Hello from a sunny but cold London on 6th Nov 2023
I’ve had my head down for quite some time, so apologies for the long silence, but I’m very excited to let you know that after 8 months of research, plotting, writing, and editing, book 3 in The Secret Lake series is almost here! The image below shows the ‘holding cover’, and further down you can link to a video of my unboxing it when it arrived last week. 😊 (If you don’t yet know the series, I’ve given an overview the end of this post.)
Beyond the Secret Lake
As you can see, the title is Beyond The Secret Lake. Surprisingly, this took me a while to come up with —I needed it to ‘fit’ with the first two and just couldn’t think of anything! Happily, I got there in the end and it makes perfect sense as, in this latest adventure, the children from both past and present travel outside of early 1900s London to a countryside estate where all is not as it seems! True to form, Stella, Tom, Lucy, Emma, Sophie, Jack (oh — and Hannah!) took me in unexpected directions while working together to solve a mystery whose outcome would shape lives and futures forever. More on this in my next post!
The early proof copy is currently being checked for any final tweaks, and I’ll be sharing the final cover design and book blurb in a few weeks. Publication is planned for early 2024. Coming in at 60,000 words it’s a little longer than Return to the Secret Lake, and is suitable for strong readers from ages 8-12+ —or to read aloud to ages 7+ who love adventure and mystery!
Advance Readers – your chance to ask to join my team
As with Return to the Secret Lake, I am recruiting a small team of advance readers. In return, if you/they enjoy the book I can include excerpts of their advance reviews at the front of the published book if I receive them in time. My previous readers loved seeing their names in print!
If you or someone you know who has read books 1 and 2 is interested in joining the Advance Reader Team, please emailme (see the ‘Contact’ page) with ‘Advance Reader Request’ in the email subject line. There have been a lot of requests via my newsletter, so good luck! I’ll reply with more details about how it works in the next couple of day, but in short I will send out advance copies in eBook or print in mid November. Feedback will be requested by a certain date — probably late December/early January.
If you were part of the last team, I’d of course love to have you for Book 3!
Unboxing my uncorrected proof copies
Cornwall Writer’s Retreat and Book 3 Research
In case you missed the previous blog post, it was at my Cornwall Writer’s Retreat last March where a lot of the research for Beyond the Secret Lake took place. (Of course I had no idea of its title at that time!) Below are a couple of shots from the train journey down — just some of the books I used to steep myself back in that time. Follow the link above and scroll down to see the beautiful house by the sea where we stayed!
School visits, bookclub or birthday events: in person and online
In other news, I visited a large primary school near Hampton Court last week. It’s always a joy to connect with new young readers! If your school or book club would like an in-person or virtual author visit, please get in touch — I’m happy to visit anywhere in the world! I’m also happy to pop in online for a birthday event. You can find out more and read testimonials on my school visits page .
The Secret Lake series – at a glance
For those of you who may not know the series, in The Secret Lake Tom and Stella (aged 8 and 11), while trying to find their elderly neighbour’s missing dog in their Notting Hill communal gardens, discover a time tunnel and lake that lead them to their home and the Edwardian children living there 100 years earlier. Here they forge strong friendships, help a young boy who is in trouble, and uncover startling connections with the present.
In Return to the Secret Lake, one of their friends in past time has fallen dangerously ill and her best friend Lucy comes forward in time in search of their help. The children travel back down the time tunnel together where yet more challenges await. Loyalty, bravery and friendship across time are key themes in both books, together with a page-turning plot and unexpected twists and turns. 😊 Book 3 follows suit and will not disappoint!
Happy holidays, all! It’s freezing and snowy here in London, but the sun is shining so it’s looking beautiful out there. I hope you are all keeping warm! I’m a little late with this update but wanted to post before the year is out — so here goes! (And if you’re still in need of a few extra presents, there may be something here for you! 😊)
But first, I hope you enjoy this image, snapped in my garden earlier this week. I just love how the frost decorates the shrubs and trees!
The Christmas Tree Wish
If you’re still looking for something for the little ones, this heartwarming tale for ages 3-6 about hope and friendship is still as popular as ever! Gardners UK wholesalers have just run out so getting it from local bookshops will be tricky. However, the paperback is available on Amazon worldwide for delivery before Christmas. (If you enjoy sharing books on your tablet/ device with your children/grandchildren, the story is also available as an eBook with pop-up text via the link above.)
Eeek! The Runaway Alien makeover (free flip-book sample below!)
A new edition ofEeek! The Runaway Alien(the soccer-mad alien who came to Earth for the World Cup) is now out. It was long overdue a makeover and I’m delighted with the work of illustrator and layout artist, Rachel Lawston. I hope you enjoy! With the World Cup tournament in everyone’s minds (win or lose!), what better choice of stocking filler for 7-10 year-olds who love football (aka soccer) and humour! Described as ‘Laugh-out-loud funny!’ by LoveReading4KidsUK, Eeek! is still a firm favourite with both boys and girls. There’s an hilarious twist in Eeek! btw, but don’t tell the kids!
I’d love to know what your children think of the new design; please do email me to let me know!
Return to the Secret Lake audiobook is here!
The audiobook of Return to the Secret Lake came out this autumn. Whereas I narrated The Secret Lake, I knew this was a job for a professional — the sequel comes in at twice the length of book one and has a much larger character cast, which would have been beyond my skills! After listening to around 15 audition samples, I chose British voice actor Eilidh Beaton. Her ability to assume the voices of so many different characters is astonishing, and I am in awe of how she managed to put in so many hours over a relatively short period and still sound so fresh. Eilidh has over 100 audiobooks to her name, so that probably explain things! Click or tap the image or the link below it to hear a free sample over on Amazon.
At the time of writing I’ve sold close to 9,000 copies of Return to the Secret Lake in the English language and the story has received nearly 400 ratings/reviewson Amazon with 83% 5-Star. This is truly heartwarming, especially as it was a rather nerve-wracking book to write following on from the success of book one! Children and adults say they especially love the mix of real history with a page-turning plot.
I am extremely grateful that no one so far has inadvertently included spoilers in their reviews — those who have read the book will know what I mean by this!
The German edition has also been extremely well received, and I’ve also just sold the Czech rights to Grada Publishing, whose readers loved book one!
If you’ve bought and enjoyed Return to the Secret Lake, or its German translation, please do take a moment to leave a short review online as it will help other families find the story. Thank you!
The Secret Lake: illustrated Spanish edition coming soon!
In other exciting news, over the summer a major Spanish publisher bought the rights to The Secret Lake and is creating a colour illustrated version, which I hope will be out in 2023. I even got to choose from their final shortlist of illustrators, and have since been commenting on her pencil illustrations, which are amazing! I can’t wait to share the final result with you once it’s out! Watch this space 😊.
Books from past time…
Earlier this year, my husband’s aunt died at the incredible age of 103. Before her house was sold, her daughter asked if I’d like to take a look through her collection of children’s books. Of course, I couldn’t resist. Below is a small sample of those I brought home — I’m sure that some older readers here will recognise at least some of them. The Water Babies is an 1899 Edition!
Another interesting fact is that Anne Logue (my husband’s aunt who owned these books) was married to Valentine Logue, son of Lionel Logue who was speech and language therapist to King George VI, and a main character portrayed in the film The King’s Speech. She said that her husband said that the somewhat downtrodden family apartment featured in the film was not accurate at all! The Logues apparently lived in a far grander property in Bolton Gardens, which is a very upmarket part of London!
Would you like a school visit?
Before I go, just to say please do get in touch or look at the school visits page here on my website if you think your child’s primary/prep/elementary school would like an in-person or virtual visit. For older pupils or secondary schools I can run talks on how books get made and writing and publishing in the digital age. I am mostly booked on World Book Day week 2023, but do still have a couple of slots for Zoom visits —and plenty of availability at other times for in-person or Zoom visits.
That’s it for now. I’ll be in touch again in the new year. In the meantime, for everyone in the northern hemisphere, I hope you are able to find imaginative ways to stay warm without breaking the bank!
Happy reading in the meantime! 📚 😊
PS Reminder: if you/ your pupils or children have read Return to the Secret Lake or any of my other books it would be wonderful if you could take a moment to leave a short review online if you’ve not yet done so. Every little helps spread the word. Thank you!
Hello from London where we’ve been experiencing extreme heat, epic rainfall and flash flooding in equal measure. It’s cold and grey in London as I write. I hope your summer is a little better! Thankfully, more governments are waking up to the reality of global warming. Here’s keeping fingers crossed that between us we can turn this around.🤞
I’ve had an especially busy first half of the year — hence the long gap since my last post! Since finalising the second edition of my non-fiction book for children’s authors (now out, all 420 pages — phew!), I’ve commissioned a fun audiobook of Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat (check out the free sample later on!) and have been working on plans for a new top secret middle grade title, on which more towards the end of the year. 📚 Now, back to more immediate news…
Middle Grade Summer Reading Sale
First things first! In the spirit of summer, and to encourage more Summer Reading, I’ve teamed up with a small number of bestselling middle grade authors to offer nine incredible eBooks, all of which are either FREE or just $0.99/£0.99 on Amazon.
I can vouch that all of these books are high quality, well reviewed, and you will not be disappointed! These deals, which are available for the next five days only (sale ends Thursday August 5th), offer a great way to sample new authors and stories. And, of course, you can always then buy them in print if your child prefers reading that way.
These books are rarely discounted so please spread the word to your friends and family. I also encourage you to subscribe to each author’s newsletter to learn more about them and their new releases.
Eeek! — New Cover
Those of you who have been following me for a while, will see that Eeek! has a shiny new cover! That’s 11-year-old Charlie opening the door to the alien in the picture (with shorts and a scarf added for front-cover modesty!). For those not familiar with this story, it’s about a soccer-mad alien who runs away to Earth for the World Cup. Described as “laugh-out-loud funny” and great for keen and reluctant readers alike, it was featured as Book of the Month on LoveReading4KidsUK when it came out and remains hugely popular for both girls and boys ages 7-10 at school events 🙂 It surely must be up there with every child’s dream to find a friendly young alien on their doorstep?!
The Secret Lake: 10-year Anniversary
August marks the 10-year anniversary of the publication of my bestselling time-travel adventure The Secret Lake. At the last count it had sold over 320,000 print copies in the English language. I am truly honoured and humbled that so many children (and adults) have fallen in love with this magical tale. Thank you if your family has a copy! Look out for a separate celebratory newsletter in the next few weeks when I shall be giving away dedicated, signed copies in a special draw.
Meanwhile, the photo below was taken by my son when visiting his girlfriend’s best friend’s family home out in Wiltshire last weekend. I couldn’t believe how closely it echoes the lake in The Secret Lake, nor could I resist superimposing the book cover! What a beautiful setting — a perfect location for a film of the book, don’t you think?! 😊 ❤️
The Tell-Me Tree — incredible teacher and parent feedback
I continue to be bowled over by feedback to The Tell-Me Tree, which both parents and teachers are telling me has been brilliant for helping children share their feelings through writing, talking or drawing. Several schools say they have set up Tell-Me Trees either inside a classroom, or assigned a tree outside in their grounds. One parent in the UK has even painted a ceiling-height Tell-Me Tree into the corner of her young sons’ bedroom! (If you’re reading this, Amanda, do let me know how it’s going down with boys!)
Below I’ve included a few example comments from a Facebook promotion I’ve been running. As these were posted publicly I don’t think the readers will mind.
Children have the habit of storing up worries and the more we can encourage them to share feelings of all sorts — happy, sad, or anywhere in between — the better chances we have of resolving issues early on before they grow into something bigger.
Finally, as promised, here’s a link to a free sample of Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat. While it has a reading age of 7-10, the audiobook can be enjoyed from age 6. British voice actor Ciaran Saward (who also narrated Eeek! The Runaway Alien) is absolutely brilliant! 🎩 😊
That’s it for now. Look out for my next post later this month or early September when I’ll be offering signed copies of The Secret Lake to a few lucky readers!
And remember: the Summer Reads sale ends on August 5th so scroll up to grab your copies now!
Happy reading, stay safe and have a great rest of summer!
It’s September and back-to-school week here in the UK. Like everyone, I’m keeping fingers crossed that pupils and students will be able resume their school and uni life with as little interruption as possible in the coming months. If you’re farther afield with children studying from home, I do hope you are all managing in this challenging time.
I have a few updates below which I hope you’ll enjoy. These include:
Early feedback from parents and teachers on The Tell-Me Tree
A new, fabulously narrated audiobook of Eeek! The Runaway Alien – out soon and with a free coupon offer
A sneak peek of my Der verborgene See, the upcoming German edition of The Secret Lake, and plans for a new picture book for next year
The Tell-Me Tree: Your Feedback
I firstly wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me and/or leave a review of The Tell-Me Tree online. Early sales have exceeded expectations, especially here in the UK where it has been ranking in the top 2,000 or so on Amazon in the last few weeks. I’ve also seen healthy orders for non-Amazon sales (via bookshops or school orders), which is a lovely surprise!
Most importantly, however, I have been bowled over by the responses from parents and teachers, and in particular wanted to mention two emails I received. The first is from a parent, Nicola Roberts, from Kent, who has given me permission to share the photos and details you will find below. The second is from a teacher who is planning to use The Tell-Me Tree as part of her back-to-school activities.
Nicola’s message to me is one I will treasure for years to come and I hope you understand why. Her seven year-old daughter Lucy, seen below, has cerebral palsy, development delays and breathing difficulties caused by craniosynostosis (or “cranio”), a condition where the skull fuses too early, meaning that while the brain grows the skull cannot. Sadly, this resulted in a stroke for Lucy when she was just a year old.
Nicola explained that, although it hasn’t been officially diagnosed, Lucy possesses a lot of the traits of autism, including severe anxiety both at home and at school. “At school she finds it difficult to express her feelings and therefore just bursts into tears or has a meltdown if she doesn’t understand something or cannot convey how she feels. I think it [The Tell-Me Tree] will help her immensely when she starts back. We have read it several times over and I can honestly say this is the first book she hasn’t got bored with halfway through. We adore everything about it, from the concept to the beautiful illustrations and the rhyming aspect. I had a lump in my throat when I first read it because it could’ve been written for Lucy.
“When Lucy goes back to school, I’m going to buy some copies for them, both to reiterate the meaning to Lucy and to help other children. I have five book cases filled with children’s books and I’m being totally honest when I say it’s the best book we’ve ever read.”
Nicola is keen to educate other parents and children about Lucy’s condition and, as I say, has given permission for me to share the photos above. A couple are from when she recently went to Guy’s and Thomas’ Hospital for her regular gait analysis test, to see whether she will need an operation to stretch her leg muscles. Apparently they took the book with them on the train to help keep her calm ahead of the visit. As you can see, Lucy is quite a character! Nicola says she is going to try and find a soft toy tree for Lucy to take to school which can be her very own portable tell-me tree. I am humbled and thrilled that The Tell-Me Tree has been of such help to Lucy, and wish her all the luck and love in the world as she grows up! I’m also thankful to every parent who has let me know how the book has helped their children express their feelings.
I was also extremely touched by an email received from a primary school teacher in Leicester who was downloading the various activity sheets and let me know that she will be using the book in the school grounds where they are lucky to have several mature trees. She plans to have activities based around the book under the trees, with the aim of encouraging children to talk, write or draw about how they are feeling after the long break from school.
Although I conceived The Tell-Me Tree before the pandemic, it has clearly resonated with many families and teachers in the context of what everyone has been through in the last few months and I am humbled and delighted if it can serve to help. Thank you all for your feedback and please do feel free to share any photos of The Tell-Me Tree in action and I will post them on my social media if you are happy for me to do so. Oh – if you’ve bought but not yet reviewed The Tell-Me Tree, would you be able to take a moment to do so? Thank you very much!
😊 👽 Hear a free sample from the upcoming audiobook! 👽 😊
Described as ‘Laugh-out-loud funny’ by LoveReading4KidsUK, Eeek!, my second most popular book for older ones (ages 7-10) after The Secret Lake, continues to be a firm favourite with reluctant and keen readers alike – and with both boys and girls. (It has a great twist, but don’t tell the kids!)
I’ve long wanted to produce the audiobook of Eeek! and am thrilled so say this has finally happened and it should be available from mid September. The narrator, voiceover artist Ciaran Saward (pronounced SWORD), offers up a wonderful array of human and alien voices! You can listen to an excerpt from Chapter 2 over on my author website here. I hope that you or your children/pupils enjoy the excerpt.
*Offer: When the audiobook goes live I shall be giving away 10 free audible codes. Sign up to my email list to be in with a chance to enter the draw in the next couple of weeks.*
The Secret Lake – German edition
I have just approved the German edition of The Secret Lake, for which I have project managed the translation. Below is an early reveal of the front cover 😊. The title ‘Der verborgene See’ translates as ‘The Hidden Lake’. My German translator and editor both felt this to be a more apt choice for the German language and I do like the ring it has, I must say!
I also recently received two copies of the Russian Edition – to see a fun short flick-through, pop over to my instagram account or facebook page. The Secret Lake is also due out in Turkish in October and in Czech in March 2021. It warms my heart that this magical story, that went through so many drafts, and about which I had so many doubts when sitting alone writing it at the top of the house, is now capturing children’s imaginations around the world!
🌺 Stop Press: I have plans afoot for a special colour illustrated hardback edition of The Secret Lake and will give updates on this in my next blog post. Watch this space! 🌺 The early concept illustrations are beautiful. 😊
A new picture book next year…
Lastly, I’m in the early stages of formulating a new picture book for next year and, again, shall be working with Anne Swift – illustrator for The Tell-Me Treeand The Christmas Tree Wish. I can’t say much more other than that it will not feature trees this time around 🙂 There might be a cat though! 😼 I’ll provide more updates on this in the coming months.
That’s it for now. Stay safe and I’ll be in touch as soon as the free promo codes for Eeek’saudiobook are available in mid September or so. In the meantime, I hope that back-to-school goes smoothly for your family.
Quick reminder: If you buy or have already bought The Tell-Me Tree, it would mean a lot to me if you could find a moment to leave a short review online as this will help other parents and teachers find it.
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!” ⚽ 👽 🏆
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…)
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