Reading history

I was an only child and I spent a great deal of time on my own. We did not have a lot of money but we always had a collection of books, and of course library cards.

Books intrigued me. There were grown-up books with lurid enigmatic dust jackets, pictures of strangers lurking in darkened doorways, or a single outflung hand, or an image of lip-sticked women with broken pearl necklaces. These I was not allowed to read as they were ‘too grown-up’ but I liked to look at the covers.

Then there were the books that had either been my mother’s or one of her brother’s or sister’s: Enid Blyton’sThe Island of Adventure’, Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Five series. I read the ones we had again and again, struggling at first with the more advanced language of the Saville books, but not wanting to put them down – something in those stories gripped me. And when I became old enough to have pocket money, aged 9 or 10, I began to spend all my money, from birthdays and Christmas too, on any books I could get my hands on. By the time I was 11, I had hundreds.

Now more than 50 years old!

I can remember making paper models of Famous Five and Lone Pine Five stories, cutting out little people–and of course the dog–and things like tents and bicycles. I also wrote to Malcolm Saville and was thrilled to receive a letter back, signed by him and enclosing a Lone Pine Five badge—he was already in his late 70s or early 80s at that time.

I can remember writing my own stories on the back of scrap paper, and stapling them together inside a ‘cover’ made from a cereal packet which I decorated with crayons. I made dozens of little notebooks for myself.

An aunt gave me a massive book on Christmas–the complete works of Lewis Carroll. I loved that. Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, of course, but even the essays, the letters, acrostics and puzzles, and, new to me then, the magical Sylvie and Bruno stories. I read ‘Twas Brillig…’ in German—or tried to—before I even started to learn the language, and it too was magical.

I can’t remember the day when I suddenly thought ‘I could do this, I could be a writer’. I can only remember that those early books gave me something that I longed to participate in. By the time I was 10 or 11, it was a fully fledged ambition. I wrote stories and made covers for them from cereal packet carboard. My teacher took them seriously and critiqued them.

Poems that inspired me, and filled me with encouragement, a sense of story, and with awe: Jabberwocky. Daffodils by Wordsworth. I read it as a child and felt I could really see them—the simple imagery was something I could understand and relate to. The haunting opening line of Walter de la Mare’s The Traveller—‘Is anybody there…?’

The first Enid Blyton ‘detective’ story I read.

It wasn’t until I was older, in my mid-teens, that I began to see writing as something I wanted to do in a professional capacity—but I was told I didn’t have the right background, or the right education, the right skills, that kind of thing. Did it stop me? No, of course not. If you’re passionate about a thing, no one and nothing can stop you. I told myself I could write ‘just for myself’, not to try to be published. So I saw myself as a hobbyist.

Formal studies at school and through university courses made me learn to see books as works, and view them from the outside, so to speak, not just immerse myself into them as an experience. I learned to understand techniques and things like plots and motifs and point of view. I discussed meaning and learned phrases like ‘unwitting testimony’. I honed my own writing skills and learned important grammar stuff. A lot of the books I ‘had’ to read didn’t appeal to me beyond the course. But I learned so much about books and writing.

Mrs Dalloway

Wow, I was staggered by the whole concept of stream-of-consciousness writing. And this was one of those works that really made you think. I was in bits by the end.

The Colour Purple

It was the direct yet otherness of the language that showed me how to reveal pain, to gain the reader’s sympathy and it made me want Celie to find her children and be happy. It felt all-engrossing. When she finally started addressing her letters to her children and not to God, it felt like an arrival. An emotional one.

Pride and Prejudice

It was what wasn’t said that I found touching. And also the gentle humour. I had never realised until I read P & P that ‘classics’ could be enjoyable.

The Wind In The Willows

The richness of the language, definitely wasted on children, was what inspired me. That and the busy minutiae of the animals’ everyday lives, so clearly people by any other name.

Patricia Wentworth & Agatha Christie

My cosy mystery heroines. The ‘safety’ of their stories and her worlds, the cosiness, the black and white certainty of each story is so restful and enjoyable. The intellectual wanting to know ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘who’. The satisfaction of revealing the culprit and vindicating the innocent. Christie sometimes added an extra layer of meaning, but overall I feel that her books remain cosy.

These were the books and the authors that got me started on the slippery slope! What are your book memories?



Author Interview with children’s author Emily A Steward

It’s been a while since I last interviewed an author on here, but today I’m excited to be joined by author Emily A Steward who has just released her new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure.

Emily, welcome and congratulations on your new book release. Shall we jump right in with the questions?

Q1. What kind of books do you write? When do you feel you went from aspiring writer to writer, and how did it feel?

I write primarily middle grade fiction. Fantasy is where I am comfortable, but I also recently finished thepresentation2 first draft of a middle grade mystery/horror novel.

As for the second part of the question, I think I finally felt like a writer when I got my first rejection letter from an agent. Instead of being discouraged, I felt elated. All authors experience rejection to some degree. I felt like once I’d been rejected, I’d officially joined the club.

Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked books with a dash of humor and spooky or magical elements. Some of my favorites have a little of all three.

As a really young child I enjoyed the Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer. When I got a little older, I loved The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and books by Betty Ren Wright, Ruth Chew, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine. I’d like to think that some of these early influences helped shape my writing today, even if just a little.

Q3. What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m in the editing stages of my middle grade mystery/horror novel. It’s about three siblings staying in an old abandoned mansion while looking for clues to solve their parent’s disappearance. All sorts of creepy and unusual things happen to them, leading up to an intense showdown between the children and… Well you’ll have to read it to see! It was really fun to write and I actually scared myself a few times while writing it. I am really excited to see it coming together.

 Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

I just started writing the next book in the series to my new release Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. I’m pretty pumped to share with everyone where their adventure leads next.

I’m also stepping out of my comfort zone and writing a middle grade realistic fiction along the lines of a more contemporary Harriet the Spy.

Q5. Who are your favourite authors?

I really like J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Lemony Snicket, Lewis Carroll, and L.M. Montgomery. My all-time favorite author would have to be Roald Dahl. He is so imaginative and I love his characters and the quirky sense of humor in his books.

Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?

I’d like to say something cool here, like doing fancy things with fancy people. Honestly? Most of my time is spent running after my three girls. They are pretty great, but they’re not very fancy. They are… what is the opposite of fancy? I’ll say blancy (I can create words because I’m a writer you know). They all keep me pretty busy, but we also have lots of great adventures.

I’m also constantly trying to conquer the laundry creature who lives in our home and somehow creates double the dirty laundry we actually wear, and the dish demon who laughs when I think I’ve beaten him, only to attack me viciously and without mercy the very next day.

Q7. What is your writing process?

My process begins with major brainstorming. Most of my writing isn’t on the page but in my head. I brainstorm best when I’m in the shower or out jogging with my husband shooting ideas off him. He has some great input! He is the smartest person I know. He is like really buff and can bench like 600 pounds. Also, he told me to write those last two sentences.

When I finally sit down to write, I like to stare at the screen for about ten minutes hoping something brilliant will leap on to the page. When that doesn’t happen, I write a few sentences, delete them, then repeat the process till hopefully I’ve written more than I’ve deleted. Some days I write a chapter or even two. Other days I’m lucky to get a paragraph. I try not to worry about daily word counts. As long as I’m making progress, I consider the day a success.

Emily, thank you so much for coming along and talking to me today. I will definitely look out for your books, and wish you lots of success with the new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. Here is a short ‘teaser’ extract from the book:


“Come on!” she yelled to Haldor who was wriggling out from under the spider corpse. She ran to the spot where she saw the creature enter as Haldor hurried to catch up. She scrambled through the brush until she came to a stream. There she saw the spider. He was across the water under a large tree.

Above him were several objects swinging in the breeze. It took her a moment to realize that they were rotting bodies strung up by their necks. Their unseeing eyes stared eerily into the darkness. Upon closer inspection, she saw that there were at least thirty of them. She wretched silently as she tried to think of a way for Crane to not become one of them. The spider was already trying to wrap a strand of webbing around his neck.

A thought occurred to her. An outrageous, outlandish thought. I can do this, she assured herself. She tried to picture every last detail of her slain foe—every creepy crawling, hairy, shiny detail. Penny could feel the energy pulsing through her. Her hands were no longer her own. Her teeth had become fangs, and her eyes were the eyes of a killer.

Author biography:

Emily Steward spent the better part of her childhood dressed as a ninja and trying to convince others to call her ‘Ace.’ When she wasn’t saving the world from evil samurai, she could usually be found in the branches of a tree reading a good book. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three daughters, and dog Bentley. Though she seldom dresses as a ninja now, her adventurous spirit remains as does her love of tree climbing and reading good books.

Social media links:





Where to buy Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure:


Interview with Author/Illustrator Jenny S Burke

Recently I did a little foray into the wonderful world of asking other people to write my blogs for me in the form of an interview, and it seemed pretty popular so I asked the delightful Jenny S Burke to come along and share a glimpse into her life and creativity.

J. S. Burke Q1. Hi Jenny, thank you so much for agreeing to be interrogated! Could you please tell us what kind of books you write?

I write books with science, art, adventure, and a twist of fun! My first books were Crystal Geometry and Crystal Colors. These are hands-on activity books with kits of beautiful crystals to help youngsters (and adults) have a deep understanding of math, chemistry, and organic chemistry. I learned to draw cartoons to help make this clear. These book/kits are used in schools. Then a science fantasy book began to grow in my mind with adventure and some unusual art; this eventually became The Dragon Dreamer. My dragon-ladies grew huge fantasy snowflakes in the clouds and made them into amber ornaments. So I drew what I saw and finished another art/science & colouring/activities book: Fantasy Snowflakes Activities.

I recently published The Dragon Dreamer by J.S. Burke (Lind Press) for middle grade and young adult readers. It’s a fast-paced science fantasy/adventure with flying dragons, an undersea world, and an unexpected friendship. Arak is a young, insecure dragon who is taunted by other young dragons. He leaves the clan, crashes on ice at sea, and is seriously injured. Scree, a fearless, shape-shifting octopus, finds and heals him. When an undersea volcano erupts it triggers a towering tsunami and a deadly chain of events. Can Arak use his unique talents and friendships to save the dragons? The Dragon Dreamer is also a story with unique characters learning to accept and appreciate their differences. You can see it on Amazon (paperback and e-book) and on Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Type “octopus and dragon” in the Amazon search box and The Dragon Dreamer appears at the top. Dragons are well-known in literature, but the incredible octopus has been sadly ignored by most writers. I worked as a marine biologist and have seen that the octopus is amazingly suited to the  imagination! Octopuses are very intelligent beings with distinct personalities, and they have more brain neurons than  humans.  Octopuses have formed strong friendships with people. One octopus became concerned after feeling the illness in her human friend, using the sensitive sensors in her arm suckers.

FRONT2LowDPI Octopuses can taste with their arms and change the shape of their bodies. They have two eyes similar to ours and  thousands of tiny eyes in their skin. These skin-eyes allow an octopus to camouflage; octopuses can change the colour and  texture of their skin to match what is behind them. The mimic octopus can shape-shift to perfectly resemble at least a  dozen other species, including crabs, stingrays, and jellyfish. If an octopus can choose to mimic others so realistically, why  not choose to communicate with Arak, The Dragon Dreamer?

 Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

There was no library in our town when I was young and the school books were boring . . . but our retired next-door-  neighbours had a huge collection of comic books! They let me sit in their home and read for hours. I loved the story lines  and creative cartoons. I read the dictionary and devoured tasty new words. An amazing elementary school teacher  started a poetry club that I joined, where I learned the challenge of choosing the perfect word.

During middle school I made friends with a boy who read sci-fi. He let me borrow his Andre Norton books! From that point on I was hooked on science fiction.

 Q3. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a sequel. Black Lightning continues the adventures of the characters we got to know in The Dragon Dreamer. We meet the anticipated ice dragons and they are not what Arak expects. I was afraid I had run out of inner story, but it’s growing! Which is good, because this time I have a deadline.

 Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

I’ll write more science fantasy books and maybe another science/art/math book. I want to be more involved in groups that help the environment and people. And I probably can’t really stay away from art!

Jenny, I know being an artist you do your own covers, and I have to say, I love the one you did for The Dragon Dreamer, it’s so vibrant and eyecatching.

 Q5. Who are your favourite authors?

I love the alien worlds and adventures in Alan Dean Foster’s Pip and Flinx books. I like the respect for life and appreciation for the connectedness of everything in Rachel Carson’s Silent SpringThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears has wonderful imagery and an accepting, intrepid heroine. The rabbit characters in Watership Down by Richard Adams are memorable, the world is real, and I want to be there. I’ve read many wonderful books. Why did I enjoy a book so much? What makes a great character? Dialogue? Pacing? Story arc? Plot twist? As a writer I’ve re-read books to hone my craft, asking these questions, but I still feel the magic. I want my books to bring magic into the lives of my readers.

 Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?

I’m writing! Or working on art of various sorts. I draw stylized scrimshaw on large display conchs and tiny abalone necklace shells. I paint and make pen-and-ink drawings. I was strongly influenced as a child by the simple elegance of the jewellery in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Now I make affordable jewellery with gemstones, sterling, pearls, Swarovski crystal, and more. I use proper Fibonacci proportions (i.e. math! It IS useful!), weight the design for colour density, and balance by historic gemstone meanings. What could be more fun? Then I’m back in my imaginary/real worlds . . . writing what I experience.

Q7. What is your writing process?

I keep paper and pens everywhere so I can jot down ideas at any time. I make a rough story outline, short character biographies, and start typing. I remember my own dives and adventures, and research anything I need to understand better like volcanoes. The world grows in my mind and flows down my arm into my fingers. I keep typing, revise as I go, and type notes for what I want to expand or add. I seek feedback from readers. After many edits, more feedback, and professional edits, it’s almost done!


Jenny, thank you so much for sharing your innermost secrets with us and introducing us to an amazing world. I wish you huge success with The Dragon Dreamer and all your future projects.

 THE DRAGON DREAMER e-book will be on sale for $0.99 through January 18, 2015.