Thursday, November 25, 2010

Novelty Books

Don't forget to pick up a copy of the December issue of Writers' Forum, which is in the shops now and you will be able to read my feature with author and editor Anna Bowles.

Anna told me all about the type of research she does when writing novelty books, such as:

My Journey with Thomas the Tank Engine
Wallace and Gromit
Hello Kitty Annual 2011
Dinosaur King

These are only a few of the books Anna has written. She is very prolific. As well as writing and in-house editing for publishers, Anna does freelance editing and manuscript reports for individuals. You can find out more about Anna and her writing on her website at

You can also read the post she wrote about the Research Secrets feature on her blog: The Chocolate Keyboard.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rap of English Culture by MC K & DJ Yaz!

DJ Yaz + MC K
We're here to saay

We drink our teeee
Onaaa sundeeey

With our yorkshire puudeees
In our hooodeees

Fish and chips by da sea
And at krimbo a speech from da queen

Scones and roast, Guy Fawkes and football
Dunno what we'd do without it all.

Coor blimey
America calls us limey

Double decker busees pass by da pub
A pint of beer, two for a bob

Ohh my Gordon Bennet
We're the English rappers from Kennet!

This is the rap my sixteen-year-old daughter and her best friend Yasmin wrote for their homework. The assigment was to make a presentation on English Culture and they were going to get dressed up and do this rap. But, they have chickened out and decided to do a Powerpoint presentation on Harry Potter instead!!!!

Which one do you think would be better?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anita the Poet

I've never thought of myself as a poet but a few weeks back, I was approached by Iain McGregor, about a poem I wrote which was showcased on the Thatcham Writers' website.

Iain is a photographer and had taken a lovely picture of a fairground and wanted something to go with it on his flickr account. He found my poem online and got in touch to see if he could use it. I was more than happy for Iain to use my poem and was extremely flattered.

Here is the picture and my poem for you to see for yourself:

© Iain McGregor

The Fairground by Anita Loughrey

Laughter and screams
Fairy light beams
Images blur
Flickering stream of light
The Waltzer spins
As colour gyrates
To the mayhem of sound.

Sparks spray
Wires skim the chequered array
Dodgems crash
Carriages thud
Around the circuit
The cars trudge
Past the bedlam of faces.

Generators churning
Slowly turning
The big wheel climbs
To dizzy heights
Snuggling couples
View the sights
A commotion of intertwined places.

Toffee apples crunch
Flocks of children bunch
Flecks of candyfloss
Stuck in their hair
Singing and shouting
Without a care
In the chaos of the fairground.

The poem has also previously been featured in a teacher resource called ‘Here comes the Fair’ published by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, in conjunction with the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council.

I have also have another poem published too, in an anthology called Mixed Emotions and I wrote a poem a few weeks back, especially for National Poetry Day. So maybe, deep down, I do have poetic tendencies.

To see more of Iain’s photos take a look at his flikr account.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10 things I learned at the SCBWI conference

As you all should know, over the weekend I went to the SCBWI Conference in Winchester. I had a real FUN time. It didn't even matter that I was not drinking all weekend as I was designated driver for Benjamin Scott and Lisa Smith. It was kind of cool ferrying them about.

As part of the follow up to the conference, we were asked to blog about the ten things we learnt at the conference. Here are my ten things in no particular order:

1) There is nothing wrong with writing under a Pseudonym. Loads of brilliant authors have done it including Linda Chapman, Jane Clarke, Lee Weatherly and Maureen Oakeley. This was very reassuring as I have just accepted a commission to co-write six books and we will be writing under the name Cathy West. Only problem is I can't spell Pseudonym, so had to use a spell check to get it right.

2) Make sure you book a place to stay where you get served a big breakfast, not only could it be the only decent meal you get in the day but, you need the energy to keep you going through the workshops without your stomach rumbling.

3) Do not wear low cut tops in a room full of women but, it is absolutely fine in restaurants with hot, young waiters, especailly if you want to get your dinner before everyone else.

4) Co-writing is fun, quicker and the book feels more polished. This was very re-assuring too for the reason explained above.

5) It is a good idea to know how you want your story to end before you start and then it is easier to finish it. This is probably where I am going wrong. Marcus Sedgwick apparently spends months just planning the story. I think I may be a little too impatient to start things. I can see how a plan might prevent me running out of steam and will give it a go.

6) Using magic in a story makes writing stories easier. But, think your magic world through fully before you begin. This again refers to planning. Another good reason to make more of an effort to plan things out. Actually, I think I may have been told this before by Lee Weatherly at a previous SCBWI conference. Now all I got to do is put it into practice.

7) Place can be used as a character. I actually knew this before too but, have never had it explained so passionately and so perfect before. Marcus has made me want to write something just to experiment using place as a character.

8) Reading your pitch aloud to a group of relative strangers can help you to polish it and improve. This was a fantastic workshop run by Jackie Marchant and I want to repeat it for every book I have ever written and will write in the future.

9) You are allowed to be promiscus on the Internet. You are - Candy Gourlay, Sarah McIntyre and Keren David said so. There is nothing wrong with being an Internet experimentalist, fetish or slut as long as you keep your clothes on. Although, I would probably describe myself as an Internet Tease, as I know I have left all my blogger followers with hopes of follow-ups to some of my posts and have never got round to doing it. However, Candy was pushing writing orgies and reckons it is probably better nowadays to be promiscus in a group... or something like that!

10) People change their careers a lot and it is not just a mid-life crisis. It is important to follow your heart and it is possible to redefine yourself. Many of the speakers I listened to have changed their careers some of them, like the amazing illustrator Lynne Chapman, more than once. There is hope for me yet!

If you would like to read some of the other people's blogs about the conference take a look at:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Make the Connections

Tomorrow is the SCBWI Conference in Winchester. There is an amazing line-up. The keynote speakers are: Marcus Sedgwick and Lynne Chapman. There are loads of amazing workshop speakers too. I have been registered on the following sessions:

  •  Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle with Linda Chapman
  • A Sense of Place with Marcus Sedgwick
  • An Agent Walks into a Bar with Jackie Marchant and Jasmine Richards from OUP
  • Writing for Young children with Jane Clarke
Am I excited? You bet I am!!!

It is going to be a very busy and fun-packed weekend. Starting with a Network Co-ordinator's meeting Friday afternoon, which I have to attend because I am now the co-ordinator for the London Region. Then Friday night there are critique sessions and I will be chairing a group. Afterwards, sixty-five of us are going for pizza and pasta at a restaurant in Winchester town. That has to be cool!

Saturday, is an early start at the Winchester University campus with talks and workshops all day, including the Industry Panel. In the evening we're celebrating Ten Years of British SCBWI with a mass book launch and party, where I get to dress-up in my posh frock. I can't wait!

Sunday, we have more talks and workshops and saying goodbye to all my friends, which takes my a while, because I get sad that I am not going to see them again for a long time.

If this isn't good enough reasons for you to think about attending a writing conference, especially a writing conference particularly aimed at children's book writers, then take a look at one of my old posts from 2007: Ten Reasons to Attend Writing Conferences. An abridged version of this post appeared in SCBWI's Word and Pictures magazine Autumn 2007, available free through the listserve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Evening with... Steve Hartley

Steve Hartley told us how he got two World Records in 2002 to impress his daughter. The first was when five hundred people yo-yoed for five minutes. He explained how he’d been practising for weeks. He even bought a yoyo that lights up. If your yoyo broke down you had to sit down in shame.
Afterwards, as they had nothing else to do, they all yodelled for 5mins. He now has two certificates to say he is a World Record holder.

This was the inspiration for his Danny Baker, Record Breaker series. The first in the series, Danny Baker Record Breaker The World's Biggest Bogey, was out in January 2010 and was on the long-list for the Waterstone’s Prize.

He had been writing for over fifteen years before he got published but, just put all his stories away in a drawer. Then SCBWI came along and he decided to join and enter the Undiscovered Voices Competition. When he was looking for something to enter he found Danny in the drawer and sent it out. After he won, he was approached by four agents so, was in the lucky position where he could choose who to represent him.

And then began the process of re-writing and because it was the first in a series, he had to write three more. He had a few rejections but, two publishers put in an offer and he finally signed with Macmillan to do eight books, which includes:

I love the titles. Steve said he has such a hoot writing them and enjoys the school visits. He gets the children to do armpit farts to the tune of Old McDonald had a Farm. He also uses a selection of props. He takes in a massive pair of pants to see how many children can climb in and carries around a giant bogey.

But, Steve reckons some of the real World Records are more crazy and disgusting than his own ideas. For example, there is an actual Guinness Book of Records for the person who collected the most belly button fluff

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

An Evening with... Ellen Renner

Ellen Renner is SCBWI's Coordinator for the Southwest. She has wanted to be a writer since she was five and has always written. But, she said she would not be the published writer she is today, without the help of SCBWI. She explained how she spent twenty years trying to paint and write and not doing very well at either.

Desperate to learn how to illustrate she joined the Society of Illustrators. Slowly, she moved more to the writing and joined SCBWI where she learnt so much, especially from taking advantage of a one-to-one at the conference. The idea for her first novel, Castle of Shadows, came as an image of a King about to put the last card on a castle of playing cards.

The real turning point though was when she entered the Cornerstones WOW Factor competition. She had to have a full manuscript written to enter but she had only written 50 pages. She finished her first draft with two weeks to spare. All her hard work payed off, as Ellen won the competition and that is how she got her agent.

It took nearly two years and several rewrites before Castle of Shadows was finally published in January 2010 by Orchard Books. It was described by the Bookseller as:

A completely gripping, edge of-your-seat adventure.

The sequel, City of Theives, quickly followed in August 2010. She told us how it never feels real until you start doing school events, because the children are so enthusiastic.

Ellen described her writing genre as ‘Steampunk’. I had never heard of Steampunk before so, decided to look it up. Wikipedia says:

Steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used - usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain - that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.
I have learnt something today. J

Monday, November 08, 2010

An Evening with... Jon Mayhew

Jon Mayhew writes gothic historical adventures for the 9+age range. His first novel, Mortlock, was published by Bloomsbury in April 2010. The second novel, The Demon Collector, is out in March 2011. I interviewed Jon about his research for Mortlock. The feature appeared in the May 2010 issue of Writers’ Forum. Unfortunately I never blogged about it, as that was before I decided to re-launch my blogging.

Jon told us how he has always written. As a teenager he wrote short stories. He described himself as a, ‘Recovering English teacher.’ He used to write the beginning of things and the ends of things and the middle of other things. But, he never sat down and wrote a whole novel until he broke his ankle. His advice to everyone at the SCBWI Professional Series was:

Don’t ever run in the snow.

He was ‘layed up’ for six weeks. But, this meant he was finally able to get his bum in the seat and write. 95,000 words later, everything he had ever thought of was down on paper somewhere. But, he had a revelation moment when he went to see his son in a performance of Oliver. His son’s walk-on part of 5 seconds, was the beginning of his debut novel, Mortlock and elements of his original 95,000 words also made a re-appearance.

Jon decided to join SCBWI after a comment on his blog suggested he should. After joining he went to his first Winchester conference in 2008, which is where I believe I first met Jon. At dinner he sat next to Imogen Cooper from Chicken House. Not knowing who she was he started talking about his novel. She asked him to send it in. He also went on a Cornerstones workshop and they looked at his synopsis and sample chapters. Through them he found his agent, Sarah Davis, from the Greenhouse Literary Agency. Then he had to go through the whole process of redrafting and re-sculpting before Bloomsbury took him on with a three book deal. You can preorder The Demon Collector from Amazon.

SCBWI allowed him to meet people from the same mind-set as himself and the SCBWI conference is still the highlight of his year.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

An Evening with... Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay is the SCBWI British Isles’ web-mistress. Her debut novel Tall Story came out in May and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of the ‘100 Best Books for summer’. I interviewed Candy about her research for the November 2010 issue of Writers’ Forum.

Candy told us how nine years ago she decided she wanted to be a picture book writer and went to her first SCBWI conference taking with her a folder containing every picture book story she had ever written, which is a definite, 'No, No!' At the conference, she realised she did not know as much as she thought she did about writing picture books.

So, she decided to try her hand at writing novels instead but, there was still a lot to learn and a lot of studying to be done. Candy entered her novel, Ugly City, into the 2008 Undiscovered Voices competition. When it got through she thought it was going to be plain sailing from now on. She was quickly taken on by an agent. But, she explained how she came back to Earth with a bump. Ugly City was sent out until there was no one left to send it to.

Meanwhile, she started writing Tall Story. It took nearly a year to write. Her Agent sent it to David Fickling Publishers on an exclusive deal. When her agent rang her to say David Fickling loved the book and was going to publish it, Candy said it did not really hit her that she had got her first book deal. It took five months before the contract was completed and even after the book was in the shops it did not really hit her. She said she felt more excited about Steve and Jon’s books as she did their websites.

Candy is currently writing the second novel for her two book deal. She is a 'National Treasure' and you can read more about her in my post: Giants, Basketball and Earthquakes. Candy has produced her own websites and even made her own trailer for Tall Story, which was a real family event. You can watch the trailer for yourself in my post: Tall Story by Candy Gourlay.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

An Evening with SCBWI Published Authors

On Thursday 4th November, I travelled into London for the last of the Professional Series meetings being run this year.

As normal I was very excited - not only was the evening a chance to celebrate SCBWI successes but also, the authors on the panel, who have all had debuts out this year, are my friends, some of whom I had not seen for quite a while. Jon and Steve had even travelled all the way from the, far and distant North, especially for the event.

Here they all are:

This pictue was one of the ones taken by Ben and lifted from Candy's FB page, as mine didn't turn out very well. I really should have worn my glasses.

In the picture you can see the panel: Steve Hartley, Ellen Renner, Jon Mayhew, Candy Gourlay with Jackie Marchant, the Professional Series Coordinator, standng at the end of the table making the introductions.

Over the next few days, I plan to blog about each of the panel and how they became published.

But, before I go for today, here is a picture of my friends Sarwat Chadda and Christina Vinall because it is one of the only ones that turned out OK.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

National Non-Fiction Book Day

Today, is National Non-Fiction Book Day. It is the first event to celebrate children's non-fiction books and is going to be held on the first Thursday of November every year from now on. The event has been organised by Adam Lancaster, Chair of the Federation of Childrens Book Groups and is sponsored by Scholastic.

Adam said:
"We hope that by celebrating Non-Fiction we can really show not just the range of great information there are out there and how great the authors of them are but also highlight how important these books are to the children that read them and love them."
As an author of children's illustrated non-fiction this statement is so true to my heart. It is about time that something was done to raise the profile of children's non-fiction books. For too long it has been viewed as the second class alternative to fiction.

When I was teaching, I suggested inviting in a non-fiction author to do some workshops with the children. The looks on the other teacher's faces took me by surprise and instead they got a fiction author in. So, I decided to do non-fiction workshops with my class myself and we made our own encyclopaedias about the Ancient Greeks. Yet, there are plenty of Children's Non-Fiction Authors who are available to do events in schools and libraries.

I always made sure there was a selection of non-fiction books in the book corner as well as fiction. Although, I must admit some of these books were a bit dull and boring looking. But nowadays, there are loads of fantastic, innovative non-fiction books for children to explore. Adam Lancaster has described it as...

"A factual revolution."

Why not join the revolution? Leave me a comment and let me know some of your favourite children's non-fiction books.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Another Halloween has been and gone and I had great fun getting dressed up and taking my children out trick or treating.

LOL! Yes, I do like to get dressed up and don't really need an excuse to do so. I had even more fun opening the door in my costume to the other kids and seeing the look on their faces, as I dished out the sweets.

But, it got me to thinking about what types of books are available for children, which could be linked to Halloween. There are lots of spooky books for older children about witches, zombies, werewolves and vampires and the like but, what is there for the younger age range?

Off the top of my head I can only think of four:

Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg;
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson;
Meg & Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski;
Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul.

There has to be more than that? If you know of any others please let me know.

Although, maybe the point is they are not publishing books nowadays that could be linked to Halloween. Maybe it is not politically correct. After all, Halloween seems to be purposely timetabled to fall in the school holidays so that it can not be used as inspiration for creative work in the classroom anymore. Is this just coincidental, or done on purpose to prevent complaints from Religious extremists?

I've no idea! But, it is worth thinking about.