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www.alisparkes.com/musings.asp

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Ali Sparkes - Children's Author


Ali Sparkes meant to be a superstar singer and actress by now, but that never quite happened . . . probably because this was in the olden days before StrictlyPopXTalentIdol. She could have done it otherwise.

After many drama school rejections, National Service as a Pontin’s Bluecoat (where she became the spangle-clad assistant to a juggling unicyclist – frighteningly, there is photographic proof), a stint in cabaret and then singing in cheesy cover bands, Ali finally got a proper job in local newspapers before absconding to the BBC in the late 1990s. A bit of local radio presenting and producing followed before she chucked in the day job and started writing comedy stuff for Radio 4 (Woman’s Hour and Home Truths).

She also knocked out twenty-two quarterly magazines for BBC Radio Solent, prompting a series of similar BBC local radio magazines around the UK, and she learnt how to edit, take photographs, and create crosswords along the way. But since The Shapeshifter: Finding The Fox came out in 2006, she’s found her groove. If you were to snap her in half she would read CHILDREN’S AUTHOR through the middle like Brighton rock. Although it would probably be a bit difficult to read, what with the blood and entrails and all that . . .

Ali currently has twenty-two children’s fiction titles published by Oxford University Press including her SWITCH series, her Blue Peter award-winning novel Frozen in Time, and her heart-stopping new adventure series about a group of teenagers with special powers, Unleashed.

Ali Sparkes...

On JOAN AIKEN

Most people know Joan Aiken for the Wolves of Willoughby Chase but for me her best was The Whispering Mountain, featuring the wonderfully bookish Owen, unloved grandson of a Welsh museum curator, caught up in a dark plot involving an ancient harp, dodgy Cockneys, a girl with a pet hawk and a travelling poet – to say nothing of the school bullies he has to enlist to help save the day. Joan inspired me so much, I know my stories bear her mark!

On ENID BLYTON

Without Enid I probably would never have become a bookworm or, eventually an author. Discovering Five Go to Smuggler’s Top in the back of a toy cupboard really changed my life. I understand when people say the characters are a little 2D and the plots a bit similar, but Enid knew exactly what young readers want – fast paced adventure, dogs, secret passages, midnight feasts. I still want all those things.

On JEAN CRAIGHEAD GEORGE

When I was nine our teacher read us My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George - the story of young Sam Gribley who runs away to the mountains to live on his own wits, armed only with a survival handbook and the peregrine falcon he trains to hunt for him. This brilliant book inspired the ‘survival’  and peregrine falcon elements of the Shapeshifter series…

On ANTHONY BUCKERIDGE

The Jennings books were serialised on the radio from the 1950s onwards. Anthony Buckeridge really knew how to write a brilliantly funny schoolboy story which could be read aloud. I loved all the Jennings books, about Jennings and his friend Darbisher, and their complicated and hilarious lives at Linbury Court Preparatory School. I read them aloud to our sons recently and they cracked up, just like I did.

On JEROME K JEROME

Now although this isn’t a children’s book, Three Men in a Boat is something that every bookworm MUST read by the time they turn 14. The story of the author, his two friends and Montmorency the dog, on a boating holiday is strewn with mad incidents involving cheese, scary unopenable tins and a dead dog floating by in the water. I laughed so much I nearly ruptured myself.

 

Q & A with Ali Sparkes


1.    What inspired you to write Frozen in Time?
Two things – 1. I’ve always had a thing about finding something spooky in the woods and 2. I’ve long pondered on what the Famous Five would make of the 21st century world. So I wanted some characters who were very 50s and rather proper – but with grit and courage – to encounter 2009 after being found in the woods.

2.    Describe it in two lines?

Freddy & Polly are discovered by Ben and Rachel, cryonically frozen in an underground chamber since 1956 – and woken up. What Ben and Rachel defrost is a mystery involving secret passages, missing scientists, international spies – and Pot Noodle.

3. How long did it take you to write?
Around four months of focused effort, but a much longer period of turning it over in my mind – three or four years.

4.    What do you think people will say about this book?
I hope they will say ‘Wow! Get me that book!’

5.    Are you working on something else at the moment?

Oh yes. A series of younger children’s books for Oxford, currently entitled CreepyCrawlers, out in 2010, is my main thing right now, but I am planning some other exciting projects with Oxford and Scholastic for 2009. It’s going to be a very busy year.

6.   What is your favourite food?
Slightly warm, home made lemon meringue pie. 

7.    What makes you laugh out loud?

My kids, frequently, The Mighty Boosh, David Mitchell, and people assuming that since I’ve been published I am filthy rich. I hope to stop laughing at that last one eventually.

8.    What is your one luxury item you would take with you on to a Desert Island?
My recorder. I am no major talent on it, but I would finally have the time to work out Faure’s Pavanne without making the neighbour’s cat go into spasms.

9.    What is your most treasured memory?
(Jointly) The first moment with each of my baby sons & their dad.

10.  What is your weakness?
Fondant creams. Especially the ones in the Burley Fudge Shop in the New Forest. I am working on the aversion therapy principal that if I eat enough of them this madness will eventually stop of its own accord – so if anyone gets the urge to send me a box or two, they will be assisting me greatly. (My agent will pass them on… vanilla and strawberry flavours are my biggest challenge.)

11.    What do you think your children would say about you?

Mum? Was that the lady we saw at 5am this morning..? Actually, no – I hope it’s not that bad! Jacob (14) and Alex (10) seem to be hugely enjoying all the book stuff (not least because they’re written in to the Shapeshifter series, from book two; see if you can find them!). They would probably say I’m ‘cool’ but there may be a pocket money dimension to this…

12.    Who is the person you most admire?

I admire anyone who has to battle through great adversary to get to their goal, and doesn’t give up. It’s a bit of a cop out, I know – there are too many of them to list! On a personal level, my mum and older sister have undoubtedly saved lives in their nursing careers and it doesn’t get much more admirable than that. I admire Johnny Depp too… but for altogether different reasons…

13.    What is your most embarrassing moment?
I once spent a day at a local radio station on work experience. It was going really well and I’d even voiced a news report which went out in their hourly bulletins. I felt pretty cool as I said goodbye to them all and caught the train home – and when I got back through my door my husband pointed out to me that I had a long tail of pink toilet roll hanging out the back of my trousers. I worked out that it had to have been there, floating gaily in the breeze behind me, for at least the last hour of my work experience day. I flushed.

14.   What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
When I was angsting as a theatre-struck teenager, over possibility of failing an upcoming audition, I would whine ‘Yeah but – why me?’. My parents would always answer ‘Why not you?’ It’s a way of thinking which has served me very well.

15.    What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone?
Do what you say you’ll do. Even if it’s only you that knows about it. Make this a habit (unless it becomes genuinely impossible or unwise). Most people talk about what they will do, but never actually do it. You’ll be way ahead of the pack if you just do what you say you’ll do.

16.    Define beauty.  
The faces of my children (obviously a fairly personal one, that!). A woodland at dawn. Most of Cornwall.

17.    What are you reading at the moment?

Hazel by Julie Hearne. It’s painfully frustrating because I can only grab snatched chapters while waiting at the dentist or in the car or something, but the little I’ve read so far is masterfully written. Very very good. Will have time to read it all soon. Not sure if it’s out yet, as mine is an uncorrected proof.

18.    What would be on the soundtrack of your film – and who would play you?
Feeling Good – the Muse version. No Surprises Please by RadioHead. Hmmm. Alex Kingston would be good (although a little unfeasibly attractive – but this is MY fantasy, yes?!)

19.    Favourite holiday destination?

Cornwall in good weather. With the sun switched on, there’s nowhere to touch The Lizard.

20.    Which authors have most inspired you?

Stephen King, Joan Aiken, Anthony Buckeridge, Douglas Adams, Jerome K Jerome… oooh – I could go on and on and o

21.   What is your favourite children’s book?
Tough to pick just one, but it would probably have to be The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken. On another day it might be Brendan Chase by BB.

22.    Most treasured possession?
Aside from family photos and my Apple Macbook, I have some little hematite hearts, gifts from my sons, which I would hate to lose.

23.    Where are you happiest?
In my wellies in a woodland stream, poking about with my family on a warm autumn day.

24.    Favourite biscuit?
Used to be Lemon Puffs until somebody changed the shape. Manufacturers please note – you can’t lever the top bit off properly with your front teeth when it no longer has corners! This was a vital part of The Lemon Puff Experience. Bring back the rectangle ones! Until they do, I will remain in the chilled, fresh-from-fridge Penguin camp.

25.    Pet hates?
The malicious content of newsagents shelves, Big Brother (although I’ll stoop to the celebrity version occasionally), Gordon Ramsey style on-screen bullying and mature male strangers who take it upon themselves to shout ‘left hand down’ and stand in your way while you are trying (perfectly ably!) to park.

26.    If you could change one thing about the world we live in today what would it be?

That people would be less easily offended. Too many people seem to have ‘Get offended, as quickly and irrationally as possible’ on their To Do list. Followed by ‘Stay offended, and if possible allow a mate/partner to further whip up your indignation, before nursing said offence for as long as possible.’ Let it go, people – let it go!


Featured Books, with extracts by Ali Sparkes


Frozen in Time
Frozen in Time
Ali Sparkes
A page-turning mystery-adventure with a pleasingly old-fashioned feel as two children, frozen by cryonic suspension by their father in 1956, are miraculously brought back to life by two other children in 2009. There are loads of clues to follow and...
Featured in: 11+ readers | 9+ readers | eBooks
Format: Paperback - Released: 06/06/2013
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Out of This World
Out of This World
Ali Sparkes
This is a action packed,science fiction story about a boy with super-powers. With a streak of the supernatural running through it, which will greatly appeal to this award-winning novelist's existing fans and new readers alike. This is a prequel to...
Featured in: 11+ readers | 9+ readers | eBooks
Format: Paperback - Released: 06/06/2013
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Unleashed Trick or Truth
Unleashed Trick or Truth
Ali Sparkes
Book 3 in the superb Unleashed series about a group of children with supernatural powers.
Featured in: 11+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 04/04/2013
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Unleashed Mind Over Matter
Unleashed Mind Over Matter
Ali Sparkes
January 2013 Book of the Month Prize winning Ali Sparkes has created a fresh new action-packed series about a group of children with special powers. This is the second in the series. Each novel is brimming with adventure and danger;...
Featured in: 11+ readers | 9+ readers | Books of the Month
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/01/2013
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Anaconda Adventure (S.W.I.T.C.H. 11)
Anaconda Adventure (S.W.I.T.C.H. 11)
Ali Sparkes
A new thrilling adventure for a group of children who can magically switch into being another animal. And, most importantly, switch back! Now Josh and Danny are visiting the Zoo with their friend Petty Potts who is about to turn...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 05/04/2012
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Lizard Loopy (S.W.I.T.C.H. 7)
Lizard Loopy (S.W.I.T.C.H. 7)
Ali Sparkes
Sizzling adventures happen when twins Josh and Danny swap places with a host of fascinating animals. Armed with the secret spray given to them by Petty Potts, the brilliant and eccentric scientist, Josh and Danny can get out of all...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/02/2012
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Chameleon Chaos (S.W.I.T.C.H. 8)
Chameleon Chaos (S.W.I.T.C.H. 8)
Ali Sparkes
Sizzling adventures happen when twins Josh and Danny swap places with a host of fascinating animals. Armed with the secret spray given to them by Petty Potts, the brilliant and eccentric scientist, Josh and Danny can get out of all...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/02/2012
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Turtle Terror (S.W.I.T.C.H. 9)
Turtle Terror (S.W.I.T.C.H. 9)
Ali Sparkes
Sizzling adventures happen when twins Josh and Danny swap places with a host of fascinating animals. Armed with the secret spray given to them by Petty Potts, the brilliant and eccentric scientist, Josh and Danny can get out of all...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/02/2012
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Gecko Gladiator (S.W.I.T.C.H. 10)
Gecko Gladiator (S.W.I.T.C.H. 10)
Ali Sparkes
Sizzling adventures happen when twins Josh and Danny swap places with a host of fascinating animals. Armed with the secret spray given to them by Petty Potts, the brilliant and eccentric scientist, Josh and Danny can get out of all...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/02/2012
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S.W.I.T.C.H.:Frog Freak Out!
S.W.I.T.C.H.:Frog Freak Out!
Ali Sparkes
A double helping of excitement  in this bumper book of two stories in one volume. When Petty Potts, scientist with some mad and dangerous ideas, turns up at their summer camp, twins Josh and Danny are determined that they will...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/09/2011
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Unleashed 1: A Life and Death Job
Unleashed 1: A Life and Death Job
Ali Sparkes
A Lovereading4kids 'Great Read' you may have missed 2011 selection. Prize winning Ali Sparkes has created a fresh new series about a group of children with special powers. In stories brimming with adventure and danger, the kids live together using all...
Featured in: 11+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 04/08/2011
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Crane Fly Crash (S.W.I.T.C.H. 5)
Crane Fly Crash (S.W.I.T.C.H. 5)
Ali Sparkes
How far would you go to save your annoying big bug sister? When Jenny accidentally uses Petty Potts's S.W.I.T.C.H spray on herself, Josh and Danny know that there is only one thing for it. They'll have to change themselves into...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 07/04/2011
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Beetle Blast (S.W.I.T.C.H. 6)
Beetle Blast (S.W.I.T.C.H. 6)
Ali Sparkes
Twins Josh and Danny have been turned into diving beetles! Pond life is scary enough because of what’s in the pond but something much more scary – and dangerous – is outside! How the twins save themselves is a gripping...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 07/04/2011
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Spider Stampede (S.W.I.T.C.H. 1)
Spider Stampede (S.W.I.T.C.H. 1)
Ali Sparkes
Boy or insect? Twins Josh and Danny survive a series of thrilling adventures after they have been transformed into bug life by the crazy scientist Petty Potts who injects them with a most unusual serum. How insect-loving Josh and insect-hating...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/02/2011
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Fly Frenzy  (S.W.I.T.C.H. 2)
Fly Frenzy (S.W.I.T.C.H. 2)
Ali Sparkes
Boy or insect? Twins Josh and Danny survive a series of thrilling adventures after they have been transformed into bug life by the crazy scientist Petty Potts who injects them with a most unusual serum. How insect-loving Josh and insect-hating...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/02/2011
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Grasshopper Glitch (S.W.I.T.C.H. 3)
Grasshopper Glitch (S.W.I.T.C.H. 3)
Ali Sparkes
Boy or insect? Twins Josh and Danny survive a series of thrilling adventures after they have been transformed into bug life by the crazy scientist Petty Potts who injects them with a most unusual serum. How insect-loving Josh and insect-hating...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/02/2011
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Ant Attack (S.W.I.T.C.H. 4)
Ant Attack (S.W.I.T.C.H. 4)
Ali Sparkes
Boy or insect? Twins Josh and Danny survive a series of thrilling adventures after they have been transformed into bug life by the crazy scientist Petty Potts who injects them with a most unusual serum. How insect-loving Josh and insect-hating...
Featured in: 5+ readers | 7+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/02/2011
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Wishful Thinking
Wishful Thinking
Ali Sparkes
An entertaining and surprising adventure, this shows that wishing can be dangerous as Kevin soon finds out after accidentally letting his wish list fall in the river. When Abandinus becomes his own personal god, Kevin’s life takes off in some...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/07/2010
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Dark Summer
Dark Summer
Ali Sparkes
An adventure story in which surprising things happen set deep in an underground world. Unhappy while staying with his mean relatives, Eddie finds himself led into the secret and unexplored parts of Wookey Hole. His exciting adventures make up for...
Featured in: 9+ readers | eBooks
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/07/2009
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Frozen In Time
Frozen In Time
Ali Sparkes
Book of the Year in the 2010 Blue Peter Award and winner of the 'Book I Couldn't Put Down' category Award. A page-turning mystery-adventure with a pleasingly old-fashioned feel as two children, frozen by cryonic suspension by their father in 1956,...
Featured in: 9+ readers | Book Awards | eBooks
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/01/2009
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The Shapeshifter 5 : Stirring The Storm
The Shapeshifter 5 : Stirring The Storm
Ali Sparkes
Another exciting adventure in the Shapeshifters series. Someone is out to get Dax and the other Children of Limitless Ability. Despite being sent to the country for safekeeping, the net is closing in. Can Dax save his friends? And, can...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/01/2008
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The Shapeshifter 4 : Dowsing The Dead
The Shapeshifter 4 : Dowsing The Dead
Ali Sparkes
Fans of Alex Rider love this series, which involves fast-paced action where the spirit world and the real world meet; where shapeshifter Dax and his friends are looking for a slightly quieter life, but not for long. All is not...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 02/08/2007
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The Shapeshifter 3 : Going to Ground
The Shapeshifter 3 : Going to Ground
Ali Sparkes
This series has really found its feet with a multitude of new readers discovering it.  The plot line twists for a pastime and keeps you guessing right to the very end and Dax and his friends must call upon their...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 03/05/2007
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The Shapeshifter 2 : Running The Risk
The Shapeshifter 2 : Running The Risk
Ali Sparkes
An exciting second set of thrilling adventures for Dax who thought he was an ordinary schoolboy until he suddenly turns into a fox. It turns out that he is one of a chosen group being trained by the government in...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 04/01/2007
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The Shapeshifter 1 : Finding the Fox
The Shapeshifter 1 : Finding the Fox
Ali Sparkes
Dax is a boy with a difference: Dax can turn into a fox. Suddenly able to follow a scent, search out dangers and scavenge for his own food, Dax finds a new life opening before him. Soon Dax...
Featured in: 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 04/05/2006
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Alligator Action
Alligator Action
Ali Sparkes
Petty's been kidnapped! Josh and Danny have already broken into her secret lab looking for her, and now they're going to brave all her anti-intruder traps and break into her house. There's no sign of Petty, but there is a...
Featured in: 7+ readers | 9+ readers
Format: Paperback - Released: 05/04/2012
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