Summer reading

August gives most of us a bit more time… I’m using some of mine to write of course. But I’m also enjoying more time to read. Here’s some recommendations from my recent favourite reads – and a snoop at what I’m reading right now…

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So, here’s a glimpse of what I’m speeding through this month…

I’ve been thrilled to discover L.M. Montgomery’s trilogy about Emily of New Moon and am already on book two – Emily Climbs and looking forward to taking the third and final one on holiday to Ireland next month.

This series by the author best known for Anne of Green Gables is equally magical for some of the same, and some very different reasons. My favourite thing of all about it centres around Emily’s fascination with ‘the flash’.

But that’s all I’m saying… you’ll have to read the books to find out what that is and why it’s so wonderful…

Another series, I’m in the midst of at the moment is The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place which is a beautifully written mock gothic romp. In fact, book II – The hidden gallery is in plain view on my bookshelf, tempting me to pick it up before I finish Emily Climbs. But I will resist… I have strict rules about these things.

The Tiger Rising is a stand-alone novel but I know in advance I’ll be able to recommend it, because Kate Di Camillo is rapidly rising up my cherished authors list with every book of hers I read.

And what have I finished recently that I’d also recommend to you?

For everyone:

In addition to the first books in the Emily of New Moon and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I very much enjoyed the laugh out loud read that was A. f. Harold’s Fizzlebert Stump – The Boy Who Ran Away From The Circus (and joined the library).

I’m usually more of a fan of the whimsical than the outright funny, so another Di Camillo novel, Because of Winn Dixie has haunted me since I read it last spring. But Chris Riddle’s Goth Girl: and the Ghost of a Mouse and Polly Horvarth’s Mr and Mrs Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire (translated from the Rabbit) had great concepts and were great fun at the time but haven’t lingered with lasting impressions.

And a couple just for those bigger readers?

I’d highly recommend two books recommended to me by my friend Alison – and devoured very quickly straight afterwards with equal delight but dissimilar reasons:

Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows’ brilliant The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s tale.

Whatever you choose – from my list or yours – enjoy!

And to finish with… here’s one of the most idyllic locations I’ve spent time reading in this summer – the beautiful and ruined to perfection Jervaux Abbey… Doesn’t it just make you want to step inside, sit down and open that first tantalising page?

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A very bad rabbit…

It was Beatrix Potter’s birthday on Monday. And to celebrate this – and to keep my general promise to share some unofficial summer holiday type writing – I thought I’d share some correspondence from another very bad rabbit…

A very bad rabbit

This was ‘written’ by my very own Mr Bunley Hopkins when I was going away for the weekend a few weeks ago:

Dear stand-in Rabbit serf,

May I begin by taking this opportunity to congratulate you on accepting the privilege of being my visiting butler during my first weekend hutch-alone. I do hope none of your fly-bys coincide with any of the wild adolescent parties I am planning…

Anyway, here is a job spec I have prepared for you:

ESSENTIAL TASKS

1. Please visit my stately hutch on the following occasions (you will find it located in the paddock landscaped by Buckability Green located next to my human’s paltry residence):
– Friday late afternoon or evening
– Saturday morning at some point and then at the end of the day/eve as per convenience I suppose.
– Sunday morning. (My usual serf is returning to work very hard for me later on Sunday to make up for her shocking desire to take leave. I shall make her clean out my whole residence immediately as penance.)

2. On your morning visits please:
– open my sliding door so I can access my long gallery to promenade and feast during the day.
– top up my designer crockery right to the brim with delicious victuals (stored rather embarrassingly in the green wheelie bin next to the human’s squat).

3. On your evening sojourns please close my sliding door just in case any uninvited guests come calling at night…. I hardly dare mention this as it seems a little patronising, but you can never be sure with serfs… Pls make sure I am in my private quarters when the door is shut, rather than still strutting my very fine stuff in my outer courts…

4. Speaking of embarrassing requests… Can you make sure whenever you come that any disgusting slugs or – not that a rabbit of my sophistication would do these – squidgy poos are removed from my top floor? There is kitchen towel in the same green bin as the food as apparently you humans think it’s not the done thing to use your paws… Pls throw undesirables into the other green wheelie bin, not mine!

DESIRABLE

– If you would be so sensible as to desire my actual company, well done. I would be delighted to hop, flip and do all manner of impressive bungnastics for you to watch, praise and adore. And in return, I suppose I might agree to some cuddles. Actually… it’s a little needy of me to admit it but of an evening- well – sometimes they’re even quite nice.

For paddock and snuggle time, pls feel free to fully liberate me in my grounds etc. I only ask that when you have to drag yourself away you ensure my bottom gallery’s door is securely on and I am – again apologies – on the correct side of it.

Yours with yet more congratulations on your good fortune,

Mr Bunley Hopkins Esq

Ps if you have any questions due to your human brain struggling with my Bunley poet ways at any point… Pls do not hesitate to correspond with my usual serf who doubles up as a tolerable PA.

Did you know that Beatrix Potter’s first book, ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ started life as a letter to Noel – her friend’s five year old son? That was in 1893, which by my calculations means the original very bad rabbit was first born into imagination 121 years ago! By contrast, Mr Hopkins is only five months old.

Summer fruit

As school is over for almost everyone, the sun is out, and I am feeling somewhat holidayish… I thought I’d post a light-hearted blog or three over the coming days with some of my behind the scenes just for fun sort of writing.

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Here’s the first. In it I’m sharing the not-entirely-serious-epic piece The Necatarine of Peace written for – and dedicated to – some (mentioned) friends after an eventful evening of babysitting at their house.*

In the Macnish house there was some sense of unease,
Four hearts secretly yearning “please oh please…
May the fifth in the pummet turn out to be mine.
That lonesome little nectarine looking so sublime!”
This once innocent roundling was causing some friction –
Would it have to be quartered to stop fruit-fuelled tension?

The feisty food swelled with pride and with swagger
To be so much desired – well it was no bragger… –
But what fruit could not be a tiny bit impressed
To look delicious enough to cause family distress?
It found that it wasn’t even slightly perturbed
At the effect of its presence – a small community disturbed!

But just as slicing or fighting loomed as perilous danger!
Into the house walked a well-timed stranger.
Helena the wise who was brave, bold and winsome
Cried “Let’s give her the fifth to show her she’s welcome!
Then the family won’t be forced into a fight
Or the fifth in the pummet be ruthlessly sliced!”

Suddenly in Macnishville everything shifted,
The sense of tension suddenly went up and lifted!
The not so sweet naughty nec causing unease
Was transformed instead to THE NECTARINE OF PEACE!
It was laid out in state – hailed with praise and with thanks
Until eventually into it the new friend’s teeth sank.

And now this juicy tale is immortalised in rhyme
For if you look carefully there’s a moral to find…
By welcoming in and sharing with outsiders
Families find perspective and get beautifully wider
And those coming in feel loved and so glad
To help with redeeming fruit that’s turned bad!

So next time you’re feeling quantitive unease,
Simply find someone to welcome and voila – there’s peace

*The evening was not literally as eventful as the poem suggests. There has been some creative liberty taken with exactitudes for the purpose of humour.

Excited to announce…

… Liz’s involvement in the first ever St Albans Literary Festival

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More details to follow when they’re published, but a delighted heads up that Liz will be contributing a Friday afternoon/evening event on Loss and Hope in Children’s books aimed at parents, teachers and bereavement services and a public event for children on the Saturday uncovering just how to master The Secret Art of Finding Stories.

It looks like she might even pop in and visit a primary school or two while she’s in town too…

Check out the brand new festival’s plans so far at www.stalbansliteraryfestival.co.uk

10 favourite moments from my happy Hull day

Well, Freddie didn’t win the James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award, but I still felt like a winner the whole way through yesterday’s voting event! All those children passionate about reading, lots of fans of Freddie, great chats with the other authors, fascinating talks from each and every one of them about their books and an amazing team of kind and excellent librarians who definitely could organise a book award in a city hall…

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Here are a few of my favourite moments:

1. Walking into City Hall, looking at the chairs and tables and thinking, wow…

2. Giving my actual talk. I love getting to speak to children and hopefully inspire them a bit about some of the things that matter most to me. Stories, creativity, friendship and above all – redemptive hope.

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Yes, it’s me up there, though I’m very small and a little blurry in this shot…

3. That funny moment when it struck me over a very enjoyable breakfast with Fleur Hitchcock… that you know you’re both a children’s writer and an introvert when you feel much, much more relaxed about speaking to 400 children than you do about having dinner with about 12 other adults…

4. Having said that, I loved meeting all the other shortlisted authors that night and Elen Caldecotte in particular had me giggling happily by pudding. (I already knew the librarians were lovely because they’d done such a brilliant job looking after me during my school visits in May.)

I felt like one of the children sometimes – not that that’s a new sensation for me particularly – because I was so excited to hear from them all. You know – from real authors. And then I would think… oh hang on a minute…

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5. Here we all are in a moment of relative calm over lunch with last year’s brilliant winner Ellie Irving. By this stage I was relaxed with the adults too. They were all lovely and had great stories, good tips that they were kind enough to share with me and a brilliant sense of fun.

Shortly after this photo was taken I became a bit agitated though, as Veronica Cossanteli got out her millipedes to show us while I was still eating my sandwich. I was more than intrigued, but the amazing mexican waving legs made me feel a bit queasy all the same. Not enough fluff to be a pet choice for me!

6. Speaking of Veronica, I did absolutely love her talk.

All the authors spoke beautifully and uniquely but I couldn’t help but pick a favourite speech. It was very funny and I enjoyed how she spoke about characters living in her head. And somehow it struck me as I was listening to it, that if one was going to write the perfect authoress, she might just  carry a little bit of the same slightly magical charm… I know there were at least seventeen children who agreed with me.

7. Meeting the girl that managed – I don’t know how given the lengths of the queues – to get eight bookmarks all signed by all the authors… I make that nearly 50 queuings-up…

8. Receiving a present from Izzy B, which one of her friends delivered on her behalf and another helpful girl identified for me as being made out of ‘aqua beads’ when I unwrapped it. It was a dolphin and I have added it to my box of Freddie-related treasures.

9. The lovely children who kindly told me they were voting for Freddie, that he was their favourite or simply that they had loved the book… Favourite comments included ‘I reckon Freddie’s going to walk it Miss’ and ‘I really loved your book. I loved it so much I got to the end.’

10. Realising to a much deeper extent just how unusual, blessed and wonderful the story I have now decided to call ‘The Finding of The Finding of Freddie Perkins’ or perhaps ‘Just how Freddie Perkins was found’ truly is… and how amazingly privileged I am to find myself, almost as if by magic, a children’s author who was shortlisted for such a special book award.

Congratulations to Rachel Carter who thoroughly deserved her win for Ethan’s voice – here it is with all the short-listed books, and of course, with the one that’s still my favourite…

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And thank you again to Tracey Acum, Hull Libraries (for all these photos as well as an amazing experience start to finish). And of course to the children, who were simply – as always – what made it.

Freddie’s back in Hull

Freddie and I are back in Hull for the voting event for ‘The James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award’ tomorrow. Very excited about meeting 400 young readers  and getting the chance to inspire them with the story of just how the idea for Freddie was found….

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Freddie’s off to book group

And yes, he will be able to answer all these Questions for book groups on The Finding of Freddie Perkins that Liz has put together! Unlike Liz… who has to admit that she was surprised to see macaroni cheese alongside the more authentically Scottish themed food at the launch party for the book – and had to be reminded it was Freddie’s favourite food!

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