April 3rd, 2014

A couple of weeks ago we took one of our editors Mikal to a great discussion on Dostoyevsky’s legendary novel Crime and Punishment. Find out what he thought…

The novel, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky has affected my life profoundly through my reading and interpretation of it. The novel itself is not exactly an easy or enjoyable read, written as it was in 1860s Russia by a writer known for his bleak descriptions of, well, bleak impoverished life. The talk I attended, based around the newest translation into English of the novel by Dr Oliver Ready at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury Square, was eye opening and immersive. Accompanying the translator was none other than the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, himself an authority on Dostoyevsky as well as on ethics. The discussion they had was compelling and immersive; ranging from themes of morality and freedom, to the finer points of translation from Russian to English.

The idea of movement and action in the narrative was touched upon by both participants, ideas that had never occurred to me during my reading of the text. The intricacies and choices of a translator’s role were also touched upon, opening up my mind to even more avenues of literary development. I left with a huge respect for both Dr Ready and Dr Williams and a new appreciation of one of Russian literature’s greatest books; which is the highest praise I can give to a truly eye-opening discussion.


March 27th, 2014

Here at Spinebreakers HQ we’re always happy to set up interviews for our Spinebreakers with their favourite authors. So when we received this email from Bethan about The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, how could we refuse?!

“The content made me cry and I finished it within two days of receiving it. I made my Mum and friends read it, and they also loved it. I am taking it on holiday with me next week to read again and again. I would love to interview or have any contact at all with Jojo Moyes just to tell her what an amazing job she has done. I have tons of questions that I am dying to ask her. I think once other Spinebreakers have read this book they too will want to know everything they can about her, and an interview could provide this. I would love to do it! Thank you for all the books you send me each month and thank you for reading this email.”

Bethan’s interview with Jojo

Bethan: What gave you the idea for The One Plus One?

Jojo: It was a mixture of things. I’d wanted to write something for some time about the growing gap between rich and poor, because I think it’s not great for society in general, and I am struck daily by how much harder it is for young people to succeed unless they have wealthy parents. But I also just wanted to write a road trip – it’s a really good way to stick characters together and force them to confront each other.

Bethan: Who is your favourite character and why? And are they based on a person you know?

Jojo: They’re all my favourite in different ways (sorry – I bet you didn’t want that answer!). I love Jess’s optimism, and fierce love for her children, and I love Tanzie’s quirky approach to life. But I also have a great fondness for Nicky. I have two teenagers myself, and I think they get a raw deal, and I just wanted to write one who was nice and funny and likeable and complicated – like most real people.

Bethan: Have any personal experiences influenced the themes in the book?

Jojo: Well I was a cleaner in my spare time when I was a teenager, so that probably influenced me a bit. And I’m the mother of teenagers, so I’m sure some of that crept into the book. I find that a lot of personal stuff tends to seep in without you even realising it – and it’s only in a couple of years you look back and can see clearly that it was related to your life at the time.

Bethan: Would you consider writing a sequel to The One Plus One or producing a film version in the future?

Jojo: We’re in discussions with a film company right now to adapt the book for the cinema. And I’ve never done a sequel yet, but never say never!

Bethan: What made you decided to write the book from various characters’ points of view?

Jojo: It just didn’t feel like one person’s story. Each character has their own journey within a journey, and I thought it would be more entertaining if you heard the chapters through different voices. It also has the added advantage of making clear how wilfully blind some people are about what’s going on (i.e. Tanzie and Nicky can see what’s going on with Ed and Jess long before either of them can acknowledge it.)

If you’d like to interview your favourite Penguin author, just drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do!


March 6th, 2014

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to books, rather a lot actually. Many of us admit to judging a book by its cover, but we’re often also pretty guilty of judging a book by its name.

We’ve compiled a list of the 10 weirdest, wackiest book titles we’ve come across on the web. Why? Why not?!

1. Lizard Social Behaviour

…for everyone who has ever wondered how to socialise their lizard.

2. Goblinproofing one’s chicken coop

We’re delighted to discover that ‘goblinproofing’ is a thing.

3. Pie-ography: where pie meets biography

We think this one sounds a bit flaky…

4. Cooking with Pooh

Whilst we’re a fan of Pooh bear, we think we might pass on his baked goods…

5. Where underpants come from

The underpants fairy?

6. Anybody can be cool…but awesome takes practice


7. How to talk about books you haven’t read

We wouldn’t know anything about that now, would we?!

8. How to Sharpen Pencils

Are we missing something?

9. Working Class Cats

We’re as much a fan of cats as the next guy, but we weren’t aware until now that they are subject to New York’s class system…

10. The Origin of Faeces 

OK enough is enough – we love a bit of word play, but this is a step too far – gross!

February 27th, 2014

Here at Spinebreakers Towers, we all love a bit of YA. But should authors begin to explore a wider variety of topics within the genre, rather than focusing almost solely on romance? Spinebreaker Safah definitely thinks so!

*Sigh* the ever present issue I keep ranting about in every blog post imaginable, in almost all conversations with my friends and bored my poor parents to death with; Romance in YA Fiction.

So why is it an issue? Romance is brilliant isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I adore romance in YA Fiction, I love the complexity in relationships and how every author writes love with the same five letters but gives it a whole new meaning each time. Romance can be a good addition to a story and a great focus point in a novel too. It can be sweet or heart breaking or simply hilarious! They can bring out the best and the worst in characters, unfold whole new plots and bring about twists and endings that you’ll remember long after you’ve left the little world a writer created in your head.

BUT, as much as I love romance I can’t understand why it’s there in YA fiction, sitting in chapters and snug between lines, almost ALL THE TIME. Surely teenagers can be engaged in stories that aren’t romantic? There’s so much more to literature than love stories, there are stories about the love of family and friends and I would read them, if they weren’t so uncommon and hard to find in YA.

Star crossed lovers have been done to death, and sure it’s absolutely possible for a great author to put a new twist on it but how about the heart breaking situation of families constantly in conflict, of betrayals in friendships you thought would last forever, a mother you adore who’s never home, or a sibling you believed had never existed for the last fifteen years of your life?

So that’s my little bookish wish. More fiction about other kinds of love that aren’t romantic, I think it’s about time friendship and family got a little appreciation in books.

What do you think? Have you had any cravings for YA books without all the romance? Is there a subject you wish had a little more of a spotlight in YA fiction?

February 19th, 2014

A week or two ago,  Penguin towers put on a very special event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the delicious tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we took a handful of lucky Spinebreakers along to enjoy it! The event was a discussion between Luke Kelly (Dahl’s grandson) and journalist Lucy Mangan all about Charlie and the wonderful story itself (and the story behind it).

Check out what the lucky Spinebreakers made of the event…


Hope Kemp
A couple of weeks ago I got a letter in the post containing a golden ticket. A real life golden ticket, inviting me to the launch of Guardian and Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan’s new book and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of  Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ It’s an iconic novel and Dahl is one of my favourite children’s authors, so I jumped at the chance.

The event was hosted by Luke Kelly, Roald Dahl’s grandson and the US manager of his literary estate. He explained how this job involved managing how his grandfather’s novels are branded and publicised to reach new generations of children. Lucy also explained how she was asked to write the book by Penguin, as she’d written a piece for the Guardian about her favourite children’s books and her love for Dahl was mentioned.

The pair both clearly had a lot of nostalgia for the novels, for very different reasons. Mangan told us how her favourite Dahl book is ‘Matilda’, as she could relate to the bookworm central character as a child (I wonder if many Spinebreakers feel the same?!) Stephen spoke of one of the books being dedicated to him, so it holds a very special meaning to him.

The talk was fascinating and Stephen in particular gave us a real insight into life being part of the Dahl family. He spoke of going to Dahl’s house for a fancy family dinner and Roald Dahl bringing out a red box of classic chocolate bars afterwards. Mangan also commented about how in her research for the book, she’d discovered that Roald Dahl was such an avid fan of the cocoa stuff, he believed that all children should be taught in schools the years in which chocolate bars were released (I would definitely take that class!)

It was a really interesting event for fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and like a true Dahl fan I made use of the chocolates that were being handed out by Penguin!


A Simply Gloriumptious Evening, by Juwi
I was lucky enough to receive a Golden Ticket for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory event at Penguin HQ.  a conversation between Lucy Mangan (The Guardian) and Luke Kelly (Roald Dahl’s grandson)

So I thought I’d wear purple since that’s usually the colour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book covers and what Willy Wonka wears. So I got to Penguin and met a few other Spinebreakers and we were talking about our love for chocolate and they gave us some awesome stickers…’I Love Chocolate’ and ‘Long Live Oompa Loompas’. So we went upstairs and they had FREE CHOCOLATE (Quality Street) so we ate some chocolate and sat down in the front row seats.  They had some cool decorations of sweets and giant chocolate bars; sadly they weren’t edible .

Lucy Mangan has a new book coming out later this year called ‘Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory’ which is about the behind the scenes process of all things Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the writing and editing as well as details of the movies and the musical.

So the conversation was quite funny as Lucy forgot Luke’s name and they gave us snippets of the original manuscript of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We got to hear a song for one of the character’s that was cut out and what the Oompa Loompas would have been called (I can’t remember now but it’s not as amazing as Oompa Loompa). One of the characters that was cut out was called ‘Herpes Trout’. I wouldn’t lie about that…

It was just wonderful to reminisce on the legend that is Roald Dahl and his books and imagination. I think the best thing about Roald Dahl is that his books are timeless, because they’re funny and filled with great characters and of course yummy treats!

Celebrating 50 whipplescrumptious years of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I think I shall eat some chocolate now!


Lily Groom
The Charlie and the Chocolate factory event I went to (along with several other Spinebreakers) was one of the things that I had been most looking forward to over the past week, since I received a Golden Ticket, yes a Golden Ticket, (truly one of the coolest invitations that I have ever received in my whole life) in the post. It didn’t disappoint. I arrived slightly out of breath and over twenty minutes early, due to the fact that there was a tube strike so I had left ridiculously early, and then got lost in Charing Cross station. But none of these impediments could detract from the overall excitement of the evening.

The first order of the day was to check out the food that they had provided. Secretly, I had been hoping for themed snacks (if not lickable wallpaper and a chocolate waterfall, at least chocolate in some form) and there were! Bowls upon bowls of jewel like chocolates dotted around the room, filled to the brim with fudges and those green triangles filled with hazelnut and toffees and orange creams and coconut things and caramels and so much more. I’m not ashamed to say I shamelessly pillaged these bowls of joy. Nobody else that I could see was taking advantage of these luscious refreshments, so I decided that taking a fudge (or twenty) couldn’t be that much of a problem. Unfortunately the barman minding these bowls was of a different frame of mind.

I quickly escaped his laser eyes and ran to the relative safety of the other room, where Lucy Mangan and Luke Kelly were to have their ‘conversation’ about Lucy’s new book, and Charlie and all things Roald Dahl and chocolate-y. The decorations here were astounding. They had made giant Whipplescrumptious-Delight bars, lollipops and boiled sweets and the new 50th anniversary copies of Charlie abounded. I got a seat right at the front in the middle, so I had a perfect view of the action, and settled in with my newly acquired snacks (take that, barman!).

The actual conversation was everything I had hoped and more. It was funny and interesting and we heard all sorts of secret tit-bits which made me feel that I was in a very select club that got to hear all sorts of fascinating anecdotes about Gypsy House (the Dahl family house) and the proof copies and cut characters and publishing process and original story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was very exciting. One of my all-time favourite moments was when Luke read out the Oompa-Loompa song for the last of the character’s to be cut, Melinda Merry-Weather I think her name was. It was hilarious and also really cool to hear something that nobody else had ever really heard before.

And I learnt so much about Charlie which I’d never known before, which for a Dahl geek like myself was so awesome. For example, did you know that Oompa-Loompas were originally called Whipplescrumpets? Or that Charlie found a publisher through one of Roald Dahl’s friends at school? Or that in the original story Willie Wonka is married and has children? This was, frankly, one of the most shocking parts of the evening.

Even the Q&A was interesting. Normally I despise and loath Q&As with every fibre of my being, but this one was so much more stimulating than they normally are. Although there was the required amount of pretentious people asking stupid questions, there were some very interesting ones and Luke Kelly even answered my question which almost never happens because I’m almost never picked for audience participation.

So, overall, the Charlie and the Chocolate factory event was really good, even better than I had hoped. The only thing that could have improved it was a barman who didn’t mind parting with his sweets.