seems. Who can Simon and Flora trust? What does Pike, their mysterious companion, stand to gain? As rumours of war and revolution swirl around them, and as the sinister Knight of the Swan dogs their every move, the pair must confront their terrifying final task. And if they can free their siblings, will they then be able to open the way between the worlds, and return home?"

You know what you have to do! The best thing is to go to your local bookshop and ask for it. The next best thing is to head, electronically, to the Waterstones website here, or the Foyles website here. Go forth and devour!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake: review

Here's a link to my review of There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, in The Guardian. Click here.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Children's Authors Live: World Book Night Event with David Almond and Annabel Pitcher

It's World Book Night, and I went off to Surbiton (which has a beautiful Art Deco train station, by the way), to chair a conversation with the legendary David Almond, and prize-winning author Annabel Pitcher. The video of the event is up: click here to watch.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

One Night, Markovitch: review

Gundhar-Goshen: dextrous
Evenin' all: I've reviewed Ayelet Gundhar-Goshen's debut novel, One Night, Markovitch, for The Telegraph. Read it here.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Philip Reeve reviews The Broken King

It's spring, and the excellent Philip Reeve has gone and reviewed The Broken King on his blog. Here is a link.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

News roundup: The Double Axe to be published by Alma Books

It's been a while since my last post: I neglected to mention that I reviewed Peter Carey's fizzing new novel, Amnesia, for The Times Literary Supplement. Last week, I spent a high-octane hour in the company of Robert Muchamore for the Daunt Books festival. Now there's a man who writes a lot of books.

More excitingly, I'm thrilled to announce that my retelling of the Minotaur story, THE DOUBLE AXE, will be published in Spring 2016 by Alma Books.

Also in 2016, the final part of The Darkening Path trilogy will come out, published by Troika.  Until then, the second part, THE KING'S SHADOW, is due to be with us very soon. It's like waiting for a baby.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes

My review of Jonathan Barnes' twisty-turny literary thriller, Cannonbridge, is in the February issue of Literary Review, out next week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

January, 1795 by Mary Robinson

I don't often post entire poems: but in an idle moment I stumbled across this one, and, it being the end of January, I thought it more than particularly apt for January 2015. Mary Robinson seems to have been an interesting person: she was known as the English Sappho, and apparently was the mistress of the Prince of Wales.

January, 1795

By Mary Robinson
Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving.

Lofty mansions, warm and spacious;
Courtiers cringing and voracious;
Misers scarce the wretched heeding;
Gallant soldiers fighting, bleeding.

Wives who laugh at passive spouses;
Theatres, and meeting-houses;
Balls, where simp’ring misses languish;
Hospitals, and groans of anguish.

Arts and sciences bewailing;
Commerce drooping, credit failing;
Placemen mocking subjects loyal;
Separations, weddings royal.

Authors who can’t earn a dinner;
Many a subtle rogue a winner;
Fugitives for shelter seeking;
Misers hoarding, tradesmen breaking.

Taste and talents quite deserted;
All the laws of truth perverted;
Arrogance o’er merit soaring;
Merit silently deploring.

Ladies gambling night and morning;
Fools the works of genius scorning;
Ancient dames for girls mistaken,
Youthful damsels quite forsaken.

Some in luxury delighting;
More in talking than in fighting;
Lovers old, and beaux decrepid;
Lordlings empty and insipid.

Poets, painters, and musicians;
Lawyers, doctors, politicians:
Pamphlets, newspapers, and odes,
Seeking fame by diff’rent roads.

Gallant souls with empty purses;
Gen’rals only fit for nurses;
School-boys, smit with martial spirit,
Taking place of vet’ran merit.

Honest men who can’t get places,
Knaves who shew unblushing faces;
Ruin hasten’d, peace retarded;
Candor spurn’d, and art rewarded.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Books of the Year for 2014

A Happy New Year to One and All! And herewith are my books of the year, for 2014.


Hermione Eyre's first novel, Viper Wine, was a dazzling exploration of time travel and beauty, set in the Carolingian court; whilst Constantine Phipps' What You Want brought didactic epic poetry into the twenty-first century with all guns blazing. I also very much enjoyed Nick Harkaway's Tigerman, a techno-fantasy about a dying colony; and Mal Peet's The Murdstone Trilogy is a clever and hilarious exploration of the book world and the fantasy genre. Whilst I have been steadily catching up on Hilary Mantel's backlist, I found her short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, sinisterly gripping. And, though I haven't yet finished it, Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, written in an approximation of Anglo-Saxon, is brutal, bold and satisfying.


I haven't read much poetry this year, but Lavinia Greenlaw's A Double Sorrow, which is a retelling of Troilus and Cressida, was moving and intelligent; and Simon Armitage's play, The Last Days of Troy, has many witty touches whilst keeping the grandeur and terror of the original story.

Children's Books

There were two stand out books (for me) this year: Sonya Hartnett's The Children of the King, a wise, beautiful novel about ghosts and family; and David Almond's A Song for Ella Grey, in which the singer Orpheus returns to the world - this time, to the north of England. A special mention should go to Kate Saunders' Five Children on the Western Front, which poignantly follows on from E Nesbit's classic; and finally, Diana Wynne Jones' last book, The Islands of Chaldea, which displays her distinctive wisdom and emotive power. 


I finished Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, with The Last Post, a gentle yet dazzling coda; I also continued my Henry Green obsession, with Nothing and Doting, both of which have the uneasy pull of Green at his best. Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer I revisited, and was once more shocked by its final image, of an ancient, practically immortal Earl who has reverted into monkey form. Pendennis by William Thackeray is a sharp, precise satire about a young man seeking his fortune in literary London, which still remains vivid and on the point today; and T H White's The Goshawk, a bleak and powerful book about the author's relationship with his bird of prey.