Monthly Archives: July 2019

Book Review – Frankie Foster Pick ‘n’ Mix

Title: Frankie Foster Pick ‘n’ Mix

Written by:  Jean Ure

Published by: Harper Collins

All Frankie Foster wants to do is help people. She wear a tee-shirt that says Here to Help. She loves fixing people’s problems. But, her help is not always welcome as more often than not, she leaves disaster in her wake. Eventually though, Frankie does always fix things.

Pick ‘n’ Mix is the second book in the series about accident-prone Frankie Foster. Mum has agreed to let her friend’s daughter, Emilia, stay for a while so her friend can get a little respite. But, this means Frankie has to move out of her tiny attic bedroom and share her sister’s bedroom with Emilia, to her sister’s disgust. Frankie finds she has taken on more than she has bargained with Emilia, whose behaviour leaves a lot to be desired, creating some dramatic and very funny twists in the story.

The book is aimed at girls 9+ and is written in the first person. As with Jean Ure’s other novels, the characters leap off the page, making an immediate and lasting impression.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading Jacqueline Wilson’s and Anne Fine’s books.

Dream a little dream…

Does anyone else out there dream their stories?

Well, I have very vivid dreams and more often than not I remember them when I wake up. I can dream whole plot lines. When I was stuck on a plot of a recent book I was writing I would read where I’d got to in the story just before I went to bed and somehow when I woke up I had a vague story line. Granted I think the story probably needs a lot more work and maybe a lot more sleep.


I keep a notebook by my bed most nights and often write down the stories I have dreamt. One day, I am going to write them all up as different novels. Right after I finished the commission I am working on at the moment. But for now, I can officially say I am still working even when I am asleep.

Book review – The Words that Fly Between Us

Title: The Words that Fly Between Us

Written by: Sarah Carroll

Cover illustrated by: Thy Bui

Published by: Simon & Schuster

The Words that Fly Between Us

An excellent YA book about learning to stand up for yourself and also covers the transition from one school to another. For me it was not so much the plot of the book that resonated with me but the underlying messages hidden within the plot.

The Words that Fly Between Us is about thirteen year old Lucy Fitzsimons whose family life is not as perfect as people think. In public her dad is warm smiles and sweet words. He look like the perfect loving husband and father and as far as Lucy can remember he used to be before he became over-stressed with work, and bullied himself by the owner of the bank. But behind closed doors he becomes another person, as she vividly portrays in her drawings. He is sour and bitter and the words that come out of his mouth are vicious and suffocating. Yet the words he does not say hurt just as badly. Lucy wakes up each morning hoping her dad is in a good mood.

Her best friend Megan is also being bullied by words from Hazel, a girl she knows from orchestra. On the surface Hazel pretends to be Megan’s friend but she is always making snide comments about the way Megan looks and acts. Lucy can’t believe Megan does not notice but in the same way Lucy pretends everything is ok at home, Megan pretends everything is ok with Hazel.

The whole book is a metaphor for how words can hurt just as badly as sticks and stones. Throughout the book, Sarah Carroll, expertly describes how the words that fly from her father’s mouth stick to surfaces, hide in wallpaper and drop to the carpet like invisible stains, lingering and filling the house with sadness. But it is not only the words people say. Sarah Carroll cleverly compares this to the words people write as well because Hazel not only bullies Megan with the things she says but also with the comments she anonymously writes on Megan’s blog.

The themes of truth, friendship and not believing the things other people say, ring strong and clear on every page, even in the beliefs Lucy has about her neighbour Ms Cusack. Her dad has told her Ms Cusack is poor, crazy cat woman. Lucy starts to explore the secret lives of her neighbours, in some cases by using the attic that is connected to every house on her side of the street, and she finds out her father’s words are not always true.

Through Lucy’s desire to help people she discovers words can help people too. The words in the books Ms Cusack give her are a source of knowledge that helps her to make sense of her own world and the note a young tramp gives her in exchange for train money, that simply says ‘I hope you feel safe all day’ provides Lucy with a new perspective and understanding. In the end, both Lucy and Megan gain the courage to stand up to their bullies. Lucy also realises the truth will set her free when she reveals the shady deals her father and his associates are involved with. In the long run it helps free her dad from his bully, as well as freeing her from her dad.

An excellent book to use in the classroom as a means to discuss bullying and trolling. It is also a great book for empowering young people to stand up for themselves and to not keep bullying a secret. The Words that Fly Between Us clearly demonstrates that once the bully is exposed, action can be taken to stop them. This book really makes you think.

An Interview with… Lou Treleaven

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Lou Treleaven about the nitty-gritty aspects of being a children’s book writer. In the feature Lou talks about how she broke into writing for children, her own writing process and doing school visits.

A big part of being a children’s book author is doing school visits. Lou offers a ‘pick and mix’ package for schools, which includes a number of different activities that can be slotted together to make a whole day or even several days. She explained that for younger children she usually reads a couple of picture books a followed by a related craft activity.  she also loves creating collaborative poems with the children after a reading. For the older children, she reads from her Pluto series and encourages the children to write replies to letters from aliens she has made in advance and bought in with her. She even provides an alien postbox to post them in.


Lou’s tip for other children’s book writers is to use simple but interesting language. She said:

Think poetry, even when you are writing prose.  A well chosen word replaces a dozen.  You have to leave room for the illustrations so your words can only take up a small part of the page, yet they need to tell the story, engage the reader and create tension.  Your words need to be the very best they can be.

Lou Treleaven

Lou has her own critique service where she focuses on all the different facets of what makes a story: characterisation, plot, language, tension and the message in the story, as well as how to lay out the text and craft a submission letter and synopsis.

For more about Lou Treleaven and her books and critique service you can check out her website: You can you can find her on Twitter at @loutreleaven and Facebook at

To read the complete feature take a look at Writers’ Forum Magazine #214 August 2019.

Walk the dogs


If you find yourself stuck for ideas, or unable to think what to write next, don’t sit and stare at your computer or your notebook, go for a walk. You’ll be amazed at what pops into your head. I alkso find I am so much more productive after I’ve walked the dogs.

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As well as being an excellent tip, this is an ideal opportunity to post a slideshow of my gorgeous dogs.

smiley face

Book Review – Amazing Mr Zooty

Title: Amazing Mr Zooty

Written and Illustrated by: Emma Chichester Clark

Published by: Anderson Press

Amazing Mr Zooty

This is the story of a cat called Mr Zooty who likes to help people. The Amazing Mr Zooty’s motto is:

‘Get out, help out’

He searches the park to find someone who needs his help and discovers Lucy and Sam Taylor. They are down on their luck and very poor. With the aid of his little red case Mr Zooty grants them all a wish to make their dreams come true but he likes to sprinkle in a few ideas of his own.

This is a good book to read aloud to a foundation class whilst showing the pictures and asking the children what they think might happen next. Early readers could use the illustrations to tell their own versions of the story.

An interview with… Ally Sherrick

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #214 Aug 2019, I interview Ally Sherrick about the research she did to weave mythology into WWII historical events for her children’s adventure book, The Buried Crown.

BC Cover Final HR

Ally Sherrick set her story at the Sutton Hoo site,  where the famous early 7th century longship burial and grave of what is believed to be Redwald, King of the East Angles and High King of Britain was discovered in 1939 on the eve of the outbreak of war. 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 treasure hoards.

Buckle replica

This was the inspiration for her idea of a story about a dragon-headed crown based during WWII. Ally told me:

A sense of place is very important to me in my writing, both as a source of inspiration, and also as a character. I had visited the burial mounds and museum at Sutton Hoo, run by the National Trust, a number of years ago, but of course, once I started writing my story, I knew I would have to go again. And I was keen to revisit Woodbridge, where George meets Kitty and where her granddad’s museum – loosely based on Woodbridge Museum – is located.

Her novel is full of realistic descriptions of what it was like for a child to be a refugee during WWII. She did extensive research into the Jewish child refugees who travelled to Britain on the Kindertransports. She was also inspired by the stories her dad use to tell her about what it was like to be parted from his family and sent to live in the countryside.

Ally Sherrick

As the story is set in rural Suffolk, Ally wanted to be sure to try and capture elements of the local accent for characters like Bill Jarvis, the cruel farmer George lodges with. Ally explained this involved listening to recordings of Suffolk voices on the internet and identifying little idiosyncrasies of pronunciation which would give a flavour of the difference in speech between Londoners George and Charlie and the Suffolk-based characters.  For example for words with ‘ing’ endings, Bill Jarvis will always say ‘en’ instead.

Though all the German characters in the Buried Crown speak English pretty fluently, Ally did have them use German phrases at certain moments for emphasis or added drama. She told me that even though she does not speak German herself, she was able to run things past a good friend who is German, and her publisher, Chicken House, also had this double-checked too.

Ally said:

I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped me with checking the various elements of my story. Some of them were acquaintances, but others I approached via museums or special interest societies, the contact details for which I sourced from the internet. All were more than happy to help, and I know the book is more authentic as a result. As I say in the acknowledgements, all errors are my own! 

Ally’s tip for other writers is to follow your curiosity wherever it may lead you. She found it added extra dimensions and layers to her novel.

You can read the full interview in the August 2019 #214 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Ally Sherrick and her books on her website: and follow her on Twitter: @ally_sherrick

Face Your Fears

I am sure I am not the only one who has got to a point in my writing and lost confidence in what I am doing. I often get about half way through and realise there is still so much to do and  the end is still unclear and a muddle in my mind. Then I think what I’ve done so far is all utter rubbish and is only fit for the bin.

Maybe your manuscript is also full of gaps and glitches and your desk is like mine and covered with strange notes and ramblings that have lost all meaning because you – like me – are overwhelmed. Is the dreaded question storming through your head too?

How am I ever going to finish?


It is easy to lose faith and wonder whether it is actually worth the effort. The hard part is remembering this is NORMAL. It is how you know you are a real writer. We all get tired and disheartened. The trick is to take a deep breath and carry on.

The only way you can get over the hump is to face your fear and nagging doubts and get on with it anyway.

Force yourself to work through it.

Don’t think about it! Go on Try it!

Book Review – The Girl with the Bird’s Nest Hair

Title: The Girl with the Bird’s Nest Hair

Written and illustrated by: Sarah Dyer

Published by: Bloomsbury

The Girl with the Bird_s Nest Hair

A little girl does not like brushing her tangled tresses, but when a varied selection of birds set up home in her hair, she knows she certainly cannot brush it and upset them. Nothing her mother says or does makes any difference, until one day when the birds become a little more than she can handle!

This is a beautifully illustrated book written in rhyming couplets. This book would be a joy to read aloud in the classroom, or could be used for guided reading, allowing time for the children to ponder over the illustrations to spot the different birds that nest in Hollie’s hair. Children will be able to easily identify with Hollie and the dilemma of having to have their hair brushed.


Poetry should be ageless but, should have a target audience in mind. Your voice has to appeal to the child of today.

Poems for children can be divided into three age ranges: 5+, 9+ and YA.

  • A-Z: The best children’s poetry from Agard to Zephaniah compiled by Michael Rosen
  • Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg
  • The Day I Fell Down the Toilet and Other Poems by Steve Turner and David Mostyn

The Poetry Society is an excellent resource for poets:

If you want to target you poetry in an event remember National Poetry Day is the 4th October.

There are often opportunities for aspiring poets for children in anthologies and you can see your name alongside big names such as:

  • Michael Rosen,
  • Carol Anne Duffy,
  • John Agard,
  • Pie Corbett,
  • Paul Cookson,
  • Roger McGough

If want to write poetry for children go to local bookshop and browse their most recently published anthologies. See who published them. Write to them and say interested in submitting to the next anthology and could they put you on their list. Include a selection of poems as example of your style and voice. Try and include a poem that would have been appropriate for their latest anthology as a similar theme.

poetry anthology

Poems can be timeless and you are often able to re-use them. My poem The Fairground is in the Teaching ICT with Story and has previously been featured in a teacher resource called ‘Here comes the Fair’ published by Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, in conjunction with the University of Manchester and Manchester City council and is now part of an anthology of poems for speech and drama teachers, Poetry for Performance published by The Playing Space.