World Nature Conservation Day and The River Singers

The River Singers

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse (now available in paperback)

Today is World Nature Conservation Day highlighting the threats to our wildlife on both a local and global scale from the effects of habitat loss, climate change and pollution.

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse, published to critical acclaim last year and out now in paperback, is the story of a family of water voles who journey along The Great River to find a new home. Tom will be visiting a number of blogs over the next couple of weeks, answering questions and providing a fun fact or two about water voles! And to kick off the tour, we asked him, when did your passion for nature begin?

Tom Moorhouse I grew up in a very small market town in the North East (called Barnard Castle, or “Barney”), surrounded by hills and woods (and, yes, a river runs past the town). So I spent a lot of time walking and playing out in the countryside. And I have very clear memories of sitting down with my Mother and consuming every David Attenborough documentary I could (not literally, you understand…old VHS videos are tricky to chew). So it’s fair to say that the passion began quite early on! And I’m really glad that there’s a spotlight on World Nature Conservation Day because it needs all the attention it can get. Even if the sheer ethical and moral weight of our responsibility not to allow species and habitats to go extinct were insufficient (which it shouldn’t be, but somehow is), it’s about time folks realised the colossal inadvisability of continually undermining the ecological resources that support our access to things like clean water and abundant food. You know: the non-essentials. Basically what we are collectively doing is the equivalent of sitting high up in a tree and sawing through the branch we’re sitting on…Phew. And breathe. Sorry. Rant over. But yes, today is an important day.

 

Catch Tom over at the following blogs from tomorrow until Friday 8th August:

Tuesday 29th July – Smiling Like Sunshine

Wednesday 30th July – Serenity You

Thursday 31st July – Confession of a SAHM

Friday 1st August – Library Mice

Saturday 2nd August – My Mummies Pennies

Monday 4th August – Madhouse Family Reviews

Tuesday 5th August – Red Peffer

Friday 8th August – Making It Up

Countdown to publishing day!

Space travel! Toilet roll tubes! Moon-walking! Author/illustrator Richard Byrne counts down the journey to publication of his latest new picture book The Great Moon Confusion.

Way back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, during the time of the great space race, just about every child I knew wanted to be an astronaut – and I was no exception. I spent many happy hours building Saturn V rockets out of toilet roll tubes, practising my moon-walking in the local park’s sandpit and performing Houston-we-are-go-for-launch style countdowns before I did just about anything.

Unlike my childhood heroes Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, I never did become an astronaut, but still look up at the moon and stars with the same childlike wonder. So it’s not very surprising that I eventually created a picture book about the moon, rockets and suspicious-looking bears. Okay, the bear thing must have come from somewhere else.

So, how did The Great Moon Confusion get off the ground? Here’s my chance to sneak in another countdown…

10…

Did a doodle in my sketchbook…

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9…

…combined it with another doodle in my sketchbook…

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8…

… to spark off an idea for a new picture book – Who is stealing the Moon? Could it be those bandit bears? Or is it just a misunderstanding?

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7…

Refined the idea into a set of miniature storyboard-like sketches called thumbnails.

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oup_moon_blog_36…

Produced some studies to establish a style for each of the characters in the story.

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5…

Drew a full-size set of black and white roughs for every page of the book.

oup_moon_blog_5a 4…

Created the finished illustrations with a combination of hand-drawn and computer techniques.

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3…

Sent the illustrations to Oxford University Press for final production of the book.

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2…

Had a well-deserved cup of tea… and an idea for the next book.

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1…

LIFTOFF!

The Great Moon Confusion is published!

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The Great Moon Confusion is out now.

Great Moon Confusion PB

R_Byrne_portrait_1

Born in a hospital. Brought up in Brighton. Learned to colour-in in Eastbourne. Worked in graphic design. Worked in Brighton, London, Manchester and Yorkshire Hills. Worked for myself.

Met Philippa somewhere along the way. Had two children. Had the mid-life crisis. Bought my first guitar. Got the urge to create a children’s book. Got an agent. Got a book deal. Got another book deal.

Richard now lives in Chichester so that he can be closer to family, old friends, the coast, and the equator.

Spawning a Little Frog

Tatyana Feeney is author and illustrator of a brilliant series of books that tackle everyday toddler troubles. From losing a favourite blanket (Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket) to likes and dislikes (Little Owl’s Orange Scarf), her simple story and minimalist artwork speaks volumes. Where did the idea for her new book Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble which deals with a new baby in the family come from?

9780192735546_LITTLE_FROGS_TADPOLE_TROUBLE_CVR_APR14I have quite a young family still – my oldest is seven, so inspiration for stories about young children is fairly abundant in my daily  life!

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble, which is my latest book, developed from having my own children and seeing the effect of a new sibling on the first child. I am sure there are some children who are delighted with new children arriving in the family, but many feel threatened or upset by the change in the family dynamic. My intention, by having nine new brothers and sisters was just an exaggeration of how the change feels to the first child. Of course, most families don’t go from one to ten overnight – but it could feel that way when a new baby arrives…

A regret I have is that I didn’t make Mommy and Daddy look a bit more stressed once the tadpoles arrived – they are quite relaxed for parents of 10!

Some things Little Frog likes to do

Some things Little Frog likes to do

When I start working on a new story, drawing the characters (a lot!), is the best way for me to get to know them. I think  about what they might do, or  wear, what they like, what they DO NOT like. I need to know lots of things about their personality to help get the story started. I have a few samples of drawings I did when I was working on Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble. Some of the pictures are just Little Frog doing things he likes, including listening to music and trying gymnastics. Not all of these ultimately went into the book, but they still give me an idea of who he is.

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away...

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away…

I have included a few other sketches. One is Little Frog running away from home…

 

...luckily he didn't get too far...

…luckily he didn’t get too far…

(well, to under the kitchen table) when he heard about the new siblings.

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles - teaching them to skip

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles – teaching them to skip

There are also some ideas of things he could do with the tadpoles once they got a bit bigger.

Playing leapfrog!

Playing leapfrog!

It is always  nice to play around with the characters like this, even when not all of the ideas make it into the finished book – it seems to give them more personality somehow.

 

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble is out now.

9780192735546_LITTLE_FROGS_TADPOLE_TROUBLE_CVR_APR14

 

feeney0062kpo2011_bwTatyana Feeney grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She studied History of Art at the University of North Carolina and Design at the Art Institute of Atlanta before getting a BA in Illustration for Children’s Publishing from NEWI in Wales.

She has illustrated several books with Irish publishers, including 3 in the Irish language. She has also done illustrations for websites and cards.

She lives in Trim, County Meath with her husband, two children and small dog.

 

 

The inspiration behind Scarlet…

Gill Lewis, author of the award-winning Sky Hawk and White Dolphin tells us about the inspiration behind her extraordinarily moving new book Scarlet Ibis.

What’s the story behind a book? Where does the inspiration come from?

For Sky Hawk, White Dolphin and Moon Bear, I have a clear idea where the stories came from and what inspired them. With Scarlet Ibis, I’m left scratching my head. I don’t really know, is the initial answer.

The story gathered itself together from the deep recesses of my mind. After much research including many interviews and reading, it formed on the pages to become the story of Scarlet Ibis.

Scarlet IbisIt began as a seed of an idea, as many of my stories do, with a character walking into my head, with a story to be told. In walked Scarlet Ibis. She introduced herself before I even knew what the story was going to be about. I sketched her and made notes…swirling ideas in my head, and then she told me her dream…a dream she tells her brother Red, every night…

I pull the duvet cover up around him so only his red hair and eyes peep out. “So what story is it to be tonight?” I say.

“Caroni Swamp,” he says.

I smile because there is only ever one story. I dim his side-lamp and begin. “One day,” I say, “we’ll find ourselves an aeroplane and fly up into the big blue sky. We’ll be like birds. We’ll fly above the roads and houses, above Big Ben and The Eye and London Zoo. We’ll fly across the whole Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Trinidad.”

“What then?” says Red.

“We’ll take a little boat out on the Caroni Swamp,” I say.

“Just you and me?” says Red.

“Just you and me,” I say.

Red smiles. His eyes are seeing the deep green waters and tangle of the mangrove trees.

“And we’ll wait,” I say. “We’ll wait for the sun to sink, turning the mountains of the Northern Range deep blue.”

“Just you and me?” says Red.

“Just you and me,” I say. “And as the light is leaving the sky, we’ll watch them coming in their hundreds and thousands. We’ll watch them settle in the trees like bright red lanterns as darkness falls.”

Red pulls his duvet tighter around him. “And we’ll always be together?”

“Always,” I say. “Just you and me in that little boat, as evening falls, watching the scarlet ibis flying back to the Caroni Swamp.”

For Scarlet, this dream is an elusive place where her mother can find happiness again. For Red, this dream is a place where he and Scarlet can always be together.

So where did Scarlet come from? How did she just walk into my head? What ideas did she form from?

When I think back to the time I was exploring the story and playing with ideas, I had just been reading a book called Between Two Worlds, the story of Alan Goffe, a brilliant black British scientist. My mother had known his wife and had met Alan Goffe on several occasions. She remembered him to be a charismatic, intelligent man. Sadly, he was only 46 when he died in a sailing accident in 1965. He had made huge contributions to the development of polio and measles vaccines and it was said that his untimely death probably set back vaccine development by many years. Alan Goffe’s story is an interesting one. His mother was from the Isle of Wight. A young white woman, she trained to become a doctor in the early part of the twentieth century. This was a huge achievement in itself, as women had only just won the right to join men to study medicine. (Women had previously been judged to be inferior in intelligence to men!) She then travelled to the Caribbean, where she met her husband to-be, a black doctor from a well-respected middle-class Jamaican family. Together, they set up practice in Kingston, London, at a time when most doctors were Caucasian males, and racism and sexism were rife. Both Goffe’s parents had been fortunate to grow up in supportive families where education and freedom of thought had been valued.

Goffe became a scientist at the forefront of research in the development of vaccines. He also fought for many altruistic causes, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Freedom from Hunger.

His story made me ponder about all sorts of things; prejudice and discrimination, migration of people, what we mean by home, belonging and family, and above all the importance of education to enable individuals to take control of their future, and in turn be able to change the world around us.

At about the same time, I watched a documentary about young carers in the UK. Many children across the country are forced to grow up early because they care for family members who are disabled, chronically ill or misusing drugs or alcohol. These children support their families, both practically and emotionally, often taking on the adult role. As a result, many miss out on their education and struggle against stigma, prejudice and discrimination. They are invisible children, desperately trying to keep their families together. Scarlet walked onto my page from such a situation; a girl caring for her mother and brother, a girl desperately trying to keep her world together, a girl in need of love and support to allow her a childhood, an education and space to think and grow. Like all children, she deserves these opportunities.

Scarlet’s story became intertwined with scarlet ibis, London pigeons, her brother Red and Madame Popescu. I realise now, they have their own stories to tell behind the inspiration to include them in the story…but maybe that is for another blog post!

Scarlet Ibis is out now.

9780192793553_SCARLET IBIS_CVR_MAY13

GillLewisHeadshotWEBfriendlyBefore she could walk, Gill Lewis was discovered force-feeding bread to a sick hedgehog under the rose bushes. Now her stories reflect her passion for wild animals in wild places. She draws inspiration from many of the people she has had the fortune to meet during her work as a vet, both at home and abroad. Gill Lewis has a Masters degree in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and won the 2009 course prize for most promising writer. Her first novel, Sky Hawk, was snapped up for publication within hours of being offered to publishers. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a treehouse in the garden, in the company of spiders.

 

 

My Name is Parvana

Deborah Ellis shares her experiences of researching her latest book, set in Afghanistan, My Name is Parvana.

Late in the l990s, I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.  Millions of Afghans fled there from the Soviet occupation, the civil war and then the atrocities of the Taliban.  The stories I heard there of sorrow and strength, of loss and kindness, formed the basis for my novel for young people called The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner follows a girl, Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Breadwinner 2014

The Breadwinner was followed by two other novels about Parvana and her friend, Shauzia – Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.

Some years went by.  Afghanistan underwent many changes.  I wondered what life would be like for Parvana in this new Afghanistan.

To research My Name Is Parvana, I spent time in Kabul, meeting with a wide range of women and children.  I was able to record interviews with many children, and published them in a book called Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through A Never-Ending War.

My Name Is Parvana starts out with Parvana being picked up in a bombed-out school building by an American military patrol and being brought back to their base for questioning.  It follows the dream of many girls and women there, a dream of freedom, education, and a life without violence.

My Name is Parvana is out now.

My Name is Parvana

As with the other books, royalties are going to Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan, for their on-going work in support of women and children in Afghanistan.

Deb Ellis largeDeborah Ellis has been a political activist since the age of 17, advocating non-violence. After high school she went to Toronto and worked in the Peace Movement. Later she got involved in the Women’s Movement, focusing on women’s rights and economic justice. She continues to be involved in anti-war politics. She has spent a lot of time in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, talking to women and documenting their lives through 20 years of war. The stories she heard and the children she met were the inspiration for The Breadwinner, Parvana’s JourneyMud City, and My Name is Parvana. The Breadwinner trilogy has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in twenty-five different languages. Deborah lives in Ontario, Canada.

The Truth About Imaginary Friends

We were talking about the old days, and I remembered the weirdest things. Like people calling them ‘friends’. And how they said they were good for your brain. Some families even laid a place for them at dinner. 

Debut novelist Nikki Sheehan shares her thoughts on the phenomenon of imaginary friends, based on her research for the brilliant new Who Framed Klaris Cliff?

I realise that telling the truth about something that is essentially a lie is a strange thing to do. But it’s an important thing because in the past adults used to tell a lot of lies about imaginary friends.

Not so many years ago, thankfully before I was born, they were about as welcome within a family as a dose of chicken pox. Maybe less so because parents never invited the neighbourhood kids round for imaginary friend parties. Some stats from the 1930s show that a paltry 10-15% of kids admitted to them, possibly because they were viewed as at best a sign of loneliness or insecurity, and at worst an indication of neurosis.

Then, a few decades ago, opinion went into reverse. Imaginary friends appeared more frequently in children’s books and TV programmes, and some parents, perhaps believing that imaginary friends are a sign of intelligence, began to encourage them the way we might lure hedgehogs into the garden, laying places for them at the dinner table and allowing them to take the blame for scribbling on the walls or tumble drying the remote control.

Within this more benign environment a huge 65% of children will now admit to having conjured up playmates out of thin air. At first sight the increase is puzzling. After all, as in my book Who Framed Klaris Cliff?, we know that imaginary friends appear when children have the time and space for free play, which means when they’re not at school, watching TV or playing computer games. Given the choice between racing Mario Kart, or racing raindrops down a window pane, few self-respecting digital natives would choose the old-school entertainment.

But there is another important factor. While the number of screens has multiplied in our homes, the number of children in them has dropped. Almost half of the UK’s kids have no brothers or sisters. Imaginary friends are more common in first, or only children, so although they may spend a lot of time being entertained by screens, we can deduce that our children’s imaginations are firing on all cylinders when they’re given a bit of down time.

As to whether they’re a sign of superior intelligence or imagination, there’s no conclusive evidence one way or the other. However, psychologists say that the interaction with an imaginary friend is very complex, requiring the child to practice viewing things from two perspectives, and it gives little brains and social skills an excellent workout.

But they do more than this. We know that children can turn to imaginary friends for companionship and emotional support at difficult times, and kids who experience loss will often ‘replace’ the person who has gone with a transitional invisible being. Someone I knew when I was young created an Old English Sheepdog when her brother was sent to boarding school, and her parents, no doubt feeling guilty, duly laid out the empty dog bowls and put up with the imaginary dog taking up all the space on the sofa.

Apparently they knew what most parents know now, that for children, as well as for many authors, far from being an indication of madness, it’s conjuring up imaginary friends that keep us sane.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is out now.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff

Nikki Sheehan author picNikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist. She went to a convent school in Cambridge where she was taught by nuns. Her writing was first published when she was seven and her teacher submitted a poem she had written to a magazine. She always loved English, but has a degree in linguistics. After university Nikki’s first job was subtitling The Simpsons. She then studied psychology, retrained as a journalist, and wrote features for parenting magazines and the national press. She now writes mainly about property and is co-founder of an award-winning, slightly subversive, property blog. She is married and lives in Brighton with her husband, three children, two dogs, a cat, an ever-fluctuating numbers of hamsters, and the imaginary people that inhabit her stories.

Stinkbomb, Ketchup-Face, and Salvador Dali

John Dougherty, author of the eye-poppingly funny new Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face series (illustrated by David Tazzyman of Mr Gum fame), ruminates on imagination and surrealism in children’s books.

You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to have my new book, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, chosen by The Times in early February as its Children’s Book of the Week.

Well, perhaps you can. And in a way, this blog post is going to be all about imagination. So go on, give it a go.

Done it? Good. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face, The Times, Children’s Book of the Week, and me being thrilled. In fact, I was so thrilled that I didn’t even notice the article next to the review until a couple of days later. But when I did, I found it both fascinating and serendipitous.

The article was one in which a chap by the name of Philip Howard examined the word ‘surreal’, explaining in a few column inches what it actually means. Apparently, the aim of surrealism was to explore the unconscious mind and “liberate thought from the constraints of logic”, whilst its practitioners “startled the conventional world with imaginary worlds in which natural laws were suspended”.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “If I’m not mistaken, I’ve written a surreal book.”

A brief glance at the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto added to my suspicions. It includes lines like:

“Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason…”

and

“Surrealism is based on the belief in… the disinterested play of thought.

That sounds very much like what I’ve tried to do with the adventures of my two little heroes. When I sat down to write the book, my aim was to produce a work of deep silliness, and I decided that the best way to do this was:

(a)  to pinch, borrow, and otherwise be inspired by the sayings and behaviour of small children, and

(b)  to remove the brakes from my imagination; to switch off the internal censors that tell me, but that’s impossible, or, that doesn’t make sense, or, you can’t do that.

And I’ve realised since that, really, what I was trying to do was to get back into the mind of a child at play.

Remember what it was like? Those days when anything could happen; when, no matter what was needed by the story you were acting out, it could be imagined into existence? When you had no idea where your game of let’s pretend  was going to end up, but it was fun getting there?

That’s what Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face is about. That’s why the story includes badgers pretending to be lemmings and driving too fast; a reigning monarch called King Toothbrush Weasel; an exceedingly irritating and supercilious army called Malcolm the Cat; pockets full of fish, dustbins and sports cars; and an extremely grateful shopping trolley.

Surrealism and children’s fiction is a perfect match. As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. And as Megan, aged 8, said about Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, “Blueberry jam! I laughed so hard my head fell off.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face – even funnier than Salvador Dali.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers is out now.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers

John Dougherty

John Dougherty was the sort of boy who always had his nose in a book, and he grew into the sort of adult who always has his nose in a book, which is probably why he decided to become a writer.

Born and raised in Larne, Northern Ireland, John now lives in Stroud in Gloucestershire with his wife, two children, a few chickens and several bees. He’s a keen singer who has performed solo, with a band, and as a member of three award-winning a cappella groups. His books have been shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards – and one was chosen by The Times as one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year 2011 – but, more importantly, they make children giggle.

 

A Prank is for Life, Not Just for April Fools’ Day.

Stand-up comedian and author of the brand new The Private Blog of Joe Cowley, Ben Davis shares his top 3 favourite April Fool pranks…

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Davis and I’m a writer. My debut novel is called The Private Blog of Joe Cowley. It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who starts his own secret blog to document his transition from outsider and wedgie-receiver to a Captain Picard-like master of life. Unfortunately for Joe though, his plans are dealt a major blow with the revelation that he has a step-brother with whom he has a serious history.

Of course, as my book is based on a blog, it was perhaps fitting that OUP kindly asked me to write a blog to mark the occasion of its publication.

To begin with, I had no idea what to write about. I mean, I do have many varied interests, but I doubt that young people of today would be interested in reading about my collection of 1990s WWF wrestling figures.

That's what you think, MAGGOT!

That’s what you think, MAGGOT!

When I saw what day this blog was going to be published on, though, I knew what I was going to write about.

Yes, April Fools’ Day. The one day, or to be more accurate, half day, when you can pull all manner of cruel pranks on your fellow man with no repercussions.

Now, I love pranks. To me, pranking is the best thing we humans can do. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Except the penguins.

Except the penguins.

To a prank guy like me, April Fools’ Day is Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Of course, because I prank so many people, I don’t usually get too many presents, but still…

When most people think of pranks, they think of the old cling film over the toilet trick, but this is old hat and you will always end up with one of two things: a wet floor or a lifetime ban from Homebase. So to inspire you, I have compiled my top three pranks of all time.

3. The Trojan Horse

image005This was a classic. You see, the Greeks really wanted to get into Troy. I don’t know why but I’m sure they had their reasons, maybe their Ikea had a proper good sale on. Point is, they wanted in.

Now this was the olden days, so things were different. These days, if I want to go to say – Nuneaton, I can just drive over there and walk around with complete freedom.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

 Back then though, they built massive walls around their towns and they’d only let you in if you knew the secret password. Secret passwords were often tricky to remember and had to be at least eight characters long with at least one capital letter and one number, and if you forgot it, you were out.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let's just move.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let’s just move.

Anyway, the Greeks didn’t have a secret password, so they decided to prank their way in. Because the Greeks, as a people, are nothing if not committed to the lolz.

I mean, look at that statue! He's got his bum out!

I mean, look at that statue! He’s got his bum out!

For their super prank, the Greeks proceeded to build a giant wooden horse and wheel it to the gates of Troy, with dozens of super-tough army guys hiding inside, trying not to sneeze or anything like that.

See, the thing you should know about the Trojans is that they loved giant wooden horses. Give your typical Trojan a giant wooden horse and he’s as happy as Larry, so this was the perfect thing to prank them with. It would be like tricking your way into Essex dressed as an immense bottle of fake tan.

Naturally, the Trojans were chuffed to bits with their surprise and wheeled it inside the town where they quickly began to plan where it would go in the Troy Museum of Giant Wooden Horses.

But before they could, as a hilarious crescendo to this masterpiece of prankdom, the Greeks jumped out and mercilessly slaughtered everyone.

Actually, that’s not funny. That’s horrible. We’ll move on to the next prank.

2. The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

image013Orson Welles was one of the most accomplished actor/directors of all time. He is known for being the auteur behind celluloid classic Citizen Kane, and the owner of one of the most impressive beards in Hollywood.

But what I’ll mainly remember him for was his love of pranks.

In 1938, Welles performed a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ (no relation, I mean, come on, they’re not even spelled the same) sci-fi novel, War of the Worlds. In case you haven’t read it, or you began to watch the movie version starring Tom Cruise and kicked in your TV screen in disgust, War of the Worlds is about what would happen if a legion of aliens came and took over earth with their terrifying disintegrator rays of doom.

As we have already established, Welles was a top-notch actor.

Unlike someone we know.

Unlike someone we know.

And his performance was so convincing that many listeners thought a real alien invasion was occurring.

This was an incredible prank and one that will never be repeated, because people are getting wise to it now. I mean, radio stations these days are trying so hard to convince me that Justin Bieber is an actual thing, but I’m not having it.

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

1. The Epic Prank I played on my So-Called Best Friend Fat Barry

Ah, Fat Barry, my oldest chum. We’ve been friends since we were kids, but to be honest, I have no idea why because he’s always whinging:

‘When are you going to pay me back?’

‘Stop calling me Fat Barry, I’m thinner than you.’

‘No I don’t want a hug, now get out of my bathroom.’

Blah, blah, blah. You see? He’s Mr Negativity. And I’ll tell you something else about Fat Barry – he hates pranks. Every April Fools’ Day he is a terrible sport. Like this once, when I called the bomb squad and told them a suspicious package was in Fat Barry’s car, and they came out and blew it up, he barely even cracked a smile. Lighten up, Scrooge!

For some reason, after that, Fat Barry started going on holiday every April. He’d never tell me where he was going, either. Considering he’s supposed to be my best friend, he’s really secretive. Once, he even refused to tell me his mother’s maiden name, account number and sort code. What a weirdo.

Anyway, it wasn’t easy, but last year, I figured out where he was going – Spain. I won’t give away my investigative techniques, but let’s just say the contents of a man’s bin can reveal a great deal.

Straight away, I called my mate Spanish Steve who works in customs and told him that a high-end smuggler was coming over and that he should be searched thoroughly. And I meant thoroughly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to just hear about it when he got home – I had to be there. I booked a ticket for his flight and got on board in disguise. The disguise in this case was that I actually looked like my passport photo.

Hello handsome!

Hello handsome!

When we arrived in Spain, sure enough, Spanish Steve took Fat Barry into a private room and searched him for illegal contraband. I stood outside as Fat Barry protested his innocence and giggled to myself as I watched him tenderly walk out after an hour.

‘Hey, Fat Barry,’ I yelled. ‘April Fool!’

Fat Barry slowly turned around and looked at me. It was as if he knew.

‘Now here’s your April Fool,’ he said, before smacking me in the face and knocking out three teeth.

You might think he got me there, but the thing is, Spain is an hour ahead of us and by the time he hit me, it had gone twelve. So in a way, the joke was on him.

I hope you have enjoyed this round-up of my all-time favourite pranks, and that it has inspired you to terrorise your own nearest and dearest this year.

But that’s not all. I have one more prank up my sleeve. You see, at the beginning, I told you that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is my debut novel. Well, I was lying. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley isn’t a novel at all – it’s a horse.

APRIL FOOL!

APRIL FOOL!

Actually, I should point out that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is a book and that you should definitely buy it. Please, I’ve got dentist bills to pay.

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is published on 3 April (honest!).

9780192736758_THE_PRIVATE_BLOG_OF_JOE_COWLEY_CVR_APR14

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Stand-up comedian Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Ben was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and, despite his complete lack of singing and dancing ability, was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is his first novel.

Picture credits

PENGUIN: http://www.gifbin.com/981126

TROJAN HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STORE DETECTIVE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STATUE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

ALIEN: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

CRUISE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

JUSTIN BIEBER: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

SCREAM: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

About Mums by Mina May (age 13)

To celebrate Mother’s Day, an ode to mums by Mina May, illustrator extraordinaire of the Wendy Quill series Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom, Wendy Quill Tries to Grow a Pet and Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong (out July 2014), which she creates with her own mum, author Wendy Meddour.

This is me when I was ten: the year I became an illustrator with Oxford University Press.

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I’ve wanted to be an illustrator for as long as I can remember, and when it finally happened, it just felt right. I’m thirteen now, and have just finished illustrating my third book, but it took years of submitting my pictures to publishers and entering competitions before I got my first contract. (I started doing all that when I was eight). People are very lucky when they achieve something they’ve always aspired to do and I’m very grateful for that! But I definitely didn’t get there on my own. My mum was the first person who believed in me: she inspired me to draw and encouraged me to try and achieve my dreams (and do most of the other things I enjoy so much now). She even helped me type and colour in the first proper books I made at home when I was only four years old.

Here’s a page from one called:  ‘Mina’s World’.

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It’s a bit different to what we make together now!

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She knows how important drawing is to me. She understands how happy it makes me feel. She knows that it’s something I just really need to do. Mum says that ALL children have a talent and it’s important they find an outlet. Football. Singing. Telling jokes. Whatever. I feel so lucky that Wendy Quill is mine.

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Often, I write little messages to Mum when I’m drawing, like on this picture of Wendy Quill’s family at breakfast.

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She writes back.

image018And we have great fun doing events together – like at this book launch party of Wendy Quill tries to Grow a Pet. (Mum always makes sure there are lots fab cakes for me and my brothers too).

image019So, what’s so special about my mum? Well, she’s funny, talented and I know this might sound soppy, but she’s always been my ‘guide through life’. And when tricky things happen, we just get closer. And stronger.

She’s great company and always makes me feel happy! I think that mums are the best. Simply that. A lot of people may not get on with their mums because they are ‘this and that’ and they don’t let you do ‘etc.’ But I figured not too long ago that they are just there to protect you, make you smile and to share your best moments with. They aren’t there forever and they literally work their socks off for you, so we really need to look after them too.

Now I’m not meaning to have a bit of a crazy lecture about ‘be nice to your mum before it’s too late’ because that’s not what Mother’s Day is about.

Mother’s Day is a day when we remember how fab our own mothers are and how we should appreciate the things they do for us every single day: like washing up, making dinner, giving you the hug that you didn’t realise you needed so bad until you came home and got it. Or maybe just making you laugh.

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To be honest, I believe that Mother’s Day should be every day but I suppose the card factories would get a bit fed up and it would stop being so exciting. It would be like having your birthday every day and get boring, wouldn’t it? Actually that’s not such a good example… (I really don’t know how my Mum does it! All of those hilarious and well-written books and blogs that never seem to waft off into my endless babble!)

Anyway, back to the ‘intended’ point. What I was trying to say was that Mother’s Day wouldn’t be special if we had it every day – so let’s make the most of it!

Buy your Mum a big bunch of flowers and tell her how great she is!

Write her a letter or phone her up and tell her how fabulous she’s been.

Make her breakfast in bed.

Help her mow the lawn.

Or maybe just write a blog.

Like I’m doing now.

About how great she is.

Or something similar.

Only try not to waffle as much.

So … Happy Mother’s Day, Mums!

WE LOVE YOU!

And Mum – thanks for being such a great best-friend xxx

image023Mina May: I’m thirteen years old. I live with my three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls. I’m half Algerian. I love trying new things. I don’t like peas. But I do like drawing.

Wendy Meddour: I’m thirty-eight years old. I live with Mina May’s three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls (that I straighten when I’m trying to look smart). I’m not half Algerian. I love doing old things that I already know I’m good at. I quite like petit pois. And I do like drawing (but I’m not as good as my thirteen-year-old daughter).

Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2014: The Rights Place to Be!

Elaine McQuade

Anne-Marie, head of rights at Oxford Children’s, once worked out that her team travel over 109,000 miles every year. Their job is to sell rights to publishers from around the world to publish OUP children’s fiction, picture books, dictionaries, home learning and schoolbooks into their own languages. The team visit publishers in their offices and at book fairs around the globe, and, of course, they also keep in contact via email and the internet. However, the Bologna Book Fair is still the most important event in the children’s publishing calendar for them. Every year in March, thousands of children’s publishers pour into this gorgeous Italian city with its stunning medieval centre around the Piazza Maggiore.

The ‘Fiera’ takes place in a large, purpose built complex, where around 1,200 publishers and other related organizations from 75 countries showcase the titles or the services they have to sell. The fair’s website states that about ‘25,000 international professional trade representatives’ attended last year.

The Oxford Children's Books stand

The Oxford Children’s Books stand

The run-up to the fair’s opening is one of the busiest times in the publishing year. The British picture book industry, in particular, has been built on co-editions. Colour printing is very expensive so publishers need to build print runs by selling rights to as many customers as possible. The more books we can print, the cheaper the books become to produce for everyone.

Customers naturally want to see as much of the finished book as possible. So for the past few months, authors, illustrators, editors and designers and the production team at OUP have been extremely busy getting proofs ready for the fair.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the projects we took to Bologna this year, which will be published later on this year or in 2015:

What a Wonderful World

A glorious picture book version of one of the most popular songs of all time

The Adventures of Mr Toad

A funny and fabulously illustrated picture book retelling of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for younger readers

Here’s author/illustrator Steve Antony with his rather tempestuous ‘toddler’ Betty and his US publisher:

Steve Antony and his US publisher.

Steve Antony and his US publisher with a sneak-peak of Betty herself!

The Rising

The stand-alone sequel to last year’s exciting river bank adventure ‘The River Singers’

 

Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

A top-of-the-league tale, publishing in time for the 2014 Football World Cup!

 

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley

The hilarious and highly illustrated of a teenage, self-confessed ‘girl-repeller’

 

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre weren’t in Bologna this year but do see the Bologna blog for 2013 for pictures of the two wowing the crowds.

Just before the fair we wrapped up a deal with Philip Reeve’s agent (Philippa Milnes-Smith of LAW) to publish his next novel for older readers. We’ll be publishing it autumn 2015. We sent a press release to the trade press and were pleased that ‘The Bookseller’ magazine featured the story in their daily emailed news flash. It is another way of ensuring that foreign publishers, keen on British fiction and picture books, are kept abreast of exciting new projects, while they are at the fair.

Here’s some of the team at the fair presenting our list to colleagues from around the globe. I am constantly amazed that almost everyone can speak English. However, between them the rights team can speak over 10 different languages so, communication is rarely a problem.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football and The Rising.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football.

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Rights Manager, Giuseppe Trapani.

Rights Manager, Stella Giatrakou.

Rights Managers, Stella Giatrakou and Valentina Fazio hard at work!

Clare, Helen and Pete from our fiction and picture book editorial teams were also at the fair seeing agents and foreign publishers, who presented them with projects, manuscripts and picture books that we might look to publish in the UK. It’s fascinating to wander around the stands of colleagues from countries such a France, Korea, or Italy and to note sometimes similar trends but often very different illustrative styles.

The rights team/editors arrange appointments in half an hour slots from around 9.00 till 6.00 daily throughout the fair.

Time for a cappucino!

Time for a cappuccino!

Coffee breaks or a dash to the queue for the loos (too few loos and a preponderance of women publishers is not a good combination) have to be squeezed in if and when someone turns up late for an appointment.

Many UK retailers take the opportunity to visit the fair and Louise, our sales director and I gave them a preview of some of the projects we have coming much later in the year and in 2015. Siwan from production was here to meet with suppliers from outside the UK who are involved in the production of our print and digital books.

Vineeta and Sam from our dictionary team were also at the fair. In 2016 we are very much looking forward to publishing the ‘Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary’. 2016 is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and Vineeta and I attended a presentation and dinner for many of his foreign and UK publishers where we heard about the exciting plans the Estate has to celebrate the anniversary around the world. I sat on a table with lovely publishers from Taiwan and Estonia as well as Amanda from Puffin and it was great to hear how popular Roald’s books are around the world. Here’s Vineeta and me leaving the beautiful, medieval palace where the event was held. The photo is a bit dark but you can see we’ve got our winter coats on! It’s been pretty chilly weather-wise.

Head of Children's Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR Elaine McQuade.

Head of Children’s Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR, Elaine McQuade.

For a few days in March Bologna becomes the centre of children’s publishing and it is always a joy to meet colleagues from around the world who work in this wonderful, creative and important industry.

Elaine pic

Elaine McQuade is Head of Marketing and PR for OUP Children’s Books

 

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