Friday, 20 April 2018

Where's Your Favourite Place? by Joan Lennon

Claude Monet Springtime 1872

Spring was late here, so for a long while, my favourite place to read has been in bed, where it's cosy, or, when I can find one, snuggled up by an open fire.  Maybe it's time to rediscover some of those other favourite places - under a tree like Monet's reader or at least by an open window.

Johannes Vermeer Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window circa 1659

Are your favourite reading places seasonal?  Or do you stay loyal year round to bed, bath, train or treehouse?  Are some of your favourites out of the ordinary or just plain odd?  Let us know where you like to read.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Only in Glastonbury by Lu Hersey

Since moving a couple of weeks ago, I feel I now live in the country, even though Glastonbury is actually a small town. But compared to Bristol, it’s country - and not just any piece of country. This is the heart of Avalon, land of myth and legend. As a self-proclaimed writer of myth-based, kitchen sink paranormal fiction, I thought coming here might be a positive move.

The day I picked up the keys to the house, this photo appeared on Google Earth. It’s of me and my friend Laura Daligan (the only person I knew in Glastonbury before moving here). An acquaintance of Laura's had posted it on her facebook page, having recognised her in the picture.

You may notice there’s something very odd about it. Laura and I are simultaneously at the side of the road, and in the middle of the road – in the same photo. Which possibly proves Schrodinger’s cat could actually be dead and alive at the same time (or hopefully, alive in two different places). 

By odd coincidence, I noticed today's Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day on twitter is 'fetch' - meaning  the distance a wave can travel unobstructedly, but also used to mean the wraithe, or double of a living person. Perhaps an alternative explanation for the photo is that Laura and I have ‘fetches’, or doppelgangers...

The same day I saw the Google Earth photo, artist friend Keone sent me an image of the painting I'd commissioned for my new home. I’d left the subject matter up to him, knowing that he would dream something interesting. I just wasn't expecting something so completely extraordinary.

It's an awe-inspiring vision of a powerful (and slightly terrifying) goddess of Avalon rising above Glastonbury Tor. And yes, gobbling the tower. And, er, possibly displaying her cosmic vagina. Don’t get me wrong, I love the painting – I'm just learning this landscape is more powerful than I realised.

In an attempt to get a more serious background to life in the town, I started reading an old English Heritage book on Glastonbury. It turned out to be a very dry, academic read, and the author was obviously no fan of myth or folklore. The only thing he had to say about all the local legends was that none of them could be proven and therefore they almost certainly weren’t true. In fact he went out of his way to rubbish them all, from the Abbey being King Arthur's last resting place, to the legend of Joseph of Arimathea's flowering staff, supposedly the original Glastonbury thorn. I got annoyed and gave up reading. Of course myths, like magic, are impossible to prove – but does that make them completely untrue?

I’d like to say Laura and I were searching for a portal to an alternate universe when the Google Earth picture was taken. Actually she was just showing me the short cut to Morrisons…

Magic is never how you expect it to be.

Lu Hersey

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

A Report from The Golden Anniversary of the FCBG Conference by Chitra Soundar

This year the Federation of Children’s Book Groups are celebrating a big anniversary and I was honoured to be invited to be on a panel with Lantana Publishing who are publishing my next two titles You’re Safe With Me and You’re Snug With Me, both illustrated by the very talented PoonamMistry.

The conference itself runs for three days, each year a different regional group organising it in conjunction with the national committee. I was invited for a panel event on the second day and I was a bit intimidated that we were going to follow James Mayhew and we will be the warm-up act for Jacqueline Wilson, the super-woman of children’s literature, especially writing stories that represent misfits and unique kids, like I was.

So I was proud to collect my badge which said speaker. And then I realised I knew quite a lot of people there, either because I’ve met them before at various school events or friends on Twitter or Facebook. 

We setup our presentation with the help of Stewart Jordan, the amazing theatre manager.

Our panel was made up of three women – Alice Curry, founder and publisher at Lantana Publishing, Mehrdokht Amini illustrator of two beautiful books with Lantana Publishing and yours truly, writer of You’re Safe With Me.

We discussed how books can span from local to global and the other way round and what does that mean to Mehrdokht and me as creators. We discussed how sometimes tensions will arise between commercial appeal in the western markets vs. the authenticity of the content. We also discussed how Alice makes choices for her list – which story, which culture and the creators.

The audience was made up of librarians, teachers and people who love books and they not only listened to us tell our stories, they laughed in the right places too.

They also had a hall full of publishers showcasing their books and I was proud to be on three tables – OtterBarry Books, MMS Publishing and Bounce representing all my books. There was also Brenda’s Bookshop and I got to sign advance copies of You’re Safe With Me. The illustrations by Poonam Mistry were a big hit and everyone could see how excited I was about the book.

It was my first FCBG conference and it was fun to be there on their Golden Anniversary. I got to listen to Dame Jacqueline Wilson speak and it was wonderful listening to the master. I got to meet so many other authors, friends from twitter and wonderful people of the book world. And yes there was cake!

Find out more about FCBG here: and find out about their conference here -

Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books for children. Find out more about You’re Safe With Me and all her new books at and follow her on twitter @csoundar

Monday, 16 April 2018

Event Report: Performance Skills Workshop with Cat Weatherill, by Claire Fayers

Thank you for booking the Society of Author’s Performance Skills Workshop. Please bring a short piece to read and a clean pair of socks.

Socks? Were we going to make sock puppets? Play sock-based storytelling games? Mystified, I packed my cleanest pair and set off to London.

That was my introduction to the performance skills workshop, run by storyteller and author Cat Weatherill. Of the eleven authors present, I wasn’t too surprised to find that many were children’s authors. Maybe it’s because we’re expected to get up and perform more often. As we puzzled over our neatly folded socks, we all agreed that performing doesn’t come naturally and we were all needed help. The workshop proved so helpful, in fact, that I decided to share the main points here.

Before we did anything else, Cat asked us to imagine our perfect performance. What could we see, hear, taste, feel? We so often imagine all the things that might go wrong. Taking some time to picture everything going right made a nice change. It's a useful exercise before a performance and can put us in the right frame of mind for success. It also helped us focus on what we wanted to get out of an event.

We all wanted similar things, it turned out. To feel relaxed, confident, in control; to connect with the audience so that we held their attention.

It’s all very well to say ‘be confident’, but how do you do it? There are ways of building your confidence, Cat told us. Confidence comes with experience, from belief in your content, from planning, from audience expectation (a good audience can work wonders), and most of all, from being in control.

So, take control of as much as possible. Make sure you’re fully prepared, find out as much as you can about the venue and audience. Of course there are some things we can never fully control – the technology, or the audience Q&A – but there is a lot that we can control.

This one came as a surprise to me. I have a naturally quiet voice and my biggest worry is that people won't hear me, so I tend to compensate by shouting at an audience. But, when we took in it turns to read in pairs, we found that speaking quietly and clearly carried just as well, if not better, than bellowing. It helps to use a mic, of course, and we all got to practice, taking it in turns to read while the rest of the group threw socks at us. (Yes, that’s what the sock were for!) If you can keep your head while all about you are hurling socks, then you can probably stay focussed through anything.

Once the socks were back in the bag, we moved on to thinking about engaging the audience. Their attention, it turns out, is bit like an egg.

We want to draw the audience into the centre of the egg where they’re fully immersed in the performance and time seems to fly. But all the time we are battling distractions - background noise, people talking and fidgeting and simply drifting off into their own thoughts. Keeping them engaged takes work - and this is where the five golden lanterns come in. 

When we write, it’s natural to think about how we engage our reader’s emotions, but I’d never thought about performances in the same way. When I've prepared events in the past, I've focussed on the information I need to get across - appealling to the audience's minds, maybe. But there's far more to a person than that, Cat explained, as the golden lanterns demonstrate. Above the head is the appeal to spirituality, then the mind, the heart, the belly (which is inspiration), and the groin (which we don’t really need to worry about for a children’s audience.)

The trick is to try and light up the different lanterns throughout our performance. I’ve just started preparing for my next book tour and I’m finding it very helpful to consider how I can appeal to different ‘lanterns.’ Something to make the audience think, something to make them laugh, something to make them believe in power of their own stories.

As an author, you are a unique and fascinating individual. You are the person that other people want to be. You have something special to offer.

I came away from the day almost believing that was true, and certainly believing I was a lot better at this than I’d previously imagined. There was so much information to absorb and practise, and it was fantastic to spend the day with other authors. If you ever get a chance to go on one of Cat's workshops, I thoroughly recommend it - she mentioned the possibility of a workshop specifically for picture book writers, so keep an eye out for that. Don’t forget your socks!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

I've run out of words ... by Rowena House

Having spent the past month writing blogs for my launch tour, containing pretty much everything I’ve got to say about writing my WW1 debut novel, The Goose Road, then curating them as they came out as guest blogs here, there & everywhere, and bouncing around Twitter & Facebook promoting the giveaways & shouting about sales (an Amazon No1 Bestseller for five days!) then wrapping up an amazing week with a wonderful party in chic Shoreditch on Friday night with a hugely talented group of friends, I don’t have any more words to say. I'll recover my ability to write by May - hopefully. Meanwhile here are some pictures from the party. THANK YOU to every reader, review, friend & relation who's helped to make this an amazing time.
Mara Bergman, my wonderful Walker editor, and Vanora Bennet, an amazing novelist and journalist with whom I worked at Reuters - and hadn't seen for a couple of decades!

With my dad and son at the lovely Caravanserail bookshop, in Cheshire St, London E2.

Caravanserail did us proud! A great book launch venue if you're looking...

Best writing buddy Eden Enfield (between son & husband) recommended the venue. None of this would've happened without her! And Liz MacWhirter came all the way from Scotland! Mwa. Her stunning historical debut, Black Snow Falling, will be out in August.

We rounded the evening off with dinner & more wine. That's my lovely agent Jane Willis in the middle (so, so pleased she made it after London Book Fair week!) and Jan & Lesley Carr. Hugs to  everyone who came, and many, many thanks too to Candy Gourlay for most of these photos.

Now to get back to the work-in-progress...
PS links to the launch blogs are on my website if you're interested.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Some Lyrical L's by Lynne Benton

PENELOPE LIVELY is a British writer of fiction for both children and adults.  Her first book, “Astercote”, was published in 1970, and she subsequently won both the Carnegie Medal (for “The Ghost of Thomas Kemp) in 1973 and the Booker Prize (for “Moon Tiger”) in 1987.  In 2012 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to literature.  She lives in London.

MADELEINE L’ENGLE was an American author whose name has suddenly come back into vogue with the recent film of her most famous book, “A Wrinkle in Time”.  During the 60s, 70s and 80s she wrote many other books for both adults and children, including others in the "Wrinkle" series about Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace, but this is the one most people know.  After more than thirty rejections “A Wrinkle in Time” was first published in 1962, and won her the Newbery medal in 1963.  She died in 2007.

HUGH LOFTING is probably best-known for his creation “Doctor Dolittle”.  Born in 1886, he became a civil engineer, for which he travelled a good deal.  Doctor Dolittle first appeared in his illustrated letters to his children, written in the trenches while serving in the British Army during the First World War.  He felt the news was too horrible to write about, so he invented a doctor who could talk to animals and wrote about him instead.  These stories later became a series of ten books, many of which have been adapted for film and television many times, for stage twice, and for radio too.  He wrote other books for children, but none achieved quite the fame of these.  After the war he moved his family to the US, where he died in 1947.

 ASTRID LINDGREN was a Swedish writer whose most famous creation was Pippi Longstocking, a girl she invented to amuse her daughter when she was ill.  Pippi appeared in a series of books, beginning in 1945, and became a great favourite with children all round the world.  In 1958 she received the second Hans Christian Andersen award for her book “Rasmus and the Vagabond”, but although she wrote many other books for children, it is her for her books about Pippi Longstocking that she will mainly be remembered.  By 2012 her books had been translated into 95 different languages.  She died in 2002 aged 94.

EDWARD LEAR, born in London in 1812, was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, but is known now mostly for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose and especially his limericks, a form he made popular.  In 1846 he published “A Book of Nonsense”, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form.  In 1871 he published “Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets”, which included his most famous nonsense song, “The Owl and the Pussycat”, which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed.  He died in Italy in 1888.

C. S. LEWIS, known as Jack, was born in Belfast in 1898, but moved to England to study at Oxford University in 1916, though he was quickly sent off to fight in the First World War.  Returning to Oxford after the war he completed his degree and was subsequently elected Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.  Among his fellow-tutor/writers there was J.R.R. Tolkein.  C.S. Lewis wrote many books for adults and children, but his most famous works for children are his Narnia Chronicles, beginning with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  He died in 1963.

 ANDREW LANG, born in 1844, was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology, but today he is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales.  Together with his wife, Leonora, he edited Lang’s Colour Fairy Books (eg the Blue Fairy Book, the Lilac Fairy Book etc.) which are still enjoyed today.  He died in Scotland in 1912.

URSULA LE GUIN was an American writer, one of several promising authors who first began to publish science fiction in 1962.  Her large volume of work is much admired by readers of science fiction and fantasy, both adults and children.  Her most successful fantasy novel for Young Adults, “The Wizard of Earthsea”, was published in 1968 and has not been out of print since.  She died in January 2018.

I hope you have enjoyed my selection of children's writers whose surnames begin with L.  Next time we're on to the M's, of which there are quite a few.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Great Revelations... Or Silly Notions? 14 drafts later... by Sheena Wilkinson

Earlier this week on ABBA, Keren David wrote a super post on outlining.  I read it with great interest as Keren and I often think alike on things – sometimes spookily so! It made me think about how I work.

When asked, I always say that I plan, write a terrible first draft and then revise and revise, sometimes quite drastically, and that is basically true.

Apart from when it isn’t.
my easiest writing experience
Star By Star, published in October 2017, was a commission, so I didn’t have to sell it on an outline. (Actually I have never sold ANYTHING on an outline, come to think of it, though I do write them for myself sometimes.) I love commissions – there’s the pressure there always is to get it right, but also the confidence of knowing the editor has asked for it and will publish it. The brief was wide and very much to my taste: We want a book about women voting in 1918, and the heroine has to be really strong. I was writing for my usual publishers Little Island, who know and trust me. Even so, it was a huge relief when they loved what I’d written. And that book came out more or less intact – there were changes between drafts, but nothing major.

The book I have just finished and delivered to my agent was completely different. It’s an adult historical novel, and I started it two years ago. I had to take nine months away from it to write Star By Star, which was no bad thing, as I abandoned the first draft having no idea how the book would end.
...and my hardest 

When I got back to it, I expected a Great Revelation to occur. It didn’t. It was very strange for me. I’m a planner, with a tendency towards pantsing when the characters get out of hand, which they sometimes do as I get to know them better, but I generally have an idea how it will end. Not in this case. The book eventually went through fourteen drafts – yes, fourteen, and every draft had a different ending. Great Revelations often revealed themselves, in the cold light of day, to be Silly Notions.

My agent didn’t see all fourteen drafts; I think she would have disowned me. She saw three, and in very case was able to give the advice that helped me get to a draft we were both happy with.

Why did it take fourteen drafts? I don’t know. It was a reasonably complex story I suppose, with three points of view. I love the new ending. I love the whole book, in fact, and though I got frustrated along the way, it was with myself, not with the characters or the story. There were no Great Revelations – the right ending was felt towards slowly and painfully, with many backward steps.

two editing notebook

And now it’s out there in the world, seeking its fortune, which is the really terrifying bit of the whole process. And I? I’m 30,00 words into a new adult novel. 100 years, two different timelines, stories connected in ways the readers, but not the characters know. What can possibly go wrong? At the moment I’m really confident about how it ends, but then last night, I was drifting off to sleep, I had a Great Revelation.

Or maybe a Silly Notion. I won’t know until I’ve written it. Hopefully not fourteen times.

 I didn't keep all 14 drafts: I would have had to  move house