Saturday, 27 December 2014

Amazing Art Competition - Enter Now!

I hope that you have all enjoyed a magical Christmas and that Santa brought you lots of lovely new books to read!

Now that the excitement of the big day is over, you might have a little extra time on your hands - so
how about entering an exciting drawing competition? Head over to the World Book Day website and you'll find a competition based on my new Secrets of the Tombs series All you have to do is draw a scene from the first book of the series, The Phoenix Code, and you'll be in with a chance of an amazing prize  - the chance to be a named character in the third and final book of the series - in which Cleo and Ryan will travel to Mexico for their biggest - and most perilous - adventure of all. Click here for all the details.

Drop everything (even that leftover turkey and mince pie sandwich!) and do it now, because the closing date for entries is 10th January. Good luck. I can't wait to see all your pictures!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Super-Talented Readers

A few weeks ago I received a lovely e-mail message from a reader called Trinity. She was writing a ten-page essay about the differences or similarities between two of her favourite characters  - George Kirrin from Famous Five and Emily Wild from the Adventure Island series. Trinity asked me lots of fascinating questions, which I did my best to answer.

George Kirrin

Emily Wild
And then, just the other day I was thrilled to receive another message from Trinity, with her brilliant essay attached. It was so interesting, thoughtful and beautifully written, I thought other readers might like to see it, and she kindly agreed that I could share it on my website. And that wasn't all! Trinity also sent a fabulous book review of The Mystery of the Invisible Spy by her sister, Gabriella. I've copied that below too.

What a very talented family! Thank you, girls, for being such lovely readers. I'm delighted that you have enjoyed reading the Adventure Island books.

Read on for Trinity's essay and Gabriella's book review . . .

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Update on Secrets of the Tombs Two

If you enjoyed reading about Cleo and Ryan's adventures in The Valley of the Kings in The Phoenix Code, you might be wondering where their next mystery will take them - and more importantly, when!

I'm happy to tell you that I can now answer both questions.

(1) China
(2) June, 2015

If you were reading very carefully, you might have picked up a hint as to the first answer . . . in the final chapter of The Phoenix Code, Pete McNeil mentions that he's been asked to study a strange ancient burial in China. He wonders whether Ryan's Mum, Julie Flint would be interested in coming along to write some articles about the dig. So that's where they go. You can find out what happens next in The Dragon Path . . .

The final version will have lovely shiny foil lettering
 And here it is! A sneak preview of the new book cover. I hope you'll agree that the cover is fabulous - full of mystery and danger. I love it!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Three Little Story Book Pigs are My Bag

Last week was a very exciting one in my household. My brother and his wife and children were visiting from Thailand. My little niece, Lana (6) and nephew, Jak (7) were born in Thailand and this was their very first visit to England.

All week I got to do the fun stuff that my boys - now fully-fledged teenagers - used to love but no longer want to do - go to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs, draw pictures, play board games, make cakes, read picture books and visit the farm to feed the animals. One of the highlights was meeting these three delightful piglets - so gorgeous with their candy-pink ears and snouts and curly-wurly tails - just like story-book pictures.

Not by the hairs on our chinny-chin-chins!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

September School Visits

Can I Help You With That? by helenmoss
Storm loves to help sweep up the Autumn leaves
II know some people dread going back to school but I've always loved September and the start of a new school term. It's a time for new pencil cases and shiny notebooks and good resolutions (this term I will  do all my homework the day I get it, share my sweets and wake up early to practise cello before breakfast every day; average time before resolution broken = 2.4 days). Each day, walking home from school, more and more leaves have fallen from the leaves. The first fluttering few soon pile up in drifts just waiting to be scattered by a foot clad in a conker-shiny new-term shoe.

For me, September and school go together like toast and marmite.

That's why I was so delighted to pack my bags and head off on a September school visit tour.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Books vs Scenery

The thrill of seeing a child reading one of my books never gets old. Thank you to Sally for sending in this great picture of her son reading The Phoenix Code in a very comfortable looking hammock on holiday in Devon earlier in the summer.

It's especially rewarding when they are so busy reading that even the most spectacular of scenery goes unnoticed. My thanks to Richard for sending me this delightful picture of his granddaughter Cecily reading Adventure Island in Italy.

These pictures reminded me that one of my favourite memories of my sons is the two of them, aged seven and ten, totally ignoring a magical 4th July firework display over Waikiki Bay in favour of Little House on the Prairie and Erin Hunter's Warrior Cats.

It was around about that time that I decided I wanted to write for children . . .

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interview Time

It's always exciting to receive a nice review of a book that you have written - and it's especially joyous when the review has been written by a young reader. I've been really impressed at all the kids out there who'd been setting up their own review websites and blogs - either on their own or with a group of friends - to tell the world all about the books they've been reading.

One young reviewer who has been kind enough to review both Adventure Island and The Phoenix Code (and I didn't even bribe him with a lifetime supply of  Aunt Kate's jam tarts) is eleven-year old Jed Owens. Jed is a massive mystery fan, and also a talented wildlife photographer.

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.

That Takes the Biscuit

Ta da! Can you spot the cool biscuit logo?
I'm very excited to tell you about a brand new publication that I've been working on for the last few months.

No, I don't mean The Phoenix Code (although I'm pretty excited about that too, of course) and I haven't secretly been rustling up a new Adventure Island mystery either.

This new publication is a brilliant magazine by Coton Primary School newspaper club.

Now, when I say I've been "working" on this publication, I have to admit my role in the process was pretty minor. It's the pupils who've done all the real work.  In the early sessions, I talked about what goes into a newspaper and how to write exciting articles. The children were bursting with so many great ideas, one of my main jobs was to try to filter them down to something that we could actually fit into one copy - otherwise it could have turned into a newspaper fatter than Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows!  

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. . .

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 . . .

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!)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sharjah Children's Reading Festival

 I've been travelling again. Here's a clue to my latest destination . . .  yes, I've been to the Middle East.

It was a great honour to be invited to take part in the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival.

Sharjah is one of the emirates in the United Arab Emirates and is the next door neighbour of Dubai. The city is full of gleaming skyscrapers, date palms, beautiful mosques, museums and galleries. The hotel where all the authors stayed overlooked a peaceful lagoon. It was lovely to look out of my window on the twelfth floor and see the lights of the all the buildings reflected in the water at night.

view across the lagoon

Dancing fountain display on the lagoon
the shade of the palm trees

But we weren't there just to admire the surroundings of course! It was all about meeting children and talking about books and reading.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the girls at the Mershid Government School, Fujaira. Fujaira is actually a different emirate and it was a long journey through desert and hills. The girls were quite shy and I needed some help to translate from English to Arabic from their delightful teacher, but we had fun thinking of what our most precious treasures would be to put in a hidden treasure chest. Among all the gold and jewels there was also a suggestion of a palace, a magic rabbit and, my favourite, a book.

My second school visit was to the children at the after school club at the American University of Sharjah. It was a loud and lively session, but lots of fun. We talked about grabbing ideas and shmooshing them together to make new stories and about where we would go in our amazing animal cars if we could go anywhere in the world. There were some great suggestions . . . Mars, through a black hole, Iceland, Mount Everest, under the sea . . .

Another big highlight of the trip was meeting many of the other authors who were there from all over the world. The organisers had arranged lots of wonderful evening meals and outings so that there was plenty of time for us all to get to know each other. It was particularly fun to meet Caroline Lawrence, author of the brilliant Roman Mystery series. Although we are both published by Orion Children's Books and both write mysteries, we hadn't met before. We had lots to talk about!

With Caroline Lawrence - I wonder if there is a collective noun for a group of mystery writers? A suspicion, perhaps?

An outing to the heritage centre - waiting to see some Moroccan music

Group photo at the end of a fabulous Lebanese meal
On top of all that it was wall to wall blue sky and sunshine, lashings of delicious middle eastern food. what more could anyone want. Plus I had time on the last two days to get on with lots of writing

A massive thank you to Zekra and Ashley and all the other lovely people at Midas for making sure I got to everywhere I needed to be and making it all so much fun.

It was a pleasure to take part in an event dedicated to promoting the joy of reading for children. So another big thank you to the hosts, the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour: Plotting and the Friday Afternoon Brain Hurricane

Thank you very much to Jen Morgan for passing the Writing Process Blog tour baton on to me. I've known Jen for several years through the SCBWI Cambridge social group and through the wonderful Heffers Children's Book Shop, where she works. Jen is one of those people who does so many things and does them all so brilliantly that you instantly feel overcome with a sense of inadequacy! She writes, teaches creative writing, mentors, edits, works in the book shop, runs the book club, looks after small children . . . I’ve probably missed half a dozen things. And she manages to be warm and friendly and supportive to everyone else at the same time. Keep up the good work, Jen!
Jen’s fascinating blog post about stilling the mind for writing is here:
The format of the post for the Writing Process Blog Tour is to answer three questions and then say something about some aspect of your writing process.

1) What are you working on now?
I am exactly half way through the first draft of the second book in a new Middle Grade series called Secrets of the Tombs. The first book, The Phoenix Code, set in Egypt, will be published by Orion in July. The one I’m working on now is set in China and is called The Dragon Path

Like my previous series Adventure Island, these are mystery-based stories in which young investigators solve puzzling crimes. The new series has an archaeological theme, with both historical and contemporary elements to the mysteries. As well as featuring very different characters and settings these books are a bit fatter and more complex and aimed at the upper end of the Middle Grade age range of about 9+.
2) Why do you write what you do?
I write the kind of books that I loved to read as a child. I devoured any kind of mystery novel – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Adventure series were my favourites.  In my own books I try to capture that magical combination of resourceful independent kids zipping about on bikes with only the minimum of parental involvement, sleuthing and problem solving, getting in and out of scrapes, eating picnics and putting the world to rights. 

3) How does your work differ from others in the genre?
There’s a great tradition of children's mystery stories, of course, with Enid Blyton being the best known. The Adventure Island series pays homage to the past masters, but I hope with an original twist. 

For a start, I try to introduce bucketfuls of humour to offset all the peril and problem-solving.  I also enjoy weaving in snippets of science and history and nature that I find fascinating and just can’t resist sharing. I also love to introduce readers to amazing words they might not have come across before (whenever I use words I think readers might not already know I have fun making sure that the context supports understanding of the word, and I’ll use it a couple more times later on in the book so it becomes familiar.)
The new series also has its roots in a well-established tradition; the archaeological adventure – best known through films such as Indianna Jones and The Mummy. My work differs from many other books in this genre because there there’s no magic or mythical heroes or super-powers involved. There are so many great books out there that do that, I couldn't even start to compete!
Just as with the Adventure Island books, I try to make the characters and situations realistic enough that readers feel ‘this could actually happen to someone just like me.’ That’s how I felt when I read The Famous Five. Although now I think about it I did spend much of my childhood in a state of perpetual disappointment at the distinct lack of kidnappers/smugglers/spies leaving trails of footprints and cigarette ends for me to follow . . .

Plotting and The Friday Afternoon Brain Hurricane
I thought I’d say a bit about my plotting process because that was the part I found most daunting when I started out, but now it hardly scares me at all and I've actually started to really enjoy it. 
With mystery books plot is crucial, of course. There’s a pretty clear expectation that something bad/secret has happened and the investigators have to solve puzzles and follow clues to find out who did it and why. So the start of the process is to figure out what The Big Bad Thing is.
With Adventure Island, the options are constrained by two main factors: (1) things that could semi-plausibly happen on a small Cornish island and (2) dastardly deeds that would interest an 8-12 year old readership, without being  (a) sordid and seedy or (b) dull and depressing. That rules out about 99% of real life crime!
In my new series. Secrets of the Tombs, the location changes with each book, so I start with a marathon reading session, looking for fascinating archaeological sites and intriguing historical events. I read like crazy, both fiction and non-fiction, and conduct long rambling internet searches, jotting down fascinating facts. I visit lots of museums and I even go and see the place in person (by clever alignment of family holidays!) And it all counts as work! This is fun!
Gradually I start to turn pages of scribbled notes into a plot outline. I always give it the heading Outline but in fact it could be anything up to 10,000 words long. It’s a bit like calling War and Peace a novella. I’m wondering whether I should call this document my First Draft in future. It would make me feel like the work was almost done before I even started!
I have no special formula for writing this rambling plot outline. I just start knitting all the pieces together. I've slowly built up a sense how much action and sleuthing fits into, say, a 30,000 word Adventure Island book and how to distribute the noisy peril scenes and the quieter problem-solving scenes along the way. Although even after fourteen books I was still trying to cram too much in every time. And when I started Secrets of the Tombs and moved up to about double the length I got totally carried away. Not having enough to say is never a problem!.
This long outline will include snatches of dialogue/jokes/connections to subplots – anything I want to remember, as I have an atrociously poor memory. My next job is to distil it down to the bare bones again. Often I’ll end up with a series of ever-shorter documents  ending with a bullet point version that makes it easier to see the series of events; perhaps not at a glance, but at least in under a week or two.
The reason that the plot outline is so long – apart from my pathological inability to get to the point – is that a crime mystery essentially involves coming up with two plots for one book. The first is the Bottom Story – not, I hasten to add, because it is about bottoms, or at least, not as a rule - but because it is the story that lies beneath. It’s the story of what the baddies actually got up to. This often involves going back many years before the book starts. The repercussions of past events come back to motivate recent misdeeds (for example, a tragedy concerning a 1980s rock band leads to the body in the sea in The Mystery of the Drowning Man; the wreck of a ship carrying soldiers back from the Boer War leads to the discovery of a long lost treasure map in The Mystery of the Hidden Gold.)  Although much of the detail of this story won’t emerge until the denouement (“oh, that’s why they did it!”) it all needs to be worked out in advance. 
Then there is the Top Story:  this is the investigators’ journey from coming across a clue or hearing of an odd occurrence to figuring out the entire Bottom Story. I think of  the relationship between the top and bottom stories as looking at a scene on stage (bottom story) through a tattered curtain (top story). The holes in the curtains are the clues that allow the investigators to peep through and glimpse the reality beneath – solving the crime involves joining those holes together.
Bottom Story

Top  Story

Once I finally have my plot outline I stick to it quite closely. I print it out and take with me everywhere through the next couple of months as I write the first draft. Themes and motifs and jokes start to develop and I’ll go back and weave those in. This means that the plot outline gets additional comments scribbled all over it.

I love finding connections and themes and quirks as I go along.  These just sort of evolve. I like to have ripples and echoes running through to give the book a feeling of roundedness. That probably sounds a bit pretentious for a detective story but it’s one of the things I enjoy most about writing.
But before I get to the point where I have the final version of my plot outline that accompanies me through the first draft there is one more important part of the process –  in fact, the most important part of the process: the Friday Afternoon Brain Hurricane (I told you it took me a long time to get to the point!)
I’ve been lucky enough to work with my wonderful editor Amber Caravéo on twenty books now and we've always ironed out the plot the same way.  I send Amber my outline and we then spend a Friday afternoon on the phone pulling it to pieces and putting it back together again. It’s like a brainstorm, only more. It’s Force 12 on the Beaufort Scale of brainstorms; hence the brain hurricane.
Every writer needs a brilliant editor!

This is how it works. At around two o'clock I shut myself in my office. This is the sign to my family that I am Not To Be Disturbed. The door is open at all other times. I don’t like being in rooms with closed doors and my office is tiny and also has to accommodate two large border collies who like to sleep, one under my desk, one across the doorway, to protect me in case of ambush by a pack of wolves.

Fuelled only by a cup of tea, and with only the occasional interlude to let cats  (Amber) or dogs (me) in or out,or say hello the postman/window cleaner or shout instructions to a teenager (me) about where to find their Jimi Hendrix t-shirt (the words Have you looked in the airing cupboard? will be engraved on my headstone)* we set to work.
(*Yes, I know. I just said that my family recognise The Closed Door as a sign that they shouldn’t disturb me. What this means, is that they now only alert me in the case of a truly life-or-death airing cupboard malfunction or epic someone’s-had-the-last-pack-of-tortilla-chips-out-of-the-pantry disaster.)
Amber can spot a plot hole at three hundred paces. Politely and precisely she will ask the killer questions. Why, for example, would the old pilchard fisher want to steal the priceless tiara to frame the man who stole his son’s prize chinchilla, if he knew that the said chinchilla-napper was in prison at the time and so couldn’t have done it?**
(** However thrilling a pilchard fishing and chinchilla themed mystery may sound this is for illustrative purposes only and not a genuine plot from one of my books (yet!).)
‘Because he  . . .er . . .yeah . . . good point.’ My entire plot is unravelling before my eyes.
‘Ok, maybe chinchilla guy’s not in prison?’ Amber suggests. ‘He’s just gone on a cycling holiday to Tenerife.’
‘Yes,’ I agree. But then I realise that won’t work. ‘But he needs to be in prison to overhear his cellmate plotting to blow up the old tin mine.’
‘Ooh! Ooh!  I know, what if . . .’ At this point Amber comes up with a brilliant idea that totally solves the problem. And, it now occurs to me, leads to another interesting plot twist that would work perfectly. ‘Ooh! Ooh! I know, what if . . .’
If the Friday Afternnoon Brain Hurricane had a catchphrase, this would be it: Ooh! Ooh! I know, what if.
We are usually done within three hours, although some particularly thorny plot issues in The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece took us, I remember, nearer to four.
Somehow we always arrive at a point where the story seems to work. The chinchilla is back with its rightful owner and the tin mine disaster has been averted at the very last second. Hooray!
I hang up and look down at the detailed notes that I have been writing all through the phone call. To my horror the pages appear to be covered in (a) random fragments of nonsense and (b) exclamation marks.
He’s not really a newt trainer!!!
Because it was FRIDAY –dahlias??? - yes!
Wrong kind of omelettes!!!
She comes back – ALONE!!!!
Dazed, confused, drained, I stare at the page. Does any of this make an iota of sense? No, it does not.  Even the bits that have been circled three times and underlined.  I start to feel immensely sorry for myself. I have literally and metaphorically lost the plot.
At this point I give myself a talking to. Pull yourself together woman!  Remember the guy who had to cut off his own arm to escape from that mountain (actually I don’t remember it very well as I have a phobia of sharp objects and so spent most of the film with my hands over my eyes). Remember Joe Simpson in Touching the Void. He survived a fall into a crevasse and dragged himself back to camp, half dead and with a broken leg and with Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring stuck in his head the entire time!*** You only have to type up a plot! 

(***I’m not making this up. If you’ve not read Touching the Void, do. I know it sounds like I’ve just ruined the plot for you but you’d have guessed he made it out alive anyway; he lives to tell the tale.)
My pep talk does the trick. I’m now ready to climb a mountain with nothing but a tweed skirt, a thermos flask and a stout pair of walking shoes.
I take a deep breath and hammer away at my computer keyboard, deciphering the coded fragments in my notebook into the changes and additions and deletions to the plot that they represent, working as quickly as I can because if I stop I might just drop the whole fragile spun-sugar-and-bone-china construction that I’m balancing in my brain and it will shatter into a million pieces.
At last I stagger from my office - tired but happy in best mystery-solving fashion –and crawl to the fridge for a very large glass of cold white wine. It is Friday evening, after all, and thanks to Amber, editor extraordinaire, another plot has been well and truly hatched.
All I have to do now is write the book.
Just as soon as I’ve got to the bottom of tortilla-chip-gate and found the Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, that is.

Now I’m delighted to hand on the baton to the lovely and super-talented Robin Stevens. Robin not only works full time at Orion Children’s Books, but is also about to publish her debut novel, Murder Most Unladylike. I was lucky enough to win an advance copy in the Authors for the Philippines auction, and I can tell you that it is utterly wonderful. 

Robin’s blog post will appear on Monday 21st April. Here is the link to her blog.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

My Dream Job

I had the great privilege of representing the career of Being an Author at the careers convention at the Neale Wade Academy in March last week. There were lots of Year 10 students, and also Year 6 students from some of the feeder primary schools. On the stand next to me was the lovely and super-talented Amanda Hall, who was representing Being an Illustrator.

Attention to detail is so important - note how I've themed my outfit to match the stage curtains!

It was great fun and really interesting to see people from so many different walks of life all so enthusiastic about their chosen careers -  doctors, opticians, photographers, hairdressers, police officers, paramedics, engineers, florists. librarians . . . the pupils were really spoilt for choice!

Thank you to all the students who came and chatted and asked interesting questions and told me all about their dreams and goals. Good luck to all of you, whatever career you decide to pursue.

Best things about being an author?
  • You get to make up stories all day (I could just stop there!)
  • You can spend the whole day in your pyjamas and frighten the postman!
  • You get to meet lots of amazing kids on school visits.
  • You get to share the book love.
  • Sometimes readers say things like "I really like your books!" and it makes you happy all day
  • You can eat biscuits all day
  • You work with editors and agents and illustrators and publicity people and librarians and they are all lovely
Worst things about being an author?
  • Buttons popping off your clothes due to all the biscuit-scoffing is a real and present danger
  • You get biscuit crumbs in your pyjamas
  • Sometimes you don't talk to anyone except imaginary people for days on end and you don't even notice
  • Your children eat a lot of burnt food and wear odd socks
  • Sometimes the stories fight back
  • Now and then you get caught out staring at strangers because the shape of their ears or the way they hold their pen would be perfect for one of your characters . . .

And now the serious part. It's true that it can be very hard to get started and have your books published.  You don't make tons of money unless you are one of a lucky few bestsellers or get a big film deal. You have to be very committed to what you are doing and have lots of stamina to keep going. Most authors have another career before they write their first book and often carry on doing another job at the same time.

On the up side, there is nothing more rewarding than writing a book; harnessing sparks of imagination and working on your story it until it as good as you can make it. Writing also makes life richer; for a writer no experience is ever wasted; the tedious, the absurd, the terrifying, the downright rock-bottom awful will all be filed away to find their way into a story one day.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

World Book Day (better late than never!)

Yikes! A whole week has passed and here I am writing my World Book Day post!
It's a post of two halves . . .

Part One: School Visit

I was lucky enough to be spending the day at St Faith's in Cambridge. Things got off to a slightly wobbly start - and I'm not just talking about my jelly-kneed jet-lag from returning from China the day before. My trusty school visit memory stick which holds all my Powerpoint pictures for a day of assemblies and workshops decided that the perfect time to retire from active duty was two minutes before I was due to address a hall full of lovely, enthusiastic pupils.  Even the valiant efforts of Dave, the heroic IT man, couldn't bring it back to life. It seems the data had been well and truly scrambled - almost certainly due to its passage through numerous security scanners on the China trip.

But all was not lost!

St Faith's pupils are a remarkable bunch with extraordinary powers of imagination. They were able to "see" all the images on the blank screen in their minds' eye, from purple unicorns to Scooby Doo and the gang, to Cruella de Ville. It was almost an anti-climax when Dave managed to recover the files and the real pictures came up! In fact, I'm thinking of making the what-can-you-see-on-the-blank-screen activity a regular part of my school assembly talks from now on.

I've even got a name for it:  The Emperor's New Powerpoint.
The book sale queue. I love these gorgeous stripey blazers.

I really enjoyed spending the day talking about reading and writing with Year 3, 4 and 5 at St Faith's (including undercover stick insects, the new Range Rover Asparagus and Iron Man's Adventures in Toiletland - no wonder I love my job so much!). Thank you all for making me so welcome. Special thanks to St Faith's amazing librarian, Kate Johnson for organising everything - including the book sale at break time.

I had so many books to sign that I got a bit carried away and accidentally wrote Happy Birthday instead of Happy Reading not once, but twice!

Just a few books to sign!

Part 2

The other big excitement for me on World Book Day was receiving an email from Adventure Island reader Antsha, with some spectacular photos of her and her little sister, dressed up as Mrs Loveday and Emily Wild. And is that Drift I see there too?

Mrs Loveday gives Emily a very stern look!
How cool is that? Antsha has thought of everything;  the bike helmet, the grey curls, the hi-vis jacket, the flowery dress, the trainers and, of course, the mop! And Tonisha looks just like Emily with those long brown curls. This photo was my favourite.  I love how you can really see the action here - Mrs Loveday is shaking her mop at Emily (no doubt telling her off for something!), while Emily looks as if she's about to dash off and solve another mystery, with Drift running along behind.

Thank you, Antsha, for sending me this picture. I hope you both had a lovely World Book Day!

Sadly, World Book Day is now over for another year.  Don't forget to spend those £1 tokens. There are some great books to chose from but my personal recommendation would be The Midnight Picnic by Lauren St John.

And it's not too late to win a brilliant prize of Book Tokens for your school - all you have to do is send in a photo of your class all dressed up for World Book Day  - not to me, but to the World Book Day people - all the details (and loads more fun stuff) on their website here.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Here Be Dragons!

I'm sure you already know that yesterday was World Book Day. I'll be posting some pictures from my visit to the wonderful St Faiths School in Cambridge soon. But in the meantime, there's another important day going on TODAY!

It's National Doodle Day. 

It's great fun. And it's all in support of Epilepsy Action.

My publisher Orion are getting involved and asked some of their authors to send in pictures of themselves holding up their doodles for the National Doodle Day twitter feed.

Here's my attempt - a Chinese dragon I doodled while waiting in the car for my son to finish his drum lesson. The only pencil in my bag was rather blunt and I couldn't find a sharpener so he looks a little blurry round the edges! Let's just say that he's a dragon seen through a cloud of smoke!

All My Own Work!

But why a Chinese dragon you may be wondering?

Here's a clue. I've just got back from a trip to do some research for the next book in the Secrets of the Tombs series. It involved a some very long flights, eating lots of yummy noodles and climbing to the top of pagodas. Not to mention looking at tombs. I'm always looking at tombs! 

There will be dragons in the new book too!

If you would like to see lots more doodles, have a look at the National Doodle Day website. There's a gallery of celebrity doodles. You can also help to raise funds for Epilepsy Action by bidding to to buy a doodle by one of your favourite celebs.

I've just discovered a website where you can find out what official "DAY" it is for every day of the year.  Turns out that today is not only Doodle Day, but also, amongst others, Middle Name Pride Day* and Crown Roast of Pork Day**!

I am now going to put the "day" website into my UTTERLY BANNED FOR ALL TIME file. Otherwise I could fritter away entire weeks - weeks when when I should be working - on browsing its fascinating contents. But before I lock it away for ever, I couldn't help noticing that tomorrow is National Proof Reading Day. 

Which is mighty uncanny because sitting on my desk is a big fat envelope full of the proofs of The Phoenix Code . . . and the job right at the top of my mega To-Do list for tomorrow is to check through them. 

It's going to make it so much more fun, knowing that I am doing it on the designated day of the year!

* FYI. My middle name is Elizabeth and yay, I'm proud of it!

** Oh no, too late, I've just got mince out of the freezer for a chilli con carne!