Tuesday, 9 August 2022

A pocket full of caterpillars

Yesterday, as the small person in the house (MB) was reading, I remarked to her that it always snows at Christmas in picture books. 'Yes,' she said, 'but never at actual Christmas'. On the other hand, summer holidays in children's books are traditionally long, hot weeks of frolicking in meadows and on beaches and rivers. When I was a child in the 1960s and 70s, it occasionally snowed at Christmas. And even though I spent some summer days dangerously exploring the water meadows with other children now considered too young to be out alone, many more were spent racing raindrops down the windowpanes or looking for an extra cardi. This year, MB is getting an Enid-Blyton summer of sand, water and gritty sandwicches (well, brioche and cheese straws). Yesterday we picnicked in the garden while she and her baby brother played with sand and water and the deer in the field stared resentfully through the fence at us. 

This E-B summer is, of course, blighted. An Enid-Blight-on summer. It's hot because the world is burning, because we burnt it. Some days it's too hot, and I hang sheets over the climbing plants not to dry them but to protect the plants from scorching. Perhaps for a few years the kids can live in the storybook summers. The picture book Christmases, I fear are gone. (Though if climate change rots the Gulf  Stream, we might have more snowy Christmasses than we want.) 

Those favourite summer
activities of dog lynching...

My happiest summer days were spent running around the meadows collecting cinnabar moth caterpillars. Usually I put them in my pockets and took them home to transfer to a shoebox and try to feed them up to chrysallis stage. Sometimes I left them in my pockets and got an almighty fuss from my mother when they ended up as caterpillar mush in the washing machine. We went off, each armed with a packet of crisps with its blue paper twist of salt and sometimes a sandwich — possibly Dairylea or fishpaste — wrapped in tin foil. The sandwich usually got lost en route, but the crisps were eaten immediately. But it wasn't as hot as it was cracked up to be, even though I remember it as hot. We had no sun-hats or suncream but rarely got burned. We got rashes from the tall grass and cuts from the razor-edged grass, soggy feet from sinking in the boggy bits (it was a water meadow, remember), bites from flies, torn clothing and skin from the brambles, countless stinging nettle stings, sometimes poisoning from eating random berries, and we were attacked by leeches in the river. We were scared of foxes and adders, but still crawled into fox and badger holes and poked at snakes with a stick if they didn't immediately slither away. Sometimes we found wild strawberries and raspberries (escaped from a garden, I suspect — I'm not aware or Britain having wild raspberries), and always blackberries. But the blackberries weren't ripe in August, and this year the cinnabar moth caterpillars are already pupating when the holidays have only just started. 

... and testing your eyesight at Barnard Castle

How will today's children remember these summers? MB and her cohort have had two summers of covid. No play time with others, closed playgrounds the first year, no trips to swimming pools or beaches. A summer of semi-freedom isn't quite as useful if you've had little practice at being free with other kids. You don't have expectations of how you can spend it. 

Though she wouldn't be romping through meadows. All this concern with keeping your children alive and intact makes life very hard for today's children's writers. It's easy to fabricate an adventure when you can drop four or five kids in a meadow or forest or beach, or push them down the river in a boat or even on a home-made raft, stick them up trees and send them hunting for badgers or rolling down grassy slopes. It's not that easy when their mum or au pair or granddad or their friend's dad is sitting on a bench nearby, or their boat is on a boating lake and only rented for 30 minutes. I think I'd cope with caterpillar mush in the washing machine if they could have a bit more freedom and we could all write about it.

Anne Rooney

Out now from Oxford Univeristy Press:
Baby Koala
and Little Tiger, July 2022

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Industry Insider Event, by Dawn Finch

The CWIG AGM is scheduled for September and this has given me cause to look at all we have done over the past year. Writing my report for what will be my last AGM for CWIG has certainly been interesting. I was asked to become CWIG Chair back in 2019 and I when I accepted I had no idea how challenging that time would be. We have come through the demanding times as authors and personally I went from being a complete technophobe about being on camera to being quite a dab hand. The last couple of years have turned us into Zoomers and if you have missed any of the incredibly useful (and fun) online events we have done you can always catch up on the SoA Vimeo channel. My personal favourite was the afternoon tea with Dame Jacqueline Wilson and you can hardly see my excitement.... well... I did my best to act professional!

Now the Pandemic conditions are (almost) past and many of us are taking up bookings for school and public events again. This is heartening as I know how much people have missed being out in the "real" world and we all know that the positive impact of author visits in schools is well documented. 

Sadly, times have changed and I have been contacted dozens of times by people who are finding that they are being cancelled at the last minute, or that they are having to cancel themselves. I have also had messages from people who have been cancelled for vague or even unethical reasons, and this raised many conversations at CWIG committee meetings and at the Society of Authors.

One of the pieces of advice we always give people is to get things in writing. I firmly believe that when it comes to bookings it is not enough to rely on a few phone calls or emails when you are committing you time and money to an event. Getting it in writing is often easier said than done and writing your own contract can feel like navigating a legal minefield. At CWIG we were thinking about how we could help to get some advice on contracts to our members and we thought the best way was to put together an online event with some of the most experienced in this field. 

On Sept 20th 2022 join us online at midday for our AGM and hear all about CWIG and find out what we've been up to and what we plan next (and discover who I'm handing over to as the next CWIG Chair for 2023) and sign up for the Industry Insider event at 1pm. This event will focus on contractual terms for authors visiting schools - essential knowledge and guidance for anyone booking their own visits and events.

The panel will be discussing how authors can protect themselves and what terms authors should agree with schools to ensure the visit is a success? The panel will be made up of Sarah Burton (Society of Authors' Head of Advisory Team and Senior Contract Advisor,) and top children's authors Jo Clarke, Karen Inglis, Ross Montgomery, Nicola Morgan.

This promises to be a fascinating and practical event not to be missed, and I'd love the share my last AGM with you!

See you there

Dawn Finch (aka Dawn McLachlan) is a children's author and library activist and the current Chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) at the Society of Authors

Links - Industry Insider - contractual terms for authors visiting schools

            CWIG AGM



Saturday, 6 August 2022

Can a City be the Central Character in a Novel? by Paul May

Several times now I've read that the real central character in the 1978 Carnegie winner, The Exeter Blitz by David Rees, is the city of Exeter. The novel describes the experiences of the fictional Lockwood family on the night of the 3rd-4th of May 1942 when a massive German bombing raid destroyed much of the city. This bombing raid was part of a German retaliation for the Allied fire-bombing of Lubeck earlier that year. The Baedeker Raids, as they were called, targeted English cities of particular cultural importance and took place  mainly in April and May 1942.  David Rees's book reminded me of a TV drama-documentary where, to give a bit more focus to the recycled archive footage and add human interest some invented scenes are recreated by actors in the studio. The book also slightly alters history. David Rees says in his introduction: 'The story is not intended to be an exact reconstruction of the events in Exeter of the night of May 3rd-4th . . . The magnitude of the disaster, is, however, meant to be historically accurate.'

I had problems with this book, a book which has its strong advocates, especially in Exeter, where David Rees lived and worked for most of his life. I think the reason that people say that Exeter itself is the central character is that the documentary parts of the book feel real, while the fictional characters are unconvincing. The central (human) character is Colin Lockwood. He's trouble at school and trouble at home and he stands improbably on the cathedral tower watching the bombers come in and the bombs fall. Colin, like the city and the rest of his family, survives the night but is much changed. During the course of the night he discovers that the teacher he hates is an ordinary, decent person and the evacuee boy who is his mortal enemy is also an ordinary, decent person. The teacher is killed, along with his wife, but the evacuee survives and the boys become friends. These might be thought to be spoilers, but you can guess what's going to happen from the beginning. This is not a story which is full of surprises, though there are one or two.

Taken on its own the coming-of-age story about Colin didn't really engage me, though I did have some sympathy for his long-suffering family,  But the description of the bombing raid and its aftermath is powerful and gripping. The device of using this fictional family and placing the various family members in different locations in the city works well, in the same way that a movie like  Saving Private Ryan, for example, makes sense of large events by focussing on a few individuals. But I couldn't help comparing this book to that earlier Carnegie winner, The Machine Gunners and it seems to me that while Robert Westall took real-life experience and used it as the inspiration for a work of fiction, David Rees created what feels like a piece of journalism disguised as fiction. I could be wrong, but I don't think David Rees was actually in Exeter when the bombs fell, and even if he was, much of this account would have had to be stitched together from accounts in newspapers and elsewhere. That's not necessarily a bad thing but, for me, when the research starts to show through, a novel becomes less effective. And novels are about people, not about cities. Even Ulysses, that most famous example of a book where a city is sometimes held to be a character, is essentially about Dublin's people, and the city's people and places are realised through one of fiction's most minutely described and inhabited characters.

The final lines of The Exeter Blitz are the most ill-judged of any of the Carnegie winners I've read so far. Any sensible editor would have just said 'NO!'

My grandmother in the back garden
of the house that was bombed in the early 1950s

As it happens, my mother, now 95 years old, experienced one of the Baedeker raids first-hand. She had just turned 15 and was living in a council house on Colman Road in Norwich (now part of the city's ring-road) when her dad burst into the house and yelled at the family to get into the Anderson shelter because the Germans were 'machine-gunning all along Colman Road'. Some people's shelters, my mum told me yesterday, were 'like little palaces inside', but theirs was just bare earth and possibly something to sit on. While they were in the shelter an incendiary bomb came through the roof of the house, went through the bed in my grandparents' bedroom and through the floor to the room below. The bomb didn't explode properly but the ARP wardens threw the feather mattress out onto the tiny lawn in the back garden where it exploded in a cloud of feathers which my mum says she can still picture as if it was yesterday. Although yesterday is not something my mum remembers too well these days - or indeed what happened ten minutes ago.  But on the events of eighty years ago she's still pretty good!

The family were able to stay in the house despite the holes in roof, ceiling and floor but many Norwich residents, like those in Exeter and York and Coventry, were not so lucky. The Baedeker raids received this nickname because it was said that the German commanders used the famous guides to select targets with cultural significance - and they had useful maps too! The two raids on Norwich in April and May 1942 killed 229 people and a further 1000 were injured. And apart from the major damage inflicted on the city centre more than 2000 domestic properties were destroyed and an incredible 27,000 suffered some damage - that's out of a total of 35,000. It's hard to believe that my mother lived through being machine-gunned and bombed in a quiet provincial city.

In fact, my mother's recollections of the war are more about excitement than fear. War ultimately represented an opportunity for her to escape from Norwich by joining up as soon as she was old enough. She was able to travel, meet my father, and learn to drive. The army gave her freedom.

The Exeter Blitz feels like a very old-fashioned kind of a book, and if someone had told me it had been written in the 1950s I'd have happily believed them. There is something slightly teachery about it and I hadn't really noticed that kind of thing in a Carnegie winner since reading Edward Osmond's A Valley Grows Up back in 1953. If you want information about the Exeter blitz it's a good resource. If you want novels that say something powerful about the experience of living through WW2 then I'd go for Susan Cooper's Dawn of Fear, or The Machine Gunners

It is astonishing to me that Susan Cooper has never won the Carnegie, and good to know that her adopted home, the USA, rewarded her with the Newbery Medal in 1976 for The Grey King.

Paul May's website

Friday, 5 August 2022

THE "NOT A NOVEL" BOOKLIST. compiled by Penny Dolan

Hello! This year, during the Scattered Authors Society’s retreat at Charney Manor, one session focused on the pleasure and power of non-fiction, especially during a time when personal research, travel and contact with the real world had felt restricted.

People talked about titles, old, recent or new, that had offered them new or wider information, inspired fresh thoughts & ideas and/or helped that individual reader to “fill the well” in some way. There were  plenty of nods of recognition, murmurs of future intent and the tapping of titles into phones.

Here, today, on Awfully Big Blog Adventure, I’m sharing those suggested titles. Hope that you find something that’s of interest to you.


Ghostland – In Search of A Haunted Country by Edward Parnell. A reading memoir about his/our fascination with ghost stories.

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life from the Stone Age to the Phone Age by Greg Jenner. Popular historian & tv history presenter. (TC)


Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.

Josser by Nell Stroud. Finding a new life in the circus after a family tragedy with links to Gifford’s Circus. (KL)


The Seabirds Cry by Adam Nicholson. About the life of wild birds and migration.

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Ertes. (Ethnologist) About unlocking the power of wild women through myths & fairytales.

Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain by Amy Jeffs. Beautiful black and white engravings. (CH)


The Book Of Trespass by Nick Hayes. In each chapter, he trespasses on a piece of land that has been enclosed or restricted. About freedom & ownership of the land. Beautiful b&w drawings.(JW)


Time Song: Searching For Doggerland by Julia Blackburn. An imaginative portrayal of the long-lost lands between Britain’s eastern coast and Europe, now submerged by the sea. Initially inspired by strange, fossilised treasures the poet collected while beachcombing in Suffolk.

Travellers in The Third Reich by Julia Boyd. First-hand accounts of cultural travellers witnessing the rise of the Nazi state in Germany and Europe. (SP)


Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink. Part autobiography, part about favourite books

The Last Act of Love: The Story of My Brother and His Sister by Cathy Rentzenbrik: Memoir about the impact her brother’s life-changing accident had on him, her and her family’s life. (LB)


Tove Jansson, Work and Life by Tuala Karjalainen. Excellent biography of this artist & writer.

Madame De Stael by Maria Fairweather. Biography and a great history of Napoleonic Europe. (ER) 



Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape; by Cal Flyn.

Lyrical exploration of plants and wildlife. (Collins 2021) (AR)


Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo: brief memoir from Native American US Poet Laureate.

How to Write Poetry by Ted Hughes. Brief and beautiful. Taken from BBC schools radio talks on the creative process.

Feel the Force and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Classic self-help book on not allowing anxiety to limit your life. (JA)


The Real Anthony Fauci; Bill Gates, Big Pharma and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health. By Robert F Kennedy Jnr. The development of the health industry.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl. A memoir of a musician’s life.

Islander: A Journey Around our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham. The experience of life, past and present, on small islands around the British Isles. (TE)


Markievicz: A Most Outrageous Rebel. Biography of Constance Markievicz by Lindie Naughton. A headstrong, amazing women who worked for the rights of women and the independence of the Irish nation. The book also illustrates the complexity of Irish politics & cost to 20C women’s lives.

The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History by Kassia St Clair, The development and uses of different traditional threads such as linen, silk, wool and cotton, plus chapters on fabrics used for polar exploration, space travel, extreme sports and more. (PD)


And finally, a real oddity:

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours by P. Syme : described as “the book Charles Darwin used to describe colours in nature on his HMS Beagle voyage” Facsimile published by the Natural History Museum, London. Originally published at a time when mineralogists, plant-hunters, illustrators and scientists needed to check & communicate the colours of their samples and discoveries especially after long journeys.

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, thoughts and ideas.

Would you add any titles to this list?

Penny Dolan


Wednesday, 3 August 2022

THE TIDE SINGER by Eloise Williams. A review by Sharon Tregenza

After a series of violent storms a stranger is washed ashore in the small coastal village of Carregton Crow.  Morwenna's father leaves her with Morwenna to nurse her back to health. But she soon discovers that this is no ordinary girl. She can't speak and her hair seems permanently wet. Is she a Tide Singer? One of the magical creatures who live beneath the sea and who can control the ocean waves with their voices?

When more danger threatens, Morwenna must use all her courage to stand up against the villagers and prevent an event that could destroy her home and family.

Williams skilfully weaves an evocative tale - adventure mixed with myth and dark mystery. The setting, the weather the mystical girl all add to an atmosphere steeped in old world legend. A fascinating read.

This book is formatted with dyslexic and reluctant readers in mind but everyone can enjoy it. August Ro's black and white illustrations are an added joy. 

This is exactly the type of story I adored as a child and love just as much now. Highly recommended for children aged eight and up.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Barrington Stoke 
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 8 years and up


    Tuesday, 2 August 2022

    Off limits? By Steve Way


    I was speaking with some good friends the other day, including someone I consider to be a talented (though as yet unpublished) writer. I had mentioned writing pieces, particularly for children, incorporating maths topics. My friend (and several others) energetically spoke about how much they hated maths and couldn’t do it etc. and said friend said something along the lines of, ‘I was never interested in maths so I when I went to university I studied English to help me to become a writer.’ This seemed to suggest that mathematics was a topic about which one could not, or maybe even should not write about.

    Recently I saw a repeat of an interview given by Billy Connolly at one point railing against comedy purists who insisted that some subjects should be taboo, whereas the sainted Billy believed everything should be on the table. I seem to side with Billy, in my case when it comes to considering mathematics a possible topic for creative writing. Perhaps when you’ve read the couple of examples of my poems below you’ll side with Billy’s detractors!

    A while ago one of my grandchildren had to learn about ‘platonic solids’, solids formed from perfect ‘regular’ flat shapes, so in order to help I started writing a poem. My wife made a useful point about cubes and so she gains joint authorship for this poem. I hope you like it and/or find it useful.


    Platonic Solids.  By Steve and Jan Way

    This poem is about each ‘Platonic solid’,

    I promise you it won’t be horrid.

    The most well-known has six square sides,

    It’s the good old cube that this describes.

    A square of course is a perfect shape,

    Perfection others only ape.

    It’s got four sides of equal length,

    And right-angle corners reveal its strength.

    This explains this shape platonic

    (Plus, you can balance anything on it!)

    A tetrahedron you will adore,

    It’s made of triangles numbering four.

    A pyramid shape it thus does make,

    But please don’t make this big mistake,

    It’s not for a pharaoh, (an Egyptian a king)

    For that with a square base does begin.

    Equilateral triangles form the faces

    As they do in two more cases…

    One by us is octahedron named,

    For having eight sides this is famed.

    (As an ‘octopus’ would tell you straight,

    The prefix Octo- it means eight!)

    An icosahedron’s formed from triangles twenty!

    Just like me you may think that’s plenty!

    The dodecahedron has a different form,

    That certainly varies from the norm.

    Perfect pentagons form its faces,

    So Tents this shape make useful spaces. *


    I said these shapes wouldn’t horrid be,

    And now we’ve reached the end you see.


    *Actually they’re usually ‘pentagonal rotunda’ which are made of pentagons combined with triangles (so are technically half an icosidodecahedron) but they’re called ‘dodecahedron tents’. This what is known as artistic licence (i.e. A creative excuse for getting things wrong!) either on the part of the tent makers or me – or both!


    While I was hunting down this poem, having written it a while ago, I stumbled on another poem about 3D shapes, which I’d written even longer ago and was so pleased to find it, I wanted to share it with you. This poem covers the solids children more usually have to learn about. As I imagine most teachers could tell you, children find it very difficult to pronounce the word ‘sphere’ and I have often jokingly had to dodge an imaginary spear having asked a group of children what maths name was given to the tennis ball I was showing them.

    3D shapes poem.

    A cube is a 3D shape called solid,

    I promise you it is not horrid!

    Six flat square faces it does show,

    (A square is 2D you should know.)

    Cubes do their very best to please,

    By having eight sharp vertices.

    (That’s posh for corners I should say,

    Or else we could be here all day!)

    Twelve edges it does proudly boast –

    A cube it really has the most!


    However, you’ll be overjoyed,

    To understand the shape cuboid!

    Rectangles shape its 3D form,

    Proud six of them it does adorn.

    Eight vertices cuboids do sport,

    “Impressive” You have surely thought!

    Twelve edges they are present too –

    Surely that impresses you?

    I bet if you are really keen,

    A pattern you have no doubt seen,

    Cuboids and cubes are much the same,

    That’s why they have a similar name!


    Much different is the pyramid,

    About this shape let’s lift the lid,

    Of pyramids there are several kinds,

    It’s all to do with their… behinds.

    From triangles they are mainly made,

    And on a base are firmly laid.

    A base triangle there can be,

    To make a tetrahedron – d’ya see?

    Egyptian pyramids have a base that’s square,

    That’s why they are still standing there.

    But it could be nearly any flat shape,

    (I know you may have mouth agape!)


    An ice-cream cornet is a cone,

    A shape that stands up on its own!

    A circle it does form its base

    (A cone you see is really ace!)

    Above the circle there does stand,

    Something you should understand,

    Made from a circle less a big slice,

    (That’s how you make a cone that’s nice.)


    A shape that’s like a tube with ends,

    It is a cylinder my friends!

    Two circles this time fit,

    At the two far ends of it!

    The central tube unfolded can,

    Be flattened to a rectangle man!


    A shape that ends in a triangle,

    Is special looked at any angle,

    The chocolate makers “Toblerone”,

    Have really made this shape their own.

    Along the shape you can cut a slice,

    Of triangle tasting very nice!

    A shape the same along its length,

    Has a certain depth and strength,

    It has the special name of “prism”,

    So watch for them, no do not miss ‘em,

    Many shapes mentioned here above,

    Are prisms too, so deserve love.*

    *Well respect.

    Cubes and Cuboids they are prisms too,

    Along with cylinders, that’s quite a few.

    The triangle gives this prism’s name,

    To show it is not quite the same,

    Triangular prism it is called,

    So now you know, please don’t be fooled


    A special shape it is the sphere,

    So listen, don’t yet disappear!

    In games it would be called a “ball”,

    But for us that will not do at all.

    It’s curved whichever way you go,

    Nothing’s straight (just so you know!)

    If sliced from one side to the other,

    By a chef, (such as my brother),

    Circles small then large would be created,

    (This shape should not be underrated!)

    A warning for those who speak its name,

    A lot of words are much the same,

    But “Sophia” it does name a girl,

    And “spear” is a thing you hurl!

    So careful when you call out “Sphere”!

    It’s easy to get it wrong my dear.


    Now here my 3D poem’s done,

    I hope enjoyed by everyone!


    If by some miracle you enjoyed these poems you might enjoy my poem about 2D shapes available on YouTube.


    Monday, 1 August 2022

    GIVE ME STRENGTH! by Penny Dolan

    July was good and busy but I'm feeling worn out.  STAMINA! That's what I need for August.

                                                Whippet - Wikipedia 

     Yes, STRENGTH and STAMINA, although not the "added to dog food" kind.

                                                     Meindl (company) - Wikipedia

    Stamina for walking? Definitely. I need a pace-setter striding beside me to keep my speed up. Too often I drift into a dreamy, plodding reverie, getting slower and slower of foot, rather than speeding along in the right spit-spot Mary Poppins style.  

                                                         File:Litter Bin in Bristol.jpg - Wikipedia

    Stamina for advanced admin? Yes please. I start with determination, opening up the old boxes or dusty files and I look at the contents. That is when the energy changes. I become mesmerized by the small, interesting memories, the maybe's, the possibilities, the re-plays. I repack the contents, just in case, for now, even when I should be enjoying a brisk Mari-Kondo and casting it all away.  

                                                        Reading - Wikipedia

    Stamina for reading?  Unbelievable in a bookworm from the cradle, but yes. It's so easy, now, to be lured by any of the screens with their comforting illusion of company, contact and constant "knowledge". I have to close down the buzz and noise, and let my reading self find the longer slower track. I need to take time, tune into the rhythm of reading and get that essential stamina back again. I'm tired, but not exhausted, thankfully, so it's time for an early night and an open book. 

                                            Writers Clip Art Free | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart Images

    Stamina for writing? The obligations of a contract and the need for money can bring a most necessary energy. However, without those, where does the stamina come from? Although there's a power and value in creating something all for yourself, there's also something energizing in the faith that you have something to say or a story to tell and that there's someone, maybe, out there to hear it.  

    Can I find that faith? Will it give me the stamina I'm searching for? Too early to say for sure. 

    But, on the other hand, writing and publishing this post is a great way of catching the energy as it flies. 

    Anybody out there. listening?

                      Free Images - cloud clouds blue sky 



    Penny Dolan