Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Cover reveals: Defender of the Realm series by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

Today we are very excited to be hosting not one but two cover reveals celebrating the new edition of Defender of the Realm out in April and the new book Defender of the Realm: Dark Age out in June

First up we have the new cover for the new edition of Defender of the Realm (published 6th April)

Alfie thought he knew his destiny. He didn't know the half of it. Fourteen-year-old heir to the throne, Alfie, didn't expect to be King so soon. He DEFINITELY did not expect to be DEFENDER OF THE REALM, a legendary superhero, fighting a secret, centuries-long battle to protect the nation from monsters and super-villains. An ordinary girl, Hayley Hicks, finds herself fighting alongside Alfie in a desperate struggle to stop a fearsome new enemy, the Black Dragon.

and next we have the cover for Defender of The Realm: Dark Age (out on 1st June)

After the great battle at King Alfie’s coronation, the nation thinks it’s seen the last of the Black Dragon, and Alfie gets busy learning what it means to fill his father’s shoes. But when a band of undead Vikings appears, Alfie, Hayley and the rest of the Yeoman Warders fear that Professor Lock is back to finish what he’s started. For the epic battle that’s brewing, Alfie will need to enlist help from abroad, as well as from a mysterious new friend who seems to be watching over him…

Monday, 27 February 2017

#CoverKidsBooks – One Year On

One year ago, #CoverKidsBooks launched a campaign to get more media coverage for children's books.  We presented research that showed children's books were getting just 3% of all book review space in national newspapers, despite accounting for over 30% of the UK book market.

Since then, their market share has continued to grow.  Children's literature – by which we mean the entire range of books for young readers, from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry – now accounts for 34% of all print books sold in the UK, according to The Bookseller.

What about media coverage?  One year on, has that grown too?

For our first #CoverKidsBooks blog, Imogen Russell Williams counted the number of reviews and column inches given to children's books in UK national newspapers in August 2015.  Isabel Popple and Naomi Burt have done the same for August 2016.  Here are their findings.

Weekend Newspapers, August 2016

All Book reviews
Children's Book Reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches
Sunday Times
Sunday Telegraph
Sunday Express
Mail On Sunday
Sunday Mirror

For comparison, here is the bottom line of the August 2015 data; the full table can be seen in the original blog:


The good news is that children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews, an increase on 4.9% last year. 

The bad news is that they still receive only 3.2% of all book review space, virtually unchanged from 3.1% last year.


Children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews.  This is heartening given the shrinking number of book reviews as a whole.  Every newspaper we surveyed reviewed fewer books in 2016 than in 2015, and in every newspaper we surveyed, the column inches given to books as a whole shrank as well.  Many newspapers announced cuts to books staff and space, while The Independent and The Independent On Sunday ceased to exist at all as physical entities.  But while it is a step in the right direction, 7.7% remains a massive under-representation for over a field that accounts for 34% of the market.


#CoverKidsBooks wrote an open letter to national newspapers last year, printed in The Bookseller, calling on them to commit to covering at least one children's book a week.  Back in August 2015, only two newspapers averaged one children's book review a week or more, and only one actually published a children's book review every single week.

By August 2016, the numbers had doubled.  Four newspapers now averaged one children's book review a week or more (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph), while two of them (The Times and The Daily Telegraph) had a dependable slot every single week.  These are very welcome developments, and the editors of those newspapers deserve great credit for them. 

It should also be said that The Observer has just changed its policy, introducing a new Children's Book Of The Week slot on January 29 2017 – another hugely welcome development that should encourage all who care about children's literature.  #CoverKidsBooks would like to thank and applaud The Observer New Review's editor Jane Ferguson, its literary editor Lisa O'Kelly, and its arts editor Sarah Donaldson, and we urge all remaining national newspapers who have yet to commit to covering at least one children's book a week to follow their example. 


Despite these improvements, children's books are still receiving the same proportion of space, getting just 3.2% of all book review column inches.  Children's book reviews remain shorter than other book reviews, which is why the figure for column inches is smaller than that for the number of reviews.  For example, look at The Guardian's figures across the two years:

All Book reviews
Children's Book reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches

14 children's books were reviewed in August 2016, a huge increase from 4 in 2015 – yet the space devoted to children's books has actually shrunk from 58 inches in 2015 to 37.5 inches in 2016.  This is because The Guardian has moved from printing a long review every week to just one long review a month, along with a monthly roundup.  The roundup has greatly increased the range of children's books covered by The Guardian.  But 13 of the 14 books reviewed received a mention in the roundup, rather than a full review of their own.  

The Guardian's current policy means that no more than 12 children's books can receive a full review each year.  Only 12 children's books are considered worthy of the space and critical attention given to other kinds of books. 

The field of children's literature is going from strength to strength, constantly expanding in size and increasing in quality.  The bestseller lists are full of children's books, with Harry Potter & The Cursed Child topping the 2016 list. 

Meanwhile, in libraries, the PLR figures are dominated by children's books.  65% of the top 20 most borrowed authors are children's authors.  The success of the field is snowballing, as more and more new writers are attracted to it, as the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and Brandford Boase lists demonstrate each year. 

There is every indication that the field will continue to grow in commercial and cultural significance.  Philip Pullman has just announced that his long-awaited follow-up to His Dark Materials, The Book Of Dust, will publish its first volume this year.  James Daunt of Waterstones estimated that this book alone would have a 2% impact on Waterstones' entire revenues, worth around £8 million. 

As Pullman himself told #CoverKidsBooks, in our writers & illustrators blog:  "There ought to be a space in the mainstream media, in the book pages, for coverage of children's books.  It's important that the general reader sees children's books being discussed intelligently."

Books cannot be discussed intelligently without space.  3% of space for over 30% of the market is simply not enough.  There is of course a lot of excellent children's books coverage online.  But print coverage remains vital.  Huge numbers of newspaper-reading adults need to know about children's literature: parentsteachersbooksellers, librarians, and all the other buyers and recommenders of children's books, as well as adults who read them for their own enjoyment.   

So while we are encouraged by the progress we've seen in the last year, and while we understand that space for books coverage in print as a whole is shrinking, we would like to see newspapers give children's books a fairer proportion of whatever space there is.  

#CoverKidsBooks calls on all national newspapers to make a clear statement that children's books matter as much as any other books.  We urge them to give children's literature a proportion of space that reflects its significance as the most dynamic part of the publishing industry, and a vital part of the nation's cultural life.  

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks! 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Guest Post: Ally Kennen on what she loves about writing for children

We are big fans of Ally Kennen's here and can't wait to read The Everything Machine! We're excited to have her talking about what she loves about writing for children.

Do I love writing for children? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes absolutely not. On the ‘yes’ days the writing flows, the words tumble, I laugh at my genius jokes and amusing quips. Maybe it will distract some little soul somewhere. Maybe it will encourage a horde of naughty lads to go and read something richer afterwards, and then something else and then something else. Perhaps my wisdom and wit will entertain, guide, enlighten.. who knows?

On some of the ‘yes’ days I get to go visit schools and meet Actual Children. This is always humbling and makes me want to up my game. These kids are being exposed to my ramblings. I must sharpen up, make it for them, crack on with the story, don’t leave anyone out!

On other ‘Yes’ days I get to try out drafts of books on my own children. I have four of them. They’ve all had to endure first drafts and I am rewarded with their brutal X-Factor panel style judgements. But my eldest son is 9 and a half and DOES NOT WANT ME TO READ TO HIM ANYMORE (emojj’s of horror/terror etc) so I am sneakily writing a football book. He loves football and cannot resist a football story, so now I get to read to him again. AND I get to write a book with a guaranteed audience. (currently of one, but you never know)

Then there are the No days. When I’d rather scrub out the dustbin or clean the toilet than write another word. But I think this would be the case if I was writing for children or adults. Sometimes my brain doesn’t fire up, or it is clogged with too many distractions, or I am simply not inspired.

I don’t hold with the notion that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. There are plenty of glorious children’s books that are far richer and more elegant than any amount of books for adults. (and plenty that aren’t.. ha ha) We children’s authors also have to compete against a myriad of more immediate entertainments. How can we possibly make our stories more alluring than the latest must-have game, with all its addictive ploys and tricks? Maybe the children’s book is DYING! like stamp collecting and dissecting tadpoles for fun. (though book sales data seems to suggest otherwise, that lots of children still read hurrah hurrah)

And so my latest book (this is a Yes day now) is all about some kids who are utterly addicted to a computer game, MAZZO. But something arrives at their house which is even more compelling and fun.

It’s Russell, a state of the art, cutting edge, globally created, sentient 3D printer. It is The Everything Machine!

The Everything Machine by
Ally Kennen

Three kids let loose with a top-secret magical machine with a mind of it's own . . . What could possibly go wrong?

Olly, Stevie and Bird have just had a very special delivery. It's a machine that has a name, can speak and is able to print ANYTHING they want it to. How about a never-ending supply of sweets and a cool swimming pool in the shed, for starters?

But is getting everything you've ever wished for all it's cracked up to be?

Information about the Book

Title: The Everything Machine
Author: Ally Kennen
Release Date: 2nd February 2017
Genre: MG
Publisher: Scholastic UK
Format: Paperback

Author Information

Ally Kennen has been an archaeologist, museum guard and singer-songwriter. Her dark and thrilling teen novels have been nominated for over eleven literary awards. She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.

Tour Schedule
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Monday 13th February

Tuesday 14th February

Wednesday 15th February

Thursday 16th February

Friday 17th February

Saturday 18th February

Sunday 19th February

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Gareth P Jones On The Idea For Pet Defenders

Great to talk to a favourite author of ours, Gareth P Jones, on how he came up with the idea for the Pet Defenders series! Book 1, Attack of the Alien Dung - illustrated by Steve May - comes out on Thursday 9th February, published by Stripes.

Pet Defenders – The Idea

2017 sees the publication of my fourth book series. Following on from The Dragon Detective Agency, Ninja Meerkats and Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates comes Pet Defenders. You might think it would get easier. It doesn’t.

I first came up with this idea in 2011 for an experimental weekly online project. I wrote a synopsis then we filmed an introduction with comedian Marcus Brigstocke in a video produced by animation director Andy Walker (a very clever chap who does the animation for Tracey Beaker). I believe you can still find the end product lurking somewhere in a forgotten corner of the Internet.

It was an ambitious idea and never came to anything so my story fell back into my file of old ideas. All authors have these files. These are the stories that sit quietly gathering dust, biding their time, waiting for their moment.

In 2016, that moment came. I was looking for an idea for a new series. I came up with two new ones then selected Pet Defenders as the third. My wife, Lisa read all three. She liked Pet Defenders best. My editor, Ruth agreed.

And so, five years after I came up with the idea, I started work on a series of books about a secret organization of pets dedicated to keeping the earth safe from alien attacks.

What I had forgotten was how much I struggle with space stuff. The last time I tried it was with an MG science fiction book called Space Crime Conspiracy (Bloomsbury, 2010). I was pleased with how the book turned out but had obviously buried the memory of how painful it was to write.

The problem for me is one of believability. It’s easy enough to write “The Flot-holed Grubulling from Zingadinga One opened the large purple eye set in the middle of its belly?” but how do you make it believable? Writing is about creating worlds but when that world is an entire universe there are soooo many possibilities. For this reason, each book in the series has gone through countless redrafts (often complete rewrites) as even a minor tweak can cause an avalanche of ideas that leaves me sifting through the rubble to find the correct building blocks to complete the story.

Thankfully, with my ever-patient editor’s help and guidance I am delighted to say I have now completed three Pet Defenders books. I start work on the fourth soon. It’s been quite a journey so I very much hope readers enjoy the result.

Pet Defenders: Attack of the Alien Dung is published 9th of February. The second book in the series, Beards from Outer Space comes out in May, with the third (Escape from Planet Bogey) being published in September. The fourth will come out in 2018 once it has been written, rewritten, redrafted, rewritten again and redrafted etc.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Sam Hearn On What He Loves About Writing/Illustrating Children's Books

Great to have Sam Hearn, author of the Baker Street Academy series, talking about what he loves about writing/illustrating children's books - we're excited to read Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond soon!

So, what do I love about writing children's books, you ask?  Hmm… Let me think… I should probably squeeze in a little mention about illustrating them too, seeing as I also do that bit!

I suppose the first thing I need to point out is that the whole writing part of the job really does still feel completely new to me. I know I have written an entire young fiction novel now - and even a few younger children's board book type texts as well, but it still doesn't quite register that it's actually what I do as part of my job just yet. I’ve been doing the drawing bit for around 16 years now and that definitely feels like a job! (a hard one too) In fact, when I first got a sniff of doing this Sherlock work I don’t think I was entirely aware of the fact that I’d have to write everything as well as draw it… Its almost like they made a mistake. Shh! Don’t tell anybody! However it happened, I definitely do love it though. It’s very satisfying when you get to put the final full stop at the end of a document - no matter how difficult it has been to get there - and I don’t think I’ll ever get over what a strange sensation it is to read your own words in a book. It’s as if it was all done by somebody else!

With writing, I think you get an opportunity to really bring all your ideas to life in a way that just drawing the pictures can never afford you - usually that's simply because you are illustrating somebody else's words and somebody else's ideas. If you are lucky, with the pictures - you get a good amount of input into the visual elements, but it can never compare to being the one who comes up with the ideas in the first place. Mostly, I love the fact that I can finally make some use of the random and strange thoughts that often come into my head! And I know that as long as I remember to write them down somewhere, they might just be the right bit of spark to set a bigger idea or story alight.

Another good thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere! In your bed or on the train - You don't really need anything other than a pen and a notebook ( if you're still into writing on paper, that is… ) Let’s face it, you don’t even need to get dressed. Yep, you can sit around in your pants and still get stuff done!   ( Please let it be known that I actually do get dressed before writing though. I also leave the house. )

I’m being a bit silly, I know. But for me, that’s probably the best bit about writing children’s books and the bit that I love the most. I can now legitimately have conversations with myself all day, usually in all sorts of voices - either out loud or in my head. I don’t know how other writers do it, but this is how the ideas come to me. Even though I have been just an illustrator for most of my career, I always did have ideas and write in some way or another. The problem I had though was that I hadn't learned how to think about exactly when to make a note of the ideas properly. It doesn't help that they often come to you in the most awkward or unexpected moments, like when you're in the middle of having a shower, or just about to drift off to sleep! 

Having to write for a published project ( with a looming deadline and all the associated pressure ) made me much more aware of how to catch an idea when I have it and put it down somewhere safe. It doesn’t mean that it will be any good of course - but just for a little while, I can be anybody I want to be or say anything I want to say and have a cast of characters running around in my own personal film in my head. The very best bit of all is when I can make myself laugh. I hope I can always do that! Obviously there's no guarantee that someone else will find the same thing funny, but it's always a good feeling.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Barry Hutchison's Worst Ever School Visit Moments

We are super-excited to be taking part in a joint blog tour today! Stripes are running a fabulous tour to promote TWO school stories they're releasing in January - Karen McCombie's St Grizzle's School For Girls, Goats and Random Boys (illustrated by Becka Moor), and Barry Hutchison's Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (illustrated by Katie Abey). Both of these look like hilarious reads with great illustrations! We're excited to have Barry talking about his worst ever school visit moments in this post.

2017 marks my tenth year as a full-time children’s author (I think, although I’m not very good at maths, so don’t quote me on that). As well as writing books lots of books in that time, I’ve also visited hundreds of schools, speaking to tens of thousands of children about what a jolly jape this whole writing lark is, and how books are all great an’ that.

Thankfully, the vast majority of those visits went brilliantly, with lots of enthusiastic students, teachers and librarians helping to make every event a success. Or, almost every event. Sometimes, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they could do. Take the incidents below, for example, which I present in no particular order.

1. Back in my second year of being an author, I was invited by a head teacher to visit her school. She was very friendly, full of great ideas, and we made plans for a whole day of workshops and author talks. The day arrived, and I got up at 5am to drive the 130 miles to the school, only to find out the head teacher was off sick that day, and hadn’t told another living soul at the school that I was coming. They were unable to get her on the phone, and so, unsure about this strange, six-foot-four unshaven man standing at the front door, they decided they couldn’t let me in, and I had to drive 130 miles back home.

2. I was invited to a boys-only boarding school to talk about my Invisible Fiends horror series back in 2012 or so. The plan was for me to do a talk in the evening, after the pupils had eaten dinner. What I didn’t realise was that, prior to my event, the younger boys – aged 8-10 or so – would be sent to shower and get ready for bed, and so I ended up talking about some deeply disturbing horror novels to 100+ kids, half of which were wearing pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, and clutching teddy bears. I was then asked to pose for a photograph with them after the event – a photo I hope never surfaces on the web…

3. Questions! One of the parts of an event I love and dread in equal measures is the Q&A session at the end. Questions generally range from the repetitive (“Where do you get your ideas?” “How much do you earn?”) to the probing (“Your female characters are always more impressive than your male characters – discuss.”)

Sometimes, though, there are some really memorable questions thrown my way. My favourites include:
“Do you know the queen?”
“You know you said Mr Mumbles tries to kill the hero? Have you ever killed anyone?”
“What’s the best noise you’ve ever heard?”

One question that really sticks out in my mind, though, came at the end of a talk to a group of completely impassive Year 9s, who had spent the previous 50 minutes glaring silently at me, and wishing me dead. When I asked if anyone had any questions, I was delighted to see a boy near the back put up his hand. “Yes?” I said. “What’s your question?”

To which he replied: “Can we go now?”

4. Or how about the time when I turned up twenty minutes early at Elgin Academy in the North of Scotland, and got increasingly annoyed as I was left waiting for half an hour in reception for a member of staff to come and take me to the library…

…and then discovered I was supposed to be at Elgin High School at the opposite end of the town, instead, where everyone was already waiting patiently.

And let’s not even mention the event where the 14 year old tried to punch me in the face!

By and large, though, school visits are great fun, and from my initial nervous ramblings have quickly become one of my favourite bits about the job.

Most of the time, anyway.

Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (written by Barry Hutchison and illustrated by Katie Abey) is published today, 12th January, by Stripes Publishing.