It’s Time for Halloween Magic with Winnie the Witch!

Halloween will soon be upon us – the perfect time to organise a Winnie the Witch Halloween Party!

Or, if you’re a big Winnie and Wilbur fan and are looking for fun, creative activities about your favourite characters, then look no further.  Download this great new party pack, full of great Winnie and Wilbur games and crafts suitable for schools, bookshops, libraries or home use, including: draw your own spell, make your own pop-up cards and finger puppets and a Winnie the Witch quick draw challenge!

Plus, you’ll find lots more Winnie fun, as well as dressing up ideas (in the Play area) at www.winnie-the-witch.com.

Happy Halloween everybody!

The brand new Winnie the Witch adventure, Winnie’s Haunted House is out now.

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Baddies are Best: My Top Three Supervillains of All Time

Ben Davis, YA author by day and superhero extraordinaire by night, shares his top three super villains of all time in celebration of his new series, Danny Dread.

Greetings! I’m Ben Davis – author, citizen, eater of pies – and I am here today to talk to you about my latest book, Danny Dread. It’s the swashbuckling story of a useless supervillain and his twelve year old son, who secretly wants to be a superhero.

I'm sure he'll grow out of it

I’m sure he’ll grow out of it.

Despite the embarrassing photo above, I’ve always been drawn to the baddies. When I was a kid in the playground, I would play the villain. I was the best at it. Kids would say, ‘Ben, you can be Silencio the Evil Wizard. His special power is sitting on his own in the corner quietly and not bothering us for the entire lunch break.’ And do you know something? I totally nailed it. Every single time.

Anyway, to celebrate the publication of Danny Dread, I have decided to share with you my all-time top three supervillains.

  1. The Penguin

Yeah, I could have gone for the Joker, but come on, that would be too obvious. Plus, Penguin is my favourite Batman villain. I think it’s because he does dangerous stuff and doesn’t care about the consequences.

I mean, look, he's opening an umbrella indoors. What next, walking under ladders?

I mean, look, he’s opening an umbrella indoors. What next, walking under ladders?

Another reason why he makes my top three is that he’s a psychotic criminal named after a completely harmless animal.

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Well, mostly harmless.

  1. My so-called best friend, Fat Barry

That’s right, Fat Barry – you are the second biggest supervillain of all time. How does it feel? You can’t say it hasn’t been a long time coming. I mean, remember my last birthday, when you got me NOTHING? Well, not nothing, it was just a scrap book filled with these really old photos of us when we were kids, but still, I bet it hardly cost you a thing. And after I got you that £5 Nandos voucher for your birthday, as well. Well, this year, you can forget it. This is your present, you evil, evil man.

  1. Dad Dread

Yeah, I’ve put my own character in at number one. Want to make something of it? Now you might be thinking that that is an incredibly boastful thing to do, and I’m only doing it so I can write ‘named best supervillain of all time by Oxford University’ on publicity materials, but hear me out.

DOWN WITH CAMBRIDGE!

DOWN WITH CAMBRIDGE!

Larry “Dad” Dread is the son of the fearsome Phileas Dread, world conqueror and now, head in a jar. Larry has spent his life trying to live up to his father’s reputation to no avail. His failed schemes have included kidnapping Donald Duck, and brainwashing all of the world’s sharks. With the latter, he failed to take into account the fact that their tiny fish brains meant that they would quickly forget that they had been brainwashed. And that is when they started to get bitey.

The book sees Larry take on a dastardly new assistant, and soon, his dreams of world domination are within his grasp. Only one person has the ability to stop him – and he is much closer to home than he thinks.

Hi!

Hi!

That is all from me – I will now return to my secret lair* to hatch some evil schemes of my own.** Goodbye!

* shed.

** hide all the stuff I “borrowed” from my so-called best friend, Fat Barry.

Danny Dread is out now.

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Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by writing books for young adults. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog.

Gnomes, unicorns, and bare-chested, goat-legged men: welcome to Super Happy Magic Forest

Debut picture book author and illustrator Matty Long shares his love of fantasy and bringing brand new magical worlds to life in his first picture book, Super Happy Magic Forest.

Super Happy Magic Forest is a tale of brave heroes, fearsome enemies, epic landscapes and sweet, sweet fig rolls. The idea came about a couple of years ago when I was struggling to think of a project that I could work on and take to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to show to publishers. I began filling sketchbook pages with gnomes, unicorns, and bare-chested, goat-legged men. Or ‘fauns’ as I guess they’re more commonly known. And then I was drawing fairies, bunnies, trees with faces. It wasn’t until I drew the words SUPER HAPPY MAGIC FOREST in a mushroom that I suddenly had a home for these creatures, and the thought that I may actually have an idea worth developing. There were a few times when I dismissed it all as too outlandish and not sensible enough (It isn’t). But that was half the fun! It was useless to resist.

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I have always been a huge fan of fantasy. There is unlimited potential in worlds filled with magic, monsters, good and evil. And there are no rules! Penguins can be warriors. Mushrooms can talk. Goblins don’t HAVE to be bad.

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One of my favourite parts of making Super Happy Magic Forest was designing the detailed locations that the Heroes have to fight their way through. It is a great opportunity to really make their world come alive. On some of these pages there are prompts to look for certain items or creatures. It’s a device that hopefully acts as another level of engagement while ensuring the reader sticks around a little longer to take in everything that’s going on.

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I’ve always appreciated detail, and images that reward you for taking the time to really look at them and uncover their secrets – Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally? books are a great example.

As much as I adore fantasy, I can’t deny that there is also a degree of silliness to fairies and unicorns, and in some of the overblown cliché’s within the genre: A dark lord rising. Items of great unimaginable power. Brave heroes of virtue and courage. It’s a lot of fun to play around with these conventions, and while the main worded narrative pays tribute to them, often the pictures tell a slightly different story.

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I really hope that Super Happy Magic Forest can introduce readers to the world of fantasy and can give them at least some of the pleasure that I’ve taken from it over the years.

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Super Happy Magic Forest is out now.

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Matty Long April 2015

Matty Long has a First Class Degree in Illustration from Southampton Solent University and a Master’s Degree in Children’s Book Illustration from Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art). He graduated from Anglia Ruskin in 2011 and has since been working at a bookshop in his home town of Cambridge, developing picture-book ideas in his spare time.

Matty is twenty-seven years old. Super Happy Magic Forest is his debut picture book. He’s currently working on the sequel!

Gorillas, Coltan and Mobile Phones

Gill Lewis, the multi-award-winning author of the amazing animal stories Scarlet Ibis, Moon Bear, Sky Hawk and White Dolphin has been called ‘The principal contemporary writer of animal stories’ by the Telegraph, and her new novel Gorilla Dawn is no exception (‘a thrilling, thought-provoking adventure’ Daily Mail). Here, Gill explains the horrifying reality that inspired her new novel.

Gorilla Dawn was inspired by reading an article that stated in bold letters, your mobile phone is killing gorillas. Unaware of the connection, I read on to discover that needed in the manufacture of nearly every electronic device we use are the minerals; tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. A proportion of these minerals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the forest home of the eastern lowland gorilla. Many of the mines are under the control of armed groups who terrorise communities and destroy the forests, in addition to poaching gorillas for bushmeat. Political instability and world greed perpetuate the violence and the damage to the environment. Five million people have died as a result of the fighting and it is estimated that less than 10% of the gorillas’ original habitat will remain by 2030. It’s bad news for people and gorillas, and ultimately the rest of the world, as the tropical rainforests drive our weather patterns, regulate global climate and sequester vast amounts of carbon, thus combating climate change. The forest are vital for us all.

IMG_1756I felt there was a story wrapped up with gorillas, people and the landscape. As I researched deeper, I listened to and read testimonials of former child soldiers and of their struggle to reintegrate back into society. It was then that Imara’s voice entered my head. Imara, the main character in Gorilla Dawn is a kadogo, a child soldier. Like all child combatants, she must keep her tears inside. Kindness is a weakness and friendship is forbidden. Imara’s story only revealed itself to me as I wrote. Her past only revealed itself to both of us at the end.

As a consumer of electronic devices, knowing the link between gorillas, people and mobile phones makes me feel uncomfortable. It questions each individual’s responsibility to people and animals affected by the mining of raw materials for electronic products. Our continued use of technology causes the problem, but it also provides the answer too. Our mobile phones and laptops give us a voice; a voice to demand that governments pass laws to ensure fair-trade, conflict-free minerals, a voice to tell electronics companies that we won’t buy their products unless they responsibly source their raw materials and a voice to speak out for those who have no voice of their own.

If you would like to find out more about conflict minerals and how you can add you voice, please visit my website page on conflict minerals and the Congo Calling website.

9780192793553_SCARLET IBIS_CVR_MAY13moon bear9780192756244_SKY_HAWK_CVR_JAN129780192756213_WHITE_DOLPHIN_CVR_JAN13

 Gorilla Dawn is out now.

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Before 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. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a shed in the garden, in the company of spiders. Visit Gill’s website.

ADVENTURES IN THE FROZEN NORTH By Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Yippee! The brand new Reeves and McIntyre Production Pugs of the Frozen North is out now! If you’re a fan of Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space, it’s time to get excited. Very excited. Let’s go on an adventure with Philip and Sarah…
Our books are all about different characters and different places, but they all have one thing in common: they are about ADVENTURES. And we have adventures while we’re making them. As you can see below, we’re ready for anything. Our latest outfits are designed for travelling to the Arctic, where the latest book, Pugs of the Frozen North, is set. If you’ll read it, you’ll find that all sorts of adventures lie in wait there, from hungry krakens to tasty snow-noodles which might turn you into a yeti…

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Some of Sarah’s relatives have a house in Alaska, in a small town called Seldovia. That inspired the town of Snowdovia, which is the starting point for an extremely adventurous sled-race to the North Pole in Pugs of the Frozen North. The picture in blue below is the one that appears in the finished book, and the others show how Sarah developed it from a very simple sketch, to a rough sketch, and then the finished pen-and-ink drawing.

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Sometimes, to save Sarah some time, Philip does the rough drawing and then Sarah finishes it in her own style. Here’s a yeti rough by Sarah, and a kraken rough by Philip. (You can check through the book and see if you can spot the other pages which Philip drew the rough for, but we’re not telling!) Making a book together is quite an adventure in itself.

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When we’re not busy writing and drawing we try to have real adventures, too. Sometimes they have to be quite small adventures. When Sarah is working too hard to go off exploring, she stays in her studio and explores strange new flavours by doing the #MYSTERYDRINK CHALLENGE, in which she tastes strange soft drinks so that the rest of us don’t have to. She says that so far, most of them have been Quite Nice. She hasn’t found any that have turned her into a yeti yet, but if one does, we’re prepared.

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Sometimes we find time to go on big adventures, too. This summer, Philip’s family went to stay with stay with Sarah’s family in the USA. Here we are hiking in the Cascade Mountains. Who knows what future book ideas that will spark off? (As you can see, the hike was a bit too much for Philip’s son Sam…).

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We came back to England to start our next adventure – touring all over the country to tell people about Pugs of the Frozen North. You can find a list of the events we’ll be doing here. And if you want to know how to draw your own pug, here’s Sarah’s step-by-step guide.

Happy adventures!

Pugs of the Frozen North is out now.

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Philip Reeve wrote his first story at the tender age of five about spaceman called Spike and his dog Spook. He is now best known for his Mortal Engines quartet but is also a talented illustrator and has illustrated several titles in the Horrible Histories series.

You can find out more about Philip’s books here: http://www.philip-reeve.com/

Sarah McIntyre once applied for a job as a ship’s rigger, intending to run away to sea, but instead, she found herself studying illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2007. She has since become a writer and illustrator of children’s books, picture books and comics.

She also blogs prolifically, and aims to post on her blog every day: http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/

What A Wonderful Song

Tim Hopgood, author and illustrator shares his love of Louis Armstrong’s world-famous song What a Wonderful World and takes us behind the scenes of making it into a picture book and getting it published.

One Father’s Day about five, six years ago my daughter gave me an old vinyl copy of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What A Wonderful World. Before we go any further, I feel I should point out that the song was not actually written by Armstrong, but such is the magic of his recording that people seem to assume the song is his! The words were actually written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.

bright_day

I first heard the song when I was about six years old; it was played at school during assembly. It made a huge impression on me as a child, such a seemingly simple song, yet so powerful in that it goes straight to the heart with its message of hope and love. Listening to the recording once again, complete with vinyl crackles, I realized the song hadn’t lost any of its charm and it hadn’t dated, that’s the beauty of something so honest and simple. And there’s something about Armstrong’s gravelly voice that stops it being too sentimental, maybe that’s the reason his recording is the one everyone remembers.

So what’s the first song you’d want your new baby to hear? For me it has to be this song. It was for Chris Evans too. I remember he opened his afternoon show on Radio 2 with the song after his first son Noah was born. Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture the joy of that song, probably the most life-affirming song of all time and put it in a book?

trees_of_green

Think about it, the lyrics are so visual ‘I see trees of green, Red roses too’ it could work. And as a gift, what better gift book could there be than to give someone what is essentially a love letter to the world? A simple message of hope.

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When I first showed the roughs for the idea the initial reaction was that it was going to be too complicated to get permission to use the lyrics. I think I’m right in saying that there are three music companies which own the rights to the song, and they would all have to agree on the concept and the publishing terms. My editor at the time loved the idea, but from a publishing business point of view it wasn’t looking quite so wonderful. As a relative newcomer to the picture book market, having at the time only published two books, the chances of making the figures work looked unlikely. “One to put on the back burner” was the advice from my agent.

 

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So that’s exactly what I did.  And then a few years later, I got a call from the commissioning editor at OUP, Peter Marley. Pete explained he was looking for gift book ideas and wondered if I’d be interested in working with him. I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference was between a picture book and a gift book, so he explained how gift books tended to have higher print production values than an ordinary picture book and that often they were based on classic titles that are given a new lease of life by a contemporary illustrator.

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I think it was the word CLASSIC that jumped out at me. Something made me think immediately about my ‘Wonderful World’ idea and so I mentioned to Pete that I did have something he might be interested in, not based on a classic title, but a classic song instead.

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When I look at the original roughs now it’s surprising how little has actually changed, surprising in a good way. Others may look at the roughs and see just a few scribbly lines, but to me the content and composition is all there, the journey and the pace of it all is pretty close to the finished book. My roughs are VERY rough, but the essence of what’s happening on the page is there.

I’m not someone who likes to produce very detailed roughs and then colour them in as it were.  For me the process is all much more spontaneous than that with each finished spread influencing the next. And so much of my work is about colour that often it’s hard for people to imagine the power and impact a spread will have until colour is applied.

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So for example, my rough drawing for the horses spread, which is probably my favourite spread, doesn’t look that impressive, but in my head I knew it would work. The power of colour never ceases to amaze and excite me. So like the song itself, the composition is kept simple and direct.

p22_unpublishedI guess the main change to come out of the editorial process was the relationship between the boy and the bird. It’s much stronger in the final version, much more deliberate whereas in the original rough it is more incidental.

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I hope the book will introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of this song and that it will encourage parents and teachers to share its joy by singing to their little and not-so little ones. The project was a labour of love. A project that came about because all those involved at OUP wanted to make it happen as much as I did. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. Had the book happened earlier in my publishing career it wouldn’t be the book it is­­; by that I mean, it wouldn’t be quite so charming, quite so powerful, quite so wonderful. Thank you to everyone involved.­­­­ ­­­­­

 What a Wonderful World is out now.

What a Wonderful World

Tim

Tim worked for twenty years as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator before he began his career writing and drawing for children. He has a deep love of music, often he wears large headphones and blasts Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder while he paints and draws. He works mostly with Derwent sketching pencils, using digital layering methods to create his artworks. He now lives in North Yorkshire with his wife, two children and his cats.

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

A brand new chapter for Frozen in Time!

FIT

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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

Authorship as autobiography: Joanna Nadin and Rachel Riley

Joanna Nadin on that hallowed object, the teenage diary, and the influence of her teenage years on the hilarious Rachel Riley Diaries.

Joanna NadinOne of the most-oft asked questions of writers is: “Is the book autobiographical?” Or “Is there any of you in there?”

The easy answer is that every book contains a little of its author: these are, after all, words we have sweated, cried, laughed, sometimes screamed over. But in the case of My So-Called Life, what’s on the page is pretty much all of me. Well, of the thirteen-year-old me that was stuck in a small market town in Essex non-affectionately known as Suffering Boredom.

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Joanna as a teenager

I had started out trying to write a tragedy. The kind of book I had devoured as an orphan-obsessed teenager (and adult), the kind involving star-crossed lovers, or mysterious benefactors, or just an ill-advised night in a nightclub in Camden. But the thing was, I had never experienced any of these things, been to any of these places, at least not until I was old enough to know better, and be constantly checking my watch to make sure I could get the last tube home. As Rachel says:

“Why is life never like it is in books? Nothing Jacqueline Wilson ever happens to me: I am not adopted, my mum is not tattooed, I am not likely to move to the middle of a council estate or be put into care. My parents are not alcoholics, drug addicts or closet transvestites. Even my name is pants.”

And so I went back to my own diaries I had kept at school, in the hope of unearthing something, anything wracked with even a tinge of tragedy. I found this:

5 October 1985
Went to Stephen Howell’s 16th at Wenden’s Ambo Village Hall. Drunk dubious champagne that Lucia won at the bingo in Spain. She and Boo went as Madonna. I went as me because mum won’t let me wear fingerless gloves. Anyway it was totally depressing as the love of my life i.e. Nick, is going out with Big Debbie B. And she does IT.

26 October 1985
Have got off with Guy.

7 November 1985
I really like Guy.

8 November 1985
Have decided to chuck Guy. Karen is going to tell him for me at work tomorrow.

It’s not Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even ITV drama. But the thing is, there is a kind of tragedy to it. Not the kind to take a vial of poison over, more the kind to mope about listening to The Smiths to. But it doesn’t make it any less devastating – the stakes still feel as high. No, my first kiss wasn’t on a balcony, to a background of violins, with a boy I was meeting in secret because our families were at war. It was at a lower school disco, to the sound of Spandau Ballet, with a boy who kept pigs. But I still couldn’t eat or sleep afterwards. Or go near the school farm without thinking I might “literally die” from sheer excitement and embarrassment.

Joanna Nadin teen picture 2

And so that’s what I wrote about. Small town lives. The ones that don’t usually get immortalized in print. And we’re all in there: my friend Jude became Scarlet, Stuart became Sad Ed (though in real life he has never had upper arm issues). I won’t say who the Kylies are based on, but they were very real, and very mean. My family is there too – though it’s me, not James who can sing the books of the bible off by heart – I do have to get some revenge on him for being sick on my Noggin the Nog book aged five.

So this really is my so-called life. Welcome to it . . .

Joanna Nadin

Joanna Nadin grew up in Saffron Walden in Essex, before studying drama and political communication in Hull and London. She is a former broadcast journalist, speechwriter, and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister. Since leaving politics, she has written the bestselling Rachel Riley series for teens, as well as the award-winning Penny Dreadful series for younger readers, and many more books for children and young adults. She has thrice been shortlisted for Queen of Teen as well as the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. She lives in Bath with her daughter.

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9780192794512_RACHEL_RILEY_MY_SO_CALLED_LIFE_CVR_JAN13

The first Rachel Riley Diary, My So-Called Life, is out now with a fabulous new look. Further books in the series publish in March, May, Jul, Oct this year.

Rachel Riley series

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