Sunday Special

On Thursday 31st October 2013  I took myself from West Wittering to Swiss Cottage Library. I didn’t get the prize for furthest travelled – my friend and colleague Julie Pike from Dorset earned that – but I did come away with several small and special treasures.

Firstly the most obvious – signatures from the illustrious guests in copies of their books which I had taken especially. The event was organised by IBBY and focused on using myth, legend and history in writing for children and young people. The four wonderful writers were:

Sally kindly signed my review copy of ‘Tinder’ which I had just finished reading on the train. I shall be writing about it on Serendipity Reviews shortly – but what I can say is that the complete book is most beautifully produced – and was perfect reading for Halloween.

I took ‘Mister Creecher’ for Chris to sign . Those who know me well will know I hold this in high regard – but I am also itching to read ‘The Dead Men Stood Together’. I thoroughly enjoy his thing of taking something from an earlier creepy masterpiece and then genetically engineering a whole new organism out of it.

Susan Cooper made me come all over tongue-tied. Not only is she the author of ‘The Dark is Rising’ sequence, but so cool and laid-back and wise I just wanted to breathe the same air in the hopes that something would transfer to me. After all, she inhabited the same Oxford as Tolkien and Lewis, and I think she knows Alan Garner. Phew.

Last but never, ever the least was Geraldine. I took a little paperback copy of the first book I ever read aloud to a class  (Dog Days). Geraldine has written so many smashing books – from Monacello to A Little Lower than than the Angels – that I was spoiled for choice. But I have soft spot for frost fairs and Old London Bridge, and it was a pleasure I shared with the children.

I also took away some less tangible but no less special treasures – in fact I filled the last remaining pages of my Moleskine with them. Here’s a small selection:

Sally Gardner:

  • children can’t be policed in historical fiction – they can have truly great adventures
  • imagination allows you to float your mind out of a situation
  • the pea-soupers she knew as a child around Gray’s Inn were made of ghosts and Charles Dickens

Chris Priestley:

  • historical fiction allows child characters to be master/mistress of their own destiny
  • dystopias are historical fiction – just in another direction
  • he writes for the vestigial 14 year old inside him beguiled by grotesquerie

Susan Cooper:

  • she is obsessed with place, with the layers of time
  • uses the past to illuminate the present but ‘God forbid messages’
  • what a child gets out of a story is not what is put in deliberately to educate – or even to entertain

Geraldine McCaughrean:

  • history was another place where I had often gone as a child
  • after a brilliant rant about bowdlerised folk stories – she said the originals were a a place where we can taste the amoral terrifying darkness, the inchoate beings we all nurse inside
  • research as much as you like – and then around half-way, throw it all away! 

I can only agree with the librarian (whose name sadly I did not catch) who thanked the panel for ‘not dumbing down’. It was an exhilarating evening with far more than these brief highlights – much of which is fermenting in my imagination.


Oh, and one final thing – it’s a really good idea to wear something emblematic such as a silver Peter Pan brooch, a skull close to your neck, a gilded vulture or an interlaced  symbol of Celtic mysticism. I leave you to guess who wore which…

Look up from what you’re reading!

It’s World Book Day on Thursday March 1st .

Now if you’re reading this you are probably a writer, obviously a reader (snortle) and you understand the importance of books in education. * If you’re a teacher, I have some extra ideas for you.

You probably know I care a lot about libraries – and I’ve found an organisation that helps two thousand of them. It also helps over two million people have access to books in sub-Saharan Africa. The press often writes these countries off as basket cases but they are full of people who want to better themselves just the same as you and I do.

So I’m keen to promote the work of Book Aid International. The website has lots of ideas for fundraising – I rather thought I’d do a bit of a bake for the forthcoming Chi-SCBWI night at my house. My friends won’t mind a bit of scoffing and they may be kind enough to cough up.

As they say, Books Change Lives.

For those of you that work in schools, Book Aid are running two competitions:

You could win  £100 of National Book Tokens for your school. The closing date is 2 April 2012 

1. Dress up competition for pre-school and primary schools

Simply email a photograph of your handmade crafty book character costumes, along with a brief explanation of how it was made and the materials you used.

2. Poetry competition for secondary schools

Write a poem on the theme of ‘change’ and email your entries to Book Aid International. Remember quality is more important than quantity!

I know that I am very lucky – I can read pretty much anything I like. I’d like to share a little bit of that good fortune with other people in this way – how about you?



What if…

Recently, there was a brief moment when it appeared my mortal span might be somewhat shorter than expected. As you might anticipate, it tended to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Now it turned out to be a ‘false alarm with good intent’ as the RNLI put it – and I shall no doubt trouble this world for a good long while yet – but it did make me think.

Speculation is an author’s business: we love to think what if?

So what changes would I make?

You may have read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – which seemed like a good place to start. Being true to myself holds good, but not working so hard? I think if anything I want to give more to my writing now. Expressing feelings –  I am exploring them through  my work. It’s hard to express something you’ve only got a vague idea of. The last two – keeping in touch with friends and allowing myself to be happy – these seem less related to my writing – and yet… Certainly my SCBWI pals are a wonderful help in every direction, and enjoying my writing on its own terms is crucial.

So not much change there, then.

The one that got me, the big scary thing was TIME.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near

(Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress)

How to deal with that paralysing sense of urgency? Motivation.

I was unable to attend Bekki Hill’s Motivation Masterclass – but I was grateful to read Liz de Jager’s post about it, and also Julie Day’s account. The questions that Bekki asked are challenging – but essential.

For my part, I desire honesty. I want to convey the truth of my imagination. And if that means it may not be obviously commercial, then as long as my wonderful family keep supporting me, so be it.

I want to fail better. I yearn to create something big, even if flawed. I need to stop dabbling about in the shallows, stop staring at the tiny details out of fear. If I only look for nudibranchs, I’ll never lift my head up. I won’t hear the dolphin chittering at the tiger shark and then chase it off.

Whatever my circumstances, I want to make the best of them. Can’t sleep? Read – and create a commentary on the strengths in the work, and how they inform my writing. In a waiting room? Observe , listen, make sense of what occurs. How could I adapt and use that? Look for the insight in every moment.

This final point may sound bleak, yet it is oddly liberating:

finally, I’m on my own

It’s my responsibility to nurture myself. I am very appreciative of every kind and supportive remark I’ve had. I’m so glad of all the help I’ve been given. But it’s down to me to find the time and space for this writer to grow – no one else.

What do you think?

The most democratic of spaces…

The Library Book is published today – and I have taken the words of one of its contributors to headline my post this week. Kate Mosse, a local Chichester resident, is a frequent and eloquent advocate on behalf of libraries. She speaks up for libraries everywhere, even though West Sussex is relatively healthy on that front.

She is in good company.

Big names such as Stephen Fry, and tireless long-term campaigners like Alan Gibbons, are asking all of us to do something for our local libraries on Saturday 4th February : National Libraries Day.

My contribution will be a little unusual. Instead of taking books out, I shall bringing books in. ‘The Local Rag’ ( yes, Castle Printers‘ news round up really is called that) ran a story on the library wanting books. The Witterings Library was overwhelmed – which shows the level of local support. Since the original influx, they have asked for paperbacks under two years old and hardbacks under four. I will do what I can to provide.

You might like to check what your local library wants – or in some wonderful cases –  is giving on Saturday. Show them you care.

Join a wonderfully diverse band of supporters : The Bookseller, The WI,  and Unison.

Please sign this e-petition ( if you haven’t had chance yet ) by  FEBRUARY 5TH

Buy the Library Book from Waterstones or Amazon or even better from Hive and delivered free to your local bookshop.

Take books in – or out – of your local library.

Do something so that people will have the chances you had in the future.

A small matter of education for all…


Regular readers of my posts and my tweets will know I love libraries. I mean to write about them again and here are some reasons

                As a consequence of the Comprehensive Spending Review 400 libraries are under threat. Compare this with the situation in South Korea where 180 new libraries are being built.

South Korea is top of the PISA international rankings for competence in reading. In ten years the UK has fallen from seventh to twenty-fifth. This is no time to cut libraries.

  • I checked about Korea and the reading stats

    courtesy of


After all that, I have nothing left to write except Support Your Local Library!