International bestselling author of The Secret Lake. I live in Barnes, southwest London and have two sons who inspired me to write when they were younger. My eight children's books span from Reception up to Year 4 (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the covers and read synopses). I regularly go into primary and prep schools in London and am available to visit schools anywhere in the UK or beyond where time and school budgets allow. I also offer live virtual author visits (whole of school or by year group), as well as pre-recorded author talks/visits. My virtual visits can, of course, be anywhere in the world!
My other writing life :)
Before writing for children I’ve was a professional business writing trainer and plain English copywriting consultant for business and government for over 20 years. Important and impressive as that may sound, I far prefer making up stories and meeting my young readers. I now focus on this almost entirely!
My previous life: In my early career I was teacher and Director of Studies in an English Language School in London. I have also lived and worked in New York and Oslo and speak French and Norwegian (oh, and American!).
Interesting to know. My time travel mystery for ages 8-11 The Secret Lake hit the Amazon UK/US children's bestsellers' lists in 2018 -2020 and continues to do so at the time of writing in January 2021. It has now been enjoyed by well close to 300,000 young readers, and is in translation in eight countries. This really warms my heart! The Secret Lake was also considered for adaption by CBBC in 2015, after recommendation by their Head of Independent Commissioning. It has always been my bestseller with both girls and boys at school events – and has been described as “a modern Tom’s Midnight Garden”. Children have proven to me what I always suspected - that they still love a traditional adventure story!
In-Person School Visits
I offer readings and an author talk (including fun slides and videos) and Q&A, as well as the option of curriculum related writing workshops. See below for how I tailor these from Reception up to Year 4. I then have a more general talk on writing and publishing in the digital age for Years 5 and 6.
Virtual School Visits
All of my author talks below are available as live virtual school visits (some elements adapted as necessary), where I can log in to the platform of your choice. I also offer pre-recorded author talks for each of the year groups below for schools in time zones where a live visit would be problematic.
Reception - Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep and Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog- 30-40 mins
Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep is a fun, colourful rhyming picture book based on the true story of a fox that once fell asleep in my garden. The session includes a rhyming warm-up and lots of fox and favourite food discussion! Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog, another gentle rhyming story, introduces Hatty the hedgehog and her baby son, Ed, who meets Ferdinand when he is playing out on his own one night.
I intersperse the reading of Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep with questions relating to foxes and food (which is very much the theme of the story). The children love joining in with sound effects/actions, such as the fox snoring or Peter Maceever yawning, and I encourage them to practise counting as we hear the church clock strike from one through to five o'clock as the story progresses. With Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog the children learn lots of fun facts about foxes and hedgehogs -- including what they eat, how long they live, how many spines a hedgehog has - and how we can all help hedgehogs find food and places to hibernate. There are some great slides to go with this :)
To ensure that everyone can see, I use a Powerpoint of the book pages. The slides also include a short video of a real fox that fell asleep in a friend's garden and strongly resembles Ferdinand! I also have live footage of a hedgehog returning from a food forage one evening.
There are downloadable colouring sheets as a follow-on activity as well as tips on how to draw your own fox.
Year 1 - Henry Haynes and the Great Escape - 40 mins
This is a fun illustrated chapter book about 10-year-old Henry who falls inside his library book after complaining that it's boring. Henry soon finds himself caught up in a zoo escape plan being managed by Brian, a bossy boa constrictor, and Gordon, an extremely smelly gorilla...!
The story starts out in a library so (after introductions) I open the session by asking the children about libraries and librarians they know. We also talk about how magical it is to get lost in a story - and about whether anyone has ever wanted to become part of the story they were reading. I then introduce the book and give a 10-15 minute reading. This is followed by questions from the children about being a writer, how I get my ideas, my other books and so on.
As part of the Q&A I show the children how I work with my illustrator who lives in Bosnia - from rough drafts through to final images that go into the books. They always find this fascinating - and everyone loves Brian the boa with the cage keys stuck down his throat, which he then burps up for Henry to release the lions! Where time allows I can also offer a simple workshop where the children can brainstorm and write their own descriptions of the key story characters, then choose and draw their favourite.
Years 2,3,4 - Eeek! The Runaway Alien (7-10 yrs - used by Get London Reading), Walter Brown and the Magician's Hat (7-9 yrs), The Secret Lake (8-11 yrs) - 50 minutes [Scroll down to see the book covers and read the detail for each book.]
I am happy to see Year groups individually or combined, depending on the class sizes and number of intakes. Ideally I'd aim to keep groups to around 60 at most but I have presented to double that!
After introductions I ask the children about their reading habits and what they think makes a good story. I go on to briefly talk about the inspiration for all three books, then focus on one or two for readings. The book/s I choose for the readings depends either on a show of hands from the audience or on whether the teacher would like a particular book or books covered to tie in with other school work/ themes.
The Q&A session for these year groups tends to go on longer and during this time I show the children slides and a video demonstrating how I work with my illustrator and editor. In particular, for Walter Brown and the Magician's Hat I have a fun series of slides showing how the story went from first idea to finished product, highlighting some of the key changes that took place along the way to improve the characters and storyline. My slides are set up so that I can tailor what I cover to meet the audience's age, questions and interests.
I can also offer curriculum based writing workshops using extracts and illustrations from Eeek! and The Secret Lake as my starting points . The emphasis is certainly on fun for the younger pupils using Eeek! - moving towards more structured creative writing using The Secret Lake for years 3 and 4. In all cases the aim it to show the children how we can use words to paint a picture in the reader's mind. Workshops are for single classes and I take feedback on overall ability in advance. Or I can offer the author talks described above then leave the teacher full teaching plans for these sessions.
Y1/2 /3 *The Tell-Me Tree - New for Autumn 2020*
My new and popular rhyming story and activity book for ages 4-8, which invites children to share how they're feeling - whether happy, proud, sad, worried, lonely, confused or anywhere in between - lends itself to classroom activities across a range of year groups and comes with a free download sheets. On balance, these sessions may be best run by teachers who know their pupils. However, please do contact me to discuss how we might use it together.
Years 5/6 - Optional extra session if I'm at the school all day
For Years 5 and 6 I can also offer a more general talk on the creative writing process and how exciting it is to be a writer in our new digital age.This includes looking at the different writing styles in my books (first vs third person - how and why I've used them) and demonstrating the power of 'show don't tell' in writing. I also cover working with my editor - and all the hard work that goes into rewriting! Finally, I round off with a set of funs slides that show ‘how books get made’ digitally, including formatting for print and eBook and uploading to Amazon and other platforms where author publishers are able to track sales online.
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By accident rather than design (because stories come to me, rather than my deciding what to write!), my eight books span a wide range of ages. I have picture books for ages 3-5, a beautiful rhyming story and activity book about emotions for ages 4-8 (this has received high praise from parents and teachers alike), three fun illustrated chapter books for ages 6-10, and my international bestseller, The Secret Lake, a short middle grade novel for ages 8-11. When I visit schools - whether virtually or in person - I often see all classes from Reception/Kindergarten up to Year 4 focusing on particular titles. I then offer wider talks on writing and publishing in the digital age for Years 5 and 6.