Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We're living in a digital world... and I am a digital girl.

At the moment I am writing ICT teacher resources. During my research I came across this UTube video. I think it is amazing what the children can do nowadays.

The problem is... can the adults catch up?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Apologies to all those people that I should have got back to and have not. I have a very busy schedule at the moment. I will get back to you... I promise. And if I don't - send me a reminder.

I like to fool myself I work best to deadlines. But, now another 'Deadline' is looming and hopefully I will get the book finished on time. All I need to do is focus my mind. LOL! It is the first of a series of four books on ICT and will hopefully be out on the shelves by Jan 2011. I will let you know more soon.

Got a series of pictures books on Shapes due out Sept 2010. Keep a look out for them. When the covers are through I will post them here on my blog.

Meanwhile, this is a picture of me in my new glasses. I need to wear them more and more often nowadays.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day against climate change.

This is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. It is one of the largest-ever social change events on the web. It is a chance to let your voice be heard on your opinion of climate change and help sustain the World's future.

In recent years, more and more people have become concerned about the implications our actions are having on the planet. With the threat to the environment by CO² emissions and other greenhouse gases it is more important than ever to consider what things we can do to combat the effects of global warming. One of the main culprits that has been identified is flying, whether on a business trip or even just going on holiday.

But, it is good to know that green Travel is fast becoming a fashionable option. Many holidaymakers are aware it is possible to enjoy a leisurely time away on holiday and be green at the same time. The first thing to do when booking a holiday, is to look for cities that have made a commitment to going green and have eco-friendly hotels, restaurants and businesses.

Also, when planning your holiday, offsetting your carbon emissions is a good way of compensating for the amount of CO² you will generate. When flying, this can usually be done when you book your flights, ask your tour operator for details. Or you could join an offsetting service like Climate Care, which will use your money for projects that cut greenhouse gases.

Another way you can combat the effects of climate change is to plant a tree. Trees convert CO² into Oxygen. Get involved in a local tree planting project. Carbon Footprint runs a service where they will organise the planting of the tree for you. You can also select the region you would like your tree to be planted.

There are other things you can do yourself to make your air travel greener, such as booking a non-stop flight to reduce carbon emissions and taking public transportation to and from the airport.

Ensure you book flights with airlines that recycle the waste created when serving food and beverages to passengers. By using electronic tickets you are helping to cut down on paper waste. Electronic tickets are also much more convenient and usually quicker when booking in at the airport.

Probably the most important thing you could do and the easiest, is to keep within the baggage allowance limit, because the fewer things you take, the less fuel is needed to carry it over.

You can also let your voice be heard too. So why not go to: and sign the global petition and then blog about it. Stand up and be counted.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Undiscovered Voices Winners

Today is a very exciting day. Many of my friends have won places in the new Undiscovered Voices anthology or have received honorary mention. A very proud moment.

For a list of the winners see:

Monday, September 07, 2009


After resisting the urge to Twitter for a long, long time, I have finally succumbed. Yes. I am Twittering and you can follow me at:

There are many quite exciting things happening on Twitter at the moment. Many YA novelists are twittering as their characters, such as Kathleen Duey and Melvin Burgess

Sarwat Chadda twitters quotes from his book Devil Kiss at: and Julia Golding is running a competition to help her character, Catherine Royal, solve riddles at:

Authors like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Mary Hoffman prefer to Twitter than use Facebook. I always wondered how come their status updated loads everyday on Facebook. I suppose it is very quick and easy.

You can also follow publishers, newspapers and magazines. So it really was about time I joined the bandwagon - better late than never.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

Take a look at Sarwat's new trailer for the film of his book. It looks amazing.

I interviewed Sarwat about the research for Devil's Kiss and the sequel The Dark Goddess for my column in Writers' Forum. The interview can be read in the June 2009 issue, the month Sarwat's debut novel, Devil's Kiss, was released.

In fact, I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy and was blown away not only by his excellent writing style but the story really drew me in. I love the links to the Arthurian and The Knights Templar legends. As most of you know, I am a bit of a King Arthur nerd and thought it was very clever the way Sarwat had used characters names from the legends for his own purposes. Some of his ideas challenged my own impressions of the legends and Arthurian Romances, but in a way it made the story even more intriguing for me.

Anyway, if you read nothing else this year, I recommend you read Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Write Away Reviewers Event

As some of you may know I write book reviews for the Write Away website. On Friday 28th August I attended the Write away Reviewers’ Event at the OUP offices in Great Clarendon Street, Oxford.

It was wonderful. LOL! OK that is an in-joke that hopefully will be understood by those who attended.

But, seriously I had the most brilliant time. My worry was I was not going to get up in time to get my train as I spent a rather late night the day before at Candy’s beach abode. But, thanks to my lovely reliable husband I did and found the connection from reading to Oxford very easily and arrived at 9:05 as scheduled.

At the station I met Theano and Kelly and we walked the short distance to the OUP building without getting lost - due to my map, which I had carefully highlighted in different colours, the night before. It showed all the different routes I would need to know for the day. Actually, to be quite honest the other two probably knew the way anyway.

When I got there Nikki Gamble presented us with a massive cloth bag of OUP children’s books. There were five uncorrected proof copies in the bag, a pack of paper, a book mark and an OUP pen. The books were:

  • Daughter of Fire and Ice by Marie-Louise Jensen (that I got signed as she was on the panel of speakers).
  • The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
  • Sea Wolf by David Miller
  • Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum by Neale Osbourne
  • And Very Short Answers to Very Big Questions

The event was opened by Richard Thompson who welcomed us to the OUP building. He explained the OUP was the biggest University Press in the world; bigger than all the university presses in the whole of the US put together. He also mentioned the children’s department was the best although they may print some dictionaries and other stuff too.

Nikki then introduced Nicolette Jones, children’s book reviewer for the Sunday Times. She told us how she started off reviewing adult books and was asked to review children’s books to help raise their status. She judges the books to the same standards, looking at plot, language, characters and emotion, etc.

She told us that when reviewing books we should not underestimate children. Always judge a book on its own terms - what does it aim to do and does it achieve this aim in the end? She said reviewers can often fall into one of two camps, hatchet job or rave. Nicolette prefers to be objective, and was inspired by the essay written by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’, who advocates an artist should recognise the beauty of work different to their own tastes.

If you do happen to dislike a book it is more important that you make a case for why you dislike it and this point must be well argued. There is a difference between a reader and a critic. As a critic you have to try to be objective.

All reviews have to be an interesting piece of writing. Her advice is to whittle down and say as little as you can and never spoil the plot. You should keep the market in mind and as we are writing reviews mainly for adults who are buying the books for their children or class, we need to mention if it covers a controversial issue.

Next to talk to us was Lesley Webb, who is an Early Years Consultant and writes reviews for Write Away on books for children aged 0-2. She told us before she starts to write a review she considers whether she like the book and why? She finds it most difficult to review a book she feels indifferent about. She explained how it is very important when reviewing books for that age range you discuss the illustrations and try to consider what the child will be getting from the book.

After coffee a panel of speakers talked to us about the editors and writers perspectives of book reviews. On the panel were, Marie-Louise Jensen, author; Michelle Harrison OUP and author of Thirteen Treasures and Jasmine Richards OUP.

Marie has also written reviews for Write Away. She explained that reading is a personal experience. People react to books differently, in their own way with different tastes. There is no pleasing everyone. A book review is an emotional response and if you look online at sites such as Amazon you will see many books will have a wide range of reviews from 5-star to 1-star. Often critics do not agree with each other.

Michelle read to us parts of a particularly nasty review. It was a very moving experience listening to her read something that had clearly been very upsetting to her. And she pointed out she had not read the worse bits. It thumped home how a bitter critique was not constructive and how devastating to the author it can be. I also thought it was entirely unprofessional to write such a critique. She compared the critique to a more constructive one written by a member of the Write Away team. Her book Thirteen Treasures published by Simon and Schuster, won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize.

Jasmine then spoke to us about book reviews from an editor’s perspective. She explained that reviews can be used for promotional purposes. They are important as covers need an expert to validate a book in the eye of the consumer. She also pointed out that for a book to be published someone had to of loved it and it must have been loved by more than one person to have got through the process. A book review is just one person’s opinion.

Nikki summed up the talk by explaining we can recognise a review by the voice it is written in. each reviewer needs to develop their own voice. The voice of the reviewer is your clue to how skilled the reviewer is.

After lunch we went on a guided tour of Oxford with a particular reference to the children’s authorise and stories inspired by the city. We happened to see the filming of Lewis (spin-off of Morse) and saw Colin Dexter. After the tour we had tea in The Rose with Linda Newbury and David Fickling.

It was then time to walk back to the station to catch the train home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who do you sleep with?

Last night I was sat in bed reading. I often read before I go to sleep. I was reading, 'Page after Page' by Heather Sellers and in her book she suggests writers should take books to bed. I felt pretty pleased with myself since that was what I was doing.

In her book, Heather Sellers said we should all get into the habit of reading in bed. We should read every self-help book we can get our hands on and watch our resistance to new ideas. In this way, we court the writing life by simply reading. She called this wooing. She recommends reading indiscriminately.

This got me wondering. What authors do other people find wonderful to sleep with? I'd be interested to know.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Avoid blog flogging

The European Unfair Commercial Practices Directive of May 2008 briefly states people must not make false claims or give misleading information about their books.

For example, if you are not a best-seller don’t say on the Internet that you are, else you can be taken to court and named and shamed by the Fair Trading Standards.

Authors and publishers who attempt to boost their online profile by reviewing their own books on sites such as Amazon could also face prosecution.

The law is deigned to protect consumers from businesses creating false blog entries, known as 'flogs'.

For more information on Unfair Commercial Practices Directive check out:

Thursday, August 06, 2009


There are hundreds of aspiring writers out there and basically we are all in the same boat submitting our manuscripts to agents and editors, with similar wishes and desires for success.

Forums bring these people together to chat and talk about their writing. There are different forums for different types of writing. You need to make a search of Yahoo Groups to find a forum that interests you.

My interest is writing for children and so I belong to three forums which discuss issues about writing specifically for children. See my posts:

I got my first writing book commission from a post in a forum.

The Caerleon Writers’ Holiday has a forum:

On the forums I belong to, people often ask the same sort of questions But, these are sometimes questions I may have been pondering over for weeks and just wasn't brave enough to ask myself.

Sometimes little debates linked to writing go on with everyone adding their point of view. These can be fascinating. Sometimes I listen in or add my own snippet. It is important to contribute to forums to get the most out of them, although I am sure there are plenty of lurkers.

It is also important to keep it positive. If someone says something controversial my advice is - keep quiet. Remember some of the members may be very highly-regarded authors or editors and you want to make a good impression.

And probably most importantly, when you post to a forum every single member gets to read what you have written so keep it relevant. If you want to ask a specific person a question it might be a good idea to do it more privately through email.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What is the point of Facebook and MySpace?

Whilst I was at Caerleon I was asked, 'What is the point of Facebook and MySpace?' To which my first response was... it's a good way to procrastinate and waste time.

But, Facebook and Myspace are good networking tools.

  • Both Facebook and MySpace are social networks where you can meet like-minded people with similar interests to yourself to discuss and share information.
  • Both MySpace and Facebook have the facility to blog.
  • Myspace and Facebook also have message boards where you can share comments.
  • Both have a facility for a newsletter subscription where you can set up a group, invite people to join, and mail to everyone at once.
But, writing a regular e-zine is a big task. Keep it simple and don’t flood people with too many. In my opinion more than once a week is too much. In this way you are using social networking less as a promotional tool and more as a legitimate way to meet new people.

Me and my dog Mutley (1991-2006)

I also use Facebook as my reward. If I have finished a task I allow myself a bit of time to relax and go on FB and water my virtual garden, kidnap a few people and write on my friend's walls. It serves the same purpose as walking the dog use to do - a time to give my brain a rest from writing - especially if I am about to start a new project. I need this break to clear my mind ready to start again.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Virtual Networking

Whilst I was at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday I gave an after- tea session on virtual netorking.

Networking is a great tool to help you reach your goals. You can network in person by joining critique groups, going to conferences and workshops, or by attending book launches. Or you can network virtually through online critique groups, email, u-tube, podcasts, your own websites, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and by having a blog.

One of the most important reasons why should authors have an online presence is that it is an ideal way of publicising your self. Publicity is so important, anything an author can do to help sales and increase familiarity with their name, the better. Having a website and / or blog means prospective publishers and buyers of your books are able to look up more information than they could get off a publicity flier.

You can have an online presence at any stage of your writing career. You can promote your articles, short stories, poetry, forthcoming novel, or your column in a magazine or newspaper.

Virtual networking can generate more contacts and interest in your writing. You can meet people you might not have had the opportunity to meet in person, without the huge travel costs. You can refer potential editors to your site so they can see a range of your work and editors who have worked with you in the past can use the site to get in touch.

The net is available 24-hours a day, every day. An online presence will market your work to the whole wide world. It is an excellent marketing forum and should become an ongoing part of your business as a writer. Your blog is a business tool.

The Internet is here to stay as a communication media, so utilise your resources.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today I had a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, he meant to propose to someone else with the same initials as me.

I am devastated.

Despite having my heart broken, I am having a wonderful time.

My talk on networking went well. I was only expecting about 5 people and over 30 turned up. and tomorrow is the highlight of the week - the male voice choir will be here. Me and 66 men!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

That time of year again

Doesn't time fly?

It doesn't feel like a whole year since I was at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday but, it must have been because I am off again tomorrow.

So am I ready to have my breakfast made for me every morning and for my room to be cleaned whilst I am at the workshops?

Yes! I think so.

For more details about the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday see:

This will be my seventh year of attending. I plan to work on some of my features whilst I am there and a few book reviews.

I look forward to posting more blogs when I get back. See you all soon. Bye. X

Friday, July 24, 2009

Capture your Thoughts

Ever come up with a great idea only to forget it moments later?

How can we grasp our strokes of inner genius before they disappear?

Grab your notebook and write it down?


One of the best pieces of advice that I have had in a long time is: Use your mobile phone!

Yes, you read correctly - we do not have to be confined to our notebooks. Mobile phones have the facility to write yourself messages like you do in your notebook, record voice messages like a dictaphone and take photographs and videos. It is a brilliant writers' resource.

So next time you are out and have that amazing idea that will be the inspiration for your next series of books - take a picture of it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review of The Literacy Teacher Training Handbook

The Literacy Teacher Training Handbook by Anita Loughrey is an extremely useful and informative guide to support the Primary Framework for Teaching Literacy. Although aimed, primarily, at teachers in training and non-literacy specialists I feel it would be useful for all teachers in a primary school, whatever their background.

The organisation of the book which goes through the literacy strands is ‘user-friendly’. The bullet-pointed activities provide enough detail to help teachers plan without being over prescriptive. The format encourages teachers to select the activities to suit their pupils’ needs. The photocopiable sheets are well presented and helpful for busy teachers. I particularly liked the ‘Identity Parade’ sheet where children are asked to describe characters but could be used in many other ways too.

For non-specialist and trainee teachers it would have been useful to have a glossary for technical terms. This is though a minor criticism. Overall, I was impressed by the handbook and will recommend it to trainee teachers whom I supervise on school placements.

Rachel Linfield
Senior Lecturer Leeds Metropolitan University

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An interview with Kathleen Duey

Kathleen Duey is the author of over 70 children’s and young adult books including historical fiction, nonfiction, picture books and dark fantasy. She was one of the 2007 finalists for the National Book Award for Literature for Young People, with her novel Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic. She writes for adults with a partner; they have a finished novel with an agent and a second work being optioned by HBO. She lives in San Diego County, USA.

I interviewed her in November 2007, as a speaker at the Bologna Conference, March 2008. this is what Kathleen told me:

I always want to be a writer. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me and got me started writing stories. Then an English teacher in high school made me promise I would keep writing and give it a serious try, which I finally did, in my late thirties. Mrs. Fredericksen and Mr. Doohan. Bless ‘em both.

All the work I have done, and all the play, inform my writing. Living off-grid for a long time shaped me, too. I missed a couple of decades of TV, probably a good thing. I do a lot of historical research for my books. But, the research never hampers my historical fiction. I use a lot of primary sources and they always enrich, guide, inform. I have never once felt constrained by facts.

I identify very closely with all my characters, so in a way, I have been all of them. I could live where Heart Avamir lives. (The Unicorn’s Secret) I did, in a weird way, but that's a whole story in itself.

My childhood influenced what I write in every way. I grew up in rural places, was raised by rural parents. I tend to write historical fiction and fantasy... both usually low tech, in cultures where people are close to the soil. As a child, my parents bought me non-fiction, almost exclusively. The first novel I loved was Molly Make Believe, an old book I found in my great Aunt’s apartment. Then came Black Beauty and then all the Farley books. In middle school I discovered fantasy and SF and was astounded at the created worlds, the possibilities of speculation, the massive intellects of the writers. I still am.

The best books are autobiographical to some degree. Your life has been extraordinary – you dropped out of the mainstream and lived off the land for many years. That gave you a rich vein of knowledge to mine.

I work alone, almost always, in my office at home. I often play music, quietly. Sometimes I prefer silence. If it is chilly, Rooibos tea is wonderful. The hardest part of writing is sitting still, indoors - I hate it. The shortest time it has taken me to write a book is nine days. the longest was fifteen years.

I don't want a day job, so I market as much as I possibly can. People just need to figure out what is comfortable, what works for them. I like travel, I love schools, speaking has become fun. I began as a nervous, two-puke speaker. I have improved vastly and now enjoy it. Part of my marketing and networking is I blog, but not as often as I should, even though I enjoy it. There is a blog on my website, too I have a MySpace page with, like 7 or 8 friends. Please, anyone, befriend me. There is lots of room at my lunch table. I do try to be web-present. It is hard to keep up with it, and travel, and write.

I get more email and letters and guestbook entries than I can keep up with. But, I love them all, I get 5-10 a day, counting guestbook, paper and, mostly email. I *love* knowing that kids like my books. I get a dozen or so every year that say something like, "I don't like reading all that much and I had never finished a book before yours..." and that *thrills* me.

Every book presents different obstacles, various areas of clear sailing. I like every genre I have written in and intend to try more. It's just the way my brain works; it's not a conscious business choice or a deliberate artistic decision. It is about the individual project for me, not the genre. Whatever takes my breath away - that's what I want to write. I like writing for all age groups. I seem to thrive on variety. Writing for kids is an obvious choice for me. I like kids. And I am head over heels in love with the possibility of touching a child's (or a teen's) life the way mine was touched by books. My schedule is simple: Full time -I just write full time.

The next Bologna Conference will be March 2010. More details to be posted shortly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tim Bowler – Flesh in the Inkpot

Trusting your story-making instinct

At the Children's Winchester Writing conference last November, Tim Bowler talked about the physical investment that goes into writing. He told us how some days he has to force himself to put one word after another and it is like chipping the words off the breastbone. Yet, he still advised us to not stop until we had nailed it.

Writing is a very difficult art form. Many people are seduced by the apparent ease of writing because we use words in our everyday life. But, they soon come to realise that words are difficult because we use them in our everyday life.

There is a duel aspect of the writer. You have to be able to have the creative skill and also the critical skill to look at your own work with detachment. Don’t be so in love with what you have written you can not bare to lose any of the words. You have to have a healthy disrespect for your words. The best writing is where you never lose the structure of what is going on. Be bold take a risk.

Tim does not have an idea about his plot or characters until he starts to write about them. He said if you plot and plan - stay loose. It’s only words. Make a pile of chips. A writer’s chips are there words. Stories come from the secret trap hidden bi-ways of the soul.

Writing is not a skill it is a symptom. If you don’t know the trees you can lose your way in the forest if you don’t know the stories you will lose your way in life. Just because you’ve written if doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Ideas and feeling don’t have a shape. When Tim writes he leaves a mass of work to do at the end of the first draft. He recommends going over and over the text as lovingly as possible. Enjoy the freedom of the free flow. It is exciting for the reader if the writer does not know where they are going because every page is a page-turner. Be prepared to be surprised and be OK about that.

The great thing about writing is not being in control. Writing is about empathy. Temporarily empathise with the book and the story. This makes you feel physically vulnerable. An idea has no gumption if there is no character. Have to have a story, character and a strong problem in a visible location. If you write characters who aren’t interesting you won’t care about them and you won’t love them. The books that stay in your heart are the ones that emotionally move you.

Tim is not a commercially minded person. He leaves that to his editor.

Stories enter our emotional bloodstream by experiencing life through other stories as we grow. But, once the fruit has fallen from the tree it belongs to other people. Be proud of it and remember everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The toughest thing we face as writers is self-doubt. So we all need to remember we all have our own special magic inside of us.

(Previously published the the British SCBWI magazine Words and Pictures)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Charlie the Unicorn

My kids love these utube videos and can recall all the script and the songs. They are quite funny and worth watching to see what the children like. LOL! That may be a tenious link to make them relevant to my blog. Anyway, take a look and let me know what you think. I challenge you not to laugh!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Coffee Break

OK... this post does not have a lot to do with writing but, all you Supernatural fans out there will know why I posted this.

Isn't it HOT!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Art of Picture Book Characters with An Vrombaut

An Vrombaut is a writer, illustrator and animator. She has always loved picture books and loves drawing animals. She draws from her imagination and prefers this to life drawing. She likes to use coloured outlines for her illustrations.

For the 64 Zoo Lane CBeebies series, there is a regular cast of about 60 animals shown in lots of different situations. For this series the script writers could create their own characters, which is quite unusual as usually get a working bible, which outlines all the characters.

An has had to look in detail at what makes a character good. She is best at writing character driven stories. She thinks to herself, what will make the character 3D and stand out more than another and believes it is the flaws. When writing picture books some of these flaws can be visual in the illustration.

64 Zoo Lane has a very gentle pace. It is shown at Bedtime Hour. An wrote the first ten stories for the first series and had a co-writer for the second series. For the new series, due out on CBeebies soon, she has written ten episodes but, has edited the whole series herself. She loves Zoo Lane. She really knows the character and how they talk. She told us how once the voices have been cast and you’ve heard them, it is easier to do the dialogue.

The first series of Zoo Lane were hand drawn and coloured in on the PC. When animating it is essential that all the animators get the dimensions exactly right. In the new series it is done on Flash and the dimensions are on the computer. There are also lip models so the animators know how to draw the lips when they are speaking.

An’s favourite character from Zoo Lane is Georgina the Giraffe. The giraffe is semi- autobiographical. She also likes Henrietta the Hairy Hippo, which is also semi- autobiographical, because when she was younger she was teased about her ginger hair. The flaws in the character drive the story.

An explained that sometimes when she does a design for a picture book it can be easy and she can produce her ideas in one drawing but, sometimes it takes ages to get the design. She starts by doing a pencil drawing with a 3B pencil then she uses a light box to trace the drawing to get the dimensions for each character just right, and pastels and hard crayons to colour it in. Then she scratches through with a metal tool. Some of the outlines are scratched through as well. She uses her fingers to blend it together.

When making characters sometimes the pictures come first and sometimes the story comes first. For The Lost Acorns, she wrote the whole story in her head before she wrote anything, but that is unusual. The Lost Acorns was produced as an animation for CBeebies. But, An was unaware when it was shown so she has only seen it on YouTube.

Dear Dragon has also been shown for the Bedtime Hour on CBeebies, but she has never seen it. She started working on Dear Dragon in 1998 and the character took her years to create. The princess has changed completely from the original. The editor had said the nose was too long but, in more recent pictures she has made the nose slightly longer again. The dragon wears slippers. The slippers hint at his personality. In the second book he is still blowing bubbles because there is back story in the character.

The Dragon Festival is being developed for TV at the moment. She usually works actual size but, when illustrating Dragon Festival she worked smaller and it got blown up to the right size that was needed.

Smile Crocodile Smile has repetitive text and is lovely to read out loud.

An Vrombaut has also produced a short animated film at The Royal College of Art in 1992, called Little Wolf. This started with sketches of her dog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sue Eve's Book Launch

On Thursday 5th of February, I went to my friend, Sue Eve's, book launch. She has written a fantastic picture book called: The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog. It is about a very noisy dog and his quiet owner. There are lots of great sounds and repetition to stimulate young children.

This is Sue's second picture book. She also wrote and did her own illustrations for Hic, a story about a rather hungry cow looking for adventure.

It was a fantastic evening held at the wonderful Illustration Cupboard, in central London, just off the Piccadilly Road. There was wine and snacks and we were surrounded by the gorgeous illustrations of many famous picture book illustrators. If you visit the Illustration Cupboard, you will be able to buy a copy of the first edition of The Quiet Woman And The Noisy Dog, because Sue has signed and left a few extra copies.

The illustrations for Sue's latest book were drawn by Ailie Busby. Three of the pictures were kindly lent to the Illustration cupboard for the event. I personally love the bold colours and the beautiful vivid greens Ailie has used.

On Saturday 14th February, Sue is going to be doing her first public book signing at Wimbledon Books and Music in South London. She will be reading The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog and introducing her new puppet dog. She will also be revealing the name she has picked from the list suggested by a local Berkshire school.

Find out more about Sue Eves on her website:

And finally... a big Happy Birthday to Tony.

Monday, February 09, 2009

An Evening with the Illustrator Axel Scheffler

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Axel Scheffler about his career as an illustrator of children’s picture books, run by the Society of Authors. The meeting was chaired by Ros Asquith.

Axel is one of my favourite all time illustrators. He won his first drawing prize around the age of eight. It was for a picture of a cow. He is originally from Hamburg but, studied at Bath Academy of Art where he got a first class degree.

He told us, the greatest thing about going to art school was having the freedom to draw for three hours and the qualifications opened doors for employment. He has no time to do observational drawings anymore. He has got out of the habit and has been unable to get back into it. Looking and remembering is a skill some people can not do. Picasso and many other artists all used photos. But, Axel claims it is a skill you can train yourself to do. It makes you look more carefully at things. His style he developed himself. But, he is a perfectionist and is not happy with his work on occasions. He divulged how he finds it difficult to draw a succession of events and prefers to tell a story all in one picture.

He showed his portfolio in the mid-80’s to magazines and got regular work for a magazine called Lotus. He would draw anything and would change his drawings when asked. Sometimes he found himself drawing things he did not really understand. He also worked for a German magazine called Zeitmagazin where he did weekly illustrations and illustrated a column for a food writer.

He has also written and illustrated some Pixi Books (or Pixi Bücher) for their 40th Anniversary. He was one of 10 illustrators asked to commemorate the event. They have published over 1,500 identically sized titles, 10x10cm, which are all grouped and numbered in little series with German precision. He likes to do things that are less main stream, but he has less time nowadays. He enjoys illustrating with little pictures on a white background. He still does some work for The Oldie. He thinks as an illustrator he is more popular in Germany than in the UK.

He showed us hoow when you look at his illustrations over the years you can see his progression from pointy nose characters to softer styles.

The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell was the first book he ever illustrated

Daley B by Jon Blake was the first book he illustrated for Walker Books

Sam: Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root was the second book he illustrated for Walker Books

In 1994, Julia Donaldson was writing songs for Playdays and Axel Scheffler was recommended as the illustrator. He worked on A Squash and a Squeeze. This was his first book with Macmillan. The next book he did with Julia was The Gruffalo, followed by Room on the Broom, Tiddler and The Stick Man, which was nominated for The Roald Dahl Funny book Prize. These books have been translated into 29 languages.

Publishers often do not have the patience to develop illustrators and authors. But, he has worked with Macmillan a long time now and they have moulded him into what they want. There are many people involved in the publication of a picture book. The final product is very influenced by the editor and art director.

The Gruffalo
Usually when he has an idea he ends up sticking with it. But with The Gruffalo cover his original just had a shadow of The Gruffalo, but the editor wanted the main protagonist on the cover so he redrew it. However, in the US they did not want the main protagonist on the cover so he had to draw another one where he hid The Gruffalo partially behind a shrub. This only appeared on the US first edition, the second edition adopted the UK design.

He explained how he had a terrible time getting the skies right because he found it difficult to get the liquid watercolours to do what he wanted. He usually starts his illustrations with liquid watercolours (like ink) drawings a lot smaller than in the book and they get blown up to the right size, which he then works with. He dips a pen into the ink and then colours them with special coloured pencils. He used to do his picture book drawings the same size but, now he does them 90%. He always starts with ink outlines and then colours on top of the inks and rubs in the colours with his fingers. At the end he reinforces the outline with the ink and adds details, such as lines for fur and leaves. Nowadays he is able to ask the publishers to make small alterations in Photoshop but, previously he was only able to change it by hand and then email the new version.

The Smartest Giant in Town
For this book he also drew a totally different front cover, but they wanted something more friendly so he had to rethink.

Rabbit's Nap (Tales from Acorn Wood)
This is a lift the flap book and Axel loved drawing the little dressed animals

The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs
This was not the first cover design again, as he decided he did not want to metamorphosis the animals. This book is also available as a musical audio CD.

Axel’s advice to aspiring illustrators is to practice hard. He kept a sketch book from the age of about 18 before he started at art college. There is a whole playground of ideas in these sketch books that he has jotted down. Sometimes the sketch books relate to books he is working on. Axel explained how it is nice to look at old sketch books as they bring back memories. But, it is the unpredictability of the whole business that is so lovely about it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Children Using Non-Fiction Books

As you may all know, I write a column for Writers’ Forum on the types of research authors do for their books. I was also a primary school teacher for seventeen long years and now write children's illustrated non-fiction and teacher resources for primary school. So children, using non-fiction books for their own research and writing is something that fascinates me.

Margaret Mallett has written extensively about children using non-fiction for researching their own writing. She has written such books as:

These books are aimed at primary school teachers with an aim of teaching children how to use non-fiction books and list suitable non-fiction books to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and Literacy Strategy.

It is true there are new, fun interactive ways to find information via the Internet and CDRoms. These interactive models work and provide variation. But, in my experience, children do still enjoy looking at non-fiction books to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Non-fiction books need to be widely available in the classroom to support other things they are doing.

Making non-fiction reading and writing exciting and relevant helps advance children's thinking and understanding. Young children require literacy activities that are embedded in practical activities, drama, role-play and outings. These connect children's experiences in school with wider society and provide opportunities to use and talk about texts.

Time should be made during the school day (OK! Don’t laugh – I’ve been there!) for the children to talk about specifically non-fiction books. As writers and teachers we ultimately want children to learn to be independent readers by looking at both fiction and non-fiction books. Listening to others and their interpretations of the books helps with internal reasoning and encourages a quest to find out more. The children’s hypothesis can be supported and reinforced by looking at more books.

Teachers should also read non-fiction books to the class and show the illustrations. Seeing the pictures and hearing the text triggers reflection and help the children by giving knowledge. Using illustrated non-fiction in the classroom is a highly successful way to engage children's interest, helping them to establish a personal foothold and provide a reference against which to check what they have found from other information sources.

Story sacks don’t have to be confined to KS1 they can be for any age and contain non-fiction books. Drama does not have to be solely linked to fiction but can be used to support what is happening in non-fiction texts too.

In my opinion, to foster a love of children’s non-fiction books we need to think about the way it is being used with the children in the classroom and at home.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nibweb survey of children's non-fiction publishing

I am a member of Nibweb, the Network for Information Book Writers and Editors.

In 2009 Nibweb is undertaking a survey of children's non-fiction publishing - its problems, its opportunities, and its future.

2009 is clearly going to be a difficult year for publishing - Children's non-fiction included. There are however particular issues that go beyond the immediate effects of the credit crunch.
  • Does children's non-fiction have a future in the age of the internet?

  • Will children and parents continue to buy the books, and will libraries stock them or install more computers instead?

  • Is the internet a better medium in for this material in any case?

  • How can we ensure that this area of publishing remains profitable, so that both writers and publishers can make a decent return on their efforts and that issues such as contract conditions and in house editing can be improved?

  • How can we best promote the excellent work of children's non-fiction writers, editors and publishers?

If you would like to take part in this survey and add your thoughts and experiences of the publishing world, please visit the Nibweb website at: and click on the link for Survey 2009.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What children's non-fiction will survive the electronic age?

Here are some of the books that I believe will survive the electronic age. I have tried to highlight children’s books that I think will capture a child’s imagination and make them want to read more. I have mainly chosen children’s non-fiction book but, I have also included some fiction which are based on fact.

Eyewitness Guides
The Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides are full of brilliant photographs that grasp a child’s imagination whilst giving them a realistic portrayal of the world around them. This type of dramatic visual stimulus encourages children to want to find out more.

Pick Me Up - Stuff You Need To Know...
I reviewed this book in 2006. See: Book Review - Pick Me Up. Again, it is a visually engaging book that describes itself as information for the ipod generation. This sort of resource is the way into children’s non-fiction as it gives snippets to capture the child’s interest and hopefully make them want to explore the issues further.

Walker Books' Read and Wonder series
Picture books, such as Spider Watching by Vivian French, Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace and others in the Walker, Read and Wonder series, convey factual information without appearing like a heavy duty reference book. The quality of the information is extremely good. The illustrations are lyrical as well as poetic. There is a rhythmic feel to the book that will engage a child to want to read over and over again.

Walker Books’ Start with Science series
Books such as, Oscar and the Bird: A Book about Electricity by Geoff Waring provide enough information to satisfy a thirst for information within pictures that are full of the wonder and intrigue. This is one of a series of books about Oscar the cat, which are open-ended to encourage further reading. Such books will encourage an interest in research and children’s non-fiction from a very early age.

Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
This book shows what it is like in Cambodia using a fictional story to transmit the message. I believe introducing fact through fiction is a powerful tool and can help to engage a child’s mind and stimulate them to want to learn more.

Archie's War by Marcia Williams
Archie’ War is classified as fiction but, the information can convey to other children what it was like in Britain during World War One, by portraying life through the eyes of a child. It is full of oversize spreads with collages of period post cards, taped-on bric-a-brac, newspaper clippings, fold-out letters from the front and hilarious, highly detailed comic-strip style cartoons drawn with coloured pencils.

If you can think of any other children's non-fiction books you believe will survive the electronic age please feel free to leave a comment and tell me your ideas.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Children's non-fiction

For my first post of 2009, I thought I would write about something that is close to my heart - children's non-fiction.

Over the last few years there have been changes in children's non-fiction and how it is presented and used in the classroom. Today teachers will use a more interactive model of non-fiction and in my opinion this makes learning more fun and exciting.

New technology has bought multi-media texts to the fore and we can use moving images to enhance children's learning. For examle, we can actually see a digestive system working or what the night sky would loook like on specific days at a certain time. Multi-media texts have huge data bases containing large amounts of information readily available at a click of a mouse.

But, does this advancing technology mean parents are less likely to buy their children a non-fiction book, prefering them to do their research on the Internet? This is a worry for the children's non-fiction writer and may mean we have to consider ways to make the traditional non-fiction book more appealing.

Print books can benefit from these advances by becoming more spectacular themselves and already many include a CD-Rom to compliment the printed text.

But, what is the next step? What non-fiction books are going to survive the electronic age?