January 13, 2010

Great offer on Ebooks

Until 3pm this afternoon all ebooks are half-price over at WH Smiths

Posted by sahelsteve at 09:07 AM

November 02, 2009

Author of the Month

Oh goodie, I'm flavour of the month over at Love Reading 4 Kids.

Posted by sahelsteve at 01:53 PM

May 20, 2009

Stephen Davies school visits

Meeting an author can increase children's interest in books, help them understand how books are produced and boost the confidence of any aspiring writers.

Starting this September (and for one year only!) I will be available for school visits in the UK, both primary and secondary. If this is of interest, details can be found on the page Stephen Davies children's author over at the 'Contact an Author' website.


Posted by sahelsteve at 03:14 PM

April 18, 2009

For the fun to start the adults must be disposed of

My Situation
by Grimble


When parents go to Peru
And leave cups of tea in the fridge,
It's jolly hard to know what to do
And I wish I could think of a useful
word ending in idge. The End

With the passing of Clement Freud (1924 - 2009) I have been remembering Grimble. I used to really enjoy this story of a boy whose parents suddenly disappear to Peru, leaving him to his own hilarious devices.

The departure of Grimble's parents is a stark solution to the classic children's author dilemma: How to Get Rid of the Adults?

Solution 1. Your hero is an orphan (Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Violet Baudelaire, Anne of Green Gables, James Trotter and many others).

Solution 2. Parents gone to Peru (Grimble) or so absorbed in their own lives that they might as well have gone to Peru

Solution 3. Parents alive but stay-at-homes (Just William, Famous Five).

In my last book, HACKING TIMBUKTU, I made use of the old 'Gone to Peru' trick, or in Danny's case 'Gone to Australia':

'Where are your parents?'
'My dad and my step-mum live in Australia.'
'Australia?' The policeman frowned. 'Why don't you live with them?'
Danny swallowed hard. 'I just don't.'
'You mean they upped and went?' said the policeman. 'Left you here all on your own to fend for yourself?'
'They pay the rent on this place,' muttered Danny. Don't feel sorry for me, he thought. You don't know anything about me. I live here and they live there, that's all there is to it. I'm sixteen. I can look after myself.

No more reason is given for Danny's parents leaving than for Grimble's. We don't need it, we just need them out of the way.

I was interested to read Mal Peet's review of GONE by Michael Grant today. It begins:

"It's axiomatic that for the fun to start the adults must be disposed of. Michael Grant does this in the most perfunctory and audacious way. From a chunk of southern California, everyone over the age of 15 vanishes in an instant, just like that - poof! Teachers in mid-sentence, drivers from cars, parents at home, all gone."

So there you go - all adults disposed of in the very first paragraph - the most simple and delightful solution yet. Why hasn't anyone else thought of that before?

Posted by sahelsteve at 12:21 PM

October 02, 2008

Hyena and Rabbit

The Fulani have a lot of folk tales about Rabbit (fulfulde: bojel). Small but wily, Rabbit exemplifies the Fulani ideals of intelligence and cunning and invariably triumphs over its larger neighbours. Rabbit's nemesis in these stories is usually Hyena (fulfulde: fowru), famed for her greediness and stupidity. It is easy to see the roots of the Brer Rabbit stories in these Fulani folk tales. Here is a taster:

One day Hyena gave birth to cubs and hid them in a narrow hole in the ground. Rabbit joined the cubs in the hole, and whenever Hyena dropped food into the hole, Rabbit ate it all up before the cubs could get to it.

The days passed until one morning Hyena arrived at the hole and told the cubs to come out so she could look at them. Out came the cubs and stood in a line.
'What's the matter?' exclaimed Hyena. 'You're all so skinny you look like death.'

'There's someone in the hole with us,' said the cubs. 'Whenever you bring food, he eats it all up before we can get to it.'

'RIGHT' said Hyena. 'Come on out of there, whoever you are!'
'Sure,' replied Rabbit, sticking his ears up out of the hole. 'But first take my sandals for me, would you?'
Furious, Hyena grabbed Rabbit's ears (thinking them sandals) and flung them over his shoulder.

'Now come out of there!' cried Hyena.
'He's already out,' cried the cubs. 'Look, there he is behind you!'

Hyena looked, and let out a cry of rage. Rabbit waved his hand, then ran off lippety-clippety into the thicket, laughing nineteen to the dozen.

Posted by sahelsteve at 06:49 PM

August 23, 2008

Yes to Age Banding

I'm fed up of the hysterical language being used by children's authors in the ongoing age-ranging debate. Darren Shan has declared war. Anne Fine has called it stupid and cruel. Anyone would think the Publishers Association were proposing to coat the pages of children's books with strychnine, but all they are actually saying is that it would help book-buyers if there were age guidance on the back cover of children's books. And well over 80% of children's book buyers agree with them.

Bookshops and online retailers already group their books in age ranges. So why not let the age recommendation for any one book be decided by the author and publisher, who know the book best?

I write in both 'junior fiction' and 'young adult' categories, which occasionally confuses retailers. In Waterstones last year I saw 'The Yellowcake Conspiracy' on the 8-12 shelves. I pity any 8 year-old given 'The Yellowcake Conspiracy' for Christmas. If the book had 'Young Adult' printed discreetly on the back cover, so much the better.

The only convincing argument against age-banding is that Little Timmy on the school bus might be caught reading a 7+ book when his friend Vernon is reading 9+. Well yes, that'll probably happen, but if the story's good enough, Timmy won't care. Besides, the fact of his owning a book at all puts Timmy in a privileged 5% band of children worldwide. Besides, he can always poke Vernon in the eye.

Posted by sahelsteve at 06:49 PM

November 28, 2007

Children's books set in Africa

Congratulations to Sarah Mussi for her triumph in the Children's category of the 2007 Glen Dimplex Awards.

I read The Door of No Return earlier this year and really enjoyed it.

The surge of children's books set in Africa recently has been extraordinary. Was it really only last August that Amanda Craig commented in her Times column that it had been a long time since a children's author dared to write about Africa? That column elicited THIS BEAUT LETTER from my dear Mum (at a time when she was also going into Waterstones and carefully adjusting copies of 'Sophie and the Albino Camel' to make them more prominent - not that I've ever done that, of course!).

Since that time, there have been so many good children's books set in Africa that I am half afraid to list them, for fear of missing off a brace of classics. Here goes anyway:

Plus, of course, my own offerings are linked from the sidebar on this page.

Great to see Africa firmly back on the reading list. And well done to Glen Dimplex for having the courage to give the Children's Award to an Africa-based book two years running. Noice.

Posted by sahelsteve at 10:12 PM

March 21, 2007

Dave Shelton's Life of a Pen is back!

Caloo, calay, he chortled in his joy.

Dave Shelton has revamped his website. Very user-friendly and pleasant it is too.

Dave Shelton: Drawing and Colouring in

But even more wonderful than this is that LIFE OF A PEN IS BACK FOR A SECOND SEASON. Don't miss it - it's wonderful, imaginative, disturbing, intriguing and altogether A Good Thing. This time the pen is a 25p black biro. Sheer class.


If you missed season 1, here are the 'Life of a Pen' rules.

Posted by sahelsteve at 09:07 PM

March 10, 2007

Climb the Cliff

Atiko was a Dogon boy who lived with his grumpy gran at the foot of the Dogon Cliffs.

Like other Dogon boys, Atiko enjoyed eating onion soup, playing the tamtam drums and chatting to Galemba the Talking Snake.

Unlike other Dogon boys, Atiko was SCARED OF HEIGHTS.

One day, Gran said, ‘Today I’m going to the cliff-top, Atiko, to visit my onion-patch. I want you to come with me.’

‘I can’t,’ said Atiko. ‘I’m SCARED OF HEIGHTS, innit.’

Continue reading "Climb the Cliff"

Posted by sahelsteve at 05:07 PM

February 16, 2007

Author site launched



Posted by sahelsteve at 07:32 PM

December 17, 2005

Dave Shelton - illustrator


Got the proofs for Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+) today, so at last I know who is illustrating it. Dave Shelton (whose website Daveshelton.com is definitely worth a visit) "lives in a flat above the Co-Op in Cambridge (UK not Massachusetts) where he draws and colours in for a living. Like most illustrators he drinks too much tea, eats too many biscuits and listens to a lot of Radio 4."

You can also have a look at Dave Shelton's blog, which includes lots of his pictures and occasional wonderful extracts from his sketchbook. In the blog there are occasional references to days of camel-drawing work, for which I am extremely grateful.

Posted by sahelsteve at 03:06 PM

November 11, 2005

Pre-order 'Sophie and the Albino Camel' on Amazon

">Order_Sophie_and_the_Albino.gif You can now pre-order a copy of Sophie and the Albino Camel on Amazon. This means that when Amazon starts receiving the book from Andersen Press (6 April 2006) they will send one straight to you.

That way you won't have to go outside in those April showers.

Posted by sahelsteve at 01:08 PM

November 09, 2005

Andersen Press Spring 2006 Catalogue

andersen_press_spring_2006.gifAndersen Press has just released its 2006 Spring Catalogue, and it is full of treats.

I like the look of 'Misery Moo' (3+) by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, a "heart-warming story about overcoming bad moods", and also 'Burger Boy' (3+) by Alan Durant and Mei Matsuoka, about a lad who eats so many burgers he turns into one - and gets chased across the countryside by a mob of hungry dogs. For teenagers, Melvin Burgess weighs in with a new novel 'Sarah's Face' about a girl who plans to give her face to an aging rock star. Noice.

My own Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+) is also in there. The blurb goes something like this:

'Keep up with this exciting camel chase through the Sahara desert! Sophie, Gidaado the storyteller, and his albino camel, go on a journey through Burkina Faso. As they travel, Sophie realizes just how dangerous the desert is - it's full of djinns and deadly snakes, not to mention the infamous Moussa ag Litni, a ruthless bandit who steals camels...'


Posted by sahelsteve at 01:10 PM

October 24, 2005

Mr Benn - what was it all about?

Andersen Press publish the books of David McKee, author of the Elmer the Elephant books and creator of Mr Benn. Remember Mr Benn? "As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared"? I have many happy childhood memories of watching his all-too-short adventures, which all started in that fascinating costume shop. Some brief surfing turned up the following excellent website - Mr Benn - What was it all about? - which comprises 12 theories about the deeper meaning of Mr Benn. Great stuff, by someone who truly cares about the world of Mr Benn. It's sites like that which make the Internet worthwhile.

My own Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+) is also to be published by Andersen Press (launch date is 6 April 2006), and if anyone out there would like to set up the website 'Albino Camel - what was it all about?', feel free. There are some fairly deep redemptive analogies in there if you look hard for them! More about that later...

Posted by sahelsteve at 10:21 PM

October 23, 2005

Hawk and Hen

Told to me this week by Tamboura Muusa:

A very very long time ago, Hen went to Hawk and said 'Can I borrow a needle to repair my children's clothes?' and Hawk said 'Very well then, here you are.'
The weeks went by and Hen did not come to return the needle, so Hawk paid Hen a visit.
'Salam aleykum,' said Hawk.
'Aleykum asalam,' said Hen. 'To what do I owe the honour of this visit?'
'My needle,' said Hawk. 'I need it back now.'
'I've lost it,' said Hen. 'Please forgive me.'
Hawk was furious. 'No,' he said, 'I will not forgive you. Every week I will take one of your children until you return my needle.'

AND SO TO THIS DAY, Hawk regularly steals Hen's children. And Hen spends her days scratching around in the dust looking for the lost needle.

Posted by sahelsteve at 05:33 PM

September 30, 2005

Draft Cover for Sophie and the Albino Camel

The good people at Andersen sent me today this draft of the cover for Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+). As you can see, Beccy is doing a great job on this - I think she's achieved just the right balance of serious and goofy.


Now I need to get on and write the blurb for the back. I had not realized that authors write their own blurbs, although I suppose it is logical. Thankfully, I recently came across John Warner's excellent Blurb-O-Matic.

Posted by sahelsteve at 07:01 PM

June 20, 2005

The White Giraffe

There are only three web-logs which I look at every time I go online: Under the Acacias, Boing Boing and Achuka. The formidable 'Achuka' is edited by Michael Thorn and updated daily with news, reviews and gossip from the world of children's publishing. This is a heady time of year for Thorn, with one London publishing house after another throwing its summer party; somehow or other he gets invited to all of them. On Monday last week he went to the Puffin Party in the Orangery at Kensington Palace, and on Thursday he attended the Orion Party at the Oktober Gallery. (Thorn's analysis was that Orion's food this year was not quite up to last year's 'glorious spread of bread, cheese, fruits and dips'. Made me feel hungry just reading it, and as soon as I left the telecentre I rushed across the road to buy a mango off a passing girl's head. Anyway, I'm straying from the point here.)

Thorn took photos of various Orion people having a good time, including an arresting picture of two ladies grinning from ear to ear. The caption was even more arresting:

Jo Williamson, Orion Publicity Officer, with Lauren St John, whose first novel in a 5-figure 3-book deal, 'The White Giraffe', will be published in the autumn. It is the story of a 9-year-old orphan who is sent from England to live with her grandmother on a game reserve in South Africa. With few friends and feeling an outsider, her adventures begin as she gradually learns the secrets of the reserve, including the story of the fabled white giraffe who is rumoured to live there.

Hello, I thought, this 'White Giraffe' book sounds rather similar to my own Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+): the African setting, the girl sent from England and feeling an outsider, the eponymous tall white four-legged animal…the coincidences are such that I am relieved that neither 'White Giraffe' nor 'Albino Camel' have yet been published - I would hate to be accused of you-know-what.

The 5-figure 3-book deal thing is where Lauren St John and I part company. St John is an established author (of biographies) with a good literary agent. My book has only been accepted via the 'slush-pile', which is how publishers refer to the dozens of unsolicited manuscripts which they receive every week. I am grateful to the readers at Andersen Press for bothering to even look at 'Albino Camel', and to Klaus Flugge (director), for being willing to take a chance on it.

'The White Giraffe' is set to be published in the autumn by Orion, and I am looking forward to reading it. I am sure it is very good indeed, gnash-gnash, and I wish Lauren St John the best of luck with it. Sophie and the Albino Camel will be published by Andersen Press just a few months later (April 2006), by which time books set in Africa and populated by lonely English girls and large albino fluffies should be either well and truly 'in' or well and truly done to death. Only time (and Thorn) will tell which.

Posted by sahelsteve at 01:06 PM

April 30, 2005


Okay, so this is my good news for the day:

A certain children's publisher (best known for Elmer the Patchwork Elephant) have offered to publish Sophie and the Albino Camel (8+).

Posted by sahelsteve at 09:54 AM

July 14, 2004

The Camel and Hassan Djiwa

(for Mum, 5 August 2004)

In the west of Africa there is a hot, dry country called Burkina Faso. You can find it on a map if you look hard enough. As you know, many people in hot countries use a camel to help them get around. In Burkina Faso there are hundreds of camels, maybe thousands.

Camels have four legs, and two knees on each leg. Can you imagine trying to keep track of eight knees? Also, they have a big hump, sometimes two. A camel with one hump is called a Dromedary. A camel with two humps is called a Bactrian. (Here is an easy way to remember the difference: just put the first letter on its side and count the humps. D has one hump, B has two).

The Fulani people of Burkina Faso say that God has one hundred names, and that humans know ninety-nine of them. They say that only the camel knows the one hundredth name of God, and that is why he smirks.

Here is a story about a man from Burkina Faso who did not have a camel and decided to steal one. It turned out to be a very special camel indeed…

Continue reading "The Camel and Hassan Djiwa"

Posted by sahelsteve at 12:26 PM

July 06, 2004

Ouedraogo, Sauodogo and the Chobbal

Two Mossi merchants were travelling to Ouagadougou together, a journey of two days through the semi-desert. Their names were Ouedraogo and Sauodogo. Ouedraogo had brought provisions for the journey, Sauodogo had not.

By the afternoon of the first day the merchants were hungry. Seeing a well not far off, Ouedraogo decided to stop and eat. He sat down on the ground and took off his turban. Sauodogo did likewise. Ouedraogo opened his bag and took out four balls of chobbal. (Chobbal is a mixture of cooked millet and herbs. You mix it with water or milk and eat it like porridge).

When he saw the chobbal, Sauodogo's eyes lit up and he licked his lips.
'You aren't going to eat that all by yourself, are you?' he said.
Ouedraogo certainly was going to eat it all by himself. But he said nothing.

Continue reading "Ouedraogo, Sauodogo and the Chobbal "

Posted by sahelsteve at 03:49 PM

September 17, 2003

Don't Fall Asleep!

In the west of Africa there is a hot, dry country called Burkina Faso. You can see it on a map if you look hard enough. In Burkina Faso lives a tribe of people called the Fulani. They keep cows, sheep and goats, and sometimes they have to travel around to find grass and water for their animals.

In one Fulani family, in a town called Aribinda, there were three sons: Abdullai, Moomooni and Ali. One evening, their father said to Abdullai and Moomooni: "Boys, tomorrow you must take the animals to Gorom-Gorom, your Uncle Abraham's village. I hear it has rained there and the grass is tall and green. If you walk well, the journey will take two days. And in the night, you will need to watch the animals, so whatever you do, don't fall asleep."

Continue reading "Don't Fall Asleep! "

Posted by sahelsteve at 03:14 PM

November 10, 2001

Interactive map of Africa

Do you know where Burkina Faso is?

If you don't, here is a fun way to find out. Look at this interactive map, and move your mouse around until you find Burkina Faso. What is the capital called?

Posted by sahelsteve at 12:00 PM