Hello and welcome to my January 2016 newsletter.
It’s a misty day outside, and I’m looking out at an empty field; for the moment there’s no living creature in sight! The trees are still and bare, the hills are in winter sleep. Welcome to my writing room!
Many new books have been dreamed up in this room, and the most recent is a beautifully produced story book for young readers, called Joe and the Dragonosaurus. It’s a Little Gem published by the wonderful Barrington Stoke (a dyslexia-friendly publisher), who make beautiful books that are treasures to collect, and I’m very proud to be published by them. Joe and the Dragonosaurus is about a boy who doesn’t have a pet because of his allergies. He makes one up, a scary, hairy green monster with eleven legs. It can fit in his pocket, it can grow wings, it’s better than any of the animals his school friends talk about. And then, one day, Joe saves the life of a real animal…
The book is charmingly illustrated by Becka Moor, and is dedicated to our new grandson Danny, who is far too young to read it yet! Here he is feasting on words, though.
The Making Them Readers blog says of it: “There are lots of things to love about this story… The book is so beautifully balanced and cleverly written that it was a joy to read.”
For more information and reviews, go to the Joe and the Dragonosaurus page.
I had a letter from the mother of (then) four year old Alys Gibson, who loves my picture book Blue John, which she borrows from Sheffield Libraries. She sent me a great picture of Blue John dancing – I can’t remember a cat in the story though! It looks very like my last cat, Midnight. Alys has tried desperately to find a copy of her own. Well Alys, and all the people who have written to me over the years asking where they can get copies, I have good news for you! It is, at last, going to be republished. It will look different, as sadly it won’t have Tim Clarey’s lovely illustrations. I don’t yet know who will be illustrating it. It will also be a different format, not a large picture book, but a sweet Little Gem, published by Barrington Stoke, who have just published Joe and The Dragonosaurus. It will be published in 2017, and I’ll let you know more about it when the time comes.
And on the subject of Blue John, I’m very proud to tell you about a lovely set of felt hangings depicting the story, and inspired by Tim’s illustrations. They have been made by members of High Peak Community Arts, and they are a feast of jewel-like colours now gracing the walls of Buxton Library, which will be their home. See the Blue John page to see the felt hangings.
Another very enjoyable event was held at the House of Commons to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the amazing Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. If you haven’t been there yet, do pay a visit to see their lovely exhibitions and to browse the archives of some 200 children’s authors and illustrators. Here is their current display of one of my books.
There have been some excellent stage productions of my books around the country. I was able to see one of them in person. This was called The Plague Children and was inspired by Children of Winter, set in Derbyshire at the time of the Great Plague.
Here is a link to a very informative blog on Children of Winter which will be very helpful to teachers and students as well as to general readers.
The whole play was written and choreographed by year 5 of St. Catherine’s Primary School in Sheffield, and performed at the Sheffield Library Theatre. It was a lovely, lively show, and I was particularly impressed by the dancing rats!
(Some of you may remember the excellent television dramatisation of Children of Winter. It is currently available on YouTube (uploaded by nathnakiklu). It is serialised in two episodes and there is a follow-up short documentary. Here’s the link.)
One of the other plays which I was unable to attend personally was a musical adaptation of Street Child, written and performed by the children of Deal Parochial School. I was thrilled to receive a DVD of the show, and was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the whole performance. Lucky me, the current year 6 will be performing their adaptation of Far from Home, the sister book to Street Child, in July.
Photo of Deal Parochial School’s Street Child production: Tom Keenan
Now for your letters.
Celine Fong and Gloria Ran both wrote from Harrow International School in Hong Kong. They’ve been reading Street Child, as have children from St. Joseph’s School in Country Antrim. Class 6 from Woolacombe school in Devon sent me a package full of their beautiful narratives based on characters from Street Child, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Sycamore Class and Mrs Ramsell’s class, both from Woodcote Primary School in Ashby-de-la-Zouch (one of my favourite place names!) also wrote about Street Child and Far From Home. They’re year 3s, and probably my youngest readers yet for these books. Some of the children told me which of the two books they prefer, which of course was of great interest to me. No, I’m not going to say which of the titles got the most votes! You’ll have to decide for yourselves!
Many schools, too many to name here, have sent me tweets about Street Child, and other books, accompanied by great drawings and sample stories. I was pleased to know that they’re reading it in Dubai!
Students at Leigh Academy in Dartford sent me some excellent questions about The Company of Ghosts, some of which were quite hard to answer – like “When did the ghost die?” Think about it!
Mimi wrote from Japan to say that she has read Dear Nobody in both English and Japanese: “I couldn't stop! I could imagine the beautiful scenery of Sheffield, feel the miracle and beauty of birth, and the love of mothers.”
Joseph Myers from Belmont School in London is my STAR writer this time. He sent me a beautifully written letter and a very fine story, and an idea for a prequel to Street Child and Far From Home!
Here’s his letter:
Hi! I’m Joseph. I’m 11 years old and I am in Belmont School. I am writing to tell you how much I like your books and how they inspire me to write. I was introduced to your first, Street Child, in English. After reading Street Child, I found Far from Home on my Kindle and immediately bought it. Having read both books (and writing a story of my own), I decided to write to you.
As a result of reading both your books I wrote a short story of my own and called it Dreaming Inside a Cage (I have put a copy in the envelope for you). I wrote it about a guy called Dean and how Dean goes to jail from a silly dare. In jail he gets bad dreams that never go away, and only get worse. I think you know where I got the start from. Hope you like it!
I love your book because you really explain what it was like in Victorian times and how hard it was to live alone at that time. While reading it I realised how lucky I was to live in 21st century and have a healthy happy life. I like how everyone can be treated the same whether they’re rich or poor. It was so awful for poor Victorians.
I would really like you to do a prequel of Street Child, telling the story of when Jim, Emily and Lizzie were young and their father was still alive. I would love you to write this because I would like to find out more information about their father and what their cottage was like. I think this too would be a book that would make me have mixed emotions.
I love your books and I love your ideas. Keep writing and please DON’T STOP!
PS: How did you survive coming face to face with a shark? And is it hard being an author?
Well done, Joseph. That’s a beautifully structured letter. I’m sending you a copy of Treason, which is set in Tudor times. I hope you like it.
The answers, by the way:
I climbed back into the boat very fast!