A Bear is A Bear (except when he’s not) – Karl Newson & Anuska Allepuz

I am delighted to welcome Karl Newson to the blog today with a special guest post about his glorious picture book collaboration with Anuska Allepuz, ‘A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not). This delightful story totally enchanted me, it’s just perfect as we’re struggling to emerge into Spring and are all totally confused with the wild weather changes. Poor bear, when he wakes up in the middle of Winter it causes him much consternation, so much so he can’t actually remember who he is! Is he a bird, or a squirrel or even a moose? But no, none of these are quite right and bear feels increasingly lost and unsure. Karl’s gently lilting rhymes capture the confusion perfectly with it’s timely repetition, whilst Anuska use of a muted colour palette illustrates wonderfully the emergence of spring out of winter. Playful humour is superbly matched with sublime illustrations, this book is a total joy that I can see becoming a bedtime favourite with many children.


Behind the story, A Bear is Bear – Karl Newson

I can remember the exact moment the idea for A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not) happened; I was sat at my desk, in the middle of writing something else, (and midway through dunking a biscuit into my cup of tea,) when suddenly there it was: “A Bear is a Bear” I said, aloud, to myself.

But the reason I remember the origins of this story so well, is because that short burst of random outloud-ish-ness was followed immediately by a whispering add-on that said “except when it’s not”. I scribbled it out quickly – two sides of an a4 sheet of paper, on everything I could think of. All of the ideas came on the spot from nowhere; it pretty much wrote itself! A few days later it was typed up and ready to be shared with publisher, where, thanks to my super agent, Jodie Hodges, Bear found a home with Nosy Crow.

I had absolutely no idea about the illustrations at the time of writing the story. Sometimes I can see how I might approach it, but usually I don’t think about that side of things at all unless something needs to be noted for the text to make sense. So, for me, Bear didn’t actually exist until the day I saw Anuska Allepuz’s drawings of him. I was blown away! There he was, looking glorious. Perfect.

In the month’s that followed, I worked with my editor Louise to tidy up the text and tweak the title. You might have noticed earlier I said and (in my scribbles I wrote) ‘except when it’s not’? That was the original title, but ‘it’s’ was changed to ‘he’s’ to give Bear a character to relate to. Initially I wasn’t sure about this (as I think there are too any ‘he’ books out there and I quite like that an animal can be just an animal), but it felt suitable here, and complimentary to my previous story’s lead role being female (and editors know their stuff!).

You might also see in my scribbles a line about a snake that was later edited out – it’s actually one of my most favourite lines I’ve ever written:

‘Why… a snake of course, in a woody pile, wondering why there’s a tongue in his smile’.

I thought it would be funny to see bear trying to smile with his tongue hanging out – try it! I include this little action during schools events and it always gets the children laughing. Poor snake had to go though, unfortunately.

Bear was brought to life by Anuska and the fabulous team at Nosy Crow (which, for me, is the most exciting part of the book making process; seeing the layouts, the colour palette, the cover image, the final artwork) and I’d like to take this opportunity to say a BIG Thank You to all of them! It’s such a surreal thing, this story writing world. I’m so pleased to be a part of it!

After what is really quite a short period of time in publishing (but does seem loooong, at the time!) A Bear is a Bear was published on 1st March, 2018, World Book Day!

And here he is!

A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not).

What would he be, if a bear forgot?


I hope you’ll enjoy his sleep tale!

Thank you so much, Jo, for featuring Bear on your Bear-rilliant book blog!! We are honoured!

A huge thank you to Karl for this bear-tastic blog post, ‘A Bear is A Bear (except when he’s not),’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.


Brightstorm – Guest Post Vashti Hardy

I am delighted to welcome Vashti Hardy to the blog today with a special musical themed guest post as part of the ‘Brightstorm’ Sky Ship blog tour. ‘Brightstorm‘ is a  breath-taking, thrilling debut that totally enchanted me with its rich storytelling, incredible world-building and compelling cast of characters. It is a story of truly epic proportions, it will sweep you away through the skies across frozen plains to unknown lands on a voyage of discovery, that will take your breath away. When Vashti landed her sky ship in my back garden and we enjoyed a nice pot of tea,  I was really intrigued to read how she used soundtracks as the background to her writing. So without further ado I will pass you over to Vashti to tell you all about it in her own words.

The role of music in my writing & Brightstorm musical influences – Vashti Hardy

I listen to numerous soundtracks because I find they’re an emotional fast track to scenes and characters. I find this especially helpful as so much of writing time is not the actual physical act of writing – it’s in the dream time or the blue sky-thought time you give yourself to grow and develop ideas. Soundtracks can be particularly helpful if you’re a writer juggling a full-time job with writing. An author once said to me that it’s not good to binge write and I find I agree, in that I have to keep my story world bubbling away under the surface as much as I can, even if I am busy with other things. So, I have numerous playlists and I listen to them on the way to work, in my lunch break, whenever I can, or just to get me in the writing zone when I’m snatching a few hours before the rest of the house wakes up on the weekend! I think their effectiveness comes down to the fact that soundtracks are doing the same job as fiction – they are telling a story, setting an overall tone of a story, or taking you to a specific scene in a story.

Here are a few of my favourite go-to songs for Brightstorm!

Rey’s Theme by John Williams from The Force Awakens

This helped me get into character with both Brightstorm twins and it always gets me in the writing mood with its promise of adventure! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65As1V0vQDM

Where the Sky Is by Ward Thomas

This song helped me to find that special twin relationship between Arthur and Maudie. When they’ve lost everything else they still have each other and they always have the rooftops and the sky. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0IAkNm8wZk

This is Home by Switchfoot from Prince Caspian

This unlocked the moment when Arthur realises that he feels incredibly at home on the Aurora. It’s a pivotal song for the story theme of finding family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CkbCAsUmUQ

Buckbeak’s Flight from The Prisoner of Azkaban by John Williams

From the very early stage of writing the story, I had a vision of Arthur and Maudie on the wing of the sky-ship in a wondrous moment of abandon, forgetting all their worries. Most stories need a ‘Buckbeak’ moment I find! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR9kT8PL6ZA

Under the Stars by David Arnold from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This helped me to write a particular sad scene (because of spoilers I’ll just say chapter 29 and move on…) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExKRjOdS3oA

So, if you’re a writer and stuck for inspiration or pushed for time, maybe music could be the thing to help you unlock something. If you’re a teacher, try using soundtracks in school to inspire writing!

Vashti Hardy

Vashti Hardy lives near Brighton and was a primary school teacher before moving into digital marketing. She is an alumni member and buddy at the Golden Egg Academy. Brightstorm is her debut novel published by Scholastic.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more guest posts, reviews and giveaways.

Thank you to Vashti for her marvellous guest post and to Olivia at Scholastic for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘Brightstorm’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.


Marvellous Mums for Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day is rapidly approaching there are some lovely picture books celebrating Mums and I’m delighted to share some of them with you on the blog today, so if your looking for inspiration for books to share or for gifts then take a look.

My Mum – Anthony Browne

When my girls were small there was always a humorous competitive element between me and husband when reading bedtime stories. I would read ‘My Mum’ and he would read ‘My Dad’ both by Anthony Browne, these glorious celebrations of parenthood caused much hilarity as we both tried to outdo each other with our reading out loud abilities. I would sing like an angel (an angel whose foot had been stood on) and my husband would roar like a gorilla showing how big and strong he was, with lots of giggling from the girls as a result. This is a classic story beautifully illustrated which deserves to be in every home, it will always be such an important part of my girl’s early childhood.


When I’m A Mummy Like You – David O’Connell & Franseca Gambatesa

‘When I’m A Mummy Like you!’ is one of those picture books that fills your heart with joy and brings a tear to your eye. The little girl adores her mum and she thinks she’s a marvel at everything from cooking winning to meals to being super at keeping fit. I love David captures brilliantly the ups and downs of motherhood, as they have a conversation where Mum reveals life isn’t as easy as she might make it look. But this is balanced by the mum’s gentle reassurance that no matter how tricky and busy life can be, being a mummy is lots of fun too. David’s gentle, humorous rhyming text pairs perfectly with Francesca’s sublime illustrations bursting with warmth and love in every spread. A gorgeous story ideal for sharing and stimulating interesting conversations with children.


Superhero Mum – Timothy Knapman & Joe Berger

Slightly cross with Timothy for revealing the secret that us mums have been hiding for centuries and centuries, yes it’s true we are all in fact superheroes cunningly disguised as ordinary humans and jus living amongst you. Faster than a bullet at finding your missing teddy, more powerful than a locomotive when carrying multiple bags of shopping and the ability to leap tall piles of washing in a single bound. Pack away your cape Superman because Superhero Mum is here! Hilarious and heartfelt, I love how the little girl in the story thinks that her Mum is so brilliant she must be a superhero it’s such a wonderful premise. Timothy’s lively and humorous rhymes and Joe Berger’s bold, vibrant illustrations spilling with joy and warmth make for the most marvellous collaboration. Fly off to the shops before they run out and then you really will have a catastrophe on your hands!


The Strongest Mum – Nicola Kent

I really loved this original, honest and funny story from Nicola Kent, ‘The Strongest Mum’ conjures up this ideas of an invincible Mum but this is not the case. Mum is so good at helping others, being strong and not saying ‘no’ to people that she gets asked over and over again to help carry things for her family and friends. But when you’re carrying: your toddler: their bike; Lion’s laundry; Zebra’s shopping and Flamingo’s piano, well something has got to give. Poor Mum she’s not feeling strong anymore, having to juggle all of these things she literally drops all of the balls. Mums out there will recognise this feeling all too well and it’s a great way to talk to children about the need to help out and learn to do even the smallest of jobs to make life easier for everyone around. Nicola’s bright, eye-catching illustrations and endearing animal characters make for an engaging read. One for harassed Mums everywhere!

Thank you to Francesca Gambatesa, Macmillan and Nosy Crow for sending me copies of these wonderful books. If you want to buy these books click on the link in the title. Oh and if anyone I know is reading this all I want for Mother’s day is a lie in, a good book and a glass (or two) of Prosecco.

Inspiring Women Who Changed The World

2018 is a particularly interesting year, it marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave women the vote for the first time. Although equality of suffrage wasn’t achieved till 1928, this was a landmark achievement for the suffragette movement. To coincide with this anniversary there has been a number of wonderful fact books released featuring a marvellous array of strong female characters who are bound to inspire our children. I have chosen a selection of these books to share with you today each of them suitable for different age groups so I am hoping there is something for everyone in my choices.

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History – Kate Pankhurst

‘Fantastically Great Women Who Made History’ is a perfect introduction to learning about some incredible women and their achievements who have all helped shape the world we live, told in an accessible and lively format it’s suitable for even younger readers. Following on from the brilliant, ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World,’ this glorious celebration is a joy from start to finish. Written by Kate Pankhurst, descendant of Emmeline Pankhurst, she has created another marvellous book that takes readers on an exciting journey where they will meet extraordinary women who have managed to make a significant and lasting impact on history. Travel through the Underground Railroad with the brave and courageous Harriet Tubman, blast into space with astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, watch how Hatshepsut ruled over Ancient Egypt and learn how Noor Inayat Kham became the an unlikely secret agent in World War Two. Every page is filled with the most amazing and astounding facts that will leave you in awe at the courage and bravery of these women. The stunning, detailed illustrations provide a perfect accompaniment to this celebration of some of the women, who have changed our history.

HerStory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook the World –  Katherine Halligan & Sarah Walsh

‘HerStory’ celebrates the lives of 50 incredible women and girls who defied the challenges and barriers that were set against them and who through their lives, work and words help inspire us today to make our world a better place. Crafted by Katherine Halligan into different collections of brave leaders, talented artists, gifted healers and committed teachers as well as the most accomplished scientists and mathematicians. It allows us to embrace a past and present and talk about not history but herstory focusing on these women and girls who did extraordinary things. Packed with inspirational quotes, engaging details and comprehensive facts about a wealth of well known and lesser known women and children this is a must have read. I found myself totally engrossed in this remarkable book and will return to it time and time again. Exquisitely produced with the most stunning illustrations by Sarah Walsh this is a treasure trove of information that will satisfy the appetite of the most curious child.

Rebel Voices: The Rise of Votes For Women – Louise Kay Stewart & Eve LLoyd Knight

‘Rebel Voices’ is a stunning exploration of the brave campaigners all over the world who fought for women’s right to vote. For centuries women have been confined to their homes destined for lives at home cleaning, cooking, caring for children or toiling in fields and factories. They’ve watched as the society that has constrained them make decisions about their lives without allowing them to participate in making these rules and laws. At the end of the 19th century women became restless and suffragists from every corner of the globe began to demand the right to vote by fighting, marching, rioting and petitioning for their voices to be heard. This desperate struggle is documented brilliantly by Louise Kay Stewart charting the history of the movement right up to the present day. Discover how in the USA African-American women faced a wait of 45 years after white women for the right to vote, learn how women in Saudi Arabia only got the right to vote in 2005 and marvel at the strength of the 40,000 Russian women who marched through St Petersburg demanding their rights. Particularly eye-opening is the timeline documenting the different dates when women were given the right to vote running from 1893 to 2005. Beautifully illustrated by Eve Lloyd Knight it’s a truly striking book, the use a sombre, dark palette reflects the torment and struggle women experienced on this journey to achieving suffrage.

Amazing Women 101 Lives To Inspire You – Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green

‘Amazing Women’ stands out from the other books that I’ve featured as it feels more accessible and current for a young teen reader. Whilst other books in this female focused fact collections have tended to focus on more historical figures, this collection includes many contemporary young and instantly recognisable women like Zoella, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé who provide a gateway to encourage readers to pick up this book and explore. Yet it still features those incredible women whose bravery and conviction have had a significant impact in history from Emmeline Pankhurst to Mother Teresa they have all left their mark in the world and changed it for the better. It recognises women who are leaders, pioneers, creators and trailblazers in an honest and informed way inviting the reader to cast their own judgement and encouraging them to find out more about these accomplished women. Stunningly produced with bold, contemporary illustrations and filled with engaging information this deserves a place on every teen’s bookshelf.

Thank you to Bloomsbury, Nosy Crow Books, Stripes Publishing and Wren and Rook for my copies of these fantastic books. All of these books are available to now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop.

A Witch Alone – James Nicol

After what seems like an absolute eternity James Nicol is back with the follow up to his enchanting debut, ‘The Apprentice Witch.’ The great news is that ‘A Witch Alone’ is definitely worth the wait as James has crafted another truly unforgettable story filled with magic and mystery that will once again capture your heart. Arianwyn, no longer an apprentice now a fully fledged witch, is thrown into the deep end with people knocking at her door desperate for her help. The hex has driven supernatural creatures from the Great Wood into Lull testing Arianwyn to her very limits and just to make matters worse, the High Elder has set her a dangerous secret mission. Oh and if this is not challenging enough, Arianwyn’s arch-enemy Gimma has been sent to work with her in Lull and is behaving very oddly. With trials seemingly at every path, can she survive the toughest spell of her witching career all alone?

It’s such a joy to return to Lull and become  totally engrossed in Arianwyn’s world again. I think it’s remarkable that James can create stories that are wonderfully comforting like a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day but that are still deliciously dark with a real dangerous edge. An irresistible combination of glorious characterisation and completely believable world building makes these stories  utterly compelling. Arianwyn despite being an actual qualified witch still struggles with her belief in herself and her ability to control the magic within her. But her flaws are wonderfully endearing and this is why she is such a likeable and appealing character. Surrounding her with such a brilliant cast of characters brings this story to life allowing the reader to become totally absorbed in this marvellous adventure.

As well as being a tale of bravery and friendship, James has cleverly shown how easy distrust and barriers can be formed between people who are different in challenging times. Arianwyn’s trust of the feylings is in stark contrast to the majority of Lull who are instantly suspicious of their presence using them as a scapegoat for their misfortune and assuming they will bring the hex to infect them. Yet she must have faith and hope that they can help defeat the dark forces that are threatening their very existence. I devoured this book in one sitting as I simply couldn’t put it down, it’s an absolute delight from start to finish. James has such a talent for storytelling that I simply cannot wait to join Arianwyn for more magical adventures.

Thank you to Chicken House for sending me a copy of this marvellous book. ‘A Witch Alone’ is released on the 1st March and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

The Ice Garden – Guy Jones Guest Post

I am delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a special guest post about the inspiration behind his debut novel, ‘The Ice Garden.’
In the beautiful story he explores the wonder in both the ordinary and extraordinary,
as Jess steps into an enchanting icy realm where all is not as it seems …
Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospital appointments, peeking at the other children in the playground behind her curtained house. Except for a boy at hospital – a boy in a coma, to whom she tells stories – Jess has no friends her own age. One night, she sneaks out, exploring the empty playground she’s longed to visit. Beyond, she discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden wrought of ice. But Jess isn’t alone in this fragile, in-between place …

I’m really intrigued to find out more, so without further ado I will pass you over to Guy Jones…..

The Inspiration Behind ‘The Ice Garden’ – Guy Jones

This blog is supposed to be about the inspiration for my first book, The Ice Garden. But actually, I think it will be more about process. You see, inspiration is a tricky concept. The word implies a single moment of revelation, like sunbeams bursting through cloud. The truth though is somewhat different. Inspiration, for me at least, is more similar to stepping stones leading out across a misty lake. You can only see as far as the next one and while each hop gets you closer to the other side, it’s taken in the full knowledge that you could slip and fall.

The first hop in the journey of The Ice Garden was taken by accident. I had been asked to write a one page synopsis of the book I was working on by the following day. One problem though – I wasn’t working on a book. Six o’clock in the morning, computer on my lap, desperately searching for an idea, and then an image popped into my head. A garden not covered in ice, but made of it. And a girl who wasn’t the same as most children, sitting there under a purple sky. It didn’t come from anything I’d seen or read, or at least not consciously. It was simply an idea – pure and unburdened, for the moment, by the need to turn it into an actual story.

So far, so good then. But some questions posed themselves. Most pressingly – what was different about the girl? I knew that there were certain illnesses which made people sensitive to sunlight and started to read medical articles in this area. Soon, I came across the condition of Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP). I was staggered. It seemed so cruel and unfair. Suddenly I was rooting for Jess (finding the right name another mini-stepping stone in its own right), but more importantly I understood what the book was going to be about.

From there came more hops. Moving in with my now-wife and stepdaughter gave me an insight into their incredible bond, and that undoubtedly bled into the story. A visit to Austria told me that my characters would eventually journey into the mountains. A man seated opposite on the tube provided the template for Jess’s doctor. There were several mis-steps too. At times, I pitched over into the lake and got very wet indeed (the less said about the talking wolf the better), but each time I dragged myself back up and kept writing. Hop after hop… Little moments of inspiration; some from the world around, far more from asking ‘what if?’ and just a few from that little place of imagination we all have.

And that, I suppose, is what I mean by process.

Guy Jones

Guy Jones was born in Botswana, grew up in Bedfordshire and now lives in
St Albans with his wife and step-daughter. He spent a decade writing for the
theatre, including the West End musical Never Forget, before finally
knuckling down to write a book. THE ICE GARDEN is his fist novel.

Thank you to Guy for his interesting guest post and to Chicken House for inviting me to host. ‘The Ice Garden’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Cover Reveal – The Secret Ruby by Imogen White

I’m really excited to be sharing with you today the cover of Imogen White’s newest addition to The Rose Muddle Mysteries, ‘The Secret Ruby.’ The follow up to the deliciously dark ‘The Amber Pendant‘ will be published on 3rd May 2018 by Usborne books.

So without further ado here it is…….

I just love this bold and wonderfully dramatic cover illustrated by Davide Ortu and designed by Will Steele. It captures brilliant the bold and fierce Rose and the loyal and clever Rui who prides himself on being able to solve any mystery. ‘The Amber Pendant’ is an irresistible combination of magic and mystery with rich, beautiful storytelling, so I can’t wait to read ‘The Secret Ruby.’

To celebrate the cover reveal, I’m delighted to welcome Imogen to the blog today with a special guest post about how important it is for children to find the right book just for them.


Why Finding the Right Book Matters! – Imogen White

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

This quote, by the incredible Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, reflects how I remember feeling as a child – and, how I’m sure many others feel too. Growing up, I was insecure and self-conscious, and I felt like I was very odd compared to everyone else. I’d make up my own worlds and disappear inside them; I had imaginary friends, and I constantly expected to find buried keys, lost treasure and underground passageways in my house and garden. I even wondered what would happen if I was to find gateways to other worlds – despite the fact we lived on a Croydon housing estate.

I believed in all things magical and improbable (and still do!) – from the existence of ghosts and fairies at the bottom the garden, and old magic waiting to be unearthed. But, I learnt quite early on that it was better to keep these ideas to yourself, hidden and secret, because it wasn’t “normal”.

But it was the discovery of books – and of the right books for me, that changed all this…

I remember first finding the likes of The Dark is Rising, The Owl Service and The Giant Under the Snow – and feeling just slightly less peculiar! It was like I had found other people who thought a bit like me, and I remember how wondrous this was to my twelve-year-old self.

This is the joy of reading, and the difference it can make to all children – once they find books that suit them. And this is, especially as we face ever more cuts to library services, exactly why all children need access to libraries and to librarians – so they too can find the rights books.

The remarkable stories that I found as a child have undoubtedly shaped my writing today.  From ancient warlords and underground sects, to magical objects buried in Bronze Age graves, these have woven their way into my work in all sorts of shapes and forms.

There was also a very important part of my younger self that I carried forward into my work – what would happen if the fate of the world were to rest in the hands of an insecure twelve-year-old girl? I think my twelve-year-old self would have found lots to relate to in my heroine, Rose Muddle, who came from the workhouse – and thought she was a nobody, only to discover she had a very real and important role to undertake with her inherited magic pendant…

The Rose Muddle Mysteries combine elements of real local history with the fantastical – and this is the space I feel most at home with. The first book in the series, The Amber Pendant, is set in Hove on the south coast of England, and seeds in the dark elements that Rose Muddle finds herself pitted against. Book two in the series, The Secret Ruby, sees Rose escape to Jaipur – only to encounter even bigger problems, as the ways of old magic bleed foul across the globe – as the mystery of The Secret Ruby unfolds into a monkey filled adventure, full of danger, twists and hidden enemies.

I’m so excited to be sharing the cover of my second book, The Secret Ruby, with the world, and thank you so much to Jo – librarian blogger extraordinaire! – for doing this reveal!

I now can’t wait for May when the book will publish. I am certain I would never have been a writer was it not for those childhood books that made me feel like I belonged. So, here’s hoping every child finds the right books for them – just as I did.

Imogen White

Imogen White won her place in the Undiscovered Voices 2014 Anthology with the opening to The Rose Muddle Mysteries. Imogen loves local history, and children’s stories that aren’t limited to beautiful countryside locations or secluded seaside coves. Imogen lives in Hove with her husband, children and belligerent ginger-tomcat.

Davide Ortu

Davide is an Italian artist now living in Spain. He studies Art in Cagliari Arts Lyceum FOISO FOIS, Sardinia. Here, on the Italian island, he works as a graphic designer in advertising. At the same time, he develops his pictorial side showing in different exhibitions. In 2008 he moved to Madrid where he discovered the world of children’s illustrations.

Thank you to Imogen for this wonderful guest post and to Usborne for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘The Secret Ruby’ is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.