Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wild pigs, Radio Bristol, an eagle called Saxon and a tray full of cookies.

Even though I missed being in Scotland it was great to be back home. I took a walk in the fields near my house and saw lots of wildlife; a roe deer grazing in the shade of trees alongside the river, buzzards circling in the sky above and loads of rabbits too!! I guess that’s why I can only grow potatoes and onions in my garden…the wildlife eats the rest.
I made a hasty exit from an overgrown ditch when something big came crashing through the undergrowth. It was squealing and grunting and I didn’t stick around to see what it was, but I think it could have been escapee wild pig. They can get pretty vicious especially if there are young with them!!

On Wednesday I had a radio interview with Steve Yabsley of Radio Bristol to talk about Sky Hawk. He was great fun, and before going on air we talked about everything from woodpeckers to wine tasting to cardigan wearing. He’s a keen birdwatcher himself and knowledgeable about lots of other things. It was great to see inside a radio studio too…it looks very complicated…lots of microphones and buttons and dials…a bit like the tardis. If it were me, I’d probably forget I was meant to be on air and wander off for a cup of tea mid programme. I guess that’s why I was never asked to be a radio presenter!

Friday saw me rushing round the countryside to get a photo with a bird of prey for an article in Young Times…coming out this Monday, I think. Thursday was too wet and windy for the birds, but on Friday, Saxon from Sharandy’s Birds of  Prey came to my rescue.  Saxon is a golden eagle x steppe eagle….he’s absolutely stunning, and despite the windy day sat still on my arm for the photo.

Finally, to round off the week…a book signing at Bailey Hill Bookshop in Castle Cary, another fantastic independent book store, one of my all time favourites. Lynn has a little under stairs area for young children to sit and look at books and there’s great coffee for adults too. Claire had baked a whole tray of biscuits which everyone enjoyed. Amongst the new books, there are unusual second hand books too, from old children's favourites to art and history books. I have the Harmsworth Natural History volumes from Lynn's bookshop...they're about 100 years old with lots of colour illustrations of animals (by various Victorian artists) . It's really interesting and sad too, to see what species were once considered 'common' but are now under threat.

I also got to meet two local authors, Emma of 'Chocolate Cake with Hitler' and Charles of 'Silent Night'....both books have had rave reviews....and I have signed copies!!! can't wait to start reading!.

Aladdin's cave...and a blast of sea Ayr !

May 19th

A trip to an Aladdin’s cave of books…the Bluebell Bookshop in Penrith…a treasure trove of books and lovely notebooks and all sorts of stuff including a retro space hopper that I was very tempted by, but I knew I couldn’t take on the plane. There was a wonderful selection of children’s books from picture books through to teens…ahh, if only all book shops could be like this. They even bake their own bread IN THE SHOP, and make a wicked shortbread IN THE SHOP, and amazing fresh coffee IN THE SHOP…and have bean bags and sofas to lounge on and browse books IN THE SHOP.


But it was only a flying visit, as I was back on the train to Glasgow for one night stop over before heading off to Ayr.

May 20th

Isle of Arran from Troon

Stevie drove me to Ayr to meet Jean Inness and Dorothea, library managers of the John Pollock centre. Again, another little centre dedicated to getting books out to schools and children. I met children from local schools. Some had battled through the strong sea winds to get to the centre.

Dorothea had made a 3D poster of Sky Hawk by cutting out posters and building up layers with sticky foam between each layer.

Then it was on to Glasgow airport for my journey back down south. It was a whirlwind trip…the highlights being the school visits and sharing stories and experiences with children…oh…and seeing the osprey, of course!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Carlisle and the Richard Rose Academy

Wednesday 18th May:

A trip to! Sky Hawk at the train station!! that was a surprise!!!

Then on, to meet staff from Waterstone's Carlisle at The Richard Rose Academy...

The Richard Rose Academy is a brand new school, just opened this year. Staff and students were incredibly enthusiastic about their school and gave me a tour. It was light and airy...none of the long dark corridors I remember from my school days.

I was impressed by the Learning Resource Centre (aka library). It was a comfortable space where pupils chose to hang out during lunch and break. There was a good range of non fiction and fiction, especially books for less confident readers. The school librarian explained that the school was aiming to increase literacy levels by giving extra reading sessions to pupils. The books offered contained simpler text but still had strong storylines and many had illustrations too. As a fan of graphic novels, I think this is a great way into reading.

But....I think I'll stick with the 'library'...Colonel Mustard, with the lead piping in the Learning Resource Centre doesn't have the same ring to it!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A castle....a monument...and then Glasgow's hidden gem...

16th May

A flying visit through Stirling to visit pupils of Braehead Primary and Cowie Primary Schools. One of the pupils of Cowie had been fishing with his granddad and seen an osprey catch a fish right out of the lucky is that!
Heather from Waterstone's bookshop in Stirling,  ferried me around and looked after me for the thanks Heather...and you guessed right...brie and cranberry sandwiches are some of my favourites.

Stirling looks an amazing place with an even more amazing past, but I didn't have time to explore. There have been people here since prehistoric times! The castle on the crag has long been strategically important in many battles. One of the most famous Scottish heros...William Wallace (Braveheart to all you film buffs!) was one of the leaders of the Wars of Scottish Independence. He fought and won the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Unfortunately he came to a sticky end at the hands of the English. There's a monument dedicated to him, where you can climb up and get great views across the Ochil hills and the Forth.
I'll be coming back here again to explore...that's for sure.

17th May

A train ride to Glasgow and two school visits today too to talk about Sky Hawk.

Pupils from St Martha's Primary School

Lyndsay from the Mitchell library ferried Hattie (from Oxford Uni Press) and I around Glasgow. Lyndsay is a walking encyclopaedia...maybe she absorbs information from all the library books by osmosis! But even better than that...Lyndsay works at the Mitchell library and takes books and stories to schools all around Glasgow, giving many children the chance to access books.

She even gave us a tour around the Mitchell library...a hidden gem...definitely worth a visit (the best millionaire's shortbread too).

The Mitchell Library from the outside

Looking up into the dome from the inside

Lyndsay and Hattie on the spiral stairs

Lyndsay and me inside an exhibition room

There was even a puppet exhibition. The man who made the marionettes was there to talk about how he made his puppets too.

Maybe each puppet has its own story to tell!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Red squirrels, snow and a visit to a secret hideaway...

14th May....

Snow up on the Cairngorms...what better way to spend the day than up in the mountains...

Ok.... so I cheated and took the funicular railway to the top...the peak was covered in swirling cloud and it even started snowing!!!! It was minus 2 degrees. It just shows how prepared you have to be to walk in these mountains. I didn't have my warm gear, so I had a hot chocolate in the restaurant and waited for the clouds to clear to see the view.

Charlotte from Oxford University Press in the snow!

A ride back down the funicular and then on for a walk on the Rothiemurchus estate. I saw and heard my first cuckoo of the year and watched three red squirrels chase each other round and round a tree.

On to...a loch with its very own castle on the island. It reminded me of the landscapes in Sky Hawk. 

Some dramatic stormy skies....

....and back to the hotel, to relax and watch Eurovision!!! I was gutted Moldova didn't win!!

15th May

A day at Loch Garten....missed the male capercaillie (an impressive black turkey like bird) display. I think I was buying clotted cream fudge at the time. Capercaillie numbers have plummeted since the 1970's due to human interference. At Loch Garten the capercaillie can be seen from the hides, allowing the birds the peace and quiet they need.

An exciting moment...a male osprey intruder came to look at the ospreys' nest...he flew off when he saw the nest was well established...but it was a tense moment for a while. 

Male intruder near the Loch Garten ospreys' nest.

Before boarding the train to Stirling, I was given a rare view of the Loch Garten nerve centre. RSPB volunteers have a rota of 24 hour watch to protect the ospreys. It's this amazing dedication that has allowed osprey numbers to rise so successfully. I chatted to some of the volunteers who told me 'osprey watch' was so popular that the same people returned year after year. The binoculars they use are from a World War Two German U boat!!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I'll take the high road....

May 12th

After a shopping morning in Edinburgh, I met Val Bierman, one of the editors of Carousel, the only magazine dedicated to children’s books. What Val doesn’t know about children’s books probably isn’t worth knowing. We had a cuppa tea, a good old chat about Sky Hawk, children’s books and lots of other things besides.

Val and Jennie

I didn’t get time to have a second cuppa, because I had to catch the train heading north, up into the Highlands. Some folks on that train had been sitting there since London! As the train climbed up into the mountains and the rain smattered against the windows and cloud swirled around the carriages, I began to think wearing flip flops wasn’t such a great idea.
There’s still snow up on the mountains too.

May 13th

I woke to red squirrels scurrying up and town the tree outside my window and this amazing view. 


After a full Scottish breakfast (including haggis!), I set off for the Loch Garten Osprey Centre.

Surrounded by native Caledonian pine forest, and carpeted in white tufted bog cotton, the centre is an incredible place. 

The protected ospreys and their nest are visible from the centre. There are cameras linked to the nest, so you can get a real close up of everything going on in the nest too. At the moment the ospreys are incubating their eggs. The RSPB wardens think they could hatch out next week!! So have a look online at the live webcam of the Loch Garten ospreys and you might have a nice surprise next week. I can’t wait to see the chicks. Paul was telling me that when the first ospreys returned to our country in 1956, the Loch Garten centre was set up so that people could come and see the ospreys and learn about them. The conservation work has been so successful than there are now 200 breeding pairs in Scotland. Sadly though, not everyone wants to protect these amazing birds. A clutch of eggs at an unprotected site was stolen only last Sunday.

I met up with Paul Kendall and pupils from Abernethy and Deshar primary schools. I admit to feeling very envious. I’d have loved to have grown up in a place like this, surrounded by forests and mountains and all this wildlife.
We talked about the book, the migration route of ospreys and also how birds are adapted for flight.  I was so impressed by the children’s knowledge and their concern for their environment.

The Paul took us all outside for a really fun event…making an osprey nest!!!!!!

Here’s the wooden structure that we had to build our nest on.

The pupils ran off into the forest to find sticks to build up the basic structure. Paul said it had to be more than 5 foot across, just like an osprey nest. He said ospreys can carry sticks up to half their own body weight. Half way there…

The males make the main structure of the nest and the female collects the soft moss. She even rearranges the sticks the make had brought in, if she doesn’t think they are to her liking!!
Here’s the finished nest…it took about 20 minutes with lots of children helping…but obviously ospreys have to fly with each stick high up to the top of a tree…so it takes them a lot longer.

Paul put some artificial eggs in the nest too…

After a great day…I took an evening walk from my hotel through the forest and spotted deer and red squirrels…then back to the hotel to have a slap up meal of Scottish trout and then pineapple and ginger pudding with clotted cream ice-cream. Sometimes it’s a tough life, being an author!!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011 interview in an uber urban cafe and a visit to a remarkable building...

Today I boarded the train to Glasgow's Central Station...the station looks like one of those film set stations where great adventures begin...

...and on, to a cafe under the railway...and the sound of the trains rumbling overhead.

I met Steven MacKenzie from the Big Issue, who interviewed me about Sky Hawk. I asked him about the Big Isssue too, a magazine about current affairs, music, film and book reviews, and up and coming events. He said the Big Issue was set up in 1991 as a way of giving homeless people an income by selling the magazine, giving some people the chance to the first steps to make an independent life for themselves.
Steven said behind everyone there is a story to be listened to. It made me think about stories, both real and fictional and how they let us understand others' lives and give us a view about the wider world.
That's what's so crazy about all these library closures...taking away books and stories gives us a blinkered view about the world.

It was a whistle stop tour of Glasgow, but I ended up on a number 62 bus heading out of town to what turned out to be a treasure trove of art, natural history, ancient history, local history....the list goes on...

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

I only had about 40 minutes to explore...but I could have had a whole day. I'm definitely coming back here.

An exhibition of Scottish wildlife (note the osprey top left!).

A great completely extinct. To think ospreys were wiped out of Britain in the early 1900's. The pair that returned to Scotland in the 1950's was protected and now there are 200 breeding pairs! That's an amazing success just shows what can happen if we give wildlife and our wild areas a chance.

There were lots of other interesting things in this museum. I love these heads...they all have different expressions...

And this wellie boot dog...

Oh....and Elvis Glasgow!!!!!

Off to Aviemore tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing the ospreys but I'll be sad to leave Edinburgh. There's so much more I'd like to see.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Sky Hawk Scottish Book Tour begins....

After an author visit to St Gregory's RC Primary School at the Stratford festival, I packed my bags, climbed on a plane and headed north to Scotland, to Edinburgh. It was an amazing flight, taking a route across the Black Mountains, over Liverpool, across the Lake District and then on to Edinburgh. It was a real bird's eye view of Britain. The taxi driver from the airport gave me a mini tour of the city and pointed out all the sights.

This one is Bobby Grey Friars...a little dog who faithfully stayed by his owners grave after his owner had died. Bobby's grave is in the little churchyard too and people have put balls and sticks there instead of flowers...just what he would have wanted, I guess.

I can't believe I've not visited Edinburgh's such an amazing city...built on an old extinct volcano...(inactive, of course) ...Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline from nearly everywhere you look.

I hope I get chance to visit the castle. I also want to go on a ghost tour....hmmmm, maybe on my last day here.

Monday 9th May:
My first school visit, accompanied by Julie from Blackwell's and Jennie and Stevie from Oxford University Press was to Craigour Park Primary School...a really modern school, only eight years old. It was really light and airy. The pupils were great, and a teacher showed me something amazing one of the classes had done...they had all worked together to make their own picture book...they brought in student artists and designers, looked at marketing books...and they are getting their book published...fantastic!!! I wish I'd found it that easy. It's called 'Liam and the Alien'...and it's all their own idea. I'll be putting in my order at Blackwell's after their launch.

After a posh prawn sandwich (on the packet it said, 'crayfish a la mayonaisse') overlooking the queen's palace of Holyroodhouse, I set off to the second school visit of the day, to Broughton Primary School. This school was much older...Victorian? but I'll stand to be corrected on that. But it too, was light and airy, huge ceilings and a massive playground.  I thought Stevie was going to join in a game of football, but I said we had a book tour to do! The pupils knew loads about wildlife. They had so many questions that I didn't get to hear all them. It's a shame we didn't have longer. There were fantastic displays on the walls of the classrooms...I learnt alot of Scottish words too. We also got to see into the inner sanctum of the staff room, where I did spy an empty packet of chocolate biscuits!!!

Tuesday 10th May:

Another busy day. Chris Newton and Heather joined us from the Scottish Book Trust and we were very lucky to be joined by David Andersen from the RSPB too. It's always great to have an expert on board.

We set off to meet the pupils of Royal High Primary School. They were all keen to join in the interactive session, including a very good albatross impersonation. David from the RSPB then talked to everyone about the amazing work at Loch Garten and how the ospreys there have 24 hour surveillance. Then David also told me about his job...up in the highlands studying wildlife, going out into the Moray Firth to watch for whales and dolphins...what a great job!

After a short drive to Queensferry and a mozzerella toastie, we visited Echeline Primary School.
Here I am by the Forth Bridge. David was looking out for birds all the time and spotted an eider duck flying across the water.

The pupils at Echeline Primary School have been very busy setting up a display all about fantastic. They'd even made their own bird hide, and had brought in feathers and all sorts of stuff. They had a fantastic display of birds on the wall of their classroom. We couldn't use the school hall...but went somewhere better instead...their school museum...imagine that...a school museum! They knew loads about birds and wildlife. It's great to see children and schools getting so involved. We had a live webcam to the Loch of Lowes and David told us all about the osprey nesting there...The Lady...she's more than twenty years old! 

After a great day at the schools, Jennie and I went for a walk up to Arthur's Seat...a peak on the edge of the Holyrood estate. The view was fantastic...360 degree only disappointment was the lack of the promised ice cream van half way up. 

Off to Glasgow tomorrow for an interview with Big Issue

Friday, 6 May 2011


Hello folks and welcome to my website.

I hope you've had a good look around the tree house and met some of the squirrels. Watch out for the one sitting by the phone...he gets a bit cheeky!

Well it's been a busy old week. Tuesday saw the launch of Sky Hawk at Bath Waterstone's. It was a great fun event with lots of friends and family and people from the publishing world. My fantastic editor, Liz Cross came too and said a few words to everyone before I talked about the inspiration behind Sky Hawk.

The real stars of the show were Barney and Bracken, a European eagle owl and a tawny owl. Sharon and Matt from Sharandy's Birds of Prey brought them to the launch to meet eveyone.

Here's me with a paper osprey I made came in a kit promising hours of creative fun. It took me hours....and hours....and hours........and at last I got to the fun part....

So with some enthusiastic helpers, we took a look at the osprey's journey...

Although the paper osprey wouldn't behave!

But it was a great fun event and fanatastic to see so many there...we ran out of orange juice...and even ran out of Sky Hawk books!

Oh...and 5kg of jelly beans were devoured in 1 hour...surely that's got to be a Guinness Record!!!!

Radio Scotland....Culture Cafe....

Earlier in the day, I went to the studios of Radio Bristol to talk to Clare English of Radio Scotland about Sky Hawk. You can listen to my interview with her on....