My Review of The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends, by Denise Ersalahi Erguler

Cover Shifting Jack New Friends

…the prophecy began ringing in Militis’ ears: the most gifted will rule next, one to guard and protect, one to rule, both bound by blood. None shall stand in their way, they will suffer great injustices, great grievance. But they shall rise in times of peril. Shifters will unite.

Jack and Lily Legend live in North Cyprus, with their mother, Linda, and their father, Militis. On the surface, they look like any other family, but beneath their ordinary veneer, they are avian shapeshifters with a mission to help protect animals and the environment.

When Jack and Lily decide to take a boat ride one afternoon with their teacher, Mr Gardener, Lily discovers dead fish floating on the surface of the sea. Hoping to practice her magical, healing powers, Lily leans in for a closer look. Just as she does, the boat rocks, knocking her overboard. Lily gasps for breath and tries to reach the surface of the water but becomes entangled with a giant squid. Unable to free herself, a friendly dolphin comes to her assistance. What Lily discovers next will come as a huge surprise.

A richly imaginative fantasy adventure for children, The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends features the familiar Jack and Lily Legend from book 1 in the series, The Adventures of Shifting Jack: A New Home. This is a delightful story underpinned by an educational message about the importance of taking care of nature and each other. Children will enjoy getting to know Jack and Lily Legend and all their friends, both old and new. Adults will also enjoy this tale of bravery, determination and camaraderie between adults and children set in the unique location of North Cyprus.

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends is the second, and final, book in the Shifting Jack series. Although the books would, ideally, be read in order, each can equally be enjoyed on its own. For more about The Adventures of Shifting Jack: A New Home, see my interview with Denise about the book, published last year. At the end of the interview, you’ll find my review of book 1.

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For those that read that interview, you’ll know that at the time of writing The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends, Denise was battling a rare form of brain cancer. Sadly, she lost that fight in January of this year.

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adventures-Shifting-Jack-New-Friends-ebook/dp/B0771N81BF/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Shifting-Jack-New-Friends-ebook/dp/B0771N81BF/

Denise author photo

About the Author

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends has been published posthumously. Author Denise Ersalahi Erguler fought a courageous battle with a rare form of brain cancer for 13 months. This, the second in the series of Shifting Jack books, was written after Denise was diagnosed in December 2015 and bears testament to her courage, determination and great story-telling ability. Denise leaves behind a husband, Olkan, and two young children, who inspired her to write her children’s books.

Denise Ersalahi Erguler was born and raised in Hackney, London and moved to North Cyprus in 1994 with her family where she studied Interior Design at a local university for four years. She then pursued a career in this field in London working for various designer companies at the peak of the industry. In 2005 setup her own interior design company.

In 2007, Denise left her successful business in London behind and moved back to North Cyprus to help grow her family business, Mermaid Fabrics of London in Kyrenia. This decision was made upon the belief that she would be closer to home and family for support in bringing up her child in a safe environment.

Denise began writing in 2010. In her stories, she used real life characters and stories evolving around her to build her fantasy world giving us the opportunity to share her dream world.

Also by Denise:

The Adventure of Shifting Jack: A New Home, which won the Children’s book award at the Radio WORKS Author Awards, London, December 2016.

The Essence, an adult Sci-fi novel.

 

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Why do I write? A guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

Today, as part of the #AlfredNightingale blog tour, I’m featuring a thoughtful guest post by Rebecca Stonehill on why she writes. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Rebecca. 

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You know that feeling of complete helplessness after you’ve watched the news? Watching reams of people leaving war-torn Syria, or the latest terrorist attack in a crowded market, or corrupt dictatorships making its own people suffer? Feeling deeply saddened, but not knowing what you can do about it, that the only option is to continue and make the most of our own lives?

I go through all of the above, as almost everyone does. And then, as somebody working in the creative arts, I interpret and personalize situations such as these. Toni Morrison, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist once said of the artist’s task in troubled times: ‘This is precisely the time when artists go to work.’ I couldn’t agree more. It’s an unspoken pact I have with myself, to respond to difficult situations with writing. People have sometimes asked me, How can such a cheerful person like you base your novels in such un-cheerful settings?  (Think: The Spanish Civil War in The Poet’s Wife, Prejudice and Mau Mau Emergency in The Girl and the Sunbird and the Battle of Crete in The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale.) The truth is, if I didn’t write my way through such difficult scenarios, I’m not sure I would write at all.

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But that doesn’t mean that all this is simple catharsis; I know there are other people out there who feel the same as me and are deeply disturbed by what we as a race do to one another and what we are doing to our beautiful planet. I completely understand why people both write and read chick lit or light romances, so we can remove ourselves from the sober realities that surround us and indulge in some much-needed escapism. This is a hard written art form to do well. Often I wish I could write these stories, but I find that I can’t and that whenever I’ve tried, I’ve failed.

Everybody says I was a serious little girl, reserving my smile for only a few; that child who listened intently, but never put her hand up in class. I’m far less serious these days and love nothing more than a good laugh with friends and family. And yet, that serious child lives on in me. She is the reader who would like to but can’t read anything lighthearted, and she is the writer who returns again and again to mine the depths of human despair in her stories.

Thankfully, there’s a flipside to all this. And that flipside incorporates those stories of courage, resilience and beauty in the face of human suffering. We are a strange, remarkable species – capable of so much destruction and hatred and yet, we also know how to love unconditionally and to be the harbingers of great compassion, generosity and joy.

Through my writing, I try hard to make sense of this complicated world and understand why things have happened. Even more importantly, I look for and create stories of hope, that beautiful little word that allows us to press on through the direst of situations. I am so inspired by tales of courage and resilience and, in many ways, my writing bears testament to the spirit of human bravery.

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Author EB White said that a writer ‘must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.’

If I can do any of the above, in any small way, then I believe I have achieved what I set out to do. Where all this will lead me, I don’t yet know. But I have a thousand and one stories bottled up inside me, so the real question is this: where will my need to make sense of the world take me and which story will be released next?

Rebecca Stonehill is from London but currently lives in Nairobi in an old wooden cottage surrounded by banana trees and tropical birds. The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, now available, is her third novel. Her other books, The Poet’s Wife and The Girl and the Sunbird, were published in 2014 and 2016.

Rebecca loves to connect with readers and can be contacted on her Facebook page: Rebecca Stonehill books, via twitter: @bexstonehill and through her website: www.rebeccastonehill.com. If you would like to be kept updated with her writing projects, please do sign up here: http://rebeccastonehill.com/signup

BLOG TOUR

The Third Note by Virginia King

Being a big fan of the Selkie Moon Mystery series, I was delighted when Virginia offered to let me be involved with the editing of book 3, The Third Note. Of course, I said I’d love to. One of the great pleasures of editing is being able to appreciate a book on a deeper level. Watching the story develop and take flight was a privilege. Getting to read it again later, as a regular reader would, only enhanced the experience.

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My Review

There’s a pattern here—the losing and the finding take me on incredible journeys of discovery. Things I need to know about myself. It’s what happened when I lost my memory and had to travel across the world to get it back. I mustn’t forget what I discovered then: that the answers are in my own heart.

Virginia King weaves a mystical web of suspense, psychic intuition and self-discovery in The Third Note. With Selkie now attempting to settle in Hawaii, her great-grandmother Bridie’s much delayed parcel comes as a huge surprise to her.  Why did Bridie wait until 35 years after her death to send it to her, and what is the significance of her mysterious gift? While Selkie knows that Bridie was Irish, she doesn’t know why she left Ireland nor why she chose Selkie as the recipient.

When Selkie meets up with her old friend Davina, she asks Selkie to accompany her on a trip to Ireland—Davina’s birthplace. Davina has secrets of her own which need investigating. Selkie figures it’s the perfect opportunity to do some research into her own family history.  What she finds will both shock her and have far reaching repercussions.

Exploring the idea that our past affects our present far more than we realise, The Third Note is a chilling, yet thoughtful, page turner with a good dose of humour thrown in to lighten things up.

If you enjoyed the first two books in the Selkie Moon Mystery series, then you’ll love The Third Note. In fact, even if you didn’t read the first two books in the series, chances are you’ll be fascinated enough by book 3 that you’ll want to go back and read them too. Oh yes, and, did I mention there’s a free prequel available on Virginia’s website?

The Third Note is available from Amazon.

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XT31XD3/

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XT31XD3/

You can purchase the first two novels in the Selkie Moon Mystery series from Amazon.

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Virginia-King/e/B00K2N9AGK/

US: https://www.amazon.com/Virginia-King/e/B00K2N9AGK/

Download Laying Ghosts, the free prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery series here: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

Check out Virginia’s website to learn more about the series and Virginia’s writing: http://www.selkiemoon.com/

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Follow her on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

 

Interview with Marianne Wheelaghan, bestselling author and director of writingclasses.co.uk

Today I’m welcoming Marianne Wheelaghan to the blog. Marianne is the author of The Blue Suitcase and The Scottish Lady Detective series, which includes Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer. She’s also the director of the excellent writing school, writingclasses.co.uk, which I attended and whose alumni and teachers continue to be an incredible support to me.

Welcome, Marianne!

Marianne

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your writing and books?

I write both crime and historic fiction and am interested in exploring themes to do with “home” and “place” as well as “identity’ in my writing.

Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer are my first two crime novels in the bestselling Scottish Lady Detective series and are inspired by the time I spent living in the Pacific.

My first non-crime novel is the bestselling The Blue Suitcase. It is inspired by letters and diaries I discovered after my mother’s death and tells the true life story of a Christian girl growing up in Silesia in Nazi Germany.

How did you begin writing?

I have six sisters and two brothers. Growing up with so many siblings meant it was sometimes a bit difficult to get heard. My way of standing out was to tell stories. I suppose I must have been reasonably good at it because telling stories quickly became “my thing”.  It was only as an adult I started to write certain stories down and quickly realised there was nothing I’d rather do. I enrolled on a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with Lancaster University to help hone my skills. This changed my life. Not only did I develop my writing skills, but I gained the confidence I needed to take my writing seriously.

The Blue Suitcase

Marianne’s debut novel

Your debut novel, The Blue Suitcase, was loosely based on your mother’s experience of living in Silesia at the time that Hitler came to power. Could you talk a little about how the idea for the novel came about?

Shortly after my mother’s death I was helping my father sort out her personal things. We discovered a scuffed, blue suitcase full of her letters, diary extracts, photos, old postcards and faded documents, written in German, my mother’s first language.

My father wanted me to translate the documents – I’d studied German so it was not as mad as it sounds. I was appalled at the idea, my mother had been a very private person. I thought it a terrible intrusion of her privacy to read her private stuff. But Dad wouldn’t give up. You see, my mother was from Germany but she never talked about her family life before coming to Scotland after the end of WW2. In fact, you could say my mother’s early life was a mystery – we weren’t even sure where she was from in Germany. Dad believed knowing what was written in the letters and documents would bring her closer to him. I resisted doing what he asked, until we discovered this photo of Mum’s family.

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Mum is the smiling girl at the front of the photo, next to the older man – I recognised her immediately. The other people in the photo are her family – who knew I had so many aunts and uncles? However, it was not seeing all the family that made me change my mind, it was, rather, seeing the picture of Hitler on the wall behind them: if you look carefully, you can see it above my grandfather’s head. I was totally shocked at the sight of it. My mum was a good, kind, thoughtful person and although I didn’t know her family, I couldn’t believe they were not also good people. So why was there a picture of Hitler, a war criminal, on their living room wall?

Around this time I was also very aware of a book that had been around since 1996 called Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen.  In it, he argues that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were “willing executioners” in the Holocaust. The book was scathed by historians, and in the words of Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, “it is totally wrong about everything and worthless”. However, seeing this photo of Hitler on my grandparent’s wall made me wonder if, after all, there could be some truth in Goldhagen’s theory. I decided to translate the documents to see if I could discover the truth once and for all.

The more I read about Mum’s life, the more shocked I was by what I discovered. When I finally finished translating everything I was both astounded and horrified and felt compelled to share my findings. Like thousands and thousands of ordinary Germans, my mother was not one of Hitler’s willing executioners, far from it. Like thousands and thousands of other ordinary Germans, she was a victim of Hitler’s terrible regime. As if that wasn’t enough, after the end of WW2, in peace time, my mother’s family, along with millions of other Silesian Germans, were forcibly expelled from their home. I knew what I had to do. It was time to set the record straight and the idea for The Blue Suitcase was born.

Food of Ghosts

Book 1 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

Your Scottish Lady Detective Series is set in the Pacific Islands, specifically Kiribati and Fiji. Why did you choose to set the novels in this region?

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money. This meant we never went on holiday like others did and treats were for birthdays and Christmas only. But one thing we had all year round were books, hundreds of them, bought by my mum and dad from second-hand shops and jumble sales. They included, amongst many others, almost all of Agatha Christie’s 66 novels, RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Stacpole’s The Blue Lagoon. These books fuelled my imagination and shaped my dreams. When I wasn’t reading, I was travelling around the world in my head, voyaging to faraway, unspoiled places, populated by gentle, innocent people.

Then, one day I was lucky enough to get a job in some of the lesser developed countries in the Pacific, namely Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and later Fiji. I was going to live my dream. The reality, however, was very different from what I expected. Yes, there was unspoiled beauty and traditional culture and kind people, but there was also a dark side to life there. My paradisiacal countries were wonderfully different, but also wonderfully not so different.

It struck me that travelling was not so much about going to new places, as seeing our surroundings with a fresh perspective, and seeing it all: the good and the bad and the ugly. As Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in looking with new eyes.”  As a writer, I wanted to share this lightbulb moment with others and I did what writers do, I wrote a book, or two. Why a crime novel? I believe a good crime novel can tell us as much about the darker side of society as any literary novel. Plus, I have many fond memories of reading an Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham into the wee hours, riveted until I found out who had done it. I wanted to recreate that feeling of suspense in my readers. So Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend, AKA The Scottish Lady Detective, was born. Maybe not surprisingly, DS Townsend is a kind of modern day Miss Marple: a tad more gritty than cosy, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly but can also be kind, who is shrewd and intelligent but who can also make mistakes and even behave downright silly sometimes, and who has a dark side of her very own.

The Shoeshine Killer

Book 2 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

What challenges did you encounter when writing your novels and how did you overcome these?

In the Scottish Lady Detective novels, one of the biggest challenges is to bring totally alien peoples and places to life for the reader, and in doing so make the unfamiliar, familiar. I hope to achieve this by using very specific sensory details in the writing, so the reader really sees the magnolia trees, hears the traffic, tastes the overripe mangoes, smells the earthy market smells, and feels the giant drops of warm rain on their skin.

The biggest challenge when writing The Blue Suitcase was distancing myself emotionally from writing about my mother. I struggled with this until I had an epiphany: I would create a fictional family, very much like the true family but not exactly the same. This worked. Much of what happened to my fictional family happened to my real family, but some stuff didn’t, although it could have. Certainly, everything that happened in the novel is based on true historic fact: if didn’t happen to my family, it happened to someone else’s family.

Could you tell readers about writingclasses.co.uk? How did the school come about?

I decided to set up writingclasses for two reasons: I love writing and wanted to share my passion for it with others. I also believe to teach a skill is an honourable way to earn a living and in the words of Hanif Kureishi “I felt if I knew something, I should pass it on.”  

How are classes taught?

Today, with massive online open learning courses (MOOCs) becoming a part of everyday life, it is difficult to understand how in 2002 online courses of any kind, but especially short courses, were unusual.  As a lover of online learning, I was determined that writingclasses should offer short online creative writing courses, the kind of courses that I would have loved to have attended when I began writing. In my opinion online learning offers a flexibility that face-to-face classes simply cannot. Students can join in at a time that suits them, there is no being early or late and no need to find childminders/babysitters. For those of us juggling work and family life, learning online gives us access to courses that would have otherwise been denied us.

One of my favourite elements of the courses was that tutors read and commented on all assignments (quite often in other courses I’ve taken, tutors leave the critiquing primarily to students and, while peer review is always helpful, it’s the expert guidance of a more experienced writer which is most sought after). Why did you decide on this model?

 As all beginner writers know, one of the hardest things to find is an experienced writer who will read your work and give you honest, constructive feedback. This is why attending a course can be so helpful. However, when I was a beginner writer taking short courses, a tutor might give feedback on one piece of writing, possibly two, but never three. In my opinion this is simply not enough. We writers learn by our mistakes. It follows that the more we write, the more mistakes we can potentially make and the greater the opportunity we have to develop our writing skills, always assuming we have an expert at hand to help us recognise what the mistakes are. This is why on all writingclasses courses students are encouraged to write something new every week, why  “making mistakes” is obligatory, and why our experienced tutor-writers give helpful constructive feedback on every piece of creative writing the student submits during the course.

Several of your students have gone on to become published writers, myself included. Could you talk a bit about your students and why you think it is that so many have been successful in their writing?

A little bit of encouragement and feedback can go a long way but, ultimately, the students who succeed are, very much like yourself, the ones who do not give up.  Determination and staying power are often as important as ability and creativity.

And, finally, are you working on anything at the moment?

I am writing two books – the follow on from The Blue Suitcase and a third Scottish Lady Detective novel set in Edinburgh.  I’m not sure if it is a good idea to write two books at the same time. Time will tell ;-).   

Thanks so much for coming by to talk with us about your writing and teaching!

Readers can learn more about Marianne and her writing by visiting her website: http://www.mariannewheelaghan.co.uk/

Check out the courses on offer at her writing school: http://www.writingclasses.co.uk/courses.html  (Tip: The next semester starts on the 3rd October so do sign up early to guarantee your place– they’re great value!)

Follow her on Twitter: @MWheelaghan and @solovewriting

Buy her books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marianne-Wheelaghan/e/B004AQKRXA/

https://www.amazon.com/Marianne-Wheelaghan/e/B004AQKRXA/

 

 

 

Interview with Denise Ersalahi Erguler, author of children’s fantasy novel The Adventures of Shifting Jack

 

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I’m delighted to be welcoming the talented Cypriot children’s author Denise Ersalahi Erguler to the blog today to talk about her novel, The Adventures of Shifting Jack, which is released today as an ebook. My review follows the interview.

Denise author photo

credit: Olkan Erguler

Welcome, Denise!

Firstly, could you please describe the story for readers?

Yes with pleasure, it is about a family of bird shifters that have been in hiding moving from country to country

What’s the inspiration behind The Adventures of Shifting Jack?

I had an idea for an adult fantasy novel rattling in my mind for a while, so I decided to write my book called The Essence. It’s about a planet called Nageena. Fiona, an interior designer, is kidnapped by  aliens who are hoping Fiona can help them with the civil war that is killing their planet. They picked up on Fiona’s unique brain waves – she has empathic abilities – but it doesn’t help the civil war as they have a problem with the planet’s defence system. Fiona meets the man of her dreams, literally. She has been dreaming of a man since she was a little girl. In her dreams they grew up together, and now she meets him in the flesh. However, she doesn’t feel anything for him. Even worse it looks like he hates her!

The Denizens of planet Nageena are shape shifters, they host a symbiant entity called The Essence, which allows them to shift into various animals.

My son wanted to know what I had written about, so I told him the clean version. His face lit up when I told him about shifting, so I thought I would write a shifting story for children.

Jack and his father, Militis, are shape shifters—half breeds. What appealed to you about shapeshifters and, for those who don’t know what a shapeshifter is, could you please describe one?

A shape shifter is being that can change their body into another shape like a human into a bear, or bird.

One of the things I took away from my reading of the book is the value of respecting nature and being kind to animals, and each other. This is a very important message, especially for young children. Did you consciously weave this lesson, and others, into the book?

Yes, Mother Nature needs to be looked after better. It’s always easier to start with children of a young age, you would be surprised what they pick up on.

How long did it take you to write the story and what obstacles did you encounter along the way?

It’s been three years since I wrote my first word. The biggest obstacle we came across was when I was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Since then I have been focusing on getting better–my writing has taken the back seat for now.

Once your first draft was written, did you have a lot of rewriting to do? Could you talk readers through your writing process?

First I wrote a basic outline, then I expanded that into chapters. Once it was finished I passed it on to Anne Hamilton to edit. Once I had her feedback I changed one scene and added other scenes and events.

The story is written in close third-person, from nine-year-old Jack’s perspective. Did you find it difficult to write from a child’s viewpoint, and what challenges did you come across as a result?

I didn’t find it difficult to write as a nine-year old, as I have a nine-year old boy myself.

How did you come to writing? Have you always enjoyed storytelling?

 I’m a dreamer, sometimes I think I’m away with the fairies more than I am on earth. I lived in The Essence story for over a year. It was hard to end the book.

Are there any future novels in the works?

Yes, I’ve just started to plan out the second Shifting Jack of the series.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of The Adventures of Shifting Jack!

Readers can obtain The Adventures of Shifting Jack from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01I5GAMNA

You can follow Denise on Twitter at: @Denise_Jack16

Catch up with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Denise-Erguler-Author

My review of The Adventures of Shifting Jack

Nine-year-old Jack and eight-year-old Lily move with their parents, Linda and Militis, to Turkish Cyprus, uncertain of what to expect from their new school and home. The family has already moved numerous times for Militis’s work. Jack and Lily have become used to switching schools and not having friends. As a result, Lily is shy and withdrawn and Jack feels it’s his duty to look out for her; Lily is all he has in terms of a playmate. Linda worries about them and wishes they could stay put for once.

When Linda takes the kids to their new school, she’s impressed. The staff and students are welcoming and friendly, far more so than those at the previous schools they attended. Lily makes a friend almost immediately—Bahar—whose mother also reaches out to Linda. Before they realise it both families have become close.

As the kids are playing on the playground one afternoon, a small earthquake hits. Jack reaches out to try and help Lily escape from a falling swing-set when something remarkable happens—his hand turns into a claw and grows feathers. When it changes back again, he thinks he must have imagined it.  But Militis confesses to Jack that they’re shifters—creatures who are both human and bird. Jack knows he’s finally figured out why his family have always seemed different to him.

Unfortunately, Bahar’s father, Ali, is a hunter—an activity which Jack’s family is firmly opposed to. When it comes to light that Ali isn’t only a hunter but is also being blackmailed by foreign poachers, Jack and Militis decide to get involved by using their shifting powers to help. But will they be too late? And will Jack ever master his shifting, or will he end up getting himself, and his family, into trouble?

The Adventures of Shifting Jack is a delightfully imaginative fable for middle-grade children whose fresh and different perspective will also appeal to their parents.