Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Inspiration from Unlikely Places - The Humble Toilet Roll

The humble Toilet Roll. Source of inspiration and medium of creativity. From the main ingredient in a Halloween Mummy costume, to the staple of every junk modelling arsenal. It has inspired thousands of people with it’s versatility for years.

One small cardboard toilet roll inner tube has countless possible futures… plant pot, pen pot - (thank you Blue Peter), bat, dog, crocodile. Kaleidoscope, rain-maker, telescope, binoculars, towers, turrets, hamster adventure playground. The possibilities are endless.

A toilet roll is a lesson - no a masterclass in inspiration and that it can come from the most unexpected places.

You’d think maybe a toilet roll muse would only be for children, parents and childcare professionals. I am a parent but one child is now safely into adulthood, and the other almost there, and I am not a childcare professional. But earlier this year I did find that a toilet roll became my muse.

I was on a retreat on my own. I had meant to be going on a retreat with my awesome critique group but covid had other plans, so I booked a couple of days away on my own to Holland House, to actually get my edits finished. While I was there unhindered by the to-do-list or nagging teens or needy builders I managed to get my edits completed, but I was also touched by inspiration whilst in the bathroom.

You see Holland house is dedicated to being as earth friendly as possible and uses bamboo toilet rolls which are individually wrapped in bamboo patterned paper. One of the patterns struck me as looking like fish scales. So when I unwrapped a new roll I saved the wrapping.

While as was having some down time I was looked at the paper and reached for my my pens, pencils and glue, and doodled a mermammoth. I used the paper as the scales on the tail. I was having fun, so I thought why stop there? Soon I had a notepad full of unimammoths, pegumammoths and other mammoth-mythical creature mash-ups.

These mythical-mammoths sat in my notepad for months until one day I they unexpectedly burst into my brain in a story, which I have now penned and in the process of editing.

I didn’t think much about it until last week while I was away on holiday with several teens that didn’t belong to me (and one that did), when one of them came down poorly and had to stay a day at the apartment. They were feeling down, but are very arty, so I told them this story, and we looked around the apartment until we found something that could inspire them - a french language wild-west comic. They used the illustrations as the basis for many amazing fantastical beasts.

So to bring this full circle, a humble toilet roll gave me the inspiration for a new story, and inspired me to help find the best in a less than ideal situation that in turn inspired another creative. Reminding me that inspiration can come from the most mundane of muses.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Out of the mouth’s of babes… confidence boosts from unlikely places

Being a pre-published writer is a rollercoaster of emotions. From the highs fuelled by confidence boosting short-listings or full manuscript requests to the deep dive into depression caused by imposter syndrome and rejection. Sometimes the pursuit of publication grinds you down and you doubt your ability, and wonder if you have anything to give or say that readers will find interesting. This can be difficult to circumnavigate.

For a while I’ve bumped between these two emotions, like a jack in the box. However I’ve had a few encounters that have reinforced my confidence and convinced me that my books do have something that would appeal to children.


Recently I’ve re-embraced by first passion for illustration, *read about it here* as a consequence I’m setting up an Etsy shop and am running a pop-up shop selling my work. This is the unlikely setting where these encounters took place as I had the pleasure of meeting some incredible children. The children in question were intrigued by my mammoths and we struck up conversations.

One 10 year old, dyslexic boy was fascinated by mammoths, and by my illustrations. I showed him how to draw mammoths and told him about the science that has inspired my latest WIP. His mother has since contacted me to let me know that he (two months later) is still drawing mammoths, telling everyone about mammoths and enquiring about when my book will be published! Editors and agents feel free to contact me!

Look at these AMAZING drawings by the 10 year old I mentioned.

Another 12 year old with dyslexia and dyscalculia was equally enthralled by mammoths and with my illustrations, we made a pact that next time he comes in I’ll teach him how to draw them, and he’ll show me how he draws goats!


Another younger boy or 8 or 9, was conversing with me and when I mentioned the ‘Mammoth Rival Project’ and the idea that cloned mammoths could help with the battle against global warming, he got very excited and begun explaining back to me how scientists were looking for mammoth genomes in order to edit elephant DNA ! His mother’s face and amazing, she had no idea how passionate he was about genetics. He was therefore very taken with the concept of my novel.

Amazingly most of the children I’ve spoken to are dyslexic and many have dyscalculia also, and all were very keen to read an own-voice book with a protagonist like them, just like mine!

It bring me joy to know I’ve inspired them in some small way, and they have given me the affirmation I need needed to continue in the relentless endeavour of submissions.

Submissions here I come! 

Friday, 4 March 2022

World Book Day Blues and Dreams

Yesterday was the 25th World Book Day. I love WBD but this year for me it was tainted with sadness and sweetened with dreams. You see I woke up to a Facebook memory reminding me that the last time one of my children dressed up for WBD was on it’s 20th anniversary five years ago.

WBD was a really event in our house, the children, bookworms, who love dressing up would plan weeks ahead, and we’d beg, borrow, steal and fashion their costumes See my post about it here. Also having worked in bookshops, it’d be big for me too, as I attended in shop author events and assisted school visits across the week. Some years, when I had a contract - I actually did school visits as an author, promoting the love of stories, reading and running writing workshops. When I worked at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre we do celebration too.


But this year, like the past few years, my children are too old and it’s not celebrated at their school, and I am no longer a bookseller or working at the museum, plus I am still pre-published so no author visits for me. So it feels like WBD is a party I’m not invited to. I found myself avoiding social media, as seeing all the posts of children dressed up, and friends preparing for this school visits was making me down.

BUT THEN I STARTED TO DREAM. (Dangerous I know!)

What if, my current WIP was published, what would my WBD look like?

I would like to think I’d be doing some school visits, to KS2 & KS3, so I started to imagine what my author visit would look like.


Firstly - I’d have to look smart – as I work from home in a building site - I dress like a bag lady. This won’t do at all. So either I’d go for my mammoth 50’s skirt with a twin set. Or smart trousers and blazer, with the t-shirts a friend made me featuring the mammoth characters from my book. Either way I’d accessorise with the lovely pin badge my Son’s friend made me of another of my mammoth characters based on my illustrations.

What would I take with me?

  • Obviously my PowerPoint on a USB.
  • Some markers to draw. 
  • For KS2 a mammoth plush (I have many to choose from!)
  • Some elephant poo paper.
  • I’d probably get some inexpensive (black ink on coloured card) bookmarks printed with the book name blurb and my name on, and sign for each child. This way every child gets something even if they don’t buy the book, and if they want to buy it later they have all the details. This is a tip I learnt from Jane Clarke on one of the SCBW Professional Series (now industry insiders) session years ago.
  • Time line tape measure. 
  • Maybe a small fragment of mammoth fossil.

What would my talk be like?

Obviously I’d read an extract from the book. Then I’d do my interactive PowerPoint presentation. Now my current WIP is a STEM Cli-Fi adventure. With an own-vice neuro-diverse element with the main protagonist having dyslexia and dyscalculia. Here’s the Pitch…

Ash and her friend’s, Ruby an escapologist, and Jack a technical whiz, must save the herd of mammoths that have been cloned to help slow global warming, from an evil big game hunting obsessed billionaire with unlimited resources. The children must work together and use their talents and their secret weapon – Ash’s ability to talk to the mammoths - to save the herd, themselves and the world.

The talk would cover, mammoths facts, cloning, how cloning mammoths could help slow global warming. How STEM solutions can help with climate change and to save endangered species. Also about Pliocene Park, in Siberia, where they have reintroduced animals that were native to the tundra to help stop global warming. I’d also cover a little bit about dyslexia and dyspraxia.


I would as I go along, draw illustrations to explain points and use a combination of my own illustrations and other images for the PowerPoint. To end would be Q&A. this is where the elephant poo paper comes in because guaranteed there’ll be a question about Mammoths not being good for the environment due to the amount of farts they do, and I shall say, but with farts comes poo, and look what we can make from it!

Anyways, this is just my little dream of how potential a future WBD may look like or me, and also how a school visit may be! Although I am a long way off, it was nice to spend a bit of time dreaming which made me feel a tad more connected with World Book Day.