Tag Archives: mystery

Abbotsford Christian School interviews Kevins Sands, Author of Mark of the Plague

Mark of the Plague coverWhere did you get your idea to write about a boy in the Middle Ages? [Note: It’s actually the Age of Exploration—Middle Ages ends in the 15th century]

From my research. I chose 1660s London specifically because it was such a rich time of plots, conspiracies, and secrets, as enemies struggled against each other for power. Basically, it was too good a time to pass up!

A Journal of the Plague Year coverHow did you do your research to find out what life was like in the Middle Ages in general, and for apothecaries and The Plague specifically? [sic]

A lot of time in and out of libraries. I read many, many different books, drawing as much as I could from them. Fortunately, we have a lot of good first-hand accounts from that time, especially of the plague (the best of which is A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe). I always find doing research valuable; the details really help bring the books to life.

Did you always want to be a writer? Is it a full-time job for you?

Writing is my full-time job, yes. But I had no interest in it when I was young—if you’d have told me back then that I’d grow up to be a writer, I’d have thought you’d lost your mind! Just goes to show you never know where you’ll end up.

What does a “writing day’ look like for you?

Get up early (around 5 am). Work all morning: either reading, or doing research, or plotting, or writing. If I’m writing, then I usually have a word or page count, and I don’t stop until I’ve reached it. I’m usually finished work around lunchtime, or early afternoon.

How long does it take for you to write a book?

Every book is different. So far, the shortest took me five months, while the longest took just over a year. I have no idea why some take longer; for whatever reason, some books are harder to write than others.

Do you enjoy writing?  Did you like to do it as a child? Were you good at it?

Depends on the day! When I’m stuck on something, it can be pretty frustrating. But overall, I think writing is the best job in the world.

I was pretty good at it as a child, but back then I hated doing it. Maybe that’s because I had to, rather than wanting to.

What was your favorite book to read as a child?

Probably the Belgariad series by David Eddings. Though there were many, many books—mostly fantasy—that I loved.

Did you read a lot as a child?  What do you like better, reading or writing? Why?

I read every single day when I was a child, often for hours—and I still do! I still like reading better than writing…but I have to admit, nothing in the world beats that feeling of satisfaction when you finally finish writing a book.

What advice can you give us to become writers?

First, always be reading. Seeing what makes other writers effective are the best writing lessons you’ll ever get.

Second, always be writing. Just like you can’t learn to ride a bike by watching someone, you can’t learn to write just by reading. It takes years and years of practice. (So start now!)

Third, don’t get discouraged. We all write things that don’t go anywhere. I had to write three whole manuscripts, none very good, until I wrote The Blackthorn Key. In writing, you never really fail until you quit.

How many books do you have planned in this series?

As many as I can think of! As long as people want to keep reading them, and I can come up with good ideas, I’ll keep writing them. So hopefully you’ll see Blackthorn Key adventures for years to come!

-Linda Groot, Elementary Teacher-Librarian, and students from Abbotsford Christian School

Mark of the Plague

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

Mark of the Plague coverChristopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to The Blackthorn Key, which was the 2017/2018 Red Cedar Award winner.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before… (Simon and Schuster)

Magic Animal Adoption Agency 3: The Missing Magic

Magic Animal Adoption Agency 3: The Missing Magic by Kallie George, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Magic Animal Adoption Agency 3: The Missing Magic coverA new volunteer has joined the Magical Animal Adoption Agency, and Clover’s not too happy about it! Oliver Von Hoof is supposed to be an expert on magical animals, but he’s barely older than Clover. How can he be an expert on anything? He’s certainly not very good at caring for the animals, so why does Mr. Jams keep asking him to help?

When Mr. Jams is called away from the Agency on a secret mission, Clover and Oliver are left in charge. It’s their job to keep the animals happy, but something strange is going on. Picnic the invisible puppy is turning visible, and Clover’s green cat, Dipity, is losing his colour. All of the Agency’s amazing creatures are becoming ordinary! And even Oliver’s magic wands aren’t enough to cure them. Will Clover and Oliver learn to work together before it’s too late? (HarperCollins Canada)

Howard Wallace, P.I.

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

Howard Wallace, PI cover“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all. (Sterling)

The Case of the Girl in Grey

The Case of the Girl in Grey by Jordan Stratford, art by Kelly Murphy

The Case of the Girl in Grey coverThe Wollstonecraft Detective Agency was supposed to be a secret constabulary, but after the success of their first case, all of London knows that Lady Ada and Mary are the girls to go to if you have a problem.

Their latest case is a puzzler indeed: A dead father, a missing will, an escaped lunatic, and a hasty engagement. How does it all connect? With the help (and sometimes hindrance) of their sisters Jane and Allegra, these girls break codes, break a girl out of the hospital, and break up a very bad betrothal. (Knopf)

South Sahali Elementary Interviews Kevin Sands

Students from South Sahali Elementary in Kamloops had some pretty interesting questions for Kevin Sands about his novel The Blackthorn Key.

SSE: What gave you the idea to write this book?

KS: It occurred to me that apothecaries were pretty cool: they used potions, and poisons, and secret codes, and so on. So I thought that background, combined with a secret people were willing to kill for, would make for a really good story.

SSE: How did you do the research for your book?

KS: A lot of time in and out of libraries. Most of my research came from books, though I found some things online as well. Each of the Blackthorn Key adventures takes about five weeks of full-time research.

SSE: Can you tell us about the process you go through for publishing your books?

KS: The Blackthorn Key was my first book published, so it was a longer process. After I’d written the manuscript, I queried agents, which is a fancy way of saying I sent a bunch of people I didn’t know some emails asking if they’d be interested in reading my book and representing me. Once I had an agent, he submitted my manuscript to a number of editors at different publishing houses. Several of them liked it, and I ended up selling it to Aladdin (Simon & Schuster).

After that, the process has been the same. Write the manuscript, then an editor suggests any changes needed. You rewrite what you need to, then once the “final” manuscript is done, it goes to a copy editor, who checks for factual errors or things that don’t make sense. After that, the book is laid out and goes to a proofreader, who checks the final version for typos. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there’s the cover design, and marketing, and so on. All in all, it this process usually takes anywhere from 1-2 years. A long time!

SSE: Why did you choose to write your book in that era?

KS: I ended up choosing 1660s London because it had so many cool elements to it: the return of the king to his throne; the conflicts, plots, and conspiracies; the level of technology; the liveliness of the city; and so on. Basically, it was too good a time to pass up!

SSE: When did you start to write novels or stories?

KS: In January 2009. I wrote three other manuscripts (all of which were terrible) before I started on The Blackthorn Key. I sold that in September 2014, so it took more than five years of writing before I sold my first book.

SSE: What inspired you to create the different characters? Were the characters inspired by people you know?

KS: The characters all came from my imagination. I never base characters on people I know—I don’t want to get sued!

SSE: Does this book tie into your life in any way?

KS: I wouldn’t say there’s any direct connection to my life, except that I wrote The Blackthorn Key the way I did because adventures like that are my favourite kind of books.

SSE: Is writing your only career now?

KS: Yes. Since selling The Blackthorn Key, I’ve become a full-time writer. It’s tough, sometimes, but it’s the most fun career I’ve ever had.

SSE: When you wrote this book did you have it all planned out before you wrote the book or did you think of it as you were writing?

KS: Planned out, completely. I plot everything in as much detail as possible before I write a single word. Changes get made during revisions, of course, but if I ever try to just start writing and see where things will go, I end up with a giant mess. I don’t know how people do that—though there are many successful writers who have!

SSE: Did you come up with the codes on your own?

KS: Yes. Some of the codes are based on real symbols and ciphers; the symbols in chapter 20, for example, were used by real alchemists. Others, like the puzzle cube, were my own invention.

SSE: Where did you go to research the recipes?

KS: There are a few really old books by apothecaries and herbalists from Christopher’s time that we have today, so some of the recipes came from those. Others, like the smoke bomb, I’ve known how to make for a while. (Just don’t ask me how I know.)

-Melisa Hunter, Teacher-Librarian at South Sahali Elementary and friends

Masterminds

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Eli has never left Serenity. Why would he want to? Then one day he cycles to the city limits, and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything. Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking secret that connects their ideal, crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known. The kids realize they can trust no one–least of all their own parents. So they hatch a plan for what could be the greatest breakout in history. But will they survive? And if they do, where will they go from there?

The Case of the Missing Moonstone

The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford and Kelly Murphy

Imagines an alternate 1826 London, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects.

The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The_Blackthorn_KeyWinner 2017 Red Cedar Award! Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.