Review Of My 2016

Museum of Anthropology Vancouver

I’ve just been listening to lovely John Simpson, the emperor of foreign correspondents, saying that in spite of what current news may tell us, the world is a better place than 20 years ago. There are fewer wars and dictatorships, more democracies, more negotiations than armed conflicts. So, although 2016 has been a year whose passing no one is going to mourn, here, in the spirit of  ‘Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life’ are some nice things that happened in my personal corner this year. You’ll find links to lots of  people. Do click and explore and see just how incredibly lucky I am to work with such fabulous artists of all kinds. Thank you Universe for lining me up with such delightful collaborators.

Seeing the finished art work by Emily Sutton for ‘Lots’ a picture book about biodiversity

Cover of Lots Walker Books 2017

– and seeing the dedication in print.

Being greeted by children in the three primary schools in Hackney that I’ve been visiting for a few years now. So great that they know me and look forward to working with me.

Moving here, to a house in a village in the Brecon Beacons. Dark, dark starry skies and owls calling in the night.




Publication of Perfect. So proud of this picture book and of the response to it.Here’s me talking about it  Published against all the odds, having been turned down by a list of publishers long as your arm. Huge thanks to Graffeg Books for giving it a home.

And so lucky to have found Cathy Fisher 

Hackney kids loved it and it opened up a great dialogue about their own experiences within their families. Now, extra special as Cathy Fisher has been nominated for a Greenaway for her illustration for it.

More wonderful books from Graffeg Books. These rhyming texts were illustrated by new talent Abbie Cameron. We had a ball working with them in schools. Kids so love rhyme.





Bologna Childrens Book Fair. Always amazing but especially so this year as Laura Carlin’s illustrations were everywhere – hers was the cover design for the Fair brochure. It was like walking into the Tate and finding your friend’s pictures all over the walls.

Walker Stand at Bologna book fair



Also the wonderful foreign rights department at Walker Books had organised a dinner so I could meet some of the many publisher around the world who have published my books over the years. I heard stories about readers in China, Japan, Germany, France. I was bathed in warmth and welcome; people thanked me for writing when all I wanted to do was thank them all again and again for valuing what I do and bringing it to audiences in so many countries.


Rehearsals for the new production of King of the Sky, supported again by the fabulous Angie Dickinson from Pontadawe Arts. Wonderful cast, wonderful director, Derek Cobley and amazing musical director John Quirk, making my words sound like a West End musical. The production went on a tour of Wales – I just wished I could go too!

Tessa Bide,Huw Novelli,David Prince, Louise Collins

Huw, Louise, Tessa and Sonya Beck

It was great to be back at Hay with King of the Sky for the second year.

Hay Festival 2016

The UK government’s rejection of 5000 unaccompanied child refugees pushed me to finish the text about the impact of war from a child’s perspective, the Day War Came. Written by noon and, thanks to Emily Drabble, was up on the Guardian children’s website by tea time.

Jackie Morris did a beautiful little chair to accompany the piece…

The first chair by Jackie Morris


and it inspired a chair tsunami, from artists and illustrators, children, teachers. Every chair a small act of solidarity with dispossessed children…You can see some of the chairs here, do look, it’s beautiful and I’m hoping to revive it next year 3000 chairs.  A great tragedy that the Guardian Children’s Books website is no more.


I’ve been finding time to do pictures…I wanted to be a painter so much when I was young but I’ve done almost nothing for decades. Loving getting back to it.

Graphite stick, forest in the Sierra Gorda

Time off. In the Abruzzi mountains leaning new songs with the Unthanks. Singing dawn over the mountains.

carvings from 15th C church in the Abruzzi

…and on North Uist. This has become a tradition for me and my wonderful friend Julia Green,whose great new book Wilderness War came out this year.


A summer of writing in my new writing shed – the the door open on the hills. Sitting outside practicing guitar one evening and a grass snake popped its head through the decking and told me to shut up.

So great having a veg garden again…

Teaching at Ty Newydd with my friend Jackie Morris. What a fabulous and inspirational week that was. Stunning weather too…breakfast out every morning and lots of time writing in the wild.

Our lovely students

I’ve worked in lots of International schools around the world, but the Danube and Vienna International schools in Vienna were special treats.

A park in Vienna

My favourite moment in a class of 11 year olds was finding that all of the children in the class could speak at least three languages. Two girls piped up, saying that they had taught each other their native tongues, Italian and Russian.

Publication of the first two books in the Shadows and Light Series for Graffeg. I’ve loved writing these stories whose roots are in myth and folk tale. They’re vehicles to showcase the talents of new illustrators like the brilliant Anja Uhren and Anastasia Izlesou
An Indian Summer of literary festivals – Edinburgh Crickhowell, Cheltenham, Totness Turn the Page and all with LOVELY Petr Horacek to publicise our new book A First Book Of Animals- my poems his art – all to inspire a love of animals in a new generation of readers. It’s been a delight from start to finish working with Petr and his pictures for this book are making everyone gasp with wonder.

We also made other friends….(I totally fell in love with this barn owl)

At Turn the Page Festival in Totnes

I’m lucky enough to be a Trustee for the World Land Trust. (I try to connect my readers with nature and conservation – here’s a speech I made about that at WLT a while back ) WLT works with other conservation organisations around the world, helping them to do community based conservation that works for people as well as biodiversity. I was ‘fasciliator’ for their international symposium in The Sierra Gorda Biosphere reserve in Mexico in October. Amazing inspiring work showing that we don’t have to chose between people and nature – we can do the best for both. Also humming birds, and mind blowing forest diversity…

Wild epiphytic orchids in the Sierra Gorda

end of the day walking in the Sierra Gorda

…and quite a lot of dancing.(be glad I don’t have pictures of THAT)

A week in Vancouver…(saw a bald eagle, Barrows golden eye and buffleheads on my first day)

A view from Stanley Park, Vancouver

Museum Of Anthropology Vancouver

I was working in the most beautiful community – Crofton House girl school. To be honest, private schools can be a bit of a trial, but the Crofton House girls were an absolute delight to be with, bright, kind, insightful and endlessly curious and welcoming. Lots of highlights in that week, but one was being shown round the Unicorn Wood – part of the garden around the school – by two older girls who leave ‘unicorn messages’ in the trees for the younger ones.heir comments at the farewell assembly had me wishing I hadn’t worn mascara).

The start of a great collaboration with Herefod art college to find two more young illustrators for the next in the Shadows and Light Series (5 and 6 – 3 and 4 already sorted thanks to Fran Shun and Claire Jenkins from Swansea Met). We’re also going to collaborate to create a theatre production from The Day War came, working with Open Sky productions’ director Claire Coache.

Hereford college of Art is a gem and I got a bonus on my second visit to see Claire Coache’s production Hairy Fairy‘s as one its two stars is Tessa Bide, who did such a beautiful job as Mum and puppet director on King Of The Sky.
My last visit to Hackney of 2016. Three days of working with young writers who were as focussed and hardworking as adult MA students. This is the stuff that reminds me why I do what I do.

Putting finishing touches to a big non fiction book for Hodder. Illustrated with great charm and humour by Lorna Scobie it’s a tour through the many different species that we seem to have only one word for…duck (134 species) beetle (3-400,000 species), bear (8 species).

Sneak preview of Lorna Scobie’s work for our book for Hodder

Great meeting with Cathy Fisher (the same little bit of a cafe in Monmouth is our conference room). She’s already working on our next book, The Pond.

Cathy Fisher’s stunning endpapers for The Pond Graffeg Books 2017

It’s about how a grieving family heal through the wildlife on their back garden pond. Cathy’s work for this is already astounding. It will be published next year…one of the great things to look forward to in 2017…

Coming up in 20 17….


The King of The Sky’ -Walker Books Spring 2017

its been a theatre production already and now will be a stunning picture book. Laura Carlin’s work is unique and insightful. Delighted that Amnesty International think that this book helps give a positive view of refugees.

One of Laura Carlins images from King of the Sky

Laura’s illustration from King of the Sky

(Having done two rather serious books together, we have decided that our next book needs to be about something VERY silly)

‘Lots’ – Walker Books Spring 2017

boy was this hard to write! The whole of the concept of biodevrsity in a picture book. But Emily Sutton’s illustrations have nailed it and are ravishingly beautiful. Together with A First Book of Animals and the upcoming one from Hodder I have three books that will let me communicate about biodiversity to a wide range of children and adults.

the third and fourth books in the Shadows and Light Series, Graffeg Books.
Elias Martin – a story about the harsh environment of the Canadian north, and the magic that lives there.
The Selkie’s Mate – an adaptation of a tradition Scottish folk tale about the love between a crofter and a selkie – a seal-woman.

Naughty Animals Walker Books – a book to make children laugh while they learn about creatures that get the better of humans.

The Pond – Graffeg Books Spring 2017

my second picture book with Cathy Fisher – another real and difficult subject presented for young readers.

Ongoing work

Back to my lovely Hackney schools and Highly Primary in Shropshire early in the New Year.

Work begins on the Illustrations for the Day War Came and on the production that we hope to have ready for Hay 2017!

Two new stories for Shadows and Light and two new illustrators to be found…

A big book all about Trees for Hodder.

A picture book about hummingbirds and the meaning they hold for the people who encounter them on their migration North from Mexico to Canada …this will be a long awaited collaboration with Jane Ray, whose work I’ve adored all my adult life.

I’ve got two novels that need editing – goodness knows when I’ll find time for those, a story about an albatross I want to write, and one about bowhead whales and Inuit, that’s been cooking since I wrote ‘The Whale Who Saved Us’ . Plus, having taught almost every audience I’ve worked with for the last 20 years how to ‘sing like a humpback’ its about time I wrote a book about humpback song….Oh yeah and then there’s the sorry about the parrots and the war veterans….and the travelling tailor and his box of dark magic…


My first picture book Big Blue Whale will be 20 years old in June

and my 50th book will be published…not quite sure of the timings but looks like it will be , appropriately enough , ‘Lots’!

…and I’m finally going to learn to dive. Off to Indonesia for two weeks in Feb. Counting the sleeps.

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