Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Renner’
Cambourne Chatterbooks were winners in our May launch giveaways, and bagged themselves a copy of Castle of Shadows, by Ellen Renner. As Ellen’s ‘in residence’ with us this month, the Chatterbooks have put a few questions to her…
Hello Camborne Chatterbooks! Thank you for asking such brilliant questions. I’ve had great fun answering them.
Ellen, why did you decide to change from being a creative artist to being a brilliant writer?
It as a very hard decision. I love drawing and painting. I always wanted to do both and if I wrote picture books perhaps I could have illustrated them. But I write long books for older children and publishers tend not to use illustrations (I think they should use them more). Life is very busy if you have a family to look after, so I had to decide which to focus on and I knew I wanted to tell my stories more than anything else. But I’m not giving up with my drawing and painting. I’m going to put more character illustrations on my website in the autumn and I’m doing a show of paintings and drawings based on the books in a local gallery next spring. I’ll write about that on my website next year.
What made you want to write your story ‘Castle Of Shadows’?
One day several years ago I was sitting at my computer trying to write another story when a picture popped into my head out of nowhere. It was the king, Charlie’s dad, hanging upside down from scaffolding putting the very last card on his enormous card castle. I knew that I had to write a story about it. But I still don’t know where that image came from.
Are you pleased with the way that the book turned out?
I’m very pleased with Castle. It took a lot of rewriting to get the book the way I wanted it. It went through four major rewrites and at one point I threw away half the book and started again. But I wouldn’t change anything now. And it’s much more satisfying than if it had come out perfectly first time around. I learned a lot during the rewriting process. Working hard on something and making it better is a very good feeling.
Why do you use the phrase ‘in a world of secrets nothing is what it seems’?
My editor, Sarah Lilly at Orchard Books, wrote all the words on the cover, but we did talk it over and we felt that it was a good way of describing the book and making people want to read it. Almost everyone in the book, except for Charlie, has a secret. It really is a shadowy world of secrets and lies.
What inspired you to write about Princess Charlotte and her mother’s life?
Charlie grew into a very real person for me as I was thinking about the book and starting to write it. I wanted her to have fears because no one can be brave if they aren’t afraid. I’m a bit claustrophobic, so I thought it would be good to tie her fear of the dark and claustrophobia to her mother’s disappearance.
As for her mother, I needed Charlie to have a really big problem, something even more fundamental than a wicked housekeeper and mad father, something that was the start of everything. I’ve always been very close to my mother, and I know the thing that would have hurt me most at Charlie’s age would have been losing my mother and not knowing what had happened to her.
What do you think makes us have to read your book? What makes it unputdownable?
There are lots of elements involved in making a story work, but first and foremost I think you need to have a main character that the reader can identify with and care about. The characters need to come first and they determine the shape the story will take and what will happen. If you start with the plot and force your characters to fit it without thinking about who they are and how they would react, it doesn’t work. Plot is important, but you have to stay true to your characters.
The next thing is that you need to give your character a really big problem, something really awful, and grow that problem with every chapter – making it bigger and bigger. That’s what keeps readers turning the pages – to find out if the character is ever going to solve the problem. The classic: what happens next?
Lastly, it’s good to be able to end each chapter with something that makes the reader want to start the next one, a sort of hook into the next scene or cliff-hanger.
Great questions, Chatterbooks! A special thanks to Yasmin, who came up with many of the questions. You’ve heard a bit more from Ellen now, and do remember you can put any more questions or comments to her in our forum or on our Facebook wall this month.
Last week we brought you our review of castle of Shadows, so now onto the sequel, out this month, City of Thieves..
City of Thieves - Ellen Renner
“The final shock of it hit home. The Petches were thieves, and they had stolen him.” Tobias is on the run. From the father who betrayed him…from the mother who couldn’t comfort him…from his own desperate fear. But when he falls into the clutches of his uncle’s sinister gang of thieves, his fear grows. And soon Toby realises, his nightmare has only just begun…” (from Goodreads)
City of Thieves starts some time after Castle of Shadows ends, and the whole of Quale are gathered together to watch the hanging of Alistair Windlass. Charlie is now Queen of Quale, and is stuck in the Castle with her mother, the Dowager Queen. But soon the people find out their most wanted criminal has escaped, and Tobias Petch vows to leave the Castle and find him, no matter what it takes. However, he doesn’t get very far before his uncle Zebediah forcibly recruits him into “the Family”, and Tobias must learn the trade of thieving in order stay alive.
I absolutely loved City of Thieves, so much so that I was reading it until three in the morning. Like its predecessor, this book is thrilling and exciting and its treacherous characters will keep you guessing and on your toes. This time, the book centres around Tobias instead of Charlie, and Tobias has to do a lot of growing up in a short space of time. He experiences a lot of pain and confusion that we as readers can easily relate to, and he feels guilty for the way he left the Castle, and for the fact that he is helping his bullying uncle to steal and commit more crime. But he is also desperate to escape, and is willing to use whatever means necessary to do so. He even tries to bribe his cousin Ambrose, but ends up causing more trouble.
I really grew to like Tobias in this book, and he has become my favourite character. Put in his situation, I would have no idea what to do and so I think he acts very bravely and tries to do the best he can. He doesn’t get to interact much with Charlie in this book, which I missed, but he meets a lot of new people and it’s great to see how he gets along with all his cousins, especially Ambrose, the youngest of them all. The villains in this book are some of my favourites; Alistair Windlass is one of those characters whose motives are always hidden, someone you can never quite work out, but Uncle Zebediah is the opposite; he tells you what he wants and then he goes out and gets it, knocking down anything in his way. Both are tyrannous and cause Tobias a lot of anguish that he struggles to deal with throughout the book.
In conclusion, City of Thieves is a book that should be read by anyone and everyone, and the cliff-hanger type ending leaves me eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
Thanks, Liz. Ellen’s our ‘author in residence’ this month, so read the books and then ask her anything you like in our forum or on our Facebook page.
Ellen’s our ‘author in residence’ this month, so we’re hearing about her books. Liz has been reading Castle of Shadows..
Castle of Shadows – Ellen Renner
No clue about why the Queen vanished had ever been found. Until now…”
The day Charlie discovers a scrap of paper that could solve the dark mystery of her mother’s disappearance, her world changes. Forever. Charlie and her friend, Toby, must race against time on a dangerous mission to uncover the sinister truth. But in this shadowy world of secrets and lies, there is more to fear than they can possibly imagine…(from Goodreads)
Castle of Shadows begins with the introduction of our heroine, the rather unruly Princess Charlie. After her mother had disappeared, Charlie’s father, the King, chose to seclude himself from the Castle in order to build towers with packs of playing cards. Due to her father’s absence, Charlie is now forced to take orders from Mrs O’Dair, the horrible woman in charge of the Castle. But when Charlie finds a letter from her mother in an old library book, she begins to question her mother’s disappearance and finds herself unsatisfied with the answers she is being given. With help from Tobias, the gardener’s boy, Charlie digs deep into the past in search for the truth and encounters dangers unlike anything she has ever known before.
I really enjoyed Castle of Shadows; it was exciting and dangerous and one of those books that you just can’t put down. The main character Charlie is strong-willed, fiery and determined, and will do anything to find out more about her mother and protect her father. Tobias, who is equally determined but very loyal and full of snark, starts off as just another servant, who enjoys teasing the Princess. But when the pair are forced to trust each other and form an alliance, a begrudging bond eventually leads to friendship and Charlie and Tobias learn to stand up for themselves and one another, and stay with each other no matter what.
Other characters I really liked were Mr. Moleglass and Mrs O’Dair. Mr Moleglass is so kind and helpful and always worrying about the children’s safety; he really cares about the people and the kingdom. Mrs O’Dair, on the other hand, is the perfect villain; a mixture of bitter, angry and crazy with no remorse. I also liked the Resistance’s part in the book, and I think that they had a great impact on Charlie and the decisions she made. Another thing I enjoyed was the description of Charlie in dresses and petticoats. It still makes me laugh to think of her sweating and huffing and puffing in these clothes she obviously hates.
Overall, Castles of Shadows is a wonderful book that pulls you in and keep you reading until you’re finished. Recommended for ages 8-12 and young teens.
Thanks, Liz. City of Thieves, the sequel to Castle of Shadows, is out this month and we’ll be bringing you our review of it next week.
Today we hear from our ‘author in residence’…
Why Alternative Worlds?
Some of my favourite books feature ‘alternative worlds’. Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite books, which began with the famous Wolves of Willoughby Chase, are set in an alternative England where the Civil War never happened, King Charles kept his head and his descendents are on the throne.
My best-beloved writer, Diana Wynne Jones, often features a ‘multiverse’ in her books: series of alternative worlds, connected to our own but different in various, magical ways.
Alternative worlds are useful. They allow the writer to pick and choose which bits of ‘reality’ work best with the story they want to tell. And facts can be stubborn, uncomfortable things when they disagree with your plotline! But perhaps more importantly, alternative worlds can set the writer’s imagination free. Imagine how much fun Aiken must have had, imagining for herself and us an England which might have been, had history taken a different path.
When I sat down to write Castle of Shadows, I realised immediately that it would have to be set in an alternative world. I needed a princess in a country very like 1840s England, but my king, prime minister and princess were nothing to do with Victoria or her world. I also wanted an evil empire across the channel, run by a sort of amalgam of Cromwell and Napoleon, with all the most megalomaniacal features of both. By inventing my own world, I could create just such a monster. (Although you don’t get to meet him until the third book!)
I did, however, keep as much of the real world in my books as possible. I researched the 1830s-1850s thoroughly. It was a fascinating time, with interesting parallels to our own: a period of rapid technological change and social upheaval combined with frequent economic crises brought about by unregulated speculation in the money markets.
The technology I write about is also (mostly) real. In Castle of Shadows Charlie and Tobias have to travel through a tunnel under the castle on a pneumatic freight railway: a narrow-gage railway run by a vacuum system, where air is pumped out of the tunnel by a steam engine. These actually existed and carried both freight and, occasionally, passengers.
The book also features the above ground equivalent: an atmospheric railway. Again, a series of steam engines along the railway pump the air from a sealed metal tube, and engineless carriages are pulled along its length by the action of a vacuum. Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the only working atmospheric railway in Britain in the 1830s in Devon. It ran between Teignmouth and Starcross and remains still exist in the Teignmouth museum. It only ran for a year because the pneumatic tube was kept air-tight through the use of waxed leather flaps, and rats kept eating the leather! Had vulcanised rubber been invented in time (it came along ten years later) atmospheric trains might have triumphed over steam.
I had great fun researching the Victorian underworld for City of Thieves. Kidsmen, snakesmen, cribs, lockpicking, safe-cracking and mughunters – all of these feature in Tobias’ story as he is drawn into the dangerous world of his uncle, Zebediah Petch, the King of Thieves.
Thanks, Ellen. City of Thieves, sequel to Ellen’s Castle of Shadows comes out today. You’ll hear our review of it soon, but in the meantime, we’re lucky enough to be able to offer you a fabulous giveaway! Ellen has provided us with 5 copies of City of Thieves to celebrate it’s launch – thanks, Ellen!! To get your hands on one of them, just comment on this post, retweet it or Facebook ‘like it’ (UK only). We’ll pick a winner at the end of our online meeting on Sunday 11.30am. Good luck all..
It’s that time already! Hope everyone enjoyed last month’s picks – we certainly did. We asked you in our online meetings what you want us all reading, so some of these ideas are yours – August will see us reading and babbling about…
Holes – Louis Sachar
Camp Greenlake is a place for bad boys, where the belief is: “if you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.” When Stanley Yelnats, accused and found guilty of a crime he did not commit, is sent to Camp Greenlake he really doesn’t think it can be so bad. Stanley and his family try to pretend that he is just going away to camp like the rich kids do, and he promises to write to them every day. But the harsh realities of the camp, and the evil Warden with her lizard-venom impregnated fingernails with her own reasons for making the boys in her charge dig so many holes, sometimes make dying seem like a great idea. When Stanley leaves the camp to go in search of his friend Zero, their journey towards freedom becomes a battle with hunger, thirst and heat in the shadow of Big Thumb–a mountain so entwined in Stanley’s own family history that he knows if they can reach it they will somehow find salvation.
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain wants to become a writer. Trouble is, she’s the daughter of a once-famous author with a severe case of writer’s block. Her family–beautiful sister Rose, brooding father James, ethereal stepmother Topaz–is barely scraping by in a crumbling English castle they leased when times were good. Now there’s very little furniture, hardly any food, and just a few pages of notebook paper left to write on. Bravely making the best of things, Cassandra gets hold of a journal and begins her literary apprenticeship by refusing to face the facts. She writes, “I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic, two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud.”
Rose longs for suitors and new tea dresses while Cassandra scorns romance: “I know all about the facts of life. And I don’t think much of them.” But romantic isolation comes to an end both for the family and for Cassandra’s heart when the wealthy, adventurous Cotton family takes over the nearby estate. Cassandra is a witty, pensive, observant heroine, just the right voice for chronicling the perilous cusp of adulthood.
Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater
Grace is fascinated by the wolves in the woods behind her house; one yellow-eyed wolf in particular. Every winter, she watches him but every summer, he disappears. Sam leads two lives. In winter he stays in the frozen woods, with the protection of the pack.n summer, he has a few precious months to be human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again. When Grace and Sam finally meet they realize they can’t bear to be apart. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human – or risk losing himself, and Grace, for ever.
Look good, don’t they? Do tell us in our poll which of these you’ll be reading with us. And remember, we have online meetings every Sunday 11-11.30am, so we can share what we think of these books there.
August Author in Residence: We’re excited to tell you that, as of today, we have an ‘author in residence’ – yippee! Ellen Renner will be popping by this month, chatting with us and offering us a fab signed giveaway. We’ve got an ‘Ellen’ thread in our forum and on our Facebook discussions wall now, so do add to those as Ellen will swing by and reply.