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Archive of ‘children’s books’ category

Introducing… The Clockwork Sparrow!

Scone and ginger beer

I’m thrilled to be able to share the exciting news that I’m going to be publishing my first children’s book next year, with Egmont Books!

The Clockwork Sparrow is the first in an adventure series set in the Edwardian era, which is inspired by some of the classic children’s writing that I love best, such as E. Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett. (If you’ve been following me on Pinterest you might have already spotted that all things Edwardian have been preoccupying me of late.)

Here’s a bit of information from Egmont’s announcement, which came on the first day of this year’s London Book Fair:

Set in a luxurious department store which evokes Selfridges in its heyday, the first book, The Clockwork Sparrow, follows the adventures of recently orphaned Sophie, a shop girl at the newly opened Sinclair’s Department Store in London. Just as she’s settling into her new life, a priceless object is stolen, a young man is attacked and Sophie is implicated in the crime.

The Clockwork Sparrow is the perfect upper middle-grade read for fans of Enid Blyton, Chris Riddell and Eva Ibbotson and combines mystery, adventure and friendship with a sumptuous Edwardian setting.

Egmont won World English rights for two books in a four-publisher auction. The Clockwork Sparrow will publish in the second half of 2015 and a second book will follow less than a year later.

Fiction editorial director Ali Dougal said, ‘The Clockwork Sparrow is an absolute joy of a book, transporting the reader to a world of heady glamour offset by a murky criminal underground. It’s an irresistible mix of Mr Selfridge and Nancy Drew. Children will adore the cast of exceptionally likeable characters and spirited heroines.’

I’m over the moon that the book has found (with the help of my brilliant agent Louise Lamont) such a wonderful home at Egmont, who also publish Lemony Snicket, Michael Morpurgo, David Levithan, Elizabeth Wein, Andy Stanton and lots of other excellent children’s authors. You can read more about the announcement on book trade news websites Book2Book and The Bookseller.

I was especially delighted to have the book compared to the work of some of my absolutely favourite children’s writers, Chris Riddell and Eva Ibbotson, and the nods to Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton were the cherry on the cake.

Although the book won’t be on the shelves until the second half of next year, I’ll be sharing a few highlights of the journey to publication here. There’s lots of hard work ahead, but for now I’m raising a glass (of what else but ginger beer?) to toast The Clockwork Sparrow.

On the radio



In the studio! Me (with mic for head), Tanya, Alex and Laura

As you know, last week my children’s book radio show, Down the Rabbit Hole, took to the airwaves on Resonance 104.4FM! You can listen to it here:

Down The Rabbit Hole – 18th February 2014 by Resonance Fm on Mixcloud

The idea for Down the Rabbit Hole originally came about following the recent discussions about the lack of proper coverage of children’s books in the media. Even though children’s books account for almost a fourth of all book sales in the UK, they receive only a tiny proportion of media coverage compared to books for adults. That has always seemed extraordinary to me – not just because so many families are interested in children’s books, but also because they are such rich artworks in their own right – and just as worthy of ‘proper’ discussion as adult literature.

The opportunity to do the show came about when arts radio station Resonance FM offered up one of their Clear Spot sessions, which are set aside for experimenting with new programme ideas. I’m a big fan of Resonance, who have a hugely diverse and interesting programme, and they seemed the ideal home for a deeper discussion of children’s literature.

I had envisioned the show as being a bit like BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, but exclusively for children’s books, so my first job was to find a panel to discuss a selection of books with me. Happily, I was lucky enough to find four brilliant and enthusiastic speakers to be involved –Tanya Byrne, Melissa Cox, Laura Dockrill and Alex T Smith.

Next up, we needed an interesting selection of new children’s and teenage books to discuss. These are the titles we talked about in detail in the programme:

  • Meet the Parents by Peter Bently and Sara Ogilvie (Simon & Schuster)
  • Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad (Faber Children’s Books) – check out the trailer we played on the show here
  • Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault (Walker Books)
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy (Puffin Books)

Feature items were provided by Nikesh Shukla, who gamely became our ‘roving reporter’ and interviewed graphic novelists the Etherington Brothers in Bristol; the Hot Key Books team, who gave us a peep behind the scenes into children’s publishing; and agent extraordinaire Louise Lamont, who offered up her tips on how aspiring children’s writers and illustrators could attract an agent’s attention (with added Antonio Banderas).

I was also lucky enough to have contributions from the likes of Philip Ardagh, Liz Pichon, Tom Moorhouse and James Dawson, who generously shared their thoughts on ‘the book they would give to their 10-year-old self’ as part of the campaign to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

Recording the show was a bit nerve-racking – I’d done one ‘down the line’ radio interview before, but never set foot in a proper recording studio, and I was feeling a bit anxious as we sat in a Southwark cafe chatting before the pre-recording session. Thankfully I had an exceptional bunch of speakers at my side and Resonance were welcoming and made the technical side super easy for us. The recording session ended up being really good fun and we could happily have gone on for another hour, chatting about our favourite spreads from Jane, the Fox and Me, listening to Laura read from her new book Darcy Burdock: Hi So Much, talking about why The Worst Witch is so brilliant, and discussing what books we’d have given to our 10-year-old selves.

Louise having her 'Evita' moment: the panel getting ready in the studio

Louise having her ‘Evita’ moment: the panel getting ready in the studio

It was far more nerve-wracking listening to the broadcast when it went out on Tuesday night – but hearing all the generous and supportive feedback from listeners on Twitter was absolutely brilliant. The hugely positive response to the show on Tuesday (and again on Wednesday morning when the show was repeated) proved to me without any doubt that there’s an appetite for more discussion of children’s books of this kind – not just from authors, illustrators and the industry, but also amongst teachers, librarians, parents and the general public. It was lovely to see tweets like these ones:


There have been some great blog posts about the show, including these lovely ones from author Susie Day, and blog Good for Your Soul. I also love this one from Louise about taking part, in which she describes me as ‘the Mickey Rooney of children’s books in the media’ (I think that’s a compliment?)

Huge thanks to everyone who took part in the show, to Resonance, and to everyone who tuned in. We hope to find a way to continue the show, so if you enjoyed it do share your feedback by leaving a comment or tweeting with the hashtag #DownTheRabbitHole.

Down the Rabbit Hole


Just a quick post about something rather exciting that’s coming up next week. I’ll be producing and hosting a special one-off radio programme all about children’s books on Resonance FM – Down the Rabbit Hole.

The programme features four brilliant panellists, who’ll be joining me to talk about some of the best new children’s and teenage books – Tanya Byrne, Laura Dockrill and Alex T Smith, plus Waterstones Children’s New Titles buyer (and all-round children’s book guru) Melissa Cox.

As well as talking about some great  books, the programme will also feature everything from author interviews to tips for aspiring children’s writers, to a peek behind the scenes in children’s publishing – and even hopefully a few Alice in Wonderland-themed songs along the way!

You can listen to the show on Tuesday 18 February at 8.00pm on 104.4FM or online at and it will also be repeated on Wednesday 19 February at 9.00am.

If you do have a listen, I would love to hear what you think. We’re planning to continue the discussions on Twitter after the show so please do join in and tweet me your feedback using the hashtag #downtherabbithole.

[Image via Pinterest]

Busy days

I’ve not been very good at posting here regularly in recent months, but that’s no great surprise given that it’s been such a jam-packed autumn.

Things got off to a pretty good start at the end of August, when I was lucky enough to chair a great children’s book event at Waterstones Piccadilly – Seeing the World Differently. This panel discussion featured three incredible authors: Carnegie Medal winner Sally Gardner, acclaimed teen author Laura Jarratt, and R J Palacio, the author of the award-winning Wonder. Meeting them and chatting with them about their work – in particular how they’ve approached the subject of difference – was a real privilege. The event was written up by Sister Spooky and Armadillo Magazine.


With Tanya Byrne and Lauren Kate at Waterstones Piccadilly

In fact, one way or another I seem to have spent quite a lot of time at Waterstones Piccadilly this autumn – and not just roaming the shelves to look at lovely new books I want to buy. It’s where I interviewed Queen of Teen Maureen Johnson for Booktrust, had the chance to meet one of my all-time author heroines, the legendary Susan Cooper; and attended an inspiring event with David Levithan. More recently I was back in front of the audience, trying not to fall off the  high stool and cracking bad jokes, chairing an event entitled UK vs US : is any subject taboo in YA literature? with young adult authors Tanya Byrne and Lauren Kate. The event was written up by a few bloggers, including Nosegraze (voila, le très unflattering photo) and Mira Ink.

In October I whizzed over to Bath for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, where Malorie Blackman was appearing in her capacity as Children’s Laureate. I also went along to the autumn London Film and Comic Con for a special event to announce one of Malorie’s major Children’s Laureate projects – the UK’s first ever Young Adult Literature Convention, which will take place at London Film and Comic Con next year. It’s been really exciting working on plans for the YA Lit Con (follow #YALC on Twitter for all the latest) and I’m even more excited about the event itself, coming up in July 2014.

Children’s Book Week took place in October: I wrote and edited this year’s Booktrust Best Book Guide, which was sent to all UK schools in their Children’s Book Week packs. This year, to celebrate Children’s Book Week Booktrust also published their list of the 100 best children’s books from the last 100 years, and I blogged about just how excruciatingly difficult it was to take part in the selection process. Booktrust then invited people to vote on their favourite books on the list, and the winner (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) was announced on Monday. I made this EXTREMELY SILLY video to celebrate the top ten winners:

A real autumn highlight for me was a trip up to visit Seven Stories in Newcastle. Seven Stories is such an incredible place. I could happily spend hours in the bookshop alone, but on our trip we managed to fit in not only a tour of the fascinating Judith Kerr and Enid Blyton exhibitions, but also a trip to the Seven Stories archive, a short drive away, where we were lucky enough to be shown some original artwork and manuscripts from Seven Stories collections by the archivist – from Edward Ardizzone illustrations to manuscripts from the likes of Enid Blyton and Philip Pullman.

The Fantastic Five (and some strange woman introducing them)

The Fantastic Five (and some strange woman introducing them)

Another highlight of my autumn has been working with the inimitable Laura Dockrill, in her role as Booktrust’s writer in residence over the last six months. Laura’s Women on Top (WOT!) event which took place in September was hands down, the most fun book event I’ve ever organised. Laura wanted to do something to change perceptions of children’s books, and showcase just how dynamic, creative, innovative and exciting children’s literature can be, so we teamed up with Red Bull Studios to host an event with a difference. Laura was joined by Malorie, Caitlin Moran, Dawn O’Porter and Mel Giedroyc (she of Great British Bake Off fame) for an incredibly lively and inspirational panel discussion.

Afterwards, the audience of specially invited guests from the arts and media world had the chance to enjoy pizza and cocktails, look at books and hit the dancefloor to the sounds of a DJ set from BBC Radio One’s Gemma Cairney. I’m pretty proud that we managed to pull off a children’s book event which ended with the guests on the dancefloor throwing shapes to The Spice Girls’ Wannabe. It was a brilliant evening and I still can’t quite decide what my favourite part was, but I think it was Mel and Caitlin reciting the opening lines of Little Women

After all that I’m quite relieved December is here – roll on Christmas parties, mulled wine and (with any luck) time for a rest!