There are two more adventures for class 4b on their way. This time best friends Stanley and Manjit didn’t LITERALLY mean to get covered in newt pond water just before the Class Photo. And they really didn’t LITERALLY mean to cause TOTAL MAYHEM by trying to get fake teeth to the very best tooth fairy. These things just happened, even though they had FOOLPROOF plans to get away with it all.
You see, 4B may be the WORST CLASS IN THE WORLD. But you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Highly illustrated by the brilliant Rikin Parekh and featuring two hilarious madcap adventures in one book, this series is just right for children ready for their first chapter books.
Take a peek into the diary of Panth (never enquire as to her given name), a young woman knocking on the gilded door of adult life and high society. But kicking up one’s heels at the Cafe de Paris does not come easy to a girl navigating:
Poverty (even the genteel kind), thanks her papa’s sad demise
A lack of any experience whatsoever with the opposite sex, of course not counting Freddie Spencer (and he wasn’t that sort of experience, anyhow)
Multiple sisters with ideas, a grandmother with opinions and one recalcitrant sheep.
Panth knows there is more for her out in the world – it’s 1924, for goodness’ sake – and that could include swoonsome American with excellent teeth, Buck Buchanan. The question is, how in the name of Tatler is she to claim it?
Praise for the novel
A hilarious coming-of-age story for fans of I Capture the Castle and Bridgerton from Carnegie-nominated and Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller Joanna Nadin.
‘This book is bliss!‘ (Hilary McKay)
‘So much fun! So clever with such wonderful characters who I can still feel breathing and squabbling around me. I kept on guffawing with laughter.‘ (Natasha Farrant)
‘I couldn’t put it down. Wodehouse is alive and she’s beautiful!‘ (Emma Carroll)
‘Flawless. Fabulous. Austen meets Mitfords, Durrells and Bridgerton.‘ (Rachel Delahaye)
Publishing in May 2023. You can preorder the book by clicking here.
We got pipped at the post for the Little Rebels Award, but hot on the heels of being shortlisted for the UKLA Prize and the Tower Hamlets Book Award, I’m beaming with pride to find out No Man’s Land has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal. This is a book that was born in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and Trump’s rise in the US. As a former political adviser, I wanted to be back doing something to change the mess we were heading towards and found myself frustrated that I wasn’t in a position to do anything useful any more. But I’ve always been someone who truly believes words can and do change the world, and none more so than in children’s books, where we get to show readers who they might become, and how they might play a part in building a better tomorrow. And No Man’s Land tries to do just that – offering a sliver of hope in the darkness. This is my third nomination, and perhaps, like Joe All Alone and Everybody Hurts, it won’t get further, but I’ve always been happy to be the bridesmaid – it’s still an enormous honour, after all.
You can read the full list of nominations by clicking here.
All writers hope for film or TV deal. If any of us say we don’t, we’re lying. Aside from the (often actually quite small) financial boost, it’s a massive pat on the back, and a kick to see characters you’ve imagined made flesh and blood. Even if they’re not the ones we’d slated for the parts during those idle times when we assemble our ideal cast, along with our Desert Island Discs and Oscar-win speech. But a few of us (it can’t just be me) start the casting process a lot earlier. With no imagined prize in sight, and before a word of the novel is even written. For me, I need my characters made flesh and blood so that I can write them into being, which is why casting a novel is the first thing I do.
Sometimes it’s people I know. Occasionally it’s someone I see on the street. But most of the time, I fall back on A list actors, who I will have seen enough to know how they speak, move, inhabit a character, so that they can inhabit mine.
So in The Double Life of Daisy Hemmings, twins Daisy and Bea are played by I Capture the Castle era Romola Garai.
Jason (and his later incarnation James) is played by a fey, teenage Ben Wishaw, while his nemesis, the arrogant Hal is a swaggering Dominic West. All three of these actors have appeared in my novels before, and will doubtless appear again. Along with Anna Friel, Sean Bean, Will Poulter and Millie Bobby Brown. So even if the film of the book never gets made, I’ve already watched it played out in my head countless times, to rapturous applause (albeit only mine).
The Double Life of Daisy Hemmings is out in hardback, Audible and eBook today. You can order it by clicking here.
No Man’s Land was born in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and Trump’s rise in the US. As a former political adviser, I wanted to be back doing something to change the mess we were heading towards and found myself frustrated that I wasn’t in a position to do anything useful any more. But I’ve always been someone who truly believes words can and do change the world, and none more so than in children’s books, where we get to show readers who they might become, and how they might play a part in building a better tomorrow. So I’m hugely proud to have been shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award, which recognises ‘radical’ writing trying to do just that. I’m also honoured because it’s run by Housman’s Bookshop, where I spent swathes of time in my late teens and early twenties, fired with indignation at the right-wing government we were living under back then. A world that we’re sadly slipping back towards again today. But all the books shortlisted offer a strong viewpoint, and above all, hope that change is coming.
Last February, I had the kind of email a writer dreams of; the kind that comes from their lovely editor and begins with ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ in shouty capitals. It was telling me that Rikin and I had been chosen to be two of the World Book Day authors and illustrators with our Worst Class series. There was much SHRIEKING (from me) and a lot of ‘OMG, FAM!’ (from Rikin) and then there was what felt like eleventy billion weeks of very hard work as we came up with a brand-new plot, wrote it, and got the pictures done in time for today’s announcement of the full line-up.
I’m madly excited to be published alongside Michael Morpurgo, Simon Farnaby, Nadia Shireen and all the other wonderful writers and illustrators. There are fact books, and scary books, and books about getting stuck up a tree with a sausage superglued to your head (yeah, that one’s mine). But here’s the thing: World Book Day isn’t so much about the authors and illustrators, it’s about the readers, and how books can change their day – make it brighter, funnier – or even transform their lives.
Reading for pleasure is the single biggest predictor of a child’s future success, bigger even than how much money their mum or dad makes, or their parents’ educational background.
Reading develops empathy – when we read we get to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and feel how they feel, helping us understand what our friends, and even our enemies, might be going through.
More than anything, reading offers up new lives for size, showing children what kind of person they might decide to be, and what kind of world is possible, if they choose to work at it. I hope the Worst Class in the World in Danger does that a little. Maybe not with the superglued sausage (don’t try that at home, kids) but the fortitude with which the kids meet their failures, and the joy they take in their triumphs.
Whichever book you choose with your £1 token, I hope it cheers you. It will certainly help change lives for others as 24,000 books will be sent free to prisons, and for one in seven children, this book will be the first they ever actually own. I’m proud to be among the authors giving children such an incredible gift. I know Rikin is too.
‘I could feel it coming. War, I mean. Creeping up on us, into our town, down our street, into our house. Smiling like a friend, like it was Batman come to save us when really it was the joker all along.’
I’d aways sworn I would never write about a dystopia. This world, right now, I insisted, was difficult and interesting enough. But then came Brexit, and Donald Trump, and I had a terrible sense of where the world might be heading – far, far to the right. I also felt impotent. Unable, now I no longer worked in politics, to do anything about the state of society.
But I did have some little power. I had words. Words can and have changed the world, I reasoned. And so, in a state of mainly anger, I wrote the first few pages of what would become this book, and read them aloud at a summer workshop where I taught at Bath Spa. The reaction from the audience was so strong – there were a lot of tears, and I know writers are emotional animals but this level was new even to me – I knew I had to finish it.
And here it is.
With far right Albion on the brink of war with Europe, ten-year-old Alan and his little brother Sam are sent away to safety. Dad tells Alan he has to be brave, like the superheroes he loves, but Alan isn’t sure. He wants to be wherever Dad is, and, anyway – can he really be sure who’s a hero and who’s a villain?
I hope I’ve done justice to the glory of Cornwall and the Tamar valley where my father grew up. I hope I’ve said something worth saying. And I hope, above all, that I’ve shown you some hope. Because that’s the real power of words, I think – offering hope, in a new way to live.
Joanna Nadin is a phenomenal writer, able to move in a shimmering flicker from the intellectually dazzling to the profoundly moving. No Man’s Land is as wise at it is gripping, with deep and profound resonances. A little masterpiece of emotional storytelling. (Carnegie Medal Winner Anthony McGowan)
Wonderful characters, convincing voice, gripping story – beautifully done. (Julia Green, author of The Children of Swallow Fell)
It’s terrific… well conceived and beautifully written. Real characters in an almost real world. (Fleur Hitchcock, author of Shrunk.)
Every young person should read it. It’s not only a page-turning thriller but a prescient – a necessary – story of our times. (Catherine Bruton, author of Following Frankenstein.)
No Man’s Land is out next week, but if you scroll down, you can get a sneak preview of the opening chapters…
Heroes and Villains
I used to think I knew about heroes. That some wore fancy outfits and flexed bulging muscles and had special powers like invisibility or flight or flames from their fingertips. The others wore uniforms and fought for the country with guns and rockets, or carried babies out of burning buildings.
It turns out not all heroes wear capes. And not all heroes carry guns.
It turns out it’s not so easy to tell them and the baddies apart, neither.
’Cause real life isn’t like on the telly or in films. Villains don’t always go round cackling madly and flashing their tattoos. They come in pretending to be your friend and promising you stuff so you’re tricked into thinking they’re the good ones after all.
And the real heroes? They can slip in and out without you even noticing. And fight with their wile and their wits and their kindness instead of weapons.
And they might be skinny as a stick and dressed in a T-shirt and just a kid.
But I didn’t know that then.
I just knew the world was changing.
And I knew I wanted it to stop.
How it Began
It started with Mrs King.
Actually, that’s not totally true. It started ages ago when the Albioneers won the election. Maybe before, even – before I was born. When England decided it didn’t like Europe any more and then there was graffiti on the Co-op wall telling anyone who wasn’t white, or the right kind of white, to go home, even though home was here. Then home changed its name anyway, turned into Albion, and it wasn’t the same for any of us.
That’s what Dad would say, anyway. But Dad wasn’t around for half the story, and he’s not telling it, I am. So I say it started with Mrs King.
Least for Sam and me.
She’d been teaching us about World War One, and the soldiers in the trenches whose feet got rotten, and the rats as big as cats that tried to eat the dead bodies. Ahmed said the soldiers should’ve eaten the rats, and Jayden Nesbitt said he would say that, so Ahmed said, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Jayden said, ‘You know what that means,’ and called him a dirty word.
And Mrs King said that was enough and that no one ate anyone and that this kind of attitude was how world wars started. So Ahmed said actually she’d said some man called Franz Ferdinand getting shot was what started the war.
Mrs King said, ‘Not “some man”. He was the Archduke, Ahmed. And Franz Ferdinand was just the tipping point. The arguing was the build-up. Wars don’t come from nowhere.’
And then no one spoke for a bit and the air in the room felt fat and dangerous because we all knew war might be coming again. It’d been on the news. We weren’t allowed news in our house because of most of it being fake, but Ahmed told me, so I knew too. Sam didn’t; he was only five and he mainly cared about Marvel and DC and dinosaurs, but I was ten and old enough for truth, least I thought so. Like I knew Cassius Barker from our class hadn’t moved school, he’d been sent to his uncle in Trinidad because it was safer there. And I knew that Olivia Mikkelsen who used to work with Dad at Albion Interception had gone back to Denmark. And I knew that the Patels from number forty-four had gone to Bangladesh and all.
And I knew that the war wouldn’t be loud and clattering with guns and bombs and trenches this time, it would be stealthy and silent and sneak in at night when you weren’t expecting it.
It was confusing, too: who was good and who was bad, and whose side I was meant to be on – Albion’s side, or The Rest of the World. I’d asked Dad to explain it and he said it was more complicated than that and that there were good people and bad people in all the countries, and even some people had good and bad inside them, and to just to get on with being a kid, maybe, for a bit.
Finally, Mrs King smiled, wide and real. She said we’d probably done enough war for the day and we should get on with painting our mural of Important Women, which was of a scientist called Marie Curie and a writer called Maya Angelou and a girl called Rosa Parks who had sat in the wrong bit of the bus, which was brave because she was black. So we did.
Only, Ahmed and Jayden argued about where Ahmed should sit on the bus, which Jayden said was in the driver’s seat and Ahmed said was in the bus company headquarters, owning all the buses in the world. And Mrs King was just telling them to pack it in when Paris Metcalfe from next door spilled pink paint all over her shoes, and started crying because they were expensive and her mum would kill her, and Mrs King said she’d clean them up so they were as good as new, and by the time she was done they almost were.
Then it was home time and she said, ‘Goodbye, everyone, see you all tomorrow!’ like she always does. And I didn’t even say bye back and nor did anyone else because we were too pleased to get out and play football or cricket or just eat crisps or whatever.
But I should have; we all should. Because, even though we didn’t realise it at the time, Mrs King was our tipping point. She was our Franz Ferdinand.
After two lockdown moves and much toddlerish impatience on my part, The Talk of Pram Town is officially published today (yes I know some of you already have yours, but only fancy pants writers / spies get actual embargoes, and I am your common or garden kind, although I would be ace in Mi5, just saying). So all that remains now, is for you to go buy the book if you haven’t already, and for me to thank all the people who made it happen, especially those who helped me fall in love with Harlow in the first place…
The Talk of Pram Town is published TOMORROW! (does merry dance) But in case you wanted to quality check contents / spy / be generally a bit beaky (who doesn’t?) then here, for your delight, is the prologue. And if that whets your appetite, you can then click on this link and watch me read the next chapter (and marvel at my lockdown hair).
London, April 1970
She could have used the last of the money to get rid of it. Michelle had said her cousin knew a bloke who knew a woman in Stepney who’d do the deed if she didn’t want to deal with doctors. She didn’t. But she didn’t want to see a woman in a back street in Stepney either it turned out, despite all her Nell Dunn dreams. And, besides, it was too late now.
‘You sure you don’t want anyone, love?’ The midwife, thick-set and florid, offers her a damp flannel. ‘Your mum? Everyone needs their mum.’
Connie, pale and sweating, shakes her head to both. ‘Not me. Jesus Christ.’ She groans as another contraction grips her, quick and vicious.
‘Nearly there, love.’
Nearly there. She hears him grunt the words into the wet shell of her ear. ‘Nearly there,’ he tells her, as if he knows she’s hoping. She sees him too. Sees the whites of his eyes tinged livery. Sees the pores of his nose where a single hair pokes through. Sees his thing, fattened and angry and jabbing at her. Worse, she can smell him sometimes. His too-close breath bitter with coffee and sickly with Polo mints. His still-buttoned shirt Omo-white and rotary-line fresh. How quickly the thrill of being wanted had faded. How had she ever thought him handsome? A catch?
The rest of it is blurred, faded at the edges by time and distance and sheer determination. Did she say ‘No’? Maybe not. And if she said ‘stop’ it was weak, or in her head. And she’d flirted with him, hadn’t she? Led him on like her mother said she always did, so it was no more than her just deserts.
This was no more than her just deserts.
The midwife doesn’t flinch – heard it all before, perhaps. But the mother in her head tuts and ticks her off. ‘And you can bugger off as well,’ she thinks.
And yet, fifteen minutes later, as the baby crowns, threatens to stretch and snap her wide open, it’s her mother she calls for, red-eyed and desperate.
A year to the day, broke and alone, she goes home. Baby in a borrowed pushchair, all her world in two carpet bags, back to Pram Town she slips only to find the car gone, the curtains drawn, the front-door double locked.
They’ve actually bloody gone away! To the lakes, she presumes. Same as every year. As if nothing has happened. As if she – they – don’t even exist.
Perhaps they don’t. Not like she’s been in touch. And their names don’t even match now. The Earnshaw chopped off and replaced with Holiday; half of Constance rubbed out and tweaked for effect. She’s a different person now. Not that girl – their girl – anymore.
The baby gurgles, the chips of mirror in Connie’s skirt twinkling in a bright slice of sunlight.
She smiles. ‘Well bugger them, Sadie,’ she says aloud. ‘Or bugger her, anyway.’ And she pushes the buggy down the side return, roots around under a stone Cherubim, and lets them in with her father’s secret spare key.
She doesn’t take much: her diary, two dresses, five pounds from the Pinnacle Biscuits tin in her father’s study. Just enough to get them to their next stop, wherever that might be. Wherever there’s a cheap bed and bar work and an open mic. She eats two digestives, takes a belligerent piss in the downstairs lavatory and deliberately omits to flush. Then, baby on board, she’s out and down the road before anyone can catch them. Before her parents get back from their tedious road trip and ask what she’s done. Before Martha gets back from tedious school and asks where she’s been. Before Mr Collins gets back from tedious work or tedious choir and asks why she did it and where the devil is his money?
‘Thief,’ he barks after her for that night in sixty-nine.
‘Thief,’ her mother shrieks for today and for ever.
But, fingers in her ears, ‘Tralalala, I can’t hear you,’ she replies, and she’s off like a rocket, little Connie Holiday, sweet Connie Holiday, the singing gymslip mum.
The bus is almost empty, a fact she cannot fathom. Why anyone would stay in Harlow when London is on the doorstep? A vast dance floor waiting to be waltzed through. A diamond, waiting to be plucked. She picks up the baby, grizzling for milk now, pulls up her top, not bothering to wonder if the two other passengers might glimpse and glower and grumble. It’s only skin after all. Nothing to be ashamed of, whatever she’s been told.
Sadie sucks, satisfied, her eyes wide, and green enough for cricket. Despite them, Connie can’t see him in her at all, thank God. There’s her father’s freckles, her mother’s moue of irritation, and her own hair, a surly brunette, though hers is dyed now, platinum as sand, only the roots revealing her inheritance. It was Michelle’s idea, and bathroom handiwork. ‘You can’t be a star if you don’t stand out,’ she’d said.
Turns out it takes more than a bottle of bleach to turn Connie Holiday into Marilyn Monroe or Marianne Faithful. But she won’t be deterred. She is dogged, if not really qualified. Bloody-minded, her father would say. And she daren’t think what words her mother might come up with. But so what if she never got her A levels? So what if she never even finished school? It’s not like she’s stupid. She could have shone if they’d let her try. If she could have been bothered. But she didn’t need to. She bets Mick Jagger never passed a single exam, after all. Or if he did it would have been art. She’ll be fine, she tells herself. More than. Has to be. Because it’s not like she can ask Sadie’s father for anything. Not like she wants to.
She kisses the sweet fust of the baby’s head. ’This time next year, I’ll be on top of the world,’ she promises.