26 February 2008

First book update, and JBW

Well, two things to report today...

One is that we delivered our first UBG 'new edition' last night. It's an updated version of our first guide (for 8-12s, published way back in 2004). It's got well over a hundred new entries (we had to lose some of the old ones to make room, but not too many!) new read-ons, etc. Turned out to be much more work than we'd anticipated, but I think more interesting too. It's been nearly five years since we delivered the first edition and it's startling quite how much has changed. Hope we've done justice to all the new exciting things... The manuscript is now with Susila, our editor, who has the unenviable jigsaw-like task of working out how to fit our 168,000 words (you're crazy if you think we didn't count) into a book... Publication early 2009.

And Susan and I did a fun event at Jewish Book Week this morning - 90 year six kids from a few different schools, and a good lively group. Lots of questions and lots of comments on what we had to say, and particularly a large number who wanted to discuss the relative greatness of books vs films. Books won. People said nice things about the event so seemed to have gone well. Best compliment was probably the organiser, Mekella, saying she assumed we'd done this sort of school event loads of times... Actually this was our first, but do hope to do more...


22 February 2008


Lawks, put like that (as in the previous post) it sounds quite a lot! Still, I'm looking forward to it all - even The Education Show, which I'll now be doing solo as Danny (poor him) has a funeral to go to. I swear the ES is jinxed for me, as last time I went I was scheduled to appear with Karen Wallace - we had the whole thing planned - and then she got snowed in and couldn't attend at all...

Other than that life has been a little chaotic. Justin Somper is coming to the school I work at next week, so I've been busy setting that up, and trying to get as many boys (not a sexist thing, just that only boys attend the school - Vampirates are good for anyone of any sex, or age!) as possible to read his books so they can ask intelligent questions. Hah!

My own reading? A little Judith Tarr. Teen, at a pinch - but possibly not even *my* sort of thing.

18 February 2008


A few events now confirmed, for anyone interested and in the area:

26 February: 11:35am
Jewish Book Week; Royal National Hotel, Bloomsbury.
Susan and I will be talking to primary school pupils about "Storytelling Histories"

28 February: 11:30am
The Education Show, BIrmingham NEC
Leonie and I will be talking to teachers about "promoting reading for pleasure"

10 March: 7pm
Waterstone’s Hampstead
All three of us in an event for the general public - parents, kids, teachers, librarians...

20 March: 7:30pm
Oxford Children’s Book Group
Leonie and I speaking on 'inspiring children to read'

29 & 30 March
The Federation of Children's Book Groups Conference
A UBG workshop on the Saturday with Leonie and Susan; and I'm chairing a discussion on "new fiction" on the Sunday

2 April: 10:30
Oxford Literary Festival
Not a UBG-related event, but thought I'd include it anyway - I'm on a panel with a couple of great Oxford-based writers talking about "A Literary Guide to Oxford"

Further UBG dates for Hay, Reading, St Albans, Brighton & others to follow as soon as confirmed.

(Tiring just thinking about it...)


16 February 2008


Oh, why didn't I know about this when I was a kid? I'd SO have wanted a raven all of my own...

Joan Aiken is a genius - this slight, light, hilarious story is a great read. I'm on volume 2 already (Mortimer's Bread Bin) and plotting the acquisition of the rest. Of course, Quentin Blake's illustrations add a certain something - he clearly liked Mortimer too!

Mortimer is a raven, Arabel is a little girl. Mortimer eats things. Arabel sorts things out. The two of them have adventures. There, told you it was simple! But... the language is fabulous (and any young child today would have trouble with a lot of the words, so would need a little help, I think) and the adults just hilarious - I'm particularly fond of the policemen.

A huge thank you to Barn Owl books for re-issuing these.

15 February 2008


Last week I read Cathy Cassidy's Lucky Star, and I had an awful feeling that I was growing out of love with her books, as well, I didn't really enjoy it and neither of the characters (Cat and Mouse) felt that real to me... But, this is another week, and thank goodness I tried Scarlett, because I adored it!

The whole issue of childhood anger and loathing (both of self and of everyone else) is well pitched, as is the fairy-tale ending, that just might be a little too much, but only in retrospect, as when you're reading it, it's just right.

The story is about Scarlett - angry, hair dyed the colour of tomato-ketcup, pierced tongue (though she's only 12) - who lives with her workaholic mum and hates everything. She's kicked out of school and ends up in Ireland, having to live with her dad and step-family in an idyllic cottage in the middle of nowhere. Which really doesn't make her happy... But, there's a wild boy and a black horse, a sweet, kind step-mum and time enough for Scarlett to see that some of the things wrong in her life are actually caused by herself - however much she wants to blame everyone else for it all.

There's wishes, wild mint and a happy ending. Really, this is a curl-up-on-the-sofa read, and not any the worse for that.

12 February 2008

Meanderings on a Tuesday

Oh dear - I keep forgetting what colour I'm supposed to write in. Is it pink?

The live webchat Leonie and I did on Mumsnet was a lot of fun - really interesting to correspond with a whole variety of parents and hear directly about the kind of questions and worries they've got as far as reading with their children goes.

I've recently started reading Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks. I'm a big fan of his, though I wasn't too taken with Road of the Dead, which is the most recent title I read. This one is creating a fantastic sense of menace. It's certainly not something I'd give to a pre-teen, but I'm hooked.

11 February 2008


Not about a children’s book this time, but a book nonetheless…

This weekend I read a proof of Blackmoor, first novel by Edward Hogan, out from Simon and Schuster at the start of May. A superb book. I should mention in the interests of etc. that Ed is a friend, but those of you who know me should know that I’m not in the habit of indiscriminately praising books just because they’re by mates of mine. So I do mean it – this one is great. It’s a gripping, dark and looming sort of book, about a doomed village and buried secrets; about grudges and generational blame and superstition and rifts in a small (ex-) mining community. It’s not, though, a heavy read at all, nor – somehow – a depressing one. It’s a really lovely piece of writing, for one thing, pitch perfect and a pleasure to read, which certainly helps, and thematically really robust; and you’re sustained too by some great characterisation – properly living characters, which gives you that feeling (all too rare) that you’ve been reading about something real, that some real people are having these real experiences somewhere. That if I were to wonder into the right house in Derbyshire I might find Vincent and his dad there, or stumble over Leila buzzard-watching from her tent. It’s that sort of thorough and sustained imagining of characters’ lives that remind me (as I’m reminded every time I read a novel this good) of why I could never begin to write a novel myself. Baffled how people like Ed do it. And so (at the risk of adding a tiny fraction to the already substantial pressure for The Second Book), I’d like him to write another one soon now please. Thanks.

Blackmoor is plugged in The Bookseller’s Buyers’ Guide, for anyone in the trade, on page 30; and another little bit in this week’s Bookseller too, which also says there’s to be an ‘author tour’. Don’t know where they’ll be sending him, but if he’s anywhere near you do go and see him and be nice. Oh, and read the book… Pub. date May 6th, S&S, trade paperback.

And talking about author tours… We’re confirming our UBG events in the coming days, but can give you a few to be getting on with: Susan and I are talking at Jewish Book Week on the morning of Feb 26th (central London); Leonie and I are talking at the National Education Show on Feb 28th (Birmingham – this one still tbc), and Leonie and Susan are doing a workshop at the FCBG conference in Exeter on March 29th. Also at the FCBG conference I’m chairing an event with Justin Somper, Julia Golding, Ally Kennan and David Gilman; and I’m also down to do a non-children’s-books event at the Oxford Festival on April 2nd, and while the full line-up for that event isn’t announced yet but I can tell you it’s very exciting!

More diary dates – I think Newcastle, St Albans, Brighton, London inter al. – to follow shortly.

Trying to keep away from reading for a few days as I won’t get any Real Work done otherwise, but next time I succumb it’ll be The Princess and the Captain, for the updated 8-12 guide. Will report back.


10 February 2008

I was reading Nicola's Morgan blog - and laughing out loud - and I thought, actually, we need a list of links on our own blog. So, I'm starting one for anything to do with children's books and if you have a blog, like a blog, or know someone who writes a blog - let me know, and I'll add it here. The more we share the good stuff about kids and reading the better, I think!

09 February 2008

What a week!

Well, it now seems a bit of a dream, really, that I was on Woman's Hour. I enjoyed it far more than I expected, but I suspect I won't be listening to myself for a while... that while being perhaps never!

Meeting up with Wendy Cooling (the most fantastic advocate of reading and books for children, and the force behind Bookstart) and Rebecca (our gorgeous and totally amazing publicist) was lovely, and it was reassuring to see friendly faces. The BBC producer was a delight, and so warm and welcoming that once we were in the green room talking to her I lost (almost) all of my nerves. As for what I eventually said, well - I got in the fact that there are three UBGs and that was the most important thing. Phew!

After that came, as Danny so sweetly pointed out, my birthday, which involved a lot of doing nothing and eating nice food and drinking fresh peach bellinis - YUM!

THEN... came Mumsnet, which was a hoot, and something I really enjoyed.

Then there were reports to write at work, and now there's the ammendments to the original 8-12 UBG that we're working on now. Trying to be sure to work in all the good books published since 2004 is a nightmare! I'm convinced we're going to miss something spectacularly important - but hopefully that's just me being neurotic!

So, today will be more revising of the manuscript. And, I hear you ask, what reading has been done? What fabulous books has Leonie read this week? Well... Zero kids' books and One totally depressing book about grief - which I should have known better than to read! I think I might have to dig out something fun, maybe How the Hangman Lost His Head, which sounds a real hoot!

06 February 2008

Emily Gravett

I think I've probably already told everybody I know just how much of a genius I think Emily Gravett is; so I'm putting this on the blog in the possibly unrealistic hope that there are people reading the blog who I don't know, and so now I can tell you about her too...

Emily G is the illustrator/author of Orange Pear Apple Bear, which I chose as my 'children's book of the year' in 2006; this was the most economical picture book I'd ever seen, which managed with a very small vocabulary (five words) and very simple, recurring images to create something with enormous wit and charm and even a sort of narrative shape. And so charming - really, what a charming bear! The same year saw the hilarious (and rather unnerving) Wolves, and she's since followed those up with Monkey and Me, Meerkat Mail, and latterly the superb Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, a real masterpiece of imagination and detail (and much praise here too for her publishers Macmillan, for the production values that go into making her books special, lovely, carefully thought-through objects).

And after this embarrassment of riches - all appearing in such quick succession - yesterday I got my hands on an advance copy of the imminently published The Odd Egg. I always worry with someone I admire so much that they'll produce something that'll disappoint me, as I set the bar so high, but this one is vintage Gravett and I love it love it love it. (And have carried it around with me all day to show people.) With a simplicity of language, with something that made me laugh on (literally) every single page - and the often unlikely humour is in the pictures most of the time, which is refreshingly unusual - but above all those now-familiar confident, warm and really just beautiful watercolour illustrations, making each page a pleasure to look at, each character lovely and detailed and just packed with charm. What a pleasure.

04 February 2008


Anyone who's online today (Monday) lunchtime, Susan and Leonie are doing a live chat on Mumsnet, between noon and 1pm GMT, so do log on & join in if you can. Should be fun.


PS If you notice there's one anonymous participant getting objectionable and asking really particularly complicated or awkward questions, there's a good chance it'll be me sitting in the next room to them, evilly rubbing my hands in glee...

02 February 2008

February 2nd


Leonie's Birthday!


PS But hopefully she won't see this till it's too late because she should have better things to do on her birthday than spend it on a UBG blog; not that she doesn't love it lots and all, but really...