My Year in Books 2014

They say books hold up a mirror to who you are, as well as windows to other worlds. I thought I'd look back at what I read in 2014 to see where I've been!


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was the first book I read in 2014. It is set in 1986 -  the year I met my husband, the year the Philippines had a revolution. The details are super authentic and made think: hey, Rainbow Rowell must be MY age! But when I looked her up, oh boy. She's just a baby compared to grizzled old me.

Here Lies Arthur by Philip ReeveHere Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. I've got a proper version of this book of course. But I had a sudden longing to read the opening chapters again. So I got a Kindle version too. Anyone who loves good writing will adore this cross-dressing, re-envisioning of an epic tale.

Mister Pip by Lloyd JonesMister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Another re-reading! I am currently writing a historical novel, in which I'm crafting a massive culture clash not just between West and East, but between past and future. Because I write both for a Western and a Filipino audience, I am constantly aware that what one reader from one culture will find acceptable may be totally repulsive to another. I went back to Mister Pip to experience again how Lloyd Jones manages to be unflinchingly true to a painful setting.

Running Girl by Simon Mason
Running Girl by Simon Mason. This is a mystery of the hard-boiled kind - and its hero is a 16 year old genius / slacker named Garvie Smith, described by the Guardian as "sharper than Sherlock, more moral than Marlowe, and way too cool to be in school." Garvie solves a murder mystery while dodging his determined mum and Police Inspector Raminder Singh who is always just one step behind. Please let there be more Garvie mysteries.

Phoenix by SF SAID
I took forever writing Shine -- three years. But SF Said has to win the Endurance Prize, taking seven years to finish Phoenix. It's completely different from anything out there at the moment and don't miss the brilliant book trailer made by illustrator Dave McKean.


Then in February, I read three books that starred characters plagued by demons not of their own making. Unputdownable Salvage by Keren David takes a brother and sister separated by adoption and explores the painful realities of nature and nurture. In Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls you feel like a hapless companion to Olivia as she careens through her own emotional minefield. Tulip in The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine is in a similar predicament. I read it for the first time because I was speaking to some girls who'd just read it in class. We had a fantastic discussion about empathy.  

By March, the CILIP Carnegie shortlist was announced.

I read a couple of the happy ones first: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell  and Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. Man, there is such warmth and kindness in Rebecca Stead's books. And I loved the fortune cookie bit. Katherine Rundell has an engaging, whimsical style -- I hope there are more Rooftoppers books because the world on the rooftops part ended too quickly for me. I wanted more!
Blood Family by Anne Fine, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, The Bunker Diary by Kevin BrooksThen I read Anne Fine's Blood Family, which was wow but pretty heartbreaking. Anne Fine is never the first to look away when a plot is playing chicken.

I read Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper of The Dark is Rising fame, not quite my thing but it had a twist right in the middle that jolted me right out of my seat! I love lyrical writing and debut Julie Berry of All the Truth That's In Me is definitely an author to watch! I started The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks, but I'm not a very brave reader and I had to stop fairly early on. I will try to finish it sometime. But with all the lights on.

Sadly, I got busy and didn't manage to read the other Carnegie books. The Bunker Diary won, and I was kicking myself for putting it down too quickly.


My friend Cliff McNish is known for his creepy, scary books. His latest, published in April certainly gave me a start ... but for other reasons. Going Home, about dogs in a rescue centre, was sweet and heartwarming. Sweet? Heartwarming? Cliff McNish?

Speaking of heartwarming, another favourite author who's somehow turned to the light side is Marcus Sedgwick. The brilliant She is Not Invisible had no beheadings and no gruesome deaths.  Marcus, Cliff, are you guys on heartwarming medication or something?
About that time, my author pal Jon Mayhew (Mortlock) messaged to ask me to stand in for him at a school visit in my area. Sure, I said. And then, as authors do, we got to talking about books.

You've got to read The Girl Who Had All the Gifts by M R Carey, Jon said. But it's a zombie novel! I said. You'll see, he said. So I read it. Ahhh! Wonderful - I had no idea that zombie novels could be so filled with pathos.


About May, someone asked me what I was going to do about my unpublished novel Volcano Child.

Well ... I've cannibalised so many ideas and characters from Volcano Child for Tall Story and Shine. Volcano Child needs a total reimagining. So I'm thinking of turning it into a fantasy adventure for younger readers.

To research fantasy fiction, villains, monsters and magical settings, I read Doomspell by Cliff McNishThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black. Brilliant stuff.

What did I learn? It's NOT going to be easy. I had thought I could write the adventure book in the afternoon and my historical work-in-progress in the morning. No, no, no. Focus, Candy. I got back to work on the historical book.


Spring was an explosion of graphic novels.

Line of Fire, Hilda and the Midnight Giant,

I took an evening course in graphic novels at the suggestion of my friend Bridget Strevens who, ever since we met, has been convinced that I'm an illustrator pretending to be a writer.

After the course (with Emily Haworth-Booth), I realised that Bridget might be right. I LOVED it.

I realised that I'd been suppressing my love of drawing maybe because I can barely keep up with myself now, why take up yet another interest?

I think it's too late now to train to become an artist of the caliber of Craig Thompson (Habibi), Stephen Collins (The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil), Isabel Greenberg (The Encyclopedia of Early Earth) and Jon McNaught (Dockwood).

I was very much intrigued though by the non-fictionish storytelling of Pyongyang by Guy Delisle and Line of Fire by Barroux (translated by Sarah Ardizzone) and Fun Home, Alison Bechdel's autobiographical reflections.

The graphic novelist I'd most like to emulate? Marjane Sartrapi who applies magical realism to true stories like Chicken With Plums.


Reading graphic novels reminded me that, before I became a novelist, I had wanted to write and draw picture books. I gave up when my picture book rejection pile outgrew its shoebox and turned to novel writing instead. Should I return to that dream?

In the summer I signed up for SCBWI's picture book retreat. What a joy to hang out with illustrators. They sit around scribbling in their sketchbooks all the time. It kind of re-orients your brain.

I've joined a picture book critique group to focus my mind. I'm writing picture books again. Fingers crossed, maybe this time I'll be more successful.

Meanwhile, oh the stories, oh the pictures, here are some picture books to fall in love with:

My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown, On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah, Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismaili, Max the Brave by Ed Vere, How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens, There was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie by Rebecca Colby, The crocodile Who Didn't Like Water by Gemma Merino, No Such Thing by  Ella Bailey


Then I realised that I had to crack on with the novel I was writing. I had a big book tour in the Philippines in September and I had to make lots of progress before then.

So I went on a frenzy of research which involved buying obscure, out of print books from obscure out of print online bookstores, downloading lots of diaries and old government documents from Open Library and, sigh, lovely research time at the British Library.

It looks like hard work, but the truth is ... it's addicting. I have to physically force myself to stop researching and get on with writing the book!

Go, go, go!


In September, I had an incredible book tour in and around Manila to launch Shine in the Philippines. Nineteen events in ten days! It was tough but wonderful. Unfortunately it meant I didn't get a chance for my usual trawl of Manila's bookshops. 

I did manage to acquire some treasure.

The delightful school series Supremo by Xi Zuq, illustrated by Al Estrella is funny, sweet and totally Filipino. Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera Falgi is about a girl who discovers the story behind a painting.

Moymoy Lulumboy Ang Batang Aswang (Moymoy Boy Monster) by Segundo Matias opens with a strange creature clutching a baby passing unnoticed in a mall because people think he's part of a Cosplay event. Anina ng mga Alon by Eugene Evasco caught my eye because of its cover, and when I opened it, I was hooked by the lyrical prose (you can hear me reading passages from it here). Fish Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis -- I haven't read it yet but there's a woman with 12 metres of hair who trawls the river for corpses ... what's not to like?

The coolest thing I spotted though had to be Jomike Tejido's new series Jepoy Dyip (that's Filipino spelling for Jeep). Not only is it a young fiction series with lots of stories and cool characters, its a build it yourself town! Each episode introduces a new vehicle character. I bought the whole series for my nephew. I mentioned Jomike's incredible Foldabots characters and low cost pop up books in a video about the Asian Festival of Children's Content back in 2012.


Yup, I've done a lot of reading this year. A lot of it work-related. Which is my excuse for not yet reading Shattered, the third book in my friend Teri Terry's trilogy. I've left it so long, I'm going to have to start from the beginning and read all three in one go.

Another series I've got to catch up with is Mo O'Hara's My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. I blinked and three came out all at once! And there's going to be a picture book too! (Wait, was that a secret? I hope not)

One of Us by Jeannie Waudby
2015 is gonna be a delight though. I'm SO looking forward to the publication of my friend Jeannie Waudby's book One of Us. Go, Jeannie!

Another friend Jo Franklin just got a book deal in the United States. At last, I will be able to read her book Hilf Ich Bin Ein Alien (Help! I'm An Alien!) in English!

Chitra Soundar
The Secret Dog by Joe Friedman is out in May. Joe's in my fiction critique group and I've read all the early versions. Can't wait to see it in print!

Chitra Soundar is in my other critique group and she seems to be roaring away with her Farmer Falgu series -- Old Macdonald doesn't hold a candle to what Farmer Falgu gets up to! I just got a copy of her second Farmer Falgu and I can't wait to read it!

And what about Sarah McIntyre? I haven't seen my lovely illustrator friend all year except via her blog. She's published THREE books this year -- There's a Shark in the Bath, Jampires with David O'Connell, Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve  -- how will I ever catch up? The woman is a whirlwind!

And hey, Jane McLoughlin, is your new book out in 2015?

In related news, writing buddy Kathryn Evans has at long last been discovered - her book More of Me will be published by Usborne in 2016. I've been in critique groups with Kathy and she writes with a to die for voice. Look out, world, your favorite author is about to be published! You can read about her amazing book-to-be here and her inspiring blog post announcing the deal is here.

... that was MY Reading Year. I can't wait to see what books will be coming my way in 2015. What was YOUR reading year like?

How to Do a Virtual Author Visit Using Google Hangout

Hurrah! I've just finished my first Google Hangout school visit ... what a revelation!

My friend Anne ML Anderson -- she's a fellow winner of SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices competition -- had been reading my book Tall Story with sixth graders of Smith Middle School in North Carolina, USA.

She tweeted me to ask if I did Skype visits. Instantly excited, I said let's do it!

We had a little run through last week and discovered that Google Hangouts was a far more versatile way to do a virtual visit. Let me tell you, it was mind blowing. Sitting in my garden office (in my coat - it was cold!) in LONDON, chatting with kids in NORTH CAROLINA!!! Holy cannoli!

I want EVERYONE to do it! Teachers, you can invite any (willing) author you want from anywhere in the world! Children's authors, go meet your readers!

So listen up:

1. What is Google Hangout? You can learn about it here.

2. Get ready. Download the Google Hangout Toolbox and install it. The toolbox allows you to create a 'lower thirds badge' like the one I made below with my book cover, my name and website. Watch this video to learn how.

Candy Gourlay

3. Your presentation. Skype and Google Hangouts allows you to share your screen - so you can do a Powerpoint presentation if you like. Learn how to share your screen here. I didn't find that easy ...  because you basically have to do your presentation without seeing your audience. (We did find a way for me to see the audience and my slideshow at the same time but it didn't work on the day, boo)

4. Using Overlays instead of Powerpoint. 30 minutes before my gig with Anne, I discovered that the Google Hangout Toolbox allowed you to create overlays - see this screenshot of me showing my picture as a little girl. 

Candy Gourlay

You can have as many overlays as you want. You just have to click on the Toolbox menu which appears on the side of the Hangout window (see my helpful diagram below).

My plan is to upload my slide presentation as overlays. That way I can show and hide them at will, so that the children can see me talking and not just the slide. No more clunky sharing my screen!

Tip: The overlays have to be 640 x 360 pixels. To make that photo of me float on the left, I put the image over a transparent background using Photoshop. Here's a tutorial on how to do that. If you haven't got Photoshop (yeah, it's expensive!) you can create a transparent background by following this tutorial but only if you use a Mac. You can also use this paid for web app.

4. Plan for glitches! During my hangout with Smith Middle School, we had some sound glitches and disappearing video glitches. What did I learn? Plan a fluid presentation (using the easily clickable presets would certainly have made my presentation more flexible) that you can make shorter in case of problems. You can't do your entire Powerpoint presentation because the kids can't see you so plan for more chatting time. I much preferred talking to the children than talking about myself with slides!

Here's a screenshot of the kids before we parted ways.

And here's Anne!

I was so excited about the Hangout experience that I began Googling around to find out about how other people were using it.

Teacher peeps, here's a video about how a big state school in America has used Google Hangout to create a warm community. Really worth watching if you're looking for that kind of inspiration!

Did I mention that it's free?

A big thank you to Anne and her colleagues for introducing me to the future. And thank you to the lovely sixth graders who came to my talk! 

POSTCARDS: to Spike, sixth graders of Beacon School, and year sevens of Ellis Guilford

Dear Spike

Dear Spike,

I'm sorry this postcard is so late. My life is a little bit crazy. I just want to thank you properly for sending me this picture of a crocodile and a dodo. My husband got really excited when he saw it - but he can't have it because you sent it to ME! I used to visit the stuffed dodo at the Natural History Museum and stand in front of it for AGES imagining what a walking, squawking dodo would have been like. It made me sad to realise that it was extinct. And then I read the small print on the glass case and realised that the stuffed dodo was just a replica! We used to have a LOT of crocodiles in the Philippines. Now not anymore. But when found, they are MASSIVE.

A crocodile found in the Philippines in the 1920s ... but check out this one captured in 2011 and this one.

Thank you for sending me your beautiful drawing. I am going to frame it and hang it up on my wall. Love, Candy


Dear Sixth Graders of Beacon School
in Manila

Dear Beacon sixth graders,

I was looking at that photo I took of you guys during my visit last September and wistfully remembering how much fun we had. Just then I got Facebooked by your teacher, Trixie. She said you'd all been working on projects and here were a few pictures. OMG - you guys must have been working SO hard! I love all the care and thinking that you put into your projects. And I loved how you took quotations from my book and reflected on them in so many different ways. I am so proud of what you created that I made this Slideshare to show your work off. I hope your parents and teachers are proud of you too.  Oh the amazing things children like you can do! Keep on reading! Love, Candy (and thanks again, Trixie, for sharing these photos with me!)


Dear Year Sevens of Ellis Guilford School
in Nottingham

Dear Year Sevens of Ellis Guilford School,

I had a wonderful two days visiting your school last week. Hey, I LOVE your new school uniforms ... you all look so smart and stylish! It made me wonder if I'd remembered to comb my hair. You've got such a big school and it's a credit to your librarians, Ms Davison and Ms Greasby that I managed to meet EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 12 Year Seven classes. Phew!

Ms Davison with the work of one class. The wall was festooned with Philippine flags and suitcases (under flags) packed with ideas from Tall Story.

Now is there some kind of magic ingredient in your school puddings?  You guys were just the right mixture of enthusiastic and well behaved during my sessions - I didn't have to burst into tears even once! - and you asked such terrific questions, I was still thinking of them on the train journey home. (To the boy who wanted to know how I met my husband, I'm sorry we didn't have time to answer the question but it is such a funny story I made a comic about it - here it is: An Affair to Sort of Remember)

Before I raced off to catch my train, Ms Davison and I rushed around to see the work you'd done on Tall Story. I loved them - especially the height charts! I used to be one of the tallest girls in my class, now I'm smaller than some of you. Hmm. I also loved the models you made of London. I was sorry not to be able to visit all the classrooms.

7D's height chart which reveals that Mr. Smith is almost half Bernardo's height!
London landmarks
Downing Street
The Shard
Tower Bridge
So funny to see this wall display - sadly, Andi's head needed a transplant!

I know some of you are still reading Tall Story. I hope you like it. Make sure you show this postcard to your parents so that they can be proud of your work and how wonderful you made me feel.

Keep on reading! Love, Candy (and thank you, Katherine and Claire for your supreme biscuit hospitality and organisation)


Farewell, Manila: a short video of thanks and discovery

These past few weeks have been quite an adventure. I had 19 speaking engagements over a period of about 10 days. My poor voice is a squeak and I left Manila in an embarrassing hurry, not having done my usual trawl for new Filipino books to take home or even spent enough quality time with my mom. Still, going home is always good for the soul. Till next year.

<< My visit to Sambat Trust school libraries to fulfill pledges to Authors for the Philippines

Visiting Schools for Authors for the Philippines and the Sambat Trust ... and then some

My niece Nicole Q Ramos performing for children at the second of three school libraries we visited. When she finished, there was a burst of applause from the classroom next door! (Apologies for the very poor video. I'd never used the camera before and only belatedly remembered to film. Someone was taking a proper video alongside. Hopefully we can see that footage somewhere else soon)

Today, I fulfilled some of my pledges to donors to Authors for the Philippines. I was supposed to:
  • Visit a Sambat Trust School  on behalf of the Siobhan Dowd Trust
  • Donate a 5 CD set of Tall Story's audio book to a Sambat Trust school on behalf of author Christina Banach
  • Donate a hardback copy of Shine to a Sambat Trust school on behalf of Tina Benipayo Andrews.

Here's proof! This is South Central Elementary School in Tanauan, Batangas - the first of three schools we visited. We also visited Ambulong and Hanopal Elementary Schools

Far too early in the morning, I set off with Sambat Trust consultant and school librarian Zarah Gagatiga and my singing niece Nicole Q. My publisher Anvil and mother company National Book Store provided transportation.

My Philippine mothership Anvil Publishing and National Book Store provided transportation to Batangas, about an hour's drive south of Manila. Thank you so much (especially thankful because flash flood traffic meant the return trip took four hours -- it was nice to be safe and comfortable in the Anvil van).

My niece, Nicole Q Ramos, came along to add a little musical sparkle. Nicole sings like an angel - last year she was nominated Best Newcomer at the 2013 Aliw Awards. She also hosts the i-Sport and Home Court segments of PTV4. I taught her everything she knows about singing. And ballet.

Zarah keeps the crowd entertained as extremely tightly wrapped donated books are released to take their place in South Central's new library.

Xi Zuq
Author Xi Zuq aka MJ has been working with schools building their libraries. The librarians and teachers he was working with had no idea that their shy, unassuming Sambat Trust worker was an award-winning children's author!

I grabbed a copy of his latest middle grade novel Supremo, about a boy whose ambition is to become a revolutionary style 'supremo' at his school. Can't wait to read it!

Then it was my turn to speak to the children. And I started sensibly enough ...

But unfortunately I quickly lost my dignity. This tends to happen when I'm in the company of children. Siobhan Dowd Trust, this is what you're getting for your money.

Here I am presenting the school with Christina Banach's donation of a 5-CD audio book of Tall Story.

I was worried that they wouldn't have the equipment to play the audiobook, so the night before, I popped over to the shops and got them a CD player and a nice set of headphones. 

... I hope the teachers will feel free to clamp the headphones on and have a listen to Tall Story. The audio book is lovely.

The teachers were delighted when I presented them with brand new copies of Minty courtesy of author Christina Banach who also donated the CD set of Tall Story

Then it was time for Nicole to sing ... and that's when everything went slightly spangly.

Nicole singing A Whole New World with math wiz Fiona.
Everyone loved it!

But it was when Nicole began to sing Let it Go from Frozen ...

... that the kids joined her in song. They knew ALL the lyrics. Even the mumbly ones between the notes.
Afterwards the children came forward with thank you cards and read them out to me. They were directed to Authors for the Philippines donors, the Siobhan Dowd Trust, Christina Banach and Tina Benipayo Andrews.

Obligatory Who's Who shot!

At lunchtime, an autograph seeking queue suddenly formed in front of Nicole's side of the table.

What about me?
Just kidding. I got to sign autographs too. But not as many as Nicole.

Nicole was still signing when it was time for lunch heh heh.

We also visited Ambulong Elementary School and donated a stack of Tall Stories, a couple of Animal Tricksters and a copy of Shine.

Ambulong Elementary's warm greetings for the donors.

We also went to Hanopol Elementary School where the librarians told us about how Typhoon Glenda ripped the roof off their library (one of the few relics of the Marcos era with its militaristic design) and almost carried away all their books. We stocked their shelves with copies of Tall Story and they promised to take us to see the volcano lake behind the school next time we came.

Zarah will definitely be back to train teachers and librarians soon. But I'm going home to England now and it's going to be another year before I'll be visiting libraries with the Sambat Trust again.  I cannot wait. Meanwhile, we think we've won over Nicole to our literacy advocacy. Fingers crossed there will be a lot of singing in Sambat Trust libraries sometime soon!

I suddenly discovered this morning that my flight is today and not tomorrow like I'd been telling everyone. So I'm finishing this blog post off in the departure lounge while texting apologies to all and sundry. Talk about absent minded. Lucky I checked my ticket before going to bed. I've got a short video of Nicole singing in Ambulong but I've got to roll up to the plane now so I'll add it to this blog post when I get to London. Farewell to the Philippines for now. I wish I could stay longer. Lots of love to you all. Mabuhay!