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PAM ROYDS 1924 - 2016

Pam Royds on Grasmere , 1971 with Sally Christie, children’s author and daughter of Philippa Pearce. I was just twenty two when I fir...

About Me

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My blog is about writing and illustrating children's books which I have been doing since 1974. www.gillianmcclure.com has all my books. I also have another blog: www.paulcoltman.blogspot.com where I publish my father's poems.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Non- fiction and reference books are possibly the worst hit by the internet where factual information is so readily available, but last week at the 2013 Educational Writers’ Award ceremony I saw a wonderful example of one of these books, published by Templar, written by Tom Adams and illustrated by Thomas Flintham. 

It was the winning book Molecule Mayhem! Steve Skidmore, one of the judges, said they chose a three dimensional, pop up book because it could do something the internet couldn’t –though no doubt it won’t be long before the internet can.

    The awards were held at the All Party Writers’ Group winter drinks reception at the House of Commons where authors can mingle with Lords and MPs who are authors themselves and who are our allies in helping safeguard the right to be appropriately paid through proper legislation. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


 It’s the question I dread, coming from any hopeful new author or illustrator. I know how painful and lonely the route can be via the Writers' and Artists' Year Book when precious manuscripts are sent off into the ether to elusive agents and publishers. So instead of sending anyone down that route, I prefer to tell them about a far more pleasant and companionable way to get published: join SCBWI. On the International SCBWI website there are resources like the Writers' and Artists' Year Book that can be downloaded and on the British SCBWI website there's information about the master classes and opportunities throughout the year to meet people in the UK publishing industry.
    Then there’s the annual conference in Winchester with so many pleasant ways of feeling part of the world of children’s books:
you can feel inspired by meeting an author at the pinnacle of it all; here, the Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman – you can even go to one of her writing workshops.
Or, if you're an illustrator, you can see how it is possible to get published at a young age like Catherine Rayner
and then be nurtured through the first years of your career by a friendly editor like Jude Evans.
There are opportunities to have your work noticed in one-to-ones with agents, show your portfolio to the industry professionals, or exhibit a picture in the Illustrators Show Case run by Bridget Strevens-Marzo

and Anne-Marie Perks. 

There’s a relevant workshops for everyone – whether inspired fun at Visual Story Telling with renowned author/illustrator Alexis Deacon

or serious getting to grips with publicity at Navigating Social Media with Nicola Morgan.
And SCBWI has competitions too, like Undiscovered Voices, that help newcomers on their route to becoming published authors.
Then, when eventually your book is published there's the Crystal Kite Award, won this year by Dave Cousins. It's a peer nominated book award that will make you an 'award winning' author.
And even if you don't win it,  there will be many friends to cheer you on and celebrate with you at the Mass Book Launch Party 
and share with you a slice of the wonderful book cake.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Victor Watson’s fourth book, Everyone A Stranger in his WW2 Paradise Barn series has just been published by Catnip. Spanning 5 years 1940- 45, the stories are set in an imaginary Fenland  village,Great Deeping but the war narrative expands out to encompass London, Wales and the historic events unfolding in France, Germany and Japan.
The children are about ten years old at the start of the series and in their teens by book four. Does this mean you were writing for an older reader by the end of the series?

Not really. Young readers often do prefer fictional characters close to their own age, so I understand that some children might be put off. But the language and sentence-construction in the fourth book is not very different from the first. If it is more suited to older readers, it’s more likely to be because of the structure. There are several sub-plots and a lot of characters, as well as a number of ‘flash-forwards’ to the year 2006. So I was not writing for older readers, but I was aware of the possibility that readers would be older.

Tell me more about the ‘flash-forwards’ in Everyone A Stranger when the children are in their sixties or seventies.

I tried to avoid changes in style. But the flash-forwards in Everyone A Stranger had to be thought out very carefully. My editor was very unhappy with them, and I saw her point. I addressed her concern by shaping them so that the first is very short and comes quite late in the narrative; the second is a bit longer; the third is longer still; and so on, until the last is the longest of all and concludes the novel. The idea was that the reader would be taken gradually into this new set-up and grow accustomed to it by the end. Margaret Meek once said that often a book for children has its own built-in lessons to teach the child how to read it. She was referring to Rosie’s Walk, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t also be true of novels.

I know you go into schools a lot, which age group do you talk to if there is this age span?

Year 6 children are the ideal audience, but I often talk to Year 5s as well. Year 7 children are excellent too, but because they are usually in secondary schools I rarely get a chance to talk to them (except in middle schools in Suffolk). Sometimes Year 4 children can be very responsive and engaged if they have studied WW2. Year 3 children are usually a little out of their depths.

Barns are fascinating places for children to play in. As a child my favourite book was Eleanor Graham’s The Children who Live in a Barn and also the film Whistle Down the Wind  with Hayley Mills and Alan Bates. Were these barns at the back of your mind when you created your own Paradise Barn?

I too loved The Children Who Lived in a Barn but I didn’t know the Alan Bates film until I was an adult. The barns that influenced me most, I think, were actual barns I knew as a boy. Wonderful magical playgrounds, with places to hide in and old machinery to mess around on. Bliss! In fiction and films, they are usually places where dramatic things happen and important learning takes place.

One of the characters is an evacuee named Adam. Were you drawing on your own WW2 experiences when you created him?

Very little! I do remember the night the evacuees arrived in my village. But Adam himself is an entirely made up character. I built up Molly and Abigail systematically, but Adam leapt into my mind like a picture, ready-formed, with most of his characteristics. I have no idea why he was an artist and so good at drawing (I’m not!). On one school visit I met a mother who asked me if I knew that Adam is autistic. Her son was autistic, she said, and he and she both knew at once that Adam was too. I’m not sure I agree with her, and I certainly didn’t intend him to be.

I like the Author’s notes at the end of each book saying where you found your material but there were also some very vivid wartime cameos that made me wonder whether these were your own experiences. For example the sirens in The Deeping Secrets:
As she awoke. The air-raid siren was finishing its weird up-and-down whooping and was beginning its dismal fade out. It always seemed to Molly that those final growling notes made the saddest sound in the world.’ 

Also, the school assembly and the description of the blitz in Paradise Barn.

The sirens; having to get into the air-raid shelter; the constant passing overhead of bombers and fighters; military convoys passing through country towns; and a thousand other small details – these are all things that I remember clearly. And as for school assemblies – I have been present at so many, as a child, as a teacher, as a teacher-trainer. They have been a central feature of my life! An assembly today in a small village school in East Anglia is not very different from one in the 1940s. But I’ve never been bombed; the blitz in Paradise Barn and the V1s and V2s in Everyone A Stranger were all made up.

Which aspects of WW2 most interest children of today?

The notion of children being taken away from their families is always of interest to them. They are often interested in quite technical matters too, to do with bombs, or aircraft. I often read the blitz episode on visits to schools, but I’ve noticed that the children always grow particularly quiet and still when it seems for a moment or two that Molly and Adam are going to be locked in a prison cell. I think they are more appalled by that than by houses being obliterated by falling bombs.

Besides Adam, the constant characters in the series are two girls, Molly and Abigail and baby William. Then in book 2 The Deeping Secrets Edward and Jo join them and in book 3 Hidden Lies, Cassie and Hamish.
Was it tricky making your series appeal to both boys and girls? What is the response of girls when you take the books into schools? There’s a lot about aircraft but you have Hilda Pritt in the ATA flying planes.

I can truthfully say that I have never given any thought to this. Children’s books when I was young usually gave all the action to the boy characters, and the girls got to watch! Or make the sandwiches. So I was determined to avoid that. But beyond that issue, I made no special provision. If the books appeal to both sexes (as they seem to do), it’s because it’s just happened that way. I enjoyed creating the character of Hilda Pritt, but she’s not there to make a feminist point.

There are some rip-roaring, fast paced adventures in the series: a tense ‘who done it’ with murder clues in Paradise Barn, a spy and train drama in The Deeping Secrets, the book in code in Hidden Lies, and an art theft in Everyone a Stranger.  But there are also quiet passages and strands that explore the morality of war: betrayal, lies and murder in wartime:
‘The murder was incomprehensible. An impossible thought. Every night, enemy airmen flew over England intent upon killing thousands of people. Yet this one murder, this single death, stuck in the throat. It was unnatural, unthinkable.’ 

You have been praised for the pacing of your writing. Getting the pace right over a series of books must be challenging. As the characters grow older do you change the pace of the narrative?

There has been a change, I think. But it’s more likely to be because I’ve got better at fast-pacing, not because the fictional characters grow older. The trick is to move the action forward and to indicate the characters’ thoughts and motives without stopping to explain them. Some things have to be explained, but mostly I’m finding that less is more.

Returning to Adam, he is an unusual child with artistic talent and this art theme is  woven into the wartime narrative when we read about the National Gallery pictures being hidden down the Welsh mines in The Deeping Secrets and  culminating in Everyone a Stranger where his drawings in the style of Picasso are stolen and sold on the black market.
What prompted you to introduce the art theme?

I have no idea! When Adam first came into my head he was drawing a strip. I don’t know why. However, once the art idea was there, it seemed to attract other narrative ideas to itself – for example, the National Gallery, his ability to think through drawing (the gun in Cuffy’s pocket), and his ultimate defeat of Frosty Winters in the last book. This often happens: I have something new I want to include – and it brings in its wake a whole crowd of other possible ideas, some of which might be very exciting.

Did you plan from the start how the series would develop or did it simply evolve?

I didn’t ever plan to write a series – but I have been devoted to series fiction since I was a boy (Arthur Ransome, Malcolm Saville, Biggles). Later, in adult life, I wrote a book about series fiction. So perhaps it was inevitable that my first novel for children should lead to a sequel, and then another, and so on. I didn’t exactly plan the series, but at some stage I knew I had to take my three main characters right through the War to 1945. None of these decisions could really be called ‘planning’.

Were some books easier to write than others? Or as your characters developed did it become easier to write each new book?

I think the answer to this is No. You derive a confidence from the fact that the first book has been published and is being read by readers. That’s all, and it’s a help, though no guarantee of future success.

Everyone a Stranger is set in 1945 at the end of WW2: ‘a change from a world at war to a world at peace’ as the blackout ends and the street lights come back on.
Is this the natural end of the series or do you have plans for more books?

More books are planned, and they are likely to be set in Great Deeping. That seems now to be my preferred imaginative space. But I doubt if I’ll write any more about the War. I think I’ve finished with that. But any of my three main characters might make a guest appearance in a novel about other characters entirely. Who knows?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


I've just completed marketing the latest Plaister Press book to UK independent bookshops. This year I thought I should phone before mailing anything off, just to check who was still there and who wasn't. Booksellers were happy to talk about their shops:
'Yes, we're still here -just' - many said.
A few said 'Things are improving,' but others were reducing their opening hours or just there until Christmas before retiring or looking for someone else to take over. The worst call was hearing the automated voice tell me ‘this number is no longer in service.’ Fearing the worst, I would then google the bookshop before adding it to the indie cemetery. Below are three of the casualties.

And here are some of the very sad headstones:
‘End of an era for…’
‘Final chapter ends for…’
‘Family bookshop to close…’
‘A family bookshop is being liquidated after 30 years…’
‘Book lovers have been stunned by the news that the landmark bookshop will shut its doors for the last time…’
‘…closes after 112 years in town.’
‘Owner blames internet and supermarket competition…’

This image in sepia makes the high street independent bookshop look very much a thing of the past.
‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’ someone said about another closure -Horatio's bookshop.
And that sums up the problem.

Saturday, 28 September 2013


The 2013 Me,Myself, I, Art Competition for pupils aged 4 to 16 years, organised by Chris Hiscock, Cambridge Culture for Children and Young People in partnership with Cambridge Library Service has just had its awards ceremony at Hinchingbrooke House, Huntingdon.

  This was a year-long competition with an exhibition of the finalists’ pictures travelling round various branch libraries in Cambridgeshire. It was the general public who chose the five age category winners announced at the ceremony.

   There was a big gathering, the finalists, their families and teachers all looking very smart, for there were going to be press photos. The children were excited; there was lots of delicious food and cash prizes for the winners and schools, thanks to sponsorship by ESPO. The youngest finalists - some of them very young - clung on tight to their parents throughout.

    There was an exhibition of their work and mine – for I was there to judge the overall winner; not an easy task with such a range of ages. Here are the pictures I had to chose between:

by Gracie Dean, Foundation Stage – a loose, lively painting showing Gracie on the stage fulfilling her ambition to be a singer 
by Aaron Sagoo, KS1 – a sporty, happy self portrait in bold, bright colours

by Francesca Callow, KS2 – a fascinating picture using the original idea of jigsaw puzzle pieces
by Ellie Childs, KS3 – Ellie’s use of colour and design - using the body as a framework - is striking; I saw here a natural illustrator 
by Ali Francis, KS4 – A thoughtful, well observed and imaginative drawing.
It was going to be impossible to choose just one. So I went back to the brief: 
The theme is about you, looking at yourself, your friends, your environment – as it is now, as it might be in the future or as you would like it to be if anything was possible.
And the skill focus is drawing from imagination and/or observation. 
After much deliberation, I chose Francesca Callow’s picture because it met a complex brief with wonderful simplicity; she saw her life as a jigsaw puzzle – such a great idea, for life is like a puzzle; all interlinked, with one action or decision leading to another. And I liked her choice of colour: green, suggesting growth, something natural and environmentally friendly and, superimposed in the middle, a larger piece of the jigsaw, pink and luminous - a portrait of herself. And a very good likeness, too, I discovered, when I met her in person.
I do hope the others weren't too disappointed; they all came so close to winning.
And now I will have a dose of my own medicine; my picture book, We're Going to Build a Dam has been selected for the 3-6 longlist  of the 2014 UKLA Book Awards; the only national awards judged entirely by teachers. I will have to wait until March to hear whether it gets shortlisted. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Here is Kevin Crossley-Holland giving the 2013 Pearce Memorial Lecture; the 6th in the series. Kevin’s talk ‘Footprints on the Grass’ was about gardens and children’s books. It left the audience bowled over and silent at the end. Many will want to re-visit it and this can be done as a download from the Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture website.

However, it isn't gardens that I associate Kevin with, but myths and legends. We collaborated, back in 1992, on a book for the Simon & Schuster’s gift series. Norse Myths.
It was a big book with many illustrations and I had to do them at a difficult time of my life. I was moving out of the Mill House in Whittlesford which was, ironically, the next Mill up the river Cam from the one in Shelford where Philippa Pearce had lived in as a child. The move had to be delayed six months as I tried to meet my deadline. 
Looking again at the originals - here the pyre for Balder on Ringhorn - I’m reminded of what a tricky commission it was.
 The stories were epic tales of monsters, giants, dwarfs and men, all set in an Icelandic landscape. Kevin’s re-telling of these myths was vivid, rhythmic and poetic –

‘The elves were there. The dwarfs were there. And hundreds of frost giants and rock giants stood there too, a great gang who had followed Hyrrokin out of Jotunheim. That was a vast concourse, a mingling of mourners and the merely curious on the foreshore, scuffing the strip of sand that never wholly belongs to earth or to sea.’ 

I remember being carried away by Kevin’s story telling which could be very graphic and amusing:
‘Ymir was a frost giant; he was evil from the first. While he slept, he began to sweat. A man and a woman grew out of the ooze under his left armpit, and one of his legs fathered a son on the other leg. Ymir was the forefather of all the frost giants.’
I chose to illustrate Ymir the frost giant as Odin, Vili and Ve hoisted his body onto their shoulders and carted it to the middle of Ginnungagap.
There were many strange creatures to portray: spectres – ‘No sooner was [Balder] asleep than his ghastly skull-guests crept forward yet again, monstrous forms intent on snuffling out the light of him. He threshed and kicked. He called out and his own shout woke him.’
-creatures with extra heads or legs. On the same spread as Balder and his skull-guests is Odin’s horse with its eight legs:
‘Hel’s hound heard Odin coming. The hair on Garm’s throat and chest was caked with blood and he bayed from his cliff cave at the entrance to the underworld. Odin took no notice. He galloped so hard that the frozen ground thrummed under Sleipnir’s eight hooves, and he did not let up until he had reached Hel’s forbidding hall.’
These myths held the violence of the Viking imagination; Kevin captured it in his words and I didn’t tone it down in my pictures:
‘Then Tyr slowly lifted his right arm and put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth…. Fenrir snarled and clamped his teeth; Tyr, bravest of the gods, twisted and cried out, unable and able to bear such pain. The other gods laughed, they knew that Fenrir was bound at last. They all laughed except Tyr: he lost his hand.’  
 Philippa, I remember was appalled at this image – most unsuitable for British children – though Scandinavian children, with more Viking in their blood, didn’t seem to mind it. I was appalled by something else. An error I spotted at proof stage. I'd painted a left hand and not a right hand in the wolf's mouth. I corrected it but Simon and Schuster did not make the alteration, despite the note below written by my editor indicating they needed to r-originate it.
So this is how it is in the published book. I wonder how many children have overcome their horror and spotted the mistake.

Monday, 2 September 2013


Here are some pages of two more stories done by year 8 Beaumont School pupils for their reception class ‘reading buddies.’
One of the things that I was asked to do during my workshop sessions with them was to draw on a flip chart. This is something I do badly – being used to drawing small and looking down at my drawing on a desk, not drawing large and looking up at my drawing on a flip chart. However, a bad drawing always has the desired effect – the pupils don’t feel daunted by it – they even feel they can improve on it.  And then it’s me that’s left daunted by their wonderful work!
 The other important thing to point out is that this wonderful project which promotes writing, illustrating and reading is the brain-child of the Beaumont School librarian – one of a rare and endangered species that needs to be preserved!