World Book Day 2018

World Book Day 2018 falls on Thursday 1 March 2018. I have been booked by a school for World Book Day itself, but am still free the rest of that week, if your school would like me to visit for talks or workshops. And of course I am open for bookings throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, so do get in touch any time.

Going on holiday to France tomorrow. At least, mostly holiday. I will still be writing each morning, trying to finish off my current YA novel about a spectacularly rebellious chess prodigy.

Wishing all my readers an enjoyable and relaxing summer. See you on the other side.

8 Children’s Books about the Titanic disaster

Many children are fascinated by the story of the Titanic and it is often studied in primary schools as a window onto early twentieth century history, particularly in Key Stage 2. Today is the 105th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, as good a time as any for some recommendations of good Titanic books.

Survivor: Titanic by Stephen DaviesBefore I go on, I should declare an interest. My own Titanic book came out earlier this year. Survivor:Titanic is published by Scholastic as part of their new historical fiction SURVIVOR series. Jimmy from Ireland and Omar from Lebanon meet aboard the Titanic and are exploring the ship together when tragedy strikes. The book is written for reluctant readers, but can be enjoyed by anyone 8+.

Here are eight of the best children’s books about the Titanic – four non-fiction and four fiction – in no particular order.

Non-fiction

1. Story of the Titanic

Story of the Titanic by Steve NoonWhen it comes to portraying the details of this disaster, show don’t tell is key, and cutaways are definitely the best way of showing the inside of the Titanic both before and after the iceberg struck. Steve Noon’s book is highly recommended by Titanic geeks on Encyclopedia Titanica, as well as on Amazon. A real feast for the eyes.

2. Titanic (Eyewitness)

More Show-Don’t-Tell from another sumptuous DK picture book. Really brings the story alive with anecdotes, secrets, facts and puzzles. Perfect for homework projects about the Titanic tragedy.

3. On Board the Titanic: What it was like when the great liner sank

on board the titanic - shelley tanakaTanaka’s book uses real historical characters to tell the story. Jack Thayer’s account is particularly interesting. He was seventeen at the time of the sinking and was one of the few men to stay on the Titanic until the very last minute and still survive. A thrilling true-life story.

4. Inside the Titanic

Ken Marschall made a name for himself for lavish illustrations of books about the Titanic, and this is probably his best one. Like Steve Noon, he uses cutaway illustrations to make readers feel they are actually inside the doomed liner. The real-life accounts of passengers focus on the children aboard the Titanic, which is a particularly compelling (and harrowing) approach.

Ken’s paintings almost seemed to be stills from a movie that hadn’t yet been made. And I thought to myself, I can make these paintings live. It became my goal to accomplish on film what Ken had done on canvas, to will the Titanic back to life.

James Cameron

Fiction

There are dozens of children’s books set on the Titanic, including several time travel offerings where a modern-day hero gets transported back to 1912. The four I have chosen are not time travel stories, but they have all proved popular with young readers.

I SURVIVED is historical fiction, describing ten year-old George Calder’s battle for survival. Lauren’s book is gentle fare, especially considering the terrible setting, but it is well researched and enduringly popular.

Michael Morpurgo’s KASPAR PRINCE OF CATS is an absolute classic. Insired by Michael’s time as Writer in Residence at the Savoy Hotel, this book is charming, evocative and unpredictable, and it deals with mature themes in a very elegant way.

I can’t survey children’s books set on the Titanic without mentioning POLAR THE TITANIC BEAR. Another classic with beautiful full-page colour illustrations. Polar is a teddy bear, of course, and this is the Titanic as told through his eyes. Starts with him being sewed and stuffed in the factory and ends with- well, that would be telling.

TITANIC: MY STORY by Ellen White is the thrilling story of a young orphan Margaret Anne who can hardly believe her luck when she is chosen to accompany wealthy Mrs Carstairs aboard the great Titanic. This is a really good read, but something of a slow burner. It takes a while for Margaret Anne to get aboard the Titanic. When she does, the story is unputdownable.

If you are a teacher in the UK and your class is studying the Titanic, I would be happy to visit. My Titanic presentation covers the background to the tragedy, the research involved in writing historical fiction and some tips on writing exciting action scenes. Do contact me for more details.

School Visits in Saudi Arabia

I’ve just come back from ten days visiting schools in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to Authors Abroad for organizing the trip and to the three schools for their warm welcome: the King Faisal School, the American International School of Riyadh and the British International School of Al-Khobar.

Carsten Niebuhr
I was excited to visit Saudi Arabia, not least because I have a tenuous family connection with the country. In 1761 a young German cartographer called Carsten Niebuhr set off to Arabia as part of a six-man academic expedition organized by the King of Denmark. The trip was fraught with illness and quarrels (recounted in lurid detail in Thorkild Hansen’s book Arabia Felix), but it did prove to have some academic usefulness: Niebuhr’s transcription of the cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis proved to be a key turning-point in the decipherment of cuneiform.

Carsten Niebuhr was the only member of the expedition to return to Europe alive. As his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, I am very glad he did.

Back to the twenty-first century…King Faisal School is a boys’ school in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. During my visit the boys showed great imagination developing stories set in Riyadh and other Saudi settings. The day after I left they held a Young Author event, where students sold their own books in Arabic or English.

The American International School of Riyadh has a beautiful new campus on the north side of the city. I met lots of enthusiastic readers during a packed schedule of assemblies and workshops, and even managed a selfie with Readosaurus Rex, the pride and joy of the Elementary Library.

School starts and finishes early in Saudi Arabia, so I had plenty of time in the afternoons to lose at Risk to my host family and to explore downtown Riyadh: the beautifully preserved Al-Masmak Fortress, notorious ‘Justice’ Square and the dizzyingly tall Kingdom Tower. The black and white photograph below is from 1951 and shows a street of barbers and dentists in a street near Al-Swelem Gate (wince).

One night my hosts treated me to dinner at Nadj Village. We sat on plush Arabian carpet and feasted on camel meat and flavoured rice, surrounded by Arabian antiques. I thought of my seven-greats grandfather and imagined him enjoying just such a meal at the Ottoman court in Jeddah, in a pre-oil pre-Saud pre-warplane Arabia.

Arabia Felix indeed.

Blood & Ink at lit.Cologne 2017

Thanks and warm wishes to all the Cologne secondary students and teachers who came to my Blood & Ink reading at the Altes Pfandhaus yesterday. Schools are sometimes nervous about frank discussion of radicalisation, but not so yesterday. Your questions and comments were intelligent and thought-provoking. I hope Blood & Ink does well in Germany and that it helps to promote empathy and peace at a time when both are sorely needed.

Buy Blood & Ink: Die Bücher von Timbuktu on Amazon.de

New Books and Events in 2017

2017 is shaping up to be a busy year of book releases and school visits. First up, the books:

SURVIVOR: TITANIC (Scholastic) comes out this Thursday, and is the first in a new gripping series of first-hand surival stories.

SAHARA DISCOVERY (Rising Stars, 28 April) is a non-fiction book about the Tuareg people of the Sahara. See featured image above.

SAHARA SURVIVAL (Rising Stars, 28 April) is a story about a Tunisian family whose plane has to make an emergency landing in the middle of the desert. Both books are beautifully illustrated by Hatem Aly.

BLOOD & INK is coming out in the US in September, published by Charlesbridge. Cover to be revealed soon.

Later in the year, Pearson UK are publishing my retelling of the well-known Chinese story of Mulan. I loved writing this one and am very excited about its publication.

As for school visits, the diary is filling up fast. Author visits in schools inspire children to read widely and also to write for pleasure. At the time of writing I still have three days available in the week of World Book Day 2017: 27 and 28 February and 1 March.

DateSchoolLocationActivity
10 JanuaryWest Leigh InfantsBristolWorkshops
16 JanuaryArk Priory ActonTalk
3 FebruarySt Matthews CofEBradfordWorkshops
20 - 25 FebruaryInternational SchoolsLagosTalks and Workshops
27 FebruarySydenham High SchoolSydenhamBook week visit
2 MarchCasterton Sedburgh CumbriaBook week visit
3 MarchBilton JuniorRugbyBook week visit
9 MarchCardwell PrimaryWoolwichBook week visit
10 MarchNotre-Dame PrimaryPlumsteadBook week visit
13 MarchCologne Literary FestivalCologneTalk
19 - 31 MarchInternational SchoolsSaudi ArabiaTalks and Workshops
23 MayHome Farm ColchesterAble Writers Day
24 May
St Anne's Catholic SchoolSouthamptonTravel Writing workshops
15 JuneHoly TrinityMargateAble Writers Day
22 JuneWilliam Cobbett JuniorFarnhamAble Writers Day

You can find more information about my school visits (including content, rates and testimonials) by visiting the Author Visits page on this site. Alternatively, for details of my Able Writers Days, please go through the events agency Authors Abroad.

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

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.

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!