The Race by Roy Peachey

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour today for The Race by Roy Peachey. The Race is a brilliant, very cleverly told story about running, family, perseverance and being true to yourself. With the Olympics in full flow, it is the perfect book to read between watching the Games. This morning Roy has shared his thoughts about the challenges of writing a dual narrative. Have a read and be sure to get your copy of this fantastic, original and inspiring story.

The Race is a dual narrative, middle grade novel, featuring Lili, a young Chinese-British sprinter in the modern day, and Eric “Chariots of Fire” Liddell, star of the 1924 Olympics. Lili and Eric have many things in common: they were both born in China and grew up in Britain; they both love running fast; and they both believe in doing the right thing even when put under great pressure. 

However, the challenge in writing The Race was not finding similarities between the two protagonists, but ensuring that they had their own distinctive voices. Lili had to sound like a twelve-year old girl and Eric had to grow through the book. When we first meet him, he is only five-years old and when we leave him he is in his forties. 

It was also vital that the historical sections sounded right. Period dramas often pay great attention to tiny details of clothing and food, while serving up horrid anachronisms in the script. I have a history degree, so maybe this bugs me more than it does most people, but I wanted to ensure that Eric genuinely sounded like someone who lived in the first half of the twentieth century. 

However, getting his voice right caused problems of its own because I also had to remember my audience. My first novel, Between Darkness and Light, was written for adults. I spent many months, if not years, doing my research and I was able to use the full resources of the English language when doing so (as well as a little Chinese, French and Breton!) But I was writing The Race for a different readership and so I had to adapt. 

That wasn’t quite as difficult as it might sound for three reasons. Firstly, my own children are the age of my target audience, so I tried out The Race on them. Secondly, my day job is teaching in a secondary school, so I had my students in mind when trying to pitch the book at the right level. And, thirdly, I tapped into my own inner child. We lose our child-like qualities at our peril, especially if we are children’s authors, and can sometimes be too grown up for our own good.  

What does this mean in practice? It means that I laughed at my own jokes quite a lot. I figured that I might as well enjoy my book, even if no one else did. Fortunately, The Race has been well reviewed, so it seems as though my sense of humour isn’t as quirky as I had feared. Maybe Lili – if she really existed – might have enjoyed the book. I sometimes even dare to hope that Eric Liddell might have approved as well. Which makes me wonder if liking your own characters is, in the end, the key to writing a good dual narrative. I certainly like and admire Lili and Eric, and I hope you will too. ‘ 

Follow Roy and Cranachan on Twitter:

@roy_peachey

@cranachanbooks

Scottish by Inclination by Barbara Henderson

I am so excited to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Scottish by Inclination. I absolutely adore Barbara’s books that are mainly steeped in Scottish historical life and are aimed at young folk. But this is something different. This is a book that is charming, funny, informative but overall, downright important.

Barbara is a natural born storyteller and Scottish by Inclination is her tale of how she made Scotland her home. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 EU referendum she shares the tales of fellow European Scots and outlines why so many have added ‘Scottish’ to their identity.

As I say, Barbara is something of a master of storytelling and her retelling of her own experiences is full of warmth and humour, whilst remaining factual and thought-provoking. Barbara left Germany at the age of 19 and over the last 30 years has made Scotland her home. In Scottish by Inclination she lovingly retells her experiences of being a student, teacher and mother in her adopted homeland. This is contrasted by her forced journey to citizenship following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

But, as I said, Scottish by Inclination is not just Barbara’s story. She spent time interviewing 30 Europeans who, like her, have made Scotland their home and each individual has their own story to tell. Their own story of how they became ‘Scottish by Inclination.’

We hear the stories of a politician, an artist, professors, sportsmen and many more. Every tale is perfectly and honestly shared and I loved reading every single one.

This book is hugely important. Although told in a wonderfully positive manner it forces us to reflect on the decisions the UK made back in 2016 and the impact it has made on our hugely important immigrant population. It reminds us of our commonality, our shared passions and our shared humanity.

This is a really personable, enjoyable and accessible read. It is told with wit and charm, each story shining a light on a European Scot’s journey to settling in our country. It is a beautiful collection about belonging, positivity and hope for the future and it is an absolute must read.

What If, Pig? by Linzie Hunter

What If, Pig?: A wonderful wobble of a story, all about worries - and the  friends who get you through them!: Amazon.co.uk: Hunter, Linzie:  9780008409500: Books
What if, Pig?

Pig is kind, friendly and thoughtful. Everyone think so, especially his friend Mouse. One day Pig has a great idea. He will throw a party for all of his friends! He carefully plans all the details and sends out the invitations.

But as the party gets closer Pig suddenly becomes overcome with self-doubt and anxiety. He imagines all the things that could go wrong and that, actually, nobody really likes him at all! It turns out that Pig is a massive worrier.

Fortunately Pig has some wonderful friends like Mouse who understands how to help him.

What if, Pig? is an absolutely gorgeous picture book, perfect for worriers young and old. It provides a great prompt for discussions with children about anxiety and self-esteem, how we can overcome these feelings and how we can help others who may be feeling overwhelmed by worry and self-doubt.

Ultimately this is a beautifully positive book with a wonderful message that it’s okay to worry and it’s normal to feel sad but things don’t stay that way forever.

This has got to be one of my favourite picture books. The illustrations are wonderful and the facial expressions are just perfect. It would be a great book to read with young children at home or in the classroom to provide a discussion prompt around mental health.

I loved it, make it a must read!

You can follow the author on twitter:

@linziehunter

A Polar Bear Called Forth by AP Pullan

I am so excited to share my review of the delightful, thought-provoking, A Polar Bear Called Forth by AP Pullan. I am so pleased to have stumbled across this gorgeous story. It is a simple beautifully told tale, that highlights the importance of friends and family and the overwhelming need to belong.

Caitlin McGill is a 10 year old girl who lives in South Queensferry. Her mother has long sinced abandoned her so she lives with, and cares for, her elderly gran. When she unexpectedly finds a young polar bear cub washed up on the shore one day she names him Forth and he quickly becomes her best friend. With her new friend by her side, Caitlin spends her time between school, out sailing and cooking and cleaning at home. However, when her gran’s health starts to deteriorate it becomes clear that her life is about to change for good.

The story is really about the central character of Caitlin and about how, through her friendship with Forth, she is able to deal with the uncertainty and trauma that is going on in her life. It is about her journey to discover a place where she belongs, where she is cared for and where she is loved. There are parallels throughout between Forth and Caitlin and their stories and it is through her imagination that Caitlin is able to discover a way to cope.

I really like how we are given such an insight into Caitlin’s feelings and responsibilities as a young carer for her gran. She is such an independent wee girl who has had to grow up beyond her years but, as the story goes on, we are reminded that she is still just a child, desperately in need of nurture, love and a place to call home.

As someone who lives in central Scotland who regularly visits the beautiful town of South Queensferry, it was lovely to read a story set against the background of the three Forth bridges and the settings are definitely one of the things I loved about this book. The brilliant Highland Wildlife Park, near Kincraig, which has its own polar bears, is another one of the fantastic settings.

I have to mention the stunning front cover which features the iconic Forth Bridge. The author got local academy students to run a competition to contribute artwork and the cover was the winning entry by Cliona Riach.

A Polar Bear Called Forth is an absolutely unexpected joy. It made me laugh, it made my cry and it made my smile. It is a gorgeous, magical tale about friendship, self-discovery, belonging and, ultimately, hope.

You can order A Polar Bear Called Forth from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Polar-Bear-Called-Forth/dp/B08SGG953P

The Glasgow Gruffalo’s Wean by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Translated intae Glaswegian by Elaine C. Smith

For anyone who doesn’t know I love books written in Scots. There is something magical about the beautiful Scots leid, a language that is full of regional variety and one that is a glorious mix of the past and present. It is full of the most wonderful expressive vocabulary and it is a language that is simply brilliant to speak and read aloud.

Many of Julia Donaldson’s classic picture books have been translated into Scots and from The Shetland Gruffalo to The Troll and the Kist o Gowd, to The Riever Rat and more, they are an absolute delight and well worth checking out.

In The Glasgow Gruffalo’s Wean, Elaine C Smith has taken the classic story of the adventurous young Gruffalo , dunked it the River Clyde, wheeched it round the city for a couple of laps and left it dripping in Glasgow sprinkles.

This is a brilliantly clever translation that is full of humour, quirks and pure joy. Without wanting to give too much away, I will say that I was left howling with laughter at the distinctly Glaswegian humour.

Without a doubt one of my favourite translations that will appeal to young and old alike and an excellent book to use across the primary school.

Published by Black and White Publishing

Thanks to Black and White Publishing for the review copy.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith

It is Thursday and I am delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith.

Imagine a future where time travel is possible, where tourists are able to choose a destination, a time, a person, that they would like to visit. Where and when would you go?

This is the premise for this brilliant story. Alex has always noticed strange people in the background of her life but has always assumed this to be normal. What she doesn’t realise is that these strange characters that she occassionally hears or catches a glimpse of are time travelling tourists from the future, intent on catching a glimpse of her. The question is why, and who is it she destined to become?

When a mysterious boy named Jasper appears, Alex’s world starts to unravel and she sets out a mission to discover who she is and who she going to be.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody is an absolutely stunning story full of adventure, time travel and mystery. It is a clever tale with friendship and family at its heart as we follow Alex on her journey to discover her truth.

This would be a fantastic story to read with an upper primary class. There is so much room for discussion around the plausibility of time travel and the moral implications of what you could do with it. There are many vivid literacy prompts, with plenty of scope for art and technology activities too.

I loved this book. It is a clever, engaging, exciting and fun story that is based on a truthful ‘what if’ scenario.

To find out more follow Kate on Twitter at: @kate_gilby and the publishers at @HachetteKids

Bookworm Blethers with….. A P Pullan

I am absolutely delighted to welcome A P Pullan to Bookworm Blethers. I’m in the middle of reading A Polar Bear Called Forth right now. It is a brilliant read and I’ll post my review soon. In the meantime have a read of this excellent interview.

  • Tell us a little bit about your books: The Crying Wind and A Polar Bear Called Forth

Well, they are both set in Scotland. I often tell folk that Yorkshire drew me, but Scotland coloured me in. I met my wife here and I’ve been nicely settled in a country for nearly twenty years, a country I will forever love to explore. With both books, I am paying back a debt of gratitude.

The books I’ve written are ones I want to read. That may sound as if I’m stating the obvious, but I wonder how many writers are influenced by their agents or publishing houses as to what to write and indeed the content of their writing. I wonder on the would-be-author wanting to get the contract compromising and following regulation story-plot formulas. Take risks, go against the grain, write what you want to write. It’s something I try get across to kids at school. Knickers to the current trends or what is the current genre da jour (get me by the way!)

  • What has been your journey to becoming an author? 

Well – I had no GPS to start with. Nae Google Maps or indeed any map. My first love was poetry. I managed to get published in a few literary journals such as Gutter, Northwords, Poetry Scotland, and I was really chuffed with that. Poetry taught me to be taut with my words. Gave me an appreciation of what a word, not just words, can do.

I’ve been teaching for a millennium and have immersed myself in children’s stories throughout. So, I feel I’m now playing to my strengths. And coming to this being so very old and yet having this under my belt is delicious.

I also have mental health issues and I’ve got to say the outlet of writing has been, in many ways, a response to this. I’m currently studying for a qualification in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and I hope that in a future this journey takes me to new continents and interesting landscapes from giving a creative outlet for those with depression, anxiety etc.

  • Where does your inspiration for your stories come from? 

Well, being alive is a good place to start. Also setting up a challenge for myself also motivates. All story tellers are liars. We tell the best and most elaborate lies. Thing is, can I lie so elaborately you end up believing me and walking alongside me, sentence by sentence? Can I do that?

Obviously, Scotland has helped. And I’m thankful to her. She still has problems with my accent (by the way, Yorkshire has been independent for thousands of years) – yet she is still very welcoming. The Crying Wind was born out of me trying to understand about the many clearance villages I’d come across. A Polar Bear Called Forth uses one of my favourite places, Queensferry as it’s backdrop.

I’m not a note taker – to flush stories out at later date. Currently I have an idea for a World War 2 story as well as a present day one of finding someone living in a cave. Beyond that I’d like to write a series of books – something supernatural but funny. For now, all these ideas are filed away in my head.

I need to challenge myself to influence my writing: its content and style. Hopefully that will keep the audience turning the pages. So that’s the main inspiration: to challenge myself.

  • What is the best part about writing and what are the most challenging parts? 

The best parts: starting, planning, seeing it in paperback form, needing cake to get you through, going into schools.

The worst parts: starting, editing, untangling the knots, editing, worrying that you have written something that’s pants, editing, thinking you should have been a gardener or brain surgeon, editing, realising your grammar is akin to a ten-year-old tortoise, editing, your continuity is a mile out, editing, thinking you’ve finished, editing, oh look – he/she has got their third novel out while you’ve been doing your one book, editing.

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

I guess all the obvious: Blyton, Dahl, Tolkein. Alan Garner stood out as he scared the socks off me. Yet I was taken by the real-to-life stories the most: Bill Naughton’s A Goalkeepers Revenge, Keith Waterhouse’s There is a Happy Land and Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. I connected to these, saw my life in their stories.

  • Are there any current children’s books / authors you would recommend? 

Emma Carroll – very taut and her consistently high standard of output is to be admired.

Lesley Parr (The Valley of Lost Secrets) has a great future.

Jessica Townsend’s brilliant, Morrigan Crow series of books, which made me laugh out loud. And I adored Dave Shelton’s A Boy and a Bear in a Boat,so I’d love to see more of his work.

My favourite picture book of all time – Where the Wild Things Are closely followed by Shaun Tan’s, The Red Tree.

I love Michael Rosen, particularly his take on children’s literacy but the standout children’s writer for me is David Almond. Reading him you know you are at the hands of a master – assured, taut and again, the quality of his output is phenomenal.

  • What subjects did you love at school?   

PE. As long as it was football. Funnily enough I didn’t love any subject. I had no passion for any of it. Yes, writing stories was a big love – so OK, possibly my favourite. Yet those occasions we were allowed to were rare. It seemed to be more about the process of writing (grammar) and studying books (literature).

  • How important do you think it is for children to have access to books?

Well, you’re asking a teacher – so I have to say, crucial. And for development in so many areas. To be successful in academia means a heavy requirement to have a standard of literacy skills that enables you will have a chance in obtaining those bits of paper that state you’re worthy of entering Higher Education or the world of work. It’s quite a blunt one-dimensional system. It saddens me how many pupils out there have the imagination, have that creative bent but are stifled by a teacher’s red pen. Teachers themselves are under pressure – to deliver results and to show progress – which doesn’t help.

My personal philosophy is a top-down one – stories and their magic first – then we’ll have pupils who want to read and write and spell in order to recreate that magnetism. I certainly find that motivates those who have difficulties in literacy. Teachers are pretty good at getting a balance of top-down, bottom-up. Yet I see so many lessons and piles of resources surrounding phonics. Yet the whole context of this device – to read magical tales, is kept invisible. It’s a bit like saying, ‘I’ve got this brilliant rocket to take you to other planets,’ but all the kids get are the nuts, bolts and washers to make the thing, and so for the duration of the lesson it never leaves the ground! (Right, I’m off my soap box now, I’m away to do writey stuff – whatever that is?)

Thank you so much for joining us! To find out more you can follow A P Pullan on twitter @The_Wee_Pencil and check out the promo video for A Polar Bear Called Forth here, https://t.co/jvE3SHqSVH?amp=1

Pinkie and Boo! by Chae Strathie and Francis Martin

I am very excited to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for the fantastic wee picture book, Pinkie and Boo!

Pinkie is the smallest in the family. That is why she is called Pinkie, like the littlest finger. She loves being centre of attention so when her mum and dad inform her that there is new baby brother on the way she is not impressed! With the help of her new stuffed monkey toy, Boo, she sets out an journey to discover the best way to deal with this new arrival and to make sure her parents still remember to put her first.

I love Pinkie. Her attitude oozes from each page and the iillustrations are just a perfect represtentation of this fiesty wee girl. It is, on first read, a beautiful wee story about a little girl learning to accept her new brother into the family.

What I love, though, is that is also a very astute interpretation of a child’s worries and anxieties when they feel that their whole world is about to change. It is scary and it is unknown and it reminds us, as adults, that we need to remember that.

With Boo in tow, Pinkie does what she can to win back the attention of her parents. Her good intentions don’t pay off and but we have a lovely insight into her motivation. It serves as a message to us all, young and old, that we need to look beyond the what and focus on the why if we are to move towards relationships that are based on understanding and compassion.

Pinkie and Boo is a gorgeous little picture book that addresses children’s feeling, especially when they are faced with a big change in their lives. It is clever, beautifully illustrated and lots of fun.

Another triumphant publication from @littledoorbooks

Follow the author and illustrator on Twitter: @korkymaster @chaestrathie

Bookworm Blethers with….. Sarah Todd Taylor

  • Tell us a little bit about your books, Arthur and Me and the Max the Detective Cat series.  

Arthur and Me is about accident-prone Tomos, who is being bullied at school and who accidentally falls down a hole in the ground and wakes up the sleeping King Arthur. So he takes him to school to sort out the bullies, only to find that all the stories he was told about the great hero of old were a bit exaggerated and King Arthur has his own bullying problems. Soon Tomos is hiding all the Knights of the Round Table in his Dad’s shed and trying to learn how to joust with a bicycle and a pool noodle. At it’s heart it’s about how we can’t expect old heroes to solve our problems, but we might be able to learn to solve them ourselves with a little help from our good friends.  

Friendship is really important in the Max books too. Max starts out as an abandoned cat thrown out of his pampered life by his selfish owner, but he soon finds good friends when he moves into the Theatre Royal to be it’s Chief Mouser. It’s friendship that makes him turn detective, when he suspects that one of the visiting singers is trying to cheat his friends, and it’s his best friend Oscar, the cat who sleeps on the Theatre’s roof, who becomes his invaluable partner in detection. Max is still a bit of a fussy cat at heart. He’s a little bit vain and far too fussy about his tail having to be perfectly groomed before he can do any detecting, and he gets very offended when he gets messy or is caught doing anything undignified. I love him to bits and he’s lots of fun to write.  

  • What has been your journey to becoming an author? 

When I was younger I used to write books about a hapless king who kept coming up with ideas that he thought were genius but that were actually quite disastrous and family had to put things right for him. I loved writing at school and was very lucky to have some fantastic teachers who encouraged me to write and to use my imagination. I was also lucky to have a fabulous library in my hometown so I was able to read as much as I wanted to. The first time I was published was in the Cadbury’s Book of Children’s Poetry and it was wonderful to see my name in an actual book. I wrote short stories for several years and got some of those published and then I wrote Arthur and Me and entered it into the Firefly Children’s Book Competition and after it had won the competition (an email that made me dance round the room with joy), Firefly press told me that they wanted to publish it. I owe a tremendous amount to my teachers and to my local library and to all the lovely friends who encouraged me along the way and gave me advice.  

  • Where does your inspiration for your stories come from? 

I wrote Max because I was itching to write a detective series. I love detective books and shows and I love puzzles and codes. I love the theatre too. I’ve done lots of shows in my hometown and practically grew up backstage, so I knew that I really wanted to write something set in the theatre. Once I knew I wanted a detective in the theatre I spent lots of time thinking that my detective was human, but then one day I realised that the theatre cat could go a lot of places a human couldn’t, and Max was born. I grew up with cats too, so maybe it was inevitable. Sometimes you just have to let an idea bubble and play with it until what you want to write about appears, even if it wasn’t what you originally thought you would be writing.   

  • What is the best part about writing and what are the most challenging parts? 

I really love editing more than writing the first draft. I know that makes me a bit odd, but I find the pressure of creating a first draft really hard work. I LOVE edits, though. First draft feels like what we call ‘blocking rehearsals’ when  you are working out where everyone is going to stand and where people will come on and off stage. Edits feel like the rehearsals where you can build character as you move around the stage and you can really bring the show to life. I love having words to play with and rearrange and polish much more than I do the act of creating them in the first place. I think my first big edit is when I am most creative.  

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

I absolutely loved the Alice in Wonderland Books and all the Michael Bond books, including Olga da Polga. I think reading the Olga books is what made me want to keep guinea pigs, and there is a little bit of Olga’s fussiness in the character of Max. I love characters who are a little ‘too’ fond of their own dignity, because they are so pompous and fussy.  

  • Are there any current children’s books / authors you would recommend?   

Oh gosh, far too many. There are so many amazing detetctive books out at the moment, but I really love the Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair Mysteries and Laura Woods’ Poppy Pym series. I will read absolutely anything by Kirsty Applebaum, who writes the most amazing stories that blend real life realism with science fiction or fantasy, and by Eloise Williams, who writes ghost stories like no-one else I know. I love writers who tackle the harder aspects of childhood with sensitivity and compassion too, and I can’t think of many who do that better than Lisa Thompson and Hayley Webster. 

  • What subjects did you love at school?   

I absolutely adored history. It was a bit like a puzzle in many ways, finding out why people acted the way they did or thought the way they did, and trying to work it out from the clues they left behind. I actually have a PhD in history so I got to spend five years reading in some utterly gorgeous libraries and trying to piece the past together. Even now I like to write things set in the past so I have an excuse to read lots of history books and work out what the world would have looked, sounded or even smelled like for my characters. 

  • How important do you think it is for children have access to books?

It’s absolutely vital that children have access to libraries. It really worries me that local libraries are closing down. When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money and the only way that I could afford to read as many books as I wanted to was by borrowing them from our library. We had a great school library too. If we want children of all backgrounds to have access to quality fiction and non-fiction then we need to support our libraries and librarians.    

You can find me on twitter by following @scraphamster (because sometimes I like to do scrapbooking to capture memories, and I love hamsters) and there are activities and an entire ‘Write your own mystery course’ on my website at https://sarahtoddtaylor.com . You can find me on Facebook, too, where I sometimes do readings and events https://www.facebook.com/SarahToddTaylor

Thanks so much for joining us for a fascinating interview, Sarah!

The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

I am over the moon to be hosting today’s date on the blog tour for the absolutely brilliant book, The Chessmen Thief, written by one of my favourite authors, Barbara Henderson. Have a read about what Barbara has to say about writing as a teacher and my wee review of The Chessmen Thief.

Writing as a teacher – Story Needs to Come up Trumps

I smiled at the screen of little faces during a recent online school visit. The teacher was selecting the next pupil to ask me, the author, a question.

‘How do you get your ideas?’ trilled the little voice.

I took a breath to reflect. ‘Well, the truth is that I have hundreds of story ideas a day. Most of them are no use at all, but you need to give them some room in your head. You’ll soon know which ones have a bit of mileage in them, and which ones don’t,’ I answered. ‘I’m always asking what-if questions in my head and that can lead to interesting story possibilities.’

I did not tell my young audience about the second step – as soon as I have decided that a story may be worth working on, I tend to make a phone call to my publisher. ‘I’m thinking about writing a story about XYZ. Do you think there could be a market for that? Would you be interested in a book like this?’

I was a teacher long before I was a published writer. It is only natural that I would have one eye one the curriculum, too. In fact, the glaring gap in the market for a more up-to date Highland Clearances story in schools gave me the final push to attempt my very first historical novel, Fir for Luck. It became my first published book, achieving what five other manuscripts before it had failed to do. My inadvertent journey as a historical fiction writer had begun.

Yes, many of my books are suitable for using in schools, but I have to care about the STORY, first and foremost. Believe me, kids can detect a secret educational info-dump a mile off. Learning happens through the story, not in addition to it. Once I am caught up in the flow of writing, it all just happens in my head and I simply have to keep up.

The Chessmen Thief does cover a number of educational angles: Vikings and Scotland’s Norse heritage, the Lewis Chessmen – probably Scotland’s most recognisable archaeological treasures, chess, strategy and higher order thinking skills for a start. But all of these emerged naturally as part of the writing process. Each book is unique, but The Chessmen Thief came together like this:

1: I saw the beautiful Lewis Chessmen in London’s British Museum, The National Museum of Scotland and finally the Museum nan Eilean on the Isle of Lewis. I was mesmerised by the mystery which surrounded the figures. I might have become just a little bit obsessed…

2: At the primary school where I teach Drama, I was asked to create a drama unit based on the IDL topic of the Vikings. Reading around the topic, I noticed there were very few books about the Vikings set in Scotand. It set me thinking. (My work in school often inspires novel ideas. Kids are the most creative people on the planet!)

3: Having worked on a basic storyline, I ran it past the go-to expert in the field. ‘Sorry, Mr Famous Professor, you don’t know me, but I want to write about your pet subject of XYZ. Is this paragraph-long storyline believable, or am I missing something?’ He got back to me and encouraged me – it was all the persuasion I needed.

4: Next, I consulted my publisher, somebody I really respect. She has a lot of expertise in working with schools. As soon as I knew she was on board, I could devote some serious time to writing this book.

5: And here’s the thing: at that point, you have to choose to forget you’re a teacher and dive head-first into the tale. It will take you places you hadn’t anticipated; it will throw up more questions than you have researched, but you have to hold on – details can be fixed, but whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the story sprites!

6: Once the first draft is written, the hard work begins again: fact-checking, editing and clarifying. But you’re nearly there, and by then you know it! It’s at this point that you may think again about what else may need to be in the book to make it most useful to schools. Rather than squeezing any information into the story and breaking its flow, I like to add an author’s note, or a glossary – some sort of additional value.

Number 7: Finally, once the manuscript itself is done, I keep a note of any thoughts and angles which may be useful for the teaching resources. I begin writing these very soon after finishing the book so that my memory of the story is still fresh. I am ready for any number of book-launches and author visits to schools. I love meeting kids, getting them reading, getting them acting, getting them excited about stories.

Honestly? I still have a long way to go, but I am sure of this:

Being a writer makes me a better teacher.

Being a teacher makes me a better writer.

For me, both is best!

Thank you so much to Barbara for a fascinating insight into being a writing teacher.

Here is my review of The Chessmen Thief.

I love historical fiction. I particularly love Scottish historical fiction – stories of the past that feature places that I know and love. Having explored the Highland Clearances, Victorian Scotland, smuggling in 18th Century Dumfries and the Scottish Wars of Independence, Barbara is something of an expert in this field, so I was very excited to read her new book, The Chessmen Thief, a viking tale with a very Scottish flavour.

It tells the story of 12 year old Kylan, who is desperate to free himself of his Norse captors and return to Scotland and to his mother. When a opportunity presents itself in the shape of the carving and delivery of some prescious chessmen pieces, he grabs the chance to search for his freedom.

This is an exquisite, exciting adventure that is steeped in the history of the Lewis Chessmen. Barbara has taken real life characters and events and, by adding her own imaginative take, has turned it into the most wonderfully fascinating story that is sure to grab you and not let you go.

For me the characters and the relationships are central to the story and left me wanting to go and find out more about the history of the Lewis Chessmen and those involved with their creation. Combined with the beautiful settings for the book, it was an absolute joy to read.

Overall, The Chessmen Thief is another belter of a story from Barbara Henderson, one that I am sure that will be loved and embraced by children and adults alike.

Thank you to Barbara for your guest blog and allowing me to be a part of your blog tour!

You can follow Barbara and Cranachan on Twitter at:

@scattyscribbler

@cranachanbooks

Children's Book Reviews

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