My Life in Books: Judith Kerr comes to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

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It was a full house at The Olympic Cinema as legendary author and illustrator Judith Kerr took to her seat on the stage to reminisce about her remarkable life and books. Missed it? Arno Bryant brings you her memories of fleeing Nazi Germany, her love of Google and her stand for feline feminism.

Judith Kerr is one of Barnes’ most prestigious residents, having enjoyed a long career creating some of the most loved characters in children’s literature. Her book The Tiger Who Came To Tea is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time alongside her famous series of Mog the Cat stories.

Daughter of influential German theater critic and outspoken detractor of Hitler Alfred Kerr, Judith grew up amid the rising anti-Semitism of 1930’s Berlin and fled with her family just before the election of Hitler.

“We got to Zurich the day before the election and the morning after the election we heard that they had come to our house and demanded all our passports… My nearly 93 years are due to those two days,” Judith said. It’s a period in her life that would later inspire her novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

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Judith Kerr in conversation with Nicolette Jones, Children’s Book Editor of The Sunday Times.

She spent much of her time drawing while living in Switzerland and then France. She showed the audience a series of her childhood sketches, one of which showed a windmill on top of a Dutch mountain. “I was never good at geography,” she laughed, “it would be a good place for a windmill if they had a mountain.”

She later moved to London for Art School where she “learned to draw properly,” but she states that she now gets inspiration from an unlikely source, namely Google. “You can google ‘open mouth tigers’ and it comes up and shows you where the teeth are which you could never do before. You could wait for hours at the zoo and never see that.”

She then won a scholarship at London’s Central School of Art and Design where she officially studied illustration, but actually spent her time doing life drawing. “For nearly three years I’d sign on in the illustration room then go and do whatever I liked… but then one day some idiot bureaucrat decided we needed a diploma and must write a thesis which naturally I was expected to do in illustration, and I hadn’t done any. It’s the only exam I’ve ever failed in my life.”

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She took a job at the BBC, where her husband Nigel Kneale was a screenwriter, later leaving to have her two children. It was when making up stories for her daughter Tacy that the idea for The Tiger Who Came To Tea was formulated. “She used to say ‘talk the tiger’ quite menacingly, which I found quite annoying cos’ I thought my other stories were perfectly decent as well.”

It would be five years later, when both her children were at school, that she found time to make the story into a picture book. Her next foray into picture books was the hugely popular Mog serious inspired by her own cat of the same name. “When Mog was translated into German they made her a tom-cat, and I said, ‘no she’s female’, but they said ‘such an energetic enterprising cat must be a tom cat’… so I thought, ‘I’ll show them’, so in the next book she had kittens,” Judith grinned.

Now 93, Judith hasn’t stopped writing or illustrating and her latest book Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, a story of a man and his friendly seal, is incredibly based on a true story. It’s testament to her extraordinary life that the revelation that her father once adopted an orphaned seal before taking him on a train to his home in Berlin, comes as little surprise to the audience.


Judith is currently working on a new book which, although she is yet to reveal the story, she confirmed she’s completed a number of pages for. Watch this space.



Images by; @LieselBockl



Abi Elphinstone takes us on a trip to Mongolia


Faraway places and beautiful landscapes… Malika Kingston joined the Festival audience for a photographic adventure as the author of The Dreamsnatcher and The Shadow Keeper shared her inspirations.

Energetic and inspiring, that’s Abi Elphinstone. Before becoming an author of magical adventure books she was a teacher. It took seven years and being told ‘no’ by over 90 publishers before her first book, The Dreamsnatcher, was published.

But persistence is key and sequel The Shadow Keeper followed.

Much like method acting, Abi could be described as a method writer – her research taking her to some of the most remote locations in the world. A Mongolian Eagle Huntress inspired a main character in one of the books she is researching. “It all started when I saw this photo,” she said clicking to a slide in her presentation that showed a 13-year-old girl sitting high up on a rock formation in tribal clothing and a big fur hat, beautiful mountains stretching out behind her. The girl had a big smile on her face as she released a golden eagle to hunt. “I remember seeing this photo online and thinking, ‘there’s a story behind this’.”


Not content to simply continue her research online, Abi decided she was going to look for the girl and find out exactly what that story was. This adventure took her all the way to Mongolia where she spent time with the Kazakh eagle hunters.

Her vivid descriptions, props and photographs of her travels had both the children and their parents hanging on her every word. “I’ve seen the northern lights ripping across the sky. And killer whales jump out of the water,” she told the audience.


As she continued to speak about her adventures abseiling into caves in Brazil and being circled by wild wolves, she made sure to bring it back to home. She reminded the children that although we live in a big world with many far away places to explore, there are also adventures to be had right in our back yards. “Look up and look out. Be curious and go on your own adventures,” she said, adding: “Although our world is quite broken, and lots of things go wrong and there’s a lot of sadness, it’s also beautiful. You have to just take that and not expect it to be perfect.”

It was a truly inspirational hour, and afterwards Abi posed for photographs with her fans, signed books and spoke to everyone she could.


Holly Webb’s return to the Secret Garden



She’s been named one of the most borrowed authors in the library. Now Holly Webb returns with a sequel to one of the most famous children’s books of all time. And brings another hit event at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, says Sagal Mohammed.

Best-selling children’s author and self-proclaimed reading addict, Holly Webb was welcomed to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival by an excited crowd as she discussed her latest release, Return to the Secret Garden, before creating colourful flower pots with her enthusiastic audience.

“The idea for the book came about five years ago,” she said of her follow-up to The Secret Garden, the much-loved 1911 classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “My editor and I were talking about our favourite childhood books and we both loved The Secret Garden…so she suggested I should write a sequel.”


However, being the creative genius that she is, Holly decided to add a special twist to her version of the story, setting it in 1939 – 28 years later than the original book. “I didn’t want it to be just another copy of the original – I needed to have something that made it my own, I needed new characters. What gave me the idea for the new characters was realising how old the children from the original book would be,” she said before reading aloud extracts from the book.

When asked what the most difficult part of penning a sequel had been, the editor turned writer – who’s written over 100 books and has been crowned one of the most borrowed authors in the library – admitted that she struggled to visualise the actual garden in the first book in order to write about it in her own. “The descriptions are very beautiful but they’re not very accurate in terms of what is actually in the garden, so I had to keep flicking through to pick out things she had said.”

Nevertheless, she described the process as “exciting and different” – just like the flower pot decorating extravaganza that followed.



Want to be the next Axel Scheffler or Garry Parsons? Top children’s illustrators share their tips

Illustrating children’s books is a notoriously competitive industry to get into. Given Barnes spent the weekend heaving with artistic talent it seemed only fair to garner some advice for anyone starting out. So we asked four seriously renowned illustrators for their golden rules for any aspiring artists.

“My Golden Rule is that anything that happens within the story should always be moving the story along. Characters should never have a conversation that doesn’t actually impact what is happening to them. Everything that happens and everywhere they go should always be furthering the adventure.” Lorenzo Etherington, of comic book duo The Etherington Brothers.


“If I’m not enjoying it, then the reader won’t enjoy it. So have enthusiasm and passion.” Marcia Williams, the illustrator behind Comic Strip Classics.


“I don’t have a magic formula, but I always tell people to look at a lot of art, go to museums and stay curious.” Axel Scheffler, creator of The Gruffalo.

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“Just do it all the time or as much as you can. All you need is a pencil and your imagination.” Garry Parsons, whose latest works include Are You The Pirate Captain?


Compiled by Arno Bryant, Malika Kingston and Juliet Vandensteen

Frances Hardinge: 5 steps to writing an award-winning novel

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Calling all budding novelists! Do you have a story to tell, but just don’t know where to start? Acclaimed author Frances Hardinge is here to help, says Sagal Mohammed. 

With multiple awards under her belt, including the 2015 Costa Book of the Year award for her epic children’s novel The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge knows exactly how to tell a gripping tale. Revealing her working process to the literature lovers and young, budding authors who fill the Barnes Booktop Marquee, she dishes out some useful advice on how to discipline yourself when writing a book. Here are her top five tips:

  1. Just start writing

For many, the first step is the hardest. Getting your thoughts onto paper can be difficult, but Frances suggests writing down everything you think of whether you think it’s brilliant or terrible. “I have brainstorming documents, brain files…they help me think things through,” she says.

2. Give yourself mini deadlines

“The best thing about writing is the freedom, but the worst thing about writing is the freedom,” she admits, emphasising the importance of setting yourself small, realistic deadlines throughout the writing process. But be patient – Frances explains that writing a first draft normally takes her a year.

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3Join a writers’ group

Throughout her talk, Frances refers to the significance of writers’ groups for support and feedback. “Sometimes there will be a chapter which isn’t quite working and I cannot think why so it’s good to have someone else with a fresh pair of eyes to say, ‘Well I didn’t understand this’ or ‘This could be said like that,’ and then I find things start to click again,” she says.

4. Get used to looking for ideas in unexpected places

Being alert helps Frances find inspiration in all sorts of places and can be a great way to get new ideas for your story.


5. Read as much as you can

Last but not least, a nice way to gain inspiration is by reading the work of other authors. “The more books you encounter and voices you hear, the easier it is to find your own.”

The Lie Tree


Images by; @LieselBockl


Minecraft at a children’s literature festival? Yes!


Video game writer Alex Wiltshire fights the corner for Minecraft’s role as a creative outlet – and wins. Arno Bryant joins the fun.

To those who have missed out on the craze, Minecraft is a sandbox video game that invites the player to create worlds through the collection and assemblage of materials. “It’s all about living in a world made of blocks that do different things,” says Alex Wiltshire, author of the popular Minecraft Blockopedia. “It’s about explorations, creativity and problem solving – it’s about whatever you want to put into it, whether you want to build or simply have new experiences.”

In his Festival talk, Alex explains the process he went through while writing his Minecraft guide – over 300 pages of facts and insider secrets. His research appears more like a series of scientific experiments as he tests the different properties of the blocks within the game. He goes on to show off some of the constructions he’s created while playing alongside his five-year-old son. However, in his audience, Alex faces a unique challenge. While the children sit bolt upright, engrossed, their parents seem distracted, much to annoyance of their kids.

Alex hopes that by helping parents to understand Minecraft, he can help dispel some of the negative correlations that come with video games. “The game is really good at teaching you. At first you go into the world and you can’t do much, but as you get more tools you can do more things,” he says. “The thing about Minecraft is that it’s so complicated that parents often don’t play with their kids. But they could do because there are lots of ways to play together.”

Alex believes that it’s the process of getting lost in a world that attracts children to the game but can alienate parents. “As a child everything is new all the time and I think that’s why they are drawn to it,” he says.

As families queue up to get their books signed at the end of the event, its noticeable that parents are attempting to engage more in their children’s hobby, referencing “the red ones” or the “control block thingies”. Alex is enthusiastic: “Hopefully parents now understand more about the game, instead of just seeing a load of blocks on a screen.”


Willy the Wimp gets a musical makeover

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What do you get when you mix one of Britain’s best-loved author/ illustrators with a live orchestra? A sell-out show and one mesmerised room of kids, says Anthony Pius.

Anthony Browne, the creator of children’s literature’s most famous chimp, Willy, joined forces with his wife Jane, the violinist and composer of Adriamus Ensemble, to bring his books to life in Barnes.

The performance was full of movement, energy and expression. Using voices, pictures, and a string quartet and saxophone, the children were taken on a journey to explore their imaginations, from being taught dance moves to saving Willy the Wimp from a gorilla gang.

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“I actually wrote the music for Willy the Wimp 20 years ago for a children’s orchestra I used to run,” says Jane. “The children acted it out which sparked the idea for a children’s concert.”

You may be thinking that this type of performance will take months to rehearse, but the Adriamus Ensemble fine tune their masterpieces in just two days.

“I really think the children enjoy it and learn something. It’s nice to see them getting involved in the singing, clapping and just having fun,” says cello player Nick Squires. The best bit? “Seeing the children smile as we perform.”

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This was the first time the Adriamus Ensemble had performed for a children’s literature festival. And Jane doesn’t want to stop there. This event has inspired her to write more music for children’s literature. “It’s perfect,” she says. “We do arts festivals and music festivals but this is really nice. We are so ready for more children’s festivals!”



Images by; @LieselBockl


Queen of fantasy Cornelia Funke on doing it her way


What’s next for fantasy writer Cornelia Funke and her latest Mirror World series? Malika Kingston joins the excited audience at her Festival talk to find out. 

St Mary’s Church in Barnes was packed, almost every seat occupied, even the awkward ones on the side. Who was everyone eagerly waiting to see? Million copy selling German-born fantasy writer Cornelia Funke. In a rare visit to the UK, the author of the Inkheart trilogy was here to talk about her life as a writer and bestselling books.

Cornelia started by speaking about living in Los Angeles and the late start to her writing career. She was a social worker and an illustrator before moving into writing children’s fiction. It wasn’t until the age of 28 that she decided to write.

As you’d expect, writing a bestselling novel takes time. Cornelia explained it takes her a year or more of research to create the foundations of the world she wants to bring to life before she even starts to write the story. “I’ve been working on the MirrorWorld series for eight years, so I know the roads, I know the name of every country, I know exactly what I’m moving into.”

Although her readers love the fairy fantasy series, her US editors had a different reaction to the third title. They wanted her to change some of the chapters – including moving the birth scene in the opening chapter – and tone down the language. This was a breaking point for Cornelia and caused her to go it alone, launching her own publishing house called Breathing Books. She then released Reckless – The Golden Yarn exactly as she intended to, “French swear words” and all.


Setting up a publishing house didn’t come without its challenges. Cornelia explained that when she found out her publishers didn’t want to release her next book without changes, it was just six months before it was supposed to hit bookshelves in the US. “I had to find a company, find line edits, get the book done, find a printer. It was a mad rush to keep that promise I had made,” she revealed. And she’s proud of her achievement. “I’m a storyteller for the world. I feel an obligation to all my readers.”

As the conversation went on, Cornelia talked about her early books, particularly Dragon Rider. Originally, there wasn’t going to be a sequel, but after 17 years she found the spark she needed to revisit the story. While working with artists on an App based on the book, she fell in love with the characters again, prompting her to write the next installment – a sequel her fans have always wanted!

To take a tour of Cornelia’s Writing House and stay in the know about the hotly anticipated Dragon Rider sequel, visit




The art of Dragonsitting with Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons (P.S. don’t mention the poop)


Malika Kingston got her pencil at the ready to find out how to draw a dragon from those in the know.

Dragonsitting is like babysitting with a few ‘minor’ differences. To start with it’s a bit more dangerous, chances are smoke will be involved and you’ll definitely have to clear up poop, lots and lots of poop.

Fortunately, none of the above dampened the enthusiasm of the children attending the lively talk and drawing workshop held by author of The Dragonsitter series Josh Lacey, and his illustrator Garry Parsons.


Author Josh Lacey

The talk began with Josh Lacey picking up one of his books to read. Simultaneously, Garry started drawing. In a matter of pen stokes his first dragon took shape. A bird that was peeking through the window made it onto the page and so too did dragon poop. In fact, whenever Josh Lacey mentioned the word poop Garry put more on the page, which led to lots of smiles and laughter from the children in the crowd.

Just like human characters, dragons have their fair share of personality. Josh asked the children at the event to describe a facial feature of a dragon and Garry drew it.  First up they asked for a dragon with a long, ugly, nose with glasses sat on the end of it. Next came a dragon with wiry whiskers and grey scales surrounded by puffs of smoke where fire should have been. And finally, the children asked Garry to draw an old retired dragon which they beautifully named, Granny Smoke Breath.


It seemed there was no end to Garry’s artistic talents. Or was there? Josh challenged the children to think of something hard for Garry to draw and a boy in the front row brilliantly met the challenge. “Draw someone you don’t know,” he shouted. Garry was stumped, so as consolation for the crowd he drew Josh sitting on a giant donkey, on a camel, on top of the world.

The author/illustrator duo made the whole event fun. Garry ended the talk with some advice for the children attending who love to draw. It was simply this – enjoy it and do lots more of it.  After all there are no special tools required. All you need says Garry is “a pencil and your imagination”.


Rooftoopers’ author, Katherine Rundell, tells us how her travels around the world inspire her writing

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Husky sledding and cooking piranha fish are all part of the fun-filled research that goes into writing Katherine Rundell’s novels. Bethany Parks finds out more.

Katherine Rundell’s new novel The Wolf Wilder has been described as a children’s classic in the making. The snow-filled fairytale is full of adventure, wolves, and a girl’s determination to rescue her mother.

What research did you do for The Wolf Wilder

I have always loved writing about cold and weather so when I was researching this book I went husky-sledding in the Lyngen Alps in Norway. It was wonderful and cold, and we travelled across snow for days and days.

It is good to know as much as you can about a location you want to write about. Although I got to the point where I thought I had probably seen a lot more of a husky’s bottom than I ever wanted to.

And for your next book you travelled down The Amazon. Did any of your adventures make it into your writing?

When we were travelling along the river pink dolphins swam under our boat. We jumped into the water and swam after them. It was one of the best experiences. I like to include real moments like these in my books, so it can become more real for other people.

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What other writing techniques do you use to male book seem more real to your readers?

I like describing food. If you can make your readers hungry, you can make it feel real. I always try to cook the food that I include in the books. We wanted to include cooked piranha fish in my next book, so we caught piranha in The Amazon.

You have some pretty unusual hobbies, such as tightrope walking. Why does this interest you?

Tightrope walking is somewhat like reading. It completely empties your mind of all other thoughts. I learned quite recently how to do it in high-heeled shoes, because I saw someone do it at a circus. I sprained my ankles for a year, but now I can do it… and it is the least useful talent in the world.

What advice would you give to any young writers?

Read everything. Always write about something you would love to read, not what the market would love to read. Be really, really focused and if necessary, tie yourself to a chair.

What adventures can we expect next? 

My novel based in the Amazon will be out in 2017. I have also written a play based on the short stories of Saki, called Life According to Saki, which will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Ed Vere reveals the power of a simple circle

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There was no time for shyness at Ed Vere’s Festival talk, says Anthony Pius. Children and their parents had an hour full of fun and laughter, with a live drawing session of his famous character Max the brave kitten.

When it comes to Ed Vere’s illustrations, it all starts with a circle. “A circle that always turns into an eye. Then that eye turns into a gorilla or another animal for my picture books,” he explains. “Max the cat just appeared one day, I wanted to do something graphically simple.”



The award-winning illustrator has always liked to express his characters through minimal means and Max is as minimal as he can make him. But simplicity comes with challenges. Ed explains that trying to show emotion is the most difficult part when drawing his characters. Max doesn’t have a mouth which means Ed has to focus on the body posture and eyebrows to let the reader know how he’s feeling.

London-based Ed grew up with four cats, but surprisingly none of them were his main inspiration. Looking at life was. He believes that writing and illustration start with looking around you and taking the time to observe what’s in front of you. “I like my books to have a message where you can open up your mind to the world,” he says.

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Exclusively for the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, Ed read aloud from his latest in the Max series, Max and Bird, out 3 June. His aim with this book? To help children understand the value of friendship and togetherness.

“The talk was really good because Ed connected with the kids and even with the adults,” says mum Natalia, who was in the audience. “It was fun and really interactive. Everyone thinks they can’t draw, but Ed helped teach the kids how a shape can be turned into something magical.”

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Q&A with performance poet Joseph Coelho

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Think poetry is boring? Let us introduce you to Children’s Poetry Prize winner, Joseph Coelho. This performance poet puts playfulness into poetry and the kids love it, says Anthony Pius.

Joseph Coelho’s Festival talk was full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm as he drew on the children’s imaginations by asking them to give him descriptive words to make a “disgusting food poem”. But it wasn’t just for kids. Hands both small and large shot into the air when it came to question time…

When did you first start writing poems?

“I remember writing my first poem when I was 12 for a school competition. I didn’t win but it was about a performing bear. In some places in the world they get bears to perform and chain them up, so I was very impressed with my title – I called it ‘unBEARable’. Don’t excuse the pun!”

What inspired you to be a poet?

“My main inspiration is Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. I remember her coming to my school and reading a poem and then I realised, ‘Ahh, you can actually be a poet for a job.’ You can write poems or plays or even TV series. Writing can be a career. Honest.”


Do your poems just form in your head or do you work on them over a long period of time?

“A poem can just come – I believe that someone can just grab a pen and start writing something magical. I’ll write for half an hour, which I’ll have as my first draft. That first draft is fully formed straightaway but that then gives me another idea for something else. All poems need that redrafting process. I have to redraft 15 to 20 times to get that perfect poem. This can take weeks, months, even years.”

How do you know when a poem has reached its ending and is good enough?

“I just get a feeling. I think you have to work on it a bit. You always have to go back and get the subtext correct.”

What makes you want to perform your poetry?

“I think it’s a very honest medium. The poetry world is a little bit strange but traditionally poetry was read aloud and I think it should be something that you can share with others.”

What’s your advice for budding poets?

“Just carry on writing!”

To hear Joseph performing some of his favourite poems, including Timmy Tell Tale and You Look Like A Rainbow, visit


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The Etherington Brothers share their comic book genius

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Who better to show us how to create a totally unique and unputdownable comic than The Etherington Brothers? Juliet Vandensteen meets the dynamic duo.

Robin and Lorenzo Etherington are the whacky duo behind comic creations including Long Gone Don, The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan and Monkey Nuts. In addition to creating their own weird and wonderful comic book characters, the brothers have also worked on Star Wars, Madagascar, Angry Birds and Transformer comics.

Bringing their characters to life is a job for two, with Robin in charge of the writing and Lorenzo providing the illustrations. “The great thing about working with someone else is that they give you ideas that you never would have thought of on your own,” says Lorenzo. “The best ideas that I have are the ones that come from something Robin has sparked in my mind.”

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To kick off their session at the Festival, the high-energy pair spoke about the importance of genre, characters and vivid settings within any story. With theatrical insanity for the kids and satirical humour for the parents, their interactive performance included improvised acting which gave the audience endless opportunities to let their imaginations run wild.

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Robin and Lorenzo then shared their top secret tips for creating unusual and exciting comics. For budding illustrators Lorenzo reveals the three most important things to remember are:

1) “Think all the time about the characters body language and actions.”

2) “When creating and drawing your characters think about their individual core mood.”

3) “Little details, such as facial expressions and exaggerated features, really help to express emotion and feelings.”

To be first to find out about exciting new comics from The Etherington Brothers, follow their blog here.


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How to draw Barry Loser by Jim Smith

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The creative mind behind the Barry Loser series on how to draw his big-nosed characters, smelly dog poo (yes, really!) and other brilliantly gross cartoon images. Juliet Vandensteen took a front row seat.

Clutching their pencils and clipboards full of paper, the children stared up in anticipation as Jim Smith took to the stage at Kitson Hall.

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner began by telling us where he got the ideas for his weird and wonderful characters. Barry Loser was based on his 10-year-old self, he admitted, while his childhood best friend Ben inspired the long-legged, energetic Bunky. “I thought back to the way that Ben and I were as kids and how our friendship worked. We really wanted to be American when we were kids, and we thought the way American kids on TV shows said the word ‘cool’ sounded a bit like ‘keel’, so if we liked something we’d say that it was ‘keel’ and if we didn’t it’d be ‘unkeel’.”

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The defining characteristics of Barry Loser and his storybook companions are their olive-shaped eyes, square bodies and their ginormous, balloon-like noses. “What I liked about big noses was that all my favourite cartoonists gave their characters big noses,” he said. “And I always thought noses were quite funny; we all have one sticking out of our faces!”

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Next, Jim gave tutorials on how to draw Barry, Bunky, Darren Darenofski and his newest character, Future Ratboy. As well as a quick demo of drawing cartoon dog poo, that had everyone laughing.

By Ellie, age 10

By Ellie, age 10


Want to have go? Here’s your step-by-step guide to bringing Barry to life…

  1. Always start with the eyes. Draw two black circles that look a little bit like olives.


  1. Next draw a big, big nose that droops down – the bigger the better.


  1. To create Barry’s hair draw a few comma shapes sprouting from the top of his head in different directions.


  1. Barry’s ear is made up of two ‘C’ shapes, one inside of the other, and the bottom of his head ends just below the nose.

IMG_01095. Next draw a square body and an arm with three fingers.


  1. To complete the picture draw Barry’s ‘L’ shaped legs and a hood on the back of his jumper.


And there you have it, your very own Barry Loser!

For more from the super keel Jim Smith visit,


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Writing a detective story with Robin Stevens

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Author Robin Stevens knows just the right ingredients to whip up a gripping murder mystery novel… Bethany Park investigates.


Introduced as “The Queen of Children’s Crime Novels”, Robin Stevens’ Festival talk was full of mysteries, villains, iced-bun breaks and exclusive lessons in how to write your own detective story.

If you haven’t read the books yet, Robin’s Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries series centres around two inquisitive young girls, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, who set up their own secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls.

“I have always read crime novels, but as I grew up I realised that none of the detectives were ever children,” she says. “None of the characters were people I wanted to hang out with or be friends with. Time went on, I left university and I sat down and thought about creating a detective story based on children. That was when I invented Hazel and Daisy.”

After reading out a gripping section from her most recent book in the series, Jolly Foul Play, Robin let the eager audience in on how to create their very own detective novels.

“I actually think that crime is one of the easiest genres to write about,” says Robin. “There are certain things that have to happen in every crime novel. All you have to do is build your plot on those things.”

So, what’s the DNA of a page-turning detective novel? According to Robin you will need…

A Victim: Everyone knows that you need a victim for any great detective novel.

A Detective: The character who will end up solving the mystery.

The Crime: You need something to solve!

Red herring: Think of a twist that could slightly mislead your readers. This ensures the readers won’t guess the ending straight away.

Clues: Leave some clues at the crime scene to help the characters crack the case.

Suspects: You have to have suspects that aren’t the murderer. This will keep the readers guessing.

An Alibi: Every innocent suspect will need an alibi!

To take a look inside The Detective Society’s Top-Secret Files, plus more mystery and mayhem from Robin, visit


Shh, don’t tell anyone, the Imagination Seekers are on a mission to save Dahl’s words from disappearing


The Ancient Guilt of Tale Tellers are recruiting and Arno Bryant may have made the grade.

Roald Dahl and the Imagination Seekers is an interactive theatre experience for children between seven and 10, inspired by the words of the renowned children’s author, Mr Roald Dahl.

Created by Rob Wilson and Polly Conway, the performance is an ‘adult free zone’. The theatrical duo play book inspectors testing their audience’s imaginations before leading the children away from their guardians into an adjacent room where they reveal that they are on a much more important mission, one that threatens imagination itself.

Unfortunately, in exchange for an exemption from the strict ‘no adults allowed’ ruling, I am sworn to secrecy on the nature of this mission, but through the use of beautiful props, charming illusions, silly activities and a passion for storytelling Rob and Polly have their audience hanging on, and laughing at, their every word.

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A glorious side-effect of this adult-proofed performance is the fact that parents are left listening to their children’s wild screams of laughter without having a clue what’s going on in the room next door.

The performance chimes with what Polly and Rob say they love most about Roald Dahl – namely his empathise on empowering children. “The show relies on the kids, it’s their brilliant minds that save them,” Rob explains.


When the performance concludes, the children are trained to report back that they have done nothing but “boring stuff,” much to their parents’ bemused frustration. “We don’t let parents in to keep it naughty and anarchic and make the performance feel special. We’ve had children go weeks without telling anyone what went on,” Polly laughs.

As I watch the group of children, brought up in an age of ipads and video games, reciting their favourite lines of Dahl’s novels it is obvious that the children’s author has an enduring power to inspire. Between myself, Rob and Polly and their audience, the room contained three generations empowered and enthralled by Dahl’s words, both gibberish and otherwise.

2016 marked 100 years since Roald Dahl’s birth and 52 years since the publication of Charlie and Chocolate Factory but his popularity seems as stong as ever. As Rob states: “People my age are having children and want to give these stories to them and their kids are loving it!”

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Images by; @LieselBockl

Jacqueline Wilson brings her wonderful world to the Barnes Booktop

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Best known for creating characters such as Tracey Beaker and Hetty Feather, Dame Jacqueline Wilson has spent her life writing novels that present serious topics with childlike innocence. The Barnes Booktop Marquee was full to bursting as she took to the stage to introduce her 104th book, Rent a Bridesmaid. When it came to question time, kids were jumping up and down for the chance to speak to Jacqueline. Here, Juliet Vandensteen brings you the prolific writer’s answers to their burning questions…

How did you know writing was your destiny?

From the age of six I had decided that I wanted to be a writer. I was the child that from the moment I woke up, instead of getting up and gathering my homework or my sports kit, had my head in a book. I wrote all sorts of stories, even a full-length novel when I was 15. I really wanted to be a writer and yet not a single person took me seriously.


How long does it normally take for you to write a story?

It can take me up to six months. That does sound like I take forever, but it takes a long time, and I like to write every single day, but not all day.


Out of all your characters, who do you think is the most similar to you?

I’m a bit like the twins in Double Act. There’s a bit of me that’s like Garnet – quiet and hardworking. And then there’s a bit of me that’s like Ruby – quite noisy at times, a bit of a show off, and loves to be the centre of attention.


How do you overcome writer’s block?

I cross my fingers and hope it doesn’t happen. I would always suggest if you get stuck writing a story to go away and do something else for ten minutes and then go back to it.


Do you have a favourite book?

I have grown very fond of Hetty Feather. I’ve also become very attached to The Illustrated Mum and my newest book, Rent a Bridesmaid.


Do you have an idea for your next book?

I have written a new book called Clover Moon that will come out in October. It’s another Victorian book but Clover is a brand new character. So that’s been sent off to my publishers and now I’m writing a book about evacuees. I’m on chapter one of that.

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For more from the wonderful world of Jacqueline Wilson, visit


Feminism, gender, identity and love: why young adult fiction matters



Books are a window onto the world and a platform for discovery. That was the message when the authors of some of the UK’s bestselling young adult fiction, Sarah Crossan, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson and Clare Furniss gathered for a thought-provoking discussion. Sagal Mohammed listened in.

Chaired by Katherine Woodfine, the panel spoke about the crucial teenage years; tapping into topics such as feminism, gender identity and abuse. “These books are a good platform for children to discover things they are not necessarily exposed to,” said Sarah, whose latest novel One is a heart-breaking story of conjoined twins. “I find young people a lot braver [than adults], so I like writing about them.”

Lisa told the audience – mostly young teenage girls and their mothers – about the inspiration behind her debut The Art of Being Normal, a powerful tale about transgender teenagers struggling with identity. “I used to be between office jobs, and one of those was working for the gender identity development service. I realised that I had this amazing source material at my fingertips, because I had all these young people’s stories that were really moving.”

IMG_1938The panel agreed on the importance of a feminism subtext, “But you don’t have to talk explicitly about feminism for a book to be feminist,” explained Holly.

Thirteen year-old, Jessica described the event as “very interesting and inspiring”, while her mother said it was her favourite event of the day.










5 things we found out about author of Once, Morris Gleitzman

Carnegie Medal nominee Morris Gleitzman talks to Tom Collins about the authors and books that inspired him to write and how his heroes in Once got their names.

1.He wasn’t born in Australia. He was brought up in Sleaford and is the town’s second most famous resident after… Jennifer Saunders

I was actually born and brought up in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. When I was 16, my parents developed a taste for adventure and decided to move to Australia.” Despite developing an Aussie twang, he was asked some years later to be Lincolnshire’s writing patron. “They’d already asked Jennifer Saunders, and she’d said no!”

2. His biggest influence is Just William creator Richmal Crompton

I’ve never lost my love for Richmal Crompton, the author of the Just William series. The books were my favourites from the age of seven. I think I owe more to her than any other author I’ve read because the character of William Brown is so anarchic. He’s prepared to break all the rules and boundaries when he’s trying to solve the problems that are the centre of his world. Yet he’s got this absolute good human heart. That combination of a loving heart and a very naughty nature struck a chord in me.”

3. He was almost lost to a clothing factory before one book changed his life

After finishing school, he abandoned dreams of being a writer and began work in a clothing factory, helping cut and tailor garments. A chance encounter with a colleague changed his life forever. “He placed the book in my hands after work, and said he thought I’d like it. By about halfway down the second page, I realised I’d taken a wrong turn. The book was by an [Irish] novelist called Joyce Cary, called The Horse’s Mouth.”

4. He found himself in a boring city and learnt to write

“I spent my university years in the most boring city in Australia. When we’re afraid, we procrastinate, it is fear avoidance. But I was in Canberra, so all I had to do was sit at my desk and face my fears, and that proved to be an invaluable learning experience for me as a developing writer.”

5. Felix and Zelda [the protagonists from his Once novel] are actually the names he wanted to call his own children

“When my daughter was born, 33 years ago, so some time before I thought of Once, I loved the idea of calling her Zelda. However my wife at the time, gathered up other members of the family and formed a veto committee and made it clear to me that under no circumstances was this beautiful baby to be called Zelda.” He ran into the same difficulties when naming his son, so when it came to writing about two young children building a friendship in war-time Poland, he realised he’d finally found the right homes for his much-loved names.


David Melling on the hug that inspired Hugless Douglas

Hugless - 1David Melling shares the inspiration that brought to life his loveable bear with Anthony Pious

What better way to start the day than to share a great big hug? This simple loveable act lies at the heart of author-illustrator David Melling’s bestselling children’s story, Hugless Douglas, a cuddly bear who always needs a hug in the morning.

Melling held an interactive workshop at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival teaching budding young artists how to draw his famous bear. He also revealed to his audience that the spark of inspiration that brought Hugless Douglas to life was a chance conversation that he had with his young son.

“I was reading to my four-year-old son one evening and at the end of the story he yawned and said: ‘Aww that’s a tired hug’,” David explains. “In the morning he said: ‘Dad, I’m going to give you a breakfast hug’. He had so many different types of hugs. A few days later, I thought hang on, there’s a story here. That’s how Hugless Douglas was brought to life.”

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To date his cuddly character has starred in 11 books and Melling admits that he still gets “a real thrill when kids say: ‘I like your books’.

Each illustration in Hugless Douglas is hand drawn and painted by Melling himself. A self-confessed technophobe, David still often uses a trusty hairdryer to dry his paintings and admits that using software to create illustrations is something he is still getting used to.

Melling grew up in East Sheen and his return to speak at the Festival brought back lots of happy childhood memories. From an early age his sculptor dad encouraged him to create and he was “always drawing and rubbing things out to make the perfect legs on a horse”.

The children and parents who attended the event were also encouraged to put pencil to paper and create their own drawings of Hugless Douglas too. To bring the event to a brilliant end there was even a visit from Hugless Douglas himself, who true to form was so pleased to meet everyone, he gave them a great big bear hug.


Dynamic duo Lauren Child and David Mackintosh on their creative marriage


Lauren Child, the creative genius behind children’s classics Charlie and Lola, Ruby Redfort and Clarice Bean, and her graphic design guru David Mackintosh, were one of the highlights of the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival. Sagal Mohammed listened in as they revealed the secrets of their working relationship.

The children were all ears as the duo explained how they joined forces in 2000. “He came to my rescue on a book that was sort of going wrong,” explained Lauren. “I’d created this book called Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book about a fairy tale coming to life and I really needed someone who knew how to work text within the illustrations. It’s a lot more complicated than you imagine, but [David] was quite clear at making it so you could actually read the text.”

The pair talked through a slideshow of behind-the-scenes shots of their artwork, from Lauren’s first drafts of storyboards – the margins often covered in shopping lists and other notes as she confessed her tendency to steer away into random thoughts – to David’s final illustrations. “It’s all about communicating the ideas,” David insisted, “[Lauren] always has a clear and wonderful idea of what she wants to say.”

The queues for Lauren Child and David Mackintosh snaked around the tent

The queues for Lauren Child and David Mackintosh snaked around the tent

Giving the audience an insight into the inspiration behind characters in Charlie and Lola, Lauren revealed the character of Lola was created on a train journey in Denmark, inspired by a little Danish girl sitting across from her. “I just began to draw her,” she told the audience.


But she emphasised the team work that goes into creating her books: “I quickly realised how crucial it is to have the right designer when you’re illustrating children’s books.”


Become a ghost hunter with Jonathan Stroud


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If you think you know what to do in the event of a ghost, think again, says Bethany Park. Jonathan Stroud shares his tips on how to become a ghost hunter, based on his gripping Lockwood & Co book series.

So, how can we tackle a ghost?

You have to be brave and ideally have psychic abilities! Make sure you have a ghost-hunting belt and carry silver and iron – ghosts and ghouls hate these. Always hold onto a notebook, sunglasses to protect eyes against the light of some ghosts, and a digital thermometer because whenever it is cold a ghost is near. A magnesium flare, sword and salt bombs are weapons in the books.

How do you make sure the books aren’t too scary?

I am not a fan of stories that are very nasty. I think it is better to simply have it implied so that the reader can make it as scary as they wish.

How did you get into children’s fiction?

I started writing very early. I was always scribbling away, and when I wasn’t writing, I was creating board games and all sorts of other things.

Do you have a favourite Lockwood & Co book?

It’s tough to ask an author which book is their favourite – it is like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. I am proud of them all.

What’s next for the Lockwood & Co series?

A new book will be coming out next year. The movie rights have also been bought by Universal Studios – however movies do take a long time to get made, so I won’t get my hopes up too much just yet.

Jonathan’s Guide To Ghosts:

Cold Maiden: A female ghost with long floating hair that is usually doing lots of wailing. Easy to deal with as they’re too self-absorbed to be a problem!


Changer: This ghost can change its shape and behaviour.


Phantasm: Tough and see-through, so it can creep up behind you easily.


Spectre: 3D ghosts that may look like a real person but are dressed in an old-fashioned way.


Wraith: A terrifying ghost, that usually looks like a rotting corpse or skeleton.


For more from Jonathan Stroud and his ghost hunters, Anthony, Lucy and George, on a mission to investigate some of the deadliest hauntings in London, visit




Fun and Games with Gyles and Saethryd Brandreth

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Games devotee Gyles Brandreth, his writer daughter, Saethryd, and her son, Rory, are on a mission to bring back the traditional games that all the family can play, says Bethany Park. They brought fun to the Festival on Saturday – previewing some of the 286 games in their book, The Lost Art of Having Fun. 

“The purpose of the book was that [each game] had to be fun, free, and you had to be able to play it with things you could find around the house,” explains Saethryd. “So you could be at home with nothing, and you could still create your own fun!”

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So which games are their personal favourites?

“The ones that we like the most tend to be the word games and spoken games. However we have nine sections, including car games and rainy day games. We also have a section called ‘analogue fun in a digital world’ – or what some may call, ‘things to do with your kids in the pub before you give them your iPhone’!” jokes Saethryd.

Rory has two favourites. “One is the Parson’s Cat, which is a word spoken game. And the other is the chocolate game. I’m sure you all like chocolate, so that’s the game for you!”

Children played a variety of crazy games on stage, including the aforementioned Parson’s Cat. To play, the first person simply begins with the letter a to describe the cat: for example, ‘Parson’s cat is an angry cat’; the next person chooses an adjective beginning with b, and so on. Beginning the game with “Parson’s cat is an apple cat” caused lots of giggles.

“There is nothing better”, boomed Giles, “than having inter-generational amusement between older people, younger people and smaller people whilst playing these games.”


Creator of The Gruffalo, Axel Scheffler on the art of illustrating picture books

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The Gruffalo illustrator talks to Arno Bryant about bringing characters to life.

Since teaming up with children’s author Julia Donaldson in 1993 to bring The Gruffalo to life, Axel Scheffler, the German illustrator, has become a household name. To date this worldwide bestseller has sold more than two million copies, been turned into a short animated film packed full with celebrity voiceovers and become a successful touring theatre production. And of course, further collaborations with Donaldson have followed.

As he walked on stage, Axel was afforded an almost rock star status. And he didn’t disappoint. The audience gained insight into the creative process which helps him turn his initial sketches into final illustrations. He also revealed the role his editors play in this process. “My original Gruffalo was scarier, with bigger teeth and claws but the editor said it was too scary,” he explained.

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Next up, Axel gave a series of live readings which saw parents and children cheering, shouting and joining in. “This is probably the first time you’ve heard these stories in a German accent,” he laughed, before performing renditions of Pip and Posy: The Bedtime Frog, Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon, The Gruffalo and The Scarecrows’ Wedding

The moment they were all waiting for came suddenly, with a few strokes of his pen Axel had his audience transfixed, the words came to life on paper and their favourite characters appeared before their eyes. A little bit of magic, right here in Barnes.

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We grabbed some time with Axel after his talk to find out how his love of illustration came about.

Q: Are there any illustrators who influenced your style? 

Yes, The French-German artist Tomi Ungerer, I think he was the greatest influence on my career.

Q: What’s your golden rule for illustrations? 

I don’t have a magic formula but I always tell people to draw a lot and always at look at a lot of art, go to museums and stay curious.

Q: How long does it take you to illustrate a book? 

Between six weeks and three months, depending on the detail.

Q: Did you have any idea how big The Gruffalo would get?

No, I never had any idea. The Gruffalo is everywhere, but I try not to look.



Cerrie Burnell tackles social stigmas using the magic of storytelling


CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell tells Juliet Vandensteen why stories are for everyone.

Diving straight into the session with engaging enthusiasm and excitement Cerrie began by talking about one of her favourite stories as a child, Alice in Wonderland. With her long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and fair skin, Cerrie said she always felt just like Alice. However, as she got a bit older this feeling began to change.

“I started to realise that I was a little bit different from all of those children in those lovely books because they looked a little bit like me, but none of them had only one hand. I started wondering why there aren’t any stories with children that looked like me.”

Cerrie told the audience about her storybooks: how each character is brilliantly unique and far from your average children’s book character. From mermaids to musicians, Cerrie’s books teach children the importance of acceptance and diversity, tackling real-life issues without losing any of the magic or excitement.

Focusing on the latest book in her series Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, Cerrie encouraged the children to use their imagination and come up with some unique ways to use their umbrellas…

“As a spinning top” – Matilda

“As a boat” – Emmy

“As a disguise from mean people” – Mia

“To fly to school” – Sophie

To close the session, the children became part of their own orchestra and played different instruments as Harper and her friends do in Cerrie’s story. The only sound louder than the maracas, chiming bells and clicking castanets was laughter.

“I really want to highlight that you don’t have to be a good reader to enjoy stories, that stories are for everyone and they are a wonderfully inclusive thing that existed long before people could write things down.”


Duo Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler on their hit Hamish and the WorldStoppers

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Tom Collins meets Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler, the brilliantly silly creative duo behind Hamish and the WorldStoppers, to talk about their fear of the ‘pause’, very honest audience feedback and how Danny can improve his openers.


As successful creators of grown-up fiction, what’s the biggest challenge when creating something for a much younger audience?

Danny Wallace: When I’ve written books for adults, I’ve come up with the story, written the story, published the story, and that’s where the responsibility ends. But with kids, you’re imagining them having those books read to them at bedtime. So you want to make it punchy, funny and direct, and full of twists. So almost with every page, I’m like an eager puppy saying, ‘Please like this! Please like it!’

Jamie Littler: You don’t want to be too daring or risqué. It can be so influential with a child – everyone remembers the books they grew up with. It’s not about money; it’s about creating something that has lasting power and resonance.

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Is there anything you’ve either drawn or written that you were convinced would be a hit with the kids, but fell flat?

DW: With the kids, there’s no filter, they can be brutally honest! I had a bunch of letters from a primary school the other day, and I tried to answer all of their questions as best as I could, and the same criticisms kept coming up. They all went, ‘If I could offer you one piece of advice, use more powerful openers. Words like surprisingly or stunningly…’ So either they all talked about it in class before I came up, or I’ve really got to work on my openers.

JL: We live in a world where you can put your work out there and people will only be too happy to rip it to shreds. But it’s the honesty you get from kids that so refreshing. Kids have come to me and asked me why I’ve done this, or why I’ve chosen to illustrate a character like that.

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Just like Hamish in the books, have either of you ever thought about what you’d do if time stood still?

DW: I’d go round Jamie’s house and rub out all of his illustrations, so in a blink of an eye it would be all gone.

JL: I’d probably be incredibly terrified; maybe have a scream for a few minutes!

DW: We posed a kid the same question, and he very timidly raised his hand and said, ‘I’d probably just have a pint of milk to calm my nerves!’

JL: Yeah I think I’d take a leaf out of that kid’s book.

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For more from Danny Wallace, Jamie Littler and the star of their books, Hamish Ellerby, visit


Images by; @LieselBockl

Marcia Williams brings Shakespeare to life

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Cartoonist and author Marcia Williams makes Shakespeare seriously cool, says Malika Kingston.

Marcia Williams’ original plan was to give an interactive reading of The Tempest, one of the four books which make up her comic-strip Shakespeare mini series. However, her French Bulldog got hold of the masks before the children could. Fortunately, the pup didn’t get to the Macbeth masks.

Marcia explains the process of making Shakespeare’s stories accessible to children by comparing it to chewing gum: “You can stretch it this way and that, but if the chewing gum breaks then you’ve lost the contact with the original. I can make it my own, but if it breaks then I’ve lost the point of it.”

At the Festival, she began by engaging the children in a game of Shakespearian insults. The challenge was this: had she made them up, or were they real insults? This got the parents laughing, too.

She talked about her illustrations, pointing out characters that may have been overlooked – like the small ferret that escorted the queen to The Globe Theatre. She explained to the children that, back then, people didn’t bath often, so they brought animals with them in the hopes that their fleas would jump off them and onto the animal.

When it came to putting on a performance of Macbeth – there was no shortage of volunteers. Many hands shot up. But when she specified Macbeth himself, one boy kept his hand up. Thick-rimmed glasses, small voice and barely taller than the chair he sat on, James told the story of Macbeth in impressive details. Battles were described and characters quoted. He might just be a writer in the making.

Wearing stage masks, the children acted one of the most famous scenes, stalking around a cardboard cauldron: “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” (Audience participation was high at this point!) A mini acting competition, which included three parents, picked by the delighted children, ended with prizes for everyone. Just, as Marcia would say, like Shakespeare.


Lucy Hawking makes a Big Bang at the Festival


Lucy Hawking explains to Tom Collins why astrophysics isn’t just for her famous father Stephen.

Casting an eye across a packed room of children fizzing with enthusiasm and ideas, it would be tempting to assume they may have over-indulged in sweets and sugary drinks prior to arrival. However, they were just responding gleefully to Lucy Hawking – author of the George Greenby science adventure series, the latest of which is George and the Big Bang. Her cheery and engaging talk covered black holes, extra-terrestrials and, well, the theory of everything.

“It’s pretty reliable the level of excitement that exotic phenomena of astrophysics generates with the kids – by that I mean black holes, aliens, space travel,” she explains. “So it’s about using that allure, that excitement, to pull them in, and then teach the something else.”

Seeing children so invested and intrigued in concepts that would befuddle many a grown-up is what draws Lucy across the UK to conduct her talks, interspersed with some beautifully animated cartoons to get the kids giggling with instructive information about outer space.

“The feedback [from the children] is brilliant. Normally at the start of a Q&A there’ll be one or two questions, but by the time I get to the end there’ll be a forest of hands. What I really loved was that they were taking the information I was giving them, and trying to re-imagine it themselves and take it on a notch. I talked about nano-spacecraft, and one kid came up to me and wanted to talk about nano-humans to go into them!”

Aiming to tap into this thirst for knowledge whilst simultaneously appealing to a child’s sense of imagination, Hawking has also penned a series of books (with her famous father Stephen) about a young space traveller called George. George’s adventures, taking him from the depths of a black hole to the rings of Jupiter, give her young audience a dose of both rollicking storytelling, and an understanding of how the universe works. It’s this strategy that Hawking ultimately feels is the optimum way to engage young minds with scientific theory.

“With the books, I imagine the kids will be aged 7-10, so this will be their first point of contact with scientific information. And it’s about trying to make it part of their world, because a child’s world is very much about storytelling, be it on the television or internet, and making it seem very friendly, familiar and funny. Then they can feel comfortable with reading scientific information and be quite blasé about it; ‘I know about black holes, I know about the Big Bang’. It demystifies it. It’s really about trying to make science a central part of their lives.”


Images by; @LieselBockl

The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival celebrates National Share-a-Story Month

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LONDON, 9 May – It’s festival time here in Barnes! We’ve just launched with our wonderful sell-out event featuring former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo and Virginia McKenna, and look forward to welcoming you all to Barnes this weekend for our packed main programme of events!

And what perfect timing – National Share-A-Story Month takes place throughout May. Created by our friends at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG), National Share-A-Story Month (NSSM) is an annual celebration of the power of storytelling and story sharing, providing a fantastic opportunity to fulfil the core aim of the FCBG of bringing children and stories together. Across the country Federation book groups and individuals run a whole host of events, and this year Barnes is partnering with the FCBG to promote and celebrate the power of sharing stories.

This year’s theme is ‘A Place for Stories’. The idea is to encourage the telling and sharing of stories in unusual (but safe) places. Anywhere from under a tree to aboard a canal boat or a cross channel ferry, in the depths of a castle, on a bridge or under a bridge, under the bed, in a café, at a stately home, in the depths of a forest, a tent, at the bottom of the garden, in a bird hide, on an island, at a museum, at a fairground, on the bus, on a park bench… the ideas are endless!

Beautiful Barnes provides plenty of unusual places to Share-A-Story, whether it be among the ducks by the pond or in our Big Top marquee, on Barnes Common or by the River Thames, we invite you to take a photograph of you and your families enjoying National Share-A-Story Month – share them with us on Twitter or Facebook, tagging @KidsLitFest and @FCBGnews, with the hashtag #NSSM.

We have book bundles up for grabs for our favourites!

Find out more about the work of the FCBG and National Share-A-Story Month at

Roehampton University to become creative partner of the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Jacqueline Wilson

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LONDON, 21 March 2016 — The University of Roehampton has announced that it will become the Creative Partner for the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival.

The Festival returns to Barnes Pond on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May with more than fifty fun events for young book fans and their families making it London’s largest dedicated children’s literature festival. Heading the line up is the former Children’s Laureate and Roehampton University Chancellor Dame Jacqueline Wilson.

Ms Wilson said she was ‘delighted’ to be part of the Festival. ‘The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival plays an important role in encouraging a love of books in young readers. Roehampton has a distinguished history of teaching children’s literature and I am pleased that we can share that with the Festival’s audience.”

The bestselling author will be launching her new book Rent A Bridesmaid. She’ll also be talking about her life as a writer and discuss some of her much loved characters including Hetty Feather and Tracy Beaker.

She’ll be joined by Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child and the Costa Children’s Book of the Year winners Frances Hardinge and Kate Saunders, as well as the former Carnegie medallist Philip Reeve, two time Kate Greenaway award winner Emily Gravett, Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner Jim Smith, former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne and the winner of the 2015 Children’s Poetry Prize, Joseph Coelho who grew up in Roehampton. Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler will be back by popular demand.

Because Barnes is committed to programming some of children’s literature’s best known names alongside a few special treats that Festival audiences will be unlikely to see anywhere else, this year’s special guests include the acclaimed Australian author Morris Gleitzman and the million copy selling German fantasy writer, Cornelia Funke, who will be in London exclusively for the Festival.

As result of the new partnership, students from the University’s departments of English and Creative Writing, and Media, Culture and Language, and academic staff will be involved in the talks, events and artistic sessions, adding their expertise to the exciting range of activities for children and their parents. The University has been running degrees specialising in children’s literature for many years. It also hosts the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature, which promotes excellence in the academic study of children’s literature.

“All of the top tier festivals, like Oxford and Bath for example, have the support of a university and our partnership with Roehampton is confirmation that Barnes is continuing to grow as a children’s literature festival of national and international standing,” Festival Director Amanda Brettargh said.

The new partnership is one of a number developed by the University to strengthen its work in south west London and support the capital’s arts scene. The University also supports Battersea Arts Centre’s Homegrown Company, Wimbledon Book Fest and the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre.