All posts by UnicornsAndKelpiesBookBlog

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

The King’s Biscuits by Steve Priest

Picture Book / Age 4-8

I have loved reading The King’s Biscuits by Steve Priest with the wee team over the last few days. It is an absolutely hilarious interpretation of the legend of King Arthur (with added biscuits).

The King is a little bit greedy and has a fondness for biscuits but one day tragedy strikes – the biscuit tin is empty! So he does what any King would do and sends the Knights of the Round Table out on a biscuit finding mission. There follows a tale of dragons, adventure and treasure.

The King’s Biscuits is a fun, totally daft rhyming picture book that is wonderfully enjoyable. We had a great time reading it together. It is full of laughs but also has a nice wee moral about the importance of being polite and sharing.

One of the things I love the most about The King’s Biscuits are the fantastic illustrations. They are so full of humour and expression and there is an incredible amount of detail in them. Every time we read it, we discovered something new in the pictures.

The King’s Biscuits is gloriously entertaining wee book which is sure to provide plenty of laughs! We absolutely loved it!

Thank you to Steve Priest for the review copy.

To follow Steve on Twitter and to find links to buying The King’s Biscuits click here:

@supersteveworld

Uncle Pete and the Boy who Couldn’t Sleep by David C Flanagan

I am absolutely delighted to be a part of the blog tour for this majestic wee book, Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep, published by the mighty Little Door Books.

Harry is a little boy who has never slept. His parents, and the rest of the town, have tried everything they can think of with no success and they are exhausted! When Harry’s unconventional explorer uncle arrives on the scene he is determined to help and from then on we are taken on a glorious adventure with Pete and his tiny mouse sidekick, otherwise known as TM.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep is a great little chapter book, perfect for early readers looking for a longer independent read but it also would be ideal as a read aloud text to share. It is full of fun, adventure and the most brilliant loveable characters like TM who is an absolute delight!

I love the illustrations by Will Hughes which really capture the essence and tone of the story and the characters. The sense of this magical journey is perfectly pitched in his pictures.

Overall Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep is a wonderfully quirky wee story that explores themes of perseverence and determination and the powerful impact of working as a team and I absolutely loved it!

Find out more below:

There is a live event with the author & illustrator on Friday 14th May. I will definitely be there! To register follow the link below:

https://eventbrite.co.uk/e/uncle-pete-and-the-boy-who-couldnt-sleep-book-launch-event-tickets-149531172763…

To purchase the book you can go to:

https://uk.bookshop.org/books/uncle-pete-and-the-boy-who-couldn-t-sleep/9781916205437…

Have a listen to the author, David C Flanagan, reading from Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=3NJkkIbZ8Mg…

https://youtube.com/watch?v=3EGW0KpqZyo…

https://youtube.com/watch?v=1M3W3HavlMQ…

Bookworm Blethers with…. Katy Segrove

A very big Bookworm Blethers welcome to Katy Segrove. Put your feet up, have a wee cup of tea and have a read.

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself, your picture books and your animation series.

I’m a screenwriter, picture book author and writing coach. As a writer, I love writing funny and fantastical stories, most recently for children.

I started off with a passion for writing romantic comedies. But, a few years ago, a chance encounter with a wonderful producer lead to me creating an animation series called Happy Go Hopscotch. And I’ve not looked back. Writing for kids is such a thrill.

My series is currently in development, with the first episode complete and more on the way. I’ve also written two picture books based on the same characters, ‘Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree’ and ‘Malcolm and the Trampoline’. They’re centred around a happy little horse called Hopscotch and her group of animal friends. The theme behind the series is the science of happiness, a subject I’m passionate about. My goal is to help little ones develop their own happy habits, to help them to grow up to be positive and resilient people.

RTE Junior in Ireland commissioned me to turn my picture book ‘Hopscotch and the Christmas Tree’ into a 30-minute animated Christmas Special. It was a delight to adapt it, see it come to life and hear wonderful feedback from viewers. In 2018 and 2019 it was shown in multiple countries both on TV and cinema. It was also nominated for Best Animation & Best TV Special at the Irish Animation Awards. 

  • What has been your journey to becoming a writer? 

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but it has been a long, tough journey to get here. I started by taking introductory screenwriting classes and writing as many screenplays as I could. First short films, then building up to full length feature films. One of my film scripts got picked up by a producer quite early on, but then it stayed ‘in development’ for years and years as they tried to raise the finance. This was incredibly frustrating. It kind of put me in limbo, as I waited for it to happen and was unsure what to do next. The tricky thing about being a writer is that there’s no one obvious career path. There are so many possible options, but no-one to tell you which direction to go in.

I eventually decided to do an MA in Screenwriting, which was a really wonderful experience. It was such blessing to be able to spend 2 years thinking about and writing stories, as well as being surrounded by other passionate writers. This enabled me to take my writing to a new level and build up a portfolio of strong scripts. I left my MA thinking that my career would finally take off. But it took me a few more years of writing and networking until at last, I made a chance encounter with a producer on Linkedin,

This led me to developing my animation series for pre-school children – Happy Go Hopscotch – and since then, it’s been no going back. We were lucky enough to get development funding for my series and garner quite a lot of interest. During this process I wrote a couple of children’s picture books based on the same characters and soon after found a publisher. Seeing these books come to life brought me so much joy.

  • As well as writing, you run writing coaching courses. What do you think are the main challenges for children (and adults) who want to write?

Being a writing coach is so fulfilling, as I get to help other writers fulfil their writing dreams. Being a writer is a lonely business, so having opportunities to connect with other writers really helps. One of the biggest challenges for adults wanting to write is making themselves sit down and do it. Without a deadline or a boss or teacher telling them to do it, many people find it hard to find the motivation. There’s always something else to do, chores to finish or a TV show to flop in front of. So, I help writers partly by giving them accountability, and also by helping them develop a daily writing habit. When writing becomes a habit, we don’t have to make a daily decision: should I write today? When should I write? Maybe after lunch? What about later? Instead, we just get on and do it without thinking.

Blocks also get in the way. For example, the fear of failure – looking stupid if it isn’t good enough. Or being scared of sharing it with other people. So, this can stop people from starting or finishing a piece of work, or from ever daring to share it with the wider world. I help writers with whatever blocks they’re facing. I love thinking about the psychology of being a writer.

As for children, they’re more playful, in general, and they feel less pressure to make something perfect. They just think about the process (not so much the end result) So, they sit down and write for fun, without any of the hang ups that adults face. However, they might struggle to know what to write about in the first place. But if they’re given a topic, that can make it easier.

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

Charlotte’s Web was a big favourite. And as I became a teen, I adored everything by Judy Blume.

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

I have a 2-year-old, so we read a lot of picture books together. One of his favourites is ‘Dig Dig Digging’ by Margaret Mayo. It’s full of every type of truck, and the language is lovely and repetitive.

One of my personal favourites is Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. It’s such a quirky yet touching tale of friendship.

Also, as I’ve recently lost my Mum, I got hold of a copy of ‘Always and Forever’ by Alan Durant – which is a picture book all about losing a loved one. I thought it would be a helpful way to talk about death with my son. He’s still too young to get it, but it’s a stunning book that deals with the subject in a really thoughtful way, and it’s helped me at least start that conversation.

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

My earliest memories involve me wanting to be a writer and scribbling down little stories in my bedroom. I loved books, and English was by far my favourite subject at school. I went on to study English Literature at University, and later Screenwriting, which I adored.

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

Reading brings so much joy; it’s great for escapism as well as for learning about the world. My husband and I both love reading, so naturally our house is full of books. We’ve been reading books to my little boy since he was a babe in arms. He’s now 2 ½ and he gets so excited when we have a trip to the library! I really hope it continues.

Thank you so much to Katy for joining us! Find out more by following Katy on twitter and having a look at her websites.

Twitter – @katysegrove  and @pick_pen

https://pickupyourpen.com/

http://happygohopscotch.com/

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

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/