NaNoWriMo Day 24 – one week to go

NaNoWriMo Day 24

I can’t say this month is going quickly – but at least it’s going.

It all started swimmingly, of course, with early mornings and white-on-white writing and 2000 words every day in time for breakfast.

Then on 10 November the Chess World Championship chess match in Chennai began. It’s hard to have two major hobbies on top of a day job and a family. As #NaNoWriMo and #AnandCarlsen vied for attention, my word count suffered.

Today Magnus Carlsen is being crowned the new chess World Champion, and my mind is returning to Timbuktu. The current word count is 37,442. If I can write 2000 words every day this week, I will have completed the first draft of SCROLLS and be a NaNoWriMo 2013 winner. If not, I will wear sackcloth and ashes until Christmas.

I am enjoying the process, in spite of early mornings and sore eyes. On my good days I think the first draft is turning out rather well. Even on my bad days I don’t think it’s entirely horrible. I like it when characters and events collide unexpectedly in ways I had not foreseen in the chapter outline. I am a firm believer that a novel outline should not be exhaustive – you need to leave space in your plot for unanticipated magic.

I am also happy to be experimenting with a new genre – new to me, I mean. SCROLLS is historical fiction. There are thriller elements, but there is also romance. As an author more at home with spies, kidnappings and improbable gadgets, I am relishing this new departure into a world of lingering glances, balcony scenes, impassioned soliloquies and other blissful nonsense.

Can I reach 50,000 words by 30 November? With a busy week coming up, I genuinely don’t know. Call back here next Sunday to share my jubilation or misery.

Timbuktu to Mopti – what became of the Mali I love?

from Timbuktu to Mopti - Goggle eyed Goats and Hacking Timbuktu

Both in my picture books and in my teen fiction, I have written about the Malian towns of Timbuktu and Mopti. In THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS Al Haji Amadou makes the trip from Timbuktu to Mopti overland to sell his five naughty goats. In HACKING TIMBUKTU the unscrupulous fugitive Moktar Hasim comandeers a fishing boat and makes the same journey, this time on the water.

I have never been to Timbuktu, but last year I had the chance to visit Mopti. It’s a fascinating and ancient town built on three islands in the River Niger. The ancient port still acts as an important trade hub, particularly for the huge slabs of salt brought in from the Sahara Desert. Here is thirty seconds of footage from my trip, just to give an impression of what Mopti looks like:

Sadly, as I write this, Timbuktu is unrecognizable, and Mopti too. Earlier this year, Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists took over Timbuktu. The Tuaregs were fighting for the creation of the independent Tuareg state of Azawad, but their Arabic-speaking brothers in arms had a very different vision: the establishment of Sharia law across the north of Mali (an area the size of France) and the consolidation of a military stronghold capable of launching attacks on a degenerate Western world. By the time the Tuaregs realized the awful truth, it was too late. As the following video shows, the banks in Timbuktu have been looted and heritage sites destroyed. Hospitals are short-staffed. Public schools have been closed and will not re-open until the curriculum is changed according to Islamic values.

The government’s soldiers in Timbuktu and elsewhere put up little resistance – they were outflanked, outgunned and outnumbered, and they quickly withdrew. Now all eyes are on Mopti. The islamic militants in Timbuktu are threatening that the ancient port is next on their list of targets, and are preparing to make the journey from Timbuktu to Mopti.

Timbuktu to Mopti. It’s the innocent picture book journey undertaken by Al Haji Amadou and his goats. It’s the swashbuckling treasure hunt journey undertaken by Moktar Hasim and his pursuers. But this time it’s for real, and it will not be on foot or by boat but overland in stolen Toyota Landcruisers loaded with rocket launchers and heavy-calibre mortars. I am sickened that the beautiful land of Mali, a storybook land in the best possible sense, is now being violated by fanatics who have no respect for history, culture or human life.

In Mopti, a poorly-armed but determined militia awaits. These are not goverment soldiers, these are plucky civilians desperate to reclaim their ravaged country. The New York Times ran an interesting piece on the Mopti front line earlier this month. Realistically, their prospects are not good.

I rang our home town in Burkina Faso last week and spoke to my friend Hama and to local pastor Ali. ‘We have never seen anything like this,’ said Hama. ‘Everyone in town is talking about Mali’s troubles, and there has been violence as close as Boni on the Burkina-Mali border. Alla hoynu tan (May God make it easier).’

I hope that one day I will again be able to write about Mali as a proud, peaceful country where naughty goats raid pumpkin patches and fishing boats parade the mighty Niger river. But until Timbuktu is restored to its rightful landlords, magical Mali will seem a very dark place indeed. Certainly not a place to take children to.

Amanda Craig GOGGLE-EYED GOATS review

Amanda Craig reviews the Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Amanda Craig’s Easter recommendations in the Saturday Times contained a pleasing review of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Some lovely-sounding words in there. Ebullient, anybody? Rumbustious?


“Easter always brings a fine clutch of tales about chicks, pups, lambs and eggs. While the list of classic picture books remains small, good new ones are as welcome as spring. They need to withstand repeated rereading so don’t go for the obvious.

The Goggle-Eyed Goats (Andersen £10.99) is an ebullient tale by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr. Old Al Haji Amadu lives in Mali with three wives, seven children and five extremely naughty goggle-eyed goats that munch, gobble and chew whatever they can find, which includes his wives’ clothes. Getting rid of the goats, classic embodiments of a child’s interest in food, becomes pressing. But the children protest and follow their father to market. The book’s rumbustious, rhythmical feel for language, packed with internal rhymes, makes it a pleasure to read aloud, and the colourful pictures of the Amadu family and their surroundings have the unselfconscious charm of primitive art. The ridiculously long-lashed goggle-eyed goats have a small surprise to spring on their exasperated owner. One of the best new picture books published this year, it should be read before the Easter Egg hunt, not after!”

Joyful and Dotty – Goggle-Eyed Goats review

Fama Rama and Sama - three wives in THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS

‘Joyful and dotty’ was Julia Eccleshare’s opinion of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS over at Lovereading4kids. She also calls it ‘the ultimate triumph of pester-power’! I hadn’t realized that, but I guess she’s right. Hey ho, at least she didn’t call it ‘the ultimate triumph of polygamy’.

GOATS has been chosen as one of the Lovereading books of the month.

If you’re still waiting for your Amazon copy, fear not – their supply problems are being sorted out and your book should be with you on Monday or Tuesday at the latest.


I blogged the other day about goat herding on World Book Day. Seemed like a good opportunity to make a little trailer for THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS.

Meanwhile, back in London, a goat party was taking place. Look out for Christine Baker, editorial director of Gallimard Jeunesse, better known as the woman who brought Harry Potter to France!

The Goggle-Eyed Goats have launched!

Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher CorrSome of the most popular posts on this blog are from my blog series The Making of The Goggle-Eyed Goats. So I am pleased to announce that THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS hardback is now well and truly launched! A flash launch happened at the Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill last night. A less flash launch happened in the north of Burkina Faso yesterday lunchtime, where Charlie and I celebrated quietly with a plate of spaghetti at the auberge overlooking the lake. I had spent half the morning herding goats with my friend Abdulsalam, so I was in a very goaty (caprine? capricious?) mood. Radio/admin work has been quite full-on recently, so it was nice to get back to the bush and hear nothing but Abdulsalam’s gentle banter and the delicious sound of thirty goats munching pedal-pods.

Goat herding is not typically thought of as a good stress-reliever – people here talk of it as something of a nightmare assignment because goats are so wayward – but it’s very enjoyable when you know that the goats are not your own responsibility! I like carrying the long hooked staff and shaking down pods for the goats to rush in and chomp and listening to the kissy-clicky sounds of the real herders as they call their ruminants to order and stepping on a chilluki twig and feeling a thorn go right up through my sandal into my – no, wait, that bit I don’t like.

We’re having a proper Burkina launch for GOATS on 12 March in Ouagadougou, to be held at the International School of Ouagadougou. Reading, book-signing and goats-cheese-pizza-eating. If you can’t make the event, you can still pick up a copy of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS at Amazon or elsewhere.

You are invited to the London book launch of The Goggle-Eyed Goats with Christopher Corr

The Goggle-Eyed Goats will be launching in London (Andersen Press) and Paris (Gallimard Jeunesse) on World Book Day, 1 March 2012. The Burkina Faso launch will be a little bit later – probably 12 March – in Ouagadougou.

The London launch will be at Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill, starting at 6pm. Signed copies will be on sale as well as original artwork from the book, plus other pieces by Christopher Corr.

Be there or be a cross-eyed goat.

Goggle-Eyed Goats to Launch on World Book Day