Magic at the Library

I have had the best, if not tiring, two weeks. It’s been libraries week and, as such, I’ve been in libraries pretty much solidly for a fortnight running workshops for young writers, from seven years old up to an almost fully grown wizard. We have been writing about magic. Poems, stories, you name it. Wands, witches, wizards, mythical creatures, broomsticks, spells, funny hats. Familiars and mages, making ourselves invisible and pretending to be ghosts to scare brothers and sisters. Tricksters and sending Donald Trump into space (this happened more than once). We did everything and it was so much fun.

And why magic, you ask. Because, to celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter (I remember being given a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone when that was the only Harry Potter book out there – thank you, Claire) there is a HISTORY OF MAGIC exhibition at Sheffield Central Library. Yes, you really should probably go.

I met some amazing young writers for the first time – and it’s always lovely seeing others I’ve worked with before (hello, to you all). And it’s lovely when every single writer I worked with was brilliant. And librarians. You cannot not love a librarian – they’re the keepers of whole worlds – they are as magic as any spell – and they don’t even need wands. And they’re brilliant, friendly, helpful people who love books and stories – the very best kind.

And here are some magically brilliant pics (thank you EVERYONE)…




Ilkley and Doncaster Festivals

I had a brilliant time on the radio last Wednesday (you can listen here on BBC Radio Sheffield’s website) but, as soon as I’d finished (after a quick hair cut) I jumped on a train to Leeds. I was at the most spectacular residential centre at Lineham Farm (it really is stunning) where I was working for Ilkley Literary Festival’s Summer School. And it was brilliant. We had fun. There was laughter and there were tears (all from fiction, of course) and there was some genuinely wonderful work produced by genuinely lovely people (and we all know that lovely people are the best).

Here’s their resident peacock.


This Saturday I’ll be in Doncaster for their DN weekend with Hive South Yorkshire. We’re there from 12-2 and we’ll be running drop-in workshops and one-to-ones for young writers (up to 24 yrs) so if you’ve anything you’d like to ask about your work or writing, or if you fancy a free workshop, come and find us. Full details here.

Back on Air

I’m writing this in a hotel a little way from Leeds city centre. Tomorrow I’ll be at Ilkley Literary Festival, running some workshops for their summer school and I really can’t wait.

I dashed here from Sheffield. I’d been on BBC Radio Sheffield, on Rony Robinson’s show, talking about The Game of Love and Death with Ciara and Lauren – two magnificent, funny, intelligent and super talented Hive Young Writers – and the lovely Martha Brockenbrough, the author of the book, joined us all the way from Seattle. And I really enjoyed the book – the premise is wonderful and I love when it’s set (it must be my inner Doctor Who fanboyness); the 1930s had enough going on (Spanish Civil War, the rise of the Nazis, the great depression, jazz, airships) without Love and Death playing games…

You can listen here. We’re about ten minutes in. And do. Lots of interesting words and thoughts and opinions…


And, as you’ll have heard (if you listened) I have been writing, which is good and something that makes me happy. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do right now…

More soon.

On Air Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’ll be back on BBC Radio Sheffield with two brilliant Hive South Yorkshire writers, talking: books! Specifically, The Book of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbraugh. 88.6 FM, 104.1HM and on digital – we’ll be on from about half past one so do tune in. It was a brilliant experience last time, and we had a terrific discussion and I’m really looking forward to it.


After that I’ll be jetting off to Ilkley Literary Festival for a couple of events. I’ve never been to that festival before and, again, I can’t wait.


And now I have to finish my ironing; you’ve got to look your best for the radio…

BBC Radio Sheffield Recommends…

I’ve just got back from the studios of BBC Radio Sheffield. I was on there with a couple of young writers I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with over the past few years with Hive South Yorkshire (Eloise Unerman, fresh from winning the Cuckoo Young Writers Award for her ten poems) and the talented Abi. We were there to take about The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and to recommend some summer reading. We’re on at around 20 minutes, and I’m on after the break (about ten minutes later), with the one book I’d recommend everyone read…

A huge thanks to Rony and to Kat for being welcoming and brilliant. And, of course, to Eloise and Abi for being insightful and interesting. As ever. It was fun!





It’s two in the morning and I’ve just finished writing. I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately and that’s something that’s making me happy. And then I spent about half an hour writing a blog post I’ll probably never publish. I think birthdays do that to me. They kind of throw me off. I’ve never liked my own.

But, here I am. 36 years old (as of a couple of hours ago), and thinking of the past twelve months. Blimey. Where did they go? And all I want to say is But they’ve been good. They’ve been hard and disappointing at times (but that’s life) but, mostly, I’ve a lot to be happy about. We’ll catch up properly soon but, for now, I wanted to say a I’m grateful for everyone who’s been lovely to me when I was 35. To everyone who’s helped, put up with, organised me. To everyone who’s been a friend and listened or told me off. To people who’ve given me lifts to train stations (Christine…) to people who’ve said nice things or asked me to do things, or been nice about my work. To those who’ve simply been kind – and not just to me. Because kindness is everything. Please don’t stop.

So, that’s it from me for now. I’m going to read for a little while. Let’s catch up properly soon.


Empathy Day

A little under a month ago (seriously, where does the time go?) I set up camp at the Children’s Central Library in Sheffield for an evening for Empathy Day. It was good. No, it was brilliant. It was made up of young readers from Sheffield’s amazing Chatterbooks reading group network and they came from all over the city and beyond. It had sold out very, very quickly too, which is always a lovely thing.

So we looked at the books they’d been reading and we put ourselves the characters’ shoes and that made for some really interesting discussion and, ultimately, some really amazing work because the subject matter was so varied (and makes me love what’s happening in YA fiction (and what has happened – one of the books was a Judy Bloom novel)). We had characters with OCD, autism – we had bullying – all sorts. And I often say that one of most important things we can do as people is think about what other people might be feeling – it’s a sort of an essential kindness that we all deserve, and something we’d all want if we were struggling. Actually, we don’t have to be struggling – it can be just as important for us to appreciate why someone might be happy about something.

I loved the evening. It was something different and interesting and I met brilliant and talented and caring young people who made brilliant art and stories. And, once we were done, we converted the stories into word clouds for display (thank you Alexis and Tina).

And here they are… Stay caring, people. And be kind.





Yorkshire Life

The very first piece of writing I was paid for appeared in Cheshire Life magazine. It was about myths and ghosts and things like that. If memory serves, I got the nod at the end of 2003 and the feature went into the April 2004 issue and I was paid £80. There’s still a copy of the cheque somewhere. I framed it because it felt like such an important thing – someone with a considerable readership was prepared to put their name and reputation to what I’d written – and pay me for it, and whenever someone I know, have taught, have edited or mentored gets their first thing published I always tell them how important it is that they mark the occasion because it’s a huge achievement and it only happens once. It’s one of the times in your life where you feel the proudest. And, for me, it was the beginning of, well, all of this. It meant a lot.

Last week (I think it was last week – the weeks are blurring together) I got a call letting me know that I was in another county magazine. This time it was Yorkshire Life and, aside from a quote, it wasn’t about my words. And I was delighted, and I still am, that they gave page space to cover the huge project I’d been involved with, for Hear My Voice and Barnsley Museums, for over six months – and even more pleased that it was about those who’d taken part in it.

And here it is. I hope it’s the start of very good things for others.



The Ironworks

I’m sitting here at just after one in the morning and I’m feeling very proud. I’ve been wanting to post this for a couple of weeks but I’ve had website problems and work and life are often louder voices than the blog but the voices are sleeping now and the gremlins have been appeased.

So, a couple of weeks ago I was at The Ironworks – an enormous building at the Elsecar Heritage Centre – with around 250 primary school children and their teachers and the then mayor of Barnsley and it was one of the proudest moments of my career. Since November I’ve been working in schools for Hear My Voice – an amazing project for the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, and Barnsley Museums. We’ve been writing about home – and all that that means, and I know I’ve mentioned it on here a few times now so I’ll not go into too much detail but we looked at what home meant – it’s not just the buildings we live in, or the towns those buildings are in. Home can be anything. Where we feel dafe or happy. Where our friends are, or families. Or not, as the case may be.

I worked with eight schools: Dearne Goldthorpe, Ivanhoe, Holy Rood, Ladywood, Summer Lane, Cherrydale, Worsbrough, and Hoyland all over the Dearne Valley – from Barnsley to Doncaster, Grimethorpe, to Rotherham and we talked about home. And then we wrote about home. And not how we wrote! Poems, stories. And they were all amazing. And we made them into books. Over 50,000 words were written and typed up and the best thing was, the thing I was most proud of was that every single thing that every young writer produced was brilliant. That’s well over 200 children – over 200 individual voices – 800 pieces of literary brilliance.

The teaching side of being a writer is something I love – that’s why I’ve been doing it for so long. Because, for once, it’s not about me or my words. It’s about other people’s. And the best thing about teaching? Meeting people, hearing about how they see the world. Giving them the means and the confidence to write about it. Helping them to realise that we all have something to say and that we can all say it well and that what we want to say – our voices – all deserve to be heard. Or maybe it’s the opportunity to actually change lives for the better. I know there were writers there who wouldn’t have wanted to share their work before, or who might not have thought they were good enough, or doubted they had anything to say.

And so, back to The Ironworks. All the children, the teachers and assistants (it’s a shame the receptionists couldn’t have been there because they were brilliant with me too) – the team from Barnsley Museums (Alison, Jemma, Vicky – thank you!) – and everyone else. They were all there. And the writers received copies of their books and they received their Arts Award certificates and they read their work in an enormous venue to an enormous crowd and not one faltered or fluffed a single line. And that takes some doing when you’re a professional, let alone in Year 2, or 3, 4, 5, or 6. (And I’ll be honest, I’d love crowds that big when I read!)

So, yes. I am proud. And you, young writers, should be too. You were BRILLIANT. No – I got that wrong. You are brilliant. Don’t you dare stop.




Added: And you can read ALL of their AMAZING work here.SaveSaveSaveSave