Virtual Author Visits

I am an award-winning author with over twenty published books for children and teens. I enjoy giving talks and creative writing workshops in schools, and am now able to offer these as online sessions, via Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

  • Engaging, interactive workshops for young people
  • Good knowledge of Zoom and Microsoft Teams
  • 100 Mbps wired ethernet connection – no lag or pixellation

Years 1-2: African picture books

I read my picture book DON’T SPILL THE MILK, accompanied by hi-res illustrations onscreen (Christopher Corr), and then help the class to produce ideas for a sequel, DON’T DROP THE MANGO!

Years 3-4: Creating interesting characters for your stories

Using photographs of children from around the world as a springboard, I lead the class through the process of coming up with intriguing and believable story characters.

Years 5-6: ‘Limited third person’ point of view

Using examples from my book SURVIVOR TITANIC, I introduce the advanced technique of ‘limited third person’ storytelling and give students opportunities to experiment with it themselves.

I also offer thriller-writing or travel-writing workshops for secondary level students.

Read testimonials about my in-person school visits.

For more information, or to make a booking, email Yvonne at Authors Abroad

I look forward to joining your class from afar, wherever in the world you may be!

Dear teachers

I understand that your capacity to invite visitors into your school is much reduced this term, and maybe further ahead as well. All the same, I want to let you know that I’m still available for visits, either real or virtual. Happy to engage with your class via Zoom/Teams if need be.

Drop me a line any time to discuss possibilities, or email Yvonne at Authors Abroad.

Warm wishes,


PS The display of Titanic memorabilia above was in Year 6 at Freeland C of E Primary School in Oxfordshire – just one of many amazing Titanic displays I’ve seen in your classrooms over the last few years.

Drawing lockdown

Lockdown is not good for writing. For one thing, I can only write when I’m relaxed. For another, I am only productive if I get uninterrupted time to feel my way into a writing session.

Research and editing seem to use a different part of the brain. I’ve done some non-fiction research and various Hilda edits since the start of lockdown and they’ve been straightforward enough. But first draft fiction? Forget it.

I get grumpy when I’m not doing anything creative, so I’ve turned to drawing instead. I’m never going to be an author-illustrator, but I’ve started messing around with a dip pen and a bottle of ink, and am enjoying it just as much as I used to when I was a boy.

So here goes: a cartoon chronicle of lockdown:

Lockdown Block
Joe Wicks for Seniors

Take a break

March update

Dear friends, what a difference two months make. Re-reading my start-of-year newsletter, it seems absurdly carefree. All of us are affected by the various challenges presented by Covid-19. It is good to see friends and neighbours pulling together to help vulnerable members of their communities.

The closure of schools means that all of my school events this term have been cancelled or postponed. I do hope to offer virtual school visits at some stage. Watch this space for videoed talks and workshops.

A LOT of children’s books are going to get read over the next few weeks. If you can’t get to a library, the Libby app is brilliant in bringing your library to you.

For parents needing further literacy resources, the industrious librarian Mr Maxwell at Glenthorne School has compiled this useful list:

Reading & Literacy Resources 

Authorfy ( Free to join, contains several videos of authors reading from their books, creative writing challenges and much more. 

Book List ( A searchable list of over 200 books that are popular at Glenthorne. Unless otherwise stated, all books are suitable for ages 11+. 

Booklings Chat ( Hear Glenthorne students interview 30 different authors when they visited the school. 

BookTrust Book Finder ( Click “Books & Reading” then “Book Finder”) Great resource on finding books on a wide variety of genres. 

British Library ( Make your own mini book with instructions from the British Library. 

English Media Centre ( Free Home Learning Pack for Key Stage 3 students. 

Goodreads ( Free to join, students can write their own reviews of books they have read, find book lists, take part in quizzes and discover new books to read. 

Grammar Cereal ( Practice your grammar with downloadable short stories. 

NPR Comic on Coronavirus: ( A short comic book and 3 minute podcast for kids that will help dispel fears, bust myths and reduce panic surrounding the coronavirus. 

Project Gutenberg ( Project Gutenberg offers over 50,000 free e-books in various formats.

Reading Realm ( Creative writing resources that can be used with a free app. 

Reading Zone ( Book reviews, competitions and activities for all ages. 

Scholastic Learn at Home ( Four new learning experiences posted every day for a wide range of ages. 

Toppsta ( Giveaways and hundreds of book reviews and activities for a wide variety of ages.

Warmest good wishes to you and yours. Keep home, keep well, keep reading.

Happy New Year

Warmest wishes to all my readers for a happy and productive 2020. Looking forward to reading lots of great new fiction this year, and to writing some more of my own stories as well. September sees the long-awaited release of Hilda season 2 on Netflix as well as the publication by Flying Eye of the first of three brand new Hilda books written by me and illustrated by Seaerra Miller (numbers four, five and six in the series).

Since visiting Cairo with Authors Abroad last year I have become obsessed with Ancient Egypt. I have surrounded myself with books on the subject, am learning to read hieroglyphs and am haunting the British Museum like a very tall, camera-wielding spectre. Here’s hoping that something creative will come out of this obsession in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, I have loads of school visits planned for this term and next, both in the UK and further afield. My Key Stage 2 Titanic-themed workshops (based on my book Survivor: Titanic) are popular and space in the diary is rapidly diminishing, so please do enquire sooner rather than later if you’re a teacher wanting to organize a visit. Drop a line to Yvonne Lang at Authors Abroad

A special shout out to Sayes Court Primary School in Addlestone and Ditton Park Academy in Slough who I’m glad to serve as patron of reading this year. I’ll be keeping an eye on all new mid-grade and young adult fiction coming out over the next six months, and shoving plenty of recommendations your way.

One rather special book I discovered over the Christmas break is Pharaoh’s Fate by Camille Gautier and Stephanie Vernet, illustrated by Margaux Carpentier. It’s a thrilling story set in Ancient Egypt where YOU play the part of detective, following clues and deciphering codes in order to foil a plot against the pharaoh’s life.

Keep adventuring and keep reading!

Venus de Milo – a poem

This poem is part of a longer one I wrote for my mum’s 70th birthday. The crossword clues are from the London Times, 5 August 1949.

In an incandescent corridor

perched on a folding chair

Ron Tippett’s ink-stained fingers

rake through crinkly brylcreamed hair

All there is for him to look at

is a worn No Smoking sign

a desiccated cheese plant

and a dog-eared London Times.

The crossword might distract him

from the cacaphonic noise

“They do not pay for seats in stalls”

That’s easy: CHOIR BOYS

“Their business is a blooming sell”

could FLORISTS be the word?

and “Stymie on the table”

must be SNOOKER – that’s his third!

“Venus de Milo does not need it”

(two words, five and four)

Could it be WRIST WATCH? No, too long.



She doesn’t need a SPACE SUIT cos she won’t be blasting off

and she doesn’t need a COUGH DROP cos she hasn’t got a cough

You could try her on a PEACE PIPE but the Louvre says No Smoking

and she has no use for STEEL WOOL – she leaves her pans a-soaking.

“Venus de Milo does not need it”

(Two words, five and four).

That clue is really nagging him

He’ll have to think some more.

Venus doesn’t need a CHECK BOOK cos she’s got no way of cashing ‘em

She lives in dread of ITCHY FEET – she’s got no way of scratching ‘em.

No AGONY AUNT can help her, she’s a hypergloomy Gus,

and she doesn’t need a GRAVY BOAT, cos honestly, who does?

Our Venus needs no VOICE MAIL to keep track of any messages

It’s hard to set a MOUSE TRAP without brachial appendages

She doesn’t need a WEDGE HEEL – it would make her feel unsteady

And she doesn’t need a POKER FACE, she’s wearing one already.

She doesn’t need a LIGHT BULB cos she wouldn’t reach the switch

And she doesn’t need a DRESS RACK cos she never wears a stitch

She doesn’t need a TRAIN FARE cos she’s got no place to go

and she doesn’t need a SLIDE RULE (she’s got a Macbook Pro).

KOALA? PANDA? GUMMI BEAR? She’s just not into bears.

And she doesn’t need a STAIR LIFT for she’s not allowed upstairs.


You really don’t need much when you’re a goddess made of stone.


Someone’s calling him! It’s time to sally forth

and The Times is now discarded on the disinfected floor.

Those Barratt boots are galloping towards the sunlit ward

Moving fast as Water Biscuit on a firm dry summer course.

And there’s his wife! And there’s the nurse! And there’s the tiny cot!

Well, well, well (as camels say), what a perfect girl they’ve got!

Oh my, thinks Ron, she hasn’t got much ELBOW ROOM in there

then suddenly he laughs out loud and leaps into the air!

Training with London’s Chessboxers at Islington Boxing Club

Leah Baxter, the hero of my new novel Chessboxer is an international chess master and also something of an athlete. She can run a five-minute mile. She can jab a punchbag seventy-four times in thirty seconds. She can jump a skipping rope a hundred times before screwing up.

I wish I had half of Leah’s athleticism and hand-eye coordination. I would love to be able to jump rope even ten times before screwing up. As it turns out I can jump rope precisely zero times before screwing up.

It’s Saturday morning and I have come to Islington boxing club, to spend some time flailing ingloriously with a skipping rope. Experienced chessboxer Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read skips effortlessly at my side, encouraging me with kindly advice. ‘Jump up just before the rope reaches your shins,’ he says. ‘You’ll get the hang of it soon.’ And later (since I show no sign of getting the hang of it), ‘Put both handles in one hand and just twirl the rope by your side.’

As well as being embarrassed by my lack of coordination, I am also somewhat starstruck. The fifteen other skippers in this gym are the best-known chessboxers in the UK – Gavin ‘Grievous Bodily Farmer’ Paterson, Cameron ‘The Hurt Locker’ Little, Roger ‘Cannonball’ Baxter, names I’ve become very familiar with these last five years.

After an eternity of entanglement, I get to play some chess. This is the essence of chessboxing training – moving from high-intensity cardio work to blitz chess and back again. But with my heart still pumping from my fumbled attempts to skip, I can’t remember any decent lines for white in the French Defence Advance Variation. I’m making it up as I go along, and soon I am haemorrhaging pawns.

‘You thought you’d be meeting Leah, didn’t you?’ I whisper.

‘It’s fine,’ Matt chuckles. ‘At least you write a damn good game.’

I’m pleased by the compliment because I always wanted Chessboxer to be read and enjoyed by people who know their chess, as well as by those who’ve never picked up a knight in their life. In writing first-person POV from Leah’s perspective, the challenge was to shoehorn myself into the shoes of a chess master and convey in writing the intense drama of high-level chess. If Crazy Arms enjoyed the book, I must have done something right.

Gavin calls time on the chess round and we move on to boxing – or in my case, a beginners lesson with boxing coach Zowie Campbell. ‘Stand at forty-five degrees,’ he says. ‘Hands up to your face. Elbows tight to your rib cage. Bend your knees. Now take a step forward and drag your right foot behind.’ It turns out that even the most basic punch, the jab, has a dozen separate components. ‘Twist your right foot as you throw the jab,’ says Zowie, demonstrating. ‘Pretend you’re stubbing out a cigarette butt on the ground…twist-twist.’

As the lesson progresses, I am struck not just by the complexity of basic boxing technique, but also by the poetry of it. As Iron Mike scowls down at us from a poster on the wall, Zowie takes us through a drill that would not sound out of place in a Hilaire Belloc poem: Step forward, jab, jab, uppercut, jab…step forward, jab, jab, left hook, back.

Also getting his first taste of boxing today is Matthew Lunn, an accomplished chess player and commentator. After our lesson, I make the mistake of challenging Matthew to a game. He lets me play white, gives me a huge time advantage on the clocks, and then mercilessly steamrollers me, delivering checkmate before I’ve even castled.

Gavin calls the switch and it’s time for the punching bags to get a battering of their own. ‘Bend your knees, not your neck,’ Cannonball calls over to me. ‘And stop sticking your arse out. Watch Matt and Cameron if you want to see good technique from tall people.’

The English word ‘agony’ comes from the Greek word agon, meaning ‘contest’. The final contest of the morning – the last delicious agony – is two laps around Elthorne Park and a sprint up Hazelville Hill. ‘Keep your gloves on,’ grins Gavin, ‘and I’ll be shouting at you to keep your guard up all the way.’

For lap, read lumber. For sprint, read stagger. I’m so grateful to Gavin and Matt for their willingness to induct an out-of-condition author into the mystery of chessboxing, but this final uphill sprint is killing me, and I can’t help thinking of the scene in Chessboxer where Leah encounters her gym equipment nemesis: Jacob’s ladder. ‘After three minutes, my muscles are burning,’ she says. ‘After ten minutes, I no longer know my own name. After fifteen minutes I want nothing more than to crawl into a deep dark ditch and die.’

In her often quoted book ‘On Boxing’ (1987), Joyce Carol Oates wrote this: ‘The punishment a person must endure to become even a moderately good boxer is inconceivable.’ Inconceivable, perhaps, but I do feel as if I’ve had a glimpse.

Chessboxer comes out on Thursday 3 October 2019, published by Andersen Press.

London Chessboxing’s next event Oktoberfist takes place on Saturday 5 October 2019.

I chatted with Gavin and the two Matts for this episode of their excellent Chessboxing podcast.

Chessboxing training happens every Saturday morning at Islington Boxing Club.