A.F. Harrold at the Bookchat Roadshow!


 Helping parents and carers encourage their children’s reading and creative writing for pleasure.

The brilliant poet, performer and writer of children’s fiction A.F. Harrold is joining the line-up at the Bookchat Roadshow!

This event is especially for parents and carers to help them encourage theirA magnificent beard - AF Harrold by Naomi Woddis children’s reading and creative writing, and I am so excited A. F. Harrold is going to share his amazing imagination with all those attending.

He has written numerous wonderful books for children including the Fizzlebert Stump (illustrated by Sarah Horne) series – a particular favourite of mine to read aloud in the library! The first Fizzlebert Stump book was chosen as 2017’s Young City Reads book in Brighton and Hove. He has also written thought-provoking books such as The Imaginary (illustrated by Emily Gravett, longlisted for both the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards 2016)) and The Song From Somewhere Else (illustrated by Levi Pinfold). His children’s poetry collection, Things You Find In A Poet’s Beard is illustrated by Chris Riddell.  His new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton) comes out in September.

A.F. Harrold will be participating in the author panel bookchat and sharing his experiences as a writer and thoughts on reading and creativity – and maybe even a line of a poem or two!!  He says:

“I’m very pleased to be taking part in the Roadshow, because I like to read and I liked to read when I was younger too, and sometimes it’s nice to share those things that make you happy. In this day and age the empathy and other-person’s-shoe-ness that reading, both fiction and non-fiction, can help nurture and grow inside a human heart cannot be a bad thing to encourage, so let’s encourage it.”  

The Bookchat Roadshow is an event designed especially for parents and carers bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Read all about our last event here.

For more information about the Bookchat Roadshow visit www.thebookactivist.com.

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

Chris Riddell & Friends, Southbank Centre Imagine Fest, 9th Feb 2017


It was half term for many schools in London last week coinciding with the Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival which ran from 9-19 February.  A unique festival run by children for children, the Southbank Centre works with local primary schools to put together an amazing array of events to entertain and inspire.  Just one of these events was the Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell & Friends presenting live illustration, readings and a glimpse into the inspiration behind their work.
The friends in question were Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series; Liz Pichon, author of the Tom Gates series and author and illustrator Posy Simmonds. Add to this a special surprise guest in the shape of Neil Gaiman and it was going to be a very special hour!
Chris began with some live illustrating,  drawing members of the audience as they sat waiting for the event to start! They were lucky enough to be given said illustrations to take home. He then introduced his guests through drawing them and shared his own excitement at having then join him on stage. Each guest was given fifteen minutes or so to share some of their writing and illustrating history, how they got started, and where the ideas for their hugely successful books came from. We even got to see some of their early childhood works, including scrapbooks which were fascinating.
All of them had sound advice for the young aspiring writers and artists in the audience. Which in a nutshell was: don’t let anyone tell you you won’t amount to anything or achieve anything through the art of telling stories in words and or pictures. And don’t let anyone hold you back by saying you’re no good at drawing or no good at writing (even if you have dyslexia, which Liz Pichon does).  Sat next to me was a young girl of about 13 who sat drawing in her sketchbook as she listened – inspiration in action.
Particularly special and perhaps a once in a lifetime moment, was Neil Gaiman reading aloud from Fortunately the Milk whilst Chris Riddell illustrated live on screen. Neil also shared his poem Witch Work with illustrations Chris had drawn earlier. Wow.
It was an utterly inspiring event – a wonderful celebration of stories and illustration. It never ceases to amaze me how a person can put pen to paper a draw the most incredible characters and create the most wonderful stories.
Find out more:

Crossan and Conaghan at Waterstones Brighton.


I was somewhat excited about hearing Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan talk about their new book We Come Apart at Waterstones, Brighton and arrived about 45 minutes early in my haste to get there on time.  The seats filled quickly and the talk began, brilliantly chaired by Nikki Sheehan (author of Swanboy and Who Framed Klaris Kliff?).  It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story of how two award winning authors with such unique writing styles came together to produce what will no doubt be a bestseller.  We Come Apart, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Nicu, an immigrant from Romania and his relationship with Jess, a a fellow teenager with a troubled home life.  I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after hearing how it came together.

Brian approached Sarah with the idea of writing together and Sarah agreed; and so began an incredible process of writing mainly via What’s App! With no actual ‘plotting’ the story unfolded between them, each author taking on one of the central characters. Brian would write the story from Nicu’s point of view and Sarah would write the story from Jess’ point of view. Rather than plan the story, each author would write responding and reacting to what the other author had produced, so the process was totally organic.  With their own varied approaches to writing it was clear from the conversation that their various strengths and weaknesses blended well.  And unbelievably it took just five and a half weeks to write!  Both authors shared what they had learnt from the process of a joint writing experience. Amongst other things, Brian, to plan a bit more and Sarah, to keep the gremlins of self-doubt at bay! It also came across as a very brave thing to do, which Nikki Sheehan highlighted saying that as a writer ‘giving’ your story to anyone is like giving something or someone very precious away.

When asked if they would do it again, both agreed there wouldn’t be a sequel.  They also said they’d consider writing together again but perhaps in prose. They both have ideas of characters bubbling away so perhaps it’s a case of watch this space!  It sounded like it had been a very rewarding but also quite challenging experience and it was fascinating to hear the creativity behind it.

As a young girl, I will admit I really disliked poetry. Having studied Chaucer (the original text) to death when I was about 14, I think you could forgive me for being put off poetry for some time.  I was somewhat sceptical when I first heard about The Weight of Water and whether it would appeal to young people based on my own youthful experiences. Sarah shared how in the UK it had been a much harder ‘sell’ because of some negative attitudes to poetry.  She pointed out that young people are often more flexible than their elders and they quickly embrace different styles of writing.  Not only that, for many it appeals as it’s often a quicker read and can be easier for children with dyslexia. Sarah described writing in verse as like sewing lots of different pictures together and how you can get to the heart of the story much more quickly when you don’t have to describe every tree and every ‘high road’! Brian and Sarah both talked about how writing in verse enables the reader to use their imagination to ‘fill in’ the blanks, creating those elements of the story that are left out, in the way they choose.  In that sense, it can be incredibly powerful and also very personal.  For me, reading in verse is an amazing way to communicate a story and has gone a long way to restore my love of poetry.

I wasn’t aware that both Sarah and Brian were previously teachers and both of them talked about this and how it informs their writing. Brian spoke about how he would often be talking to the reluctant readers in the classroom so that he could engage them in even just a small amount of reading, so they could feel a sense of achievement and enjoy stories like anyone else. Not being much of a reader himself as a teenager, he can relate to those who don’t read and even now doesn’t read books with a tiny font.  Brian commented that he writes books for people, about real life and real situations and for those who don’t like this, well, they don’t have to read his books.  I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.  Life is a varied and many splendoured thing and writers can choose what they want to reflect on and the reader can choose what they want to read.  Hence why book choice is so personal – and so important.

Sarah shared that as both a teacher and a mother, she felt a sense of responsibility in being very aware of what she chooses to include in her books and that she always likes to end with even just the tiniest glimmer of hope – even if the ending isn’t a ‘happy’ one.  I can’t help but agree with this too – life is hard and full of difficulties, but it’s often our hope in each other and the future that keeps us going and it’s good for young people to believe this.

Brian and Sarah were both hugely entertaining to listen to, and I can only imagine how excited their agents and publishers were when they were told they had written together; this confirmed by the Bloomsbury representatives and Brian’s agent in the audience.

It’s what I love about the world of books and reading; people are so passionate about stories. Listening to those who write them, hearing their enthusiasm and the creativity behind the story is totally inspiring.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and if Crossan and Conaghan are visiting a Waterstones near you, make sure you go if you can!

A review of We Come Apart will follow soon!

15 December: Natasha Carthew


Author Natasha Carthew joins our Christmas calendar!


Natasha Carthew is from Cornwall where she lives with her girlfriend of nineteen years. She has had three books of poetry published. Her first novel Winter Damage was nominated for the 2014 Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for several national awards including the prestigious Branford Boase Award 2014. The Light That Gets Lost published in Winter 201.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Book Vouchers (behind every good writer is a great reader); new hiking boots (I walk everywhere and my old boots are full of holes); a puppy (really!)

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? The best is hunting down the Christmas tree; as kids we used to ‘find’ one in the local woods, but these days my girlfriend and I spend a full day travelling between barns, farms and garden centres in pursuit of perfection. I also love foraging for things like fir cones and holly to make into decorations.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Winter Damage by me! I wrote this book outside in a particularly cold winter and because it was my first work of fiction I read it every Christmas to mind me of that time. It is set in a snowy Cornwall over two weeks running up to Christmas so technically it is a Christmas book and is best read in front of a roaring log fire (and with a box of tissues.)17205326

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? All my favourite writers, songwriters and musicians so we could have a huge party filled with readings and acoustic music (too many to mention here).

(Love the sound of this; what a brilliant idea!)

You have often spoken about your love for the Cornish countryside and the outdoors. What would be your ideal view if looking out of your window from home at Christmas time? The one I am lucky to look at every day; green fields, woodland and part of Bodmin Moor, but perhaps it could do with a little more snow, especially at Christmas.

You write both poetry and prose. Your novels have been described as ‘lyrical’ and having their ‘own poetry.’ Do you think it’s possible to 9781408835876separate the two forms of writing and if you had to choose between the two, which would it be? At this time in my career I would choose fiction writing. I’m a storyteller and I find sometimes I can’t say all I want to with poetry, but saying that I am working on a longer, book-length poem at the moment. I don’t think there’s any need to truly separate poetry and prose and thankfully readers are becoming more open to untried/lyrical writing such as mine.


Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; we are often told keeping a journal can help our writing. Do you keep a journal? If not, what do you do to help inspire you? Keeping a journal or ideas book can definitely help with your writing. I have a memory book where I stick things like photos, ticket stubs and flight tickets which I have been doing since I was really young and I also include any poetry I have written so the book records a kind of timeline of my life (like a diary). I also have a beautiful leather-bound journal where I write ideas for new books and collect inspirational quotes and pictures for settings, characters or whatever.

(Great advice!)

Turkey or goose? Nut Roast (I’m Veggie).

Real or fake tree? Real!

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince Pies (Homemade).

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

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

Thank you for joining our festive author calendar! Happy Christmas!


Find out more about Natasha at www.bloomsbury.com and follow her on Twitter @natashacarthew.

14 December: Hilda Offen


Author and illustrator Hilda Offen joins the Calendar!


Hilda Offen is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator with many books in print. She won the Smarties Gold Award for her picture book Nice Work, Little Wolf! and her book The Galloping Ghost was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize and the Portsmouth Children’s Book Award. Hilda’s books  include the Rita the Rescuer series, Too Many Hats and Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears, which was shortlisted for the 2015 CLPE Poetry Award.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! I don’t really have a Christmas list – I just hope for lots of books!

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions?  Singing!


There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas?  The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? Jane Austen

Your lovely poems often feature nature and the world around us. If you could spend Christmas in any location in the world, where would it be? In Australia, somewhere in the rain forest.

As an illustrator, you draw amazing pictures to bring your stories to life.  How do you get creative at Christmas time? We love having children’s’ parties and of course, decorating the  Christmas tree!


Reader’s question from students at Warden Park Secondary Academy: where do you get your inspiration from? I get inspiration for poems from all over the place – when I’m walking around, sitting on trains, talking to people etc. Sometimes a phrase will come into my head and that will be the start of a poem.


Turkey or goose? Turkey.

Real or fake tree? Real.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies.

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

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

Thank you for joining our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas!


Find out more about Hilda at www.troikabooks.com.

10 December: Andy Seed





Andy Seed is an author and humorist who writes books for children and adults (but not animals or aliens). He love funny things and most of his books are a bit giggly, as you’ll find out if you read them. He writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry!  Andy is a keen sportsman, loves the countryside and lives in North Yorkshire.  One of the things Andy most cares about is getting people reading more, especially children.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! A new hat (you can never have too many hats), a big pile of books to read (and I mean BIG) and unfeasible amounts of cheese. I usually end up with brown socks.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Right, well, for a start we have a kind of German Christmas (my wife’s mum is from Germany) and that means pressies are given out on Christmas Eve. We always have a real Christmas tree with real CANDLES on it (fire hazard warning!) and that looks magical when all the lights are turned off. After Christmas dinner we also like to play noisy games including a brilliant silly one called Up Jenkins which is described in my new book. The worst Christmas tradition is that I usually end up doing a mountain of washing up…

There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your 51xi4hulzelfavourite story to read at Christmas? My very favourite (and one of the most magical stories of all time) is The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you’re probably a robot. Or an alien. Or an alien robot.

(A wonderful story! No we’re not robots thankfully!)

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? This is tricky, I mean there are 50 billion to choose from… Maybe the Queen (imagine how big her turkey is!), perhaps William Shakespeare (I could get a few writing tips) or Elvis (think how many times that selfie would be retweeted). But I’ll settle for my mum because she makes the best Christmas dinner in the solar system.

(Ahhhh, that’s nice!)9781408870105

The Anti-boredom Christmas Book is full of facts (as well as silliness!). How did you go about finding out all the fabulous facts in the book? I read a lot. I mean I read loads and loads and LOADS! I use my local library all the time and I also buy lots of books on the subject I’m researching. I do use the internet as well but it’s full of things which look like facts but turn out to be wrong when you check them.

If you were bored at Christmas and had to choose ONE of the activities you suggest in the book, which would it be? OK, well the game Hummit on page 28 is a good giggle but it would have to be the joke quiz on page 121. I’d choose this because it’s fun but it’s also good to try and work out the answers: for example; which film is about telling the time in Narnia? (Answer: The Lion, the Watch and the Wardrobe).


Reader’s question from students at Warden Park Academy: you write lots of funny books! What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you? Right, well, you might not believe this but when I was a student (a long time ago) I actually slipped on a banana skin in a busy street in York. It’s true! To be slippery, the skin has to have the inside facing upwards. Very, very embarrassing…


Turkey or goose? Turkey. The family next door keep geese and mostly I try not to eat my neighbours.

Real or fake tree? Real!

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Can I have them both? OK then, the pudding.

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? Bed – quicker to find them!

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve every time. On New Year’s Eve I’m usually in the loo and miss the fireworks.

Thank for you joining in our festive fun! Merry Christmas! 


Find out more about Andy Seed at www.andyseed.com and follow him on Twitter @andyseedauthor.

5 December: Joshua Seigal


Introducing Joshua Seigal, children’s poet!



Joshua Seigal is an award-winning poet, performer and educator. He has worked in hundreds of schools, nurseries, libraries, theatres and festivals around the country, and his poems have been published in numerous anthologies.  Joshua writes for adults as well as children, regularly standing up at comedy, spoken word and variety nights. Michael Rosen described Joshua’s poems in I Don’t Like Poetry  as magic!

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Hmm, interesting. I don’t really have Christmas lists. I was brought up Jewish so we didn’t really do Christmas. Nowadays I decide what to get people on the spur of the moment. Usually it’s edible (or drinkable).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? The annual family argument is quite traditional, isn’t it? Another good one involves dressing my dog up as Santa. He is a Lhasa Apso and is very fluffy, so he has a beard just like Santa.

(I don’t think you can beat a dog Santa lookalike!)51i9ubfbnll-_sy344_bo1204203200_

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? Donald Trump. Just joking! It would have to be my family. But not Uncle Nigel. Uncle Nigel is not invited.

(Poor Uncle Nigel!!)

You write amazing poetry for children! If you were to write a festive Christmas poem for children what would it be about? Thank you very much! I wrote one recently about a kid who falls in love with the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. It might also be fun to write one about the ten worst things to find in a Christmas stocking.


I Don’t Like Poetry is described as helping even the most reluctant poem reader enjoy it more. Did you enjoy poetry as a child and how did you get into writing poems? I liked it a bit, I would say. I enjoyed writing rhyming poems as a child, and as a teenager I wrote some awful, self-indulgent, pseudo-intellectual stuff. But I was never very into reading poetry. I started to read more poems in order to become a better writer. I also found writing poetry, and engaging in intricate word play, was a good way of keeping the black dog of depression at bay.


Reader’s question from Adam aged 10, Great Walstead School: you write lots of funny and silly poems. Where do you get your ideas from and do you laugh while you’re writing them? Great question. I get ideas from lots of places, but the most important ingredients are within me: my five senses, and my imagination. I do sometimes laugh when I write them; when that happens I know it is going to be a good poem!


Turkey or goose? Neither. A nut roast for me.

Real or fake tree? Real.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? I hate both! Bah, humbug!

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? On my legs.

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

Thank you for taking the time to participate! Have a very Happy Christmas!


For more information about Joshua Seigal, visit www.joshuaseigal.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @joshuaseigal