Monthly Archives: June 2019

Book Packagers

Series books are often written under pseudonyms by a variety of authors, such as:

  • Rainbow Magic Fairies by Daisy Meadows also published by Orchard Books created by the fiction packager Working Partners
  • Beast Quest books by Adam Blade published by Orchard Books but created by the fiction packager Working Partners
  • Little Animal Arc by Lucy Daniels published by Hodder

Fiction packagers come up with the ideas in-house and they will write a detailed outline saying what needs to go in every chapter. They then have a selection of authors on their list who they will ask to write the first three chapters. They often ask more than one author and choose the one they like best.

Their favourite chapters are presented to publishers and if the publisher likes them, they will commission the writer to write the proposed book in the series or maybe four of the desired books. They will then go through the same process again for the next idea for a story in the series. So each book is written by a different author.

Book Review – Earth to Daniel

Title: Earth to Daniel

Written by:  Gwenyth Rees

Published by: Bloomsbury (originally published by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2003 as Mum’s from Planet Pluto)

Earth to Daniel

This book deals competently and sensitively with mental illness and the effects it has on others. Daniel’s mum has bi-polar disorder and stops taking her medication causing her behaviour to escalate into a manic episode. He makes a new friend, Abby, who shares his interest in football. Abby’s mum has just had to go back into rehab because she is an alcoholic so she is being looked after by her sister, Suzy.

Daniel knows his mum was very ill once but the circumstances of her illness are kept a secret from him as the adult’s believe he is too young to understand. All he knows is her illness is controlled by medication. But then his life changes suddenly, he moves house and has to go to a new school, where his mum has just become the Head Teacher. His dad has to go to New Zealand as Daniel’s grandmother is seriously ill. His mum stops taking her lithium tablets and starts to act like she is from another planet. Daniel is the only one who can look after his sister and help his mum.

I am sure many children will be able to identify with Daniel’s and Abby’s situations and how they deal with the negative reactions of others to mental illness and dependency.

Even though they try to solve their problems alone, this book is excellent in the way it suggests seeking help from and adult without labouring a point. It also provides the support telephone number of Childline and highlights the dilemma of how much do you tell a child about mental illness.

A great book for classroom discussion.

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




An interview with … Anita Loughrey

In the July 2019 issue of Writing Magazine, I was interviewed by Simon Whaley about my school holiday survival tips on how to push on with writing projects when the children are home all day. As mentioned in a tweet it is really very rare for me to be interviewed. I am usually the person doing the interviews. So I get very excited when I see myself in a magazine. The feature even gets a mention on the front cover:

Writing Magazine - Schools Out

Schools Out! How to juggle your freelance business with kids holidays.

When I reread my words compared to what John Adams, founder of Dad Blog UK, I realised how much things have changed over the years as my children have got older. When my children between the ages of 5-11, I too used to rely on holiday clubs which my children loved. There was so much for them to do to keep them active and interested. Once they started secondary school they would rather do their own thing and hang out with their own friends.

One thing is for certain though I have never, ever, ever got up to write voluntarily at 5am in the morning. I am definitely not a morning person. Although, I have been known to be still at my keyboard at 3am in the morning, having not gone to bed yet.

WM with Dexter2

In the feature, I advocate timetabling as a way to find time to write. This is beneficial not only to the children who get advanced warning of when you are working and when they need to amuse themselves, but it is also a way of motivating yourself to actually sit yourself in the chair and get on with the work. Timetabling works both ways and sets the expectations of the children that I am actually going to produce something at the end of the day. If you say you are going to work there has to be words on the page as evidence of this.

I have also been guilty of turning family excursions into writing projects and like Simon mentioned himself in the feature taken family for days out on assignments and when researching areas. This in a way makes it even more fun and helps me to hone in what I actually want to find out so I use my time productively.


I think another thing though to ensure you get a well deserved break from your writing is to actually give yourself permission to stop writing and have a holiday. to do this I recommend telling your editor, project manager, publisher, agent and who ever else is involved waiting on you to send in copy what your holiday dates are. Let them know you will be away from your desk and will not be working at the set holiday dates. Everybody needs a holiday – even writers!


The plot of any story can be set out as follows:


Beginning – meet the main character and introduce the problem

Middle – focus on the problem, which gets worse through the inciting incident – introduce a focus of resistance such as suspense / surprise / tension

End – resolve the problem, whichever way, then get out as quickly as possible.

Aristotle said the most important thing in any story is the sequence of events. Each event has a cause and effect, and each is connected in the plot. There are six stages of plot development:

  • The opening
  • The arrival of conflict
  • The early achievement
  • The twist and the change
  • The resolution
  • The final outcome


Book Review – Roller Girl

Title: Roller Girl

Written and illustrated by: Victoria Jamieson

Published by: Puffin

Roller Girl

Embark on your own Roller Derby of emotions with Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. The illustrations in this graphic novel portray the character’s feelings so poignantly. Right from the start it was a joy to see Astrid’s love and excitement at the roller derby compared with her best friend, Nicole’s reactions. All of Victoria’s characterisations are spot on. I laughed out loud, wiped away tears of disappointment and yelled out encouragement as Astrid became tougher, stronger and fearless in her ambition to be a roller girl.

This graphic novel draws you into the world of Roller Derby and being part of a team. Astrid’s courage and determination is an inspiration to all as she struggles to succeed without the companionship of Nicole. The story gets to the heart of a common adolescent occurrence of drifting away from previous relationships and making new friends.

Let’s hope we see more graphic novels like this on the shelves of the UK bookshops.

An interview with…Ana Johns

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #213 Jul 2019, I interview Ana Johns about the research she did for her novel, The Woman in the White Kimono. This novel can be described as Romeo and Juliet meets Madam Butterfly.

Kimono High Res Cover (002)

The main protagonist is a twenty-first century investigative reporter who embarks on the most personal story of her life. She is trying to discover the truth about a woman with whom her father had a forbidden relationship with more than a half century ago. As her father’s secret past unfolds, the truth will reveal as much about him as about the woman and baby he left behind. 

Ana Johns feature2

Ana told me that she worked backward, borrowing heavily from her father’s life, his ship, his military records, his cancer, and forward using her imagination by asking, “what if?” What if they preceded with the wedding without her parent’s blessing?  What if she were pregnant? To answer those questions, she studied 1950s international marriage and birth registry laws for the United States, Japan, and the military. Ana told me all the information was attainable online.

She explained:

This is where search engines are a writer’s best friend, even if you don’t know where to look for specific records, a single query will provide several links that point you in the needed direction. These sources, along with countless articles on the bureaucratic red tape those laws created, provided the working story structure for my dual narratives—the bones if you will. Ana Johns

Ana told me that she found internet articles and blogs invaluable but it was the real-life connections she made through various Japanese Facebook groups and military forums that gave the novel real authenticity.

Through the forum, the adoptees invited me to join their private Facebook community (again, I can’t stress the importance of these groups) where I was then invited to attend the first US Elizabeth Saunders Home reunion in San Diego on Shelter Island where the US statue of The Girl with Red Shoes stands for informal face-to-face interviews. Ana Johns

Girl With Red Shoes CA

The adoptees also inspired several of the character’s backstories that Naoko meets in a maternity home.

“Jin is somewhat lucky. At least she only battled one demon.”

My heart drops. Tears follow. Their moisture floods my fingertips and seeps through. That is why she took Jin under her wing. Stood up for her. Mothered her. I didn’t know. I didn’t guess. I didn’t ask.

“So, you see?” Her lips pull high and her shaky words fight to work through them. “When my child asks his or her new parents, ‘Why was I given away? Where did I come from?’ They won’t have a wedding story of magical lights and forbidden love to share. They will have nothing to offer, because with a story as horrible as mine, I have nothing to leave.”

“You leave life, Hatsu.” I slide close, wrapping her in my arms and whisper through tears. “You leave life.”

Extract from The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

Ana revealed that even the fictional outcast village where Naoko and Hajime rent a home was based on a discovered headline “Google crosses line with controversial old Tokyo maps”

It’s not the run-down little house that causes my alarm, but the community. It’s in a region that houses Eta, outcasts. The Burakumin are at the bottom of the social order. They are poor, some of mixed blood, and work necessary trades of death: butchers, leather tanners, undertakers. Therefore, they’re deemed tainted, unclean and unlucky.

I am the unlucky one.

My family will forbid it. To live here would damage Father’s reputation and Taro’s prospects to earn one.

Extract from The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

The novel may have begun with Ana’s father’s story, but through her diligent research it evolved into a story that belongs to many.

You can read the full interview in the July 2019 #213 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find more information about Ana Johns and her writing at:

Creating Conflict

Conflict is a storyteller’s best friend. The stronger the problem, the stronger the story.


A story for children should open with conflict. 

Don’t be nice to your character! Create obstacles to their goal. The story is more exciting that way, the character learns more, and the reward is more valuable since the character worked so hard for it.

Conflicting Characters

The most popular, since conflicts between people are the most interesting to readers.


Cinderella and her wicked stepmother

Inner Conflict 

Conflict between good and evil or strengths and weaknesses in a character. This is deep stuff and not usually the main conflict. The Grinch is evil and hates Christmas, but he is not evil at heart, he is like that because someone hurt him. The Grinch feels inner conflict over the good and evil inside of him.


The Grinch

Fight Against Nature

Usually involves natural disasters or survival skills. This conflict is exciting, but often difficult to write about at length.

Lord of the Flies

You can combine different types of conflict. Maybe your characters struggle to survive and fight among themselves, such as in Lord of the Flies.

Add more conflicts and obstacles if your story seems slow or not ‘big’ enough.

Before you write, know how the problem will be solved. Don’t write yourself into a hole! Most importantly your main character must solve the problem. Don’t have someone (or something) enter at the last minute and save the day.

Book Review – cock-a-doodle hooooooo!

Title: cock-a-doodle hooooooo!

Written by: Mick Manning

Illustrated by: Brita Granström

Published by: Little Tiger Press

Cock-a-doodle hooooooo!

Another book with a theme of empathy. This beautiful picture book also encompasses themes of friendship, acceptance, role models and just being yourself. One stormy night, a lost and lonely owl walks into a farmyard looking for a place to rest. He sleeps in the hen house, but next morning the hens don’t want him to stay. They need a cockerel, not an owl! Owl has to convince the hens that he can be their perfect cockerel.

Cock-a-doodle hooooooo! is an entertaining story from award-winning author-illustrator team, Mick Manning and Brita Granström. I just love Owl’s facial expressions. This is a wonderful picture book to read aloud to pre-school aged children. Owl is very patient and does try and fit in to the hen house but in the end the hens realise he is perfect just the way he is. This is an ideal book for introducing a discussion on ourselves and looking at similarities and differences.

An interview with… Alec Price

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Alec Price about the pros and cons of mainstream publishing v self-publishing. He had some very interesting things to say about the two processes of becoming a published author.

alec Price feature 1

His children’s books are about the Trogglybogs, strange children who are only two feet tall and covered all over in brown fur. they live deep in the caverns on Brinscall moors. These cheeky mischief-makers enjoy nothing more than sneaking up on people who are picnicking on the hills and stealing their food.

Trogglybogs book cover

Alec told me that in the end of experiencing both methods he prefers the self-publishing route. he said:

I think it is much more satisfying, and more profitable, to do the whole publishing process yourself. It’s not that hard.

Alec Price

For both ways of getting published Alec explained he has to do most of his own self-promotion. The publisher did put his book on Amazon and other online book sites. He contacted local papers and radio stations, he organised his school visits and he also set up his own mobile book stall to take to fair and summer fetes. Alec said:

With self-publishing you have complete control of your book; it is your baby. you can make it a success and reap the rewards.

Alec Price

For more about Alec Price and his books you can check out his website:

You can read the complete feature in Writers’ Forum Magazine #213 July 2019

Point of View

When I saw this it made me laugh. It highlights how different characters can see things from different points of view.  These two frames get the creative juices flowing for a whole host of stories. How did the characters get there? what’s going to happen now? Generally though a story should be told through the eyes of a single character, usually the main character.

point of view

I have found this myself when reading a novel, sudden shifts in the story’s point of view can jolt and disorient me, as the reader, out of the story. As a rule to keep it consistent, I tend to narrate only what my chosen character would know and nothing they wouldn’t. For example, other people’s thoughts, or something out of sight. although some stories work excellently with two point of views. For example, Philip Pullman’s, The Subtle Knife is one of my all-time favourite books and is told from the viewpoint of Lyra and Will. So like Philip Pullman, if you do need to switch to a different point of view, set up a separate section or chapter for it.

subtle knife

Written in third person, The Subtle Knife, immerses the reader in both characters’ voices in alternate chapters. The narrator’s voice is kept well out of the picture. This again should be a general rule when writing novels, unless you are writing fairy tales and folktales, which opens up for a whole new post.