Interview: Octavia’s Bookshop

Octavia Karavla owns Octavia’s Bookshop in her home town of Cirencester, which opened for business last year. Since then the bookshop has been runner-up in The Telegraph’s Best Small Shops in Britain Award. It has also been shortlisted for The Best Independent Children’s Bookshop by The Bookseller Industry Awards, whilst Octavia herself was also nominated for the Young Bookseller of the Year Award.

We understand that Octavia’s Bookshop opened its doors in March 2011. What led you to open a bookshop?

I have worked in children’s books for the last 10 years in Ottakars and Waterstone’s and realised soon after becoming a bookseller that I was passionate about Children’s literature and encouraging children to read. I was tempted by both teaching English and Art and so children’s literature encompassed both. I wanted to create a shop that was an amazing environment to shop in with plenty of recommendations, book groups for all ages and lots of author events.

You hold a lot of events at Octavia’s Bookshop.  Could you explain a little about how you organise an event?

Firstly either an author will contact me or I will contact them and once a date is arranged I publicise the event in the shop on an events poster and on the website for a month or so before. Nearer the time I order the stock from the publishers, Facebook and tweet the event and send an invite out to my mailing list and also put a publisher show card in the window the week before the event.

The events involving children meeting their favourite authors must be entertaining. Do you have any funny moments you’d like to share?

One of the young girls in my book group came to meet an author she loved and almost hyperventilated, she was so excited. Also when Blue Peter author of the year Lauren St John signed, the queue was so big that we had to raffle them in, in the meanwhile entertaining both children and parents with flying saucer sweets!

Could you tell us about some of the upcoming events you’re holding for children this summer?

This summer we have some fab picture book authors including Hannah Shaw, Kevin Price and Jo Empson who will be signing Rabbityness and doing Rabbity activities. We also have my favourite author of historical teen fiction Julie Hearn on Saturday 21st July and David Alric for the 8-12s.

What are some of the most popular books you sell, both for children and young adults?

Hazel by Julie HearnI sell a lot of historical fiction for teens such as Hazel and Chains and a lot of animal and magical book for the 8-12s such as the White Giraffe, Running Wild and Sky Hawk.

We know this is a tricky question, but if you had to pick your favourite children’s book (either a modern classic or an old favourite you loved as a child), what would you choose?

One Dollar Horse or the White Giraffe by Lauren St John.

If you could choose any author (either past or present) to appear at Octavia’s Bookshop, who would you choose?

Michael Morpurgo who hasn’t been or Lauren St John who has and who has and last time signed over  x100 The Indian in the Cupboardbooks so is always very successful. As was Lynne Reid Banks who wrote The Indian  in the Cupboard.

If you weren’t running a bookshop, are there any other jobs you would like to be doing?

I can’t imagine anything else I feel so lucky to be doing the job I love most and making it a successful business!

To contact Octavia’s Bookshop please visit


Interview: Priya Desai

Priya Desai is a speech and language therapist who works as an independent therapist with young children. Her work inspired her to write her own educational and entertaining books that are accessible to children. She chats to Book Events for Children about her experiences self-publishing and her future writing plans.

As well as being a children’s author, you are also a speech and language therapist. What led you into writing?

I started working as a speech and language therapist in 2004, and  in 2008, I got the idea to write a story about handwriting for children, following a conversation with a mother about her son’s handwriting difficulties and lack of motivation for it! If I am to be honest, I did not see myself as a writer; rather, I was more motivated by the thought and challenge of trying to write and produce a book. It took me a while to start writing and one day the words just flowed, and then I didn’t look back. Fortunately, I met the right people who could help me produce the book and finally in May 2010, Benjamin Writer-Messy was published.

While Benjamin Writer-Messy was being produced, it became apparent that more stories, with this educational type context, needed to be written, as there were no books like this around. I got the idea for Jake Monkey- Tail, while working on Benjamin Writer-Messy. Now ideas come quite quickly and easily - there is inspiration all around!

Your first book Benjamin Writer-Messy explores a boy’s difficulties with handwriting?

Yes, Benjamin Writer-Messy is…let’s say a little quirky, with a touch of magic. The story is set in Pencil Land, a place where every person and building looks like a pencil.  Everyone in Pencil Land except for Benjamin, has nice handwriting. He is faced with a handwriting competition at school and knows he needs to find a way to improve his handwriting; so he comes up with a plan to go and visit the Handwriting Queen to see if she can help him. She gives him a golden pencil for the competition and some wise words, which gives him just the confidence that he needs!

What message do you hope children will take from the book?

Firstly, I wanted to show children that there are other characters out there that do what they have to do at school. There are several messages, such as the importance of ‘trying’ when you find something challenging, and with handwriting, it helps if you are ‘careful and slow’.

Your first two books focus on dealing with difficulties with handwriting and spelling.  Are there any other issues you’d like to explore through your writing?

Jake Monkey TailYes many more in fact; my plan is to write some more stories which show and  highlight educational type skills,  such as vocabulary, memory, time and Maths - obviously all through the guise of entertaining characters,  situations and settings. I also plan to write stories with less of an educational focus. All will be revealed …

Can you tell us a little about the process of self-publishing your books? Is this a process you’d recommend?

This is an immense topic to speak about. There are many ways that people can now self-publish and it is certainly becoming more popular, especially with  independent authors within the adult book market.

With a children’s book you need an illustrator and a designer to help you produce your book, and then you need to find a printer who can make all your books for you. This is an exciting process but the hard work starts when you have your book in your hand; you then need to start promoting your book, try to get your book into stores, and most importantly be active and consistent in your efforts etc. Writing and self-publishing a book is essentially a full time job.

I think that any person that would like to self-publish, needs to think carefully about it first, as the whole process is quite costly; however this is dependent on how you intend to publish - print on demand is cheaper, as is producing an e-book.  It is easy to assume you will make your money back quickly but you also have to remember that the book market as a whole, is a hard market to break in to.

Do you have any advice to give to parents if their child is struggling to read or write?

The first thing I would say is that you can’t force a child to read or write - it’s important to get a little creative when trying to develop a skill. With both skills, if there is some level of difficulty, some investigation may be necessary, such as is there any fine-motor difficulty if handwriting is a problem  or is spelling tricky if reading is difficult?

I think leading by example is a good place go start. Show your child that you read and write too. And let your child choose what they want to read and what pencil they want to write with. Lots of praise for any attempts made and sticker charts help too, as does consistency in practising and also giving praise.

These are just a few general tips to give you some ideas; there are many more specific strategies you can use but this does depend on the child and level of difficulty.  These suggestions will be suitable for some children but the first step is investigating the difficulty and problem-solving what to do with your child’s  teacher.

Will you be attending any book-related events in the coming months?

Yes! I have some events lined up. I will be reading Jake Monkey-Tail on 30th June at Aspace in Fulham and then I will be in-store at Waterstones Kingston from 2.30pm. There will be more events on the way after September!

Interview: Nicola Davies

Nicola Davies has successfully combined a lifelong love of nature with a keen interest in writing and her adventures have taken her around the world.  She was one of the original presenters of The Really Wild Show and has written a range of children’s books, including nature books for younger readers, non-fiction biology books for 8-12 year olds and a number of fiction books. She took a break from her recent sperm whale watching expedition to the Caribbean to speak to Book Events for Children. 

Is it true that you were one of the original presenters of The Really Wild Show?  Given your love of animals, was this an amazing opportunity for you?

Yes I was, with Terry Nutkins and Chris Packham. I co presented the show for five years from when it began in 1985. We won three BAFTAS for the best kids programme and I’m still incredibly proud of that because as well as being one of the presenters I was also on the production team, coming up with ideas for the show and writing scripts for it. In fact I gave up writing my Phd on bats to join the show- which I’m not so proud of!

In those days RWS was almost all studio based so we brought animals into the studio with an audience of kids…great, great fun and wonderful to be so close to many amazing animals, but also lethal! It was a recipe for disaster sometimes…camels with diarrhoea, rabbits that turned vicious, birds that flew into the lighting gantry never to return. But there were some magical moments…playing football with a a cheetah cub, being wrapped in a 3 m python. The best bits for me though we’re with kids…I found I loved talking to an audience. And through writing bits of script I started to learn my craft.

How did you make the move from presenting to writing childrens books?

Through writing for RWS and then coming up with the idea for and writing three series of another series ‘Superbods’ all about human physiology. It was if anything even more fun than RWS …the producer was TONS TONS nicer and the whole process was relaxed and fun, whereas RWS had been very stressful and sometimes v unhappy.

I started out with Walker Books as a scientific consultant. At the time that seemed to me far more exciting than presenting which always looks glamourous from the outside but is actually rather dull. I was asked to consult on a blue whale book - the author made such a mess of it that Walker gave it to me and my first proper book Big Blue Whale was the result. That was in 1997 and it’s still in print, and published in about ten different languages.

Many authors describe a long and tortuous route to publication. How easy was it for you to get your first book published?

 I know! I see very talented students (I teach creative writing from time to time at Bath Spa University on their post grad Masters in Writing for Young People) who struggle to be published but I was incredibly lucky. I also had three adult novels published pretty easily off the back of a newspaper column I started in 1997 in the Independent. No clues on this one, but if you really want to you can track it down.

Could you tell us a little about The Walker Nature Series of books which you have written?

I’m not the only person who writes for this series…two of my buddies Martin Jenkins and Viv French are some of the other fab authors who’ve worked in these. I’ve written eight books in this series now and am just about to do another. The books are aimed at readers from 5 to 8, but I try to make the language in them interesting enough to keep older readers engaged too. The aim is to excite the interest of the readers, to get them wanting to learn more and there are a thousand ways to do this! Although these books are non fiction they can be written like stories or poems, they can be funny or sad. They are a huge challenge and are the most difficult of all the books I write…the amount of time spent per word is enormous compared with longer things. But the pain is worth it…it’s sooo satisfying when you find a way of writing that works…and then there’s the lovely process of collaborating with an artist and designer to get the book looking, reading, feeling just right. Of course the final ingredient is only added when the pages are opened and the words and pictures are read by a child. That’s the moment I like to think about as I’m writing, I imagine I’m talking very quietly to one child.

 Youve recently published a lovely book called A First Book of Nature, illustrated by Mark Hearld. Was this a very enjoyable book to write?

I think to say that this book was a revelation to write wouldn’t be an exaggeration!

When I began to think about those early experiences of the natural world, the really simple incredibly pleasurable things like putting your foot in wet sand, or kicking leaves, or pulling an acorn from its little cup, I realised that they were holistic experiences. By that I mean they were things that children experience with their hearts and minds and bodies and spirits all at once, and the only way to write about them was to use poetry. But I wanted the book to be accessible for v small kids as well as making adults remember those things so it was tough to write simply but elegantly. the revelation was that I could do it, that I could let go inside and write in this free way. Also the writing came out of a time when my daughter was dangerously I’ll, so I lived a double life then, in terrible fear and distress about my daughter but in this inner world of discovery and escape into my four year old self.

I understand that youve had some amazing adventures, including studying sperm whales. Have these adventures been a great inspiration for your writing?

I’m sitting at a bar in the Caribbean as I write this! I should be on board a boat called Baleana watching sperm whales, but shortly after I boarded her last week I got sick and had to come ashore. But I did see sperm whales again before I had to leave the sea. And I’ve seen all sorts of whales from the decks of that boat and other boats over the last thirty years. Starting with humpbacked whales in Newfoundland, then Blue whales in the Indian Ocean and then sperm whales…fin whales, minke whales, dolphins of many kinds, flying fish, frigate birds, boobies, turtles… So many deliciously lovely happy making creatures. And the sea itself, endlessly fascinating and mysterious. Every voyage carries with it a promise of adventure and discovery.

I absolutely adore travelling to different countries, seeing new animals and habitats and meeting new people from different cultures. Dominica, where I am now, is one of my top favourites. It’s a little jewel of an island …mountainous and covered in forest, ringed with turquoise sea and full of the kindest most welcoming people you can imagine. And boy can Dominicans party? I was here at Carnival last time I came. No one slept for three days of dancing. In March I was in Colombia researching a book about manatees…out on the mighty Amazon in the flooded forest canoeing amongst the flooded tree tops. Bliss. In September I’m going to Borneo to see the conservation projects run by the World Land Trust as my new role as a WLT ambassador (no jokes about fererro rocher chocs please, my boyfriend has done them all several times) and take a look at Orangutans for another book in the same series as the manatee one.

What prompted you to write Gaia Warriors? Is climate change an issue close to your heart?

Having just told you about my travel this year which gives me a carbon footprint the size of most of North America it seems a bit daft that I wrote a book on climate change. But I did, because it needed doing and because Walker Books asked me.

It was so upsetting so painful to write, to confront the terrifying possibilities and certainties of global climate change and in particular the ghastly prospects of mass extinction that we could face. I don’t want the world to be stripped of her diversity I literally cannot bear the idea. For two years after I wrote the book I don’t think I flew anywhere. But the work that I can do, my part of the big mosaic of solutions, is to make people aware of the value of nature and to do that best I have to travel. So my travel now is linked to work, to books to communicating and all of it offset by contributions to the WLT. I know it’s not perfect, but having thought and worried about it, that seems to me the best use of my time and talents.

The frustrating thing about climate change is that we could turn it round, it is possible, and it would create energy security for us, a lower impact economy and a fairer world. There really aren’t any negatives to attacking this problem with the ferocity of warriors in battle.

What are you working on at the moment?

My research in Dominica is for a book called Whale Boy for Random House. It’s set on an island…not quite Dominica but a bit like it, and is about….no can’t tell you yet. It’s dangerous to talk about a book before its cooked! I’ll be writing it madly when I get back. But I never work on just one thing at once…I’m also starting to hatch a book about pigeons also with Mark Hearld ( he LOVES pigeons), editing another  walker nature story about snakes and starting the research for a novel set in North America in the 19th century and another Walker nature story on bald eagles. There are a couple of other things cooking too….

Can we look forward to seeing you at any book-related events for children over the summer?

I have such a heavy writing schedule this year that it’s hard to fit anything else in apart from the research for it, but I’m doing an event at the Edinburgh Festival in August and then some work on community opera again in Scotland in October. I’d love to have done the Hay Festival this summer but at the time they asked me I was due to be in the US so couldn’t do it. Maybe next year.

I did a course in story telling last year and have been trying out my skills on audiences and schools. It’s so very close to what I do with live audiences anyway but I’ve loved extending the way I work with audiences and keen to do more in future. I’ve been adapting and re writing traditional selchie stories - I’ve always loved the idea of beings that can exist in sea and on land - and telling them. Ultimately I’d like to incorporate some songs into this too, as I love singing, but I’m working up to it.

Interview: Lynne Rickards

Lynne Rickards is a Canadian born children’s writer, now living in Scotland. Her books include Jack’s Bed, I Win! and the forthcoming Clementine’s Smile.

You grew up in Canada before moving to Scotland. Do you have any favourite Canadian children’s authors?

When I was little I loved Doctor Seuss and the poetry of AA Milne (neither one Canadian), but when I moved on to chapter books there was a writer I admired who actually came from my home town of Guelph! Her name was Jean Little and she wrote a story called Mine for Keeps about a little girl with cerebral palsy who gets a lovely terrier puppy. I was so jealous!

What led you into becoming a writer?

In school I was great at words and hopeless at numbers, so by the end of secondary I had dropped maths and sciences and was concentrating on languages, art and history. I remember one ancient history course in which we were expected to research and write an essay on a new subject every week! I also had an excellent English class, in which we wrote sonnets, metaphysical poems and comparative essays on Shakespeare’s plays. All this gave me a very good grounding in writing, and I have worked with words ever since. Before becoming a children’s writer I worked as a translator, proof-reader and editor.

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I have a soft spot for independent children’s bookshops, and try to visit those wherever I am. Last year I went to Books of Wonder in New York, and I hope to pop into Victoria Park Books next time I’m in London. I have also visited Seven Stories in Newcastle, which is a fantastic children’s literature centre, and I recently discovered that the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh is very similar. There are so many amazing places to enjoy children’s books!

Your book Pink! tackles the themes of acceptance and diversity.  I understand that this led to you being aware of the Day of Pink anti-bullying campaign in North America and setting up the Pink Project. Could you tell us a little more about this?

In the autumn of 2007, a teenage boy in Nova Scotia went to his first day of high school wearing a pink polo shirt. He was teased and taunted by some bullies, and when two older boys heard what had happened, they decided to take action. They bought 50 pink T-shirts and went online to ask all their friends to wear pink in solidarity. The next day, the whole school was a sea of pink! News of the event travelled around the world, and the two boys were held up as heroes. Since then, Pink Shirt Day and the Day of Pink have become annual events, and on 11 April over 8 million people wore pink to stand up against bullying and discrimination.

My book Pink! was published in 2008, purely by coincidence as I had not yet heard of the pink shirt event. It was soon drawn to my attention, and I am delighted to be able to join forces with this brilliant anti-bullying movement!  When I learned that a school in Vancouver was using my book to talk with children about diversity and tolerance, I decided to create a classroom resource for schools here in the UK. The Pink Project book bag was launched in 2009 and is now used in hundreds of primary schools and nurseries across the UK.


I’m sure many parents can relate to I Do Not Eat The Colour Green. Was this book inspired by any real life fussy eaters that you know?!

Just like me, my daughter was a fussy eater when she was young. She is much better now, and so am I, although we’re still a bit squeamish about certain foods. I have trouble with sea creatures like lobsters and crayfish because they look like giant insects with their claws and antennae! My daughter is not fond of fizzy drinks, which is actually a good thing. We are both much better about eating our greens now that we are grown up.

What’s been the strangest thing a child has said to you at one of your events for children?

When I read Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet in schools, I always ask what pets the children have at home. One boy told me he had a python! I have also been surprised (and very pleased) on several occasions when I’ve read Pink! to a group of parents and children. After the question-and-answer session, as everyone is gathering their things to go home, a parent will sidle up to me and say, “My son has always loved the colour pink. Thank-you for writing this book for him!”

I understand that you’ll be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August? Could you tell us a little more about what you’ll be doing there?

This summer at the Edinburgh Book Festival I’ll be reading my new book, Lewis Clowns Around. This is the story of a misfit puffin who longs to be something else. He hates eating fish and the waves make him seasick, so he decides he’d be much happier as a clown in the circus! The illustrator Gabby Grant has captured Lewis the puffin beautifully, and she is equally good at drawing balancing pandas, a highwire cat and flying monkeys! My event on 12 August will be my third appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and I feel very honoured to have been invited again. Hope you’ll come along!

Are you working on a new book at the moment? When can we expect to see it on the shelves of our local bookshop?

I have several books in the pipeline. In September 2012, HarperCollins will publish Clementine’s Smile, a rhyming story about a crocodile who has a sore tooth and has to visit the dentist. There is also a sequel to Lewis Clowns Around in the works, due to be published by Floris Books in the spring of 2013. This one is all about Lewis’s brother Harris, a puffin who is very happy living by the sea but who is a bit lonely now that Lewis has gone off to the circus. I am delighted that Gabby Grant will be illustrating this one as well. She will no doubt do a fantastic job with all the puffins, guillemots, eider ducks, dolphins, otters and grey seals!


Interview: Clara Vulliamy


Clara Vulliamy is the author of numerous books including the Martha and the Bunny Brothers series and the Muffin books. With her love of art and all things creative, Clara’s website is packed with bright, sunny pictures and crafty ideas. Clara chatted to Book Events for Children about her upcoming festival appearance and plans for her new book.

How did you make the move from working as an illustrator on magazines & newspapers to having your first book published?

It was great fun being an editorial illustrator, responding quickly to a news report or drawing something to accompany an article. I also collaborated with Mark Haddon on a weekly cartoon for The Guardian’s Women’s page. But with picture books all around me and in my DNA (with Shirley Hughes as my Mum), it wasn’t long before I was drawn into a life-long love of writing and illustrating books of my own.  I had my first book published when my son was just a few months old, so it all seemed to fit together with family life and interests.

You’ve written and illustrated many children’s books during your career. If you really had to  choose a favourite book which you have written, which one would it be?

Tricky… it would probably be the first in the Martha and the Bunny Brothers series, I Heart School, because I put so much of myself into the character of Martha, and the playful design of the book was really exhilarating, and because it made me laugh.
But in another way my favourite book is always the next one, the inviting blank piece of paper on my desk, the sharpened pencil, the thought that anything is possible all over again…

Your website features crafty ideas and fun things to make and do.  Is this something you enjoyed doing with your own children?

Oh yes, definitely! I’m a huge fan of encouraging children’s creativity through arts and crafts, in their own home with peace and quiet to let their imagination blossom. It carries on, too. My nearly grown-up children are very arty: my son makes beautiful sculptures from stone and metal, and at this very moment my daughter is building a papier-mache lion’s head onto a bicycle helmet for some school event or other.

We understand that at the moment you’re working on a project with Playing By the Book to encourage children to tell stories of their own. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I knew Zoe at Playing by the Book was planning a celebratory round-up of children’s books each month on a particular theme. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to use the theme as an inspiration for children to write and illustrate their own stories. Zoe worked out an ingenious way to present two downloadable mini-books: one with my story prompts and drawings, and the other one blank. I gather the first one about elves and fairies was a huge success, with lots of young author-illustrators producing great stuff. I’d better watch out: they’ll be competition for me before too long!

Have you any idea what you would have done if you weren’t a children’s author or illustrator?

Alas, there’s nothing else I CAN do. Have a tea-shop by the sea perhaps, or make hats…

Where is your favourite place to go and enjoy reading a book?

On a slow train, going nowhere in particular. I do my best dreaming-up-stories that way too.

Where do you find inspiration when you’re writing a book?

It’s like a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel and a mind of it’s own. In it I might put some memories of childhood, or from when my own children were small; a book I have loved; something I’ve glimpsed or a snatch of conversation overheard; an inspiring object (an old toy, or little pair of shoes maybe)… but in the end it comes from a small patch of blue sky overhead. A mystery!

I always tell aspiring writers that for me it all starts with character: the look, the personality, the name of the star at the centre of your story. When that’s all very developed and familiar you find they start suggesting stories of their own.

As a child, which books did you enjoy reading?

Winnie the Pooh, Babar, Milly-Molly-Mandy, Tintin, The Borrowers, Dickens, the back of a cereal packet – anything and everything I could lay my hands on.

You seem to really enjoy appearing at book-related events (you were recently part of the Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration in Oxford, I believe). Will you be appearing at any more book events in the coming months?

I absolutely love doing book events, and putting on workshops. At Blackwells the children made pink and white felt bunny ears to wear – they looked so sweet! I really enjoy sourcing fantastic materials, and find the very best buttons and ribbons and fabrics for them to use: only the best is good enough, I always say. It’s very special to draw pictures for this young audience, too, and explain what I’m doing: these are ideas they can take away and use themselves.

As part of The Pop-Up Festival of Stories in Kings Cross Central on Sunday July 1st I’ll be spending all day with the children who drop in making a huge collaborative piece of artwork for a pop-up picture gallery, as well as doing an illustrated talk of my own. I think it’s going to be amazing.

When can we expect a new Clara Vulliamy book to hit the shelves?

This June sees the paperback edition of Muffin and the Expedition. It’s a story for the very young, all about a little brown bear going on a big adventure – in reality probably as far as the end of the garden – and finding out that the important thing is where your friends are. I will never tire of books about bears!




Five of the best Diamond Jubilee events….

The sun’s shining (well, hopefully it will be soon), school’s almost out and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is just around the corner. Here are Book Events for Children’s pick of five of the Jubilee events across the country. Bunting and union jack flags are optional…

Storybook Saturday at Storytellers, Inc in Lancashire. Come along and listen to Nicholas Allan’s The Queen’s Knickers being read every hour on the hour. Make your own Jubilee knickers to decorate the window display  (Sat 2nd June.) Read more….

Author James Mayhew will be taking part in the Diamond Jubilee Festival in Battersea Park. You will find James in the story garden at 3.15, where he’ll be retelling English folk tales with the help of his upside-down illustrations (Sun 3rd June).

Jubilee celebrations aplenty at Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester. As part of the Black Jack Street Party, events will include a book-signing with Muscovy Mansion author Helen Kendall Smith and  a visit from Winstone Ice-Cream’s Ben Vear (Mon 4th June). Find out more…

Seven Stories in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and all things regal with royal story times. Dress as a King or Queen and make crafts perfect for your palace (Tue 5th June).  More details ….

Just Imagine Story Centre in Chelmsford will be hosting a ‘Queen of Hearts Tea Party’ in honour of the royal celebration.  Book in advance for an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party, complete with jam tarts (Wed 6th June) . More info….

Interview: Storytellers, Inc.

Storytellers, Inc. is an independent children’s bookshop based in Lytham St. Anne’s in Lancashire. Run by mother and daughter team, Carolyn and Katie Clapham, it has gone from strength to strength in the eighteen months in which it has been open. Carolyn took time our from preparing for a busy Jubilee weekend to chat to Book Events for Children.

Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you set up Storytellers, Inc?

Katie is the one with literary knowledge and passion for creative writing.  She studied at Royal Holloway University of London and now has a BA in English Literature & Creative Writing and an MA in Poetic Practice.  While doing her MA, Katie also worked as a Production Editor for a medical journal in London, so saw the industry side of publishing rather than the creative one.  The experience, although very practical and financially useful, it left her with a desire for the creative and less interest in a 9 to 5 office life. After taking a complete break for 3 months and living in the tiniest cottage imaginable on the Isle of Skye (in the depths of a Scottish winter) she returned to the family home in St Annes-on Sea in Lancashire to consider her next steps.

Meanwhile, I (Carolyn) had recently taken voluntary redundancy after 22 years in IT management and was also looking for my next challenge.

Probably the biggest positive influence on the decision to start a business together is our amazing relationship.  A  mother and daughter partnership can be a challenge, but we  know that our skills complement each other perfectly to bring the right balance of practicality, business sense, creativity and the desire to create something worthwhile.

Katie’s love of books, particularly for children and young people, and my secret ambition to have a shop started the whole ball rolling, and that ball rolled pretty quickly! From the first concepts in May 2010, the premises were leased in October and Storytellers, Inc. opened its doors on 1st December 2010.

We set very clear objectives about what we wanted the shop to be and most definitely what we did not want it to be.  Quality and range of the book stock and any other merchandise was critical; this was not going to be a discounted enterprise with shelves packed full of endless TV spin-offs.  Finding the right name and branding (down to our logos, font, colour scheme and even our furniture) was a real labour of love.


Carolyn and Katie, you run Storytellers, Inc. as a mother and daughter team.  Katie recently won the Sue Butterworth Young Bookseller of the Year Award at the Bookseller Industry Awards and the bookshop was shortlisted in the Children’s Independent Bookshop of the Year category. Was that a very proud moment for you both?

It has been amazing.  We entered the two award categories really as a trial run being so new to the business, but when we read the entry criteria, we knew we had plenty to talk about.  We were thrilled when we found out in April that we had been shortlisted in both categories and I guess we were pretty much satisfied with that as our first effort.  We had major dilemmas about whether to go to the award ceremony, but in the end Katie went along, and it is just as well she did!  We can now aspire to winning the Children’s Bookshop award in another year.  It has been such a reassurance that we are doing something right and that this has that has been recognised by experts in the industry.  It has been fabulous spreading the news locally with our friends, family and customers who have been so generous with the good wishes, cards and flowers.


How easy is it to work so closely together? Do you focus on different areas of the business?

We do know that we are very lucky and it is great to be able to work together so well.  Katie is the creative brain behind the whole venture and she is the face of Storytellers, Inc. in schools and through our various workshops and book clubs.  I have brought my business experience to manage the suppliers and the finances and all the day-to-day practicalities of running a shop.  But we both still love the days where we get to read stories, draw, cut out and stick things and we have been known to have the odd party for birthdays, Halloween etc.

We understand that you hold a lot of book activities for children at Storytellers, Inc, ranging from book clubs for teenagers to a baby-led weaning workshop. Could you tell us a little more about some of your upcoming events?

We currently run monthly book clubs for two junior age groups and are now developing teen groups with the possibility of even an adult group after several requests.  Our most recent regular event is our Storybook Saturday which is on the first Saturday of the month and includes story reading throughout the day, crafts and a discount price for the selected picture book.  Last month we read Julia Donaldson’s The Singing Mermaid and made an 8 foot tall mermaid collage – the children decorated the scales for her giant tail. On Saturday 2nd June, Storybook Saturday presents “The Queen’s Knickers” and our craft activity will consist of decorating paper knickers to make our Jubilee bunting! We run regular storytimes four days a week and have a schedule of creative writing workshops in school holidays. Our next author event in schools will be with Debi Gliori and we’re going to do our first author event actually in the shop with an afterschool signing session with Debi on the same day. It should be great fun!

What are your best-selling children’s and YA books?

Without doubt our best- selling books are the lovely Ottoline series by Chris Riddell.

The best-selling YA books we have had have been the Department 19 vampire hunting adventures by Will Hill and books we’ve done author events with like Mary Hooper and Andy Robb.


Could you tell us your own favourite books from your childhood?

Well as a 50 something my childhood was mainly Enid Blyton with The Faraway Tree series probably being my favourite.  And of course there were Ladybird Books – lots of them – and my favourite was The Wise Robin, a lovely Christmas story.

Katie was an avid reader and some of her all time favourites were Terry Jones’ Fantastic Stories and Fairy tales and every Roald Dahl that there was.  She was also insistent that we stocked Jerry Spinelli, Joan Aiken, Melvin Burgess and Robert Cormier.

Have you had to deal with any unusual book queries?

Regularly , but one request we get from the same person over and over again are for psychic phenomenon books for children!  Of course there are the usual “it has a red cover with a picture of a dog, I loved it when I was a child but can’t remember what it was called or who it was by” kind of thing that I am sure every bookseller in the land has to deal with.

Have you had any memorable events with children’s authors?

Our most recent and definitely most amusing was with new teens author Andy Robb, promoting his book Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind. We had been at a school in the morning and it was lunchtime so we were having a sandwich at the shop.  A 60+ lady came in to collect a book she had ordered, so Andy took the opportunity to launch himself at this poor unsuspecting lady and announce that he was an author and this was his new book (thrusting said book at lady), would she like to buy it for some, as yet, unknown teenage member of her family!  He very quickly established that the lady did in fact have a teenage grandson called Oliver and no sooner was the name uttered from her lips, than the book was dedicated to Oliver and signed with a flourish.  The lady, somewhat overwhelmed, agreed with a smile to purchase the book.  Andy’s school visits were funny and witty, thoroughly enjoyed by all and backed up by lots of sales so it was happy author, happy publicist, happy bookseller and a funny anecdote to share.


What do you find most rewarding about running a bookshop? And the most frustrating?!

Most rewarding, lots of people coming over and over again to our events and having a great time.

Most frustrating having a gorgeous shop with gorgeous books on days when we have customers in single figures!  It makes you wonder what you are doing wrong and what more can you do.

Interview: James Mayhew

James Mayhew is the author behind the Katie books which introduce children to art at a young age. He has also brought the world of ballet to life through his Ella Bella books.

James is in the midst of a busy summer, being involved in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant as well as collaborating in an exciting new venture with The Orchestra of the Music Makers and appearing at various festivals, including Hay Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival and the Pop-Up Festival.

As the author of the Katie series, which introduce children to art and the Ella Bella books which explore the world of ballet, you obviously have a passion for sharing the arts with children. Were you introduced to art, theatre and music at a young age?

It is a mission of mine to create books with a purpose, but which are fun too. I want to share the things in life that give me pleasure, and I meet so many adults unsure about how to enjoy art and music. If children grow up enjoying art and have that sense of ownership that familiarity brings, that’s a good thing. I grew up in a tiny Suffolk village so theatre and galleries were not available. But I loved looking at famous paintings in books, and my parents had a few classical records – Peter and the Wolf, William Tell, Peer Gynt… the usual things. And I loved how music could tell a story!

Are you looking forward to being involved in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant this summer? What will you be doing on the day?

Yes, very much! I love big community celebrations like this, it’s wonderful to be joyeous and optimistic. And I’ve always been interested in the Festival of Britain from a design point of view. I think the Battersea Park celebration and the Flotilla on the Thames will recapture some of that excitement. So I’m proud to be a tiny part of it. I’ll be telling patriotic stories and illustrating them upside down!

We understand that you will be performing with The Orchestra of the Music Makers from Singapore this summer, appearing at both the Cheltenham and Lichfield music festivals. Can you tell us a little more about this exciting project and how it came about?

It is a HUGE honour to be working with the superb Orchestra of the Music Makers. There will be over 100 players and this will be part of their European debut. They are performing one of my favourite pieces: Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. I will be retelling fabulous stories from the Arabian Nights and then creating live illustrations as they play the music!

For several years now I have been working with an orchestra local to me (the de Havilland Philharmonic), and this came about through some storytellings – I retold The Firebird, and illustrated it in front of an audience, and the organizers suggested I add the music by Stravinsky. Contacts were made with this orchestra, who had been considering a family or educational concert. So we took a risk and tried the mix.

I stand on stage – where a soloist would – and paint at an easel. This is filmed in real time and projected onto a big screen for all to see.

It takes a huge amount of research and rehearsal to tally the stories and paintings with the music. One of the things I love is finding out what stories are behind the music. It is important to me to be true to the composers’ intentions. I think it’s pretty unique and I’m very excited to be taking it further afield to Cheltenham and Lichfield.

You seem to have a busy few months ahead of you, with the music festivals and the Jubilee Pageant. Do you have any other children’s events coming up in the next few months?

Yes, I will be at the Hay Festival on June 2nd and I am taking part in the Pop Up Festival, near Kings Cross on July 1st. Then in August I’ll be at the Edinburgh Book Festival and also the National Gallery of Scotland, telling stories and illustrating them…

Can we look forward to any more Katie and Ella Bella books in the near future? Or are you working on any new books..?

Definitely! Katie & the Starry Night will be published in August, and there will be events in the autumn at the National Gallery in London to celebrate this. Then nearer Christmas, Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker will be published, and launched with a children’s concert in Hatfield, on November 4th, with the magical mix of Hoffmann’s stories, Tchaikovsky’s music and live illustration again…

When you’re not busy working, do you have a favourite bookshop you like to visit?

We have an excellent local bookshop, Davids, in Letchworth Garden City. I also have a fondness for Heffers in Cambridge – it’s where I met my wife!

What’s the funniest thing a child has said to you during one of your book-related events for children?

Just the other day I was drawing a dinosaur scene for some children. One boy asked me to add an “interrupting volcano” to the picture, which tickled me! Obviously I obliged!

If you had to choose one children’s book which has meant something to you, which book would you choose? (Not one of your own!)

It would probably have to be a Moomin book by Tove Jansson. I’d choose Moominland Midwinter, my favourite in the series. Haunting, melancholy, yet funny and beautifully written, it also has superbly atmospheric drawings by Jansson. She was undoubtedly a genius!

Interview: The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Bank CD CoverEver been to see a band in a bookshop?

This intriguing idea evolved through a collaboration between Ben Please (and his fellow musicians Poppy Pitt and Beth Porter) and Nic Bottomley, the owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

As their name The Bookshop Band implies, the band appear at the bookshop, providing a musical accompaniment to author events. The band have gone from strength to strength, with the recent release of their CD and an upcoming tour of independent book shops and literary festivals.

Ben from The Bookshop Band took time out from preparing for their tour to chat to Book Events for Children. 

How did you come to be involved with Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights?

I’d been in another band, called Urusen, for a number of years and we’d released an album called One Day In June, that was bound like a book. I went into Mr B’s, which was my local bookshop, and asked if they would be interested in stocking it. They listened, and liked, and asked us to come in and play sometime. We booked a little show, sold out, booked another for the following night, and we’ve been friends ever since!

How did the idea for a Bookshop Band come about? Are you one of a kind?!

Nic Bottomley, the owner of the bookshop, asked me if I wanted to come in and play at the shop’s new series of author evenings. They didn’t want them to be normal ‘author evenings’ where an author might just read something from their book and answer a few questions. Instead they gave the evening a theme, of which the author formed a part, but which also included themed food and drink… and themed music. The first season was called Travels from your armchair, and each night was based on a different part of the world; Russia, Greece, Central Europe, Japan and then Brazil. Nic asked if I could put together a little group of musicians to play a cover song relating to the theme, to start the evening off. I could have said yes, but I’m awful at doing covers, so I just said I’d write a song instead.

As I walked out of the shop I realised how silly and unworkable this was, so I immediately phoned up two other local musicians who I had recently become friends with. One was a songwriter called Poppy Pitt. Just the previous month we’d had a lock-in in a public house and we had agreed not to leave until we had written and recorded a whole album. And we did, well, nine songs. Poppy is amazing like that. If you play a guitar idea to her for four minutes, she will have written a beautiful and insightful four minute song by the end of it! She had to be on the team, I thought.

Then there was Beth Porter. Beth is a cellist who, if you ask her to play or sing over some music, will do so in a such an easy and musical way. She’s one of these people that naturally create music that is wonderful to stop and listen to. She’s also a great songwriter and singer as well, so she had to be on the team too.  Luckily they both said “yes”.

We went straight into the season of events, and over the course of two months we wrote two songs for each of the five nights. Instead of responding to the actual book, we chose instead folk stories from each of the theme countries. We didn’t have very long to write the songs, most were done in half a day, so there wasn’t time to read the books properly. For the first few events we didn’t have a name. The In-house Band, or once I think we even went crazy with “The Lost Art Of The Mix Tape”. But by about the third event we unanimously decided to call ourselves The Bookshop Band, because that is what we were.

After the first season Nic asked us if we’d like to do another. After saying yes, we decided to go for it, all read the book well in advance, and write the songs directly in response to the books.

Stories have inspired songs for millennia, so we’re not unique in that way. And there are some songs out there that have been inspired by books, but I think we’re the only dedicated bookshop band. However, I think there are enough wonderful books out there, these concentrated packets of inspiration, to keep us all going for many countless lifetimes, so I don’t see it as a constraint at all!

Have you created songs for any children’s events at Mr B’s or elsewhere?

The only children’s author we’ve written songs for during a Mr B’s event was Patrick Ness, who is known as a teen fiction author. His book, A Monster Calls, is completely spellbinding, and has the most fantastic illustrations.  We also wrote a fun song last week called Twinkle Park, about playing a game called “Hop and Jump” in a park that is really called ‘Twinkle Park’, in Deptford, London.

What was your favourite children’s book when you were a child?

This is slightly cheating, but my favorite book when I was growing up was actually a recording of Peter and the Wolf on vinyl, which is a story told not only through words, but also made all the more vivid by it’s wonderfully evocative music. Both the words and music were written by Sergei Prokofiev, and has probably had some kind of impact on what I imagine a story to be. My father is a great storyteller too, and I enjoyed him telling me stories.

If you could write a song for any children’s book, which book would you choose?

Two other children’s books I remember fondly from when I was little were The Fisherman and His Wife, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, which is a story about a fisherman who is granted a wish or two for saving the life of a fish, who he puts back in the sea. The other is the story of Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf, the tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than chase matadors. Both books had beautiful illustrations and would be very inspiring.

Which is your biggest love, books or music?

This is an impossible question really. I love a good story, and you can find those in all sorts of places, in books, in music, from your friends, from places around you. That’s the important thing. I also like anything that can stir a good emotional response, and both good books and good music can do that.

What does the future hold for The Bookshop Band

We have just finished recording all the songs from the first four seasons of events from last year. These will all be ready in June, and we’ve made a nice box to put them all in. Our ‘Complete Works – Year One’. ( We’ve also decided to go exploring the UK and play some of these songs in other bookshops. It was something we all wanted to do, and it felt like the perfect way to round off the year’s work. You can see our tour dates here:

As for the future, since recording the last four albums we’ve already finished season five at Mr Bs, so there is another one to record if we ever get the chance. There’s a lot more bookshops and literary festivals in the UK to play at, let alone the rest of the world. And we think it’d be a wonderful way to see it.

Poppy has also been desperate to write a whole album specifically based on children’s books, so one day, we’ll definitely do that too.


Author Interview: Caroline Green

‘Book Events for Children’ is delighted that author Caroline Green has risen to the challenge of answering our probing questions this week.

In her past life Caroline worked as a journalist, before publishing her first novel Dark Ride, which won the Romantic Novelist’s Association‘s Young Adult award earlier this year. Her second novel Cracks is published this month and Caroline is currently working on ideas for her next books for children and young adults.
Cracks by Caroline Green
Who or what first inspired you to take up writing?

I’ve written stories since I was a little girl. I had a teacher called Mr Eric Hyde when I was in the final year of primary school and he was a real inspiration. He encouraged us to write exciting serials and to be as imaginative as we could with language. When I first got published I tried to track him down but discovered that he had sadly passed away some years before. I would love to have been able to tell him how much he influenced me.

Who was your favourite author as a child?

I devoured pretty much every Enid Blyton book going and was a particular fan of the ones set in boarding schools. I longed to go to one myself and have midnights feasts in a dormitory. My favourite book, though, was The Didakoi by Rumer Godden.

Can you tell us how you came to get your first book (Dark Ride) published? Was it a long process?

Oh yes, it certainly was! I sent an earlier version of the book out to loads of agents but even though quite a few showed interest, none ultimately wanted to sign me. I got very despondent about it all and was close to giving up on the book but as a last ditch attempt, I decided to submit it directly to a publisher, just to see what would happen. Anne Clark, the Senior Commissioning Editor at Piccadilly Press took a chance and rescued me from the slushpile, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Dark Ride won the ‘Romantic Novelists Association Young Adult Novel of the Year 2012’. Did this open up new opportunities for you?

It provided wonderful publicity for the book and I am so grateful to the RNA and their members for the award. It was the first time they’d had a Young Adult category, which made it particularly special.

Your new YA novel, Cracks is now available. How did you come up with the idea for the story?

I literally found myself imagining the walls crumbling and cracking around me when I was having a shower one morning. Then I started wondering what it would be like if you were the only person who could see this, which is what happens to my character Cal. (Yes, I do think about very strange things sometimes! My family tell me so all the time).

Are you working on a new book at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about it?

I’m working on the concept for my third book for Piccadilly Press but it’s all a bit too vague to pin down yet. I have also written a book for younger children about a boy who swaps bodies with his dog, which is out with some other publishers at the moment. So I’m crossing my fingers for that one.

Can we look forward to seeing you at any book events in the coming months?

I hope so! I enjoy book events very much as it’s an opportunity to meet like-minded people, who love reading as much as I do. I’m visiting some schools in the coming months and also appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, which is very exciting.

What piece of advice would you give to budding children’s authors?

Just don’t give up. Often when you reach the point where it feels the most unbearable, and where you think you can’t withstand another knock, that’s when you are closest to the goal. And don’t believe that submitting to an agent is the only way to get published.

Where is your favourite ‘quiet place’ to enjoy a book?

The bath, definitely. Although I have yet to learn how to gauge the temperature correctly and always come out looking like a lobster that has just run the marathon.

Is there a character in a children’s book with whom you identify and did you ever wish to be a character in a book when you were a child?

See above! I wanted to be one of the confident boarding school girls from Enid Blyton books.  At the moment I’d quite like to be Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. Okay, so there is the whole trying-not-to-be-killed problem, but I think she is one of the best fictional heroines around.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Buckinghamshire

Tucked away in the heart of Great Missenden - the home of author Roald Dahl for over 36 years - is the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. I recently took my three young children for a visit and I’d be hard pushed to say who enjoyed it more, them or I. Consisting of three main rooms (plus Miss Honey’s classroom which was used for various storytelling activities during our visit), the museum, whilst not huge, kept us entertained for hours and we only left when forced to, due to the museum closing.

The Boy Gallery explores Roald Dahl’s childhood and combines enough information to satisfy adults (Roald’s childhood letters home from boarding school, details of his relationship with his Norwegian mother) and interactive displays for children; my three enjoyed dressing up in a school uniform similar to the one worn by Roald at Repton.

A huge attraction of the museum is that the contents of Roald Dahl’s writing hut have now been rehoused in the Solo Gallery, with great attention to detail, all explained in an informative guide.  Dahl surrounded himself with interesting objects and we were able to ogle at a jar of bone shavings (from his backbone!), a part of his hip bone (removed during surgery) and a carved grasshopper sent to him by a long-jumper. The children dressed up as Roald Dahl during his stint as a fighter pilot and answered the quiz in the cockpit of the plane and we all loved measuring ourselves against the wall chart to see which character would have been our equal. My daughter was delighted to be matched against Matilda whilst I was less thrilled to be on a par with the evil Trunchbull!

When we entered the museum the children were each given a ‘Story Ideas Book’ with activities and they used it to create a photo-fit character in the Story Centre. In this room the children were encouraged to get creative; they could make a stop-frame animation film, create their own popp-fizzling word and write a poem on the fridge, as well as listening to other authors talk about their inspiration for writing and their love of books.

Bogtrotter cakeAfter a well-deserved break at Cafe Twit, where we indulged in Bogtrotter chocolate cake (cue photo of children with face buried in the cake) and Miss Honey’s lemon cake, we listened to the animated storytellers bring Revolting Rhymes to life.

As well as visiting the museum we also followed Roald Dahl’s Village Trail around Great Missenden, seeing the Post Office where up to 4000 letters a week used to arrive for Roald Dahl. The highlight of the trail had to be a visit to Great Missenden library, visited by Matilda every afternoon while her mum was playing bingo in nearby Aylesbury. I think my children half expected to find her curled up in one of the chairs when we went in!

There is also a longer Roald Dahl Countryside Trail which explores the countryside around Great Missenden and the woods which inspired Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny the Champion of the World.

Whist wandering around the museum, it made me smile that the magic of Roald Dahl’s characters appealed to the visiting parents as much as their children, as many of us will have grown up enjoying Matilda, The Witches etc, and we’re now relishing sharing the stories with our own children.  Indeed, as Roald Dahl himself said “A little magic can take you a long way.”




Author Interview: Sarah Mussi

We’d like to introduce a new feature on the Book Events for Children website. We’re going to feature regular interviews with people connected with the the children’s book industry. These features will include contributions from children’s and YA authors, illustrators, publishers, bookshops, literary festivals, theatre companies who are adapting children’s books into plays, libraries etc.

There’s so much going on in the world of children’s literature, we thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about the people involved in bringing the world of books to children.

To kick off our new feature, I’m delighted to introduce Sarah Mussi.

Sarah is an author of YA and children’s fiction. Her first novel, The Door of No Return won the Glen Dimplex Children’s Book of the Year award in 2007 and was also shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. The story follows London schoolboy Zac, who travels to Ghana following the murder of his grandfather, in an attempt to unearth the truth behind his grandfather’s obsession with their family history. Sarah spent over eighteen years living in Ghana and still visits regularly during her holidays as a school teacher in London.

Sarah’s second novel The Last of the Warrior Kings was shortlisted for the Lewisham Book Award.

Sarah’s next book Angel Dust will be published in August 2012 and she is currently working on another title, to be published in 2014.

Sarah is the current Chair of  ’Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London‘, an organisation set up to promote children’s books and their authors and illustrators. She kindly took time to answer some questions about her writing and her inspirations…

1. What inspired you to sit down and write your first novel?

Ever since I could hold a pencil I wanted to write a book. Sadly I didn’t know (at that age) how to read or write - but I did know about books. My father was a writer and he had libraries of them! In fact the whole front room was lined with book shelves. Names like George Elliot and Thomas Hardy (in gold lettering on well-worn cloth spines) gleamed down at me from positions high above my head.  My mother would laugh and point at them and whisper ‘The Gods!’ at me. So in my early childhood I learned that writers were Gods and I longed to become one.

My enthusiasm to become immortal only grew as I did. When I was dragged along to meet such great names as F R Leavis and Edward Thomas (all part of my father’s research) I started to cement a plan: one day I would join that hallowed circle and my name would shine from a book spine and I would be heaven!

 2. What was your favourite book when you were a child and what did you most like about it?

I loved all books as a child and the first one I ever read completely on my own – I was just turned nine - was  The Call of the Wild and White Fang a double volume  by Jack London, but the first one that was read to me was Jane Eyre (my father was very old-school and thought Enid and the Five were not ‘real’ literature – obvs that made me devour them the more!) . But I think the one I loved the most was The Midnight Folk by John Masefield – it was full of witches and secrecy and evil plots and pirates and talking animals – divine!

3. How do you juggle working as a teacher and finding time to write your novels?

Someone once told me (it was Michael Rosen who I met after being shortlisted for the BBC Worldwide Children’s Talent Fiction Award – a day spent at the BBC with Michael and Jaqueline Wilson was part of the prize -) anyway, he told me – very wisely ‘If you want to be a writer you must understand there is only ever twenty four hours in a day.’ This truism struck home. And I learned you can either work within this constraint or live in a future world where there are possibly more hours in the day, or your time is less in demand for other things. I chose the former. There are only 24 hours to earn your keep, do the shopping, cook the meals, make the phone calls, go on twitter, have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, face your troubles – you get the picture – you just have  to add ‘write the book’  into the equation and be a bit disciplined about all the spare minutes you waste and learn to multi task!  Not too much – eh?

4. What was your inspiration when creating the character of Zac in Door of No Return?

Zac is dedicated  to all the youngsters I’ve met at home and away: keen, clever, funny, smart, but sort-of-sad and dislocated from their roots too. For Zac and Max (in The Last of the Warrior Kings) the journey to find their own histories – both of their families and their cultures - is a journey I hope all young people (the Diaspora and those who can enter empathetically into their shoes) can make; if not in geography at least through the pages of story.

 5. I understand that you have spent a lot of time living in Ghana. What aspects of the country did you want to share with your YA readers in Door of No Return?

Ghana is a wonderful country full of a history rarely told in western curriculum. I wanted to make some of that history come alive.  For Ghana is more than the history of Empire and colonisation and the horrific slave trade (although there really are slave forts on every headland). It is a country full of the most amazing flora and fauna and natural beauty; it is a country full of friendly people with powerful cultures and traditions and fantastic food too! It is a country full of chocolate and gold and has the biggest man made lake in the world ever. I wanted to bring all of these things alive in The Door of No Return so that the reader might feel they were actually there and discover its delights along with Zac.

6. Your next novel Angel Dust will be published in August 2012. Could you give us a brief overview of the plot and the age range of readers who would most enjoy it.

ANGEL DUST is the story of Serafina, one of God’s brightest and best angels, who falls in love and in trouble when she is sent to collect the soul of a mortal, a gangsta, Marcus Montague. Her fall from heaven and from grace in her determination to save his soul from hell is a tragic metaphor for forbidden love which ‘rips you from on high and leaves you vulnerable, cast down and powerless.’ The story is dedicated to all the teenagers and young adults who are caught, or have been caught, in the grips of first love and know its strength, its passion and its pain. ANGEL DUST is for those readers who have been changed totally by their understanding of love and have willingly undergone that metamorphosis of the self. For them Serafina’s journey proves the age old adage: ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ – whatever the cost, the loss, the hurt even if the ‘omnia’ is only, finally, the power to sacrifice the self for love.

7. Who is your favourite author, writing for children and young adults at the moment?

Oh gosh what a difficult question!  There are so many writers writing such terrific stuff for young people today. I absolutely LOVE all of it. I especially love the BARTIMAEUS books, THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy; I ADORE all the vampire romances and edgy books like WHEN I WAS JOE but I guess I’ve never read a book to beat HOLES by Louis Sachar

 8. Do you have plans to attend any book-related events, literary festivals etc in the near future?

I just love book events. I’m currently the Chair of CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London). We organise through the year events, workshops, fairs and talks (check us out on I’ll also be delivering a mini course and lecture at Winchester Writers’ Conference this summer .

9. Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I support the Lambeth libraries and often appear there to run a chatterbooks session or as part of their Fusion Festival or for openings or talks - and Under the Greenwood Tree in Clapham is my favourite bookshop ever.

10. If you were giving a book as a present to a child today, which book would you choose and why?

If they were a toddler I’d give them Nicholas Allan’s FATHER CHRISTMAS NEEDS A PEE because it is so hilariously funny.

If they were a middle grade reader I’d give them RIFT by Beverley Birch. As well as being my editor, muse and friend; Beverley has, in this novel, captured the heart of the continent, Africa, that I love so much.

If they were a YA reader I’d give them ANGEL DUST – of course!

If you’re involved in the book industry and would like to be involved in this feature, please email us at

The Luton Hoo Walled Garden Children’s Book Festival

Luton Hoo Walled Garden Children’s Book Festival: Sunday 20th May, 10am-5pm. 

Whilst I don’t usually write about individual book festivals (due to the sheer volume of excellent events out there), this festival grabbed my attention. In these challenging financial times, with libraries closing and funding cuts to the arts, it’s fantastic to see the launch of a new Book Festival for Children. The setting of this inaugural festival caught my eye as it will be in the Capability Brown designed Luton Hoo Walled Garden. The theme of the event - celebrating the 100th anniversary of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden - seems ideally suited to its picturesque setting ( and moreover, the book was one of my favourites as a child.)

The event will feature author talks (including How To Train Your Dragon  award-winning author Cressida Cowell, Vampirates author Justin Somper and the ever-popular Kes Gray.) There will also be an Illustrators Tent with illustrators such as Nick Schon, (who will be familiar to many parents one of the illustrators of the Oxford Reading Tree, used in 80% of UK Primary schools). Also appearing will be Do Igloos Have Loos illustrator Nigel Baines, Julia Rigby and Nicholas Halliday.

In the Awesome Action-Packed Tent will be fairy fun with Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest interactive adventures. Storytellers from The Roald Dahl Museum will be entertaining the crowds with scrumbunctious storytelling and Letterbox Library will be celebrating equality and diversity in children’s books.

It is recommended that you buy tickets in advance (Entrance £5 (under 5s free) plus £2 authors talks). Both Entrance and Author Event Tickets are available from WH Smiths in Harpenden and St Albans, the Luton Central Library
and online at Advance booking for authors talks is recommended. Only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

Bookstart 20

Happy birthday Bookstart!As parents, we’re probably familiar with Booktrust, the charity responsible for the Bookstart initiative, giving away free books to pre-schoolers, with the aim of encouraging parents to read with their children. It’s often an exciting day for pre-schoolers when they come home from nursery with their Bookstart activity pack, full of books to read & activities to do.

To celebrate 20 years of Bookstart, Bookstrust are inviting people to sign up to a simple pledge: to share 20 books in 2012. How you do this is entirely up to you  and Booktrust offers a few suggestions on their website

  • reading picture books with your own children or other members of your family at bedtime or at anytime!
  • reading to a group of children in a school or a library
  • joining a reading group
  • recommending books to your friends
  • posting a book review on a website.
Bookstart has currently received over 2500 pledges and is a quarter of the way to reaching its target of 10,000 pledges.  People are encouraged to pledge both in order to share the simple joy of reading with children and also to support the work of Bookstart and ensure its future for generations of book-loving children to come.
Among the 2500 people to sign up so far are many famous names from the world of children’s writing, including Michael Rosen, Nick Sharratt and Philip Pullman.
Making your pledge is easy, simply follow this link to the Booktrust website and enter your details….

Author Events; Why Bother?

so_you_want_to_be_a_wizardSince setting up ‘Book Events for Children’, I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of book-related events for children that are taking place across the country; from one-off events at local bookshops to high-profile literary festivals. Why are we - and more importantly, our children - so keen  on meeting and interacting with our favourite authors?

I’ve yet to attend an author event where the author didn’t capture and hold the rapt attention of their audience. Of the three excellent author events my children have attended recently - with Wes Magee, Emma Barnes & Emily Diamand - it has been the personal insight into the authors’ lives that has really caught their imagination. They loved hearing that Emma Barnes began creating stories to entertain her little sister whilst walking the dog and that Emily Diamand’s childhood involved digging ponds in her back garden and wanting to save the environment. Listening to authors discuss the inspiration for their writing and describing their own childhoods has made the authors seem more real and three-dimensional to my children. When they pick up Emma Barnes’ ‘How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good‘ to read, they’re likely to mention an anecdote that Emma told them in the writing workshop. No longer is the author just a name on the cover of a book.

As well as feeling a personal connection to the authors they’ve met, children become more aware of the whole creative process of writing a book through these encounters.  In a writing workshop, children will be encouraged to explore characterisation, plot, imagery and even the cover design of their future book. The fact that my son returned from Emily Diamond’s workshop and HAD to write all his ideas down as he couldn’t keep them all in his head, is surely a testament to her skill in nurturing his creativity.

As parents, it’s our role to build upon the interest our children show in books,both through reading and encouraging them to write themselves. The importance that children themselves place upon reading and writing has been shown recently through the overwhelming response to to the ‘500 WORDS’ writing competition on Radio 2 and the popularity of the Red House Children’s Book Award (the only national book award that is entirely voted for by children.)

I think it’s amazing that in a world with so much entertainment on offer to children, they remain enthused and passionate about the books they love to read and the inspiring people who create them.




Event type: Uncategorized

York Children’s Book Award

York Explore EntranceAs well as being the year of the Olympics and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, 2012 is the year when residents of York celebrate 800 years of York being a self-governing city.  As part of the York 800 celebrations, the York Libraries Children’s Book Award will be finding York’s favourite children’s picture and story book of all time.

Nominations are now open and you can nominate your favourite book by completing a form that is available in all libraries. Alternatively you can make your nomination online through the library website ( Nominations will close on Friday 27th April.

A shortlist will then be compiled of the five favourite books in the two categories. The shortlist will be announced on Saturday 9th June when voting for the final winners will begin. Again you’ll be able to vote online or by completing a form at your local library.

Children will be encouraged to read the nominated books through school and library reading groups and the picture books will be read at the under 5s story sessions.  Children participating in the Summer Reading Challenge will also be encouraged to read the books and vote for their favourites.

Voting will close on Sunday 16th September and the winners will be announced at a Grand Award Ceremony at Explore York Library.

Also, keep an eye on the ‘North’ section of our website for details of York 800 celebrations, which will involve children’s events in libraries throughout the city.

London Children’s Book Swap 2012

This Saturday (February 25th) marks the launch of the first London-wide Children’s Book Swap, with events taking place across the capital. The event is supported by the Greater London Authority and more than 15 organisations that work to improve literacy across London. The basic premise is that by visiting one of the organisations taking part in the book swap, children can pick up a book for free. They are also welcome to leave any of their books at the venue for another child to choose to take home.

The event is the brainchild of Sally Goldsworthy, Chief Executive of Discover Children’s Story Centre in East London. As she explains “At the start of an amazing year for London, the city’s most exciting arts organisations have come together to celebrate reading and ensure that the magic of books reach the hearts and minds of children throughout the capital.” 

It is hoped that the event will encourage children to share their favourite books and discover new authors and illustrators. The organisations taking part will also be organising activities throughout the day.  The organisations involved include the Discover Children’s Story Centre, GLA, Booktrust, Reading Agency, Free Word Centre, Macmillan Children’s Books, World Book Day, Arvon, Centre of Literacy Primary Education, Southbank Centre, Barbican Centre, Polka Theatre, Nosy Crow, Unicorn Theatre, Usborne Children’s Books, Walker Books, Shoreditch Trust, Marcus Garvey Library, Little Angel Theatre, Islington Libraries and Tea Dance for Little People.

For more information about the events taking place at each venue, please got to  (listed under the header ‘Annual Book Events’.) Here, you’ll find links to the organisations involved too.

Most borrowed books

Given that today is National Libraries Day, what perfect timing that  PLR (Public Lending Right) released its figures yesterday, showing the most borrowed titles and authors from UK libraries. Based on figures from July 2010-June 2011, it makes fascinating reading, especially for those interested in children’s books.

Whilst the figures show the continuing popularity of adult crime fiction, I was pleasantly surprised  by the fact that children’s fiction is riding high in the borrowing charts. In fact, five of the top ten most borrowed authors were children’s writers. Second only to James Patterson in a combined chart of adult and children’s authors, were the team of writers behind the Daisy Meadows books. Also included in the top ten most borrowed authors were Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon, current Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson and Mick Inkpen. The PLR figures show that Jacqueline Wilson is the most borrowed children’s author of the last decade, with over 16.5 million loans and she commented that “The PLR data clearly shows that many children still love borrowing books”.

Reassuringly, data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) shows that for the last seven years, children’s borrowing from UK libraries has increased. From 89.9 million books borrowed by children in 2005/6, the figure rose to 96.8 million during 2010/11. Children’s books now represent 35.9% of all books borrowed, up from 33.9% last year.

With events taking place up and down the country today to mark National Libraries Day, let’s hope that these borrowing figures continue to rise in the years to come.

(Statistics kindly provided by the PLR.)

Event type: Books, Library, Reading


Chris Evans launched the second 500 WORDS short story competition on his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show this morning. The competition encourages children (aged 13 and under) to write a short story of no more than 500 words on any subject. The entries are divided into two categories; age 10-13 and 9 and under and the closing date is 1st March 2012 (which is of course World Book Day)

The first event last year was a resounding success and the judges received around 30,000 entries.   The entries were whittled down to a shortlist of 50 and you can read all 50 stories at the 500 WORDS website. The fifty finalists were invited to the Hay Festival where the winning stories were announced live on Chris’ show.  The two winners were  Stable by Olivia Norton (age 12) and The Death Channel by Angus Barrett (age 9). As well as reading the two winning entries on the 500 WORDs website, you can also listen to them read by Anne Robinson (Stable) and Richard Hammond (The Death Channel). Watch the two young winners from 2011 chat to Chris Evans in a short video on the site.

This year, the organisers are hoping the event will be even bigger. Joining Chris on the judging panel this year will be five highly-regarded children’s authors; Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Charlie Higson, Lauren Child, Andy Stanton and David Walliams. The authors will be given the Top 50 shortlist in late April, before meeting in May to decide the winners.

The organisers are also looking to involve adults in the event, asking teachers and librarians to volunteer as judges in the first round of judging. Each judge will be entered into a draw to win a pair of tickets to attend the live broadcast of the Chris Evans Breakfast Show from Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts on Friday 1 June 2012.

For a bit of inspiration, read the writing tips put together by a selection of top children’s authors and good luck to all those budding authors out there.

‘Stalin’s Favourite’

Here at Book Events for Children, whilst featuring a lot of events for younger children, we also feel it’s important not to forget teenagers and older children. That’s why I eagerly went to The Carriageworks in Leeds on a rainy January night to see Theatre Unlimited’s new play Stalin’s Favourite.

Theatre Unlimited is a touring theatre company, set up in 1998, with a strong educational focus. In 2010 they created ‘Living History’, with the aim of enriching the understanding of history for GCSE History students. The first two plays in the scheme (Not About Heroes and Defying Hitler) were very well received, with Defying Hitler described by The Sunday Telegraph as “compelling theatre, immaculately performed.” For their 2012 tour, they have revived Defying Hitler and introduced a new play Stalin’s Favourite. 

Rupert Wickham’s solo performance in Stalin’s Favourite is adapted from Orlando Figes’ book The Whisperers. The central character, Konstantin Simonov, is a writer and poet, whose poem ‘Wait For Me’ (published during the Second World War), captures the mood of the nation in wartime Russia. He is raised to prominence by Stalin, enjoying the trappings of wealth and privilege, although his rise to fame comes at a significant personal cost. Through fear of the brutality of the regime, Simonov silently accepts the treatment of his contemporaries; behaviour that haunts him in his later years.

The production is aimed at children aged fourteen and above but appeals to a much wider audience, as illustrated by the mixed audience at The Carriageworks. The production has just started a UK tour, which will conclude in London in March.

Please click on the link for more details about Theatre Unlimited

For information about future productions at The Carriageworks in Leeds, please visit

Event type: Books

Guest post: Rachel McClary

Our guest post today is from Rachel McClary, writer of the excellent Right from the Start blog and contributor to the Huffington Post. She explains how she became involved in a charity book for children.


Once Upon a Time – Children’s Stories in Aid of Save the Children

A few weeks ago I responded to a request to contribute to a children’s story book entitled ‘Once Upon a Time’ to raise money for Save the Children.

I have always wanted to write for children but have struggled with the inspiration. This was my perfect chance to have a go and raise money for a fabulous cause.  In the book 17 parent bloggers have written short stories for young children. The only rules were that the story should begin with ‘Once Upon a Time’ and should be written in 350 words. I was lucky to already have an idea in mind. This was based on a story I told to my 7 year old when she was afraid of going to bed because she thought she might have bad dreams. It was incredibly difficult to condense this into 350 words . After multiple edits I got it down to under 400 but not quite to the 350 . It made me realise that writing for young children isn’t as easy as it looks.

The illustrations in the book are all provided by our own children - this is my 7 year olds picture that appears with my story.

All the writers have given their services for free so that we can raise as much money as possible. The book looks really beautiful and would be a very special present for a child who loves stories.

For a preview of the book or to order a copy click on this link

Rachel McClary is an Early Education Consultant and Mother of 3 young girls who blogs at

Event type: Books

Enjoy a festive book-themed visit to London

If you’re planning to take the children to London for a visit in the run up to Christmas, there are plenty of book related events going on in the capital, as well as seeing the Christmas lights and the bun fight that is visiting Hamleys. So here are five book-related events to start your Christmas in style…

It wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘The Snowman’ and it’s one that parents love as much as children, with it bringing back memories of our own childhood Christmasses. As well as watching the film (think I’m safe in presuming it’ll be on again this year), you can now watch the stage version of Raymond Briggs’ classic at the Peacock Theatre until January 8th. I think the review in ‘The Times’ says it all: ‘Sheer theatrical magic. Go see The Snowman and melt.’ Find out more …

If you’d rather get the family outdoors, why not join a Christmas walk for families, with festive storytelling. Be ready to walk through time and hear tales from the past. Talking place on December 19th at 2pm, the walkers will meet at the Paddington statue at Paddington station. All ages are welcome but it’s recommended for ages 3-10 and all children must be accompanied by an adult. See website for more details. Find out more …

OK, I know this one isn’t centred around books, but there are story reading sessions and it is Christmas! I’ve included this because it looks magical, although it is pricey. Whilst exploring a Christmas house, children will listen to festive stories, perform a puppet play, decorate cakes and biscuits and dress up. As well as visiting ‘Mrs Claus’ sitting room’ and ‘The Busy Elves’ Workshop’, they’ll also have a private audience with Father Christmas and enjoy a festive picnic. Find out more…

This is a free (hooray!) event running every Saturday through December. The sessions run from 3.15 to 3.45 and each week a different children’s author will be reading from one of their books and will be on hand to sign copies afterwards. Check the website for details as the recommended age range varies each week. Of course, you could always round off your afternoon with a visit to the ice rink, although there is a charge for this activity. Find out more…

Winner of the Best Entertainment Olivier Award, this is your last chance to see the stage adaptation of E Nesbit’s ‘The Railway Children’, as the current run ends on January 8th 2012. Staged in the former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station and featuring a period steam train from the National Railway Museum, follow the story of Bobby, Peter and Phyllis. Find out more…

Welcome to Book Events for Children: Emma Barnes author event

Welcome to Book Events for Children and this my first blog.

With libraries facing closure, the threat to independent bookshops and the current funding cuts affecting local festivals and arts programmes, these are worrying times.

It’s not all doom and gloom though… across the country there is a huge variety of literary events and attractions aimed at children. Given the variety of events, a common complaint I hear from parents is “why does it sometimes feel so hard to find out what’s going on?”  I’ve experienced this myself; having found a local event for my children featuring a favourite author, only to then realise it took place three days ago! So rather than trawling through individual websites for theatre companies, bookshops, libraries and literary festivals, I hope to compile a comprehensive listing on my website (currently in production) for parents looking to take their young ones to book-related events, as well as including news from the publishing world.

Harrogate Library in North Yorkshire hosted an author event last weekend and I saw at first-hand how this close encounter with a real ‘live’ author can inspire children. Emma Barnes (author of ‘How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good’ and ‘Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher’ amongst others) discussed her childhood love of books with an audience of 7-10year olds. It was fascinating to see how animated the children became when discussing their favourite books: interestingly, several of the youngsters cited Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books as their favourites, with parents nodding in agreement. Proof that the old classics can hold their own. Emma captured the interest of the children and several announced that they wanted to be writers too.

Meeting an author whose book you’ve loved reading can really inspire children and instil a love of reading that will last through childhood and beyond.


For more information about Emma Barnes please go to

To provide information about an upcoming book-related event for children please email info@bookevents

Event type: Books