Monthly Archives: January 2023

Book Review: Saving Neverland

Title: Saving Neverland

Written by: Abi Elphinstone

Illustrated by: Geraldine Rodriguez

Published by: Penguin Books

Saving Neverland is another exciting adventure based on Peter Pan by J M Barrie with the added addition of an excellent range of stunning illustrations by Geraldine Rodriguez. The main character is ten-year-old, Martha Pennydrop. She has recently moved to Number 14 Darlington Road with her younger brother, Scruff and their over-worked father. Their mother left to go backpacking in Thailand never to return. Nana has been replaced by Fluffington the nonchalant cat and Scruff does not go anywhere without his trusty teddy None-the-Wiser. Martha has taken on parental responsibility in an effort to grow-up after the ‘Terrible Day’ six months ago. She has even relegated her favourite toy, Armageddon, a large woolly mammoth shaped beanbag, to the attic.

Beautifully written Saving Neverland hooks you into the up-and-coming adventure from the start. Their exploits are cleverly foreshadowed by the discovery of some mysterious gold dust in the bottom of the bedside drawer in their shared room. That night Peter Pan returns through their bedroom window needing the children’s help. He believes only Martha and Scruff can save magic from the icy grip of a dreadful curse cast by Captain Hook. Martha is our reluctant hero but when Scruff is kidnapped she realises she must rediscover all the imagination, magic and belief she has buried deep inside herself for so long to save her brother – and Neverland.

It is a superb contribution to all previous Peter Pan stories and sagas, complimenting the books and movies perfectly. Abi Elphinstone has obviously done a lot of research as it met all my hopes and expectations for a novel based on the incredible world of Peter Pan with some brilliant imaginative twists. She has created a fantastic cast of well-rounded and believable new characters, including new Lost boys and even a new Fairy called Muddle.

I particularly like the way Peter Pan has been kept in character from the original book in that he is as arrogant as ever and there is still the underlying theme of the transition from childhood to adulthood. I also loved the complete move away from the gender stereotypes of the original novel written in 1911. It made my laugh out loud when Martha puts Peter in his place when he expects her to resume the duties Wendy used to do.

Saving Neverland will draw you back into the magical world you remember reading as a child. I recommend this book to all Peter Pan fans. It is a great addition to the permanent bookshelf. I can see Saving Neverland and this ingenious quest becoming a new Peter Pan movie.

I have previously reviewed this book on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon.

You can buy copies of Saving Neverland by Abi Elphinstone from your local bookshop, or online at

An interview with… Delores Gordon-Smith

For my Research Secrets slot in the February #251 8 Feb 2023 issue of Writers Forum I spoke to Delores Gordon Smith about how she researched her radio play based on the mysterious death of Charles Bravo in 1876.

Delores told me writing a story set in 1876 was a bit of a new venture for her, as all of her novels are murder mysteries set in the 1920’s. Murder, Charles Bravo: A Radio Play, published by Williams & Whiting, is very different.  

In the phonetic alphabet ‘Charlie’ stands for the letter C and ‘Bravo’ for the letter B.  Which may lead anyone to suppose that a murder mystery with a character called Charles Bravo as the victim must be fiction. It isn’t.  The murder – or, perhaps, more accurately – the death of Charles Bravo was one of the most notorious unsolved mysteries of Victorian England.

On Tuesday, the 18th April 1876 Charles Bravo, a young barrister aged thirty, came home to his beautiful and wealthy wife, Florence, who he’d married four months previously.  That night he was taken gravely ill and, after three days of agony, died on Friday the 21st.  After his death the autopsy revealed that Bravo had taken a dose of between twenty and thirty grains (about half a teaspoon) of the poison, antimony. But who gave him the poison?  That’s where the mystery lies.

Like many avid readers – and most authors are avid readers – some of the very first grown-up books Delores read were the Sherlock Holmes stories. She explained Sherlock Holmes’ background is so vividly depicted that, almost without knowing it, any child reading the stories will accumulate a substantial store of knowledge about Victorian England – hansom cabs, steam trains, the gas-lit streets, the huge gaps between rich and poor, the old rural way of life and the smoky industry of the city; all that’s in Conan Doyle, a foreign but familiar landscape. 

The Charles Bravo mystery fits right in – it’s a Sherlock Holmes story without Sherlock, populated by an arrogant young barrister, a damsel in acute distress, a mysterious elderly doctor, a foreign companion who evidently has a secret of her own and a kindly, alert lawyer. The mystery has intrigued many writers from Agatha Christie to Julian Fellows.    

However, as any writer knows, the finished book or play is the tip of an iceberg of research. That sounds very daunting but it’s easier to get your head round the idea if you break it into the various steps. 

First of all, the setting, period or the subject – preferably all three – have to be something that you’re interested in anyway. Victorian England and an unsolved murder mystery?  Yes, that box was ticked. I think this initial interest is really important because you’re going to be spending a lot of imaginative time in this world that you’re creating. 

Incidentally, it’s where the story’s set that is probably the most important. If you think about the books that you’ve really enjoyed, the chances are it’s the setting, along with the characters, that’ve drawn you into the book. Delores advocates you should try to discover the real facts about the time, place and subject and don’t rely just on what you’ve seen on TV or read in popular novels. 

Those have their uses but wherever you’re setting a story try and make it real.  This rule applies as much to stories set now as to historical fiction and as much to a story set locally as to some exotic destination. If you’re interested enough in your home town to set a story there, then you’ll include the sort of detail that’ll make it come alive for the reader. How? Well, if you want to set a story in your home town, for instance, you’ve got a huge advantage as you know your town inside out. However, try and see the town or city through a visitor’s eyes. What would strike a visitor as unusual?

She told me the descriptions of Holmes’ London are so realistic many readers think they know the place, but the interesting thing is that Conan Doyle wasn’t a Londoner. He came from Edinburgh and gives his impressions of London as they’d strike a visitor. One little clue is Sherlock Holmes’ address, 221B, Baker Street. That “B” isn’t a London way of numbering apartment, flats or rooms; it belongs to Edinburgh. Then, of course, as your story develops, you’ll be able to add to your initial knowledge by the close-up detail you’ll need to make an individual scene come alive. 

Delores discovered the landmark book on the subject is How Charles Bravo Died by Yseult Bridges, published in 1956.  Here, she recounts in great detail, the story of the two inquests (the case never came to trial) that were held, as well as giving a plethora of fascinating background detail on the various people involved. This book is one of those great things that occasionally happen to a writer, an absolute gift for anyone interested in the subject. 

“I didn’t think the Bravo case could be turned into a novel. With the transcripts of the inquests so faithfully recorded by Yseult Bridges, the story seemed tailor made for a radio play. I wasn’t making up dialogue but using (and, obviously, editing) what was actually said. Okay, so I had to make up some dialogue but I tried to keep that well within the bounds of what the various characters are recorded as thing and feeling.”

Delores Gordon-Smith

Her tip to writers wanting to write their own radio play is to not only research the subject matter but to also do the research into the genre.

“A radio play – at the risk of sending obvious, it’s all got to be done in speech. Obviously you can have a character’s voice-over as an intimate chat to the listener – a sort of breaking the fourth wall.”

Delores Gordon Smith

She elaborated how Inner thoughts can be given as a voice-over and the sound effects (buzz of conversation from a crowd in court) etc help to set the scene as, unlike a novel, you can’t fall back on straightforward description. Delores said signalling to the listener that we’ve moved onto a new scene can be tricky and recommends a couple of tricks, such as having the narrator say words to the effect of, ‘It was later that day when Mr X came to see me..’ etc.  

Other than that – the technical side of remembering it’s all spoken word with no visuals or description – the process is much the same as writing a novel. That’s imagining yourself in the lives of these characters and bringing them to life as best you can.  

Discover more about Delores and her books on her website:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #251 8 Feb 2023 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny

Title: Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny

Written by: Emily Ann Davison

Illustrated by: Deborah Allwright

Published by: Nosy Crow

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny by Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny is written in a fun and loving way. The main character, Yo-Yo, is a hyperactive bunny who finds it extremely difficult to stay still during quiet times. She is an adorable protagonist whom both children and adults will easily identify with. The rhythm of the words correspond to Yo-Yo’s excitable nature. The illustrations by Deborah Allwright are beautiful and capture Yo-Yo’s feelings perfectly.

To help Yo-Yo her Grandpa teaches her and her siblings, Roly and Flo, some yoga moves to try and help her calm down when she gets over excited. But as any hyperactive person and teacher and parent of a hyperactive child will know, it is hard to concentrate when you are feeling restless and are easily distracted.

However, this does not mean the information has not been absorbed as author, Emily Ann Davison, cleverly demonstrates when Yo-Yo feels lost and alone in the forest. Rather than panicking Yo-Yo tries a few of the yoga moves her Grandpa taught her. The vocabulary used by the author becomes more calm and reassuring as Yo-Yo manages to control her rising anxiety.

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny is a great book for teaching children how to manage anxiety and stressful situations. It would also be great for children with anger management issues. I particularly like the brilliant addition of the bullet-pointed instructions for some of the yoga poses at the back of the book. children of all ages are bound to ant to give them a go.

I would recommend this book for reading times at home and at school. It would also be ideal for stimulating a discussion on techniques for dealing with anxiety as part of a PSHE and empathy lesson.

You can buy copies of Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny by Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright from your local bookshop, or online at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

You can read my author interview with Emily on my blog here: An interview with… Emily Ann Davison.

An interview with… Tim Collins

For the #251 8 Feb issue of Writers’ forum I interviewed Tim Collins about creating children’s book with unique selling points.

Tim has recently launched a series of puzzle adventure books. His new Sherlock Bones series combines a detective story with puzzles, such as mazes and spot-the-difference illustrations. The puzzles are inspired by the text, but readers don’t need to solve them to continue with the story. More confident readers can keep going and come back to them later, while those who want a break can stop and complete them.

He explained when writing for children it’s worth considering whether your story could be told in a different way. Could some of the action be told in cartoons? Could some of the dialogue be in speech bubbles? Could you box out some of the text as ‘top tips’ or ‘life lessons’? There must be hundreds of ways to mess things around that haven’t been done yet. His advise to othr authors is to experiment with format. Breaking up chapters with unusual elements can help young readers engage with books, especially if they’re put off by large chunks of text.

When Tim was writing th series he aimed to get a balance of mystery chapters and action chapters in the book, to vary the storytelling. For example, Bones and Catson crack a secret code in one chapter, and chase a suspect in the next.

“Whatever genre I’m writing in, I try to think about how much of the story will be mystery plot and how much will be action plot.”

Tim Collins

Tim said when you’re writing a detective or mysteery story where your characters follow a series of clues try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Many children will be in the habit of reading a chapter, or having a chapter read to them, before bed, so you need to leave them wanting to know what happens. If you’re struggling to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, you can always have your character reflecting on their goals. Anything that makes the reader imagine what’s coming next.

The series is inspited by Holmes and Watson. Tim explained J M Barrie, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Nicholas Meyer have all written pastiches of Holmes, so it’s a great tradition to be part of.

“It was fun to build a fantastical world with animals in place of humans, though I had to work out its exact rules first.”

Tim Collins

As the majority of Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, he wrote his series from the viewpoint of Doctor Catson, using first person, which is an imtrigal part of the original stories, even though third person limited is more common for this age group. The first book is set in an animal-populated London. A bloodhound police inspector calls at Barker Street to tell Bones and Catson that the crown jewels have been stolen. Their investigation takes them everywhere from Buckingham Kennel to the secret tunnels beneath the city.

Anthropomorphic animals can be a great source of humour, especially when there’s a clash between their animal nature and the sophisticated roles they’re assuming. In the book, Sherlock chews rubber bones rather than smoking a pipe when he’s mulling things over, and Catson is easily distracted by string. It’s great if you can find a source of humour for young readers that doesn’t rely on puns. Publishers will be looking for something that can work in foreign editions, and puns are tough to translate. Admittedly, I’m being hypocritical here. The book, after all, is about a dog called Sherlock Bones who lives in Barker Street. But there are some you can’t resist.

Tim’s advice to someone writing a series for younger readers is to know what happens after book one. Even if you just write paragraph outlines for the next two books, you’ll know you have something more than just a good one-off.  So much of this is down to having two or more central characters with a relationship that’s easy to write to, and keeps suggesting new adventures.

Writing series fiction for younger children can be very rewarding. Your books could be the ones that convert a child into a confident, independent reader. And if you think of an interesting way to present your story, it could help to draw more young people into reading for pleasure.       

You can find out more about Tim and his books on his website:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #251 8 Feb Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Detoxing Childhood: What Parents Need To Know To Raise Happy Successful Children

Title: Detoxing Childhood: What Parents Need To Know To Raise Happy Successful Children

Written by: Sue Palmer

Published by: Orion Books

Detoxing Childhood by Sue palmer

Detoxing Childhood is geared to parents of the twenty-first century. The book is divided into three distinct sections. Sue Palmer provides a range of easy-to-follow tips and strategies to help parents solve the complex problems of child rearing. This book combines common sense with up-to-date research.

The first section is full of excellent and practical advice about eating habits, sleeping habits, family life and play. The second section leads parents through the various stages of child care and education, which would also be useful reading for all educators. The third section is dedicated to how to avoid the dangers of electronic devices. In this final section, Sue Palmer suggests we re-evaluate our modern life to overcome our bad habits and virtual addictions.

Although, her observations and advice are spot-on, I feel most modern families would be reluctant to put it in to practice. In some cases, I can foresee there will be a need for a new kind of support group.

Book Review: The Best Bear Tracker

Title: The Best Bear Tracker

Written by: John Condon

Illustrated by: Julia Christians

Published by: Templar Publishing

The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians

The Best Bear Tracker is another ingenious picture book from John Condon with a great twist at the end. This is definitely a book that children will want to read over and over again. The young girl is a highly likable, curious character full of hope and determination.

From the start she is talking straight to the reader, teaching them the rules of bear tracking and how to be brave if you are set on completing your quest. I love the duplicity of the story with the text telling a totally different story from the illustrations, creating a truly interactive experience.  Great for extending the children’s observation skills. Young children will enjoy spotting the bears she has missed.

In the classroom this picture book would be fantastic for stimulating discussion about bravery and when they may have felt afraid and how they reacted. You can discuss when it is good to persevere and when it is better to stop.

The Best Bear Tracker could also be used to help children think about what things they need to take with them when setting off on a journey from a walk to school in the morning to what they may need to pack when going on holiday. They can compare the items they think they will need for different activities compared to the items that the young girl took with her to hunt  for a bear.

This is a must have book  for school book corners and a great book to read aloud to your child at bedtimes. I would highly recommend this book.

You can buy copies of The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians from your local bookshop, or online at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

You can find out more about John and his picture books on Twitter @John_Condon_OTT, Instagram @john_condon_author, Facebook @john.condon and on his website:

To read my exclusive interview with John Condon to celebrate the release of The Best Bear Tracker in August 2022 go to: Special Guest: Q & A with John Condon

You can read my review of The Pirates are Coming! by John Condon and Matt Hunt here: Book Review: The Pirates are Coming!

You can discover more about John and his writing tips in another interview I did with him, this time for the September 2019 Writing for Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ ForumAn interview with… John Condon

Also discover the highlights of John Condon’s book launch for The Pirates are Coming! here: John Condon’s book launch