Planet Stan – Elaine Wickson Guest Post

Today I’m delighted to welcome Elaine Wickson to the blog for a special guest post as part of the ‘Planet Stan’ blog tour. ‘Planet Stan’ is the fabulously funny debut from Elaine illustrated by Chris Judge which offers a unique quirky look at the life of Stan. Stan loves everything to do with space, along with a calming, ordered environment, pie charts, and Venn diagrams. His dinosaur-loving younger brother Fred is the opposite: chaotic, messy, prone to leaving snails under Stan’s bed and ladybirds in his lunchbox. Surely they must have something in common?
As Stanley struggles to cope with his high maintenance brother and his hair-brained schemes he charts all the ups and downs of his life in a series of hilarious infographics. Elaine joins me on the blog today to chat about to write funny books.

Writing Funny – Elaine Wickson

‘I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’

Eric Morecambe was one of my favourite people EVER. He did indeed bring me sunshine, and I cried my eyes out when he died. He was on the telly when my granddad was alive, so it was one of those life-shifting moments when things were never the same again: Eric Morecambe and my granddad, caught in a time capsule together.

Funny stuff is just as much etched in your memory as sad stuff. Whenever you meet people from your past, you always recall shared hilarity. And you can tell if you’re going to like someone by the kind of comedy they watch. 

I grew up with Morecambe and Wise, French and Saunders, The Young Ones, and Rik Mayall reading George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory. If something made me and my sister laugh, we’d play it back over and over, design little cardboard sets and characters, and act it out for our own amusement. This is what people used to do before iPhones.

It makes sense to read funny books if you want to write funny books, but watch funny stuff too. Pinning down why something makes you laugh is a bit like catching a bubble – it pops the minute you try to analyse it. But these are some things I’m conscious of when writing, and stuff wot I have learned: 

  1. Put words together that wouldn’t normally go out on a date, like jam and pandas. Moss from The IT Crowd is a favourite comedy character because of lines like: ‘You best put seatbelts on your ears Roy, cause I’m gonna take them for the ride of their lives.’

2. Write stuff that makes you laugh. Remember that first laugh. It may not seem as funny on the gajillionth reading, but Tom Gauld sums it up perfectly:

3. Some words are naturally funnier than others, like badger, shenanigans, plop, and parsnips. It’s always worth seeking out the funnier word. This includes funny names, and made-up words like majestical, from the majestical Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

 4. The rhythm of a sentence makes or breaks a joke, and the only way to hear it is by reading aloud. Even better, get someone else to read it. Clarity will smack you between the eyebrows and give you more efficient sentences. This allows you to hit the punchline just at the right moment.

 5. Character is all important. I want readers to know who Stan and Fred are from the beginning of Planet Stan, so they can look forward to how they will react. This is heightened by the fact they are complete opposites. Parks & Recreation invests in its characters, because that’s where the laughs come from.

6. Comedy isn’t all about being hit in the face with a frying pan. There is funny to be found in the subtle. The Detectorists is a masterclass in gentle, thoughtful humour.

7. Lastly, and this comes from my smashing agent Julia Churchill who knows what she’s talking about: try not to be funny all the time. That not only makes the funny bits funnier, but allows other emotions to have their time in the sun. Sad and funny are practically married, as demonstrated in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth.

Writing funny is just as important as writing about all the other stuff. People remember the things that make them laugh. Laughter marks moments in time, like music, smells, tears, and that amazing Corned Beef Hash you once had.

Now it’s just a matter of putting all the right words in the right order.

Some of my favourite funny writers and illustrators: Mélanie Watt, Alex T Smith, Philip Ardagh, Swapna Haddow/Sheena Dempsey, Andy Stanton/David Tazzyman, Maz Evans, and Eoin Colfer (who is hilarious if you ever get the chance to see him).

For insightful comedy writing terminology, check out Andy Riley’s blog, which includes gems such as ‘Killing Kittens – removing jokes you love, because they’re getting in the way of story’; and ‘Gag desert – the bit of comedy script which goes on too long without a joke’.

http://misterandyriley.com/2016/10/31/how-to-talk-comedy-writer-updated/

Blog Tour

Why not check out the rest of the blog tour for more fabulous guest posts.

Thank you to Elaine for this really insightful blog post. ‘Planet Stan’ is released on the 5th April you can pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

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Beyond the Odyssey – Maz Evans

Maz Evans is back with a bang in the third installment of the superb ‘Who Let the Gods Out’ series, with even more laughs, action and downright heart-breaking moments. ‘Beyond the Odyssey’ is superbly crafted and brilliantly entertaining. Every time I think it simply can’t get any better and every time I’m blown away even more by Maz’s storytelling. Elliot’s life is becoming increasingly more difficult as his Mum’s condition deteriorates, his secret life is at risk of exposure and everything he has been desperately clinging on to protect, is in serious danger of slipping away. So we can’t blame Elliot when he succumbs to the temptation dangled in front of him like the proverbial carrot by the sinister Hypnos who tells him of a potion that could save his Mum. And so Elliot must undertake his most dangerous mission yet, one that will take him beyond the mortal realm on an odyssey of his own.

This book should definitely come with a warning but it doesn’t so let me prepare you in a way that I wasn’t prepared. You think that you’ve seen the bad guys at their baddest but no you’re wrong. You think that nothing could possibly make you laugh as much as ‘Who Let the Gods Out‘ and ‘Simply the Quest‘ and yet you’re still wrong. And you think you have cried all the tears you could have possibly cried but yes I’m sure you’ve guessed it  you’re WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!! Nothing quite prepared me for the comedy genius of this book, Maz is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Yet again her gift for observational comedy shines through particularly in the scenes at economy airline ‘Don’tcAir’ and Circe’s huge rant at the frustrations of being a working Mum. Although she does cleverly mixes smack you in the face comic moments with subtle hilarious quips that will make you snigger to yourself because she is after all the Queen of children’s comedy.

However the utter brilliance of this book is that it plays out this comedy against a very tragic background of pain, confusion and despair which is handled sympathetically with absolutely no sugar coating. For this Maz deserves all the praise, she never chooses the easy way or to wrap her story up in a big shiny bow, it’s real life – with lots of mythical gods and goddesses thrown into the mix of course. So now after finishing ‘Beyond the Odyssey’ I’m left feeling emotionally battered and  bereft. “How long will I have to wait for the final book,” I wail as I feel like it’s been an eternity already despite only finishing it yesterday. I long to hold this book in the way that Virgo needs to have her Kardia restored, the Gods desire to reunite the Chaos stones and how Patricia Porshley-Plum craves Elliot’s farm. An irresistible combination of heart and humour, it is indeed a super-optimal read.

Thank you to Chicken House books for sending me a copy of this awesome book, ‘Beyond the Odyssey’ is released on the 5th April and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

The Goldfish Boy Lisa Thompson – Children’s Book Award

I am thrilled to be involved with this year’s Children’s Book Award blog tour showcasing the nominated titles, today I’m sharing with you ‘The Goldfish Boy’ by Lisa Thompson shortlisted in the Younger Reader’s Category.

The Goldfish Boy

‘The Goldfish Boy’ was one of my favourite debuts of 2017, Lisa’s talent for captivating storytelling is evident in this assured and confidently told tale. Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day a toddler staying next door goes missing and Matthew finds himself at the centre of the mystery. Every one of his neighbours is a suspect, so Matthew must turn detective whilst facing his own fears.  A beautifully written tale that deals with grief, mental illness and the power of friendship. Lisa has assembled a fantastic cast of characters that highlights that we all have our own unique quirks that are part of our personalities, but don’t necessarily need to define us as individuals. It also offers the reader an insightful look into why people behave the way they do. I failed to unravel the mystery of who was responsible for the disappearance of the boy next door, but I was so enthralled by this tale I read 300 pages in one sitting, desperate to uncover the truth. Warm and wonderful, a definite must have read.

Lisa Thompson

What an honour to have made the shortlist of the FCBG Children’s Book Award.  Knowing that this award is voted for solely by children makes it even more special.  Thank you!”

Lisa Thompson worked as a Radio Broadcast Assistant first at the BBC and then for an independent production company making plays and comedy programmes. During this time she got to make tea for lots of famous people. Lisa grew up in Essex and now lives in Suffolk with her family. Her debut, The
Goldfish Boy, was a Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month pick in January 2017 and is the bestselling debut of the year as of July 2017.

You can find out more by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter.

 

The Children’s Book Award

The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by our Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by our groups.

If you want to get involved in this year’s award, voting is now open for and closes 12.00 Friday 18th May 2018. Vote now for your favourite.

You can find out more about the award by visiting the website or follow them on Twitter.

Thank you to Kate and the Children’s Book Award team for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for this special award.

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?

Why…

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.