Friday, July 22, 2016

Oskar Cox Jensen's Research Secrets

In the July 2016 issue of Writers' Forum I interviewed Oskar Cox Jensen about the research he did for his novels, The Stones of Winter and The Wild Hunt, which are set in Scandinavia. He explained how fieldwork inspired him and helped him to solve specific issues with the series.

The books are Viking tales of myth and magic. All is not well at the Viking court of Jelling. Home to the mysterious Yelling Stones (three witches turned into stone). It has always been a place of power and a haven for 'the old ways'. Troubling news has reached King Gorm's court - but fourteen-year-old princess Astrid isn't concerned. She's far more worried her family prefers her inside sewing, or planning her marriage, rather than letting her explore the forest, or ride Hestur, her beautiful snow-white horse.

Astrid finds herself at the heart of a battle that will change her life forever. Leif, an ambitious and talented young poet, arrives at King Gorm's court and announces he has been sent visions from the witches of the Yelling Stones, saying a dangerous and powerful force is coming - one that will change the face of Denmark -and only Astrid and Leif can stop it. With danger all around them, including trolls, witches and a terrifying creature called 'The Beast', can they tell who the real enemy is in time to stop them?

To find out more about Oskar Cox Jensen you can visit his website at:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Picture Book Retreat in Herne Bay

Last weekend I was teaching a course on writing picture books in Herne Bay, Kent.

The course launched with wine and nibbles at the Grosvenor House guesthouse, hosted by the lovely Frances Brown. I did a presentation on the myths of picture book writing and we all got to know each other. We then walked into Herne Bay town, to a local art gallery called, One New Street Gallery, owned by Helen Wilde and her partner Terry Sole. They had arranged a private viewing of paintings by John Butterworth for us before we went to eat at an amazing little Italian pizza house, A Casa Mia on High Street.

After breakfast, our morning session kicked off with an introduction to picture books looking at word count, structure and themes. We spent time analysing a wide range of picture books looking for common features and what appealed to us as readers. This sparked lots of interesting discussion.

For lunch, we went to an adorable vintage tea shop with lace table clothes on William Street called, Very Vintagebefore embarking on our afternoon sessions where all the delegates plotted a new picture book. They shared and discussed their ideas within the group and for homework were asked to complete their stories and make dummy books to show the group in the morning.

Each course member completed their homework to a high standard and I was impressed with the quality of the stories they presented. They had all taken on board everything I had said about plot and structure. After looking at each of the picture book dummies we started another picture book idea, inspired by group work and role play to develop a new character.

During the final session, we discussed the submission process, writing a picture book elevator pitch and I told everyone my top ten tips for being a picture book writer. 

We are hoping to run a similar course in the Autumn. If you are interested please contact Frances Brown at Grosvenor House Events, Herne
Places are limited to six people per course. It is also a fantastic venue for writing retreats.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Katherine Rundell’s Research Secrets

Katherine Rundell’s Research Secrets

In the June issue of Writers Forum, I have interviewed Katherine Rundell about the research for her novel, The Wolf Wilder, published by Bloomsbury.

The Wolf Wilder is about a girl called Feodora who is training to be a wolf wilder. A wolf wilder is someone who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves - to be wary of humans, run and fight. The exact opposite of an animal tamer. Feo lives in the snowbound woods of Russia with her mother. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. 

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her family and the wolves very existence she has no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things she loves and fighting back.

Katherine told me how she went about researching wolves and Russia to write her novel. In the feature, you can find out which books she read, how she accessed childhood memories and why she found the online digital archive JStor invaluable. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Letters in the Sand

Imagine how overjoyed I was to see my books being recommended on the Letters in the Sand website created by Caitlin, who is a mother of two and has experience as an educator in both public and private schools, as well as the being a home-schooling parent and teaching in community educational playgroups.

These particular books were written for QED Publishing and are illustrated by Sue Hendra. They were designed to help children to distinguish between different shapes. The emphasis is on making learning fun. In the book s I use the environment to reinforce what the reader sees to help them recognise shapes by using familiar, everyday objects in the world around them.

In the United States it is possible to buy all four books in one volume, entitled Shapes Around Me and published by Scholastic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Emma Claire Sweeney’s Research Secrets

In the May issue of Writers Forum, I have interviewed Emma Claire Sweeney about how the research for her novel Owl Song at Dawn led to a PhD in autism and learning disabilities.

Owl Song is published by Legend Press and is a tribute to Emma’s autistic sister Lou.  As well as her extensive research into the history of learning disabilities, Emma talks about how the path of her character, Maeve Malone and the fictitious Sea View Lodge, follows a similar trajectory to the rise, fall and rise again of the Midland Hotel in Morcombe.

Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness. Until, that is, Vincent shows up.

Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve’s crow, the dawn to Maeve’s dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage – all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.
If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved: a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.

Owl Song at Dawn will be released on July 1st, 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Writing4Children – Becky Bagnell

This month I have a brand new regular feature in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum. It is all about Writing for Children. The first issue launched with insights into the children’s book world with Becky Bagnell founder of the Lindsay Literary Agency. She explained to me what she looks for in a manuscript, what makes a good children’s book agent and what makes a great children’s book.

Becky set up the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008 having worked as a commissioning editor for Macmillan. The agency represents a wide range of authors including Pamela Butchart, who won last year’s Blue Peter Award. She has a particular interest in discovering new talent from picture books to YA.

At the London Book Fair this year, Becky was able to complete on the sale of US rights to Sam Gayton’s new book His Royal Whiskers and she also had a couple of offers from UK publishers on two new books - one for an author who’s already published, but it will be their first deal together and one for a debut author. She is also due to appear at Winchester Writing Festival in June where she will be engaged in one-to-one appointments on the Friday and Saturday.

There are loads of other features scheduled to be covered in my new monthly column, including interviews with top authors, editors and more agents.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Writing Picture Books with Anita Loughrey


10th – 12th June 2016 at Grosvenor House, 2 East Street, Herne Bay, Kent. CT6 5HN

Grosvenor House must be one of the most idyllic and relaxing places in the whole world. I feel honoured to be able to teach a writing for picture book course here. What more could you ask for?  

Relaxing atmosphere, sea, good food and time to indulge yourself in something you love. 

This course is for ideal all writers who want to write picture books and wish to develop their writing skills by looking in depth at the structure, characterisation and plot of picture books. 
Course delegates will be given opportunities to develop their own characters and picture books in a supportive and friendly atmosphere. 
The methods and techniques taught can also be used for writing chapter books and novels for older children.

Myths of writing for children 
Writing for different age ranges

Common themes 
Structure and layout

Story arc
Plotting a picture book

Getting to know your characters
Finding your character’s voice

For further details about the Picture Book retreat and prices contact Frances Brown: 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Launch of new blog Papers Pens Poets

Today, I launched a brand new blog for a life-long fetish of mine – stationery. It is called Papers Pens Poets and is the place for writers and other stationery addicts to show their passion for paper and pens.
We have launched today to coincide with the start of National Stationery Week.

The blog is the brain child of my friend and fellow children’s writer Jo Franklin. She had invited me to the London Stationery Show, an annual event where stationery creators and retailers come together to network, and we were discussing travel arrangements and our plans for the day over messenger, Thursday 21st April at 16:34. Jo said:
“Let’s tell the stall holders we are going to create a stationery review blog called something like Papers Pens Poets aimed at writers and we are looking for products to review with links back to their websites.”
To which I replied:
“Wow. Sounds cool. We should do that.”
So we did.

Over the weekend we created a website with blog and contact facilities. Our current header was designed especially for us by the wonderful, Chitra Soundar, children’s book writer and stationery enthusiast. We set up author interviews, made and ordered business cards, found quotes from famous authors to go on our business cards, set up a Twitter page and an Instagram page and also wrote and scheduled several posts. We were very, very busy.

We are going to be doing lots of stationery reviews, articles and interviews with writers and illustrators. If you are a writer, artist and avid stationery lover and would like to be interviewed about your passion for stationery please let me know by leaving a message.

You can also follow and comment on our blog on Wordpress, pop over and wish us a happy launch day on Twitter @paperspenspoets and follow and hashtag us on Instagram. You can read my post about National Stationery Week and the writing matters campaign here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Columnist or Feature Writer? That is the question

I have been writing for the national writing magazine Writers' Forum for over ten years. I started as a freelance author, interviewing other writers I met on courses and conferences, about their writing and writing process and would send these features in with fingers crossed hoping the editor then, John Jenkins, would accept them. More often than not he did.

When the magazine changed hands the new editor, Carl Styants, was not so interested in off-spec features and after a few rejections, follow-up emails and a discussion over the telephone, he asked me to write on a more regular basis on the theme of research, something that has always fascinated me.

So in October 2008, I started to write a monthly double-spread feature on research techniques with tips on researching from successful authors across different genres. The focus is on what works for them and how this could benefit other writers. The column aims to give the reader useful tips on research - specific books and websites, museums and place to go to, etc and to show how the writer being interviewed used their research in their book. The feature is written up as though they are telling me about their research and the questions themselves do not appear.

Since then I have considered myself a columnist with a regular monthly column on writers and their research. However, I have recently been informed I may not be a columnist, I am a regular feature writer. When it comes to the crunch on considering whether I am a ‘columnist’ or ‘featurist’ (I may have just made-up that word) I believe it depends on what your definition is of a column and a feature.

As I found this idea very interesting, I decided to do some research on the topic. There is a lot of confusing and sometimes contradicting definitions. The best explanation for me was Keith Martin’s words on the Quora website. Using his reasoning then, technically I am not a columnist because I interview different people each month and although, the feature is attributed to me the voice and opinions are the writers’ being interviewed. This means I must be a regular feature writer.

This is also true of my new monthly slot in Writers’ Forum on Writing for Children, lunched in the May issue 2016. Although, I have announced it on Facebook and twitter as a new column, technically it isn’t. It is a monthly feature with tips from successful authors, agents, editors and other professionals from the children’s publishing world. The focus is on what works for them and how this could benefit children’s book writers. It is written as if they are talking to me, from their point of view and none of the questions are shown.

After much deliberation though, I have decided I am going to keep the heading ‘My Columns’ in the menu of my website because I think it sounds better than, ‘My Regular Features’.

I would be pleased to hear your thoughts and suggestions about whether you consider me to be a columnist, or a regular feature writer, or even what I should call myself. (Please be polite)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Writing for Children with Anita Loughrey

Fri 13 May 2016 to Sun 15 May 2016
This course is ideal for beginners who want to write fiction for children of all ages and also those who have started to write and wish to develop their skills further
Friday 3.00 p.m. to Sunday 12.30 p.m.
13-15 May 2016
The Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick Derbyshire
All inclusive fee £245 Single en suite. All meals and refreshments.
Free Parking. Non-participating partners welcome
Attend as a Resident or Day Visitor
Book early and pay by instalments

This course is ideal for beginners who want to write fiction for children of all ages and also also for those who have started to write their books and wish to develop their writing skills further. 
Topics to be covered: 
• Different types of Writing for Children – genre/age groups 
• Plot and structure 
• Themes. 
• Writing picture books
• Writing chapter books 
• Developing characters 
• Opening and first pages

The weekend course is informal and fun - go home with an idea for a picture book and an idea for a chapter book for older children. Write in a supportive atmosphere, discuss your ideas, how to develop them and where to pitch them. 
Please let your group know about our weekend Creative Writing Courses. Every effort is made to keep the fees at cost and offering you the convenience of paying by instalments.
The emphasis is on ‘Relax & Write’ - Groups are kept small so that you can benefit from the ‘Relax & Write’ writing experience. The venue is an ideal place for writers, meeting  other writers and enjoying the beautiful gardens. A Programme and Badge is handed out on arrival. Free Parking available.