The Kids Lit Quiz - a championship for the world's best readers

Happy participants at the South England Kids Lit Quiz
I first heard of the Kids Lit Quiz on Facebook when last year I noticed all my author friends were sending mysterious messages to each other - "Are you going?" "Which train?" "See you there" ... this year, I found myself attending not one but two heats of the Quiz - for Southern England in Warblington School on Wednesday and the London heat in Broxbourne High School on Thursday.

If you're reading this on Facebook and can't see the video, view it here

The Kids Lit Quiz was created 19 years ago by Wayne Mills, a teacher who turned his passion for reading (and clearly, quizzes) into a worldwide event.
"These guys are the best readers from each school," Wayne told me.
Says Wayne: "Many years ago I saw that children were not being rewarded for being good readers and I thought we've got to do something about this ... we've got to do something to extend those readers!"
He now takes the quiz all over the world - New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and China - winners in each country this year are going to New Zealand for the world finals!

Authors are invited to help score or to compete against the children.
My author team at the Southern England competition was James Riordan (left) and Craig Simpson (right). The librarians at the meet took pity on us and sent in June Brooks (second from right) of Hampshire School Library Service to help us out. We were totally outgunned by the kids, coming in at fourth place.
The Quiz is fairly similar to a pub quiz, with a wildcard choice and themed sets of questions. At Warblington School, we had Harry Potter, orphans, fables, fishes (!!). At Broxbourne, we had Cities, Bears, Cats, and Poems.

Brighton and Hove High School
The girls from Portsmouth High School
More happy children.

The questions that Wayne concocts cover a gamut of possible reading: there are questions about comic book superheroes (I was really good at those - and I knew Sonic the Hedgehog), fables (Hah! The authors won over the kids on that one), classics, authors, cartoon spin-offs, pop culture, and of course Harry Potter (we authors were totally pathetic) - anything that a child might discover between the pages of a book!

Colin of Hayling Island Bookshop very kindly posed with my book! Hayling Island Bookshop claims it is the smallest indpendent bookshop in the UK - and bolster sales by bringing books (and authors) to schools
Oops! I cropped out the name of this school by mistake! But I can tell you the girl on the left with the flower in her hair goes by the lovely name of Candy, probably the best name in the world.
And these guys are from Dorset House, armed with drinks for the competition.

2 1/2. That was our score in the Harry Potter heat.
Added in later (don't know how I could forget): Arriving at the Broxbourne School with Keren David and Fiona Dunbar, the receptionist said:  "Authors? What are your names please?" So naturally we told her the truth: "Amy Tan, JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer." It was a temptation we couldn't resist.

My author team fared a lot better in the London meet - we won and got to have our picture taken for the local newspaper! ... admittedly, one of the reasons we did so well was because my team-mate Catherine Johnson seemed to know all the answers. Having said that, she dropped the ball by refusing to believe that the Spiderman movie did better than Batman in the box office which I shall never let her forget..
We just got Cathy to answer the sheets while we drew cartoons on the paper tablecloth.

Authors Fiona Dunbar and Sophia Bennett. Fiona was on my team with Cathy and Leila Rasheed.
When I Was Joe author Keren David and Sophia (pictured above) were on the OTHER author team. The losing team heh heh. Other members of the losing team were Anthony McGowan,  and Pat Walsh
A not very brilliant photo of score keeping authors Mark Robson and Tamsyn  Murray. I didn't manage to get a photo of the other authors in the London meet,  Ann Evans and Steve Feasey who nobly agreed to be markers.
Apparently, the London meet was the biggest ever in the UK, with 40 teams!
I was thrilled to see kids with reading away amid all the hustle and bustle. 

Thank you to Liz Bridge of Warblington School and Susan Shaper of the Broxbourne School for organizing the regional events that I attended. It looked like a Herculean task, but it was definitely worth it!

The UK finals will be next Tuesday, the 30th of November, 1.30pm at the Oxford Town Hall, attended by 30 authors. May the best readers win!

Why I Love Star Wars

Hilarious video on the origins of Star Wars. If you're viewing this on facebook, you can see the video here

1977. I was fifteen and the family went out to watch Star Wars.

The cinema was teeming. TEEMING. In those days the world wasn't paranoid about health and safety - and this was Manila anyway.

The cinema packed us in, people sat on the steps, sat on each other's laps and in the back, there were people standing, craning to see the screen over each other's shoulders. Those were also the days when people would enter the cinema at any time - sometimes arriving in the middle of the show and then leaving in the middle of the next screening.

I was in the standing only section, with my baby brother, Armand -  who must have been three - in my arms. I found a way of leaning on the rail behind the rearmost seats and half carrying half leaning Armand against it so that he could see. I saw most of the film from behind his sweaty little head.

I guess I must have been impressed by the special effects, I wasn't terribly wowed by Princess Leia's hairdo, I do remember thinking, Han Solo, gosh. "So. What did you like most?" I asked Armand as I stumbled out of that cinema, my arms burning from two hours of keeping him holding him up to see the screen.

I looked down to see his eyes shining. He was still wrapped up in the world of Star Wars.  "Darth Vader," he said. "I love Darth Vader!"

It's a bit magic being there when someone discovers a passion - Star Wars emerged to become a key element of Armand's childhood - and I can see now how much he enjoys sharing it with his own son. It makes videos like this - made with tongue firmly in cheek - make total sense!

Star Wars has shuffled into the realm of stuff that was hot and now is not. In fact, Star Wars is probably naff, uncool, cliche and oddball - adored by the likes of overweight obsessive Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons. But it will forever give me a warm glow in the tummy.

Everyone's got little memories buried somewhere, little blasts from the past that trigger that glow.

I can never hear a Donnie and Marie song without remembering a best buddy from college days who adored the toothy duo. So I watched a recent Donnie and Marie special even though they'd ripened from this:

to this:

 And I don't mind revealing that when I'm homesick, I sit all alone in my writing shed listening to old Hajji Alejandro songs - Hajji Alejandro was a teen heartthrob in 1970s Manila who was the cause of my sister's downfall in Chemistry. Dig those trousers:

The truth about Star Wars and Donnie and Marie and Hajji Alejandro is not that they have been of lasting educational value, or that they imprinted me with any appreciation of the high-blown arts ... it's that they've left me with a blast of happiness that I can summon on blah days - a gift that will last me for the rest of my life.

Christmas raffle! I am giving away one copy of the UK hardback of Tall Story to commenters who are not based in the United Kingdom; and one copy of the illustrated Philippine edition to commenters who live in the UK! I've been collecting the names of commenters since I posted 'I Was a Librarian's Pet and Other Stories'. The raffle ends on the 15th of December. You get a name in the raffle with every post you comment on (one ticket per blog post). If you follow me on blogger, you get an extra ticket! (Desperate bid to boost audience figures)

Christmas Book Plate for Tall Story

Creating downloads and fun marketing stuff for Tall Story has become an integral part of my procrastination regime.

If you're planning to give Tall Story away this Christmas, how about sticking this book plate on the inside?

You can get the full resolution image to print from here.

If you want me to send you a signed book plate, contact me via my website.  Enjoy!

Christmas raffle! I am giving away one copy of the UK hardback of Tall Story to commenters who are not based in the United Kingdom; and one copy of the illustrated Philippine edition to commenters who live in the UK! I've been collecting the names of commenters since I posted 'I Was a Librarian's Pet and Other Stories'. The raffle ends on the 15th of December. You get a name in the raffle with every post you comment on (one ticket per blog post). If you follow me on blogger, you get an extra ticket! (Desperate bid to boost audience figures)

Ten Things I Learned on the Tenth Year of SCBWI British Isles (Scoobeebee)

This weekend we celebrated the tenth birthday of SCBWI British Isles – SCBWI stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The acronym, carefully crafted by writers, has morphed on lesser tongues than mine into Scooby (and if we add the British Isles part it would be Scoobeebee, but maybe we should pass on that one).

With ten years under our belt, there's a big story behind SCBWI but here's the story of us in a short video which we screened at the fabulous mass book launch and soiree at our evocatively named Onwards and Upwards Conference.
Defying Gravity is performed by my niece Nicole Ramos, accompanied by TJ Ramos

Well everyone's talking about the conference - and the bloggers amongst us have decided to post our Ten Things We Learned. Here are mine:

1. Speed Critiquing Focuses the Mind. My online critique group took advantage of the big Critique Meet to have our first face to face meeting. It was fantastic - though it took some getting used to Nicky Schmidt as a flesh and blood person. I had come to think of her as an avatar. We only had two minutes each to crit each piece and boy, did we fly!
Jackie, Jeannette, Jeannie, Nicky, Kathy, Me and Ellen

2.  It's  impossible to blog in a hotel full of authors. My roomie, hyper illustrator Sarah McIntyre and I tried all night to get online but according to the wi-fi info, all the bandwidth was being hogged by a certain Marcus Sedgwick. Sarah  finally managed to blog when she got home.

3. One can never have enough book launches. Tall Story has already had a book launch in Waterstones, Islington Green, in Power Books in Manila and in the Philippine Embassy off Trafalgar Square ... but I still had the best time ever at the mass book launch held on the first night of the conference. In fact, it was extra great celebrating with my fellow authors and illustrators.
Such fine, fine, people - the book launchees were Jon Mayhew, Donna Vann, Lee Weatherly, Me, Anita Loughrey, Jane Clarke, Sheena Wilkinson, Savita Kalhan, Sarah McIntyreEllen Renner, Keren David, Lucy Coats, Maxine Linnell, Mike Brownlow, Tamsyn  Murray, Jason Chapman and John Shelley (click to see whole picture - let me know if i missed anyone)

4. It's the STORY. So after years of rejection and banging your head against publishers' doors, schmoozing librarians and booksellers and other authors, here's the big ask, here's what can open the door: a really really good story, well told. That's what they want. Watch the trends, network like mad on Twitter, stalk agents - ultimately the best thing you can do to get published is write a GOOD STORY.
The lovely David Fickling despite a wall-to-wall life (and missing the spectacular Rugby Union game which England won against Australia 35-18 woo hoo!), made time to be the inspirational lynchpin of the mass book launch. "You make things," he said. "Don't forget."

5. It's not about you, it's about them. Well that's what I always say when I do talks about websites. When people look you or your book up online, they are not looking for some self-indulgent claptrap about you. They are looking for themselves - what about you would they identify with? What other stuff can you give them about your book? Can they engage with you? So when you build your website, think about who you're building it for and what they want from you. It will save a lot of time.
Ha! They thought I knew what I was talking about!

6. Twas the Market What Done It. What do publishers want? A unique voice. Then why do you publish samey stuff. Erm. The booksellers want it. Why do you booksellers want it? The market want it.  ... you get the picture. All you can do is try to be the ultimate ultimate stand-out amongst all those unique voices out there.

7. Social marketing is more social than marketing. You might have to be downright slutty ... but you've got to get your name out there because someone's got to do it.
Keren David 

8. There's a bigger picture out there. It's not just writing and craft and getting published. There's the importance of reading, saving libraries and bookselling in the age of digital. It's a whole new level of stalking for aspiring authors and illustrators.
 Our panel for the State of the Nation (the children's book nation of course) featured Waterstones children's book manager John Cooke, independent bookseller Clare Poole, publisher David Fickling, David Blanch, editor of Carousel and Rachel Levy, librarian and judge for the Carnegie Medal

9. We all are in a different place from when we first attended the conference. Every single person I met the first time I attended a SCBWI conference many years ago are in a different place. A better place! We have won prizes, won book deals, published books, and signed up with agents. So many book people, so much good news. It's an incredible thought for someone attending the conference for the first time.

10. Children survive conferences. At least mine did. Nobody broke anything. The house didn't burn down. None of them were missing (although my husband did try to hide one of them for a laugh). And Simon Cowell did a good job keeping them occupied while I was gone. Thank you, Simon.

THE SCBWI STORY In the 1970s, children’s writers Steve Mooser and Linn Oliver were working on a massive children’s series and thought it might be a good idea to join an association of children’s writers. They hunted high and low, finding associations for crime writers, romance writers, mystery writers, writing plumbers, airline executives who are novelists, corner shop short story writers, farmers who write ... there were writing organisations of all shapes and sizes, but none for children’s writers. They created SCBWI (the ’ I’ for Illustrators came along a little bit later when they realized that children’s illustrators shared the same passions and many of the same issues). Forty years on, SCBWI has chapters from Mongolia to Europe. It continues to be the ONLY organization that supports both published and UNpublished writers and illustrators.

Christmas raffle! I am giving away one copy of the UK hardback of Tall Story to commenters who are not based in the United Kingdom; and one copy of the illustrated Philippine edition to commenters who live in the UK! I've been collecting the names of commenters since my last blog post I Was a Librarian's Pet and Other Stories. The raffle ends on the 15th of December. You get a name in the raffle with every post you comment on (one ticket per blog post). If you follow me on blogger, you get an extra ticket! (Desperate bid to boost audience figures)

Other blogs posting their Ten Things and blogging about the Conference
Who Ate My Brain by Nick Cross
Claudia Myatt
Fifteen Days Without a Head and Other Stories by David Cousins
Life Beyond by MC Rogerson
Jabberworks by Sarah McIntyre
Almost True by Keren David
Notes from the Slushpile by Teri Terry
Kathryn V. Evans by Mrs Bung
Scribble City Central by Lucy Coats - part one and part two (parts three to six coming soon!!!)
Julie Day
An Awfully Big Blog Adventure by Ellen Renner
Anita Loughrey's Blog
Rebecca Colby's blog
Sue Eves
Katie Dale
Miriam Halahmy
A Novel Way by Tina Lemon
Absolute Vanilla by Nicky Schmidt

I Was a Librarian's Pet and Other Stories

Tall Story has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal - if you've never heard of it, this is awarded by children's librarians and is the oldest and most prestigious children's prize for authors in the UK.

Before everyone leaps about and begins drinking startling amounts of alcohol, I have to point out that it's a  long list. Emphasis on lo-ong. I tried to count the nominations but I got confused. I think it's about 50. And the names on the list are stellar - Garth Nix, David Almond, Meg Rosoff, Sharon Creech, Louis Sachar, Geraldine McCaughrean, Michael Morpurgo, Jeannette Winterson for goodness' sake! And on and on.

But you know what? I don't care! Imagine, me on the same list as Geraldine McCaughrean whose book The White Darkness I still carry around in my bag just in case I need to dip in for inspiration.

And what about Louis Sachar? I was doing my taxes the other day - as a first time author, I am allowed to claim back the past seven years of book buying for the sake of my art. And guess what I found in my Amazon receipts seven years ago? Holes by Louis Sachar. That book made me SO want to write. It made me buy every single book Louis Sachar ever wrote!

And Garth Nix? What about him? I read Sabriel again last summer. When I got to the end, I went straight back to the first page to start reading again. Yes, it was that good.

I could go on and on about that long list. In a way it doesn't matter if I get on the short list (well, it matters but I'm trying not to think that far ahead), because forever and ever now I'll be a "Carnegie-nominated author"  - someone who got to sit at the table with the greats (even if it was a very big table).

And you know what else makes the Carnegie so great? It's the award given by children's librarians!

There's a lot of stuff about the dire state of libraries in the news these days. Librarians are like guerrillas in the shadows, with books as their weapons. They are struggling against economics that do not value books - as well as the overwhelming force of other media taking children away from reading. You might want to read this Guardian piece about the future of British libraries

Libraries have always been in dire straits - and some more than others. Becoming a published author has made me more aware than ever before of how the struggle to bring books to children is a gritty battle fought by book lovers on the ground - like Anthony Mariano who has made it his mission to build children's libraries in elementary schools in the Philippines.

Anthony has set up a foundation called the Sambat Trust to create bright, reading spaces to replace the ancient book dumps he found in some schools - one library, he was dismayed to discover, stocked titles like Preface to Econometrics and Reflectorized Soybeans: Growth, Production and Longwave Radiation Balance. No no no!

Anthony's work has turned this library:

Into this:

View the story of this library in a slideshow

It takes one book to change someone's outlook on life. And the someone who delivers that life-changing book could be a librarian near you.

I was the librarian's pet at my school - Miss Evelyn Diaz was her name. I must have been nine? Eight? Twelve? I am of the age now where the memory is all a blur. But I remember the books. Towers of them! We were only allowed to borrow two at a time but Miss Diaz kept some under the counter for me and when nobody was looking stamped me through with four, five, six in one go.

As a grade schooler, I loved the mystery serials. I borrowed every single serial there was - The Beverley Gray Mysteries, The Hardy Boys, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Bobbsey Twins, The Judy Bolton Detective Series and those mysteries by Enid Blyton starring Freddie Algernon Trottesville (Fatty, for short).

Miss Diaz made me feel special - like we shared between us this golden treasure that noone else had access to in the school. When I begged to add just one more book to the pile, she was amazed and excited. When I brought the books back, she was delighted that I had read them so quickly.

I found out recently that my mother secretly visited Miss Diaz and scolded her for giving me too many books, asking her to limit the number I took home. Mom thought I was reading too much.

I was at a library event last summer in which the opening remarks were delivered by a supremely articulate and confident young girl, Madina - who talked about how one book (it was in fact, in French and an adult book) transformed her from someone who pooh-poohed books to a voracious reader. I was waiting in the library after the event, when I saw Madina collecting a stack of books to take away. Aha! A librarian's pet!


Maybe it's vanity but one of the reasons I write for children is because I remember what it's like to be totally, absolutely blown away by your first FANTASTIC book. I remember the feeling ... and how I want to be the author that awakens that ravenous love for reading in a child. (As I write, I've got tears in my eyes, remembering how awesome the feeling of reading my first good book was - what a GIFT!).

But who's going to put that book into a child's hand?

A librarian.

So thank you, Miss Evelyn Diaz wherever you are, for ignoring my Mom.

You gave me the world.

Christmas raffle! I am giving away one copy of the UK hardback of Tall Story to commenters who are not based in the United Kingdom; and one copy of the illustrated Philippine edition to commenters who live in the UK! I'll be collecting the names of commenters from now on and the raffle will be on the 15th of December. You get a name in the raffle with every post you comment on (one ticket per blog post). Nice, well thought comments, hear? Happy commenting!