Saturday, 27 May 2023

On Maintaining a Portfolio Career by Claire Fayers

 Hi all, I'm just over a nasty bout of flu and I haven't had the energy to write lately, so this will be a short post.

In his book, Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, Michael J Straczynski, says that at any time, you should have at least three different income streams. That way, if one of the income streams folds you have the other two to fall back on whilst developing another one.

It's good advice, and I think it's good creatively too. For the past ten years I've been solely focussed on middle grade fiction. I love writing for that age group, but I'm thinking of branching out into something different. 

Maybe I can follow Tracy Darnton into the world of picture books. Another author friend of mine is starting to write screenplays, but I'm not sure I've got the right sort of mind for that. Maybe I'll completely go over to the dark side and write something for adults. Whatever happens, I can't imagine giving up writing for children. There are still so many more stories for that age group that I want to explore.

Those of you who juggle multiple projects for different audiences, how do you do it? Any tips?

To end with a hurrah: proof copies of my latest book are out in the world. I blogged about the process of writing this book last year  and it's so good to see the (almost) finished copies.

Claire Fayers

Tapper Watson and the Quest for the Nemo Machine coming September

Friday, 26 May 2023

Burnham Book Festival: Sue Purkiss

 Last weekend, I was invited to be part of a book festival at Burnham on Sea, which is in Somerset, just down the coast from Weston Super Mare. I was part of a panel of children's writers, with Alex Cotter and Lu Hersey (both, coincidentally, contributors to this magnificent blog). The session was moderated by Jonathan Pinnock, who writes seriously clever and very funny mathematical mysteries. (If you're like me, you'll be bewildered by them half the time, but you'll also be thoroughly entertained.)

Lu, myself, and Alex.

It was a truly delightful experience. This was only the second year of the festival, but I'm sure it's going to grow. It had a very distinct feel to it: friendly, welcoming, relaxed, inclusive - and very well-organised. Local writers had been invited in to talk about, and hopefully sell their books, as well as the writers doing actual events. Alex led a workshop in the morning for local schoolchildren, who then crossed the road to be shown round the local library. When they came back, and bumped into Alex, they greeted her like an old friend. (The subject all of them were most interested in was how much chocolate she actually needs to fuel her writing.) Going by the programme, there were lots of writing workshops people could sign up for - so altogether, a really good variety of types of event.

We didn't have a huge audience for our particular session, but the people who were there were interesting and interested and had lots of good questions. The title was something about where the magic comes from - but it was generally about children's writing, with reference to our own work. Big shout-out to Nataliya, who took the photograph!

Definitely one to look out for

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

The Nile Adventures; writing about Ancient Egypt, by Saviour Pirotta

When this post drops on the 24th of May, it'll only be four days to the publication of the third instalment in The Nile Adventures series. Purely by coincidence, I have just finished the final draft of the last title in the saga: The Serpent's Eclipse. It's been a long journey with the three main characters - Renni, Mahu and Balaal, three children who live during the reign of Ramesses II, considered to be the most glorious period in Ancient Egyptian history. It's a journey that started over twenty five years ago on a trip to Egypt. 

Cruising along the Nile, with stops along the way to visit awe inspiring sites like Kom Ombo, Philae and Abu Simble, I was struck by the grandeur and majesty of it all: the remains of enormous temples, the walkways guarded by sphinxes, the hypostyle halls. I only had to close my eyes and I was back there at the time of the Renni, Mahu and Balaal, when the temples were still standing and the power of Pharaoh over his people was absolute.

But there was a simpler side to the grandeur, one that seems to have survived into present times. Sitting under a canopy on the deck of our vessel, you could see daily life on the banks of the Nile. Farmers tilling the land with hand tools, (the famous Nile inundation does not happen anymore, thanks to the building of the Aswan dam; mums singing as they scrubbed their infant children clean at the water's edge; boys standing still as statues on fishing boats, hoping to spear a tilapia for supper. I didn't need to close my eyes to imagine these people in Ancient Egypt. They were there in the flesh, doing what their ancestors have been doing since the first temples were built. And it was this aspect of Egypt that I wanted to capture in my stories.  Everyone can google facts about he high and mighty; the Pharaohs, the queens, the viziers, the chief priests of the temples. But what was life like for the children of the farmers, the artists, the simple craftsmen, the sailors on Iteru, the grand river?

I soon filled an entire notebook with scribbles and photos, with ideas for plots and set pieces. Doing my research afterwards, I was struck by the duality of Ancient Egyptian life. On the one hand, the Egyptians celebrated life with verve. Even their language was effusive. Celebrations had evocative names like Beautiful Festival of the Valley. A person might refer to the sunrise as 'the glorious coming forth of the light.' People, no matter their class, dressed up for parties - the rich in their mansions, the poor out on the streets or in the courtyards of the grand temples. They were entertained by musicians, jugglers, dancers and deft magicians.

And yet they were also obsessed with death and the afterlife. In a culture where life expectancy was short, where infant mortality was high and accidents in the workplace a daily occurrence, people lived in fear of death. Everything, no matter how beautiful or precious, had a darker side. The great river supplied the means of life itself but it also harboured death in the form of crocodiles, water snakes and storms.  This duality was mirrored in their beliefs. The crocodile was revered as an incarnation of the god Sobek but also feared as ruthless taker of life. 

This was another aspect of Ancient Egypt I wanted to capture in my series. So the stories have their own duality. One story arc deals with the earthly ambitions of the children. Renni wants to be an artist. His elder brother Mahu dreams of being a sailor. Balaal, a Phoenician princess in exile, wants to learn about the Egyptian way of life. The second arc deals with the afterlife as one foolish act by the brothers brings them up against gods, monsters (both human and immortal) and the ka, the spirit of a dead general. 

I hope the two sides of the narrative blend as seamlessly as life and belief did in the real Ancient Egypt. I have grown fond of the characters, especially Renni who is partly based on yours truly and shares my world point of view. It will be difficult, and sad, to let go of them but new eras and new characters beckon. 

Saviour's The Nile Adventures series is published by Maverick. It is illustrated by Jo Lindley.  Follow Saviour on twitetr @spirotta and on insta @spirotta2858.

Monday, 22 May 2023

A Calamity Of Mannerings, by Joanna Nadin, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

We are in 1924. Sixteen year old Panth (short for Panther, a nickname for a name that isn’t fully revealed until almost the end of the book) is writing a diary. Her beloved father has recently died in a sudden accident, and her family of pregnant mother, seemingly sulky older sister, younger sister busy with a pet sheep, and herself are at a moment of crisis. As the diary opens, her mother is in the act of giving birth to the baby their fortunes depend on. The great question is, will this one have a penis or not? If so, they can stay in their home, if not, Cousin Valentine gets it, and they are homeless. What a story opening!

I’m not going to give spoilers here because I want you to read and enjoy the surprises along the way, but I will say that the diary moves into the important question of what Panth is to DO with her life, since she herself is sans penis? She must find LOVE. There is a Rotter. There is Good Man. It all seems inevitable to anybody who has read a few romances. And yet …   Read it and find out! 

This story for young adults (or middle aged or elderly adults) is a rich mix of Pride and Prejudice (daughters and widowed mother about to be put from their home as it gets inherited by a male cousin), I Capture The Castle (upper class but living in dilapidated and impoverished splendour), Bridgerton (the gossip diary for a newspaper), Downton Abbey (the grandmother prone to strong opinions), and The Durrells (the sibling obsessed with animals), and Fleabag (the frank discussions about sex and birth and abortion). Joanna Nadin has clearly enjoyed herself, writing this, and if you’re in the mood for a funny 1920s romp with a bit more grit than usual, this is a book for you. 

Saturday, 20 May 2023

The richness of human capacity - Joan Lennon


In 2006, Ken Robinson gave a TED talk titled 'Do schools kill creativity?' It won't be new to some of you and it will be to others, but whichever group you're in, I invite you to spend some time and listen. Wise, funny, uplifting, challenging.

Joan Lennon's website

Joan Lennon's Instagram

Thursday, 18 May 2023

Bringing the Magic - by Lu Hersey

 This week I'm part of a writer panel at Burnham Book Festival, along with fellow writers Sue Purkiss and Alex Cotter. Our event is called Bringing the Magic - a talk about writing for children, why we do it, and the different ways we include some form of magical element in our writing.

So I'm currently busy preparing. Thinking of answers to the questions we've pre-planned, before we open it up to audience Q&As (when, as anyone who does these events knows, likely audience questions will include how old are you? and how much do you earn?)

The main topic I'm preparing for (which simply means thinking of something coherent to say) is how I bring magic into my writing, since that's the theme of the event. My standard answer to this is to reference folklore, myth and fairy tales, the basis of my books. But actually that's only partly true. 

Long before that, something totally random will grab my attention, like an article in Fortean Times (I'm a subscriber - if you've never read it and you're interested in any kind of strange phenomena, from UFOs or ghosts to flying saucers and fairies, take a look), or a snippet on bbc news, or some peculiar story in a local newspaper. That piece of information sits somewhere in my brain, often for years, until a new piece of information adds to it - and BINGO! I have a lightbulb moment. A butterfly emerges from a cocoon and a fully formed idea of great genius (in my opinion, possibly not everyone's) comes to me. And then I find a way to weave in the elements of myth or folklore magic to bring it all together.

The new piece of the story jigsaw almost invariably comes with reading or listening to someone's lived experience of that particular thing. For instance, if you've read something about UFOs over Wiltshire, and then you hear someone talk on the radio about their personal sighting on exactly that night.  Or you hear of a pub famous for its ghosts, then catch a podcast where someone relates what happened to them in that particular bar. Whatever the initial snippet, people's direct experience always has impact. Whether you believe something or not is almost irrelevant - they know what they saw. (Yes, I borrowed that from Danny Robins - who has popularised accounts of the paranormal in his Uncanny podcasts). And that's the key. 

I'd always been interested in myths about mermaids, selkies, and sea gods - and then I read David Thomson's The People of the Sea. His direct experience as a child, and his accounts of people of the Scottish and Irish islands telling him about their own selkie encounters, bring that element of myth to reality. Thanks to him, I began to believe selkies might actually exist. Add that to my interest in weather weaving, and a fascination with macabre poppets (see examples in the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle) and you have the basis for a story - which became Deep Water.

In Broken Ground, Arlo, the main protagonist, is a crop circle maker. My love of crop circles, and extensive knowledge of John Barleycorn/Lughnasadh folklore, combined in a BINGO story moment when I overheard someone saying they didn't think aliens made crop circles, but instead they were made from under the earth, maybe by the goddess Gaia herself. (I chose Andraste, the goddess called on by Boudicca - but kept the idea...)

Whatever you write, I really recommend listening to podcasts, or attending live events with someone talking about their lived experience. Or simply eavesdropping on buses or in cafes. It's not all about ghosts, crop circles, aliens or fairies (they're just my favourite topics). Whatever interests you, from true crime, kidnapping, to failed romance or disaster survival - it's all out there. And there's nothing like a real, first hand account of something to help you see its potential as a part of your book. The extra spark that brings a story to life.

Anyway, back to this week's event. Our next prepared question will be about how we market our books. Sigh. Now that's something I really need to learn about...

Lu Hersey

twitter @LuWrites 

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Holy Guacamole - it's a book! The unexpected bonuses of being a picture book author by Tracy Darnton


Today I’m sharing the unexpected bonuses of being a picture book author…

My first picture book – My Brother is an Avocado – is out this month with Simon & Schuster. I’m very lucky that it’s been illustrated by the amazing Yasmeen Ismail.

My Brother is an Avocado is a fresh twist on the stages of pregnancy from ‘poppy seed’ to huge ‘watermelon’ being taken literally by a sibling as they deal with the excitement and anxieties of a new baby on the way. Would they wonder how they’re going to play with a lemon? And that all-important question – can you cuddle an avocado?

Firstly, it's been a joy to receive the co-editions. I can now travel through South America able to order a wide range of fruit and vegetables in Spanish and Portuguese.

The excitement of little readers:

I have a complete set of cuddly, crocheted fruit and veg from the book (courtesy of my big sister):

Cutting and sticking. Turns out making avocadoes with little faces, woolly wigs and stripey legs is fun.

I get to eat lots of these:

I have a snazzy new signing pen:

What else? At last, World Book Day is sorted:

One way or another.


Will I write another one – definitely, it’s already on its way…


Tracy Darnton is usually the author of YA thrillers Ready or Not, The Rules and The Truth About Lies but this month she’s wondering whether to dress as a giant avocado. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TracyDarnton