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)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Author Visits: Highfield Primary

I'd like to say a very big thank you to David Wilson and Poet In Residence Cheryl Moskowitz for inviting me to Highfield Primary School, and an even bigger thank you to all the fantastic young readers I met there when I visited last month!

It was a pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about writing and books, and it was inspiring for me as a writer to see the huge enthusiasm for reading in this school.  Quite a lot of them had read Varjak Paw already, and so they had some brilliant questions for me!

Three of the students – Mark, Lewis and Samir (in the photo with me above) – had even written a poem about Varjak Paw!  I was delighted when they gave me a copy, and I'm honoured to post it here.

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