And the winner is . . .

Hooray! Richard Byrne won the picture book category of the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Award for The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. Richard’s editor, Helen Mortimer gives us a run-down of the award ceremony.

The trophies

A rewarding afternoon for picture-book maker Richard Byrne

Although 360 children from 20 schools across the county were squeezed into the Amey Theatre at Abingdon School for the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Awards, when Richard Byrne picked up his marker pen to draw some instant dinosaur art, you could have heard that proverbial pin drop. Rather than make an acceptance speech, Richard chose to let his pictures do the talking. The whole audience was spellbound as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur took shape over four flip-chart sheets. First the tail, then the back end, the front end, and finally a smiling face with a ‘thank you’ speech bubble for all the children who voted Richard’s story about prehistoric friends, jellybeans, and sharing as their favourite picture book of 2013.

flip chart big dino-1

Flip-chart art as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur takes to the stage with Richard Byrne and pupils from Oxfordshire schools

Richard’s hastilysketchedosaurus was then the subject of an on-the-spot raffle and was won by Burford Secondary School where it is destined to take pride of place on their library wall.

R.J. Palacio – who won the primary book category for Wonder – had recorded a heartfelt video message for the children of Oxfordshire from her New York home.

And Anne-Marie Conway who won the secondary book category with her novel Butterfly Summer gave an entertaining insight into her life as an author. When asked what had been her dream job as a child Anne-Marie revealed that she had always wanted to be on the stage but that now, actually being on a stage, was proving rather daunting. But if she was nervous, she really didn’t show it, and she engaged the audience in a fascinating question and answer session.

Anne-Marie Conway

Anne-Marie Conway

A warm tribute

The audience was also treated to a warm tribute given by Piers Ibbotson in memory of his mother, Eva. He talked about her book The Abominables and how the manuscript was discovered after her death in 2010. It was published last year.  His words were utterly encouraging for any budding writers listening as he explained how his mother held a firm belief that children have a gift for telling stories and losing themselves in imaginative worlds. A gift that is all too often lost as we grow up. But not lost by Eva, who was writing up to the day she died and whose richly-imagined stories always recognize how brave, funny, and resourceful children are.

Piers Ibbotson

Piers Ibbotson

Pupils steal the show

But if I had to choose my favourite part of the afternoon it would be the pupil reviews for the winning books. Alex from Glory Farm School, Bicester loved the ‘bright pictures’ in The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. He also liked the ‘way the words go with the pictures’ and said he would give this ‘funny book’ five stars. He ended his review with three well-chosen words: ‘laugh out loud’. And the audience did!

Looking forward to 2014

The ceremony finished with a now traditional mass countdown to launch the selection process for next year’s award and an invitation to ‘let the reading begin!’

And finally . . .

Everyone then left the auditorium and headed over to the dining hall where Richard and Anne-Marie signed for their fans.

Top-drawer author!

Top-drawer author!

Fuelled by coffee and chocolate cake, by the end of the afternoon Richard had doodled over 160 Finlays.

signed book

Worth the wait: a proud owner of a just-signed book complete with a unique dinosaur doodle

And he got to meet Lucy and Caitlin from Watlington Primary School who had earlier been on stage to introduce Richard to the audience.

richard with caitlin and lucy

Richard with Caitlin and Lucy from Watlington Primary School

The whole afternoon was a wonderful and celebratory event and thanks are due Lynne Cooper, Jacky Atkinson, and all the committee for making it happen.

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur is out now.

really big dinosaur

The First Rule of Time Travel: Don’t Kill Grandad!

Polly Shulman shares the challenges of writing her time-travel novel, The Wells Bequest, a story full of fantastic objects from popular science fiction stories and packed with fascinating time-travelling conundrums!

I thought the hardest part of writing a time-travel novel would be getting the historical details right. I was wrong. The hardest part was dealing with the paradoxes.

The Wells Bequest

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

In The Wells Bequest, my characters work at a very unusual library—one that lends out not books, but objects. Want to try playing a tuba or see how you would look in Marie Antoinette’s second-best wig? You can borrow them from the New York Circulating Material Repository. Hidden in the repository’s basement are several Special Collections. One houses working, magical objects from fairy tales (this was the subject of my previous novel, The Grimm Legacy). The Wells Bequest involves the repository’s collection of working gadgets straight out of science fiction: starships, shrink rays, invisibility potions, and so on. But the star of the story is the time machine from H.G. Wells’ classic novel. My characters use it to visit Nikola Tesla—the world’s greatest (real-life) mad scientist—in his New York City lab in 1895, on the eve of the fire that destroyed it.

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Getting the historical details right was very important to me. I searched 19th century newspapers for stories about Tesla and his contemporaries, read biographies, hunted up old restaurant menus, pored over photos and train schedules, and stalked through Tesla’s neighborhood with antique maps to see how the streets had changed. I even interviewed a transit historian to find out how people got around town back then. What were the fares for horse-drawn omnibuses? How about trolleys? Where did you buy a ticket for a ride on the elevated railroads, and did the ticket clerk punch it and give it back to you or just keep it? Even if nobody else ever noticed, I wanted to get things right!

But all that research was a walk in the park compared to keeping the time-travel paradoxes straight. The most famous one is the Grandfather Paradox: Suppose you use a time machine to travel back a few decades and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother. Then your mother will never be born, so you yourself will never be born, so you will never use a time machine to travel back in time and kill your grandfather. That means your mother will be born after all, and so will you, which means you will be able to use that time machine after all and kill Grandad, so you won’t be born, so you will be, so you won’t be…

H. G. Wells’ novel was no help with this particular paradox. His character uses the machine to go forward in time, not backwards. Going forward in time doesn’t raise nearly as many difficulties—after all, we’re all traveling forward in time all the time!

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Related puzzles kept popping up all over my story, driving my editor crazy. We would have dialogues like this:

My editor: Wait! How could Leo and Jaya find the time machine in London in Chapter 13? I thought it was in the repository in New York the whole time! Is it a different time machine?

Me: No, it’s the same one. It’s just on an earlier trip. It’s crossing paths with itself.

My editor: How can it be an earlier trip, when they’re both there now?

Me: Time machines can be two places at once—that’s what time machines do.

In the end, all we could do was laugh—which is what I hope everyone will do when they read The Wells Bequest.

The Wells Bequest is out now.

The Wells Bequest

Polly Shulman profile picPolly Shulman has written about edible jellyfish, Egyptian tombs, infinity, blind dates, books, brains, centenarians, circuses, and cinematic versions of Jane Austen novels, for The New York Times, Salon, and many other publications. She edits news stories about fossils, meteors, the ocean, the weather, and the planets for Science magazine.

Polly collects Victorian jewellery, puts cayenne pepper in her chocolate cookies, and reads forgotten books with frontispieces.

She grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband and their parakeet, Olive.

Winnie the Witch and Wilbur fancy dress – inspiration for children’s Halloween costumes

Halloween is nearly upon us, and what better way to celebrate than by dressing up as the mischievously magical Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur!

To make a Winnie the Witch costume

First of all find a blue dress, purple cardigan and stripy tights with a string of shiny beads.

Winnie’s hat

winnie hat

You will need:

  • Blue, yellow, orange and purple paper
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Black felt tip pen
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Elastic
  • Hat template from the Winnie the Witch website

Instructions:

  • If you don’t want to use coloured paper, just print the hat template on white paper and colour it in. Simple!
  • Print out the hat template twice – tape together and use as one whole template, onto blue paper, then cut out.
  • Copy the ‘stripes’ template on to a folded piece of purple paper and cut out. Unfold the semicircle and put to one side.
  • Copy orange and yellow stripes on to a folded piece of yellow and orange paper. Cut out. Unfold the semicircles. Then carefully cut along the yellow strip so it is in half again.

winnie hat elements

  • Cut out the moon and star from the template on yellow card.
  • Glue everything on to the flat cone and leave to dry. Then go over all the lines with a black felt tip pen.
  • Attach the hat together with some double-sided tape and/or a stapler. For a little extra touch, push a small bit of rectangular paper through the hole at the top of the hat and bend to one side!
  • Use a hole punch to create a hole on either side of the hat to tie the elastic to, to secure under the child’s chin.

Winnie’s hair

winnie's hair

You will need:

  • Black card (long enough to fit around a child’s head – A1 or A2)
  • 2 x A1 sheets of black sugar paper
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Stapler
  • Sellotape/double-sided tape for neatness

Instructions:

  • Measure a length of card around the child’s head. Tape into place so you have a card ring that fits perfectly around their head (the one in the photograph is 5cm deep).
  • Tape another piece of card across the top of the ring. Repeat on the other side so you have a cross.
  • Cut two more pieces of card and place diagonally over the cross. Staple into place. Then attach the last piece of card to cover any gaps so you can have the basis of your Winnie hair (like a skullcap).

winnie hair work in progress

  • Now the fun really begins! Fold two A1 pieces of black paper like an accordion for Winnie’s frizzy hair. Gently pull the ‘accordion’ apart and cut into the strips.
  • Attach the strip around the top part of the hair ring with double-sided tape or use a stapler. Then attach pieces from the top of the head, down. It doesn’t matter if there are different lengths or widths of hair, as that adds to the effect!

To make a Wilbur costume

No Winnie costume is truly complete without her faithful cat Wilbur by her side. Create the perfect costume for siblings or friends, or even a playful parent!

wilbur headdress

You will need:

  • Black card
  • Green, pink, black and blue paper
  • Scissors
  • Double-sided tape
  • Pencil
  • Glue stick
  • Stapler
  • Ruler
  • White pencil
  • Wilbur head template from the Winnie the Witch website

Instructions:

  • Cut out a strip of thin black card, long enough to wrap around the child’s head. Staple or tape together.
  • Cut out Wilbur’s head shape, then fringe the edges slightly for Wilbur’s fur.
  • Use the eyes, nose, teeth and ears from the template. Draw round the eyes on to green paper, nose on to pink paper and ears on to black and blue paper.
  • Glue the eyes, nose, ears and teeth to Wilbur’s head. Add some pupils to his eyes, white whiskers and mouth line with the white pencil.

wilbur headdress 2

  • Then attach his head to the headband. There you have it!
  • For the rest of Wilbur’s costume, wear a black jumper trousers or leggings and shoes. Another idea for Wilbur’s face would be to use face paints.

Abracadabra, everything you need to make this Halloween magic!

Download PDF instructions

We’d love to see pictures of your mini-Winnie and Wilburs – share your photos on Twitter @OUPChildrens

For lots of Winnie the Witch fun, visit www.winnie-the-witch.com

Why not start off your Halloween night with a brand new tale from Winnie the Witch?

In her latest picture book Winnie sets sail for a swashbuckling pirate adventure!

winnie's pirate adventure

For older readers, try Spooky Winnie, or Winnie’s Halloween Gift Pack, which contains two brilliant Winnie books and a pumpkin orange trick or treat bag.

spooky winniewinnie's halloween gift pack

Being Boris

Tim Warnes on the joy of illustrating the Boris books and his inspiration behind some of the characters.

© Tim Warnes 2013

© Tim Warnes 2013

I love working on the Boris books! They’re such great, warm-hearted stories, that working on Boris Gets Spots was like going back to an old pair of cosy slippers – comfy and relaxing! And I have to say I think Boris is rather an inspirational character. He’s gentle, kind and helpful. He gets his chance to really shine in Boris Saves the Show, when he’s the one who is fast enough and strong enough to rescue the preschool class, who have got stuck in the mud on their way to the summer performance.

_MG_0785One of the things that’s refreshing about the Boris books for me as an illustrator is having to create an authentic classroom setting, where much of the stories take place. At first this was quite daunting since I struggle with seeing, let alone drawing, perspective. (Is there such a condition where your brain can’t discern whether a line in a room is going up or down? If there is, I think I have it.) As a result much of the scenes are quite flat, almost like stage sets, with the characters coming on from the wings. Anyway, I took masses of photos of my sons’ primary school for the first book, and I’ve used these consistently for reference ever since to create a genuinely chaotic classroom feel, with lots of details. My best find had to be the drawings stuck onto the tadpole tank at school of a shark and puffer fish – you can spot them on the goldfish tank in Miss Cluck’s classroom in Boris Gets Spots.

© Tim Warnes 2013

© Tim Warnes 2013

In Boris Gets Spots we are introduced to Farmer Gander (who I modeled on a Chinese goose). He’s visiting Miss Cluck’s class with some of his produce – like a miniature mobile farmer’s market, obligingly pulled by Buttercup the cow! Does it seem odd to you that the cow retains her natural bovine qualities, whilst everyone else gets to wear clothes? Actually, now I think about it, all Miss Cluck usually wears is a pair of spectacles, although in this story she sensibly dons an apron and oven gloves when she bakes some treats for her poorly class, who have come down, one by one, with chicken pox! (I told my editor, Helen, that my youngest son called it ‘chitten pops’ when he caught it. She must have told Carrie because this phrase ended up in the final text!)

It's tricky painting mice this tiny, and children at readings always comment on how SMALL they are. The smallest brush I use is a 2/0 which is really, really thin.

It’s tricky painting mice this tiny, and children at readings always comment on how SMALL they are. The smallest brush I use is a 2/0 which is really, really thin.

 

Tim Warnes photoAward-winning illustrator Tim Warnes shares a studio at his home in the Dorset countryside with his wife, illustrator Jane Chapman. They have two young sons. Tim spends a lot of time helping at the village school and his careful observations can be seen in all the authentic details of an infant classroom and also in the way he has successfully captured the solicitous, motherly demeanour of Miss Cluck and the mannerisms of the little pupils in her care. Tim is best known for illustrating the Little Tiger and Santa books for Little Tiger Press. I Don’t Want to go to Bed! won the Nottinghamshire Children’s Book Award in 1996 and I Don’t want to have a Bath! won in 1997.

Find out more about Tim and his work at www.chapmanandwarnes.com

See more behind-the-scenes Boris stuff in the Boris photo album!

Boris Gets Spots is out now.

Boris Gets Spots

A Haunted Idea

 William Hussey, author of Haunted, talks about where ideas come from…

IMG_8361

‘Where do you get your ideas?’ That’s the question writers dread most, because, you see, often it’s as much a mystery to us as to anyone!

How does the first spark of a story ignite? I believe that the writer’s unconscious mind does most of the work: half-listening to that phone-in show on the car radio during which a caller’s dilemma triggers the bare bones of a plot; snatching a glimpse of that poster on the Tube which suggests a character or scenario; a dream which suddenly connects one distant memory from childhood with a more recent experience and crafts from the two the starting point for a story. But here’s the thing: in many cases, writers find it impossible to track back to the precise moment when the idea came to them.

HAUNTED

For my new supernatural thriller, Haunted, I’m in the rare position to tell you exactly how I got the idea

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

I love reading biographies – opening that window onto another life and breathing in the loves and losses, achievements and disasters of a stranger. I was reading a biography of the brilliant inventor Thomas Alva Edison (the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’ – creator and developer of, among many other scientific miracles, the light bulb, the movie camera, the telephone and the record player) when my eye chanced upon a tiny detail… and a startling fact.

In 1920 Edison claimed to the press that he was on the verge of inventing a telephone for talking with the dead! Now, Thomas was a great practical joker, especially with journalists, so when he died ten years later and no evidence of this ‘Ghost Machine’ could be found among his detailed laboratory notes, everyone thought he’d been pulling their legs and the story was pretty much forgotten. But this bizarre claim got me thinking…What if…? (Now that simple question is the starting point for all ideas that eventually become books). What if Edison wasn’t joking? What if he really did invent the Ghost Machine? What then became of it? In the interviews he proclaimed the machine boldly to the world, so why would he afterwards never mention it again? Did something awful, something terrifying happen when he first tested it? Yes, I thought… But Edison was as vain as he was brilliant. Could he really bring himself to destroy such a remarkable device?

Hello...? Is anybody there...?

Hello…? Is anybody there…?

And so I wondered, what if the Ghost Machine is still around? And what if it turned up in a small English town in dead of winter? A town cut off by a snowstorm, maybe… Yes! (I was getting excited now!). And what if someone was using this diabolical device to call back the spirits of the dead to our world? The hungry departed, who, arriving in the helpless town of Milton Lake, begin to possess the living, one soul at a time…

So there you have it. After the initial idea struck there was, of course, a lot of work to do. I had to come up with loads of exciting twists and turns, as well as a mystery with, I hope, a shocking solution. I also needed a strong main character to drive the story forward. This last challenge was perhaps the most daunting and rewarding. For the first time I’d be writing from the point of view of a female hero, the determined and damaged Emma Rhodes…

But to learn more about Emma, the dangers she faces, the lessons she learns, and the devastating secrets she uncovers, well, you’ll just have to read the book!

IMG_8361William Hussey has a Masters Degree in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. His novels are inspired by long walks in the lonely Fenlands of Lincolnshire and by a lifetime devoted to horror stories, folklore and legends. William lives in Skegness and writes stories about things that go bump in the night…

Follow him on Twitter @WHusseyAuthor or visit his website.

Read Turn Her Face to the Wall, a special short story by William.

Haunted is out now.

HAUNTED

The Language Time-Machine

Writer and lexicographer John Ayto gives us a glimpse into  The Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins, a fascinating insight into words and where they came from

Have you got a tabby cat? Brown or grey with dark stripes? If you have, do you know why it’s called a tabby? If not, you could guess a thousand times and never find the reason:

Many hundreds of years ago there was an Arab prince called Attab. He had a palace in Baghdad, in what is now Iraq, and the area round the palace was called Al-attabiya, in his honour. They made cloth there, and the cloth came to be known in Arabic as attabi. French took the word over, as tabis, and applied it to a sort of rich silk material. By the 17th century fashionable gentlemen in England were wearing this cloth, which they called tabby. They had their waistcoats made of it, and they were especially fond of ones with a stripy pattern. People must have thought these men with their striped stomachs looked a bit like striped cats, because by the 1660s the word tabby was being applied to the cats.

We use the words of our language to mean what they mean NOW, at the present time – it would be terribly confusing if we didn’t. But words have a life of their own, stretching back into the past – some just a few months long, but others many thousands of years, when they could look very different and mean something very different from what they do now. Finding out about them can be like wriggling down a wormhole to a different time, and discovering what sort of things people did and thought about back then.

Take the words we use for food and drink. There are an awful lot of them. Some of them are fairly new, like blondie and smoothie, but there’s a handful of words that transport us back over 8000 years to the times of our distant Indo-European ancestors, who lived in the lands north of the Black Sea: ale, apple, bean, dough, honey, leek, loaf, meat, milk, oats, wheat. They’re all words that had their origins at the very root of our language. We need to be a little careful with them, because they didn’t all mean what they mean now: the ancient ancestor of English apple, for example, meant simply ‘fruit’, and the ancestor of meat meant ‘food’. But they give us a window on the sort of diet – nourishing and healthy, but perhaps not very varied or exciting by modern standards – that people had in those days.

What do words tell us about the sort of domestic animals the Indo-Europeans had? Well, they certainly kept cattle, sheep, pigs and geese, because several modern English words for them can be traced back to those earliest times: cow, ox, ewe, sow, swine and goose (as well as beef – which comes ultimately from the same Indo-European word as cow – and pork). They also had horses (although the only traces of their word for ‘horse’ in modern English are equestrian and equine), and they seem to have had domesticated dogs (the word hound goes back to those times). However, they didn’t know anything about donkeys, chickens or cats: we can tell that because none of the words for them in modern European languages date back that far.

That’s using our language time-machine to take us as far back as it’s possible to go. But we can also travel to the more recent past. For example, if we look at words relating to flying and aircraft in the early days of aviation, from the balloonists of the 18th century to the first powered flight at the beginning of the 20th century, we can see quite a few that were adopted into English from French, such as aeronaut, aeroplane, aileron, fuselage, hangar and nacelle. Why should that be? Well, many of the pioneers of flying were French, so many of the terms used to refer to it were created in French, and all English had to do was borrow them. The language opens a small window on the earliest days of a new technology, and suggests that at that time English-speakers viewed it as something coming from across the English Channel.

If you want to take a journey on the language time-machine yourself, why not try and use it to see how Arabic science, mathematics and technology had a great influence on Western nations in the Middle Ages*; how a word can tell us that our ancient ancestors had religious ceremonies involving blood sacrifice**; or what sound they thought best represented a twisting, turning movement***.

* Arabic, p.256

** bless

*** wrong

John Ayto is a freelance writer and lexicographer. He has written many reference works such as The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of Modern Slang, and the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. He was a contributor to the Oxford Companion of Food. John has always had a profound interest in language and cookery. He lives in London.

Word Origins The Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins is out now.

Houses built out of air

Julia LeeJulia Lee tells us about her love of atmospheric houses that feature in books she has enjoyed throughout her life, and which have helped inspire one of the key locations in her debut children’s novel, The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth.

It was one of the great disappointments of my childhood that I didn’t live in a house like Green Knowe. (Other disappointments were that I couldn’t fly, or talk to animals—at least, not so that they took any notice.)
But back to Green Knowe—an ancient house and garden by a river, full of history, magic, tame birds and friendly ghosts. When I found out that Lucy Boston, the author of The Children of Green Knowe, was describing the house where she actually lived, I couldn’t get over her luck—or my envy.

Green KnoweIllustrations of Green Knowe by Peter Boston.

I grew up in a modern semi, in a road of identical houses, on the outskirts of London. So disappointing when it came to exploration, although we tried! No secret passages, cobwebby cellars, or attics stuffed with generations of junk and the odd piece of hidden treasure. No ghosts, or time-warps back to previous eras, either— our home was brand-new when my family moved in. Whenever we went on a trip I’d gaze longingly out of car and train windows, and make up stories about what it would be like to live in the places we passed. Country cottages, mansions, follies, farms: they all fed my hungry imagination.

I think this was why I’ve always loved books that centre around a house. Old favourites include The Secret Garden’s Misselthwaite Manor, with its long corridors and haunting night-time crying. Or Helen Cresswell’s Moondial, where heroine Minty slips through time when she visits an old manor-house. Another time-shift story, Penelope Lively’s A Stitch In Time, features a Victorian house which has become a rather unloved seaside holiday-let—but I longed to stay there!

As I got older I enjoyed the spoof-spookiness of Northanger Abbey, and the wonderfully haunting Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, amongst many others. I still get excited when I discover another “house” novel I’ve missed, or a new one is published. They always set me wondering about the places that inspired their authors.

MenabillyMenabilly in Cornwall, one of the houses that went into Daphne Du Maurier’s creation of Manderley

Clemency WrigglesworthHardly surprising, then, that when it comes to my own writing, I really love being able to create a house—any house I want, anywhere I want—out of thin air. The Great Hall at the heart of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wigglesworth looks “as if a child had tipped everything out of a brick-box, determined to build a house, however strange the result.” I wanted it to be rambling in the extreme, a hotch-potch of eras and architecture, with plenty of scope for secrets and hiding places.

I like touring old houses, and now I can call it research. Give me a guide-book that includes a floor-plan and I’m in heaven! But there are always areas that are off-limits. When I make up a house I can go into every room, and poke around the stairwells and cupboards and corners to my heart’s content.

West DeanThe walled kitchen garden at West Dean, with cottage and glass-houses.

Image: Jim Buckland.

As I worked out what my heroine Clemency got up to, first below stairs and then venturing beyond the servants’ quarters, I had no trouble picturing her surroundings. A pink drawing-room and a blue-drawing room; stuffed tigers and stuffed birds; a round tower full of trophies; a Victorian kitchen garden laid out with elaborate neatness. I may have overdone the double double staircase in the hall, though, as I can’t find anything quite so complicated in real life.

Winter PalaceHere’s a modest example: the Winter Palace, St Petersburg.

But then the Great Hall isn’t based on any real place. I enjoy making things up too much to limit myself to that. I’m sure that houses I’ve visited and read about and seen on screen have gone into the mix, with ideas and images stored somewhere in the back of my brain. Gosford Park and Brideshead Revisited, perhaps, though not Downton Abbey, as my book was completed before that ever came to our televisions.

I must say that the working parts of a big house—nurseries, kitchens, pantries, passages—fascinate me far more than the grand public rooms. Because I strongly suspect that had I lived in Victorian times, like Clemency, I would have been toiling away below-stairs, rather than lounging about above.

Julia LeeJulia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine. As a child she was ill quite a bit, which meant she spent lots of time lying in bed and reading (bliss!).

Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.

 Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.

 Find out more about Julia on Twitter.

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth is out now. Clemency Wrigglesworth

NOTES ON IMAGE SOURCES

• Peter Boston illustrations: www.polymathperspective.com/?=175

• Photo of Menabilly: www.dumaurier.org/memories.html

• Winter Palace staircase: www.saint-petersberg.com/palaces/winter-palace

• The walled garden at West Dean College – image taken by Jim Buckland the Head Hardener at West Dean College, West Sussex

A brand new chapter for Frozen in Time!

FIT

Ali-Sparkes-001

It’s hard to believe that four and a half years have shot by since Frozen in Time was first published in January 2009. For its launch I dressed up in a 50s style frock and convinced my family to clothe themselves similarly (the menfolk objected but the frocks didn’t look bad), hired a Wurlitzer jukebox and got some dancers to jive around outside Waterstones in Southampton’s West Quay.

I had a really strong feeling about the book – that it would prove to be my bestseller to date. And I wasn’t wrong. It went into a second edition in its first week.

I’d spent a lot of time researching the story of Freddy and Polly, a brother and sister who are frozen in time, cryonically, by their genius scientist father—and then discovered in the 21st century by Ben and Rachel. Although the story is not set in the 1950s, Polly and Freddy have just stepped out of that time into now. For them, as they’re woken up, June 1956 was just yesterday.Polly

In the months spent writing it, I went onto BBC local radio and put a letter in the local paper, asking people to send me their memories of growing up in the 1950s. I believe the essence of all the letters and emails I received really added to the authenticity of Polly and Freddy.

But I had an even better ace up my sleeve. My mum and dad. Polly and Freddy are actually my mum and dad, you see. Kind of. Pauline and Frederick Sparkes (now aged 69 and 70) were aged 12 and 13 in 1956. What better source?

Here’s little Polly—actually somewhat younger than 13—around nine, I would guess. Like Polly in the story, my mum, by this stage, was growing up without a mum of her own. Hers died when she was nine and she was brought up, in part, by her older sisters, Rita and Pat. She felt that lack of maternal guidance very keenly and turned to a well-loved weekly paper for girls entitled GIRL for advice—which offered the ‘Mother Tells You How’ column. GIRL

Polly in Frozen in Time also reads GIRL and knows a great deal about how to run a household as a result. The chapter where she teaches Rachel how to wash up properly was such a joy to write. I felt for Rachel, with her slapdash attempts at housework, as Polly put her to rights. But I cheered for Polly. She’s completely right, you know. You DO need a long handled mop and some really hot soapy water!

with dogFreddy, also, is such a boy! Like my dad (pictured here in the open shirt when he was about 11 or 12), he is an ace rollerskater. Dad told me all about racing around the streets of Millbrook in Southampton on skates—just metal soles and wheels which you attached to your shoes with leather straps and buckles. The gaps between the flagstones would play merry heck with your axles over time, leading to metal fatigue until they occasionally snapped (often at high speed).

In the story one of my favourite bits is the rollerskating chase scene where Freddy and Ben must outskate Roly and the Pincer twins in their modern in-line rollerblades—using just flimsy 1950s strap ons. I know just how brilliantly Freddy can skate because I’ve seen my dad do it, many times, over the years. There was a time in the late 80s when local kids used to come round to the house to ask if my dad would come out skating!

But where my parents differ from Polly and Freddy is the poshness. Polly and Freddy are only partly based on them—the more real part, I like to think. The slightly less real but just as entertaining part is inspired by Julian and Anne out of The Famous Five. Enid Blyton had a huge influence on me as I grew up. Her adventure, Five Go To Smuggler’s Top, was what turned me into a bookworm after a difficult start with reading and writing.

Reading some Enid Blyton to our sons a few years back, we found the stories were still great—but sometimes hilarious in ways that Enid had never intended. The language and the style were very firmly stuck in the 1950s and some of it was pant-wettingly funny. I got to thinking about those characters—Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and Timmy the Dog. How would they cope if they were suddenly fast-forwarded in time to the 21st century? It would blow their minds!

And how would the 21st century cope with them? Kids who went around with neatly parted hair, saying things like ‘Gosh!’ and ‘I say!’ and ‘Never fear, Aunt Fanny—I’m going to call a constable!’

From this Frozen in Time grew. It had all the ingredients of a good Famous Five story. Four children, underground passages, spies, bike rides, a puppy—even a missing scientist. But it also had Pot Noodle, tattoos and piercings, junk food, and some very sinister events (one or two of which, I’m wickedly proud to say, made some readers really scared!)

I had a good feeling about it from the off, but even I couldn’t have known it would up and win the Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award in 2010. That elevated it from my personal bestseller to a full on bestseller, hanging around at the top of the book sales charts for months. It didn’t hurt that it was featured on national telly—and I got to go on Blue Peter twice! Since then it’s spread all over the world and been translated into several different languages. It’s the one that every nods and goes ‘Aaaah yes!’ about whenever it’s mentioned.

jolly good showIt’s even spawned a theatre show. I’m just about to start touring this… Check out www.alisparkes.com for more information in the coming months.

And to top it all, OUP has given it this gorgeous makeover for summer 2013. I loved the original cover by David Frankland but I also adore this new one, from James Frazer…

fit old lookFITIt’s very NOW and yet still THEN, if you know what I mean.Truly, though—GOSH!

Ali-Sparkes-001Ali Sparkes grew up in Southampton and despite some exciting months in London and even more exciting months in Lowestoft (where she really experienced life on the edge), still lives in Southampton today, with her husband and two sons.

She has worked as a singer, journalist, broadcaster, magazine editor and the spangle-clad assistant to a juggling unicyclist (frighteningly, there is photographic proof).

Ali has many children’s fiction titles published by Oxford University Press including her SWITCH series, her award-winning novel Frozen in Time, and her heart-stopping adventure series about a group of teenagers with special powers, Unleashed.

Visit Ali’s website

Follow Ali Sparkes on Twitter

Are you telekinetic? Do Ali Sparkes’ fun quiz and find out!

Ali-Sparkes-001CAN YOU MOVE THINGS AROUND JUST WITH YOUR MIND?

DO ALI SPARKES’ FUN QUIZ AND FIND OUT…

A NEW telekinetic is in town! The thrilling adventures of Tyrone Lewis are out now in Ali Sparkes’ new summer must read, Out of this World.

Shapeshifter fans will have met Tyrone in the last two books of the Shapeshifter series, when he shows up as Gideon’s Telekinetic Tutor… but nobody knows exactly HOW Tyrone got his powers.

Until now.

Out of This World, set seven years before the emergence of Dax Jones and the other Children Of Limitless Ability (COLAs), tells you how.

9780192794123_OUT_OF_THIS_WORLD_CVR_JUN13

But maybe this is no big deal to you. Maybe YOU are already a TELEKINETIC.

Answer these questions and discover the TRUTH…

Q1. Can you move things with your brain?!

1. No. Don’t be stupid.

2. Yes. I just head butted a One Direction pencil case across the room.

3. Sometimes I think I can—when I squint at something really hard and hold my breath and make this noise which kind of goes ‘Wuh-wuh-wuh-weeeeeeeeeh.’ I made a pen roll off a desk once!

Q2. When you get angry, do metal objects seem a bit shifty-abouty?

1. No. Human objects seem a bit inmyfacey-annoy-ey.

2. Yes. Especially when I throw them around!

3. Kind of. I found some forks stuck to the ceiling after I’d had a row with my best mate…

Q3. Have you ever freaked out friends or family by bending spoons or other cutlery?

1. No. Why would I want to bend cutlery? What has it ever done to me? Apart from that time when a teaspoon got stuck in my eye… and that was probably more my fault that the teaspoon’s. I don’t hold grudges against dining implements. That way lies madness.

2. Yes! There was this time, right, when I was whacking myself over the head with a soup ladle… and after about a minute it was all bent! The ladle. Not my head: duh—that’s made of wood, that is. Could this be the wonder of telekinesis? I once set fire to my trousers too. Is that pyrokinesis?

3. Yes, I have. I also floated the bent spoons around in a little circle while everyone screamed and someone fainted. Probably shouldn’t have done that.

Q4. Have your telekinetic experiments ever led to trouble with the authorities?

1. No. I am extremely well behaved. I consider other people’s feelings and think that floating stuff about in the air in a way which      might alarm anyone is reckless behaviour. Generally I try hard to avoid this kind of thing and I’m appalled at the way Ms Sparkes’ books encourage such foolishness. I’m not a spoilsport. I am perfectly well balanced, thank you. Perfectly.

2. Well, let me see… I’ve been done for heading a ball repeatedly at someone’s window and then, when they opened the window to complain, their face. (Well, I didn’t ASK them to open the window, did I?) Does that count? I mean—it’s still moving things with my head, innit?

3. Help! Help! I am being chased by a man and woman in suits, with tasers, who say they’re from the government! They want to test my brain!!! HEEEEEEELP!

NOW TOT UP YOUR RESULTS AND READ THE ANSWERS

MOSTLY As

You seem a little sceptical about the potential of the human mind. And generally quite cross. Of course, nobody has yet proved that telekinesis really exists, but it could happen. Lighten up a bit. And don’t give in to that teaspoon. Show it who’s boss.

MOSTLY Bs

Sorry. We don’t think you’re telekinetic… but we are concerned about the level of violence in your life. Perhaps the process of meditation, which many believe may aid the process of telekinesis, might also allow you and your pyromaniac alter ago to discover inner peace. Please do not head butt One Direction pencil cases. They don’t mean to be that annoying—it’s just in their contract.

MOSTLY Cs

It would seem you ARE telekinetic. Turn around and stare hard at a bin or something and spin it down the road, tripping over your government pursuers, and then leg it somewhere safe before considering your next move. Have you tried doing a little aerial display with a bag of Nice ‘n’ Spicy NikNaks? That’d be a laugh! Or melting a pylon. That’d be HILARIOUS!*

* OUP does not in anyway condone the melting of pylons with your mind. Please DO NOT try this at home.

Out of this World is out now – watch the book trailer!

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How writing saved my life: Janet Hoggarth on writing Gaby’s Angel

Author photo - Sept 2012I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. I was supposed to be an iconic artist or a world-famous DJ spinning the wheels of steel in front of a crazy festival crowd. Writing was a complete accident. It wasn’t an accident that I learned to actually write – we all have to do that. It was an accident that I ended up doing this as a job. I was really an editorial assistant at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, battling through press releases and making lots of mistakes proof-reading manuscripts. Stop the press (literally!)! There’s still a comma in the wrong place on page ninety-two of Harry Potter. Doh, too late…

While making lots of mistakes my boss noticed that my jacket blurbs were quite good for someone who had been told at college to drop the Creative Writing module because ‘You can’t write in a colloquial manner in this class.’ Or indeed write at all. Course duly dropped. So it was a bit of a shock to find that the writing style I had adopted as an eleven-year-old and basically not changed since was a plus point and not negative as previously informed.

Barry, my boss, liked my writing so much that he asked me to write a joke book with my brother (who is a talented poet) and the process was reminiscent of us as kids creating fake newspapers for our parents to buy (an obsession that lead to writer’s cramp and colouring-in claw). The book did really well. And that’s when the seed was planted: maybe instead of being a world-dominating DJ aka Phat Biffa (my DJ name), I could be a writer instead. A lot less glamorous but at least I wouldn’t have jet lag all the time from touring and get tinnitus from mixing banging beats in my headphones. So I eventually gave up my now proper job (I had acquired an office all of my own and a list of books to commission) and Became A Writer.

Well, Becoming A Writer meant panicking a lot because instead of me nagging authors for a synopsis or the sample chapter or to Please Finish That Book or I Won’t Pay You, it was me being nagged. Argh! I churned out loads of books (now all on Amazon for 1p, relics really), got married, had three kids back to back and didn’t work for a long while. My brain was lost in the young baby wilderness years. Then out of nowhere I found myself single with three children under five. It has to be said that was a low point. Distant dreams of DJing resurfaced. Maybe I could still make it big? The kids could come with me on tour. I would make enough money for us all to live in a mansion with a pool. Or maybe I could start writing again…

9780192745484_GABYS_ANGEL_CVR_JUN13I was having a really tough time, like Gaby in my new book Gaby’s Angel. Struggling with being a single parent, I was feeling very sorry for myself one morning on the school run, forcibly dragging all of us there and out of the house. Just as I was crossing the road with Danny in the pushchair and the girls tagging along a voice spoke to me. (Honestly, this is not made up!!!!) It was in my head, but didn’t sound like my voice. It said: ‘You are going to write a book called Gaby’s Angel about a girl who’s best friend dies.’ I stopped the pushchair and listened for what came next. ‘The dead friend sees that Gaby can’t cope without her so comes back as her angel to help her find a new best friend.’ That was it! I ran all the way to school and all the way back, chucked Danny in a playpen and wrote the synopsis in half an hour, like a woman possessed.

In the book Gaby receives white feathers from Emily, her dead best friend, as messages to not give up and carry on with life. One day I got in the car feeling so terribly sad and uninspired about writing and there on my seat was a perfectly formed white feather. How had it got in? It wasn’t there before. I took it as a message to keep going. Even if an errant seagull had pecked his way in and shed it while scavenging for ice cream, who cares? It worked. My ‘angel’ feather spurred me on that day.

It took a long time to write the book. I gave up twice and didn’t write for months because I was too exhausted or busy or DJing. But during those times I would remember the feather and the voice and would eventually flip open my laptop and make myself write. And after two years it was finally finished!

So for me, writing Gaby’s Angel was like a life raft. It kept the kids and me afloat. And they are incredibly excited to see a final copy. And so am I because it represents more than just a book. Like Gaby, it represents surviving the bad times and coming out the other side smiling older and wiser. Only not so much of the older if you don’t mind…

Author photo - Sept 2012

Find out more about Janet Hoggarth on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

Gaby’s Angel is out now.

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