Blog Tour · General

Guest Post: Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-Offs by Sarah Forbes.

I’m thrilled today to be welcoming Sarah Forbes, author of the excellent Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, to the blog as the last stop on her tour. When I was asked what I would like Sarah to write about for me I knew instantly, the book is filled with wonderfully awful characters so I wanted to hear more about them and how Sarah created them.
Elspeth Hart cover

Writing baddies:
The awful characters in Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs

I don’t know about you, but I love a good villain. Sometimes we love rooting for a protagonist who so obviously deserves to have things work out for them. Other times it’s sheer joy to lounge about reading stories about vile people doing things we would never dream of doing.

I was channel-surfing one evening and saw a remake of Fame the movie on TV. Watching it, I thought about how, as a quiet person, that would be my worst nightmare – being in a school where performing all the time was key to success. That might have sparked off some ideas for the awful show-offs in the school where Elspeth’s story is set! I wanted to have an incredibly vain ringleader character (Tatiana Firensky) and for her to have a couple of sidekicks (dim-witted Octavia Ornamento and gymnastic star Esmerelda Higginsbot). What was really fun for me was seeing how James Brown, the illustrator, interpreted my character descriptions when I’d finished writing the story. He absolutely nailed it and often draws little extra details that I’d never have thought of, really making the books come alive.

The teachers in the book area bit awful too: there’s Madame Chi-chi, who used to star in Italian soap operas and has an awful temper, Madame Stringy, who is small and fragile and cries easily, and Professor Bombast, who isn’t a professor at all but just bought a certificate off the internet saying he was. I think the idea of things (and people) being fake is a driving force in quite a lot of the story!

As for the REALLY awful characters, Miss Crabb and Gladys Goulash: I think they just seemed to appear in my mind as soon as I thought about having evil dinner ladies as the baddies in the book. They’re pretty disgusting – always burping, farting, scratching their armpits or putting slugs and cockroaches in the school dinners. I have to admit, though, they are really fun to write!

One thing I’ve learned from writing illustrated children’s books is just how useful it is to have a clear idea of how your characters look and move around. My top tip for anyone writing young fiction would be to write a really detailed character brief for each of your characters. Even if you’re not working with an illustrator, it can really help to know exactly what your characters look like, as you plot their adventures!

Thanks so much for having me on the blog! x

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Alex Woolf on the steampunk technology in Iron Sky: Dread Eagle.


I’m so excited to be welcoming Alex Woolf to my blog today as part of the tour for his new book Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. The rich steampunk world he has created is wonderful, I was really pleased when he agreed to write about how he went about this process. Over to you Alex!

As a child I was fascinated by technology – not exactly by how it worked, or else I might have become an engineer rather than a writer, but more by the way it looked, sounded and smelled. To this day, I still find few sights or sounds more entrancing than the interior of a traditional watch, with all its tiny cogs, gears and springs working together in perfect coordination. And for excitement, nothing can beat a working steam engine with its spinning shafts and terrifying pistons pumping away amid all that heat and steam.

I especially loved the extravagantly inefficient machines of Heath Robinson cartoons, with their many complex moving parts producing something very simple. One of my favourite scenes in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the one featuring Professor Caractacus Potts’ absurdly over-complicated breakfast-making machine.

I must have been a steampunk fan before I even realised it, because these machines are the essence of the genre. What a steampunk machine looks like is ultimately much more important than what it does. It should be extravagant, ingenious and gloriously impractical.

This was my starting point when developing the technology for my steampunk fantasy, Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. Take the eponymous ‘dread eagle’ itself. It’s a steam-powered, steel-feathered flying machine that looks like a giant bird of prey. There is nothing remotely practical or airworthy about it, but in the steampunk world it inhabits, it glides, it soars, it captures airships in its talons, shoots fire from its beak and terrifies all who behold it.

One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

A machine like the dread eagle is pure fantasy. Because I know that nothing like that could ever exist on Earth, I could play fast and loose with the physics. Other pieces of tech featured in the book are more rooted in reality, while retaining the baroque steampunk look. For example, I had to develop a line of military airships and planes used to fight the war that forms the backdrop to the Iron Sky series. For these ‘aerial steam carriages’ and dirigibles, I’ve stuck pretty close to the actual technology of the 1910s and 1920s, except that the machines are steam- or wind-powered. And of course they look beautiful, with an ornate and slightly gothic Victorian appearance rather than the more streamlined, art deco style of the early 20th century.

The series is set in an alternative 1845. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon unexpectedly won the Battle of Waterloo, and since then Britain and France have been slugging it out for global supremacy. As a result of all this war, technology has boomed and they’ve reached about 1920 or so in terms of technological development – with a few differences. For example, instead of radio waves they’ve discovered this mysterious, invisible fluid called the aether, which allows them long-distance communication.

The aether was a popular theory in Victorian times, and has become a bit of a staple among steampunk writers. The Victorians believed that all the energies and forces we observe, including light, gravity and magnetism, operate within this subtle and universal medium, which they called the luminiferous aether. In my world the aether is much more than a theory: it’s a practical workaday reality. They’ve developed aethercells, which are like radio transmitter-receivers, and ANODE (AetherNet Object Detection Echo) systems instead of radar.

But the aether is useful for much more than communication and detection, as they’re beginning to discover. The French have developed the Aetheric Shield, a device that operates like an invisible forcefield, rendering any airship wearing it invincible, and this is threatening to tip the balance in the long-running war.

Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

No steampunk fantasy would be complete without an automaton, and in Iron Sky we have Miles, the Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum. Miles is a three-foot-high metal gentleman, steam-powered of course, and dressed immaculately in frock coat and top hat. A tiny chimney in his hat releases steam (and is useful for me as a writer as a means of expressing his emotions – ‘puffing anxiously’ for example). Miles is the sidekick of our aviator-heroine Lady Arabella West, and he tends to be pessimistic (he would
say ‘logical’) about their chances of survival at any given moment. Apart from his superb analytical engine brain, he has a few hidden accessories, which are gradually revealed as the story progresses. I won’t say what they are, but they do prove useful in getting Arabella out of a number of scrapes.

Whether any of the machines I’ve created for Iron Sky could ever work in practical terms is beside the point. In fact it’s probably better if they couldn’t, because steampunk is not about efficiency or practicality – it’s the very opposite of all that. Steampunk is about the enjoyment of technology for its own sake – the crazier and more spectacular the better. The sense of wonder I experienced as a child at the sight and sound of intricate clocks and infernal engines. That’s steampunk – and that’s what I’ve tried to recreate in this book.

Thank you Alex for such a wonderfully interesting post! I’ll be posting my review of Iron Sky: Dread Eagle later today so do make sure you pop back and read it.

Blog Tour · Book Review

Blog Tour: Review of A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher.

I’m very pleased to be sharing my review of Susan Fletcher’s new book A Little in Love as one of two stops today on the blog tour. Please see the banner in the side bar for the list of other stops the book will making over the next couple of weeks.

ALILParis, 1832.
A street girl lies alone in the darkness, clutching a letter to her heart.

Eponine remembers being a child: her swing and the peach tree, and the baby brother she loved. Bt mostly she remembers being miserable. Taught to lie and cheat, and to hate the one girl, Cosette, who might have been her friend.

Now, at sixteen, the two girls meet again and Eponine has one more chance. But what is the price of friendship – the love of a boy?

I’m a huge fan of the musical version of Les Miserables, it’s right up there towards the top of my favourite musicals list. I’ve seen it a couple of times and have more than one cast recording on my iPod. The one thing I’ve never got to grips with though is Victor Hugo’s novel that first told the story. I started reading it years ago, put it down to read something else, picked it up and read a bit more and then repeated this sequence time and again until one time I just didn’t pick it up again. The dense, long sections of history were off-putting and so it remains my oldest unfinished read. When I received the information about A Little in Love I knew this was going to be different – a book focusing on the story of Eponine, one of my favourite characters, sounded right up my street.

It is no spoiler to say that Eponine’s story is a tragic one, the blurb from the back of the book does this for me and the prologue of the book confirms it. After the prologue the book jumps back to a much earlier time in Eponine’s life, back to her earliest memories of the hardship she was born into and the parents she had the misfortune of belonging to. Narrated by Eponine the book tracks through her memories bringing the reader right up to the point at which the prologue started. This is a really effective style for this story, the first person narrative makes everything feel so much more personal and significant.

I had found that I’d understood Eponine more from my unfinished reading of the original Les Miserables, reading this was an even better experience – it functions as such a close character study. I found that by the end of the book I loved Eponine even more, seeing how she struggles with the villainous nature of her family and how big her heart is made her even more endearing. Her sister, Azelma, acts as the other side of the coin – whilst Eponine fights to rebel against her upbringing Azelma is completely fine with joining the family’s criminal activities. I found the differences between them fascinating to read, though they made me so sad too.

I found that I flew through this book, even though I knew the bare bones of the story and knew exactly what was coming at the end I was so completely drawn into this version of events – it felt like a completely new tale. Being able to focus primarily on one of the many key characters in the Les Miserables story meant there was time and space to include so much detail, making this a beautifully rich reading experience.

One thing I cannot confidently comment on is how this book will work for readers entirely unfamiliar with Les Miserables in any of its forms. I feel like I’ve known the story for too long to be able to completely remove any knowledge of it from my mind. I do think though that this book will stand on its own really well, it’s such a well written, complete story.

This has been my first Susan Fletcher book. I really loved it and will definitely be looking out for other books by her in the future.

A Little in Love is published by Chicken House in the UK from 2nd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Katie Dale’s Little White Lies.



Gorgeous Christian is a mystery. Why does he dye his hair, clam up whenever Lou asks about his past, and have no family photos? But when Christian’s secret is publicly revealed, Lou finds herself in terrible danger – and keeping secrets of her own…

As lie follows lie, nothing is as it seems, and soon Lou finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit, her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters as she faces a heart-wrenching dilemma: should she shatter the lives of those she holds dearest, or betray the guy who, against all odds, she’s fallen in love with?

I’m very pleased to welcome Katie Dale back to my blog as she tours her brand new book, Little White Lies. Over to you Katie!


So, having written a book entitled LITTLE WHITE LIES, in which the characters are somewhat truthfully-challenged, it got me to thinking about the little lies we all tell. Some are white – eg we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so it’s kinder to lie. Some are perhaps more on the greyish side – eg no one gets hurt but it gets us out of trouble! And after some reflection, I’ve come up with the five “white” lies I confess I’m most guilty of telling…

1) “I’m not scared”
Okay, so I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat (I can’t even watch horror movies – even Scream freaks me out), but I try to put on a good front. I trained as an actress, so when I’m talking in front of a large crowd or walking down a dark street at night I try my best to convince everyone (and myself!) that I’m cool, calm and confident – even if my heart’s racing a mile a minute and my legs are turning to jelly!

2) “I have read the terms and conditions”
I know, I know, I should read the terms and conditions of anything I agree to, but they’re just on everything everywhere and they’re so LONG! I know it’s a gamble, and a risk, and they’ll probably come back to bite me on the bottom some day, but life’s just too short!

3) “Oh that’s lovely, thank you so much!”
One Christmas, my little niece opened practically every one of her presents with an exclamation of “It’s just what I always wanted! What is it?” which made us all crack up, but she’s learning early. No matter how inappropriate/boring/unwanted a present may be, I always try to make the giver feel like I’m really delighted – it’s the thought that counts, after all. (Even the tactful lemon-scented deodorising footspray I got for Christmas that time, Mum! Nice!)

4) “If you don’t come now, we’ll leave without you…”
Another white lie I’ve learned since my niece came along. Sometimes it’s just impossible to get her to leave the swings/ducks/toys so this lie makes her hurry up, even though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t believe it.

5) “The dog/cat/hamster ate my homework”
When I was at school I was the queen of excuses. It wasn’t deliberate, but somehow on the bus in I’d always discover some piece of homework I’d forgotten to do – and I’d try desperately to do it on the bus – but sometimes there just wasn’t time. I still have a recurring nightmare about not having done my homework on time – it’s really stressful!

So these are five of the white lies I’m most guilty of telling – what are yours?

Little White Lies is out now, published by Simon & Schuster UK. You can find Katie’s blog here, and can find her on Twitter as @katiedaleuk.

Blog Tour

Q and A with Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier – Part 2.

Today I’m thrilled to be posting an interview with the creators of The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones, a lovely graphic novel for children aged 7+. I reviewed the book yesterday, you can find it here. Vicky kindly took the time to answer some questions for me, part 1 was posted this morning, and here is part 2.

Did you have any input into each other’s work?

Jamie is the artist, I the wordsmith, but both of us were involved to a greater or lesser extent in each other’s input.  Jamie must take credit for the artwork; he has no idea how extraordinary it is and so, happily and proudly I sing its praises.  Aside from coming up jointly with the story and the text, I was his grumbling dogsbody.  Jamie was up at 5.30 each morning and didn’t stop ‘til 8 at night and never took a weekend off, trying to meet an impossible 10-month deadline (self-imposed and agreed by Walker Books because none of us knew initially how long each page would take to complete).

From commission, the coloured artwork took two years.  As it progressed, so too did the text balloons: we made our own font from my handwriting (the most legible it has ever been) and I created and positioned the text-balloons, Jamie designing the artwork, around them.  There is an extraordinary methodology to the construction of each complex page; too complicated perhaps to describe here (from pencil sketch, through watercolour wash, line drawings, to lighting and special effects in Photoshop), but suffice it to say that anything artistic and complicated, Jamie did and anything boringly monotonous and easy, he’d hand over to me, whereupon I’d settle down to the laborious task of colouring the hats, scarves, buttons, tentpoles … just look at the detail and spare a thought for the girl who coloured it, please!  I can tell you that on the day when finally I was to colour in my very last Shuffley sledge, you could find me whooping and hollering around the garden.

Were you inspired by any other books when you were creating this?

Jamie was inspired as a child by Tove Jansson’s Moomin books; many people have noticed a similarity between Moomintroll and Tooki (and between Jamie and Tooki, if only Jamie had a yellow fur coat).  Both of us grew up with Tintin.  Jamie loved the Asterix books too and although I liked them, Tintin was and is an abiding obsession to the point of being able to quote lines, place frames and of having been accepted onto Mastermind with Tintin as my specialist subject, only to be told by the producer that having worked for the BBC, I wouldn’t be allowed on, as they might be seen to be partisan (a lucky escape perhaps).  Herge’s manner of creating a spread was a big influence on us: he’d always have a minor page-turner on the left-hand page and a major one on the right, a question that needed to be answered; we’ve always tried to do the same with Tooki, to have the reader excited to turn the page to see what was coming next.

I loved the way the book takes some pretty big ideas and makes them simple enough for the fairly young target market. Were there any challenges in doing this?

Thank you for noticing these pretty big ideas; they are what drove the creation of the book because they are what drive us as people, the wondering about what life is all about.  We aimed the book at a universal rather than a young readership.  Even young children are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for and can often grasp the nub of an idea that flies over the heads of adults.  Tooki is essentially the story of being human and asks the questions that we all ask from a young age.  The challenge was to pose these searching questions without their being too consciously noticed, our aim to sweep the reader along at the same time as provoking deeper thoughts and feelings.  Practically, that meant pushing the most immediately enjoyable part of the story – the adventure – to the fore to allow the deeper message to run subtly under the surface.  The same is true of life: we are caught up in the day-to-day adventure but are never far from wondering what it’s all about.  Don’t want to say too much else; would rather let readers read what they will into the book.

Our publishers, Walker Books, told us of a criticism levelled at the book by a potential foreign co-publisher: that the appearance of the characters is too ‘cuddly’ to carry what is quite a complex story.  But the juxtaposition of simple-looking creatures with quite a challenging story is intentional, partly to include young children who don’t need to be patronised and partly because we feel that the appearance of the creatures will be immediately endearing to readers of all ages.  Besides and daring to go a little deeper, life’s like that; is at once simple and unfathomably complex.

And finally, I have my fingers crossed for the answer to this one, will we be seeing more of Tooki’s adventures in more books?

On the penultimate page of the book, Tooki tells Miski that: ‘ … there’s someone I’d like you to meet’ and the last page is completed by the caption ‘The Beginning’, which would imply that this is certainly not the end.  Jamie and I would love to set forth on further Took adventures (we have a sequel up our sleeves) but we have gone out on a long limb (a huge financial stretch) in order to bring Tooki into the world so we’ll just have to wait and see whether the world wants more from Tooki and thus from us.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Vicky, it’s been a real pleasure hosting you on my blog today!

Blog Tour

Q and A with Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier – Part 1.

Today I’m thrilled to be posting an interview with the creators of The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones, a lovely graphic novel for children aged 7+. I reviewed the book yesterday, you can find it here. Vicky kindly took the time to answer some questions for me, this is part 1 and part 2 will be posted this afternoon.

Firstly could you tell me a little about yourselves?

We live in a cottage by the sea on the south coast of England. The Adventures of Tooki – The Secret of the Stones is our first book project, a joint (ad)venture!

Jamie has spent much of his working life in the film and special effects world. He was for many years the Creative Director of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Camden Town, designing and supervising creature effects for a wide variety of movies, including: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Snow Queen, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Flintstones and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for which he won an EMMY award. Given his background in film special effects, it’s not surprising that Jamie is an extraordinary and determined inventor: if it’s broken, he’ll fix it, if it doesn’t exist but should, he’ll bring it into being and if it needs musical accompaniment, he’ll reach for a guitar. Drawing has always been a part of his life; he is also the creator of the intricately drawn Wildergorn Colour-In Posters, which can be found at

I am a writer and singer-songwriter (performing regularly with Jamie at venues along the south coast) and worked for many years in television, researching, directing and presenting (sometimes flying a plane in) my own films both for the BBC and for Anglia TV. I have written regularly for a wide variety of magazines and am currently at work on a book about the 19 Century Irish poet and diarist, William Allingham, a friend and observer of the famous (Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle) and of the equally fascinating but not-so-famous. I love walking, particularly in the woods, am potty about gardening, about film (especially the black and white movies of the 40’s); and underpinning all is a passion for literature, for poetry and for the potential beauty and clarity to be found in words.

How did this project come about – have you worked together before?

One day in 2005, I discovered in an old plan chest an original draft of Tooki (then called Tooki and the Usks), which Jamie had devised and drawn in pencil years before, having been inspired by the dear memory of sitting on the knee of his mother (artist, Elizabeth Spurr) whilst she told and sketched her own stories for him. I was enchanted both by the drawings and by Jamie’s extraordinary concept. At that time only 30 pages existed. The context was in place, i.e. the extraordinary idea of the two tribes being interdependent but unaware of each other, and the story ran up until the point at which Tooki and Obo, learning of their interdependence, realize that the Stones are not at all what they had believed them to be.

But then the story stopped (Jamie having got caught up and distracted by the film business) just when one felt that the characters ought to be responding to and acting upon this earthshattering information; the narrative clearly needed to drive forward and to contain some sort of further antagonist (the twister) in order to create an emotional journey for the characters. But even as it was, I felt strongly that it had huge potential and this view was confirmed by Anna Home, the former Head of the Children’s Film Foundation, who we had invited to lunch to share with her another project that we were working on back in 2006, a screenplay called The Knits. Anna liked The Knits but felt that it would take years to get off the ground being an animation film project. Instinctively I showed Tooki to her: instantly she thought it looked exciting, unique and told us to shelve The Knits and to get on with Tooki. And that was that.

How did you go about creating the book, was it a very collaborative process or did one side of it get completed before the other side began?

It makes me smile to look back: the process was hugely and amusingly collaborative. Jamie and I were simultaneously the fiercest critics and warmest supporters of each other’s ideas. For every idea I came up with, Jamie would immediately and passionately say: “No!” and for every idea he came up with, I’d equally passionately say “No!” Each of us would then think about the other’s idea and nine times out of ten, would come round to it as a very fine one. The process felt rather akin to having a baby, both of us conceiving and nurturing as parents but producing a feisty individual in its own right.

Initially, many of the original 30 pages had to be re-thought and rewritten, as they were often text-heavy, too wordy and the sometimes complex story needed to be dramatized (rather than told) as simply and with as few words as was possible. That way, readers would be swept along by the adventure, without being bogged down by exposition. So for instance, the discovery by Tooki and Obo of how both tribes had unknowingly been growing crops for each other, had initially taken place within only two frames, these frames containing a huge amount of explanatory text – too complex for the reader to take in, so instead we dramatized the discovery over a period of 8 pages, had Tooki and Obo working it out together in real time so that the reader is also able to work it out with them. Hard to explain; hard to pull off … do read the book!

And then came a whole raft of scenes that didn’t exist but which needed to exist in order for Tooki to go through his emotional arc of believing in the Stones, losing his faith and finding his way through that earth-shattering discovery. Sometimes Jamie would come up with an idea, sometimes I would, then would follow the usual argy bargy, always punctuated by laughter as well as indignation. Sometimes the text would come first, followed by the pictures, and sometimes the pictures would come first followed by the text. Rarely did both text and pictures come simultaneously.

When we finished the book, we realised we hadn’t finished. We revised and revised, showed it to people whose opinions we valued (thank you dear Jocelyn Stevenson and Professor Michael Irwin) and continued to ponder. We sent it to a handful of agents and when each time it came back with a disappointing: “We like it, but it’s not quite us”, we felt galvanized to look again with fresher eyes and ask ourselves why it still wasn’t ready. And one day, Lizzie Spratt, Commissioning Editor at Walker Books, saw it and liked it. It was ready. Hooray for dear Lizzie Spratt!


Make sure you come back this afternoon for part of this fascinating interview with Vicky where she talks about the input they had into each other’s work, their influences, hopes for future books and more.

Blog Tour

Guest Post: Nicola Morgan, author of Blame my Brain.

BlameMyBrainNicola Morgan’s book on the teenage brain, Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, has been popular and praised ever since first publication in 2005. It’s been translated into several languages and reprinted many times. Now there’s a revised edition, updated with new research and with a new cover. Nicola is an award-winning teenage novelist as well as a non-fiction writer for all ages, and she’s also been commissioned to write CHILL – The Teenage Guide to Stress.

Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Nicola Morgan to my blog as part of her mini tour to celebrate the publication of the revised edition of Blame My Brain, she’s kindly agreed to answer a few questions about sleep – a topic close to my heart.

As someone who has always had issues with sleeping I found this section of Blame My Brain particularly interesting. I was wondering if you could start by briefly explaining to my readers why teenagers’ sleep patterns are different?

There are two differences, though we don’t know really the reasons for either of them. First, adolescents have been shown to need, biologically, on average, 9.25 hours sleep a night, more than adults (and more than 9-11yo children). Second, melatonin (the chemical that regulates sleep/wakefulness) seems to have adult patterns. So teenagers feel sleepy at about the same time as adults and yet need more sleep than they will naturally get on a school day. So: greater sleep needs but not enough hours of sleep in a term-time routine.

You mention in the book that some schools in America have changed their start time to suit teenagers’ sleep patterns better, do you think this is something more schools and colleges should be considering?

Actually, this has been tried in the UK, too. The results seem to show improved concentration, wakefulness, mood, attendance and behaviour. However, there are also disadvantages to starting later: it doesn’t suit working parents, especially parents of teenagers who need to be supervised to get to school… And it has a negative effect on attendance at after-school activities, because pupils want to get home. There may be knock-on effects for homework, too. (There is a great article here, giving examples.) I think schools should consider the possibilities but they may decide that it won’t work for their pupils, staff and parents, as a whole. In that case, I’d urge adults to understand the special issues for teenagers regarding sleep, and focus on improving sleep in other ways.

What can teenagers do to make the most of their sleep?

  1. First, they have to want to!
  2. Realise that new sleep patterns are biological but that there are things anyone can do, at any age, to improve sleep. And just an extra 20 minutes can make a real difference.
  3. The aim is to trick the brain into thinking it’s later at night than it is: close curtains early, turn down lights, slow music, warmth, wind down, create a routine that tells the brain, “Here comes bed.” In the morning, get someone to switch on your lights and open your curtains! (Sorry…)
  4. It does make sense to have a lie-in at the weekend, but not more than a couple of hours, otherwise your body clock gets more confused.
  5. There are loads of tips on my website – here – and they work!

And what can parents do to help?

Understand things that help or hinder going to sleep and remember that no one can just go to sleep because they’ve been told to; we need to feel sleepy, and teenagers won’t feel sleepy before adults, biologically. Again, my website has loads of tips. Research suggests that “parent-led bedtimes” have a positive effect. However, teenagers can feel nagged about this, which will be counter-productive. It needs to be negotiated in advance, with the teenager understanding that it will help health, happiness, growth, memory and learning. Parents have a great role to play in providing the framework and knowledge – but no one can make a teenager sleep and if you push too hard you’ll get nowhere! But if parents understand about sleep, they can play a very helpful supporting role.

And if any parents or teenagers want to ask me anything, ask away!

Thank you Nicola for these really interesting answers, I’ve certainly learnt a lot.

Thanks so much again for inviting me here.

There’s a fun Blame My Brain competition running on Nicola’s blog at the moment with opportunities for schools and individuals of any age to win books, have their questions answered and learn about the fascinating thing that is the teenage brain!

Blog Tour

Guest Post : Katie Dale on Researching A Killer.

I’m thrilled today to be welcoming Katie Dale to my blog as part of her Someone Else’s Life blog tour.

When I started writing Someone Else’s Life, I had never heard of Huntington’s disease. I was writing a story about Rosie, a girl who was deliberately swapped at birth, and had my scenario all worked out: After a string of miscarriages, Rosie’s “mum” Trudie goes into labour, just as her husband is killed in a car-crash. Trudie is so heart-broken, her midwife, Sarah, can’t face telling her her new-born baby is extremely ill and is also unlikely to survive the night. Then Sarah discovers a healthy new-born abandoned by her teenage mother and decides to switch the babies – thereby both saving Trudie additional devastating grief, and giving an unwanted baby a loving home.

But why would Rosie ever discover the truth?

I decided that the reason could be genetic – that if Trudie died of a genetic illness, Sarah would feel compelled tell Rosie the truth, to reassure her.

So I started researching genetic diseases and stumbled upon Huntington’s disease, a hereditary condition with symptoms similar to the physical effects of Parkinson’s plus the mental decline of Alzheimer’s. Symptoms generally develop between the ages of thirty-fifty, and including jerky, uncontrollable movements, mood-swings, weight loss, dementia, and usually result in death from pneumonia, heart disease or physical injury.

This seemed to fit what I was looking for – a late-onset hereditary disease, which you can be tested for from age eighteen – the age Rosie was about to become. However, I was surprised that while there are around 6,000 reported cases in the UK it’s thought that there may actually be up to twice as many cases, because people often hide their condition, are mis-diagnosed, or even decide not to be tested.


Because there is no cure.

This got me thinking. What would Rosie do? What would I do, if I were at risk?

What would you do? Knowing that you could never change the results – that there are only two possible outcomes:

a) Negative – a normal, healthy life.

b) Positive – a life knowing you’ll get HD, filled with tough choices:

Would you have children, knowing they’d be at risk?

Would it be fair to get married, knowing your partner will probably become your full-time carer?

If you already have children, what then? Would you tell them, or keep it secret?

What if your parents or siblings test positive but you don’t – how would you feel? Relieved?

Or guilty?

I decided to find out more, and through a Huntington’s email list-serve I heard many moving personal stories – children avoiding their own parents because they couldn’t stand to see their own future enacted before them; pensioners caring for their grown-up children with HD; pregnant women forced to choose whether having children at risk of Huntington’s is better than having an abortion.

But it was when I met people face to face, at the Huntington’s Disease Association, that those stories truly came to life, and I realised that amid all this grief and devastation lives the most incredible hope, determination – and love.

Teenage Matty Ellison knows that he’ll get HD, but instead of wallowing in self-pity and bitterness, he is one of the most upbeat, pro-active people I’ve ever met. He runs dozens of marathons, raising money and awareness for Huntington’s disease, and is about to launch The Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation – a website committed to supporting young people affected by HD. His Facebook page insists he is “just 1 more person”. I disagree.

Then, at the annual dinner-dance I watched in awe as crowds of people touched by Huntington’s, danced and laughed freely, surrounded by people who understood what they’re going through, who didn’t stare or judge them, but instead just joined them, relaxing and enjoying themselves.

It’s very easy to think of Huntington’s just as a devastating disease, but it’s a disease that affects people – individuals – and watching how those individuals and their families handle the disease – with courage, with humour, with vitality – was the most impressive, inspiring and humbling experience of all.

So I’d found the compelling reason I needed for Sarah to tell Rosie the truth about the baby-swap – but suddenly, instead of being a novel centred around one girl discovering her true identity, Huntington’s disease became the beating heart at the centre of my story, which consequently evolved into a much deeper, more emotional tale about secrets and lies, devastating ethical decisions, the complexities of family, and the enduring strength of love through any adversity.

I had been quite nervous about attending the HD meetings – fearing that as an observer I might be intruding. But as Cath Stanley, head of care services at the HDA commented, ‘HD is always thought of as a very rare illness and there’s little support for people.’ Consequently, everyone I met was really welcoming, certain that a novel about Huntington’s disease would not only be helpful for those at-risk, but in broadening public knowledge and understanding of this too often hidden and stigmatised disease.

I hope they’re right.

Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale is published by Simon & Schuster, February 2nd 2012

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Huntington’s Disease Association and the Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Blog Tour

Guest Post : Breakfast with Ali.

I’m very happy today to be welcoming author Ali McNamara to my blog as part of her blog tour for her new novel Breakfast at Darcy’s.

Over to Ali…

I think one of the most commonly asked questions of novelists is “Where do you get your ideas from?’

And it’s one of the hardest to answer, because usually they spring out of nowhere. What sometimes seems like a great idea when you first think of it, might never actually lead anywhere. Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve had an idea until it keeps banging away in your mind as if it’s trying to tell you it needs to escape and become something else. And sometimes an idea hits you so hard in the face you feel like you’ve been hit by a clown throwing ‘idea’ shaped custard pies.

‘Breakfast at Darcy’s’ was the latter of three. One year I was on holiday with my husband, in a momentary fit of insanity I’d agreed it would be a good idea to take a touring holiday around Ireland in a motorhome, I have no idea why now to this day. The luxury motorhome I hired with my husband was not quite the home-from-home we were promised over the Internet, I actually christened it the ‘dustbin on wheels’ it was so bad. But however as we trundled about Ireland, with fellow motor home enthusiasts giving us the caravaner’s wave as we passed each other on the roads, (and me hiding under the dashboard in acute embarrassment every time they did) one night when we parked up amongst spectacular scenery in County Kerry, directly opposite the island of Great Blasket, a casual chat about the beauty and remoteness of the island led to one of those random conversations about how you might go about trying to live on an island as isolated as that, and the seed of an idea was immediately planted in my brain for a new novel based around such an island.

So you could say the idea for ‘Breakfast at Darcy’s’ pretty much came from a wheelie bin…

You can find all the details of the other stops on Ali’s tour here. Ali has also been challenged to eat 30 different breakfasts in the 30 days leading up to the publication date for Breakfast at Darcy’s, you can check out the different breakfasts she’s tried over on her blog.

Blog Tour

Guest Post : Keris Stainton’s New York Playlist.

I’m thrilled today to be hosting the very lovely Keris Stainton, author of YA titles Della Says: OMG! and the recently released Jessie Hearts NYC. She’s popping up on various blogs at the moment talking about Jessie and she’s here today to talk about the music that helped to inspire the book and share the playlist. Over to Keris.

Obviously when I set a book in New York I knew I’d need a playlist to go with it – some of my favourite songs are New York songs. A friend had recommended Alicia Keys’ version of Empire State of Mind (Part II) to me and I absolutely loved it. When I was writing Jessie Hearts NYC, putting that song on was always the first thing I did and it would immediately get me in the writing mood. Once I’d heard it – and Paloma Faith’s New York – I was good to go. (I’ve just put them on to see if it still works and it really does.)

Next was Jason Mraz’s If It Kills Me, which is the song that inspired the character of Finn:

Hello, tell me you know
Yeah, you figured me out
Something gave it away
It would be such a beautiful moment
To see the look on your face
To know that I know that you know now

And baby that’s a case of my wishful thinking
You know nothing
Well you and I
Why, we go carrying on for hours on end
We get along much better
Than you and your boyfriend

I LOVED the idea of a boy in love with his best friend’s girlfriend and secretly thinking he’d be better for her than his friend would. And hoping that she’d guess, but also being terrified that she would because what would that mean for his friendship? Finn came to me pretty much fully-formed (hailing a taxi, holding a bunch of flowers) just from listening to this song. I love Jason Mraz.

Now don’t judge me, but there are two Barry Manilow songs on there: New York City Rhythm and Give My Regards to Broadway. (I would also have liked to have another of his songs, Brooklyn Blues, on there, but I figured two was plenty. Brooklyn Blues has my favourite line from a New York song: “You know the river looks a hundred miles wide when all your dreams are on the other side.”) New York City Rhythm is a New York mood song, but Give My Regards to Broadway is just fabulous for singing at the top of your voice. If I was disheartened with writing, I’d put it on and just bellow the “Sing me a tune by Bernstein, Gershwin, Lerner, Loewe or Lane, with words that rhyme by Rogers, Hart or Hammerstein…” which of course also fits in with Jessie’s mum having a play on Broadway.

I absolutely love New York Minute by Don Henley so that had to be on there. Plus it reminds me of The West Wing – there’s an episode called Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail, which is a line from this song – and I found a reminder of the brilliance of my all-time favourite TV show inspiring.

While I was writing Jessie, I asked on Twitter for some more New York song suggestions and the rest came from there. (Mainly from @annemariet123 and @wurdsmyth I think, so thank you to them!). New York State of Mind by Billy Joel is a classic, but I didn’t know New York, New York by Ryan Adams at all. Native New Yorker by Odyssey doesn’t really fit with the book at all, but it makes me happy so I left it on there.

I wasn’t familiar with New York City by They Might Be Giants and as soon as I heard it I knew it was PERFECT for the book:

We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand, you held mine, it was the best night of my life
‘Cause everyone’s your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you’re young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there’s just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me

Says it all really. 🙂

What a lovely lot of New York music! I’ve been listening to the playlist since Keris sent it to me and it has certainly left me wanting to visit the city again.

You can find Keris blogging here, tweeting as @Keris and on Facebook here.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for my review of Jessie Hearts NYC