Last week, I popped in to visit the team at Education Library Service (ELS) at the Inspire HQ. I took some of the foreign editions of my books that I know will be put to good use in Nottinghamshire schools.

 

 

My Young Adult novels have sold in nine foreign territories so far and authors always get at least one copy of the foreign edition of a book. It’s so interesting to see the story you have written in different languages, sometimes with a completely different cover. But once I place one on my bookshelf, the others often languish in a cupboard. Donating them to the ELS is a much better idea, I think!

 

German, Japanese and Persian editions of my books.

 

While I was there, my husband and I were treated to an impromptu tour of the facilities at ELS. We were amazed at the range of books, both fiction and non-fiction, available to schools who ‘buy in’ to their crucial service at a time when reading is so important to both our young people and our communities. For an annual fee, the ELS service enables schools to enjoy unlimited swaps of their library books in school . . . the more they swap, the better value they get! This enables them to stretch their budget for books much further and offers students a fantastically wide choice of reading.

So happy to see most of the copies of my books were out on loan to schools!

 

The stock at ELS is incredibly well organised and maintained.

 

We were also very honoured to board the ELS mobile library, the pride and joy of driver, Chris, who has such passion and pride in his bus, enabling books to be accessible to all schools as he takes reading on the road!

Chris takes great pride in his mobile library – it’s immaculate inside and out!

Outside a bus, inside . . . a book-lover’s dream!

 

 

The Brilliant Book Award grows from strength to strength each year, encouraging young people to read and review their favourite books.

Development Librarian, Rachel Marshall, and the ELS team also organise the prestigious Brillant Book Award each year, which my second novel, A Seven-Letter Word, was lucky enough to win this year. An enormous amount of work and passion goes into organising this very popular award which gets young people in local schools reading and reviewing the eclectic shortlist, often discovering new authors and genres they love.

 

 

 

 

The shortlist for the Brilliant Book Award 2018. Very proud that A Seven-Letter Word won – voted for by young readers!

The ELS staff all live, work and breathe BOOKS!

 

In these sad times of continued widespread cuts to libraries and to school librarians, the Education Library Service plays a vital role in continuing to inspire the young people of Nottinghamshire to love books and reading.

Their work with schools is often undertaken quietly and behind the scenes. How lucky we are to have them.

Meting some of the wonderful ELS staff.

 

 

I am so honoured and delighted that A SEVEN-LETTER WORD has been voted as the winner of the BRILLIANT BOOK AWARD 2018! It’s doubly delightful because my debut, SMART, won the award in 2016.I’ve made no secret of the fact that the BBA is a very special award for me, as the winning book is chosen by student reading groups at Nottinghamshire and Derby schools. As a Nottinghamian born and bred and living only two miles from the city, it means so much that local students are enjoying my books!

Before the result was announced, all shortlisted authors had chance to visit local schools to talk about our writing journey and, of course, about the books.I had the pleasure of visiting the impressive The Becket School at West Bridgford. Mrs Webster, the Leader of the LRC, organised the morning brilliantly by arranging for six other schools to visit for my talk in the main hall and I was made to feel very welcome indeed.

The photo above is taken with the students and Mrs Benton of Kirkby College which was my old comprehensive school (Kirkby Centre in those days!) How fantastic that students now attending the school are reading and enjoying books written by an ex-pupil.

The schools taking part on my event day were:

The Becket School

The White Hills Park Federation (Bramcote School and Alderman White)

Carlton-le-Willows Academy

Retford Oaks Academy

Kirkby College

Rushliffe School

 

All the students were tremendously enthusiastic and there were so many raised hands, I hadn’t time to get to them all as we discussed how to write well-developed characters. There were some very perceptive answers when it came to analysing our favourite characters in literature.

 

The BBA is organised by Inspire, Education Library Service  (ELS) and the development librarian there, Rachel Marshall and her team, are tireless and committed in her drive to get young readers taking part in reading groups to discuss the shortlisted titles.

 

As part of their shadowing, the readers are encouraged to write reflective reviews on the shortlisted books and you can see the excellent response here: https://bba.inspireculture.org.uk/books/_/seven-letter-word/

 

I have no doubt that taking an active part in this unique award has a real impact on the students’ education and wellbeing.

 

The work that Inspire (ELS) does is so incredibly important in motivating our young readers and encouraging them to read out of their comfort zones, often discovering new genres that they continue to enjoy.

 

I’m not alone in my praise. Read this great blog post by Nottingham City of Literature: https://nottinghamcityofliterature.com/blog/the-brilliant-book-awards-where-kids-call-the-shots 

Thanks so much to Inspire (ELS) staff and to the school staff who help run the reading groups in school. Thanks especially to the students who voted for A SEVEN-LETTER WORD to win and . . . congratulations to the runner up, Ross Welford, and to all the other shortlisted authors.

 

 

What a lovely day I had on 15th March 2017 – my visit to St Christopher School in Hertfordshire. I arrived to beautiful sunshine that bathed the immaculate school grounds.

In the morning, local schools had gathered for a discussion morning and to officially vote for the winner of the North Herts Book Award 2017. SMART won this award in 2016, so I felt very privileged to be here!

After lunch I spoke to two groups about writing believable characters and the students were enthusiastic and had lots of questions.

Linda Aird, St Chris’s librarian, passed on a wonderful comment from another librarian who attended:

“All the students talked about it all the way back to school.  I have a year 7 girl who has been inspired to write her own story!”

 

This is exactly the response that authors love to hear after a visit. If even one student is inspired to read or write after a talk then I consider the day to be a success!

Finally, after a book signing, we left to travel back to Nottingham.

Thank you, to the staff and students of St Christopher’s School, for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome!

Writing Great Characteers – afternoon workshops with St Christopher students.

On 19th March 2017, my husband Mac and I, flew out to Bari airport in Southern Italy and headed to the wonderful medieval town of Turi. I was invited by my Italian publisher, Il Castoro to take part in the Didiario Children’s Book Festival.

The festival is organised by Alina Didiario Laruccia and it takes many books to students in areas where there are no bookshops. My first Young Adult novel, SMART, has been translated into Italian by Il Castoro and it has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Italian Children’s Award, the Premio Strega Regazze e Ragazzi 2017, so I was delighted to find it is a popular read in Italian schools.

We were met by our wonderful host, Alina, who looked after us so very well. We were also lucky enough to meet Italian authors Antonio Ferrara and Luigi Ballerini  and during our trip, we were very grateful to Luigi, whose translation skills proved to be invaluable!

On Monday 20th March, I spoke at Turi High School and met a new friend, English teacher Loredana Eyes Salvatore. I spoke to the students about my writing journey and about how SMART came to be written. Lots of them had read SMART and had bought the book themselves so lots of book signing to do!

Book signing at Turi High School

 

After a talk and signing with her students at Turi High School, Loredana treated me to a traditional coffee shop for a mid-morning cappuccino and cake!

With my new friends (L) Alina and Loredana (R)

The next day, 21st March, it was two more school visits in Putignano. The students were very enthusiastic and had lots of questions – thanks to my two excellent student translators, the language barrier was no problem! Afterwards, a wonderful lunch back in Turi at a most beautiful 17th Century restaurant.

With the wonderful (L-R) author Luigi Ballerini, the proud restaurant owner and Alina

And later, a talk with children at a most wonderful bookshop, Libreria Le Storie Nuove in beautiful Conversano. Afterwards, we were treated to supper with lovely owner Serena and her friend Paolo . . . and we learned lots about the food and history of the local area!

With SMART fans at Libreria ‘Le Storie Nuove’

A very SMART window display!

 

I felt so welcome in Puglia and made such good friends including Alina, Loredana, Luigi, Nino and lovely Maria. The students of the region are so lucky to have Alina’s Didiario festival and the support of my Italian publisher, Il Castoro. I would like to thank everyone I met for their hospitality and welcome, what a wonderful experience it was. Massive thanks also to Paula Malgrati at Il Castoro and to Mary Darby, Head of Rights at Darley Anderson Children’s Agency, who organised the trip.

For the remaining three days of our trip Mac and I had free time to explore beautiful Puglia . . . one day we will go back there! ♥

Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare

Ostuni, ‘The White City’

I spent 2nd March 2017, World Book Day, with the wonderful staff and students of Bishop’s Stortford Prep School. The school’s librarian, Rosie Pike, had booked the visit with me many months ago and I’d been particularly looking forward to visiting, as the school is the home of my current   ‘Star Reader’ Hannah, who, during last year’s summer term, read ‘A Seven-Letter Word’ in record time and sent me a wonderful letter together with some photographs. Mrs Pike told me that Hannah had been a tremendous help in publicising my forthcoming visit, willingly giving her own time to act as ambassador to spread the word amongst her fellow students!

I arrived in the lovely village of Mountfitchet the evening before and was able to meet a few members of staff, including Mrs Pike, the Head of English and Hannah’s lovely mum, Jane.

I started World Book Day with an early workshop where we explored the use of LS Lowry’s artwork in ‘Smart.’ We had a surprise visitor during the session – an OFSTED inspector! Were we fazed? Not at all! We carried on regardless and needless to say, the students were totally brilliant and full of ideas and comments about our theme.

There were more workshops throughout the day, all taking place in the library. We covered subjects such as bullying, feeling different and writing good characters. I also spoke about Nottinghamshire, the setting for my books and the place that Mrs Pike herself hails from!

Mrs Pike’s library is a bright, spacious and very welcoming space that is extremely well used and tremendously valued by the students. During the lunch break I got to meet members of the book club – the best attended book club I’ve ever seen – and receive reader comments and take questions on my second novel, ‘A Seven-Letter Word.’

Mrs Pike works tirelessly to encourage young readers and runs all sorts of exciting clubs and events, including the recent and very successful, Festival of Literature, which welcomed some very well-known authors to the local community.

I was very pleased to meet Hannah, my ‘star reader’, in person (see main photo). She had lots of questions and comments and was a true credit to the school, as indeed were all of the students I met on the day. It is rare to see such enthusiasm for reading coupled with a burning curiosity that bred lots of interesting questions and such excellent behaviour all day long. I found all students to be so wonderfully engaged in all the sessions and I very much look forward to visiting Mrs Pike’s library again at some point!

You can read more about the day on the school’s website, here.

 

I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover for my third Young Adult novel, ‘928 MILES FROM HOME.’
The book will be published by Macmillan Children’s Books in hardback on 18th May 2017. 

The wonderful cover, designed by the Pan Macmillan Art Department, has been illustrated by Helen Crawford-White, who also designed the covers for my first two books, ‘Smart’ and ‘A Seven-Letter Word.’ The hardback cover will be full wraparound style as the last two books have been and I’ll have more to show you on that soon!

Here’s a little bit about ‘928 Miles From Home’ . . .

Fourteen year old Calum Brooks has big dreams. One day, he’ll escape this boring life and write movies, proper ones, with massive budgets and A-list stars.

For now though, he’s stuck coping alone while his dad works away, writing scripts in his head and trying to stay ‘in’ with his gang of mates at school, who don’t like new kids, especially foreign ones.

But when his father invites his new Polish girlfriend and her son, Sergei, to move in, Calum’s life is turned upside down. He’s actually sharing a room with ‘the enemy’! How’s he going to explain that to his mates?

Yet when Calum is knocked down in a hit and run and badly injures his leg, everything changes. Trapped at home, Calum and Sergei slowly start to understand each other, and even work together to investigate a series of break-ins at the local community centre.

But Calum can’t help feeling like Sergei’s hiding something. Is he really trying to help, or cover up his own involvement in the crime?

 

On Tuesday 6th December, I had the pleasure of visiting Neston High School in Cheshire as the author of ‘Smart’, the book selected for their Big School Read 2016.

img_3156All departments are involved in the Big School Read but the work the English department undertook, in order to come up with a whole term’s worth of studying the novel, was truly impressive. Not only this, all the staff, including the Headteacher Mr Dool and three governors, worked together to produce the school’s own audiobook of ‘Smart’, all reading a chapter or two each . . . I was proud to be asked to read the final chapter myself!

When I arrived at the school there was a lovely welcome awaiting from Miss Pearson, the wonderful School Librarian and even Mr Dool, who had made time in his very busy schedule to come and say hello.

The day began as 300 Year 7 students filtered into the Stewart Hall. Every single student was reading or had already read ‘Smart’ in their English lessons. After the buzz of excitement died down and the students took their seats, I can honestly say you could hear a pin drop. I have never witnessed so many students, so well-behaved.

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Happily, the silence dissolved the moment I asked for comments on my use of the art of LS Lowry and its significance in the book. Hands shot up and eager students made their suggestions in full participation of the discussion.

At the end of the hour-long talk, I gave the students an opportunity to ask me any questions. Again, many hands shot up. I answered as many as I could and yet so many hands remained that I sadly couldn’t get to because of time restraints. Such wonderful enthusiasm!

Before the afternoon sessions, I was able to visit the school’s vibrant and welcoming library, a space very well-used and extremely popular with the students. Miss Pearson had covered the walls with eye-catching and inspiring displays that encouraged the students to read, including a fabulous display for ’Smart’, which can be seen in the photograph below.

img_3160After that, it was time for a lovely sandwich lunch and I got to meet the entire English department in the staff room. ALL of the teachers had read ‘Smart’ and I enjoyed receiving so many positive comments about the book and answering lots of interesting questions, too.

It was an honour to meet Mr Pearson, Head of English and also Mr Stuart Smith, the newly appointed Head of Key Stage 3, who had done the most amazing job with his Scheme of Work and lesson plans to facilitate the study of ‘Smart’. As he was keen to point out, many of the English staff had contributed but he had brought everything together to produce a most professional and effective learning plan for ‘Smart’ that the school intends to use for some years to come.

In the afternoon, I ran two Creative Writing Workshops for approximately twenty students in each. We focused on a theme of ‘Writing Great Characters’, using examples from both ‘Smart’ and my second book, ‘A Seven-Letter Word.’

The students were engaged, enthusiastic and keen to share their ideas. There were so many students eager to read out their work, I had to allow extra time for this. Wonderful!

 img_3159At the end of the school day, it was back to the Stewart Hall for a signing (and selfie!) session. Although school had purchased copies of ‘Smart’ for use in English lessons, lots of students bought their own copies of ‘Smart’ and also ‘A Seven-Letter Word’ to be signed by the author.

All in all, we had a fabulous day together. I was so honoured that ‘Smart’ was the book selected for the school’s Big School Read – I even got to meet Cody, the lovely Year 9 student who initially brought the book to the attention of Miss Pearson – and I felt so happy and proud that staff and students alike loved ‘Smart’ so much.

Thank you, Neston High School, for making me so welcome.

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I’d like you all to meet my STAR READER of the summer . . . Hannah T. of Bishop’s Stortford College!

Well done Hannah for winning your Book Club Prize and for winning my award for SPEEDIEST reader of ‘A Seven-Letter Word’, too!

 

After a long week of school author visits I came home to a completely unexpected letter which included a lovely note from Hannah’s mum, Jane, a brilliant photo of Hannah herself with ‘A Seven-Letter Word’ and a mock-up of a Scrabble board AND . . . the most impressive and creative letter which incorporated Scrabble letters into the things she enjoyed about the book . . . take a look below!

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It means the world to get such heartfelt messages like Hannah and Jane’s and I’m so delighted to play a small part in engaging young people to read. Thank you so much for taking the time to contact me Hannah and PLEASE keep up with the reading over summer – you really have no choice now you’re my star!

I’m sending some personally dedicated and signed postcards to you by way, Hannah . . .

 

 

 

I am delighted to announce that on Monday, 27th June, ‘Smart’ won its tenth book award – a very special landmark in my writing career.

My husband drove me up to the impressive Cheadle Hulme School to attend ‘The Read’ Stockport Schools Book Award 2016 in the morning.

The awards were hosted by children’s author, Cathy Cassidy. Cathy and I are represented by the same literary agency and I have wanted to meet her for some time so it was great to have this unexpected opportunity!

The school hall quickly filled with excited students from Cheadle Hulme and surrounding schools and I spotted quite a few familiar faces from my author visits to Urmston Grammar and Stockport Grammar schools earlier this year.

We were treated to some lovely singing from talented students before Cathy took the stage and gave a very interesting talk about her own writing journey, giving a short reading from her new book.

Then it was on to a nail-biting reveal of the winners which had been cleverly based on ‘The Voice’ TV show. Giant book covers were ‘turned’ like chairs to eventually reveal Michaela Morgan’s ‘Respect’ as the winning book of the Quick Reads award.

Moving on to the winner of ‘The Read’ award, the shortlist of which was based on Booktrust’s Future Classics selection 2015.

Building music added to the tension before students revealed the covers and Cathy announced that the winner the students had voted for was . . .  ‘SMART’!

Tenth award win for 'Smart'!

Tenth award win for ‘Smart’!

 

Gorgeous flowers for me, M and Cathy Cassidy

Gorgeous flowers for me, Michaela Morgan and Cathy Cassidy

I was presented with a very special award trophy on stage by the talented student who had not only designed but made the award herself. Thank you so much Libby…here’s a pic of it sitting proud and bright on my awards shelf!

Gorgeous trophy designed and made by Libby of Cheadle Hulme School

Gorgeous red trophy (far left) designed and made by Libby from Cheadle Hulme School

After a book-signing session, we were treated to a very tasty lunch at the school and hard time to relax and chat with the hardworking staff who had put so much effort and enthusiasm into the awards ceremony.

After lunch it was time to leave and drive on to Bolton to check in to our hotel which is fully integrated into the Macron Stadium. It certainly wins the prize for the quirkiest hotel I’ve stayed in yet!

My footie-mad husband approved of our hotel room!

My footie-mad husband approved of our hotel room view!

We enjoyed a wonderful meal with staff and other authors at beautifully set tables in a suite at the amazing Bolton School which has more than a passing resemblance to Hogwarts!

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Next day I was up bright and early to run two large workshops in the boys’ hall where I spoke to students about my writing journey and passed on some top secret tips on how to write effective characters!

Meeting lovely students from St Monica's RC High School

Meeting lovely students from St Monica’s RC High School

 

Fantastic alternative book cover for 'Smart' presented to me by a young reader

Fantastic alternative book cover for ‘Smart’ presented to me by a young reader

The authors enjoyed watching fantastic trailers made by students for each of our books. Congratulations to Narinder Dhami who received the book award and thank you to all the staff and helpers at Bolton School who looked after us so well.

With students and fellow authors.

With students and fellow authors.

Book awards are brilliant for attracting young readers. Often organised by librarians, they encourage the students to get fully involved and broaden their selections by reading the shortlist and voting for their winning book. I have lost count of the number of young people who have told me, ‘I really loved ‘Smart’ but I might not have read it if it hadn’t been on the shortlist as it’s not my usual sort of story.’

Let’s not forget that book awards take a tremendous amount of additional work for librarians and other staff, sorting out the logistics from the shortlist announcement to the prize presentation. The children also often take part in mini-competitions along the way like designing alternative covers and bookmarks for the shortlisted books. Heartfelt thanks to all who worked their socks off to make it two brilliant days for authors and young readers alike.

SMART is WINNER of the Leeds Book Award 15, the St Helen’s Book Award (BASH) 15, the Tower Hamlets Book Award 15, the EMBA Geoffrey Trease Children’s Book Award 15, The Brilliant Book Award 2016, 1066 Schools Book Award 2016, The Grampian Children’s Book Award 2016, the North Herts Schools’ Book Award 2016, ‘Spellbinding’ Dorset Book Award 2016 and ‘The Read’ Stockport Schools Book Award 2016.

For all the latest book news as it happens, please follow me on Twitter!

I have just returned from two exciting and informative trips to Newcastle and Gloucestershire with my publisher, Macmillan Children’s Books. I wanted to blog about both events to highlight the massively important work librarians and associated organisations are doing, often without fanfare or acknowledgement.

I drove up to Newcastle on Tuesday 21st June and checked in to a lovely hotel right on the River Tyne. There, I met up with Leanne Bennett, Publicity & Marketing Asst at Macmillan and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Quayside with great views. Jon Snow was outside the Pitcher & Piano, filming the public’s views on the EU referendum for ITN . . . result as then blissfully unknown!

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On the Wednesday morning we were up bright and early for breakfast and then off to the wonderful Gateshead Library where the Reading Agency had organised an excellent publishing roadshow for largely North-East Librarians.

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Three authors were also in attendance. I read an excerpt from my new book, ‘A Seven-Letter Word’ and spoke about how, since getting published, I’d seen for myself the amazing effect and influence librarians have on young people’s lives through the power of reading.

There is no doubt in my mind that a large part of the success of my debut novel ‘Smart’ is down to librarians recommending and matching my book to their readers. I know I and many other authors feel so grateful for the reading ‘bridge’ that librarians provide between our books and potential readers.

I have had so many emails from young people – often boys – telling me how they never usually read but that their school librarian recommended ‘Smart’ and how much they enjoyed it. They then go back and ask for another similar  title and their reading journey has begun.

On Friday 24th June I travelled by train and cab down to Gloucestershire to the School Library Association’s (SLA) weekend course – Empowerment, Empathy, Engagement: The Impact of School Libraries. The weather was glorious when I arrived at the beautiful hotel and grounds. Senior Publicity Manager at Macmillan, Catherine Alport and Leanne Bennett, were already there to greet me.

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It was so lovely to get to meet so many people at the conference; SLA officials, other authors and librarians from all over the UK. Bound together by our love of books, we all enjoyed a BBQ dinner in the amazing Orangery, everyone mixing afterwards to chat and discuss our favourite subject . . . reading! We were then treated to fabulous entertainment by the Midwest Swing Band from 9pm until late.

Next day, Saturday 25th, it was straight down to business. The conference was incredibly well organised with a schedule jam-packed with fascinating seminars, talks and workshops on a wide range of subjects. We enjoyed an impromptu Skype call from Katherine Rundell and author Andy Robb had the audience in stitches with his tales of unrequited teenage love. For my part, I was there to appear on a panel in the afternoon discussing the inclusion of diversity in children’s literature, chaired by publisher Janetta Otter-Barry and with fellow panellists – consultant and author Alexandra Strick and YA author Patrice Lawrence.IMG_0965

It was such a lively and interesting conversation. We all spoke individually for ten minutes or so about our own experiences and views of the inclusion of diverse characters in books and I gave a reading from ‘A Seven-Letter Word’.

I think we all learned a lot from each other and the knowledgeable audience were really engaged, joining in the conversation and voicing their opinions . . . everyone agreed we could have carried on talking all afternoon! The session finished with author John Dougherty reading a poignant and very relevant poem.

Librarians and their associated organisations do so much to help get inclusive books to the hands of young readers. Reading books with diverse characters can increase the reader’s empathy with others and help young people who do feel different to find people just like themselves in stories.

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There was time for a speedy signing session and then back in the cab to the train station for the journey (in torrential rain) back to Nottingham.

Back home now I’ve barely time to catch my breath (and write this blog) before I’m off on my travels up north again this evening . . . but that’s another story for another day!

Interesting links:

http://www.inclusiveminds.com/

http://www.outsidein.org.uk/

https://twitter.com/Kimslater01