Book Review – Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)

Title: Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)

Written by: Caroline Lawrence, Clementine Beauvais, Elen Caldecott, Frances Hardinge, Harriet Whitehorn, Helen Moss, Julia Golding, Kate Pankhurst, Katherine Woodfine, Robin Stevens, Sally Nicholls and Susie Day.

Published by: Egmont

Mystery & Mayhem

This innovative crime compilation is aimed at the 8-12 age range and jam-packed with big name authors. The book contains twelve deliciously, intriguing short stories by twelve renowned children’s book writers all under one cover. There are four sections each containing three mysteries to solve: impossible mysteries, canine capers, poison plots and closed-system crimes.

The featured Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club) authors in order of appearance are: Susie Day, Elen Caldecott, Clementine Beauvais, Caroline Lawrence, Julia Golding, Kate Pankhurst, Frances Hardinge, Helen Moss, Harriet Whitehorn, Sally Nicholls, Katherine Woodfine (who has also written the introduction) and Robin Stevens.

The dastardly crime stories include murder, mayhem, poison and plot, dognapping, safe-breaking, sabotage and biscuits. Only the intrepid young detectives – and the reader – can crack the cases to save the day.

Each story is succinctly written so the reader can experience the satisfaction of putting together clues, unravelling evidence and solving cleverly designed puzzles to crack each case and discover exactly what happened and why. They are all a great read and I could not possibly pick a favourite, but I particularly enjoyed how Susie Day’s character Emily is the one to solve the crime despite the effort of the adults and similarly with Jamie Kahn in Robin Steven’s story. Both these main characters outwit the adults.

I think children will enjoy these excellent crime stories and it will encourage them to seek out more books by their favourite authors. It is good to see the crime genre hit the mid-grade shelves.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

An interview with… Tim Bouquet

I interviewed investigative reporter, Tim Bouquet, about his research methods way back in 2008 for my Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum .

Tim specialises in investigative narrative story telling for a variety of magazines including The Times MagazineTelegraph MagazineEsquire, Reader’s DigestMelbourne Age and the Irish Times. He is the co-author, with Byron Ousey, of Cold Steel Britain’s Richest Man and his Billion Dollar Battle for Global Empire (Little Brown). Cold Steel is about Lakshmi Mittal and an epic, dirty and sometimes racist, takeover battle he fought to take over the world’s second biggest steel company. This creative non-fiction thriller, reads like fiction.

Cold Steel

Lakshmi Mittal, a Calcutta-born industrialist, raised himself up from humble beginnings to become the world’s fourth-richest man. He proposed a friendly merger with rival Arcelor, a pan-European company whose interested parties include the governments of Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium. Arcelor’s mercurial CEO, Frenchman Guy Dolle, firmly refused the merger. The scene is set for a massive hostile takeover involving billions of dollars of finance, government and shareholder manoeuvring, and accusations of jingoism and double-dealing. Cold Steel brings to life the cut and thrust of big business at war.

Lakshmi Mittal

As part of their research for Cold Steel, Tim and Byron interviewed 55 people face-to-face in six countries. Tim told me:

I organise all my research by chronology and character. From here I sketch out the basic building blocks and tipping points of the story. These may change but at least it’s a starting point.

He always tries to talk to people in places where events in his writing take place because he feels it helps to paint a picture of the setting and reminds the people he is interviewing where they were physically when certain key events happened. I feel this is excellent advice and if possible it is worth meeting the people you are interviewing at a set location for your book or novel. Tim explained to me how he visited all the places they wrote about in Cold Steel. He said:

If you want to set a scene in an operating theatre you need to visit one. I always visit the places I write about. If you haven’t been there or somewhere like it, how can you take your reader there?

In Cold Steel, they listed people who had helped them set up interviews in the acknowledgements and they listed all the people they had talked to and  played leading roles in the story in a section called The Players.

My advice to other writers is check and double check. Don’t believe everything people tell you!

To find more information about Tim Bouquet, his co-author Byron Ousey and their book Cold Steel, visit the website: www.coldsteelbook.com

Books for Christmas

It is coming up to Christmas and you may be searching for that last minute present for your writer friend. If you are here is a list of books from my bookshelf that I have found useful during my writing career.

christmas stocking

The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and Poetry edited by Julia Bell and Paul Mars (Pan, 2001)

A comprehensive guide for improving story. Contributions from forty authors provide a generous pool of information, experience and advice.

The Forest for the Trees: An Editors’ Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (Pan, 2002)

Betsy Lerner is an editor turned agent and provides a true insider’s perspective. Everything you could ever possibly want or need to know about story is here.

Story: Substance, Structure, style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (Methuen, 1999)

Robert McKee is a New York ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ type who runs a popular film structuring course. The techniques he suggests can be used in all writing and not just in writing screenplays.

Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets from the Greatest Mind in Western Civilisation by Michael Tierno

Tierno uses examples from some of the best films ever made to demonstrate how you can apply Aristotle’s ancient insights to modern-day story.

Twenty Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias (Writer’s digest Books, 1994; Walking Stick Press, 2003)

Gets you thinking about story. All the great stories can all be found in these plots.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler (Pan, 1999)

One of the cornerstones of modern screenwriting theory. Vogler’s ideas have been used by a whole generation of story writers.

Book of the Year 2018

George Kirk @GeorgeKirkTales set me the very difficult task to choosing my favourite book of 2018 for a video for the Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School’s learning Resource Centre @BRGS_LRC

The book I choose was The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan and published by Troika Books. It is about a 15-year-old British-Asian girl called Jay. After her dad dies Jay and her mum have to move in with relatives. They are very traditional and Jay losses a lot of her freedom. But Jay’s life gets worse when she is sexually assaulted.

girl in the broken mirror jpeg

I like this book because of the author’s writing. Savita Kalhan makes you really feel for the main character, Jay. I cared so much I couldn’t put the book down. I had to stay with Jay until the very bitter end.

You can see George Kirk’s resource and watch me talking about The Girl in the Broken Mirror in this video. You have to be patient though as my bit is at the very end.

The other people who take part in the video resource and where to find them are:

Emma Perry @_EmmaPerry who recommends Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon @DarbonMel

Karen Bultiauw @karenbultiauw who recommends Magic Mirror by Claire Fayers @ClaireFayers and The Truth About Lies by Tracey Darnton @TraceyDarnton

Bea @Busy_BeaP who recommends To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo @alliechristo

K M Lockwood @lockwoodwriter who recommends Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay @candygourlay

Book Review – Christmas Special

Those of you who are interested in buying a Christmassy book for a child or to treasure for yourself. I have put together a few that might make that ideal stocking filler or pre-Christmas gift.

christmas stockings

Title: How Winston Delivered Christmas

Written and Illustrated by: Alex T. Smith

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books

How Winston delivered Christmas

A mouse called Winston takes Oliver’s letter to Santa that he found in the snow to the North Pole. It’s not an easy journey, but Winston finally makes it – and there’s an unexpected reward at the end of the story for him, too.

How Winston Delivered Christmas is written in 24 and a half chapters designed to be read, one a day, from the 1st to 24th December, with the half chapter at the end to be read on Christmas Day.

Like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, each day features festive things to make and do – you can write a letter to Father Christmas and make mince pies, make party invitations, build a snow globe and a pom-pom robin and there is even a creating a guide to random acts of kindness. The perfect gift for leading up to Christmas.


Title: Father Christmas and Me

Written by: Matt Haig

Illustrated by: Chris Mould

Published by: Canongate Books

Father Christmas and Me

Let the battle for Christmas begin . . .

Amelia lives in the magical town of Elfhelm, newly adopted by Father Christmas and Mary Christmas. When the very jealous Easter Bunny launches an attack to ruin Christmas, it’s up to Amelia, her family and the elves to fight off the forces of evil.

But can they keep Christmas alive?

Other Christmassy books in the series are:


Title: A Very Corgi Christmas

Written by: Sam Hay

Illustrated by: Loretta Schauer

Published by: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

A Very Corgi Christmas

Pip turns up and whisks Belle the Royal Corgi off on a wonderfully romantic whirl around the sights of London. All too soon it’s time to head home, but when the couple finally work out how to get back into the palace . . . Pip disappears.

Will Belle ever see him again? Perhaps . . . with the help of a special royal couple, who might just bring Belle a wonderful Christmas surprise.

For dog-lovers everywhere, this Lady and the Tramp-esque romp around London at Christmas is full of heart . . . and waggy tails!


Title: The Last of the Spirits

Written by: Chris Priestly

Published by: Bloomsbury

Last of the Spirits

Sam and Lizzie are freezing and hungry on the streets of Victorian London. When Sam asks a wealthy man for some coins, he is rudely turned away. Months of struggle suddenly find their focus, and Sam resolves to kill the man. Huddling in a graveyard for warmth, Sam and Lizzie are horrified to see the earth around one of the tombs begin to shift, shortly followed by the wraith-like figure of a ghostly man. He warns Sam about the future which awaits such a bitter heart, and so begins Sam’s journey led by terrifying spirits through the past, present and future, after which Sam must decide whether to take the man, Scrooge’s, life or not.

A perfectly layered, tense and supremely satisfying twist on one of Dickens’ most popular books, cleverly reinvented.


Title: Once Upon A Wild Wood

Written and Illustrated by: Chris Riddell

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books

Once Upon a Wild Wood

Little Green Raincape is on her way to Rapunzel’s party, deep in the wild woods. The way is long and dark, but Green is a smart girl. Smart enough to turn down apples offered by kindly old ladies, smart enough to turn down travel advice from helpful wolves, and above all, smart enough to solve a wealth of classic fairy tale problems – not least mend a lovelorn beast’s broken heart.

Once Upon a Wild Wood is a richly imagined story jam-packed full of familiar fairy tale characters as you’ve never seen them before. Including Red Riding Hood, Thumbelina, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, the three bears, the seven dwarfs and many more!

A visual feast on every page, illustrated with warmth and humour and full of witty details to discover – this is Chris Riddell at his picture book best!


Title: The Snowman: Inspired by the original story by Raymond Briggs

Written by: Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by: Robin Shaw

Published by: Puffin

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Inspired by the timeless tale, Michael Morpurgo and Robin Shaw have created the perfect Christmas story for the whole family. One December morning, James is thrilled to wake up to see snow falling.

He spends the whole day making his perfect snowman; he has coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf and a tangerine nose… just like the snowman from his favourite story. That night, something magical happens- the Snowman comes to life! He and James take to the skies on a magical adventure where they meet someone very special.


Title: The Christmasaurus Audiobook

Written by: Tom Fletcher

Illustrated by: Shane Devries

Read by: Paul Shelley

Published by: Puffin

Christmasaurus

First released in 2016 this audiobook has been repackaged again this year just in time for Christmas.

The Christmasaurus is a story about a boy named William Trundle and a dinosaur, called as the title would suggest the Christmasaurus. They meet one Christmas Eve and have an extraordinary adventure where they discover their heart’s true desire, and learn the impossible might just be possible. The theme is friendship and family wrapped up in a glittery parcel of sleigh bells, Santa, singing elves, flying reindeer, music and magic.

The disc includes 14 original songs all written and performed by Tom Fletcher, accompanied by a full orchestra with performances by Giovanna Fletcher, Carrie Hope-Fletcher and Santa Claus! And listen out for newcomer Max Reader singing ‘Someone More Than Me’ and Harry Judd on drums in ‘Afraid of Heights’.


Title: Going Home

Written by: Cliff McNish

Illustrated by: Trish Phillips

Published by: Doomspell Books

going home

A dog may not be for Christmas but this book certainly is. Children who love animals will adore it.

Going Home is about the Happy Paws Dog’s Home where some of the dogs have been labelled ‘no-hopers’ on the ground of their looks, phobias and general behaviour. When the Dog’s Home reviews its policy of never putting a dog down the story takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions. One minute there are tears of laughter. The next you are on the edge of your seat, turning the page, hoping the dogs will find a home of their very own before it is too late.

It will give any child a fairly realistic view of the psyche of a dog and how their needs are more than just a roof over their heads. Not only is the story a real feel-good, tear-jerker but the illustrations by Trish Phillips are adorable and will melt even the hardest of hearts.

An interview with… Sue Wallman

Papers Pens Poets is a blog where writers, book bloggers and illustrators can share their passion for all things stationery. It was the brain child of children’s author Jo Franklin. The blog contains reviews, articles, and weekly interviews with a wide range of authors, covering books of all age ranges and genres. Jo set up the blog and I did the majority of the author interviews.

The second interview I did for Papers Pens Poets was with YA author Sue Wallman. She has three YA books published by Scholastic.

In the interview, she revealed she is a real pen fanatic. Her love of pens was probably triggered by winning a Crackerjack pen. Yes! Sue was on the television reciting a poem dressed in a home-made costume and won herself an amazing Crackerjack pen. I am totally envious. I would have loved a Crackerjack pen. What’s a Crackerjack pen, you say? Well I’m afraid you just missed out! Here is a picture of it for you instead:

Crackerjack pen

But Sue’s favourite pen and she admits it may just be her favourite all-time possession, is an old Parker fountain pen which was her mum’s. It was a gift from her grandparents to her mum who used it for her O-level exams in the Fifties. Out of the blue, when Sue was a student, she gave it to her. The nib has never been changed – the way Sue and her Mum both hold it must be similar because the pen writes smoothly for both of them. Sue used this pen to sign her first book contract.

Parker pen

Sue also has a whole drawer full of Sharpies. Whatever colour you need, she has it. She loves the sound of the click when the lid snaps on. She also loves to share her passion for pens with her friends and family. At her book launches, she had pens printed with her book titles and web address as take-home presents.

 LALS pens

Sue told me:

When it comes to notebooks, I have a new one for each project and I don’t like going bigger than A5 because then it’s awkward to carry around. I’m a fan of the Asda notebooks that look like Moleskines and cost £3. I go expensive occasionally: I have a little notebook from Liberty that’s faded to a lovely purple and has beautiful striped elastic.

To find out more information about Sue Wallman and her books check out her website: www.suewallman.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @SueWallman

This article is adapted from an original interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog. You can find out more about Sue and her stationery there. It was also previously published on the SCBWI British Isles online magazine Words and Pictures.

If you are a published author of any age range (0 – Adult) or genre, or an illustrator, or a book blogger, or a librarian and would like to be featured on the Papers Pens Poets blog, please get in touch.

The Art of Story

As previously mentioned I love to go talks and workshops given by other writers. I am very much a course ‘junky’ and believe you always learn something new and it can’t be bad to reinforce what you already know.

Tony Bradman is one of my writing heroes. I particularly like him because he remembers who I am when we meet. In May 2006, I went to a SCBWI-BI Professional Series where author, Tony Bradman, was talking about story and what it is. His advice has always rung true with me and has had a big influence on my own writing.

IMG_0480

Tony Bradman has been writing children’s fiction for over thirty-five years. He has written hundreds of books and edited many anthologies. He summed up story very neatly:

“A story is about the problems people face and how they overcome them. It is part of everyone’s life and can be told in different forms: film, plays and poems. Story is a form with a structure of its own. Very few people know what a story is and how to do it.”

The Art of Story
Tony explained:

“Often, when you start out as an author, you don’t know if a story works or not. This is a stage all writers go through. A writer needs to understand everyone reaches a stage where they don’t know if it is any good.”

Tony revealed he often struggles with stories he is working on. He claims it is very rare for him to write something and have the confidence it is as good as he can make it.

“In story, we concentrate on the pivotal point in which a character makes an action and the world reacts differently than expected. The essence of great story is surprise. The characters have flaws that influence the plot and the plot will have conflict, which changes the characters. It is a two-way process.

There are things that you can do that will help you through the problems of story. If you get half way through and get stuck, tease out the structures that might already be there. Step outlines and synopsis are stages of story that can help with a scene you are struggling with.”

Tony Bradman’s Approach
Tony said:

“All my stories start with a single idea that needs to be developed. Often if left, a story will reveal itself.”

When he starts a new story, he makes notes and descriptions of what the story is going to be. He likes to get to know his characters. When he begins to hear the dialogue he knows he is ready to write. If he knows it is not working and he is not happy, he will revise over and over again, often waking up in the night. After editing, he can look at it and know it is complete. By the time he has finished, he knows his stories word to word.

Tony prefers to edit his writing himself. He loves the challenge. He considers that one of the things that taught him most about writing is when he worked as an editor. He used the lessons he learnt from editing other people’s work in his own writing.

Tony told us:

“I have been known to write a 20,000-word summary, for an 1800 word story.”

He revealed that he writes the whole story without dialogue and puts a one-line description of each scene, highlighting the beginning, middle and the end, or as Philip Larkin says, a beginning, a muddle and an end. This way he can expose any weaknesses in the plot, any digressions and lack of tension. Tony believes it is the same technique for 100 as 100,000 words.

“Story is divided into three acts, sometimes more, never less. Each act can be broken into scenes, and each scene can be sub-divided too. In a typical scene, the protagonist embarks on a difficult task; only to discover that what is required of him is far more demanding than he first thought. It is under these testing circumstances that ‘deep character’ is revealed.”

Tony stressed:

“The two most important aspects of story are character and plot and of the two, character always comes first.”

Creating Strong Characters
Tony believes character is key to any story. He said:

“If a story is not working it is often the character that is wrong. Take a good look at your characters. Why do you like them? What do they want? They should want to solve the problem. This is the spine of the story. The key thing is to get the reader to engage with the character, so they want to know how they solve the problem.

“You need to think what is the best thing a character can get in life and how could this also be the worse thing. When people want something and do not understanding it is wrong for them it is known as a reversal. Story is a great way to explore this.”

A good example of reversal can be seen in Tony’s book, Under Pressure, where Craig, one of the thirteen-year-olds at the soccer school, wants his dad to love him and be involved in his life and when he is involved, he betrays his son by using him as a way to get money. Reversal is also evident in the sequel, Bad Boys, where Lee fights to make his own decisions, only to realise he made the wrong choices.

Tony advocates avoiding passive characters.

“Children are often powerless to do anything about the situations they find themselves in, such as parent’s divorce or moving home, but they should strive to deal with the problem on their own level. They have to come to terms with the fact that this event has happened and carve a new life out for themselves. The characters should always be striving for a goal. Even in 1500 words, the story problem is big and even though the child’s world is smaller, the child still tries to solve the problem.”

Tony thinks hard about the character and the world they live in. He needs to find out what their problem or conflict is and starts with the problem and develops the story from that. He said:

“Character is revealed in the choices a human makes under pressure. There has to be something about your main protagonists character that resolves the problem in the end.”

Tony believes the greatest stories have characters that have two levels: what you see on the surface and the flaws underneath. All great characters are flawed, part of the problem is learning about these flaws.

He said:

“Writing picture books is hard. It is less easy to explore the characters, as there are fewer words.”

You can see how important characterisation is in Tony’s books, such as the Dilly the Dinosaur series, about the world’s naughtiest dinosaur and The Happy Ever After stories, which explore what happens after the fairy tale ending. Do they really live happily ever after? Does the frog prince enjoy his life at the palace with his new bride, or would he really prefer to be living in that muddy old pond? How does Cinderella cope with the Queen as a mother-in-law? This is why Tony’s books appeal not only to young readers but their parent’s as well.

What About Plot?
Tony explained plot in a way that I will never forget. His words are always on my mind whilst I am writing.

“Plot is about life and human condition. If the plot doesn’t work, you can fix it but if your characters aren’t working you haven’t got a story. Nobody is going to read 250 words of character description.

Plot is the action in your story and should never be resolved by a coincidence. Everything within the story must be there for a reason. If it does not move the story forward in some way, it needs to be cut. It may be a great scene, but is it meaningless in the structure of the story?

The protagonist is an ordinary person, whose life is changed by an extraordinary event. This is the ‘inciting incident’. Life is chaos and every time you do some thing, it gets worse and worse. This is true of good story. Events must build up until the hero’s problem appears unsolvable.

The story then concerns the efforts of the protagonist to restore their life to normal. Inevitably, in the course of doing this they discover a side to themselves they were never aware of and become a better person.

Story, as a quest, has the hero’s journey in mind. It is about overcoming your greatest inner fear – your inner demon. In film, this is usually outside of the protagonist, but to overcome their fears they have to work out their inner problems. Once the problem has been overcome, they get their reward, as in the grail quest. There is usually one last great battle before the evil is destroyed and the protagonist achieves their aim.

The structure of story is always there. In the beginning, you meet the character and find out what the problem is. In the middle, the problem gets worse. In the end, the problem is resolved one way or another.”

This was one of the most inspiring talks I have been on and has helped me a lot in my own writing career. If you are interested in finding out more about Tony Bradman or booking him for one of your own events take a look at his website: www.tonybradman.com or follow him on Twitter @tbradman