Monday 6 November 2023

Magazines, Manchester, (a) Museum, Mammoths and Me!

After such a long gap in posting the proverbial blog bus comes with two posts in quick succession. The last few months have been busy.  Busy in the best of ways (covid aside), with lots of small things to celebrate.   The mammoth library event that I covered in last week’s post, and now this small bundle of celebration worthy things that cumulated in one magical mammoth day, in Manchester!

So being a pre-published writer/illustrator I’m always on the trail of seeing my work in print. I try to grasp all the opportunities I can. Subbing to agents, editors, pitch contests, feedback giveaways and when it came up in the summer to the submission window open to neurodiverse creatives for The Changelings Mini-Mag.

The Changeling project was founded my writer Emmy Clark and has produced the Changeling Annual, for middle grade readers full of fascinating stories, articles, activities, and vibrant illustrations, all by neurodiverse writers and illustrators from across the globe.  The Mini-Mag is the first periodical. The project has a close relationship with The Museum of Science and Industry of Manchester.

I was very honoured to have my ‘Rebuilding Mammoths’ article and accompanying illustration picked to be included in the first edition which has the theme of ‘Rebuild’, to tie in with the museum ongoing building work.

There was further excitement on receiving the virtual proof copy of the Mini-Mag, and seeing the amazing diversity and quality of the other features was humbling.

I was even more delighted to be told that over the half term, the Changeling Team alongside staff at the museum were running some workshops inspired by my article. So, when I was invited, not even wild mammoths could keep me away.

They asked if I could make a video of me reading my article, for them to play at the beginning of the workshops, of course I said yes! Then I had to quickly learn how to film and edit! I set up my room with a backdrop and balanced the iPad-and-the-pea style precariously on top of a table and boxes. To ensure I didn’t forget what to say, stuck on the wardrobes A3 sheets with my text printed on it.  Then complete with props I filmed. And filmed. And filmed. Until I eventually had an ok version. Lastly I edited in illustrations, and a video before sending on to the Changeling editor to do a final cut – who added subtitles and music.

On the day, my husband, son, and me, left at 6am and travelled up to Manchester. We arrived to rain. Lots of rain! Us being soft southerners hadn’t dressed accordingly, so by the time I got to the museum, my jean’s had a tide line up to my knees, my shoes were waterlogged and I looked like a drowned rat.

This made my nerves kick in. But I shouldn’t have worried, The Changeling Team, Emmy, Jenn and Alex were lovely and made me feel incredibly welcome.

The team were super organised and had all the activities prepared and everything set up by the time I arrived. Which gave us time for a lovely chat, before the whirlwind began.

Across the two workshops more than 45 children with their accompanying adults attended.  First came the video, it was weird and uncomfortable watching myself on screen, a very squirming kind of torture. Then the grand Mammoth Mask Making commenced.

While the creativity was happening, I circulated around the room, with a mammoth tooth I’d brought along, and talked to children and their adults about their amazing masks, but also about general mammoth and cloning facts.  

In both session I had parents initiate conversations about mammoth cloning and their proposed use to help slow (or slop the acceleration) of global warming. The discussions evolved to cover how the same technology is being used to help try save endangered species, and how inspiring the next generation to look to STEM and use their imaginations is so important for their future and that of the planet.

There were lots of smiles, and some truly momentous mammoth masks, in a rainbow of colours and styles.  The Changeling team were in their element, encouraging children to be creative, and by giving each child attending a free copy of the Mini-Mag – encouraging them to foster a love of stories too.

When the workshops were over and everything cleared away, I think we were all pretty tired. But the best was to come, as I was given a copy of the physical magazine. Seeing one of my mammoths in print alongside my article was a delight.

So, I send my heartiest of thanks to The Changeling team; Emmy, Jenn and Alex and to the lovely museum staff. Plus, a Big Mammoth Thank You to all the children and adults who came to the workshops and made some truly marvellous mammoth masks!










Wednesday 1 November 2023

My First Mammoth Event!


The first time I started writing about mammoths was in 2008, it was a not very well conceived picture book. Fast forward a decade to 2018, and whilst attending a writing for children course at the Oxford University Centre for Continued Learning, I began writing a middle grade story about a Neanderthal and a mammoth. This also went on to a draw of partly planned rough drafts alongside my first mammoth manuscript.

Then in 2020, whilst researching de-extinction for a YA Neanderthal thriller, I read a book on the science of bring back long dead species called ‘How to Clone a Mammoth’ by Beth Shapiro. Despite being about bringing back many long dead faunas I got a bit distracted by mammoths. I think it was the plan for mammoths to help in the battle against global warming, and that there is already a home waiting for them, Pleistocene Park in Siberia, which really caught my imagination.

A few nights later I dreamt a scene (corny but it’s true) about three children studying ins a remote artic region, when the building begins to shake as a massive herd of mammoth amble into view. This became the starting point for my work in progress. In 2021 when I first succumbed to the dreaded covid, while in isolation I began drawing mammoths, and an obsession was well and truly born.

I am currently doing an edit on the book and hope to be out on submission soon. But at the same time, I have building up a portfolio of mammoth illustrations, and making friends with other mammoth enthusiasts.  This led to me being asked to participate in a local town’s Jurassic Festival – YES, I KNOW MAMMOTHS AREN’T FROM THE JURRASSIC PERIOD! But it is prehistoric!

So, with just a over a week to prepare, and shoestring budget I set to work.  I stated with a display. It had to engage every age group from toddler to the elderly, and not cost too much. Luckily, I managed to pick up a free exhibition display board from a marketplace social media site. I used the boards to display information about general mammoth facts, mammoth cloning, and the theories of their proposed benefits to helping with the battle against global warming.

Then about palaeontology and bit about one of the most exciting recently discovered mammoth sites, The Mammoth Graveyard as featured in the BBC David Attenborough, that was found by Sally and Nev Hollingworth near Swindon. 

Lastly, I displayed some of my mammoth illustrations.

I desperately wanted people to interact and chat and ask questions. So, I designed some craft sheets for children, design your own mammoth – cold proofing an Asian elephant, 3D mammoths and mammoth colouring.  I also created some takeaway sheets, with information of local mammoth places to visit, free mammoth documentaries to stream and recommended mammoth reading for all ages.

On the day I managed to squeeze into my mammoth skirt and set off. I set up the boards, crafts and also displayed various mammoth fossils, bones, and models for people to see and touch.

I felt nervous, but I shouldn’t have worried, as people were interested. Over the course of the hour and a half I spoke to as many adults as children with an age spread of toddler up to approximately mid-eighties. The conversations varied depending on who I was chatting too, with a lot of the adults being intrigued by the cloning and asking more questions about global warming and how cloning could be used in a broader sense to help endangered animals, to children asking about mammoth / human cohabitation. At one point I was even discussing the death of the last known living dodo and the chances of bringing the species back from extinction! Both adults and children alike were fascinated by the mammoth bones and fossils, the baby mammoth tooth causing quite a lot of excitement.


I was pleased to see few children (and a few adults) pick up the activities, especially the ‘design your own mammoth’ task, and I took time to engage with them and tell them how the chosen dress-up items for the elephants reflected how mammoths had evolved to adapt to survive in cold regions. A lot of children took the sheets home to share with siblings. Quiet a few people wanted to learn more so took the handouts about local mammoth places to visit and free documentaries to stream and/or took the handout of recommended mammoth books to read.

All in all I think it went well. I was delighted to share my love for mammoth with other people.