A Super Saturday – at Oxford Literary Festival 2017!

WinnieTheWitchIntroducing Korky Paul at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, Saturday 25th March.

The day dawned bright and fair. ‘Suited and booted’ wearing my favourite Dorothy-inspired book-ish shoes, I set off to the beautiful city of Oxford for the first day of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival.  I had been asked to introduce none other than Korky Paul, illustrator of the fabulous Winnie the Witch books.  On arriving, it was with great delight I spent an hour or so chatting with Korky and helping a real life Winnie the Witch get ready to entertain the audience!

 

About 80 or so children and parents arrived, all hugely thrilled to meet Korky – and of course Winnie, who willingly posed for photos with them.  After introducing Korky, I sat back and watched in wonder as he brought to life Winnie, Wilbur and all their wonderful adventures.

With prizes and stories along the way, everyone went away utterly delighted. Korky shared brilliant illustrations tips and was so encouraging of all the children and even read aloud one of the stories.

It really was a special morning. There are few things more inspiring than watching an illustrator at work, perfectly capturing the expression, movement and magic of a character everybody knows and loves!

“Seeing the World Through Children’s Books”  with Elizabeth Laird, Gill Lewis and Anna Bassi, and Nikki Gamble

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This was a great opportunity to hear from two renowned authors and the editor of the fantastic news magazine for children, The Week. Chaired by Nikki Gamble from Just Imagine, the discussion focused on why it is so important to write about the real world for children. Each member of the panel gave a brief talk about their work, starting with Anna Bassi, editor of The Week, a magazine for children which aims to make the news accessible for younger readers.

Anna talked about balancing new stories “with fun stuff so that children could see that the world is not all bad; it’s huge and interesting”.  Having subscribed to The Week both at home and in the school library, I’ve always found it to be an excellent source of news for children and also full of interesting facts, competitions and great stories from around the world.  It is also, most importantly, as Anna described “a safe place to read about serious stories”. I think the whole audience could appreciate the challenge of making news accessible for children in the current climate.

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Gill Lewis, author of award winning wonderful books such as Sky Hawk and Scarlet Ibis, then shared her inspiration for her new book A Story Like the Wind (out next month), an incredible tale about refugees which Gill described as a “story about the power of stories”. She also spoke about Gorilla Dawn which focuses on the destruction of gorillas and their habitats through the mining of minerals for mobile phone technology.

Gill shared some wonderful insights into her writing, such as taking big events down to one narrative to make the story accessible for young readers.  She talked about finding the character within the story to enable you to create a narrative and enable children to relate to the story.  Gill described her writing as not writing for children, but writing as a child, “exploring what it’s like to feel utterly powerless in an adult world.”

Elizabeth Laird, whose work was characterised as “intrepid” by the panel chair Nikki Gamble and has been translated into 25 different languages, was the final author to share her thoughts.  Her books include the amazing, award winning The Garbage King and The Fastest Boy in the World. Elizabeth talked about her latest novel Welcome to Nowhere, a story about Syrian refugees.  Elizabeth shared an experience of seeing hundreds of refugees arriving at a train station in Munich, making her think of other historical events where multitudes of people have been forced out of their homes.

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This motivated her trip to the Middle East and led her to writing Welcome to Nowhere. Elizabeth made an impassioned plea to the audience to help those “people just like us with perfectly good lives who are now refugees”. Elizabeth’s presentation included images of the refugee camp she visited, home to some 80,000 people.  She also spoke about the children living in absolute poverty on whom some of her other novels are based, and moved many in audience to tears with some of her stories – including me.  Elizabeth encouraged all members of the audience to get involved in raising funds for The Mandala Trust, a charity supporting two schools opened especially for refugee children.  Find out more on her website www.elizabethlaird.co.uk.

The overall thread was the importance of ensuring a message of hope whilst still being true to the story or narrative.  Younger readers should not be patronised but neither should they be made to feel complete despair.  Nikki Gamble asked if there was a line the panel members wouldn’t go beyond with their readers. In response, Elizabeth spoke of having a duty to encourage readers, always showing hope. Gill has had readers who have thanked her for writing stories even about the most difficult of issues, because it helped them get through their own experiences.  And Anna shared that even with the darkest of news stories; there are always opportunities to remember what good people there are in the world, focusing on everyday heroes.

It was a fascinating hour, looking at the power of both fiction and non-fiction to enable children to see the world more clearly.  I think the conversation also showed the ability writers have to help children feel empathy and make informed decisions about the world around them.  This demonstrates why reading is so important, especially in a world which is so visible to children, but also so full of things that are difficult to understand.

Find out more about the Oxford Literary Festival at www.oxfordliteraryfestival.org which runs until 2nd April.

And look out for an interview with Gill Lewis coming up as part of our Spring Feature!

 

Spring Forward! Special feature coming soon…

Oh the irony of waking up to awful wet weather on the official First Day of Spring! It doesn’t feel much like spring today, so to provide a bit of spring time inspiration, I’m pleased to announce a new special feature coming soon!

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‘Just in time for Spring  will celebrate new authors, new books and general all round inspiration in children’s books. With participation from some wonderful children’s writers and publishers, I’ll be interviewing the people who bring to life new worlds and new characters, finding out all about their new projects. It all starts in the next few weeks, so watch this space!

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31 December: Mark Powers

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Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate the final day of our calendar than with a debut author?!

mark-hi-resMark Powers has been making up ridiculous stories since primary school and is slightly shocked to find that people now pay him to do it. As a child he always daydreamed that his teddy bear went off on top secret missions when he was at school, so a team of toys recruited as spies seemed a great idea for a story. He grew up in north Wales and now lives in Manchester. Spy Toys is publishing in January 2017!

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Chocolate, more chocolate, upset stomach medicine.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? In the Powers family, we are firm believers in the tradition of the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.  It usually starts over something trivial (“We’re not watching the boring Queen’s speech!”, “Why aren’t you wearing the lovely socks/tie/scarf I bought you?”, “Who made that smell?”) and ends up as a massive shouting match about who’s always been the favourite child (it’s me, of course) complete with neighbours banging on the walls and police sirens.

(Sounds like a nice ‘peaceful’ time!!)

‘What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Christmas is the perfect time for spooky stories – when it’s snowy and dark outside and you’re tucked up snugly inside with a hot drink and your feet slowly t51veqhzdbll-_sx321_bo1204203200_oasting by the fire.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? I would choose Sue Townsend (author of the brilliant Adrian Mole books, who died in 2014).  I think she would have been a fascinating and hilarious dinner companion.

Your debut book Spy Toys features amazing toys that are ‘alive’. If you could choose any of your Christmas toys from childhood to come to life which would it be? I had a toy Dalek for Christmas when I was six and it would be amazing to see it come alive and obey my commands.  It would definitely give me the edge in the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.

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You’ve been making up stories from a young age; if you had to make up a festive story for Christmas who would be your main character? I think I might write a story about a sad snowflake that has only five points instead of six.  Might make a good picture book.  Hands off my idea if you’re reading this, David Walliams!

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Reader’s question from the children at Inkpots Writers’ Hut; how do you start writing a story; do you type or write them by hand? I usually type them on my laptop; sometimes I make notes on my phone.

Turkey or goose? Goose.

Real or fake tree? Real.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Christmas pudding.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for joining our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Find out more about Mark at www.bloomsbury.com and follow him on Twitter @mpowerswriter.

You can read a review of Spy Toys on the Bookshelf.

Spy Toys is illustrated by Tim Wesson who was born somewhere in England. As a young boy he enjoyed climbing trees and drawing pictures of dogs in cars. Eventually he became an illustrator who creates children’s books. Tim doodles and paints whenever he can and likes to draw the first thing that pops into his head. He lives by the sea in Suffolk with his family.

30 December: Kat Ellis

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YA Author joins us on our penultimate day!

kat-ellisKat Ellis grew up in North Wales and studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an active blogger and amateur photographer. Kat has had short stories published and wrote Blackfin Sky last year after trying her hand at sci-fi. Her first published novel, Blackfin Sky will also be released in the US next autumn.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Notebooks (I have a bit of a collection building… some might call it a hoard), fancy coffee (because I usually spend January trying to be a bit posh in my drinking habits, but inevitably go back to instant), and a novelty mug (to put the fancy coffee in).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Day for me usually involves bustling around to visit family members, but on Boxing Day – which is also my husband’s birthday – we traditionally go out for a curry, just to do something completely un-Christmassy.

(Curry on Boxing Day sounds like a great idea!)

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Growing up, Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider was my favourite Christmas read. Last Christmas I read Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, which was snowy and wonderful, and I think this year I’ll be reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan for a bit of festive romance.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? David Bowie, for sure. As well as being an amazing musician, he was also an artist, starred in films like Labyrinth – which is one of my all-time favourites, especially at Christmastime – and he just seemed like a fascinating person. I bet he’d have some good stories to share over the Christmas crackers!

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Purge is your third YA novel. Mason is often in trouble in the novel; do you think Father Christmas would visit him and if so, what would he give him? I think if Father Christmas paid Mason a visit, the only thing he’d give him is a stern telling off. Not that Mason would be bothered, mind you. He’d probably nick Father Christmas’s sleigh and go joyriding.

(*laughs out loud* Definitely belongs on the naughty list!)

You’re a keen photographer; what or who would your ideal Christmas photo feature?Living in North Wales, I have plenty of amazing scenery to photograph, so maybe a nice snowy castle or forest.

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from the children Warden Park Academy: we sometimes have to correct our creative writing. How do you feel when you have to make corrections to your work? Before I share a story with anyone else, I read it over and over, looking for mistakes and polishing it to make it as good as possible. But – and I don’t think I’m alone here – I inevitably reach a point where I can’t look at my own work objectively, and I might miss a mistake that’s obvious to someone reading it for the first time. That’s why I’m always grateful to work with editors; they offer me expert guidance to make my stories flow better, and make my writing more polished. Writing is a skill you never stop learning and honing, so it’s great when you have someone helping you to improve.

(Wonderful writing advice!)

Turkey or goose? Turkey, always.

Real or fake tree? Fake (if you’ve ever trodden on pine needles with bare feet, you’ll know why.)

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Errrrr….neither? I’m more of a sherry trifle fan.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Over the fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for participating in our festive Q & A! Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year! 

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Find out more about Kat at katelliswrites.blogspot.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @el_kat

29 December:Chris Priestley

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Photo by Martin Bond

Chris Priestley lives in Cambridge with his wife and son. His novels are brilliantly original additions to a long tradition of horror stories by authors such as M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe. Chris wrote one of the World Book Day books for 2011 and has been shortlisted for a variety of prestigious children’s book awards.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! A time machine, a holiday and socks. 

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? I’m a big fan of Christmas – can’t think of any bad traditions in my little family. The best are all pretty ordinary – good company, good food, a roaring fire, a walk on Boxing Day, a few films, the odd board game.

 There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol has a special place in my affections. But I also like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. That was a regular when my son was little. As was 51hmtth98cl-_sx258_bo1204203200_John Burningham’s Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present.

 If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? My mum, dad and brother. Because I missed so many when they were alive. 

Your brilliant book The Last of the Spirits is a take on the classic A Christmas Carol. If you could write another take on any novel, which would it be and why? Well I’ve done my tribute to Frankenstein in Mister Creecher. That’s probably me done with other people’s novels now.

In Christmas Tales of Terror you feature lots of Christmas characters with a scary twist. If you had to choose one of them to write a full length novel about, which one would it be and why? I’m not sure any of the Tales would make a full length novel. They are very different things. I love writing and reading short stories. They are they’re own very particular pleasure. 

Reader’s question from students in Year 10 at Warden Park Secondary Academy; why do you write in this particular genre (horror)?  The fact is I don’t just write horror! I’ve written over 20 books and only a handful have been horror. I’ve written funny stories, historical adventures and non-fiction. I write what is most interesting to me at the time. I’m working on three books at the moment. One is horror, one is part of a funny series, the third is a YA story about love and loss and superheroes.

(We can’t wait to read them!)

 Quick fire round:

Turkey or goose? Turkey

Real or fake tree? Real

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Both!

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? Back of a chair

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve all the way. Never quite got the hang of New Year’s Eve

 Thanks for the questions and Merry Christmas one and all!

Thank you for participating and a very Happy Christmas to you!

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Find out more about Chris at www.chrispriestleybooks.com or on Facebook or Twitter @crispriestley

28 December: Alice Broadway

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Alice Broadway, author of debut novel Ink.

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Alice Broadway drinks more tea than is really necessary and loves writing in her yellow camper van. She hates being too cold or too hot, and really likes wearing lipstick and watching terrible Christmas movies. Alice has a Theology degree and lives in the North with her family. Her debut novel Ink publishes in February. 21324_1_1200px

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! A fountain pen – because I’m obsessed with them. A fancy handmade mug. I drink so much tea. Any and ALL books. I’ve asked for 642 Things To Write because I’d like to use it as a daily writing warm-up, journally thing.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? I LOVE Christmas traditions! I like the little things like bacon sandwiches for breakfast and I always hated that we weren’t allowed to open any presents until after lunch. It felt like torture. Now, we do family Christmas discos, but I’m not sure how much longer my kids are going to put up with it.

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What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? I love reading The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. It’s like an advent calendar with a new chapter every day and it’s magical and spiritual and ace.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? Oh gosh, well if Barack and Michelle are in need of company they are very welcome at my house. I’d also really love to chat to any of the kings who ended up mummified in ancient Egypt, but I think we’d end up putting everyone else off their food when we talked about brains being scooped from noses.

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Ink is your debut novel, the first of a series.  It must be like the best Christmas present in the world to be on the brink of your book birthday. How will you celebrate? It is the nicest feeling. I feel so lucky I can hardly believe it. I think celebration is definitely going to include lots of cake. I don’t have any tattoos and, because of all the tattoos in the book, I sometimes I think I should get one to mark the moment.

Speaking of tattoos, Ink features tattoos as a central part of the narrative.  If you had to choose a festive themed tattoo to have on your own skin, what would be and why? Ooh, maybe some sparkly fairy lights or a really bleak wintery scene. Or maybe I’d just be covered in candy canes.

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from students at Warden Park Academy; did you get to choose the cover of your book? It was really nice actually. The designers at my publishers, Scholastic, came up with the design and sent it to me, saying ‘tell us what you think’. I was really nervous that I was going to have to say ‘urgh I hate it’ but if you’ve seen it, I think you’ll understand that I just gasped and said ‘I LOVE IT’. It’s a cover that expresses the feel of the book and gives glimpses of the story without giving anything away and I adore it.

Turkey or goose? Turkey. I’ve never had goose.

Real or fake tree? Real (but we have a fake one)

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Ooh hard one. Fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas eve, no question.

Thank you for participating! Merry Christmas!

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Find out more about Alice at www.alice-broadway.com  and follow her on Twitter @alicecrumbs.

 

27 December: Eve Ainsworth

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Carnegie Medal 2017 nominee Eve Ainsworth on Day 27!

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Eve Ainsworth’s first Young Adult Novel published by Scholatsic, Seven Days, focused on bullying from the perspective of the bully and the bullied. Seven Days was a huge success, for which Eve was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016 and has won regional awards including the Wandsworth Teen Award and the Dudley Teen Prize. Her second YA Novel, Crush, is equally gripping, looking at the topic of abusive teenage relationships and is told with Eve’s warmth, humour and hope. This too has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for 2017.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Family-time, laughter and books.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Eve at my mum’s is a favourite tradition – freshly made mince pies and mulled wine with my crazy family and all the excitement to come!  A silly tradition is our Secret Scrooge. The family does it every year – finding the worst/most useless present they can for a pound and exchanging it on Boxing day – it’s heaps of fun, but you end up with a load of rubbish that you don’t really don’t need. I honestly don’t think we have a bad tradition – I love them all whether they are silly, fun or crazy.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? It has to be A Christmas Carol doesn’t it!?! What better story to curl up in front of a warm fire and get into the Christmassy mood.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? David Bowie because he’s my hero, Andrew Lincoln (Rick from Breaking Bad) because, well he’s so yummy and Charlie Brooker because he is very clever and funny.

You write about some difficult issues in your books Crush and Seven Days. What would your advice be to a young person experiencing similar difficulties to help them get through the festive season, which can sometimes be an even more emotional time?Christmas can be hard when you are going through a difficult time so you need to be kind to yourself. Give yourself space if you need it and don’t be afraid to talk to someone you trust if you need to. If it’s all too hectic and crazy, give yourself some calm time doing something that makes you feel more at peace and relaxed. Above all, don’t put pressure on yourself. Sometimes there is this belief that EVERYONE must be happy and having fun at Christmas and this is really not the case. Many of us struggle at this time – you are not alone.

(Great advice)

If you could give Anna, the central character in Crush, a Christmas gift what would it be?An acoustic guitar so she could learn to play.

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Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; how long do you write for per day? I write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it takes an hour – sometimes much, much longer….

Turkey or goose? Turkey

Real or fake tree? Real! My tree is fake but I prefer real – the smell is so gorgeous!

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies – especially my mums.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of bed of course (although it makes it tricky for Santa).

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? I am Christmas Eve!

(*Laughs out loud*!)

Thank you for joining our author advent! Happy Christmas!

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Find out more about Eve visit www.eveainsworth.com and follow her on Twitter @EveAinsworth.