Monthly Archives: August 2019

Emotional reaction

Emotional reaction is key to producing 3D characters in your writing.


To make your protagonist and antagonist come alive you need to show their reactions to other characters and events. this will show the reader what frame of mind they are in and help to engage their sympathy and understanding. Even the bad characters can become loved if their reactions are based in emotional motivation.

Emotional reaction is a powerful tool. It helps you as the writer get to the heart of the characters and their problems. This can often be achieved in just a few well structured words.

Think about all your characters and how they would react to seeing a snake – would they scream and run away, would they pick up a stick and try and fight it off, would they freeze and be unable to move, or would they try to talk to it and befriend the snake, or would they react in an entirely different way.

How would these characters react to seeing a snake?

Each of these reactions portrays their different personalities. 

Now think about how these characters would react if they came across a snake.

How would your characters react to a snake? Would all your characters act in the same way? Or do they each have their own particular way of reacting?

And yes… you are right… it does depend on the snake and the snake’s own personality.

Book Review – Remarkably Rexy

Title: Remarkably Rexy

Written and Illustrated by: Craig Smith

Published by: Allen & Unwin

Remarkably Rexy

The thing I love most about this book is the fantastic illustrations by Australian illustrator and children’s book writer, Craig Smith. It is a story about two cats competing for attention. Everybody loves Rex. He is the most dazzling cat on Serengeti Street. The school kids who pass by are always impressed by his moves… until one day, an interloper threatens to take all his attention away.

The beautiful detailed illustrations portray the cat’s features realistically that you can’t help falling in love with this extraordinary vain cat. If you own or simply adore cats this picture book hits the spot. It also comes with a link to a free audio reading, superbly read by Erick Mitsak.

I loved the wide array of vignettes that portrayed Rexy preparing to greet the children on their way home from school and how Pamela tries to out-cute him. I also liked the end papers showing Rexy so large, lounging over all the gardens in the street because they belong to him. Lots for children to explore in every illustration. A book to treasure and will have the children wanting you to read it over and over again.

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

To find out more about Craig Smith, his books and amazing illustrations visit:

An interview with… Simon Whaley

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #215 Sep 2019, I interview Simon Whaley about the research he does for his magazine articles.

Simon Whaley 2

Simon told me:

“What I love about research is the plethora of ideas for potential articles that it generates. You can be researching about one thing, and then come across one small fact that triggers an idea for an entirely different article, for an entirely different market.”

Simon Whaley

He said he uses a program called Evernote to store and organise all his research as it enables him to ‘tag’ notes. He often tags notes with useful contacts, the types of activity, such as event, attraction, tourist, walk and also with the locations such as county, country, towns and villages. This means when he searches something such as Walks and Shropshire it will bring up every note with those tags no matter which project he originally collected the information for.

Simon explained he always makes written notes when researching his articles, even if he has his Dictaphone switched on while interviewing someone. He explained he was once commissioned to undertake a walking route for Country Walking magazine when they discovered he wrote all his routes down in a notebook. The staff writer had dictated the route description into their smartphone, only to discover when they got back to the office four hours later that their smartphone had failed to record. You don’t have that problem writing in a notebook.

He labels all his notebooks and they in turn are an excellent resource.

(c) Simon Whaley

Simon’s notebooks

Simon told me how he had to endure a luxury overnight stay at Weston Park, home of the Earl of Bradford. Not only did he have to experience a 5-course meal sat at the same table used by the Heads of State when the G8 summit was held there, but he also had the opportunity to interview the Head Butler and the Head Gardener.

Photo of Graeme Currie, the Head Butler at Weston Park

Photo of Graeme Currie, the Head Butler at Weston Park (c) Simon Whaley

He said he finds his written notes invaluable when he comes to write his articles. He also takes lots of photographs, which he can refer to.

I take photos of everything: information panels, pages inside books, entry fee panels, accommodation rooms I stay in … everything! How many windows on the ground floor at the front of Weston Park? Eight. (I have a photo.) Which Heads of State were at the G8 summit at Weston Park? Clinton, Kohl, Chretien, Santer, Blair, Chirac, Hashimoto, Prodi and Yeltsin. (I have the photo.)

Simon Whaley

Commemmorating the G8 summit visit to Weston Park on 16th May 19

Photo of the Heads of State signatures at the G8 summit at Weston Park (c) Simon Whaley

Simon’s research tip was to take photographs of the information panels as it is the best way to capture all the details and you can read it at your leisure when you get home.

You can find out more about Simon Whaley and his writing on his website:


Twitter: @simonwhaley


Consider the Environment

People do not develop in isolation they are shaped by the world in which they live and grow.

Multiethnic Diverse People in a Circle Holding Hands

There are so many factors that can influence a person’s character and beliefs, such as:

  • their family background and structure,
  • social class,
  • available opportunities,
  • encouragement and ridicule from peers and family,
  • how they were raised and by whom,
  • their friends and how they were raised,
  • money,
  • outlets for their talents and skills,
  • pets,
  • school,
  • subjects chosen to study,
  • the politics and structure of the society they grew up in,
  • whether they grew up in times of peace or war.

All these things should be considered when developing your own characters for your writing. Everybody is different. It is what diversity is all about.

I often spend hours creating character sheets about my characters and not just the main protagonist. I want to know everything about them and I think how these things would influence what they say and how they react. It is more than just jotting down their physical detail.

what sayin

My writing group once laughed at me when I showed them my five-side character sketch for my main protagonist.

After I have developed the character I try to think of scenarios (not necessarily to do with the story I am writing) and jot down how they would react if they were angry, happy, sad, etc. I really want to delve into their mind, know what they are thinking and how they would phrase things in different states of mind.

Try it for yourself and see what happens.

Book review – World-wide Waste

TitleWorld Wide Waste: It’s Not a Load of Rubbish 

Written by: Caren Trafford

Illustrated by: David Wilsher and Jessica Laurentia

Published by: Etram Publishing

World-wide Waste

Caren Trafford, expertly uses narrative non-fiction to examine the enormous waste issues around the world and urges everyone – children, parents, teachers and politicians – to take pro-active measures to help clean up our environment. This book is full of fascinating facts and witty wisdom to make conservation fun. It is written as an interview with Dumpi, a paper bag rapper (wrapper) who wants to be the most recycled bag on the planet, and his friends. They have uncovered the way to stop world-wide waste and create an eco-friendly 21st century.

Full of bright imaginative illustrations that bring the quirky characters alive, World-wide Waste: It’s Not a Load of Rubbish, focuses on issues, such as the acceleration of pollution and climate change. These have to be one of the greatest challenges of our time and the gang are wasting no time, in bringing you the biggest scoop of the century: cover ups, bad smells, danger, destruction and the quest to save our world.

This book highlights this important environmental message in a fun and motivating way. It would make the ideal gift for any child interested in the environment and would be an excellent resource in the classroom to support topics on green issues, recycling and conservation. It could also be used for triggering discussion and encouraging empathy.

An interview with… Jasmine Richards

In the September 2019 #215 issue of Writers’ Forum, I talk to author and editor, Jasmine Richards, about diverse books and why she set up STORYMIX a new children’s book packager for series fiction.

Jasmine Richards 2

She explained that although her first novel, The Book of Wonders, was written in 2010 she had the idea when she was nine years old. Her inspiration was 1001 Arabian Nights and other stories she had read as a child. Jasmine has also written under the pseudonyms, J D Sharpe, Adam Blade and Rosie Banks.


Here is a video showing what Jasmine’s books are about.

As an author she noticed a recurring theme in her fan mail. the readers and their parents often expressed how much they enjoyed reading about the diverse character backgrounds in her stories.

This and the desire to see more contemporary characters that looked like herself having adventures,  were two important factors that motivated Jasmine to set up a children’s fiction production company that focuses on diverse characters and inclusive representation.

She explained:

“It is one of the key ambitions of of STORYMIX that our writers and illustrators will also go on to secure their own publishing deals and thus meaningfully change the make-up of the publishing landscape.”

Jasmine Richards

When asked what makes a diverse book Jasmine sent me this quote from Tananarive Due to explain:


She told me:

“Many people perceive that books that are representative need to have a serious message or deal with serious issues. Of course, those issue books are important but they are only a part of the story. Young people from all backgrounds have the right to see themselves in all kind of stories – mystery stories, horror stories, sci-fi stories…”

Jasmine Richards

She explained that a recent study from CLPE (Centre of Literacy in Primary Education) has shown of the 9,115 children’s titles published in 2017 only 4% featured black, Asian and minority ethnic characters.

STORYMIX are always looking for writers and illustrators to work with. You can find out more about STORYMIX and the books they develop here:

You can find out more about Jasmine Richards and her books on her website:

Read the full interview in the #215 Sep 2019 issue of Writers Forum, which is available in shops now.

Keep Focused

This is a real problem for me. I am very easily distracted. Today I saw this post on Facebook and thought it really summed me up. I can’t remember who posted it now but thank you.

keep focused

Over the years I have developed strategies to help me keep focused on my writing. I thought I would share a few of them with you today.

I have found making lists of what I need to do helps. But I have narrowed it down to three things a day. Each day I ask myself:

“What three things do I want to achieve by the end of today?”

This helps me prioritise and makes my goals manageable. I have even started messaging my now grown-up children three tasks they should concentrate on each day. My daughter has even messaged me on occasions to ask what her tasks for the day are.

However, it is no good if you make the task too large such as: ‘Write a picture book’. This is not helpful. The task for writing a picture book needs to be broken down into smaller parts such as:

  1. Brainstorm ideas for a picture book.
  2. Decide who is going to be the main character.
  3. Think about what the main character wants to achieve.

This may be enough for one day’s work.

The other thing I have found that helps me to concentrate is tidying my study.  When I have been working on a commission I tend to accumulate books, printed research and pieces of paper with rough notes doodled on them that pile up on the desk and the floor. Before I can start a new commission I clear everything away so I can start fresh with no potential distractions. A tidy environment helps me to keep a tidy mind.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.

Book Review – Two brothers and a Chocolate Factory

Title: Two brothers and a Chocolate Factory

Written by: Juliet Clare Bell

Illustrated by: Jess Mikhail

Published by: Bournville Village Trust

Two brothers and a Chocoalte Factory

Two brothers and a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable story of Richard and George Cadbury is a beautifully written narrative non-fiction interlaced with quotes. It explains how the brothers Richard and George Cadbury endeavoured to make their father’s chocolate factory a success. They dreamed of making the world a better place to live and work despite all odds, sceptics and circumstance.

It would appeal to children who are fascinated by social history and also to those that just love chocolate and want to find out more how Cadbury became one of the biggest producers of chocolate in the UK.

Jess Mikhail’s use of colour to contrast the good times and the bad times in the illustrations compliments the text perfectly and adds depth. The detail given to the clothing, hairstyles and homes during Victorian times helps to bring the book alive.

This inspiring picture book would be a great addition to schools and libraries not only in Birmingham where it is set, but all over the world as it recalls how people can achieve anything if they put their mind to it. The theme of following your dreams echoes from every page.

An interview with… Michael Rosen

I interviewed Michael Rosen about the research he does for his writing in 2009, when he was children’s laureate . 

Michael Rosen WBD 08 (84 of 147)

He explained when researching, he uses a mixture of the British Library, Internet, newspapers, Cecil Sharp Library and the state library of Melbourne (re Cuffay). He often starts with Google and goes from there. He revealed he often uses Carpenter’s Oxford Guide to Children’s Literature as a starting point.

Michel Rosen told me:

“In phase one of your research, you should allow yourself to be distracted by anything and everything that you discover. In Phase Two, you have to be ruthless and only stick with the subject in hand, or you’ll never finish the work.”

Michael Rosen

There is no pattern to the way he researches. He said he usually puts everything he discovers either physically into piles in his office, or log it into the computer. He likes to follow his nose – let one thing lead to another.

“Asking ‘what if’ and speculating are two important research techniques to discover a coherent narrative and ear-catching moments.”

Michael Rosen

In one of his ‘following his nose moments’ he discovered  museums in Britain kept the heads (or at least one head) of aboriginals who had been killed. Michael Rosen used this idea in You’re Thinking about Tomatoes when the protagonists hear the sound of bubbles and wheezing, and when they get to see what’s going on, it’s the head of an aboriginal man talking to them.

You’re Thinking about Tomatoes  and You’re Thinking about Doughnuts are two books that explore how things we see today, a museum and a stately home, owe their appearance and exhibits to aspects of the past.

You can find out more about Michael Rosen and his children’s books on his website:

Flat fees v Royalties

This is a very old debate in the world of writing educational resources. These books were written by me and my editor at the time Steve Rickard. He wrote the non-fiction at the front of the book and I wrote the stories at the back of the book. They were published under the pseudonym Cathy West. I am very proud of these books. I received 5% royalties as they were co-written. I do not think I have made much from these titles although, they are excellent for school visits.

Starstruck Collage

In the Society of Authors’ magazine The Author, Winter 2006 issue, Jenny Vaughan said amongst other things:

You should ensure you’re not being taken advantage of.

This is good advice. It is so easy for all authors to undersell themselves. However, both forms of payment have their advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, flat rate fees are very useful as you can receive an often vital income quickly, whereas royalties provide a more long-term gain. But sometimes, you can spend ages writing a book, which is to be paid by royalties only and have very little come back if it does not sell well. Whereas, with flat rate fees it often means you sign your rights away and you are usually writing to a very specific and tight brief. I wrote these books for a flat fee. I am very proud of these books too. They have been sold all over the world in many languages and are still in print. Sometimes I wonder how much money I could have made if I were getting royalties.

Season collage

Remember you should re-negotiate your fee on second editions. The publisher should pay a top-up fee and you should check the rights revert back to the author if the book goes out of print. The NUJ provides a very useful Freelance Fees Guide.