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.”


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.”


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.



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

FCBG_NSSM logo colour

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

Jacqueline Wilson

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.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival returns for bigger and better second year

Park Bench Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman

Authors and illustrators confirmed include Jacqueline Wilson, Morris Gleitzman, Anthony Browne and Axel Scheffler

LONDON, 18 February 2016 —The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival team will soon begin revealing the programme for the Festival’s second year, as they make plans to bring some of the best children’s authors and illustrators to Barnes Pond for a packed weekend of events on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May 2016.

Following the success of the 2015 Festival which featured Axel Scheffler, Sally Gardner, Piers Torday and Britain’s best loved poet, Roger McGough, among others, this year the programme will double in size to offer over fifty events over the weekend, making it London’s largest dedicated children’s book festival.

The full 2016 programme is due to be announced later in March when tickets will go on sale, but the impressive line-up already confirmed includes the former Children’s Laureates Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Browne, Frances Hardinge, winner of the prestigious Costa Book of the Year Award forThe Lie Tree, Robin Stevens, Jeremy Strong, Holly Webb and Philip Reeve with Axel Scheffler, returning by popular demand.

The full programme will cater for ages from two to teen and their families. Many more authors and illustrators will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Festival is committed to also offering a few treats audiences are unlikely to see anywhere else. Last year it was the UK theatre production premiere of Chris Haughton’s picture book, A Bit Lost. This year the acclaimed Australian author Morris Gleitzman and million copy selling German fantasy writer Cornelia Funke will both be travelling to the UK exclusively for the festival.

The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival is presented in partnership with the Barnes Community Association (BCA) and the Barnes Bookshop. A percentage of all books sold, together with the surplus from ticket sales, is donated to local primary school libraries.

First Barnes Children’s Literature Festival a Sold Out Success: 2016 Dates Announced


Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May 2016

LONDON, 10 May 2015 – The team behind the hugely successful Barnes Children’s Literature Festival which took place on Saturday 25 April have already announced the dates for next year’s event: Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May 2016.

Barnes village was bursting with around two thousand young book fans and their families for the first festival which took place at six venues around Barnes Pond.

There were more than twenty events running throughout the day starring some of the biggest names writing for children such as the co-creator of The Gruffalo Axel Scheffler, Carnegie Medallist, Sally Gardner, and the winner of The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Piers Torday who revealed that a childhood encounter with Roald Dahl inspired him to start writing.

They were joined by some of the best authors and artists living and working in Barnes, including Roald Dahl Funny Prize Winner Jim Smith, Marcia Williams and David Mackintosh, whose most recent title Lucky has been featured in The New York Times.

The Festival was opened by Holly Willoughby, and her sister, Kelly, who delighted their young fans with a reading from Double Trouble, the latest book in their hugely popular series set in a stage school, L’Etoile:School for Stars. The much loved television star who lives in Barnes with her young family said that ‘Barnes was the loveliest village in London.’

Holly said: ‘It’s a great place for families with a real community feel’ and ‘that she couldn’t wait to be part of the fun on the day.’

More than half of the sessions were sold out before Saturday. Amongst the first to sell out were the live drawing demonstrations by the co-creator of The Gruffalo, Axel Scheffler, and the illustrator from Horrible Histories, Martin Brown. Afterwards more than two hundred people waited up to two hours for Axel to sign their copies.

The Barnes festival was founded with the aim of presenting some of children’s literature’s best known names alongside a few special treats that the audience will be unlikely to see anywhere else. A highlight of the first programme was the UK premiere of the stage version of Chris Haughton’s award winning picture book A Bit Lost by the Boulevardteatern from Stockholm in their first ever performances in London.

There was also the first ever festival appearance by the sensational 15 year old local schoolgirl Helena Coggan who has just had her novel The Catalyst published, the first in a three book deal. Helena was interviewed by the children’s books editor from The Guardian, Julia Eccleshare. ‘If you really want to write,’ Helena said ‘then you don’t need me to tell you. It doesn’t matter that you’re a teenager, that’s not going to stop you.’

The Festival finale came from Britain’s best loved poet and long time local resident, Roger McGough. A champion of poetry for children, he kept the kids laughing with criminal cats, and amusing emus, in fact a menagerie of animals, as well as some of his classics like ‘The Sound Collector.’

The Festival was supported by the Barnes Community Association (BCA) and the OSO, and was presented in partnership with Barnes Bookshop and Olympic Studios. It was made possible by the contributions of forty-three volunteers from the BCA, the OSO, Barnes Literary Society and students from Roehampton University.

The organisers were also grateful for the support of the Barnes Property Partnership, a family owned company that is committed to donating 5% of their profits to charities and good causes in Barnes.

A percentage of all books sold on the day, as well as any profit from ticket sales, will be donated to local primary schools libraries.

Holly and Kelly Willoughby’s ‘School For Stars’ Comes to Barnes


LONDON, 17 April 2015—The much loved television star Holly Willoughby and her sister, Kelly Willoughby, will make a special appearance at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival on Saturday 25 April 2015.

Holly and Kelly are the co-writers of the hugely popular series for younger readers L’Etoile: School for Stars which is set in a stage school and follows the lives, friendships and dreams of stardom of the pupils. Their first title in the series, First Term at L’Etoile, became the UK’s highest selling children’s debut of 2013.

Their fifth and latest book in the series Double Trouble at L’Etoile was released last month.

Holly Willoughby, who hosts shows including This Morning and Surprise Surprise, and her sister, Kelly, said that working on School for Stars fulfilled a long held ambition to write together.

‘It was a dream come true writing our own children’s book and we are thrilled children love it as much as we do,’ they said.

The sisters, both working mums, said they were delighted to be invited to come to Barnes.

‘Barnes is the loveliest village in London. It’s a great place for families with a real community feel and we can’t wait to be part of the fun on the day,’ they said.

Barnes Presents UK Premiere of Chris Haughton’s ‘A Bit Lost’

Stockholm’s Boulevard Theatre to Perform for the First Time in London

a-bit-lost-1LONDON, 16 March 2015 – The Barnes Festival was founded with the aim of presenting some of children’s literature’s best known names alongside a few special treats that the audience will be unlikely to see anywhere. For our first festival we are presenting the UK premiere of the stage production of Chris Haughton’s award-winning picture book, A Bit Lost, by the Boulevard Theatre from Stockholm.

The Boulevard Theatre is one of Sweden’s largest independent theatre companies but they have never before performed in the UK.

Their very funny production about being lost and finding friends which combines playful puppetry with mime and physical humour, is directed by Svetlana Biba, who is also a creative consultant to Cirque de Soleil, and features set design and puppets by Oliver Smart, whose many credits include designing and delivering a masterclass for the War Horse puppeteers at the New London Theatre.

‘The theatre of the imagination at it’s best’ said Expressen about the Boulevard Theatre.

A Bit Lost was the first book by author Chris Haughton in 2011 and established him as one of the most exciting new voices in children’s literature. It went on to win numerous publishing prizes both in the UK and internationally including the AOI Best of British Illustration Gold Prize, the Booktrust Best New Illustrators Award and the Irish Children’s Book of the Year.

Chris worked closely in London with the ‘brilliant’ Oliver Smart and the Folded Feather theatre company in the designing of the puppets.

He said he seen the show twice in Sweden ‘and loved it’ but has never seen the show performed in English and is looking forward to coming to Barnes. ‘I am so happy that the stage show of A Bit Lost is coming to the UK and that children here will have the chance to enjoy it too.’

A Bit Lost will be performed by the Boulevard Theatre at the OSO Community Arts Centre as part of the first Barnes Children’s Literature Festival at 3.00pm on Saturday 25 April. Perfect for the very young aged 3+.

Actors: Emma Swenninger and Jonathan Silén
Director: Svetlana Biba
Lighting Design and Technology: Kundali Löfstrand
Music Composition: Jörgen Aggeklint
Set Design/Dolls: Oliver Smart (UK)
Costume: Nerea Villares (UK)



Programme Announced for First Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Includes UK Premiere of the Stage Version of Chris Haughton’s ‘A Bit Lost’


LONDON, 1 March 2015 – A huge welcome to the first Barnes Children’s Literature Festival!

On Saturday 25 April Barnes Pond will be abuzz with over twenty events at six different venues aimed at young book fans and their families. It’s junior literary fun that we hope will inspire our next generation of readers – and writers!

Here you will find some of the biggest names writing for children today, such as the co-creator of The Gruffalo Axel Scheffler, Carnegie Medallist, Sally Gardner, and the winner of The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Piers Torday. They’ll be joined by some of the best authors and artists living and working in Barnes, including Roald Dahl Funny Prize Winner Jim Smith, Marcia Williams and David Mackintosh.

A highlight for children and adults alike will be a special family performance at the OSO by Britain’s best loved poet and Barnes resident, Roger McGough.

The Barnes Festival was founded with the aim of presenting some of children’s literature’s best known names alongside a few special treats that the audience will be unlikely to see anywhere else.

This year’s coup is the UK premiere of the stage production of Chris Haughton’s beautiful picture book, A Bit Lost, by the Boulevard Theatre from Stockholm.

For fans of non-fiction, highlights include a workshop with Horrible Histories illustrator, Martin Brown, and ‘The Science and Magic of Harry Potter’ show with Professor Mark Brake and CBBC’s Jon Chase. There’s a prize for best dressed too!

There will also be a programme of children’s film at Olympic Studios including a special UK preview of the first animated feature based on Tove Jansson’s original comic strip characters, the Moomins: Moomins on the Riviera. There’s plenty more too including the only feature film written by Dr Seuss, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T.

The Festival is supported by the Barnes Community Association (BCA) and is being presented in partnership with Barnes Bookshop. The organisers are also grateful for the support of the Barnes Property Partnership, a family owned company that is committed to donating 5% of their profits to charities and good causes in Barnes.

Just a reminder too that a percentage of all books sold on the day, as well as any profit from ticket sales, will be donated to Barnes children’s charities, including local primary schools.

The full programme for the day can be found at




Axel Scheffler, Sally Gardner, Piers Torday and Roger McGough Lead the Line-Up


LONDON, 23 February 2015 – Barnes is set to become the new centre of children’s literature in London with the announcement of the first Barnes Children’s Literature Festival on Saturday 25 April.

The co-creator of The Gruffalo, Axel Scheffler, Carnegie Medallist Sally Gardner and Horrible Histories Martin Brown are a few of the big names that will be part of a programme of very special events around Barnes Pond for young book fans and their families, including live interviews, readings and book signings, workshops and discussions.

A highlight for both children and adults alike will be a special family performance by Britain’s best loved poet and Barnes resident, Roger McGough.

Also appearing in Barnes will be the winner of the 2014 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Piers Torday, and the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2013, Jim Smith, as well as Karen McCombie, Marcia Williams, Chris Haughton, Emer Stamp, Abie Longstaff and Alexander Gordon Smith among others.

The Festival is supported by the Barnes Community Association and is being presented in partnership with Barnes Bookshop. A percentage of all books sold on the day, as well as any profit from ticket sales, will be donated to local children’s charities.

Organiser Amanda Brettargh said: ‘This is London’s first dedicated children’s literature festival and Barnes is the perfect place for it.’

‘Barnes is a place that loves its books. There’s a rich literary legacy here, one of London’s best independent bookshops too, and our unique setting around beautiful Barnes Pond will provide a literary experience like no other,’ she said.

Ms Brettargh said she believed ‘Barnes would grow to become a leading literature festival of national and international standing.’

On hearing the news, Roger McGough, who has lived in Barnes for over twenty years, was moved to put pen to paper:

This year in Barnes
Imagine the scene:
Words cascading
Around the Green

Sound the trumpets
Thump the drums
In Spring, a Children’s
Book Fest comes

The full programme for the day can be found at

Barnes Announces New Children’s Literature Festival for London

Big Names Line Up For First Festival


London, 12 January 2015 – Barnes is set to become the new centre of children’s literature in London with the announcement of the first Barnes Children’s Literature Festival on Saturday 25 April.

A programme of very special events for young book fans and their families is planned for around Barnes Pond including live interviews, readings and book signings, workshops, discussions and performances as well as a number of special school activities. There will also be a programme of children’s film at Olympic Studios.

Axel Scheffler, Jim Smith and Marcia Williams are just a few of the big names that will be in Barnes for the event.

Mr Scheffler is well known for his collaborations with Julia Donaldson including The Gruffalo, which has sold over ten million copies worldwide, as well as being voted ‘Britain’s best bedtime story,’ but he is also the author of a number of other bestselling books for children including Muddle Farm and the Pip and Posy series.

Also appearing is ‘the keelest author in the whole wide world,’ the creator of the hilarious Barry Loser series, Jim Smith. Mr Smith, who lives in Barnes, won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2013 for I Am Still Not A Loser. There’s guaranteed to be loads of laughs as Jim shows the kids how to draw Barry and his mates.

Jim will be joined on the day by another Barnes resident Marcia Williams who has retold and illustrated many literary classics for children, including Shakespeare and Dickens, with her distinctive comic book style. She is probably best known, however, for her beautiful World War One scrapbook, Archie’s War, which has won numerous publishing prizes.

Marcia’s session, which will look at what it was like to live during the war through the letters, pictures, newspaper clippings, drawings and doodles of ten year old East End schoolboy Archie Albright, will be a highlight for both children and adults.

The Festival is supported by the Barnes Community Association and is being presented in association with Barnes Bookshop. A percentage of all books sold on the day, as well as any profit from ticket sales, will be donated to Barnes children’s charities.

Organiser Amanda Brettargh said ‘Barnes was the best place in Britain for a children’s literature festival.’

‘Barnes is a place that loves its books. There’s a rich literary heritage here, one of London’s best independent bookshops too, and our setting, under the magnificent trees around Barnes Pond, will provide a literary experience like no other,’ she said.

The full programme for the day will go on sale next month.

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