I’ve said before how much I LOVE reviews from children. I write children’s stories and it’s always lovely to get nice words said by anyone, but comments from the actual readers is what really matters. Even though I’ve been very lucky with the reviews I’ve had (so far!), I’ve learned to be prepared for some brutal honesty – which I love!!
I was asked to take part in a great scheme called Kids Read Write Review, where children are asked to read and comment on a collection of books. It is run by the incredibly enthusiastic Steph Roundsmith and I was delighted to get a load of reviews from a local school.
It was great fun reading these fantastic pieces of work. I’m very grateful to all the children for reading my book and then taking the time to write such fab reviews (luckily, they were all really lovely!). It’s great to get Amazon or Goodreads reviews (hint, hint!!) but these are the reviews that will mean the most.
Looking forward to being in the scheme next year and many thanks to Steph for getting me involved.
It’s in the mix with some awesome (obviously!) books. To Wee or Not to Wee by Pamela Butchart & illustrated by Thomas Flintham; The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin; Captain Pug by Laura James & illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans and Time Travelling with a Hamster.
Lots of children in the Worcestershire area will be reading these books over the next few months and choosing their favourites.
The winner last year was Awful Auntie by David Walliams – so they obviously chose well!
It is great to be included in such amazing company. Thank you Worcestershire County Council. It is an honour!!
It was recently announced that my book had been shortlisted for the Stockton Children’s Book of the Year Award. I’d known for a little while beforehand, but until I saw it in print, I didn’t quite believe it. I won’t repeat my path to publication (that is written elsewhere) but I am exceptionally lucky to have been published. I know most authors will say the same, but in my case it is completely true. To know that people are reading – and enjoying – my silly story has been one of the greatest thrills of my life. But for it to be put alongside some fantastic books is as wonderful as it is strange!
My fellow shortlistees (I’m not sure if that is a word, but I like it) are a great bunch. I’d already read Tamsin Cooke’sCat Burglar and genuinely loved it. It’s a cracking adventure story told with so much spirit and fun. It’s a bit too good to be honest. I’ve been ‘social media friends’ with Tamsin for a bit and while it’s lovely to exchange pleasantries over Twitter (Tamsin has been particularly kind about my book), now that we are mortal award enemies I’ll have to investigate how to retract my 5 star reviews of her book!
Defender of the Realm
Then there is Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler’sDefender of the Realm – I’m reading it at the minute and it’s brilliant (damn them!). But, I’m also a huge Danger Mouse geek from the original programmes and love its recent revival – and they are the writers of some of the best DM episodes including a classic Christmas edition!!! How do I compete with that?
My DM Desktop
I’ve heard lots of great things about Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse by Laura Wood and it is now on top of my to-read-list. Alongside M.M. Vaughan’sSIX and Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson.
All these books, I’m sure, will give the children involved in the process lots of great reading pleasure and for my book to be considered good enough to be part of this crowd is amazing.
Mountwood School for Ghosts
Now, I don’t want to do the whole it’s-the-taking-part-and-not-the-winning-that-counts routine, I’d LOVE to win, but I genuinely don’t want the winning/losing side of this to spoil how great this feels.
If I was ever given the chance to line up at the start of a 100m race with Usain Bolt, obviously I’d say yes, yes and more yes! I wouldn’t expect to cross the finish first (unless I accidentally tripped him up – which of course isn’t something I’d do – but I might consider it!) but not winning wouldn’t lessen the experience. I’d love every second of it, and let’s face it, I’d have a few more seconds to love than Usain – so who really wins? (Well, he does, but you know what I mean!).
The Mute Button
I was lucky enough to meet Ellie Irving, who won this year’s award with The Mute Button, at the Stockton Book Festival. She was very complimentary about the whole experience and thoroughly deserved her success. It was great to see her sense of fun and enthusiasm and how it rubbed off onto her readers and audience.
This is my first (and very possibly only) shortlisting. I have no control over what happens next (I’ve tried bribery with chocolate but it hasn’t seemed to have worked – yet!), but I do have control over how much pleasure I take from this experience. Hopefully all the readers and reviewers will get as much fun from it as I will. And of course I’ve got to thank the incredible Stockton Library community who, without doubt, are the most intelligent, charming, compassionate and staggeringly beautiful people I have ever had dealings with. (Too much flattery? No! Good.)
With the sun setting on the summer holidays, I’m delighted to be visiting libraries to celebrate the achievements of children in my local area.
What achievements, you ask? Reading, I say!
Children who have read (and hopefully enjoyed) six books during their summer holidays will get a medal and a certificate – some of which will be awarded by me!!
It’s called The Summer Reading Challenge and this year, to tie in with Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, the theme is the Big Friendly Read (I wonder what Roald Dahl creation that refers to?).
I have already been to many libraries to promote the Challenge and to promote … ahem … my book! I’ve had great fun getting keen readers to shout out chocolatey tongue-twisters like ‘Chocopocalypse’ and to pull ‘Chocolate Panic Faces’. We’ve also designed our own chocolate bar wrappers!
It is such a great scheme to encourage children to continue reading during the summer and I’m proud to be a part of it. You can see more pictures of my Big Friendly Adventures by clicking here or find out where I’m going next by clicking here.
I’ve written little stories all my life. Mostly for my own entertainment, but have occasionally let these drift out to family and friends. It’s always been great to get a positive response, but when it is from family and friends we all know it will be tinged with well-meaning bias.
Writing a book, that will be read by people who I don’t know, is as wonderful as it is daunting. You kid yourself that reviews don’t matter – but of course, deep down, they do!
I’ve been incredibly lucky with my reviews (so far!). The first ones were from book reviewers and bloggers who were fortunately very generous with their lovely words. Some fellow authors have given similarly squee inducing support for my story. People who don’t know me and are not in any way obliged to say nice things – have said nice things. I don’t take any of that for granted. I am hugely grateful and flattered.
But nothing – NOTHING – is quite like getting a comment from an actual reader. The aim of my silly story was to entertain children (I love the idea that grown-ups are entertained but that was not my primary aim). Seeing children’s reactions when I’ve visited schools and libraries has been amazing and I genuinely treasure the comments I’ve had from them.
I little while ago, I received a message via my website from a mum telling me how much her daughter had enjoyed reading my story. It was such a lovely message I sent a small token of my thanks. Today I received a card sent via my publisher – it has made my week (and what a terrible week or so it has been!!).
Reviews from Bloggers/Reviewers/Authors are always welcome and 5 star reviews on Amazon are gratefully received (hint, hint!!), but a hand written note from a proper reader is a pure joy.
Thank you Hannah.
Thank you for taking the time to write and for making my story part of your reading journey. I hope it is a long and wonderful journey.
Last weekend, I had a shock. It was a good shock, but still a shock!
Saturday’s Guardian had a Children’s Book Supplement, which was lovely to see. Children’s books should have more coverage in the media, so a whole supplement dedicated to them was fantastic. Even more fantastic – The Great Chocoplot was not only mentioned, but received a great review.
Cue some dancing, tweeting and phone calls saying, ‘Have you seen the Guardian?’.
A massive thank you to Steven Pryse of Pickled Pepper Books for taking the time to write such a fab review. I’m still dancing and tweeting about it!!
The North Tyneside Reading Festival was a great day, but it was extra special for one weird reason:
It was set in my old school!
I left this school almost 30 years ago with a handful of O’ Levels ready to join the Royal Air Force. So, it was incredibly strange to return to talk about my debut children’s book to audiences from schools throughout Tyneside.
There were loads of fun events going on throughout the festival and I shared the day with author Adam Bushnell and Story Teller Chris Bostock.
I loved seeing lots of ‘chocolate panic faces’ and sharing my chocolatey story, as well as being asked lots of great questions.
I’d like to thank all the schools that came along, the enthusiastic staff at Langdale and Gill Kemp for the seamless organisation. Hopefully I played a small part in getting more children interested in reading – which was the whole point!
It’s always great to get a mention in the papers – children’s books are not covered as much as they should be. But to get onto the front page is a special treat. Delighted to make it onto the front of our local News Guardian on Tyneside. Click here to read the web version.
I was recently asked to come along to Malvin’s Close Primary Academy in Blyth, Northumberland, where I got to meet every class in the school. It was a hectic couple of days as I moved from one class to another talking about my book, designing bars of chocolate, finding great descriptive words for my characters and making up stories using the names of chocolate.
Reading to Malvin’s Close
I had the great privilege of opening up not just one, but two new libraries in the school in both KS1 and KS2 and meeting the incredibly talented winner of a school’s writing competition.
Opening Malvin’s Close KS1 Library
Malvin’s Close KS1 Library is Open!
Meeting Malvin’s Close Winning Writer
Everywhere I went, I was greeted with huge enthusiasm and warmly welcomed into every class. I was continually impressed with the quality of designs, word play and great questions I was asked – although I’m not too happy about being asked how old I was!!! (I’m 22 – in case you were wondering!) I had such a great time, I almost feel a bit guilty about spreading too much chocolate panic. Almost!!
Malvin’s Close Chocolate Panic Faces
And there were lots and lots and lots of great Chocolate Panic Faces!!!! Hope to see you all again soon.
I’ve been travelling around a bit lately, sharing my story and answering many wonderful (and sometimes unusual) questions. I can’t get to everywhere, so I was delighted when Kelly – from a Cheltenham Book Club – got in touch with me.
We have some questions for you, from our recent book club meet at The Suffolk Anthology, Cheltenham. Love for the Chocoplot was unanimous and we all enjoyed its humour and language play- like the alliteration and neologisms. A favourite part was when Jelly and her Gran were in the ball pit, trying to escape. Dodgy Dave had his mention, too!
Anyway, we have some questions. Try not to feel like a contestant on Mastermind…
Thanks Kelly – I had to look up ‘neologisms’ and am going to try and add it to my next conversation – I’m sitting in my chair with the lights dimmed, let the questioning begin!
Book Club Questions
Why was Garibaldi Chocolati called ‘Choccy Biccy’?
I’ve always loved making up names and wanted something fancy and elaborate for Garibaldi. But people are not always called by their proper names, and nick names can be a lot of fun. A garibaldi is an old fashioned biscuit and Chocolati is obviously a play on the word ‘chocolate’, so I thought that he could be nick named ‘Chocolate Biscuit’, which could be shorted to ‘Choccy Biccy’. I love a choccy biccy with a cup of coffee!
How long did it take to write this AMAZING book?
From Nancy aged 8 and Emme
Thank you Nancy and Emme for those lovely words, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
I had the idea of a ‘Chocopocalypse’ rattling around in my head for a few months and I would occasionally jot down some notes. I quickly had fully formed story and decided to write it as a Christmas present for my daughter. I started writing it in the school summer holidays and had a first draft ready for Christmas – so about 4 months. Then I fiddled with it for a bit, before a publisher said they liked it and we started the long job of editing. This is all about adding some parts, taking away characters or scenes that don’t quite work and generally playing around with it. Two years after I gave the first draft to my daughter, it was published and available in bookshops! It seems like a very long time, but lots of writers work on their stories for a lot longer!!
Has your Gran got a Granavan and do you like chocolate?
Neither of my Grans had a Granavan, Evie. But they were both lovely people and I wanted something similar for my story. I needed Jelly’s Gran to live quite close to them – so she could pop in and out when needed – but I didn’t want her living there. Me and my daughter would often walk home from school passed houses with caravans on their drive. We always wondered if anybody lived in them! So I thought this would be a nice idea for the story.
And do I like chocolate? Oh, yes. Definitely, yes. Very much!
Is chocolate going to run out?
That’s a good question, Ellen. And a worrying one! There are some people saying that there is a real problem with chocolate crops! I can’t give a definite answer to that I’m afraid. It’s up to you to decide for yourself and maybe investigate ways to make it stop happening. I have an environmental past, and I honestly believe we can change things and make the world better.
Have you been to Mexico and did it inspire your story?
From Charley aged 9 (confidential – for Chris Callaghan’s eyes only)
(Confidential answer – for Charley’s eyes only!)
I’ve never been to Mexico or South America, where the origins of chocolate are said to have begun. But it is a place I’d love to visit. I’ve always been interested in ancient civilizations like the Romans, the Greeks and the Mayans (from South America). The Mayans, in particular seemed to like their prophecies and I’m sure that’s where I got my ideas from.
What’s your favourite type of Chocolate?
Oh, this is a hard question. I don’t have an absolute favourite bar. I love the variety that you can get. Some days I’ll be in the mood for some chocolate with crunchie bits in it, or soft, chewy bits, or just a simple block of solid chocolate. There is a type of chocolate for every taste – which is another reason why we all love it!!
Did you base the Chocka Chocolate on a real brand of chocolate? If so which one?
I didn’t want to use any real chocolate in my story (I probably wouldn’t have been allowed – although there is a quick mention of Rolos!) and I love to make up names. One bar of chocolate was mentioned a few times in the story: Blocka Choca. For a long time, this was called a Chocka Blocka, but I found a very similar named bar and didn’t want to use something that already existed. So very near the end I swapped the words around to make Blocka Choca, which I like better. It sounds like a block of choca, which fits in well with Sir Walter Waffle’s block of chocolate statue.
Are you wishing there was a Kit Kat, Kit? Kit Kat Kit!! I’m a sucker for a silly alliteration!
Who are the best authors at Chicken House?
Blimey, what a question! How do I answer that?
I couldn’t possibly say who the best are, but I can say what a privilege it is to be with the same publisher as so many talented writers. I’ve been lucky to meet a few too.
Kieran Fanning is a fantastic writer of adventure stories, Dan Smith writes amazing thrillers, there’s the brooding Darkmere by the wonderful Helen Maslin, I loved Emma Shevah’s Dara Palmer and Linda Davies’ exciting Longbow Girl. But there’s also Sarah Rubin and her super clever Alice Jones and I’m sure everyone has heard of James Dashner’s Maze Runner. I could go on and on!
Maybe you should check out Chicken House’s website, there are fab authors for everyone.
Why did Garibaldi wear a safari suit and what was it like for him at school and what types of other chocs are there..
From Sam, don’t tell any of your mates.
Garibaldi & Jelly
Don’t worry Sam, I won’t tell my mates!
Garibaldi has travelled all over the world searching for pure chocolate and is quite a snob. So, I thought he would get dressed up in a snobby way. He likes to think he is better than everybody else and has old fashioned ideas – so an old fashioned safari suit that old explorers used to wear seemed to suit him well.
I imagine he was quite snobby at school too and wasn’t very popular. He probably ran the school’s tuck shop (do schools still have little areas where pupils can buy chocolate, crisps and pop at lunchtimes? Probably not!) and like to think he was in charge of all the chocolate in his school!
Other types of chocolate? There is so much to choose from and so many varieties – which makes Garibaldi’s blood boil!
Where did the bugs come from and why did Garibaldi Chocolati wear a safari kit?
Yes, these bugs are a worry aren’t they Alfie! And they are REAL! Ants and mealy bugs have been linked to problems with chocolate crops for a while now. Hopefully this is being dealt with, but it may be something we need to keep an eye on!
See the above answer about his safari suit. (I’d quite like a safari suit – I wonder where you can get one?)
Have you ever had a real life noisy neighbour like Mrs Bunstable?
Oh dear, I could get into serious problems if I told the truth here!!
I have been very lucky – mostly – and had great neighbours in the past. But I’m sure many of us have had a problem neighbor before (ask you Mum and Dads, I’m sure they’ll have stories!). I had a great time writing this character, and there might be a few people who recognize her!
That’s all I’m saying!!!!
Thanks so much for agreeing to answer all of these fab questions, it’s really kind of you.
Huge chocolati thanks, Kelly and the Suffolk Anthology Children’s Book Club
You are very welcome. They were all great questions and thank you to all the Book Clubbers for taking the time to read my book. It makes me so happy to know that people have enjoyed my silly story.
It started on Monday when I spread Chocopocalyptic Panic to 400 screaming visitors to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Even though everyone’s Chocolate Panic Faces were brilliant – I think my general panic face from being in front of so many people was probably the scariest!
I then visited a few schools in Manchester, where the subject of football came up a few times (and a little mockery of Newcastle United’s terrible season!) but it was all great shouty chocolate nonsense. Followed by a trip to the Scottish Borders, where I got to sign some books in the back of an old Fire Engine – Cool!!
The week was finished off by a more grown up meeting of some fellow authors in beautiful Edinburgh and a chance to share my story with librarians, book sellers and festival organisers. A massive thank you to all involved especially Mitchell Library, Urmston Bookshop, Mainstreet Trading and the Edinburgh Story-Telling Centre. And of course, not forgetting everyone who was kind enough to come along to meet me. I had a wonderful time.
I have visited Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books – many times before. Not only is it jam-packed with booky goodies and wonderful exhibitions, but it is also the closest bookshop to where I live! How lucky is that!!
I doubt there are many writers and aspiring writers that have wondered through it’s wonderful rooms without dreaming of having their book on their bookshelf, a exhibition of their own or holding an event in the impressive attic space.
Well, this lucky writer has had all his dreams come true. I was invited to give a talk about my book to an attic full of readers. It’s hard to explain just how nervous I was, but the Seven Stories staff (in particular, the incredibly enthusiastic Lorna!) and my lovely audience made me feel very welcome and I even started to enjoy myself!
Afterwards, some kind people even joined me in the book shop to get copies of The Great Chocoplot signed. It was great talking to everyone about chocolatey things and having a giggle along the way.
Thank you to everyone who came along and to all the staff at Seven Stories. I had a fantastic afternoon!
I had an amazing day on Saturday (2nd April). Not only did I visit the beautiful city of Edinburgh (after a gap of too long!), but I had my first bookshop signing session. Waterstones West End kindly invited me along and provided me with my very own display table and chair!! Although I brought my own ‘support team’ of my wife and daughter to help out!
I spent the afternoon spreading a little chocopocalyptic panic – all in good fun! It was great chatting to readers about my story and sharing the odd bit of chocolate.
A huge thank you to all the staff and everyone who said hello. You all made me feel very welcome and I hope to return one day with book 2 – hopefully!!
I’ve enjoyed a very chocolatey Easter Weekend – I hope you have too!
Chocolate, Easter Egg hunts, reading and more chocolate – perfect. And for some, the holidays have only just started. I’ve seen quite a few people enjoying reading The Great Chocoplot and posting pictures on Twitter. That has made my weekend extra special. It is still a bit weird knowing that people are reading my story, but it is a great thrill! To celebrate this chocolate feasting weekend, I’ve put together a silly trailer thing. Please click here to see it. I hope it makes you chuckle.
Happy Chocopocalypse …. er, sorry … I mean Easter!!
Seven days ago, on World Book Day, I was delighted to be invited into a local school (where my wife just happens to be the Deputy Head!) to celebrate the launch of ‘The Great Chocoplot’. It was a day that I never thought would happen – the day a book, written by me ,would be published! A week later, it still seems mad!
The pupils of Year 3 did a fantastic job of getting dressed up as their favourite chocolate bar, or in the purple and gold colours of my book cover. We started the day by picking out M & Ms and answering questions depending on their colour. Who doesn’t love a sneaky bit of chocolate at 9:15am? Followed by activities around the book’s illustrations by Lalalimola, where pupils were invited to describe what they thought the characters looked like. They came up with loads of great words! We had fun creating bookmarks made out of our own designs of chocolate bars and made up lots a fab new chocolatey names. I was honoured to be asked to present awards to the winners of the best costume in all year groups and got to read some of my story to very attentive children. They even giggled at some funny bits!
A reporter and photographer came along to record the day for a local newspaper and in the afternoon, while I signed loads of books, we had a chocolate party. It was brilliant!
A huge thank you to all the children and to the staff for making the day so special. I will be adding a gallery page to this site soon, so I will be able to share some of the great pictures taken. Including lots of #ChocolatePanicFace pics!!
Hello website lookers (is that what you are called?),
Welcome to my new website. I plan to use it for posting news, updates and generally … nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with nonsense. It’s what the internet was invented for!
Now, I can’t promise there’s going to be constant updates. I’ll try. I really will. But I’m easily distracted …
… what was I saying, oh yes (ha, ha, I’m also hilarious – as my wife says. Although she says it in a strange way and I sometimes wonder if she is being sarcastic. I’m sure she’s not, but it comes across like that sometimes). Anyway … you see what I mean about getting distracted!