The magic of Hogwarts

Wands were at the ready for this hilarious one-woman Harry Potter fan show, led by the spectacularly energetic Fleurble Laffalott, super-assistant to the Professor of Potter. “Put two hands and your feet in the air if you’re a Harry Potter fan!” she roared, and every hand (and foot) in the Barnes Book Marquee was up in seconds.

A homage to all things Hogwarts, Fleurble (rhymes with gerbil) led the highly overexcited crowd through a house sorting session and straight on to spells, performing a spectacular Wingardium Leviosa with a little help from a girl named Ellie – and everyone in the marquee.

From there it was straight on to potions, where a very strong test tube of polyjuice potion (disguised as blackcurrant squash) and the hair of a dad plucked from the audience allowed Fleurble to perform a spectacular transformation…

She wrapped up with a slow motion Quidditch match with balloons for bludgers, and a very funny looking snitch, before handing out fistfuls of bookmarks to a very eager, and by now very giggly, crowd.

Magic indeed.

Lost in time with Adrian Edmondson

ade 2 Not content with being a legendary comedian, actor, television presenter, amateur chef, director, and chart-topping musician, Adrian Edmondson is now trying his hand at children’s literature. Arno Bryant reports.

Adrian, probably best known for his roles in influential 1980s comedies The Young Ones and Bottom, told a packed Kitson Hall audience about his first children’s book, Tilly and the Time Machine.

The story revolves around a young girl called Tilly, who we learn has recently lost her mother, and the adventures she has in a time machine built for her by her crazy scientist father.

“Her dad invents a time machine in his shed. He shows it to Tilly and says: ‘I’ve invented a time machine, we can go anywhere you like, at any time, where would you like to go?’

“We can have a chariot race in ancient Rome. Or we can see the pilgrim farmers land in America. Or we could watch the pyramids being built.

“And she says, ‘I want to go back to my sixth birthday when mummy was still here and we ate too much cake’. But her dad soon gets lost in time and they end up going on loads of adventures.”

Adrian says the book was born out of the necessity to have a bedtime story he could tell his friends’ young children after the family moved in next door to him.

“I thought this will be good because I’ll be able to read them some stories.


“I said, I’ll read you The BFG – cos I do a really good BFG – but they said we’ve already heard that one. So I said I’ll read The Wind in the Willows – I do a really good Toad – but they said they’d already heard that one. I said, OK, in that case, I’ll write my own flipping book!

“And so I have.”


Top tips on writing mysteries from Laura Wood

Author and academic Laura Wood came to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival to talk about the third book in her ‘Poppy Pym’ mystery series. Sian Kissock went to pick up some tips.

Poppy was abandoned as a baby at a travelling circus, and in term-time she attends a boarding school. The series is about her rather unconventional life with her new family of circus performers.

Laura told the audience about what she thinks brings a story together, particularly stressing the importance of a setting. “Thinking about a place is a really good way to start a story,” she said, adding that it’s rather easy to develop it from there.

Here are some of Laura’s tips for writing engrossing mysteries.

You can set a story literally anywhere you can think of! A setting can soon develop into a lot more and help you think of the next points too.

Who is telling the story?
Think about who the person is trying to solve the mystery? Is it a detective or someone just like you? It can be anyone or anything.

What is the mystery?
Has something or somebody gone missing? Think of how everything so far links together, in particular who it is telling the story in relation to the missing object. It has to be something a lot of people will want to find and get their hands on, as that is how a large pool of suspects are brought into the story!

Who are the suspects?
Having suspects in a mystery adds apprehension and can further involve the reader. Who are the people who would want to get their hands on the missing objects and why?

Who did it?
Tying it all up at the end, we need to know who the guilty suspect actually was!


Sit down with Jarvis

He goes by one name. Jarvis. He is the mind behind picture books like Mrs. Mole, I’m Home!, Alan’s Big Scary Teeth and Ready Set, Build!. And his impersonations of the characters he brings to life on paper are so wonderful in person that it’s hard to believe he has only been a picture book maker for three years. Nohely Gedeon meets him.

Jarvis explained he was always into creative things and trained in graphic design. “My first job was doing record covers for bands, like Nicole Scherzinger. I did Jamelia’s greatest hits.”

Making children’s books just happened, he said. “I was an animation director and I was coming up with stories that I thought worked really well as books. I had  a few at the same time and thought… these should be books. But I wasn’t an illustrator or a writer.”

Not all the ideas were winners, but he kept trying until one worked out. “The first ideas I had were terrible. Keep throwing stuff at the wall,” he advised. “Something will stick.”

Jarvis doesn’t have any kids himself. “I think it’s just mainly pleasing me and then if the kids like it’s great! I feel like I’ve got a childish sense of humor anyway, so I just think some kids will like it. You find out when you do these events if it’s any good.”

It’s an odd experience creating children’s books, he says. “Mainly you’re locked away in your room or your studio doing work on your own. You go from months and months of just slaving away at some pictures to someone going right, now get in front of a hundred kids!”

But he enjoys it, and is currently working on a book called Tropical Terry.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Incredible women with Kate Pankhurst

Author and illustrator Kate Pankhurst, a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, brought history’s most incredible women to life with drawing, doodling, dressing up and inspirational words of encouragement! Bethany Park was there to find out more.

From the fly high tales of Amelia Earhart to the bold and vibrant paintings of Frida Kahlo, Kate  discussed some of her favourite strong female role models. She provided families with an exciting sneak peek into her book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World.

“The stories in the book are outstanding tales of bravery, adventure, and about standing up and doing the right thing,” said Kate. “I couldn’t quite believe that they were true, and they actually happened!”

The event was full of laughter, and tales of bravery and courage from Kate. Volunteers had an exciting chance to dress up as some of the fantastically great women. With exotic flower crowns, aviator jackets and even monobrows available, it appeared that no dress-up items were off the table.

But where did the inspiration come from to write this brilliant book?

“The main reason for doing the book is that I wanted to share these amazing stories that are perhaps not that well known, and I was excited to do a book that is just about women,” said Kate. “Today we live in a world where boys and girls can do anything they want, but that wasn’t always the case. It used to be quite difficult for women to follow their dreams, ambitions and talents.”

Her own love of books and incredible stories came from long visits to the library as a young child herself; a place that she argues should remain an important part of modern society.

“I love libraries, and my dad was a lifelong library user,” she said. “My dad used to take me to the library in my home town on the weekend, so I could get out loads of books. I didn’t realise it at the time, but all of the books I read had fed into my imagination and they hid themselves away, but they’re coming out now and giving me lots of new ideas.”

But despite having a long love of books and stories, Kate also has many other creative talents up her sleeve.

“I actually started my career as an illustrator, and I illustrated lots of books by many authors. One was even called The World’s Biggest Bogey! I always dreamed that one day I would write my own.”

What can everyone take away from her own book? Kate said that most importantly, kids should “go away feeling inspired that they can change the world”. And unlike many people who may believe that changing the world is all about “becoming the prime minister”, Pankhurst says that “changing the world can also just be about making the most of your talents, and following your dreams for the future”.


Make your own animation with Peter Bunzl

IMG_8138 (2)Animator and author Peter Bunzl’s series ‘The Cogheart Adventures’ was inspired by his fascination with automatons, explains Sian Kissock.

Automatons are moving mechanical devices representative of humans and animals, as well as Victorian penny dreadful stories. It’s no surprise that Peter is a fan of Star Wars characters R2D2, BB8 and C-3PO, as well as Astroboy, the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz and Wall-E.

The second book in the Cogheart Adventure series, Moonlocket, sees main character Lily caught up in an adventure to find the mysterious title object, alongside criminal mastermind Jack of Diamonds.

Peter told the audience how he started writing and drawing at a very young age. He would write a story, and then create a small comic book alongside it to accompany the story. Once he got a lightbox, he started creating animations, which has led him into his career.

At the end of the talk, he took us through an easy way to make your very own animation at home:

Make an animation


Ben Newman on becoming an illustrator

KidsLit_BNewman-6334The adventures of Professor Astro Cat have been a beloved series since the release of the first book in 2013, as indicated by the sheer number of kids at the workshop led by the books’ illustrator Ben Newman. But Ben’s journey has taken dedication and hard work, says Nohely Gedeon.

Like many of us he was somewhat clueless about what he wanted to do after finishing school. He liked art in school, but it didn’t pique his interest at the time. “But then I wasn’t really good at anything else, so I ended up going to art school – which is what everyone does when they don’t know what to do,” he said.

“I always loved comic books and Spider Man,” said Ben. “But I think at school you are shown what a fine artist is but the broadness of art is quite huge, so it’s quite fun.”

What truly helped him develop his talent and follow a career path was taking a foundation year before university. “I guess I’d seen illustration as a kid but I didn’t know what the definition of it was,” Ben said. “Then during the foundation year, I said: ‘Oh I like doing this’, because it wasn’t about drawing fruits, it was about communicating.”


He followed his calling as an illustrator after university, thought for many years he could only do it part-time.

“I did everything from milkman at the hospital, a shoe clerk, a worked in a factory and then I worked in a bookshop for a long time. Eventually I got one job that paid well enough that I could leave my job and have enough money to keep me going for three or four months in the hope it would keep  snowballing. And luckily it has.”



Images by; @LieselBockl

Magical knickers with Nicholas Allan

KidsLit_NAllan-6228 Kids and parents alike were  engrossed during Nicholas Allan’s magical talk on The Queen’s Knickers, says Sian Kissock.

Author of over 30 children’s books, Nicholas talked about magical illusion and his charming new book, all about the Queen’s best kept secret – what underwear she wears on particular occasions.

Her everyday pair has a corgi motif; in Scotland, she wears a woolly tartan pair to protect her from the cold; when horse riding, her pair is adorned with a horseshoe pattern and has a bit of extra padding; and she also wears an ‘emergency’ pair during plane trips (they have a handy in-built parachute, just in case). You may have seen her wear the latter pair during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics!

Some members of the audience started by tapping on an empty ‘dummy book’, magically filling it with drawings and colour. But these soon disappeared of course, because, as Nicholas told us: “The sad thing about magic is that it doesn’t last very long. The best way to make a book is with your hand and a pen!”

KidsLit_NAllan-0223He went on to share a few facts about the Queen. Did you know she makes all of the money in the country? There was a money making masterclass to show us how it’s done, and a £5 note was mysteriously turned into a £10 note by folding and opening it the right way. The Queen also owns a magical key especially for access to Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t just the kids who were entertained; the parents were constantly amused too, particularly when 32 little squares of torn up paper became a pair of paper knickers when the audience blew on them.

The book is a charming story about how a little girl is excited about the Queen visiting her school, and wonders what undies Her Majesty will be wearing. The talk was followed by a chance for the children to decorate their very own pair of knickers in case the Queen was to pop by, with every pair winning a prize as they were all just too good to choose a single winner.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Francesca Simon’s sarcastic teenage goddess

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5988Francesca Simon, the author of the incredibly successful Horrid Henry series, talked about the Norse mythology that inspired her first piece of young adult fiction, The Monstrous Child. Arno Bryant reports.

Francesca told a sold-out audience at the OSO Art Centre about her fascination with the character of Hel, the female goddess who presides over the underworld, and way she was depicted in legends.

“Hel is always shown living on this rotten bed all day. She has servants who spend their days bringing her glasses of wine and the nights taking away the empty glasses. I thought this sounds like someone who was really depressed and I imagined this teenager lying on her bed.”

The Monstrous Child is a first-person tale of a sarcastic, moody teenager frustrated with her life in the underworld, and her two brothers, one of whom is a giant snake and the other a monstrous wolf.

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5994 Francesca said the inspiration for Hel’s character, who she describes as a kind of Californian valley girl, came to her while riding the subway.

“I was sitting on the subway in New York City reading a book and then this voice came into my head and the voice said: ‘You’d think after my brother the snake was born they’d have stopped at one’, which became the first line of the book. And I thought ‘I know who’s speaking! It’s Hel.’

“As the mother of a teenager, I knew the voice straight away; that sarcastic modern teenage voice. I just thought gosh, she’s like this shoulder-shrugging teenager. Once I had the voice, the book just poured out of me. It’s definitely my favourite book I’ve ever written.”


Images by; @LieselBockl

Floella Benjamin’s words of wisdom

KidsLit_FBenjamin-6259“Childhood? It lasts a lifetime.” Baroness Floella Benjamin certainly knows a thing or two about how childhood shapes us into who we are today, says Bethany Park.

Families at this year’s festival were treated to an inspirational and moving talk by the 68-year-old baroness about finding consideration, contentment and confidence – no matter how young you are.

The challenges that Floella faced as a child are exactly what made her who she is today – a woman of courage and kindness. Festival visitors were lucky enough to hear some of Floella’s words of wisdom and  encouragement.

Her life began in the Caribbean, where she lived happily with her mother, father and siblings. But when she turned 8, life as she knew it began to fall apart.

“My father moved to England to play jazz,” said Floella, “and after one year, my mother also moved out to England and we were left with foster parents for 15 months.”

What followed were months of hardship, and even when she and her siblings finally moved to London to live with their parents, she faced years of discrimination and bullying in 1960s England. So, how did she become the brave and confident woman she is today?

“My dad, being the philosopher, told us there was a world out there,” said Floella, “and my mum gave us the confidence to conquer the world. It was a wonderful combination. Even though the eight of us had to share one room, it didn’t matter. My mum told me that this was my palace; it was full of love.”

And it is this courage, love and confidence that Floella wishes to share with children around the world, through her autobiographical book Coming to England.

“All you do when people don’t show you love, is show love yourself. You have to smile and feel worthy. I realised that if anyone else had a problem with the colour of my skin, then it was their problem. I had to begin showing the world who I really was. I stopped fighting with my fists, and started fighting with my brain. So, if a bully comes to get you; smile at them. Winners smile. Any wickedness that people give to me, I just smile.”

Floella’s autobiography is about her childhood, and it is written in a child’s perspective. She believes that her book is now more relevant than ever, and that it has changed the lives of both children and adults. Her aim is to teach children to be aware, and share her wisdom and love to all those willing to listen.

She says although it has taken 20 years for her book to become as well-known as it is today, it just proves that it is “more relevant than ever. It is worth the wait. The joy that I feel in my heart, knowing that there are a million other children who will experience this book. And it will change their lives. So, change the world. Change the world for me.”


Images by; @LieselBockl

History galore with Lucy Worsley

IMG_8073 (2)Lucy Worsley has many strings to her bow – TV historian, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author – and she’s mixed them all by delving into the life of a young Queen Victoria, explains Sian Kissock.

Lucy engaged the enthusiastic audience through witty facts and mystery. Did you know being a historian involves reading memoirs which often have pages evidently torn out, or the words ‘burn this’ scrawled on them?

She invited volunteers from the audience to portray the royal family tree on stage. The six sons of King George III were envisaged with the help of children wearing coronets, a pineapple, a paper chain of their 45 illegitimate children and a representational pair of George Prince of Wales’ rather large trousers!

My Name is Victoria is the story of Miss V Conroy, sent to be Princess Victoria’s companion. Life with the stuffy Royals in Kensington Palace means following a strict set of rules. Miss V becomes torn over her loyalty to her father and her budding friendship with Victoria.

The Palace was a very protective environment, explained Lucy. Because Victoria’s mother was concerned about her security, she spent her days with only dolls for company. Miss V Conroy’s father is a servant of Victoria’s mother, and Miss V sends him to be Victoria’s companion.

Lucy showed the audience pictures of Victorian artefacts and invited them to guess what they were and who they belonged to. The children ended the hour by quizzing Lucy about history and her writing.

Do you have a favourite character in history?
I often say Queen Elizabeth I. Wasn’t she magnificent? A female monarch who was very clever and did a very good job who was very dedicated to her duty.

Did you like history when you were younger?
It was the subject at school that to me didn’t feel like any work. It just seemed fun and interesting. That’s why I have been lucky enough to go in to it in adult life. I get paid to do things that I like!

Which do you prefer writing – adult non-fiction or children’s fiction?
I like both because they are very different. Non-fiction writing has all got to be true. When writing fiction, I am in charge! I take the facts, I play with the facts and sometimes I introduce surprising things that didn’t really happen. I like doing a bit of both.



Robert Winston and the amazing human body

​World-renowned scientist and award-winning author, Robert Winston, gave a lecture on wonders of the human body to a sold-out audience at Barnes Methodist Church ahead of the release of his latest children’s science book, My Amazing Body Machine.

After the talk Professor Winston took some tough questions from children in the audience.

_kid facesm


Lauren St John swaps gorillas for Barnes

_DSC8657LSJ“I spent Monday and Tuesday climbing volcanos with gorillas and it’s taking me a while to get used to being back here,” Lauren St John warned her audience before starting her talk. Arno Bryant reports.

Coming from anyone else this disclaimer might be more surprising, but given the incredible life Lauren leads, it seems to strike the parents and children at Kitson Hall as remarkably unextraordinary.

Lauren was raised on a game reserve in Zimbabwe, surrounded by animals including her now notorious pet giraffe, Jenny. She then moved to the UK where she wrote a number of non-fiction books while working as the Sunday Times‘ golfing correspondent.

While Christmas shopping in 2004, she was struck by the inspiration for her first children’s book, The White Giraffe.

“Out of nowhere, an image of a girl riding a giraffe popped into my head and right there the whole story just came into my mind, even the girl’s name; Martine.”

After scribbling the idea down, she thought she’d leave it to turn into a picture book someday, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the girl on the giraffe. She finally allowed herself to start writing the book and found that “it just poured out of me… the whole book was finished in a month.”

Although it would take Lauren more than a year to find a publisher, The White Giraffe was a big success, scooping up a number of awards.

She has since written four more books in the series, launching a career as a children’s author. Her Laura Marlin Mysteries follow the curious adventures of a young orphan from Cornwall.

Throughout her books, there is a strong theme of environmentalism and animal conservation, both issues very close to Lauren’s heart.

“Animal conservation has been my passion,” Lauren, who also works as an ambassador for the wildlife charity Born Free, explains. “Growing up on an animal reserve, me and my family would rescue lots of wild animals.

“My generation hasn’t done a good job of looking after the planet and it’s really critical that children grow up wanting to do something to make things better. What I find beautiful about writing for children is that they are so naturally compassionate and caring towards animals and we all have to nurture that love of the environment so they’ll continue it.”


Clare Balding gallops in

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5943 Clare Balding gave an immensely positive and amusing talk to the crowd on Saturday in the Book Marquee, reports Sian Kissock.

She started by introducing her first children’s book The Horse That Wouldn’t Gallop, enthusiastically discussing meeting the book’s illustrator Tony Ross for the first time earlier in the day. He had free rein with his work, bar the heroine of the novel, who Clare had already envisioned.

She was adamant that Charlie Bass would be depicted in a certain way: “[She] had to have short hair because hardly any girls these days have short hair… One of the themes in the book is that she has very powerful legs…it is very important to me that she is not very tiny and stick thin.”

Clare also addressed the importance of other notable figures, particularly in the world of sport, and how gender should not restrict hobbies and passions. “I think one of the biggest mistakes we make in life is we make these decisions such as if ‘you cannot do ballet if you are a boy’ and ‘you can’t do boxing if you are a girl’. All that does is limit us in what we can do. Don’t ever think you can’t do something just because you are a girl or just because you are a boy!”

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5957The audience asked Clare some questions about her new book, plus she offered a few tips for those who want to be either an author or a jockey.

Who is your favourite character in The Horse That Wouldn’t Gallop?
Charlie is great, but I am very fond of Joe and in the next book Joe has some pretty difficult decisions to make. They will all come back in the next book, with the addition of some extra characters. There’s a new character called Granny Pam in the next book and there’s also Polly. In the third book there is going to be even more!

Was Noble Warrior based on one of your horses?
My father did train a sprinter named Lochsong, and she used to run over the shortest distances, which in racing is 5 furlongs. Some days she definitely didn’t feel like it and she got more and more difficult as she got older. She was the best sprinter in the world and at home she wouldn’t go on the gallops unless my dad went with her. The idea of a racehorse who doesn’t want to be a racehorse is based on truth and there are horses like that. A good trainer needs to find the key to them.

Which character do you think you are most like?
Charlie is probably the child I wish I had been. She is based loosely on my niece Flora. [Charlie] has lots of qualities that I really admire. I don’t necessarily have them myself but would want them. She is very good at trying to get the best out of other people.

How long did it take to write the book?
Publishers give you deadlines, so they know you won’t write it until the day before you hand it in. When you have 35,000 words to write you can’t do that the day before! I would give myself mini deadlines within that. In the end I don’t know how many days… but at least a month of constant days and a lot more on top of that.

What made you want to write a children’s book?
I love telling stories. I’ve got my nephews and my niece and I wanted to write something they would enjoy reading. If you’re writing for children you are going to get really honest feedback and nobody is going to pretend it is good if it is not good, and I like that as a challenge. You have got to keep the plot fast moving and you have got to create characters people feel are real and give them scenarios they aren’t necessarily familiar with to teach them something. I just thought it would be a really fun thing to do.

Why aren’t there more female jockeys?
There are lots of female event riders, showjumpers and dressage riders. It’s a really weird thing in life, but as soon as people have to pay someone to do something, they’d rather pay a man than a woman. That is my theory in racing and one that I am hoping to change. There are a couple of really good female jockeys at the moment. I think it is a lack of being able to break through in the professional ranks, but it will change – because it is certainly not about ability and it is not about weight either, because generally speaking girls are lighter than boys. It is a great career and if you want to do it you should definitely go and try and work in a racing yard.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author when they’re older?
I would say start writing stories now and start thinking about the things that you really care about. Finding an idea or a character that you feel you could tell that story. It depends whether animals are your thing or music or art or food. Anything can come alive in a book and it is thinking of that, sitting down and writing it and being brave enough to let someone else read it – and not being afraid to rewrite, as the rewrite is the most important.



Images by; @LieselBockl

Going Dotty with Clara Vulliamy

KidsLitFest2017Day1-0187Clara Vulliamy talks to Nohely Gedeon about Dotty Detective and working with Shirley Hughes.

With over 30 years’ experience as an illustrator and author, Clara Vulliamy has brought to life many favourite characters and Dot from Dotty Detective is no exception.

How did you know you wanted to be an illustrator and a writer?

I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator because it’s the kind of artist that is telling stories through pictures. Not long after that I realised I also wanted to write the words. But it’s all part of the same thing, telling stories.

What process do you go through when creating characters and writing stories?

My stories are character-led. I draw a character and then the story emerges out of that.

How long does it take for you to complete a book from start to finish, writing and illustrating?

Longer than you’d think. It takes me maybe 3,4, 5 months. It used to take me longer. I’ve got quicker!

What was it like collaborating with your mother Shirley Hughes to create Dixie O’Day?

Oh, it was absolutely fantastic! It was so lovely to work with her and to see her in a different way. I mean she’s always been my mum, but just to see her creative mind at work was an amazing privilege. She’s an extraordinary person; an absolute force of nature and it was a great deal of fun.

We sat around her kitchen table eating cake and chatting about ideas, and it was really lovely. It didn’t feel like work, but it did feel very professional. We treated each other with the necessary hands off approach when an author and illustrator work best together.

Dotty Detective is a very popular series. What are the most important things to keep in mind when writing a detective story for children?

I love puzzles and detective stories and I always did. The thing that I like most is when all the clues are seeded in the story so that they’re all there to look back on and even the stupidest clues in the stories are all there. When you get to the end, you didn’t guess what was going to happen and you look back all the into a story and there it is, the clues are there. I don’t like a surprise; I’ve never liked a new reveal at the end. I don’t like it when suddenly there’s an identical twin brother!

For younger children, the structure has to be really carefully constructed. It’s really important to get it absolutely right. When you make a reveal, when you see the clue and they just come back to it later, it has to be much more easily spotted than in other stories that they might read.

Why do you think the Dotty Detective series has done so well?

I think it appeals to both girls and boys. I want to write very gendered books, I wanted them to be very exclusively branded for girls and boys. If boys and girls like it, it’s children’s real life. It’s a real schoolgirl and real schoolboy solving real life mysteries. It’s not James Bond, it’s real life and I think children like that.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Bid now on a Nicholas Allan original

Nicholas Allan talked to lucky attendees about his hilarious book The Queen’s Knickers this morning. He has kindly donated the picture he drew to be auctioned. It’s your chance to own an exclusive, original souvenir of the festival!

Please send your bid to or text 07909881459 by 5pm on Monday 15 May. The winner will be notified on Tuesday. Good luck!

Proceeds from the auction will be donated to support libraries at local primary schools.

Nicholas Allan auction IMG_3293

Morning tea with Marcia Williams

KidsLitFest2017Day1-0001 Marcia Williams endeared herself to the girls attending her morning tea at Sonny’s Kitchen, says Nohely Gedeon.

The author and illustrator of Lizzie Bennett’s Diary enthralled everyone – from the girls and their mothers to the event organisers – as she spoke of her works and the importance of keeping a diary.

During her time in boarding school Williams developed the habit of writing. She wrote letters to her parents and also wrote for herself. “I kept a diary in school,” she said. “It’s like telling your own history. Such a personal way of telling a story.”

Keeping a diary is not as common a practice as it once was, and so Marcia encourages kids to write their stories.


“What appeals to them is the history of their life,” she said. “There is so much that you lose. Even things like a bus ticket, it doesn’t exist any more, people don’t have bus tickets. So you don’t have those memories all there. Do a sort of scrapbook by sticking one of those things, because otherwise they’re just gone and you only see them in museums. But actually they shouldn’t be in museums because they are your history.”

Her beloved books have amassed quite a following, with adventure tales, easy to follow and humorous retelling of classics and the vivid illustrations that accompany the stories.

In school Williams struggled to read books that didn’t include pictures and as a writer she wanted to create stories that children would love to read and enjoy. “I wanted to make them accessible to children like me who struggled with books that weren’t illustrated. “ She explained. “So that’s why in my books there’s always lots of illustration and most of my books are comic strips.”

It takes her a year to finish a book, from writing to illustrating. “I was a 10-year-old boy for a whole year,” she joked to the audience about Archie’s War.

She draws by hand, admitting: “I’m not good enough with the computer. I’ve tried to them on the computer, but it doesn’t work for me.”

It was Marcia’s third visit to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – we just can’t get enough of her!



Images by; @LieselBockl

Sarah Gibb’s top tips to create your fairytale world


Sarah Gibb has a special kind of talent, able to bring a magical mix of classic and contemporary fairytale imagery to live with the stroke of a brush, explains Nohely Gedeon.

She has illustrated work for authors like Jojo Moyes, Catherine Alliot and Holly Webb. Sarah’s illustrations of classic fairytales we grew up with – Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast – pull you in and enchant you with the vivacity and whimsy of the pages.

Sarah brought that same magical energy to her drawing workshop in Rose House. The room was packed and the kids were buzzing, barely containing their excitement, as were the parents. The children learned how to paint a dragon and Sarah shared her top tips to create your own magical world.


1. Always be visually aware

I look at lots other artists’ work and lots of design all the time. And I do look at other people’s children’s books, old books as well. Lots of other artists who’ve done fairytales, I think it’s really good to look at other people’s work. But have a clear idea about what you are going to draw.

2. Look for inspiration outside the box

I’m a very visual person, so I look at lots of other designs; not just fairytales, but design on tea towels or plates as well.


3. Develop your own style

I’ve been drawing for a long time, but I think when you are first starting out, you might have problems with copying other people’s work. When you are young, you start to meet other people’s work and you would like your work to be like theirs. I think you have to keep drawing and then you end up with your own style. I was influenced by other artists’ work but ultimately you can only choose how you draw.

4. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake

You can always change it or go back. Just enjoy it. Make sure you enjoy the journey.



Images by; @LieselBockl

A Stick Man comes to life

IMG_2347Axel Scheffler is a multi-awarded winning illustrator best known for his work with author Julian Donaldson, in particular The Gruffalo. But that wasn’t how he was introduced by Sacha Joynathsing (pictured on Axel’s left, above).

Sacha took to the microphone with confidence and relish to tell a giggling packed house the real story. That Axel applied to study as a teacher but was turned down. (twice.) That he dropped out of college. And that he has a really very messy desk.

His brother Yan (on Axel’s right) followed up with a short and equally original bio of author and illustrator Judith Kerr, which no doubt she would have appreciated. Top among his little known facts was that Judith had studied yodelling.

Judith was sadly unable to attend the event. She has been unwell but is now back home in Barnes, resting.

With the boys having stolen the show, Axel inched his way back into the limelight by showing some of his earliest drawings. (A self-portrait aged 10, looking remarkably similar, and possibly wearing the same shirt.) Then a series of sketches illustrating his creative process and how he develops characters over time. “I find it easier to draw animals,” he admitted. “For a long time I wasn’t allowed to draw people because they all had big noses.”

FullSizeRenderHis conversation with the brilliant Nicolette Jones, children’s book editor for the Sunday Times, covered everything from publishing trends to Brexit, until finally he put pen to paper and drew – whilst fielding questions from the audience – a perfectly delightful Stick Man. He then presented it to the festival to be auctioned off, with funds to be donated to local libraries.

The final question of the day: is there anything he doesn’t like to draw? Yup. Cars. And cows.

Jamila Gavin’s blend of European and Indian fairy tales

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5913From cackling, wicked witches to blue-scaled snake princesses, some of the most traditional fairy tales have been forgotten over time. Bethany Park spoke to award-winning author Jamila Gavin about the extraordinary nature of fairy tales and their importance in reflecting a modern, multicultural Britain.

Attendees stepped into an enchanting world of witches and enchanting forests during Jamila’s storytelling event. From Hansel and Gretel to the Indian fairy tale The Snake Princess, the audience was mesmerised by the stories that Jamila says were a prominent part of her childhood and helped shaped her into the author she is today.

“I have been brought up on fairy tales,” Jamila said, “and so it has been very much a part of my storytelling vocabulary. Over the years I have read and written lots of tales from India and various folk tales. I soon realised that there are such similar threads and tales interwoven between them.”

Is this why it is so important for kids to read ‘original’ fairy tales?
“I think that kids should just read widely, and realise that there is not just one version of a fairy tale. I am always a bit sad when I talk to kids about fairy tales in schools, and I realise that they haven’t read any of them. They have just seen the films, and so they do not know the history behind all of them. You can even link stories to Shakespeare, who obviously knew lots of fairy tales. Even in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there is a monster similar to the one in Beauty and the Beast.”

What made you want to write fairy tales yourself?
“I wanted to write tales that would reflect multicultural Britain.My first book was Magic Orange Tree, which has different ethnic threads in it. When I first had grandchildren, I realised that each time they opened a book about fairy tales, they were always beautiful, blonde haired blue-eyed princesses. I just thought that children needed to open up a book and find a different image. So I was trying to blend European tradition with elements of other cultures. My book Blackberry Blue it is still quite European, but some characters could be Libyan or Muslim.”

Do you have a favourite fairy tale?
“There is no definite favourite, but one I like is Beauty and the Beast. In the story, two older sisters wanted jewels and wealth from their father, but the youngest one said: ‘I just want a rose’. But that turns out to be the most difficult thing to get, and with the most consequences.

King Lear is based on this as well. However, in King Lear, he asks ‘how much do you love me’, and they all say the same as the first two. But the last one actually says: ‘I love you as much as my bond,’ and he doesn’t accept it. And with King Lear, you end up with more death and mayhem.”

Read Jamila’s latest tale ‘Into The Mountain’ in the short story collection Winter Magic.


Images by; @LieselBockl

A hip hop journey with Ed Vere


Ed Vere introduced his new character Grumpy Frog to a packed hall, reports Sian Kissock.

The award-winning illustrator started by asking children what they love to draw. Answers ranged from big cats, dinosaurs and slugs to flowers, fruit and pirate ships. The audience read Banana together – a picture book about a monkey with a banana and another who wants it, but has to learn to say the magic word first.


Ed’s reading of his new book Grumpy Frog was just as lively. The book is all about a frog who is not actually grumpy; he just loves hopping and winning, and becomes very unhappy if he doesn’t get his own way. He wants it to be his birthday every day – well, who doesn’t, Ed argues! Grumpy Frog only likes the colour green and absolutely detests pink – which proves problematic when he encounters the Pink Rabbit and a green, snappy twist in the tale.

There was no room for shyness as Ed got the audience to fist-pump, shout out words and phrases and answer questions about the colours they liked, whether they’ve ever said sorry and the last time they had a tantrum. Unsurprisingly, the answers drew a lot of laughs from the adults.

KidsLitFest2017Day1-0096The talk was followed by a session where everyone learned to draw their very own Grumpy Frogs.

How to draw your own Grumpy Frog

Step 1: The eyes have it!


Step 2: Add frowny eyebrows and his face.


Step 3: A grumpy mouth.


Step 4: Add sulky lips.


Step 5: Pop on legs and arms – and you’re done!



Images by; @LieselBockl

Gareth P Jones’ ways to detect an alien

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5744 Award-winning author of the Pet Defender and Dragon Detective Agency series Gareth P Jones joined us at Barnes for a silly and hilarious song-filled event. He talks to Bethany Park about his love of detective writing, his Pet Defender series and how to detect an alien.

What is your favourite of the books you have written?

For older readers, Death or Ice Cream is definitely my favourite. But for the younger readers, I would definitely choose Beards from Outer Space.

Do you have a favourite character?

A character from my first books, which were about a dragon called Dirk. Your first books and characters are always going to hold a special place in your heart!

What inspired you to write children’s detective and alien novels?

I have always liked making stuff up, and I have always liked using my imagination. With most jobs it is not that good to be somebody who doesn’t necessarily tell the truth… so, I am better at this job than the other jobs I have previously done! With the alien genre, I think reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was probably my biggest influence. And with detective novels, well, I have always had a huge love of that genre. I used to make TV shows about detective writers.

KidsLitFest2017Day1-5748Can you give us three ways to detect an alien, and if we were to catch one, how we can eliminate it?

Firstly, aliens can’t tell jokes. They don’t have the same sense of humour, you see, so you could ask them to tell a joke – that is probably the easiest way. Secondly, the smell will help you detect an alien. They have quite a distinctive smell, but you might need a dog to sniff out whether it is an alien or not. And finally, squirt shaving cream at them because that could kill them!

How did you come up with such unique ideas for the Pet Defenders books?

I am actually allergic to dogs and cats so that did make the books particularly difficult to write. But I like the idea of something happening that we can’t see. We have this idea that our pets are sitting around not doing anything, but in fact they’re doing things that are much more extraordinary.


Images by; @LieselBockl

Radio host Christian O’Connell and his family of editors


Christian O’Connell swapped his 2 million radio listeners for a packed room of parents and children at the OSO Arts Centre to talk about his new book Radio Boy.

The Absolute Radio presenter’s first children’s novel is the story of a boy called Spike who, under the mysterious moniker Radio Boy, becomes a secret superstar radio presenter.

It’s Christian’s first foray into children’s literature and he told us that the book owed a lot to the work of his daughters-come-editors.

“Every chapter I would print off and they would go over with Sharpie pens and just pull apart,” Christian said. “We’d end up having really bad arguments. Sometimes I’d actually be really hurt, because you know you create this thing, and then they kick it to shreds.”

“But bit by bit there were fewer Sharpie notes and then finally there were no scribblings and that was when I knew the book was ready to go to the publisher.”

Not only did Christian’s two daughters help out with the editing, but also the fact checking.

“There’s was one bit where Spike was going to have a Facebook page for his radio show, cos everyone’s on Facebook these days, but they told me that no child his age would have a Facebook page so they took that out.


“If I’d left that in children would have read it and thought ‘yeah, but that would never happen’. Having that realness was really important to me.”

Christian told us that he’d already started work on a sequel to Radio Boy and hopes he’s learnt enough to avoid any more father-daughter editorial bust-ups.

“I’m going through it all again with the second book and luckily there’s a lot fewer Sharpie scribblings this time.”


Images by; @LieselBockl

Bid now on an original Axel Scheffler drawing!

Axel Scheffler drew Stick Man for entranced Festival attendees this morning. He has kindly donated this picture to be auctioned this weekend. It’s your chance to own an exclusive, original Axel Scheffler drawing!

Please send your bid to or text 07909881459 by 6.30pm on Sunday 14 May. The winner will be notified on Monday. Good luck!

Axel will dedicate the drawing to the winner. Proceeds from the auction will be donated to support libraries at local primary schools.



Libby Greenhill: our youngest author

Is Libby Greenhill the youngest author to appear at a literature festival? We had such fun listening to the eight-year-old today! She read fantastic fun stories from her book The Lost Bunny and the Worried Kitten to lots of families and eager kids.

Libby wrote her book to raise money for the RSPCA, and is already planning another one.




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.”

Judith Kerr 3

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.

Axel 3

“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

Frances - 1

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.

Frances - 2

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