Chat · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan Author Talk

img_4910‘All I had was this character’ says Brian Conaghan regarding the origins of his collaboration with Sarah Crossan. Both writers had launched successful debuts and been nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Awards. Prose poetry novels were unheard  in UKYA before Sarah Crossan debuted with The Weight Of Water. She was told it wouldn’t sell, but it has now sold in multiple countries. When Brian Conaghan wanted to put his new character into a prose poetry novel, he knew Sarah Crossan was the person to consult.

What were their priorities? Sarah Crossan spoke of the need for a similar work-ethic. They were working in a tight time frame, so she needed to be certain the work would be done.

The novel developed in a series of online conversations. During the writing stage, Crossan wrote Jess’s parts, and Conaghan wrote Nicu’s. While editing the authors worked together. The ending was planned in one session. Crossan spoke about the different ways the ending could have evolved, but said the priority was for both characters to grow and develop as a result of their experiences.

Crossan spoke about the pressures of writing an ‘Own Voices’ character. Both authors wanted the voices to be authentic, and agreed that it is important to be sensitive to the fact that they have not lived ‘the real experience’. Conaghan spoke about his experiences as a teacher, saying he wanted to give voice to the children he worked with who were not represented in fiction. He also spoke about the ability to empathise with the outsider experience – he has not lived Nicu’s life, but has experiences which enable him to empathise with Nicu and create his character.

How do they write about difficult themes? Crossan stressed the importance of universally img_4908relatable themes, referring particularly to Moonrise, her latest YA work. Moonrise is about a character on death row, an experience which only a small number of people can relate to, but the story is also about death and dying which is a universally relatable experience.

Advice for writers included accepting rejection and a strong work ethic, and not being afraid to make mistakes and show other people your work.

Thank you to Newcastle University School of English and Seven Stories for the opportunity to hear from Conaghan and Crossan at this free event. For those of you who are not aware, Seven Stories is the national centre for children’s literature. It hosts great exhibitions and events, and houses the largest archive of children’s fiction in the UK.


Never too old for Narnia. About Lucy, Lucy and Me.

lucybannerI’ll never be too old for Narnia. I’ve said it all my life, and I’ll say it again. I can’t tell you how cool it was to find a play about a late 20-something woman encountering the same img_3347dilemma. The moment the world tries to force you to grow up and face you will never get that call from Aslan. 

Lucy, Lucy and me was a sell-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and came to Carlisle courtesy of  Borderlines. Borderlines is my local book festival. It may not be the biggest festival in the North, but it does exactly what you would hope. It brings a range of arts events to one area for a weekend, and promotes authors, actors, musicians and poets to bring them to a wider audience. This is my second year in Carlisle, and my advice from two years of attendance is go for the most obvious, and the least obvious. Last year I was lucky enough to win a day ticket to one venue. Borderlines has a wide range, and it is the place to find a new interest. 

Back to Lucy, Lucy and Me. I knew I had to see this, as a kid-lit fanatic and lifelong Narnian. It is about Lucy Grace, the woman behind the one-woman show, and Lucy Barfield, the Goddaughter of CS Lewis to who The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is dedicated. Disenchanted with the world after a youth spent dreaming of Narnia, it img_3348documents Lucy Grace’s search for information about Lucy Barfield. Famous for the dedication, information about Lucy Barfield runs cold at the point she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, despite the fact she lived another 40 years. The question posed by Lucy Grace is can the sum total of 40 years of life be seen as ‘nothing’? 

Told with humour and respect to the memory of someone who cannot speak for themselves, Lucy, Lucy and Me is a gentle performance with a big heart. If you get the opportunity to see this, snap it up. (I also love the 90s Toys which act as props – Fisher Price Casette Player, anyone? Also love references to BBC Narnia, a programme which my sister and I watched first on video, then on DVD. Def. a nostalgia fest for those born in the late 80s or early 90s.)   




Chat · Round-Up

Autumn Wish List.





Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling. Illustrated by Jim Kay. The illustrated Harry Potter books come out around my birthday. I’ll be gutted if they change the date, with the fourth book being longer. It’s the perfect excuse to buy straight away. POA is my favourite Harry book. The clues are hidden so subtlety in the text, and I love the Marauders backstory.  

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman Another long-awaited book, also scheduled for my birthday. When I was 15, I saw His Dark Materials at the National Theatre. The daemon puppets were made by the same people who did War Horse. It was probably the most magical thing I have ever done, and it made me a fan of HDM for life. I get more out of the books with every reread. Last time I read was during my degree. I’m so due a reread. 

The Snow Angel by Lauren St John Winter magic set in the warmest of places. Read my review here. The Snow Angel will make you cry, but it warm your heart. 

One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell A wish made on Christmas Eve goes wrong when the ornamnets from the tree come to life and wreak havoc. In the past couple of years, some of the strongest children’s writers have turned their attention to Christmas stories, bringing a new lease of life to the most magical setting of all. 

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend A cursed girl is lead to a magical city, and is offered the chance to stay there if she passes four dangerous trials. This sounds hugely exciting. Read more thoughts here

The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders

Humans and their toys live on beyond death, in a world powered by imagination. What if the door between these worlds was opened? An exploration of grief and sadness from the genius that is Kate Saunders. I already know this will have me soaking through tissues. 

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris

Inspired by Child ballad 295, which basically sold the story to me. It’s nice to see folk-tales having a moment. Read my thoughts here




The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell A bit of winter magic bound in a cover. A trek across a winter wonderland full of fairies and snow queens, outlaws and bandits. I love Hans Christian Andersan’s fairytale, The Snow Queen. The description of snow queens and bandits reminded me of this. Can’t wait to snuggle under a duvet with a mug of hot chocolate and TPBEC. Read further thoughts here

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling. Illustrated by Jim Kay. Seriously, Bloomsbury Children’s Books are out to bankrupt me this year. Alongside the two books featured here is the exhibition at the British Library with accompanying book. I’ve already paid for tickets, and all three books are hardback. What’s a muggle to do??! 

Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling Alyce’s mother is burned at the stake. Alyce is on the run, but her magic is bursting out of her. I love the conflict. Alyce needs to hide her identity, but hasn’t gained control of her magic. I also love the time period, and it will be a chance to refresh my knowledge of the era. Read more thoughts here

The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thompson Innis Munro accepts a challenge: if he can jump Bonnie Laddie’s Leap he will win a fortune. Meanwhile, the wolves are rising. I have my own theory about the ending, and can’t wait to read the story. Read more thoughts here. 

Michael’s Spear by Hilton Pashley Gabriel’s Clock and Sammael’s Wings are two of the absolute best MG books of the last five years. Gabriel’s Clock was one of my favourite books as a bookseller, and it was a pleasure to read it with the children’s reading group. I have waited impatiently for the final chapter, and am pleased to tell you I am on the blog tour. 




Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron Angels crash land from the sky, and people track them down with an app. Next week’s WoW title. I read an extract of this last year, when it was listed for the Bath Novel Award. It got under my skin. I’ve been thinking about it all year. 

Amendment: Out Of The Blue is out in March 2018. The information I found was incorrect. I am hugely looking forward to this, so have included it here.