Monday 2 February 2015

Book Review, Author Interview & Giveaway: Nick Hawthorne and the Banefires of Autumn (Albion Chronicles Book One) by Craig Booker

Book Title: Nick Hawthorne and the Banefires of Autumn (Albion Chronicles Book One)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 434 (Paperback); 419 (E-Book)
Author: Craig Booker
Date Published: 1st July 2014


In Albion, it is almost the time of the Conjunction, and the witch Nightshade is seeking to unleash a millennia of evil forces upon the land.

Only a small handful of folk, headed up by Sir Benedict Harkness and his brother, the enigmatic The Eyes of the Wind, are aware of her plan, and set about trying to locate the Charm, an amulet with the power to awaken the Lady Gray, the only person with this power to stop Nightshade.

Fifteen-year-old Nick Hawthorne is plunged into this maelstrom of alien malevolence when he finds the talisman near his home. Against his will, but terrified of Nightshade's familiar, the Ilnure, which has been dispatched to England to secure the Charm.

Nick is whisked off to Albion by Sir Benedict via a Magickal 'Gate'. There, he and his companions must locate the Sleeping Hill, resting place of the Lady Gray. But there's a problem - no-one knows where it is, and they have just six weeks to find it!

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Nick Hawthorne and the Banefires of AutumnNick Hawthorne and the Banefires of Autumn by Craig Booker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recommended this book to me, as she knew I loved Young Adult Fantasy. I'm glad she did, because I LOVED it!

Nick Hawthorne is a normal fifteen year old teen. I liked him a lot. He is full of himself, as teens tend to be and a bit angst-y. But when he becomes involved in a dangerous quest in a parallel world called Albion, Nick finds out that monsters are real and he's braver than he thought.

I started to read this book and was quickly hooked. The story is told from several points of view, although Nick is the main character. Sir Benedict Harkness is a fabulous character. He is a father figure to young Nick and takes him under his wing. Eyes of The Wind is Sir Benedict's brother, who is also known as The Rider, and is enigmatic and stoic, but incredibly brave. I liked this character too. I really liked Steel and Feydeau; they have completely different temperaments, but are fast friends. And they, along with Sir Benedict, Gwyn ap-Rhys (the Dodman) and Eyes of The Wind make up a team that strongly reminded me of the motley crew of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of The Rings'. There are several other characters that have a cameo in the story, such as the hermit Crystaljack, and the foxy (literally) Bracken-le-Rose, not to mention Harlequin, but they all left an impression on me and had me wondering if I would see them again.

The character development is wonderful; I felt like I knew them all, even the scary and deadly witch, Nightshade - who doesn't make an appearance until late in the book - but whose presence is felt all the way throughout the story. The world development of Albion is wonderful too. The author gave it a medieval feeling to it, with it's horses, wagons and fire torches; I loved it! There is plenty of action, danger and adventure, which kept me turning the pages. However, I did find some of the words the author used (correctly I may add) an odd choice. I have an extensive vocabulary, but even I had to look up a couple of words that are actually old English in origin and are not widely in use today. But, in a way, these old words gave the story an authenticity and originality that is missing from today's fantasy novels.
The final showdown between Nick and Nightshade is a little anti-climatic (or so I felt) after a huge battle scene between Eyes of The Wind and the Ilnure (Nightshade's familiar), but it left me wanting to read the next book in the series as soon as possible to find out what happens next!

Craig Booker has written a fantastic debut young adult fantasy.The author blends English myths and legends, cultural history and fantasy in such a way, it sucks a reader in. I love his fast paced writing style, but found some of the story did not flow as well as it could have, due to abrupt changes, or slower flow, in scenes. There is one scene which seems to slow the story down a bit too much in my opinion; this scene is where Sir Benedict visits his home and he finds a magickal book. I understand the importance of this scene, but the slower pace it portrayed threw the story off it's pace. Other readers may not feel the same way, so I will leave it to them to decide for themselves. This is an author to watch, and I will follow his career with interest.

I highly recommend this book to teens aged 14 and above, and to adults who love reading YA Fantasy. - Lynn Worton

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Author Interview:

1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Probably when I first read Lord of the Rings - I was around 10 years old! I bought book 3 first as it was the only one in the newsagents, and read it in a week. Then I went and bought the full trilogy in a single volume, and read it all. I was astounded at the world Tolkien had created, and wanted to try and do the same. But differently, if you follow...

2. How long does it take you to write a book?

 Let’s say around a year, give or take. If I could write full time I’d be a lot faster.

3. What do you think makes a great story?

Realistic characterisation and conflict, plus, fast-moving entertaining stuff with lots of unexpected twists and turns.

4. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I can only write when I’m not at work – at my real job, that is. I’m best starting around 9am and working till lunch, then I’ll review and possibly polish what I wrote earlier. But I can and will write when the muse strikes. Always carry a notepad and pen with you!

5. How do you balance family and writing?

I have a very small family circle, so it’s probably easier than for most authors. My wife works some evenings and weekends, which helps – when she’s around we’ll do things together.

6. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

For the fantasy stuff it’s easy. I have a very overactive imagination. Plus, I decided to base the ‘Albion Chronicles’ trilogy on a mythical land peopled by characters and creatures drawn from British folklore and folksong, and there is plenty of source material out there. As a musician with one foot in the ‘folk’ camp, I’m also very familiar with loads of traditional song lyrics. As regards the ‘Impossibilities’ (impossible crime) stories, it’s purely my imagination at work – and keeping eyes and ears open. You never know what you might come across to inspire the next solution to a locked room murder!

7. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book/s?

How my characters take on lives of their own. They sometimes say and do the most surprising things.

8. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I have no favourites. They’re all my children. How can you choose a favourite child? Sorry, does that sound weird?

9. Are your characters based on anyone you know?

Never consciously, though when I was a child and a teen I read comics - sorry, graphic novels - voraciously. Some of the artwork in them may have permeated my subconscious. I realised when I created ‘The Eyes of the Wind’ that (in my mind at least) he looked like the splash panel character from an old DC magazine, a representation of Jack o’Lantern.

10. Do you have a favourite place you love to write?

At my dining room table. Honestly.

11. How hard is it to get published?

If you want to make a go of it and go down the traditional route (hardback/paperback with an established publisher) it’s bloody hard. So is getting an agent (something I never managed). But if you’re more easily satisfied, it’s never been easier to publish yourself electronically.

12. What do your family and friends think about your books?

Hard to say! My family and friends don’t tend to read the genres in which I write. But I think they’re proud. And clever. They might be telling me what I want to hear.

13. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I love travelling to far-off places, the more exotic the better. I also play keyboards and guitars with my band Tyburn (‘rock music with a folk edge’). I’m passionate about films and tv too – there’s never been a better selection of movies or programmes to choose from! I’m also into photography. And I must say I enjoy spending as much time as possible with my wife.
14. Do you have any suggestions to help aspiring writers better themselves and their craft? If so, what are they?

Don’t give up. Always find time to write. Subscribe to Writers’ News and buy a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Read as much as you can, especially in the genre in which you wish to write.

15. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

When I was around 5 years old I wanted to be a train driver. But you must understand that when I was that age, steam trains were still all the rage, and I was fascinated by the sheer size and power of them.

16. What are your favourite books and which authors inspire you?

Fantasy – Tolkien, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Michael Moorcock. Impossible crimes – John Dickson Carr – of course!

17. For an aspiring writer what do you feel are certain do's and don’ts for getting their material published?

Do – send your work only when you feel it’s ready (first drafts rarely are); work and work and work on your synopsis; research the publishers interested in your genre and only send your work to them; send exactly what your prospective publisher asks for, no more and no less (it’s no use sending a ten page synopsis when they ask for two). Don’ts – don’t pester a publisher unnecessarily when you’ve submitted to them; and don’t expect fame and fortune!

18. What are you working on now?

I’m polishing book 2 of ‘The Albion Chronicles’, ‘Nick Hawthorne and the Crossbones of Winter’. I’m also two-thirds of the way through book 3, ‘Nick Hawthorne and the Deepdark of Spring’. And, just to keep things fresh, I’m making copious notes for a new trilogy/quadrilogy for when I finish ‘The Albion Chronicles’. All very exciting stuff, and just a few the reasons why it’s absolutely awesome to be an author!

About the Author:

Craig Booker grew up in Ecclesfield, a village which borders Sheffield in the north of England. His first novel - a handwritten full-length science fantasy work whose title he's long since forgotten - was submitted to a national newspaper competition when he was only 14 years old. Sadly, it failed to win, but that didn't deter him - it's hard to quash a major passion! Since those formative times he's had two volumes of locked-room mystery murders published (the 'Impossibilities' books - one story, 'Spindleshanks', was nominated for a Pushcart Prize), but his main literary obsession has always been with the fantasy genre. His work echoes worlds created by Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and Rick Riordan - worlds connected to ours by mythology and folklore - but he's also a huge fan of JRR Tolkien, Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks.
Now he's at the beginning of a new literary journey with Knox Robinson, who've signed him up to publish a fantasy trilogy, 'The Albion Chronicles', over the coming years. The first of these, 'Nick Hawthorne and the Banefires of Autumn', will be published on 8 July 2014. Expect crossover worlds, magick, flawed heroes, villains more forces of nature than tyrannical despots, some of the nastier creatures from folklore - and a fifteen year old protagonist totally out of his depth! Folklore really does bite back...
Craig's also a keen musician and songwriter, currently playing keyboards and guitars with folk/rock outfit 'Tyburn'. His other interests include exotic travel and (obviously!) reading. He's just taken up photography, too.
He currently lives in Handsworth, Sheffield, and is happily married to Andrea.

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