Snapshot of a School library

There’s a lot flying around about our public libraries at the moment, in Bath where I live and in many other places across the country. Libraries are under threat and campaigns to save them and bolster them up are going strong. During World Book Day events this year I had a glimpse of what a junior school library with a dedicated librarian is like.

Kate, the librarian and I had toured the school as I gave talks and workshops and were heading into the little library for what I thought was a well earned break and a spot of lunch.  “Mind you, it’ll be mayhem in here in a minute,” Kate said comfortably as we settled down among the books, the papier mache models and the murals of The Cat in the Hat and James and his Giant Peach.

Kate was right. A sip of tea and two bites of sandwich later and the library was buzzing. Some children had come to meet me and have a copy of their book signed but I wasn’t the main event by any means. There was far too much else going on.

firetop animal rescue

Two girls pored excitedly over Return to Firetop Mountain, eyes alight as they made lists and charts, really living their hero moments. Another group nestled in front of the book shelves playing Top Trumps. Others were busily inventing a writing competition and making winners’ certificates, which I was allowed to endorse with my signature. One boy hopped about with the latest Animal Rescue book, proudly showing me the others he had read in the same series. Another boy kept coming in and out of the library, chanting the title of my new book. “Bird Girl!  Bird Girl!” he sang, not because he was planning to read it but just because he was so taken with the sound of the title itself. (I spotted him later with a teaching assistant, contentedly making himself a nest out of a handy cardboard box.)

Bird Girl

And finally, yes, there was the totally silent girl who read for the entire lunch break. She sat very close to me but she wasn’t interested in talking to me. She rested her cheek on the table, totally immersed in her book, face almost right inside it, only swapping cheeks when it was time to read the facing page. The book which held her was by the amazing Holly Webb. holly webb

And all the while soft-spoken Kate answered questions, wrestled with her orders and her sadly diminishing book budget, organised loans, scanning books in, scanning books out. I’m not sure she ever did finish her lunch.

That little library was humming away, a hive, a hub of activity. And it was a haven too, a place to take one step away from the top volume and the rough and tumble of the playground. What school would want to be without a place like that?

A thriving school library is a mini version of the public libraries in our towns and cities, what they often are, what they should be. A place for the whole of the local community to use in a way which suits them best. An amazingly important resource. Service, support, leisure and pleasure for all. That’s what our libraries can and will be, if only we allow them to be.

Here’s a photo I absolutely love. It’s of a friend’s daughter sitting in Bath’s Central Library, discovering books and everything else that libraries have to offer. The joy on her face is palpable. You wouldn’t want to take that away, now would you?

taz

For more on libraries, read what Nicola Davies has to say in the Guardian.

My World Book Day 2017

P1040765

I had a brilliant World Book Day week this year. I spent three full days in three different schools and thanks to the help and enthusiasm of two particular teachers and one dedicated school librarian, every event ran smoothly. And by smoothly I mean sometimes chaotically, sometimes noisily and, hopefully, always downright joyfully. It certainly hasn’t always been this way – I’ve got my fair share of horror stories – so I’m very grateful to all my #WBD2017 co-planners!

I think a visit from an author should be a celebratory event – part show, part workshop, with lots of chatting and laughing, swapping news about books and a chance to inspire one another with the joy of reading and writing. At its best it can be a rewarding shared experience for children, author and teaching staff alike. That’s undeniably quite a big ask – especially of someone who hides behind their computer most of the time, and I certainly have to really gear myself up before an event. But if it all goes well then I may be exhausted as I trundle out of school with my giant wooden cake and my enormous bag on wheels, but I’ll be happy too.

This year, one boy was moved to say that my visit was the best day of his life. I’m aware that he may be one of those boys who has best days of his life most weeks, but I’m going to count that as a definite win!

Special thanks to Widcombe Juniors, Keevil and Christ Church Schools for making it all work so well.cat in the hat and me

Taking a moment to commune with an old friend during the school lunch break.

A Story With Your Sausages?

 

supermarketI’ve had an unexpected event. In the supermarket. The young woman on the check-out was having a massive yawn when I bowled up with my trolley. I said I hoped she was nearing the end of her shift.

“I wish,” she said, not bothering to suppress extreme yawn number two. “Do you want any bags?” (I didn’t.)

“Do you want any help loading your shopping?” (I didn’t.)

And then she said,

“Do you want a story?”

“Pardon?” I was taken aback.

“Do you want a story?”

“Oh. Yes, please.”

“What genre would you like?”

“Um. Thriller?”

“Right.”

And so, along with my sausages, my beef tomatoes, my cream crackers, and my added lustre shampoo, she churned one out. Or rather, she made one up on the spot. It began with a mysterious knock on the door at midnight, a mysterious parcel on the doorstep and the memory of a mysterious event on a Mediterranean cruise. There would have been even more if it hadn’t been for the stubborn aubergine I’d selected, resisting its path through the scanner. And if it hadn’t been for the slightly bamboozled man waiting behind me, hugging his empty carrier bag expectantly to his chest.

So my narrator and I had a very hasty discussion about writing, the billions of stories she’s started, and the difficulties of completing first drafts, and we said goodbye.

It’s not every day you get an original, custom-built story with your shopping and cash-back. I think it did us both good actually, because when I glanced back she wasn’t yawning any more.

PS I went back a few days later and she was there again.But this time she wasn’t giving out stories with the shopping. She was giving out songs!

singng girl

Bird Girl flying in!

Three Cheers Clipart #1

Hi everybody. I’ve got something to shout about! January has almost left us, the days are drawing out and the snowdrops are coming up. AND I’ve a new book coming out. It’s got a gorgeous cover, illustrated so beautifully by Lucy Fleming

Lucy’s hugely busy these days and much in demand so I feel very lucky to have her.

Bird Girl

Doesn’t this make you think of the lovely long summer days to come. Does it make you dream of the seaside too? Yes? Well in that case it’s doing its job perfectly because that’s exactly what Bird Girl is all about. It’s a summer adventure story set in a seaside town. Here’s a little taster.

Pink-haired Finch Field has always felt different. She dreams of flying – not in a plane, but swimming through the sky like a bird.

Her classmates laugh, and call her Dream Bird. But when Finch goes to stay with her beloved Granny Field for the summer, she finds herself face-to-face with a monster intent on stealing people’s dreams.

Finch must find a way to believe her own dreams can come true if she is to save the dreams of everyone in Sunview on Sea.

Bird Girl is summery and mysterious and maybe just a little bit scary. It’s published by Orion Children’s Books and comes out on 9th March. It should be in your library very soon, or you can buy a copy from your local independent bookshop, or from here.

Yes, spring is on its way and so is my new book – so that’s two reasons to celebrate.  Please join me in toasting the arrival of Finch Field. Here’s to Bird Girl! Cheers!

So…

Maudie xx

Find out more about me and my books at www.maudiesmith.co.uk

 

Welcome!

Maudie Circle 02

I’m Maudie. Well done for finding my blog in amongst all the other stuff in the mad mad world of social media. You’re very welcome.

I write books for children, picture books, early readers and novels. You can find out more about them on my website – maybe you just came from there? If not, here’s a link.

www.maudiesmith.co.uk

Pass the Philanthropist!

Yesterday I went to the James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award – I was lucky enough to be one of the shortlisted authors  in the KS2 category with my book, The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch.IMG_20160608_094655318

First things first, I didn’t win, but I did have a brilliant day and I was so impressed by the librarian-powered machine that makes this award such a fantastic part of the Hull calendar.

Herded along by Tracey,( whose official  title is Librarian Connecting Communities – and boy, does she do a good job of that!) we gathered in Hull’s enormous Town Hall along with children from thirty nine, yes thirty nine! primary schools, all of whom had read our books. That in itself was pretty darned impressive.

I got to meet lots of very enthusiastic children and sign many books and autographs. The signing queues were loooong – there was even a slight tussle in my queue as a couple of girls jostled for position!

IMG_20160607_133635838I got to meet author, Helena Pielichaty who was our MC for the day. Here she is with her enormous pencil, setting up a great little play about the life of a paperback library book!

I got to meet three other shortlisted authors: Malcolm Judge, Tom McLaughlin and Brandon Robshaw, and find out all about their brilliant and very funny books.

I got to dress up as Max the very reluctant hero from my own book.

I got to answer questions like: What’s your favourite colour? (purple) and If you had one wish what would it be? (win Wimbledon – still feeling a bit selfish about that one).

I even got my very own packed lunch in a big paper bag.

It was jolly tense when the voting began. It felt as though we were at the EU referendum already!

IMG_20160607_115249438_HDR

Tracey told us that as soon as the votes were counted, someone would notify the engravers and then race across town to collect the finished trophy before it was even dry. (If trophies actually get wet I’m not totally sure, but you know what I mean.)

The eventual winner was Tom Avery for his lovely book, Not As We Know It. Tom couldn’t be at the awards, since he lives in Amsterdam, which was a great shame. He would have had a ball. On the upside though, the rest of us didn’t have to fall out and I reckon we all left feeling like winners. Here are my fellow competitors, still smiling as you see.

IMG_20160607_114459504_HDR

The Hull prize wouldn’t be possible without the Library Trust that Nineteenth Century industrialist and philanthropist James Reckitt set up for  the city. I started to wonder whether someone couldn’t do the same thing for my home city of Bath. Do you think there’s a captain of industry out there who might like to fund an award which would promote reading and a love of literature? I’m sure it wouldn’t cost much more than it takes to maintain their second or even their third best yacht….

The Lie Tree

lie tree

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge made a little bit of history recently. It was the first children’s book to win the overall Costa prize since Philip Pullman did it with The Amber Spyglass in 2001. I knew we had a copy in the house – it was on my older daughter’s bookshelf, waiting to be read. So I crept in and swiped it.

It really is a cracking yarn. Frances Hardinge tells a gripping and quite scary story. She gives us a gothic island setting and, in fourteen year old Faith, a brilliantly conflicted central character to root for, fight with and sometimes excuse. The writer toys with with expectations and plays with stereotypes, skirting melodrama by continually confounding us with new character revelations.

I especially loved the use of language in this book and Hardinge really is the Queen of Simile. Here’s one of my favourites:  “She could almost see thoughts squirming behind his placid face, like worms in a bun.”

Delicious! I’ll be going back for more.

The Little House in Nottingham

This Saturday I’ll be jumping into Fleur Hitchcock’s little car and heading to Nottingham for the UKMG Extravaganza. It’s going to be a very interesting day. First I’ll get to natter to Fleur for HOURS, which is one of my favourite things to do (don’t know how she feels about it, mind…). Second, I’ll have the chance to meet up with lots of authors who, like me, write books for children aged 7-12. Most of these authors I’m only on tweeting terms with, so it will be a good chance to see what they’re really like! (And of course to find out all about their latest books.)

But thirdly, for me this will also be an opportunity to visit Nottingham, the home of my birth, childhood and youth. I haven’t been back for aaaaages. Hope I still know my way around.

On the way into town we’ll almost certainly pass my old house, the one we moved into when I was two and famously asked a gas man to change my nappy. To tell you the truth I’m a bit worried about seeing my house. Remembering it reminds me of this book.

 the little house cover

When we first moved in we had a long front garden, with roses and cherry trees at the foot. There was a fifty foot slope behind the back garden which led to a disused and pleasantly overgrown quarry, and the road outside the house wasn’t too busy.

But as the years rolled by things changed, just as they did for the Little House in the famous 1942 story by Virginia Lee Burton. The quarry was the site used to build the Queen’s Medical Centre, a huge hospital which grew up behind the house, many of the windows looking in over our trees. (When anyone we knew went in as a patient and said they’d seen us in the garden, my mum threatened to paint rude messages on the sheets that hung on the line.) Later on, the road was widened to make room for more and more traffic. The house at the corner of the road was knocked down entirely, while our garden was cut back so that we lost the rose bed, a big chunk of lawn, and the cherry trees too.

The little house inside illustration

I don’t know how our house has been faring since it was sold some years ago, but things got much worse for The Little House in the story. She had all her windows broken and was bashed about, neglected and almost forgotten. Of course, there was a solution to all the industrialisation in the end. The Little House was rescued by people who loved her and taken to a safe place in the countryside, surrounded by cherry trees.  I haven’t actually asked her yet, but if things are as bad as I fear, do you think Fleur will mind towing a house back to Somerset on Saturday night?

little house happy ending

Cakes and Tales

cake

I’d written a trilogy of stories about her, she’d been my companion for several years, but the time had finally come to say goodbye to my favourie alien, Opal Moonbaby, and write something new.

I knew only two things about my next book. It would be a stand-alone novel for  children over seven, and it would be called, The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch.

Piers Quote jacket-2If my title reminds you of another, well-known one about a certain wardrobe, well, it’s really no coincidence. I lapped up C S Lewis’s books when I was a child. Narnia, its inhabitants, its wooden portal and the young visitors who travelled through it are all hard-wired into my brain. Just like the contents of the other books I soaked up as a child, they’re still with me, and they exert a powerful influence. In fact they often leak out, almost unbidden, into my work. This time, though, I was going to meet them head on.

The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch.The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch. The title kept swirling rhythmically around in my head. I’d always loved the idea of those big cakes that turn up at parties, the ones people pop out of, but I thought it would be fun to see what happened if, for a change, the people doing the popping up were the ones who were surprised.

Max, my ten year old hero, doesn’t feel very heroic. He’s worried about his dad’s new marriage. He doesn’t want to move in with Ilona and her two peculiar offspring, Nettle and Wild. He’d rather stay in his bedroom perfecting his marble run, the one he’s been working on for years. Max started the marble run after his mum died in a climbing accident, and over the last three years he’s devoted himself to it, and to making quite sure he and Dad stay out of danger.(There’s definitely a bit of me in Max, the bit that is afraid to try new things, that catastrophizes about the risks involved in anything out of the ordinary, or anything at all.)

Max has had to to grow up quickly, and he’s left a lot of things behind, including stories. He doesn’t read them – can’t see the point in them any longer. Their structure and their resolutions don’t reflect the random nature of life as he sees it now. And he knows, from bitter experience, that happy endings don’t exist. So he’s mad as anything about having to jump out of a cake at the wedding reception with his two new siblings and shout, “We’re all going to live happily ever after!” Talk about insult to injury.

wolfAnd when the cake is strangely diverted, so that the children do not pop up, as planned, in the hotel dining room, but in a totally new landscape, a landscape fronted by a talking, but still fierce and slavering wolf, Max goes straight into denial.  It took a lot of cajoling, not just from me, but also from my editor to get him to accept the challenges being presented to him. “It’s chapter seventeen,” Jenny Glencross would patiently point out, “and Max still hasn’t got out of the cake!” Max and I both needed jolting out of our comfort zones to get the story moving. (You see, being perfectly in tune with your characters can have its downsides.)

The cake has touched down in The Land of Ever After, a place populated by characters from familiar stories, the endings of which have all gone haywire, thanks to an evil power-crazed witch called Babs Haggard. Unlikely as it seems, Max is regarded as the expert, the only person who can defeat Babs Haggard and put right the happy endings.

BabsOnce I’d set Max and Nettle and Wild down in the Land of Ever After, the fairy tales I read as a child and wanted to work with, came swimming straight back into focus. They’re as interesting to me now as they were then, but I do have a different take on some of them this time round.

For example, I’m less concerned with Snow White’s dress and perfect lips, and more interested in what it might be like to be one of the dwarves who loved her. How did he feel when she went away with her prince? What did he do afterwards? And that troll, parked under the bridge. What did he get up to down there all day? Did he have any other interests apart from billy goat watching?

One story character that bothered me, and still does, is the Gingerbread Man. I suppose it’s a simple cautionary tale but I never could understand why he just got up off the baking tray and ran away from the couple who had made and loved him. Why did he do that? Just because he could? We never really learn much about his mental make-up, do we? I’ve given the Gingerbread Man a slightly different role in this story, which has, to some extent, helped me come to terms with him. He’s still running about like crazy though.

Max is facing a major Humpty Dumpty situation here. He has to be all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and pick up the pieces of every story he meets. But while he’s about it, he’s going to need to pick up the pieces of his own story, too, and get it back on track.What’s more, he’s going to discover that there are other characters in his story – he’s got a new sister and brother now and they’re on the road with him too. As Max travels through Ever After in search of Harsh Mountain, the Shining Pathway and, finally, Beyond, he’ll have company. Because this is not just Max’s story. It’s a whole bundle of stories, old and new, out of which, if I’ve done my job properly, the main one comes tumbling out.

The story of Max and Nettle, and Wild.

MaxNettleWild

Launching The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch!

Phew! We did it! Last night we launched The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch at the very wonderful Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights It was a lovely sunny evening in central Bath and not sweltering hot as it had been the day before, when I was worried my cake would melt on the way to town. I spent hours making this cake. I know I’ll never be a master baker but I am quite proud of it. And I had another smashing cake there too, made out of hardboard by my husband, ready for my stars to pop out of!

with edible cakebig cake

Speaking of the stars, my daughters dressed up as the wolf and the witch. I have to say that they are FAR more glamorous than the characters in the book but they do look fab. I challenge you not to make your own witch and wolf expressions as you look into their eyes.

emma witchmaddie wolf

And then I needed a Max and a Nettle, the heroes of my story. Here they are in costume and ready to go the Land of Ever After!

the stars best

Here we are in action! Excuse my silly face but I am in full flow.

Presentation daft face

Then it was time to cut the cake and have a drink, sign books and give away free marbles. What a lovely spread Mr B’s provided and what a great display of my books, too!

displaysigning

Thanks to my brother for taking these pictures. I notice that he didn’t take many of my guests though – but please be assured that they were there, including these lovely new readers.

ewan reading lovely girl readers

So the book is launched and now, with cake, costumes, props and marbles I’m ready to go visiting schools and libraries and festivals. If you’re someone who might be interested in a slice of that, visit my website Maudie Smith  Here I am. Have cake, will travel!