Concorde Book Award – Part I

Posted in Book news on September 19, 2010 by keithmansfield

I’m delighted to report I’ve had to update the Prizes and Awards page following the news that Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London has been shortlisted for the 2011 Concorde Book Award. Thanks to everyone who put the book forward. Hopefully there’ll be good news in a future post entitled “Concorde Book Award – Part II”.

Johnny Mackintosh and Harry Potter down under

Posted in Harry Potter, reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by keithmansfield

When you’re a writer you have a clear idea of your story in your own mind, but inevitably you wonder how much of that your readers will actually “get”. I’ve been so lucky with the Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze reviews so far, because everyone who’s looked at it seems to have picked out different elements that delighted me.

The latest is Danielle Mulholland, whose written a detailed and thoughtful piece for the Australian website Media-Culture Reviews. The way she summarizes the story at the beginning of her article shows how perfectly she’s grasped it, before going on to say:

“This is a well written book with wonderful descriptions, exciting new concepts for the young adult mind and set in a futuristic world where space travel and various gadgets are common place for Johnny Mackintosh, the protagonist and albeit unrecognised and unknown saviour of the world.”

Danielle stresses that anyone reading a book series should start with the first one, and of course that’s absolutely right. I worked very hard to make Star Blaze work as a standalone book and some reviewers have picked up on that, but it’s absolutely the case that someone’s enjoyment will be deeper if they follow the story from the beginning. A paragraph follows that:

“Having been compared to J K Rowling, Mansfield has certainly used her tried and true double life technique to justify his main character’s peculiarities. In his ‘normal’ life, Johnny has Mr Wilkins to give him grief like Harry Potter had the Dursleys making his life miserable. In his alternative life, Johnny confronts other enemies, similar to the Potter versus Voldemort saga.”

There are plenty who’d claim to be Jo Rowling’s biggest fan, but I’d put myself forward as a contender for the label, and may at least be her number one author fan. It was a great honour to be able to write the Sunday Telegraph’s Harry Potter quiz a couple of years back. Until I read the Potter books I’d only written for adults, but I fell in love with her story and knew I could be passionate about writing for a similar audience, in a way that wasn’t reflected so well in my more grown up scribblings.

I think to really love a book you’ve got to be able to empathize with its characters. That’s why I didn’t write Johnny Mackintosh as “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”. I’m delighted Danielle’s review has picked up on Johnny’s double life, and the problems he has at his children’s home, of course compounded by goings on at school. That’s because I want my younger readers to be able to put themselves in his shoes (or maybe trainers) so they can relate to half his life, while wishing the other half is something that may just happen to them. Personally, I never found myself longing to be a wizard, but as a child I always dreamt of being whisked off into space by aliens.

It goes without saying that any review of Johnny that also mentions the Harry Potter books is going number among my favourites. As a writer, the most impressive thing about Rowling is the architecture of her story, over all seven volumes. If you re-read her books (and I’m a great re-reader) you’ll be amazed at the clues planted in the first couple that point the reader all the way through to the end of the story, without giving too much away. It’s a balance I’ve tried to follow.

I’ve heard Rowling say her early drafts practically gave the whole story away and she had to rein in some of the narrative to keep us all guessing – I’m so glad she did. Another technique she used was to write everything from Harry’s point of view and that’s something I’ve followed for Johnny. There are plenty of times I’d like to describe what Clara’s doing when she goes off on her own, or what’s happening on the other side of the galaxy, but so far I’ve stuck rigidly to showing everything through Johnny’s eyes. The review ends by saying:

“Each chapter begins and ends rather dramatically. This technique keeps the young reader constantly engaged and eager to read more. It has all the ingredients sure to capture the young adult mind which is the target audience: betrayal, uncertainty, loyalty, courage, adventure and a thrilling ride into the unknown.”

It’s great to hear when Johnny Mackintosh has been well received outside of the UK. I hope Aussie readers will be pleased to discover that Johnny pays Sydney a visit in the third book in the series. It’s several years now since my own one and only trip down under, but I plan to race my young hero to see who’ll get there first.

Waterstones Camden recommends Johnny

Posted in Book news, Bookshops with tags , , on July 3, 2010 by keithmansfield

One of the lovely staff at Waterstones Camden has recommended Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. In case you can’t make out the photograph, the card reads:

“THIS BOOK MAKES ME FEEL like I want my own talking computer. Johnny’s computer Kovac detects an extraterrestrial life form and so begins Johnny’s adventure. Full of energy and great characters.”

Thanks to my friend Anna for sending me the picture.

More Reviews as The Empire Strikes Back

Posted in reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

Another week and two more reviews. I’m still waiting for someone to say something bad about Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, but so far so good.

It was really touching that The Bookbag didn’t want to read the second book because they enjoyed Johnny Mackintosh and he Spirit of London so much. The Book Zone (for Boys) said exactly the same thing. I might have said before that I pitched Johnny Mackintosh to Quercus, my publisher, as “Harry Potter meets Star Wars” so it was wonderful to read The Book Zone’s description of the dilemma as to whether or not to read the second book:

“Ever since reading (and being disappointed by) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator I have often felt a little pessimistic before reading sequels to books I had thoroughly enjoyed – will the author manage to recreate the magic with their second book? … However, with Star Blaze my pessimism was totally unfounded – in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back improved on Star Wars: A New Hope, so too does Star Blaze improve on its predecessor, and that is praise indeed. And the parallels don’t end there – like Empire, Star Blaze is also a much darker book in places than the first in the series.”

Sometimes in my school talks I’ve polled the kids on their favourite Star Wars films and then re-enacted a key scene from The Empire Strikes Back, much my own favourite of the series, precisely because it’s so much darker. Real life isn’t often black and white and I prefer a level of ambiguity in the books and films I read and watch. I don’t like the goodies winning through too easily and, if they get there in the end, it shouldn’t have been straightforward – there need to have been some tough choices along the way. I had been thinking the third Johnny Mackintosh book needed to be a bit darker to reflect this, but maybe I’ve already got there if The Book Zone’s picked up on this.

There were some further gems in the review:

“There are so many things I loved about this book that I don’t really know how to start … the characters are very well developed…. all of them, not just Johnny … The world building is also outstanding … On top of this, there is also enough action to rival the glut of boy secret agent books we have seen in recent years, and the plot twists and turns so it is difficult to second guess exactly what will happen next.”

I’m not sure there’s any greater satisfaction for an author than when someone really gets your book, so a huge thanks to The Book Zone. The pressure’s on to make sure number three isn’t full of silly Ewoks like The Return of the Jedi!

Also this week, Justine Crow of the brilliant Crystal Palace indie bookshop The Bookseller Crow on the Hill gave Star Blaze a mention on p.10 of the latest Families London & SE Magazine :

“While we are on the subject of world domination, coming out this month is a new adventure for medium sized readers starring the space-buckling hero who thinks nothing of zooming off on his private spaceship, The Spirit of London, to save Earth, though clearly jetting round the galaxy is gonna play havoc with his GCSEs.”

It’s always been important to me that Johnny’s life is grounded here on Earth, facing lots of the same problems as his readers. I did cut a whole load of stuff out of Star Blaze that showed how Johnny learns the national curriculum, and am delighted Justine realizes those exams aren’t going to be plain sailing.

Here come the reviews

Posted in Book news, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by keithmansfield

Naturally, authors never read reviews. It’s purely an accident I have a Google alert set up to tell me when anyone, anywhere writes something about Johnny Mackintosh. It would be madness to pay too much attention as there are bound to be people who don’t like a book – happily, though, this has been a sane week and people have had only lovely things to say about both Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and also Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

The Bookbag has given Star Blaze a whopping five stars and said such nice things that I’m reluctant to repeat them here. Well, go on – you twisted my arm. Their reviewer, Jason Mark Curley, liked Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London except its title and made my year by saying it was “reminiscent of Rowling”, my writing idol. This one he seems to have enjoyed even more.

“it must be hard to write a sequel to a book that was so good and get it right … I enjoyed the first book so much that I didn’t want to spoil it by reading a duffer of a follow up. I really shouldn’t have worried; Star Blaze is everything that its predecessor was and a lot more besides … shades and echoes of those sci-fi novels I used to read as a kid: Asimov, Clarke, Moorcock and Dick. … great characters, action, mystery and adventure … A great read; go get it. And, more please Mr Mansfield.”

I am blushing as I type and will gladly buy anyone claiming to be Jason a beer should they approach me in a pub. Earlier in the week, the Bridgend County Council posted some user reviews of books in their libraries and the second one they showed was Johnnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. A young reviewer by the name of Master Dylan James Morgan wrote:

“Awesome! The book cover just makes you want to pick it up straight away because it is so colorful and looks exciting. Flying around in a spaceship disguised as the London Gherkin! WOW!!! This is the first Johnny Mackintosh Book and I hope there will be more to come.”

I hope Master Morgan discovers Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze soon!

The first Star Blaze review of the week was from the lovely people at Chicklish. Even though I’d love everyone to read Spirit of London first, I’m delighted Alexandra picked up that you could read the second book independently and still enjoy it as I worked very hard on that. She’s also given a great short summary:

“In Star Blaze, Johnny becomes involved in a deadly plot against the Earth’s sun. Exploding the sun into a supernova should be impossible but intergalactic enemies have found a way. Only Johnny and his sister appear to know what’s happening. Can they save the day? … You can read this novel without having to read the first in the series. Definitely a hit for sci-fi fans.”

Chicklish is a great site run by authors Luisa Plaja and Keris Stainton.

If you like either of the Johnny Mackintosh books, it really helps spread the word if you post reviews online, with Amazon of course being particularly visible. If you hurry, you can be first up for Star Blaze!

Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze is published

Posted in Book news, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by keithmansfield

I hope this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The second Johnny Mackintosh book has arrived. I’m very proud of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and enormously grateful to everyone who’s helped make this day possible. The cover copy reads:

Alien invaders have exploded a nearby star, turning it into a supernova, and only Johnny Mackintosh knows the Sun is next in line. Abandoning school and his football team, he and sister Clara travel to the galactic capital seeking help. Their mission stalls. After a decade missing, Johnny’s mysterious brother reappears, but what was he doing all those years away and whose side is he on?

So begins an epic adventure full of devious aliens intent on ruling the galaxy and killing Johnny along the way. Can he survive to save his brother, and planet Earth, in time?

Keith Mansfield’s explosive space adventure will wow fans of action stories and Star Wars.

If you want more of a taster, you can check out this site’s excerpts section which includes the opening page. The book’s published and should be in all good bookshops (snow permitting). Bookstores are having a precarious existence at the moment (witnessed by the demise of Borders), so it would be great if you popped into your local local to pick up a copy. If they don’t have stock, demand to know why not and ask them to order it. But, if you can’t wait, here are some links to buy online.

Star Blaze cover

Prizes for Johnny Mackintosh

Posted in Book news, Website news with tags , , , , on January 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

I’m delighted to announce Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London is one of twenty titles longlisted for the New Horizons Book Prize. It’s even led me to set up a new (currently rather small) page on JohnnyMackintosh.com called “Prizes and Awards”. It would be lovely if it grew quickly. You can read a little more information about this over at my other blog.

12. Star Blaze

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

“Johnny knew … he had the best seat in the house to watch the greatest explosion in the history of the solar system.” p. 309

Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

First there was the big bang. By definition, nothing can match the initial outpouring of energy that we believe created the universe, but even today there are some pretty cataclysmic explosions. A supernova (the Star Blaze of the new book) happens when a large star reaches the end of its life. Stars fight a constant battle, the outward pressure from the nuclear reactions at their hearts counterbalancing the gravitational collapse due to all that matter being in one place. When the nuclear fuel runs out, there can be only one winner.

In that moment, the light from a single star outshines the rest of the galaxy that contains it. When you realize our own Milky Way contains at least 100 billion suns, we begin to understand just how bright and powerful a supernova really is. The image here is an artist’s vision of a supernova, based on Chandra X-Ray Telescope observations. Subramanian Chandrasekhar, who did more than anyone to enhance our understanding of stars and black holes, was one of the greatest scientists of last century. The telescope’s named after him, and I’m honoured that he called me his friend. At the start of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, I give the great man a name check.

It’s because of Chandra that we know our own Sun won’t, at some future stage, become a supernova, as its mass is less than the Chandrasekhar Limit. It’s also because of him that we know we can treat some supernovae as “standard candles”, which help us measure the scale of the universe. And it’s because of these yardsticks that we’ve recently discovered that the rate of expansion of the universe is speeding up rather than slowing down, accelerated by something called dark energy, the same force that powers the Spirit of London’s engines.

Although a supernova marks the death of a particular star, it’s part of the continual process of rebirth in the universe. None of us – not even Earth itself – could exist without the first stars exploding. We’re all made of different types of atoms, the basic elemental building blocks of the universe. The big bang only produced the two lightest elements, hydrogen and helium, with a minuscule amount of lithium (the next one up). All the other, heavier elements have had to be made since and the place they are created is in the heart of stars. Only when those stars die, becoming supernovae, can those atoms be spread across space and come together to form such things as people and planets. Carl Sagan first said, “We are all made of starstuff.”

Today marks the end of the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh, but only because tomorrow sees a new birth.

An interview with BFKbooks

Posted in Book news, Interviews, reviews, Website news with tags , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

There’s a page on this site called “What other people say about Johnny Mackintosh” which is where I began listing reviews, but now realize I’ve been very lax about updating it. In particular, I’ve only just added a review and link to an interview that I did a while ago for BFKbooks.

I loved the interview – Jayne asked some great questions – and she wrote some very kind things about Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. I hope she enjoys Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze just as much.

BFKbooks is a great site to raise awareness about adults with autism. I’ve been interested in the subject ever since I edited a book by Simon Baron-Cohen (yes he is related to Ali G) and Patrick Bolton called Autism: the Facts. We’re used to acknowledging that there are children with autism and recognizing the difficulties they must sometimes face, but of course those children grow up. I hope some of you are able to visit their pages.

11. Titan

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

“He landed on a rocky outcrop which looked out across a vast … plane.” p. 292

Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Carroll

Only two days of Johnny Mackintosh to go. I’ve jumped to much further on in the book, taking us to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the most planet-like of all the solar system’s satellites. Apart from Earth, it’s the only other body we’ve found that has permanent liquid features on its surface – oceans, lakes and rivers. Only, on Titan, the surface liquid is thought to be complex hydrocarbons.

We know a reasonable amount about it because it’s the body furthest from Earth on which a spaceship has landed. On 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe (carried by its mother ship Cassini) descended through the moon’s thick orange atmosphere and touched down safely on Titan’s surface. The joint ESA/NASA/ASI mission (ASI is the Italian space agency) was an amazing feat, and there’s a rather odd video of the descent at the NASA site. It’s like watching the landing through a fish-eye lens and only really comes into its own towards the end of the movie, but worth sticking with it. It’s a shame that the probe wasn’t able to carry a more regular camera so everyone could have been captivated by extraordinary pictures from the surface of another world.

Titan’s unique as the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s so thick that, with the lower gravity, humans could strap on wings and fly through the air, soaring over the plains like the one above. I started the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh by saying the first place I’d visit, if I had my own spaceship, would be Saturn, but I’m sure I could take some time out from the majestic rings to have a bit of a play on the solar system’s second-largest moon.

It’s the final day of Johnny Mackintosh tomorrow and we’re going out with a bit of a bang.