Monthly Archives: May 2019

Building character

Now I’ve got your attention, the first port of call is to build the protagonist (your main character).

body building

The important traits of your protagonist should be:

  • They have a problem or need.
  • They have the ability to solve the problem, whether or not they know it (there’s usually more suspense if he doesn’t)
  • They have a character flaw to overcome to solve the problem, or win the reward.

Your main character should be someone the reader can identify and/or sympathise with. They should be near the top age of your intended readers. One exception  to this is in folktales. You should identify your characters with one or more telling details—a physical trait, a mannerism, a favourite phrase but a complete description is not really required.

Then, think about your secondary characters, which includes the main character’s friends and enemies.

Protagonist: Main character with flaws

Antagonist: Block the main character from reaching goals. (The Green Goblin in Spider-Man)

Allies: Assist the main character in reaching goals. (Robin in Batman)

Mentors: Wise characters that help the main character. (Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars)

Jokers: Lighten things up! Often the main character’s best friend is a joker. (Donkey in Shrek)

You can combine different types of characters to make them stronger.

A funny villain like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers:

Dr Evil

A mentor, like Hagrid from Harry Potter, who is also a joker:


A villain that becomes an ally and helps the main character solve the real problem such as Sloop from Spy Kids:


Strong secondary characters are important in all stories for all age ranges so it is worth spending time on creating them.

Book Review – The Buried Crown

Title: The Buried Crown

Written by: Ally Sherrick

Cover illustration by: Alexis Snell

Published by: Chicken House Books

The Buried Crown

The Buried Crown is set in WWII when Britain was on the brink of invasion. Londoner George has been sent to live in the countryside while his brother Charlie trains to be a spitfire pilot. But he’s far from safe, he’s been placed with Bill Jarvis a drunken bully, the policeman’s son picks on him because he’s from the city and Nazis are hiding across the river. His only friend is Bill Jarvis’s tortured dog and refugee Kitty, the granddaughter of a Jewish archaeologist who came to Suffolk on the Kindertransport.

This exciting historical adventure hits all the tick buttons for me. I enjoy ghost stories, I love history and I love mythology even more. The novel successfully and seamlessly weaves Anglo-Saxon mythology with real WWII history, Adolf Hitler’s love of mythical objects and the 1939 discovery of the Sutton Hoo archaeological site, where the famous early 7th century longship and its stunning treasure was found. It is believed to be burial ground of Redwald, King of the East Angles and High King of Britain.

Sutton Hoo treasure

The ship contained grave goods ranging from humble domestic items such as cups and buckets to some of the most stunning treasures ever discovered in northern Europe. Many of the most precious items, including the famous Sutton Hoo helmet, shield and sword belt, are decorated with dragons which the Anglo-Saxons believed liked nothing better than to sit beneath burial mounds jealously guarding the treasure hoards, as powerfully depicted in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf.

So when the fictitious, priceless Anglo-Saxon crown is stolen, George is plunged into danger. It’s up to him and Kitty to protect the crown before it’s too late and help the ghost of Redwald rest in peace. The characterisation is strong and believable.

It would be an ideal book to support a topic on WWII in the classroom. It demonstrates the emotional turmoil of both evacuees and refugees during the 1940’s. Ally Sherrick creates a real atmospheric feel for the era with her vivid descriptions. This book is an exciting and dramatic adventure full of twists and turns from the beginning to the end. A must read book.

Sutton Hoo Burial Ground

The only thing that was really missing was a map. I would have really liked a map of the site, village and location of the army site as Ally Sherrick imagined it. The amount of times I checked for a map because I thought I must have missed it was unbelievable. So I ask, please add a map in the next edition.

Sutton Hoo Burial Ground2

An interview with… Jennifer Rees

To commemorate the centenary of women police force in the Metropolitan Police Jennifer Rees and her co-author Robert J Strange have written a fascinating and enlightening non-fiction book, Voices from the Blue: The Real Lives of Policewomen (100 Years of Women in the Met) .

Voices from the Blue cover

I interviewed Jenny Rees for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum. Jenny explained how archives were a great source of inspiration for their research. The National Archives hold many of the historical files for the Metropolitan Police. There was also the Metropolitan Police Archives in Camden, which hold the judicial histories of London and the London law courts.


Jenny told me:

“Researching through the eras from those at the start of women in the Metropolitan Police to the complete assimilation of women into full integration with their male counterparts in 1973/4. The roles of women changed, they were expected to work alongside the men and deal with an increasing diversity of roles and crimes.” Jennifer Rees

Voices from the Blue tells the story of the hundred years of service of female police officers within the Metropolitan Police through the voices of the women who fought their way towards equality and won the respect of both their colleagues and the public. The authors have interviewed hundreds of former and serving policewomen and with the co-operation of the Metropolitan Police and the Women’s Police Association now have access to the files and stories of thousands of former officers who served over the past hundred years. Those police archives, together with material held by the National Archives and private libraries, provide a detailed and fascinating oral history of the challenges women police officers faced down the years.

Jenny explained:

“Context was the key factor for us. If the historical research brought context to the stories in a particular chapter we used them, but we were critical of each piece of research we used. Some were essential and made it into the finished version of the book, others unfortunately went by the wayside as we had a publisher word count constraint.” Jennifer Rees

You can read the full interview in the May 2019 #212 issue of Writers Forum.

You can follow Jennifer Rees and Voices from the Blue on Twitter @Namkha211

Writing Non-Fiction

There is a large market for non-fiction reference books based on topics taught in school. I recently ran a workshop all about writing for educational publishers. Today I thought I would share some tips.

course photo2

Writing for Educational Publishers workshop. Photo taken by Addy Farmer

I think one of the main points is that educational publishers prefer to come up with their own ideas in-house or work through book packagers. I work a lot to commission. My book, Explaining Diabetes, which was published by Franklin Watts but, was commissioned by the book packager Bender, Richardson and White. It was one book in a series of books about illnesses and conditions.

explaining diabetes sm

When approaching publishers with unsolicited non-fiction it is better not to have a finished book. A one-page outline giving a brief breakdown of the chapters, target audience and potential market is generally what is required.

I suggest you market research the publishers you want to submit to as well. Check they publish books for the age range you want to write. There are different publishers for primary than secondary aged children. You can find out which publishers print what by checking out The Writers and Artists Yearbook.

W and A

It is wise to look at what books are out there and analyse them to see how each book is divided and what sort of things are included on each spread. Look for patterns as an indication of style and what might have been in the brief the author was given. Then try and use this as a template to plan your own book that would fit the series.

Why not try it for yourself. If you are successful please let me know.

Book Review – Go to Sleep, Monty!

Title: Go to Sleep, Monty!

Written and illustrated by: Kim Geyer

Published by: Andersen Press

Go to Sleep, Monty!

Every child wants a pet – right? Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to play with, someone to share things with, and someone to care for? Max gets the dog of his dreams, but he soon realises that looking after a puppy isn’t as easy as it looks! When Max gets the dog of his dreams, he soon finds out looking after a puppy isn’t as easy as it looks! How on earth can he persuade mischievous Monty to go to sleep?

A charming and funny picture book debut about the trials and tribulations of owning a boisterous puppy!

This is a heart-warming story which anyone who has had a puppy can identify with. Max does everything he can to persuade Monty the puppy to settle down to sleep. From an educational point of view, parents will also be able to identify with the story, as parallels can be made to trying to get a restless child to sleep.

This is a good story for reading to the class at the end of the day. The children will love looking at Kim Geyer’s beautiful illustrations and spotting what Monty is up to instead of going to bed.

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

An interview with… Undiscovered Voices

In my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #212 Jun 2019, I discover more about the unique biennial competition for children’s book writers to get their manuscripts in front of agents and publishers.

UV photo

Undiscovered Voices is run by volunteers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and sponsored by fiction book packager Working Partners. The competition is open for submissions on the 1st June 2019. The winners will be included in the 7th anthology out in 2020. The anthology will  be sent to every agent and publishers in the world of children’s books in the UK and US. It is also available as a free download from


The feature contains excellent advice and tips for children’s authors who are considering entering the competition from each of the UK volunteer organisers: Catherine Coe, Jenny Glencross, Benjamin Scott, Simon James Green, Rosie Best and Sara Grant.

“Undiscovered Voices is not just a competition, but a supportive and friendly community. The UV team are aware it feels like an intimidating process, but want people to be reassured that the publishing industry is essentially just full of people who love books and who want nothing more than to discover new writers. Everyone is rooting for you to be successful.” UV team

The judges for the 2020 anthology are:

This is such an excellent opportunity for unagented and unpublished children’s authors. Don’t miss it.

Keep Going

These are my words of wisdom for today. I often feel disheartened with my writing and some days it is hard work just to keep myself sat at the computer. It’s not easy to get published but perseverance does pay off. Over the years this has become increasingly apparent and over 85 books later I am still persevering. This became dramatically evident when I was running a SCBWI-BI workshop last weekend for the Central North network on Writing for Educational Publishers.

I took a selection of books with me for the attendees to look at and analyse the different series and write their own book proposals. It dawned on me whilst I was teaching, not a lot of people could use their own books to do this as they have not written enough series for each group to go through. It was a proud moment.

Course photo

Writing for Educational Publishers workshop. Photo taken by Addy Farmer

There is a quote that springs to mind. I do not know who originally said this:

“Writing is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

And it is not just me. Other authors are still getting deal and books are still selling. During difficult times people turn to escapism through books and movies, so the market is out there.


I  know it’s difficult to keep going, especially if your aim is to write the next bestseller. Remember only a tiny majority of writers find fame and fortune but most make a slow steady income by doing what they love. So take small steps to move your self forward a centimetre at a time.


I’m definitely not saying set your sights lower – what I am saying is don’t let your nagging doubts stop you. All writers feel like this at some point in their careers. Don’t let other distractions get in the way of you reaching your goals. Only you can write your story so…

…keep going. 

Book Review – Curse of the Nomed

Title: Curse of the Nomed

Created by: The Whizz Writers

Written by: B B Taylor

Illustrated by: Holly Bushnell

Published by: Weird ‘N’ Wonderful Publishing

Curse of the Nomed

The Curse of the Nomed, weaves the worries and insecurities children have when moving from primary to secondary school into an exciting adventure to defeat the ancient Egyptian God of Chaos, Sett.  This book was created in partnership with pupils from the Four Dwellings Academy in Birmingham. It incorporates the real-life experiences of the pupils when they first started secondary school.

Main protagonists, Jacob, Eleanora and Stefan discover that the ancient god Sett has disguised himself as Mr Siriso, the headmaster, and has put all the pupils under a spell with the school scarab beetle badge on their uniform.  Guided by Miss Ali the librarian (who they bought back to life) they have to find the Book of Life to save the students and ultimately prevent Sett from taking everyone’s soul to get revenge on his brother Osiris. The book is in the inner deepest vault of the House of Life and the journey is full of traps and curses.  

We learn about the main character’s backgrounds and personalities through a series of flashbacks triggered by events in the plot. They give their top tips for moving schools which include:

  • Talk to someone you trust about your feelings
  • Find out about the extra clubs and activities you can be involved in at lunchtime and after school
  • Be kind, ask questions and listen to others.

There is a lot going on in this short, easy to read novel. Not only does it have of theme of the transition from one school to another, it also touches on issues of loneliness, greed, jealousy, loss, unexpected kindness, friendship and courage. These issues and ideas could be a great discussion starter for a PSHE lesson before the children leave primary school in Year Six and during their first year of secondary school in Year Seven.

A contribution from the sale of this book goes to Partnership for Children a charity that runs school based programmes in Birmingham to encourage good mental health. In line with this worthy cause the end-pages contain inspiring quotes from award-winning authors Chris Callaghan, Gareth P Jones, Maz Evans, Tommy Donbavand, Jenifer Killick and Kathryn Evans.

My overall feeling is that The Curse of the Nomed is an ingenious enterprise that is pulled together by the dedication and cooperation of a great team of both adults and children. Holly Bushnell’s illustrations throughout the book help create atmosphere and tension. The book is neatly plotted with a great cliff-hanger ending that left me thinking there may be a sequel.

You can find out more about author B B Taylor’s books and writing on her website and follow her on Twitter @BB_Taylor and on Facebook @AuthorBBTaylor

You can find out about Holly Bushnell’s illustrations and other books on her website and follow her on on Facebook @hollybushnelldesigns and Instagram @hollybushnelldesigns

An interview with… Flying Eye Books

In 2013, I interviewed Sam Arthur about the then new children’s book imprint, Flying Eye Books, which creates beautiful children’s books to stand out in a digital age.

Sam Arthur photo

Flying Eye Books is the children’s imprint of award-winning visual publishing house Nobrow. Established in early 2013, Flying Eye Books sought to retain the same attention to detail in design and excellence in illustrated content as its parent publisher, but with a focus on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction.

Since then, an array of stunning and innovative titles have populated the list, including the award-winning Hildafolk series by Luke Pearson, the highly acclaimed Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space from Ben Newman and Dr. Dominic Walliman and exquisite picture books and enchanting illustrated biographies from breakaway young talents like Wild by Emily Hughes and Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2014 and winner of the 2015 Kate Greenaway Medal.

“When we started Nobrow Press one of our main sources of inspiration was children’s books. Our aim was to provide an independent platform for graphic art, Illustration and art comics in the UK and abroad. After publishing a few books aimed at younger readers under our Nobrow imprint we soon realised that we weren’t necessarily reaching our key demographic, that is to say, kids! So, after lots of hard work, the idea of a dedicated children’s imprint became a reality.” Sam Arthur

Sam told me, he can tell within a couple of pages if a submission is something they’d be interested in. Badly drawn and badly written are always a turn off. Also when someone hasn’t considered what types of books they publish, or don’t really know what Flying Eye Books do and who they are: this is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Sam revealed he never really has much time to read cover letters. He says that something along the lines of, Here’s a copy of my book, I’d love you to publish it. If you’re interested here are my contact details. Thanks for your time.’ is pretty much perfect! They are always looking for more original graphic novels for Nobrow Press and Sam is always looking for children’s picture books that fit their list.

“We firmly believe paper books are an important part of people’s lives. We feel that there is still great pleasure to be taken in the tactile nature of reading a physical book. We still like to collect tangible objects too and although the digital world is replacing some things, often it is simply providing a way to celebrate our love of the real world and the objects within it.” Sam Arthur

Sam’s advice to anyone wanting to submit their work is before you send them anything, make sure you have a good blog or website, which is up to date with your work. If they like a submission the first thing they do is check you out online to see other work you have done. An online presence could just be a bunch of drawings uploaded to a Flickr page – it doesn’t have to be a fancy website. 

“Our perception of you is based on a combination of your submission and your presence online. So my best advice is to consider this before you send anything in. If you have nothing it makes it difficult for us to get a picture of what you do and the decision to work with you will be affected by that.” Sam Arthur


You can read the full interview in the #144 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Flying Eye Books from their website:

End Each Chapter With a Cliffhanger

Cliff hangers keep your readers reading by building up the story’s tension. They literally leave your reader hanging.

cliff hanger

Cliff hangers should always involve your characters:

  • A character arrives
  • A character feels something
  • A character forgets something
  • A character is jolted into action
  • A character leaves
  • A character makes an important decision
  • A character makes an urgent demand
  • A character reacts badly
  • A character reacts internally to events
  • A character remembers something

Your reader has to turn to the next chapter to find out what happens to resolve the tense situation you have created.