2018 was a very good year for books. Now, I’m not one for stats or counts, so I won’t bang on about the exact number of books I was fortunate enough to read in 2018. But I will say that as a lover of biographies and a history buff I was kept busy with lots of new and fascinating novels on offer by some of my favorite authors. I also enjoyed reading a host of truly magical middle-grade books, some contemporary and some classics, which I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading until last year.
If you stopped reading children’s book when you hit puberty and haven’t revisited one since, I urge you to remedy this tragic oversight with immediate effect. There are so many touching and delightful stories to read, and I cannot recommend them enough as a way to de-stress after a long, rotten day being kicked about in the adult world. Total escapism. Perhaps you might find your next read nestled amongst my Top Five listed below? Wouldn’t that be lovely.
#5 The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding – Agatha Christie
This was a wonderful short story I discovered on Amazon whilst perusing through its virtual bookshelves in November. I was already a big fan of Agatha Christie’s super sleuth Hercule Poirot, so to discover this delightful and quintessentially British tale, set in a spectacular country house deep in the English countryside, was like bumping into an old friend (one you’re happy to see, that is). Poirot is invited to join a group of friends in the country to celebrate a traditional English Christmas, complete with crackers, mince pies, parlor games, and of course the piece de resistance, the Christmas pudding. But, as this is an Agatha Christie novel, things are never quite what they seem, and it us up to our here Poirot to solve the many mysteries at large and the adventure of the Christmas pudding. A thoroughly enjoyable read with a wonderful cast of delightful and dastardly characters.
#4 War of the Windsors – Lynn Picknett
One of my favorite book genres to read is biographies. Love them! And this fascinating book on the house of Windsor did not disappoint. I get bored very easily with puffy, fluffy biographies that attempt to rewrite history and paint the subject(s) in the most positive and glowing light possible. No thanks, not the biography for me at all. I wanted a raw, truthful, unbiased, expertly researched biography on Lord Mountbatten, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the House of Windsor in general and this marvelous tome delivered in every way possible and answered all the questions I ever had. It is filled with interesting facts and information that I have never seen in print before. Fascinating read for any biography or history buff.
#3 Pax – Sara Pennypacker
Oh, how I adored this beautifully written, heartrending story. Utterly sublime. I was hooked from the first few sentences, and it gripped me within its compelling pages right to the very last word (which left me crying floods of tears when I finished it). Truly emotional. Pax is the story of the touching friendship between a young boy and his pet fox, who the poor lad is forced to suddenly abandon one day by his father. This heartbreaking decision takes the young boy on a terrifying journey across a war-torn landscape on a desperate quest to find and rescue his fox. A captivating, instant classic of a story. Gorgeous penmanship with an important message woven within its stunning pages.
#2 Jackie, Janet and Lee – J. Randy Taraborrelli
Loved, loved, loved this fascinating biography by one of my favorite biographers. I’ve read and devoured almost every book on Jackie Kennedy over the years and I thought I knew all there was to know – not so. This marvelously entertaining and page-turning read by Randy Taraborrelli was filled with stories, information, photos, and facts I had never heard or read about before, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. If you are a Jackie Kennedy-Onasiss follower, this is most defiantly the book for you. It offered me a completely new insight into to the First Lady and her fascinating life, and was an eyeopener when it came to the complex relationship she shared with her gorgeous sister Lee Radizwell. An excellent, vastly entertaining read.
#1 The Girl who drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
This magical, middle-grade novel by Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill was one of those books that I simply couldn’t put down and whose characters I was deeply invested in and cared about from the first few expertly-crafted pages. The magical story of Luna and her eclectic, but fiercely loyal group of friends, which includes a kindly, old witch, a spunky, wee dragon, and a wise, comforting bog monster is a must-read fantasy adventure for any age. From it’s gorgeously inviting front cover to its last, gloriously written prose, this book was utterly captivating. I cannot recommend this spellbinding tale with its powerful message of love and friendship enough. Five stars, and my absolute favorite read of 2018.
B.A. Keating’s MG novels are available from Amazon Worldwide. Visit www.bakeating.com for details.
Just like most authors around the globe, I have my own specially-crafted routine that I like to employ before I get down to the real nitty-gritty and graft: the task of actually putting meaningful words down on paper, or writing.
I began writing seriously with the intention of being published around 15 years ago now, and at that time I didn’t set out to invent a process or routine to assist me in learning my craft. I just blindly went at it with vigor and an intense passion to succeed; the routine, quirks, and specifics presented themselves like good friends along the way. It’s really all about the individual and what works for you. So, try not to pay too much attention to fellow writers who insist it must be done their way or that what you’re doing is “wrong”. There really is no right or wrong “way”. What might work for one author might be the absolute death knell of creativity to another.
Now, there is nothing I enjoy seeing more on my Instagram feed than the quintessential image of the earnest writer sitting in a quaint café somewhere utterly gorgeous with his/her trusty laptop and Burberry notebook perched next to a delightfully frothy latté served in a pristine white cup. Heavenly image, isn’t it? But sadly, that’s not the writers process for me.
I am more of the Roald Dahl (old) school of writing. The master Dahl used to lock himself away in his purpose built shed located at the bottom of his charming country garden, armed only with a thermos of hot tea, a holder full of pencils, a blanket, and his trusty notebooks (although I would have had to insist on a heater being installed inside that rickety, old shed; English winters are certainly not for the faint of heart).
When I am ready to sit down and write, the first thing that’s important for me is the time of day. I am a creature of habit, and I like to write either very early in the morning (#5amwritersclub member here) or early evening, around 7:30pm. I rarely ever write in the middle of the day. I prefer to set that time aside for reading (a pursuit that is absolutely essential for any writer, novice or otherwise).
The second thing that’s vitally important for me before I begin the writing process is absolute peace and quiet. Absolute. I simply cannot have any noise interference whatsoever, and I can’t listen to music of any kind when writing, either (you can see why that isolated shed idea is appealing now for me, eh?). Bose noise-reducing earbuds come in especially useful indeed in my house. And don’t underestimate the gentle hum of a fan to block out the sound of the T.V travelling up the hallway from the living room, or the cats howling like crazed banshees outside the bedroom door (for no good bloody reason other than to bother me, I might add).
So, now that I’m settled in my writing nook, it’s actually time to write something. And the utensils I use to write with again differ from many of today’s 21st century scribes. I find it absolutely impossible to write or create the story on my laptop. Simply cannot do it. I have to let the actual story itself flow through my sharpened pencil onto a real, tangible piece of paper in front of me. I use notebooks, and lots of them. Notebooks for the plotting and planning of my story (which is always completed in detail before I begin writing any novel – more on that in future posts) and notebooks for the story creation itself. Then, once the characters and their chapters are all safely transported inside my notebook, I transcribe them onto my computer. My trusty laptop is the tool I always use for the editing process (a process I thoroughly enjoy, btw – more on that later, too) and the actual publication of my novels.
Location? Well, my writing sessions usually always take place either in bed or snuggled up in the most comfortable spot on the sofa. Soft lighting is a must (think Himalayan salt lamps, fairy lights, and candles), and I use a small book light attached to my notebook to help guide the way. And then, with sharpened pencil in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, it begins.
And that’s my writing process in a nutshell. Not forgetting of course, the large pot of tea I always insist on brewing before any early morning or evening writing session. I usually only write for around 2 hours per session, and then it’s time to either crack on with my day and its many responsibilities or curl up with my current read and fall asleep.
I’m not one for page counts or setting deadlines for myself when I’m writing a book. I just try (and don’t always succeed) to write at least once a day. And by using this method I have managed to produce four middle-grade novels. I see a lot of folks out there in the writer’s community talking about the thousands of words they’ve written that day or forcing themselves to churn out work to meet a self-imposed deadline. That’s not for me, I’m afraid. I find it kills my creativity dead, and in a world where I experience enough stress as it is, I have absolutely no desire to inflict any more of the stuff on myself if it’s not necessary.
If, one day, I’m fortunate enough to be traditionally published and have deadlines imposed upon me by a large publishing house and/or agent, then word-count city it is. But until such time I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. This isn’t a race or a competition to see who can write the most or who can break their back writing for hours upon hours each day, neglecting their life and themselves along the way. Don’t compare yourself to others on this journey or try to match their sprint-like pace. If word counts and deadlines work for you, then more power to you. It’s just not the process for me. And that’s exactly what it’s all about. If we were all identical in our process and storytelling technique, what a tremendously vanilla literary landscape it would be for us all. So be you - wonderful, individual you - write your way, and above all strive for quality, originality, and your own clear voice in your storytelling.
I was asked the other day why I chose to write books for children, instead of perhaps tackling the adult or teen market. And even though I hadn’t thought about why I was drawn to children’s fiction in any great depth, the answer was simple: children’s books were my first, closest, most unfailing friends. The stories I read in my middle grade years are woven so deeply into the fabric of my heart, I carry them with me wherever I go, and I wanted to pass that gift - that love and forever-friendship - onto a whole new generation of readers, whilst still retaining much of the classic style of telling stories that I cherish so dearly.
Some of my earliest and most treasured memories are of being read to by my Mum (something I believe is vitally important for young children), paying a visit to the local library eagerly searching for the perfect book (again, something I believe is important), or curled up in bed at night reading by the light of my trusty bedside lamp. Without ever having to leave the comfort of my bedroom, I was able to race through mid-western meadows with Laura Ingalls-Wilder, explore the delights of Cherry Tree Farm with Enid Blyton, fly through powder-blue skies with James and his Giant Peach, and speed though the English countryside on a madcap adventure with Toad, Ratty, and Mole as my companions.
Those precious books were my life-line, my best friends and constant, loyal companions. We moved around a bit when I was a child, and in-between trying to fit in to new schools and neighborhoods (I won’t even mention the horrid nuns at my strict convent school), missing my parents who worked full time and always seemed busy, and an older sister, who for her own reasons had little time to spend with her lively, inquisitive, possibly annoying little sister, books provided a safe place for me to land. They nurtured me and comforted me and created a rich inner world for me to inhabit. I always knew that no matter how fierce the upset or turmoil in the real world might be, my imagination, ignited by the stories I pored over, would always offer hope and a safe place for me to hide.
I truly love books, and that love was instilled at an early age by having access to and reading heroic, inspiring, and enchanting tales by such classic children’s authors as Beatrix Potter, Noel Streatfield, Roald Dahl, and the beloved Judy Blume. Some books take you on enchanting journeys you could only ever imagine in your wildest of dreams, whilst others introduce you to characters just like you, with struggles and worries just like you, who comfort you and give you strength when things all around seem to be crumbling. The infinite possibilities and timeless companionship the right book can offer a child can never be underestimated and should be sought out at all costs, like the Holy Grail.
And I urge children not to be put off or deterred if the only books they have encountered thus far have been rather dry, curriculum-based school books that they didn’t connect with and struggled to wade through. As much as I adore reading and books, I certainly don’t fall head over heels in love with every tome I pick up. I hated some of the books I had to read in school; I found some of them so boring, and the characters depressing or just not my cup of tea. But I had the good fortune to know that not all books are created equal; you just have to find the right one(s) for you. Look for a book on whatever it is you happen to like (soccer, swimming, dancing, tales of adventure, fashion) and just see what a huge difference the right topic or author can make. We can’t all be expected to embrace every TV program or enjoy every flavor of ice cream, now can we? And books and their authors are no different.
So that is why I chose to write for children…because a simple story really can make an enormous difference to that one child it touches; that and the fact that I’m an overgrown kid who still believes in fairies, gets beyond excited on Christmas Eve, and essentially never really grew up.
Do yourself a favor and release your inner child today! And be sure to pass on the precious gift of reading by sharing one your favorite childhood books with a young person you know and care for.
B.A, Keating is a writer, ex-ballet dancer, and children’s author. Her books include ‘Tales from the Land of Forever’ and ‘The Academy – First Year’. Visit www.bakeating.com for more details.
Dearest Reader Friends,
Just wanted to let you all know that my Goodreads Giveaway is now open. Enter today for a chance to win a signed copy of my second children's book 'The Academy - First Year'. Here is the link, in case you missed it. Good luck
I also wanted to add this link to Bookworms for Kids Blog. It's a wonderful resource for young readers and their parents.
Would you like the chance to win a singed copy of my second children's book 'The Academy - First Year'? Click on the Goodreads link below and enter for a chance to win.
Dearest Reader Friends,
Happy New Year!! I hope you all had a blissfully magical Holiday season and that 2016 is treating you well, thus far. Have you made any New Years resolutions? I didn't make any as such, just an objective to do more of the same in 2016: more writing; more reading; more creating; more laughing; more time spent in nature; more advocating for those without a voice, and more time spent with those I love to be around. I did, however, take a moment to write down a list of all the things that I did NOT want to drag into 2016 with me - it's time to let that negativity go! In with the new and out with old, that's what I say.
Another wonderful ritual for the New Year that I started a few years ago now is keeping a "memory jar". Throughout the year, my family and I pop mementos from days out, vacations, birthday celebrations, or just things that made us smile into the jar and then on New Years day we sit down and open the jar and reminiscence about all of the wonderful things we did together during the past 12 months. We then place our precious mementos into a scrap book and our year is preserved for all time. It's something fun and meaningful for all the family
Thank you to all my reader friends for your support in 2015. I am hoping to get back into my writing room this week and continue working on my third children's novel 'The Wood at the Bottom of the Garden Gate' which I look forward to sharing with you all this Summer.
Wishing each of you a year filled with laughter, love, friendship, luck, inspiration, and peace.
Dear Reader Friends,
I hope this post finds you well, and that you are all enjoying the fun, excitement, and festivities of the season. After all, it's the most wonderful time of the year!
I just wanted to share some exciting news with you all. My second children's novel 'The Academy - First Year' will be released on Monday December 21st, 2015 - just in time for the Holidays!!!!
I can't wait for you all to read it.
Being accepted into the English Ballet Theater's Academy of Dance was Molly’s dream, but will that dream turn into a nightmare that threatens her chances of ever becoming a ballerina? Enter the hallowed halls of the Academy: a prestigious ballet school steeped in history and rich with tradition, and peek behind the stage door into a world filled with pointe shoes, tutus, friendships and rivalries.
Every young girl dreams of being a ballet dancer, of stepping gracefully onstage at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in a beautifully bejeweled tutu and sparkling tiara - and Molly Plum was no exception. Our story begins when 11 year old Molly, a budding ballerina from an impoverished borough of London, auditions for one of the much coveted, but very limited, places at English Ballet Theater's Junior Academy of Dance: a fictitious boarding school located in the Royal borough of Windsor But after a nerve-racking audition at the senior school, and much anxious waiting for the postman, Molly discovers to her delight that she has been accepted into the Academy on a full scholarship.
Despite having to fight tooth and nail with her disagreeable mother, who is under the misguided impression that ballet is a frivolous and silly hobby, for permission to even attend, Molly begins her new life at Howard Hall - a five story, ivy-covered 250 year old manor house, surrounded by 200 acres of vibrant greenery courtesy of the Great Park - in the Fall. And despite making an instant enemy in the horribly stuck-up but incredibly talented, Pandora Pemberton, she soon settles in to life at the Academy, with all of it quirks, rules and traditions, and takes to her dance classes, pointe lessons and academic studies like a ballerina to toe shoes.
But will all of her months of hard work, stress, tears, and dedication mean that Molly will be chosen to fulfill her dream and perform as Clara in the English Ballet Theatre’s Christmas production of ‘The Nutcracker’? Or will Pandora Pemberton – with the help of the sniveling sycophant that is Araminta Masters, and Pandora’s dreadful snob of a stage mother - see to it that not only are her chances of dancing on stage with one of the finest ballet companies in the world scuppered forever, but that her days at the Academy are numbered too?
Dear Reader Friends,
Would you like the chance to win a free signed copy of my book 'Tales from the Land of Forever'? Then you are in luck! Enter using the GoodReads Giveway link below.
I love this time of the year. We have bid a fond farewell to summer, and now we watch as the trees treat us to spectacular show of colours so dazzling and vibrant, we often have to stop (or at least I hope we do) and stare, admiring the natural beauty all around us. It really is quite magical. I adore seeing robust, bright orange pumpkins displayed on front porches, as red and golden leaves gently fall from the trees above, scattering their autumnal jewels far and wide. And there is nothing nicer than curling up on fresh, bright Fall day with a book in one hand and a hot mug of tea in the other. Wishing all of my readers a happy and safe Halloween, May your day be filled only with treats!
Please remember to keep your pets safe on the 31st.