20 September 2013

Malpas Library Monsters

Here are some great pictures of Monsters created by children at Malpas library....

19 September 2013

Talk Like a Pirate - ye Sluggards!

Well batten down ye hatches, there be a wind a brewing and the storm's a rippin' at me mizzen! Av a gud 'Talk like a Pirate Day' and hoist the Jolly Roger!! YO HO HO!!

SftW members can explore all the exciting activities in our swashbuckling Pirate Activities section - write a Pirate story, learn the pirate lingo why ye can even hoist yer own pirate flag you landlubbers!

An here's a little 'taster for ye!

2 September 2013

10 June 2013

Love Struck by Rachael Wing

Reviewed by Arianne 

Glam new girl Emily is causing waves at school, but Holly's not impressed. She can't understand what all the boys see in her - especially when it comes to Jonah, Holly's secret crush, and Wes, her best friend. 
But when Holly, Wes, Jonah and Emily get tickets to the hottest music festival of the summer, the scene is set for all kinds of mayhem and romance - and maybe a little bit of magic, too...
Here at SftW it's our dream that some of our users will go on to become published authors - and teenager Rachael Wing proves it can be done with this novel, a fabulous feel-good story about first love and friendship. 
There's so much to enjoy in this book. The standard of writing  is unexpectedly high. There's still room for improvement, but there's a real sense of smoothness and the narrative voice is clear. The whirlwind plot promises fun and frolics galore and it really delivers in this respect. It's a simple premise but the giddy, dizzy excitement that surrounds the story more than makes up for any lack of complexity. Readers will happily be captivated by the sweet romance and focused plot line which carries the novel. 
The characters are realistic as well as laugh-out-loud funny. Holly is a feisty, sweet and instantly likable protagonist. I love that she's easy to relate to and totally normal, but still has enough spark to surprise us and hold our interest. Holly's family really flesh out the supporting cast. Margo and the other characters, unfortunately, are not as endearing. They remain flat and shallow throughout the book. This is not helped by the fact that the author gives several of them unrealistically privileged lives - and places others in situations which simply aren't believable.
One of my only complaints is the fact that the book is billed as a reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Aside from the more obvious references to the play (such as Holly's favourite band being called The Faeries and the 'big event' of the book's climax being called the Mid-Summer Rave) there is little to no resemblance between this book and Shakespeare's masterpiece.  The book stands solidly enough by itself so perhaps such comparisons weren't necessary, but I appreciate this effort by a young author to bring an age-old tale to a new audience. 
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3.5/5
Impact: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

In short: Some parts of this book are far-fetched and a little too perfect for my liking - but I can't deny that it had me smiling all the way through. I'd recommend it to a young teenage audience as the writing is enthusiastic and the atmosphere vibrant, but there just wasn't enough depth in it for me.

24 May 2013

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Reviewed by Arianne

 If only getting a new life were as easy as getting a new notebook. It's the first day of school for all the kids in the neighborhood - but not for Ratchet. No new schoolbag, no new clothes, and no new friends - not that she had any in the first place. She's home-schooled and she's supposed to be using her notebook  for her writing assignments, but her dad never checks. She's really going to use it for her Top Secret Plan, and turn her old, recycled, freakish, friendless, motherless life into something shiny and new. This year, Ratchet is going make something change.

 The most interesting part of this book was the format. Ratchet's story is told through her journal entries, each disguised as a task for her homeschooling curriculum. Free writing, plays, interviews, poetry and short notes all feature, giving the book a real sense of texture and realism. The journal  entries are witty and sweetly humorous, but they thinly mask Ratchet's inherent loneliness. 
The author works very hard to balance Ratchet's natural naivety with both the optimism of childhood and the shock that is coming of age and realizing all is not as well with the world as you first thought. The tone is always filled with an undercurrent of awakening and loneliness but is never overpowered by it. 
I loved that Ratchet was openly proactive about making a change in her life - she knew something wasn't right and she was eager to explore, in her own bumbling, slightly sheltered way. The other characters weren't quite so exciting but I could see what their role was in the story, from the secrets kept by Ratchet's hippie/mechanic father even as the pair worked to fix cars together to the other characters Ratchet happens across in the ever-expanding bubble of her world. 
At times, however, I found the book wasn't quite as believable as it could have been. I understood Ratchet's desperate need to find out about the mother she lost long ago, but the pressure she felt to change who she was as a person didn't always sit comfortably with me. The book has a very safe atmosphere and the plot is cute and heart-warming, but I would have liked more substance for the book to really have made a mark. 
Writing: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Impact: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

I really enjoyed this book. It's ideal for the older children's reader who's not quite ready to move onto young adult - it's the perfect mix of realistic issues and childhood innocence all rolled into a book with a fascinating format and a brilliant protagonist.

  • This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
  • Published by Sourcebooks, Inc (1 April 2013)  ISBN-13: 978-1402281068

14 May 2013

Arianne's Character Questionnaire - Part Three

Continuing Arianne's series on Writing Characters...

It's time for the final section of the questionnaire! This set of questions will help you fill in the gaps of your character's personality and make them really stand out. This is where you start getting into 'story mode' and writing about things that have shaped your character's life, so remember to think hard and make your answers as unique and useful as you can.
10. What is your character’s biggest goal in life?

(What motivates them? What inspires them? What are their ambitions? When the going gets tough, what do they do? What keeps them moving on through your story?)

11. Is your character an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between?
(Is your character shy or outgoing, quiet or excitable? Do they like being in a group or are they happy being on their own? You don't have to give them just one type, either. Maybe they're an introvert in some situations and extrovert in others? Why are they like this?)

12. What is the worst thing your character has ever done? Likewise, what is the best thing your character has ever done?
(Nobody is perfect! What is your character most ashamed of? Why did that deed stick with them? Everybody's done something good in their lives as well, though, so talk about that too.)

13. What is your character’s most embarrassing moment?
(Tell the full story! This is one of the most fun questions to answer, and it could become a big part of your plot, so make use of all the details!)

14. What role does this character play in your story?
(Are they the hero with a mission or the sidekick with all the answers? Are they the cause of all the problems or are they fixing someone else's mistake? Which other character do they care about most? Which other character do they spend the most time with? What's happening to them at the start of the story and where are they at the end?)

15. What question isn't on this questionnaire that your character is just burning to answer?         (Maybe there's one important thing about your character you haven't been able to fit into this questionnaire so far. Now's your chance to put it in by asking them a question for yourself!)

Bonus Question: Write your character into an unusual situation and see how they cope. What would they do if they were stuck on a desert island with only a bottle of orange juice and a pet monkey for company? If they were transported to a strange planet full of aliens with ginormous eyes and legs made of jelly, how would they react? Are they tough and resourceful or would they totally freak out? This is just for fun but it could help you to beat writer's block and will tell you more about your character.

And there you go, we're all done! Your character has grown with every question you answered and you're ready to get writing. Remember, you can keep using this questionnaire format for other characters, but it's important not to use it too much or it will become boring and nothing new will come from it. If your answers were exciting, then your story will be too!
Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience of the questionnaire with us! Did you find it useful and exciting? Are there questions you wish had been included or have you some other method for creating great characters? We'd love to hear from you, so don't be shy, get in touch!

7 May 2013

Arianne's Character Questionnaire - Part Two

Continuing Arianne's series on Writing Characters....
Right, so you've worked out the basics of your character - now it's time to take things to another level and work out exactly what kind of person they are!

5. What are the best and worst things about your character's personality?
 (Remember, this questionnaire is about not getting bored so don't just list things for this one! Instead of 'she is pretty' or 'he is nice to his mum', maybe your character is 'especially kind and trusting' or 'really positive and optimistic'. Instead of 'she is evil' or 'he hates everyone', maybe they're 'rotten to the core' or they 'eat good guys for breakfast'. Maybe they're just ordinary and somewhere in between, so you could put something like 'she is really determined and focused, but she can be too competitive sometimes' or 'he's vain and spends too much time looking at himself in the mirror, but he's brave and loyal'. This question is really important so don't rush it!)

6. Does your character have any special talents or skills?
(Everyone is special in some way. Maybe your character is a brilliant super-spy, or maybe they're just really good with animals? ? Maybe they're sporty, arty or hard-working. Write anything that marks your character out as different here.)

7.When your character is happy/sad/angry, how do they express themselves?
(Go through each emotion separately. You want your characters to be vivid and realistic so you can include other emotions, too. Maybe they have dimples when they smile or a big, braying laugh when they hear something funny? Maybe they cry loudly but go absolutely silent when they're angry? Can people easily read every emotion on their face?)

8. What does your character care about most?
(What does your character value above all else? Family? Freedom? Fame? Good looks?Wealth? Health? Hope? Explain the reasons for their values and don't be afraid to pick ones not listed here.)

9. What are some of your character's favourite things?
(Everyone has favourite things. They might be small but they could prove important. Maybe your characters are on a camping adventure and their camping site is attacked by a bear. However, some of the characters prefer sleeping under the stars and some of the characters prefer staying inside the tent so when the attack happens they react differently. Go into as much detail as you think is needed for your story, from food - let's say it's pizza, but what kind of pizza? - and films to books and school subjects.)

Bonus  Question: Can you name some objects which are important to your character?
(Maybe an object is an important part of your story - you can talk about it here. Is there an object your character would protect above all else? Maybe their most treasured 'possession' is a power or their friendship with another person? Maybe it's something simple like a necklace or a photograph - but it could literally be anything!)

It's really important to know what your character is like because it will affect their choices, decisions and reactions throughout your story. You want your reader to believe the character and connect with them, so you have to make their personality realistic and interesting. Nobody likes a character who is totally perfect, but everyone loves a character who is memorable and has lots of different traits! This questionnaire will help you figure out these details clearly.
And remember, Part Three is on its way soon!

30 April 2013

Arianne's Character Questionnaire - Part One

A few years ago, my favourite way of building characters was to write character profiles. I liked to list everything from their appearance to their personality in a few short paragraphs. It was when I started to lose interest in writing the stories the characters were part of, that I realized I must be doing something wrong. Since I 'knew everything' about my character already, why bother creating a world for them to live in or an adventure for them to have? I was getting bored!
Then I discovered Character Questionnaires. They're very simple, but they get you thinking about your character in ways you'd never imagine! They help to build a well-rounded and realistic person instead of a collection of details that doesn't really come to life. There are loads of different types out there, but stick with me and I'll take you through a questionnaire specially designed for SftW that's guaranteed to help you kick-start your stories again!

The Questionnaire - Part One
Character Name: (pick a first name and a surname to start with, but you can include a middle name and nickname too, as well as where they came from or why the character has the name in the first place.)
1. What is your character’s basic history?
(What is their birthday and age? Where were they born? Where do they live? Have they moved a lot? This is just as important for real world stories as it is for fantasy, so don't be tempted to skip over these facts!)

2. What kind of family does your character have?
(Are they an only child or do they have lots of sisters and brothers? Are their parents married or divorced and if so are their part of a step-family? Maybe they were raised by a single parent or they were adopted. Do they get along well with the members of their family? If they have no family at all, who in the world are they closest to?)

3. What does your character look like?
 (Go crazy with this one. It could be one of the most important questions you answer, do don't hold back. Construct your sentences as you would writing them into a story, don't just catalogue their traits in a boring list. Include hair colour, eye colour, skin tone and face shape, but remember to use things like 'lots of freckles', 'ginormous wart on neck' and other unique features, too!)

4. What does your character wear?
(Go into as much detail as you want here. Don't just say 'jeans and t-shirt' - put the colour, style or even brand too. Talk about the character's favourite outfit or least favourite outfit, about the hoodie they only wear when they're feeling sad or the slippers they only wear when they're sick. If you've already started writing your story, you could reference a particular scene where what they're dressed in is out of the ordinary. Equally, you could describe what they wear on a daily basis or what they'll appear most in.)

Bonus Question: Do they have any special or unusual physical characteristics?
(Do they have a scar or a piercing or a tattoo, or maybe they have all three? Are they especially short or especially tall? Do they have huge feet or a tiny nose? This is your chance to think of anything your forgot in question one, so spend time on it!)

What do you think, readers? This is only Part One of the questionnaire, but it's probably the most important because it sets out the foundations of your character - if you imagine building a character is like building a house, then these questions are the blank walls ready for your to paint on with all the colours of the rainbow.

Why don't you take some time to fill it out and then tell us how it worked for you?

5 April 2013

Finding Cherokee Brown by Siobhan Curham (review by Arianne)

Claire Weeks isn't who she thought she was. Bullied and alone, the day she finds Cherokee Brown is a day that changes her life. Just as she realizes her world is full of secrets being kept and lies being told, she also realizes that if she's brave and dares to dream, she might really be able to
make a difference. Things might get a little bit crazy along the way,though...

I really enjoyed the writing in this book. The dialogue was sometimes repetitive, but the storytelling, description and overall characterization were all top class. 

One of the big themes of this book is bullying. Cherokee's been bullied at school ever since her best friend moved away, and it's slowly eaten away at the person she is inside. Like so many real kids, she's been targeted by a group of her classmates who want nothing more than to make her life a misery and worst of all, her teachers ignore it for the sake of their reputation. Sometimes reading books about such a harrowing topic can be tough, but this book dealt with the theme incredibly well.

I was rooting for our heroine every step of the way. She was a great narrator; strong, clear and totally unique. Following the advice of the fictitious Agatha Dashwood's So You Want To Write a Novel? (one of the funniest features in a book that was surprisingly humourous) she sets out to write a book about what she knows, and what she knows is a life full of struggles but also little moments of hope.
The plot is excellently crafted. By the time she receives message from the father she thought had given up on her long ago, Cherokee's ready to make a change and stand up for herself. 
The book is really about identity and exploration of the self, but the journey our main character takes into her father's world of music, laughter, well-loved vans and gorgeous boys named Harrison (who was totally loveable and definitely deserved more page-time than he got, even if the age gap between him and Cherokee did make the romance seem a little bit unrealistic) is very much the driving force of the action.
Of course the book wasn't without its downsides. I would have liked to have seen more of Cherokee's relationship with her little brothers, as I felt their presence was under-utilised, and I was also left frustrated by the lack of real confrontation between Cherokee and her frankly neglectant mother. On the whole however, my only real wish was that the book had been longer!
Writing: 4.5/5   Characters: 4/5   Plot: 5/5   Impact: 5/5   Overall: 4.5/5
In short: I absolutely loved this book. It was heart-breaking and heart-warming all at the same time. I'd been looking forward to it ever since I'd first heard about it so I had high expectations, but they were definitely well met! -Arianne

26 March 2013

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Book Review by Arianne)

Sean Kendrick – a young man of few words and little fear - is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races, the toughest contest there is in his world. Competitors simply have to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Many die.

Kate ‘Puck’ Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races, but fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. She’s the first girl who ever entered, but she might also be the last.

As a big fan of this author's Mercy Falls trilogy, I had both expectations and reservations about this book - but it has definitely done one thing, and that is put Maggie Stiefvater ahead of the pack when it comes to variety in the young adult genre.

First of all, the water horses. These steeds aren't your normal racing thoroughbreds. They’re volatile creatures that feed on blood and require charms and magic to ride. At any moment they can turn on their riders and attack. I loved Stiefvater’s audacity in choosing such a bloodthirsty legend to focus on. It’s not something you see every day and I was completely sucked in to the wilds of the island, a place dictated by the whims of nature and where inhabitants are pushed to extremes just to survive.

The Scorpio Races are a high stakes game, and no one is more at risk than inexperienced riders like Puck, but there’s nothing rash or rushed about her narrative. While I did question her motives for entering the race, once the stage was set there was nothing I could do but keep turning the pages. I eventually warmed to Sean but as the races themselves only start in the last few chapters of the book (the rest is necessary build-up that can sometimes drag) I was left feeling a little unsatisfied with the supposed romance between the two characters. Still, it made a refreshing change to read a book focused on its plot and not the amount of unlikely lip-locks that can be fitted in to a narrative.

The alternating points of view in this book are barely distinguishable, but I have to admit there is a real sense of timelessness about it. It’s written to a high standard and presents itself almost as a work of enjoyable literary fiction.

However, one thing that really got on my nerves was the forced Celticism of it all. Being a minority native reader, the obvious but unspoken Irishness was very off-putting – not least because the pronunciation and grammar of the Irish words used was often completely wrong!

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3.5/5
Plot: 3/5
Impact: 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5

In short: This book has all the makings of a classic. I won’t be surprised if it’s still selling ten years from now, and though I didn’t fully connect with the characters, it’s a stand-out title in a sea of mediocre alternatives.

Book Review by Arianne