Friday, 31 December 2010

Goodbye 2010

As I am writing this, the sun is just starting to go down on the last day of 2010.

I have never been a fan of New Year.  I don't like the idea that we are leaving an old year behind, never to see it again.  It is quite a sad time, really... but this time I will be quite glad to say goodbye to 2010.  It hasn't been the best year, yet amongst all the darker days, there were also some sparkling diamonds, and those days are the ones I want to remember most.

The highlight of my year was definitely seeing Wintercraft in print.  Since then I have enjoyed reading all of your comments here on my blog, I've received wonderful emails from readers, and met some of you face to face at signings and school visits.  It has been a real rollercoaster and I want to thank everyone who has read this blog over the past 12 months.  It has been a pleasure to get to know all of you, and I look forward to chatting with you more over the coming months. 

I have a feeling that 2011 is going to be a great year.

I hope you'll pop back and visit now and again. 2010 may be over, but a new world of possibility starts here.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas Tree 2010

Here's a quick picture to show off the sparkliness that is our 2010 Christmas tree.


I hope you are all having a wonderful December!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Winter & Wintercraft

It is still freezing outside, icy snow is thick on the ground, and feeding the local birds has almost become a full time job now they are struggling in the cold.  An old starling who isn't strong enough to fly with the others is taking shelter in our garden shed, and crows have started visiting our tables to take away suet and grated cheese.

Most of the smaller birds are happy to flutter about and wrestle over the seed, but our resident robin does not like being watched by a regular feline visitor.

Whenever cat and bird meet there is a tense face-off.

The robin stares down the cat, chirps at him and hops up to within paw-swiping distance.  The cat looks confused at the sight of a tiny bird strutting aggressively forward when it should be flying away, but this feisty robin is not to be trifled with.  She is very happy to show the cat who is in charge.  She chases him - wings flapping - until he clambers away over the wall, then stands guard, watching him slink grumpily away. 

Our garden has acquired a little red-breasted guardian, and she is taking her job very seriously indeed.

This week was also a good week for book news as Wintercraft has been longlisted in the children's category of the People's Book Prize!

The People's Book Prize finalists are chosen by readers who vote for their favourite longlisted book online.  So if you enjoyed the book and would like to cast a vote, you could help carry it through to the final stage.

To see the nominated books, click here.  All you need is your name and email address to register on the website, then click on the book cover, fill in your details and mark the voting box on Wintercraft's featured page.  Voting closes on February 28th 2011.
Can Wintercraft make it to the final?

Now it's time for me to pull on my boots and feed the feathered garden-dwellers with jugs of suet and seed.

Don't forget to put food and water out for the birds in your garden this winter.
Our feathered friends need all the help they can get.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snapsnots Of My Snowy World

The snow here is getting thicker and showing no sign of melting away.

Our resident robin is more than happy to pose for pictures whenever a camera is in sight.


Nella doesn't know quite know what to make of it all.


Maisie is enjoying rolling about and digging holes in the snow piles.


The local pigeons wait patiently on the roof, hoping to snaffle some seed...



...and the world is a wonderfully white, wintery place.


Is it snowing where you are?


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Winter Has Arrived

Today I've been out walking my dogs in the November snow.
It's freezing out there!


There are children on sledges trundling along the paths and dog walkers' dogs are all dressed in their finest outdoor gear.

Nella went out in her red jumper and tartan coat, but she was not impressed by the cold and is glad to be back home again.


 
We made it home just before another snowfall, so now it is time to curl up by the fire with a hot chocolate and warm my toes.

Stay snuggly everyone!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Bookshops

When I think of bookshops, I think of tall shelves, dim lights and rows of books that curl into secret dusty corners where new worlds lie ready to be discovered.  They should be quiet and peaceful: a place to wander around and lose yourself in the adventures and knowledge that sit there waiting for you to carry them away.

When I visit a bookshop, you are unlikely to see me again for at least an hour or two.  During that time I will have stalked along my favourite shelves and scrutinised dozens of potential purchases before finally reemerging with arms full of fresh new books ready to take their place on my shelves back home.

But books are not the only interesting thing that you can find within their walls.

Buying from a good bookshop is a unique experience.  Every book is different.  Two books may be placed next to each other, but they might have very little in common and it takes time to choose the right one.  I like watching people as they browse, and most people I have seen fall into three distinct groups.
 
The Grumbler
These people look angry as they scour the shelves, frustratedly hunting for the perfect book while being painfully aware of their precious time ticking away.  They huff and grumble with every book they slide back into place, treating book hunting as a battle to be won, and once they have made their choice they stride off to the counter with a victorious strut.

The Cloud
Others - me included - like to float and drift, selecting books, carrying a few with them and seeing how they feel.  Clouds stay away from the cold 'chart section' and settle in the far-flung corners where (as every good book browser knows) the best stories are usually found.  They sink into the worlds they sample as they wander and can linger there for hours at a time.  

The Guided Missile
Then there are the guided missiles.  These shoppers enter the shop at speed with a list gripped tightly in their hand.  They are on a mission.  Nothing will distract them from that mission, and if they can recruit an unsuspecting shop assistant to help them locate the targets on their list, so much the better.  These shoppers are advocates of the snatch and grab technique.  They thrive upon the neat alphabetical nature of modern bookshops and choose their purchases with precision.  If a title is not written on their list, it does not go in the bag.  No substitutions, no alternatives.  Within five minutes their work there is done and the assistant is left looking slightly ruffled and windswept as if a tornado has just blown through the shop.    

There are many other types out there, but spend five minutes in any bookshop and you will see one of these three.  It is almost guaranteed.

Many people buy their books online these days and bookshops everywhere are becoming emptier and quieter.  Smaller shops have been forced to close their doors.  Traditional booksellers are a dying breed and it will be a shame if these havens are one day lost for good in the age of digital e-books and online shopping.

Where is the fun in that?

Bookshops are a perfect melting pot of people from all walks of life: from the teenager in the Star Wars t-shirt to the businesswoman buying a book on dog training and the kitchen wizard stocking up on cookery books.

Next time you are browsing along the shelves, take a look at the people nearby and ask yourself, would your paths have crossed anywhere else?  Every face is a story, every shopper is helping that little bookshop stay alive, and each one of them is different. 

Enjoy your bookshop, however often you use it, and in the meantime ask yourself...

Which kind of book shopper are you?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Behold!
The gruesome creatures that are haunting my Hallowe'en this year.


The skull is my minion and the werewolf was summoned by my brother.
Fear them, mortals... for they are watching you.
Mwa-HAHA-haaaaaaaa.......!

Monday, 25 October 2010

October Update

October is always a busy month.

No matter what year it is, or what I am doing at the time, October always seems to be particularly hectic, and this year has been no exception.

The most exciting part of the month was taking part in Writepath 2010: a fantastic international event where pupils from different schools around the world take a starting paragraph written by an author and add their own paragraph to the story before passing it on.  I was invited to submit a paragraph and I had great fun following the submissions online as they were made throughout the day.

My story began with a boy finding a dead angel in the woods and grew into a mini-adventure filled with plenty of peril, a zombie and a centaur! The young writers who worked on all of the stories did a brilliant job.  You can read the story I began here, and you can find all the other stories here on the Writepath website.

Congratulations to everyone who took part!

In book news...
Since my last blog post I have finished off the final edits to Blackwatch.  Hurrah! This book has been so exciting to work on and it is almost ready to be set loose!  Also this month, I've spent time tweaking and pampering the US draft of Wintercraft so it can hold its papery head high on bookshop shelves across the Atlantic.

BUT!  Like so many things that change in the transition between the UK & the US, Wintercraft must also adapt, and so it will be known there under a new name.  Since it has emerged online over the past few weeks, I've had some emails asking me if it is book 3 in the series available for early pre-order, but no - it is still Wintercraft: Book 1 in (a rather beautiful) hardback bearing a new name.

And that name shall be...

Shadowcry: The Secrets of Wintercraft.

Here it is on Amazon.com, complete with its new look.  The US release date is currently 21st June 2011 - the Summer Solstice (which pleases me immensely).  I have printed posters of both the UK & US covers on my office wall and I'm very happy to have both of them looking down on me as I type away at book 3.

And finally...
As I post this, Hallowe'en is less than a week away.  As a fan of all things spooky and sinister I am - of course! - looking forward to it.  All that is missing is the perfect pumpkin upon which I can unleash my creative carving skills!

If I manage to find one, I may even post the results here on the blog.  Ye be warned!

What are you planning for this Hallowe'en?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

For The Love Of Trees

I love spending time in the garden.  When I need to think or read, or just relax, I often head out there and sit underneath the trees, listening to the birds and watching my dogs wandering through the plants in search of cat trails.  My garden has thirteen mature trees in it, along with a selection of young fruit trees and some rowan saplings grown from fallen berries.  I  enjoy being near them and if I could have my own little patch of woodland to wander around I would be a very happy woman.

Other people clearly do not feel the same way.

Yesterday, one of my neighbours cut down a beautiful bronze-leafed cherry tree that was planted in that garden long before he moved in.  Blue tits, goldfinches and greenfinches often nested in it. Blackbirds and thrushes ate the cherries.  The tree itself looked beautiful in any weather and it was always the first to become covered in white blossom in Spring. 
Now it is a stump.

Over the past few years I have seen neighbours cut down conifer trees, rowan trees and cherry trees of different kinds.  Many of them seem to want a plain patch of grass in their gardens and the trees are just getting in the way.
I think that is very sad.

If everyone who had gardens large enough grew a few trees the air would be cleaner, insects and birds would thrive and gardens would be beautiful, instead of bland boring spaces of trampled grass.  The trees on my land are home to wood pigeons, dunnocks, chaffinches, greenfinches, blue tits, coal tits, doves, wrens and sparrows, even the odd woodpecker.  They house countless insects - including many solitary bees - and a colony of bats has roosted among them for years.

If you are thinking of taking down a tree, please consider the wildlife that may already be using it.  Or if you have space, why not think about planting a few of your own?  Autumn is the best time to do it and there are some useful guides here.

Fortunately, there are still some people in the area who love their trees.  Hopefully theirs will remain standing for many years to come, unlike the bronze-leafed cherry, whose branches have just been left to curl and die upon my neighbour's grass.

Our gardens do not end at the walls and fences.  They are part of a larger ecosystem that lives around us and that ecosystem relies partly on the patches of land that we look after.  Nature wants to thrive, and so long as people stop getting in its way, removing established habitats for no good reason, it will.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Roald Dahl Day

Whizzpopper! 
Snozzberry! 
Scrumdiddlyumptious!

Without Roald Dahl, those words and many more would not have become engrained within my childhood memory.  I would not have known that children could become sealed inside paintings, or that a Big Friendly Giant wandered the streets delivering dreams to children as they slept. 

On the other hand, if I hadn't read The Twits, I could still eat spaghetti without thinking about squirming worms, and see huge beards without wondering what might be festering inside... but that is a small price to pay.

The worlds within Roald Dahl's books may not be pretty, predictable or safe, but the journey you take within their pages is always a magical one.  The Witches is deliciously frightening, The Twits is foul and disgusting.  But my favourite book has always been Fantastic Mr Fox.  I still haven't watched the movie version because I don't want to spoil the adventures of Mr Fox and Badger that live within my imagination!

As I got older, I enjoyed The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, and Boy and Going Solo were brilliant reads, made even better by the fact that they were drawn from the author's real life.  I grew up with the editions illustrated by Quentin Blake and I still love his artwork today.


I'll always be glad that I discovered Roald Dahl's books.  They are weird and wonderful and well worth a second look if you haven't picked one up in a long time.  You can find a good list of titles here and you can find out more about the man himself at the official website - http://www.roalddahl.com

I'm off to drink some Frobscottle and seek out the recipe for Wonka's everlasting gobstopper.

Which book is your favourite?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Back To School: Writer-Style

When September arrives, I can't help feeling a little bit envious of all the students heading back to school for a new term. Not that I'd want to lug a school bag around and trudge through the rain to face the endless horror that was P.E. - *shivers* - but because September means just one thing for me: stationery shopping.

Who else couldn't wait to stock up on pens, pencils and cases for the new school year?  Would you go for a soft pencil case, or choose a pencil tin so you could scratch names and pictures into it with the tip of a compass point? Did you pick black biros or blue, splash out on a fountain pen or go completely wild and add paperclips and correction fluid to your shopping list?

The first day back at school may not have been exciting in itself, but who can honestly say that they did not get a secret glow from having a clutch of new stationery in their bag?

Anyone?
Maybe it's just me, but I love it.

So, this week I have embraced the school spirit once again and restocked my stationery supplies. Pride of place goes to a purple fountain pen (which has its own special place upon the desk) and the best buy has to be a pack of pencils, which I intend to sharpen in my brand new automatic pencil sharpener whenever I need to use them.

Who else is stocking up?
Share your secret love!
Stationery lovers unite!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

New Books

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one cannot and should not enter a bookshop and leave empty-handed.

I was at Waterstones in Darlington for a signing on Saturday and - since I was surrounded by the ever-tempting bookshelves of the YA section - this is what I left with:

Add to that the bursting list of book recommendations that have come to me via blog comments & emails over the past week & I have plenty to keep me going for ... oh, at least a week or two. :)
I've had my eye on The Diamond Of Drury Lane & Young Sherlock Holmes for a while and the others were recommended to me on the day as great reads.

My bookshelves are on their way to being officially restocked.
For now...

Friday, 20 August 2010

Book Recommendations

A few paper cuts and many cups of tea later & Blackwatch is officially winging its way back to my editor.

It's always exciting to go back to a story you haven't worked on for a while. I've heard whispers of possible cover ideas already and I'm really looking forward to seeing Blackwatch dressed up in its travelling clothes and heading out into the world next April.
Hurrah!

Now it's time for short break before diving back into the events of book 3 - a break that I intend to spend exploring the worlds tucked away inside other people's books, but after a quick check of my bookshelves, it seems they need an injection of new blood.
I need something fresh and new to read.
So, what would you suggest?

If there was one book you would recommend, which book would it be & why?
What are your ultimate favourite books, either new or old?

My future reads are in your hands.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Book News

Hello everyone!

Sorry for my terrible lack of blog posts recently.

I've been staying away from the internet for a while so I can finish editing Book 2 in the Wintercraft series. I'm not out of the editing jungle yet, but lots of you have been asking about the title and the release date - so here goes...

Book 2 is called Blackwatch and it will be published in the UK on the 14th of April 2011!

You can pre-order Blackwatch now at Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones & lots of other bookish places online.

I am very excited about this book.


And now a new countdown can officially begin.
Just 251 days to go!

(I'd best get back to work!)

Monday, 19 July 2010

Special Delivery

If any of you have been to my school talks, or have ever talked about books with me at all, you will know that whenever I'm asked about my favourite authors one name in particular always pops up: Jonathan Stroud.


I am a huge fan of The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Amulet Of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye & Ptolemy's Gate) so when I heard last year that there was going to be another book featuring the 'djinni with attitude' Bartimaeus, I knew that I had to mark the release date in my diary.

Then last week, thanks to the lovely Becky Stradwick at Random House, a taster of the first chapter of the new book appeared in my inbox, causing much excitement at my desk. (It is brilliant, by the way.)

And today... this arrived...


An advance proof copy of 'Bartimaeus - The Ring Of Solomon'!

I can almost hear Bartimaeus's sarcastic voice seeping from the pages already.

If you are a fellow Barty fan, The Ring Of Solomon is due for release on 14th October this year. And if you haven't read any of the series yet, I highly recommend you seek them out.

This book is shooting right to the very top of my reading pile.
Hurrah!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Updates

Things have been a little bit quiet on the blog recently, so I thought I'd write an update of what's been going on during the last few weeks.

Firstly, some HUGE news that I forgot to share with you all was that Wintercraft was mentioned in the June 12th edition of The Times! There was a lovely article in the book section written by Amanda Craig, who wrote that Wintercraft is 'Huge fun and deliciously shivery' with 'a genuine graveyard chill'.

I think I only forgot to mention it because I was too busy bouncing around the room with delight.

And secondly, I have some international news... I wrote about a US publishing deal a few weeks ago - with the wonderful people at Greenwillow/HarperCollins - and now I can add a few more countries to the publishing list.

*drumrolls*

Wintercraft has found new international homes with publishers in Brazil, Indonesia, Poland and Portugal!

I'm really looking forward to seeing the book printed in different languages. If you are reading this blog from any of those countries, please say hello in the comments. It would be lovely to hear from you.

I also want to say a big thank you to all the readers who have sent me emails and messages this month. And thanks for the birthday wishes too!

It's been a very busy few weeks. :)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Badger Update

Great news for badgers!

The badger cull I wrote about earlier on the blog has been stopped! The legal challenge against it was successful and badgers remain protected in Wales.

You can read more about the ruling here on the BBC news website.

I think this is great news and I want to send huge congratulations out to everyone at the Badger Trust who have succeeded in helping to protect these fantastic creatures.


Saturday, 3 July 2010

Local Book Signing

For anyone living in the Darlington area, I'll be signing copies of Wintercraft at Waterstones in Darlington from 12-2pm today - Saturday 3rd July.

Bring along your own copy if you have one, or grab one at the shop!

It would be lovely to meet you.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

School Visits, Scarborough & Sunburn.

Last week, Maura and I were out and about again, zipping around the sunny North East, meeting more fantastic readers and librarians alike.

Our first stop was Houghton Kepier Sports College in Houghton-le-Spring. The school had a lovely airy library and I could quite easily have spent hours there. The school group asked lots of great questions and the session there was great fun.

After that it was off for some lunch, where my pale, sun-starved skin got more than it bargained for in the rare summer sun. Sitting outside without sun lotion is not a good idea and sunburn most definitely struck with a vengeance. Ow!

In the afternoon we headed to Oxclose Community School in Washington where I got to watch the Wintercraft book trailer on a big screen and talked about everything from character creation to my writing day. Thanks to all the teachers, and a special thanks to Stephen Dodd for organising everything and for driving us around!

Then on Friday, it was off to North Yorkshire, which has the most beautiful countryside at this time of year.

The morning session was held at Norton Library in Malton. The librarians there - Stephanie and Sheila - made me feel very welcome and the school group was fantastic. Lots of them signed up to become members of the library and it was great to see them all so enthusiastic about reading!

After a sneaky visit to a farmer's market (where I bought a rather large plant in the hope that I'd be able to wrestle it home on the train without snapping it in two) it was off to Raincliffe School in Scarborough. The library there had comfy purple beanbags and a beautiful view. There were lots of keen readers in the group and it was great fun talking with them all!

Then, since no visit to Scarborough is truly complete without a glimpse of the sea, Sheila took me and Maura on a quick tour of Scarborough's hidden gems. Sheila's knowledge of the area was better than any tour guide and thanks to her I learned a lot about the town and got to see some of Scarborough's beautiful coastline.

It was a brilliant two days and despite a couple of hairy moments with my plant purchase (one involving a train's automatic door) am pleased to say that I got it - and me - back home in one piece.

I want to send a big thank you to everyone I met on my travels last week.
It was lovely to meet you all!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Help For Badgers

If you are from the UK, you may have heard about the badger cull that is meant to start very soon in parts of Wales.

You can read more about the cull here... but the basic idea is that killing badgers may (or may not) help to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

Many people are opposed to the killing - including me - and the Badger Trust is mounting a legal challenge against it.

If you would like to follow this story or get more information, please take a look at the Badger Trust website at www.badgertrust.org.uk. You can even make a donation to the Badger Trust to support its work protecting badgers by following a link at the bottom of their homepage or by clicking here.

I see no reason to trap and shoot wild animals that are protected by law, especially when there is little to no evidence that such an action would even have any effect on bovine TB.

There is also talk of extending the cull to areas of England. So wherever you live in the UK, if you want to help badgers please follow this story, donate if you can and let's all hope that badger killing remains illegal so that these amazing animals can be protected once again.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Out And About

The past couple of days have been very exciting!

On Friday morning, me and my publicist Maura (@Red_Books on Twitter) headed to Stockton-On-Tees for my very first set of book talks. The librarians there made us very welcome (Hi Helen!), the two school groups I spoke to asked some brilliant questions and every copy of Wintercraft sold out!

In the afternoon we were whisked off to Egglescliffe School for two more talks in the school library. I read a section from the book and there were more questions at the end than there was time to answer them. The school bell rang, marking the beginning of the half-term holiday and I just managed to sign books for everyone before they raced off to catch their bus!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came to see me on Friday: Gurpreet, Leighton, Demi, Rebecca, Charlie, Danah, John, Rachel, Mollie, Aaron, Jessie and everyone else from both Egglescliffe School and Thornaby Community School. It was lovely to meet you all and I hope you enjoy reading your books!

Then on Saturday it was time for my first bookshop signing. Waterstones, Darlington is my local bookshop, so it was very exciting to be given my own signing table and a queue of people waiting for me before I even arrived.

I spent two hours signing books and chatting to people, which was great fun!

Thanks to Danielle and Paula for inviting me to their shop, and to Vera, Pat, Alison, Jake, Lauren, Fraser, Sarah and everyone who came to Waterstones yesterday. I could be heading back for a second signing very soon, so if you missed me on Saturday, keep your eyes peeled for posters around the shop and come and see me next time!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Local Book Signing

If anyone is in the Darlington area on Saturday I'll be at Waterstones in the Cornmill Centre signing copies of Wintercraft from 12-2pm.

It would be great to see you there!

Friday, 21 May 2010

And The Winner Is...

Thank you to everyone who put their name into the hat for the signed book giveaway!

As promised, I did indeed devise a highly scientific method of selecting the winner. One that I am certain no one in the history of humankind has ever used before, featuring:

a) a small box.
b) names written on rolled up pieces of paper.
c) a willing member of my family to make the draw and oversee the result.

(I had far too much fun with this. :) )

The names of everyone who commented on the giveaway post had a place in the box.
The mood was solemn as the draw was made.
*nods seriously*

And the winner is...

Emily13!

Congratulations Emily!

Please could you send me your address details using the contact form to the right.
I will send your prize out asap!