‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

Helen Mortimer, commissioning editor at Oxford Children’s Books takes us behind the scenes of a brand new edition of the classic The Wind in the Willows, retold by Tom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and illustrated by the brilliant David Roberts.

toad cover image

‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

toad 1With these words, Kenneth Grahame first introduced his enduring character in a letter written to his son, Alastair, on May 10th, 1907. During that summer Grahame, who was staying away from his son, continued to send Alastair instalments of the story by letter. The following year Grahame polished the material into a manuscript and the book was published in October 1908 as The Wind in the Willows.

At 55,000 words The Wind in the Willows is normally read to children over many bedtimes. But, for parents and children alike, it is well worth investing the time as it’s a wonderful story with friendship and adventure at its heart. The language is vivid and evocative and is remembered far beyond childhood. Here at Oxford Children’s Books we were delighted when we approached David Roberts to illustrate a glorious new gift edition of the original story and discovered that he shared our enthusiasm for the book.

 

toad 2

 

We published a sumptuous gift edition in 2012, packed with over 150 stunning illustrations from David.

willows cover image

David’s illustrations are so bright, appealing, and accessible that we wanted them to reach children even younger than those who would enjoy sharing The Wind in the Willows. We wanted to condense Kenneth Grahame’s original story into a 32-page picture book and focus on the character who started it all back in 1907: Toad himself.

toad 3

There can be few characters in the world of children’s books more entertaining than Toad and even fewer illustrators who have captured his every mood and moment with the verve and panache of David Roberts. So we commissioned acclaimed author Tom Moorhouse to retell the story for a picture book audience. Essentially, Tom has taken Toad’s best bits from The Wind in the Willows to create The Adventures of Mr Toad, in Toad’s own words and songs.

toad 4.

It’s a really engaging picture book that will introduce the youngest children to four of the most lovable characters of children’s literature: Mole, Ratty, Badger, and, of course, Mr Toad!

 The Adventures of Mr Toad is out now.

toad cover image

You can also read the original Oxford Children’s Classic of Wind in the Willows, which now has a gorgeous new cover look and includes the unabridged text, as well as extra material to help you get the most from the story and lots of recommendations for other things you might enjoy.

OCC_WIND_WILLOWS_P#40F9C372

 

See the world of The Boxtrolls come to life!

Kathy Webb, Managing Editor at OUP Children’s Books gives us the inside track on working on the books that accompany the brand new 3D animated adventure film, The Boxtrolls – as well as the book that inspired the film.

Last Saturday I took my family and friends along to the cinema to watch the new movie, The Boxtrolls. It had only just opened in the UK and went on to be the number one film at the box office for that weekend. We all thought the movie was great—an exciting adventure, with some weird and wonderful characters, all brought to life by some truly breath-taking animation. But watching the film was like the end of a crazy and fun-filled journey for me because I had spent the last twelve months involved in putting together a range of film tie-in books to accompany the film.


9780192739308_HERE_BE_MONSTERS_CVR_OCT14
The Boxtrolls
movie is based on a book published by OUP entitled Here Be Monsters! by the hugely-talented author/illustrator Alan Snow. So when it came to publishing The Boxtrolls books, OUP were asked if they could produce them. Movie tie-in publishing is always great fun—schedules and deadlines go out of the window and all you can do is wait for the film company, Laika, to release the images you need for the books and then embark on a mad dash to put the books together and get them off to print. There’s something very satisfying about producing a book at breakneck speed!

9780192739452_BOXTROLLS_NOVEL_CVR_SEP14

Together with the movie tie-in publications (The Boxtrolls Novelisation and The Boxtrolls: Make Your Own Boxtroll Punch-out Activity Book) we also produced a new edition of the original Here Be Monsters! which, although altogether more straightforward, also had times where we were at the mercy of the film company as we waited for their approval to use The Boxtrolls logo on our new cover, for example. But in the end, like a well-oiled Boxtrolls machine, everything came together in the nick of time and the books published just prior to the film’s release.

GROUP_MEET_BOXTROLLS_LRAs I settled down in the cinema and the film began, I felt proud to have had a small part to play in the huge world of The Boxtrolls. Seeing the characters that you’ve come to know so well, burst into life on a huge screen, is really very exciting.

Working on The Boxtrolls books was a bit like the film itself—fast, furious, dramatic, sometimes scary, but above all else, just great, great fun.

The Boxtrolls is in cinemas now.

 

A perilous world for children…

Julia Lee, author of  The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth examines the different types of childhoods experienced by the children in the Victorian setting of her new book The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard.

In my latest book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, I got to plunge back into the perilous Victorian world of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth. (I have to take a deep breath even to type those long titles!)

Clemency Wrigglesworth

It’s a world where schooling is not a great priority. That might sound like fun, but in fact most children work for a living instead, as they do in my book. Their families need every penny they earn to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Gully’s family, the Marvels, have links to the theatre and their children are lucky to have jobs that reflect that. Cousin Whitby is a dancer and dance-school assistant. Nine-year-old Impey has acted on the stage and hopes for greater things in future. Gully’s job is more mundane. He’s just a delivery boy, and wishes he had a special talent like his cousins. But they all share rather adult worries about money, whether they might lose their jobs, and how to find another.

 

9780192733696_DANGEROUS_DISCOVERIES_GULLY_POTCHARD_CVR_AUG14 (2)

Having so much independence and responsibility means that children are out and about all day, unsupervised by parents – so different from now. But that also means plenty of scope in my story for adventures and chance encounters, some exciting, some alarming. Bumping into an old school-mate is the start of a scary rollercoaster of events for Gully.

There’s one character who isn’t allowed out on her own – who isn’t allowed to do very much at all, in fact. Agnes Glass comes from a wealthy family. Although her life is comfortable she’s isolated and lonely. Her over-protective mother fusses about her health. Poor Agnes can only go outside on fine days and then she must be wrapped in blankets in a little pony-cart, led by a groom, going ‘at a sedate pace and only down the quietest streets’. Not much scope for adventure there! Until she decides to do something about it…

I’ve always loved those classic children’s books like Heidi and The Secret Garden where ‘sickly’ children manage to challenge the limitations imposed by illness or disability. So I had great fun helping to prise Agnes out of her narrow world and defy her mother. When she is thrown together with Gully and Impey, there’s quite a gulf between them and lots to discover about each other’s lives. Lots to discover about themselves, too, especially as the perils begin to pile up.

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is out now.

9780192733696_DANGEROUS_DISCOVERIES_GULLY_POTCHARD_CVR_AUG14 (2)

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.

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.

 

 

Cakes in Space!

Greetings, space cadets! Philip Reeve reporting from the Reeve and McIntyre international space station (we built it out of some of Sarahʼs spare hats).

Yes, for our new book, Sarah and I decided to launch ourselves into outer space. Weʼve even had some space costumes made so we can be properly dressed when we do book events.
Picture 1

People often ask, ʻWhere do you get your ideas from?ʼ, but by the time youʼve gone all through the process of writing (and illustrating) a book it can sometimes be hard to remember where you started. I think the first idea for Cakes in Space came when I noticed that Sarah is really good at drawing aliens, and that got me thinking that we should do a space story. And then I thought it might be fun to start with an idea that felt quite cold and futuristic – a girl sets off on a long space voyage in a gleaming white starship. She and her family are off to live on a new planet, called Nova Mundi…

pic_2_novamundi_brochure

So I told that idea to Sarah – we always come up with our stories together – and we started discussing what might happen next. We decided that Astra and the other passengers would all be put into a frozen sleep while the ship makes its long journey. But something goes wrong, and Astra wakes up in the middle of the voyage, while everyone else is still asleep. That was the idea which the rest of the story grew around. (Not many of us have been aboard a starship, but we all know that slightly magical, slightly scary feeling of being the only one awake in the house.)

pic_3_sleep_pods

What would Astra discover as she crept around the silent, sleeping ship? We didnʼt want her to be too lonely, so we invented a friendly robot called Pilbeam…

pic_4_pilbeam

And Sarah didnʼt want to be drawing just white corridors all the time, so we gave the ship an overgrown zero-gravity fruit garden…

pic_5_garden

But there are problems, too. Thereʼs a bunch of aliens called the Poglites, whom Sarah has drawn wearing chimney-pot spacesuits. Theyʼve come to steal all the spoons…

pic_6_poglites_zps250d472c

And, more worryingly still, the shipʼs food making machine, Nom-O-Tron 9000, has gone bananas and started baking batch after batch of KILLER CAKES. That was Sarahʼs idea, and once she suggested it, those cakes sort of took over the book.

pic_7_cakes

Will Astra be able to defeat the fearsome flapjacks, murderous muffins and beastly battenburgs? Youʼll have to read Cakes in Space to find out. But never fear – she has a SPORK, and sheʼs not afraid to use it!

pic_8_astra_spork

 

Cakes in Space is out now.

Cakes

And you can get Oliver and the Seawigs too!

Oliver and the Seawigs PB

cakesinspace-smallformatPhilip Reeve was born and raised in Brighton, where he wrote his first story at the tender age of five about a spaceman called Spike and his dog Spook. He is a talented illustrator and writer, and he has illustrated several titles in the Horrible Histories series.  Philip is best known for his multi award-winning Mortal Engines quartet, which won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award, and the Guardian Children’s Book Award. Philip has also won the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Medal with Here Lies Arthur. Philip lives in Dartmoor with his wife Sarah and his son Sam.

Sarah McIntyre is a writer and illustrator of children’s books and comics. She once applied for a job as 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.

Sarah grew up in Seattle in the US and went to university in Philadelphia, where she studied Russian language and literature. She thought she wanted to be a journalist, and worked for a year at a newspaper in Moscow. One of her articles caused a huge scandal, and she ran off with a British diplomat named Stuart, who married her and took her back to London with him. She thinks he probably wasn’t a spy, but she is not entirely sure. She shares a studio with three friends in an old police station in Deptford, south London, (complete with cells!). You can visit Sarah’s website and blog at http://www.jabberworks.co.uk

 

Islands and imagination

Julia Green, author of Sylvie and Star and Tilly’s Moonlight Fox gives us an insight into the inspiration behind her brand new book for younger readers, Seal Island.

I’ve loved islands as long as I can remember: I like the smaller, more intimate scale of an island, the way you can get to know it on foot, the sense of community found there, and the relationship with the weather, the sea and the rhythm of the tides. Recently I’ve re-visited the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and this is the setting for my new book for children, Seal Island.

north uist June 10 2014 004

My island is imaginary but based on these real places. I drew a map to show where everything happens in my story (I loved maps in books as a child).

 

mapThrough Grace’s story, I hope to bring a sense of this beautiful place to my readers, to share the pleasure of beachcombing, spotting seals, making friends and experiencing the freedom to play and explore. I researched real seals, but also read the old tales about Selkies – half seal and half person – and wove these into my story.

deer on allotment and North Uist 031

Grace learns about the island, about life and loss – there are some dramatic events after a storm – but I have tried overall to capture the summery feel of life on an island, the warmth of family and friendship, the rhythm of the sea and the wide starry skies.

Seal Island is out now.

Seal Island

Copyright Kim Green

Copyright Kim Green

 

Julia Green lives in Bath. She has two sons.  She writes fiction for children and young adults. She is the Course Director for the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Julia leads creative writing workshops for children and adults in a variety of settings, including festivals and schools and for the Arvon foundation. She has worked as an English teacher in school, as a lecturer in FE, Higher and Adult Education, as a tutor for young people not in mainstream school; she has also been a publicity officer, a sub editor for a publishing company and a library assistant at a medical school in London.

About Mums by Mina May (age 13)

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

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

image001

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

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

image003

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

image005image007image009

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

image013

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

image015

She writes back.

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

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

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

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

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

image021

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

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

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

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

Make her breakfast in bed.

Help her mow the lawn.

Or maybe just write a blog.

Like I’m doing now.

About how great she is.

Or something similar.

Only try not to waffle as much.

So … Happy Mother’s Day, Mums!

WE LOVE YOU!

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

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

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

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

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.

9780192745484_GABYS_ANGEL_CVR_JUN13

Horsing around: editing our bbbrilliant new pony series

Life-long pony enthusiast and OUP Children’s Books Editorial Assistant Helen Bray joins us to talk about the experience of editing Che Golden’s brand new series for pony-mad children, The Meadow Vale Ponies.

If someone had told me when I was a child that a job existed which satisfied both a love of books and a love of horses, I would’ve thought they were thinking of a wild dream they’d had of a library filled with ponies hoof-deep in picture books . . . with themselves as Head Librarian – giving away carrots as bookmarks.

And although that actually sounds quite appealing (note the ‘mad’ in ‘pony mad’) there is a real job where you can celebrate a love of stories AND a love of all things equine—it’s MY job!

It was Che Golden’s new book Mulberry and the Summer Show that proved this to be true.

Meadow Vale Ponies logo

Che’s new series is called The Meadow Vale Ponies, and stars a girl called Sam and the beautiful, Black-Beauty-esque, mare, Mulberry. Unfortunately, Mulberry is also the grumpiest little pony at the Meadow Vale Stables. In that way, she reminds me of a pony I used to know. Tinkerbell was almost pure white and barely bigger than a Great Dane. Sounds adorable, right? WRONG. Let’s just say she bore more similarity to Hook than Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell!

 Tinkerbell – who, if you look closely, is eyeing up my fingers wondering if she can get away with the excuse that she thought they were carrots...

Tinkerbell – who, if you look closely, is eyeing up my fingers wondering if she can get away with the excuse that she thought they were carrots…

Sam is quite nervous about learning to ride—ponies are big, powerful animals after all. Sam’s nerves get the better of her in her first lesson, when she’s unceremoniously dumped at the feet of her stern riding instructor by an overexcited pony.

It’s easy for me to sympathize with poor Sam here, as the first hack I went on with my favourite pony, Cobweb, ended in me being dumped on a grass verge next to a bemused gardener after a hair-(and mane!)raising gallop.

Me and Cobweb before the excitement

Me and Cobweb before the excitement

As Sam is trying to console herself, she hears a strange little voice saying the most bizarre things . . . but it’s only her and the Shetland ponies in the barn—surely it’s not the little Shetland, Apricot, speaking to her?!

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Sam can talk to ponies because she listens to what they have to say. And any pony-mad rider will know that there’s a lot of truth in this—horses have as many opinions, likes, and dislikes as their riders. The horse I ride at the moment, Beau, is no exception: every time it rains she tells me she doesn’t like it by galloping around the field until I let her take shelter in her stable; every time I pick out her rear hoofs she tells me she doesn’t like it by farting on my head; and every time we jump she tells me she loves it by charging at the fences and clearing them as if they were the Puissance Wall at Olympia!

Mulberry tells Sam she doesn’t like her nervous riding by performing her famous Sliding Stop:

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Thankfully, Beau seems unaware of the tricks that Mulberry delights in playing on Sam, such as the classic hold-your-breath-while-the-girth-is-done-up-so-the-saddle-slips-when-your-rider-tries-to-mount. I did used to ride a horse called Dolly who did exactly that, though. And a pony called Laddie who had a Sliding Stop even more impressive than Mulberry’s. And there was Pepé, whose party trick was trotting backwards . . . quite amazing really, but a bit embarrassing when the rest of the lesson are going the other direction! Holly was perhaps the most terrifying of all—she could do 60 bucks a minute—although that might’ve just been in response to the sparkly hoof polish I insisted on putting on her . . .

Despite all of this, for some reason that is surely only madness or love, these mishaps never seem to put us pony-mad riders off. Perhaps it’s because when things go right, it’s the best feeling in the world? Or perhaps it’s because through getting to know each other—however turbulent it might be, you and your pony become the very best of friends? For Sam, it’s because when she rides Mulberry well, it feels like flying. Learning to ride Mulberry teaches Sam that she has to trust her pony, and trust herself.

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Working on Mulberry and the Summer Show has been such a joy for me. The story is funny and heart-warming, and it’s just so easy to become completely immersed in the world of The Meadow Vale Stables. The realism Che does so well is perhaps unsurprising when you learn that she is as pony-mad as they come, and her lead characters are, in fact, based on her own daughter and the first pony she really loved, Brie. When Che asked her daughter why she insisted on riding Brie even though she kept throwing her off, her response was ‘because I love her!’. And you can’t argue with that now, can you!

Che’s daughter with Brie – the inspiration for Mulberry’s character

The first book in The Meadow Vale Ponies series, Mulberry and the Summer Show, is out in July, with further titles in 2014.

9780192734662_MEADOW_VALE_PONIES_MULBERRY_SUMMER_CVR_JUL13

Photograph (c) Lou Abercrombie

Photograph (c) Lou Abercrombie

Che Golden is a graduate of the Masters course in Creative Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University and her two great passions are writing and horses. Che’s first horse was Velvet, a huge, black Irish cob who not only taught Che how to ride, but taught her two little girls as well. Now, they own Charlie Brown, a rather neurotic New Forest pony, and Robbie, a very laid-back Highland pony.

Visit Che’s website

Helen Bray is Editorial Assistant at OUP Children’s Books

Helen and Beau

Meet the mother and daughter team behind Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom: Wendy Meddour and Mina May

Hi! And thank you for asking us to join you on this blog. So here we are: the mother/daughter team behind the Wendy Quill books – working EXTREMELY hard. Mina May is slaving away on her iPad whilst I am doing VERY IMPORTANT writerly work:

Wendy Meddour and Mina May

Wendy Meddour and Mina May working EXTREMELY hard

You see, because Mina May is only eleven, people are always asking us: ‘What was it like doing a book together? Was it really hard?’ I’m tempted to say: ‘Oh yes, of course. What with all the deadlines and having to produce pictures for a professional designer’:

Mina and Karen Stewart

Mina May with our very professional designer

And having to submit manuscripts to an editor who is ever-so strict . . .

Mina and Jasmine Richards

Illustrator and Wendy Quill editor hard at work. Again.

 But then I realise that I have to stop pretending.

Because the truth is, we’re having an absolute blast. Our designer and editor at OUP are AMAZING. And Mina May and I LOVE creating Wendy Quill together – she’s a little bit of both of us, I think. We’ve got the same sense of humour – so are giggling all over the place and having a bit of a ball.

This is how it works:

Mina May: ‘Were you really a crocodile’s bottom, Mum? You know, in actual real life?’

Me: ‘Erm. Well. Sort of, yes. It was for my school play: Peter Pan and Wendy. My head wasn’t big enough to fit under the front bit, so I had to go at the back.’

Mina May: ‘Oh no!’ *giggling* ‘But why weren’t you picked to be “Wendy”?’

Me: ‘I have absolutely no idea. I mean, I should have been Wendy. I am a real Wendy. I even look like a Wendy. And the girl they picked had straight black hair, which everyone knows is completely wrong for Wendy in Peter Pan and . . . ’

Mina May: ‘Aw, never mind Mum. I bet you were a great crocodile’s bottom.’ *Starts drawing on iPad* ‘How about this?’

Wendy Quill as crocodile

Artwork from Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom © Mina May

Me: ‘Oh my giddy Aunt! That’s unbelievable!!!! That is just what it was like!’

Or, to take another example . . .

Mina May: ‘So what do “The Girly Gang” actually look like Mum? Have you written that chapter yet?’

Me: ‘No. Not quite yet. But basically, they all have their ears pierced and wear pointy shoes. It’s part of their “Girly Gang” Rules. Oh. And they’re really scared of rats.’

Mina May: ‘So kind of like this?’

Wendy Quill girly girls

Artwork from Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom © Mina May

Me: *squeal* ‘Ahhhh! Exactly like that! You’ve done it again! Perfect.’

Then we send it to our designer, the brilliant Professor Karen Stewart – and she puts the images all cleverly on the page. And then my editor, the lovely Jasmine Richards (with the gymnastic abilities, editorial brilliance and completely ‘natural arch’), reads my Wendy Quill chapters and tells me if I’m ‘cooking on gas.’

If I am ‘cooking on gas’ (and being Wendy Quillish to the core), we all get very excited and eat lots of cake! And then we get even more excited when we see the final product, tadaaaa:

9780192794635_WENDY_QUILL_CROCODILES_BOTTOM_CVR_MAY13

And then we say, ‘Can we do another one? Please?’

So no. It’s not hard. It’s a DREAM. And we don’t really want it to stop.

Here’s a little ‘Behind the Scenes’ video so that you can see us in action. We hope you giggle over Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom just as much as we giggled over making it.

Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom is out now. Also available as an eBook – in full colour!

%d bloggers like this: