Gifts for writers Practical tips Writing Life

Finishing touches

1. For the launch party: book cakes

No book launch party these days is complete without book cakes. These personalised vanilla sponges were just perfect. They arrived bang on time, tasted great and added a splash of colour to the snack table. EatYourPhoto deliver quickly too (which was a huge relief after the first company I tried let me down).

Customised vanilla cupcakes from

2. For your author ID: book necklace

NewLeaf on Etsy

Lovely necklace from NewLeaf

I’ve been wearing my book necklace everywhere – especially when I know I’ll be dropping into a bookshop and asking to sign copies of Small! I’m not entirely sure what the booksellers make of me when I walk in madly pointing at my neck saying, ‘I wrote this! Honest! Can I sign it?’ But no one’s arrested me yet and, on the whole, it’s been a pretty good icebreaker.

If a writer in your life has a book out soon, and you can get your hands on the cover artwork, I’m sure a gift from NewLeaf (whether you choose the necklace, earrings or pin badge) will go down well.

3. For signings: book stamps

Another thing that’s all the rage for authors on Instagram is book stamping. So, naturally, I gave it a try – creating a simple reward stamp that could have come straight from one of the teachers at Madame Bogbrush’s School for Gifted Giants.

And (as long as I keep the book VERY steady as I stamp) it’s worked well.* I’ve also noticed booksellers really like it. Lots have commented that children aren’t always interested in a signature squiggle, but they do like seeing the stamps.

I designed mine on Canva then loaded the design to

*Apologies if you’re the person who picked up my one smudged copy from Waterstones in Salisbury on my first day of stamping…

What are your favourite bookish accessories or launch day treats? Share your ideas in the replies.
Inspiration KidLit Practical tips

Happytown Must Be Destroyed

1. Funny words

The schnozzdongle

You don’t need to know what the schnozzdongle does to enjoy the word immensely (although if you read the book, you’ll certainly find out). I giggled every time it appeared. And that was definitely a tip I took away: if you know a an object’s going to crop up a lot in your story, give it a good name so it’s delighting, not boring.

It also got me thinking about Richard Wiseman’s research with the Laugh Lab to find the world’s funniest joke. It was the first time I’d read about the ‘comedy k’ sound (Hard ‘c’ or ‘k’ sounds are supposedly the funniest of them all). I reckon one easy way to tell if the words you’ve chosen are funny is to try them on Word’s ‘read aloud’ tool. If they sound daft in a dull robot voice, you’re probably onto a winner.

2. Funny places

The Dangles

When I’m writing, I normally struggle moving characters from one place to another. (And whenever I can, I cheat, and jump locations between chapters.) But in Happytown Must Be Destroyed, James has made a comedic feature out of moving through the setting of Owt.

The mournful chimes of the ice cream van led us along the Woofy Wynd, round the Three Sided Square and up The Dangles.

Beginning of Chapter 20

The daft place names that pop up throughout the book made me chuckle almost as much as the Snozzdongle. Because they so beautifully mirror the way locals talk about their home towns, they also made the story of alien invasion seem so much more believable. It was a really clever way of getting me to buy into the setting. It also reminded me that little details can make a big difference to a story. You don’t need to describe every inch of your world. In this case, cracking local dialect brings the whole thing to life.

3. Existential musings on the nature of happiness

Yes, this book is packed with gags galore, but there’s a big message about what it means to be happy running through the story, too. Is jumping around in a yellow tracksuit looking happy, the same as actual happiness? Spoiler: probably not.

I love a comedy contrast and this book is full of them. We’ve got ice cream vans with guns. We’ve got Leeza, the indecisive allergy-sufferer who’s somehow been tasked with saving the town. And we’ve got the entire story: a comedy romp that genuinely makes you think about what it means to be happy. It’s yet another example that funny isn’t the opposite of serious. Amidst all the fun, there are big messages to take away … along with even bigger smiles.

Happytown Must Be Destroyed is published by Hachette Children’s Group and it’s out now.

Inspiration KidLit Practical tips

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

Proof copy for Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

1. It’s a diary, done differently

Play with form

Who doesn’t love a diary? They’re the perfect place to enjoy the comedy antics of unreliable or naive narrators. (Emer Stamp’s, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig is another of my all-time comedy favourites for that reason.) But what’s so smart about Loki’s diary is that he’s not allowed to lie. Every time he tries, the diary ‘helpfully’ writes back with its own corrections. It’s a brilliant device. And it’s a great reminder that no matter how familiar your format, there’s always a way to twist it and make it your own.

2. It’s funny because it’s true

Find the funny in front of you

As an outsider to the modern world, Loki is the perfect observational comedian. He’s constantly questioning the absurdity in the everyday, giving us his views on everything from work, school and shopping to crisps and – my favourite – museums. Loki can’t believe how boldly museums display their stolen goods (he’s far too sneaky to make his own wrongdoings so obvious).

Loki’s insights into life cracked me up and got me thinking. Mostly, they reminded me of the GK Chesterton quote that funny doesn’t have to be the opposite of serious. Loki’s comedy definitely has a serious side.

Funny is the opposite of not funny, and nothing else.

GK Chesterton

3. It brings new life to old stories

Build on what we know

We get a few specific nods to the original Norse myths, but Louie mostly uses them as a springboard for fresh silliness. I especially enjoyed Thor (who’s on Earth as Loki’s brother to keep an eye on him) wanting to spend his weekends admiring hammers in the DIY shops.

Using things we already know (or learn in the first couple of pages) sets the stakes high from the start. Will Loki, the misbehaving trickster god, ever manage to live a virtuous life? Or will Odin punish him to an eternity in a chamber filled with snakes?

This isn’t a retelling of the myths. It’s dropping familiar characters into new settings and asking the question that gets all the best stories going: ‘What if..?’ It’s also a brilliant way to go from a blank page to a fresh, funny and completely original new story.

I was rooting for Loki from the start. I’m sure everyone else will, too.

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good publishes with Walker Books in February 2022. Pre-order yours now. (That’s my page, but I’m sure you can order it in your local indie, too.) #BeLessLoki


Punctuation inspiration

1. Punctuation as art

Full Stop Slipstream, Fiona Banner

Full Stop sculpture, More London

Ahh, the full stop. It’s taken a lot of stick lately for being aggressive – making most of us drop it from the end of instant messages.

But thanks to Fiona Banner’s sculpture series in More London, here’s a very concrete (well, bronze) reminder of this simple punctuation mark in all its glory.

This one’s in an italicised font called Slipstream. (But I took a terrible photo, so you can see it looking much nicer, and facing the right way on Fiona’s Instagram page.)

2. Forgotten punctuation

The interrobang

Interrobang. I loved this word for the ?! combo the moment I heard it. But I hadn’t realised it originally came with its own symbol, too (which I’ve attempted to draw).

Martin Speckter suggested creating the single punctuation mark as a symbol of incredulity back in 1963, but by the 1970s it had fallen out of fashion. And it’s not the only new punctuation people have suggested.

My drawing of an interrobang (a question mark wrapped around an exclamation mark)

According to Mental Floss, printers, authors and philosophers have championed punctuation marks for irony, rhetorical questions and even love.

Although those new punctuation marks didn’t take off either, I reckon they paved the way for today’s emojis, which pretty much cover every emotion from 😂 to 😡. I even found a romantic exclamation ❣️ (or the lovebang, if you will).

3. Only the punctuation

The punctuation in the first half of my upcoming debut, Small!

Since a friend shared the link to this word-stripping website, I’ve become slightly obsessed with it. Type in whatever you’re working on to see how your WIP would look without any words.

Here’s the first half of my upcoming debut, Small! With exclamation marks and full stops galore (although no true interrobangs, sadly) you can probably guess the reading age just by looking at it.

And for all my wafflings about the end of full stops and the rise of emojis, good old-fashioned punctuation will be welcome in my stories any day.


Inspiration from art

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens to the public next week. I was lucky enough to sneak in early and pick up some word wrangling inspiration.

There were over 1,300 pieces on display. Here are three that might help you crack your next story.

1. Opening image

Divinity, Lola Flash

Struan Murray says he started Orphans of the Tide with one strong image in mind: a whale stranded on a chapel rooftop.

Exhibitions are always packed with visual story starters. And, for me, Lola Flash’s photo of a mysterious praying figure against an upturned boat has the hallmarks of a cracking opening image.

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Where have they come from?

I can’t look at it without wanting to reach for a pen to find answers.

Lola Flash’s Divinity

2. Setting

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

I have a dreadful habit of writing first drafts in a vacuum – with characters doing things in spaces that are impossible to picture.

But getting the setting right makes telling the rest of the story so much easier. That’s where a good gallery can help.

Look at the personality bursting from Caroline Peña-Bray’s ramshackle kitchen. It’s hard to imagine any scene set here not being full of noise and life, too.

What do your settings – from the colours on the walls to the amount of clutter crammed onto the shelves (or not) – say about your characters? If your settings aren’t saying much, perhaps they’re not working hard enough.

For more world-building inspiration, make a beeline for the RA’s architecture room, where full models of buildings and cities are laid out in front of you. They’re such a help if, like me, you’re not great at visualising the places in your book.

3. Character

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

Have you ever seen a more terrifying, ready-made villain than Stephen Chambers’ jellyfish? This etching gives me the creeps, and also gets me wondering what evil sting plot is going on behind those very big eyes…

Galleries are great places to find your next characters – heroes, pets, sidekicks and evil jellyfish overlords alike.

The RA Summer Exhibition is on from 22nd Sept-2nd January 2022. Tickets are £20-£22 (and if you buy anything, you get a free ticket the following year). If you make it along, tell me about your favourite pieces in the replies. #RASummer

Gifts for writers

Gifts for writers

1. Literary postcards

Obvious State

Selection of Obvious State Postcards from the SHE collection

Obvious State are a New York-based brand, but they also have a UK Etsy shop. When I signed with my agent, my husband gave me their SHE postcard box (in the pic above). Each card features a quote from a famous female author, set against a striking illustration.

Although I can’t find this exact set in the Etsy shop at the mo, they have smaller packs of 24 literary postcards with very similar designs. They also make prints, notebooks, bookmarks and even t-shirts.

All perfect gifts for writers who like pictures as much as words.

2. Medic bag

Galen Leather

Writer’s Medic bag and personalised pencil case

I stumbled across Galen Leather when another writer posted pics of their (currently sold out) Writing Box, which was apparently inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s portable writing desk.

But I love their new medic bag even more. Not least because the bag – designed in the style of a Swiss army medic bag – is also a tribute to Galen’s founder, Zeynep, who sadly died in 2019. This was her last design, and boy does the final product do her proud.

It comes in two sizes and a few colours. I have the smaller one in Forest Green. It’s large enough to carry six pens and a couple of highlighters in separate holders plus a phone and small pencil case. It’s also got pouches for cards, a zip pocket, keyring and space for an A5 notebook or two.

And, quite frankly, it’s fun. I love its vintage look and the way its magnetic sides let you spread its contents over a desk. This is definitely the type of bag that would get attention on author visits. I know child me would have been besotted by it too.

A perfect gift for writers on the move who want to carry their stationery in style.

3. Beautiful hardbacks

The Folio Society

Folio edition of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys

Oh my goodness, I love, love, love The Folio Society. One of my lifetime #WriterGoals is to write a book that Folio later publishes. So if you know anyone at The FS, feel free to pass that on… 😉

Their hardback, illustrated editions of loved books are real works of art. And they have a decent range of children’s books, alongside nonfiction and fiction titles.

My Folio copy of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys is stunningly illustrated by Francis Vallejo and comes with fabulous spiderweb spredges (sprayed edges).

Best of all, while being lovely to look at, The Folio Society’s books feel robust enough that you’re not scared to sit down and actually read them. Which, afterall, is still the point of a book.

A perfect gift for anyone who wants a special edition of a favourite story to treasure forever.

What would you buy the word wrangler in your life? Or is something special on your wishlist?

Leave a reply to let me know (then maybe we can go shopping)