Monday, 2 November 2020

School Vist Happy Dance Time!

With so much gloom and uncertainty in the air these days, being invited to visit a school in person was
the most enormous bright and shiny burst of sunshine. And this wasn't just any school. This was the wonderful St Marys, Stansted, where the reading superstars in Y5 and Y6 have been reading The Phoenix Code as part of their Ancient Egypt topic.

There's always a lot of work involved for a school to organise the logistics of an author visit at the best of times - but right now, it's in another league. So I'm hugely grateful to everyone at St Marys for going the extra mile to make it possible - especially to the inspirational Ms Dawson - who made sure that everything ran like clockwork. With all the extra COVID health and safety considerations - distancing and visors and hand-washing and remote book signing orders - that was no mean feat.

What a treat it was to be back in an actual real school! The children were clearly loving learning, playing, chatting - and reading, together. It was obvious the moment that you walked into the classrooms that they have the most exciting and vibrant of reading cultures. It's a true honour to know that they had all read The Phoenix Code, and so much fun to discuss every plot twist and character arc with classes full of total experts (and a special shout-out here to Sam, who was the super-expert, having read all three in the series). 

The enthusiasm of the class teachers and teaching assistants had really rubbed off on the children - a shining example of what a sharing a book as a reading community is all about. I especially loved how The Phoenix Code was just part of the whole topic, with connections through every subject. 

These beautiful artworks, linked to a quote in the book, brought tears to my eyes (in a good way!)

And, so did these extraordinary pencil drawings, based on the chapter head illustrations by Leo Hartas. The children worked on them while they were listening to the book being read aloud - what a fantastic idea. I think Leo would agree there are some budding book illustrators here.

And then there were the most detailed and well-thought-out story maps that I've ever seen . . .  I just can't stop looking at these pages of gorgeousness (and this is just a tiny sample - every single one was a wonder.)


Thank you to everyone at St Marys for making me so very welcome in your school and for giving me the wonderful gift of bringing my book to life. My writing batteries have been recharged by your reading energy!

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Back in Business

If you've tried to buy a new Adventure Island or Secrets of the Tombs book lately you might have been disappointed to find that they were out of stock just about everywhere. 

They were all due for a reprint earlier this year, but - like many things - this was delayed by the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19. But, good news! The lovely people at Hachette have now got the books rolling off the printing presses again.

All the titles are available on-line, or will be shortly, and if they are not yet back on the shelves of your favourite bookshop, they should be able to order them in for you - please do ask them, so they that know that they're still in demand.

Meanwhile, I'm busy working on a new book . . . my first non-fiction project. More about that soon . . . 

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Uncharted Territory

How is it possible that World Book Day was only a couple of weeks ago?

I was trekking all over the country, squeezing into busy trains, eating in crowded cafes, meeting hundreds of friendly children, exchanging handshakes, high fives and hugs . . .

That seems like a lifetime away. The pandemic has swept us all up on a journey that none of us asked to go on; we have no maps, and even our guides aren't quite sure what lies ahead. But like all great explorers, we are going to learn a lot about our world, our fellow travelers, and especially ourselves as we venture into uncharted territory.
Whether you're at school or learning from home over the next weeks and months, you might find it hard to focus at first, with so many changes and distractions (if you're anything like me, that is!), but soon you'll settle into a new pattern. Enjoy reading widely, writing stories, illustrating stories, sharing stories with your families, or with your friends on-line. Why not try keeping a journal of all the things that happen  - it will be SO interesting to look back on when you are older . . . one day you can say to your grandchildren . . . I remember 2020, when schools closed and we had to stay at home and the shops didn't have any toilet rolls!

What a Wonderful World (Book Day)

My WBD super-hero costume - can you guess who?*

. . . or rather, wonderful World Book Week.

It all got off to a great start, not too far from home, at Bassingbourn Primary School. I loved hearing all about their mystery-themed week, completely with strange goings on in school (who stole the P.E. equipment?) and doing Mystery Masterclasses with Y3 and Y4 - we had fun being criminal masterminds, plotting our almost-perfect crimes, and deciding which pets we wanted to join our detective teams.

 Later in the week I was super-lucky to have back-to-back visits with my two brilliant Patron of Reading schools. First, it was off to Princethorpe Juniors in Birmingham.
I had great fun joining in with their "power of reading" super-hero themed day, judging the classroom door displays - but wow, what a difficult job; they were all so amazing!

Followed by reading stories to each class and meeting parents at a reading-together workshop.

Shrek was one of the stories I read to Y5 and Y6 - and led to lots of discussions about books, stories and film adaptations
Then at Kensington Community Primary in Liverpool, I worked with my dear old friends in Y6, talking about writing suspense and danger scenes.

To round off the week was what is always a highlight of the year; a visit to Waterstones in Liverpool with the winners of the book cover competition - two from each Year Group -  so that they could all choose a book of their own to keep.

Finally a very long train journey home to Cambridge and a long lie-down!

Thank you to all the teachers and support staff for organising the visits and looking after me so well- here's to the great work you do to promote reading for pleasure all year round. 

And a special thank you to two fantastic young readers (and their to their mums, for e-mailing me the pictures and giving permission to share them here) for these amazing pictures of their Emily Wild World Book Day costumes.

The first Emily is Hazel . . . . I love the investigation kit - complete with Emily's initials, and Drift, of course!

And then, Alice, also with trusty sidekick, Drift, and her magnifying glass at the ready, looking for clues.

I spotted that you have both picked The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby as your Adventure Island book - I wonder if that's because its' the case where Drift has to carry out the most heroic of rescues to rescue Emily from peril?

Thank you, Hazel and Alice! You both make perfect Emily Wilds! I hope you had fun on World Book Day and that you found a mystery or two to solve too.

* In case you didn't guess, I was the greatest super-hero of them all! 

Monday, 20 January 2020

Stories from Poland

The story squirrel?
I've just returned from my first visit to Poland. It wasn't a research trip for a specific book, but whenever and wherever I travel I'm always on the lookout for stories, and squirrel many of them away as possible inspiration for future books.

We started out in the capital, Warsaw, where I was fascinated to learn about the Warsaw Uprising in WW2. There is whole museum devoted to it, telling the stories of so many brave people who stood up to the Nazi occupation of their city. People like the poet, Krystyna Krahelska, who volunteered for the dangerous work as both a messenger and a nurse. She wrote the words of Hey Boys, Bayonet on the Gun, which became the most popular song of the uprising. Sadly, she was killed at only 30 years old when rescuing a wounded soldier. Her image lives on in Warsaw - she was the model for a famous statue of the Warsaw Mermaid. 

(Why the symbol of Warsaw is a mermaid when it nowhere near the sea is whole other story!)


Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Yours Hieroglyphically

Shortly before Christmas I received a fabulous package of letters from Class 5F at Shakespeare Primary School in Leeds, who had been reading The Phoenix Code. I was SOOOO impressed by your writing - both the polite, thoughtful and interesting content, and the neat, clear and stylish presentation. Every letter was enriched with striking artwork that made the letters a pleasure to behold.

I'm really honoured that you put in so much time and effort to write and tell me that you enjoyed reading The Phoenix Code. It was a pleasure to write back and answer all your questions. I'm just sorry I didn't have the time (or talent!) to illustrate my replies as beautifully as you did.