Great Expectations With SCBWI British Isles

You win a prize, you get to cut the cake! Photo: Sue Eves
I've just come home from a most moving weekend. It was the annual conference of SCBWI British Isles* - an organization of writers and illustrators that has had a huge impact on my creative life.

This year Tall Story won the inaugural Crystal Kite Prize for Europe, the only peer-given prize for children's books.  I was awarded the trophy at the conference and asked to deliver a speech. 

I was also surprised to be given this year's Outstanding Contribution Award. It was particularly poignant for me because last year the prize was won by my friend Margaret Carey, whom we lost to cancer last summer

Receiving the two awards was like getting a huge hug from an organization that has been family to me since I joined in 2002. 

I am not supposed to be doing anything online at the moment, as my book deadline looms, but I just wanted to share my Crystal Kite acceptance speech. I wrote it with a lump in my throat.

Here is the shortlist, and below, my speech.

Mum of Warcraft: my autobiographical story on Tesco Magazine Kids' Book Club

Yes, dear reader, Mum of Warcraft is based on my absolutely true story as a part-time computer game fanatic. Check out my Mum of Warcraft story on the Tesco Magazine Kids' Book Club (with apologies to Zhang Ziyi from whom I borrowed this magnificent pose)

So I just found out that my story is up on the Tesco Kids' Book Club.

Outside looking in ... or inside looking out?

I've been deep in my cave these last few weeks, writing furiously -  our recent holiday has given me fresh energy and for the first time in ages, I'm enjoying the laying down of a story.

It's been a slog, this book. Unlike Tall Story which was one of those books that wrote itself, this one has taken a long time to reveal itself to me.

Summer tales

It's the summer holidays but I seem to be doing a lot of guest blogging! Come along and see what I'm wittering on about on other people's blogs!

My publisher David Fickling Books has decided to recruit their authors to post on their StoryBlog and I foolishly volunteered to go first! DFB, having just launched I Don't Believe It Archie! by Andrew Norris, asked us to write about something embarrassing.

Pressing SEND. Winning while not winning. Illusions at the Pop Up Festival.


I pressed SEND today. The manuscript of my second novel is now officially in the hands of my publisher. In the nick of time because Amazon's already got it listed! Even my lovely cover illustrator David Dean - who'd only just shown me draughts of the cover - was surprised!

Creating a Legend in Your Own Time

This was my contribution to the Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online FestivalI was the 4pm act!

Visit the Tall Story website
Art by Sarah McIntyre
In my novel Tall Story, I sewed in myths and legends from the Philippines and elsewhere to add magic to the story of Bernardo, a boy who is eight feet tall.

In the Philippines where I was born, legends were a way of ordinary people explaining the often unexplainable forces of nature around them - the volcanoes, earthquakes, the strange shapes of mountains, caves, the existence of plants and other creatures.

A lot of Filipino folk stories are handed down in the oral tradition - grown ups telling children stories, and the children growing up to tell the stories to their own children.

And every time a story is told, the teller adds his own spin to the story, so the story is always changing. It's a very exciting process!

In the video, I tell The Legend of the Bellybutton - as imagined by me and a group of children at the Hay Literary Festival after a hilarious brainstorming session.
Photo by Another Sergio
(Creative Commons Attribution)

It was just one of many legends we made up in that hour we spent together. We had great fun - we must have written 20 legends in one hour!

It's easy! And it's so much fun!

1st Choose something to make a legend about. It can be anything at all! 

eg. The Legend of the Nose

Thanks to Jon-Eric Melsæter on Flickr
(Creative Commons Attribution)

2nd Decide how things used to be. 

eg. People didn't have Noses. So they couldn't smell anything. So they didn't enjoy eating because they couldn't smell food. And they thought flowers were boring because they couldn't smell how lovely they were. And they themselves smelled bad because they couldn't smell themselves.

People became very grumpy

3rd Something happens to bring your something about!

eg. Someone tripped and grew a bump on their face. Then tripped again and got holes in the bump. And then discovered that they could smell food and flowers (they also began to wash). And everyone became so jealous they went out and accidentally on purpose tripped over too!

And that is why we have noses!

Thanks to Bazusa on Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution)

If you're a teacher or a librarian and you fancy creating legends with your own posse of children, check out my Legend in Your Own Time download on my website!

Thank you!

Other downloads you might enjoy:

Branford Boase Awards Night

The handsome Jason Wallace and his editor Charlie Sheppard won the Branford Boase 2011 last night for their book Out of the Shadows (Andersen Press).

At the photoshoot - Charlie (left) and Damian pose with the prize's sponsor
Jacqueline Wilson
Yeah, I know, I didn't win - but please don't send commiserations - I'm just so proud to be on that strong, strong shortlist! The only reason I'm a little bit sad is that my editor, Bella Pearson, was ill and couldn't be there ... get well soon, Bella! Here's a picture of David Tennant to cheer you up:

And here are the shortlistees of the Branford Boase on the night!

Hubby took this shot of us posing for the group photo - from left: Pat Walsh, Imogen Cooper (slightly behind), Charlie Sheppard, Maurice Lyon (behind), Jacqueline Wilson, Keren David (totally obscured), Jason Wallace, Damian Kelleher, me, Simon Mason (partially hidden), Beverley Birch (trying to be hidden) and JP Buxton. 

I was pleased to meet my new editor Simon Mason, who is covering for Bella and will be editing my new novel. I just read Simon's brilliant new novel Moon Pie - loved it so much, I reviewed it on Amazon!

The other truly big winners of the night were the children who won the Henrietta Branford writing prize. Here's Peter Wollweber whose entry was based on the Culloden Massacre. Well done, Peter!

I thought these two girls were best of friends but it turns out they only met on the night.  Lucy Parkinson (left) and Anna Wren - who came from Edinburgh on the 5.10am bus and was planning to get back on the red-eye 11pm to 8am bus so that she could watch a movie with her sister the following morning.

Someday, I imagine these young people will themselves be on the Branford Boase shortlist and I will totter up to them with my walking stick and say, "I signed a book for you once! Now you've got to do it for me!"

After the event, Simon and Philippa Dickinson, MD of Random House Children's Books, took me and my husband out to dinner and lots of conversation about flying (Philippa flies planes!!! I suppose if you could run a massive publishing company, flying planes is easy).

What was Sarah McIntyre of Verne and Lettuce fame doing there? Where does that woman get the energy to gatecrash these things? On the left is John McLay who runs the Bath Children's Festival

I'm sneaking in this blog when I'm supposed to be hard at work finishing my second novel (deadline next week) - because this is a shortlist I really wanted to be on - you can only be a debut author once and therefore on the Branford Boase list once.

... and who should be there but Book Witch Ann Giles and her trusty
photographer Helen Witch! (this photo is my revenge for all the ones
they keep posting of me on the Book Witch blog!
Writing friends Keren David (left) and Pat Walsh (right) with Pat's editor Imogen Cooper, who won the prize last year. 

I took a few pictures, as usual, but I thought the story of the evening would be best told in the words of judge Lucy Christopher, last year's winner.

Nicked this photo of Lucy from her website - resisted using the one  of her with llamas which appears on the Google search.

Lucy was in transit to the Prime Minister's Literary Awards in Australia for which her second novel Flyaway is shortlisted but she sent this speech, read by Damian Kelleher (who said he was tempted to do it in Lucy's Aussie accent - but could only manage Irish or Johnny Vegas - personally I think it would have added that special something to the evening if he read it in Johnny Vegas' voice).

I am grateful to Damian for very kindly allowing me to steal Lucy's speech from him for this blog post.

Me schmoozing Damian into giving me Lucy's speech
Lucy said winning the BB last year for Stolen was 'one of the most thrilling , exciting and rewarding moments of my life'.  She pointed out how the award 'celebrates new talent and catapults it onto the world stage to celebrate with the big guys ... it helps create big guys too.'

What's also really special about this award is its recognition of the author-editor relationship. Writing a novel is a collaborative process. Authors may be able to think about and create all sorts of vivivd and chaotic worlds and characters but they need editors to help organise, trim and perfect them. Authors need editors in the same way crazy people need therapists. Imagine if Margaret Mitchell's editor hadn't talked her into changing Pansy O'Hara's name to Scarlett? Imagine if I still had a talking swan in my second novel, Flyaway?

A display of the longlisted titles. Where's Tall Story?
A display of the shortlist. At the end of the evening, Anne Marley hilariously named and shamed bearded author Philip Ardagh for trying to steal last year's display.
Is this a face you can trust?

Lucy quoted E.L.Doctorow - "writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights. but you can make the whole trip that way." - a good editor is the person brave enough to be in that car with you, the one holding the road map.

The judging process was fun but highly rigorous, Lucy said:

The longlist was of high quality in itself but I think no one in this room will disagree when I say that the quality of this year's shortlist was truly exceptional. Not only the entire judging committee has remarked on this, but indeed the wider writing community - this year's shortlist could well be the strongest shortlist in Branford Boase history. At our final judging meeting, I even heard Julia Eccleshare remark that 'any of these books could be a worth winner!'

Here's what she said about each title:

By JP Buxton. Edited by Beverley Birch

We adored the evocative and skilfully created world with JP Buxton's I Am The Blade. Tog is a loveable and vividly realized character and the plotting and twists in his narrative were strong, surprising and entirely believable. It was refreshing and encouraging to see a new take on this important archetypal story.

By Keren David, Edited by Maurice Lyon

When I Was Joe by Keren David jumped up and hit us in the face, keeping us grabbed from the first moment, also keeping many of the judging committee up all hours until they finished it. Joe is a hugely realistic and identifiable teenage boy and it is easy to imagine how much teenage boys in particular would enjoy and respond to this important book.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. Edited by Bella Pearson
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay made us laugh and cry, often both at the same time. Its taut and emotive writing revealed so much about the importance of family and connection. This irresistible book is unique, charming and hugely enjoyable.

By Gregory Hughes. Edited by Roisin Heycock
Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes is a masterpiece in gutsy, original writing. This is brave and unique YA fiction at its best, with an important message about the value of siblings, and with a flavour of Huckleberry Finn thrown in for good measure.

By Jason Wallace. Edited by Charlie Sheppard

Jason Wallace's Out of Shadows takes us to the scary, vivid and emotional world of a 1980s Zimbabwean boarding school. The setting of this novel is extraordinary, realised in sense and sound and smell with terrifying emotional accuracy. It's an important and mind-changing book.

By Pat Walsh. Edited by Imogen Cooper

Pat Walsh's The Crowfield Curse also takes us to a vividly and emotionally realised world, and introduces us to one of the best new characters in modern young people's fiction: Brother Walter, the hob. The Crowfield Curse is beautifully written, with an extraordinary attention to detail that never feels flawed or forced.

The key sponsor of the Branford Boase is every children's writer's idol Dame Jacqueline Wilson - and here's my trophy photo with our national treasure!

Now I've got to go to work and try to stop musing on my lovely evening.

Leaving you with this slideshow of the shots I managed - I'm sure Helen over at Book Witch will have better ones (her camera was so cool).

Anne Marley
Added later:

Book Witch's report mentions the most hilarious Freudian slip of the night - Anne Marley, Branford Boase adminstrator, recalled that the WIFE of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness was shortlisted for the Branford Boase before it made the Carnegie! She also noticed Dame Jackie's nebula outfit ... such an observant woman.

I also should mention that bookselling was achieved that night by the good people from the Newham Bookshop

Photos by me and he who likes Rugby a lot

Popping Up at the Foundling Museum: thinking about left behind children

A still from Coram Boy, as played on Broadway. More pics here
I read Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin many years ago: the story of an age when single motherhood and children born out of wedlock created such a stigma that abandoned babies were a common feature of the London streets. More about Coram Boy in this Reading Matters review.

Thomas Coram, a retired ship captain, was so upset by the sight of uncared for children that he spent his lifetime trying to find a way to rescue them.

The result was the Foundling Hospital, built in 1739. Read a quick history

Being of a very soft, indeed, mushy disposition, I was slightly apprehensive coming to the Foundling Museum for my event for the Pop Up Festival of Stories.

I had found the play version of Coram Boy utterly heartbreaking.

There's a scene with a forest of trees and a howling begins. And the light changes and one by one the trees are revealed as mothers crying for their lost babies. I took some fairly edgy teenagers along to watch the play and when the lights came up there was not a dry-eyed teenager in my row.

A row of school shirts greets you at the entrance to the main exhibit. I was ready to howl right there. 
I was supposed to give a talk to a group of Year Six children from City of London Academy and I was slightly concerned that my usual Tall Story presentation about volcanoes and giants did not connect too well with the setting.

Luckily, I arrived early enough to wander around the exhibition before the children came.

Gulp! A nightie worn by one of the babies who lived in the Foundling Hospital
Love tokens that were left by mothers with their babies.
Although many of these were kept in archives it was
hospital policy not to show them to the children in
order to preserve the mother's anonymity.
I thought I would find nothing in Tall Story to connect with the exhibition - but I'd forgotten that my main character was himself a left behind child.

My eight foot tall character, Bernardo,
is a left behind child! How could I forget that?
Art by Sarah McIntyre

Bernardo's mother takes a job as a nurse in England thinking she can easily send for him later. But it takes sixteen years of bungled paperwork to get his visa.

Annette McCartney, learning and access manager of the Museum, was on her feet for  three hours  taking the children around the museum

How could I forget that much of my journalism here in England has been about Filipino migrant workers - women who leave their children behind in the Philippines for the sake of a better wage abroad as cleaners, maids, and other menial professions?

I had also completely forgotten that I'd written and presented a Radio 4 documentary five years ago titled 'Motherless Nation' - about the children left behind by the migration phenomenon in the Philippines.

The children's solemn faces reflect how how heart-rending some of the stories were. 
So when it came time to talk to the children, I skimmed through my usual talk and delved into my memory banks for the stories of very real people that I'd met ...

... about the mother who, on the night before she left to work in Hong Kong, pinned up homework schedules for her children

... about the families who only ever saw each other via Skype, and how the little ones hugged the computer screens as if they were hugging their mums

... about the cleaner who regularly shipped groceries from London to her kids in Manila - because when she shopped for groceries, it felt like she was really mothering them.

The Court Room - this is where the hospital Governors decided which babies to take and which to reject. When the old hospital was demolished this room was preserved and then rebuilt in the building where the museum is now housed. Many of the works of art were donated by wealthy patrons.

The Court Room., The Foundling Hospital

Using real case archives, children re-enact a selection scene. The rest of the class play the governors and must choose which baby to accept knowing that the baby rejected is likely to die. 
This boy (in tricorn) is playing the widowed father of a six week old baby
with other young children at home.
Later, they learn that the foundlings had to do their own laundry using
huge bars of smelly carbolic soap. Here, a boy smells a sample of the soap.
The foundlings rubbed dirty clothes against
these washing boards. The school children
run knuckles over the board to see how it feels.
This boy tries out a washing dolly which
children manipulated in large tubs of

One of the shocking facts that Annette revealed was that
wealthy ladies  used to pay to watch the drama of governors
interviewing the unfortunate mothers. They also
took their children to watch the foundlings
eat their meals (which were conducted in total silence).
Sounds barbaric but doesn't it sound like X Factor-type entertainment?

A list of Foundling names. The children were renamed by the governors as soon as they were accepted into the  hospital. 
Sometimes they ran out of ideas, as in the case of Sam Foundling.

Sometimes they were feeling creative (and rather cruel), as in the case of Hopegood Helpless 

Illustrations by hospital patron William Hogarth reveal the terrible conditions of the time, magnifying lenses on the display emphasize the plight of children.

Maria Connolly, Development Manager of the Pop Up Festival of Stories came along for the event. She also volunteers at the Foundling Museum. Maria helped transcribe the interviews for Foundling Voices.

There was a new exhibition documenting the stories of foundlings, now very old, in recordings. I didn't have time to explore this bit of the museum and was pleased to discover there was a website devoted to the recordings - Foundling Voices Online.

I was struck by the story of Ruth, sent to a foundling hospital as a five year old in 1942, who recalls fantasizing about mothers:

As children we always played out this game of who our mothers were and they were always beautiful, important . . . they weren't ever ordinary people. Listen to Ruth's story

This was an evocative, sometimes painful, visit to times long gone by.

But much of it still resonated with me. That was London of the 1800s, but children are still being left behind all over the world - children of immigration, of refugees, children in all kinds of situations.

I hope there are still Thomas Corams in the world to rescue them.

Thank you to Annette McCartney and her helpers at the Foundling Museum, Maria Connolly and the organizers of the Pop Up Festival of Stories, and the librarian, teachers and children of City of London Academy for such a lovely and thoughtful day!

Here is a slideshow of my photos :

If you can't see the slideshow, view it here