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It’s an honor…

September 9, 2021
STEPHANIE WARD

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

In the midst of lockdown, I made a goal to focus on writing poems for children. Poetry has always been something that I enjoyed, but I usually opt for drafting a new picture book or revising a longer manuscript over writing a poem. 

To kickstart my plan, I signed up for an online poetry workshop and in a short two-day course was immersed a whole new world of words. I was inspired to think about poetry differently. To play with different formats. To stop feeling like I don’t get it and just do it. 

So, when the Southport Writers’ Circle announced their annual poetry competition earlier this year, I entered a funny little poem about an ogre and a witch that fall in love on Halloween. A few months later, I was thrilled to learn that A Halloween Love Story won the Catherine Fenerty Humour Prize. And I was further inspired by the lovely words from judge Ali Harwood…

We are encouraged to gallop through this amusing poem with its lively and consistent rhythm and rhyming couplets. It made me smile throughout. As we in the real world clamber our way somewhat clumsily and inconsistently out of lockdown, it’s refreshing to read a love story about two lost souls who, after many blunders and misfires, somehow find each other in their own fairytale chaos.

CHIEF JUDGE’S REPORT – ALI HARWOOD

The winning poems can be read on the competition results page.

It doesn’t feel strange anymore to take time to jot down a poem, a line or just an idea to play with later. I love having another way to communicate without the constraints of other formats. I’ve only scratched the surface of the vast craft of poetry, but I’m hooked. 

Some of my favorite poetry contests for writers of children’s poems include:

I’d love to expand this list, so please do let me know about other competitions for poems for children.

Cheers to a year (and many more ahead, hopefully) of writing poetry!

Rita’s Rabbit

August 17, 2021

LAURA MUCHA

RITA’S RABBIT by Laura Mucha & Hannah Peck

This is a delightful picture book about a little girl who is so very sure she wants a fluffy pet rabbit and NOT a scaly, scratchy bearded dragon called Spike . . . But when a fussy, grouchy, messy rabbit comes to stay, she discovers they aren’t necessarily as adorable as they seem. Spike saves the day and Rita is very glad to be rid of the rabbit and very in love with her speckled, scrawny, spiky pet.

A very funny text wonderfully complemented by Hannah Peck’s witty artwork.

“A wry tale of being careful what you wish for” – The Bookseller

“An excellent picturebook in so many ways. It gently explores themes such as being careful what you wish for and not judging by appearances, well worth further exploration. The writing is of the highest quality, as you would expect from such a well-respected and talented poet, and it reads aloud beautifully. I love the alliteration which is used to great effect to describe the two pets. Hannah Peck’s illustrations capture Rita’s changing emotions with subtlety and provide a rich context to discuss her feelings. This is a perfect story for Early Years and Infant classrooms.” Just Imagine

“Sure to make you giggle and full of heart and charm, we think little ones will love joining Rita’s story (and discovering that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side!). [An] adorably funny tale of being careful what you wish for.” BookTrust 

“I think many of us will have experienced or witnessed a “Rita moment”, the disappointment of not getting the present you hoped for. Through a series of hilarious events, Rita learns that you can’t judge by appearances and we should appreciate what we have.” Picture Book Perfect

Abigay’s Farm – Assisted Self-Publishing

June 22, 2021

ODETTE ELLIOTT

I have had six books traditionally published. Some friends thought that this would help me to get my children’s novel ‘Abigay’s Farm’ traditionally published.  However, it didn’t work like that.

I certainly tried.  I wrote to over 34 agencies – very time-consuming but no luck.  I received some compliments. One agent said that ‘sadly it was a near miss’. I knew that an agent’s goal is to help build up an author’s career. I might write other books one day, but my main aim was to get ‘Abigay’s Farm’ published.

I had worked on it for around four years.  A good friend and colleague from the Islington Writers for Children – John O’Leary – had helped me to edit it.  We worked on it together for around eighteen months. Then two other kind members of the group, Sunita Nahar and Stephanie Ward cast critical eyes over the text. I felt it was as good as we could get it and I wanted children to be able to read and enjoy the story.

I turned to the supportive organisation SCBWI – The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – and asked via Facebook if anyone had experience of self-publishing.  A reply came back quickly.  Someone said she had had books published by a company that offered  a service called Assisted Publishing.  She said they weren’t cheap but she highly recommended them. She has had her last few books published by them.  Other people replied that they found the whole self-publishing experience via Amazon both satisfactory and at almost no cost, unless you wanted to pay for a cover artist. I knew that I would not be able to cope with all the necessary IT details myself.  They would seem like ‘nightmares’ to me, so I turned to the recommended Assisted Publishing company.

I contacted the company and really liked their whole approach.  I consulted the Society of Authors about the contract. They approved and I was happy to sign.  Next time, as I get further along the process towards publication, I’ll give the name of the company and can hopefully show you the cover but that has not been designed yet.  So far, the text has been proofread.  I await the next stage of the process.  I have been given a list of the many things that will have to be decided. It is impressive. Thankfully it was decided that the story had already been successfully edited. The likely publication date is October this year.

Things have changed since my last published book. This was ‘My Big Brother JJ’, published 2009.  Nowadays an author has to do as much as possible to market their own books.

Abigay’s Farm’ , a novel for ages 9-12 is coming soon.

I made my way downstairs and entered the kitchen carefully. Grandpa was sitting quietly at the table with the tin box in front of him. There was a chair pulled out next to him that was clearly for me. I sat down and waited. The ginger farm cat peered in the window before darting off who-knows-where.

Neither of us spoke. I heard the constant ‘whooshing’ of the dishwasher and stared at the numbers counting down on the display panel.

I wondered whether Grandpa really did have something to say to me when he cleared his throat and glanced at me awkwardly.

‘1966,’ he said softly, pointing to the mysterious box and the objects laid out around it. ‘That’s when we did these.’

I waited.

‘It’s all about history, you know,’ he said eventually.

Another pause.

‘I was about your age when our teacher got us to do them – time capsules she said they were.

“Bury things that mean something to you,” she said. “Then when people open them in a hundred years, they’ll know all about you and the times you lived in.”

On the lids we wrote Do NOT Open until 2066.  You can’t see the writing anymore. I think I must have used the wrong kind of ink.

But you know what? Now is as good a time as any. Maybe, it’s important for you and Gabriel to learn about the old days and the old ways – and anyway, we can always bury it again afterwards.’

He shifted around and looked at me directly. I could see he wasn’t angry anymore but there was a sadness in his eyes.

‘You and I are not so different, Girl,’ he said. ’You do know that, don’t you?’

‘A long time ago, I was young too. What I’m trying to say is…,’ he paused.

‘Abigay, I think I owe you a big apology.’

Booking Around the World – Mobile Library, Bangalore

January 13, 2021

STEPHANIE WARD

Dedicated to Dr S. R. Ranganathan, the father of library science, this retired 1990s blue bus was converted to a mobile library complete with a driver-cum-librarian. Residents regularly await the arrival of the bus that carries over 6000 books in multiple languages available to check out at lower prices than monthly fees at city libraries.

The book mobile even has a small seating area inside for browsers to flip through pages. If you look closely, you’ll see that it offers much needed shade for canine customers too.

Mobile Library
Bangalore (Bengaluru), Karnataka, India

This post was first published in https://stephaniemward.com/blog/

Remembrance

December 15, 2020

LAURA MUCHA

I was commissioned by the Royal British Legion and the National Literacy Trust to make this film to help children honour Remembrance. The poem that came out of it (at the end of the film) is called We Remember.

School Visits and Covid

November 25, 2020

JOHN O’LEARY

I managed to squeeze in a school visit to Bredhurst Primary in Gillingham at the beginning of October but now with current restrictions these events are becoming rare.

I was aware of the need to make the visit Covid-compliant. Due to class bubbles a whole-school assembly was out of the question so instead I produced a mini version of my talk in video form in order to give some insight into my practice. It had the happy consequence of my being greeted by children on the day who seemed to know me already.

The card for the workshops was pre-packaged and then only handed out by the teaching staff. During the workshops, I did my usual thing, but at a distance, teachers did all the close up checking and helping. I made more of the demo part of the session where I turn a pop-up mechanism into a finished 3D spread using the children’s story ideas. And I made sure everyone had all the information they needed to finish the group pop-up books after I had moved on to the next class.

The school felt surprisingly normal but they had clearly put in many important measures to keep everyone safe – no sharing of equipment (I had to keep reminding myself not to borrow scissors or gluesticks), staggered playtimes and hand sanitiser everywhere. I also had to exit the building and make my way around the outside of the school to get from class to class.

It’s not clear when things will go back to normal but it’s been an opportunity to explore new ways of interacting with schools. Things like Zoom, for example, seem to work well and it will be a useful addition going forward, especially for schools further afield. However, it can never replace the wonderful feeling of interacting live with the children that I experienced at Bredhurst and all the other schools I’ve visited in the past.

Yinka Shonibare, The British Library

September 8, 2020

STEPHANIE WARD

 

The books are bound in African wax print fabric and the names of first or second-generation immigrants to Britain, both celebrated and unknown, are printed in gold on the spines of 2,700 of the books. Some spines are left unmarked symbolising that the story of immigration in Britain is still being written.

A website accessible from the tablets in the exhibit hall shares various articles on both sides of the immigration discussion and everyone is welcome to submit a story.

Tate Modern
Natalie Bell Building, Level 2
London
https://www.tate.org.uk/
Until 21 February 2021

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This article was originally published on Stephanie Ward’s blog, Writer with Wanderlust: http://www.stephaniemward.com/blog.

Twitter: @StephMWard

E-books: Looking Good to Go

August 4, 2020

ELISABETH HAWKSLEY

On 10th May, I put up a post about my lockdown project of getting my Elizabeth Hawksley historical novels into e-books. Now, ten weeks later, the first book, Highland Summer is almost ready and it’s been a steep, not to say precipitous, learning curve. However, thanks to computer wizard John Hocking, and his wife Janet Gover, another computer wizard, both brilliant at explaining things, we are at last getting there.

Janet has been showing me how to write an e-book blurb – a very different animal from a book blurb. I’ve been learning about ‘Shout lines’ – This is the bait to tempt the reader to find out more. For Highland Summer, for example, the shout line is: Love can be unpredictable… And family secrets can be dangerous. It’s a sort of overall feel for what the book’s about.

We have been working on the blurbs for the first three books: Highland Summer, The Belvedere Tower and Frost FairAnd my attempts have been going to and fro, and Janet has been telling me, kindly but firmly, why what I’ve put won’t do. Often, it’s something simple, like, ‘avoid the repetition of ‘secret’ ‘ and she’s spot on. I am improving and we are getting there.

Then there are problems of choosing a cover. This is John’s territory and he has been very patient with me. John likes art – which helps; but he’s a Jackson Pollock man, whilst I prefer J. M. W. Turner – Hm. Careful negotiations are called for.

Fortunately, John had the clever idea of sending me photocopies of current Amazon bestseller covers – with fifteen images per A4 page, including the ones he has been working on. It’s allowed me to see what’s popular at the moment, which I found really helpful.

A lot of our negotiations, though, have been about typefaces. There are some typefaces which just don’t work with e-books – they look wrong – maybe they turn out too spiky, or perhaps they look more flattened than I thought they’d be. I discovered that the look of a specific typeface can change in an e-book context and I trust John’s experience here.

Generally speaking, I want a traditional but stylish typeface (my novels are historical, after all) and it must look good with all my novels, not just the three we’re concentrating on at the moment. So it’s got to be an adaptable typeface.

When we started looking at book covers, Janet told me that they didn’t need to be too specific – all the Highland Summer cover had to get across was ‘historical’ and ‘Scottish’. However, accurate historical research has always been important to me and, if I know of a picture that is spot on – then I want to use it, if possible.

The cover for Highland Summer features a contemporary print of mid-19th century Inverness in the Scottish Highlands – the setting for much of the book. I was given the print by my cousin Roland, when I was a bridesmaid at his Scottish wedding, and it’s perfect.

The cover for The Belvedere Tower threw up a slightly different problem. It was inspired by the belvedere tower at Sissinghurst, which dates back to 1560. Its tower has a flat roof with battlements at the top to give a splendid view of any hunt the aristocratic owners had arranged for the entertainment of guests. The word belvédère comes from the French and means ‘Beautiful view.’ There are many belvedere towers surviving but most of them are too large for what I want.

The cover for Frost Fair shows a Luke Clennell print of the very last Frost Fair on the River Thames in February 1814. A lot happens at that Fair in the book including an very unpleasant death on an unstable ice floe (I enjoyed writing that). John and I had a lot of discussion about the background colour and I’m particularly pleased with the Jack Frost effect of the icy turquoise for Frost Fair.

At the moment, I’m doing the final proof reading for Highland Summer, which is now on Kindle on my desktop – and that’s a story in itself. I’m now feeling far more confident about finding my way around the Kindle version of Highland Summer. I’m used to my books having 2-300 pages – it’s a bit of a shock to find that, on Kindle, I’m dealing with over four thousand locations.

There’s been a lot of work back stage as well, to do with platforms, ISBN numbers and so on. But I still have a mental picture of York Railway Station with Thomas the Tank Engine chuffing into the platform – in my case, Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords. My books will be coming out under Mundeville Books. I grew up just outside the small village of Coatham Mundeville in Co. Durham. Anyone from the North–East will probably recognise the name and it’s my salute to where I come from.


This article was originally published on the Elizabeth Hawksley blog: http://elizabethhawksley.com/elizabeth-hawksley-e-books-looking-good-to-go/

Highland Summer is now available.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Highland-Summer-Elizabeth-Hawksley-ebook/dp/B08DCBKV7N/

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/highland-summer

Twitter: @Hawksley_E

Dear Ugly Sisters And Other Poems

July 31, 2020

LAURA MUCHA

My debut poetry collection is the result of eight years of work, so I’m very excited to finally see it in print. It also comes with a free audiobook, which I hope you will love as much as I do. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book.

Tonight I fancy a flight,
so I shuffle my short feathers
and jump.

Original, dazzling and unconventional, this brilliant first solo collection has a surprise on every page.

Go on a night flight, have a monster’s lunch, immerse yourself in birdsong. Shout out an Apatosaurus rap before checking out Alexander Fleming’s petri dish. Find fairy tales with a twist, poems to make you laugh – and reflective poems to think about.

Full of variety, wit and warmth, this is a spectacular debut from a poet to watch!

Poet and author Laura Mucha performs poems from her debut children’s poetry book ‘Dear Ugly Sisters and Other Poems’

The illustrations are by Tania Rex. ‘Dear Ugly Sisters…’ is available to preorder now!

Find out more and purchase a copy at: https://www.otterbarrybooks.com/dear-ugly-sisters

Find out more about Laura Mucha at: https://lauramucha.com/

Pop-up Tutorials

May 25, 2020

JOHN O’LEARY

I’m very grateful to the schools that have invited me in over the years to talk about my work, run workshops and share my pop-up skills. I wanted to offer them something during this difficult time so I’ve been creating a series of online pop-up tutorials.

I’m currently creating video number 5. Each one deals with an aspect of paper-engineering – parallel fold, v fold, platform fold and so forth and the designs will become more complicated over time. My intention is to continue to make the videos even after everything turns back to normal – whenever that might be. Also, I’ve always wanted to provide people with a resource after they’ve done my workshops and now seemed as good a time as any to create it.

 

 

Quite rightly, no comments are allowed on the YouTube videos intended for families and kids but if you have any questions about the techniques, feel free to ask me here.

 

 

This post originally appeared in https://johnolearyillustration.co.uk/blog/

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