Bookworm Blethers with….. Susi Briggs

I am delighted to welcome the very lovely Susi Briggs to today’s Bookworm Blethers. Thank you so much for joining us, Susi!

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Nip Nebs books!

Aside from being a children’s author in Scots language I am also a singer in a blues band. I founded Music Matters and lead interactive and inclusive music sessions in care homes.  Often these are inter-generational sessions where I bring wee tots and older folk together for fun.  During the pandemic these sessions had to stop and it has been really difficult to lose that. I look forward to the day when we can all gather again for music and fun.

I am a storyteller and often appear as Susi Sweet Pea the Fairy. I have a great love for playfulness and imagination. 

Nip Nebs was first written in 2011 after being told my stories had too much of a Scottish flavour.  A publisher told me that after they rejected an English story with the word “Wee” in it. They said they would publish my story if I would omit the “Scottish flavour. “

The main character was called The Wee Sleepy Sheepy.  In sheer defiance I decided to add more “flavour” to my writing for children and from that process Nip Nebs was born.

Nip Nebs was inspired by frosty childhood memories in our council house in the days before double glazing.  The magical way the frost and ice made my surroundings look like a fairy tale.  My friend and wonderful artist Ruthie Redden was inspired to paint and illustrate Nip Nebs.  It took another 6 years to complete and be discovered by the publisher Curly Tale Books.

  • Why do you think it is so important to have original books for children that are written in Scots?

 It seems rather illogical that for a nation to NOT have original books written in it’s native language.  Aside from Itchy Coo books there were no other publishers of Scots language books for weans at the time Nip Nebs was created.  Itchy Coo were supportive of my work but not in the position to publish anything new.  They were busy with their amazing translations of classic stories by Roald Dahl at the time.  The visibility and existence of Itchy Coo validated my desires to become a Scots language author for weans.

Many Scots speakers are not able to read and write in their own language which is scandalous. We are a clever people.  Many of us are bilingual at least and yet some would not never have even considered that.  Generations are only taught to read and write in English and so it is weird at first to see our words written down.  Generations were insidiously told to “Speak proper” which disconnected us from our words and in effect our cultural identity.  That is disempowering and damaging.  It created the “Scottish Cringe” and the sooner we get rid of that feeling the better for us.

I write in Scots because it is a beautiful melodic language to write in.  The more visibility Scots has the more validity we gain culturally.

  • You do so much to share and promote Scots, including the brilliant “Oor Wee Podcast” with Alan McClure. Would you like to tell us a wee bit about that and how that came about?

Alan and I have different main reasons for creating Oor Wee Podcast but the most common reason is to have fun!

Alan was inspired by Storyteller cassettes he listened to as a child. I was inspired by family members telling me stories as a child. In this digital age we wondered if there was a lack of storytellers in young peoples lives.  So, we thought we would come to them through a digital format and tell stories this way.

We have created it using Scots and English and the aim is to include guest contributions from folk who bide in Scotland, with various dialects or no dialect at all. We want to represent the voices that exist here as there is little representation of this in mainstream children’s content. 

Alan and I used to tell stories together back in the day as The Wee Folk Storytellers before he went off to become an amazing primary school teacher. We both went on to be published authors but never let go of the thought that we would regroup again somehow.  It feels right that we are creating content this way.

Alan has a keen interest in sound and audio production.  I have a keen interest in marketing and making that side o things happen. It is a positive collaboration which has personally brought us light in a very dark time.  The first set of episodes were created in lockdown and so we have had to make it by sending each other files over email and chatting over the phone to organise it.  Our first meeting about it was in his garden and sitting metres away from each other! Hopefully soon we can set up a proper studio and work on it live.

  • The Nip Nebs books are beautifully illustrated by Ruthie Redden.  How did that collaboration come about?

I think the story goes that Ruthie was intrigued by an event I had organised in 2011 and we arranged to have a coffee and a chat. The event was the Magikal Woodland Walk where I was creating a three-dimensional interactive storytelling experience. Ruthie loves folklore and was intrigued by my shenanigans as Susi Sweet Pea the Fairy.  Her art is enchanting, and we became friends instantly.  Shortly after that I had written Nip Nebs and I showed it to her in a café in my town. She loved it and wanted to paint and illustrate the story.  Six years later we were in the same café meeting the publishers to discuss terms of getting the book ready.

  • Where do you get your inspiration from?

Nature and landscape are my biggest inspirations.  Children inspire me too.  I dip into my own childhood memories for inspiration too.  Phrases pop up and inspire stories as well.

Nip Nebs was inspired by things my parents told me about Jack Frost painting the windaes and nipping my taes. Nip Nebs and The Last Berry was inspired by hearing birds “fighting” inside a berry laden bush and I thought – I bet they all want the same berry! The last lines of that story are what my mother used to tell us children if we did not share nicely.

My other stories such as Igor and Aggie Bash are childhood memories.  My father refers to the big scary looking house spiders as Igor and he would pretend they were talking to me so I would not be so scared of them.  Aggie Bash is a pet name my mother and Papa used to call me. I thought it would be a fun name for a witch character.   Huffy the Heron is inspired by the phrase “Whit’s fer ye will no gaun by ye” which is a phrase I find great comfort in. 

  • What is the best part about being a writer?  What are the challenges?

I love seeing the reactions from folk when I share something new with them.  I love to hear how it makes them feel or think. I am always intrigued by that.  Writing for weans is brilliant because you get real honesty from them and that is something you should never take for granted.

The challenges of writing in Scots is that there are people who still look down their noses at it and sometimes you get abuse online for using it.  My Scots audio story for BBC Scotland’s website had a couple of politically motivated trolls being nasty about it on Twitter because I was using Scots language to tell the story.  I have had to kick trolls like that out of online Zoom Author events as well because they kept interrupting and asking ignorant questions and mocking my Scots voice. 

 Also, not all publishers are open to taking submissions in Scots especially for weans.  I have worked very hard in not just creating new content but trying to push down barriers along with other Scots language advocates to be able to create in our own language.

I feel very blessed to be in the position I am in now and I refuse to give up.  My love for writing in Scots is deeply embedded and it will not go away just because of a few trolls!

  • What books or authors did you love as a child? 

I love Roald Dahl books and occasionally return to them for my own pleasure as a grown up.  I enjoyed reading a lot as a child.  I may have read The Twits more than 50 times since I was 8 years old.

  • What current children’s books/authors would you recommend? 

I know I may be bias because he is a good dear friend but honestly, I would recommend Alan McClure – his first book Callum and The Mountain is in my top ten books to recommend.  

If we are talking about Scots language books for weans – The Eejits Matthew Fitt (Translation of The Twits Roald Dahl). The Tale o the Wee Mowdie translation by Matthew McKie is hilarious.   I also love King o the Midden and Blethertoun Braes edited by James Roberston and Matthew Fitt.  I remember reading those last two books around the time I decided I would write in Scots for children.

  • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

I am a notebook fiend! Always have been.  When I didn’t have a notebook to write in I would make them with string and scraps of paper in the house. I was always getting told off for leaving paper lying around.  I have always loved writing though I did not really consider it as that until I got to High School.  My English teacher Mr Glanton was an amazing teacher who really nurtured that in me.  It was a joy to meet up with him a few years ago and give him my book for his grandchild.

  • How important do you think it is for children to develop a love of reading for pleasure?

I think it is extremely important as reading can help you access worlds and experiences that can bring great healing and wisdom for you to develop.

Roald Dahl’s words in The Twits always stayed with me – about having beautiful thoughts and they will shine out of your face and you will always be beautiful.  I am paraphrasing (perhaps badly) but it is a well-known excerpt of the book where he is describing Mrs Twit and how ugly she is.  I do my best to think beautiful thoughts as I do not want to end up like Mrs Twit!

I read Maya Angelou’s books in my teens.  Her story and experience gave me a deep sense of peace and wisdom that I dip into in times of crisis and sorrow.  I read her books again during the pandemic and it helped me to foster courage and hope.

It is important to develop a love for reading early on.  Stories can heal and that is important to have access to that all through your life if you can.

We want the children to access stories to learn stuff.  If a child is not keen on reading – for whatever reason – encourage them to tap into stories in some other way.  Stories exist in many different formats such audio visual (film, tv) and audio (someone else tells the story, recorded cassettes, podcasts). 

You can find out more about Nip Nebs and Oor Wee Podcast here:

www.nipnebs.com

oorweepodcast.podiant.co

Follow Susi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusiBriggs1

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Bookworm Blethers with…… Erin Hamilton

I am delighted to welcome today’s Bookwork Blethers’ guest, book blogger Erin Hamilton. Have a read and make sure you follow her fabulous blog!

I began blogging in late 2018 and it was all down to my obsession with all things children’s literature.  I had been reading children’s books, using them in my role as Reading Advocate/Librarian, and sharing them at home with my own children.  I had also started reviewing for Armadillo Magazine and realised there was much more I could do to share the love of children’s books.  It was scary starting out and I doubted anyone would read my blog or care about my opinions but I did it anyway.  I try new features, add in guest content and take part in plenty of blog tours to keep it fresh and up to date!

  • What do you enjoy most about blogging?  What are the challenges?

Blogging can be time consuming and I think this is my greatest challenge.  Working full time, raising a family and having other commitments means I am not always able to spend the time I want on my blog. When I do get the time, I love moving things around, changing the layout and trying to find the words to describe a book.  One other challenge I have found is that I go through reading slumps and feel an incredible guilt at ignoring books and my blog.  What I do love about blogging is the relationships that have grown through books and blogging.  Through chatting to publicists, other bloggers and twitter book chats, the children’s book world is a rich and entirely positive place to be.

  • What books or authors did you love as a child?

I grew up in Canada and loved Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables and Judy Blume.  It wasn’t until I moved to the UK in 2009 that I was introduced to Roald Dahl and reading his books sparked my interest in reading more.  Using my children as a guise, we would spend longer in the children’s section of book stores and we never left those sections.

  • I know you will have many, so which current children’s /YA books do you think everyone needs to read?

You are right in knowing that I will have plenty of recommendations.  I am going to choose 3 firm favourites- books that have stayed with me- long after putting them down.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jacob Wegelius

Bloom by Nicola Skinner

Mr Penguin series by Alex T Smith

  • Did you always want to be involved with books? What was your favourite subject at school?

I was always a bookworm growing up and I fondly remember hours spent browsing books at the library with my Mum.  My whole family are bookworms and I am trying to pass that love of books to my own children.  In school, I loved art and English.  I also loved geography and a subject we used to call Social Studies which was a mix of history, culture and anthropology.  I found it fascinating.

  • How important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

I think it is vital that we provide as many opportunities as possible for children and teens to develop this love. Through our own love of books, we can help find the one that might spark this love!  Playing devil’s advocate, I am cautious to force this love too much.  I try to offer support, advice and guidance but to also know when to give the person space to make their own choices!  It’s tough but worth it if you have had any impact on their reading.

Thank you so much for joining today’s Bookworm Blethers, Erin! It was a pleasure reading your answers. You can follow Erin and her blog by checking out the links below.

Twitter: @erinlynhamilton

Instagram: Erinlynhamilton

Website: https://myshelvesarefull.com/

Bookworm Blethers with….. Alex Cotter

Good morning and a very warm welcome author, Alex Cotter, whose debut MG novel, The House on the Edge is out in July. Thank you so much for joining us Alex!

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a published author.

Hello and thanks for having me! I’m Alex Cotter and my debut MG novel comes out in July. Born in Luton, raised across northern England (shout-out to Sheffield especially!), I now live near Bath with my family.

I’ve had a zig-zag of an author journey. I decided aged seven to become a writer, but I’m not sure anyone heard. So, instead, I went into any job that involved words: bookselling, book PR and now, lots of copywriting. I’ve written stories all my life and had two YA novels published a while back, but this – debuting into the MG world, feels like home.

  • Your debut MG novel, The House on the Edge comes out in July.  What is it about?

It’s about Faith who lives with her family in an old house perched on a crumbling cliff top. Her dad’s disappeared, her mum won’t get out of bed and a crack has appeared in the cliff – and Faith’s struggling to keep their lives afloat. Meanwhile, Faith’s little brother becomes more obsessed with the sea ghosts he claims live in the basement. Until he disappears as well. It’s a story about grief and loss and learning to trust people again – as well as the power of friendship.

  • Where does your inspiration come from when you are writing?

Oh, all over the shop! I love visiting museums and exhibitions (virtually right now!) – I find historical objects and real life tales can often trigger an idea. But other stories are also the best inspiration – fiction, non-fiction, films and plays. My two children (now teens) and their friends are a great source too!

  • What is the best part about being a writer?  What are the challenges?

Living in your imagination and connecting with all kinds of wonderful people is definitely the best! Structural editing can be challenging – working out where all the puzzle pieces fit and ohhh, where’s that piece gone, don’t tell me it’s missing – can be especially hard!

  • What books or authors did you love as a child?

I grew up on your usual diet of Dahl, Blyton and Nesbit, before having a BIG thing for Judy Blume. I also loved Joan Aiken and the brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin.

  • What current children’s books / authors would you recommend?  

So many, too many! I devour anything Katherine Rundell writes, Fleur Hitchcock is a true master of mystery and I fell in love with ‘Midnight Guardians’ by Ross Montgomery. I also just recently read the fabulous ‘Shark Caller’ by Zillah Bethell and I’m about to feast on Nizrana Farook’s latest (her ‘The Girl Who Stole and Elephant’ is gorgeous!)

  • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

Yes, writing has long been my place of safety and solace, alongside reading. But at school, I’d say History was my favourite – mainly because of the stories, so it ran closely with English. PE was without a doubt the worst (ah, picked last again, Alex?)

  • How important do you think it is for children to develop a love of reading for pleasure?

Oh, I think reading is essential throughout your life – for empathy, for understanding, for being able to think outside your own viewpoint. But it’s also about being entertained and thrilled and distracted by something that has a long-lasting, healthy effect on your brain and wellbeing!

You can find out more by following Alex on social media and checking out her website.

Twitter: @AlexFCotter

Instagram:@alexcotterwrites

Website : www.alexcotter.co.uk/

Duck Feet by Ely Percy

Published by Monstrous Regiment Publishing

Young Adult (I would say 14/15 years + as a guide. Note that it does contain some strong language and mature content)

This is a book that has been on my radar for a while. It is a Young Adult novel that explores the critical challenges and joys of teenage life told through the eyes of Kirsty, from when she starts high school as a 12 year old until she sets out into the world after she finishs sixth year. Set in Renfrew and Paisley, it is written in Scots and was a recipient of the 2020 Scots Language Publication Grant from the Scottish Book Trust.

As Kirsty and her friends make their precarious journey through high school, they face some tough challenges. Bullying, drink, drugs, sexuality, teenage pregnancy and violence are all explored through the eyes of those involved. Ely tackles it all beautifully and writes in a way that is never cliched or judgemental, just honest and true.

For me it is the characters that make Duck Feet the slice of genius that it is. They are written with such warmth, understanding and honesty that you are desperte to hear more about their stories and their perspectives. Every character was written with such authenticity, wit and truth that I found even the smaller characters fascinating.

Duck Feet is a book so vivid that I’d love to see Kirsty and her friends brought to life on screen. Ely captures the essence of Scottish working class teenage life perfectly while embracing universal issues that affect teenagers across the world, making it a book with global appeal.

Duck Feet is a fiercely powerful, fearless, honest portrayal of teenage life in working class Scotland. Funny, emotional, relatable and very real. With Duck Feet, Ely Percy has brought us a stunningly brilliant book that doesn’t skirt around some pretty big issues, but does so with charm, honesty and warmth. This is a book about hope, about overcoming challenges and about discovering who you are and where you are meant to be.

I cannot express how much I absolutely loved this book. A perfect exploration of high school life that should find place on everyone’s bookshelf and in every high school library.

You can find out more and to order Duck Feet have a wee look at the links below.

Twitter:

@decenthumanbean

@MonstrousRgmt

Websites:

https://www.elypercy.com/

https://linktr.ee/monstrousrgmt

Bookworm Blethers with…… Beth Walker

I am very pleased to welcome debut novelist Beth Walker to Saturday’s Bookworm Blethers! Have a wee read and enjoy!

  • Tell us a little bit about your debut novel, Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me?

Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me is a rather bonkers spy story for 7-11 year olds, where the main character, chocolate milk loving 10 year old Freddy Spicer, has no idea his parents are actually international secret agents. All Freddy wants is to make friends at his new school and for his parents to come home in time for his birthday. The story is entirely told through letters and other documents (such as newspaper articles) so the reader has to do the job of detective to piece together the story. There’s lots of silly spy shenanigans and a huge number of sprouts!

  • What has been your journey to becoming a writer? 

I can’t quite believe I am a writer – it’s so exciting! I have always loved writing but chose to study History and then worked as a teacher before becoming a Museum Educator. That job involved a great deal of story telling and when I lost my job (which also coincided with having children) I realised that I missed telling stories and that I had the opportunity to create my own. I, very fortunately, stumbled on the Writing for Children course at City Lit with the amazing Lou Kuenzler. I started out being particularly interested in writing picture books and secured my lovely agent (Jo Williamson) as a PB writer – but she encouraged me to try writing for older children and Chocolate Milk is a result of that.

  • You have a picture book coming out too. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? 

Yes! In July I have a picture book coming out with Walker Books. It’s called Do Lions Hate Haircuts? and is being beautifully illustrated by Stephanie Laberis. As the title suggests, it’s about a lion who is rather fussy about his haircut. His quest for a decent hairdresser teaches him lessons about friendship and sharing, as well as letting him try out many bonkers barnets and crazy coifs!

  • Are you working on a particular writing project at the moment?

I do have something in the pipeline but it’s a bit too early to say anything more!

  • What books or authors did you love as a child?

I loved books about boarding schools (much to my parents’ worry) so I was a big fan of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and the Trebizon series by Anne Digby. I also adored ‘old’ books like Pollyanna, What Katy Did and Emily of New Moon. When I got a bit older, I was quite influenced by what my older brothers were reading and really enjoyed the Dirk Pitt adventures by Clive Cussler.

  • What current children’s/YA books / authors would you recommend?  

I have a Year 3 daughter and am regularly recommending books and authors to her friends’ parents – I have a steady diet of Middle Grade funny books so my recommendations always include Andy Stanton, Alex T Smith and Emer Stamp. My favourite book of the last year was Knight Sir Louis by the Brothers McLeod – I can’t wait for the sequel.

  • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

I did always love to write but it never dawned on me that I could become a writer. When I was at school, careers officers seemed to struggle to give any kind of advice to students interested in the arts. To be honest, I was quite an all-rounder at school but Art and English were probably my best subjects. I wish I’d studied something like Illustration but I had some amazing experiences working in museums and I am very happy so can’t regret my life choices too much!

  • How important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

It’s so important! Everyone should be able to find something they enjoy to read because absolutely anything counts, whether that is reading comic books, doorstop-sized classics or the phone book. Children should not feel judged for their reading choices, otherwise reading becomes an obligation. However they come to it, if children develop a love of reading for pleasure, they are more likely to become more adventurous with their choices and continue to read throughout their lives. If Chocolate Milk can help start anyone on that journey, it would be the most incredible thing.

Thank you so much for joining us Beth. I cannot wait to read Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me ! It sounds wonderful!

You can follow Beth on Twitter: @BethanyWWriter

Bookworm Blethers with….. Anne Ngabia

I am very excited to welcome school librarian, Anne Ngabia, to Bookworm Blethers! Read on for a fascinating chat and some great recommendations.

  • Can you introduce yourself to us?

I am currently the school librarian at Grangemouth High School and at The Braes High School in Falkirk area. I have been working between the two schools for the last 3 ½ years, and at Grangemouth only for the previous 6 years.

My job is to encourage young people to read for pleasure, to show pupils how to research using books and the internet, and to help staff to find resources. I also help with primary 7 transitions, and get to visit the cluster primary schools at both of my high schools, where I go to tell stories or talk about the library and about reading. I also promote the library throughout school so that everyone knows how great the library is and what it can do for them.

 I get to think up fun events which entice pupils to want to read! Because I have lived overseas I want young people to be encouraged to have an understanding of places and people outside of Scotland. We Celebrate Africa at Grangemouth High School every year, where we have African visitors telling stories, playing music, eating food dancing and more! At The Braes we have had a refugee in to school who talked to pupils about the reality of being a refugee- this working with the Humanities department.

Before this I worked in Canada in a wee town called Slave Lake, where I looked after 3 public libraries. Before that I lived and worked in Kenya for 12 years, creating community libraries in slum and rural areas in Kenya. I actually set up my own wee charity in Kenya called KidsLibs Trust.

 When in Kenya I learned about the plight of girls and about poverty- real poverty. I learned about racism, about privilege and about the importance of a pair of sandals (what we call flip flops). I learned the real importance of community libraries, education, and the importance of books.

 I also lived in Papua New Guinea, and helped to make a library there. Before that I was a children’s librarian in England, discovering authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, and Madeline L’Engle- who I still love!

  • What books do you love to share?

My favourite thing about my current job is getting to recommend books to young people- and seeing their faces when they enjoyed a book! This is even more fun when I recommend a book that I enjoyed when I was growing up! I loved all of The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, A Little Princess, by Francis Hodgson Burnett: The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, Heidi, by Johanna Spyri and of course all the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne -including the poetry books!

While I was living overseas, I learned a lot of new, exciting authors from other countries, for example Garth Nix (Old Kingdom series, which I actually discovered in South Africa with Sabriel!)  and Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn series) from Australia . Since returning to the UK I have been able to discover new Y.A. authors! Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori series, Alice Broadway’s Ink series and more recently I have discovered the joys of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynold’s books in verse.

  • Did you always want to work with books? What subjects did you love at school?

When I was at school I planned to be a speech therapist! All of my subjects for A levels were chosen around that career choice. They were not all the subjects I liked best though! I actually loved Music, Art and French!! As time ticked on, I never heard from my first choice universities so I thought, “I like reading why not be a librarian”? I hadn’t a clue what the job actually was! As it turned out, it was the best thing EVER!!

  • How important is it for children and young people to develop a love of reading for pleasure?

As a librarian, part of my job is to pass on my love of reading.  When I grew up I often was often alone: so I read. I escaped into other lands and worlds through my books and never felt alone. Reading for pleasure gives you somewhere else to go! It gives you a love of finding out too and wanting to know more! Reading also improves your vocabulary – my English teachers always commented on this at school! Words equal power!

 If you can read and use words, the whole World can be yours!!

Twitter:

GrangemouthHSLibrary: @GHSlibrGHSLibr

BraesHighSchLibrary: @BraesHSLibrary

Thanks so much for joining us, Anne! I loved hearing about your vast library experience.

Bookworm Blethers with…… Charlotte Taylor

So excited to introduce today’s Bookworm Blethers guest, Charlotte Taylor, aka Broken Twigs. Charlie is one of the most positive and inspiring folk out there. Have a read and follow Broken Twigs’ journey.

  • Tell us a little bit about your first book, Broken Twigs: Farewell to Faerie Forest.

The first book in the Broken Twigs series introduces the reader to my feisty main character, Twigs…a broken soul who is determined to believe that she is much happier on her own. She spends her days causing mischief, and she doesn’t care how much her poor behaviour impacts on others; that is, until it results in her finding herself very much alone and scared, wandering through the dark forest far from home. This book is all about being offered a true hand of friendship, and how we are not meant to journey through this life all on our own.

  • I really looking forward to finding out what happens to Twigs in the next instalment, Realm of the Thunderbird. When is it out and can you give us a wee peek into what happens in book 2?

I am so excited to publish the next book in the series! It is ready to be illustrated, and I am hoping that it will be released this summer. Having escaped through the magical portal, Twigs and Thistle find they have entered the thunderbird’s realm, but everything is ravaged as if a great storm has devastated the area. There is a disturbing lack of foliage, which causes great concern (for the magical doorways only exist in special trees), and in their search for a way home, they discover some hideaways who are desperate for help. The friends must dig deep to find their courage in order to survive the never-ending assault on this land.

I’m currently reading a chapter a week of Realm of the Thunderbird LIVE on my Facebook page @bumbleHQ if you’d like any further sneak peeks!!

  • I’ve said to you before, it has been lovely watching Twigs’ journey to becoming a published story. Where did your inspiration for the character of Twigs come from?

Twigs came into existence very organically: she has been my classroom fairy for 9 years, and she causes much mischief and mayhem at school too! But, she also gifts little sticks to children who are feeling particularly sad or lonely. When they come into class, there is always a little cry of excitement as they find her gift left discreetly on their chair! Over the years the children always asked me what adventures Twigs had when she wasn’t with us, and so I decided to start writing them down…and thus my Broken Twigs series was born. The name was inspired not only by the broken twigs she leaves the children, but also because, as I mentioned earlier, she is an incredibly broken and lonely soul despite her best efforts to argue otherwise.

I love to think that the whole series will show children that even the most broken things can be put back together to be even more beautiful than before.

I also hope that Twigs will ignite a cultural curiosity in children as they learn, through her, about different legends and myths from less well-known cultures of our amazing world. They will learn of thunderbirds and tokoloshes, Icelandic trolls and Welsh fairies, Scottish kelpies and Asian bakus, and so many more. And as children journey through the series with Twigs, they will also see her learn how to become the best version of herself by embracing positive values: friendship, courage, forgiveness, teamwork, responsibility, empathy, and so on. There are many layers to this series!!

  • What is the best part about being an author?

One of the best parts of being an author is putting my imagination down on paper for others to enjoy. I truly love that! Many of us have ideas rattling around inside our heads, but quite often our confidence doesn’t match our aspirations. Until one day, it does. That morning when you wake up and realise your dream will never come true if you remain too fearful to take the leap. That feeling in your heart as you realise you really have nothing to lose. That you have all of these amazing people around you, rooting for you, and you feel proud of yourself for believing in yourself and going for it. Becoming an author has helped me to become a better version of myself – Twigs is on an adventure, but so too am I!!

Another incredible part is connecting with other like-minded individuals who share my love and passion for books and great story-telling. I have learned so much from the writing community, especially on Twitter, and my writing is better for it. I have also developed some really lovely friendships. It has been incredible to witness so many kind hearts, who are willing to take you as you are and lift you up to celebrate your successes and comfort you in any failures. People used to tell me that being a writer was such a solitary pursuit, but I beg to differ. Becoming an author has introduced me to a whole new, positive community of many thousands of people. It’s fantastic.

  • What books or authors did you love as a child?

Soooooooooooooooo many!! My two favourites, though, will always be The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper, and The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea. Both of these stories/authors ignited my love of fantasy fiction.

  • What recent children’s books have your read that you would recommend?

The girls and I are currently reading The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency by L. D. Lapinski and we’ve enjoyed several books by Abi Elphinstone. We loved Lindsay Littleson’s Guardians of the Wild Unicorns (and her new book looks great too!) We have decided that the next story we will read from our TBR shelf is Kieran Larwood’s The Legend of Podkin One-Ear. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is also a great read. Finally, I have great affection for the Journey trilogy by Aaron Becker – these books are particularly inspiring for children who struggle with the mechanics of word-decoding, as the beautiful story is told entirely through illustration. I would definitely love to add some more indie children’s books to our collection in the near future.

  • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

Reading and Writing were always my favourites. For as long as I can remember, I have loved creating my own worlds. Throughout my childhood, I could always be found snuggled in some corner with my nose in a book!

  • As a writer and teacher, how important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

Oh it is incredibly important. It makes me so sad when children tell me that they don’t like reading. I am making it my mission to amend that through Twigs, my curriculum mapping, and through my picture books for older children.

I am passionate about highlighting the fact that we live in such a visual world nowadays, and that books tend to lose out to video games and iPads because of the general consensus in the (traditional) industry that older children don’t require pictures in the books they read. From asking the children I teach, the two main things that do put them off enjoying the books they explore are

  • the lack of visual prompts in the texts they read, and
  • the smallness of the font used.

That is why Twigs has been published as she has been…to meet all of the criteria identified by educators as essential for older children to develop their reading skills (particularly vocabulary and inference), but also to give a nod to the children’s voice and to give them what they hope for visually in a book. Listening to the children, and acting upon it, while facilitating the development of the all-important reading skills will undoubtedly lead to many more children reading for pleasure

Thank you for an absolutely fantastic chat, Charlie. Wonderfully inspiring stuff.

To find out more:

Twitter          @BrokenTwigs2020

Facebook      @bumbleHQ

Instagram     broken.twigs

Website: www.charlotteltaylor.com (for the free activity sheets linked to book 1)

If people want to ask me anything: broken.twigs20@gmail.com

Bookworm Blethers with….. Robert J Harris

I am delighted to welcome the fabulous author, Robert J Harris, to today’s Bookworm Blethers. Enjoy the chat!

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.

My wife Debby was a published author before me. At that time I was mainly involved with my very successful board game Talisman. It was our friend and legendary American author Jane Yolen who prodded me into writing, first with short stories then eight novels we wrote together for teens. My first solo novels were a pair of historical teen adventures, then there was a gap when I couldn’t get a book published. The turnaround came when Floris/Kelpies took my comic novel The Day the World Went Loki. I have had a new novel out every year since then. I am currently writing my fourth adventure novel for grownups for Birlinn/Polygon.

  • I really love the Artie Conan Doyle books.  Where do you get your inspiration from for your stories?

I have been an enthusiastic reader from on early age and found visits to my local library quite magical. I am inspired by the things I have read over the years and feel I am carrying on a particularly Scottish tradition of great adventure stories. The Artie Conan Doyle series gave me a new way to tell Sherlock Holmes type stories, taking inspiration from Doyle while adding something new of my own. Another inspiration was my favourite mystery writer John Dickson Carr, the master of the impossible crime. It was his novels that inspired the ‘impossible’ crimes featured in the Artie series.

  • What is the best part about being a writer?  What are the challenges?

It’s wonderful to take the stories I have swirling about in my mind and turn them into books everyone can enjoy. Every new novel that comes out is an absolute thrill. It’s nice to be able to set my own hours, but I do try very hard to keep to a strict writing routine. I very much enjoy being able to visit schools, to share stories with children and put on mini-plays with them to enthuse them about storytelling.

The most challenging aspect of being a writer is toughing through those periods when nobody wants anything you have written. I’ve been ‘dead’ as an author twice, but have persevered and have been continuously in print for about ten years now.

  • What books or authors did you love as a child?

I read Enid Blyton, of course – the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and the Finder Outers. My favourite of hers, however, was called Tales of Brave Adventure, in which she retold the tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Another book I reread often was called Tales of Gods and Heroes, which was a book of Norse mythology. I loved the science fiction novels of John Christopher, the space adventures of Captain WE Johns, and my all time favourite was Thunderbolt of the Spaceways by Hereward Olson which was published a year before I was born. I still reread that from time to time.

  • What current children’s books / authors would you recommend?

  • Red Fever by Caroline Clough
  • Walking Mountain by Joan Lennon
  • Slugboy Saves the World by Mark A Smith
  • Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson
  • Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes
    • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

    Even at primary school I was writing stories and making comics. I produced my own funny magazine. There was only one hand-made copy with all text and art by me, and this was passed around the class so everybody could read it. I think it got up to nearly 20 issues.Probably history was my favourite subject. I have written quite a few historical novels as a result.

    • As a writer, how important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

    I think reading expands the mind and the soul and allows you to see the world in many different ways. Every good book I read enriches me as a person and a writer.

    Thank you so much for joining us for today’s Bookworm Blethers, Bob! I will need to catch up with some more of your books and some great recommendations too! Find out more by having a look at the links below.

    Website:  www.harris-authors.com

    Twitter:  @RobertJ_Harris

    Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/RobertJHarrisAuthor

    Quantum Fridge Comedy Podcast, written and produced by Bob Harris and Alan McFadzean:  http://www.quantumfridge.org.uk/

    Photo courtesy of Kirsty Nicol

    Bookworm Blethers with…. Linda Strachan

    A huge welcome to today’s guest, Linda Strachan!

    • Tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.

    I live in a pretty village in the south east of Scotland, not too far from Edinburgh. I started writing when my youngest of three children was at the top of primary school, and once I had discovered I could write and get my stories published it was like someone opened the floodgates; so many stories and so many ideas. So far I’ve had over 70 books published for a variety of ages.

    There are 9 books and a few short stories in the series about my cuddly friend Hamish McHaggis; a loveable haggis with animal friends, a pine marten, a hedgehog and an osprey. They have adventures all over Scotland in their vehicle the Whirry Bang. What is lovely about the series is that so many families have taken it to heart, not just in Scotland but all over the world. Some have written to tell me they took their children to all the places in the Hamish books, and there are free teacher’s resources for the Hamish books and now many schools use the books for a wide range of topics. 

    I’ve written educational books that are used in schools all over the world and a middle grade historical fact-fiction book – The Dangerous Lives of the Jacobites – which allowed me to spend time with the characters in 1745 as well as doing lots of research on the lives of people at that time.

    For young adults I wrote three gritty crime novels, about stealing cars, knife crime and fire starting (Arson). I recall when the first of these, Spider, came out I was concerned whether I could write convincingly from the viewpoint of a teenage boy, so I was delighted when it won the Catalyst Book Award which was judged by the readers YA themselves, and it was also shortlisted for several others.

    For adults: The Writers & Artists Guide to Writing for Children and YA came out at the end of 2019 and is a much revised and extended version of one I wrote in 2008. So much has changed in children’s publishing since then and the original had very little on writing YA, so I was delighted to have to opportunity to do a major rewrite and I am always delighted to hear that it is often on the recommended reading list for many creative writing courses..

    I’ve been a published writer for over 20 years and I love inspiring people to read and to write. My writing has also given me the opportunity to travel widely here in the UK and abroad, presenting my books and running workshops at festivals. conferences, schools and libraries for adults and children. I even did a tour of New Zealand with the NZ Book Council

    • You have written for all ages.  Do you have a favourite group to write for?

    I love the flexibility in writing for children and YA that allows a writer to write for various age groups and in any genre. I don’t really have a particular favourite they are all challenging areas and readership, and so different.

     I think it really depends on the idea and the way I want to tell the story that shows me who it’s best suited to; whether it could be a picture book, MG or YA.

    • What is the best part about being a writer?  What are the challenges?

    I love writing. I never know where ideas come from but I don’t think I will ever have enough time to write all the stories I have ideas for and I love it when I get lost in a story, living with my characters.

    One of the more difficult things is sending out a book I have worked on with characters I love, and waiting to see whether people love it too, and get as excited about it as I am.

    I also love to challenge myself to see whether I can write in a different genre, or a different style of book or article. I enjoy the variety, looking at different ways to tell a story. I enjoy sharing my love of writing and my experience to help new writers.

    As a children’s writer there is often an expectation to do lots of events, workshops and school visits, and although I do enjoy that side of things sometimes finding the time and space in my head to write is hard when there are so many writing commitments in the diary. They can take up so much time and energy. It is all about finding the right balance.

    • What books or authors did you love as a child?

    I loved adventure stories and I was a huge fan of Narnia when I was young; the idea that you could climb into a wardrobe and come out in another world was so exciting. I think that led to my love of fantasy and science fiction.

    • What current children’s/YA books / authors would you recommend?  

    That is difficult, there are so many wonderful writers. When I was researching the latest children’s and YA books for my W & A writing guide I read so many books for all ages, and it occurred to me that we can become obsessed by the very latest books coming out and some that have been out a year or two often slip through with not enough notice. I loved the Scarlett Thomas’ WorldQuake a middle grade fantasy series that starts with Dragon’s Green; Will Hill’s – After the Fire; Catherine Johnson’s Race To The Frozen North; Anthony McGowan’s Lark; Jo Cotterill’s Jelly;  Katherine Rundell’s Into the Jungle -Stories for Mogli;.Picture books The Rabbit The Dark and the Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne; Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival. I could go on and on, there are so many it’s difficult to choose.

    • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

    This year I’ll have been a published writer for 25 years and I’ve written over 70 books for all ages from picture books to Young adult novels and a guide to Writing for Children. When I was at school, if someone had told me I’d be writing that sentence I’d never have believed them. It had never occurred to me that it was something people did as a job. I’d never met a writer and no one I knew wrote at all, so it was not even on my radar as a possibility.

    I had a teacher at age 7 who wrote on my school report that I ‘lacked imagination’ and I think I wore that as a badge for years – it had to be right, the teacher said so – But I loved art and music at school and I still like to draw and paint, and occasionally play the piano and guitar – but just for myself, to relax.

    • How important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

    I think it is incredibly important, in fact I’ve just been writing a blog for the CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) about the Power of Story. https://blog.educationplatform.co.uk/2021/03/17/the-power-of-story/

    Reading helps build empathy, it is wonderful escapism and gives us a window on the whole world, a chance to see other’s lives and opens us up to experiences and possibilities.

    What could be more important than showing a child there is so much more out there than their own experience and opening up the idea that other people think differently and have different experiences, and that is not only okay but it’s wonderful and fascinating.

    My website www.lindastrachan.com 

    Twitter @strachanlinda   

    YouTube channel: Linda Strachan Author: https://www.youtube.com/user/wordsmithshe/videos

    Thank you for joining us for a great chat, Linda!

    Bookworm Blethers with….. Joan Haig

    Welcome to today’s wonderful Bookworm Blethers with author Joan Haig.

    • By way of an introduction, could you tell us a wee bit about yourself?

    First of all, I am delighted to be here – thanks for having me! Let’s see… I live in the Scottish Borders with my family surrounded by rolling fields and ancient hill forts, but I was born and grew up in Zambia. When I was turning teen, my parents (both teachers) moved us to a paradise island in Vanuatu. From there, my sister and our trunks landed in a boarding school for girls in Scotland (quelle horreur!). I’ve since lived in India, Nigeria, back in Zambia, and for most of my grown-up life, Scotland. I’m a mum, a part-time academic, a rotten cook and I can’t sing in tune. And though I love racquet- and water-based sports, I’m still searching for a form of exercise at which I will excel.

    • Your novel, Tiger Skin Rug, has had the most brilliant reception and reviews. Where did your inspiration for the story come from?

    That’s kind of you to say, Kirsty. The idea for Tiger Skin Rug came from my aunt, who was the best storyteller this side of Jupiter. She had been privately plotting a book about a magical tiger-skin rug for a long time, but it was lost to dementia before she told it to us or wrote anything down. When I decided to scribble something for my own children, her idea – a flying carpet tiger! – felt like a gift to rewrap and pass on to them.

    • You were the editor of the Stay at Home anthology that was published last year. It included the most wonderful selection of authors. How did that all come about?

    It came from a shared desire to thank children for all their rainbows, soapsuds and sacrifices – and from a month of hard work! I woke up with the larks one morning and sent a rambling email of ideas for some sort of lockdown collection to Anne Glennie at Cranachan Publishing. By the end of that day, she had jollied it all into shape and we were contacting people for help. Lindsey Fraser – literary agent and consultant extraordinaire – was immensely supportive.

    The first contributor we approached was the illustrator Darren Gate – his characters are a joy. Being green in the writing scene, I found names first through the Live Literature Database and also asked the Scottish BAME Network for help, and it snowballed from there. The response from writers was overwhelming. I remain in awe of those who whipped up words in such a short space of time, and I’m grateful for their trust in a newbie like me to pull it together. Its fabulousness is down to them, and to Anne who magicked our work into a beautiful, free, downloadable e-book. Author and retired teacher Lindsay Littleson has since created a learning pack to accompany the book – you can find it all on https://www.cranachanpublishing.co.uk/stay-at-home-2/

    • Are you currently working on any exciting writing projects?

    I’m co-writing a nonfiction book with Joan Lennon for Templar/Bonnier, illustrated by the clever (and exceedingly cool) André Ducci. It’s called Talking History: 150 Years of Speeches and I can’t wait until we can share it. I’m also working on my second middle-grade novel, pegged to come out next year, and I’m experimenting writing a science fiction novel for slightly older readers.

    • What is the best part about being a writer?  What are the challenges?

    The writing process can be anything from sublime and energising to gnarly and exhausting – there are lots of best and worst bits. Sometimes these are the same thing. For instance, reading is crucial for learning the craft and one of the best parts of the job. Conversely, reading is one of my biggest challenges – I don’t ooze self confidence so reading a good book can paralyse me. I’m lucky that writing is something I can do anywhere – I don’t need peace and quiet – but as a working mum it’s difficult for me to prioritise my writing.

    • What books or authors did you love as a child?

    We lived hundreds of miles from a bookshop or library so relied on books being posted to us from kind relatives overseas – they sent classics and Roald Dahl. I was read or told stories every day, though a late starter at reading for fun. Of the books I read to myself, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien stands out. (Years later we named a family cat Nicodemus.) Howl’s Moving Castle and Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones marked a shift to more adolescent themes, and because I was late at coming to reading, I quickly moved on from children’s and teen fiction into the likes of Vikram Seth, Bessie Head and Graham Greene. I also loved – and still love – reading poetry, plays and picture books. An all-time favourite picture book is The Big Orange Splot by Daniel M. Pinkwater.

    • What current children’s books / authors would you recommend?

    I find blanket recommendations tricky, because what we each want and get from any given book is so different. It’s also easy to end up reading what’s most visible in the market (therefore adding to the visibility of some books over others), particularly in a virtual environment. For this reason, I miss browsing. My first recommendation to any young person would be to browse the library or bookshop shelves to see what pops out for them – in my experience, it’s often unfamiliar titles and lesser-spotted beauties. My own children read critically and often groan at books that I’ve selected for lyricism or emotional gravity, so I tend to pass them stories that are more plot driven, faster paced or have elements of humour. Children’s authors who’ve books I’ve read and enjoyed this month include Chen Jiantong, Mitali Perkins and Tamsin Mori.

    • Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?

    Yes – lots of diaries, occasional poems, and always letters. For a while, I existed through letters. My favourite subjects at school depended on the teachers, particular topics, and how close in the timetable they were to lunch. For a while, my top class was agriculture because we got to use the pangas (machete knives) that were part of our school uniform list, to slash grass and harvest pineapples. My final exam choices were in English, Drama, Chemistry and Maths. English was divided into Literature and Language. I loved learning the mechanics of the English language and while many authors are sceptical of its benefits, I treasure that knowledge.

    • As a writer, how important do you think it is that children and young people develop a love of reading for pleasure?

    From my perspective, the important thing is that children develop a love of stories. Stories reach people in lots of ways and print culture, or print capitalism, means that in some cultures books are the dominant form. I do firmly believe children deserve access to reading skills, safe spaces for reading and a wide range of books; evidence points to better lifelong opportunities for children who have access to those things.

    I was at secondary school before I enjoyed reading to myself – before that I preferred climbing trees and making paper dolls. But I was lucky: the cultures I grew up in were rich in storytelling, my parents had always read to me, and the option to read for myself – comics, novels, nonfiction – had always been there.

    I don’t think we should pressurise children into reading for pleasure, or make them feel they’re missing out if they haven’t yet found the book that sings to them. We have to bring down social barriers that prevent children developing a love of stories and reading, but we also need to avoid creating new hierarchies or insecurities based on our particular cultural values or the age at which a person’s love of reading begins.

    Tiger Skin Rug is a Finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2020/21 – Every vote counts! Votes are open until 30 April 2021. You can cast yours here: https://peoplesbookprize.com/winter-2020/tiger-skin-rug/

    Website: www.joanhaigbooks.com

    Twitter/Instagram/Facebook: @joanhaigbooks

    Thank you so much for joining us for a fantastic Bookworm Blethers, Joan!

    Children's Book Reviews

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