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Workshop in Italy

Posted by on Friday, 6 November, 2015

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve spent the past three months travelling around Europe with only brief stays in the UK in between. In that space of time I have visited five different countries!

Last week I felt very privileged to be invited to hold two workshops at the Rolandino de Passaggeri Secondary School in Bologna, by Italian teacher, Marica Triola, who works on behalf of the Italian Consulate in schools in Cambridgeshire. The workshops were part of the “Libriamoci” project of reading aloud in schools and were aimed at promoting a dialogue between the two cultures.


I worked with two classes of twelve-year-olds who impressed me with their knowledge and understanding of English. Before reading aloud from the first book of the Agnil’s Worlds series, ‘The Rise of Agnil’, we explored vocabulary relating to character traits with a game of charades.

reading aloud

At least one of the classes had been introduced to Agnil’s Worlds by exploring this very web site. Both classes listened attentively and appeared to enjoy being read to by a native English speaker.

The ‘Libriamoci’ project was promoted by the Ministry of Education and Research along with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism.





Life gets in the way

Posted by on Saturday, 20 June, 2015

I started this project fully intending to draw every day. I haven’t. The past couple of days have been quite hectic for me and I wasn’t able to sit down and sketch on those days. Life gets in the way sometimes and I know I mustn’t feel guilty about this. It’s a fun project and if guilt taints the fun, it just becomes a chore instead. I did have some time today so I’ve done two to atone for my ‘sins’!

The first one, a pair of scissors, continues my earlier still life drawings but I was starting to get a bit bored of doing that.

When Lou mentioned drawing with her eyes closed, I decided that I needed a little injection of that here too. This is a frog. I used fingers of my left hand to help guide and gauge where I should draw. The only slight cheats happened when I realised I’d forgotten to give the frog two eyes. I closed my eyes again and drew the second eye. Because the lines were quite feint, I went over them again with my eyes open to make sure they could be seen clearly. I promise I didn’t change the position of anything!

Today I’ve attempted something a bit different. A few days ago I found some very old photos I took in Spain around 1970. They record a Spain very different to how it is today. I’ve tried to reproduce two of those photos as sketches. This first one shows the end of the road where my uncle lived in a village in Navarra called Murchante. There was no tarmac, just a dust track leading into the fields and a man riding a donkey approaches. I have to tell you it’s a donkey because I don’t think it’s very recognisable! Even though the it was only a small element, it was very hard to draw! 

The last of today’s sketches shows the village of Vozmediano in the province of Soria around 1970. My aunt and cousins lived there at the time. Again, there were no tarmacked roads here nor any running water, apart from the River Quieles which has its source here. Vozmediano is a tiny village. I just read on Wikipedia that in the 2004 census there were only 45 residents.

Free till Saturday!

Posted by on Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

This week is Children’s Book Week in the USA and today also happens to be ten days before the final voting session opens for the finalists of The People’s Book Prize. As you all know, The Rise of Agnil is among those finalists. In celebration of both those events, I’ve put The Rise of Agnil on Amazon free from today, 5th May, until the 9th May.

The Rise of AgnilIf for some strange reason you haven’t read it yet, download it now! If you already have it please let all your friends know. 🙂

Happy 1st Birthday Kid Literature Authors!

Posted by on Monday, 13 April, 2015

Not long after I started writing children’s books, I came across the Kid Literature Authors page on Facebook and joined the team as a contributor. It’s been an exciting journey for the team seeing the page go from strength to strength. My own writing journey has also been an exciting echo of this success. Just over a year ago I had published two books – I now have double that number with the fourth book just published. The first three all have Readers’ Favorite five star reviews and the first book, The Rise of Agnil, has been a finalist in The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards and is also a finalist in The People’s Book Prize.

I’m sure the Kid Literature page will continue to do well, bringing together all of us who love children’s books and have a determination to do everything we can to increase an awareness of the importance of children’s reading.

Season’s Greetings

Posted by on Wednesday, 24 December, 2014

Wishing you and all your families a very Merry Christmas!


Vote for Agnil!

Posted by on Monday, 1 December, 2014

If you have been following my blog, you’ll already know that The Rise of Agnil has been nominated for The People’s Book Prize and that this is a really important national award. The book is now on their web site and will be there until the end of February. I’m incredibly excited about this! To progress through the stages of the award needs you, the readers, ordinary members of the public, to go and vote on the web site. You will have to register and will be sent a password allowing you to vote.

Vote!From The People’s Book Prize web site:

“The People’s Book Prize is the democratic Book Prize voted exclusively by the public aimed at finding, supporting and promoting new and undiscovered works. It is the public who choose Britain’s Next Bestsellers.

Supported by Patron Frederick Forsyth CBE the Award consists of prizes in three genres – fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature. Leading up to the ceremony titles are showcased on and the books which receive the most votes go forward as finalists with three authors emerging as winners. In addition, The Beryl Bainbridge Award for First Time Author is given in honour of TPBP founding patron and an award for Best Achievement for outstanding content to the author whose writing has led, or could lead to benefitting the community.”

Please help support me and vote for The Rise of Agnil!

Children’s author ‘book bombs’ bookshops

Posted by on Sunday, 30 November, 2014

On Saturday, Charlotte Moore, the illustrator of the Agnil’s Worlds series, and I had a bit of elvish fun when we went into Cambridge to commit a feat of derring-do (or should that be daring-do?). I secretly planted the copies of The Rise of Agnil on the shelves of two bookshops while Charlotte took photos.

The Rise of Agnil has been available from Amazon since last December but so far can’t be bought from any high street bookshops.

Photo bombing is when someone unexpectedly or unintentionally appears in a photograph. I called it a book bombing because I put the books somewhere they would not otherwise have been found. I wanted to highlight the difficulties faced by indie authors and publishers in getting their books stocked on the high street. If anyone wants the books I have planted they can have them for free. I will refund the price paid in the shop if the purchaser contacts me.

book bombing

Should children read the classics?

Posted by on Thursday, 27 November, 2014

I was recently involved in a discussion about which classic books children might love. I felt a little uncomfortable answering and I’ll explain why. As you probably know, until recently I was a primary school teacher and in many of our classrooms in Key Stage 2 we had a selection of the classics and they were hardly ever chosen by the children. Why is that? Times have changed.

Firstly, the language in the classics is very old-fashioned and in some cases I would describe it as archaic. Language is a living thing, constantly changing, and these classics use words and phrases that children nowadays no longer use nor understand. If you ever find yourself reading an old book to a child, count how many times you have to stop and explain what something means. Stopping to explain is important so that the meaning is not lost but if you stop too often it will interrupt the flow of the story and the children may lose track of the plot.

Children like books to be pacy and/or be humorous. They are surrounded by fast-paced media and like their books to be the same. The old classics  tend to be wordier and slower in pace; they had a lot of leisure time to fill in those days with little else by way of entertainment. These days there are many other things that many children would rather be doing. If we want children to love reading we have to give them books that fit their world.

Speaking of worlds, think LTWTWabout how much the world has changed in the last fifty years or so. Children then led quite different lives to now. Yes, we might feel a little sad at the passing of that world and it’s lovely to reminisce but we can’t pull back the past. Many of the classics portray a world they just can’t identify with. I’m going to partially exclude fantasy books from this, though. I learnt a valuable lesson last year. I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my class last year and, quite frankly, I was very concerned before I started reading it that they would find the book too old-fashioned. However, it’s a book I love and it fitted perfectly with the work we were doing with the children, so I was willing to give it a go. Yes, I had to stop and explain now the language now and again, but the beautiful fantasy world of Narnia that CS Lewis created is still as magical to today’s readers as it was to children who read it when it was first published. Fantasy seems to stand the test of time.

So do the classics have no value at all for today’s younger generation? I’m not saying that at all. There are still ways they can enjoy those stories, if not in their original form. Look out for simplified versions of the books which children might find easier to digest. It may go against the grain for us to read them ourselves but at least they will have access to some of that wide and wonderful array of classic literature, and just maybe, they will be enticed to read the originals when they are more mature.

Another way forward is to look at more modern classics. Children still adore the likes of Roald Dahl, for example, and my personal favourite is Matilda. There are many others too. Look for authors like Michael Morpurgo (Kensuke’s Kingdom) and Michelle Magorian (Goodnight, Mr Tom). But it’s good to also look out for lesser known authors; those without the marketing budgets of the big publishing houses behind them. I know that you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in the Agnil’s Worlds books, giving me, a relatively unknown author, a crack at giving children stories I hope they enjoy, and I am very grateful for that. Will the Agnil’s Worlds books stand the test of time and become classics? Who knows, they are fantasy books, after all. Thank you for sticking with me and enjoy the ride for now. Some exciting times are looming!


Book + Chocolate = Bliss

Posted by on Tuesday, 24 June, 2014

So what’s a chocolate book blog?

As I sit in the shade of my pergola on a glorious midsummer day, the air around me scented with jasmine, I’m worried that the chocolate on this blog post will melt!
I’ve been passed the baton in a chocolate book blog tour by the lovely Karen Emma Hall, founder of the Kid Literature Authors group that I am involved with. You can read her chocolate book blog here.
The challenge is to choose six books and six different varieties of chocolate that I feel are a good match for the books. Most of the chocolate book blogs I’ve read so far have focused on children’s books but I really wanted to include some books for adults too, so I’m going to break the mould a little.


The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Perhaps the best known of all the Narnia books by this author, I suppose it was inevitable that I should include it here. After all, my own books fall into the same genre. But it’s more important to me than that to not miss this book out. The Chronicles of Narnia was the first book series that really enthralled me as a child and I was so bitterly disappointed when I got to the end of it that I searched the library high and low for any more books written by C.S. Lewis.
This much-loved classic children’s book describes the fantasy world that four WW2 evacuees enter and echos the war going on in the real world  through their battles against evil. Good, as in all decent children’s books of this type, triumphs.

To match this book I’m choosing Fry’s Five Boys chocolate. Although this is no longer for sale, I remember it so well from my childhood, I feel it’s a good match for my vivid memory of the book.

Five boysEzra_Cornell's_first_book

Goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian


Another book recounting the life of a WW2 evacuee. This time firmly set in the very real world that William, the main character, finds himself in. Pulled away from an abusive home life, William finds himself placed in the home of widower, Tom. Initially reluctant to become a carer for the child, Tom quickly realises how much the boy needs him. The very moving story is about the growing bond between the two, friendships made and lost and William’s agony at returning to stay with his mother for a while before being rescued by Mr Tom.
I’ve read this book many times to classes of children over the years and every time I have to warn them in advance that I’m likely to shed a tear or two.

To match this book I’ve chosen Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Available on rationing during WWII, and advertised as having a glass and a half of milk in every half pound, I’m sure Mr Tom would have done his best to get hold of some for William!


Northern Lights by Philip Pullman


I have no idea why, but in North America this book is known as The Golden Compass. This first book of the YA epic series, His Dark Materials, was introduced to me by my daughter who was working in a children’s book shop in Cambridge at the time. It’s another fantasy book set in a parallel universe to our own, but more than that, this book has a message so powerful it even upset the Pope! It features the journey of a girl called Lyra to the Arctic in search of her missing friend, Roger, and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as “Dust”.

Choosing chocolate to match this book proved difficult, but as it was a story of someone heading into a very cold region, it reminded me of white chocolate. I present you with Hotel Chocolat’s Sleekster White Selection.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Snow Child

Set in Alaska, this is an adult fairy tale based on a traditional Russian folk tale, Little Daughter of the Snow. It tells of a couple unable to have children. One day the wife, Mabel, makes a child out of snow and the very next day the snow child has disappeared leaving a set of footprints leading away from where it stood. It’s a magical story, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that this version might be suitable for children; it isn’t.

This is a story of love and hope, so to match it I have found these raw chocolate strawberry and pink peppercorn hearts from the Magic Chocolate Company.


The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

novel viola

This beautifully written second novel from Natasha Solomons, whose first was Mr Rosenbloom’s List, is set in Dorset and tells the story of a young Austrian Jew from a wealthy family who flees her home country shortly before the start of WW2. She goes to work as a maid in a country home and it tells of how she adapts to her new life. It is a moving story with wonderful descriptions of English country life in the 1930s.

In my mind the perfect match for this book are the delicious Mozartkugeln, chocolate balls (in some cases still hand-made) from Austria.


Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead


This book, the first of the Two Old Fools series, is a light and lovely memoir about when Victoria, a former teacher, and her husband moved to a little village in the mountains in Andalucia. If you need something that will make you chuckle, as well as green with envy for the life she now leads, this is the book for you! I first read this book in 2011 and have since gone on to read the others in the series. However, I have chosen this book for the very simple reason that the author has had a profound influence on my life. Three years ago she was just the author of a book I read but today she is my publisher and responsible for bringing Agnil’s Worlds into public view.

I happen to know that Victoria is rather partial to McVities’ Chocolate Hobnob biscuits. Even if biscuits aren’t allowed, it’s my blog and I’ll have chocolate biscuits if I want to!


I am passing the baton to Sandra Stoner Mitchell, the author of Hedgerow Capers which is all about a group of friends who live in Hedgerow Village. Just like children, they have lots of fun playing and making things and getting up to all sorts of capers. You can find her web site here. Look out for her chocolate book blog tour post the week beginning 28th June.

Author Interview

Posted by on Monday, 14 April, 2014

Here is a link to my author interview at