Books at Bedtime Event @ Sitwell Infants and Junior School, Rotherham

What a fantastic day!
Visiting the two schools was a real highlight - meeting such fabulous children with a real love of books and reading was very inspiring. First of all I took part in Mrs Skupien's assembly - talking to the Foundation stage (4-5yrs) and Key Stage 1 (5-6yrs) about my book and then reading the little section when Sophie and Danny go exploring and discover a row of four shops. As Sophie an Danny read the sign on each door, I had the hall-full of children calling out "Closed  ...on...TUESDAYS!!! until we finally stumbled upon the final shop - Mr Zauberer's puppet shop. They were great listeners!
I visited the Year 2 classes to talk about becoming a writer, how I write and read an exerpt from Driftwood & Amethyst to them. I met lots of future writers! They were such fun and asked some great questions:

Q Why do you like books?
Because they help me disappear in to a different world and introduce me to different people and places and I get to share in their adventures.

Q When did you become a writer?
I've enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I started writing diaries and then stories came later. I was a teacher for a long time and I wrote stories to help my students learn about the Romans or Ancient Egypt, Victorian inventions or Ancient Greek banquets. 

Q How do you write a story?
I'm always jotting ideas down in a notebook that I carry with me, and sometimes ideas grow in my imagination. When an idea sticks, I write more and more about the idea, describe the characters and their conversations with each other and the story grows and grows. Sometimes I have a plan that I stick to and sometimes I just have an idea and I don't know what will happen at the end!

Q Which is your favourite children's book?
A Little WomenAlice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, The Magic Faraway Tree, Stig of the Dump, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory . . . I couldn't name one!

The children were keen to hear about Sophie and Danny and the little puppets hanging in the puppet shop window - I wish I could have stayed longer but I was whisked away to the junior school!

Immediately, I joined an assembly run by Miss Saunders where she shared her favourite books with the whole school - photos of all her favourite books were up on the interactive whiteboard, many included in my favourites list above, as well as a few I'd forgotten - Milly,Molly,Mandy, My Naughty Little Sister and Black Beauty. I then talked about my favourite stories and how they inspired me to write Driftwood and Amethyst. After reading an excerpt to a hushed hall where a proverbial pin could have been dropped and heard, the children asked a few questions before I spent a very pleasant hour talking with three Year 6 (10-11 year olds) about my book and my writing.
Their questions were probing and fabulous - here are a few of my favourites:

Q Why did you call your book Driftwood and Amethyst?
A Amethyst is believed, by some people, to have calming qualities, magical properties, and old Mrs Dawson in the story wears a special ring made of silver and amethyst. If you remember, the puppets have driftwood sticks attached to make them dance - the driftwood is important for another character in the story.

Q How did it feel when you had your book published?
You know when you buy a toy or get an ice-cream, and you get that pleased, excited feeling inside for a short time,well, it's about one hundred times more powerful than that. When this book was published, I'd worked so hard on it, it felt like such an achievement so, yes, it was very exciting and I felt very happy. I still do! When we work hard to achieve something, as I'm sure you all know, that feeling of achievement is much better than getting something for nothing, you know?

Q How do you create your characters?
A I think what their parents were like first and how they treated them. If thecharacters were happy or sad, angry or optimistic. How they might behave with another character; their mother, or a doctor for example. Then I write conversations between two main characters and start thinking about what they might wear, the things they like and dislike (food, music, colours etc) and how they will react in different situations.

Q How did you write your book?
With Driftwood, I planned a sketchy outline with a possible ending - not the ending I have at all now! I then planned Sophie and Danny using the prompts I talked about earlier,their mums and Danny's little sister Nina. I write the first few chapters and Mrs Dawson developed as I wrote the rest of the story - she was planned in so much as her appearance and love of children, a retired teacher, but no more than that. She grew as the story grew! The owner of the puppet shop was planned first, but I hid him away until I wrote the first meeting between the children entering the shop. He never changed, but his character was the first to be developed. I wrote the story chapter by chapter, which surprised me as I usually like to write chapters out of order - but I edited it endlessly and that's why it took so long to complete. My first complete edited draft took a year, but I worked on it for another two years with my thesaurus and red pen - I'm very  pernickety! - until I was completely happy with it. 

I had a great time - and spent a good hour after school talking to parents and children, selling books and signing autographs ( which they may get 2p for on Ebay - I don't know how or why that rush of paper scraps started!) It was a fabulous end to a fabulous day.

Thankyou to Mrs Jane Skupien and Mr Jonathon Moody who were great hosts and took great care of me - and thankyou to all the staff and children who let me invade their classrooms and talk about my favourite subjects of the moment - writing and my little book!


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