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Adventures at Hay Festival Aarhus 2017

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There’s been a LOT happening over the last few weeks. No sooner did The Midnight Peacock (the fourth and final book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series) hit bookshop shelves, than Winter Magic was out in a gorgeous new paperback edition, new suffragette-inspired anthology Make More Noise was announced … and then it was time to head to Aarhus, Denmark, for the first ever Hay Festival Aarhus.

To celebrate the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, Hay Festival organised an International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, held at the city’s DOKK1 Library. I was so delighted to be there as one of the Aarhus 39 – a selection of the best children’s and YA writers from all over Europe, aged 40 and under – see photo above. We’d been asked to contribute original stories to two special anthologies edited by Daniel Hahn, and were also invited to take part in the festival itself alongside amazing authors and illustrators like Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer.

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The Quest anthology in its Danish edition

 

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Festival pass

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The amazing DOKK1 Library, Aarhus

 

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Inside the library, transformed for the Hay Aarhus Festival

Aarhus is a wonderful city, and I had a fantastic few days exploring, getting to know the rest of the Aarhus 39, and admiring the amazing DOKK1 Library. Highlights included taking part in a panel event alongside fellow Aarhus 39 authors Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson, and seeing my story illustrated live by Søren Jessen. Here’s a little video of me talking at the festival:

It was a real privilege to be part of such an incredible celebration of writing for children and young people –  here’s a blog post I wrote for the Hay Festival international writers blog about exactly why it was so special. Thanks so much to all at Hay Festival for a brilliant time!

Find out more about Quest: Stories of Journeys From Around Europe from the Aarhus 39

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Illustration of my story ‘Between the Trees’ by Søren Jessen

 

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Beautiful views from outside the library – which even has its own boat!

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With my lovely friend and fellow Aarhus 39 author Katherine Rundell

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Thank you Hay Festival and Aarhus 2017 for a wonderful time!

The Painted Dragon on tour

One of the funny thing about being a writer is that after a lot of time sitting by yourself working on a book, once it finally makes its way out into the world, it’s time to do the exact opposite. That means putting on clothes that aren’t pyjamas or very old tracksuit bottoms, and doing challenging things like leaving the house and speaking to other people. Specifically it means heading out on the road for lots of events, meeting readers at schools, in bookshops and at festivals – and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the last month or so, since The Painted Dragon hit bookshelves in February…

It all began with a special mystery-themed half-term event at Waterstones Piccadilly. Officer Stephen welcomed us all and announced that Lord Waterstones’s valuable painting had been mysteriously stolen from the store – and there were a number of sinister suspects who could be responsible for the theft. Luckily some young detectives were on the case, and got to work finding clues around the shop, cracking codes and assessing the evidence to discover ‘whodunnit’! I was there to help with the mystery-solving – as well as reading from The Painted Dragon and signing some books, of course.

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Officer Stephen and detectives

Next up was an author event at the LSE Literary Festival. I was so pleased to meet such a crowd of readers (the room was packed) who had the chance to put their own detective skills to the test, as well as to dress up in my array of Edwardian hats.

On World Book Day, we headed to Waterstones Kensington for our first ever Down the Rabbit Hole Live event! We were joined by three amazing children’s authors – Abi Elphinstone, Cathryn Constable and Piers Torday – to discuss writing and the power of the imagination. We even had a go at crowd-sourcing a story with the help of the children in the audience. You can listen to some of the audio from the event on the DTRH website here (and check out some news on another forthcoming DTRH Live coming up at the Hay Festival in May).

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At Waterstones Kensington

Next it was time to visit some schools! I kicked things off with a visit to South Hampstead Junior School, to help them celebrate World Book Day – and then it was time to hit the road for the official Painted Dragon schools tour.

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At King Edward VI Handsworth School – photo by Annie Everall

Lovely Annie Everall from Authors Aloud had organised the tour, which began in Birmingham with a visit to King Edward VI Handsworth school. From then we went on to Wolverhampton Grammar School and Sibford School, followed by a book-signing at Blackwell’s Oxford – plus a wonderful tour of the rare books collection. I especially enjoyed peeping in at the ‘Gaffer’s Room’ .

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More tour photos by Annie Everall

Next were Eltham School, Prendergast Ladywell School, Bute House and Beaconsfield High School. It was a crazy, jam-packed week but it’s always fun to visit schools and meet lots of pupils, teachers and school librarians – Annie and I had a great time.

Back in London, I teamed up with Mystery Girl extraordinaire Robin Stevens for a special event at the Daunt Books Festival – complete with cupcakes! I loved chatting to Robin about her fabulous Murder Most Unladylike series and meeting many mystery fans after the event.

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Robin and I in wonderful Daunt Books

Robin and I were back together very soon afterwards for the Mountains to Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. This time we were joined by a gang of brilliant children’s authors – Jo Cotterill, Dave Rudden and Jonathan Stroud – for two really fun panel events chaired by Little Island Press’s Grainne Clear. I love doing panel events: it’s always so fascinating to hear other writers talk about their books, what inspires them, and how they write. Highlights of these events included debating what superpowers we’d each choose, and seeing how many pens we could put in Dave’s beard (spoiler: it was loads). Off-stage, we had fun hanging out with festival programmer Sarah Webb and the other visiting authors who were in town at the same time, including Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell. I especially loved exploring Dun Laoghaire and its fabulous library.

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A few highlights from Mountains to Sea

Before heading home, I whizzed over to Salford for a visit to The Lowry for the Salford Children’s Book Awards! I was so delighted to be shortlisted for the 2017 prize, and to have the chance to meet and chat to lots of Sinclair’s Mysteries fans from Salford schools at the event.

Now that Painted Dragon is well and truly launched, it’s back to my writing desk (and tracksuit bottoms) for a little while – well, until the next round of events, anyway!

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Celebrating The Painted Dragon

We had such a lovely time celebrating the launch of The Painted Dragon at High Street Kensington Waterstones this week! Here’s me and my wonderful editor Ali – we even dressed to match the book cover for the occasion!

As has become traditional, the book launch featured plenty of Sinclair’s-style hats for dressing up  –  but also the first ever outing of our brand new #SinclairSelfie banner!

Sneaking into Sinclair’s with author and partner-in-crime Katherine Webber

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With my lovely friend and author pal Anna McKerrow

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 Clementine and Alice from ILA modelling hats with my amazing agent Louise, plus Helen from Pickled Ink/WRD Magazine  (photo by Justine Alltimes)

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Author buddy Robin with my former editor Hannah and Lydia from Egmont (photo by Justine Alltimes)

Refreshments included some special Painted Dragon chocolate cupcakes with green icing and bronze sprinkles which I made, inspired by the amazing cover of the new book!

Lots of fun was had by all – thanks so much to the fab team at Waterstones for hosting us, to everyone who helped out, and to all those who came along for making it such a wonderful evening!

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Painted Dragon cupcakes

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Doing my ‘happy author’ face during the speeches (photo by Justine Alltimes)

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A dragon with some dragons….

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A spot of book-signing!

Londoners note: you can now grab a signed copy of The Painted Dragon at both Waterstones Piccadilly and Waterstones High Street Kensington, while stocks last!

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Looking back on 2016

IMG_80472016 has been such busy year! Whilst it’s been a strange (and depressing) one in many ways, for me personally, it’s been a very positive time. I’ll always remember it as the year that my second book The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth was published – and that the pile of my books (see above) grew from one to four!

It’s been a great year for collaboration. I’ve been lucky enough to be included in two amazing short story anthologies, alongside lots of other authors whose writing I hugely admire. I love feeling part of a community of children’s writers, so it was such a treat to be part of Mystery & Mayhem and Winter Magic.

I’m relatively new to short stories and I do find them challenging – but I really enjoyed writing Lil’s solo story ‘The Mystery of the Purloined Pearls’ for Mystery & Mayhem. I also loved writing ‘Casse-Noisette’ for Winter Magic, which is set in 1890s St Petersburg and focuses on the first ever production of The Nutcracker ballet. This is the first story I’ve had published that’s set outside the world of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, and it’s been great to hear so many enthusiastic responses from readers.

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Celebrating Winter Magic with Abi Elphinstone and Piers Torday

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Launching Mystery & Mayhem with Harriet Whitehorn, Helen Moss and Robin Stevens

2016 was also the year that both Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth were published in the USA by publishers Kane Miller, which is so exciting! What’s more, this year Clockwork Sparrow was published as an audiobook, read by the wonderful Jessica Preddy! I love audiobooks and I’m thrilled that Clockwork Sparrow exists in audio form – look out for the Jewelled Moth audiobook coming out in January 2017.

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I’ve been very busy with lots more writing this year, including working on Books 3 and 4 of the Sinclair’s Mysteries series – book 3, The Painted Dragon is coming out on 9th February.

The cover has had a little tweak since the first reveal, but it looks as shiny and beautiful as ever in all its green glory. I love Karl James Mountford’s stunning artwork, and I think it might be my favourite cover yet. You can preorder the new book here.

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I’ve also been working on a couple of exciting new writing projects – more news on those coming very soon!

2016 has also been a very busy year for events. I’ve done over 40 author events this year, including the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival to the Children’s Books Ireland conference. Amongst other things, I’ve visited schools and festivals all around the country, led some fun creative writing workshops as part of The Mousetrap’s ‘Mystery Solved’ project, and taken part in two great panel events at Waterstones Piccadilly.

One particularly special moment of 2016 was attending the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize ceremony at Piccadilly when Clockwork Sparrow was on the Younger Fiction shortlist. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the prize for a number of years as a guest, so being there as a shortlisted author alongside so many amazing children’s writers and illustrators was really special. Clockwork Sparrow didn’t win (that honour went to the lovely David Solomons for his My Brother is a Superhero, who also scooped the overall prize) but celebrating with so many friends and colleagues is something I’ll always remember.

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Shortlisted authors and illustrators assemble at the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, with Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell

As well as my own author events, 2016 was the third year of YALC, which was a tremendous success. There’s always more to learn and improve – but overall I’m so proud of everything we’ve achieved with YALC. Here’s the wonderful YALC Working Group who do such an amazing job in helping me make the event happen – my very own Scooby Gang! (This year they even bought me my very own gold umbrella as a present – fans of Buffy will appreciate the significance)

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Lovely YALC working group pals

As well as a fantastic YALC, 2016 was also the year that we launched the YA Salon! I’ve teamed up with the brilliant Anna James and Rosi Crawley to launch this fun evening event for adults who love YA books. We kicked things off with our first salon with legendary Baby-Sitter’s Club author Ann M Martin, who was joined by Laura Dockrill and Holly Bourne, for a special event for London Book & Screen Week. We’ve since organised a Christmas themed YA Salon to celebrate Stripes’ new anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas with a host of fabulous YA authors taking part.

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Highlights of the first ever YA Salon

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Our lovely authors at the Christmas YA Salon

Children’s books radio show Down the Rabbit Hole has gone from strength to strength this year. Louise, Melissa and I have launched our new website with gorgeous artwork from Rebecca Cobb, introduced a brand new e-newsletter and made the show available as a podcast via iTunes. Of course we’ve also broadcast twelve shows featuring amazing guests including the likes of Clare Balding. Check out our Christmas special here.

We’re already busy planning more exciting things for DTRH in 2017 so make sure you’re subscribed to our podcast and following us on Twitter so you don’t miss anything! (If you want to give us a great Christmas present you can rate or review the show on iTunes here!)

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New DTRH website with gorgeous Rebecca Cobb illustrations

I also launched my Youtube channel this year. I still have lots to learn about how to make videos, but it’s been really fun trying it out and having a go! If you want to see how I get on, do subscribe to my channel, and check out some videos – some of my favourites include a top 5 new middle grade books, an interview with fellow Mystery Girl Robin Stevens about her new book Mistletoe and Murder, and a fun festive Q&A with the lovely Abi Elphinstone.

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Robin and I filming our Mistletoe and Murder video

I’ve been lucky to be involved in lots more fantastic book-related projects this year, including being a judge for both the Bookseller YA Prize, and Stripes’ competition to find a new writer for the I’ll be Home for Christmas anthology, which was a real privilege.

It’s also been lovely to help celebrate the launch of many great new children’s books this year – and even to blurb a few of them! In particular, I’ve loved seeing the spectacular success of MG Leonard’s brilliant debut Beetle Boy, and more recently Peter Bunzl’s amazing debut Cogheart – it’s been pretty cool seeing my name on posters in railway stations around the country!

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Amazing Cogheart posters!

On a personal note, 2016 has also been a lovely year for me, with highlights including a visit to Sweden, a relaxing post-YALC summer break in Rye, and a September trip to Paris. Follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see lots more pictures of what I get up to.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me this year! I’m so appreciative of all those who have read, reviewed, bought or shared my books, come along to an event, or followed along here. I’m so grateful and feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this. Now bring on 2017!

 

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Celebrating Winter Magic

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It’s been such fun being part of Winter Magic! As if it wasn’t enough to be part of one lovely middle-grade anthology this year, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of TWO – the crime anthology Mystery & Mayhem, and now this gorgeous festive collection.

It’s been wonderful to join forces with other middle grade authors, and to have the chance to collaborate on these projects. What’s more, it’s also been great to hear from teachers and librarians about how useful they’re finding these books, and how popular they are with young readers. Short stories make great bite-size reads, and teachers have told us that they find these collections incredibly useful for the classroom, providing a series of complete texts that they can share with pupils from beginning to end. An anthology bringing together lots of different authors can also offer a great way for readers to explore a variety of different kinds of writing – and to discover new authors they love.

Winter Magic also offered me a chance to try my hand at writing a story outside the ‘world’ of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, which was an enjoyable challenge. My story ‘Casse-Noisette’ explores one of my favourite Christmas traditions – going to the ballet. Set in 1890s St Petersburg, it will whisk you behind the scenes at the Marinsky Theatre, for the first ever production of the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. I’ve been noticing The Nutcracker popping up all over the place this Christmas – from a brand new immersive production to the Liberty’s Christmas windows and displays (below)!

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I’ve had such a lovely time reading and enjoying the other stories in the anthology, and celebrating the book at several events.

We marked the launch of Winter Magic at Waterstones Piccadilly with mince pies, candy canes, chocolate treats, and mulled wine. Anthology curator Abi made a fantastic speech about the book, and lots of people came along to celebrate with us – it was especially wonderful to see a big gang of Little Star Writers in attendance!

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I was back at Waterstones Piccadilly a couple of weeks later, together with Abi, Geraldine McCaughrean and Lauren St John, for a panel event all about the anthology. We talked about everything from Christmas traditions to our favourite books to read at Christmas – and signed lots of books for people who came along.

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I also popped along to lovely London indie the South Kensington Bookshop to sign some books, together with Abi, Emma Carroll and Piers Torday. As well as signing lots of copies of Winter Magic, we had chance to admire the shop’s beautiful window display – check out those snowflakes!

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Look out for more Winter Magic events coming up soon – including a session with Abi, Emma, Piers and Michelle Harrison at Waterstones Birmingham on 7 December.

You can also find out more about Winter Magic – and read some of the lovely reviews we’ve had so far – on my website here.

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