Friday, March 11, 2016

The Enid Blyton of Murder! Tanya Landman at the Abingdon Joint Author Event

Tanya Landman started off receiving some fantastic career's advice at her school - nurturing, inspirational - which can be summed up as 'if you don't know what you want to do in life, you're doomed!". Luckily for her - and us - she wasn't too freaked out by this mentoring-from-hell experience, and after working in a bookshop, Arts Centre, Bristol Zoo and travelling performer - she became an author.

Her breakthrough book was 'Apache' - shortlisted for the 2008 Carnegie Medal - and the seed of an idea from that book grew, several years later, into 'Buffalo Soldier' which won last year's Carnegie Medal and, quite rightly, elevated Tanya to the Pantheon of contemporary children's authors. It was a huge coup to get her to come to Abingdon, and groups from eight schools in Abingdon came to visit over three sessions.

Tanya is funny, wise and inspirational - and (with the help of a large globe) gave the children a crash course in geo-politics and the history of colonialism in North American. She shared her own journey of understanding of American history, from facts gleaned from the pages of 'Gone with the Wind' and watching Westerns, to the stories of remarkable native americans - and the freed slaves who fought against these brave warriors in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

In her own words she felt that these hidden stories of the American Deep South were "a piece of the jigsaw dropped down the back of the sofa of history" and felt compelled to tell that story.

Along the way, we discovered the real reason Tanya started writing murder mysteries for kids (no spoilers here, but we will say that this story is worth asking Tanya to come to your school all on its own), the inspiration behind the children - and dog - in her Sam Swann books, and why you wouldn't want to be up against her at an award's ceremony...

Tanya enjoys writing about murder (possibly a little too much, according to her publisher). In ‘Mondays are Murder’, her child sleuth Poppy Fields goes on an activity holiday to a remote Scottish island. She is looking forward to a week of climbing, hill-walking and horse riding. But things take a bad turn when their instructor has what appears to be a fatal abseiling accident. When Poppy discovers that his rope was cut, and more of the instructors start to have "accidents", she and best friend Graham suspect foul play and decide to investigate...
Tanya's crash-course in colonialism and
'places not to go if you are
a sailor in the 15th century'...

There are now ten books in the series, so the description of her as the 'Enid Blyton of Murder' may not be too far-fetched...

Tanya also talked about her latest book ‘Hell and High Water’. This is a fantastic book for teens, a thrilling adventure story set against the backdrop of smuggling and conspiracy, and based on research Landman did around the notorious villain Thomas Benson, owner of Lundy Island, corrupt merchant and MP for Barnstaple in the 18th century.

When a body washes up on a beach, Caleb Chappell finds himself involved in a dastardly plot: a plot that places him and his family in mortal danger. With his father falsely accused, it is up to Caleb to save him.

Drawing parallels with modern political corruption, this tells a gripping tale with plot twists galore and strong, believable characters that stay in the memory.

In between sessions, we asked Tanya to tell us a little bit about her writing life...

Five Questions with...Tanya Landman's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Not telling you!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Daydream! Get it all started in your head first, before putting pen to paper. Writing it out is just technique, but you need to get the idea ready in your head. It needs to get you excited – it’s why I didn’t want to tell you about what I’m working on at the moment actually, because I feel if you talk about it too soon when it’s still in your head, you ‘deflate the cake’!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Getting out to schools, book events, or the Carnegie Shadowing. It’s incredible how much energy and enthusiasm you encounter. The worst thing? Every author has days when, what you are writing, isn’t just the worst thing you’ve ever written, but the worst rubbish any author has ever written, ever. You have to write through it of course – but those days are really tough.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing, or snack essential before you can start work?
Cup of tea!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
With Apache, it was really the moment when an idea was triggered in my head, and my fingers started twitching, and I had an image in my head. This had never really happened before, and was very different to things I had written before.


The Abingdon Joint Author Event has seen some fantastic authors over the years - Caroline LawrenceAlan GibbonsJulia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick - and yesterday's event with Tanya was a splendid addition to this tradition.

As always there is an incredible amount of hard work behind the scenes from the Abingdon school librarians and teachers who accompanied children to and from the event - we honoured to be asked to get involved. We know just how much time, effort and planning goes in to taking children off timetable - but hopefully listening to an inspiring, award-winning author is worth all the effort!

Thanks also to the awesome help from Jo and Sally, and finally, thanks to Tanya for being such an amazingly inspiring speaker, writer (and incidentally passing the Mostly Books "authors-you'd-most-want-to-go-down-the-pub-with' test!)

To discover more about Tanya, come into Mostly Books to discover what she has written - or visit her website to learn more about her writing.

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