Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Happy Christmas

I love Christmas.

We have an extra big chimney to make room for Father Christmas!

I love all the rushing around; buying presents and meeting friends and decorating the house and choosing the tree and baking mince pies and working late to finish off all the work that needs to be done before the holidays can begin. 

I love it when family arrive and we eat and drink and open presents and take the dogs for walks and play games and watch old films together.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Kids' Lit Quiz

How I wish this had been around when I was a kid!

A quiz just for those of us permanently in danger of tripping over our own feet because our noses are stuck deep within a book (literally, in my case; I was very short-sighted).

I wasn't much good at sport (I was captain of the netball team in Y6, but I went to a very small primary school. We only just had enough girls to make up a team. Everyone had to be in it and someone had to be captain). I was the only kid in the whole school invited not to be in the choir. I was hopeless at ballet. But I read. I read and read and read. If someone had come along and said there's a national competition and it's all about books and who wants to be in the team, I'd have (a) thought I was dreaming and (b) jumped out of my seat waving my hand in the air before you could say Ann of Green Gables.

Monday, 2 November 2015

To kiss or not to kiss; that is the question . . .

If you have read The Phoenix Code and The Dragon Path you may be wondering where Cleo and
Ryan's next adventure will take them.

Although the third book doesn't come out until next Summer I've written the first draft and am now deep in the first round of edits, so it's about time for some sneak previews.

Secrets of the Tombs Book Three is called The Serpent King and takes place in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, mainly in the spectacular ruined Maya city of Calakmul. In this, the final installment of the series, many questions will be answered.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Exciting News

I was utterly thrilled earlier this year to be asked to contribute a mystery story to an anthology called Murder and Mayhem. It will be published by Egmont next Spring and features complete short mysteries by twelve authors (including me!).
Here is the front cover. Doesn't it look gorgeous!

Just look at the list of authors on the front of the book and you'll understand how honoured I feel to appear in this amazing line-up. All my favourite children's mystery writers are there. I'm sure there will be some of your favourites too. I can't wait to read their stories (we haven't all read each others' stories yet too, so it will be a lovely treat for us too!)

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Events update

October has been a busy month for events.

The first was a great Mystery and Mayhem event at Heffers Children's Bookshop in Cambridge along with two other great mystery authors, Katherine Woodfine and Patrical Elliott. We started by answering questions from our host, bookseller, Hillary - such as "do you always know who committed the crime when you start writing or do you decide as you go along?" We all agreed that we have to know what the crime is, who did it, and how they did it, before we start in order to be able to set out the trail of clues. There were also lots of questions from the children in the audience about the inspiration for our stories.

We then each read out passages from our books. I chose to read from the first chapter of The Mystery of the Secret Room. I remember giggling to myself when I wrote the scene where Jack makes up the word FRIMBLY when playing Scrabble with Emily and Scott and pretends it's from Shakespeare. I thought it would be fun to share something a bit silly - although it ends on a mysterious note when Jack disappears.

Thank you to everyone who came along and to Heffers for hosting and for my two lovely co-mystery writers. I would definitely recommend both their books to any Adventure Island readers. Both are set in the Edwardian era (by chance in exactly the same year, 1909!).

The next event was Cheltenham Literary Festival. I was very excited about being invited to take part in such a big festival. My talk took place in and enormous tent called The Inkpot, and I was stunned to find that my audience was over 350 children. Monsoon-style rain poured down all day, but luckily stopped for a the duration of my talk - a good thing, as rainstorms hammering on canvas can be deafening! 

Inky skies over The Inkpot
It was very hot and humid in the tent but we had a great time. All the children were incredibly creative and enthusiastic in coming up with ideas. 

In the big tent . . . voting for the world's worst car name (because!)

Then it was off to the Waterstones Bookshop tent for a signing, which was lovely as I got chance to chat to some of the children. Unfortunately one of the schools had to rush off to catch their coach so missed the signing (a big hello and sorry to Red Maids' Junior School - your signed bookplates are on their way to you!) Another school has already sent me some fabulous questions and comments via their blog (a big hello to Coopers Edge School - I will get my replies to you soon!).

Signing a book for Kady
A huge thank you to all the organisers, volunteers, technicians and booksellers who looked after me and made the event run so smoothly.

And look who I spotted when I was there - our very own Emily Wild featuring on one of the character posters for the Discovery Trail. Jack and Scott are a bit jealous -  but I did give them a mention on the poster too!

Look! It's Emily!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Mystery Time

I'm very much looking forward to joining fellow mystery writers Katherine Woodfine and Patricia Elliott for an afternoon event at Heffers Children's Bookshop in Cambridge on Saturday. If you are a fan of clever clues, shady shenanigans and daring detectives do come and join us!

Saturday 3rd October, 2-4 pm

And if you haven't already read The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow or The House of Eyes, I would definitely recommend both of them!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Dragons Everywhere

The Dragon Path, the second book in the Secrets of the Tombs series launched in June and I was
lucky enough to have a celebratory event in both the wonderful bookshops in Cambridge. The first 
was at Heffer's Children's Bookshop in June and the second at Waterstones, Cambridge in August.

It was lovely to see lots of children at both. We made some gorgeous sparkly dragons, ate fortune cookies, cracked codes and found out whether we were on Team Cleo (logic) or Team Ryan (luck).

Thank you to everyone who came along and the teams at Heffers and Waterstones and to Sarah Jameson for another two excellent batches of literary mini-cupcakes!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Midsummer Mystery

What a wonderful way to spend a day! A big room full of young mystery fans and their parents. Four other great mystery writers all giving talks and workshops - and in between - sitting chatting, having fun, eating cakes and comparing notes. A wonderful venue in the lovely seaside town of St Annes on Sea, organised by the amazing Storytellers. Inc bookshop. And, if that wasn't enough, a mystery-play written especially written for the day, with actors playing the parts, and the authors all joining in as the suspects.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Here Be Dragons - a new book and a competition

It's exactly one week to the official launch date of The Dragon Path, the second book in the Secrets of the Tombs series.

In this adventure, Cleo and Ryan head off to an archaeogical site near Xi'an in China. But before they leave, Cleo's grandmother charges them with a mysterious mission; to return a jade ring to a terrible place she calls 'the dragon path'. The problem is she doesn't tell them where or what the dragon path is. Completing the quest leads to dangers Cleo and Ryan could never have imagined . . .

At the heart of the story is an old film taken in China in the 1930s that shows some very disturbing goings on.  As so often is the case, the idea came from a half-heard news story on the radio.  Film of nine old missing Dr Who episodes had been found in Nigeria (apparently by a man who makes it his job to search for long lost episodes of old British TV shows, nicknamed 'The Raider of the Lost Archives'). The idea of something caught on film that had been missing for years was the starting point for the whole plot . . .

To avoid disappointment,  I should, however, mention that Dr Who does not feature in the book in any form!

But here are five things that you will find in the The Dragon Path . . . 

1. You'll find out what the First Emperor's recipe gentlemen were trying to cook up (and why so many of their ingredients were poisonous).

2. You'll meet a Giant Chinese Salamander and discover the strange noise it makes.

3. You'll find out about the codes used by Napoleon to communicate with his generals.

4. You'll discover a tiger tally just like this one in the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an and find out what it was used for.

5. You'll find out which number is thought to be the unluckiest in China.

If you would like to win a signed copy of The Dragon Path and this original doodle of a Chinese dragon by me (as drawn for National Doodle Day last year!) all you have to do is answer this one simple question:

What is tetraphobia a fear of?

E-mail your answer to me at helen@castlekey.co.uk by 13th June. All correct answers will be put in a hat and I'll draw out a winner. Good luck!

Luckily the illustrations in the book are done by a real illustrator - the wonderfully talanted Leo Hartas (who also illustrated the Adventure Island books)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Book Jam Smiles

If books make you smile St Ives was the place to be today!

I was lucky enough to take part in the first St Ives Book Jam in 2012 - a fantastic all-day free book event for children, supported by local schools, libraries, booksellers and businesses -  and so I was thrilled to be invited back again this year.
Beatrice and Erin - there were lots of lovely smiles like these at St Ives Book Jam
It was great to see how the event has gone from strength to strength - the Corn Exchange was buzzing with book-related excitement (literarally - the mascot is a giant bumblebee - of the furry dressing-up kind, not a real one, I should add!) There were all kinds of author and illustrator workshops going on . . . some of the children were there all day and had been busy collecting autographs on the special cards that had been handed out.

 It was a treat to talk to children about Adventure Island and Secrets of the Tombs. Today's workshop focussed on settings, and there were some brilliant great ideas for places for stories, including a rainforest full of wildlife and a crashed rocket on a distant planet. Thank you to everyone who came along. I really enjoyed meeting you and chatting with you about reading, writing and what my next books might be about.

And don't forget, if you were at the workshop and would like to send in your idea for an island and a scene set there (maximum 500 words) I'd love to see them. A signed book is waiting for the writer of my favourite exciting setting!

Thank you to everyone involved in Book Jam for making it such a great event.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A weekend of talks

I don't know about you, but I love going to author talks.

Last weekend was the Cambridge Literary Festival -  a great chance to take a little break from writing (the third book of the Secrets of the Tombs book is keeping me pinned to my desk) and to be inspired by some fabulous authors.

On Friday evening I went along with a friend to see Mary Portas, who was very funny and talked movingly about her childhood. Saturday morning it was a real treat to see the wonderful Judith Kerr - author and illustrator of classics such as The Tiger who Came to Tea, Mog and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

Next came a lovely lunch with fellow writers and illustrators - all members of SCBWI.  What could be better than catching up with all our news over delicious food at a sunny window table?

Friday, 10 April 2015

More winners . . .

The first three people to send in the correct password to enter the Special Investigations Team area on the new look Adventure Island website were Jed, Hannah and Max. Well done to all of you. A signed book of your choice will be winging its way to you shortly.

If you were too late to enter the competition, why not have a look at the Adventure Island website anyway. You could send me a comment on Jack, Emily, Scott or Drift's blogs or something for the reader page. At the moment there's a survey running to pick Mrs Loveday's silliest saying!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

And the winner is . . .

At last I can reveal the winner of the exciting The Phoenix Code World Book Day art competition. The challenge was to draw a picture in ancient Egytpian style, inspired by The Phoenix Code - the first of Cleo and Ryan's adventures in the Secrets of the Tombs series.

We received lots of fantastic entries. I was so impressed by the creativity and hard work that went into each picture. They were all so good that I wanted to give everyone a prize.

But in the end there was one picture that stood out; it had everything - an original, attractive overall design, an ancient Egyptian style with a modern twist, exceptional attention to detail, clever use of scenes and themes from the book, and even the inclusion of names and messages written in hieroglyphs.

So . . . the winner is  . . .   drum roll please . . . .
Serge Wynne

Monday, 16 March 2015

Adventure Island website and mini-competition

If you pop over the Adventure Island website you'll see it's had a bit of a makeover. The original
design was wonderful, but it's now been simplified so that I can maintain it myself and keep it up to date more easily. 
There is still an area for the Special Investigations Team but there is no longer any need to register and sign up with confirmation by a parent and so on. 
Now all you have to do is answer Emily's test questions and work out the password, which you then use to access the hidden S.I.T. area - where you'll find games, puzzles, quizzes and a downloadable certificate.

There's lots of other information on the Adventure Island website too - including Emily, Jack, Scott and Drift's blogs and a reader page where you can send in your comments and questions.

To celebrate the new-look site how about a mini-competition? The first three people to e-mail me and tell me the password they have figured out for the S.I.T. page will win a signed copy of an Adventure Island book . . .

Have fun!

Friday, 13 March 2015

World Book Day (Week)

There must have been a few extra traffic jams last week as legions of intrepid children' authors zoomed around the universe sharing the joys of reading, writing and generally stuffing our brains to
bursting point with ideas in the in brilliant bookish bonanza that is World Book Day.

I spent Tuesday at the wonderful Southbank International School in Hampstead. In the morning I was with Grade 5 talking about the delights of writing about treasure -  lost, found, and fought over.

Friday, 27 February 2015

World Book Day

Hooray, it'll soon be World Book Day - one of the my favourite days of the year. If you are still trying to decide who to dress up as, Jack has some ideas on his blog for dressing up as an Adventure Island character
You could add a plate of suspicious chocolate cakes if you are dressing up as Jack

I'll be spending the day at Caldecote Primary School near Cambridge. I'm looking forward to seeing all the costumes and am busy planning what I will wear already. Can you guess which character I'm planning to be? Watch this space for pictures soon.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

January School Visits Part Three

DSC_0250 (Medium)
Years 4, 5 and 6 joined us for an assembly. Photo from school website.
Towards the end of January I was on the road again - this time to Walton-le-Dale Primary School, near Preston.
I spent an amazing and rewarding day working with two classes of utterly fantastic Y3 children.  Loris Class and Kakapo class (great names, by the way!) worked on coming up with new mysteries for Jack, Scott, Emily and Drift, multi-tasking by planning the story at the same time as solving clues themselves.

Both classes had been reading an Adventure Island book in class, and learning all about writing mysteries, so they were already expert authors. We made sure that we worked out the crime in advance, gave the characters obstacles to overcome, and included lots of cliff-hangers. Every group - including the Map Mashers, the Pendragon Plotters and the Code Breakers contributed to plotting the stories.

January School Visits Part Four

Pendragon Manor - a spooky setting with a haunted room
As January was drawing to a close, I set off again, this time to Alexander McLeod School in Abbey Wood, South East London.

I led three "dangerous writing" workshops, one with each of the Y3 classes.  We talked about peril in adventure stories and warmed up by asking "what could possibly go wrong?" Then we focussed on creating spooky scenes like abandoned schools and dark forests, zooming in on details to bring our readers right into the story. The children in all the classes came up with some brilliant ideas. I hope nobody was too frightened by all the spine-chilling
sights and sounds we came up with.

January School Visits Part Two

Say cheese! Photo from school website
I had an amazing day at Kensington Community Primary School, Liverpool last year and was thrilled to be invited back to work with their two Y3 classes again. This has to be one of my all-time favourite schools; there is such a warm and friendly atmosphere, and an obvious enjoyment in learning together.

I spent the morning with 3M and the afternoon with 3H, and we worked on coming up with new mystery stories for Jack, Scott, Emily and Drift. But the children weren't just planning the stories of The Mystery of the Ancient Aritfact and The Mystery of the Stolen Jewels;  they were multi-tasking by doing some clue-solving, code-breaking and map-reading along the way. They came up with lots of brilliant ideas and the stories had all sorts of twists and turns and cliff-hangers.

January School Visits Part One

If Usain Bolt had a pet? photograph from National Geograhic.com
Norwich is not that far from Cambridge. I allowed bags and bags of time. But I almost didn't get there at all, due to massive three-way bust-up between my satnav lady, the one-way system of central Norwich and minor roadworks that closed a small but totally crucial road leading to the school.  After what seemed like weeks of driving in circles, I finally screeched into the school car park and dashed into school only a few minutes late (leaving satnav lady to have a nervous breakdown on the dashboard.)
January was a busy month for school visits. 

My first visit of the year was the Angel Road Junior School in Norwich.

There's nothing like a calm and professional start to a school visit!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Phoenix Code art competition now closed

January has been and gone and with it the deadline for entries for our The Phoenix Code art competition on the World Book Day website. I can't wait to see all the Ancient Egyptian inspired drawings and paintings and see who is going to win the chance to have their name for a character in Book Three of the Secrets of the Tombs series. Results will be announced soon!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Phoenix Code Drawing Competition Update

Remember that exciting competition that I told you about on the World Book Day website? The one where you have to draw a picture inspired by The Phoenix Code to be in with a chance of being a named character in the third book of the Secrets of the Tombs series? 

Well, the good news is that the deadline for entries has now been extended until 31st January. 

So zoom right on over to the World Book Day website and find out all about it here. While you are there you'll find all kinds of other great competitions and information too. 

Happy drawing and good luck. I can't wait to see your artwork!

PS. If you want to get into the Ancient Egyptian mood and find some inspiration, why not head over to the Secrets of the Tombs website too!