Category Archives: Books

Talking about books on the other side of the world

Just back from a month in Australia.  Mostly holiday and an escape from the chilly English winter, but I also had a chance to showcase The Blue Eyed Aborigine and Forgotten Footprints, my two novels about survivors of 17th and 18th century shipwrecks off the Western Australian coast.  Here I am in Melbourne, talking to year 9 students at Albert Park High School and on another occasion signing books at Dymocks Bookshop.

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I also had a meeting with Pictureco who have a film option on The Blue Eyed Aborigine.  I’ve now read a draft script and the next step is a pitch to industry to try and get backing to produce a feature length film.

UK Edition of Forgotten Footprints just published

Forgotten Footprints

The shiny new edition of my book Forgotten Footprints is just out with its beautiful new cover.  A version was published last year for the Australian market but the book is now available in the UK and I’m working with my publisher, Troika Books, to develop a promotional campaign for it.  It tells the story of a notorious shipwreck off the West Australian coast in 1712, from which we know their were survivors – and I have imagined what may have happened to these survivors, some of the earliest Europeans ever to set foot on the ‘Unknown Southland’.

A fast paced story of resilience against impossible odds, of courage and of love.

Taken

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A bit of delay in announcing this as I’ve been in hospital, but my new YA book for Ransom was published a couple of weeks ago.

Called ‘Taken’ it is a story about loss, love and growing up.

Four years ago, Kelly’s dad disappeared, apparently having taken his own life.  His family are left devastated and are only just beginning to move on.  Then one day Kelly thinks she sees him again.  It is only a glimpse – and it can’t have been him – but it is enough to bring back all the painful memories.

Why did he kill himself? What was so terrible that he couldn’t go on?

The thoughts won’t leave her alone.  Kelly confides in her friend Jack and as they try to find out more about Dad’s past they unearth a confusing mass of inconsistencies and unanswered questions.

Gradually they are sucked into a murky world where nothing is as it seems.  They are out of their depth; someone is trying to stop them finding out more and they are in real danger.

Who is following them? Who can they trust? And why does Gran refuse to talk about Dad?

 

A straightforward mystery, this one, with none of the supernatural elements present in my last two books, ‘Loose Connections’ and ‘The Mark’.

 

Storm Doris Intervenes

It was all set up.  A panel discussion as part of a local literary festival all about – you’ve guessed – children’s books, past and present and why they are so important, why libraries are so important, why getting children to love reading is so important.

There was an enthusiastic take up for the event and, apart from me, the panelists were Isabel Thomas, James Nicol, Helen Moss and the chair was to be Candy Gourlay.

Should have been a great evening but then Storm Doris intervened.  Two panelists stuck in London and no trains running, trees all over the road and an electricity blackout so it all had to be cancelled.

Never mind, it will be reconvened and surely lightning (or storm) can’t strike twice – can it?!

Authors’ Lunch

 

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A bright interlude at the end of a dreary January was an authors’ lunch held here.  Nine of us, all children’s writers and all Cambridge based, got together to discuss all things bookish – and a lot else, too, over a warming curry.

So good to be among like minded friends who understand the ups and downs of the life of a writer.  We spend a lot of time on our own so it is good to exchange stories of both success and failure.  None of us is immune to failure – it comes with the territory – but we all agree that we are doing something we love and there aren’t so many people out there who can say the same.

But there is no doubt that having a good dose of understanding companionship from time to time really lifts the spirit.

My Sister’s Perfect Husband

 

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There’s always a lurch of excitement when a new book arrives in the post, all shiny, with your name on the cover.

‘My Sister’s Perfect Husband’ is part of the new series by Ransom Publishing called ‘Promises’ aimed at reluctant teen readers. The brief was to write a short story (around 3,000 words) on a subject which would engage teenagers but in language which they would find accessible.

Not easy!

I’ve written stories about young British Muslims in the past (‘Mixing It’ and ‘Payback’) and when I suggested writing about a Pashtun family living in Britain and trying to marry off their daughter Mina, the publishers were enthusiastic.

‘My Sister’s Perfect Husband’ is very light hearted. Mina’s parents have completely failed to find her a suitable husband, so her younger sister, Laila, decides to try. She and her best friend hatch a complicated and secret plot to bring Mina together with a boy they think would be ideal.

But their brilliant plan goes drastically wrong and the ending is VERY unexpected!

‘Promises’ is a series with an imaginative and varied collection of stories. Like me, most of the authors are used to writing much longer and more complex books for young people – authors such as Jo Cotterill, Miriam Halahmy, Kathryn White, Anne Rooney and Sue Purkiss – but they took up the challenge and the results are brilliant.

Here’s what Sue Purkiss says about the term reluctant readers.

‘I think ‘reluctant’ is actually a bit of a misnomer; they’re only reluctant because they find reading so hard – and so then they pretend to scorn it, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? If there’s a club you can’t join, you shrug your shoulders and say that you never wanted to belong to it anyway.’

Hopefully, these ‘reluctant’ readers will discover, through these stories, that books aren’t always daunting. They can even be fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many times? Captain Cook was NOT the first European to set foot in Australia!

Back in the UK now, after a month long trip promoting my shipwreck books in Western Australia and taking part in the 400th anniversary celebrations of the landing of the Dutch mariner, Dirk Hartog, in Shark Bay, in October 2016.

My fascination with the 17th and 18th century Dutch shipwrecks began eight years ago when I visited the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle for the first time.

I was aware of the powerful Dutch East India Company (the VOC), its establishment of headquarters throughout Asian countries and, in particular, its hugely profitable trade in spices; but what I didn’t know was that, by 1617, its great ‘retourships’ were required to adopt the new Brouwer route, sailing South from the Cape in South Africa before turning West to pick up the ‘Roaring Forties’ winds and then North towards the East Indies, parallel with the coast of Western Australia or, as it was called at the time, ‘The Unknown Southland’.

As I stared at the great hull of the ship Batavia, at the replica stone blocks destined for the castle gate in Java and all the artifacts salvaged from the ship and read about the mutiny, the shipwreck, the massacre on the Abrolhos Islands, the eventual retribution and then the marooning of the two young mutineers, I was intrigued.

Why had I never heard of this appalling event in Australia’s history? What if those two young men, Pelgrom and Loos, had survived and integrated with the coastal aborigines? If they had, then they would have been the very first European settlers in Australia, nearly 150 years before Cook sailed into Botany Bay!

Since then, I’ve been on quite a journey. I have written two books about the early Dutch shipwrecks off the West Australian coast, ‘The Blue Eyed Aborigine’ and the new ‘Forgotten Footprints’, have visited the Abrolhos Islands where all the Batavia horrors occurred, toured schools in the Eastern States, flown over the Zuytdorp cliffs, travelled by boat parallel with Red Bluff, South of Kalbarri, from which so many early Dutch mariners took their bearings, given the Batavia lecture at the Maritime Museum and, most recently, had a wonderful trip from Yallingup up to Shark Bay, speaking to schools and other groups about my books and about the rich maritime history of the State.

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And what a privilege it was to be part of the celebrations in Denham to mark the 400th anniversary of the landing of Dirk Hartog at Cape Inscription in October 1616, to attend the moving opening ceremony, watch the procession of cardboard boats, admire the costumes for the 17th century ball, crawl over the replica ship ‘Duyfken’ and travel across to Dirk Hartog Island and see the new commemorative plaques and the cleft in the rock into which the original post, plate attached, was rammed.

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The day I left WA to return to the UK, I was able to fit in a visit to the newly opened exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle – ‘Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean’ and see the originals of both the Dirk Hartog plate and the Vlamingh plate and to learn that the very latest research will soon be available into whether Western European DNA found in some Aboriginal coastal tribes can be traced to pre-settlement days.

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And yet, whenever I go into Australian schools and ask the question: ‘Who was the first European to set foot on Australian soil?’ nine times out of ten the answer is still ‘Captain Cook.’

 

 

Knowing Me, Knowing You

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Creating characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of story writing and not always easy to get right. No hero is all good, no villain all bad, so it’s important to avoid stereotypes. If readers can relate to real characters then they will care about them and want to know what happens to them.

I helped run a session recently at a Writers’ retreat where we were thinking of ways in which to bring our characters to life. Here are some of the ideas which came out of the session – some mine, some from other writers – which I thought I’d share.
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  1. Choose a character and then describe a room in the house where he or she lives, indicating, through your description, all the aspects of the character but without the character actually appearing in the piece. It’s surprising how much you can learn about the person who inhabits the room through the state of the room and the objects within in.

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  1. Imagine you are on a wide, flat beach. In the distance, you see a figure. This is your character. Slowly, you begin to see them better. You begin to see their body, their clothes, their face. Watch them walking towards you. Take a good look. They are close now and you can see every detail of their features. What does their hair look like? Is it long or short? What colour is it? Is it neat/messy? What about their eyes? What colour? And their face? Is there any feature which stands out? What are they wearing? What kind of clothes? What colour? Are they normal/exotic? Are they in a uniform of some sort or in their own clothes? How old are they? You can tell by the way they are walking that they are feeling something. What are they feeling? Are they afraid/happy/angry/sad/scared? Do they have a secret?

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  1. Show don’t tell (yes, I know it’s an old chestnut but it’s worth repeating). Describe someone you know well. Make a list of some of the person’s traits then show examples of these traits in your writing. For instance, here are some ways you could describe someone’s gran. Big busted: used to brush the crumbs off her chest with her hand. Fun: used to cheat at Snap by shouting loudest and laughed until no sound came out and she had to wipe the tears away with a cotton hankie she tucked under her bra strap. Feisty: A man threw his empty cigarette packet out of his car window. She picked it up and threw it right back!

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  1. Have a go at interviewing your character to find out more about him or her. For example, what football team does he/she support? What does he/she like to eat – and when? What
    music does he/she enjoy? By asking lots of ordinary questions you can really begin to get inside that character.

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  1. Write a few pages of a diary in the voice of one of your main characters.

The session certainly gave me some new ideas of ways in which to get to know the characters in my stories and flesh them out for my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Tea Party

Lovely literary party this afternoon at Pippa Goodhart’s house in Granchester.  So good to be able to catch up over a cream tea with other Cambridge authors – Adele, June, Annemarie, Anne and Gillian. Nourishment for both body and mind!

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Visit to London Book Fair

Being at the London Book Fair at Olympia can be overwhelming.  Publishers from across the globe, so many people, so many books, so many genres, to say nothing of the digital content. Some good seminars too, though this year I didn’t attend any but focussed on the children’s books area on the first floor – and that was huge enough.  Good to catch up with old friends (my current publishers and ex colleagues) and meet new (coffee at Pizza Express with members of Scattered Authors’ Society).

A stimulating day in all sorts of ways – seeing new books and new ways in which to inspire children and, quite unexpectedly, eliciting interest in my current work-in-progress.

Definitely a worthwhile visit – and it is reassuring to have evidence that the physical book is not on its way out.  It is alive and kicking vigorously!