Monthly Archives: April 2023

The Farshore Reading for Pleasure Teacher Awards 2023

I am excited to be able to help promote the Farshore Reading for Pleasure Teacher Awards 2023, in association with The Open University and the UK Literacy Association (UKLA). These awards are now open for entries. The Awards celebrate how teachers have found innovative ways to inspire reading for pleasure in the classroom.

Farshore’s purpose is to make all children proud readers through our broad portfolio of
inclusive, child-friendly books. To that end, we celebrate teachers who successfully promote and encourage children’s reading for pleasure, both within and beyond the school setting. They are collaborating with the Open University and the UK Literacy Association, who work together to research the significance of teachers being readers and identify ways to build reciprocal and interactive communities of readers. Both organizations are keen to profile and develop research-informed professional practice in this area.

The Award Categories are:
*Early Career Teacher (0-3 years in teaching)
*Experienced Teacher (3 years plus)
*Whole School
*School Reading Champion (e.g. Librarians/other educators)
*Community Reading Champion (immediate and/or wider community, from local area to local authority)

Submit your case study for an opportunity to be recognised by experts in children’s reading for pleasure.

DEADLINE: Midnight on Monday 5th June 2023.

The Award winners will be announced on Wednesday 18th October 2023 at the OU/UKLA Reading for Pleasure conference (or online) with the winner from each category receiving Farshore books to the value of £250 and 20 copies of Help Your Child Love Reading by Alison David.

The competition will be judged by:

– David Reedy, UK Literacy Association
– Joy Court, Co-founder: All Around Reading
– Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education, The Open University
– Alison David, Consumer Insight Director, Farshore
– Fiona Evans, Head of Schools Programmes, NLT
– Cally Poplak, Executive Publisher, HCCB and Farshore

Entry Criteria
Submit a research-informed case study on how children have been encouraged to read
for pleasure. It’s important to show context and the research that has inspired you. The
research you refer to can come from any source (including OU, UKLA, Farshore and
wider). Show your rationale, aims, outline of what you did, evidence of impact and finally your reflections.

The judges will pay particular attention to the following strands of the submission:
1.1) The importance of teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature and other texts.
1.2) The importance of bringing in wider voices and genres in recognition of the need
to improve diversity and inclusivity.
1.3) The importance of a child’s free choice of reading material and of offering a
range of texts to engage their interest, be it classics, series fiction, graphic
novels, picture books, comics and magazines, funny books, factual books etc.
2) The importance of reading aloud to children and its role in promoting children’s
motivation and their independent reading for pleasure.
3) The importance of building communities of readers by working with

  • To promote the value of reading for pleasure
  • To support them in reading to their children
  • To establish reading for pleasure as a joyful and regular occurrence at home.

Top Tips From the Judges:

  • Follow the guidance.
  • Don’t go over the word count!
  • Select photos carefully, choosing only those that demonstrate your work.

Full entry details here.

The case study structure to be used can be found at: Share your practice – Reading for Pleasure

Book Review: Lizzy and the Cloud

Title: Lizzy and the Cloud

Written and Illustrated by: The Fan Brothers

Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Brothers, Eric and Terry Fan, have collaborated to produce this well plotted and elegantly executed picture book resulting in a magnificent timeless work of art children will cherish.

In a few words the Fan Brothers have created a well-rounded character who the reader can empathise with. We feel Lizzy’s joy when she buys a cloud from the cloud seller and names it Milo. In the beginning she follows all the rules that came with the cloud but in her desire to keep the cloud forever she starts to ignore the last rule. The cloud soon becomes too big for her room and we feel her dilemma as she has an important decision to make. At the end of the book she adds her own rule to the list she received when she bought Milo.

The subtle illustrations use a limited colour palette on a mostly grey backdrop. The little details will keep young readers enthralled, such as the detail in the park, the way cloud gradually changes from a fluffy white to dark grey, the rainbow each time it rains and the different shops in the street.

In the classroom, Lizzy and the Cloud, could be used to discuss loss and letting things go, such as anger, frustration, bitterness and accepting change.

This is a book to explore and treasure with a beautiful message young children will be able to relate to.

Here is a video of the book being read with an introduction from the Fan Brothers produced by Simon Kids:

I previously reviewed this book for the online book review e-zine, Armadillo Magazine.

Blog Tour – Interview with Blackbeard and Other Vicious Villains by Andy Seed

I’m thrilled to welcome Andy Seed to my blog today for the next stop of his Interview with Black Beard and Other Villains blog tour.

Interview with Black Beard and Other Villains is a creative non-fiction book illustrated by Gareth Conway and published by Welbeck Children’s Books. Perfect for fans of the Horrible Histories books, this series offers a fun, fresh take on history, featuring true stories from historical figures from across the world.

Readers can discover more about 10 famous villains who take a quick break from dastardly deeds to answer all sorts of (very nosy) questions about their actions and unique perspectives. Are they as wicked as we’ve been led to believe? Will Andy make it out alive? Discover the good, the bad, and the unexpected as each villain reveals the truth about their lives – and attempts to find out about the future.

In this fun and fact-filled book, bite-sized text in a question-and-answer format is paired with engaging illustrations, perfect for reluctant readers and humour-seeking history fans. Featuring interviews with Blackbeard, Ivan the Terrible, Nero and more – plus bonus facts about the time period and its events.

Andy Seed is a prolific author who writes for both adults and fiction, poetry and fun information books for children full of facts, figures, lists and true stories. He likes making things and his favourite food is cheese. He believes the world would be a better place if more people read more books. He is a Blue Peter award-winning author, based in Gloucestershire. He is the author of the popular Q&A Animals series: Interview with a Tiger and Other Clawed Animals TooInterview with a Shark and Other Ocean Creatures Too and Interview with a Kangaroo and Other Marsupials Too.

My stop on the tour will take the form of an author interview question and answer style just like the book.


Hi Andy,

Welcome to my blog. I must say a creative non-fiction book written up as interviews is such a great concept for a fact-filled children’s book. I wish I’d thought of it. You have been interviewing all these villains and now it is my time to interview you.

Please tell us a little about yourself and the inspiration for your book Interview with Blackbeard and Other Vicious Villains.

Hello! I’m the author of over 30 factual books for children and love to add a dash of giggle to the things I write. I live in a forest, which is handy because I write about wildlife a lot, and my other big interest is history. The past is a rich and bottomless bubbling well of remarkable people and strange happenings!

Interview with Blackbeard was inspired by the popularity of the series of animal Q&A books I have written for Welbeck beginning with Interview with a Tiger. I thought, if I can build a machine to enable me to chat to animals then why can’t I twiddle a few circuits and turn it into a time machine? It wasn’t easy but, it’s amazing what you can do with a some spare coat hangers and a Swiss Army Knife…. So, now I talk to anyone from the past. Nice.

Why did you decide to write a book about villains for children?

Villains do all the really bad things that most of us would never dare to do (because our mums would be FURIOUS). And they cause a lot of trouble. Trouble is interesting! There are plenty of well known baddies in history but also lots of really nasty people that we mainly don’t know – my book features a mix of the two. In an interview you can of course ask villains why they do the big bad crimes and it’s interesting to see things from their point of view.

Which of the famous villains in your book is your favourite and why?

I like Victor Lustig as a character because he was a clever trickster who sold the Eiffel Tower twice! Of course he didn’t own the tower but he was good at pretending he did, and he made a lot of cash out of it. But I think my overall favourite maybe the Chinese pirate Zheng Yi Sao. She was probably the most BOSS buccaneer in history. She led a fleet of 226 robber boats and had 17,000 pirates under her command at the age of just 30! OK, she did cut off my arm during the interview but I went back in time and managed to return with it still intact, hehe.

How do you keep the children turning the pages?

Ask good questions, make it fun, be a bit cheeky toward famous people and present the real facts of their lives in story form, picking out some juicy snippets. It’s an enjoyable way to bring history alive.

Do you have plans to write any more books in the same Q&A style as Interview with Blackbeard? If so, please tell us a little about them?

Yes! There is already Interview with Cleopatra and other Famous Rulers, but in the pipeline is Interview with Vincent Van Gogh and other Great Artists. We meet the top talent from the world of painting and they have some zinging tales to tell!

I like quiet and so I write at home but when it’s warm I sit outside on the patio in our garden which is next to a babbling brook. I can listen to the birds singing and our cat demanding food. I am very much an outdoors person.

Thank you Andy for agreeing to be interviewed as part of my blog. It has been great interviewing you. I hope you enjoyed being the interviewee rather than the interviewer for a change.😊


To find out more about Andy Seed and his book you can look at his website is and follow him on Twitter at @andyseedauthor.

You can buy copies of Andy Seeds books from most independent booksellers or online from, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

To see the other stops on the tour take a look at the schedule below:

I would like to thank Antonia Wilkinson for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Book Review: Find Your Calm

Title: Find your Calm

Written by: Catherine Veitch and Sarah Davis

Illustrated by: Jessica Smith

Published by: Welbeck Publishing

Find Your Calm is a stylish fill-in journal designed to help children keep track of their daily life and their dreams for the future, as well as providing advice to increase their sense of calm and quiet a busy mind. I think it is suitable for children in Upper KS2 and higher to work through alone and would also be a useful resource for adults to dip in to.

It was written by Catherine Veitch in consultation with, Sarah Davies, a London-based (UKCP registered) child psychotherapist, who has a MA in Integrative Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Find Your Calm is full of activities that provide the ideal space to explore creativity and mindfulness. In my opinion the activities provide some excellent supportive techniques which could be used in the classroom with younger children from ages 5+ as a great way for them to gain an understanding of what triggers anxiety whilst offering strategies to help them stay calm under pressure.

I thought the inclusion of pages on the brain and the nervous system and the explanations of how the body reacts in stressful situations was a useful addition to the book.

The illustrations by Jessica smith are eye-catching and supportive. The use of pastel colours creates a calming atmosphere to support the text.

Other books in the series include: Find your Happy, Find your Courage and Find your Body Confidence.

A useful book for all teachers.

You can buy copies of Find Your Calm by Catherine Veitch, Sarah Davies and Jessica Smith from your local independent bookshop, or online at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

I would like to thank Antonia Wilkinson for organising me a review copy of this book.

An interview with… Rachael Davis

I spoke to Rachael Davis about her experience of working with the children’s book packager Storymix, for the Writing for Children slot in Writers’ Forum issue #253 19 Apr 2023.

Rachael explained book packagers are companies that essentially put together books for publishers by pairing up the right talent with the right ideas. They are NOT a publisher. Once they create a book idea, they commission a writer to do a sample. This sample is submitted to publishers and the book packager will hope to get a ‘traditional book deal’. The writer may receive a percentage of the royalties the book packager is paid by the publisher, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the writers work for a fixed fee.

In some cases, a publisher may approach a book packager with an idea of the type of book/series they are looking for. The book packager will then work up a plot and outline, bring on an author to write the sample, and then the publisher will be given an exclusive first-look opportunity to acquire the series from the book packager. If that particular publisher doesn’t move forward with the project, the book packager would then have the right to try to sell the project to other publishers.

In all cases, it is important to realise that the intellectual property of the book/series belongs to the book packager, not the writer. The book packager is the creator of the series. The writer’s job is to bring their unique creative flare and voice to the project.

Jasmine Richards is the founder of Storymix. She isn’t a fan of the word ‘book packager’, she prefers ‘book incubator’. At Storymix, they have a unique mission to centre black and brown children in super fun, often fantastical adventure stories. Previously, Jasmine worked at a book packager called Working Partners, who developed Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic.

After working as an editor for 15 years, she founded Storymix to bring about positive change in the industry and make sure books on the shelves reflect all children. Jasmine works exclusively with diverse writers and illustrators, providing many of these unagented creatives with an unparalleled opportunity to work with the biggest publishers in the industry.

Rachael told me that back in November 2020, Jasmine reached out to Rachael’s agent to see if I might be interested in sampling for Storymix. She explained the opportunity as a ‘paid creative writing course’. It’s an opportunity to be paid to work with brilliant editors, learning about plot, characterisation. If the book is commissioned, you get to experience the publishing and editorial process. But it is not the same experience as getting a traditional book deal as there is less input at later stages. Jasmine told Rachael about a few different projects and as soon as she described Secret Beast Club she knew it was a project she wanted to be a part of. In Spring 2021, Jasmine commissioned Rachael to sample for Secret Beast Club.

“Thankfully, she loved my sample and it went on submission to publishers in the summer 2021. Puffin snapped up the series in a three-book deal. At this stage, Jasmine brought on the wonderful Clare Whitson to work as my editor who kept me updated with proofs and cover choices, alongside Puffin editor, Jane Griffin.”

Unlike with a traditional publishing deal, when you work with a book packager you don’t have the same level of responsibility for planning, plotting and story arc consistency. This is where the brilliant team at Storymix come into their own. As the writer, your role is to bring the voice and develop strong characterisation.

Often when working with book packagers, you receive less rights and lower royalties. However Rachael would absolutely recommend Storymix. She has found their rates and treatment of authors to be exceptional. But Rachael stressed this is not true of all book packagers and you should make sure you know what you are signing up for. While you can be unagented, having an agent or the Society of Authors check any contracts is important.

The Secret Beast Club series is written under the Pseudonym, Robin Birch. Rachael explained series developed by book packagers, particularly for young readers, are often written under a pseudonym. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as mentioned the concept is the intellectual property of the book packager, not the writer. Secondly, if a series becomes successful additional writers may be brought in to write subsequent books.

Robin Birch is the collective pen name for children’s writer, Rachael Davis and series creator Jasmine Richards, who is the founder of Storymix and the Inclusive Children’s Fiction Studio. Together with their editors, Clare Whitston and Jane Griffiths. The Secret Beast Club adventure took shape and was brought to life by illustrator Jobe Anderson, designer Jan Bielecki and text designer Anita Mangan.

Rachael’s advice to writers wanting to work with a book packager is to work out who the book packagers are and what types of books they publish. Working Partners is a good place to start, and if you are a writer of colour (agented or unagented) she definitely recommends getting in touch with Storymix.

Some people can be a bit snobby about writers who work with book packagers, because the series plot is developed by the packager and not the writer. Rachael said this kind of collaboration is used all the time in other creative industries such as film and TV, and I personally have had a fantastic experience.

“Not only have I got to be part of a fantastic, ground-breaking chapter book series, but I have also had the opportunity to work with talented editors and hone my writing skills. I would highly recommend writers (agented and unagented, published, unpublished or self-published) consider whether working with a book packager is a good fit for them.”

Rachael Davis

Working with a book packager is not for everyone. Some writers will absolutely thrive, while others might find the lack of creative freedom to deviate from the book packager’s plot line constraining. You also have to be able to work to tight deadlines and not be precious about edits. It is not uncommon for a book packager to make changes to the text after the writer has completed their final draft.

However, if you can embrace the collaborative approach, working with a book packager can be a fantastic way to develop your skills as a writer, and go on to get traditional book deals later down the line. When you submit a sample to a book packager, they are looking for a fresh, original voice. Always keep in mind – what makes you the right writer for the project? Once the plot is created, technically any writer could write it, but what is it that your unique voice will bring to the project?

“At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.”

Rachael Davis

The first book in the series Secret Beast Club: The Unicorns of Silver Street is out this month and Secret Beast Club: The Dragons of Emerald Yard is released later this year, in July 2023. At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.

To discover more about Rachel Davis and her writing see her website: and follow her on Twitter @RachDavisAuthor & Instagram: @RachDavisAuthor

To find out more about Storymix go to:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of  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: Libby and the Highland Heist

Title: Libby and the Highland Heist

Written by: Jo Clarke

Illustrated by: Becka Moor

Published by: Firefly Press

I enjoyed Jo Clarke’s first book in her debut middle grade series, Libby and the Parisian Puzzle, so much I just had to buy the second book in the series, Libby and the Highland Heist.

Jo Clarke did not disappoint with the second of her travelling school mysteries and neither did Becka Moor with her glorious illustrations. This time Libby and Connie are in Scotland and discover some of Connie’s family’s priceless paintings have gone missing. Libby sets about trying to solve the mystery and discovers secret passageways and another devious villain. We also get to meet some of the characters from the first book and learn more about Libby’s school friends. I particularly like how Libby starts to warm to Noah the boy whom she originally found irritating and the mysterious meeting with her mum, which hints at a deeper mystery to be solved over the series.

Libby and her friends work together drawing on each others strengths to help solve the mystery and catch the thieves. Another well plotted novel with fully-formed characters. I highly recommend this book and look forward to the third in the series. Will they ever get to New York?

You can read my review of Libby and Parisian Puzzle on my blog here: Book Review: Libby and the Parisian Puzzle

An interview with… Barbara Henderson

For my Research Secrets slot in this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #253 19 Apr 2023, Barbara Henderson explained to me some of the research she did into the building of the Forth Bridge to Dunfermline for her middle-grade novel, Rivet Boy

Rivet Boy is her eighth book for children and was published by Cranachan Publishing on 16th February 2023. It features Edinburgh, Dunfermline and the Firth of Forth as key settings and is woven from historical events entwinned with her imagination.

As a historical fiction writer, Barbara is always on the lookout for story possibilities. Almost every single one of her books was inspired by reading an interesting snippet or visiting a heritage site. She told me she has been fascinated by the Forth Bridge for a long time. Her first job was across the Forth. She had to cross the water daily, which meant either rattling across the iconic Forth Rail Bridge by train or staring at it in awe as she drove across the road bridge beside it. In fact, her wedding reception was held right beneath the bridge. She said it eventually clicked – the world was crying out for a light-touch engineering book about the building of the Forth Bridge as readers love knowing a story is rooted in real events.

Barbara’s tip to other writers wanting to write a novel on true events is to read around the topic for a few months to gain an overview. Once a possible story presents itself, find the person who knows most about it. They will love being asked about it – all their friends and relatives will already be thoroughly sick of hearing about their pet interest and your keen interest will be very welcome.

Barbara explained for her children’s book, she needed a child character to take centre stage. So she researched the ordinary people who built this bridge and discovered a book called The Briggers – The Story of the Men who Built the Forth Bridge. However she found many of the anecdotes in this book of young people were depressing, and the Briggers had campaigned long for memorials to all the men who died during the bridge’s construction. The youngest victim she found was David Clark, a 13-year-old who fell and also a young boy called John Nicol who fell into the water from the bridge and survived unhurt, who became her main character.

Barbara hunted down the author, Elspeth Wills and found she was part of a research consortium of local enthusiasts who also called themselves ‘The Briggers’. More online digging even yielded an email address. Frank Hay answered her email and agreed to talk on Zoom. Barbara revealed her most valuable resource turned out to be Frank, and the others who had already studied the subject: ‘The Briggers’. When she asked for more information about John, the boy who survived, Frank spent a few days to look into it for her and sent her a ten-page document: He’d checked the census records, identified the most likely John Nicol, found his birth certificate, his parents’ marriage certificate and his two addresses in Dunfermline.

In addition, he discovered his father had been killed in an industrial accident in Australia before John was born. For a time, the widow was supported by charity, but it made sense for John to seek work when he was twelve, old enough to be a breadwinner. The newspaper extract describing John’s accident was also in there. Barbara was able to use this information to construct a timeline.

“I tend to think of historical fiction as a washing line. Your fixed events and real people are the pegs, pinning the story to the timeline. These are the things that are both true, incontrovertible and relevant to your story. In between, the washing can flutter in the wind of your imagination.”

Barbara Henderson

Construction was big for this particular book, so Barbara had to research the processes. She explained she finds it astounding that these Victorian engineers managed to calculate so accurately without the aid of modern computer technology. Much of the foundation work had to be conducted beneath the water. By the time her main character John begins his work on the bridge, the structure had emerged from the waves, but the fact that she feature so many details and incidents from real life meant that she had to constantly double and triple check that she had my order right.

In an early draft, she had the squirrel Rusty visit John on the bridge from North Queensferry – only to realise that it couldn’t have happened yet because the cantilevers weren’t connected at that point. Her tip is also not to assume anything. When describing the noise of the building site, she referred to a list along the lines of ‘hammering, drilling, scraping and shouting’ – only to be informed all drilling was done in the workshops, some way off and in advance. Many sounds added to the cacophony on the site, but drilling was not one of them.

Research can be a lonely business, as can writing. Her final tip is to join a writing group with similar interests to you. Barbara is part of the Time Tunnellers, a group of five historical fiction writers for children with weekly YouTube videos and blogs aimed at schools and historical fiction readers. Barbara told me she often learns something new from unexpected places – including my fellow Time Tunnellers’ posts.

You can discover more about Barbara Henderson and her books by following her on her website:, and follow her on Twitter @scattyscribbler and Instagram @scattyscribbler and @BarbaraHendersonWriter on Facebook.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a back copy of the #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of  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: Captain Looroll

Title: Captain Looroll

Written and Illustrated by: Matt Carr

Published by: Farshore Books (an imprint of Harper Collins)

To celebrate the launch of  Captain Looroll  by Matt Carr, I am posting an impromptu book review. When this book came though the post and I read the title I could not help smiling. What a brilliant concept for a picture book. I’ve not seen a picture book so disgustingly funny since Fungus the Bogeyman. Meet Captain Looroll and her arch nemesis Toilet-Troll.

In this brand-new, high octane adventure series, captain Looroll is super strong, endlessly long and brimming with courage. However, stuck in the deadly dull surrounds of the downstairs toilet, heroic adventures could not be further away. All that changes though, when along comes a very stinky villain named Toilet-troll. Together with her band of trusty sidekicks, Captain Looroll must use her 3-play powers to save the world from imminent – and extremely messy – destruction one toilet at a time.

Best-selling author-illustrator takes toilet humour to the limits in this wild rollercoaster of a picture book. Toilet-troll is one dastardly super villain who uses one stinky exploit after the other to implement his devious plan and Captain Looroll have to work together to stop him, proving team work can save the day.

The text is fast moving and the bold comic book style illustrations portray the fantastically disgusting antics perfectly. A great supervillain and loveable hero. I’m sure young children everywhere will love this book.

I would like to thank Sarah Sleath, publicist at Farshore, for sending me a review copy.

You can buy copies of Captain Looroll by Matt Carr from your local bookshop, or online at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie

Title: The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie

Written by:  Yvonne Banham 

Published by: Firefly Press

The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie is a tale of identity and one girl’s quest to discover where she fits in. The story opens with a chase and then after the initial adrenaline rush calms right down. Delores is sent to live with her Uncles in the Tolbooth Book Store in Edinburgh, which overlooks a graveyard because her sister, Delilah,  is afraid her powers are getting stronger and she needs the Uncles training to control them. The setting is effectively dark and gloomy creating a truly gothic experience for the reader.

We learn about Delores new home and its occupants. We get to know Delores, her hopes, fears and dreams. The plot is laced with ghostly phenomenon, spooky locations and a whole host of entertaining characters each with their own unique paranormal gift.

Delores herself is a necromancy, which means she can speak to dead people. Her friend Gabriel is a diviner. Her has the ability to read people’s emotions and uses tarot cards to foretell their fate. Prudence is Delores nemesis. She is an illusionist, able to plant suggestions and visions in people’s minds. She takes great pleasure in teasing Delores by making all her food look and taste disgusting. The Bocan are restless spirits that are drawn to Delores power. Maud is a ghost who Delores believes used to be a past student of the Uncles. Delores realises Maud is in danger from the Angel Barguest, who wants to reclaim her life, and vows to help her. In order to succeed all the characters must put aside their feelings and learn to cooperate.

This is an incredibly dark story in places with some excellent tension-filled descriptions, which certainly get your heart pumping. Delores and her companions race to escape Angel Barguest and decipher what exactly is happening. The paranormal elements have been well thought out and utilised throughout the book. We get the impression there is a larger paranormal world out there and the organisation that monitor it are not always successful. We never discover what happened to Delores parents and I believe the book is open to a sequel to delve deeper into these questions.

A dynamic adventure, full of twists and turns with plenty of mysteries to solve. Ideal for readers in Years 5 to 8 who enjoy stories about the supernatural and solving puzzles.

I would like to thank NetGalley for giving me an opportunity to review this book.

You can buy copies of The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie by Yvonne Banham, which was released on April 6th 2023, from your local bookshop, or online at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An Interview with… Kesia Lupo

I interviewed Kesia Lupo for this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #253 19 Apr 2023 about how far you can go when writing horror for children.

Kesia Lupo’s recent novel, Let’s Play Murder, is 100% a pandemic book. Kesia told me she had the idea during spring 2020, when she was confined to a one-bedroom flat shared with her husband, and she wrote/edited it over the following two years. The characters are trapped in a house, desperately attempting to figure out what to do, surrounded by fear and doubt… sound familiar? Kesia explained writing the book was a way of working through the feelings raised by living through a pandemic.

She said there’s definitely been an uptick in scary YA thrillers in recent years, thanks to authors like Holly Jackson, Cynthia Murphy and Kathryn Foxfield. However, the market tends to swing one way and then another – a few years ago, it was all about fantasy, now the market is balancing itself out. Kesia thinks the upper end of YA has been pushing older and older for some years now – it’s not really just for teens.

Even so there are definitely grey areas but it’s difficult to be specific. Everyone has their own sense of what is TOO scary. Generally, for middle-grade, Kesia recommends avoiding graphic violence and disturbing themes. She explained as a rule, thrillers for middle-grade tend to be focussed round a mystery – even if they are murder mysteries, they will largely avoid any truly difficult content and will generally have a happy ending. For YA, the boundaries are more relaxed – you can have violence, death and dig deep into atmospheric horror. However, there is a line: e.g. very graphic or disturbing violence will probably be inappropriate.

Kesia told me you can definitely include blood and gore – as she does in Let’s Play Murder. The first instance is where she describes, in detail, the corpse the players find at the beginning of the game… it’s pretty gross. There are multiple instances of violence on the page, too – for instance when some of the players are attacked by rogue zombies from a different game, or when certain other murders occur. Kesia believes this level of violence is appropriate for readers aged 12+.

The violence is always necessary for the story so isn’t gratuitous, nor is it of a truly disturbing nature, it’s never sexualised, and there’s no torture. Sometimes YA is classed as 14+ so may go a bit darker. Ultimately, if you’re not sure, Kesia suggests it is a good idea to share extracts with your writing group and gain other perspectives – especially if you have teachers/parents of teens to help you.

“One of the things that helps me create tension when writing eerie scenes is to think about my main character’s backstory and what they’re scared of. For Veronica, even being in the Game is her worst nightmare due to a terrible VR accident that occurred in her past. Another aspect is playing with the unknown – what you don’t see or know is much scarier than what you do. So withholding information is super important for horror. Not quite seeing is a lot scarier than definitely seeing.”

Kesia Lupo

Her tip to other writers wanting to keep teens turning the pages is to firstly, keep the story moving: in YA, every scene has to earn its place – no room for filler scenes. If she ever loses steam and finds herself writing a sort of ‘in between’ section, she ask herself: what’s the worst thing that could happen to her character at this time? Then, she makes it happen. Secondly, end every chapter on some kind of cliffhanger so that every time they take a break, your readers can’t wait to pick up the book again. And lastly, make sure YOU are enjoying writing the book. If you’re not, it’s probably going to be a chore for readers too.

“Let’s Play Murder is (in my opinion) the best book I’ve written, hands down, but it was REALLY hard to write. I sold it on the pitch, then produced the worst first draft ever. My poor editors, Zoe and Katie, had to work really hard with me to knock it into shape. All that’s to say: don’t worry if you’re struggling. Find a writing group or a critique partner – different perspectives are your most valuable tool.”

Kesia Lupo

She recommends if you aspire to write thriller/horror books for children should read loads in the genre to get a sense of what’s popular. You don’t want to follow trends, but it really helps to get a sense of voice and how to pitch your story for the age-group. Immerse yourself in the YA worlds. Also, it’s always fun to eavesdrop on conversations if you can, to pick up tips – if you’re sitting in front of a chatting teen couple on the bus, take note of how they interact. Beware, though, not to try too hard – using too much specific/current language will date the book quickly.

If you’re struggling for ideas, have a think about what really scared you as a teen – or even what scares you now. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as ghosts or vampires – it could be ‘being watched’ or ‘feeling trapped’. Can you build a story around that?

For teen or YA readers, kesia suggests 60k-80k as a rule of thumb. In terms of point of view, first or third person is fine – if third person, try to write a ‘close’ third person, meaning you are not a detached omniscient narrator but someone who is practically inside the main character’s head. This means that your readers will still feel very connected to the main character and involved in the story. Chapters should be relatively short – maybe 2k-4k.

You can follow Kesia Lupo on Twitter @keslupo and TikTok: @keslupo and on Instagram Instagram: @kesialupoauthor

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