An Interview with Taran Matharu author of The Novice

Hi Taran, thank you so much for giving up your time for this interview.

To start off with, a question that I ask every new author, can you please introduce yourself to the readers of Teen Librarian?

Hi everyone, I am the author of the Summoner series, and book 1, The Novice, comes out on May 5th. I serialised it on Wattpad and it went viral, achieving 6 million reads thus far. The Novice was picked up by publishers all over the world and will be published in 12 territories.

I have read that you started The Novice during National Novel Writing Month, were you able to finish the first draft during NaNoWriMo?

Not quite, as the target for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words and The Novice is almost twice as long! I did hit that target and the rest of the book was written over the next few months, while I was backpacking in Australia.

How long after NaNoWriMo did you put the Novice up on Wattpad, and can you describe your experience of using that platform?

I was putting the book up on Wattpad as I wrote it, 1 chapter every day. It really helped my writing as I promised a daily update to my fans in that first month. Knowing that people were looking forward to the next chapter spurred me on, even when I was tired. I think the one day I didn’t upload was my birthday!

Your novel makes use of a number of issues prevalent in the real world; racism, class-based divisions and other family-based stigmas. If you do not mind me asking are any of these based on your experiences?

I experienced a lot of racism when I was younger, starting at four years old. I was nicknamed poo-skin, told to go back to my own country and was often framed for thefts by having things hidden in my bag and desk. These experiences definitely influenced my writing. I think everyone sees class divisions in their lifetime, although this may have been more apparent at the private schools I attended. Family stigma is more inspired by medieval times and the emphasis they put on heritage and bloodlines.

The Novice is a brilliant book, it is one that teenage me would have loved just as much as myself now as an adult, in fact teen me would have read through the night to finish it in one sitting but I had to put it down to get some sleep. Did you have a specific audience in mind while writing, or is epic heroic fantasy a genre that you love?

It is a genre that I absolutely adore, but I never had a target audience in mind. I think in a way I was writing for my younger self, a book that combined everything I loved into one book as well as being accessible for someone who is not used to reading in that genre.

One of the things that jarred me a bit was the use of the name Pinkerton for the national crime investigation service as it is a real world organisation too. Is it named for the US Detective Agency or will we find out more where it came from in later volumes of the Summoner series?

There was some influence there. If you look at the inception of the Pinkertons in the 1850’s, their role was both as investigative law enforcement and personal security guards to officials. They were also used as hired goons to break down unions for the rich, almost acting as mercenaries. The Pinkertons of the Summoner world act much the same way, working directly for the King’s father and focussing on keeping the poor and the dwarves in their place.

Are the Orcs in your world actually evil or are they the foreign ‘other’ and misunderstood by the ‘civilised’ races?

I think that answering this might be a bit of a spoiler for The Novice’s sequel! That being said, the reasons for their behaviour are cultural and ideological rather than racial. A large part of why they are so violent and cruel is a combination of religion and indoctrination. I think I’ve said all I can!

What were your influences (both literary and other) when you came to write the Novice?

History had a large part to play, primarily in two time periods. First, Medieval times, with their great battles, political intrigue and the importance of family, heritage and succession. Then there is the 18th century, an age of great empires, clashes of cultures and racial discrimination. They had a mad mix of modern and early weaponry, with gunpowder muskets, pistols and cannons being used alongside swords and cavalry, all of which appear in The Novice.

From the world’s legends, I adapted Griffins, Salamanders, Minotaurs, Golems and Hydras, to name but a few, as well as lesser-known creatures, such as the cannibalistic Wendigo, the lightning powered Raiju and the griffin-like Chamrosh. Of course I designed my own unique demons as well, but my love for mythological creatures around the world had a huge influence on it all.

My love of travelling was also a factor. On my travels I have encountered fascinating cultures, from the aboriginals of Australia to the native tribes of the Amazon. I have been in deserts and rainforests, deep sea and mountaintops, snowy wastelands and the hilly English countryside. These inspired the geography of Hominum, as well as the cultures and histories of my fantasy races.

I also used my favourite fantasy tropes in the creation of the Summoner world. These included the magical schools of Earthsea, Harry Potter and Discworld, the multiple races of Lord of the Rings, Skyrim and Redwall, the portals to another world in the Chronicles of Narnia and Stargate, and even the creature companions in Pokémon.

Can you recommend any other authors (both YA & adult) that you enjoy and would like to promote?

I think a lot of readers sometimes struggle with fantasy because it can be a little intimidating and inaccessible if the world is over-complex. If I had to recommend some of my favourite fantasy series, they would be Discworld by Terry Pratchett, The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan, The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques and the Edge Chronicles by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart.

Finally, when can we expect to see Summoner book two? A question I am sure you have been heard a lot.

I have indeed! I don’t think that has been confirmed yet and publishing schedules can change, but I think at the moment we are aiming for May 2016. The good thing is I have almost finished writing the first draft! It’s a little more difficult without the constant feedback I had when writing the first book on Wattpad, but the added flexibility has helped me add more nuance to the second novel.

Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour

Welcome to the Teen Librarian stop on the Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour, lovingly organised by the fantastic Viv Dacosta.

This was supposed to be a review of Dodger by Pterry (that is included) but when chatting to some dear friends who are also massive fans and regular visitors to the Discworld I thought I would invite them in to play today.

Starting off with one of the best librarians I know and a wonderful human being Caroline Fielding

I read Jim‘s Top 10 Discworld characters as part of the Terry Pratchett blog tour (YAYeahYeah) and it got me thinking about the characters that I love, including those on his list. I realised that a lot of my favourites are those that are completely essential to the series but might only actually play the tiniest of roles when it comes to the plot, or feature for a brief time. Some of them appear in books I haven’t read for 10 years or more but they’ve stuck in my brain. So here, in no particular order, are my

Nominations for Best Supporting Character:


The Luggage: I miss Rincewind and the Luggage…featuring from the very beginning of the Colour of Magic, this chest made of sapient pearwood brings nothing but distress into the life of cowardly wizard Rincewind.

Vimes’ Dis-Organizer: It can tell the time in Klatch, remember your appointments, and use precognition to know your upcoming appointments will occur before you do…causing some consternation when it follows the wrong timeline.


Hex: the computer designed by Ponder Stibbons and his team of nerdy wizards. Stibbons denies that Hex can think for itself, but is constantly worried by the additions Hex seems to make to itself, and when the FTB (Fluffy Teddy Bear) is removed it throws a wobbler!


Bergholt Stuttley ‘Bloody Stupid’ Johnson: doesn’t actually feature in any of the stories having died many years previously, but his creations crop up regularly, most notably the Archchancellor’s shower! Pratchett described him as an ‘inverse genius’.


Death of Rats: Once a part of Death, he remained after the events of Reaper Man and is able to make himself understood with a one-syllable sound: SQUEAK, with the occasional emphasis of an EEK-EEK, and the help of the raven Quoth.


The Canting Crew: “Millennium Hand and Shrimp”. Need I say more? Well, maybe – the beggars that even beggars avoid, Foul Ole Ron and his comrades feature in a number of the books, sharing their alternative view of the world.


Leonardo of Quirm: locked up in the Patrician’s dungeons, he’s quite content just doodling out his inventions that could very easily accidentally start (or end) wars…

Drumknott: Lord Vetinari’s Clerk, the perfect civil servant, relishes order and protocol but knows exactly what Vetinari wants. This quote from Going Postal sums him up perfectly:
‘…we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,’ Drumknott was agonizing. ‘You see, I’d merely have referenced them on the daily-‘
‘Your concern is, as ever, exemplary,’ said Vetinari. ‘I see, however, that you have prepared some folders’
‘Yes, my lord. I have bulked some of them out with copies of Clerk Harold’s analysis of pig production in Genua, sir.’ Drumknott looked unhappy as he handed over the card folders. Deliberately misfiling ran fingernails down the blackboard of his very soul.


Igor: a number of Igors pop up, coming from an extremely extended family in Überwald and mainly working as servants for mad scientists although they are great medics, ably performing emergency surgery, including in particular transplants, with one particular Igor having made it onto the City Watch in Ankh Morpork.


CMOT Dibbler: the Del Boy of the Discworld, starting out selling ‘sausage inna bun’ on the streets of Ankh Morpork, he regularly dabbles in new initiatives and trades. CMOT stands for “selling this at such a low price that it’s cutting me own throat” One of the things I love most is all the relatives of his that pop up across the Disc with very similar sales techniques.

lego pterryx
My second guest, like Caroline is another excellent librarian and someone you will want next to you if you ever find yourself in a foxhole. I have known Shaun Kennedy for half my life now and he is here to share his memories of Terry Pratchett:

Only in our dreams are we free.

The first book by Terry Pratchett I read was Pyramids, after that came Mort. And then, well you know what they say about eating Pringles? It applies here too.

I first met Terry in 1999 when he did a signing tour through South Africa. I was working a weekend job and convinced my co-workers that I had to be somewhere important and they covered for me – after all, it’s not every day an internationally acclaimed author you’re a fan of comes to town. To this day I am not even sure if I ever told them where I went and why.

After moving to London in 2005 I met my now-wife, who back then wasn’t a Pratchett fan. At the time she worked for a membership organisation and was involved in running events all over the country. A few months later I got told that one Terry Prachett was going to be one of the main guests at an event they were running. It turned out that as I was one of the few people that knew anything about his books, they wanted me to the stand where the Pratchett books were going to be sold to answer questions. I say yes because I didn’t have anything better to do.

Then I got told that I would be looking after him while he was at the event!

That Saturday I will never forget. After having spent a couple hours of helping people choose books to buy, the main organiser came over with Terry in tow and introduced me to him. I managed to remain calm and professional and asked if he needed anything. To which he replied that he wanted to wander around and have a look at the stalls. I asked if he wanted me to accompany him, but he declined and said he was happy to meander around until his talk. And he was off and I went back to answering questions about which book came first.

About five minutes later I realised that there was a queue going past the stall and I went to investigate. I’m not sure how it started, but at the end of the line I found Terry signing books for attendees while juggling his jacket and hat. Fearing that he had been ambushed, I asked if he was okay signing for people as there was a signing scheduled later in the day. But he waved me off saying. I offered to keep his jacket and hat safe so he had his hands free. Terry gave me his jacket and proceeded to ask the people in the queue if I was trustworthy before he would consider giving me the hat.

Fortunately most of the people said they knew me and I headed back to the book stall with the coat and hat. I didn’t see him again until I was told to find him and take him to the green room. I think the organiser thought I was doing a bad job watching Terry. I got him back to the green room and we chatted to a while on various topics including his trip to South Africa. I remember him quizzing me about why I had become a librarian. Turns out he was rather fond of librarians on the whole. I wouldn’t have guessed.

After the talk we moved onto the signing. I think it was the first time I had ever seen a queue go across two floors of a venue. Everyone patiently waited to have their books signed – I think it was because Terry gave as much time to the first people whose books he signed to those who were at the end of the queue and they knew this. Well, those who had been at one of his signing did anyway.

I never did get to see Terry off though, I was called away because of an emergency and by the time it was resolved he’d already left.

One thing I have learnt is that Terry Pratchett’s works, and in particular the Discworld books, resonate with a lot of people. Personally I think this is because the characters are written as unique individuals with their own experiences. When I read a book the characters feel alive and like old friends who are telling me about what they got up to while we have been separate. I am going to miss reading about new adventures, but I will always happily have them retell stories I’ve heard before.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that, except for my manager, I’ve yet to meet a librarian who has never read a Pratchett book. Last year I was fortunate enough to run a Discworld role-playing game for a bunch of librarians and they had so much fun being oddball characters in the Watch.

I have to admit that while I do love the Chief Librarian, my favourite character is Sam Vimes.

lego pterryx


I grew into the reader I am thanks in no small part to the Discworld books, I also read (and loved) the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, the Bromeliad, The Carpet People, Nation and The Dark Side of the Sun. Dodger was different, I purchased it (as I always did) on its day of release in 2012 and then it sat on my shelf. It is weird, I have one reading rule and that is nothing comes before a Pratchett. I have no idea why I did not devour it immediately – perhaps because it was not a Discworld book but whatever the reason (and maybe there was not one) the book sat, pristine and unread on my shelf until this year when Viv sent the call out for people interested in getting involved with the blog tour. It was then that I picked it up and decide that I should do this in memory of him!

The cover is a Paul Kidby masterpiece, Dodger rising from a manhole, tipping his hat with a cheeky grin and a straight-razor in his left hand. The background is recognisably London with Saint Paul’s Cathedral towering over tenement blocks and huddled figures. The Victorian marbled end papers are a wonderful touch making the book a thing of beauty to behold. The book is written in a Victorian style, including chapter headings (Terry is famously dismissive of chapters) there are also footnotes – a quirk of his that I love dearly.

However it was the writing that captured me, the story opening with Dodger leaping from the sewers to save a damsel in distress from peril at the hands of dastardly villains. Dodger is a wonderful example of Terry Pratchett’s writing, his books are amazing, not because of the background, setting or sometimes awful puns but because of the characters, he writes people so well. Dodger mixes real and fictional characters in a satisfying melange of crime, mystery, politics and heroism. Dodger is a great starting point for readers new to Terry Pratchett’s work and a wonderful read for established fans.

lego pterryx

Finally, I want to share the cartoon I drew as a tribute to Terry Pratchett on the afternoon of his death. It was either create something or dissolve into a puddle of misery on my work desk; it is a good thing that I don’t work in an office or I may have closed the door and had a good cry.

lego pterryx

Visit Emma Greenwood’s blog for yesterday’s stop on the tour and remember to stop by Bookish Treasures tomorrow for the next stop.

Talk Nerdy 2 Me

Crazy about Cosplay? Starry-eyed over Star Trek or Wars? Maybe you even get dotty over the Doctor! Even if you are new to nerding, everybody is welcome to get their geek on at Talk Nerdy 2 Me (TN2M) on Friday 8th May at the Harris Library in Preston!

There will be a wide range of guests from Matt “Mecha-Man” Dickinson to Deborah Simms from the Great British Sewing Bee. It will be an evening of activities and competitions, including stalls from Game, Waterstones, the comic shop and many more.

This year there will also be sign language interpreters at all the talks and panels.

Fore the altest up to date news about guestsand events check out the Talk Nerdy 2 Me Facebook page and book a free ticket (to guarantee entrance) here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/talk-nerdy-2-me-preston-tickets-16672436707 and follow them on twitter: @talknerdytwome

Recommended by a Librarian: Ms. Marvel: No Normal

The Recommending Librarian this week is: Lauren Gibaldi

What Are You Recommending? Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

nonormal

What is it?

It’s a graphic novel about the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. The majority of the first volume deals with her realizing that a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City can be a superhero, too.

Why have you recommended it?

Kamala is funny and strong and wonderfully real. She deals with her parents being embarrassing as much as villains ruining the city. I give this to all of my patrons, regardless of age. She’s a fresh face in the Marvel universe, and I’m so excited for her second volume to be out!

Playing in the Clouds: an Introduction to Cloud-based Technology for Year 8s

Over the past two weeks I have been introducing students to cloud-based services.

I have started with Google services, specifically Google Docs, Slides and Calendar.

They were shocked and awed at the practical display of how multiple users can edit documents (I had previously created two gmail accounts for this purpose). I did have one student bemoan the fact that this technology means the end of the “my computer crashed and I lost my homework” excuse. They started discussing how they could use a multiple edit document as a chat service and they were even more amazed when I showed them that there is chat functionality built in to Docs so they can talk as well as work. I also pointed out that if they were chatting in the middle of a joint essay they may forget to delete their comments and hand in something inappropriate to their teacher.

This week I will be showing how Google docs can be edited via mobile devices and introduce them to using Picasa to store images for projects.

I have also created Pinterest accounts for my teaching gmail accounts and will show my students how to use them to store websites and online information as proto-bibliographies.

Following on from this I will introduce them to free (legal) software and how to stay safe (and anonymous) online.

The Children’s Literacy Charter & the UK

Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) is a South African reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children’s potential through storytelling and reading.

Last year during International World Book Day they released a Children’s Literacy Charter for South Africa.

Download (PDF, 580KB)

While at a glance the Literacy Charter does bear a slight resemblance to Pennac’s Right’s of the Reader it is specifically geared towards enabling children to develop a love of reading and learning.

I had been entertaining some thoughts about adapting the charter for the UK but after playing around with it I have instead decided to push for it to be adopted over here as the wording is inclusive and only minor changes would be needed for a UL/European setting. This, of course is dependent on obtaining Nal’ibali’s blessing to do this.

Nal’ibali: Children’s Literacy Charter

Every year on 23 April, South Africa celebrates World Book Day, which was created by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. It is celebrated in over 100 countries around the globe to make everyone more aware of how reading can be a satisfying and enjoyable activity – and of course, to invest in our children’s literacy.

Last year on World Book Day, Nal’ibali launched their Children’s Literacy Charter. This charter describes the literacy experiences all children should have if we want them to grow up being able to use reading and writing successfully in their lives. (If you missed it last year, download your copy of the Children’s Literacy Charter in any of South Africa’s languages here!). This year they are launching a version of this charter especially for children so that they become more aware of what they need to help them grow a love of reading, writing and books.

Endorsed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY International), The South African Book Development Council / National Book Week, The Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA), the Little Hands Trust, and PEN South Africa, the children’s literacy rights poster is available in 11 official languages.

You can view the English language version of the poster below.

nalibali rights

To download a copy of the poster in any of South Africa’s 11 official languages, visit this link:

http://nalibali.org/childrens-literacy-rights-poster/

Text and poster are from the Na’libali website

Recommended by a Librarian: In Bloom by Matthew Crow

The Recommending Librarian this week is: Hannah Saks

What are you recommending?

Why have you recommended it?

In Bloom is the story of Francis, a teenage boy who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. In order to receive treatment, Francis has to spend an extended period of time in a special ward for young people like him. He finds it difficult to get on with anyone on the ward but then Amber joins them. In Amber he finds a partner in crime and someone who has to deal with a mum as mad as his own.

When a story involves a teenager with a serious illness falling in love for the first time you might think you know exactly how the story will go. What I loved about In Bloom is that it was actually a very funny book. Francis is one of the most authentic teenage characters I’ve read in years, full of doubts one minute and ridiculous over-confidence the next. Matthew Crow has created characters that are realistic and relatable that will get inside your head and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

#Milifandom

This morning I was introduced to what is possibly the strangest and most exciting thing in politics and fandom today – the Milifandom.

Note for those that may not be aware of the term, Fandom (according to Wikipedia) is:
a portmanteau consisting of fan [fanatic] plus the suffix -dom, as in kingdom, it is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates “fannish” (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.

There is a firm belief among a number of adults that teens are not interested in politics.

I think that the #Milifandom proves them wrong; they are engaging with politics on their own terms and that is where we should meet them, not by trying to talk seriously about politics but by sharing their joy and excitement over the leader of the Labour Party. This is seriously cool and something that we should all celebrate!

In my experience nothing can turn a teenager off faster than rushing at them with something that you tell them you think they should love.

Imagine what would have happened if the Labour Party had approached the youth of the UK to form a leadership fan club?

I do not think that it would have ended well!

How did this fandom happen?

It is possible that teens identify with him, as the majority of young people at some point or other in their lives face bullying, body shaming and awkward photographs of themselves; maybe they have been won over by his earnestness and honesty in the face of bile and disdain. It could be the fact that he sometimes does not look as sleek and polished as the majority of other male politicians or they have been won over by his geeky coolness.

Whatever it is that has ignited their interest, Ed Miliband now has a grass-roots youth following that is (to my knowledge) unprecedented in modern UK politics.

So to everyone that says the youth of the UK are apathetic and uninterested in anything other than superficial pursuits I think I can safely say: think again! It may not be political engagement as you know it, but they are getting engaged and you should feel uncertain because they are bringing their views to the table!

The leader of the #Milifandom movement is on Twitter: @twcuddleston

In the interests of fairness, I will also note that there is now also a David Cameron fandom: The #Cameronettes

Inside the Box: a Selection of Comics and Graphic Novels for All Ages


The Federation of Children’s Book Groups is a national voluntary organisation, whose aim is to promote enjoyment and interest in children’s books and reading.

They also produce a range of brilliant book lists, their latest is called Inside the Box. Compiled by Mélanie McGilloway and Zoë Toft (with support from Neil Cameron) it is a comprehensive list ranging from picture books and comics for all ages to comics for teenagers and young adults. The list also suggests several books about comics and comic creation as well as weekly comic magazines.

This list is essential for those that feel that they do not have the breadth of knowledge needed to make informed decisions on selecting graphic novels for a school or public library and even for librarians that know their comics there are introductions to new titles.

Find out more about the FCBG here and see what book-lists they have available

You can order copies of Inside the Box and other book-lists by e-mailing the Federation at: info@fcbg.org.uk