Saturday, 21 June 2014

School Visit Round-up

I've been very lucky lately to have been invited to some great schools. Last week it was Oakham Primary School in the West Midlands. It was a great honour to have been adopted as the class author for this term by Class Twelve. I was so impressed by all the great literacy work the chldren had done based on the Adventure Island books. There was a display of brochures and leaflets they'd designed for different places on Castle Key Island,  letters from some of the charaters,  fascinating profiles of Jack, Scott and Emily, and beautifully written sentences describing different scenes.
Castle Key Brochures for Roshendra Farm, St Michaels Church, The Lighthous B & B, Westward Beach and more. . .

 I've never met a class who knew so much about my books! I had to be be very careful not to get the names of any of the minor characters wrong, as they would certainly put my straight! They'd even come up with the plot for anotehr Adventure Island book! It was all brilliantly set out on a "squid diagram" showing how Emily pretends to be kidnapped, making up some clues for the boys to follow, which leads to all kinds of problems, when she really is kidnapped - by Mr Piggott (The Mystery of the Whistling Caves) and The Hooded Man (The Mystery of the Secret Room) who have met in prison and plotted together to wreak revenge on Emily for thwarting their criminal plans! We had a lovely time discussing the ins and outs of the plot -especially how Drift would save the day. Well done, Class Twelve, you are all brilliant. I've put lots more of the great work and writing up on the Art Gallery page.

Class Twelves' Plot for Adventure Island Book Fifteen!
Then last week I was off to Bedford to St Gregory's Middle Schoo. There is a very special Adventure Island connection with this school, as it was attended by Rosie Armitage, who won the Operation Diamond competition and as a prize, appeared as a character in The Mystery of the Phantom Lights. Rosie is now in Year Nine and has moved on to High School, but she came back for the morning to help with the workshop - along with her mum who is chaplain at the school. It was lovely to see them again, and great fun to tell all the children about their famous ex-pupil! The children who came to the workshop were all very creative and I will add some of your pictures to the Art Gallery page soon.

Rosie Armitage on surveillance with Scott in The Mystery of the Phamtom Lights

Thank you to all the staff and children at both schools for making me so welcome.

Over the next few weeks I will be off to Ryde Academy in the Isle of Wight, Neale Wade Academy in March, and Winyates Primary School, Peterborough. I'll also be zipping around some local schools - at the launch of the school newspaperat Coton Primary, presenting the Writing Cup at Elsworth Primary and opening the library at Melbourn Primary. See you there!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Tale of Over-Excitement and Clumsiness

I may have been a little over-excited last week. First I sent off the first draft of the second book in the Secrets of the Tombs series. Second, I got to go to Bristol for an author evening organised by the lovely people at Orion Children's Books.

I was one of five authors there to tell the audience of wonderful booksellers a little bit about our new books coming out soon.  The other authors were Marcus Sedgewick, Alan Gibbons, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and Steve Backshall. As you can imagine, I was a tiny bit star-truck to be in such company.

The goodie bag bursting with books . . .

The other authors all had such fascinating things to say about their new books, that I felt a little overwhelmed. That is my excuse for accidentally drop-kicking my full glass of wine across the floor as I got up to say my piece about The Phoenix Code. Luckily it was white wine and the carpet was one of those greyish-marly affairs designed to hide the evidence . . .

It would have been easier to pass the wine-kicking off as a one-off case of 'it could have happened to anyone' if I hadn't already managed to drown my phone in my handbag earlier in the afternoon, courtesy of a sloppily stoppered bottle of water (try saying that after a glass of wine, assuming you manage to drink it before tipping it over the carpet!).

No, all the signs point to the perfect storm of acute over-excitement superimposed upon chronic clumsiness.

Other highlights of the Bristol event were the chance to catch up with my lovely editor, Amber, and publicist, Hermione. It's so nice to have long chat in person, when we usually communicate by e-mail. I also discovered a shared fascination with giant salamanders (both Japanese and Chinese) with Steve Backshall. And a wonderful bookseller told me that he'd just finished reading The Phoenix Code with his ten year old son and that they had loved it! Yippee!

The evening also gave me chance to spend the next day with my niece, my sister and her husband. We shopped till we dropped, walked along the seafront and through the woods and ate our lunch outside in the sunshine (only interrupted by one rain shower!) with a view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge - it's so slender and delicate as it soars above the deep gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Now I am home again and the sun is still shining. This morning was something of a re-run of the dangerous over-excitement-and-clumsiness combo

While walking my dogs in our fields I spotted a clump of not-officially-terribly-rare-but-you-hardly-ever-see-them bee orchids. I first sighted them in 2010 but they hadn't been around for the last few years as we had ponies grazing that paddock; it seems that bee orchids don't like great big pony teeth nibbling anywhere near them.

If you've not seen a bee orchid, they are truly delightful flowers - beautiful and comical at the same time - although whoever named them "bee orchids" had clearly not seen a whole lot of bees. They look more like smily little aliens. Perhaps the name "smily little alien orchid" was deemed too frivolous by the botanical powers-that-be.

Bee Orchid - aka Smily Little Alien Orchid

The bee orchids were the over-excitement.

The clumsiness came a few moments later. Storm, Maia and Pip had cornered a baby rabbit. They're sheepdogs, so their instinct is more to herd things into submission rather than to eat them, but the little bunny was far too scared to figure that out. I hastily called the dogs away from the cowering bunny and in the process slipped and somersaulted down the bank of the brook to land bottom-down in the rabbit hole. I was laughing so much that I couldn't get up.

Disappointingly, it was nothing like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. There was no Mad Hatter's tea party or cakes saying "eat me." Only rabbit poo, ants and nettles.

I did, however, have my phone (it recovered from the handbag-drowning after twenty-four hours!) in my pocket and took these pictures! 

the rabbit hole . . .
me in the rabbit hole . . .

Terrorise baby bunnies? Us? Must have been some other dogs!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Sunshine and Linton Festival

You know that it's exam season when the summer suddenly decides to arrive in a great big sky-blue bunny-hopping fanfare, all freshly mown mornings,  buttercup and bumblebee afternoons and barbecue smoke evenings. The higher the revision mountain the brighter the sun shines in through the window, hat firmly on, and generally showing off.

One of the compensations for growing old is whole summers without exams. Now I have children doing exams instead. But I'm working hard on finishing the first draft of the second Secrets of the Tombs book, so I'm not allowed out to play until June either. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that summer won't have been and gone by then.

I did get out for a day last weekend to go to the brilliant Linton Children's Book Festival. Linton is a village near Cambridge. It's not very big, but thanks to an amazing team of organizers and volunteers they put on a festival every two years that is every bit as exciting as those held in much bigger towns and cities.

What a treat to talk to a big hall full of children all full of imagination and enthusiasm for reading and making up stories.

It was lovely to meet some other children's authors there too including the wonderful Caroline Lawrence (Roman Mysteries) and Julia Golding (Young Knights of the Round Table).

As always I am the master of the understated hand gesture -
And I'm picking on people again . . .

I've copied these two photos from the festival's facebook page.
For lots more great pictures of the whole weekend have a look at the Linton Festival facebook page.

After my talk I signed lots of books, including one for a very special  girl called Grace who was there when I talked at Linton two years ago too and came back with twelve books for me to sign this time! It was lovely to see you again!

Drift's stunt double helps me to sign Grace's books

Good luck to everyone revising for exams or who has just taken them (I know that SATS have just finished - hooray!)

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Lovely Surprises!

I have a confession to make. Every now and then I find that I‘ve spent a whole morning and done nothing but rewrite the same sentence fifteen times and I still can’t decide where to put the semi colon or whether a character should sprint or race or hurtle or dart or whether or not to just take out a that whole paragraph about running down the mountain because it’s not really going anywhere anyway.
Indecision should be my middle name. Then again, maybe not.  Because then my initials would spell HIM which would be weird.
...dressing up as Mrs Loveday . .. 
Sometimes the only way to move on is to distract myself by dressing up as Mrs Loveday and hoovering the dogs or dusting the dinner, or - this is the confession part  - by googling my books to see how they are getting on all by themselves out there in the big wide world.
Sometimes this leads to lovely surprises!
A few weeks ago I was very excited to find the blog of Class 3 at Madley Brook Community Primary School, where they had been reading The Mystery of the Whistling Caves as part of their term project on islands. They’d been doing all kinds of work, even thinking of new mysteries for Scott, Jack, Emily and Drift to solve.
I sent Class 3 a message to say hello and thank them for picking my book and I received a lovely message back from class teacher, Miss Jenkins – along with some photos of the work they had been doing. The children had all written their own mystery books.  Here are just a few of the lovely pictures.

So, a big Hello to Class Three. Congratulations on all your amazing work and on your excellent class blog. What a great way to share your work and learn together (and have lots of fun too!)