Junior Journalist Review

Another great year for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival

By Alex Lea

It has been yet another wonderful year for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival. I was lucky enough to win a competition to be the junior journalist for First News and had the chance to interview and listen to some amazing authors.

Sebastien de Castell is the Canadian author of the Spellslinger series, which follows the character Kellen, a failed mage who is only able to cast the most rudimentary of spells. Kellen must complete a series of magical trials or be forever branded as Sha’tep, the servant class of the Jan’tep arcanocracy (a system of government in which those who wield magic rule). The first book, Spellslinger, follows Kellen’s struggle to make his way in the world. He meets a mysterious wanderer called Ferius Parfax, who has much to teach him. We also meet an extraordinary squirrel cat called Reichis, who becomes a big (and violent) part of the story. Reichis was originally a raccoon but, after the first Guardians of the Galaxy film came out in cinemas, de Castell’s editor said that no film director would touch his book for fear of being viewed as a copycat, so Reichis went through a number of iterations (including wolf and jackrabbit) before he became a squirrel cat. The fifth book in the Spellslinger series comes out in May 2019. That gives you plenty of time to read the first four books in the series. They are fast, funny, wicked and wildly entertaining. Don’t miss them.

Sebastien de Castell. Photo Credit Jesper Mattias.

Marcus Sedgwick is a highly acclaimed, award-winning author. He writes books for young adults that are both highly enjoyable and deeply terrifying. His new book The Monsters We Deserve is no exception. He talked about being inspired by gothic fiction and showed the audience a slideshow of many different monsters, modern and ancient. Sedgwick thinks that most people enjoy being frightened and that reading a scary book is as thrilling as getting on a rollercoaster. Sedgwick also shared some advice for budding authors. Practice finishing what you start, because publishers don’t publish half a book. It is too hard to write a book you don’t enjoy, so don’t try to. And don’t worry about how long your story is or how good it is – just write.

Katherine Rundell has written some incredible books including The Explorer, which has won various awards including the 2017 Costa Children’s Book Award. Rundell said that she really enjoyed going to the Amazon jungle to research her book and that she tried out lots of things in order to make the book more realistic. One thing she put in the book but didn’t try was eating tarantulas. She was told by children in the Amazon that tarantulas taste like prawns, so that is how she described the taste in her book. However, she later got a chance to eat tarantula and thought it tasted horrible! Rundell did say that might be because the ones she ate weren’t freshly caught but she doesn’t know for sure. Rundell told me about being inspired by an explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 while looking for a lost ancient city in the jungles of Brazil. She said that he was unlike most explorers of the time. He wasn’t condescending nor colonial, but just really interested in discovery. Rundell also talked about how she believes that children are more resilient than adults think they are – and the child characters in her book certainly show this view.

Katherine Rundell. Photo Credit Jesper Mattias.

My younger brother Toby helped me to interview Dermot O’Leary, X Factor judge and author of the Toto the Ninja Cat series. The central characters in the books are based on his own cats – Toto and Silver. Toto is almost completely blind but still has ninja instincts, which is what inspired O’Leary to write stories about what his cats might be getting up to when their humans aren’t around. The book’s illustrator, Nick East, taught everyone how to draw Toto. My dad has pinned his version up on our fridge (not anyone else’s, just his)! O’Leary said that he will be writing more books in the Toto series, but also said that he could be tempted to write for an older audience, such as young adult.

I have been going to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival since it started, although my choice of reading material has aged with me. I still have a picture on my wall that I won when my brother, sister and I wore our underpants on our heads for Pirates Love Underpants, MANY years ago! I can’t wait for next year’s festival.

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