Wednesday, 3 October 2018

October 4th is National Poetry Day . . .

Which makes it the perfect day to share some brilliant poems by students at Litcham School in Norfolk
Thinking about home

I'm not a poet, but I love poetry, so I was delighted to be asked to spend a day creating poems with a Y7/8 group at Litcham - where I've been lucky enough to be Author in Residence for the last two years.

I had lots of discussions with the wonderful Litcham librarian, Cathy Berry, about the content of the workshop. We wanted to tie in with the theme of homelessness that the students had been focusing on. Around the same time I saw an announcement for the Betjeman Poetry Prize - a national competition for young people, with the theme of PLACE. There's no place like home, I thought . . . and we went from there,

The workshop brought together the two strands of home/homeless and a sense of place. The students were fantastic, responding to the prompts in such a thoughtful way, and entering into wide-ranging discussions about what home means to us, what it means to not have a home, and the places where we feel most at home vs. not at home at all.  Once we got writing, everyone had their own take on the home/place theme -varying from funny to fantastical to political to joyful to extremely moving.

There is a lovely write-up about the workshop on the Litcham Library blog.

Having generated the kernels of the poems in the workshop, students then continued to work on them in school over the following weeks (thank you, teachers!) and Cathy sent some to me for feedback.

When I received a big bundle of all the final  poems I was overwhelmed.  I cried more than once as I read them. It was amazing to see the final versions that had blossomed from the first seeds in the workshop, the way they had grown and changed (and, in some cases how lines had been just right from the start and had not changed at all.)

None of the poems made it onto the Betjeman Prize shortlist but that didn't stop us having our own competition. It was really hard to pick winners, but I finally managed to narrow it down to two that I thought captured the home/place theme most powerfully. I had great fun selecting book prizes that were a match for these two talented writers.

So . . . this is the good part! Here are the winning poems.


Summer Scenes: Beetley River


When the weather's hot, the rivers are low.

A daring trout leaps high to catch a helpless mayfly.

Dace and chub's silver sides

Twinkle like stars underneath the water's surface,

And pike stalk the deep holes where the roach hide.


Where the river widens, the water slows.

Lily pads release seamless ripples,

As frogs leap from one to another.

Dragonflies prance from reed to reed,

Looking for a partner to waltz with.


Where the willow arches and sweeps.

A resilient bumblebee struggles to keep airborne,

Weighed down by pollen.

Red admirals spread their wings

To absorb the last of the day's sunrays.

And a lone iridescent kingfisher

Flits homeward from deep within the bridge.



by Leo Bodiam

Prize: The Old Man and the Sand Eel, by Will Millward



Sibling Stuff


Half drunk cups of tea,

Rucked up bed sheets,

Star Wars posters hanging on the wall,

Dirty clothes thrown in a heap.


View of the street below,

Cars flying past the window,

Rain pattering on the glass.

How has the time gone so fast?


Memories of tickle fights,

Sibling arguments,

The good times and the bad,

Seem such a long way from now.


Running down the park,

Playing cricket in the sun,

Chasing each other round the house,

Fighting over who had won.


But now you're all grown up,

Off to start a new life: good luck,

I hope I will see you soon,

To remember the sibling stuff,

And do it all again.


by Ashleigh Beale

Prize: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

Congratulations to Liam and to Ashleigh. I love both these poems - so very different, but both with great depth of feeling, beautifully expressed. And well done to everyone who took part in the workshops and wrote poems. It was a joy to work with you and a privilege to read your writing.

Find out more about the Betjeman Poetry prize and read the finalists' entries here . . .






Friday, 31 August 2018

The Writer's Map

I love maps - faded old maps, shiny new maps, everyday street maps, maps of extraordinary expeditions, maps of imaginary worlds in the pages of books . . . 


So, I was very excited to be asked to contribute an essay to a fantastic and beautiful new book, The Writer's Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands. It's edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, and it includes pieces by the most incredible line-up of authors - some you might just recognize! I can hardly believe that my name is casually hanging out in such an illustrious list!




It's all down to the lovely maps of Castle Key that appear in all the Adventure Island, of course. They are drawn by Leo Hartas, and I can't tell you how much I love them. In The Writer's Map, you can see my original scrappy sketch of Castle Key - the one that Leo had to work from to produce the lovely final version. You can also find out what maps mean to me and why I love them so much.

The Writers' Map will be published in October by Thames & Hudson and by the University of Chicago Press in America

I can't wait to read the articles by all the other writers - and to pore over all the maps, of course! I think I'll be buying extra copies for Christmas presents for all my map-loving family and friends too.

Monday, 28 May 2018

If you like Adventure Island you'll love . . .

The other day I had some fantastic book post (the best kind of post!) when the lovely people at Laurence King publishers sent me a copy of a brilliant new book they've just bought out.
Thank you for the brilliant adventure kit too - I'll try to stop Emily pinching it all!

They thought Adventure Island readers might like to hear about Hoakes Island.

I'm pretty sure they're right!

If you enjoy Adventure Island (and/or Secrets of the Tombs) it's a safe bet that you are a big fan of mysteries. I'm guessing you really like maps, and brilliant illustrations and working out clues.  Like me, you probably love animals too.

Well, Hoakes Island has ALL THESE THINGS!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Phantom Lights is Back!

If you have tried to buy The Mystery of the Phantom Lights lately you might have noticed it seemed to have gone to ground. One reader e-mailed to tell me that it was only available second hand on Amazon for about £50! She had read all of the other 13 in the Adventure Island series and was dying to read the last installment.

The problem was a bit of a technical hitch with reprinting new copies (and thank you to every one who bought all the first print run!) but it has all been sorted out now, and shiny new copies are in the shops and on-line. It maybe that a similar delay will happen with one of two of the other titles - if so, don't worry, they will be back.

In the mean time, don't forget you can always go and borrow a copy from your local library (if they don't have a copy, you can ask and they can order it for you.)

I was in my local bookshop, Heffers, in Cambridge to collect some books for a school visit and spotted lots of new reprinted copies of The Phantom Lights along with the rest of the series - and with our lovely bookshelf neighbours, James Nicols' The Apprentice Witch and A Witch Alone (if  you haven't read them, you must - they are fantastic!) and an author you may just have heard of called Michael Morpurgo . . .