Inspiring Joy in Books

The Letterpress Project is an initiative celebrating books, especially printed books. They’ve kindly included me in their series of interviews with authors and illustrators, and among the questions was: ‘What inspired you to become an author’.

Whenever I’m asked this I think of an inspirational teacher I had at primary school. But this time I thought further back. And – no surprise – I came up with my mother.

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Mum has always been a book enthusiast and nature-lover. When I was small I’d go garden-exploring, and Mum would help me draw and write about the things I found. Surprisingly, I remember the fun of creating those little diaries more clearly than I remember being read to.

The idea of becoming a writer germinated, faded, and then sprouted again years later when I discovered the joy of sharing books with my own children.

So, Letterpress has got me thinking about the crucial role parents and care-givers play in showing children the pleasure of books. Whether it’s reading together or drawing and telling stories, sharing those magical marks on paper is one of the most inspiring things we can do.

You can read my interview with The Letterpress Project on their website here

Ancient Stories

Cambridge Science Festival is the perfect opportunity to delight in true-life stories of discovery. Today I’ve been learning something about our own origins, at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES). The LCHES scientists’ “In-Africa” project is investigating human origins in the Lake Turkana area of Kenya in every available way, from research into fossils, DNA and changing climate, to the reconstruction of ancient tools, to working with modern Turkana people whose rapidly-changing way of life can still give us clues to the past.

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Modern Antler Harpoon Heads

It’s a marvellous display. Some specimens mustn’t be touched, but if you’re careful of your fingers you can handle stone tools, flint arrow-heads and harpoons.

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Flint Cores and Hammer Stones

Among the fossil casts of hominid and human skulls are child-friendly, brightly-coloured, 3D printed reproductions. You can touch the huge teeth of the nutcracker man (Paranthropus boisei), and hold a skull of the tiny ‘Hobbit’ (Homo floresiensis) in one hand.

The Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies is in the Henry Wellcome Building 13A Fitzwilliam Street, CB2 1QH. It’s open again tomorrow (Sunday 26th March), 10am-4pm. Do go along; it’s a great chance to chat with welcoming and enthusiastic experts in their field. There’s more information hereIMG_2378c

 

Little Fox is 10 years old

There’s an anniversary coming up in May 2017! My very first picture book, ‘Daddy’s Little Star’, was originally published as ‘My Little Star’ 10 years ago. Here I am at the 2007 launch party at Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge.

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To celebrate Little Fox’s tenth birthday, the lovely people at Scholastic are reissuing ‘Daddy’s Little Star’ with an updated cover. Publication of the new issue is scheduled for 4th May, appropriately close to Father’s Day on 18th June. I foresee one or two celebratory get-togethers, so watch this space – there may be cake!

The Scholastic team have also created some exciting new activity sheets ahead of the anniversary. You can take a sneak-peak at them on the Activities page, here.

Did you know: ‘Daddy’s Little Star’ started out as ‘My Little Star’, but it’s called ‘Mommy’s Little Star’ in the USA? It’s also been translated into several languages. Here’s a picture of some of those different covers, including the foreign language editions in Korean, Turkish and French.

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Being Billie Jean Fleetwood-Mack

I’m often asked who my favourite storybook character is. I keep changing my mind, because there are so many wonderful characters to choose from. But there’s one character I’d love to be – Billie Jean Fleetwood-Mack.

Billie Jean is the unflappable mountaineering mother in “The Giggler Treatment” by Roddy Doyle.

I love her because she is eccentric, heroic and silly. When there isn’t a mountain handy for her to climb, she pitches a tent in the hall and runs up and down stairs instead. When her husband is literally about to put his foot in it, she sets off with the children and the dog, dashing across continents in an instant, and arriving just in time to save him from a terrible fate.

So in 2012, when I was invited to dress up as a book character for a photo by Kim Ayres, who was then artist-in-residence at Wigtown Book Festival, I knew who my character would be.

It wasn’t easy to find mountaineering gear in the middle of Cambridgeshire. But friends turned out to be mountain climbers and they kindly lent me lots of stuff, including a pickaxe that had tackled Mount Everest. (Thank you, Dave and Cheryl Bird).

Here’s a snapshot of me trying some of it on beforehand…

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Kim’s photo-shoot was a bit nerve-wracking because I was teetering on the edge of the spiral stairs, balancing on the toes of oversized boots and trying not to stand on the rope. Here’s the finished photograph, which cleverly hides the fact that my jogging bottoms were threatening to fall down:

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Photography by Kim Ayres (kimayres.co.uk) as part of a series of images for  Wigtown Book Festival 2012

I love the curve of the staircase and the lighting, and I think the image captures the character’s determination. Billie Jean may just be climbing stairs today, but when it comes to it she’ll get where she needs to go – even though her safety rope has come undone!

After the photo session, I met a lovely group of children at Wigtown Book Festival, and they created this brilliant picture of Little Fox and all of the sky in “Daddy’s Little Star”:

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Doing fun things

As a writer, I have a lot of fun at bookish events. One of the highlights in 2016 was being part of this lovely author lineup at Linton Children’s Book Festival’s storytime session in Balsham. It was exciting to be there as Yasmin Finch (wearing the yellow builder’s helmet) unveiled her terrific new picture book, Mr Mustachio. Here we are with Helen Moss and Katie Dale, captivating a group of children with our celebratory moustaches.

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Later in the year, Katie Dale and I had the honour of opening Bushmead Primary School’s new library. Katie read an extract from her exciting new Middle Grade novel, Mumnesia. And here you can see some of the children doing their best starry twinkling, along with us and headteacher Mr Down, after I’d read them the story of ‘Daddy’s Little Star’.

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Separately, as well as being a brilliant author, Yasmin is very skillful with websites. I’d like to thank her here for helping me so much with the creation of this one!