Monthly Archives: October 2019

An interview with… Lucy Courtenay

Lucy Courtenay has over a hundred books ranging from young fiction all the way through to young adult romance. In May 2017, I interviewed her for the Papers Pens Poets blog about her love of stationery .

She told me her favourite pen at school was a fat-nibbed black Sheaffer fountain pen, which she took particular delight in changing the colour of her ink cartridges and watching the colour gradually bleed. In one notable essay on the Treaty of Versailles, from blue to purple to pink to purple to pink again. She also loves smelly gel pens.


Lucy revealed:

“With notebooks, it’s looks all the way. But looks come with a caveat. The prettier the notebook, the less likely I am to write in it. My favourite – a floppy green nubuck journal printed with brown birds and branches – is still pristine, because I can’t bring myself to make a single mark on its pages.” Lucy Courtenay

She explained she usually tries to make do with the ragbag stationery already in the house rather than buy new stuff. She admits that post-it notes litter her desk with odd words and phone numbers in a rainbow of colours and she likes folders too.

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

Find out more about Lucy and her writing  on her website

Follow her on Twitter (@LucyCourtenay1), Facebook (@lucycourtenayauthor) and Instagram (@lucycourtenayauthor).

Why write a synopsis?

A few weeks ago on my blog, I talked about how a personal synopsis, or breakdown, of your novel can be a useful planning tool and map to help you complete your novel. See here. Last week I explained the difference between a synopsis for publishers and agents and a book proposal. See here.

Today I am going to talk about whether agents and publishers even read the synopsis. A question that is often asked at writing meetings and events is:

Do we need a synopsis?

This is a very controversial question. Romantic novelists, Dee Williams and Iris Gower, who I met at a Writers Holiday event many years ago, told me they had never had to write a synopsis.


Others, like Marti Leimbach, writer of contemporary fiction for adults and young adults, admitted writing a synopsis is often harder to write than the actual novel. Whereas, some very lucky people, like Lee Weatherly, claim they are easy to write. Unfortunately, I lost my notebook which had all my notes from the Lee Weatherly talk – I kept saying to myself it was bound to turn up but it never has. I may have left it on the train!


I have been told at a couple of SCBWI conferences by agents and publishers on various panels they don’t even read the synopsis. You should have heard me groan at that news. I spend hours and hours on mine and they’re not even going to read it. I could have stood up and screamed. Even at the recent SCBWI-BI Agent’s Party, three out of the five agents on the first panel said they do not look at the synopsis. Joanna Moult prefers a cracking first page and Kate Shaw will look at the cover letter and sample first. Zoe Plant from the Bent Agency does not even ask for a synopsis in the submission package.

So is a synopsis a waste of time?

NO! I do not think so. Other editors and agents, such as Chloe Seager, have said they do read the synopsis first and prefers to be told how the book is going to end. Some other agents have said if they don’t like the synopsis they don’t bother reading the rest. This is just as scary as I have always believed the most important thing is how strong your writing is.

What should we do?

I still think, the most important thing is how good your writing is but I also think we need a synopsis to show the editor or agent how well the story hangs together and prove it has a defined beginning, middle and end. So even though Megan Carroll does not like spoilers in the synopsis, my advice is persevere with your synopsis. It might help you to clinch the deal.

Book review – Famous Family Trees

Title: Famous Family Trees

Written by: Kari Hauge

Illustrated by: Vivien Mildenberger

Published by: Lincoln Children’s Books (an imprint of the Quarto Group)

Famous Family Trees

Kari Hauge has collated the family histories of 25 people who lived from 100BC to AD2013 into one magnificent book. Some, like William Shakespeare, have complicated trees stretching back hundreds of years. Others, like Cleopatra VII and Mahatma Ghandi, have ancestors who are only known through myths, or stories passed down orally over the years. Every spread reveals a treasure trove of information to explore and cherish.

Each person from Julius Caesar to Martin Luther King is covered by a double-page spread. The left hand page provides a brief concise historical profile of the person. The right hand page contains the elaborate family tree. The How to Use section is an essential part of this book. It explains how family trees work and how they have been laid out in this book to fit onto a single page.

 Famous Family Trees supplies the answers to such questions as:

  • Who did Cleopatra grow up with?
  • Did Marie Antoinette’s extravagance cause the French Revolution?
  • Where did Genghis Khan’s fierce nature come from?
  • What were Charlotte Bronte’s pseudonyms?
  • What was life like in the Kennedy household?
  • How did Annie Oakley stand up for women’s rights?

The beautiful, detailed illustrations by Vivien Mildenberger look as though they have been hand drawn with water-colour pencils to give each portrait a vintage, historical touch. The detail is incredible. Readers from 8+ to adult will love to pour over and trace through the intricate webs of all of the historical and literary figures’ ancestry.

This book would be a useful resource in the classroom to support learning about a significant historical person. It would also make the ideal present for a gifted and talented child.