This time last year I wrote this post – 2014 in Pictures– summing up what had been an eventful year. At that point, I predicted that 2015 was going to be even more exciting… and I was right.
The Year of the Book, as I called it then, has certainly been a memorable one. The pictures above are my ‘best nine’ of 2015 from Instagram, and as you can see, the last year really has been (almost!) all about The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Here’s what happened…
It seems appropriate that the year began with the arrival of proof copies of Clockwork Sparrow. It was amazing to see it looking like a ‘real book’ for the first time…
The proof was soon winging its way to journalists and bloggers, complete with a clue to solve with the help of a miniature magnifying glass, and a tasty Clockwork Sparrow biscuit conjured up by my publishers, Egmont. They were (almost) too pretty to eat…
Meanwhile I celebrated my birthday in the traditional fashion – with cake, drinks and friends!
Lovely birthday presents!
March brought the publication of my lovely friend Anna McKerrow’s fantastic young adult novel Crow Moon. We celebrated at Anna’s book launch at Tales on Moon Lane, complete with crow cupcakes and tarot-card readings…
March is also, of course, World Book Day time! This year I got involved in World Book Day’s Teen Fest, and had a lot of fun interviewing ace young adult authors Non Pratt and Holly Smale on Google Hangout.
It was also time to reveal the final cover for The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow with artwork from incredible illustrator Júlia Sardà – how gorgeous!
In April, I was very excited to visit the Bologna Book Fair for the first time. Bologna is the biggest children’s publishing industry fair, and I was there with Malorie Blackman for the grandly-titled ‘International Laureate summit’. Malorie joined a host of other Laureates from around the world to talk about issues including children’s books, literacy and education.
Of course, there was also plenty of time to explore the Fair, look at many books, eat a lot of food (including quite a few gelatos!) and track down a Clockwork Sparrow proof on Egmont’s stand – check out my adventures here.
Back in the UK, I had a busy few weeks, including giving a talk about YALC at the London Book Fair, and organising an event to celebrate Malorie Blackman’s Project Remix, not to mention working on the sequel to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow – The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth – in between everything else.
But in May it was time for a break – and a very exciting holiday! I haven’t been away on a ‘big’ holiday for a few years, but as a belated honeymoon, Duncan and I headed off to New York. We stayed in the Upper West side in an apartment in a gorgeous brownstone, and spent an absolutely amazing week exploring the city, and basically eating everything in sight.
Duncan had to head back home after New York – but my adventure was not over yet. My next stop was Palm Springs in California, for my friend Katie’s wedding!
Palm Springs was absolutely incredible – nothing like anywhere else I’ve been before. Katie and Kevin had a gorgeous wedding in these spectacular surroundings, and it was so lovely to be there to celebrate with them.
Back home in London, finished copies of Clockwork Sparrow arrived ahead of publication! I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the shiny, beautiful finished copies looked when they arrived in a big exciting box.
And my first proper ‘author interview’ was also published in The Bookseller magazine!
To celebrate all this, Egmont arranged a lovely afternoon tea at Harrods– what better place to raise a glass to Clockwork Sparrow?
Next up it was time for my first ever author event, at the Hay Festival, where I also espied a finished copy of the book on a bookshop shelf for the very first time! Eeek! I teamed up with Robin Stevens for what turned out to be the first of several fun events about our shared love of mystery stories. And as well as doing my own author event, I was lucky enough to chair some events with the fab Mel Salisbury and Cat Doyle, Maggie Harcourt and the Bookshop Band, and US YA superstar Sarah J Maas.
I was overjoyed and so grateful when Waterstones made Clockwork Sparrow their Children’s Book of the Month for June. It was incredible seeing the book in so many bookshops, and even more brilliant to see the fantastic displays that booksellers had made for the book. Check out this Pinterest board of all their incredible creations.
At around the same time, I was also delighted to be included on The Bookseller’s list of the Rising Stars of the book industry for 2015!
Later that month, I headed up to Lancashire for some more author events. I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in A Midsummer Mystery at Storytellers Inc in St Annes – a fantastic, fun day of mystery-themed events for kids.
As part of my trip, I visited a St Annes school with Storytellers Inc and met children from a local Cub Scout group, as well as doing some school events in nearby Chorley with Ebb & Flo bookshop. Doing my very first school events in Lancashire felt very appropriate as it’s where I’m from! We even went to Abbey Village School, my own old primary school. It’s a really small school in a little Lancashire village up on the moors, and going back there to talk to the children felt really special.
Super happy to be back at Abbey Village School!
Back in London it was time for lots of summer fun, including of course, YALC! This year’s event was crazy, fun, and (I think!) even better than the last.
After three completely intense but fantastic days, Duncan and I headed off to the countryside for a few days of relaxation! We went by train and bicycle to the same spot in a pretty Kent village that we had visited the previous year – it really was the perfect place to relax and recover with a few good books.
Kentish Weald A photo posted by Katherine Woodfine (@followtheyellow) on
August was a bit momentous as I finished working at Booktrust after just over six amazing years. I was so sad to say farewell to working on the Children’s Laureate, which has been an immense privilege, as well to lots of other fantastic children’s books projects that I was lucky enough to work on. In particular I was sorry not to have more time working with Chris Riddell on his laureateship, which I know is going to be brilliant. And most of all I was sad to say goodbye to my lovely team. But I was excited to be able to spend more of my time focusing on writing, and to have the opportunity to take on some freelance projects. We celebrated my departure with prosecco, doughnuts and a quiz!
But before I had much time to get used to my new freelance lifestyle, it was time to whizz up to Edinburgh for this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. I love Edinburgh, so I was really excited to be part of the festival programme, taking part in a joint event with fab debut author Gabrielle Kent.
Autumn got off to a pretty good start with the announcement that there were going to be two more books in the Clockwork Sparrow series. I also shared more exciting news that the rights to the first book had been sold in Germany and the USA – and there’s going to be an audio book version too!
Another exciting autumn announcement was Mystery and Mayhem – a new anthology of middle grade mystery stories coming from Egmont. I was so delighted to be asked to contribute to the book, alongside a list of fantastic mystery authors aka the Crime Club – the book will be published in May 2016.
To celebrate all this good news, I went for a lovely day of boating on the Serpentine and afternoon teawith Louise and my editors at Egmont, Ali and Hannah. (The boating was inspired by the sequel to Clockwork Sparrow, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth… although it turned out that it’s possibly easier to write about rowing than it is to actually do it… The below photos of me and Louise putting our boating skills to the test are undoubtedly two of my favourites of this year!)
Meanwhile, I had a very busy autumn, packing in all kinds of author events. As well as a fantastic visit to the Isle of Man for the Manx Literature Festival, I took part in the Cheltenham Festival, STREAM and YA Shot, as well as school events and a visit to Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge. I’ve had such a great time doing author events this year – huge thanks to everyone who has invited me to visit them!
I’ve also been busy with some freelance projects, including writing about children’s books for a brand new children’s magazine The Week Junior, and perhaps most excitingly of all, continuing to look after YALC working with Showmasters, who run London Film and Comic Con. I’m so pleased that I’ll be able to keep working on YALC, which is one of the things that I’m most proud of from my time at Book Trust – bring on 2016’s event!
Of course, Down the Rabbit Hole has been keeping me, and my collaborators Melissa and Louise, very busy throughout this year too. We’ve had a lot of fun on Resonance FM, with some great shows, fantastic guests and amazing author interviews. Our DTRH Christmas special felt like the perfect way to finish off the year! Check out all our episodes from 2015 here.
In the studio
Also to conclude the year, we revealed the cover ofThe Mystery of the Jewelled Moth – another gorgeus creation from Júlia Sardà. The book also got its first review – from Fiona Noble in the Bookseller who chose it as one of her picks for March 2016 – a great conclusion to a fantastic year!
Phew – this has turned into an essay. And that’s without even mentioning all the great books I read, the fantastic events and launches I attended, the exhibitions, films etc. etc. This blog has had a lot of different incarnations – from its early days as very much a personal blog, to the times that I’ve used it to write about books or visual art- but this year, more than any other it really has been a space to document the process of becoming a published author.
And I’m looking forward to writing too about everything else that 2016 has to bring – publishing two more books (Jewelled Moth and Mystery and Mayhem), getting to grips with my new freelance/author life, lots more writing, and hopefully lots more adventures too.
Huge thanks to everyone who has supported me and Clockwork Sparrow in 2015. Happy New Year, thanks for reading, and here’s to a great 2016!
Like my own fictional department store-owner Mr Sinclair, Selfridge was an American. Born in Wisconsin in 1856, he left school at 14, first finding work as a junior book-keeper in a bank. He had several other jobs before aged 22, he took on a position at Marshall Field, then one of Chicago’s biggest and most successful new department stores.
Selfridge’s initial position at the store couldn’t have been much lowlier – he was employed as a ‘stock boy’ working in the wholesale department. But his energy and ambition led him to quickly climb the ladder, bringing lots of new ideas to help the store to grow and thrive. Within eight years he was promoted to manager, gaining a reputation for clever innovation, a flair for publicity, and the highest standards of customer service. In fact, whilst working at Marshall Field, he is supposed to have come up with the maxim ‘the customer is always right’.
Marshall Field department store in the 1800s
Before long ‘mile-a-minute Harry’ as he had become known had risen through the ranks, and had become a junior partner. He revelled in his new wealth and status, enjoying dressing elegantly and living the life of a Chicago society gentleman.
In 1890, he married Rose Buckingham, the daughter of a prominent Chicago family. Rose too had a head for business, having already enjoyed some success as a property developer – at that time unusual for a young woman. The couple had a spectacular wedding, and went on to have five children.
But after being refused a full partnership at Marshall Field, Selfridge began to look beyond Chicago. A holiday to London had given him the opportunity to observe a gap in the market – although London was at that time one of the most important cities in the world, its department stores had nothing to compare to their luxurious American equivalents, or to the elegant grand magasins of Paris.
After finding a site on Oxford Street, at what was then considered the ‘unfashionable end’, Selfridge invested some £400,000 in developing it. The costs of his project were huge, and there were all kinds of complications to overcome before his dream of opening London’s largest department store could become a reality – but at last, Selfridges opened in March 1909, in a blaze of publicity.
A newspaper advertisement from Selfridges opening in 1909
Meanwhile, Selfridge himself had become something of a celebrity in London. When he arrived at the store each morning – always very promptly at 8.30am – a crowd would have gathered on the pavement to see him. He always doffed his hat to his watching admirers.
He had a large corner office on the fourth floor of the store, with its own lift and a private dining room where he could entertain important guests. As well as a personal secretary, he had his own social secretary and a valet who would visit him in his office each morning to make sure he was always perfectly dressed.
Each day he would walk the store’s six acres. The department managers would anxiously telephone ahead to warn staff that he was approaching. He sent messages to his staff in special yellow envelopes – and he also famously used an hourglass in all his meetings, to stop people taking up too much of his time.
Selfridge hard at work
He also continued to bring all kinds of new ideas to his store – from exhibiting the aeroplane in which Louis Bleriot first crossed the Channel, to later on in 1925, hosting one of the first ever demonstrations of live television.
Selfridge captured some of his ideas about shops and shopping in a book, The Romance of Commerce which was published in 1918. The book included chapters exploring ancient commerce, Lorenzo de Medici, the East India company, and much more!
Flush with his success, Selfridge enjoyed a glamorous London life in the 1910s and 1920s. But in the later years of his life, his extravagance began to catch up with him. After losing much of his fortune in the Great Depression, and struggling to compromise on his luxurious lifestyle, he soon became heavily in debt. He was eventually forced out of Selfridges in 1941 on a reduced pension – and when he died just six years later, he was almost destitute.
His intriguing life story has since inspired a biography – Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge which I mentioned in my last post – and a TV series as well. (I can’t help thinking that their version of Mr Selfridge looks a little different from the real-life man himself, pictured above!)
Jeremy Piven as Mr Selfridge in the ITV series
And of course, Selfridge also helped to inspire The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. I was fascinated by the story of this charismatic character, who was often in my mind when I was creating my own fictional department store-owner, Edward Sinclair.
Although he’s also a wealthy American, Mr Sinclair ended up being quite a different character to the real-life Selfridge. He’s a younger, single man-about-town who lives in elegant apartments over the store, whose unknown past is much speculated upon by his employees – and who is always a little bit of a mystery…
But I did enjoy giving my Mr Sinclair a few of Mr Selfridge’s idiosyncracies. For example, Selfridge famously loved pug dogs – so I’ve given Mr Sinclair his very own pet pug, Lucky. And just like Mr Selfridge, Sinclair wears an orchid in his buttonhole and takes great pride in being immaculately dressed at all times.
Here’s where we first hear about Mr Sinclair, in Chapter 1 of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow:
The owner of Sinclair’s department store was Mr Edward Sinclair, who was as famous as the store itself. He was an American, a self-made man, renowned for his elegance, for the single, perfect orchid he always wore in his buttonhole, for the ever-changing string of beautiful ladies on his arm, and most of all for his wealth. Although most of them had only been working for him for a few weeks, and most of them had barely set eyes on him, the staff of Sinclair’s had taken to referring to him as ‘the Captain’ because rumour had it that he had run away to sea in his youth. There were already a great number of rumours about Edward Sinclair. But whether or not the stories were true, it seemed like an apt nickname. After all, the store itself was a little like a ship: as glittering and luxurious as an ocean liner, ready to carry its customers proudly on a journey to an exotic new land.
Will we learn more about the mysterious Mr Sinclair (and his secrets)? You’ll have to wait for next year’s The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth to find out…
At lots of the events I’ve been doing this autumn, I’ve been talking about some of the real-life historical background to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. I thought it would be fun to share some of this here on the blog too.
If you’ve read the author’s note at the back of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, you’ll know that although Sinclair’s Department Store is fictional, it was partly inspired by the real history of London’s Edwardian department stores.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, department stores were still a new phenomenon. Before this time, shopping generally meant buying from local markets and small shops, which tended to sell only a limited range of goods. It wasn’t until the 18th century that shops became grander, with enticing shop-fronts to tempt customers inside.
Even then, ‘shopping’ as we know it today didn’t really exist. Most shops specialised in just one thing – the confectioner’s sold sweets, the baker’s sold bread, the bookshop sold books, and so on. Shopping was a straightforward transaction, with many shops even employing ‘floorwalkers’ whose job it was to actively prevent people from browsing around looking at merchandise without buying anything.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, things started to change. People had more money to spend, cities were growing, and affordable manufactured consumer goods became more readily available. Glamorous, elegant new ‘department stores’ began to open up, offering people an exciting and very modern new way to shop.
Lots of Edwardian shoppers
For the first time, customers were encouraged to wander around a range of different departments, all together in the same building, admiring a tantalising range of different goods to buy. Department stores had beautiful displays, gorgeous windows designed to catch the attention of passers-by, and even their own restaurants where customers could enjoy lunch or afternoon tea.
These were exciting places. In 1898, Harrods boasted the first escalator ever to be seen in a British shop – on the day it was launched, staff members stood at the top ready to dispense smelling salts and cognac to anyone who had been frightened by this new experience!
New advertising helped to spread the word about these glamorous new department stores. During the week that Selfridges opened, a total of 38 different advertisements designed by well-known graphic artists appeared on over a hundred pages of eighteen national newspapers, costing the equivalent of £2.35 million in today’s money.
Selfridges, of course, was one of the most famous of the Edwardian department stores – and was certainly the biggest influence on my fictional store, Sinclair’s, though I also took inspiration from other famous stores like Fortnum and Mason, Liberty’s, Harrods, and the now-defunct Whiteley’s.
Selfridges first opened on Oxford Street in 1909, and was the brainchild of Harry Gordon Selfridge. An American who had previously worked in department stores in New York, he had grand ambitions for his store, which he wanted to be the largest and most glamorous in London. As well as the usual departments, it boasted all kinds of other facilities, including a post-office, a library, and even a ‘quiet room’ where people could relax if shopping became too overwhelming! Rather than being just a shop, Selfridge thought of his department store as something more akin to a cultural centre, and it soon became a fashionable destination.
The story of Selfridges (and Selfridge himself) is a fascinating one, and of course has also inspired the recent ITV series Mr Selfridge. I didn’t know about the series when I first started working on The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, though it was no surprise to me to discover that the story of the Edwardian department stores had grabbed others’ imaginations as well as my own! At first, I deliberately avoided watching so that I wouldn’t be influenced while I was writing, but I’ve since seen a few episodes and though it’s a very different story, the sets and costumes give you a great idea of what a department store like Sinclair’s might really have looked like:
At around the same time, the BBC also broadcast The Paradise, another series based on the rise of the department store – though this time set a little earlier, in the late 1800s. This series was loosely based on the novel Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise) by Émile Zola and again gives a good flavour of the early department stores:
I loved finding out all about the history of the department store when I was researching Clockwork Sparrow. I wanted to make sure that my own fictional store, Sinclair’s, would feel as real as possible to the reader, and I had a lot of fun adding in some of the true-life details and facts I discovered.
As well as reading about the late Victorian and Edwardian department stores, I was influenced by lots of other reading about shopping in general – such as the lovely scene in one of my favourite books, I Capture the Castle, where Cassandra and Rose visit a 1930s London department store, which I wrote about for the Waterstones blog here.
Of course I also had to visit some contemporary department stores too – I spent lots of time wandering around the likes of Liberty’s, Harrods and Fortnum’s – and of course, sampling the odd afternoon tea along the way!
Harrods afternoon tea
If you’re interested in finding out more about the history of the department store, here’s are a few good places to start:
Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead
This is the book that inspired the Mr Selfridge TV series – an entertaining and very readable biography of Harry Gordon Selfridge, packed full of facts about Selfridges’ history.
Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola
In this classic French novel, Zola captures the impact of the new grand magasins upon Paris in the 19th century
The Department Store by Claire Masset
This little book from the Shire Library series is a succinct summary of the history of the department store – from its earliest origins right through to the department stores of the present day.
The pictures in this post come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board, where you can also find lots more pictures of Edwardian department stores.
There, I was joined by two other mystery authors – Helen Moss, author of the Adventure Island and Secrets of the Tomb series – and Patricia Eliot, author of House of Eyes, which is also an Edwardian mystery story set in 1909 – the very same year as The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. We each read from our books, and answered questions from our host, bookseller Hilary, as well as lots of questions from children in the audience.
As well as having the chance to take part in a great event, it was fantastic to have the chance to explore Cambridge – including watching punting on the river, sampling some of the famous Fitzbillie’s buns, watching punting on the river, and rummaging in one of the best second-hand bookshops I’ve ever visited. (With great difficulty, I managed to restrain myself to just three purchases including a beautiful 1940s hardcover edition of the first in the Lone Pine series by Malcolm Saville, Mystery at Witchend.)
A photo posted by Katherine Woodfine (@followtheyellow) on
Next up I headed north to Weatherhead High School on the Wirral, for a visit as part of their Author Week. Weatherhead High is a fantastic school with a lovely school library. Each year, the library plays host to a whole week of author visits organised by the school librarian (the appropriately-named) Miss Grainger. Every single class in Year 7 and Year 8 gets the chance to meet an author (the other authors taking part included Amy Alward, Sarah Sky, Tamsyn Murray and Julian Sedgwick) which I thought was a brilliant idea.
A few highlights from Weatherhead!
During my visit, I met three classes from Year 7 and Year 8 for a session in the school library – and also met lots more pupils during the lunchtime signing session. Being in the school library really took me back to my own secondary school days, when the school library was one of my favourite places (I even had a school librarian badge to prove it!) The day was great fun, and I really enjoyed being in a school where there was so much obvious enthusiasm for reading.
I always have a great time doing events with Robin, and this was no exception. We were so well looked after by the festival, and the audience were fantastic and had lots of really great questions about mysteries, writing and our inspirations. Everyone was especially excited to see the cover of Robin’s forthcoming fourth book in the Murder Most Unladylike series, Jolly Foul Play, which had only been revealed a couple of days previously.
After the event we signed lots of books at the outdoor signing session – it was brilliant to meet so many enthusiastic mystery fans!
Slightly windblown authors after outdoor signing! Photo courtesy of Robin
Thanks so much to Heffers Bookshop, Weatherhead High School, and Cheltenham Literature Festival.
I was so pleased that the Nosy Crow Reading Group chose The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow as their book for September. Their reading group is just one of independent children’s publisher Nosy Crow’s many fantastic events and initiatives – find out more about them here.
So what did they make of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow? You can read their verdict in full here in a blog post by Nosy Crow’s Tom Bonnick . I was especially pleased to hear what they had to say about the setting of the book!
Woodfine’s Edwardian-era setting, and in particular the glamorous department store of Sinclair’s (which is practically a character in itself), came in for particular praise: described alternately by our group as “a beautiful evocation of a world”, “dazzling”, and “Agatha Christie for little ones”. Several of our members commented on the department store, and we loved the abundant references to food, clothing, and other period details, with one person saying that the large amount of detail helped them to jump into the story straight away. And overall, we felt that the Edwardian setting worked well (several people were particularly interested in this period, and thought that Woodfine had handled it adroitly), and gave the book some interesting things to say about class.