Dear Candy Gourlay, Why did you decide to become a children's author?

By Candy Gourlay

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Because of THIS:

Excerpts from a bulging envelope of letters from the children of William Read Primary School in Canvey Island. Thank you to the Year Sixes, Ms Probin, Mr Overill and other staff of William Read. 

Kids, you made my day! Thank you for making my job the best in the whole wide world.

It's not too late to win a MOUNTAIN OF BOOKS! Join the UKYA egg hop - count up the chocolate eggs on participating authors' websites. Anybody from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD can join! How does it work? Read this. Where does the Blog Hop start? Go to Teri Terry's blog.

The UKYA Egg Hunt -- Do Bunnies Lay Chocolate Eggs?

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This competition is now closed

BLOG hop. Not to be mistaken with BUNNY hop.
Not that this bunny is hopping.

So, as you can see, I've joined a blog hop.

It's actually an EGG HUNT in honour of UKYA. If you are uncool and have no idea what UKYA is, it refers to Young Adult books written in the UK, of which my novel Shine is one.

Do read the rules carefully below if you decide to join the hunt. That grand prize is yowza!

Welcome to the UKYA Easter Egg Hunt! One very lucky winner will win a huge grand prize of signed books by over thirty YA authors who write and live in the UK (including SHINE by yours truly!).

All you have to do is read this blog, count up how many UKYA-branded Easter eggs you see in the blog (the ones in the banner have no brand, capisce?), and follow the link at the end to the next author blog on the hop. Keep going until you get back to the blog where you started, and add up how many eggs you’ve seen along the way.

Email your answer to: A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries, and contacted by email. This closes at noon (UK time) on Sunday, 5th April, and is open internationally.

If you've never heard of me before and came upon my blog because you're following the UKYA blog hop, welcome, welcome, you can read about me here ... and please check out my novel SHINE, proudly made in the UK and proudly YA, and feel free to buy a copy or ten. Or a few hundred, if you happen to be a school.

Here's a little story: I began writing Shine at the height of the Twilight rage, a few years ago. Green with envy at Stephenie Meyer's success, I decided to write my own little vampire story starring a Filipino vampiric monster called a manananggal.

Mananggal. A beautiful woman whose feet become rooted
to the ground at night. She sprouts leathery wings and, ripping
her upper from her lower body, flies off to eat the souls of
unsuspecting strangers. Thanks to Mervin Malonzo for the
amazing art

I wrote the book only to discover that you can't really write an entire novel about something you have no interest in. I don't read vampire or monster books. I didn't know how to write them! So I threw away that draft and wrote something else. On the back of Shine the blurb now
says: 'This is not a ghost story even though there are plenty of ghosts in it. And it's not a horror story though some people might be horrified. It's not a monster story either, though there is a monster in it and the monster happens to be me.' ... which was kind of my way of apologising for not being able to pull off a Twilight blockbuster.

Did you spot any eggs while I was distracting you with that story? Get counting! I hope you meet some awesome UKYA authors and books along the way.

Hop this way to the next author on the UKYA Egg Hunt ... Lucy Coats, Author of CLEO, an exciting new take on Cleopatra  (YOUNG Cleopatra - I can't wait to read it!) - it's out in May 2015  

Do you want to see the master list of blog hop authors? Visit Notes from the Slushpile (PEOPLE THIS IS AN INFO LINK, NOT THE NEXT LINK IN THE CHAIN. THE NEXT LINK IN THE CHAIN IS LUCY COATS ... HONESTLY, WILL YA PAY ATTENTION ... on the other hand, you can check your TOTALS by looking at the list of authors in the chain on Notes from the Slushpile)

This competition is now closed.

Thinking about the World in Books

By Candy Gourlay

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Latymer's excellent world  map of books. Click on the image to enlarge.

There is SHINE sharing the Philippines with Andy
Mulligan's TRASH.   
Last week I visited The Latymer School in Edmonton as one of my World Book Day school visits (yeah, I know, it's not just really a DAY anymore, is it?).

The second thing that caught my eye -- the first thing being the superb art on the walls -- was this map of the world in books.

Librarian Miranda McAllister had to coax me away from the map because book addict that I am, I was immediately trying to think of books to match countries.

As Miranda led me up to the impressive studio where I was going to speak, I found myself softly chanting titles that could be added to the map  -- The White Darkness (Geraldine McCaughrean) could be for Antarctica, The Language Inside (Holly Thompson) would cover Cambodia and Japan, surely, and what about Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones) set in Bougainville? Oh, and what was the title of that book set in Chile?

The Newbery winning author Richard Peck writes that child readers don't read for happy endings but for new beginnings ... young readers are only just beginning themselves and they wouldn't mind a map!

A map certainly captures how books grow a reader's world.

When I visit schools, I tell the children about the day I realised that I didn't have to be stuck in my hot and boring home in Manila. Between the pages of a book, I could travel anywhere!

But books are not just windows to a world outside your experience. Books should also be mirrors -- reflecting who you are and where you came from. In this way, you can learn about the person you are going to become.

While the books I grew up with showed me the world, they didn't acknowledge that people like me existed. All the characters I ever loved were pink skinned and lived in America or Britain. It gave me a lasting feeling of insecurity about my right to put Filipinos into my own stories.

Thankfully, there is a burgeoning of publishing in the Philippines of today -- but I think that insecurity continues -- not just for Filipinos but for other countries where local publishing is outgunned by Western imports.

On 3 June, I will be delivering a keynote at Singapore's exciting Asian Festival for Children's Content.

Are you coming?

My keynote is titled Why Asia Needs More Writers for Children and Young People -- and here's the blurb:
If books are mirrors and windows to the world, are the children of Asia well-served? ... (Candy) shares how Asia needs more writers for young people because seeing themselves in books will empower them, while providing the rest of the world with a window to our diverse cultures.
When I visit schools in Manila, the children are more familiar with Harry Potter than Bernardo Carpio, a giant of Philippine legend who figures in my first book, Tall Story. I love Harry Potter and many other Western books myself. But there is a big gap where my own native stories should be.

Apparently this sort of disconnect is not uncommon in other countries. It's odd though, like forgetting something before you've even begun to remember. Especially given that so many of these cultures do have rich and varied literatures that go back centuries.

I've been working in the British Library a lot recently, and everyday I walk past displays of beautiful red lacquered manuscript chests from 19th century Thailand and ancient books dating back to the 17th century in gorgeous Malay script. The Library is currently conserving hundreds of  ancient manuscripts from my part of the world  -- Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and the southern regions of Thailand and the Philippines.

I stand and stare at these beautiful things and wonder why I have never been told stories from these great cultures.

The Story of the Pig King, composed in Palembang in 1775 by Usup bin Abdul Kadir, a merchant
from Semarang. I am informed that the Hikayat Raja Babi is about to be published in Malaysia.

Some of the books, like the Hikayat Raja Babi, The Story of the Pig King (shock horror, a pig king in Muslim Malaya?) attract much comment but little study.

"Despite the flurry of interest always aroused by its title, Hikayat Raja Babi has never been studied or published," the British Library blog says. "If anyone would like to be the first to do so, just click here and start reading!" Go on, Malay readers, click!

Do check out the Asian and African Studies blog of the British Library, it's a treasure trove.

Seeing Latymer School's World in Books brought home to me the VASTNESS of our storytelling world.

It's a world constantly in motion, the stories are always changing.

It's a world that goes back, back, way back: stories are there from our forefathers and beyond, if only we thought to look for them.

It's a world that is wide and deep and rich. It can be any world we want it to be.

If we read it. And if we tell it.

Thanks to Sandip Debnath for making this beautiful photo available on Creative Commons. The
quote is from  inspirational Newbery Prize winning author Richard Peck. Read my blog
post Richard Peck on the Beating Heart of What We do as Children's Writers 

With many thanks to the Year Sevens, Year Eights and Miranda and the other welcoming staff at Latymer, with a special mention to Nicole who provided me with soothing Yogi Tea. Yum!

My Happy World Book Day - in which Tall Story Got a Book Bench!

With the totally, utterly, spectacularly, beautiful
Books About Town bench created for Tall Story by
the children of Hampden Gurney Church of England
Primary School in Westminster
March 5 was World Book Day here in the United Kingdom -- a busy time for librarians, who organise WBD events, authors like me who appear at these events, and parents who lovingly help their children dress up as their favourite book characters.


A few weeks ago, I got a message from Gohar Avanesjan, literacy coordinator of Hampden Gurney Church of England Primary School, that her Year Threes (!) were enjoying Tall Story and that they were designing a book bench for it!


Last summer, I had enjoyed touring London's book bench trail with my SCBWI pals, gazing with authorly envy at all the beautifully illustrated benches, each honouring a book of note - from 1984 by George Orwell to Alex Ryder by Anthony Horowitz.

My friend Joe enjoying the bench for The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe

Books About Town is a joint project of Wild in Art and the National Literacy Trust, displaying fifty benches across London and later, auctioning them to raise money for reading. As part of an education programme, the project gave London schools their own benches to decorate (based on a book set in London).

World Book Day was my chance to see the Tall Story bench, which was created from the designs of Hampden Gurney's Year Three children. I cannot tell you how moved I was to see the bench and to meet the children and staff who made it. Here's a Slideshare I made about the bench with pictures of the bench and of the artwork the children made to develop the final design:


Me as Yoda. By Shanarama
I really, really, really, really must get my act together and dress up as a book character on WBD! Every year, the day comes along and catches me unprepared.

Perhaps next year I'll come as Yoda from Star Wars. My illustrator friend Shanarama drew a picture of me as Yoda recently, and I quite fancy having green ears! (My sons when they were still small and cute made me read Star Wars to them every night, over and over again)

On WBD morning, I passed several schools while sitting on the upstairs deck of a bus. It was so wonderful to see the streets filled with children all dressed up as their favourite book characters.

Last year, when I visited King Alfred School, librarian Cathy Brown dressed up as The Beast. This year, she was Max from Where the Wild Things Are. I think there should be prizes for Best Dressed Librarians and Teachers. (Some discreet pictures of children from King Alfred --- I was especially chuffed to see a boy dressed as Stanley Yelnats from Holes, love that book!)

The WBD display at City of London School
for Boys, complete with basketball.
Photo: David Rose
There were Wimpy Kids, lots of Elsas from Frozen, Boba Fetts, James Bonds, Red Riding Hoods, Cinderellas ... and at the schools I visited, I did actually meet several Andis from Tall Story! Woo hoo!

The Guardian has collected photos of WBD finery

The Telegraph came up with the 7 Stages of Parental WBD Crisis ... then documented the best and most bonkers WBD costumes

The day before WBD, I spoke to Year 8 boys at the City of London School for Boys -- a school on the banks of the River Thames, the view on one side is of the Tate Modern, and on the other side, St Paul's Cathedral. What a location! Thanks to librarian David Rose for inviting me.

Me and King Alfred's librarian, Cathy, at last year's WBD 
(btw to the boy who asked how I met my husband but I didn't have time to tell the story, here's a link to the comic I made about it An Affair to Sort of Remember)

On the morning of WBD, I visited King Alfred School where I talked to Year Fives about how myth was the earliest form of science because people were trying to make sense of their world.

A little girl named Carmel greeted me with a typewritten letter. She gave me permission to reproduce an excerpt in this blog:

... I absolutely adore Tall Story as it is one of the best books ever ... it makes me feel as if I'm actually inside the book. My classmates and I are reading Tall Story together and when it is home time, we sometimes groan when it's a cliff hanger and say 'Please read more!' or 'Why do we have to stop?' 

Thank you, Carmel, you are why I love writing for children. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book!

Thanks to King Alfred librarian Cathy Brown for inviting me to visit!

After King Alfred,  I travelled from North London to West London to visit Hampden Gurney C of E Primary -- not just to see their Tall Story Book Bench but to speak to the whole school. Lots of parents came! How fantastic to see parents turning out for WBD! Thank you so much to Literacy Coordinator, Gohar Avanesjan, whose idea it was to make a Tall Story bench. I was blown away!

My heartfelt thanks to everyone for your kind hospitality. I had a wonderful World Book Day -- how lucky I am that my day job involves meeting such inspirational teachers and children!

A note to Teachers and Librarians: World Book Day happens on different dates all over the world (most often 23 April), so if your country hasn't hit the date yet, you can trawl the British WBD site for ideas and downloads like the leaflet below.

Also read my blog for writers: Why (most) authors do not need a Facebook Page