'Fairy Tale Pets!'

I have always been captivated by fairy tales. As a very young child I had a book, the Ladybird Cinderella, and to this day this fairy tale remains my favourite. The idea that something magical can happen to someone utterly ordinary, that they can dare to dream, and that dreams can come true, the idea that they can overcome cruelty and persecution is something that makes me feel happy. And, really importantly, that in doing so they remain true to who they are and who they have always been. Then we feel they deserve the ultimate prize.

But fairy tales also have always had the potential to shock and instruct. They can be harsh. And the fate of the protagonist isn’t always a ‘happily ever after’ one. That element of peril, combined with the unknown, with a dash of the magical thrown in make this three-part cocktail both captivating and thrilling for me and many like me too. It’s a potent and breath-taking journey into who knows what.

A few years ago I met my publisher, Little Tiger, on a wet windy afternoon in London to talk through new ideas for a picture book. I have a number of pets at home, and my daughters have had countless small fluffies over the years, and I knew I wanted the book to have something to do with pets. Sure, they can be cute I thought to myself and I knew that first-hand too. But anyone with pets will tell you that they require lots of time and commitment and, however hard you try, sometimes you feel like the little darlings have the upper paw over you!

After much discussion (and more meetings) we finally hit upon the idea of not just ‘ordinary’ pets, but pets from traditional fairy tales forming the cast of the book. But why did they come, and who indeed wanted them? Those were the next questions we had to answer.

Well, I decided the ‘who’ would be poor, unsuspecting Bob. And the why – was because Bob was broke. He needed a job. He had a dog, Rex (who was friendly and smart and hardly ever made nasty smells), and so Bob assumed all pets would be like Rex. The obvious new job for Bob, as he loved animals, was to become a pet-sitter. The town had a plentiful supply of pets after all, and so why not? Easy Bob thinks. Right? Um, no – bad move!

I do love to challenge my characters; really take them out of their comfort zone. Stories need problems to solve, dilemmas to overcome. They need jeopardy and the reader needs to feel the same empathy with Bob as I had with Cinderella. I need them need to root for Bob. In short, I need them to care. Poor Bob! He doesn’t have it easy, but no one can say he’s not a trier!

There are so many fractured fairy tales on the market today, I needed my story to not be just another one of those, but different, with an original fresh take. This was why I decided to focus on the pets, and certainly not ordinary ones. No, these are fairy tale pets – all waiting to be dumped by the characters who in the original fairy tales met them for the first time. Now Goldilocks cannot wait to get shot of stroppy Baby Bear who she passes off as a ‘little poppet’ before skipping off double-fast. Yeah, right!

And it’s funny to see what the pets do when their ‘people’ are off on holiday. Poor Bob and Rex – they’re run ragged – before, that is, the three little pigs' ‘puppy’ (someone is telling porky pies again!) huffs and puffs and blows Bob’s house down. #Truefact.

I also wanted the story to have a fun twist at the end and to give the reader and the teacher a potential starting point for a whole new story. For when Bob plants Jack’s beans thinking nothing can go wrong this time, he doesn’t, of course, imagine who might be sitting at the top of (and wait - now he’s coming down!) the beanstalk! This book has so much potential for work in the classroom; comparing contrasting original/contemporary fairy tales, giving normally ‘quiet’ characters a strong voice, and the possibilities for imaginative role play are endless. A 'Fairy Tale Pet Care Centre' in a corner of many classrooms beckons!

This week the book was finally published. It started off with a really fun launch party in the Bright Illustration Agency in London. The illustrator of 'Fairy Tale Pets' is the very talented Jorge Martin, and the moment at which the illustrations were added to the text was a magical one for me, for then the characters really started to  come alive before my eyes. The illustrations are full of energy and character and Jorge admirably brings the fairy tale chaos  to life in a fizzing vibrant palette of limes and turquoises and raspberry pinks and retro browns. I love it!

Little Tiger have been so great at giving the book a really fabulous start. The take-up has been so great – we had to reprint even before publication date and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But even more thrilling was seeing the response of the children we’ve performed the story to this week. Beth Ferguson (my publicist at Little Tiger) and I have been seen hundreds of children, made countless stroppy Baby Bear glove puppets and sang the 'Poor Old Bob, he Needs a Job!' song with so many  children. We also went into Evelina’s Children’s Hospital in London on the day the book was launched and spent an afternoon with the children and staff there. It's an afternoon that Beth and I will remember for a very long time, and hopefully one that the children will remember too. Many thanks to my publishers, the hospital school and the wonderful 'Readathon' organisation for making this happen.

So anyway, I really hope you’ll enjoy the story and that Bob and Rex will become two characters you’ll take to your hearts. Time to let the fairy tale chaos begin!

Shifty McGifty on Bookaboo!

Here is a clip of Bruce Greenwood reading 'Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam - The Cat Burglar' on the new series of Bookaboo, now available on Amazon Prime.

The animations are simply brilliant, and the way he brings the characters to life is superb!

Window dressing!

Waterstones in Cheltenham

Cheltenham was full of decorated pianos!

Cheltenham was full of decorated pianos!

Thanks Barbara, Jo & Amanda for the amazing cakes!

Thanks Barbara, Jo & Amanda for the amazing cakes!

Steven Lenton and I were delighted to be asked by Cheltenham Children's Literature Festival and Waterstones Cheltenham to decorate a window in the store as part of the launch of this year's Festival.

The plan was simple... 

I'd be in the shop reading from the first book in our recently launched young fiction series, 'Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam - The Spooky School' and from the latest picture book 'The Diamond Chase' featuring the baking / crime-solving duo. In addition, I'd be helping the children (with help from the brilliant staff at Waterstones too) to make sparkly bats that would feature in ...

              ... the wonderful window display that Steve was going to create! He'd prepared decals, backdrops and figures to use, and had sent these in advance to the shop. So all we needed was Steve, a simple plan. What could go wrong? 

Well what could go wrong was a problem with the trains. ALL of them! No trains were leaving Paddington that morning leaving Steve stranded on the platform with thousands of other travellers, and it was looking like the window display might be down to me.

Now, whilst I'm not afraid to dress a room in the privacy of my own home, the idea of having to inflict my non-existent window-dressing skills on the population of Cheltenham was not appealing!

Fortunately, there was one very crowded train that managed to escape from Paddington over two hours late, and my husband was able to intercept Steve at Swindon and whisk (excuse the pun!) him over to Cheltenham!

The window display was not only saved, but Steve did a brilliant job, and it turned into a throughly fun day!

Thanks to the amazing team at Waterstones Cheltenham, and to the Festival organisers (who spent the day with us and even made a bat or two!).

We will be appearing (with Shifty, Sam and Sidney Scarper (the cheeky robber-penguin) ) at the Cheltenham Children's Literature Festival on Sunday 16th October at 10am, full details can be found here.

New series for first readers...

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam feature in a new fiction series ideal for children growing in confidence as readers and beginning to read alone. The first book, 'The Spooky School' features three stories:

  • Halloween at St Spectre's school brings out the cheekiest of ghosts!
  • Who is to blame when the weather goes CRAZY? A power-grabbing red panda, maybe?
  • What are is the raccoon gang really doing whilst fixing the museum's toilets? Have they got dastardly plans of their OWN?!

Published in a two-colour fiction format, it is brilliantly illustrated by Steven Lenton. 

A further two books are currently in the pipeline, and will be published in 2017/18. Take a quick peek below...

What out for some great new characters, including Red Rocket...

'Now!' is published today...

Ever found waiting a little bit hard? Yes?? Well, you're not alone...

ARCHIE IS BACK!

And he's finding waiting a little bit hard too! There are SO many fun things to do. The problem is, he just can't wait! Archie wants to do everything ...  'NOW!'

Writing Resources from Pop Up

Illustrated by Ali Pye

Illustrated by Ali Pye

I have done a number of school events in association with the Pop Up organisation. They do a great job taking authors into schools around the country. I have been to events in Hackney, Telford and Peterborough, and later this month I am visiting a number of schools around Wisbech with them.

They have recently created a new resource to help teachers and children discover books and engage in creative activities. These include writing, drawing and making.

I have just added a writing resource, based upon my 'Baddies, Beasties and a Sprinkling of Crumbs!' books.

Join Otto, Martha and Scarlett, as they find themselves in an old castle, in the middle of the night, investigating something that's gone BUMP!

  • What will they do?
  • How will they react?
  • What inventions will they have to use?
  • Do you think Sebastian Stinkerton is involved?

Click here to learn more, and write your own story...

HAVE FUN!

Hay Festival 2016

It was fantastic to launch the latest Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam Book – ‘The Diamond Chase!’ at the Hay Festival on Saturday May 28th. Seeing children bounding into the venue, full of excitement made me feel very proud to be introducing them to my latest robber on the block; a cheeky, opportunistic penguin-thief by the name of Sidney Scarper who just can’t resist a bit of sparkle!

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It’s only when you perform the book to children do you see whether it’s really ‘working’ or not, and so I was nervous, but full of excitement too. Luckily the audience really took to Sidney who was VERY sorry for pinching Lady Kate’s tiara at her party in Woofington Hall. So much so, he did ALLthe washing up!

There was also live drawing for everyone to do. Shifty’s illustrator, Steven Lenton, guided the children through how to draw Sidney, and then I led a craft session so that all the children could make their very own pop up Sidney. It was such a wonderful afternoon and now I can’t wait until the book is in the shops. Roll on July 7th!

World Book Day (Month?) 2016!

World Book Day is a fabulous event, and a great way for schools, authors and illustrators to share the magic of books with children. The only problem is, that it is on a single day (this year on the 3rd March) and it is very hard to be in more than one place at the same time! So this year my World Book Day turned into a World Book Month as there were so many requests for visits. 

Thirteen schools, one pavilion and a castle!

It feels like I've been everywhere, over a period of eighteen days. I've been to...

  • Hartford (Cheshire)
  • Richmond
  • Ipswich
  • The Lakes
  • Hackney
  • Ross-on-Wye
  • Liverpool
  • Waterlooville
  • Fareham
  • Bournville! 

I have crafted with over 1,200 children and seen hundreds more, and it's been just amazing!

It has been really fantastic to meet so many children, teachers, librarians and parents. Thank you to everyone for making me (and Shifty, Sam and Kitty!) feel so welcome.

Time to start to look forward to World Book Day 2017 (I'm already receiving invites!).

Creative Fun!

It is always amazing to see how people use books with children, and how creatively they are interpreted.  I have recently been made aware of two fabulous examples of this...

'The Magical Snow Garden' was used as inspiration by the Charlevoix Public Library (Michigan, USA) for a brilliant public art display. They asked local families to help make a real life magical snow garden by decorating colourful garden stakes and placing them in the grounds of their library, It certainly helps when there is real snow to complete the effect!

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 In another example from the US, 'Just Right For Two' was used as the basis for a puppet show in Waterloo Public Library, in Iowa. The children (and the performers!) really enjoyed the show, and I love the way they have used props on on sticks!