Friday, 2 December 2011

White Dolphin Cover

Thank you, clever people at OUP for designing the cover for White Dolphin...Stunning!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

First Mince Pie

Ok, well, not strictly speaking my first mince pie...I did scoff a few in November, but I guess the mince pie season has officially started. 

I realise that time has slipped by and I haven't written in this blog for over a month (mental note to myself to congratulate anyone who keeps up a regular daily blog). I've lost count of the number of times I've  started a diary in the New Year, but given up by about January 3rd. 

Ozwold's diary is still going strong, so if you have a look at the osprey diary, you will see Ozwold is in Mauritania at the moment. You will also see my rant about the government's U-turn on green policies. 

November was an interesting month of school visits, not only author visits about Sky Hawk but also a rather nostalgic visit to my old primary school. It's also been a month of sinking into a new story idea, researching, dreaming the story in my head and writing lots of notes and ideas and drawing lots of pictures too. It's the most exciting part of story writing; new characters walk in, characters develop and even though I have a vague idea of where the story is going, there are lots of surprises on the way. It's probably the most scary part of writing too, not quite knowing how it will all work out in the end. 

Visit to Beverley Boys Grammar School

This was a great visit, meeting year 7s to talk about Sky Hawk and to take some writing workshops. 

There were really interesting questions too, especially about the background of some of the characters in Sky Hawk. We got talking about how a writer has to know all the characters in a book, even the minor characters. The students were asking about Iona's mother's background. Although I knew Iona's mother's history my own mind, I could only give clues in the book because the story is told from Callum's perspective and he doesn't know the full story. He only picks up prejudiced comments from adults and also learns about her from his own observations. It was interesting that the students had understood Iona's Mother's background from the few details in the book.

I was especially struck by some truly fantastic art work on display around the school and was even more amazed to be shown some beautiful pastel on paper Sky Hawk illustrations completed by students in a single lesson.

So thank you to Beverley Boys Grammar school for a great day (and school dinner!...Ah! Times have changed since I was at school!)

Visit to Newbridge Junior School

School dinners (or the memory of them) brings me on to my visit to my old primary school in Bath. For their project on the history of the school, the pupils had invited ex-pupils of the school to come and visit. Whilst Beverley Grammar school has a very long history (founded 700 AD), Newbridge, by comparison is very about 100 years. However, while waiting to be shown around, I browsed through one of the log books of the school, filled out in meticulous handwriting from the dates 1939 -1974.
During the years of the Second World War there were many references to routine gas mask checks and air raids. When the air raid siren sounded, children had to ''scatter" to safe houses until Morrison shelters were built in the school grounds. Sometimes there were several air raid sirens in a day. Bath was very badly bombed and mention was made that children were late at school if there had been a particularly bad night of air raids, and even how many homes had been destroyed. Most parents, however, didn't want the bombs to disrupt their children's education and wanted their children to attend school. There was also mention of an increase in pupils of evacuees from the London Boroughs.

I was  shown around by some year six pupils. Although everything seemed to have shrunk, lots of memories came flooding back. I could remember each classroom and each teacher I'd had. Some memories may have been a become a bit hazy over time as I distinctly remember being taught by a dragon who filed her claws and wore lime green platforms. I also remembered having to sit outside the headmasters office and write out the hymn, "he who would valiant be" for talking in assembly. It was good to see the nature reserve still there. I had visions of it under houses and concrete, but continues to be a great space for outdoor learning and more importantly cooking marshmallows over an open fire.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wigan and Wells

I've been fortunate to visit schools in Wigan twice this month. There must be many wildlife enthusiasts in Wigan!

Abraham Guest High School

At the first school, Abraham Guest High School I was made to feel very welcome by students and staff. The students had produced a great Sky Hawk display and there was great enthusiasm for ospreys and wildlife. I shared a creative writing workshop with students too, and there were loads of fantastic ideas flying many ideas just in an hour...far many more than most authors come up with in a week!

We were so busy that regrettably I forgot to take photos of the amazing display the students had produced for Sky Hawk. They had produced some terrific wildlife writing too.

One of the really great things about Abraham Guest High School, a newly built school, is that it has incorporated the community library into the school building. Students have access to a wide range of books and audiotapes and reference books. It was great to see the library packed with children at lunch time and after school! Absolute proof that libraries are essential for schools and communities. Mixed into this, of course were some very enthusiastic librarians. At a time of library cuts and closures (my local library in now only open 2 days a week) it is refreshing to see libraries, librarians, teachers and students having the opportunity to share books and instill and develop a love of reading. Maybe politicians who view libraries as a superfluous waste of money should visit Abraham Guest and see for themselves the benefits of books...not just for increasing literacy levels, but for sharing stories and finding out about the wider world.

So a big thank you to staff and students at Abraham Guest High School for two fantastic days working with you.

Wells Festival of Literature 2011

I felt hugely honoured to be invited to talk at the Wells Festival of Literature. It's been a successful year again for Wells. There have been some big names, children's authors and local authors including Matt Frei, Melvynn Bragg, Pam Ayres, Shirley Williams, Gillian Cross, Emma Craigie...the list goes on.

As I descended into Wells, the cathedral was lit in the golden light of an autumn evening. It was stunning. Children from various schools in Wells came along and asked some very interesting questions too. I received a lovely ceramic plaque of Wells Cathedral and and anthology of poems shortlisted from this year's competition. I know which one I'm voting for!

Back to Wigan and Winstanley Community School

I had a fantastic day yesterday. Again, both pupils and staff had put a huge amount of time and effort into making me feel very welcome. The children had been working hard on an osprey Sky Hawk display and have been plotting Ozwold's journey. They were delighted that they were the first to hear of Ozwold's safe arrival in Spain...the news came in from Roy Dennis during assembly.

I was impressed by the art work and writing the pupils had produced from reading Sky Hawk. One of the year 5 teachers said the children have been going osprey crazy...drawing pictures of ospreys. Y5s had even produced an anthology of poetry about ospreys. Each child had written and illustrated a poem about...'If I were an osprey...'
It was wonderful to see so much enthusiasm for wildlife and conservation. Two children had written and illustrated a comic about ospreys. I laughed out loud at one picture...the word bubble said..."what's for supper tonight?"...answer..."Fish! as usual!" and another of an osprey sunbathing in Africa saying, "Man, it's hot!"

Osprey poetry anthology

Staff and the Sky Hawk display...and me!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Book House and Thame schools

I had a great day with staff from the Book House book shop in Thame yesterday, visiting primary schools in Thame and Watlington.

Year 6 children from three other schools joined one of the large primary schools in Thame...even the local press was there to take photos! Some of the pupils had entered a writing competition and had written some fantastic descriptions of ospreys. There were great illustrations too. It was difficult to choose a winner, as all the entries were strong contenders. Well done to all of you who entered.

Children at Watlington Primary had made a huge display about Sky Hawk...see below...some brilliant osprey artwork too.

There were some great questions too...'how do you lift a horse onto an operating table?'...'If you could travel anywhere to see one animal, what animal would you like to see?'... and lots more....

I had come to talk about Sky Hawk and ospreys, but this area of Oxfordshire has its  own fair share of an amazing and beautiful bird of prey...the red kite. Like the osprey, red kites were once common place across the British Isles. They were so common that William Shakespeare referred to London as a city of red kite and crows. But persecution reduced their numbers to only a handful in Mid Wales. Re-introduction programmes have been hugely successful and their numbers have risen dramatically. On my school visit today, I counted at least 12 kites in the skies above Oxfordshire. Some of the children told me the red kites a particularly fond of barbecues, as they are carrion eaters and will swoop down for sausages dropped on the grass!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

End of another great BathKidsLitFest

The 5th BathKidsLitFest has come to an end. It goes from strength to strength year on year. There have been some incredible authors and illustrators...Andy Stanton...Cressida Cowell....Francesca Simon...Celia Rees...Tony DiTerlizzi...David name only a few, and that was only week one!

I sat on a panel event about writing for children and teenagers. The event was chaired by author and university lecturer and course leader of the MA in Writing for Young People, Julia Green. Marcus Sedgwick spoke about the inspiration behind his latest novel, MidwinterBlood and how it came from a painting he viewed in a Stockholm gallery. It's alway interesting to hear how ideas for stories are born and are developed. The story is deep, dark and very mysterious. Karen Saunders read her beautiful picture book, Baby Badger's Wonderful Night. Texts for picture books are renowned for being the most difficult books to write. The writing has to be concise, but must flow from page to page, and also interact with the illustrations. Sam Gayton, who was in my MA year at Bath Spa, read from his fantastic imaginative debut novel, The Snow Merchant. Having read snippets from work in progress on the was great to see it as a finished book. Sam spoke of his inspiration...that childhood wonder of waking up and seeing if appeared by some kind of magic. 

Other news...The Italian cover of Sky Hawk is just in....I love the shadow in the clouds. 

Il grido del falco

and also the Spanish....

Librería Central - Kulanjango: el viaje del águila

What amazing art's interesting to see how each different language publisher develops a different style. 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The 5th Bath Children's Literature Festival begins...

The fantastic Bath Children's Literature Festival is underway...

Take a look at the brilliant line up of authors and illustrators on

On Friday 23rd, Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle (he who wrote The Commitments! I can't believe I've only just made that connection) gave a great talk about his new book, A greyhound of a Girl, and about his upbringing and family life and how it influenced the story. He talked about writing humour for adults for children, and how children are far more honest in their appraisal. 'If they find it funny, they find it funny. If they don't, they don't...and they'll tell you too. They're not going to say they like it because they don't want to hurt your feelings!'

When asked the favourite character he'd written...he said it has to be Rover, from the Rover stories. I bought a book for my eight year old, who's loving it...even our dog loves it too!

On Saturday, I went to hear Nicola Davies talk about the inspiration behind her new fantastic Silver Street series...about children starting up a city farm. Nicola had us all in stitches describing her own 'technique' of sheep shearing, the pet chickens of her childhood and pig catching in an orchard! All the animals and antics she described are in the series...with lovely illustrations too.

Nicola Davies book signing

So take a look at the program of the festival, and if you live near Bath...or even if you don't, it's well worth a visit. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Just received my Catalan copy of Sky Hawk...fabulous cover!

YLG conference

It was a great day at the Youth Libraries Group conference at Goldsmiths in London. A truly magical mix of librarians, authors and publishers.

"Opening doors...the power of the story....the importance of stories and storytelling in empowering librarians and young people to develop."

My only regret was that I couldn't make it to the whole conference. There were some amazing speakers. Baroness Greenfield spoke of the importance of imagination, and how allowing our imagination to develop will develop our mind. In an experiment of 3 groups, Group one was told to stare at a piano for 2 hours a day for a week. Group 2 was told to stare at the piano, but imagine their fingers were playing on the keys. Group 3 was told to play the piano for the same period of time. At the end of the week, brain scans showed the same development in the areas of the brain for the piano players and those who had imagined playing the piano! Just shows how simply by imagining we can increase our brain power.

I sat on a panel event with fellow debut authors;

S.C Ransom with her book one of a trilogy, Small Blue Thing
Irfan Masters with his book, A Beautiful Lie
Chris Westwood with his book, The Ministry of Pandemonium

The talk was led by librarian, Matt Imrie who kept the conversation relaxed and informal. The books were all very different, from London based paranormal romance, to historical partition of India and Pakistan, to ghostly paranormal. It was interesting to hear other authors' routes to publication and their writing process  and what inspired them to write too.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Wild Wings...aka Sky Hawk in America!

I was really chuffed to hear from my US editor of Wild Wings (the US title for Sky Hawk) that Wild Wings has been chosen as one of 10 middle grade novels by the American Booksellers Association for the ABC New Voices project.

Also the Stow Munroe Falls Public Library has produced a fantastic utube trailer of Wild Wings...

I've had some great emails from US kids too. It's brilliant to hear from so many children interested in wildlife.

Friday, 16 September 2011

White Dolphin Proof

Just received the uncorrected proof copy of White Dolphin. I love this part of the publishing process, seeing the story that has grown in my head and on my computer as an ACTUAL REAL book to hold in my hand!! It'll be another 9 or 10 months until White Dolphin comes out on the bookshelves. It will have a final cover illustration too, of course. 

But in the mean time, I love the plain white of the proof copy, the reflective blue title and the words below...

The truth lies deep beneath the waves....

Because it is a story about dolphins, but much more that, it is a story about one girl's search for her mother intertwined with the on going, but hidden destruction of our most precious resource...our oceans.

White Dolphin proof, next to my photo of common dolphins seen off the coast of Wales this summer

Also more exciting news, I received the audio version of Sky Hawk, published by Oak Hill publishing. 

The Actor Martin Clark reads it brilliantly. I could listen to his voice all day...a sort of young Sean Connery voice! 

Friday, 19 August 2011

Two weeks in Pembrokeshire

Just returned from an amazing two weeks in Pembrokeshire, staying in a yurt in a small campsite close to a fishing cove. It was definitly back to no phones...internet....etc....perfect!

I highly recommend chocolate flake stuffed bananas cooked in the fire embers of an open fire. The stars are incredibly bright in this part of Wales, especially on moonless nights. One of the few places in the UK you can actually see by starlight. A few badgers whiffled through the ferns each night beside the yurt. Maybe they were after the bananas too.

The canvas of the yurt had been printed with beautiful dream-like illustrations by Pembrokeshire illustrator and author, Jackie Morris. I was lucky enough to be able to hear her talk about her life and the inspiration behind her books in Words and Music at the Fishguard theatre.

To see her work and some of her illustrations visit her website at;

Above...the yurt. The yurt was like the tardis...much bigger on the inside...and it even had a wood burner for the cold nights. 

The Pembrokeshire coast path is stunning and the light constantly changes. I tried to capture it, but the photos don't really do it justice;  

The coast abounds with wildlife too. A huge pod of about sixty common dolphin was fishing in the currents out beyond Skomer Island. The dolphins joined our boat, leaping in and out of our bow waves for several minutes, just for the fun of it, it seemed.

Then on to Grassholm, the second largest gannet colony in the UK. The air was filled with gannets...and the stench of gannet poo too. Ugh! The smell carries at least half a mile out across the water. I don't know why the island is called Grassholm, because one thing's certain...there's no grass visible there at breeding time. The island looks snow covered on account of the sheer number of gannets and gannet poo that has stained the rocks white over the years. The bird sound from the island is deafening too...lots of gannets calling to each other and their young. It's amazing how birds can find each other and recognise their calls above all that noise.

'Snow covered'...I could hear the gannets on the island from here.

Gannets on Grassholm. The breeding season is nearly over. Most of the young birds have their adult feathers and can fly.

It was an incredible sight to see such a huge colony of seabirds only eight miles off the Welsh coast.

I also witnessed hundreds of Manx Shearwater fly back to the island of Skomer. In the early evening groups of Shearwater fly low, skimming across the waves, like black smoke. They settle in rafts on the sea before returning to their nests in burrows on Skomer island.  Manx shearwater are incredible little are a few fact about them;

Scientific name; Puffinus puffinus
Perfectly adapted for living at sea. Long narrow wings, legs set far back for efficient swimming. Hopeless on land. Very ungainly and because of this, easy prey for birds such as Black Backed gulls. Hence Manx Shearwater only return to land to breed and when they do so, they nest in burrows and only come to, or leave the island under the cover of darkess.
The young chicks leave the burrows in late August and immediately fly for their winter quarters off southern Brazil and Argentina. AMAZING FACT; some ringed Shearwater have flown the 7000 mile journey in less than a fortnight.

To read more about these birds and for other facts on Welsh wildlife follow the link; 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Radio Devon...Fly like an Eagle...or osprey!

I've had a great week in the South West this signing at Waterstone's in Plymouth on Saturday and then an interview with Judi Spiers for BBC Radio Devon. Judi and researcher Danny, introduced me with an ABBA song...'Fly Like and Eagle' osprey songs, apparently!  :0)

You can listen here;     

ps...Ozwold has taken his first attempts at flight....see the osprey diary.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Sky Hawk osprey's name is...


Congratulations to the winner of the Young the Sky Hawk osprey competition.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Sky Hawk osprey has been launched!!

Meet the Sky Hawk osprey...his name has been chosen from the shortlist of the Young Times 'name the osprey' competition, and will be announced on Monday!!

Last week I travelled up to Scotland to meet Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife to select and tag one of this year's osprey chicks. Read all about it on the osprey blog on my website (click on the osprey picture on the notice board) 

I've been following the story of the Dyfi ospreys in Wales too, and found one of their great utube videos;
This made me laugh out loud!

The three Dyfi chicks will be tagged next will be amazing to follow all these young ospreys.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Two amazing gifts!

July already!

It's been full speed ahead since my return from Scotland. I've been busy arranging festivals and school visits and also I've been working on the final edits for my next book; White Dolphin...I've been given a sneak peek of the cover...and it's looking fab!

I will be travelling to Scotland in a week or two to tag the osprey sponsored by the UK, US and foreign publishers, so check out the osprey blog to read all about it and follow one amazing osprey. I'll be announcing the winner of The Young Times 'Name the Osprey' Competition soon too.

I was also treated to a suprise party by some brilliant friends who all clubbed together and handed me a huge cheque to sponsor two Gambian children through secondary school...I'm so thrilled to think that two children will have this opportunity. A huge thank you to my friends. 

We will be sponsoring the children via the

I was also given a beautifully hand bound copy of Sky Hawk, bound by my bookbinder friend, Rosy. She made blocks cuts of the eyes of the cover of Sky Hawk and put the image in gold relief against a blue leather background. It was signed by many friends and is really special. I've put some pics below. You can see Rosy's work including bookbinding, journals, photo albums and more at her website;

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A week of pigs, books and robots!!

A great week last week....

A trip to the Royal Bath and West Show in Somerset....a riot of rare breeds, side shows and country crafts.

Then onto the Hay Festival at Hay on Wye...a wonderful tented field of books and music nestling in the valley below Hay Bluff. You can read my interview with Martin Chilton of the Telegraph here;

I was lucky enough to get a few tickets to the sell out Eoin Colfer event...fantastic and very funny!!

In the afternoon I joined the lovely Lucy Christopher, author of Flyaway, for a panel event sponsored by the RSPB (celebrating 100 years of the RSPB in Wales!). The children in the Hay audience were great and asked loads of really interesting questions.

Then I heard Philip Pullman talk about the dire state of library funding in England and also about his ideas behind his novel, Jesus the Good Man and the Scoundrel Christ. There was resounding support for libraries from the audience and Pullman spoke about the importance of getting libraries into schools...and also for children to be able to enjoy books within schools without always having to analyse the text. I couldn't agree more...I think the last half hour of the school day should be set aside for a story.

Finally, after a comfortable night at a farmhouse B and B, the farmers kindly showed us around the farm and also their robotic milking machine. I'd never seen one in action before. The farmers no longer have to herd the cattle into the milking parlour twice a day for milking. Instead the cows choose when to go into the cubicle to be milked. A computer reads the tag on their collar and determines how much feed each cow needs depending upon how long she has been in milk. As the cow is eating her food, the milking machine directs laser beam of light at her udder to work out where to put the suction cups! Then the milk flows through individual filters and the milking machine can determine if there are any abnormalities in the milk. When the machine detects that each quarter of the udder is empty, it releases the suction cups. It all sounds very high tech and non-labour intensive, but the farmer told me that the system only works well if the cows are well looked after and checked throughout the day and night.

So after a bit of a manic month of Scottish tours and festivals...I can now look forward to getting down to some writing again...hooray!!

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!!