Wednesday, 26 March 2014

How to make the most of a school author visit

Well, it's the author visit season and I've barely had time to gather my thoughts as I've dashed from school to school across the country, trying to answer emails and even do a bit of writing in between. So many schools want an author in World Book Week and many are disappointed - there are only so many of us. Why not have an author in during another part of the year: we are just as good then!

It's been very interesting visiting so many schools over the last few weeks, particularly as a former teacher. So much has changed. Most of the schools have been wonderful but in a few the visit has been, well, 'interesting' is being kind. This has me thinking: what makes a good author visit?

It's all about the preparation: in the best schools the teachers get hold of the authors' books and introduce the children to them; they look at the writer's website and find out about him or her; they think of some good questions to ask. I know teachers are busy, but it's worth it.

In the best schools there's someone there to greet the arriving author (who has often got up very early and travelled a long way), maybe offering a heartwarming cup of tea. What a difference that makes. You get a little tour and see where you'll be based, you're shown the location of the loos and staffroom and maybe meet some of the teachers and head.

In other schools you're left sitting in a lobby or shown to the hall and abandoned, perhaps to find a table to put some books on. In these schools the children will often walk in to the hall with no idea who they are meeting. I find it hard to believe that this still happens. It's rare, but it does.

In the best schools the children enter assembly to classical music (in my view) - what has happened to this tradition? It used to take place in every school. I came to appreciate composers this way. Too many children shuffle into halls in awkward silence or chatter.

In the best schools the author is given a brief introduction by a teacher (not too long, so it reduces your time) although often I am left, awkwardly, to introduce myself - I don't mind doing this but it would be nice to be given a warning.

In good schools children are encouraged to bring money to buy a signed book from the author. This frequently baffles me - on so many occasions in school I am surrounded by children looking longingly at the books saying, "Aw, we didn't know we could bring money..." The flyer I sent has not gone out to parents... the children weren't told or reminded... When authors come into school it gets children excited about books and reading: they want to read and if they can get a signed book from an author they've met they WILL read - this can be a significant moment in a child's life. And yet so often I put my books away or only a tiny handful of children bring money. Don't schools want to encourage reading? Sometimes I am left feeling that it's somehow distasteful or wrong to sell books in school, to ask for money. That's how authors (try to) make a living! And we are desperate to encourage reading too. Please, teachers, tell children and parents that the £5 is a great investment. And, yes, I know some families can't afford books - so I always leave free copies in schools.

The thing that makes the greatest difference to a school author visit, however, is the ENTHUSIASM of the teachers. I have met some fantastic, keen, motivating teachers over the last few weeks - they've listened as intently as the kids, asking questions and modelling the interest of a reader. But I am sad to say that increasingly I come across the opposite: teachers who sit and mark books while I'm talking, or they chatter to a TA in the corner - what message does that give to the children? I met an all time low at one (nameless) school I recently visited where a male member of staff checked his phone while I told a story. I found this just downright rude and nearly said something.

But these are the exceptions; in most schools the children are fantastically responsive, the staff are warm and encouraging, the atmosphere is pro-books and reading. Ah, if only so many school halls weren't noisy corridors...

How it should be!

  • I am very excited to become Patron of Reading at Heather Garth Primary School at Bolton-on Dearne in South Yorks - I can't wait to visit and meet the children and staff. If you want to know what a Patron of Reading is, look here.
  • I am incredibly excited to announce that my first children's novel has been bought and will be published in September: it's a funny mystery story for 8-11s. More news about this to follow soon.
  • The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff is published on 8th May - a collection of comical facts about all sorts of silly people, animals, inventions, ideas, names and more.
  • I am visiting a school in Milan in April: stupendo!
  • Tour de Schools, my show about the Tour de France is now fully booked and will be performed in 36 schools across Yorkshire from April to July. I am performing this with fellow writer Mike Barfield and it will be great fun. What's more we have been lent a piece of Tour history: the yellow helmet worn by 2013 winner Chris Froome no less!
We have this very helmet!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Silly Book is on its way!

For the last few months I've been working hard on a new series of children's books for Bloomsbury. The first one is called The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff and I'm delighted that the cover has now been finalised. Here it is:

The book is a fun non-fiction collection of all sorts of silly and amazing information. Here's what the blurb says:
This laugh-out-loud book is bursting with lists, facts, jokes and funny true stories all about silly people, silly animals, silly inventions, silly names and much more. Discover The Great Stink, the man who ate a bike, a girl really called Lorna Mower and a sofa that can do 87 mph.
Find out about famous pranks, crazy festivals, nutty cats, gross foods, epic sports fails, ludicrously silly words and really rubbish predictions. There are even lots of great silly things to do. Unmissable!
This book is guaranteed to keep children of ages 8-12 (and adults) amused, amazed and reading! It's published in May and costs less than £6 - ludicrous value!
Pre-order from Amazon here.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Newark Reigns

Authors never quite know what's going on out there. What I mean by that is, we have books spread around the country (and indeed the world) lying on shelves in bookshop, in piles in warehouses, by bedsides in homes, tucked away in libraries and in people's bags. We don't really know who's reading what we write, or what they think of it, save for the few who review, and generally we don't know where our books are popular or even, most of the time, how well they are selling.

I know my memoirs are popular in Yorkshire because they are set there, and they also go down well in Surrey, for some reason - I'm aware of this because I once randomly checked online library catalogues to see how many of my books were out on loan and was amazed to find that Surrey libraries have 57 copies of All Teachers Great and Small. People of taste...

What isn't easy to find out is which bookshops stock your books. Some who are supposed to have it sometimes don't; some indie bookshops do and some have never heard of it; some places sell a lot and others find books gathering dust. There are all sorts of factors at play here, of course, but what is certain is that it's always a pleasant surprise for a writer to discover that his or her book is a hit somewhere unexpected.

And that's what happened to me today. I'm very grateful to a fellow children's author, football fan and friend Helena Pielichaty who saw the page pictured below, in a Newark newspaper. I had no idea that I was so popular in this most excellent of Nottinghamshire towns - and certainly not the number one bestseller! What an honour - and, I must say, it's been a lifelong ambition to beat KNIT YOUR OWN BOYFRIEND. Thanks for sending me the pic, Helena, you're a vnp.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Children's Books

I am very excited to have recently signed up with a new publisher, Bloomsbury (famous for the Harry Potter series) to write three new children's books. Two of these will appear in 2014 with the third to follow in 2015 and I am very excited about them.

The books are fun, non-fiction titles full of humour, information and things to do. The first one, due to be published in May is The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff. This is a collection of lists, facts, jokes and funny true stories all about silly people, silly inventions, silly animals, silly events, silly food and much, much more. It's an information book with a twist - full of amazing, strange things, written in short chunks with cartoons and amusing illustrations.

This book was great fun to write and I so enjoyed researching facts about some of the silliest people from history and nutty people from the present. There's a section on silly things that have happened in sport, as well as silly names, films, TV, places, words and poems. You will not believe some of the stupid things that have been said and done - nearly all by adults...

Here is a bit of a flavour of the content:

From Silly Animals:

Nonsensical names

Some animals’ names are silly because they are confusing. Have a look at these and you’ll see what I mean:

Starfish                               It’s not a fish
Horny toad                         It’s a lizard, not a toad
Electric eel                         It’s not an eel but a knifefish
Mountain goat                  Although it does live on mountains it’s not a goat
Guinea pig                          They’re not from Guinea and they’re not pigs
Flying lemur                      It’s not a lemur and it can’t fly (OK, it can glide a bit)
Black rhino                         It’s not black

White rhino                       It’s not white

From Silly Names:

Wacky band names

Back in the 1950s pop groups had sensible names like The Andrews Sisters but the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll changed all that and things began to get a little bit silly in the Sixties with bands like The Kinks, Herman’s Hermits and The Grateful Dead. By the 1970s, nutty names for groups were quite normal and today there are hundreds of bands with outrageous names. Here are some good ones, old and new:
·         Bonzo Dog’s Doo Dah Band
·         Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
·         Half-man Half-biscuit
·         Bowling for Soup
·         Angry Salad
·         Big White Undies
·         Crispy Ambulance
·         Hitler Stole My Potato
·         Planet of Pants
·         Zombies Under Stress

From Silly Jokes:

Transport puns

A pun is a ‘funny’ wordplay using a word or phrase that has a double meaning. Most puns (especially dads’ puns) are AWFUL. But these are really good!

A man crashed his expensive car into a tree and found out how the Mercedes bends.
All the forms of motor racing had a competition to see which was the fastest and Formula won.
Prince Harry tried a Fiat but fancied something a little more Porsche.
Crossing the Atlantic on a Jumbo Jet is not plane sailing.
Hearse racing is dead good.
I couldn't work out how to fasten my seatbelt. Then it clicked.
The Queen bought a new limo but she had nothing to chauffeur it.
Watch out for whales – they eat fish and ships.
I went on a long bike ride and got wheely tyred.
Our school boarded the train before anyone else and took the best seats: first class idea.

I'll post more about the second book soon. Meanwhile you can pre-order The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff here:

It's not a goat.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Yesterday was the Grand Final of The P-Factor, the poetry performance competition I devised for local primary schools here in Ryedale. It was truly memorable.

At 4pm I was standing on the stage of the Milton Rooms in Malton with my fellow judges: comedian/poet Kate Fox, publisher/poet Rose Drew and cartoonist/poet Mike Barfield (who just this week picked up the prestigious Strip Cartoon of the Year Award in London). The curtains were closed so we couldn't see the audience, although we could hear quite a hubbub.

When the booming intro music played and the curtains opened I couldn't believe my eyes: the large hall, which seats about 300 people, was so full that people were standing down the aisles, in rows at the back and were stacked up on the balcony. Estimates vary but around 450 people had turned out on a Saturday afternoon to see kids performing poems. Wow!

And then the action started - the first group of four children from West Heslerton Primary stood up in front of the bright lights and sea of faces and I wondered if they'd freeze. It was daunting but the children stepped up to the row of mics and gave it their all, to booming applause. The next school did the same and the next: 19 superb, varied, energetic performances. The teachers and parents who accompanied the groups were cheering and roaring. The judges made their enthusiastic comments: there wasn't a Simon Cowell meanie in sight.

A storyteller, Cat Weatherill, entertained the vast audience while the judges deliberated at the end. How would we pick a winner? Two schools were almost tied for the runner up spot but in the end our choice of the winning performers was unanimous: Norton Community Primary with their outstanding interpretation of the poem Complaint by Allan Ahlberg. Amazingly, they were the youngest group to take the stage...

A huge thanks to the organisers, volunteers, teachers, parents, judges and the children for putting on a memorable show. Also to Hands Up Books for supplying 76 free books for the performers. My real hope is that everyone who was there is now inspired to READ!

The 2013 P-Factor winners, Norton Primary, are awarded their gold medals by Joan Lawrence, Mayor of Malton. Runners up Langton Primary are behind them.
The moment of triumph
The brilliant cow trio of St Benedicts - one of the best performances
Runners up Langton with a rap straight out da hood: great energy
[Thanks to Sarah Leese and Gareth Jenkins for the photos]

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Breaking world records...

It was a busy week: I finished the last of 19 local school visits to promote the Ryedale Book Festival, I did a bit of work for BBC Children in Need, gave my comments on some page proofs for a new book on the Winter Olympics, wrote a few pages of my new children's book for Bloomsbury, gave three performances of The Reading Show and broke a world record. Sort of.

I'd better explain that last bit. I've been touring the country with author Alan Gibbons to encourage children to read for pleasure with our Reading Show for schools. We were in Bristol on Friday, at the Central Library performing the show for kids from ten schools, and in the morning we were at Clifton College Prep in front of a large, enthusiastic audience. One of the highlights of the presentation is where we feature the Guinness World Records book and have a go at breaking a record - well, getting a couple of children to do so.

The record is for the number of spoons balanced on a person's face, which stands at 17. An enormous cheer went up when two KS2 children from the school did no less than 20! Okay, so we cheated a bit... (you're not supposed to lean your head back) but it was a great moment, all the same, and raised a huge cheer in the hall.

20 spoons!
The show was great fun to perform and we must thank enthusiastic Librarians Jenny Jones and Margaret Pemberton at each venue for inviting us and for their hospitality. We also performed the show at Churnet View Middle School in Leek on Monday, where the children were tremendous too.

Other recent events have included a fun 'Blooming Words Cabaret' evening with poet Kate Fox, writer Miles Salter and singer Pip Mountjoy at the excellent White Rose Book Cafe in Thirsk. If you live nearby and haven't been to one of these regular evenings then I really recommend them - authors, music, entertainment and a glass of wine.

Sue Lake, Pip Mountjoy and Kate Fox at the White Rose Cabaret
I've also been scootin' round Ryedale primary schools over the last month getting thousands of local children fired up about the P-Factor, the poetry performance competition which will be taking place at the Ryedale Book Festival in Malton on October 19th. The Grand Final is at 4pm in The Milton Rooms and 19 groups, one representing each school, will be on stage under the lights, bringing their chosen poem to life in front of the judges (me among them) and a big audience. It promises to be a memorable event.

Events coming up

Saturday 19th Oct
Tales from the Dales - three authors, including Andy Seed, talk about how the Yorkshire Dales has inspired their books. Venue: Milton Rooms, Malton: details at

Saturday 19th Oct
Grand Final of the P-Factor schools poetry performance competition. Open to all, free event - at the Milton Rooms, Malton: details at

Wednesday 30th October
Wetherby Festival Literary Lunch at The Bridge Inn, Walshford 12 Noon - enjoy a 3-course lunch and hear authors Andy Seed, Val Wood and Chris Perry talk about their work. Details at

Saturday 30th Nov
Book signing at the Guisborough Bookshop - come and get a signed copy of one of Andy's funny memoirs at this fine indie bookshop. 11am-1pm

Friday 6th Dec
Ripon Wakeman Lecture, details at

Monday 9th Dec
Rossett Lecture, Harrogate details

Monday, 15 July 2013

Summertime and the bloggin is easy

It's easy to write about good things and there are plenty of them here in sunny North Yorkshire at the moment. My new book All Teachers Bright and Beautiful is out there and the first reactions have been really positive. Thanks, kind reviewers!
Secondly, the book launch at Hoppers, although quiet due to the blazing heat drawing people to the coast, was remarkable for the loveliness of the people there and the distance that some readers travelled. The record now goes to the excellent Alexandra Lye-Weber and her mum Angela who drove all the way from Kent to pick up a signed copy of the new book. An honorable mention must also go to Gordon R who came a long way and kindly brought me a bag of cherries, the brilliant Vicky my ex-pupil who is now a headteacher in Herts and Kevin whose enthusiasm was infectious. Thanks to everyone else who came along too.

Angela, Andy and Alexandra: top fans!
It's also been a good week with the news that there will be an audio book of All Teachers Great and Small released some time in the near future. I have no details yet but I'm very excited about this and look forward to hearing a great actor who can do great Dales accents!

Finally, there's been some excellent press coverage of the new book in local and regional newspapers:

The Yorkshire Post did this excellent feature and they sent a photographer round who turned out to be an ex-pupil! 
York's The Press also featured a fine piece by Mike Laycock:
Though that picture of me they have is, er, interesting....

Event coming up
1st August is YORKSHIRE DAY (of course) and to celebrate it I shall be doing a talk about my memoirs at Filey Library 7pm. Come along and have a giggle.