Connie looked up at her two parents, trying to hear what they were muttering about. Normally, it wouldn’t bother her – she knew that adults often had conversations that kids like her weren’t supposed to be privy to – but the way they kept looking over at her had piqued her curiosity.

‘I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to keep her inside whenever there’s a full moon, Lisa!’

‘I just don’t think she’s ready-’

‘We can supervise her in the garden, that’s how my parents helped me my first time.’

‘Are we going to play in the garden?’ Connie started to bounce with excitement, thinking of the trampoline and how much more fun it would be to bounce in the dark than during the day.

Her mother sighed. ‘Yes, sweetie, we are. Shall we get some warm clothes on?’

Connie was more willing to cooperate than she ever had been. She took the stairs at a sprint and got changed within a record time. Her mother had picked out some of the dirtier clothes that Connie didn’t really like anymore for her to wear, but the prospect of playing outside after dark had left her too excited to complain.

When she came downstairs, Connie’s dad was already waiting by the back door. ‘You ready, sweetie?’

Connie nodded, her bunches swinging back and forth against her neck.

‘Remember, whatever you do, don’t fight it.’ Her dad’s words confused her, but she thought that, like most things that she didn’t understand, they would soon make sense.

Her mum’s hands pinched her shoulders as her dad opened the curtains, and then the door. The cold January air rushed in, and Connie rushed out of the door to meet it. She was halfway across the garden before she realised that her parents weren’t next to her. She turned around to try and find them, but they were nowhere to be found.

In their place stood two wolves that barely fitted through the door, their eyes kind and their fur thick across their back. Connie was mesmerised. The bigger one had eyes the colour of her mum’s eyes, the same bright blue as Connie’s, and its fur shone chestnut in the moonlight. The slightly smaller one had her dad’s hazel eyes, and its coat was a dark brown peppered with grey.

She heard her mother’s voice, although the wolf’s mouth didn’t move. Remember what your dad said, Connie, don’t fight it.

Fight what? was all Connie had a chance to think before she felt an odd pain in her arm. She looked down to see that it was warping and sprouting hair, and as she watched, the pain spread through her body, causing her to fall to all fours. She tried to scream for help, but her tongue lolled in her mouth, too big for the tiny space. She curled up where she had fallen on the ground and began to cry, the sound coming from her totally alien.

The pain stopped, and she opened her eyes and sat up. Everything was in a greyscale; she couldn’t see any of the fun colours of the plastic windmill or the trampoline. It was only then that she realised that she wasn’t even sitting up, she was leaning on her hands like a dog. She tried to lift up her arms in front of her face to look at them and couldn’t get them any further than parallel with the ground. She looked down and saw that they were covered with fur, claws and paws where her hands used to be. Connie began to panic.

I know it’s scary, sweetie, but don’t be scared, we’re here.

Her father’s voice in her head did nothing to stop her panicking, and she tried to stand up, wobbling on all fours. She tried to speak again and heard a yap. Her heart started racing as she stumbled across the garden. Everything was taller than she was, and she couldn’t see the wolves anymore.

Connie started to run, quickly adapting to the four legs rather than the two she was used to. She fell over the hose pipe, landing on her back and letting out a squeak.

Stop running, Connie, let us help you.

She could no longer remember who Connie was, or who the voice belonged to that was in her head. She wriggled her way back to standing, and made a break for the gap that she could see in the fence, finding that more appealing than anything that this garden had to offer.

Connie, no!

She felt a scratch against the back of her neck, but the hole in the fence seemed to be perfectly shaped for her, and she left whatever had scratched her behind.

I told you she wasn’t ready!

Stop arguing and get her back!

The argument faded out as she bounded underneath fast moving cars that darted above her. Some of them swerved, some of them slowed, and some of them ran straight at her, but somehow she made it to the other side of the road unscathed.

Without warning, her nose seemed to open, and she felt as though she were standing in the middle of a bed of flowers, all of the smells so interesting, and so different from one another. She had just picked one to follow, one that smelt of freshly baked cookies, when she felt hands slip around her belly and lift her skywards. She snarled and tried to escape from the hands, but her arms and legs were now useless, and her neck wasn’t long enough for her to bite the hands. She settled for yapping, and yapped as she was put in the back of a car, yapped as the car moved to wherever it was going, and yapped as she was taken out. She could hear a conversation going on between the owner of the hands around her and the person standing opposite her, who smelled like something she couldn’t distinguish but wanted to eat very badly.

The hands cupped around her entire body as they started moving again. She wriggled as much as she could, intrigued by all of the different smells drifting past her nose and curious about all of the other dogs in this place.

She was placed down on a blanket. Two metal bowls were placed in front of her, one with food in it, and one with water in it, and she attacked both with equal vigour. The owner of the hands patted her on the head and stroked her as she ate, saying things that she couldn’t make out.

As soon as the owner of the hands left, she looked around to see that she was in a cage. She yowled, unable to protest the entrapment in any other way. Using her paws did nothing, and she found her head and her teeth to be of little use. She fell asleep with her paw against the cage, too tired to carry on.

When Connie woke up, she was completely naked, and very cold. She couldn’t remember why she was in a cage, or why she was surrounded by dogs, or why her entire body ached. She started to cry, a real wail that made the dogs around her restless. Their barks and yowls only made Connie cry more.

‘I want my mummy,’ she cried, head on the blanket that did nothing to warm the cold cement floor.

‘Jack! I found her!’

Connie looked up to see her mother, dirty and haggard, running towards her, a bundle of fabric in hand. ‘Mummy!’ she squealed, standing up and jumping over the tiny cage barriers.

Her mother wrapped a blanket around her and then squeezed her in a tight hug. ‘Don’t you ever run off like that again, okay?’

‘Okay,’ she said, her voice muffled by her mother’s fleece. She was unsure of exactly what she had done, but flashes of the night’s adventures were coming back to her now.

‘I’m so sorry, Georgie brought her in last night, and we didn’t even think. Good to know you’re showing her the ropes now though.’ The woman behind Connie’s father had wet hair and was wearing clothes that made it clear that she’d got dressed in the dark in a rush. Connie felt sheepish at the sight of her, and turned her head back into her mother’s coat.

‘We’ll get her out of here, sorry for the trouble. Thank you for looking after her.’

‘No problem at all.’

The car ride back home was quiet, her mother focused on the road and her father staring out the window. Connie tried to stay awake, but her eyes drooped as the road wound back to her home. Once home, Connie’s mother took Connie up to have a bath and get some clean clothes on, still silent.

The silence was only broken once all three of them were sitting around the table, eating their breakfasts.

‘Now Connie, you have a month before the next full moon. Next time, no running off, okay?’ Her mother’s voice was stern, her eyes showing no sign of tolerance.

Connie nodded as milk from her cereal dribbled down her chin.

‘Okay then, let’s get to work. You have a lot to learn, little pup.’


The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: brilliant inside and out

I had heard about The Girl of Ink and Stars many times from many people before I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave – it was Children’s Book of the Month not once but twice at Waterstones, (later going on to win Children’s Book of the Year), was a Financial Times Book of the Year, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award, and was shortlisted for both the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Not only that, but many people I trust for book recommendations and follow online, such as Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube, read it and recommended it. And I, as an aspiring young adult author, really wanted to read it.

Initially, many other books got in my way. Naturally, studying an English and Creative Writing degree, I had a lot of poems, novels, short stories, and plays to read for my course, and these obviously took precedence. Everytime I walked into my local Waterstones, there was a lovely display of copies of the book, in windows or on the tables, and I desparately wanted to pick up a copy, but just… didn’t.

But then I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She came to do a guest lecture at my university about writing “children’s” fiction was inspiring, especially for someone like me who sits working on my young adult novel whilst my friends work on amazing pieces that sit nicely under the label of ‘literary fiction’. She was incredibly lovely, no pretenses that the process was easy as she projected the word counts of her numerous drafts to show how the first draft was never the finished product, frank talk about the effect of mental illness on her writing process and how she battled through it, and information about the way things are done publishing-wise either side of the pond. She also discussed with us how ridiculous it is that some books are considered better than others due to their genre, a sentiment I very much share. Needless to say, The Girl of Ink and Stars jumped up my reading list, and I bought a copy almost immediately. And I am so glad I did.

The first thing that amazed me was the beauty of the whole book. The cover itself is gorgeous, but the pages themselves are where the true amazement lies. Each page is decorated like a map in keeping with the protagonist Isabella’s dreams and her father’s job as a cartographer. The result is that every page feels like a step on the journey that the characters undertake, mapping out the unknown of their island. I’ve never seen pages like it, and I urge you to pick up the book if only to see the pages.

The only potential issue with a gorgeous cover is that sometimes the contents don’t quite live up to their presentation.

This book definitely did not have that issue.

The story centres around the character of Isabella, who volunteers to guide a search for her friend after she gets lost in what the people of her village call ‘The Forgotten Territories’. More than eager to explore the island and chart it on a map, following in the footsteps of her father, a cartographer, she ventures in to the Forgotten Territories with the search party, and finds herself facing a lot more trouble than she initially expected.

The exposition of the story is slow and subtle, revealing a world that is not too dissimilar from our own – after all, Kiran Millwood Hargrave does say that the places in all of her novels are real places, but they obviously feature some slight embellishments. The relationships between the characters are great – I particularly enjoyed seeing the friendship between Isabella and Lupe, as a focus on friendship rather than romance is so refreshing to see. The mythic elements were really interesting, and tied well into the rest of the plot.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I feel it could have been a little longer. As it was, at just over 200 pages, I felt the world wasn’t explored to its full potential. I would love to have seen adventures spanning over the whole island in depth, as there are some villages displayed on the map that are barely visited, only for a page or two, and some that are not visited at all. The world of the book was so great, it just seemed a shame to leave it at what felt almost like the bare minimum exploration, especially when the protagonist talks about how much she wants to explore the entire island of Joya throughout the novel.

Overall,  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure, and wants to read something refreshing.