Dear Millicent Fawcett,
First of all, huge congratulations on becoming a statue! And in Parliament Square, of all places. How does it feel to be immortalized in bronze? You were on a postage stamp once, too, but a statue – well, that’s a real mark of recognition, isn’t it? It took long enough – I mean, you’ve been dead since 1929 – but better late than never. Kudos to Caroline Criado Perez for campaigning so long to get the statue commissioned and three cheers to sculptor Gillian Wearing for her inspiring design.
I thought you might like to know about my book character, Megan Fawcett, as I named her after you. Megan is strong, brave and determined – just like you. When she couldn’t get into the school football team she set up her own girls’ team. Although she doesn’t realize it, Megan is a natural leader. She fair-minded, doesn’t judge others and sticks up to what she thinks is right. She really cares about her teammates. When Holly (Who Ate All the Pies?) is feeling upset because girls on the opposite team have made fun of her size, Megan comforts her and apologises for not being a better captain. When Jenny Jane steals from the women’s changing rooms, Megan tackles her (literally) but comes to see that this angry, sullen little girl hasn’t had the same opportunities she had had and can be helped through sport and friendship. Megan learns the value of patience (Is and Own Goal Bad? & Do Shinpads Come in Pink? ) and how to make difficult decisions (Here We Go). Best of all she stands up for what she believes in and isn’t afraid to tackle sexism head-on, even if that means confronting adults (Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras?) – which is pretty brave for a nine-year-old. All in all I think you’d like Megan Fawcett as much as I do.
May saw the 6th anniversary of the Patron of Reading initiative. Of all the reading ventures and ideas around, Patron of Reading has to be one of the easiest, cheapest and most rewarding to initiate. The genius idea of headteacher Tim Redgrave of teaming up a school with its own author has grown and grown. There are now over 200 patrons placed in schools throughout the UK and many more on the waiting list. Yes – waiting list. How can there be such a thing? Any teachers reading this need to snap up the likes of Josh Lacey and Miriam Moss right now.
My time as patron at Ysgol Esgob Morgan Church of Wales School was one of sheer joy. The buzz around books it created and the link it forged with the pupils, staff and local librarians was one I’ll always cherish. Children’s authors aren’t all famous. They can’t all be on the best seller list or have their books made into films. However, every children’s author I know has something special to offer to schools, whether it’s their inside knowledge of how a book is written, their experience of running workshops or that extra spark that can ignite that one child who, so far, has not found reading a pleasure at all. Tim recognised this and that’s why he approached me with the idea first; he’d seen me perform at St Asaph Library and knew I’d be a good ‘fit’ with his school. And guess what – he was right! I can’t tell you the boost it gave me.
I used to love writing my termly newsletter to each class and reading their comments they left on their bespoke section of my website – these kept the momentum going between visits. I was lucky, too, in that Tim’s staff were such a keen and friendly bunch. The school already had links with the local public library and participated in schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge and the North Wales Book Quiz. Their library is at the heart of the school, too – a sure sign that books mattered to them. They even extended it in size during my time there. Best of all the staff were receptive to trying out new ideas and they were avid readers, too. My heart sinks when I hear teachers say they ‘don’t have time’ to read and make it obvious that they haven’t visited a bookshop or library in years. How can such teachers pass on a love of reading if they don’t have one themselves? Having said that, the National Curriculum has a lot to answer for in terms of thwarting teachers’ creativity and I applaud the work Professor Teresa Cremin and her team is doing with her Teachers as Readers programme. More of this kind of thing, please!
So huge congratulations to Tim Redgrave for initiating such a great idea, huge congratulations to headteacher Jon Biddle who undertakes the admin, website and Twitter feed to keep spreading the word and huge congratulations to all teachers, authors, illustrators, poets and playwrights who make it happen. Here’s to the next 6 years and more.
Bookshops come in many shapes and sizes. Some are vast, ultra modern spaces covering several floors, others are small and quirky with fusty smelling rooms and books piled waist-high in random places. There’s one in Retford, Nottinghamshire, that’s a wee bit different from all the rest. Called the Barrister’s Book Chamber, it is run by Angela Rowntree, a former barrister who simply loves books. The stock is mainly second-hand with a mixture of rare hardbacks and quality fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles, all housed in a quirky old building off Church Gate. Decorated like a cosy Victorian parlour, the original shop is now going to become a small flat rented out to Airbnb customers. The bedroom’s still going to be full of books so you’re guaranteed an interesting stay.
On Saturday May 26th, the bookshop itself moves to new ‘chambers’ nearby and I’m going to be there signing books alongside crime writer Stephen Booth. Come along from 12.00 onwards, say hello and have a browse. If you’ve got time, go round St Swithun’s Church, too. Retford also has another bookshop – Bookworm – on Spa Street and a public library – the Denham Library – tucked away off Church Gate. I’m visiting Carr Hill Primary on Thursday 24th to tell them all about my books and the signing. I bet they’re already bookworms – they’re bound to be, living in a town with such an abundance of places to find good books, right?
The Barrister’s Book Chamber, Retford – a bookshop with a difference, m’lud.
I was so chuffed to find ‘Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras?’ featured in last week’s issue (8-14th May) of Match of the Day magazine. I’m in at number 5 of ‘the best new swag’ for that week. It’s great to see what is traditionally a boys’ magazine featuring a book with a girl as the main character. I like the caption, too – ‘awesome book series… great to look at, even better to read.’ Go MOTD! Captain Meggo would be over the moon.
Thank you to Jim Sells at Literacy Trust for spotting it.
How terrific is this? Those fabulous people at Walker Books are re-issuing the first 4 titles in my Girls FC series. Best news of all is that books 1 & 2 ‘Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras?’ and ‘Can Ponies Take Penalties?’ are in the shops now. As in NOW THIS ACTUAL MINUTE.
You will be awed by Eglantine Ceulemans’ new covers.
You will cry extra-salty tears of joy when you realise how much you’ve missed Megan and her team.
You will be dazzled by how funny the stories are, even if you think football is the grottiest sport since Nero threw Christians into a pit of hungry lions to see who’d win.
You will be buying the set for yourself, all your friends, your teachers and your pet goldfish from here, here or here.
You will be writing masses of 5 star reviews on all worthy websites like this one for ‘Who Ate All the Pies? on Goodreads.
OK! Let’s do this!
I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for ‘Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers’ written by Rowena Edlin-White, back in December. The book is 300 pages long and a real labour of love, having taken ten years from conception to publication. Five Leaves Publications have done a wonderful job and Gillian Ellias’s cover, showing a gilt embossed oak tree against a forest green background, is a pleasingly traditional design.
During her talk, Rowena explained that Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers should be used as a guide book and she encouraged us to scribble notes in the margins as users of guide books did in the past. I like the idea of adding comments and personalizing the notes, especially if the reader is keen enough to visit the places mentioned in each of the short biographies.
The county of Nottinghamshire has an incredible legacy of writers including Lord Byron, DH Lawrence, Dorothy Whipple and Alan Sillitoe. More current names include Nicola Monaghan, Miranda Seymour, Nick Wood and Julie Myerson. No wonder Nottingham’s the UNESCO City of Literature. Some of my favourite children’s writers are also either from the county or based here, including Jonathan Emmett and Gwen Grant.
You’ll find me in the book, too *sweeps back head in a majestic manner*. Although I was born in Sweden and raised in Yorkshire, Edlin-White included writers with links to Nottinghamshire as well as those born and bred. I’ve lived in the region since 1985 and began my writing career in the region so I guess I earned my place on that basis. You’ll find me on p 196 between Geoffrey Palmer (1912-2005) and Samuel Plumb (1793-1858).
At the end of each section there’s a list of suggested places to visit. Gedling Churchyard is the place to go to find Samuel Plumb’s grave, for instance.
My section doesn’t have any suggested places to visit – possibly because I’m not dead yet – but here are a few local settings linked to my books. You’ll probably need two days to get round them all so pack a flask and a woolly:
Itinerary: Start in Besthorpe in Nottinghamshire, a small village 8 miles from Newark and the setting for ‘There’s Only One Danny Ogle’ and ‘Jade’s Story.’ The school Danny ‘attends’ – Westhorpe Primary’ – has since closed and is now a private property. It still looks like a school, though, so you can’t miss it. Down the lane is Church Cottage, which overlooks the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church. This cottage is the very same cottage Jade stays in during her summer in ‘Fleetby-on-the-Hill’ where she meets witnesses Miss Whitehead behaving strangely and spitting on one of the graves…
I’m not the first writer to use Besthorpe as a setting. Tom Miller’s character Gideon Giles stays at the ‘inn’ there (since demolished) in Miller’s tale Gideon Giles the Roper published in 1841. By strange coincidence I have an original copy of Gideon Giles the Roper, pre-owned, I was told by the seller, by Lincolnshire folklorist Ethel Rudkin. So there.
Head for lunch into Newark, the backdrop for my YA novel ‘Accidental Friends’. Newark College is where Emma, Leon, James and Grace meet. Check out Porter’s butcher’s on the corner of Bridge Street while you’re there. It used to be Ridge’s the Printer’s and is where Byron has his first poems published. Then you need to go to Stanley Street in Newark, the setting of ‘Stinky Street’ – one of my early readers. Stanley Street doesn’t actually stink, by the way. It is a Victorian row of terraced houses that was spared when the Germans bombed the nearby Ransome and Marles factory during World War Two.
Leave Nottinghamshire (via Sherwood Forest, of course) and head for Gleadless Valley in Sheffield where Suzanne Fish in ‘Saturday Girl’ fought her demons. Stay in ‘God’s Own County’ of Yorkshire and go on to Wakefield, where the after school club in the ‘Clubbing Together’ series is set. Pop in to the Hepworth Art Gallery while you’re there – the cafe overlooks a fast-flowing river and does good sandwiches (oh, and see the art, of course…).
Day 2 should be spent in Mablethorpe (‘Wathsea’) where you can pay homage to Louisa May in ‘Vicious Circle’. Finally, for Girls FC you could visit the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster like Megan does or rock up for training with the Lincoln Griffins U11s.
So I’d start planning a tour of Pielichaty settings right now, if I were you. Apologies if you live in the north of Scotland or the depths of Cornwall as it’ll be a bit of a trek but I can guarantee it will be worth it. Don’t forget to order your ‘Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers’ first, though.
Part 2 of this almost true story
At half past two, way earlier than normal, Grandma and Grandad decided to take their seats in the stand. Grandma headed for the stairwell but Grandad put his hand on her coat. ‘I think we should do something different.’
‘How’d you mean?’ Grandma asked.
‘I think we should go up to our seats from the left instead of the right.’
This was radical talk. Grandad never liked to vary his routine when it came to football. He’d only just changed out of the boxers he’d worn to Wembley back in May and he only did that because grandma threatened to leave him if he didn’t. ‘All right,’ Grandma said slowly and followed him out.
Their seat was in the middle of the row. Luckily, because they were early, there were only two people already sitting down. Not so luckily, one of them was an old man with two walking sticks who struggled to make way for them to pass, but they’d committed to their high-risk strategy and weren’t going to back down now. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ Grandma apologised.
The stadium was already three-quarters full. On the pitch, both teams were out in their tracksuits, warming up. ‘That’s Manchester United warming up on our pitch,’ Grandma said in disbelief. Grandad just smiled. It was noticeable immediately that there were differences between the way the two squads warmed-up. The Manchester United players were playing small games of five-a-side while Town were more linear, running in and out of cones and doing other stretching activities. Manchester United had a separate goalpost set up to the right of the actual goalpost for shooting practice, too. Town used the normal one. When the warm-up ended and the players left to line up, all the Town fans cheered and clapped their players off. They were getting behind their team from the start.
As three o’clock approached, Grandma grabbed her clapper from the seat. Other teams mocked Town fans for their clapper-usage but Huddersfield fans didn’t care. The ‘clap banners’ had helped create a noisy atmosphere and were a good way of getting everyone involved. Plus they made nice place-mats afterwards once you took the rubber band off and flattened them out a bit. The clapper that week had a picture of Aaron Mooy, Town’s brilliant Australian forward. This turned out to be a good omen.
The stand opposite Grandma and Grandad’s was called the ‘singing end’ on account of that’s where the noisiest fans sat. These fans were separated by a narrow bank of seats and dozens of nervous stewards from the opposition fans sitting adjacent to them. ‘The Cowshed Loyal’ as they called themselves were famous, not only for singing the loudest and leading the chants but for their dexterity with a an unwieldy flag. Grandma noticed immediately they had something special lined up for the match. All the rows at the front were grabbing something long and white and it wasn’t Peter Crouch. Sure enough, as the teams left the tunnel, they unfurled their artwork. It stretched across four rows. ‘It doesn’t count how big you are,’ the top tier read in capital letters. ‘Or how experienced you are,’ it continued beneath. ‘If you have passion + desire…’ ‘…You have no limits.’ What a great message! They singing end had surpassed themselves this time. They’d boosted the players and the crowd with their message. This was our version of Henry V at Agincourt, only without the swords. Everyone cheered their efforts and then turned to the tunnel. It was time for kick-off.
The Day Huddersfield Town beat Manchester United
based on a mainly true story
When I was little, my grandparents used to look after me twice a week while my mum and dad were at work. I loved going to their house. It was an old stately home with a long, tree-lined drive leading to the Foss Way; Grandma had bought it years before with the shedloads of money she’d made from being a children’s writer. The bottom of the house was made of thin slabs of blue lias stone taken from a Roman Emperor’s villa and the top was crumbling red brick added after Roundheads had burnt the original wooden part on their way to behead King Charles. *insert pic. of Chatsworth House here*
It was an interesting house that I never tired of exploring. My favourite part was the Town Room, a small annexe adjoining the main library wing. It was full of programmes and memorabilia from the football team they supported, Huddersfield Town. Some of the programmes, dating back to pre-decimalisation times, were wrapped in preservation paper and tied with acid-free blue ribbon. These were Grandad’s special programmes from when he was a little boy. Grandma didn’t have any programmes from when she was little. Unlike Grandad, who was born in Huddersfield and used to skive off from Polish lessons on Saturdays to go to Leeds Road, Grandma only started going to matches when she met grandad in 1981. Before that, she’d never been to a match, although when she was little her grandma followed Leeds United and so she did too but this is a dark secret nobody must ever know.
There were lots of other things in the Town Room besides programmes; hats and scarves and shirts and DVDs and framed pictures of players and teams. One of grandma’s books, There’s Only One Danny Ogle, was included because it was about a boy who suppors Huddersfield Town and Kevin Gray, a former Town player, had come to its launch at the ground in 2000. There was another children’s book, Over the Line by Tom Palmer, on the shelves; that was set in World War One and featured Jack Cock and Larrett Roebuck who were real Town players. The book I looked at most was my copy of the limited edition Huddersfield Town baby record book, filled in by my mum. It’s got banana stuck to the cover. Authentic!
I was allowed to touch almost anything I wanted in the Town Room, including the 1960s programmes. I could try on all the hats and shirts, too, even though the shirts came down to my ankles at the time. I could even wrap myself in the flag they bought at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 when Town beat Mansfield 4-1 on penalties in the Third Division Play-off Final. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to handle without permission was the special collection from the 2017-2018 Season. This was behind a glass case in the middle of the room and I needed a key, kept round grandad’s neck, to get into it. Of course, this made me want to look at the stuff even more and that’s why I can remember, even now, every single thing in that glass case.
I’d better explain why that collection was so significant that it was kept locked up. The previous May, Town had beaten Reading on penalties to win the Play-Off Final at Wembley, earning promotion to the Premier League. Nobody expected that, not even Huddersfield Town. This was a ginormous achievement.
‘You’ll get hammered’ everybody predicted at the start of the season. ‘Straight back down’ the away fans chanted.
At first, Huddersfield, under the leadership of the legendary David Wagner (his statue still stands outside the ground today), did really well and confounded their critics by getting nine points quickly but by late September progress had stalled and what the journalists called ‘a reality check’ kicked in. They lost 0-4 to Spurs and then lost 2-0 away to Swansea. It was the Swansea game that unnerved the fans because they had hoped for at least a point.
And then came the BIG ONE. On October 21st, 2017, Manchester United came to Huddersfield Town. Now, although Manchester United were no longer the force they once were, playing them was still a massive deal. Manchester United’s record was awe-inspiring; they were one of the most famous clubs in the world and playing against them was every other team’s highlight of the season even if they denied it. They were also the richest club in the world. One of their players, Paul Pogba, was on £290,000 a week, ‘…almost as much as me,’ Grandma would chuckle. The last time Huddersfield Town had met the Red Devils in a league match was 1971 and the last time they beat them was 1952. That was before my grandparents were even born, which is mind-blowing because they are well ancient.
The week before the match, grandma was full of cold. She was wheezing and sneezing all over the shop. She even stayed out of the way when I was there, something she never usually did because she loves me to bits. I don’t remember that, though – I was only one at the time. Anyway, to make matters worse, the day of the match, the weather was awful with Storm Brian causing havoc. Not that any of that put my grandma off. No way. She wrapped up warm and hoped whoever was sitting next to her at the match didn’t mind her spreading her germs.
Finally, the big day arrived. It took grandma and grandad nearly two hours to get to Huddersfield because their stately home lies on the very, very outskirts of Yorkshire. They parked up near the Sports Centre, as usual, and went to Patisserie Valerie on King Street for lunch. Grandad had a club sandwich and grandma had scrambled eggs on toast with honey-glazed bacon and mushrooms but she left her mushrooms because they weren’t very nice. Then they set off to the ground. They had to leave much earlier than normal because they knew over 24,000 tickets had been sold and neither of them liked queuing at the turnstiles. Through the wide, Georgian streets they walked, past St Peter’s Parish Church, past the ‘away pub’, the Boy and Barrel, where Manchester United fans could be heard singing loudly and slightly off-key, and on to Leeds Road.
Outside the Gas Club (for home fans) the diehard supporters were already quite merry and in good voice, while further along, between the scarf sellers and the burger vans, the strains of bagpipe music filled the air. Nobody knows to this day why there was a ‘Scottish’ piper on the bridge over the River Colne. ‘He just appeared at the start of the season,’ Grandad told me. ‘Nobody knew where he came from or why he thought Town fans would hire him for weddings, as per his hand-written placard, but there you go.’
Although it was not yet two o’clock, fans were already heading for the ground and there was an air of excitement, tinged with slight trepidation. Most fans expected to lose the match and they just hoped the team wouldn’t be thumped by too many goals. Still, that didn’t dampen their sense of occasion and they were all jolly glad they’d had the foresight to buy a season ticket before Town got promoted.
Near the main entrance to the stadium, people were selling tickets for the half-time Golden Gamble and one of Town’s sponsors, Covonia, were giving away sample packets of cough lozenges. Grandma grabbed two packets and munched them during the game. The empty packets are in the cabinet, along with the programme and cardboard clapper.
As they climbed the steps leading to the Upper Tier of the Panasonic Media Stand, Grandad had a radical idea. ‘It was that idea that helped us win the match, I’m convinced of it,’ Grandma later told everyone on Twitter.
… to be continued.
I attended a conference yesterday for Empathy Lab, the new organisation using books to help children understand about empathy. One of the speakers was Prof. Robin Banerjee of the University of Sussex. He’s done a lot of work exploring the impact a lack of empathy can have on children’s social and emotional needs. One of the most affecting things he showed us was a diagram of a Y6 class’s friendship patterns (slide 4 on the study). Children were asked to nominate those they most like to spend time with. Instantly you could see the popular kids, the kids with a few friends and those without any (the ‘rejected’). These rejected classmates were shown by black dots and the diagram had two black dots – ‘Alex’ and ‘Emily’ with no arrows going towards them, even though their arrows reached out to others. No one wanted to spend time with them in other words. What must life be like for Alex and Emily? Why do they find it so hard to connect with others and vice versa? Following Dr Banerjee was Teresa Cremin. Teresa did that thing – that magical thing – of reading a book out loud. iphone 8 cases black She chose Nicola Davies’s King of the Sky. The way she read it made me want to cry. The lonely, nameless Italian boy with no one to talk to or look after him would have been a black dot on the diagram. He hadn’t done anything wrong; he just didn’t know how to communicate with his classmates (language barrier?) and they didn’t seem to want to communicate with him. As in many of Nicola Davies’ picture books, wildlife healed him. iphone 8 cases panda And as with many picture books, it was Laura Carlin’s powerful illustrations that made the story deeply moving, as well as Teresa Cremin’s skilful delivery. iphone 8 plus full cover case So why was I there? Because Miranda McKearney of Empathy Lab approached the Patron of Reading gang, of whom I’m one, and asked if patrons might help deliver Empathy Lab programmes in schools. ‘After all, ‘ she said, ‘authors are the masters of empathy.’ She’s right. Our books are full of characters who are outsiders. From classic ‘loners’ to ‘oddballs’ to ‘geeks’ to ‘sociopaths’ – you name ’em, we’ve covered ’em. Why? Because they’re the most challenging to write and the most interesting to read. We’re also good at showing why these outsiders have no friends or don’t ‘fit in.’ What makes them so unpopular or alien? Are they simply vile people who don’t deserve to be liked? Sometimes, but then again Draco Malfoy is an extremely nasty character in the Harry Potter books and he has friends; Draco would not appear as a black dot on Dr Banerjee’s chart. Then there are the issues stories explore. Bullying, homelessness, loneliness, racism, disability, sexuality, pollution, divorce, bereavement, animal cruelty… basically, whatever is going on in the world, books have got it covered. They don’t always have a happy ending – that would be fake – but they do, mostly, offer hope. That’s why books such as Wonder by RJ Palacio and Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian are so popular. They’re not easy reads but they show the reader that, no matter how bad things seem, there’s always someone or something to help you through. So it makes perfect sense that EmpathyLab would enlist authors to support the cause. Check out this list of ’empathy-boosting books’ here. A brilliant example of why children need empathy skills can be found on this blog by a mum called Hayley writing about loneliness. ‘It started in primary school,’ she writes. iphone 6 case leather black The blog shows that the bullying Hayley endured at school has stayed with her into her adult life. What’s interesting and heart-breaking at the same time is the number of comments from others relating to her experience. Hayley could well be the Suzanne character in my book, Saturday Girl, only I hope I gave Suzanne enough ammo in my story to allow her to grow into a confident adult. Perhaps if EmpathyLab had been around in Laura’s primary school, she would have led a more emotionally-stable life. tech 21 iphone 7 plus case So bring on the empathy and bring on using books and authors to show children how to make the world kinder, safer and a better place for us all to share. PS: Sorry no pics with this post – my server won’t download any – back soon once it’s sorted.