Saturday, 2 July 2016



I’m drawn to writers’ and artists’ studios. I love seeing the paraphernalia of their trade as if somehow the magic dust will rub off on me. 10 years ago I visited Tolstoy’s house in Khamovniki. The wooden house still painted its mustard-yellow colour, is a warren of rooms that reflect Tolstoy’s idiosyncrasies. He takes to shoe-making, lifting dumbbells and starts riding a bicycle at 67. The legs of his bentwood desk chair are cut off shorter so that he can be closer to his work and when he’s not sitting at his desk, he stands and writes at an upright one.

On a pamphlet I find this quote: ‘I don’t see how one can write without several rewritings. I never read my works after they come out in print, but if my eye ever catches an occasional page I always think that this passage ought to be turned that way, and this idea needs quite different wording.’ Sounds familiar!!!

Last week in strong contrast – I visited Joan Miró’s beautiful 50's studio outside Palma on a quiet day when I felt he had just walked out of one of its brightly painted doors.

It's an airy space filled with honey-coloured 50’s furniture, trestles, tables, easels and a large bentwood armchair. A stone wall at the back of the room is laid out like honeycomb. His overalls hang over the banister, brushes stand leaning in china bowls and I can almost smell the turps on the rags that lie about. Paintings are stacked everywhere and pinned up on the walls are notes and sketches curling at the edges. On a table top is a pine cone, a majolica bowl, bits of rock, some glass bottles and a metal pencil sharpener with a winding handle screwed to the table.

In the anti-room, glass-fronted, old schoolroom type science cupboards are filled with an assortment of masks he has made, bread sculptures, delicate skeletons of a bat and a frog and strangely shaped metal pieces. 

Up on a higher level under bent pines and past huge argave plants there’s another studio – an older terracotta-plastered farmhouse with a beautiful studded double door. On the walls are rough drawings of sculptures that will later emerge. 

The air seems permeated with the essence of the man. I’ve added another layer to the Miró I know through paintings and from his sculptures at the Fundació Joan Miró Museum on the hill above Barcelona. William Faulkner’s conviction that the writer’s duty is ‘to help man endure by lifting his heart’ comes to mind. My heart is lifted not by a book (although also by a book – because I was reading Per Pettersen’s Out Stealing Horses) but by a calm, airy artist's studio in Palma.

In these past few days of political chaos, calm is not such a bad thing. Perhaps we can hold on to this great encompassing spirit that Miró seemed to possess, where he reached out and engaged with everything in the world – encompassing and not turning away from it.

twitter: @dihofmeyr
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Friday, 1 July 2016


During the last sad, prickly, horrid weeks I have found it hard concentrate on anything and so, in the hope of starting July in a more positive & productive mood, here's my own version of a familiar playgroup verse. Hope you enjoy this even if you recognise the situation all too well yourself.


I’m going to start my writing
I’m working on a Big One,
I’m not scared!
What a great EMPTY day!
Dirty dishes!
Can’t leave them festering
Can’t leave them oozing.
Oh no.
Have to get them sorted.
Wishy washy . . . wishy washy . . .  wishy washy . .  .


I’m going to start my writing.
Emails! Long lists of emails!
Can’t just ignore them
Can’t just delete them.
Oh no!
Have to go all through them.
Hmmmm.. . . hmmm . . . hmmm . . . 

I’m going to start my writing! 
Can’t start without it.
Can’t drink it boiling
Better with a biscuit.
Oh no!

Ought to check on Facebook.
Ought to read that blog-post . . . . . . .

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

I’m Going To Start My Writing!!!
Maybe I’m really rubbish?

Need to get some help from
Stephen King On Writing.

Rob McKee on Story.

Writer’s Journey, Vogler.

Basic Plots, Chris Booker.

Forest For Trees, B. Lerner.
I’m feeling rather teary,
I’m feeling rather weary,
I’ll nap before beginning . . .
Zzzz . . . zzzz . . . .zzzz
Oh no!

Four o'clock!

Get my act together.
Wash my face with water.
Breath air in the garden.
Find the file and load it.
Open up the pages.
Now I’m getting started . . .
Now I AM beginning!
Look, I’ve done one sentence.
Now the words are flowing . . ..
Maybe I CAN do this?

Maybe do this Big One?



Oh no!
Everyone’s come home early!
Try to look SO happy,
Happy with such kindness. 
Make that smile a big one.
(Make that drink a big one?)
Think about tomorrow . . .
Tomorrow’s good for writing!!!

Oh yes, tomorrow -
Another EMPTY day!

Penny Dolan.

With thanks to the magnificent Michael Rosen for his very own Bear Hunt, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and also to all those who chanted Lion Hunt with cubs, brownies and playgroups way back in the past, when dinosaurs also abounded.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

A Europe of shared stories - Lari Don

Warning: this blog contains politics. No apologies for that, just a warning!

I thought I might be over it by now, but honestly, I’m still too shell-shocked and upset about the vote a week ago to write about anything else.

Also, at exactly the time I should have been drafting a coherent Awfully Big Blog post about books and writing yesterday, I was standing in the drizzle outside the Scottish Parliament, showing my support for EU citizens living in this country and my support for Scotland’s place in Europe. Sorry. It seemed more important.

So here, because stories are how I deal with things, are a few of my favourite European traditional tales. Stories I share with children in schools and libraries, stories I share with children from all over Scotland, and with children living here whose families hail from the rest of the UK, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

England – a story about a girl turned to a dragon by her jealous stepmother, who is rescued by her brother’s kiss

Wales – the story of Ceridwen, who tries to give her son the gift of wisdom using a magic potion

Northern Ireland – the battle between an Irish giant and a Scottish giant, featuring the wonderful Giant’s Causeway and a bitten thumb

The Republic of Ireland – the story of Caoilte, who can run so fast that he rounds up a pair of every animal and bird in one night, as a ransom to free his uncle Finn McCoul

France – a story of a rather lovely werewolf who is betrayed when his wife steals his clothes

Denmark – the legend of Bodvar, a principled hero who gives a young boy confidence by letting him ‘kill’ a monster who is already dead

Germany – a story about a little boy who accidentally becomes a clumsy werewolf cub

Sweden – a girl who tries to save her warrior boyfriend by turning into a swan and flying above a battle to protect him

Italy – a horse who escapes a wolf by tricking him into trying to read words on her horseshoe and kicking him hard on the nose (owowowowow!)

Greece – a boy who befriends a baby dragon, and is later saved from robbers by his friend when he’s all grown up. (Oh, and ALL the myths)

Poland – how the dragon of Warsaw is defeated by a booby-trapped sheep

Netherlands – the story of an archer who discovers his neighbour is a werewolf when he shoots a marauding wolf with an arrow
(Yes, I do know a lot of werewolf stories. What can I say? I like shapeshifters!)

Finland – A hero who breaks a promise to a fiery horse, and is killed (temporarily) by a swan.

Germany – the story of how spiders playing on a Christmas tree invented tinsel...

And a pan-European legend I’ve been working with recently – The Emperor Charlemagne’s female knight and champion, Bradamante, who defeats a magician and wins herself a hippogriff

These are all stories I tell regularly, stories that are part of my imaginative and creative life. I haven’t artificially added in ones that I don’t tell regularly, just so that I can tick all 27 boxes. But please, if you know any fabulous traditional tales from other EU countries, let me know! Perhaps finding more European stories to tell, and deepening my cultural European identity, is my project for the next few months... Because I believe stories can achieve anything, but they are particularly good at bringing us together.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Yay for PLR!!! - John Dougherty

In all probability, either you'll know pretty well exactly what PLR stands for, or you won't have a clue. If you're a writer - even an as-yet unpublished one - I hope you'll be in the first camp, but if you're not, let me take a moment to explain what is it and why it makes me go "Yay!"

PLR stands for Public Lending Right. It's basically the right of authors to be rewarded when their books are publicly lent. In other words, if people are borrowing your books from libraries, you ought to get paid.

Before my first book came out, I had no idea this existed. It was only when my unusually on-the-ball first editor said, "You must look into PLR - No, you must... No, you MUST!!!" that I did. To be honest, even when I looked into it, it didn't seem worth doing. Five pence (as it was then; now it's more like seven) per loan... But actually, it's been a very handy little stream of income. I've never got anywhere near the maximum you can get - £6,000, I believe - but every time the PLR statement has arrived, it's been most welcome.

I'm choosing today's post to talk about this for one very good reason. If you've had a book (or audiobook) out in the last year, tomorrow is the closing date for registration. That is, you can register your book the day after tomorrow if you like, but you'll have missed out on up to a year's payment. So let me repeat:

Tomorrow is the closing day for this year's PLR registration!

The website is here: If you're a published writer or illustrator and you haven't signed up for it - or you've got a new book you haven't registered - then go! Do it now!

And if you aren't a published author, I hope you'll still join me in thanking the team who administer PLR. They make a big difference to the lives of authors in the UK.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickersillustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is the latest in John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series.

His other new books in 2016 will include the sixth Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face title, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The proposal - Clementine Beauvais

This week I submitted another proposal to my editor, and it got me thinking again about that strange art.

The kind of proposal I mean here is the one that already-published authors submit to their editor; often, though not always, it’s in response to a request or suggestion by the editor. It’s generally composed of a pitch and summary, the first few completed chapters of the first book, and, if it’s a series proposal, some sense of what the next books might be.

As such, that kind of proposal is not unlike the book proposals unpublished authors address to agents or editors too; except that the book isn’t finished. In fact, the ‘luxury’ of the exercise, on the already-published author’s part, is that the book doesn’t need to be finished at the stage when it’s pitched.

Another difference is that you’re talking to someone who knows you very well, so you don’t need to be overly formal in the pitch and the explanations of the next few books; you can also refer to your own previous books to make it clear where it stands in relation to the rest of your writing (if you’re still fooling yourself that your overall oeuvre is a miracle of coherence and forward planning.)

The proposal is an odd mixture of pragmatism and passion. Generally, you’re writing it in response to a suggestion by your editor; whether it’s very specific (‘I urgently need a 5-7 steampunk series involving mermaid hedgehogs’) or rather vague (‘I’m thinking of, like, some kind of animal story? Quirky maybe?’), you will have in mind at least some parameters and you will structure and strategise the writing and pitch accordingly.

In that sense, the proposal asks for your cold and calculating superego to control quite strictly the writing-splurge ambitions of your writerly id. You can’t get too attached to the budding project, because it might well get rejected (it often is) or require drastic rethinking; in which case you might not agree with the suggested changes, and choose to withdraw the proposal.

At the same time, you do need to develop with your embryonic project at least some promise of future love, or else your few chapters will lack enthusiasm - and you will lack the motivation to carry on, should it be accepted. I have started, and scrapped, very many book proposals that I felt did the job correctly, but which would be an absolute chore to write, because they would have been written ‘as proposals’, not ‘as books’.

My writing folder is full of rejected proposals, forever deprived of middles and endings. Some had good pitches (I thought), but the writing didn’t seduce. For others, the writing pleased, but the pitch was limp. Rejection at proposal stage happens very often in the life of a writer.

It’s a strange kind of mourning, because the emotional investment hasn’t been quite strong enough to really deplore the non-existence of the finished books. After being rejected, proposals get forgotten quite easily. I’m not particularly keen to resuscitate any of them.

They’re a different kind of writing to the other kind of unpublished work, the full manuscripts, revised, rewritten and edited so many times, whose failures still sting. You know, when you’re writing a proposal, that it’s more likely than not to remain bodiless. 

People outside publishing don’t generally know about that kind of proposal, and when they hear about it they tend to be horrified at how dry and cold it is. But there’s always something to be gained from a proposal, even if it ends up being rejected. You’ve inhabited a world for a little while, thought up an idea, invented characters. They’ll come back in a different form, some day, somewhere else.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Words from the Woods Lynn Huggins-Cooper

Do you have a special place that inspires you? I am running a writing project in my 'special' place - the 360 hectares of woodland behind our house. I go there most days for at least a short walk to clear my head and to give my writing projects composting time. I solve plotting problems as I walk. 

Words from the Woods is a year long writing project, where I am inviting people to walk and write with me, inspired by the beauty of the forest.

We are adding our writing to altered books made with natural found objects such as dried leaves and seeds, and making sculptures of pods and other organic shapes woven with words and phrases to create an exhibition.

If you are local to the Newcastle area, you might like to join us - we'll be holding special participation days. If you'd like to get involved but don't live locally, we'll be running online sessions and creating a collaborative piece. Find out more from our new project Facebook group.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Now that's magic!



This week J.K. Rowling is quoted as saying ‘I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more’ and I know there are many people who are in agreement.

So for those of you despairing this week I thought I’d bring you some magic.

We are celebrating one hundred years since Roald Dahl was born here in Wales and I’ve been running events all over the place with some very excellent children who given me hope for the future with their brilliance and their imaginations.

Basing their work on ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ they have come up with some magical recipes of their own.

Running these workshops has filled my days with magic and I wanted to share a bit of it with you if you are feeling a distinct lack of sparkle at the moment.
And if that’s not enough magic for you Sharon Marie Jones’ book 'Grace- Ella Spells for Beginners' is out on September 15th from Firefly Press and has a whole bundle of magical things happening in it.




Grace-Ella is thrilled when a black cat walks through their door. She’s always wanted a pet. But Mr Whiskins has a secret. On the ninth day of the ninth month of her ninth year, he tells Grace-Ella that she is a witch and can start learning magic with the Witches’ Council. Grace-Ella has never been good at school — can she learn to be a good witch? As well as struggling with lessons, Grace-Ella and her best friend Fflur are bullied by star pupil Amelia. The Witches’ Council forbids using magic against anyone. But how else can Grace-Ella protect her friends?


To find out more about Sharon Marie Jones and her writing visit her BLOG or follow her on twitter @sharonmariej
I've been lucky enough to read Grace-Ella's first adventure and I can tell you that it isn't only a magical whirlwind it is also EXTREMELY BRILLIANT!