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Youth Libraries Group

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On Friday, I went to Winchester for the Youth Libraries Group Unconference. There’s something so very Alice in Wonderland about the word ‘unconference’, which set a happy tone before I even arrived. The weather was lovely – this is rare in London – and my train was almost on time (ditto). In the Winchester Discovery Centre, which is a lovely library, fifty five lovely librarians and around twelve authors and illustrators had gathered to talk about books and getting children reading, and that, to me, is a day well spent. Julia Eccleshare’s keynote talk was so interesting: she said she was invited recently as part of a delegation to a Middle Eastern country where a Sultan wanted to initiate a culture of reading, which his country didn’t have, and asked how best to do it. The keys, we all agreed, were parents reading to children, and the right books. I told my children about this talk, and the books from our childhood and how important they are, and they ran upstairs to get all their picture books off the shelves, and they read them together in the garden. And my children are 20,18, 15 and 13.

But back to the Unconference. The thing is, as an author, you get five minutes to speak. This must happen in the Oscars all the time, but you forget what you wanted to say and you have so little time and it runs out so quickly. I heard recently that instead of actors and producers standing up and reciting a list of people they’d like to thank, they’re going to have the names of all involved in the film on a screen behind them because people invariably forget half of those they need to mention, upset folk, cause a rumpus and/or burst into tears and can’t say anything much. I thankfully didn’t do that but give me an Oscar and I can’t promise I won’t.

What I WANTED to say was that YLG and libraries in general are crucial, undersupported and underfunded. I wanted to say thank you to YLG and all the librarians across the country (and the world), firstly for inviting me along but crucially, for championing my books (and all books, in fact). I wanted to say thank you for the reviews, for handing my books to children, and for doing what you’re doing with such passion, love and energy.

I WANTED to say that both of my books are about identity, belonging, being different and diverse families. That I love doing school and library visits and would be happy to do more; that I show photos and talk about writing what you love, about children who are mixed race, growing up without fathers, about orphanages in Asia and my trip to Cambodia with my son last summer, about being small and samurai swords and following your dreams, even if obstacles block your way, and about who we are and how we treat other people. All this fits in with certain key parts of the National Curriculum (see the tab labelled ‘school visits’ on this site).

Did I say any of that? No. I did not. I did say other things but five minutes is not very long and I spent the whole journey home wishing I’d said what I intended to say. So I’m saying it here.

YLG thank you. Librarians, thank you. The Reading Agency, thank you. Reviewers and bloggers and teachers – all of you. Thank you. Here is a photo of me in my tutu, dressed as Dara Palmer, talking about my books (I must have said something funny because MG Leonard is cracking up).


I’m sure I’ve forgotten to say something. I’ll no doubt think of it later…

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Three out of four…

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Some things you don’t even dream about. Getting starred reviews in all four of the major library journals in the US is one of those things. So when Dream on Amber tiptoed shyly into America last year and got starred reviews in all four of them – Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal (SLJ) and Publisher’s Weekly – you could have floored me with the breath it takes to blow out a birthday candle.

I didn’t expect that for Dara Palmer’s Major Drama. I just didn’t. Dara Palmer doesn’t tiptoe anywhere, by the way: when she arrives, she does it by leaping with both feet, landing with her arms stretched wide and shouting, ta-dahhhh!

But over the last two weeks, Dara has received starred reviews first from Kirkus, then School Library Journal, then Publisher’s Weekly.



  1. Go to YouTube.
  2. Search for Roberto Benigni Oscar acceptance speech (I tried to embed it here but I couldn’t). I promise you – it’ll brighten up your day, whatever day you’re having.
  3. See Roberto when they call his name out? That’s me right now. That’d be Dara if she ever got an Oscar as well – in her red tutu and her silver shoes.

Only Booklist to go (drum roll).

What? Of course I’m not hiding under the table, biting my fingernails nervously – I’m just … looking for a lost … um…cereal flake.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to my parents “for giving me the greatest gift – poverty” (classic line!), to Chicken House, Allison Hellegers, Aubrey Poole, Alex Yeadon and the team at Sourcebooks, and to the reviewers at Kirkus, SLJ and PW.

This Oscar is for you.


Spring News

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Was December really the last time I posted? Gosh. I’m a bit bad at regular updates, aren’t I?  I’ve been crazy busy, you see, writing another book and doing a lot of life stuff but I have some very good news…

…and that is that Dara Palmer’s Major Drama has just received its first US trade review and it’s a corker … (drum roll)…  a starred review from Kirkus!



YAY! I’m so delighted. Thank you so much to Kirkus and especially the reviewer, whose name I don’t yet know;  to Alex, Katy and the amazing team at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and to Chicken House for being so downright all-round wonderful.

Dara comes out in the US and Canada on 6th July and the rights have recently been sold to Denmark, which is also excellent news. I aim to have a celebratory launch-ette in Copenhagen when the time comes, and I’m planning a visit to the States later in the year.


And as Amber is going from strength to strength in the US and Canada, I am a happy writer this springtime.

But it’s 1.45 am and I have to go to sleep now so I will have to post again soon. Hopefully before three months go by.




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Dara Palmer would be SO happy right now because in America I’m, like, TOTALLY FAMOUS.

Actually, that’s not true. I’m not famous at all. I can still walk down the street without being mobbed (it’s only a matter of time) but Amber is going so well in the US, I’m flabbergasted! And that’s not a word I ever say because it makes my tongue confused so if I’m using it, I must be.


I have two reasons to love New York, hence the title of this blog post. It’s not because it’s so good, they named it twice, but that’s a very good reason too.

The first is that The New York Times had a Sunday book supplement recently, and – wait for it…wait for it… Dream on, Amber was featured in the children’s section. WOOOOOHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Malinda Lo wrote a cracking review of Amber, for which I’m enormously grateful. I mean, this is The New York Times, just in case you didn’t catch that. THE NEW YORK TIMES. And that follows the (sadly for subscribers only) review in The Wall Street Journal the month before!

Phhhhhhhhooooo – I need to breathe. I’m still freaked out by all this.

Secondly, and MASSIVELY, every December, The New York Public Library publishes its annual list of the Top 100 Books of the Year. This is a HIGHLY PRESTIGIOUS and enormously respected list recognised right across the country. It recommends just a handful of the thousands of books published every year, and DREAM ON, AMBER is included in the children’s section. 


(smelling salts)

(gets up from the floor)

(carries on as if nothing happened and I didn’t just faint in front of a load of people)

Ahem. I cannot tell you how honoured I am (with a u because I’m British, and because honoured is such an honourable word, it deserves that u, don’t you agree?)

Thank you so much to the committee for including Amber: that is the American Dream right there. I am stoked. Like a furnace. Honestly. Overwhelmed.


(faints again)


(you might have to come back later)




On the topic of fame…

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Oh, there you are. I was wondering when you’d arrive because I’ve got so much to tell you. Mainly about fame, really. And why not.

So yes, on the topic of fame, Dara Palmer’s Major Drama came out on 6th August in the UK and has been having some cracking reviews, for which I’m humbly grateful. I was in Cambodia at the time visiting Dara’s birthplace, and specifically a children’s charity called the Cambodian Children’s Trust in Battambang that helps to keep children out of orphanages. I talked about my visit there at my event at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 23rd August with fellow author, Elen Caldecott, who writes the  excellent Marsh Road series, and I’ll be talking about Cambodia and Dara in more depth at the multiple school and library visits I have lined up over the next two months, not to mention the festivals and conferences I’ll be attending. So that’s all MUCHO EXCITING. Dara will like the fame, I just know it.

Staying on the topic of fame, the piece I wrote on why I was – and continue to be- inspired by the great Pippi Longstocking was published in The Guardian yesterday. I’m sooo famous now. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m not at all. But it’s great to see something you wrote in The Guardian, no less, and if you haven’t read Pippi, or haven’t read her in a while, I highly recommend a revisit. I think one of my favourite stories ever is about the Squeazle, which can be found in ‘Pippi in the South Seas’. She is just amazing, and so was Astrid Lindgren.

Continuing on the topic of fame just a tiny bit longer, Dream on, Amber has now received four, yes, four starred reviews from the top library journals in America. Getting one of those stars is a big deal, but getting four is a big deal times four, so I’m delighted and so are the publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve just received this praise sheet summarising the four reviews, so I’m going to share it with you all, right here, right now. DreamOnAmber-PraiseSheet

Amber comes out on 6th October in the US, which is soon indeed. I wish her the very best of luck.

And that’s all the fame I think anyone can cope with in a single afternoon, so I’m bowing deeply and heading to the wings with my flowers. See you backstage.

Two Weeks and Counting

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Well well well. Amber is doing very well indeed over the pond: she’s just got a second starred review in a BIG journal in the US called Kirkus.  That’s in addition to the starred review earlier this month in Booklist, and the very lovely five star review on Amazon given by someone who really knows his/her stuff and lives in Colorado. A huge thank you to all of the reviewers – including the others on Amazon who all gave five stars too. Dream on, Amber goes on sale in the US in October. Dara Palmer is taking her first steps too and has had an excellent first review in INIS, Kid’s Lit Ireland, although I can’t find an online version (so I posted a copy in the press and reviews section of this here website).

Dara Palmer has also been reviewed by readers at Love Reading 4 Kids and I’m happy to say, they all said very positive things about it. Dara will be published TWO WEEKS TODAY in the UK so that’s exciting, and in July 2016 in the US. Meanwhile, I think I can safely announce that thanks to my brilliant agent, I’ve signed a two-book contract with Chicken House (YAY) and I’m working on one of those stories now. It has, thus far, involved going to the seaside, riding a bike around and listening to seagulls, all of which has been a welcome and much-needed method of research. It has also involved Googling weird and questionably sane things like ‘facts about cow spit’, ‘does Pier Road have street lights?’ and ‘can people be allergic to ferret fur?’ What did authors do before Google? Honestly, I’d be lost without it.

I’ve also started doing some research for the other book but I’ve put that on the back burner for now because there are only so many hours in the day. I have lots of events coming up: the Edinburgh Festival on 23 August is first and then I’m touring and visiting schools, libraries and popping my head up at other festivals in September, October and November, including UKMGx in my old uni haunt, Nottingham, Stream in London and a conference in Glasgow. EXCITING TIMES AHEAD! Thanks to Books for Keeps for doing this cool cover for their online magazine and using it for their twitter picture in June. I’ll be in touch again when it comes out on 6th August. In two weeks! Did I mention that there are only two more weeks to go? I think I might have. In case I didn’t, that’s TWO WEEKS. OK. I think you might have got that by now.

BFK Cover - Dara3

And here is the news at mid- June o’clock (beep beep beep beep beeeeeep)

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The best best best news this week is that Amber has been given a starred review in Booklist, a journal by the American Library Association that is a) one of the top three book journals in the US (apparently) and b) read by school and public librarians, and book groups. The review comes out on 1st July and – I didn’t know this because I’m not American but (apparently) – starred reviews are very hard to get. Once they publish the review in Booklist, I’ll put it up here. Thank you to Julia Smith, the lovely reviewer who just GOT IT: the book, Amber, me – everything.

So that’s exciting.

The best best news this week is that I’ve been contacted by so many amazing people offering to help me write what will be my fourth book. It’s heartwarming to have their support and hear that they would have loved a book like this when they were young. Nothing inspires me more than hearing that. It makes me feel like I’m on a mission. From God (apparently). Blues Brothers style.

So that’s exciting.

The best news this week, which really is the best best best best best best news (x1000 squared – wait, how do you do that tiny weeny number 2 on a keyboard?) is news that I can’t share yet (apparently) but there’s a big clue in the paragraph before this one. I’m not going to say any more than that until it’s all finalised but it’s BIG NEWS and I’m very happy about it.

So that’s exciting.

Not one, not two but THREE exciting things to share this month. Cor. And if that’s not enough for you, Chris Riddell, my favourite illustrator and an all round excellent ambassador for books was made the new Children’s Laureate today. Which is great, great thing. Congratulations to Chris. May it be a wonderful two-year reign.