Inspiration Monday! A Great Day Out.

teresa-flavin-big-posterThis fantastic poster greeted me when I arrived at Allerton High School yesterday. The excellent team of students who organised my day of speaking and bookmaking with visiting primary pupils also made a variety of wonderful posters, flip charts, bookmarks and certificates. They were all charming, friendly and creative – a credit to their school!

Big thanks to everyone at all the schools involved and to the Ilkley Literature Festival which sponsored the event.

Inspiration Monday: Exploring Huddersfield!

I was delighted to be invited to speak to Year 6 at South Crosland CE Junior School recently, especially because Huddersfield Literature Festival awarded my visit as a prize for a schools writing competition. I discovered that the pupils are also keen illustrators when I set them a quick drawing activity and they all came up with a great array of characters. I always get a real buzz from seeing what young people can invent within a short period of time!

I didn’t know much about Huddersfield so before my event I asked teachers to set the pupils another short writing competition to describe some of the coolest and most atmospheric places in their area. Not only did I have a very enjoyable visit, but I left with a sheaf of their writings. The pupils wrote intriguing profiles of some interesting and unusual places. It was tough to choose an overall winner so I selected two top entries and four honourable mentions. And here they are!

First is Mia’s twist on the local legend of Devil’s Rock:

We’re told that the Devil jumped from there to Castle Hill but I don’t believe that. I’m sorry but it’s sooo cheesy! I mean really! The only thing is: I think my theory about Devil’s Rock is worse. I believe that it was a ship and Netherton was the coast line… The creaking boat crashed around as the wind savagely rocked it along its path. Well, almost its path. The captain had lied that they were taking a detour to avoid the worst of it but they were actually being mercilessly dragged astray from their winding path. CRASH! The boat was destroyed in one second but half of it indented the rock, lost souls of the sea forever enclosed in the dank yet treacherous rock.

Here is the beginning of a story that made me want to find out what happened next – and it was fun that Katie used my characters Sunni and Blaise:

Sunni carried on walking through the mud, the type that seeps onto your feet, soaking everything. She could feel the ancient train tracks as her wellies sunk through. Walking, walking and more walking. It took ages for Sunni and her best friend Blaise to walk through the vast woods leading to the end. To the wall. The tall dark trees arched over their heads. However, nothing was going to stop them now. The end was in sight. Eventually they were able to touch the damp, jagged wall. At the bottom there was a tiny, rusty gate. It started to rattle. The wind started to howl. There was a sharp echo. Something was coming…

Now for the honourable mentions. Lauren’s description of Devil’s Rock had a great atmosphere:

Devil’s Rock. A creepy, haunted cliff that has a scary giant’s footprint on it. Some say that hundreds of years ago a fierce giant called Hungrybones lived there! Over the years disgusting green moss has formed over the sharp rocks that stick out like pointy knives. Now and again the giant comes back to haunt his home once again…

Daisy’s story of a painting showing its artist on Devil’s Rock was intriguing:

The painting hung high above the dining room in the old house. Devils Rock. A huge rock with sharp teeth like stones sticking in odd places. Trees of ivy green stood stock still around the pointed rock, enclosing it in their branchy arms. It was clear to see the artist who painted the rock, whoever he was, was sat at the very edge of the hidden cliff. Twelve people stood with their arms around each other on the vast rock; they were all smiling. In fact some were even waving. You could not see most of the group’s feet due to the mossy green grass which had formed on the rock over time. One person was on their knees; he was pointing at a large footprint shaped mark set in front of the people. It was this foot print shaped mark that created the myth of Devil’s Rock.

I liked Callum’s description of a mysterious figure at Holmfirth Jail:

In Holmfirth, there is an old, half demolished jail house. There is a rumour that at night a mysterious figure climbs out of the bars and stands staring lifelessly at people and if they stare at him for too long they will gradually become a large rock. At morning he climbs back in and no one knows what he does in the day time…

Poppy’s description of Goblin Gorge could be the start of a spooky story:

Beaumont Park. Even the name gives me shivers down my bony spine. Nothing is more scary than an old abandoned train track called Goblin Gorge. Trees, never ending, congested the woods. The park is usually quiet at night except for the gloomy, cold, thick air that only the goblins can breathe in…

Thanks to all the Year 6 pupils for their contributions!

Announcing a New Partnership with Book Events for Schools!

All my recent books in a tidy row!

All my recent books in a tidy row!

I am very excited to announce that I am working with the excellent Book Events for Schools on my Yorkshire-based school and library visits. You may already be familiar with the comprehensive events listing, interview and review site offered by its sister organisation, Book Events for Children.

Book Events for Schools was created to offer author services to schools and already represents Emma Barnes, Kate Pankhurst, Andy Seed, Jason Beresford, Andy Seed, CJ Busby, Anneliese Emmans Dean and Joshua Siegel. From a busy author’s point of view, it’s great to have a friendly agency that communicates with interested Yorkshire schools and organises all the logistics, including book sales.

This doesn’t mean that Yorkshire schools and libraries aren’t free to email me on my Contact page as before. Far from it – I’d love to hear from you! But once we have decided to go ahead with a visit to your school, Book Events for Schools will guide the rest of the organising process. It couldn’t be easier.

What about schools outside Yorkshire? I will plan my visit with you directly. All you need to do is email me and we can take it from there. Every primary school or library that emails will receive my 2015 Primary School brochure, full of detailed information about what you can expect from my visit, what my talks and workshops include and how to book. 

What about a brochure for secondary schools? I may very well create one, but for the moment it works pretty well to plan visits that are tailored to each high school. You might want me to give an assembly to Year 7 or you might want me to do an Illustration workshop with students undertaking a GCSE in Art & Design. What do you need? I’m here to help.

World Book Day 2015

My scrumptious thank you gift from the pupils!

My scrumptious thank you gift from the pupils!

This is one of the biggest weeks in the UK school calendar! Tomorrow, March 5, children across the land will come to school dressed as their favourite book characters. They’ll be celebrating World Book Day and all that is fun and inspiring about reading.

I visited a wonderful local school yesterday and spoke to 170 pupils aged 7-11 about my work. I asked them why we even care about books and reading. Hands shot up and children offered answers that knocked my socks off and made me happy to be an author. ‘Books take you to different worlds,’ they said, and ‘Books are AWESOME’! Books are ‘inspirational’ and ‘informational’. I couldn’t answer the question better than they did.

For all the hands that shot up in excitement, there were also hands that stayed down. I know there are children for whom reading is difficult or who have somehow been put off. I always hope that something I say or show them in my presentations might spark interest in reluctant readers. I can’t think of anything better than to have inspired one child to pick up a book and read for pleasure.

Happy World Book Day! Keep on reading!

January Inspiration!

This month has been excellent for art and writing inspiration. I kicked it off a couple of weeks ago when I spent a week at Lumb Bank, the Arvon Foundation’s writing centre in rural Yorkshire. It was magical, as I knew it would be, and it inspired my writing side in a very big way. But when the wordy side is stoked up, the visual side demands to be fuelled too.

Last week’s day trip to the London Art Fair sorted me out – maybe too much! I now want to continue writing the two books I’m working on AND make paintings AND book art. The Fair was held in the airy London Business Centre in Islington and though quite busy, it was not overwhelmingly full of people. I could take my time and hang out looking at works I wanted to spend time with. I’ve included a few of them here.

Art by Swoon at the London Art Fair 2015.

Art by Swoon at the London Art Fair 2015.

I liked street artist Swoon‘s work. Some of her images were on found objects like old fencing and others, like the image here, are wall art. I admire her style – it’s bold and delicate at the same time.

Chun Kwang Young‘s mulberry paper constructions astonished me. From far away they look like rocky landscapes, but when you get close you can see they are made up of hundreds of folded papers. Han-ji (mulberry) paper is very important in Korean culture and in the video on his homepage, the artist talks about ‘gathering the spirits of ancestors’ in his pieces. Each one contains a whole population of spirits.

Work by Chun Kwang Young at London Art Fair 2015.

Work by Chun Kwang Young at London Art Fair 2015.

Detail of work by Chun Kwang Young.

Detail of work by Chun Kwang Young.


Another Korean artist, Kwan Woo Lee, uses many stamps and seals in his pieces. Close up, they are an amazing collection of characters and small graphic images. I enjoy art that works on several levels and contains layers of meaning, especially when the artists work with small, beautifully crafted elements.

Detail of work by Kwan Woo Lee at the London Art Fair 2015.

Detail of work by Kwan Woo Lee at the London Art Fair 2015.

What’s the next inspiration? I’m hoping it will be The Weather Machine, an intriguing immersive theatre performance in early February. Stay tuned.

Buy Local and Support Your Indie Bookseller!

Totally_locally_Xmas_ManifestoI think this cool poster from Totally Locally says it all. When you venture out to make seasonal purchases, I hope you’ll support the retailers in your neighbourhood, your village, your town. They are your neighbours and their presence helps keep your area thriving, vibrant and diverse! And why not put books at the top of your shopping list? (Hint, hint.)

Happy shopping, everyone!

Spooky Halloween Reads: The Shadow Lantern and Jet Black Heart

Jet Black Heart on the sands of a Yorkshire beach

I’ve been loving having two spooky books published recently! The Shadow Lantern, the final story in The Blackhope Enigma trilogy, is out in the USA and Canada, and my stand-alone teen book, Jet Black Heart, is out in the UK.

I’ve done a bit of speaking and guest posting about The Shadow Lantern. It was a lot of fun writing for these awesome US book bloggers, Candace’s Book BlogNovel Novice and Unleashing Readers. There may be one or two more posts in store and I’ll put them up here when they’re live.

I popped into the lovely Candlewick Press during a trip to Boston last month and we recorded a little video. If you want to know about my experience with a ghost in an old country inn, this is the place to hear about it!

Meanwhile, I’ll be speaking about Jet Black Heart, published by Barrington Stokeat several UK secondary schools in November. Because the story is set on the Yorkshire coast, it’s extra cool to share my photos and stories with pupils at local schools.

Aside from venturing out to visit schools, I’ll be hunkered down working on my next book. November is the perfect month to write another adventure with a whole new cast of characters!

Art Exhibition at Fountains Hall

fountains-hallA few months ago I joined forces with four fellow artists to explore the idea of making new artwork in response to historic locations around Yorkshire. This was a bold experiment for me but I couldn’t resist because Lorna Barrowclough, Hondartza Fraga, Carla Moss, Valerie Zwart and I have so many cross-over interests – and we are now good friends as well. I have been looking at ways to link my writing and personal art-making more closely and working with these talented artists has helped me focus my ideas in ways I could not have imagined at the start.

When we learned of the opportunity to show our work at Fountains Hall, the Tudor manor on the grounds of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire, we jumped at the chance. Over the summer we made field trips to the stunning house, abbey ruins and grounds to sketch and photograph. I had many magical moments walking the wooded paths, visiting the other-worldly Georgian follies dotted around Studley Royal’s water park and marvelling at Fountain Abbey’s atmospheric ruins. After some very stimulating conversations about our approach to the work, we planned the exhibition and gave ourselves a name: The [Re]enchantment Project.

underpaintings-on-canvasI began with blank canvasses, gave them a swift undercoat of colour and made the first two of a series of paintings that re-imagine the Hall and follies after hours, when the spirits of the place are free to roam. This is just the start of a collection that pulls together the things I am most interested in: magic, the supernatural, light and dark, landscape and more.

We christened our debut exhibition, curated by Valerie Zwart:

So Far, So Awesome: The [Re]enchantment Imperative

And we set out our approach: Since the early to mid 19th century, the need to re-enchant— to meaningfully connect to our world through mystery, wonder and awe — has been a persistent feature in our cultural history. In photos, paintings, books and a site-specific installation, five Leeds artists based at East Street Arts create alter-realities within the context of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. In an era marked by disillusionment, this exhibition explores how historical sites continue to be relevant as touchstones for our imaginative engagement with things and places.

We set the dates: Thursday, October 9 to Thursday, October 23, 2014  

We chose these dates to coincide with Fountains by Floodlight, a programme of evening illuminations, choral music and food that Fountains abbey is hosting on 11 and 18 October events. Please see the Abbey website for details.)

Opening times: 10 am to 5 pm daily (please be aware that normal admission to the site will be charged)

Meet the Artists reception: 3:30-5:00pm, Saturday, 18 October

Location: Fountains Hall, Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, Fountains, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 3DY

Everyone is invited! If you would like to be added to our mailing list for future exhibitions, please email us: reenchantmentprojectATgmail.com

 fountains-abbey

JET BLACK HEART is here!

Teresa-Flavin_Jet-Black-HeartLast week I had a busy and fabulous week touring around Scotland, culminating in the launch of my new teen book, Jet Black Heart, from Barrington Stoke.

I started the week in the Inverclyde area, leading book-making workshops for children aged 5-12 in Port Glasgow, Gourock and Greenock libraries. We had loads of fun and the kids made some really clever and cute books to take home. There’s something very satisfying about creating little books using all kinds of colourful papers, stickers and ribbons – and these books always inspire children to put their stories inside. Thanks to Inverclyde Libraries for hosting me and to all the librarians for their help and support.

While I was in Greenock, I met up with friend and fellow author, Cathy McPhail. She is a very accomplished and popular writer with a great sense of humour. I was really excited to hear that Another Me, a new feature film based on her excellent book of the same title, will be released in the USA on 22 August. Cathy posted the official trailer and it looks amazing. Click here to see it!

After a couple of days of workshops, I headed to Edinburgh, took in the brilliant atmosphere at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It’s always fantastic! (And I love seeing my books on the Children’s Bookshop shelves.) This year was a bit special because Barrington Stoke are based in Edinburgh and I popped by their offices to meet all the staff and enjoy some delicious cakes and coffee. They recorded a video of me speaking about Jet Black Heart and reading from the first chapter. It’s included in my guest post about the story’s inspirations and they did a great job. I am really pleased with it! Click here to take a look!

 

Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour

My talented friend and former art school classmate, Maryann Cocca-Leffler, invited me to share a bit about my writing and illustrating process as part of the ‘Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour’ (thanks, Maryann!). We are also part of a vibrant online community of children’s book illustrators and I’ve been in awe of Maryann’s accomplishments over the years. Not only has she written and illustrated many books, but she’s also created a musical play and now has begun a wonderful new site called Janine’s Party.  Check out Maryann’s excellent blog here!

Jet-Black-Heart_Flavin-webWhat am I currently working on? I am writing a new full-length novel for young people but it’s Top Secret for the moment. However, I am talking a lot about Jet Black Heart, my new illustrated teen novel that will be published by Barrington Stoke in the UK on 15 August – and at last I am revealing the creepily excellent book jacket here! Barrington Stoke publish great books for all readers, but they specialise in making their books accessible for dyslexic and reluctant readers, which is one of the reasons I am so pleased to work with them. Jet Black Heart is a supernatural time travel story about Dory, a girl who crosses into Victorian times and meets the gorgeous Eli, a runaway boy who needs her help to rescue his sister from their cruel father. The setting was inspired by a trip to the North Yorkshire Moors and its rugged North Sea coastline. I hunted for fossils and jet below the huge cliffs and explored the caves, coastal woods and fields just as Dory and her sister Gracie do in the book. It’s a wild, atmospheric area – perfect for my story.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I’m one of that lucky group of authors who also illustrate their books, which sets us apart from other authors. While it’s relatively common to find illustrations in ‘middle grade’ fiction like the Blackhope Enigma trilogy, unfortunately it’s harder to find illustrations inside teen books, so Jet Black Heart is a bit different because it does have pictures. I also write from an artist’s point of view. My books have included Renaissance paintings and techniques, super-realistic eye-fooling murals, hand-painted slides and magical objects. Jet Black Heart is less obviously an art-related story, but I looked at a lot of Victorian paintings and photographs and researched the ways craftsmen created jet objects and jewellery. I think this comes through in the story’s details.

North Landing caves near Flamborough.

North Landing caves near Flamborough.

Why do I write what I write? When I was a teenager I loved mystery stories, especially ones with twists and a bit of history, as well as dark, gothic novels like Wuthering Heights (also set on the Yorkshire moors!) so I set out to write Jet Black Heart for all kids who like to read those kinds of stories too. I also love the idea of worlds colliding, of characters meeting by chance and having their lives turned upside-down before they figure out how to sort everything back to the way it should be – if they can! The Blackhope Enigma books were all about Sunni and Blaise being thrown into unknown places that were as beautiful as they were dangerous, layered with strange fragments of the past. In Jet Black Heart,  the Victorian past is an off-kilter but alluring place to Dory because Eli is there. She knows she is courting danger but she cannot resist.

How does my writing and illustrating process work? I get obsessed with the germ of an idea, poke it around and look at it under the microscope. I chart it, research it, brainstorm with it and start building a plan. I usually know how the story will end and all the high points throughout, but the magic happens as I’m writing. New characters turn up unexpectedly and muscle their way in – or a new plot direction pops up and it’s so cool I must follow it. Jet Black Heart was a challenge because it had to be shorter than my other books. I learned a lot about writing more clearly and cutting out filler.

My drawing table with sketches

My drawing table with sketches

I loved writing this story and I had a great time making the spot illustrations for each of the chapters. For the Blackhope Enigma trilogy I worked the illustrations in pen and ink. With Jet Black Heart I fancied a bit of a change and decided to work with silhouettes of the characters Dory, Eli and Gracie as well as places and objects in the story. I did the sketches in pencil and once those were approved by the publisher I rendered them with a special ‘jet black’ pencil called Ebony. Then I scanned them and sent them to the production department to fit into the book’s layout. I’m really happy with the way they turned out!

And now, on with the Author Blog Tour!

Alex English

Alex English

I’m very pleased to introduce debut author, Alex English, whose picture book, Yuck! said the Yak will be published in September (a round of virtual applause please!). You can check out Alex’s Welcome to the Writing Process post on her blog next Monday, 7 July.