Grimly Talks about Stranger Days… plus Books to be Won!

Those really nice people at The Reading Realm app called round for a chat a little while ago (when such things were still possible) and Grimly shared a few thoughts about Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill, the second book in the Vale of Strange series. It’s a really good interview. You’ll find out all about one of the new characters in Stranger Days, Peter’s new friend Mala; how Grimly says you can save the world by asking questions; and what might be coming up in the third book in the series. You’ll find it all on the Reading Realm website here.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, there’s a chance to win one of three signed copies of Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill! To find out how to enter, visit @reading_realm on Twitter.

And before you go, don’t forget that The Reading Realm app is a great resource to encourage kids to read, with lots of games, extracts from books (including The Shop on Peculiar Hill), and tools to help you write and draw stories yourself.

Right then, that’s it… Good luck in the competition, keep safe, and don’t forget your hat!

Escape to a Whole New World!

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Feeling bored? Even in these difficult times, travel is still permitted to the Vale of Strange to enjoy the scary, funny, fantastic adventures of Peter and his friends as they tussle with all manner of monsters. Recommended ages: 8 to 80+  The Shop on Peculiar Hill, the first book in the series, can be bought on Kindle from Amazon for just 99p (or 99 cents, or a similar bargain basement price in your own currency).

We’ve recently had some very good new reviews of The Shop on Peculiar Hill:

“I really like this book. A great adventure in a very strange place. It has a Dr. Seuss vibe with all the weird creatures and reminded me of some of the OZ adventures. The author is very good at leaving you in the dark while making you die of curiosity to find out what’s really going on right up to the end. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!” Amazon customer, Canada

“A fantastic read: was a little unsure about this book at first but absolutely loved it.” Amazon customer, Australia

“An amazingly well written book. Made me use my imagination again and I haven’t done that in forever! Would highly recommend and cannot wait to read the next one!” Goodreads reader

“I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Read it to your kids, read it for yourself. It’s ace.” Scottish reader on Facebook

We really hope you like it too. Happy reading!

Question Time on Peculiar Hill: What’s the deal with the Marmalade?; Do people get Strange? And more…

Many thanks to Hayley who has sent in some incisive questions about ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’. If you have any questions on the Vale of Strange books which you would like to ask, please do send them in. You can contact us via the Contact Grimly page, using either the contact box or the email address you will find on the page.

Please note that unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume you are happy for your questions to be answered here on the blog. To make it all as simple as possible, please mark your email ‘Questions for the blog’.

Now over to Hayley with the first of her four questions. Grimly himself will be providing the answers (we hope). Grimly! Are you there?

What is the deal with the marmalade? Why does it have crosses on the lid and why do you have turn it anticlockwise 3 times before you open it?

Ah yes, hum, well, (slurps cup of tea) very good question. Thanks, Hayley! The truth is that although the world of the Vale of Strange is very different to our own, it has quite a lot in common with us too. In our own world, we have plenty of so called ‘traditional remedies’ which are thought to fight off illnesses, and various superstitious actions (such as crossing our fingers) which are said to protect us against bad luck. We can’t assume that all of these necessarily work.

It is just the same in the world of the Vale of Strange. The ritual with the marmalade first emerged in the distant past and has been handed down over the years to the present generation of Peculiarshire residents along with unge and glop. These latter are protective substances against strange creatures which are commonly used but for which there is not a great deal of scientific evidence. Unge is placed in a bowl on the dining table but scientists who have studied it claim it is no more effective against bogeys and other strange creatures than a bowl of sugar or a vase of flowers would be.

Glop has a more impressive reputation but is only effective if used properly. You may have noticed that Amanda has never suggested that she and Peter should take plenty of glop in their bags when they set off into the Vale of Strange. This is because you can’t just throw it at bogeys. It has to be prepared in advance. You spread a ring of it around your house a few weeks before the start of the bogey season. Then as the days go by, it reacts with the soil of the ground around it to form a substance called glopthwock which the bogeys don’t like. As long as this ring is inspected every few weeks and repaired as necessary – chiefly reinforcing any sections which have been eaten away by snails (which unfortunately find glopthwock delicious) – the glop will provide a useful bogey deterrent.

Aunt Maggie uses glop of course, not least because she makes it herself, and she and Uncle Bob conscientiously inspect and repair the protective ring around their shop throughout the winter. Some of their neighbours, however, don’t have the patience for this and would rather just have a bogey pole handy to fend off the creatures instead.

Scientists have carried out numerous tests on glop but differ in their opinion as to how effective it is at keeping bogeys away. This is probably because the tests have not all been carried out in the same place, so the strength of glopthwock produced by the soil on which the glop is spread may have varied from one test site to another.

To return to the original subject of your question, however, scientists have paid much less attention to the effect of turning a jar of marmalade three times widdershins etc. There have been only two trials concerning this, neither of which have indicated any deterrent effect on bogeys, but some of the scientists on one of the trials thought the marmalade tasted a bit better afterwards.

Does the strangeness make everyone in the town strange or does it not affect them?

Humans have a very high resistance to strangeness. This is not something which is fully understood. However, the latest theory is that it is due to the high concentration of a substance called mezzrinine in the human body. This substance appears to take in all the available strangeness itself, so blocking absorption into the rest of the body. Humans are therefore unlikely to become strange, even when exposed to very high concentrations of strangeness.

This may be why the unfortunate tourists who get eaten by monsters in the Vale have the effect of keeping down levels of strangeness, strange-hungry mezzrinine being released into the atmosphere as part of the process of digestion – in the same sort of way as cows produce carbon dioxide. But the end effect of all this mezzrinine in the atmosphere is not global warming (as in the case of the cows) but lower levels of strangeness. These lower levels are welcomed by the citizens of Peculiarshire, of course, not because higher levels would make them strange (which they wouldn’t) but because higher levels would encourage the bogeys and other strange creatures to fly nearby and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

I think there will be more about mezzrinine in the third book in the series, which will be out, er, eventually…

Does Peter find a way to keep the strangness at bay without the tourists?

This is a much easier question to answer but I’d rather not do it just here because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’, the second book in the series. I will only comment that there may be some progress made concerning this problem, but the proof (as the lifkins would put it) is in the pudding. To find out more, read ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’, available now from Amazon!

Do Amanda and Peter end up together?

I was quite amused when another of our readers described Amanda and Peter as ‘the love interest’ in the book. It seemed to me that they were a little bit young for romance, but that is probably just me being old-fashioned! Anyway, I am afraid I don’t know what the answer is because we haven’t got there yet. We are only two books into the series.

What do you think? Do you think they’ll end up together? On the evidence of the first book I would be a little bit scared for Peter if they did. Don’t you think Amanda would push him around? On the other hand, maybe Peter is well capable of standing up for himself. He is very adamant at the end of the first book about not going back to the Vale for instance. But does he stick to that decision in the second book? And if he doesn’t, who is it that talks him into going back into the Vale? Is it Amanda – or somebody else?

It might be time for you to get your copy of ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’. Things are about to get a lot more complicated…

So that’s it then. Many thanks to Hayley again for sending in those questions! What would you like to know about the world of the Vale of Strange? There’s a lot of things that aren’t explained in the books. This is your chance to become a Vale of Strange insider. Send in your questions and you could be talking to Grimly here too…

The Lifkin Wall

As I promised yesterday, I’m now going to explain what’s really going on in Pete Lyon’s cover illustration for ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill‘ so you can get a taste of what’s going to happen in the new book.

What the cover shows is an enormous wall which the lifkins have built to protect the underground deposits of strangeness. These are under attack from a new character, the villainous Percival Crow, so putting at risk the very balance of the weirdosphere. The lifkins are the industrious, spindly creatures who first appeared in ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’. They make everything out of things they find lying around in the Vale of Strange and this wall is no exception. Pete has used this as the starting point for an extraordinary picture, showing all the things that make up the wall in microscopic detail: bits of cars, an aeroplane, an old fashioned camera, a postbox, an anchor with chain, everything including the kitchen sink… How many different things can you spot?

In the right hand side of the foreground, you can see a lifkin called Suds who has been using a vacuum cleaner to clear up puddles of strangeness following an attack from Percival Crow the previous day. In doing so, he has also accidentally vacuumed up the three children. He has just switched off the vacuum and is reading the instructions in concern, while the children have fallen to the floor where they look rather dazed. In a few moments time, they will need to have all their wits about them, as who should come scrambling down the wall but Thing, the lifkin who caused them so much trouble in the previous book. Thing’s mood has not improved in the meantime….

And as for that creature in the background, that isn’t a bogey, is it? It looks too big….

That’s all I can tell you for now. You’ll have to wait till the book comes out to find out more. But it won’t be long now. The eBook version can be pre-ordered right away and the paperback can be purchased on the publication date, which is 1st Dec, next Sunday! The wait is almost over….

In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, take a look at the first two chapters of the book, available free on line right now!

Grimly at The Reading Realm

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Here’s a really great interview with Grimly by Ian Eagleton, designer of the briliant app The Reading Realm, which can be downloaded now for iPad and has all sorts of quizzes and games to encourage children to read. Ian asks some very interesting questions about the influences on Grimly and how it felt to create the Vale of Strange. Enjoy…

Radzy’s Review of ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’

Hi, Grimly here! Yes, I know it’s the first time I’ve shown my face in a while but I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches to my new book ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’. I’ll be sending it off to our publisher, Jennifer, at Journey Fiction any day now so it should be out in good time for Christmas. Don’t forget to put it on Santa’s shopping list…

As you might have guessed, it’s all about the further adventures of Peter and Amanda on Peculiar Hill, this time joined by another young friend called Mala, whose father, the hapless explorer Augustus Flipper, has gone mysteriously missing. Is there a chance that in the course of their investigations they will wander into the Vale of Strange, you may be asking? It may be best not to exclude this possibility.

You’ll be able to read much more about the new book here on the blog in the buildup to publication, so don’t forget to follow us to make sure you get notification of new posts as they come out. You can do this either by email (see the form in the sidebar) or through Facebook. If you have a WordPress account, you can also follow us through them.

To add to the excitement, there’s another new review of ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’ just out, this time by blogger Radzy who writes: “I can only imagine the creative impact this will have on young minds, and cannot recommend this book enough for yourself, the wee ones in your world, or just anyone you know who will enjoy a quirky, meaningful novel.”

As you can tell, she really likes the book and it’s a very thoughtful, perceptive review, well worth a read in full on her excellent blog, ‘Radzy Writes and Reviews‘. I strongly suggest you take a look at it now…

Thank you, Radzy!

Finally, the usual piece of fashion advice: Uncle Bob may say you don’t really need one for bogeys at this time of year, but if you’re here in the UK, you’ll need one to keep out the rain. So do the smart thing and don’t forget your hat!

(This column has Aunt Maggie’s Official Seal of Approval.)

Audrey’s Illustration

Hello Everyone – Grimly here, and this time we have another contribution from Audrey, the reader who I was chatting with a few weeks ago. This time she has produced this great illustration of a large proportion of the cast of ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill‘. Let’s see if you can spot who is who.

Audrey pic Shop

Got it?

No, that isn’t Uncle Bob painted blue with wings on. That’s a bogey, one of the vary rare blue ones in fact. And the green character on the left isn’t Mr Grimble feeling a bit green and sickly after having been accidentally shrunk in the washing machine. It’s a heeblegreeb. But you really knew that, didn’t you?

The next two are easy of course: Amanda looking cool in black and Peter in his new blue jeans, but is that a hot air balloon in between them or could it possibly be a strange tomato on a lead? I think it’s a strange tomato all right. It’s the purring that gives it away!

And finally, the character at the far right hand side surely has to be Algernon, but are those muscles under his T shirt? He looks like more than a match for any strange creatures who come his way. The only thing that worries me is that he hasn’t got a hat. Hopefully Amanda has it safely stashed away in her bag in case the bogeys start fizzing.

Many thanks to Audrey for sending us that terrific picture. I look forward to seeing her illustration of ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’ which is due out later this year of course. And in the meantime, if anyone else would like to try your hand at illustrating any of the characters in ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’, we shall be delighted to see what you come up with. Just remember that if you send any drawings in, we will assume that you’re happy for us to publish them on the blog.

And finally, following on from last time, I decided that yes, I would change the photo of me that goes at the top of the blog. Up there now is one that my friend Lee (Audrey’s grandma) has lovingly photoshopped into submission. Yes, perhaps it makes me look a bit younger than I actually am but I think it also makes me look less scary than the previous photo did. And after all, what with bogeys and heeblegreebs and jamjam plants, there are enough scary things in ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’ without people having to worry about the author as well, don’t you think?

‘And I’m not really scary, am I?’ I ask the staff here at Grimly Central. But no one replies. They’re all hiding behind their desks.

Ho hum. That’s all for now then, but bear in mind it’s still bogey season so… Don’t forget your hat!

Conversation with Audrey

Audrey

Hello – Grimly here. It was great to have the chance to meet one of my readers recently. Eight-year-old Audrey is one of only two kids who has read not only ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’ but also the current version of the second book in the series ‘Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill’. By ‘current version’, I mean the version of ‘Stranger Days’ which is the most up-to-date at this particular time. So I’m talking about ‘current’, not ‘currant’, which would be more like a type of pudding.

Perhaps I should start this again.

I am currently revising ‘Stranger Days’ so it is getting better all the time and will be better than ever by the time it is published later this year. I have asked Audrey if she would read the next version when I have completed it to make sure it is indeed getting better all the time and not getting worse all the time, in which case I might have to put some currants in it after all.

I explained to Audrey that ordinary books are the same the second time you read them. “Stranger Days’, however, is an extraordinary book because it will be different the next time she reads it. She thought this was a neat idea. Actually, I think it will end in much the same way, but the way they get there will be different and a bit quicker. It will be a bit like taking the car instead of a train. Except that eventually, I will have to stop revising the book, so each time you read it after that, they will always take the car. Unless of course they decide to take an aeroplane.

I think perhaps I should really start this again…

Ahem.

I asked Audrey which was her favourite character in the books and she said it was Peter. She always likes the main characters in the books she reads because they do the most important things. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. She also likes Amanda, who is the other main character in ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’ of course. Audrey likes the way she keeps fooling Peter. She likes strong female characters  in the books she reads, such as in the book she was reading that afternoon, ‘Ramona the Pest’ by one of her favourite authors, Beverly Clearly.

Since reading ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’, Audrey has written her own fantasy story for a competition. It has five main characters: a small boy named Bill who is six; an older girl called Amber aged nine; two twins aged five –  Sunshine and Moondown – and Lolly who is seven. She has some very good names for characters, don’t you think?

Audrey also told me that her mother uses a taxi company called Speed Cars which promises to get you wherever you are going in 10 minutes. Even if you are going from Leeds to London. Sometimes she uses Uber instead but they will only take her to the house next door.

I think Audrey has some very good ideas for fantasy stories. I think when she gets going, I am going to be out of a job. Never mind – at least there will be Audrey’s stories to read.

I’d better get back to work then,

Thanks again to Audrey!

Bye for now – and don’t forget your hat!

Grimly

(Thanks to Graham James for the photo)

Five Stars

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Hi Everyone – If you have read ‘The Shop on Peculiar Hill’ and would like to let other people know what you think about it, you can leave a review on Amazon. Here are the Amazon listings for the book. Scroll down and you will see a button on the left inviting you to leave a review.

Amazon UK site

Amazon US site

Speaking of which, we just got our first review on the Amazon UK site and it’s a good one, giving us a maximum five stars!

This is what the customer who left the review said:

“This is a thoroughly delightful tale about Peter who goes to live with his Uncle and Aunt on the edge of the Vale of Strange – a valley where strangeness oozes through cracks in the earth, engendering all sorts of weird creatures to terrify and, on occasion, consume tourists. The writer, Grimly Darkwood, skilfully treads the fine line between laugh out loud funny and disturbingly creepy to great effect. Despite reassuringly daft names like Bogeys and Heeble-greebs, the bizarre monsters that Peter and his friend Amanda encounter while trying to rescue a missing child, are often genuinely frightening. Darkwood builds up the suspense in the first half of the book very effectively, so that when the two adventurers are finally plunged into the depths of the Vale of Strange there’s a real sense of desperate peril. The sheer scope and barminess of the author’s imagination places this story firmly at the pioneering end of children’s fantasy, and I can heartily recommend it to both younger and older readers alike.”

Pretty good, eh? The review has the title ‘utterly charming and completely bonkers in equal measure’ though we’re not sure if that refers to the book or to the author Grimly Darkwood himself. (Note to Mr Darkwood: “I was only joking. Please don’t sack me, sir!”)

We look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Grimly and the Team