Books I can’t wait to read in 2023

1. Libby and the Highland Heist

Jo Clarke, illustrated by Becka Moor

I loved reading Libby and the Parisian Puzzle last year. This cosy mystery for kids was exactly the kind of book 7-year-old me would have devoured. So I can’t wait to see what mysteries Libby will have to unravel next as she heads to Scotland to visit her new friend, Connie.

Luckily, I don’t have long to wait. Libby and the Highland Heist is out on 19th January. Pre-order at Waterstones (or head to your local indie to bag a copy).

2.Villains Academy

Ryan Hammond

Unsurpisingly, I’m a sucker for stories set in unusual schools. So I’m really looking forward to visiting Villain’s Academy in February.

Has Bram the werewolf really got what it takes to be a proper villain? I’ll be first in the queue to dive into this silly (and spooky) story to find out!

Villains Academy is out 2nd Feb 2022. Pre-order at Watestones for a special sprayed edge edition.

3. Michael, the Amazing Mind-Reading Sausage Dog

Terrie Chilvers, illustrated by Tim Budgen

Michael the sausage dog has a rare talent: he can read minds. But is it enough to turn him into the su-paw-star of his dreams?

I was lucky enough to read an early draft of Michael’s memoirs, so I already know his journey to Hollywoof is heartwarming and hilarious. And his sidekick, Stanley Big Dog might just be one of my all-time favourite supporting characters. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall head-over-paw for this fabulous story.

Michael The Amazing Mind-Reading Sausage Dog is out on 8th June 2022. Give your future-self a treat and pre-order now.

Which books are you looking forward to reading in 2023? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Practical tips Writing Life

Reflections on my debut year

3 things I did

1. Celebrate every win and milestone

2022 was my book’s debut year and I was determined to enjoy it! Sometimes, there were big things to cheer about – like being The Bookseller’s One toWatch or The Sunday Times’ Children’s Book of the Week. (I’m well aware how lucky I am that my little book had such a great start, and I’ll be eternally grateful to my publisher for working so hard to get SMALL! in front of the right people.)

But I celebrated the quieter moments just as much. The first bookshop to share pre-order links for SMALL! (Thank you Rocketship Bookshop!). The Instagram message from a mum telling me how much her daughter loved my book. My first school assembly. Running a ‘create a swamp creature’ workshop for three boys who didn’t want to leave. And, very occasionally, readers coming to my workshops on purpose. I’ll be honest, I usually roped in any children who happened to be nearby when I was about to start.

This year has been full of little wins and whether you’re publishing your first book or fifty-seventh, holding on to those moments will make every late night editing push or plot-hole-panic worth it.

Here I am celebrating SMALL! being in the window of Waterstones Salisbury

2. Take joy in other authors acing it

I feel there’s one rule that all authors who want happy lives should follow: don’t compare yourself to other authors. If someone else has more sales, is on more shortlists or takes home more prizes, cheer for them. When a few authors in my debut group were nominated for the Carnegie, I genuinely squealed over my breakfast. One of the biggest joys I’ve had this year is seeing so many brilliant debut children’s authors doing brilliantly. And a win for any one of them feels like a win for all of us, as it shows children, teachers, booksellers and librarians are giving new, non-celebrity books a chance. That’s got to be worth cheering, right?

3. Give and share where you can

Giving your time as an author isn’t entirely selfless. When I write letters to schools, do I hope a few pupils might buy my book? Of course. When I create downloadable games and activities on my website, do I hope they’ll encourage teachers to use SMALL! in the classroom? Yup. And when I run events in bookshops, do I hope a few of the families that come will also buy my book? Absolutely.

As an author, there’s an obvious benefit to giving your time. But those little acts aren’t selling copies for me in the thousands, hundreds or even the tens most of the time. Instead, I hope they’re getting a few children excited about reading, as well as writing their own stories.

Of course, sharing doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be all about you. The shares that have done best for me this year were my Reading Adventure, shouting about 15 debuts young readers might enjoy. And my book review postcard template – helping readers write reviews like holiday postcards for any books they’ve enjoyed.

3 things I wish I’d done

4. Accept you’ll never have enough time

I had no idea just how much time promoting a book takes. This might vary a bit depending on the kind of marketing budget you have and whether there’s a team making resources for you. But if you’re eager to do things yourself, you could lose days:

  • making a website – if you’re building your own, leave lots of time for it
  • visiting bookshops
  • visiting schools
  • writing letters to schools
  • blogging, tweeting, TikToking etc
  • creating activities to go with your book
  • agonising about any of the things on that list you haven’t done yet.

I’ve loved promoting SMALL! But I’ve also struggled to get the balance between writing and promoting right. The result is that I almost always feel guilty about the things I’m not doing.

That guilt extends to the many fab books I know I’m not reading and shouting about, too. My TBR pile has never been bigger.

Going into 2023, I’ve promised to be kinder to myself and accept I can’t do everything. I’ll also try not to use promoting as an excuse to avoid the harder job of actually writing a new book…

5. Pick a good signing pen

In Goldilocks style, it took me three goes to find mine.

My first pen looked nice but the ink blotted into the pages.

My second pen didn’t blot, but the nib was too thick for my handwriting.

The third pen (a fineline version of pen two) is perfect. Here’s a pic of my Ultra Fine Sharpie in all its glory.

Third time lucky: my favourite Ultra Fine Sharpie

6. Ask for reviews

Amazon reviews – if you get over the magic 50 – help more people find your book. Even though loads of people have said lovely things about SMALL! I’m nowhere near that number.

I’ve posted occasional tweets asking for reviews and reminding everyone that you can buy SMALL! from Waterstones or your local indie and still review it on Amazon. But I’m fairly sure I’m asking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The problem is that reviewing isn’t on most people’s radars. Before getting a book deal, I don’t think I’d ever left an Amazon review – even for books I LOVED. Looking back, I reckon my best chance to get reviews would have been to ask the parents at my events. It’s something I’ll try and do more of next year.

In the meantine, if you’re looking for a gift for me(!) or another author in your life this festive season, head to Amazon and leave a review. It won’t cost you a penny and it’ll mean the world to them.

Authors, what do you wish you’d known before you published your debut? Share your wisdom for other debuts in the replies.
Writing Life

Bookshops (and booksellers) I’m thankful for

1. The Rocketship Bookshop, Salisbury

The Rocketship Bookshop will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first shop to post pre-order links for SMALL! months before anyone else was even talking about it. And it was the first shop I visited to sign copies, which was another pinch-me moment.

Jo, the owner really knows her stuff. She hosts all kinds of events and does gorgeous picturebook readings. And, oh, the wrapping! Order online and she’ll wrap your books beautifully – often with paper and bows that colour-cordinate with your chosen bookcovers.

If you’re looking for the perfect children’s book, Jo will find it.

Order from The Rocketship Bookshop here.

2. Waterstones, Ashford

I’ve visited lots of branches of Waterstones in the last few months (and have loads more on my list) but Emma Pullar in the Ashford branch is extra special. She’s been the biggest champion of SMALL! but also of so many children’s authors I love. She posts great recommendations on Instagram and Twitter and has a packed calendar of book events in her branch.

I was thrilled to run one of my first ‘Create a Swamp Ceature’ sessions for SMALL! with her. And because she’d worked so hard to tell young readers about the book beforehand, I met my first bookworm who’d already read it. (As a debut, I’m used to drumming up event interest from children and grown ups who happen to be in the store when I’m there. The idea of children coming to meet me … on purpose still feels extraordinary.)

Huge thanks also go to the other Waterstones branches who’ve hosted events with me, including Harrow (twice!), Salisbury and Worcester. And Filipa and the Trafalgar Square team hosted the most fabulous launch for SMALL! too.

Find your local Waterstones.

3. Ottie and the Bea, Blackheath

Should you decide to move house based on whether or not moving means you’ll get a local children’s bookshop at the end of the road?

I think so.

I’m a creature of habit and felt seriously wobbly about leaving the one-bed flat my husband and I were in for the last nine years. Even though the whole working, eating, cooking, living in the same room thing had lost it’s charm about a week into the pandemic.

So was getting an extra room to write in what clinched the move for me? Nope (although now I have it, its amazing). It was Ottie and the Bea. It’s an absolutely delightful bookshop and toy shop a short walk from my new home. It stocks plenty of children’s books – including signed copies of SMALL! – as well as an adorable range of traditional toys that would make perfect Christmas pressies for little ones. The moment I saw it I thought, yes, I could live here. (The area, not the shop, although if the owner, Julia were willing…😁)

Visit Ottie and the Bea.

Which bookshops and booksellers are you thankful for? Let me know in the replies.

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