Author Archives: Fleur Hitchcock

About Fleur Hitchcock

Gardener and writer of adventurous tales for 7 - 14 year olds. Books include SHRUNK, DEAR SCARLETT, MURDER IN MIDWINTER, BUS STOP BABY and THE TROUBLE WITH MUMMIES.

My own experience of Bookbuzz

I’ve been lucky enough to have three books picked for the Booktrust’s Bookbuzz programme.  Dear Scarlett in 2013, Murder in Midwinter in 2017, and now Bus Stop Baby in 2018.  The scheme is for children entering secondary school, and is all about choice and reading for pleasure.  Schools buy into it at a subsidised cost of £3 per pupil – and the children get to choose a book to keep from a selection of carefully selected titles.

Each time my books have been part of the scheme, I’ve done stacks of school visits and have seen first hand the effect of choice and ownership.   I’ve  signed battered copies of Bookbuzz books that a child has read over and over – because it is the only book that they own.   I’ve met kids who don’t read but who have found in the Bookbuzz selection something that chimed with them – because they found it themselves.  I’ve found that school libraries that haven’t got many books and have been poorly funded are enriched by the selection that they automatically get.  I’ve noticed that schools that do Bookbuzz often seem to put reading for pleasure at the heart of their ethos.

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If you are a secondary school teacher, librarian or parent – do look it up, here – you can sign up until the end of this month.

And actually, year 6 students can do it too.

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When a book leaves home.

I’ve been lucky enough to have books sold into translation – and often, once published, you hear nothing more until a finished copy arrives – a finished copy I can’t read because I don’t speak the language.  I stroke the covers, stumble over the words, and put them alongside others on my Babel shelf. But over there in Poland, they’ve been very busy making these tiny animated adverts – taking Robert Ball’s terrific artwork and turning them into mini trailers, that make perfect sense to me, without language barriers.

I, for one, am impressed.

Here’s the first, for Murder in Midwinter (love the footsteps – and the psycho music)

 

And now they’ve done this one – for Saving Sophia (the plait’s my fave bit)

 

Both books are available, in Poland, in Polish through Zielona Sowa   Green Owl, publishers.

Going forwards, looking backwards.

A year and a month or so, ago, Murder in Midwinter was published. It was my first intentional attempt at a thriller for children and in the last year, it’s proved a thrilling ride for me.

In that time it’s been shortlisted for several awards, including the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award, Best Crime Novel for children, the Salford children’s book award, and back in May, it won the Leeds Children’s Book Award 9 – 12s.

It’s spawned a murder mystery hunt that I put together for libraries and bookshops (you can enjoy me and it in action December 2nd, Gloucester Waterstones) It’s had some lovely reviews, and sent me to masses of schools to talk about exciting writing – and reading on the edge of your seat.

And, it’s been on the Booktrust Bookbuzz programme which has meant that tens of thousands of eleven year olds across the country have chosen Murder in Midwinter as their free book to keep from a list of 17 titles.  Over 900 schools joined the programme, more than one hundred thousand children have benefitted and although the books don’t have all the sparkles of their bookshop sisters, they have every word of their stories.  This wonderful scheme has meant many more school visits, some stretching away into 2018/2019 – and a bit of a rethink about the books I write.

No-one, especially not me, thought Murder in Midwinter would be so popular with 11/12 year olds – so the the next book, the one I’m writing right now, is going to be just as thrilling, just as real, and this time, based on actual things that actually happened in my childhood.murder

I won’t say any more right now.

Murder mystery, not a thriller.

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It’s my fault, really – I said I’d do a murder mystery in the library – well I love Cluedo, who doesn’t? So now I’m writing one and it’s so different from writing a thriller.

It seems that while one part of my brain is trying to extricate two children from certain death, the other is tying puzzle knots, making sure that no loose end is left hanging.

Come and join me in Salisbury library on Friday, 11.00 to see how I did, and I can see how you do with my clues.

You don’t need to book – drop in any time from 11 – 1

Part of the Salisbury Lit Fest.

 

Trying on the new coat

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In my former life in retail – I loved this time of year. New shiny things arrived in boxes, new boots were put on sandalled summer feet, the shop windows of Bath took on a serious gloss, and every now and again, I would search for a new coat.

I would try them on. Wearing my sunny brown face I would stand in front of mirrors trying to imagine myself midwinter pale, hunched from the cold.  They smelled new and different and of other people, other shops. I wanted to fit them, but they needed to fit me.

Well now I just wear the same old rubbish day after day and some of those coats look at me from the wardrobe as if to ask what they did wrong? Why don’t I love them any more?

The answer is that I have new coats now.  Ones that come out of my head. It’s not just a coat, it’s a whole person I try on.  Just as I would walk back and forth over the shop floor getting myself into the right jacket – now I flex my shoulders into a voice.

Does it fit me? Can I keep it going?

Does it fit the story? Will it be the right way to tell the story?

I’m trying a new voice just now.  We’re still in the changing room. I might try her in a different colour.

She might not make it.

But then again.

She might.

 

The things we do for love…

 

GillLewisTwo-79-1024x683For the last two years, a bunch of possibly insane local authors have pulled together to put on an absolutely free, absolutely sensational, mini book festival for children in the tiny town of Bradford on Avon.

Bradford is a bit of a gem. Tiny, perfectly formed, in every way perfect but for a road cutting it in two. However, it has two very precious resources, a library, staffed by fantastic knowledgeable librarians, and a tiny bookshop a melange of old and new, set in the middle of the incredibly visitable shambles.

In order to keep both, and to help the children and parents of the town access both, it seemed like a good idea to run the festival the first time, and again, the second – and now, the third, approaches.

This time we have two uber, special guests.  The sensational Gill Lewis, this time talking about puppies but I’m sure up for digression into her books for older readers, including A story Like the Wind – AND we’ve also nabbed David Solomons, the author of the My Brother is A Superhero books.  Both are doing events, both will have books to sign, places to sit and chat.  And both are completely free – although you need to reserve tickets.

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There will also be lots of other things going on, including menagerie making with me and Ian McKay, a long read of Matilda, and a stack of events you can find here

In fact – you could fill your day in an utterly delightful way.   All for nothing.

Literary prizes or page turners?

jan12-006.jpgThere’s been some chat on #UKMGchat about prizes and genre and whether people would rather win a prize with a “literary” novel, or get books into the hands of children because the book has mass appeal.

You can find the thread, here.

By coincidence I went to a CILIP unconference (read all about it here)  on Saturday in Keynsham, where the criteria behind the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals were discussed.

Something that emerged from that is that Middle Grade (oh how I hate that expression) despite driving much of the children’s book market, often doesn’t make it on to the short lists, because much of it doesn’t have the quality of writing that YA has.

I have to confess, I bridled a little at that.

It was suggested that younger children can’t always access more difficult vocabulary, or abstract concepts, but a one time judge of the Carnegie replied that past winners had included Middle Grade – Alan Garner for the Owl Service, Frank Cottrell Boyce for Millions and  Philip Reeve for Here Lies Arthur, so it was possible to create quality fiction for younger readers.

Another thing that was said by the two Carnegie judges present was that the aim of the prize was to bring books of great merit, that wouldn’t necessarily make it onto the WH Smith’s top ten, to the attention of parents, teachers, librarians and of course, children.

I don’t think this is exclusive to the Carnegie. It is, I think, is the aim of many of the children’s book prizes that are run across the country. I don’t know about them all, but often they are chosen by librarians and then ultimately judged by children.  Sometimes they contain the same books that are in heaps on the tables of Waterstones, but often there are quieter books. Books we haven’t seen all over twitter and that aren’t suggested by Amazon algorithms.  This way, children get to read a more diverse selection, that isn’t just David Walliams or Roald Dahl.

I would suggest, that it is possible to write a book that is both popular, and prize winning.  So it appeals to the gatekeepers, and the children.  I think Millions probably did that.

This I think should really be the aim of all writers for children.  A page turner isn’t enough, we should all aspire to write something of literary merit.  But a prize winner that no-one wants to read isn’t enough either.

The books we write should try to do both.