little books for little loves

I’ve absolutely loved getting to pick out stories every day for our 11am story time at The Little Bookshop Leeds. I’ve been so encouraged by the reactions my *terrible* voices have got from the little children who come to listen. It’s also such a treat getting to read some of my childhood favourites to them, and seeing them follow along with the story, often joining in if they know it well enough.

Along with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Comet In Moominland, and We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, (my most favourite favourites) I’ve been introduced to some really fab picture books which have all been loved by the little ones who arrive to story time. I’ve picked some of my new favourites out, hopefully to give you some inspiration if bedtime reading is getting a bit repetitive!

1.Florence Frizzball – Claire Freedman and Jane Massey

This is an absolute joy to read at story time and also a story I relate to lots as a girl with untamed and frizzy locks. It’s funny, and a good one for little listeners to follow along with, especially those with curly hair!

2. Here We Are – Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is a delight. His writing is so beautiful and he is a true born storyteller. It’s a book even the adults will enjoy reading, and his illustrations are stunning. The story follows a child’s journey into the world, punctuated with illustrations of the night sky, and the world.

3. How To Catch A Star – Oliver Jeffers

This is another one of Jeffers’ beauties. It follows a boy who dreams of catching a star, and his journey to find one. It’s full of beautiful spreads, and has some real funny moments and interactive parts which the children love.

4. I Wrote You A Note – Lizi Boyd

This is another beautifully illustrated book which follows a friend who writes a letter to another friend. Along the way, the note gets lost and the story follows who has found the note and where it ends up. A lovely story about friendship, as well as animals and wildlife.

5. Grandma Bird – Benji Davies

Benji Davies is fab. His book The Storm Whale was my first introduction to his writing, and now he has adapted his tales of the sea and families. This one follows Noi who spends the summer at Grandma’s. He gets into a storm, and the beginning of a new friendship is revealed. Davies is a fab storyteller and anyone who loves The Storm Whale will love this.

6. In My Heart – Jo Witek

This is an emotional story about feelings, great to read with children who are maybe struggling with expressing themselves. It is vibrant and humorous, whilst also dealing with hard emotions for children to understand. It is more of a celebration of the many different emotions we can feel, and is illustrated with different coloured hearts which fan out of the centre of the book. It would make a lovely gift, too.

7. Katinka’s Tail – Judith Kerr

Renowned for The Tiger Who Came To Tea and her Mog series, Kerr has put together a beautiful story of a cat with a rather remarkable tail. It’s a great story for children to follow, with gorgeous illustrations to keep the story going from each page. It is a good traditional storybook, with lots of humour and emotion, as well as a lovely dreamy element which includes a trip to the moon.

I hope this list is helpful to you if you’re ever looking for fresh inspiration, and if you’ve come across any of them already I’m sure you’ll agree they’re all great examples.

If you have any of your own favourite picture books, let me know!

love sophie

 

writing dates: do they help or hinder?

February was one of those head-down-get-on-with-it kind of months (as well as lets-hit-Sophie-with-the-flu-just-when-she-doesn’t-need-it.) With just shy of 15,000 words due, I was trying to save every ounce of energy up to write my essays, and assignments. But when you can’t even think straight and spend most of the day coughing (my whole January was more like dry cough January than dry January) it’s difficult to get much done.

Cue a lot of writing dates with other writers/peers/anyone who would take me up on my offer of free flowing tea and biscuits, in the hope of it being inspiring and actually making me do some work.

But did it really help?

Here are the things I noticed happening to my work/me:

1. It got competitive

I’m not a hugely competitive person *flips the board of monopoly if she doesn’t get Mayfair* but there’s something about people sitting around laptops, typing endlessly which gets incredibly competitive. Now, this in theory is great, it means that you’re in competition to write the most and do the most work. But actually, what comes out of this (unless you’re a Sara Barnard level A+writer) is a very very very first draft which makes no sense. Yes I managed to write lots, but it wasn’t necessarily good stuff and needed lots of editing when I managed to escape back under the blankets with a cuppa.

2. It can be the world’s best procrastination

So you’re sat with your laptop, you’ve got a brew and you’re ready to get cracking on your next chapter. WRONG. Instead, you end up listening to your friends detail the whole night out that you missed in the classic debrief. You get way too into it, completely forget the reason you’re there, and suddenly you’re watching videos of cute goats on YouTube? (please tell me I’m not the only one?) Three hours later and you’ve exhausted yourself to the point of no work, so you turn to Netflix and drown your sorrows in tea, saying ‘It’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow…’ even if tomorrow is the deadline.

3. It can be very distracting

This is especially the case if you’re all working on the same assignment. Or even if you’re all trying to do the same kind of thing. When it comes to writing, a lot of research is involved, especially if it’s high fantasy or historical, or you need to be factually correct with characters etc. This is all good and well until someone whips out a truck load of information which is then put on you because you just need to know it too. I think I’ve learnt more from my peers who have been researching for their books than I ever did when it came to researching for my own things. And then there’s the breaks. If someone pops to the loo, makes a drink, or declares lunchtime, it only seems fitting to take a break too. Even if you’ve only written the title.

4. It’s an emotional battle

Just like reading a book, there’s a definite emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing dates. I don’t know whether it’s having someone you can complain to/talk things through with, or whether it’s just because it can be really hard, but writing dates often turn into therapy sessions punctuated with ‘you can do this’ and ‘just focus on writing this chapter’ which is all good and well if you have an idea you believe in. This is when those extra biscuits you brought (just in case) make their way out whilst you shut down all your word documents and cry internally over the fact you’re never going to get published. You then have to sit there whilst the other people, who are still tapping away on their keyboards, continue to casually mosey on through the brick wall ahead. Total writing torture.

5. Everything takes time

When initially planning the date, you have to bear in mind that at least 70% of it will be spent making tea, talking, scrolling through your phone, eating, giggling, watching funny videos, etc. So you only ever really get 30% maximum done. This is something you should take into account when planning when to meet and where. If you meet before lunch, you may be more productive in the morning but end up having more breaks. If you meet after lunch you might have passed the most productive part of your day. It’s a battle you sometimes just can’t win. I try and meet up as early as possible because then at least I’ve given myself the whole day to procrastinate. And even if I don’t manage the target of words I set (or even half of them) I know that it’s more than I would have done anyway.

Let me know if you have any tips on writing in a group, and whether there are any ways it helps you/any suggestions to make it work better!

love sophie

rainy days: inspiration in the weather 

I ventured out of the house today for all of ten minutes. I came back in looking like a drowned rat and my clothes were drenched through with rain water. But I loved it.

I think rainy days, although often miserable because you maybe can’t do what you’d planned, are my favourites. They bring about a spontaneity which you don’t get if your plans go ahead, and everything runs like clockwork.

I’m also a lover of anything muddy and mucky, something many people don’t realise about me. I’d rather spend a day on the beach, mid-winter, making mud pies and paddling in the sea in just my knickers and a jumper than being snuggled up inside watching films all day. And I love riding my bike through big, boggy puddles and splashing mud all over myself whilst steaming downhill. Obviously, the hot bubble bath and film night that follows is still on the cards, I just feel like it’s been earned. And, although cleaning the bike in the dark is a chore, the mud splatters are worth it.

One thing rainy days really help with is my inspiration for writing. I can be on a beach, on a mountain, or tucked up watching raindrops race down the window from inside, and I’ll be able to channel my character, or just be a kid again.

Stomping in muddy puddles – minus wellies – is the best. Yes, your feet get cold. Yes, your shoes get damp. But they dry, and you soon get warm again. The thrill of doing something that nobody else is doing, and something that would normally be suggested as a bad idea makes it all the more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I like summer. And I like it when it doesn’t rain, too. But for those ten minutes of leaving the house today, I felt like a kid again. I was soaked through to my socks, and had to stuff my shoes with newspaper so they’d dry, but I came in, warmed up, and started writing.

Is there a season you prefer to write in? Does the rain help your writing, too? Let me know!

love sophie

creative writing vs. essay writing: help

As an author of children’s fiction, and a Masters student, I have to write creatively, as well as formally in essays *cue meltdown.*

Now, I absolutely hate writing essays because I can never get a formal voice going, and I often repeat myself and word vomit all over the page (yes, that is a thing).

Children’s fiction, however, comes out of me wrapped in a bow (although it takes me a while to think up ideas sometimes, when I’ve got one I can run with it.)

So how do I manage to bridge the gap when asked to write essays for my course? Well… the truth is I find it incredibly difficult to channel my inner English Lit girl who quotes amazing works, and actually I resemble something along the lines of my teenage  characters. I usually give up too (and if you know me, I’m no quitter) and spend my day procrastinating, normally drowning in rooibos tea to make up for how I feel.

BUT

New year new me (and all that rubbish) so here I am, fighting fit, ready to take on the essay which I’ve had planned for months (with a fresh pot of tea for support.)

So here is how I plan on defeating it: (if you’re in a similar situation, I hope it helps)

Step 1: Plan plan plan…

I’m not a big planner when it comes to my creative work, I usually just write and see where I end up. But, when it comes to essays, that isn’t an option. Otherwise it just ends in waffle (and not the tasty kind.)

I start off by structuring the essay and working out how it is going to flow, and deciding which points link best. (This takes a couple of days in itself so almost counts as procrastination.)

I think of it like my novel. The book has to flow and make sense to the reader; there can be no room for misinterpretation. This is the same for my essay.

Start by plotting a brief structure, including an introduction, first point, second point, third point, and then conclusion. (Obviously you can tailor this to however many points you have.)

One of the best things I do (or try to do) is make a tick list of the mark scheme and definite things you have to include. Once you’ve finished the essay you can look back on it and see if there’s anything you’ve missed.

Step 2: Bulk it out. (P)

So you’ve got your plan, and now you’re ready to put points onto paper and give yourself proper words to work with.

Start by writing out all your points onto separate pieces of paper, that way you can move them and change the order to get the most formulaic structure. You only need to begin with bullet points.

Once you know your points, and after researching enough to build them up, seeing them on paper makes it easier to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Step 3: Get back up. (E)

You’ve got your point, now you need to back it up with evidence. Get out your books (read them) and pick out some quotes that support what you’re trying to say. Search the internet for journals, articles, anything. The more varied the support, the better the grade (hopefully.)

Don’t just pick things because you think they kind of link, pick them because they support your point fully. If you find any that oppose your point, pick them out too. It’s always good to be able to have a counter argument.

Step 4: Why? (E)

Explain to the reader (or the marker) why this quote or research in particular helps to strengthen your argument. What does it say that helps? What specifically is it doing to the point you’re making?

If you can’t explain this, you might need a stronger quote.

Step 5: Link it up. (L)

Connect the point to the next point you’re making/a counter argument. Use further evidence, just be careful not to repeat yourself. Also this is a good chance to make sure you’re properly answering the question in each point. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure you’ve done what you set out to. Conclude in your last paragraph and go back to your introduction. The essay may have changed slightly since you started it so check it all fits together.

Step 5: Reread.

Just like when writing creatively, one of the most helpful things I find is rereading the work aloud. This shows you if there are any jarring bits for the reader, and whether the piece flows well. Make sure you’ve done what you set out to do and argued or explained all the points you’ve made with enough evidence.

 

By using the PEEL paragraphs you’ll be able to incorporate all aspects of the point to recoup the most marks. Obviously, all essays are different and all have different mark schemes so do take this with a pinch of salt. I’m aware this might work for one, and not another. But hopefully you can take the main ideas away from it, even if it’s just with planning.

One of my major faults is that I try and write too eloquently in essays, so much that it doesn’t actually make sense. Don’t do this. The best thing to do is to write the points out (even just in bullet points), finish the essay steps and then come back to look at wording in a draft where you can flesh it all out.

Getting words on the page is always the hardest part so by drafting it out, in a more relaxed way like this, can really help to take the pressure off. It also allows for lots of breaks in between points to refill your tea.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any top tips to help me write my essay, or that you think might help others, post them below.

Now, back to the essay…

love sophie

top titles of 2017

And that’s a wrap on 2017. So here’s my top ten books of 2017 that I’ve enjoyed reading over the year (some more than once.)

There’s some I always go back to, some I’ve read as a proof edition and cannot wait to be published, and some I’ve just stumbled across and absolutely loved.

1.Sophie Kinsella – Finding Audrey

2. Sara Bernard – Beautiful Broken Things

A stunning debut from my fave bae. Barnard writes so beautifully and the emotions in the book, although quite dark and mystical at times, are stunning. A Quiet Kind Of Thunder is another of hers I love.

3. Jennifer Niven – Holding Up The Universe

A great example of contemporary YA. Niven’s style is original and makes for light hearted, easy reading with all the juicy bits plugged in for good measure. All The Bright Places is another filled with goodness.

4. Jandy Nelson – The Sky Is Everywhere

The most beautiful title for the most beautiful book. I almost wish I was a character. A hopeful spin on teenage life that is relatable and current.

5. Nicola Yoon – Everything, Everything

I finished this book sat outside the Louvre fountains. What a wonderful place to end a wonderful story. I was so attached to the characters and empathised with Maddy the whole way through the book. (Read it before you watch it!)

6. Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project/The Rosie Effect

An incredible portrayal of ability. If you’re a reader, go and read it because it is written so well. As I read it I continued to be amazed by the fascinating characterisations. A very good role model for writers.

7. Jojo Moyes – Me Before You/After You

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Moyes is the god of writing emotive and colourful books which ooze energy and a lot of love. Oh how I hope I’m half as good as her! I hope I find my Will Traynor one day.

8. Sara Barnard – Goodbye, Perfect (proof)

Barnard is back. And what a book. The excitement of it being a proof makes the reading experience even better. I absolutely love her style and she has YA down to a tee! I’m excited for this to be published in January so I can hear what you all think of it!

9. Giovanna Fletcher – Some Kind Of Wonderful

I thoroughly enjoyed worming my way through this book. It put a whole new spin on relationships and took the pressure of being in one away from the main plot, focusing instead on what we each want as individuals. I took a lot from it, amongst many things was the desire to find myself and do things for me before getting tied up. A really lovely, honest spin on romance.

10. Roald Dahl – The BFG

I couldn’t write this without including my favourite children’s book. I reread it again this year in preparation for my MA applications. I included it in my personal statement as well as in interviews.

I just love Roald Dahl. What a hilariously imaginative writer. I absolutely loved reading him as a child and know that he definitely inspired me to want to write. He does humour, friendships, and family, along with a few odd quirks for good measure. What a man. What a writer.

 

I hope you enjoyed my top ten. It’s difficult to cut it down to so little when I’ve read so many, but I’ve enjoyed looking back over the year and reflecting on which I enjoyed. Writers read. If they don’t, they’re doing themselves an injustice. I learnt a lot from all of the books on this list, and will continue learning from all the books on my reading list.

love sophie