8
November

Andy Shepherd

andy new headshotAndy is a UK-based children’s author. She is represented by Jo Williamson at the Antony Harwood Literary Agency and her debut, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ will be published by Piccadilly Press in Spring 2018, to be followed by two more titles.

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10
February

This Time Last Year

Today I spent a happy hour looking through my box of childhood scribblings. As well as notebooks, folders and scrappy bits of paper I found my first attempt at a book. (Along with a rather lovely letter from Douglas Adams. I’d written to ask if he minded me writing a book that was basically my version of ‘The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – which I utterly loved.) The poems and stories I flicked through and that letter reminded me just how long I have dreamt of being a writer.

It also made me take a moment. Because this time last year I nearly gave up. Not writing – because I can’t stop doing that now I’ve finally started again – but the whole Getting Published Thing. I’d given it a damn good go. I’d got tantalisingly close on my first middle grade novel and on my picture book series. So close that I’d thought it was in the bag. But sadly, there was no cigar.

And although I’d had some interest in my second book, that too ended up as a non-starter after I decided that the publisher’s request to ‘make it shorter and younger’ just wasn’t what I felt was right for the story.

So following my mentor’s advice, I wrote The Next Thing. And this time I really thought this was ‘The One’. But, sadly, it wasn’t the case. Now I had been getting tougher, more resilient to rejection – let’s face it, I’d been getting some practise in – but this one really hurt. And it stopped me in my tracks, which hadn’t happened for a long time. I mean, all rejections hurt, but I’d been picking myself up pretty quickly. Within days anyway, not months, like it had taken in the very beginning.

Maybe it was it because it was a quite personal story, maybe it was because they just didn’t seem to “get” the book at all. Maybe it was because it was a cold miserable January or because I’d just poured out my heart for six months and wasn’t ready to submit it and feel the sting of other people’s opinions yet. Whatever the reason, that rejection really hurt. And I seriously wondered if – despite all the hard work and perseverance to get the books written, get an agent and put myself out there – I should step back. Maybe not forever, but for a while.

Fast-forward another month or so – skipping over the time where I wasn’t much fun to be around – I suddenly got a call from my agent.

It turned out she had taken my second book, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ to London Book Fair – and had got quite a lot of interest!

Exciting enough – although having been on the roller coaster of: ‘They love it, they want it – Oh **** they don’t want it’ a number of times, I was braced for the impending Downer.

Except this time it didn’t come. Two weeks later I was heading into the South Bank Centre with my agent, the lovely Jo Williamson (aka Super Agent Jo) to meet two publishers. And by the end of the day I’d been offered a three-book deal!

The turn-around was bizarre and it’s still something I have to pinch myself about, nine months later. Publication date isn’t until June 2018 but I’ve been busy writing the next two books, and editing the first one.

It’s been a thrilling ride so far. But I’m always aware how close I came to letting that particular ‘No’ derail me.

Part of the reason I didn’t give up any time in the last five years – and why I doubt I would actually have walked away last January however low I felt about that rejection – is because of hearing about the long and winding roads other writers have taken to getting published. I took great inspiration from SF Said, Abi Elphinstone and Caroline Green. They all got to that point of ‘No, that’s it, I’ve had enough’ but then carried on anyway. And deep down, I knew I had to do that too.

Because I couldn’t let go of the dream completely. The image of wandering into a bookshop and picking up my own book from a bookshelf had been with me since I was ten years old. It was stubborn.

So if you’re the same and you have that stubborn dream then please keep going. Keep doing what you love. Keep putting it out into the world, however hard that feels at times. Because things can change really quickly.

You never know when that YES might just appear.

It certainly surprised the hell out of me!

 

‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place’ – Author Unknown

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16
December

My picks for Xmas 2016 – Part 2: Young Adult

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Following on from my last post where I highlighted my favourite MG titles, here are the Young Adult titles I’ve loved reading this year – not all new releases, but new to me!

Being Billy – Phil Earle

Bird – Crystal Chan

The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

Beautiful Broken Things –  Sara Barnard

More of Me – Kathryn Evans

Lorali – Laura Dockrill

Lobsters – Lucy Evison and Tom Elen

Paper Butterflies – Lisa Heathfield.

Instructions for a Second Hand Heart – Tamsyn Murray

One – Sarah Crossan

And really there are so many more I could have added.

But whatever books you curl up with over the holidays I wish you a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

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16
December

My picks for Xmas 2016 Part One – Middle Grade

2016-favs-part-1

Well it’s been a strange old year, 2016 – but I won’t dwell on all the global shenanigans.

On a personal level it’s been very exciting as it’s the year I got my first book deal! And yes I am still eating cake and celebrating!

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ and the next two books ‘The Boy Who Lived with Dragons’ and ‘The Boy Who Flew With Dragons’ have found a wonderful home with Piccadilly Press and I am beyond thrilled that they will actually be out in the world on book shelves. OK, it is a bit of a wait with the release being in 2018 but it doesn’t stop my excitement!

I’ve read some fantastic books this year and I find it far too hard to just choose a top 3 or anything sensible like that – but I’ve managed to squeeze my absolute favourites into a top ten, in three categories. I know – hopeless! But that’s the best I can do!

So if there are any of these you haven’t read, I’d heartily recommend adding them to your Santa list!

Marvellous Middle Grade

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Cogheart – Peter Bunzl.

The Shadow Keeper – Abi Elphinstone

The Secert Life of Daisy Fitzjohn – Tania Unsworth

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth – Katherine Woodfine

Fire Witch – Matt Ralphs

The Apprentice Witch – James Nicol

Through the Mirror Door – Sarah Baker

Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

And finally here are the books I’m really looking forward to in 2017. It already looks like it might give 2016 a run for its money!

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory – Lorraine’s pitch for this had me hooked in about 5 seconds.

Letter from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll – a mystery set in WW2 featuring evacuees, refugees, coded messages, German pilots, fox terriers and marrowbone sandwiches. Holy moley, I love Emma’s books!

The new book from Kiran Millwood Hargrave – another standalone story set on an island with a hint of magic – I can’t wait!

Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl the sequel to the utterly fantastic Cogheart

The fourth Mango and Bambang book from dymanic duo Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy.

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber – I’ve heard so much about this for such a long time I can’t help but be intrigued!

The Night Spinner, the third part of The Dreamsnatcher trilogy by Abi Elphinstone. I can’t wait to see what Moll gets up to next.

Who Let the Gods Out by Mary Evans. This sounds hugely fun and the best thing is there are four books coming!

Check out the YA books I’ve loved reading this year in the next post!

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13
September

Staring up at the Mountain

ben-ant
They say visualisation is a powerful tool to bring about change. Well, in the wrong hands it’s a powerful tool to bring you to a standstill, too!

I’ve spent the last few weeks picturing myself like this: an ant looking up at Mount Everest. So you can probably see why I’ve been struggling to get started. And OK, I realise we are just talking about writing a book here, I mean it’s words on a page at the end of the day. But I’m nothing if not overly dramatic in my visualisations! Which can sometimes be a good thing but sometimes, like here, backfires badly.

Back in May I received my offer from Piccadilly Press (I shouted about it pretty loud but if you happened to miss that bit of news then click here) And what’s more they wanted three books.

I was over the moon and I’m still up there to be honest. Over the last four months I have been editing Book One – The Boy Who Grew Dragons. It’s been through some changes since it started out as a picture book idea back in 2012, but that’s a whole other post. Let’s just say I’m getting an inkling of just how much work is involved in getting a book into print. The only trouble is, knowing what I know now, I’ve been psyching myself out about the fact that I have to do it again – twice in fact.

So I’ve been this ant staring up at the snowy peaks and shuffling from foot to foot hoping I might miraculously get lifted up to that far away summit by some benevolent bird.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve been a busy ant – checking my boots and other essential equipment, planning my route, collecting provisions. (Basically gathering ideas, working on outlines for the next books and baking too many scones) But I haven’t dared start the journey out of base camp.

Until yesterday, when I took that first step. And it felt good. And now I’m singing as I trudge along. (I started out skipping, but it was a long day yesterday so I’m trudging this morning) But I’m going to keep my eyes on each step I take – and avert my gaze from the distant heights of the summit. For now anyway.

So if like me you’re feeling like a tiny ant at the foot of a great big mountain, let me visualise my ant-self reaching out a hand to your ant-self, to help you take that first little – but momentous- step.
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“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” – Dr Seuss

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1
July

Celebrating a Star!

IMG_20160630_200653734Last night was the launch of ‘Strange Star‘ by Emma Carroll, a book I’ve been dying to get my hands on for months!

I’ve said before that Emma writes exactly the books I want to read – time and again. And when I heard the words ‘Lord Byron’ ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘deliciously creepy’ I knew this one was going to be no exception.

 

 

 

IMG_20160630_201053278I haven’t read it yet so for a full review head over to the fabulous Bookloverjo’s site to find out more about it.

But in the mean time here are a few pics from a wonderful launch last night.

One of the loveliest things about writing and being on this road to publication is all the brilliant people I’ve met along the way. Turns out people who write for children genuinely are as lovely as the books they write.

IMG_20160630_195136109With the – yes you guessed it – lovely (!) Peter Bunzl and James Nicoll – look out for ‘Cogheart’ (out later in the summer) and ‘The Apprentice Witch’ (out 7th July – that’s next week!) and for brilliant news and reviews check out Jo’s awesome blog.

 

 

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The fabulous MG Leonard author of the brilliant ‘Beetle Boy’ –  can’t wait for the sequel next year! If you haven’t already read it go grab a copy!

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160630_201811777Matt Ralphs wrote one of my (& my son’s) favourite books from last year – ‘Fire Girl’ –  we’ve both been eagerly waiting for the sequel ‘Fire Witch’ – and it’s coming soon, August this year!

 

 

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Two to watch ! Mary Alice Evans ‘Who let the Gods Out’  and Lorraine Gregory ‘Mold and the Poison Plot’ – both to be unleashed in 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And finally one for my agent Jo Williamson – 3 of her writers – with Jess Vallance author of ‘Birdy’ and soon to be released ‘The Yellow Room’ and Peter.

 

 

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27
June

A story for life not just for Christmas

father christmas

One of the best things about writing for children is that a big part of the job is reading books for children. Although, it may say something about the size of my TBR pile that I’m finally getting to this one in July having picked it up in the festive season!

I nearly didn’t open it, since it’s called ‘A Boy Called Christmas’. I thought I’d wait another 6 months and read it in the time of tinsel. But given this weather and the downhearted feeling brought on by the news I reached for that word Christmas.

And I’m so glad I did.

I also rather wish everyone could take a minute to read this particular book about spreading goodwill.

Here’s to the joy and wonder of stories, showing us what amazing things you can do ‘with the right magic and belief inside you’.

Thankyou Matt Haig – Definitely a story for life, not just for Christmas!

 

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13
June

Let there be Cake – and lots of it!

I may be doing this for a while.

Because it’s official.

I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to say I have signed a 3 book deal with the wonderful Piccadilly Press. Excuse me if I just say that a few more times till it actually sinks in!

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ will be published Spring 2018 with 2 more books following soon after.

I can’t wait to start work with Matilda Johnson and the rest of the team at Piccadilly Press and am so happy that the books have found such a lovely home.

Massive thank you to my wonderful agent Jo Williamson for all her support and just being a total star! And thank you to all my friends both on and off Twitter/Facebook who have cheered me on.

And of course huge huge HUGE thanks to Ian for getting me here and my 2 beautiful boys for always believing I could do it. I’m so glad I proved you right! ( And yes it does deserve one of my special ice cream sundaes!)

 

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3
March

World Book Day – 3 March 2016

It’s World Book Day!   

A whole day about books! I know most of my days are taken up with books, but hey, when everyone else joins in how much more fun is it?!

So in honour of World Book Day we (me & my two sons – 11 and 8)  have had lots of bookish fun this afternoon.

In between shopping deliveries, homework and piano lessons we enjoyed our pop-up library, shared stories, watched videos on the great WBD site, wracked our brains in my Book Quiz and played my Name That Book game – most of which they guessed on the first word! But I did manage to catch them out a couple of times and it was interesting to hear their alternatives. For one, I gave them ‘Envelope’ – I was going for Flat Stanley, but youngest offered Jolly Postman until we got to the second word of ‘Kite’ (where his guess changed to Mary Poppins) and third word ‘Boy’ finally gave the game away.

Anyway thought I’d include my youngest son’s answers to my Book Quiz – good to see that both boys were categorical about the question of gender in main characters!

 

N B – ‘Abdolar’ – refers to the main character in Dianna Wynne Jones’ ‘Castle in the Air’. ‘Full, Full, Full of Love’ is the wonderful picture book by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Paul Howard.

Hope everyone has had a brilliant day celebrating BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS!

Here’s 8 year old at Norwich castle enjoying the fantastic How To Train Your Dragon exhibition last Saturday! And me getting in on the action as Camicazi!

 

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14
January

Mango and Bambang – A Review

Mango and Bambang, by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy, is one of those books that not only sings to you from the bookshelf – but when I reached the end I got the immediate urge to cuddle it. (I’m sure I can’t be the only one who does this with books?)

It’s a collection of four stories about a little – but very capable – girl who one day finds a rather shy tapir on her way home. She sets about making him feel at home in the very busy city. And the two friends soon find themselves on some wonderful adventures.

So here are some of the things I LOVE about Mango and Bambang.

The names, title and cover!

How could anyone walk past that gorgeous combination?

The story telling

Each story satisfies the reader much like a plate of those delicious banana pancakes! You can’t help but fall in love with Mango Allsorts  – the karate kicking, clarinet playing girl, good at all sorts of things – who might just have felt a little lonely had a certain Not-a-Pig turned up. And as for Bambang, he has the level of charm of a certain marmalade loving bear!

The artwork

With its palette of three colours Clara Vulliamy’s pictures are a complete delight. Funny, touching and wonderfully expressive as the two friends navigate the inevitable mayhem.

The busy city world

Conjured so wonderfully by Polly and illustrated by Clara. It’s so full of charming detail that we feel completely at home with them.

The humour

Beware if like us you choose it as a tea-time read because when coming across a tapir in a swimming hat, or sliding down the banister, or trying desperately to get ‘uncollected’, we found that laughter and food is not always the best combination!

The heart

Because from the very first pages we care. We care that Bambang is terrified of running into a tiger, and that Mango needs to fill her days alongside her very busy father. And I will admit to not just a tear in my eye in the final story but the ‘wetter, hiccupy, messy sort’ – when the strength of their friendship is shown so beautifully.

And the best news of all? There are two more books coming this year – the first one in March, so not long to wait at all – and another in 2017.

This is a book to really treasure. I can always tell when a book has that special something when my two boys continue quoting from it long after we finish reading! Oh, and one of them has taken it to bed to read and cuddle up with too!

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17
December

Top Picks of 2015

Top Ten lists are tough! But this month over at Middle Grade Strikes Back we are sharing our highlights of 2015. It’s definitely been a good year, and there are many many more I could have added. I’ve also read a lot of books not necessarily released this year – so new to me –  that I would love to mention. So I will just add a couple here. Plus I want to mention some YA books that I’ve loved.

The Wolf Brother series by Michelle Paver – now a firm family favourite. And the audio books read by Sir Ian McKellan are fantastic and have been a life saver on long journeys this year.

The Tulip touch by Anne Fine. An oldie but – Oh My – a goodie. Knocked my socks off.

YA Books 

Close Your Pretty Eyes     Sally Nicholls

I thought this was incredible. An atmospheric and downright creepy story about Olivia who has been in care since she was 5 and is just starting her sixteenth placement in an old secluded farmhouse. She discovers the house was home to a notorious Victorian baby farmer and fears her new family are in danger. Brilliantly written. Tense.  Dark, with an unnerving sense that it will go really dark. And an ending that totally delivered.

Ketchup Cloud   Annabel Pitcher

I love Annabel Pitcher’s writing.  Really strong voice and great writing about guilt.

Jenny Valentine –  This year I discovered Jenny Valentine (I know it takes me time to catch on sometimes!) So, I have devoured pretty much all she’s written. She writes really unusual stories. Very philosophical and honest. I loved these!

Fire Colour One 

Finding Violet Park

The Double Life of Cassiel Roadknight

Broken Soup

 

Now is Good    Jenny Downham

I enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this book was in a different league, I thought.  Moving and heartwrenching. Beautifully written. Authentic. And I loved that the main character was so honest and flawed.

One   Sarah Crossnan

I’m such a big fan of Sarah’s work. Her characters are some of the most well-drawn I’ve come across. This story is about conjoined twins and is written in verse.  And it’s beautiful.  A fragile story and a fragile form.

Deep Water   Lu Hersey

This is a contemporary story with a twist. Taking in folktales and myth. Superb writing and a great story.

Anyway I could be here all day at this rate! So I shall leave it there. Please do add your own recommendations from your reading year to the comments below – not that I need my TBR list to get any bigger! If you need me I shall be in here …

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