Category Archives: Education

Feeling Better

I’ve not been blogging as much as usual these last couple of months. The truth is I’ve not been doing most things as much because I’ve been a bit poorly with my back. It started mid September and got gradually worse and then very slowly better. I recently had an MRI scan and it turns out three of my disks were prolapsed (slipped) and the bottom one was compressing my nerve on the right side.

The good news is, I’m loads better now. So much better that I’m off the strong pain killers, I can walk okay and I bought some lovely new football boots – I’ve just joined a five aside league and I’m hoping to start playing next week – back depending!



I wanted to say a big thanks to the people who knew what was happening and who dropped round meals and generally kept my spirits up by being in touch and just acting like normal lovely people. Special thanks to my flatmate Rhian! I’ve had severe back pain before – a couple of years ago it took me out for around 3 months so this time I was better at dealing with it. Here are some things I learned last time, that helped me get through it better this time around:

  • Ask for help

I’m not good at doing this but I did it early on this time. Just an email to a few friends explaining the situation and asking if folk could drop round a meal if they had time or be in touch or pray for me.

  • Think weather

A couple of years back when it was really bad my physiotherapist said you need to look at a week overall and think weather – it might be raining right now and today’s weather looks worse than yesterday but overall has the week been better than last week? That way when you have a bad day it doesn’t seem quite so discouraging and you can hopefully see a gradual improvement.

  • Lower expectations

I’ve always been an over achiever. I’m now a recovering perfectionist. If you’re used to expecting a lot from yourself and then you can hardly do anything it’s incredibly discouraging. I’d start to feel a bit better and plan a full day of things including getting up early to fit it all in. Then I’d sleep through three alarms and feel exhausted and end up disappointed because I couldn’t do much at all. So I got used to expecting less. I’d maybe have one thing to aim for in a day. Doing some writing. Going to an event.

  • Take every day as it comes

You just don’t know how you’re going to be so it’s hard to plan for pain and also, there’s no point worrying about tomorrow either. Just be wherever you are at the time. Which I know is easier said then done.

  • Find ways around things

Walking or standing aggravated my back and after a few minutes of either I’d be in a lot of pain. So as I got better I drove to things, even very short distances. And sat or crouched down when standing became too hard. My car spectacularly failed its MOT and is now scrapped so in desperation, I tried cycling to a Pilates one evening. Because it was sitting – I was okay. After that I started cycling – it was so good to be able to get some exercise and get around but without hurting my back.

  • Don’t let fear stop you

Because it can suddenly become quite painful, it’s easy not to go out because you’re scared. I knew that fear could make my world smaller and smaller until I’d end up hardly doing anything. Then I’d feel quite miserable and that makes the pain worse. So I did my best to do things, even if I didn’t stay long. Even if it hurt and it was all I could do that day.

Lovely Wigtown Book Festival

I had four events at Wigtown Book Festival near the end of September when my back was still quite bad. I was still on prescription painkillers and I wasn’t sure how it would go.

I made contingency plans for the first two ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘ schools events with 500 children. I could get volunteers up on the stage to show them the capercaillie dance moves if I couldn’t do them. I could do the whole event sitting down if I had to. I didn’t take the super strong pain killers the night before because I knew I’d never get up in time and I asked people to pray. I didn’t sleep but despite that, it actually went really well. I was able to stand and even dance on the stage and give the children my full energy. Here are some sketches Shoo Rayner drew at the event:



Lots of teachers came up to say how much they’d enjoyed the event and they didn’t know about my back so they weren’t just being nice. The shop sold out of one of my books at the first event too so that was amazing. I got to sit for the signing so that gave my back time to recover between events.

I headed to the author’s yurt for lunch with my hot water bottle and enjoyed the lovely food (yes that is lobster!):


And lovely people, the volunteers, the staff, Shaun at the Bookshop, the authors – Robert Twigger took some fab black and white photos of us all and added them to the message board every day:


and later I visited my wonderful chairperson Renita’s house and spent the afternoon there drinking tea and resting. That evening I went to a magical storytelling evening based on ‘the moth‘ but called ‘the midge’. I was enjoying myself so much I even joined in with a story myself.


And after that I still felt okay so I went along to book at bedtime – hot chocolate in the bookshop and a poetry reading from Peggy Hughes. It was such a lovely day and there’s such a wonderful welcome and atmosphere at Wigtown. I didn’t want to leave! So that was one of my best and most unexpectedly well days.

The next day I had a swim with Renita’s dog, walking to the water hurt but then the cold water hit me and the pain went – it was really good for my back.


(Thanks to Renita Boyle for the video and photo!)

And later that evening it was Rally and Broad:


with the wonderful Bookshop Band:


I loved being part of the event with such brilliant performances from everyone (and a great audience!). There wasn’t a theme for the event so I based my set on all things at Wigtown.

And the final day was a family event for the Grouse and the Mouse – many of the rooms in the school had been transformed into magical fairy-light lit venues for the festival. It was amazing!


(thanks to festival photographer Colin Tennant for this photo)

And before I traveled back to Edinburgh I saw ‘To Begin’, a moving show from the National Theatre of Scotland based on the real stories of the people of Wigtown (with lots of local people acting in the show too).


So a big thanks to everyone at Wigtown for having me. I loved it and I’m looking forward to coming back soon.


Another lovely festival I visited at the beginning of September (before my back got bad) was Tideslines Book Festival. I had a couple of events in schools


and then a public event in a theater with my first ever Hollywood style dressing room:


And after the event the festival had organised a whole host of nature crafts with rangers and artists. Here’s a black grouse made from a pine cone:


The rangers had slugs and bugs and fox fur you could feel:


And the children had loads of fun too:


Next week it’s Book Week Scotland and I’m really looking forward to these events – it’s so good to be feeling better again and I’ll just make sure I get plenty of rest in between.


Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Education, Events, storytelling


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Writing Non-fiction: Volcanoes

I was so excited when I first saw the colour proofs of my new book Volcanoes. The book is published by HarperCollins and is a school book aimed at children aged 8 and 9 years. I’d written instructions for photos and diagrams but the result on the page was visually far more beautiful than I could have ever had imagined:


Team Effort

That’s what I love about writing books – the culmination of lots of people’s creativity comes together to make an end product far better than the sum of its parts. So many people are an integral part of the process, my agent (Lindsey Fraser), my editor (Leilani Sparrow), the illustrator (Ann Paganuzzi) and people like my brother-in-law (Greg Holland) who checked over the science and my parents, who helped spell check my first drafts.

The Process

I learnt loads during the process of writing Volcanoes. I wanted to share a bit of that with you, in case you’re interested in writing non-fiction for children. I’ve broken non-fiction writing down into five stages:

  • Pitching
  • Planning
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Graphics

I’ll try to share as much of the process with you as I can.

Stage 1: Pitching

My agent Lindsey Fraser got in touch with a few of her writers to say HarperCollins were looking for someone to write a book on volcanoes. It included details about what was required:

  • word length (2800 – 3000 words)
  • number of pages (48)
  • age aimed at (8-9 years)

Was this something I would be interested in?


Was the answer.

Except I wrote my answer in a more expanded form via email. If you get a chance to pitch for something you want to try to demonstrate why you might be the perfect person for the job. I wanted to show a mixture of experience, passion and background knowledge. Here’s what I put:

Hi Lindsey,

This sounds brilliant – I’d love to pitch to write ‘Volcanoes‘. I’d need a clear brief and samples of the style they’re looking for but assuming this would follow? In terms of timing this is perfect – I’ve got weekend events and book festivals in October but could write during the week on this. Here are a few points I think are in my favour:

I have relevant background knowledge with a degree in Geophysical Sciences and a Masters in Communicating Science.

During my 2 year post as Education Officer at Our Dynamic Earth Edinburgh I created and presented shows and workshops on Earth Sciences (including volcanoes).

My original educational writing is a best practice case study on Education Scotland:

I have written science show workshops for National Museums Scotland, Dynamic Earth Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, Changeoworks, Edinburgh International Science Festival and the Scottish Seabird Centre.

My commercial non fiction writing includes a dinosaur kids club magazine, toilet science posters and developing new ideas for science shows for the BBC and for independent production companies.

I created the series treatment for CBeebies Science Show Nina and the Neurons for an earth science based series ‘Earth Explorers’ – this series was commissioned based on my work and I worked as a screenwriter for four of the episodes.

I wrote an Eco Power Pack for upper primary school children (published by Changeworks).

I most recently wrote a 50 page non fiction book for adults – ‘Tales from Our Wild Park’ for Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This engaging biodiversity action plan launched in Glasgow Queen Street Station with the Environment Minister in August 2014. The John Muir Trust describe it as the best example of biodiversity writing they have ever seen and are now giving copies to everyone who does the John Muir Award. More about that here:

I can drop a copy of ‘Tales from Our Wild Park’ in on the way to the Lit Salon later? Around 5? If you like I can show you my sketch book too (:

Also I’m doing a science writing event at Porty Book Fest with Anna Claybourne – she wants to get into TV science writing so I think she’d help me with the pitch for this if I helped her with a TV pitch in the future (assuming she’s not going for this too). See

Thanks loads for thinking of me,


Unfortunately it took me a couple of hours to put this mixture of passion and experience together and by the time I’d done it, the job had gone to someone else. I was gutted. But Lindsey sent my email on to HarperCollins for future reference and that was that.

A couple of weeks later, the person got the job decided it wasn’t right for them and at that point HarperCollins asked Lindsey if they could have me. Suddenly I was in with a chance. With the first hurdle over, the hardest bit started. Creating a plan for a good book!


Volcanoes cover

I had the title, ‘Volcanoes’, that was all.  Now I needed a structure, that’s chapter headings and content for 19 double page spreads. The whole book needed to flow and each spread build enough knowledge for the next one. For example you need to know about the structure of the Earth and the tectonic plates before you can understand why lava comes out of the Earth in between plates.

I got all the HarperCollins Big Cat series books for that age out of the library so I could see the style I was writing to. I also ordered all the books on Volcanoes on Edinburgh Libraries system and I read them all.

I researched the school curriculum for key stage two, I drafted and redrafted my plan.

I asked Anna Claybourne for help. She’s a brilliant non fiction writer I’d met because we were on a panel together talking about science writing at Portobello book festival. I wanted to see a synopsis for a book and she kindly sent me one of hers for the same series. This was so helpful because I got to see the style of a successful pitch.

Because I was new to the publishers they wanted a double page spread writing sample as well as a synopsis. The synopsis contains chapter headings and a description on what specifically would be covered in each spread. I chose the introductory spread ‘what is a volcano’ and I wrote the next spread too because it was good practice for me.

I worked on the synopsis and samples spreads and sent them to my agent and then to my editor at HarperCollins. They made suggestions and I worked on these and when the editor was satisfied she sent it to her boss, the commissioning editor for feedback.

It came back with some suggestions, bits they liked about the book for example ‘volcanoes in space’ and case studies of volcanoes illustrating the science – could I add more of these? And bits they didn’t like for example, could I take out a spread because it seemed too young or reword another because it seemed too advanced.

The same happened with my writing sample. There were bits I needed to take out e.g. treacle as an analogy for lava (because it doesn’t work in translation and this book is translated into 40 languages) and bits I needed to clarify or explain better. In general, I was too expressively excited, there were too many funny bits and I needed a more straightforward writing style.

I found this stage the hardest because it was me learning to write less like me and more in their style. It’s hard to delete or change ideas you’ve spent a long time getting right. But as my agent reminded me, it’s a popular series of books around the world and it has to be right in their eyes not mine – one bad book could cause a country to pull out of the series all together. I needed to change to their way of doing things and not the other way around. So I did just that, I learned to write the way they wanted me to write and where I believed something was essential for the book I justified why I thought we should keep it, the relevance of the science or why it was needed to build knowledge but it wasn’t about me, it was about making the book as good as possible for the series.

And although this was the hardest process it was also really rewarding when I got into the zone of writing the way they wanted me to and the new versions of the synopsis and my text for Volcanoes were signed off.


Then it was time for the next big task, writing the book!


This was my favourite bit. I had a clear plan and I just needed to get on with it. I had a few weeks to write it and I sent versions to family members to check for spelling and to my brother-in-law (who lectures first year geology at University) to check the science.

I love the challenge of explaining advanced science in a simple way but without losing the science. It was brilliant to get feedback from people who didn’t have a background knowledge – just a question like “what does that mean?” was enough to make me realise I’d assumed a level of background knowledge or not explained something clearly. That’s why working with an editor was great (see Editing section!).


The book has pictures and diagrams throughout. I had to come up with what the pictures and diagrams would show to best illustrate the text and explain the science. I also needed to describe any diagram clearly if I wanted the illustrator to draw it. I’d often include a link to something similar on the internet and I’d add notes e.g. like this, but not in 3D.

I’d say what I wanted photos to be but sometimes I’d put a few options because I know they’d need to find photos from a catalogue of images. Certain things though were quite specific e.g. Lava fields in Iceland needed to be just that.



My agent checked over it at later stages and then I submitted it to my brilliant editor and she gave me feedback before passing it on to the commissioning editor. We’d often do that in a chat over the phone – I loved those chats – she’d say something that was wrong and I’d come up with a solution or we’d come up with one together. It would remind me that this is what I love doing – problem solving and explaining science.

Once I’d heard back from the commissioner I’d make changes within a week and she’d get back to me again with anything else.There’s not many words per spread so every word matters and if you add clarification somewhere you’d needed to reduce something else to take into account those extra words. For example I had to add captions for diagrams and photos so I used words from within the text because otherwise we’d go over the word limit.

Later I got back colour proofs with all of the photos and diagrams, it was amazing to see it at that stage – looking like a book and so exciting. At that point I made lots of small suggestions like adding an arrow for clarification or moving a photo to the other page on the spread so it was next to the text describing it.

What’s next?

Since writing Volcanoes, I’ve been commissioned to write another non-fiction school book – hurrah! So once you’ve got one written, if you do a good job and you’re a nice person to work with, you’re likely to get more work. I’m currently in the editing process of that book so I can’t tell you anymore then that. I’m also putting together a few pitches for other nonfiction books for children with my agent so fingers crossed for those.

First Reviews

A friend bought volcanoes for her 8 year old son who is doing volcanoes as a topic in school. He got really excited when he opened it – he read the whole thing in one go and asked if he could write a review on amazon!

I hope you write another book because this one is really good.

This was the first time he’s asked to review anything and he reads lots of science books. This was really lovely encouragement for me – thank you Connor, it makes it all worth while. Read his review on amazon here.

If you’d like to read Volcanoes you can request it from your local library or buy volcanoes at your local Waterstones or book shops or buy it online. Thanks to everyone who helped make this book happen! 

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Education, illustration, Science, Writing


Tags: , , , , ,

A lovely surprise

I popped into my local Waterstones at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. I was collecting a book I’d ordered. While I was there, I walked over to the picture book section to see if I could see my books. I was met with the most lovely surprize:


Massive thanks to the folk at Waterstones for doing this! I’ve never seen a recommendation in a book shop for one of my books so it totally made my day. I offered to sign all the copies in the shop after that.

On the subject of surprises, I was sent a lovely video from Alex Howard of his lovely wee friend opening her surprise, a copy of the Grouse and the Mouse. Is Bagpipe secretly a chicken?!:

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Education, Environment, Writing


Tags: , , , , ,

Nina and the Neurons: Get Building

I’m excited to let you know a new series of BBC Children’s science show Nina and the Neurons begins on the CBeebies channel today at 4.30pm. The series is called ‘Get Building’ and it’s all about exploring how structures are made, both man made and in nature.

Nina building

I loved writing for the series, I’ll add the times and titles of my episodes below once they’ve been released. I hope you enjoy them!

Wed 23rd Sep, 4.30pm: Arches

Mon 28 Sep, 4:30pm: Living Underground

Read more about previous series I’ve worked on by clicking the links below.

Get Sporty

Earth Explorers

Go Engineering

1 Comment

Posted by on September 7, 2015 in Education, Media, nature, Science, Writing


Tags: , , , , ,

The Grouse and the Mouse Book Launch

19598538370_cdae03474a_h (1)

Earlier this month I launched my new picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones. Here are the highlights of the launch thanks to photographer Chris Scott (and to all of you who tweeted your own pictures too!).

We arrived at the venue to discover these amazing birds were already waiting for us:

Eyebrows were painted red, just like Bagpipe the black grouse by Katie Smith. Katie is the friend who the book is dedicated too – read more about that here:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

My lovely editor Eleanor Collins introduced the evening:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch
I introduced the audience to the characters from the story, Squeaker the wood mouse, Bagpipe the black grouse and also some of the minor characters – this is the fox from the story:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I had some help to demonstrate how camouflage works:

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

The Grouse and the Mouse launch

I introduced the highland cow from the story, MacMoo with a true of false quiz:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Most of the audience think what I’m saying to them is MacMoo True:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

But this statement is definitely Poo False:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Then it was time for the story with actions (Squelch Squelch):
The Grouse and the Mouse launchRound of applause from a lovely audience: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was a Q and A hosted by poet and friend (with red eyebrows) Elspeth Murray:
The Grouse and the Mouse launchThanks to everyone who asked questions: The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And there were lots of thank yous to be said:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

And then it was book signing, I got to meet my illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones for the first time that night too! We signed books together:
The Grouse and the Mouse launch

Here are some of my favourite tweets about the event:

Huge thanks to everyone who came along and made the evening so lovely! Special thanks to the children, seeing your reaction and enthusiasm for the book made my night.

Thanks to photographer Chris Scott for these wonderful photos. You can see more photos in the album from the book launch here

The Grouse and the Mouse is published by Floris Books in the Picture Kelpies range. It is for sale now at all good book stores. Help your local independent book store by buying it online from the Hive. If you enjoyed it, please review it on Amazon! You might also enjoy ‘Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story‘.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ready to Launch

Tomorrow I launch my second picture book, The Grouse and the Mouse:


I don’t want to say to much about the story in case you’re coming tomorrow, so for now I’ll just share the text from the back cover:

back cover

Today I’ve felt pretty nervous, I went for a swim earlier to try to swim off my nervous energy. That helped a bit. My friend Katie arrived later today, that helped a lot! This is Katie:


She’s the friend I’ve dedicated the book to. She cried when she first read the book (in a good way). The Grouse (Bagpipe) thinks he knows what’s best for the Mouse (Squeaker) and keeps trying to get him to change the way he’s doing things

“It must be awful to have such a bendy tail, you need a stick to straighten it out”

and so on. But he’s looking at things from a grouse perspective and his advice isn’t right for a mouse. Squeaker, thankfully, is happy with the way he is. He’s confident enough not to let his friend’s strong opinions persuade him to be anything he’s not.

I’ve not always been confident enough to stand up for myself like that, I’ve found myself being shaped by other people’s opinions (especially people that matter to me) but to the point where I’m not being me. Which isn’t good! It’s something I’m working on – I guess I’m trying to be more like Squeaker the wood mouse. And that’s a journey Katie has been on too, she’d been becoming more and more like Squeaker so that’s why I’ve dedicated the book to her.

Earlier today the stickers arrived, they’re to remind everyone to ‘Be yourself’


Stickers via

I’m more or less ready for tomorrow. My presentation includes Laurie Campbell’s beautiful wildlife photos, here’s a sneak preview of one of them:

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

And I’m excited to be using this piece of audio at the launch too – Martin Garnett’s black grouse recording. They sound quite spooky don’t they?:

(click the orange play button)

There will be a chance to get your eyebrows done in grouse red or any other colour you like. And there will be wine and nibbles and black grouse style bum wiggling and an opportunity to hear the story. The illustrator, Kirsteen Harris-Jones is coming too so you can get your book signed by her and me. Hopefully see you there!

If you don’t have your ticket already, get one here.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, nature, Science, Writing


Tags: , , , , , ,

Scottish Library Energiser Launch

Last week was a week of royal baby stories and election coverage. But there was also the launch of the Scottish Library Energiser competition on page two of the Herald:


Yes that is actually me! I’ve never been page two of a paper before. I was taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the launch of the competition at the beautiful newly renovated central children’s library with the Royal Mile Primary School as special guests.

Emily and co

The children’s library has shelves all over the walls in the shapes of tree branches and a tree house you can read books in! There are paintings taken from book illustrations and funky lighting too.

If you have good ideas to make your school library more exciting or maybe a list of books you would like your school to buy then why not enter the competition?

The Scottish Library Energiser competition is run by the ScottishPower Foundation and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It gives schools a chance to win a £2000 makeover for their school library. Find out how your school can enter here

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, storytelling


Tags: , , , , , ,


Writer, Reader, Kind of Spritely Looking

Gill Arbuthnott's Weblog

children's weblog


words and pictures


Words inspired by moving images


subjects, objects, verbs

Great Big Jar

A great big jar of bloggyness


on Scotland's West Coast


A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Yay! YA+

Scotland's First Festival Dedicated To YA Fiction...And More!

Scotland's Nature

Scottish Natural Heritage

The Accidental Monastic

Reflecting. Relating. Living. Obeying.

Lou Treleaven

Children's author and playwright

Scran Salon

Edinburgh's monthly food shindig

The Grove Community Garden

Fountainbridge Comes Alive Through Community

Forest Families

Promoting play in nature

Home Is Where The Cake Is

Creating real food recipes and cakes and baking delectable vintage afternoon teas


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 249 other followers

%d bloggers like this: