Shhh ... I'm writing ...

... yup, I'm keeping my head down for a bit because I'm busy writing the final chapters of my forthcoming novel SHINE (I hope they've removed the synopsis on Amazon because boy oh boy, how the story has changed since it went up).

But ... 

For some reason, life isn't just standing by waiting for me to finish writing my book.

I've just returned from one of those awfully big adventures where I met so many amazing people, did so many fascinating things, that I must post a quick (ish) report before more life takes over.

BTW Congrats to Nick Cook who won a  5-CD audiobook of Tall Story (yezzzz the  audiobook is out and it's fabulous) in my World Book Day raffle over on the Tall Story FB page ... and to runners up Jerson Capuyan and Miku Hatsune who won Tall Story's just-out US paperbacks - you can go like Tall Story and win the occasional prize on   

Before anything else, may I thank Our Lady's Convent High School in Hackney, my gracious host on World Book Day.

I visited Our Lady's as part of the Booklinks programme of the Pop-Up Festival Project . It is no ordinary school visit because the class actually commits to reading your book in advance. The following photos were kindly taken by Our Lady's Sarah Chapman, who also very kindly showed me some fantastic writing about Tall Story by some of the girls.

I was thrilled to see the  Booklinks display at Our Lady's. For some reason all the books featured seemed to be by writing pals - from left - Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe (aka Jasmine Richards), Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari, Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda, Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nicholls, Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya AhmedNot the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean, The Girl Savage by  Katherine Rundell who really is far too young to be an author.

One of the thrills of visiting schools is meeting inspirational teachers like Ms Denise Detain who created this workbook about Tall Story - OMG, it's amazing ... I'm  currently trying to bribe Ms Detain to allow me post it on my website!
Here's the bit of the board devoted to Tall Story which featured comments by the girls.

The girls of Our Lady's were smart and lively - which was helpful because I was fresh off a 20 hour plane ride from the Philippines where I'd been visiting my Mum.

... and meeting new twins in the family.

Jessica and Paul. They don't know it yet but I'm going to be their favourite aunt.
Now there's nothing an author likes to be than USEFUL, and one of the things I thought would be most useful would be to do some evangelizing about Reading.

I know I'm just a beginner writer, but I also know that many parts of the Philippines don't get the chance to meet authors, so I scrounged around Facebook in search of people who could help me visit such places.

I'd recently became involved in the good work of a library-building charity called the Sambat Trust and lucky me, they offered to take me to Tanauan, Batangas (two hours south of Manila), to visit schools and meet teachers (Why teachers? I thought I could maybe, probably, inspire one child in a hundred to read ... but if I could use my author powers to inspire one teacher or librarian .... why that teacher would be able to carry the message faster and farther than I ever could!).

Here I am performing a dance in front of some rather surprised children. No, joke only, I was talking about books and reading. You can view some brilliant photos of my visit to Tanauan, Batangas on my Facebook profile  taken by the amazing Cindy Bajema 

During a school visit in the Philippines in 2010, I met a teacher named Eric Perez and noticed how students kept high-fiving him and greeting  him with 'Cher! Cher!' (Teacher! Teacher!) ... authors, here's one good bit of unsolicited advice: keep a look out for inspirational teachers like Eric - these are the folk who can move mountains.

I got in touch with Eric via Facebook and lo and behold, he organized a visit to two schools in Angat, Bulacan north of Manila and a session with the town's teachers!

I was STUNNED to be greeted by these gorgeous, dancing children (Eric was stunned too - the dancing was thrown in by the teachers without letting him know).  This and the photo below was taken by the lovely artist/teacher Raymund Rivera  (it's such a relief to hand over your camera and discover a good phtographer ... it's hard being your own photographer!) Thanks to Scholastic for the book sales! You can view photos of my Bulacan trip on my Facebook Profile

I also FINALLY got to visit my alma mater St Theresa's College in Quezon City - but I was alarmed by the screaming when I showed my old class photo -

I'm the second girl from the left on the top row.
They said they were amazed at the shortness of our skirts!

In my time, the prescribed skirt length was one and a half inches above the middle of the knee. Now, it's clearly below. Hmm. At right is Ms Honorina Castro, who claims she was already teaching in STC when I was in fourth year high school. All I can think is she must have spent a good chunk of the intervening years criogenically frozen somewhere because she looks far too young to have been around that long! A big thank you to Gwenn Galvez of Anvil for organising book sales and taking this historic photo.

I also fitted in a visit to my blogging pal Tarie Sabido's writing class at the Obelisk International Learning Hub.

I began stalking Tarie (in blue) - who blogs on children's books with Asian themes or authors - long before I got a book deal. I LOVED meeting these kids - they asked me fantastic questions - questions that only a struggling writer would ask. At far right is another inspirational teacher, Fe Ragasa, brainiac behind the Obelisk group.

And continuing with my mission to inspire the inspirers ... I spoke to teachers from the Reading Department of the University of the Philippines College of Education ...

Thanks to Professor Portia Padilla (left) - every teacher I met on my travels blanched at the mention of Portia's name, claiming to be taught by her. Formidable was a word that was bandied about so I was startled when I finally met Ms Padilla to find a rather cuddly pussycat. I love this picture taken by Jerson Capuyan

... and to school librarians at a Scholastic librarian's training day ...

I took my Mom along to the Manila events - she's a big reading advocate and she had a super time meeting librarians and teachers! Photo by Zarah Gagatiga

And here are the guys from Scholastic - in the Philippines, Scholastic runs book fairs, taking children's books from all publishers directly to schools all over the islands. The other speaker at the Scholastic event was the librarian and storyteller Zarah Gagatiga, second from left, who also works with the Sambat Trust. Also in picture is Scholastic supremo and super Tall Story supporter Ellinor Ferriols, third from left - she has the claim to fame of persuading Suzanne 'Hunger Games' Collins to be photographed with a Philippine flag.

Just can't resist ube ice cream!
Now I don't know how but it was clear that people had got wind of the fact that I adored ube ice cream.  

Ube, for those who have no idea, is purple yam - and purple yam ice cream is truly yummy!

I don't know how but on this trip, the news of my liking for purple yam spread like wildfire - and soon I found myself inundated with not just yam ice cream but these offerings:

Ube cake 

Ube puto (steamed rice cakes) 

Sugar free ube puto

Ube halaya (mmm) - a starchy jammy mixture

Ube piayaya (i can't translate) - biscuity,  almost a Garibaldi

Ube hopia  (like a moon cake)

I hear that when Neil Gaiman came to the Philippines, he let slip that he liked calamansi - the Philippine answer to lime. Folk history has it that he found himself the recipient of crates of calamansi products! Such is Filipino hospitality!

Thanks for all the ube and thanks to all who hosted and fed and toured and inspired me! What an amazing time I had!

As you can tell from these snippets, I have many, many, many, many stories to blog about from this amazing trip.

But please bear with me for now. I've got a book to finish!

Almost there!