Thursday, 9 July 2015

Author Visits: Haberdashers' School For Girls

Last week, I had the great pleasure of visiting Haberdashers' School For Girls as part of their Literature Festival.  Other speakers at the Festival included the brilliant authors Linda Newbery, Sita Brahmachari and Meg Rosoff, so it was an honour to be invited!  I'd like to say a very big thank you to everyone I met there for giving me such a wonderful welcome.

I talked to Years 4 and 5 about writing and books, and discovered that they were fantastic readers.  It was amazing for me to meet so many fans of both Varjak Paw and Phoenix, and to hear so many inspiring stories!

I answered lots of terrific questions on the day, but we didn't have quite enough time to answer them all.  So if anyone from Haberdashers' would like to ask another question, or would like to say anything about the visit or about books and writing, just leave me a comment below!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Author Visits: New North Academy

I've had the pleasure of visiting New North Academy twice before: first when I met last year's Year 6s, and then when I attended their production of Varjak Paw: The Musical!  So I was delighted to come back and meet this year's Year 6s, and to find that they'd been reading my new book, Phoenix.

It was amazing to see all the work they'd done around Phoenix, and to hear all their thoughts about it.  When you spend seven years writing a book, it's wonderful to get such great feedback on it.  They also presented me with a beautiful bound book of reviews and artwork that they'd made!  Here are a few of them – click on the pictures to see them large:

So I'd just like to say a big thank you to Year 6, and to their teachers, Fiona Gunn-Stokes and Alexander Hall.  And if anyone at New North Academy has any more questions that they'd like to ask, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Author Visits: WhitLit

Whitstable Literary Festival is only in its second year, but it's already established itself as one of the most exciting new book festivals in the UK.  A lot of great writers have been involved, so I was thrilled to be invited to come and talk about writing Varjak Paw and Phoenix!

It was an absolute pleasure to meet the young readers of Whitstable, who knocked me out with their enthusiasm for books and reading!  I heard some amazing stories, and some brilliant questions.

It was also a pleasure to sign books at the end.  But if there was anyone who wanted a book signed and didn't get one on the day, just get in touch with Harbour Books (21 Harbour Street), and we'll arrange for a signed bookplate to be sent to you.

Thanks again to everyone who was part of the day, especially Festival director Victoria Falconer and bookseller Liz Waller from Harbour Books (below), and everyone who came and made it such a great event.  And if you'd like to see more pictures from the day, here's a fantastic gallery on the Canterbury Times website!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Author Visits: Wrexham Carnival Of Words

I'm a big fan of book festivals.  I love attending them myself, and seeing my favourite authors talk about their work.  So I'm thrilled whenever I'm invited to visit a festival.

The Wrexham Carnival Of Words is a new festival, but it's already establishing itself as a brilliant one.  It was a real honour to be invited by the organisers, Charlotte Jones and Shan Cooper, to talk to a festival audience about my books.

Many schools in and around Wrexham took part; there were more than 200 people there! It was fantastic to be able to meet so many young readers, and to see their enormous enthusiasm for books and writing.

We didn't have quite enough time to answer all the questions that everyone had, so if anyone in Wrexham would still like to ask me anything, or to make a comment about the event or about my books, this is the place to do it!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Author Visits: The Institute Of Education Library

I'm a huge fan of libraries.  I write my books in them, and I couldn't do my work without them.  So it was an absolute honour to be asked to open the new children's book corner in the Institute Of Education Library!

The Institute Of Education trains student teachers, who then go out and apply what they've learned in classrooms around the country.  This book corner offers them a brilliant resource, to help them learn how to bring books to life for young readers.

It supports the idea of reading for pleasure, which is something I believe in very strongly.  Reading should be fun, and books should be a great thing to display in classrooms, as this book corner shows!

It was also wonderful to hear about work that teachers have done with my books.  I'm always humbled and inspired to learn that Varjak Paw or Phoenix has been shared and enjoyed in a school.  So a huge thank you to the Institute Of Education, to the brilliant Sue McGonigle for inviting me – and to all teachers who have kept the Way alive!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Varjak Paw – The Musical!

Earlier this year, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting Mercenfeld Primary.  The brilliant teacher who invited me, Amber Rao, told me they were planning to stage a musical version of Varjak Paw.  And they did: it was staged at the end of last term!

I heard all about it on Twitter, where people were saying it was the best show they'd ever seen.  I was absolutely knocked out when I saw the pictures: it looks seriously brilliant.  So here are some of them, with huge thanks to Amber and everyone at Mercenfeld for making such a fantastic show from my book – I am so honoured!!!

PS! Mercenfeld have now posted a video of the Varjak Paw musical!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Top 10 Children's Books Of All Time

I was asked to vote in a BBC poll to find the top 10 children's books of all time.  I found it impossible to pick 10; whatever I chose, brilliant books got left out!  So I know this list is problematic, and I might choose another 10 books on another day.  But I'm in favour of anything that celebrates children's books, and reminds us how many classics the field has produced.  So here's my list, in chronological order.  What would be on your top 10?

by Rudyard Kipling (1893-5)

by E Nesbit (1899)

by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)

by CS Lewis (1950)

by Ursula Le Guin (1968)

by Penelope Farmer (1969)

by Richard Adams (1972)

by Roald Dahl (1988)

by Jacqueline Wilson (1991)

by Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Phoenix wins the Warwickshire Secondary Schools Book Awards!

I was absolutely thrilled when Phoenix was short-listed for the Warwickshire Secondary Book Awards!

These awards are voted for by readers around the county.  Previous winners include Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson, and Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls.  So it was a huge honour to see Phoenix short-listed by the brilliant librarians of the Warwickshire Schools' Library Service!

There were some fantastic authors and books on this year's short-list.  In the centre of the picture below is the great Berlie Doherty, who's won the Carnegie Medal twice with classics such as Dear Nobody.  On the right is Hilton Pashley, whose book Gabriel's Clock sounds like one of the most exciting debuts of recent years.  Unable to join us on the day, but definitely very popular with readers, were the fabulous Jonathan Stroud, Phil Earle and Tania Unsworth.

The ceremony was brilliantly organised by Stella Thebridge and Hannah Thomson.  We saw some fantastic presentations about the shortlisted books by Warwickshire Secondary students.  Here's the presentation on Phoenix:

And we saw some terrific art that the students had made, inspired by the books.  Here's a superb illustration of Frollix, complete with Axxa horns and hooves and flaming eyes!

It's a very moving thing for an author to see readers' responses to their work, especially when those responses are so positive!  I don't think I've ever seen a more brilliant buzz around books than at this ceremony.  It felt amazing to be there, part of a wonderful celebration of reading.  So I got very emotional when it was announced that Phoenix had won the Award.

I'd like to say a very big thank you to everyone who took part in the awards, not just on the day, but throughout the whole process.  And I'd like to say an extra-big thank you to Warwickshire SLS for a truly unforgettable day, and for championing and celebrating books so brilliantly!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Creative Writing from Cheetham Hill

I had the pleasure of visiting Cheetham CE Community Academy recently. You can read all about my visit by clicking here.  After the visit, some students decided to get together in a writing group, and write stories of their own about challenges that they'd faced.  I am thrilled to be able to post some of this work on my blog, because I think it's absolutely brilliant!

Peril Gliding
By Maryam (Year 6)

“Eeeek!” yelled my aunt, as she shook her knee, trying to stop ants crawling up her skinny leg. We glared out of the corner of our eyes. There it was.  The cream- coloured, steel boat stood on the rough sand.

What I’m about to say is a bit too dramatic about the boat but in my defence it was wet and reeking plus I need to rehearse being dramatic for my drama career. The scent was horrendous, it smelt like rotten eggs. With a hint of dead bug smell. And a touch of dirty laundry.

We quickly set off. Tony, who was our water sports manager, asked “Who would like to go first?”(Said with a Turkish accent) I didn’t want to go first because I was worrying about the rope stretching further then it should. Yet I couldn’t wait. I wanted to reach for the clouds.

For this was parasailing.

My feet were tapping on the ground.




A thought rushed passed my mind. Suddenly I didn’t want to go second or third. I told my dad about the ‘situation’, however my dad glibly replied “We’ll go third then.”(This didn’t help at all).

3 more people later (3 per parachute), it was my go… with my dad and my cousin of course. But I refused. 

As I stepped back, I cried “NO! NO! I will stay here you guys go!” That didn’t work either. And in a blink, I was buckled in the parachute. Whilst it gleamed vigorously, it also was towering over me. It also covered 1/5 of the boat. I took a breath, exhaling the air. Jubilant I was swayed back, rushing into the air. The scent was as sweet as a rose. I felt a cold, gentle breeze brushing across my delicate, smooth skin. There was a howl. NO, that was just the wind. The wind charging to the sail was as fierce as a bull. The sight was extraordinary. After ten minutes of cruising over the silky sea, we finally were brought down back on the boat.

It was all over.             

Well done Maryam!  I think that's an incredibly vivid piece of storytelling.  I can see the scene you describe, and more importantly, I can feel all your emotions about it.  I feel like I am there myself, which is what I always want to feel when reading a story.  I think you're using language and rhythm really well, and I think you have a terrific sense of drama, so good luck in your drama career – though I hope you'll carry on writing, too!

My Challenge
By Hamza (Year 6)

“Can we go to the biology department please?” I asked as I raised my head from the map.

I was at the Bury Grammar open day to see if I liked the school. “Sure this way,” said the guide showing the way.

When I got to the room, I was completely drawn to it, like a bee to pollen. It was almost like a dream coming true I thought as I went to the heart section.

I learned so much: that one side of the heart is heavier than the other and why, I saw the back of the heart and learnt about that too. I even saw a real live heart! No, not a real one. An animal heart. (A sheep’s). Whilst on the way home, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like being a doctor. But I had no rush, no rush because I had years to go. And I had football with my friends at early Noon on the field.

The immense field had with miniature seedlings were blooming under me with extravagant, beautiful colours. Thrilled, I booted the ball. Sadly, over the fence. Jack, who was my best friend’s cousin, ran to get it. But he didn’t look… SMASH!!! And there he lay… With a broken head … All of us were staring at him, all but me.

The fence loomed over me like a mountain over a mouse. “You shouldn’t be a doctor. Why aren’t you out there?” said the fence with a voice like an old, dying ghost. That was just my imagination. My imagination getting the best of me. But it was true. My body shivered. I need to be brave. Like a doctor. But how could I break past this invisible barrier, which was distorting the air.

“Come on! You can do it! Just believe it and you can achieve it.” Came a voice that I knew. It was … mine! But how? I was not a doctor… FLASH!

There I was back in reality. I took a step forward. Than another and another. Finally, I was there. Helping him. Calming him down.

“Thank … you.” He wheezed slowly. I gave a straight face. (Inside, however, my smile was too big for my face).

I did it, I had overcome my challenge.


Well done Hamza!  I really enjoyed reading this story.  I like the way you use contrasts in your writing, like the immense field with the miniature seedlings, and the mountain over a mouse. That kind of contrast can make a story come to life.   I also enjoyed the way you used effects like SMASH! and FLASH! – I love using things like that myself.

Congratulations to you both, and to everyone in the Cheetham writing group who wrote and edited their stories.  Just reaching the end of a story is an achievement; but editing it until it's as good as you can make it is something to be really proud of!  And congratulations finally to Miss Katergi and Mr Stone, the brilliant teachers who have been doing this outstanding work with their students!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

School visits: Cheetham CE Community Academy

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Mona Katergi and everyone at Cheetham CE Community Academy who I had the pleasure of meeting last year.  It was one of the best school visits I've ever done!

Miss Katergi has been teaching Varjak Paw at this school for many years now, so almost everyone there had read it.  A lot of people had already read Phoenix too, even though it was still only available in hardback at that time!  It was incredible to see such enthusiasm for reading and books, and I had some really brilliant questions and conversations.

They sent me some great pieces of writing after the visit; I've made a separate blog about this which you can read here.  And they also made a fantastic video about the visit!  It's a very professional piece of work, really worth watching:


So thank you to everyone in Cheetham Hill for a very special day.  Visits like this make me remember why I #can'tlivewithoutbooks!

Friday, 6 March 2015

World Book Day 2015

For World Book Day this year, I asked people on Twitter to send me photos of children dressed as characters from my books.  I was amazed by the responses.  This is my favourite: a boy dressed as Frollix, one of the Axxa aliens from Phoenix.  Look closely and you'll see he's got the horns, the hooves, the mirrorshades and even an eyeball!  It was tweeted to me by @matildasbacon – thank you so much!

Another favourite is this excellent gang of cats from Varjak Paw (or possibly The Outlaw Varjak Paw!)  It was sent to my by Mercenfeld School in Leicester, who I had the pleasure of visiting earlier this year.  I love the costumes – and the cool cat poses!

Meanwhile, here's Emma as Varjak Paw!  This photo was sent to me by my brilliant fellow author Michelle Robinson.  So thank you Michelle – and thank you Emma!

@AmyLuvsKatz is another terrific Varjak – thank you @bookclubforum for the photo!

Here's a fab Varjak from @kiteclothing, with a very kind recommendation!

And another wonderful Varjak, with great whiskers and nose, from @ClareMillsLPT!

Meanwhile, over at Bridgewater Primary in Northampton, Sally Bones and the Elder Paw are facing off in deadly combat!

And finally, here's Oona as Varjak, with the most incredible cat make-up I think I've ever seen!  Thank you Bridget Nicholls for the photo – and thank you Oona for an amazing piece of art!

I'd like to finish by saying a very big and heartfelt THANK YOU to all my readers.  When I see people dressing up as characters I created, or whenever I hear from readers that they've enjoyed my books, it makes all the hard work of writing feel worthwhile.  That's an amazing thing for an author – so thank you all for keeping the Way alive!