A brilliant book launch for Vita

It was lovely to be able to celebrate Vita’s arrival with so many family, friends and supporters at Waterstones Guildford recently.

There were speeches, prizes and readings; fizz and home-made Roman honey-cake; death-defying gladiator quizzes and book signings, and above all, an arena-sized helping of laughter, love and friendship.

Huge congratulations to the young shortlistees of the Guildford Book Festival gladiator-themed writing and poster competition – Amelia, Arabella and Clara, and especially to Ben and Keira for winning first prize each for their brilliant story and artwork. You can view the prize-winning entries here.

With grateful thanks to my publisher, Barry Cunningham of Chicken House Books, Alex Andrews at the Guildford Book Festival and Max, Katy and Charlotte at Waterstones, and to all my wonderful guests for helping to make it such a special night!

Ally with copies of Vita and the Gladiator
Photo by Paul Stead

Taking Vita on the road

It’s been lovely going out into schools to spread some gladiator fun in the past couple of weeks for #worldbookday

First up Thomas’s in Battersea where I gave my first ever Vita assembly talk and myths and monsters workshops.

Next was Putney High School Juniors where I had great fun meeting the girls in Year 5 and telling them about Vita’s secret journey out to watch a play at the Forum in Londinium and what happens next. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhs’ when they found out!

Then, a visit to Swaffield Primary in Wandsworth where we had lots of fun building our very own gladiator in a whole school assembly.

And finally a whole day visit to Padnell Junior School near Waterlooville in Hampshire for more myths and monsters fun. What a brilliant library and volunteer librarian – Mrs Saunders – they have there too!

With grateful thanks to all the children and staff at each and every school for making me feel so welcome.

More visits lined up next week – so I’m putting my feet up for a well-earned rest this weekend!

Happy World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day everyone! I hope you’ve got some great reads on the go?

But just in case you haven’t, here’s a whole sack-load of suggestions from me and some of my time-tunnelling author chums over at the Time Tunnellers

Time-travelling with Greg Jenner

I was thrilled to be able to share the stage with public historian, broadcaster and author, Greg Jenner recently at The Spring arts centre in Havant and to find out what first got him into history and ask him about his new book ‘Ask a Historian’.

Greg was a key member of the team behind the humongously popular and award-winning BBC comedy show Horrible Histories for many years. He is also the presenter of the brilliant, chart-topping You’re Dead To Me podcast series on BBC Radio 4 and the author of several books for both adults and children.

It was lovely to be able to quiz him using some of the questions the public put to him for the book, including when the first jokebook was written, if it was true that people used to eat Egyptian mummy dust and what his favourite historical ‘what if’ question is? Greg also answered more great questions from the audience on the night.

With grateful thanks to Lesley and all the staff at The Spring for making us so welcome!

Half-term fun Roman-style!

I spent a fantastic couple of afternoons at Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester in West Sussex (or Noviomagus Reginorum if you’re a Roman) as part of their ‘Meet the Romans’ half-term events.

As you can see I caught up with a rather impressive Roman tribune aka Tom, the museum’s Education Officer, who very sportingly agreed to be renamed Marcus Tullius Verus after my heroine, Vita’s much-loved father. Spoiler alert – He comes to a sticky end in the story, but don’t tell Tom!

He did a brilliant job of sharing some fascinating facts about Roman armour, equipment and battle techniques with our young audience, including how shields could be put to good use as toe-crunchers. As it happens, that’s just what my gladiator, Cronos the Skull-Crusher does in my story too.

It was lovely to get to meet some of the younger members of the audience and to chat about their favourite periods of history and what they enjoy reading. Plus my signing hand was kept busy too.

With grateful thanks to Property Director, Sarah and everyone on the team who made us so welcome!

Vita meets her readers #1

I had a lovely time visiting the fabulous new indie bookshop Goldfinch Books in Alton, Hampshire and introducing Vita and Brea to young readers.

Thank you to bookshop owners, Gary and Jude for making me, Vita and the rest of my imaginary friends so welcome! 😊

Love the quote on the blackboard – so true!

Vita and the Gladiator is published!

My latest book – Vita and the Gladiator – is now published and out in the wild.

To find out more about the story and the inspirations for it why not follow the Vita and the Gladiator blog tour on Twitter:

A real book!

Ta da! My brand new story, Vita and the Gladiator is now officially a book. The story tells of high-born Roman girl, Vita and is set in the life and death world of London’s gladiatorial arena at the time of the Emperor Hadrian. To find out more about the story, visit the books page of my website. This also gives links to bookstores where you can pre-order it.

It’s not quite published yet. The official publication date is 2nd February. But you can read the first chapter for FREE here.

I can’t wait to introduce you to Vita and her friends, Brea and Col the wolf! If you’re a school and think you might like a visit from me, then check out my visits page here.

Brilliant new book news!

I’m thrilled to announced that my latest book, Vita and the Gladiator, will be published by Chicken House Books on 2nd February 2023.

Set in Roman London, it tells the story of a young high-born girl, Vita, catapulted from a life of comfort into the harsh, unpredictable world of the arena and the unlikely bond of friendship she forms as she attempts to right a terrible wrong done to her and her family.

I can’t wait for you to meet her!

Library lift-off!

I was honoured to be invited to open the fantastic new KS2 library at Simpson’s Lane Primary Academy in Knottingley, near Wakefield in West Yorkshire recently.

Ally with the Year 6 librarians at Simpson’s Lane

I had great fun meeting the whole school for a special reading assembly before heading off to the amazing library created by Assistant Principal, Ms Coopey and the teaching staff. I got to cut a special red ribbon and meet the Year 6 children who are currently reading my book, Black Powder, in class.

This is the other brilliant library at Simpson’s Lane for KS1 pupils

I read a bit from the book and we then had a question and answer session during which they asked some fantastic questions, including what my famous dinosaur was. Clue: It begins with an ‘S’ and has a row of massive pointed plates sticking out of its back!

It was lovely to meet everyone and help celebrate the opening of such a brilliant book-space. A massive thank you for inviting me and making me feel so welcome!

Where will I time-travel to next?

I’ve been hard at work over the past few weeks on the edits for my new book – due out in early February 2023. But since I handed them back to my editor, I’ve been able to get out and about in the sunshine to do a spot of top-up research.

I can’t say too much about the new story just at the moment, but here are some pictures from a recent expedition back into the past to give you a clue of the time it’s set in and what it might be about.

Books on sale at Shakespeare’s Globe

Fantastic news! Two of my books, Black Powder and The Queen’s Fool are now on sale at the amazing Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the Southbank in London.

I feel very privileged they have been picked to appear on the theatre shop’s shelves. It is one of my favourite places in London and I have been lucky enough to watch a number of productions there as a ‘groundling’.

Those of you that have read Black Powder will know that it’s set at the time Shakespeare was writing some of his most famous plays, including Macbeth. Historians believe the play, which came out the year after the Gunpowder Plot, contains several references to it. And my heroine, Cressida, talks about wanting to become an actor too – though in those days girls were forbidden from taking to the stage.

Meanwhile, in The Queen’s Fool, the heroine Cat Sparrow is befriended by a young French actor called Jacques who is on his way to King Henry VIII’s court with a band of travelling players to try and put on a play there. But though they do reach the King’s palace, something happens which catapults Cat and Jacques into an adventure of quite a different sort. To find out what, you’ll have to read the book!

Cat Sparrow – a different sort of heroine

I’m very grateful to history teacher and educationalist, Ben Newmark for this wonderful recent review of my latest book, The Queen’s Fool .

Ben has a special interest in the representation of people with learning disabilities in history and is the creator of the All Together learning disability history project:

Jane ‘the Fool’ from a portrait in Hampton Court Palace – the original inspiration for my own story of a young girl with learning disabilities – Cat Sparrow in The Queen’s Fool

His review includes this comment which made all the hard work I put into researching and writing the book feel even more worthwhile when I read it:

‘As the father of a fully realised person with a learning disability it means a great deal to me there is now something I can read to my daughter when she’s old enough that shows someone like her adventuring, striving, succeeding – the master of her own life regardless of how different she may sometimes seem to others.’

With grateful thanks to Ben and please do check out his website which includes a fascinating podcast entitled : Disabled? How far have people with learning disability been included in the societies they lived in? plus other great resources for teachers looking to teach this topic in the classroom.

The Queen’s Fool Shortlisted!

Some fantastic news just in! My latest novel, The Queen’s Fool has been shortlisted as a Books For Topics Book of the Year in the category Upper Key Stage 2 – Best Curriculum Support. The shortlist was drawn up by teachers, librarians and other lovers of children’s books, so it’s extra special that my book was chosen, alongside some other brilliant titles.

The Books For Topics website was launched in 2015 by experienced primary school teacher and English Lead, Alison Leach as a means of helping primary school staff to find high-quality books that are appropriate to use in a primary school setting. It now has hundreds of books listed and reviewed under a variety of topic and year based categories – a regular cornucopia of bookish delights to help inspire young people to grow their reading wings and fly! You can find out more here.

Music to the ears!

Did you know that you can now listen to both my latest book, The Queen’s Fool and my first book, Black Powder, as audiobooks? Both are brilliantly told by Charlotte Strevens. They’re published by Oakhill/Ulverscroft and available from Audible and other websites now. And The Buried Crown, also told by Charlotte, will be publishing in Spring 2022. Happy listening!

Judging the Young Quills Awards 2021

I was recently very honoured to be invited to be a judge for this year’s Young Quills Awards by the Historical Association. As you may have seen over on the home page, I was very fortunate to received a Young Quills Award for my Gunpowder plot story, Black Powder in 2017. So it was brilliant to be asked to be the author judge on this year’s panel.

Ally with the Young Quill’s award-winning and highly commended titles

It was a very strong shortlist – all the books on it having been selected by young readers in schools earlier in the year. But the winners and highly commended entries stood out for their brilliant telling of thought-provoking, exciting and powerful stories, all of which take their inspiration from real-life events and people in history.

Many congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and in particular to top prize-winners, Alex Wheatle (Cane Warriors – winner of the 14 years+/Young Adult category), Tom Palmer (After the War – winner of the 10-13 years category) and Barbara Henderson, (The Siege of Caerlaverock – winner of the 5-9 Years category). For the full list of winners head over to the Young Quills web page here.

Taking The Queen’s Fool on the road

It’s been lovely to get out and about at various festivals and school visits recently and to get back in touch with all the brilliant youngsters that make the hard work of writing so worthwhile. With thanks to everyone at the Appledore Book Festival, the Children’s Book Fest Chichester and Guildford Book Festival and all the schools who have made me feel so welcome.


I had the chance recently to revisit the scene of the original inspiration of my latest book, The Queen’s FoolHampton Court Palace Such a brilliant place – and we were blessed with a lovely sunny day too. It is also currently hosting an exhibition on ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’ – the grand meeting in 1520 of the two Kings – Henry VIII and Francis I – to celebrate the negotiated peace between England and France. I thought I’d share a few shots of the day, including the two paintings that were my story sparks.

The exhibition is on until early September, so if you live within reach, do go. You get to see the whole of the palace, the king’s kitchens and the magnificent gardens, complete with massive Tudor willow sculptures too.

Pipe your pipes and bang your drums!

My third book with Chicken House Books, The Queen’s Fool is out now. It is set during the reign of the Tudor king, Henry VIII and his first queen, Katherine of Aragon and it features a brave orphan girl called Cat Sparrow who sets out on a mission to London to find her beloved sister Meg when she is snatched by a mysterious stranger from their convent home. On the road Cat meets a band of travelling actors. Among them is Jacques, a young French boy who is on a dangerous quest of his own together with his mischievous pet monkey.

Their journey takes them to the king and queen’s palace at Greenwich where Cat is made the queen’s ‘fool’ – and from there across the sea to France and a wondrous pageant at a place called ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’. But in amongst the tents, tournaments and banquests, traitors are lurking and soon Cat and Jacques are caught up in a treasonous plot which threatens the safety of them all.

I am very grateful for the many lovely reviews my new story has been getting since it first flew the nest in February. You can read some of them here. And if you’d like to read a bit of the story yourself, you can do that here. If you read it, I do hope you enjoy Cat and Jacque’s story as much as I have enjoyed writing it!

Time travelling young writers

I’ve had more fantastic post from another of my Book Penpal schools. This time from a talented bunch of young writers at Hilden Oaks Preparatory School in Tonbridge, Kent. Besides recommending some books they might like to read, I set the children the challenge of writing the start of a story where they travel back in time and meet someone famous from history. This is what they came up with. So creative – and great fun too! Budding authors in the making ….

Book box with a bang

The lovely folk at The Junior Travelling Reader who theme their book box picks on a place in Britain have chosen Black Powder – set in Hampshire, West Sussex and London – for their November box. Perfect for curling up with on Bonfire Night! Besides some yummy plot-themed goodies, you also get a bookmark, some information about the places in the book and a letter from the author (me!). The boxes are available to order on their website (see link above).

There are plenty of options for the grown-ups too at thetravellingreader

My first Book Penpal mail

I was really excited to receive my first mail from Class 17, Aboretum Primary School in Derby recently. The children were celebrating a reading festival when my first letter and book recommendations arrived. They used the work they were doing for the festival as part of their inspiration to write back to me.

I loved finding out about where they like to read – peace and quiet came up a lot! – and also hearing about the sort of books they like too. And I particularly enjoyed reading the work they did based on a creative writing challenge I had set them to describe a meeting with a famous person from the past. As you can see, they picked the Greek hero, Theseus, slayer of the fearsome Minotaur. Well done everyone. Fantastic work! I’m really looking forward to writing back soon.

Book Penpals!

I’m thrilled to have chosen my three new Book Penpal schools for the new academic year. They are: Aboretum Primary School in Derby, Hilden Oaks Preparatory School in Tonbridge, Kent and Horfield C of E Primary School in Bristol.

I’m really looking forward to writing to them with my book recommendations and creative writing tips throughout the year and to hearing back from them on what sort of books they enjoy reading and the sorts of stories they like writing in return.

Time to celebrate!

Four years ago, I realised my dream to become a published author. It seems only yesterday that family and friends joined me and my lovely publishers Chicken House books in Waterstones, Guildford for some Black Powder fun to celebrate the launch of my first book all about a young boy who gets caught up in the infamous Gunpowder Plot.

Fast forward to April 2018 and the launch in the beautiful gardens of Museum of Farnham of my wartime-set adventure, The Buried Crown. There were crowns, wartime costumes and even an Anglo-Saxon king to help the proceedings go with a swing.

Paul Stead Photogrpahy

My third book, a retelling of my all-time favourite book Jane Eyre for Hodder Education came out last September.

And in the meantime I was already hard at work on my new, Tudor-set story for Chicken House, The Queen’s Fool. As some of you will already know, publication of this was set for June this year but has now been put back to 4 February 2021. I can’t waiting to see my young heroine, Cat Sparrow and her friends, Jacques and Pippo fly out into the world.

But while I’m waiting, I’ve made a start on a new story, this time travelling even further back in time …

To celebrate my author-birthday, I thought I’d share a selection of photos from the last four years. More importantly, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me on my journey into publication and since then: my lovely editor, Kesia and Barry Cunningham and all the other Chickens in the Coop at Chicken House; all the wise teachers and tutors that helped me learn my craft; all my brilliant writer friends and the many teachers, librarians, book bloggers, festival organisers and of course, booksellers, who have so enthusiastically promoted and used my stories to engage – and hopefully enthuse – young readers. And of course, my lovely husband, my family and dear friends from school, university, work and beyond, who have always been there for me, believing in me and cheering me on.

And last, but by no means least, all the brilliant readers out there – young and old – who have bought, borrowed or loaned one of my books. THANK YOU!

Sharing my books during the Corona Virus Lockdown

During the current period of lockdown and social distancing it is sadly not possible to undertake school visits and other events. However, if your school is studying one of my books and you’d like to know more about how you might be able to share it with children remotely, please visit my publisher’s website – Chicken House Books – for more information on what’s possible.

They are also running a #CoopedUpKids initiative to encourage children to stay engaged with reading and books during this challenging period – worth checking out too!

Until we can all meet again, stay safe – stay well!

The Queen’s Fool  – publication now set for Spring 2021

Sound the trumpets, bang the drums! My new book is almost done!

Introducing Cat Sparrow and her adventures at the court of the (in)famous Tudor King, Henry VIII. Coming to a bookshop near you in 4 February 2021.

The cover is by the talented artist, Georgie McAusland. I hope you like it!

More news about Cat coming later this year …

The Queen's Fool Chicken House web page

Lots of fun Stepping into Stories

I had a fantastic afternoon in February at the first Stepping into Stories Festival in Herne Hill, south east London, talking Spies, Rebels and Revolution with fellow historical novelists, Patricia Elliott and Lydia Syson.

Stepping into Stories Feb 20 1

We had a brilliant audience of children and adults who asked some fantastic questions including whether we get to choose our own book covers (Answer: not exactly but we do get a chance to influence them a bit), how long it takes to write a book (Answer: A tricky one – but really, as long as it needs) and what inspires our own work (Answer: anything from places and people, to pictures and news stories, and everything in between!).

After our session, we were able to meet readers at a special book signing organised by the lovely booksellers from indie-bookshop Tales on Moon Lane. And we also got the chance to listen to the talk after ours by the brilliant author and illustrator, Chris Riddell and his talented daughter, Katy.

Stepping into Stories Feb 20 3

Visit goes with a bang

I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in the inaugural Gunpowder Day at Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth recently.

The Year 8 pupils spent the day learning about Gunpowder and the Gunpowder Plot in a variety of lessons ranging from Science and Design – where actual gunpowder was made thanks to permission from Dorset firearms officers – to History, Ethics and Drama.

As part of the day, I gave a presentation on Black Powder – my own story set at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. I also ran a workshop on creating compelling heroes and villains with the younger pupils from Talbot Heath and pupils from Bethany Junior School who were invited to share in the fun.

The children came up with some brilliant ideas for brave heroes and super-scary villains and we all agreed we wanted to hear more about every single one.


It happened to be my birthday on the day and I was over the moon to be presented with a lovely bouquet of flowers to match the colours of the cover on Black Powder.

Thank you to everyone  for helping to make my visit go with a bang!

Give someone the gift of a story at Christmas

If you’re looking to make a gift with a difference this Christmas, there are plenty of great reading charities out there you can donate to – either with gifts of money or books.
Black Powder in store
BookTrust runs the Letterbox Club which looks to send children who are vulnerable or in care a parcel of books through the post for Christmas.
Or how about Bookaid a charity which donates books to readers across the world who don’t have the easy access to them that we do in this country?
There’s also Read for good which works to create a buzz about reading for pleasure and brings books into schools and hospitals through a programme of storyteller visits and its annual Readathon.
Or for a Christmas present with a difference you could adopt a book from the British Library – titles up for grabs include Jane Eyre, Little Women and The Wizard of Oz.
Finally, if you’ve been given a book for Christmas but it’s not your thing, there are several charities that can help you find a new home for it including Oxfam and Book-Cycle

Exciting new book news!

I am proud to announce that my retelling of celebrated Victorian author, Charlotte Bronte’s classic story Jane Eyre is now available.

Part of Hodder Educational’s popular Rising Stars/Reading Planet reading scheme, it is aimed at readers of 10-11 years. Here’s what I wrote to introduce readers to it in the book.

Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time. I’ve loved retelling Charlotte Bronte’s classic tale of a poor orphan girl, bullied by her mean aunt and cousins, and sent away to live at the grim Lowood School. Things get even darker and more page-turning when Jane becomes governess at the forbidding Thornfield Hall, home of the mysterious Mr Rochester. And there might be a ghost too. What a story!”

Golden anniversary for ship burial treasure

It’s 80 years ago this summer that archaeologists discovered a collection of priceless Anglo-Saxon artefacts buried in a giant longship in the sandy soil of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Billed as ‘the British equivalent of the tomb of King Tutankhamun’, the finds – which included a magnificent helmet, gold belt-buckle and a purseful of golden coins – were hurried to the safety of the London Underground just as war broke out with Germany. And that’s where they stayed for the rest of the war …

The Anglo-Saxon ship burial treasure is one of the inspirations for The Buried Crown, my WW2 story of two brave children – evacuee, George Penny and Jewish refugee, Kitty Regenbogen – who pit themselves against a band of Nazi treasure thieves to help save the kingdom from disaster, with a sprinkling of Anglo-Saxon magic thrown in.

To walk in George and Kitty’s footsteps, why not pay a visit to the site of the discovery of the ship burial, now managed by the National Trust and recently reopened following a lottery-funded £4 million transformation? You can find out more here.

Days by the sea and Spitfire Fun

It’s been a busy few weeks getting out and about and meeting lots of young readers and fellow writers at various events.

First up were the fantastic East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2019 finals, held at the lovely Hippodrome Theatre in Eastbourne. The Buried Crown was fortunate enough to be on the shortlist alongside four other brilliant books. Children from across the county had been busy reading them in their school book groups and producing creative writing and artwork inspired by them in preparation for the final event.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon spent with young readers, their teachers and the wonderful staff from East Sussex Libraries who had worked so hard to organise the whole thing. I also really appreciated the chance to meet fellow authors Sharon Cohen and Sharon Tregenza. And congratulations to Sharon T. for winning the award with her exciting and mystery-filled story, The Jewelled Jaguar.

At the end of June, I had the chance to revisit the source of my inspiration for The Buried Crown at the brilliant Felixstowe Book Festival

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I was also lucky enough to be able to catch up with the Sutton Hoo helmet beforehand as staff from Sutton Hoo National Trust were running an object-handling session just before my talk. And it was fantastic to meet young – and not so young – readers and to judge the ‘Design a book cover’ competition afterwards. Thanks again to Debra and everyone at Felixstowe Library for making me so welcome!

Then at the beginning of July, it was off up to the Royal Air Force Cosford Museum for the Staffordshire Libraries Young Teen Fiction Awards #YTF2019 I was lucky enough to have The Buried Crown chosen as one of the six short-listed titles – which also included my all time favourite children’s author, David Almond’s latest. In addition, I had the privilege of speaking to the audience of young people who had chosen the books and voted for them, along with fellow guest speaker and author of the Poppy Pym series, the lovely Laura Wood.

It was an amazing day. The staff from the library service and the museum made us feel so welcome and it was great to meet so many of the young people, who’d travelled from across Staffordshire and neighbouring counties to be there. Big congratulations again to all those who won certificates for their work championing reading in their schools. And to everyone for all their hard work in reading all the books on the shortlist. And of course to the joint winning authors, Kim Slater and Gregory Katsoulis.

Book signing 1

Finally, a special thank you to the talented pupils from Alsager School who presented me with my very own special piece of treasure – the most gorgeous work of art inspired by their reading of The Buried Crown. It is in pride of place in my writing room and will spur me on whenever my plots get knotty and my characters refuse to do what they’re told!

The whole day was topped off by the chance to visit the museum after and to have my photo snapped by my lovely husband, Steve, in front of the oldest Spitfire in the world and which has a starring role in my story.

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New book coming soon!Jane Eyre retelling cover

My favourite book of all time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I was lucky enough to be invited  to do a retelling of this classic story for the Rising Stars Reading Planet reading scheme published by Hodder Educational.

The resulting book is due out at the end of August this year (2019) and can be pre-ordered from Amazon and Waterstones.

More information is available here.

Summer of Writing Fun

Signing Pile

I’m really excited to be appearing at a number of events during the summer. These include:

  • The East Sussex Children’s Book Awards Finale at the Hippodrome in Eastbourne – Tuesday 11 June
  • Back to the Past – Writing Historical Fiction –The Winchester Writers’ Festival in Winchester – Saturday 15 June Book here!
  • Writing Children’s Fiction Workshop at Guildford Library with New Writing South – Wednesday 26 June Book here!
  • Operation Buried Treasure! – The Felixstowe Book Festival – Saturday 29 June Book here!

Looking forward to meeting you if you’re coming along to any of them!

Wonderful World Book Day 2019

I had a fantastic time out and about visiting schools during World Book Day (WBD) week.

First stop was Grange Primary School, South Ealing where I gave a mix of author talks and workshops on The Buried Crown over two days. The children came up with some brilliant treasure-based stories including ones involving chocolate-milk giving cows and talking pencils.

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Next up were visits in to Lawdale Junior School, Bethnal Green and Marion Richardson Primary, Limehouse to sprinkle a bit of Black Powder fun. And then it was back to a spot more Anglo-Saxon myth and magic and World War Two adventure with pupils at St. Edmund’s School, Hindhead.

I rounded the week off with visits to Fernhill Secondary School in Farnborough and Eggar’s School in Alton as part of the Hampshire School Library Service ‘Meet the Author’ spring programme of visits.

A massive thank you to all the wonderful children and teachers for making me so welcome! I’m already looking forward to WBD 2020!

Another shortlisting for The Buried Crown

Some more lovely news just in!  The Buried Crown has been shortlisted for the Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Book Awards 2019.

Staffordshire YTFBA19

What’s even more special is that the shortlist of books has been decided on by the young people themselves.  The other books in the mix are all fantastic titles. And I’m especially honoured that my book is in the company of The Colour of the Sun by one of my literary heroes, David Almond, author of Skellig and many other brilliant and thought-provoking stories.

The final results will be announced in July at a special ceremony at RAF Cosford which the children taking part in the voting will be attending. I can’t wait!

The Buried Crown shortlisted for the East Sussex Children’s Book Award

Fantastic news! The Buried Crown has received a shortlisting for the East Sussex Children’s Book Award 2019 (ESCBA).

ESCBA19 You Tube video screen shot

It’s in the mix with four other great titles. Check out this special video hosted by ESCBA’s Henry Young and Tamsyn Sutton to find out more.

The short-listed titles are going to be read by schools across East Sussex and Kent and voted on in time for a special awards ceremony at the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea in June next year. So exciting!

Just Imagine podcast now available

A half hour podcast on how I became a writer and some of the inspirations behind my latest story, The Buried Crown, is now available from Just Imagine, the Centre for Excellence in Reading.

Postcards and stars
Photo courtesy of Paul Stead Photography

You can listen to it here. There’s also an associated story starter which is available here.

Sticky treats at the Wokingham Children’s Book Festival

A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at Wokingham Libraries and all involved in organising the first ever Wokingham Book Festival.

I had a great morning spreading plenty of treasure-filled myth, magic and adventure during my author workshop. And it was great to meet some of the young audience at the book signing after.

The cake was dee-licious too!

October Treasure Hunt

I was delighted to be invited to come in and talk to Heatherside Junior School in Fleet, Hampshire recently about The Buried Crown.

After giving an assembly talk to Years 4, 5 and 6 about how I became a writer and the inspirations for my story, I had the chance to work with the Year 6 classes to help build some brand new treasure stories inspired by real-life treasure discoveries.

Afterwards, Mrs Bond, the school librarian, kindly hosted a book signing in the Heatherside library, where I was able to chat with the children some more and to admire their special ‘Author of the Month’ display.

A big thank you to all the children and staff at Heatherside for a wonderful day!

On air in the Surrey Hills

I had great fun recently being interviewed by Imogen Bole, presenter of the Arts Show on Surrey Hills Radio. Among other things we talked about my journey to becoming a published author, the inspirations for my stories and some of the interesting things I’ve discovered while doing the research for them.

You can listen to the interview if you follow this link.

It’s about half an hour all told and starts at around 29 minutes 42 secs running until 1hr and 55 secs.

Happy listening!

Mounds of fun at Sutton Hoo

It was lovely to be back at Sutton Hoo, the site of the inspiration for The Buried Crown during the summer holidays recently.

I was invited back by the National Trust  who look after the famous monument, to give a family story-digging workshop centred around the priceless Anglo-Saxon buried treasure that was discovered there nearly 80 years ago in a giant ship buried beneath one of around 18 ancient burial mounds.

The children who attended came up with some great ideas for items of buried treasure – what made them so precious and why someone might want to steal them – using replicas of real Anglo-Saxon objects for their inspiration.

Afterwards, I got the chance to meet some young readers – and National Trust staff and volunteers – at the book signing in the National Trust gift shop before catching the train home again. An inspirational day at one of my favourite places! Thank you to everyone who helped to organise it.

Spitfires and buried treasure

I had a great day signing books and meeting readers of all ages at one of my favourite museums – the Imperial War Museum in London – as part of their ‘Meet the Author’ programme of events recently.

It was a real privilege to be sitting there overlooking the hall where one of the last remaining Spitfires that fought in the Battle of Britain was hanging. Especially since my hero, George Penny’s brother, Charlie is a trainee Spitfire pilot.

I met so many lovely people, including several real-life evacuees with some amazing stories of their own.

And my dad, who was the inspiration for George in my story, and is also an evacuee, came along to keep me company.  If you get a chance, do go and visit the museum. It’s packed full of all sorts of amazing exhibits including one of the ‘little ships’ that helped rescue soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, a German ‘doodlebug’ or flying bomb and letters sent by evacuees to their families in the cities they’d been sent away from for their safety.

More good news about The Buried Crown

I’ve just found out that The Buried Crown has been included in a list of top 10 summer reads for older children in the Irish Examiner.

Delighted it’s made it in this pick of great books, including several others by fellow Chicken House authors.

There’s a link to the full article and review here.

The Buried Crown makes Book Trust’s Books of the month – June

It was a lovely surprise while on holiday to discover that The Buried Crown had been selected by top children’s reading charity Book Trust as one of their ‘Books we love’ for June 2018.

Describing it as ‘a fast-paced adventure that zips along’ and mixes up real-life historical  facts ‘with tantalising mythical and magical elements’, the Trust review also praises the ‘lovely underlying message about friendship, kindness and standing up for what’s right.’

You can read the full review here.

Budding young journalists put Black Powder in the news

I just had to share these amazing news stories with you, inspired by the moment in Black Powder when Tom Garnett’s father is forced to flee with the Catholic priest he has rescued, and Tom is left all alone to defend his mother and baby brother from mean Constable Skinner who has come to arrest them.

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They were created by the children of Class 5A at Queen’s Park Primary School in Westminster with the help of their lovely teacher, Mr Almond. What a bunch of talented young newshounds they all are. With big thanks to Lareen, Kaothar, Alisha and Redona and all their classmates who worked so hard on producing such page-turning reads!

The Buried Crown is born!

All the days, weeks and months of hard work excavating my second book have finally paid off with its official publication on 5 April – hurrah!

To mark its ‘birthday’ I organised a special launch party in the garden of our local museum and invited a bunch of friends and family to help me and my husband, Steve, celebrate.

My dad, whose evacuee memories helped inspire the story, came dressed as King Redwald, the Anglo-Saxon king, who the crown of the title belongs to. And my publisher, Barry Cunningham, ‘the man who discovered JK Rowling’, was there too, along with my lovely editor, Kesia Lupo …

There were speeches, a song from my friend Sharon, which everyone joined in with, and a reading from the story by my sister, Elisabeth …

And a book signing, of course …

And lots of people came dressed in costume too …

I presented prizes to Maisie and Nischal, pupils at Cordwalles Junior School – where I am Patron of Reading – for their wonderful alternative book covers of The Buried Crown and Black Powder.

And people got the chance to take away home-made lebkuchen cookies, which feature in the story. A wonderful evening! Thank you to everyone who joined us to help celebrate.

All photos in this story reproduced with grateful thanks to Paul Stead Photography.

Black Powder goes North

I spent a brilliant day recently with the children and teachers of Green Lane Primary Academy in Garforth, near Leeds, Yorkshire spreading a little more Black Powder.

Ally with children Green Lane Primary Mar 18

The school is using the book as their Year 6 class reader and it was fantastic to have the chance to meet the pupils and to find out what they thought of Tom, Cressida, Jago and their adventures.

First up, I got the chance to meet everyone during a school assembly where – as the children are still reading the book – I had to be very careful not to give away too much of the plot!

Ally in Assembly Green Lane Primary Mar 18

Then, I visited Year 6 and Year 5 classes to give a workshop on ‘Heroes and Villains’. This involved getting the children to think about what makes a great character and then to choose their own favourites and create portraits of them in words and pictures using both sides of a paper plate.

The children did some lovely work and we then enjoyed sharing it and trying to guess who the characters were. Some classes then went on to delve deeper into creating their own heroes and villains through a piece of creative writing. I’ve posted some of the brilliant examples from Ms Egan’s Year 6 class at the end of this news story.

“During the sessions, students couldn’t get enough of writing! This led on to Year 6 writing parts of a ‘Hero versus Villain’ story where they are both in a situation where they are against each other … Funnily enough, Miss Egan asked her class to stop but they refused and were determined to continue with their action scene story!”  Jack T Year 6 Birch Class

At the end of workshops, there was just time to pop in and meet the children in Reception for a chat about reading and writing and to find out that they are all budding authors who have been busy writing their own books too. And then it was back to the main school for some signing of copies of Black Powder and my soon-to-be-published book, The Buried Crown.

I had a lovely time meeting everyone at Green Lane Primary.  I was so impressed with the children’s enthusiasm for my story and all their creativity and hard work in the ‘Heroes and Villains’ workshops. A big to thank you to both pupils and staff for making me feel so welcome!

Noticeboard Green Lane Primary Mar 18

“I had an amazing day and I hope Ally Sherrick becomes an extremely popular writer like J.K Rowling.”  Luke S Year 6 Birch Class

Here are some of the gripping starts to new stories which the children went on to write after the heroes and villains workshops. Make you want to read on, don’t they? I hope they go on and finish them!

A Wolf’s Story by Beth H

“ ‘So, we meet again brother,’ smirked Ice-Tooth, in his usual confident tone.

‘I never planned to cross paths with you,’ mumbled Black-Eye, ‘I was just trying to hunt.’

From the grassy hill above them, Shadow-Haze was looking down on the two, anxiously tucking her pups underneath her jet-black stomach, sheltering them from the argument about to take place.

‘Well you should come dine with me and my family,’ Ice-Tooth exclaimed, enjoying every syllable of the last word.

 ‘They’re not yours!’ growled Black-Eye, baring his butter-coloured fangs.

 ‘Of course they’re mine! I have no idea what you are talking about!’ But Ice-Tooth knew exactly what he meant…”

The Teenage Detective by Emma W

“Her heart was pounding as she sat outside Mr Finnegan’s office – shaking with fear. He was a tall man with black greasy hair, Chloe had never liked him, or the way he treated children and staff. ‘Chloe McDonald!’ he shouted. Oh no! Chloe stood up and walked into the dark room. It didn’t feel like a happy place: the blinds were shut, with only a little light provided by the flickering lamp on his sturdy, oak desk.

 ‘I am aware you witnessed a murder last night, am I correct?’ his hoarse voice sent a chill down Chloe’s spine as she remembered the horrific events of yesterday night; she had been walking home from detention with her sister, who was two years older than Chloe, when she heard a gunshot sound behind her. Tears filled her eyes.

‘I…I…It was all a blur! There was a gunshot and my sister was lying beside me – dead!’ Chloe started to sob.

‘I was aiming for you,’ Mr Finnegan muttered under his breath.”

The White Spider by Rosie B

“Cadence tip-toed along the hall towards the soot-filled chimney. If Father knew she was here, she would never hear the end of it. The floor-boards creaked on every step, while the old grandfather- clock chimed. Quarter to. There was still time. Knowing this, Cadence reluctantly hauled herself up the chimney, one brick at a time. After the light and warmth of the candle on the fireplace, it felt awfully cold and dark in there. A howl of wind came down, causing Cadence to close her eyes in order to keep out the snow. When she opened them again, there was a white spider in front of her. She gasped. Questions rushed into her head as fast as bullets: where had it come from? How could it just appear? Was it magic?

Without a moment’s hesitation, the spider sped off. Cadence dismissed it without a thought of hurting it. After all, it’s unlucky to kill a spider…”

Hot off the press!

It was thrilling to be able to visit CPI Books in Chatham last week (15 February), to see The Buried Crown being ‘born’. I was lucky enough to be able to take my dad – whose evacuee memories are part of the inspiration for the story – too.

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The book is coming out on 5 April, but you can read an extract from it – the first chapter – here.

Cover reveal for The Buried Crown

I’m delighted to be able to reveal the cover of my new book, The Buried Crown (publishing 5 April with Chicken House Books). The amazing lino-cut artwork is by super-talented print artist, Alexis Snell who also created the artwork for my first book, Black Powder.

BC Cover Final

I love the gorgeous combination of reds, golds and greens and hope you do too.  By the way, the gold colours really will be made of real gold as the printers will be using gold foil. I can’t wait to see the finished cover and will be sure to share some sneak preview pictures of it here as soon as it is printed, which should be sometime in February.

Putting the finishing touches to The Buried Crown

I have just returned the page proofs for my second story, The Buried Crown, to my publishers at Chicken House Books. In the run up to its publication on 5 April, I thought it would be fun to start dropping some clues on what it is about starting with this picture below …

Page proofs returned Jan 18

Look out for more clues and news as it gets closer to publication time!

Digging for buried treasure …

I’ve been hard at work over the last few months editing my second book for Chicken House. It’s called The Buried Crown and is due out on 5 April 2018. I’ve just received the paper proofs so have my reading sorted out for Christmas and the early part of January. And then it’s off to the printers in February – more of which in a future post.

For now I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and to leave you with this picture of my recent Christmas delivery! Hoping there might be a book or two waiting for you under the tree on Christmas morning!

Page proofs

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.

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:


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…
  • 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
  • And finally, this Tweet from @MrTeacher74 whose school book club have been getting their fingers sooty recently …

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!


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.

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.

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…


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!