...to book your place at the SCBWI conference.
If you're a budding Children's Author or Illustrator I can't recommend this conference more highly. It is absolutely superb. I have also just sorted my costume for the party - hope to see you there!
More Information and/or Book SCBWI Conference Here
Great school visit today in Newham, London at Maryland Primary School.
This was a freebie I did as part of the Grenfell Tower Author Auction that raised over £10,000 as part of the Red Cross Appeal to help the victims of that terrible fire.
The school was very warm and welcoming and the Y6ers were buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. Doing the story building workshop I was presented with a new one - the goal of the hero was to find true love. It sent a titter through the kids but I was blown over. This was fantastic and the story was one that could definitely work. I hope they have a go at writing it up.
You go Maryland and don't forget your secret code for a discount on a personalised book:
Buy your book here
‘You don’t scare me,’ Gheeta lied.
‘You should be scared,’ Courtney retorted, sharp as ice, her gaze still directed on the phone.
Gheeta looked at her friend, but still Keisha said nothing, did nothing but kick at the ground. Had the story meant nothing?
She turned to go.
‘Your photos are so lame,’ sneered Courtney.
The noise of the Snow Queen’s cackling laughter followed Gheeta as she walked back towards her home. Her head was hung so low that she practically crashed into Banaan.
‘Watch it, Gheeta,’ Bandit snapped then when she got no response added, ‘What’s up with you?’
Gheeta shrugged and kept walking. Banaan practically skipped to catch her up. ‘Tell me,’ she demanded. Gheeta sighed and nodded in the direction of Keisha and Courtney. Banaan saw Courtney dragging Keisha over to look at something on the screen.
‘That your phone?’
Gheeta nodded. ‘I lost it and my best mate too.’
‘To that witch?’
Gheeta nodded again.
Banaan looked over at them. ‘I can nick it back for you.’
Gheeta turned slowly, surprised at the offer, only just registering that Banaan was here with her when she didn’t live anywhere near to Park Hill flats. She studied Bandit’s face, looking for the tell-tale signs that she wasn’t being serious, but there were none. She wasn’t sure how to reply, so she didn’t.
Together they watched the other girls, a distance away, peering at the phone screen. Courtney’s fingers were swiping away. Gheeta wondered if they were still looking at the photos she’d taken. She tried to remember the ones she had on there. There were pictures of the birthday and different ones of her aunties and the rest of her family. She knew there were definitely some selfies of her and Keisha together, pulling stupid faces. Then she remembered the pictures she took of the chilli plants, both before and after Keisha ripped them up.
‘No, she’s not lost, look,’ said Bannan pointing.
Gheeta watched Keisha suddenly snatch the phone back off Courtney. The Snow Queen started ‘effing and blinding, turning the air black with her words. Gheeta’s heart thumped stronger. She saw Keisha shrug off Courtney’s scratching claws, as the older girl tried to take the phone back. Keisha waved an arm through the air, warding her off and began to stride towards Banaan and Gheeta.
‘Don’t look like you need me,’ said Bannan and Gheeta felt her move off. She felt a surge of gratitude.
Courtney scampered after Keisha, cat-like, snarling and spitting in protest, but BF marched on, the insults falling off her like water. The distance between Keisha and the Year Eight Goddess was getting bigger. Gheeta watched Keisha draw nearer, like a warrior returning from battle. This was it!
Once she was close enough to touch, Keisha handed back the phone to Gheeta, her eyes fixed on her face.
Gheeta took the phone from her friend’s warm hand and looked down at the screen. There was a selfie of Keisha and Gheeta, beaming back out at her.
‘Don’t want your stupid phone any way,’ Courtney said, gave a withering look over her shoulder and started to disappear. The departing Sheffield Snow Queen was closely followed by Bannan. The Bandit, fell into stride behind Courtney and was already reaching into the older girl’s bag for what she might help herself to.
The BFs were left standing facing one another in the slowly fading sunshine, the phone sitting between them in Gheeta’s outstretched hand.
‘Sorry for -‘ Keisha started to say, but she got no further as Gheeta pulled her into a hug and finally let out her smile that had been waiting patiently within.
‘They solve it together, but it was like an accident. Then they go home. Happy ending.’
Neither girl said anything for a while but Gheeta could feel a big grin inside of her wanting to burst out onto her face. It was warming, like the sun on her skin. The noise of the rush hour traffic from Park Square roundabout filled the silence.
Then came a sudden mood change as Courtney, sauntered into view. Gheeta felt Keisha stiffen slightly next to her.
‘What’s up?’ Gheeta asked her.
Keisha shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
‘Alright?’ Courtney shouted at them and started making her way over.
Keisha picked up Gheeta’s notepad. ‘Just write what you told me,’ she said, tapping at the page, almost urgently. ‘It was right good the way you told it.’
‘Yeah. I love that it was a girl that saved the boy, and it was about friends,’ her voice had lowered into a hushed whisper.
‘What’s this?’ Courtney, cut into their conversation. ‘All cosy with little kids are we, Keisha?’
‘We’re the same age,’ said Gheeta, even though she could feel her stomach churning.
Keisha dropped the notepad and pencil onto Gheeta’s lap.
‘Did you get it?’ Courtney demanded.
Keisha shook her head.
Courtney rolled her eyes dramatically. ‘Did you even ask her?’
‘Forgot,’ said Keisha, her voice small.
‘OMG! I ask you to do one little thing,’ Courtney spat each word out, nastily. She had one hand on her hip.
‘Ask me what?’ Gheeta said, bravely squaring her shoulders, so that she was facing her attacker.
Courtney bore down over her. Gheeta could smell her cheap body spray, the stuff she nicked off the beauty stall at Castle Markets. She heard the snap of her gum.
‘Keisha says you got an iPhone 7. True?’
Gheeta’s hand moved in reflex to her jacket pocket. She could see Courtney’s eyes follow the movement, like a lizard tracking a fly.
Courtney stretched out a jewelled hand. ‘Let us see.’ She rolled her ringed fingers inwards then flicked them out, flashing her chipped red nail polish in, then quickly out of view.
Gheeta felt Keisha move to stand up next to Courtney. The shadow they cast together was bigger, blocking escape. Gheeta looked up at Keisha, searching for a trace of her old friend in her flat expression. She was so sure she was back - was it all a scam? Didn’t she care about her after all? Did she just come over to get her phone?
‘Come on, Jeeta,’
‘It’s Gheeta.’ She snapped back, earning herself nothing more than another pop of chewing gum, another eye roll.
‘Whatever. Get your phone out.’ The fingernails twitched like claws.
Gheeta looked at Keisha, willing her best friend to return.
‘She only wants to look at it,’ Keisha said her voice soft, but she didn’t meet Gheeta’s eye.
Gheeta stared hard at her friend. She thought about the red shoes that Gerda gave to the river. Her phone was her most precious thing. Nobody in year six, nobody in her whole school had an iPhone, it was a the present of a life-time. She reached into her pocket, grabbed her phone and thrust it into Courtney’s hands.
The gold-blinged Goddess squealed and eagerly swiped, fake nails clicking at the screen. ‘What’s the passcode?’
Still staring at Keisha, who had not looked up from the ground, Gheeta gave out her password. She could change it, when she got her phone back, if she got it back.
‘Is that why you talked to me, Keisha?’ Gheeta asked her old friend. ‘For my phone?’
Keisha shrugged, kept on looking down. Her feet moved backwards, just a bit, the toe kicking at a tuft of grass. Courtney was hopping from one foot to another as she scrolled through the Apps.
‘You’ve not even got Instagram,’ she complained. ‘Twenty-two contacts? That’s nowt. Wasted on you this phone is.’
Gheeta said nothing. Instead she opened up her bag, shoved the notebook and pencil inside and fastened it shut. She got up so abruptly she nearly knocked into Courtney.
‘Eh. Watch it,’ the bigger girl warned, her upper lip, painted red to match her nails, lifted into a snarl, but she kept her greedy eyes on the screen.
‘Kay started hanging out with all these boys and forgot all about Gerda,’ Gheeta added, more slowly.
‘Who? What now? What kind of name is that?’
Gheeta ignored her. She was thinking about how Keisha might have got some mirror in her eye. It could’ve been mirror all along and not chilli at all. That was why she had been so mean - her heart had turned to ice. It might be why she’d left her behind and stopped being her friend.
‘That’s when the Snow Queen comes into the story. Kay goes off with her to her Snow Palace which is made out of ice and nowt lives there.’
Gheeta started to think about Keisha’s secondary school then. Could that be the Snow Palace? Everyone knew it was the roughest school in Sheffield. It was like a prison, in that everyone who went there turned bad.
‘Why?’ asked Keisha, interrupting her thoughts.
‘Why does he go?’
‘Oh. He’s playing with all his new mates in the snow and he ties his sledge to the Snow Queen’s sleigh for a laugh and she just takes him away.’
Keisha made the sucking noise again. ‘What does the girl do?’
Gheeta paused then, because it was turning into her story, not Gerda’s. Keisha had gone off with Courtney, The Sheffield Snow Queen, and left her behind.
‘She’s really sad, even though Kay was nasty to her and that, she still misses him, like really badly.’ Gheeta can feel a lump in her throat, but she carries on. ‘Everyone thinks Kay is dead, because there’s this river nearby and they all say he’s drowned in it, but Gerda doesn’t believe that and so she throws her shoes in the river - only they come back.’
‘I don’t really get that bit,’ admitted Gheeta. ‘I think it’s like an offering to get him back but the river is saying it never took him so it don’t want no shoes.’
‘You’re losing me.’
‘Point is, Gerda knows Kay is alive, so she starts on this epic journey to find him. She gets a load of help, like from singing flowers, a crow and a princess and this bandit girl, -‘
‘What like, Banaan?’ interrupted Keisha.
Gheeta thought about Banaan, the girl from her class who’d been nicknamed, Bandit, because of all the stuff she pinched. She was surprised Keisha could remember her, but then Keisha was acting totally different, like nothing had happened, like there was no Courtney and they were both still at Park Hill Primary. Could this be it? Could she be coming back? Would it be like before?
‘She finds him then?’ Keisha asked.
Gheeta nodded. ‘Yeah and he’s nearly turned to ice. He’s doing this weird puzzle that the Snow Queen has told him if he gets it right he’s like the master of his own destiny. She’s off frosting up the world, or whatever and when Gerda sees Kay she cries and cuddles and kisses him. That’s how the piece in his heart gets out, then he cries and washes out the bit in his eye.’
Keisha was looking right at Gheeta; it was like she was seeing her for the first time, properly noticing her. Were her eyes watering?
‘What about the puzzle?’ she asked and even her voice sounded a bit choked. This had to be it, the mirror was dissolving, Keisha was coming back and leaving Courtney behind.
Keisha snorted. ‘That’s well easy.’ She looked up at the sky and added, ‘I miss year six homework.’
Gheeta wanted to shake her and scream that it wasn’t easy, that she’d been trying for ages and she couldn’t do it, but instead she looked down at her notebook and the crossed out words.
‘Why don’t you tell it to me?’ said Keisha. ‘I don’t know the story of The Snow Queen. It might help?’
Gheeta had no idea why Keisha was being so nice to her, but she wasn’t going to throw away the chance to be friends again by asking. Perhaps Keisha had had a fight with Courtney. An argument way worse than the day of the chilli peppers.
Gheeta thought about the story of The Snow Queen and how best to tell it. It suddenly seemed important that she used exactly the right words.
‘It starts with a mirror,’ she explained.
‘Like, “mirror mirror on the wall”?’ asked Keisha, singing out the words and swinging her head slightly from side to side.
‘Different. See, this one was made by a nasty goblin. It was an evil mirror. When you looked in it, all you saw was bad stuff.’
"You mean like my wonky teeth?’ asked Keisha pointing at the teeth in the bottom of her mouth that were slightly crossed over one another. ‘Or my massive honker of a nose?’
Gheeta laughed. ‘There’s nowt wrong with your face. A bit like that, but also the world itself. It made the mountains and the sky and ‘owt like that all ugly.’
‘Wonder what it would do to the flats?’
The girls looked up at the place they called home. Streets In The Sky, they’d been called. Even with the sun on them they still looked drab. Someone came out onto their balcony. Shouted something into the air, waved a fist, then went back inside.
‘Not much I don’t reckon,’ Keisha said, answering her own question. ‘What happened to the mirror?’
‘Well the goblin thought it was a right laugh, making it all ugly, so he took it up high, t’shine down on everything underneath. But it broke and all the tiny pieces got blown across the world.’
‘Some of those tiny pieces got all over and caused all sorts o’trouble. See, if one of them nasty bits got into your eye, you looked out at everything like you was looking in that horrible mirror.’
Keisha made a sucking noise through her teeth. Gheeta knew this meant she was thinking it through.
‘And if one got into your heart it turned it t’ice,’ added Gheeta.
‘Cold! Like the goblin crawled right inside.’
‘Yeah, and it happened to this kid, this boy called Kay.’
‘Kay? What? That’s a girls name.’
‘He kind of was like a girl.’
Keisha laughed. ‘Like a sissy?’
Gheeta shook her head. ‘No, I mean kind and sorta sweet. His best friend was a girl and they lived next door to each other. They were both right poor and every day they played together. They had a window box between their houses and they grew roses in it. They met up on this balcony thing.’ Gheeta was thinking about the terrace outside their own flats and about all the plants and herbs they had grown together, basil, mint, parsley, coriander. Even the chilli peppers had been good, before the argument.
‘It was sort of nice, for a bit.’
Keisha snorted again, but she was almost smiling. Gheeta hoped she too was remembering their own balcony and window box of herbs.
‘But when Kay got those mirror splinters he turned right nasty and ripped up their roses.’ Gheeta rushed the words out. Would Keisha remember that was what she had done? How she had ripped up the pepper plants when they had stung her eye? How she had said their growing box was for babies? How she had not talked to Gheeta since?
‘Alright?’ Keisha called out.
The sound of the shout made Gheeta jump. The XBF was coming nearer, was she talking to her? There was no-one else around and she was looking right at her.
Gheeta’s heart bounced. Would she start up the argument again? She thought about Keisha rubbing at her eye, where the chilli had got in, and about how red and sore it looked. She remembered the hateful things Keisha had said, the way she had shouted at her and called her a baby, and ripped up the pepper plants. Gheeta had said nasty things back. It had been horrible, the worst argument ever. They hadn’t spoken since and then Keisha had started at the scary Secondary School and made a new BF, Courtney.
Unsure, Gheeta opened her mouth to reply, but there weren’t any words so she shut it again. Astonished, she watched Keisha sit down next to her on the bench, as if it were a thing she did every day after school.
Gheeta was wary. What was Keisha doing here, just sitting next to her? Why wasn’t she with Courtney?
She watched Keisha’s hand as it stretched down and onto the pages of the notebook. Gheeta cursed her stupidity, she should’ve got her phone out, but here she was doing homework. She looked like a primary school nerd. On second thoughts, maybe the phone was better staying hidden. Keisha had been seriously jealous of the birthday present, not at first, but she’d shouted about how unfair it was when they’d argued.
Keisha wore necklaces, earrings and rings now, just like Courtney. Gold looked more impressive on Keisha’s dark skin than either Courtney’s white neck, or on the fingers of Gheeta’s aunties.
The XBF leaned over to read the words in the notebook. Her head was low enough for Gheeta to count her tiny, perfectly braided, corn rows. Her old friend smelt the same way too, like baby talc.
The question made Gheeta jump again. What was wrong with her?
‘Homework,’ she said and shrugged in what she hoped was a casual way.
‘Why don’t you do it at home?’
Gheeta thought of her mum using every ring of the hob, but never the oven and her four brothers charging around, the noise of shouted Punjabi and the smell of cooking pakoras.
‘Noisy,’ she explained.
Keisha nodded and Gheeta knew she understood. They’d lived next door to each other all their lives and been in each other’s flats a thousand times. Gheeta could probably find her way round Keisha’s home with her eyes shut, sniffing her way between rooms.
‘Whattya got to do?’
Gheeta sighed, but it was only for theatrics. Thinking about the homework was good. It took the edge off the fact that Keisha was finally talking to her again and that the argument had not been mentioned. ‘Put the fairy tale of The Snow Queen into my own words.’
Four words: Once Upon A Time, were written and crossed out so much in her school notebook that they looked liked punishment lines. Gheeta shifted about on the park bench. She used the end of her pencil to scratch above her ear, just under her Hijab. Sighing, she squinted into the late September sunshine, across the parched grass that divided the blocks of Park Hill flats, searching for inspiration.
Like a mirage Keisha, her neighbour and ex-best-friend (XBF) appeared. Keisha was older than Gheeta by a single day. Their mothers had been in Jessops Maternity Hospital together, Keisha being born on the 31st August and Gheeta on the 1st September. The girls had both just turned eleven. The day that separated their birthdays had meant nothing before the start of this school year and everything since.
Keisha’s shadow flickered before her as she walked. She was on her own. Where was Courtney?
Gheeta felt something inside her, like a pulling from her chest, but Keisha had barely said a word to her, not since the chilli pepper thing, not since she had started in Year Seven at the scary Secondary School and definitely not since she’d replaced Gheeta with Courtney (the swan-necked, gold-blinged, Year Eight, Goddess).
Gheeta watched the XBF, but carefully, from out of the side of her eyes. Keisha was swinging her school bag, skimming the tops of the sun-scorched grass. A memory came, of the pair of them planting the tiny Poblano chilli pepper plants into the growing box they shared on their conjoining terrace. They were giggling, Gheeta had forgotten what about, but she remembered the magic of making things grow and the feeling of friendship. It had felt solid enough to hold. She missed her friend. Sometimes it felt too painful to think about it.
My modern re-telling of the fairy tale The Snow Queen didn't make the long list of The National Literacy Trust (sniff).
If you would like to know more about the competition and who did make it (some fellow SCBWI members on the list - hurray!) please click on the link below:
National Literacy Trust Fairy Tale Competition
I've decided to share the story on my blog.
Stay tuned for episode one!
I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the reading I have going on at the moment.
You may know that I review books for Talking Newspapers. These are usually adult novels and at the moment that includes: Halloween Party by Agatha Christie (very apt for this time of year), The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (brilliant but harrowing book about a dystopian future) and The Dry by Jane Harper (a detective novel set in Australian Outback).
I am also going to be reviewing two very different children's book for a bookshop site called Can't Put It Down. When I start on these I'll do another blog post about them. Can't Put It Down is worth a look if you're searching for something a little less mainstream. If your sick of David Walliams and want something else then check it out.
In addition to all of this, I have bought myself the second book my Patrice Lawrence, which is a Young Adult (YA) novel called Indigo Donut. Plus, a friend has just lent me a 'must read' called Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hood. This is the first book of a trilogy!
All of this means that even though I've not put up a picture of me reading for a while you can rest assured that I have my nose in a book very regularly, but then when don't I?
What are you reading at the moment? Any good?
Welcome to my blog, a place where you can keep up to date with what I am up to.