Book Stuff

Guest Post – Dan Metcalf on Why He Writes.

Today I’m pleased to be welcoming Dan Metcalf to my blog – he’s launching a new children’s series The Lottie Lipton Adventure tomorrow with the first two titles, The Secrets of the Stone and The Curse of the Cairo Cat. He’s written a great post on why he writes, so with no further ado here’s Dan.

The title of this blog post is a lie. It leads you to assume I’m going to tell you exactly why I write, when in actuality, I have no idea.

I’ve always written. Not direct from the womb, obviously, but ever since I could hold a pen and get my thoughts down on paper. Before that I would make up stories and tales (and lies, let’s be honest) about everything I did not understand. I thought that was how the world worked – you don’t know something? Just create it. I remember innocently asking where babies comes from and my mother cleverly turning the question around on me.

“Where do you think they come from?” she asked. I created a grand fiction where there were hundreds of babies in a factory, lying on conveyer belts, deflated like a punctured beach ball. Someone would come along and plug a hose into their bellybutton and pump them up like a bouncy castle. Well, why else would you have a bellybutton?

At school the only thing I was ever good at was daydreaming. If there was a window, I’d stare out of it. If the teacher gave us free reign to write whatever we wished, I would create page after page of fantasy/scifi/adventure stories. None ever got finished but some still live in my mind like a stubborn squatter.

When it came to choosing careers, I had no clue what I could do. The computerised test brought up ‘scriptwriter’ and so I enrolled on a degree course, graduating with several hundred pages of cringingly bad stories but having had a really good time.

And from there I moved into my first love of books, rising at 5am to cram in a few hours of writing my opus before going to work to argue with students about overdue fines. Slowly but surely my technique refined.

But why do I write? You might as well ask why an athlete runs, or why a fish swims, or why a dog does that thing with other dog’s bottoms. It’s what we’re good at. It’s all we know. It’s in us, and has to get out.

Which is why when my agent told me that Bloomsbury Publishing wanted to put my books out, I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was no longer the schoolboy staring out of the window. I had now graduated to being a grown-up, one who stares out of windows and then writes down what he sees.

Why do I write? Probably because I can’t turn off that compulsion to daydream, so instead I just write it down. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to look absently into the distance (it’s work, I promise…)

Thanks Dan, I always love hearing writers talk about writing!

Dan’s books are out tomorrow, published by A & C Black, a Bloomsbury imprint. I haven’t read them myself but they sound great, they’re described by Bloomsbury as “Perfect for developing and newly confident readers, Lottie Lipton Adventures are packed with action, adventure and puzzles for the reader to solve” so I’m definitely planning on checking them out! You can find out more here.

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.

IronSky

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

Blog Tour: Katie Dale’s Little White Lies.

LittleWhiteLies

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!

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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 www.wildergorn.com.

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!

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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!

Book Stuff · Theatre Stuff

Classics Carnival.

Classics Carnival badge.This month the lovely Emma at Book Angel Booktopia has been running Classics Carnival, focusing on classic literature, and the adaptations and re-tellings of these stories. There have been some brilliant guest posts, lots of interesting reviews and a few bits of exciting bookish news throughout the month – you can find them all here.

Today it’s been my turn to contribute. I’ve written about live performances of the classics, so please head over to read what I’ve had to say.

Blog News · Geek Stuff · Life · TV Stuff

I’m not really here today…

… instead I’m guest blogging over at Fluttering Butterflies as part of Clover’s excellent Love Month. There have already been some brilliant guest posts and loads of great reviews, and today I got to play. I’m talking about my many tv boyfriends, you can see who made my list here.

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.

Why?

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