Inspiration and Aspiration 2014

Yellow Rabbit ACORN webHappy Second Half of January! By now we’ve all had plenty of time to assess 2013 and make wishes for 2014. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about.

Top creative experiences in 2013:

Launching two new books for children and young people. In May Templar published The Shadow Lantern in the UK and brought my Blackhope Enigma middle grade fantasy trilogy to a close. I am immensely thrilled that the books are out there in the world and finding their tribe of readers. When The Shadow Lantern comes out in the USA this July, I will feel a great sense of completion but there are aspects of the stories that will always inspire me. You never know, they might just spawn a bit of artwork down the line.

In November, Barrington Stoke brought out Yellow Rabbit, a story for younger children illustrated by Rich Watson. I originally wrote Yellow Rabbit for an anthology called Wow 366! Each story could only have 366 words in it, which was a challenge but a lot of fun. Barrington Stoke acquired the story and have included it in a special pack of eight books  aimed at schools and libraries in the UK. And here’s something not everyone knows: Yellow Rabbit is based on a true story. I lost my yellow rabbit when I was a kid and always wondered where it ended up. This story is what I wish had happened to my lost toy.

Attending two conventions that blew my mind. I’ve heard artists and writers talking about going to ‘cons’ over the years but never knew much about them. When I heard that a crew of children’s and YA authors were going to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, I decided to take the plunge. Not only did I get to meet and hang out with all these good writerly people, but I learned a lot. I returned with a notebook filled with scribbles and ideas, inspirations and advice. The author panels were fantastic, the art show was impressive and the attendees’ passion for books was phenomenal. I am hooked and will definitely go to more conventions. I like the look of this one.

A few weeks later I volunteered at Thought Bubble in Leeds, one of the top comic and graphic novel conventions in the UK. Once again, I didn’t have any idea of what I was getting into but I am so glad I took the chance. Thought Bubble is a busy, colourful, wacky, inspiring festival of words and pictures. There’s room for everyone, from the twelve-year-old boy selling his hand-produced comics to superstars like Fabio and Gabriel, the Brazilian twins that had a constant line of people waiting to meet them. There were plenty of superheroes, of course, but there were many other kinds of comics and graphic novels. One of the things I like the most about this community is that is welcomes people who create and publish their own stuff. The Do It Yourself ethos is quite empowering. Thought Bubble’s organisers were amazing, the writers and artists were wonderful and the fans were fantastic. After two full days of running around, hauling furniture and managing crowds, I was exhausted but inspired.

And all this inspiration is spilling over into my aspiration for 2014: to bring my writings and artwork closer together. How will it manifest itself? I have a few ideas but they are too premature to share yet. In the meantime, I’m editing my next book for teens (stay tuned on this one) and starting to think about the small illustrations that will go with it. On the art side, I’m planning new paintings for an exhibition in the spring. Preparing, pruning, planting creative seeds – perfect winter activities.


My new websites!

It’s official! I have two new websites that are linked under one umbrella – or should I say tree? It’s taken months to get all the materials together for my new author site and to update my illustrator site, but I think it was well worth the effort.

It’s wonderful to have the sites ready in time for the launch of The Shadow Lantern on 1 May. I hope you’ll click here to check out my new landing page and navigate to both sites from there. Comments and suggestions are welcome!

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 SHADOW LANTERN cover reveal!

I’m pleased to announce that ace book blogger Serendipity Reviews is the first to reveal The Shadow Lantern‘s cover here. Once again, I’m thrilled with the fine work Tom Sanderson of The Parish has done with the design. I couldn’t have asked for more appropriate and classy covers for all three books!

The Trilogy Is Finished!

sl_proofIt’s been a week since I said goodbye to The Shadow Lantern and wished it well on its journey to the printer. The next time I see it, the pile of papers that made up the proof copy will have been transformed into a bound book with another stunning cover. One small part of me feels a bit melancholy about finishing my characters’ stories, but mostly I am excited about the book launch and UK tour later this spring.

It still feels slightly unreal to have created three novels. If anyone had told me seven years ago that I would morph into a novelist, I would have laughed in disbelief. But the sudden urge to start writing The Blackhope Enigma was so strong, I knew I had to go with it. The process was never easy because I had so much to learn (and always will!) about crafting stories, but it was fascinating and fulfilling. Knowing so many young people (and adults) had enjoyed reading it really spurred me on. By the time I began planning The Crimson Shard, I was hooked on my characters and their stories. The sequel grew organically out the first book and as soon as I had finished it, I knew that there would be a third and final story.

I’ve always loved trilogies. There is something about the number three that is quite powerful and complete for me. I feel very proud of all three books and am looking forward to presenting The Shadow Lantern to the world in just a few months.

Special Places: Pasila Library, Helsinki

Pasila Library's water feature

I was given a lovely tour of Pasila Library last week (which has this stunning water feature). It’s Helsinki’s main library with almost 200,000 items, including materials in over 100 languages which can be sent all over Finland to other communities. Pasila Library does a particularly good job of supporting immigrants who are learning Finnish and about local culture.

I was very impressed with the whole library, but especially the children’s section, which had an excellent selection of books in English and many other languages. Many older Finnish children read in English, which I find pretty astounding, and there is plenty for them to enjoy here. The children’s area is decorated with quite a few animal sculptures and one very pretty water spirit. There is also an activity room where children come to paint and even to knit while they are read to by the librarian.

The library takes an active role in inviting young children to become library users, creating brochures, invitations and games that encourage them to visit. They even produced a high-end sticker game showing cartoon characters using the library.

The tiger is one of many sculptures in the children's department.

Many thanks to the enthusiastic librarians for showing me around and giving me some of their very interesting materials to take back to Scotland. And you can see a few more pictures of the library’s sculptures here.

What I’m Working on Now #6

My Blackhope Enigma shoes

It’s been October 2011 on this blog for far too long. Yes, it’s already five months since I posted after The Crimson Shard launch. Those months have been a whirlwind of travel, book promotion and planning the next project.

I’ve been from Bangkok to Boston and some other lovely places in between. I toured around West Sussex twice, speaking to avid readers and enjoying the wonderful countryside. Last week I attended the Scottish Children’s Book Awards (in these shoes), for which The Blackhope Enigma was short-listed, and saw a scene from my book performed live by talented young actors from the Lyceum Youth Theatre.

I am incredibly thankful for my creative life right now. There are several very exciting things happening that I will be revealing here soon. The top news is that I am writing a third book in the series that started with Blackhope. This will round out the series into a trilogy and I find that immensely satisfying. When I first set out to write a novel, I had no idea that it would evolve into a sequel and then another. The whole thing has happened organically. Each of the books can stand alone and yet they have links that pull them together into a whole.

After having written two books featuring Sunni and Blaise, my teenage characters, it’s great to be telling the next part of their adventure together. And it’s just as much an adventure for me to find out what they are going to do next!


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.

Climbing the Mountain

And reaching the sky.


Recently I added this photo to my Powerpoint presentation for school groups. It’s a mountain of The Blackhope Enigma drafts, intermingled with comments from my agent. The oldest draft is on the bottom and the most recent at the top. Actually, this photo doesn’t even include the later revised versions I did after my editors commented on it. The pile is even higher now, and I look at it from time to time in awe.

Writing the book took all the guts I could muster. I never had the feeling I should give up on it, though I certainly had my dark moments from time to time. I really felt I HAD to write this book, even though I had never attempted such a thing before. Besides, I was already used to persevering in my illustration career. It took years of marketing my work to New York publishers, and reworking my portfolio, before I was taken on to illustrate my first children’s book way back when (a chapter book for the lovely folks at Knopf, by the way!)

If I had needed to be inspired 24/7, I would never have finished The Blackhope Enigma. I just had to show up at the desk and focus. Some days it worked better than others (some days it didn’t work at all), but I just kept going.

I’ve read some excellent essays by other children’s and YA authors about sticking to the job. I particularly like this one by Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments
and Infernal Devices fantasy books.

There is nothing like the feeling of holding your printed book in your hands. But it is almost as boggling to look at the pile of drafts or the folders of mind maps, flow charts and outlines – and recognize that you worked your way, the best you could, through plot problems, unconvincing dialogue, faults of logic and a whole host of typos.

Thinking on this idea of climbing a mountain, I remember my first big climb up Ben More on the isle of Mull. I was with a group of very experienced walkers and had done pretty well in keeping up with them. As we neared the top, it became clear that we would have a steep scramble over boulders. I watched a woman being hoisted up a huge rock and knew I couldn’t do that. I panicked. I wanted to stop and go back – but, as the others told me, I’d come too far to turn back. One of them gave me the best advice: find a different way through the boulders, and then keep your eyes on the path directly in front of you. Don’t look forwards or backwards – keep your eyes on the path before you and go step by step.

I did it. Twenty minutes later, I was drinking tea at the summit. It hadn’t been easy, but it had not been the nightmare I imagined. I looked back down the mountain and thought, I came from there. Not unlike looking at a very significant pile of papers on my desk.