Saturday, 14 October 2017

Author Visits: James Allen's Preparatory School

I'd like to say a very big thank you to the brilliant school librarian Rachel Hickson and to everyone I met at James Allen's Preparatory School for the wonderful welcome they gave me when I visited them last week!

It was a real pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about reading and writing – it was inspiring to see how enthusiastic they were about their favourite books.  Quite a few of them had already read Varjak Paw for their book club, and made this fantastic display:

They had some great questions about the writing process, and I very much enjoyed answering them, and then signing books for everyone at the end.  If anyone would like some more writing advice, here's a link to a blog post I made with my top tips.  

And if anyone has any more questions that we didn't have time to answer on the day, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Patron Of Reading: Fortismere School Years 7 & 8

For the past two years, I've been honoured to be Fortismere School's Patron Of Reading.  This is a fantastic scheme where an author develops a special relationship with a school, and visits many times to help spread the love of reading.  I was invited to do this by Fortismere's fabulous librarian Gill Ward, and you can read about all the work we've been doing here.

This month saw my final day at Fortismere.  First of all, I had lunch with a creative writing group of Year 7s and Year 8s, where we looked at the stories they'd been working on.  I was really impressed with the standard of writing – I think there are definitely some future authors here!

Then I did a creative writing workshop with a Year 8 class, in which I asked them to write stories they would want to read themselves, and worked with them through the processes of having an idea, writing a first draft, and then editing it.  They produced some fantastic work in just one hour – stories that showed real imagination and craft.

I then spent some very enjoyable time with Fortismere's Carnegie Shadowing Group.  They are part of the amazing Shadowing Scheme run by the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards.  They read all the books on the Carnegie Medal shortlist, and write reviews of them online.

We had a really fascinating, open, honest discussion about the books on this year's shortlist.  It was amazing to see there was at least one person who loved every book – and at least one person who didn't!  Things that work for one reader don't necessarily work for another.  But this year, it's fair to say that the majority of Fortismere Shadowers agreed with the judges that Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys was the outstanding book.

Finally, my last event as Fortismere Patron Of Reading was the Reading Champions evening.  The idea of Reading Champions began at the very beginning of my time at Fortismere, when I suggested that it would be great to see young readers recommending their favourite books to each other.  So all through the year, Fortismere Year 7s have been making presentations championing their favourite books, and this evening saw the very best of them competing in the final!

They made terrific cases for books including Wonder by RJ Palacio, One by Sarah Crossan, White Fang by Jack London, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, Five Children On The Western Front by Kate Saunders, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and The Enemy by Charlie Higson.

It was amazing to see how passionate they were about their favourite books, and how imaginative they were in making their presentations.  For a writer, there could be nothing more inspiring to witness – so I'd like to end my final blog with a big THANK YOU to all the young readers and writers I've been working with for the past two years, to all their parents and teachers, and to their fantastic librarian for inviting me to do this work: it's been brilliant!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Author Visits: Coombe Hill Junior School

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Mark Clutterbuck and all the brilliant students and staff I met when I visited Coombe Hill Junior School last month!

It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about following your dreams, and about how reading can help you achieve your ambitions.  I told them how I came to write books like Varjak Paw and Phoenix.  They told me some truly inspiring dreams and ambitions of their own, and I was delighted to find they were hugely enthusiastic readers and writers!

It was also a pleasure to sign books for everyone after the event in the wonderful school library – and then to be asked to draw a picture or write a message on the library walls!  I'm not very good at drawing, so this is what I wrote:

If anyone from Coombe Hill would like to ask any questions, or to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Author Visits: St Joseph's Catholic Primary

I'd like to say a big thank you to Angelina Brett, Tracey Churchill and everyone I met at St Joseph's Catholic Primary School for the fantastic welcome they gave me when I visited them this month!

It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about reading and writing, and I was delighted to see what great young readers and writers there are at St Joseph's.  This is a school that places the very highest priority on reading.  They've even built a brand new library for the children, and asked me to open it while I was there!

Of course, I was thrilled to do this, because I believe that libraries are magical, life-changing places.  The books we discover in them can shape us and stay with us forever.  I've always hoped that my own books might have that kind of effect on readers – so I was absolutely knocked out when one of the students at St Joseph's read Phoenix after my visit, and made this amazing video about it:

So here's another big THANK YOU to her – and to everyone at St Joseph's for such an inspiring day.  And if anyone has any more questions they'd like to ask me, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Bookbuzz 2017!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that Phoenix has been chosen to be part of Bookbuzz 2017!

Bookbuzz is an amazing scheme run by the reading charity BookTrust.  Every year, schools that sign up to Bookbuzz are sent a package of books chosen by a panel of experts.  Teachers and librarians then share the books with their students, who can choose one book to take home and keep – for free!

The books cover a wide range of genres and are designed to appeal to all students aged 11 to 13, regardless of their level of reading.  I think this is a brilliant idea, because that's an age when people often stop reading for pleasure.  There are so many demands on your time in secondary school, but the pleasure of reading a book you love is something that should never be lost.  So I love the idea of a scheme specifically designed to create a buzz around books at that age.

This year's list includes books by some of my own favourite authors, like Wonder by RJ Palacio, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, Murder In Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock, Where Monsters Lie by Polly Ho-Yen...  there really is something for everyone!  You can find the full list and more information on the BookTrust website.  And for anyone who's already trying to choose a book – here's Dave McKean's amazing Phoenix book trailer:

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Author Visits: Borough Green Primary

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Stella Martin and everyone I met at Borough Green Primary for the wonderful welcome they gave me when I visited last week!

Before the visit, Mrs Martin had sent me some letters a few of the children had written about my books.  They were incredibly thoughtful and articulate, so I was looking forward to meeting them very much.  They were just as thoughtful and articulate in real life, and I'm sure some of these young readers will be writing books of their own very soon!

It was a pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about my own journey from being a reader to a writer, and about following your dreams.  They had some fantastic questions for me, and I was hugely inspired to see all the enthusiasm for reading and books out there.

We didn't quite have enough time to answer all the questions everyone had, so if anyone from Borough Green Primary has another question they'd like to ask, or would like to say anything about my books or the visit, just leave me a comment below!  And if you'd like to know more about the visit and see some more pictures, here's a link to a fantastic blog Mrs Martin made about it.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Author Visit: St Mary's and St John's

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Kathryn Joy and all the teachers and students I met at St Mary's and St John's CE School when I visited them last month!

They were opening a new school library, which I think is an absolutely brilliant thing to do, and they'd invited the illustrator Alexis Deacon and myself along to talk about books, to mark the occasion.  Here we are outside the library, just moments before the grand opening!

It was an absolute pleasure to answer questions about Varjak Paw from all the classes who'd been reading it, before giving a big assembly to KS2 about writing and books.  I was hugely inspired to see all the enthusiasm for reading, and to hear so many brilliant questions!

It was also a pleasure to sign books for everyone who wanted one at the end.  And if anyone from St Mary's and St John's has a question that we didn't have time to answer on the day, or would like to say anything about my books or the visit, just leave me a comment below!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

World Book Day 2017

I want to say a huge and heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who dressed up as a character from one of my books this World Book Day – and to everyone who made the day such a brilliant celebration of books!  It's an incredibly inspiring thing for an author to see readers enjoy their work so much, they want to dress up as your characters.  So here are all the photos I saw on Twitter on World Book Day, with thanks to all these amazing readers, their resourceful parents, and their brilliant teachers and schools!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Patron Of Reading: Fortismere School Year 7

On World Book Day this year, I had the pleasure of visiting Fortismere School again as their Patron Of Reading.  I was invited by the brilliant school librarian Gill Ward to talk to Year 7 about their Inter-College Reading Champions Competition, which the school is running again after it proved hugely successful last year.

I started by asking Year 7 to tell me some of the things they loved about books.  I was delighted to hear many different reasons to love reading: everyone had a different reason, and a different favourite book!  I think that's fantastic, because I believe everyone is potentially a reader.  Anyone who thinks they're not just hasn't found the right book yet – the one that's going to become their favourite.

So we then talked about the various ways that people find their favourite books.  The most powerful is personal recommendation.  If someone you know tells you they love a book, it makes you want to read it too.  And that's the idea behind the Reading Champions Competition.  Everyone in Year 7 will be championing their favourite book, and trying to get other people to read it.

But what are the elements that make up a great book?  What are the things you want to hear about if you're hearing about a story?  The first one is surely characters.  You can't have a story without characters.  They are so important, books are often named after them.

Characters don't have to be human, of course.  They can be cats, like Varjak Paw, or aliens, like Bixa Quicksilver in Phoenix, or anything at all.  But the first thing anyone is going to want to hear about a story is: WHO IS THE STORY ABOUT?

The next thing a story needs is a setting.  The story needs to happen in a particular time and place.  This is true of all stories – not just books, but also films, TV, comics and so on.

The very first words we see in Star Wars tell us about the setting: the time and place where the story happens.  So anyone who is championing a book is going to have to say something about: WHERE & WHEN DOES THE STORY HAPPEN?

The next thing we need is action.  Characters have to do something in this time and place.  The action can be anything: from very ordinary, everyday actions, to the most amazing magical things you can imagine.  Harry Potter has both of these, and everything in between!

So now we have a third element: WHAT DO THE CHARACTERS DO?  Between characters, setting and action, you've got the bones of a story, and when you're championing a book, those are probably the main things you'll focus on.

But there's one more thing you'll need to mention.  This one is a bit more elusive.  It's the meaning of the story, and it's to do with why the characters do what they do, and why the story matters to the reader.  This touches on the story's deeper themes and metaphors.  These things might not be obvious on the surface, and you may have to step back a bit to find them – but all stories have them.  Even the simplest stories are underpinned by this question: WHY DOES IT MATTER?

And now you have what journalists call The 5 Ws: : Who, Where, When, What, and Why.  These are the elements that all stories have.  You can look out for them when you read, and you should mention them when championing a story.  But of course there are many different ways in which you can express these things, and if anyone from Fortismere would like some ideas for how to go about championing a book and making a presentation, here's a blog from last year with lots of suggestions!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Author Visits: George Mitchell School

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Anoara Mughal and everyone I met at George Mitchell Primary School for the fantastic welcome they gave me when I visited them last month!

I enjoyed talking about reading and writing with them, and it was inspiring to see how enthusiastic they were about their favourite books and authors.  Quite a few of them had read Varjak Paw already, and some had also read The Outlaw Varjak Paw and Phoenix.  So they had lots of great questions for me!

It was an absolute pleasure to sign books for everyone at the end.  Mrs Mughal wrote an amazing blog about the visit, which you can read by clicking this link.  In it, she describes how inspiring it can be for young readers to meet authors.  I would just add that it's equally inspiring for authors to meet readers – because all authors were once young readers themselves, and some of these readers will one day be authors too!

For anyone at George Mitchell who is interested in writing – here's a link to all my writing tips.  But if anyone would like to ask me a question, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Patron Of Reading: Fortismere School Years 9 & 10

It was an absolute pleasure to return to Fortismere School last month, when I'm currently Patron Of Reading.  You can read about my previous visits to Years 7 & 8 in these blogs; but this time I decided with the brilliant school librarian Gill Ward to do some creative writing workshops with students from Years 9 & 10.

First of all, I asked the students to think about the sort of story they would like to read themselves.  I asked them to think of a character, a setting and an action for their story; and then asked them to write a write a first draft very quickly.

Then we talked about how a writer can get distance on their story, and come back to read it again as if they hadn't written it themselves.  This helps when editing it into a second draft, and this process eventually leads to a piece of writing that is as good as it can possibly be – always my aim when I'm writing a story!

They worked really brilliantly at these different stages of the process, and I was blown away by the stories they read out at the end!  I think these students have huge potential as writers, and so I'm delighted to share some of their work here.

If anyone from Fortismere would like any advice on writing, here's a link to all my blog posts about it.  Or you can just leave me a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer any questions you may have!

Monday, 20 February 2017

One Day Without Us

My family is originally from the Middle East.  I came to Britain at the age of 2.  I don't remember living anywhere else, and I've been a British citizen for a long time – but I will always be a migrant, and if I have children, they will be second-generation migrants.

If you look carefully, you'll see that my books all tend to be about migrants.  In Varjak Paw, Varjak's family came from Mesopotamia; in Phoenix, Bixa's family are refugees from a war.  I wrote more about my background and how it shaped my writing in this Guardian article.

Today, February 20 2017, One Day Without Us asks us to celebrate contributions made to the UK by migrants and people descended from migrants.  So today, I'd like to celebrate British children's writers and illustrators who came from migrant backgrounds.  It's an incomplete list – but look how many wonderful books it includes.  How different would British childhood be without their contributions?

Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

Judith Kerr (born 1923)

Eva Ibbotson (1925-2010)

Jan Pieńkowski (born 1936)

Jamila Gavin (born 1941)

Michael Rosen (born 1946)

Floella Benjamin (born 1949)

John Agard (born 1949)

Grace Nichols (born 1950)

Francesca Simon (born 1955)

Meg Rosoff (born 1956)

Axel Scheffler (born 1957)

Benjamin Zephaniah (born 1958)

Malorie Blackman (born 1962)

Catherine Johnson (born 1962)

Candy Gourlay (born 1962)

Alex Wheatle (born 1963)

Sita Brahmachari (born 1966)

SF Said (born 1967)

Patrice Lawrence
 (born 1967)

Sara Fanelli (born 1969)

GR Gemin

Sarwat Chadda

Bali Rai (born 1971)

Patrick Ness (born 1971)

Sarah McIntyre (born 1975)

Na'ima B. Robert (born 1977)

Joseph Coelho

Kiran Millwood Hargrave (born 1990)

Taran Matharu (born 1990)