I’m getting ready for that event, on Saturday, in Bath.


Getting a few pictures together.   A shot or two of model villages I love this one – Huven, geddit?


Making some miniature cakes perhaps – anyone like cake?


If you’re there – you’ll get to join in.

If not.

You don’t get any cake.

Memory and character.

The long hot summer (what?) is over, and the autumn is sneaking back with mist and rotting apples, and I’m cleaning out the house again.  Like some feral creature that chucks everything out of the nest with its back legs, I throw our lives into the garden in the hope that some of it might grow wings and fly away.  I’ve managed to fill three boxes with books for the Siobhan Dowd trust, another, for the school library.  I’ve got boxes of very eccentric things for the Cats and Dogs home shop in Frome, and clothes and more books for Oxfam.  All of this makes me feel lighter and freer and generally better.

We’ve also had no access to the internet for a fortnight, which has made me lighter, and freer and clearer – and it’s given me a better sense of what I actually need, which is not so very much.

But there are things I just can’t pass on.  Some books, some toys, some objects that I don’t really love but I loved the people who gave them to me.  Or perhaps I didn’t love them enough.


This Royal Doulton Shepherdess for example. I don’t like her – I wouldn’t look at her twice, but she belonged to my grandma, a woman with whom I was in conflict until the day she died.  We got on so badly, that she once accused me of thinking of her as an ogre.  She was right, I did.  How a woman of such margarine solidity could have prized this mauve confection and what relationship they had I could not understand.  She would often talk about her time in India, as a beautiful young woman covered in lace and parasols, but that trembling creature was  well hidden by the time Grandma and I were doing regular bad tempered Friday night dates.  By the time I knew her, Grandma was enormous, and wore strange undergarments of immense size and structure –  of course as an adult, I know she wasn’t born that way.  I see that she became like that through years of loveless marriage and living as a kind of accessory to other people’s lives.

But when I was 10, Grandma was my nemesis.  Had George’s Marvellous Medicine arrived when I was young enough to read it, I could have sympathised.

I regret to say that I didn’t mourn her when she died, just heaved a sigh of relief.  But now I rather wish I’d got to know her although if I had, she wouldn’t be such a key resource to me.

Recently she’s become a character of great complexity that I like to revisit .  Because she died when I was 16 all my memories of her are from my childhood and my angry adolescence.  Wherever I remember her being, has to come from before 1979.  The way she spoke, her views (all utterly unPC) her attitudes to children.  Her superstitions. But more importantly, as a children’s writer it’s my view of her that’s really precious.  Uncoloured by maturity and an understanding of the many shades of grey that make up real life, it’s like a shot of pure child, that I can give myself over and over again.   It’s a box of righteous indignation, fury, unreasonable ideology, raw emotion that has lurked deep in my memory for all these years.

I wouldn’t want to let it out, except on paper, but it’s damn handy to have it there, hidden away.

That, I suspect, is why I hang onto the blasted shepherdess.

My vice – bookshops.

When I was a kid, my dad would pause on the street outside Rediffusion in Winchester and watch the cricket or the football through the window. (Rediffusion is a long since dead television shop which rented out Video players. It was the Apple store of my teenage years)  Sometimes Dad would even watch final score through the window.  I would tug at his sleeve and drag him away.  I’m sure there were lots of less lucky children who had to drag their parents away from pubs, but in our case, the vice was TV sport. He spent hours and hours watching it, and I never understood the attraction.

Last weekend I walked through Winchester with my daughter.  I paused outside a shop, a bookshop, Well’s Bookshop in College Street, desperate to look at the windows, really desperate to go in, but she tugged at my sleeve and dragged me away.

I think it’s my vice, and I suspect that my daughter, will never understand it.

Tiny Free festival for children and their books….


This weekend in the tiny town of Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, something kind of remarkable is happening.  A teeny weeny free book festival for children.  It’s the brainchild of Anna Wilson and Alex Campbell – and it’s grown – only a little to include me, Angie Morgan, Maudie Smith, Catherine Bruton (AKA Cate Shearwater) and actually, Jeremy Strong.

It works on a first come first served ticket basis – Jeremy Strong is booked out, but there’s a waiting list, the workshop on Saturday afternoon is almost full, but there are still some tickets available for Maudie Smith (little children’s event in the morning, 7+ totally fab event in the afternoon) Cate Shearwater (gymtastic stuff at middayish) Angie Morgan (Stories for the very small at middayish) and a REALLY BRILLIANT PANEL EVENT on Friday night.  This has Anna Wilson, Gary Parker (writer of Millie Inbetween) Catherine Bruton and Alex Campbell all chaired by Maudie, blethering away about the tricky business of writing for young people.  If you are remotely interested in writing for young people, this event is for you.  Actually, if you’re interested in writing for anyone, this event is for you. For further details check out the BOAMBF website, to reserve tickets, ring the library 01225 863280 or email them :

See you there – I’ll be building model villages and building stories and generally getting in the way.

The Longshoremen and SUNK!

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I grew up with the stories of longshoremen.  My father, during his summer holidays in the 1930s was a longshoreman’s boy on the beach in Shanklin Isle of Wight. From what is now a pub on the beach, he lugged small boats and hefted out deckchairs and rented them out during long summer days. The bathing machines had only just been rolled into retirement, women still wore skirts into the sea, and for a boy who had spent his childhood in grim boarding schools, it seemed a charmed and sun flilled place.

Years later, as a 1960s family, we holidayed in the island. Not in the deckchair zone but on the huge majestic beaches of the west wight, where fossils adorned the sandcastles and long breakers meant hours of feeble but hugely enjoyable body surfing.

When my own children were the right age, we took a cottage near Steephill Cove, possibly the loveliest of all the deckchair paradises and became aware of the elderly longshoreman, Mr Wheeler who still hired out the deckchairs.  Nothing in his world is remotely chaotic, it’s all beautifully organised, but it got me wondering about the possibilities.

What if the deckchairs turned on the people? What if the windbreaks trashed the sandcastles? What if everyone in authority pretended there was nothing wrong?

I took this idea and plugged it into the world of SHRUNK! and SUNK! was born. It’s summer, well, English summer, and things are going wrong on the beach, but no-one wants to know  – so Tom, Eric, Jacob and even Tilly get involved in a desperate battle against the marauding beach furniture, rescuing the town from an uncertain future.

It’s out on June 4th – along with a completely redesigned set of brothers and sisters – with a new illustrator who is the fabulously talented Ross Collins (he can really draw.)

Although SUNK! is the last in the series – it can be read entirely on its own.


Best books according to adults? or Best Books for Children?

There’s been a great deal of discussion around the ten (or 11 or 21) best children’s books of all time recently.  You can see some discussion here, here and here.

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Now recently, I came upon this lot, in a cupboard in my mother’s house. These books were mine (see how many Puffins there were) and it doesn’t include all the books that I’d previously plundered and brought to my grown up books shelves. So if you add in the rest of the Narnias, the Joan Aikens, the Moomins, the Case of the Silver Egg, Stig of the Dump and plenty of random others, it’s heading for about 50 books that I owned, and HUNG ON TO.

Then – Add in all the fantastic books that have come since…

How can there possibly be only ten?  Well it’s obvious that there can’t.  Any more than there can be the 10 best paintings of all time – who do you throw out – Michelangelo, or Rothko? Or the 10 best films, or the 10 best songs.

If I had to rescue the 10 best children’s books from a burning library I’d burn with it. And anyway what makes a book the best?  Some of the classics are really hard work – some of them, some children, simply can’t relate to now.  They don’t all actually want to read Little Women, or Little House on the Prairie – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still stands up really well, but it may not in 10 years.

So they might have been the best children’s books of 1950 – 1980 but they aren’t the best children’s books of now. It’s impossible. It’s silly. And it stops parents searching outside the carefully selected box.

It’s like my husband’s book club which is trying to read only ‘Good’ books and has come unstuck with some almost unreadable Nobel prize winning books.

I think it all needs to be more random, more instinctive.  Who bought me ‘The Cave Twins’ by Lucy Fitch Perkins? Or the Chesterfield Gold by Roger Pilkington? Someone who wasn’t checking things off a list as both books seem forgotten now.  Who bought the first Moomin book for us? I’m guessing it was someone who liked the covers.  Who threw the first Dr Syn book at me? Not a person looking at high brow fiction that’s for sure.


But all these books made me, built me into a reader, a writer, a critic.

So can we stop having to have 10 best? Even 20 Best?  Even 100 best?

Can’t we just have books that children want to read?

Spring – springeth and I wanted snow.

I’m writing this book.

Well to be fair, I’m always writing a book.

But this one’s about snow – and there hasn’t been any.  It is kind of chilly, and without socks my feet are seeking out the patches of sunlight on the rug, but there’s definitely been a shortage of snow round these parts.

I so thought it would happen.  I’ve left all the snowy scenes to write, assuming that at some point it would plump out of the sky and turn the countryside black and white, which was very lazy of me, I know.  But I wanted to hear the crunch. Measure the resistance as I place my foot.  See how the sheep look – all that stuff.

But as a writer, I’m used to this.

Usually, I’m in the freezing cold, trying to feel hot sand burning the soles of my feet, or imagining sunlight on fresh grass.  Generally, I find myself trying to recreate the smell of deckchairs, or ice cream, or sun cream.

But that’s what our imaginations are for.

Snow. In the sunshine.


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