Saturday, 9 June 2018


My lifeline 
I am feeling intensely irritated this morning. Lionel Shriver has yet again been given a chance to spout forth about her views on diversity. Fine, let her have her views on it, but do you really need to devote a whole article to them when they are against everything that the whole world is fighting so hard to achieve? I am not going to link to the article in this piece because I am not going to add to the traffic. Basically, she has had a go at Penguin Random House for their diversity policies.

Now I will start off by stating that I fully support and congratulate PRH in their efforts. And secondly, I should point out that I am potentially one of the people she is having a go about. I am not published by PRH, but I am a diverse author in that I am disabled. I have never really shouted about the fact and I would hope that my novel stands on its own merit. I am pretty certain that Firefly took my manuscript on because of the story and not because I happen to be a diverse author. It is only as the information has gone out about me and my novel that people have said to me 'I had no idea you were disabled!' Yes, I am. I have a PEG tube fitted through which I am fed. I also have issues with one of my knees now that means I am on crutches. I am registered disabled.  I am also a single parent, a woman, an academic, a writer, an editor and I was a carer. The list could go on. None of these things defines who I am on their own, they are all just part of who I am.

Diversity is vital or rather, maybe a better word is inclusivity, as we want everyone to feel included. It is important on so many levels, and when I am talking about this I am referring to the definitions used by the amazing organisation Inclusive Minds. It is not just about the stories, which, of course, are important. There is a great drive to get diversity within publishing itself, with increasing job opportunities (HaperCollins BAME traineeship programme for example) as well as authors themselves. I am thrilled to be part of the Quarto Translation/Golden Egg Academy Diversity Award which we set up because we felt every child deserves an author and story they can relate to.

What I mean is thinking in terms of windows and mirrors. Diverse characters mean children have an opportunity to see characters just like them but also for others to walk a mile in another's shoes. It is a chance to create empathy - opportune in the week of #EmpathyDay on 12th June. 'A good book is an empathy engine' as said by Chris Riddell former Children's Laureate. It should never be a tickbox exercise nor should they be seen 'just as issue books'. Look around at your group of friends. I imagine they are an eclectic mix. When creating characters in books they should reflect that fact.

I feel better having got that off my chest. I would welcome the day when we do not need to speak of diversity but I fear that is a long way off and certainly when articles like Shriver are produced. It will not stop us fighting for it though.

I love Laura Mvula's work and this piece 'Phenomenal Woman' seems appropriate:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Journey...

Design by Anne Glenn
I started this blog almost exactly eight years ago during the last year or so of my PhD and it has accompanied me on a journey with some great highs but also a few lows. This week I had the thrill of a 'cover reveal' where the cover of my forthcoming book was revealed on Twitter by MGBookVillage. It was extraordinary for many reasons.

Firstly, and probably most importantly I LOVE the cover selected by Firefly Press. It has been designed by Anne Glenn and it totally captures the essence of the story. Secondly, I was once again absolutely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and love I received following the reveal. The people in the children's lit world really are the most incredibly supportive people you can come across. It was like receiving the biggest virtual hug you can imagine. Social media has had a beating this week, possibly quite rightly so but who knows the true ins and outs of it all but it also can be a really good place to be when used appropriately.

It is strange to think that eight years ago when I had started this blog I had no idea this is where I would end up. However, it seems to me that nothing in my life ends up as I planned. I just get there by accident -  a moment of serendipity perhaps - or it could be said that I take a long way round to get anywhere but I do get there...eventually.

This is only a brief post as a ponder this journey at 12.40am on a Saturday morning when I should be asleep. There is no real message other than maybe, never give up. You might surprise yourself.

I have to include this because of the book.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Planning for the future and becoming a marketing expert. Flight begins to fly...

Event with Penny Thomas of Firefly Press
This week I had my first event where I had an opportunity to read from Flight. I was with my publisher Penny Thomas, Firefly Press and we were at my uni, University of Winchester, where we were talking to the MA students plus some members of the public of who had ventured out into the snow. It was a great event organised by Judith Heneghan.

I must be honest it suddenly made me realise that it was all very real and that Flight was going to be published soon...well on August 1st. Very exciting. It came at a perfect time as it a year ago on the 1st March that my great friend Imogen Cooper had rung me to say that Firefly were interested in Flight and so I had begun to live the dream.

I sent the latest edits off recently and have seen what I think is going to be the cover - it is beautiful - I LOVE it! I am very lucky Firefly have made it very easy to work with them. I am now aware that it is all going to move very quickly as I start to plan and move onwards to the launch and beyond.

Suddenly you need to think about a whole lot of different things and become a bit of a marketing person. I need to get my website sorted. I would like to write some school resources that would work well with Flight. I want to check who wants to review the book and also look at doing some blogs perhaps. Obviously, there will be a launch which is a going to be a celebration and a thank you - watch this space for details, and maybe some other events too all that need to be organised. I can't wait it is going to be such fun.

Anyone interested in reviewing Flight, or in me writing a blog for them or even having an event feel free to email me - until the website is sorted best to email me on

Keep an eye out for news. There are going to be some exciting announcements soon!!

Must be honest I love a bit of George Ezra and I do feel as if I am in Paradise

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Let's have a little chat about formatting shall we?

Please notice the formatting
This is a random page selected for the
extraordinary book The Polar Bear Explorer's Club
by Alex Bell
I spend a lot of my time looking at manuscripts, whether it is submissions by students or aspiring writers. What amazes me time and time again is how few of them bother to format it properly. I really don't understand it because it means when they do have to submit it to an agent they will have to spend hours and hours re-formatting it. It must be so frustrating and it is all time they could save by making a few changes right at the beginning. If people could just get into the habit of when starting a document immediately set it out as if it was a book automatically.

Have a look at the photo opposite. This is a random page taken from The Polar Bear Explorer's Club, an excellent book, which just happened to be by my side. Have you noticed, the paragraphs are indented. There are no line breaks between paragraphs unless for a specific reason. Also, there are wide margins to make allowances for binding but when editing it is for editors to make comments! All easy and simple things to do - you'd think wouldn't you...

How wrong you could be and how rarely I see it like that.

Before you come back at me and say that Word's default is to automatically put an extra line in when you press return. I know, but you can override that by going to 'Paragraph' at the top and clicking on the box 'Don't add extra line'.

Irritatingly but blogger won't allow me to use tabs so I can't illustrate using this blog to show what it should look like - gotta love technology. However, you want your manuscript to look as much like a book as you can. It also makes it easier for your editor to read. It gives a sense of what it looks like and how the white space works. People often forget about the white space but it can be just as important.

HOWEVER, also before you say it to me I know a book is single line spaced. YOUR manuscript should not be. It MUST be double line spaced, again so it is easy for us, as editors and for you when you are self-editing.

Oh I feel so much better for having got that off my chest. Happy writing peeps ;-)

Found this song during a student's exercise last week. It is called 'Would you be so kind?'

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Looking back and here's to 2018!

My parents the day they got engaged
Today I am feeling contemplative. Not in a maudlin way, just thinking about the past and what is to come. Let's be honest it is what you do when the year is about to come to an end and a brand new one is about to start, isn't it? I have another confession, I really don't like New Year. It is always full of those promises that everything is going to be different after the clang of 12 bells and then it never is. But also my dearest, darling Daddy died on the 30th December, 21 years ago, so it does tend to taint it a bit. However, I said this wasn't going to be maudlin and it isn't. I just really wish both my parents were around. I desperately want to talk to them and tell them what is happening. I want them to meet the amazing little people that have joined our enormous family and also see the incredible people that their grandchildren have grown up to be.

Selfishly I want to show them what I have done as well. It is only recently I have realised how forward thinking and open minded my parents were. Bit of context first - I was an accident, they told my mother I was the menopause - Surprise! They got me. Luckily they seemed quite pleased. Consequently, my brother and sisters are quite a bit older than me. This meant I had the most amazing childhood. Surrounded by fantastic role models and inspirationally strong women. And a brother who showed me the importance of great cars and speed, also how you should follow your heart and trust your gut. Now, this is what I mean about my parents being forward thinking and open-minded. It was only recently when I attended an inaugural lecture given by Prof Stephanie Spencer and while talking to others at the time that I realised that the path my sisters took in the late 60s and early 70s was not the normal path. My eldest sister went off to Sussex University to study Chemistry in the late 60s - she later did an about turn and became an amazing primary school teacher and then head teacher. Number two sister (yes we were known by numbers at times - that is what happens when you have five children) became a nurse and a damn good one at that.  While number three took a degree in photography, walked around in bedspreads and bare feet - this my mother did struggle with when she accompanied her around Waitrose! She took some beautiful photographs and still does. (She also got arrested for putting giant jellies by parking metres but that is another story). In our house, it was never questioned that you went off to study if that's what you wanted to do regardless of your sex. This I had no idea was not the norm - I have begun to realise I led a very sheltered life.

We were always surrounded by books and I spent my life lost in them. I had a very vivid imagination and liked nothing better to escape into these worlds. I might have had a good home life. School was a different matter. While at secondary school I was bullied so books were the places where I could be who I wanted to be. Also, it could be quite lonely at home as we quite frequently moved so I never formed any long-term friendships and with my siblings being so much older meant they left home when I was very young. I was an aunt by the time I was 11. Books filled those gaps. They provided the friends I needed and gave me so many hopes and dreams. I just hope the books I write can do the same thing for some child somewhere.

When I was young I dreamt of being either a doctor or a writer. Well I have a PhD in creative writing and I have my first novel coming out next year so I think I have possibly achieved my dream on both counts. That is the reason I really want my parents to be around I want to tell them about Flight. Just before Christmas, I was sent the potential covers by Firefly Press, who are publishing it. I had previously been warned to be prepared that quite often debut authors don't love their first cover because it never captures your story apparently. So I had been psyching myself up not to like them and to be prepared to suck it up. I very nearly cried when they came through though - the only reason I didn't was that I was sitting in my office and anyone could have walked in! I opened the email and looked at the attached PDF and there staring back at me were a collection of the most beautiful covers I had ever seen. I loved every single one of them and they all captured the essence of my story. The other thing was I was looking at a cover of a book with MY name on it. My dream really was coming true and this was another step towards it.

2017 had already been pretty amazing Firefly Press had offered to publish FLIGHT and Bridge Publishing had published a short story of mine, entitled 'Home' in an anthology called Citizens of Nowhere .  I had had a pretty wonderful time teaching and presented a paper at NAWE in November which had gone down particularly well that I am now rewriting into an article. I had had a chance to see my wonderful friend James Nicol and Emma Carroll talk about their brilliant books at the Salisbury Literary festival.

As always working with Imogen Cooper at Golden Egg Academy continues to be an inspirational experience. I couldn't have been more thrilled than when two of my Eggs were longlisted for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Undiscovered Voices. I was so excited for them both. So well deserved. As for Imogen, on a personal note, she continues to be my rock and such a great friend, without her I never would be working with the brilliant Firefly and gorgeous Penny, Janet and Meg.

This brings me neatly on to 2018 and looking forward. It is looking like it is going to be an incredible year. In June my gorgeous eldest son is getting married to the amazing April then in July Flight will come out. I get a shiver down my spine every time I write that. I have the pleasure of being a debut buddy in 2018 with the brilliant Vashti Hardy, whose brilliant book, Brightstorm, comes out in March. I can't wait to read it. The cover is so beautiful. Scholastic has done a fantastic job. Can't wait for the launch as well because she is having a joint one with James Nicol who also has a new book out then too, called A Witch Alone, so keep an eye out for that too!

There are lots of amazing books coming out next year from MG Leonard, Jennifer Killick, Eloise Williams, Emma Carroll, Abi Elphinstone, Lisa Thompson and Rowena House (Sorry for the emphasis on women writers there). Come on men let me know about your books too. I know there are loads more but these are the ones that came off the top of my head so I apologise to anyone I have missed off.

I am lucky I am surrounded by a great family but also some incredible friends who have stood by me throughout all the good and the rocky times in 2017. I know they will be there throughout 2018 to share in the joy because I couldn't have done it without them. Thank you to all my friends and family for being you and for believing in me. And thank you, Mummy and Daddy, for giving us wings and telling us we could be whoever we wanted to be.

Happy New Year everyone xxx

I have picked Abba's Happy New Year because my mother loved them - BTW 'Wine time anyone?'

Saturday, 25 November 2017

This is what we do - enable, inspire, care.

Feeling inspired
I have had one of those weeks that reminds me why I do what I do but also reminded me of the importance of these moments to any writer or creative person.

It started last Saturday when I did an Open Day at the University of Winchester. I had a room full of aspiring students, eager to study Creative Writing. I watched their faces as I spoke, their smiles got wider and wider. They were buzzing by the end. Some of their parents, however, looked a little glum as they came in. They are usually the ones who cannot see the point of CW degree. I watched though as they also started to smile, their shoulders dropped and they began to relax as they realised what their darling child might be able to do with their degree. Mission achieved.

Then during the week, I was listening to my third-year students talking about their creative pieces in my metafiction module. They literally blew my mind as they came up with all these incredible projects. They really did think 'outside the box'. I watched their faces as well at the end of the session as I spoke to them enmasse about their projects, they were glowing. It is so satisfying to be able to facilitate this sort of creativity.

On Thursday I met up with the wonderful Imogen Cooper and many of the other editors from the Golden Egg Academy. We spent a joyous few hours discussing writing, editing, the industry and books we love. I left totally inspired and reminded once again how joyous it is to work with so many amazing and knowledgeable people. I always learn so much just by listening and talking to them. Earlier in the week, I had spoken to one of my Eggs that I am mentoring and I am seeing another one later today for an editorial surgery. Talking about their work and sharing ideas is so satisfying. Seeing that light bulb moment as they suddenly have an idea of what they might be able to do next or they really get what you are saying. It is a moment that always sends a thrill down my spine.

All this has an impact on my own creativity and writing. I know I am lucky in the jobs I do, I am surrounded by creative and inspirational people. As writers we need this and I am aware that not everyone is as fortunate as me. This is where it is important for writers to become part of communities. I know at The Golden Egg Academy we have a fantastic writers' community that is incredibly supportive. Another great source of support and community is the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. It is in fact their conference this weekend. Watch on Facebook and on Twitter - follow #scbwicon17 to find out what they are up to. Critique groups are fabulous for support too - I have been part of a SCBWI one for many years. Having people around you - either virtually or IRL - that you can talk about your writing, books you are reading and your moments of inspiration is priceless.

Having support like this feeds a writer's creativity. It enables them to be inspried and allows them to ride through the rough times because everyone closes rank around anyone who is having a tough time, giving virtual or real hugs. It's someone for them to lean on while filling them with words of encouragement. There was some of that this week too. A few friends were having hard times for various reasons, up against tough deadlines or getting difficult rejections. I tried to be there for them because I knew that is exactly what they would have done for me and because I wanted to protect them and make sure they were ok. And because this is what we do. We enable, we inspire and we care.

The song seemed a little obvious this time. Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr singing 'With a little help from my friends':

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Creating well rounded antagonists

Photo Credit: Sue Eves
This post came about in a roundabout way and it was all Meg Rosoff's fault. She asked a question relating to the Harvey Weinstein business and then brought up an interview with the CIA operative that I also remember and it started those cogs whirring.

It made me think about writing, in particular, about antagonists. There is nothing worse than a weak, unbelievable and flat antagonist. It just ruins a story. They need to be fully rounded and as characters. You, as the writer, need to understand them and their motivation, just as much as your main character. The interview that Meg referred to was the interview with former CIA Officer, Amaryllis Fox, where she highlights that all the 'bad guys' do in fact think from their perspective they are the good guys. They don't think they are doing anything wrong.This is something you need to think about when you are writing your antagonists. You need to walk a few miles in your antagonist's shoes to see how they view the world so you are aware why they make the decisions they are.

Another great example of this, which Philip Ardargh also highlighted in the same Meg Rosoff thread, is this comedy sketch by Mitchell and Webb. It is done for a laugh but it makes quite a serious point.

I am not suggesting that you make your antagonists likeable but it is about making them believable. It is allowing the reader to understand why they do what they do. The chances are we will have all come across characters like them. We will have met that bully at some point in our lives. We will have met a Malfoy at school. I was certainly bullied at school and knew people just like him plus several of the people I came across in my life rung true with the characters in Sophia Bennett's books. That is what is so great about books, so often you can relate the stories to your life. They can help you to understand what is going on with your life and also realise that you are not on your own. There are others out there going through the same thing.

This is why it is so important to get those antagonists right. When you are creating your antagonist's bio you need to think beyond what they look like. You need to think what drives them? What do they believe? What has happened to make them feel like this? What are their political views? Are they being controlled? If so, why and how? Are they being bullied themselves? What is happening at home? Could that explain their behaviour? Are they hurting? Look beyond the two dimensional. Write a letter from your antagonist to you as the writer introducing him/her/them/itself so you can get right under their skin. A lot of this may never get into the story but it will add depth to your writing because you won't need to think about them when writing. You will know exactly how they will react in any given situation. Make sure you understand your antagonist and their purpose in your story. Most importantly though enjoy creating them.

I have picked this song today because I am really angry about a certain American President's behaviour and comments relating to LGBT communities. How dare he incite hatred. Thank you, Greenday for saying what I think of him.