Monday 8 February 2016

Save Our Libraries - Before It's Too Late

There comes a time in life when you have to stand up and be counted for something you truly believe in. I've spent a lifetime "hiding" behind my words and those of others, hoping they'll be enough. I dislike confrontation and prefer to formulate my views without being bullied by others with louder voices. I've reached the age of 45 without going on any kind of political march or, indeed, doing anything political bar voting at local and general elections.

On Tuesday, February 9th, that will change because I'll be joining the Save Our Libraries rally to Westminster. I can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch as more and more libraries are threatened by closure and dramatically reduced services because of savage financial cutbacks.

My protest is about the continual erosion of equality.  Knowledge is power, as Sir Francis Bacon said in 1597. To have a fair society, you need to start early, not only with academic education but also with opportunities to be creative and fuel the imagination. Stories do that. That's why parents and carers with babies and toddlers go to the library to listen to storytelling and rhyme-time hosted by enthusiastic librarians.

To have a fair society, all children need access to the  resources available.  Libraries aren't just about books; they're also a vital source of e-books, audio books, academic journals, hard-to-get-hold-of non-fiction texts.  They're about vital public services: computers with Wi-Fi (and, yes, there are plenty of households without either at home), job clubs, a safe space for young people in areas where there are no longer many youth services left.  A space for the community.

Books Aloud, run by Jenny Hawke at Petts Wood library in Kent, is a perfect example. I joined them last week. There were more than 20 children there - after school on a blustery winter's afternoon - all of them excited to be in a creative, imaginative story-land.

 My family couldn't afford the copious number of books I consumed so I went to the little library in my rural Kent village.  Every week. Often two or three times a week. I owe my imagination, my expression, my understanding of life to books. I travelled the world to places I'd never be able to visit otherwise. I felt comforted when I needed distraction from the realities of teenage life. I felt safe when I needed somewhere to go.  All thanks to a small building jam-packed with books, perched between the village's few shops.

So that's why I'm breaking my habit of a lifetime. I want my voice to be heard because I need a future which has libraries in it.

Friday 31 July 2015

Shhh! Take a peek!

I've had one of those days that all authors and illustrators look forward to: holding their new book in their paws for the first time.  Yes, I've seen the front cover and the vibrant illustrations by Evgenia Golubeva before.  But that was on my computer screen.  This was printed on paper, bound by hand.

I was able to share it with fellow Maverick authors because we were meeting at the publisher's studio to chat about our experiences sharing stories with readers.  There were plenty of exciting ideas discussed and there's a new venture on the way.

As Quiet As A Mouse is published on September 28th, 2015. 

Wednesday 17 June 2015

ShoutSouth 2015 Festival - Be Inspired!

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water but Jack fell down a crater caused by a volcano and tumbled into upside-down land, along with a fire-eating dragon. It's a nursery rhyme but not as we know it...

Taking a well-known story and adding an imaginative new twist was just one of the exercises at ShoutSouth for 9 to 12 year olds from primary and secondary schools in South London last week. ShoutSouth is a story-making festival run by published authors and illustrators from CWISL.  It celebrates all forms of storytelling, with writing, drawing, and drama all fired by the power of imagination.

Lots of ideas - now go forth and spark! 

I was one of the authors leading a workshop and mentoring the kids as they created their own stories. My workshop focused on finding a spark for a story.  It involved lots of props - a random word game, music, pictures, and objects.

Jack and Jill having a different sort of adventure under the watchful eyes of author Cate Sampson and yours truly 

Other workshops included illustrations and storyboarding, spotting the plot, and Mad, Moody and Murky - adding that extra layer of description and emotion to show how characters are feeling.

It was SO much fun and I got some new ideas for my own writing too.  Now all I need is the time to write them...

A taster of the books written and illustrated by CWISL.  

Well done to all the pupils attending from Granton Primary, English Martyrs Primary, Lilian Baylis Technology School, St Mary's Primary, Bolingbroke Academy, Sacred Heart Primary, London Nautical, Christ Church Primary, Isleworth & Syon School, and Jessops Primary.

* All the authors and illustrators of CWISL put on the festival unpaid because we believe it's so important to bring our imaginative worlds to children.  After all, they're all readers and writers themselves but don't often have the chance to meet Real Live authors and illustrators.  The good news - we learn from them as much as they do from us. We're also grateful to Derwent for their generous donation of art materials.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Let Toys Be Toys

I'm really pleased because my picture book I Could Be, You Could Be has been praised by Let Toys Be Toys.  The campaign aims to stop gendered marketing of children's books and toys. 

Read more about it here:

Tuesday 25 March 2014

World Book Day 2014

World Book Day Fest

World Book Day was billed as a big, happy, booky celebration of reading.  I had my fest at five schools with 1,200 children between them.  The jury's still out on who had the most fun - them or me! Take a minute or two to enjoy some of the rhymes and artwork featured here.

Each child I met had a story to tell and each told it in different ways.  Some made masks and acted out their story.  Some created rhyming couplets.  Some wrote long, dramatic tales of adventure, fantasy and heroism.  They were funny, tragic, inspiring and fantastical.  The children's imaginations were mind-blowing, right down to the pretend clowns throwing custard pies at their audience.  We talked a lot about stories, too: how we create them, how they don't come out perfectly first-time around, and how picture books aren't just for little ones. 

The children who took part in my Mad Rhymes workshops were so wildly creative that I'm pleased I thought of the story first, because some of the ideas and rhyming couplets were stunning.  Here is a selection of them, including my favourite one which was this one by Amelie Shipton from Year 2 at St Martin's Infants in Epsom, Surrey:

I could be a cow making lots of milk,
You could be a cat with whiskers made of silk.
I could be a hedgehog spiking everyone,
You could be a tortoise trying hard to run.
By Esme Taylor, Y2

At Old Bexley School in Bexley, Kent, the Year 1 classes added colourful illustrations, too:

I could be a rock star singing on the stage,
You could be a lion roaring in a cage.
By Ellie & Jessica, aged 5

I could be a princess sitting on a throne,
You could be a hungry dog eating all the bones.
By Hettie, aged 5

I could be a wizard drinking tea,
You could be an octopus eating a pea.
by Tom and Aimee, aged 6
These are from Broadfield East Infants School in Crawley, West Sussex:
I could be magic like an old wizard,
You could be a snowy owl flying through a blizzard.
By Andrea and Iman, aged 7

I could be a pop star singing as loud as I can,
You could be a cook sizzling sausages in a pan.
By Nancy and Aaraiz, aged 7

I could be a werewolf howling through the night,
You could be a lion roaring with a fright.
By Gracie-Leigh and Joshua, aged 7

I had a ball and want to thank the children and the schools for sharing their World Book Day with me.  Thanks, too, to the teachers and librarians who were coerced with barely any warning into dressing as clowns and making complete fools of themselves in front of their classes. 

Sunday 23 March 2014

The Blog Tour

Welcome to my link in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  I was tagged by my writing friend and critique partner Julie Fulton.  Julie and I met properly at a picture book writers' retreat in Worcestershire - I've written "properly" because we later discovered that not only had we met before at the SCBWI's mass book launch, we'd also been photographed standing next to each other.

Holland House in Worcestershire - perfect for retreating

So, back to the Blog Tour, which focuses on the writing process. 

What am I working on?

I've got a number of different projects on the go.  I've just finished editing my first Early Reader story, a chapter book for emerging readers.  A couple of trusted writer friends gave the final draft a read-through and now it's flown the nest and is sitting on a publisher's desk.  Fingers crossed.  My next project is a series aimed at 7 to 9-year-olds.  I've finished the first draft but I'm unhappy with the lack of plot focus (far too many little plots but it needs one big plot to drive the narrative) so I had a brainstorming session with a well-respected editor on Friday.  Now I'm brimming with ideas and can't wait to knock a second draft into shape. 

Finally, I'm brushing up a couple of picture book texts.  I have three lovely writer friends whose opinion I trust and they're great fun to work with.  Julie and I met Tracy and Liz on the Worcestershire retreat but we live in different parts of the country so we're planning to get together for a working lunch at a halfway point.  This week it's going to be Northampton.  Tea, gluten-free cakes and writing.  What's not to like?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My latest picture book
I think this is almost an impossible question to answer!  When I write, I write what I want and it comes from my heart, rather than focusing purely on commercial considerations and what drives the market.  Many of the sparks for my plot ideas and themes are drawn from what I've experienced so the way I shape those experiences is going to be unique.  However, like most authors I'm influenced by other writers too.  I grew up on a book diet which included Enid Blyton.  Even now, there's a part of me that dreams of discovering the Faraway Tree in her Enchanted Wood series, along with Moon Face and Mr Whatzisname, and being able to climb through the clouds at the top of the tree into an unknown land.   

Why do I write what I do?

Because I have to.  I become incredibly grumpy if I don't.  If I don't write, the creative side of my brain goes into overdrive and I have the weirdest dreams to the point of being unable to sleep.

How does my writing process work?

Sharing I Could Be, You Could Be at Story Time

Randomly!  My teenage son plays cricket and my 11-year-old daughter is a diver so if they're not at school then they're usually training.  I spend a lot of my time driving them to sports venues and hanging around for four hours at a time so I often use it as an opportunity to write.  The white noise of swimming pools is strangely calming so I sit by the pool, I sit in cafes.  I also write on trains, in the car (not while I'm driving!), on the beach, up a mountain.  Sometimes it's with pen and paper, sometimes it's in my head, mulling over plot ideas.  Sometimes I'll pretend I'm a character that I'm developing so I can get an insight into what it's like to be him or her.  It's all part of my writing process.

Countdown... ready for take-off!

My writing process is heavily influenced by my visits to schools, libraries and festivals.  The visits are an opportunity to share my work with the children and hear their feedback.  It's interesting to watch them while I'm reading an excerpt - if they find it more interesting to play with an imaginary bit of dirt on the carpet, then it's obvious I  have to do some editing!  

I'm handing the Blog Tour baton on to Christina Banach, an ex-Headteacher turned full-time writer.  She is married and lives in Scotland with her husband and two daft rescue dogs who take turns to sit under her desk while she's writing.  Next month sees publication of her debut novel MINTY, a contemporary ghost story described by her publishers as a cross between The Lovely Bones and Ghost.  She'll be blogging on Monday, March 31st: 

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Feasting on Imagination

I had lots of fun clowning around with kids who came to my story-telling session at West Norwood Library in South London.  The hall was full, which was great for me and my fellow writers and illustrators from CWISL. Between us, we were hosting a day of story-telling, singing, mask-making and driving paper cars around a road track on the floor.

Our event was part of FEAST, which is a community project largely supported by volunteers.  It includes a regular street market and aims to bring the diverse sections of the local community together.

Thanks to West Norwood Library for their support.