Best wishes for an amazing 2016 - may it be full to bursting with love, happiness, friendship and great new stories to experience!
I'm feeling excited for what 2016 will bring for Burst. It's the first full year for my fledgling company, and I'm planning for lots of firsts - first printed book and first creative workshop being at the top of the list.
As well as discovering new creators to work alongside and producing some fantastic new books (sign up to the Burst newsletter here and I'll keep you posted), I'm also looking forward to a year of reading new books and rediscovering some old classics - and it's one of my resolutions to set aside time to just enjoy reading, on my own and with my children. I've been given a few beautiful notebooks for Christmas (I love notebooks and can never have enough) and think I will chose one to be my reading journal for 2016.
I've just ordered a set of Flower Fairies books by Cicely Mary Baker, as I had these in my childhood and loved them - but somehow they got lost along the way of life and I can't wait to read them again and share them with my daughter. I also recently bought a very old copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales and have started to delve into that which feels like such a treat. And a new book at the top of my To Read List is Cressida Cowell's How to Fight a Dragon's Fury - the latest in her always brilliant How to Train a Dragon series.
One book I am also excited to read is one given to me by my mother-in-law. It's an old, typed and bound manuscript of a children's story written by her grandmother, Dorothy MacNulty, which she found when looking through books belonging to her mother. Some of Dorothy's stories were published in the early/middle 20th Century - but this one doesn't appear to have been so I'm looking forward to seeing if it has publishing potential.
Right, time for a shameless plug of Burst's latest ebook Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin which is available for a limited time at the reduced price of £1.99 / $2.99. Toby has a new year's celebration and a new beginning in the book, and I thought I would include a second extract in this blog (first extract in Boxing Day blog). It's New Year's Day and Toby has recently arrived at Silverbells - a training academy for Vallowen - and is heading to Sigurd's Hall for the First Feast:
"The whole campus of Silverbells looked beautiful in the sunlight, which caught the frost on the slanted roofs of the buildings and they glistened as if they were overlaid with crystal. Ahead of them was the large building with snowy turrets and grand stained-glass windows, the one they had ridden past the night before in the sleigh. Beyond it, and joined by covered stone colonnades, were other impressive buildings; a circular coliseum of white and pink marble, a chapel-like structure made of black stone that had a twisted spire – and a great glass dome filled with odd looking trees and vegetation. All of them were dwarfed by the imposing size of the main building.
‘This place is incredible!’ Leo sighed.
‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ Katie giggled, ‘you get used to it after a while.’
They headed down the path to Sigurd’s Hall. The foyer was packed with students of every age and appearance and the noise was deafening. Toby remembered he’d missed breakfast and his stomach rumbled uncomfortably.
A gruff voice echoed, ‘Quiet please!’ but Toby couldn’t see who was speaking beyond the crowds of students. The noise in the foyer immediately vanished. ‘Good morning. Prepare to enter the Solar in silence. As you move inside, proceed directly to your garrison commander and await further instructions.’
Two great doors swung open at the end of the foyer and sunlight burst through, illuminating the place with a silvery glare. Inside, strains of stringed instruments filled the air with sweet music, and the smell of food made Toby’s stomach gurgle. Slowly, the crowd filed in and the Clock Tower Försters found themselves at the back of the queue.
By the doors, Toby saw the source of the voice – a short but muscly man in his fifties. He had sandy blonde hair, but most of it had evacuated his scalp and seemed to have settled above his top lip. His skin and eyes were as pink as pigs. ‘Come on then,’ he bellowed, ‘no dawdling! Dear oh dear … I see the North Wind has sent us another batch of striplings and dingleberries this year.’ Toby looked at Katie Hendricks in confusion.
‘I have no idea,’ she shrugged when they were inside the doors, ‘Major Snub makes up new insults every year!’
The Solar was a gigantic circular room whose roof was made of some sort of glass or crystal and cut into triangular panels. Sunlight gushed through it and refracted in rainbows all over the walls, making them sparkle. Toby felt like he was inside a kaleidoscope with patterns shifting and changing with each step he took. A deep balcony swept around the back of the room behind Toby, draped with swathes of blue and silver cloth. Ahead of him, above a semi-circular stage, hung a large blue shield painted with a silver bell.
The room was laid out for a feast of some sort, with circular tables placed into four groups. Commander Clemency stood near one group of tables and beckoned them over. As they sat down, Katie Hendricks leant over to tell them that the Solar wasn’t always laid out like that – only on special occasions. Normally they were allowed to mix with all the other garrisons.
Toby suddenly thought of Cadmus and looked for him at the Black Ice Vault area, which was full of students mostly dressed in black. He spotted Cadmus, who was unmistakable with his bright white hair and pale skin. Petyr Grayling was talking to him intently. Cadmus looked queasy. ‘Poor Cadmus,’ Toby nudged Dash and pointed to their friend, ‘he doesn’t look very happy, does he?’
‘Look at Grayling bending his ear,’ Dash grimaced, ‘you wouldn’t be over the moon either. Well at least his fashion sense isn’t out of place. He’s dressed head to toe in black!’
‘Students –’ Major Snub slammed the Solar doors and marched into the room, ‘stand up for the entrance of your teachers.’ Clemency rolled her eyes and flapped her hands at them to stand. As they stood, a door at the back of the stage opened and the strangest oddment of people and reindeer walked out and crossed the stage to sit at a long table.
They were led by a very tall, broad-chested man with a black fur hat and light blue robes embroidered with silver symbols all over. His hair looked whiter even than Cadmus’s did, and he had a long beard that was braided with blue threads. Whilst the other members of staff were seated around the long table, this man stayed on the stage behind a black lectern. He reminded Toby more of a great Viking Lord than a teacher."
Happy New Year and happy reading!