Wilbur’s nine lives

With his lovely new board books about to hit the shops, Winnie the Witch’s lovable cat Wilbur joins us to reflect on his best moments so far in his adventures with Winnie…


They say that cats have nine lives. Well it’s certainly true in my case! I can think of nine nail-biting (or should that be claw-biting?) moments in my life but here I am to tell the tail (sorry, tale)! It must have something to do with being a witch’s cat.

1. I remember the time when I was dozing on Winnie’s Flying Carpet, and the wretched thing whisked me out of the house and took me on a white-knuckle ride, ending up at a fun fair. Though it wasn’t much fun for me! Luckily Winnie came to the rescue. Now I’m always careful about where I cat nap!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

2. Then there was the rather embarrassing moment when I was impaled by a broomstick after a day with Winnie at the Seaside turned into a whale of a time (literally!). Ouch!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

3. And I’ll never forget the incident with Winnie’s New Computer. The shiny new mouse was so tempting but when I pounced on it – ooof! – I disappeared into thin air! If you want my advice, be very careful when it comes to new technology.


Artwork © Korky Paul

4. Cheers of ‘Winnie Flies Again’ greeted us when Winnie took to the skies sporting a new pair of glasses. Now she could steer her broomstick without bumping into things. Before she got her eyes tested, things were rather different, and rather painful for me.


Artwork © Korky Paul

5. Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin was certainly awesome, especially when it turned into a helicopter. What was less amazing was the enormous caterpillar that scared the wits out of me on a giant beanstalk. I think oversized vegetables are overrated!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

6. I’ve always known that Winnie the Witch loves me, so being turned into a multi-coloured moggy and stranded at the top of a tall tree wasn’t my finest hour. But, you’ll be pleased to know, that particular story had a happy ending!


Artwork © Korky Paul

7. Oh yes, on one occasion, an unexpected scaly visitor – Winnie’s Midnight Dragon – chased me onto the roof while his mother set my tail alight. Charming!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

8. There’s a day that I’ll always remember as Winnie’s Dinosaur Day. It started normally enough at the museum but before I knew it I was face to face with a prehistoric beast!


Artwork © Korky Paul

9. And finally, there was the time when I reluctantly joined Winnie in Space – we had broken rockets and naughty space rabbits to contend with . . .

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Artwork © Korky Paul

So you see, being a witch’s cat is never dull. But I love being Winnie’s pet and I wouldn’t swap my owner for the world!

Wilbur’s first concept board books are out in June, and are full of humour and wit!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

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Artwork © Korky Paul


For more fun with Winnie the Witch and Wilbur, visit the Winnie the Witch website.

Fact and fantasy: Ali Sparkes and Unleashed

aliMy stories are a bit like a fairy with bunions. They are fantasy but they have their feet in the real world.

What I really love is making startling, spooky or paranormal things happen in the ‘real’ world that we all know and recognize. When I started out with Dax Jones in the very first Shapeshifter story it was with this thought:

Ordinary boy, one day, out of nowhere, turns into a fox.

What then?

What would happen? Think about it. If it happened to you, today, how would you react? How would your friends react? Your teachers? Your family? Your enemies?

And then I love to do a bit of research in the real world, to work out what might happen for real. For example, for the Shapeshifter series, featuring 100 or so COLAs (Children Of Limitless Ability) who have suddenly developed paranormal powers, I spoke to:

  •  An ex Ministry Of Defence expert
  • A survival/bushlore expert
  • A practising dowser
  • A practising psychic
  • A practising healer
  • A special operative with the police (ex SAS)

And for the follow on series UNLEASHED, I’ve added:

  • Another special operative (ex SAS)
  • A successful stage and up close magician
  • Assorted Irish people

Peter Clifford

…and probably many more. Research is one of my favourite things. I love getting to meet people who are happy to tell me or show me stuff I need to know to make my books make better sense. Bristol illusionist par excellence, Peter Clifford, was a particular treat. In a Bristol café he did proper close up magic just for me! He made coins, clenched in my fist, vanish without trace. He did things with rubber bands that defy all logical explanation. http://www.peterclifford.me.uk/ will tell you a bit more – but not that much more.

To be honest, though, I felt a little guilty. For UNLEASHED: Trick Or Truth – a story featuring Spook Williams, one of my favourite but less pleasant characters – the magician I invented was the opposite of Peter. Brash, cheesy, over the top and contemptuous of his audience.

Really good magicians like Peter, and Derren Brown (who happens to be one of Peter’s best friends) are not at all contemptuous of their audience. They hugely enjoy imparting amazement, delight and that child-like sense of wonder we can still find in ourselves even when we’re properly grown up. They want to involve the audience, not make idiots of them.

I wasn’t really into magic much before going out to research for Trick Or Truth but now I love it. I’ve seen Peter’s show a couple of times and Derren Brown’s live Svengali show too. I don’t really waste too much time trying to pick all the tricks and illusions apart. I enjoy them as if they were ‘real’ magic and revel in the brilliance of the person, or often the team, that has made this astonishing theatre happen.

I would love to be able to do it myself but one of those fake nails through my finger is probably as clever as I’ll ever get.

Spook Williams, of course, needs no help at all. He is the REAL deal. A COLA illusionist who can make you see anything he wants you to see, so convincingly that he could bring you to your knees. And just with the blink of an eye.

Couple that with an arrogant and conceited personality and you have all the makings of a monster. But will Spook turn out to be a monster after his adventure in the Mediterranean? Living a life of luxury aboard a millionaire’s yacht and moving among the champagne swilling beautiful people of St Tropez, will Spook’s ego lead him into pulling off a daring heist?

UNLEASHED: Trick Or Truth is out now…so you can find out for yourself!



Ali 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 new adventure series about a group of teenagers with special powers, Unleashed.

Visit Ali’s website

Follow Ali Sparkes on Twitter

The warmth of ice: art in the Ice Age

Sally Prue, author of Song Hunter, on the very beginnings of art and creative thinking, including her experience of visiting the British Museum exhibition on Ice Age Art.

(This is an expanded version of a piece first posted on Sally’s Song Hunter blog.)

9780192757111_SONG_HUNTER_CVR_JAN13Making up stuff is important.

No, really: life and death important.

Writing a story or painting a picture may seem different from, say, designing a new app that tells you how many people in your town are currently dying of plague, but it’s essentially the same thing. It’s conjuring up something out of nothing.

Essentially, it’s magic.

But how do people start making up new stuff? And why?

It seems first to have become a habit about 40,000 years ago, at the start of the last ice age. The world was changing, and people had to make new stuff fast or else die in the increasing cold.

More or less all there was to eat was big game. That meant people lived in small groups in large territories. Any contact with other groups involved trespassing on someone else’s land.

Did art, which wasn’t anything to do with territory, make sharing every sort of new idea possible? I think it did. I think it proved vital.

Song Hunter is a book about the when and how and why of the very beginnings of art. The fact that its publication has coincided with an exhibition on the same subject at the British Museum looks like deep commercial guile and forethought (though actually it’s pure coincidence).

The problem, of course, is that by the time this marvellous resource became available to me my book was long finished. That didn’t mean, though, that I’d lost interest in the subject. Far from it: part of my heart was still bound up with Mica and her family. I couldn’t help but hope that in this exhibition I’d catch a new glimpse of them.

I hoped to hear their voices; but at the same time I was afraid that the ancient sculptures on display would be dumb and stiff and dead.

So what did I find?

I found, in dozens of tiny spaces, the gift of vivid life. The delicate step of an ear-twitching deer; the fierce thrust of a goose’s neck; the arch of a proud horse; the massive threat of a bison’s shoulders…

…and more, and more…

…the stillness and contemplative fragility of women huge with child; the smugness of a well-fed lion; the wide-eyed anxiety of a swimming reindeer.

Why was this art so good? Have these things come from a time when all art was true? When all art was beautiful, honest, and yet still full of secrets.

I saw a flint blade perhaps 20 cm long but only 0.6 cm deep at its thickest part. Imagine the delicacy of it.

Imagine a flute made of a bird’s bone, and then imagine music and singing and dancing.

Imagine a people both 40,000 years away and yet close enough to feel their breath on your cheek.

On the way out of the museum we came across a table of treasures to pick up and hold. There was a Greek vase made 2,400 years ago; a piece of clay incised with cuneiform writing; and a flint hand axe.

The axe was 350,000 years old.

350,000 years. Older than Homo sapiens, then. Far older. It came from the time of the Neanderthals.

And, oh, but it was a fine thing, carefully made and effective.

Once more, the millennia melted away…

It’s been an honour and a privilege to be able to spend a year in the company of Neanderthal man, but now I must make my way back to the present, to Homo sapiens and to the world we’ve made for ourselves.

It’s sad in some ways, but I’ve gained a lot. Mica and the people of Song Hunter have made me see the world – even myself – anew.

You see?

All that sort of stuff is vitally important.

The exhibition on Ice Age Art at the British Museum runs until 26th May.

Song Hunter is out now.


sally prue

Sally Prue is a writer for children of all ages, from picture books up to Young Adult fiction.

Her novel Cold Tom won the Branford Boase prize and the Smarties Silver Award, and The Truth Sayer was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book Prize.

Her day jobs have included being a Time and Motion person, an accompanist, and a piano and recorder teacher.

Sally is married, has two grown up daughters, and lives on the edge of a small but very beautiful wood in Hertfordshire.

Sally can be found at The Word Den blog, Song Hunter blog, and at www.sallyprue.co.uk.

Books to tickle your funny bone for April Fools’ Day

Happy April Fools’ Day everyone! Today is all about silly jokes, hilarious pranks, japes, larks, and general tomfoolery, and so in the spirit of all things jocular, I thought I’d share some ideas for suitably rib-tickling reading.

Charlotte Armstrong, Marketing Executive

Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom


This book is guaranteed to give you the giggles, no matter what your age (this is an absolutely true scientific fact because we’ve tried not laughing and it’s impossible).

Wendy Quill could be forgiven for assuming that she would get the lead part in her school production of Peter Pan and Wendy – after all, it literally has her name on it. Much to Wendy Quill’s bewilderment, this doesn’t quite work out, but that doesn’t stop her from making a stunning debut as the crocodile’s bottom!

The book is written by the hilarious Wendy Meddour (who really did miss out on the lead role of Wendy in her school play) and is illustrated by her incredibly talented daughter Mina May (aged 11).

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Artwork (c) Mina May

You can find out more about the story and see the illustrations in the spectacular Wendy Quill trailer:


I am not a Copycat


Hugo the hippo loves to do water ballet – it makes him unique – but Bella the bird won’t stop copying him. The friends nearly end up falling out – that is until they realise that they are in fact doing the most incredible synchronised swimming together. This quirky storyline is told completely through dialogue, so it’s really fun to read aloud together and do silly voices.

To top it all off, you get to enjoy seeing a hippo dressed in swimming hat, chequered shorts, goggles, flippers, and armbands!

Waiting for Gonzo


Moustaches can be funny. Drawing moustaches on photos – also funny. That is unless the photo you choose turns out to be of the resident psycho at your new school. This is exactly what loveable rogue Oz does when he moves to a new town, and it sets in motion a chain of events which will see him make both friends and enemies along the way. With both serious moments and touches of pure comedy, this book has it all. There’s even a soundtrack!


John Foster joke books


I couldn’t do a blog post about funny books without mentioning this set of four joke books from the master of witty verse, John Foster. These are jam-packed with jokes, riddles, and rhymes – here are just a few gems:

What do you call a one-eyed dinosaur?

A do-you-think-he-saurus.

What did the stag say to his girlfriend?

I love you deerly.

And my personal favourite:

What do you call a lazy skeleton?

Bone idle.

Charlotte pic.png Charlotte Armstrong, Marketing Executive

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