Becoming Starstrong is a 50,000-word adventure for the upper middle-grade/tween market. A Wrinkle in Time meets Percy Jackson,with a hint of Naomi Alderman’s The Power, it has a time-travelling heart, a musical pulse and a strong feminist vein (if there is a Bechdel Testfor children’s books, it passes in a heartbeat). The book is a stand-alone work but has series potential.
When 13-year-old piano prodigy Henry Starstrong sets out on a quest to find his father, he is thrown into a hidden reality and new identity as an Anachronaion. He discovers that his musical talent and history of childhood migraine carry a side-effect: the power to side-step in space and slide through time. He escapes to 1660 and is reunited with a sister, the rebel and artist Eleanor Morrighan. Yet Eleanor, 15, barely conceals her resentment towards her brother or the fire in her veins (literally) and is driven to defy the Anachronaion AvantGuard’s refusal to accept women into the fold. The siblings must work together – to be strong, like the stars – to prevent the Scattering of Souls and rescue their father. But in doing so, they are forced to face their inner demons, learn to accept each other and embrace their own natures, while facing the ultimate dilemma: If you could change one thing from the past, what would it be? But could you do it – and still be you?
I grew up a bookworm in a working-class family in a home with few books. But I’d save pocket money for hard-backs and treasure going to the library with Mum – the smell, the quiet, all those books! – and, at eight, asked Father Christmas for a typewriter. I got one. And with it, the writing bug. After a career as a law reporter writing about the worst of humanity and the most complex of legal precedents, I left my profession to read to my children (between non-essential tasks like feeding them and making sure they got some sleep). My non-fiction book Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purple stockings Movement was published in 2016 by Womancraft. Through it all, I’ve carried on writing stories and studying the craft of fiction. It’s my true love – and children’s books my first and most enduring of all. I now take my own children to the library, and live in a house with ‘too many books’.
Thank you for your attention and consideration, and I hope you enjoy Becoming Starstrong.
As Henry Starstrong arrived home from school one ordinary Tuesday afternoon, he couldn’t have known that all he’d find of his father was his titanium left foot, his timepiece and a single bloody fingernail.
With no shoes or phone (‘evidence’ they said), Henry was escorted in disposable flip-flops and a maroon St Bart’s blazer to a desk in Interview Room B of The Office. Through the frosted window came faint amber light from the streetlamps and the hum of traffic two storeys below. Across the desk sat a woman with candy-floss bleached hair.
‘Right then, Sweetheart. Grab a pew.’ Her photo-ID-card said: ‘Ms Patricia Bates, Social Worker’ and she was doing that thing people did when they couldn’t decide which of Henry’s eyes to focus on: his brown eye or his green.
Just pick one, lady.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. He should’ve had macaroni cheese with Dad. Dodged homework. The usual. Only instead of having dinner then busking on the Underground (Dad on guitar, Henry on keyboard), Henry ended up being interviewed forever at Tooting Police Station. And now he was sitting in Hell being processed by a Human Lost and Found Department.
‘Okey-dokey,’ she said, filling in her form. ‘Armstrong. Henr -’
‘It’s Starstrong actually.’
‘Starstrong?’ The flavour of the Bates woman’s voice was curdled milk. Some voices were sweet. Others, savoury, like cheese and onion crisps – or disgusting like baked beans. Hers was sour. ‘OK. Starstrong… Really?’
‘Really.’ Like he could forget his own name. Although, right now, it might as well be Blackhole. A Supermassive. Black. Hole.
Henry looked away. Outside it was still dribbling January rain.
‘I understand you don’t … that your mum isn’t …’ Ms Bates wasn’t looking in either eye. ‘Thing is, we need to arrange somewhere for you ‘til they find your daddy.’
She was clearly an idiot.
‘So, Sweetheart, do you have any grandparents we can call?’ Sounded like she was about to bring out the cuddles.
‘No. But Roberta -’
A beep from the policewoman’s phone pierced the silence like a text in detention.
‘Sorry. Emergency.’ Voice like margarine.
The doctors called Henry’s sound-taste-bud thing ‘Synaesthesia’. Diagnosed aged eight after Henry complained of tasting broccoli whenever he played Haydn on the piano. Bach was chocolate. Bach was good.
As the policewoman got up, her notebook fell out of her pocket. Henry reached to pick it up. There, scribbled under Dad’s name, were the words: suspected murder.
‘You’re a star, Henry,’ she said as Henry gave it to her. He might only have been thirteen, but he knew pity when he saw it – and heard it (pity tasted like gravy). ‘All the best now.’ She went out and shut the door.
‘Right then, Sunshine.’ Ms Bates’s smile slid away like slime and she was left with a moody resting face. She stared at him right between the eyes. ‘No. More. Games.’
Henry’s stomach curdled.
This was no invitation for a cuddle.
This was a mugging.