Friday, 22 November 2013

Heffers Christmas Family Day

Can't wait for next Saturday!

I'm going to be joining forces with lots of my favourite children's authors for a festive day of book signings, reading and activities at Heffers Children's Book Shop in Cambridge.

I hope you'll be able to come along and say hello and maybe buy some signed books as Christmas presents.

I'll also be launching the Giving Tree - where you can buy a book to give as a present to a disadvantaged child.

Here's just a small selection of the the amazing books by these authors . . . as you can see, something for all children and teenagers of all ages . . .  there'll be Adventure Island books too, of course!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

I Declare This Library Open!

What an honour! I was invited to open the gorgeous brand new library at Thongsley Fields Primary School in Huntingdon last week.

The whole school gathered in the hall for the opening speeches - right down to the tiniest children from the nursery (aww!!). There was so much excitement you could feel it buzzing in the air like electricity. And all about books and reading.

It was fabulous.

I do hope I didn't lower the tone too much by telling the story of how I was once so desperate to read my new library books on the way home in the car that I was sick all over my little brother (I should point out that this was when I was eight. I do still get travel sick if I read in the car, or even look down at a map, but I haven't been sick on my brother for  years. Especially as he lives in Thailand now. Hmm, now i think about it I wonder if there's a link!)

The wonderful young librarians of Thongsley Fields Primary School

After a chat about our the wonderful worlds we can enter through books, and the characters we would most like to meet (Scruffy -  who came along as Drift's stunt double as always - voted for Spot, Scooby Doo, Drift and Marley) I was taken on a tour of the new library by the team of polite, enthusiastic and all-round delightful young librarians. I was most impressed by the bright and welcoming library and could easily imagine settling down for a good read in one of its comfy corners.

Scruffy - Drift's stunt double- hard at work

Thank you very much to Jakki Racey from Huntingdon library service for asking me to come along and to everyone at Thongsley Fields for the lovely welcome. I'm really looking forward to coming back to your school at the end of the month to work with Y5 and Y6 all day.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Authors for the Philippines

Seeing the news of the terrible devastation wrought by the typhoon in the Philippines I'm sure your heart will have gone out to people who have lost so much and are faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their lives.

To help raise money to support the survivors of the typhoon a group of authors have set up an on-line auction called Authors for the Philippines.  Authors, illustrators and editors  have donated items ranging from signed books to author visits  to "name a character in my next book". There are also manuscript critiques for aspiring writers.

Many of these would make utterly amazing Christmas presents.  You must know someone who would like a signed copy of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish in their stocking or a dedication in the next Horrid Henry book or to be a character in Patrick Ness's next book or even a night at the pub with Andy Stanton and Anthony McGowan!

And if you're an Adventure Island reader, you could also bid for signed books and a visit to your school from me (I'm Lot 123 . . . currently I'm quite a bargain!)

All you have to do is click on this link or the logo, browse the items and put in a bid. If you win, you just make your payment directly to the Red Cross - so if you were thinking of making a donation to the relief fund anyway, this is a great way to do it.

Even if you have already given as much as you can afford, do have a look at the website; it's worth it just for some of the fun items on offer. For example, how could anyone resist "having your name shouted at random by a badger" in the next John Dougherty book?

Bidding closes on 20th November, so don't hang about!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

School Round Up Part Two

I was delighted be invited to Manor Fields Primary School in Bishops' Stortford last week. The  visit got off to a great start when I saw these gorgeous posters up everywhere. These definitely win top prize in the Most Impressive School Publicity category!
It was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable day.
Posters designed by school parent Andrea Thorpe,
who you won't be surprised to learn has 
her own design company.

First there was a lively assembly with the whole school (it always makes my day when one of the youngest children picks the grey curly wig out of Emily's investigation kit bag, and agrees to wear it to demonstrate its disguise potential!) 
This was followed by a whole-day adventure story writing workshop with Y5. It was a whirlwind  crash course on everything you need to know to be an author - and the students all did a brilliant job of keeping the ideas coming; everything from secret identities to pizza kings to spooky halloween mysteries. The "hook-your-reader-in-and-don't-let-them-go" opening lines that were shared at the end of the day were great.  I'm really looking forward to reading the first chapters and seeing the cover designs when the students send them in for the competition.
We also squeezed in time to talk about everything to do with salamanders, sleuths and supercars with Y3 and Y4 and a short "paparazzi break' while the very nice photographer from the Herts and Essex Observer took some pictures of us doing our grinniest grins. The pictures can be seen along with a  report on the on-line version of the paper here.
The day ended with one of the biggest queues for book signings that I have ever seen. If I develop writer's cramp I'll know who to blame!!
Some of the children gave me pictures they had drawn, including this lovely version of the cover of The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby by Anisa.

Thank you to everyone from Manor Fields for making me so wlecome. Everyone from head to governors to teachers and teaching assistants to dinner ladies to children was friendly, enthusiastic and positive.  And a special thank you to Aimee Schilder in Year 5 who read the Adventure Island books in the summer and came up with the idea of the author visit day in the first place.
I hope you all had a great time at the Junior Disco that evening. If I'd had my dancing shoes with me I'd have been very tempted to stay . . .


Love the article! It was a really brilliant day and I and my fellow pupils had an absolute blast. I have written the opening chapter of my Adventure Island story and hope that my teachers will be sending it to you soon. I agree that the queue for the book-signing was ridiculously long, but we will all treasure our personally signed copies! Thank you again for coming. We all learnt so much about creative writing. Lots of love Aimee Schilder, Year 5 Pupil, Manor Fields Primary X

Friday, 25 October 2013

School Visit Round Up Part One

I've been off on lots of school visits lately and am very late with posting reports from all of them but will do my best to catch up.
Wishing you all a very happy half term holiday!
First . . . Denfield Park Primary School.
For a while it seemed I might never make it to Denfield Park Primary School. I pointed my car towards Northamptonshire and set off on a sunny September morning only to find myself caught up in the endless roundabout loop of Milton Keynes - like a meteorite sucked into orbit around a distant planet.

Having escaped at last, I then became ensnared in a traffic jam of Truly Colossal Proportions. The good people of Kimbolton were, it seemed, putting up a funfair in the High Street.* Even as I muttered and fumed at being held up I couldn’t help being impressed by a town that closes all its through routes at rush hour to make way for a big wheel, dodgems and candy floss stands.  It may be no coincidence that Kimbolton is also home to one of the biggest firework companies in the universe. This is a town that likes to party!

But I arrived. Only a few minutes late and just in time for what is always one of my favourite parts of any author visit – a whole school assembly, where even the youngest Year 1 children join in, coming up to rummage in Emily’s shoulder bag and pick out  random items from her investigations kit. It might be a packet of plasticine (perfect for silencing creaky floorboards or taking a print of a key) a wig for disguise, a spool of wire, a magnifying glass or some treats for Drift . . . 

What's in Emily's investigations kit?

The rest of the day involved two workshops.  I worked with Year 5, thinking about, and planning, stories with amazing discoveries at their heart.  The pupils came up with all kinds of wonderful ideas. In one discussion, I asked them to describe in one sentence the important discovery at the core of a book they had read to the rest of the group to see if they could guess the book. (Think, “a magical world through the back of a wardrobe”).  My favourite was a description of the discovery at the heart of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You (there were some very mature readers in this year), which generated the suggestion that it might be Beauty and the Beast. Although the wrong answer, it illustrated perfectly just how all the best stories are re-invented over and over again in new and wonderful ways.
Planning some brilliant discovery-based stories
Year 4 looked at the basic ingredients of story structure; characters, settings, goals and problems.  Each student wrote down some of each and they all went into the 'story hat' to be pulled out to create new crazy stories. This led to some extraordinarily imaginative stories, including a brilliant tale of David Beckham tiptoeing across a mile wide stretch of grass in the middle of a forest to ask the queen how many TV sets she owns.

There was even chance during the day for a quick chat with the Year 6 pupils, who had lots of interesting questions. What a lovely bright classroom full of lovely bright students!
Time for some questions from Year 6
Finally, time to sit down in the library and sign some books.
Note how I picked my outfit to match your school uniform, girls!
Thank you to all the polite, enthusiastic creative pupils and to all the staff for being so welcoming and helpful throughout the day. Special thanks to Mrs Hynes, Year 6 teacher and KS2  Literacy Lead who organised it all and sent me the photos.

* Known as the Statty Fair, it has been held in Kimbolton almost every year since the 1200s, when it was included the town's market charter. It used to be a trade fair, and is traditionally held on the third Wednesday of September. Memo to self; don't try to drive through  Kimbolton on third Wednesday of September!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Five Tips for Writing Exciting Stories

I love receiving letters and emails from readers who have enjoyed the Adventure Island series.

They often ask great questions too. 

Where do you get your ideas? 
How many dogs do you have? 
Are you going to write any more Adventure Island books?

Sometimes readers ask for writing tips.

For example, Maddie e-mailed me a few weeks ago and asked if I could give her any tips for writing exciting stories.

As I was replying, I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts in a blog post too.

I'm sure there's nothing here that hasn't been said before, but here we go!

1. Don't spend too long on background information at the start of the story - try to get into some action or drama quickly. A really good sentence or short paragraph at the beginning will hook your readers in to the story.

2. Think about the structure of your story. In most stories your main character will have an important goal or a desire they want to get to. If you let them achieve their goal too easily your story will be dull - not to mention short! So try being a bit mean and throwing lots of problems at them to make it difficult - so it's like a giant obstacle course. Depending on the type of story you want it to be, the problems can be funny or dangerous or dramatic.

3. A great way to come up with ideas is to ask yourself What If? This will often involve a character making a discovery about themselves or another character. It helps if you are a bit of a worrier, because you'll be really good at thinking of things that might just happen.

4. Mix things up. Don't be afraid to weave ideas from books you have read into your stories.    Just make sure you don't copy whole lumps at a time. Take little threads or snippets and combine them with a new setting or different characters or a different goal, and with your own personal style, to come up with something original.  

5. Try to make your writing come alive by showing the characters in action. One way to do this is use the 3 Ds; Description, Detail and Dialogue.

By description, I don't mean long flowery paragraphs about the landscape (although you might want that sometimes to set the scene), but rather, describing how a character moves/walks/speaks/eats a pizza/blows their nose/writes a text)

By detail, I mean including some specific things about the scene or action that make the reader feel they can really see (hear or even smell) the action. These make your writing feel original and interesting.

Dialogue. What characters say to each other and how they say it is really important. Writing  dialogue that sounds natural is quite tricky though. Try reading it out loud to make sure it sounds like people actually talking to each other. 

To see the 3D's in action, here is an example. This sentence that tells a little bit of a story you probably know. 
It does the job of telling what happened but it's not exactly very exciting.

The Big Bad Wolf went up to the door and told the little pigs to let him in.

Now, imagine that the wolf is angry and bossy and a bit of a thug. How can you show that in your writing with the 3 Ds?

How about something like this?

The Big Bad Wolf marched up to the door and banged his fist on it until the hinges shook. ‘Oi! You Pigs! Let me in!’ he yelled. ‘Or else!'

I've described the wolf's actions with one or two words. (Although adjectives might be the ones that spring to mind when you think of "describing words" this example shows that picking descriptive verbs can often do the job even better).

'marched up to the door'
'banged his fists on it'
'he yelled'

I've added a detail that helps to really see what is happening
'until the hinges shook'

And I've included some dialogue that doesn't just tell us what the wolf wants (to come in) but also a lot about him - that he is being bossy and rude!
'Oi! You pigs!' and 'Or else!'

If you want to practise this for yourself, try rewriting the Big Bad Wolf sentence again, but this time, instead of an angry bossy wolf, show that the wolf is nervous and scared (perhaps an even bigger wolf is chasing him) and is begging the pigs to let him in.

Or how about a swaggering, smooth-talking conman of a wolf who's trying to trick the pigs into letting him in so he can sell them some genuine "designer" watches. You can really have fun with the dialogue here!

Good Luck!

If you decide to write a story and you are 14 or under, how about sending it to me and I will put it in my story showcase on the Young Writers page. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

What I did in my Summer Holidays

As summer draws to a close the scents of wood smoke, squashed blackberries and new school shoes begin to linger in the air.

I love this time of year! It’s all about shiny new notebooks, pointy-sharp pencils and good intentions.

It’s been a great summer!
For the first time in years I enjoyed a lovely lazy summer holiday without a book deadline looming. We headed off to Thailand, to visit my brother and his family, and had a totally fabulous time.
I still took my notebooks with me, of course. Long journeys are perfect for thinking up new stories and characters. Or just scribbling down little snippets of eavesdropped conversations. Mostly, though, my notebooks were used for keeping score of long games of cribbage, and for drawing pictures with my five-year old niece, Lana. She’s quite the artist.
a combined effort
The Frog Princess

Because I have two teenage sons, it wasn’t all about sitting in the sun reading through a pile of books and drawing pictures of frog princesses. There was also quad-biking, kayaking, cliff-climbing and white-water rafting.

Part of the holiday was spent sailing in the Andaman Sea, and I was reminded just how many common phrases we have that come from the boating world. Here are my Top Five. For lots more examples, see this list.

1. To the bitter end. You might think that this phrase has something to do with a bitter taste (I always imagined the centre of a sherbert lemon sweet!) But the “bitter end” is the end of a rope or anchor is tied around a post on a ship, which used to be called a bitt.

2. I don’t like the cut of your jib. The jib is the triangular sail at the front of a boat.  Sailors could recognise the nationality of a distant boat by the way the sail was rigged or “cut”.

3. To be in the doldrums.  Now this expression means to feel gloomy or bored. The “doldrums” was originally an area of very calm winds, close to the equator, where boats could be stuck for a long time.

4. To show someone the ropes. On a sailing boat, you have to learn how the rigging works and which rope does what.

5. Batten down the hatches. This means to secure all the windows (hatches) with pieces of wood (battens) to keep the water out. Now it means to get ready or protect a place.

Captain Jak learns the ropes
I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer holiday too.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Cakes, Books and Sunshine!

I always love receiving invitations to visit schools to talk about books and reading and writing stories (not to mention, dogs and salamanders and brussels sprouts and ice lollies and other pressing issues of the day).

Recently I received an extra-special invitation. Eight-year old Katherine told me that she had been reading the Adventure Island books and asked if I could come to her school, Bignold Primary, in Norwich. Not only had she told her teacher and all her class-mates about the books, she also organised a cake sale to raise money to pay for the visit.


Katherine is a great example of how if you want to do something, with  loads of initiative, hard work and imagination, you can make it happen!

Here is a picture of the cake sale. Katherine's friends helped to run it, and all the class helped baking cakes and of course, buying and eating them all (eating cake - it's a tough job but someone's got to do it!)

And here is Katherine herself, as featured in the Norwich Evening News, who ran an article all about her awesome idea and efforts. Read it here!

Thank you to Katherine, your teacher, Mrs Norman, your class-mates and and everyone at Bignold Primary School for a really lovely day.  True, it was so hot that we all almost melted, but luckily we invented the Porsche Penguin in the nick of time; it drove through the playground firing ice lollies in through the classroom window (in our imaginations at least!)

And thank you for all the great artwork that I saw. I was very touched by the posters that the children had done about me based on their on-line research and loved the awesome pictures of  The Mystery of the Whistling Caves. Here is a sample. Lots more coming soon on the Art Gallery page - do have a look. I think we have some future designers here!

Have a lovely summer holiday!

Questions, questions . . .

Do you have a dog called Drift?

Are you proud of your books?

Do you write books every day?

In the Mystery of the Whistling Caves, who is your favourite person?

These were just some of the cool questions I found when I opened a lovely fat envelope full of letters from Year 3 pupils at Duxford c/e Primary School a few weeks ago.

The letters were beautifully written. They were courteous and interesting and well presented. Even the spelling was excellent! I was so impressed I couldn't wait to meet the children who'd written them when I went to visit their school last week. And I wasn't disappointed. They were just as awesome in person as they were on paper. We had a lovely (if sweltering hot!) morning together.

And they are great artists too! Here's a sample of the artwork the children had on display, all based on The Mystery of the Whistling Caves. To see more, have a look at the exhibition on the Art Gallery Page.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Sharing the Library Love

Libraries definitely feature high up on my all-time list of favourite things!

Libraries don't come much prettier than this!
Saffron Walden Library ticks all the boxes
 - books and architecture and a even a weather vane -
As a child, we would go the local library every week.  I'd pile my arms with as many books as I was allowed. I loved the thick plastic covers and the stick-in sheets at the front, stamped with the date for every previous loan.  I'd be bursting with impatience all the way home, dying to dive into my new haul. Sometimes I would even cave in and start reading in the car, even though it made me hopelessly car sick.

As a student I loved the grand old libraries of Oxford University. I would spread out my notebooks and pens on a polished wood and leather desk, the light from the reading lamp a cosy pool of brightness on dark winters' afternoon and select the huge fat bound volume of the learned journals on my reading list (Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, perhaps, or Mind and Language) and settle in. If I had to climb a wooden ladder to reach the top shelf or request my journal to be brought up from the stacks, so much the better. My concentration may have drifted off after half an hour, but you couldn't fail feel to that your brain was expanding in those surroundings.

Families taking part in the Children's Literature Quiz at Milton Rd Library
I was very easily bribed into helping with the answers - all it took was a friendly smile!
Now I often set up in the library for the day to write, rather than to read, a book.  Every now and then I need a change of scene from my home desk. Central Library in Cambridge is a great place to work, It's light and bright and friendly and all around there is the buzz of shared learning and discovery.  I also like to venture out to the smaller town and village libraries - there is something so delicious about being able to wander in to a new library and settle down at a desk surrounded by books. You can stay all day and you don't even have to buy anything!

I've been delighted to be invited to take part in two events at libraries in Cambridge this month. The first a meeting of the Youth Libraries Group, a wonderful chance to meet and discuss with librarians the issue of keeping children reading over the summer (the libraries Summer Reading Challenge provides a great focus for this)

Why not sign up for the summer reading challenge this summer
Find out all about it at their website here

And then to an event at Milton Rd Library in Cambridge, organised by the Friends of the Library. Children from the nearby school and their families were invited to a drop-in event with lots of activities (and refreshments on another of this month's miraculously scorching days) and to talk about their ideas for the way they'd like to see their library used in future. Like so many small local libraries, its opening hours have been reduced and closure is always a threat, but it is a wonderful community resource, and it is great to see the community ad library services joining forces to fight for it to survive - and thrive and evolve - into the future.

Thank you to everyone who organised these events and to everyone who came along.
Emily investigating Mrs Loveday in Castle Key Library
in The Mystery of the Whistling Caves
Find out how Jack is getting on with the Summer Reading Challenge on his blog

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope you all have a wonderful day in America.

I was lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon some time ago. What a great year we had there! 
We were welcomed as a family, made wonderful friends, the kids had a fabulous time at a truly inspirational local school, we skied in the winter, went to the beach in the summer, and I even got to climb Mt Hood, with ice axes and ropes and the whole works (I have a certificate on my wall to prove it!)

This year the fourth of July is also publication day for the latest Adventure Island book, the Mystery of the Secret Room.

Isn't the cover beautiful? I think this might be one of my favourites of the whole series. 
I'm so lucky that the publishers picked the brilliant artist Roy Knipe for the covers. And the amazing Leo Hartas, who has drawn all the gorgeous chapter-head line illustrations (over 280  altogether!). Follow this link to Leo's website to see lots more of his brilliant illustrations. You might just bump into some characters you recognise there!

 The Mystery of the Secret Room is dedicated to these two great artists.

What's in the treasure chest?
And where did that little cat come from?

To find out why Emily's in a dress and
 Scott's carrying a battle axe you'll have to read  the book!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Adventure Island Quiz Special

As you know Adventure Island readers are an amazing super-talented and fabulous bunch. You can marvel at their artistic and creative writing skills on the Art Gallery and Story Showcase.
But but did you know that they are also mega-brainy experts on children's literature as well?
Well you do now.

Meet Amy Smith from Lanarkshire. Amy is a very special girl and she is a massively keen reader. In fact she's such an expert on children's fiction that she was part of the winning team in the North Lanarkshire Primary Reading Quiz AND she was a reviewer for Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. Amy often gets in touch to let me know how she is getting on and what she's reading and it's always such a pleasure to hear from her. Here is a lovely photo of Amy with a lamb she named herself (she chose the name Ares). 
Not content with acing quizzes, Amy has set one to share with us all. So, if you think you know your way round Adventure Island, have a try at this quiz and see how many you get right.

Thank you, Amy, for a fantastic quiz!

Amy and Ares

The Quiz

Warning: Spoiler Alert. Some of the quiz questions do give the plots of the books away a little bit, so if you've not read all the books you might want to wait before attempting this!

Guess what? I didn't get them all right!

1. Who was the villain in The Mystery of the Whistling Caves ?

2. Who is Jessica Jones` twin sister ?

3. What is the longest word in any of the 14 book titles ?

4.  What is Liam Kerrow`s occupation ?

5. What newspaper does Neil Denton work for ?

6.  Where was Scott and Jack`s dad during their first summer in Castle Key ?

7. Which football team does Prince Sebastian want to play for ?

8. Who is Jack`s arch enemy ?

9. Which old smuggling family are Scott and Jack decsended from ?

10. What is the name of Emily`s great aunt ?

11. What is the name of Scott`s pet cat ?

12.  Name 3 members of the Copycat Gang

13. What is the name of the circus that comes to Castle Key every summer ?

14. Who is the detective inspector that appears in the series ?

15.  Which pop star does Dotty look like ?

16.  Who or what is Rolo ?

17. What is the name of Prince Sebastian`s sister ?

18. What was Simon Fox`s real name ?

19. Which band was Emily`s dad a part of?

20. Which sea creature is Jack afraid of ?
 Superfan Questions

1. What was Rudge`s real name?

2. Where did Emily`s great aunt have her birthday party ?

3. What is the name of Bella`s older sister ?

4.  Who is Steve Matlock`s dad ?

5.  Who was the M16 agent that came to visit ?