Category Archives: Writing

Timmy The Turbine: Edinburgh International Science Festival

The Edinburgh International Science Festival launched its 2015 programme earlier this week. I’m really excited to say a science story I’ve written will be running every half an hour (for ages three plus) in the City Art Centre. Turn to page 7 of the programme, bottom right hand corner and you’ll see this:


I wrote about the process of developing and piloting Timmy the Turbine for Vento Ludens here. I’m going to be training the Edinburgh International Science Festival Staff to run Timmy The Turbine soon – looking forward to that!

timmy book

Timmy the Turbine runs from the 4th to the 18th April (not Sundays) in The City Art Centre during the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival. If you know any children how enjoy science and stories, please do send them along. 

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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:


The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!


And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell


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Reviews of the Reviews 2014

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One of the exciting and rather nerve-racking things about publishing a new book is reading reviews. I wanted to thank all the people who took the time to read and review Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014 so I’ve decided to review the reviews in this blog.

Firstly, I should probably mention – Children’s books don’t traditionally get many published reviews. Adults seem to prefer to review adult books. But that doesn’t mean reviews don’t appear in other places. I’ve had reviews on Mum blogs, Dad blogs, Wildlife blogs, online magazines, on Kirkus Review (in New York) and on book sales sites like amazon.

So now to review the reviews. I’m not going to give them stars (anyone who’s taken the time to review Cameron gets five stars in my book already) but it did get me thinking. To review a review, I need to know…

What Makes a Good Review? 

Looking at the reviews I’ve had, I’ve put together my top five things:

  • It tells you enough about the story to make you want to read it but not too much (no spoilers).
  • It gives specifics, why do you like or dislike something? What is it about a character that you enjoyed?
  • It’s personal. We all review things through the filter of who we are and what makes us tick. What did you personally connect with with a book and why? Use language or examples that share a bit of you.
  • It tells a story. I want a beginning, middle and end. I want the journey to stay exciting and I want to find out what happens next.
  • It makes you smile. I guess that’s about connection again, something that makes you laugh or makes you think.

Review of the Reviews

Following the points above, I’ll try my best to review the reviews:

11th Sep, Read It Daddy


In this brilliant blog, I like to think of ‘Read It Daddy’ and his daughter Charlotte as imparting wisdom as picture book reviewing extraordinaires. Just their intro has everything listed above – it’s personal, specific, funny and it sums up the story:

Never call him a grouse! Charlotte mistook him for a pigeon. But he’s one of my favourite birds, he’s Cameron – the Scottish Capercaillie and as awesome as he is, there’s just one problem. Cameron can’t dance!

My favourite line, comes a little later on and it concerns the supporting role in the story, Hazel the red squirrel:

We like to think of Hazel imparting her words of wisdom like a female more-squirrelly Morgan Freeman :)

And I love how Read it Daddy has included video footage of actual dancing capercaillies in the wild at the end. Also a really nice touch is the ‘favourite bits’ comments. Again it’s specifics and showing the child and adult angle on the book.

Thank you Read It Daddy and Charlotte!

24th Sep, Dorkymum Blog


And now for a mum blog, again a wonderful blog. It includes Ruth’s (Dorkymum) gorgeous photographs and her honest reflections on life, parenthood and everything else.

The review is a well written story, it has a beginning, middle and end and it’s personal. Here’s how it begins:

There is nothing that DorkySon loves more than coming home from school to find a parcel waiting for him on the table, and especially so when it contains a new book.

This review is quoted on Amazon and in several other places so evidently my publishers loved it! This is the lines that I keep finding quoted:

Can’t Dance Cameron is a wonderful, gentle wee story about learning to believe in yourself, and discovering what you are good at.

Later she expertly sums up the story in one paragraph and also talks about the importance of connecting with her Scottish routes. Dorky Mum lives in Australia but she’s originally from Scotland.

I think my favourite line is this:

DorkySon thought this was a great book. it made him giggle, but it also made him think – I could almost hear the cogs whirring.

Just because the story behind the story is important to me, about children knowing they can do things even if they do them badly at first and people laugh at them. This is my story too – I’m slightly dyslexic and everyone used to laugh at my spelling, now thanks to others encouraging me – I’m a writer!

Hurrah for Dorkymum and Dorkyson!

16th Oct, Lothian Life Magazine


This review begins more like a news story to be in keeping with the publication. It introduces the Kelpies range of picture books first and then goes on to the latest book, Can’t-Dance-Cameron. That’s where the fun begins. Reviewer Suse takes the story a step beyond any other reviewer by questioning the need to dance. Yep, she really does it – she mentions the M-word:

Now as everyone from the Plaza ballroom in Glasgow to the forest floor in the Cairngorms knows, dancing is an important part of mating, so Cameron is in big trouble. But fortunately for him, he meets a sympathetic squirrel, Hazel, who offers to teach him to dance in exchange for help in finding her lost nuts.

The review continues in a witty style, an adult perspective on a children’s book – very different to the Dad and Mum blog reviews above but still brilliant and reflective of the writer, Suse Cone’s quirky personality.

4th Nov, Kirkus Reviews, New York (Also Magazine – Kirkus Reviews Issue Nov. 14th 2014)


This review came as a surprise to me, I was quite excited to discover Kirkus are based in the USA and they review LOADS of books.

I love the launguage in this review, it’s essentially a summary of the story but with almost poetic narrative:

Can Cameron kick up a capercaillie ceilidh—a shindig, that is, a hoedown, a bird hop—in the ancient evergreen woodlands under the Cairngorms, or is he a grouse with two left feet?

Hazel is described as giving zen guidance and I really enjoyed the description of the dance moves with a feathered Fred Astaire:

He can shimmy (see him shake off those pine needles); he can duck walk (see him limbo under that downed tree); he can kick like a Rockette (see him distract that bobcat by booting a pine cone). Now tie them together on the dance floor—he’s a feathered Fred Astaire.

And it’s interesting to see the location or ‘locale’ (as they put it) being described as ‘exotic, yet very real’. I suppose the cairngorms are exotic if you live in New York.

Thank you Kirkus!

5th November, Scottish Natural Heritage Blog (Scotland’s Nature)


I had an email from Scottish Natural Heritage asking if I was okay with them reviewing Can’t-Dance-Cameron in a post on their nature blog along with several other books – I WAS SO EXCITED!

The other books in the post are adult books, I mentioned at the start of this post that children’s books hardly ever get coverage alongside adult books so this was wonderful news. Plus the other books in the blog are totally amazing so I felt proud and privileged to be included alongside such greatness as ‘H is for Hawk‘ (which just won the Costa Book Prize) and ‘Otters: Return to the River‘ by Laurie Campbell and Anna Leven. I have that book, it’s beautiful!

I love the way this this post is written from a scientific point of view, it uses the word ‘lek’ (that’s the capercaillie dance) and talks about it the book being:

a great tale to get toddlers interested in nature.

My favourite part is the last line:

Lovingly illustrated this is a fine example of how children can be subtly charmed by the wonders of nature and that not all stories need to feature overseas exotica.

Although when I quoted the above on facebook, I had a few comments. It seems people were confusing exotica with a similar word. I’ll say no more but a thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage.



There are 12 reviews on amazon so far. I love these because they do all the things in my top five list above but in a much smaller word count. They include ages of the children who enjoy the book, how it’s read, why the parents enjoyed it and each person seems to have given the review a personal and often comedic slant. For example here’s a couple of quotes from Brian Wilkinson’s review:

Cameron’s untapped potential is released by his friend Hazel and from starting out as a two-left-footed wallflower he turns into the forest’s new Lord of the Dance….

I read this to my son at bedtime (It’s the ideal length for a bedtime story), and he wanted it read again first thing in the morning.

Bill Walsh:

Both my six-year-old and my two-year-old love this book, and request it regularly at bedtime. A great story with lovely illustrations that passes the ‘repeated reading’ test with flying colours.

And Helen Ewan gets the prize for writing the most enthusiastic amazon review. It starts with:

Just read this AMAZING book! Wow. Wow. Wowzer!

You can read the rest of these lovely reviews and many more here.

There’s also a lovely but lonely five star review on goodreads (lonely in that it’s the only one – it’s not written by a lonely person – she sounds amazing) and the awesome ‘Hive‘ has no reviews. The hive is the cheapest place to buy Can’t-Dance-Cameron online just now and includes free delivery to your local independent bookstore who even get a percentage of the profits (did I mention I love the hive?).

So if you’ve been inspired by the reviews above, I’d love to read your review somewhere soon. But can I just say, if you hated Cameron – why not review another book that you loved instead?

With thanks to all the wonderful reviewers of Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014. And to Ben and Eva at Leith Library (featured in the photo at the top).

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Posted by on January 13, 2015 in storytelling, Writing


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Book Week Scotland 2014


That’s me arrived back from the Abu Dhabi Science Festival, just in time for Book Week Scotland! Here’s what I’m up to for the rest of the week:

Wednesday 26th 

I’m taking ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘ to Gorebridge. First I’ll be in Gorebridge Library with local primary school children and then I’m visiting St Andrew’s RC Primary School Primary 1, Primary 2 and nursery classes. I’ll be sharing Cameron’s story along with football pine cones, science experiments, smells of the forest and funky dance moves as part of the Gorebridge Forest Families Project.

Thursday 27th (am)

In the morning I’m at the Read-a-Licious Children’s Book Festival in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. I’m working in partnership with the Puppet State Theatre Company. They’re performing their awesome show, The Man Who Planted Trees and I’m sharing Cameron’s story in two interactive woodland workshops.


Workshops all fully booked.

Thursday 27th (pm)

In the evening I’m part of a panel at Dundee Central Library on ‘Writing for Children and Teens‘. This Publishing Scotland event includes Publisher/Chair – Keith Charters, author Kirkland Ciccone and agent – Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates. More info here.

Venue: Dundee Central Library, Wellgate, Dundee, Angus DD1 1DB
Time: 6 to 7.30pm
Tickets: Free. Email to book a place.

Friday 28th

I’m taking Cameron to Fife. I’ll be at the beautiful Glen Pavillion in the park in Dunfermline at 10.30am and at Lochgelly Theatre, Lochgelly at 1.30pm. Here’s page 14 of the On Fife programme:


Schools programme call 01592 583204 or email to book

Saturday 29th

I’m off to Wigtown in Dunfries and Galloway. It’s my first visit to Scotland’s national book town. I’ll be at Wigtown Primary School at 3pm. Book free tickets here.

Sunday 30th

I’m at Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh for their story session from 11am to 12 noon. I’ll be facilitating some Can’t-Dance-Cameron crafts too:


They tweeted a lovely poster for the event:

And that’s it. Nine events in six local authorities in five days – phew!

Click ‘schools‘ to find out what to expect from my events, you can watch a video trailer and download a teacher information sheet.

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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Education, Events, nature, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Hazel Nut Wins Award

The lovely staff at Floris Books came to work dressed as their favourite book characters on Friday:


From left to right we have

Each character created an individual portrait shot too, find them on facebook here. I was excited to see Leah McDowell dressed as Hazel Nut from my picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘:


When Leah is not pretending to be a red squirrel, she’s the design manager at Floris. She worked with Katie Pamment (my illustrator) to get all the images to look just perfect for Can’t-Dance-Cameron. I worked with an editor on my words, you could say Leah is the equivalent of an editor but for images. Thank you Leah!

Twitter Voting

There was a twitter campaign to vote for your favorite character. I tried to get Bob the red squirrel involved too:

The Winner

Hurrah for Hazel and go Leah! Thanks to everyone who voted.

Floris are the biggest children’s publisher in Scotland. They publish a rage of books for different ages as part of the Kelpies rage. Discover Kelpies on Twitter and Facebook

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Events, nature, Writing


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Can’t Dance Cameron Second Edition

A big box arrived today, copies of the second edition of my first picture book, Can’t-Dance-Cameron:



It felt good to hold it. I wanted to say a big thanks to everyone who’s been buying the book since the launch.

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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Education, nature, storytelling, Writing


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Memories of Maritime Leith

I’m really excited to be starting a new oral history project with Trinity House Maritime Museum and Historic Scotland. This is Trinity House:


In Leith, just down from the Kirkgate Centre it holds a treasure trove of nautical objects, photos and records. Explore the amazing collection online here.

We’re going to be making digital stories with Leith locals to help capture and share some of Leith’s maritime memories. I’m facilitating workshops with museum learning and engagement consultant at Trinity House, Lucy Bull. We’re working to recruit participants in partnership with the Living Memory Association.

Find Out More

If you want to find out more there’s a drop in session at the Living Memory Association venue at Ocean Terminal tomorrow – 2pm with tea and cake (come in the main entrance and turn right, on the ground floor on your right. If you get to Waterstones you’ve gone too far). And we’re running a series of six workshops after that. By the end of the workshops you will have created your very own digital story.


The workshops begin on the 3rd December, download a PDF poster for more information: Memories of Maritime Leith – A4 or see details below:


What is a Digital Story?

A digital story is a two to three minute audio soundtrack with still images over the top. It’s a personal story, in first person and using the voice of the story maker. I’ve been working with the Govan Reminiscience Group and the Britain from Above Project during 2013 and 2014 to help create and share memories as digital stories. Here are two of the brilliant stories the workshop participants made about Govan.

The Plot by Bill Pritchard:

The Promised Land by Colin Quigley

Please pass this on to anyone you think has great stories to share about maritime Leith.

If your interested in Leith History, you might enjoy this post about Leith in 1907 with Millie Gray


Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Education, Events, Media, storytelling, Writing


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