Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop #49

Welcome Back To The Kid Lit Blog Hop #49
I am so excited to bring you a review today after a few weeks away.
It is no secret, that I am obsessed with middle grade mysteries.

I saw a post about a book launch for this book, but unfortunately we were away on holidays. The cover caught my eye and I was delighted when I found a kindle edition, even before the launch hurrahhhh.

 It was spectacular,  plus you know I am a fan of finding authors on Facebook and Twitter and asking them for interviews.  I was so excited when Judith Rossell replied, plus she lives in my home city, hurrahhh.

Book Blurb:

High on a cliff above the gloomy coastal town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts.

But one night, Stella sees something she shouldn't have ... Something that will set in motion an adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for ...

My Review:

We begin with Stella, hiding behind some ferns in the conservatory. She is studying an atlas, her most prized possession. Within its pages, are hopes and dreams, that Stella may one day escape her horrid aunts and go on an adventure.

When poor Mr Filbert, an elderly gentleman staying at the Hotel Majestic, scurries in and hides a tiny package under a fern, Stella has no idea that adventure has just found her.
She retrieves the package, but is somewhat perplexed. It is just a tiny bottle, but within the bottle, something lurks.  Later that night, Stella finds herself the only resident awake in the whole Hotel Majestic. It is then that she witnesses a most heinous crime.  The perpetrator of the crime and his men, will do anything to find the package, including kidnapping Stella and forcing a young boy to scry for its location.
In a sometimes nail biting adventure, Stella must defeat the villain and the evil that lurks in the bottle, rescue her new found friends, and find a way home. A tall order for a young girl, but Stella is not just any young girl.  She is a mystery herself.
I really enjoyed Withering-by-Sea. The Victorian setting was rich, drawing you deep into Stella's unhappy life with her absurd aunts. There is a colourful cast of characters to enjoy along the way and the scenes in the theatre were delightful. The illustrations were enchanting, and I found myself wishing for more and more, with every new page. The mystery of Stella's origins is left open, which I hope will be resolved in further books to come.

There were some dark and creepy moments, so for kids who love a mystery that will occasionally make the hairs on your arms stand up, this will be a winner. I believe this would suit confident readers aged 9-12.   
Now, I have the pleasure of welcoming the author, Judith Rossell to join us.

1. How did you get your start in publishing?

I began as an illustrator. My first books (many years ago!) were for Allen’s music. I illustrated a series of books for children who were learning various musical instruments. Then I got some work in educational publishing, illustrating school readers and books about things like Japan and rugby. My first trade books were maze and puzzle books. The first book I wrote was a maze book called “The Lost Treasure of the Green Iguana”.

2. Withering-by-Sea. How did the premise of the book begin?

I am a bit obsessed with Victoriana. I had a very clear image in my head of a girl, hiding in a conservatory, reading an Atlas, who sees something she shouldn’t have. That is the first scene in my story.

3. Set in the Victorian era, how much research did you do for the characters and settings?

Lots and lots! I really enjoy research. I read heaps of history, as well as writers from the era (Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Dickens etc). Recently, I’ve been visiting the big Victorian mansions in Melbourne, like Rippon Lea and Como.

4. Do you use beta readers before presenting a manuscript to your agent?

I don’t have any formal arrangements. A writing friend offered to read a draft of my story, and she gave me heaps of great feedback. An English friend also read it, and she managed to find an Australian phrase that I had overlooked. (‘Rugged-up’ – who knew this was Australian slang??)

5. Were there any choppy waters, on the road to publication?

The only choppy waters were caused by my slow progress. I am a slow and angst-ridden writer. The publisher might have lost interest, because they had to wait so long. Fortunately, they were very patient. I’m hoping I will finish the second book more quickly.

6. Dispel a myth for me. Once a manuscript is provided to a publisher, is that it for you. Do you have to do any proof reading? (Can you tell I loathe proof reading)

Haha. No… A good editor (and I had a lovely editor) will help you improve your story so much. Not just tiny corrections, but suggestions about plot and characters as well. It’s great to work with a good editor, because then the story becomes better and better. But it does involve a certain amount of proof reading…

7. You are also the fabulous illustrator of the book. How did you decide on the images you wanted to portray?

That part was easy, because some of the scenes in the story were very clear in my head, so they were easy to illustrate. I really enjoyed doing the artwork for this book.
8. Do you provide actual sketches to the publisher, or are you a digital fan?
For this book, I drew the pictures on paper, scanned them, and sent the scans to the publisher. I made a few corrections digitally. I’m improving my digital skills at the moment. I have been having some photoshop lessons!

9. There were some nail biting moments in the book. How do you determine the level of darkness appropriate for a middle grade audience?

I think you just have to go with your own feeling, but there has to be something at stake. You have to put your characters in some kind of peril. For me, when writing for this age (8-12 year olds), I didn’t want anything really awful or upsetting to happen. For example, there’s a kitten in the story. That kitten was always going to be quite safe! And although there is a murder in my story, it happens ‘off stage’, and we hear about it later. But I think children are pretty tough, and sometimes enjoy being frightened by the stories they read.

10. There were a couple of unanswered questions in the book that will no doubt keep the kids coming back for more. Have you planned a sequel and will Stella’s secrets be discovered?

Yes, I’m working on the second book now. I’m not sure how many of Stella’s secrets will be discovered! But she is sent away to stay with some cousins and their governess, in a large house in the country. And there’s something lurking in the forest! Something scary. The title of the second book will be “Wormwood Mire”.

11. Do you do school visits, and if so, what does a session entail?

I do some school visits, but only a handful each year. Usually, I do illustration workshops. For the youngest children, I might read a few picture books, and we will all do some drawing. For older kids, I might do a session about drawing a maze, or something like that. I also teach writing, at RMIT and at the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s always a treat to get out of the house!

Thank you so much Judith for joining us on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

For more of Judith's exciting work, drop by

It was an absolute pleasure getting to know you a little better.

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