The Locust Curse

David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II continues to fascinate and instruct. Last week’s extraordinary footage of a locust swarm in Madagascar brought back horrific memories of the 2005 locust invasion in the Sahel, including our area of Burkina Faso. The locusts destroyed the crops of many thousands of people, prompted a huge relief effort (most of my work in Djibo that year was with the Red Cross and the World Food Programme) and inspired my second book Sophie and the Locust Curse, a story of creativity and resourcefulness in the wake of catastrophe.

“Watch out! The locusts are coming!”

A terrifying army of locusts is devouring crops in one village after another. Gidaado’s village is next. When the locusts arrive, Gidaado will need all his wits about him. He will need his friend Sophie, his three-stringed guitar, and an albino camel as fast as the harmattan wind.

Don’t Spill the Milk artwork

Back in September I enjoyed visiting Bishop MacKenzie in Lilongwe, Malawi. It is now Book Week there and Year 4 have been doing some wonderful paintings inspired by DON’T SPILL THE MILK. Well done, all of you!

If art is your thing, you may also enjoy these ALL ABOARD colouring sheets, drawn by Christopher Corr. Click on an image to download a printable pdf.

colouring1

colouring2

How to Write a Chase Scene

Have you ever walked down a deserted street and had the feeling of being followed?
Have you ever dreamed you were being chased?
Have you ever had to run away from real danger?

In addition to my other school sessions, I now offer an hour-long secondary workshop on how to write an exciting chase scene. This works well with years 7 to 9, particularly boys. The aim is to provide an enjoyable writing experience whilst also imparting useful fiction tips.

The session begins with a three minute montage of chase scenes from films: The Matrix, District 13, Walking with Beasts and the now-famous iguana vs racing snake scene from Planet Earth 2. This stimulates general discussion of chase scenes in fiction: Why do we enjoy them and how do storytellers maximize the excitement of these scenes? I elicit from the students a set of instructions for writing an exciting foot chase. We discuss techniques such as close POV, show-don’t-tell and maintaining pace.

Students work in groups to create a chase scenario for the beginning of a thriller, and then do ten minutes of speed writing, employing the techniques we discussed. Four students read their work aloud. We discuss what is already effective and what could be even better.

For more details on my writing workshops, please email Trevor Wilson at Authors Abroad: trevor@caboodlebooks.co.uk

Survivor: Titanic

Told from the perspective of a twelve year old Irish boy in third-class, Survivor: Titanic is a new book for reluctant readers aged eight plus. It comes out on 5 January 2017 (published by Scholastic) and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

I really enjoyed planning and writing this one. I spent hours poring over deck plans of the ship and trying to come up with the most dramatic, adventure-filled story I could, without either shying away from or glamourizing the tragedy of this real event.

I found the following video particularly helpful during my research: a highly accurate real-time animation of the sinking. An extraordinary reconstruction of one of the most terrible maritime disasters in history.

Oscar Wilde, Jerome K Jerome and PG Wodehouse – my all time comedy heroes

My favourite comedian writing today is John Finnemore, eponymous hero of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme on Radio 4. But my all time comic heroes are Oscar Wilde (of course), Jerome K Jerome and PG Wodehouse. As luck would have it, they all have blue plaques in Chelsea, so I made it my goal this morning to visit all three on my morning run.

‘You run like an ostrich!’ my Fulani friend Hamadou used to tell me, by which I suspect he meant loping and gangly rather than able-to-reach-forty-mph. And so bright-eyed and ostrich-like I set out across Battersea Park and over Chelsea Bridge, sprinting in search of the three funnymen. At around the 5k mark I located Oscar Wilde’s plaque on Tite Street and then headed east a few blocks to find Jerome K Jerome.

I am sorry to report, I was defeated by Wodehouse’s townhouse in Knightsbridge. Rasping and gasping I staggered up the King’s Road awhile, but stopped well short of Walton Street and turned dejectedly for home.

This week the ballot result for the London Marathon comes out. I entered the ballot some weeks ago in a fit of optimism, and now have somewhat mixed feelings about it all. If I get in, my first training run next week will be a second struthionine attempt at the Three Comics run. Watch this space.

School visits in Lilongwe and Blantyre, Malawi

Just back from a wonderful two week trip to Malawi, organized by Authors Abroad. I visited Lilongwe in the centre of the country and Blantyre in the south. I am very grateful to the five international schools which hosted me there, to the students at Saint Andrews who regaled me with folk tales, and to the Morse family who took me to see the Majete Wildlife Reserve – a truly magical day.

Here are some pics of my time in Malawi. Most of the animal photos are by Tracy Morse.

Blood and Ink at Harbour Front Literary Festival in Hamburg

Just back from Hamburg, where I spent a couple of days at the kind invitation of the Harbour Front Literary Festival. Two readings, one at Aladin (who this summer published Blood & Ink in German) the other at a youth event laid on by the festival. What a wonderful city Hamburg is. Can’t wait to visit again.

Roald Dahl Day

To celebrate the centenary since Roald Dahl’s birth, pupils at my daughter’s school are dressing up as characters from Roald Dahl books. I wanted my daughter to go as Mrs Twit (because THE TWITS has always been my favourite) or as Matilda (because it’s an easy costume to make!) but Libby had other ideas.

Her first comment on the matter was ‘I don’t like Roald Dahl.’ I picked my jaw up from the floor and pretended not to have heard the heresy. The truth is, Daisy Meadows (Rainbow Fairies) is currently an all-consuming fire in my daughter’s heart, leaving little room for other suitors. We have listened to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in the car and her class is currently reading THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, but she doesn’t know the other stories yet.

Her second comment was ‘I want to go as Veruca Salt’. She didn’t stamp her foot or wag her finger in true Saltesque fashion, but she managed nevertheless to bend her father to her will. So Veruca Salt it was, complete with golden ticket in her hatband. She went merrily off to school saying, ‘I want an oompa loompa, I want a squirrel, I want five thousand two hundred Pokecoins’ etc.

Daughter 1 as Veruca Salt on Roald Dahl Day 2016

There were plenty of other Charlie and the Chocolate Factory characters at the school gates, as well as a gaggle of Matildas and one excellent Mrs Twit (with a ping pong ball for an eye – love it!).

mrs-twit

When I was my daughter’s age I read and adored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Witches and The BFG. I was in awe of Roald Dahl then and even more so now. I do hope that my daughters enjoy his stories for themselves in due course.

Here’s a documentary about Roald Dahl’s life and work. Watching it I learned lots of interesting things about the great man, including that he wrote the screenplay to the Bond film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. If you’re interested in Dahl and his work, you’ll be sure to enjoy it.

Summer in France

I turned forty over the summer, which was a great relief, because I’ve felt forty since I was about fifteen. Even though I am now officially old, the September Back to School period still makes me want to rush out and buy shiny new pencil cases, protractors, set squares and exercise books. I managed to resist the urge this year, and have instead invested in a box of Sharpies, which will enable me to sign books without smudging them. There, you see. Progress.

I spent the summer with my family in Brittany, France. In the afternoons I cycled, swam in the sea and played Pokemon Go. The Pokemon Go was with my six year old daughter, but the truth is, I sometimes play it without her, too. I LOVE that game. Don’t judge.

krabby

In the mornings, I wrote. I managed to write a whole book in a month, which just shows what you can do on a diet of pain au chocolat. The book is set aboard the Titanic, and it’s told from the point of view of a twelve year old boy called Jimmy. I wrote the second half of the book in the drawing room of a very grand chateau, which made it easy to imagine the opulence of the Titanic’s first class state rooms. I would very much like to write in that room all year round, but no, I’m back in London now and back in my cupboard at the top of the stairs.

Chateau_reading_room

Now that September is here, I am myself going back to school. Or rather, back to schools. Getting to visit lots of schools in the UK and around the world is one of the highlights of my job, and plenty of bookings are coming in. If you would like me to visit your school, do get in touch. I am particularly looking forward to visiting Malawi later this month, where I will be touring five schools and no doubt meeting plenty of enthusiastic readers.

Talking of enthusiastic reading, I’m devouring The Borrible Trilogy at the moment, which is a fantasty series set on Battersea High Street where I live. Borribles are outcasts and runaways. They are skinny, scruffy, quick-witted and pointy-eared. They dwell in the shadows of London, living by their wits and a few Borrible laws – the chief one being Don’t Get Caught. Great stuff.

As for picture books, the current favourite in our house is Miss Fox, which my wife says is dark and subversive. It sort of is, but it’s also great fun and my three year old loves it. It was our Book at Bedtime every night for a month, no kidding. I wrote to the author Simon Puttock and the illustrator Holly Swain to tell them so.

Comment below, if you feel the urge. Let me know what you’re reading at the moment, or indeed your Pokemon Go #CatchoftheDay. I will be genuinely interested in both!

Playing Pokemon GO in Battersea, London

Pokemon GO players can find rich pickings in Battersea, if you know where to look. Even though the streets are full of pidgys and ratatas and the riverside walk groans under the weight of magikarp, there are also some rarities to be snapped up.