Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Author Q&A - Katey Lovell - The Singalong Society for Singletons

Welcome to our first author Q&A on the Sheffield Libraries blog, and who better to interview than ardent library supporter and Sheffield adoptee Katey Lovell. Katey's novel The Singalong Society for Singletons is out on December 15th, 2016, and I happily dived between the pages of her new book to find out more.

Four friends, each at a cross roads in their lives and each dealing with broken hearts, recognise the value their friendship, laughter and, most importantly, singing are to help them through hard times. So they gather for regular meet ups, to watch a musical, throw their cares away and just have a great time!

The Singalong Society for Singletons could be classed as chick lit as all the components are here: friendship, love, heartache and humour, but it's actually more unique than that. Each chapter is based around a different musical (The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Oliver! etc.), so we are taken on a theatrical journey through the book, as the single friends cope with their different challenges in life to the backdrop of songs and themes from an array of different musical shows. It is a lovely idea which adds a completely new dimension to the standard chick lit theme and allows this story to stand out from the crowd.

The Singalong Society for Singletons is full of laughter, heartwarming moments, secrets, romance, friendship, characters with bags of personality and, most wonderfully, lots of great Sheffield references! With each musical, the friends grow and the story develops at a speedy pace, with each of the friends' lives moving in a, not always predictable, direction. This is a fun, feel-good and unputdownable read!


Katey Lovell - Author of The Singalong Society for Singletons
Now over to Katey Lovell, with thanks!

What inspired you to write The Singalong Society for Singletons?

Publishers Harper Impulse had offered me a contract for nine short stories (the e-book series The Meet Cute) in early 2015. By November of that year the first three stories had been published and were well received, which was when my editor encouraged me to try writing a novel. The title came to me before anything else, but as I've always loved musicals I soon thought of ways I could work the themes of popular musicals into a story about a group of friends who sing to cure their broken hearts.

You reference Sheffield a lot throughout your book and on your blog mentioned it as your “adopted city”. What made you come to Sheffield, and what do you love most about the city?

I moved to Sheffield in 1998 to study for an Early Childhood Studies degree at Sheffield Hallam University and by the end of my first semester was engaged to a Sheffielder!
As someone who grew up in a small market town (Monmouth, in South Wales), I never expected to stay this long, but Sheffield really doesn't feel like a city. Yes, this is where I roll out the Sheffield clichés! We're so fortunate to have the Peak District on our doorstep whilst enjoying the benefits of top-class theatres and music venues, and over the past few years Sheffield has also really come into its own with a wealth of new independent shops, cafés and pubs. However, the vintage clothes shops are probably my favourite way to while away a day as I love a bargain, along with a visit to the Central Library where my son and I browse the shelves looking for our next favourite reads. Whenever I'm in the city centre I'll invariably see people I know - Sheffield really is the world's largest village.

Music and musicals are the basis of your novel. How did you decide which musicals to include? How many musicals did you watch a part of your research and do you have a favourite?

Once I'd decided to write the novel the way I did (with a chapter for each musical) I knew I'd have a hard time choosing which ones to include. I started by making a list of my favourites, but also asked readers on Twitter and Facebook for suggestions. In the ten months it took me to write/edit The Singalong Society for Singletons I watched every film the group watch at least once, and also two which ended up being changed at the suggestion of my editor (Summer Holiday was substituted for Walking on Sunshine and Annie was replaced by Shrek - The Musical). Settling down to watch a film and calling it 'research' is a real perk of the job.
If pushed to choose a favourite I'd probably go with Grease. Rent, The Sound of Music, Les Mis and Chicago would be challengers too though - I like a few darker moments in my musicals. And my books too, for that matter!

I particularly enjoyed the chapter based on South Pacific, because it was a very emotionally charged section of your story. Which is your favourite chapter? Which was the most challenging to write?

My favourite to read is probably the one that was the most challenging to write - the Fame/Rent chapter. I cried as Liam's back story revealed itself to me, and that's exactly what happened - I hadn't planned it to turn out as dark as it did but before I knew it his whole character fell into place in that chapter. The Rocky Horror Show chapter has a special place in my heart too though and is probably the most 'Sheffieldy' section of the book, and was one of the easiest to write, partly because of the imagery of Frank N Furter, Magenta and co., and partly because it's set in the town centre I'm so familiar with.

The Singalong Society for Singletons contains a lovely mix of characters, all with unique personalities. Who was your favourite character to write about and why?

When I first started writing the book Hope was the protagonist. However, I soon realised that her snarky comments came across rather negatively. I'd hoped she'd have that balance of wit and cynicism that someone like Jo Brand has. When someone suggested Mon would be a better lead character I found Hope became more likeable. I'd say Hope or Liam are my favourites - they get the best one liners.

Where and when do you write, and how does this balance with your day job?

I try to write for at least an hour a day, every day, but that rarely happens. I almost always write at home in silence. Coffee shop writing sounds romantic, but I'm way too easily distracted for that to work for me.

Is there going to be a sequel to Singalong, and are you able to give any hints about this or anything else you’re working on?

There are no plans for a sequel at the moment, although I've had quite a few people who've read the book ask for one! I'd like to write more about the boys, maybe even something from Liam's point of view, so who knows? I suppose it'll partly depend on the response from readers and if Harper Impulse think there's a market for it.
I'm currently working on the edits for my second standalone novel, which is due to be released next summer. Whilst it's not set in Sheffield it's about a group of people who are all linked to the fictional Fir Tree Park (based loosely on two of my favourite places - Graves Park and Millhouses Park). It's a bit different to Singalong as it's told through the voices of four different women who all have their own unique connection to the park.

What do you think makes a good story?

For me it's about having characters that readers engage with. Most of my favourite characters in fiction are those I can relate to in some way or another - often it's the bookish ones like Hermione Granger or those who are strong-willed against the odds.

Where do you see yourself as a writer in the future?

I can't imagine a time where I'm not writing in one form or another, and I imagine I'll always write about friendships and relationships. I'd love to write an epic family saga, and a young adult book, and a whole shelf-full of heart-warming romance. Hopefully The Singalong Society for Singletons is just the beginning!


Huge thanks again to Katey for kindly taking time to take part in our Q&A.
The Singalong Society for Singletons is released on December 15th, and copies are available to reserve now from Sheffield Libraries.

Review & Q&A written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Making History by Stephen Fry

PhD Student Michael Young and Professor Leo Zuckerman hatch a plan to change history so that the concentration camps never existed: by making sure that Adolf Hitler is never born.

Fry has chosen an interesting subject and deals with it tactfully while still maintaining his trademark sense of humour. Making History asks questions of us: if we could change the past, would we? More importantly, even if we can change the past, should we? We may think we are acting to change things for the better, but we cannot foresee everything and this may lead to unexpected consequences.

Ultimately, though, Fry ends on a note of hope: the world can be a better place, whether it is despite or because of our actions.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like:

Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)

Friday, November 18, 2016

And the Winners are ...

On Tuesday 15th November 2016, children from across Sheffield, along with teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, library staff, special guests and the Lord Mayor of Sheffield gathered at the prestigious Crucible Theatre for the 28th Sheffield Children's Book Award!

What a day it was. This was probably the noisiest, most enthusiastic and fun filled ceremony to date! And all for the love of books!

The ceremony was introduced by Claire South of the Schools' and Young People's Library Service, who talked about everything the Sheffield library service has to offer and why reading is SO important.

Then came BBC's Trisha Cooper who, with her usual boundless energy, worked the children up into a book loving frenzy, ready to announce the book award winners. For the full list of shortlisted titles, all of which are brilliant, please see my previous blog post: The Sheffield Children's Book Award

First up was the Baby Book Award which had a special little party of its own in a room full of bouncing babies led by Martin Harwood the Music Man. Lots of fun was had.

Winner of the Baby Book Award was
Box - Min Flyte and Rosalind Beardshaw.

Back in the main auditorium, special characters (provided by Noodle Performance Arts) such as Frozen's Elsa, a Jedi and a rather smelly pirate, helped Trisha announce the main award winners as follows:

Picture Books:

Category Winner: The Zoomers' Handbook - Thiago & Ana de Moraes

Highly Commended: I Will Love You Anyway -  Mick & Chloe Inkpen

Commended: There's a Bear on my Chair - Ross Collins

Shorter and Longer Novels:

Category Winner: Uncle Gobb - Michael Rose & Neal Layton

Highly Commended: Wolf Wilder - Katherine Rundell

Commended: - A Boy Called Christmas - Matt Haig & Chris Mould

Young Adult:

Category Winner: One - Sarah Crossan

Highly Commended: Fire Colour One - Jenny Valentine

Commended: Liquidator - Andy Mulligan

Special Category - Celebrity Authors:

Category Winner: The Bolds - Julian Clary & David Roberts

Uncle Gobb - Michael Rosen & Neal Layton

A busy signing session took place after the ceremony, allowing children the opportunity to meet their favourite authors and illustrators. And finally, as if they hadn't worked hard enough, the authors and illustrators spread out across Sheffield into schools and libraries to hold special events with excited school children.

Huge congratulations to everyone who made the shortlist and to those who won prizes. A massive thank you to Jennie Wilson and the team at the Schools' Library Service for working so hard to create a magical and fun award ceremony and to Anne Frost for bringing bundles of babies together for the Baby Book Award.

The Sheffield Children's Book Award was a wonderful day. A celebration of fantastic books, brilliant authors, illustrators and of course, amazing libraries!

A BIG thank you to every person who came along and helped to make this celebration so special.

Same again next year then?

Winners L-R:- Chris Mould, Mick Inkpen, Thiago de Moraes, Chloe Inkpen, Michael Rosen, Lord Mayor Denise Fox, Sarah Crossan, Andy Mulligan, Rosalind Beardshaw, Min Flyte.

Baby Book Award L-R:- Layn Marlow, Min Flyte, Rosalind Beardshaw, Lauren Tobia, Kathy Henderson 

Babies love books!

Baby Book Award winners:- Min Flyte & Rosalind Beardshaw.

Picture Book Category Winner Thiago de Moraes signing copies of the Zoomers' Handbook

Characters courtesy of Noodle Performance Arts

Authors, illustrators, publishers and the Lord Mayor.

Library Service Manager Nick Patridge rounds off proceedings.

Article written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant).

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Sheffield Children's Book Award

Did you know that Sheffield Libraries has a book award? Can you believe that it's been running and growing since 1989? For context, this is the year films Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Batman and The Little Mermaid were released. For over 25 years we have been selecting, voting for and celebrating our favourite book releases.

So how does it work? Every year, around January, a stack of Sheffield Library staff come together, and fuelled by tea and biscuits, look through a long-list of the previous year's book releases, selecting only the very best to make the shortlist. These books are then sent out to schools and libraries throughout Sheffield, where children read and vote for their favourite books. That's what is special about the Sheffield Children's Book Award, it's children, well known for being the harshest of critics, who decide on the winners.

The Book Awards have been hosted in various locations over the years  but most recently the Award's home has been back at Sheffield's wonderful Crucible Theatre where the vibe has been electric.

2016 sees a new shortlist of dazzling titles, for which the votes are now in, and frantic preparations have begun for the award ceremony which will take place on Tuesday 15th November. School classes from around Sheffield will be invited to come along, make a lot of noise and meet some of their favourite authors and illustrators. It all makes for a very exciting day.

I bet you're keen to see this year's shortlisted titles? Make yourself comfortable and prepare to behold a list of marvellous books, all of which are available to borrow now from Sheffield Libraries.

Picture Books: 

The Bear and the Piano (David Litchfield), The Prince and the Porker (Peter Bently & David Roberts), There's a Bear in my Chair (Ross Collins), The Zoomer's Handbook Ana & Thiago De Moraes), The Girl with the Parrot on her Head (Daisy Hirst), I Will Love you Anyway (Mick & Chloe Inkpen).
Top: The Bear and the Piano, The Prince and the Porker and There's a Bear on my Chair. Bottom: The Zoomers' Handbook, The Girl with the Parrot on her Head and I Will Love you Anyway.

Shorter Novels:

Mango and Bambang The Not-a-Pig (Polly Faber & Clara Vulliamy), Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed (Michael Rosen & Neal Layton), The Royal Bake Off (Clémentine Beauvais & Becka Moor).
Mango and Bambang, Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed and The Royal Bake Off.

Longer Novels:

A Boy Called Christmas (Matt Haig & Chris Mould), The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair (Lara Williamson), The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell).
A Boy Called Christmas, The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair and The Wolf Wilder

Young Adult:

Joe All Alone (Joanna Nadin), Silence is Goldfish (Annabel Pitcher), Liquidator (Andy Milligan), Fire Colour One (Jenny Valentine), Panther (David Owen), One (Sarah Crossan).
Top: Joe All Alone, Silence is Goldfish and Liquidator. Bottom: Fire Colour One, Panther and One

Special Category:

Amazon Summer (Amy Wild), The Bolds (Julian Clary & David Roberts), The Person Controller (David Baddiel).
Amazon Summer, The Bolds and The Person Controller

The Baby Book Awards:

Night Night (Ladybird Books), Babies Don't Walk, They Ride! (Kathy Henderson & Lauren Tobia), The Wheels on the Bus (Yu-Hsuan Huang), I'll Catch you if you Fall (Mark Sperring & Layn Marlow), Things That Go (Simon Abbott), Box (Rosalind Beardshaw).
Top: Night Night, Babies Don't Walk They Ride, and The Wheels on the Bus. Bottom: I'll catch you if you Fall, Things That Go and Box.

Schools Library Officer, Jennie Wilson, leads the planning of the Book Awards and spends much of October and November spinning plates, in order to bring us a fantastically fun ceremony which will excite children about reading for pleasure, books and libraries. That's what it is all about!

RSVPs are coming in from authors and illustrators as we speak and so far we have a lovely list of people attending the ceremony, and more still to confirm.

Currently due to attend the ceremony are:
  • Clementine Beauvais (author - The Royal Bake Off)
  • Becka Moor (illustrator - The Royal Bake Off)
  • Peter Bentley (author - The Prince and the Porker
  • Sarah Crossan (author - One)
  • Mick Inkpen (author I Will Love you Anyway)
  • Chloe Inkpen (illustrator I Will Love you Anyway)
  • Thiago De Moraes (illustrator - The Zoomers' Handbook)
  • Polly Faber (author - Mango and Bambang)
  • Daisy Hirst (author & illustrator - The Girl with the Parrot on her Head)
  • Chris Mould (illustrator - A Boy Called Christmas)
  • David Owen (author - Panther)
  • Michael Rosen (author - Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed)
  • Rosalind Beardshaw (illustrator - Box)
  • Layn Marlow (illustrator - I'll Catch you if you Fall)
  • Sarah Hastelow (illustrator - Night Night)
  • Lauren Tobia (illustrator - Babies Don't Walk, They Ride)

Watch this space after November 15th, for the lowdown on the award ceremony day, and to find out who won what!

- Written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

Cover image for The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher
The sea has always fascinated me, which is why I picked up this book. The prose is so very rich that I had to ration the amount I read in one go, so as not to overdose, the way one might only have a small slice of lavish chocolate cake per sitting. 

Fletcher’s pace glides, bounces, and slips between points of view, at times even for the same character, and it was sometimes difficult to keep track of everybody, which is where the inclusion of a family tree was helpful. Most of the characters are related to one another in some way, whether by blood or marriage, and it is important to know what these relationships are in order to understand their reactions.

The novel seeks to examine the nature of loss, and the fragmentation in its wake that is felt by those who are left behind. In this way, the sense of confusion and disjointedness I experienced were appropriate. The changing points of view and the wide cast of characters serve to reinforce their turbulent lives and the influence of the sea. Reading it, I experienced a wide range of emotions, from sadness and melancholy to sympathy, understanding and elation. This is a book that catches hold and doesn't let go.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like:

Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is possibly best known for ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’, but this was the first book of his that I've read. 

Sacks starts from the idea that the vast majority of us are inherently musical and he discusses various disorders which have influenced an individual's musical abilities or how they perceive music. He outlines case studies and anecdotes without trivialising each individual's experience. The stories frequently moved me greatly and I developed a great sympathy for the people involved, as well as a better understanding of the patience and care that is needed to cope in many cases. I was also grateful that the patients, relatives, carers and doctors had decided to share their experiences as a lot of them are deeply personal. I hadn't heard of most of the disorders, and had no idea that people's musical ability would be affected at all by these, let alone how. Sacks' prose reads like an accessible textbook. He does not dumb down the scientific language, but he does take the trouble to explain the concepts in more detail to enable a layperson to grasp his meaning.

The most moving chapter for me was the final one on dementia. It eloquently describes how music is often the only way that people who are frozen can become animated, agitated people can become calm, and silent people can find their voice. Music seems inherent to us as a species, and allows people to be united and set free, even if it is only for a short time. This is its greatest power, and we mustn't take it for granted.

If you like the sound of this (excuse the pun!), you might also like:

Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Chatterbooks Celebration

Chatterbooks reading groups have been running successfully across many Sheffield Libraries for quite some time now. These groups aim to encourage children to gain a love of reading for pleasure, books and the library all while creating new friendships and building confidence!

1st - 8th of October 2016 is Chatterbooks week, where this fantastic book group is celebrated nationwide! We chose to join in with this, by running a junior writers' workshop hosted by author Nik Perring.

As 2016 also marks 100 years of Roald Dahl, children were invited to the writers' workshop by way of surprise, edible golden tickets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style (created by our very own, talented staff member Jennifer Wilson). These were given out at all of our Chatterbooks sessions.

On the 5th October at 5.30pm, children from across the city gathered in the Central Children's Library and took part in 2 hours of their favourite book chat, story plotting and finally writing, all enthusiastically led by Nik.

It was a fun filled two hours full of noisy chatter and laughter making this event really feel like a celebration of these long standing and brilliant book groups.

23 children, worked together to create three imaginative stories (including themes such as time travelling biscuits, explosive cupcakes, angry Ghostbusters and vengeful cheesey wotsits!). There is no denying that children write the greatest stories, and these will be compiled together into an actual book by Nik, which the children will receive soon.

Felix Akers said he had a brilliant time at the event and he wanted to share with us his favourite books: - "My favourite books are Animals Ark books by Lucy Daniels and I like the Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves."

Tina Barber, Library and Information Officer at Schools and Young People's Library Service said:- "Sheffield Libraries' celebration of Chatterbooks Week was a fantastic event hosted by the author Nik Perring.  Children from Chatterbooks groups across the city came along to Central Children's Library and had lots of quick thinking fun making up verbal stories in a story chain.  They all had the opportunity to meet new friends and discuss what they liked to read."

Nik Perring said:- "It was a genuine pleasure working with such a brilliant group of young writers and readers, and seeing how utterly excited they were about books and reading and stories is absolutely terrific and a testament to the amazing Chatterbooks book groups the library service run."

This was a great event which created a buzz and excitable atmosphere in the Children's library, and that's what we are all about! Encouraging a love of reading while making the library a fun, friendly and welcoming place to visit.

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended this Chatterbooks celebration and took part so enthusiastically, and also to Nik Perring for hosting another fun and inspiring workshop.

We will be launching a new Chatterbooks group in the Central Children's Library very soon. If you are interested in attending this, please contact us via e-mail or phone listed on the following link:

Information regarding Chatterbooks can be found on the Reading Agency website:

You can find out more about Nik Perring on his website:

Written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant).