Beautiful Books

Recently I got to meet someone who takes up rather a lot of shelf space in our house – the wonderful Chris Riddell. Our whole family love his work and we all have our personal favourites – mine being Ottoline.

He gave a wonderfully entertaining lecture titled ‘The Age of the Beautiful Book’, in which we heard about his early influences and his discovery of social media and how he draws on the pages of his own and other people’s books to bring something new to the text.

He sketched throughout the lecture, the illustrations enriching and expanding his story telling.  One phrase that really stuck in my mind was when he said ‘ pictures turbo boost words’. And he is absolutely right.

As a writer I assumed I was all about the words and always had been. But recently, when I was going through some of my childhood books at my parents, I realised just how big a part pictures played in my childhood reading. Here are just some of those books whose pictures I loved and can remember as vividly today.

As I ‘oohed and ahhed’ over the books I was rediscovering it wasn’t always the stories that I remembered most and felt such fondness for but the illustrations. (In fact in some cases I couldn’t even remember much about what happened in the story, but I saw the picture and was instantly transported to a memory.)

Given how much time I spent with my head in the Beano or Dandy or Asterix, it shouldn’t really surprise me that pictures played such a big part when it came to reading books. But I don’t think I ever really stopped to recognise that.

I didn’t see them as separate from the book and therefore didn’t really think about looking into the illustrator behind the artwork.

In fact, I feel quite ashamed that it has taken me this long to find out the names of the illustrators I most loved and who had such a profound effect on my reading.

Their names were Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. And their work was as important in fostering my love of books as the stories I was reading. Here is one of their illustrations from Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales.

But they weren’t alone. I have loved revisiting my childhood books and finding out more about who was behind the wonderful images that have stuck so firmly in my mind.

One of my other favourite books was ‘The Family From One End Street’ written and indeed illustrated by Eve Garnett:

And I loved the illustrations by Edward Ardizzone for ‘Stig of the Dump’.

When Piccadilly Press told me they envisaged my own books being highly illustrated I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled to find out that Sara Ogilvie had agreed to work on them.

The first time I saw the cover for ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ I actually squealed. But who can blame me? Sara has created something really special.  Having just received the final artwork for the book I am even more excited. Her illustrations have such detail and energy and ooze charm. Not only this, the design team have done an amazing job with the layout and adding another level of detail with scorch marks on the pages and ink splodges and claw marks throughout.

The campaign #PicturesMeanBusiness led by Sarah McIntyre couldn’t be more aptly titled. They do mean business. The right cover can make the difference between someone picking your book up or passing it by. And the illustrations inside can do so much to draw in and engage the reader,  as well as enhancing their experience of the text.

As Chris Riddell said, pictures also mean beauty. He spoke about wanting to put beautiful books into the hands of readers.

And I am delighted – and very grateful – that Sara has made ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ so beautiful.

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SCBWI Agents Party









So it’s that time of year again – the final countdown to the SCBWI Agents’ Party. Four years ago I was psyching myself up to go to my first SCBWI event, where for the first time I would meet real life agents! I wrote this Q&A in the lead up to the party last year for the SCBWI team organising the party, but can’t find where it was posted so thought I would copy it here. I hope it reassures anyone who is thinking of going – it really is a FAB event.


How did you meet your agent?

I met Jo [Williamson from the Antony Harwood Agency] at the Agents’ Party in 2013. I’d only just joined SCBWI and I saw a mention of the party. It sounded like such a great idea that I booked a ticket straight away – basically before I had time to think and get cold feet! In fact I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do it. I hadn’t been to any events before and I very quickly felt terrified at the thought of being in a room with not just other writers but agents too. But something stopped me running for the hills – thankfully!

Did you speak to Jo at the Agents’ Party that year or just hear her speak?

There were several panelists that evening, it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere and I was reassured to realise that my perception of agents was actually unfounded (I was picturing Alien here!). They were in fact very friendly and it was a really informative and useful Q & A.

The scary bit came next when we were let loose on the poor agents! I’d honed my pitch to within an inch of its life but actually saying it to someone was unbelievably hard. Words suddenly lose all meaning in this kind of situation and I was aware of wanting to get everything across without sounding like an autobot. But a smile goes a long way and the agents were very smiley which made approaching them a lot easier.

In the end I pitched to every single one – which given I’d psyched myself up for a grand old total of one, I was pretty chuffed with. Jo was actually the last person I spoke to. And I so nearly let myself off the hook, thinking I’d done way more than I expected that I could let this one go. But again something wouldn’t let me.

It was particularly hard because as I stood waiting to pounce on her I heard Jo say: ‘Wow that was the best pitch of the night’ – to someone else! But instead of running for the hills , again I thought, right – time to step up.

(I mention this because again I’m not sure where the resolve came from, but sometimes we just surprise ourselves – and to reassure anyone else out there who is reluctant/terrified/already running for the hills that it can be done!)

As a result of the Party I suddenly had multiple requests for the full manuscript and within a week I’d received two offers of representation. I knew from our meeting that night and after talking to her on the phone that Jo was definitely the right person to sign with. I went with my gut and I’ve not regretted it for one minute.

Did you have to do a lot of rewriting on your book after signing with Jo?

Jo had some notes, which were really helpful, but it wasn’t major rewriting at this stage. She was happy to send it out about a month later to the first round of publishers.

What happened after that?

We had a lot of love for that particular book and several very close calls but have yet to find the right home for the story. Sadly the market is tough for ‘quiet’ books. We still both believe in this one though and I’m currently embarking on a more major rewrite having collated all the editorial feedback we’ve received along the way. It might sting at first when you get a rejection but I’m always glad when an editor takes the time to offer it. It’s worth its weight in gold.

While it was on submission I carried on working on the picture book texts and a new book for 6-9 year olds called The Boy Who Grew Dragons. This is the one I got my three-book deal for.

What has surprised you about having an agent?

Agents seem to work in different ways and the working relationship with a writer can vary a great deal. I know some agents offer quite a lot of editorial feedback and others don’t. So the biggest surprise I guess is finding out how people’s experiences differ. That and how much more time I have to write now I don’t have to spend hours getting submissions out!

For me Jo has been invaluable. Not just getting my work in front of publishers/editors who I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise but the fact I have someone cheering me on and buoying me up in the face of rejections. And most importantly giving feedback and editorial input on the work and helping to navigate and negotiate contracts.

What’s your advice to people attending this year’s Agents’ Party?


Hone your pitch till it sparkles, believe in your book, let them see your enthusiasm for it till they can’t help but want a peek at it.

And even if you don’t feel ready to speak to the agents, you’ll pick up loads of useful info from the evening and meet lots of other writers at the same stage. I met some brilliant people that night, I’ve stayed in touch with them and they’ve introduced me to an even bigger tribe on Twitter.

What would be your top question to ask a prospective agent?

Tricky. For me it was ‘How did you feel when Howard left?’ Which will mean nothing to anyone not watching “Bake Off” in 2013. We bonded over Bake Off!

The fact I was talking to Jo about Bake Off within the first few email exchanges spoke volumes about how comfortable and relaxed I felt around her. This was really important for me. There are enough ups and downs on this writer journey that having someone on your side, who you also get on with, is a huge plus.

Seriously though, there are some useful blog posts out there with lists of questions to ask and I’d definitely do some research before you approach an agent, or if you are in the lucky position of having more than one to choose between!

At the end of the day it’s important to feel confident about the person who will be representing you and your work and to feel they have a real passion about your book – and are interested in you as a writer for the long haul. But also that they really know the industry and are tenacious enough to get your work published.

I hope everyone who goes to the Agents’ Party has a great night!

Good luck!



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My first author visit

I’ve always loved writing and although there have been long periods where I was pretty dormant – thinking about writing rather than actually doing the writing (!) – I’ve always pictured myself holding a book with my name on it.

When my youngest son started school I decided to go from just dreaming about it to making it happen. But of course it took awhile.

Whenever I got rejections I always imagined myself standing in my sons’ school in an assembly telling them all about my books. It was an image that kept me going. I knew how much my sons would love it, especially after witnessing all the ups and downs along the way.

It was wonderful when I finally got the news last year that Piccadilly Press wanted to publish three of my books.

And today I got to do the talk I’d been imagining for so long. It was lovely sharing that with my boys in their school with lots of familiar faces.

It all started in the term my son walked into Reception and the first book – The Boy Who Grew Dragons – will be in our hands in his final term of Primary school.

It will have taken 7 years (and the previous 30 dreaming about it) to get there – but it was so worth it.

Thank you to all the fabulous kids at St Helens for making my first talk so much fun.

Everyone did brilliantly to survive the heat. I take that as a very good sign that if they are planning on growing dragons they will all be able to handle their dragon’s fiery outbursts extremely well!

Looking forward to many more school visits.

Here’s me all ready for the talk – with my little helper!














The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Cover Reveal!

SO excited to have the final cover for my first book – The Boy Who Grew Dragons – by the amazing Sara Ogilive. And completely thrilled with what she has done. I love it! Especially spotting those dragons peeping out of the dragon fruit! Thank you Sara!!

Here’s the official cover reveal by brilliant blogger BookLoverJo


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My picks for Xmas 2016 Part One – Middle Grade


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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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.




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!





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!








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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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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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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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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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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