Monthly Archives: December 2012

A visit to Storytellers Inc

DSCF4254I spent last Thursday and Friday in the company of the phenomenon that is Storytellers Inc.  A jewel of a bookshop in the genteel town of St Anne’s on Sea – Storytellers Inc is the dynamic production of mother and daughter team, Carolyn and Katie Clapham.  I say dynamic, because Storytellers Inc doesn’t just sell children’s books, if it just did that, it might not survive.  It runs several book clubs, for children and teenagers and even a Crossover bookclub. This week they’re holding a Christmas party for all their bookclubs, they’re all reading A Christmas Carol followed by an evening of mince pies and music.

This year, they’ve also brought out this fantastic calendar – only £10, with original drawings by top illustrators.


And just recently – Katie has started “Cool books for School”  – a small selection of books for different age groups that she takes into schools. Once the children have been introduced to a book, Katie goes in and runs creative writing sessions, encouraging a creative response to the stories, discussing things that have arisen from reading the text – making it all FUN!

I got to visit Storytellers Inc because Katie chose SHRUNK! as one of her “cool books for schools” – Not only did I get to visit the bookshop, Katie and her mum arranged for me to visit five fantastic schools and meet more than 400 children in two days.  Katie came too, handling all the book orders, and there were loads.  The children all knew about the book – some of them had even read it, they asked good questions, they were interested and interesting, they were excited by my book, by the Story Adventure and by books in general!  They were prepared, they were keen, their teachers were keen –  they were a gift to a travelling author – mainly thanks to Katie’s enthusiasm.

So what’s in it for Katie and her mum?  Apart from their evident love of books, this outreach exercise means that all the children in the area see Storyteller’s Inc as the number one place to buy books AND that they see the whole process of books and reading as FUN!


So Booksellers take note – if you want children to come to you to buy books – you may actually have to go to them first – otherwise it’s just too easy for them to go online and either ignore books altogether or buy them from the invisible monster that is Amazon.

It’s really not surprising that Katie won Young Bookseller of the Year 2012 – There’s a lot to beat for anyone who wants to win it in 2013.


Going forwards looking backwards.

I’m fifty – it’s old enough to look back with some bittersweet regret, and look forward with some good intentions. It’s the age my father was when three of his heroes (and he had a lot of heroes), Maurice Chevalier, Louis Armstrong and Margaret Rutherford, all died, and I remember him brimming with nostalgia and talking about The Lady Vanishes –  putting on his Louis Armstrong records and singing snatches of Gigi. They were all figures from his youth –  they reminded him of being young – and for that alone, he loved them.

This autumn and in particular this week, several significant figures from my youth have died.  None of them I would have immediately cited as influences, but I realised as I read their obituaries that they all shaped my interests – that they changed the way I was, I am, I will be.

Alex Moulton?  With that first bicycle, a golden Moulton Mini, I gained my freedom.

Nina Bawden?  With her books, she taught me so much about storytelling, with her committment she showed me the value of writing for children and by her actions let me feel the warmth and excitement of direct contact with an author.


And Patrick Moore?  He taught me and so many others to look up…


Even thinking about them, makes me feel 10 years young again.

The Story Adventure ventures forth…

So today – The Story Adventure is slipping out into the world –

Somewhere further back through my blogs, you should find one about “Cement and the end user“.  Unlikely as it seems that was the birth of the project now kicking off at Hot Key Towers.

In it, I pondered about the input that children had in the books they read.  Very little, I decided – and yet they have such totally wonderful ideas.

Before I built that wall, and used the cement mixer – I used to help with something called The Write Team, which was an initiative from Bath Festivals Trust, all about bringing “invisible” children out into the discussion space, and getting them to express themselves through creative writing.   We used ideas from poets and writers, including Helen Cross, Mandy Coe and Cliff  Yates.  Cliff suggested a very simple activity. On a long strip of paper a child writes an object on the left, and its function on the right.  Then you tear the paper in half and mix up all the objects and all the functions:

We ended up with some classics –

A hamster is something you cook things in.
Katie Perry is something you spread with jam
A fridge is a time travelling machine.

(I stole the last idea)  – It came from a boy who wasn’t interested in Katie Perry and ovens. A boy who liked to draw pictures as much as write, so when asked for an object and a function,  he drew a picture of a box and then wrote next to it  “- is a time travelling machine.”

It made the exercise take off – it made all the kids think of wilder and more wonderful things, and as a result they came up with the best stories ever.

This is what we hope the Story Adventure can do – give vent to those imaginations, let children come up with random ideas that they DON’T have to spell properly, give children some ownership, and give them something to read that they REALLY want.

It’s open to children everywhere, and they don’t have to pay to join in.  The site is safe, and open.

Check it out now:

The Story Adventure









A 70s Christmas in the rural suburbs.


I never woke terribly early on Christmas day – it didn’t seem worth it – apart from anything else, our house was freezing.

I would wait until tea appeared in my parent’s bedroom, and I could play a guessing game with mum about the presents in my stocking – she would pretend Father Christmas had left them there, I would pretend I believed her – this would go on for slightly too long, but was absolutely the best bit of the day.  My sister might appear, or might just stay asleep until the last possible moment.  I don’t remember my brother ever being there.

Then the food part started.

My mother is not a great cook.  She’s not even a middle grade, semi competent cook (my personal category)  so the rest of the day was spent staggering from one potential source of food poisoning to another.  My father, who couldn’t cook either, wasn’t exactly mean but prided himself on finding the cheapest possible turkey (12p per pound in Woolworths – frozen).  He would bring back his prize, slightly too close to Christmas to defrost.  At about ten, Mum would turn the erratic electric oven on to full power and incinerate the outer layers of the turkey, leaving the frozen centre – raw – all this accompanied by Buck’s Fizz , distorted music on the record player and a thick blanket of smoke that grew all day from our inefficient fireplace.

At about 1 o’clock, my grandmother came in from her flat next door and sat hopefully at the dining room table, awaiting the lunch.  At 2, she tapped her watch and mentioned the remains of a Fray Bentos pie that she could have had. By 3 we’d plied her with enough Bristol Cream to stop her caring.

At 4 we ate soggy sprouts, raw turkey, raw sausages, burned potatoes, powdered bread sauce and loads and loads of gravy.  After lunch, Mum would remember the box of crackers we didn’t use last year and we’d wait while she looked for it, failed to find it and came back down with two recycled paper hats from the year before.  My father would light the Christmas pudding (bought), my mother would find a pot of long life cream with a fine crust of mould on top, scrape off the mould and pour the lumpy remainder into a silver jug.

Washing up took almost as long as cooking the meal.

At five we crammed Christmas cake (bought) into our stomachs, still churning with the raw turkey.

At six, we opened any remaining presents in the half light of the Christmas tree.

At Seven, Grandma, might play a couple of tunes on the “old Joanna” and warble a carol or two with another sherry and a mince pie (made by her with mouthwatering lard filled pastry – and Macfisheries mincemeat).


At eight – we watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special.

At nine, Grandma went home and we heaved a collective sigh of relief.

At ten, we ate cold things, particularly beetroot and bread sauce.

At 11 – I went to bed, closely followed by Dad, who would whistle happily from his bedroom, no doubt relieved that he’d survived another Christmas.

By midnight the house was quiet and the magic had gone.