Author Interview: Lisa Drakeford, Author of ‘The Baby’

So I was supposed to put this up ages ago, but I just got completely swamped with other stuff and I tried to do it, but my computer refused to work on WordPress. Anyway, here it is!


Daniel: To those who haven’t yet read ‘The Baby’, can you sum the book up in six words?

Lisa: Surprise. Babies. Have. Massive. Effects!

Daniel: What other YA books would you recommend to fans of ‘The Baby’ and why?

Lisa: Seed by Lisa Heathfield because it’s damn good YA fiction. Trouble by Non Pratt because she gets teenage girls. We Were Liars by E Lockhart because that island evokes a rawness which makes you ache. One by Sarah Crossan because….oh,it’s beautiful. Stolen by Lucy Christopher because she makes you feel things that you shouldn’t. Anything by Melvin Burgess because he’s the king of YA and anything by Kevin Brooks because he gets teenage boys.

Daniel: How happy were you with the ending of ‘The Baby’, without giving anything away?

Lisa: I was extremely happy with the ending. I was determined to make The Baby as real as possible. It’s set in five months with a month for each character. It would be totally unrealistic if, after every month each story was complete. That’s not real life. The Baby is a snapshot of the five character’s lives. Their lives will go on. (Indeed they have done, in the sequel which is sitting in my computer which nobody has seen.)

Daniel: Why did you want to deal with the issues of teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse in the book?

Lisa: I don’t really deal with teenage pregnancy – it’s more about teenage parenthood. Nicola’s baby is a ready-made pregnancy. She’s one of a handful of people who don’t know they’re pregnant until the latter stages of childbirth. That said, the UK has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe, so it doesn’t feel too unreal to include it. The grounds for Nicola’s pregnancy are fairly typical and have to be acknowledged.

Domestic abuse? I know it goes on and I’d like to think that someone might be able to relate to a destructive, twisted relationship which became difficult to deal with. Both Jonty and Olivia knew things were wrong but didn’t have the maturity to solve the problem. I’d like to think that by the end of the story the reader has a better understanding of how these things can happen. It was important that Jonty realised the consequences of his actions. I like to think that he did.

Daniel: What was the hardest part about writing about teenage pregnancy and/or domestic abuse?

Lisa: The domestic abuse was very difficult to write about. I didn’t want people to automatically hate Jonty. I wanted them to see why he did what he did and I didn’t want Olivia to be a tragic victim. They are both normal teenagers who let a difficult situation get out of hand. I hope I explained the behaviour rather than excused it. This was always my concern. It was forever at the back of my mind when I wrote it.

The pregnancy was less difficult to write about. I’ve had two kids of my own (albeit not when I was a teenager) so I know what kind of effect a baby can have on your life. And I’ve taught teen mums so I understand how isolated, lonely and scary that kind of life can be.

Daniel: Which character was the most interesting to write and why?

Lisa: It’s a toss-up between Jonty and Alice. I’ve taught so many Alices in my time. They’re adorable and fascinating and I loved the freedom she gave me to go into too much detail which even my editor couldn’t argue with. I enjoyed writing Jonty’s chapter because I think his character develops the most. He grows up over the five months and it was lovely to be able to write about this.

Daniel: Are you an avid reader and what kind of books do you like to read?

Lisa: I am – although incredibly slow. I’m currently reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I started reading it at Christmas and it’s now the middle of February. That’s almost a criminal act. I couldn’t be a reviewer like you, that’s for sure. People might die of boredom waiting for my response. But I read anything (slowly) which I can believe in. This ranges from all the above mentioned YA authors, and when I allow myself an adult read, then I’ll always veer towards my tried and trusted favourites which include Tim Winton, Patrick Gale, Christos Tsiolkas, Julie Myerson and Jeffrey Eugenides. Most of these authors have written books for young adults as well, so my advice would be to seek them out. They’re fantastic.

Daniel: Which character in ‘The Baby’ would you say you were most like in terms of personality?

Lisa: Hahahaha – can I say Ben, he’s lovely? No, I’m not as nice as him but he has my music tastes. Olivia, I suppose. She’s a pretty standard teenager and I reckon I was just that.

Daniel: What would your advice to anyone writing a YA novel, especially one in the contemporary genre?

Lisa: I’d say do it. Do it NOW. I wanted to write a novel at 17 years old and I’m so cross with myself that I let 30 years lapse before I actually did. I let student life, a career, a marriage, a family and all the debris which they entail get in the way. That’s another virtual crime. Ooh yes, and talk to other writers, get inspired by them. And of course READ. Read, read and read.

Daniel: Finally, have you got any upcoming projects in the world of YA coming up in 2016?

Lisa: I have! Book 2 has just been signed by Chicken House and I’m so delighted by this. It took eighteen months from signing to launching The Baby so I’m really hoping this book comes out a bit quicker. I’ve already got my editing head on, so please, watch this space!

Thank you to Lisa for doing the interview and thank you to you for reading this.


❤ DW

Author Interview: Julie Mayhew

Hi guys! This is my second author interview on this blog and it is with Julie Mayhew, author of ‘The Big Lie’, of which I did a review last week. ‘The Big Lie’ has recently been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016, so I am honoured to have Julie here on the blog. So, without further ado, here is the interview:

Julie Mayhew, author of ‘The Big Lie’ and ‘Red Ink’.
Daniel: Hi Julie, thank you very much for doing this interview for How To Read Books.
Julie: Thank you for your brilliant The Big Lie review. You’re the first blogger to call Jessika’s dad a “douche”. Good work.
D: To those who haven’t yet read ‘The Big Lie’, can you sum the book up in six words?
J: Revolutionary Nazi alt-history with girls centre-stage (hope I wasn’t cheating using hyphenated words)
D: The idea of family and loyalty is a huge thing in ‘The Big Lie’. How much would you say you valued these things in your life?
J: Hugely valued. I’m a mother and I’m also, of course, a daughter so I’m infinitely interested in how your opinion of parenting and family changes and is challenged when you become a parent yourself. I think this comes across in my books and plays.
D: How happy were you with the ending of ‘The Big Lie’, without giving anything away?
J: It was absolutely what I wanted – something honest and not ‘Hollywood’. The most powerful revolution that can happen is in the mind of the individual, that’s what I wanted to say and I really feel the ending reflects that. I know it might not be what most readers are expecting…
D: Why did you want to deal with the issues of oppression and sexuality?
J: I didn’t set out to write a book about sexuality – but it became clear very early on in the writing process that Jessika’s desires were going to be the catalyst for her seeing the world differently. What I did know from the outset was that I wanted to use the history of Nazi oppression to make us better understand our own present-day failings.
D: Did you have to do a lot of research for ‘The Big Lie’ and what made you write a book about Nazism and oppression?
J: Yes, lots of research, which fuelled the writing process. I would take a real thing from the past and shape it to fit my imagined Nazi Britain. I spent a great deal of time in the Wiener Library in London which has a vast collection of Nazi school texts, song sheets, year books, etc. From those I learnt how children were made to believe in Nazi ideals, subtly and not-so subtly, from a young age.
D: Which character was the most interesting to write and why?
J: I enjoyed writing Clementine, observing her from afar, making her a mysterious figure  but also a powerful one. But Jessika was the most interesting – finding her voice, getting inside of someone who believes different things to you and seeing her shift and change.
D: Are you an avid reader and what kind of books do you like to read?
J: I think it’s essential to be big reader to be a good writer. I recently read Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manual For Cleaning Women – it’s astoundingly brilliant. It makes me want to up my game.
D: Which character in ‘The Big Lie’ would you say you were most like in terms of personality?
J: I’d like to think I am a rebellious Clementine figure, but I so often want to be seen as good and please people, which is more of a Jessika personality. My aim in life is to be more Clementine.
D: What would your advice to anyone writing a YA novel, especially one linked with history?
J: Do your research, but then let it go. You need to write a story that means something with characters you are curious to unpack, not just show off all the facts you’ve found out.
D: Finally, have you got any upcoming projects in the world of YA coming up in 2016?
J: I have. I’m writing a book set in Russia which explores our ideas of what home means. My main character missed out on her childhood and is searching for a way to get it back.
D: Thank you for doing this interview and congratulations on ‘The Big Lie’ being nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016.
J: Thank you! I’m thrilled with the book’s support – particularly the readers that have contacted me to say it’s made them engage with the politics that affect them. The revolution starts here…

Thanks for reading this interview guys, I hope you enjoyed it. The next author interview will be with Lisa Drakeford, author of ‘The Baby’, later this week or early next week. A huge thanks to Julie for agreeing to do this interview. If you have not read ‘The Big Lie’ or ‘Red Ink’ yet, I suggest you do so. As always, please leave comments below and like this post if you like it.

❤ DW
P.S. Sorry for the spacing. WordPress is not a happy bunny today.


Review of ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats + Exclusive Interview with Lucy Coats!


Title: Cleo

Author: Lucy Coats

Publisher: Orchard Books

Publication Date: May 7, 2015


Blurb via Amazon: Her precious mother is dead – and it isn’t an accident! The young Cleopatra – Pharaoh’s illegitimate daughter – must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis’s power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis’s power – on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot Librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo’s powerful destiny is about to unfold…

Gorgeous and evocative, this captivating new YA novel imagines the life of the teenage Cleopatra before she became the icon we think we know.


Review of ‘Cleo’

Firstly, the cover of ‘Cleo’, immediately strikes me with a sense of glamour, the read popping out against the black, white and gold. It speaks to me of Egypt and makes me automatically excited to read it.

The setting of Ancient Egypt is one of my favourites whether it be in terms of the history, culture or the mythology. Lucy Coats managed to teach me new things about all of these while I was reading Cleo, so my reading experience was not only brilliant, but educational too. It is clear to me that Lucy knows her stuff. What I love most about this setting is the clashing of brutal history and ornate glamour. The incorporation of magic, although there is not a structured system, is a nice subtle touch that helps to beautifully combine history and mythology together. Lucy really does tell the story of Cleopatra like we’ve never heard it before.

The plot is very fast paced in my opinion and we are thrown in at the deep end. It didn’t take me long to find my feet and soon I was away on the adventure with Cleo and Charm. This high octane tempo is pretty much maintained the whole way through and I never felt tired of it! I was happy with the way the plot developed, intricately weaved with the mythological side of things. However, I would have loved to have seen a few more twists and turns. There was quite a lot left unanswered at the end and this only makes me more excited to read ‘Chosen’ (review coming soon). I especially enjoyed the ‘four years earlier’ section, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t have to wait until a novella was released to read Cleo’s origin story. Thanks Lucy!

All the characters in the book were unique in their own way and they came together to create a great dynamic within the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Sometimes with characters, they just don’t click and then you end up with a book full of strained dialogue. This was not the case in ‘Cleo’. I especially thought that the relationship between Charm and Cleo was good and a key element to the story. Although Cleo could be a bit whiny at times, I genuinely liked her and how she seemed to be realistically human. The romance between Khai and Cleo started out as an ‘eye roll couple’, but later I changed my mind and grew to like them. I feel as if emotions were meant to play a bigger role in the book than they did and that the sense of adventure got in the way at times.

If you haven’t already , you should definitely read ‘Cleo’ and I look forward to reading the sequel ‘Chosen’ very soon. Without further ado, I award 4 out of 5 stars to ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats.

Read on for an exclusive How To Read Books interview with Lucy Coats herself!

About Lucy Coats


Lucy Coats writes for children of all ages. Her first picture book was published in 1991, and in 2004 she was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Prize for ‘Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths’. Lucy read her first book of Greek myths at the age of seven, and has been hooked on stories of all kinds ever since.

Lucy lives in rural Northamptonshire and writes looking out over green fields full of sheep. She has a deskdog called Hero who generally lies between her screen and keyboard and is very good at encouraging Lucy when the writing is going slowly. Lucy has a website at She also has a Facebook Author page at and a Twitter page at which she visits strictly during coffee breaks, as well as being on Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram.

Lucy also teaches regular Masterclasses on How to Write for Children at The Guardian and writes for Publishing Talk and Mslexia magazine.

[Adapted from Amazon]

Exclusive Interview With Lucy Coats, Author of Cleo

As well as having the pleasure of reading ‘Cleo’, Lucy Coats was nice enough to grace us with her presence here on the How To Read Books blog. Thanks so much to Lucy for taking part in my first author interview!

Dan: Lucy, you are a fan of mythology, something we can tell from Cleo. Why do you like mythology so much?

Lucy: I’ve been obsessed with mythology since I was about 7 and my granny gave me 2 books of Greek myths. I loved the idea of a world where the gods interact with humans directly (as they do so much in the Iliad and Odyssey), and I guess that eventually fed directly into the idea of the Egyptian gods being involved in Cleo’s life. I think all those mythological stories are like the roots of a culture. Only by understanding them can you begin to understand the top growth of the culture itself.

D: Another thing we can tell from reading Cleo is that you really know your stuff, whether it be in terms of the history or the mythology. How much research did you do when writing the book?

L: Oh, the research! I LOVE research, and can get lost for hours following interesting (and sometimes irrelevant) clues which ‘might just help the book’ *ahem*. I did a mass of research for these two books, because, although there is a strong fantasy element, I wanted the actual history to be as correct as I could make it. I went back to original sources in translation where I could (and there aren’t that many) – all the descriptions of things like feasts and decor are taken from actual reports of Egypt from around that time. For the second book it was much the same (though I had that original bank of knowledge to call on). What I’m proudest of, though, is my Roman detective work. I needed to find where the house of Pompeius Magnus was (because Cleo’s dad lived next door to him), and by piecing together information from various sources, I actually managed it!

D: Something we see a lot of in YA novels is something called ‘instantaneous love’ or ‘insta-love’. In your opinion, would you consider Khai and Cleo’s love to be ‘insta-love’?

L: The knotty question of insta-love is something which has come up a lot. The thing is, I don’t actually think Cleo and Khai qualify. She meets him when she’s 10 in the library – he’s kind to this lonely, geeky princess, and then she bumps into him when she’s running away from her sisters. At a time in her life which is pretty terrible, he reminds her of a place where she was happy. Of course she’s going to remember him (and fantasise over him)! And then, over the next four years, Isis makes them walk in each other’s dreams. Although it’s not gone into in great detail, those four years of true dreams are very intense(!). So although they’re not physically together, they are pretty set up for romance when they actually do meet. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough, and if so, that’s my fault. Or, possibly, we can blame it all on a scheming goddess…as you’ll see in CHOSEN, the course of true love doesn’t exactly run smooth!

D: The setting of Cleo, ancient Egypt, is one of my personal favourites. As an author, what is your favourite time period and location to write about?

L: Well, I love Ancient Egypt too. It’s been a joy to explore it in my writing and I still feel very close to it. I think it’s probably fair to say that I feel most comfortable writing about the far distant past – Ancient Greece is another place I love. But I also like the fantasy territory of what Diana Wynne Jones might have called ‘the world next door but one’. That’s essentially our world, but with magic. I’m probably never going to write straight, gritty realism, that’s for sure!

D: This question might be a bit cruel, but which character is your favourite and which did you most enjoy writing?

L: Oh you ARE cruel! By the end of the two books, my favourite character in both senses was still Cleo. She was always a strong voice in my head, she often didn’t do what I wanted her to – and writing and tracking her growth as a person was something I loved doing (though she caused me a lot of headaches). I know I took a risk writing her with such a modern voice – but I wanted her to be accessible to readers.

D: Destiny and kismet play a big role in Cleo, so do you believe in these things personally?

L: I do believe in fate – but in the sense that our fate is in our own hands. We make choices for ourselves and write our own destinies by doing so. But I do think that occasionally a lucky and unexpected chance comes along. If we seize it and make the most of it, it can change our lives. Where that comes from I can’t say – but I can never shake the superstitious feeling in my Celtic blood that something inexplicable and strange is at work when that happens. Mostly though, it’s down to hard work, and hoping you’re in the right place at the right time.

D: Personality wise, which character in Cleo would you say you were most like?

L: Ooh! Nobody has ever asked me this before. I find it quite easy to answer, though. Charm is the one I’m most like, though she’s definitely only a part of me and not in any way a carbon copy. I tend to take care of people a lot, and I am the Queen of Nicknames. There’s a lot more than that to Charm, though, and what happens to her definitely casts a shadow on her sunny character. There are some more interesting developments for her in CHOSEN, so you may be surprised.

D: To any aspiring writers out there could you spread some writing wisdom?

L: What I always say is this: apply bum to seat and get the words down on paper. That’s the only way you’ll finish a book. And also: read widely – anything and everything – but read with a critical eye. Train yourself to notice what works and what doesn’t and ask yourself why that is. It will feed back into your own writing and improve it.

D: We are all excited to read the upcoming sequel to Cleo, Chosen, and see how the story continues. Was delving back into Cleo’s world a difficult process, or did you find it easy?

L: I am mega-excited that CHOSEN is out next month too. Writing a second book always has its problems, but I welcomed the chance to go into Cleo’s world again and introduce new characters and places. Of course, that meant taking me out of the comfort zone of Alexandria (which I knew so well by then) and haring off down the Nile to places like Crocodilopolis (such a great name – how could I resist?) and then into the desert proper and across the Mediterranean. Once I got going and had done all my research, I did find it quite easy. I have a permanent, film-like landscape playing in my head when I write, and I could actually see everything that was going on.

D: Finally, what can readers expect to read in Chosen? Any juicy exclusives welcome!

L: Well, no spoilers, but… There will be a new love-interest (not saying who for). There will be another famous character from history appearing – but the reaction to him won’t be what you think it might. I’ve indulged my love of murder and the undead, and of writing blood splatter and guts. My favourite new character literally somersaults onto the pages of the book. That’s all I’m saying and I hope you’re intrigued!

D: Thank you so much for doing this interview Lucy, it’s an honour.

L: Thanks so much for having me on the blog – great questions, and such fun to answer!