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!

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!

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.

Revisiting FLY HIGH! The Story of Bessie Coleman

fly-high-coverI spent yesterday introducing three groups of Edinburgh schoolchildren to the wonderful role model, Bessie Coleman, whose story I illustrated years ago. Since I began writing and illustrating my own books, I have spoken less about the picture books I illustrated, so I was really pleased to be asked to talk about Bessie for Black History Month (which is celebrated in October here in the UK). Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger is the inspiring story of the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license in 1921.

Bessie was determined to be ‘somebody‘ in life. She worked hard in the cotton fields as a child and learned as much as she could in the one-room schoolhouse she walked miles to everyday. As a young woman she sought her fortune in post-World War I Chicago, where she heard returning soldiers’ tales of French women flying airplanes. She set her sights on becoming a pilot and traveled to France to learn to fly biplanes. She returned to the USA as a fully-fledged pilot, demonstrating her daredevil skills in air shows until she was tragically killed in a flight accident in 1926 at the age of 34.

Bessie was a huge inspiration to many people, not least for her efforts to achieve equal rights for African-Americans. Fly High!‘s message to young readers is that if you work hard towards your dream, you can be somebody too. With that in mind, I asked the pupils in my workshops yesterday to think about what their dreams are and to express them artistically in words and pictures of their own.

First we talked about what they would like to do in their lives and what sort of people they would like to be. I was touched and heartened to hear how many of the children wanted to work in jobs that helped people and animals. Quite a few children wanted to do creative work: artist, writer, filmmaker, games designer. And when I asked them what sort of qualities they wanted to have as grown-ups, I instantly got answers like ‘kind’, ‘achieving’, ‘hard-working’, ‘friendly’ and ‘funny’.

By the time I let them loose with marker pens and paper, almost all the pupils had very strong ideas of what they wanted to show about their dreams. They spent time carefully lettering their ideas and drawing themselves as adults doing their dream jobs. The energy and concentration they put into their posters was incredible. I felt hugely inspired myself!

I would like to think the children might keep their posters and look at them again in a few years to see whether their dreams have evolved… and perhaps to remind themselves of the things they cared deeply about at a younger age.


Excess Baggage

Jill Maden (Photo by Teresa Flavin)

Jill Maden (Photo by Teresa Flavin)

A rollicking ride around Australia with motorcyclist Jill Maden.

I’ll remember the summer of 2013 as one of the more hectic in my adult life. Not only have I been busy talking about my new book, The Shadow Lantern, to audiences from Inverness to Yorkshire, but I moved to a new home and studio. With so much going on, reading became a fantastic escape from the giant list of things I had to do. If I had to choose my ultimate grown-up ‘escape’ book of this summer, it was my friend Jill Maden’s Excess Baggage, because it transported me all the way to the back roads of Australia.

I know very little about motorbiking and not much about Australia’s geography. I’ve ridden nervously on the back of a couple of bikes in Asia, but wouldn’t dare learn to ride one. Jill, on the other hand, knows how to fly a plane and ride a motorbike. This makes her extremely cool already, and when she told me she was publishing the story of her 2011 trip across Australia on her bike, I expected tales of derring-do. Excess Baggage features tales of Jill’s races against extreme weather, late night arrivals in small town hostels, friendship and loneliness, and – above all – her entertaining struggles with a mountain of excess baggage. She writes in a humorous and, at times, self-deprecating way which kept her story moving along enjoyably – and I say this not just because I know Jill. I would have liked this book if I had not known her at all.

Jill has been raising money for charity by doing rides around Scotland and blogging about it on her website. If motorbike adventures interest you, check it out.

THE SHADOW LANTERN Available to Pre-order!

untitledUK readers, it’s only a matter of weeks until The Shadow Lantern is published by Templar Publishing! You can now pre-order the final book in the Blackhope Enigma trilogy online. I’ve made it easier for you by including some links here.

The Book Depository currently has it at a fantastic price and they deliver free worldwide. Waterstones and Blackwells also have it in their online shops and if Amazon is your bookseller of choice, you can find it there too.

As of this writing, it’s only 47 days till The Shadow Lantern arrives in bricks and mortar bookshops, if that’s the way you like to buy your books!

The 2013 Teen Choice Book of the Year

I just found out that The Crimson Shard, the second novel in the Blackhope Enigma trilogy (published in the US by Candlewick Press), has been nominated for the 2013 Teen Choice Book of the Year in the USA! Needless to say, I am totally thrilled to be on the nominations list with so many fantastic authors. The great thing about this award is that YOU can vote! And not just that, you can vote for your five favourite books of 2012 to be finalists (from the nominations or you can choose a book that isn’t on the list). Then you’ll be able to vote for your favourite of the finalists. Sounds good, yes?

You’ve got until February 13, 2013 to vote on the website. I hope you’ll vote soon!

The Year Ahead

Two weeks in and 2013 is looking pretty eclectic. Just the way I like it.

There hasn’t been any time for hibernating. I’ve just finished inking the interior illustrations for The Shadow Lantern and, any day now, the typeset script will come back to me for proofreading. By the end of this month, the book will be ready for reproduction and I will begin looking forward to the first of May, its publication date.

I’m also juggling a couple of other projects right now: a downright fun illustration commission that I hope to reveal later this spring and my two new websites. Yes, two. One will be about the writing side of things and the other will be about my art and illustration. Stay tuned for the launch date!

Throughout this year I’ll be presenting at various book festivals as well as leading some exciting writing and illustration workshops for young people and for adults. As each event is announced I’ll post information here and on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

This looks to be a year of rich variety, change and experimentation. One of my favourite bands, I Am Kloot, is bringing out a new album soon and their song, These Days Are Mine, sums up the surge of optimism I’m feeling right now. Consider it my January anthem. (And you can have a free listen to the whole album here.)

The Next Big Thing!

Last week children’s author and friend Lynne Rickards kindly ‘tagged’ me in her blog post called ‘The Next Big Thing’. I was one of five authors she mentioned – just as she had been mentioned along with four other writers in author Lari Don‘s blog the week before. Each tagged author answers some set questions about his or her current project and tags five more authors whose work s/he admires. This ‘meme’ has grown and grown in the children’s book online world and this week it’s my turn to answer the questions and mention some wonderful writers!

What is the working title of your next book? The Shadow Lantern

Where did the idea come from for the book? This is the third book in my Blackhope Enigma trilogy and I knew I wanted to set it in Scotland at Halloween. From there all the elements fell into place: new characters, spooky influences and the arrival of a strange sixteenth-century invention that draws in my main characters, Sunni and  Blaise.

What genre does your book fall under? It’s fantasy/mystery for age 9+.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? We’d need some talented teenagers (several Scots and one American) as well as Javier Bardem, David Tennant and a few other character actors for adult parts.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? The arrival of a special magic lantern at Blackhope Tower pulls Sunni and Blaise back to the infamous castle and into new danger.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m represented by the lovely Fraser Ross Associates.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? Approximately eight weeks.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My books have occasionally been compared with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and Cornelia Funke’s books.

The Shadow Lantern will be published by Templar Books on May 1, 2013.

And now, on to the author tags in alphabetical order!

I’ve known author, poet and teacher Magi Gibson for a number of years and have been delighted to follow the success of her Seriously Sassy book series for young people. Maggi is currently busy with some very interesting projects that I hope she’ll describe in her blog post.

I met the engaging debut author Jane McLoughlin during the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August and am really pleased that her book, At Yellow Lake, has just been long-listed for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal. This is a fantastic achievement!

Daniela Sacerdoti has already met with success as a writer of books for older readers but her new book, Really Weird Removals. com, will appeal to a younger audience. I had the pleasure of attending Dani’s book launch for Really Weird Removals last month and and was impressed with her passion and excitement about her work. If you click on the link, you can read about her next book, as she has already participated in The Next Big Thing – but I decided I’d like to tag her anyway!

It was great to meet Elizabeth Wein at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. I had already heard about her latest novel, Code Name Verity, which has been storming onto lists of 2012′s best young adult books as well as being nominated for numerous awards including the Scottish Children’s Book Awards and the 2013 CILIP Carnegie medal long-list.

Deborah White‘s first book, Wickedness, was an intriguing and atmospheric fantasy revolving around ancient Egyptian spells, an emerald casket and a powerful prophesy connecting two red-haired young women in different centuries. I’m hoping Deborah will talk about the next book in her series, Deceit!

I now hand over the reins to Maggi, Jane, Elizabeth and Deborah, who will answer questions about their Next Big Things on their blogs next week. Many thanks to all of them.