Today I am delighted to share with you a guest post from the wonderful Katherine Langrish. If you need a recommendation for a great fantasy novel, she's your gal! Read and enjoy!
My fave UK kids/YA authors/literature
by Katherine Langrish
This is lovely. I’ve actually been asked to talk about to talk about my favourite UK children’s and YA authors! I can’t think of anything I would rather do. The only problem is getting me to stop.
I had better explain up front that I have a bias towards fantasy – I write it myself, I absolutely love it, and much of what I read has a tendency that way. Not all, but quite a lot. And with that proviso, let me do my Ancient Mariner act, grab you by the sleeve, fix you with my glittering eye, and – beginning with books for children – tell you that you must, must, MUST read…
Katherine Roberts, who has written about a dozen fantasy books for older children. My favourites are The Echorium Sequence (a brilliantly imaginative trilogy set in a fantastic other world, in which Half Creatures like merlees and quetzals live alongside humans): ‘Song Quest’, ‘Crystal Mask’, and ‘Dark Quetzal’ – and her epic novel ‘I Am The Great Horse’, the story of Alexander as told by his black stallion Bucephalus.
Mary Hoffman’s ‘Stravaganza’ series, ‘City of Masks’ and its sequels, also for older children – in which teenagers from this world are able to travel to an alternate 16th century Italy by means of magical talismans, and have the most exciting adventures whilst also facing and solving real-life problems and dilemmas such as bullying, illness, relationships and so on.
Liz Kessler’s delightful books are for slightly younger children, especially girls. ‘The Tale of Emily Windsnap’ is the first of several books about a girl who discovers she is half mermaid, and can grow a tail when she gets into water. Emily and her best friend Shona have many marvellous underwater adventures, and Liz’s writing is just wonderful – fresh, sparkling, colourful and attractive.
Fiona Dunbar writes for ‘tweens’, perfectly pitched adventures with strong storylines and heroines. I’m particularly addicted to the ‘Silk Sisters’ trilogy, beginning with ‘Pink Chameleon’, set a decade or two into the future, a wildly funny yet thought-provoking mixture of science fiction and – believe it or not – fashion. Just how far can genome research and nano-technology take us? What if you really ARE what you wear?
There are so many more to talk about - Ellen Renner, for example, whose ‘Castle of Shadows’ and ‘City of Thieves’ remind me of Joan Aiken’s books: excellent stories of mystery and adventure set in a nineteenth century city not-quite-like London – children’s fantasy with a touch of steam punk. And Inbali Iserles with ‘The Tygrine Cat’ and its sequel ‘The Tygrine Cat on the Run’: delicately written and sharply observed animal fantasies in which the cats really behave like cats… and many others.
But moving on to UK YA fiction. Where to start? You already know and don’t need me to tell you about writers like Philip Pullman. But there are so many other great British YA writers! Ann Halam (who also writes award winning adult sci-fi as Gwyneth Jones) has been a favourite of mine for years now. She has never written a bad book, and she never repeats herself. Two recent recommendations would be ‘Siberia’, a futuristic mix of science, adventure and fairytale, in which a young girl crosses a dangerous, frozen land dotted with prison camps and derelict settlements, in search of her mother, bearing with her a tiny nutshell containing the seeds of new life. And ‘Snakehead’, a witty and dramatic re-imagining of the Medusa and Perseus story.
Then there’s Susan Price, who won the Guardian for the wonderful ‘Sterkarm Handshake’, with its sequel ‘A Sterkarm Kiss’, two brilliant time travel novels, in which a commercial company of dubious morals sends 21st century employees into an alternate 16th century Scottish borderlands via a Tube, with the aim of exploiting the natives. The natives, however, are the dangerous, passionate, and uncontrollable Sterkarm clan, whose motto is ‘Who dares meddle with me?’ Grim, gritty, and funny by turns, these two books are totally gripping accounts of the clash of two incompatible worlds.
Celia Rees is another UK writer whom you will all already know – her well-written, well-researched historical novels will carry you away to 16th century Puritan America (‘Witch Child’) or the 18th century Caribbean (‘Pirates!’), or Revolutionary France (‘Sovay’). Her strong, intelligent heroines try out careers as pioneers, pirates or even highwaymen, and their adventures are always gripping.
Leslie Wilson has written two wonderful novels (not fantasy, for once!) set in Nazi Germany: ‘Last Train from Kummerdorf’ and ‘Saving Rafael’. The first follows the fortunes of two German refugee children escaping from the advancing Russian army in the last stages of World War II, and is partly based on her own mother’s experiences. The second is about one ordinary German family’s attempts to help their Jewish neighbours as the Third Reich gathers strength, and is also a touching love story.
Nicola Morgan’s ‘Wasted’ is a brilliantly conceived and written novel about chance – and also a love story. What if you lived your life according to the fall of a coin? That’s what Jack, the hero, tries to do. But why? And will the results lead to triumph of tragedy? And Gillian Philip, who has written a couple of gripping contemporary thrillers, has recently published one of the best YA fantasies I read all last year: ‘Firebrand’, whose hero Seth McGregor (bastard prince of the Sithe or Scottish faeries) is a grittily attractive hero as he battles his amoral Queen, Kate NicNiven.
I could go on. There’s B.R. Collins, whose novel ‘Traitor Game’ is an arresting take on fantasy. Two teenage boys invent a world, and as their real life friendship is darkened by suspicion and betrayal, shadows fall across their fantasy world too. Julie Hearn writes imaginative and witty historical fiction, with a touch of fantasy – try ‘The Merrybegot’ (US title ‘The Minister’s Daughter’) or ‘Hazel’.
And here, I think, I’m running out of space, and probably your patience. Three cheers for British children’s fiction. It’s full of immensely talented, exciting writers, and I for one can’t wait to read whatever they come up with next.
Thanks for stopping by Katherine. You have mentioned some of my personal favourites. The lovely Katherine Roberts and Gillian Philip. I think I am going to investigate Ann Halam's adult sci-fi. I loved Siberia. Thanks for the recommendations.
Readers: Visit Katherine's website HERE and her wonderful BLOG here. And don't forget to pop back on Wednesday to read my review of West of the Moon and enter for the chance to win a copy.