Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My Life as a Jellyfish

One of the fun things about writing children's books is that you get to lead to double life.

For months  you are cloistered away in your office planning a book, writing the first draft or wrestling the second draft into shape. You surface only to forage for toast, stomp round the fields with the dogs or halfheartedly harrass passing teenagers into tidying their bedrooms.

Then, there are other phases, packed with school visits or promotional events. You rise, creaking and blinking, from your desk, put on your party dress and venture out into the world.

Or maybe that's just me. I've come to realise that I'm the world's worst multi-tasker. I know of many more balanced authors who are able to, say, write two days a week, and do events, or other jobs on the other days. Or even write in the evenings or before breakfast. Not me. I only have two modes of operation. (1) Writing (nothing else gets done), and (2)  In Between Writing (everything else gets done as quickly as possible before Writing starts again).

This is me!
That's why I'm like a jellyfish.

We usually see jellyfish floating here, there and everywhere, with their long tentacles swishing beneath their parasol-shaped bodies. But this medusa stage is only one part of their life cycle. Jellyfish start out as little stalk-like polyps attached to a rock. In this phase the jellyfish is sessile. That means it sits there not moving, hoping to snag a few particles of food as they float by. Sounds just like me when I'm writing!

But the last few weeks have I've been in Medusa mode. I've been swishing my tentacles and traveling near and far for school visits and events.

Ryde Academy

My first expedition of July was to the Isle of Wight where I spent two days at Ryde Academy. One day was spent with a lovely Year 9 and 10 group discussing books for teenagers and how to write great new stories. Here are some of the students sorting books according to the sort of age they thought they might be best for. It was difficult not to get distracted by reading the blurb of some great books and wanting to read the books straight away!

you might just recognise one of these books . . .

the sun always shines when you're reading!

The next day I was with a group of Year 7 and some Year 6 students on their transition day. We talked about shmooshing ideas together to create new ones and came up with cars based on animal powers. I loved this Pigg-Snout car, complete with  nostril windows and snot lasers!


gotta love a snot laser!

I had a great time at Ryde Academy. Thank you to every one for making me so welcome. I even had time for a stroll on the beach in the sunshine in the evening.

The sky really was that colour!


Neale Wade Academy

The next week I was closer to home with a return visit to Neale Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire. I'd visited a few months ago for the Careers Convention, and came back to work with some Y7, 8 and 9 groups. We had great fun and I shared some writing tips, including my two favourites, which I call The Way of Total Wipeout and The Big Bad Wolf Smiley Face Challenge.

Writing 7-Football 1
During the day I set all the students a  mini-competition - to rewrite a Big Bad Wolf sentence using as many of my writing tips as they could. I read through all the entries that evening while watching that fateful 7-1 Germany-Brazil  World Cup match. I LOVE football but I could hardly bear to look, Luckily the standard of the writing was way better than the standard of the Brazilian defence! The Big Bad Wolf could easily have knocked that down with a huff and a puff!

The winner was Abby Sim whose entry began:

The Big Bad Wolf dragged himself with all of his willpower up the pebbled steps to the door of the three wise pigs. He knocked so quietly that even the mice in the rotten floorboards would have to strain to hear. He let out a noise, not even a whisper. "Three wise pigs, let me in. Use your wisdom on your three little chins."

There were so many great entries that it was very hard to choose, but I loved all the detail and action in Abby's writing. Well done to everyone who entered.

Winyates Primary Reading Festival

The next day I was heading across the fens of Cambridgeshire again, this time to Winyates Primary near Peterborough. I was very excited to be invited along for the school's very first family reading festival I spent the morning doing some workshops with all the children, right through from Year 1 to Year 6. Year 6 were the very first class to hear a reading from my new book, The Phoenix Code.
Parents and carers were invited in for the afternoon to join the children for lots of fun reading-related activities (and some pretty cool dancing too - by the children, that is, not the parents, although I did see a few toes tapping!)

It was a great day and I'm sure it will become a firm favourite in the school calendar for years to come.


(pictures to follow!)


Heffers Childrens Bookshop

It was back to Cambridge and one of my very favourite places on 12th July. Heffers Children's Bookshop very kindly hosted an event to celebrate the launch of The Phoenix Code, the first book of my new series, Secrets of the Tombs.

Lots of lovely children (and their Mums and Dads) came along. I read an extract and talked about some of the legends behind the mystery. The Phoneix Code is set in Egypt and there were Ancient Egyptian themed activities (including some codes to crack and scarab beetles to decorate) as well as some magnificent Egyptian cupcakes (a big hit;  thank you to Sarah Jameson Creative for making them so beautifully) and Egytpian hisbiscus cordial or karkade (I'm not sure that this went down quite so well - mainly because it was pink and everyone thought it was summer fruit squash or Ribena and got a bit of a surprise when it wasn't that at all!)

This is my new book . . . it's only nine days old!

Now, let's see if we can make a mess of this book shop . . . it was looking far too tidy

I'm sure you can fit some more glitter on that scarab . . .
Isabelle with the best dressed scarab beetle in town . . .


These looked too good to eat . . . but we managed somehow!

Thank you to everyone at Heffers for all your work in organising the event and cleaning up the glitter glue afterwards. The biggest thanks of the day go to my Mum, who had to do an emergency sprint from the car park (where I was stuck in a massive queue) to the shop to tell them that I was on my way, carrying a box of cupcakes, a large carboard Benben Stone and a plastic bag -  which I'd fogotten to mention contained a slightly leaky jug of bright pink karkade! Luckily it washes out better than Ribena!

The cakes are good but we're not sure about that pink stuff!

Elsworth Primary Writing Cup

Now this was a real treat! I'd been asked by Elsworth Primary School to judge the stories for their annual Writing Cup. Isn't that an amazing idea?  To present a big silver trophy, just like the ones you usually get for football or netball, but for writing a great story.

The lovely Sylvie from Cambridge Waterstones made my job very easy. She was the first judge and picked out a winner in each Year Group. All I had to do was choose the overall winner. Not that it was an easy decision! All the stories were all of such a high standard and they were all so different. I think they all deserved to win cup.

And then I had the lovely job of announcing the winners and presenting the prizes at a special school assembly. This was followed by a celebratory tea party for all the Year Group winners. It was so lovely to sit outside in the sunshine at a beautifully set table outside the village shop to drink tea and eat cakes and chat with the children.

Well done to everyone who entered the competition. The standard of writing was absolutely excellent and you should all be very proud of your stories. Thank you to Sylvie for being my co-judge and to Gaynor Clements, who is the the wonderful organiser behind the Writing Cup.


Just like a scene from The Famous Five!

By the way, did you know that the name for a group of jellyfish is either a fluther or a smack.