I’m off on a blog tour again!

Ah, writers, they grow up so fast! I’m feeling all grown up and big and ‘my haven’t you grown!’ about my wee writerly self today. And sadly it’s not that I’ve acquired any more inches (I wish!); it’s just that a year ago I didn’t know what a blog tour was. I’m not sure I really knew what a blog was and I’d certainly never written one. And now look at me, about to set off on my second blog tour – all grown up and blog veteran-ish (sort of!) Bless my little cotton socks!

My exciting new blog tour is tied in with the publication of my new book ‘Pop!’ (‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘The X Factor’ via ‘Shameless’ … wonderful contemporary storytelling with character that really get under your skin’ – The Bookseller) I’ve written about the on-off love affair between reality TV and fiction; about my guilty pleasures (things that inspire me, even if I’m a teensy, weensy bit embarrassed to admit it!); about Recession Literature for kids; and why it’s a nightmare having a teen novelist (me) for your teacher; about things I stole from real life to put in my new novel and lots of other stuff too.

Find out why my mum is going to kill me when she reads Pop!, about the fish-finger ear piercing granny zombie incidents, and how I outed my friend who’s a secret popstar. Find out why recession inspires great literature, hear my guilty confession about the Season 1 finale of ‘Glee’, and work out what my ‘anxiety of influence’ is and why Pop! is the secret love child of Simon Cowell and Suzanne Collins

It’s going to be messy, a little bit mad, definitely embarrassing, possibly thought-provoking with occasional flashes of profundity (maybe – I did try!) So come along – join the blog train. Check out the dates below if you want to follow:

June 11th http://nayusreadingcorner.blogspot.com/
Help! My teacher is a teen novelist

June 12th www.bookbabblers.co.uk
My guilty pleasures: thing that inspire me (even if I am teensy weensy bit embarrassed to admit it

June 13th I want to read that
Reality TV and the novel

June 14th www.BookAngelBooktopia.com
Things I stole from real life – and other places – to put in my novels

June 15th Chicklish
Recession literature – why economic downturns inspire great literature

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Thirteen sleeps till publication day!

In twelve sleeps’ time it will be my birthday (don’t ask how old I am!); in fourteen sleeps’ it will be the Jubilee, but – most excitingly – in thirteen sleeps ‘Pop!’ hits the bookstores and I’m getting all giddy about it!

It’s ever so nice of the dear old Queen to be throwing a Bank Holiday in honour of ‘Pop!’ coming out, and I like the idea of the nation stringing bunting out of their windows to celebrate my little old booky-wook!

And Pop! is ever so topical this summer: Oil Refinery strikes, kids with Olympic dreams and Talent TV – it’s a hilarious and heartbreatking look at the impact of recession on UK children.

And it’s already getting rave reviews. ‘The Bookseller’ said, ‘Bruton proves herself a real rising star with this poignant, funny and very readable tale of three teenagers pursuing the talent show dream in the recession-hit North West. Wonderful contemporary storytelling with characters who really get under your skin ‘Pop!’ is ‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘The X Factor’ via ‘Shameless’.’

And Guardian reviewer Anthony McGowan, who recently described me as, ‘One of the finest teen writers of recent years,’ kindly said, ‘ ‘We can be Heroes’ was a superb first novel but if anything I like ‘Pop!’ even more… beautiful, beautiful writing’

Eek – squeak! Only thirteen sleeps to go! I can’t wait!

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A Jubilympic Reading List

Calling all librarians, teachers and parents – is there a child in Britain not doing Jubilee/Olympics as their ‘topic’ in school this term? Both mine certainly are. There are some great non-fiction titles related to both these topics, but what if you are looking for fabulous ‘Jubilympic’ fiction for your little readers to get their teeth into?

Never fear – I’m here to help! I’ve compiled a list of fab ‘Jubilympic’ fiction titles for kiddiwinkles of all ages. And I have included my new novel ‘Pop!’ but only cos it’s about a boy with Olympic swimming dreams so it totally fits. Well, the Queen’s not in it. Perhaps she should be but I fear it’s too late to shoe-horn her in now! So, anyway, here we are – my ‘Jubilympic Reading List’ – for the nation’s children to enjoy! Happy Reading!

Oh, and thank you so much to everyone who helped me find all these brilliant book; I can’t claim to have read them all! Do feel free to drop me a line through the website if you think of any more and I’ll add them! Ta very much! Enjoy!


Jubilee Books

Picture books

The Queen’s Knickers- Nicholas Allen

A humorous story about a little girl who wonders what knickers the Queen will be wearing when she visits the school. As enjoyed by the Queen herself at a Norfolk nursery, this is an affectionate, charming classic that every child should share. And it’s available with a sparkly new cover for 2012!

Peppa Pig meets the Queen

Join your favourite slightly bossy little pig, as Peppa meets the Queen. A perfect storybook to share with your little piggies at home in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee!

Katie in London James Mayhew

When Katie and her cousin Jack visit London with Grandma, they don’t think there’s much to see and do. At Trafalgar Square they meet a talking stone lion, and he takes them on a wonderful tour of the city taking in such sights as The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye!


5 – 9 years

The Queen’s Birthday Hat – Margaret Ryan

The Queen doesn’t want any fancy slippers or fancy necklaces for her birthday. What she’d really like is a new garden hat. The royal hatters make four special hats, but the Queen doesn’t like any of them. Then she spies the perfect garden hat on the donkey’s head.

The Queen’s Day off Sheila – May Bird

The Queen looks in her diary – and discovers she has nothing at all to do. She decides to take a day off from her busy duties and have lots of fun instead!

Horrid Henry Meets the Queen – Francesca Simon

A royal riot of a read starring tiny terror Horrid Henry. You might think that when the Queen pays a posh visit to Henry’s school, he would – just for once – manage to behave. How very wrong you would be…


Elizabeth the Jubilee Fairy – Daisy Meadows

Elizabeth the Jubilee Fairy makes sure that all jubilee celebrations are fun and magical! But when mean Jack Frost steals Elizabeth’s Diamond Sceptre, King Oberon and Queen Titania’s 1100th jubilee is sure to be a disaster. Can Kirsty and Rachel help Elizabeth find the sceptre so the royal couple can celebrate in style…?


The Queens’ Nose – Dick King Smith

Harmony’s uncle sends her on a treasure trail – which ends in finding a 50p piece. But the coin is a magic one, and when you rub the queen’s nose, your wishes will come true.

The BFG – Roald Dahl

I had to mention this one cos when the children of Britain are threatened by huge kiddy-munching giants, it’s down to a small girl called Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, and Her Majesty the Queen to save them.


Ages 10 +

Two weeks with the Queen – Morris Gleitzman

When Luke gets cancer it seems to Colin that it is just another way of his little brother trying to get attention. But when Colin is sent to England he hatches a plot that will really make his mum and dad sit up and take notice. If he can just get to the Queen to ask if he can borrow the best doctor in the country then all will be we


Titus Rules – Dick King-Smith

Tells the humorous (and fictional) story of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis, Titus, and his adventures while living in the palace.



Adult titles but which might be suitable for older readers


The Queen and I Sue Townsend

When a Republican party wins the General Election, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands.

Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed. But is their breeding sufficient to allow them to rise above their changed circumstance or deep down are they really just like everyone else?

The Uncommon Reader – Allan Bennett

A humorous novella. When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library, she feels duty bound to borrow a book and discovers the pleasures of the written word.

The Autobiography of the Queen – Emma Tennant.

Faced with the loss of her beloved home, Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II escapes alone to the Caribbean.

Death at Buckingham Palace : Her Majesty Investigates -C. C. Benison.

A novel in which — yes — Queen Elizabeth II plays detective! (Don’t you wonder if the queen reads these books?) Also Death at Sandringham Palace and Death at Balmoral!





Picture books

G is for Gold Medal – an Olympic Alphabet – Brad Herzog

Learn the meaning behind the five interlocking rings featured on the Olympic flag. Cheer on American Jim Thorpe as he won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, only to lose his medals later. Read how the man dubbed as the “world’s laziest high jumper” won the gold in 1968 and later had a jump named after him. All these moments and more are brought to life in G is for Gold Medal.

The Fairyland Olympics Meg Clibbon

Visually appealing to children with its delightful illustrations, this book is full of witty descriptions of Olympic events as performed by fairies. The centerfold depicts a complete fairy stadium with lots of detail to study, and kids are encouraged to use ideas from the book to stage their own backyard track-and-field events. A recipe for a healthy energy drink is provided for such an occasion, along with pull-out medals and trophies for award ceremonies at the end of the games.


Barbar’s Celestville Games Laurent de Brunhoff

Babar and his family are thrilled that Celesteville is hosting the Games! This is their chance to see the best athletes from all over the world compete and to meet new people from other countries. Everyone is wide-eyed as gymnasts fly through the air, divers make a splash, and cyclists race to the finish line! A grand tale about sportsmanship, love, and diversity.

P K and TK and the Special Olympics –Richard Hurley

While searching for a family of their own, P.K. and T.K. come across a broken-down school bus filled with children. The children are trying to make it to the Special Olympics on time so they can compete in the games! But with the bus breaking down, they need a small miracle in order to get achieve their dreams of being Olympic athletes. Determined to help, P.K. and T.K. devise a way to use their magical powers to help the children get to the Special Olympics. Will P.K. and T.K. get the children to the Olympics on time? A warm, heart-touching story about children helping other children achieve their dreams.


The Smurf Olympics – Peyo

Hefty Smurf loves to play sports, but he can’t get the other Smurfs to play with him. His solution – create the “Smurf Olympics”! The Smurfs divide themselves into two teams, all competing for the grand prize: a kiss from the Smurfette. But when one Smurf is turned down by both teams, he decides to compete on his own, throwing the entire games into chaos. Can one Smurf take on the entire Smurf Village? And can the two Smurf teams stop cheating long enough for the games to take place?



5 – 8 years


Olympic Adventure –Roderick Hunt

Another Biff Chip and Kipper Magic Key adventure from the Oxford Reading Tree series. The children find themselves transported to ancient Greece to the original Olympics.

Asterix goes to the Olympics – Rene Goskinny

Asterix, Obelix, and their friends have entered the famous Olympic games in Athens. They’re determined to taste victory, but the Gauls face formidable competition from both Greeks and Romans. Will it be a Gold Medal for Asterix? Or will he suffer the agony of defeat?

Ray’s Olympics – Libby Gleeson

Ray lied to the school bullies, and now he has to find a way into the Olympics before the Leary boys make mincemeat out of him.

Cows in Action – The Moo-lympic Games- Steve Cole

BEEFING UP THE OLYMPICS! Join Professor McMoo and his team on their exciting visit to ancient Greece. Genius cow Professor McMoo and his trusty sidekicks, Pat and Bo, are star agents of the C.I.A. – short for COWS IN ACTION! They travel through time, fighting evil bulls from the future and keeping history on the right track . . .

When Pat and Bo are cow-napped and taken to ancient Greece, McMoo discovers two ultra strong ter-moo-nators planning the biggest time crime ever. Battling evil ox athletes, strange cow-gods and deadly dung beetles, the C.I.A. must take part in the craziest Olympics in history – and if they can’t win, evil cattle will take over the world!

Dinosaur Olympics – Jeanne Willis

Darwin, the young stegosaurus, and his family are throwing a great party, when it is gate-crashed by T Rex Flint Beastwood and his scary gang. Will war break out between the dinosaurs or can Boris, the Mayor, bring peace with the brilliant idea of … the Olympic Games? Find out in Dinosaur Olympics, the first in a brilliantly funny new series from Jeanne Willis and Arthur Robins. With a cast of fantastically funny dinosaur characters, madcap adventures galore and a dino-mayor who will look very familiar to grown ups, Dinosaur Olympics is set to be a smash hit!

Steve Voakes – Hooey Higgins goes for Gold

Like cheese? Like champions? Like to see the Cheese of Champions? Read this book and you … might!


Olympia the games fairy – Daisy Meadows

Kirsty and Rachel are on an exciting day out to watch a triathlon – a three-part race where the athletes have to swim, cycle and run. But when the competitors start swimming round in circles, it’s clear that all is not well. Olympia the Games Fairy appears and explains that Jack Frost has stolen the three magical items which she needs to make sure the Fairyland Games, which are also on at the moment, run smoothly. Without them, both the human and fairyland games are doomed to chaos!


Sam and Ruby’s Olympic adventure – Tony Bradman

Ruby and Sam are given an ultimatum by their teacher: either they present a project on the Olympic Games or will not be allowed to go on their school trip. Creating a time machine, using Sam’s spare wheelchair, they travel from the beginning of the Olympics in Athens to the Beijing Olympics of 2008. Exciting story which presents the history of the Olympic Games in a fun format.


Danny Baker’s Silly Olympics: The Wibbly Wobbly Jelly Belly Flop and Four Other Brilliantly Bonkers Stories! Steve Hartley

A bumper bind-up of the first two hilarious DANNY BAKER stories (THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BOGEY and THE WORLD’S AWESOMEST AIR-BARF) plus a sensational new story THE SILLY OLYMPICS! (100% Unofficial!). Cheer Danny and his friends on as they bravely attempt to break the World Record for Jelly Belly Flopping, Custard Pie Flinging and Picking Up Baked Beans While Wearing Boxing Gloves! The competition is tough, but Danny is determined to hop, skip and boing his way to a gold medal (and a new World Record!).



Age 9 +

Running in her Shadow – Robert Rigby

A gifted track and field athlete, Megan Morgan has all the makings of an [Olympic] superstar. Whether sprinting, jumping or hurdling, her body moves like quicksilver and her sporting dreams look set to become reality. Backing Megan all the way is her determined mother. A promising athlete in her youth, she will not rest until her daughter competes for Team GB. But where is the line between love and obsession? And how much pressure can Megan withstand?

Pop! Catherine Bruton

Jimmy Wigmore’s dream is to swim for Great Britain at the Olympics. Or is that his dad’s dream? His best mate Elfie reckons Jimmy’s got chlorine on the brain and she comes up with a way better plan to rescue them from their tragically messed up lives – they’ll enter a TV Talent contest! It doesn’t matter that Jimmy can’t sing and that they have to lie about their ages – and loads of other stuff too – or that Jimmy’s dad is totally going to kill him if he messes up his chance to get into the Olympic target squad, when Elfie comes up with a plan there’s no stopping her. And maybe there is more to life than swimming after all. Maybe…Funny and heart-warming. Perfect for fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce.


Rush for Gold – Mystery at the Olympics. John Feinstein

Bestselling sportswriter and Edgar Award winner John Feinstein is back with another sports mystery featuring Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson—this one set at the summer Olympics in London. In this book, Susan Carol isn’t a reporter—she’s an Olympian, competing as a swimmer at her first Olympic games. Stevie is both proud and envious of her athletic prowess. And he’s worried by the agents and sponsors and media all wanting to get up close and personal with Susan Carol. But the more disturbing question becomes—how far might they go to ensure that America’s newest Olympic darling wins gold?


Parallel Lines Robert Rigby

Blessed with twin talents, Sam Warder appears to have it all. A lightning-fast scrum-half on the rugby pitch, he also performs feats of strength and agility on the parallel bars. But the London 2012 Games are approaching and Sam is at a crossroads. Flying in the face of peer pressure, he chooses Gymnastics as his sport. And then the threatening text messages begin…Can Sam hold fast to his Olympic odyssey in a school where rugby is a religion?

Olympic Mind Games- Robert Ronnson

In 2012 – Britain is gripped by Olympic Games fever, the world has a climate crisis, and his twin sister is an Olympic swimming sensation, but 13-year-old Jack Donovan has something much more worrying on his mind. A sinister face from Jack’s nightmare has appeared as a game icon on his computer and he is convinced a superior intelligence is responsible. The supposedly simple computer game becomes hypnotic and draws him in, totally. Someone or something is playing mind games…Hiding out in the safest place in the UK – London’s Olympic Village – Jack is fighting a force committed to global destruction.


Deep Waters Robert Rigby

Lucy Chambers lives to swim. Tipped as a future Paralympian, she has watched the Aquatics Centre rise up near her London home and hopes to make a real splash there in 2012. But the ripples of Lucy’s success have reached her mother, Sarah, who rejected her soon after she was born. Both mother and daughter share a passion for swimming – but is now the right time to start sharing in each other’s lives? For Lucy, the waters have never been deeper…


The Champion Maker – Kevin Joseph

In an unprecedented quest for Olympic gold in both the 100 and 1500 meters, a troubled track coach and his young protege uncover a shocking conspiracy. With its blend of cutting-edge science, legal intrigue and conspiracy elements, this timely thriller will delight fans of suspense and sports fiction alike.


Wheels on Fire Robert Rigby

Rory Temu is unstoppable on his battered BMX. Weaving and dodging though the Edinburgh streets, there’s no obstacle he won’t tackle. Such brilliance on a bike could take Rory far – maybe even to Olympic heights, so his teacher believes. But a gang on the streets has been watching too – and the members have their own plans for Rory’s talents. Rory has a gift and he knows it, but can he keep his balance over such rough terrain?


Olympic Poems


Olympic Poems – 100% unofficial- Roger Stevens

A brilliant, funny, inspiring collection of poems about sport and sporting events of every kind from PE lessons to sports day to the final of the men’s 100m race.

. There are poems about winning, and about taking part; poems about having all the right kit, but no talent; poems that show that it if you are at school being the best egg and spoon racer really is as important to your mum and dad as being an Olympic athlete; poems about being a team player and poems about being an individual hero. In fact, this book is packed with sporting gems of all kinds.


When Granny won Olympic Gold Graham Denton

Following the same successful formula as The Secret Life of Pants, Let’s Recycle Grandad, and My Cat is in Love with the Goldfish, When Granny Won Olympic Gold is a lively collection of poetry for 8-12 year olds. It includes plenty of humorous rhymes along with some moving and thought-provoking poems, and features all kinds of writing styles – from haiku to limericks. The collection is publishing at a perfect time to build on the increased interest in all things Olympic in the lead-up to 2012 London Olympics. A collection of medal-winning sports poems that children will love.








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Pop! New cover art at last!

Check out the amazing new cover art for my next novel ‘Pop!’ which comes out in June 2012. It’s on the Books page if you want to take a look and let me know what you think!

I can’t quite believe ‘Pop!’ comes out in just a couple of months. It was both great fun and totally hell on earth to write! I learned from writing it that I will NEVER attempt a three person narrative again, but I did have great fun watching limitless amounts of Talent TV for ‘research purposes’ because it’s about three kids who decide the only way to sort out their tragically messed up (and boring) lives is to enter an ‘X-factor’ style TV show, with – um – interesting consequences!

It was also inspired by lots of the antics me and my big sister and the very naughty girl next door got up to when we were kids – right down to the fish-finger ear piercing (you’ll have to read it to find out….!) Anyway, I love the new cover so I hope you do too!



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We Can be Heroes longlisted for the Branford Boase and the SSBA

Very touched and excited to hear the Heroes has been longlisted for The Brandford Boase AND the Southern Schools Book Award! Loving the BBA because it’s an award for editors too and my editor, the amazing Ali Dougal at Egmont, makes me a much better writer than I really am. I’m not sure people realise how much input a great editor has on the shaping and making of a novel. And the SSBA is lovely cos it’s voted for by Year 9 pupils and (unlike many teachers, I think!) I have a fondness for Year 9s! They are an underestimated species and some of the most discerning readers I know! So thanks for the nominations, although, as my husband helpfully says, it’s the hope that kills you…

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We Can be Heroes nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award

Today I’m all of a flutter, more than a little bit giddy and floating round in state of shock. Why? Because The 2012 Carnegie Nominations were announced today and there I was, up there with my literary heroes: John Boyne, Meg Rosoff, Michael Morpurgo (that’s the one that really impressed my kids!) Patrick Ness … Not to mention all sorts of other fabaroo writers like Alan Gibbons and Annabel Pitcher and Phil Earle. Basically, the longlist is so jam-packed with intimidatingly brilliant books that it made me feel a little bit sick and very in awe to look of it.
But basically I’m totally bowled over chuffed to little tiny bits! As a result I just may have been a little more mad and bonkers than usual in the classroom today. In fact, I suspect my pupils are now convinced I am totally off my rocker after small outbreaks of river-dance, inappropriate Darth Vader references (although he does sort of fit into ‘Lord of the Flies’, I’ll have you know!) and general giggliness in spelling tests! But it’s not every day a girl gets nominated for the flipping Carnegie, you know.
I celebrated with fireworks (kindly put on by my children’s school to mark the occasion – and perhaps also to commerorate bonfire night!), chocolate brownies and Tamara Ecclestone (not the real TE, sadly – just her gloriously dreadful TV programme which is set to be my new guilty pleasure!)
So, all in all, a lovely week. I finished a new novel (sort of – very much awaiting agent’s verdict!) bought my first ever pair of skinny jeans and got nominated for The Carnegie! What more could a girl ask for?

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We Can be Heroes Shortlisted for Centurion Award and Longlisted for The Redbridge!

Flipping Nora! This month just gets better and better! First it was The Carnegie Medal nomination, now I’ve just found out that We Can be Heroes has also been long-listed for The Redbridge Children’s Book Award AND short-listed for The Centurion Book Award. I’m shocked and honoured and completely humbled – and more than just a little bit excited about all this. I can’t honestly begin to explain how utterly wonderful it is to think that anyone out there is even reading the book; so the idea that folks might think it is worthy of short-listing/long-listing for an award is simply mind-blowing.

It’s especially lovely because both awards have been voted for by young readers. The Redbridge Children’s Book Award is run by schools and libraries in the London Borough of Redbridge. Aiming to highlight the best new reading for children and teenagers and to get young people reading and talking about books, long-listed titles are selected by school librarians, library staff and children. I love the idea that over the next few months pupils in Redbridge schools will be sitting round talking about, and getting excited about books – including my book! I also love it that they’ll be writing their own stuff at the same time. What a totally amazing award!

The Centurion ‘s Children’s Book Prize is voted for by school students and librarians in my home city of Bath which makes it a really special one for me. And no, I haven’t been going round Bath bribing ‘da yoof’ with bubble gum lollipops (although I do always carry a stash in my handbag for anyone who can do my ‘Smurf’ challenge – drop me a line if you want to know more!) But I still have this little fantasy about walking into Waterstones (or Mr B’s or Toppings or Smiths or Ex Libris or any of the other fab bookshops in Bath and around!) and seeing someone actually buying a copy of We Can be Heroes. Or – even better – sitting on the bus, or on the platform at the station, or in the park with my kids and seeing a total stranger actually reading it! Mind you, I’m not sure I’ll be able to behave with any dignity if this actually ever happens so perhaps the parents of Bath should lock up their book-reading kidd-winkles for fear of them being accosted by a crazed midget local author with a handbag full of sweeties! I suppose what I’m saying is that being short-listed for a Bath based award is pretty darned exciting for me so thank you, students of Bath and Centurion folks!

Right, now I mustn’t get carried away with all this. I have another novel to finish the copy edits on (it’s called Pop! and it’s Billy Elliot meets The X Factor via Slumdog Millionaire and I am dead excited about it). I’ve also got another very new manuscript which I am anxiously awaiting my agent’s verdict on – so I need to get my head out of the clouds and keep scribbling! But excuse me if I just do a little jig and sing a few verses of The Smurf anthem first cos this week I’m, feeling a bit like a contestant on The X Factor – and I just don’t want the journey to end!!!



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Big Bath Blog Story

As part of this year’s Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, twenty children’s authors are taking part in an ongoing story project which has been moving from blog to blog for the last week or two, with each author continuing the story as it travels. It’s my turn today so you can catch up on the entire story by clicking the links below, then read my contribution that follows it:
Part 1 by Rachel Beckwith http://bathkidslitfest.wordpress.com/
Part 2 by The Etherington Brothers http://theetheringtonbrothers.blogspot.com/
Part 3 by Annabel Pitcher http://www.annabelpitcher.com/blog-news/
Part 4 by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell http://www.stewartandriddell.co.uk/immortals_tour.php
Part 5 by Hannah Shaw http://hannahshawillustrator.co.uk/?news.html
Part 6 by Carly Bennett http://carlybennett.blogspot.com/
Part 7 by Lauren Kate http://laurenkatebooks.net/category/blog
Part 8 by Marcus Sedgwick http://marcussedgwick.blogspot.com/
Part 9 by Alan Gibbons http://alangibbons.net/
Part 10 John Boyne http://www.johnboyne.com/category/blog/


And now here is Part 11, written by me!

Chapter 11

Meanwhile, somewhere deep out in the ocean, in one of those places you only ever hear about on the shipping forecast (Dogger or Cromarty or German Bight or some-such), Cynthia, Mistress Moon, was still feeling exceedingly sorry for herself. Salt water is not good for a cheese complexion and even the Sea of Tranquility, where giant leaps had once been made for mankind (and Cynthia could tell a few tales about that particular escapade!) was now slowly melting like a fondue as the Queen of Tides sat on the bottom of the ocean bed sniffing dolefully and weeping slow gloopy Dairylea tears onto the seaweed.

And whilst the Moon wept, the oceans lay still. The tides had fallen silent; the coral had stopped singing; the river estuaries were cracked and dying; and the fishermen drew up empty nets time after time on silent listless seas. For without the Moon’s magnetic tug, there were no tides, no ebb and flow: the sea was a giant millpond, locked in watery stasis.

Something needed to be done and done fast and Breton the garlic loving Angel-Fish was starting to lose patience with the teary-faced Moon.

‘M’lady, zis wilting on ze sea bed like a giant ball of melancholy mozzeralla, it is lunacy!’ he said, flinging his fins around dramatically in the way that French Angel-fish sometimes do.

‘Oh, how you mock me with etymology!’ Cynthia sighed loudly, frightening a baby zebra fish which had ventured close to the Sea of Clouds crater just below her left ear-lobe.

‘Pah!’ said Breton. ‘Lunacy, lunatic, loony, lunambulism – which is a kind of sleepwalking believed to be related to ze moon, in case you were wondering,’ he explained in a helpful aside. ‘Zese are only words, my lady.’

‘Words with my name in them!’ trilled the moon, more than a little melodramatically (she had an artistic streak in her and had once, in her youth, considered auditioning for The X Factor).

‘But, ma cher Lune,’ said Breton. ‘Have you not also heard ze word illunis? It means without a moon, and it is one of ze most melancholy mournful words in ze whole dictionary. And that, my lady, is ze perilous and pitiful predicament our leetle planet finds itself in ever since your departure.’

‘You’ve survived eclipses,’ said the Moon, a little poutily. ‘And once a month I fade away to a mere crescent and nobody seems to mind that very much.’

‘But, zat is absodoodle different, my lady!’ protested Breton who would have twiddled his little French moustache at this point – if only he’d had one.

‘And since the whole werewolf-obsession started, I’ve become very self conscious about my weight, I’ll have you know!’ Cynthia went on. ‘It’s not nice for a girl to feel that scary doggies will go round biting people just because she puts on a few pounds.’

Breton sighed loudly and wondered, not for the first time, whether he would ever truly understand the complicated vagaries of the female heart.

Just then Cynthia’s faithful maid servant Egeria the water-nymph appeared. From a distance she looked like a mermaid (she was in fact the very mermaid Scribble and his crusty seadog companion had been pursuing across the ocean) but as she drew nearer you could see that what had appeared to be a glistening tail was in fact a fluid tunic of fabric so finely woven, so iridescent that it seemed to mirror the very phosphorescence of the tides. And in her midnight hair hung myriads of tiny silver stars that twinkled and shone liked the constellations themselves.

Egeria drew near and curtseyed low before the Moon. ‘Greetings, your Selenic majesty,’ she said, in a voice as soft as starlight. ‘I have seen the boy.’

‘The blue boy?’ asked Cynthia, perking up suddenly.

‘Indeed, m’lady. He is coming for you along with his companion the fisherman. He believes he can rescue you.’ Egeria glanced nervously up at her mistress through pearl-strewn lashes.

‘Fine,’ said Cynthia with a little pout which caused a lump of crumbly cheese to slide down off the Sea of Crisis (located on her left cheek) crushing a couple of hapless crustaceans who had been scuttling across the seaweed below, ‘Let him!’

‘But my lady…’ cut in Egeria.

The moon turned her big doleful lunar eyes onto her maidservant and said, ‘Why shouldn’t I allow myself to be rescued for once?’

Egeria said nothing, but simply lowered her pearlescent lashes.

‘Ahem,’ Breton coughed significantly.

‘Yes,’ said Cynthia, a trifle crossly.

‘Well, I make no claim to be a classical scholar, ma cher lunar lady,’ Breton said. ‘But I have read a lot of Percy Jackson and even I know zat Cynthia, goddess of the moon (sometimes also known as Artemis or Diana),’ he added in another of his helpful asides, ‘is famed for her independence, her vow never to be beholden to men.’

The Moon looked piqued. A small shoal of brightly coloured fish swam giggling over Sea of Nectar, a large crater located just inside her right nostril. ‘I suppose so,’ she conceded.

‘Zen surely you will not allow yourself to succumb to every out-dated female stereotype by playing ze damsel in distress in zis tale,’ said Breton, who was now getting into his stride, ‘just hanging around, waiting to be rescued by a flimsy male protagonist: a mere boy with ze mute button permanently switched on and body hair issues…’

‘Actually, our young hero, Scribble, has started to shed his hair,’ said Egeria in her quiet celestial voice.

‘He still looks like a Smurf to me!’ declared Breton flatly. ‘Not that I have anything against Smurfs. But ze point is, ma cher Luna, you can control the tides, speak to the creatures of the deep; you tug your twin, the sun, out of the sky night after night and send her dancing to the Hesperides. Surely you aren’t waiting for a mere boy to come along and save you. Zat would be such a cliché! So unbecoming to a symbol of female potency and independence such as yourself.’ He paused. ‘Don’t you agree?’

‘Hear! Hear!’ said Egeria, fixing Breton with a smile so strange and beautiful it set his fins all-of-a-flutter.

‘Hmm!’ sniffed the Moon, her big milky eyes now wide and thoughtful. ‘Well, I suppose you might have a point.’


So, there you have it. To find out what happens in the next exciting instalment you’ll have to wait until September 30th when you can read Michael Thorn’s entry at http://www.achuka.co.uk/achockablog/

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Writing for Children in a Post 9/11 World

This is a piece I wrote for Armadillo Magazine. You can check out the rest of the great magazine at: tinyurl.com/6kplw4v

Writing for Children in a Post 9/11 World

‘For a story to truly hold the child’s attention, it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity. But to enrich his life, it must be attuned to his anxieties … give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him.’

Bruno Bettelheim: ‘The Uses of Enchantment – The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales’

A recent article in ‘The Wall Street Journal’ caused a storm in the Twitter-sphere by suggesting that contemporary teen fiction was full of, ‘images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.’ The author of the article, Meghan Cox Gurdon, argued that making teen readers confront difficult truths and come face to face with the more challenging aspects of human nature was somehow morally corrosive and spiritually damaging. Within hours of the article’s publication, the topic became one of Twitter’s top worldwide trends after a British journalist asked YA readers to respond using the hash-tag #YAsaves. By the end of the day there were over 15,000 responses.

So when people ask me about writing ‘We Can be Heroes’ – a children’s book about terrorism, bereavement, fractured families, racism, extremism and kidnap – they sometimes question if those are really appropriate topics for readers of 11+. In response, I tend to argue that not only is it OK for kids’ books to address topics like this, but that it’s actually important that they do. And then I refer them back to Bruno Bettelheim whom I quoted at the start of this piece.

I came across Bettelheim, an Austrian born psychologist, whilst researching an article about fairytales. When I started reading them to my own children I was troubled by those gruesome endings: wolves cut open and their bellies stuffed with stones or boiled in scalding cauldrons, gingerbread men eaten, wicked stepmothers dancing to their demented deaths – surely this wasn’t appropriate stuff for children’s tender sensibilities.

But Bettelheim argues that it is. Why? Because stories are not merely entertainment; they perform a vital moral and psychological function within a child’s development. And it is for this reason that children’s stories should not shy away from the more troubling realities of life – from death, man’s capacity for evil, pain, loss, anger. Children need a safe space within which they can explore the troubling aspects of their world and their own natures, thus equipping them to deal with both. ‘Stories speak about his severe inner pressures in a way that the child unconsciously understands, and – without belittling the most serious inner struggles which growing up entails.’

Contemporary child psychologist, Linda Blair, agrees, advising parents not to shy away from fictional intimations of mortality. ‘In our society we shield both kids and adults from death and fear far too much: the result is that they have no idea how to cope with grief and loss when it occurs.’

So, Bettelheim changed my view of the function of literature (and made me stop adding on happy endings for wolves and evil step mothers – or even gingerbread men – when reading fairy tales to my kids!) And he is a big part of the reason that I chose to write a novel for children which explores the events of 9/11.

I’d written an article for ‘The Times’ about children who lost a parent in the September 11th terrorist attacks in which I included interviews with several kids who had lost a parent that day, and with a British boy whose father had died in the July 7th London bombings. http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article4706754.ece

It made me conscious that today’s children – my own children – are growing up in a world shaped by the events of 9/11 and I wanted to write a novel which explored the difficult questions that threw up. ‘We Can be Heroes’ is about a boy called Ben whose father has been killed in the attacks, and the friendship he forms with a young Muslim girl, Priti, who is convinced her brother is a suicide bomber. Priti enlists Ben’s help to foil the bomb plot with hilarious – and explosive – consequences.

‘My dad was killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York. But the stuff in this book is not about 9/11. It’s about the summer my mum went away; the summer that me and Jed and Priti tried to catch a suicide bomber and prevent an honour killing and started a race riot. So it’s not really about 9/11, but then again none of those things would have happened if it hadn’t been for that day. So I guess it’s all back to front. Sort of . . .’

Whilst I was writing the novel, I was researching another article about helping children cope with bereavement, a topic close to my heart following the death of my children’s grandfather. I learned that yes, children require reassurance but they also require honesty. Grieving children need adequate information about death and for adults to address their fears and anxieties directly. The same, it seems to me, applies to fiction. Children’s authors writing about topics such as death, war, terrorism, family break up etc. need to be honest and open with their young readers.

All this research very much informed what I wrote. Priti decides to turn amateur bereavement counsellor/child psychologist (as well as undercover bomb squad, marriage guidance counsellor and matchmaker!), encouraging Ben to make a memory box and talk to his grandparents about his dad. Meanwhile, Ben, asks loads of questions in a series of lists throughout the book which were inspired by the parents, children and experts I had interviewed.

‘Things I’d like to know about the men who flew their planes into the twin towers and killed my dad’

1. What did they look like?

2. Did they have brothers and sisters and families and kids and homes and stuff? And did they tell those people what they were going to do?

3. Were they scared of dying? Or was it that they didn’t like being alive and had rubbish lives so didn’t mind dying?

4. Did they hate my dad and all the people in the Twin Towers when they did it?

5. Did they hate the kids like me who had dads and mums in the towers too?

The children in my novel are forced to confront and explore the troubling realities of the terrorist threat, Muslim extremism, Islamophobia and racism and my hope is that the novel allows young readers to explore those issues themselves and reach their own conclusions.

Of course it’s hard to know if your own novel achieves what it sets out to do, but I do know that other contemporary children’s novelists are exploring similar themes with great success.

Annabel Pitcher’s superb novel ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ is also about a young boy whose life has been affected by terrorism. Jamie’s sister has been killed in a fictional terrorist attack on London and the tragedy has shattered his family apart.

‘Everyone kept saying it would get better with time, but that’s just one of the lies that grown-ups tell in awkward situations. Five years on, it’s worse than ever: Dad drinks, Mum’s gone and Jamie’s left with questions that he must answer for himself.’

Pitcher’s novel made me laugh, and cry, then do both again in turn. It asks difficult questions and does not provide all the answers. It is a book which will enlarge the sympathies of young readers and force them to ask questions of themselves and their society – both of which are surely good things.

‘I never set out to write about terrorism, but … I didn’t shy away from it either,’ says Pitcher. ‘Teenagers should not be patronised as readers. It is important for their books to reflect the reality of their lives. Unfortunately that includes terrorism.’

Anna Perera’s ‘Guantanamo Boy’ is a more challenging read. An unflinching portrayal of a 15 year old British boy’s ordeal in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, the novel makes disturbing reading because it reflects the plight of dozens of real child detainees.

Khalid is a Rochdale lad who loves football and computer games. On a trip to visit family in Karachi he is arrested and accused of taking part in a terrorist plot, then detained without trial for two years, first in Pakistan, then Afghanistan and finally in Guantanamo Bay. Perrera had researched the novel meticulously, so much so that it might be in danger of reading like a documentary were the voice of Khalid not so convincingly evoked.

Perrera draws our attention to the plight of the many young people who were imprisoned illegally in Guantanamo and the appalling suffering and torture they endured at the hands of their captors, but whilst the book is bleak it is not entirely hopeless. At the close of the story, Khalid has been irreparably changed by his experiences, his cousin is still imprisoned, the war on terror continues, but Khalid’s journey from disbelief through madness, to anger and finally forgiveness of sorts provides a glimmer of hope for the novel to end on.

‘I don’t think that feeling of misery will ever totally go away… But whenever I start to think of that prison, I stop and remind myself how kind most people are in the world.’

This book is harrowing but important – a novel every young person should be encouraged to read.

Similarly Alan Gibbons challenges young readers when he explores inside the mind of a suicide bomber in his extraordinary new novel ‘An Act of Love.’ ‘What breaks inside the child that makes the man so flawed?’ he asks in this clever page-turner which explores how ordinary kids can be sucked into violent extremism.

Told through a series of flashbacks and set against key news events of the past decade, it traces how two young British friends, Chris and Imran, end up as a wounded soldier and a potential suicide bomber respectively. In the background a bomb is about to go off – will it or won’t it? The element of thriller in this book will keep even the most reluctant readers glued to the page.

Alan Gibbons is aware that writing about controversial topics can evoke a mixed response.

‘Eight years ago I wrote ‘Caught in the Crossfire’, a … love story between a Muslim girl and a white boys. It was read with great affection by many but provoked some abusive letters and emails,’ explains in the Authors Note to ‘An Act of Love’. ‘Why do I choose such bleak subjects? Well, you only enter a dark room if you think you can light the way out.’

According to a study conducted by Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, from Monash University, children’s books, particularly those from the United Kingdom and Ireland, are well ahead of most adult books in writing on 9/11 themes and aspects of terrorism. ‘[Children’s] authors present an acute understanding of the ambiguities of war and terrorism,’ she says, in a recent paper. ‘Through their storytelling they reflect that not everything is black or white, or as simple as ‘good versus evil’.’ Through fictional portrayals, young readers are shown the importance of questioning what is going on – of looking at all sides of the issue.

And Dr Do Rozario believes that, although children’s books covered issues of terrorism, they also provided a sense of hope.

‘Ultimately, these authors equate terrorism with a very understandable construct – childishness. Their books reveal a sense of the ridiculous underlying terrorism and war, while still acknowledging the horrific consequences.’

When I’m not writing novels, or articles, I teach English part time at a local high school. And it is from that vantage point, more than any other, that I approach this topic. I believe that the WSJ journalist who seems to think that teen readers should be fed a diet of happy ever afters fundamentally under-estimates the intelligence – and the needs – of young readers. Because if the next generation are to tackle the problems that will beset tomorrow’s world, then children’s fiction surely has a duty to help them understand the troubles of today’s.

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Discussion topic for book groups

Discussion points for book groups

This post is written in honour of my own lovely book-group who told me I had to have a section on my website with discussion points for book groups. And since I wrote We Can be Heroes with my book group as well as my pupils in mind, it seems to me that this is the least I can do for my lovely literary ladies!
But this is a very weird thing to do! I mean, I studied English at Uni, I teach English, I am really quite fab at the whole literary analysis thing. And as for coming up with killer homework questions – I ace at that (just ask my students!) But analysing your own novel – not so easy.
I’ve suddenly come over all Roland Barthes Death of the Author about it, because who is to say that my interpretation of the novel is any more valid than that of any one who reads it? And who is to say that the novel actually does what I set out for it to do (I believe in a textual unconscious, me!) But I suppose that’s exactly why it’d be interesting to hear what you think about any of the questions.
I still think it’s a bit of a weird thing to do – I don’t reckon Shakespeare wrote book group discussion questions, right? But I’m not exactly claiming to be Shakespeare, so here goes….. your homework is due in on Tuesday or I’ll pop you in detention!

1. We Can be Heroes was inspired by an article I wrote for ‘The Times’ about children who lost a parent in the September 11th terrorist attacks. http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article4706754.ece

But some authors believe that 9/11 is not a suitable topic for fiction and sometimes I feel uneasy about my choice to fictionalise real life events. Do you think that novelists have any right to write about real life contemporary events in this way? And is it OK that the novel has a comic element to it when it is touching on such sensitive material?

2. ‘But this is not a story about 9/11’ says Ben. Do you agree? And if it’s not a novel about 9/11, what is it about?

3. I borrowed the idea of the lists from Sally Nicholl’s novel Ways to Live Forever, a book which I love. What do you think the lists contribute to the novel? Or perhaps you don’t like them at all. And how did you feel about the fact the novel ends on a list?

4. The novel is intended for readers from eleven to 111. I wrote it for my book group but also with my students in mind, but do you think that the issues it covers are suitable for younger readers? And do you think there’s any such thing as a crossover novel or just adult novels and kids novels. And, if so, which is this?

5. Ben’s doodling was a very late edition to the novel and yet I can’t imagine Ben without it. What do you think Ben’s drawing adds to the novel? What do you think of the manga comic at the back of the book and would you have liked to have illustrations throughout.

6. Some of the characters in the novel are hard to like. What did you think of the characters of Jed, Zara, Granddad and Uncle Ian?

7. Was there a point in the novel when you did think that perhaps the bomb threat was genuine? Why or why not?

8. In some ways, We Can be Heroes is an novel about mums more than about dads. Do you agree? And what did you think of the mothers in the novel: Ben’s mum, Aunt Karen, Granny, Priti’s mum?

9. ‘We Can be Heroes does not always offer answers because it is not the place of fiction to preach or to convert.’ This is something I say in an article, but I also quote Carnegie winner Alan Gibbons who has written on similar controversial topics. He says an author should, ‘only enter a dark room if you think you can light the way out.’

So do you think the novel is preachy or didactic? Should novels seek to preach or convert? And do you think We Can be Heroes does seek to convey any particular messages about the topics it covers?

10. ‘I also felt a sense of the need for optimism. Not for providing simplistic solutions or unrealistic happy-ever- afters, but for leaving room for hope…..And whilst the ending of We Can Be Heroes is a lot more uneasy than you might expect from a self-confessed optimist, it is not without hope.’
Do you agree that the ending is uneasy? Hopeful? And do you agree that novels covering controversial topics ought to offer hope?

11. The novel covers a lot of issues – racism, eating disorders, grief, parental Alienation syndrome, zenophobia, kidnapping etc. Do you think it tries to cover too much material?

12. The novel was originally called The 9/11 Boy and the German version has retained this title. Why do you think the title was changed and which one do you prefer. Why?

13. Oh, and this in the German cover. Which do you like best?

14. Somebody recently told me I needed to write a sequel about Priti and her family. Do you agree? Or do you think the novel should end just as it is?

That’s all folks. Can’t think of any more questions, but if you can, PLEASE contact me so I can add some more.

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