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.



Helsinki: Arrival at 60° North

Ice on Suomenlinna waterway

I haven’t quite caught up with the fact that I am now in Finland.

I learned just over two weeks ago that I had been selected for a Helsinki International Arts Programme residency and it felt slightly unreal. The Scottish Book Trust, who are administering the two new residencies for Scotland-based children’s writers, pulled out all the stops and rapidly got everything set up for my arrival. I packed my gear and said goodbye to the daffodils, knowing I was unlikely to see any in Helsinki yet.

Just before dusk last night, I flew in over tall birch forests and snow fields. There was something mysterious about the landscape. It definitely seemed like a place where trolls might roam. I made my way to the city centre, with its wide avenues and majestic buildings, and waited for the ferry to my temporary island home, Suomenlinna. The small boat ploughed through ice sheets in the harbour as the darkness set in. I tried to put all thoughts of the Titanic aside…

Helsinki is gradually coming out of winter and the ice is changing every day, I was told. Earlier this week there was none in the harbour but it returned in time for my arrival. I feel lucky to be able to watch spring tiptoe in here.

The small Suomenlinna ferry next to a huge one bound for Sweden.

One of my friendly hostesses greeted me at the Suomenlinna dock and we crunched over icy paths, under old arches and past huge rough-hewn walls, sometimes encountering the fragrance of wood smoke when we turned a corner.

I was shown to my toasty-warm quarters in a two-hundred year old brick building with huge wooden doors. This is the place where I’ll be working on my next book and keeping a log of all my discoveries in Finland. I’ll be learning about the local literature scene from writers and publishers, visiting bookshops and museums and getting immersed in Finnish culture. And what about the language, you might ask? I’ll try to learn as much as I can while I’m here. I’ve got a few phrases down already, and though everyone I have met so far has spoken good English, I think it’s not only polite but also important to “taste” the host language wherever I go. And the number one word is, of course, kiitos – thank you!


WASPS Artists Open Studios Weekend 2011…

…and the launch of THE CRIMSON SHARD!

Next weekend’s Artists Open Studios event coincides with the publication of my second illustrated historical fantasy novel for age 9+, The Crimson Shard, published by Templar Books. I’ll be opening my studio and displaying original paintings, drawings and limited edition prints, but I’ll also be taking time out to read from The Crimson Shard in the Gallery area of our building. These will be short tasters and will take place at 1pm and 3pm. Both The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard will be on sale and I’ll be signing them, of course! If you can’t make it to the Studios this weekend, but would like to read a sampler or buy either book, click here.

Click here for information on how to find the building.

New Competition!

I’m celebrating my Facebook page achieving 100 followers AND Blackhope‘s publication in the USA by launching a little competition.

You can win a signed paperback copy of both The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard (which will be published on 1 October in the UK), plus a hand-cut raven silhouette (made by me) and a leather-bound notebook with an original sketch on the first page (also by me). The deadline is 5 September at midnight UK time (that’s 7pm US time).

It’s easy to enter. Go to my Contact page, type in your name and email address (so I can contact you if you win) and answer this question in the message box below:

What bird is on The Blackhope Enigma cover?

If you are under 16, please fill out the Children’s Contact form here.

I won’t keep any of your information after the competition ends. If you are the winner, I’ll email you to ask for your mailing address and who you’d like the books to be dedicated to.

Looking forward to getting your entries! And if you’d like to follow me on Facebook, click here.

Back In The Saddle

It has been a mighty long absence.

I have some pretty good excuses for not posting in some time. A trip to Boston took me out of circulation for a while – I had great hopes of communicating with the blogosphere while I was there, but there was just too much going on. Here are a couple of highlights from the visit:

-a fantastic day of speaking to and drawing with children at Center School in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, a beautiful community by the sea. Great kids, great teachers, great experience! Thanks to everyone there.

-poking around independent bookshops like The Children’s Bookshop in Brookline and Porter Square Books in Cambridge. It was interesting and gratifying to see the breadth of children’s fiction available, especially books from the UK. If you are interested in learning more about independent bookstores in the USA, check out Indie Bound, their website. There are some excellent items there, especially their recommendations for reading groups.

Since I got back, it’s been go, go, go. There’s a lot of exciting stuff on the horizon that I will be sharing with you soon!