Friday, 1 December 2017

When I submitted my first picture book manuscript I knew nothing about the industry, I just knew I wanted to write picture books. I'd proved I could write non-fiction as I'd had features and non-fiction books published. However picture books was one of those bucket list things, so I decided to give it a go. Not surprisingly I received a lot of rejections and along with some of those rejections I received a little advice from editors (which is uncommon, they simply don't have the time, so their comments were much appreciated). So I decided to study and signed up for a distance writing course. I started to submit my work and although I received positive feedback I also received notes, similar to those I'd received from editors.

So in the spirit of sharing here are the five rules I've drawn up based on the feedback I've received over the years.

Rule one:
Don't write about inanimate objects, especially those that talk. Talking and thinking inanimate objects is old fashioned. Children don't like to be 'talked down' to so they won't believe that inanimate objects can have a life of their own. So talking socks - oh no talking socks would never make a good story.

An epic adventure that starts
in a sock drawer.
Rule two:
Don't write about things considered to be 'adult' topics things like death, disability, bullying etc. So nothing like Gilbert the Great which deals with the lose of a friend - that'd never reach the shelves.  

Gilbert The Great White Shark
loses a friend.

Rule three:
Never ever write about a character that is not cute. Children and adults can't bond with un-cute characters, they want a character that has the arrr! factor.

Trolls aren't cute but I think I got away with it because
this story relies on humour. 

Rule four:

If you want your story to be published then it should have a 'proper' story arch with a beginning, middle and end. One where your character changes, gains or learns something. So a book where you make choices on behalf of the character would never get published.
Well it does work and so well that this title has been
followed by another including colouring books.
Rule five:

Your story should always have a happy ending. Leave your reader feeling positive. There's enough sadness in the world, so you don't have to introduce it to young readers in a book.

You'd never think a picture book where one of the main
characters eats the other would work, but it does.  

So now you know the rules guess what? Go on break them! If it worked for these authors then it might work for you. 

Mmmm what rule can I go and break? 



Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm
Meet the Trickers
Brer Rabbit
Coyote Rales Retold
Anansi the Trickster Spider (Volumes 1 & 2)

Friday, 3 November 2017

My Writing Tips

I look back to when I was an aspiring author, smile and ask myself "how did I ever manage to get published?" Apart from being able to string a few words together I knew nothing about the business of becoming published. Yet somehow I managed to become a published picture book writer. However if I knew then what I know now my journey would have been a shorter one. So to reduce the length of your journey here are my top ten tips for writing a story a commissioning editor will hopefully love.

All about a little mouse missing his best friend


Listen to how children speak, what they talk about, the worries they have etc. All of this can be used to fuel your work and ensure you're writing stories children will enjoy and relate to. 


If you get the chance to study poetry, even a short workshop, then go for it. A picture book writer can learn a lot from studying poetry and use that knowledge to add that little extra to their stories. 


When writing be aware of your audience and use appropriate words. Don't use 'grown up' or long words when short will do. 


Learn from published authors by reading, reading and reading some more. As you read question how the author has constructed the story, how they make you want to turn the pages, how they use words etc. 


Break down your story into spreads and think of them as scenes in a play. Ask yourself is there something new happening on every page? Have you given the illustrator something to work with? Does the new scene move the story forward? If the answer to any of these is no then you need to have a rethink.


Get your characters talking as soon as possible. Let them tell the story in their own words. It is there story after all.

Focuses on smell in a humorous way  

Try using repetition in your story. Repetition provides a hook, something for your readers to listen out for, to anticipate. Repetition allows them to join in with the story and become part of your characters journey.


Try to include the five senses in your descriptions. What does something smell like, feel like, sound like, look like and taste like? This will allow your reader to connect with the action on the page.


Everyone loves to laugh, so if appropriate include a little humour. This can be in your use of words, the illustrations or perhaps even both. 


Have a go at using the magic number three in your story. Think Goldilocks and The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs.   

I hope these tips help and good luck with your writing. If you're a published author and you have your own tips please do add them to the comments below.   


Now for a blatant plug - don't say I didn't warn you:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm
Meet the Trickers
Brer Rabbit
Coyote Rales Retold
Anansi the Trickster Spider (Volumes 1 & 2)

Friday, 6 October 2017

Apps To Inspire

As a writer and teacher I'm always looking for new ways to fuel my own writing and ways to inspire my students. So earlier this year I decided to discover what writing related apps were available. After some time researching apps for iPhones and Android I downloaded a dozen or so. After much 'playing' I whittled my favourites down to the following three apps.

Story Lines
Screens from 'Story Lines' 
Designed by: Magostech
Free to download from the following:
Amazon click here
iTunes click here

I love using story cubes and regularly use them to exercise my 'writing muscle' and in class to help inspire my students. The physical cubes I use in class come in packs of nine giving you 54 images. However these nine dice have ten images each, therefore offering more combinations.

To use you simply shake your phone or tablet and the dice scatter. You can then drag them into some order and lock the image. The one small issue I've found is if you don't lock the screen sometimes the dice roll so you lose the image the dice landed on for that roll. I've only used the app as a 'guest' however if you sign up you can also use the 'write story' facility.

This is a great app to have on you when you're sitting in that waiting room or on the train and want to exercise your imagination. Also after using a few times in class it's a great one to introduce to your students.

Poetry Creator
Developer: Tiny Mobile Inc.
Free to download with in app purchases

This app is fun, easy to use and really pushes the creative process. Think fridge magnet or rip it poetry. When you open the app you are supplied with a number of words on a 'board' which provides you with the starting point for your poem. These words you simply drag into place to create your poem. If you struggle there is a pull out 'drawer' (found on the right hand side of the screen) which contains additional words that you can pull into play. You can increase the number of words by going into the 'mix-tionary' and  sliding the selectors.

 You can download additional dictionaries (shown as installed on the image on the left) from here or download eight dictionaries for a special price from the menu page.

Once you've written your poem you can upload to Facebook to show off your skills, email to yourself or save to the photo album on your device. Do remember if you don't do any of these before you press the double arrow button (second icon from the right along the bottom of the screen) you lose your poem.

Unfortunately this app is only available for download onto iPhone and iPad - click here if you want to download which means I won't be able to use in class but it's definitely one I'll be adding to my handouts.

Acrostic Poems
Developer: International Reading Association
Free to download from the following:

Definition of an acrostic poem (just in case it's not one you've come across before): Is a type of poem where the first, last or other letters in a line spell out a word or phrase. The most common is where the first letters of each line spell out the word or phrase. 

As with many of the apps I've downloaded over the last couple of months I did so because I wanted to use in my creative writing sessions. So far I've used this one in three sessions. Two were with year 4 and 5 kids whilst the third session was with a group of students who were 60 plus. All three sessions were (thankfully) a success. 

The first screen asks you to enter your name and then the theme/word you wish to use as the basis for your acrostic poem. When you pick your theme you're limited to 14 characters which includes any spaces and it doesn't include a spell checker, so take care as you type. Your next step is to brainstorm ten words that link with your theme.

Once you've completed this step simply start to create your poem using the words generated during your brainstorming session. When you've completed your poem, checked your spelling you can save it, share via email or print it off. If you forget to do any of these and click on 'new poem' you are told that the poem will be lost and you're given the chance to save your work.

Having seen students use this app in class it's another I'll be adding to my handouts when I update them next. It's also given me a few ideas for new stories which are now safely stored in OneNote.

I hope you've found these reviews helpful.



Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm
Meet the Trickers
Brer Rabbit
Coyote Rales Retold
Anansi the Trickster Spider (Volumes 1 & 2)

Monday, 4 September 2017

Researching To Get It Right

I started writing non-fiction 20 years ago and I continue to write non-fiction magazine features to this day.  I've always strived to write features that are as accurate as possible. Even though I know (I heard it on the TV programme QI, so it must be true) that facts normally have a shelf life of five years. 

This desire to get facts correct crosses over into my picture book and short story writing. I've had many a discussion with editors on getting the 'facts' right. I understand in my picture and short story collections we're dealing with talking animals or creatures that don't exist. However, having studied environmental geography at university I prefer to try to ensure the life science elements of a story are as real as possible. 

For example in my first picture book (A Book For Bramble) Bramble the hedgehog is hibernating under an upturned wheel barrow. This is based on real life. You see in between 'life' stuff I rescue hedgehogs (Herts Hogline) and two carers I work with lost the use of their wheelbarrow to hedgehogs hibernating under them. However I did have to concede to the editors decision that Bramble slept with his family. Typically hedgehogs hibernate on their own. I say typically because we've had  autumn hoglets in our care hibernate late in the season curled up beside their siblings, even though we provided a hibunacula each.

This year I've worked on two books that feature a hedgehog as the main character. The first was a picture called 'Harveys Big Sleep' written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress. The second book (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) is a collection of re-told short stories obviously staring a hedgehog. It was important to me that although I was dealing with talking animals that I kept the stories as natural as possible and that the facts were correct. So in both books I have Harvey and Hedgehog eating the right food, only rambling at night and living on their own. 

I'm now working on a follow on collection of short stories (Fox of Moon Meadow Farm) that stars a Fox. As with my previous books it's important to me to keep to the facts as much as I can. So because I don't know anywhere near as much about our other wildlife (foxes, badgers, starlings etc.) I've had the pleasure in having to do some research (it's the geek in me, I love a bit of research). So I've researched a range of things including:

  • What times foxes are most active
  • When they have their cubs and what calls they make 
  • When leatherjackets (crane fly) are in season
  • How wild animals deal with parasites, mainly fleas
  • What starlings eat and their natural behaviour
  • When damson fruit come into season

Armed with this research I'm now working up the roughed out stories and I'm hoping by this time next month I'll have the first draft completed. As I've been writing this post I've been asking myself if I'm the only one who likes to keep to the facts or is that just 'so yesterday?' What with fake news appearing to be the thing to write at the moment.

So what do you prefer to write or read fact or fake?    


Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm
Meet the Trickers
Brer Rabbit
Coyote Rales Retold
Anansi the Trickster Spider (Volumes 1 & 2)

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Researching online

In my last post 'I used to go to the library' I shared a few online libraries that enabled me to research for my latest book ‘Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm’ without visiting a physical library. This time I wanted to share aa few more I've used and found really helpful.  

Encyclopedia Mythica (thank you for the suggestion Fran B) holds 7,000 plus articles. It contains a mythology sections that is divided into six geographical regions. These being Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Oceania. I’ve already bookmarked their folktales section. 

Scribd. has built a library of books, audiobooks, documents, magazines and sheet music. At the time of writing this they were running a read free for 30 days special. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down how much the charge is once that 30 days expires but I understand it’s a “single small payment.” is a platform for academics to share research papers. It claims to be the easier way to share papers with millions of people across the wold for fee. To use you must caret an account but once you do you have access to over 18 million papers. 

LibriVox has the mission statement of “to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.” This site is a non-commercial, non-profit and is run by volunteers. The volunteers record public domain books (mostly sourced from the Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive) and makes them available to download free. They are always in need of volunteers to read and record books in all languages.

Google Books is a searchable data base of books in print and in the public domain. A good starting point for any research. You can search by term, title or author. When clicking on the link for a book it will tell you if a book is available in eBook format and supply links to places you can purchase the physical format of the book.

Enjoy that research. 

A collection of 8 traditional stories retold

Now for a blatant plug:

My latest collection of short stories featuring my favourite animal the hedgehog is available on Amazon in eBook format and as a paperback.

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Saturday, 8 July 2017

I used to go to the library

I've recently been enjoying carrying out a lot of research for a non-fiction work. Now once upon a time I used to go to the library to do my research. Searching shelves for those elusive books and ordering books from other libraries. That's no longer the case. Over the last few weeks I haven't left my desk but have visited libraries all over the world and found everything I've needed. So in the spirit of sharing I've decided to share my top five online digital libraries. They are in no particular order:

This easy to use online library contains primary and secondary sources for the study of ancient Greece and Rome. Perseus is a non-profit located in the Department of the Classic, Tufts University - Medford, Massachusetts.

This non-profit library contains millions of free books, movies, software, music, website and more. It is easy to use and to support the great work it does just click on the present icon near the top right hand corner.

A fantastic resource which is provided by the HathiTrust in partnership with a huge number of academic and research institutions. If you're unsure about fair use of anything on the site click here to find out how you can ensure you don't infringe copyright.

Gutenberg Project

A huge library of free ebooks containing a wealth of knowledge. It's easy to use and many of the books I found on there are now part of my Kindle library. If you'd like to support them there is an orange 'donate' button in the left hand side bar.

Forgotten Books

Unlike those I've previously mentioned this is not free. They're a London-based publisher who specialises in the restoration of old books. For £5.99 per month you can have full access to over 600,000 books (read online or download). If you love the book you can purchase a printed version, which I've done and been pleased with the quality.

When using such libraries be aware some of the content may not be in the public domain, so always check and if needed ensure you mention where the information was obtained from.

If you've discovered any other online libraries please share below and if enough are suggested I thank you now, as I'll use for my next blog post.  



Now for a blatant plug:

My latest short story collection Coyote Tales Retold is available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote is available as a paper back and an ebook.    

Saturday, 24 June 2017

My Love of Hedgehogs

A book about the friendship between a
mouse and a hedgehog
If you're a long-term follower of The Picture Book Den then you'll know I love hedgehogs. So much so that I've been rescuing them (on a very small scale from a 6' x 8' shed in my back garden) for the last 25 years (Herts Hogline). They're so much a part of my life that they even creep into my writing. In fact my first picture book 'A Book For Bramble' was inspired by them. I've also written a great many non-fiction magazine features about hedgehogs and this year they star in my latest collect of 8 retold traditional tales (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) and my latest picture book written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress called 'Harvey's Big Sleep.' 
A picture booked aimed at helping
children to sleep

As I write this post and if you're reading this within a couple of weeks of my pressing the publish button, I'm hand rearing six hoglets. So rather than tell you something about picture books I've decided to do something a little different. I'm going to turn you all into hedgehog geeks, so you'll know exactly what to do to help our dwindling hedgehog population. Quick fact: hedgehog numbers in the 1950s-60s were an estimated 30 million. Today that has plummeted to 1 million (a faster loss than the loss of the world's tigers). So here are a few ways you can help our hogs:

Just a few days old. For scale
that's a fifty pence under one of them.    
  • If you have a pond with steep sides then fit a ramp.
  • Keep netting at least 15cm (6") off the ground.
  • Leave out food and water. This can be special hedgehog food, tinned cat/dog food (non-fishy flavours) but NEVER bread and milk. To avoid cats eating the food buy or make a feeding station.
  • Always check under hedges and in long grass before cutting.
  • Pick up elastic bands or hair bands, cut up and put into a bin. These and prickles don't mix well.
  • To avoid hedgehogs making a nest in your shed/garage, stable or tack room keep the door closed at all times.
  • Do not use slug pellets; find safer alternatives.
  • Always check a bonfire before you light it.
  • Provide shelter by buying or making a hog home
  • Hedgehogs out during the day are highly likely to need medical help a.s.a.p. so contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice.
  • Never treat for fleas; pet flea solutions are lethal to hedgehogs.
  • During autumn and winter small hedgehogs (under 600 grams) are too small to hibernate, so need to be rescued.
As this is the height of the breeding season the BHPS provide the following advice on nesting females and hoglets:

If you accidentally disturb a nest, try to restore it quickly and without too much fuss.  Check with a piece of screwed up piece of paper to see whether mum is returning, they all react differently, some move the babies over several days, a few have been known to kill them whilst others just abandon them.  If the nest is in a place where it cannot be left, catch the mother before the babies as she will be the most mobile.  Place her in high-sided box with some of the bedding from the nest and then slip her babies in with her.  Contact the BHPS to find a local contact who can advise and if necessary take in the family.  Do not release them somewhere yourself as the mum is very likely to abandon them, given the amount of disturbance she has endured.

First taste of puppy food
Last but not least if you're concerned about your local visiting hedgehog, need advice or find an orphaned, sick or injured hedgehog, contact the BHPS (01584 890801)  they can give general advice and perhaps details of a local hedgehog rehabilitator that you can contact.

If you've reached this far, thanks for reading and please do share this far and wide. Hedgehogs need as many friends as they can get.



Now for a blatant plug:

My latest collection of short stories featuring Hedgehog is available on Amazon in eBook format and as a paperback.

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm