November 27, 2017 - Comments Off on Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Today we’re delighted to present this fascinating piece on finding creative inspiration through travel by E. R. Murray, author of the Nine Lives trilogy. Read on for a riveting writerly treat …


Alongside reading and writing books, travel is one of the most important things in my life. Each activity is an inspiration and a compulsion that works seamlessly side by side. I see them as inextricably linked, for they’re all about the stories we seek, the stories we gather and the stories we tell.

As a child, I read voraciously: poetry, myths and legends, novels, real-life tales, encyclopedias, fairy tales, dictionaries, and even the back of cornflake boxes. I used to devour National Geographic magazines from cover to cover, dreaming of where I could go and what I could experience. And then I used to jumble them up with the everyday to make my own adventures. Stories were my world.

Even now, I find it impossible to live without stories. The books I read, the tales I write, the journeys I take, the thoughts that tangle up in my brain: they entwine into a narrative that is, essentially, my life. Without any of these elements, I would feel unable to breathe. Suffocating in the minutiae of the everyday. Don’t get me wrong; I have chosen to live in a beautiful part of the world (West Cork, Ireland) and I adore it. But there’s a part of my personality that always feels restless.

This restlessness is what compels me to travel. Some people love routine; it helps them find their stride and provides them with comfort. For me, routine feels like being stuck in a bog, desperate to move but unable. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating so I try to avoid routine at all costs. Isn’t it wonderful that we’re all so different? That’s what makes our lives, our stories, so vivid.

What I desire above all else is change, surprise and challenge. I love meeting new people, learning about different cultures, seeing fresh sights and exploding my senses with different tastes, smells, sounds. It makes me feel alive and gives me energy. It settles my over-active imagination and provides a sense of calm. And, as a result, I’ve crossed off some of those childhood daydreams …

I’ve eaten deep-fried beetles and tarantula legs in Cambodia, snails and frogs in France. I ran with bulls in Andalucia and skydived above its scorched countryside. I swam with sharks in Australia and stingrays in the Bahamas. I’ve hiked to incredible sky caves in Thailand and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland. I’ve helped with rescued elephants and I’ve visited incredible museums and galleries around the world, seeking out the bizarre, magnificent and beautiful. And everywhere, every time, I breathe deeply, making records and notes: hunting and gathering words, details, and ideas.

But even at home, I travel every day – and I don’t even drive! In the wilds of West Cork, I pull on my walking boots and hike the local countryside, looking for new boreens and pathways to explore. I find the physical act of movement as important as the exploration of new things. Motion stirs the body and brain and blows away cobwebs, allowing for solutions and creative sparks. So if, like me, you hate routine, walking is a good way to make every day fresh.I often take chunks of time away from home to travel and concentrate intensely on my writing. This year, I spent month-long writing residencies in Iceland and Australia. On both occasions, rather than travel around the country, I immersed myself in the local area and explored the landscape on foot, just like I would at home. In Australia, I watched bowerbirds try to impress a mate with intricate decorations and in Iceland, I saw the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. Half of my day was spent hiking and observing, and the rest involved reading, writing, thinking up fresh ideas and unravelling problems while creating new ones.

At home or abroad, I’m foraging. Redefining the way I work, the way I write, the things I read and the things I write about. The stories I collect may not end up in a book, especially not in a true to life way, but elements can be splintered and moulded and included; and often, I have no idea this is going to happen. For instance …

  • The pocket watch owned by my character Uncle Cornelius (Nine Lives Trilogy) is an actual pocket watch I bought in Krakow, Poland – it’s brass, engraved and broken. I also based the description of his face on a random man who fell asleep in front of me on a train.
  • A seventeenth-century handwritten recipe book that I was shown in the National Library of Ireland sparked the cookbook idea in Caramel Hearts. The bullying scene is something I witnessed when I was a teenager.
  • The basking shark, Cedric, (Nine Lives Trilogy) is based on a shark that visited us every day for a fortnight when we were fishing in our little punt off the coast of West Cork (the shark was bigger than the boat). The submarine bit came from a visit to the Maritime Museum in Sydney.
  • An award-winning short story I wrote, The Books, They Cry, was based on a chat with a friend about her experience of the Bosnian War, followed by watching lots of documentaries and reading letters written by soldiers.

Not once did I know that any of these things would be relevant to a story. I didn’t set out to find any answers – I simply set out to explore and enjoy, and this, in turn, infused my work. So by living the life that makes sense to me, I grew. And so did my stories.

So if are interested by the fresh and unexplored, new cultures and experiences, then immerse yourself in that life. Read widely and ferociously, seek out art and myths, try new things, even if they make you feel a bit uncomfortable; soak up all there is around you and beyond and then let your imagination wander on the page, building your own worlds and tales through the stories only you can tell.


About E. R. Murray

E.R. Murray lives in West Cork, Ireland, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and lives for adventures and words. Elizabeth is an award-winning writer of novels for children and young adults. She also has short fiction and poetry published in literary journals across Ireland, the UK and Australia, as well as numerous shortlists in fiction competitions including Aesthetica Creative Works, Francis McManus and Penguin/Irish Times. Her debut novel, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children, while The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book awards. She has also performed in the live writing installation Train: Ciudades Parallelas at Cork Midsummer festival and co-created/performed Things That Go Bump in the Night, an interactive storytelling event. Her residencies include Varuna (Australia), Gullkistan (Iceland) and la Muse (France).


Twitter: @ERMurray 

Facebook: ERMurrayAuthor




November 13, 2017 - Comments Off on Telling Tales: exceptional re-imaginings to relish as winter sets in

Telling Tales: exceptional re-imaginings to relish as winter sets in

From the deep, dark woods of the Brothers Grimm, to the shard-sharp magic of Norse myth, one of the defining characteristics of traditional tales, legends and myths is how they lend themselves so marvellously to re-workings by every generation of writers. They are timeless, and also timely, for there’s no better reading companion to curl up with on a wintry evening than an atmospheric, illustrated re-telling, so here are some of our favourites …


Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin

Steeped in the enchanting landscape and language of European fairy tales, these six stories, stunningly illustrated by Richard Collingridge, make for an utterly enthralling, inclusive reading experience. In her preface, author Jamila Gavin explains that she sought to expand the scope of European folklore: ‘I wanted to create stories which extended the European image, so that more diverse children could look at the heroes and heroines and say, “That could be me”’, and so Jamila’s fabulous heroes and heroines have skin ‘as black as midnight’, or the colour of ‘polished bronze’. Among the cast of characters is Blackberry Blue, who emerges from brambles in the Cinderella-esque title story, and then there’s Abu, who battles to save his sister from the clutches of a Pied Piper type rogue in The Purple Lady. Magnificently menacing, and mesmerisingly magical, these tales are a triumph.


Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love

In his foreword to this soon-to-be-classic collection of stories based on the Scandinavian myth cycle, Carnegie Medal-winning author Kevin Crossley-Holland explains that ‘Norse myths are brilliant, fast-moving, ice-bright stories’, and the retellings within this gorgeously produced tome more than meet that description. There are action-packed adventures featuring warring gods and goddesses, and an abundance of ancient magic, all framed by timeless truths (‘Fair words often conceal weaselly thinking’; ‘Be generous, be spirited, and you’ll lead a happy life’). And the frost-crisp language is given an additional dimension by Jeffrey Alan Love’s sublime illustrations.


The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

What an inspired combination of author, illustrator and story, and no surprise that this deliciously dark interweaving of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty was awarded the 2016 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. Brimming with wit and wonder, this spellbinding story sees a young queen set out to rescue an enchanted princess from the depths of the Sleeping Kingdom. After replacing her fine robes with a suit of chainmail, the queen ventures into a mountain with her ‘tough and hardy’ dwarf companions, making unexpected discoveries along the way. This cleverly quirky quest has much to satisfy readers of every age.


Tinder by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

Always thought-provoking, and often brutal, this brilliant book about love, loss and the horrors of war was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Tinderbox (remember those dogs with the monstrously massive eyes … ?). After defying Death, war-traumatised solider Otto is drawn down a dark path of danger, a path along which he meets all manner of variously mysterious and terrifying beings, from the pure-hearted Safire, to the petrifying Lady of the Nail, and then there’s the wolves … This powerful allegory for older readers is the perfect partnership of words and illustration, and makes for an exquisitely immersive experience.


October 30, 2017 - Comments Off on Creepy Classics

Creepy Classics

From supernatural dinner services to an ominous Other Mother with buttons for eyes (BUTTONS!), these brilliant books make perfect Halloween reading, and also come highly recommended as classics of the very highest order.


Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

With his brother ill, lonely Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle. He seems set for a summer of boredom, until the grandfather clock strikes eleven, twelve, THIRTEEN! Soon afterwards, he discovers a splendid garden and catches sight of a girl in old-fashioned attire, Hatty, with whom he forms an unforgettable friendship. But the seasons are slipping by, and Hatty is growing up, and it’s almost time for Tom to leave. A beautifully haunting tale that weaves its magic on a multitude of levels.


The Owl Service by Alan Garner

It might be fifty years old, but this winner of both the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal still packs a powerfully original punch. When Alison hears an unsettling scratching on the ceiling, she’s led to discover a dinner service in the attic. Weird, wonderful and abundant in Welsh legend, supernatural suspense and tension, the latest edition of this classic includes an introduction by none other than Philip Pullman.


Grinny by Nicholas Fisk

First published in 1973 and recently re-issued to petrify new generations, this brilliant blend of suspense and sci-fi features The Most Terrifying Aunt in Literature, ‘Grinny’, so-named for her ever-present eerie smile. Tim’s diary recounts the chilling discoveries he makes when Grinny comes to visit, and it soon becomes clear that she’s far from the innocent eccentric he’d assumed her to be. The new edition also includes a sinister sequel.


And now for a couple of contemporary classics:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

When Coraline moves house she discovers an unexpected corridor beyond a bricked-up wall. It seems to lead to another house that looks rather like her own – except nothing is as it seems … In this creepy world beyond the wall Coraline encounters the button-eyed Other Mother and Other Father who want her to stay with them, and Coraline must muster all her mettle and wit to escape. Readers new to this dazzlingly original tale also have the delight of deciding whether to get hold of the edition illustrated by Chris Riddell or Dave McKean, both of which are stunning.


Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

A truly chilling collection of short stories in the gothic tradition of M. R. James and Edgar Allan Poe, exquisitely illustrated by the inimitable David Roberts. Uncle Montague lives alone in an old house and has a penchant for telling his young nephew terrifying tales whenever he visits. But, as more tales are told, and a broader narrative is unveiled, one begins to wonder if these might not be tales at all … The suspense is truly masterful, and the dénouement deliciously dark. Also look out for Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth


Happy Halloween reading...


October 23, 2017 - Comments Off on The Brilliant Books of Malorie Blackman

The Brilliant Books of Malorie Blackman

Seeing as the current issue of Scoop features an awesome interview with the one and only Malorie Blackman (former Children’s Laureate, and all-round, all-time, incredible writer), and seeing as the interview will surely inspire new readers to investigate her books, we thought we’d provide an overview of some of her work.

First up comes Cloud Busting, which is one of the most moving and uplifting accounts of friendship you will ever read. Sam thinks Davey is a total loser and definitely doesn’t want to be friends with him. He doesn’t even want to be seen near him. But when Davey saves Sam’s life, a bond grows between the two boys, and even Sam has to admit that Davey’s pretty fun – and then something awful happens to Davey … Told in verse, with a different form used for each chapter, this is a subtle and poignant cautionary tale about the destructive power of peer pressure, and a soul-lifting celebration of friendship and individuality.

Robot Girl is a succinctly thought-provoking read in which a girl discovers that the project dominating her scientist father’s time and energy might bring more than fame. In fact, his work might unleash a dangerous monster … With echoes of Frankenstein, this futuristic thriller is published by Barrington Stoke, whose books are written and designed to be inclusive of dyslexic readers.

Malorie’s Noughts and Crosses quartet is a mind-blowing achievement, a series of heart-thumpingly gripping page-turners that explore inequality, racism, prejudice and segregation to powerful effect. Sephy and Callum have been friends since they were very young but, in their society, they’re divided by the fact that Sephy belongs to the dark-skinned ruling class of the Crosses, while Callum is a ‘colourless’ member of the Nought underclass. Until their society becomes a more equal place, their blossoming romance is strictly forbidden, and destined to lead them into great danger. The story evolves and engrosses across the four books, and comes hugely recommended as one of those rare reads that will change the way you see the world.

For older readers (14+), we also recommend Boys Don’t Cry, in which a bright teenage boy with a promising future is literally left holding the baby as he awaits his A level results, and Chasing the Stars. Published earlier this year, Chasing the Stars sees Malorie combine two of her greatest loves – Shakespeare’s Othello and science fiction – to create an outer-space-set epic that tingles with romance, danger and distrust.

To see a full list of Malorie’s books, head here, and happy reading, Scoopsters!


October 2, 2017 - Comments Off on Interview with author Angie Thomas

Interview with author Angie Thomas

At the start of Black History Month, we’re delighted to publish this fantastic interview with Angie Thomas, author of the incredible YA bestseller The Hate U Give, which is also set to hit the big screen in the near future.

The Hate U Give is a powerful wake-up call of a novel about racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, social inequality and not giving up, told through the eyes of unforgettable sixteen-year-old Starr. Not only is this a breathtakingly smart and important book, and not only is Angie an amazing new voice in YA fiction, but this interview was conducted by talented young book reviewer, Josh. Huge thanks to Josh for making this happen, and to Angie.

Could you describe the book in the length of a tweet?
A sixteen-year-old girl is the sole witness when her childhood best friend is killed by a cop.

Where did the idea come from?
I first wrote The Hate U Give as a short story when I was in college, as a reaction to the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like Starr, I lived in two different worlds – my poor, black, neighbourhood and my upper-class, mostly white college. Being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different conversations about Oscar. At my school, he was a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write. I put the short story aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I decided to write the book that became The Hate U Give.

What was it about the Black Lives Matter movement that inspired you in particular?
The Black Lives Matter movement finally gave a voice to what so many of us had been saying in the black community for so long. Police brutality is not new – social media is new, cameras on phones are new, and these two things have allowed the world to see what we’ve been saying for decades. I just hope that my book helps more people understand why we say Black Lives Matter.

One of the key events in the book is the fatal shooting of Starr’s unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer, which happens really early on in the book. What made you want to centre the plot around this?
I wanted to make this the focus of the plot because for so many of us, this has become an active, daily conversation. I wanted to write it for the teens in my community who saw themselves in Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many others, but didn’t know how to process their feelings. I wanted to give those kids a mirror and other people a window into what they are dealing with.

Did you write any parts of your own life into this book?
Yes. Like Starr, I grew up in a neighbourhood that’s known for all of the wrong reasons. I never witnessed the shooting dead of a friend, but I’ve witnessed shootings and I’ve lost childhood friends to gun violence. I also found myself straddling two worlds in college, and every day I had to figure out who I was, where I was.

Would you like your book to form part of a conversation about racism, and what would that mean for you if it was?
I hope that my book does help foster some of these conversations, and I hope it helps readers, teens in particular, realise that their voices matter. We must confront racism head-on. It exists, it is prevalent, and it continues to divide us. If The Hate U Give helps tackle it in any way, I will consider it an honor.

The movie rights for your book were sold to Fox 2000 before it was even published, and Amandla Stenberg is set to star. What does this mean for you? Are you excited?
I’m extremely excited about the movie and hope to have more news on it soon! Knowing that my story will reach more people through the film means everything to me.

You were also the first recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Grant from We Need Diverse Books in 2015, a grant awarded to unpublished diverse writers looking to write children’s or YA books. How did it feel to be told you were receiving the grant? Do you believe that the grant is necessary and why?
I was completely shocked that I won the grant and considered it a huge honour – I still do. Not only did the grant help me financially, but it gave me an added boost in the eyes of publishers. The grant is definitely necessary. It puts a spotlight on writers who may otherwise be overlooked. The work that We Need Diverse Books is doing as a whole is necessary, not just for writers but for readers as well.

What’s next for you? Are you planning to write more books?
I’m currently working on my second novel. It’s not a sequel or a spin off of The Hate U Give, but it is set in the same neighbourhood. I call it my ode to hip hop.

And finally, are there any tips you would give to aspiring writers?
Although you will get a lot of rejections along the way, remember that it only takes one ‘yes’ to change everything. And above all, always write for yourself first and foremost.


September 22, 2017 - Comments Off on Brilliant Back-to-School Books

Brilliant Back-to-School Books

With the new term now fully underway, here are Scoop's school-set book recommendations to help readers ease themselves back into the swing of things, from favourite old classics, to contemporary comedies.

Boarding schools always feature high in any round-up of fictional schools, with Hogwarts – naturally – usually topping the list. Then there’s Enid Blyton’s perennially popular Malory Towers and St Clare’s. Oh, and we can’t forget Elinor Brent-Dyer’s alpine-set Chalet School, and Anne Digby’s recently re-released Trebizon.

Pamela Butchart’s rollickingly comical Wigglesbottom Primary series comes hugely recommended for those who are beginning to read independently. Each book features three separate stories – ideal for devouring in manageable bite-size chunks – with hilarious illustrations by Becka Moor. Multi-award-winning Pamela truly understands what makes her readers tick and gets to the humorous heart of primary school life.

For a more magical educational experience, readers will surely want to enrol in Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, as featured in Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch books. Within the walls of this spellbinding school, would-be witch Mildred Hubble tries her hardest to get to grips with all the tasks she’s set, but sometimes (well, most of the time, to be honest) matters go somewhat awry. The stories are full of charm, cheer and atmosphere, and Mildred is a dearly adorable character.

You Can’t Make Me Go to Witch School! is the first book in a fun new series by debut author Em Lynas. Daisy Wart, an aspiring young actress with lofty ambitions, is extremely angry when her granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers School for Witches but, little by little, Daisy finds herself falling under its spell.

While best known for his multi-award-winning novel Holes, Louise Sachar also authored the rather wonderful Wayside School series. The cast of larger-than-life characters and crazy, comic capers are incredibly entertaining, and valuable life lessons are imparted with a lovely lightness of touch.





August 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Brilliant books to banish boredom

Brilliant books to banish boredom

We at Scoop are dedicated to encouraging all kinds of creativity in our readers, so we’ve pulled together a list of some awesome activity books that are a hundred per cent guaranteed to banish boredom for the last leg of the summer holidays. There’s something for everyone here, from craft lovers to outdoor adventurers, to science buffs, to sports fanatics – so there can be no excuse for having nothing to do!

First up, Nosy Crow’s series of smartly designed activity books are a feast for the eyes, and an inspiration for the mind. National Trust: Go Wild in the Woods is a perfect, pocket-sized compendium packed with survival tips for young adventurers, and teaches all manner of outdoor skills, from how to build a shelter and cook over a campfire, to fun games to play in the great outdoors. It also includes essential information about first aid, and what NOT to do when out in the wild. We also love this gorgeous range of colouring books complete with cards and envelopes. The series provides hours of arty activity on rainy days, with themes covering the likes of nature, summertime, unicorns and rainbows, and flowers and butterflies.

Backyard Explorer is a brilliant fill-in journal brought to young explorers by Lonely Planet. Packed with plenty of ideas for fun things to do and make (including cloud spotting, scavenger hunting and creating a time capsule), readers will be enjoying adventures right outside their own back doors in no time.

Budding scientists and engineers will find much to inform and entertain in b small publishing’s inventively educational series of STEM starters, which are packed with facts and engaging activities themed around science, technology, engineering and maths.

From experiencing a 3D penalty shoot-out, to playing a fun, flicking football game, Football Things to Make and Do is packed with immersive projects and games to keep footy fans entertained during the summer off-season. Young cricketers will love this recently released Cricket Sticker Book, which includes 450 stickers, plus insights into the rules of the game.


August 14, 2017 - Comments Off on Adventures Close to Home

Adventures Close to Home

Whether you’re off on holiday this summer, or enjoying a break at home, we can all experience incredible adventures through the pages of a book. Here are a few of our favourite reads to transport young adventure-seekers to thrilling far-flung places – no packing, passport or plane tickets necessary!

Set in 1910, and published in 2001, in Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea is an absolute classic. When word comes that brave, bright orphan Maia has relatives living near Manaus, she’s transported from her English school to the heart of the Amazon, accompanied by her governess, Minty. Maia’s dream of an exciting new life with her cousins is tainted when she discovers that they’re horribly spoiled, and only interested in her parents’ money, but she’s entranced by the majesty of the forest, and befriends a half-English, half-Xanti boy, Finn. The plot twists and snakes like the Amazon itself – there are duplicitous dealings, secret identities, and an overarching respect for the wonders of the natural world. In Minty’s words, ‘children must lead big lives ... if it is in them to do so’, which is exactly what Maia does. She’s the pluckiest of heroines, with huge heart and integrity, and readers will come away dazzled by both the gripping adventure, and the author’s unforgettable evocation of the Amazon. It’s one of those special stories that readers will return to and re-read over and over again.

Katherine Rundlell’s recently published The Explorer was partly inspired by the author’s love of Journey to the River Sea. Intricately illustrated by Hannah Horn, this tells the gloriously gripping tale of four children struggling to survive when their plane crashes in the wilds of the Amazon forest. Fred has always dreamed of being an explorer, and desperately longs to do something to make his father notice him. He now has chance to do just that. While dangers are ever-present in the form of caimans, tarantulas, snakes and piranhas, they manage to find food, and Fred even fashions a raft that transports them along the river, with their adopted sloth aboard. Then, deep in the mysterious jungle, they encounter a real-life explorer who holds mysteries of his own. At its heart, this is a book about the magical richness of the natural world, and what it is to truly experience life. As the eponymous explorer explains, “You don’t have to be in the jungle to be an explorer … every human on this earth is an explorer”. This is a thoughtful and vibrantly thrilling feast.

From South America to South Africa: Lauren St John’s award-winning series of White Giraffe books were inspired by her experiences growing up on a Zimbabwean farm and game reserve, and they’re a thoroughly warm-hearted, wonder-filled treat. When eleven-year-old Martine is orphaned, she’s sent to live with her grandmother on a game reserve in South Africa, but her grandmother is distant and unwelcoming, and Martine also feels like an outsider at school. Then, after befriending Tendai, a keeper on the reserve, and sighting the fabled white giraffe, Martine discovers that she has a secret gift, and a world of adventure unfolds.

Set against a stunning Himalayan landscape, Jess Butterworth‘s recently released debut, Running on the Roof of the World, follows the epic adventures of twelve-year old Tash and best friend Sam as they journey from Tibet to India, where they hope to secure the support of the Dalai Lama in order to save her parents. But time is against them, as is the terrain. With winter setting in, the perilous paths of the Himalayas will soon be blocked by snow, and many dangers must be kept at bay. This thrilling fable about hope and holding onto what really matters abounds in derring-do appeal.

Melding magic and mystery with a wild spirit of adventure, Abi Elphinstone’s Dreamsnatcher trilogy is set in an imagined world, but inspired by the author’s real-life experiences among Scottish glens, Norwegian fjords, Italian Dolomites, Brazilian caves, and Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia. Moll’s quest to fight the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic is furiously fast-paced, and these books are ablaze with action, adventure and enchantment.