Friday, 28 June 2013

A Break For Lunch

I know it's still quite early but I've stopped work to have a little lunch. It's not my fault I've stopped early, honestly - I'm going to lay the blame for that on my gorgeous wife, Vicky (sorry lovely).

Vicky has been busy working in the library this morning but she's having an early lunch as she will be leading a Rhymetime session at another library this afternoon. As soon as Vicky said she was having her lunch my tummy started to rumble and I had to stop for lunch too...

Today's lunch is a chicken and coleslaw buttie... YUM!

This morning I've been busy writing - hoping to get Chapter Two and Three of my latest book finished. That might sound odd to you but it isn't really (not in my mind anyway)... I have been messing with Chapter Two and Three for a little while, as well as writing other bits from later in the story (quite chaotic I know). I was a bit restless and at a loss for how the book/story was going to start though and this was stopping me from really getting on with it properly. Last week, however, the beginning of the book came to me. I wrote the first chapter - asked Vicky what she thought (she loved it - YAY!) and now I'm on with the rest of the book.

I can't tell you much about it right now - in fact, I'm not going to tell you anything about it right now other than that he story contains lots of mystery, humour, strange characters and even stranger goings on.

I will tell you about it soon though....

That's it... lunch is over... time to get back to work.

P.S. I was going to tell you about our day out yesterday but all of the pictures are on Vicky's phone so that will have to wait until later...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Chester Zoo

On Saturday Vicky, Connor, Rachel, Chris, Laura, Deanna and I we went to visit Chester Zoo. If you have never been there before then you really should go - if you have been before then you should probably go again... so much will have changed.

Zoos have had lots of negative press over the years but things aren't always what you might think. Zoos, and especially Chester Zoo, play a vital part in animal care and conservation. It's always a little disturbing to find that the animal you are looking at is one of a small number left alive in the world - and awful when you read that there are non left in the wild at all. For us this certainly brings home the importance of zoos as they are able to look after and help conserve the wildlife of the world as well as playing a vital role in reintroducing the animals back into the wild... Click HERE to visit the Chester Zoo website to find out more about their conservation work... 

The weather forecast for Saturday wasn't great so we packed our waterproof coats. Fortunately I never had to put mine on as the only rain we got was a brief drizzle.

Chester Zoo has changed a great deal since we visited last year. You can now stop by to visit the gift shop and see the elephants before even entering the zoo properly. The Elephants have quite a large area to wander round in and it was wonderful to see the baby elephants with their mothers. The baby elephants were very popular with the other visitors - and why not - they are very cute... I couldn't help thinking that this little guy was laughing his socks off at something...
 
As well as Lions, Tigers, Penguins and Zebras that you might expect to find in a zoo, Chester has lots of other interesting animals to see and they are working hard to put these animals in locations that match their natural habitats - like these African Painted Dogs.
 
And to prove it once and for all - Giles Andrea was right - Giraffe's really can't dance ...
 
 
We love the space that the creatures have at Chester Zoo and we love the way they are continually developing the zoo to make it more animal friendly and more varied and interesting for the visitor...
 

Of all the creatures there though - our favourites are the Red Pandas... often sound asleep and hard to see but on Saturday they were roaming around the trees, wandering through the grass and playing in the waterfalls... A cross between a cat and a fox and something else the Red Pandas are definitely the cutest creatures ever. Just look at that tail...



Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Getting it write... I mean right... I think....

When I write my blog posts I know that I often make spelling mistakes and I'm sure that I make lots of grammatical errors too... luckily my lovely wife, Vicky, points these out to me pretty quickly and I manage to change things without too many people noticing... or at least that's what I thought. I've just received this email though that suggests that I'm making a right mess of things... but it's good to know that they will be 'honored' (or honoured) to look things over and save me the embarrassment of getting things wrong. I'm not going to take them up on this fantastic offer but I thought I'd mention it here in case any of my writer friends would like to take them up on this kind offer....  

Hi Damian,

You know better than most that putting your writing "out there" takes a tremendous amount of courage; readers will find and comment on even the simplest mistakes. At Grammarly we know the feeling -- and we've made it our mission to improve writers' confidence. Putting our money where our mouth is, we'd be honored to sponsor your next blog post with a $30 Amazon gift card.

In case you haven’t heard of us, Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that finds and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as a second pair of digital eyes that can spare you the cost of hiring a proofreader. If you'd like to join our 3 million users and try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I'll make it happen!

Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next appropriate blog post (ideally something about writing) so I can give you all the details you need in time.

Cheers,
 

Nick
 
P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco; I’d love to grab some coffee. :)
 
Vicky... Just nipping to San Fran for a coffee.... hope that's ok!!!
 

Time for Breakfast

Yes, it's time for breakfast - or possibly mid morning break... I'm not quite sure. Whatever time it is, I've just made coffee and cheese on toast. Ok, so it's not really nice cheese on toast - it's toast with cheese squares leftover from Sunday's barbecue but it will do...

I've made a good start on writing this morning and have finished the first draft of Chapter 1. I've been writing this story for a little while now but didn't have a beginning. That might sound odd but I sometimes find that I don't know quite where a story is going to start. Rather than letting this stop me writing as it can easily do, I try and just get on with it and get some writing done.

In schools I visit children often say they struggle with a beginning for their story so they sit there starting at the paper - they've been told that they need a really good beginning that will grab the reader and get them interested in reading the rest of the story - Quite a daunting task...

This idea of grabbing the reader's interest can easily halt the writing process so I try to encourage children to just start writing what they know... perhaps they have a piece of dialogue or a part of a scene in their heads but they don't know where it will fit in the story... "That's good!" I say. "Write it down and see what happens. You can worry about the beginning later."

It's all well and good saying this but I know myself that I feel restless if I haven't got the beginning sorted so it's a real weight of my mind knowing that I know where the story I am writing starts. 


That's it for now... coffee break over... on with the story. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Bringing Books To Life With Illustrations

Over the past few weeks I've been into a few schools where children and teachers have asked how much influence I have on the illustrations for my books... the simple answer is 'not a lot'. This isn't always a bad thing though...

I'm not great at drawing so certainly wouldn't attempt to illustrate my own books but that means that I get to work with lots of really good illustrators. Generally, I try not to picture characters in too much detail in my mind - I think it's good to see what the illustrators come up with. (This probably isn't the case with all books of course as sometimes you do want things to look a certain way - especially if it's important to the story).

I love seeing stories brought to life by the illustrations and it's always interesting to see illustrations in progress like the ones below.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your socks after you take them off? You always end up with odd ones don't you... well, this strange little creature that Yan has just found beneath his bed is a Sock Eater. I didn't know what a Sock Eater looked like before - but now I do.

The two pictures above (and the one below) are for two little stories that I wrote earlier this year for Oxford University Press - Nelly's Nest and The Sock Eater. The stories are going to be published together in a book for OUP's Treetops series called Smelly Socks and Terrible Tangles.

The artwork is being done by a Dutch illustrator called Marijke van Veldhoven (click HERE to go and take a look at her website). It has been great to see the first sketches that she has done for the book, and wonderful that she has allowed me to show them to you here. Later on I will feature a little interview with the illustrator and I will also include some colouring sheets on my website that you can download.  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Unicorn Primary School

Last week I drove down to Bromley to visit Unicorn Primary School - and what a great time I had... it was hot and sunny as I drove down... only a five hour drive (PHEW!!!!) Thankfully, Boofle came along to keep me company...
I managed to find the hotel I was staying at - even though my SATNAV stopped working a few miles before I got there. A brief panic attack followed but I managed to find where I was going without too much trouble.

After checking in I set off to find something to eat - chicken strips from McD's - it's a glamorous life - and a charger for my phone which I'd managed to leave in Vicky's car.

After a good night's sleep I set off the following morning for Unicorn Primary School - only a couple of miles from where I was staying... thankfully the roads were nice and quiet so it didn't take me long to get there.
It's always interesting vising a school for the first time as you never know what to expect... Some schools are in little villages and some are in big cities (as you would expect) but even knowing this, it's hard to predict what you will find. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Unicorn Primary School is surrounded by trees... I even had to walk over a little bridge that crossed a small stream to get to the school's front door. Birds were singing in the trees and squirrels were scampering across the ground and along the branches above.
I loved the little Wellie Flower Pots that were sprouting flowers along the fences by the playgrounds... what a nice idea.

The day started with a whole school assembly in which I had time to introduce myself and tell a silly story to everyone (and sweat a little as it was very warm) before meeting everyone from reception to year six for the rest of the day... The teachers and children were fantastic and there were lots of interesting questions being asked and lots of enthusiasm... a great day.

Even the long drive home via the Dartford Tunnel and across the country in the hot sun didn't spoil the day...

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Half Term and Beyond...

Let me start off by saying a BIG HELLO to everyone at Unicorn Primary School in Beckenham... I'm looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.

I hope everyone has had a great half term holiday - we certainly did. We were busy almost every day and the time just flew by. Last week it was Connor's 13th birthday and this week it's Deanna's 18th birthday... to help celebrate these milestone birthdays we had a couple of days away last weekend. On Sunday morning we drove down to a hotel not far from Windsor.  We arrived at the hotel in plenty of time and as it was a hot sunny day we decided to go for a little walk in a nearby village called Great Missenden - wandering around the lovely little village we passed a house where a certain writer that you may have heard of used to live...
On Monday we got up early and drove towards Windsor so we could spend a fun day at Legoland. As well as lots of great rides there are lots of lego models and figures around the park to look at - here's Deanna, Vicky and Connor by the Easter Island Heads.
It was a hot day and it was very busy in Legoland so we decided to go on one of the biggest rides first.
We knew we would get wet so it would give us chance to dry out as the day went on. If you haven't been on the Vikings' River Splash ride then you need to have a go... it's great. We got soaking wet on the ride so we went for a wander through Loki's Labyrinth to try and dry off.

We managed to lose Connor and Deanna for a few minutes as we headed to the centre of the maze...
But it didn't take them long to find us...
We had a great time wandering around Legoland, going on the Pirate Jolly Rocker (don't tell her that I told you but Vicky screamed all the way through the ride), the Pirate Falls log ride (we got soaked again), the Dragon Train, The Indiana Jones Laser Raiders and lots more... There were lots of cool Lego figures too - like this Han Solo.
We had loads of fun and luckily we didn't have to drive all the way home afterwards as we were staying another night. On Tuesday morning the weather had changed and it was cloudy and rainy all day. We had a little walk round Windsor but it wasn't as much fun as it should have been as the streets were awash with rain. We piled back into the car and started to head for home...
 
We don't really watch much television but there are some things that we like to watch... Last year we watched all of the Vicar of Dibley series (very funny) so it was nice to drive through the village of Dibley on the way home. The village isn't really called Dibley of course but it's instantly recognisable when you see it. It was too wet for us to enjoy a little walk around so we just took a quick photograph as we went past the church...   
 That's all for now...