Monthly Archives: September 2019

Book review – Around the World in 80 Ways

Title: Around the World in 80 Ways

Illustrated by: Katy Halford

Published by: Dorling Kindersley

Around the World in 80 Ways

From a dugout boat to a moon buggy, find out all the ways you can travel the world in this stunning illustrated book by Katy Halford. Around the World in 80 Ways explores exactly 80 different modes of transport that could take you part way around the world. This eclectic mix of vehicles takes the reader on a fun and exciting journey through time. It is full of amazing facts about when the different types of transport was invented and who invented them. This picture book features some highly eccentric ways of travelling that will have you laughing as you imagine yourself travelling the world on a self-balancing scooter, or on an elephant, or zooming off with a jetpack, or even on a husky dog sled.

Katy Halford’s bold illustrations bring the transport to life, with simplistic and entertaining details and pages full of happy smiley faces, which will keep a child entranced for hours. They will be fascinated to find out what a Gondola, Vaporetto, Maglev and a Tuk-tuk are and how cars and aeroplanes changed people’s lives. This book would make an ideal addition to the class book corner, or to support a class topic on vehicles.

Although, 80 different ways of travelling sound a lot when I’d finished the book I could not help thinking about the ones that were not included and wondered at Katy Halford’s reasoning for picking the ones she did and leaving others like the International Space Station out. Maybe she plans to illustrate a sequel?

I believe this book also highlights the new trend in acknowledging the illustrator and not the writer. I was left wondering if this book was written in-house, or if they had a ghost writer.

An interview with… Ali Sparkes

For the Papers Pens Poets blog in 2017, I interviewed Ali Sparkes about her love of stationery.

AliS Stationery 2

She told me:

“When it comes to high-speed book signing for 200 hyped up Year 6s, nothing beats my trusty Pentel Energel. It’s very fast and smooth and doesn’t smudge UNLESS you try to use it on any kind of shiny paper. Then it’s flippin’ useless because it smears like 1960s mascara in a sauna.”

Ali Sparkes

Ali explained that she orders the refills in bulk and was ecstatic when she discovered they made coloured refills too. For her book Thunderstruck, she needed green or purple ink because there was no clear white space for her signature, so it was difficult to see her usual black ink against it.

Like me, Ali Sparkes has a shelf of notebooks that are too nice to use.

AliS I Am Not Worthy

She prefers narrow feint and avoids spiral bound. She has a weakness for Fabriano A4 pads in her favourite colours of lime green, orange and purple.  Ali revealed she love the simple coloured cardboard covers and stapled-in pages which don’t rip away and fall apart when you give them a hard stare. She told me that although they are quite pricey in shops there are some good deals online.

Another stationery favourite for Ali is sticky notes.

“I have to have those little stick-in tabs for when I’m line editing a paper manuscript. By the time I’m done my manuscript looks a little like a groovy 1970s handbag with a multi-coloured fringe.”

Ali Sparkes

AliS stationery1

You can read the full interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog.

Find out more about Ali Sparks and her books on her website:  or follow her on Twitter: @SparkesAli. Or check out her You Tube page. 

Writing a Synopsis

If you are having problems with your plot and find that your story is meandering all over the place with no real purpose you may benefit from writing a personal synopsis.

This does not mean writing pages and pages of detail, outlining the whole story before you begin. A synopsis can be a few simple sentences, or a couple of paragraphs that sketches the timeline of the beginning, middle and end of your story. This is not the same as the synopsis you use when submitting your work to agents and editors. A submission synopsis is usually written when you have finished the book and should outline the main plot points including the ending.

A personal synopsis should be the kind notes that serve as memory joggers.

railway track

Often beginner writers do not think the entire story through. They start on a high with a brilliant idea but then they hit a cul-de-sac. An outline synopsis will ensure you have a clear idea of where your characters are going and what their problems are. Ask yourself: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

6 W's

Having an ending for the main plot line in mind that you can aim for will keep you on the road to complete your novel, picture book, short story or non-fiction book. Giving yourself a rough framework to work to prevents you from being tempted to go off on a tangent and will help to avoid a weak and coincidental conclusion.

A fiction submission synopsis should also include the 6 W’s. Yes, I know How does not begin with a W but… anyway! It should also give an agent or editor an indication of your unique selling point, whether it is your character, your voice, setting or even scientific / historical / mythological connections.

A non-fiction synopsis is totally different and I will deal wiyh this another day.

Book Review – The Hamburger of Doom

Title: Jonny Jakes Investigates… The Hamburger of Doom

Written by:  Malcolm Judge

Illustrated by: Alan Brown – Advocate Art

Published by: Curious Fox Books

Jonny Jakes Investigates… The Hamburger of Doom

Jonny Jakes is an undercover reporter for the banned school newspaper, The Woodford Word. Nothing will stop his pursuit of the truth. Not teachers. Not parents. Not double detention. He is always looking for that next big story so when a new Headteacher arrives halfway through term and introduces some weird and wonderful new routines, Jonny smells a rat. Hamburgers for lunch? Sweets in class? He’s determined to get to the bottom of it, because Jonny Jakes investigates the same way he eats his hamburgers: with relish.

This is a fantastic concept, well written in the style of the Wimpy Kid diaries and the Tom Gates books. The fact the school newspaper has been banned has you hooked from the start. It is the first book in a new series which will is sure to capture even the most reluctant reader’s attention.

In Jonny Jakes Investigates… The Hamburger of Doom you follow Jonny on his quest to save the school from aliens, whilst not only avoiding being licked to death but also preventing both the children and parents from becoming morbidly obese. Jonny Jakes talks you through the mounting evidence and how he comes to his amazing deductions which provide his hilarious, hard-hitting headlines. Find out if Jonny manages to meet his deadline to get the next copy of The Woodford Word out on time.

This book highlights why you should never take sweets from strangers and how healthy food, herbs and spices can save your life.

Working title

If I have not been given a title by the publisher who has commissioned the book, I often start by giving my books a working title just so I can have something written on the page. A blank page is daunting and I always write something to start myself off even if I go back and change it later.

Inkedblank book_LI

It is better not to get too attached to your working title as publishers often want to change them anyway. I learnt this the hard way and it was definitely a case of killing your darlings. Nowadays I never expect the same title to be on the finished published article, short story or book. I have written quite a few short stories for a variety of national women’s magazines and most of them were published under different titles.

However, it never hurts to give the title of your stories, features and books some serious consideration as this will be the first words the editors and publishers read when looking at your submission, whether it has been commissioned, or not. First impressions are important. A title that stimulates interest or intrigue stands out more amongst the competition, especially if it is on the slush pile. 


A good working title will  open up the meaning of the story, revealing layers of character, theme and subtext that goes beyond the actual plot. It will also give the editors and publishers an idea of what the book is about and the tone of the book.

A working title should inspire you to write, fill you with confidence and help you to get your words onto paper because it focuses you on the story. This will give you the momentum to move forward.

When I first started out writing for children I took my first three chapters to a critique group meeting and they got so hung up on the working title even though  I explained it was just a way to focus me on the themes of the book, they did not really give me any advice on the essential first three chapters.

Book Review – Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den

Title: Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den

Written by:  Aimée Carter

Cover Illustration by: Sam Hadley

Published by: Bloomsbury

This is the first book of the trilogy about searching for identity.

Twelve -year-old Simon Thorn’s life has never been easy, but being bullied at school and living in a cramped Manhattan apartment with his Uncle Darrell is nothing compared to his biggest secret: he can talk to animals.

When his Mum arrives on a very rare visit, she is kidnapped by ferocious rats and Simon is plunged into a terrifying mission to rescue her. He discovers he can do more than just talk to animals. He belongs to secret race of animal shape-shifters, known as Animalgams.

In the first book, while searching for his mother, he finds the Animalgam Academy located deep beneath Central Park Zoo. There he learns about the fractured five kingdoms – Mammals, Birds, Insects, Reptiles and Underwater and discovers his father was the Beast King who had the ability to shift into any creature he desired. Simon does not know if he will shift into an eagle like his mother or whether he, or his twin brother, will inherit his father’s abilities.

What he does realise is – the Animalgam world is in danger of ripping itself apart and he is the only one who can stop them.

Simon’s character as a loner who finds it difficult to make friends is established from the start alongside the strong themes of loyalty and bravery. No longer is Simon’s only threat the school bully, Bryan Barker, there is a whole underworld of talking beasts after him and it is not clear whose side is the right side to be on. Simon and the reader have no idea who to trust and where their loyalties should lie. The adults in the book are no help as they insist on keeping secrets from him and he is left to discover his true identity alone. Even the few friends he manages to make along the way are innocent by-standers, as he solves the mystery of his destiny.

Aimée Carter takes us on a fast-paced adventure full of twists and turns reminiscent of Percy Jackson. At the end of each book you are left wanting more.

An interview with… Nicola Morgan

One of the first interviews I did when my Writing 4 Children column launched in 2016 was with the esteemed Nicola Morgan. She is one of my writing idols.

At St Pauls Manchester

She had a strong, realistic  message to tell people who wanted to write for children as a full time career.  Nicola said:

You will have to do school events

They are exhausting, can be demoralising and will sometimes test your resilience beyond its max. They can also be soul-nourishing, highly rewarding and are almost always eye-opening, which is good. Try to take all their benefits and learn to love your audiences by focusing on the vast majority of the students who are listening avidly. And when something undermining happens, laugh (afterwards, not at the time).

You will be seriously underpaid for almost all your children’s/teenage writing

If you want to earn a lot, you need to write a certain sort of book, usually a trilogy/series (though many of those fail before they’ve started.) And you’ll still need luck. Make sure you are paid for events because they can be your only way to survive financially.

Bad things, small or big, will happen in your career

They will often be things you have to keep to yourself or a close circle of friends. This is true for all artists who put their heart and soul out into the world to be judged by others. So value those friends, as they will support you in those bad times. And realise that all the multi-garlanded, apparently uber-successful authors you’ve been following on Twitter etc also have moments (if they’re lucky or incredibly thick-skinned) and months (the rest of us) of darkness and gloom, that we all have angst and inadequacy written through our veins, and that there are more ways to get under the skin of a creative person than there are ways to write a novel. But the emotional rewards are huge. Being published and read is worth the pain.


Nicola’s tips for children’s book writers were read a lot of modern children’s books and if your book has a message keep it hidden.

You can read the full interview in the #179 Sept 2016 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

Find out more about Nicola Morgan and her writing at: or on Twitter @nicolamorgan