Dear Candy Gourlay - letters from Ellis Guilford School

Dear Ellis Guilford Year Sevens,

I was thrilled when a big fat envelope full of your letters arrived in the post the other day.

It was really wonderful to meet you all last October in Nottingham.

Have you seen my blog post about the visit? I even made a Slideshare showing off all your artwork! You can read the blog post here .

Yes, I was excited! That visit was particularly special because you had actually read Tall Story. It's such a treat for an author to meet actual readers!

'Please write back!' you all wrote in your letters.

Well there are rather a lot of you so I thought I would write back via my blog.

The Super Typhoon in the Philippines

First of all, thank you so much for all kind thoughts and messages about the Philippines.

I couldn't believe it when that terrible storm hit us - I was a little bit worried that you guys might feel upset - after I'd shown you those images and told you all those stories of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the Philippines!

My family was very lucky. They live in Manila and the storm only brushed against the city. Some of my friends had missing family in the badly hit areas though, and it took many days before mobile phone networks were working and they were reunited.

But still, there were very many lives lost. I watched a documentary last night where a dad described how his children were torn from his arms by the sea. It made me very sad.

The seas are getting hotter because of global warming and some scientists think storms will become stronger and stronger. The super storm was a wake up call for the world to start paying attention.

I heard that Ellis Guilford School raised a LOT of money for the Philippines. Thank you so much, I really really appreciate it. We need all the help we can get.

When I was very small there was an earthquake so strong that I was thrown from my bed. It wasn't as strong as the earthquake in Tall Story though. What did I do? I think I got back into my bed and went to sleep!

Witches and Psychic Surgeons

A lot of you wrote to say how much you enjoyed my stories about interviewing witches and psychic surgeons in the Philippines.

Heh it was very unexpected. I didn't expect my photographer to volunteer to be operated on by the psychic surgeon and I didn't expect the surgeon to extract her eyeball and wash it in a bowl of water ... but do you think it was real or was it a trick?

Well I'm glad you enjoyed the stories. I have to say though that the more psychic surgeons and witch doctors I met, the less I believed in that kind of magic. It made me realise that many people have no options in life and sometimes this kind of folk medicine is the only way to gain some kind of status in their villages.

On Writing

I was very excited to hear that some of you have taken up writing. Hurray!

I love your character! It reminds me of the aliens in Toy Story (except they had three eyeballs). And how about this little penguin? I love him!

It's not easy to write - so well done, you! When I'm having trouble writing a chapter, I remind myself that every story is about CHANGE. 

In every story, something must change. Spiderman started out an ordinary boy then became a superhero. Woody hated Buzz but at the end, they became best friends. Dorothy was lost in a strange world, but in the end she was found. So my advice to anyone writing a story is to focus on how your character will change.

Whenever I visit schools, there isn't enough time to really work with children on their writing (though I did manage to chat to a very remarkable boy who showed me his writing one lunch time when I was at Ellis). Recently I tried out something new at another school - the children wrote short pieces that they sent to me in advance and then I talked to them about their writing when I got there. Maybe we could do that next time!

Tall Story wasn't my kind of book

Thank you to those who told me you loved Tall Story - it makes me feel like all the work was worthwhile. But there were two who wrote to say it wasn't their kind of book. Thank you for being so honest.

That is so true! We are all individuals so we all respond to a book in a different way. I think the books I write reflect the sort of thing I like to read - lots of character stuff going on and not what you would call an action book. I don't really read crime thrillers but I once tried to write one - and it was TERRIBLE. 

I think I know what you mean by 'exciting' - you will probably love a book with a thriller element to it - my friend Teri Terry has written an exciting book called Slated - I think you might like that better! Or how about trying one of Scott Westerfeld's excellent trilogies - the Uglies quartet or the Midnighters. I loved those (especially the Midnighters). 

On Being an Author

Well yes and no.

It's hard because I have to get up every morning and just do my writing. There's no office to go to, and there's nobody to tell me to get on with it. 

But I love writing - how lucky am I to do a job that I love?

I don't know when the next book is coming out - I have to write it first and then find a publisher for it.

People ask me questions about my sales all the time but I don't know the answer because it's very hard to find out.

Publishing is all about waiting - waiting to be discovered by a publisher, waiting for the book to come out, waiting to know if it's been successful in the marketplace. Sigh.

What an interesting question! When I learned to read aged six, I decided that I wanted to become an author. I wanted to write books that children would love. But I didn't do that until I was in my forties! 

Do I sometimes wish I wasn't an author? Oh, sometimes when I'm finding it hard to write, I wish I was doing something else like directing movies ... or drawing comic strips ... or designing websites. But only sometimes. Most of the time, being an author is what I want to be. 

Funny you should ask about a sequel. I've written an outline for a sequel to Tall Story. But I want to write some other books first so I won't be doing that soon.

Tall Story seemed like the obvious title because Tall Story is about a boy who is very tall. But I was also playing around with the idea of the Tall Tale - a kind of folk story from the United States. I loved tall tales when I was child growing up in the Philippines where all our books were imported from America. And I particularly loved the tall tales about giants. My favourite tall story is this one, about a giant called Paul Bunyan (this is a nine minute cartoon from 1958):

Yes I do! I love it when people give me lovely little things to remember them by. I keep them all in a big scrapbook. I'll blog about it someday.

Thank you so much for all your letters, your drawings and your messages about the Philippines.

I 'm sorry I couldn't reply to each and every one of you but I hope you enjoy this reply. I really enjoyed visiting you - and I do hope we will meet again. Thank you to the pupils of 7a (En3), 7b (En2), 7c (En3) and of course, Mrs Julia Foster, who did all the herding!

Lots of love,

Love is not all you need - celebrating 25 years of hard labour

What a feeling! It was the best day.
The other day, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

It seems like such a long time ago now, and looking back on that day - fairy lights twinkling on the coconut trees outside the church, we really had no idea what the next 25 years would hold for us. I had not imagined three children. I had not imagined living in London this long. Nor had I imagined who we would become, what we would be like.

So getting here is something of a miracle.

Multicultural is not about difference but inclusion - why the children's book world has to be a coat of many colours

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, my son came home from kindergarten proudly waving a drawing of our family. He'd drawn himself, his dad and his siblings with bright yellow skin. And mummy? He drew me with BLUE skin.

Clearly, he'd noticed that mummy was a different hue from the rest of the family. And there was nothing wrong with that.

I am pleased to report, as my husband and I approach our 25th wedding anniversary next week,