Author Interview | Colm McElwain

Every now and then, I am blessed with the opportunity to communicate with authors directly and more often than not, these interactions, no matter how little it may be, never cease to amaze and inspire me. Recently I read and reviewed Colm McElwain’s James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra. I believe every writer has two stories to tell – one is of the book itself and the other is on their writing journey.

Here’s my recent interview with him! If you have further questions, do give me a buzz and I’ll be sure to let him know. 🙂

1) What and/or who inspired you to write James Clyde? 

A lot of different things really! I was inspired by other popular children’s books and films. This would include Disney films, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Superman, to name just a few.  Sometimes scenes within a film helped me write certain sequences. For example, if I was writing a battle scene I would watch a war or battle sequence and try to describe what was happening. If I was writing a flying sequence I might watch ‘Superman’ and again try to write down what I was watching. Then I would go back to my manuscript and rewrite my sequence until I was happy with it. I really wanted the reader to feel like they were right there with the characters. I must admit that one of the scenes with the children flying was inspired by ‘The Snowman.’ Do you know the scene where the young boy flies into the sky holding the snowman’s hand?  I thought that was a magical moment and tried to capture that sense of wonderment in my opening flying sequence. My story was set at Christmas and it was snowing too!  This helps – the setup is very magical to begin with, so the rest of the story can take off from there. Ideas are everywhere. Some of the sequences in my book would cost a fortune to produce in a film, but the joy of writing means I can write them down for free.

2) What are some of the challenges you face in your writing journey?

In the actual writing, linking all the loose ends together can be tricky.  However, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome. The answers are there.  It might take several rewrites and a lot of hard work and head scratching, but I found the solution always presented itself, eventually. I sometimes encountered problems with the story, but that might happen in draft 2 or 3.  By draft 25 or 30 I would have solved the problem.  It just takes time and effort. Perhaps leaving the story for a while and then coming back to it with a fresh perspective. I’m afraid, writing a book is a long-term project. Everyone is capable of it though. I still do face challenges in promoting my book. I would love to write a sequel one day, but first I want James Clyde’s first adventure to do well. So thank you for reading and reviewing.

3) Who is your favourite character in the book and why?

Well the obvious answer is James, I suppose, but I really do love them all.  I do like James’s story arc.  It feels complete by the end.  However, any good story needs strong bad guys! I had to see things from Gilbert’s point of view, just as much as I did from James’s.  I went with the idea that Gilbert doesn’t actually believe he is evil. He believes he’s doing the right thing.  I felt this would be an interesting angle.  The reader can actually put themselves in Gilbert’s shoes.  He is a man in his 60’s and feels like things have passed him by.  He wants more.  I think in a way everyone can relate to that. The lure and mystic of the diamonds and obtaining power entices him into making bad decisions. His greed also gets the better of him.  Then I also like Kila.  He is obviously a strong character in the story and James needs him in order to survive.  I like the relationship that exists between these two characters.

4) Are you looking into writing a sequel for James Clyde?

Yes I do feel 2017 would be a good year to make a start.  Why not?  I do have a good idea of where the story could progress. I just needed a break after writing, James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra. I worked six years on it and it’s still an on-going process with promotion now the main objective. It’s important to enjoy life, as it’s an adventure too!  So instead of writing about an adventure I decided to live my own for a bit. However, I do intend to give it a shot in 2017.  Hopefully it might happen one day!

5) If you could mention only 3 unique points about the book, what would it be?

Magical diamonds sought by many, faith in miracles and in oneself, and a young boy who will never give up on his grandfather’s wish.


More on the Author 

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Colm was raised and educated in Monaghan, Ireland. He is a business and physical education teacher and likes reading books, watching films and playing sport. He has always loved storytelling, whether through literature or film.  James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra is his first novel and brings a very fulfilling creative experience spanning a number of years to an end. Colm’s inspiration for James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra were other great books and films in the children’s fantasy genre. He grew up reading Roald Dahl’s magical books and journeyed to Narnia whenever he read C.S. Lewis’s book series. In film he loved the ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Back to the Future’ movies.  Colm wanted to instill that sense of swashbuckling adventure into his own novel.

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Review – James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra | Colm McElwain

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  • Title: James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra
  • Author: Colm McElwain
  • Publisher: Matador
  • Release date: February 1st 2012
  • Pages: 246

Blurb

Alongside his friends Ben and Mary Forester, James Clyde must protect a powerful diamond from falling into the wrong hands. A strange and sinister man dressed in black is also pursuing the diamond and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

James and his friends set off on a perilous journey to return the diamond to its rightful place. But they are being hunted every step of the way by the relentless man in black and his blood-thirsty army. Outnumbered, James finds he must use the power of the diamond to escape their clutches – or become another victim of their murderous quest. So begins a journey that will transport them to an alternative world where they must confront the mysterious man in black for a final, winner-takes-all battle…


Magic? Children as heroes and heroines? A fantasy world?

Being in the Harry Potter fandom does come with very high expectations especially when I read a book with similar themes. Despite that, I decided to give this middle grade fantasy book a try. Safe to say – I am extremely happy with how it turned out to be!

It was hardly recognisable: the fabric was in tatters and the strap was cut in half. Knees trembling, he walked slowly forward. I have to get out of here! They’re getting closer. 

The first thought that came to my mind when I started reading this book was – omg, Colm can really write. He writes with so much heart and conviction. The flow was wonderful, the use of language simple yet outstanding, and overall it just made me dive into the story instantly. I was drawn to it. The chapters are short too which really helps in making good reading progress, especially for those with short attention spans! I’m sure you can relate when I say that there are some books out there that require extra effort to get through the chapters. James Clyde does not pose such a challenge – extra points for sure!

Without delay, he went to the wardrobe, took from it the black cloak and laid it out on the bed.

This was his anonymity.

This was his disguise.

James, Ben and Mary are strong characters to the plot. The trio are just knee-high to a grasshopper but their struggles and actions are monumental. Their adventures are extremely interesting to follow till the extent that they brought back old childhood memories – of the carefree life and wild imaginations. Elements of suspense in the story were also very well-crafted and added so much depth to the build-up.

“You still have much to learn and you will. You’re young. One day, you’ll claim your revenge. That I promise you.” He laid a comforting hand on James’s shoulder.

Will these children have a chance against the villains?

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra is a book which will keep you glued – the writing, plot and characters are packed with so much thought; it’s no surprise that it’s truly spot on. It was also written by an exceptional, hardworking and humble writer. I have high hopes that he will soon publish a sequel for it – and for that I am indeed excited!

Rating: 

I would like to thank the author, Colm McElwain, for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Guest Review – How I Became A North Korean | Krys Lee

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  • Title: How I Became a North Korean
  • Author: Krys Lee
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Release date: August 2nd 2016
  • Pages: 246

Blurb

Yongju is an accomplished student from one of North Korea’s most prominent families. Jangmi, on the other hand, has had to fend for herself since childhood, most recently by smuggling goods across the border. Then there is Danny, a Chinese-American teenager of North Korean descent whose quirks and precocious intelligence have long marked him as an outcast in his California high school.

These three disparate lives converge when each of them escapes to the region where China borders North Korea—Danny to visit his mother, who is working as a missionary there, after a humiliating incident keeps him out of school; Yongju to escape persecution after his father is killed at the hands of the Dear Leader himself; and Jangmi to protect her unborn child. As they struggle to survive in a place where danger seems to close in on all sides, in the form of government informants, husbands, thieves, abductors, and even missionaries, they come to form a kind of adoptive family. But will Yongju, Jangmi and Danny find their way to the better lives they risked everything for?

Transporting the reader to one of the most little-known and threatening environments in the world, and exploring how humanity persists even in the most desperate circumstances, How I Became a North Korean is a brilliant and essential first novel by one of our most promising writers.


Guest Reviewer: Ashraf Ali 

After a dinner of delectable fish flown in on a private jet from Tokyo, smiling celebrities in fur coats and government functionaries wearing Rolexes dance to an American pop song under a glittering disco ball.

Krys Lee’s debut novel opens with a unique and often unseen glimpse of life in the North Korean aristocracy. It’s a shocking display of opulence particularly to those who have only heard of the Hermit Kingdom from mainstream news.

But look closer: Their smiles are grimaces, dressed up to conceal terror. This is not Manhattan but Pyongyang. 

Lee’s jarring comparison to Manhattan echoes Anna Fitfield of WaPo’s more recent experience with the party elites in what she calls “Pyonghattan”. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. Suffice to say Ms. Lee, with an opener like that, I am definitely intrigued.

The Dear Leader was drunk, now angry, and made his decision. He reached as if brushing off lint from my abeoji’s suit lapel, then motioned a bodyguard over and casually withdrew a revolver from the man’s jacket pocket. He aimed it at my abeoji’s heart.

In the blink of an eye, Yongju, one of three protagonists, has his world turned upside down. His abeoji (father) has been murdered in cold-blood by Dear Leader himself. He is forced to flee the privileged life he has for fear of persecution under the oppressive regime. This is the tipping point that sets in motion an arduous journey of survival, in a world where the odds are stacked against them at every turn.

How I Became a North Korean is told through the first person narratives of three main characters. First is Yongju, the son of one of the North Korean elite families. Jangmi, another protagonist, on the other hand, is a commoner. She is pregnant with the child of a high-ranking official thus is forced to sell herself to marriage to a Joseonjok, a Chinese of Korean ancestry to escape certain death.

The skyline blinded me with its glowing signs—neon, he called it. But it was the hundreds of motorcycles flying past that I couldn’t stop staring at. I promised myself that I would become like one of those women who looked so fearless, so free, riding alone on the enormous steel machines.

From a narrative standpoint, I love how Lee is able to use the different social classes of these two characters to convey their unique experiences with the world outside the DPRK. The quote above is a great example of this. Yongju has an introspective almost-poetic side to him while Jangmi, though stone cold in parts, has both a caring, motherly side and a general amazement at the world outside the DPRK.

Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes. The third protagonist in this novel Danny/Daehan, another Joseonjok and a devout Christian that immigrated to California with his father. He however returns to his homeland to see his mother and after a certain plot event I won’t spoil, joins some North Korean defectors including both Yongju and Jangmi.

Honestly, the “Danny chapters” were the weakest in what was for the most part a pretty enthralling read for me. I found him, despite the whole closeted gay aspect, to be a bit one dimensional at times. It is a shame that such a riveting personal crisis that could define his character, just doesn’t feel as fleshed out.  Compared to the other two protagonists, Danny comes off as uninteresting and sometimes seems to be just a deus ex machina for the them.

Overall, there’s no getting around the fact this is a beautifully-written novel. Lee herself has worked with North Korean defectors and it really shows in the vivid descriptions throughout the novel. You feel the desperation in their actions and the desolation of the lands they are forced to cross in the hopes to taste that forbidden freedom they yearn. Though I will admit that it’s a bit much at first, stick with it and you shall be rewarded.

Unfortunately, the third act didn’t stick to me as much as the writing style. It felt cliché at points and didn’t live up to the wonderful first act. It isn’t a deal breaker by any means but a disappointment nonetheless. Finally, I have one final albeit minor bone to pick with this novel.

Our eomeoni turned away. Look at me, her posture said. I’ve failed as your eomma.

This novel uses a lot of Korean terms. Some terms were explained but some were left as is, forcing the reader to guess, with varying degrees of success. Usually, one can make a pretty good guess a few sentences in, but in some parts, it does get a bit confusing. A glossary for the non-Korean speaking readers would have been much appreciated.

So, what’s the verdict? All in all, Lee has managed to craft a beautiful and nuanced take on North Korea and its people. Would I recommend everyone go out and get it? Unfortunately, not. This book is certainly not for everyone. But if you’re curious about the subject matter, this novel, despite its flaws, is certainly worth the pick-up.

Rating: 

I would like to thank Faber & Faber for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!


Ashraf enjoys long walks on the beach and sharing a book during dates, however impractical that may be. You can find him (if he ever decides to update) on Twitter at @AshNitrate.

Review – Our Chemical Hearts | Krystal Sutherland

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  • Title: Our Chemical Hearts
  • Author: Krystal Sutherland
  • Publisher: Hot Key Books
  • Release Date: October 4th 2016
  • Pages: 320

Blurb

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.


Before we dive into what I think about this book, let us take a moment shall we, and appreciate this gorgeous cover! It is, hands down, one of my very favourite covers for the year – no surprise there. It’s simple yet gorgeous, and can you see how the fishes look very 3D-ish? Beautiful. I just couldn’t stop admiring it when I first received it. Just goes to show how a simple idea, if well-executed, can work wonders. Kudos, Theresa Evangelista!

Our Chemical Hearts is a story of first love. It’s warm and fun and sweet —- eh, hold on there. Let’s try again.

Our Chemical Hearts IS a story of first love, but it’s more than that. It’s a story on warm friendships and supportive families. It’s a story on tragedy and regret. Pain and forgiveness. It will take you through so many emotions; and that to me, shows just how well a writer can influence you.

I loved how the story was written in Henry’s point of view. His voice was very raw and convincing; which made it very easy to appreciate the writing. The funny thing is, some of the things he thought/said were kinda cliché – but it worked. IT. SO. WORKED. He has a very unique and imperfect personality which feels so REAL. Such a great character indeed. Put together with Grace’s mysterious ways, that’s where the magic happens.

“I didn’t want to tear off her clothes and kiss her. I just felt… drawn to her. Like gravity. I wanted to orbit her, be around her, the way the Earth orbits the sun.” 

If you’re into pop culture references you will have immense fun because this book is full of them – the Harry Potter references were spot on! Loved, loved it. I would say that the references in general were a bit too many in my opinion so if you are not really the movie-going type this book might not be for you. Unless you’re okay with researching stuff while you read, that’ll work too! Oh and if you’re not into some fandoms by the way – *cough* skins sparkles in the sunlight *cough* – you might find it entertaining too. Hehe!

“Edward Cullen, you poor, miserable bastard,” I said as I locked my phone screen and stared at the ceiling.”I should not have udged you so harshly.”

The story-telling was very well-thought and creative. You will find PowerPoint slides and Facebook conversations which scored the book extra points. I particularly loved how the author connected the different parts of the story with an old Japanese art of repairing broken poetry – Kintsugi. The Japanese believe that when something/someone has suffered damage and has some sort of a history, it becomes more beautiful. I’ve known this symbolic expression even before I read this book but seeing how it connected so well with the story made it ever more special.

Overall – a very strong, memorable YA contemporary standalone which will fill your heart with so much compassion and love. I would highly recommend reading this. Fragmented pieces, when patched up, will be whole.

Thank you for this, Krystal.

 “People don’t have soul mates. People make their soul mates.”

Rating: 

I would like to thank Pansing for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Review – Letters to You | Almaz A

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  • Title: Letters to You
  • Author: Almaz A
  • Publisher: Almaz
  • Release Date: August 1st 2016
  • Pages: 96

Blurb

Some people spend a lifetime looking for someone to call home. I found you.

Letters to You is Almaz’s debut poetry collection that narrates her journey to finding love by experiencing fear, hesitation, courage and ultimately letting herself freefall into the arms of her soulmate.


Sharing your love with someone is daunting, especially for those who have tasted its bitterness. Broken hearts doubt themselves and question the existence of true love. Though no matter how far deep this can swallow one’s self; there is always that longing to find love again. Love that can last. Love that can hold them together. Love that is encapsulated with hope, faith and courage.

And I’m trying, 

Trying so damn hard to unearth all the buried dreams I’ve forgotten about, 

Because I’m sure one of them was to love someone like you. 

Letters to You is a collection of poems written by the author for her lover. Every page draws you in with an array of emotions, peeking into memories of love you may relate to. As you immerse yourself into the book, you will see how beautiful love can unfold itself to, no matter how imperfect it may be.

You will always be that little piece of magic I carry with me wherever I go.

As I went on though, I realised that the poems were rather jumpy and sometimes repetitive; which could be seen as raw yet genuine. However,  I do believe that if there was more cohesion to it, the main message the author was trying to present could have been expressed more convincingly. Nonetheless, I must commend the author for stringing her words with so much heart, soul and honesty.

The book talks on old relationships, newfound love and all the securities and weariness in between. But most importantly, it is about the courage to believe again and experience love at its most fundamental. To allow it to take you through rain and shine; yet always finding a reason to smile at the end of the day.

I loved this book – read it in one sitting and kept on marking my favourite quotes as I progressed. I am definitely looking forward to more from this local author. Do read, and allow it surprise you with gems you may find.

 I fell in love with the way you held my hand and the way your breath whispered across my skin as you told me that 

it was okay to fall,

because our bodies may not have wings, 

but our souls already knew how to fly. 

Rating: 

I would like to thank the author, Almaz A, for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Review – Adulthood is a Myth | Sarah Andersen

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  • Title: Adulthood is a Myth
  • Author: Sarah Andersen
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Release Date: March 8th 2016
  • Pages: 109

Blurb

Are you a special snowflake?

Do you enjoy networking to advance your career?

Is adulthood an exciting new challenge for which you feel fully prepared?

Ugh. Please go away.

This book is for the rest of us. These comics document the wasting of entire beautiful weekends on the internet, the unbearable agony of holding hands on the street with a gorgeous guy, dreaming all day of getting home and back into pajamas, and wondering when, exactly, this adulthood thing begins. In other words, the horrors and awkwardnesses of young modern life.


Adulthood is a Myth – do you think so? This book comprises of bite-sized comics suitable for those in their teens and early adulthood. It is such an enjoyable read! Absolutely hilarious, relatable and I read it in one sitting. Currently juggling between work life, study life and book blogging, I experience this a lot when I’m all zoned out after a tiring day –

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Some of her comics are more focused on women issues in general, so I do hope that in her next book, there’s a nice share of comics on men too! All the more fun when there’s a nice balance to it.

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Oh and have I mentioned how adorable Sarah’s drawings are? You will find yourself screenshot-ting/taking pictures of the comics as you go – excited to share it out with your family and friends – and share a good laugh!

Definitely suitable if you’re looking for a gift for a friend or for some light and fun read on a weekend. Looking forward to more comics from you, Sarah!

 “I’m pretty sure adulthood was a myth all along.”

Rating: 

Review – After You | Jojo Moyes

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  • Title: After You
  • Author: Jojo Moyes
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Release Date: June 30th 2016
  • Pages: 409
  • Prequel: Me Before You

Blurb

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future…

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.


*Warning: Contains major spoilers from Me Before You and minor spoilers from After You.*

Me Before You is — hands-down one of my favourite contemporary reads of 2016. So when I knew there was going to be a sequel, GAHHHHH I was extremely excited.

With the death of one of the main characters from the first book, I didn’t really know what to expect from this one. But I felt that it has to be really good — cause why would we have a sequel for a book which had an incredibly good closure already?

Unfortunately, After You did not meet my expectations.

After You is largely about Lou – the story of her life after Will. The challenges she went through, her many discoveries, and her relationships with new people. Don’t get me wrong; I love the purpose of the book – sharing her story and showing how she has grown after the incident. However, I do feel that there should have been so much more depth in the plot. It feels rather unreal.

“I failed you, Will. I failed you in every way possible.” 

The plot was clunky and patchy. There was an introduction of an entirely new character which had zero connection with all the existing characters – Will’s daughter (like whaaaaaaaa–t?). It was not well-thought and the lack of continuity from Me Before You was distasteful. There was no solid direction throughout the book. There were many times when I felt – where is this story going? 

You may feel connected to Lou in ways where you can relate to her, and that’s okay. But this story should be so much more than her having to deal with an annoying, immature teenager and a terrible boss. It should more about Lou, rather than putting her character through “other people’s problems”. Didn’t Will give her enough difficult time already?

I felt her character needed more strength, vision, and empowerment. Where is that scene where she breaks free from all things pulling her back and make a real stand for herself? Where is the build up to something so amazingly surprising it would just keep you on your toes?

Even if I managed to wipe the whole thing from my memory, I would never be allowed to disassociate myself from Will’s death.  

I am disappointed with this sequel. I wish an epilogue was written at the end of Me Before You instead, rather than this long-winded book which did not do the prequel justice.

This is the part where I tell you that if you really want to know what happened to Lou, you should read this. I don’t have the heart to though. Me Before You is good enough as a very strong standalone. I believe Will would agree with me on this.

Pieces of him in pieces of me. Pieces of him where they shouldn’t be.

Rating: 

I would like to thank Penguin Books Malaysia for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!