Monthly Archives: January 2019

Book Review – The Salvation Project

Title: The Salvation Project

Written by: Stewart Ross

Published by: Blean Books

salvation project

A fast-paced, exciting dystopian set in a world with no adults. This novel is the conclusion to the Soterion Mission trilogy where a very contagious mini-flu mutated everyone’s DNA, accelerating the ageing process so the human race only live a few weeks after their nineteenth birthday. A scary but brilliant concept. This young adult novel is full of tension and emotion.

With no education and no technology, the population split into two fractions: Zeds and Constants. The narrative unfolds into an emotional roller-coaster of totally believable reactions to such an apocalyptic disaster. A skilful and commendable modern version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies with hints of Mad Max.

The characters are heart-wrenchingly realistic but coming into the story at the last book I couldn’t help feeling I was missing something. Stuart Ross does provide a very comprehensive ‘previously…’ prologue but I would recommend reading all three books in order to get the full impact of the story and all its complexities.

The haunting ending hits home as it encompasses the fundamental truth that resistance to change is human nature. As with all good books, I was thinking about the conclusion and the character’s struggles to get there, long after the book was finished.

An interview with… Rebecca Colby

In the January 2019 #207 edition of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed high-concept picture book writer, Rebecca Colby about the importance of rhyme and rhythm in children’s books.


Rebecca told me:

When I began writing children’s picture books, I naturally gravitated towards writing in verse. But the industry professionals at the writing events I attended warned against it. Phrases I heard many times included:

  • Rhyming books are too difficult to translate.
  • We can’t sell co-editions.
  • It’s hard to rhyme well.

While I knew these statements to be true, I also knew that children love rhyme, and these warnings didn’t stop publishing houses from buying books in rhyme.

In the feature she demonstrates how she uses onomatopoeia, repetition, juxtaposition and prediction to write fun and imaginative that children love. Here is an example from her picture book Motor Goose Rhymes that Go! published by Feiwel & Friends.

Motor Goose_Spread 2sm

Her message to other writers who want to write rhyming picture books, is to try and come up with fifty ideas and give these ideas plenty of time and space to grow.

Rebecca Colby3

In a forthcoming book entitled How to Write Picture Books that Knock Editors (and Agents!) Socks Off, Rebecca Colby will share some games which makes the task of starting to write less daunting and provides loads of tips for writing high-concept picture books. More details will be available on her website later in the year.

Find out more here: and follow her on Twitter: @amscribbler


Ideas! Ideas! Ideas!

Apparently authors are always being asked where do you get your ideas from. You know what? I have never been asked this. Maybe because I am constantly spouting weird ideas, they are too scared to ask me.  I do have a rather vivid imagination.

But just in case you were interested here is a list of places I often find ideas. I put them in an idea cloud using:

idea cloud2

There are loads of places brimming with ideas to be scribbled down. Sometimes I am like a tree with spreading branches reaching out into the far corners of the world, storing each idea on my leaves ready to drop them into a new book.

spreading branches.jpg

There are millions of ideas waiting to be explored. Some days though, it seems every topic imaginable has already been done, or that my ideas are too obscure for anyone else to be remotely interested. But, maybe that has more to do with the mood I’m in rather than the actual flow of ideas.

From the day I decided I want to be a writer, I started to carry a notebook on me. I write down everything, as my memory for trivia is awful. Talking to children, and listening to children, also gives me loads of ideas. Although, I am no longer teaching I am lucky, as I have three children who liked to get into mischief and that triggered lots of ideas too. My children are all grown up now but they are still a great source of new ideas.

Sometimes, I really have to make myself notice what is going on around me, as when I am working on a project, I find I mull it over in my mind and walk through real life in a daydream. Not such a good idea when you’re driving or trying to explain why you’ve reversed into the tree at the edge of the driveway… again.


I tend to get my best ideas for things that I’m already working on when I’m reading something else. Surprisingly, it never has anything to do with what I’m actually reading. I think it might have something to do with cognitive processes. I did a degree in Behavioural Sciences, so I can say things like ‘cognitive processes’ and know what I’m talking about. Pity no one else does.

But what do you do with these ideas once you’ve got them? Often an idea needs time to grow and sort itself out in my head. I tend to draft scenarios in my notebook, then re-write them on the computer and print them off. You can tell if something is really rubbish when you see it in print. I also pretend I am the character and act out the scenes blow by blow in m,y study, or sometimes I act out little scenes in my head.

Opps! There’s that tree again.

Book Review – The Poo that Animals Do

Title: The Poo that Animals Do

Written by: Paul Mason

Illustrated by: Tony DeSaulles

Published by: Wayland

The Poo that Animals Do

Are jellyfish smelly fish? What does it mean if a rhino kicks up a stink? How can elephant poo fuel a house? Find out many fascinating facts about animal poo, from modern day use to funny animal habits.

This is an innovative and informative book that will catch the eye of even the most reluctant reader. The Poo that Animals Do is full of exceptional snippets and fun facts all about different animal’s poo. The illustrations compliment the facts perfectly and add their own touch of humour.

There are three things I challenge the reader NOT to do when they flick through the pages of this book:

  1. I challenge you NOT to laugh;
  2. I challenge you NOT to hunt for the poo;
  3. I challenge you NOT to learn something.

A child may pick this book up because they think it is fun, silly or even a little bit naughty and they may spend their whole time giggling whilst they read, but when they finally put the book down they really will definitely have learnt something. It may be whether or not jellyfish poo, or how poo is used as camouflage, or even what humans use poo for. What they do with these impressive facts, I’ve no idea!

I believe this is an essential book for class book corners all over the world.

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


An interview with… Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan’s latest novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror published by Troika Books and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019 is the story of Jay, a 15-year-old British Asian girl who is raped. Savita told me all about the resources and techniques she used to research this YA novel for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum.

Savita Kalhan6

Savita explained:

Sadly, as the #metoo and #timesup movements have illustrated in recent times, the incidence of sexual assault is much more prevalent than once thought, and stories of survivors have been publicly accessible. I drew on these experiences of survivors when I was writing this book. I also talked directly, and in confidence, to women who have been sexually assaulted about their experiences and how they dealt with them. I also spoke to friends and relatives of victims.

Savita does not have a set pattern for her research but her tip to other writers is even though you can get caught up in your research and you may feel you have wasted your time it is better to know far more about the themes and subject of your book than to know less. But the best tip she was ever given was:

The best writing tip I was ever given was to sit down and write, and then read, edit, fact-check, and rewrite, because that’s what writing is all about.

You can read Savita Kalhan’s Research Secrets feature in the January issue #207 of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Savita and her books on her website

Or follow her on Twitter @savitakalhan



The Book Selling Debate

Over the last few years more and more big bookshops have merged. I believe this reduces the range of books being sold. When I walk into a bookshop like W. H. Smiths and Waterstones I see the same old children’s books on the shelves and almost the same stationery too.


Specialist books are not getting the publicity or shelf space they have previously had. This is why educational publishers tend to sell direct to schools and libraries rather than to bookshops.

One thing is clear the retailing of books has changed dramatically over the past few years. Supermarkets, such as Tesco, sell books at discount prices and buying books over the Internet, as e-books or second hand, has meant it pays to shop around for the best deal. This is not good for the reader.

As a reader, if you prefer YA trade fiction, sports books or cooking books the contraction in range won’t affect you, as prices will remain low. But, if you prefer more specialist books, your choice will be drastically diminished and the prices will rise. And if you’re someone who just likes to browse, your browsing range is restricted to the choice Waterstone’s, and W. H. Smith’s have decided to offer. This has a knock on effect. It means new authors will find it increasingly difficult to place their books with publishers, as mainstream publishers are concentrating on finding and promoting the ‘big hits’.

To combat this, we should be supporting our smaller local, independent bookstores. OK it may be easier, and more convenient, to buy books online, or to buy them with the weekly supermarket shop but it is reducing your choice as a reader. If books were sold at fixed prices, I do not believe it would change this buying trend.

This is my opinion. What are your views?

Book Review – The Hurting

Title: The Hurting

Written by: Lucy van Smit

Cover and interior design by: Helen Crawford White

Published by: Chicken House

the hurting

The Hurting is the compelling story of revenge and the desire for independence. This young adult Scandinavian noir thriller that will have you turning the pages to devour more. The protagonist Nell has a sister called Harper who has leukaemia. Nell is her main carer as their mother left and their father is an alcoholic. They have moved away from their home in Manchester to live in Norway, so Harper can go to the world centre for epigenetics in hope of being able to turn off the cancer gene causing her atypical leukaemia. At first, I was shocked at Harper’s behaviour and manipulation of her sister but on reflection I realised this really does reflect the reality of sibling relationships that many books fail to convey.

All the characters and their motivations are realistic. Nell always puts her sister’s needs before her own at the expense of applying to Brit school and realising her own dreams of becoming a singer, song-writer. Her life is on hold until her sister can miraculously get better. When she meets Lukas Svad, the adopted heir to a Norwegian oil fortune, she decides to take a chance and run away from her life just like her mother had, or so she thinks.

Lukas is able to manipulate Nell – just like her sister – using love as a weapon. In his grey-blue wolf skin coat he immortalises the dark and dangerous wolf-boy. Together they kidnap Ulv Pup and embark on a soul-wrenching adventure through the Norwegian mountains, stalked by wolves. The novel is full of lyrical prose and descriptions that evoke dramatic images of the Norwegian mountains and fjord backdrop in such a way the whole area takes on a menacing character of its own, foreshadowing the events to come. In the end, after many bad decisions, Nell learns the truth about Lukas, her mother and the baby.

Lucy van Smit’s debut novel is full of twists and turns fuelled by the need to feel loved.

An Interview with… Simon Whaley

In June 2016, I interviewed Simon Whaley for Papers Pens Poets about his love of stationery. Simon revealed why paper and pen beats modern technology hands down.

Simon Whaley writing in his notebook

His favourite pen is the Pentel Superb BK77, in black ink.

I love it because it’s easy to hold and has a fine ballpoint nib.

He absolutely adores Moleskine notebooks and claims they are the perfect notebooks for writers. They are hardback, which makes them ideal for writing in wherever you may be: desk, chair in the garden, bed, or out on the hills.

I use two sizes of Moleskine notebook: the Classic Pocket and the Classic Large.

You can find out more about Simon Whaley’s stationery passions on the Papers Pens Poets blog:

Find out more about Simon Whaley and his writing here:  and on Twitter: @simonwhaley

The Publishing World

A big consideration is what the big booksellers want, as if they wont stock the book it wont sell. The book cover can sell the book so how good or enticing the book cover is look is an important part of an editors job. It is the cover that will give the book an edge with the booksellers. It is quite scary the impact the big bookstores have on the publishing world and when you realise they monopolise over 70% of the book selling market it is understandable why writing for children has become more competitive.

Using story to teach ict collageBook publishing is becoming more commercial and it is true, the big publishing companies increasingly will not back a book unless it is a sure bet. This may be why more authors are self-publishing – to prove they have a viable product. Publishing houses spend a lot of money on marketing. They budget for each book but the author has to get involved with marketing too. Once the book is released you don’t instantly become a best seller.

Nowadays, more gimmicks are being used to sell their books, such as collectable web cards and glitsy book covers that catch your attention on the shelf. Statistics show thin books, for the six-to-eight age range, did not sell as well as thicker books, because they were not so easy to see on the shelf. So publishing houses started to make fatter books. As you can imagine, this makes production more expensive. My Adventure Passport series were packaged in cute little suitcases.Adventure Passports Collage
Editors are an important role in publishing your book, whether you are writing for children, adults, education or trade. But they don’t have the scope to build a writer up over a number of books in the way they use to. Their job is to see the book all the way through not just to edit it. So be an original voice. Remember you are sending your manuscript to someone who reads over 500 a year. Ask yourself: Would an editor or agent jump off a bridge for your book? To spend so much time on a book, you have to be a fan.

Book Review – The Adventures of your Brain

Title: The Adventures of your Brain

Written by: Dan Green

Illustrated by: Sean Sims

Published by: Macmillan

The Adventures of your Brain

The Adventures of your Brain is an ingenious, interactive lift-the-flap book by Dan Green. It has flaps hidden beneath flaps, wheels, pull-tabs and pop-ups to fire up every child’s imagination. Jam-packed full of tiny details to explain complex issues in an easy to understand fashion. There is an over-riding theme of everyone being unique, which would make an ideal discussion in the classroom.

It is a book you can return to again and again and learn something new each time. Dan Green displays his excellent scientific knowledge in a clever and succinct way. Children will discover fascinating facts and all about the intriguing intricacies of the human brain whilst having fun.

Utterly brilliant.

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