I first “met” S.P. Moss online via TheWriters’ Workshop around 2011. She had announced that her first book Bother in Burmeon had won a prize and was getting published. I ordered a copy for my children & their primary school and used the opportunity to launch a literary competition which resulted in Gurnard’s Book of Delights.
When I was given the opportunity to read Trouble in Teutonia pre-release I was flattered and apprehensive. I always give an honest review, regardless of whether I ‘know’ the person so I felt under pressure. I mean, how many reviews are genuine when solicited?
It was a huge relief that I loved the book, but as a fail-safe I also got my 11 year old son to read it.
Before we review, here is the blurb...
Trouble in Teutonia by S.P. Moss
A steam carousel whirls Billy into the middle of the last century, the middle of the Cold War, the middle of a mystery...
Who has captured Kathleen, the daughter of US Space Scientists?
Where is the missing prototype jet?
Why is the legendary Beast of Ratshausen back, haunting the forest?
And what is an international criminal doing in command of an RAF station?
Billy’s knowledge is a time bomb and time is ticking away...
“The start had me gripped instantly as I envisaged a werewolf racing after a girl.
At present day, we again meet Billy (introduced in Bother in Burmeon), a boy on route to becoming the next Dr Who (without a blue tardis or bow tie!)
When the time-slip event happens we are thrust into the Cold War! The descriptions are vivid, the action is full on and the characters are wonderfully developed. I loved Billy’s inquisitive nature and as the plot unfolds you find yourself more curious. The addition of a space rocket adds to the excitement! His side kick, the brainiac American girl Kathleen, is a wonderful addition.
This book is obviously written for a younger audience and there were some occasions which I found implausible, but overall it worked. The only thing I found distracting was the translations as footnotes (my son disagrees and thought this was great). Something that struck me as odd was the fact the ebook ended at around 90%, since there was a lot of material at the end (on the paperback there were a lot of blank extra pages).
In summary, a great read for 8-12 year old children with an interest in action, war, space rockets, great characters and time travel.”
Vanessa Wester (adult age... you don't need to know my age! HA!)
“I found the story line much more interesting than the 1st one as it added more drama, mystery and suspense as with a werewolf, a kidnapped girl and a criminal! (Cue the beasts, criminals and jets!)
The objective of the villain good, as a German trying to breach the cold war as a rank outsider...
From the first chapter, I was hooked and I read it in a day! Brilliant!”
Michael Wester (age 11)
So there you have it! Now, to grill, I mean, have a chat with the author... Welcome to my blog, S.P. Moss - can I use your first name, or is this highly confidential?
I don’t think it will contravene the Official Secrets Act, so I’ll whisper it in your ear – it’s Susan. The use of initials in my author name, by the way, is less to do with positioning myself as the next J.K. Rowling or disguising my gender, and more to do with the retro-style of the books, emulating Capt W.E. Johns, the author of Biggles.
I had no idea… Thank you for letting me read this book. What did you think of my review?
I think it’s top hole. I’m not too sure that Kat would accept being described as a side kick, though! The right balance of action, character development and atmosphere is something that an author continually struggles to achieve, so I’m glad I hit the mark for you. The footnotes were a tricky one – I wanted to use a little bit of German to add to the atmosphere but was aware that few 9-12 year olds would know much German, hence the footnotes. And the blank pages, I’m told, are something to do with a multiples-of-sixteen-leaves-run. Plenty of room for readers to start scribbling the next story?
Yes, blank pages are always great for inspiration! Talking of which, what inspired you to write about Billy and his adventures?
I was inspired to write The Bother in Burmeon while writing a biography of my RAF officer dad for friends and family. Armed with logbooks, sepia-tinted photos and a few addresses of old chums, I set about the task that my father never had a chance to start. I was fascinated by what lay behind the hours in the log books, and what happened before and after the black and white snapshots. And, while I was writing the biography, my young son started asking questions about his granddad, who he had never met.
One of those delightful “what if?” questions flitted through my mind and with it, a lost world of danger, dirty deeds and derring-do. The Bother in Burmeon was born.
Do you think the past repeats itself?
A fascinating question, and one that is raised in Trouble in Teutonia, where one man’s past is another man’s – or boy’s – future. As Professor Blunderby points out to Billy in the story, maybe the answer lies in how we perceive and experience time.
Could it be that past, present and future exist simultaneously, in another dimension? But that normal human perception only allows access to time in a one-way linear fashion? And in Billy’s case, his perception does not always operate in the “normal” way?
Do you think it is easier to accept a villain in the past than a present day one?
My master-villain, Featherstonehaugh, is riddled with attitudes that we would regard as most un-PC these days, but setting the story in the past allowed me to expose these attitudes – and set them up for the ridicule they deserve. It’s interesting if you look at, say, Bond villains over the years. The ends are the same – world domination being top of the list – but the means change with time. General Kwok in The Bother in Burmeon and Count von Stachelschwein in Trouble in Teutonia have both been given excuses for their villainy – Kwok is drug-dependent and von Stachelschwein’s family have been murdered. But as for Featherstonehaugh, is he just evil? You’ll have to read on to get the answer to that one!
Who is your favourite fictional villain in a book, film or both?
I love a bit of swashbuckling as far as villains go. The fight scenes in both books were heavily influenced by the kind of films that Grandpop and Featherstonehaugh would have seen at the cinema as boys – Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone in Robin Hood, for example. I pictured Basil Rathbone when writing Featherstonehaugh. Or Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr (playing Rupert of Hentzau) in The Prisoner of Zenda.
When it comes to women, they don’t come much more villainous than Hilda von Einem in John Buchan’s Greenmantle – she makes Cruella de Vil look like Doris Day!
Mine has to be Voldemort... do not mention his name! Ahhhh...
I have to say that I loved the addition of a female accomplice... And the fact she was mathematical. Nowadays, children sometimes don’t see how maths and science can be useful and interesting. Did you want to make children think about this at all when you wrote the plot?
A lot of people in the public eye these days – especially authors – claim to have been “rubbish at maths”, as if they’re proud of it. It’s odd that you never hear anyone boasting about “having no imagination” or “being useless at creative writing”! Kat’s mathematical prowess wasn’t a conscious effort to put the record straight but I definitely wanted to create a character who children would find cool because of her ability. There’s a tendency these days to rewrite history and for the 1950s and early 60s to be seen as some sort of Dark Ages where girls only worried about learning cooking and housekeeping for their future husband. But if you read a book like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (published 1962), which inspired the characters of Kat and her parents, you’ll see that attitudes in those days were not all so backward!
I can not claim to be rubbish at maths since I am a maths teacher (supposedly!) - one of those rare authors who try to go where they shouldn't. Anyway... moving swiftly on!
Will we be seeing more of Billy and his antics? I hope Kathleen also makes another appearance...
Oh, definitely. I will be bringing back my favourite characters as the series progresses. Radar from The Bother in Burmeon only has a cameo appearance in Trouble in Teutonia, but he will take a major role in the next story. And there are plans afoot for Kat, too.
Now, a bit about you... When did you start writing, and do you have any plans to dabble in other genres?
I wasn’t exactly born with a quill in my hand, but as good as! I have been writing ever since I could, and still have such masterpieces as The Blue Tits Nest and The Hampsters of Hampton House in my possession to prove it. The Bother in Burmeon was actually my fourth full-length novel and the first written for the 9-12 age group. I’m not sure how I would describe my previous efforts, apart from pretentious nonsense, so it is best to draw a thick veil over those. I enjoy writing short stories and have even had one published. As far as the short stories go, I have dabbled in historical, literary, ghost stories and humour.
Did anyone inspire you to become an author?
Authors certainly weren’t pushed as celebrities, personalities or brands when I was a child, although I was a member of the Puffin Club and loved reading how authors whose books I enjoyed got their ideas. Adventure and mystery were always high on the agenda for me, from authors such as Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and Philippa Pearce, as well as the occasional dose of Biggles, Boy’s Own-real-life adventures and Commando Comics, usually pinched from my brother. But the author who I suppose sparked the idea that I could sit down and write a novel was S.E.Hinton (another Susan!) who wrote The Outsiders when she was 16.
I know you go and visit schools to promote your books. Can you give us a taster of a typical day, please?
I do love school visits – especially that no two are ever the same. The most important thing is to involve the children. It’s not about me, or selling my book – it’s about them, and their enjoyment of reading and literature.
When I go into a school, there is normally play-acting involved which teeters on the verge of chaos.
I have had everything from being related a love-story between a pink marshmallow and a white marshmallow to being asked if I’m Kate Moss’s sister! I’m not, by the way, although we have the same stunning looks and figure - ha, ha!
Loving your sense of humour... Back to serious matters! Do you use social media to promote your books, or does your publisher take care of this?
Writing for 9-12s, I have to bear three target audiences in mind when it comes to promotion:
· Parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians
· The publishing industry – bookshops, literary agents and so on
Social media is one good way of reaching the adult audiences and I do what I can, although it’s mostly about promoting the books rather than myself as an author. I have Facebook and Pinterest pages for my books, a trailer on YouTube and although I am not on Twitter, my publisher is busy tweeting about all the Circaidy Gregory titles.
For children, the best form of promotion is good old face-to-face through school visits and other events. As I live in Teutonia, sorry, Germany, I can’t get over to the UK as often as I’d like to, which is why I’m thrilled when fellow authors do events off their own initiative involving my books – I am looking at you here, Vanessa!
I have websites for both the books, which is a slight indulgence on my part. I see these more as adding value to the books rather than generating awareness – there’s lots of extra info on the cars and planes involved, and some rather natty cartoons of the characters, along with their likes and dislikes. I come from a background in advertising, so this was jolly good fun to work on.
Where can people buy your books and find out more about you?
You can zoom over to http://www.burmeon.com and http://www.troubleinteutonia.com for more Bother and Trouble, and follow the links there to buy the books. Or you can whizz over to the publisher’s website at http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk .
|"I have told you to read it... or die!"|
I’m also very pleased for people to drop in to my Facebook page for the latest news and views – that’s at https://www.facebook.com/Burmeon?ref=hl
Thank you for your time... Anything else you wish to add?
What a spiffingly enjoyable grilling that was! Many thanks to you and Michael for your reviews: readers’ feedback is so vital, whether it’s your first book or your 200th, I imagine. I’d be cock-a-hoop to hear any more comments on this interview, or my books, questions, ideas for future adventures, either on your blog or via firstname.lastname@example.org