Exploring children’s books

I’ve been exploring the world of novels for children. There are so many wonderfully imaginative stories to choose from, and I am always adding to the list of my favourite children’s writers. I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo for a long time, but today I’d like to share with you a few of my more recent finds.







Ross Welford’s The Dog Who Saved the Word is about 11 year old Georgie and her friend Ramzy, and her smelly, eats-anything dog, Mr Mash.    They get to know an ancient and eccentric scientist and virtual games expert, and eventually save the planet from a deadly disease. I loved the characters and the humour. Short chapters. Easy to read.

The Nowhere Emporium is the very exciting and wildly imaginative tale of Daniel, an orphan, who escapes bullies and becomes the loyal apprentice to Mr Silver, owner of a pop-up shop with magical rooms. He becomes caught up in a fight between good and evil, personified by Mr Silver and his arch-enemy, Vindictus Sharpe.

There’s another orphan in Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. Maia goes to live in Brazil with distant relatives, who turn out to be far removed from the kind and loving people she has imagined. A skilful plot, excellently drawn characters, and a heroine to cheer for.

It’s a joy to read adventure stories which inspire me to make my children’s book the very best it can possibly be.

If you can recommend other children’s authors, I’d love to hear from you.

Frog: (Seriously)

Specially if they have frogs as heroes.

Or tadpoles, of course.




Worst and best

What’s worst thing about lockdown?

Not seeing your family? Not chatting face to face with friends?

Or is it fear? The fear of contracting Covid19, of being very ill, of facing an early death?

Clapping the NHS is one thing. Working for the NHS is another. Or having a beloved relative working for the NHS.

It’s time to take stock, to look at the possibilities. What do I want from life? What can I do for other people?

What would an ideal world look like? How can I help to make that a  reality?

What’s the best thing about lockdown?

The quiet roads? The empty sky? Time with the children? Time to think? To make plans? Time to make the garden beautiful?

Has it been hard to settle down and write? Or is this a blessed release from meetings and the daily grind?

Whatever it has been, how can we carry the positives into the future? How can we become better people because of all we’ve been through?

This is the opportunity for a fresh start. Let’s grasp it and make it work.






Free book and a free competition

I want to tell you about a poetry competition for poets aged 11 to 17.

It’s running now until the closing date of 31st July.



Foyles young poet of the year award

On the website it says, ‘Winners receive a fantastic range of prizes, from mentoring to a residential Arvon writing course, Poetry Society membership to books. The Poetry Society also continues to support winners’ development with performance, publication and internship opportunities.’

It also says

‘Read the amazing poems from the Top 15 and 85 commended Foyle Young Poets from the 2019 competition. We hope you find the poems as powerful and inspiring as we do. If you would like to order for free, a printed version of the 2019 winners anthology Your Voice Crosses the Ocean then please contact fyp@poetrysociety.org.uk.’

Our amazing judges this year are the wonderful Maura Dooley and Keith Jarrett. Read Maura and Keith’s blogs to find out what they are looking for in this year’s poems and tips when writing poetry.’

‘The competition welcomes poems on any theme and any length. It is completely free to enter for anyone aged 11-17 in the world.

Poems must be in English, British Sign Language or Braille (do contact us if you have queries regarding any BSL and Braille entries).’


Find out more about the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award here.

Or go to https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/foyle-young-poets-of-the-year-award/

So youngsters, why not give this one a try. Somebody has to win the prizes, and if you enter, one of those winners might be YOU.

PS It’s a big achievement to write a poem you’re pleased with, and another big achievement to send it off to a competition.

Frog: (thoughtfully)

I’ve come up here to think. I can’t write anything unless I’ve had a long think!

It does work you know.



Poetry for children

Welcome to the blog. Today I have some writing challenges for everyone from 5 to 105.


You could start here with two I found at


‘The Laughter Forecast’ by Sue Cowling 

Sue Cowling’s poem looks at all the ways of expressing happiness in this alternative weather forecast.

The Laughter Forecast

Today will be humorous

With some giggly patches,

Scattered outbreaks of chuckling in the south

And smiles spreading from the east later,

Widespread chortling

Increasing to gale-force guffaws towards evening.

The outlook for tomorrow

Is hysterical.

‘I Opened A Book’ by Julia Donaldson

The joy of reading, perfectly contained in a poem.

I Opened A Book

I opened a book and in I strode.

Now nobody can find me.

I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,

My town and my world behind me.


Can you find another you would recommend to me?


I’ve found a site that’s great to dip into. It’s fun and interesting, and it think it could inspire everyone to write a poem. Even if you never show it to anyone else.

Take a look at Kenn Nesbitt’s website https://www.poetry4kids.com/

I can recommend the Lessons section, and there’s a rhyming dictionary for children too.

CHALLENGE Three:Try your skill at writing a poem

You might send it to one of these competitions.

Radio Two 500 words 

Entry to this competition is open to persons who will be aged between 5 and 13 years on the 12th June 2020

There are two age categories – ages 5 to 9 years (on 12th June 2020) and 10 to 13 years (on 12th June 2020).

Find out more at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/50pnqLfDywb9CFxjNvth5l0/about-500-words

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the biggest poetry competition for 11-17 year olds in the world.

Find out more at https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/foyle-young-poets-of-the-year-award/

How many of my challenges can you do today? Or perhaps by next week?

Frog: (thoughtfully) You could write about me if you like. I really don’t mind!



The Bath Flash Fiction Award

The Bath Flash Fiction Award attracts many very accomplished writers, so let’s take a look at some of the comments made by the competition judge, Santino Prinzi.

‘It’s always an honour to be asked to judge a competition. It’s thrilling and fun, even though it can be daunting. When an author sends you their work, they are entrusting you with something special, so I want start by thanking and congratulating every single author who submitted to this competition, who trusted us with their words. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.’

This is such an encouraging remark, especially for those writers who may feel their work isn’t good enough to send off anywhere. Think again. You wrote a story. You edited it several times. You made it the best it could be. Well done, he says.

‘Each story had its own distinct quality, its own voice, its own style and structure. Each had sentences I underlined and words I circled. Not knowing what I was looking for, I found everything. This made my decisions unfathomably difficult, and I’m indecisive at the best of times…’

Santino Prinzi found his job difficult. Why? Because judging the work of other writers is always personal. Just because a story doesn’t make the shortlist, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It may speak volumes to a different person, or maybe it needs another tweek here and there to make it stand out from the crowd.

‘In the end, finalising the everchanging shortlist and deciding the winning and highly commended stories it came down to which stories I gravitated towards more, which ones woke me up in the middle of the night, which characters and their worlds I found my mind drifting off (towards) when I was supposed to be doing other things. I chose the stories that simply pulled me in and wouldn’t let go.’

Read the stories for yourself. Think about the style, the theme, the plot, the characters, the beginning, the end, and the use of language, and ask yourself what made each winning story special. If you agree or disagree with the judge’s choice, can you give your reasons. What can you learn from these stories? 

Maybe it’s time to enter a competition yourself. There’s an interesting themed flash competition running until 29th March 2020 at https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/competitions/quarterly-themed-flash/

Happy writing and good luck everyone!


Running with the Wind

It’s always exciting when a friend publishes a novel, and there is something extra special when it’s a debut novel.

Dionne Haynes has worked tirelessly and determinedly on Running with the Wind, and it was a great pleasure to attend her book launch at the end of November.

The book has been well researched and has a convincing plot. Dionne weaves a story of love and danger around the passengers and crew aboard the Mayflower on its famous voyage to America in 1620.

Running with the Wind makes a timely entrance into the world, as here in Plymouth UK, the city is ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s amazing voyage.

The Mayflower. One ship that links four nations, spans 400 years of history and connects millions of people.

Find out more at https://www.mayflower400uk.org/

Find Running with the Wind by Dionne Haynes at www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Wind

A Winter Festival

I am not Cornish, but I’ve lived in Cornwall for 31 years, and I claim, perhaps foolishly, to be Cornish by adoption!

However… anyone with an interest in all things Cornish — history, the arts, music, geography, etc — can belong to their local Old Cornwall Society. Our group enjoys talks, visits, spring lunches and Christmas parties. On Saturday 23rd November, the Torpoint Old Cornwall Society hosted the annual Winter Festival, when members of Old Cornwall Societies all over Cornwall and beyond (there are Old Cornwall societies in London and Bournemouth, to name a couple) travelled to this small town next to the River Tamar, for a day to remember.


Cornish speaker Leadville with his partner Jacki (right), and their hard-working committee had spent the past year planning the event.The location of the 2019 Winter Festival was the local community college.

So… what was it like?

The morning was informal. People gathered over coffee to meet old friends, to make new ones, and to wander around the school’s large gymnasium, where stalls and exhibitions about all things Cornish were set up. There were book stalls, opportunities to learn about the Cornish language, displays from several Old Corwall Societies, and of course there was history a-plenty. Torpoint sits on the estuary of the River Tamar, opposite Plymouth, and there has been a ferry connection for vehicles since 1834. The Torpoint Archives had a hand-built model of one of the first vehicle ferries on display, as well as historical pictures and information about the town.

In the afternoon, nearly 200 people gathered in the school hall, where the town crier introduced the colourful opening ceremony, with standards from twenty seven Old Cornwall Societies paraded and then displayed. A lively and varied entertainment followed.

The day included, naturally, a pasty lunch and a saffron bun with afternoon tea.

A very happy and worthwhile day, not just for the Cornish bit of me (by adoption!), but also for the writer bit.

Here’s why…

Digging into the past can lead to a wealth of ideas for stories.

You could start with the discovery of an unsung hero, someone who struggled with a problem and overcame difficulties,

or perhaps there’s a well-known person who lived in your town/ county/ area whose story would make interesting reading.

Or maybe you get chatting to someone eccentric who is searching for an old postcard,

or you see someone who seems out of place, who sparks an idea for a story.


One way to embark on a story is to

Create a character with a flaw

Give him/her a problem

Put an obstruction in his/her way

Work with your character to solve the problem, at the same time aiming for a satisfying, believable end.


FROG: (Pensively):

They put choughs on their banners, Barker, but not frogs or dogs. Bit sad isn’t it?




Tony Ingleby is a member of the Plymouth Christian Writers Group, and often keeps us entertained at meetings with his lively and poignant stories and memoire. This month I am pleased to welcome him to my blog to talk about his new book

Notes for Psalms and Psalms for Notes

Volume 1

Psalms 1 — 50

Short informative notes on each of the psalms with the author’s own paraphrased version created as poetic hymns with suggested tunes.

Please tell us how you came to write your book.

When I was an Honorary Canon of Truro Cathedral, I was required to read six Psalms (73 – 78 daily. After a while I produced my own paraphrases of them to sing each day.

A little later on, I wrote down my Reflections on each of those Psalms with which I had become so familiar. These notes were not a commentary. I leave that to more learned folk than me.

When I retired I decided to do the same with other Psalms. I turned the first 24 into booklets each containing six Psalm paraphrases and six sets of notes.

By this time I realised I could possibly do the same thing for all 150 Psalms reflections on each of those psalms. This book is one third of the way through that target.

Tell us a bit more about the paraphrases of the Psalms. They’re poems, aren’t they?

Yes. I’ve written them in the form of hymns, each one different. I’ve included notes on which tune to use. For example, for Psalm 1, I’ve written The man who walks in innocence to the tune of It came upon a midnight clear.

Some of the Psalms are pretty bloodthirsty, aren’t they? Did you find it difficult to deal with this aspect of them?

Jesus taught that the whole law could be summed up in just two injunctions: ‘Love God with everything’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. Some of the Psalms fall very far short of ‘love-thy-neighbour’.

When Jesus explained in the story of the Good Samaritan that your neighbour could be your most hated enemy.

The Psalmist did not have the benefit of this insight. Enemies were for slaying and defeating. Definitely not for loving.

Therefore my notes are occasionally critical of the narrow, vengeful and bloodthirsty tone which makes Christians cringe. I have not expected the Psalmist to display the influence of the New Testament and the Holy Spirit, but neither have I wallowed in the bloody and vengeful bits in my hymnic paraphrases.

Thank you for joining us this month, Tony. I am enjoying Notes for Psalms and Psalms for Notes and feel it is a book that will appeal to everyone interested in learning more about the light and dark of life.

Available on Amazon. Click here for the link.


Creative non-fiction

Creative non-fiction. Almost an oxymoron, isn’t it. Let’s take a closer look.

Nonfiction – that’s written information about real people and real places, isn’t it? Real anything in fact. The life cycle of a crested newt, for example, the Battle of Waterloo, or unmissable Cornish inns.

Creative is a word that suggests using the imagination in some way. I think it involves visualising the finished result, whether it’s a painting, a garden, a symphony or a poem, etcetera.

OK. A definition

Creative non-fiction brings together facts and information with beautiful or evocative language, without the essential truth factor of nonfiction disappearing in the process.

To me it sounds like a big challenge.  I shall turn to my old friend Wikipedia for back-up.

This is what I find.

‘For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique.

“Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.” 

Forms within this genre include biographyautobiographymemoirdiarytravel writingfood writingliterary journalismchroniclepersonal essays, and other hybridized essays.

According to Vivian Gornick, American critic, journalist, essayist, and memoirist, “A memoir is a tale taken from life—that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences—related by a first-person narrator who is undeniably the writer. Beyond these bare requirements it has the same responsibility as the novel or the short story: to shape a piece of experience so that it moves from a tale of private interest to one with meaning for the disinterested reader.” ’

I still think it’s a big challenge, but what are challenges for but to stretch ourselves and learn from the experience?

I might have to give the following comp a go. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Observer/Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism

Write an 800-word revue of a recently released book, film, concert, exhibition, ballet, play, TV show or performance art piece.

Prizes: £3,000 and publication of prize essay in the Observer, 2 x £500

Entry fee £10

Closing date: 30th November



Froggie:(not very confidently) This tree must have grown when I wasn’t looking.

Just write

Talking with fellow-writers is good. It helps you appreciate that writing is hard work. It helps you realise that other people have an inner critic not too different from yours – a persistent little ratbag that tells you what you’re writing is substandard, your efforts are laughable, and you’re wasting your time.

Do it anyway. Just write.

Gazing into the fire, or staring out of the window… they’re both good. Maybe they give the brain time to come up with a sizzler of a word… or simply allow you a few minutes to watch the world go by. Creativity is a gift that can grow in such moments. Imagination is not a static thing. It develops and grows.

Staying positive is good. I sometimes wish I could do this living business all over again. I’d understand people so much better. I’d be kinder, to others and to myself. But it’s no good looking back, is it? You can’t change the past.

All you have is your future. So… writers…

Do it anyway. Just write.



Frog: (Nodding)         

I was perfectly happy until the imagination conjured a spectacularly large and hungry heron.