Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Preparing for Christmas

Even though we're still busy working it really feels like Christmas is getting closer now. On Sunday we put up our Christmas Tree and decorated the house. It's starting to feel nice and cosy and Christmassy. We've even managed to do most of our Christmas shopping, which makes a change - we're normally running around on the last minute.

We love our Christmas tree with it's mixture of special decorations that we've picked up here and there. This little house was bought from Harrods last year when we visited London for the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park...

And we just couldn't resist getting this little Owl - one of Boofle's friends. We still need to make a start on writing our Christmas cards and between now and Christmas I want to get the first draft of the next book in my History Heroes completed - it needs to go to my editor at the beginning of the New Year - and I don't want to be working on it over Christmas if I can help it.

The books are going well so far and I'm really pleased with the way the first two - Christopher Columbus, and Neil Armstrong - are coming along.  

That's all for now... I will write more soon and let you know what we're up too...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Smelly Socks and Terrible Tangles

According to Amazon.co.uk my little book - Smelly Socks and Terrible Tangles (part of Oxford University Press's Treetops Series for schools) will be published on the 9th January 2014. A good start to the New Year I think..
The book contains two funny stories - The Sock Eater, and Nellie's Nest.

The Sock Eater is all about a strange little creature that Yan finds living beneath his bed, and Nellie's Nest is about a stubborn young girl that refuses to brush her hair - even though it's as tangled and messy as a bird's nest. The illustrations have been done by the wonderful Dutch illustrator Marijke van Veldhoven - you can read a little interview with Marijke by clicking HERE.

I've not seen a finished copy of the book but can't wait to get one through the post...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Our Wedding Anniversary

On the 27th October 2013, Vicky and I were married (you can see some wedding pictures by visiting the Our Wedding section of my website), and it's just amazing how quickly the last year has flown by... it seems like only yesterday that we were walking hand in hand down the aisle.

To celebrate our Anniversary we spent a night in the same hotel that we visited for our Honeymoon - The Wild Pheasant in Llangollen. The Dee Valley Suit in the hotel is perfect - and what makes it even better is that there's a hot tub out on the balcony - protected from the weather by a roof so you can just sit and relax even if its rains or snows...

The day after our evening away I went to visit Elizabeth Woodville Primary School in Leicestershire - I had a great time at the school but couldn't wait to get back home as we were going to spend a few days together in a Log Cabin/Lodge not far from Alton.

It's nice to get away so we just spent our time relaxing and forgetting about work and everything else. You can't just sit in a hot tub day after day though so we also went to visit the Blue John Caverns in the Peak District. Blue John is the semi-precious stone coloured stone that you can see in the rock above. It's used to make decorative jewellery, vases and other ornaments.
The guide for our tour of the Caverns was a man that obviously spends a lot of time down there - probably on his own with very little light and no one to speak to. It was an interesting day out and I'd recommend it to anyone. 
Since then I've been busy visiting schools and working hard on my writing. As well as working on my longer book I am also busy working on a series of non-fiction books called History Heroes. I'll tell you more about those tomorrow.
On the way home from lodge we called in at Snugbury's Ice Cream Shop for some of their delicious Ice-Cream and also to take a look at the Straw Sculpture... Last year they had made a huge sculpture of a cyclist for the Olympic Games - this year a huge golden Dalek stands in the field threatening to EXTERMINATE passers by... It looks impressive during the daytime but even more impressive when you drive past at night and see it illuminated in the dark field.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Music we love - The Zac Brown Band

I'm having a great time visiting schools and libraries at the moment as people celebrate Book Weeks and the love of reading... I've got a few diary entries to write about that and I will get to that as soon as I have time - right now though I'm busy writing about Christopher Columbus.

It really is good visiting schools and libraries all around Great Britain but it's not much fun when I have to stay away from home when the schools are a long way from home. People think it's fun staying in a hotel for the night but it isn't when you're on your own. I'm quite lucky though as Boofle comes with me... Here he is watching the world whizz past the window of the train we were on to London.

Hotel rooms are quiet so I like to listen to a bit of music that reminds me of home when I'm away... Vicky and I have recently discovered The Zac Brown Band so I'm listening to them as I write - usually I like to write in silence but I'm finding that I can have music on quietly when I'm writing non-fiction - so that's good.

In schools and libraries, people often ask what sort of music I like so I thought it would be good to feature some of it in my diary... Here's two songs from the Zac Brown Band. Goodbye In Her Eyes is a quiet song that builds up as it goes on... I love the song and the video with it's circus imagery - quite dark and mysterious in its way...

And this one.... Jump Right In... we love it...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Lunar Eclipse

Tonight there will be a Lunar Eclipse... This happens when the Earth comes directly between the Sun and our Moon. This should block out the sun's light entirely, making the moon complexly dark,  but because of the Earth's atmosphere, the sun's rays are refracted (bent) causing them to hit the dark part of the moon and making it appear red. If you were on the moon it would look like the sun was rising or setting behind the earth.

Unlike a solar Eclipse that you can only view through special glasses, a Lunar Eclipse can be safely viewed with the naked eye from anywhere on the night side of the Earth. The Lunar eclipse lasts much longer than the Solar Eclipse so there's a good chance you will get see it. Unless it's cloudy of course.

I've been busy working on a new book which I'll be sending to my Publisher next week. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you about it soon - but until everything's been given the thumbs up I have to keep quite. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Liverpool Central Library

I'm doing a lot of travelling around at the moment (as well as writing of course) as schools and libraries everywhere are celebrating Book Week. Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend the day at the wonderful Central Library in Liverpool (recently refurbished).

The library is a huge and impressive building from the outside but since its refurbishment it has become even more impressive inside...

Throughout the day I met children from St Cleopas Primary School and from St Francis de Sales Primary School... it was an absolute pleasure meeting everyone that came along - we had a great time.

The sessions were all held in the huge Children's Library, or Discovery Room... a very airy and bright room with lots of space.

I had a little wander round Liverpool Centre at lunchtime but spent most of my free time just having a wander around the library itself... The Reading Room with its rows of books on different levels and spiral stairs is very impressive and atmospheric.

After the visit I set of for Peterborough as today I'm visiting Gunthorpe Primary School - so here's a Big Hello to everyone there. See you soon. Which reminds me... I'd better get going.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Interview with Marijke van Velhoven

Earlier this year I was asked to write a couple of funny stories for Oxford University Press for their Oxford Reading Tree - Treetops Chucklers, series. It was lots of fun writing the stories and it's been great seeing them being brought to life by the wonderful Dutch illustrator Marijke van Veldhoven, that the publisher chose to illustrate them.

When I visit schools and talk about the illustrations, children and adults are often surprised to hear that I don't choose the illustrator and I don't tell the illustrator what to do... In fact, most of the time, authors and illustrators don't actually talk very much about the book that is being created between them. Children ask me lots of questions about the illustrators but I can't always answer them... luckily, Marijke was happy to help with this and here she answers a lot of the questions that children have been asking me...

What is the best thing about being an illustrator?

The very best thing about being an illustrator is; doing what I love as a living. I have been drawing everything and on everything since I was little (it drove teachers crazy) and it was wonderful to make it to an art school. For the first time I could do art full time! After that I worked hard to make a living with my illustrations and I've been doing that ever since. It's great to create something for others to enjoy. And I like making jokes in pictures too (I do that with stand-up cartooning too, making funny cartoons during a meeting or training session).

How long would it take you to do all of the pictures for a book (like the Sock Eater and Nelly’s Nest) ?

All the pictures in a book! It can different for each book. But for 'The Sock Eater and Nelly's Nest' it took me 4 weeks for the sketches and 6 weeks for the colour art work. On a big picture book I would work for months!

Is it hard thinking of how people or creatures will look?
Sometimes it is hard to get them just right. With a little cheek, or very strict or just very lovable. And sometimes I get it right immediately. I have a special sketching strategy to design the characters.

Do you have to do lots of rough sketches of characters before you are happy with them?

Yes I do, most of the time. The characters always need fixing before they are right. And of course they need to look good from every angle.

What is the hardest thing to draw?

For me, the hardest things to draw are cars.

What are your favourite things to draw?

I love to draw people and animals.

What do you not like to draw?
Cars (no surprise there)

Do you use computers to help with your drawing?

The drawing is done by hand. Colouring I do by hand and with photoshop (or combined).

What do you like to draw and colour with? (Paint, pastels, pencils, chalk...)

Sketching with a good old pencil. I use pen and ink a lot. For colouring I use gouache and some water colours. 

Were you really good at drawing when you were at school?

Yes, I had some talent and I practiced a LOT.

Apart from yourself, who is your favourite illustrator?

I love several illustrators: The Tjong Khing, Annemarie van Haeringen, Quentin Blake, David Roberts, Peter van Straaten, Maaike Hartjes and many more.

How many books have you illustrated?

I've illustrated about 25 books.

And finally the answers to those questions that everyone gets asked...
Favourite food: a good lasagne.
Favourite animal: cat.
Favourite colour: green.

A big thank you to everyone that gave me questions to ask Marijke - and a special thank you to Marijke herself for taking the time to answer them... As soon as I see finished pictures (and the finished book itself, I will let you see it here.) You can see more of Marijke's work by visiting her website... the writing is in Dutch of course so you might have some difficulty reading the text but there are lots of pictures and video clips to look at...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Book Week

Another quick diary entry here just to say a big hello to everyone at Ysgol Bro Gwydir and Ysgol Capel Garmon in Llanrwst, Ysgol Betws y Coed, Ysgol Cerrigydudion and Ysgol Llangwm... I'm really looking forward to meeting everyone this week in the libraries... see you soon.

More big hellos for next week to everyone at Crackley Bank Primary School in Chesterton, St Margaret's CE Primary School, Gunthorpe Primary School in Peterborough and Holly Mount Primary in Bury... Also looking forward to visiting the new Central Library in Liverpool for sessions there next week... phew!!! a busy time.

Hoping to fit in quite a bit of writing too...

Keep your eyes open for tomorrow's diary entry as it will feature an interview with the wonderful illustrator Marijke van Veldhoven - who has been busy illustrating a little book that will be published early next year by Oxford University Press called Smelly Socks and Terrible Tangles...

Monday, 30 September 2013

Ince St Mary's Primary School

Here's a Big HELLO to everyone at Ince St Mary's Primary School - I'm really looking forward to meeting everyone tomorrow and hope that you all have a fun day... 

Today I'm busy writing, and researching, all about Christopher Columbus for a book I'm working on so I haven't got much time to write in my diary. I've been interested in Columbus and Explorers since I was in Primary School and one of my favourite books was this wonderful pop-up book all about Columbus's voyage to the new world. The cover of the book has a ship's wheel that rotates to reveal sections of a map. The middle of the book is a fantastic pop up of Columbus's three ships - the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta.

Over the next few weeks I will keep adding little diary entries to say hello and to let you know what I'm up to and where I've been.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Blood Brothers

Right now I'm hard at work on a longer fiction book - and I'm having lots of fun writing it... I can't tell you much about it but I can tell you that the unlikely hero of the book is a young boy called Stanley Shrimpton... there are quite a few nasty characters in the book too - like Dr X (that's not his name but I'm not going to give that away at the moment) and his nasty side-kick Bananas (he's not really called Bananas but that's his nickname... his real name is ??? Hmmm... you will have to wait for that one too.)

As well as this, I'm doing some research for some non-fiction books - It's quite exciting to do this as it's not what I normally do...

We've had a busy weekend doing the usual boring things like shopping and tidying the house etc, but it's not all work though...
....on Saturday we went to the theatre in Llandudno - Venue Cymru - to see the most excellent Blood Brothers...  A marvellous, moving, musical play written by Willy Russell. If you ever get the chance to go and see it then we would highly recommend it... it's funny and sad and powerful - great entertainment.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Ed-Alleyne Johnson

We love living near Chester, it's an old and beautiful city, full of character, life and history. 
One of the many  things that add to it's life and atmosphere are the street performers and buskers - and there are some extremely talented buskers to be heard on the streets of the city.
One of the most popular and most accomplished has to be Ed-Alleyne Johnson, a very impressive electric violinist, composer and performer. We already had a couple of Ed's cd's but whilst shopping for a present for Vicky's birthday I thought it would be nice to get another (Echoes) and have him sign it for her.

If you're not lucky enough to live near Chester and hear Ed for yourself, give him a listen on You Tube...

Friday, 6 September 2013

A Postcard From Tenby

It's back to work and school for everyone now but I hope you've enjoyed the summer holidays as much as we have.
I've got lots of writing to be getting on with and quite a few school and library visits already set up for the coming months. If you are interested in having a visit to your school, please get in touch as soon before all the best dates get taken up. I've managed to get a bit of work done during the summer but we've also had a few nice days out together so over the next week or so I will let you know what we've been up to and let you see a few photographs.
We visited Tenby again this year and had a lovely time. The weather was great (most of the time) and we even managed to have a little swim in the sea.
We thought it would be really nice if we could go on a boat to see whales, dolphins, puffins and who knows what else, so we drove to Martin's Haven to board a little boat that would take us out on a bit of a sea safari. The water was calm near the shore but got a little choppier further out so we were given waterproof clothes and lifejackets to keep us warm and dry. It was roasting when we put them on but I'm glad we did as it was certainly a bit cooler out at sea.  
The boat whizzed across the water, bouncing along from time to time and covering us is spray as we headed to Grassholm - a small uninhabited island about 8 miles off the Pembrokeshire Coast. Although no people live on the island, it's the home to thousands of Gannets. From a distance it looks like the island is covered in snow but as you get closer you can see and hear all of the birds (when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction you can smell them too).  
As well as the Gannets diving into the sea and circling overhead there were seals soaking up the sun on the rocks below... it was quite a sight.
After leaving Grassholm, the boat took us to two other little islands - Skomer and Stokholm - to get a closer look at the seals and see the Guillemots and Kittiwakes in the nests on the cliffs. We caught a fleeting glance of a couple of Porpoises as they came up for air but sadly we didn't see any dolphins. The Puffins had all headed off to see a few days before so we didn't see those either but we still had a great time.   

 We spent most of the time just relaxing and having a wander round Tenby and some of the other towns and villages, but we did go and visit Pemberton's Chocolate Farm where we saw how they make all of their delicious, handmade, chocolates. In the picture above you can see some of their chocolate animals and eggs. We even got to taste some of the chocolate and make one for ourselves... Yum! 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A Busy Summer

There's lots been going on over the Summer Holidays - we've been out and about visiting a few places here and there, and I've been busy writing. The time has just flown by and I haven't had a minute to write anything in my diary so this is just a quick note to say hi and to let you know that I will be filling my diary with news of what we've been up to very soon.
 Here's a special hello to my Mum... and a couple of pictures of the lovely little fuchsia that you gave us a while ago. It was quite small when we first planted it but as you can see, it soon started shooting up. It's even bigger than this now and the Honeysuckle behind it has crept all the way up the trellis on the wall - I'll pop another picture on later so you can see...
That's all for now but watch this space for lots of news, photo's and more...

Here's the other picture I promised... There's even more flowers on the Fuchsia and the Honeysuckle is doing well... no sign of any flowers on there yet though.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Summer Reading Challenge

The Summer holidays are finally here which probably means and end to the nice weather we've been having, but hopefully not.
On Monday I spent the day visiting libraries in Flintshire to help launch the Summer Reading Challenge - it was great that Vicky was able to come along with me too. In the morning we visited Mancot Library and in the afternoon we went to Mold and then Buckley Library. 

When you visit libraries during school holidays you never really know how many people are going to turn up... I've been to libraries where there have been lots of people and I've been to libraries where hardly anyone turns up. I try not to get too worried if not many people turn up as I've been to listen to very well know authors in libraries and have been surprised to find only a handful of people in the audience... There's a few reasons why this can happen but I'm not going to go into that now. I was thrilled to see so many people turn up to hear my sessions at all three libraries - it was great to see a couple of familiar faces and wonderful to meet see so many new people too - adults and children.  

This years Summer Reading Challenge is called Creepy House. The artwork that has been done to advertise the challenge - as well as for the goodies, posters and certificates - has been done by the wonderful Chris Riddell.
As well as doing a few monster and creepy house related things (along with my other books) we had a little Wrap Your Mummy contest in two of the libraries where two teams had lots of fun wrapping each other up to look like Mummies. 

It was a roasting hot day - phew!!! - but it was lots of fun... A big thank you to everyone that came along and joined in with the fun and thank you to Flintshire Libraries for inviting me to take part.

I hope everyone has a great time reading their books and completing the challenge... wish I could take part as there are some really cool goodies this year for everyone that does... including some disgusting scratch and sniff stickers poooooh!!!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Castles in Wales - Hawarden Castle

I said a little while ago that I was planning to write a series of little diary entries about Castles In Wales. If you don't live in Wales you probably wouldn't believe just how many castles there are here... it seems that almost every town (and lots of villages) have a castles either in them or close by.

A couple of weeks ago Vicky and I went to visit Hawarden Castle. The castle is only about ten minutes drive from home, on the  the estate of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone. From the top of the castle you get a great view of what was once his house...
The castle itself is only open for a few hours on three days of the year - so it's not an easy place to visit. We had the date down in our diary for quite a while - fortunately, it was a lovely sunny day so we didn't miss our chance to go. 
Hawarden castle has played important roles in the history of Wales over the years - probably most notably during the wars for independence during in the 13th century - and during the civil war between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in the 17th Century, after which the castle was all but destroyed for fear of it being used again as a stronghold.
I'm not going to go into detail about the castle's history here because there's lots of information on the Internet and in books about it. It would take me ages to go into detail. A good place to start looking is this website all about Welsh Castles... click here to go and take a look. 
It was great having the chance to look round the ruins of the castle - especially as it has been left almost untouched, unlike other castles that you can visit. This makes it interesting but it also means you have to be careful when walking around. As a writer it's good to be able to visit  places like this as it can help fill your imagination. I wonder who was the last person to step through this ancient door? I wonder what lies on the other side of it??

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Happy Birthday

Today is the 5th Birthday of An Awfully Big Blog Adventure... an excellent blog with posts from lots of great authors. It's packed full of news, reviews, advice and lots more - all about Children's Books and Writing.

Today there's even more reason to go and visit the blog than usual... There will be posts from lots of authors and even a message from Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman.

If you hurry you might even be in time for some cake...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Anyone for Tennis?

This must have been the hottest weekend we've had for ages... On Saturday morning I spent an hour or so taking rubbish to the tip... We had lots of wood from the old fence that needed getting rid of... lots of fun...

Then we had a bath, a coffee and a yummy bacon buttie before heading off to the supermarket for our weekend usual food shopping trip. Afterwards we went for a little drive around and visited a couple of our favourite places...    The Bridge Inn, and the Alyn at Rosset... for glasses of cool, refreshing lemonade :-)

On Sunday we visited a friend to celebrate her son's 16th birthday and then we came home and soaked up the sun in the garden... before steeping outside though we pulled up our chairs and got a front row view of Andy Murray as he battled it out against Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon Men's Final...
I'm not a great fan of spectator sport - I'd rather play or not bother - but hey!!! What a fantastic match it was. All respect to Andy for defeating Novak and all of his critics by taking the men's singles title. It was good to see Andy smiling during the game too - almost as though he knew he had it sorted right from the start. Don't know what I'm talking about??? just look at his face between some of the rallies - win them or lose them - looked like he was having fun

More writing and book news coming soon... watch this space...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Patron Of Reading

Yesterday I called in at a lovely little school in Old Colwyn (Colwyn Bay) - North Wales - where I am going to be (or I am) the Patron Of Reading... Ysgol Tan Y Marian.
Things will be kicking off properly in the next school year but it was wonderful to have the chance to call in for an hour to see the pupils and teachers at the school so that I could say hello... it was especially great to be able to meet all of the children that are moving up into year three too as they were there to visit the school at the same time.

The school is situated above everything else in Old Colwyn and there's a great view of the bay...

Monday, 1 July 2013

A Day Together

Working from home can be great... it can also be hard work though. It's difficult making sure you give enough time to the writing that needs doing as well as the other non-writing, but still work related, tasks. And it's even more important to get the life balance right because it's so very important to make sure you get to spend quality time with the one you love, so I was delighted that Vicky was able  to take a day off from work on Thursday last week - we planned to spend the day together so we could do lots of nice things. The weather during the week had been lovely, and we had spent lots of time either at work or working on the garden so we thought Thursday should be spent together...

As you might expect, it rained on Thursday... we weren't about to let this ruin our day though so after getting up early (6am - can you believe that!?!?!) we had a nice cup of coffee, a crumpet with cheese on top and a nice bath, got ready and set out on our lovely day together... we totally ignored the fact that it was raining. I won't mention the weather again...
People often complain that there is nothing to do but they often miss the things that are right on their doorsteps... often things that other people travel miles to see - so we decided to set out on a little tourist trip around Flintshire... there's lots of places to visit and lots of things to see in Flintshire and we only called in at a couple of them.
First of all we visited Flint Castle... There are hundreds of castles in Wales, more (I think) than any other place in the world (though I might be wrong). We see so many castles here that I'm going to start a blog feature all about the castles that we stop off at on our travels around the country ... Flint Castle will be the first in the series - so come back soon to see more up to date pictures and to find out all about the castle and about the important role it has played over the years.
The next place on our tour was St Winefride's Well in Holywell. Pilgrims have been visiting this site for hundreds of years - click on the link above to visit their website and find out all about St Winefride and the well.
The Well was housed in the shrine you see can above at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Outside is a pool where visitors can bathe - to the right of the pool you can see the crusader style tent/changing rooms where you can get changed if you fancy a dip. We arrived a little to late too take the plunge ourselves brrrrrrrrr!!! though it was a bit chilly so we didn't complain.

After leaving the well we had a little walk along by the old Mill Ponds and past the remains of the old mills... as we walked we spotted some hungry little Coot chicks... As it was so wet we decided not to walk very far though but we will certainly be going back to walk or cycle further. 
Before heading off to find somewhere for lunch we thought we would call at Mostyn and take a look at the TSS Duke Of Lancaster... The Duke of Lancaster was a railway owned steamer (passenger only) ship that operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway between England and Ireland - before car ferries were introduced. The ship has been grounded at Mostyn for years now and has been used as a "Fun Ship"... the ship has been left for quite a few years but now there are plans to turn it into the country's largest open air art gallery... Artists have been busy painting the outside of the ship recently though it was too wet for us to get a really good look - we will go back soon to take more pictures....
We had a lovely day together - had a little lunch and went home for a nice hot bath to warm us up... then had a yummy tea... That's all for now... I need to get some writing done so please come back soon to find out what I'm up to....