Monday 21 December 2015

A Writers Family – An Ever Giving Gift of Inspiration…

As Christmas is looming, The Family Poyton is reading Matt Haig’s ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ and we are loving the story and the amazing illustrations by Chris Mould. As a family we have also been listening to Matt being interviewed about the inspiration behind the book, and that it came when his son asked the question; ‘Was Father Christmas ever a Boy?’

This got me thinking about inspiration, and where idea’s for books come from. Like many creative people, my inspiration comes from anywhere at any time. However, one thing has inspired me more than anything else is my family.

In fact if it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be writing. So many years ago, when she was coming up three, and my son his first birthday, my husband went away to Australia for six weeks on business. My daughter, a rather pretentious and funny toddler, asked him to bring her back a Kangaroo, and for the whole duration of the trip she persisted in asking me how Daddy would catch the kangaroo. Initially I’d answer simply, but as time went on the answers got more and more extreme, started to rhyme and evolved into my first ever bit of writing a Picture book called, How to Catch a Kangaroo. From tat moment I was hooked, and I haven't stopped writing since.


Spread One

My Daddy has one to Australia.

There is just one thing I asked him to do,

“Daddy, please bring me back a Kangaroo!”

Spread Two

I wonder how he will catch it.

How do you catch a Kangaroo?

Could you catch one with a rod and line?

What would you use for bait?

Peanut butter sandwiches, or jelly on a plate?

It’s not just kids that inspire, my two furry, lazy Springbats, (half Springer Spaniel half Basset Hound) also bring a healthy dose of inspiration to, and after a particularly entertaining walk involving some fox excrement, and I began to pen a Picture book from the point of view of a hound. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not like to ever get a publisher, I believe it’ll strike a chord with anyone who has ever owned a dog…

If Dogs Wrote Picture Books

Because I love you, I’ve dug up your roses. I know that their horrid smell itches human’s noses.

Because I love you, I’ve made myself smell nice. I found some fox poo and rolled in it twice.

Because I love you, I’ve warmed up your bed, and now it smells like what I’ve just been fed.

Because you love me, you left me stake out on the side for a snack. Because I’m so grateful I gulped it down as soon as you turned you back.

Because I love you, I’ve brought you a present. It’s a rather tasty (and energetic) half dead pheasant.

Because I love you, I slept on your best hat. I think I’ve improved it; It’s covered in hair and is now rather flat.

Because I love you, I bark all the time you’re out. That way you will know I love you and you’ll never be in doubt.

Because you love me, you warm up my chair, I love it when you leave the room so I can snuggle up there.

Because I love you, to let everyone know your mine. I pee in your shoes (It makes them smell better) and gives them a yellowy shine.

Entertaining the children in queues or on long journeys has also provided inspiration for a book about a magic flying toilet, and a mission to save one families ailing sweet making business by stealing the family recipe book back from the Pirate and Captain of ‘The Sweet Revenge’ who rules the seven seas by supplying all seadogs with the delicious sweets. 

My most recent inspiration has been provided by my son, (who’s now approaching his 10th Birthday) and his constant attempts to steal my bobble hat and his disappointment that I will not give it to him. He handles this by talking about himself in the third person and calling himself ‘No-bobble’. This has presented lot of entertaining ideas for a new Picture Book text which I’m currently working on.

So… this is a little celebration of my eccentric family, and a thank you to the most important people in my life who inspire me every day. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank them properly with an acknowledgement in an actual book. One day…

Friday 4 September 2015

Running my first Small Creative Writing Session for Children

So this summer has been one of firsts; first job in over a decade, my eldest child’s first days in secondary school, first submission with an agent, but perhaps the most nerve wracking – my first small group creative writing session.

I submitted a lot to a charity blind auction, a creative writing session for a small group of children. To my utter surprise the lot was brought, and therefore I began preparing. The group was four children of varying ages and ability; one six year old, one seven year old, one nine year old and an eleven year old. The winner of the lot asked specifically if I could do a session to try and inspire her daughters to write; make it exciting!

After a lot of thought, I decided that the session had to be three things…

1. Exciting (as per the brief)

2. Interactive

3. Fun

So I planned some activities based around the notion that EVERTHING is exciting, no matter how mundane it may initially appear, as long as you allow your imagination to run free.

So we started with a food. I asked the children,

How exciting is a sandwich?

To which I received the expected answer: not very – or - not at all. So I read a passage out of the Dave Shelton book, ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat,’ about the heroic antics of the VLS, VERY LAST SANDWICH. All the children giggled and gawped, and I could see that they were opening up to the concept that in creative writing there are no rules, and that you are only restricted by the scope of your imagination.

We then talked about other foods with exciting properties, like the cakes from Sarah McIntyre’s and Philip Reeves Cakes in Space, and we even made our own cake monsters. The discussion also covered food from Harry Potter, George‘s Marvellous Medicine and then the land of the most exciting food, Wonderland. To make the talk interactive we drunk from bottles marked ‘Drink Me’ and ate mushroom sweets and pretended to shrink and grow.

“My daughters had a wonderful time during the creative writing session with Sally. I was very impressed by the amount of effort that she put into preparing for it. She kept the girls engaged and gently led them back to their writing piece when they got distracted. It has really helped them to see literacy in a more fun way and hopefully they will bring this enthusiasm with them into the next school year.” From Mrs O

After all the excitement we sat down and talked about each child’s favourite food, and started to think how that food could be exciting, and then began to build a story around it. To make the session easier I provided each child with a pre-prepared pack with story wheels, and vocabulary sheets. All the children’s imaginations soon warmed up and their stories became magical and exciting. It was lovely to see them al enjoying their own crazy worlds and ideas. 

The session was short, but the children really seemed to have fun, and took to the notion that writing can be fun. To help the children to continue to develop a love of writing, I sent them so additional activities through the post in the following weeks.

I am very pleased at how my first small creative writing session has gone, and will certainly be thinking of ways to improve and develop it for the future sessions. But one thing I know for sure, it has to be exciting and interactive and most of all fun!

Thursday 20 August 2015

My Scrumdiddlyumptious New Job at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre!

When I was a child, I LOVED Roald Dahl books, from the first time that the rest of classmates and I sat down on the crowded manky carpet and listened to our teacher read ‘The Witches.’ It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and when the teacher showed us the Quenton Blake illustrations of a witch and a non-witch and asked us which we thought was the actual witch, we were all amazed that we got it wrong!

I begged my mother to buy a copy of the book so I could read it myself, and know what happens before the rest of my class mates, and of course, grateful I was showing an interest in reading my mum obliged; only to find out everybody else had had the same idea and the whole class was racing to finish the book first.

Despite my difficulties reading due to severe dyslexia, I read my way through every Roald Dahl book I could find, including the auto-biographies ‘Boy’ and ‘Solo’. I loved the dark humour, the word play and the creepy characters, and I knew that the effort of reading would be paid off with a rip-roaring good yarn. My childhood is saturated by memories of Roald Dahl. A firm family favourite film was Danny the Champion of the world with Jeremy Irons and then amazement when at Christmas the animated version of The BFG came out, made even funnier as my Dad at the time looked identical to the BFG!

Even into my adulthood Roald Dahl shaped my endeavours, when studying Fine Art at university we were paired up and told to give our partner a copy of our favourite book, and that we should use the books to produce some artworks. I gave my partner ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ [sorry Oz!] but my partner gave me ‘Revolting Rhymes.’ The book lead me down a path that reignited my love for fairy tales, and my art work became fairy tale themed and this eventually resulted in me picking up a pen and beginning to write what would become Through Mortal Eyes.

So when I first visited The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, when my daughter was attending a Puffin Post event for their child guest editors for the ‘Pufflings Magazine’ in 2011 I was utterly amazed that I hadn’t discovered it before , and got very excited about sitting in his chair! I can remembering thinking how great I would be to work there and what a pity it was that it’s wasn’t within commutable distance.

Then luck changed, as we moved over to Buckinghamshire and settled I a house within sniffing distance of the museum , I started stalking the web-site hoping that a suitable job roll may come up that I could apply for. To my joy, in early summer they advertised for Front of House Staff, so I applied. This was terrifying as it’s been a very long time since I last applied for a job, and I had to write up all my eclectic work experience up on to a coherent and appealing CV. 

Photo from The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, thank you!

I was relieved when I was offered an opportunity to audition for the job. Yes, you read that right, AUDITION! So after a spot of cram re-reading of Roald Dahl classics, and a minor outfit catastrophe, I turned up for the audition. I was surprised by the amount of people who were attending, there were a least a dozen and half applicants; from students and teachers, to creative-writing graduates and illustrators. We weren’t the only audition session either, so one thing was clear it was a desirable job with lots of competition.

The audition was fun and designed to get everyone interacting, with games, and then splitting us into teams and assigning us a project, that we were to collaborate on and then report back to the rest of the applicants and interviewers. I enjoyed the audition, and found that all the applicants were lovely people and we all got on easily. When the session was over and I drove home I had no idea how it had went, and prepared myself for the worst.

I was overjoyed to be called into interview, which despite being on an incredibly hot day, I enjoyed, and I thought went well. But I was completely ecstatic when I got offered the job, cue, dancing around the house like a heffalump!

So with much trepidation I ventured to Great Missenden for my first shadowing day, following an experienced Front of House member of staff around and learning the roll hands on. Thankfully, everyone who works at the museum is cherry and friendly, which quickly put me at ease. I adorned my purple shirt and plunged into the world of Dahl, as we worked at the ticket desk, and manned the galleries and exhibitions. I found that I could converse with the visitors with ease, and my days volunteering in a book shop had really been a good foundation for working in the shop. I’m really enjoying it so far, and I shall blog again about how it goes when I’ve settled into the roll.

Friday 31 July 2015

Confessions of an X- Doodler

Since the new Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell has been appointed, there has been lots of talk about drawing and doodling. This makes sense as Chris Riddell is not only a gifted wordsmith creating beautiful characters like Ottoline and Goth Girl, but he is also a talented illustrator (to see more details about both his writing and illustration press here to read our Space on the Bookshelf celebration of his work).

Chris Riddell has shared with us all his 5 point plan for his turn as Laureate and used his speech to urge people to ‘Draw something every day’, and to spend time as a family drawing and doodling. Many people have taken his advice and made a conscious effort to doodle every day, like Lou Minns family who challenged themselves to doodle every day for a month, to read about their endeavours press here. It was whist following Lou’s family’s progress that I had an epiphany; I realised that I no longer doodle.

Now this may not seem much to most people BUT let me explain. All my life I’ve been a constant Doodler, no paper was safe, or napkin, or well anything. If there was a pen, pencil, crayon, chalk, lipstick and a scrap of paper (or skin) then it ended up full of intricate drawings and doodles. It caused quite a few fights when I was first married, as if any post was left out, I would not only decorate the envelope but the letter to, even if it was an important document!

My doodling was a gift, I studied Art and Related Arts at university, and many of my strongest works were as a result of doodles. I initially came to writing through the ambition to illustrate, and way back in 2008 I had an meeting with illustration agency Plumb Pudding; their advice – my doodling was far superior to my finished works, and to continue to doodle and work on my finished work (and to stay in touch, ophs!)

So whilst reading all the enthusiastic posts people have been posting about discovering doodling I was amazed to realise that I can’t recall the last time I doodled. This got me thinking what has changed? 

I can’t really put my foot on what it is that has changed or at what point I stopped doodling, and the realisation that I no longer doodle actually makes me rather sad. It is true that the last few years have been hectic; one re-location, three subsequent moves, new EVERYTHING, I’ve had competition successes in writing, scored an agent, blogged, got puppies, and well then all the every day-to-day stuff. Maybe the lack of doodling is a result of the amount of LIFE that has happened?

I do still draw from time to time with my kids, as does my husband. Plus I can take some reassurance that both small people doodle all the time and are gifted artists. However, this is my pledge to myself; I shall doodle, and I shall endeavour to doodle daily.

Friday 26 June 2015

Celebrating Independent Bookshop Week 2015, with a blog post dedicated to my family’s favourite Indy Bookshop – Mostly Books!

As a reader, writer, book blogger and mother I LOVE books. As a contentious buyer I LOVE independent shops, we buy our meet from a village butchers, we buy our books from an independent bookshop. My favourite book shop is the wondrous Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Mostly Books is a family business headed up my husband and wife team Nicki & Mark Thornton, who run the shop with a team of enthusiastic staff (endorsed by Imogen being short-listed for the Young Bookseller of the year award earlier this year) who are all passionate about books. The fa├žade on the picturesque Stert Street in Abingdon could almost be off of Diagon Alley and walking inside the shop is full of hand picked books with vibrant seasonal displays and dedicated children’s room and even court yard garden.

What makes Mostly Books my favourite Book Shop is its; soul, character and its dedication to literacy, bringing a whole of host of events to the shop and to other local venues partnering with schools and societies. That and of course its stock of books, all chosen thoughtfully by Mark, Nicki and the team, who therefore really know their stock and are very equip to match books to readers.

The shop has really helped my small people to embrace a love for books through events, competitions, meeting authors, and by finding books that really engage them.

My daughter helped out on the Nosy Crow Take Over in celebration of Independent Bookshop Week 2013, meeting Helen Peters, Hitchcock and Paula Harrison, therefore inspiring her to read their book and their recommended books which pushed her to read outside her usual comfort zone and vastly improving her reading skills.

My son, really loves Hugless Douglass and was thrilled to have met David Melling at one of Mostly Books author events back in 2013. Also that year he met Jane Hissey and the Old Bear characters which inspired him to draw and write a book with his own teddy ‘Red Ted,’ this was the first time he ever wrote anything my choice.

Loving the shop and getting to know Nicki and Mark, I began to help out both on the shop floor and at events. This has provided me with much appreciated company (as much as I love it writing can be rather solitary), plus has been a fabulous experience, meeting authors and illustrators and seeing how they engage and inspire children. There is something very humbling and magical about watching children be so enthralled about the written world, and feel very privileged to have been able to observe this. 

Helping out at Mostly Books has been a learning curve, I’d worked in shop before but I soon discovered that being a bookseller is a vocation and very different to peddling clothes, or vegetables! Knowing your stock and customers is key, and I soon discovered my talents are almost exclusively children’s books. I really enjoy helping children pick books, conversing with them to find out what they like and suggesting titles that I think will really hook them. I like selling to adults too, and since spending time at the shop I've read more adults books than ever in my life and discovered some truly fantastic authors. 

The Mostly Books staffs are innovative with their events, competitions, groups and offers. They are always finding ways to improve and modify their unique service to bring their customers the very best Independent book shop experience, this is something which is truly inspiring and also contiguous. In 2014 Mostly Books was announced as Julia Donaldson’s Independent Bookshop for the month of August, ahead of which me and the small people made a Gruffalo Child to assist the publicity spreading the word that The Gruffalo was to visit the shop. 


In short I LOVE Mostly Books, it is my and my family’s favourite bookshop. But it’s not the shop or the books alone, but the dedicated hard working team that gives Mostly Books its soul.