Book Reviews

Interview with Jon Mayhew


If you can’t wait for The Demon Collector there are FREE and terrific  downloadable stories available on the MORTLOCK website.










Jon! Am so excited about The Demon Collectors, did you mind me nagging you and nagging you for a copy?

Yes, I had to go to anger-management counselling to calm down and my left eyelid still twitches in an awkward way when I think about it, look!

I’d like to say I’m sorry but I’m so not,  I loved it. How do you feel about it? It’s your



second book, when your first, Mortlock, pretty much established you as a brilliant writer of creepy , fantastic tales  – were you nervous?

Very. I was putting the finishing touches to the Demon Collector as the reviews for Mortlock came in and I thought, “I just can’t match this.” I was quite down about it until Ele, my lovely editor at Bloomsbury contacted me to say that she loved it. I’m kind of at that stage with book 3 now.

Oooo, book three, is it nearly finished?  Could I have a copy? Uh oh, your left eyelid is twitching, urm, moving swiftly on… back to the book, the demons all sound very realistic , did you do a lot of research?

I did the basic internet stuff and then got hold of some texts on demons and riddles. Paradise Lost inspired me again. I love the scene in which Satan gathers all the fallen angels around him and they decide how best to fight God. Moloch was the demon who wanted to go back and start the battle again and he plays a crucial role in the book.

Other demons came from my imagination, as did the ‘folk tales’ that punctuate the book.

I loved those folk tales and the riddles, they root the book, lend it a kind of history;  it feels like a classic book. Is it true, about the riddles and the idea that demons are supposed to be related to the seven deadly sins?

Some demons did seem to be attached to certain types of sin, not necessarily a ‘deadly sin.’ Some were meant to encourage curiosity or over-confidence. In different cultures, however, the attachments become blurred and swapped around.
The use of riddles felt natural and the idea came from a long line of ballads called ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded.’ In these, a maiden has to answer a series of riddles to protect her virtue from a mysterious elfin or magical would-be lover. Scarborough Fair is the most well-known version. But some versions have her battling to save her soul.

There’s also a whole series of ‘False Knight on the Road’ ballads in which a little boy meets a demon in disguise and has to enter into a battle of wits or be taken away.


What did you think of my horse riddle? Did you get it? It was Nag! Ok so in a  battle of wits between me and a demon, I’d be dead wouldn’t I?  Think I’d be better of being one than battling one – if you were a demon – what would you be?

I would probably be a demon of sloth… if I could be bothered…

Do you have any suspicions about any one you know?

Hmmm. Well I know a few demons of envy… And some of gluttony too. I haven’t met a demon of lust yet…




Do you think we should run a demon poll, see what turns up? What are the seven deadly sins – sloth, greed, lechery…urm….

That might be fun: Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath, Lust, Envy, Pride, Greed.

But in the 17th century, sloth replaced despair which I think is rather funny (in a warped way) It was more a question of semantics and interpretation but clearly there was appoint in time when it was no longer a sin to be miserable but it was a sin not to work hard! Wonder which boss thought that one up?

I think that might have been my dad. You deal with some pretty big stuff in this book – the way humans have obliterated species, judge everything by their own standards. You exorcising any of your own demons in writing it?

In a way. I always watch and read the News with mounting disbelief at the ability of mankind to find new ways to make others suffer. Every day brings more inhumanity, hence the questions Demon Collector raises.

I also have something of a bee in my bonnet about the way we as a nation sell our culture so cheaply. The riddles that the demons value were part of an oral tradition of music and story that has been largely lost and fragmented. Our culture has been boiled down to the cross of St George but how many people know what happens in the Mummer’s play featuring our patron saint? How many of us know what a mummer’s play is? So maybe the demons are a metaphor for our own culture and identity. It’s an important point because if we did know our musical and story traditions, we’d realise how much we have in common with our ‘celtic’ neighbours and the rest of the people of Europe! (Rant over)

You make a good point. I wonder if we felt more grounded in our own culture we’d be less afraid of others?

I like to think so. I think Britain is very accepting of other cultures but mocks and devalues its own. As a result we leave ourselves open to false ideas of what being ‘British’ or ‘English’ is and they’re usually unpleasant ones!

Thanks so much for talking to me Jon, now, about Book 3, you know, I could check it over for spelling mistakes…

Oy! Put that back! No peeking!

Oh alright then – how about setting us a riddle to be going on with?

Okeydokey! How about:

Riddle 1: What goes up a mountain and down a mountain but never moves?

Riddle 2: What has a front and sides but no back?

Answers in comments please. Let’s see how many of you would win in a Demon Battle of Wits.


Book Reviews

Fiona Dunbar on Stories, Science and Series.

There's a whole world out there Dylan, let's grab it by the wrist

My agent will be giving Dylan and Mouse  a gentle push into the world very soon. It’s a new thing for me, writing a series, and challenging.  Ever the professional, not just seeking an excuse to read yet more children’s books, I researched the genre by reading a lot of series fiction. During this process I  came across The Silk Sisters trilogy by Fiona Dunbar.

Trilogies differ from series in a number of ways, but boy, did these books teach me some things about tight writing.  Fiona creates new worlds and characters as effectively as if she were painting them and her story arcs are an architectural wonder . The Silk Sisters books are a romping mix of science fiction and adventure and I was thrilled when Fiona agreed to talk to me about them.

What made you want to write a trilogy set in the future?

I didn’t! It sort of happened by accident. I started out wanting to use fashion as a theme, because it has always interested me – but it doesn’t lend itself to storytelling very easily! It’s just very visual. Then I started reading up about Smart clothing and I was really excited by the possibilities there. Also, fashion is all about identity, and that got me thinking along the lines of identity theft; what if the technology existed that would literally enable someone to steal a person’s identity?

Was this your first attempt at science fiction?

Yes, and as the concept grew in my mind, I kept telling myself, who do you think you are? You’re not a scientist! I wasn’t sure I was ‘qualified’ to write science fiction. But then I realised that what passes for ‘science’ in this story is really more fantasy than anything. All you need for a story like this is a starting point – the technology that exists now, and its projected development over the next few years – and the ability to imagine the directions in which that might go. It’s made up! It isn’t real, folks.

Talking technology, you have people carrying around things called shels – those are basically iPhones, right?

Well, whatever version of that we’re likely to be carrying around in, say, twenty years’ time, yes. I just don’t call them iPhones, for obvious reasons. But you have to call them something. Certain aspects of the world I’ve built here are very recognisable, because I wasn’t interested in writing something set in the year 2525 or something; it’s deliberately a world that’s kind of just around the corner. Also, you have to reflect the reality that not everyone has super-duper cutting-edge technology. We have cars you can instruct verbally now, but only a tiny minority of people have those.

So you’re really talking about the world we live in today?

I think that’s true of any dystopian fiction. And the truth is, you can’t talk about fashion without addressing the side of it that is very ugly indeed – more so now than at any other time in history. What I hope readers will get from Silk Sisters is an understanding that the more stuff you acquire, the bigger the cost to other people. WHO is going to sew all those sequins on that dress that retails at only £9.99? Someone slaving away for next to nothing in a sweatshop somewhere in India, that’s who. High street shopping has become a moral minefield.

But the Silk Sisters isn’t about sweatshops in India.

No, that’s right. I’m sure there’s a very good book to be written on that subject, but I’m probably not the one to write it. But I do hope that in Silk Sisters, the overall point about the human cost of indulgence is not lost.

I really love the combination of accident and magic that underlies Rorie’s transformation. What gave you the idea for her chameleon powers?

Thank you! All my books have a supernatural element – I can’t write naturalistic stories! So it was logical that for Silk Sisters, that element would relate to clothing. It’s also a metaphor for adolescence – as is the caterpillar/butterfly motif that runs through the trilogy. In adolescence you go through the biggest physical change you are ever likely to experience, and that holds an enduring fascination for me. Not only that, but in a sense you try out different identities during this time: which social group do you belong to, or aspire to belong to? What music do you like? How do you express yourself though the way you dress? These things are incredibly important to you at that age.

I’d love to be able to do that now!  It makes me feel sorry for Elsie, Rorie’s younger sister. Rorie has this amazing power but Elsie is just an ordinary kid.  Why does nothing supernatural happen to her?

My, that really would be over-egging the pudding! A bit like giving Lois Lane special powers, I feel. Elsie is jealous of Rorie, of course – but she deals with it. She’s there because she provides the flipside to Rorie, if you like. They’re a bit of a double-act, with Rorie as the straight one and

 Elsie as the one who gets all the laughs and does outrageous things. She’s usually the one whose actions move the plot along, because she is so utterly sure of herself and has no inhibitions. Also, in contrast to Rorie, she is obsessed with fashion! Given that the plot centres on the fashion world, it made sense to have someone like this  – Rorie isn’t really interested at all.

So which character are you: Rorie or Elsie?

I’m a bit of both! When I was Rorie’s age (13) I was much more like her: a follower, rather than a leader. I always latched onto someone more confident, more pro-active. It took me years to outgrow that…probably not until I reached my thirties! So I guess that by giving Rorie her chameleon powers, I’m indulging in a bit of wish-fulfilment, because that process is accelerated. Rorie is thrust into extreme situations and is forced to act on them; she emerges a far stronger, more confident person at the end. As for the Elsie side of me: well, when I was her age (7), dress-up was absolutely my favourite thing to do. Again, it’s all about experimenting with roles, and that’s an important part of growing up. I still love an excuse to dress up – but having said that, I actually spend most of my time slobbing around the house in jeans and an old t-shirt, and I revel in that too!

Most dystopian fiction is aimed at adults or young adults. What made you want to write a dystopian trilogy for tweens?

Because that’s the age group I’m used to writing for, and I never seem to tire of it! As I say, that age of 12/13 holds an enduring fascination for me. Also: why not? If no one else is writing this sort of thing for younger readers, then all the more will come to me! I’ve got a fantastic postbag of fan-mail for Silk Sisters, so I must be doing something right. I suppose the only difficulty has been one of perception: I think it may have missed a whole swathe of potential readership because for whatever reason, it’s sometimes assumed that this is some sort of chick-lit thing, and it isn’t. That’s not a criticism of chick-lit, by the way – it’s simply not an accurate description of what I’m doing here, that’s all.

Where do you think that perception comes from?

Pink Chameleon (Silk Sisters) (The Silk Sisters)
Pink and Sparkly belies Tough and Sparky.

I think it’s a bit of a snobbery thing, to be honest; because my writing is largely humorous, it’s sometimes perceived as trivial. It’s the same with covers; pink & sparkly sells, but the downside is that some people are put off by that.

Pink Chameleon's Japanese cover.

I’ve thought that about the covers – I love the Japanese versions, they’re fab. Ahem, back to the important bit, what’s between the covers.  Did you find the trilogy easy to write?

No, it was incredibly difficult! After the success of Lulu Baker, I was asked to follow up with another trilogy, which meant constructing something I knew from the outset would have enough mileage to fill three books. It wasn’t like that with Lulu Baker, where initially I was just happy to get the first one published! Then the others followed on – but there was no Master Plan, as it were. So yeah, it was hard…that’s why I’m now writing a series. It’s easier!

I’m glad to hear series writing is easier – and I can’t wait to read your new books. It’s the Kitty Slade series isn’t it? Are you finding it more fun to write?

Oh I wouldn’t say more fun – I had loads of fun with Silk Sisters! But also a lot of agony. This is just more straighforward, because I get to start afresh each time with the storyline. Inevitably the characters evolve a bit from one story to the next, so there is a bigger story arc of sorts – but I prefer to make things up as I go along. I realise now that I’m not a big one for detailed forward planning, plot-wise. I’ve been stuck so many times, and every time, without exception, the reason for that has been thinking I had to have the whole thing mapped out in advance. It takes confidence to trust your instincts and just let the words flow, and I think I’ve finally learned to do that without agonising too much.

One last thing – when can we read Kitty Slade?

There will be six books in all; the first one, Divine Freaks, is out on May 5th, and the second one, Fire and Roses, is out on September 1st. Once again, there is a supernatural element, in that Kitty sees ghosts. Sometimes there’s a historical element to them, sometimes crime – and always a mystery to be solved. If my readers find them scary and funny at the same time, I will have succeeded!

Divine Freaks (Kitty Slade)
Kitty Slade


They sound great. Thanks for answering my questions Fiona.

Thank you. Your writing is so lively and entertaining, and I can’t wait to see your books on the shelves!

Book Reviews, For Readers

An experiment in blogging…

Apparently, it’s important  to have an on-line presence that isn’t entirely Facebook. I tried Twitter but it made my eyes go funny and then I remembered, I have a blog! A pathetic, neglected thing that fell down the back of the internet, never-the-less, a blog.

All I had to do is fish it out from behind the internet with some sort of coat hanger contraption and write something on it.

You might think, given there are so many funny, interesting and useful blogs, that you don’t need mine. To be honest, you’d be right BUT I do have a cunning plan. I shall  write nice things about people. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves,  don’t they? That should guarantee me at least the occasional reader. Tell you what, if you’re feeling a little gloomy, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can cheer you up.

Today’s experimental niceness goes to:

The towering talents that are  Candy GourlayTall Story a novel by Candy Gourlay and Jonathan Mayhew who are planning their book launches for ‘Tall Story’ and ‘Mortlock.’ Am madly excited about the launch of these  careers, they are going to be HUGE! And not in an eating-too-much-cake way.

Harriet Goodwin who  was pipped at the post for the Blue Peter Book Award by Ali Sparkes, fine company you’re keeping there Hat. If you haven’t read ‘The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43’ I suggest you do so, there are things about the underworld we all need to know. Also, it is  ‘way cool’. Ahem, get me, down with the kids.

Gillian Philip and Mary Hoffman were recently nominated for *trumpet fanfare* the CILIP Carnegie medal. Doffing of caps to these two please.

Atticus the Storyteller: 100 Stories from GreeceOn the home front, my son discovered the brilliant ‘Atticus The Storyteller’ by Lucy Coats – here’s his review. Alright, it doesn’t carry quite the prestige of the Carnegie, but his approval is pretty darned brilliant in my eyes. Also, it’s possibly the first time in months he’s read anything that wasn’t by Philip Ardagh ( the bearded wonder) to whom grateful thanks must go for showing there is reading beyond Horrid Henry.

There we are. I enjoyed that.

Meanwhile, back in Mudville, I am coming to the end of another Dylan and Mouse story.It’s not quite finished but it is also not in the bin. It nearly was but some kind friends, notably Julie Wilkie and Nicky Schmidt , saved it and told me not to be so silly. I’m glad they did because the piece of  story that was missing has finally slotted into place and I no longer want to stick a shoe through my computer screen.

That story wasn’t the only thing I wanted to bin this week:

I’d happily have binned the request for a planning application to ‘regularise’ ( vomit) something our local council have been quite happy with for the ten-ish years.

Or the fact our bank manager wants to visit this month and I haven’t got the budget finished. Can I get away with last years, do you think,  if I make it look as if we’ll actually make some money? Might work if I ply him with lots of cake.

Then there’s eldest daughter’s genius idea for her 16th birthday. Having spent 2 weeks trying to persuade me to buy her a pig, she now wants a kitten. Not just any kitten, mind. A Ragdoll. £400!

Alright, cute, but what exactly is wrong with homing a rescue cat? I think she comes from a different planet to me, one in which money is no object and nobody abandons animals.

All that rubbish can go in the bin along with  the stink on my dogs coat.


That’s better. Quite therapeutic this blogging thing. I might do it again.