Monday, January 16, 2012

MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY: Promise the Night Blog tour

Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books, 2011)

Fasten your seatbelts, folks! I’m about to rave.

But let me do so out of earshot of Don Vito’s new pet lion, Paddy. Yes, I made the fatal mistake of reading the Don the chapter in Promise the Night where Beryl is mauled by a supposedly pet lion. The next day, a magnificently maned creature was striding about the manicured lawns of the Mafioso compound, and he’s been sunning himself here ever since. The next thing I know, the Don will order me from my blogging desk job (which I love!) and make me his new lion tamer…

But I digress, as usual. Today is the start of Michaela MacColl’s blog tour for Promise the Night (Chronicle Books, 2011) and I really have only one thing to say: PROMISE THE NIGHT is BRILLIANT!!!

Ouch, your ears are probably still ringing, but I mean what I say. A number of you kind readers love historical fiction, and you won’t be disappointed by this one. Set in East Africa in the early years of the 20 century, Promise the Night tells the story of Beryl Clutterbuck, who later became the famous aviatrix, Beryl Markham. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, Beryl lives with her father in the Kenyan hills. Captain Clutterbuck is an ex-military man and a horse trainer, but he can’t tame his incredibly adventurous daughter.

There is adventure and danger galore, mostly involving animals. The novel begins with a leopard attack, in which Beryl’s beloved dog, Buller, is snatched by the big cat. Beryl tracks the animal, with the help of a Nandi boy, Kibii—and the two of them find the mauled dog. With the help of Kibii’s father, Arap Maina, Buller is nursed back to health--and thus begins Beryl’s life as an honorary member of the Nandi tribe. She breaks taboos, by going on a lion hunt. She rides her father’s wildest stallion. She survives a knife fight with a rival Nandi boy. And of course there’s also the mauling by Paddy, the “tame” lion.

Beryl eventually gets sent to a school in Nairobi, but her adventures don’t end there. She sets up a steeplechase course in the classroom, and chafes at so many rules that she eventually gets expelled.

The novel has wonderful descriptions of Africa, and a fabulous arc. It begins at night with the leopard attack, and ends at night with a promise of lasting friendship. Interspersed with the narrative are journal entries by the older Beryl, preparing for her transatlantic flight. They flow seamlessly.

Promise the Night has great crossover appeal, by which I mean that even with a female main character, I can see boys loving it. Shake a spear, lads.

But that’s not all. I had the good fortune to interview Michaela MacColl and I think you’ll find her answers fascinating. Plus, Chronicle Books is giving away a copy of Promise the Night to one of my lucky readers. Just comment on the blog. (I’m on Twitter now, @MGMafioso, so if you tweet with #PromisetheNight, I’ll make sure the Don gives you an extra slice of panettone.)

Interview with Michaela MacColl:

1.    East Africa is such a strong character in your novel, yet I've read that you've never been there. What sort of research did you do to make the setting so alive?

I wish I could have visited East Africa!  But I did a lot of virtual traveling online and had the advantage of some beautiful photographic books of the area where Beryl grew up.  And of course I had the benefit of some amazing writers who lived there at the time Promise the Night is set. Isak Dinesen’s prose is as good as a photograph and Elspeth Huxley’s Flame Trees of Thika describes the rough landscape through the eyes of British child – invaluable.

2.  I'll have to watch Out of Africa again! Now, I think the character of Beryl is remarkable. She strives to be a murani (Swahili for warrior) in everything she does. In fact, she is in so many scrapes--mauled by a supposedly tame lion, in a knife fight with a Nandi boy--that it's amazing she survives. Yet, creating such a headstrong character (even a character based on a real-life person) can be tricky. What advice did Patricia Reilly Giff give you to help Beryl "stay true to herself without becoming a brat"?

Pat Giff’s instincts about “brattishness” (not really a word, but it should be!) are perfect. At first she alerted me to the problem and whenever I strayed, she reined me back in!  I think the essential thing to remember is that no matter how much trouble Beryl gets into, no matter how many buttons she pushes – she is essentially likable. Throughout her life she had the knack of making friends and keeping them. Kibii remains her friend well into their middle-age.  Of course, she also made enemies!

3. Yes, she probably was a bit polarizing--but it did seem she was very loyal to her friends... Another character I love is Arap Maina, the head man of the Nandi village. He recognizes the warrior spirit in Beryl, and takes some personal risk going against the wishes of the tribe in allowing Beryl to go on a lion hunt. How much did you know about the real Arap Maina, and how much did you create from imagination?

The only information we have about Arap Maina comes from Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night. He was clearly one of the two most important adults in her life (her father is the other one).  His teaching is gentle but uncompromising and her grief at his premature death in World War I is genuine.

When I found that I needed more insight into how a Nandi warrior would think and teach, I found modern memoirs written by Nandi were very useful.

4.    Promise the Night is a remarkable book, and I'm eager to read more of your writing. What are you working on now, if it isn't a state secret?

If it’s a state secret, then I should be run out of the state!  I love talking about my newest project.  Chronicle and I are working on a mystery series starring young writers. The first one is about Emily Dickinson solving the murder of Mr. Nobody! It’s due out in April 2013, just in time for National Poetry Month.

5. Here at Middle Grade Mafioso we always "grill" our guests about their favorite breakfast foods. After all, the key to a great middle grade day is a good breakfast. Previous interviewees have praised the breakfast benefits of chocolate chip cookies (C. Alexander London) and cereal (Chris Rylander). What is your breakfast of choice to start a writing day?

 I’m a Hazelnut coffee drinker. My Keurig is the most important appliance in the house (even more than the laptop first thing in the morning!).  Whole grain Cheerios with bananas is my food of choice – but I’ve been know to sneak one of the kids’ poptarts (frosted strawberry... Yum!)

Yum! Sounds as if you're set for the day!! Thanks for answering my questions--I really loved your novel.

There we have it, folks. Remember: Comment/Tweet with #PromisetheNight for a chance to win a copy of this marvelous novel!! (Winner will be announced on Friday the 20th)

(Here are the other blog tour stops, with the dates they'll be featuring Promise the Night. I'm looking forward to making some new blog friends. How about you?)

The Book Cellar
Mother Daughter Book Club
Stiletto Storytime
Amber Keyser
Royal Reviews
There's A Book
YA Book Shelf
The Children's and Teens' Book Connection
Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot


  1. This sounds like a really interesting book. Thanks for the interview!

  2. I hadn't heard of this one yet - thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I had to stop by and wish you many congrats on snagging an agent. Whoot!!

  4. I also have not heard of this (and I'm a historical fiction lover as you know)! Thanks for the word and the interview. I find it fascinating that authors can write books about real places without having been there and make them seem alive. Cool.

  5. Seeeoooo, I am thinking I should for sure read this and most likely just go ahead and buy it, too! Thanks...isn't it great when you come across a book that makes you want to shout from the roof tops?!

  6. A trouble maker as a main character :) I love that and the setting of the story definitely makes me want to read. I will be tweeting asap.

    Thanks for the feature.

  7. Virtual traveling online. Isn't it amazing what the internet lets us writers do?

    Sounds like a winner, Michael. And I hadn't heard of this one until now.

    Ha ha. Shake a spear. Good one.

  8. That's amazing you found one that Joanne hasn't heard about. I hadn't either. It sounds good, especially the East Africa setting.

  9. *raises hand* Me either, Michael! The main character sounds so interesting. I gotta have it no matter what.

    Lion tamer. Ha ha haaaa. *waving and smiling*

  10. I loved this book so much - it was so much fun to read.


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