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A win for Black Powder at the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards 2017

I spent a lovely afternoon in mid November with a bunch of cracking teachers and fellow authors and illustrators at the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards (NSTBA) grand finale in Weston-Super-Mare, eating cake and hearing more about the sackful of amazing shortlisted books.

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I’d been lucky enough to receive a shortlisting in the ‘Moving On’ category of the competition for Black Powder. The competition was extremely tough – the other books in the category were Fleur Hitchcock’s Murder in Midwinter, Sarah Driver’s The Huntress – Sea and Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere. So, as you can probably imagine, I was over the moon when it was announced that Black Powder had won.

I also really enjoyed catching up again with author, Hilary Robinson and illustrator, Martin Impey, who had been on the judging panel for the Historical Association Young Quills Award 2017 (check out a story about this below) and won in the ‘Quality Fiction’ in the NSTBA category for their gorgeous First World War story, A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan.

Ally with Martin Impey and Hilary Robinson

Ally with fellow NSTBA winners, Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey, author and illustrator of ‘A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan’

And it was great to see my chum, Patty Toht on the big screen, beamed all the way from Chicago, Illinois, as she spoke about her book, All Aboard the London Bus, illustrated by Sam Usher, which was shortlisted in the Poetry category of the competition.

I’d like to thank Sue Wilsher and her amazing team of teachers, librarians and volunteers who organise the awards and put so much hard work and time in to longlisting and then shortlisting the books. And also for the very warm and cake-filled welcome they gave to me and all the other shortlistees and guests on the day. North Somerset you are VERY lucky to have them!

And thank you to Lady for modelling the Black Powder book cover so beautifully!

 

Another wonderful shortlisting!

I’m delighted to announce that Black Powder has been shortlisted for the fantastic North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award 2017 in the ‘Moving On’ category. It’s up against some stiff competition from some great titles, so I’m thrilled it’s in the mix.

North Somerset Teachers' Awards 2017 Twitter shortlist announcement

The shortlisting announced on Twitter – with the help of a furry friend!

The results will be announced on 18 November at a cake-filled ceremony in Weston-super-Mare. My mouth is watering already!

Looking back on a fun-filled debut year

It’s incredible to think that it’s now just over a year ago since the publication of Black Powder. I’ve had such an amazing time since then meeting young readers at a host of author events at different schools. And it’s been lovely to see copies sitting proudly on bookshelves in bookshops up and down the land. I’ve also been delighted to learn of its shortlisting in a number of regional book awards (see below for news of these) and to have received the national accolade of the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award 2017 in the Primary category.

For a whistle-stop tour, I thought you might like to read the following short article I was invited to write for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) e-newsletter. As you’ll see, the editor has a sweet tooth and I was asked to link each entry to the sort of food (and drink) it made me want to eat.  Here’s a taster

Black Powder at the Houses of Parliament

I was lucky enough to be invited up to the Houses of Parliament recently as a guest of Baroness Gloria Hooper to listen to a debate in the House of Lords. Of course I took a certain Guido Fawkes with me too!

Ally with Guido Fawkes outside the HoP

Ally and Guy Fawkes get ready to visit the Houses of Parliament

Baroness Hooper took us on a tour of the Houses of Parliament afterwards and we got the chance to listen to part of a debate in the House of Commons too. We finished off our visit with tea and cakes in the House of Lords tearoom where we got to feast on buttered crumpets, cinnamon teacakes and the fruitiest fruitcake ever!

Sadly, you aren’t allowed to take pictures for security reasons except outside …

And also in Westminster Hall.  This is the oldest bit of the Houses of Parliament and dates back to before the time of the Gunpowder Plot. As you can see, I managed to smuggle a bit of Black Powder in for a special photocall before we left!

Ally in Westminster Hall

Ally sprinkling a little Black Powder in Westminster Hall

Thank you to Baroness Hooper for a lovely afternoon. A definite highlight of the summer and a welcome break away from the desk!


Historical fiction rocks

I thought I’d share a couple of recent guest blog-posts which I’ve written on the topic of writing historical fiction.

The first was for my publishers, Chicken House and you can read it here.

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Cowdray House in West Sussex – one of the inspirations for Black Powder

The second was for Historia, the online magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association and you can find it here. I hope you enjoy reading them!

 

Black Powder takes to the stage

Talented young book club members from St. James’ CE Junior School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, have created a stunning dramatic interpretation of Black Powder as part of their involvement in the East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2017.

St James CE Junior School Book Club cast

The brilliant cast of the St. James’ Book Club production of Black Powder

I was bowled over to get the chance to watch the premiere at the awards ceremony in June at the De la Warr Pavilion theatre in Bexhill-on-Sea (scroll down a couple of stories to read more about my day). It was a great occasion and I feel extremely privileged that my story has sparked this wonderful creative response from the young cast and their teachers. It was great to see the children’s hard work recognised in an article in the Tunbridge Wells Times too.

Special thanks to Vicky Dennett for supplying the video clip and photographs I’ve used here to give a flavour of things. And of course to all the members of St. James’ Book Club who worked so hard at their rehearsals for weeks beforehand and did such a great job on the day. If there was an Oscar for ‘Best Dramatic Performance of a Children’s Book’, I know who I’d be voting for!

Black Powder wins Young Quills Award 2017!

I am thrilled to report that Black Powder has won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award 2017 (Primary Category). The award was presented at a special ceremony at Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London on 15 June by previous winner and judge, illustrator, Martin Impey.

Ally with judge and illustrator Martin Impey

Ally with former winner and judge, illustrator Martin Impey

In his speech, Martin spoke very kindly of Black Powder describing how it was a ‘wonderful book’ that ‘had me hooked from the very beginning’ and ‘packed a punch that made it difficult to put down’.

It was lovely to meet Martin and his collaborator and fellow past Young Quills winner and judge of the Secondary Category, Hilary Robinson. I was made up to be able to talk to them afterwards about the sources of inspiration for their stories and to take away a copy of their new book A song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan complete with a personal dedication and their signatures.

Congratulations too to Laurence Anholt who won the Young Quills Award 2017  in the Secondary Category for his YA novel, The Hypnotist, a story about race, hope and love set in 1960s America.

And a huge thank you to all the children up and down the country who read and helped to shortlist the final selection of books, including my own. A big thank you too to Chief Executive, Becky Sullivan, Education Officer, Mel Jones and all at the Historical Association for organising both the awards and the ceremony in London.

I am truly honoured that my first published book has been recognised in this way!

East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2017 – Grand Finale

There was gunpowder, treason and plot aplenty at the East Sussex Children’s Book Awards in mid June.

 

At a special awards ceremony hosted in the De La Warr Pavilion in sunny Bexhill-on-Sea, the lucky authors whose books had been shortlisted had the chance to watch as the young people who’d read and voted for them put on a mini festival of drama, dance and poetry celebrating each book.

I was thrilled when the children of St James’ CE Junior School, Tunbridge Wells, staged their highly original and very dramatic interpretation of Black Powder, complete with music, costumes and a brilliant dance routine. Thank you to all of you for a very special show!

St James' CE Junior drama Jun 17

Members of the talented St. James’ Junior School Book Club acting out their spell-binding version of Black Powder up on stage

We were also treated to a reading of the fantastic winning entries in the creative writing competitions linked to each book and got the chance to take away some of the brilliant alternative book cover designs and book reviews the children had worked on in a special author gift pack.

Sample of competiton entries

A small sample of some of the lovely artwork and written work by young readers

Such a superb afternoon! I was really blown away by the warm welcome I received from everyone involved and by all the creativity on display.

Well done to everyone for such an amazing event and congratulations to the overall winner, Christopher Edge (The Many Worlds of Albie Bright) and fellow shortlisted authors, Linda Coggin (The Dog Ray), Julia Green (The Wilderness War) and Tania Unsworth (The Secret Life of Daisy Fitzjohn).  I will treasure many happy memories of my day in Bexhill for a very long time to come!

Proud to be a Young Quills Awards 2017 Shortlistee

I was thrilled to learn recently that Black Powder has made it on to the shortlist of titles for the Historical Association’s Young Quills Awards 2017 (Primary category).

The shortlisted titles are selected from a longlist by children in schools up and down the country and are then voted on by a panel of judges, including two former Young Quills winners.

BP and quill pen

Black Powder is keeping good company with books by the likes of Jaqueline Wilson, Paul Dowswell and fellow Chicken House author, Rebecca Stevens. A special awards ceremony takes place at Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road in mid June – more of which in a future update.

The story also received another shortlisting, this time for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) British Isles’ Crystal Kite Award and a longlisting for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards for which the shortlisting takes place in the early autumn.  So a triple reason for a modest celebration!

Sefton Super Reads Awards 2017

Crosby Library near Liverpool was the venue for the Sefton Super Reads Awards at the end of March. Black Powder joined an impressive shortlist of titles featuring books by fellow Chicken House authors Laurel Remington (The Secret Cooking Club) and M.G. Leonard (Beetle Boy) and from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame, John Boyne (The Boy at the top of the mountain) and Andy Mulligan (Liquidator). The eventual winner was Peter Bunzl with Cogheart.

Only Laurel and I were able to attend the ceremony in the end, but we were made to feel very welcome by the staff and students. After a short ten minute talk each, the students asked us plenty of excellent questions about our books and our journey into publication. The winners of the book review competitions were also announced and I’m delighted to say I was able to take a copy of Lucy Harding’s excellent review of Black Powder home with me.

At the end of the afternoon we both signed copies of our books and got to chat with our young voters/readers in person before heading for home. All in all a lovely day!

Dudley Teenage Book Awards 2017

A warm welcome awaited the shortlisted authors who were able to attend the grand finale of the Dudley Teenage Book Awards at Dormston School in Sedgley, near Dudley in the West Midlands recently.

Audience at Dudley Teen Book Awards

The audience at Dormston School gets ready for the big event

I was delighted to join Peter Bunzl (Cogheart), the winner, together with fellow runners-up Jane Elson (Swimming to the moon) and Stewart Foster (Bubble Boy) on stage in front of an audience of nearly 400 children from the 12 local schools that took part in the judging. There was also a link by video to US-based runners-up, Ann Martin (How to look for a lost dog) and Laura Martin (Edge of Extinction).

Peter. Steward, Ally and Jane at Dudley Teen Book Awards 17

Ally (centre), with lovely fellow authors Peter Bunzl, Stewart Foster and Jane Elson

After a short presentation from each of us and some excellent questions from our young audience, the final result was announced and we were handed our special medals. We then headed off to a mass book-signing where I got the chance to meet some young (and not so young!) Black Powder fans and to practice my author’s autograph.

Guido celebrating his Dudley Teen Book Awards medal

Congratulations to Peter on his win and a huge thank you to all the participating schools, to Dormston School for hosting the event and to their students and staff for looking after us so well. And last, but by no means least, to Donna Taylor and all at Dudley Library Services for doing such a brilliant job of organising and running the awards.

And thank you again to all the lovely readers out there who read our books and voted for them! It truly was a day to remember, remember …!

Amazing alternative cover design for Black Powder

I was blown away by this fantastic alternative take on the cover of Black Powder by young reader, Sophia from St. James’ Junior School in Kent. A young artist and book jacket designer in the making!

Black Powder cover SD

Amazing! Sophia’s brilliant artwork for her own version of a cover for Black Powder

Sophia and her school are taking part in the East Sussex Children’s Book Award for which I’m proud to say, Black Powder has been shortlisted along with four other great books.

I was thrilled to be able to meet some of the young judges/readers on a recent trip down to East Sussex visiting Bexhill Library and Grovelands Community Primary School in Hailsham to give an author talk. A lovely day and a great way to celebrate the power of books and reading!

Ally with pupils from Polegate School

Ally with keen readers and pupils from Polegate School, East Sussex

A warm welcome for Black Powder from Edgeborough School

It was lovely to pay a visit to Edgeborough, one of the schools near where I live, as part of their continuing World Book Week celebrations recently. Mrs Holder and the pupils made me feel extremely welcome.

My visit had been advertised around the school beforehand thanks to this lovely poster:

Poster

It was great talking to the children about Tom, Cressida, Jago and their adventures in the school lecture theatre and doing a book signing afterwards.

And then, to round things off, we headed off to the school library for a photo opportunity with the photographer from local newspaper, The Farnham Herald. And my visit was also covered in the school newsletter too.

Thank you again to everyone at Edgeborough for such a lovely morning!

World Book Day 2017

I had a great time spreading a bit of Black Powder with pupils from a local school on World Book Day at the big Waterstones book store in the O2 Shopping Centre on Finchley Road in London.

They had lots of brilliant questions for me after my talk and were especially interested in the real-life plotters and other characters involved in the Gunpowder Plot. They also took part in a quiz which I’d cunningly devised in advance and the winner walked away with a special Black Powder quill pen.

I was also delighted when I checked my Twitter feed on World Book Day to discover that one young reader had dressed up as Cressida Montague. Doesn’t she look great!

World Book Day Twitter Image

Small surprises …

It’s really hard work writing – even though I love it – so it’s lovely when you come across small snippets and mentions on social media and the internet that your book is making it’s own way in the world and being enjoyed.

Some recent examples include:

  • Being picked by @MrBoothY6 to appear on his list of ‘100 books you should read before you leave Yr 6’. Mr Booth has also told me that Black Powder has been going down so well with young readers at his school that his own copy has mysteriously disappeared. I hope it turns up again very soon! Well thumbed, of course…

100-top-books-to-read-by-yr-6-2

  • Discovering that St. Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy in Sunderland has listed Black Powder among a bevy of children’s classics including To Kill a Mockingbird, A Monster Calls and Of Mice and Men as a recommended read for its Key Stage 4 pupils. Wow! What great company for Tom, Cressida and Jago to keep.st-anthonys-school-reading-list-dec-16
  • And finally, this Tweet from @MrTeacher74 whose school book club have been getting their fingers sooty recently …

mr-teacher-on-twitter

Another reader award nomination for Black Powder

Chuffed to discover recently that Black Powder has been nominated for the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award. It’s in good company with five other books from my publisher Chicken House Books nominated too. Keeping everything crossed the chicken produces a golden egg!

waverton-good-reads-2016-17

Looking back on a firework-filled year …

My first as a published author. A dream come true! After all the lovely things that have happened since Black Powder was published in August 2016, I have just about stopped pinching myself to make sure it’s really true.

Highlights included:

  • filming my book trailer at the Tower of London with Rachel and Jazz from my publishers, Chicken House Books.
  • a memorable visit to the printers to see Black Powder come off the conveyer belt
  • my fantastic book launch at Waterstones Guildford surrounded by family and friends. It felt just like a wedding – or perhaps a christening would be more appropriate!
  • receiving some brilliant reviews including from the Book Trust which made Black Powder a teen read for November, The Phoenix comic which made it one of their reads of the month, and from the lovely children’s author and award-winning writer, Berlie Doherty.
  • the Black Powder book tour, organised for me by Chicken House, to coincide with the run up to 5 November. During the tour, I took Tom, Cressida and Jago on the road, visiting eight schools and talking to over a thousand children.
  • guest appearances at the Guildford Book Festival and South London’s STREAM literature festival.
  • receiving all the jaw-droppingly creative postings on Twitter of my book cover surrounded by sparklers and the like in the run up to Bonfire Night – what fun!
  • And last, but by no means least, discovering that Black Powder had been selected for the shortlist of not one, buf four (!!) children’s/teens’ book awards (more on that in the postings below).

What a year! But none of it would have been possible without the support, enthusiasm and encouragement of so many people – from the Chicken House team, the staff at CPI printers in Chatham, all those lovely book bloggers and reviewers out there who have spoken so glowingly about my story, all the schools and booksellers who have hosted an author visit and sold copies of Black Powder and the libraries that have stocked it. And of course my readers too.

Last but by no means least, a massive thank you to my own personal cheerleading team:  my lovely husband, Steve, my dad, George and the rest of my family and the Society of Children’s Book Writers  (SCBWI) and all my writer chums.

A truly explosive year and one I’ll never forget!

Two more shortlistings for Black Powder

More great news! The selection committees for the Dudley Teenage Book Award 2017 and the Sefton Super Reads Teen Book Award 2017 have both selected Black Powder to be included on their final shortlists to be judged next year.

Thank you so much! I’m thrilled that Tom, Cressida and Jago are in the mix!

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

I spent a lovely afternoon recently at Tollgate Community Junior School down by the sea in sunny Eastbourne . When I arrived, I was introduced to some of the children in Year 3. It was great to meet them and hear all about the sort of books they liked to read. Roald Dahl books were a particular favourite.

After that I was whisked away to the Tollgate FM radio studio to be interviewed by two young pupils, both expert interviewers. They asked me some great questions about Black Powder and its recent shortlisting for the East Sussex Children’s Book Award.

After the interview, I went to the school hall where I gave a presentation to Years 4, 5 and 6 on Black Powder and the inspiration behind it.

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Sharing a bit of gunpowder, treason and plot with Yrs 4, 5 and 6

We finished off in the brilliant Tollgate School Library, managed by school librarian, Jeff Doak, for a book signing and a very unexpected but lovely gift of a Christmas Poinsettia. A great end to a lovely day. Thank you to all the staff and children at Tollgate who made me so welcome!

A second shortlisting for Black Powder

I was thrilled to discover recently that Black Powder has been selected as a short-listed title for the East Sussex Children’s Book Award 2017.

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Pic copyright E. Doak

It is in fine company with four other titles, all of them chosen by a panel of young readers working with East Sussex Libraries.  The winner will be announced in June next year. In the meantime, children in schools across the county have some serious – but hopefully fun – reading to do before they cast their votes.

The Black Powder Book Tour Part 2 – November 2016

I was lucky enough to be invited to give talks at two schools in Hampshire on the eve of Bonfire Night. I spoke to Year 5 & 6 pupils at Whitchurch C of E school and Chalk Ridge Primary in Basingstoke. Both schools have lovely librarians, both, coincidentally called Jo. Thanks to both Jos (Clarke and Cummins) and to my audiences for making me so welcome.

And to Leonie and Gavin from Waterstones Basingstoke for making sure I got from A to B and for selling copies of Black Powder too.

Black Powder shortlisted for Ealing Junior Book Award 2017

I’m delighted to announce that Tom, Cressida, Jago and the Falcon have been picked to go on the shortlist of the Ealing Junior Book Award 2017.

Black Powder is in great company with some fantastic fellow shortlistees including fellow Chicken House author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of Girl of Ink and Stars, a lovely, magical tale of one girl’s bid to save her father and the beautiful island of Joya, where she lives, from destruction.

The winner will be announced next summer. Until then I’m keeping fingers and toes crossed that my young readers in Ealing – and everywhere – enjoy it.

My first fan mail

Thrilled to receive this in the post from Isabel Atkins who has read Black Powder and enjoyed it. I’m so glad! And such neat handwriting too! Thank you very much Isabel 🙂 And Jago is very happy too…

first-fan-mail

The Black Powder Book Tour Part 1 – October 2016

I’ve been out and about on the road recently visiting schools, meeting Black Powder readers and signing books with the help of lovely booksellers, Pat, from The Regency Bookshop in Surbiton and Richard from Pea Green Boat Books in South London.

All the schools, pupils and teachers gave me lovely warm welcomes and it was great fun letting them in on a few secrets about the most famous plot in British history and spreading a bit of Black Powder mystery and adventure too.

My thanks to the children and staff of Claygate Primary School, Claygate, St Paul’s Primary in Chessington, Westbury House in New Malden, Surbiton High Boy Preparatory School, Surbiton, Sunnyhill Primary School in Streatham and North Bridge School, Regents Park, London.

Black Powder at the Guildford Book Festival

I had great fun talking gunpowder, treason and plot to pupils from King Edward’s School and Barrow Hills School near Godalming in Surrey as part of this year’s Guildford Book Festival. Highlights included getting the audience to help me build a spy; spies are very important in Black Powder. There were some wild and whacky suggestions – I might have to included some of them in a future book – and there were loads of really excellent questions too.  One particularly challenging one was what three things would I take with me to a desert island. Answer: A solar-powered Kindle loaded up with all the books I’d ever want to read, a lifetime’s supply of liquorice and then, with a bit of help from a member of the audience, I hit on a hammock as the third item – but completely forgot to take anything to write with! Not a good move for a writer – especially a bored one which is what I’d probably be with no one to keep me company. If I get asked that question again, I might suggest a solar-powered laptop too!

Thanks again to everyone at King Edward’s for making me so welcome!

Real readers!

Now that Black Powder is officially out there in the wild – and on bookshelves – I’ve started getting some reviews in from real readers.

Black Powder in store

Black Powder spotted in the wild in Woking Waterstones by writing friend Barbara Godwin, who kindly snapped this shot (bottom row; second on left in case you can’t find it!)

It’s been a bit nerve-wracking waiting to hear what people think of Tom and Cressida’s adventures, but, so far, so good! You can find a small selection of them under the Books section.

And if you’re planning to read Black Powder yourself, I’d love to know how you get on with it.

Black Powder Launch goes with a bang

I had a truly lovely time celebrating the official publication day of Black Powder on 4 August at Waterstones bookshop in Guildford. My lovely publishers Chicken House books gave a speech and my sister, Elisabeth, gave a reading from the book, while my good friend, Sharon, sang The Ballad of Black Powder which she had specially composed for the event.

In addition to doing book signings I also gave out special white sugar mice – if you read the book you’ll know why – and Black Powder postcards too.

Guests included a real-life Guy Fawkes (don’t tell anyone but it was really my dad in costume!) and a rather more suspicious looking imposter, complete with very curly moustache, a black cape and a rather splendid pair of yellow stockings, kindly made for me by my best friend, Elizabeth and her family. I must admit though, he was very useful in raising some funds for reading charity, the Book Trust during the evening.

I had such a lovely time I’d rather like to do it all again!

All of the above pictures taken by Paul Stead Photography

New book trailer

I had great fun back in the spring of 2016 going up to London to make a short video about Black Powder with Rachel Hickman and Jazz Bartlett from Chicken House Books and their cameraman and photographer, Gully Moore. After Gully had taken some internal shots and I’d done my best to shrink the essence of Tom and Cressida’s story down to about two minutes – no easy thing! – we headed off to the Tower of London to capture some ‘mood’ shots of the battlements and of course, Traitor’s Gate.  It was a windy old day – perfect for conjuring up those wild and stormy times of gunpowder, treason and plot which are at the heart of the story. Find out more by taking a peek at the trailer here.

And here are some photos …

Black Powder is born

Books are a little bit like babies for an author – although not nearly as noisy (or smelly!) – so I was delighted to be able to visit CPI Books in Chatham recently to see my own book – Black Powder – being born. I had a lovely time with my husband visiting the plant and seeing how the words make it from the final proof supplied to the publisher, on to the page. I was also lucky enough to see my book being bound into its beautiful cover, complete with gold foil lettering.

Thanks to Kevin (shown below in the picture with me) and all at CPI Books for a wonderful day!