Posts tagged Mystery

Drawing mutant carnivorous plants: a chat with Sabrina Malcolm

How do you turn ordinary looking plants into walking, talking mutants? That’s what the wonderful illustrator Sabrina Malcolm has to do in The Fly Papers books. I asked her a bit more about how …

sabrinaWhen you start coming up with ideas for turning particular carnivorous plants into sentient mutants – what are some of the things you think about?

Sabrina: I always need to think about how the creature will move around, and how it will perform whatever actions are required by the story. Dion’s roots, for example, became his way of getting around; and his traps came in handy for things like opening louvre windows.

The eyes have always been particularly important, because they’re one of the most important ways of showing the creature’s thoughts and emotions. Other parts of the creature can be helpful with that, too — for example, Dross’s leaves can look bedraggled, or lively and excited; and similarly with his eye stalks.

Of course, these things are always decided in consultation with the author and designer!

dionDo you use real plants or photos for reference (or both)?

Sabrina: I use real plants when I can, but photos can be useful too, especially if I’m drawing while a plant has died down for the winter. Venus flytraps, for example, can look very poorly during the winter months.

How do you make the plants’ eyeballs express emotion?

 Sabrina: Eyelids are the crucial thing: without them, it’s much harder to show emotion. They can take on some of the job of eyebrows — pulling down for a frown, narrowing together to show suspicion, or rolling right back in fear.

The eye stalks can be helpful, too — if they’re rearing back, it can convey fear, and lunging forward can show aggression.

Okay, if you were Bette Noire – and you could create a mutant plant or animal in your lab – what might it be?

 Sabrina: A cow with cheesecake-flavoured milk. Oh, and edible brussels sprouts.

 

Sabrina is the illustrator of all The Fly Papers books, and also an author. Last year she wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book: Blue Moon Bird.

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Solving The Fly Papers mysteries

character1 If you’ve been following the adventures of Spencer, Tora, and their friends in the first two books of The Fly Papers, you know that the kids still have a lot of mysteries to figure out. Luckily they’ve got six more books to do it in!

People often ask if I’ve planned what’s going to happen all the way through to the eighth book.

When I first started writing book one, my answer was, ‘Mmmm … kind of.’ I had a vague resolution that I aimed get to at the end of book eight, but that was about all.

character2The wise and generous author Fleur Beale took me in hand and told me (nicely) that I needed to do better than that. She warned that if I didn’t have a very clear idea what was going to happen throughout the whole series, then writing it would be dangerous. I might get to a point later in the plot where I was stuck and would suddenly realise I should have written things differently earlier on.

So I came up with a few paragraphs of plot description for each book, but deep down, I knew it might not be enough to save me from a plot tangle.

Luckily – after the first book was published – something exciting happened. We got approached by a  producer working for quite a famous British film and TV company. This company was interested in maybe turning The Fly Papers into a TV series! (I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t even reply to their email for about a month, because I thought it was someone scamming me. But nope, it was legit.)

Well. First they wanted to know more aboutcharacter3 every book’s storyline. So I began feverishly developing the plot in more detail than I’d ever tried to do before.

As it happened, no TV series eventuated. (Such is the uncertain nature of the film and TV industry.)

I was a bit disappointed, but not horribly, because I’d been trying not to get my hopes up. I was also grateful. I now had pages and pages of plot information to work from, all the way through to the end of The Fly Papers.

character5So now, when people ask me if I’ve planned what’s going to happen the answer is, ‘Yes – everything!’

(But no, I’m not telling.)

P.S. All these lovely character illustrations from The Fly Papers are by the marvellous illustrator Sabrina Malcolm.

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The lure of mystery

Hi everyone – I’ve been looking forward to being your March author.

Do you like mystery?

I do. Growing up, my favourite book series was The Three Investigators. I longed to discover this gang was real and join them as investigator number four –  I mean, they really did need a girl.

I also loved those mysteries you have to solve yourself, like the Encyclopedia Brown stories – except I got impatient and looked up the answers. Then I’d feel angry at myself and try to brainwash myself into believing I’d worked them out on my own.

ImageThe stories I love writing are also mysterious ones. The Fly Papers is full of mystery.

Another series I’m working on is The Owl Kids. It’s for a magazine called Wild Things and has wonderful illustrations by Adele Jackson. (Like the one on the left right!ahem, 45 years old and I still get my left and right mixed up sometimes.)

I’ll talk more about it soon, but you can read the first episode here – and solve the first of its mysteries.

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Phantom of Terawhiti by Des Hunt

It’s the school holidays and Zac thinks he might go crazy with boredom. He’s living in exile with his disgraced father on the remote Terawhiti Station on Wellington’s wild southwest coast. Then Zac and his dad witness a boat sink during a storm. Investigating further, Zac finds a set of unusual animal prints on the beach. Whose boat is it? And what creature could have made the prints? Soon armed men are prowling the coast, and threatening Zac, his friends and his family. He must do all he can to protect the Phantom of Terawhiti from those intent on hunting it down.

Phantom of Terawhiti is an action-packed adventure story, packed with mystery,  armed and angry Russians, brainless hunters, wild weather, a car chase, and a race against time.  Des Hunt is a gifted storyteller who never fails to write a story that grips readers and makes you keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.  In Phantom of Terawhiti there are plenty of heart-stopping moments, especially when Zac and Jess clash with the Russians.  The mystery of the ‘Phantom of Terawhiti’ draws you in and, even when the creature is revealed, you wonder how it will survive in the wild with the hunters trying to track it down.

Like the main characters in his other books, Zac and Jess are just normal Kiwi kids, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or maybe the right place at the right time).  Zac gets dragged by his dad to come and live on the remote Terawhiti Station, and it’s while he’s here that he discovers the wreck of the yacht and the paw prints in the sand.  When they discover the Phantom of Terawhiti, Zac and Jess know that they must do everything they can to protect it.

Phantom of Terawhiti is one of Des Hunt’s best books so far and I can’t wait to see where in the country he will take us to next.

4 out of 5 stars

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Wings & Co: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life. It is up to Emily to reopen the shop, and recall the fairies to duty. Together they must embark on their first mystery and do battle with their great fairy-snatching enemy, Harpella.

Operation Bunny is a magical story, filled with a cast of wonderful characters, plenty of mystery, and a sprinkling of humour.  It’s the sort of book that you sit down to read a few chapters and end up gobbling up the whole book because you’re enchanted by Sally Gardner’s storytelling and David Roberts’ hilarious illustrations.

I fell in love with the characters straight away and I wanted to be friends with Miss String and Fidget the talking cat.  Emily is a Cinderella-type character because she gets locked away and made to do all the housework for her horrible adopted parents.  Not only are they horrible, they’re also quite stupid.  Emily’s adopted mother lets a strange lady into their house who turns her triplets into zombies, and Emily’s adopted father is a slimy wee man who’s hiding a secret and always calls his wife ‘Smoochikins.’ However, Emily is much smarter and braver than these horrible people give her credit for, and with the help of her rather unusual neighbours she escapes and starts her new life as a detective.  Fidget is my favourite character because he is always happy to help and he has the best lines (which usually involve fish of some sort), like ‘Search my sardine tin, I don’t know,’ and ‘Twiddle my whiskers and call me tuna.’  I love the way that Fidget calls Emily ‘my little ducks’ too.  Even though she doesn’t have parents that love her, she has a giant talking cat that is looking out for her always.    There are lots of other interesting characters in the story, including a mischievous bunch of keys, zombie babies, a fairy policeman, a shop with legs, a magic lamp that talks, and lots and lots of bunnies.

David Roberts illustrations are wonderful as always and help set the tone of the story.  They’re both hilarious and a little dark, and they bring Sally’s characters alive.  I especially like the personalities that David has given each of the rabbits and the suave, charming look that he’s given Fidget.

I’m so pleased that we have more adventures with Emily, Fidget and the Fairy Detective Agency, Wings & Co. to look forward to.  I can’t wait to read the next book, The Three Pickled Herrings.

5 out of 5 stars

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Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket

 

Before you consider reading “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you curious about what is happening in a seaside town that is no longer by the sea?
  2. Do you want to know about a stolen item that wasn’t stolen at all?
  3. Do you really think that’s any of your business? Why? What kind of a person are you? Really?
  4. Who is standing behind you?

Who Could That Be at This Hour? is uncanny, peculiar and outlandish, all words which here mean ‘quite strange.’  It’s the first book in Lemony Snicket’s new series, in which he gives an account of his apprenticeship in a secret organisation, ‘in a town overshadowed by a sinister conspiracy, culminating in some unnerving and troublesome truths that lay buried for a number of years, while people were busy doing somthing else.’  The story is addictive and once you start, it’s very hard to put down.  It’s set in a strange little town, containing ‘a sea without water and a forest without trees,’ and it’s full of bizarre events and curious characters.

Nobody in this story is quite who they first appear to be.  There is Lemony’s chaperone, S. Theodora Markson (don’t ask what the S stands for) who is not as competent or highly skilled as she portrays, the mysterious, coffee-drinking Ellington Feint, the shadowy Hangfire, and even Lemony Snicket himself.  I love the way that Lemony Snicket describes some of the weird people he meets, like Stew,

He looked like the child of a man and a log, with a big, thick neck and hair that looked like a bowl turned upside down.  He had a slingshot tucked into his pocket and a nasty look tucked into his eyes.

My favourite characters in the story are Pip and Squeak, the two brothers who drive the Bellerophon Taxi.  They are supposedly filling in for their father, but they’re so short that one steers while the other sits on the floor and pushes the pedals.

If you love mystery and adventure stories, but also want a bit of a laugh, Who Could Be at This Hour? is the perfect book for you.  Grab your copy now from your library or bookshop.

5 out of 5 stars

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The Flytrap Snaps by Johanna Knox

The Flytrap Snaps is the first book in The Fly Papers series by Johanna Knox. It is an quirky yet cool tale. I even found the dedication page unique:

Dedicated to all the carnivorous plants that sit on our window sills and inspire us (you know who you are).”

Spencer Fogle is the hero of this story: he lives in the town of Filmington, which is famous for its variety of landscapes. For this reason it is used by producers all over the world to film movies, ads and videos. Spencer is used to hearing screams on his way to school. One day, Spencer hears a scream, and something tells him that this is not special effects in a horror film. He goes to investigate…and so begins a mysterious adventure, involving carnivorous plants, hench-women, wrestling and shampoo ads.

Dion is Spencer’s friend, and meets Spencer during the story. Dion is very theatrical, and dreams of becoming a movie star. He also happens to be a Venus Flytrap with four eyes. Yes…I think that Dion Horrible (his stage name) is definitely the most original element of the book!

I think that Johanna Knox has done a wonderful job of fleshing out the characters. I imagined each one very vividly…from Tora, a wrestling expert with amazing hair, to Spencer’s parents, who own a business that sells stuffed food, such as sardine-stuffed lemons. I also admire the way she writes in such a consistently humorous and strong way. There wasn’t a dull moment in the book, nor a moment when I wasn’t smiling at Dion’s antics.

The mystery gets darker as the book progresses. You will find yourself rooting for Spencer and Dion, hating Jimmy Jangle and his salami-breath sidekicks, Sybil and Cassandra, and turning the pages faster and faster as the pace of the adventure quickens. Will Jimmy Jangle find Dion? What is Tora’s secret? Will Dion get his change at fame? You will find the answers to these questions- and more- by reading The Flytrap Snaps.

By Tierney.

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