Anita Loughrey's blog. This is my journal about my experiences and thoughts on writing. As well as news about me and my books, it includes writing tips, book reviews, author interviews and blog tours.
For more information about me and my books see my website: www.anitaloughrey.com. Follow me on Twitter @amloughrey, Facebook @anitaloughrey.author and on Instagram @anitaloughrey
I Am Born To Be Awesome is a positive rhyming picture book, which identifies the many different ways young boys can be awesome and the distinct things that make us all unique individuals. There is one of the few picture books I have seen that is specifically aimed at black boys. Mechal Renee Roe has seen a gap in the market and effectively begun to fill it.
Boys will love the affirmative text in this easy-to-read picture book that celebrates the joys of being a boy – including activities like sports, music and exploring nature. The text is simple with good use of repetition to keep even the most reluctant reader turning the pages.
The bold illustrations portray a wide range of diverse faces for young children to identify with. Parents and early readers will love Mechal Renee Roe’s enchanting illustrations and positive messages. With fantastic, cute and funny images paired with confidence-boosting text, this gift book will warm your heart and lift the spirit of any child.
This is an ideal book for use in the classroom to stimulate discussion on what things we enjoy doing and how this reflects our personalities.
For my last ever Research Secrets interview for the national Writing Magazine, Writers Forum I was lucky enough to interview Lynne Hackle about how she researched her romantic comedy when she was unable to go out of the house.
Lynne first wrote this romantic comedy novel, back in 2002 and states it is actually more comedy than romance. It didn’t have a title back then and she put it away and rediscovered this gem in 2020 when Covid struck. She explains she had learnt a lot in twenty years and knew it could be improved.
Lynne told me she was about to do a major rewrite when my brother died from Covid. Losing a younger sibling is hard and Lynne revealed she had a sort of breakdown because she found she couldn’t, and didn’t want to, go out. This meant she couldn’t get out to do any research and she really needed to find out how Job Centres worked.
She explained this was a problem because her opening chapter started with my main character, Gail, being in a Job Centre and she hadn’t been inside one since she wrote the first draft. There was only one solution – to set her story back in time. She decided that beginning it in the first few days of the new millennium would save her the stress of trying to go out into the world and risking a panic attack.
Gail starts off in the Job Centre because her boss has made her and her best friend, Dilys, redundant. The two women, both fifty years old and with no qualifications, find it impossible to find work so start a cleaning agency. Gail, stuck between an eccentric mother and a wayward daughter, lists her problems, the final one being to get laid, and then starts to solve them all, with what she hoped would be help from her imaginary agony aunt.
Lynne told me she always had a secret dream to be an agony aunt and always turn to the problem pages in magazines first. She has even used some of the problems she’s read to help her write short stories, many which were published in the weekly woman’s national magazines.
Gail needed an agony aunt but, instead of writing to one, she conjured up her very own. This lady in pink was going to be a proper agony aunt, kind and helpful, similar to the ones in the book, but she turned into one of those characters novelists talk about – the ones who have their own ideas as to what they are going to do. Sometimes she offered advice, sometimes she turned up when she wasn’t wanted, and she also had days off, refusing to answer questions.
Really, she was about as much help to Gail as thermal knickers in a heatwave. Her part grew as the book progressed and grew even more when Cahill Davis Publishing and Lynne came up with the title, Gail Lockwood and her Imaginary Agony Aunt.
The shop from which Gail was made redundant actually existed in Worcester. Lynne revealed she once once worked there selling all sorts of interesting stuff like miners’ knee pads and gas mask holders. There were lots of baskets filled with miscellaneous goods and every morning they would take shoe rails and coat racks outside. she remembered her easy-going manager asking her to make a price label for some men’s grey Mac’s.
Using a felt tipped pen she drew a picture of the back view of a man with no trousers on, arms holding his Mac’ wide open and his bare bottom revealed in the split at the rear and added ‘Flashers Macs’ and the price. All the Macs were sold by the end of the day. She borrowed the men’s grey Mac’s and other stock for her fictional store BJ’s, called that because the owner, Bradley Jones, used his initials for the name, though Gladys and Dilys said it stood for Bloody Junk. Bradley was a cross between the manager of the original shop Lynne had worked at, and her boss from the building society she worked at later. In the novel BJ’s moved itself to an optician’s she had worked at in Malvern.
Lynne kept Malvern library in its original place but replaced Malvern Hills with a new housing estate and moved the whole town a little closer to Birmingham. She explained it was like looking at that entire area and stirring things around to get a new place. Lynne believes you need to be able to see where a story is set.
“I could have drawn a map but because of using a place I knew well, I kept Chenwick, in its entirety, in my head.”
To research her other settings such as, Spain and Australia, she started watching A Place In The Sun in particular couples looking for homes in Spain. One pair wanted an apartment near a golf course and immediately, she knew this was exactly what she needed for Gail’s ex-boss to retire to. As for Australia, Dilys uses some redundancy money to go to her daughter’s wedding there.
“I asked my friend Glynis Scrivens, who I call my cyber-sister, for help. She made sure the times and seasons were correct. I’d watched Neighbours in its early years and seen what a hotel could look like and the sort of houses that were in Ramsay Street. Television can come in very useful.”
Gail’s mother, Pearl, plays a good-sized part in the story. Her eccentricities included the way she dressed, jumping through different eras. No two days were alike. The 1960s weren’t a problem. Pictures of girls wearing mini-skirts, crocheted dresses, and white boots were all over Facebook. Going back to the 1950s meant trawling though shutterstock.com and pinterest.com. One outfit Pearl wore came directly from the film, Doctor Zhivago. Lynne said she enjoyed researching these different fashions from different eras by looking at photos and dress patterns on the internet.
Her tip for other writers and for anyone unable to go out, whatever the reason may be, then the internet is a wonderful resource. Not just Google, but friends online too. Ask a question and you’ll get lots of responses.
Written in diary format, Liza Mulholland, outlines her feelings and experiences in taking part in the Storyflower Project in this lovely A4 creative non-fiction book.
The Storyflower Project was inspired by Pauline Mackay, the founding director of Ablekids Press, who decided to grow some sunflowers for the children at a local family centre. Even though only one survived, which she called Peekaboo, she realised growing the plant for someone else gave it a very special importance and many of the people she told about the project wanted to try it for themselves. So much so, Ablekids Press website now provide free downloadable diaries to document their own experiences. There are two versions one highly illustrated for young children and the other for older people with extra bordered pages for more writing and adding photographs.
In The Musician’s Storyflower, Liza reveals how growing her mum’s favourite plant helped her work through some of the grief in losing her mother. There is a mix of beautiful water-colour illustrations of flowers by Margery Tait and photographic evidence to support the text.
Liza is a classically trained pianist and at the end of The Musician’s Storyflower you can discover the music she composed to reflect her feelings of the process of growing a plant for someone else.
This book would be suitable as a classroom resource introducing caring for the environment in a positive and imaginative way. It would help meet the requirements of science for the programmes of study for key stage one and two, Working Scientifically and Plants. Also the music programmes of study for key stage one, experiment with, create, select and combine sounds using the interrelated dimensions of music and at key stage two, improvise and compose music for a range of purposes using the interrelated dimensions of music
You can buy copies of The Musician’s Storyflower by Liza Mulholland and Marjory Tait and download the photocopiable diaries from the Ablekids Press website: https://ablekidspress.com/
I would like to thank Pauline Mackay for sending me a copy of The Musician’s Storyflower to review on my blog.
I have been a fan of Cath Howe and her writing for a long time and have particularly enjoyed her books for middle grade. Cath Howe’s book for younger readers does not disappoint. Call the Puffins is the first in a heart-warming series, complete with a map at the beginning and I really like maps of the story world.
This is a fun and enjoyable adventure for younger readers with themes of bravery, empathy and team work. It is Muffin the Puffin’s first day on the Island of Egg and she is apprehensive about the entrance test to join the Puffin Rescue Team, following in her dad’s footsteps. He explains her feelings are normal for everyone on their first day. Muffin is worried about her feet as they are different to the other puffins, as they turn up on the ends.
Muffin makes a new friend called Tiny who is also different. His wings are larger than normal which means he often gets caught by the wind. They work together with determination and perseverance to overcome their differences and prove they are just as brave and capable as the other puffins.
Ella Okstad’s black and white illustrations have they definitive ahhh factor. They are adorable not only because the puffins are extremely cute they also have movement and action.
The ideal book to share with the class at story time. A joy to read and explore.
I look forward to reading the second book in the series Tiny’s Brave Rescue due to be released October 2023.
I have also previously interviewed Cath Howe about her teacher resource, Let’s Perform for Writers’ Forum. You can find out more about this interview here: An interview with… Cath Howe
You can buy copies of Call the Puffins by Cath Howe and Ella Okstad from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
It is my stop today on the The Goddess of Nothing At All by Cat Rector blog tour. My stop on the tour consists of a spotlight of the book and author.
The Goddess of Nothing At All is a queer dark fantasy Norse myth retelling, published by Tychis Media.
This book was 2nd place Finalist in BBNYA 2022. BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website http://www.bbnya.com or Twitter @bbnya_official. BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.
The author of The Goddess of Nothing At All, Cat Rector, grew up in a small Nova Scotian town and could often be found simultaneously reading a book and fighting off muskrats while walking home from school. She devours stories in all their forms, loves messy, morally grey characters, and writes about the horrors that we inflict on each other.
After spending nearly a decade living abroad, she returned to Canada with her spouse to resume her war against the muskrats. When she’s not writing, you can find her playing video games, spending time with loved ones, or staring at her To Be Read pile like it’s going to read itself.
Join me for the birthday celebrations of Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks by Sally Fetech in what has been an amazing blog tour.
Author Sally Fetouh was inspired to write this touching story by her own daughter who has Down syndrome, feeling it was important for her and other children like her to be able to see themselves in literature. Two years ago, after reading a different story about a girl with Down syndrome to her daughter’s preschool class, Sally says:
“The children were so engaged in the story and asked questions. They were very accepting and loving of their friend—my daughter. I left with a heart overflowing with emotion and that inspired me to write my story.”
Sally’s cheerful text and whimsical illustrations bring alive this heart-warming story of kindness and inclusion featuring a character with Down syndrome.
When young Jana receives heaps of beautiful socks from her parents after learning how to put on socks all by herself, she can’t wait to show her friends at school. They are always kind and patient with Jana when they play together. Jana decides to share a pair of her new socks with each and every friend. This calls for a school sock parade! All of the children had so much fun showing off their colourful socks together that they gave a very special and huge gift for their kind and generous friend, Jana, a box of more socks.
My stop on this fantastic tour will take the form of an author interview.
Happy Birthday for Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks. Welcome to my blog, Much To Do About Writing.
Tell us a little bit about your picture book and how you developed your main character.
When young Jana receives heaps of beautiful socks from her parents after learning how to wear socks all by herself, she can’t wait to show her friends at school, who all want a pair when they see them. Jana decides to share a pair of her new socks with each and every friend until there are none left. This calls for a school sock parade!
All of the children have so much fun showing off their colourful socks together that they give Jana a very special gift for their kind and generous friend, Jana, a huge box of socks!
‘Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks’ showcases a beautiful experience at school, exemplifying acceptance and friendship. I was inspired to write this touching story by my own daughter, Jana, who has Down syndrome, feeling it was important for her and other children like her to be able to see themselves in literature. I wanted to base the character on someone who has Down syndrome and even though ‘Down syndrome’ is not mentioned in the story, some readers may be able to recognise and relate to some traits. For example, Jana doesn’t say as many words as her friends or she’s slower than her friends when they race. I wanted to include all these aspects in the character, while championing the strengths that children with Down syndrome have in their kindness, empathy and huge sense of fun.
What are the underlying themes of Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks?
The main themes are that of inclusion, acceptance, kindness and friendship. The story aims to show children that even though we may be all different, we are still the same in the way we want to have friends, play, learn and have fun. The analogy of socks plays on this, where the socks were all different, but they were still the same thing – socks!
What inspired you to use socks to highlight differences?
Down syndrome is about having an extra chromosome, and chromosomes are shaped like socks. I was inspired by Down Syndrome International’s #lotsofsocks campaign that happens every year on World Down Syndrome Day on March 21 where the whole global community gets together and wears their brightest, craziest, most mismatched socks to celebrate the extra chromosome.
What have you discovered about the publishing process since Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks launched last year?
It’s a journey that requires a lot of continuous hard work in terms of marketing and publicity to keep the book alive in the sense that I’m trying to get more parents, teachers and librarians interested in it. Trying to get the word out there about the book and the message behind it is part of this process and it doesn’t stop.
What writing tip would you give to people aspiring to write a picture book?
Think like a child (of the age you are targeting) and write from that perspective. Focus on the story first and invest in a great editor. The illustrations will follow on naturally from that.
To find out more about Sally Fetouh and her book, Jana’s Brightly Coloured Socks on her website is www.sallyfetouh.com/book. There is also a list of online retailers who stock the book, and some information about the illustrator, Alexis Schnitger.
Today it is my turn on the blog tour for Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani. This tour is part of the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA). This year, the BBNYA is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight blitz tour for each title. BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 10 finalists and one overall winner.
If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website: https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official. BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.
Sunbolt is a young adult fantasy about an orphan called Hitomi. The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life. Sunbolt is publsihed by Purple Monkey Press.
The author, Intisar Khanani, grew up a nomad and world traveller. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah, on the coast of the Red Sea. Intisar used to write grants and develop projects to address community health and infant mortality with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. She is the author of The Sunbolt Chronicles, and the Dauntless Path novels, beginning with Thorn.
My stop on the Sunbolt tour takes the form of an author interview.
Welcome to my blog. It is with great pleasure that I end your magnificent blog tour for Sunbolt with an author interview.
Tell us a little about your writing career and your latest novel, Sunbolt?
I’ve had a pretty varied writing career – I indie published my first novel, Thorn, back in 2012, and then jumped into writing The Sunbolt Chronicles. Then in 2017, HarperTeen picked up Thorn, along with a companion novel (that accidentally turned into a duology). I just put out the last book in the duology – A Darkness at the Door – last summer, and am cycling back around to this series. I’m re-releasing Sunbolt as well as Book 2 through a lovely little indie co-op called Snowy Wings Publishing (yay new cover!) in the lead-up to getting out Book 3. So I’ve done both indie, trad, and hybrid publishing (that last one was indie for North America, and trad through the UK!), and am excited to back in the indie sphere for this series!
What are the underlying themes of your novel, Sunbolt?
Sunbolt has a few different themes at play—from belonging and in-group/out-group relations, to colonization of the mind, to learning to make allies in the most unlikely places (by which I also mean, compassion). I’m sure some readers will also find other things that speak to them—for example, Hitomi deals with grief from both parent death and abandonment. While that’s a smaller thread, it’s definitely there.
What is your favourite thing about writing for young adults?
Young adults are questioning the underpinnings of their world, their looking sideways at authority and pushing back at injustice, and experiencing so many things for the first time. They also pack a lot of hope for the future—they’re not giving up, they haven’t hit some kind of overblown cynical middle-age where they just throw the towel in. Not at all. They’ve got their fire and their not afraid to use it. They’re an amazing group to write for, and having the chance to explore those realities through my writing is an absolute gift.
Is there an aspect of writing for young adults you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Not really. I’ve learned a lot as I’ve been writing, but I don’t have any major regrets as yet. I think just bearing in mind that writing is a journey, as is learning your craft, is a great help. None of us can get everything right the first time, or even the fifth. That’s okay! Just do your best, both in telling your story and making sure you do no harm in doing so.
What’s your favourite writing snack or drink?
I really love a flavored hot chocolate! I mix up my own varieties, as I tend to like less sweetener in my chocolate. Right now my two favorites are peppermint hot chocolate and a spicy blend that includes ginger, cinnamon, and red pepper (plus more!).
How did you celebrate when you finished Sunbolt?
I don’t tend to celebrate too much beyond grabbing a bowl of ice cream. XD For me, a lot of the satisfaction is in doing the work. But some of my happiest moments are getting tagged on reviews where the story meant something special to a reader. I always hope for that with my stories, and there have definitely been a couple of really special (to me) reviews that I think back to for Sunbolt.
What are your social media links where can people find out about you and your books?
I use the handle @booksbyintisar pretty much anywhere I go. Right now I’m most active on Instagram @booksbyintisar and Twitter @booksbyintisar … though really, I’ve been reducing my social media usage overall to help both my mental health and my writing time (talk about a time suck!). That said, I do have a monthly newsletter where I love to chat with readers and also share my news, and currently have a new story going out a chapter a month to subscribers. You can find out more at booksbyintisar.com/newsletter.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog for the last stop of your Sunbolt blog tour.
Title: I’m Not Scared A Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Adventure
Written and Illustrated by: Britta Techentrup
Published by: Prestel Publishing
It is not very often nowadays you find a picture book suitable for the 5+ age range. Most picture books are reducing the word count and telling the story as sparingly as possible a lot of the detail needed to keep the emergent reader engaged is lost. In this beautifully written picture book Britta Techentrup has expanded her text to successfully create two distinct characters with their own voice and personality.
We met Little Hedgehog and Big Hedgehog before in Britta’s book, Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll, a story exploring nature and the beauty of the world. In contrast, I’m Not Scared, examines the complexity of being afraid, from dark basements to deserted streets, strange noises and swooping birds to cars’ glaring headlights, menacing foxes and friendly cats.
Throughout the book Britta does not identify the gender of either of the hedgehogs but we understand they have a parent-child relationship. As they embark on their picnic walk we see the different ways they react to unknown situations – how Big Hedgehog is protective and Little Hedgehog tries to act brave, insisting each time they were not scared.
Britta’s distinctive illustrations with their wild and rich layers of natural colour bring their emotions to life. Through picture and text the book subtly demonstrates a variety of different strategies for dealing with fear such as, accepting kindness, being still, counting, holding hands and whistling.
This would be a useful book for the classroom to stimulate a discussion on identifying and dealing with things that make us scared. It would also be the perfect book for an older emergent reader to explore and enjoy.
I have also previously reviewed The Swing by Britta Techentrup. To read this review see: Book Review: The Swing.
For the last ever issue of Writers’ Forum #254 May 2023 I interviewed Liz Flanagan about her inspiration and worldbuilding for the Wildsmith adventure series.
Liz explained the spark for the Wildsmith stories occurred in the strange quiet summer of 2020 when life was so starkly different from what we’d expected. Before her daily walk of those lockdown months, Liz had never realised how essential walking in the woods was for her mental health.
“Even in those dark and worrying times, as soon as I was outside under the trees, I started to feel better, and I’d return from my walk more able to cope.”
She found writing was an anchor for her and tried new things to keep busy when her other work was cancelled. She discovered she enjoyed writing for younger children. Her agent, Philippa Perry, suggested writing a middle-grade series, full of magic and hope. It’s not a massive leap to see where Liz got the idea for a beautiful forest, fostering magical animals, and discovering the magical power to heal animals and speak to them.
Liz elaborated she had been fostering cats and kittens for an animal charity, and so had three unexpected additions to their household during lockdown – a very nervous young cat and her two kittens. She often wished she could speak to her foster animals to reassure them and to find out what was wrong when they were ill or scared.
She told me she believes fantasy lets us explore real-world problems in an oblique way that can be safe for young children. Perhaps all writers do this: taking the stuff of our lives and weaving it into stories, even if it’s not immediately apparent where each element came from?
Liz said she started sketching out ideas on a piece of paper – characters, issues, locations – and this grew into a detailed chapter by chapter outline. Her outlines tend to be about a quarter of my final word count as she thinks it is think easier to make changes to a plan than it is to rewrite a whole story. She created a map, and added to it as the series grew. She also did sketches of rooms and locations around Grandpa’s house to make sure it made sense on the page. Joe Todd-Stanton’s bought these places brought to life with his incredible art.
In terms of worldbuilding she needed to be clear on the magical attributes of her characters from the start. she explained it had to be consistent within the story world and also have limits – otherwise there’s no tension. But, the witches’ spells and the wildsmith’s magical healing were described in more detail quite late on in the writing process.
After writing the first two books Liz realised the passage of time was important. and decided that time passing at the rate of around one season per book should be a feature, which is highlighted on the covers. Book one has glorious green summery forest leaves, and book two has lovely autumnal shades.
The story developed with a longer-term conflict in the shape of the war, which begins in book one and is resolved by book four. Then each story has an individual problem to solve, connected with rescuing a particular magical creature (or being rescued by one in the case of book three). There are several baddies who re-appear, as well as friends whom Rowan isn’t sure she can trust.
Liz revealed it was a challenge to keep the conflict mainly happening ‘off-stage’ so it remained age-appropriate and not too scary, but early reviews from teachers have been really encouraging. Having short chapters helps to keep the children turning the pages. It gives you that structure and encourages a natural ‘cliff-hanger’.
“My protagonist needed to have a very clear goal throughout, even if this changes as the story develops. I’m used to having lots of action in my older books, so I wanted to make these younger books equally exciting. However, it was certainly a challenge for me, learning how to write simply while keeping the pace, learning what to leave out and what to keep in.”
LIz’s writing tip for writing for children is to think back to your own childhood. She said one thing we know really well is the childhood we experienced and how we ourselves felt as a child of different ages. So we have this incredible resource, if we can access these memories.
“Having once been a bookish, animal-fixated child who loved to climb trees, I definitely think I wrote Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest for the seven-year-old I once was.”
And even if we can’t retrieve our own memories, we can observe the children around us. Liz found this a helpful place to start: instead of trying to please everyone, select a child you know, or the child you once were, and write to please them.
Illustrated by: Wellow House School Year 1 using Canva
Edited and compiled by: Melissa Foster
Published by: Amazon
To commemorate the coronation of King Charles III last weekend the Year One class in Wellow School, near Mansfield Otto have written and illustrated this charming little story where their school mascot, Otto the Owl, sets off on an adventure to invite animals from all over the world to his coronation.
With the guidance of their teacher, Melissa Foster, Otto flies to each of the seven continents where he meets a different animal who will come to his coronation and celebratory garden party. This book is an inspirational example of writing for a purpose.
Each of the animals were chosen by a different child in the class who had to think of describing words beginning with the same letter as their chosen animal. For example, the snake is slimy, slithery and sad, to create a brilliant display of alliteration on nearly every spread.
The illustrations were made by the children for their chosen animal using Canva.
This book would be a good resource to inspire your own children to create their own picture books for publication. You can buy copies of The Crazy Critters Coronationby Wellow House School Year 1 from Amazon: https://amzn.eu/d/5oH3dz8