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New Book: Light

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I’m super excited to say my new book ‘Light’ is out now! It’s an educational book published by HarperCollins and aimed at ten-year-olds. Here’s what’s in it:

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Here’s are some sample spreads:

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I love the way the graphics and layout team at Collins make the book look so beautiful. I’m really proud of it – please buy it for all the ten-year-olds you know! I think adults might enjoy it too.

It includes some advanced physics but explained in a normal way. For example this spread is about light years, looking back in time and the speed of light:

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To read more you can request it from your local library or buy it from all good book stores. I recommend supporting your local independent book store and using ethical online book store the hive.

Happy reading!

Thanks to my amazing Editor Leilani Sparrow and my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone at HarperCollins for helping to make this lovely book happen!

Read about the process of writing non-fiction here.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Education, Science, Writing

 

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Chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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This year was my first year of chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

If you’re an author who’s appeared in the book festival but you’ve been too shy to tick the box that says ‘would you be interested in chairing?’ – well I would very much recommend you consider ticking it.

I was shy for three years and I finally discovered this year, I totally love chairing. I much prefer it to doing my own author events but they help. If you’ve been there as an author you’ll know what it’s like to feel really nervous because you’re about to bring a new book to the world and you’ll know how to make it more enjoyable for someone in that position. Also if you work regularly with schools, you’ll know how to interact with an audience so this might be the thing for you!

The chair makes sure everything goes smoothly for the author before, during and after their event. The role includes:

  • Meeting and greeting the author before the event in the authors yurt
  • Taking the author to their event venue
  • Introducing the author on stage with enthusiasm and knowledge (to get the audience excited about the event)
  • Fielding questions and answers with the author and the audience if required
  • Finishing up the author event on stage and reminding the audience they can buy books and get them signed straight after the event
  • Taking the author to the signing tent and shielding them from any over enthusiastic audience members on the way (they can get books signed and ask more questions AT the signing tent – not before!)
  • And finally you escort the author back to the yurt after the signing

But it’s more than these practical things. It’s about making people feel welcome, valued and important at the festival. It’s about helping them to relax and focus on their event because you’ll take care of extra things like orientation.

So here are my top tips for chairing.

1) Introduce yourself and explain your role

You’ll be meeting your author 45 minutes before the event for a public event or 30 minutes before for a schools event so don’t overload them with information. You’ve got a while so mix what you need to get across with being interested and listening to them – put them at ease. After an enthusiastic introduction and chat you could introduce your role like this:

I’m going to introduce you on stage but I’ll also take you to the venue and take you to the signing tent after and we’ll come back here once everything is finished. So if you’ve got questions, I’ll find out the answer for you or if you need anything I can make sure it happens, I’ll probably send someone else to get it for you because my role is to stay with you the whole time so you’ll always have someone from the book festival with you if you need anything.

2) Be enthusiastic

Tell them what you love about their work and be specific  – which book, something you particularly loved. READ THE BOOK THE EVENT IS ABOUT. This may seem really obvious but I was once chaired by someone who told me they hadn’t read the book when they met me – that’s just going to be discouraging and it’s not good enough.

Don’t gush or fan girl / fan boy them. Just one sentence is fine and if they seem to enjoy it say more but they might really want to sit quietly with a coffee before the event so you don’t want to be like Donkey in Shrek with way too much chat. If you’re not sure you could ask “How do you like to prepare for events, do you enjoy chatting or prefer quiet?”

3) Be kind

Ask helpful questions like:

Can I make you a tea or a coffee?

How are you feeling about the event?

Is there anything I can do for you to help during the event?

Listen if they start to tell you about something, don’t be all about your agenda and miss being present and responding to the person. They are the most important person there. If  you’re dying to ask them about their process or why a plot twists happened in book 5 of a trilogy, maybe wait until after the event.

4) Cover everything required

There are chairing notes that get sent to you from the Edinburgh International Book Festival so read them and don’t miss anything. I made a wee check list on a postcard and at some point I said something like “there’s a few things I need to check with you” and I got my list out. I’d already covered most of it but I did things like check the facts I’d researched about them and explained I’d use them as part of their intro on stage. You need to ask if they would like you to field questions and answers at the end of the event or if they would prefer to do it themselves.

It’s really important the event keeps events to time because there’s likely to be another event straight after so you need to mention it. I said something like:

“I have to make sure we keep to time, there’ll be a clock in the venue but it’s quite strict so would you like a five minute or one minute warning before we need to end the event? I’ll come on at around five minuets before the hour to finish up and remind people to buy books and to get everyone to give you a big thank you”

5) Create a buzz about the author and the book

The chairing info suggests looking up some interesting facts about your author. Google them! When I chaired Horrible Science author and illustrator Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles I introduced their books, got very excited about science and then I shared some facts I thought would be relevant to the audience:

Nick Arnold once broke his arm during a Horrible Science author event like this one…. and after the event he signed 75 books and then was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. So boys and girls, whatever happens today… you’ll get your books signed!

Tony used to get told off for doodling in school but now he gets paid to do it and he’s famous for it so if there’s something you love doing now, you never know, even if your teachers tell you off for it… it could end up being your job in the future!

When I was chairing Tim Warnes it was for a younger audience so I wanted to say less and be more visual. I still shared a fact (that Tim and his wife have illustrated over 200 books between them – wow amazing!) but then I used something from the story.

In Tim’s books ‘Dangerous!’ and ‘Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits’ there is a character called mole who loves labeling things. So I made some giant labels with what I thought about the books. There was ‘Brilliant!’ and ‘Fun’ and I stuck them up and held up the books and said what a treat we were all in for and finally I said we had one label left, it was ‘Tim Warnes’, but where was he? And that’s how we brought him up onto the stage.

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6) Sell books

Before and after each event I told the children that they could get a signed copy of the book  at Edinburgh International Book Festival after the event. I held up the books and talked about how great they were.

With the schools event I told the children at the end of the event that they all had £3 vouchers so they could get £3 off the book and I explained that even if they couldn’t get the book today, they could come back with their Mum or Dad or Grandad or Grandma or Aunties and Uncles and use their voucher to get this brilliant book because it would still be in the shop!

If you don’t explain this the children will go into the brilliant shop with a voucher and millions of books to choose from and they might choose one they’ve not read or one that’s for older children or one that’s got a game with it. But if they get a book signed by the author they’ve just seen they’ll remember that forever! So it’s okay to make a big deal about the fact that there’s a chance to meet the author and buy a book and get it signed. That’s what book festivals are all about. I did this at both events and everyone bought lots of books and the publicists were very pleased and thanked me for it!

7) Be yourself!

You being genuinely you will put them at ease. It’s a chance for you to meet an awesome creative human being.

So that’s my top tips for chairing. If you’re a seasoned chair I’d love to hear you tips too! And if you haven’t chaired before, I hope this will encourage you to do it!

I’ll leave you with the lovely books the authors signed for me, after their events:

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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in Education, Science, Writing

 

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Adventures in Sketching

I recently spent a lovely week visiting relatives in England. I set myself the challenge of sketching every day. Mostly because it’s a fun, relaxing thing to do on holiday. But also because I’d love to illustrate my own books and I want to get better. My illustration mentor, John Fardell has been telling me to sketch every day for a long while. So finally I made the time to do it. Here’s how I got on:

DAY ZERO: SUNFLOWER

The day before I left a stylus arrived – I had my first go at sketching on my ipad with the notes app:

Then I downloaded the paper app to try that next…

DAY ONE: WOBBLY OTTER (all the pens, paintprush and pencil)

wobblyotterI sketched this on the train so it’s not precise. It was my first go with the paper app and only my second go at sketching on an ipad so it was all about getting used to it. I enjoyed trying the different pens and colours and seeing which ones blend and which override the one below. I love otters!

DAY TWO: SCOTTIE DOG (Dip pen and a little bit of pencil)

scottiedogI’m writing a book about a worm and a scottie dog just now so that’s why I chose to draw him! I google image searched for ‘scottie dog’ and chose one I liked. He was on my phone while I sketched on the ipad. I was really pleased with the result.

DAY THREE: OSCAR (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

oscarI was missing my lovely cat so I thought I’d draw him. He’s all black so that was a challenge but I realised the great thing about digital drawing is, you can add lighter colours over the top of darker ones. In real life that doesn’t really work so I made the most of that, building up the dark colours first and adding the light after. It even looks like him (:

DAY FOUR: QUICK MINI (Dip pen) AND A NEPHEW (Dip pen, paintbrush)mini

My sister picked up an amazing new mini! I love minis and really enjoyed sketching the light on something shiny!

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I also tried to sketch my nephew from a photo but it went a bit wrong and aged him by about ten years – he looks like someone else:nephewI tried to get the mouth right so many times and eventually gave up and just did a little line! So I learnt mouths are hard and maybe I should stick to animals.

DAY FIVE: BROUGHTON FOX (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

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The Broughton Spurtle were having a competition to find foxes in Broughton and I noticed a fab photo of a fox by Camera Stellata:

I thought I’d go for some colour this time, I really loved building up the colours in layers and adding texture and inking over lines. I was really pleased with this – it looks 3D and I like his face!

DAY SIX: PTARMIGAN (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

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I love rare Scottish birds – I’ve written books about a black grouse and a capercaillie. Earlier this year I had a wonderful experience sitting next to a pair of Ptarmigan up Cairngorm. Here’s a picture I took with my phone of one of them:

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They have white feathers in winter and black feathers in summer and they change to half and half in spring and autumn. They’re pretty cool as birds go! Here’s the lovely photo by Ben Dolphin that I sketched from:

I also added some lettering – my writing is quite messy, I’m a bit dyslexic but I’ve been encouraged by illustrators like Oliver Jeffers who use messy letters as part of their illustrations and thought I’d have a go – I like it!

DAY SEVEN: QUICK WILLOW (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)

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I had a lovely day on my Dad’s canal boat. I just had ten minutes after lunch to sketch one of the willows before we moved on along the canal (and I was needed for locks!). It’s an impression but I think it could work as a style for a background in a picture book? If you screw your eyes up it suddenly looks real so I like that about it! Here’s the canal in real life:

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DAY EIGHT: NIECE (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)IMG_20160720_003611My final day of the trip and I’d forgotten to sketch until the plane ride home. A friend had said they thought I should try people again so I decided to give it one more go and sketched a picture of my niece in the time it took to complete the journey. The only problem is my style went a bit realistic rather than children’s illustration. It’s a bit too intense. Then I tried to make the eyes less realistic. But it’s just a bit of a weird mishmash of styles.

One of the best bits is the clothes and I just did them really quick! But one good thing is, her mouth! It looks like a real mouth so at least I improved at something. I ran out of time to finish this but it’s something I can come back to. People are hard!

AND NOW…

I’ll keep going. The best thing was I totally loved doing it. I improved. I got excited every time I finished a sketch and I wanted to show someone – kind of like being a kid again. It’s nice to feel that. Thanks to the people who encouraged me when I sent photos and posted them on my facebook page, twitter and instagram.

Sketching made me get up earlier to sketch before the day started. I felt happy and excited. Even if I never illustrate my own books – I think I’ll make sketching part of life!

Thanks to John Fardell for all the illustration encouragement. And to Elspeth Murray for being an awesome Ipad sketcher and making Ipad sketching a thing.  And to Stuart for convincing me a stylus would work on my Ipad, even though I’d tried five and even called the apple help line (who said a stylus was ‘unsupported’ on the ipad mini). Turns out you can even use sausages

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in illustration, nature, Writing

 

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Before the Light Came

Sometime in 2014 I was invited to respond to a short section of archive film with creative writing. The request came from Filmpoem artist Alastair Cook. I’d responded once before to a 20 second Filmpoem (20 poets – 20s of film each) back in 2012 and really enjoyed the challenge. I also worked with Alastair and children at North Lights Arts Festival to help the children create their own film poem, Shaking Shells.

This time I was one of several poets who responded, we each got given a section of silent film and none of us saw each other’s footage. The short film has now been published with Rachel McCrum‘s beautiful voice narrating the piece.

At the time when the request came, I’d been listening to a series of podcasts about the illusive nature of happiness, if you try to chase after it or hold onto it – it slips through your fingers. I work with children lots and they laugh loads more than we do. I was thinking about how they seem to be better at happiness. They create things, like a lovely piece of art, and then they give it away. It goes something like this:

I love this star. I made this star. YAY it’s finished! I want you to have it! See you later…

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And then they’re off, doing something else. I studied physics so I often think about science when I’m writing too. In my piece of film there were people fishing – it looked like they were trying to catch light. I thought about the nature of light and it being like happiness and I thought about the things we try to do to prepare for happiness – when I get this job or this house or this relationship… I’ll be happy. But actually that doesn’t work.

So my poem is about chasing after happiness – trying to contain it and keep it. And how children just give it away and we need to be more like them if we want to be happy. With light as the metaphor – because it’s a wave (travelling through) and a particle. And we’re all made from stars:

Before the light came, we travelled in straight lines, with sunglasses in our bags.
Later, when it arrived we tried to catch it in our hands. Our jam jars labeled ‘photons’.

She was only three, but she knew how to share. Almost as soon as she held it, she gave it away. Without fear. Without loss.

She stayed bright, while the rest of us turned to shadows.

You can see my section as part of the beautiful Filmpoem Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared):

Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared) from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

It was amazing to see how well the individually written pieces worked together as a whole. Here’s how Alastair describes the complete piece on his website:

Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.

All images and films are copyright Alastair Cook 2016 unless expressly indicated otherwise.

My next book is a science book for children and by coincidence, it’s about Light!
 
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Film, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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Cover Reveal: Light

I’m excited to share the beautiful front cover of my new book ‘Light’ published by HarperCollins for Collins Primary:

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It’s a science school book for children age 10. I’ve been working on colour proofs the last couple of weeks – that’s when the manuscript you’ve written comes back with all the photos and diagrams on it. All the text is laid out beautifully around the pictures and you make any last changes to text or diagrams.

The book includes shadows, reflection, prisms and discoveries by famous scientists like Einstien, Newton and Galileo. It covers the speed of light, lightning, light years, eclipses, bioluminescence and light in the future (inventions to bend light and make us invisible and laser stitches!).

I was expecting the cover to be the Northern Lights – but I was super excited to see the trees. I love that it captures the beauty of science, that’s what the book is about – light is amazing! Everything we see we can only see because of light. Everything in the world depends on the speed of light. I’ve also got a thing for woods and light, this is my bedroom wall:

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The book will be published in September. You can pre-order it online now.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

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Mining Memories with Primary Two

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What would it be like to be a canary called CoCo working down the Kinneil Pit? Or a pit cat? Or a pit pony? Or an 11-year-old boy on his first day down the mine? Five and six-year olds from Bo’ness Primary School imagined they were the animals and children down the mine. They wrote these amazing stories:

I’ve been working with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative to create digital stories about mining with primary school children. I’m writing a series of blogs to share their mining memories. This first post is stories by Primary Two at Bo’ness Public Primary School. I’ll tell you a bit more about the project:

Digital Stories

Digital stories are short audio sound tracks (less than 3 minuets) with still images over the top. They’re personal stories in the story makers own voice. I previously worked on three digital story projects with Britain from Above, The Govan Reminiscence Group and with Historic Scotland’s Trinity House. You can read about that project here.

This was unusual because it was creating digital stories but imagining the perspective instead of it being a storymaker telling their true story. It was also working with primary two children (age five and six) instead of adults. And we imagined we were animals!

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The project started with storytelling workshops in class – we chatted about what makes a good story and using our imagination and memories to come up with lots of ideas. I told them an animal story and set them a brief to create their own short stories from the perspective of a pit animal. At first the pit ponies were wearing sparkley tutus and loved dancing but we talked about how great their use of imagination was and what a good idea it was to think about things like clothes and feelings – what would a pit pony wear to go down the pit? How might they feel going down the mine? They got back to work and learned one of the most important lessons about writing – it’s all about rewriting!

The class went on a visit to the National Mining Museum Scotland and had a talk about the roles of animals and children in the Mine from the Maria Ford, Chairperson of the Friends of Kinneil Trust.

They had budgies in the classroom so we talked about how the budgies might feel and what it would be like to be a canary. Then the children worked with their class teacher Mrs McNab to create beautiful books:

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And amazing canaries in cages:

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And 3D pit ponies with coal carts: Photo 11-03-2016, 12 55 52

And fields for the pit ponies to play in:

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I’d popped back in to see how they were getting on half way through the project and was amazed by their new and improved stories and all the beautiful artwork.I came back again at the end of the project to photograph their artwork and to record the children reading their stories.

After that I edited the audio soundtrack and images together to create the YouTube stories shared above. We screened them along with stories from other classes at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness. It was so good to see the children’s amazing stories being celebrated in style on the big screen in a cinema!

This post is part of a series sharing the work from the Mining Memories Project. The next post in this series will be sharing primary five and primary six digital stories about the miners strike from the perspective of pick axes, bits of coal and even Margaret Thatcher!

 
 

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I am a Dinosaur

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I’m a dinosaur in a spoken word show in the Science Festival. It’s an adult show.  I’ve written a monologue from the perspective of Dracorex Hogwartsia. If you’ve not heard of her, well I am.. or I was a really awesome dinosaur with spikes and horns. The name translates to dragon king of Hogwarts – yeah.. the Harry Potter dinosaur.

But they discovered I was actually a juvinile Pachycephalosaurus. The dinosaur more commonly known as a bone head. Which really sucks. The cool spikes and horns disappear when I get older.

The show starts with my relegation from dinosaur status. I’ve been demoted like Pluto when he lost his ‘planet’. And I’ve arrived in some sort of limbo where the demoted dinosaurs rant and drink tea. It’s a support group. Or something like that. And that’s our show. Based on real science. Questioning what it means to exist and what happens when science gets it wrong.

So who are the demoted dinosaurs? 

  • LIBYCOSAURUS (the ever optimistic) played be Beth Godfrey, written by Sarah Thewlis
  • AGROSAURUS (hater of humans) played by Sian Hickson, written by Sian Hickson
  • ARCHAEORAPTOR (the missing link) played by Lewis Hou, Written by Lewis Hou
  • AACHENOSAURUS (the sarcastic philosopher) played by Andrew Blair, written by Andrew Blair
  • UNICEROSAURUS (the preacher) played by Ricky Brown, written by Ricky Brown and Nerd Bait Band
  • DRACOREX (the confused) that’s me

The show idea and direction come from Sarah Thewlis. Co director and tech support comes via Chris Scott. Hope to see you there!

The Illicit Ink show ‘Linnaean Limbo: The Dinosaurs That Never Were’ is at the enatomy lecture theatre at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival on Monday 4th April. Tickets are £8.50. Get tickets here.

 
 

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