Archive for the 'Schools' Category

A Spellchasers Christmas Tale, illustrated by Pirniehall PS pupils

I’ve been working with the pupils at Pirniehall Primary in Edinburgh as their Writing Mentor this year, and they all created wonderful illustrations for this Christmas story about Molly. Here are the seven winning illustrations, which bring the story to life beautifully!

Pawprints in the Snow

By David, P4

By David, P4

Molly’s paws made tiny dents on the crust of last night’s snow.

She had wished for a white Christmas, hoping to test her hare-speed on a new surface. But she hadn’t wished for the beast behind her. The creature she’d found chewing her stocking this morning.Now Molly could hear heavy breathing and heavier feet. It was catching up.
She felt hot breath on her neck; snow melted to water under her paws.

Molly leapt to the left, and her paws were back on cold crusty snow. She sprinted and zig-zagged across the rugby pitch, trying to escape the heat and the heaviness, the flames and the fangs.

The noise of the feet faltered, and stopped.

But Molly couldn’t stop running, because now she could hear flapping above her. Her wide hare vision showed that her pursuer had lumbered into the air and was swooping down towards her.

Speed wasn’t enough to beat this beast. Dodging and ducking wouldn’t work either, if it could hover above her.

How could she beat a predator that could run and fly and melt the snow under her?

Molly sprinted and leapt and sprinted again, hoping to confuse it, hoping to escape its long claws and hot breath.

She was used to magic and monsters in the wild lands of the north, but she hadn’t expected them to follow her south to the sensible streets of Edinburgh. She especially hadn’t expected to find a monster in her living room, chewing the end of her Christmas stocking.

by Paris, P5a

by Paris, P5a

When she had walked into the living room, her first thought had been: don’t you dare eat my chocolate coins! Her second thought had been: I don’t want mum and dad to see this, and I don’t want this to see mum and dad. Her third thought had been: RUN! So she had flung open the back door and shifted into a hare in one practised move.

It wasn’t until she had been running down the back garden, drawing the beast away from both her chocolate coins and her parents, that she finally thought: what’s a dragon doing in my living room?

But now, Molly wished she’d found somewhere small to hide rather than somewhere wide to run. She circled and dodged and zigged and zagged across the school’s rugby field, and the dragon swooped and dived and soared above her.

by Cooper, P6b

by Cooper, P6b

Though, so far, it hadn’t tried to roast her or bite her.

Molly realised it wasn’t a very big dragon. It had seemed huge in the living room, but compared to the wyrm she’d met in Speyside in October, it was really quite small.

Perhaps she could fight it off.

Not as a hare. Hares can only run and punch. As a girl. Girls can wield weapons.

So she ran for the nearest fence, dived between the black iron railings, and became a girl again as she skidded along the icy ground.

That’s when she realised she was still wearing her pyjamas, and rabbit-printed cotton doesn’t give much protection against ice or snow. Or dragons.

She leapt to her feet, grabbed a long forked stick from the snowy ground and waved it at the pursuing dragon.

by Keira, P3

by Keira, P3

Who was no longer pursuing.

The golden dragon was perched on the tall spiked fence, back feet gripping the rail along the top, front feet tucked up almost like a squirrel’s paws. The metal fence was bending slightly under the dragon’s weight.

Molly shouted, “Go away!” and waved her stick.

The dragon was the size of a lion, or a tiger. Much bigger than a dog, slightly smaller than a horse. Definitely smaller than the wyrm Molly had chatted to in October.

So Molly waved her stick again. “Go away!”

The dragon’s shoulders sagged and its long spiky tail drooped.

Then the dragon fell clumsily backwards off the fence, landed on the rugby pitch, and blasted a long line of flame from its mouth. Molly backed off, planning to run the long way home, lock all the doors, and find the fire extinguisher from the kitchen.

But then she saw what the dragon was doing with the flame. The thin precise flame was melting shapes in the same snow Molly had marked with her zig zag line of pawprints. The dragon was writing words in the snow.


by Apisai, P6a

by Apisai, P6a

Molly didn’t run away. She leant over the fence and asked, “You want me to help you?”

The dragon nodded, and perked up a bit, its golden tail wagging like a retriever’s. Then it swooped low along the edge of the rugby pitch, melting the snow with a long pen-like line of flame.


Molly walked beside the fence, reading the whole long sentence. She frowned. “Burn anything else? What did you burn the first time?”

The dragon drooped again. And wrote: WITCH’S GARDEN SHED. ACCIDENT. HICCUPS

Molly nodded. “So you annoyed a witch, and she cursed you so that if you burn anything else in the next week, you’ll become smoke yourself?”

The dragon nodded.

Molly shrugged. “So, just don’t burn anything…”


Molly remembered the questions she’d been set as homework on the curse-lifting workshop. “Did you say sorry to the witch?”


The dragon had written on all the snow near the fence. So Molly climbed the fence, and walked with the golden dragon to a smooth white part of the pitch. Molly’s slippers flapped soggily on her feet.

The dragon wrote in the clean clear snow. I’M SCARED. MAKE ONE MISTAKE AND I’M SMOKE.

“Do you burn things deliberately?” asked Molly.

The dragon shook its spiky sparkling head. NOT ANYONE ELSE’S THINGS. JUST MY TOAST AND MARSHMALLOWS. BUT … HICCUPS

“Is there any way to put your flames out and just not make any fire at all until the New Year?”

The dragon shrugged and opened its mouth. Molly saw a bright orange flame burning at the back of its throat.

The dragon hiccupped, a blast of flame jetted out of its throat, and Molly dropped to the ground, making a messy snow angel as she scrambled away.

The dragon wrote OOPS

by Aimee, P7

by Aimee, P7

“Just as well you didn’t burn me, or that would have ruined both our Christmases.” Molly stood up and brushed snow off her damp pyjamas, her fingers tingling in the cold.

She smiled. “I have an idea! Would you let me try to put your fire out? Just for a little while?”

The dragon nodded.

While the dragon danced around her, melting a spiral of clawed footprints into the snow, Molly made snowballs, her fingers growing numb as she formed the icy shapes. Once she had built a white pyramid of snowballs, she said, “Open your mouth, please.”

The golden dragon opened its jaws wide. Molly stood as close as she could bear to the furnace heat coming out of its mouth. And she started to throw snowballs in. Like one of those serving machines on a tennis court, she threw them in fast, one after the other, aiming for the back of the dragon’s throat, for the base of the orange flame.

She missed with one or two snowballs, some bouncing on the ground, one getting stuck in the dragon’s left nostril. But most of the snowballs hit the target.

by Jayden, P5b

by Jayden, P5b

The fire in the dragon’s throat fizzled and sizzled. Molly threw in even more snowballs. The fire became dimmer and dimmer, then died.
When Molly had used up all her snowballs, the dragon breathed out. And the air that hit Molly was warm, not flaming hot.

Molly nodded. “Now you can’t make fire, so you won’t trigger the witch’s curse. If you feel your throat sparking up again this week, eat more snow. And if you want, I’ll use you as snowball target practice again. So you can use the Scottish weather to get round the curse until Hogmanay.”

The dragon used its claws to scratch in the bare grass of the pitch, where Molly had scooped up snow to make snowballs.


As the dragon flew away, Molly shouted, “But don’t eat yellow snow. And don’t eat any snowmen either!”

Molly squelched home, in her soggy slippers, to see if there were any chocolate coins left in her stocking…


By David, P4

By David, P4

Weren’t the illustrations amazing? Thanks so much to everyone at Pirniehall, pupils and staff, who created so much brilliant artwork – it was really tough choosing the winners from all your fabulous pictures…

And if you want to read more about Molly’s adventures as a hare, you can find her at a curse-lifting workshop in the Spellchasers trilogy:



Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Touring Northern Ireland

Tom and Beth of the Scottish Book Trust's events team

Tom and Beth of the Scottish Book Trust’s events team

I’m just back from a week-long tour of Northern Ireland – the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by the wonderful Beth and Tom of the Scottish Book Trust, with the help of Book Trust Northern Ireland. And I had a brilliant time!

I visited pupils from 13 different schools, in ten different events, ie two events a day from Monday to Friday. I read scenes from the first and sometimes the second Spellchasers books, and occasionally a bit of a Fabled Beast Chronicle too. I also chatted about how stories worked, and told a myth, legend or folktale in every school as well. I had a wonderful time in each school, and I can (almost) remember what we did in each session:

Holy Child PrimaryHoly Child Primary and St John’s Primary in Derry: our first school, so I took a risk and told a story about an Irish Celtic hero visiting Scotland. I got away with it, though it turns out I’ve been pronouncing Cuchullin wrong all these years…

Hollybush Primary in Culmore: This time I told a Scottish folktale, one I tell at home all the time, but it felt quite strange taking a Scottish story across the sea, almost like being an ambassador for Scottish trad tales!  Also, it turns out that they don’t call potatoes ‘tatties’ in Northern Ireland…

St Joseph’s Primary in Dunloy: Their hall had a very echoey wooden floor and I was wearing very clunky boots, so after consulting the P4s (always wise people to consult) I took my boots off and did the whole session in my socks. I told a Viking myth, which meant that I got to be Loki in stocking soles and sneak around like a real god of mischief.

St Patrick’s Primary in Glenariff: they were reading Wolf Notes, and the hall was filled with wonderful pictures of wolves! (And centaurs…) Also, a pupil called Molly was our guide round the school, and she was remarkably relaxed about how badly I treat the Molly in Spellchasers…

St Comgall’s Primary in Antrim: This session started with a witch chasing a phoenix, and ended with an amazing Q&A session in which a P6 girl asked a question that I’ve never been asked before, and as I thought my way round an answer I found myself having an idea for a new novel while standing in front of 290 primary pupils…

Phoenix Integrated Primary in Cookstown and St Patrick’s Primary from Monymore:  I couldn’t help myself. I was in a school called PHOENIX Primary, so I chatted to them about Catesby, the phoenix in Fabled Beast Chronicles, and we also come up with lots of exciting cliffhangers, not all of them about fiery birds!

Carrick Primary in Lurgan: The Carrick pupils created a story by trapping a tiger in a cage, but the tiger kept (almost) escaping. It was a relief that we reached the end of the story without anyone in the school getting eaten!  Then, inspired by their tiger trapping, I told them a Hindu myth.

Templepatrick Primary and St Joesph’s Primary, Ballyclare: this was our biggest audience, with more than 300 children in one hall.  They were incredibly well behaved and listened to each other’s ideas and questions so politely! We invented a chase in which a werewolf was trying to eat a rainbow elf. Did the elf get away safely? That’s the cliffhanger…

IMG_4085Lisburn Central Primary, Lisburn: I met some very imaginative pupils, who invented some great cliffhangers, and also come up with some very positive and cheerful endings for my favourite (but usually quite tragic) Viking myth.

And finally

St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Belfast: the very last school, with a very lovely warm welcome. (They brought us chocolate biscuits before we started…) It got a bit more dangerous once we started talking about stories, because we trapped a fairy godmother in a cave. With sharks.  But it all ended happily, just like the tour!

I was asked wonderful questions in every single school. I can’t remember them all, because I concentrate on answering the questions, not scribbling them down.  But I do remember the one which prompted a novel idea.  And I’ll never forget the one which stumped me completely.  Someone in the front row in St Patrick’s on Tuesday asked me:

‘If you had to kill one of Helen or Molly, who would you kill?’

I did try, but I just couldn’t answer it.  So I wimped out and said I’d fight whichever baddie wanted me to make that choice, in order to give both my heroines time to get away…

IMG_4034The ten school events were the highlights of the tour, but we managed a few out-of-school highlights too:

Beth, Tom and I visited the Giant’s Causeway one evening as the sun went down.

And I found a 1000 year old fort, all grown over with grass, on a night-time walk in a town called Moira, and scrambled over it in the dark and the rain. (That prompted a few story ideas too.)

I must say that the Scottish Book Trust team were fantastic.  Beth and Tom were extremely efficient and well organised, and looked after me very well (except when they took me to Dangerous Places) but they were also fun to spend 6 days with. We played several very serious games (or perhaps very silly games which we took very seriously) in the car. They taught me games involving actual horses and imaginary thimbles and I taught them one involving yellow cars.

They drove me around in a big car (small van?) which left Edinburgh full of boxes of books, and by the time we headed home was almost empty. Which I’m sure will make my publishers happy.

IMG_4047But the best thing about the van was the squirrel on the bonnet, and various other wonderful Scottish animals reading books painted on the sides – all created by the illustrator Sarah Macintyre. It was a lovely cheerful vehicle in which to visit all these villages, towns and cities.

And driving between the schools was wonderful, because Northern Ireland is very beautiful. It has lots of green fields and hills, but also dramatic glens and rocky coastlines.

It was a privilege to share stories with all those imaginative Northern Irish pupils, and to visit all their lovely welcoming schools. Thanks so much to everyone who put the tour together and who made it such a wonderful experience!

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Bye Bye Fabled Beasts

I just put a Fabled Beasts event up on my website diary (Falkirk Waterstones, Sat 16th July, hope to see you there!) at which I will probably read from First Aid For Fairies or perhaps Storm Singing, then chat about fabled beasts and how to write adventures.

I do lots of Fabled Beasts events. I really enjoy them. And I’ve just realised that I’m about to stop doing them.

I thought I’d said goodbye to Helen, Yann, Rona and the other Fabled Beast Chronicles characters a few years ago, when Maze Running was published.

But I’ve just realised that the real goodbye is this summer.

Because, even though Maze Running was published a few years ago, whenever I’m invited to speak to pupils or readers of the right age group, I always start my event with a reading from the Fabled Beast Chronicles, then a chat about how I wrote Helen’s adventures (unless I’m specifically asked to do something else by the organisers.) But that’s all going to stop. Very soon. August, in fact.
I’m really really really excited that the first book in the Spellchasers trilogy is coming out in September. And I’m so looking forward to introducing readers to Molly, Innes, Beth and the other characters, and the danger I put them in, and the magic that surrounds them.

But doing lots of Spellchasers events means I won’t be doing Fabled Beast events any more.

If I visit a P5 class next autumn, I will be reading from Beginner’s Guide to Curses. Next spring, I will be reading for Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. And from autumn 2017, I will be reading from Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat. As soon as the first book of the trilogy is launched, Spellchasing will be my default event. Obviously if I’m specifically asked to do a Fabled Beasts event, for a class who are doing a project on it, for example, I will be genuinely delighted to do that. But otherwise, all my adventure novel events will be based on Spellchasers.

And that’s fantastic.

But it is also a little bit sad.

my favourite reading...

my favourite reading…

I’ve just looked at my calendar. I think I’m doing two more events where I will read from the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That’s only two more times that I’ll be able to read my favourite scene from all four books (the cave scene from Storm Singing, with the definitely vain and possibly murderous mermaids.)

Only two more times. And that’s it. Then it’s all about Molly and curses and shapeshifters and spellchasing. And it’s good bye to fabled beasts and centaurs and phoenixes and minotaurs. Sigh. But, if I hadn’t wanted this, I should have kept writing the Fabled Beast series, and not allowed myself to get excited about any other ideas. But I wanted to meet new characters, I wanted to play with new magic and new dangers. This was my choice. So, I should stride ahead cheerfully into the Spellchasers world, and not look back to the Fabled Beasts world.

But it does feel a bit odd. There are lots of books I’ve written that I almost never read from now. Books that I’m really proud of, but that I hardly ever revisit. However,
the Fabled Beasts series has been the backbone of most of my events, for my whole writing life. Moving on to Spellchasers is the start of something new and exciting. But it’s the end of something too…

I’m really keen to introduce lots of new readers to the world of Spellchasers, so you can meet Molly, Innes, Beth and Atacama. And the toad (not that we know who the toad is…)

But I do hope that, once in a little while, I get the occasional excuse to read from a Fabled Beast Chronicles book too.

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Why I don’t dress up for school Book Weeks

I spend a lot of time answering questions and encouraging story ideas from school children dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2, various princesses, Mathilda, Frodo, centaurs (hello Yann), purple fairies (hello Lavender), Dorothy, Alice, the Cheshire Cat and an impressive number of Boys in Dresses.

Why? Because I’m often invited to schools during their Book Week and they often decide that the day I visit in the best day to Dress Up As Your Favourite Book Character. Which is lovely! I get a kick out of saying: great idea Gandalf, or fantastic question Hermione…

I don’t just speak to school halls filled with book characters on World Book Day or during Book Week Scotland, because lots of schools sensibly hold their book weeks at other times of the years. (It’s hard to get an author at short notice in early March and late November!)

When I’m standing up in front of pupils in fabulous costumes, I sometimes feel guilty that I haven’t dressed up myself. It’s not as if I don’t have favourite book characters…

But when I’m doing an author event, I am never just one person. I am me, obviously, chatting about how I write. But I’m also lots of other characters, when I’m reading from my own books, and when I’m telling the stories which inspire me.

For example, earlier this week, I visited an Edinburgh primary school filled with pupils (and teachers) in brilliant homemade outfits. I was just wearing my usual boring black and grey clothes, so I felt a bit underdressed! But in few hours I spent at the school, I was:

A mermaid
A girl drowning in a cave
A girl falling down a mountain
An untrustworthy magician
A Viking hero
A bossy king
A scared boy
A monster eating a bull
A shape-shifting demon (which involved brief moments as a caterpillar, a T Rex, a lion and a buffalo)
Several really annoyed gods
And a ten-armed Hindu heroine
(and that’s just what I can remember!)

Dressing up as Durga might be a bit distracting...

dressing up as Durga might be a bit distracting…

And I suspect it’s easier to be a lion and a mermaid and a god, if I’m wearing boring jeans and a cardi, rather than dressed as Gair from the Power of Three, or Annabeth from The Heroes of Olympus, or Janet from Tam Linn, or Francesca Greenwood’s amazing Durga from Girls Goddesses and Giants

So, that’s why I don’t dress up for all the Book Weeks I get invited to! But I’m always happy to see your costumes…

(And yes, if you’re wondering, getting to become a god, a heroine, a monster and a caterpillar even briefly as part of a normal working day, is one of the many reasons I love my job.)

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

The only thing I hate about being an author…

I love being an author. The best bit is writing stories and adventures, but I love lots of the other bits of being an author too. I enjoy redrafting and I really love working with editors. I love meeting readers and talking about my books too.
But the one bit of being an author that I really don’t enjoy is …
getting my photo taken!
At family birthday parties and on family holidays, I avoid being in photos (usually by taking them) but at book launches and book events, and for newspaper articles and book festival programmes, I find myself grinning at a camera on a regular basis.
That grin can get painful after a while. I bet it never looks natural.
And my hair… I always forget to brush it
And my clothes… I only have a couple of tops which are tidy enough to wear in public so they appear in rotation in all the photos…
So, I really don’t like getting my photo taken.
But now I’ve found the best way to do it. Share the picture with a DRAGON! Because then hardly anyone will pay any attention to me.
Or even better, share the pictures with a DRAGON and lots of school pupils, because then noone will pay any attention to me!

And I made this discovery during our recent Dragon Tour. The Fabled Beast Chronicles have splendid new covers, and the clever marketing people at Floris came up with the idea of a dragon tour to publicise the new covers. So Nuria designed and created a dragon costume for her car, and we drove to various schools all over Scotland and the north of England, then dressed the car as Sapphire at each school.

We started at Pirniehall School in Edinburgh, where we learnt how to dress a dragon VERY fast.
Pirniehall pupils

The same day, we flew up to Forthview Primary, where every single child from P1 to P7 came out into the carpark to pat and stroke and feel Sapphire’s scales and teeth!

Then we went to the Strathearn campus in Crieff, and children from Crieff Primary, Muthill Primary and Braco Primary schools met Sapphire.

Then our longest journey – up to Arduthie Primary in Stonehaven, where it was so windy we had to anchor the corners of the flames down with children!
Pupils at Arduthie (2)

Then we took the Fabled Beast Chronicles to Cumbria, first to Hunter Hall School which has RED SQUIRRELS on its school tie!
Hunter Hall pupils (2)

Then to Armathwaite School, where the amazingly confident and creative children spent the whole of their morning break and most of lunchtime playing with Sapphire
Pupils at Armathwaite 6 (2)

We might take the dragon tour to a couple of other parts of Scotland, once Sapphire has had time to recover (and dry out) but in the meantime: thanks so much to every school we visited, you were all fantastic! (And a huge thanks from me to Nuria – well done for creating such a wonderful dragon, and for all your wonderful dragon navigation!)
Nuria with Sapphire

But to be honest, I still don’t like getting my photo taken…

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Patron of Reading at Forthview Primary

I am delighted to announce that I am now the Patron of Reading at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh!

In three very packed events last week, I chatted about books and stories with EVERY SINGLE CLASS in the school (more than 400 kids in one day) and I was really impressed by their passion and their imaginations and their brilliant questions.

I was also extremely impressed that parents turned up to each session and sat at the back of the hall (they got chairs, the pupils sat on the floor…) watching as their kids discussed books and reading, and came up with story ideas.

That was particularly important because what the school really want to achieve is a Reading Community, where everyone – pupils, teachers and families – share their enjoyment of books and reading for pleasure.

I am a huge fan of reading for pleasure (I do it myself as often as I can!) but I’m also a huge fan of writing for pleasure, making stuff up for pleasure, and playing with stories for FUN!

So when I visited, the nursery and P1s read The Magic Word and brought a toy pony to life with some magic ingredients and a bit of stirring.

The P2s and P3s read Never Trust a Tiger and helped a tricksy little rabbit escape several times from a hungry cobra.

And the P4s to P7s read a bit of Storm Singing from the Fabled Beasts series, and worked out lots of different and dramatic ways to rescue someone from a cliff edge.

I also met some of the teachers, some of the parents, and some of the council and library staff who will be working wit the reading community. And I heard about lots of the brilliant ideas the school are coming up with, like a reading group for dads.

And I want to go back! I want to go back and chat to smaller groups about what they love reading, what they love writing and possibly give them sneak previews of what I’m writing too. And that’s the great thing about being Patron of Reading – I will go back!

It’s amazing to be invited to be part of such an ambitious project, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Thanks Forthview Primary, and hope to see you again soon! (Keep reading! And keep away from cobras and cliff edges…)

Here are some pictures of the launch:

photo 3 (2)
I think this was when I asked who loved stories! (Or it might have been when I asked for ideas about how to escape from a cobra. They’re resourceful kids in Forthview…)

photo 1 (2)
This is inspirational headteacher Mrs Littlewood talking about how much she loves reading.

photo 5

This is me grinning like a loon in front of a table of books.

image (4)

And finally, a slightly odd picture of me either doing a wee dance, or pretending to kick a tree trunk into a pit to save a tiger.




Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Why read a manuscript when you can no longer change it?

Today, I’m going to sit down and read Mind Blind, my new teen thriller. Which isn’t that unusual. I’ve been reading, rereading, redrafting and tweaking Mind Blind constantly over the last few months.
But today, I can’t change anything. Mind Blind has already gone to the printers. It’s going to be available in bookshops on the 20th of March. Next month! Today I’m going to be reading the manuscript without the power to change anything, which will be a bit strange and frustrating.
So why am I reading it?
Because this time I’m not looking for things I can fix or improve, I’m looking for quotes and readings.
My relationship with Mind Blind is changing. For a long time I was writing the book: getting to know the characters, following new ideas, finding out what happens next. Then for months (most of last year!) I was redrafting and editing: working out the best way to tell the story. But now, I’m getting ready to promote the book: telling people about it, getting readers interested in it.
To do that, I need to find readings and quotes.
It’s an odd time. It feels like the book isn’t really mine any more. I’m a writer, but I can’t WRITE this book any more. I can’t come up with new ideas, I can’t change any words, or cut out any flabby bits. All I can do is help the book get out there and find readers. Because once a book stops being mine, when I can’t write it any more, it becomes the readers’ book instead.
So today, I’ll be rereading Mind Blind, looking for:
Sections to read during author events (in classrooms, in bookshops, in libraries, at book festivals etc)
Short quotes to give a flavour of the book
Sections to film on location
All of these readings need to be different – different lengths, focussed on different bits of the story – but they all need to have similarities too. All the readings must be exciting and self-contained, but they shouldn’t give away too much about the plot. They need to introduce the characters and their problems, but not give away how those problems are solved. They need to be short and punchy, and not need much explanation.
None of that is easy to find! So it means reading the book in a different way, almost with different eyes.
Also for the first time, I’ll be filming sections of Mind Blind in both London and Edinburgh, where the story is set, and that’s going to make things even more complicated. Normally I don’t choose readings from near the end of a book, but we’re planning to film in several locations in Leith which only appear in the final couple of fights and chases, so it’s going to be difficult to find readings which don’t contain spoilers!
But there is one other thing I will be looking for today, and it’s the most exciting thing of all. While I’m reading through Mind Blind, I might glimpse a few wee hints of story and characters and ideas that might, just might, point me in the direction of a sequel. And that would give me a whole new relationship, as a writer, with these characters.
So, here I go…
“I killed a girl today, just after the school bell…”

the first page of Mind Blind

the first page of Mind Blind

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Choosing your favourite characters and making centaurs’ rear ends

I’ve met lots of kids dressed up as their favourite book characters in the last couple of weeks, for World Book Day and for Comic Relief. And one of the questions I’m asked most often during school visits is: who’s my favourite character in the books I write?
So I’ve been thinking about how we choose our favourite characters, and whether readers and writers like different characters for different reasons.
Do readers choose their favourite characters because those characters are like them, or very unlike them? Do readers choose the characters who are the funniest or bravest (or the easiest to dress up as?) Do readers choose characters they’d like as a friend?
Do writers like the characters who are most fun to write, or the characters who are most challenging and difficult to write? Do writers like the characters who keep the story moving, or who can be relied on to make any dialogue sparky?
I know readers have very strong relationships with their favourite characters, because I often get emails from readers demanding to know why I’ve done particularly terrible things to the characters. (The best example of this is a series of questions from a class in Inverclyde – you can read how defensive I got about all those injuries in First Aid for Fairies!)
I’m not sure writers make a decision to have a favourite character. I’m often surprised at which character turns out to be my favourite. Emmie is probably my favourite character in Rocking Horse War, and that wasn’t meant to happen at all. She was meant to be a minor character, but she just took over, which took me by surprise and makes her one of my favourite characters ever to write.
My favourite character in the First Aid series is Yann the centaur. That wasn’t the plan either! He was grumpy and aggressive and not very nice to Helen when I first met him. He argues with me in my head when I’m writing, and he can be very touchy and rude to other characters as well. He’s inconveniently honest (which I played with in Storm Singing) and unnecessarily keen on action and violence (which I did my best to deny him for most of Maze Running) and I’m absolutely sure that if I met him in real life he’d be angry with me about how often I’ve injured his friends and how I use his strengths against him to make my stories stronger. And I don’t really want to meet an angry centaur! But he’s definitely my favourite character, and that wasn’t a choice, it’s just what happened as I wrote the books.
However, I’m glad I don’t have to dress up as a centaur!
I’ve met people dressed as Lavender the fairy (purple dress and wings), Rona the selkie (silky dress and sealskin) and Helen (first aid kit and violin).
But I’d never met anyone dressed as Yann, and I wondered if that was because he wasn’t anyone else’s favourite character (perhaps I’ve done too good a job of making him grumpy and aggressive?) or if it was simply because it’s not easy to dress as a centaur!
So you can imagine how pleased I was when I met a boy at Flora Stevenson Primary on World Book Day who was dressed up as Yann. And he had the best horse’s bottom I have ever seen! (Even better than a real theatrical centaur costume which I saw at the Lyceum a couple of years ago.) He couldn’t sit down in it though. (I find that with Yann as well. He stomps about in a mood while everyone else is sitting down chilling out…)
I was delighted that a real reader of my books also likes Yann best, and very impressed that he (and his parents!) had put so much effort into a centaur costume. Here it is:

the Flora Stevenson centaur!

How do you choose your favourite characters? Does having a favourite character in one book make you want to read more about them in another book? (Is that why series are so popular?) And when you’re writing a story, are you ever surprised at which character you end up liking the best?

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

What is a book launch for?

We launched the fourth and final book in the First Aid for Fairies series last night.  In a hot and crowded hall just off the Royal Mile (there were groups from at least 6 primary schools there!) we held a launch party for Maze Running.

But what is a book launch FOR? For readers it’s a chance to eat some crisps, and get a signed copy of the book before anyone else. For the publishers it’s a chance to let booksellers and buyers know the book is out there. And for the writer it’s a chance to thank all the people involved in turning a story into a book (and for Maze Running there were lots of thanks, including publishers, agents, early readers, my kids, vets… I hope I didn’t forget anyone last night!)

So a launch is really a hello to a book. A birth day birthday party, perhaps.

But last night was not just a hello. It was a goodbye too. Because Maze Running is the last in the series, I was saying goodbye to the characters and to the series.  Which wasn’t easy.  And quite a lot of readers in the signing queue asked me to write another one PLEASE! But I can’t write another First Aid for Fairies book.  I stood up there and said to everyone: “This is the last time Helen will go on an adventure with the fabled beasts, to heal their injuries, at the solstices and equinoxes.” And while the word “last” in that sentence seems quite definitive, it might be possible to gallop a centaur through the wide gaps in the rest of the sentence…

However, several other readers in the signing queue mentioned that their favourite book of mine was Rocking Horse War, and wondered if I would write a sequel to that, now that I’m done with Helen. So that’s an idea I’m kicking about as well…

But right now, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to write next, I’m concentrating on saying hello to Maze Running, and goodbye to the fabled beasts.

So here are a few (slightly blurry) photos of the launch. Me reading to a small group of fabled beast fans, and a few favourite character pictures from Lorne Primary in Leith and Calderwood Lodge in East Renfrewshire.

Thanks to everyone who helped to launch Maze Running!

chatting to a handful of fabled beast fans

some of Lorne Primary's favourite characters

some of Calderwood Lodge Primary's favourite characters

Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Maze Running – Written on the Run

I just looked at the very first folder for Maze Running, created when it was still called First Aid Four, and when I was working on each chapter individually, rather than in one big manuscript.

Looking at the names of the chapter files, you would think that I never sat at my own desk:

  • One chapter was started in a primary school staffroom (Chap 6, Priorsford)
  • Another was started in a primary school general purpose room between author events (Chap 17, Troon)
  • At least three were written on long train journeys
  • One was started in a train station in Lanarkshire when I on got the wrong train and was stuck in a waiting room for a couple of hours
  • One quest was completed on the platform at Dundee train station
  • One chapter was written in a hotel when I was doing a book festival in the North of England (Chapter 20, Durham)
  • One was written in a B&B in Gairloch, in the far north west
  • Another was finished in a guest house in Wigtown, in the far south west
  • One was started at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh
  • “Chapter 11, Mitchell” suggests that I injured a dragon in the Mitchell library (quietly!)
  • Three different chapters are titled “ballet” because I started them sitting on cold steps outside my daughter’s ballet class.
  • And another is called “Argyll quest at ballet exam” because I wrote part of the fourth quest while my daughter was sitting a ballet exam.  (She passed.  Helen and the fabled beasts didn’t do quite as well!)

In Maze Running, I send Helen and the fabled beasts on seven different quests, missions and rescues, to the south, north and west of Scotland.  But I’ve realised that the book was written in even more places than that!

So, does this mean I spend too much time away from my desk? Am I not taking my writing seriously enough? I don’t think so, because I don’t need a desk to write – I just need my netbook, or a pen and a bit of paper.  Or I can even just scribble on my other hand, or a napkin…

Does it mean I’m only inspired to write when I’m out and about, rather than at my desk, and should get out more often? I don’t think that either! I write a lot at home too, but because I’m not transferring those files from one computer to the other, I don’t give them such detailed names.

It really just means that my three jobs – being a writer writing, being a writer talking about writing and being a mum – are all part of the same life, rather than neatly separated.  So I take whatever book I’m writing with me everywhere I go, and write it wherever I can.

It also shows that I can have really good ideas when I’m sitting outside a ballet class, or in a cold train station.  Even if I am typing with gloves on.

I write fast-moving action and set my books all over Scotland, so writing on the run and in lots of different places is probably very good for my stories. And I write for 8–12 year olds, so working out how I’m going to start the next chapter just after speaking to P5 about cliff hangers and just before speaking to P6 about chase scenes, is probably the best way to write!

I wonder where I’ll write the next book?

tools for writing on the run: netbook, notebook, napkin