Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Getting up to date...

In the last couple of weeks I've had two little books published - 'Farmer Finn's Silly Sheep' - a very short story (only about 200 words) for young readers, and 'The Disastrous Dentist' a longer story with chapter (about 2000 words) for those that are Racing Ahead with their reading. Both books have been beautifully illustrated - one by Steve Brown and the other by Ben Scruton. A web page for both of these will be added to my website in the next few days...

The last few weeks and months seem to have flown by. I've been busy writing, visiting schools and doing lots of other things... In the weeks before Christmas I hope to tell you about what's been going on and next year I aim to write at least one diary entry every week so that I can keep things up to date. I know that one diary entry might not sound a lot but it can be really difficult fitting everything in... Lets see how it goes shall we?

Friday, 18 November 2016

Busy... Busy... Busy

Lots of work to do at the moment and lots to tell you about too but here's a quick hello to everyone at St Andrew's CE Primary School "The Rainbow School" in Hull... looking forward to seeing you all very soon. I will be back to my diary very soon and will let you know where I've been, what I've been up to and what I'm working on right now...

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Awful Astronaut

The Awful Astronaut has finally splashed down to Earth and you can buy the hardback right now from Amazon, order it from your local bookshop and keep your eyes open for it landing in your local library (the paperback version comes out next year).

It's always exciting when you receive copies of a new book through the post... you've spent ages working, writing and tweaking the story... you've seen the rough illustrations and finally the finished artwork - just a few tweaks to be made at this stage - but nothing beats holding the finished copy.

I must confess, I'm really happy with the way the book looks and feels, It's just what I wanted it to be - a good mixture of information and fun, and it's been illustrated by the fantastic Davide Ortu (click HERE to visit Davide's website). The publishers, Franklin Watts, were looking for stories about quirky characters doing jobs that they weren't very good at. The idea was to show some of the things that the jobs might include as well as the funny stuff.

Sam has dreamed of being an astronaut all his life and he finally gets the chance after seeing an advert in the newspaper. But becoming an astronaut isn't easy and Sam has to do a lot of training and things keep going wrong for him - he worries that he might just be the worst astronaut ever.

I was fortunate to get the chance to write two books in the series - The Awful Astronaut and the Disastrous Dentist. The Disastrous Dentist is published next month and is much sillier than the Astronaut book... I will tell you more that nearer the time.

There are some other great books in the series by different authors... you might like to keep an eye for them in your local library: The Terrifying Teacher by Claire O'Brien - illustrated by Santy Gutierrez, The Calamitous Cook by Rachael Delahaye -illustrated by Janet Cheeseman,  The Petrified Pirate by Vivian French - illustrated by Mike Phillips (who also illustrated my History Heroes books about Neil Armstrong & Christopher Columbus), The Not-so Brave Knight by Kate Woodward, illustrated by Yulia Somina (who also illustrated my History Heroes book about L.S.Lowry) - and my Disastrous Dentist which has been illustrated by the brilliant Ben Scruton.

Monday, 26 September 2016

St Gabriel's C of E Primary School

Here's a HUGE HELLO to everyone at St Gabriel's C of E Primary School in Huyton - I'm really looking forward to my first visit to school tomorrow. 

See you all soon...

Monday, 12 September 2016

A Postcard From Iceland

A little while ago we got to spend a few days visiting Iceland.
The flight to Iceland only takes a couple of hours so after leaving home it wasn't long before were touching down on the island. We were too early to check into the hotel so we left our cases and went for a wander round the city Reykjavik.   

It was a bit cloudy as you can see from these pictures, but it didn't spoil our walk around the harbour - taking in the mixture of new and old in the city.
The picture below is of the impressive Harpa Concert Hall - if you look carefully you might just be able to see us reflected in one of the windows...

After walking around for a few hours we finally headed back to the hotel and checked into our room. We couldn't wait for the next few days. We also needed a bit of sleep as it had been a long day. One thing you might find odd about a visit to Iceland is that, at the time of year we went, the sun hardly sets at all - easy to understand why it's known as the land of the midnight sun. It's a little strange waking up in the middle of the night though and finding that it's still light outside. On the first night I woke in the middle of the night and thought we'd overslept - but it was only 2 in the morning.

After breakfast the next day we went on a trip to the Blue Lagoon - a natural geothermal spa where you can spend the day relaxing in the mineral rich water that comes from deep underground. It's amazing how long you can spend there just relaxing. The water was very warm and it was a hot sunny day so we got quite a sun tan too. There's even a bar in the pool so you can bob along and get a refreshing drink to cool you down.
The picture above is of the natural pools outside the Blue Lagoon bathing area. The water you bathe in looks just like this... The Blue Lagoon is open until late at night so next time we visit Iceland we plan to go in winter so we can relax in the water and look at the Northern Lights. 

The day after we took a coach trip around the Golden Circle so that we could see some of Iceland's famous sights - Gullfoss Waterfall, The Geysirs, and Thingvellir National Park.

Situated on the northern shore of lake Þingvallavatn, Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the national shrine of Iceland and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a very important location in Icelandic history as the oldest existing parliament in the world first assembled there in 930 AD. As well as being place of historical significance, Þingvellir is also protected as a national park due to its unique geology and natural features.

From there we went on to see the Geysir hot springs. The area became active over 1000 yers ago and is made up of lots of hot springs and boiling mud pits...

The geyser, Strokkur is very active and fires a jet of water up to 30 metres in the air.

Others, like the one above just steam and bubble away gently.
From the geysers it was only a short drive to the impressive Gullfoss waterfall. On sunny days you can see rainbows over the falls but as you can see - it was a bit wet when we went.

The final outing of our visit was to go whale watching... I didn't manage to get any pictures of the humpback whales that we saw but I did manage to get a little picture of a puffin swimming in the sea.
We had a great time visiting Iceland and we're really looking forward to going again before too long... 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Rhondda Book Fair

On Saturday I will be joining a host of other authors at the Rhondda Book Fair which is being held in Penycraig, in the Rhondda Valley. The event has been organised by the excellent Colin Parsons (click on his name to visit his website).

Colin has been hard at work all year to ensure that the fair is a big success - gathering authors of Fantasy - Science Fiction - Crime Fiction - Romance - Historical - Horror - Steam Punk - Wartime - Younger Children's - Children's - Chick Lit - Mythical Fantasy - Poetry. There will also be an author Q&A panel with the audience. And don't forget the refreshments; tea, coffee and cake. 
With authors of all genres taking part the Book Fair promises to be a great day for everyone so why not come along, meet the authors and join the fun (admission is free).

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

On Thursday this week...

... I'm visiting schools in Bolton with the Bolton School Library Service so here's a HUGE HELLO to everyone at Cherry Tree Primary School, The Ferns Primary Academy and Sharples Primary School. This time last year when I went round with the SLS it was hottest day of they year PHEW!!! Looks like tomorrow will be a little cooler and a whole lot wetter...

Saturday was beautiful and warm so we called in at Woodfest in Caerwys to see some of the events that were going on there - like carving with chainsaws... this bear was done very quickly.

Vicky got to hold a little Chaco Owl and we looked at the other rescue owls that had been brought along by Owl Rescue Just click on the link and you can visit their site to find out more about what they do.

We spent a few hours looking at the other exhibits and watching lots of interesting things that were going on - including pole climbing and different sorts of wood carving. Pole climbing looks like great fun as long as you aren't afraid of heights. 

We spotted quite a few interesting characters around too.  

Thursday, 23 June 2016

New Books

I'm very excited to be able to tell you a bit about three new books that are going to be published later this year with Franklin Watts...

The first book, "The Awful Astronaut" is published on 22nd September, illustrated by Davide Ortu, and is about two thousand words in length (five little chapters). The book tells the story of Sam Jones - probably the worst astronaut in the world and soon to be the worst astronaut in space. Ever since he was a little boy, Sam has wanted to be an astronaut. But when he finally gets the chance he discovers that being an astronaut isn't as easy as he had imagined.

The 10th November sees the publication of the second book. "The Disastrous Dentist" is in the same series as The Awful Astronaut and is all about (you've guessed it!) a dentist. Oliver Payne isn't a normal dentist though - Oliver wants to be a dentist for people and their beloved pets. If you think that things are bound to go wrong - you're right again. This is a very silly story and I loved writing it. This book is being illustrated by Ben Scruton and it's looking really good.

"Farmer Finns' Silly Sheep", a short story illustrated by the excellent Steve Brown is also going to be published on the 10th November. This is the second book that I've done with Steve but he's used a different style of illustration for this and I think it's great. (Steve also illustrated Meerkat's Marathon).

It's a wet and windy day on the farm and Farmer Finn would like nothing better than to sit by the fire; but there's work to be done. He feeds the hens and milks the cows but when it comes to feeding the sheep there's a problem... there's no sign of the sheep anywhere. Where could have gone?

I will be adding a web page for each of these three books very soon so keep coming back to take a look. Each page will include information about the books as well as fun things to do; word searches, mazes and more...

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

My Visit to The British School of Tashkent

Last week I had a wonderful time with everyone at The British School of Tashkent in Uzbekistan for a school visit arranged by Authors Aloud. At over 5000 miles from home it's easily the furthest I've ever travelled and I really didn't know what to expect. Here's a little map of my journey...

At seven o'clock on Sunday morning I was already up and getting ready to start my journey. My bags were packed and in the car from the night before as I didn't want to risk forgetting anything or having to rush around on the last minute. There's was time for a cup of coffee and then I was on my way to Manchester airport feeling sure that I had forgotten something. 100 meters down the road I made a u-turn and headed back home. I'd forgotten my phone which was still charging in the kitchen. Good job I realised...

No more delays and I'm off down the road and at the airport in less than an hour. I check my case in and then it's through customs and passport control with a couple of hours left until the plane is due to depart. Time for breakfast. Full English... (sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomato, mushroom, little fried potatoes and toast - plus a coffee) yum!

There's plenty of room on the Turkish Airways plane and I have an aisle seat and an empty seat to my left. Room to stretch my legs a bit... Nice!

This leg of my journey takes me to Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish airlines hand out pieces of Turkish Delight to all the passengers on board (delicious), and as we take off I settle down to listen to some music and read my book - Rick Wakeman's 'Grumpy Old Rock Star and Other Wondrous Stories'. It's a great read and one that I will be dipping into again.
The flight is pretty smooth and we touch down in Istanbul at 17.00 they are two hours ahead of British Summertime so it's taken about four hours to get here. Istanbul Airport is big and busy... its also very warm. I'm not here long though as my next flight leaves in just over an hour.

Another smooth flight though not quite as much room as last time as the people next to me keep wanting to get up and sit down. I listen to my Ipod (Tom Hanks and then Francesca Simon @Simon_Francesca on Desert Island discs... I also watch Jack Black playing R.L. Stein in Goosebumps (a good fun film). 

We touch down it Tashkent, Uzbekistan at 1.05 in the morning... (another two hours ahead of Great Britain so four hours ahead altogether. It takes quite a while to get through customs and passport control but I eventually meet the driver who is going to be dropping off at the hotel. A relief to know I don't have to make my own way there. By the time I get to my room, unpack and get into bed it's after three in the morning - my alarm is set for seven as I will need to get up, shower, have breakfast (cold meats, cheese, bread, olives and other delicious things) and meet the driver again... he has the unfortunate job of taking me to and from school all week. I love driving but wouldn't want to have had to drive myself this week. Drivers in Tashkent have 'an interesting' way of navigating the roads so I was glad of his expertise. 
It's been raining heavily during the night and some of the roads have huge puddles - some very deep ones too - but this doesn't slow anyone down and we plough on through busy traffic towards the school's upper campus.
As soon as I arrive in school I'm made very welcome by everyone I meet... all the children know I'm coming and everyone says hello, shakes my hand or waves... I've never had such a friendly welcome before. Right away I know that I'm going to like it here.

That day is the start of Book Week and everyone gathers in the auditorium for a fun assembly and book quiz. Almost everyone is wearing their pyjamas and carrying a cuddly toy and their favourite book. It's great to see that all of the teachers have their favourite books too (and pyjamas). The teacher's show their favourite books and tell everyone a bit about them... a great way to get children interested in reading is showing how interested in reading you are too. I have the copy of Flat Stanley with me that I had when I was in Primary School and tell everyone a bit about it.
I love the handy seats in on of the libraries...
I'm in school all week and it is a great experience. I get to share stories with everyone, talk about what I do as an author and also try and show everyone how I come up with ideas for stories. Everyone is keen, interested and eager to talk about their favourite books and to show me what they have been doing in class.

As it's Book Week, every class has decorated their classroom doors with a book theme, and they are fantastic. Here's just a few of them.

Above you can see Anthony Brown's Café door and David Walliams' Billionaire Boy and below is pre Nursery's Dear Zoo (the boxes oven up just like in the book to reveal the animal that's inside. there are lots of other great doors and I will post pictures of those later in the week.
Unfortunately, I didn't really get chance for a good look round Tashkent while I was there as I was so busy in school (and so tired afterwards) but I did go out for a nice meal one evening. One thing that strikes me about the city is how green it is, how relaxed it feels and how friendly everyone is. This view from the back of the hotel will give you an idea of how green the city is...

The buildings are a mixture of old and new which gives the city a lot of character... Here's another view from my hotel window. It was roasting out there but thankfully there was air-conditioning in my room so I could keep nice and cool.
 Even though I spend the whole week with everyone it's amazing how quickly the time flies by. On Friday morning I'm up at 5am (1 o'clock in the morning in Britain) so I can shower and head downstairs ready to be taken to Tashkent airport to start my journey home. At Istanbul airport I have an hour or so to wait for my next flight so stop off to buy some Turkish Delight to take home with me...
It's another long flight back home so I read Harlen Coben's excellent thriller 'Fool Me Once', watched Kung Fu Panda 2, listened to lots of music and more Desert Island Discs on my Ipod - Stephen King, Dawn French, Jack Dee, Stephen Fry - and listened to Rhod Gilbert and Alan Davies talk about the way they write their comedy. By the time I got home it was about 5 o'clock and I was worn out... It had been a long day.

I had a fantastic week with everyone at the British School of Tashkent - I made lots of new friends their and had lots of fun. Huge thanks to everyone for looking after me and making me feel so very welcome. Hopefully I will be able to go back again... Take care everyone - have fun reading, and keep in touch.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The British School of Tashkent

This week I'm at the British School of Tashkent in Uzbekistan.  I'm having a great time with everyone and will be writing about it all when I get back home...

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

On The Road And In The Air

Tomorrow I will be up early so that I can drive the 60 miles from home to St Bartholomew's C of E Primary School in Rochdale... A BIG HELLO to everyone at St Bartholomew's - I'm really looking forward to meeting you all.

And a BIG HELLO to everyone at the British School of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A bit of a longer journey there - over 5000 miles... Really looking forward to meeting and working with everyone.

On Thursday, my latest little book - "Just Like Me!" will be published by Franklin Watts as part of their Tiddlers series for very young readers. The book only has around 50 words but it can be quite tricky coming up with a little story idea using so few words. Vicky gave me the idea for this one after we visited Chester Zoo and saw someone taking photographs of the Meerkats with their mobile phone when - oops!!! they dropped their phone into the Meerkat enclosure. One of the inquisitive creatures raced over to take a look at the phone and we imagined it taking pictures of us and other people in the zoo.  

Click here to go and visit my web page all about Just Like Me! The page isn't quite finished yet so please keep coming back for another look... I'm working on it right now.

Last weekend we went on a little drive - heading through Betws-y-Coed, past the Ugly House (Tŷ Hyll) at Capel Curig and on towards Snowdonia. I think you will agree that the little house, now a tea room, is far from being ugly. You can find out more about the Ugly House HERE.
Our journey took us along the road through the mountains and past Llyn Ogwen - despite the snow on the mountains it was quit warm.
We didn't really have long enough to go for much of a walk but we did have a little wander along the path that would have taken us up to the higher lakes. We only went as far as this iron gateway before heading back - though we will be returning soon for a good walk.
Jumping back in the car we continued our journey through the Welsh Highlands.
Time for me to get back to work now... lots of writing to do.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Willows Primary School

I've not had chance to write anything in my diary over the last few weeks but I just wanted to say a huge HELLO to everyone at Willows Primary School in Manchester - I can't wait to meet everyone today.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Visiting Schools and Libraries

I'm up early this morning doing a bit of writing before I head off out... Just enough time here to say a quick hello to everyone that's coming along to Workington Library, Carlisle Library, Barrow Island Primary School, Flint Library (Croes Atti School and St Mary's School), Buckley Library (Westwood CP School), Mold Library (Bryn Gwalia), Holywell Library (St Winifred's School) and to everyone at Tonge Moor Junior School... See you all soon.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Book Weeks and James Morrison

Having a mad busy time at the moment visiting schools and libraries all across the country. Yesterday was lots of fun with my Key Stage 2 friends at Eveswell Primary School in Newport, and today I'm back there to see everyone in Key Stage 1... it always a pleasure visiting the school and seeing everyone so here's a BIG HELLO to you all. On Monday I was at Daisy Hill, Bolton with everyone at St James Daisy Hill, and tomorrow I will be at Waterfoot Primary School in Rochdale - I'm looking forward to meeting everyone...

As well as all the book week fun I've been busy writing late into the night, but despite all this we still managed to find time to go and see the excellent James Morrison in concert in Rhyl. Rhyl Pavilion is a small venue so it makes for a really intimate concert.

James Morrison has a great rock n soul voice and it was fantastic to see him perform a mixture of old favourites as well as songs from his brilliant new album. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Wookey Hole And An Early Start To The Week

Up bright and early today - though not very bright as it feels like the middle of the night... Today I'm off to spend a day with everyone at St Edmund and St John C of E Primary School in Dudley - so here's a BIG HELLO to everyone there.

BIG HELLO's also too Woodlea Junior School, Netherton Infants, Monkwray Junior School and St Chad's Primary School in Lichfield... Phew, it's going to be a busy week. Somehow I have to fit some writing in too as I have a deadline that's creeping closer (a story about a dentist).

Last week was half term and, as well as writing, we had a couple of days away form home - starting with a drive down along the border of Wales and England, then finally crossing over to England on the Severn Bridge.
From there we headed down to Weston-Super-Mare - a popular seaside holiday resort with a long pier and lovely beaches. I couldn't help being intrigued by the ruins of the old Birnbeck Pier.
Deserted and in ruins it reminded me of a Scooby Doo set but the Pier was a hugely popular attraction for visitors. Steam ships would land at the jetty on the right and hundreds of visitors would spend their day having fun before finally going back home in the evening.
The main reason for going away was so we could visit the spectacular Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. Walking through the Gorge we spotted Mountain Goats clambering around and Ravens gliding over the cliffs.
We ventured down into the Wookey Hole caves - heard the legend of the Wookey Witch and tried our best not to bump our heads on the roof of some of the lower rocks. "Ouch!"
The caves were interesting to see but I kept feeling myself drawn to the passage where Cheddar Cheese was slowly maturing "Yum!"
Time for school...