Libraries across Scotland worked together to commission children’s authors for an online book festival called ‘Stream My Story’. The book festival went live at the end of term and schools watched events in class, as an end of term treat.
The author videos stayed online over the holidays. Now there’s just a few days left to watch the festival before the videos are taken down so I wanted to share this video with you.
I was asked to do an event around 20 minuets and I’m proud to say I did it in all one take. It’s filmed it in a hazel grove on the Isle of Skye. It seemed like a good place to film, since the story, Crime Squirrel Investigators, is all about hazelnuts! It’s also where I live (Skye, not a hazel grove).
Thanks to my friend Joyce for tech support and for coming along with me too. I’m glad I wasn’t dancing about in front of a camera, by a loch, in a hazel grove, all by myself!
You can see all the brilliant stream my story book festival events here for a few more days. Hope you enjoy them!
Should you choose to accept it: Read the story, complete challenges and do experiments to continue the adventure and send Fizz the Alien, home.
This is how ‘Help There’s an Alien in My Park!’ begins…
On the next page, the reader is introduced to their team members, Ben and Jaz. They make their own team profile by drawing a self portrait and annotating it with their skills, likes and dislikes:
Then the story starts. Chapters are interspersed by science challenges that move the story forwards. The children stick in stickers to complete each of sections and there’s a certificate and competition at the end of the book.
I was commissioned to write ‘Help There’s an Alien in My Park’ by the Science Art Writing Trust (SAW) in Norfolk. They usually visit schools with science workshops but this stopped due to covid.
Dr Jenni Rant, the SAW programme manager had the brilliant idea to make a book instead. A book could be gifted to children so they could catch up on science they missed over the summer holidays. It would be science engagement AND a lovely gift.
Six partner organisations contributed challenge ideas and information and each challenge was based on the partner organisation’s area of research. The challenges topics were:
We worked to make the challenges fun and easy to do for children, even without parental support. We wanted to engage children who don’t like reading or science to help them to catch up on the science they missed due to covid and school closures.
Short easy sentences, clear instructions and humour all helped make the book fun and accessible. All the challenges can be done at home or outside using household items.
A theme of energy runs through the story. Fizz the alien needs energy to fly home and the challenges help Fizz learn about energy on Earth.
The school curriculum areas covered by the book and it’s challenges include:
Art and design
Health and wellbeing
Expressive arts (drama)
Reading and writing (including creative writing and descriptive writing)
Science (including light, food chains, food webs, energy and forces, plants and photosynthesis, global warming and climate change, biodiversity including insects, the body organs and the digestive system
Eco schools topic of waste and energy
I was lucky enough to be there when a friend was reading the first two chapters to her son. It was wonderful to see him laughing and doing spontaneous impressions of Fizz the alien (Fizz laughs with a honking sound!). This was my reward (who needs stickers?).
I spent the last few months working on the text while Atom Boy (Daryl Blyth) was busy drawing the gorgeous illustrations:
Others working in the Team include Beth Sherman, who worked on the challenges as part of a PHD internship. Jenni Rant and Sami Stebbings at SAW worked with the research partners on the challenges too. And Kaarin Wall worked on the book design. I think it looks brilliant – I’m now a fan of an A4 landscape layout!
The books were gifted to over 5000 children in Norfolk and Suffolk, aged 8 and 9. Prince George even got a copy!
And now it’s about to be gifted to four primary school in the North end of Skye. That’s where I live so I asked the trust if we could gift some books here too. They kindly said yes! The schools go back in Scotland this week, so they will get signed copies as a back-to-school treat. I really hope they enjoy reading it and doing the challenges.
I gave a copy to a lovely 9 year old neighbour (who doesn’t like science) and she popped round to tell me she’d finished her bug hotel – wow – it’s an epic hotel indeed! It’s good to see the book working, a non science fan is enjoying science! Here’s her hotel and Daryl’s drawing from the book:
My bug hotel building neighbour made this gorgeous card too. It’s in the style of the book cover, but with me on the front:
My nephew is 9 so I sent him a book too. His Mum sent me a video of him touring the body map he’d made, with toast travelling through a digestive system. It’s one of the challenges in section one of the book and it involves socks! If you’d like to see it and find out more, I’ve shared it on my author Facebook page here.
Getting a copy
If you’re age 8 or 9 but don’t live in Norfolk, Suffork or in the North End of the Isle of Skye, sadly you won’t have been gifted a book.
But you can still get your parents to buy a copy from one independent book shop, The Book Hive in Norwich or from Waterstones online. It costs £10 and 100% of profits go towards next year’s book project.
I’m super excited to reveal the cover of ‘Why is Blood Red?’, my latest book, published by DK in March 2021.
It was commissioned before we knew there would be a pandemic. I planned and wrote it through lockdown. I found it incredibly hard to be motivated but I got there, one weekly deadline at a time until it was finished. I’m proud of this book and I hope children will love finding out about their brilliant bodies as they read it.
Big thanks to everyone involved including my lovely editor at DK books, Katie Lawrence. Thanks to the DK design team in India and to consultants including those at the Smithsonian museum in the USA. And thanks to Lindsey my agent at Fraser Ross Associates.
My nephew (9) had to draw a scientist and label their skills for school. My sister sent me this picture and explained he’d chosen to draw me. Wow! I love it. I especially love that I have the skill ‘fearless’ along with the complimentary skill ‘good at being safe’.
What started as research into technique quickly changed into me being fascinated by ‘The Incredible and Fantastically Feminist Life of Ada Lovelace’, and by Mrs Puff, her best friend the cat. The whole video is so engaging, as is the illustrated book. As Ada grew up it made me think of Rachel McCrum’s fantastic performance playing Ada when we toured with the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch.
I am not my father’s daughter
That’s the line that always sticks in my head, about her relationship with her father the poet, Lord Byron.
Ada’s life is fascinating, as is her design for the first computer – the difference engine. If you want to know more, buy Anna’s book from your local independent bookstore.
I looked up the rest of Anna Doherty’s work – I was so impressed – she’s an author illustrator who writes about women scientists and women who are neurodiverse (both topics are close to my heart).
She even wrote an illustrated book about Michelle Obama. And then I discovered her first book was about the Bronte sisters. Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books. I felt inspired seeing Anna’s work and Anna, after watching the video.
And in a small way, I felt proud my nephew chose a woman scientist for his school project – and that woman was me.
It’s been over 3 months since lockdown began and just like other authors, I’ve had my live events and book festivals cancelled due to covid 19. We’ve had to learn new ways to share stories. Here’s a bit about how I’ve been doing that and some story videos for the children you know.
Live in Schools
Last week I did a live Crime Squirrel Investigators event on google meet with two remote primary schools, Badcaul and Scoraig near Ullapool. One is only accessible by boat and in total, there are 16 children in both schools.
The event was lovely – we planned how to take what I normally do live and make it work on a computer screen while keeping it interactive. The teacher Mrs Love, was really helpful and we did a test earlier in the week so I worked out how to share images, music and video while still being live on screen myself. I was a bit nervous about the technology but it all worked.
For example instead of getting volunteers to help me with a camoflage demonstration, I prerecorded myself dressing up instead of the children:
Instead of getting a teacher to help with actions while I’m singing a song, I taught the children the song on guitar live and then played a prerecorded audio version while I mimed along and did live actions. I hadn’t realised quite how exhausting jumping about like a squirrel all the way through a song is and I had to do it for two songs!!
We got families to type answers in to quiz questions on the chat function and at other points the children made true or false shapes with their bodies for a squirrel quiz. At the end of the event, the children asked questions live on video. I really enjoyed it and I was pleased that they did too. Thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event.
I’ve even purchased a go-pro camera since then, so I can make better films and have a much better webcam for future events. I’m excited about using it for underwater filming and outdoor adventures too – it’s waterproof!
Live on Facebook with RSPB Scotland
Earlier on in lockdown, RSPB Scotland asked if I could make a video to engage with their younger members. We went for a Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive storytelling session (with dancing and a science experiment) as part of their Big Wild Sleepout event. It was broadcast on Facebook and they added it to YouTube too so you can watch it here:
I could have filmed more outside but I wanted children who couldn’t go out much to feel understood and I wanted to remind them, with our imaginations and using stories – we can go anywhere. The sent me an osmo pocket camera so I learned how to use that and filmed it all myself. It took ages so I vowed to simplify things a lot for the next video. Thankfully the RSPB helped with editing! And thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event!
The Little Oak Tree
What came next was a request to record a story for the children at Ps and Gs. I chose a simple story I wrote about a little oak tree. It’s got a couple of songs in it too. It’s main aim is to encourage the children to be themselves. The story comes first and then there’s some songs and rhymes from Rachel. I hope you enjoy it, the message is for adults too – be yourself! Watch it here:
Leaf Cafe Live on Facebook
I had a nice surprise when I heard Carol at Leaf Cafe in Hartfordshire was reading Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief live on facebook as part of her legendary 11am daily book reading. You can watch it on facebook here. It’s had over 1500 views because Carol is great at reading stories!
It’s been a strange time. A hard time.
At first I was surviving, waiting to get through it and come out the other side. Now I’ve got to a place where I’ve realised I don’t have very much control over planning the future so I’ve surrendered to that. And as a result, I’m more able to get on with what I’ve got to do right now and I’m less bothered when things I thought were going to happen don’t or can’t. I sometimes have hard days but overall, I’m feeling much better. I’ve been running lots which I think helps. I hope you’re doing okay, whatever is happening for you and I hope these stories help.
I’m writing most days and I’ve had deadlines every week for the last 10 weeks so I’ve had to get on with it. I realised I’m more resourceful than I thought I was because I’ve made my deadlines, even though I was finding it really hard at first. I suppose that’s what we’re all doing, we’re doing our best to keep going and do what we need to do, whatever that looks like for us.
I’ve heard lots more people are learning Gaelic since lockdown began so I’ll finish up by sharing a Gaelic glossary I made for Historic Environment Scotland when I was working as a facilitator out on the Ilse of Lewis. I didn’t share it here at the time I made it, so now’s a good time. It’s an easy introduction to a new language. And it’s full of children’s artwork so it’s really lovely. Why not give Gaelic a go and watch it here:
Read more about the Blackhouse project on the Isle of Lewis here.
I hope you have a fantastic summer holiday and I’ll blog again soon. Sorry it’s been so long!
Alan Windram from the publishers, Little Door Books, brought along his studio recording equipment. We converted my artist studio into a recording studio. Alan coached me to make each line a bit more dramatic and we recorded a page at a time. Later, he edited the book and added sounds so the children know when to turn the pages.
I wrote a song from the main character, Rosie the squirrel’s perspective. It’s got a catchy chorus with actions for the children to join in on – to make it fun. But I wanted to write about something meaningful too. Spoiler alert for the book here… I’m aware children experience a range of emotions just like we do, so I wanted to write a song I hoped they could identify with when they feel hurt or betrayed by a friend.
It’s about the joy of friendship and then the shock when a friend lets you down. You miss them and you want them to be your friend again but you’re also unsure how real the friendship was because the other person was lying. It’s also about being a squirrel so there’s lots of lines about jumping around and playing hide and seek too. The chorus goes:
All the squirrels stick your paws up, don’t turn your nose up.
All the squirrels wave your tails, it’s time to go!
Alan wrote a brilliant song about nuts and we worked together on the lyrics to make it into a song about the high point of the story – I wanted to make it more personal to the story and again, from Rosie’s perspective. So for example Alan had written:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts over here and nuts over there
And I changed it to:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts in my tail and nuts in my hair
One of the suspects, Tappy the Woodpecker, is a great spotted woodpecker who hammers a nut until it explodes. I like writing spoken word and I think of a woodpecker as a rhythmic head banger of a bird, who’s a bit well.. badass. So I wrote a rap from Tappy’s perspective. He’s quite self indulgent in it. Here’s a line:
My beak is the key to break into the tree.
My beak is my sound and my sound is Tappy.
We recoded the music tracks at the Little Door Books Studio in Oban, the studio incudes two cats who are hiding:
I felt pretty nervous about recording vocals but Alan said when it’s for young children, it’s better to be clear and enthusiastic so they can hear the words. So don’t worry too much about being an operatic or a fancy singer. He said to imagine I’m Rosie the Squirrel singing. So I’m channelling my inner Squirrel on these tracks!
Here’s who did what:
Audiobook – written and read by Emily Dodd (me!)
Woodpecker Rap – written and rapped by Emily Dodd
Stick Your Paws Up – written and lead vocals by Emily Dodd. Alan Windram backing vocals and he plays every instrument – amazing!
Nuts – melody by Alan Windram. Lyrics Alan Windram and Emily Dodd. Lead vocals Emily Dodd. Instruments – Alan Windram.
Then I introduced myself and the Italian Illustrator, Giulia Cregut. I pointed to the banner because the two of us look quite similar to the two squirrels, see above! (yup, I’m the larger squirrel!)
And then we set the scene for the story, guessing objects from the forest. If you’d like to hold a giant Ameican pine cone that’s bigger then your head… come to an event soon!
We listened to the sound of the forest and then four volunteers helped make the smell of the forest, here’s one of them in action, wafting the pine oil with a fan…
Then it was time for the story of the Naughty Nut Thief. Crime Squirrel Investigators Rosie and Charlie investigate three prime suspects after Rosie’s secret nut store is ransacked!
Then it was time for a red squirrel true or false quiz, make a ‘T’ or an ‘F’ with your body:
Then Rosie the naughty water squirter popped out to meet everyone, I definately look like a squirrel here:
Then my lovely friend Elspeth Murray came up to help Alan with actions. And we taught everyone the Beyoncé squirrel song, here we all are dancing!
And more actions!
Then we learnt more about one of the prime suspects, the wood mouse with a camouflage demonstration:
Next it was time for hip-hop with the great spotted woodpecker rap, yep I really did rap as a woodpecker. Thankfully everyone else joined in with beats and actions:
I was a bit scared about rapping (it’s new for me) but thankfully we had a professional drummer, Ruairdh Graham from Niteworks to keep us all in time! He also made me practice beforehand – thanks Ru!
Then it was time for a couple more picture quizzes, look at the shell and guess who ate the nut. All based on the real nut munching animal science the book is based on:
And the finale was a song about nuts! Again thanks to Elspeth and Alan for actions:
Then it was Q and A time, I got to sit down at last. This looks like a serious question:
And so does this:
Hurrrah! It was all over:
There were thankyous and the book signing:
And that was it! I want to say a big thanks to Elspeth Murray for chairing and action support (she got flowers) and to Lindsey Fraser my agent from Fraser Ross Associates (she got flowers but she’d gone to the ballet by then!) and to Ruairdh Graham for beats (he got beer) and to Giulia Cregut for illustrations and to Alan Windram and Susan Windram at Little Door Books for publishing the book.
Thanks to my pals Amy, Anna, Jenny and Mel for serving drinks!
Thanks to Waterstones West End Edinburgh for hosting and to all you people who came, there were over 100 guests and we sold out – it meant so much to have your support for the book (and such enthusiastic actions!).
The average wage for a published author in the UK is 10k a year. I live off events mostly, it’s hard to manage and even if I sell LOADS of books I just get pence per book. Some books I’ve written were for a flat fee, so however many sell around the world, I get nothing.
I love art and I work in an art studios in Edinburgh, Coburg House. Coburg House has a shop, it’s open every weekend 11 – 4pm. I had the idea – why don’t I try to sell some of my art?
I choose five pieces with help from the artists at Coburg. I comissioned Javier Ternero, the picture framer to mount and wrap the pieces. They looked so much better mounted. Then I posted a picture on instagram of a collage I’d created, just before it went into the shop. Instagram is an image based storytelling app. This is the photo I shared:
I didn’t realised how vulnerable it would feel – sharing something visual you’ve created and giving it value by selling it. What if noone buys it? What if people don’t like it? Thankfully I had some supportive comments on instagram. And then something wonderful happened…
The same night I posted the picture of my collage, I got a message from the new manager at the shop at Strutt’s North Mill. That’s the mill in the background of the picture. She said she loved it and wanted to sell it in the Mill shop in Derbyshire. She asked if I had any other prints too. It was such an encouragement. So then, instead of selling the original in the Coburg House shop, I got the original made into prints with Edinburgh Arts. They mount and wrap them too. Here’s the wrapped print:
I was amazed when I saw it – the prints looked like collages – they even looked like they were made from ripped newspaper. They were delivered to the mill by a friend who happened to be driving down that way and they are available in the shop there to buy, along with the original.
My other pieces (originals) are still at Coburg House Shop in Edinburgh for one more weekend, this coming weekend. Just in case you wanted to buy them!
After this weekend they will be heading down to the Mill shop to join the other pieces for sale there. Let’s hope somebody buys them!
Just to let you know, Coburg House in Ediburgh has an open studios weekend coming up, I totally reccomend going. It’s the weekend of 27th and 28th July. There are 80 artist on four floors. Fine art, jewellry, textiles are more. I sadly won’t be there. But you should go! Please also go to the shop this weekend and buy my work!