My Lockdown Keynote on Reading for Pleasure

I am pleased to share the video above of my virtual keynote before the Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils Conference of the Cheltenham Literary Festival – via Zoom, of course. 

The teachers in attendance had been reading my novel Bone Talk as part of the programme.

I was very conscious of the fact that I was speaking to teachers, who know a lot more than I do about the art of seducing children into reading ... so I decided to focus on the PLEASURE in Reading for Pleasure.  The video's 21 minutes, so get yourself a cuppa and put on some headphones!

'Reading is the key to so much,' said Ali Mawle, RTRP Director of Learning and Public Engagement, in her introductory remarks. 

She quoted author Aidan Chambers (Postcards from No Man's Land): 'We are not just reading for pleasure, we are reading for survival'.

After my presentation the conference continued with talks by RTRP teachers Luke Holder, Claire Coates and Kat Wood on their inspirational efforts to bring the joy into reading for their young charges – reading newsletters, bedtime stories, fluency projects, 'reading that reflects where they are now not where we want them to be".

In an article about Cheltenham's year round outreach to put books into the hands of low income children, Ali writes: 

Inspired children need inspiring teachers; inspiring teachers need to be regularly inspired themselves. RTRP does just this, providing the time and space for teachers to talk about the latest books and to share ideas for using them in the classroom. One teacher spoke for many when he wrote: 'The classroom is now alive with literature and inundated with books that the children have purchased for themselves based on our new shared love of reading.'

RTRP has expanded from Gloucestershire to a further eight regions of the UK and includes both primary and secondary groups. The project also partners with other literacy organisations including Bradford Literature FestivalCentre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), Just ImagineNational Literacy TrustKernow Education Arts Partnership (The Writers’ Block), PetersSeven Stories  and The Reader.

Warm thanks to the RTRP  team who got my virtual speech up and running – especially Education Manager for Literature Sarah Forbes and Education Administrator Khazana McLaughlin. 

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My Virtual Keynote Speech at Undiscovered Voices 2020

Standing: Dr Adam Conors, Sharon Boyle, Yvonne Banham, Helen MacKenzie, Laura Warminger, Harriet Worrell, Michael Mann Seated: Angela Murray, Anna Brooke, Claire Harlow, Annaliese Avery, Urara Hiroeh

I've written about my the Undiscovered Voices competition being my big break in children's books. Imagine my delight when the UV crew invited me to be this year's honorary chair, joining such luminaries as Malorie Blackman, Sally Gardner, Frances Hardinge, Alexis Deacon, Chris Riddell and Melvin Burgess! I mean ... skulky, wrinkled, old me in that stellar company?

And then the good news: my daughter announced she was starring as Velma Kelly in her university production of Chicago! My favourite musical starring my favourite daughter (well, my ONLY daughter)! Of course, I couldn't miss it for the world!

The bad news: it was the very same night as the big UV reception, where as honorary chair, I was meant to deliver a keynote. Gah. What to do?

I did BOTH!

Below is the video speech that was screened at the UV reception. If I had still been a UV finalist, this is what I would have wanted to hear. Congratulations forever after to the UV finalists, you are on your way! And big congrats too, to the UV team who made the competition happen. What a generous gift! I will never forget that the Undiscovered Voices opened the door to my own career as a children's author.

This year I was so honoured to be invited to be honorary chair of the Undiscovered Voices, the very competition that launched my own children's writing career back in 2008. But the big night, when the children's book industry gathered to celebrate 2020's winners happened at the same time as a very important family event. So I delivered my keynote via a video. Here is my video message to this year's crop of winners, apologies for the sound. I'm still looking for a good mic. And thank you to Working Partners, the agents and editors who have supported UV since that time 12 years ago, when I found myself on the list. And thank you especially to the hard working volunteers of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, who have made the dreams of aspiring writers like me come true.
A post shared by Candy Gourlay (@candygourlay) on

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How I work

I dared show a photo of my messy garden office in a guest blog for Words and Pictures last month – complete with the table cloth clamped to stands that I used as a backdrop for a few videos.

You can't tell what a mess it is from the outside. Here's a picture of my garden, which was particularly lush last summer. I'm a mad gardener ... I can't wait for winter to be over! Move, Winter, I want my garden back!

Thanks to Caroline Deacon for featuring me on Words & Pcitures! Read the article about my writing day here

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The Wokingham Children's Book Festival

I met a boy and a bear while signing books at the Wokingham Children's Book Fest.
Thanks to Let Them Eat Books for the photo!

I presented Is It a Mermaid session at last weekend's Wokingham Children's Book Festival.

Sadly, I don't usually get to run into author friends appearing at the same festivals and this one had quite a few of on the programme – Fiona Barker, Cath Howe, Tony Bradman, Chitra Soundar, Layn Marlow and others. But they were performing at other times. We were like ships that passed in the night.

I did run into this lot though as I was leaving in my big red coat:

Louie Stowell (The Dragon in the Library), Jenny MacLachlan (The Land of Roar), Lane Marlow (You Make Me Smile) and me!

Pleased to meet organizer Elizabeth McDonald. Festivals take a lot of emailing back and forth, and Elizabeth was a saint.

All authors were greeted with custom cupcakes skillfully created by Claire Groves.

... here are mine!

Cupcakes by Claire Groves

I was lucky enough to arrive on time to attend Blast Off Into the Big Beyond with poet and picture book author James Carter, whose easy delivery, with a bit of  had the smiling audience spouting lines of poetry. What a delight!
Thanks to Let Them Eat Books for this photo catching James playing his uke to a young fan.

I also got to meet bearded A. F. Harrold for the first time – A is for Ashley. Known for his novels like The Imaginary, illustrated by Emily Gravett. At this festival, he was featuring on the younger stream of events, talking about his poetry rather than his novels. I realised very quickly that his poetry readings would make brilliant videos – here's a sample from my Instagram feed:

I love doing my Mermaid act because it's a chance for me to draw and I love drawing! The festival provided the children with clipboards and paper so the children could draw as I performed. At the end, a wee girl came up to me with this picture!

Photo: Wokingham Children's Book Festival

Photo: Wokingham Children's Book Festival

Huge congratulations to the Wokingham Festival team who made everything ran like clockwork, at the same time making sure we authors had a great time!

It was my last festival of the author season and I have to confess, I am looking forward to some downtime. Except of course I'm speaking at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference on the first weekend of November. It's what it says on the tin, for writers and illustrators of children's books. Indeed, Wokingham's Elizabeth McDonald will be there to talk about what librarians want from school visits!  I'm doing a day of demonstrating online tools, gadgets and promotion and platform-building techniques for authors.

See you there?

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