Anita Loughrey's blog. This is my journal about my experiences and thoughts on writing, with particular reference to writing for children and children's books. As well as news about me and my books, it includes writing tips, book reviews, interviews I have done for Writers' Forum and Papers, Pens, Poets and new for 2022 author's 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
An Artist’s Eyes is a captivating picture book about a little boy called Jo, whose eyes may look the same as Mo, who is an artist, but they see things very differently. He does not see the differences in colour Mo does. She can see:
“…shiny apple-green; the lime of gooseberries and the springy zinginess of moss.”
Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet
Yet the apples, gooseberries and moss just look like green to Jo. No matter how hard he tries his eyes don’t see the variations of shade in the same way Mo the artist. Frances’ text shows the build-up of Jo’s frustration, as he tries to force himself to see the same way as Mo.
As he journeys through the world of colour and creativity, Jo begins to relax and use his imagination. He soon realises he does not have to see the same as Mo, the things he can imagine are completely unique. I love the way Frances Tosdevin shows us how Jo begins to trust his own eyes and how his mindset changes in this empowering story of confidence. Jo starts to appreciate he is able to think and see like an artist but in a totally different way to Mo.
On each spread, Clémence Monnet’s watercolour illustrations compliment the text and vividly show the wide variety of colour Mo can see. I particularly like the way the colours are used to convey Jo’s emotional journey, from the black spread scattered with bursts of colour to illustrate Jo’s frustration, to the angry red spread which highlights Jo’s turning point when he finally starts to believe in himself. This picture book will inspire children to explore the different colours they can see for themselves in the world around them, from the different shades of red in the autumn leaves to the…
“…mellow yellow of melons and the pale pastel of primroses.”
Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet
The perfect book to use in the primary classroom from years one to six to demonstrate to young children how to use the full colour of our imaginations. It could also be used to stimulate art work and experimentation of colour mixing and also the use of shape and pattern. I believe this book is ideal for encouraging children to be more observant of the world around them. It will help them to discover for themselves that our individual perspectives make us all artists because no two artist’s eyes are the same.
An Artist’s Eyes truly is an exceptional and distinctive book to help young readers see how magical the world can be.
You can buy copies of An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
I interviewed Chrissie Sains last year for the #236 Sept 2021 issue of Writers’ Forum. She talked about the character, setting and pace of her middle-grade novel, An Alien in the Jam Factory, published by Walker Books.
An Alien in the Jam Factory is the first book in a comedy adventure series starring Scooter the jam inventor and his top-secret alien sidekick for ages 6+. Chrissie told me the seed of the story began with the idea of an alien flying around in a jam tart. Her children suggested it looked like a little flying saucer and together they imagined an alien crash landing on earth and flying around in it.
As the has story developed, Fizzbee (the alien) became particularly important to the central theme of the book. Fizzbee never underestimates Scooter, who has cerebral palsy. She sees him for the incredible boy that he is. She also teaches Scooter not to underestimate her.
“The idea to write a character with cerebral palsy was inspired by my goddaughter, Abigail. She has an amazing sense of humour. She’s smart, inventive and I’ve never known anyone so determined – she doesn’t let anything stand in her way. I really wanted to include those qualities in the hero of my book, together with her cerebral palsy.”
Chrissie explained it was important to that cerebral palsy wasn’t the central focus of the book, nor did she want it to be tokenism.
“I don’t think there are enough books featuring a character who has a disability and goes on an adventure – I’d really like to see that change.”
A lot of the humour in the book comes from Daffy and Boris, the villains of the story. Chrissie revealed the aim was to create two lovable but highly inept robbers, who come up with an absolutely ridiculous plan to rob the (highly secure) jam factory. They have a great relationship too. Daffy absolutely adores her bad-tempered pet guinea pig Boris, even though he’s not so fond of her.
Chrissie divulged that she finds with humour your characters need to be completely unaware they’re funny. They’re simply using any means necessary to achieve what appears to be an impossible goal. Be it breaking into the world’s most secure factory by trying to post your cantankerous pet guinea pig through the letterbox, to persuading that same pet guinea pig to wear a pink sparkly friendship pendant.
She told me when she started planning An Alien in the Jam Factory – there was no jam factory. She had the characters and an idea for a plot but no setting. After a little brainstorming with her children, the answer came to us: The most inventive jam factory in the world.
She spent weeks chatting to her children about jam inventions. Throwing random ideas out and jotting them down in a notepad. They started by thinking about exciting flavours of jam, before moving onto what else jam could be used to make. She drew a map of the jam factory which was recreated by Jenny Taylor the illustrator for the inside cover.
Chrissie explained that one of the most important elements of writing children’s books for her is the pacing. She likes to ensure every chapter has a real purpose in driving the story forwards. To achieve this she includes an element of action and humour within each chapter and end them all on a cliff hanger. Her tip is to give yourself time to plan and ‘percolate‘.
“I find a story can start off full of promise, only to meander aimlessly and lose its way if I haven’t planned it properly. I start with the idea, then let things percolate a little. I draw, brainstorm, free write & walk until the plot evolves and I have a clear understanding of the character motivations. The thinking time is just as important as the writing time. Plus, it makes the writing process a LOT quicker and easier.”
She revealed once she starts writing the first draft, she just keeps writing without reading back at all. If there’s a particular part of the story that’s proving tricky to write, she adds a holding title in capitals, (e.g. FALLS IN A VAT OF JAM) then moves on to the next part. She elaborated writing is all about editing and it’s totally ok for the first draft to be a bit rubbish. Once you’ve got the first draft, you’ve got something to work on. Whatever stage you’re at, don’t give up.
The second book in the series was launched this month on the 7th April 2022. A treasure map is discovered , revealing there’s a hoard of treasure buried under the jam factory, but Scooter and Fizzbee are not the only ones after the treasure.
You can buy copies of An Alien in the Jam Factory and The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
I am really very excited… more than excited! Can you be more than excited? Ecstatic maybe! I am launching a brand new enterprise for me. I am venturing into the world of Children’s Book Blog Tours. It is something I have been thinking of getting involved with for a long time. After all I have the connections and I have a well established blog with a good following. So now I have set the wheels in motion and put out a few feelers and I’ve had an amazing response.
My very first participation in a Children’s Book Blog Tour will be on Tuesday 3rd May when I am hosting Clare Helen Welsh for the launch of her new book How Messy! published by Happy Yak an imprint of Quarto. Here is a list of the schedule:
You can see I will be concluding the tour and we have a great interview all lined up and waiting to go. And this is not the only one. I have others lined up too to be revealed soon. Told you it was exciting!
So keep an eye out for my blog on future blog tours and if you want to ensure you do not miss any, you could always type your email into the subscribe box. Oh yes… and don’t forget to leave a comment.
A heart-warming picture book about the love between two sisters. Together they build a shelter in the woods but the younger sister soon realises something is wrong, her elder sister is unwell. We see the young girl’s confusion and sadness paralleled by the deterioration of the shelter they built. Her sister’s condition becomes worse and she is taken to hospital for an operation. We see the patient begin to rebuild her life as her health improves symbolised by the building of another shelter in her hospital room with the help of a nurse.
Throughout the book the word Cancer is not mentioned. The reader can see the clues in the headwear that appears in the illustrations, of the nature of the illness. This ‘show not tell’ technique highlights how the young sibling does not understand what is wrong with her sister.
Åsa Gilland’s illustrations also successfully portray the passing of time as we are taken through the seasons with autumnal colours, seeds and berries and the arrival of the wind and rain to the deep winter hues when her sister begins to get stronger in the hospital after her operation.
This book would be perfect for PSHE sessions for instigating discussions on family illness and the complicated emotions felt by the family. There is an overall feeling of hope and expectation that the elder sister will beat her illness.
Shepherd.com is a website that invites authors to share their favourite books around topics and themes they are passionate about and why they recommend each book. My post is about the best books to introduce young children to spring and the seasons.
Spring is the perfect time to read my picture books Rabbit’s Spring Gift and Rabbit’s Spring Adventure. These books are very popular for school visits and are both published by QED publishers, a subsidiary of Quarto.
Rabbit’s Spring Gift is illustrated by Lucy Barnard. It is part of the A Year in Nature series. It has a theme of sibling rivalry set around the concept of spring. Rabbit wants to give her mum a thank you gift, but her brother tries to out-do her at every turn, so Rabbit decides to hunt out the perfect gift. The book intertwines family relationships and the changing seasons. At the back of the book there are activities suitable for young children to do in the spring. These could be carried out at home or in the classroom.
Rabbit’s Spring Adventure is illustrated by Daniel Howarth. It is part of the Animal Seasons series. You can discover the beginnings of new life with Rabbit as he leaves the warren to search for all the signs of spring, from the bright flowers that speckle the grass to the frogspawn that bobs on the pond. There are again activities and teacher /parent notes at the back of the book.
I loved The Invisible by Tom Percival and it has left a lasting impression on me. It is about a girl named Isabel whose family are very poor and their home was so cold there was ice on her bedposts. Even so she is happy and her happiness is reflected in Tom’s illustrations with the green blanket and green jumper of love to keep her warm. She was happy, that is until she had to move to a new neighbourhood, where the colours fade to bleak greys and blues to reflect her sadness and loneliness. Nobody talks to her and nobody notices her. She has no friends.
Isabel feels invisible and Tom shows this with her image gradually turning translucent, highlighting the realities of poverty on people’s lives and self-esteem. The more she goes unseen the more she sees the other invisible people who live in her new neighbourhood, such as the old lady planting flowers in empty paint pots, the man feeding the birds in the park and the boy helping to mend someone’s bike. She realises they all make a difference in their own quiet way.
Isabel decides to help them and through her example the whole community soon joins together to make their world a brighter place as shown the last spread, which is portrays a vibrant, colourful community full of joy and hope.
This beautiful picture book has a strong theme of acceptance and belonging. I am sure young children will grasp the message that life isn’t easy but we are all important and can help change things for the better as it is the little things that make people’s lives brighter.
At the end of the book Toms tells the readers a little of own childhood growing up in poverty, having no electricity and drinking water from a nearby spring. He explains he understands what it is like to be poor and the importance of belonging. This book would make a great edition to a class book corner, especially in these uncertain times of rising fuel, heating and food prices. Tom tells us there are over four million children living in poverty in the UK and I believe this is only going to get worse.
The ideal book for reading aloud at story times. I would recommend this book to all.
In the #232 May 2021 issue of Writers’ forum, I talk to Katya Balen about the way she uses emotion in her novel, October, October.
October, October is a story about a girl who grows up wild in the woods. She lives with her dad in a house he built, and her first friend is a baby owl she rescues. Her mother couldn’t handle the wildlife and left when October was four, but on her 11th birthday she returns. Tragedy strikes and October has to face life in a bright, loud city with a parent she barely knows.
Katya explained to me how children are brighter and braver than adults sometimes give them credit for – I love writing stories that appeal to that. She loves having the space to explore big feelings and deep meaning but also just have fun with stories and language. If you ask people which book has had the biggest impact on them, she has discovered most people say a book they read as a child. It’s wonderful to be a part of that.
Katya has very strong memories of being a child and she believes this ability to draw on her own memories makes it easier to create characters children can identify with – those small moments that feel so huge when you’re young – the things that mattered and the way those things made me feel. Those memories are so helpful in creating convincing characters.
Katya told me she thinks using a range of emotion in writing is important. She likes to use quiet moments to show the depth of complex feelings. She illustrated this for me with quotes from her novel, October, October.
‘The school term ends with an assembly where everybody sings songs without needing to read the words and I have to keep quiet until the same words start to catch in my brain and I whisper them into the swelling voices that reach up the roof.’
Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen
She also uses longer, uninterrupted sentences as my character races through a feeling – an almost stream of consciousness style.
‘I burn and scream and stamp and shout and I know why she told me when I was already in the car and I still try to claw the door open until my nails are ragged and raw just like my voice but I can’t unlock the handle and I throw myself at the window and scream and she stares ahead with bright eyes.’
Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen
Katya explained she prefers to focus on how the character feels bodily at that time – so many emotions give a physical reaction, especially in children.
‘I can feel a little spark of something start to fizz inside me for the first time since the crack and the suddenly empty sky and the whistle of Dad falling.’
Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen
She loves writing stories about quiet children. Children who are a bit different, interior, sensitive and perhaps even strange. I love exploring the way they see the world and telling their stories. Katya told me she doesn’t think there’s any ‘one size fits all’ approach to writing. What works for one person might not work for another.
Her tip for other aspiring children’s book writers is that it’s important not to try to chase a trend. If there seem to be lots of books being written about dragons or unicorns or pigs, don’t change tack and start writing one of those books too. By the time it gets near a publisher, the trend will be gone or the market will be saturated. Write what you want to write – books that mean something to the writer are always much better. Set yourself a word count every day, or three times a week, whatever fits. It’s really motivating to get a draft done.
In the April issue of Writers’ Forum I talk to Claire Culliford about her series of climate-conscience children’s book, The Little Helpers
The Little Helpers series combines the different threads involved in my work, over almost a decade of writing and taking the books out to their target audience worldwide. The first few books have been translated into twelve languages (including Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic and Portuguese) by incredibly supportive translation colleagues around the world. Early in 2020 I assigned worldwide rights for the series to London publisher University of Buckingham Press, which is a part of Legend Press. The series was relaunched in Autumn 2020. There are 30 books in total.
The books are designed to raise awareness of global environmental and social issues through fun, fictional stories in which animal main characters come up with a creative solution to a real-world problem. Claire’s aim is to foster children’s creativity and problem-solving skills through the medium of story, which is extremely powerful. She told me fedback from teachers and parents has consistently demonstrated the books can be used not only to promote a love of fiction and reading, but as a holistic learning tool, for everything from language acquisition to the teaching of geography, science and maths.
The first few stories in the series came along whilst Claire was working for a period with teenagers and young adults on charity projects combining education in the creative industries and on environmental and social issues. It became apparent through dealings with large organisations and governments there was a lack of means to raise awareness among young children about the same topics.
Claire revealed that her animal main characters ensure inclusivity and have the added benefit of enabling me to introduce species from around the world which are endangered and in need of protection. Her intention was to create a series with global appeal. She envisioned an environmental and social brand with an extremely positive message that would unite children everywhere for all the right reasons. She explained that with this in mind, it seemed logical to use the series to support the United Nations and its Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to address the three dimensions of sustainable development worldwide – economic, social and environmental.
“I love creating characters that are novel and intriguing, and innovative and engaging solutions to the problems that they are presented with. I also focus on including age-appropriate language and subject-specific vocabulary and introducing linguistic features that children will come across in books as they get older: tools such as alliteration, repetition and onomatopoeia. It’s never too early to fall in love with language and what it can do. Think about what keeps you engrossed in a story and aspire to introduce the same into your writing.”
There is a different character for each book of Claire’s Little Helper series, as the stories are designed to represent settings, species and issues from all over the globe. In terms of consistency, which is important for a series and a brand, she take into account things like all the main character names having just two syllables in them and beginning with the same letter as the animal species concerned. She choose names which are authentic to the part of the world in which the story is set. The names are also tested to ensure they are easy for children to pronounce in most countries.
Claire told me the physical attributes of the characters are based on their real life traits. Both the story content and the illustrations are based very much on an accurate depiction of facts relating to the species involved and the issue being addressed, as well as the natural landscape in the part of the world concerned.
Her tips for writer’s who aspire to be children’s book writers are:
“Firstly, remember that in storyland anything is possible. Get rid of the restrictions and limitations that we place on things in the adult world. Secondly, make every line count. Children’s books, particularly picture books, are short. There’s no room for non-essential words or sentences. Simplicity is everything. You need to be able to say in ten words what might take a hundred or a thousand in a story for an adult. And thirdly, use your life experience, existing skills and knowledge to identify your niche then get as much feedback on your writing as possible – especially from children – along the way. Becoming a proficient writer in any genre is a journey and we all start somewhere. The best way to improve is to get your target audience to help you.”
Claire told me anything you write for children needs to be filled with creativity, light-heartedness and fun to read because good stories that fuel their imagination will make children smile .
Readers can find more information about Claire Culliford and her writing at:
I interviewed chick lit writer, Christina Jones about her ‘method writing’ approach to research in the #100 Feb 210 issue of Writers Forum.
Christina told me she always researches her character’s backgrounds to make sure they’re accurate. She revealed at first she used backgrounds that she knew well – horseracing (her granddad was a jockey), lorry driving (her husband was a trucker), fairgrounds (her dad was an ex-circus clown who then travelled with fairs).
However, once she’d run out of her own life experiences, she explained it was quite a challenge to start writing about things she didn’t know so well. To do this she turned to books for basic facts (the library was her second home), the internet for a quick-fix (God bless Google), but her favourite way of researching is to meet and talk to people who really know.
Christina explained experts are definitely the most helpful. She spent hours on the road with lots of lovely lorry drivers while writing Running The Risk learning all about transport law and how the haulage industry really works – and so that she’d know how Georgia, her lorry-driving heroine, carried out her job. Christina was even taught to drive a 42 ton lorry – but in the safety of a lorry park!
When researching Heaven Sent (about fireworks) Christina told me she had one of the best times of her life with the lovely pyrotechnicians from Fantastic Fireworks – they even taught her how to set-up and fire her own remote-controlled firework display.
With Moonshine Christina joined a local winemaking group to learn how to make homemade wine (such hardship!) and since adding a touch of practical magic to her novels, she had lots of help from various lovely white witches.
Before she meets her experts she puts herself into her heroine’s (or hero’s) shoes and make notes about everything they’re going to encounter or experience in the book and ask questions from their point of view. She write everything she think she’ll need to ask down.
During the interview she uses a dictaphone to make sure she gets all the facts correct, but she also take notes if something interesting crops up. When she gets home she transcribes both into a notebook like a long essay, then go through it and red-pen everything that isn’t needed and highlight everything that is. Christina told me:
“I think, without exception, I’ve become friends with everyone who has ever helped me with research, but I always write a thank you letter immediately afterwards, always acknowledge their help and expertise in the front of the books, and always send them a signed copy as soon as it’s published.”
Christina’s explained it is vital to list your sources and acknowledge your experts. It’s only good manners if people have been kind enough to give up their time to help then this is the least you can do. And it’s good publicity for them, too – and they all love seeing their names in books.
When she was writing Walking On Air she spent weeks with the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers to learn all about wing-walking (and spent lots of time with the pilots of small planes and had several flying ‘experiences’. She even did a wing-walk so she knew exactly how Billie would feel in Walking On Air.
“…strapped to the wings of a tiny wood-and-fabric bi-plane, hundreds of feet up in the sky, travelling at a hundred miles an hour, feeling the almighty force of the wind, and the cold, and the insects that get EVERYWHERE and stay there, and how much your arms ache, oh, and your face flaps.”
Christina revealed like Billie, her heroine, she wasn’t great with flying, and the thought of tiny planes with no escape routes terrified her. But once she’d met the pilots and wing-walking girls from the Utterly Butterlys and spent time with them both at their base and at air shows, and scrambled in and out of the Boeing Stearman bi-planes and teetered on the fabric wings ahw explained it was exciting, exhilarating and amazingly different. In fact, she LOVES flying now. She has even spent time watching them strip down a radial engine so she knew exactly how it worked and sounded.
Christina’s research tip for other writers is be prepared to listen to EVERYTHING you’re being told and then listen to a lot of other conversations going on around you as well. These little insider snippets – the things they don’t think are important – are sometimes the hidden gems that can spark off a whole new subplot.
“When I was researching Heaven Sent (fireworks) I had no idea until I listened to the pyrotechnicians chatting over a cuppa that no-one in the firework world has ever managed to create a dark green firework – and that this is the pyro world’s holy grail. This gave me a whole new area for Clemmie and Guy (my h&h) to explore and actually became one of the main plotlines in the book.”
In this months issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed Nancy Campbell about how her experiences as a writer in residence inspired three books.
Nancy wanted to write a universal compendium of snow: looking at words for snow in fifty very different world languages to show how different peoples around world celebrate, and use, snow. Fifty Words for Snow builds on that fascination, looking at cold climates around the world, through fifty different words. This bookis the accumulation of a decade of research and travel in the polar regions, which began in 2010 with a winter residency at the most northern museum in the world, Upernavik Museum, Greenland.
Nancy has been appointed as Writer in Residence by many places: the English canal network (as Canal Laureate for the Canal and River Trust), a fishing museum in Iceland, an ecological research centre in Denmark, a state-of-the-art modern library in the Swiss Alps, and most recently, a year in an 18th-century water palace in Bavaria. These appointments, usually for a relatively short duration of time, are an intense and immersive way of growing to understand a community and culture, and producing new work.
The residency at Upernavik Museum was her first role of this kind, during the winter of 2010, and she said she learnt a lot from it. Her role there was to write about the museum collections and the wider life of this small arctic community.
“I got to know the hunters and fishermen on this tiny, rocky island, and began learning Greenlandic from them. Learning the language was an important step in understanding the culture (few of the islanders spoke English). I lived in a tiny wooden cabin down by the sea, which when I first arrived, was completely covered in snowdrifts, and my desk looked out over the icebergs of Baffin Bay.”
Nancy drew largely on encounters and observations on the island. She found a few old books on archaeology in the museum and followed up with more reading at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge when she got home.
“It was a life-changing experience. I had expected to write just one book as a result of that winter, but in the end it started a fascination with the Arctic that took me through a decade, and several book projects, including The Library of Ice and How to Say I Love You in Greenlandic before culminating in Fifty Words for Snow.”
Nancy told me that a sense of place drives her work, as well as her encounters with people in the landscape. It’s important for her, to gain a personal experience of place. She explained how early on in her writing career, when she was in a library in Switzerland, tweeting a dilemma: Should she go out for a walk in the mountains, or continue with her research? One writer responded: ‘But going for a walk is part of your research!’ Nancy proclaims she was absolutely right. Research is not only about reading. Being in a place allowed her to understand the atmosphere which she evokes so visually through her words.
Nancy revealed that as she travels she likes to take photographs and make sketches in her notebook. She prefers the speed and sensation of writing by hand and find it allows observations to transform more readily into thoughts than typing or using a dictaphone.
During the lockdowns, she has been using academic sites which offer online journal access such as JSTOR (https://www.jstor.org), especially for scientific research on climate change and glacial ice. But her writing is driven by her imagination, she these texts are used as a jumping-off point for her own ruminations, rather than quoting from them in her work. She also found https://publicdomainreview.org a great inspiration for researching images, as are libraries’ digital collections, such as the British Library https://www.bl.uk
“Even under lockdown in a pandemic, it was still possible to voyage around the world through books, and online. I read the environmental coverage in The Guardian and the New York Times. I am especially keen on amateur YouTube recordings as a substitute for my own direct experience.”
As a writer who interweaves memoir and nature writing, Nancy said she relies on memory a lot, infusing her books with past experiences from her life. While the Arctic words for snow obviously relied on her travels in, and knowledge of, the region, she also returned to early childhood memories of the Netherlands. She believes personal experience to be the richest research of all.
“My father was an art historian who was researching 17thC Dutch painting in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and on visits to see him I grew fond of the chocolate hail which is commonly eaten by children at breakfast-time – Over 750,000 slices of bread topped with hagelslag are eaten every day in the Netherlands. Hagelslag became my Dutch entry for the book.”
Nancy’s research tip is that it is valuable to share your research topics with your friends, always. They may come up with some surprising leads. Nancy hadn’t realised there was snow in Hawaii until a friend in Munich, who is originally from Hawaii, told her about Poli’ahu, the Hawaiian Goddess of Snow. This revelation inspired her story for the Hawaiian language.