Monday, July 31, 2017

100+ Fun Ideas for Science Investigations in the Primary Classroom

It felt kind of cool when I was flicking through a writing magazine, checking out the competition and came across some writing news that featured one of the books I have written.

My 100+ Ideas for Science Investigations in the Classroom book is crammed full of a huge range of exciting ideas for science classroom experiments, all of which have been tried and tested over my 17 years as a primary-school teacher.

Written for Brilliant Publications, this book contains over 100 science investigations for all ages from Year One to Year Six. I have used many of these investigations on school visits during Science Weeks and to reinforce ongoing project work.

You can find out more about the teacher resources I have written on my website:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Do we need Celebrity Authors?

I recently went to a very interesting Children’s Book Circle Event discussing the increase in the amount of celebrities writing children’s books. The panel consisted of:
  • Children’s reading consultant, freelance editor and blogger, Clare Zinkin
  • Award-winning picture book author, Michelle Robinson
  • YA author and ghost-writer, Siobhan Curham

Children's editor of the Bookseller magazine, Charlotte Eyre was the chair.

Charlotte explained publishers are actively seeking out celebrities to write books and this is not isolated to only books for children. She told us that if a publishing house has success with a gimmick such as a celebrity author the trend is for the others to follow as it brings in the money. It was quite significant that there were no celebrities or publishers on the panel.

We must never forget that publishing is a business and all businesses want to make money. Although, whether they make money is dependent on age-group and who the celebrity is. David Walliams’ books sold over 56 million books last year whereas Chris Hoy did not even sell 5000 copies. As authors we should want our publishing houses to do well as it means there is more money to spend on debut authors.

However, the marketing can be frustrating. It is disheartening when celebrities are higher in the charts because they are getting bigger budgets and higher billing at events and festivals. In a way it is cheating because the stars are being given a head start. Authors like David Walliams are always in the review round-ups regardless. It is sad that even the Summer Reading Challenge book sorter mostly recommends celebrity books and traditional best sellers like Roald Dahl and Jaqueline Wilson. In the same way, large book shops like WH Smith and Waterstones tend to stock only the big name authors. But Michelle is proud she has got to where she is ‘the hard way’.  

On the whole, books by sports people and other celebrities are a good thing because it gets children reading; many who may never have picked up a book before. Celebrity books tend to be light-hearted middle grade with a great illustrator. The children do not care that it is a celebrity without a background in writing all they want is a great story with amazing characters to read.

We are getting to a stage where there may be a saturation of the market with celebrity books and some are not making out their large advances. There has been a tendency for publishers to depend too much on celebrity authors. There is also a fear that because a gold medallist can also write a book in their spare time it makes writing seem easy and not hard work at all. Claire compared it to being like the celebrities creating a perfume. We need to remember Literature is a craft and we should see it as a craft. It is true many celebrities are actually writers with a proven track record and those who are not tend to have a ghost writer. As a ghost writer Siobhan sees her role as helping the celebrities tell their story.

Many authors in the audience felt that if a book had been written by a ghost writer they should put the ghost writers name on the books to make it clear who has written them. Siobhan explained ghost writers do not care if their name is not on the book, it is the nature of the job and anything that gets a book into a child’s hands is a good thing.

There was an overall feeling from the audience that celebrities should do more to get involved in the industry. They should make an effort to mix with other children’s book authors. It was suggested that in the same way as there are ghost writers, celebrities could advice authors on performing at events or make book recommendations to increase sales of all books and not just their own.

So my answer to the heading of this post, do we need celebrity authors, is…

…NO …we do not need celebrity authors. What we do need is great stories for children no matter who has written them.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Vera Morris' Research Secrets

I read a lot of crime fiction but I have a guilty confession at a certain point in the book I will always be tempted to read the ending before I have finished the book. I love to work out how the author has weaved in all the clues and red-herrings into the plot and sub-plots. It is like a jig-saw puzzle.

Some of the best crime fiction I have read are those where the author has spent time on the atmosphere and setting of the book. In my Research Secrets slot in Writers' Forum for July 2017, Vera Morris explained to me how she used her research to do just this. In her two riveting crime thrillers, Some Particular Evil and The Temptation published by Accent Press, she definitely captures the flavour of the era and area her novels are set.

Vera talks about how she found newspapers of the period invaluable. She checks what the weather was like, times of sunrise and sunset, sports results and TV / radio schedules. All this helps create a very authentic backdrop for her novels.

To find out more about Vera and her novels check out her website:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Writing 4 Children - Tommy Donbavand

Tommy Donbavand is one of my children's book author heroes. Not only has he battled with cancer and documented his experiences for other cancer sufferers at, he is also so generous with his time and advice.

He is a legend and I was lucky enough to interview Tommy for my Writing 4 Children slot in the July 2017 issue of Writers' Forum. He told me about his Scream Street series and how it was adapted for TV.

In the feature he talks about how he ensures his fantasy world is as 'real' as possible. He recommends other aspiring authors who are writing series fiction to spend time getting all the rules and details correct. He likes to fill notebooks with scribbled ideas for character types, names, story plot ideas, themes and the differences between reality and his fantasy world.

You can find out more about Tommy Donbavand's books and writing career at:

Monday, July 03, 2017

NAWG Writing Festival

I will be teaching this year at the NAWG Writing Festival on the 1st - 4th September 2017.

I will be doing four workshops in total. Two on the Saturday and two on the Sunday. Here is an outline of what they will involve.

Writing Children’s Books Starting with Theme
This workshop will give you the opportunity to explore writing a picture book looking in depth at picture book structure, layout and theme as a basis to writing your own picture book. The aim is to plot and start writing a new picture book idea by the end of the workshop to take home and polish.

Writing Children’s Books Starting with Character
The focus of this fun workshop is to create a children’s book character and get to know them thoroughly by looking at dialogue and finding your character’s voice through role play and games. The aim is to come away with a new idea for a children’s story.

Creating Conflict in Children’s Books
Conflict is a storyteller’s best friend. The stronger the problem, the stronger the story. This workshop will suggest ways of developing conflict in your children’s stories using real life case studies as a way to develop your plots.

Creating Emotion in Children’s Books

This workshop will give you an opportunity to write a wide variety of emotional scenes by exploring your own senses. Play with all five senses to keep your readers involved, maybe off balance, but always interested in what is coming next.

To book see the NAWGFest2017 website.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Six things that hit home from my visit to Random House

Editors’ personal taste does not rule

Random House have a consumer intel-team which have a Hot Title meeting every week. There are fourteen people in the fiction team with ten commissioning editors who all have personal taste but everyone also has to consider the list. They have to take in consideration how a new title will work with the list and the books position in the market. There has to be an in-house excitement about the book and they do not consider anything that feels mid-list as Random House has a reputation for publishing high-profile books.

It is harder to market an author who writes for different age-groups

This revelation made my heart sink as I write and have completed a multitude of picture books, two mid-grade books and a YA book. Apparently it is because an author who writes for a multitude of age ranges loses retailer confidence.

It works with more established authors than debuts, especially if they already have an audience. This has not put me off as I love writing for all age ranges. I think my best bet is to push my picture books and then try and work myself up with my readership.

Diversity is key now more than ever

We have always known essentially every child should see themselves in a book. We are also aware that publishers are actively seeking books where the protagonist happens to be ‘different’ and it is not an issue, such as gay, disabled, different culture, etc. I believe, as long as the research is strong, a writer can write as a character not from their own background. Diversity is about showing respect.

Random House have a scheme to encourage writers to tell them in 1000 words where more diversity is needed called the Right Now Scheme. Submissions are taken from different regions throughout the UK.

Gender does make a difference

Girls are happy to read about boys but boys are not happy to read about girls. This is less true for picture books. Boys do not like to read domestic dramas.

Second book syndrome is a thing

Random House never take on one book deals they always agree a second book. This second book is expected in six months and this will be specified in the contract. This can put an added pressure on an author.

Just because you have been taken on by a publisher does not mean you have made it

Every year publishers like Random House sit in a Title Majority Meeting where they discuss each debuts progress. If a book has not made out its advance the author and their book will be cut from the list. This does not do your career any good. Big publishers have to look at the bigger picture and they have to think how they are going to compete in the United States.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poetry for Performance

I was lucky enough to be invited to submit some poems for a new innovative poetry anthology aimed at Speech and Drama teachers. it is called Poetry for Performance and published by The Playing Space.

The Playing Space is a drama company based in Southgate, North London. They teach speech and drama to children, young adults and adults. 

All the poems were selected because they are ideal for performance. The book has been conveniently divided into age groups:
  • poems for 6–10-year-olds
  • poems for 10–14-year-olds
  • poems for performers aged 14 and over·      

These poems are also perfect for speech and drama exams, verse speaking competitions, festivals and ideal for classroom study at both primary and secondary level. 

The book is available to buy from Amazon

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Graeme Simsion's Research Secrets

Australian romantic comedy author, Graeme Simsion, spoke to me about how you can't beat real-life experience as the best research resource.

His first two novels are, The Rosie Project and its sequel The Rosie Effect published by Penguin Books. His hero is forty-one-year-old geneticist, Don Tillman, has never been on a second date and then he meets Rosie, gets married and moves to New York.

His most recent novel is The Best of Adam Sharp also published by Penguin in the UK. This novel explores a re-kindled relationship and its consequences.

Graeme advocates that when doing research writers should talk to people and not for the facts but for the stories behind the facts. These snippets of information is what can make your writing great.

The feature on Graeme and his Research Secrets is out now in the latest issue of Writers Forum.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A visit to Random House

One of this year’s SCBWI Industry Insider Events was a visit to the Random House Publishing House where Editors Carmen McCullough and Naomi Colthurst talked us through their publishing process.

Carmen McCullough
Naomi Colthurst
Random House only take agented manuscripts, unless the author has forged a relationship with an editor.

When they receive a manuscript from an agent they talk as a team in an editorial meeting and then an acquisition meeting where everyone would have read the whole book. All reading is done in their own time. Carmen and Naomi will often read five to six titles a week.

It is unusual for something to go to acquisitions and not get through. Once acquired the book is scheduled and there is a structural edit. Structural edit deadlines vary. Some may tie in with specific events. Delivery dates will be specified in the contract. Naomi specifies a month in the first instance. Carmen often allows more than a month but if the edits drag on she will reduce to two weeks. These are additional edits that happen after a structural edit with an agent.

A structural edit can go 2 or 3 rounds before going to the Editorial Two Team for copy edits. Naomi has never taken on a book that does not need editing for at least two rounds. Copy edits are often with an out of house freelance editor. When it is approved it will then go to the Production Team. The whole editing schedule usually takes about a year.

Six months before the book is due to be launched Publicity will work on feature ideas, press and events. There are also rigorous cover meetings.

From start to finish the whole process may take two years with everyone working in unison.

…the book goes on and on as Random House continue to find ways in which they can keep marketing and publicity going.

Overall Random House aim to:
  •         Make the big brands bigger
  •         Reinvent the Classics with new cover looks and picking a hero title each year to pitch a high-level campaign that is often tied into events like Science Week.
  •         Push their dazzling debuts as tomorrow’s brands today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Writing 4 Children - Dionne McCulloch

In my Writing 4 Children column in this months issue of Writers Forum, I interviewed for Dionne McCulloch.

She works as an editor for Cornerstones, is a judge for the Bath Novel Award and writes her own YA novels. How does she fit it all in? Dionne explains how it is a balancing act and talks us through her typical day. Dionne has previously written and edited scripts for TV and copy-edited speeches for US President, Bill Clinton.

In the feature, Dionne also gives us an insight on what she thinks makes a children's book great and gives readers expert tips to help develop their writing skills.

The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2017 is now open for unsigned novelists writing for children or young adults.