Tag Archives: Walker Books

An interview with… Alex Evelyn

For my Research Secrets slot in this month’s #244 9 June 2022 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed debut children’s writer, Alex Evelyn, about her research into botany for her middle grade novel, The Secret Wild, published by Walker Books.

Alex Evelyn explained she was actually writing a time travel story set in Egypt when the idea for The Secret Wild came to her. So she filed the original idea and switched her research from pharaohs to plants. The idea for her main characters Fern and Special came to her when she was helping at a plant sale at her village primary school. The children were queueing up to buy mini cacti, and when they had their new ‘pet’ in their hands they were chatting about what they were going to call them and where in their bedrooms they were going to put them. Alex did some research which showed house plant sales were booming amongst younger people, which gave her story idea roots. Alex revealed:

“During my research I was surprised to learn that there is such a thing as botonaphobia. Fern’s friend Woody’s character was already partly based on my own journey with anxiety, and when I read about this very specific fear I had to explore more.”

Alex Evelyn

She explained one of the things she has learnt about anxiety is that your own fears can be almost incomprehensible to others who don’t suffer from the same fear. This was the case for her with botonophobia – she couldn’t imagine how anyone could be scared of something she found so soothing. Fern is also very confused by it, but as she learns about friendships, she learns not to judge this unusual fear of Woody’s.

“I am very aware that writing for young children I need to entertain first and educate second – and never, ever to preach. Characters and a well-paced story have to form the backbone, the STEM is merely the flesh.”

Alex Evelyn

Alex told me one of the most useful resources she didcovered during her research was a second hand collection of Kew Garden botany books from World of Books. Determined to become an overnight expert she ploughed straight in to their Latin for Gardeners but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t remember the plants’ Latin names, and so the part of Fern’s character that drives her scientist Dad Darwin mad was created – she, like Alex, can never remember names and responds more to how the plants look and feel than by being successful at categorising them.

To see plants through a child’s eyes or to ‘think the right height’ she dipped in to the Plantopedia by Adrienne Barman, a beautifully illustrated book that categorises plants using criteria that appeal to a young child.  From the ‘imposters’ to the ‘stinkers’, the ‘useful’ and the ‘healers’ to the ‘poisoners’. Alex explained the book brings the amazing plants on this earth to life as if they are characters.

The Secret Wild by Alex Evelyn

Alex divulged her setting was inspired by a visit to the Natural History Museum in London when she strolled past a sign for an open garden on the roof on an office block. She wondered what was hidden away up there, beyond the reach of our eyes. The shoot of an idea began to sprout – a glasshouse in the sky that held plants from the wilder places of the world.

“I am not a natural city dweller, and so it was easy to write Fern’s astonishment at arriving in such a big, overwhelming place. Fern is much more at home surrounded by the wilds of the rainforest. The minute we could get back on to the streets of London I was there with notebook in hand. I wanted to try and show that as a Londoner you can feel that you live in a village tucked in to the greater mass of the city.”

Alex Evelyn

Alex revealed that one of her favourite pieces of research was visiting the great glasshouses of Kew Gardens as this helped with writing the five senses. Feeling so hot that sweat ran down her legs, seeing water droplets on luscious leaves and feeling the texture of the plants bought them to life in a way she could never have discovered from books alone.

Kew Gardens

Alex told me she often ‘writes with her nose’ and it was the smell of the Kew glasshouses that helped her write the scene when Fern and Woody first walk in to Oleander’s glasshouse in the sky:

As they stepped forwards, they parted a cloud of butterflies which scattered like tiny pieces of torn paper being blown in the wind. A warm, figgy smell wrapped itself around her nostrils, sweet and delicious.

Extract from The Secret Wild by Alex Evelyn

Alex’s tip to other writers is to let your research lead you to places you haven’t necessarily planned. She elaborated that she often finds her narrative guided by things she discovered by digging a bit deeper and a bit wider. Nothing is ever wasted, even if you don’t end up using your research directly it might inform the depth of a character or a setting. But you do have to know when to stop. Research can be a lovely black hole that stops you from focusing on the hard task of drafting words in to a story. 

You can follow Alex on Twitter @alexrevelyn.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #244 8 Jun 2022 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: The Beatryce Prophecy

Title: The Beatryce Prophecy

Written by: Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by: Sophie Blackwell

Published by: Walker Books

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackwell

The Beatryce Prophecy is a magnificent ‘folktale’ style middle grade novel set in the Medieval era. The partnership between Kate DiCamillo (who was twice winner of the Newbury Medal) and Sophie Blackwell (who was twice winner of the Caldecott Medal) is a perfect combination. The intricate black and white ink illustrations compliment and highlight the lyrical writing in a magical, atmospheric way that keeps the readers turning the pages. Each chapter begins with an enlarged, decorative, inhabited initial letter, which gives the book a historical, illuminated manuscript feel.

At the heart of the novel is Beatrice who is found by Brother Edik in the barn at the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. He was shocked to discover her curled up next to Answelica, the ferocious goat, clutching the goat’s ear as a comforter.  All the monks are afraid of Answelica, comparing her to a demon, as she bites and has a nasty habit of butting them in the backside sending them flying.

The only thing Beatryce remembers is her name. she has no idea how she got in the barn. When Brother Edik finds out she can read and write he fears for her safety, as it is forbidden for girls to read and write. He shaves her head and disguises her as a young monk. Answelica is her constant companion and protector.

Kate DiCamillo expertly creates her characters with vivid evocative details to vreate an instant image in the reader’s mind, such as Brother Edik’s wandering eye that dances around in its socket and Answelica the goat’s sharp teeth and hard uncompromising head that Beatryce finds comfort in. You are carried through the pages hearing their thoughts, feeling their fears and aspirations. I particularly like the way Kate DiCamillo does not name the antagonists. Throughout the story they are nameless shadows who are hunting Beatryce because of the prophecy documented in the Chronicles of Sorrowing.

The monks are the creators and keepers of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. They record the story of what has happened and things that have not happened yet. The prophecy that was foreseen by Brother Edik and has been previously ignored, states a girl child will come who will unseat a king. This king has been manipulated by an evil counsellor. Beatryce embraces the prophecy and heads off to Castle Abelard to confront the king with the goal of finding her mother. She is joined by a misfit group of characters including Answelica the goat, 12-year-old Jack Dory who had a talent for mimicry, a bee, Brother Edik and Cannoc an old, bearded vagabond who lives inside a tree and claims he used to be king.

The Beatryce Prophecy encompasses the themes of love, courage and determination. It is the ideal book for all KS2 book corners and libraries. A great book to read to the class at the end of the school day.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

You can buy copies of The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackwell from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An Interview with… Chrissie Sains

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.

An Alien in the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

“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 Sains

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.”

Chrissie Sains

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’s sketch of the jam factory and Jenny’s final version 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.”

Chrissie Sains

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.

The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

You can find out more about Chrissie Sains and her Jam Factory series on her website: www.chrissiesains.com, Twitter: @crsains, Instagram: @Chrissie_sains and Facebook: @chrissiesainsauthor.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #236 Sept 2021 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.

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.

Book Review: Lena the Sea and Me

Title: Lena the Sea and Me

Written by: Maria Parr

Translated by: Guy Puzey

Published by: Walker Books

Lena, the Sea and Me

Lena the Sea and Me follows a year of adventures with Trille and his next door neighbour and best friend Lena. To emphasise this Lena the Sea and Me is split into seasons. This book is the much awaited sequel to Maria Parr’s debut novel Adventures with Waffles (also published under the title Waffle Hearts), which was translated into twenty languages and won several awards around the world. Both books are set in Mathildewick Cove in Norway and portray a realistic relationship of the highs and lows of friendship and growing up.

Written from Trille’s point of view we learn a lot about both Trille and his next-door neighbour and best friend Lena’s characters and families. The stage is set for a dramatic year ahead, dark clouds are looming and a horrific storm hits Mathildewick Cove, Norway. Trille and Lena have to fight the elements and their own emotions in that Lena has to wrestle against the new football’s coach sexism and nepotism when she is benched from her position as goalkeeper, even though she is by far the better player and Trille is infatuated with the new girl, Brigit, who has moved into the bay but when his grandfather has a serious injury on his boat, Troll, Lena is there to help him and refuses to let Grandpa or Trille give up hope.

All the characters are well formed and seep under your skin, staying with you long after you have finished the book. The reader feels like they know them and understand them. I would like to read more about the lives of Trille and Lena.

Book Review: Blood Moon

Title: Blood Moon

Written by: Lucy Cuthew

Published by: Walker Books

Blood Moon

An excellent book which I highly recommend. Blood Moon follows astronomy lover Frankie and her experience of period shaming. During her first sexual experience with Benjamin from her class, Frankie’s period starts. They both agree it’s only blood and it isn’t an issue. The next day it is the talk of the school. Frankie believes Benjamin must have been bragging to his friends. Then a graphic meme goes viral turning their private intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. She blames her previously best friend, Harriet, as they recently had a falling out. The online shaming takes on a disturbing life of its own – the meme spreads to other schools, people in town recognise her, she is suspended from her part-time job at the planetarium and she starts to receive abusive and threatening messages. Frankie does not know where to turn or who she can talk to.

The novel is Lucy Cuthew’s debut novel and is written as a poem, which includes messages through social media between friends. Described by Lucy as ‘a verse novel about periods’. There is a very powerful message to all about how people should not made to feel ashamed of their bodies. I found myself laughing and crying along with Frankie as she attempts to navigate her way through the devastation to her life that follows this horrible act of cyber bullying. I particular like the way Lucy puts dialogue and thoughts to the right of the page and friend’s comments to the left and the way she uses onomatopoeic writing to give her words more depth. I also like the metaphor between the forecasted blood moon, which she plans to watch and the turn of events.

The characterisation portrays real teenagers, living very real lives. It shows how friendships can change and teenager’s relationships with their parent’s shift. In my opinion this book should be made essential reading for all pupils to highlight the effects and seriousness of online bullying and would be ideal for discussion in PSHE classes. I look forward to reading Lucy’s next book.

An interview with… Joy Court

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

Joy Court photo

The Carnegie Medal

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

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

Andrew Carnegie

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

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

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

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

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

The Kate Greenaway Medal

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

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


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

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

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

CKG Medal-5948, 16281

2017 winners


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

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

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

UK Literary Association Book Award

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

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

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

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

 Other Awards

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

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

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

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

Joy Court can be found on Twitter: @Joyisreading

An Evening with the Illustrator Axel Scheffler

Many years ago, in 2009, I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Axel Scheffler about his career as an illustrator of children’s picture books, run by the Society of Authors. The meeting was chaired by Ros Asquith.

Axel Scheffler

Axel is one of my favourite all time illustrators. He won his first drawing prize around the age of eight. It was for a picture of a cow. He is originally from Hamburg but, studied at Bath Academy of Art where he got a first class degree.

He told us, the greatest thing about going to art school was having the freedom to draw for three hours and the qualifications opened doors for employment. He has no time to do observational drawings anymore. He has got out of the habit and has been unable to get back into it. Looking and remembering is a skill some people can not do. Picasso and many other artists all used photos. But, Axel claims it is a skill you can train yourself to do. It makes you look more carefully at things. His style he developed himself. But, he is a perfectionist and is not happy with his work on occasions. He divulged how he finds it difficult to draw a succession of events and prefers to tell a story all in one picture.

He showed his portfolio in the mid-80’s to magazines and got regular work for a magazine called Lotus. He would draw anything and would change his drawings when asked. Sometimes he found himself drawing things he did not really understand. He also worked for a German magazine called Zeitmagazin where he did weekly illustrations and illustrated a column for a food writer.

He has also written and illustrated some Pixi Books (or Pixi Bücher) for their 40th Anniversary. He was one of 10 illustrators asked to commemorate the event. They have published over 1,500 identically sized titles, 10x10cm, which are all grouped and numbered in little series with German precision. He likes to do things that are less main stream, but he has less time nowadays. He enjoys illustrating with little pictures on a white background. He still does some work for The Oldie. He thinks as an illustrator he is more popular in Germany than in the UK.

He showed us how when you look at his illustrations over the years you can see his progression from pointy nose characters to softer styles.

The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell was the first book he ever illustrated

Daley B by Jon Blake was the first book he illustrated for Walker Books

Sam: Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root was the second book he illustrated for Walker Books

In 1994, Julia Donaldson was writing songs for Playdays and Axel Scheffler was recommended as the illustrator. He worked on A Squash and a Squeeze. This was his first book with Macmillan. The next book he did with Julia was The Gruffalo, followed by Room on the Broom, Tiddler and The Stick Man, which was nominated for The Roald Dahl Funny book Prize. These books have been translated into 29 languages.

Publishers often do not have the patience to develop illustrators and authors. But, he has worked with Macmillan a long time now and they have moulded him into what they want. There are many people involved in the publication of a picture book. The final product is very influenced by the editor and art director.

The Gruffalo
Usually when he has an idea he ends up sticking with it. But with The Gruffalo cover his original just had a shadow of The Gruffalo, but the editor wanted the main protagonist on the cover so he redrew it. However, in the US they did not want the main protagonist on the cover so he had to draw another one where he hid The Gruffalo partially behind a shrub. This only appeared on the US first edition, the second edition adopted the UK design.

He explained how he had a terrible time getting the skies right because he found it difficult to get the liquid watercolours to do what he wanted. He usually starts his illustrations with liquid watercolours (like ink) drawings a lot smaller than in the book and they get blown up to the right size, which he then works with. He dips a pen into the ink and then colours them with special coloured pencils. He used to do his picture book drawings the same size but, now he does them 90%. He always starts with ink outlines and then colours on top of the inks and rubs in the colours with his fingers. At the end he reinforces the outline with the ink and adds details, such as lines for fur and leaves. Nowadays he is able to ask the publishers to make small alterations in Photoshop but, previously he was only able to change it by hand and then email the new version.

The Smartest Giant in Town
For this book he also drew a totally different front cover, but they wanted something more friendly so he had to rethink.

Rabbit’s Nap (Tales from Acorn Wood)
This is a lift the flap book and Axel loved drawing the little dressed animals

The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs
This was not the first cover design again, as he decided he did not want to metamorphosis the animals. This book is also available as a musical audio CD.

Axel’s advice to aspiring illustrators is to practice hard. He kept a sketch book from the age of about 18 before he started at art college. There is a whole playground of ideas in these sketch books that he has jotted down. Sometimes the sketch books relate to books he is working on. Axel explained how it is nice to look at old sketch books as they bring back memories. But, it is the unpredictability of the whole business that is so lovely about it.

Book review – William Wenton series

Title: William Wenton series

Written by: Bobbie Peers

Published by: Walker Books

The William Wenton series are fast-paced, thrilling fantasy adventures about twelve-year-old codebreaking genius. In book one, William Wenton was nearly kidnapped and taken to the secretive Institute for Post-Human Research to hide out. His parents believe he will be safer there as it was established by his grandfather who disappeared eight years earlier.

His grandfather also has an extraordinary talent for cracking codes and everyone thinks he used these skills to steal the last remaining traces of a strange and powerful substance known as luridium, originally discovered by Abraham Talley. William wants to learn more about Abraham Talley and why Talley thinks he would know anything about where his grandfather hid the luridium, so he breaks into the Institute’s Archives.

An enormous cybernetic robot hunts William down and attacks the Institute. William is taken to the Centre for Misinformation by Fritz Goffman who claims to be a friend of his grandfather. After escaping the Centre for Misinformation, William bumps into Iscia who he met at the Institute. Together they explore the underground tunnels of London on a quest to find his grandfather. But, they are trapped and William has to use all his ingenuity and code-cracking skills in order to escape with no idea who he can trust.

The second book, shows William adapting to his extraordinary talent for cracking codes when an ancient artefact mysteriously disappears from the Depository for Impossible Archaeology. William chases the antagonist from Norway, to England and then to the dizzying heights of the Himalayas. This race-against-time adventure pushes his skills to the limit to stop an ancient portal of untold power being unleashed.

The third book starts with William celebrating his thirteenth birthday when news breaks that Big Ben has suddenly stopped working due to a powerful ancient weapon. A series of codes and puzzle unravel to lead William to a network of long-lost underground tunnels beneath London.

The futuristic steam punk elements in each book will appeal to fans of Alex Rider, Percy Jackson and Peter Bunzl. It is ideal for boys and girls 8+. I was a little disappointed there were no codes to actually break in the story. We are simply told William solves them with his fantastic mind. However, William Wenton and the Luridium Thief, could spark off a multitude of code-breaking activities in the classroom.

These books are exciting page turners, which create vivid images in your mind. The plots are full of twists and turns that will keep young minds active and engaged. The characters are strong and realistic that make you feel for their dilemmas. I enjoyed reading these thrilling action adventures and hope the series continues.

An interview with… Undiscovered Voices

In my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #212 Jun 2019, I discover more about the unique biennial competition for children’s book writers to get their manuscripts in front of agents and publishers.

UV photo

Undiscovered Voices is run by volunteers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and sponsored by fiction book packager Working Partners. The competition is open for submissions on the 1st June 2019. The winners will be included in the 7th anthology out in 2020. The anthology will  be sent to every agent and publishers in the world of children’s books in the UK and US. It is also available as a free download from www.undiscoveredvoices.com.


The feature contains excellent advice and tips for children’s authors who are considering entering the competition from each of the UK volunteer organisers: Catherine Coe, Jenny Glencross, Benjamin Scott, Simon James Green, Rosie Best and Sara Grant.

“Undiscovered Voices is not just a competition, but a supportive and friendly community. The UV team are aware it feels like an intimidating process, but want people to be reassured that the publishing industry is essentially just full of people who love books and who want nothing more than to discover new writers. Everyone is rooting for you to be successful.” UV team

The judges for the 2020 anthology are:

This is such an excellent opportunity for unagented and unpublished children’s authors. Don’t miss it.

An interview with… Nicola Davis

For my Research Secrets, column in February 2009, I interviewed children’s natural history book writer, Nicola Davis.


Nicola’s skill is writing narrative non-fiction in a way young children will understand. She has written several books in the Walker Read and Wonder series, including Big Blue Whale, One Tiny Turtle and Ice Bear. She has also written science books for older children, including Poo a Natural History of the Unmentionable, Extreme Animals and Who’s Eating You – a book about parasites.


“I love my subject so research is a pleasure. Also, research gives me ideas for HOW to approach a subject, as well as providing the WHAT part. Writing a book makes you ask two questions: What am I going to write and HOW am I going to write it. Research a BIT to give you some of the WHAT of your book; then write an outline to give you the HOW, which will help you generate the right questions to ask to get all the rest of the WHAT.” Nicola Davis

Nicola has spent most of her life studying animals in one way or another so she is aware research doesn’t fall into a particular category. Much of the material that goes into her books is stuff she already knows. She explains she just needs to top up some of her general knowledge with a bit of Googling and library work.

She tries not to write about animals or habitats that she hasn’t seen but her work as a wildlife researcher, tour guide and TV presenter in all sorts of places certainly helps. She has visited animals in Newfoundland, Alaska, Kenya, Madagascar, Australia, Tobago – much of that time she is sailing on board various sorts of boats from 25 foot wooden sail boats to cruise ships. 

“I often use New Scientist and other more specialised scientific journals, plus a large library of zoological reference on my own shelves. It depends entirely on the project….For Ice Bear I knew most of the polar bear stuff but wanted more about polar bears and Inuit culture and both books and Internet were good for that. For Extreme Animals I collected likely material from trawling New Scientist and other journals for about six months before I put the book together.” Nicola Davis

Her aim is to show children that science isn’t a stone tablet… so if there is controversy over something, or an area where we just don’t know, she strongly believes it’s exciting, interesting and VITAL to say so.

Some information is simply too big and complex for young children. They need a background of other knowledge to understand it. Nicola’s text may not be able to deliver all of the tricky concepts, but it can, by subtle suggestion and association, prepare their minds to receive it later. For example, bat echolocation is fabulously complex, making use of frequency modulation and Doppler Effect in ways that science is only just beginning to fully understand. This is way too much for a young child, but the essence of the idea can be carried very simply:

“…bat shouts as she flies, louder than a hammer blow, higher than a squeak. She beams her voice around like a torch, and the echoes come singing back. They carry a sound picture of all her voice has touched.” (Nicola Davis from Bat Loves the Night, Walker Books 2001, page 14

It isn’t the whole story, but it’s true, accurate and lays the right foundation. Also and perhaps more importantly, it gives a feeling, an atmosphere of what is going on during echolocation; it imparts to the reader a basic emotional understanding of the facts.

You can read the full interview in the February 2009 #89 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find more information about Nicola Davis, her books and her writing at: www.nicola-davies.com