5 Feb

You know how when you’ve been anticipating something for SO long that when it actually arrives, you find it hard to believe?! Well, that. ELECTRIGIRL IS PUBLISHED!

And I have been blogging extensively about its process. If you’ve got a spare five or ten minutes, grab a cuppa and click on these…

A fabulous Happy Book Birthday post from Middle Grade Strikes Back, in which Cathy and I (and other people who have fab books out) answer Electrigirl birthday-related questions (and Cathy DRAWS her answers!)

Hive – an introduction to Electrigirl and the story by me, with sneak peek of inside pages!

Serendipity Reviews – my most comprehensive blog post about the road to publication for Electrigirl. With behind the scenes pics and screenshots of the files in my computer!

There are a couple more blog posts to come, but now I’m going to leave you with some pics of the preparations for today’s two launch parties – this afternoon at Edward Feild Primary School, and this evening at Blackwells in Oxford! Cathy and I are sharing our launch with Cas Lester, a fab friend with a brand new book out called WILFRED THE (UN)WISE, published by those nice folks at Piccadilly Press. And ooh, look who’s quoted on Cas’s cover!! *blush* Click on any of the photos to make them bigger.

Wilfred the Unwise cover

My new toy from Hobbycraft - a triple icing nozzle! Only a fiver too!

My new toy from Hobbycraft – a triple icing nozzle! Only a fiver too!

Loaded up and ready to ice! With my able assistant Cas

Loaded up and ready to ice! With my able assistant Cas

Cake for school launch, with book flags!

Cake for school launch, with book flags!

Rainbow cupcakes for Blackwells launch

Rainbow cupcakes for Blackwells launch

Mini rainbow cakes!

Mini rainbow cakes!

Detail from THE launch cake - a three tiered chocolate confection with electric blue icing! And if you want to see what it should look like later, hop over to the Middle Grade Strikes Back birthday post and see Cathy's drawing of it!

Detail from THE launch cake – a three tiered chocolate confection with electric blue icing! And if you want to see what it should look like later, hop over to the Middle Grade Strikes Back birthday post and see Cathy’s drawing of it!

My author copies arrived - don't they look amazing on the shelf?!

My author copies arrived – don’t they look amazing on the shelf?!

I’m so excited about today! Ooh – picking Cathy Brett up from the station in half an hour! Better get my outfit ready for our fun and games with Years 5 and 6!! :-D


26 Jan

It’s here!! I can FINALLY show you the cover of A LIBRARY OF LEMONS, my standalone novel for 9-12s with Piccadilly Press, out in May! This book has gone through such a ‘journey’ (argh!) and I am really, really proud of it. So I am delighted to say that I absolutely adore this cover and I think it’s perfect for the book. Thank you so much to the fab team at Piccadilly and the artist Sarah Dennis, who creates amazing and beautiful papercuts. Thanks also to lovely Linda Newbery for such a perfect quote in her advance copy review!



A poignant story about dealing with grief through the magic of reading and friendship.

Calypso’s mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can’t, or won’t, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there’s never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction.

When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls’ shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae’s friendship and her lively and chaotic home – where people argue and hug each other – make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus – and Calypso’s happiness starts to unravel.

There’s so much enthusiasm for my OUP book ELECTRIGIRL at the moment – which is out in ten days’ time, eep! But I also can’t wait to share this book, a very, very different type of story but one which has so far made everyone who’s read it cry…! If you loved LOOKING AT THE STARS, this will be right up your literary street :-)

And now – hamster parkour

21 Jan

Because sometimes, that’s JUST what your day needs…!

Do you think this works with guinea pigs? *makes note to try with our own*

Happy birthday to me!

15 Jan

It’s my birthday! It’s a so-called ‘big’ one too, which I thought I was fine about, and then I woke up and went, ‘Oh no, I’m FORTY! WAAAAHHHH!’

It’s funny how numbers play such a big part in our lives. My youngest daughter is extremely insistent that she’s ‘Three AND A HALF’ at the moment (she isn’t, she’s three and three-quarters, but we’re not splitting hairs). When you’re a child, every quarter makes a big difference. I can remember feeling faintly embarrassed that, at the age of 12, I was in love with a boy who was a whole nine months younger. It made a big difference back then.

For the past few years I have occasionally forgotten my exact age, because it just hasn’t seemed to matter. But now I have a number with a ZERO in it again, and whoooaaa, I’m not sure I like it!

So, to lessen the pain of moving into a new decade, I am celebrating LOTS of nice things today:

  • a handmade card from my 7-year-old, proudly proclaiming ‘I Love You’ *melts*
  • wonderful cuddles from my children
  • sympathy and support from my husband, who faces the same birthday in only two days’ time and is struggling with it just as much as I am. We’re planning an extra nice weekend :-)
  • over a hundred messages from friends on Facebook wishing me a happy birthday
  • some lovely presents from very kind people
  • a hot chocolate with a shot of Cointreau in it, instead of my morning decaf coffee. YUM. Accompanied by two pieces of delicious home-made tiffin from my friend and neighbour Esther. YUM YUM
  • an acceptance on a new book – a short one for young children which I’m really looking forward to writing!
  • The arrival of my advance copy of ELECTRIGIRL!!! Not published until 4th Feb (though there are already reviews on Amazon which are making me VERY HAPPY), this beauty has reached me TODAY, which is just PERFECT and reminds me that time means nothing, since this book has been in development for three years and sometimes I thought it would never happen!
ELECTRIGIRL in all her glory - backed by presents from friends who know me well!

ELECTRIGIRL in all her glory – backed by presents from friends who know me well! And surrounded by beautiful sparkly button badges from http://www.buttonbadges.co.uk to help celebrate the book!

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing today, I hope you can make a list of nice things too! Happy Friday!

Happy New Year! (all right, all right, a bit late)

8 Jan

So WHOOSH I guess that was the end of 2015 whizzing by! It has been MAD here. I’ve been working like crazy and then of course there was something called Christmas to sort out…

Christmas Day hat and hysteria

Christmas Day hat and hysteria

and now it’s 2016 and I am plunging back into work with barely time to draw breath. Which is GREAT, by the way! I love being busy! And 2016 looks set to be my busiest year yet! This is a little snippet of what’s coming up…

  • 4th February: ELECTRIGIRL is finally published!! Too much excitement for words
  • Also in February: I’ll be visiting six schools in Bury over two days (phew!) as well as events at Edward Feild School in Kidlington and Didcot Girls’ School in – well – Didcot
  • March: visits to Burford School and Rye St Antony, as well as Oxford Comic Con as a punter :-)
  • Sunday 3rd April: I’ll be appearing alongside my collaborator illustrator extraordinaire Cathy Brett at the Oxford Literary Festival, woop woop! You can buy tickets here
  • Saturday 23rd April: Cathy and I will be appearing at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. It’s not officially official yet, but since I’m one of the programmers of the children’s events (alongside my lovely pal John Dougherty) I think it’s really not a spoiler to say I’ll be doing an event!
  • 5th May: A LIBRARY OF LEMONS is finally published! And anyone who knows me will know how VERY RELIEVED I am that this is the case. Possibly the most drafts on a book EVER but everyone who’s read it so far has wept bucketloads, so I’m taking that as a good sign
  • August: ELECTRIGIRL AND THE DEADLY SWARM is published!
  • Autumn: PICTURE HIM, a new reluctant reader story with Ransom Publishing, is published. Also AS YOU LIKE IT, my retelling for Collins Big Cats

There may well be a couple more festivals in there too, and definitely more school events, so I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied! Right now, though, I’m working on two new books for A&C Black, to be published next year, and a possible new book for Piccadilly Press.

Better get on with it then! Happy New Year to you all! Byeee!

Lemons in foreign languages, and encouraging teens to write bad language

26 Nov

I have been in full-on ‘Get Through To Do List’ mode recently! Latest crucial things have been edits on Electrigirl 2 (Electrigirl and the Deadly Swarm, out next Aug) and trying to come up with an idea for 5-7 year-olds as I’d been asked to pitch for a specific range by a publisher. Also I made a speech at Burford School’s Annual Charter Day (senior prizegiving, to me and you) which went really well, and I ran some school workshops for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival with my good friend John Dougherty.

Last week was quite busy and tiring, so I was really over the moon to get some great news on Friday afternoon – A LIBRARY OF LEMONS had gone to auction in Germany! For those who go, ‘huh?’ at this, let me explain. ALOL is being published by Piccadilly Press next May. They have world rights to the text, which means that they can publish it here in the UK and also sell it to publishers in other countries to be translated. On Friday, three German publishers bid against each other in an auction because they all wanted the book so much! I can’t tell you how exciting it was, or how thrilled I was. ALOL has been a very difficult book to get right, and there were times that I really wasn’t sure I’d ever manage to satisfy my agent or my editors!

I was so, so delighted by the outcome of the auction that on Saturday I went into Oxford to Blackwells bookshop and bought twelve books for disadvantaged children on their Giving Tree. The Giving Tree makes me cry just thinking about it. It’s very simple – kids in care, or in poverty, those who are being supported by charities like Barnados. These kids might not get any presents this year. But you can buy them a book, which might actually (given then stats) be the first book they’ve ever owned.

Blackwells has a Christmas tree set up in the store, decorated with red tags. Each tag represents a child. They say things like, ‘9 year old boy likes books about space’ or ‘2 year old girl would like a sticker book’. Last year I helped to launch the Giving Tree, and I had to limit myself severely to buying four books. I wanted to buy a book for every child on the tree, but an author’s earnings really don’t stretch to that… However, the German deal means I have some money coming to me that I didn’t expect, and so what better way to spend it than to buy books for kids who don’t have any?

When I’d spent a lot of money on books, I went to the shoe shop and bought something for myself too, to celebrate. I’ve been hankering after these for a while…aren’t they beautiful?

Wonder Woman onverses!

Wonder Woman converses!

And then on Sunday I did something completely different again. This is my third appearance at Banbury Literary Live, the lit festival held at the North Oxfordshire Academy in Banbury. It’s a brilliant concept – you buy one ticket for the whole day and go to whichever events take your fancy. Such a good way of running a one-day festival! This year the organisers had asked me to run a workshop for teenagers as my alter ego Joanna Kenrick. I took along copies of Red Tears and Screwed (my teenage novels for Faber, now, sadly, out of print, but I’m hoping to release them as ebooks soon) and encouraged them to write a scene that felt REAL and covered at least one issue eg depression, self-harm, violence, pornography, gender confusion, sexuality etc. I had a small audience but goodness me, they were BRILLIANT. Got straight down to writing – none of this, ‘I don’t know what to write’ business that I usually get from kids in writing workshops. I said they could put in as many swear words as they liked, or as much violence or sex – and it was hard to STOP them writing! Two of them even volunteered to read out their work at the end, which was incredibly brave of them. Their pieces were really powerful, and I think everyone there was so impressed.

It made me wish I did more workshops like that, with older teens. This is something that’s hard to do in schools because from the age of 14, students are locked into a severely restrictive timetable. Such a shame, because those young people had talent and ideas and more than that – a desire to write.

Thanks to the organisers of Banbury Literary Live for inviting me along again, and I look forward to next year!

Sarah McIntyre re-draws Star Crossed

12 Nov Sarah McIntyre Star Crossed

I love social media. Where else could you get an award-winning illustrator to re-draw one of your own book covers in under five minutes for a laugh? Thank you, Sarah McIntyre, for this wonderful re-imagining of my first Sweet Hearts book, Star Crossed!

Sarah McIntyre Star Crossed

And here’s the original, designed by Helen Huang and the team at Random House:

STAR CROSSED front nov2011

If you like Sarah’s style, you should check out her awesome website HERE! And thanks for being such a good sport, Sarah!

A wonderful afternoon at the Oxfordshire Book Awards 2015

6 Nov

We all like to feel special, don’t we? And sometimes for writers that can be difficult. We work in isolation most of the time; we are now (through social media) more aware than ever of what other writers and publishers are up to (which means we know when we haven’t been invited to launches or parties or when our publisher has made a huge offer for a brand new book just after they’ve turned down our own); and the precious little space given to reporting of children’s books means that most new publications don’t get reviewed. And there are the awards – which we all try very hard not to want, but can’t help dreaming about.

For those of us who just want to write books for kids and enjoy the process, it can be a bit daunting to navigate the emotional waters of publishing. Which is why it’s always so wonderful to have a letter from a child saying how much they enjoyed your book. And which is why I was really properly utterly thrilled to go along to the Oxfordshire Book Awards yesterday and pick up a cup – A REAL CUP!! – for Looking at the Stars, which took the ‘Highly Commended’ prize in the secondary category. My first ever book prize!


I’ve been gatecrashing the OBAs since 2011 when Malorie Blackman won for Boys Don’t Cry. It’s always a fantastic occasion, with hundreds of kids from around thirty schools involved in the judging process and ceremony. So many members of staff work extra time just to make it happen – and the tea and cake and bookselling reception afterwards is always buzzing. In the earlier years, I looked on in envy as children with just-bought books flocked to the winners, forming long queues and wanting to share their reading experiences with the authors. Having grown up in Oxfordshire, I hold particular affection for these awards and I told myself: one day – that might be me.

Yesterday, it was. And it was brilliant.

Left to right: me, Robin Stevens, Sue Heap and Teresa Heapy

Left to right: me, Robin Stevens, Sue Heap and Teresa Heapy (photo by Mark Thornton from Mostly Books)

Thank you so much to the organisers and sponsors for making it happen (and for the cake!). Thank you to Oxford High for hosting, and for Alec Williams for MCing so beautifully. Thank you to Mostly Books in Abingdon for being stellar booksellers as always. Thank you most of all, of course, to the kids who read the books and argued with each other passionately about which should win. The awards are entirely voted-for by children, which is extra specially nice for an author. A huge thank you also to Emma from Marlborough School for reading her wonderful review of my book as an introduction:

“It made me think of how girls, the same age as me, survive their situation, How girls in war-torn countries around the world deal with their circumstances. The book encourages us to see light in the darkest times as courageous and beautiful Amina does. She is such a strong-minded and loving character who never gives up hope on those that she loves and, I think, is an inspiration to us all. I valued the seriousness of this book as it showed me what really happens in the world and about how lucky I am…The book shows how stories can change things, like the thoughts in my head…the wonderful stories Amina tells makes the people feel free. The camp restricts them but their minds are open and running on imagination. Jo Cotterill talks of how, however enclosed and fenced off you are, the mind can escape to wonderful places as high as the stars with the power of storytelling.”

A fantastic review of which I am very proud – thank you, Emma.

This is the full list of winners for the awards – it was lovely to share the stage with Robin, Teresa and Sue! Sadly Marcus couldn’t join us but he sent a fab video message. It was also lovely to see Matt Brown and Virginia Bergin as fellow authors in the audience – Matt was shortlisted for Compton Valance in the primary category.

Best Secondary Novel

Winner – She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Highly Commended – Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

Best Primary Novel

Winner – Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Highly Commended – Goth Girl & the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

Best Picture Book

Winner – Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy & Sue Heap

Highly Commended – There’s a Shark in the Bath by Sarah MacIntyre

Today I am back to earth with a bump, rushing to hit a deadline and trying to catch up on emails. But I still have a very lovely glow from yesterday and I’m sure it’ll last quite some time :-)

Did I mention there was CAAAAAKE?!!

Did I mention there was CAAAAAKE?!!

Joe All Alone – review

30 Oct

joe all aloneJoe All Alone, by Joanna Nadin, is written in such a strong voice that for the first half of the book I felt drawn to writing my review in the same style. It would, I felt, have been entering into the spirit of Joe, who is a boy who desperately wants to do the right thing despite his situation. But halfway through the book I changed my mind, because spirit is one thing, but deprivation and neglect are something quite different.

Joe lives with his mum and her boyfriend Dean, who is about as unpleasant as someone can get without being physically violent. Joe’s mum has made a series of unfortunate mistakes when it comes to men, it seems – though at least her previous man, Carl, had money so that although he was also a wrong ’un, they lived in a nice house in a nice area. Not now – Joe’s apartment is on the top floor of a small block of flats in Peckham, and Dean is so bigoted and racist, he’s made sure that Joe doesn’t have any friends among their neighbours.

Which turns out to be unfortunate, because when disaster strikes, Joe has no one to turn to. His mum and Dean head off to Spain, leaving him £20 and the promise to return in a week. I loved this first section of the book because it rang so very true. This is no Lord of the Flies; Joe doesn’t go and blow the whole lot on sweets. He’s a highly responsible boy for thirteen, with a very good idea of exactly what he’s going to need financially, and he knows how to budget. Instead, what we get is a very subtle description of Joe’s developing sense of relief that Dean is no longer there. A weight has been lifted; he has a whole week before that awful man returns, and the effect on Joe is substantial. Dean is still there, in his head, but as the days pass, Joe grows in confidence in his own abilities and even starts up a friendship with Asha, a girl Dean would definitely not approve of, being ‘not like us’. Asha is delightful – coming from a family with their own problems, she nonetheless has great emotional maturity and a deep sense of loyalty.

Mum and Dean don’t return on the appointed day – which is a problem because the money has run out, and Joe is being menaced by a bully at school. And this is where the book starts to take a darker turn, and where you’ll be unable to put it down. As a reader, I wanted so much for everything to turn out OK for Joe. As a writer, I had full confidence in Joanna not to tie everything up in a big bow!

Joe All Alone is a great book, simple in concept and linear in execution but powerfully written in a way that any young person should be able to connect to. There’s swearing but it’s not gratuitous, it’s real, and there’s a romance, which develops more than I was expecting but is similarly real and is a glimmer of niceness for Joe in an otherwise bleak world. I read Jo’s last book EDEN and raved about it here. This is a very different beast but no less brilliant.

On a side note, I couldn’t help noticing that both Jo and I have recently created male characters called Joe in our books (mine is brother to Electrigirl, out next Feb). I wonder if there’s a point in our lives that we unconsciously want to use our own names in our books to immortalise ourselves in some way…? Only to write about a heroine called Jo might be seen as egotistical, so we craftily gender-swap and add an extra ‘e’…! Have any other writers done this, I wonder?


Joe All Alone is out now and published by Little, Brown. It’s warm, funny, frightening and real, and everyone should read it. And then go read Eden too.

The Jo Cotterill UKMG Extravaganza write up!

18 Oct

Whew! What a fab day I had yesterday! 32 (yes, that’s right, THIRTY-TWO) authors who write books for the 8-12 age range got together at Nottingham Central Library to talk about their books to a packed-out room of eager readers! I am still recovering from the awesomeness, so here are some photos to give you a flavour of the event.

Thanks to Cas Lester and John Dougherty for being my chauffeurs for the day, to Julia Golding and Susie Day for travelling camaraderie, and to Paula Rawsthorne for her incredible compering. Biggest thanks of all to Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery for setting the whole thing up – RESPECT!

UKMG bunting!

UKMG bunting!

The library has our books on display!

The library has our books on display!

The audience listens to Paula explain how the afternoon will work - there was no room for the authors to sit down, LOL!

The audience listens to Paula explain how the afternoon will work – there was no room for the authors to sit down, LOL!

We were divided into panels of four to 'pitch' our books - L-R Tamsyn Murray, Cas Lester, Kate Maryon and Matt Ralphs

We were divided into panels of four to ‘pitch’ our books – L-R Tamsyn Murray, Cas Lester, Kate Maryon and Matt Ralphs

There were badges!

There were badges!

There was swag!

There was swag!

There was Kerry Drewery stealing the swag ;-)

There was Kerry Drewery stealing the swag ;-)

There were Fleur Hitchcock's teeny tiny shrunken copies of her book SHRUNK (CLEVER!!)

There were Fleur Hitchcock’s teeny tiny shrunken copies of her book SHRUNK (CLEVER!!)

John Dougherty put the rest of us to shame by SINGING his book Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face

John Dougherty put the rest of us to shame by SINGING his book Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face

I love this pic. This girl is going, ‘I could have been at HOME…’

I went as Electrigirl, natch! (photo by the fabulous Chelley Toy, who is SUCH a supporter of all things UKYA and UKMG)

I went as Electrigirl, natch! (photo by the fabulous Chelley Toy, who is SUCH a supporter of all things UKYA and UKMG)

Emma and Kerry revealed the venue for the next UKYA/UKMG events - Newcastle!

Emma and Kerry revealed the venue for the next UKYA/UKMG events – Newcastle!

I delivered thank you presents to the organisers and clearly said something VERY witty...

I delivered thank you presents to the organisers and clearly said something VERY witty… photo by Candy Gourlay

So fab to meet up with lovely author pal Linda Chapman

So fab to meet up with lovely author pal Linda Chapman

Group photo by Peter Bunzl

Group photo by Peter Bunzl

Another group photo! Taken on my camera by the fab L.D.Lapinski - so nice to meet you!

Another group photo! Taken on my camera by the fab L.D.Lapinski – so nice to meet you!

Thanks to all involved behind the scenes as well – esp Library staff and Waterstones seller. I came home with a bag bulging with books too – that’s everyone’s Christmas presents sorted, cheers!


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