A long overdue hello from a cool and breezy London! I hope that you and your family members are staying safe during this very challenging time, and that books have helped offer a means of escape if you’re at home with little ones. 📚
I’ve been extremely busy over the last few months, working on a new picture book (amongst many other things) and am thrilled to let you know that, after a delay waiting for the proofs, it is finally out today! As you can see, it’s called The Tell-Me Tree and my good friend Anne Swift has worked her magic yet again with the illustrations 😊 .
As with so many of my stories, The Tell-Me Tree was a long time in the making – or ‘brewing’ rather! The initial inspiration came three years ago from a majestic London Plane tree – one of many that stand on the green near the pond in Barnes village, close to where I live in west London.
I must have walked past that tree hundreds of times in the last 25 years, but on that particular evening I spotted a face and nose in its trunk – captured in the first photo on the left below – and thereafter just couldn’t get it out of my mind! From that moment I knew it would feature in one of my stories – and although I had no idea what that story might be, I was certain that the tree would be caring, wise and friendly, and that children would gravitate towards it for that reason.
For me, it’s a case of ‘the best things come to those who wait’ where stories are concerned, and wait I did. Little did I know that it would be three whole years for another moment to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end to complete the puzzle! That moment was a chance overheard remark by a parent (whom I didn’t know) whose daughter had come home from school and drawn a picture that made the family realise she wasn’t happy. In that instant I got my special ‘tingly feeling’ and quickly realised that the tree was going to be part of a story that helps children talk about how they’re feeling – be that happy, sad or somewhere in between. (I often tell children about my tingly feeling at school visits when they ask how I get ideas.😊 )
The very next day as I drove the 10 minutes to my usual gym session (remember those?!) the words for the story came to me in such a rush that I had to dictate them into my phone the moment I parked! Here’s a short excerpt. I hope you enjoy…
The Tell-Me Tree intentionally isn’t ‘heavy going’ in nature – rather it gently encourages conversation with friends, family or trusted grown-ups through drawing, writing and conversational activities, whether you’re feeling happy, sad, excited, proud, lonely – and a range of other emotions. It can be used at home, at school, between friends or in any other setting and includes links to a variety of fun download sheets that children can use to create their own Tell-Me Trees and put their friends, or anyone else they wish beneath it. The downloads also include a full colour Tell-Me Tree poster.
There are also links to resources for grown-ups, offering tips on how to encourage conversations with a child if you are worried about how they’re feeling, and where to get more information should you need it.
I do hope you enjoy this very special book. As ever I am indebted to my great friend Anne Swift for interpreting the story so perfectly with her stunning pen and ink illustrations.
From today it’s available in print and as an eBook on Amazon – though I would always recommend print! The eBook version can be read on a Kindle Fire or a tablet such as iPad, or on a Smart Phone using the Kindle App. (It won’t work on a standard Kindle.)
Later next week the print edition should become available in online stores beyond Amazon. It will also become available to order from high street bookshops, though lead times may vary. Covid-19 has meant getting it into the wider world has been a little more drawn out than usual.
If you order a copy of The Tell-Me Tree please do take a moment to leave a short review online if you and your children or pupils enjoy it! And if there are links you feel I should add to the resources folder please feel free to email me – that document is easy to update.
I have a lot more news to share about The Secret Lake around foreign rights, but I’ll leave that for my next post! With so much now off my task list I plan to blog sooner rather than later next time!
Stay safe wherever you are – and happy reading with the little ones!
Happy Autumn, all! The nights are slowly drawing in here in London and it will be Halloween before we know it, followed by the big rush up to the holiday season. As I write we’re still 85 days away from Christmas (!), however I’m still thrilled to announce that my new picture book The Christmas Tree Wish will be available to order from early to mid October 2019. UPDATE: IT’S OUT NOW HERE ON AMAZON and will be available via bookshops and other online stores from mid October.
This is a heart-warming Christmas tale for ages 3-5+ about hope, friendship and being different 😊. The beautiful pen and ink illustrations by Anne Swift feature little Bruce Spruce, Penelope Pine, Douglas Fir and Cedrick Cypress, as well as a gorgeous Christmas robin and inquisitive squirrel.
Read on to learn more, see images and tosign up for a release date notification.
From the back page
The story behind the story
This is a story that had been going around in my head for years after I saw a small bedraggled Christmas tree left unsold one dark evening a few days before Christmas. My heart went out to the little fellow and I knew I had to write about him.
From the outset I was certain that I wanted hand-drawn illustrations rather than digital, so it was a question of finding the right person. Anne, who is a great friend whom I’ve know for 25 years, is an architect by day, but has always been incredibly creative in other ways – I can’t believe it never occurred to me to ask her to try her hand at children’s illustrations! It was a chance image she drew for her son that made the penny drop!
Summer is here, it’s Wimbledon fortnight in southwest London and it’s not been raining too much for England! But that’s not the only reason to celebrate 😊. I’m thrilled to announce that the audiobook of my Amazon UK bestsellerThe Secret Lakehas just come out and is available to sample for free or to buy now. With its summer mystery adventure theme, the timing couldn’t be better.
The reading age for The Secret Lake book is 8-11. However, the audiobook is perfect for ages 6 and above. (Grown-up fans of classic children’s adventure stories such as Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew love it too!) So if you have a car or other journey planned and would like to keep the kids occupied for two and a half hours, do check out the samples by following the links.
I am narrating so I do hope you and the children enjoy an English accent. It required huge amounts of practice and preparation but was worth every minute for the experience. Did you know that for every hour of audio recording there are typically six hours of editing and mastering involved?! Here are a few photos of me at the recording studio in Brixton with sound engineer Andy Marlow 🙂
The Secret Lake has continued to chart in the top 300-800 (mostly) on Amazon UK over the last few months, as well as fluctuating in the top 2,000-5,000 over on Amazon.com. It has also been ranked regularly in the top 2,000 for all print book sales (not just children’s or Amazon) for the whole of the UK in recent months, according to reports from Nielsen bookscan. As I have said before, when I first sent the manuscript out to publishers they told me that children were no longer interested in traditional adventure stories. How wrong they were!
The audiobook on Amazon has Whispersync enabled, which means the kids can swap between the Kindle version and audiobook and keep their place, or even listen and read along with word highlights on some Kindle models. I’ve not tested this yet but will do so and blog about it at a later date. I think you need to have the Audible app installed for this to work.
The Secret Lake, Australia and Ten Log Cabins 🏕️
Yes, this is a very unlikely combination, I have to confess! But my favourite email in this week was from a lovely Australian called Graham. It read as follows:
Hi Karen, We have just purchased a property in New South Wales, Australia and have named it Secret Lake. We saw your book and loved it. We will be building 10 self-contained cabins around our lake and will find and put copies of your book in each cabin.
Here’s a picture of the lake that was in the property details he sent a link to. I am still speechless but so thrilled 🙂 As and when they are built I will share photos of the books in situ!
The Secret Lake in translation: introducing my first Albanian Fan
I was thrilled last Autumn to receive a rights request for The Secret Lake from Albania and even more excited when the book came out in June. Here’s a picture of my first Albanian fan at a book fair in Kosovo, which has a large Albanian population. The publisher Botart have many other English classics on their list, such as Michelle Magorian (Goodnight Mr Tom), Roald Dahl and David Walliams so I feel in good company and very safe hands. Next up is a Russian translation for which I have recently finalised a deal – more on this another time! In the meantime I hope you enjoy the picture and video below 😊.
The Secret Lake as a Class Reader
I’ve been receiving increasing contact from primary school teachers saying they have been using The Secret Lake in class, including one Deputy Head of English at a school in Durham, UK who is now mapping out a full Scheme of Work based on the book to be taught across four classes from September. He has invited me to go and watch the sessions live once they are up and running – I can’t wait and will blog about this in more detail when the time comes.
And below is a lovely photo (for which I received permission to share) from a school in Wiltshire, where the children each sent me a handwritten letter telling me how much they had enjoyed the story. Getting feedback from readers and schools means so much. Please do email or write to me with any feedback you have for any of my books and I will be happy to reply and share. Anything I can do to help encourage children to read and write more is a pleasure!
That’s it for now. I hope you have a wonderful summer (or winter) break!
Before signing off I just want to wish the Women’s England Football Team the very best of luck in their World Cup semi final against the USA this evening. May the best team win! Needless to say, Eeek is excited for more reasons than one! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask the kids if they’ve read the book…!) ⚽ 👽 🏆
Update:Eeek! sends congratulations to the USA Women’s Soccer Team for winning! “You were awesome!” ⚽ 👽 🏆
It’s a well-known fact that we authors spend a lot of time alone, dreaming up and crafting our stories, discarding some and holding on to a golden few. If the idea takes off, we then spend many more hours, days – and often weeks or months – drafting, rewriting, testing, editing and polishing before finally having the courage to put the story out into the big wide world.
It’s a long (long) process – no matter how short the book. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that writing children’s books is the easy option!
The above holds true for middle grade novels (aimed at ages 8-12), for early reader chapter books – and for picture books whose word count is typically around 500 but might range from zero to 1,000. (Less is best. Less is harder! And it goes without saying that the illustrations are crucial.)
The rhyming game
Trying to squeeze a satisfying and entertaining tale into a picture book’s 26 or 28 pages (this is what’s left after the title and copyright pages etc are used up) is hard enough at the best of times as we toil away on our own. Add in rhyme and you’re into a whole new layer of complexity. Getting the story and the rhyme and the rhythm to cooperate along with the illustrations over a limited page count is one huge challenge!
‘Why on earth would anyone want to write in rhyme?’ you might ask yourself. I’d agree with you there. Except that’s how it came out when I began composing my Ferdinand Fox stories after seeing a beautiful fox trot past me in the mist one November evening. I simply couldn’t express the story in any other way!
Happily, rhyme, it seems, is still what little children love best – or most consistently at least.
Speaking as a parent, I also know that the rhyming stories I shared with my children, such as Hairy MaClary from Donaldson’s Dairy and the others from Lynley Dodd’s wonderful series were firm favourites for me and my husband!
Kids know best
Another well-known fact is that children are the most discerning and honest audience out there – and generally the younger, the more discerning! If they don’t like your story they will let you (or their parents or teachers) know in no uncertain terms 🙂
This brings me on to the flip side of all of those hours spent alone getting things just right – namely the rewards for authors of getting out and sharing our stories with young readers at school visits and other live events.
With my rhyming picture books I often see Reception year children as part of a wider primary school visit with my other titles. However, just as rewarding – and with an extra special place in my heart – are my visits to nursery schools, where I have the opportunity to introduce the magic of books and stories to such young, receptive, (and brutally honest!) minds.
The pictures above and below from my recent visit to Barnes Montessori, a stone’s throw from where I live, offer a glimpse of how meeting my readers brings such joy both to me as an author and to the children. These three to five year-olds were hooked from the get-go and highly engaged for each of the 30-40 minute sessions I offered. That’s quite a tall order from children of that age – especially the three-year-olds!
Keeping picture book listeners engaged
I always warm things up with a rhyming game and by asking children about foxes they may have seen. This sets the scene well for what’s to follow and ensures they feel relaxed and invested from the outset.
Whether as an author or parent/carer the key, of course, to engaging children with books and reading is the enthusiasm you show yourself – it’s infectious and little ones quickly pick up on it. It’s reflected not just in the energy and variety you bring to delivering the story, but also in using opportunities to involve the children with the characters and storyline as you go.
Have you seen a fox in your garden? Where did you see one? What did it look like? Was it a beautiful fox or did it look sad and hungry? What might you call your fox? How do you think Ferdinand feels in this picture? How does baby Ed feel here? Do you think he’s scared? Have you ever seen a hedgehog? Did you touch it? How did it feel? What colour is the mouse in this picture?
In Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, as Ferdinand sleeps (and snores) through the story we are introduced through his dream bubbles to his favourite food. This provides ample opportunity to talk with the children about their favourite food – as well as hear whose mum or dad snores! There’s also a clock that chimes from one to five as the hours pass. As the story moves forward I pause at the clock chimes and count the numbers with the children. Needless to say they get lots of praise for their counting skills!
In Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog there’s a section at the end dedicated to fun facts about foxes and hedgehogs, such as where they live, how long they live and what they eat. We always have great fun discussing whether the children would like spiders for breakfast, caterpillar sandwiches for lunch, or worms on toast for supper! This part of the book also shows how we can all help hedgehogs find food by cutting holes in the bottom of garden fences, and help them hibernate by building up safe areas in our gardens.
As time has gone on I’ve added videos to my sessions. One is of a fox that fell asleep in an author friend’s garden and looks remarkably like Ferdinand Fox. The children all ‘ooh’ and gasp when he finally starts to wake up!
The other is a video of a hedgehog running down the side of my family home in Hertfordshire – captured by chance by my brother. As with the fox video, it has the children entranced and goes just one step further to enhancing their experience of sharing stories and books.
The pictures here mean a lot to me and encapsulate the double sided joy of being writer. From sitting alone in a quiet world where stories tumble, mature and develop as they try to get out – to seeing the delight on children’s faces as they lap up your characters and the journey you have taken them on.
Writing children’s books is a journey I wouldn’t give up for the world!
Rhyming or no rhyming 🙂
With thanks to Barnes Montessori for inviting me and for taking these lovely photos.
We’re at the start of the first of two Bank Holiday long weekends this month in the UK — guaranteed to make the nation smile, come rain or shine! However, there are a couple of other reasons why I especially love May. I’ll start with those before sharing other news.
Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – May 11th/12th
May is the month in which we have The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, conveniently held down the road from where I live in southwest London. It’s in its fifth year and is now London’s largest dedicated children’s book festival.
As well as the many big names this year (Lauren Child, Judith Kerr, David Almond, Jeremy Strong to name but a few…), there’s also a fabulous free events programme. So if you have kids and live within reach of London, do look at the programmes and come along. I’m already looking forward to hearing Judith Kerr and Emma Carroll. Oh and I must book for Hillary McKay too!
Do you have a children’s story in you?
I’ve had great fun running children’s events at Barnes over the years. However, this year for the second year in a row I’ll be running an event for new and aspiring children’s authors on Children’s Book Self-Publishing and Marketing. If you think you have a children’s story in you, or are just curious about how it all works, do come along to find out more about this exciting world. Ages 16-66+ welcome! 🙂 (We had a packed tent last year.) Click here to learn more or book.
The Secret Lake – the magical journey continues
As many of you will know, another reason May has a special place in my heart is that it’s the time that Isabella Plantation, a stunning woodland in London’s Richmond Park, comes into bloom. The woodlands and ‘Still Pond’ (seen below during a 14k walk last Sunday!) were a strong part of the inspiration for my UK bestselling time travel adventure The Secret Lake, which is also now climbing the charts in the US and Canada.
Unbelievably, over 20,000 copies of The Secret Lake have sold in print in the last year and I’ve just signed two foreign rights deals. If you don’t yet know the story and are curious, do visit Amazon UK to read over 100 reviews 🙂 You’ll also find 35 more on Amazon.com.
It’s now almost 20 years since I wrote the first draft, after watching some friends’ children playing in the vast communal gardens of London’s Notting Hill. As I looked all around at the grand houses I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the children playing there that day could meet the children who had lived and played there 100 years earlier. If you want to know more, or to download a free sample, follow the links below. The reading age is 8-11, but it’s also perfect to read aloud to ages 6 upwards.
For those of you who live in the UK, The Secret Lake is currently on offer on Amazon at £5.29 down from £6.99. It’s also discounted on Amazon in Canada from $10.70 to $9.71. I don’t control the offers I’m afraid, so don’t know how long they will last. If you have a young bookworm at home, I’d say grab it while you can. And, of course, you can also order it from your local bookshop.
Reader fan mail – making me smile!
We authors love hearing from our readers. Above is a lovely hand-drawn postcard I received from a nine-year-old pupil, Grace, from Richmond, Texas, USA. I was travelling in Vietnam when her card arrived and my son sent a photo on Whatsapp — I was thrilled and have since written back with the ‘head in the clouds’ (that’s me!) giraffe card you can see. I’ve also just received an envelope full of letters from school children in Wiltshire, UK — most asking for a sequel after they read The Secret Lake in class! This was a wonderful surprise, especially as I’ve not visited that school.
Eeek! The Runaway Alien cover makeover
In more news, Eeek! The Runaway Alien (my fun illustrated story about a soccer-mad who runs away to Earth for the World Cup) has a had a minor cover update, with a football added. Goodness knows why we didn’t have one before! To mark the occasion, my illustrator created this animation. I hope you enjoy!
Last, but not least, it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week here in the UK next week. All year round we’re doing what we can to look out for them as they are now an endangered species.
We’re lucky to have quite a few hedgehogs in my local London village of Barnes, and there’s a huge campaign to encourage homeowners to create holes at the foot of garden fences, to allow the hedgehogs to travel to find food. This creates a ‘hedgehog highway’. The video below of a hedgehog running up the side of my family home last summer demonstrates just how far they like to go in search of food!
Click below to view a video of a hedgehog out looking for food – my brother kindly captured this for me last summer 🙂
Hedgehogs and foxes – early learning
If you have a toddler in the house, or children/grandchildren up to age 6 my gentle rhyming picture book Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog, about a baby hedgehog that meets a fox one night, ends with eight fun pages of photos and facts about foxes and hedgehogs including how to build nests and safe places for hedgehogs to hibernate in your garden. It’s always a huge hit at my school visits — not least when they come to learn what foxes and hedgehogs like to eat for breakfast and supper!
Do you have hedgehogs where you live? I’d love to hear about them or see some photos if you do!
That’s it for now. I hope you have a relaxing May bank holiday weekend if you’ll be getting time off where you are. And, for those of you in the US, I hope the children have been getting stuck into reading more than ever over the last week!
With very best wishes,
PS If you or your children have read any of my books already, it would mean a lot to me if you could help them leave an honest review on Amazon or your other preferred store. Doing so means that Amazon and other stores will show it to more people. Every little really does help! Thank you!
They say the best things come to those who wait: it’s seven years this month since I published my time travel adventure The Secret Lake and I couldn’t be more thrilled that it has become an Amazon UK children’s bestseller both in print and as an eBook over the last four months. (The print book is ranked at just over 300 in the whole of the Amazon UK Store as I write – though this changes by the hour and the bestseller badge comes and goes as a result.) Now feels a good time for any new followers to tell you how I came to write it, how it was rejected, and what happened next…
It’s almost 20 years since I wrote the first draft of my time travel adventure The Secret Lake in which Stella (age 11) and Tom (age 8), while trying to find their elderly neighbour’s missing dog, discover a time tunnel and secret lake that take them to their home and the children living there 100 years earlier. And it’s seven years to the day since I self-published it. (Amazon shows the print publication date as 4th August but that is wrong – that’s the date I registered the ISBN, but I clearly did something wrong!)
The story was inspired when some friends moved to an apartment backing onto communal gardens not far from Notting Hill in London. When I walked out and saw the children playing there I couldn’t help wondering what might happen if they could meet the children who had lived and played there in Edwardian times.
The lake in the story was inspired by a pond in a magical woodland in Richmond Park, close to where we live. We used to take our boys there to play when they were younger and it reminded me of the sense of freedom I had had as a child growing up in the Hertfordshire countryside. Even before we’d left Notting Hill that day of our first visit, this magical woodland setting had become connected with the story that was already forming in my mind…
There were many drafts in the early days (I didn’t plot, and things got very muddled!), and it was many months before I felt ready to show the story around.
My first step was to submit it for comment to an independent manuscript appraisal service, The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books. Thereafter – and several rewrites later – I sent it off by post to a half a dozen publishers only to be told that the story was “too traditional”, “not what children are looking for these days” or “not for our lists”. After the six- to eight-week wait to hear back, I was despondent – and many reading here will know that awful feeling of rejection!
I had better luck with my next story Eeek! The Runaway Alien (a humorous chapter book about a young alien who comes to Earth for the Word Cup), with Bloomsbury asking for more material, and an agent asking for a further version. However, when this eventually came to nothing I decided the odds of getting published were stacked against me in a very large, slow-motion lottery — so I packed everything away and went back to my day job as a business writing consultant where I knew I would at least earn from my writing.
After that The Secret Lake, Eeek! and various other stories lay in a wooden box under my office window for over 10 years. I used to glance at that box from time to time and think what a shame it was that no one would ever know the magical story of The Secret Lake. I also recall fleetingly wondering if one day my great-great grandchildren might discover it and bring it back to life.
Discovering self-publishing and gaining control
In fact, it wasn’t the future grandchildren who would breathe new life into The Secret Lake. I took a yearlong sabbatical from my consulting work in late 2010 and pulled my stories out again. Around that time self-publishing via Amazon’s CreateSpace was being talked about online and, once I delved deeper, I knew it was for me: it would put me in control and allow me to get my story in front of children instead of sitting unloved in someone’s slush pile.
It was a lonely business back then – no Facebook Groups or self-publishing organisations to join to swap expertise and frustrations! And book formatting tools were few and far between — and extremely clunky compared with what’s on offer today. I had lots of setbacks but The Secret Lake was finally born in print and for Kindle in September 2011.
The long road to discovery – and how children know best!
Once The Secret Lake was out, I set up a website, contacted and visited local bookshops and sent press releases to local magazines, newspapers and community newsletters, taking care to point to where it was stocked locally. My first event was a reading in our local library. I was terrified that no one would turn up – or that I’d have hordes – and I burst into tears from nerves the day before. In fact, there were seven children, seven adults and the library staff. It was perfect. The librarian even served tea and cakes!
Thereafter I began connecting with local schools, which entailed a lot of research and persistence. Gradually (very gradually) it began to pay off and my local author brand started to grow.
Then and now – children still know best…
My instinct that children still hanker after a good adventure story had proven itself long before its recent rise through the Amazon ranks. By the end of 2017 I had sold over 7,000 copies through a combination of school visits, local independent bookshop sales and signings in six branches of Waterstones (a major UK book chain) around southwest London – plus a steady trickle of online store sales in print and for Kindle in both the UK and USA. During this time the then Head of Independent Commissioning for children’s CBBC also read and enjoyed it, and recommended I pitch it to the BBC and/or to independent production companies. It didn’t get chosen by the CBBC in the end, and life and other writing got in the way after that. However, pursuing the second option is now high on my task list and I’ve even had an enquiry from Hollywood recently. (I am sure this will be case of ‘watch this space for a VERY long time’, so I’m not get excited just yet…).
What changed in 2018?
The Secret Lake has always been my bestseller at school visits but raising its profile beyond face-to-face events and my local bookshops has, until this year, been by far the hardest part of being an independent children’s author. And if people farther afield don’t know your book then they don’t know to look for it – be that online or in high street bookshops. This in turns means that children won’t know about it in sufficient numbers around the UK to spread the word and so fuel further demand.
I have Amazon UK to thank for the breakthrough. When they opened up sponsored product advertising to independent authors alongside traditionally published titles in early 2018 I was finally able to make The Secret Lake visible online where parents are looking for similar children’s books. The effect was almost immediate and the book began to climb slowly and steadily through the ranks. (This was before I updated the cover in May, though the new design has undoubtedly worked extra magic since and I couldn’t be happier with it.)
By the time I started promoting it, The Secret Lake had 45 reviews, gradually built up over the years. These undoubtedly helped encourage sales once the book became visible, and the review numbers are now slowly growing. I’m so grateful to those parents and grandparents who have taken the time give their feedback, or help their child give their feedback. As any author will tell you, it means so much after all the hard work – and particularly in the case of children’s authors where our readers don’t have access to the online reviews platforms. So, thank you if you have left a review recently or in the past!
Not just Amazon…
I’m especially delighted to report that word-of-mouth customer requests have also led to independent and high street bookshops outside of my locality placing orders for The Secret Lake through wholesalers, with around 70 recent UK sales and similar in the US this way when I last checked. This is great news for bookshops and readers alike. For once, Amazon seems to be helping high-street bookshops make more sales.
Reflecting on my adventure
As The Secret Lake continues to land on hundreds of doormats in the UK, US and Europe (notably Germany) each week, I can’t help thinking back to those early rejections. I truly felt there was a gap in the market for more classic adventure stories – the sort I’d enjoyed as a child, but with a modern twist. I’m so glad that children, parents, librarians and teachers have confirmed my suspicions and given this story the chance to breathe.
In short, without Amazon and self-publishing, this story would still be in its box — how very sad would that be? (Oh, except, of course, for those curious future great-great-grandchildren! 🙂 Hmm, and therein might lie another magical time travel story…)
If you have a 7-10 year-old soccer fan in the house do visit Eeek’sAmazon page to find out what others are saying about this laugh-out-loud page turner about an alien who turns up on young Charlie’s doorstep during the World Cup. Eeek! is still a firm favourite at my school visits, with boys and girls alike.
I hope you enjoy this fun cover my illustrator put together in celebration of the 2018 World Cup kick-off. Watch the blue smoke come out of Eeek’s ears – just like it does in the story!
A summer read to escape the World Cup!
Of course football isn’t for everyone. If you an have 8-11 year-old who wants to escape from the World Cup they may want to take a look at my time travel mystery The Secret Lake which is currently hitting the children’s bestseller lists on Amazon UK. It really is an extra special story and I’m thrilled that over 10,000 young readers have now discovered it… 🙂
School visits in person or via Skype
I really love meeting my young readers. If your child’s school would like an author visit in person or on Skype please ask them to visit my school visits page and get in touch.
I’m now taking bookings for the autumn term and for World Book Day week in 2019.
If you’re in London I may be able to squeeze in a visit later this term if you’d like me to introduce Eeek! during the World Cup.
Happy World Cup! Otherwise happy reading – or shopping!
We’ve all been enjoying the sunshine today – I hope it’s shining where you are!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here – life is always so busy, what with new books to get out, school visits and all of the marketing tasks I have to keep up with. However, I promised to keep you up to date with what I’m doing and wanted to share two pieces of children’s books news – and to remind you about the World Cup!
Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog: a rhyming picture book for ages 3-6
Firstly, I have a new rhyming picture book out for ages 3-5+ Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehogwhich introduces Hatty the hedgehog and her baby son Ed.
It’s already proving extremely popular with children, parents and grandparents and the rhyming story comes with eight pages of hedgehog and fox photos and facts to share with little ones – including how we can all help hedgehogs survive. If you have children or grandchildren in this age range, do take a look at the online reviews on Amazon UK . It’s also available in the Amazon.com store and all other stores worldwide. You can also order it at your local bookshop.
Inside the book you’ll find a link to free colour posters to download and print off…
I took the story along to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival the weekend before last where it was a huge hit with little ones!
A magical new cover for The Secret Lake
The beautiful Isabella Plantation woodland in Richmond Park near London (where Henry VIII used to ride out) is in full bloom right now – see my images below from a visit last week – it’s where we used to take our boys to play when they were small.
To coincide with the season, I’ve recently updated the cover of my best selling time travel adventure The Secret Lake, which was partly inspired by a magical pond at Isabella, called ‘Still Pond’.
I asked for children’s votes on the cover at eight schools during my World Book Day visits in March this year and they overwhelmingly went for this one over a couple of other options – I hope you like it! I wanted to bring it up to date but also retain the classic feel that the story has, and I think my illustrator, Damir, has achieved this.
The Secret Lake has now sold over 9,000 copies and continues to be a firm favourite with girls and boys aged 8-11 – oh, and with grown-ups! It’s even been hitting best seller lists on Amazon UK in recent weeks which I’m especially proud about 🙂
The Secret Lake up at Isabella Plantation last week for a little tour
While here – just a quick reminder: with the World Cup coming around in June, if you have any soccer-mad boys or girls aged 7-10 at home do check out Eeek! The Runaway Alien – about an alien who comes to Earth for the World Cup 🙂 It has a huge surprise at the end (but don’t tell the kids!) and has been praised for getting both keen and reluctant readers turning the pages. LoveReading4kidsUK describes it as “Laugh-out-loud funny!” and it has been used in the Get London Reading campaign. I shall be posting a new crossword puzzle to go with it on my site in the next couple of weeks, so look out for that — I just need to consult with my husband on a few minor details…
Other news – helping local causes
Finally, one thing I love about being an author is getting involved with community projects, or doing what I can to help with fundraising relating to literacy. Below you can see me at Brandlehow Primary School in Putney a couple of weeks ago, close to where I live in London. The PTA is raising funds for a new library and asked a few local authors if we’d come and run some free workshops that both children and parents could attend. The money they raised through donations is going towards the library, and stood at over £700 when I last heard! The children also got to buy signed books, so everyone went home happy.
My next task for today is to drop off a signed copy of each of my books for prizes in a fundraising quiz being held this week at Greenmead Primary, a special needs primary school in south-west London for children aged 2-11.
I’m also extremely excited to have sponsored a bookshelf for a new literacy library being built in London by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education – a charity that works to improve literacy in primary schools.
That’s it for now – I’ll be in touch again, but not too often. In the meantime I hope you have a great rest of week – and let’s hope the sun stays shining in the UK for our upcoming bank holiday!
PS If you think your school would like a school visit – in person or via Skype – please ask them to get in touch and/or to look at my school visits page
Hello from London – I hope you all had a great Easter break. Our one-off heatwave in early April seems a distant memory now, but the sun is trying to break through again today, and the magical woodland that inspired the setting for my top selling children’s time travel adventure The Secret Lake is already in bloom and I wanted to share a couple of images. (You’ll also find a link to a free sample of the story later on if you don’t yet have it.)
The woodland that inspired The Secret Lake is called Isabella Plantation, and is hidden away within London’s Richmond Park (one of the places Henry VIII used to ride out to from Hampton Court). Here’s a photo I took after cycling up there on Sunday. Our children loved exploring there when they were younger!
But the best is yet to come: I also took a 12-second video of the stunning ‘Still Pond’ with all of the azaleas reflecting in the water. This was the inspiration for the book’s cover and the lake in The Secret Lake. It’s also the first thing Tom and Stella see after climbing down the time tunnel. (You can see this scene in the book cover image below.)
These shots were so stunning, I couldn’t resist sharing them. I hope you enjoy!
Could you take a moment to review The Secret Lake?
If you or your child has read and enjoyed The Secret Lake it would mean a lot to me if you could take a moment to leave a rating and short review on Amazon or help your child to do so. Reviews really do help spread the word and every little helps – especially for we children’s authors! Our readers aren’t on Amazon and so garnering reviews is a slow process. Hopefully the links below will help save you time!
If you don’t already have The Secret Lake and would like to ‘try before you buy’ – whether for yourself or on behalf of a child – simply click on the link below to download the first four chapters for free. The instructions are really easy to follow and you can download to phone, Kindle, desktop or any other device. The full book is available in print or as an eBook.
The Secret Lake is aimed at a reading age of 8-11 years, but is also highly suitable to read aloud to younger children, thanks to its page-turning plot and short chapters. It’s also loved by grown-ups – especially fans of Enid Blyton and Tom’s Midnight Garden! I hope you or children will enjoy. It continues to be my bestseller both online and at school events – I hope your children will also get to know this magical tale.
That’s it for now. I hope the sun is shining where you are – or will be soon 🙂
Last Thursday I was at a book launch chatting with a friend who told me that her husband NEVER reads. She’s tried everything. Her husband was there, and happily joined in the conversation – he’s a highly qualified accountant in his mid fifties and they have two bookworm sons. 🙂
He went on to say that he simply has never found the ‘staying power’ with fiction (or indeed much non-fiction) and loses interest very quickly.
As my children’s books are very much aimed at reluctant readers I quickly found myself recommending him a short(ish) book that I discovered at an airport back in the summer of 2003 en route to a a family holiday.
The book had gripped me from the start, and was a very easy and quick read. I made this discovery before it became better known and turned into a (relatively unknown) a film.
The book is called ‘I’m Not Scared’ by Niccolo Ammaniti and is translated from Italian. (The cover below is of a later edition than the one I have…)
On that holiday my then nine-year-old son insisted on taking I’m Not Scared from me and reading it whenever I put it down! It’s not really a children’s book – even though a child is the main character – but this probably tells you why it sprang to mind as a potential game changer for my friend’s husband. (I bet it was the title that grabbed my son’s attention…)
Back to the book launch. After I had left, I carried on thinking about books that I might recommend to reluctant ‘older readers’ and, with the holiday season upon us, thought I’d share four quality yet easy reads below if you’re stuck for a gift for an adult family member or friend who isn’t keen on reading but would be open to trying something new. All apart from the Anne Tyler are aimed at late ‘tween’ or YA audiences, but all are equally engrossing and suitable for adults.
I won’t pad out this post with book summaries – you’ll find them on each title’s Amazon page (click the book cover to open in a new tab). What I will say is that I’d be surprised if these books don’t engross the recipients…
As for my friend’s husband, I’ll no doubt have to report back what he thought!
Happy reading and happy holidays! 🎄
PS Don’t forget that you can quickly preview all of my children’s books for ages 6-11 for FREE with the fun interactive widgets below – just click then choose which book to read 🙂