Monthly Archives: February 2014

Seasons with my daughter – illustrations by my 14 year old!


This is unashamed motherly pride here – because I think my 14 year old has done such a great job!


Let’s open this…


(sorry about newspapers under it!)

Now let’s open again…Image




This is Spring.


Now for Summer:





And lastly, Winter…Image

My photos don’t do justice to her illustrations – but I am so proud. 

I can’t wait to see what she does next!



Issues about Issues

  • Today on twitter I read this tweet.

Barrington Stoke ‏@BarringtonStoke 5h

Backlist love on the blog today for ‘Under the Skin’ by @CathyMacphail – lots to think about but not an ‘issues’ book

I haven’t read ‘Under the Skin’ but Cathy Macphail, along with Linda Strachan, was a wonderful tutor on  the very first Arvon ‘Writing for Children’ course I went on, a week where I realised that I wanted to become a published children’s writer. I have read a number of Cathy’s books, and, thinking about her writing, I tweeted about an amazing book by her called ‘Roxy’s Baby’.

Anne Booth ‏@Bridgeanne 5h

@BarringtonStoke @CathyMacphail I’m thinking of ‘Roxy’s Baby’ = HUGE issues covered in that – but what an exciting, gripping story first


Reading and writing the tweets made me think about the whole subject of ‘issues’ in children’s books.

It’s now just over a week until my first book, ‘Girl with a White Dog’ is published. I can’t quite believe it.

There is a line on the back of my book which says

‘A Story to Change Hearts and Minds.’ I am  proud that that line was suggested by the wonderful writer Non Pratt, who was one of my editors.

And I do want it to have that effect on anyone – child or adult – who has been taken in by stories which encourage hate or fear or prejudice.. So how have I avoided it being an ‘issues’ book?

The answer is, that I had help.

There is always a danger when you set out to present a different view of the world that the ‘worthy’ intention weakens the story and that the book does become one of those ‘issues books’ that Barrington Stoke mentioned in their tweet. I am sure that there are many wonderful self published books, but knowing my own tendency to get caught up with worrying about issues, I am so glad I am not self published. Earlier versions I wrote without an agent or editors had many narrative threads connected to people suffering prejudice because I had a fear that this would be the only book I would ever get published.  I felt that I had to do justice to every type of person who suffered in Nazi Germany and today! It sounds ridiculous just reading that sentence back to myself – but it really is terribly easy to get delusions of grandeur if you are a writer – or at least if you are me! A writer creates worlds and it is tempting to take on the responsibilities of God – which, not surprisingly, are rather too much for a single human being and a book to bear! Luckily for me and for the book I have a great agent, Anne Clark, who saw the story under all the issues and thoroughly edited ‘Girl with a White Dog’ before she sent it out to publishers.  I then had gifted editors at Catnip – Non Pratt and Liz Bankes, who did further pruning and asked me to write more story.  Thanks to their help, I am very proud to call ‘Girl with a White Dog’ mine and I really hope that it will bring joy to people – that it will be a book they are glad that they have read and a story they are glad to have been told.

I was so glad that Patrick Ness  made the  speech he gave recently at the South Bank Centre available on his website for those of us who missed it. I found it very inspiring. I loved the bit he said when he says:

‘I think of what story I can tell that hasn’t been told before or told in my way before.  What questions can I ask?  How can I show a new world, a new future, and new possibilities to a young reader?’ ©Patrick Ness

We do need to tell stories. We do need especially to tell stories that aren’t being told, to counter other stories which are. We need good stories, and we need stories about Goodness and Love. And that is what really motivated ‘Girl with a White Dog’. Stories aren’t just found in books. There are too many  stories around today in our country which encourage hate and judgementalism and prejudice , and children are exposed to them, when they read newspaper headlines in newsagents, put on the television or listen to the radio, or read certain comment threads or posts on the internet. They hear these stories repeated at the bus stop, at school and even sometimes in their own homes, told by people they love. Motivated by the fear these stories stir up, they sometimes tell them again to themselves to make sense of the world. This type of fear-based communal story telling has happened before, and always ends in tragedy. It needs ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and these characteristics can be all too easily assigned. This is why the (gorgeous!) front cover (illustrator Serena Rocca, designer Philippa Johnson) bears the words ‘Is what happened then, happening now?’  I did worry about this. I did worry that this would make my book seem too political, too much an issues book.

But I think it is a question which needs to be asked.


A Lovely White Dog

Twitter has been amazing for me. I have met so many lovely people on it, and even ‘off’ it.

One of the people I have yet to meet in ‘real’ life is Josie Armand Smith. She is on twitter as @josiecreates and this is her website.

I wish I could go to her felt dog making workshop. It is on a date which clashed with something else I have to do, but I will be looking out for any future ones.

I have evidence of Josie’s amazing gifts. I have bought 6 gorgeous dog badges from her to give to people who have helped me with ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and this wonderful ‘big’ dog, which I am going to take with me to talks and school events.


Isn’t Josie talented – and isn’t the dog she made gorgeous? Even Timmy thinks so!





Liz Flanagan, who blogs at kindly invited me to join this blog tour. I was very honoured, as I first met her when she was working for the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge. She has been a publisher, and is now a writer and writing coach. We kept in contact and became friends through twitter, where she tweets as @lizziebooks.

This is the first time I’ve done a blog tour and I’m very grateful to be asked!

So. I have certain questions to answer:

  1. What am I working on?

This is a bit tricky. My first novel with Catnip ‘A Girl with a White Dog’ is coming out on March 1st, so I’m working on publicity for that, rather than writing it. I have just given my 2nd children’s novel to my lovely agent, so I’m not working on that at the moment, though am sure I will have lots of editing and rewriting soon when I hear back about it and I d spend too much time thinking about it and planning changes. I have finished my first picture book text for Nosy Crow, and it is now with the wonderful illustrator.  I haven’t yet been given the edits for my 2nd book with them. I have also just sent off the final edits of a Christmas story for 5-8 year olds which should come out in September (more news later) but the publisher for that may come back with some more edits. So I feel in a bit of a hiatus (hope that’s the correct use of the term?) In the meantime, I am reading, walking and thinking about three different picture book stories, and reading books about dolls houses and medieval bestiaries, and writing down ideas for lots of stories. I am also thinking about getting out an adult novel I wrote back in 2005 for my MA in Creative writing and wondering if there is a YA novel in there. Oh yes – and I’m having a go at illustrating a picture book I am writing – but that’s another story!

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know really. I would like it to be like the best of the writers I like and admire. I suppose that I hope it is different though in that I hope it has my unique voice and perspective and take on life.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

I think I just need to write in order to stay (relatively) sane. I need to read – I cannot imagine a day without reading – and I need to make up stories and think about characters and explore scenarios in my mind. It’s just part of who I am, and I wouldn’t be able to to be me if I didn’t do it. I love children’s books – I think the idea that children’s writers write for the child inside them is probably very true for me. I do also love adult books too, fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I love books and reading and writing them!  I think I do feel there is a moral, religious component, in that I think there are some stories which need to be told, and perspectives that need to be shared, and that story telling can help develop empathy in the story teller and the person who reads or hears the story, and make the world a better place! I think there are writers who have transformed and changed my world for the better  and I would love to do the same for others. I feel so amazed and honoured that I am going to be a published author, and grateful to my agent and publishers for making that happen.

  1. How does my writing process work?

I think it comes out of reading lots and noticing what HASN”T been written and what I would like to read. It can come also from odd facts linking with longstanding preoccupations – so that, for example, ‘Girl with a White Dog’ comes from always thinking that the Holocaust was awful and wondering if I would have been brave enough to do anything to stop it. It comes from reading and listening to the news and worrying about the headlines. It comes from reading lots of children’s books set in the second World War and then one day, reading a tweet linking to an article about the Nazis having a College for Dogs. That led to me buying a book about ‘Remarkable Dogs’, which led to me buying another about animals in Nazi Germany and then looking on the web, and going to London to an exhibition at the Weiner library of school books and games played with by ‘Aryan’ children in Nazi Germany, and watching lots of films and documentaries and reading as many books as I possibly could about the era. Oh – and also reading lots of fairytales! I then  wrote a lot of the book using a main character in 1930s Germany and trying to make it like a fairytale, but that didn’t quite work, so it had to be completely re-written and set now, with a mystery set in the past. It also involved me going to Germany for the weekend with my friend and visiting Dachau.

On the other hand, my rhyming picture book texts were written very quickly – one in a cafe and one on a train – to cheer myself up when I felt despairing about my novel ever being published – I had no idea that they would be accepted first of all my writing – and since they have been accepted I have had to do lots and lots and lots of editing and learn loads about how difficult they are to get right! It has been amazing seeing the illustrations start to take form and I think Nosy Crow are creating something amazing, but it has definitely been a very steep learning curve for me!

I forgot to say that I am helped immensely by my lovely family and these two:



Next week the three writers who will be answering these questions will be

Virginia Moffatt

Virginia is one of my oldest and dearest of friends in real life and a wonderful woman and writer.

She describes herself very modestly on her blog as a ‘forty something writer from Oxford who has written a number of short stories and has written a novel ‘Echo Hall’.’ She has written a TV script and has just finished another short novel. She has had non-fiction pieces published in ‘The Guardian’’s ‘Comment is Free’ webpages and articles in ‘Peace News’ and ‘The Church Times’. What she doesn’t say is that she has a v demanding day job and a young family and is passionate about Justice and Peace. She is also one of the kindest, most generous people in the whole world and I’m very proud of her and her amazing gifts.

Her blog is and has the great title ‘A Room of My Own’.

She tweets as @aroomofmyown1

Celia Anderson

Celia J Anderson attempts to balance a teaching career with her writing life – the result is sometimes chaotic. Her first adult novel, Sweet Proposal, was published by Piatkus Entice last August and her next, Little Boxes, is out on submission at the moment. She also writes children’s books and regular articles for the SCBWI online magazine Words & Pictures. Celia is a member of the RNA and its offshoot group The Romaniacs, who blog together, support each other and are publishing their first joint anthology, Romaniac Shorts, on February 13th.

I met Celia at the first ever Nosy Crow conference last year and thought she was lovely. This was confirmed when she very generously bid for and won a proof copy of ‘Girl with a White Dog’ at the auction for the Phillippines!

Her post about her writing will be on her blog I’m really interested in reading it!

Celia tweets as @CeliaAnderson1

Chris Fewings

Chris Fewings is a freelance writer in Birmingham who writes poetry, fiction and online rants and reflections. In 2013 he was writer in residence at Balsall Heath Library. He convenes groups to share poems from books, and blogs at I first met him in person years and years ago, and we got back in touch through twitter and a shared love of poetry.

I love his poetry!

Chris tweets as @fewin_gs