Monthly Archives: March 2020

Book Review – Bang goes a Troll

Title: Bang Goes a Troll (Awfully Beastly Business)

Written by: The Beastly Boys (David Sinden, Matthew Morgan and Guy MacDonald)

Illustrated by: Jonny Duddle

Published by: Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon & Schuster)

Bang goes a Troll

A gripping adventure that keeps you turning page after page. Beautifully executed, this story transports the reader into a compelling fantasy world where humans are the unrelenting baddies and the goblins, trolls and werewolves are the heroes, trying against all odds to protect themselves.

In the third book in the Beastly Business series, Ulf has to stop the troll’s being smoked out of their homes and used as targets in a beast-hunting range, without being hunted too.

An exciting read that will satisfy lovers of epic battles and narrow escapes.

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


An interview with… Joy Court

In November 2017, I interviewed librarian Joy Court, about some of the children’s book awards she was involved with for my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum. Joy is a professional librarian and was the Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals – the oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards in the world of children’s literature.

Joy Court photo

The Carnegie Medal

The Carnegie Medal was introduced by the Library Association 80 years ago and is awarded for outstanding writing for children and young people. It is named after Andrew Carnegie, a self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA. His experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve:

‘…if ever wealth came to me it should be used to establish free libraries.’

Andrew Carnegie

He set up more than 2800 libraries across the English speaking world and, by the time of his death, over half the library authorities in the UK had Carnegie libraries. He must be turning in his grave with the current shocking spate of library closures.

One misconception of the Carnegie Medal is that it has been taken over by teenage and YA publishing. There is only one definition of a children’s book – it is published on a children’s list (technically listed on the Neilsen database). Until the industry differentiates between children and teenage publishing we cannot.

A book can be great for many different reasons. For the purposes of the Carnegie we are looking for a book of outstanding literary quality.

“The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.”

Past winners include: Tanya Landman with Buffalo Soldier, published by Walker Books; Sarah Crossan with One, published by Bloomsbury and 2017’s winner was Ruta Sepetys with Salt to the Sea, published by Puffin.

The Kate Greenaway Medal

The Kate Greenaway Medal was created 60 years ago to award outstanding illustration for children and young people and was named after one of our most iconic British illustrators.

Previous winners include: William Grill with Shackleton’s Journey, published by Flying Eye Books; Chris Riddell with The Sleeper and the Spindle, published by Bloomsbury and 2017’s winner was Lane Smith with There is a Tribe of Kids, published by Two Hoots.


Both medals are unique as they are judged by librarians and are completely devoid of any commercial influence. Neither publishers, nor authors can submit their books and the judging is not influenced in any way by sales or publicity. She read every single book nominated for them but does not get to vote. Joy’s job was to ensure every book got a fair chance and all the procedures were followed correctly.

In the early days, judging was carried out by men in suits behind closed doors (the Library Association Council). Now the judging process is under the control of children’s librarians from the 12 regions of the UK including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are elected for a two-year-term by their regional Youth Libraries Group committee, thanks to the pioneering work of Eileen Colwell, the first specialist children’s librarian and founder of the Youth Libraries Group. She must also be turning in her grave at the loss of specialist posts.

Gradually the system of nominations, election of judges and the criteria has been honed and improved to keep pace with new developments in the world of children’s publishing. You have to be a member of CILIP to be able to nominate and can then nominate two books for each award. Unlike many other awards we publish our judging criteria on our website.

CKG Medal-5948, 16281

2017 winners


These awards have a huge impact on the world of children’s literature because of the enormous shadowing scheme. There are around 5000 groups shadowing the awards each year, with hundreds of thousands of young readers reading and commenting on the shortlisted books. This means a lot of shortlisted books will be sold and figures show an ongoing increase in sales from winning the medal.

The medals have always been international in outlook. Books first published elsewhere in the world can be eligible providing they are published in the UK within 3 calendar months of original publication. In 2014, books in translation (first English translation published in the UK) became eligible. We can genuinely say that the medal awards the best writing in the world.

You only have to look at the list of winners to see they have become classic titles that are always available in bookshops. I believe 80 years of ‘they all want to win the medal’ has led to the development of the UK ‘world-beating’ publishing industry we have today.

UK Literary Association Book Award

Joy is also a Trustee and National Council member of UKLA and helps to manage their book awards. They are nicknamed the ‘Teacher’s Carnegie’ as they are the only awards judged by teachers. The 60 teacher judges involved in the initial shortlisting are selected from around the geographical area where the next UKLA international conference will be held – 2018 is Cardiff.

UKLA invite publisher submissions according to three age categories 3-6, 7-11 and 12-16. A publisher can submit 3 books per imprint. A publisher like Penguin Random House has many imprints: Jonathan Cape, Bodley Head, Corgi, Puffin, Red Fox, etc.

In 2017, the winning book in the 12-16 category was The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen, published by Andersen Press. In the 7-11 category the winner was The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna and published by Flying Eye Books. The winner for the 3-6 category was There’s a Bear on MY Chair by Ross Collins, published by Nosy Crow.

As the conference moves around, we are gradually infecting the UK with teachers hooked on reading quality books. The impact in their schools and upon the young people they teach has been positively awe inspiring.  And of course books recommended by teachers are very popular with schools and parents. I strongly recommend authors to ensure their publishers are aware of the UKLA awards, which may be only 9-years-old but are growing in influence all the time.

 Other Awards

There are many awards for children’s books in existence today and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is probably the best source of information about them. Many are administered by the Booktrust so it is worth looking at their website and others are linked to children’s book writing festivals. Some awards require a submission fee from the publisher, so it can be very difficult for an individual author to influence this. It can be a marketing budget based decision.

In the feature, Joy recommended researching local awards in your area run by your local library service. Becoming well known in your local area – visiting schools and doing local bookshop signings is a good way to get your books noticed and considered for such awards.  Once over the hurdle of submissions / nominations every award will have a different system of judging and / or voting, often by the children readers themselves.

The Coventry Inspiration Book Awards, which she created, has a tense system of Big Brother style voting. The book with the least number of votes is voted off each week until we get a winner. This ensures readers keep voting to keep their favourites in.

Anything which raises the profile of books and reading has to be a good thing. We all know that bookshops can have a bewildering array of titles and something having an award sticker can make a huge difference to sales. The most important thing about children’s book awards is the pursuit of excellence.

Joy Court can be found on Twitter: @Joyisreading

The Art of Plotting

Here are a few pointers about plotting I have come across over my time of writing for children.

climb a mountain

  • Every scene must serve more than one purpose. This could be developing your characters, giving brief background information, creating atmosphere, world building or clarifying motivation. If it does not move the plot forward then cut it.
  • Always consider the motivation of your protagonist. Think about their actions and why they are doing them. They should not be doing things just because your plot demands it. if this is the case you need to have a serious rethink.
  • The protagonist’s motivation should change and deepen over the course of the plot they discover new facts and truths that change the way they view and interact with their world.
  • By the end of the novel the character should be changed by their experiences. this might be for he better but it can also be for the worse. Make sure it is a realistic emotional journey. The protagonist should learn and grow during the process. This growth usually conveys the theme of the story.
  • Ensure all the scenes progress logical with no giant leaps. it is amazing how easy it is for logic to become muddled to suit the plot. You can see it in many TV series all the time. It is frustrating to the reader. Always think in terms of what is happening, why has it happened, what are the results of this either directly or indirectly and how will this effect what happens next.

The basic sequence of plot stages is: arrival of conflict, initial success of the main character, reversals, final victory, and outcome. The success-reversal sequence may repeat. I find Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure useful when writing fiction – this includes novels and picture books.

Michael Hauge's plot structure

The plot is built around a conflict involving the main character—for instance, with another character, or with circumstances, or within themselves. Conflict often takes the form of a problem the main character must resolve. The character should succeed or fail at least in part through their own efforts.

In my opinion a story for children should open with conflict. 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. According to Aristotle there are six stages of plot development:

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

The conflict should result in increasing dramatic tension, which peaks or ‘climaxes’ towards the end, then resolves. A novel may have several conflicts, but a short story or picture book should have only one. Think about the story arc.

Story Arc

In this way, a story can be broken down into six elements:

  • Balance – all is well at home, nothing interesting is going on
  • Disharmony – the mood changes for good or bad
  • Inciting incident – just when things were looking better a change of mood provokes a change to something ‘other’
  • Problem – there is now an even more serious dilemma that needs solving
  • Resolution – the story can be brought to a conclusion
  • Outcome – the purpose of the story unfolds

Move the plot forward with events and action, rather than with internal musings and I know I’ve said it before but show, don’t tell. It may be a rocky climb to the top of your story arc but when you get there the view’s are worth it.

top of mountain

You can see some of my other posts on plot here:

Re-evaluate your plot


The Art of Story

Book Review – Escape from Shadow Island

Title: Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island

Written by: Paul Adam

Publisher: Corgi Books, Random House

Max Cassidy Escape from Shadow Island

At first it made me smirk when I read the Random House warning in the front of the book telling the readers not to try any of the stunts as home, as escapologists have had years of training before they attempt them… and then I read the first page. The hero Max is handcuffed, chained, put in a sack and lowered into a tank of cold water. He has thirty seconds to escape, or freeze to death. Red lights flashed in my head as I thought of my own sons and I honestly considered writing to Random House to tell them to put the warning in CAPITAL LETTERS.

This is the first Max Cassidy adventure in the trilogy. Max’s Houdini-style stunts have the reader gripped from the start. When Max finds out his father may still be alive, you are carried into one impossible situation after another and you can’t help wondering, ‘How on Earth is Max going to escape from this?’ There are several clever twists and the characters are very believable. This murder-mystery thriller action-adventure will have boys gasping for more.

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

An interview with… Julie Cohen

Julie Cohen writes romantic comedy for Headline’s Little Black Dress imprint and novels for the Mills & Boon’s Modern Heat imprint and is a Richard and Judy bestselling author. I interviewed her for my Research Secrets column in the #92 May 2009 issue Writers’ Forum.

She told me she loves research because it means she gets to do stuff she wouldn’t normally do. She has ridden roller coasters repetitively for a roller-coaster designer hero; gone to famous restaurants for a celebrity chef hero; rode on the back of a BMW motorcycle at 80 mph down the M4 for a motorcycling hero; ran from South Street Arts Centre in Reading to the station in high heels just to see how fast it could be done; visited art deco cinemas, retro diners, art galleries, cities and parks to research settings for her books. But, Julie believes the best resource is to get out there and talk to people.

Her original sources are all people. She explained talking to them is utterly inspirational and helps her get into the heads and lives of my characters. She has also met some really cool people who she has looked up online, in the phone book, or through research books.  Usually she emails or pick up the phone and rings. She has found that most people are happy to talk to you about what they know and told me their opinions are just as useful as the facts for developing characters.

She explained it is always important to acknowledge experts who have taken time to help or whose expertise you’ve used extensively. She like to send a thank-you email or note and often sends them a signed copy of the book when it comes out.

It is not until she is about half to two-thirds of the way through a book that she begins to see what information she actually needs.  That’s when she starts making lists of questions to ask, and that’s generally when she start calling experts and asking for interviews.  Because her books are more focused on the characters and the story than on research details, she does not see the point in getting huge amounts of information she probably won’t need.  Instead, she pinpoints what she has to know for the story and only uses (and often only find out in the first place) what’s vital to the story, or what seems to add vital flavour.

“I’m not a plotter when I write, and generally my first forays into research are pretty vague.  I use the internet first – and then the local library and bookshop. I’ll just dabble around in a subject finding out some stuff to see if any of it inspires me. My books centre round people and relationships rather than facts.” (Julie Cohen)

Julie told me that quite often, doing her research, she will find a central metaphor that she can use and examine through the whole book. For example when researching comics for Girl from Mars, she was intrigued by the concept of the gutter, which is the name for the blank spaces between panels.


Because comics are static but portray action, the reader actually fills in the action between panels. The blank gutter is extremely important to make this happen. In her story, it became a metaphor for change happening when you’re not looking, for filling in the blanks, which are both key themes to the story.

You can find out more about Julie Cohen and her books on her website:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #92 May 2009 Writers’ Forum online from Select Magazines.