Thursday, 31 October 2019

School Visit Round-up

It's been a top half-term for school visits!

First it was off to Capel St Mary Primary near Ipswich. Year 5 have all been reading The Mystery of the Whistling Caves, and it was lovely to chat to so many children who knew all about the characters and setting and plot - they had lots of predictions about who had stolen the Carrickstowe Hoard, so I had to be very careful not to give away any spoilers. These children had all become total mystery experts!

I loved working with each of the three classes to create new missing treasure mysteries. We came up with three very different, but equally brilliant stories - involving everything from mysterious alien rainbow orbs to ancient Egyptian gold.

Then it was off to Walsall to Park Hall Junior Academy - my third visit to work with successive Y5's to tie in with their reading of The Phoenix Code for their Ancient Egypt Topic. It was a delight to be back - the enthusiasm for reading and writing for pleasure in this lovely school is a joy to behold. It was great fun to come up with new lost artifacts with legendary powers for Cleo and Ryan to search for on their next adventure -  I particularly liked The Silver Potato of Brazil.

By the end of the same week I was back on the road (or rather the rails; my car has been out of action so it was cross-country train time) to one of my other favourite schools, Kensington Primary in Liverpool. - where I'm honoured to be Patron of Reading.

It was a very busy morning - including the official opening of their new library - it's been beautifully decorated so that it's like walking into a magical enchanted forest. I was proud to cut the ribbon (there's a little video of the moment on the Kensington School twitter feed!) - ably assisted by members of the the Liverpool FC Academy, who stayed on to read with the children. I also spent time chatting about Time Dogs with Y2 and reading them a few chapters, and doing a mystery-book vote with Y4. (The book the children chose (based on the blurb and the first page alone, was A Moon Girl Stole My Friend by Rebecca Patterson - a great read!)

There are pictures from the Y4 mystery book compeition here and from the  Y2 reading here.

Thank you to all the teachers, teaching assistants and office staff at all the of the schools for organising these visits and making me so welcome.

If you would like me to come to your school, please see my School Visits page for more information.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Book Pen Pals

I love the BookPenPals scheme!

If you've not heard of it, this is what it's all about . . . 
"BookPenPals pairs UK authors and illustrators with UK schools to make book recommendations via postcards. Schools reply with a postcard of their own. The Pen Pals pairings last for one school year, and the joys of reading, writing and drawing multiply."

Set up by the amazing duo, Kate Scott and Sarah Moorhead, the scheme has been an incredible success, with more and more schools, authors and illustrators signing up. Last year I was delighted to be paired with two lovely schools, one on Merseyside and the other in Lincoln.

This year I've got three fab newschools; Great Malvern Primary (Y6) and Castlemorton Primary (Y3/4) in Worcestershire and Brownlow Primary (Y6) in Leicestershire.

I can't wait to get to know my new schools. If there's one thing I like almost as much as reading and writing books, it's talking about books, so this is so much fun!
"Authors and illustrators recommend other people’s books to a class, over the course of a school year. They can also send occasional writing advice or drawing tips. Schools reply to let their Pen Pals know if they’ve enjoyed the recommended books. Lovely relationships between schools and authors/illustrators develop!"

I've just written my first postcards - and introductory letters - it's hard to fit everything onto the back of one postcard.  They'll go in the post tomorrow.  It's always hard to choose which books to pick out of all the amazing books out there, and I like to include a few different options each time - after all,  not everyone likes the same kind of book.

It's a great excuse to read more and more and sneak a few more books into my shopping bag each time I'm out (as if I even needed another excuse!)

Find out all about Book Pen Pals on their website here.

Would you like to know which books I'm recommending this month? 

I'll tell you as soon as I know that the schools have received their postcards - I don't want to give away any spoilers . . . let's just say I couldn't stick to one book, and there's a mystery, a history, a funny one and a dog story . . . 

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Out Of This World Library Event

Cambridge Central Library was a buzz of bookish activity on Saturday - even more than is usual for a
busy library, that is.

An entire chapter of authors and illustrators gathered for the SCBWI* Local Author event to meet readers, read stories, and run craft activities and workshops. There was a great quiz and a raffle too, and a chance to buy books and have them signed by their creators.

*SCBWI=Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (a.k.a. an all-round good thing).

I had a very lovely afternoon catching up with author/illustrator friends, meeting young readers and their families and running an action-packed creative writing workshop in conjunction with Camilla Chester (fantastic author of Jarred Dreams, Eats and Thirteenth Wish).

To tie in with the Space Race theme of this year's Summer Reading Challenge, the workshop was all about writing stories that are out of this world . . . using a snakes and ladders board template to come up with characters goals and obstacles for a space quest story. The super-imaginative group of kids and adults came up with some brilliant ideas - including the main character - Embers Marshmallow, a girl with fiery superpowers.

It was lovely to see a little girl called Maya win copies of Time Dogs (complete with a fluffy collie puppy) in the raffle, and to be able to sign the books for her. I hope she will enjoy them.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in organizing this brilliant event, which is fast becoming a favourite fixture in the Cambridge children's literature calendar!  Special mentions to organiser-extraordinaire, librarian and SCBWI member, Anita Lehmann, SCBWI regional network organiser, Debbie Edwards, all the library staff who helped, and to Heffers, Cambridge (in the person of Clair!) who ran the book stall.

Predictably, I came home with a bag of new books by my SCBWI friends!

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Storyteller Update

My last post was all about The Storyteller - the interactive story-writing show on BBC Radio
Lincolnshire that I've been involved with.

Back in July I was interviewed on the show by fantastic presented, Ella Wydrzynska, and the first chapter of the story - written by me - was read out.

Since then, five more great authors have featured on the show, and each has added their own amazing twist to the story with a new chapter. There will be ten in total and in a moment of madness, I've agreed to write the last chapter and try to tie everything together -  it's going to be quite a challenge as the story has gone inter-galactic (literally!)

If you'd like to listen to the story so far, you can find all the chapters here.

It's impossible to summarise . .  The adventure starts out  with our main character, twelve year old James, in the sewers beneath Lincoln, but soon involves an inter-galactic band of talking animal super-heroes including Frank the Tracker Badger,  Trevor the Crocodile and Gerald the Mouse, who are fighting an an evil pan-dimensional being who is trying to destroy our world (as a school project), James's friends Freya and Jayden, a race to find three magical rings, being trapped in a video game . . 

You can have your say about what should happen next by listening on Sunday afternoons at 2pm and texting in your suggestions. Just don't come up with anything TOO crazy, otherwise I'll have to deal with it in my final chapter . . . who am I kidding? Feel free to come up with the craziest thing you can think of . . .

Friday, 19 July 2019

The Story Teller

I'm delighted to have been invited to appear on BBC Radio Lincolshire this weekend as a guest on a new show called The Story Teller.

The show is hosted by Ella Wydrzynska, the winner of a fantastic competition called Be The One. Contestants had to pitch their idea for a new show and present a sample episode. First prize was to make the whole ten-week series for broadcast.

Ella's concept, The Story Teller, was a show all about stories, books and reading for children - a subject close to her heart, as she is studying for a PhD in children's literature at Nottingham University. Ella proposed to interview a different writer each week, and - the fun part - to ask each writer to come up with a chapter for an interactive story - based entirely on suggestions sent in by listeners!

I'm sure you'll agree it's a great idea. Luckily the judges agreed, and Ella won first prize.

Ella wins the prize! (photograph, BBC Radio Lincolnshire)
I was so happy to be asked to take part in The Story Teller.  I've known Ella for a long time. Ever since she was in sixth form and did a course with the amazing Villiers Park and I was an on-line mentor - someone that students could ask for advice or feedback about the careers they were hoping to move into - creative writing/publishing in this case. Over the years, we exchanged e-mails, discussing ideas and options. I really did very little, other than stand back in admiration, as Ella's determination and creativity led her from success to success; from degree to Masters to PhD. Alongside her academic studies, Ella has also built up an impressive portfolio of experience in student radio - which leads back to the Radio Lincolnshire competition.

So, this Sunday I'm off to Lincoln to be on the show. I'm really looking forward to chance for a good old discussion of children's books. Not least, because I have never actually met Ella in person - although we've chatted by e-mail all these years!

And then there is the interactive story element.  I have the job of writing the first chapter, based on audience suggestions from last week. I won't give too much away, but let's just say that it will feature sewers, a talking crocodile and a dog called Skipper. I've decided that Skipper will look a little like this:
Skipper ready for adventure (photograph from American Kennel Club)

Tune in on Sunday to find out what happens . . . I'll be on from 2-3pm.

If you've not heard of Villiers Park, do have a look at their website to find out more. They are a charity committed to equality in educational outcomes, access to higher education and careers across the UK, with more than 50 years' expertise, working with 2,000 young people each year.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The Time Dogs Have Landed

Today my author copies of Time Dogs 1 and 2 arrived.

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing stories that
have lived in your head and in notebooks and in files on your laptop transformed into real books. These are extra-special because they are my very first hardbacks. They are beautifully designed and feature gorgeous illustrations by Misa Saburi on almost every page - she has a lovely style - the pictures are sweet and adorable at the same time as being elegant and timeless. I'm very lucky and grateful to have been able to work with the amazing Laura Godwin and her team at Godwin Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan.

I loved writing these books. They combine just about all my favourite things; history, adventure, friendship - and, of course, dogs.

If you would like to see an excerpt of the books you can read the first few pages on the Macmillan Kids website.

-An exciting new illustrated chapter book series for dog-loving readers!

 Time Dogs 1. Balto and the Race Against Time

When a pack of senior dogs find themselves transported back in time—and turned into puppies!—they must make their way back home, helping real-life historical dogs along the way.
In this first adventure, meet Baxter, Trevor, Newton, Titch, and Maia—the time dogs!—as they find themselves transported through time and space to 1925 Alaska. There, deep in the wilderness, the puppies must help Balto in his famous sled race to deliver medicine during a diphtheria outbreak.

 Time Dogs 2: Seaman and the Great Northern Adventure

In this second adventure, Baxter, Trevor, Newton, Titch, and Maia—the time dogs!—find themselves transported through time and space to 1805 on the Missouri River. There, deep in the wilderness, the puppies must help Seaman, the dog of legendary explorers Lewis and Clark.

The books will only be available in the US to start with, although you can order them via Amazon and other international suppliers. Paperback editions will be published next year. They are also available everywhere on Kindle.

Maia was very impressed.

Storm not so much. I'm a dog, missus, I can't read. Can't you see I'm busy having my afternoon nap?

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Stories and Salamanders

Thank you to everyone at Willingham Primary  School for making me so welcome at your school when I came to visit last week. I had a great day working with all three Y3/4 classes as well as with a lovely mixed-age group in the morning - where we got to work spinning tales of adventure and magic using my newly created Story Factory - modeled here by Scruffy. Scruffy comes along on all my school visits to dispense cuddles and perform as Drift's stunt double. Well done, everyone, for your brilliant imagination and enthusiasm.

And a huge thank you to Willingham Parish Council whose generous donation to the library funded the visit, and to Cambridgeshire Libraries who organised the event - complete with a display of my books at Willingham Library - and especially to top librarian, Wendy Law, for making sure that everything ran smoothly on the day.

The Mystery of the Black Salamander was the basis of the Y3/4 workshop - might just explain why I have a salamander on a stick in my pocket!

Lovely readers after the book signing. Drift is ready for his basket after a very busy day.

Monday, 18 March 2019

World Book Day Round-Up

Lucy as Emily Wild, complete with investigation kit
Thank you for sending in your fantastic pictures of Adventure Island World Book Day costumes - I loved seeing them.

and  a brilliant Drift badge

Lola as Drift, with perfect face paint - one black ear, one white with brown spots!

I had a great week, with visits to some of my favourite schools.
Here are a few of the things I got up to . . .
Tuesday at Litcham School in Norfolk
Led a workshop on travel writing with a Y8 group. Students pitched their ideas for new travel books based close to home, including, Rubbish: One student's quest to throw a piece of litter in every bin in Norfolk and Dave: One student's quest to meet every man called Dave in South West Norfolk.  Then we journeyed farther afield. Inspired by extreme quests like Tony Hawkes' Round Ireland With A Fridge, how about From Little Mileham to South Africa with a Sloth but no Sugar. Playing the part of editor, the ideas were so great, I commissioned them all, and sent everyone off on their imaginary travels with super-generous imaginary expenses. I really enjoyed running a poetry workshop on the theme of Home with a Y7 group too - so many great ideas and lots of thoughtful, interesting work. Well done, everyone!

There is a lovely write-up of the visit on the Litcham Library blog. Thank you for your kind words, everyone!

Wednesday at Princethorpe Junior School in Birmingham (by video!)
Recorded a video to play in the WBD assembly tomorrow, announcing the winners of their hundred word story writing competition and reading out the winning story. I got to growl in the voice of a monstrous brute with the head of a lion and the body of a bull and wave a sword around. Well done, Logan! Logan's story can be seen on the Story Showcase on the Young Writers page. As an extra prize I'm going to write a short mystery featuring the winning children as the intrepid investigators.

Thursday at Coton Primary School near Cambridge
Almost cried in assembly.  As the children began singing I am the Lord of the Dance I was ambushed by the accumulated memories of the long-ago nativity plays, harvest festivals and leavers' assemblies I attended when my sons were there.
Helped a Y3 class invent tarantula cars and hedgehog bikes and unicorn planes and a supercars called the Lamborghini Big Pancake.
Met aY3 girl- called Emily -who had dressed up as Emily Wild. As if that was not enough joy, her little brother in Y1 was dressed up as Emily's dog, Drift!

Meet Drift the dog!
Friday at Kensington Primary School in Liverpool
Accompanied the head and seven children - one winner  per year group of the 'design a book cover for your favourite book' competition - to choose their very own book prize in lovely Liverpool Waterstones.
Created dangerous writing suspense scenes with Y6 - including much discussion of hero cats, killer hamsters, ninja dogs, being sucked into TVs, exploding cities, failing WIFI signal . . . the list goes on!

Saturday at home
Collapsed in a heap on the sofa . . . with a good book of course!

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Travel Time

How lucky am I? I've always wanted to go to Australia and here I am having a lovely time on the beautiful beaches of the Sunshine Coast and exploring the city of Brisbane. We came home via Thailand (I know, I told you I was lucky!) where my brother and his family live.

Holidays mean long journeys, which I love because that means lots of time for reading too. I really enjoyed Hilary McKay's The Skylark's War and Bai Rai's Now or Never. I'd thoroughly recommend both of them

Whenever I'm on my travels I always like to pop into the local bookshops to say hello.   I left with a pile of books by Australian author from a lovely independent bookshop in Brisbane with the great name, Where The Wild Things Are.

I'm home again now. Back to snowdrops and surprisingly warm Spring sunshine and happy dogs. And back at my writing desk  . . . I feel some new stories coming on.

Australian scenes . . .
Brisbane skyline
A surfer heading for the waves on a beautiful empty beach
Hanging around at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Home again . . .
Nice photo-bomb, Storm!

My Australian book haul . . .

Monday, 14 January 2019

Happy New Year

Christmas Eve - Santa has been!
After a festive season full of family, food and fun I'm back at my desk finishing the first draft of Time Dogs 4 and looking forward to the first two school visits of term next week.

I love the beginning of a new year. It's like opening a new notebook, the umpire's whistle at the start of a netball match or waking up to freshly fallen snow.  That blank page demands my neatest handwriting. That whistle reminds me to play better than last time. Fresh snow invites running around and snow angels.

This year I'm planning to start writing something new. I have lots of ideas but I don't know which one I'll run with yet.  I'm going to set myself some big physical challenges. I'll maybe climb a mountain or run a marathon - I haven't decided yet. I'm going to travel to some far-off places.  I'll be looking out for great stories ideas all the while.

Travel will be the theme for 2019.  Time travel to be precise! In June the first two books in my new Time Dogs series will publish in the USA.  They're all about a group of canine friends who accidentally discover a time machine and zoom off through time and space on some extraordinary adventures - meeting real dogs from history along the way. These stories have already had a long and winding journey from the initial idea several years ago, so I'm hugely excited (and nervous!) that they will soon be real actual books.

Time Dogs One
Would you like a sneak peak at Books 1 and 2? Of course you would! You're in luck - you can see the covers and the first few pages here on the Macmillan website.

I'm so delighted and honoured to have been paired with the brilliant illustrator, Misa Saburi. Misa has brought the stories to life with gorgeous line drawings that capture the characters and action perfectly. I love the way she drawn the dogs - the balance of cuteness and realism is just lovely. I couldn't have asked for more.

Happy New Year.

Wishing you joy and peace and success and fun in everything you do this year - even if it includes time travel!

Here's to new notebooks and fresh snow!